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DECEMBER

new year’s resolution
a promise that someone makes to themselves that they then break, usually in under twenty-four hours

It was all the fault of that sodding blue jumper.

When Harry had seen it in the shop – all blue and soft and jumperish – he’d known instantly that it would make the perfect Christmas present for Draco. Draco was a difficult git to buy for, and sometimes took more pleasure in laughing over what he called Harry’s ‘execrable taste’ than he did in the actual gifts Harry bought him (why he still bothered buying for the ungrateful bastard, Harry told the ceiling of his bedroom gloomily, was anyone’s guess). But this jumper was perfect. It was the exact shade of blue that Draco loved most – pale without being insipid – and when Harry slunk into the shop and had a feel, he thought it was thin enough that Draco wouldn’t be able to moan about being too hot, and soft enough that he wouldn’t be able to moan about it being itchy. Knowing Draco as he did, Harry knew he’d find something to moan about – but more because he was a massive bell-end who liked to wind Harry up than because he actually had good reason.

Knowing Draco as he did. Harry groaned out loud. Well, he was in the privacy of his own bedroom – having a rest, and definitely not hiding from his friends – and if a bloke couldn’t groan safely and comfortably in solitude in his own bedroom then where could he groan? He felt his face heat up – he hadn’t meant it like that! – and then considered this, too, gloomily. No, the only groaning in his bedroom of any description was currently of the solitary kind, alas – and, thanks to the blue jumper, it would remain that way, because the blue jumper – curse its woollen soul – had not only opened his eyes to something he would far, far rather not have realised, but for the past week it had also managed to strip out every molecule of Gryffindor bravery from him in one fell swoop.

Quite impressive for a jumper, all in all.

Harry had bought the woollen demon, taken it home and wrapped it up carefully, hiding the package in the bottom of his wardrobe under a pile of his own, rather more threadbare, clothes. Draco had a bad habit of rooting through his wardrobe – for the pure sport of it – but even he had his limits, and the miscellaneous junk that accumulated at the bottom of the wardrobe was probably it.

Except . . . it was now six days after Christmas, and the gift remained there. Lurking. Every day since the event Harry was privately thinking of as The Catastrophe, Harry had had to steel himself before opening his wardrobe doors because of the jumper’s hidden presence and its reminder of things he would rather forget. Namely – the day Draco turned up at their Christmas eve pub festivities wearing the jumper.

It was perfect, as Harry had known it would be. Draco was perfect, if the truth be told. But it was a bit much that he’d gone present-hunting in Harry’s own flat and found and opened the parcel without even asking, right? Before Harry could tell him he was an arsehole, though, Draco had opened his mouth, grinned, explained that Astoria Greengrass had bought it for him, and Harry’s world had changed forever.

It wasn’t that Draco looked so spectacularly amazing in it – and it was, therefore, the perfect present, and he wasn’t going to get the glory.

It wasn’t that he was particularly bothered that Astoria in particular had bought Draco a present – he knew that Astoria was as gay as a trumpet and only spent as much time with Draco as she did because the idea that they could potentially be dating kept their respective families happy and put off any potentially life-ruining revelations.

It wasn’t even that it was Christmas eve and now, unless he wanted to give Draco exactly the same present as Astoria, he had nothing for him.

No, it was the flare of sheer, irrational jealousy that had burned through him like Fiendfyre at the thought that someone who wasn’t him had put that smile on Draco’s face, blazing through every nerve and leaving him ready to explode – or to fight. And with that jealousy, in a rush of Noooooooooo that had him running to the bar for a triple Firewhisky, no water, was the thought that he’d been happily managing to suppress for months: that maybe what he felt for Draco was ever so slightly more than warm and platonic friendship.

Harry was a Gryffindor, curse it. He was a man of action, even though for the past week he’d felt more jelly than man.

And so – god damn it – he would have to take action. He would have to let Draco know how he felt. It was New Year’s Eve – it could be his New Year’s resolution.

Harry gave the ceiling another glare and prepared himself to kiss Draco at midnight. He could do it – he knew he could do it.

He’d just have to get really, really drunk first.

^^^

JANUARY

procrastinate
verb: to put off till another day or time; to defer, delay

Harry thought that one of the best things about going back to work after a few days off was that he’d get to work with Draco again. At least – he usually thought that.

This time, though, he was having some difficulty summoning up his usual enthusiasm. It wasn’t just the jumper situation, although that was bad enough. The fucking thing still lay there in the bottom of his wardrobe, under the pile of junk, like a time-bomb made of sheep. He’d done his best to ignore its hidden presence as he’d extracted his Auror robes from the wardrobe, but had failed; at this rate, he was going to have to start hanging his clothes on the back of a chair, to save him from himself.

No, this morning, entwined in a jolly way with the jumper situation was also the New Year situation. If he swallowed too hard, he could still taste the alcohol. He could barely remember what he’d done – or said. The only thing he felt relatively sure about was that whatever he’d done, he hadn’t done . . . that. That thing he’d resolved to do. Damn and blast it all.

Harry slunk into his office, and to his relief found that it was empty. At least he had just enough time to go to the bathroom and splash his face with cold water before he had to face—

Oh.

Draco Malfoy – Harry’s Auror partner and the biggest tosser in the wizarding world – slouched in the doorway. His hair was perfect. His uniform was perfect. And his look of amused disdain was pretty much – no, that wasn’t perfect. Neither was the snicker he made, or the way one fine, perfect eyebrow rose towards his hairline. “Late night, Potter?” he said.

“Fuck you,” Harry said gloomily, and with an iron will managed to resist the urge to reach up and try to flatten his hair. He knew that would only make Draco laugh.

“Workplace bullying?” Draco said, the eyebrow raising a millimetre or so higher. “I expected more from the mighty Harry Potter.” He undid a button at the throat of his Auror robes, revealing . . . THE ARSING BLUE JUMPER.

“Uniform regulations state—” Harry began, matching sanctimony with sanctimony, and then stopping dead at the hilarity on Draco’s face. “What?” he asked, not entirely wanting to know the undoubtedly jumper-related answer.

“Nothing,” Draco said, grinning.

It clearly wasn’t nothing, and Harry’s mind flashed back to New Year’s eve – what the hell had he said? He couldn’t remember. Clearly nothing . . . significant, but equally clearly, he’d said . . . something. Something that Draco was finding funny enough that he was continuing to take the piss.

Arsing, arsing, bollocks.

“Headache?” Draco asked, still grinning.

“No,” Harry denied.

“Hah!” Draco said, and he rolled his eyes.

Harry wanted to roll his eyes in return, but he had the sneaking suspicion that if he did so he might be sick. What was it with hangovers? You thought you’d got away with it, only for the thing to return and try to scramble your brain and your guts simultaneously, twenty-four hours later.

Draco pushed away from the doorframe and stuck his hand in his pocket, pulling out a small vial that he threw at Harry. Harry reached out automatically and caught it – thank fuck. He squinted at the thing; it was unlabelled. He shrugged and unstoppered it, knocking it back – ugh, the taste – and then throwing the empty vial at Draco’s head.

Unfortunately, Draco was good at catching things too, so it didn’t collide with his nose with a satisfying thwack. Harry had great fun picturing it though.

“Pleased to see your sense of self-preservation still runs strong, scarhead,” Draco said, rolling his eyes again and putting the vial back in his pocket. “Do you drink everything you’re given, just like that?” He smirked.

There was nothing more annoying than Draco’s smirk.

“Don’t answer that,” Draco continued.

“You are such a great wit,” Harry said sarcastically, and this time did roll his eyes. It was almost a mistake, but the super-strength hangover potion was already taking effect so, happily, his eyes remained in his head rather than falling out of his skull.

“I know,” Draco said smugly, and before Harry could protest that he hadn’t actually meant that, he strode off down the corridor, leaving Harry first gaping at his retreating back, and then scuttling ignominiously down the hall after him, with the effect that when they entered the meeting room for the daily briefing, Draco strode in, full of purpose, while Harry entered at a half-run, hair sticking up and robes dishevelled.

His robes were possibly inside out again, too, he realised as Ron grinned at him from the other side of the room and made an obscene hand gesture, before smiling also – with a little more reservation, but still warmth – at Draco. Another thing he could blame on the jumper, no doubt.

Harry tried to pay attention as Head Auror Robards launched into what was fast becoming his traditional New Year Work Hard And Then Work A Bit Harder speech to welcome them all back to the office – not that most of them had been off for the whole of the Christmas break. It was a complaint often heard in the Ministry that criminals – the little toerags – had no consideration for their fellow man, and sometimes saved the worst of their crimes for days when Aurors would have preferred to be sitting at home eating turkey and roast potatoes until they couldn’t move.

Harry found himself distracted, though: hyper aware of Draco beside him, wearing The Jumper and smirking The Smirk. He still found it odd, even now that they’d been friends for a couple of years, that they were friends at all.

No one had been more surprised than him when Hermione’s first case as a lawyer had been representing Draco Malfoy – in a case against the ministry itself. And no one had been more surprised than him – except, perhaps, Hermione – when legal discussions over textbooks in Hermione’s new office had turned into legal discussions over textbooks in the pub.

It wasn’t fair that Draco’s application to become an Auror had been rejected because of who his father was – that much had been immediately clear, even to Harry. If he’d been rejected because he was a dickhead, that would have been fine – welcome, even. But as it was? It wasn’t fair.

By the time Hermione had won her case, she and Draco were almost friends. And by the time Draco began his training – just six short months after Hermione had taken him on – Harry himself was almost ready to not punch him in the face.

They’d been working together now for almost two years, and to his amazement Harry had found that in Draco he had a friend he could trust with his life.

He still sometimes wanted to punch him in the face though. Like now – when he looked over at Draco, halfway through Robards’ speech, to find Draco seemingly paying rapt attention, his robes buttoned all the way up to his neck, and no trace of blue jumper to be seen.

^^^

FEBRUARY

love
noun: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person
see also: hate

It had seemed like a really good idea when it was safely inside Harry’s brain. When he let it out, however, it felt slightly more embarrassing.

“Let me get this straight,” Auror Robards said, with a hint of disbelief in his voice. “Your plan to catch a dangerous wizard, who is planning to blow up a Muggle restaurant on one of their busiest nights of the year, involves . . . going out to dinner. With Malfoy. As your date.”

Harry tried not to wriggle or look anyone – especially Draco – in the eye. It was quite easy not looking Draco in the eye, because Draco’s eye was not currently anywhere near Harry’s feet. He really needed to clean his boots, he thought as he stared at them. They were a disgrace to humanity.

“I suppose it makes sense, sir,” Draco said.

Harry’s head snapped up and he looked him straight in the eye. Dammit!

Draco’s expression was smooth and unreadable, with just a hint of . . . something. It probably didn’t bode well for Harry. He was probably going to pay for this later.

“Lewis won’t expect Aurors to be hiding in such plain sight,” Draco continued. “We’ll be right in the heart of the danger zone and ready to capture him as soon as he shows his face.”

“Plain sight, eh?” Robards said ironically. “Indeed. And no one will recognise either yourself, Mr Malfoy, or the fucking saviour of the wizarding world, now, will they?”

“Um,” Harry said. “Er . . .”

“False moustaches,” Draco said, over the sound of Harry’s stuttering.

“What?” Harry said, blinking, and was roundly ignored.

“And glasses,” Draco continued, as if he hadn’t said anything.

Which was why, just a few short hours later, Harry found himself wearing the largest, stupidest false moustache he had ever had the misfortune to set eyes on, while, across the table, Draco Malfoy wore a pair of dark-framed glasses, a fetching blue jumper – curse it all – and the biggest, most earth-shatteringly annoying smirk that Harry had ever seen.

Harry still hadn’t found out what exactly he’d said, or done, that New Year’s eve. All he knew was that it must have been bad, for Draco to still be trying to torment him with that fucking jumper over a month later.

“Nice moustache, darling,” Draco said, and demurely sipped a spoonful of soup. “I do think you should grow it a little bigger, though.”

Harry attempted to kick him under the table, but missed.

“Don’t draw attention to us,” Draco murmured, between mouthfuls. “You know how shy I am.” He fluttered his eyelashes, behind the glasses.

It wasn’t fair, in Harry’s opinion. Here he was, on Valentine’s Day, in a romantic restaurant flooded with candlelight and atmosphere, Draco opposite from him looking more edible than the food on the table, and he was . . . wearing a moustache. A really terrible moustache.

Oh, and he supposed that any moment now a wizard could pop out and try to kill them, but that was pretty much all in a day’s work. The moustache was very much not in a day’s work. He had an awful feeling, too, that Draco had used some kind of extra-strength sticking charm to get it to weld to his upper lip – it was going to be a bugger to remove, all right. Draco would probably wet himself laughing.

The idea of going on a pretend date – of being Draco’s pretend boyfriend – all in the line of work had seemed an amazing one in his brain, it really had. It was just a shame that taking it out and subjecting it to scrutiny had proved so . . .

“Do we have to kiss, then?” Draco said, just as Harry had taken a swallow of his drink.

Harry had an embarrassing coughing fit, and it was only the thought that Draco might attempt to give him the kiss of life – even through the moustache – that stopped him from succumbing to it and just giving up. Goodbye, cruel, moustachioed world.

“Sexy,” Draco murmured, when Harry’s fit had come to a gurgling finish, and that nearly set him off again, but he managed to steady himself – and his nerves – with deep, regular breaths and the cheering thought that one day he’d have his revenge.

He’d almost managed to convince himself that the whole ‘liking Draco a bit more than was strictly necessary’ thing had been a delusion brought on by, oh, a blow to the head, or too much cheese before bedtime, but then he opened his eyes again and looked over at Draco.

Draco was smiling at him – with genuine mirth, mixed with sympathy. And he was wearing the jumper. And glasses. And he looked . . .

God. He took Harry’s breath away.

“What?” Draco said, faltering slightly. “Is there soup on my chin?”

“No-o,” Harry said. “It’s just . . .”

And here was where he might have just come out and said it. Possibly. Well, he could have said it. If, at any rate, he hadn’t set up a fake Valentine’s day date, with his fake boyfriend, AS PART OF A WORK STAKE-OUT.

As Lewis – the unhinged, violent wizard that Harry and Draco had been after for weeks – leapt out and began to weave an extremely unpleasant spell around the Muggles in the restaurant, Harry realised that things had gone entirely according to plan – while not going to fucking plan at all.

And as Harry tried to fall asleep that night – alone in his bedroom, yet again – he realised that he had, in fact, made things a whole lot worse. For not only did he now have a false moustache, and would possibly have it for the rest of eternity, but he also had a very fine mental image of what Draco looked like on a date.

It was a shame that none of it had been real.

Happily for Harry, his right hand was exceptionally real – and the feel of the moustache on his top lip only put him off his stroke a tiny bit.

^^^

MARCH

panic
noun: a sudden overwhelming fear that produces hysterical or irrational behaviour

Harry wasn’t quite sure why, on the first day of March, he felt as if someone had wrapped a rubber band around his heart and was gradually tightening it. The thing with New Year’s resolutions was that you had all year to do them . . . right? And here he was, barely two months in. Plenty of time. Defeat was not an option, etc etc.

He suspected it was something in the air – he’d often noticed that time and seasons produced odd, almost magical effects on people en masse. Individually, they were the same normal idiots they’d always been – but together, they were unpredictable. Perhaps it was just the oncoming spring working its mysterious ways on him, urging him to procreate.

Harry considered this, and then he considered the fact that he was currently dithering in a Muggle department store in the crockery section, wondering which of the many and varied porcelain tea services available might win Draco’s heart.

When he thought about it like that, it was a little . . . unusual. But then Draco didn’t date – unless he did when Harry wasn’t looking, and Harry looked a lot, especially of late – so who knew what strange and arcane tricks would win his heart? It could be bone china.

Well, possibly.

Either way, Draco had never yet turned down a present, and he always made a sarcastic remark about the chipped mugs that lived in Harry’s cupboard when he came round for a cuppa – which was a lot – so he wasn’t going to be repulsed by new crockery clearly bought in his honour, was he?

Harry glared at the inoffensive racks and racks of cups and saucers and miscellaneous . . . plates. He could identify a plate when he saw one. He was no fool. He suspected he might be an easy target for a salesperson on commission though, so rather than dithering until the end of time, he picked the tea service that looked most inoffensive – plain white and delicate; it was only going to last five minutes, knowing him – and paid hastily.

He managed to get the massive box home without dropping it, which was a good start. He knew Draco would be round any minute, so he hastily unpacked the set, waving his wand and sending the washed cups and saucers zooming around the kitchen and into the cupboards with barely any casualties.

It wasn’t entirely a good start when Draco – who habitually shucked off his shoes and socks when he got in, and padded around Harry’s flat barefoot – trod on a shard of china and practically turned the air blue with his swearing.

Harry was ready to provide a little TLC, but only metaphorically rather than practically – he made the fatal mistake of laughing at Draco hopping about and yelling, and by the time he’d stopped laughing Draco had already sorted out the (small) cut and was making the tea himself. He had his back turned, so Harry couldn’t see his face, but he suspected it to be petulant. Either that, or amused. When it came to Draco, Harry sometimes had no idea in advance how he’d react. Sometimes, Harry suspected Draco reacted unexpectedly on purpose – just to wind him up.

When Draco turned, and stalked off into Harry’s living room with his head held high – the tea cups bobbing along in the air behind him – he didn’t even mention the tea service, which had so cruelly wounded him. Not then – not later. Except, that was, for just the once the next day, when he remarked – both airily, and into the air – that he didn’t know why a bachelor would have a fancy tea set for sixteen people in the cupboard of his one-bedroom flat, and perhaps Harry needed his head examined.

And then he looked at Harry, with an unreadable look that Harry COULDN’T FUCKING READ, GODDAMMIT.

And the day after that, he presented Harry with his tea in a brand-new mug he’d brought along with him – a present, he said, with a smirk.

Harry couldn’t understand why Draco was giving him a blue-handled mug that read UNT on the side – what the ever-loving fuck did ‘UNT’ mean when it was at home? It only dawned on him that the mug’s electric-blue handle described the shape of a C when Draco was far away, and therefore safe – and given that he lived with his mother at Malfoy Manor, even now, Harry thought it would be unwise to send him the Howler that his heart desired.

It was pretty fucking unfair, all in all.

^^^

APRIL

rain
noun: the condensed moisture of the atmosphere falling in visible drops

In April, it rained in Harry’s heart. It rained on his fucking head, too.

Draco had been, for some reason that Harry couldn’t understand, in a bad temper from the start of the month – and the end of the month came with more rain, this time icy, and more temper. It felt like the final straw when they had to perform a stake-out in central London, in the middle of a street teeming with Muggles on their way to work, and Harry forgot his Invisibility Cloak.

No Invisibility Cloak equalled no magic – and given that Draco was hardly likely to be carrying a Muggle umbrella, it also equalled . . . dampness. There just wasn’t time to pick up a brolly – sod’s law dictated that if they did, they’d miss their target – so they stood there, in front of a shop with no awning, letting the rain fall on their heads, soak through their Muggle clothing and permeate into their very souls.

Draco didn’t like getting wet. About five minutes in, as the rain slid down his nose, Harry knew that he wasn’t going to have a very good day. He was in for the UNT mug again – no doubt about it.

Five minutes later, as commuters rushed by – many in waterproofs, and many with huge golf umbrellas – Harry began to wonder if they were actually more conspicuous standing there like twats, getting soaked to the bone, than if they’d just used a gentle rain-shield spell. It was a bit late now, though, and he didn’t like to suggest it in case Draco – a silent beacon of icy rage beside him – gutted him like a fish for not suggesting it earlier.

Another five minutes passed. “I hate you,” Draco said idly, still scanning their surroundings. Still dripping.

“And I hate you,” Harry countered immediately, even though it wasn’t true.

“Mm,” Draco said, voice still off-hand and dripping with disdain – possibly for life in general, probably for Harry in specific. “Right.” And then he added – inexplicably – “I know.”

Harry snuck a glance at him. His tone was suddenly somehow . . . colder than the situation warranted. Which was pretty fucking freezing. “I don’t really hate you, you know,” he said, feeling a bit wretched.

Silence.

“I actually quite like you,” he said, trying to remain cheerful. It didn’t seem the time for declarations, if he actually had balls – which the past few months had shown him that while he physically did, metaphorically speaking he had all the get up and go of a pygmy puff with a cold.

It wasn’t good to think of colds – it might become a prediction if he let the thought linger. Merlin, he was wet. Even his pants were wet. Harry was vaguely aware that in romantic films – he did go to the Muggle cinema occasionally, and had even taken Draco once or twice – people sometimes made romantic declarations in the rain. They were clearly wearing waterproof underwear when they did so, and carrying tiny invisible heaters.

“What a moving declaration,” Draco said, with some bitterness.

Bitterness! Harry tried not to panic. It was definitely the rain. He tried not to sound defensive. “Well, I do! Quite a lot!” he said defensively.

“Yes,” Draco said, the word slotting into place with odd finality.

Harry wanted to panic – really, he did, because was Draco somehow blind? Could he not tell how much Harry liked him? They practically lived in each other’s pockets – but there wasn’t time. Draco spotted their target, and the moment passed in a blur of action and well-rehearsed teamwork. They got their man, of course. They always did.

Harry panicked a bit later, though, in the pub, when Draco said – in such a casual, off-hand manner that there was no possible way it was either casual or off-hand (had he practiced in front of the mirror? Surely not . . .) – “Mother’s starting to wonder when I’ll get round to proposing to Astoria, you know,” and then changed the subject so firmly that Harry couldn’t bring himself to change it back.

At least he’d managed to only panic on the inside, though – as far as he could tell. It wouldn’t do to let it show in front of Draco – he’d never let him live it down.

^^^

MAY

awkward
adjective: embarrassing or inconvenient; hard to deal with

Sometimes, even though Harry would admit – perhaps not out loud, but he would – that he loved Draco, he didn’t especially like him very much.

They had such a . . . a history, and a couple of years of shared jokes and late nights and early mornings didn’t come anywhere close to erasing what had come before. Not that Harry wanted it erased – most of the time – but there were times when he just didn’t want to deal with it. Didn’t want to deal with what Draco reminded him of. All the bad, awful shit that he’d done his best to suppress in the days and weeks after the war.

He couldn’t help but be reminded, though, of what Draco had been – and what, in some ways, he’d always be – when the evidence was right in front of him.

The office was unseasonably hot for May, and Draco had done something that in anyone else would be entirely natural: he’d rolled up his sleeves.

The Dark Mark still ruined the skin of Draco’s forearm like a scar. It was a scar, Harry thought, and he tried to remind himself that he’d given Draco scars of his own – both etched into his chest, and into his mind. Some things could never be forgotten. Should never be forgotten.

Draco could be ugly, sometimes. It wasn’t the Mark, though; it was never the Mark. It was . . . what the ever-present Mark did to him. Some things could never be forgotten, but Harry wished, sometimes, that Draco could forget.

Draco caught him staring and his eyes burned colder. He looked away and started rolling his sleeves back down, as if he’d seen something in Harry’s own eyes he couldn’t bear.

Harry almost stopped him, but there were others around, and he knew Draco would be outraged if he made a scene. Later, though, despite Draco’s forbidding expression, as soon as they were in their office packing up for the day, Harry closed the door behind them and opened his mouth.

“Don’t,” Draco said, and pressed his lips into a tight line. “Just leave it, will you?” He turned his back and started packing up the paperwork he needed from his desk.

He didn’t need any paperwork, though; they were adults now, even if Harry often didn’t feel like it. They didn’t have homework – just ongoing cases, and a folding bed in the corner of the room if late nights at work were necessary.

Harry strode over, before his nerve failed him, and laid a hand on Draco’s arm – which Draco immediately shrugged off. “Don’t be a dickhead,” Harry said. “Come on. Back to mine for a tea?”

Draco gave him a hard stare, but then the line of tension in his neck sagged, and he rolled his eyes. “I suppose so,” he said.

Later, they sat together in silence on Harry’s beaten-up sofa. It was a relatively comfortable silence, so it seemed a shame to make it awkward, but Harry couldn’t help himself. “I don’t mind, you know,” he said.

The awkward silence blossomed.

“Fuck off, Potter,” Draco said eventually. He was using his special Warning Tone.

“Fuck off yourself, ferret-face,” he said. “And don’t use that tone of voice on me, idiot. I’m not your mother – it doesn’t work on me.”

Draco snorted, but he didn’t go anywhere, which was a good start, Harry thought. Draco could be twitchy, and more than once he’d fucked off for a few days to avoid a potential confrontation. It was better than curses, but only just. Sometimes, Harry knew a fight was brewing, and he just wanted to get it over with.

Harry swivelled in his seat and reached over to Draco, who watched him suspiciously. “What are you doing?” Draco asked as Harry started to undo the buttons at his cuffs.

“Pretty obvious,” Harry said, shrugging.

Draco tolerated Harry rolling his sleeves up, although he was as stiff as if he was under a Full Body Bind.

“I’ve had more fun than this,” Draco said when the deed was done, and they’d sat a bit longer in the awkward silence. It was now a silence of truly magnificent proportions. “Just to let you know.” He looked down at the fading mark – marring his skin like a bruise – and the ugly expression flitted across his face.

Harry put his hand on Draco’s arm – right on top of the Mark. He could almost feel Draco holding his breath.

“You don’t need to try so hard,” Harry said firmly. “We know you’re . . . not like that any more.”

This, clearly, wasn’t the right thing to say, because Draco tensed and then jerked his arm away. “Not like what?” he snapped. And then he took a deep breath, and attempted to smile. “Not the same charming, handsome pureblood I used to be? Better, surely.”

“Tosser,” Harry said, and watched Draco’s forced smile soften into something marginally more natural. “I don’t mind, though,” he said, thinking it bore repeating. “You can’t go through life never showing your arms, you wanker. People will think you’ve got a tattoo of my face on your bicep,” he added, to make Draco laugh.

Instead, Draco blushed, so violently red that Harry wondered if he was going to explode.

“You don’t have a tattoo of my face on your bicep, do you?” he asked suspiciously.

“Of course not,” Draco said, still Muggle fire-engine red. And then grinned. “It’s on my arse.”

“Ha, fucking ha,” Harry said, and decided that it was late enough in the evening for them to abandon the cups of tea as a lost cause and move on to beer.

They got pretty rat-arsed that night, but through the haze of booze Harry couldn’t help but notice that Draco kept his sleeves rolled up the whole time. And it was the first time he could remember that he’d seen Draco smiling while it was visible.

^^^

JUNE

fuck (vulgar)
exclamation: used alone or as a noun or verb in various phrases to express annoyance, contempt or impatience

Harry knew he was shit at choosing gifts. He tried pretty hard, but they never seemed to have the intended effect on the recipient.

“Mmm, thanks,” Draco said, bending his features into an expression of gratitude with visible effort. And then, because he was a bastard, added: “And you thought I needed a dictionary, why?”

Harry opened his mouth to explain.

“Because you think I’m some sort of illiterate, perhaps,” Draco continued, clearly warming to his theme. He turned the book over in his hands. “A Muggle illiterate, to be precise,” he continued, and flicked through the pages. “Thank you.”

“I thought you’d find it interesting!” Harry protested, and Draco grinned at him.

“Possibly,” he conceded. “It’ll certainly help me sleep at nights.”

Hermione took the book from Draco’s hand and flicked through it, wrinkling her nose. “It’s pretty short for a dictionary,” she said. “I suppose it’s an abridged version. You should have got—”

“Yes, OK,” Harry said over the sound of Ron snickering.

“No offence, mate, but this is a pretty shit gift,” Ron said good-naturedly. “Even Hermione wouldn’t want something so—”

“I might!” Hermione cut in. “Shut up, Ron.” But she spoiled it by turning to Harry and mouthing, I don’t, as if she thought she was in imminent danger of being sent a dictionary in the post as a present. “I already have all the major dictionary works!” she added quickly, as if Harry was in danger of bursting into tears, or something. “Don’t worry! Both wizarding and Muggle. Did you know, Draco . . .?” she said, and went off on one.

“See!” Harry said, as Hermione and Draco both got caught up in a discussion about . . . words. Or something. Harry wasn’t really listening, just feeling smug.

“See what?” Ron asked, raising his eyebrows. “That they’re having great fun criticising the book you bought?”

It was, sadly, true. “Ye-es,” Harry admitted. “But at least they’re having fun.”

Ron laughed, and then nudged Harry in the side. “Hermione reckoned you’d buy Draco something more . . .” he trailed off, with a sideways glance at Hermione.

It was pretty obvious that this wasn’t a conversation he was supposed to repeat. “Come on, let’s get another round in,” Harry said, and tugged on the back of Ron’s shirt collar when he showed remarkable reluctance to move.

“More what?” Harry demanded when they were at the bar and safely out of earshot.

“Sorry?” Ron asked, pretending ignorance.

“What did Hermione think I’d buy Draco?” Harry demanded.

“Oh, er . . . some jewellery, I think,” Ron said, and then seemed to be very taken with the barman – who was short and stout and male, and therefore not remotely Ron’s type.

Unfortunately for Ron, Harry was good at waiting. Well, waiting for a short time, particularly if there was a fresh pint at the end of it.

“Jewellery?” Harry demanded.

Ron nodded.

“What’s that about?” Harry asked. “It’s not like Draco’s my . . .”

My boyfriend, he added silently. Oh, fucking hell.

“Never mind, eh?” Ron said, giving him a hearty back slap that had him choking the beer he was trying to down in one. “There’s always Christmas. Faint heart never won fair, er, lady. But if you don’t get a move on with it, Harry, me old mucker, you’ll find that Hermione starts helping. So there’s some motivation for you, if ever there was some.”

Hermione wanted to help.

Harry contemplated this for a moment, and then shuddered, deep down to his boots. Hermione was a wonder, and he loved her, but he didn’t want her help in this. Even if he fucking needed it. He wasn’t doing so well with his New Year’s resolution, was he? Six months had passed, and he was no nearer to telling Draco how he felt than when he’d started.

And the kicker of the whole thing was – it seemed he’d been telling Draco how he felt all along, even before he knew it himself.

Harry rejoined his friends after a quick nervous breakdown in the pub toilets, trying not to cringe when Ron winked at him, and Hermione gave him a very telling, sympathetic smile. Just because they knew didn’t mean that Draco knew.

That was the whole fucking problem, after all.

^^^

JULY

darkness
noun: an absence of light

“Do you really have a tattoo of my face on your bum?” Harry asked. “I must know the truth before I die.”

Harry could almost feel Draco smirking – smiling – into the darkness.

“I’ll show you, if you like.”

Thank fuck for the darkness, really. At least Draco couldn’t see him blushing. But – “Argh! Gerroff!” Harry yelled, pushing Draco’s invading hand off his cheek. His face cheek.

“I knew you were blushing,” Draco said with maximum smugness. “Your face is all hot.”

“That’s just because it’s July and we’re trapped in a small airless, pitch black room, with no hope of rescue!” Harry protested.

“Yeah, yeah,” Draco said. He didn’t sound phased. “If you want to tell yourself that.”

So far, this particular mission wasn’t entirely going to plan. They’d managed to break into the vault – that was the easy part. But when it came to leaving it again, with the stolen goods they’d discovered – as expected – things had become rather less ‘as expected’. The door had vanished, the light had faded to nothing, and if Harry wasn’t imagining things, the walls were gradually moving closer together.

It was an impressive security system, and something even better than the Gringotts goblins had. Harry couldn’t help but think, though, that he’d rather be impressed by it from the outside, than from the inside.

From the inside, it was a teeny, tiny bit alarming.

“You’re not scared, are you?” Draco said. There was a challenge in his voice. “We’re bound to be rescued, sooner or later.”

“Hopefully sooner!” Harry said, and there was an unmistakeable grind as the walls closed in another inch.

Draco cleared his throat. “Well, yes, OK, I have to agree with you there.”

There was another grinding sound. Were the walls speeding up? Harry wondered. Probably. If he had set a trap to catch a thief – and squish him flat – he’d have had the walls speeding up too. The longer you gave a wizard to escape, the more likely he was to actually escape. It was only logical.

“It’s a real shame we had to leave our wands outside the vault before it would let us enter,” Harry said – helpfully.

Draco snorted. “No shit. With insights like that, it’s amazing we haven’t escaped yet. Got any more gems to share?”

Harry considered this. “Nope.”

“Oh well. Let’s pass the time by spilling our deepest secrets,” Draco said snidely. “You first.”

It was hot, and dark, and Harry really, truly, actually did feel a bit scared. Possibly more of Draco than of being squashed to death, but only just. “I think I’m in love with you,” Harry said, trying to sound light-hearted rather than as if he was about to throw up.

The silence that followed was scaly and full of unpleasantness.

“Fuck you,” Draco said eventually, and Harry realised, to his horror, that perhaps he’d overdone the light-heartedness a bit.

It was interesting how . . . enraged Draco sounded. But before Harry could ponder it further, or dig himself any deeper into the hole of his own creation, he was blinded by a bright light and heard the booming tones of Auror Robards.

They were being rescued.

It would have seemed churlish to say, “No, hold on a moment, we were just about to have a really important conversation, so can you leave us in there for a minute longer?” so Harry let himself be rescued, all the while trying not to look at Draco’s pale, set expression and draw too many conclusions from it all.

^^^

AUGUST

time
noun: the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other

August was a bit shit, as far as Harry was concerned. It both whizzed by and dragged at the same time. Whizzed, because he was busy. And dragged, because Draco had decided to take an extended summer holiday very much without his best friend.

He didn’t send Harry a postcard.

Harry knew that Draco was good at flouncing – everyone had their coping mechanisms, and if Draco’s was running away and sulking for a while then that was . . . well, it wasn’t exactly fine – it was fucking irritating – but it was understandable. Harry sometimes had his moments himself. But in the whole time Harry had known Draco properly, he’d never flounced for such an extended period of time.

This was, in Harry’s opinion, less flouncing and more punishment. He kept his head down, worked hard and tried not to feel like absolute shit. It was easier said than done.

^^^

SEPTEMBER

demur
verb: to linger; hesitate

“I missed you,” Harry said, when Draco finally showed up on his doorstep.

Draco – who looked like he hadn’t slept for a year – looked him up and down, and was clearly satisfied by what he saw. Harry supposed that however bad Draco looked, he undoubtedly looked worse.

“Yes,” Draco said, and pushed past him, making for Harry’s kitchen and brewing up two mugs of tea without comment.

Harry took one without comment. It was the UNT mug, of course. He wondered if, by now, the mug was a sign of affection. “Did you get me a souvenir?” he asked, and grinned at the outraged expression on Draco’s face. “Sorry, sorry,” he said.

Later, curled up together on the sofa and almost asleep, Harry said, through a yawn, “Did you miss me too?”

Draco didn’t reply at first, but just when Harry thought he wasn’t going to get an answer, he spoke. “No,” he said, but it wasn’t exactly plausible.

“Liar,” Harry said, and Draco didn’t disagree.

^^^

OCTOBER

pressure
verb: to force someone toward a particular end; to influence

“I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to speak to Draco yet?” Hermione asked delicately.

“About what?” Harry asked, glaring at her.

“Ah,” Hermione said, and changed the subject.

It didn’t stop Harry from re-running their conversation over and over in his brain though – especially in the middle of the night, when he woke up in a cold sweat, feeling like he’d forgotten to do something important.

He was going to have to talk to Draco, he thought gloomily as he lay sleepless in his bed and waited for dawn. Either that or Avada Kedavra himself.

He was undecided on which option he’d prefer.

^^^

NOVEMBER

pine
verb: to yearn deeply; suffer with longing

At this rate, Harry thought, he wouldn’t have to resort to Avada Kedavra – he could just wait for Draco to slay him. It was only halfway through the month and Draco was already more than halfway there.

“What . . . are you wearing?” Harry asked, trying to unstick his tongue from the roof his mouth.

Draco gave himself a cursory glance. “Clothes,” he said. His expression remained faintly bored, but when Harry raised his eyebrows, Draco’s lips twitched.

“NEW clothes,” Harry accused.

“I am allowed,” Draco offered, and then – the sod – turned his back on Harry and bent over the desk. To retrieve some paperwork, Harry told himself firmly, his eyes locked on Draco’s arse like a Tracking Spell.

“New MUGGLE clothes,” Harry said, to Draco’s arse. It had personality, Draco’s arse.

A bad, smug personality.

Draco turned around and Harry looked away, far too quickly. When he forced himself to meet Draco’s eye, Draco was – of course – smirking. He seemed to have got his mojo back. It was a shame he’d had to steal Harry’s in the process.

Everything Draco was wearing was . . . tight. Not too tight. Just . . . tight. Draco sometimes looked like a pencil wrapped in fabric when he was wearing his robes – skinny and pointy and a little bit stupid. But in fitted grey trousers and a slimline, almost transparent white T-shirt, he looked . . .

Harry couldn’t put words to how he looked.

And then there were the boots. Harry wore boots. He was comfortable with boots. His boots were battered, and old, and probably black, somewhere under the mud. Draco’s boots looked like they’d taken a craftsman a year to hand-stitch.

And that wasn’t even mentioning the tattoo on his stomach. Harry was trying very hard not to see it, but every time Draco moved, his T-shirt rose up, giving Harry a tantalising glimpse of a trail of fine hair and the . . .

It probably wasn’t a lightning bolt tattooed on his stomach. And even if it was, so what? It was nothing to do with Harry. Harry told himself firmly to pull himself together.

Sadly, he wasn’t listening.

And he certainly wasn’t listening when Hermione told him that evening, very firmly but kindly: “You really need to tell him, Harry. He’s not going to wait for you forever.”

He told himself he didn’t know what she meant. He didn’t find himself entirely convincing.

^^^

DECEMBER

accidental
adjective: happening by accident; not planned; unexpected

By the 23rd of December, Harry had started to panic. He had no idea what to buy Draco for Christmas, and so he hadn’t bought him anything at all.

This did not seem an ideal state of affairs.

He wondered if he was putting too much pressure on himself. It was all a bit ridiculous. But then again, something less than perfect was better than no present at all. Maybe he should ask Hermione for help after all.

After a couple of glasses of wine, and a meal cooked by Draco himself – who was gradually learning to produce food that was almost completely edible – he was nearly ready to admit that maybe that fucking blue jumper hadn’t been such a perfect gift after all. It was just a jumper, now he came to think about it.

It seemed an ideal time to face his demons – even if they were made of wool. So he excused himself, went to his bedroom and opened up his wardrobe doors.

Inside the foot of his wardrobe, he knew the parcel lurked. He still hadn’t managed to bring himself to deal with it, and Harry suddenly felt foolish – browbeaten by an item of clothing. So he summoned his courage, leaned down, and rooted through the stuff at the bottom of the wardrobe.

It wasn’t there.

Feeling extremely puzzled, Harry had another root about, this time flinging all the loose clothing and single shoes out of the wardrobe until he was left with just the bare wood.

Nothing.

“Looking for something?” came an amused voice from the doorway.

Bollocks.

“Er, no?” Harry said, despite the fact he had no plausible deniability. The place was a mess. If he wasn’t looking for something, then he had clearly gone loopy.

Draco raised his eyebrows. “A blue jumper, by any chance?”

Harry’s jaw dropped. He’d thought before that that only happened in fiction, but it dropped – leaving him gaping in an unattractive way. He shut it with a clunk of teeth.

“I was only joking when I said that Astoria had bought it for me,” Draco said. “Your face was a picture. I was going to tell you that I’d found my present, but . . .”

But he hadn’t. The sickle dropped. Harry couldn’t decide what it was he was feeling at that moment. Did he want to marry the fucker, or punch him in the face?

Draco shrugged. “The opportunity never came up,” he said awkwardly. “And it was more fun to tease you than to tell you the truth,” he said, his face splitting in an infectious grin.

“I can’t decide whether I want to marry you, you fucker, or punch you in the face,” Harry said.

The smile slid off Draco’s face, and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “Harry . . .” he said, then trailed off. The silence was an expectant one.

Oh god.

“I mean it!” Harry said. It was now or never. And he so very much didn’t want it to be never.

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

“The punching thing?” Draco said faintly.

“All of it,” Harry said. He took a step closer to Draco. “Though I do want to punch you quite badly, and you absolutely deserve it, you present-thieving wanker. Do you have any idea how—”

Draco closed the gap between them in one stride, and his mouth was on Harry’s before Harry could blink.

It was like . . .

No. There were no words for what it was like. Only the glory of it. Harry could feel Draco pouring his whole heart into the kiss – and he poured his whole heart back.

They had waited far too long for this, but – oh god – was it worth the wait.

What felt like years – seconds – a blissful eternity – later, Harry could feel Draco smile against his mouth. Draco pulled away fractionally to say, “You still haven’t actually asked me out, scarhead. You’re pretty shit at this, aren’t you?”

Harry snorted. “Do you want to go out with me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “I’m presuming yes, by the way.”

Draco poked him in the side. “You big-headed bastard! You can fuck right off,” he said, in tones of wounded outrage. But his eyes were shining so brightly, and his smile was so wide, that Harry thought it was safe to assume that his actual answer was yes.