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Boom Clap (The Sound of My Heart)

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"It's bloody Baltic in this stupid castle." Potter draws his heavy woolen robe more closely around him, an utterly futile gesture, in Draco's opinion, against the late-October chill seeping from the stone walls.

Scotland is colder this year--the first freeze hit before the third week of term. Hagrid's been worrying for weeks in staff meetings about the pumpkin harvest being endangered and dragon migrations going awry to the point that Draco just tunes him out the moment he opens his mouth. The Wizarding Met has been warning of possible Ice Trolls in the Orkneys, although, given how lazy the trolls are in the relative warmth of snow, it’s unlikely they’ll actually make it to Hogwarts before spring arrives.

“We’ve only an hour and a half longer on duty,” Draco says, ignoring the fierce desire to shiver. He’s learned on these long nights of walking the castle that you can’t give in to the cold. Once your teeth start chattering, they can’t stop until you're settled back in front of a cosy fire with a good dram of firewhisky clutched between your hands. “We could walk down the fifth floor hall and stop by the Prefect’s Bathroom for a bit of warmth.”

“Partial to the bubbles, are we Malfoy?” Potter sidesteps a snoring suit of armour slumped against a wooden door still blackened by a curse cast during the war. It's been over three years since the battle, but there are still reminders across the castle of that night: a chipped stone bannister on the third floor staircase, a headless statue or two along the Great Hall gallery, burns and curse marks across paintings and portraits. When he'd returned for his eighth year, McGonagall had bluntly explained at the Welcome Feast that those marks of the war had been left deliberately, a reminder of what had been and what could still be.

Draco stumbles a bit over a broken stone paver and makes a note to remind Filch that it's coming up again. “More partial to the steam.” He does rather like the sweet-sharp cinnamon scent of the soapy baths, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to admit it. A man must keep his secrets. "Warmth and all."

Rounding the corner past the painting of the peasants setting fire to the hay bales, they suddenly come across a group of third-years scuttling along the hall from the library, a good twenty minutes after they ought to have been back in their dormitories getting ready for bed. Late nights are only for fifth years and above, a fact these lads know damned well, judging by their shifty faces once they realise they've been caught.

“Get back to your common rooms, the lot of you,” Draco says, his voice weary. Two months into the term, and he's already tired of the younger children. At least the older years have learnt how to break the rules discreetly. “There’s always extra work in the Thestral paddocks if you don’t.”

“Or we’ll set you to reshelving for Madame Pinch,” Potter adds. Frankly, Draco doesn't think that's a harsh enough threat. It's warm in the library, and Madame Pinch keeps ginger biscuits in a tin behind her desk that she's willing to share if you've been careful enough with the books. He gives Potter a disgusted look, which Potter, as usual, ignores. "Off with you, Mr Carmichael," Potter says, far too cheerfully for Draco's liking, "and you best not let Professor Chang find you up again at three in the morning reading those ridiculous comics of yours. You know terrible literature annoys her."

Carmichael, a disturbingly freckled lad with hair like one of the painting's fiery haystack, frowns. "But I've a Charms exam to revise for still--"

"Ought to have thought of that earlier," Draco says. He points his wand at them. "Bed. Now. Before I set a Pepper Breath Hex on the lot of you. Again."

For a moment, Draco thinks Carmichael's going to defy him, but the slightest dip of Draco's wand makes the boy flinch and take a step back, his arms tightening around the pile of books against his chest.

"We're going," Carmichael says petulantly, and Draco knows he'll have a hell of a time with the little bastard in his next class. Sometimes Draco hates teenagers. He conveniently forgets he was one himself not that long ago. That's a part of his life he'd rather leave behind, as impossible as that might be when he's employed at his bloody alma mater. Finding himself a Founders Teaching Fellow at Hogwarts after his eighth year hadn't been the prestigious Ministry career he'd planned for himself in the Slytherin common room back in fifth year, but beggars mustn't be choosers in this post-war era, and McGonagall's offer to work with Slughorn had been his only option one year after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The boys drag their feet, taking their cue from Carmichael, whose brow's starting to furrow. Well, bollocks on that, Draco thinks. Rules against cruelty to students be damned; sometimes you just have to terrify the little shits.

"Spiritus pipericus!" Draco lunges forward, and with a howl, the third-years begin to sprint to Ravenclaw Tower, book satchels knocking against their small frames. Carmichael slips, but his fellow students grab him by the sleeves, hauling him in their wake. Smoke's beginning to curl from his open mouth, and even though Draco knows he'll have McGonagall to face down in the morning, he's rather satisfied with himself.

Only when they disappear from view does Potter start laughing. Draco can't keep back a small smile himself.

“I honestly thought he was going to piss himself this time,” Draco says, leaning against a frigid stone, then thinking better of it, despite the Warming Charms he'd imbued into his robe. Even magic isn't effective against the horrible Scottish weather. "Bloody fucking tit."

“Well, you aren’t half-intimidating when you start threatening them. Reminds me of Snape when he was tetchy.” Potter eyes him up and down, his mouth twitching into a grin. "You've even got the robe sweep down now."

Draco strides across the hall with a flourish, letting his robe swirl around him as he turns. The shadows from the nooks and crannies slide towards him, drawn by a summoning spell woven into the thick black wool. It's a dramatic display, Draco knows full well. Even Pansy'd been impressed when he'd first shown her the Charm, and she's been critical of his sartorial choices since they were eight.

"I've no idea what you're on about," Draco says as he gives Potter a practiced glare. It's not as if he'd spent all summer in front of his mirror perfecting it, after all. After two years of apprenticing to Slughorn, he'd been given his own classes to teach this term, and he's determined to keep them in check by paying homage to the only professor he'd ever trusted. So far it's worked. Mostly. They're not entirely terrified of him yet, but Draco's certain he'll wear them down by Easter hols.

Potter's claps echo down the hallway. "Well done, you. All you need is the greasy black hair--"

“You do know I can hear you, Mr Potter,” comes an unmistakably deep voice from the wall. Draco straightens his robe and shoves his wand back into his pocket. Damn it; Severus himself is lurking among a group of terrified shepherds in a Roman pastoral painting, a particularly sour look to his face as he shoves them aside, scattering bleating sheep around the ruins. “Mocking your elders as usual, I see. And you, Mr Malfoy, participating. How very disappointing." He scowls at Draco, making Draco fidget in that way only he could. One look from his former Head of House and Draco's sixteen again, gangly, awkward and embarrassed. "Well." Severus's mouth thins. "I had something I was going to warn you of, but now I shan’t.” He fades into the background and then is gone from the frame, nowhere to be seen in any of the portraits down the hall. That's done for it, then. Draco's quite certain he'll get an earful once he's alone in his room again.

"I hate it when he does that," Potter says, frowning down the hall. "Sneaking up on you like that--it's not right, I say."

That's not even what concerns Draco. He's used to Severus's unexpected appearances. The man's always shown up at the most inopportune times; Draco's quite certain it's one of Severus's few joys, both in life and in portraithood. Besides, the man doesn't even bother to pay lip service to the concept of privacy where Draco's concerned. Not that Draco can truly complain. Talking to Severus's portrait helped him get through the first term of his eighth year.

"I'll have you know I spent two weeks on those robe Charms," Draco says after a moment. He frowns. "Really, he ought to have been flattered."

Potter grins at him. “Now you’ll have to do detention too. Snape will make you muck out the stables all by yourself.”

“I’ll have Carmichael beg him for mercy." Draco pulls his robe tighter against the cold and pushes up the glasses perched on the edge of his nose. Pansy swears he wears them just to make himself look more intelligent. She's not half-wrong, if he's honest. He only needs them to read Slughorn's cramped handwriting, but he rather likes the stern gravitas the rectangular black frames have given him over the past two years. "Severus won’t be able to tolerate the swotty earnestness.”

“Or the freckles.” Potter's always thought himself far more amusing than he actually is, a rather annoying, if occasionally charming trait. Tonight, however, Draco just wants to be done with their nightly rounds and tucked back in bed with a good book and the half-bottle of Ogden's he's been tippling from since Sunday.

They make their way down the hall, occasionally knocking each other into a statue or tapestry just to be arseholes. Really, as much as he complains, patrolling together every Wednesday is one of their myriad Hogwarts duties that Draco enjoys the most. When he received the assignment in their first year of Fellows training, he'd been unsure. He'd only been nineteen, and rather certain the seventh years he just been in class with the term before wouldn't give a damn if he caught them up to nefarious deeds. Not to mention, he and Potter had only just barely mended their fences during their eighth year; they were nothing like friends when they'd been chosen to be in the first cohort of Founders Teaching Fellows. He’d expected McGonagall to assign him patrol duty with Blaise and to match Potter with Granger, or perhaps even Chang, though she looked even more unhappy at the prospect of teaming up with Potter than Draco had. Draco supposes it must be rather awkward to work with your erstwhile ex. He's rather grateful he'd never succumbed to Blaise's wiles.

Now, however, after several terms of terrifying small children in the middle of the night, Draco secretly looks forward to Wednesday and his chance to roam the halls with Potter, not that he'd ever admit that to the tit. Besides, he'd discovered on their first duty night that one word from Potter sent the wretches scurrying away back to their common rooms without much of an argument. They might not respect a Malfoy, but they bloody well weren't about to nark off the Boy Who Destroyed the Dark Lord and Saved the Wizarding World Twice. Draco was more than willing to put that fact to work for himself, even if it meant tolerating Potter and his wretched sense of humour.

“Should we try to do the Astronomy Tower after the bathroom?” Potter asks as the staircase shifts under them, reattaching to another side of the fourth floor. Down below them another staircase thunks into place, sending echoes through the halls. “I think Sinistra has the Warming Charms up on the roof now.”

Sometimes, if they have time, they spend a few moments looking out over the lake and the dark rolling hills beyond the castle. Only a week ago, Potter surprised Draco with a trip during the Draconid meteor shower. They’d stayed up on the Tower, settled on the stone benches beside the parapet, breath white puffs against the dark sky as they watched the stars fall and burn emanating from his namesake constellation until far past their usual duty time.

In his eighth year, Draco had refused to even go up the hated tower, always feeling the fear not only of that night, seeing Dumbledore tumble from its apex in a burst of green light, but also of the months of dread and despair following. It'd been Potter who'd dragged him up there during their first year as Fellows, late one February night when the promise of snow was heavy and crisp on the cold air. He'd made Draco stand there and relive those moments. Draco hadn't even realised Potter'd been on the tower that night and hearing his once-hated school nemesis quietly tell him it hadn't been his fault, that he'd been manipulated by a megalomaniac, had caused something deep inside himself to crack. Draco'd held himself together until he'd closed the door of his quarters in the dungeons, and then he'd slid to the floor, entire body shaking with grief and rage. He'd slept there, half on the rug, exhausted with emotion, but when he'd woken up late the next morning, having missed an entire class as Slughorn's teaching assistant, he'd felt different. Freer. Cleaner.

They'd never talked about it again, he and Potter, but Draco thinks Potter understands. The next time they'd gone to the Astronomy Tower, it'd been Draco's idea. Potter'd just stood with him quietly, watching the Squid splash tentacles through lake. Draco thinks their friendship truly started at that moment, with Potter realising what Draco needed was silence and companionship. Now it's where they go for a moment of peace, the two of them.

“It’s time for the Orionids. Sinistra’s probably up there herself,” Draco says.

Potter gives him a thoughtful look. He knows Draco often hesitates to go the tower if other people might be there. There've been too many rumours spread about him since the war. Some of them are actually true. “Or we could go check on the dungeons if you’d prefer.”

Draco gives him a small smile, realising how well Potter can read him now. “No, let’s go up the tower.” The dungeons are close to his heart, but the tower feels right tonight. Even if Sinistra's crouched over a telescope. Draco doesn't mind her presence, if he's honest. Aurora's always been kind to him, taking him under her wing when he'd come on staff. He's had more than one cup of tea in her cosy tower flat, her small copper Crup curled at his feet as he complains about the difficulties of teaching in general and dealing with Slughorn in particular.

They make their way to the fifth floor. As they enter the hallway where the Prefects' Bathroom is, Harry's arm suddenly blocks Draco’s way, preventing him from moving any closer.

“What is it, Potter?” Draco says, his voice pitched softly. He's concerned; usually, Potter is more carefree than this.

Potter leans in, his face close to Draco, green eyes serious. “I smell bubbles,” he whispers. Draco nearly laughs in his face.

“Merlin, Potter,” Draco says in a more normal tone, the resonance of his voice loud in the deserted hall. He pulls away from Potter and smoothes the wrinkles in his cloak. “You really had me there. Ten points to Gryffindork for mocking a Malfoy. Or did you just want to share my Warming Charms?”

Potter doesn’t take the obvious chance to take the piss. “No, actually,” he says. “I do smell bubbles from the taps. I think it’s the honey mint. Last time I smelled that this strongly we had that Erkling infestation in the Ravenclaw bath.”

Draco nods, and pulls out his wand. Harry’s is already in his hand, through some motion Draco didn’t see. He’d blame it on the shadows but Harry’s that swift in daylight too. He’s a formidable dueller and has a dangerously quick response time. Draco still doesn’t understand why Harry turned down his guaranteed spot with the Aurors at the last minute, choosing to apply as a Founders Teaching Fellow at Hogwarts instead. He'd asked Granger once, but she'd just shrugged and told him that was Potter's story to tell. Draco hasn't had the courage to push him about it; anytime anyone brings up the Aurors around Potter, he gets an odd look on his face, then makes one of his ridiculous jokes--a deflecting mechanism if Draco'd ever seen one, and Malfoys are the unequivocal masters of polite diversion. One day Potter will tell him, he supposes, or Draco'll get pissed enough to demand to know. Until then, there's only so rude Draco's willing to be, even towards Potter. He has to work with the idiot at least for the remainder of this school year. Draco doesn't know what will happen after that; surprisingly, it's not something he wants to think about, the lot of them going their separate ways. He'll even miss Potter, if he's honest.

Draco loathes being honest.

After a quick, silent exchange of gestures, they approach the door, Draco at the front and Harry covering him. Draco reaches to turn the handle: it rattles but won’t budge. Definitely not Erklings, then.

"Spelled shut," he mouths at Potter, and Potter rolls his eyes. "Badly, I might add. Honestly, what are you teaching those little bastards?"

"Fire crabs this week for me," Potter says. "Practicing their defensive shields."

Draco snorts. "How very exciting." He tries an Alohomora, but it doesn't work. For a moment a bit of worry niggles at him. If someone's hurt in there, it'll be his bollocks on a platter at the next staff meeting.

Potter goes on, ignoring Draco. "But Opal's been testing the sixth years on nonverbal spells. I reckon someone mucked up a variant of the Locking Spell." He flicks his wand at the door handle. "Bombarda."

The doors blow open with a truly impressive bang and a pale orange blaze, hurling back against the stone of the castle. Bloody hell, but Potter's always flash with his magic. It's annoying, really. And terribly attractive in an irritating way, perhaps, but Draco's always been drawn to raw magical power. It's his curse.

Through the smoke, two figures are visible, clenched together in combat of some sort. They’ve even torn each other’s robes open. In front of them, the prefects' tub bubbles out of control with something that smells vaguely of apples, to Draco’s mind. Honey-mint his arse. Potter was a useless nitwit at times. And really, what sort of idiots would get into a brawl here of all places? Slick tiles, dangerous edges, a drowning hazard--

Wait, no. That's not what's going on at all.

Draco feels warmth at his front from the Prefects' Bathroom and also against his back. He belatedly realizes that Potter is standing right behind him. Together, they gape at the two students in front of them who gape right back. No one moves. A bubble pops loudly in the steamy silence.

Draco turns around to face Potter. “Professor Potter, please tell me what I’m looking at.”

Potter’s tanned cheeks are reddened, but he meets Draco's eye and clears his throat. "Professor Malfoy, I’d say Jones has his hands in Delamare’s pants, and Delamare is returning the favour with interest." His gaze darts to the boys and back again to Draco. His flush deepens. "In my professional opinion."

Draco shakes his head slowly, wanting nothing more than the rest of that bottle of firewhisky and a long, uninterrupted lie down. This is going to be all over the school by morning if they’re not careful. He rubs a tired hand over his face.

“I'm fairly certain this might not be what McGonagall meant by interhouse cooperation, but we probably still shouldn’t tell Hermione. She might put them on a poster.” Potter’s mouth is quirked in a small smile.

"Merlin help us all." Granger's been tasked with promoting house unity this term, and she's driving the whole bloody school mad in the process. Draco turns back to face the two boys who're still too close for his comfort. “Jones. Delamare. Further apart, if you will.”

When the two prefects don’t move, Draco suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. “Gentlemen, please. It’s nothing we’ve not seen before. Now do up your trousers and get you back to your houses.”

“Aren’t you going to punish us?” Jones the Hufflepuff prefect is sooner to speak, but then again, he’s not facing his Assistant Head-of-House. Yet. Draco can't wait to tell Blaise about this particular episode; it'll delight him, Draco's certain. He's been grousing for years now about how boring this current crop of Hufflepuffs are and how unfair it was that he'd been assigned to them when Draco'd been given Slytherin. Then again, he only has to put up with Sprout as his staff mentor and not Slughorn. After two years, Draco's grown a bit fond of the sychophantic, vain bastard, but even Draco can only endure so much currying of favour on a daily basis.

Draco sighs heavily. “Yes. Of course. Ten points from Slytherin and Hufflepuff. And you each have detention for a week. In the stables.” He pauses, eyeing them. “Together with Hagrid.”

If that’s not fitting punishment, he doesn’t know what is. Strangely, they both seem relieved, although Delamare is still not meeting his eye. Draco's not surprised by that; Delamare's one of the more popular Slytherin prefects both in and out of the dungeons. Not to mention, his parents are, while not technically part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, right along the perimeter of the pureblood families with wealth and influence. Mother and Father wouldn't be best pleased with the young master if this gets out, Draco suspects. He understands. Rather too well, in fact.

As the sheepish prefects exit the room, pulling their robes together as they go, Potter goes to turn off the taps. “It’s a waste of good bubbles.”

Draco eyes the tub speculatively, steam rising off of it. “Probably filthy with teenager germs."

"Says the ancient old man of twenty-one." Potter squats at the edge of the tub and reaches a hand into the bubbles. Scooping up a handful, he blows them towards Draco, who dodges out of the way.

“Cease being maudlin immediately, Potter. It doesn’t suit you.” Draco folds his hands into the sleeves of his robes and draws his arms to cross his chest. “Besides, weren’t you the one complaining of back pain after supervising Quidditch with Gryffindor the other day?”

Potter pulls the drain and shakes water and pale green and blue bubbles from his fingers. "It's strange, isn't it? Still being here when most everyone else has moved on?"

Draco sits on one of the marble benches beneath the stained glass window. The mermaid looks down on him and flicks her tail his way before hiding behind her hair. Draco smiles faintly at her, then glances back at Potter. The steam from the draining bath's curling through his hair, making it limp and messier than usual, not to mention fogging up the edges of his glasses. He ought to keep an Impervius on them, Draco thinks, but Potter never remembers the Charm. His own glasses--charmed and perfectly clear--slide down the bridge of his nose for the umpteenth time, and Draco pushes them back up.

"I suppose," he says after a moment. "Although in a way it feels like home, so there's a part of me that doesn't mind so much." He moves his foot away from a trail of soapy water on the tile that's threatening to breach his boot. "It's not as if I have anywhere else to go." The Manor's not an option now, not with his father practically confined to one wing in an attempt to avoid Azkaban. The Malfoy name hasn't any cachet any more, thanks to Lucius. What little familial stature is left is due to Mother's quiet work behind the scenes, using whatever connections she can to repair their shattered reputation. Hogwarts is safe for Draco, a familiar space, even if it's haunted with ghosts of the war that he'd rather not face. That's a small price to pay, really, even if means waking up in the darkness of his bedroom from nightmares he'll never talk about.

The bath's quiet for a long moment, one of those heavy, dull silences Draco's become used to since the war. Potter sighs finally and pushes himself up, walking over to sit next to Draco on the bench.

"I know what you mean," Potter says. He leans his head against the stained glass. The mermaid's tail disappears into his hair. "Even after everything, I like it here best."

"No desire to escape to London?" Draco asks lightly.

Potter snorts. "And dance to the Ministry's tune? I think not." He stretches his legs out, the toes of his boots covered in pale green foam. "I'll stay here, thanks, and live my own life, not the one Fudge and his ilk want for me."

"Your paypacket would be bigger," Draco feels the need to point out. The Fellows barely earn enough for the necessities of life, like liquor and fine chocolates and the occasional Twilfit's robe, a fact that he's protested more than once to McGonagall. She's not been impressed, really.

"Not worth it." Potter takes his glasses off and wipes them clean. "So. Jones and Delamare, eh? Wouldn't have thought the two of them would have been having it off with each other."

Draco doesn't disagree. "Boredom makes strange bedfellows?"

"Or something." Potter slips his glasses back on and blinks at Draco through them. "I've seen odder pairings. Hermione and McLaggen, for one, although that didn't work out, thank Christ."

"You and Chang," Draco says. The bubbles in the bath pop and fizz, the green foam changing into peach.

"Or you and me." Potter looks over at him, and Draco laughs.

"That would have been a nightmare."

Potter knocks the bubbles off his boots and stretches, the bench shifting beneath the two of them. "Probably. Although there was a time in sixth year that I rather fancied you. Followed you everywhere, and told myself it was because you were obviously up to no good."

"Obviously." Draco glances at Potter, then sits up, his stomach flipping at the way Potter's looking at him. "You're joking, of course."

"Not really." Potter unfastens the top button of his robe. His throat is damp and long. Draco can see the very tip of the fiery phoenix tattoo that he knows, having surreptitiously looked during shirts and skins Quidditch pick-up games in the summer, curls up Potter's bicep and around his shoulder over his collarbone. "It just took me a few years to figure it out."

"You're off your nut," Draco says, certain that Potter's taking the piss. "Don't even start with me, you arse--I saw you mooning over Chang, and then the Weasley girl. She was plastered to your side all of eighth year." His eyes narrow. "Isn't it about time you gave her a ring or something? Poor girl has to have earned it by now, listening to your awful jokes."

Potter scratches his chin. There's a bit of stubble there; Potter's notorious for skipping a shave every few days. "We broke up two years ago. You know that."

Draco does, he knew the week it happened, but he'll never admit it. Especially not to Potter. "I don't keep up with your affaires de coeur. From what Pansy tells me, Witch Weekly has you with a new woman every few months."

"You're an idiot," Potter says, but he sounds affectionate. It unnerves Draco, and he's grateful for the sudden explosion that rumbles through the tower, rattling the tiles in the floor of the bath. An ungodly stench drifts in from the hallway, sulphurous and rank.

"Oh, Merlin," Draco says, covering his nose with the hem of his robe. His eyes water. "Another demon dung bomb this week? Really?"

Potter's fist is pressed against his mouth. "I told Ron to stop selling those fuckers in the Hogsmeade shop. Bad enough they can smuggle them in from London." He staggers to his feet, coughing. "McGonagall's going to have kittens."

"I told you," Severus says from the painting of a cliffside rendezvous across the room. He looks dour, yet slightly gleeful. "If you hadn't been mocking me, I might have warned you in time."

"Thanks ever so," Potter says from behind his clenched fingers. The smell worsens into rotten eggs and rancid haggis, and Draco gags. He despises the Weasley Wheezes, every last one of them, with the possible exception of the Skiving Snackbox that he keeps hidden under his mattress for those mornings when he absolutely can't tolerate a class or two with Slughorn and needs instead a few hours more of peace in his bed.

"I suppose we should investigate." Draco stands, wiping his stinging eyes. He casts a Bubble-Head Charm and the stench fades away; Potter does the same.

At least that conversation was interrupted. Draco doesn't know what to make of it, but he suspects Potter's mocking him somehow, which irritates him immensely. He'd thought they were past that, at least somewhat, and to think that Potter still thinks it's great fun to send Draco up--well. It stings a bit, it does, and that infuriates Draco even more. He doesn't like to be vulnerable, doesn't like to be made the buffoon.

When he finds out who set this bomb off, he'll have their guts for garters, that's for damned certain. With any luck it'll be a Gryffindor. That might, at least, make up for Potter's twatishness. And the points he’d been forced to take from Slytherin. He's not looking forward to the whinging he'll hear the next time he steps foot in the common room.

A dark mood settling over him, Draco follows Potter into the hall.

***

"He's utterly mad, of course," Draco says, dropping onto Blaise's overstuffed sofa. Dark red pinot noir sloshes over the rim of his glass and onto his fingers; Draco switches his glass to his other hand and licks the wine off his skin. No sense wasting it, after all. Blaise's mother always sends the better bottles over from her tiny French vineyard.

Blaise looks up from his marking. He's already groused twice about the second years' inability to properly regurgitate the medio-magical properties of the moly plant, despite his purportedly well-planned and executed lecture Thursday last. "Are you still on about Potter?"

Draco scowls at him. "I am not on about Potter, Blaise. I'm merely pointing out that I don't appreciate him taking the piss like that. Fancying me, my arse. He spent all of sixth year irritating me at a time when I had other things on my mind, thanks ever so."

"Yes, yes, threat of death from the Dark Lord, needing to murder Dumbledore, and all that rot." Blaise's quill scratches over some poor student's parchment, filling the margin with red. "I'm quite aware of the history."

Sometimes Blaise can be extraordinarily aggravating. "Sorry my life was a little traumatic," Draco snaps. "Am I boring you?"

Blaise sets his quill down. "Yes, but that's beside the point. I bored you when I tried to tell you about the project McGonagall's given Granger and me--"

"No one really cares about whether or not you'll be able to find the Room of Requirement," Draco says, and he knows he's being petulant. He just can't be arsed to care. "Besides, it was destroyed by Fiendfyre. I was there; I saw it go up in flames." His stomach twists a bit. The dreams about that moment, watching the fire pull Vince back into its depths still hit him hard some nights. "You're chasing a wisp of memory, nothing more."

"Granger and I disagree." Blaise leans his elbows on the stacks of marked parchment in front of him. "However, the point I was trying to make is that the entire subject of Potter bores me and has since first year. No one cares about your silly little pash on the idiot--just ask Pansy and Greg. Snog him, get it out of your system, and for Christ's sake, move on."

Draco's appalled. "I--"

"Want to shag him." Blaise pinches the end of his nose. "We know. You're friendly with him now, so get on with it."

"I hate you," Draco says into his wineglass. "Besides, he's straight."

The look Blaise gives him is sceptical. "And yet he admits to fancying you."

"As a prank." Draco tucks himself into the corner of the sofa, his shoulders slumped lower than his spirits. He doesn't quite know why the whole situation bothers him so much. "He can't possibly mean it."

"Why not?" Blaise stands and heads for the sideboard. He pours himself a glass of wine. "You're not unshaggable."

"Tell that to my cock," Draco mutters. He hasn't taken anyone to bed for a good year or so now. He's anathema to the wizarding population--no one wants to be seen in public or private with a Malfoy now--and it's too bloody exhausting to trawl the Muggle clubs unless he's desperate. Which, Draco supposes, he's rather close to being at the moment. "Anyway, he's Potter, for one, with all those fan owls he receives every week."

Blaise has to concede the point. The amount of post dropped on Potter every breakfast is ridiculous, even three years after the war. Potter burns most of it unopened, but the Fellows have nabbed a few letters before they've been Incendioed and read them aloud. Even Granger's been amused by some of them. And horrified. Quite a few of the young witches of Britain seem to be willing to perform intriguing sexual acts for their brave young hero’s enjoyment if he so desired.

"And again," Draco says, pausing to take a hearty sip of wine, "he's never gone out with anyone without a fanny."

"That you know of," Blaise says. He leans against the sideboard, arms folded, his wineglass hanging delicately from his long, dark fingers. Sometimes Draco regrets not shagging him, even if he prefers not mixing friendship with pleasure. Blaise would be a spectacular fuck, he's quite certain. Blaise lifts his wineglass to his lips. "Friendly or not, you're not bosom intimates, and he might have done but not said. Shagging a bloke or a bird isn't mutually exclusive, after all."

"Obviously." Draco's feeling quite put out. "It's not as if I haven't indulged in a girl now and then." Fine, if you didn't count the occasional fifth year blow job from Pans--which Draco doesn't since in his opinion a mouth is a mouth is a mouth regardless of one's gender--it'd technically been one girl, back in sixth year after a party which had been fuelled by a rather potent batch of Greg's home-brewed vodka, and, to be honest, Pansy still hasn't entirely forgiven him for shagging Daphne instead of her, given that she's his best friend and feels that terrible mistake ought to have been hers to suffer through. Nevertheless, he hates it when Blaise implies he's sexually naive. Just because one of Blaise's great-grandmothers was Veela doesn't mean he's the only bloody one in the room with sexual experience, thank you very much.

Blaise sets his glass on the sideboard. "For the moment, you're, for all intents and purposes, celibate, Draco. It worries me. No one should be carrying as much pent-up sexual frustration as you are. You're practically vibrating with the need to be fucked."

"Don't be vulgar." Draco knows he sounds like his mother, and he's slightly horrified. He covers by crossing one leg over the other and swallowing half his wine in one gulp.

"All I'm saying is that you ought to have jumped him, in my opinion." Blaise eyes Draco in a way he finds quite uncomfortable. "Look, you've been obsessed with the twat since first year. The entirety of our school days were spent with the whole common room having to endure your rants about how terrible Potter was--from his inability to do magic properly to his ridiculous fancying of gingers to how bloody frightful his hair was, which point I will concede to you. You'd think the man could find a decent barber now--"

"Or a tailor," Draco says. "I've told him appearance is important--"

"Merlin's balls, just fuck him already." Blaise runs a hand over his close cropped hair. "Go up to his flat, strip yourself, and get down to it. Put us all out of our misery."

Draco scowls. "Shut it."

Blaise walks back over to the small table covered with half-unrolled scrolls. "You're driving me mad." He sits back down and picks up his marking quill, which he points at Draco. "You're a Malfoy. Pull yourself together and act like it, man."

"I really do hate you, you know."

"I'm ignoring you now," Blaise says, head bent over a scroll.

Draco sighs and slumps back into the sofa. He doesn't know why Potter had to complicate things. It's their last year as Fellows. Next term they'll all be busy trying to find new positions; Draco's already been owling a few research labs on the Continent. This isn't a distraction he needs at the moment, and if he's honest, Potter's distracting enough without having opened the door to Draco's fantasy life becoming real. It was bad enough that Draco had woken up to sticky bedsheets in the middle of last night, the remnants of a particularly erotic dream starring Potter’s mouth still lingering through the haze of sleep. That's not something Draco wants to become a more regular occurrence. Once every few months is enough, really.

"You're no help at all," he says to Blaise.

Blaise scrawls a Dreadful across the top of the scroll. "Again, ignoring you."

Fine, then. It's not as if Draco hasn't handled situations like this before. He'd fended off Blaise, for one. And Pansy. Well. To an extent. The spring of fifth year he'd allowed her to introduce him to the pleasures of being sucked off, which had ruined their relationship for a while, given that happened to be what made him realise he tended to prefer cocks to clitorises. The row they'd had when Pansy'd caught him with his prick in Vince's mouth on the Hogwarts train back to London after term had been epic. It'd taken all summer hols before she'd speak to him again, and he'd had to spend an entire week making certain Vince actually knew how to use a locking spell which was nigh on impossible. The whole experience had been horrid.

Draco doesn't want something like that happening again. He likes his friendship-of-sorts with Potter and the detente they've finally reached. They still argue sometimes, and Potter knows Draco's father is an off-limit subject, and yes, he can be an insufferable Gryffindor git, but Draco does enjoy his company.

And really, it's not as if Potter said he still fancied him. So he was interested once? It was five years ago, and they were both utter twats back then. Surely there's nothing to be concerned about, is there? He's been making a mountain out of a molehill again, just as his father always complains about. You're far too histrionic, Draco is what Lucius always says, and maybe he's right. This time, at least.

Draco drains his wineglass, a tight, heavy, burning feeling settling in his stomach. He doesn't like any of this.

Not one bit.

***

Draco's just wrapping up a lecture on Erumpent horns when the bell clangs, loud and dismal, from the Clock Tower and his final thoughts are lost in a flurry of ink-stained parchment and ratty quills being stuffed into satchels.

"I want precisely twelve and a quarter inches on the uses of Exploding Fluid from the Erumpent horn in potionbrewing by next class," he shouts as the second years stampede for the door. "No more, no less, and Mr Phillips, that means you should use a Measuring Charm this time. No extra margins--I know exactly what you lot are up to. White space, my arse! This isn't a blasted art curriculum I'm teaching."

He's gathering his own papers when there's a knock on his classroom door. Delamare's in the doorway, clutching his leather satchel to his shoulder and shifting from foot to foot.

"Professor Slughorn's not in yet, Delamare," Draco says, tucking the sheaf of parchment into his potions textbook. He glances up at the clock, ticking away in the back of the room. Horace likes to take an extra period for lunch to help him digest. It drives McGonagall spare each summer when she's setting the class schedules. "You've another hour before his next lecture."

"I'd actually like to talk to you, sir," Delamare says. There's a faint air of nervous terror drifting off him. "If you have a moment?"

Draco corks the phial of Exploding Fluid he'd used during his lecture and bins the remnants of scorched paper from his example of exactly how easy it is to scorch one's entire face with the stuff. Too many of his students require a practical illustration when it comes to laboratory safety. Maalouf has already singed half his eyebrows off. "I suppose." He perches on the edge of his stool, behind the tall professor's desk covered with stains and burns that he remembers from his own time on the other side of it. "What do you require?"

Delamare closes the classroom door behind him.

"Ah," Draco says. "It's to be one of those discussions then."

"I suppose." Delamare sets his satchel on one of the empty tables and chews his lip. "The other night--"

"I shan't say anything, if that's what you're concerned about." Draco eyes the boy in front of him. Delamare's tall and gangly, much the way Draco had been at his age. His dark brown hair's brushed back in a neat pompadour, and, unlike most of his fellow students, his tie is knotted in a precise Windsor and his school robe is impeccably tailored to best show off his long frame. Delamare has always been a tad neurotic as a student; despite his being a favourite of Slughorn's, the older professor has fretted for the past two years about whether or not Delamare's nervousness will get in the way of his future success. Draco remembers him as a quiet and skittish first-year, rather vaguely, during that year from hell he'd been so focused on the Vanishing Cabinet. The year Potter supposedly fancied him, and that thought makes him wince a bit.

Delamare hesitates. "Thank you, sir, but it's not just that. It's…" He trails off, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets and rocking forward on the balls of his feet. "You didn't seem all that surprised. You know. When you caught Jones and me--"

"In flagrante delicto?" Draco picks up a glass stirring rod and cleans it off with one of the scrap rags the elves keep laundered and folded in the top drawer of the desk. "Should I have been? It's not that uncommon, you realise. Whether or not it's spoken about in polite company."

"That's what Jones says." Delamare doesn't look convinced. "But it's not like he understands, not really. He's Welsh and his parents keep sheep. They eat groats for dinner sometimes, his mum makes nearly all his clothes out of their own wool, and they believe it's horrible to have a house elf." Delamare's voice rises. "Of course they think it's fine. They're sodding yoghurt-knitters."

"Language," Draco says, and Delamare deflates onto a stool.

Footsteps pound down the hallway outside, and Draco catches a flash of dark robes and red ties as a herd of Gryffindors passes by, laughing loudly.

"It's hard," Delamare says after a moment. "I've tried to fancy girls, you know. But then I'm in the Quidditch showers, and I can't help but looking. I don't try to, but then it happens, and I don't know what to do any more." He scrubs his hands across his face, leaving behind pink streaks on his cheeks. "And then you caught us and you didn't seem to care, not really--"

"Because I know what it's like," Draco says quietly. Delamare looks at him. Draco feels oddly on display, but he likes Delamare and he remembers exactly what it felt like to be standing in the middle of the showers, wanting so desperately not to be aware of the slick, smooth skin on display around him. He pushes his glasses up his nose and leans forward, elbows on the desk, drawing in a deep breath. "I wasn't surprised because I…" He searches for the right euphemism. The last thing he wants to do is discuss his sexual life with a student. "I prefer the company of men myself."

Delamare blinks at him. "You're bent."

"Yes." It feels strangely good to say it out loud. His close friends all know, after all, and Draco's certain other people suspect. Potter, for one. "It's not something I spread through the school, mind, so I'd prefer you to keep it to yourself, if you don't mind. I'd rather not have the common room speculating on my personal life."

"What do your parents think?" Delamare's looking at him like he's some sort of new and exotic potions ingredient. Draco's slightly disturbed by that.

"Frankly, we don't talk about it," Draco says. "It's not an issue except at Christmas when my father demands to know when I'm going to produce an heir." That's always a delightful argument, usually conducted after his father's had too much port at dessert. They rage at each other for a half-hour or so, with Draco pointing out he has plenty of time before he has to think about fatherhood for fuck's sake, while his mother flutters about in the background attempting to distract them both and force some Turkish coffee into Lucius to sober him up. Good luck with that. Since the end of the war, his father's fully crawled into the bottle he'd started tippling from during their tenure with Voldemort in the Manor. The whole affair ends up with Draco back at his Hogwarts flat knocking back a few glasses of whisky and ranting at Pansy over the Floo. The holidays are always so delightful with his family.

Delamare's face crumples. "That's the problem, isn't it? It's just me and my sister, and we haven't any cousins, not on father's side at least, so I'm the one who's expected to carry on the family name. Not a fat chance of that, is there, what with me fancying lads."

An odd empathetic pang goes through Draco and is quickly followed by a surge of irritation--not at Delamare per se, but at the idiocy of the entire bloody situation. Delamare's and his as well, if he's honest. "Bollocks to that," he snaps. "We've been taught all our lives, fellows like you and me, that we're supposed to subsume who we are in favour of our family tree. But what happens when our family tree's failed us? What do we do then, Mr Delamare? You can't live your life for your parents." Draco pauses, discomfited. He's never admitted this to anyone other than Pansy, but when he looks at Delamare's pinched, worried face, he sees himself. A boy torn between familial duty and what he truly wants. He bites his lip, then makes his decision.

"One day they'll be dead," Draco says, looking past Delamare to the row of locked storage cabinets along the side of the room. He sees a movement in the smoke-stained portrait of Nicholas Flamel hung beside them, a swirl of black wool robe that he's fairly certain he recognizes, and he suddenly feels a bit safer. He's had this conversation before, with his own professor, and the enormity of the trust Delamare's placing in him sinks in. "And where will you be? A miserable bastard who's done everything for your family motto except be yourself? That's rot. Be happy. And if shagging a yoghurt-knitter like Jones makes you happy, to hell with what your parents or your sister think."

It feels good to say it, to tell someone else that they don't have to make the mistakes he has. He just wishes he had the strength of character to stand up to his own parents, to tell them he doesn't think they'll ever get their longed-for grandson from him. Not anytime soon, at least. He's not certain he ever wants to settle down with one person, but if he ever did, he knows it wouldn't be with a woman. He wouldn't even take Pansy's offer to be his wife in name only, no matter how tempting it would be to silence his father's nagging. It wouldn't be fair to her, much less to himself, that much he's sure of.

Delamare doesn't look entirely convinced; Draco's not surprised. He's been raised his entire life to believe the fate of his family rests on his thin shoulders. It's still something Draco's struggling with, now that he knows he's well and truly bent. He suspects he always will.

"But if I'm the last one--"

"There are other ways." Draco takes his glasses off and cleans them on the sleeve of his robe before sliding them back on. "Healers, I've heard tell, can do remarkable things in this day and age, if you're so committed to your family genetics being passed down."

He doesn't mention he'd looked into this himself after the war, although he's not certain he wants to continue the Malfoy line. Not after what his father's done. Draco's still struggling with that, with what Lucius put his wife and son through for what? A mad grasp at power? The glory of life under a madman's thumb? Draco doesn't ever want to feel that kind of fear before, to worry daily if one wrong word, one misjudged action would result in the death of himself or someone he loves.

"However," Draco says, "I will warn you, I suspect the Sacred Twenty-Eight have intermarried so much it's within our best interests to bring a little fresh blood into the gene pool." Perhaps if they'd done that earlier the war wouldn't have been possible, and Draco wouldn't wake up in the middle of the night terrified and throat raw from his shouts with Severus hovering anxiously in the portrait frame across from his bed.

Delamare smiles faintly at that. "Such radical notions, sir."

"For the love of Circe, don't say that in front of Professor Granger. She'll be far too thrilled with my political progress." Draco tucks a stray lock of hair behind his ear and studies Delamare.

The boy still looks defeated, and that bothers Draco more than he'd like to admit. He doesn't know when he's become so ridiculously soft. To be honest, he blames Potter for it. All that awful, earnest Gryffindorness does tend to wear off on one, whether or not one likes it. It's terribly obnoxious. He sighs.

"If there's one thing I've learnt from the war," Draco says, "it's that life is too damned short to let other people dictate who you are, even if it is your beloved family. I may still be learning that lesson, but I'd like to think I've at least become a bit more of my own man. So, buck up, lad. Stop angsting about some future sprog. You're only what, sixteen?"

"Seventeen in January."

Draco throws his hands in the air. "Barely out of childhood yourself, then. Stop worrying so much about what you think your bloody life is supposed to be, because I can assure you it will take twists and turns you'll never anticipate. Carpe diem, Delamare, before the world outside of Hogwarts beats you down."

That makes Delamare laugh. "Cheerful, aren't you, sir?"

"Realistic, I'm afraid." The bell clangs again, its doleful strike only slightly muffled by the closed door. "You're late for class."

"It's only Arithmancy." Delamare drapes his satchel over his shoulder. "I'm already getting an Outstanding, so Vector lets me slide a bit. She likes me." He pauses at the door, hand on the knob. "Thanks, sir. I won't tell anyone about this, but it helped, I think."

Draco waves him off. "Class, Delamare. Vector may forgive your tardiness, but she won't be so happy with me for keeping you from her lecture."

He waits until Delamare's out of the classroom before he sags back onto his stool, pressing his fingertips to his eyes, glasses pushed up on his forehead. "Fuck," he says.

"You did well." Severus is there, having pushed Flamel out of his own picture frame.

Draco drops his hands to the desk, looking up at his old professor. "Was I that tortured as a boy?"

"More so," Severus says, a faint smile quirking his thin lips. "Much more dramatic, if I recall our conversations. Certain that your father was going to kill you in your sleep. Or have the Dark Lord set Nagini on you."

"He might have done."

Severus snorts, his lank hair falling across his cheek. "Not bloody likely. I always thought it was rather Freudian. Whatever you might think of your father at the moment and whatever failings he may have as a man, you should never doubt that he's always doted on you. Sometimes to your detriment."

Draco doesn't quite believe that. "Only if I'd done what he asked."

"We all see things in our own way," Severus says. "I've learned that much in death."

"Too bloody right we do." Draco gathers the remainder of his papers, stacking them neatly. He doesn't want to have another discussion about his father with Severus right now. He knows his former Head of House means well, but Draco has had enough soul-baring for the day, and he feels vaguely ill. Talking further about his father would bring up bile he doesn’t wish to air, and he’s too fragile at the moment to be able to address Severus’s death without a few tears.

Severus wisely stays quiet as Draco smoothes his robes and strides purposefully to the door. If his silence isn’t a reproach, it’s definitely a reminder of sorts.

Draco pauses on the lintel of the classroom. “Thank you, Severus. For… you know. Everything.”

He heads down the hall before he can hear the rejoinder, but imagines he hears a “blasted students” muttered from the frame on the wall.

He entirely agrees.

***

Draco's late to the Halloween Feast, partially because he's been avoiding staff functions as much as possible this week. It's odd with Potter, even though Draco knows he's being ridiculous, and the conversation with Delamare has stirred up old emotions he'd thought he'd put to rest. He's even started taking meals in his room, or coming to the Great Hall just before the elves spirit away the remnants of food so that he won't run into Potter in a social setting.

Still, he can't get out of the Halloween festivities, not without McGonagall tracking him down and demanding to know where he's been. He's already had one shirty memo from her appear in the middle of his laundry pile informing him that she'd noticed his absence from staff meeting and that she expected his presence the following week.

When he arrives, there are two empty seats at the Fellows end of the head table: his usual one between Potter and Blaise and the other next to Granger, who's deep in conversation with Chang about angles of rotation and drag coefficients in Aerial Charms. There's no question which Draco'll take, even though Granger gives him a curious glance when he sits down next to her, and Potter frowns across Chang before he turns back to his plate piled high with pumpkin pasties and gravy-drenched roast. Honestly, Potter still has the culinary tastes of a first year at times.

He's rewarded for his cowardice by being forced to endure Binns' droningly dull chronicle of Halloween at Hogwarts for a good half-hour before Granger nudges his elbow and whispers, "Are you all right?"

"Brilliant," Draco murmurs as he finishes the last bite of pumpkin trifle the elves have dropped off at his plate. It's a bit too sweet and cloying, to be honest. The Manor elves would have added more cream, less allspice, and far less muscovado sugar. "Always."

Granger eyes him, then glances back down at the table where Potter's conversing with Blaise--a little too convivially in Draco's opinion. "You two aren't squabbling again, are you?"

"No," Draco snaps, and he pushes his plate away. It disappears with rattle of silver against china. "And we don't squabble, thanks ever so much."

Granger doesn't look convinced.

"There's nothing wrong," Draco says, a bit too forcefully, and Potter's head turns his way. Their eyes meet for the briefest moment before something Blaise says catches Potter's attention again, and he laughs, looking away from Draco.

Draco has a strong desire to hex Blaise's perfect face with boils.

"If something was wrong," Granger says, a curl escaping from the knot at the nape of her neck as she shifts closer to him, "you could say, you know."

How much has Potter told her, Draco wonders. Surely he hadn't admitted any attraction to Draco to her along the way. Granger would have been horrified, Draco's certain of it. She still harangues him about his politics; though Draco's renounced his father's belief system publicly and privately, he doesn't see the point in being the sort of ridiculously radical reformist Granger is. Traditional values tweaked enough to be modern, that'll do for him, thanks. He's sceptical of Granger's insistence that the whole of government be overhauled; the established corridors of power still have their uses, after all, a point which drives Granger mad with righteous indignation every time he makes it. Granger tolerates him, even claims to like him when she has a pint or two in her, but Draco knows damned well she'd never see him as good enough for her precious Potter. She's still upset that Potter'd tossed over Ginny Weasley towards the end of their eighth year. Granger'd been sure they'd all play happy families the rest of their lives, her and Potter and the ginger horrors. The row she and Potter'd had back then had been fierce, with most of Gryffindor taking Granger and the Weaselette's side. From what Draco'd heard, Potter'd been a pariah for weeks in the Gryffindor common room until he'd finally made peace with Ginny just before their N.E.W.T.s. Even Blaise had felt a bit sorry for the speccy git.

"I'll pass, thanks." Draco scrapes his chair backwards. "If you don't mind, I've marking to do."

He's almost managed to escape when a hand grabs his robe. He turns, and Potter's looking up at him from his chair, a furrow between his brows. "Have a moment?" Potter asks, and Draco wants to say no, he really does, but his stomach flutters strangely, and he can't help but shrug, ignoring the pointed look Blaise throws his way.

Potter stands and walks down the length of the head table with Draco. He waits until they pass Hagrid at the end, then he says, without glancing at Draco, "Are you narked off?"

"Don't be an idiot." Draco keeps his voice low. He doesn't like the way the older staff are eyeing them. It's almost offensive, frankly, and that disturbs Draco. "Why would I be?"

Potter shoves his hands in his robe pockets as they edge their way past the student tables. "I don't know," he says. "You just seem…" He huffs that way Potter only does when he's a bit annoyed. "Avoidant?"

"I'm not avoiding anyone," Draco says, which he knows is a complete untruth obvious even to someone as thick as Potter.

"I just don't feel like we're all right," Potter says, a bit under his breath. "You've been weird for days, and I think it has to do with the other night in the Prefects' Bathroom--"

"Absolutely not." Draco snorts. His heart stutters in his chest, and he digs his fingernails into his palms. Merlin, this is ridiculous. He needs to get hold of himself. "Honestly, Potter, I've no idea what you're on about." There's a small scuffle at the end of the Gryffindor benches, and Draco scowls, his attention diverted. Potter opens his mouth to reply, but Draco cuts him off, eager for any distraction to end this particular conversation. Gryffindors are the worst when they want to be so bloody sincere. "Micklewain! What are you lot up to--"

One of the Gryffindor girls looks up, startled, and a glass phial flies out of her hand, sending a bright orange fluid that Draco recognises all too well spilling across the table. Just as it hits the thick wood of the tabletop, exploding in a rumble that shakes the plates and cutlery two tables away along the Hufflepuff lines and causes Pomona Sprout who happens to be talking to a student to utter the beginning of a very bad word indeed, Draco jerks Potter backwards out of the blast range. When the noxious, deep purple smoke clears, Mickelwain and her friends are somehow still in their seats, though their hair's frazzled, their clothes are smoking, and their faces are covered with black-purple soot and the remnants of scorched pumpkin pasties. There's also a distinct lack of eyebrows on all three of them. Draco sighs.

"That," Draco says to Mickelwain as the head table en masse swarms towards them, McGonagall at the helm, mouth tight, "was an utter waste of Exploding Fluid, thank you very much. You should be thrilled that it wasn't full strength." He holds out his hand, and a sheepish Mickelwain hands over the empty phial. "Anything else you've nicked from the potions room?"

"We were just going to have a bit of fun," a boy next to Mickelwain says. "Add a few drops to the firsties shower and see what happens is all." He grunts as he gets elbowed by both Mickelwain and the hefty blond boy on his other side.

"Ferguson," Potter says, his tone exasperated. "You're really not doing yourself any favours."

"Mickelwain, Ferguson, Smythe!" McGongall descends upon them in a flurry of tartan and quivering silk robes. "What are you doing? Ten points from each of you--" The entire Gryffindor table groans, and the headmistress gives them a sharp glare. "Don't make me make it twenty each."

"I'd make it fifty, if it were me," Opal Adebayo, Potter's DADA mentor and the Gryffindor Head of House says from behind her, and Mickelwain looks horrified. Adebayo just raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow at her, her smooth, dark face composed as always. Draco rather likes her, even if she'd Sorted Gryffindor a decade ahead of his year. Unlike every other Gryffindor he knows, she's unflappable--and oddly fond of Slytherins. "Theft of school property, Agatha. Professor McGonagall'd be well within her right to send you down."

Slughorn clucks next to Draco. "And, weakened or not, if it'd come into contact with an unstable solution, Mr Ferguson, the whole of your dormitory might have gone up." He shakes his head. "Surely you remember that from class."

Obviously Ferguson hadn't, judging from his flinch. Some days Draco just wants to sink to his knees, head in hands, and mourn the stupidity of youth. He doesn't know how anyone could make it past sixteen alive, himself included. At least this lot weren't facing being spell fodder for the forces of good and evil this term. Frankly, the little bastards didn't know how good they had it now.

"You can't send me down," Mickelwain protests, and she turns to McGonagall. "Professor, please--me dad'll knock me to the moon--"

McGonagall holds up a hand. "No one will be sent down tonight, Mickelwain. Although Professor Adebayo is quite correct that we could do so, I've yet to see a student be expelled for taking potions from a school cabinet." Her eyes flick towards Potter, who flushes, and Draco suspects there's a story or two he doesn't know because of course Potter would be able to get away breaking school rules. Dumbledore'd never punished his favourite student, even when others were put at personal risk. "You will, however, receive detention with Mr Filch, all of you, and be excluded from Bonfire Night."

Smythe moans and buries his face in his hands. "But it was going to be glorious!"

"Indeed." McGongall's mouth twitches. Draco suspects she's enjoying this. "Consequences, Mr Smythe. Perhaps you'll all be more conscious of them next time."

In the ensuing flap, sniveling of students and further admonition by professors until Micklewain starts bawling outright and Ferguson follows her, Draco slips away from Potter’s side. He thinks he feels a hand grasp for a moment at his robe, but he can't be sure.

He beats a hasty retreat to the potions store to begin his inventory.

If he’s lucky, no one will find him for hours.

***

Fireworks explode across the night sky, bright pinwheels of colour that light up the top of the Astronomy Tower where the Fellows are congregated. Granger's conjured a decent-sized bluebell fire in one of the larger school cauldrons. Draco and Blaise had levitated up the stairs from the potions laboratory, adding a few extra dings in the cauldron sides along the way. On the grounds beneath them the rest of the staff wander through the students thronged around the four bonfires on the shore of the lake; McGonagall'd excused the Fellows from that duty this year when Granger'd suggested to her that a bonding moment might be a treat, given this was their last year at Hogwarts.

Bonding at the moment involves quite a few bottles of Simison Steaming Stout and Ogden's Old, not to mention the case of Pinnick's Giggle Water Chang brought back from her trip to New York in August.

Draco's feeling quite pleasant, really. He's had enough firewhisky to warm him inside and out, with a delicious heaviness in his limbs that suggests he might need a dram or two of hangover potion before bed if he's to teach his post-breakfast class in the morning. Granger and Chang have scattered plump pillows and soft quilts across the cold stone, and fairies gleam from the parapets, swooping down now and then to steal sips from unwatched glasses of alcohol. Up here, away from the shouts and laughter of the students, Draco could almost forget he was on a Hogwarts tower and imagine instead that the sharp slate of the roof was the Manor's. He leans against Blaise and raises a glass, half-filled with Ogden's.

"To us," he says. "I'm just pissed enough to admit I've grown a bit fond of all you bloody lot."

"Here, here," says Chang across from him. She's curled up beside Potter, a quilt wrapped around her shoulders. Her cheeks are flushed pink from giggle water, and she claps a hand over her mouth when she bursts out in a loud, braying laugh. "Sorry."

Potter grins down at her. "Might want to switch to stout now."

"Probably." Chang sits up and brushes her hair back from her face. "We should play a game. Something fun, like Rune Riddles."

"Don't be such an anorak," Blaise says. He drains his glass and sets it down next to him. "Strip gobstones would be much more interesting."

"I'm not stripping to my pants." Weasley drops down next to Granger, leaning over to give her a quick kiss. "George took over the fireworks," he says at her raised eyebrow. "Angelina's helping."

Draco wrinkles his nose at them. He ought to be used to it by now; with Weasley running his brother's joke shop in Hogsmeade, he's a fixture at virtually all of the Fellows gatherings. "No one wants to see your ginger minge, Weasel. Trust me on that."

"Some of us would." Granger laughs. "But perhaps not in public, so I vote for passing on anything that involves the removal of clothing."

"Pity." Blaise reaches for another bottle of Ogden's and refills his glass. He looks at Potter. "Draco's shit at gobstones, you know. Loses his pants every time."

Draco pinches him. "Shut it, you," he says under his breath, but Potter's half-smile lets him know the git heard. He sinks back against his pillow, cheeks heating. Between the alcohol and embarrassment, he's most likely redder than an ashwinder egg, and he's more than willing to hex Blaise. Painfully, if necessary.

Potter pulls a pack of cards from his pocket. "Confiscated these from Daisy Rosenthal during my afternoon class. Anyone up for Exploding Snap?"

"Classical or Patience?" Granger asks.

"Bavarian," Weasley counters.

Blaise shakes his head. "Are we sixth years? Honestly. Make it worth my while, man."

"How?" Weasley eyes Blaise as he swigs stout from a bottle. "A wager?"

"Better." Blaise leans forward, taking the cards from Potter and deftly shuffling them. "Parisian rules. Like Bavarian, but if you cause the cards to explode you have to take a dare. Refuse the dare, you have to admit a secret. Last person who doesn't cause an explosion wins the round."

"Interesting." Potter shifts the cauldron to make room for the cards Blaise deals in a circle. They twitch and shiver, smoke already drifting from beneath some of them. "I'm in."

Of course he was. Bloody idiot Gryffindor. "This is mad," Draco says, and Blaise raises an eyebrow at him.

"Scared?"

"Please." Draco rolls his eyes. "Just well-acquainted with your methods of cheating."

"I think it sounds fun." Chang emerges from her quilt and stretches her hands out to the cauldron to warm them up. "Who's first?"

There's a bit of a squabble about the order of the game, but they settle on Granger first, going around the circle to end on Potter. Draco knows full well Blaise has set a wordless Charm on the cards making it nearly impossible to tap all the cards one needs to win before they explode. The others don't seem to mind; the fun of the Parisian variant, after all, is coming up with the dares. Granger surprisingly manages to win her round, but Weasley's forced to jump up on the parapets and crow like rooster to the crowd below at Draco's suggestion. He gets his revenge, however, when Draco's turn rolls around and he loses on a Manticore card. Draco isn't entirely certain how Weasley knows Draco's familiar with the Martin Miggs oeuvre--he suspects Potter, though--but he gamely agrees to recite the opening monologue of issue one, which he's actually rather surprised he remembers. He does it with relish, as if he were stomping the boards of the great wizarding theaters of Diagon, sending the others into gales of laughter that aren't completely influenced by Chang's giggle water.

Secrets come out, spilled bit by bit, smoking card by smoking card, always accompanied by a heavy swallow of liquor. Granger admits to having hated Gryffindor colors until at least third year, and Blaise convinces Draco to confess his love of a good, well-polished boot on an impeccably dressed man.

"Has a thing for uniforms, he does," Blaise says. "You ought to have seen him around the Aurors the summer after the war."

"Piss off, Blaise." Draco downs a half-glass of steaming whisky, ignoring the eyebrow Potter raises at him. "You too," he says, waving the glass Potter's direction. "There's nothing wrong with admiring the fit of a robe or the shine of a boot."

"Unless you wank to them on a regular basis," Blaise says, just loud enough for Potter and Chang to hear.

Chang laughs again. "I disagree," she says, words only slurring a little. "Wanking on a regular basis to anything is a perfectly brilliant way of spending your spare time." Everyone looks at her; Draco's rather surprised by her frankness. Chang's always been the quiet one of their cohort. He thinks he quite likes her drunk. She blinks at them all. "What? Don't tell me the rest of you don't do a bit of genital spelunking. It's perfectly healthy to have an orgasm. Even Muggles agree, and you know how backwards and priggish most of them can be."

"I do believe you're my hero now," Blaise says, and Draco recognises that look on his face. If Chang doesn't have a Zabini-filled bed by Yule, Draco will snog a house-elf.

Chang shoves her foot against Blaise's with another laugh. "Stop it."

Draco eyes them both. She's flirting with Blaise, he realises, and Potter must have come to the same conclusion because he looks at Draco, then back between Chang and Blaise before mouthing ten Galleons by December.

Draco rolls his eyes and hides his smile behind his glass of Ogden's.

The game goes on, well past the dying down of the bonfires on the grounds below. The six of them keep drinking throughout, though Draco slows down to a few sips between rounds. He doesn't trust himself to get too trolleyed around Potter.

"Maybe the truth," Potter says, when the smoke from his exploded Elfrida Clagg cards clears. "This time, at least." He looks at Draco and grins. "Anything you want to know?"

A frisson of something works its way up Draco's spine. He tries to play it off with a shrug, but there's still a flutter of warmth deep in his belly that he's fairly certain isn't just caused by the firewhisky. It gives him a bit of unexpected courage. "Why'd you really stay here after eighth year when the Aurors were sniffing around like you were Merlin reincarnated? You can't think they wouldn't have had you on the fast track for Head Auror."

Potter doesn't say anything for a long moment, twisting his bottle of stout between his hands before glancing over at Weasley who just gives him a long, steady look. Potter takes a swig from his bottle, then shakes his head. Draco's stomach flips; he's disappointed, and he doesn't quite know why. "The dare it is," Potter says with a shrug. "Sorry."

"Coward," Draco says lightly, and Potter gives him a faint, small smile.

Blaise, who's suspiciously won every one of his rounds, flashes his teeth at Potter in a far too predatory manner for Draco's liking. "I dare you," he says, "to kiss Draco. Properly. Right on the mouth."

Weasley sputters. "Come on, now, man. No one wants to see that."

"Shut it, you ginger oaf." Chang throws a pillow at him. "I wouldn't mind."

Christ, but the woman's a menace when she's had a skinfull. Not to mention Blaise. Draco's going to kill him. He can't even look at Potter; he's too bloody humiliated, but that doesn't stop him from slamming his elbow into Blaise's side. "You sodding tosser--"

"I'll do it," Potter says, voice even. When Draco glances over in surprise, Potter meets his gaze. His eyes are bright and dark with drink. "But only if Draco's all right with it."

Every head turns towards Draco. He feels his face flame.

"Draco?" Blaise is truly evil. Draco's always know this about him, but it's becoming much clearer exactly how close to the Devil's spawn the bastard is. "What do you say?"

"That this whole idea is ridiculous." Draco somehow manages not to shriek like a feral kitten.

Granger nods, her hair falling into her face. She's as drunk as he's ever seen her, and to be honest, the Fellows have been known for their drinking parties in the past. "No one should have to kiss anyone they don't want to." She pushes her hair back. "Right, Ron?"

Weasley just grunts into his glass. "None of my business," he manages. "Don't want to see it, don't care."

"Pick something else, Zabini," Potter says, and Draco thinks Potter sounds almost unhappy. That shiver of something goes through him again. "Malfoy doesn't want--"

"Wait." Draco can't believe he's doing this. When Potter looks at him, he tries to act as if he couldn't give a damn. "Far be it from me to ruin Blaise's fun."

Potter eyes him. "All right then," he says, and he shifts forward until he's on his hands and knees, leaning across the circle towards Draco. For a moment, Draco can almost believe they're alone together, up here on the Astronomy Tower by themselves. His breath catches as Potter moves closer, and his eyes flutter closed.

Their glasses bump against each other, and Potter laughs, a soft huff against Draco's skin.

"Tilt your head," Potter murmurs, his fingertips on Draco's chin, and Draco complies, letting Potter turn his face to the proper angle. "Better."

The brush of Potter's lips against his is feather-soft, warm and gentle. It's barely a kiss, really, but Draco's entire body feels as if it's burning, and he makes a quiet noise against Potter's mouth. His heart thumps hard; he wants this moment to last an eternity.

It doesn't.

Potter pulls back; it's all that Draco can do not to press his fingers against his tingling lips.

"Tell me when I can look," Weasley says. He's covered his eyes with his thick-knitted grey scarf. Granger's ignoring him, though, looking instead from Potter to Draco with a thoughtful expression on her face.

Draco can't breathe, can't move, can't anything. He knows he should laugh it all off, should act as if there's nothing wrong, but Potter's across from him, smiling at Chang as if he hadn't just shattered Draco's world, as if Draco's body isn't still throbbing with the quietness of that kiss, and Draco's raw and open now in a way that he hadn't expected. Not from Potter, for Circe's sake.

He knows Blaise is saying something to him, but he can't focus on anything but Potter and the way Potter's hair curls over the collar of his robe.

"I have to go," Draco says, to no one in particular, and he somehow manages to stagger to his feet.

"Draco," Blaise says, but Potter's looking at him, a furrow between his brow.

"I have to go," Draco says again, and he leaves behind his quilt and his pillow, heading for the stairs before anyone can stop him.

He stumbles through the silent corridors, robe tangling around his feet as he winds his way down to his quarters in the dungeon. He bolts his door shut behind him and sinks to the floor. His hands are shaking.

"You're just pissed," he tells himself. "It doesn't mean anything. To him. To you. To anyone. You'll sleep it off, and in the morning it'll be like a nightmare from bad cheese or something."

Maybe if he says it enough it'll actually come true.

Taking his glasses off, Draco buries his face against his knees, certain that he's going to sick up. His mind is racing, his lips still tingle. Potter, he thinks. Potter, Potter, Potter. Potter's laugh, Potter's frown, Potter's eyes, Potter's mouth.

Potter's been his world since the moment he first met him, standing in the middle of Madame Malkin's, being fitted for their robes. He'd wanted Potter as a friend so desperately, even during the years that he'd hated him. All he'd wanted was for Potty Potter to notice him, to look at him with interest, not disdain. It'd taken him nearly a decade to get that, and now, with one kiss, everything's shifted beneath Draco's feet.

Blaise is right. He wants Potter. He always has.

Potter. Potter pressing him back against the dark blue silk duvet on his bed, spreading Draco's pale thighs and rising up between them. Potter's teeth on his nipple. Potter's cock splitting him open, aching and wide. Potter whispering against his skin.

Potter. Potter laughing with him. Potter walking alongside of him, their shoulders brushing. Potter's hand in his--

"Merlin's fucking balls." Draco's fingers clench around his glasses. He doesn't want to feel this. He doesn't want it to be Potter filling his mind, tugging at his heart. "No." He lifts his head, his room a dark blur around him. "No, no, no--"

"What on earth are you on about?" Severus asks crankily from the portrait above the mantel. "It's past curfew--"

"Go to bed, Severus." Draco rubs a hand over his face; his glasses scratch his cheek, and he sets them aside. "Or whatever it is that portraits do at night." This is the last conversation he wants to have right now. With anyone, oil painting or not.

Severus falls silent for a moment, then he says, "You're upset."

"I'm drunk."

"There's not much difference from what I can tell." Severus huffs a sigh. "What fool thing have you done now?"

Draco wants to laugh, harsh and bitter. He chokes it back. What would Severus say if Draco admitted wanting Potter in his bed? If he told him he thinks it might be even more than that, and he's terrified? For a moment he toys with shocking Severus, but he's not pissed enough to go through with it. Instead he leans his head against the door. "Nothing."

It's a technical truth.

"Draco," Severus says, his voice gentling, and Draco can't bear it. Not tonight. He's far too bruised and abraded.

"I can't," he says. "Severus. Leave me be. I'm tired, I'm pissed as a newt, and I don't want to argue with you. So go. Please."

For a moment Draco thinks Severus is going to protest, but then Severus says, "Don't forget your hangover potion and water, and for the love of Circe, sleep on your side, you fool."

He's gone in a rustle of painted robes and Draco's left alone.

Just as he deserves to be.

***

"Don't even talk to me," Draco says to Blaise as he takes the corner armchair for staff meeting. It's taken two hangover potions, one last night and one this morning, to even begin to ease his aching head, and judging from the way Chang looks, he's not the only one worse for wear. He's fairly certain she's still drunk; he bloody well knows he is.

Blaise, on the other hand, looks perfectly fine, damn his tolerance.

"I pounded on your door for half an hour last night," Blaise says. His eyes aren't even bloodshot. Draco hates him. Terribly.

"Yes, I'm aware." Draco rubs his temples, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead. He knows the moment Potter enters the room with Granger and Adebayo; his whole body feels attuned to Potter now, gooseflesh rising on his arms. "I chose to ignore you, obviously." He feels petulant and put-out. The only thing that cheers him is that Potter looks as if a Hippogriff sat on him.

“I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the orgy,” Blaise say with breezy tone. “But we managed without you.”

Draco’s attention follows Potter and Granger as they find seats in the opposite corner of the room, which is why the meaning of what Blaise has just said sinks into his head belatedly. “What the everliving troll balls?” Draco swivels to face Blaise, then wishes he hadn’t as the contents of his stomach threaten to come up on the faded and threadbare carpet. “You didn’t.”

Blaise holds his disaffected expression a minute longer, just to the point that Draco thinks he might actually sick up from horror, then Blaise’s face breaks into a sly grin. “Not this time, although I’m sure we could have nudged it that way with a bit of potioneering. Shouldn’t your expertise be good for something?”

As McGonagall clears her throat, Draco bites off a terse reply. Instead he presses his lips into a thin line. "I'm still furious with you," he says under his breath, and Blaise shrugs.

"Don't be mental," Blaise says. "If wanting Potter's cock frightens you so much you'll run away and lock yourself in your chambers, that's your own issues, my friend, not mine." He crosses one leg over the other and settles his notepad on his lap. "Think about seeing a bloody Mind Healer, perhaps?"

Draco gives him a scathing look. "Don't act as if you weren't stirring the pot--"

"Mr Malfoy." McGonagall's looking down her nose at him, mouth pursed. "Is there something you and Mr Zabini would care to share?"

The whole of the Hogwarts staff is eyeing them, with the exception of Potter, who seems quite interested in the nib of his quill. Draco's face heats, but he composes himself. "No, Professor."

"Might we begin our meeting then?" McGonagall raises an eyebrow.

"Of course." Draco sinks back into his armchair, studiously ignoring Blaise and Potter, the latter of whom glances over at him, then looks away quickly. Draco feels a bit nauseous. Whatever this is between him and Potter, it hangs heavy in his body, stooping his shoulders and tightening his chest so he can barely breathe. He hates it; he hasn't felt this discomfited since sixth year.

As McGonagall and Binns argue once more about rubrics for marking, Draco plucks his glasses from his nose and does his best to inhale. The roiling in his stomach settles a bit, as long as his gaze doesn't drift towards Potter. He doesn’t have it in him to feign rapt attention to his colleagues' row, but he does stare into the distance thoughtfully, hoping he can keep this up for the next forty minutes or so. Then he can beat a hasty retreat to his classroom and distract himself with an afternoon of idiotic third-year Hufflepuffs and their attempts to brew a decent shrinking solution without poisoning themselves in the process with rat spleen.

Even that's preferable to being trapped in a room with Potter.

Merlin, but he doesn't know how he's going to make it to Christmas hols.

***

"Darling, you're a neurotic mess," Pansy says, her face floating in the embers of the fire. "Really, I told you staying in Scotland was a terrible idea. You'd have done better to find a potions master on the Continent who'd be willing to overlook the whole Dark Lord fiasco with your family."

She's not half-wrong, even if Draco will never admit it to her. Instead he huffs and rocks back on his heels. "I tried and they wouldn't. If you're going to harangue me, I've piles of marking to do--"

"Oh, stop it." The fire crackles behind Pansy's hair. "Besides, this firecall's ridiculously expensive. Do you know how much they charge at public Floos in Marrakesh? It's bloody outrageous, and the WWN has me on a per diem." Pansy sounds put out, but Draco knows she loves her job producing docus for the wireless. She spent most of July in Australia working on a hour-long piece about the Wagga Wagga Werewolf. Circe only knows why she's in Morocco now; she's never allowed to talk about her latest until it airs.

"It's not as if you can't pay for it yourself," Draco points out. "Peter and Hypatia haven't cut you off yet."

Pansy wrinkles her nose. "Not for want of trying, love. Thank God for Grandmama. Every time Mummy starts harping on about how I should come home and find a nice boy to marry--she thinks you're a good option, by the way, which shows how utterly mad she is. Anyway. Grandmama puts her foot down and says she'll write Daddy out of her fortune if Mummy doesn't let me travel the world, bless her. Also, Grandmama thinks you'd be a shit husband, just so you know, whatever Mummy says. She might bring it up at the Christmas party if she sees you. Poor love, she's at the age where she just doesn't give a damn what she says in public."

"You're taking after her awfully early then." Draco laughs as Pansy flips him two fingers. "Besides, I don't know why you're ringing from North Africa. You'll be home in two weeks."

"And in two weeks you might have made a complete tit out of yourself," Pansy says. "Blaise--"

Draco huffs. "Of course he's the reason you're in my Floo. He's an arse, Pans, of the highest order--"

"Please. He's been an arse since childhood." Pansy frowns at him. "But when he firecalls me, worried because you're hiding out in your rooms, avoiding everyone because of a stupid little dare…" She sighs. "Darling, this isn't like you. I can see it from here. You're all tense and wild-eyed, and I haven't seen you this ready to jump out of your own skin since that awful annus horribilis you ignored all of us in favour of that bloody pair of cabinets."

Draco knows she has a point. "It's not that bad." Even to his own ears he sounds pathetic.

Pansy just gives him a look. An ember pops against her cheek. "I'm two thousand miles away, Draco, I can feel the anxiety pouring off you. It's enough to make me want a calming potion of my own."

"I'm fine."

"You're not." Pansy shakes her head. "What's going on? It can't be just Potter. You've had a pash on him for ages--"

"I absolutely have not," Draco protests, and Pansy rolls her eyes.

"Are we pretending now?" she asks. "Because I just need to know what conversation we're having here and whether or not I should expect it to actually be rooted in reality and not some alternate universe you've managed to concoct for yourself because you've never truly been able to accept the fact that you think Harry Potter's rather fit."

Draco scowls at her. "I really don't like you sometimes."

"You don't like any of us whenever we tell you the truth," Pansy says with a shrug. "So again, are we going to act as if you aren't gagging for Potter?"

"Fine," Draco snaps. "He's passably attractive."

Pansy snorts. "I suppose that's a start. So what's the issue? Just that he's Potter? I mean, I can agree that he's socially inept, but it's not complete insanity to fancy him, and Blaise says he's already admitted to fancying you in school, so I don't quite understand why you're throwing a strop like this over him, of all people."

Draco flops back onto the thick, shaggy white rug in front of the hearth. "It's not that easy." He takes his glasses off and drops them beside him. He'll never find them later, but he doesn't really care at the moment. It's easier to talk to Pans sometimes when he can't actually see her.

"Sit up," Pansy says. "I can't see you properly, and I'm not going to sit here and have a conversation about Potter with your prick."

With a sigh, Draco pushes himself back up. He pulls his knees to his chest and frowns into the fire. "I don't even want to have this conversation."

There's a shout in French from behind Pansy and she disappears for a moment. Draco can hear her arguing with someone before her head pops back in. "Sorry, love. Had to pay a bit more. Evidently I was taking too long in the Floo." She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "Speaking of which, you're going to have this conversation because I'm paying a sodding mint for it, and I don't have the dosh for you to beat around the bush like you usually do. So out with it. You fancy him. Shag him and get it over with, for Merlin's sake. You'll feel better, he'll feel better, we'll all bloody well feel better because you won't be moping around like a second-year girl."

Draco wants to protest the unfairness of that comparison, but honestly, he can't. Even he thinks he's acting like a puberty-stricken teenager over this entire mess. He rubs the back of his neck. "I know you're right. It's just…" He trails off, more than a bit overwhelmed by the rush of anxiety that rolls over him.

"What?"

He lets the silence stretch out between them longer than he ought.

"Draco," Pansy says, her voice gentling. "What aren't you telling me, love?"

She knows, Draco thinks. Or she at least suspects. He can tell by the way her brows draw together and the set of her mouth.

"I," he says, and then he stops. The anxiety only intensifies. His chest tightens and contracts, and he digs his fingernails into his calves, rocking forward ever so slightly. He presses his forehead against his knees and tries to breathe. This has happened twice already when he was alone. It'd taken hours to calm himself down. He feels a right tit, losing his mind like this over someone as stupid as Potter. That thought doesn't help; his throat closes on a gasp, and he chokes.

"Exhale, Draco," Pansy says, and he does. "That's it. Take another breath. Slow."

Draco breathes in. Pansy'd been with him that summer after the war. She'd been the only one who could help him calm the panic attacks.

"You're all right." Pansy's voice is quiet. Comforting. "You're going to be fine. Aren't you?"

Draco nods against his kneecaps. "Fine," he says a bit breathily. "I'm going to be fine."

The constriction in his chest and shoulders starts to ease each time he says it. It takes a few moments, but he finally lifts his head. Pansy's just watching him from the fire, concern written across her face.

"You're all right," she says again, and it's half a question, half a statement.

Draco lets a slow breath out. He can still feel the panic at the base of his spine, can still taste it in the back of his throat, bitter and metallic. One day it'll pass, he thinks. One day he won't need the calming potions or have to have his best friend talk him down off the bloody ledge. But for now, he can't help himself. He gets overwhelmed; he falls apart.

"I'm a neurotic mess, remember?" He gives her a faint smile.

Pansy returns it. "We all are, in our own ways." She bites her lip. "Potter's making you panic, though, isn't he?"

"It's not him," Draco admits. "It's me. It didn't matter, you know, not before I knew." He hesitates. "That he fancied me, I mean."

"And then he kissed you."

"On a dare."

"Doesn't matter," Pansy says. "Not to your brain."

"I think…" Draco closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them again. He can't look at her when he says this; he can't bear to see her sympathy. "I think I'm having feelings."

Pansy doesn't say anything for a long moment, then she sighs. "Oh, Draco."

"I know." Draco's throat feels sore and tight. "I don't understand it. We were fine. We were friends, and then he had to go and ruin it all by saying what he said, and now there's this stupid dare and a bloody kiss between us--" He balls his fists and hits his chest with them both. "There's all this inside, and I hate it because where the fuck did it come from, Pans?"

"It was always there, love." Pansy sounds as if she's about to cry. Draco looks at her then, and her lips are pressed together. She shakes her head. "I've always known it. Since first year it's been Potter this and Potter that. Even when we were dating I could never compete. Why do you think I wasn't that shocked--angry, yes, but not shocked--when I realised you preferred pricks to anything I could offer? It's always been there, Draco."

Draco feels as if he's been punched in the gut. "It hasn't."

Pansy nods. "It has. Stop lying. It doesn't do any good; you just end up here, anxious and furious with yourself."

The hearthstones are hot and rough beneath his hands. He presses his fingers into them, watching as his fingernails turn white against the pressure. A gulf of pain's opened up inside of him, and he doesn't know what to do. "It's never felt like this before," he whispers. "Not with anyone else."

"I know." Pansy's watching him. He thinks he sees a glimpse of a tavern behind her, filled with bright colourful glass and dark woods. "I'm sorry."

"I can't do this," he says, shaking his head. Everything feels too sharp and too real. "We're just friends, Potter and I."

"Draco--"

"I can't," Draco says again, and he reaches for the Floo lever. "I can't do this, Pans--I need--" He doesn't even know. He can just feel something rising up in him, rough and raw and exposed. "Ring me again later, perhaps?"

"Talk to Blaise," Pansy says urgently. "Draco, please, if you don't--"

He pulls the lever, and she disappears in a puff of green smoke. He falls back against the rug, staring up at the rough-hewn timbers of the ceiling. This can't be possible, he thinks. Oh, Christ. If his father only knew… Draco laughs, a hoarse shout in the silence of his room. Lucius would kill him. With his bare hands.

"I think I love Harry Potter," he says, and he closes his eyes. "Fuck me."

Potter’s pulled him out of fire only to drop him into worse. Love is the greatest affliction Draco can imagine. There's no way this won't destroy him.

Draco's damned certain of that.

***

When Draco arrives in the infirmary, sent by Slughorn after Poppy Pomfrey’s patronus arrived in the middle of the professor's double potions class, it’s a sign of how concerned he is about Delamare that he’s briefly comforted to see Potter already waiting in the small alcove next to the matron’s office in front of the area with the student beds. Then those awful feelings slam back into place, as they always do when Draco catches a glimpse of him, and it's all Draco can do not sick up in the nearest bedpan.

Potter nods at him, a wary look in his eye. “Malfoy.”

“How bad is it?” Draco hasn’t the time for small-talk, and honestly even if he did, he wouldn’t know what to say to Potter. They haven’t talked, really, for weeks, avoiding each other on their shared duty nights with an island of hurt feelings steadily growing in the space between them. He hasn't been able to bear being near Potter, not after he's realised how he feels about Potter. Blaise tells him he's a fool, but Draco doesn't care. All he wants to do is protect his heart.

Potter crosses his arms over his chest and glances back towards the student beds. “Light burns for Delamare--he’s in a healing sleep. Jones is unconscious and is under observation. Minnie Prakash was hurt because she was standing nearby when the badge exploded--she’s already been transferred to St Mungo's.” Potter bites his lip, frowning. “Opal and Sprout should be coming back soon to tell us the news. McGonagall's already informed Prakash’s parents and they're meeting her at hospital, but we’re waiting with the two older students until we know more.”

Draco swears, and a firm “Language, Mr. Malfoy” floats out of the room with the student beds where Madam Pomfrey is evidently seeing to her charges.

"Zabini's already come and gone, checking in on Jones," Potter says, and Draco thinks there's a smidge of reproach in his tone. "What took you so long?"

Not a smidge then. A whole bloody smear.

"I came as soon as I could." Draco had, actually. Slughorn hadn't told him until Draco'd passed by Horace's smoke-filled classroom after his own lecture had ended. Draco'd only stopped to drop off his books and papers, then he'd come straight upstairs. He’s been worried since he heard the swell of student gossip between his quarters and the Infirmary.

Draco looks around at the pristine white tile walls and arched windows that are drafty and dark even on the brightest spring day, and he shivers. He’s always been afraid of this place, even as a Fellow. The memory of the aftermath of the Sectumsempra is carved into his mind as well, that week he spent lying in an infirmary bed, the pain from the curse reacting to the dittany salve shuddering through him while he screamed, his body arching against the bedsheets as Severus and Madam Pomfrey held him down and tried to dose him with Dreamless Sleep. He clutches at the front of his robes, running a thumb over the familiar ridged and ropy scar tissue beneath. That's not something he likes thinking about. He can still see the blood seeping through his shirt and across his fingers, can still see Potter's pale face across the bathroom, broken tile between them, both of them soaked from the water spilling from burst pipes.

This is the fool he's fallen in love with. Merlin, but Draco's mental health's definitely in question. If nothing else, he has a masochistic streak as wide as the Thames.

Potter's eyes follow Draco’s hand, and a worried line forms between his thick black brows. “All right there, Malfoy?”

Draco drops his hand. “I presume we’re not looking at a homophobic attack.” He doesn't necessarily expect it at Hogwarts, but one never knows. Wizarding society can be a difficult place, that much they've all learned in the past few years, and while most turn a blind eye to non-traditional relationships, preferring to pretend they don't exist, Draco's not fool enough to think there aren't individuals out there who might want to express their displeasure in a more obvious and brutal way. In fact, he can think of one or two families immediately who wouldn't bat an eye at the idea.

“Merlin, no!” Potter looks aghast. “I mean, I suppose anything is possible and all. We are a part of the world around us. But, as far as I can tell, this was just a lover’s spell gone wrong.”

Well. That's a relief. Draco lets out a breath he didn't realise he was holding. He's fond of Delamare, and he doesn't think he could bear if someone had deliberately gone after the boy. “Tell me it wasn’t an Enhancement Charm. Please.”

Interestingly, a flush spreads from Potter’s ears to his cheeks. He looks charming, which makes Draco's stomach twist in a wretchedly delightful way. This is why he's been avoiding Potter. “No. Not that. We think it was a sort of…”

“A Protean Charm.” Poppy Pomfrey joins them, and Potter looks away into the corner and coughs, embarrassment still written on his face. “Although I’m curious as to your thinking that it could be motivated by homophobia, Mr Malfoy.”

Draco squares his shoulders and faces Pomfrey. “Delamare and Jones have been dating, or, well, seeing each other. In a rather literal seeing-more-of-each-other-than-their-elders-might-like sense.” He doesn't add that Delamare's been confiding him from time to time, asking Draco for advice, which is, in Draco's opinion, utterly stupid of him, given Draco's inability to have any sort of non-fucked up love life or to fall for someone more bloody appropriate than Harry fucking Potter.

The grey-haired witch nods, utterly unfazed. Draco supposes she's seen quite a bit of hormonal teenagers in her Hogwarts tenure. After a while, one gets used to the shock of randy youths; even the past three years have mostly numbed Draco. He even knows now exactly which corridors to avoid if he'd rather not catch a couple with their hands in intimate places. And still the students think they're pulling the wool over their professors' eyes. Draco doesn't even want to know what the professors had thought of his year's romantic follies.

“Well," Pomfrey says. "That actually explains motive. I was wondering what two prefects were up to with summoning each other directly. After all, these badges have all sorts of common spells on them already for communication and protection.”

"And as soon as they got near each other, you know." Potter gestures wildly with his hands. "Boom. Delamare went one way, Jones the other, and poor Minnie got thrown into a suit of armor."

Draco can see it clearly now, the sequence of magical events that led to the accident. Honestly, students can be so bloody stupid at times. His relief's replaced with annoyance. Jones might be a complete moron, but Delamare ought to have bloody well known better. He'll have words with him later. “They probably wanted a private channel to summon each other with, and it interfered with the older magic of the badges. They’re not meant to be linked in a pair, they’re part of a spelled set. Anything after they’d been re-spelled could have set them off.”

“How do you know that?” Potter asks, composure apparently recovered.

“First day of prefect training," Draco says, his discomfort with Potter forgotten in his irritation with Delamare. "McGonagall gave us a strong lecture about magical energy and the badges interfering. I thought it was exaggerated, but I took mine off before any sort of serious Charms work that year. Pansy managed to turn hers blue with a hair Colour Charm--it caused quite a bit of amusement in the dungeons before Severus fixed it.”

“You lot were always pants at magical theory when it came to grooming Charms.” Severus’s dry voice emanates from the corner, and when Draco turns, he sees his former Head of House in the scene with the milkmaid, though the subject herself had left her crook and fled. The cow, on the other hand, is nuzzling at Severus' elbow. He pushes its nose away. “Let’s not forget that you nearly took off Marcus Flint's nose with your first Shaving Charm.”

Draco can feel his own cheeks heat. “No, let’s do forget that. Besides, it grew back.”

Pomfrey raises her eyebrows and a suppressed laugh comes from Potter’s direction. Potter’s laughing at him, of course, which both irks and embarrasses Draco, but at least Potter has the decency to do it quietly.

“Thank you for sparing me from that little event, Severus,” Pomfrey says, not looking at his portrait. She's still grieving him, Draco knows, and she finds it hard to see Severus's oil-based self at times. It'd surprised him to discover Pomfrey had considered Severus a close friend and had been devastated when she thought he'd betrayed the school; there was so much about the lives of the adults around him that Draco had missed as a child.

"I did try, Poppy," Severus says quietly. "You know that."

Pomfrey glances at him then, and she gives him a small smile. "Yes."

Draco exchanges a look with Potter. Sometimes he feels awkward and green around the older staff. You’re never too old to be young again, apparently. It’s one of the things he’s learned by being a Fellow. Some smells, places, situations in the castle have transported him back to his own childhood, faster than a Portkey or Apparating Charm. Then Potter smiles, and Draco’s heart is in his throat.

Breathe in, breathe out, he tells himself. It’s just like sixth year, but it’s going to be okay.

“Anyway, how are the idiots, Madam Pomfrey?” Draco asks, primarily to distract himself from his rising anxiety but also to see to the welfare of his student. "Is Delamare up to being shouted at or should I send for Professor Slughorn to give him a stern, disappointed look?"

Severus snorts in amusement behind him.

Pomfrey eyes Draco, her quick gaze darting to Potter, then back. She’s apparently as sharp as ever, though tactful enough not to say anything out loud. “As well as can be expected, though I might suggest waiting until morning to chastise them. They’ve both sustained injury, but it’s not terribly serious. Delamare should be perfectly fine to attend class tomorrow. Jones will need some follow up with a Healer if his memory has been altered, but we’ll know more by breakfast.”

“Do we have to tell their parents?” Potter asks, and Draco is suddenly terribly worried on Delamare’s behalf. He supposes this says as much about him as it does about Delamare and Jones. Still, the last thing he wants Delamare to have to do is face down his mother and father and explain exactly why he'd thought a Protean Charm would be a good idea. For the love of Merlin, Draco hopes Delamare's capable of spinning a decent lie.

“I’m sure Minerva will want some sort of incident reporting or acknowledgement to be shared with the parents,” Severus says.

"Absolutely," Pomfrey says. "I imagine, given the circumstances, she’ll talk to the two young men and encourage them to relay a version of events themselves. It will, of course, depend on the young lady’s condition, but I don't think the spell damage is serious.”

"Well, that's good then, isn't it?" Potter rocks forward on the balls of his feet, looking a bit more hopeful.

Pomfrey nods. "We'll see if the Healers agree." Looking at Potter, she continues. “There’s no reason for you to stay, Harry. I’m sure Minerva and Opal will let you know as soon as there is any information about Miss Prakash. You should go comfort your house while she's gone. Don’t be afraid to err on the side of being optimistic with the children. I don’t think it’s misleading. You as well, Mr Malfoy. Young Delamare will be fine, physically at least, of that I'm quite certain, though I suspect Severus will want to lecture him?”

"You know me well," Severus says, and Draco feels sorry for Delamare. He knows exactly how emasculating those lectures can be.

Draco makes his goodbyes to Pomfrey with Potter, and then they’re out in the hall, walking shoulder-to-shoulder like they did until a few weeks ago. The silence is still prickly, although perhaps less so than it has been. It’s been awful to be separated from Potter, Draco thinks. He truly had grown to enjoy Potter's companionship in recent years, and that's been one of the worst things about the past few weeks, the threat of losing what, albeit unexpected, has become true terra firma.

He can't help but feel uncomfortable though. He's terribly aware of Potter's body next to his, of the warmth of Potter's arm when it brushes his as they move past a group of students.

When they reach the break in the corridor where the stairs to the dungeons begin, Potter stops, his hair haloed by the flickering light from a sconce. The window behind him is dark, despite it being nearly two hours until supper. Now that it's the first of December, the days are vanishingly short and the nights even colder. There'd been a deep frost a week ago that had left the grounds solid and frozen, and Hagrid's been busy preparing the Quidditch fields for snow. Draco doesn't remember the last time he actually saw daylight; he's squirreled himself away in his classroom and quarters so often that he barely even passes a window during the few brief hours the sun's out. Pansy'd be furious with him. She thinks he's too pale and light-deprived as it is, living in Scotland.

"This is you then," Potter says. He's more stilted with Draco than he's been since their school days. His robe hangs open, and he shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans, pushing the black wool back behind him. Draco doesn't quite understand how someone as sartorially challenged as Potter can still look so bloody delicious. He's always been much more attracted to tailored robes and neatly knotted ties, but then Harry Potter comes along in his scuffed trainers and his frayed jeans and his stupid earthy green jumpers that set off the black of his hair perfectly and Draco can't tear his eyes away, no matter how much he wants to. Potter’s dishevelment only makes Draco want to muss him up more.

"Right." Draco tries not to look at the curve of Potter's bottom lip. He doesn't want to remember how soft that mouth felt against his. "This is me." He takes the first step almost hesitantly. "See you around, Scarhead." The old schoolboy jibe comes out with far less vitriol than he'd intended, and Draco flinches. Perfect. He can't even insult Potter properly now. He might as well throw himself from the Clock Tower parapets. The feelings agitating inside of him are complex and troublesome, and Draco doesn't know why he insists upon making his life more complicated than it needs to be. For the thousandth time, he curses himself for not bending to his familial duty, for not settling down with some perfectly nice if boring girl from a socially acceptable family who'd provide an heir or two before they decided to live their separate lives like every other couple in the circles his parents move in.

No, Draco can't do that. Of course, he can't. Because he was bloody well raised with parents who, whatever their faults might be, were actually mad about each other, and Draco can't imagine anything else.

He'd just had the shit luck to fall in love with a man who would never--could never--love him back. Par for the course, really. Draco Lucius Malfoy, fuckup extraordinaire in all aspects of his life. Just ask his father.

"Malfoy."

Draco turns, his hand on the stone railing. He’s two steps down and Potter's an inch taller than him now. It's disconcerting.

Potter looks a bit taken aback, as if he hadn't expected Draco to stop. "Er," he says, eloquent as always, and he runs a hand through his already tousled hair, somehow managing to make it even worse. Draco hates that it still looks attractive on him. One brisk breeze and, if he's forgotten a Sleekening Charm, Draco's own cropped hair looks like he's slept off a drunk in one of Hagrid's haystacks.

"Words, Potter. They're useful at times."

"Piss off," Potter says, but his mouth quirks up a bit. "I'm trying to apologise, you tit."

That surprises Draco. "For what?"

Potter pauses, shifts from foot to foot. "Bonfire Night," he says finally. "Look, I know we were ratted, but I had no right to let Zabini push me into…" He tugs at his earlobe, an uncomfortable look on his face. "Well, you know."

Draco waits until a passel of Slytherin girls rush by, chattering loudly. Their laughter drifts up the stairs once they've disappeared around the bend, and Draco wouldn't put it past them to be making fun of Potter and himself. Teenagers are vicious, he's learned.

When they're alone again, he sighs. "Surely it wasn't that horrible."

"The kiss?" Potter asks, and Draco hisses at him.

"Discretion, please?"

Potter rolls his eyes. "It was nice," he says, and Draco's heart clenches. Nice. Oh, that's lovely. Everyone wants a kiss from their pash to be called nice. Forget the Clock Tower. Draco's going to just hurl himself down these stairs right now.

"Thanks ever so," Draco manages to get out without sounding too offended. At least, he hopes. "No need to apologise, though."

"I--" Potter looks frustrated. "Look, it was a bad idea. It's obviously narked you off; you've barely spoken to me for weeks, and frankly, making rounds on duty by myself is duller than one of Binns' lectures on the International Warlock Convention of 1289." He takes a step down, which brings him far too close for Draco's comfort. Potter smells like Peppermint Imps and the faint acrid scent of Shielding Charms. It's all Draco can do not to bury his face in Potter's robe and breathe him in.

Instead he flattens himself against the wall and waits for two Slytherin first-years to make their way up the stairs from the dungeons, their satchels bouncing against their hips as they take the steps two at a time. "I'm not angry," he says finally. "We were drunk. It was a stupid dare."

"Yeah." Potter's hand bumps against Draco's on the railing. Potter's fingers are rough and dry; his fingernails are stained with red ink from marking. "But I'm sorry. I've missed you."

Warmth blossoms in Draco's belly. He knows Potter doesn't mean it, not the way Draco wants him to. But still. He can't help the little tendril of happiness that wriggles through him at knowing Potter had minded not having him around. Maybe, he thinks, that might be enough. For now at least. Until he can rid himself of these ridiculous feelings for the idiot.

"Don't get all soft," Draco says, letting a sneer curl his lips. "It's not a good look on you."

Potter smiles, and Draco just manages to hold back a shiver at that bright flash of teeth. "So we're all right?"

No. They're not. Not at all. They won't be as long as Draco's heart flutters every time Potter looks at him that way. Still, he manages to raise a shoulder in a half-shrug, as if he wasn't gutted by the way Potter's eyes crinkle at the corners. "I don't know why we wouldn't be."

Draco doesn't jump when Potter's knuckles graze his.

"Good," Potter says. "You'll be at dinner then?"

"Yeah." Draco's fingers are tight around the railing. It's sheer force of will that's keeping him steady at the moment. "Sure."

"See you then." Potter steps back up to the corridor, looking more relaxed than Draco's seen him in days. Draco wishes he could say the same about himself.

He holds it together until Potter's gone, then he bangs the back of his head against the stone wall, once, twice. "You absolute idiot," he says, and Marcus Wheaton, a fifth-year stops halfway down the stairs.

"Sir?"

"Not you, Wheaton. Not today." Draco waves him on, and Marcus goes, with a wary look Draco's way.

Draco runs his hands through his hair and exhales slowly. Well, that's it then. No more hiding out in his rooms. The last thing he wants Potter to think is that Draco's a coward.

Even if he is.

He walks down the stairs, cursing himself and his foolish heart the entire way.

***

It's snowing throughout Hogsmeade when Draco comes into the Three Broomsticks, stomping wet, white clumps onto the wooden floor scarred by generations of boot heels. He's just done a round through the village's high street, attempting to make certain the hoodlums of Hogwarts haven't infuriated the shopkeepers too terribly. Most of the students are crowded into Honeydukes and the Scottish outpost of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes at the moment, although Draco's heard some chatter about a few couples here and there descending upon Madam Puddifoot’s for a romantic Christmas-themed high tea. He'd also seen Jones and Delamare lingering on the kerb outside Dervish & Banges, rather too close together and a bit apart from their peers. Draco’s fairly certain they'll be more interested in awkward interactions with each other in the shops rather than ordering chocolate together at the tearoom, but he’s learnt never to be surprised by unexpected outcomes, particularly when it comes to students.

"Malfoy!" Chang waves at him from a large, comfortable table near the window. Potter'd been sent in earlier to obtain it for the Fellows; Rosmerta can never resist Potter, even if it means drumming other customers out of their spot. Somehow, they never mind, though, once they realise the Saviour of the Wizarding World is asking for the space. It’s another type of special treatment that Draco is sure Potter doesn’t realize he benefits from. Still, Draco will most certainly take advantage of it, even though the whole matter infuriates him if he thinks about it too long.

As Draco nears the table, Potter looks up from his pint and smiles at him, warm and bright. If the bolt of want doesn’t quite pierce Draco’s chest, it comes perilously close. They’ve been all right for the past fortnight now--or at least a semblance of so, to the best Draco can manage--and Draco doesn’t want to disrupt the fragile peace. If he lies awake at night cursing his fortune and wanking guiltily to thoughts of Potter, that’s his own affair. He can control this internal maelstrom; Potter needn't be the wiser.

“Have they torn apart the town yet?” Chang’s tone suggests that she wouldn’t lift a finger to stop the destruction. Hogsmeade weekends are one of the few times the children are occupied enough not to need additional supervision. It's a bloody relief, even if half the staff has to accompany them into town to keep them from terrorising the good residents.

Draco collapses into the well-worn chair opposite Potter. He doesn't even have the energy to go order a pint from the crowded bar. He unwinds his grey cashmere scarf and unbuttons his heavy outer robe. Rosmerta keeps it brutally hot in the pub once December rolls around. “Not yet. There was a bit of scuffle outside Weasley’s between Avery and Park--Granger's sorted it.” He grimaces. The rivalry between those two fourth-years is legendary. Their families, intermarried from the Conquest to the War of the Roses, have hated each other since one cousin ousted another as Henry V's mistress, and it doesn't look as if this generation is going to put an end to the hostilities.

“I bet she has,” Chang says. “Anyone in the infirmary?”

Potter winces slightly next to her, and Draco understands the brief horror that crosses his face. The recent memory of Prakash, Jones, and Delamare is too fresh. As luck would have it, Prakash only needed a few hours in the care of the St Mungo’s Healers to fix the spell damage from the badly placed Protego on the Prefects’ Badge, and there seemed to be no lasting effects on her or Jones’ magic, but Draco finds it harder to be quite as callous about student welfare as he'd been before, even in jest. He feels as though they’d dodged an Unforgivable. Students aren't invulnerable. They act as though they are, but their stupidity can--and usually does--catch up with them. He can only imagine what his own professors had thought about his cohort. To be honest, it really is a damned miracle any of the Fellows had survived to adulthood, especially given the war.

“Thank Merlin, no.” Draco leans back against the smooth wood of the chair, casually looking up at Potter and Chang. “Although I suspect Geoffrey Park will be doing quite a bit of detention for throwing a dungbomb at a Fellow.”

The reaction to his words is almost too amusing to bear. Potter and Chang eye him with obvious surprise, followed by rapt interest.

"Really," Potter says. "Spill, Malfoy."

Draco takes his glasses off and cleans them, wiping away the specks of snow and dirt before sliding them back on. “Granger caught Park tussling with Avery. When she surprised him, he let a demon dung bomb fly straight at her face. Of course, the minute it left his hand, she had him in a full body bind. And then she exploded the dungbomb. On the pavement right outside of Weasleys' Wheezes. It was a glorious sight, if a bit fragrant.”

"Park’s lucky I didn’t shove that thing up his...school satchel,” Granger says primly from behind him. “Or Ronald’s, for that matter. He says Stan Shunpike keeps forgetting and putting out the demon dung bombs, but I think he’s playing silly buggers.” She sits down next to Draco. The cinnamon-scented steam from her spiced grog curls in the air, warming in the winter chill.

She doesn’t smell a bit like demon dung, and Draco wonders how she avoided the stench. She’s always a font of clever solutions.

Potter shifts at the table, looking stupidly handsome as he cards a hand through his hair absently. “We may have to take more serious measures then. I'm getting bloody tired of those things going off every few weeks.”

Chang pauses, glass of firewhisky at her lips. Her keen expression shows sudden curiosity. “What sort of measures?”

Granger lifts her eyebrows, favoring Chang with a surprisingly wicked smirk. “Christmas sabotage. We could tell you, but then we’d have to neutralise you to keep from grassing on us.”

They all laugh, although Draco has a sense deep in his gut that Granger is entirely serious. He wouldn't want to be Weasley right now, truth be told, for more than the usual ginger reasons. Although he supposes Weasley wears his fiery hair and galaxy of freckles better than Draco might. In Draco's more generous moments, he thinks Weasley can, in certain lights, be considered somewhat attractive. If nothing else, he has an exceptional arse. Even Blaise admits that after a bottle or two of wine, and he's no less than a connoisseur of the arse, both male and female.

“Has anyone seen any of the senior profs about?” Draco asks, glancing towards the bar. He's desperate for a pint, but technically they’re not supposed to be imbibing in the Broomsticks during Hogsmeade duty, although it’s been done many times before by their lot. Still, the closer they get to leaving, the less he takes everything for granted somehow. “I mean, they’ve never bothered us before, but I suppose there’s always a first time.”

“Mate," Weasley says from behind Draco, making him startle. "McGonagall’s right outside with her Christmas shopping. You’d all best drink up!” Weasley laughs when Chang almost spills her firewhisky, and then he kisses Granger, who rolls her eyes but looks pleased anyway. “She’s wearing her war tartan today, blue face paint and all. She might even rouse the elves.”

“Ha ha, very funny," Draco says, miffed. Weasley takes every opportunity to take the piss. It'd taken a year or two, but Weasley's mostly moved past the war now, which means he only calls Draco “Ferret” every fortnight or so. They’re still a bit awkward with each other at times, and Draco knows to avoid Weasley near the anniversary of the Hogwarts battle when his anger's a bit too close to the surface. Granger’s not all bad, though, and Draco's going to miss their debates over magical theory at the end of the school year. How he’s gone to enjoying the company of Gryffindors in the space of three years, Draco has no idea, but it must be incurable now. He sends a mental apology to the spirit of Salazar Slytherin.

As Weasley moves into the chair next to Granger, Blaise joins the table as well. “Don’t joke, Weasley. I think that’s a thing. I’ve seen that halberd she keeps in her office.” He has an extra pint in hand which he reaches over to Draco, brushing against his hand and favoring him a wide smile. Draco wonders what he’s up to, but takes the proffered pint gratefully. Rumour-mongering is thirsty work, and the swell of bodies at the bar hasn't gone down a bit. The fortnight before Christmas is brutal along Hogsmeade high street.

“Is there another chair, or must I sit in Draco's lap?” Blaise asks. The studied innocence on his handsome face is deeply suspect, in Draco’s opinion. Potter regards both Slytherins with tilted head, and Blaise quirks an eyebrow at him. "I shan't complain if I'm forced to, mind. Draco is quite cosy to sit on, after all."

And now Draco cottons on, his face heating. Blaise thinks he can somehow elicit jealousy from Potter, which is entirely wrong, and Draco wants to give him a dressing down, but they’re too close together. Potter’s face is looking a bit stormy, though, so Draco’s confused. "Shut it, Blaise," Draco says, hiding his embarrassment behind his pint. Blaise just winks at him, the cheeky bugger. Frankly, Draco thinks he's ready for an entirely new set of friends in the new year. Ones that don't think it great fun to humiliate him in public.

Thankfully, Granger solves the space issue with an empty chair from their neighbors, and Blaise is able to squeeze in between her and Draco. Draco suspects the chairs have some sort of Dimensional Charm on them--they seem to defy the laws of space in their ability to fit next to each other.

“So where’s everyone going for the Christmas hols?” Weasley asks the assembled Fellows, one arm draped around Granger. He plays with her curls, twisting them through his fingers. She doesn't seem to mind.

“Jamaica.” Chang says. When Weasley gives a low whistle, she adds, “It’s to visit my aunt and cousins, but also to avoid Mum’s cooking." She wrinkles her nose. "Her Christmas meals have been a bit experimental since she took an avant-garde Scandinavian cooking course two winters ago. Last year's salad course hinged around lichen. I’m a bit worried I’ll be served reindeer this go-round.”

The group grimaces and commiserates, though, Draco thinks it’s hard to truly pity someone headed into sandy beaches and warm sunshine. The Scottish sky's been grey for so long Draco doesn't even quite remember what the sun feels like.

“Mother has summoned me to Greece this year to meet Aristotle's family,” Blaise shares breezily. Draco knows he doesn’t approve of his mother's latest conquest yet, but evidently he’s quite the name in wizarding transport. “Somewhere in the north near Thessaloniki, I think. Although we might also end up in Switzerland if dear old Ari fancies skiing.” He gets a dreamy look on his face. "Maybe he'll crash into a tree if I'm lucky."

Granger scoots her chair a bit away from Blaise. Draco doesn't quite blame her.

Blaise twists his pint between his hands. "Jamaica sounds nice, though." He doesn't look at Chang. "I suppose my plans could change."

Chang blushes and glances away. Really, Draco thinks, they could be a bit more discreet.

"Ten Galleons," Potter murmurs.

"What?" Blaise lifts his pint, and Potter shakes his head, muffling his laugh in the foam of his own glass.

“I’ll be in Wiltshire, of course,” Draco says, looking down at his beer. “Hooray. Most likely watching Father terrorise the house elves when he’s not denuding the wine cellars to drown out Mother's fretting about Ministry raids and whether she'll find tradesmen who'll actually show up to fix all the rooms that are falling down around them.”

The silence after is a bit weightier than he was aiming for. He always thinks that the truth sounds like a joke if you are self-deprecating enough, but he’s missed the mark judging by the pitying look Granger’s giving him.

“I’ll be here at the castle.” Potter breaks the silence and draw’s the group’s focus to him. When Draco shoots him a thankful look, the ghost of a smile quirks Potter’s mouth.

“Harry, you know Mum wants you at the Burrow.” From the stubborn set of Weasley’s jaw, Draco reads that this conversation has been held a number of times before this current occasion and hasn't yet gone the way Weasley wants. “She’s going to keep a bed ready for you if you change your mind.”

Something fierce flashes in Potter’s green eyes then, and a shiver runs through Draco. “Hogwarts is my home, Ron. I’m really looking forward to Christmas at the Burrow, but I’m going to sleep in my own bed.” He's polite but firm. Weasley frowns.

Draco remembers the Black family property at Grimmauld Place and wonders what arrangements Potter has made with it. He recalls his mother telling him that Potter offered it to his Aunt Andromeda and his cousin Theodore, and that Dromeda'd informed Potter it wasn’t any place to raise a child. Narcissa had been quite impressed with her sister’s stubbornness in the face of Potter's generosity, but she hadn’t made a counter argument in Potter's favour. Given that she'd spent her summers there, visiting her cousins, Draco suppose that spoke volumes about his maternal great-aunt and uncle and their child-rearing methods. Nothing he didn’t know already, but more of a confirmation of suspicions that his mother would never substantiate outright.

“And be spoilt rotten by the elves.” Draco tries to break the tension between Potter and Weasley with a bit of childish envy. “I’m sure they’ve invented new and greater treacle desserts for their precious Potty. And pumpkin juice with gold flakes.”

Potter makes a face. "Bit too posh for me, thanks."

"He only knows that because Kreacher's already tried it with wine for him," Weasley says with a grin. "Gin thought it was pretty great, though."

Draco eyes Potter. He's always curious whenever Potter's ex is brought up. Despite their bitter row in eighth year, they're still friendly, he knows; she pops by Hogwarts every so often to go to dinner with him and Granger.

"Until she drank it," Potter says, "and realised it tasted like shit."

"Then it was shit wine, you Philistine." Blaise shakes his head in disgust. "You can't taste the gold in it, trust me."

Potter flicks beer from his glass at him. "Piss off," he says, but he's smiling. Draco feels a ridiculous pang of jealousy that it's not directed his way.

Granger stands up. "All right, loves. I'm going to fight my way to the loo. Cho, you want to come?"

"I'm good," Chang says. She lifts her glass. "Haven't had enough liquids yet."

When Granger’s almost across the crowded room, Weasley swivels to stare at Potter. “Christmas Eve I’m asking Hermione to marry me, you know.”

Potter pauses in mid-swallow, then wipes a hand across his mouth. His smile is brilliant and warm. He leans forward to punch Weasley’s forearm. “Congratulations, mate. That’s aces!”

Chang and Blaise chime in, and then Weasley is flushed a bit red under the freckles and grinning into his pint. Draco thinks this explains some of his previous tension.

“Don't tell her, but I’ve got the ring and everything.” Weasley casts a quick look over his shoulder to make sure Granger’s nowhere in sight. “Ginny and George helped me pick it. It's brill, and Sugarplum's in Diagon are going to spell it into a Christmas cracker that I'll give her.” He grins. "If they can fit it in. It's bloody massive. Nearly two carats in an emerald cut."

Surely this is a testimony to the success of the Weasley’s post-war business ventures. There must be a lot of dosh in the jokes business, Draco thinks. But this isn’t why his stomach clenches and ice-water runs through his veins. It’s a reminder, of sorts, of something he can never have. This joy, this pride, this certainty that your family are pleased, this support. He supposes in part it’s because he has no siblings, but he knows it runs deeper than that. He can never please his parents with his own choices. He won’t be the son they hoped for, the one to marry a pure-blooded witch and produce the next generation to carry on the family name. Draco’s mostly resigned himself to this and to the lot he’s drawn in life, but every so often it creeps up on him, this raging sense of unfairness, this furious, inexplicable frustration at something that is beyond his power to change. He couldn’t be different if he tried. This is how he is.

Chang knocks Weasley's elbow. "She's coming."

As Granger makes her way back across the crowded pub, Chang, Blaise, and Weasley begin to argue about Quidditch and who’s favored for the World Cup this year.

"Granger," Blaise says once she's taken her seat again, "have you given McGonagall an update on our project?"

"Not yet." Granger settles herself, then reaches for her glass. "I wanted to talk to you about some of your calculations. You really think the Room keeps changing floors?"

"I've an idea about that, actually, and I know how I can prove it."

Granger bends her head towards Blaise, the two of them chattering on about arithmancy and magical theory.

Weasley looks at Chang. "And there they go again. We've lost them."

Chang laughs. "I'm getting used to it," she says. "So what do you think of Finland's chances?"

"Don't even get me started," Weasley says, and then he's off, throwing out players' statistics and betting odds.

Draco’s surprised when Potter’s warm hand touches his own. “Okay there, Malfoy?” He asks quietly. Despite his best survival instincts, Draco looks up and is caught in the earnest greenness of Potter’s gaze, in the wetness of his lips and the wave of desire that drenches him when Potter strokes a thumb over his hand.

“I’m all right,” Draco lies. He’s nowhere near all right; he’s drowning and he’s forgotten where land is. He resists the urge to pull his hand away. He looks down instead, at Potter’s stupid beautiful broad hands, so much more solid than his own narrow-palmed, long-fingered ones. “It’s just the holidays, you know. But I’m fine.”

Maybe this excuses the burn of tears behind his eyes for a moment, but he doesn’t think so. He coughs awkwardly instead, and uses this to pull his hand away. Granger’s sat down, and the attention returns to her and to the ebb and flow of conversation around their drinks. The glasses are mostly empty now, and soon it will be time to make the way back to the castle.

For now, Draco enjoys the fragile bubble of warmth around him, the companionship of the other Fellows, the bustling noise of the tavern, the promise of days free, and the chance at a new year.

It’s better than he deserves, he thinks, and the memories of Vince and the others are cold within him. He knows he’s lucky to be here, surrounded by friends and not in Azkaban or worse.

Draco takes final drink of his beer and admonishes himself not to be maudlin. It’s not a good look on him, and frowning causes wrinkles, or so his mother's told him for years. Vanity will help him through when all else fails.

Now if only there were something that would help him with Potter. That, he thinks, is an utterly lost cause.

***

In a few hours since the Yule Feast, the Great Hall has been transformed into a riot of gift paper, shrieking children, tutting professors, and highly nervous elves. Granger’d come up with the idea to do secret holiday gifts on the night before the children leave for home in their first Fellowship year when she and McGonagall had discussed ways to make the castle more joyous for students. According to Granger there was a Muggle tradition of secretly sharing gifts, and why didn’t they try something like that at Hogwarts? Even Draco hadn't been able to protest. He's been pro-pressie since the first time his mother had placed a perfectly wrapped package in his hands at the age of two and allowed him to gleefully shred it.

Now in its third year, the children are beginning to see the stockings as a part of the regular shape of the school year, each year tasked with coming up with the perfect gifts for another. This Christmas, the seventh years had outdone themselves for the first years--they’d crafted handmade gifts and bought trinkets in bulk on a trip to Diagon. Flitwick and the elves had worked overtime to help the entire castle get ready, and the results were magnificent. Draco spies his own Slytherins prancing around in bowtruckle and niffler masks, sharing cauldron cakes and elf-made fudge with each other and with Ravenclaw House. Loose chocolate frogs hop around the stone walls, occasionally snapped up by an eager student or lifted and moved by a curious ghost. Fairy dust glitters across the hall, on homemade decorations, signs, cards, and in everyone’s hair.

The candles floating beneath the ceiling and scattered across the tables make for a festive air, as do the enormous decorated fir trees twinkling with fairy lights, the will o' wisp lights that Hagrid had brought in from the forest and will carefully remove afterwards, and garlands and garlands of shining silvered glass baubles, sprung from Flitwick’s wand. Most of the younger children are still running around in their pajamas, chasing each other, climbing the walls, and generally wreaking havoc. McGonagall and the other senior professors had retired an hour ago for a celebratory nip of whisky with the Headmistress before making their way to their own quarters. Even Severus has disappeared somewhere. Draco suspects he might have gone to the Manor to converse with Narcissa as he does from time to time; at Severus's request McGonagall had allowed a small portal portrait to be hung in Narcissa's sitting room. Draco's certain that's how his mother seems to know so much about his life at Hogwarts. Still, with even Severus absent and the ghosts and other portraits gathered in the fifth floor gallery for a Yule part of their own, it will be up to the Fellows to wrangle the unwilling students into their common rooms soon, and thence to bed.

Joy.

The shadowed alcoves and corners of the Great Hall have been taken over by upper-form couples, all intent upon physically expressing how terribly much they'll miss each other over the next fortnight, and Draco sincerely hopes he doesn't have to see too much bared skin before they're herded back to their dormitories. Thank Circe the castle walls are like ice in December, even with fires and warming spells. It tends to discourage general nakedness and disrobing, though there are always students foolish--or desperate--enough to brave it. He contemplates making a round to flush them out into the open, but he just doesn't have it in him yet to deal with the sulky snarkiness of sexually frustrated teenagers. He needs a good slug of brandy before he faces that, really, and since Blaise has been entrusted with the flask of good cheer this year, Draco decides it's in his best interest to find him first.

Draco pushes open the door to the Great Hall, where the cacophonic din only increases, to his dismay. In the first floor hallway, a group of older students have set up an old phonograph with an amplification spell, and the pulsing beat of music echoes through the corridor, something with heavy bass and likely objectionable lyrics if Draco listens too closely. Couples dance in front of the Great Staircase, surrounded by groups of people gyrating with friends. Draco isn’t stupid -- he taps his wand against the ear plugs lodged firmly in his ears, strengthening the Muffling Charm. Between the shrieks and the music and the snogging, he really doesn’t want to hear too well tonight.

Passing by the swell of lithe, lanky young bodies moving rhythmically against one another, he pauses, his attention caught by Jones and Delamare dancing together, eyes only on each other, utterly unconcerned about what their classmates might think--and to be honest, most of them didn't even seem to notice, much less be fazed by, the two boys dancing with one another. Perhaps things can change, Draco thinks. He has hope for the younger generation, at least. It's a new century, a new post-war world that's forcing society to evolve with it.

He walks around the corner, towards the alcoves where he knows from his own experience students think they're hidden, until he feels a hand on his shoulder. Whirling, his wand already out, he sees Potter standing behind him, hands carefully in view. Draco pulls out an earplug and lowers his wand, albeit a bit reluctantly. Where Potter's concerned, he's become a bit wary.

“Sorry!” Potter says. “I tried to talk to you. I didn’t know you had your earplugs in.”

It's Draco’s turn to be apologetic. “No worries. I didn’t see you, that’s all. You startled me.” He feels a bit awkward as he tucks his wand back into the holster sewn along the seam of his robe.

Potter leans against the tapestry of the Soap Blizzard of 1378 hanging over the cold stone wall and crosses his arms. It’s fairly abstract, the woven scene, but it brings out the green in Potter’s eyes. He's been into the contraband brandy already, Draco suspects, judging by the flush on his cheeks and the brightness of his eyes. Potter gestures with his chin back to the dancers. “Did you see our prefects?”

Draco smiles a little at that; he can't help himself. “Yes." A handful of students come running around the corner, only to pull up at the sight of Draco and Potter. They look confused at first, then annoyed, the way only teenagers can when their plans are thwarted. Draco raises an eyebrow at them, and they scatter. He turns back to Potter. "Can you imagine that happening when we were here? Delamare and Jones, I mean.” He's seen less of Delamare in his quarters in recent days; the two boys have been attached at the hip since Hogsmeade. Slughorn's been tutting about Delamare's potions marks sinking, but Draco thinks the boy deserves a bit of fun. Merlin only knew if it'd last through hols.

“Not at all,” Potter says, leaning a little to his left to look over Draco’s shoulder to check the hallway beyond for the retreating students. His gaze returns to Draco’s face, and Draco feels the warmth in it. "Scared them away."

"I don't even want to know what they thought they'd do."

Potter grins. "Gillyweed smoking or an orgy, I'd say, given they were mostly Slytherins and Hufflepuffs."

Draco shudders. "A terrifying combination, that." He settles on a carved wooden bench that's dark and shiny from generations of arses. Rumour has it that it's been in this hallway since the Founders' era, but Draco doesn't quite believe that.

"Secretly I think Hufflepuffs run the school," Potter says. "Ernie McMillian always said they had the best parties. Not that I was ever invited, though. Everyone thought I'd run tell Dumbledore."

"Would you have?" Draco asks. He pulls the other earplug out of his ear and wads the both of them into the inner pocket of his robe.

Potter considers. "Might have done. Definitely would have told Ron, who would have told Hermione, and I love her, but she'd have been up in McGonagall's office in heartbeat. So Ernie wasn't half-wrong." He drops down on the bench next to Draco and pulls the flask of brandy out of his robe. "Nicked it from Zabini when he was thrashing fifth years out of the bushes in the quadrangle. Let me tell you, I never want to see Nigel Le's bare arse again in my life."

"Merlin." Draco takes the flask, horrified. "I assume he was with Agatha." The two have been dating for nearly a year and a half now.

"Nope." Potter gives him a pointed look. "Saffy Goldstein, and if you don't think that's going to cause some drama when we get back from hols…" His head drops back against the wall. "And they're all Gryffindors, God help me."

"Better you than me." Draco glances around the empty hallway, then takes a quick sip from the flask. The brandy's warm and rich against his tongue. He nearly groans in delight. Blaise's taste in liquor is exceptional, as always.

Potter scratches his jaw. There's a bit of stubble there, faintly dark against his golden skin, and Draco wants to rub his cheek against it, wants to feel the soft scrape of it. "Maybe Opal will handle it."

"Good luck there," Draco says, and Potter shrugs ruefully. Adebayo's a good Head of House, but if there's one thing she despises it's dealing with romantic turmoil among her students. She's been known to bark at more than one heartbroken Gryffindor to pull themselves together and stop acting the fool. To be honest, Draco thinks she has a point. Lovelorn Gryffindors moping through the corridors have caused more than one inter-house incident over the years. Case in point, Potter and Ginny Weasley, shortly after their eighth-year breakup. There's still a scorch mark in the Charms hallway from where Ginevra'd thrown a Jelly Brain Jinx Potter's way.

Draco knows he shouldn’t ask, but he can’t help himself. “Did you ever, er.” He makes a useless hand gesture that doesn’t really transmit distinct meaning, but Potter catches his drift anyhow. "You know. Get caught in the bushes, so to speak?"

“You mean, did I make out with anyone here at Hogwarts?” Potter quirks a bushy eyebrow. "Ginny, of course."

“And Chang. Yes, I know; the whole bloody school heard about that from Marietta. I meant anyone of the male persuasion.” Draco looks down at the flagstones, hating himself for his unaccounted nervousness and inability to face up to this even now. He squares his shoulders and looks up at Potter, whose cheeks are flushing. "Since you don't seem to mind snogging one on a dare."

Potter bites his bottom lip, but he doesn't look away. “It wasn't my first time, if that's what you're asking. What about you?”

Draco waves his hands. “No, no, no, Potter. You can’t tease and then change the subject!” The slosh or two of brandy he took from the hipflask is making him bold. Not to mention more than a bit jealous. "Who was this specimen of manhood you defiled?"

Potter’s eyes narrow, and belatedly Draco wonders exactly what he’s got himself into.

“Oliver Wood," Potter says. "Sixth year. He was back for a Quidditch match, and, well, after watching him for so long on a broom, I was a bit curious about that marvelous backside of his.”

Draco’s head swims with lust and amazement. “No! Really? You jammy bastard!” He's definitely put out; even Blaise had been gagging for Wood. "He was fit enough."

"I didn't complain." The grin on Potter’s face is a sight to behold. “Now you, Malfoy, out with it.”

It’s Draco’s turn to be shameless, and he decides in for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “There were several young men, if you must know." He catches Potter's amused look. "Not at the same time, you tit." He takes another sip of brandy, then hands the flask to Potter. He can't help but shiver when Potter's mouth covers the same spot he'd just drunk from. Merlin. He has to get hold of himself. Potter's not even trying to flirt, as much as Draco might want him to. The music changes down the hallway, slowing into a more melodic clamour. Slow dancing now. The students are getting more intent. "Perhaps the most scandalous one was the time I let Justin Finch-Fletchley frot me raw in the Quidditch shed. Although there was also the trip home when Pansy walked in on Vince giving me a blowjob on the Hogwarts train. She still won't forgive me for that one."

Potter looks genuinely stunned. “Was absolutely everyone here having a wilder time than I imagined?”

Draco takes the flask from him again. “Well, you were busy saving us all.”

This earns him a rap on the shoulder and a stern look. “None of that. I won’t have it.”

“Cock-blocked by the Dark Lord?” Draco continues, and finds a hand over his mouth and Potter sliding over on the bench, rather too close for comfort in his personal space. Draco wants to lick Potter's palm. He restrains himself. Barely. Potter's skin is warm and his thick fingers smell sweet, like fresh soap.

“Shush you!” Potter withdraws his hand, but stays closer than Draco would like.

Draco can smell the peppermint and loads of brandy on Potter’s breath. Or is that his own? He leans even closer, close enough to see the pulse in Potter’s throat, just above the edge of his dark red jumper. This is risky, Draco knows, and it's certain to crack his already fragile heart into pieces. That won't stop him, of course. Draco lives for self-destruction and pathos. “So tell me," Draco says after a moment. "Oliver Wood. Did he live up to his name?”

Potter’s mouth is inches from his own and Draco realizes belatedly that they are far too close together to appear casual should a student happen to walk by. They'd be the latest school gossip, and, to his dismay, Draco finds the idea almost irresistible. He throws caution to the wind and stays where he is, looking at Potter.

Potter's mouth curls up, making Draco ache to put his own lips on it. He can still feel the brush of Potter's mouth against his on Bonfire Night; it wakes him up some nights, restless and wanting. “I suppose you’ll have to find out for yourself.”

Draco draws away a little, if only to preserve his own self-respect. These feelings he has for Potter are going to eviscerate him at some point. “I’ve no wish to break up his marriage, truth be told.” Wood had married Gwenog Jones of the Harpies the past summer. There'd been a two-page spread in the Prophet with photos of the happy couple splashed across the text. Wood had looked besotted with his bride.

Potter nods then in agreement. “Gwenog could thrash all of us. She’s a fierce one.” Ginny Weasley had been in the wedding party, Draco remembers. He wonders if Potter'd accompanied her to her teammate's wedding, but he doesn't want to ask. The idea of Potter being anyone's plus-one, much less his ex's, irritates him.

“Was there anyone else then?” Draco doesn’t let Potter off the hook. He knows he’s living dangerously, but tonight he doesn’t care. His skin prickles hotly as Potter looks at him, hair falling over the round rims of his glasses, lips open just enough to reveal a glint of white teeth. Draco wants desperately to press his face against the solid curve of Potter's throat.

The explosion rocks the hallway, sending Draco into Potter's shoulder and sound waves shuddering through the castle, the boom echoing for a good minute over the shrieks of the students.

"Fuck," Potter says against Draco's hair. "I'm going to ask McGonagall to expel them all."

Draco absolutely concurs as he untangles his robe from Potter's and clambers to his feet, brushing away the dust that's fallen from the stones.

Students, being idiots after all, are flocking towards the Great Hall rather than running away from the source of the commotion. Draco and Potter push their way through the gawking crowd to find a few crystallised shards of the punch bowl remaining on the centre of the Ravenclaw table and sticky punch sprayed in a forty-foot radius.

"What the hell," Draco manages, taking in the scorched wood of the table and the sheepish faces of two third-years nearby who appear to actually be glued to the floor by charmed globs of punch.

"Intoxicating Charm?" Potter asks one of the third-years--Barnes, Draco thinks her name is--and she nods, to the chagrin of her conspirator. Potter sighs. "Thought so."

Draco scowls at the both. "Merlin's beard, I wish you lot would at least try to master the theory of the spell before attempting to try something so bloody stupid." The shrieks and laughter behind Draco grow louder, to the point he can barely think. He turns around, wand out. "Oh, shut up," he snaps, and the entire hall falls silent.

Blaise and Granger appear in the doorway, breathless, with McGonagall and Pomfrey on their heels, neither of whom look best pleased.

"Bed," McGonagall says, with a swift look at the destruction. "Everyone, back to your dormitories now." The students groan, and she raises one eyebrow. "I will cancel hols, if necessary." The room starts to empty, and McGonagall tuts, snapping her fingers at the two culprits without looking at them. "Not you two." They immediately stop trying to free themselves and exchange grieved looks. Draco wouldn't want to be in their shoes. "Where's Miss Chang?"

"Here, ma'am." Chang comes in from the side door onto the quadrangle, several abashed couples in tow. The look on her face bespeaks highest irritation, coupled with the need of a good dram or two of whisky. Instead she sends her young charges scurrying to their houses with threats to hurry them on their way. "You heard the Headmistress. Bed. And not with each other, damn it." The students, rumpled and obviously irked, join the leaving throng.

McGonagall looks around her and shakes her head. "I can almost hear Albus laughing at me," she says before she turns to the Fellows. "Check your houses, please, and make certain they're all accounted for. Miss Granger, you'll remain with me and Poppy to deal with these two." At that, Barnes looks terrified. Draco doesn't blame her. He's eager to escape as well. He doesn't want to think about how warm and firm Potter'd felt against him when they'd been thrown together.

Circe, but he needs a good stiff drink.

He's the first Fellow to follow the students out, pretending he doesn't hear Potter's request for him to wait. He only turns back at the top of the staircase to the dungeons. Potter's in the middle of the corridor, surrounded by Gryffindors, but still watching him, a thoughtful expression on his face.

Draco does the only thing he can: he flees, surrounded by the cold comfort of Slytherin House.

***

The castle's corridors are deserted and frigid, the last few Warming Charms having faded away once the students left the castle after breakfast. Draco's footsteps echo against the stones; his breath puffs out in small white wisps. The emptiness is peaceful, but tinged with the slightest bit of chilly melancholy, as if the castle itself is already missing the raucous noise of the little beasts.

His Portkey back to Wiltshire is due to go off in thirty-eight minutes, but Blaise had summoned him to the seventh floor corridor with a rather presumptive missive that Draco would have liked to toss in the fire. He's had enough experience with Blaise's jinxed correspondence, however, to know that that would be foolish. So now he's here, taking the last moving staircase, which seems pathetically happy to have him on board. It flicks him up onto the landing with a cheerful grunt, nearly taking the heel of his boot off in the process.

Potter and Chang are down the left corridor, waiting in front of a blank stone wall. Potter's out of his professorial robes already, dressed in jeans and two jumpers, a purple one pulled over a red, both obviously hand-knit. Even in such a ridiculous get-up, he still looks brilliant.

"What on earth are we doing here?" Draco demands. He eyes Potter. "And aren't you freezing? I shan't even start on what you have on."

"It's a bit nippy," Potter admits. His fists are shoved in his jeans pockets, and his cheeks are pink with the cold. "Forgot the Warming Charms had gone off."

Chang, on the other hand, is wrapped in a fur-lined travelling robe, the hood of which is pulled up over her ears. Even Draco hasn't bothered with that much insulation. "I warned him," she says. "But you know Harry. Thinks he can fend off a Scottish winter."

Potter shrugs. "It's not horrible."

"Your teeth are chattering," Chang says. "I can hear them from over here."

The wall creaks from behind them, and they all turn towards it. A nauseous burn grows in Draco's stomach. He knows this place all too well. The tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy teaching ballet to trolls is long gone, burned beyond repair by battle curses and Fiendfyre, but you can still see the metal hooks set into stone that it hung from.

Potter tenses beside him when the door appears. The heavy wood is battered and burnt, and the hinges release puffs of soot when the door begins to swing open with an angry creak. For a moment, Draco's terrified he'll see a burst of flame, the way he does when this door appears in his nightmares, and he inhales sharply.

Granger's curly head pokes out from behind the door. "You're there, good!" She pushes the door open wider. Blaise stands behind her, looking quite self-satisfied. "It took us ages, but Zabini and I were determined we'd find it this term, and we did." She beams at them. "It's not perfect--the spells are still a bit glitchy, but it's here again, and that's something, right?"

The Room of Requirement stretches out before him, dim and dank and draughty. Once packed with the odds and ends of a century's worth of school castoffs and archives, it's now almost empty, save for a few tall, steel cabinets at the far end of the room. Even they're a bit scorched and pummelled, defaced metal doors hanging askew.

Chang's already inside, marvelling at the room. Potter hesitates alongside Draco, at the threshold. "It doesn't feel right," Potter says after a moment.

"No." Draco closes his eyes. He can almost feel the heat of the fire, hear Vince's shout as the flames overtook him, pulling him beneath the inferno.

Potter's fingers curl around Draco's, and his eyes fly open. He looks over at Potter, who seems nearly as shaken as Draco himself. Not surprising, Draco supposes. Potter'd been the one to save Draco's life, after all. He can't have brilliant memories of the room himself.

Granger turns towards them and her bright smile fades. "Oh," she says, and Blaise and Chang look over. "Harry, I wasn't thinking--that day…" She trails off. "I think Blaise and I just got caught up in the puzzle of finding it, and we wanted to share…" She bites her lip.

"You were there too, Hermione. You know what it was like." Potter steps into the room, his hand still entwined with Draco's. Draco lets himself be pulled forward. He thinks he smells a whiff of wood smoke, and his fingers tighten around Potter's. Potter looks around. The room's smaller than Draco remembers it being. It doesn't need much space any longer, it seems. Potter's face is pale in the shadows. "Vince died here."

Granger casts a stricken look at Draco. "I didn't think--"

"We didn't mean any harm," Blaise says, coming up behind her. His voice is calm and steady. Of course it is. Blaise hadn't been in here that night. "And that day held an enormous amount of tragedy across the board. This room is Hogwarts history. It's been hiding itself for years, but it came out for us." He looks at Draco. "Vince made his own choices."

"I know." Draco takes another step towards the middle of the room, letting his hand pull from Potter's grasp. He looks up into the dark recesses of the vaulted ceiling. He'd spent so many hours in this room during sixth year, desperately trying to fix that damned cabinet. The feelings come over him in a rush, that fear of what might happen to his family, the horror of seeing Vince engulfed in flames. He draws in a shaky, ragged breath and pulls his robe tighter around him, fighting off the chill of the empty space.

"You should have left it closed," Draco says quietly. "Too many ghosts."

Granger touches his arm. "I'm sorry. We didn't think--"

He gives her a weak smile. "It was a puzzle. I know. I've solved a few of those myself in here." He looks at Blaise. "Does McGonagall know?"

Blaise looks uncomfortable, which is as close to an apology Draco will get. Well, and perhaps a bottle of whisky will find its way into Draco's Christmas stocking. "She doesn't know we found it yet."

"She'll be pleased, I'm sure," Draco says. Blaise and Granger have earned full marks this Fellowship year; they've done what McGonagall asked them to do. All Draco's managed is to break his own bloody heart. Well done him.

"We wanted to tell you first." Granger leans against Potter. "It was stupid."

Chang snorts, and it echoes through the room. They all look at her. "Don't be ridiculous. It's a room. If we got sentimental over every place in this castle someone died, we'd never be able to walk through the hallways." Her hood falls back from her face, and she brushes a stray lock of hair from her cheek. "A battle happened here. I remember the Great Hall filled with bodies, but I don't let that put me off my suppers. It wasn't fair what we went through, and it wasn't right, but you two--" She points a finger at Draco and Harry. "You both need to pull yourselves together. Finding this place took work, and skill, and Zabini's absolutely right. The Room of Requirement is historically significant. Dumbledore's Army met here, for one. You don't think in half a century that's going to be relevant?"

There's silence for a long a moment, then Draco nods. "Point made," he says, and he feels the tight band across his chest loosen a little.

And then, out of nowhere, a small bit of metal falls from mid-air and hits the ground with a clang, right between Draco's boots. He bends down and picks up a skeleton key, heavy black iron, goblin-made. He recognises it; he'd used it to lock away an apple, a bird. "The Vanishing Cabinet," he says, turning on his heel.

But the room's still empty.

Potter takes the key from him. "It's warm."

Draco runs to the row of cabinets in the back and throws them open. Their shelves are bare, and he frowns at them, something niggling in his mind. And then Potter's beside him, and Draco understands why he can still smell the stench of the fire.

It's never entirely gone away.

He turns to Potter. "Everything's still here," he says. "It's just hidden it all, the Room has. How bloody brilliant is that? It couldn't put out the Fiendfyre, so it tucked itself away until it was ready to be found--"

Potter holds up the key. "So it spit out a key?"

"That I used during sixth year." Draco takes the key from him. "When I was…" He sighs. "You know. The cabinet. I left this key with it. It should have burned with the rest of the room, so if it survived…"

"Then other things might have as well," Potter says, and Draco nods.

"If the Room couldn't extinguish the Fiendfyre," Draco says, "maybe it's trying to contain it. Somewhere."

Potter touches the key in Draco's palm. "So, warm key."

"But not hot." Draco closes his fingers around the key. "The fire might be dying down, four years on."

"Theoretically, that would make sense." Blaise is there now, with Granger and Chang behind him, all of them peering into the vacant cabinets. With a pop, a copy of Advanced Potion Making appears on one of the shelves.

"Harry," Granger says, and Potter reaches for the book and flips through it.

"It's mine," Potter says. "Or the Half-Blood Prince's, at least." He sounds sad, and Granger squeezes his arm.

Chang pushes past them and crouches in front of the cabinets. "But if everything else is hidden, why are these still here? Shouldn't the whole room be empty?"

Granger frowns and twists a curl around her finger. "Good question. Zabini?"

"Not a clue, other than we're dealing with a cheeky bugger of a magical room in a magically sentient castle." Blaise sounds delighted. "Do you think we could do the calculations to break through?"

"Cho?" Granger turns to Chang, and Draco knows that look on her face: determined, curious, excited. He'd seen it every term when she was about to best his marks in a course, thus leading to a scolding at home about letting a Muggleborn beat him out for top of their year. This time, he thinks he likes it. "Do you mind doing some Charms research over hols?"

"As if I would." Chang beams. "Show me your work before my Portkey goes?" The three of them, heads together, move back towards the corridor, Draco and Potter trailing behind them. They're lost in their discussion, and Draco feels a pang of bittersweet jealousy.

Just before Draco crosses into the hall, the door slams shut, closing the room off with him and Potter still in it. Stunned, Draco stares at the thick wood; he can hear the shouts and pounding from the other side.

"Did you do that?" he asks Potter, and Potter shakes his head.

"Why would I?"

"I don't know!" Draco turns on him. "But I've a Portkey shortly, and I'm not walking down to bloody Hogsmeade to Apparate to sodding Wiltshire!"

Potter pulls his wand out. "Get out of the way." His Unlocking Spell dissipates harmlessly against the wood, as does his Blasting Charm, his Severing Charm, and every other spell he casts its way.

Draco swears he sees the wood grain on the door scowl, and then the stone pacers across the floor flip just enough to send both Potter and himself onto their arses.

"Oi," Potter snaps at nothing in particular. "Settle down."

"Don't shout at it," Draco says. His hip hurts from where he'd landed. "The bloody room's obviously been traumatised."

Potter glares at him, his glasses askew. "Haven't we all?"

Valid point. Draco leans against the door. The shouting and thumping have faded. He wonders if that's the room or if their so-called friends have given up already. "Are you sure you didn’t do this? Or wish for it?"

"No." Potter settles onto the floor next to him, their shoulders almost touching. "I'd have asked it to make us a bit more comfortable if I had."

The door thunks their backs. "Stop annoying it," Draco says. He thinks he feels a rumble of approval through his robe. He looks around the empty room, the cabinet key still heavy in the palm of his hand. "It obviously wants us here for some reason."

"Christ only knows what." Potter stretches his legs out and shivers. "Might have warmed it up though."

"Yes, well, you're an idiot," Draco says. "And I'd like to remind it that I've a Portkey shortly, so it'd be nice if we could have a bit of a hint--"

Before the words are out of his mouth, the floor shifts again beneath him, tumbling him into Potter's lap. Potter looks down at him, a smile starting to curve his mouth. "It might be personal?"

"I hate bloody sentient objects." Draco pushes himself upright, despite the fact that Potter's thighs had been quite cosier than he'd expected.

They're both silent for a while, sitting side by side. Draco can almost feel the impatience of the room gathering around him. He crosses his legs and scratches at the knee of his trousers. Potter sits perfectly still, head cocked to one side as if he's listening to something Draco can't hear. It annoys him, and he finally gives in and flicks Potter's arm.

"Stop being weird," he says.

Potter blinks and looks at him. "That's rich, coming from you."

Draco sniffs and leans his head back against the door. "Shut it, Scarhead."

"Ferret."

They smile at each other, and it's warm and relaxed, more so than it's been for a while between them.

"I've missed this," Draco says before he thinks. He can feel the flush rising along his jaw, and he looks away.

"Yeah." Potter clears his throat, and Draco glances back at him. He doesn't look happy.

"What?"

Potter sighs and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "Nothing."

"Bollocks." Draco pulls away from him. "I know you well enough to be aware of when you're full of shit."

"Draco."

"I mean it."

Potter just looks at him. "Don't."

Draco watches a dust mote float past. "We used to be friends."

"We still are."

"I suppose." Draco pushes his own glasses up, his throat tight. His heart wants something from Potter he's certain he can't have any more, Still, he knows he's missed him this term. Terribly. "I've been a bit of a prat."

Potter's mouth quirks to one side. "That's not unusual." He pulls a sleeve of his purple jumper down over one hand, bunching the thick rib knit between his fingers. "I ballsed things up by telling you I fancied you."

"In sixth year." Draco tries to laugh. It comes out a bit forced, and he hates this strange distance that's still here between them. If someone had told him four years ago he'd be sitting in this room, wishing he and Potter could go back to being friends, he'd have thought them absolutely mad.

He still might.

Potter closes his eyes, then opens them, shaking his head. “I’ve always been a bit gone on you, Draco. Still am, and all that."

“Pardon?” Draco suddenly worries that he’s got a bit of a head cold coming on: he doesn’t think his ears can be trusted.

"I thought I was being obvious.” Potter's about to wear a hole through that jumper sleeve. "And that's why you were avoiding me. I'm sorry to have made you uncomfortable."

Draco’s mouth opens and for a moment; he’s at a loss for words. “What?” he asks finally. He can't manage to get anything more coherent out.

At that, Potter's face falls. "Look, I can go back to acting normal. I really can. I've been a complete idiot--"

“I mean,” Draco amends, putting a hand on the front of Potter’s jumper to keep him from moving away before he can set this right. “No, you weren’t being obvious at all. Not to me.”

"Oh," Potter says.

They sit looking at each other for a few moments, awkward and bold and uncertain.

And then Draco does what he's wanted to for weeks now. He leans forward and brushes his mouth lightly across Potter's, his fingers curling against the soft wool of Potter's idiotic jumper.

This kiss is slower, more careful than that drunken snog on top of the Astronomy Tower. Draco lets his mouth open beneath Potter's, tasting his sweetness. His breath catches when Potter's tongue flicks against his, and Potter's hands tangle in Draco's short hair as he pushes Draco back against the wood of the door.

Draco's whole body shudders as Potter straddles his thighs, and he catches Potter's mouth with his again. His teeth drag across Potter's bottom lip; Potter groans and rocks his hips against Draco's. Draco knows Potter has to be able to feel the swell of his cock through his robe, but he doesn't care. He wants to drink Potter in, to nip and suck that perfect mouth, to breathe in every breath Potter exhales until he's heady with the man, and this is what he's wanted for years now, of this much he's utterly, completely, absolutely aware.

Their glasses clink against each other, and Potter pulls back, looking at Draco through smudged lenses. He looks stunned, his mouth wet and swollen and pink, and Draco leans forward again--only to be stopped by Potter's hand on his chest.

"What?" Draco asks, his anxiety rising.

"It's the room," Potter says. "It wants us to--" He shifts back on Draco's thighs, cold filling the warm space he's left behind. "Look, not here, all right? Anywhere but here--"

Draco pushes Potter off of him, the moment shattered. He feels the fool now as he stumbles to his feet. He's still hard and he wants. His mind shouts at him: Potter clearly does not, cannot feel the same way. "This was a terrible idea." And Draco hasn't anyone to blame but himself. How could he forget himself this thoroughly? And here, of all places?

He shoves back against the door and this time it yields. It snaps open, spilling him and Potter out across the floor of the corridor, right at Blaise's feet.

Granger flies to Potter's side. "Harry, what happened?"

Potter manages to sit up with a wince. He's banged his head against the floor, and Draco only feels a fleeting moment of sympathy. "The Room didn't want us to leave," he says, watching Draco as Blaise helps him to his feet.

Blaise eyes them both. "Either of you wish for that?"

"No," Draco snaps at the same time Potter shakes his head.

"Pity," Blaise says. The intense curiosity in his eyes belies his mild tone.

"It might have helped us track the Room locus." Chang's scrawling numbers across a piece of parchment she's holding against the wall.

Potter rubs his temple. "Thanks for the concern, Cho."

"Granger would have had you out in another twenty minutes." Chang doesn't look up from her calculations.

Draco's pocket watch buzzes in his robe and he swears. "Portkey's in five minutes, and I need my bags." He steps backwards, raising his hand in farewell. He's going to do what he does best when he's terrified: flee. At least this time he has a plausible excuse. "Until the new year."

"Malfoy, wait a moment--" Potter starts towards him, but Draco shakes his head.

"Mother's expecting me for tea," he says a little too brightly. "Happy Christmas to all of you. Think of me enduring Wiltshire, will you? Maybe it will brighten your own hols."

Draco turns on his heel, not bothering to wait for Potter or any of the rest of them. He needs some space, needs to breathe, needs to get his head sorted. This simply cannot continue. He needs to recover his bearings.

These feelings for Potter are raging out of control, and he can't face him again until he's settled them. He'll have plenty of time for reflection on what a fool he's been at the Manor. Whether he wants it or not.

When he comes back to Hogwarts, he'll be over Potter, one way or another.

Please, Merlin, let it be.

***

Boxing Day has always been Draco's least favourite day of hols. Before the war, it'd been filled with visits from his parents' friends, all too often boring and dull, and he'd been expected to be on his best public behavior, when he'd wanted nothing more than to barricade himself in his room with his pile of presents and while the day away. Now, the Floo buzzer's silent, the once-bustling Manor sitting rooms still and vacant. Draco doesn't know which is worse.

He's in the library after lunch, sitting in front of the fire with Aragon's Newts of Bognor open on his lap and a glass of wine hovering in the air beside him. He's not reading, not really. It just seems safer to be here ensconced in his grandfather Abraxas' favourite chair, rather than anywhere his father might find him. Outside, the winter sky is heavy and grey with a cold rain that rattles the windows and the black slate tiles of the roof.

"Darling," his mother says from the doorway, "have you a moment?"

Draco closes the book, not bothering to mark his place. "For you, always."

Narcissa sweeps in, her grey silk gown, beaded around the wide neckline, as impeccable as if the creme of wizarding society were about to arrive on her hearth. She's twisted her hair up into a chignon, and her lips are painted the bright scarlet she prefers. She looks beautiful, in Draco's opinion. A perfect Narcissa Malfoy, the way he remembers her from his childhood. When she bends to kiss his cheek, she smells of lilacs and roses; the scent makes him feel safe and comforted.

"I've had an owl from Vivienne Delamare," Narcissa says. "She wants to meet for lunch next week, but if I'm reading between the lines there's something about young Evander that's bothering her. Do you know anything?"

Draco frowns. He doesn't want to get embroiled in Delamare family drama. "His classes are going decently, and he's well-liked by his peers. Why?"

"She seems to think there might be some social issues, I think. A few comments from other parents about a worrisome friendship, from what I can tell."

And this is why Draco keeps his affairs out of the public eye. As much as he might admire the courage it took for Delamare to be so open about his relationship with Jones at school, Draco thinks it was naive of him to think his schoolmates wouldn't talk once hols began. And while they might not give a damn with whom Delamare danced, their parents most certainly would. Still, it's not his place to talk, so he just shrugs and opens his book again. "She oughtn't worry. He's a strong student and a good lad with good friends. The other parents are being ridiculous." He pretends to be engrossed in the life cycles of Bongor's newt population; it just causes his mother to purse her lips at him in a way he knows means she isn't letting him off scot free from the conversation.

"You've been hiding away in here," Narcissa perches on the ottoman, next to his stockinged feet. She, of course, is in shiny black and silver heels that curve around the back of her ankle, wrapping twice around her narrow calves. Draco hasn't any idea how she can wear those comfortably around the house; she crosses one leg over the other, the tight shoes apparently not a concern for her. "For all of the holiday, actually."

"Father wasn't at his best earlier." An understatement, to say the least. The lack of proper company for the day has meant Lucius began drinking after breakfast. By lunch, he'd been three sheets to the wind, ranting at Draco about his decision to stay at Hogwarts as a Fellow when he might have been working his way up the Ministry ladder, bringing honour and glory to the Malfoy name.

Par for the course, really, but Draco's not in the mood to listen to his father's criticism. He's too raw as it is, his mind continually drifting back to Potter and the soft press of their lips.

"Lucius tries."

Draco sets the Aragon aside. There's no use pretending to read now. "Not well."

Narcissa tilts her head in acknowledgement. "He does love you."

"He has an odd way of showing it." Draco lets his mother take his hand. "I've never been good enough for him."

"And Lucius was never good enough for your grandfather." Narcissa's fingers curl around Draco's. Her nails are polished as red as her lips, and Draco smooths a thumb over the large sapphire and diamond ring she wears on her wedding finger, the same one his grandmother had worn, and which he'd assumed he'd pass on to his wife one day. That's not bloody likely, though. He wonders if Weasley's given Granger her ring yet; he oddly isn't jealous. Not of them, at least. He's just sad. He'd like to have that experience one day, of finding someone he loves in that way and being brave enough to ask them to stay, not for a night, but for a lifetime.

His mother watches him. "You're thoughtful."

"Confused, more so." He looks up at her. "Granger should be engaged now." He's kept his mother up on the Fellows gossip; he'd been unsurprised to discover Severus had as well.

"A Christmas miracle, indeed."

Draco smiles. His sharp tongue had come from the Black family; he's aware of that each time his mother and aunt are together now. Andromeda's the worst of them all, really. She's not the sort to take fools gladly, and her biting wit has surprised him more than once at a family dinner, particularly when directed towards his father. Lucius can't stand the woman, which has only made getting to know her more interesting for Draco. "They suit each other, Granger and Weasley."

Narcissa squeezes his hand. "You'll find your match. Nathalie Greengrass thinks her daughter would be perfect for you--"

"Mother." Draco can't do this any more. "I'm not going to court Astoria."

"And I suppose Pansy's out of the question." His mother's fingers are warm against his skin.

Draco thinks of Delamare, dancing in the corridor with Jones, not caring what anyone around him thinks. He draws in a deep breath. "Any woman is out of the question, Mother."

Narcissa stills, and Draco's certain this is it. He's already lost his father. His mother will be next, sending him away in shame, refusing to acknowledge him until he buckles under and takes on his family duty--

His mother's thumb strokes across the back of his hand, keeping him from drawing away. "I wondered," she says finally. "I've been waiting for you to say."

That throws Draco for a loop. He looks up at her; Narcissa's face is composed. "You knew?"

The fire pops and crackles beside them. "A mother generally knows her child." Narcissa sighs. "I'm not going to say I'm not a bit disappointed. It'd be nice to have a daughter-in-law--" A fleeting sadness crosses her face. "But I'd rather not force you into being someone you're not."

"I'm the heir--"

"We'll cross that bridge when necessary," Narcissa says. "I'm not a fool, Draco. I've expected this, and I've talked to people who've or are going through the same." She gives him a small smile. "Vivienne, for one."

Draco looks up at her, surprised. "She knows."

"She's his mother." Narcissa laughs. "Of course she does. Although I understand his Assistant Head of House has given him some good advice this term."

Draco doesn't know what to say. "I tried."

"Vivienne's grateful, my love."

A wave of relief rushes through Draco, for Delamare and himself. "Father--"

"Leave Lucius to me," Narcissa says firmly. "I love your father quite a bit, Draco, but I am not unaware of his shortcomings. You needn't worry about him."

"He'll have kittens."

"And Crups as well." Narcissa places a hand on Draco's knee. "I'll take care of it." She eyes him shrewdly. "Am I correct in thinking this revelation is due to a specific individual?"

Draco feels tongue-tied. He's always been able to discuss his life with his mother--up to an extent. This, however, feels raw, private. "A bit." He thinks of Potter, still up in the castle, and he wonders how he's spending his Boxing Day. Probably being doted upon by Weasleys or elves, he suspects. Or both. The thought makes him smile slightly.

"Ah," Narcissa says. "It's like that, is it?" She quirks a pale eyebrow at him. "I know that face. There's someone." Her voice is light, but Draco can still read the concern in it. "Not Blaise, I hope. I couldn't bear to have Antonia be your mother-in-law."

Merlin's tits, no. That was too horrible to contemplate. At least Potter's parents were dead. "Much more inappropriate than Blaise," Draco admits. "Someone who Father will hate and who ought to have no interest in seeing a former Death Eater."

Narcissa frowns at him. "Which you're not."

"I have the Mark." Draco touches his forearm. He'd taken it willingly, hoping that his father would be proud of him from Azkaban. Now it was a faded, painful reminder of how bloody stupid he'd been at sixteen, even as his mother had done everything to protect him, begging him not to submit to the Dark Lord's spell.

He'd been a damn fool.

"A Mark means nothing," Narcissa says, her fingers tightening on Draco's wrist. "Severus had the Mark, and look at what he did."

Draco heaves a heavy sigh. "There's a difference, Mother. The entire world thinks so. And I'm idiot enough to have fallen for the worst possible person."

"Mr Potter, I assume." At Draco's surprised look, his mother rolls her eyes. "You're not discreet, my love. You've only been on about him since first year; I think your father suspected even then how you might feel. Besides, Severus has been reporting when his portrait visits." At Draco's horrified face, she holds up a hand. "Not to your father, just to me. He's been concerned that Potter might be leading you on. He sees more than one expects, you know."

"I don't think he has it in him," Draco says softly. "But it's ridiculous, the thought of us together. He'd be mad to want me--"

Narcissa's sharp tut cuts him off. "No. You're worth more than you think, Draco. If Potter can't see that, then more fool him. I don't care what the world sees or your father thinks--you've made something of yourself, and I'm proud of you." She cups his cheek in her palm. "Let yourself be happy, my son. Whether it's with Potter or someone else. That's all I want for you. I was lucky enough to find love, even if Lucius infuriates me some days. Open yourself to the possibility, Draco. I won't be judging you, I promise."

"You're biased." A warm hope fills Draco. "You know that."

"I'm your mother." Narcissa smiles at him. "Of course I am. But I also know you have always been your worst critic. Don't let that part of you here--" She touches his head. "Ruin the beauty of your heart."

Draco nods.

Narcissa stands. "Should I invite Mr Potter to dinner? Without your father, I should say."

"God, no," Draco bursts out. The very thought of Potter at the Manor horrifies him. "It's not like that, Mother. Whatever this is between Potter and myself--I'm certain it's not that serious. Nothing that would require dinner."

His mother doesn't look convinced. "Well. We'll see, I suppose." She smoothes Draco's hair back from his forehead. "Think about it. I'm certain Andromeda would be more than happy to host us, if you would prefer."

While that might be slightly better, Draco still doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't even know what to do about Potter yet. He wants to kiss him again--wants to do even more than that, if he's honest with himself. But that's not something he's going to admit to his mother.

"Mother," he says, and she looks back from the doorway. "Thank you."

Narcissa smiles. "I love you, Draco. Never forget that. And that means I want your happiness, even above my own."

The door closes behind her, leaving Draco alone and pondering again with too many thoughts to fill the stillness of his room.

***

An owl arrives early on the morning of New Year's Eve, small and grey, its wings beating against the window of Draco's bedroom. He lets it in, and it nips his fingers in its eagerness for the small treat he holds up.

The note's in an unfamiliar scrawl that takes a moment for Draco to decipher as Weasley's, and his heart stutters for a moment, certain that something terrible must have befallen Potter. It would take an utter emergency, after all, to cause Weasley to contact him. He unfolds it, smoothing the parchment flat. It's not the best quality, and there are ink blots along the sides.

Ferret--

Look, mate, I'm only doing this because it's Christmas, or close enough still, I reckon, and it's the time for good cheer, goodwill to men etc. etc. Harry'll have my bollocks when he finds out I've written you, but it's for his own good, and yours too, really.

He's miserable up there in that castle without you around, and he's certain you hate him after everything, and yeah, he's told me all of it, even the bits I didn't care to hear about. Just stop being a coward, get off your bloody arse and go see him. I'll wager Galleons that you feel the same way he does. I've seen it on your face when you look at him. So let off being a twat and put an end to this rubbish. Snog his face off if that’s what it takes to stop him moping about.

Happy New Year's to you and yours. Except your dad because he's a right sodding wanker.

Weasel

P.S. She said yes, so be nice about the ring when she shows you.

Draco folds the note slowly, setting it down on his dresser. The owl quirks its head at him, and Draco waves it off. "No answer," he says, and the owl flaps its wings and flutters out of the window, nearly being knocked off course by a stiff breeze.

Sinking onto the edge of his bed, Draco stares at himself in the mirror. His face is gaunter than it was when he left Hogwarts; he hasn't been sleeping or eating well, despite the holiday indulgences. He'd even avoided the lunch Aunt Andromeda had invited him to; he'd been too afraid Potter would show up, and he hadn't been able to handle the thought of his mother watching them together, for fear of what he might reveal.

Draco draws in a deep breath. Weasley's right. He has been a coward, but Draco's not certain he can be anything else. He's no Gryffindor; he's a Malfoy, and bravery has never been a strong familial trait.

He picks Weasley's note up again, fingers running across the smeared ink. He looks back at his reflection, eyes shadowed.

Maybe, he thinks, it's time to change that.

He's just not entirely certain it’s not too late.

***

The sun's nearly beneath the tree line as Draco makes his way along the path from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts. It's cold, and Draco's glasses fog with each breath that puffs up against his heavy scarf. Fresh snow crunches beneath his boots; every step that brings him closer to the castle gates makes Draco wonder if he's doing the right thing.

When he puts his hand to the Great Hall door, it opens silently, the wards unlocking at his touch. The corridors are dark and empty still; most of the staff haven't returned. He takes the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, stomach twisting and turning. It's New Year's Eve. He doesn't even know if Potter's here. Surely he has plans: whether it be the traditional Ministry gala or drinks with the Weasley clan. He probably won’t be back until tomorrow at the earliest if he’s already out.

It takes every ounce of courage Draco can summon to knock on Potter's door. It creaks open when his knuckles rap against it, and a stab of worry shoots through Draco.

"Potter?" He pushes through the door and into Potter's quarters. The front room's small but cosy, with leaded glass windows that look out over the grounds and mismatched, overstuffed brown chairs in front of the fire. Potter's sitting in one, gazing into a tall standing mirror framed in ornately carved silver. It looks old and expensive, like something Draco might have stumbled over once in the older wing of the Manor. Draco worries that it might be exerting some sort of influence over Potter. He tries to recall the commonest spells for breaking mirror enchantments.

"Potter," Draco says again, this time a bit more urgently, and Potter looks at him then, blinking against the Lumos that's radiating from Draco's wand against the shadows in the room.

"Hey. Malfoy." Potter says, his voice scratchy. "You're here."

Draco walks closer, keeping his wand out. A flick of his wrist brings the fire to a proper level; another sends the lights in the lamps on the wall flickering to life. "Is that a problem?"

"No." Potter's looking at him intently.

"Good." Draco stops beside him, and he studies the mirror. There are words carved around the arched top. It's not Latin or Greek, that much he can tell. Maybe it’s Celtic? Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. "What's that?"

"The Mirror of Erised," Potter says, his attention drawn away from Draco. "The Room of Requirement gave it to me."

Draco doesn't care for Potter's absent-minded tone. He tucks his wand away. "You've been spending time in there alone?" At Potter's shrug, Draco sighs. "Sometimes you're a complete moron, you realise."

"It just showed up," Potter says. "Christmas Day. I went in, and there it was, waiting for me, just like it was during first year." He draws his bare feet up beneath him. "It's all right, really. It's a decent sort of mirror. I like what I see, at least."

"Please tell me you haven't gone feral, Potter." No wonder Weasley had owled, if this is what Potter's been up to for the past week, mooning over a dirty mirror. "You're never at your best when you're left to your own devices too long."

Potter just pulls a quilt up over his lap. "I'm fine." His expression turns mulish. "I went out to the pub with Ron and Gin three nights ago."

"And no one else since, I'd wager." Draco strongly suspects that the Weasley siblings had just shown up on Potter's doorstep and dragged him out into the fresh air. He glances into the spotted, glassy surface of the mirror. He and Potter are both reflected in it, but they're ever so slightly different. Draco's in professorial robes, as is Potter, thank God, not the atrocious joggers and jumper Potter's wearing at the moment. Curious. He tugs at the neck of his traveling robe, and his reflection straightens his tie. "What an odd mirror," he says, half to himself. "Although I prefer how you look in it, Potter, to what you're wearing now. Perhaps you should take note."

Potter's mouth opens slightly, and he glances back at the mirror. "You can see me in it?"

"Don't be an idiot." Draco frowns at him, wondering if Potter's been lighting up gillyweed again. "Of course I see you in there. I'm standing right next to you, you twat. But in the mirror we’re in professors’ robes. And we look a little older somehow." He peers a bit more closely, a bit horrified by the wrinkles around the corners of his eyes. Surely those hadn't been that deep before Christmas. “We look happy.” He frowns, but his reflection doesn't follow. "Happier than now, at least."

Potter takes a deep breath. “Malfoy, this isn’t a normal mirror.”

“Do tell.” Draco resists the urge to roll his eyes. Potter has a flair for the dramatic, and also for stating the obvious.

Potter points to the inscribed words. “It shows you what you want.”

Draco blinks for a moment at the unfamiliar letters, before it clicks. I show not your face but your heart's desire.. “Oh, I see. Mirror writing. Very clever.”

“No,” Potter says. “It’s a bit more complicated than that. It really does show you your heart's desire. And it seems mine’s changed.”

Draco shakes his head and smiles. “It seems awfully simple for magic.”

He looks back into the mirror, and the mirror images of himself and Potter look at each other before leaning in to kiss, and then, oh, then he begins to understand.

Your heart's desire.

“What did you used to see?” he asks Potter, his voice dropping to a whisper, eyes locked on the figures as if seeing them for the first time.

“My family. Me and my parents together.” Potter’s eyes are on his face, and Draco can’t look.

“And what do you see now?” Draco stills, waiting. The crackling of the fire causes him to start.

“I see you. With me. And we’re in Hogwarts robes, but not our student uniforms.” Potter’s voice is low and warm. When he looks at Draco this time, Draco finally meets his eyes, and it’s everything. Past, present, future, all here in this little room with the mismatched furniture and the omnipresent magic of Hogwarts.

Draco nods, lashes lowering “That’s what I see.”

Potter’s standing up now from the low chair, crossing the few steps between them. He lifts a careful hand to cup Draco’s chin, raising his gaze. “Does it seem simple now?”

Potter licks his lips, and Draco stares at his mouth. “No. Not at all, actually.”

Draco’s not sure who kisses whom. He’s aware of their lips meeting, of the softness of Potter’s touch, the slight scratch of his jumper, the wetness of his mouth on his. Draco’s hands rise of their own volition to brace against Potter’s chest as Potter’s arms slowly encircle him, warm hands on his hips and then pulling him closer. Draco lifts his arms slightly to grasp Potter’s muscular shoulders. Potter groans into his mouth, nudging him backwards. Draco opens his mouth to feel the slide of Potter’s tongue against his. It takes seconds and he’s breathless as if he’s been running for miles. Potter’s hands trail under his cloak, and Draco unclasps it, sliding it to the floor. As the heavy wool hits the worn geometric rug, Potter’s mouth is back on his, this time demanding, biting, teasing and seeking. Draco’s lips swell under the roughness and his chin glows with scratches from Potter’s stubble. He couldn’t care less. Potter pulls him onto a low sofa and over him, hands finding the bare skin of his lower back, the swell of his arse.

Draco spreads his knees awkwardly to balance above Potter. Potter’s chin is tipped up and his green eyes are heavy lidded with desire.

“What are we doing?” Draco asks, barely daring to hope that this can last, that Potter will not push him away again.

Potter trails fingertips over the curve of Draco’s cheekbone, brushing a tendril of hair behind his ear, and tracing the shell before letting his hand drop. “What we probably should have been doing months ago,” he says, and the raspiness of his voice, the naked want makes Draco’s knees weak.

Draco closes his eyes as Potter arches his hips up to brush against him, pulling him gradually down to meet the unyielding planes of his body. Draco frots helplessly against Potter, overcome with sensation, with the permission to touch and the sheer joy of it. His body pours like a liquid over Potter’s and their mouths meet and do not separate for what seems like ages as their hips find a rhythm and their breathing syncs, inhale and exhale and shuddering want.

They resort to removing clothing while rubbing across each other like teenagers, Draco’s jumper and shirt and Potter’s snaking to pile on the floor, until they are kissing bare chested and their trousers are coming undone.

Draco runs his hands over Potter's shoulders, taking in the sight of that phoenix tattoo that curls from Potter's arm over his shoulder to his collarbone. The swirl of bright red and orange and yellow and black warms Potter's skin, feathers and flames swirling and coiling in an intricate fretwork of ink that Draco can't wait to follow with his mouth.

"Beautiful," he says, and he traces a fingertip along the sweep of a wing that curves up to touch Potter's throat. "Much more so than mine." He's all too aware of the fading Mark on his forearm.

"And less deadly," Potter murmurs against Draco's jaw.

Draco turns his head and catches Potter's mouth. He kisses him, teeth nipping at Potter's bottom lip. "Why a phoenix?"

"It seemed appropriate, all things considered." Potter's hips buck up, and Draco hisses at the press of their cocks together. "Besides, I once knew a phoenix that I quite liked. He saved my life, in fact."

"Then I'm indebted to him, I think." Draco's finding it much more difficult to think. His body feels hot and prickly, the inked flames from Potter's skin warming his own, making him ache in ways Draco had nearly forgotten.

Potter's fingers smooth over the ropy pink scars across Draco's chest. "Sectumsempra," he says, his mouth tightening. "I did that to you."

"We were very different people then," Draco whispers. "Boys being pulled into a madman's war."

"Still." Potter brushes his lips over one scar, and Draco's heart flips. No one he's been with in recent years has done that. They've all avoided the scars, turned their eyes away. Only Potter's seen them, acknowledged them. "I'm sorry," Potter says, and he raises his head to meet Draco's gaze. "I shouldn't have--"

Draco silences him with another kiss. He doesn't need Potter to apologise. Not any longer. "It's fine," he says against Potter's mouth. "You're getting distracted."

"How terrible of me." Potter manages to work a hand into the front of Draco’s pants, and Draco moans and presses away from the touch, gasping.

“Don't. I’ll go off like an Erumpent Horn if you do much more of that.”

Potter smiles lazily, a predatory gleam to his eyes. “And the problem with that would be?”

“I want you to fuck me.” Draco’s too high, too alive from this to be demure. “And it’s been quite a while, so I’d like it to last more than a minute.”

The heat of Potter’s gaze is worth all of the waiting and uncertainty. A fire flares there, a heat that Draco almost cannot bear. The desire in Potter’s eyes could burn him alive, he’s sure of it, drawing him into a metaphorical phoenix's nest of want and consuming him until he's raw and new.

Potter nods. “Well, then. We should probably find the bed in that case.”

Draco stands, toes off his shoes and slipping his wand from its pocket. He follows Potter to the bedroom and lays his wand on the nightstand, then lets his trousers fall to the floor.

Potter rummages around in a chest of drawers and returns with a phial of scented lubricant. “It’s cherry,” he apologises.

Draco laughs. “I’m sure we’ll manage.”

He takes a deep breath and removes his pants, cock springing free as he lets them fall to the floor. He'll think about being tidy tomorrow, but for now, he wants to be naked with Potter.

Potter eyes him from clavicle to toes, and Draco blushes a bit under the intense focus. “You are so fucking gorgeous,” Potter says roughly.

“Hey,” Draco says. “I’m sure you mean devastatingly handsome.” He tries for an ironic eyebrow lift, but is sure he misses and looks like a tit.

Potter shakes his head. “No. Sorry. I mean gorgeous. You take my breath away.”

Draco nods, unable to speak for a moment. “That’s all right then,” he says finally.

Potter undoes his own trousers then, and Draco climbs onto the worn red duvet. It’s a hideous colour (up Gryffindor and all that) but soft against his heated skin. He rolls onto his back and looks up to see Potter staring at him, naked and clearly wanting. Also, if Draco is honest, a bit better endowed than Draco might have suspected. Thank goodness he’s been fasting and prepped himself before he left home, he thinks as he looks at the lovely, thick red prick Potter’s just unveiled.

Under the raw appreciation in Draco’s eyes, Potter blushes and his modesty affects Draco in ways that no boldness could.

Draco spreads his legs in invitation. “How do you want me?”

Potter presses a knuckle against himself, considering. “Just about any way you’ll have me. But on your back is nice.”

Draco lies back, knees angled apart, arse flat on the coverlet. They can get acrobatic later, but right now he just wants to feel Potter’s skin against him. The mattress dips as Potter crawls to him, pausing on his knees.

“Do you want me to?” He holds up the phial to illustrate his point.

“Yes.” Draco says. “More rather than less, Potter. You’re a big boy and as I’ve said, it’s been a while.”

He smiles as Potter’s flush deepens. Potter uncaps the phial and pours a sticky puddle into his broad palm, then rubs it along his thick, ruddy length, leaving slick, viscous trails that Draco can see in the low light of the sconces.

Draco grabs a small throw pillow with the Chudley Cannons, of all things, printed across it and stuffs it under his arse. He has a feeling his lower back will thank him in the morning, if they survive that long and don’t combust in a conflagration of uncontrolled lust.

Potter tilts his head, regarding Draco. “Is that comfortable enough?”

“Get up here,” Draco has had enough of solicitousness. His thighs are pricking with goose pimples and he’s dangerously afraid they won’t make it past this moment if they stop now. “More fucking and less talking.”

Potter inhales raggedly and complies, shuffling carefully on his knees, prick bobbing towards Draco. Draco lifts a hand under each knee, spreading himself further and shivering at the chill of the air across his skin. Potter reaches a slick hand towards him and he almost jumps as it slides in the crack of his arse, fingers hooking the rim of his arsehole experimentally. Draco exhales and wills himself to be calm, counting each breath as Potter fingers him, then reaches back to line himself up.

“Still with me?” Potter asks, his cock nestled against Draco’s skin.

“Yes.” Draco rolls his shoulders a little bit. “Still here, still waiting for you to fuck me, Potter.”

Draco takes a rough breath as Potter’s cock makes contact with the ring of muscle and then pushes through, breaching the opening to his inner walls. The penetration burns like Fiendfyre for a moment, but Draco exhales, trying to master the sensation.

Potter pulls back and Draco could shout in frustration as he leaves him. “Shhh,” Potter calms him with one hand while he strokes more lube onto his cock and onto Draco with the other. “Give us a sec.”

The second attempt is better and Draco wiggles his hips as a good fat inch of Potter’s cock slides into him with the extra slick. Merlin, but this was more difficult than he remembered. Or Potter was just larger than his previous conquests, perhaps that was it as well.

Potter strokes his hipbone, pushing a bit further, then slowing to let Draco adjust. He’s reading Draco’s face carefully, and Draco feels utterly vulnerable beneath him.

The next push is slow into Draco’s body, and then the third is liquid as Potter slides in deeply and Draco’s body finally opens beneath him. Potter strokes Draco’s stomach, cock lodged deep within him, and Draco twists under his touch, breath coming in heavy pants. He’s fully impaled on Potter and it’s something between hideous and the most marvellous sensation he’s ever felt. His body is still struggling to compass Potter’s girth, and he knows that Potter hasn’t bottomed out yet.

“Circe, Potter, move!” Draco’s impatience gets the better of him. Potter leans down to kiss him and Draco wraps his ankles around Potter’s hips and arches upwards. Potter thrusts then, pulling Draco further toward him in a bow. His balls nestle against Draco’s arse and Draco feels like he’s falling.

Potter’s hand is on his lower back then, pulling him up. Draco sits astride, looking down at Potter, body opened over him with knees bending and flexing to support his weight.

“Fuck, how you feel,” Potter says thickly, hands cupping Draco’s arse. He laves Draco’s nipple with his tongue.

Draco throws his head back in answer, baring the curve of his throat, and lifting himself up, up and then thrusting down onto Potter’s thick cock, the burn driving a moan from his throat. Potter groans in answer, hands pinioning Draco’s hips, beginning to bounce him up and down on his length, slowly and then more vigorously. Draco loosens his body, lets himself ride Potter and Potter steer his hips until he’s floating above him, body alive with the force of Potter’s touch, the strength of his arms, the thrust of his body and the delicious, raw sensation of opening to meet him.

Potter shifts to get more of an angle to his hips, leaving Draco clutching at his shoulders for balance. Potter lifts his knees then and rolls him onto his back, lifting his ankles to hook them back around his waist. Potter’s forearms are corded with muscle, and Draco spares a moment to appreciate them as they bracket him in, Potter’s hands clenching the wood of the bed frame. Potter’s hips piston into Draco, body driving Draco’s against the mattress, and Draco hears his own moans as if from far away as he clings to Potter in desperate enjoyment, muscles roiling with mounting waves of desire and the deep twinges of his body receiving Potter’s thrusts.

Climax, when it hits him, is brutal and complete. His entire body clenches and then lets go in an explosion of pleasure so vivid, Draco swears he actually sees stars. Potter is murmuring his name over and over and then his body too is stiffening, shuddering into Draco and Draco’s skin is slick with his own and with Potter’s release.

Sometime later, when they are lying spent across each other, somehow having made it under the coverlet, Potter says “Merlin, Malfoy.”

“Mmmm.” Draco’s lids are heavy with exhaustion, but he has no intention of sleeping just yet. “Most people call me Draco, Potter.” Potter nips him and he shifts away. “Ow.”

Raising himself up on his hands, Potter kisses him, tongue familiar and rough in his mouth. “Am I allowed to call you Draco, then?”

Draco smiles lazily. “Only if you defile me in the bath. Potter.”

Potter nods, then snogs him thoroughly again. “That seems fair. Malfoy. Will my ensuite do?”

Propping himself on his elbows, Draco says, “Yes. But you have to be standing up for it to work.”

In the end, it’s Potter on his knees, blowing Draco with several fingers crooked up his arse as Draco clings to the shower head and tries not to howl like a banshee. And fails.

But Draco allows Potter to call him by his first name, after he’s spread him open again and fucked him on the worn red duvet, and Potter’s wanked himself to climax on his stomach until Draco’s positively covered in his come. And maybe, just maybe, he whispers, “Harry” when he thinks Potter isn’t listening.

It seems an auspicious start to the New Year.

***

Draco wakes up curled around Harry's solid, naked body, one long leg draped over Harry's thigh. Sunlight filters through the leaded panes of the bedroom window; the duvet is crumpled at the foot of the bed, and the entire room reeks of sweat and spunk. Draco stretches, his arse aching and sore, and he rolls off Harry, who grunts and shifts, his face pressed into the pillow as Draco gets up.

The shower is hot and delicious, and Draco stays in it as long as he possibly can. When he comes out, Harry's eyes are open, even if he hasn't moved at all. Well. Other than one hand drifting down to cup his lovely half-swollen cock.

"Get up, you lazy arse." Draco picks his pants and Harry's blue jumper up off the floor and slides them on. The jumper barely comes down to his hips and he tugs at it. "I require breakfast--or a decent cuppa at least--before you rub one off again."

"Can I help it if I like you in my clothes?" Harry reluctantly lets his prick go, and sits up, looking gloriously rumpled and well-fucked.

Draco throws Harry's joggers at him. "Tea, Potter. With milk and one sugar, thanks ever so."

They don't make it to the tiny kitchenette. Harry starts kissing Draco in the doorway to the bedroom, and he lifts Draco up, his hands cupping Draco's arse, to carry him across the sitting room. Draco wraps his legs around Harry's hips, his teeth scraping Harry's jaw. When Harry dumps Draco on one of the overstuffed chairs, Draco ruches his jumper up and hooks his knees over the chair arms, putting his swollen prick on full display as it pushes against the white cotton of his pants.

"You look spectacular," Harry says, and he presses his mouth against the jut of Draco's hip. Draco catches a glimpse of them in the Mirror of Erised, Harry's touselled head between Draco's thighs. Harry's reflection glances up at him and winks before descending again, mouth against Draco's prick. Draco watches himself arch up, his fingers tangling in Harry's hair.

That, he thinks, is about right.

He's just about to encourage Harry in that general direction when there's a sharp pounding on Harry's door.

Harry looks up from between Draco's legs.

"Oh, no, you don't," Draco says. "Whoever it is will go away."

They don't. The pounding only gets louder, this time followed by what sounds like Granger through the thick wood of the door.

"Harry? Harry, open up, or I'm going to break down this door!"

"She can't really," Harry says against the skin of Draco's inner thigh. "My wards are--"

The door flies open with a crash.

"Evidently utter shite." Draco grabs the quilt Harry'd discarded the night before and pulls it over his lap, hiding not only his prick but Harry's head and shoulders.

Granger and Weasley blink at him from the doorway.

"Malfoy," Granger says, and then her face reddens when Harry emerges from beneath the quilt, clad only in his far too low-slung joggers. "Oh."

"Oh, indeed," Draco says, tucking the edges of the quilt around his hips. "You're interrupting, Granger."

"I just--" She waves her hands towards them, the diamond on her left hand glinting in the sunlight. Weasley was right; the bloody thing is enormous. "Harry didn't show up for New Year's at Luna's, and then his hearth was blocked from firecalls--"

At that Draco gives Harry an annoyed glare; Harry shrugs. "I didn't want to be bothered," he says. "I didn't count on you showing up at my door last night. My mates at least try to ring me up before they burst in." Harry turns a pointed look Granger's way. "Most of them."

Granger's cheeks are bright pink. "I thought you might be...I don't know. Incapacitated!"

"I tried to stop her," Weasley says. He's leaning against the doorjamb, eyeing Draco. "Oi, Ferret, are you wearing the jumper my mum knit Harry for Christmas?"

Draco looks down at the blue jumper and realises it has a giant H knit into the front in cream. He crosses his arms over his chest. "It's quite cosy."

"Christ." Weasley shakes his head. He turns to Harry. "Tell me you didn't shag him in it."

"Not yet." Harry's still kneeling on the floor beside Draco's chair. Draco lets his fingertips brush over the nape of Harry's neck, and Harry shivers. His loose joggers only just hide the swell of his prick; a few steps closer and Granger's going to get an eyeful. "But if you'd like to leave?"

Granger's still sputtering when Weasley takes her hand and pulls her out the door. "Dinner," he says, looking back over his shoulder. "Both of you at the Broomsticks. Half-eight and if you're not there, I'm letting Hermione come back over."

"I think he means that," Draco says as the door closes.

Harry leans his head on Draco's knee. "We should probably set an alarm."

"So you're not inside of me when she arrives again?" Draco cards his fingers through Harry's hair.

"Or you in me." Harry gives him a small smile, and Draco's cock swells. "We haven't had that conversation yet."

"We haven't had any conversations," Draco points out. He smoothes his thumb over Harry's cheek. "You'll be eviscerated if this comes out, you know. Most of society won't like the Boy Who Lived being queer for a Death Eater."

"I was queer before you came around." Harry catches Draco's arm and pushes the sleeve of the jumper up to reveal the faded Dark Mark. He strokes a fingertip along one edge of the skull, strangely meditative and unafraid. Trust Harry to be the one person in Wizarding England who could look at a Dark Mark without flinching. "And you weren't ever really a Death Eater. You don't have that kind of hate in you."

Gooseflesh rises on Draco's skin as Harry's finger skims over the grey ink. "I tried. I thought I did at the time."

"You were bloody horrible at it. I would have been a far better Death Eater than you."

Draco blinks, looking into Harry’s face. He didn’t expect quite this much introspection, or honesty. Harry’s hand is balled up in the quilt, and he’s looking away at something Draco thinks might be in the past.

“Is that why you quit Auror training?” Draco asks softly. He doesn’t want to push Harry too far, but he has a compelling need to understand that is making him risk this question.

Harry nods, closing his eyes and laying his cheek on Draco’s thigh through the patchworked cloth. “Yes. I had him in my head, Draco. A part of the Dark Lord. I felt what he felt. I died when he died. And I knew that I could murder too. I didn’t want to be faced with that choice, that right to decide over life and death--or worse--ever again.”

Draco strokes Harry’s curls. “You’re twice the wizard he ever was. Even if you were evil--which you aren’t by the way, trust me. I know evil, I’ve lived with it for far, far too long. But even if you were, I don’t think you could ever be that depraved. You're nothing like him. You never could be."

"We all could be,” Harry mutters softly into Draco’s leg. “I realized that at the end. He started out like us, maybe not as lucky, maybe without the help we had. But he was like us once.”

"He broke his soul apart." Draco tilts Harry's chin up. "That destroys a person. Makes them not quite human anymore. He took his worst qualities, and he let them define him. He made himself evil on purpose, just for the chance of immortality and power. You would never do that. I would never do that."

It feels oddly surreal, sitting here with Harry Potter between his thighs, philosophising about the Dark Lord. He smoothes Harry's hair back. "When you start playing with anagrams of your name, I'll worry. Particularly if they're pretentiously French."

"What, like Malfoy?” Harry says, and Draco flicks his forehead.

"Don't be an arsewipe."

Harry rubs the spot above his left eyebrow that's turned a bit pink. “Not much you can do with Potter, though."

"Rahyr Trepot? Draco suggests and laughs. “No, wait.” He spells it out on his fingers. “Part Hero Try! Or Tart Hero Pry!"

“Or Other Parrty.” Harry wrinkles his nose. "Not really screaming immortal dark wizard to me."

"I don't know. I'm rather partial to Rat Hyper Tor. Sounds like you should be an earth mound in Glastonbury." Draco runs his palm across Harry's tight shoulders, and they relax. "But, sadly, you don’t have a snake fetish. Do you?”

Harry grins up at him. “Trouser snake fetish perhaps.”

Draco thwacks him on the head again. “Ten points from Gryffindor. That was horrible.”

“Worth it.” Harry nudges his nose into Draco’s thigh. “I’m happy to perform whatever menial task you require as punishment.”

“I do have some bookshelves that need rehanging,” Draco says in a considering tone, then yelps as Harry bites the flesh near his knee. He stops him from biting again with a hand to his jaw. “But seriously, Harry. Are you sure you want to be cavorting with someone with my past? Even if the sex is bloody marvellous?”

“Yes.” Harry shrugs and pulls the quilt off Draco's lap, regarding him with a thoughtful look. "You’re amazing, Malfoy. Smart and sexy and interesting, and you've never tiptoed around me. You say what you think, and you tell me off when you're angry, and you never coddle my feelings. I like that. I’ve wanted you before I knew what it was I wanted. But are you worried what people will think?"

Draco leans back, letting Harry move closer between his legs and push them apart. He’s gagging for this, for Harry, but he also wants to make sure they’re not just getting carried away by their lust, as glorious as it is. “Oh, I'm used to their condemnation by now. You, on the other hand…"

Harry pauses his slow progress up Draco’s thighs and to Draco’s consternation, he laughs out loud. "Merlin, you've a short memory. A few years ago they thought I was completely mad. Surely you remember--you led the Potter Stinks brigade, after all. And that was before I was Undesirable Number One.”

Draco has the decency to blush and lower his eyes. “Right. Sorry about that, the Potter Stinks bit.”

“It's okay. I think we’re pretty even,” Harry says. He hooks his thumbs in the waistband of Draco's pants. "The only thing I’m worried about now is whether you'd like me to suck you off or not."

Draco bites his lip, burying a hand in Harry’s hair and pushing against him as Harry mouths the head of Draco's cock through thick white cotton. "I could be persuaded."

In response, Harry tugs the pants down Draco's hips, not bothering to be gentle.

"Is this a start?" Harry drags his tongue down Draco's prick, and Draco's eyes flutter closed.

"It'll do," he manages before he loses all ability to speak.

He doesn't know what this is with Harry, or where it'll lead. It could be a dreadful mistake and it might be the most brilliant thing ever. For the first time in Draco’s life, the future doesn't matter. All he wants is to be here, right now, learning the nooks and crannies, the vices and virtues of Harry Potter.

And that, for now, is enough.

***

The hallway on the seventh floor is bustling with witches and wizards of all ages as Draco makes his way through the assembled crowd. The Hogwarts singers are standing nervously in a group to his right as he searches for Harry. When they’d agreed to meet outside the plaque dedication ceremony and go in together, he hadn’t any idea that so many people would be coming. He thought they might get the mayor of Hogsmeade or a junior aide to an Undersecretary to do the honors, but the Minister for Magic himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had agreed to dedicate the room as a historical monument and Wizarding heritage site related to the Battle of Hogwarts. Even Severus has managed to show up in a portrait frame; his hair looks a bit less lank than usual.

McGonagall is with Shacklebolt and seems quite pleased and simultaneously somewhat unnerved to have so many Ministry officials, parents, and well-wishers in her school. She’s wearing an understated but beautifully tailored navy robe and a floppy velvet hat marking her as a Transfiguration Master. Harry is standing right next to them, talking to them, and Draco can’t help but go up to find him. Merlin’s beard, but Harry didn’t half attract attention. Blaise and Granger are there as well, and Weasley and Chang are holding seats in the room.

“We can show you, if you like Minister. The room responds to requests, especially of people who were historically involved in the events of 1997-1998.” As Potter is earnestly explaining the Room’s magic, Draco just wants to climb him. He settles for sidling up next to him.

Shacklebolt clearly registers Draco’s arrival, but does not shift his focus from Harry. “And you are entirely sure it is safe now?”

“Yes.” McGonagall is the one to answer that. “Miss Granger and Mr Zabini have established that the Room is an outcropping of the homeostatic magic field of the castle. It has no malicious intent or capacity and, in fact, is specifically warded to provide protection to all who call Hogwarts home.”

“Very impressive.” Minister Shacklebolt turns his attention to Draco then. “Mr Malfoy. I understand you’ve been a Potions Fellow here.”

Draco nods, throat dry. He’s about to panic about being out of place, when Harry’s arm slides around his waist, anchoring him. Shacklebolt’s eyebrows quirk a bit, but he governs his face to hide his surprise.

“Draco's brilliant,” Harry opines. “Even Severus has said so. Professor McGonagall’s asked him to stay on, and he’s been offered a place in Zurich in the Potioneer’s Guild.”

Draco wants to smack Harry for talking shite, but he’s also terribly pleased. It also reminds him that he needs to owl the Guild and turn the position down.

Shacklebolt’s face softens. “Is Severus here still? His ghost, I mean.”

Harry nods. “He is. In fact, I’d be surprised if he weren’t at the ceremony in some fashion.”

Shacklebolt eyes Harry and Draco curiously, then nods. “Well, we should be getting in to open the festivities.”

The Minister precedes them and walks to a raised dais in the front of the Room. When Harry and Draco walk in, the room lights up, quite literally. Thickets of fairy lights appear around the perimeter of the long hall that had appeared to seat all of the visitors and the room showers them with a localized explosion of richly scented petals--peonies, if Draco’s any judge. Draco and Harry brush the large, frothy white petals off their robes sheepishly and take their seats in the front rows with the other Fellows, just behind the senior staff, amidst raised whispers. Draco knows it’s only a fraction of what they’ll have to deal with if and when the news of their relationship is formally announced, but at least the Room has given them its blessing. Draco is terribly embarrassed, but he knows the Room means well. Honestly, he owes the room for bringing them together.

His mother has also managed to give them her blessing in exchange for monthly family lunches with Aunt Andromeda and Teddy. His father is entirely in the dark, and Draco is not inclined to enlighten him any time soon. His mother agrees that his father is still a bit too delicate (read bigoted and ill-tempered) to handle the news well, but Draco might have to broach the subject this summer.

They’ve been accepted as a couple by Harry’s friends, notably Weasley and Granger, but Draco doesn’t think they’ll be going to the Burrow together for family gatherings. He continues to steal the jumpers Mrs Weasley knit for Harry on a regular basis, but he knows that the losses of the war are still too heavy in that family for him to be truly welcome any time soon, whatever Weasley might say.

McGonagall has made Draco an offer to stay at Hogwarts, and Harry’s also received one. Harry’ll stay Assistant Head of Gryffindor and continue teaching DADA with Professor Adeboyo. Slughorn keeps making noises about retiring and/or taking a Grand Tour, so Draco thinks he could have the full post if he wanted it sooner rather than later. For now, he’ll be Assistant Professor of Potions and Assistant Head of Slytherin. He's fairly certain this will be the first time since Godric and Salazar that two heads of Gryffindor and Slytherin have been sharing a bed. Sometimes he wonders if this is what the Room of Requirement responded to with him and Harry, if it was an outcropping of the Founder’s magic that wanted the two houses together again. He should ask Blaise about this before he leaves.

Blaise is going to Jamaica with Chang. She’s taken an assistant coaching position for the national Quidditch team and he’s going to study Herbology with one of the foremost experts on Caribbean Magical Ethnobotany in Kingston. They’re set to depart in a week, and all of the Fellows are hoping to visit them next year for a reunion. Draco has a sneaking suspicion that Chang might also be working for British interests abroad--her research in Charms and Arithmancy was noticed by the Unspeakables, Granger shared during a particularly rowdy Fellows’ party last month. She was naturally green with envy.

The ceremony for the Room of Requirement is mercifully short. Shacklebolt dedicates the plaque and the room extrudes a nail for it to hang on. Blaise and Granger receive Founders medals and Chang receives an honorary citation from the Ministry for her Arithmantic help.

There was already a more private ceremony last week to remember Vince. In the lead up to the plaque installation ceremony, a simple coffin with singed edges was discovered next to the White Tomb by the caretakers, the name Vincent Crabbe inscribed upon it. Vince’s family came to Hogwarts to collect the body of their son, and Draco went to the funeral to see him laid to rest. Something within Draco shifted during the somber, small burial in the ancestral Crabbe crypt. Draco knows now that the past is safely in the past and the here-and-now is a different place entirely.

Exactly what role the Room played in the discovery of Vince’s coffin is unclear. Blaise has suggested that the coffin was attracted to sympathetic magic at Dumbledore’s tomb, but Draco thinks it's more than that. The Room wants forgiveness, he suspects, for itself and those who'd been caught in its walls that tragic night. It had been charged with protecting them--all of them, even Vince, no matter how angry and bitter he'd been, turning on Draco and Greg the way he had. The Room had failed, and Vince had died. It could have been him in that coffin, Draco knows full well. If it hadn't been for Harry, it might well have gone that way.

And perhaps that's what the Room had wanted him to learn. That whatever this was he has with Harry had been forged in that Room, in that fire, without him even knowing it. Falling in love with Harry was easy; what had been harder had been reaching out to take that hand that Harry had finally offered and to be pulled up on that broom.

So Draco went to Vince's funeral, Pansy and Greg at his side, and watched Vince's coffin being placed in the crypt in that tiny Lancashire chapel, and he'd forgiven Vince for what he'd done, just as he's learned this past few months with Harry to forgive himself for his former sins. He's not a changed man, not a redeemed man. He's the same Draco Malfoy he's always been, a bit too smart and too sharp-tongued for his own good, but he's comfortable in his own skin now. And that, he thinks, is worth the pain of self-discovery.

On the lawn after the ceremony, as the children run around and eat punch and cake and the adults imbibe sherry and munch on delicacies from the Hogwarts kitchens, Draco spots Delamare and Jones snogging behind a bush near the pumpkin patch. He also spies his mother standing with Vivienne Delamare in a circle of witches and wizards and has the sudden premonition that the Slytherin mothers are going to be very, very effective indeed as an advocacy group for their progeny. Merlin help them all, but they might even compete with Granger as social reformers.

Granger has been tapped by Shacklebolt to work on a magical equity task force for the magical communities of Britain. Draco knows she’s going to be stellar, and he expects to see her rise through the ranks at the Ministry sooner rather than later. She’s going to begin her training as a solicitor under Shacklebolt’s auspices next year. Harry’s gutted that Weasley and Granger are moving to London, but they’ve promised that their Floo is always open to him and to Draco. Weasley's going back to the head office of Weasleys' Wheezes, and Stan Shunpike has been promoted to manager of the Hogsmeade shop.

As for their understanding of their own liaison, Draco and Harry have been skirting around naming what the future holds for them. For now, Hogwarts is their home and their relationship is still a bit of an open secret. McGonagall’s offered them quarters together at school, but Draco prefers to keep his rooms near the dungeons, even if he tends to use them more as a study than an actual place to sleep. The view from Gryffindor Tower is superior to being under the lake, he must admit, but he still enjoys being near to his house and the potions workroom during school hours. The day may be coming when he is forced to make a choice, but for the moment he’s enjoying the best of both worlds.

"Hey." Harry comes up behind him, two glasses of wine in his hands. He offers one to Draco, who takes it gratefully. "One more speech by McGonagall and then we've made it through the day."

"Thank Circe," Draco says over the rim of his glass. It's been a long day, a long fourth anniversary celebration of the Battle of Hogwarts. He wants nothing more than to escape to the cool comfort of Harry's quarters and kick of his shoes before he curls against Harry's side. "If Shacklebolt speaks again, I might have to throw myself in the lake."

"The Squid'll just fling you back out again." Harry slips an arm around Draco's waist. "Besides, you wouldn't want to miss the fireworks. Ron tells me they'll be spectacular."

Draco turns towards Harry. "I am not--and I repeat not--staying out here until nightfall, you tosser--"

Harry cuts him off with a quick kiss. "I thought we might watch them from up on the Astronomy Tower. Alone." He grins at Draco. "Preferably naked."

"You didn't have to spell out that part." Draco's mollified. He lets Harry draw him closer, not caring who sees. "Although I'm starting to think you only want me for my body."

"While that’s certainly true enough," Harry says, his fingers slipping through Draco's, "I do love you as well."

"I know, you tit." Draco lifts their entwined hands and kisses Harry's knuckles. "I'm quite the lucky man."

And as Harry pulls him back towards the cool shadows of the castle, Draco looks up at the stone towers, flags rippling in the breeze, and he knows that he truly has found his heart’s desire: a home, a love, a family.

Yes. He's lucky indeed.