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The Exhale

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Five days after his thirty-second birthday:


Harry sits down with a cup of coffee at the table in the Burrow's kitchen. Sleep is still heavy in his limbs and crusty in his eyes. He pulls at the sleeve of his shirt--the dusty striped one he nicked from Ron's old bedroom--and tries to rub the tiredness out of his eyes. He forgets his glasses are in the way, knocks himself in the eye, and says, "Ow."


Hermione looks up from her morning paper, bemused. "Honestly, Harry. You'd think after thirty-two years, you'd be used to wearing glasses." 


"I am used to them," Harry insists. "Maybe they're just not used to me."


That doesn't make any sense, but it's before nine in the morning, so Harry thinks he can be excused for not making any sense. At least Hermione's the only one here to see--Ron's out back helping Rose chase gnomes around the garden, Hugo's gone with George to open the shop, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have popped out to visit friends in London. It's quiet in the house, one of those rare peaceful moments that have been increasing exponentially in frequency over the last decade or so. 


Harry is, by any measure, as far away from pain and suffering as he's ever been. With each day that goes by the distance only grows. 


The window over the stove is open. He can hear Ron talking excitedly and Rose laughing outside, can hear Hermione humming softly to herself as she turns the pages of her paper. He takes a sip of coffee; it's warm on his tongue, a soft comfort in his stomach. Five days ago, his tiny flat in Diagon Alley was crammed full of his friends, his family. Hagrid knocked his head on the ceiling. Everyone sang Happy Birthday over a lopsided cake, the one with Hugo's handprint in the frosting.


Nothing is wrong. 


Hermione stops humming and makes a soft, concerned sound. "Harry, look at this." She shows him an article--one tucked away in the back pages. There's a photo, but it's not moving; must be a Muggle paper. "NASA have just landed another rover on Mars. It's called Curiosity, and look, this is so--I don't know if it's sweet or sad, but--it's all alone out there, and they programmed it to sing itself Happy Birthday."


Nothing is wrong, but Harry starts crying.




There are a lot of things he's never told anyone.


Things from when he was a kid, things from during the war, things from after. It's not that he doesn't trust Ron and Hermione--he does trust them, implicitly. It's just that twenty year silences, intentional or otherwise, are sort of hard to break.


He'd tried to talk to Ginny exactly once, back when they were together. Moving boxes into their new flat, spacious and modern, bought entirely with her quidditch salary since he'd emptied out his Gringott's account on behalf of various post-war charities. Bickering mildly--Gin was always easier to talk to than any other girl on the planet--until Harry set foot in the walk-in closed, and said, "Merlin. This is bigger than the cupboard I grew up in."


Admittedly not the best timing in history, but neither puberty nor death had cured Harry of foot-in-mouth disease. Not that Ginny did much better. She just laughed like it was a joke--which maybe it was--and said, "Way to ruin the mood, mate."


The fact that she still called him mate after four years was probably a good indicator that they weren't meant to be. They lasted three whole weeks after moving in together. Co-habitation made it undeniably clear that, while they each had a mean right hook, a stubborn streak a mile wide, and an equal appreciation for the sexual prowess of the other, Ginny was more ambitious than Harry would ever be. He wanted lazy afternoons and a little extra weight around the middle and perhaps, sometime in the future, a brood of children. She couldn't stand to stay still long enough for him to eat her out.


Like most love stories written during the war, theirs ended with a bang. By which Harry means: he decided the best time to say I don't love you anymore was while they were fucking on the kitchen table. The ensuing fight covered one square mile and was on the front page of every major wizarding newspaper for a week.


He'd been too chicken to go back to the Burrow for months, until on Christmas Eve Ginny herself showed up at his door and told him to quit being an arsehat. 


So logically, Harry knows that he could've talked to her, even after they split. He could still talk to her. He could talk to any of them, if he wanted. Hell, he could even go talk to bloody McGonagall. No one would begrudge him a good long cry, even now.


It's just...he's afraid. Stupidly afraid, because from the first time he set foot in Diagon Alley when he was eleven, everyone he's met--even Ron and Hermione--has known him as the savior of the wizarding world. Even though they know him as Harry, even though they've seen him at his absolute lowest, they have this sort of faith in him. That he'll be alright. That everything will turn out alright.


He's afraid, if he starts talking, he'll be a different person.




"Harry," Hermione calls, from the other side of the bathroom door. "Please just let me in. Or come out here yourself, I--we only want to see that you're alright. There's no one else here, Harry, it's just me and Ron, you know that you can--oh, for Merlin's sake--alohomora."


The lock unclicks. "Colloportus," Harry mutters, for the twelfth time. 


The lock re-clicks. Hermione tries the knob and makes a frustrated sound. Harry stares at the flowers winding and twisting on the yellow wallpaper. They've been at this for going on ten minutes, and he can practically see Hermione's disappointed look. He's certainly seen it enough times to picture it. If he doesn't open the door soon, he's going to incur her wrath. Honestly, he probably should open the door--it's a bit ridiculous, a thirty-two year old man hiding in the bathroom so his friends don't see him cry.


But there's no sound on the other side, now. Harry sits down on the closed lid of the toilet, sips his coffee--which he's glad he had the presence of mind to bring with him--and sniffles pathetically behind his glasses. The shirt he stole smells a bit like Ron, which calms him. As does the familiar creaking of the Burrow above his head. 


He feels stupid, now. The article with the Mars rover really had nothing to do with him. It only made him think, for a moment, about a cold, cramped space. A dark ceiling, with the chain for the light swinging right in front of his nose. An empty feeling in his chest that's been gone for so many years now, back with a venegeance at the words alone and Happy Birthday. It tried to drag him under, but he's old hat at beating it.


With one last sniffle, Harry opens the door.


Ron freezes on the other side, looking like he was about to break it down. "Hey, Harry," he says, rolling his sleeves back down. "You alright, mate?" 


"Yeah," Harry says, "fine."


But before he can form the f in fine, Hermione comes down the stairs on a warpath, hair in a frizzy mane around her face. "That is it, Harry," she proclaims. "I was worried enough when Oliver said you were disappearing to shut yourself in the bathroom every time you had a nightmare, but now--this is the last straw."


"Oliver said what?" Harry asks, still several steps behind her, as usual.


"You've not talked to anyone since the war," Hermione tells him. She foists something in his hands--it's her bag, the one that's charmed to be much bigger than it ought to be--and stuffs a handful of shirts inside. "It's been fifteen years, Harry. You can't keep going on with this all bottled up in your chest, running away every time something makes you feel--"


"Hermione," Ron says. His wife stops. "What are you on about?"


Hermione seems to come back to herself. The anger falls away, but the stern, motherly look she gives Harry leaves no room for argument. "You're going to therapy."




When Hermione says therapy, she means Draco.


You're going to Draco. For all that he's a grown man, Harry finds he has no choice in the matter. Hermione packs his things, calls for a Portkey, and escorts him through the Floo to the Ministry, all while Ron looks vaguely apologetic--but not really--in the background. Rose gives him a hug before he goes, leaving strawberry jam in the scruff on his cheek, and he feels the phantom pressure of her small child's hands on his chest for a long time after the Burrow disappears, to be replaced by cool Ministry tile.


Once they're at the Portkey, Hermione gives him one last, lingering hug. He fists his hands in her robes and buries his face in her hair. She squeezes him. Fifteen minutes ago, nothing was wrong--except, Harry knows that's not quite true, or he wouldn't be here. He'd have Apparated right out from under her, only--she's right. 


"It's time," she tells him, when she lets him go. "Just...let him help."


Harry picks up the Portkey, and it yanks him away. A moment later, he's sitting on his arse in the middle of a small, richly-styled foyer, staring at Draco Malfoy's shoes.


Draco crosses his arms, looking for all the world like a professor who's just discovered a particularly problematic student running around past curfew. "Harry," he says. "Before you get up, tell me one thing you've never told anyone."


If this were fifteen years ago, Harry would probably put his mean right hook to good use. If it were ten years ago, he'd--well, he'd probably do the same thing. Five years ago, though... Five years ago, right around when he stopped being Potter and became Harry, right around when he quit being an auror and opened his private investigation shop...


Well. He would've gone up on his knees and put his mouth on Draco's crotch.


And Draco would've sunk his long fingers in Harry's knotty hair, would've accused him of not brushing it enough, would've bucked into his face while Harry got the front of his bespoke slacks nice and wet with spit, would've gone hard as a rock under Harry's tongue, would've breathed Merlin, Harry, I missed you--just soft enough that Harry knew he wasn't meant to hear, would've sworn while Harry panted open-mouthed against him and...


But five years ago was before everything fell apart. Five years ago was before they both came to their senses and ran fast in opposite directions.


Now, Harry says, "What is this, therapy bootcamp? I just bloody got here."


Draco just raises one eyebrow. "I'm waiting, Potter." 


Harry wants to say fuck you, Malfoy and apparate away. But he thinks of Ron's face, concerned-but-trying-not-to-be, Rose's hands on his chest, Hugo's laugh on the stairs in the early hours this morning, Hermione saying let him help. So he just frowns. "Fine. Fine. I..." he trails off. Draco makes an impatient motion, and suddenly, it's like they just split up. Harry wants to shock him. Wipe that look off his face.


Gryffindor bravery rears its ugly head. "I still love you."


Draco's expression reveals nothing. It's like Harry hasn't even spoken, but he knows Draco heard, because the other man drops his folded arms, straightens his shirtsleeves, and says, "See? Was that so hard? Now get up, Potter, I've left the kettle on."




Harry and Draco were a natural disaster. 


Ron likes to call the relationship Harry's mid-life crisis, because by Ron's calculations all the almost-dying and actually-dying that Harry did in his teens fucked up his life schedule. Hermione, who kept in touch with Draco in a professional capacity after the whole thing went up in flames, maintains that they were meant to be. Harry's not sure which of his friends is right, but he knows the cruciatus curse was far less painful than the wounded look in Draco's eyes when he yelled at Harry to get the fuck out of my house.


They met--or rather, re-met--under fire. 


Some black magic terrorists got it into their heads to try and attack St. Mungo's. Luckily, they hadn't thought it through very well. The attack was focused in the lobby; Harry, arm in a makeshift sling that was actually just a scarf, was tackled to the ground just in time for a curse to go flying over his head. When he rolled over...there was Draco.


While patients and nurses screamed in terror and fled around them: Harry said Malfoy, Draco said, Potter, and that was enough for them to come to an understanding. As one, they stood, stepped out into the open, and beat back the terrorists wand-blow for wand-blow until they were the only two people left standing in the lobby.


It was...Harry would like to say it was like old times. Only they never fought on the same side back during the war, or at Hogwarts. So it wasn't like old times. It was completely new, fighting alongside Draco, placing his life in Draco's hands, but it felt like something he had done countless times. It was, somehow, familiar. 


Draco was studying to become a psychiatrist, in his last year of residency at St. Mungo's. Harry'd been in the lobby to get his broken arm set--a botched raid on an illegal potions den had ended with his tibia broken in four places. Draco wasn't strictly qualified to set bones, but he did it anyways, mostly because Harry was, in Draco's own words, an absolute bloody nightmare in any sort of long-term waiting capacity.


They fell into bed the same night.


And there was that same feeling. Like it was habit to press Draco back into the wall, habit to feel the edge of Draco's teeth on his lip. Harry would've sworn he knew the curve of Draco's spine, knew the sharp, breathless, involuntary sounds he made when Harry pressed his thigh up between his legs, knew the taste of his mouth and the steady thwump of his heartbeat as intimately as he knew his own.


Harry still remembers the first glimpse of Draco's scars under his shirt. The way it felt like all the air went out of him at once, like they were back in that bathroom, Draco bleeding out on the tile, and Harry just...standing, useless. He still remembers how he started to step away, but Draco latched onto his shoulders and said, "Don't be daft, Potter."


Harry remembers the way his hands shook, when he finally touched skin. Remembers the dark in Draco's house and the warmth of street light through the window and the cool air, remembers Draco hot and alive under his fingertips.




Communication was never their strong suit.


Apparently Draco's out to change that. "Here's how this is going to work," he says, as he pours two mugs of tea. The kitchen is sunlit; outside, Paris is still starting to find its legs for the morning. "Every time you think of something you'd normally edit out--anything you don't normally talk about--I want you to tell me."


"Sounds easy enough," Harry says, because he's not about to lose a game of chicken to Draco Malfoy. He takes the mug Draco hands him and sips--the tea is just the way he likes it, with cream but no sugar. "What are you going to do, then?"


"You'll see," Draco says, ominously. 


He's always had a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Harry thinks if he'd known that back in school--if he'd known that Draco was just a big, overdramatic dork--things might have gone differently. But then again they might not have; the knowledge certainly didn't help their ill-fated romance. For all that Harry still loves the man standing across the counter from him, painfully and ardently and hopelessly, he knows that bridging the gap is impossible. They didn't crash and burn because of anything they did, it was just...who they are.


"Alright," Harry says. "Let's"


Draco gives him an unimpressed look, like he knows Harry was just thinking something damning. The sunlight is turning his hair bright white, like it used to do on those late-afternoon hangover-weekends, when Harry opened the curtains just to laugh while Draco groaned and sunk below the covers. "How about this," Draco says. "Why don't you tell me what set you off this morning?"


Harry tenses. Draco, clearly, notices--he hides a smug grin behind his tea. Harry forces himself to relax. He's decided to do this--so he'll do it.


"Hermione was telling me about this Muggle space program. They've got a rover on Mars called Curiosity--apparently they've programmed it to sing itself Happy Birthday once a year, since it's all alone up there."


The and? is evident in the arch of Draco's eyebrow. "And," Harry acquiesces, "it made me think of all the birthdays I had before Hogwarts. I was always...alone. When Hagrid came to get me, that was the first time I ever had a birthday cake. One time I tried to bake myself a cupcake, after the Dursleys were asleep, but... I burned it, there was smoke, and then I was--they found me, and I couldn't leave my cupboard for a week."


By the time he's done talking, he's not even looking at Draco. He's squinting at the edge of the skylight, very deliberately not crying. It's not even that it hurts that much anymore, it's just...saying it out loud is--raw.


He's poised for the psychoanalysis. From anyone else, he'd expect soft words and some pitying looks, maybe a few empty threats to hex the Dursleys until they were overweight, black scorch marks on the sidewalk. From Draco, he expects scolding. Ribbing. Something about how his tragic childhood explains his tragic taste in fashion.


Instead, Draco just says, "Alright."




Technically, Harry left first. But after the fight--Harry can't even remember what it was about, only that it was loud and mean and cut deep--after Draco said get the fuck out of my house, he only meant to go for a walk. Only it turned out to be a long walk.


When he got back, the winter sun was creeping over the horizon, his eyelashes were frozen, and all his things were in boxes in the front hall. 


Draco was gone.


Harry's heart felt like it was wrenching itself in two. He sat down right inside the house. Didn't even close the door all the way, just...leaned back against the wall, pushed his glasses up onto his head, and stared at the blurry toes of his trainers for a long, long time.


He spent the next week or so blackout drunk. Usually he was with Ron, sometimes he was with Neville or Luna, and by the end of it he was with Oliver Wood, which landed him in a three way with Katie Bell more often than not, but. When he came out of it, he had a new fuck buddy and a vague memory of Draco saying, "Merlin, I love you. Of course I bloody love you, you git, but you need to move on."


Harry's still not sure what he needs to move on from.


If he asked Hermione, he's sure she'd know. She'd solve everything in a second. But most of the time Harry can't even bring himself to mention Draco. He's no good at talking about this sort of stuff, and she's--well, she's a little intense.


In lieu of something better to do, Harry moved on from Draco. Only, not really. Sure, he went to bed with Oliver, with Katie, with Cho Chang, with Viktor Krum, with Pavarti Patil, and with Oliver again. But every time he had someone's hands on him, in him, around him, every time Cho trailed sweet kisses down his chest, every time Oliver bent him over the kitchen table, every time Krum whispered filthy praise against his ear...


Every time he showed up to a holiday party stag, apparently so miserable that even Ginny wound her way over to him with an extra butterbeer and said, "Buck up, mate. You look like someone just kicked your crup off the fucking astronomy tower."


Every time, it felt the two halves of his heart are straining towards each other, and Pavarti smiled or Oliver bit Harry's chin or Ginny knocked her shoulder against his or Ron gave him a bracing hug, and the sinews almost touched, almost fused themselves back together, but then they just...didn't.




"I knew I was going to die in the war," Harry says at dinner.


Draco pauses in cutting his duck paté. It's late--going on eleven. They're the only two people left in the restaurant, one of the most expensive in Paris' winding wizarding quarter. "We all thought we were going to die during the war, Harry," Draco says, in a tone that implies Harry is hardly special. "That's sort of what a war is--"


"No, I mean--" Harry cuts him off, frustrated. "I didn't think I was going to die. I knew I was going to die. That was...that was my whole worldview. My life began and ended with the war. I was okay with it, because--it meant I got to be a wizard, at least. I got to have friends, be part of something bigger. But then I survived, and..." If he's hoping Draco will fill in the blank, he's disappointed. "I guess I didn't know what I was supposed to do. So I--I became an auror, and I moved in with Ginny, and...I did what everyone expected."


Draco stares at him for another moment. The candlelight makes the pointy line of his nose seem like something off a statue. Like marble. Art, frozen. Then, as abruptly as he stopped, he says, "Alright," and goes back to cutting his paté.


It's much the same at breakfast. Harry says, "You think I have a hero complex."


Eggs are sizzling on the stove. One pan is over-easy, like Draco likes. The other is scrambled, like Harry does. Neither of them have changed out of their loose sleep pants, but Draco has found time to comb his hair. "This isn't about me," he tells Harry.


"I don't have a complex," Harry insists. And, before Draco can interject, "Yeah, I know I'm not a psychiatrist, you prat. But I know what's in my head. And that's just what I was supposed to do. I wasn't allowed to be just a kid, or just a student. First year, it started out that I was supposed to be fighting the forces of evil, and that was just--I couldn't not. If I didn't do it then no one would've. It wasn't--I wasn't showing off. It was just my responsibility."


The eggs are burning, but Draco's face betrays nothing. "Alright."


Harry fumes. He dumps the smoking pans in the sink and stomps out of the kitchen. He's not sure what Draco's doing, but if the goal is to piss him off, it's working.


Later, he finds Draco in the study. 


"I held the Resurrection Stone," he says, without introduction. He's going for shock value; if Draco wants him to say shocking, never-before-heard things, then--well, Harry can certainly deliver. "At the Battle of Hogwarts, in the Forbidden Forest. I held the Resurrection Stone, and I..." his voice catches unexpectedly. He blinks hotly, clears his throat. "I saw my parents for the first time since I was a baby. I saw Sirius, and Remus. They...they walked with me. When I was going to meet Voldemort, die."


Draco takes off his reading glasses, folds them, and puts them in the pocket of his house robes. "Alright," he says, like Harry knew he would.


But Harry doesn't storm out this time. Instead, he sinks into a chair.




True, fifteen-year silences are hard to break. But once you start, it turns out it's easy to keep going. Because fifteen years is a long time to keep things bottled up.


Walking along the Seine in Muggle Paris while Draco shoots wandless banishing charms at litter, Harry admits, "When I first got to Hogwarts, it took me three months to sleep through the night. I couldn't get used to how big and soft the beds were. I'd stretch out in the middle of the night and when I didn't hit the walls of the cupboard I'd jerk awake, like I was falling. I was exhausted all the time, but I didn't care."


Sequestered in the hushed, hidden wizarding tiers of a used book shop, watching Draco peruse titles with nimble fingers, reading glasses on the tip of his sharp nose, Harry confesses, "Sometimes I forget the sound of Sirius' laugh."


Draco gives him a long look. Harry knows he understands.


Sitting on the sidelines of an amateur quidditch game at one of the pitches hidden down in the catacombs, Harry says, "I was a horcrux. The seventh horcrux. I had part of Voldemort's soul in my brain, I guess. I don't really know. But sometimes I get this stray thought that maybe, somehow, there's still a piece of him in there. Something I missed. And I...I break out in this cold sweat, and I have to lock myself in a room and focus on breathing until it goes away. It sucks when it happens at pub night."


Strolling lazily down empty cobblestone lanes, the sun long-since set, path lit by flickering lantern light, Harry says, "The night Arthur Weasley almost died...I've never been so scared in my life. None of the battles, none of the times I looked Voldemort dead in the eye--nothing else made me feel someone scooped out all my insides and replaced them with ice. I thought, since it was my vision, since it was like I was the snake..."


Draco's patient. He doesn't prod, doesn't say anything as they make their way down a narrow set of steps, onto the road where the house is. Harry finally gets himself under control--at least, enough to speak. "I thought they were going to blame me. They were the only family I ever had, and I thought...if Arthur died, they would blame me. But they didn't. They--they thought I saved his life. They..."


Harry blinks hotly. 


And Draco, like he's been doing all day, just says, "Alright."


The house is quiet. Harry lingers in Draco's doorway while the other man turns down his covers. Draco's swimming in baggy clothes, wrists thin and bony where his sleeves are rolled into cuffs, ready to slide into bed. Harry wants to go with him, but he doesn't say that out loud. He figures I still love you covered it all. He shifts his feet--the floorboards creak. Draco looks up like he's just now noticing Harry's there.


He sighs. "Potter," a dismissal that cuts Harry open. The sinews of his heart fall apart again. "Are you going to stand there all night, or did you come here to say something?"


"Sorry." Harry turns to leave, but thinks better of it and turns back. "The first night I slept with you," he tells Draco, "I mean, actually slept--that was the first time since the war ended that I could get to bed without my wand. I couldn't even do that with Ginny. Just you."


For the first time since Harry arrived, Draco doesn't just say Alright. Instead he says, "If you have any nightmares, wake me. I want to hear about them."


Harry grins tiredly and shoots back, "Alright."




Back then, he never really talked to Draco. Not about any of this.


And it was unfair. Because Draco talked to him, told him how somteimes a part of him felt guilty for being free while his father was in Azkaban, told him why, when Harry returned his old wand, he just broke it in half, told him about growing up in a house where all the paintings reported back to his father and his mother's affection seemed conditional on how good his posture was at dinner. Talked him through his decision to let the Malfoy name die with him, even if he had children, to make them take his partner's name so they didn't have to stagger through life under the weight of generations of mistakes. 


Sated and loose-limbed in bed, legs tangled together, Draco's head on his chest, the morning sounds of London drifting in through the open window, Harry had said, "That's lucky, then. Because I like the idea of a lot of Potters running around."


But after that, he was silent. He didn't say I was always the only one, and I hated it. I like the idea that people will know they're mine, they belong to me, just by their name. He didn't say, When we get married, I want you to take my name, too. 


Maybe he should've. Maybe they wouldn't be here now, if he had.


Maybe, if Harry had found the damned Gryffindor bravery to just let go of his fear and trust, trust Draco not to see him any differently... 


Maybe they'd still be in that house in wizarding London--the one Draco sold, when he moved to Paris. Maybe Harry would wake up early before the sun in the morning to make pancakes, and their gaggle of adopted kids would stampede down the stairs and demand fresh strawberries, or no--chocolate chips, because everyone knows Harry would absolutely spoil them rotten. Maybe Draco would wander into the kitchen with his shirt mis-buttoned, tie untied around his shoulders, only half-in his robes, because he's awful at mornings.


Maybe he would stop to kiss Harry at the stove, hum fondly against his mouth while one of their kids exclaimed ew! Maybe he'd stand right there, hip to hip, close to hand while Harry finished the rest of the pancakes, and maybe he'd murmur you want me to do that? don't want you to muck it up like those eggs last week even though he couldn't cook for shit, because he'd know about the Dursleys, he'd know that Harry used to have to get up to cook breakfast or they would hit him, and he'd...


He'd care. He wouldn't just say Alright, Potter. 


That they're here, now--patient and doctor--instead of living in that summer sun saturated morning, is Harry's fault. He knows. He's just still not brave enough to fix it.




The halls of the Paris house aren't big enough to fit Harry's Patronus. The stag has to tilt its head sideways to trot off down the hall toward Draco's bedroom. Harry hears it jamming its antlers into the doorway, hears it stomp its hooves on the floor in frustration.


A moment later, Draco shoulders his way past it. He has to twist and duck under its antlers, but then he mutters a quick Lumos, voice tinged with panic. 


Harry squints up at him from his spot on the rug. "Harry?" Draco says, voice thick with sleep. He crouches, puts his hand on Harry's knee to steady himself, and sits. "What the bloody hell are you doing on the floor?"


"Well," Harry says. "I meant to go and wake you, but--" 


A full-body shiver rolls down his spine. He jolts against the wall, hisses out a breath that turns into a sob halfway through. When his muscles stop spasming, he pulls his sleeves down over his cold fingers, tries to adjust his glasses and hits himself in the eye. "Ow," he says, just short of crying, which is stupid. How many times has he hit himself in the eye, and now he's crying. "I meant to go and wake you, but my legs gave up halfway there."


"Merlin, Harry," Draco mutters, exasperated. 


"This is why I just lock myself in the bathroom," Harry says, because Draco's the idiot with all these ideas about talking and shit, so it's his fault they're sitting in the hall. "It's a lot easier than causing a big nocturnal scene."


Draco sighs. "It wouldn't be a big nocturnal scene, except you decided to cast an enormous bloody Patronus, instead of just shouting, like a normal person." 


"Oh," says Harry. "I didn't think of that."


"Of course you didn't," Draco says, almost fond. He scoots in next to Harry, his back against the wall, and sets his wand on the floor. The Lumos flickers, but holds, faint. In the doorway to Draco's bedroom, Harry's Patronus starts to fade away to silvery wisps, no longer needed. In a few moments, they're back in near-darkness.


Harry would start shaking again, except Draco's there. Draco's shoulder is pressed against his, and outside cars are honking in Muggle Paris, and his feet are in warm socks, and when he puts his hands down he feels a rug that costs more than his entire flat, not cold tile, not bare, slippery stone. He's here, he's not...


"Tell me about it," Draco says, after some time.




Harry does. He's never talked about this nightmare to anyone before, not even Ron and Hermione. Not even his parents' graves.


But he tells Draco. Tells him about that night when he was sixteen, when he and Dumbledore went after the locket. He tells Draco about the cave lake, the unholy unnatural stillness of it, the black waters like ink in a well, the way looking at them too long made something thicker and more primal than bile rise in his throat. 


He tells Draco about the rock island. The poison, the way Dumbledore's whole ancient body tightened from head to toe like a live wire after the first cup. The awful, wordless moaning of an old man in pain reverberating off the walls and the lake and in Harry's skull, and how Harry knew that he would never forgive himself but he did it anyways, because he had to, it was his responsibility to make Dumbledore drink it all.


He tells Draco about the Inferi. How he still dreams of their white, hollow faces drifting in the water, their bony brittle fingers when they grasped at his clothes, the reflection of fire on their sightless, lifeless eyes. How sometimes when he has this nightmare he looks down over the edge of the boat and they're not just bodies, they're his bodies, his ghosts, his parents and Sirius and Remus and Tonks and Dumbledore and Fred and Cedric, dead waxy skin wet with that inky lake water, mouths open like fish.


He tells Draco how he always wakes up cold, feeling like he's deep underground. How he goes into the bathroom and turns the shower on as hot as it will go until the whole room is steamy and his shirt is sticking to his chest and Oliver's banging on the door and getting no answer and apparently running off to Floo Hermione behind his back, which was completely unnecessary. Because all Harry really needs is to feel warm again, and then he's fine. He's old hat at this sort of thing.


To illustrate his point, he tries to get up. Then falls right back down.


Draco catches him mostly by being right in his way. They end up in a pile of limbs, and there will be bruises in the morning, but right now in the hush of night, Draco just shifts around so they're not jabbing each other with knees and elbows and pulls Harry into his lap. Harry's mostly boneless, but Draco digs his fingers into his shirt and holds tight, lets Harry just sort of dump his face in Draco's shoulder, glasses askew. Draco's warm, and he smells familiar, and Harry doesn't even need to breathe him in, he just...rests.


"Sorry," Harry says. "I'll get up in a minute. a minute."


Draco pets the messy nest of Harry's hair. "It's alright, Harry," he murmurs. "You're clingier than the bloody giant squid, but I don't mind holding you. It's alright."




After a bit of disentanglement, they adjourn to the kitchen for tea.


Harry holds his mug in both hands, leeching warmth from it, while Draco bangs about in the cabinets, swearing and looking for honey. Harry doesn't need honey, but he knows Draco's mother instilled in her son a deep belief in its curative properties, so he lets him look. The soft sound of Draco's swearing is almost comforting--this is when Hermione would insist on sitting too close to him and watching him like he was about to break into pieces, but Harry doesn't need that. He just needs someone here. Near.


They're a long way from Harry's flat in Diagon Alley, but he hasn't felt this safe, this at home, since...well, since a midwinter morning three years ago.


"Hey, Draco," he says. Draco reappears from behind the pantry door, looking more annoyed that his search has been interrupted than concerned at Harry's mental state. "Does this whole honesty thing go both ways? Can I ask you something?"


Draco shuts the door to the pantry and joins Harry at the counter. "Normally I'd say no," he muses, almost to himself, "but we hardly have a traditional doctor-patient relationship as it is, so. Sure, Harry. Have at it."


"Why do you keep saying alright? Just alright. Shouldn't you be psychoanalyzing me or something? Trying to dissect my dual mummy-daddy issues? My complexes?"


Draco smirks. "I thought you didn't have any complexes."


"Not the point," Harry says. "You're driving me even madder than I was when I got here, Draco, so just--what does it mean?"


Instead of saying ha! so you admit you were mad, Draco puts his elbows on the counter and leans forward, sipping his tea. He looks like he's considering how best to phrase whatever he's about to say, probably searching for terms Harry will understand, instead of something straight out of a psych textbook. Harry waits. He's content to wait, content to let his eyes trace over the tired lines around Draco's eyes, the white-blonde hair still messed up in the back from his pillow, the absentminded movement of his thumb over the rim of his mug. He would be content to wait forever, he's so in love.


"It doesn't mean anything," Draco says at last. "I know that's not a very good psychiatric technique,'re not really a patient, Harry. This isn't really therapy. I need to get it through your thick skull that it's alright--that whatever you say to me, whatever you've done, whatever you're afraid of, it's not going to change anything." 


Harry's lungs are the only part of his body still working. The rest of him is paralyzed, but he thinks he can almost feel them moving, like a tide on the shore.


"I'm not going anywhere, no matter what you say," Draco continues. "It's acceptance, Harry. Of who you are. Past, present--all of it."


Harry feels numb. Feels like he's on the precipice of nothing is wrong.


When he manages to move his hands again, he takes a sip of tea. Then he asks, "What did you mean when you told me I needed to move on?"


Draco starts to laugh, then stops. The smile falls off his face all at once. He looks stricken. "That was three years ago, Harry." And when Harry just nods, "Merlin, have you been walking around for three bloody years not knowing why I left?"


Harry says nothing. Draco straightens and walks as far away from him as the tiny kitchen will let him, like he needs space before he can answer. At last, he says, "I loved you more than I'd ever loved anything." Harry's heart twinges at the past tense. "But you weren't--Harry, all the nightmares, all the panic attacks, the breakdowns. You needed to talk about it. Because as long as you didn't talk about it--your past, the war, all of it--it controlled you."


He gazes steadily at Harry, but there's something raw and afraid in his eyes. "It was over fifteen years ago. The rest of us, we went to therapy and we talked to our friends and we moved on. But you--you just pushed it all down. Eventually it had to bubble up, eventually you had to talk to someone about it. I...I knew that wasn't going to be me."


Harry blinks. "You..."


A wave of relief washes over him, warm and bright and all-encompassing. He exhales, and his shoulders relax, and it feels like the first time in years. In his whole life. 


He shakes his head, smiles, pushes his glasses up so he can rub his eyes and then knocks them back down on his nose. When he looks up, Draco seems like he's braced for some sort of impact. Some fall. One of his hands grips the edge of the counter, white-knuckled. Harry laughs. He jolts. "You idiot," Harry says. "It was only ever going to be you. You think I could do this with--what? With Ron and Hermione?"


Draco doesn't say yes, but he doesn't have to. Harry can see it. "No," he says. "No, me and Ron talk about quidditch and go out for drinks and make fun of gits at the Ministry, we don't--we don't talk like this. And Hermione would wrap me in eighty-seven blankets and never let me leave their house again, so--no. Draco, you''re the most important person in my life. Except maybe Teddy. But--still. It's you."


Communication has never been their strong suit. But when Draco clears his throat and just says, "Upstairs," Harry understands.




They don't kiss in the hallway. 


Harry trails after Draco into the small master bedroom. His heart is beating a mile a minute, but they don't touch except for an accidental brush of hands. Draco goes and climbs into the bed, kicks the covers down, turns to Harry.


Harry's already there, dying to touch. He clambers onto the bed, spills ungracefully onto his hands and knees, climbs into Draco's lap. Draco grins and starts to open his mouth around some witty comment, but Harry just leans forward and crashes their lips together. The comment dies as a low hmm against Harry's lips. He buries one hand in Draco's hair, wraps the other arm as far around his shoulders as it will go, and it's an odd angle, but. He wants Draco as close as he can get him, and.


Draco's knees come up against Harry's back, caging him in. He presses a hard kiss to the corner of Harry's mouth, his cheek, pulls away just long enough to get a word in, "Merlin, I missed you. I missed you." 


The world, in that moment, seems very small. Like it begins and ends with the closed circuit that is Harry and Draco, tangled infinitely together in a warm bed. Nothing seems so monumental as the breath Draco hitches against his jaw, nothing so ancient and intrinsic as the hand Draco jimmies between his shirt, nothing so essential as the close, sweaty stick of skin against skin, mouth against mouth.


"I missed you too," Harry says. "Every bloody day."


They don't have sex. They don't even lose any clothes. They just sink deeper and deeper into each other, wandering hands and firm, reassuring kisses, thirty year old men necking like they're back at Hogwarts. Something in Harry's chest wells and bursts. The two halves of his heart reach out, sinews stretching, and for a moment he fears they won't make it, they'll fall apart again. But Draco brushes a kiss over his forehead and says, "You meant it. Right?"


And it takes Harry a second to remember, because no one's ever accused him of being the smartest person in a room. But he remembers. "Yeah," he says. "I meant it."


"Good." Draco presses a lingering kiss to his mouth, then pulls away. Harry's glasses are fogged, but he thinks he falls in love all over again with the lazy, content smile on Draco's lips. "I still love you too, you human disaster."


The two halves of Harry's heart find each other.


Nothing is wrong. Harry laughs and says alright, and Draco says I'll never hear the bloody end of that, will I? and Harry says not for the rest of our lives, and nothing is wrong.