“I love him.”
“I love him. We've gotten closer over the past year or so, and I care very deeply about him. He's one of my closest friends.” Draco sighed in relief. There. Good. None of that was a lie.
Harry gave him a broad smile, and patted him on the shoulder. “I love you too, mate,” he said, and the two men grinned at each other.
Pansy rolled her eyes. Harry turned back to his beer, but Ron caught Draco's eye and looked at him quizzically, eyebrow raised. Draco kept his mouth shut, frightened he might accidentally answer Ron’s unspoken question. Fucking Veritaserum.
Pansy was clapping her hands to silence the group. “Okay everyone! It's Draco’s turn to ask a question!”
Draco looked at Harry once. It would be so easy to ask, but he preferred not knowing. Instead, he turned to Blaise. “Blaise. What really happened with you and Myrtle?”
Everybody cheered, and Blaise shot Draco a wicked grin. “Well, she kept saying she hadn’t seen any action for a while, so I-”
Pansy gasped. “You didn’t! How could you, even? She’s a ghost!”
“Ah, sweet Pans, she might be dead, but she’s not blind. I gave her a striptease.”
The table erupted in laughter. Pansy shrieked and cackled, Neville and Ron doubled over and gasped for breath, and George had to wipe tears from his eyes. Only Hermione remained composed, but the corners of her mouth twitched as she half-heartedly admonished Blaise.
“Blaise! She’s 14 years old!”
“She’s 79, technically,” Blaise purred.
Draco shook his head in despair and slight admiration at Blaise’s total lack of shame. “I’m getting another pint,” he muttered to Harry, “want anything?”
“Oh yeah, go on then, another one for me, cheers Draco.”
By the time Draco returned from the bar, the giggling had resumed to normal levels, and Blaise, Ron and George were arguing good-naturedly about which purebloods in history they were both related to. “What did I miss?” he asked Harry, sliding the beer over.
“Cheers,” Harry raised his glass to clink with Draco, “Not a lot. Blaise asked Ron if it was true that his mum’s great-aunt had had an affair with his dad’s great-aunt. Big family secret, apparently. Or it was.”
Ron stood up. “Alright, that’s quite enough of that… ‘s my turn to ask a question!” He swayed on the spot a little, and Hermione rested a hand on his elbow, giggling at Ron’s attempts to stay upright.
Ron looked straight at Draco, with a fixed concentration that made Draco feel a little nervous. But Ron then swung round to Harry.
“Harry. How do you feel about Malfoy?”
Harry frowned at Ron. Ron grinned in response.
I… am very fond of Draco, and I have a great deal of respect for him. I think he's brilliant.”
Draco closed his eyes, pleased. It was a good, friendly answer, but vague enough that Draco could still hold onto the fantasy.
Harry stood up. “Okay, my turn. I’m going to go for--”
“--No, hang on, no.” Ron was still standing. “For fuck’s sake, you two. Alright, Draco, how--”
“--Ron, it’s not your turn again!”
“--Draco, how long have you been romantically interested in Harry?”
Draco groaned. He felt Harry tense up next to him, but didn't look round to make eye contact. Couldn’t. Instead, he closed his eyes, took a deep sigh, and answered truthfully, “I don't know.”
The table fell silent. When he opened his eyes, he saw the whole group looking back at him. Ron had the decency to look like he felt a bit guilty. Pansy was looking at him wide-eyed. Blaise was surreptitiously collecting a Galleon from Neville.
He felt a gentle, heavy hand on his shoulder. Fuck. Fuck.
“Honestly Harry, it's fine. You don't need to do anything about it, I promise. I'm not pining over you or wasting away, it's just one of those things.”
He did turn around then, and saw Harry looking back at him, hardly breathing. Draco thought he saw confusion and pity in Harry’s expression.
“You want to go talk about this in private?”
No, Draco thought. “Yes,” the Veritaserum helpfully supplied. Fuck.
Harry nodded. “Okay. Come on.”
Harry led the way out to the pub garden, to a cosy table covered in tent canvas and fairy lights. The last of the day’s sun had already disappeared over the rooftops, and a dusty twilight was starting to settle over the village green opposite. Conkers were starting to form on the horse chestnut trees. Somewhere, somebody was smoking a pipe; the smell of baked lavender drifted across the tables. Draco took notice of this, of everything, for as long as he could, before he finally had to sit down and look Harry in the eye.
“Okay,” Harry said, “So…”
Harry looked at him, worried and silent. Draco was almost grateful for the Veritaserum; at least they both had to be honest with each other. Draco couldn’t bear the thought of Harry lying to spare his feelings.
“What are you thinking, Harry?”
“Clever question. I'm thinking about how to phrase my questions in a way that doesn't force you to tell me something you don't want me to know”
“Don't worry about it. Honestly, that was the worst bit.”
“Okay. Well. Um. How… how long have you felt this way?”
“Like I said, I don't know. Years.”
“Okay. Huh. Wow. And how intense is that… feeling?”
Draco shrugged. “Sometimes it's been so intense I could barely look at you, and sometimes I thought maybe I was over it completely. But now it's just… there. Like, background noise. Honestly. It's not killing me, it's not an angst-ridden obsession, it's just part of how I feel about you.”
“Ah, you old romantic, Draco,” Harry said, but he was smiling, and Draco laughed; they had never quite been on the same wavelength when it came to expressions of emotion. Harry expressed his feelings all at once, and sorted through them afterwards; Draco did the absolute opposite. Harry continued, “Okay. Does it affect our friendship?”
Draco winced. This was the bit he was worried about. “No. It has never, ever affected my friendship with you, or the advice or support I've given you, or the things I’ve shared with you, or the time I’ve spent with you. I've never had an agenda. I… I really need you to know that. Your friendship is so important to me. It comes first.”
Harry smiled. “I actually wanted to make sure it wouldn't affect our friendship going forward, but thanks for saying that.” Harry still seemed to be distracted by his thoughts; he frowned as he articulated the next question in his head. “But… why? I mean, why haven't you let it affect our friendship? I know you, Draco, if you see something you want, you don't let anything get in your way. You know I like blokes. Why haven't you even tried?”
Oh, fuck. This one was embarrassing. “Because - and this is going to sound really melodramatic, and I need you not to go all Harry Potter on me - I thought you deserved better, Harry.”
“Oh, Draco.” Harry looked pained, and Draco’s stomach twisted. Sympathy and pity were not what he wanted. “That's not true, Draco, anybody would be lu--”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I’m a catch. I’m not expressing a sudden bout of self-loathing here, it's just a fact. You deserve to move on. From school, from the war, from the Death Eaters, from...” he gestured at the space between them, “...all this. You deserve to stay in forward momentum, and you deserve a simple, uncomplicated life. I don't think I can give you any of that, and I don't think I'd ever feel comfortable holding you back from it.”
Harry stared at him then, for a long time. Draco shifted uncomfortably, stared down at his fingertips on the table, and did his best to keep a pragmatic inner monologue going while he let Harry decide what to say next. This wasn't the end of the world. Nothing had to change. The romantic feelings would probably fade now that they weren't hidden. And this kind of Veritaserum-soaked confessional would probably make their friendship stronger in the long run. It was all going to be fine.
Eventually, Harry found something to say.
“Why haven't you asked me whether I feel the same way about you?”
Easy. “I feel like if the feeling was mutual, you'd have said so by now. I don't think I could stand the look of pity on your face when you tell me you'd rather just be friends. And...” ah, shit, the Veritaserum was drawing out more than he’d hoped, “...it was better to hold onto the... fantasy.”
“Okay, fair enough.” Harry sighed, stretched his neck up and down, and then looked at Draco. “Can you ask me anyway?”
They locked eyes. Draco raised an eyebrow, and Harry gave an uncertain smile in return.
“Okay. Harry, do you have romantic feelings toward me?”
“...I don't know.”
Draco stared. Harry sat back in his chair, a defeated look in his eye. “Fuck, I was sure that would work. I guess Veritaserum can't answer for you if you really don't know the answer yourself.”
“You don't know if you have romantic feelings toward me?”
“No. Well, I'd never considered it before. But now you mention it… it kind of makes sense, you and me. But I think I need time to figure it out. And… I don't want to get your hopes up, in case I figure out it's not what I want.”
Draco nodded, and bit his lip. “If you decide you're not interested, will you treat me differently? Will our friendship be different?”
“No! At least, I hope not. I like this. I like us.”
“Okay. Then I don't think you need to worry about getting my hopes up. I like us, too. This is already closer than I ever thought we'd be.”
Harry grinned. “Me too.”
They stayed outside for another half an hour, sitting opposite each other in comfortable silence, and when Harry reached out to take Draco’s hand, Draco tried not to read too much into it, but allowed the small flutter of hope in his chest to spread into his fingertips.