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The Nightmare Club

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'Malfoy looks miserable.'

'He's looked miserable for years. Face like a slapped arse.'

'Ron,'  Harry doesn't want to find it funny. He'd rather not draw any attention at all at the moment, sitting as they are amongst the Wizengamot, surrounded by the most venerable witches and wizards that Britain still has to offer.

'What?' Ron gives him a funny look. 'Since when do you defend Malfoy?'

Harry sighs and gestures discreetly at their surroundings. 'Since now?'

'I guess,' Ron grumbles, preferring not to look around and instead focusing on his shoes. 'Why are you doing it, again?'

'Well,' Harry attempts to sound light, humourous. 'After Hermione punched him in third year, and I nearly eviscerated him in sixth, he's probably suffered enough. Plus his dad's a twat.'

Everything else has changed so much, Harry kind of likes the idea of Malfoy still stalking around being an insufferable tosser. One small, haughty shred of normalcy in his post-apocalyptic shitstorm of a life. Besides, he's realised recently that they'd both just been puppets of war, synchronously prodded into place by wizards far more powerful than they were. Enabling genocide, or preventing it, should never have been their responsibility. Zits and hormones and homework; that should have been all they'd had to deal with. Not dodging unforgivables, or impossible choices, or protecting your elders, or killing for them (or dying for them).

'You feel sorry for him?'

'How could you not?' Harry feels the corner of his mouth lift for the first time in days. 'Face like a slapped arse.'

Ron smirks behind his hand but his eyes are furtive. 'He's always looked like that. Never seen you cut him any slack before.'

Ron should probably be going straight into Auror training. He’s eerily observant when he wants to be, even if he is still a bit shit with girls (well, Hermione). Not that Harry is in any position to judge, he feels like him and Ginny are falling apart, just like he and Cho had, but magnified by a thousand with time and family and death. And lately, sex. Ill-advised sex. Sex they should definitely not be having.

'His mum saved me,' Harry points out. 'I owe it to her that she has one of her family members not in jail. Otherwise she'll be sitting at home on house arrest all by herself.'

The thought of time alone actually sounds good. Could he incarcerate himself?

'She's only out on house arrest because of you,' Ron rolls his eyes. 'You could've let them both rot.'

'Then what would've been the point of saving him at all?'

'I've asked you that before,' Ron sounds vaguely amused.

'You saved him the second time that night, from that random Death Eater,' Harry feels the need to point out. Ron likes to pretend he didn't do that but Harry'll never forget his surprise at seeing Ron drop a grown man with one well-placed fist. 'Why did you do it?'

'Didn't want our previous effort to go to waste, I singed my best trainers rescuing his stupid friend,' he looks put-out still. 'Plus, I got to punch a Death Eater in the face. I'd do it again.'

He probably would. Ron the Saviour.

'He might not deserve it again,' Harry hazards a look at Ron, gauging his reaction. There's a raised eyebrow.

'You having doubts about speaking for him?'

'I guess,' Harry sighs, and runs his fingers through his hair. He keeps forgetting how short it is now. 'I dunno. I'm just worried none of it has made him a better person underneath all that poncy hand-tailored crap he still wears,' he explains, looking down at Malfoy as he's systematically frisked and chained to the chair, eyes fixed on the floor throughout. 'Though at least it's smacked the conniving spark out of his eye.'

'He does look bloody miserable,' Ron smiles.

'Maybe he has a soul after all?' Harry can't help sounding dubious, but he hopes it's true. The prospect of vouching for him here and being wrong has kept him up lately. That and the fact he can't go anywhere now without attracting more public attention than ever. And the resulting cabin fever. And too many well-meaning friends who kept asking him if he needs to 'talk'. And a girlfriend that actually probably does need to talk (preferably to a professional and not to him). Not being hunted by a madman for the first time in his magical life is turning out to be rather stressful. 

'Do ferrets have souls?' Ron muses as the court settles, quieting.

'I dunno,' Harry shrugs. 'But we've got a better chance of finding out if we can keep him out of prison.'

'He's really not going to like being rescued by you again,' his friend whispers, confirming Harry's other concern.

'Let's hope it's the last time we have to,' he replies as the court comes to order and Malfoy looks up to face the crimes he had no control over.

 

***

 

The trial is mercifully swift. Mr. Draco L. Malfoy is released on probation, one year minimum with close monitoring.

The negotiation of the conditions, however, takes another hour. Ron is hungry and increasingly upset about it. Harry is tired and wants to go home and take a nap and see Hermione - this is feeling like the longest they've been apart in many, many months. It makes him uncomfortable. He misses her. He doesn't miss Ginny, which is terrible.

Malfoy's tiny, white-haired advocate is arguing for his right to re-sit his N.E.W.T.s, since he'd spent two years 'under duress' and hadn't been able to give them his proper attention. Harry's inner Hermione wants to point out that he can't re-sit something he hasn't sat, and that none of them sat their exams in the end. She's going back in September to catch up on the year they missed and do them properly. Ron is going with her. Ginny isn't. Harry hasn't decided.

The advocate goes on, arguing that depriving a young wizard of the right to 'an education unhindered by evil' is deplorable. But it's the mention of Malfoy's already dismal chances of getting a decent job with that brand on his arm and the scornful prejudice of society toward a boy guilty only of hoping to save his mother, that softens the court slightly. Without decent exam results, the elderly wizard continues, he'll never get the chance to truly redeem himself and become a contributing member of society, and isn’t that what they want?

The Wizengamot does not look entirely convinced, though. One particularly nasty looking witch takes umbrage at the whole idea and asks how they can truly trust him around impressionable youths, and at the scene of his crimes, no less. Looking down on him now, Malfoy seems no more likely to incite rebellion in a bunch of eleven year olds than he is to sprout wings, a sentiment Ron must share if his muted scoffing is anything to go by.

'As if he could lead an uprising now,' his friend whispers. 'He looks half dead.'

'McGonagall should say something,' Harry says. 'That other woman is being ridiculous.'

As if she's heard him, the new Headmistress stands only moments later, two rows between them and a little to their left.

'If I may, Your Honour?'

'Certainly. The court hears Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, of Hogwarts School.'

'I am prepared to keep a careful eye on Mr Malfoy, should he be able to return to Hogwarts,' she started. 'And let it be said that I think he should. To address your concerns, Madame Eldritch, he will be taking classes only with students his own age, whom he already knows and that are unlikely to, as you say, 'be led astray'. Further, all eighth years will be housed separately from the general populace of the school. The only places he might find himself in the company of, as you call them, 'impressionable youths' is in the silence of the library and at meals, where the students are under the supervision of every one of the professors. More to the point,' she pauses. 'I personally believe him very unlikely to support any wayward causes. Considering he lost so much to the most recent regime he was forced to live under, your implication defies logic. He who has lived through oppression and fear is surely the least willing to promote it?'

Harry silently applauds her. Her sentiment reminds him strongly of his time with the Dursleys, and their hideous regime of cooking and cleaning and being yelled at. He's long since become a fan of mess and takeout and quiet.

The murmuring court are less enthusiastic.

'With all due respect, Professor, you are no doubt a busy woman and unlikely to be able to keep a proper eye on him. Children are notoriously sneaky when it comes to rule-breaking.'

Harry barely keeps from rolling his eyes. They aren't children. Innocence is a distant dream for all of them.

'I assure you I am quite competent.'

'But you aren't there all the time, are you?'

'I am,' Harry says, barely thinking. Mostly he just wants the horrid woman to shut up. Partly he’s pissed she's insulting McGonagall. A tiny bit of him, he admits, is tired and willing to do whatever it takes to go home in the next 10 minutes.

'Pardon me, Mr Potter?'

The entire Wizengamot is looking at him, Ron is gaping in horror, Malfoy's blank mask twitches in alarm. McGonagall merely seems to be smiling. Harry stands up. Again.

'I'm... I'll be there all the time. I can, you know,' he tries to phrase it in a non-patronising way. 'Support Malfoy in his return to Hogwarts.'

'You would be willing to give up your time, just so he can go back to school?' The nasty woman sounds like Petunia.

'I think we could all do with a proper go at finishing school, don't you?' Harry retorts. 'One without Voldemort breathing down our necks?' He inclines his head toward Malfoy, far below him in the dias, still and quiet and pale. 'In his case, literally.'

'Of course, Mr. Potter,' Chief Warlock Buchanan cuts in, just as the old bitch opens her mouth to share something else Harry doesn't care to hear. 'This is a very generous offer.'

'He did save my life, as I explained earlier. I feel I kind of owe him.'

'Very well.' Buchanan smiles a fraction. 'Let it be added to the document; Condition one, Mr Draco L. Malfoy is to attend Hogwarts, under the supervision of Headmistress Minerva McGonagall and... Harry Potter.'

The rest of the negotiation goes fairly quickly thereon in. Apparently very few of the Wizengamot are inclined to challenge Harry's assessment of Malfoy's potential risk to civilians, and they’re indeed done in almost 10 minutes.

'Thank fuck that's over,' Ron says as they walk through the Atrium toward the Floos, Auror guards keeping them moving swiftly and diverting those who even consider approaching the Boy Who Saved Them All. Harry just wants to get home and pretend to be normal. 'Any longer and you might've felt the need to give him your house or something.'

'It's not a big deal, Ron.'

'No, course not,' he shrugs. 'You're just babysitting Malfoy for a year. What could go wrong?'

 

***

 

Potter,
I don't know what the fuck you're playing at.
Mother says thank you.
DLM

Harry stares at the tiny piece of heavy cream parchment in his hand. The Burrow is warm and the hum of people sorting out cups of tea and arguing over the remaining cake drift up the stairs to Ron's room. The posh-looking eagle owl sitting on the window sill is bathed in the warm glow of another summer sunset, her scowl fixed on Harry. Apparently he’s meant to reply. To that. Somehow. Why?

He re-reads the note. What a fucking tosser. Malfoy has escaped jail time and is allowed back at Hogwarts, with at least part of that owing to Harry and he’s basically accusing him of some sort of... foul play? Like there was some sinister ulterior motive to the whole thing. What the fuck would he want from Malfoy ?

Harry scrounges around on Ron's desk and finds a scrap of parchment that'll be good enough.

Malfoy, you ridiculous prick.
Tell your mother she's welcome. 

He mulls for a moment over how to sign it. He usually goes with 'HJP' because he likes the way the 'J' reminds him of his dad, but he doesn't want to look like he’s copying. Using a middle initial isn't that common. Maybe he shouldn't sign it at all. But that seems... too familiar. What else?

HJP, Order of Merlin, First Class
Harry J. Potter, esq.
Mr Harry J. Potter
The Boy Who Gives No Shits About You
Harry
HP
Your nemesis, Harry

He sighs, and scolds himself for spending any time at all thinking about it. He adds '-H'  to the end and rolls the parchment into the tiny tube on the owl's leg and closes the window as it sails off into the coming night. A creak comes from behind him and his gut drops a fraction.

'You alright?'

'Hermione?' he breathes a sigh of relief and feels immediately shit about it.

'Expecting someone else?' She gives him a wry smile, knowing.

'Dreading, more like.'

Hermione closes the door behind her.

'Ron mentioned you might be coming back to school with us this year.'

'He didn’t... That dick,'  Harry huffs in disbelief. Some friend.

'Not to everyone, just me. No one else knows.'

'Oh. Good.'

'You have to tell her, Harry,' Hermione says gently. 'Tonight, or it'll look like you’re hiding it. You know she's expecting you to be here with her this year.'

'I know.'

She steps closer, taking both his hands in hers, a gesture of support he wholly appreciates.

'It's really not working is it?' She asks.

'What do you think?'

'I think you've both gone through a massive traumatic event, and you've both lost people, and your relationship isn't going to be easy during all of that.'

'We don't have a relationship.'

'Harry. '

'We're both different people. I'm... not who I was. And she's... she's different too. She's unhappy with me. All the time.'

'She's not unhappy with you, she's just... unhappy.'

'I used to make her happy,' he says. 'I think.'

'Yes, and her favourite brother used to be alive,' Hermione points out, her lips pursed. 'She needs time, Harry.'

'Well, I have to go back to school now, so time won't be a problem.'

There was a tap on the door and Ron poked his head in. Testament to the closeness forged during their camping extravaganza, he doesn't even blink to find them hand in hand.

'Tea's ready,' he says. 'I hid some of the apple cake for you in the kitchen.'

'Sounds good,' Harry says decisively as he disengages from his best mate's girlfriend and snags his latest Weasley jumper off the floor, bundling Hermione and her worried smile out of the room and down the stairs. She uses her position, one step above Ron, to push her slender hand through his mop of red hair, fondly tousling it as they descend. Harry misses that. The comfort of another person touching him with affection and no errant sadness. He remembers sixth year and the bliss of falling stupidly in love. Voldemort has an awful lot to answer for.

 

***

 

The Weasleys are subdued in a way you'd only notice if you knew them before the war. There's noise, yes, and almost constant conversation, but the careless spark is gone from the laughter and the twin voices aren't there, tripping over one another and finishing each other’s sentences. George is small and sad and quiet, trying so hard to be strong for everyone, and it breaks Harry's already-broken heart into smaller pieces every time he looks.

Bill and Fleur visit a lot, almost every night in some combination or another. Fleur seems to have taken it on herself to be there as a Weasley in her own right and not only an extension of her husband, often stepping elegantly out of the Floo by herself and bothering Molly in a way that makes their matriarch feel useful. Bill seems to limit his lone appearance, perhaps worried his scars are another reminder of a war in which so much was lost. Hermione, however, seems very sure that they've only added to his appeal. Harry doesn't know how he feels about them, having met Greyback, and having observed the once flawless, ultra cool and, at fourteen years old, utterly enviable awesomeness that was Bill. He feels sorry for him, but knows how much worse it could have been.

Charlie is around more as well, though with the constant low level of injury one expects from a man of dragons, which bothers Molly in a different way. He wears long sleeves a lot. Harry thinks this is a shame because if he had arms that ripped he'd want to show them off all the time. Harry is still skinny after months of malnourishment and stress, and while his muscle is visible due to lack of body fat, his physique lacks the easy power of Charlie Weasley.

Percy surprised everyone and moved back to The Burrow immediately after the Battle of Hogwarts. He's dating a girl called Audrey and while he talks about her near constantly, no one has met her yet. Ron thinks she's imaginary.

Ron.

He and Hermione are a thing now, and Harry's kind of glad the whole thing has stopped being so bloody awkward. Sharing a tent with a pair like that, so obviously (even to him) on the cusp of either snogging or dueling each other to death, had, at times, made the threat of Voldemort's reign seem trifling. Why it took Ron so long to... well. It's Ron. Even in the end, it wasn't him. Harry thinks he knows why it took Hermione so long to address that, and that makes him feel guilty too. Though at least they have each other now, when it's needed, and at least they weren't having each other in the tent when it would've been hideously apparent. They all know each other well enough already, without any of that. The late-night room swapping, when Harry and Hermione pass each other in the hall and set their watches in silence, is more than enough detail. The fact they're probably all fucking simultaneously is weird enough, though there's been less of that lately for Harry.

The pressure of being with Gin has got to him in ways he can't really ignore. While he might've been able to bluff his way through a PG-13 version of a relationship, sometimes parts of him are less willing than they should be, and the grim truth that alcohol seems to help doesn't actually comfort either of them. Ginny's going to lose her shit when he goes back to Hogwarts. No. When he tells her he's going back. Or, to be more specific, when Ron butts in and tells her why he's going back. No matter that he'd been thinking about it already, just to get away from her. His initial aversion to ever seeing the place again has waned with time and the comparison of what remains at home. If this is even home anymore. Maybe Grimmauld Place is home now, but that's worse. Alone and empty and full of cobwebs and the screams of a long-dead Black.

Hogwarts will do. It's away from the grief and the pressure and the weirdness. And maybe the horror and the destruction and the nightmares won't be so bad.

 

***

 

Ginny doesn't take it well. There are tears and shouting, and they stand on the porch for what seems like hours going over and over the same stuff, and it changes nothing but Harry's resolve to leave.

'Malfoy?' she hisses for the umpteenth time. 'Of all the shit things he's done, and you're leaving me for him?'

This time, Harry doesn't point out how that sounds.

'I'm not only going back because of him,' he says, again. 'I'm not ready to be an Auror and there's no point sitting around for a year waiting for Ron to get his N.E.W.T.s so we can start training together, when I could also be getting my N.E.W.T.s and... you know,' he shrugs. 'Having some options.' Options that don't involve you shouting at me, or crying, or never seeing past the one person you lost to the whole heap that I did.

'I didn't think you wanted options. I thought you wanted me.'

'I did.'

'And what? Now you just don't anymore?'

'Now I just want to not know for a bit. To have nothing decided for me already.'

'Do you not care what I want? What I'd decided on for myself?'

'Can you see how stifling that is for me?' Harry sighs and sinks down onto the step. He’s tired. 'For you to have decided I'm the only future you can have?'

'I guess,' she admits with reluctance.

'I don't want us to be like we are now, forever. To never be better than this.'

'Harry, it's not going to be like this forever, you'll get better. It's really common when men are stressed out to be... you know.'

'Thanks.' His resolve strengthens another notch. 'That's not what I meant, but yeah, that too.'

'What else?' She sounds resigned, like she just needs to know so she can deal with it. 'What else isn't okay?'

Harry decides not to hold back. 'I feel like we're trying to be a couple amongst all this grief, and we don't really have that much experience being a couple, or grieving, and it's... harder than it should be to do either when we're trying so hard to do both.'

'You've talked to Hermione about this?' She raises an eyebrow at him.

'I am capable of having feelings without her having to tell me what they are.'

'Of course you are. I'm sure not loving me is all your own.'

'I never said that.'

'You don't have to.'

'You're family, Gin, I'll always love you.'

'You just... what? Need a break from it for a while?'

'Maybe.' A break sounds like a gift. Maybe when he comes back she’ll be normal again.

'Maybe?'

'Nothing decided, remember.'

'Fine. You have until Christmas.'

'That's deciding.'

'No it's not, it's a... checkpoint,' she gives him a wry grin.

'A checkpoint?'

'Yeah. We'll...' she takes a deep breath. 'Take time apart. Grieve by ourselves for a bit. And we'll talk when you come back for Christmas.'

'Okay.' Harry think this might be the best offer he’ll get.

'Maybe I'll meet a nice boy in Ottery St Catchpole and forget all about you.' Wait, no. That would be better.

'Maybe you'll meet a nice girl,' he jokes.

'Wouldn't you love that?'

'I might.'

The door creaks open then and a handsome, sunkissed face appears tentatively from behind it.

'The yelling stopped, are you okay?'

'Yeah,' Ginny says, giving Harry a painfully sad smile. 'We are.'

'Mum's worried she's lost another son to your wrath, tiny sister, go find her will you?'

'Too soon, Charlie,' she says as she stands up. He holds the door open and she ducks under it, disappearing into the house.

'Hi,' he says, muscular forearms making Harry feel casually inadequate. 'You really okay?'

'No,' Harry says. 'Not really.'

Charlie looks mercifully unsurprised and steps carefully out and pushes the door closed behind him. 'Relationships are hard.'

Harry reflects dismally on hardness being a thing their relationship definitely didn't have enough of. He contemplates telling Charlie that and swiftly decides not to.

'Yeah.'

'Especially if things aren't easy in the, er...' Charlie nods awkwardly and raises a suggestive eyebrow. 'Romance department?'

Harry dies. 'I'm sure that’s true,' he says, completely non-committal.

'My bedroom is directly under Gin's.'

'Oh.'

'It's fine. No one ever remembers to use silencing charms on the floor, I'm not judging. I just... One night I grabbed my wand to cast a Muffliato but I dropped it and it rolled under the bed and I noticed it kind of, didn't last...'

'Oh.'

'By the time I found my wand it was over already.'

'Yeah.'

'It happens a lot, when you're young, it's all new and exciting and, you know, a bit overwhelming.'

'It-' Harry wonders if he was actually having this conversation or if Ginny had hexed him and he was in an enchanted dreamscape where harmless but wickedly awkward things happened. 'It's not that.'

'You don't need to be ashamed Harry, you'll get better over time, last longer. Practice.'

'It's really not what you think.'

'Okay, sure.' Charlie smiled indulgently, sympathetically. 'But I'm here if you need to talk, yeah?' He stands up and turns as if to go.

'It's kind of the opposite problem, actually,' Harry blurts. Shit. This is going to be awful, but he’s sick of holding it in and maybe, just maybe, Charlie can help him feel less shit about it.

'The opposite?' He sits down again. 'Oh... like, it's over, but not because you've finished?'

'Yeah.'

'Um... is it...' Charlie drops his head into his hands. 'I'm very aware right now that we're talking about my sister so lets pretend we're talking about someone else called... Joanna.'

'Can we talk about Joanna and her boyfriend Dave?'

'Sure, why not. Joanna and Dave.'

'Sometimes Joanna cries during... when her and Dave are... playing chess.' There was a chance Harry was about to ruin a board game forever.

'Oh.'

'Yeah.'

'That could be because Joanna is sad.'

'The crying would indicate sadness, yes.'

'Is Dave sure Joanna isn't in any pain?'

'Dave isn't that well endowed.'

'Is Joanna, uh, well-lubricated. And relaxed and stuff?'

'Joanna is definitely well-lubricated.'

'So there's nothing physically wrong?'

'No. Physically, Joanna is fine. But it's like she can't bear to be happy. Any sort of... of pleasure makes her feel guilty. She won't even have hot showers anymore. She’s taking sugar in her tea, even though I know she hates it.' Harry sighs. 'Joanna is miserable and she still keeps trying to do normal couple things with Dave. And Dave is sick of trying to be normal when he wants to just be sad. And Dave wishes they could just be there for each other and not,' he pauses. 'Not try to be a normal couple all the time.'

'That makes sense. Dave is a sensible man.'

'Dave knows grief pretty well by now.'

'Why don't you tell her this?'

'I tried. She's stubborn. It's like she's trying to fight the grief. Like if she can just pretend it's not there it won't get her, when she just needs to let it be part of her for a time and then it'll, like, simmer down after a while.'

'Fuck, Harry, I'm so sorry,’ Charlie shakes his head slowly. ‘I can talk to her.'

‘Thanks,’ he says. But the catharsis is gorgeous, so he keeps going. 'It's not just that. I'm-' he sighs. 'I'm also feeling a lot of pressure to be something for her. She's... Joanna has fancied Dave for so long, and like, fantasised about getting married and having kids and stuff, and Dave never thought about having a future because,' Harry glances up at Charlie’s freckled face, soft with empathy. 'He kind of expected to die before then.'

'That I can relate to.'

'Really?'

'Not the dying part. I was a prefect, and Quidditch Captain and Mum and Dad had all these expectations of me, thinking I'd get some amazing apprenticeship like Bill did, or play professional Quidditch, or be a magizoologist or something, and I... didn't want to have anybody choose for me.'

'So, what did you do?'

'I ran off and joined a bunch of other dragon-mad guys in Romania and never came home. Now I frighten my mother on a daily basis, have regrown all my fingers at least once, and habitually have burns on at least 3% of my body at any one time. And she stills tells people I went and got an apprenticeship and studied dragons.'

'But... didn't you?'

'To her, yes. To me, I ran away and did what I wanted. They just happened to be the same thing.'

'I feel like you're just bragging now.'

'Maybe.'

There’s a silence that feels almost comfortable, but Harry’s feeling so much lighter from getting all this off his chest that he wants to vomit out everything that’s ever kept him from sleeping. Everything that might keep him from sleeping. Everything he can’t say to anyone else because they’ll sit there and be all sympathetic and kind and care too much.

'Do you think there's something wrong with me?'

'No,’ Charlie answers easily. ‘I think you're dealing with a lot of intense, mad woman-stuff and that's enough to wilt anyone's dandelion.'

'Was dealing with. I'm pretty sure we just broke up. Or we're on a break. She joked about meeting someone else in Ottery St Catchpole so I guess we broke up.'

'Permanently?'

'I don't know. She said we could review it at Christmas.'

'That's our Gin. Very, very focused and a giant pain in the arse when you don't give her exactly what she wants.'

'I've just never heard of a teenage guy not being able to keep it up. Not being able to keep it down seems like a more common problem.'

'Well, I suppose there's another possibility,’ Charlie smirks. ‘But you'd probably have noticed well before now.'

'Oh god, is it spattergroit? I still don't know what that is but it sounds horrible.' Harry’s stomach flutters with dread. 'What are the symptoms?'

'Uh, finding men attractive?'

'What? Oh. Charlie, are you asking if I'm gay?'

'It would explain a few things wouldn't it?'

'I suppose, but. No. I've liked girls, I think about girls.'

'Elton John probably thinks about girls.'

'I mean... Dave thinks about girls when he's playing Solitaire.'

'Oh. Has Dave tried thinking about men when he plays Solitaire?'

'No.'

'Dave could try that. No one would need to know.'

'I suppose.'

'You're cringing.'

'This is the most uncomfortable conversation I've ever had in my life,' Harry admits. 'And Hermione taught me forcibly about contraceptive charms.'

'Uncomfortable because it's unlocking hidden truths?'

'What? Is this how you found out? Someone suggested you have a wank over a guy and see if you liked it?'

'No,' Charlie grins to himself. 'There was a boy at Hogwarts, Allister, he was a Hufflepuff, and we had Care of Magical Creatures together in third year. Allister was the only other student in our whole class who was willing to touch a salamander without gloves. We became friends, and since we couldn't hang out in each other's common rooms, we'd find other places to go, and one day we were somewhere we probably shouldn't have been, and Filch turned up and we hid in an alcove and it was really only big enough for one person, so we were jammed in really close together, and... he kissed me. And it was... cool.'

'That's the tamest coming out story I've ever heard.'

'That isn't the coming out story, that happened a few weeks later in the Quidditch locker rooms with a bunch of Slytherins walking in on us and him freaking out and stopping even talking to me.'

'That's more like it. Evil Slytherins and heartbreak.'

'And Quidditch.'

'What a trifecta.'

'So are there any, um, Hufflepuffs who might interest you?'

'I don't think there are any openly gay Hufflepuff guys in our year.'

'Any hot ones?'

'I feel like that's a trick question.'

'Well are there?'

'I dunno. I've not really thought about it.'

'Well, what do you admire in other men. What makes you a little bit jealous?'

'Not being hunted by a noseless psychopath.'

'Would you put that above, say, nice hair?'

'I definitely envy nice hair.'

'Favourite eye colour?'

'Blue-ish.'

'Physique?'

'Muscular.'

'Buff or toned?'

'What's the difference?'

'Me or Bill.'

Harry freezes, the reality of what they’re talking about setting in. He can't keep his eyes from drifting to Charlie's sculpted forearms, the swell of his bicep where his sleeves were bunched up above his elbows.

'Buff then?' Charlie’s grinning when Harry looks up.

'You tricked me,' he groans, feeling the heat rise into his cheeks.

'I did, and I'm flattered.'

'Don't be, it's merely a reflection on my own pitiful lack of musculature.'

'And I merely enjoy getting one up on my big brother.'

'Sorry.'

'Kind of answered the question though, didn't it? Of whether it's a possibility.'

'I guess,' Harry can’t handle much more or this kind of upheaval tonight. 'I still like girls though.'

'Don't worry, Harry, no one's going to make you choose one or the other. You can do whatever you like.'

And that, really, was what he'd wanted all along.

'Okay then. I'll try it.'

 

***

 

Harry is lying on his back on his cot in Ron's mostly orange bedroom and staring at the ceiling. Ron’s snoring, which is fine, since it means he’s asleep and not aware of what Harry is about to do.

Hot men. Buff, with nice hair and blue eyes and no girlfriends. Right.

Harry hasn't spent any time thinking about liking guys, or about them being hot, so trying to think of someone who'd stood out is like trying to remember something he'd never known in the first place. Maybe there’s a better way. He slides a hand into his pyjamas. Perhaps if he just lies here holding his dick and goes through every guy he knows, he'll feel if there’s any... reaction. Maybe he should test that first. Hermione. Nothing. Good, that’s too weird. Luna. Luna? No. He just keeps picturing her in Malfoy's dungeon. Katie. Hmm. Some stirring. Cho in the Room of Requirement. No. Just embarrassment. Fleur in a bathing suit in fourth year... yeah, that works. Ok.

Bill? The earring is cool. He's tall, and strong, and... meh. Charlie is all tangled up in confusing thoughts right now, Percy... ugh. George, no. Ron, NO. Seamus, Lord no. Neville? No, though he did look badass with a sword. Dean, nah, too passive. Lee Jordan, no, too short. Oliver Wood... okay, maybe. But that might just be latent hero worship. Hufflepuffs? Ernie... Justin... Zacharias... Cedric? Nothing there but guilt, though he did have nice hair. And his eyes were... intense. He was a bit too tall though. Ravenclaws: Anthony Goldstein... Roger Davies... Terry Boot... Michael Corner... okay. Harry feels something in him move. Interesting. He has nice hair too. And nice lips. Full, pink, kind of like a girl’s lips.

Harry commits to his task. He gets Fantasy Michael down on his knees. The Room of Requirement blooms in the background, Michael is knelt on one of the big purple cushions, eyes wide and mouth slightly open, bottom lip glistening in the candle light. Harry steps closer to him, unfastening his own trousers, reaching into his pants, palming his cock. Fantasy Michael's eyes follow his hand. Harry gives himself a stroke in real life to match the one in his head and the other boy's eyes fix on the movement, and he licks his lips. Harry steps closer still, he could reach out and touch him if he wanted to. Does he? No one has to know. Fantasy Harry raises his left hand, skims his fingertips over Michael's soft black hair. Wide blue-grey eyes look up at him, long lashes dark against his cheeks.

Harry pushes his fingers into his hair, gripping hard, tilting Fantasy Michael's head back slightly. He doesn't even resist, doesn't complain it's hurting him, he simply gazes up at Harry and lets his knees spread a little wider. Both Harrys push their pants down and let their swelling cocks spring free. Michael lets his jaw drop slowly open, tongue out, pink and soft and wet, waiting. Harry knows what that tongue will feel like, remembers stolen moments in abandoned parts of the castle with Gin hovering over him, licking him. His cock twitches, curious. He tightens his fingers. Fantasy Harry drops the head of his cock on that soft, pink tongue and watches it disappear, sucked into the waiting mouth of Michael Corner.

Everything he's ever been too scared to fantasise about is released from its mental prison, the gates are lowered and there are no holds barred. He tugs hard on Michael's hair and fucks down his throat with impunity. Doesn't warn him when he's close, just pulls out and paints frantic stripes all over his pretty face. In reality, Harry comes harder than he has in a long time, biting his lip to stay quiet while Ron snores on in the periphery, ignorant to his best mate's sexual awakening happening right beside him.

 

***

 

The next night, after dinner, while the rest of the family settles themselves in the lounge with tea and biscuits and magazines and chess, Harry catches Charlie's eye and nods his head toward the front door. One red eyebrow raises slightly but he follows silently, both of them padding through the house in just their socks.

'What's up, Harry?'

'You may be right,' Harry says quietly.

'About?' Charlie looks like he's forgotten the entire life-changing conversation they had last night on this very fucking doorstep.

'Dave,' Harry says. 'Liking other guys.'

'Oh?' Charlie's face breaks into a grin. 'Did Dave do his homework, then?'

'Yes. Results were, not completely conclusive, but promising?'

'Not conclusive?' Charlie looks dubious.

'It's easy for Dave to think about things, to like things... theoretically. Practically, he might still find the whole thing kind of... weird.'

'Ah. And until you get trapped in an alcove with a Hufflepuff, you won't know if it's real?'

'Exactly.'

'Well,' Charlie turns as if to go back inside. 'Good luck with that, then. Let me know how it goes.' He pauses, thoughtful for a second and Harry prays he isn't just brushing it off like it seems. No such luck. 'Don't send an owl you're particularly fond of to Romania, though. Dragons will be dragons.'

'Actually,' Harry steels himself. 'I was rather hoping you could help me?'

'With what?'

'Being my Hufflepuff in the alcove.' Harry watches Charlie's jaw drop, thinks about kissing him. It feels like thinking about someone he's not explicitly attracted to but it doesn't feel gross.

'Jesus, Harry. You broke up with my sister yesterday.'

'This is kind of all happening because of you.'

'I...’ Charlie looks torn, and Harry considers feeling guilty for manipulating him, but really, it's at least partly his fault this is happening now, at the worst possible time. ‘Let me think about it, yeah?'

'Of course.'

'Harry?'

'Yeah.'

'I'm really happy for you. This is a good step. Don't... don't let my hesitation be a dampener on...' Charlie huffs an awkward laugh. 'On Dave's journey of discovery.'

'Thanks,' Harry gives him his most humbly charming smile, wry and lopsided, the one Ginny fell prey to all those times. 'I won't.'

 

***

 

Arthur and Molly turn in first that night. Percy isn't far behind, and George falls asleep on the couch around the same time Hermione and Ginny slip away upstairs. Bill and Fleur have been and gone hours ago, so by eleven o’clock, only Ron and Harry and Charlie are left awake. They’re sitting on the floor around the fire, two heads in identical shades of red bent over a backgammon board perched on a low stool, and one of atrociously messy black sprawling on the hearth rug.

Harry is staring up at the cobwebs that hug the brick chimney and wondering if anyone else can help him. He's pretty sure he doesn't know anyone who's gay. Hogwarts isn't a large school, and most of the students are far too young to consider anyway. Add to that the fact that pureblood wizarding society seemed to value traditional families and the production of heirs, and there's a general lack of diversity in the romance department. He supposes there could be a few sneaky bisexuals in the mix somewhere, but still can't think of a surefire way to flush them out of the closet anyway so the thought exercise is a bit pointless. Maybe if he just stood up at breakfast one morning and asked for volunteers... But no. Some degree of privacy with this would be nice.

He's 18 now, maybe he could go out in London and find a gay club or something. Kiss a boy, see if it was alright. He hadn't actually kissed Fantasy Michael, but he imagines it now without any problem. Good god, what if Michael Corner is coming back for eighth year as well? What will Harry say to him? Hi, thanks for the wank fantasy, any chance you want to suck me off in the Room of Requirement?

'You bastard.'

Harry's eyes fly wide, a sudden irrational fear he's said that aloud setting his heart pounding.

'Don't be a sore loser, little brother,' Charlie's voice comes in reply. 'Potter, your turn.'

'Give him hell, Harry, I'm going to bed.' Ron unfolds himself from the floor and slopes off in the direction of the stairs.

Leaving him and Charlie alone. Sort of. But George hasn't slept well in days though, there's little chance he'll wake up now.

He watches Charlie reset the board in silence.

'I'm sorry I made things weird between us,' Harry says finally. 'I just hate this...feeling of not knowing.'

'Limbo?' Charlie looks up at him with endless understanding, and it’s immediately obvious they’re going to be okay.

'Yeah.'

'I'll do it, Harry,' Charlie seems resigned and Harry only feels profound relief. 'Just, you have to understand what it means. You're already under enough emotional stress right now, I don't want to add any sort of misunderstanding to it. I don't fancy you. You're basically family, and far too young, and until yesterday, my baby sister's boyfriend. I will never want you.'

'Okay.'

'And whatever happens it's only about you needing to know if you can kiss a man and not mind it. It might be horrible, you might hate it, and I won't take offense at that. But it might also be good, and that isn't a sign, it's just, nothing. And if you tell me I kiss like my sister, I will never help you with anything ever again.'

'Agreed.'

'Come on, let's get this over with. Grab a jacket and we'll go for a walk.'

Harry's gut fizzes. They were leaving the house? That seems serious. He scampers after Charlie into the kitchen.

'A walk?'

'There are nine people in this very creaky house,' Charlie points out. 'The only empty rooms are George's, mine and the bathrooms, and I don't think we'd be able to justify us being in any of them together to anyone who felt a bit nosy.

'Oh.' That's true. Maybe a walk is safer. 'How do we justify a walk?'

'Apples,' Charlie says. 'I'm going back to Romania in the morning, I want to take some with me.'

'You're leaving tomorrow?' Harry is surprised, no one's mentioned this.

'Yes,' Charlie grabs a string bag from its home by the backdoor and steps out into the darkness. 'One of the reasons I'm agreeing to this. I expect it's going to be very, very awkward afterwards.'

'Probably. But I hope not,' Harry follows him outside. 'If it is, thanks in advance. I might forget later.'

They walk across the lawn in silence, the rhythmic whoosh of long grass and the occasional hoot of an owl the only sound in the moonlight. Under cover of the orchard, Charlie slows until he finds a decent crop of apples, then pulls out the string bag from his pocket.

'We should pick now, just in case you want to run off in a state after.'

'I'm not going to run off in a state. I'm not scared,' Harry smiles. 'You're somewhat less threatening than Voldemort.'

'Okay, okay. Just help me pick some bloody apples, you owe me.'

They fill the bag in silence, Harry's nerves edge closer to the surface with every passing minute. He keeps darting glances at Charlie in the semi-darkness, never once catching his eye.

When the bag is full, and Harry's heart is racing, and he's beginning to have some very persuasive second thoughts about the whole thing, Charlie turns to him, and steps very purposefully into his space. At about six inches, Harry can't help flinching.

'You sure about this?'

'Yeah, just nervous. I'm fine,' Harry insists.

'How do you want to do it?'

Harry blanches, he can feel it, all the blood draining from his face. The kiss! He tells himself. How do I want to do the kiss. That's what we agreed.

'Er, maybe if I just stay still and you do it?'

'Okay,' Charlie leans in, then pauses. 'Are you going to keep your eyes open?'

'No, sorry,' Harry shuts his eyes, feeling immediately more vulnerable. He hears Charlie sigh, feels warm breath against his skin. An apple-scented hand comes to rest on his cheek and he flinches again, his eyelids twitching open in time to see a blur of pale skin close in on him. Lips touch his, firm, encompassing his top lip for a second, two, three. As the pressure starts to soften, Harry pushes forward, following Charlie's bottom lip and closing around it. It's just like... a kiss. Nothing special, nothing odd. The faint hint of stubble is expected and not unpleasant. He pulls back.

'That wasn't weird.'

'Good,' Charlie looks relieved. 'Now you do it.'

'The same?'

'Whatever makes it clear for you, Harry.'

He nods. Takes a breath. Closes the gap between them so he can feel that muscled chest press against his own. He lays his finger tips on Charlie's jaw, running them over the rough prickle of his facial hair. Lets his hand card up through his thick hair, soft and smooth against his palm. Tightens his fingers and hears Charlie's intake of breath, sees his lips gasp open, and claims his mouth. Maybe he shouldn't be doing it like this, but he has to know, right? Charlie's stronger than him, he could always pull away. But he doesn't. Instead a flicker of tongue skims across his lip, testing. He could do that. And he really should, to see if it was different.

It was. Harry feels himself melting, his heart still pounding away. But now his chest's bound by strong, muscled arms, tight around his ribs. He has one hand still deep in that red hair, the other clutches at Charlie's hip, dragging them together, pressing close and hard and they should probably-

'Stop, Harry.'

'Yeah. Yes, we should definitely stop.' Harry lets go and backs up a step, panting in the dark.

'Sorry, I got a bit...'  Charlie runs a hand through his hair like he's trying to shake the feel of Harry out of it.

'No, my fault.'

'How about nobody's fault and we call it a draw?'

'Sure.'

'How do you feel?'

Harry reflects. His lips are swollen and suddenly lonely, his hands shaking, and he has a decent semi pushing against the zipper of his jeans.

'Really quite gay.'

 

***

 

Charlie leaves the next day right after breakfast, a backpack and a bag of apples held tight against his hard chest. Harry goes for a shower and a stealthy wank right after, thinking of Michael Corner again, this time splayed out in the orchard in the moonlight, gasping Harry's name as he ruts against him and comes in his trousers. Harry almost cries out as he spills himself over Molly's shower curtain, covering his groan with a coughing fit that makes his over-sensitive cock slip around in his wet fist and forces another shudder out of him.

The next day he thinks of Michael Corner laid out naked on a blanket in the Gryffindor common room, in front of the fire, light dancing on his pale skin. On Saturday he mixes it up a bit and takes Blaise Zabini up the Astronomy Tower and swallows his cock til he chokes. On Sunday, he takes a break, sits back and watches the two of them fuck over a desk in the Potions room. On Monday, he goes back to Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

Ginny is mad enough to not bother seeing them off, George is too sad to have to look at King's Cross alone and Percy and Arthur are at work so Molly simply says her goodbyes at the front door and sends them on their way. Her parental services are obsolete as far as transport goes, now they can all Apparate. Harry wonders if she's relieved by that or if it makes her sad not being needed so much anymore.

He's glad to be leaving, a sentiment he can see Hermione shares. He's got better at picking up her non-verbal cues after they spent so many weeks in each other's pockets in the forest. It's a transferable skill, he's found, and it's nice to think that at least one reasonably good thing has come out of the whole unpleasant ordeal.

'Ready?' Hermione says, grabbing the handle of her trunk in one hand. 'Meet you on the platform?'

'Hopefully,' Ron says with a roguish grin in her direction. He's teasing, of course, he'd got his license this summer, first try. Harry had fucked his up the first time and had to re-sit. It was almost worth being embarrassed to have Ron finally, genuinely, best him at something other than chess, and well, being tall and whatnot. He supposes Ron has probably won at girlfriends as well, at least recently, but they haven't talked about that much. Harry expects Hermione had passed on the appropriate level of information about him and Ginny and the disastrous end of things, to both his and Ron's benefit. They aren't amazing at talking about feelings anyway, but when feelings were mixed with baby sisters, and simultaneous midnight room swaps, there's even less inclination to go there. Harry had had some really awkward conversations recently, he wasn't up for another.

'Funny,' she deadpans and there's a pop as she disappears in a twist of pink and denim, that same beaded bag swinging from her shoulder.

They find themselves almost alone on the platform and take their time climbing on to the waiting train, nabbing the end carriage and stowing their gear before taking turns nipping out into the station proper to fetch hot drinks and snacks and magazines. It was worth arriving early for the coffee and donut alone, and Harry wishes it could've always been like this, but underage magic bans and the scarcity of Muggle money by the last day of the holidays were things, and, well at least he has it now.

More people turn up over the half hour they have before departure, but everyone they can see from their window is seventh year or below, so although the train is almost full by the time the first whistle blows, it doesn't seem like the extra year group is causing any problems with space. The three of them had sat and wondered last week who would be returning, and Harry and Ron had made a list, with a little bit of a bet attached. Expecting disapproval from Hermione they'd tried to hide it, only for her to find out anyway and join in with suspicions of her own.

Neville turns up by himself right after the first whistle, blowing over the top of a hot chocolate the size of a small cauldron, and then Luna appears from the ether with a pile of crossword puzzles and a strange-smelling tea in one of those reusable travel mugs Harry always forgets to clean out and inevitably has to vanish in the absence of a strong enough Scourgify to shift the enthusiastic mould growth. They'd all known they were returning, so there was no need to pull Ron's thin little Cannons notebook out, a relic of his childhood, repurposed to slightly more grown up uses, and mark anything off. Harry thinks he's guessed most accurately of the three of them with the Slytherins, but it's anybody's game. Ron got to know the Quidditch teams better in sixth and Hermione knows her fellow library-dwellers (mostly Ravenclaws) better than they do. The Hufflepuffs are anyone's guess.

Dean and Seamus come pelting onto the platform with barely a minute to spare and Neville and Ron rush to help them aboard and stow their trunks, boisterous ribbing and rough hugs following them into the carriage. There was only just enough room for the lot of them, sat shoulder to shoulder, and the difference between first year, when they were all so little, and now, when the girls have grown hips and the boys have something passing for upper body strength, is almost sad. Harry hadn't known, before, that his last ride to Hogwarts would be his last, that he would be forced to skip his entire final year because of a war. Now... well, he'd obviously go home for Christmas, and probably the other holidays, but this is the first 'last ride' -- one he wouldn't repeat again, the last beginning of a year.

No one else seems quite as lost in their own thoughts as him, all readily recounting tales of their summers, and not just the good stories, either. The bad ones were shared too, no one hesitating, all knowing that the suffering was universal, that no one would be judged for their tears.

Something transpires in the carriage in the hours it takes to reach Scotland. A hoard of Gryffindors and one plucky Ravenclaw bond. More than ever before, they're joined, but this time it's in shared sadness, in suffering. Not being quite right. They are the aftermath. What's left.

And they're together again.

 

***

 

When the sun starts to dim, they get a visit from a trio of Ravenclaw eighth years, and it occurs to Harry they probably could've gone looking for others in their year hours ago. Terry Boot flicks his wand and expands the carriage without so much as a blink and he and Lisa Turpin settle themselves on either side of the door to share news with everyone.

Except Harry. Because the third Ravenclaw is Michael Corner, and he looks even better than Harry had remembered. The dark hair is shorter, cut in a more masculine style, but still doing that gentle sweep over his face that softens his features. He looks older, too, like maybe he knows a thing or two now that Harry might like. Though, Harry realises, there's a high likelihood that whatever it might be that twinkles in Michael's eye might've been put there by either one of Harry's own ex-girlfriends. Ugh. Apparently they all have very similar taste. At least neither of them was going to be here to make that more awkward.

'Who else's com'n back for eighth?' Seamus asks in his lilting Irish tongue, pulling Harry from his thoughts. 'We can' be the only ones.'

'We don't know,' Lisa says, 'We came to ask you guys.'

'We haven't seen anyone but you three so far,' Hermione says. 'Though we do know Ginny's not back for seventh and Draco Malfoy is back for eighth.'

Michael's eyes twitched up at that, and his fingers stilled on the cords of his grey hoodie. Who he's interested in isn't as straightforward in Harry's mind as it might once have been. Michael had certainly dated Ginny, but he'd also spent the last week in Harry's head, sucking his cock and fucking Blaise Zabini up the arse. It wasn't hard to imagine his mouth wrapped around Malfoy's dick instead, or his hips slamming against pale, skinny arsecheeks instead of dark, muscled perfection. Malfoy would probably try and tell him he was doing it wrong. Harry barely withheld a grin.

'Malfoy's coming back?' Lisa's voice squeaks. 'How can he after...'

'Wizengamot's ruling,' Ron says. 'It's pretty much Harry's fault though.'

Harry glares at his friend. 'It's Voldemort's bloody fault that any of us have to come back.'

'And that so few of us actually have,' Terry speaks for the first time. 'We're only a few carriages up, the train doesn't look that full considering there might be another whole year group in here.'

'We should go and investigate properly,' Hermione declares, standing up. 'Ron, are you coming? Harry?'

Ron rises immediately and Harry... can't. In fact, he's really glad for the baggy jumper he's wearing because despite the dark turn the conversation had taken, the image of Michael gobbling Malfoy's cock was still lingering in his head and Michael was still right there in front of him looking very edible himself. And the outcome of such thoughts has made something of a dent in his light summer trousers. Sitting was good.

'I'll stay,' he says. 'Don't really feel like dealing with people yet.'

'Oh, Harry,' Hermione's face fell. 'Of course, I forgot how everyone's going to be with you.'

'How could you forget Diagon Alley?' Ron shook his head. 'Utter madness.' He turns to the rest of the group. 'The three of us got mobbed by like, seven hundred old ladies. One of them tried to kiss me.'

'There weren't seven hundred of them, Ron,' Hermione sighs. 'And they were mostly very polite.'

'Maybe not seven, but you try being patted on the head and told you're 'such a good boy' six hundred times and see how you like it,' Ron rolls his eyes. 'An extra hundred would've barely been noticeable.'

'There was maybe 15 of them,' she says.

'There wasn't,' Ron argues. 'You were just too short to see over the front row, it went back for ages. I've never been so Deliberately Determined for my Destination before.'

'Oh! Did you guys get apparition licences?' Lisa asks.

'Yeah, Harry failed his the first time.'

'Thanks, Ron,' Harry just rolls his eyes this time and goes back to staring out the window and imagining Michael doing horrendous, wonderful things.

'I got mine too,' Lisa bubbles. 'Who else?'

There was a chorus of assent, only Dean and Luna hadn’t. He had been staying with his Muggle family and not had the chance, and Luna still wasn't old enough.

'Stuck together again, girl,' Dean slings his arm around Luna's shoulders with a sad smile and Harry watches her look up at him, perfectly comfortable with his touch. It was easy to forget they'd been trapped in the belly of the Manor together. The enormity of the suffering Voldemort caused strikes Harry again, and he finally feels the pressure in his trousers start to ease. Nothing kills an erection like a Wizarding Hitler.

'After spending time locked in a dungeon, I'm perfectly happy just to be outside. Aren't you?' Luna blinked peacefully up at Dean.

'I wouldn't say I was perfectly happy,' he says, 'But I got to bring my guitar this year so that's a start.'

'Will you play for us?' Michael asks, eyes suddenly alight.

'Tonight maybe? Harry says they're rooming all the eighth years together in a separate part of the castle so we must have our own common room, right?'

'Ooo, I hope so, though I don't like the idea of sharing it with Slytherins,' Lisa says. 'Not that, you know, they're all evil or anything, but you know...' she trails off.

'Not all of them...' Ron says, and the implication is clear. 'Some of them definitely are though.'

'Malfoy's not evil, Ron,' Harry sighs.

'Course not, he's too much of a wuss. I was talking about Parkinson.'

'Ooo, she's such a bitch,' Lisa agrees. 'I hope she's not coming back.'

'After she tried to hand Harry over to You Know Who, she'd have to be bloody stupid to try,' Hermione says. 'Or at least a total masochist.'

'She looks like she'd enjoy a good choking,' Ron smiles. 'Maybe that's why she was always so cranky. Didn't have anyone to throttle her properly.'

'I thought her and Malfoy were dating?' Neville says.

'I thought Blaise and Malfoy were dating,' Luna looks confused. 'They always seemed so happy together.'

Harry's gut lurches. Surely not? Well, realistically, no, probably not. Luna's full of weird ideas.

'I guess if you needed evidence the Slytherins are all crazy, dating Malfoy would be a good indicator, no matter how you identify.'

'He's quite handsome,' Luna drops in, ‘I don't think you'd have to be crazy to like him. He used to bring us cake.'

Harry marvels silently at her seemingly unending ability to be forgiving, and wonders if he'd ever be able to master it himself, buried as he is in bitterness. He has a lot of things to forgive, or not, and the idea of letting them go is kinda nice. There's just so much to deal with, he doesn't even know where to start. Maybe Malfoy's a good enough place to begin.

Maybe this could be his year for letting go.

 

***

 

Hermione and Ron come back with news of only three other new eighth years on the train, all Hufflepuffs. That makes 13 including Malfoy, who for some reason isn't here. Maybe he's done them all a favour and been eaten by one of his ridiculously vicious albino peacocks.

Harry's almost glad to hear the Patils aren’t on board. There's only so much reflecting on shit romance he can do, and his mind is so full of Ginny and her various areas of disappointment in him that the thought of even seeing Parvati is bad. His one-time ball date evidently has something better to do with her life, and of course Lavender isn’t going to come back. That's still six Gryffindors, though.

Of the Ravenclaws, only these three, still sitting in the enlarged carriage, are here. There are the three Hufflepuffs (though not the kind Harry needs to find and experiment with) and no other Slytherins, much to everyone else's pleasure. Harry thinks it will only make Malfoy more of an arse if he's alone, because he won't have anyone to distract him. He also finds himself a little sorry Blaise isn't on the train, since there's that rumour that means he might be okay with being "experimented on", and he's friends with no one who knows Harry. Except Malfoy of course, but he doubts a lifetime of animosity counts as knowing someone, even if they have seen each other at their worst by now. Chances are Ginny might've dated Blaise, of course. Blaise is attractive, after all, and Harry hadn't kept up with her shenanigans before seeing her kiss Dean and wanting instantly to kill him. She seemed to know an awful lot about sex, and Harry kind of hates her at the moment so is more than happy to think of her as some sort of evil strumpet with dick eyes who's stolen his soul and his virginity. He sighs and his breath fogs up the window, obscuring the dull British countryside. Maybe this year isn't for letting go after all.

 

***

 

The castle looks different, sadder. Burned and patched til it's so many different shades of grey it resembles a sickly dragon, its scales in varying states of decay and decrepitude. Bits of it appear to be flaking off, and there's a gaping hole at one end where there used to be a tower. Two greenhouses are gone completely and a new one has appeared in their place, big and glass and shiny. Sprout must be beside herself; Neville certainly seems uncommonly excited. At least he has something to be happy about.

Harry tries to be happy about the treacle tart, but his taste buds don't have the sway to overpower his feelings of doom and disappointment. Seeing all the eighth years sitting together at their very own table in the corner of the hall, to the left just as you walk in, sends home just how few of them there are left. And the single empty space mocks him, because he knows who it's for. He realises that since it’s the only space on this one large table, the large table still isn't large enough for everyone to avoid sitting shoulder to shoulder with Malfoy. And he knows he might be the only one that doesn't mind too much so it'll be him every meal. After being clutched together astride a broom, one clinging to the other in terror, sitting next to each other at dinner doesn't seem so bad, but add in lunch and breakfast and every bloody celebration this hall will see this year and Harry has to groan internally. He's going to get so sick of Malfoy’s stupid, pointy face. If he ever arrives.

 

***

 

McGonagall welcomes the eighth years again after the lower years have filtered out of the hall on the heels of their prefects. She does it in the usual way, with brutal Scottish honesty and Hermione getting misty-eyed and Harry feeling dreadfully uncomfortable while everyone stares at him. He supposes there's some comfort in the predictable. She conjures a ball of purple light once she's done picking at their fragile emotional states and leaves them to it, obviously deciding against the indignity of showing a bunch of adults to their rooms. The purple ball scoots away ahead of them, then pauses. Scoot and pause, scoot and pause, waiting for them to follow out the doors. Once they reassemble in the entrance hall, all 12 of them, it takes off down a corridor Harry had previously thought purely decorative. Lisa's the first to move, looking over the lot of them before sauntering off down the corridor. She makes it five steps before standing on her own shoe lace and Michael Corner giggles at her brave clumsiness, and dear god if he doesn't look delectable when he smiles. The other Ravenclaws follow, ever a curious bunch, the Hufflepuffs tacking on to the train, probably not wanting to be left out. Harry's six Gryffindors stand there at the crossroads, staring after them.

'Not much for it,' Neville says and steps forward, Seamus on his heels. Dean goes then, his long strides putting him in line with his best mate in no time. Harry, Hermione and Ron turn to each other and say nothing. After months in a lonely forest, hunting the intangible, barely eating and hardly sleeping, they still feel the disinclination to commit to anything. Last time they did it was hell.

'It feels a lot more real that I thought it would,' Ron says. 'You know, like it's all just normal and we're... weird.'

'Anti-climatic,' Hermione adds.

'Yeah.' Harry knows all about anti-climaxes. 'It doesn't feel right anymore,' he sighs. 'Fuck this. Let's go to bed.'

'Wherever that is,' Ron grumbles, but he falls in beside Harry without any hesitation and Hermione wraps her delicate little hand around his giant, freckled one and they follow their new dorm mates deeper into this unknown part of the castle.

It's very quiet, overall, the only sounds the hiss of torches and gentle footsteps ahead. Harry can't tell where they are, but he thinks they're heading toward the East Wing - he’s almost certain - so when they emerge in the giant void of shifting staircases and the little purple light heads that way still, he feels a brief sense of satisfaction, even if it means a long walk to the kitchens if they're all the way out there.

He's pleasantly surprised then, when they reach what he deduces to be that random tower that marks the centre of the castle and the purple ball of light stops in front of an unmarked door. Harry's noticed this tower before from the outside but he realises he's ignored its existence every time he's passed it on the inside. And that's a lot of times, because if he turned left now, he'd be headed straight for Gryffindor tower.

It's been enchanted. Maybe it still is. He tries to remember if it's on the Marauders Map.

'The Hidden Tower...' Hermione breathes beside him. 'We can see it.'

'This is weird,' Ron decides.

'Do you know where we are?' Dean asks, closest of the waiting crowd.

'Yes,' Hermione slips into book mode. 'I read about this in Hogw-'

'Hogwarts, A History...?' Harry and Ron finish for her, smirking. He didn't know how much he'd missed doing that.

Hermione doesn't even roll her eyes this time, just gives them her patient look and continues. 'Traditionally, this is the Headmaster or Headmistress’s accommodation. It's in the corner of the original castle, but after the first expansion it became the centre. It's valued for its height, original stonework, and view over the viaduct.'

'And slightly worse for wear after a Hungarian Horntail had a quick go at it in fourth year?' Harry smirks at Ron. He’d shared the pensieve memory of that task one night and Ron had almost shit himself.

'Well, yes, but it recovered.'

'Why d'ya think McGonagall isn't livin' in here then?' Seamus asks.

'She bloody-well better not be,' Ron groans back at him. 'That'd be just our luck. Rooming with the head.'

'McGonagall has rooms below her office,' Justin Finch-Fletchley supplies. 'I don't think she'd be mad enough to want to share space with you and your numerous shades of blinding orange.'

'You should see his room at home,' Harry cuts in before Ron can retaliate, surprising himself. 'Glows in the dark as well.'

Ron makes a pained sound, looking aghast and betrayed but Harry finds himself just feeling a little freer for being able to mock him again. They've been so nice to each other at The Burrow, careful of feelings and negotiating their individual hurts, that the usual banter has fallen away.

'Is there any reason we're all still standing here?' Lisa interjects.

'The door won't open,' Michael calls back from the front of the group.

'Let me see it,' Hermione picks her way through the knot of people and turns her wand decisively on the door, running wordlessly through a series of unlocking charms, her movements swift and precise. Harry sees her tilt her head slightly to the side and recognises her thinking posture from too many months experience. She sweeps a complicated pattern to the four corners of the stone doorframe with a whispered incantation, audible as everyone awaits her assessment. 'It's not locked, per se,' she says. 'It doesn't think of itself as a door.'

'It looks a lot like a door,' Lisa points out.

'It's a bit sentient, I think,' Hermione says. 'Has anybody talked to it yet?'

No one owns up to speaking to a door, which is about when Harry feels Luna's absence most keenly.

'Has anyone tried knocking?' Dean asks, and Michael, still closest, gives the wood a quick tap. Harry pictures Michael giving him a quick tap and feels his groin tingle with interest. Lord knows how he ever missed his own semi-gayness. Bisexuality. Whatever-ness. Maybe he's turned on by dragons too, who knew. Maybe he just needs to think about it the right way. Maybe if he was really into doors, he could fuck this one open, so they could all just go inside already.

'Welcome to the Hidden Tower,' the door says in a slow, meandering voice. 'I am the Keeper of the Door.'

'Hello, we're the eighth years,' Michael says.

A swirling knot in the wood quivers and splits, the gap widening to show an amber coloured eye. 'So you are,' the door says, and stays exactly where it is.

'Um, could we come in?' Lisa asks, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. 'I need a wee.'

'There is no wee in here,' the door says. 'I cannot help you.'

'But can we come in?'

'You are not complete,' the door says, and the eye begins to close. 'You cannot perform the binding.'

'Wait,' Hermione steps forward. 'What do you mean? We aren't complete how?'

Harry's gut sinks, because he understands immediately, and that's got to be a first, out-figuring Hermione, but he's loath to admit it because it proves he's been obsessing over Draco Fucking Malfoy again, even though it's only been an hour. Or so.

'Why do we need to be bound to a door?' Michael asks.

'Where's the nearest girls' bathroom?' Lisa asks louder.

Hermione turns to face the group. 'Back beside the Great Hall, Lisa, sorry. And we need to be bound to the door so it'll recognise us, I think,' she paused, her lips twisting into a frown. 'But I don't know why it thinks we're incomplete.'

'If it's waiting for us all to be mentally sound, we'll be here all year,' Neville jokes, only half smiling, but completely accurate. Harry would panic if he didn't know the real reason.

'Malfoy's not here,' he points out, 'the group is incomplete.'

'Of course,' Hermione sighs in relief, at the same time as Ron also mutters, 'Of course,' but with a roll of his eyes instead of the grin of knowing the answer to a puzzle.

'Does anyone know where the slimy little git is?' Seamus pipes up, and Harry wonders at the 'little' since Malfoy is at least six foot and Seamus is barely five-eight in shoes. He's not even sure the extra stockiness makes up for it, though the morally ambiguous Irish duelling style probably does.

No one does know where Malfoy is, however, so Harry has no hope of seeing them duel anytime soon. Maybe later.

'We should ask McGonagall,' someone says, and Harry gives up being involved and throws a cushioning charm at the stone floor, sinking down onto it, Ron joining him with a folding of long limbs and a slight 'oof' as he hits the floor, not having anticipated just how shit Harry's cushioning charms are.

'No, I think we need to figure it out on our own,' Hermione states primly, before turning her attention to Harry. Of course. 'Harry, I think someone should send a Patronus.'

'And by someone you mean me?'

'He has no reason to listen to me and an otter isn't very intimidating.'

'Where's Gin and her bloody great Abraxan when you need it?' Ron says quietly. 'At least it could kick him in the face a bit.'

Harry smiles at the thought, after their sort-of-mostly-I-think break-up, Ginny would be more than willing to kick Malfoy in the face herself. He conjures his stag, all eleven of them watching. He wonders if Michael is impressed as it trots back toward him and bows its head in deference, waiting for Harry to give it a message to deliver.

'Malfoy, you miserable tosser, where are you? The fucking dormitory won't let us in until you get here. Follow the stag back so we can get out of this fucking corridor.'

His Patronus tosses his head and turns, cantering away back toward the entrance of the castle and Harry hopes it isn't going to have to go all the way to fucking Wiltshire.

It doesn't, clearly, because Malfoy appears only six minutes later to find everyone lounging against the walls, bar Hermione and Terry Boot who are talking to the door. He has a plate of food in one hand and a fork in the other, and Harry reckons he's starting to look less shit, and that it's good he has an appetite or he'd have been a pathetic emaciated tit for the rest of his life. Which might not be that long, actually, because Lisa still needs a piss and is pretty angry about having to wait.

'Take your time, Draco, it's not like anyone needs desperately to pee or anything,' she says, carefully getting up from the floor with her thighs clamped together.

Malfoy takes a look around at the group and sighs, placing his fork on his plate and whipping his wand out of his back pocket. To his credit, Neville is the only one who doesn't flinch. Malfoy points his wand at Lisa, low down, and flicks up slightly with a clearly worded incantation. 'Inanis,' he says and replaces his wand in his pocket. 'I'd expect that kind of ignorance from a bunch of Muggle-borns and Half-bloods, but, Jesus Christ, Weasley, why'd you let the poor girl suffer?' He stabs a roast potato and shoves the whole thing in his mouth, chewing and glaring at his plate.

'Oh my god,' Lisa breathes into the wary silence. 'All my wee is gone.' She looks like she doesn't know whether to feel relieved or violated, and seems to settle on a strange combination of the two.

'You're welcome,' Malfoy says between vegetables.

'Okay,' Hermione says. 'We have to all place a hand on the door at once and repeat the promise to keep The Hidden Tower hidden. Then the door will know us and let us in.'

'What happens if we don't keep the promise,' Seamus asks, shooting a distrustful look at Malfoy, who is still focused on his dinner.

'Well, you kind of can't not keep it. It's magically binding,' she explains, hesitating. 'Forever. You literally can't tell anyone.'

'What if we have friends in other years?' a girl asks. He vaguely recognises her, she was friends with Katie Bell and used to watch their Quidditch practices when the weather was permissible.

'They can't come in. Or know where you live.'

'So no overnight guests?'

'Not unless they're also eighth year,' Hermione blushes, and Ron smiles smugly to himself. Harry hadn't thought about how a move back to Hogwarts might affect their sex life, for obvious reasons, but it occurs to him now that it might mean the unfortunate violation of a few common room couches. If they even have a common room in there. 'And we should probably make some house rules about that.'

'Agreed,' Harry says without thinking, and is aware now that everyone is staring at him and probably thinking about their extended camping trip last year, getting completely the wrong idea. Bollocks. He then also twigs that any rules he agrees to will affect his chances of finding a Hufflepoof to experiment on, since he won't even have the fantastic chat up line of 'Want to come at see The Hidden Tower? We have alcohol.'

'Right then,' Hermione says, 'Short people to the front and crouch down a bit? Taller people will have to lean over us I think.' She kneels, and Lisa, Hannah and the other girl cluster around her. Seamus shows some admirable self-awareness and follows, turning to face the door with a cry of disgust as Dean threatens to hump him in the face as he gets into position. Harry's just about five-ten and, looking around, also one of the shortest. Ron, Neville and Dean overtook him years ago, and other than Terry who is about the same height, the other boys all seem to be taller than him as well so he follows, kneeling above Hannah and reaching over her head to place his hand on the door. Michael gets down on his knees beside him, and is only taller by an inch, so Harry could still kiss him standing up without feeling like a homunculus, which probably isn't a great thing to be thinking about as the others close around them, trying to find a spot on the door, and he finds himself surrounded by pretty girls on their knees, Michael, his main wank fantasy, and several wizard dicks, veiled only by lightweight summer trousers. He hears the scrape of silverware on ceramic and a shadow darkens above him as a pale hand hits the door above his. Heat teases at the back of his neck, radiating off Malfoy's crotch and smelling slightly of lemons, which is definitely better than he thought it would be at dick height at the end of a long day. He closes his eyes and tries very hard to not think of being very hard.

'Repeat after me,' the door says, and the gentle creaking vibration travels through Harry's fingers and up his arm, twined with magic that sinks into his bones and leaves him feeling oddly at peace.

He relaxes as the door speaks to them, feeling every word seep into his fingers, chanting back in time with the others, Malfoy's posh drawl sticking out on the vowels, and Ron and Hermione's familiar tones filling him with contentment.

'I have found The Hidden Door,
And I will keep its name.
If I keep the oath no more,
Let silence be my shame.

I will uphold the common law,
And protect the souls around me.
They are my people evermore,
I ask these words to bind me.'

There's a slight zing as the oath settles against his bones and the door clicks open under thirteen hands, warmth and light pouring through the widening gap.

There's a chorus of yelps as a few of the guys lose their balance, and squeaks as the girls get a head smush of accidental crotch. Harry manages to suffer both, the press of what must be Malfoy's cock getting him square on the ear as he turns his head to avoid driving his nose directly into Hannah's scull. For a long, poignant moment, he's pressed between the curiously large-feeling area of soft heat that is Malfoy's groin and the sweet-smelling silk of Hannah's hair. He grits his teeth and keeps his eyes resolutely on Ron's familiar and quite unsexy knees, even when Malfoy attempts an apology that really just comes across as a brag about the size of his dick. The small amount of satisfaction he gets from probably being right about the generous proportions of his nemesis is completely obliterated by the fact that it's his nemesis, and Harry would've been quite happy to find out that Malfoy's dick was pathetically tiny, limp and unsatisfying. He doesn't really know what to do with the little tingle of curiosity mixed up in the inevitable jealousy. He's not poorly equipped himself, but the cock he's seen the most, albeit accidentally, is Ron's and, well, the guy's six-three and not disproportioned. It's left him with something of a complex. He's glad he never caught sight of Dean's in the six years they shared a room, since he's pretty sure it was him that was Ginny's first and there are some widely accepted stereotypes about black men that don't fill him with confidence. Even if they’re likely all bullshit. Actually, when it comes to matters of the trousers, probably the only thing more stressful than being a white guy with a completely normal sized penis is being a black guy with a completely normal sized penis. Obviously a normal sized penis was good, but the ridiculous societal expectations must suck. Maybe this is how girls feel about their weight all the time. Harry resolves to tell society to fuck off more often.

Once he's released from the boy-boy-girl sandwich, and Ron gives him a hand up off the floor, he finally gets a look at the room beyond. It's stone, of course, with tapestries, and an abundance of purple. As he steps inside the incredible size of it becomes apparent, as well as the fact that it's almost perfectly round despite being off a decidedly rectilinear corridor. There's a staircase directly to his left, wending its way around the wall, leading up to what Harry assumes might be the dorms. A sideboard bearing assorted, copious, tea-making paraphernalia is curved snug against the stone wall at his right. Beyond it pair of double doors are set into the wall, dark wood and carved with stars. The rest of the room, carpeted in thick, soft grey pile, is filled with squashy looking couches and sets of round tables with slender armchairs, perfect for long-haul study sessions. Everything that can be, is purple.

'Oh, look at the ceiling!' one of the girls gasps, and Harry tilts his head to see a map of the night sky, twinkling as accurately as a ceiling can. He wonders how many of them are taking Astronomy, if any. He then wonders how their classes are going to be arranged - will they be in with the seventh years or on their own? He expects it’s the same material either way, but wonders if this segregation from their houses is about keeping them away from the younger students or merely lack of space in the house dorms. Everyone here is Half-blood or Muggle-born, except for Ron, Neville and Malfoy, and all of them have probably missed a decent amount of school in the past year or so. Even if they had been here, there's little chance that homework was the main priority, when survival was an issue in itself. They're a messed up bunch. It's not going to be an easy year for any of them, and maybe that's why McGonagall has cloistered them here, out of consideration for their mental wellbeing. But if that was the case, she probably could've toned down the purple a bit.

'There are thirty seven different types of tea,' Ron exclaims from the sideboard. 'And look, biscuits!' The rest of his words are unintelligible and involve shooting crumbs everywhere. Harry doesn't know how he could still be eating after that feast. He feels heavy and lethargic himself, weighed down by far too much pie.

Beside him, Lisa pushes open the double doors, and far from being the games cupboard Harry had been expecting, it reveals a short corridor, with evenly spaced doors, and at the end, a white-tiled bathroom, sinks shining proudly in the lamplight. 'They're bedrooms,' she breathes. 'Individual bedrooms.' Her eyes hold unspeakable mischief as she looks back over her shoulder, and Harry feels... a strange mishmash of loneliness and hope. He liked sharing a room with Ron, liked never feeling alone, liked knowing there were four other souls there when he woke from a nightmare, all peacefully asleep in their beds. Steady. Normal. But he also has a mission this year, and it was one best resolved in private. And curtains didn't always offer enough of that, not when the mission involved gay sex and rebounding hard from someone's little sister. 'Neville, Justin, Ron and Harry, you're down here,’ Lisa calls. ‘Which means...' she turned back to the staircase, just as Seamus put his foot on the bottom step.

'Upstairs,' he says with relish and leads the way, running by the time he's halfway up.

Harry doesn't know whether to follow or just go to his own room, and finds the decision is made for him by his neighbours all remaining in the common room as well.

'Our own bedrooms,' Neville says with wonder as they approach the double doors. 'Imagine what we can do...'

'I wonder if we're allowed girls in there?' Ron mumbles through another biscuit and Harry is blinded by a vision of having to hear his two best mates shagging through a wall all year.

'We are of age,' Justin points out. 'I don't know how they could stop us.'

'Same way they stopped us getting into the girls' dorm in Gryffindor?' Ron guesses. 'The stairs turned into a slide as soon as a bloke touched them. Completely unfair.'

'We didn't have anything like that,' Justin admits. 'Though I never tried it so maybe I'm wrong.'

'I thought you and Hannah dated?' Neville puts in as they passed into the stone corridor. Harry noticed an odd lilt to his voice, an overdone sort of casualness that belied an underlying motive. He looked over to see Neville carefully not looking at anyone, and as such, missing his name, engraved in a wooden plate on the first door on the left.

'Neville,' Harry says, and stops, pointing to the nameplate. All eyes follow and Ron is quick to point out Justin's room opposite, before loping off to see which of the two remaining is his own. Harry discovers his is the far right one, sharing a wall with Neville and a wall with the communal bathroom. His window overlooks the inner courtyard, currently dark and empty but for the glow of hundreds of other windows facing in on each other. He wonders who else is out there.

Ron comes up behind him - he can tell by the cadence of his footfalls - and looks out the window over his shoulder.

'It's weird. You never saw any of this from Gryffindor Tower,' he says. 'Looks like the city at night.'

'It does.'

'S'pose it's all just what direction you're looking in, isn't it?' Ron shifts beside him. 'Mine looks out over the water. It's like there's nothing out there at all past the ramparts. Black as pitch. Bit scary, really.'

'We can swap if you like?'

'Maybe,' Ron says, and it’s a testament to how much he trusts Harry that he'd even consider it. And to how easy it's become to admit weakness amongst them all, when they're all suffering alongside. Harry doesn't mind the dark, never has. He grew up in a cupboard after all. No windows there. Ron grew up surrounded by people and noise and love. The inner courtyard would probably suit him better, but Harry doesn't push.

'Justin's put the kettle on,' Neville says from the door. 'D'ya want a cuppa?'

'Yeah,' Ron turns away from the window. 'Sounds good.'

'Harry?'

'Sure,' he pushes away from the stone window frame and looks around his room. It isn't too bad. Rectangular, with his four poster (purple curtains) in the corner by the door, bigger than his one in Gryffindor had been. Either side of the window is a wardrobe and a desk. It's interesting. He no longer has to keep all his clothes in a trunk and with a desk in his room he could stay in here to do all his homework. Be a hermit. The bathroom is right next door, with an attentive house elf to deliver food he could exist an entire weekend within an area of a single floor of the Knight Bus, avoiding everyone. But he shouldn't. 'Tea sounds good. Let's see what those couches are like.'

He follows Ron out the door and down the short corridor to the common room. It's a nice size, big enough that they won't be all over each other but small enough that it still seems almost intimate. Like a clubhouse. He'd be a lot more comfortable with the whole thing if bloody Malfoy wasn't here, though. What a way to ruin a perfectly decent group of people. He knows he isn't evil, but he's obviously still a twat, and Harry doesn't know if he has the energy to deal with that.

But hey, this was his year for letting go. Maybe being a twat won't matter.

Chapter Text

The next morning at breakfast, timetables arrive. Harry and Ron, in the infinite wisdom of fifth years, still take all the same subjects, and due to the small numbers in eighth, all their classes are the same even though the houses at their level are all but a distant, comforting memory. Hermione, it turns out, has a few classes that are in with the regular seventh years, which she seems to share with the Ravenclaws, to no-one's surprise. Harry and Ron are both solely in with eighth years only. Harry is especially pleased about this since it means not having randoms staring at him anew. All the other eighths know him well enough, or are at least used to his presence to the point where he can go almost unnoticed. Small mercies. He didn't sleep well last night in the new room, and he's tired. Tea is barely cutting it, and wonders if he can get a coffee from somewhere, a proper one. He doesn't expect Hogwarts has an espresso machine, but maybe someone knows how to transfigure one from a strong tea or something. He should ask a house elf. Or go into Hogsmeade. Madame Puddifoot's is deplorable and full of hideously awkward memories but the coffee is real and his fatigue is too.

He looks at his watch as Ron yawns behind his own mug and thinks the company might be nice, but maybe tomorrow, they don't have time anymore.

'Want to go get a coffee in Hogsmeade tomorrow morning?' he says quietly, not wanting to accidentally invite anyone else.

Ron grins wide at the realisation they can do that now. 'Yeah, definitely,' he turns to his girlfriend, and turns back before he says anything to catch Harry's eye and incline his head toward her in silent question. Harry appreciates the thought, he really does, but this is Hermione, and the invitation is implied. He nods, and Ron grins, and it's decided with a whispered promise in her ear and a look of absolute agreement in her eyes.

Harry is glad they can still have times like this, even in a bigger group of friends like they are now, even now Ron and Hermione are a couple, times where they are still just the three of them, bound together infinitely. Where no one else is invited, or needed. Where he doesn't need to think about anything.

He made the right choice, he decides as he butters another piece of toast, to come back and leave Ginny at home. Dealing with school again as well as her would've driven him mad. Besides, the eighth year rooms are, it turns out, un-usable by anyone but them, and he would've been forced to leave the comfort of that sanctuary to see her, which he knows he wouldn't have been able to make himself do enough to please her. If he had a choice, he'd take breakfast up there too. Preferably in bed. Cuppa tea, a few bits of toast and a quick wank, a shower and then he'd be fortified for classes.

As it was this morning, he woke up from his paltry amount of sleep without time for one after the other, and had to wank in the shower, which is fine in some ways, but creepy in others, because it's so rare to be the only occupant of a shared bathroom, and wanking only inches away from another guy is disconcerting. Even if it'd been a mate, they like to chat and Harry's voice is never steady enough to answer in the midst of a good fantasy scene. He'd risked a quick one this morning, but it'd been dicey and he'd rushed it. You'd think being into guys and having them talking over you in the midst of touching yourself would be a good thing, but short of Michael, he'd rather they'd just shut up. He'd certainly not cared to hear about Dean's curiosity with Luna, and Seamus' ribald suggestions of what to do about it while he was trying to get off. He's glad Luna can't get into their rooms - he doesn't want to think about his friend like that, and he's happy to keep it out of sight, out of mind. Thinking about Michael on his knees in the shower had been easy though, Michael isn’t his friend. Though thinking about it again at breakfast isn't a good idea. Harry focuses on his toast.

 

***

 

Herbology is first that morning, and it's a blissfully small class. Just him, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Hannah and Justin. Sprout is cheerful and seems genuinely pleased to see them. She goes over the curriculum and puts them in pairs for their assignment, which sound arduous and oddly academic for what’s essentially glorified gardening. At least he’s paired with Ron. She proudly shows them round the new greenhouse where they've been told to meet her, then takes them out to the much older, more dilapidated greenhouse they'll actually be working in. It's small, and Harry is infinitely glad there's only six of them plus her; it's close quarters. He'd always assumed this one was just for seedlings or storage - only half of it is even glass, the rest is stone so old it looks like it could be part of the original castle.

She doesn't let them in straight away so they stand in the long grass holding their bags while she explains what's in there. Their project for the year, it turns out, and it's a touch poisonous. Sort of. Apparently it has, or they have, medicinal properties as well, depending on how you use it, or what state of its life cycle it's in and other such arbitrary facts. Harry recalls nothing of the sort from sixth year, which is feeling like a really long time ago now, far too long ago for him to remember any of it, which seems a bit risky. Hermione and Neville look excited though, and Justin seems calm enough. Hannah seems a bit nervous, but from what he can tell that's normal for her. He looks at Ron, trying to gauge exactly how fucked he is, and just sees rapture. Of course, like Charlie, Ron may have developed an underlying affection for that which might get him killed. He's friends with Harry, after all. The thought of Charlie is slightly off-putting, and he refocuses on Sprout as she explains that since they're a whole extra class on top of her normal load, they'll only have her once a week, and that their double on Fridays will be self-directed. Hermione has something to say about this, of course, but Sprout assures her that Neville will be co-ordinating them and she'll spend the Monday morning covering anything they need to know that they aren't meant to research or figure out on their own til even Hermione is appeased. Harry is still slightly petrified, and pretty sure that's one of the symptoms of being poisoned by one of the various death-bringers inside the little greenhouse.

Once they've been charmed impervious and donned gloves and aprons and Harry's beginning to wonder where the protective goggles are, Sprout ushers them inside and introduces them to their charges, as it were. They're responsible not only for making all this bizarre shit useful, but also keeping it alive, which means not just being in here on Mondays and Fridays but every other day too. He hopes they can take turns, or he can sneakily pay Neville to do it all. His money has to come in useful for something or he worries it'll just be an excuse to do nothing after school. He's pretty sure he wants to be an Auror. But. Yeah. He kinda likes being alive and is getting sort of attached to the idea of having a future. Which he won't if he turns out to be a shit Auror or shit at Herbology. Maybe, if the contents of the greenhouse have anything to do with it, his first year at Hogwarts without Voldemort will be the one he actually dies.

There's a Venomous Tentacula, of course. Because now there's no war, he should definitely be exposed to various other ways to die. And the little greenhouse is full of them, it's a veritable shop of horrors. Self-fertilising shrubs that eat only flesh; a spiky monstrosity that shoots prickles at them that Sprout affectionately refers to as Gerald; angels trumpet; henbane; hellebore; starthistle; both boom berry and bane berry and wouldn't you know it, a fucking fanged geranium about twenty times the size of the one that bit him three years ago. If he looks closely he can still imagine he sees a tiny pair of scars there on his hand from its little needle teeth. It's probably even the same one, the famous fanged geranium that bit Harry Potter and has a taste for his blood. Brilliant.

Ron, at least, is starting to look a little less excited. In fact, Harry thinks he looks a little green. Woozy... He closes the gap between them just as Ron's knees give out and he has to grab him around the middle to keep him from falling into a bucket full of pointy-looking trowels.

'Ron!' Hermione squeaks, and Harry hears the barely controlled panic in her voice. He knows that feeling, wonders if it will ever go away, that gut-dropping moment when you think your friend is dead in front of you. 'What happened?' she demands, fixing him with a needy stare.

'He looked woozy,' Harry says and makes for the door, dragging Ron with him because there's no way he trusts the floor in this place. 'I think he just fainted.'

'Oh dear,' Sprout says, not sounding as concerned as Harry wants her to. To their collective credit, everyone else looks suitably alarmed.  'That happens sometimes.' She follows him out the door and onto the grass, where, with Justin's help, he lowers Ron to the ground. 'It's a bit scary for some, all the slightly less friendly plants.'

'It wasn't that,' Harry says firmly. 'He wasn't afraid.' Seconds pass in which he and Sprout eye each other. 'Ron's had to do things far more frightening than meet some dangerous foliage,' he reminds her in a quieter voice.

She gives him a sympathetic look, interrupted by Hermione, who steps right into the middle of the exchange, physically demanding attention.

'I just tried to Enervate him, and he isn't waking,' she says, strained. Harry takes her hand, and she turns to Sprout. 'Something in there is an airborne soporific, isn't it?'

'I suppose the Devil's Snare might be starting to blossom,' the professor looks thoughtful. 'The pollen can act as a tranquiliser on some people, if they're susceptible.'

'There's a Devil's Snare in there?' Harry didn't see one, and that might be what scares him the most about it.

'How do we wake him up?' Hermione demands, and her irritation at not knowing already is visible to everyone.

'Don't panic, Miss Granger,' Sprout soothes. 'Pepper-Up will do the trick, take him up to the infirmary and Poppy will sort him out.'

Harry notes the use of Madam Pomfrey's first name, and wonders if it's because they're all of age and considered equals or if Sprout has taken up binge drinking before breakfast, which would go far at explaining what the fuck kind of assignment this is going to be if it can accidentally make them pass out in a building full of certain death and land in a bucky of tiny rusty spades.

Fuck this shit.

 

***

 

Ron is officially out of their Herbology class by lunch time. The only other subject in that option line is History of Magic, which Ron doesn't have a hope in hell of passing, let alone staying awake in. That means a move into Care of Magical Creatures, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes or Muggle Studies, and it's a no-brainer, really. Creatures it is, with Neville, Seamus and Leanne, and a pile of catch-up reading to cover what was taught in sixth year.

'It's not that big a deal, Ron,' Harry tells him. 'I'm going to have to re-read all my textbooks anyway, at least you're with Hagrid and not in The Little Greenhouse of Horrors.'

'Yeah, but it's not the same, mate.'

'Of course not, you have less chance of dying this year than I do,' he smiles. 'In which case, I guess it is kind of the same as usual.'

'Harry,' Ron gives him a look. 'It's Hagrid. '

They share a look and crack up laughing, earning a handful of perplexed looks from the rest of the table, and a scowl from Malfoy, the git. At least Harry hasn't had to sit by him for a meal yet, he probably smells like posh cheese and hair potions. Though at least he probably doesn't smell like one of Hagrid's carrion-eating Thestrals.

 

***

 

Later that night is their first meeting with McGonagall to sort out how Harry's obligations to the Wizengamot are going to work, and what the finer points of Malfoy's restrictions are. Harry has to sit next to him then, and he does indeed smell like hair potions, fancy ones, that have hints of something musky and expensive and the surprisingly common scent of lemon. Every time the posh twat flicks his fringe Harry gets a waft of it, and it's constant since the fringe flicking appears to be a nervous habit and Malfoy is clearly on edge. Who can blame him - there's no way Harry would enjoy talking out his parole restrictions with a former nemesis either. McGonagall is very business-like about the whole thing and they make it through the whole half hour without a mention of forgiveness or inter-house co-operation, or fucking unity. She dismisses them separately, Harry gets to leave first, and he's thankful that he doesn't have to deal with the awkwardness of walking back to The Hidden Tower with a tetchy Malfoy. He's tired enough after the first day of classes that his patience is low and he'd have only been a dick to him anyway.

This assumption is tested the next day, when Harry, still tired after a restless night, finds out the two of them have the double period between lunch and afternoon tea free on a Tuesday, and he's too deeply installed on the couch under all his sixth year textbooks to even think about relocating. He'd spread himself out a bit in his first free of the day, right after Charms and before lunch. Typical that his brilliant day with three free periods had to be ruined with two free periods of Malfoy sighing primly over by the window as he worked on something of his own. Mostly he keeps to himself though, only ever speaking to Harry to offer him a cup of tea, which is surprising but probably just him making a point about how much more polite and civilised he is in comparison. McGonagall had said for them to try and move beyond merely staying out of each other's way, and build some sort of collegial relationship, so Harry almost says yes to the offer. He finds he can't suppress the worry of being poisoned, though, and instead watches Malfoy come and sit by the fire, his long, pale fingers wrapped around a purple mug. He lasts for a whole minute before he has to get up and make himself a cup. Malfoy gives him a weird look, and Harry doesn't think offending him is good for their collegiality, so he feels the need to say something.

'I got tea envy.'

Malfoy smirks and looks into the flames. 'Harry Potter envies former Death Eater, world turns upside down'.'

'That'd be a better article than most,' Harry admits. Of everyone he knows, Malfoy is the one he envies the least, mostly because he's a git, but also because he's the only one who's had it almost as bad lately as Harry has. Though at least his hair sits flat. 'Though probably still 99% lies.'

'And 1% tea envy?'

'And your hair sits flat,' Harry runs his fingers through the black mop he's lived his whole life with. 'Mine... Doesn't.'

'Potter, you do realise it was one of your ancestors who invented Sleekeezy's hair potion - it's literally formulated to combat your horrible genetics.'

'Huh,' Harry hadn't known that. To be honest, he also doesn't quite believe it.

'Fleamont Potter, made a fortune. Didn't you ever wonder how your family made their money?'

'No,' Harry had assumed all the old pureblood families were well off. Except for the Weasleys, of course. It hadn't seemed weird to him that there was money. Probably, as an eleven year old, he had assumed everyone had money except him, until he also had money, and then he stopped thinking about it.

'Your appalling lack of curiosity doesn't even surprise me.'

'Yeah, well. Let's just say I had curiosity beaten out of me at a young age.' And all manner of other things. Like joy.

He expects Malfoy to say something shitty, but he just keeps looking at the fire, and his mouth twists into an odd sort of grin, almost sympathetic. Lucius is a seething asshole, and likely no more a delight to live with than the Dursleys, so maybe it really is sympathy. He's certainly never been kind to his son in Harry's presence, which always struck him as odd. Why belittle Draco in front of his nemesis? Why not build him up? It's as if Lucius wanted to shame him for not being better. Harry didn't think that was a particularly inspiring way to parent, and that was coming from him, the boy who slept in a cupboard.

They sip their tea in silence, Malfoy staring into the fire, and Harry pondering which was worse - no parents or parents who were evil and got you in a whole heap of trouble with both sides of a war. Narcissa had turned out to be sort of okay, and from what Andromeda had told him over summer, sitting out in the garden with Teddy at the Burrow, she had been a sweet child and a loving sister. The Blacks were the worst kind of purebloods though, and while Andromeda had somehow stayed true to herself, Narcissa had been corrupted and swayed and coerced into choosing a husband that would give her social status and power instead of love and companionship. Harry couldn't help but see parallels between those two and his mother and aunt. One pure of heart, one coldly driven by a need for material gains. The pondering reminded him that Malfoy was, of course, related to Andromeda, and thus Teddy. In a way also to Remus which was a weird thought. And, well, also to Harry, in a very tenuous sort of way. Or two tenuous ways. He'd be related to Sirius, who was Harry's godfather, and to Teddy, who was Harry's godson. Did Malfoy know that?

'Have you met Teddy?' he asks, and realises that if he isn't aware of him having even been born, Harry's going to sound like a lunatic. It sounds like he's talking about a stuffed animal.

Malfoy turns his head to look at him and Harry notices for the first time how tired he looks. The low angle of the firelight and the relative darkness of this cozy corner of the common room shows the heavy circles under his eyes and makes his features sharper. He looks malnourished still, and exhausted. Probably the same way Harry looks, and Hermione, and Ron, and Dean, and Luna. And so many of them.

'No,' Malfoy says. 'Is that my cousin?' He fixes Harry with a quiet stare, and he looks... sad. Almost like he feels ashamed he doesn't know his own blood, even though that can't be his fault.

'Yeah,' Harry says. 'Do you want to see a photo?'

Malfoy's mouth quirks into a smile that looks almost involuntary, but he nods, and wouldn't it be weird, Harry thinks, if he was actually good with children, and just really shit with people his own age. He'd get that, kind of. Teddy has taught him a lot about himself over the last few months. One, that he's capable of loving something tiny that vomits on him fairly indiscriminately. Two, that babies only judge you on how fun you are to play with and how comfortable you are to sleep on, never on your past, and he likes that. And three, cuddles fix almost everything, even more so than tea.

He rummages in his bag and pulls out the book he's been reading, flipping it open where the page has been marked with a picture. It's him, holding Teddy under a tree at the Burrow. It was hot that day and they're both dressed for the weather. Harry is just in shorts, dripping wet from swimming in the pond and Teddy is only in his nappy, shy in front of the camera, alternately waving his chubby hands and burying his face in Harry's chest. There are multiple Weasleys lounging in the background, enjoying an afternoon of relative happiness. At this stage he'd thought there was still hope for him and Ginny, and he thinks it shows on his face, in the way he looks at the baby, as if this Harry is thinking about children of his own.

He stretches across the space between them and hands the photo over. He imagines Malfoy tossing it in the fire for a second, but remembers that wouldn't be polite, and so it probably won't happen. He can always get another copy off Andromeda anyway. He wonders if he should let Malfoy keep the picture, but then realises it's also a picture of himself half naked and wet and wonders if he should've even shown it at all.

The door creaks open then, and Hannah and Justin walk in, each carrying a stack of library books. They drop them on the nearest table and come over to where Harry is sitting on the couch.

'Hi,' Hannah says, plopping down next to him before she even realises Malfoy is there, such is the size of the armchair he's in, and the fact it has its back to the door. 'Oh, hello, Draco,' she says, surprised but polite. 'We brought scones up, do you two want one?' she carefully extracts a bulging napkin from her bag, sparkling with a stasis charm but still smelling utterly delicious. Harry had been too wound up in his reading to be bothered going downstairs for morning tea, which he supposes must be over now if people are coming back. It occurs to him that Malfoy has skipped it as well, and hopes it's not because he's being given a hard time. That's one of the things McGonagall brought up last night, and now Harry is aware how important it is he truly does keep an eye on him.

'Yes please,' Harry looks around for somewhere to put his book, he's still holding it open on the page and doesn't want to lose his place - it's a mystery and accidentally skipping forward trying to find the page might ruin it.

'Here,' Malfoy says, and goes to hand him back the photo, just as Justin comes up behind him. He takes hold of Malfoy's wrist and whips the picture out of his hand.

Whatever Justin had been expecting, it apparently wasn't an image of Harry holding a baby, because his expression goes blank before he smiles. 'Looking good, Potter,' he says, 'Though I'd have thought your kids would come out ginger.'

'It's my godson, you twat,' Harry retorts and holds his hand out for the photo. He doesn't like the way Justin's being, and clearly Malfoy agreed if his look of disgust had been anything to go by. He looks more thoughtful now, though, and Harry clicks he hadn't mentioned that he was Teddy's godfather until now. 'Give it back.'

'Oh, can I see?' Hannah breathes, and literally bounces in her seat. Harry reminds himself it's probably about the baby and not cos she's a perve. Plus, he's got a suspicion Neville fancies her so he should give her some credit. Clearly Neville has.

Justin hands her the picture and she practically coos at it. 'Oh, he's adorable, what's his name?'

'Teddy,' Harry says, taking a scone. 'Remember Professor Lupin? It's his son.'

'Oh,' she says and her face falls a little. 'That was so sad that he died. He was the best Defense teacher we ever had,' she looks wistfully at the photo as Teddy waves at her. 'Though you were very good, too,' she adds, and smiles at Harry as she hands the photo back. He hides his blush as best he can, slotting the picture back into place and closing the book, burying it back in his bag.

'Who said you could have a scone?' Justin says, his voice calm but laced with malice.

'Your girlfriend,' Malfoy drawls, and takes a bite, his eyes fixed on Justin's.

Harry's about to wonder if that's true, his heart sinking for Neville - and Hannah, now that Justin's acting like a dick - but she laughs sweetly and takes a scone for herself.

'We aren't together,' she says, like she's had to explain it before, and by the slight twitch in Justin's jaw, it's not a decision he agrees with. 'We went on, what was it?' she turns her innocent smile to the other armchair where Justin's put himself opposite Malfoy. 'Two dates? It was so awkward, I don't know what we were thinking. You should never try and date your friends.'

Harry looks at her, simultaneously trying to gauge how serious that statement is and whether she considers Neville a friend.

'Oh, sorry, Harry,' she says suddenly. 'I didn't mean anything by it, I'm sure you and Ginny will be fine, and Ron and Hermione,' she buries her head in her hand, the one that isn’t full of scone, 'I'm such a dork, I'm so sorry.'

As much as Harry appreciates her caring, she's not wrong. The thought of dating Hermione himself, or Luna, or Ron for than matter, really is terribly awkward. 'Don't feel bad. Ron and Hermione have been practically an old married couple since we were eleven, it just took them a really long time to figure it out. And Ginny and I broke up last week, so...' he shrugged. 'You're not wrong,' he takes a bite of scone because everyone is staring at him now, and he wants to ignore them. 'Actually, I wish you'd been there a year and a half ago when I decided dating my best mate's little sister was a good idea. A woman I would have to live with eleven months of every year, two of which were under the watchful eye of her parents, and the rest in the gossip mill that is Gryffindor Tower.'

'Well, when you put it like that,' she says, 'I'm still sorry but for a different reason.'

'You brought scones, I'll forgive you.'

He takes another bite and risks a glance up. Justin is glaring at Malfoy, but Malfoy is still looking at Harry, and he isn't glaring.

Chapter Text

Harry has another double free on Wednesday, and spends it the same way as Tuesday's one, reading old textbooks and wondering how the fuck he's going to cope. Malfoy isn't there this time, and Hermione and the Ravenclaws are missing too, so Harry assumes this is when they have Arithmancy and Runes. Ron is on the other end of Harry's couch in front of the fire, cradling Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them against his chest while he snores softly. Seamus and Dean are sat in the booth by the window, star charts covering the table as they try and get the first batch of Astronomy homework done before they have class again tonight. It's otherwise quiet, and Harry is tempted to have a quick nap himself, but perseveres, drinking too much tea and, again, wishing for a triple shot flat white instead.

He'd got some interesting news at dinner last night, and even after agreeing to the whole thing, Defense Against the Dark Arts this morning was awkward and strained. The new professor is an Auror like Moody had been (if the real Moody had ever actually taught them and not just languished in the bottom of a trunk for the better part of a year) and also has a noticeable limp. Professor Southern is probably not polyjuiced, though, and definitely younger and better looking than Moody. He was injured in the field and refuses to tell them how, which Harry, personally, finds reasonable. He's got more scars now than he has Weasley jumpers, and he doesn't like talking about them either.

Southern had explained to them how the idea of a year of desk work while he recovered had seemed worse than death and how he had jumped on the opportunity to teach instead. He'd had a hand in training recruits over the last few years so he would be competent, though Hermione suspected a little lax on the theory. They'd spent their first lesson going over the curriculum, what their exams would look like, and then with very little preamble, he had informed the class that Harry would be teaching them in Thursday's double. Indefinitely. It was very similar to the situation Professor Sprout was in, and what she'd arranged with Neville, except that Harry had no time to decide, about 13 hours to get used to the idea, and no working relationship to speak of with the new professor.

He'd agreed to it, of course, when Southern had pinned him down after dessert, and assured him it wouldn't be much different from the DA (and how he'd heard about that, Harry didn't know). And then he'd gone on to say how, really, it was just coordinating practice drills. And that Neville was doing it for Herbology. And that if he said no, the class would just have to do more theory. And that he'd be able to give Harry a glowing recommendation toward whatever career he went after. And then he'd smiled this distractingly roguish sort of smile that made Harry's insides squirm and it had all seemed so easy, then. He'd actually been flattered.

Of course, the reaction of the class had been supportive, mostly. Justin had sighed like a complete tosser, lowering Harry's opinion even more, and Leanne had looked a little dubious, but neither of them had said anything. Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus had been good about it, clapping him on the back and badgering him for not telling them sooner.

But as Southern went over the year's work, Harry felt more and more like he'd taken on too much. Some of the spells he'd never even heard of, and others he knew well weren't even on there. The Patronus Charm, which most of them had learned well ahead of the curriculum and could perform easily, was apparently relegated to Charms, despite its defensive nature.

He was going to have to stay ahead of the class to be of any use to them at all, and Hermione wasn't even going to be here to help him. For once in her life, she was only taking the recommended amount of subjects and had decided to drop DADA now that the war was over. It made perfect sense and he'd been happy for her. Last week, when it hadn't affected him.

He sighed and put his Potions book aside, grabbed his cup and got up to make more tea.

'Hey, Dean. Seamus. Tea?'

The two of them looked up from their homework and practically leapt out of their seats, both clearly keen for a distraction of any kind. They hovered around the kettle with Harry, lamenting the difficulty of picking up in classes where they'd left off so many months ago. Even though Seamus had technically been at Hogwarts last year, he hadn't been in class the whole time, what with being Half-blood and stubborn as all hell, eventually having to hide in the Room of Requirement once the shit with the Carrows really kicked off. And Dean had been on the run since long before that happened.

'It's bloody weird bein’ back,' Seamus says, uncharacteristically sober. 'I keep tensing up just comin’ round a corner, you know? You get so used to creeping around a place it's hard to stop.'

'I'm a bit glad I wasn't here much last year,' Dean says, and Harry can't tell if he means it or if he just wants to. 'I still feel safe here, I guess, and it's a damn sight easier to get by when you have a proper bed and three meals a day and stuff.'

'And enough tea bags,' Harry says, giving them a wry grin as he pours the water in their purple mugs. 'We started to run out after a few months and Hermione made us use them twice. And there was never any fucking milk.'

Seamus and Dean are looking at him with curious eyes, and he remembers that they don't really know what went on last year for him. Dean knows a bit of it, but Seamus wasn't around til the end, the final battle, and there was never a time to sit down and tell the story to his friends. He thinks it’s a bit odd, to live with people for six years, to know the sound of their breathing but not to know this, the machinations of the downfall of Voldemort and the part they’d all played in it. It's so huge. 'I'm sorry we haven't told you about it, what happened,' he starts, and their stunned looks turn to something else. 'There hasn't really been time.'

'You don' have to, mate,' Seamus says, and claps him gently on the arm.

'The less we know, the less nightmares we can have about it,' Dean says and Harry wonders, again, if he's serious. He wouldn't be the only one having nightmares.

'We might actually...' Harry hesitates, sighing, knowing it'll be hypocritical to say this, considering he'd so studiously avoided his own Mind Healer. 'It might be good for us to talk about it. All of us. Living in a tent in the middle of fucking frozen nowhere was shit, but it doesn't sound like it was much better here,' he shoots Seamus a brief sympathetic look.

'I’d try anything to be able to sleep properly again,' Dean says, and his tone this time is so grim Harry can't doubt him. He nods and fishes out the tea bags, dropping them into the bin and adds milk for all of them, renewing the chilling charm on the jug, just in case. He looks over at Ron but he's still fast asleep and he won't want to be woken for anything but food.

'Seems I'm not the only one losing sleep,' Dean says, nodding over at the couch as they settle on one of the round tables in the middle of the room with a plate of biscuits.

The house elves have been pulling out all the stops, today's are cinnamon and currant and Harry takes two, wishing he'd kept a scone from morning tea as well. Reading is making him hungry.

'I told you,' Seamus says fondly, 'I'm more than happy to knock you out if you can' get to sleep.'

'I get to sleep fine, I'm tired as hell,' Dean moans into his cup. 'I just wake up a lot through the night. Little noises, you know.'

Harry would trade his nightmares for over-sensitive hearing any day. Ear plugs are a thing. But other than Dreamless Sleep, nothing seems to help him fight off the raging chaos of his subconscious. Maybe he should get a stuffed animal, they seem to work for Teddy. He wonders how big it would have to be to have any effect.

'How about you, Harry, how're you sleeping?' Seamus asks.

'I don't know. It's been a long time since I had a normal sleep to compare it to,' he admits. 'We were on four hour rotations keeping watch in the forest, so my sleeping patterns were fucked by the time we came back. And the dreams never stopped, really.' He doesn't tell them what he dreams about, because he wishes the ideas weren't in his head at all, and saying them out loud might make them more potent. 'At least I know they aren't real now.'

'Doesn't really help at the time though, does it?' Dean slides his mug across and taps it against Harry's. 'Yay, nightmare buddies.'

The absurdity of it makes Harry laugh, sort of. It's more like an amused exhale, like a snort with no worldly energy behind it. 'We should start a club,' he says, imagining the uniform as a pair of sweat-damp pyjamas and a tear-streaked face.

'Sure,' Dean smiles. 'I'll meet you down here at 2am. I'll bring cake.'

'I'll put the kettle on,' Harry agrees and takes a sip of tea, a thousand times better than camping tea, and still not enough to chase away the darkness.

 

***

 

True to form, Harry wakes up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and wand somehow clutched in his hand. He remembers flashes of spells, the broad shine of a Protego, and... embarrassment. Fuck, he's dreaming about teaching and it hasn't even started yet. Harry groans into his pillow.

Part of him wants to laugh, really, because somehow his dreams have come to fluctuate between stammering in front of his students and his actual, genuine death. The comparison is  laughable. He untangles himself from the sheets, ordinary plain white, but the bedspread is purple, of course, and the curtains, and the valance, and the decorative cushions. He's... not pissed off as such, or confused, but somewhere in between... He finds it bizarre, incongruous, just plain weird, that there are decorative fucking cushions in his room. He lived in a sparse and smelly tent for almost a whole year, scrounging for food and tea bags and sleeping four hours at a time if he was lucky, and now here he is, living in safety and comparative luxury with a sideboard stocked with 37 different flavoured tea bags and fresh baked biscuits.

Biscuits. Yes.

Harry slips out of his bed, which is still a mess of linens and discarded socks, and reaches for his robe. It's one of Charlie's old ones, he thinks, and has the distinct air of being a Weasley thing, imbued with love and held together after all these years by thick brown thread and Molly's force of will alone. His slippers are not. They were a gift from Hermione, post camping holiday. She'd failed to pack his in her magic handbag and he'd persisted in stealing hers and hitting them with an Engorgio. He'd done it so often he can still do that spell wandless, though it almost never comes in handy anymore.

The hallway is dark but there's a glow of (surprise, purple) light coming from the common room. He steps through the double doors to find the hearth alive and Dean stretched out on the couch with a copy of Quidditch Today and a cup of tea.

'You took your time,' he says around a bite of shortbread. 'Kettle's still hot though.'

'I didn't think you'd actually be here,' Harry says. 'I just wanted a biscuit.' He plops himself down on the other end of the couch and snags a piece of shortbread for himself, waving his wand at the kettle to boil again.

'What delightful dream did you have tonight?' Dean asks.

'You mean this morning,' he points out automatically.

'Whatever. Hermione's rubbed off on you.'

'She better not have,' comes a voice from behind them. 'She's my girlfriend and she hasn't rubbed one off on me yet.'

'Ron,'  Harry cringes. 'Too much, thanks.'

'You shagged my sister, you deserve it.'

'Sorry,' Harry says. At the exact time Dean does.

Despite everything, Harry feels his stomach drop. He's always suspected, but having it confirmed, knowing it for sure, picturing it... He doesn't want to hate Dean, but right now part of him feels the need to hex the bastard til he cries. Imagining Ginny, tiny and pale, spread out under a guy he'd trusted til a second ago, does something to his insides. She'd been Harry's. To keep. Not that he wants her now, but that feels irrelevant. He wonders if Dean had been able to satisfy her - make her come, quivering in his arms, sated and sweaty and happy.

'I hate you both,' Ron groans. Harry agrees.

'Hell,' Dean says, his voice light, as if he hasn't just ruined Harry's entire sense of self-worth. 'I was kidding, don't hate me. '

Oh.

'Thanks, mate,' Ron rolls his eyes. 'But Harry isn't, so you can still both fuck off,' He pulls a purple mug out of the cabinet and looks over at them. 'Tea, Harry?'

Forgiven already. He nods enthusiastically, glad he doesn't have to get up again. For all of his difficulty sleeping, he's still very keen to curl up and give it another go. He had far less nightmares when he was sharing a room with Ron, the nearness of his best mate keeping away the worst of the gloom. The joy of having his own space is tempered slightly by his realisation that it might end up contributing to an upward trend as far as nightmares go. He'd beg a space in Ron’s room again if not for the inevitable presence of Hermione, and the fact that Ron is here in the common room as well. He wonders if he’s dreaming too, and if Hermione is there with him but not enough, or if she's still upstairs in her own room, battling her demons alone. He should tell her they're here if she needs them.

Ron arrives with tea and settles himself in a chair by the fire, the right hand one facing the main door, leaving the one Malfoy sat in yesterday empty and cloaked in shadow. Does Malfoy dream as well? Harry wonders. Is there any chance you wouldn't after spending a year living with an evil dick like Voldemort? After being tortured into torturing others? Seeing what he'd seen? Harry knew there was probably more to it as well, things he hadn’t been there for in body, and things he never saw through Voldemort's eyes. Things that didn't even come up in the trial. He wonders what it would be like living in your own home, safe and sound and loved, with everything you could ever need at your fingertips, only to have it poisoned by another, someone your own parents couldn't even get rid of. Someone they couldn't protect you from. Harry couldn't help but recognise another parallel in their shitty, shitty lives, and was strangely glad that at least Malfoy still had his parents after Voldy came to stay.

It was odd, this lack of animosity. Maybe Harry just didn't have the energy to hate anyone anymore. Maybe the hate he'd always felt was actually the horcrux all that time, dirtying his soul and making him vicious and uncaring. Not letting him see the boy under the posturing and snappy tongue.

'Harry?'

He looks up to see Ron and Dean both staring at him, twin looks of concern.

'Sorry, what?'

'You were miles away.'

'I was just thinking about...' how much truth can he tell? 'Not hating people anymore. I don't think I can be bothered.'

'Shit, mate, you know I was kidding when I said I hated you, right? Ginny can make her own decisions and I didn't mean...'

'No, of course. I was thinking about Malfoy, I don't think I hate him anymore. Any of them, the Slytherins. Seems a little pointless now.'

'Look at us, so mature now in our old age,' Dean muses, sipping his tea. 'I was locked in his dungeon for what felt like a lifetime and I don't hate him either.'

'I still think he's a prick,' Ron says. 'But yeah, I don't really think he can help that, what with his dad being the king of pricks.'

'That sounds like a porn film,' Dean chuckles. 'King of Pricks.'

'A what?' Ron looks confused. 'Porn film?'

Harry felt a laugh bubble in his chest. Sometimes the depravity of Muggles struck him anew, and he wondered how to explain.

'It's a video of people having sex, that, er, other people watch for... fun.' He starts. Ron looks mildly horrified but still confused. Dean is giggling behind his hand. 'A video is like a photo but the, er, action is the same every time and the people in it don't know you're there.'

'So they just do the exact same thing every time you look at it?'

'Yeah.'

'And that thing is... ' Ron tips his head to the side suggestively.

'Sex. Yeah.'

'Muggles are weird.'

'Is there no equivalent in Wizarding society?' Dean asks.

'Well, sort of, I guess, but it's not so... creepy.' Ron shrugs a little and Harry gives him a look, hoping he seems mildly curious and not rampantly, intensely interested. He's missed porn. Not that he's seen a lot of it, but Dudley had been something of an expert and the computer in his room had been... a valuable resource, when they'd all gone away for the weekend and left Harry at home alone. He'd delighted in wanking in all the places they'd tried to keep him from - the good couch in the lounge, the master ensuite, the study. He'd come all over Petunia's bureau mirror once and simply wiped it off with a tissue, smirking to himself whenever he'd seen her wearing make-up for weeks after, knowing she'd put it on while peering through the residue of his revenge.

'You can owl order pictures of naked girls, who like, do stuff, if you ask nicely. They're pretty rare though, and often they don't understand English so you have to kind of...' Ron's ears are noticeably red, even in the dim light. 'Demonstrate what you want to see.'

'That sounds hideous,' Dean says, fascinated. 'But for some reason I still desperately want to see one.'

Harry can't help but agree. And wonder if there are ones of naked guys as well. And where he can get one. Maybe Charlie would know. Can you owl someone about how to get hold of magical porn, though? Is it even appropriate to ask that of someone you recently kissed a bit in an orchard under the strictest confidence and promised to never talk to about it? Did he make that promise to Charlie or just to himself? How is he ever going to find someone to get off with if he can't even talk about his burgeoning sexuality with the one person who already knows?

'Yeah, well,' Ron sips his tea. 'Can't help you there.'

They finish their tea in silence, curled up in their respective corners, lost in thought and dotted with biscuit crumbs. Eventually the sound of Ron's soft snores break the silence and Dean chuckles softly, summoning him a blanket from the shelves under the stairs and sweeping it over him.

'What happened with you and Ginny,' he asks Harry, then, seemingly out of nowhere. 'She didn't come back this year.'

'She's working at the twins' shop with George,' Harry sighs. Did he really want to talk to Dean about him and Ginny? Wasn't that weird? 'She's still... grieving,' he says, diplomatically. A mess, is what he wants to say, but he still has some loyalty left for her; it's not her fault he doesn't want what she's offering. Maybe if what she was offering was cock he'd feel differently.

'I'm not surprised, Fred was her favourite brother,' Dean says, his voice low and tinged with sadness. Harry's gut twinges at the fact Dean knows that about her, but at the same time...

'Her and I broke up,' he says, and it feels cathartic to tell an actual friend, not like telling Malfoy and the Hufflepuffs earlier. It’s like taking off a pair of too-tight socks and wiggling his toes. 'We want different things, and it seemed better to deal with it now than let it carry on and have us get...' he frowns, trying to find a word.

'Accustomed to the inadequacy of the relationship?' Dean posits.

'Yes,' Harry nods in understanding. 'Exactly that,' he turns his gaze to Dean's face and finds an understanding expression there. 'She wanted me to be something I'm not interested in being.'

Dean raises his cup in a silent cheers, then tips it upside down with a pout. 'Single and not even a cup of tea to keep me warm,' he sighs. 'She did the same thing to me. Though I always assumed she wanted me to be more like you.'

'Ironically, I think she also wanted me to be more like me.'

'Good to know that even Harry Potter doesn't live up to the legend of Harry Potter.'

'The legend is all lies. I can't dance, I'm not very tall, my dick is completely normal-sized and the only time I've even ridden a dragon I was so scared I almost pissed myself.'

'And the claims of your galloping abs?'

'I think the word is emaciated. We didn't have a lot to eat last year. You know what that's like.'

'So it's really just Quidditch and defensive spells and luck you're good at, then?'

'And friends,' Harry smiles. 'You guys helped.'

'And yet all the girls want you,'  Dean huffs.

'And I'm not even that straight,' Harry says, wanting to let it out somehow, to not have this be a festering dirty secret, and thinking Dean might be a good start. Dean's been through enough to not care, surely? 'It's half wasted on me.'

All Dean does is raise an eyebrow in question. Harry shrugs.

'Is that the different things you and Ginny wanted?'

'Wouldn't both of us wanting cock be technically the same thing?'

Dean laughs, and Harry feels immediately more comfortable.

'I suppose. You still like girls as well, though?'

'Yeah. Though I think it'll be a while before I go there again.'

'So you're in the market for a bloke then?'

Harry sighs. Was he in the market for anything? The thought of being trapped in another relationship and all the expectation and responsibility that came with it was exhausting to think about.

'No,' he says carefully. 'I wasn't in the right headspace for the relationship I already had, I don't want another one. I don't expect the issues Gin and I had were specific to Gin and I,' he looks up at Dean, making sure he hadn't triggered the protective instinct that had been such a factor in bringing down Gin's relationship with him.  'I think they're specific to me. Maybe I should just give up on relationships altogether.'

'I don't know many gay guys,' Dean says. 'But they don't seem particularly enthusiastic about monogamy at our age.'

'I don't think that's specific to gay guys,' Harry smirks.

'Touche,' Dean concedes before curling further into the couch, resting his head against the back. 'Though I'd probably be okay with a boringly domestic relationship now if it meant ... I dunno. Some sort of physical comfort.'

'Something you can't do yourself?' Harry suggests, his eyebrow raised.

'I meant cuddles, you filthy bastard. Just someone to put their arms around me and tell me all the shit parts are over.'

Harry understands, he really does, and if that had been all Gin had wanted for a time, he reckoned they probably would've been fine. The snuggling was always good, she had fit perfectly against him, small and soft and warm and her hair never got in his face when he held her like Hermione's did all those nights in The Tent. But just because he understands, doesn't mean he has no sense of humour. He puts his empty cup down on the table, fixes his eyes on Dean and holds his arms out for a cuddle.

'All the shit parts are over,' he says. 'Except N.E.W.T.s.'

Dean laughs so loud Ron wakes up for almost a whole second. And then Dean launches himself to Harry's end of the couch, at Harry, and into his open arms, his weight an actual thing against Harry's chest and shoulders, a tangle of long legs and knees and elbows clad only in pyjamas, and the heat of his laughter falling on Harry's exposed neck, and he's pinned between the arm of the couch and Dean. Tall, handsome, presumably straight and his own ex-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, and... well, it doesn't suck.

Until the arms around his shoulders loosen and Dean sits back on his knees, still smiling wide, his perfect teeth bright against his dark skin in the firelight, but his eyes aren't on Harry anymore, they're fixed on something over his shoulder, and so Harry turns and sees Draco Malfoy standing on the bottom step with an odd expression on his face and a plain white cup in his hand, looking at them, and Harry realises that this looks probably quite debaucherous and not as banterous and innocent as it actually is.

'Come on, Malfoy, you never seen two blokes having a hug?' Dean says, his smile still in place as he gets up off the couch and grabs both their empty mugs.

'Just wondering how much you had to pay him for the honour, Thomas,' Malfoy says as he finally moves off the step and across to the kettle.

'I'll have you know, I gave neither warning nor payment,' Dean declares, and follows him to the sideboard, pulling out new tea bags for himself and Harry. 'Regular tea, or some posh wank you brought from Paris?' he says, but his voice is quiet and Harry turns to find him and Malfoy standing closer than he'd have thought possible, given their history.

'It's not from Paris,' Malfoy says as he pulls a slim packet out of his robe pocket and fiddles with it out of sight. 'England is perfectly capable of producing decent tea,' he waves his hand dismissively at the row of tins on the sideboard. 'But that isn't what I want right now.'

'Tosser,' Dean says and directs an Aguamenti into the kettle and flicks the button on to boil again. Harry wonders for the first time how the perfectly Muggle kettle is even working in here when there's no power. Hermione will know. He’ll ask her later.

Malfoy seems to absorb the insult without protest and Harry wonders what's gone on between them since the escape from the Manor. Clearly something. There's almost no tension between them and that's weird. Malfoy has tension with almost everyone, certainly all the Gryffindors. Except Luna. Her and Dean were imprisoned together, maybe they made peace together. He'll ask Dean when they're alone again.

He turns back to the fireplace and lays his head back against the couch, he's tired, and warm and Ron is right there, asleep and taunting him. He closes his eyes and wonders what life would've been like if he and Malfoy had made peace with each other instead of Harry shredding him in a bathroom and watching him almost die. Things might've been better.

 

***

 

He wakes a while later with his neck aching and the gentle hum of conversation in his ears. He doesn't open his eyes straight away, instead trying to figure out who's there, and distantly marvelling that he's slept without nightmares and actually feels mildly refreshed. Well, as refreshed as he can hope for. It's warm still and he wonders if he can just go back to sleep or if it's close to morning and that's why there are people talking. Should he be embarrassed about being passed out on the couch? Is he decent still? These pyjama pants are missing the fly button (Ginny had been a bit aggressive with them). He lets his senses do the work, moves slightly, and realises someone's put a blanket over him. Dean, probably. Good man.

He can hear his voice somewhere in the room, quiet but distinctive, light. Another voice replies and he realises it's Ron, which makes sense. He half-listens to their conversation for a time, drifting on the edge of sleep again. He recognises Quidditch words here and there, then another voice cuts into the conversation, sharper with a particular drawl that's too familiar. He cracks one eye, just a sliver, and sees the fire is still lit, bright and orange, but the common room is still dim, sunrise far away. There's a pale grey shape in the armchair to his left, topped with a distinctive blonde. Malfoy's right there, chatting to Ron?

Harry half-suspects he's dreaming. There's a bit of a gap between Ron's lack of hostility toward Malfoy and them having a nice chat about Quidditch in the middle of the night in their pjs. How did they bridge that in the short time Harry's been asleep? Dean, maybe. If Dean has reasons for being civil with Malfoy, Ron might well just go with it. Harry has pretty much decided he will himself - letting go and all that. Keeping him out of prison spoke to that as well so it’s probably a bit late to decide otherwise anyway.

He closes his eyes again and lets his mind meander along half-formed thought trains, lulled back to sleep by the hushed, husky voices of his friends and Malfoy, who sounds nice when he doesn't sound like an arse, when he isn't sneering or being condescending, and is merely gently mocking instead. Harry sort of listens for him, wondering what he'll say, wondering if he'll manage to stay civil or if Ron will be too tempting a target and his new found decency will waver. If it'll fall and he'll be plucked from sleep by angry voices and flying hexes.

Which is probably why he dreams of him.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week is enhanced by the promise of a group outing to Hogsmeade on Friday night. Specifically to the pub, and more specifically The Hog's Head. Everyone has agreed to go, apparently, even Hermione, though she claims that will relegate Sunday to being homework day, since she fully expects Harry and Ron to be disgustingly hungover on Saturday. Harry can't even argue with her, since he'll need the time to tackle their first week's assignments and he still isn't caught up in his reading, despite spending every free period on the couch with his books. At least all the professors have been clear about what they're studying when so he's been able to try and prioritise his time effectively. If he's not in class or trying desperately to forget the images of his dream about Malfoy, he's reading. Sometimes he does two of those things at once.

He makes it through his first Defense class with surprising ease, feeling the buzz of leadership again and remembering why he used to like it. Neville does well with their Herbology class too, with no casualties, though the absence of Ron is noticeable to Harry, even though he was barely there for one whole class. There'd been no need to go to the common room last night since he's slept through til morning, albeit early when he woke. Ron had said he'd seen Dean down there again though, and they'd lasted all of half a game of chess before both of them fell asleep on the couch under the slightly scratchy purple woollen blankets from under the stairs. Malfoy hadn't appeared.

Friday evening he's missing too, his place at their dinner table empty. When Ron asks where the ferrety git is, his voice calm and still devoid of malice, Harry listens intently for an answer, eyes on his plate to avoid looking too interested. He's all for inter-house unity and watching the non-drama of Malfoy's integration unfold, but he doesn't think he'd be able to look him in the eye even if he was here. Every time he thinks of that sharp grey gaze, his mind flicks back to what it looked like in his deviant dreamscape when it replaced Michael's wide, innocent stare. It turns out knowing your nemesis probably has a nice big cock doesn't help matters.

After a week and a half of playing with the idea of men in his mind, he's fantasised about half the guys in eighth year, but Malfoy's the only one who wasn't invited. The only one he hasn't set out to think about as he brings himself off in his room, or the showers, or, once, very nearly in the common room. Thinking about that at dinner won't improve the situation though.

'I think he's in his room,' Terry says. 'Looked like he wasn't feeling well.'

Harry scans the table and sees Lisa look curiously at Michael, then Terry, who shrugs almost imperceptibly.

'Yes, he said he wasn't going to come out tonight,' Hermione says, and only Harry will know it's a lie from her tone alone. He wonders if he cares enough to find out what's actually going on and why the Ravenclaws are covering for Malfoy of all people. And why Hermione is lying.

 

***

 

He finds out later that night, when Lisa is a little tipsy and loose-tongued and strangely susceptible to his shit attempt at being charming. He follows her to the bar and buys them something slightly complicated so he has a reason to hop up on a barstool and wait. He doesn't want her to know he gives a shit about where Malfoy is, so he smiles suggestively and asks her what she's 'actually' done with him, like maybe she's capable of fucking a man to death and he's right now locked in her wardrobe in full rigor. She giggles, and he gives her a raised eyebrow and a not terribly subtle once-over.

'I never touched him,' she swears, hands held in front of her in surrender, her knuckles brushing the soft fabric pulled tight across her breasts. 'He did it to himself.'

'Likely story,' Harry says.

'He had a panic attack in Runes this afternoon,' she whispers, hopping up onto a stool beside him. 'Professor Babbling was just showing us some new engravings and he went all pale and started hyperventilating.'

'A panic attack?' Harry was no stranger to those. He'd only had couple himself, but he'd witnessed a fair few. Comforted friends out of them. But Malfoy?

'Hermione took him straight out of the room - didn't even say anything to anyone - came back without him ten minutes later. No-one knows where she took him.'

'Hermione?' Harry muses. Well, she would certainly recognise the symptoms. Had fallen asleep in Harry's arms more than once, needing the solidity and comfort of another life in the middle of a frozen forest.

'She wouldn't tell us anything else,' Lisa huffs. 'She's not much fun sometimes.'

'She has other talents,' Harry assures her, knowing he'd be dead without those talents, without Hermione having been there to save his arse again and again. 'More important ones.'

'Having fun is important,' Lisa says, giving him a look of mild suggestiveness. He should probably nip that in the bud. She's pretty, and in a completely different way to Ginny, taller, with... more obvious assets. Cho had had nice tits too, probably still did, but Harry had never really got to touch them, they'd barely progressed past some awkward kissing and hand-holding; grabbing her chest and jamming his face in it had been a long way off and they'd fizzled before it became anything near a possibility.

Right now, Lisa is a possibility. Harry's been so distracted by the thought of another man, and all that that has to offer, he hadn't considered burying his frustrations in another girl. But there would be fallout, no doubt, from hooking up, even briefly, with another eighth year. Especially a girl. They were in close quarters, they shared classes, ate together. It could get uncomfortable... But also, it could be kinda great. But how would Lisa take it? Would she get all emotional and female about it? Would she tell everyone? Would it end up in the fucking papers, letting Gin and Molly know in the worst possible way, that he had moved on already? It could be a disaster.

But. Fun is important.

'So is discretion,' he says, not saying no, but also not giving in to his growing desire to look down her top.

'You mean, 'so is not telling the Prophet'?' she smirks. 'As if, Harry, my parents would be appalled. Plus,' she scans the room. 'I have plans I don't want to compromise.'

Harry also has plans. Gay plans. But actually, hooking up with a girl probably isn't going to ruin them, since everyone already thinks he's straight anyway. The only consideration that really matters is that Ginny never finds out he's lasted less than two weeks after they broke up. Which means Ron and Hermione shouldn't have to know, because keeping it from her would be a burden on top of a mountain of other shit for them to deal with. He could keep it to himself, easily. But could she?

'I mean not telling anyone. Ever,' he says, watching her eyes.

'A real secret?' she says, and she almost sounds excited.

'Yeah.'

'Or?'

'Or it just doesn't happen,' he shrugs. Not worth the risk. Could he make her understand? 'Ginny and I broke up less than two weeks ago, it's kind of cold to... Take comfort in the company of others so soon.'

'Hmm,' she muses, appraising him with her eyes, gaze lingering on his lap briefly. She'd definitely be fun, Harry reckons, and the swell of desire joins the swirl of intoxicants in his belly already. 'I know a spell,' she says.

Harry wonders if they're suddenly talking about contraceptives.

'What does it do?'

'Makes you keep a secret.'

Oh.

'How?' Harry asks, remembering the Marietta incident.

'You just can't say it,' she explains. 'The right words won't form. You might try, but it just comes out gibberish.'

This sounds promising. Can he ask Hermione about it first though? Would that give away too much?

'What's the incantation?' he says.

'Are you going to look it up to make sure I'm not lying?' She gives him a wry grin.

'I was going to ask Hermione,' he admits.

'You're really scared I'll tell someone, aren't you?'

'Not scared, just... wary.'

'Because I'm such a gossip?' She raises an eyebrow.

'You do remember how this conversation started?' Harry says pointedly.

'You ordered me a cocktail shot and asked me where Draco Malfoy really was,' she fired back, giving him a meaningful look. So, at least she wasn't drunk enough to make consent an issue.

'I'm meant to keep an eye on him,' he explained, knowing it didn't necessarily extend to drunken Friday nights and hoping she wouldn't delve any deeper.

'I bet that's a real trial,' she says wryly. 'He's so hard to look at.'

'Oh really? How hard?' He cocks his head to the side, mock-innocent.

'You tell me,' she purrs, eyes flicking back to his crotch.

Harry grins at her boldness. Fun, indeed.

'If you're sure,' he agrees, and slides off his bar stool, making sure to lead with his hips. He steps into her space a little more, carefully wrapping his hand around her knee where his body will block it from view. 'But not here.'

'Obviously.'

Harry smirks, retrieving his hand, wondering if he's making the right decision. He wishes he could kiss her at least, just to see if there was anything there before he commits too much. But there's nowhere to find privacy in this pub without it looking like you're trying to find privacy. He'll just hope for the best and draw a line if it isn't going to be worth it. Their intent is so unspecified at this stage he'll be able to stop before they go too far without causing offense. The real trick will be leaving together and it not being blindingly obvious what's going on.

'Hermione will be the first to bail,' he says. 'I give her another half hour tops. We'll walk back with her? Make it look... incidental.'

'Terry will be less than fifteen minutes, he's started tearing the label off his empty bottle already,' she counters.

'Isn't that a sign of sexual frustration?'

'Maybe, I don't like to let myself get that frustrated,' she says, and, so the others can't see from where they sit behind him, places her hand on his chest. Unwittingly, right over the curse burn from Regulus' locket. She drags her fingers across and over his heart, gently stroking the planes of his chest, skimming pale, slender fingertips over the lightning bolt scar on his ribs that marks his second visit with death, almost identical to the first, no idea she's even doing it. She pulls her hand back suddenly and glances over his shoulder to where their friends are sitting. 'Hey,' she says, and Harry goes cold. If someone's seen them...

'Hi,' Terry says to them, before turning to Lisa. 'I'm going back, are you gonna stay?'

'Not a chance,' she laughs. 'Harry and I were just saying how tired we are. I'm about dead on my feet,' her eyes fix on Harry's and he sees a hint of smugness there. 'Do you want to walk back with us?' She slips off her stool, placing her hand on Terry's arm for balance, to really sell it, make it clear where her connections lie to everyone else, and to Terry.

'Er, sure,' he says, trying to sound like he wasn't expecting it. ‘I'll see how Hermione's going as well, she's usually the first of us to waver.'

'Meet you at the door,' Terry says, and pads away quietly, leaving them be. The barman provides a distraction then in the form of two laboriously prepared layered shots. Lisa plucks hers immediately off the sticky bar and swallows it without flinching.

'Told you,' she says. 'He has the staying power of a first year,' she looks up at Harry from under her lashes. 'Hopefully yours is a bit better.'

He feels a flutter of panic and doubt. Maybe he won't try sleeping with her. Maybe they can do other stuff instead. After all, what if it isn't just Ginny, what if it's him? What if any previous ability to maintain an erection was all Voldemort's contribution, like the parseltongue, and without being a horcrux, he can't even fuck... that would be just typical.

She must see something in his expression change because she loses the frisky look in her eyes immediately.

'Oh, Jesus, sorry, I-'

'No, don't worry, I just-'

'Fuck, I'm sorry,' she covers her face with her hands.

'It's fine, just...' he gives her a wry smile, wondering if telling her will help. 'How many secrets can that spell keep?'

'Plenty,'  she says with feeling, and he thinks that maybe this might turn out to be more than just the promised fun. This might turn out to be therapeutic. It might turn out to be another step in letting go. He downs his tiny, potent drink, relishing the sickly burn of cinnamon and chocolate.

'Well, let's get home then.'

 

***

 

Hours later, a calculated time after everyone else has returned from the pub with the expected giggling and clomping and not so gentle closing of doors, Harry leaves Lisa asleep in her cat pyjamas and tip toes downstairs. It's maybe four o'clock, pitch black with only a slight glimmer of moonlight to guide him. He'd cunningly put on pyjamas before going up to her room, partly to fill in time waiting for Terry and Hermione to get settled, and partly just in case he'd met anyone on the way back down later. Standing in the the hallway outside Lisa's room wearing the clothes he'd been wearing in the pub several hours after he'd left it would only look dodgy. Pyjamas looked innocent. No one hooks up in pink flannelette trousers covered in Snitches. In his defense, they'd been red when he got them, and while technically he and Gin had probably fooled around while he was wearing them at some point, they still weren't remotely sexy. Lisa had giggled when she'd seen them. Hadn't stopped her though.

Harry pauses before the bottom of the stairs, out of view of the common room, listening for voices, or snoring, or breathing that might indicate someone was down there. Hearing only gentle crackles and pops of the fire, he creeps down a step and crouches to look through the gap between the curve of the stairs and the common room ceiling. There's no one in sight, the couches are all empty, tables littered with random parchment and abandoned games but not a human to be seen. He breathes a sigh of relief, he didn't have a plan B. He pads down the rest of the stairs and straight over to the kettle, checking the water level before flicking it on and retrieving a mug from the cabinet. After talking for hours and what-not, he needs a drink. Plus the adrenaline of his descent could do with something soothing. He picks out a chamomile and apple blend that Hermione is partial to in the evening, and drops it in his cup, just as he hears a voice behind him.

'You're up awfully late, Potter.'

Fucking Malfoy.

Of course, he's all but invisible when he's curled up in that fucking chair by the fire. Damn him. Damn the lack of a plan B.

'Couldn't sleep,' Harry says, not turning around, hoping that'll be enough. Praying Malfoy hadn't woken up until he'd made noises with the kettle. 'You?'

'Neither, though I imagine it was for a different reason.'

Harry closes his eyes with the weight of that statement. Of course nothing would get past him, the bastard. Though he hasn't asked a direct question, so maybe Harry can just ignore him.

'Do you want a cup of tea?' He asks.

'If you're making it,' Malfoy drawls, his voice is tired and he's clearly lacking the level of energy required to antagonise Harry further. Good. 'Peppermint, please.'

Harry gets out another cup and drops a teabag in it, waiting for the water to boil. Can he just drop this off on the coffee table and go to his room? Is that rude? Is it wise, considering he now knows Harry has a secret that involves someone else upstairs. Ron would've covered for him, no questions asked, but Ron's room is downstairs. And involving Hermione in any sort of lie would just get her thinking about what the truth actually was, and that was a dangerous thing.

The kettle clicks off and Harry pours, trying to not address the growing realisation he's probably going to have to sit with Malfoy and drink his tea. Though, really, maybe that'll antagonise him further and Harry should just get out of his hair. Ugh. He feels the growing discomfort of their mutual animosity the closer he gets to the hearth, one cup in each hand.

'Here,' he says, handing over the mug... of tea he'd made Malfoy. There’s a bizarre truth. He’s keeping all sorts of interesting company tonight. This morning. Whatever.

Malfoy untucks his right hand from inside his robe, his left holding his place in a thick paperback, well worn at the edges and not remotely in line with what Harry would've expected him to read (or touch). Their fingers brush as Harry awkwardly tries to hand him the mug by the handle, since it's herbal and thus extra hot. He should've put his own tea down first. Or splashed a bit of cold water in. Or anything, really, to make this less weird.

'Thanks,' Malfoy says. He glances up at Harry, then back to the fire.

'No problem,' Harry says, shifting his weight onto his other foot. Was he standing too close? Should he sit down?

'That'll be all,' Malfoy says, going back to his book.

'What are you reading?'

He sighs and glares up at Harry from under his fringe. He flips the cover around.

'I've read that,' Harry says, surprised.

'Hm. So you don't have completely appalling taste,' Malfoy takes a sip of his tea, even though it must be at least a thousand degrees still. 'In everything.'

'Yeah, well. At the moment just ex-girlfriends.' Harry has no idea why he's telling him that.

'That explains your... nocturnal visitations.'

'You're assuming a lot,' Harry tries to act calm. Nonchalant.

'Yes, I often find that people hang out in other people's rooms in the middle of the night, after going out drinking, just to chat.'

'Hermione's one of my best friends,' Harry says, lying by omission and wondering if it'll work. 'We chat.'

'Yes, and if she hadn't scampered downstairs the second everyone got back from the pub and straight into Weasley's room I'd almost be inclined to believe you were with her. I'd certainly have thought it extraordinarily unlikely of you to pull one of the three remaining girls here, though apparently I'm wrong.'

'You're assuming it's a girl.'

'You're far too boring to be gay, Potter,' Malfoy declares. Oh the irony... 'Now go away and let me read in peace.'

'No.'

'What? You're just going to stand there and keep me company against my will?'

'Well, I don't really feel like being dismissed.'

'What if I promise to keep your dirty little secret?' Malfoy sighs. 'Will you leave me alone then?'

'I suppose. Will you submit to a promise keeper charm?'

'I submit to nothing, Potter, not even you. Not anymore.'

'Fine,' Harry rolls his eyes. 'Will you acquiesce to one?'

'Big word for a Gryffindor.'

'Unsurprising recalcitrance from a Slytherin.'

'Goodness, don't get over-excited now.'

'You're hardly going to over-excite me.'

'Of course not, you're boring.'

'Secretum Servare,' Harry intones, holding his wand perpendicular to the ground and whirling it in a circle. 'Please don't tell anyone you saw me come down the stairs, or what you assume happened.'

'Very well.'

There's a outward burst of twinkling pinpricks of light which settle on Malfoy's right arm, as well as most of Harry.

'You got your magic in my tea, Potter.' He looks unimpressed.

'Sorry,' Harry says, even though he's not, and turns away, picking his way through the dark purple furniture toward his room, feeling a strange fizz of adrenaline and a desperate need to be alone and safe. 'Night.'

'Whatever.'

Harry walks straight into his room and shuts the door behind him, leaning on it, still clutching his tea in one hand. Had he just insinuated he liked guys? To Malfoy? That was basically flirting. Was he flirting? Does he have some sixth gay sense that thinks Malfoy likes guys? And why didn't the prick believe him? Was he too straight? Will other guys also not believe him and not give him a chance? What if they all think he's taking the piss? Fuck.

Harry wrenches himself away from the door, hunkering there while postulating like this seems melodramatic, but he whips his wand at it til it's locked beyond reason before putting down his tea and taking off his socks. He feels strangely warm, but climbs into bed in his pajamas anyway.

He lasts less than a minute before pulling his cock out and picturing what it might take to convince a guy he's into dick. His staying power is greater than the resistance of his regular wank fantasies in the face of flagrantly imagined proof, though, and he's almost out of people to imagine fucking when he starts getting close. Malfoy and his very real disbelief spring to mind, warm and coiled up in front of the fire in the dark, reading a book Harry knows doesn't skimp on the graphic imagery.

Parts of it are basically porn. Malfoy might be sitting out there right now, palming himself through his pajamas until he's hard and leaking. Harry imagines standing over him, holding his own hard cock in his hand, telling him all the despicable things he'll do to him if he would just look up and see. See how hard Harry is for him. But he doesn't even waver, eyes fixed on the page no matter what Harry tells him, and it's infuriating. In his head, Harry kneels at Malfoy's feet where they rest on the low coffee table, the only glimmer of skin he can get to a pair of pale ankles. Malfoy ignores him, still.

Harry feels his balls start to tighten, and in his head, he reaches out with his tongue and licks the soft white skin where it stretches over the bone. Imagines he hears a soft intake of breath from above him and a flutter of pages. His lips latch onto Malfoy's ankle, alternating teeth and tongue til he's sure he hears a soft groan and a rustle of fabric. Because it's a fantasy, when he looks up, Malfoy's fisting his cock with his head thrown back and his eyes shut, incisors digging into his shining lip, trying to hold himself together. He's long and thick and dark, dark pink, and there's a debaucherous harmony of slick sounds of wet cock and panted breath in the otherwise silent common room. Fantasy Harry pulls himself off the floor, feeling his orgasm build, wanting to see more, to taste it. He places one leg either side of Malfoy's knees and leans forward, still working his own cock in his right hand, and braces his left on the arm of the chair.

The vision in front of him is glorious and unfettered, and in his head he leans further and wraps his lips around the head of Malfoy’s cock, tasting him, and that's all it takes for the normally stoic blonde to lose his last shred of control and spill himself in Harry's mouth, over his lips and down his chin, dripping. Fantasy Harry straightens slightly before he follows, taking aim and coming in thick stripes all over Malfoy's spent cock and his arm, just like the truth spell had covered him in sparkles of magic.

Fantasy Malfoy looks up at him and purrs, 'You got come all over my arm, Potter,' and in the dark, secure haven of his bedroom, Real Harry quakes under the force of his orgasm, riding seconds of bliss before the waiting crash of shame and horror descends and he realises he's just wanked over Draco Malfoy.

And it was good.

Chapter Text

Harry sleeps fitfully and wakes feeling dirty and unrested. Oddly, the deep hollow of satisfaction that only a good wank can provide is still there, but the oily residue of his shame is pervasive and he needs a shower more than he needs more sleep. It's Saturday after all, he can nap later.

The bathroom is quiet and empty, everyone else is probably hungover and asleep or they're Malfoy, who doesn't strike Harry as a morning person. The bathroom is his. He showers lazily, letting the water beat away his problems and the sticky feeling of discomfort he's brought on himself. Just as he's finishing up, rinsing his hair, he hears someone else come in but they say nothing so he ignores them and gets himself out of there.

Back in his room, he dresses for comfort. The oldest, softest jeans he has and a billowing sweatshirt of Bill's he left behind in his youth. It's threadbare in places and there are tatty holes in the cuffs he's taken to jamming his thumbs through. The faded remnant of a Falmouth Falcons logo adorns the front, disguising the tea that Harry spilled on it earlier in the week. He should probably get the elves to work their magic on it before the stain sets. He contemplates wearing slippers down to the great hall, but ultimately decides against it - it might end up starting a trend and Ron would never let him live it down if he suddenly started making things fashionable. Plus, maybe he'll go for a walk. He's barely spoken to Hagrid since he's been back. He might be awake early with all those animals to take care of.

It's quiet in the corridor, and even though the sound of the other shower is gone now, he sees no evidence of another person til he reaches the entrance hall.

'Good morning Professor,' he says, before correcting himself. 'Sorry, Headmistress.'

'Mr Potter,' McGonagall says, apparently surprised to see him up and about. 'I hadn't expected to see any eighth year students til much later, after your excursion last night. Or is this you only just getting back now?' She raises a confrontational eyebrow.

'I was one of the first to come back, actually,' he admits, before realising he definitely can't say why. 'Not much of a party animal, really.'

'I applaud you for it,' she says, almost smiling. 'And agree vehemently.'

'Thanks,' he says, unintentionally picturing McGonagall in full party mode at the Three Broomsticks. 'Right, well, see you then.'

Harry peels off as they entered the hall, heading for the eighth year table and the promise of coffee. Tea isn't going to cut it today. He yawns with so much enthusiasm, eyes squinting closed as he crosses the short stretch of stone, that he almost doesn't realise he isn't alone. Typically, it's fucking Malfoy, sitting there with the same book in his hand from last night. He's dressed entirely in grey, the hood of his woollen jumper pulled up over his hair, rendering him almost invisible to those in a state of pre-caffeination considering the colour of the walls. Well, to Harry, since no one else is here.

'Did you stay up all night reading?' Harry says by way of greeting, since silence would feel too heavy with meaning after last night's activities, both in the common room and in Harry's head. Distantly, he hopes that being civil to Malfoy will make him less inclined to be a dick about Harry's secret upstairs rendezvous. In reality, though, he has no idea if anything, ever, will stop Malfoy from being a dick.

'Not the whole night,' he says.

'Fall asleep in the common room?' Harry guesses.

'A bit,' Malfoy admits with a sort of reluctant looking smirk.

'Really?' It seems so unlike a Slytherin to show weakness by sleeping in a shared space.

'Shut up, Potter.'

'All that reading clearly does wonders for your vocabulary,' Harry says instead of shutting up.

'I fell asleep. You don't need to be a dick about it.'

'I'm not being a dick about it,' Harry says, keeping his voice calm. ‘I'm just surprised.'

'Why?' Malfoy scowls at him over his tea. 'The fire's nice and warm, the chairs are comfortable. It's quiet. Safe. It's hardly that much of a stretch to think someone might fall asleep there in the very early hours of the morning.'

'I'm surprised you'd allow it to happen is all. You seem kind of uptight.'

'I'm-' Malfoy looks like he's about to defend himself, before obviously realising that defending himself will only go toward proving Harry's point. 'Trying to read. Go away.'

'How about we just don't talk?'

'Hm,' Malfoy agrees, starting straight away. His eyes drop back to his book. Harry watches him for a little longer, his grey eyes darting back and forth across the page. There are dark circles under them, deeply embedded after countless nights of insomnia if Harry's going to hazard a guess. He still looks terrible, even if he's filled out a bit since the trial. His face is less gaunt, the tendons not so obvious in his neck. His skin looks soft and smooth, and Harry wonders if he shaved already this morning or if there's some biological link between colourless hair and slow growth. His own stubble is irritatingly persistent. Much like how his hair used to recover overnight from Petunia's brutal cuts, his beard seems to prefer existing in a state of soft stubble, long enough to be felt but not cause any sort of irritation if he happens to be rubbing his face against someone else for extended periods of time. Ginny had had particularly sensitive skin. He could either shave in the afternoon in preparation for evening activities or let it grow a bit. He was so used to being a mess after the Camping Trip From Hell, he'd opted for the latter once he was back at The Burrow. Ron had done much the same, and it had suited him, made him look much more grown up. Harry wonders what Malfoy would look like with a beard.

'What are you staring at, Potter?'

'Have you ever had a beard?'

'No. Merlin, you're a fucking weirdo.'

'It's a reasonable question.'

'Maybe if you have some sort of fetish,' Malfoy sneers. 'Or daddy issues.'

'Why can't it be both?' Harry challenges, wondering if it's easier for Malfoy to believe he's a kinky bastard than it is to believe he might be a bit gay. 'I might have a fetish. How would you know I didn't?'

'Of course,' Malfoy sounds bored. 'I suppose you are an orphan, daddy issues would make sense... glad we sorted that out. Now, kindly fuck off and stop staring at me.'

'Maybe I like staring at you?' Harry pokes.

'Yes, your penchant for irritating the shit out of me is well documented. I guess I should be glad you've decided on weird staring now instead of just slicing me open when you get a bit pissy.'

'You tried to Crucio me, you cockhead.'

'Crucio doesn't scar.'

Harry had always wondered about that. Whether Snape had got there in time, whether dittany had been enough, whether there was an underlying element to the spell that resisted its healing power.

'Can I see?' He asks.

'Are you fucking kidding me?'

'I didn't mean right now.'

'Is there a better time for making me strip and show you what you did to me?' Malfoy hissed. 'Letting you look upon your handiwork? Admire it?'

'No, I just... I'd like to apologise, I guess.'

'Why does that involve me taking my clothes off?'

'I actually didn't ask you to do that,' Harry points out, rolling his eyes at the melodrama he should've expected. 'Though by all means, strip away. That won't attract attention or anything.'

'I thought you liked all the attention, Potter, all you fans fawning over you?'

'Like how Parkinson fawns over you?'

'Pansy is my friend.'  Those grey eyes turn hard, and the challenge is obvious.

'Apparently not as good a friend as Blaise,'  Harry digs, eyebrow raised, wondering what'll happen. Wondering if the rumours are true.

'There is no fucking peace to be had in this fucking castle,' Malfoy huffs as he stands up, drains the rest of his tea in one go and stalks off out the double doors, leaving Harry sitting alone at the table, marvelling at how easily he got caught up in another bitter tangle of words with him again.

And he still didn't get an answer about Blaise.

 

***

 

Harry spends the rest of Saturday doing homework. He has two research assignments to start, Herbology and Potions. Practice for Transfiguration and Defense — spells they'd been taught earlier in the week, the latter of which he'll need to be perfect at come Wednesday if he’s going to be teaching other people. Charms is the only thing not demanding any of his attention at the moment but he has a feeling Flitwick is gearing up for something big soon, so even that doesn't offer him any real solace.

Sunday morning he wakes on the common room couch again, his legs are tangled with Ron's as if they've spent the night vying for dominance over the space between them. His best friend is still snoring softly, and Harry finds he doesn't envy him his sleep. He feels rested, ready for the day. Ready at least for a cup of tea. He carefully extricates himself from Ron and the purple blankets they've been snuggled under and pads over to the kettle, noticing that they're alone. He hopes Dean is sleeping soundly wherever he is, he'd mentioned seeing Luna last night and while Harry know she won't be able to get in here, into Dean's bedroom, he tries to not examine the possibilities too closely of where they might be instead. Maybe Dean is alone in his room and was simply too happy for nightmares last night.

Footsteps on the stairs alert Harry to the approach of someone else and he's expecting it to be Malfoy, since he seems to have developed a habit of showing up recently, but a feminine yawn makes him turn around.

'Lisa,' he says without really meaning to. Shit. 'Er, cup of tea?'

'Hi Harry,' she sighs. 'Yes please. Earl Grey.'

Harry reflects on just how much this feels like a morning after for them, even though it's been a whole day since he crept out of her room. He feels like he should've known her tea preferences before he... well. Did things with her. She seems not to feel his awkwardness because she comes up behind him and rests her forehead against his back, her hands settling on his hips. It's strangely intimate despite how passive the contact is, and he wonders if she's even noticed Ron on the couch. He pulls down the tin of Earl Grey and realises he'll have to dislodge her to bend over and get a cup out of the cupboard, or he'll just end up shoving his arse into her stomach. If she was a guy, it'd be almost erotic, suggestive. Since she isn't it'd just be weird. Unless she happened to be into pegging, but even then, Harry isn't sure he is so it seems pointless to think about it.

'You alright?' he asks, looking over his shoulder.

'Bad dream,' she says. 'I think I must've caught them from you.'

'Sorry.'

'Who knew they were sexually transmitted?' she lifts her head and smirks up at him.

'Shush, Ron's on the couch,' he says, but he can't help smirking back at her. He's glad it's not awkward. In fact, if Ron wasn't on the couch... no. He shouldn't even consider it, out in public like this. He turns sideways, bending into the cupboard for a mug and effectively shrugging her off. She pads away and grabs a blanket, dragging it over to the spare couch. Harry finishes the tea and follows her, accepting the other end of her blanket as he settles in and hands over her mug.

'So,' he says. 'Tell me about your dream.'

 

***

 

They fall asleep again a short time later, him and Lisa, legs tangling under the blanket in a way that's far more sexual than with Ron (thank God), and Harry wakes to find her socked foot perilously close to his balls. His own right foot is squashed snugly between her soft, round arse and the back of the couch and he wonders again, his cock stirring with interest in its just-awoken state of semi-arousal. Would it be fun to defile the common room? He'd never engaged in anything illicit in a shared area before, not unless you counting kissing Ginny all over the castle in sixth year, and really, a sly grope over the clothes hardly counted as illicit. He'd seen worse at the Yule Ball.

He's considering casting a Tempus to see if he has time for another quick snooze before everyone arises, when he hears a noise and this time it is Malfoy, rumpled and cranky looking in pale blue pajamas.

'Are you ever not here, Potter?' he sighs and crosses straight to the sideboard.

'Usually between ten and one I'm actually in bed,' Harry says, before continuing in a much lower voice. 'Having shitty dreams and hating my life.'

The sounds behind him stop and he clicks, too late, that he probably hadn't been as quiet as he thought.

'You have nightmares?' Malfoy asks, and his voice is... weird.

'Yeah,' Harry says, since the alternative is telling him he gets lonely in his room, and he's not nearly as ashamed of the dreaming as he is of the pathetic loneliness. Besides, Malfoy is down here enough, clearly he's not sleeping like a champ either.

The ping of the kettle and the tink-tink-tink of a spoon against fine bone china are the only response Harry gets. He closes his eyes and hopes Malfoy goes back up to his room with his stupid posh cup.

No such luck.

'Me too,' Malfoy says as he lowers himself into his usual chair, making Harry have to twist awkwardly if he wants to see him. Which he doesn't. And what is he even talking about? 'Nightmares,' he explains, as if he's heard Harry's thoughts. 'I have them too. Not exclusive to heroes.'

'I never insinuated they were,' Harry glances briefly over his shoulder before going back to not looking at him.

'I could hear you thinking it,' Malfoy quietly insists from his armchair. 'But I'll have you know that living with fucking Voldemort was worse than whatever the fuck you were doing.'

'I gathered, it wasn't much fun when I visited.'

'Yes, well. Nice of you to drop by, sorry I didn't bring out the good china.'

'No bother. Thanks for conveniently not recognising us,' Harry is stunned they're even having this conversation, let alone that they seem to making a joke of the whole thing. He likes it. There's exactly five other people in this castle who were there and know, and he's willing to bet that Malfoy is the only one who'd have the balls to joke about it with him. Dean might, but mostly his friends seem afraid of making light of it in case they offend the dead or trigger some sort of latent panic attack in someone else. Malfoy clearly gives zero shits about that and it's kind of refreshing.

'You looked like shit, for a second there I really doubted it was  you. What the fuck happened to your face?'

Harry sees a hidden compliment in there - that he doesn't usually look like shit, and he stores that away for later, when he inevitably wanks over the fact that someone who looks like that in simple, pale blue pajamas thinks he normally doesn't look shit. Wow, his standards have dropped somewhat, haven't they?

'Stinging hex,' he says. 'Hurt like fuck.'

'Those snatchers were mangy cunts, every one of them,' Malfoy declares.

Harry spares a moment to disapprove of the word 'cunt'. He's been surrounded by feminists for too long, and men afraid of Mrs Weasley. And the future Mrs Weasley.

'It was Hermione, actually.'

'Granger shot you in the face with a stinging hex?'

'Think about it,' Harry shrugs. 'We didn't want them to recognise me, and any sort of glamour or enchantment could be undone. Had to be something physically... damaging.'

'You really are a fucking martyr.'

'A stinging hex is a far cry from dying,' he looks over his shoulder this time and Malfoy is staring at him again, like he's completely insane.

'Yes, well, you did that too, didn't you?' He says.

'I suppose,' Harry turns back around. All this couch-sleeping has been a bit rough on his neck, he seems to permanently have a crick in it. 'Dying did hurt less, actually.'

'Good to hear it wasn't all bad.'

Harry can't help himself, a laugh, gruff and dark, bursts out of his chest. And another. Something in him lifts slightly, and he looks over to see Malfoy hiding a smile behind his cup. Their eyes meet, and it's probably the first time they've ever looked at each other and smiled, and it's weird and wonderful, and soon Harry is giggling hysterically because the whole damn thing is insane - him and Malfoy are sitting in the dark and joking about the war like they're pals, and it's liberating to do that. To not have to act so serious all the time about it. To not have to tread carefully around grief and loss and everyone's mental health. To just... deal with it, and not let it ruin him.

He can hear Malfoy laughing as well now, and it's almost nice, nothing like his boyish cackle that always followed a pointed insult or an ugly sneer. To be expected, really, since there's not much left about either of them that could be considered boyish. And there's not much about Malfoy that could be considered ugly. He certainly looks better when he's laughing, lit with the golden glow from the firelight. But maybe that's just Harry's innate affection for Gryffindor colours.

'What the fuck,' says a voice from the other couch, and Harry turns around completely this time to find that Ron is sitting up, blearily scowling at both of them. 'Are you mental?'

'Well, yeah, a bit,' Harry says, still smiling. 'But so are you.'

'Go back to sleep, you daft git,' Ron retorts, and flops back into his cushions, pulling the blanket up and over his head.

'How is it you can sleep in a little house so full of people, Weasley, and a bloody Gryffindor dormitory, and yet two people having a conversation is somehow too much for your delicate ears?' Malfoy wonders aloud.

Harry tenses for the inevitable reaction from Ron. The tiny dig at his family might be the ending of their civility.

Instead Ron replies from under his blanket with a muffled declaration of 'lots of silencing charms', and an enthusiastic suggestion that they either shut up or use one themselves.

The words he actually says, though, are 'you two shut up' and 'use one yourselves'.  Having it put in a sentence like that, with Harry alongside Malfoy and no one else... feels a bit odd. Almost intimate. It sounds like they're a pair, like they're somehow the same and just haven't addressed it yet. In a way, that might be true. It was only moments ago, after all, that Harry marvelled they were the only two willing to joke about the war. They were both there, and now they were both here. They were both Seekers, both kinda skinny, both competitive, both stubborn, sarcastic, relatively evenly matched when it came to duelling. They hadn't duelled in a while, though. Not since sixth, and Harry wasn't really willing to count that. Maybe they should do it again. With less bleeding and scarring.

Malfoy was probably a bit smarter than him, of course, and taller, and better looking. Harry had better friends though, and even though they were dead, his parents were probably better people. Certainly his dad had been a bit of a dick, but nothing on Lucius. Harry's wardrobe was a bit shit in comparison, though, and his eyesight. At least one of those could be fixed with money. The other one could only be solved with Muggle lasers to the eyeball and Harry wasn't up for that. He should go shopping. Draco was probably better at that as well. Other than that, were they so different?

'Terribly sorry, Weasley,' Malfoy says, not quite sounding like he means it, but not sounding bitchy about it either. 'I'm going anyway.' And he unfurls from his chair and stretches out tall, bending slightly backwards with his arms aloft so his shirt rises up and his trousers pull tighter across his hips. Harry is treated to a glimpse of pale, flat abdomen and yet more compelling evidence that Malfoy is unfairly hung.  Harry looks away, but not immediately, wondering. Wouldn't it be perfect if Malfoy was gay? At least a bit. They weren't friends so they wouldn't be ruining anything and he was fit. Plus, honestly, he probably disliked Harry enough that he wouldn't tell anyone it was happening. Which was key. Though, of course, from his perspective, that Slytherin perspective, what was to be gained? Other than naive, inexperienced, possibly terrible sex with someone he probably dislikes. Not a great selling point. Harry's normal appeal of being famous and The Boy Who Lived and all that is never going to have an effect on Malfoy, of all people. It’s probably going to work against him, really. Bugger.

Still. Harry likes a challenge.

'Where are you going?' he asks, even though he can guess.

'Bed, Potter,' Malfoy sighs. 'Why? Did you want to come with me? Afraid of being alone?'

'I feel like that's an empty invitation,' Harry teases, wondering where it'll get him. Wondering if Malfoy will cringe or continue the banter.

'Of course you do, you're boring, remember,' he says, and it just slides off his tongue like it's nothing. Like they aren't sitting in the dark, flirting. 'Good night.'

'Good morning, actually,' Harry says, because he never likes to let him have the last word.

'It's only good morning if I wake up next to you on that bloody couch,' Malfoy insists, retreating over to the stairs. 'This doesn't count, no matter what the hour is. Now shut up, I'm going to bed.'

He disappears into the gloom of the staircase and Harry would swear he’s blushing.

Chapter Text

Monday goes by in a tired blur for the most part. In Herbology it suddenly becomes apparent that without Ron, Harry has no partner for his assignment, and he's obviously doomed to fail. Apparition involves making small jumps from hoop to hoop carrying unwieldy objects, most of which Harry drops upon landing. Morning tea is a welcome chance to sit down again but it's over too fast, and Harry barely has time to eat a second lemon drizzle scone before the bell goes and they all trundle off to double Potions.

This lesson they're brewing something particularly finickity that Harry can't pronounce. It unfortunately involves standing over a simmering, steamy cauldron for almost two whole hours, timing his clockwise and widdershins stirring and trying desperately to not fall asleep. It helps to look over at where Malfoy is brewing and watch his hair get progressively fluffier. Harry feels an odd desire to mess it up more, to slide his fingers between the fine, white-blonde strands and...

'Harry? Are you okay?' Hermione asks, frowning at him. His wand chirps and he changes direction. 'You're not sleeping properly are you?'

'However can you tell?' he asks, completely deadpan, and both Ron and Dean snort from the next table, matching circles under their eyes.

'Honestly. I told you to go to Pomfrey and ask her about a mild sleeping draft. She has some really nice herbal ones.'

'You also told me to meditate,' he points out.

'And take up yoga,' Dean cuts in.

'And start a diary,'  Ron says. 'Like second year never happened.'

'So insensitive,' Harry says, giving her his best puppy eyes and blinking away fake tears.

'Fine,' she says, throwing a bit of yew bark at him. 'Don't sleep. See if I care.'

'To be fair,' Dean says, 'I'm not into yoga, but some decent exercise has been helping me sleep more lately.'

'This isn't the place to be discussing the kind of exercise you're getting, mate,' Ron shakes his head, not looking up from his cauldron. 'No one needs to hear more about that.'

'We went for a walk, Weasley, not everyone is up to their nuts in it.'

Hermione looks up sharply at that, but Ron doesn't look guilty, and Dean is still concentrating on his stirring, so she turns her eyes on Harry, as if he's supposed to know if that was a reference to her or not. The Gryffindor boys aren't sharing a room anymore, he doesn't know who Ron's told about their sex life. All he knows is that he's glad it's not him. He gives her a vague shrug, and turns diligently back to his cauldron, hoping that's the last of it. And also, secretly, hoping that no one has found out about him and Lisa. And what it'll be like to be up to his nuts in another guy. And if that guy happens to be blonde and lean and just over there on the other side of the room, what of it? A man can wonder.

So he does. He wonders all the way through lunch, which is, weirdly, sausages. He wonders off and on through Transfiguration, accidentally turning his parrot blonde. He makes his way back to The Hidden Tower in a heightened state of agitation and dumps all his books on his desk, which has yet to be used for anything else, and wonders whether to have a shower or a nap or a wank or some combination of the above.

He decides that whatever he's doing, he needn't be wearing so many clothes, and peels off his school robes before toeing off his shoes. The former, he drapes over the back of his desk chair (which has yet to be used for anything else) and the latter are left to litter the floor under the window, which has been used for other things but mostly just standing around and staring out the window at all the other windows.

He should get some exercise, like Dean suggested. Go for a fly or a run or something. Except his Firebolt is dead, and he can't bear the thought of a school broom, so it's going to have to be a run, then. And if he's going to have some sort of nap/shower/wank it should definitely be after the run. Partly so he's not running in the dark, because he's an idiot and he'll probably trip over and have to spend the night painfully regrowing bones, but also because two of those options will make him sleepy and useless and if he needed another reason, there's no point in showering both before and after a run. He strips off his jumper, tie, shirt, undershirt, and trousers, dividing them into piles of 'still good' and 'needs a wash'. The elves will know anyway but he likes to be helpful.

Somewhere in his room is a clean pair of trackie bottoms and a t-shirt, but with more places than just his trunk to look he can't be sure. He looks there first anyway and manages to find his good trainers at least. The wardrobe is more generous, and provides him with the trackies he was looking for. They're just generic plain grey ones from Primark but they're newish so there's still a decent amount of soft fleeciness to them and that'll matter in Scotland, even if it is still September. He tugs them on just as there's a knock at his door and he wonders if Dean has read his mind and wants to come with him. Even if it's just Ron, maybe he should still ask Dean. Hell, maybe he should ask Ron, even if it'd likely be the first time Ron's ever run anywhere by choice. He replays their delightful interaction with Aragog and his billion children and decides, actually, the running was always by choice because the other option was various ways of dying.

Harry opens the door with his t-shirt still in his hand and his trackies slung perilously low around his waist — he hasn't done the tie up yet and he wasn't worried about it because both Dean and Ron have seen him in his pants every school day of the last six years, but it's neither of them at the door. It’s Malfoy.

He seems somewhat surprised to find Harry underdressed. He also seems to have been rendered somewhat speechless, since he isn't saying anything, and seems very interested in the wooden door frame all of a sudden. Harry glances down to make sure his cock isn't out accidentally. It isn't. It's barely even noticeable under his trousers, though the top of his underwear is blatantly apparent. At least it's a nice pair, ones Gin got him. He really needs to go shopping if all his decent clothing is from his ex-girlfriend or fucking Primark, but this is hardly a time for that sort of life re-evaluation now.

'Hi,' he says.

'Hi,' Malfoy replies, and shoots him a scowl, before returning to the doorframe. Jesus, Harry isn't that bad to look at, even after The Camping Trip and it's inherent starvation diet. He's certainly more attractive than a wooden door frame. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe Malfoy's so completely overwhelmed by lust right now he can't make words.

'I hope you're not planning on wearing that to our meeting with McGonagall,' he says, nullifying that possibility and reminding Harry in a swift surge of panic that he actually has somewhere to be this afternoon and isn't it bloody lucky he's still here? 'You know, the one that's in seven minutes?'

'Fuck,' Harry says.

'No time for that, we have a meeting. Besides,' Malfoy smirks at the horrideous mess that Harry's room has gotten into. 'You seem to be alone in here and frotting against your pillow doesn't qualify.'

You could come in, Harry thinks at him. Then I wouldn't be alone and I could frot against you. Though he would still have a meeting to go to, so there's that. McGonagall won't take kindly to excuses that are actually just admissions to have broken school rules while they were meant to be doing something else. And doesn't that make the whole thing a bit tastier - that it's legitimately illicit? Not that he's never broken school rules before, far from it, but not for that. Well, actually, frotting probably isn't explicitly against the rules, but it's implied. No sexy fun times allowed.

'I was going to go for a run after,' he says, only lying a little bit. 'Hardly going to do that in robes, am I?'

'Merlin only knows what you do in your spare time,' Malfoy rolls his eyes. 'Now hurry the fuck up.'

Harry tugs his t-shirt on and retrieves a hoodie from the end of his bed, it's too bloody cold not to, even if he is running afterward. He realises just how fucking lucky it is that he didn't end up being hunted down in the shower and have to face Malfoy in a towel. Or worse, mid-wank. Small mercies.

They walk through the common room together, and people glance at them but no one seems confused; most likely they all know the arrangement they have with the Headmistress and being seen together isn't actually as scandalous as it feels from the inside of Harry's overactive brain. The walk to her office is much the same, as far as he can tell. People always stare at Harry so it's hard to discern if it's different this time. What he does notice, is three different girls giving Malfoy entirely unsubtle once-overs, one of them even coming back for another go. One other girl is so distracted she walks into a suit of armour, which is fortunately much sturdier than she is; even Malfoy would've noticed a cacophony of falling metal. As it is, he seems not to notice the attention at all.

McGonagall is waiting when they get there but they're only a minute late so she's not frowning yet. They get tea and settle into the routine of saying how everything is going. She asks if they're getting along better, and Malfoy tells her they are, that they chat now. That they've found common ground. Harry just watches him talk. Occasionally he nods just in case anyone notices he's staring at Malfoy's mouth.

The meeting is agonisingly slow and yet over too quickly. She signs them off for another week and sends them off to an early dinner. Malfoy lingers as Harry stands to go, asking if he might have a word in private with the Headmistress. Harry immediately worries he's been too forward with his maybe-flirting and shirtlessness and that Malfoy's going to beg to not have to associate with him anymore.

Then it occurs to Harry on an even deeper and more distressing level that this whole thing might be a huge conflict of interest for him if Malfoy is at his mercy as far as staying in school and out of Azkaban goes. Since, really, if they get together, even just one time, there's little chance anyone would think it was because they liked each other. It's going to look like Malfoy was either bribing Harry or that Harry had put him in a position where he didn't have a choice. And that's if they're open about it. If they try and fail to keep it a secret... the subterfuge isn't going to make either of them look innocent.

Maybe this was something else he was going to have to let go of. Even if, he was beginning to think, it might really be something he'd like to grab hold of.

 

***

 

The next day is Tuesday, and Harry's triple free period. He didn't make it out for a run before it got dark yesterday so he re-dresses and sets off again once Charms is over and does a lap of the castle. Which is bigger that he thought. It's barely a minute on a broom, but it takes him 25 to run it. Add the minutes traipsing, exhausted and sweaty, back up to The Hidden Tower and he's used up half of his first free already and the other half will probably be relegated to showering. He peels his t-shirt off as he hits their corridor, it's stifling and no one is around anyway. The cool air of the castle is mildly soothing on his skin, but a shower is going to be the only real solution.

He pushes the door open and the rolling warmth of the common room settles immediately against his skin, upping his level of discomfort to around seven out of ten.

It cranks immediately to nine when he sees Malfoy (is it ever not him?) standing at the sideboard making tea. Harry has a second to brace himself before those grey eyes turn on him as he walks toward his room; shirtless and dishevelled and flushed and sweaty and generally just gross. Great advertising, Harry, he berates himself, because even if Malfoy is a bit gay, he's never going to be hard enough up for it that he finds this attractive. A hot mess in cheap trackie bottoms and thoroughly muddy trainers.

Though... he's meant to be letting that thought go, what with the conflict of interest and the numerous and unavoidably heinous ways for it to end, where everyone involved goes down in a steaming, shitty blaze of glory. Except even thinking about going down in a blaze of glory makes him wonder if Malfoy even went down on Blaise and if it was glorious. But that's an image for after dinner. When he's alone and having a big fat wank over Malfoy again, and that's a bad example of what letting go might look like, because it's not letting go at all.

'Hi,' he says, wondering if he can head off both the wildly graphic mental images and the inevitable scorn he's about to be assaulted with, using only polite chit-chat.

'Potter,' Malfoy drawls. 'Don't you look unnecessarily hot this morning.'

Apparently not.

'I went for a run, you tit,' Harry grumps at him. 'I'm fucking boiling.'

'Of course,' Malfoy says, and gives him a once over with a curl in his lip and crease in his brow. Twat.

Harry gets past him though, and heads straight for the shower and some sort of respite. Both from disapproval and rapidly drying sweat, it's getting itchy.

Ten minutes later, he's finally clean and mostly dry and wrapped in a purple towel that would've been a decent size in first year, but is leaving a bit much to chance now that he's not the size of an eleven year old. He can’t understand how someone could’ve gone to the trouble of colour matching the towels specifically to the eighth year theme but failed to notice they’d all grown in the last seven years. Of course, if he'd remembered to bring fresh clothes or his dressing gown in with him, he wouldn't be having this problem.

He bundles his dirty clothes into a protective ball around his damp, sweaty underpants and takes his hand off the knot in his towel to flick the stall door open. He almost makes it out of the room before Malfoy turns up again. Of course. Right on the threshold, like he's somehow magnetically attracted to Harry at his most vulnerable. Or most naked. And isn't that a thought to have while not wearing anything?

'Do you not wear clothes anymore, Potter?'

'No,' Harry deadpans, because he's beginning to suspect it's easiest just to agree with whatever tripe Malfoy is saying, since at least that way he doesn't get defensive. 'I'm trying something new. Do you like it?'

'Purple's definitely your colour. It's a revelation.'

'Right. Thanks,' Harry feels himself blush and tries to get past without making contact in the tight space. Malfoy, to his credit, steps back against the doorframe and gives him some room. Harry isn't certain but he thinks he sees a flicker of movement that looks suspiciously like an eye-roll. He expects that maybe he's being judged a bit as he walks past and he hastily grips the knot to keep himself at least partly covered.

He wonders, though, if the judgement is good.  He wonders if Malfoy is right now judging his arse tightly wrapped in a wet towel... he has about five steps in which to either be very brave and find something out, or... not do either of those things. Honestly, if Malfoy's not looking, no one will ever know that Harry dropped the towel on purpose. If he is, Harry will know that Malfoy stood in the doorway to the bathroom to enjoy the image of Harry walking away. He grins. Carefully loosens the knot. Grips one end and tugs at it, feels the pressure disappear from his hips and the telltale slide of damp fabric across his left thigh as the purple towel unfurls from its position and slips all the way around his legs til it's held up by one hand clamped tight against his dick, just in case.

There's a noise behind him.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday he has Potions, only a single lesson so it's all theory, then Defense where he pays an exhausting amount of attention, asks Southern too many questions and tries harder than he ever has. By the time he's full of scones (white chocolate and blueberry) and tea, he's feeling completely wiped out and ready for a nap on the couch. He doesn't dream on the couch, and he can easily make it seem like he fell asleep studying which is a bit less weird than actually planning to sleep on the communal furniture.

He sits with his Herbology book balanced on his chest and his feet up, facing the door, just in case. Old habits die hard. He's turned down a game of something with the other Gryffindor boys over in the window seats so he needs to make this look legit. He'll read for ten minutes, then let himself snooze. Hopefully he won't snore. Or fart. Or dream and wake up in a state. But no, he never dreams on the couch. He'll be fine.

He's not fine. He becomes suddenly aware he has his eyes shut and there's someone touching him, and he feels fucking terrible.

'Potter, wake up.'

A sharp smack on his cheek pulls him out of the last vestiges of an all-too-familiar hell, half-remembered feelings still pounding in his chest.

'What?' he asks stupidly, even though he knows the sanctity of the couch is now spoiled and he's dreamed and he shouldn't have. The bell must've gone a while ago because the room sounds different now. Emptier.

'You looked far too happy with yourself so I thought I'd ruin it before you forgot what your life is really like.'

'Oh.'

'You were having a nightmare, dickhead,' Malfoy says as he walks out of sight. For some reason he'd been leaning over the back of the couch. Like he didn't want to get too close. 'Tea?'

'Assuming we're all out of whiskey, sure.'

'There is actually whiskey flavoured tea here,' Malfoy muses from the sideboard. 'I don't recommend it. It smells suspiciously like socks.'

'Then it probably tastes like socks,' Harry reasons. 'Hit me with it. I'm feeling dangerous,' he says, when he actually means distraught, and horribly like he could really do with a hug.

'Your dangerous sounds a lot like self destructive.'

'Wow,' Harry says, his voice edged with sarcasm. 'It's like you know me.'

'You don't make it hard.'

'Don't I?' He probably shouldn't have said that, not in that tone, or with his eyebrow raised like he thought it was a lie. Not when he knew Malfoy would turn and look at him like that. With patience. He should stop flirting with him. But it's fun.

'You make it hard to take you seriously,' Malfoy sighs.

Harry just smirks and closes his eyes against the midday light. He only has vague recollections of the dream now, bits of images, sounds, colours. It was bad, but not the worst he's had. It wasn't anyone he loved that died this time. He can tell when it's one of them, because he wakes up with tears on his face every time.

Hermione says he needs to let his feelings out more so they don't build up and manifest so much in his dreams. She thinks he should tell people more often that he cares about them, as if that might save them from becoming nightmare fodder. He thinks she probably won't feel the same about the people he doesn't love but wants to sleep with. Not that she would want him to have nightmares about anyone, but she’d definitely advocate not going around telling everyone with a nice arse that he loves them. She knows that’s a bad idea.

What she doesn't know, and he wishes she did so he could ask her about it, is that he's dreamed about Malfoy already, and it wasn't a nightmare, and that Harry would quite like if that particular dream came true. And that he would quite like it if he had a pensieve, so he could relive it in third person. He should buy a pensieve. He has loads of cash, why not? He has to go shopping for clothes anyway.

'Where would you buy a pensieve?' he asks Malfoy as he arrives with the tea. Fragrant steam wafts over him and he has to agree, it does smell slightly socky.

'What do you want with a pensieve?'

'Hermione recommended it,' Harry says vaguely. 'For the nightmares.'

'You're better off with potions and a Healer.'

'That seems to be working brilliantly for you.'

'Fuck off, Potter. I've tried more potions than there are, and none of them seem to work except Dreamless Sleep and that's highly addictive.'

'And the Healer?'

'As if I could trust someone to keep my innermost thoughts to themselves. I'm sure you can understand that.'

'I got sent to one after the last battle,' Harry says. 'I went once.'

'And then spent the rest of the mandated sessions sitting in a Muggle tea shop and reading inane magazines?'

'No.'

'Just me then.'

'I sat in the park,' Harry says. 'Muggle London is one of the places I actually get to be in public and not be accosted all day.'

'Strange how some of the biggest, loudest cities are the ones where you find the most peace.'

'That's very poetic, Malfoy.'

'Fuck off, Potter,' he murmurs, and there's no venom left in his voice, just a tight warning not to poke at him.

'You didn't answer my question,' Harry obligingly changes the subject. 'Where do I get a pensieve?'

'Most high-end stationers will have them. Otherwise you order direct from the manufacturer.'

'Is there a high-end stationer in Hogsmeade?'

'Yes.'

'Ok. Good.' Harry paused. 'Can you get clothes there?'

'At the stationers?' He gets a piteous look shot at him over a plain white china tea cup.

'No, in Hogsmeade.'

'Are you fucking with me, Potter?'

'No?'

'Hm. I forget you haven't bought new clothes in a few thousand years. Yes, you can get clothes there. Do you need help finding them?' Malfoy cocks his head to the side in mock thoughtfulness. 'Only you seem to have trouble wearing them sometimes.'

'Probably wouldn't hurt,' Harry admitted. 'Are you offering?'

'Merlin, no.'

'Oh.'

 

***

 

Thursday morning Harry spends in a semi-abandoned gallery of sorts, testing out the new defensive illusions they've been shown in class. He needed somewhere with a mirror to see if his conjured spectral twin looks enough like him to fool anyone. He's having trouble making it sufficiently solid so that he can't see the room through the spectre. It's an arduous way to spend two full hours, and scones time can't come soon enough.

Two cups of tea and two and a half bacon and basil scones later, though, he has to do it all again, but this time with an audience and a small class who's apparently accepted him as their leader. They're asking him all the annoying questions he asked Southern yesterday, and it makes him feel a bit detached from them to be honest. Not that the guys and Leanne aren't his friends... well, maybe not Leanne, he barely knows her. In fact, he's pretty sure he has no idea what her surname is. He's 98% sure she was a Hufflepuff, though; he does tend to ignore most Hufflepuffs. He should be nicer to her. Make an effort. After all, the chances of new people he meets dying soon and triggering him into another bout of self-loathing are relatively low.

Charms starts fine after lunch but Harry's suspicions were accurate and Flitwick unveils their first proper project right near the end of the lesson and then shoves them all out the door and off into the corridor without answering any of their questions. He's a right shit sometimes.

The gap between the end of class and dinner is spent in mass speculation about what the fuck the project is truly going to encompass, the common room is alive with debate and unified in a way Harry finds quite comforting under the general stress of having even more to do and still no energy to do it. He almost seriously considers taking up yoga until Seamus suggests more binge drinking instead and they all make plans to go back to the pub that weekend.

Dinner is meatloaf stuffed with an amazing cheesy something and crispy roast potatoes with a rosemary infused gravy. Dessert is peach crumble and custard. Supper is a handful of biscuits and a cup of Hermione's sleepytime tea, because she's being very insistent tonight and Harry's too tired to argue as to why he prefers something blacker and with milk. Maybe if he allows this he can put off being forced into saluting the sun at dawn.

He goes to his room earlier than usual and actually manages to sleep through til almost four. Which is both wonderful because he's knackered and terrible because it means, unless he lies, he'll never hear the end of this from Hermione. He flicks through a novel he nicked from the Weasleys' bookshelf until six, when he deems it an appropriate hour for a shower, then heads toward breakfast. He finds Dean and Neville in the common room, stretched out on the two couches in front of the fire, sound asleep and buried in purple blankets. He didn't know Neville had trouble sleeping, but it doesn't surprise him in the slightest. There's an open sketchpad and a guitar on the coffee table so Dean must've been alone for some time before Neville got there. Harry feels oddly guilty, but grateful that Dean had someone there to talk to, which of course makes him feel guilty again, because to be there, Neville had to be not sleeping as well. He doesn’t want to wake them from whatever little rest they’re getting, so he takes the chance to get to the hall early (and thus get extra bacon) and sets off by himself.

 

***

 

Later on Friday, after Transfiguration and a free period (and another run) Harry is re-tying his tie in front of the full length mirror tucked away in the corner of the common room when Malfoy comes down the stairs and asks him, 'Are you coming?'

Harry is immediately tempted to say 'Not yet, you should get on your knees,'  but manages to hold it in by focusing on his own confusion.

'I've got Herbology?'

'Yes,' Malfoy says slowly, like Harry's some sort of idiot. 'I know.'

'Why would I go with you then? Don't you have Runes?' He realises it might be weird he knows that. 'Hermione has Runes.'

'I don't take Runes anymore,' Malfoy says.

'Oh, right, because of...' Harry trails off. He's not meant to know, after all.

'Yes, Potter, because of.'

'So, what? You're in Herbology now?'

'Yes. Is that okay or should I have asked permission?'

'Yes,' Harry says, remembering his earlier discovery of just agreeing with the insanity so it doesn't escalate. 'I am the owner of all Herbology.'

'Very good. I repeat, are you coming?'

'Maybe, are you my partner?'

'Jesus, Potter, is there anything you can't make filthy?' A lazy blonde scowl appears next to him in the mirror. 'I'm walking alone.'

'Malfoy!' Harry squawks defensively. 'I meant, we have an assignment we're meant to do in pairs and Ron was my partner and he's allergic to the Devil's Snare, so he's switched into Creatures, so I need a partner. Conveniently, so do you. It seems pretty obvious,' he gives him a glare in the mirror, before adopting the most innocent expression he can manage. 'I don't know what you think I meant.'

'Of course you don't.'

'And for your information there's at least one thing I can't make filthy.'

'If we leave now we won't be late,' Malfoy casts a Tempus and flicks it around with his wand so Harry can see it.

'You're not going to ask me what it is?' Harry asks, ignoring the time.

'I don't care what it is.'

'It's pretty funny. Guess.'

'I'll play your stupid game if we can leave now,' Malfoy gestures imperiously toward the door.

'My tie is wrong,' Harry informs him.

'It's been seven years and you can't tie a tie?'

'Ron does it for me.'

'Come here,' Malfoy is upon him in two quick strides, arms wrapped around his neck, fixing his tie with sure and methodical movements. His fingers are really long.

'Are you going to try and guess?' Harry says to stop himself from watching too closely.

'Fine,' Malfoy's breath is warm against Harry's ear and it's more distracting than his fingers. 'Is it your ex-girlfriend?'

'What? No,'  Harry huffs a laugh. 'Definitely not.'

'Well if it's not scandalous then I don't care,' Malfoy says, eyes suddenly narrow, and he tugs the knot into place, far too tight around Harry's throat and walks out the door.

Chapter Text

Herbology is both better and worse with Malfoy there. Worse because Justin spends the whole time scowling and making shitty comments, which means the girls spend a lot of time looking disapprovingly in his direction. Better because Malfoy actually knows things about plants and Harry's assignment starts to look far less doomed to sub-mediocrity than it did last week.

Weird incident with the tie apparently forgotten, they discuss which of the greenhouse's horrific occupants they want to study, and Malfoy whips out a sheet of parchment and annotates their conversation with notes and squiggles and numbers that Harry doesn't quite grasp. It's a very Hermione thing to do, which is comforting when his marks are so heavily dependant on not cocking this up.

They review the notes after talking through all the options, Malfoy leading the conversation and Harry completely okay with it. The commanding presence is actually soothing in a cramped room full of botanical enemies. The Venomous Tentacula is obviously not an option for close study. Hermione and Neville have taken on the Devil's Snare, and Justin and Hannah are dealing with the placid and almost not dangerous Baneberry. After they eliminate those ones, they're left with a slightly shorter list to choose from.

Malfoy declares the Boom Berry too well researched already, and Starthistle boring and mostly used for 'women's problems'. Angel's Trumpet is deemed to be too closely linked with recreational drug use for someone on parole to be playing with. They have a very short discussion about the dangers of testing Hellebore, and both agree they don't really need that in their lives after the last few years.

That leaves the Spiky Prickly Plant, Fanged Geranium, Henbane, Self-Fertilising Shrub and the Fire Seed Bush, which is kept down the hill a bit in its own cave. Malfoy seems content to make a decision purely on academic thought from this point, but Harry is getting restless from all the talking and writing.

'Shall we go and look at them all first,' he suggests.

'What for?' Malfoy looks at him like he might be stupid. Again.

'To see what they're like.'

'You have a book for that.'

'We aren't going to be working out of the book for this project, though, are we?'

'I suppose,' Malfoy starts to waver. 'Perhaps we should investigate the accessibility of each specimen and the conditions we'd be working in.' He closes their textbook and conjures a clipboard out of a stray leaf, clipping their parchment onto it and swapping for a smaller, self-inking quill. 'Go on then. Show me things.'

Harry's brain assaults him with a cascade of quick-fire mental images, all things he could show Malfoy that he can't really. Not if he's still going to try and let this go, the feeling of wanting to, well, show him things. Do things. Stuff. He hopes he isn't blushing.

'Right. Okay then,' he turns away in case he is blushing and heads toward the stone end of the building where he can hear Hermione and Neville's low voices echoing in the windowless darkness. At least he won't look flushed in the dark. 'Apparently the Flesh Eating Shrub is back here.' He lights his wand with a soft, red-tinted glow.

'I'm so excited about trying to find it in the dark,' Malfoy drawls. 'That doesn't sound dangerous at all.'

'Sprout said it's warded,' Harry says, swinging his wand around to point behind him and catch the patient look he's being given.

'Harry?' Neville's voice floats through the darkness and in a few steps, he and Hermione become visible some metres ahead in the deepest gloom. This end of the building seems strangely long and Harry wonders if it's been magically enlarged. 'Watch your step, the Devil's Snare's had babies.'

'What?' comes a harsh whisper from behind him.

Harry turns to find Malfoy much closer than he expected, the dim reddish light reflecting off his pale skin and turning his hair a dusky pink. He quickly turns back around and directs his wand closer to the floor so he doesn't stand on anything. Soon, he sees what Neville's talking about. Around the floor there are tiny waving stalks, about the size of an asparagus spear. One goes for his shoelace when he steps too close and he stops mid-stride, pulling his foot away a second too late, essentially helping the baby monster untie the lop-sided bow.

'Bugger,' he hisses under his breath, just as a firm wall of Malfoy slams into his back. And arse. And a hand comes out of the darkness to clutch his waist for balance.

'What the hell are you doing, Potter?'

'It got my shoelace.'

'And what? You were so mortally afraid you leapt away from it in case it untied your shoe?'

'Er, yeah?'

'How did you ever face Voldemort if you're afraid of a fucking seedling?'

'For your information, I was attacked by a Devil's Snare when I was 11. It was traumatic.'

'We,'  comes a voice from ahead.  'We  were attacked by a Devil's Snare.'

'I thought you fell on it?' Neville whispers, but in the dark, close space his voice reverberates and he might as well have shouted.

'Stupidity at that level probably is traumatic, though, Longbottom,' Malfoy says. 'It's a wonder they made it out at all.'

'Hey,' Hermione squawks.

'Not you, so much, Granger, I'm sure you're not afraid of untied shoes.'

'I'm not afraid,'  Harry says, and bends over to re-tie his lace. The similarity to the time Lisa had stood behind him at the sideboard while he made tea isn't lost on him. He had reflected then that the impact of bending over when someone was so close behind you was different if the person was male. He wasn't wrong. He feels the already small gap between his own arse and Malfoy's crotch disappear to nothing, and he knows that must mean that somewhere in that feeling is the secret sensation of what another man's dick feels like pressed against him as he's bent over.

What's more interesting is that as he bends, the hand still resting on his waist tightens for a moment before disappearing entirely. Oddly, the warm press of flesh against his arse doesn't, which makes it significantly harder to concentrate on his shoelace.

'What are you doing?'

'Tying my shoe.'

'That's not what I was referring to.'

'Oh?' Harry straightens up and turns slightly, looking over his shoulder. They're way too close but the darkness masks the discomfort far too well and Harry knows they're far enough away from his friends that they won't be able to discern anything unusual. 'What were you referring to?'

He gets a scowl for that and has all of two seconds to smile back before the world shifts around him and someone grabs his upper arm and something brushes his lips and suddenly Malfoy is on his left instead of his right, shrieking that something touched him.

'You hypocrite,' Harry sighs, his fingers reaching to feel the spot where his lower lip is tingling, surprised to find it seems perfectly normal.

'I'm not working in this infernal darkness,' Malfoy declares, his voice pitched far higher than usual. 'This is ridiculous.'

'You could use a night vision charm?' Neville suggests.

'We're trying out Oculus Nocta,'  Hermione says, swishing her wand at Harry and smirking as the spell takes effect. He can see her perfectly clearly. The whole space is shades of silver and grey, and he can pick out not only both his friends clearly, but also the delicate instruments in their hands. The tiny, slightly fuzzy, curiously twisting stalks in the dirt at his feet, and the seething mass of grown-up Devil's Snare ahead of them, almost obscuring the Flesh Eating Shrub behind it. He can see everything perfectly. Which means Hermione can see everything perfectly. Which probably means she's going to be asking some very awkward questions later. 'What do you think?' she says, and the look in her eye is one of barely contained rampant curiosity.

'Very effective,' Harry says. 'Though I can see we won't be getting anywhere near the Flesh Eating Shrub so we should probably go.' Awkward.

'Good,' Malfoy huffs, and starts tugging with the hand still wrapped around Harry's upper arm.

They stumble out into the light, feeling the floor go from earth to stone more acutely in reverse. The sunshine seeping in through the dusty windows burns Harry's eyes in their heightened state and he squints.

'Shall we look at the Fire Seed Bush before this spell wears off?' he suggests. 'It's down the slope in the caves somewhere.'

'You don't sound much like you know what we're doing,' Malfoy complains, but he waves his hand ahead of them. Harry notices something.

'Where's your clipboard?'

Malfoy sighs, the self-effacement clear on his face. 'Probably still in that damn Snare's nest,' and he goes to pull out his wand.

'Accio clipboard,' Harry says, not bothering with his wand and simply flicking his hand out toward the darkness. Looking in there was much easier on the eye. Not as easy on the eye as Malfoy was when he was in there, but still, more comfortable by far.

He doesn't need to do the spell wandlessly, and usually wouldn't, but this overwhelming need to impress is hard to stifle. The clipboard whizzes through the darkness and into his waiting hand. He hands it to Malfoy with as calm an expression as he can muster, trying so hard not to look smug when those lovely grey eyes widen slightly in disbelief.

'You're a horrible showoff, Potter,' is all he says, taking the clipboard from him. 'Good to know some things haven't changed.'

The cave is a decent walk away, though walk is putting it mildly as there's some definite scrambling as they get closer and the rocks get rockier.

'It couldn't have been anywhere even mildly more accessible to humans, could it?'

'Not if you don't want fourth years using it to decide who’s coolest.'

'I suppose, though there's no reason to try and preserve that sort of idiocy for future generations.'

'I don’t disagree,' Harry says, thinking about how ridiculously little and annoying he finds the lower years now. He can handle those only a level or two down but after that... he feels more and more like an old man. He scans his memory of the current seventh years, wondering if any of those guys were options, but he'd not being paying enough attention during sixth year to be able to recall many of them. And even when he can, he's thinking of them as they were in fifth, which is a bit iffy now he's that much older. For the first time, he regrets being in eighth-only classes for his entire timetable. One of the seventh years would certainly be a less controversial option than Malfoy.

The cave mouth is clear of debris and has a faint shimmer of magic around it. Malfoy waves his wand in a complex formation and mutters some sort of incantation. It looks diagnostic. Well, it looks like Hermione when she's trying to figure something out.

'Age line and some sort of glamour,' he says, brow furrowed. 'It's safe at least to pass through, but we won't know exactly what's on the other side til we're there.'

'Sounds reasonable, you wouldn't want the glow from the bushes to make it more noticeable.'

'I suppose,' Malfoy concedes, though Harry can tell it costs him.

Apparently, he'll have to go first. He spares a glance at Malfoy and sees a surprising amount of trepidation. He'd never imagined him being afraid of things still, not after sharing a house with a homicidal lunatic and a giant snake for so long. He's seen him afraid before, of course. In first year, he'd run screaming from the forest, in third he'd run from a half-invisible snowball fight. He was notoriously afraid of werewolves, which only makes Harry feel more sorry for him, thinking of Greyback loitering around the Manor last year. But surely after that, dark caves weren't a thing?

'You look scared,' Harry says, because maybe being blunt will work best.

'I don't really like fire that much anymore,' Malfoy says. 'After our little broom ride a few months ago.'

'Is that what you dream about?'

'Sometimes, yes. Don't you?'

'Maybe occasionally,' he says, which isn't a yes or a no, but it is a sign of something else he's realised over the last year or so. 'No one I loved was dying that time.'

'I'm crushed,' Malfoy drawls.

'Give it time,' Harry smiles. 'I'm warming up to you.'

'You're so weird. How did I never notice how fucking weird you are?'

'You've never really talked to me.'

'I did.'

'You talked at me. Yelled at me. Insulted me,' Harry challenges him to disagree. 'The only time we almost had a conversation was in Madam Malkin's before we even started at Hogwarts, and you barely let me get a word in edgeways. I knew you were a dick from just that.'

'We met in Madam Malkin's?'

'You don't remember?'

'No?'

'Fuck you.'

'Sorry, Potter,' Malfoy gives him a mock-apologetic look. 'I guess you're just not that memorable.'

'Whereas you were a bigoted little fuckweasel,' Harry states. 'And impossible to forget. God, I loathed you.'

'Past tense?' Malfoy inquires, his voice not quite managing nonchalant.

'Mostly.'

'Good,' he says, and it sounds like he means it. 'I'd hate for you to hold my regrettable childhood behaviour against me,' a self-deprecating smirk creeps onto his face. 'There's so many bigger things to hold against me now.'

Harry chokes back a laugh, whipping his hand up to cover his mouth. Malfoy just turns and looks at him. He has a fresh, wounded sort of expression on his face, and Harry feels infinitely more guilty as he comes to realise that Malfoy doesn't get the joke and actually thinks Harry is laughing at the idea of forgiving him.

'Come on, Malfoy,' he splutters. 'Bigger things to hold against me?'  He raises a suggestive eyebrow and watches as the words sink into that shining blonde head and the expression changes from one of hurt to one of the utmost disdain.

'You're literally appalling,' he complains as a hint of blush forms high in his cheeks and he strides forward into the cave mouth, disappearing from view as he passes through the enchantments.

Harry laughs freely now, marvelling at the startling purity of mind of an 18 year old male with a history of poorly-attempted murder and the reluctant torture of innocents. A guy who's had at least one girlfriend, lived in a dormitory for seven years, and looks like that.  The mind boggles.

He waits til he's calm before he follows Malfoy into the cave, not wanting to bring the mockery in with him when he knows the tension's already going to be high enough in a room full of fire. It's warm inside and far brighter than he expected. The burning bushes, because there's definitely more than  one  of them, are dancing and writhing in the low, rocky cavern. The flames are throwing strange patterns of light at the rough walls so they look like they're moving, breathing. The dark silhouette of his companion is the only part of the scene that doesn't hurt Harry's still-sensitive eyes, but it does give him pause.

Malfoy is not moving. He's barely made it inside the cave at all and the clipboard is lying forgotten at his feet. His stance is wide but he's leaning slightly backward, submissive, as though he'd like very much to retreat but finds himself frozen in fear. One arm, his left, is reaching out slightly behind him and Harry wonders if it's reaching for him. If he should take it and pull Malfoy back out of the cave. If he should even touch him under these circumstances.

His head goes back to all the times one of them had fallen apart on the camping trip. Hermione needed a book in her hands to pull herself out of it (Ron had figured that one out). Ron himself needed to really feel something physical, preferably just a hard slap so nothing could get properly broken, but Harry had always preferred to not be touched at all. He wanted a small space he could crawl into and be safe. He'd hated that that was probably a vestige of his cupboard days, but it was what it was.

Malfoy is anyone's guess. He doesn't seem the type for gentle patting or whispered words of comfort. And he probably won't be pleased if Harry hits him. And all of this is speculation anyway. Maybe he's not completely catatonic, or freaking out or anything. Maybe he just hasn't heard Harry approach.

'Malfoy?' he says quietly, and gets no response. 'Draco?' he tries, and marvels at the sound of the word on his tongue. At how different it sounds when not immediately followed by that loathed surname. He imagines it uttered in a different kind of darkness, with a different kind of fire raging, and, well, far less school uniform between them. More naked, basically. He wonders if his next regrettable wank session over the git is going to feature his real name, whilst simultaneously wondering why he's bothering to wonder at all, because of course it is.

He steps further into the cave, closing the gap between them, rounding til he can see the golden light flickering against a high, sharp cheekbone. 'Draco?' he tries again. 'Are you okay?'

A slight shake of his head is enough to pull Harry closer. He's not sure whether to touch him though, if that will make it better or worse. Maybe it's enough just to be there, to be visible and calm and solid and real. He steps, slowly, further into Draco's field of vision. A hand, warm and trembling, tightens around his wrist.

'Do you remember it? The fire?' Draco whispers.

'Yes.'

'You saved me.'

'Yeah.'

'Why?'

'Because,' Harry thinks hard about his answer. He knows the one he gave the court wouldn't do, not here, now. Draco's heard that one before. This one might have to be closer to the truth. 'I didn't want you to die.'

'Why?'

'Because you hated me,' Harry sighs. Out it comes. 'And I understood that better than people liking me. It balances out all the weirdness. It's more simple.'

'It was never simple, Potter.'

'Saving you was,' Harry shrugs, trying to dislodge the awkwardness settling on his shoulders.

Draco's lips move, almost making a smile, before twisting into something else, and he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and bites down on it, mimicking his fantasy self and sending Harry's thoughts down a slippery path. He needs to get out of here. Out of this warm, dark, shining cave where Malfoy is Draco all of a sudden, and he's not being prickly or sarcastic, and he's almost holding Harry's hand, and Harry's trousers are getting uncomfortably tight and surely it's lunch time and they can just go get something to eat and forget this little jaunt. Why did they think a cave full of fire was a good idea?

'I don't want to be afraid of it anymore,' Draco says then, his voice quiet. 'The fire. I thought I was over it.'

'You manage in the common room,' Harry points out. Is it praise? 'But I can see how this is different.'

'Do you know how many hours it took to be able to sit by a fireplace? How much discipline it took not to run away every time it crackled, or a log shifted?'

'A lot, I'm guessing,' Harry says, thinking of how he still can't look at the forest. How secretly glad he'd been that his window faced the inside of the castle, that he could mostly pretend the forest wasn't there. He clearly didn't have Draco's discipline.

'I don't want to run away from this.'

'Because you don't want it to win?'

'Because I don't want to remember being weak. Especially not in front of you.'

'Okay. We can stay a while.'

'Could you...' Draco looks down at their hands and carefully unwraps his fingers from Harry's wrist, letting the blood flow normally again. 'Could you hold on to me. Somehow.'

Harry had held a small number of people over the years. Ginny, of course, and Hermione. Ron, kind of. And he'd hugged people. But always people who liked him. People he knew. People who weren't Malfoys.

It must be costing Draco a lot to even ask, and Harry doesn't want to refuse and have him spiral. He also totally  wants  to touch him, that isn't the problem, the difficulty is that he might want to do it a little too much. And right now, on the precipice of whatever this is, getting a bit over-excited might be less than helpful. No doubt Ron would've found a friendly erection the opposite of soothing. So, Harry needs to find a way to hold him without his crotch getting too close. Just in case.

'Sorry, forget I said anything,' Draco's voice sounds broken, shameful, and Harry realises he's mulled too long.

'It's fine, I get it, you need an anchor. I just... We've- You're taller than me, it's awkward,' Harry babbles. 'I don't know where to-.' He makes a strangled sound. Maybe if he just sidles up next to him and wraps an arm around his waist it'll be okay. He steps into Malfoy's personal space — and it feels like he's Malfoy again because it's just become blatantly apparent they don't know each other at all if Harry is too awkward to touch him. He thinks kissing him would probably be easier at this stage. At least that’s supposed to be awkward. He reaches his right arm out across Malfoy's back, lets his fingers find the bottom of his rib cage and clings there, willing his hand to not have gay thoughts and end up sliding down his hip or tracing little circles against the soft wool of his school jumper.

Malfoy's back is warm. As warm as the radiant heat of the fires blazing merrily before them, and the inherent coziness of body heat and wool and the scent of citrus and sea air that seems to cling to Malfoy's skin lulls Harry into a state of relative calm. His hand is behaving itself and his cock is still mostly unnoticeable in his trousers, so he leans in against Malfoy's side. They're not quite in line, Harry's standing back a bit, so his right pec is pressing against the hardness of a shoulder blade and his body is bracketing Malfoy's, giving him the illusion of safety. Of being looked after. If he concentrates, he can feel the soft swell of one aristocratic arse cheek against his hip. If he stops concentrating, he'll no doubt imagine grinding into it. He'll save that for later. Maybe he can come back here and wank over the memory of them cuddling.

He fights the urge to give himself something more to wank over, but the desire is too strong and the posh bastard smells too good and Harry has to do something so he lets his chin drop onto Malfoy's shoulder. It's a harmless gesture at this point, when he has his arm wrapped around him, if anything it's rather platonic.

However, the sound Malfoy makes is not. He purrs. A sound low and so like a sigh, but the edge is nothing less than a growl and Harry doesn't know what to do with that. He know what he wants to do with it, but that seems wildly inappropriate right now.

The silky weight of Malfoy's head descends on Harry's and rests there for a moment.

'Thanks, Potter,' he says, voice still quiet but definitely stronger.

Harry's jaw is somewhat restricted by the hardness of Draco's shoulder and the weight of his head so he simply makes a hum of assent and stays where he is. He doesn't know what he should've said anyway. 'No problem', 'Anytime,' 'You're welcome and I'm going to fantasise about this later.'  They all seem inadequate responses.

After a while, Draco casts a Tempus and reveals the horrid truth that lunch has started without them. Harry squeezes his ribs and withdraws his hand slowly, he's hungry and this is still pretty awkward but he doesn't want to just remove himself if it's going to cause a backslide. He needn't worry, because Draco lifts his head at the squeeze and bends to pick up the clipboard, that aristocratic arse cheek from earlier brushing against Harry's hip. He takes a mental snapshot of Draco bent over in front of him in a cave of heat and dancing light and resolves to come back here soon. Alone.

'Lunch?' he asks.

'Sure,' Draco sighs. 'We should hurry, people will think I've killed you or something.'

'Let them,' Harry says, knowing it's probably true. 'Probably less scandalous than them thinking we were hiding in a cave having a cuddle.'

Draco surprises him and laughs. 'I dare you to tell Weasley the truth.'

'The actual truth?' Harry's surprised at the idea, he was planning on keeping Draco's rare show of humanity to himself.

'No, the actual truth can be our secret, like your little rendezvous with Lisa, but you can tell him we cuddled.'

'How did- I-' Harry realises he's been tricked half a second too late, and by reacting like this has unwittingly confirmed that, yes, it was Lisa he'd been with last week. 'Shit.'

'Such a Gryffindor,' Draco muses, not unkindly. 'No thinking before anything.'

Harry scowls because he's been thinking an awful lot lately, about not ploughing right ahead and doing what he wants to, and to have the subject of the imagined ploughing mock that decision is frustrating.

'Twat,' he snaps, and slumps off through the enchantments hiding them from view. They tickle his skin and it just irritates him.

'I'm not going to tell anyone, you pillock,' Draco says. 'I told you I wouldn't.'

'Then could you not bring it up?'

'Are you..' he pauses, a slight frown on his face. 'Feeling a bit regretful, maybe?' The corner of his mouth twitches. 'About acting like such a slag?'

Harry looks down at him from where he is, further along the path, and wonders, in a fit of self-destructive over-thinking, whether getting with Lisa was going to spoil his chances after all.

'I did not act like a slag,' he says, and turns back to his ascent. He can see the greenhouses already, they were never that far away.

'You don't think a one-night stand is a little, I don't know. Immoral?' Draco prods. If he hadn't just had an episode of something in that cave, Harry would feel a lot more comfortable telling him to fuck off about Lisa and schooling him on his own past displays of immorality. But it is what it is, and maybe a nice, normal argument where Harry looks like an idiot is what's needed to return everything to normal and forget what just happened.

'I didn't sleep with her if that's what you're thinking.'

'I'd assume that's what most people would be thinking, given the secrecy and the surrounding binge-drinking and fitful sleeping.'

'Well, I didn't,' Harry says, and he's very, very glad it's true. Probably. Depending on how you define things.

'How very noble of you.'

'Yes, now can we not talk about it ever again?'

They crest the top of the slope and cross the lawn in silence, letting themselves back into the little greenhouse to collect their bags. Hermione has left him a note.

Pub tonight, let’s get ready together!

It isn't signed and it sounds far more like it's written to a girl who might want help choosing a sexy outfit but Harry takes it as what it is: a warning that the uncomfortable questions are coming soon, and definitely before intoxicants are involved.

'Are you coming to the pub tonight?' he asks Malfoy (and if he's thinking of him as Malfoy again is it because he's trying to distance himself?).

'I'm not allowed in The Three Broomsticks.'

'We go to The Hog's Head,' Harry says. He doesn't say that Draco's why they go to The Hog's Head. 'Less people.'

'Hm,' is all the answer he gets.

They make it all the way up to the Great Hall in silence, but it's less tense by the time they get there and sit down in the two remaining spaces. Harry wonders if there's anything in the fact that the spaces are adjacent and suspiciously close to Hermione and Neville.

What remains of lunch passes quickly, but they manage to wolf down enough food before it all disappears. Well, Harry wolfs it down, Draco still eats impeccably. When half of them troop off to Apparition, Harry sees his hesitation as they pass the corridor that would lead to their rooms. He's not surprised, after any sort of episode it's normal to be tired and attempting dangerous magic when not at 100% is never advised. Of course, if your other option is Death Eaters, then sure, Apparate away and pray no one gets splinched.

'You okay?' he asks quietly.

'Mostly,' Draco says.

'Are you going to practice with us or sit it out? If you're tired-'

'I'm fine, Potter.'

'Okay,' he raises his hands in supplication. 'Just saying, I'm not judging if you don't feel up to it after...'

'Shut up, Potter.'

'Okay.'

Draco is on form as usual, but he doesn't smile the whole lesson, even when Seamus falls over holding a bucket of water and dumps the whole thing on his own lap and it looks 1000% like he's pissed himself.

Harry finds that Draco still looks distractingly good though, even with the slightly tortured-angel thing he's got going on. It's a bit emo and he thinks he should probably - definitely - stop thinking about it. Controversy never makes life better. Add in exploding out of the closet in the most high-drama way he could -- Golden Boy and the Death Eater -- and the whole idea reeks of idiocy.

That said, he's been looking around, and no one else is giving any sign of being a closet Hufflepoof. At least Malfoy sort of flirts with him, and apparently stared at his arse. He doesn't seem put off by Harry's blatantly suggestive remarks, he usually just blushes a bit and looks awkward. And awkward is a long way from horrified. It's the best he's got right now.

So he lets himself stare a bit too much, and he lets his mind wander back to the cave when he's waiting in line, and when he can, he makes a point of standing so close that their shoulders touch, and Draco glares at him, but he doesn't move away. It gives him hope.

Hope for something that might destroy them both.

Chapter Text

When Harry gets up to his room after dinner, Hermione is sitting on his bed.

'So,' she says, looking almost gleeful. 'What're you going to wear tonight?'

It turns out, after much deliberation, he's going to wear his own jeans, at least. Though they're transfigured slightly to be tighter across his arse, a charm Hermione seems worrying familiar with. With it he's wearing a button-down shirt Ginny gave him (she really did get him all his good clothes) and his sort-of-tired-looking Converse. That's all fine. The weird bit is that he's also wearing Neville's cardigan and a scarf of Justin's. Harry doesn't know why he's wearing Justin's scarf, but Hermione had felt the need to consult with him for some reason and he'd insisted it 'pulled the whole thing together'.

Ron looks equally as baffled as Harry, and that, really, is why they're best mates. Though, of course, how good a mate can he be if Harry hasn't told him that he's a bit gay at the moment. Maybe forever. Confirmation is pending.

Neville seemed less confused by the whole getting-dressed-by-committee thing and it's almost as if his success at spurring rebellions and killing monolithic snakes is bleeding into other areas of his life. He seems to be making an effort to look nice for the pub tonight, and succeeding. Harry is proud of him, but also a little miffed he's set the bar so high. He hopes Hannah appreciates the effort so at least he's miffed for a good cause.

Draco doesn't give much of an indication that he notices the downstairs crew have given Harry and his appalling wardrobe a helping hand. He, of course, is dressed impeccably and looks terrifyingly handsome, despite his rough afternoon. Harry desperately wishes Draco would either take him straight to his bed or take him shopping.

The girls are much more forthcoming with praise, Hannah declaring both Harry and Neville to be looking 'very smart,' and Lisa shooting him a blatantly appraising look and a wink when no one is watching. Harry's mildly discomforted by the attention and simultaneously disappointed Draco isn't the one giving it.

That is, apparently, Hermione's entire intention. Draco's attention. Harry was right, she knew, of course, and she has a theory. Harry can't fault her logic but his fragile ego isn't ready to believe it's plausible the pointy git might actually like him, like him, so her theory is about as useful to him as magically tightened jeans to a mermaid. He's doing okay wallowing in the pool of vague hope for he and Draco to ever actually do the things he thinks about and he'd rather not fuck it up by finding out the truth, thank you very much. He still doesn't quite understand where Justin fits into it though. She says he will eventually, and he believes her, but the thought also makes him a bit uncomfortable. Justin is a dick.

Everyone else is coming out again tonight, and with Draco in tow they're a full set for the first time. Aberforth doesn't seem to care for the significance of the occasion, but he still appreciates the business and is forthcoming with drinks and an uncommonly large bowl of hot chips which Harry is pretty sure he somehow ended up paying for. Not that it matters, he has a lot of gold and nothing to spend it on. Well, he has lots to spend it on but hasn't gotten around to doing that yet. New jeans that don't strangle his buttocks would be a welcome start, followed by underwear his ex-girlfriend hasn't been all over and shirts she hasn't picked out for him. At least this one is green (to match his eyes) and thus in keeping with a Slytherin's sense of taste. Still, it was the only one and he needed more, otherwise people's positive first impression of 'Fancy Going-Out Harry' would only last as long as it took them to go out again. He was going to need more than one nice shirt, whether he managed to get Draco's attention or not. Maybe he should make that happen.

'D'ya want to come shopping with me tomorrow?' he asks Ron, who is warm and familiar at his side, and now giving him a funny look.

'What for?' he asks, suspicious.

'I need a new broom,' Harry tells him, because it's true and because he knows how to get Ron to agree to things. Even camping trips.

Ron is animated immediately, pulling Dean and Seamus into the conversation first, then Leanne, and eventually even Draco, seated on Harry's other side.

'Are you really getting a new broom or are you just trying to get him to go clothes shopping with you?' Draco murmurs in Harry's ear. 'Because I don't know if he can help you... he's wearing a Chudley Cannons hoodie. He clearly has shit taste in Quidditch teams and doesn't know how to dress like an adult.'

'Adult? Is that the look you're going for, Grandpa Malfoy?'

'I'll have you know my grandfather was an absolute arsehole, and I do not base any of my sartorial choices on his influence.'

'Then you should probably explain the shawl,' Harry says. He's noticed it a few times tonight, it's an icy blue colour and he wants to touch it. But he is a bit weirded out by how voluminous it is. Not that it doesn't look good, it's just... unusual. He normally regards such froofy things as womenswear and it's confusing his already twitchy sexuality.

'It's just a large scarf, Potter, not every one of them has to be a narrow little thing in house colours with fringing on it.'

'My scarf is non-house-coloured,' Harry protests, flicking the ends of it in Draco's face.

'That's not your scarf,' he says. 'That's Justin's scarf.'

Harry immediately assumes someone has tattled on him and that Draco knows he needed help getting dressed. Then he wonders how Draco happens to know that it's Justin's scarf and not someone else's. He's about to ask when Ron yanks him back into the broom conversation by repeating what Seamus just said about Puddlemere's new Keeper and the moment is lost.

A while later, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville are clustered together at the bar waiting to order when Hermione asks how he's liking his 'ensemble'. Harry notes a smirk on Ron's face and an attempt at innocence on Neville's and realises he's been a bit naive about Hermione being in this alone.

'I'd ask who you were trying to impress, mate,' Ron says. 'But I think it's safer not to know. If no one tells me I can still feasibly claim ignorance when Gin interrogates me.'

'I want to know,' Neville admits, looking sheepish, 'But she won't tell me.'

'It's mine and Harry's secret,' Hermione states primly, or as primly as one can after half a bottle of wine. 'Isn't it Harry?'

'I fucking hope so,' he grumbles, giving her a look.

'What I'm more interested in tonight,' she says, leaning in and lowering her voice. 'Is what's going on with Justin and Malfoy,' and she nods her head in the direction of the rest of the group, where Draco is talking to Lisa, and Justin is glaring daggers at them. 'There's a lot of hostility there.'

'They were on different sides of a war, you know,' Ron points out. 'And people don't really like Malfoy.' He looks thoughtful for a second. 'Do they?'

'I got the impression Justin certainly used to, if you know what I mean,' Hermione raises an eyebrow just as Aberforth comes to serve them.

As she orders for the group, Harry considers that possibility, that Justin might've liked liked Draco. Justin hasn't dated anyone (as far as Harry knows, but he's far from the town gossip) and he does have a rather extensive wardrobe and knowledge of fashion, but it seems bizarre to guess his true sexuality based on how well he's able to dress himself. Especially since Harry is coming to know his own sexuality relatively well and is notably shit as dressing. By the logic of stereotypes that'd make him very, very straight, but by the logic of copious wanking over guys, he's far from that. This, of course, makes him think about how well Draco is always dressed, and he wonders if it's maybe a posh git thing or if him and Justin are both holding up the cliché as well as each other's dicks.

The thought of Justin touching Draco is a weird one, it almost doesn't seem possible. He doesn't think it would be allowed. Then again, if someone had told him a month ago he'd be hugging Draco in a cave today he'd have declared that impossible also. Maybe he could ask. He'd almost asked about...

'Draco recognised Justin's scarf,' he says, remembering. 'Do you think...' he studied the tiny label on the corner of the fabric, right where the fringing started. It looked fancy and expensive. Would Draco have bought it for him? And what would that take? For him to be buying Justin expensive presents? He looks up to find the other three giving each other furtive looks. 'Do you think he gave it to him?'

'It's a possibility,' Hermione agrees slowly. 'Maybe you could ask him where he got it and see what he says.'

'Okay,' Harry decides. He's not had much to drink, but he's feeling pretty good, and really, what's the worst that could happen when pretending to ask for shopping advice? Though really, considering the state of his wardrobe, was it pretending?   

He makes his way back across to their cluster of tables, and resituates himself next to Draco.

'Where did you say you got this scarf?' He asks, not giving Draco a chance to politely disengage from his conversation with Lisa (which Harry is trying not to obsess over) and hoping he'll just tell him and not think about it.

'Twil-' Draco starts to say, an admonishing look on his face. Then he realises what's happened, that his own trick has been turned against him, and his pretty eyes narrow to menacing slits of grey. 'You sneaky shit,' is all he says.

'I'll never say another word about this if you take me shopping,' Harry gives him a (hopefully) charming smile.

'Fine,' Draco spits. 'But know that I hate you.'

'No, you don't,' Harry grins, and scampers off to find Hermione and tell her she's both correct and amazing. He tries to ignore the curious look on Lisa's face.

Hermione and Ron are arguing the finer points of white wine versus red when he gets back, Neville looking on in astonishment (probably that Ron knows anything about wine).

'You were right, Draco bought Justin this scarf,' he announces, stopping a soliloquy about Pinots. 'What do you think that means? Do you reckon they dated or was it some sort of,' he hesitates, 'of wooing present?'

'That's the second time you've called him Draco,' Ron points out, not missing a beat. 'What do you think that means?'

'What exactly is a wooing present?' Neville asks, looking at each of them them in turn. 'Should I get one for Hannah?'

'Harry,' Hermione says in her serious voice. 'Pinot or Cabernet?'

'Er, I don't know? Whichever one is cheaper?'

'That's what I said!' Ron blurts.

'That's a terrible way to choose wine,' Hermione huffs.

'Well, whichever one has the coolest label?'

'She vetoed that too,' Neville says. 'D'ya think Hannah likes wine?' His eyes drift away to the table nearest the fireplace, lingering on his preferred blonde. Harry's eyes skated over to his own, still chatting to the girl Harry'd hooked up with a mere week ago. So not okay with that.

'Why are we talking about wine again,' Ron asks. 'And not Harry's unfettered love for that ferret over there?'

'I don't love him.'

'But you do something him.'

'We're friends.'

'Friends who disappear during class together and turn up late to lunch?'

'Is that what you told him?' Harry turns to Hermione.

'It's all I told him,' she says pointedly and he remembers the look on her face when he realised she's seen him basically present his arse to Draco in the Snare's nest. She knows enough to know that Ron should know something, at least. Whenever he feels left out he does tend to go a bit spare. 'Is there anything else you want to tell us?'

He could tell them he had a thing with Lisa and was hoping Draco was too gay to be his competition. But really, there was a big gap between hoping someone was gay and accidentally-on-purpose smooshing your butt into their dick in a dark cave. Hermione, at least, wouldn't buy that.

'Yes,' he says. 'But not yet. I am nowhere near drunk enough to talk about this.' And he walks away, vowing to not drink another thing tonight, lest he accidentally get to a point where he is drunk enough to talk about it. He isn't even truly ready to think about it too hard. All the implications of any contact they had — he'll either look the victim or the bully and he doesn't want to be either. He just wants to be himself.

Draco is still deep in conversation with Lisa, and Harry feels a twinge of actual concern as he approaches again and neither look up. He sits next to Lisa this time and the thesis of their discussion became suddenly, boringly apparent. Arithmancy. He should leave, this will be enough to put him to sleep, or drive him to drink and he isn't willing to risk either.

'I need another beverage,' Draco declares suddenly. 'You're vexing me, woman.' He looks up at Harry, 'And you vexed me earlier. I'm not going to offer either of you anything, I'm just going to buy you both something horrible and make you drink it.'

Harry watches him walk away and despairs at the fact his vow to not imbibe further has lasted less than a minute.

'Why is he taking you shopping?' Lisa cuts into his self-effacing spiralling.

'I need clothes,' he says.

'But why him.'

'You've seen him. He dresses nicely.'

'I have seen him. Though I'd rather see him not dressed nicely,' she raises an eyebrow. 'If you get my meaning.'

Harry can't tell immediately if she's being normal or a bit lewd. His internal Hermione can see an argument for posh gits with money not flaunting their wealth through fancy clothes, but he rather suspects Lisa's referring to seeing Draco simply not dressed and he finds himself in complete agreeance. If not a little weirded out by the fact he's talking about it with Lisa.

'Are you being a bit filthy?' He asks, because it probably pays to be sure.

'Not nearly as filthy as I'd like to be,' she says, gazing after Draco and his expensively dressed arse.

'Oh,' is all he can bring himself to say, since Draco's just leaned over the bar and his shirt's ridden up a bit.

'Sorry,' she says, turning to him. 'Is that weird, for me to be perving on him, after last weekend?'

'No?' Harry says. 'I don't really know. It doesn't bother me.'

'Huh.' She turns back to the bar. 'You're a good sort, Harry.'

'Thanks?' He gives her a dubious look.

'What?'

'I'm pretty sure you just complimented me on not caring enough about you to mind you staring at other men.'

'Yeah, well,' she shrugs. 'It's my new favourite thing about you. I like staring at men. I'd have been pissed at you if you'd ruined it. Don't ever change.'

'Happy to oblige.'

'It's a great hobby, staring at hot guys,' she says in mock-serious tones. 'You should definitely try it.'

'I should,' he deadpans. 'I might pick up some fashion tips.'

They sit and stare together in silence for a beat, then he feels Lisa move slightly. He turns to her and she's looking up at him with a scandalous twinkle in her eye. 'You're actually looking at him.'

'Those are nice trousers,' Harry feels a blush crawl up his neck and she laughs. Oh, how she laughs.

'A straight guy,' she gets out eventually. 'Probably would've complimented a garment that wasn't pulled tight across an arse like that,' and she waves her hand in the general direction of the nice trousers. Nicest trousers Harry has ever seen, really.

'Hm,' is all he says, and looks back toward the bar, just as Draco turns, a short tumbler of what must be whiskey hovering over his shoulder and two frothy pink monstrosities in his hands, piled with fruit slices and glowing slightly in the dimness of the pub.

'Harry?' she breathes. 'Really?'

He looks at her. Shrugs. Pulls out his wand and traces the increasingly familiar whirl. She sighs.

'Fine, I won't tell anyone you were staring at Malfoy's arse.'

He gives her a look.

'Or that you're bi,' she pulls a face as the little white sparkles poof out and settle on them. 'You know doing that spell in public is a dead giveaway you're hiding something.'

'I'm okay with that,' he says as Draco sets the drinks down in front of them.

'Okay with what?' he asks, eyeing the dying sparkles on the table.

'Me being the meat in this sandwich,' Lisa says, winking.

'Does that make us the bread?'

'No, I'm going low-carb, you can be lettuce leaves.'

'I'm literally over-joyed,' Draco says as he sits, his form long and elegant. 'I've always dreamed of being a salad vegetable.'

'I'm overjoyed you bought us such incredibly pink drinks,' Harry says, aiming for sarcasm but really, actually overjoyed that Draco bought him something, even if it wasn't a fancy scarf. 'They smell like coconut,' he sniffs at it as Lisa takes a sip.

She spits out her straw and sits back, pushing her drink carefully away. 'They do not taste like it...'

'It's called a JigglyPuff,' Draco says. 'I didn't want to ask what that meant.'

'I doubt it means anything at all, except maybe, 'Don't order me, I'm disgusting.'’

'Don't be so hard on yourself,' Draco soothes. 'Harry doesn't think you're disgusting.'

There's a playfully evil glint in those grey eyes as their gazes lock over the horrid, luminous pink shit in front of them. Technically, Draco hasn't broken his promise, but it's obvious enough to Lisa, surely. Harry prays she lets it go. No such luck.

'He doesn't, does he?' she croons. 'But then, I don't think he finds you disgusting either,' they share a glance and Harry wishes he could have the chance to die again, right now, because this is worse than he could ever have imagined.

Since death isn't obliging him, he simply gets up and walks away. It's a rather graceless way of dealing with it, and he's no doubt, in doing so, made certain they'll keep talking around it. He doesn't look back. Decides the bathroom is a relatively normal place to go, so walks that way. He'd like to be alone. He'd really like to be in his own room, actually. But that would make his discomfort so much worse, since he'd probably just end up having a sad lonely wank over his two pesky blondes, together, without him. Maybe he'd be allowed to watch, maybe it'd be a sneaky, voyeuristic sort of thing. It'd be hot either way. He mulls over the minutiae as he uses the loo, washes his hands and checks his hair is still atrocious. They'd probably be quite good together, Lisa and Draco. Both so confident, so comfortable with themselves. Both so unlike Harry.

He's trying to flatten the worst of the mess in the mirror when Justin comes in.

'Harry,' he says, walking past him and barely making eye contact.

'Hi.'

Nothing else needs to be said in the men's room, so Harry gives up on his hair and leaves so Justin can piss in peace. He orders a soft drink at the bar, considers getting something for Lisa but decides she doesn't deserve it. His resolution to not drink anything else is back on the table, at least. Though oblivion is looking pretty good right now.

Draco seems to be thinking the same thing, because as Harry reaches their table again, the two pink drinks are gone and the empty glasses are suspiciously close to the empty whisky tumbler.

'Potter, what's that in your hand?' he demands, reaching for it. 'Get this taste out of my mouth.'

Harry can think of better ways to do it than handing over his lemonade but none of them are appropriate for public viewing and at this stage he can't be sure dick actually tastes better than a JigglyPuff.

'Did you drink both of them?' he asks instead, sitting down next to him.

'I had to, my honour was at stake.'

'Your sobriety was too, but I think that's probably a lost cause now.'

'I'm fine, thank you very much,' Draco waves his hand at Harry. 'Give me your drink.'

'No.'

'Potter,' he has a warning tone in his voice, one that does something odd to Harry's insides.

'Malfoy,' he says, being purposely contrary. If he's not going to call him Harry, he's not giving him shit.

'Turpin?' Draco turns to Lisa for back-up.

'Harry, don't give it to him,' she says, thwarting his tactics. 'It'd be setting a bad precedent.'

'I want it,' Draco snaps, far too loudly.

'Oh look, Malfoy's a stroppy drunk,' Ron observes from the other table. 'Can't say I'm surprised,' he gives Harry an odd look that doesn't bear analysing.

'I am not drunk,' Draco claims, the slight slowing of his speech saying otherwise.

He keeps trying to claim the same thing for the next half hour as the effects of the two JigglyPuffs and a whiskey unfold, and they're left with a sarcastic, giggling mess of a man that Harry still doesn't find disgusting. He's still pretty, still clever and now warm and leaning perilously close to Harry so that every time he laughs too hard he loses his balance and presses hard against his shoulder. People must notice, but no one says anything even though Harry feels constantly watched. He tries to not react too much when they're flush against one another, but it's difficult to reign in the pleasure of his closeness. Tonight he smells like an exotic bungalow hideaway in a luxury foreign resort, with soft florals and spicy musk on a mist of rain and clean linen. Harry could breathe him in forever.

Eventually, though, the night starts to wind down and people begin drifting off home in twos and threes. At the end there's only six of them left and even Ron declares it time for bed. They make their last visits to the loo, collecting coats and thanking their hosts — Draco with far more enthusiasm than Harry had imagined him capable of. He's been swinging wildly between the lethargy of the long intoxicated and manic chaos the last hour. Hopefully this upswing will last 'til they make it up to the tower because he'd be difficult to carry and Harry is iffy with Levicorpus even when he's stone cold sober.

He walks back alongside Ron, Lisa and Draco behind them, Neville and Hannah ahead. They're shoulder to shoulder and occasionally Hannah giggles and nudges against Neville in a way that makes Harry almost miss Gin. Almost. They're sweet.

One of those times, Neville half-turns and the look on his face is not one of quiet flirtation but red hot gossip burning to be shared. He seems to ask permission before stopping and waiting for Harry to catch up, the two of them enveloping him and Ron.

'They dated,' Neville whispers. 'You and Hermione were right.'

'Who did?' he says, but he knows exactly who and his insides are alive with burning eels, a pit of them, writhing and painful and sickening and scary and he hates it immediately. Hates Justin. Hates Draco for allowing it to happen, for not... waiting? As if. Ugh.

Jealousy isn't something he wants to deal with right now. He has a lot of other shit on his mind and another massive emotional upheaval isn't required. Because yes, Harry might've admired him physically, might've used him as a masturbatory aid a few times, turning him over in his head, exploring that pale, hot skin, but that was fine. It didn't have to mean anything. It wasn't anything to get emotional about. And yeah, now it looked like he might've been trying a bit too successfully to ignore those other thoughts, the less sexual ones, that were more like a real friendship (because if there are both, that’s where the trouble would start).

Though at least... well. He can't really deny the full scope of his feelings anymore, can he, when he feels like this? And that's a tiny bit of a relief. Because it's pretty draining to try and avoid realising you might be having particular thoughts about your former nemesis, thoughts that might explain the years of obsession and slightly too competitive, too attentive way in which they always interacted. Thoughts that turned everything you thought you knew upside-down. Because it was fine to want to shag someone to find out how deep your interest in their gender goes. It was another thing to, well, like them. As in, like them, like them. As in, care. And today, in the cave... fuck. Harry was fucked. Fucked with a capital F for Fuck. He needed to bury this, deep, and soon. The look of careful confusion he'd arranged on his face wasn't going to hold Neville off for long.

'Justin and Draco,' his friend hisses, glancing nervously over Harry's shoulder. 'In fifth. Nobody knew.'

'Until Justin's Birthday party this summer,' Hannah whispers. 'There was a game of Truth and Ernie had always suspected he'd had a secret girlfriend, only it wasn't a girl. Took five rounds but we got it out of him. Then, of course, everyone wished they hadn't asked. Justin was furious. Everyone got so weird about it.'

'Why?' Ron asks, obviously trying to keep his tone calm but inevitably thinking of Charlie. 'Because they're gay?'

'Lord no,' she laughs. 'Hufflepuff's the gayest house at Hogwarts. But Malfoy's been such a dick over the years it was hard to swallow.'

'Though apparently not for Justin?' Harry says, and smirks, making light of it.

'Yuck, Harry,' Hannah whines. 'Too far. He's still my friend.'

Neville gives him a quick look then, and so he changes the subject, sort of, away from people in their vicinity anyway. 'So who else in Hufflepuff is gay?'

'Oh, loads. At least a couple in every year group, mostly boys. Apparently most of the open-minded girls are in Slytherin, if you take my meaning.'

Harry considered making a joke about all the open-legged girls also being in Slytherin but it seemed a bit much, and he didn't want to embarrass Neville in front of Hannah by being a bit, well, blokey.

'Not surprising,' Ron says. 'They're definitely the most aggressive.'

There's a shriek behind them then, and Harry spins before the sound even stops, to find Lisa suddenly wrapped around Draco's back and being carried up the hill. He takes a second to admire the strength that must take, then the roiling fiend is back, churning up his gut and making him angry. Because the only thing more attractive than his pathetic pining is him being hostile about it, of course. He squashes the feeling down. It might mean literally nothing, if Draco is solely into guys. Unfortunately it's not like Hannah's going to know his whole dating history and can tell him everyone he's ever dated. If all of them were boys or not. Would he be okay with it if they weren't? Even if Draco is also bisexual, this doesn't necessarily mean he's into Lisa. Of course, it does look that way, but there's no certainty. Harry knows first hand how little it might mean to her. Just fun, right?

Anyway. He's most probably bi himself, it would be stupid to find that undesirable in others. But the thought of sharing Draco with twice as many people still rankles. Of competing with twice as many people. Not that everyone would be receptive (even if he hadn't been on the wrong side of a war, people still had certain tastes).

They walk the rest of the way amongst soft chatter, Harry's a lot quieter than normal. He tells himself he's just tired, not worried, or preoccupied with anything, or trying to keep an eye on the action behind him, the sounds of which eventually drop to soft murmurs and quiet giggles. It sounds like they're having too much fun back there. Harry feels himself getting tense.

He has no claims on either of them of course. He specifically requested no claims on Lisa, he can hardly be mad when she honours that. And nothing between him and Draco is... anything. And he'd literally told himself that was the best option compared to finding out the truth and having to actually deal with it. And even if the truth is positive, they still shouldn't, with things as they were, legally.

Their group makes it back upstairs before midnight and most of the eighth years are already in their rooms. Dean’s sitting by himself on the couch twiddling on his guitar with no real commitment. He looks up as they walk in and smiles, waving his wand at the kettle to boil before shifting to one end of his couch. Harry takes a seat next to him for something to do. If Lisa and Draco are about to disappear upstairs together, he wants someone next to him who can listen to him vent, or alternately distract him, depending on how exactly it was going to feel to have your heart ripped out through your intestines.

'What're you still doing up?' he asks Dean, hoping if he engages him in conversation he might stop feeling the urge to turn and look what they’re doing. Are they snuggly, affectionate? Would they do that in front of everyone or just oh-so-casually sneak upstairs a few minutes apart, fooling no one?

'Just felt like being alone with my guitar and didn't want to keep anyone upstairs awake.'

'Sorry to spoil that, we got tired.'

'No problem, I'd just started to get annoyed at the song I was working on and craved a cup of tea.'

'Did you have a good night?' Harry asks.

'Yeah, I guess,' his friend shrugs. 'You? You looked pretty cosy with those two,' Dean smirks as he nods toward the sideboard. 'Which one of them are you after?'

All the words Harry could've used to deny it caught in his throat and he sat there, dumb and obvious, till Dean laughed at him. Softly, to his credit, and with zero malice.

'Shut up,' Harry says anyway, but finds himself smirking against his will. He still doesn't look over at them, but there's banter and the clank of crockery that seemed somewhat aligned so maybe they weren't making out at least. 'What are they even doing?'

'Making tea,' Dean says, not fooled in the slightest by Harry's attempt at casual curiosity.

'Oh,'

'They look friendly,' Dean says and Harry's heart squeezes into his ears. 'But not, you know, friendly.'  Oh. Good. Trust Dean to understand what Harry needed to know. He's very perceptive like that. The angry feeling dissolves and is replaced with an odd sensation of embarrassment even though no one can know how deep his misplaced misery had gone.

'No?' he says, attempting casual interest again even though it was probably pointless.

'No. In fact, one of them keeps looking over here.' He raises a questioning eyebrow. 'Should we try making them jealous?'

'Who's looking?' Harry asks in response, because he absolutely needs to know now.

'Which one of them matters?' Dean counters, throwing his arm along the back of the sofa, and Harry could punch him.

'I hate you,' he says instead. 'You teasing bastard.'

Dean leans in then and whispers in Harry's ear, 'You don't, but someone else is giving me quite the evil look.'

'Tell me or I'll turn around and they'll know we're talking about them.'

'Oh, no need.' Dean sits back, eyes flicking up over Harry's shoulder toward the sideboard, looking gleefully like he's meddling in something and Harry realises that one of them, the one that was staring, Draco or Lisa, must be coming over. He wants very much for it to not be Lisa. But part of him was at least resting on the fact that if it is, maybe burying his sorrows in her won't be so bad. Because there would be sorrows. Because apparently he really likes Draco. Jealousy being undeniably what it is. Shit.

A purple cup appears on the table in front of him, steaming slightly and full of tea. Another cup comes down beside it, this one fine white porcelain. Harry looks up in time to see Draco step into the small space between him and Dean, 'Move over, Potter, you're hogging the couch.'

'You made me tea,' Harry says to cover up the fact his mouth is hanging open and he probably looks elated. It's not his best work, but it'll do for now.

'Yes, well. Don't get excited,' Draco says. 'I'm a touch intoxicated and it's probably terrible.'

Harry smiles in a way he hopes looks nice and normal and shuffles toward his end of the couch so Draco can sit down in the middle. Pointedly between him and Dean. Whom he saw hugging Harry on this couch not very long ago. Which explains the glaring. Which means Draco must think that if Dean is a threat, Harry likes guys. Which means he was either very obvious, or Draco is just as clever as Hermione. Either way, he certainly doesn't seem to mind, and that can't be bad, can it?

A couple of the others join them, Ron could never say no to a cup of tea, or Neville, but Lisa and Hannah go up to bed with a general goodnight and matching cups of Peppermint Dreams clutched in their hands. Neville catches Hannah's eye as she mounts the stairs and smiles and he looks so adorably besotted that Harry feels comparatively dirty that his own romantic tangle isn't so innocent.

Or even harmless.

Chapter Text

Conversation meanders from who said what at the pub, to Quidditch again, then onto classes and professors and attractive classmates. Ginny gets a mention for having been on at least one date with three of them. Harry follows the conversation but is constantly aware of two things. One, Draco has sat very purposefully between him and Dean. And two, Dean is probably watching this unfold, knowing what he knows.

'So,' Harry looks over at Neville, hoping to avoid anyone asking if he has his eye on anyone post-break up. 'Hannah.'

'Yeah,' Neville stares into his tea, a slight quirk at the corner of his mouth.

'Fair enough,' Ron says, ever supportive. 'She has nice hair.'

'She's very bloody good at Charms,' Draco says to the ceiling. His head is tilted back and his eyes are closed, a half-drunk cup of tea clutched in his lap. 'Smart girl. Shame she's a Hufflepuff.'

Everyone looks at him, and even though they're all Gryffindors, surrounding the lone Slytherin, the urge to defend the other houses, even in their absence, is strong.

'What's wrong with being a Hufflepuff?'

'Fucking Justin is a Hufflepuff. He's such a dick,' Draco whines.

'You seem quite invested in your opinion about fucking Justin, Malfoy,' Ron teases.

'I am. He's that much of a dick. I dare you to disagree with me.'

'I don't,' Harry says boldly. 'He's been a right twat lately.'

'You're wrong, Potter, he's been a right twat for years and you were too stupid to notice.'

'Maybe I was just better at keeping away from him?'

That earns him a glare out of one eye and a smack with a cushion.

'I'm very good at keeping away from him but he keeps giving me these pathetically needy looks and it's annoying.'

'You're good at keeping away from him now.'

Another smack with the pillow. 'He needs to leave me alone,' Draco declares.

Harry holds his gaze and tries not to flinch. With his head tilted back like this, cushioned in the softness of the couch, Harry can easily imagine Draco lying in his bed, soft firelight painting his cheeks gold. He can imagine reaching out for him, pulling him close. He can imagine their legs entwined, their arms tight around one another. He can imagine the heat of their flesh, skin on skin, a sheen of sweat slick between them. He can imagine the rhythm of their movements, the desperate rush, the panting breath, the need.

'Perhaps you need to indicate you've moved on?' Neville suggests and Harry suddenly remembers there are other people there, watching him stare and listening to this unguarded tirade and if they didn't already know Draco and Justin had had a thing, they probably do now. Harry looks over at Dean on the opposite end of the couch and there on his face is a look of 'how convenient it is that the boy you fancy, fancies boys?'

Draco must also have momentarily forgotten there are other people there because his eyes open wide and he seems surprised to see four Gryffindors waiting for him to respond.

'I suppose,' he says, 'Though I wish it weren't necessary.'

'Some people aren't good at taking the hint,' Dean smirks and catches Harry's eye again. 'Maybe you need to enlist a friend to act as a shield,' he says and gets up to walk over to the kettle, leaving Harry and Draco alone on the couch.

'Yeah,' Ron says. 'Some sort of dick repellant.'

'Preferably with a dick of their own so he doesn't come panting at my door trying to remind me what's missing?' Draco drawls. 'Perfect idea. Any suggestions?' His voice is tired and sarcastic as he shuffles in his seat. He plops the previously weaponised pillow down against Harry's thigh and lifts his long legs up onto the couch, stretching them out and propping his ankles where Dean had been sitting. Like he'd just been waiting for him to move. Like he'd been wanting to do this for a while. His head comes down to rest on the pillow. Practically on Harry's lap.

'Hello,' Harry says, trying to sound pointed but thinking he might just sound startled instead.

'You're single, Potter, fancy helping me annoy him?' Draco says, managing casual disinterest as he wriggles to get comfortable, the movement causing a certain tightness in Harry's trousers to become apparent. And he wants to say yes, he really does, but the blatant appearance of a relationship is what they need to avoid. And if it's fake there's not even any good stuff to temper the inevitable public outcry and possible legal ramifications. Not that he needs to reveal how deeply he’s thought about that.

'I don't think it's a good idea for us to look like anything more than friends,' Harry says, and he doesn't care if he sounds regretful. He is. 'Considering the frightening accuracy of my ex-girlfriend's hexes.'

'Spoilsport.'

'Some might even say using me as a pillow was somewhat inappropriate.'

'I'm using the pillow as a pillow. You're merely a prop to keep the pillow in place.'

'So happy to be useful.'

'You do seem to like coming to the aid of others. I wonder what a Mind Healer would have to say about that?'

'Probably something like, 'That'll be a hundred Galleons, thanks, see you next week?'' Ron suggests.

'Mine says I should play more guitar and get more exercise,' Dean says. 'But mentioned the importance of not trying to do them simultaneously.'

'Mine said I was adjusting well and not to be too hard on myself,' Ron put in. 'Which made me really glad I didn't have to pay for it because that is shit advice.'

'Mine barely said anything at all for the first few sessions,' Neville tells them, since apparently that's what's happening now — confessions from Ministry-mandated therapy. 'I got nervous and just started vomiting words. I can't have said anything too bad cause she let me go after five of them.'

'I only went to one,' Harry admits. 'It was horrible.'

'You made it through a whole session?' Draco says. 'I lasted twenty minutes I think; I don't like telling people things.'

'Except that they're stupid and doing everything wrong?' Harry asks. 'Like you did for the previous seven years of our association?'

'Yes, well,' Draco reaches up and pats him on the head. 'You're very easy to talk to.'

'And lie on.'

'I'm not lying on you.'

'You almost are.'

'I could demonstrate what that would actually look like if you're confused.'

'Shall we call Justin out?' Dean pokes from the sideboard. Bless him, he's making them a fresh pot. 'He'd probably volunteer as tribute for your demonstration.' He's rewarded with simultaneous snickering from everyone but Draco, who just looks pained.

'What were you thinking?'  Harry asks him, because he can't help it and he really wants to know. 'Justin?'

'I was thinking he was at least wealthy,' Draco sighed. 'And from a good family, and that as a Muggle-born, he'd really piss off my pureblood idealist father.'

'And?'

'He merely pissed me off.'

'Ok, let's go.' Ron says in his game voice. A voice all the Gryffindor boys were intimately familiar with. 'Fuck, Marry, Hex.'

'What are the parameters?' Dean asks, because someone has to, these days.

'Hogwarts as usual?'

'No, you always end up picking Quidditch people we don't know.'

'Er, our original year?'

'No, eighth years.'

'There isn't enough of them,' Harry points out. 'The game will be over in ten minutes.'

'Ok, must contain at least one current eighth year?'

'Agreed.'

'And no other parameters?'

'Let's just keep it to people we all know?'

'Celebrities?'

'Major ones only.'

They all agree to the terms except Draco, who looks confused.

'What is this horrifying game?' He asks.

'Well,' Dean says as he returns with a pot of tea and a small milk jug Harry has never seen before. 'You get given three people, and you have to choose which of them to fuck, which to marry, and which to hex. Theoretically of course.'

'And I assume the fun is in the fact I can't hex all of them?' Draco asks, his voice dry.

'Exactly,' Dean says. 'Ron suggested the game, so he chooses first. We'll do a round as an example,' he turns to Ron. 'Right. McGonagall, Justin and Celestina Warbeck.'

'Fuck. Off.'

'Come, now, Weasley, you suggested it.'

'Fine. I would hex Justin, marry McGonagall, and shag Celestina Warbeck.'

'Professor Minerva Weasley,' Draco purrs. 'Doesn't that have a nice ring to it.'

'Okay, Malfoy,' Dean says. 'Harry, Ron and Hermione.'

'Lord, this game is a brutal shambles, isn't it?' Draco purses his lips in thought and stares at the ceiling. 'Well, Mrs Weasley's frighteningly adept at AK-ing my family members so I'll have to leave off marrying Weasley or Granger and breaking up the most promising marriage the family has seen in several generations...'

'You refer to the union of Weasley and Black, circa 1764, I assume,' Ron raises his eyebrows.

'The very same,' Draco agrees. Harry's impressed he can remember dates in this state of inebriation. 'Plus, I've already hexed you, Potter, and you tend to fight back. So, I would marry you, hex Weasley and ruin Granger for him forever.'

'Of course you would, your logic is flawless,' Harry tries to calm his heart with thoughts of homework and plain toast.

'It is, I wouldn't even have to have children, it'd be perfect.'

'I want children,' Harry says, almost against his will, wondering how much of what they're saying is true, but knowing for certain that this is. 'And just because we're married doesn't mean I won't hex you.'

'Fine, then I'll marry Granger and you and I can just fuck then, how's that?'

'Horrifyingly awkward to talk about,' Harry says, regretting his outburst and focusing hard on the bricks of the giant chimney and not on the warm weight on his thigh. He wonders who built the chimney, how many individual bricks there are, where they came from and what it'd be like to fuck Draco in front of them, on this couch maybe. Dammit.

'Isn't that the point?' Draco asks, looking up at Harry with soft grey eyes. And wow, that was a sight for the recently besotted. 'Shall I do you now?' Yes, please.

'Er, sure.' Harry tried vainly to block the mental images forming in his head. Well, re-forming.

'These three,' Draco says, swishing his hand in a wide, drunken arc. It's the least graceful thing Harry's ever seen him do and all he can think about is having that hand on him.

'What?'

'The three people in the room that aren't us, idiot.'

'Oh. Er...' Harry thinks about it for second. 'I'd marry Ron, because he's my best mate, and I'd hex Neville because I wouldn't want to ruin his thing with Hannah, and then I'd shag Dean.' His mistake is only apparent after the words have left his mouth. That he'd just said he'd shag Dean, whom Draco is already a bit suspicious of. Bollocks.

'Ok, Thomas,' Draco starts, and Harry hopes he isn't just going to tell him to go fuck himself. 'Filch, Hagrid, and Slughorn.'

Turns out, even if he doesn't understand Dean and Harry's friendship, Draco understands the game perfectly.

 

***

 

Fuck, Marry, Hex fades eventually but the conversation goes on and on, becoming more and more ridiculous as time passes and fatigue makes them all silly and giggly. Harry notices when Draco succumbs to the alcohol and falls asleep and he lets a surreptitious hand slide down to rest on his collar bone, hoping it isn't too visible in the firelight. He can feel the soft, deep breaths of sleep as Draco fills his lungs, and he finds it soothing. Intimate. Torturous.

The whole thing is weird, really. Sitting and hanging out with the guys, most of his old dorm, but instead of their friendly neighbourhood Irishman telling them horrendously offensive jokes he has a sleepy, snuggling Draco at his side. It's a strange cross between bliss and horror, knowing it was what he wanted but that it shouldn’t be happening. He doesn't want to get attached. To the closeness and the strange feeling of acceptance coming off his peers.

'Is Draco asleep?' Neville asks, leaning forward in his armchair.

'Yeah,' Harry says. 'He dropped off some time between deciding the worst possible Quidditch team and debating who would play us in a movie of our lives.

'That was the best bit,' Ron mocks.

'We really need to find girlfriends,' Dean says.

'Speak for yourself,' Ron says. 'I'm sorted. And Neville's headed that way by the looks of it.'

'I hope so,' Neville says with an open earnestness that Harry finds endlessly endearing. He long ago lost the ability to think things might go right.

'It actually looks as though Harry might've already found himself a girlfriend, as well,' Dean says and nods his head at Draco, who's just now decided to roll over in his sleep and is now snuggling face-first against his hip. The pillow barrier has started to fail and Harry can feel the heat of him through the cardigan. He had lifted his hand away when Draco started to move but he feels brave enough to drop it back now, and it falls across his shoulder. Dean will know why. Ron and Neville might ask, and now might be a good time to tell them. Maybe.

'I think I've found myself a human cat,' Harry counters. 'Girls are usually nicer than this.'

'And more sober, and sensible and go to bed when they're tired instead of curling up on my lap,' Ron grumbles.

'Hermione not catlike enough for you? There's always polyjuice,' Harry smirks, and is glad for the change of subject.

'Ugh, no thanks. Just,' he pauses and seems to consider his audience. 'She wouldn't do that,'  he says, and waves his hand at the affectionate tableau in front of him. Harry notes the envy in his voice and feels a rush of validation that he and Draco are something, even though they aren't anything in particular. 'Though to be fair I never imagined you two would either.'

'He's probably still drunk and has no idea what he's doing,' Harry says, hoping that isn't the case at all.

'I doubt that's completely true.' And surprisingly it's Ron who says it. 'He's not the most subtle.'

'He was staring a bit tonight,' Neville adds. 'Are you...' he flushes and it's visible even in the dimness. 'Like, you know.'

'What?' Harry tries to keep his voice open, calm. 'Together? No.'

'No, like-'

'Into it?' he sighs quietly to himself. Here it goes. It's really late and it's not going to get any easier than this.

'Yeah,' Neville gives him a cautious look.

'Guys, yes. Draco?' He pauses. 'I guess,' Harry looks down at him, content in his sleepy snuggling. 'Against my better judgement, of course.'

'I knew it,' Ron shakes his head. 'Ever since sixth you've been circling each other like crups.' He laughs, one short sharp sound. 'Hermione is never going to let this go.'

'What?' Harry panics a bit. 'Why?'

'When you said you were speaking at his trial she told me, 'It's happening again, Ron, you keep an eye on him' .'

'Keep an eye on me?'

'Well, yeah. We didn't know what he was thinking,' Ron waves a hand at the sleeping mass of blonde and purple blanket. 'Just because he tried to save your life didn't mean he was, you know, so inclined.'

'Yet you seem entirely unsurprised that I'm so inclined?'

'I wondered. Figured you'd say something eventually,' Ron shrugs. 'It's not really a big deal.'

'Oh,' he'd been worrying over nothing, apparently. 'Okay.'

'You still like girls though, right? That's not why you broke up with my sister is it?' Ron seems genuinely worried, and Harry wonders what Hermione had actually told him about him and Ginny.

'It's definitely not why I broke up with her. She... expected a lot.'

'She does fixate a bit,' he relents.

'I wanted to not feel... pre-destined for once?' Harry tries to explain.

'Fair enough.'

'So what's actually going on with you two?' Neville directs the questioning back to the guy draped across Harry's lap. Just in case everyone's forgotten he's there.

'I don't know.'

'Huh.' Dean says. 'You'd think dealing with a bloke would be much more straightforward.'

'I don't think anyone has ever accused Malfoy of being straightforward,' Harry sighs.

'What're we accusing Malfoy of?' comes a voice from the stairs, and Lisa appears, yawning, in a pale blue robe with some sort of design on it in white. The light is low, but Harry thinks she looks pretty unphased that Draco is partially lying in his lap. 'Oh, look, he fell asleep,' she says, and pats Harry's hair as she walks past to perch on the end of the other couch next to Dean.

'Not being straightforward,' Neville supplies.

'You don't think this is straightforward?' she raises an eyebrow as she flourishes her hand at Harry. 'Well, to be fair, it's quite forward but it's not remotely straight,' she giggles.

'Yeah, we talked about that, too,' Dean grins.

'Hannah says he and Justin had a thing,' Neville says.

'He pretty much confirmed it before he fell asleep,' Ron agrees, 'He asked Harry to be his fake-boyfriend to get Justin to back off.'

'Right, fake,' Lisa smirks.

Harry feels himself flush at the thought of someone else thinking Draco likes him. Yet some small part of him that's afraid of rejection resists the thought it might be wholly true. He likes Ginny, after all, but he doesn’t want to be with her. And what if Draco likes him but just not enough to go ahead with it. What if it's only enough to flirt without shame and drunkenly cuddle but not to proudly commit to. What if he was fine, but not quite enough to be worth it.

Surprisingly none of the people here care if they liked each other, and they should be the ones who ought to. Lisa had had Harry in her bed a week ago. Ron and Draco had never got on, their families at odds before they'd even met. Neville's parents had been destroyed by Death Eaters, and specifically by Draco's aunt. Dean had been held captive in the Malfoy's dungeon for goodness knows how long. They had every reason to hate him and begrudge Harry whatever happiness he could leech from the situation, but they were being weirdly supportive. In fact, Ron seemed so remarkably unphased by it, Harry suspected he might've known before he did himself that there was something not quite average about his... interests. After Charlie, maybe he knew the signs.

So here he is, sitting comfortably in front of a warm hearth with his best guy mates and a boy he likes warming his lap. It’s almost too good to be true. The memory of only hours ago when they'd returned from the pub and he'd felt tense and sick and on the verge of heartbreak seems so far away now. What a fickle business it is, fancying someone you aren’t sure fancies you back. Cho had been pretty clear she'd liked him once he'd actually said something, and Ginny was pleasingly obvious, and there isn't anyone else he's ever really wanted. This is new and weird.

And what will happen when Draco wakes up and realises he's unconsciously wriggled closer, that Harry has an arm around him and everyone has been watching him sleep? A handful of Gryffindors, his former enemies, and him so vulnerable? Should Harry get up before he wakes and leave him with the couch? Should he shoo everyone off to bed and let Draco wake on his own with just him? Or should he just stay here with him til morning, and hope that that’s okay? Maybe a combination of the above, where they stay here and everyone else goes away and they'd have the common room to themselves... for... well.

Harry can imagine what he wants, but he can also imagine some thoroughly unwanted reactions from Draco. And he’s enjoying this too much to risk it. And yet... maybe he needs to make his feelings clear. Just in case Draco is going through the same thing. It wouldn't do to have them both dance around this if they both secretly want it. So maybe he should say something. Or do something. Draco has done this. It’s Harry's turn next. They're just going to have to keep it a secret.

 

***

 

He wakes up sometime later, with a noticeable absence of weight on his lap. Looking around, everyone is asleep and cosy under purple blankets, Dean and Lisa top and tailing on the other couch and Ron and Neville having somehow transfigured their armchairs into something more reclined. He hears a sound behind him and turns. Draco is standing at the sideboard with his back to the room, his hair sleep-mussed and his posture that of someone either very tired, or somewhat unwell.

It's been hours since they left the pub and in all likelihood his hangover is setting in. Harry should've thought to find him a potion for that before they went to sleep. Not that he'd intended to sleep.

'Hi,' he says, and his voice comes out croaky.

'Good Morning, Potter,' Draco says without turning around.

Harry doesn’t really know how to respond. He'd have expected either anger or affection, not a cold, formal front. Is Draco embarrassed? Annoyed? Worried what people will think? Harry had decided it was his move, but what can he do here? Ask him into his bed, where it’s more comfortable? Tell him to come back and snuggle? Ask if he really does want to marry him or just fuck him? They all seem like terrible ideas in the cold light of pre dawn.

'Do you want to go get a coffee later?' he asks. 'I think Puddifoot's opens at seven.'

'I don't drink coffee.'

'Tea then?'

'There's tea here.'

'We could get breakfast.'

'We eat breakfast together every morning.'

'We could try doing it somewhere else.'

'No point in walking half an hour for toast when there's toast downstairs.'

'Are you being purposefully contrary?'

'No, I'm being extremely hungover and you're being annoying.'

Harry's feelings of sentimentality dissipate and he's left just feeling tired. He gets up and walks out. Straight down the hall to the bathroom, where he gets rid of the two cups of tea and the lemonade, and it is, sadly, more satisfying than trying to ask Draco out on a date. He washes his hands, splashes warm water on his face and goes into his room. He purposely doesn't look down the hall, just in case. He's a bit pissed off, and hurt, but he doesn't want to escalate anything, so he closes the door quietly, and strips off his clothes without bothering to turn on the light, and falls into bed.

In the morning, he opens his door to find a cup of tea on the floor of the corridor, stone cold and alone.

Chapter Text

The same day at breakfast there's a discussion about giving their little group a name - the people that inevitably end up in the common room in the middle of the night, escaping their dreams or the sleepless tossing and turning of their lonely bedrooms. Testament to their collective stubbornness, although they're all exhausted, they are all at breakfast. Harry reckons it's partly because hunger is a thing and partly because they're all being very British about it and hoping more tea will help. If nothing else, suffering together seems to lessen the general despair.

'I think we should just call it as it is,' Ron says. 'The Nightmare Club. No point making it sound like anything it isn't.'

'I don't see the point in calling it anything at all,' Draco says. He still hasn't looked at Harry, and doesn't meet Ron's eye either.

'Doesn't need to have a point to it,' Dean says. 'Just seems like a nice idea.'

'To name ourselves by our stand-out ability to not sleep?'

'I like that we're there to support each other,' Neville says. 'I think that deserves a name.'

'Well said, Nev,' Hannah pats him on the shoulder as she nibbles at a muffin and Neville looks immensely pleased with himself.

'Harry?' Ron asks. 'You have an opinion?'

'Not really,' he hedges. At the moment, with things so uncertain, he'd rather not talk at all. Not if he can help it.

'Fine,' Ron says. 'Then by total lack of anyone giving enough of a shit to come up with another idea, I declare us The Nightmare Club.'

'Meetings held nightly in the Common Room,' Dean adds with mock enthusiasm. 'See you there at some ungodly hour.'

'I think you all need to go and see Madame Pomfrey,' Hermione says. 'Instead of whining like a bunch of sad puppies.'

Every one of them, even Draco, shoots her a look. Under the strength of six tired glares, each one red-rimmed and dark-circled, she almost quails. Almost.

'It's not like I sat on the sidelines during the war,' she points out. 'I've had my fair share of sleepless nights. But there are potions for it, and exercises, and I've half a mind to drug your tea with it if you won't get help yourself.'

'Not me, please,' Lisa says. 'Might interact with the potion I'm on for my depression. It makes it harder to sleep but easier to not, you know, want to die all the time.'

'Well, of course, I won't drug you without permission, Lisa,' Hermione soothes. 'Do you fancy joining me for yoga instead? We could set up the Women's Lounge, no one seems to use it much.'

'Women's Lounge?' That's news to Harry.

'Yes,' Hermione brightens at the opportunity to explain something. 'On the middle floor of the tower there was a spare room so they'd set it up as a lounge. It's nice. The chimney is going right up through it so it's a weird shape, but it's warm at least.'

'That must be right below my bedroom,' Draco says. 'I wondered why none of the girls had complained about the woefully inadequate wardrobe space after half of it's eaten up by chimney.'

Harry makes a mental note of that information, even though it seems a bit creepy. Though, to be fair, they have name plates on their doors anyway, it isn't like it's a secret where he sleeps. He can walk up there whenever and say hi. Physical access isn’t the issue right now. He’s being emotionally shut out. And maybe he should just give up and go with it, considering the already deliberated upon chaos that would ensue if they were publicly a thing.

His musing is interrupted by the post and Harry is surprised to feel the delicate smack of a tiny owl hitting the side of his face.

'Pig!' Dean recognises him immediately, and Harry is simultaneously reminded of his ex-girlfriend's wide-reaching affections and aware that a letter from Ginny isn't going to help whatever mood Draco is in.

He unties the letter from the tiny claws and scans the handwriting; it is Gin's. He flexes the envelope and finds it pliant. Not a long note then, that was good. Or bad. Though at least it's unlikely to just be that dreaded, single-line note that all sexually active teenage boys fear:  Hi, I'm pregnant, say goodbye to the rest of your life'.  That would've required not being depressingly incapable of finishing when he was with her. Though. Hermione's sex education lectures had be awkwardly thorough so maybe... even though he hadn't really... Well. He didn't want to find out at the breakfast table either way, but stashing the letter in his pocket would look like he was saving it for when he was alone and that might make things worse. He risks a glance up and Draco is looking at him over his teacup, his face impassive. There's not much for it, really.

He releases the seal on the envelope and pulls the contents out half way to examine it. There's a very small, surprisingly civil, note and a photograph.

Harry,
Mum finally got that film processed, she wanted you to have this. Tell Ron he's a useless shit and he's only going to get a copy if he actually writes to us. Wheezes is good. Everyone says hi.
~G

He hands the note to Ron, and Draco watches it pass between them with more attention that it warrants, though of course he isn't to know that. If he really does like Harry, he'll probably be assuming the worst. Harry's happy to let him since he's being a dick at the moment, though handing it to Ron should be a dead giveaway it's neither anything romantic nor a sudden announcement that they're with child. Draco still looks weirdly interested though, and Harry's surprised at his lack of discretion. Anyone would think he cares.

The photo is from the same day as the picture he has with Teddy. The general frivolity and the bright summer sun had eventually persuaded Molly to get her camera out and she'd be sure to get a few with everyone, 'for posterity'. Harry at least has a shirt on in this one, though Ginny is only in a bikini and he does have his arms around her middle so it's not without its triggers as far as pointing out his failures goes. He passes the photo across to Hermione while Ron reads the note, then checks the envelope out of paranoia - he doesn't know what wizarding pregnancy tests look like but he's not going to feel settled til he knows there's nothing left in there.

'How soon does she expect me to write? We just got here,' Ron whines. 'Show me the photo.'

'Neville asked first,' Hermione says, handing it to her right instead. 'And he said please,' she adds.

Draco glances down at the picture in Neville's hands, and Harry feels weirdly self-conscious. It's not as if he should, their photo selves aren't misbehaving and he has nothing to be ashamed of, but he doesn't like the way his and Ginny's relationship has been preserved like this — animated and happy and comfortable — when it was so far from the truth once the camera turned away. It makes him think he's lying somehow about it not working, or that if only he could've tried harder, Gin and he could've been that good together. And he doesn't want Draco to think Ginny is still competition. Even though, as he keeps telling himself, it makes no difference because they shouldn't be together anyway. He keeps forgetting that.

Ron nudges him gently, 'Mate,' he says, and the tone of it is wrong and Harry is immediately at full attention. He's flipped over the tiny square of parchment the note was written on and there, plain as day in black ink, is a postscript:

P.S. How's Malfoy?

Fuck. No wonder Draco was looking so intently at the back of the note when he passed it over. His fucking name is on it. Harry wills himself not to look up, not to give any indication of how bad this is. It's not like she could've known Harry fancied him if he himself didn't know, right? Except that Ron wasn't particularly surprised. What had he said?  You've been circling each other like crups.  But would Draco have had the benefit of a close friend pointing that out? It could merely be that Ginny is concerned about Harry's responsibilities regarding the parole stipulations, right? Except, of course, that it isn't. And Draco isn't stupid. Maybe he hadn't needed it pointed out to him at all.

 

***

 

Harry spends the rest of Saturday in the library with Hermione, beating himself over the head with his new Charms assignment. There's no time for broom shopping. Today is research day, tonight they take a break, and tomorrow they work on the practical. She's set the schedule and he's just glad he doesn't have to think about it, and that he has a valid excuse to avoid Draco for as long as possible without it looking contrived. Everyone knows Hermione is a taskmaster.

He does find, however, that there's not much research being done on his part. Even Ron and Neville have written a couple of pages of notes, and all he has is a few verbatim definitions, a large ink blot from when he drifted off last time and a shitty drawing of a broom. His mind is scrambled from the lack of sleep, he still has that ungodly crick in his neck, and he's getting hungry.

'It's almost eleven, can we get something to eat?'

'Is it?' Hermione looks at her watch. 'Good lord, when did that happen?'

'Food. Yes,' is all Ron says, and snaps his book shut. Neville follows suit and stands up right beside him, poised for action. Harry finds his eyes at crotch height and has to look away.

'Kitchens?' he asks.

'Let's check the Hall first, there might still be scones,' Hermione decides for them and leads the way out the door with a swish of protective magic to keep their things safe. Harry wonders if it's truly necessary, he can't imagine anyone stealing his stuff, or Neville's, or any of theirs, since they're the four students most capable of bringing hell down upon the unjust. But maybe it's more for the benefit of not having their stuff petted by adoring third years, or their stray hairs stolen for depraved fifth years' polyjuice sex games.

'Harry, what's wrong?' Neville interrupts the worst mental image in the world, and Harry couldn't be more thankful.

'Do you think people use polyjuice for like, recreational... things?' he asks.

'Like sports?' Ron asks, bless him.

'Like,' Harry tries to gesture with his hands, something that means sex, but Neville just looks puzzled. He's going to have to say it. 'Like, sex stuff.'

'Harry,' Hermione sighs, and he thinks he about to get told off. Instead, she says, 'It's well documented that certain establishments will have their workers polyjuiced into anyone you like. They have the potion, you bring the hair, it's very efficient.'

'Okay, but like, what about privately, at home or something.'

'Not many people have the capability, or the resources, to brew polyjuice at home.'

'Oh.'

'Do I want to know why you're asking?' Ron hesitates.

'I was just wondering about the protective charm over our books and stuff.'

'As long as it has nothing to do with my sister.'

'Definitely not,' and that's something Harry couldn't be more sure of. He hadn't been thinking about Ginny at all.

 

***

 

Draco is all but invisible Saturday night, and despite avoiding him all day, Harry is disappointed. He comes down for tea a couple of times but tells Lisa he's doing homework and needs quiet, which she looks disinclined to accept for one moderately exciting moment. His immovable expression seems to put her off though and Harry, again, watches him walk away with the sense that something is slipping away.

He dreams that night, another bad one, and gets out of bed to find Dean and Neville in the common room. They talk about what they're going to do with the rest of their lives and unanimously decide that they kinda just want to stay where they are forever, or at least until the world seems less daunting. They joke about Neville teaching Herbology and Dean instigating a Magical Art program. Less of a joke is a discussion about Harry trying out the cursed DADA position for a year and seeing what happens. He and Neville will be ending the year with some teaching experience after all, though they're mostly going on instinct at this stage and the reliability of being a giant nerd about one thing. There's a rumour the position was cursed by Voldemort, apparently, and the possibility of the curse being over now he's dead lights a tiny flame of something in Harry's gut.

 

***

 

Sunday is over too fast. Practical Charms experiments all day with Hermione at the helm is taxing, both physically and emotionally. Harry is lethargic and dopey before dinner is even over. He catches Draco looking at him over a spoonful of apple tart and custard, but the second Harry tries to meet his eye he looks away and carefully avoids him and everything in his immediate vicinity for the rest of the meal. By the time he troops back up to The Hidden Tower, Draco's upstairs already and Harry is left wanting, yet again.

He goes to his room, citing a need for sleep, but it won't take him. He throws caution to the wind, and even though it's only eight o'clock and well within polite visiting hours, he throws his covers back and delves into his pyjamas. The tension in his body is at such a point that he's fully hard in under a minute and getting close before his fantasy self can even get a proper rhythm going. The Draco in his head is pliant and amenable, gently moaning his approval of the punishment Harry is doling out. His skin is luminous in the candlelight and warm as fresh pancakes, soft and slightly salty on his tongue. He loses his sense of timing simultaneously with his imagined self, and they both crash onward with no grace or skill, yearning for completion and with it, some sense of accomplishment. Reality Harry is left sad and empty and missing his new friend, as well as gooey and feeling guilty for using him as wank propellant. It's a sad state of affairs that Scourgify can only do so much for.

He dreams that night too, but it's far from a nightmare, unless you count the fact that he wakes up alone. He considers going for a tea but he's still half hard from his dream and not in the mood for remedying it. He sticks his head under the tap in the bathroom instead and he can hear people in the common room, talking in low voices and the soft sound of a guitar. He Noxs the light and stares through the darkness at the glowing oasis that is his couch and the fireplace and familiarity. He could be down there, among friends. Except that he feels alone in a way that only one person can fix, and that person isn't talking to him, won't even look at him. They've gone from holding so much possibility in their hands, to having it all slip through their fingers and dissipate into nothing. Like Friday night had never happened. Though, if it were all meaningless, Draco wouldn't be this worked up, would he? He wouldn't be acting so melodramatic and tortured, which means something. It means it's not nothing.

 

***

 

Monday morning dawns bright and cool. It takes five whole minutes for Harry to find his scarf, only for it to be tangled up in the hood of Saturday's grey hoodie. He tugs it out and kicks the sweatshirt back into the washing pile, looping the scarf around his neck as he checks his desk for stray books. His Charms notebook is there, under another jumper and a library book. He grabs it by the corner and slides the other stuff off, catching Charming Their Plants Off with his elbow before it makes an escape to the floor.

Something small falls out from between the pages. It looks like a bookmark. It isn't.

I'm fine.

That's all it says. He doesn't remember writing it, or ripping up a piece of parchment to use as a bookmark. He’s not even his handwriting. He'd assume it was someone else's, except it was in his notebook, not the library book, which means it could only have been someone he was sitting with. Unless... the conversation comes back about polyjuice and Hermione's protection charms. What if she had angled them at stopping people from taking things away, rather than stopping people from leaving things behind? The only thing that almost makes sense is if Draco had left him this note in response to Gin's sarcastic How's Malfoy? But if he isn't talking to Harry, why would he be leaving him notes?

Who cares. Harry rips a small strip out of his notebook and using a Muggle pen, because he doesn't know where the fuck all his quills have gone, he writes a reply.

Good. I miss you.

He folds it in half and tucks it in his pocket, determined to somehow get it to him during breakfast, before Herbology ends up being the most awkward experience of his life. If Draco is feeling exposed and embarrassed after Friday, because he actually does like Harry, telling him he misses him can only help matters. If he's distancing himself because he didn't mean it and doesn't want Harry to get the wrong idea, (and that hurts to think about) then it'd be better to get it out in the open so Harry can find a way to perform seppuku on a short length of holly and phoenix feather.

He arrives a little late to breakfast and space at the table is limited to a seat at the opposite end to Draco, or right across from him. He doesn't even think about it. He has to wait a while, but eventually Draco ducks under the table to get something out of his bag and Harry manages to levitate his tea and send the scrap of parchment across the table and under it. The cup settles as he pops back up with that same book again and Harry sees the sharp grey eyes twitch then widen again as he sees the note. He directs his own gaze to his toast, even though he knows that Draco will know he's paying attention only to him and not to this bizarre twice-cooked bread they call food.

Harry hears a sigh under the hubbub of the table's Monday morning conversations. There's talk already of next weekend's pub trip and Harry gives himself til then to sort this out. And, he thinks, to ask about the guidelines of this stupid court-mandated supervision order he stupidly volunteered for. McGonagall might know, he'll ask her tonight. But only once Draco's gone. It's going to be bad enough asking her already without the undying horror of asking in front of him if they're allowed to fuck, please, when they've not so much as kissed. Harry might be getting ahead of himself, but if the camping trip taught him anything it was to be prepared for any outcome. And don't let Hermione pack for you.

He angles his gaze across the table without moving his head so it looks like he's still contemplating his breakfast. His eyeballs hurt in this position but it's almost worth it to see one long finger hold the visible edge of the note in place as he slides the cup off it. His movements are slow, like he's trying just as hard to not draw attention to himself. Harry stays frozen in place, watches those pale fingers manipulate the parchment til it's lying open, tucked discreetly between his cup and half-finished bowl of porridge. It seems like only seconds before it's whisked out of sight and Harry can't help himself. He looks up and finds Draco looking back. For the three longest seconds of Harry's life, they just stare into each other's eyes. All the wondering seems worth it, somehow, in that moment of being looked upon. He'll need the memory of it to get through his secret conversation with McGonagall, that's for sure. He feels the corner of his mouth twitch at the thought of her own discomfort and it breaks the thread, Draco's gaze dropping to Harry's lips and then back to his breakfast.

He's quiet on the way down to Herbology, blonde hair shining in the Scottish morning, walking just ahead of the rest of the group. Neville is chatting to Hannah about something, intermittently interrupted by Justin who seems to be in extra-irritating mode this morning, but it could just be that Harry is tense. He could do with a run, or a quick blat round the pitch on his broom, except he doesn't have one, and he'd probably rather just go back to bed. Hermione seems to sense his mood and links her arm through his.

'Is there anything I can do?' is all she says, not bothering with the traditional and honestly obsolete, are you okay?'  He never tells her if he isn't so she's stopped asking. Smart girl.

'Take me shopping on Thursday?' he asks. 'That's when Hogsmeade does a late night, isn't it?'

'It is,' she sounds suspicious.

'I need clothes and Draco said he'd help but he's not really talking to me at the moment and I need something to look forward to.'

'Never thought I'd see the day you were looking forward to shopping.'

'I want to get a new broom as well.'

'Isn't that a Ron thing?'

'Yeah,' Harry squirms under her gaze and even though he's refusing to look at her, he can feel it. 'But I feel like a shithead buying expensive things in front of him.'

'Oh.'

'Yeah.'

'It's probably worse if you don't include him, you know. At least if he's there he gets to be a part of it and know that you value his opinion.'

'Okay, so I get to feel shit no matter what I do,' Harry sighs. 'Great.'

'Why don't we all go - just the three of us. It's been a while since we were alone together.'

It has. The tent, that was the last time they were just three. The second they'd got to Hogwarts, battered and weary after months on the run, they were surrounded, then the Burrow for weeks on end, then the train. At a pinch you could argue they were together in the carriage before Neville arrived but it was twenty odd minutes. It was nothing compared to the seven years they'd been at each other's sides. It might be nice to be a trio again, at least for a night. Though, it'll also be the first time they've gone out anywhere while Ron and Hermione have been a couple. Harry wonders if it'll be weird.

'Sure,' he says, because there's only one way to find out and he'll have a broom by the end of it, so that's something to focus on at least.

Their Little Greenhouse of Horrors is cool and damp, smelling earthy and slightly sharp. Something must be blooming. Hermione and Neville don their protective gear and disappear into the Snare's nest with a few empty pots, trowels and, oddly, two baby rattles. Hannah and Justin wander over to the other corner to poke at their first experiment and Harry tentatively sits down at the table with Draco, being sure to leave more space between them than he normally would.

'We have to choose today,' Draco says by way of greeting, and honestly, Harry is just happy he's talking at all.

'Okay.'

'Fanged Geranium, Spiky Prickly or Henbane?'

'The Spiky Prickly literally shoots spikes at anyone who gets near it, how have we not eliminated that already?' Harry asks, trying to be light, funny, not desperately tense.

'We discussed whether it could be crossed with something and used to anaesthetise trespassers.'

'Yes, but as far at the plant is concerned, aren't we the trespassers?'

'Fine, if you're feeling delicate.'

'I'm feeling mortal, not delicate. I like my skin without holes in it.'

'Fine. Do you have any objections to the Fanged Geranium?'

'Yes?' Harry wishes he didn't need to disagree again, but there's more at stake than not being a lonely sad bastard with no boyfriend. 'Could we maybe pick a plant that doesn't bite?'

'They're all dangerous, Potter, wouldn't you rather one where it's easy to recognise the times it's trying to kill you?'

'I'd prefer one that wasn't trying to kill me.'

'Tough shit.'

'What does henbane do?'

'Any manner of things. Mostly with side effects that almost outweigh the original ailment. Still, in some cases, worth it, I suppose, if you're passionately adverse to dying.'

'Could we work on reducing the side effects?'

'That can be done when you make the potions, to a degree. You might remember Potions, it was the class you sucked at the most?'

'Funny,' Harry says. 'Though at least you're talking to me again.'

'I was never not talking to you,' Draco drops his voice and leans in, checking no one is in ear shot.

'You've barely looked at me since Saturday morning,' Harry says quietly.

'I must've got the need for that out of my system on Friday night.'

Harry feels his eyebrows rise of their own accord. That seems a very bold confession, and the implications seem, well, straightforward. For once.

'I didn't expect you to bring that up,' he says carefully.

'It was regrettable, Potter, best you know I think so,' he straightened up again and flipped the textbook open. 'I apologise for my idiotic behaviour.'

'Idiotic is a bit strong,' Harry frowns. 'Lots of smart people have made me tea and sat next to me on a couch before.'

'Have they also asked you to be their fake boyfriend and fallen asleep in your lap?' Draco sighs.

'Not all of them,' Harry says. 'Usually the fake boyfriends conversation is too exciting for them to be able to sleep afterward.'

'I feel so accomplished all of a sudden.'

'Whereas I feel dejected you cared so little for my company that you fell asleep.'

'Terribly sorry,' he says, his tone slightly off. 'I'll be sure to stay awake next time. And in my own seat.'

'I don't mind.'

'What an inspiring show of affection,' he drawls. 'You don't mind.'

'Do you want me to show you affection?' Harry asks, because this seems like a perfect opening for a hugely uncomfortable question he's still afraid to ask, even as he's asking it.

'No, Potter,' Draco mocks. 'I crawled into your lap because I hate you.'

'Oh.'

'Shall we start exploring the infinite joy that is the medicinal properties of henbane?'

'Is that it?'

'Would you like a signed confession?' Draco grates out, flipping forward in the textbook to the relevant section. 'Surely you're used to people being temporarily overwhelmed by your Chosen One-ness and throwing themselves at you?'

'No,' Harry says, slightly pissy now. 'And I'm certainly not used to the temporary part.'

'Well, sorry to disappoint you again.'

'I know I said the other night that we shouldn't-'

'Drop it, Potter.'

'No.'

'Yes,' he says firmly, and gets up from the table, flipping the book closed and throwing his quill down. Harry stands opposite him, not really sure what's about to happen. Are they going to just yell at each other now? About this? Here?

Draco turns and heads between the rows of planters, shooting an Immobulus at the Tentacula and the Spiky Prickly Plant either side of the aisle before delving between the tangle of vines in a swish of robes. Harry growls to himself and vows to finish this now, before it festers. He's tired of not knowing what's going on, the tension of the last two days making him desperate to not be back there, with nothing and no one. He wants what they were headed for on Friday, but private. Out of the view of the outside world, so they can try and avoid the inevitable fallout.

He half-trips over his stool in his single-minded urge to follow and the clatter reverberates under the low ceiling. He can see Draco at the end of the aisle, standing with his back to the room, framed with violent herbal death. He wonders if there's a metaphor here, about walking through hell to get to him. Performing feats, running the gauntlet. It seems pretty accurate.

He doesn't think anything of walking to him between the two plants he was just so adamant about keeping away from. He saw Draco freeze them, it's safe. Safe enough, anyway, when he has something more important to deal with.

'Draco,' he says, keeping his voice low, they don't need an audience for this. 'I didn't mean I wanted nothing. I don't want to go backwards.'

'What's backwards when everything is fucking sideways as it is?' he hisses, turning, wand still in his hand. He cuts a menacing figure standing there in the dusty gloom, long black robes stark against the unbroken greenery. He's more dangerous to Harry than anything in this room, and he has no idea.

'I said we shouldn't look like anything more than friends. I never said I didn't want to-' Harry's breath is dead in his lungs as Draco steps forward and twists a hand into the front of his robes, rough and urgent and his heart leaps at the thought they might be on the same page. That this might be happening. The world blurs as he's pulled in, his balance gone and his instincts on fire. Adrenaline sparks and his arms fly out in front of him, looking for purchase and finding it in the heat of Draco's chest. He closes his eyes and goes with it.

Their mouths meet in a crash of lips and tongue and a hint of teeth and there's suddenly no oxygen and Harry doesn't even care. Breathing is secondary to kissing. It's nothing like he expected, no control or grace or careful aligning of the curves and planes of their bodies. It's messy and fraught and tight, and something is squeezing at his throat. Ow.

He pulls back, loosens his grip on Draco’s robes and the thing around his neck tightens further. He feels a shove against his sternum and warm breath on his cheek as Draco casts over his shoulder, a frantic Immobulus, a Diffindo and then hands are at his neck, loosening the vice-like twist of something smooth and green and deadly.

The Venomous Tentacula had gone for him. Draco hadn't. He'd only pulled him out of the way, and oh gods this is embarrassing. Mortifying. Humiliating. Cringe-worthy. This was dying, for real this time, not the pussy version with a train station and a mentor and pretty lighting. This was sharp and real and hideous and he was going to eventually have to look at him. The person he'd just mauled.

'I'd have expected that kind of thank you after I saved you, not before. You can't even be rescued properly, you hopeless twat.'

'Sorry,' Harry replies automatically.

'Don't you dare judge me on that, either,' he hisses in a quieter voice, and Harry sees a head pop out from behind a wall of plant on his periphery. 'You gave me no warning at all, you're like a bitch in heat.'

'I said I'm sorry.'

'Good.'

 

***

 

It's a very odd meeting with McGonagall and Draco that night. Harry can think of nothing but the question he really wants to ask her, but he has to get through the usual shit first, so he blurts out everything she might want to know at a speed that probably makes him look deranged.

'Well, Mr Potter, you've been very... thorough.'

'Is there anything else?' he asks.

'No, I think that will do,' she gives him a shrewd look. 'Unless Mr Malfoy has any questions?'

'None, ma'am.'

'Very well,' she rose. 'You may go then, though you'll be very early for dinner.'

'Actually, Professor. Headmistress. I have something I'd like to talk to you about.' He doesn't say the words 'in private', but he doesn't think he'll have to. Draco has avoided him all day, since Harry basically sexually assaulted him and he's no doubt itching to leave.

'Whereas I do not, so, thank you, Headmistress,' that haughty blonde head bows in deference and swings around and out the door. Harry can't help watching him leave. Again.

'Mr Potter?'

'I wanted to know what the stipulations are for my agreement to keep an eye on Malfoy,' he says, reverting back to his surname for appearances. 'What the limitations of our contact is. If we're actually permitted to be friends.'

'That seems an odd question to ask.'

'I understand how an actual friendship might create a conflict of interest and I don't want to jeopardise what you and I were arguing for in court.'

'I see,' she says and Harry thinks that's probably true. She probably does see exactly what he's trying to ask, but so long as she doesn't address it directly he can probably survive this.

'How are they going to react if we're seen together in Hogsmeade, for example. The media isn't likely to leave that alone. I doubt we could even pass it off as my guardianship, since they'd probably wait and take photos when we were eating or getting a coffee at Puddifoot’s or something and twist it til it looked... I don't know. Inappropriate?'

'So you're asking whether it will endanger Mr Malfoy's place at Hogwarts if the media decides to paint your associations in a... romantic light?' She asks. 'In short, will he be sent to Azkaban if you go on a date with him?'

'If I appear to have gone on a date with him,' he reiterates. 'You know how the Prophet is. They think I'm about to marry Hermione every time they see me hug her.'

'And you expect to be seen hugging Mr Malfoy?'

'I expect they'll do their best to weave whatever story they can from whatever shots they get. 'Ex-Death Eater Seduces Boy Who Lived' doesn't seem out of the question for them.'

'I see.'

'I just don't want to ruin his chance at having a proper life.'

'I have full confidence that any association with you will only do him good.'

'In theory, yes, but what's in the paperwork? What if they get him on a technicality? What if it's my fault and being me isn't enough to keep him out of prison?' Harry hasn't said any of this to anyone before and it frightens him anew, hearing it spoken aloud. 'I can't be responsible for that.'

'I will write to them about your concerns,' she says after a pause. 'And ask for a recommendation as to the level of contact they deem acceptable for the intent of the agreement to be fulfilled. And I will be sure to have them stipulate whether there might be trouble, should you ever give the appearance of being on a date. In the media. Just in case.'

'That sounds very reasonable,' Harry says. 'Thank you professor.' He stands and holds out a hand to shake, then wonders why he's done it, then realises he can't back out now. Maybe he's just pining for some sort of official exoneration in having a ridiculous crush on his parolee.

'Good night, Mr Potter,' she takes his hand, and she's so soft and papery and small, he feels even more protective of her than he already did. 'See you at dinner.'

'Good night, Headmistress.'

She gives him a smile that's just this side of a smirk.

He smiles in return, all the more awkward for being under her gaze, and turns to go. She's worse than Hermione, really. Far too intelligent and clever at reading him. He wonders if the professors all gossip together at the end of the night, competing for the most scandalous student tales, and if so, will this win?

He can't handle even the idea of the common room at the moment, so he walks down to the Quidditch pitch in his spare half hour, and on his way back up manages to spot Hagrid amongst the beast-sized pumpkins in his garden. They amble up to the castle together, going back and forth about the renovations, and the diminutive size of the new firsties and the slightly hairy incident with the Tentacula in the greenhouse this morning. Harry leaves out the bit where he kissed Draco without permission, encouragement or forethought.

Hagrid declares that he prefers his beasts any day because at least they have empathy, and Harry is saved from outwardly disagreeing (he hasn't forgotten the Blast-Ended Skrewts) by their arrival in the hall.

Hermione and Neville are deep in conversation about the Snare when he arrives. He half-listens to them and keeps the other ear on the conversation Ron is having with Seamus about Creatures, making sure his friend seems settled in his new class. It's literally the first time in seven years they've taken different subjects and Harry doesn't like it. He misses him. To have your best mate removed from your dorm and one of your classes seemed unnecessarily cruel. Add to that Ron's extra time spent with Hermione and Harry's mild obsession with Draco and you got one slightly bruised friendship.

He finishes dinner quicker than usual since he's not talking and makes it up to the common room before everyone else. He contemplates what to do, whether he waits and hangs out with people while carefully avoiding looking at Draco or just gives up on the day and goes to bed. He makes a tea and sneaks away to do the latter in peace.

Of course what he ends up doing is mulling over his mortifying assault on Draco's face and how much he'd liked it before he realised he shouldn't have. He sips his tea and wonders what would've happened if Draco had got off an Immobulus a split second before their lips made contact — would he have gone along with it if there was no danger? Would he have kissed him back? Properly? It wasn't as if he'd recoiled from Harry today, he'd just seemed surprised. But then, what if Justin had seen them and made a fuss and everyone had found out and they'd ended up under scrutiny from the media and the court and it had all gone to shit?

He wriggles back into his pillows and closes his eyes. What if they'd been alone in the greenhouse, maybe at night, maybe on a Sunday when no one would be wandering about outside? What if they'd made it past one brief kiss and things had got heated? Harry was a couple of inches shorter but maybe he was stronger and he'd have had no issue pushing Draco back til he was trapped against the bench, pinned under Harry's weight and his mouth and the sheer force of his curiosity.

Robes would come off first, undone with frantic fingers and pushed away to fall on the floor, making a nest for them to kneel in later. Or now, they could kneel now... Harry cracked one eye open and put his empty teacup on the bedside table before flicking a few locking spells at the door.

Chapter Text

The tone for the rest of the week is set by the dream Harry has after wanking himself into a sleepy oblivion over Draco in the greenhouse. Fraught. Tense. Lustful. Confusing.

They're civil in classes, but there's a new distance between them, one that Harry blames on his own stupid optimism and it makes him irritable and sarcastic and bitchy every time he's forced to remember. Which is a lot.

Draco is smart, as it turns out, not just in Herbology, but in every subject they have together. Now that he's gotten comfortable in the small cohort, even without his fellow Slytherins for back-up, he's more outspoken in classes, answering questions, offering thoughts, having frighteningly agreeable opinions. Nightmare Club seems to have helped with this, and especially Neville and Ron, which Harry finds simultaneously astonishing and predictable, since he has a feeling they're doing it, at least partly, for his benefit. Neither of them have said anything more about the fact he's basically admitted to fancying Draco so he doesn't know if they've noticed the slightly strained air between them.

Dean has and he'd mentioned it the other night while they were curled up alone on the couch in the dark, drinking the recommended Sleepytime tea and waiting for the trauma of their dreams to fade. Harry had decided not to tell him about the thing in the greenhouse because maybe if no one knows, he can pretend it was all in his head, like the alternative fantasy scenario where they end up naked and sweaty and spent, lying in a pile of their own robes.

But now it's Friday morning and he's alone on the couch and as the sky fills with pale grey light, his sense of doom increases. Another weekend has arrived and he's only getting further away from what he wants. He should be looking forward to weekends, to the pub and the social lubrication alcohol offers so that they might overcome their separate insecurities. Instead he anticipates only one-sided gazes and cold detachment.

He hasn't heard anything back from McGonagall or the Wizengamot though so maybe it's better that there's no hope. If there was hope, maybe he'd end up making a huge mess of something. Worst case scenario, it'd be a mess of torn emotions and angry hexes.

As it is, he can only really look forward to drunk mess and his mates and eating hot chips and doing shots til he can't see straight. The thought buoys him, because even if he can't have what he wants now, he can still have the other things in life that are good — the things he wanted a month ago when Draco wasn't an issue. What else did he want then? To be away from Gin and the awkwardness, to know if he really actually liked guys, to kiss one for real — one he liked... He's achieved all of those things... Harry feels his outlook shift and a weight he wasn't aware he was carrying seems to lift from his shoulders. He has achieved three of his goals, and even if his newest one, of being properly something with Draco, isn't going so well, three ticked off isn't something to laugh at. And the other one is just going to have to sit on the back burner for a bit, at least until he has confirmation either way if his intimate intentions have the potential to get his paramour thrown in jail.

Herbology with him is civil and mildly productive, though they spend the whole time reading and making notes and exchange only a handful of words over the two hours. The rest of Friday is over surprisingly quickly and it seems in no time Harry's dressing for the pub again. This time he's alone and carefully trying to not care what he looks like. Which is lucky really, because thanks to him and Ron being too tired to move on Thursday evening, he still hasn't been shopping and so has nothing new to wear. He has too much pride to go out in the same exact outfit as last time and risk mocking disdain from Draco. If he even talks to him.

He ends up in the same tight jeans (because he does look good in them, it turns out). Then a clean, black zip-up hoodie over a surprisingly still-tidy Firebolt t-shirt. Sirius had got it for him via owl order when he'd been holed up in Grimmauld Place with nothing to do but shop through a bazillion catalogues and try and spend the family gold on things that would've annoyed his parents. It's a dark oxblood-ish sort of colour and Hermione says it makes his eyes look greener. On reflection, maybe he hadn't done very well at not giving a shit. He looks pretty okay, even if his hair is a mess as usual.

The Hog's Head is slightly busier than normal, and they're forced to huddle around one long table as best they can, since the cluster of round tables they usually take over has a poker game going on in the middle of it. Harry doesn't know how poker translates into a magically enhanced game but he assumes there's no exploding.

Not all of them have come out this week so they're a smaller number to fit so it's not too much of a drama. He isn't sitting next to Draco, though he's not sure if it's by design or not. He hasn't tried to avoid it but nor has he tried to get closer. He has no idea what Draco was aiming for. Harry ends up between Seamus and Hermione, then Ron on her other side, then Draco, then Lisa. He still doesn't like seeing them together even though he knows Lisa is on his side. Somehow, he doesn't quite trust her. Maybe because she knows too much about him and it's been garnered over such a small space of time. And that she's seen him naked. Well, mostly. The important bits at least.

He glances over at Draco intermittently for the first hour, never managing to catch his eye. Eventually he gets up and orders two big bowls of chips from the bar, finding himself pleasantly fuzzy as he detours toward the loo on his way back to the group. He pushes the heavy old door open with a familiar squeak and looks up to find Draco standing at the sinks. He hadn't even noticed him get up from the table.

'Hi,' Harry says, and wonders if he's going to get a proper response now they're not in a class where their marks are dependent on their ability to communicate.

'Hello,' Draco turns back to the mirror and rearranges his already perfect hair.

'I don't know what to say to you anymore,' Harry blurts out, desperate to say something before it becomes too awkward for him to say anything, which he reckons is going to be whenever Draco moves to undo his own pants. Assuming that's what he's here for. And that he hasn't used the loo already. And that he wasn't just in here waiting for Harry. He's over-thinking this. It's just him and Draco in a bathroom. What could go wrong?

'Clearly,' he says, giving Harry absolutely nothing to work with.

'You seem to be avoiding talking to me again.'

'You seem to have boundary issues, I didn't want to confuse you further.'

'I'm sorry,' Harry feels himself getting mildly annoyed. 'I was a little blindsided by you grabbing me and pulling me towards you. It seemed relatively consistent with you snuggling up and falling asleep on me,' he snaps. 'You know, the thing you were trying to pretend didn't happen.'

'I never pretended it didn't happen,' Draco sneers. 'If I was pretending it didn't happen, I wouldn't have apologised.'

'You didn't need to apologise.'

'I clearly needed to do far more than that since you don't seem to understand my point,' he sounds annoyed now too but Harry's just glad he's got any sort of reaction out of him at all. 'This,' Draco gestures between them, 'Can't happen.'

'Why the fuck not?' Harry protests, even though he can think of one rather important legal reason. It seems irrelevant right now, with Draco looking like that and actually talking to him.

'For one, last I heard, you weren't gay.'

'Kissing you seems to disprove that.'

'Secondly, the entire Wizarding world adores you and hates me,' he declares, ignoring Harry. 'I'd be lynched by a screaming mob of Potterphiles if it even got out we were friends.'

'It's been publicly reported that I supported your exoneration and your return to Hogwarts, and everyone in the damn school knows we've been hanging out. No one's said a fucking thing.'

'Not to you, Potter,' he hisses and Harry feels his stomach drop at what that might mean. It never occurred to him Draco might have legitimate reasons for backing off. And that Harry's presence might cause him any sort of problem within the school. His friends have been so supportive about it, it hadn't occurred to him that other people might think it's their business too. It isn't.

Fuck the fucking public and their fucking inability to stop fucking with his fucking life.

'Who's been saying shit to you?' he says, feeling the hum of his magic flare as he steps forward. 'What are they saying?'

'Leave it.'

'No, they can't do that.'

'They can and they will. They are, and there's nothing you're going to be able to do about it. It's just the way it is.'

'Bullshit,' Harry snaps. There's never nothing. 'Why won't you let me help you?'

'Because I don't want to need your help,' Draco turns to face him, square-on, eyes blazing.

'I helped you in the cave.'

'And I wish you hadn't had to.'

'I liked it,' Harry says. 'I want to help you.'

'Of course you do, you have the most overdeveloped sense of chivalry I've ever seen. But you need to leave this alone. Leave me alone.'

'I can't,' Harry growls, wishing it weren't true.

'Jesus Christ, Potter. Stop trying to drag me up into the radiant light of your pure goodness.'

'I'm not trying to drag you up into the light,' Harry protests, frustration growing. 'I'm trying to crawl down into your hole with you.'

'You're trying to crawl into my hole?' Draco raises a mocking eyebrow.

'Oh, fuck off.'

'Which is it you really want, then, Potter? To fuck or crawl into my hole?'

Harry feels himself blush, his skin is on fire and even in the gloom of the men's room Draco must be able to feel the heat of his shame because he wants both of those things, desperately. He must be projecting his every desire on these dingy tiled walls, because the next words out of Draco's mouth sound almost reverent.

'Oh my god, you aren't adverse to that at all are you?'

'No,' Harry breathes, and his strength is half fear and half pale ale, but he looks him in the eye when he says it, because he needs to see the reaction. Needs to know if Draco cares. Needs to know if he should keep caring himself, or if this will be the romantic equivalent of a war where both sides are so evenly matched everyone ends up losing.

Draco looks like he's about to say something so Harry takes another step forward. If it's good he wants to be close, if he's wavering he wants him to waver the right way. Not that they know what the right way is, because Draco might be right about everyone hating him and Harry doesn't trust the Wizengamot not to lock him up out of spite, and any perceived infraction against Harry might be all it takes to set off a chain of events that even he can't stop.

'We don't have to tell anyone if you don't want to,' he says quietly, moving closer. 'We could just-'

'We could just not,' Draco interrupts, his eyes darting to the side. 'Have some self control, would you Potter? Please.'

'Never a strong suit of mine, really,' Harry says, stepping forward again, til he's too close. Close enough to touch. Close enough to feel the tingling of something sparking between them.

Draco shifts and a waft of that same intoxicating scent assaults Harry's remaining decorum and he almost growls with want. He closes his eyes, hears a rustle of crisp cotton and feels the light brush of warm breath on his cheek. Hope flutters in his chest.

'Then maybe you should work on it some more,' Draco whispers to him, and then he's pulling away and the smell and the heat is gone, and when Harry opens his eyes, he's alone in the bathroom.

 

***

 

So he drinks. They play stupid games like waterfall and within the time it takes for their bowls of chips to be devoured, Harry feels easily twice as drunk as he should be and well on his way toward a night of holding onto his bed as the room spins above him and a hangover that might finally kill him. Maybe this time they'll let him die in peace. Ron keeps looking at him like he's worried and that just makes Harry mad because he'd thought that part of his life was over. This is self-destruction at its best, and its worst, and he's in the middle of it, drowning in whatever he can get his hands on.

Hermione is a warm blur at his side one minute and a conniving little witch the next, it seems, because she's whispering something to Ron that's making him look frowny and serious and Harry feels his mood shift, and his stomach goes with it because they're talking about him again. Then Ron is whispering to a politely interested Draco and Harry wonders when the hell that became a normal thing to see and then he forgets to be baffled because those grey eyes are turned on him and he's frozen in the force of their attention.

Draco gets up and comes round the table to lean over Harry's shoulder, to whisper in his ear again, and how dare he mimic himself like that? Except this time he says something different, and it's words Harry likes, but he knows they aren't real, somehow, and it makes him irreversibly sad all of a sudden.

'Let's go, Potter. Time for bed,' is what he says. But what Harry hears is 'Do you feel this, Potter? This is what you can't have.'

'You're very confusing,' is what Harry says back to him, but he gives in to the tug on his arm and he gets up from his seat and walks with him out into the night. It's cold, because even with a beer jacket it's still Scotland, and Draco makes him rest against the wall of the pub while he tries to fix the zip on his hoodie for him. 'Lower,' Harry teases as deft hands work at his waist, grinning, and knowing somewhere in his heart that he's torturing himself.

'Behave,' Draco says.

'Yes, sir,' Harry says and it's a weird feeling, saying that, and Draco must think it too because he just looks at him, standing so close in the moonlit lane, and Harry thinks he might be going to kiss him but he's learned his lesson and he stays still this time.

'You're infuriating,' Draco murmurs.

'You love it,' Harry declares bravely, and smirks, because he hopes it might be true.

'You wish, Potter,' he says, though, and finally gets the zip working and all the way up. 'Let's go.'

'To bed.'

'To your bed.'

'You shouldn't leave me alone in this state, you know,' Harry pouts, because Hermione's lectures about binge-drinking are accessible to even the tiny bit of brain he has left at the moment. 'I might choke and die.'

'Yes. And I can think of much better ways to choke you,' Draco tugs at Harry's arm again to get him moving and they shamble up the street toward the castle, one pale hand firm on Harry's back.

'Like with your cock?'

'Christ, Potter.'

'I don't think you'd have to try very hard, I probably still have a pretty sensitive gag reflex,' he rambles, his filter completely soaked in alcohol. 'Ginny did too at first. Who have you had blow jobs from? Have you given one? What's it like?'

'Shut up will you? You're very loud and no one wants to know about your fascination with blow jobs.'

'I'm not fascinated,' he whines.

'Then stop talking about them.'

'I'm curious. There's only one way to stop being curious, Hermione says.'

'Is it to shut up?

'No,' Harry insists. 'It's to find out everything you can.'

'Well I'm hardly the authority, so stop asking me.'

'Was Justin shit at them?' Harry whispers. 'What about Blaise? He has fucking amazing lips.'

'I hope you remember this in the morning,' Draco sighs.

'He was, wasn't he?'

'Come on, just a bit further.'

'I'm going to ask Justin tomorrow at breakfast,' Harry decides. 'Do you think he'll lie?'

'Harry, I'm going to do something to you and you're not going to like it,' Draco says, stopping as they reach the edge of the village. 'Hold still.'

He pulls out his wand and waves it at Harry's middle with an incantation he finds vaguely familiar. Seconds later Harry remembers why it's familiar, right before he turns away from the path and vomits enthusiastically into a nearby lavender bush. Ugh. The nice fog in his head clears a bit as his stomach empties and soon he's just dry-heaving and wishing he were truly, actually dead. His gut roils and his temples ache and his mouth tastes like dragon shit. It seems cruel that he's so very far from his room in the castle.

'You couldn't have waited til we got back?' he croaks.

'You were annoying me,' Draco drawls. 'And half of Hogsmeade.'

'You could've Silencio'ed me.'

'This was more satisfying.'

'This is the worst thing you've ever done.'

'And still, hangovers, like Crucio, don't leave scars.'

'I don't suppose you have a potion on you?'

'You suppose correctly. Now come on, I'm putting you to bed.'

The word bed rips the past few minutes of rambling shite from Harry's past and waves it around in his present. This is almost worse than kissing him unbidden. No, it is worse. Because he has literally no excuse for this, Draco had been very, very clear about his boundaries and Harry had been a giant dickhead about it. Maybe Draco should just throw him in the shower and leave him there to choke and die after all.

They make their way slowly home, Harry stopping a couple more times to quell the convulsions in his gut, breathing deep and trying to stay calm. Trying to not focus on everything he'd said. On the upside, if Draco had been embarrassed about his lap sleeping and fake boyfriend proposition, they were certainly even now.

 

***

 

Back in the common room, Draco flicks the kettle on and grabs Harry's shoulders, directing him toward the bathrooms.

'Go shower,' he says. 'You'll feel better.'

'No,' Harry whines, 'Hangover potion first.'

'And where do you think you're going to find one of those?'

'Don't you have one?'

'No.'

'Pomfrey?' Harry says hopefully.

'At this time of night? A hangover potion?' Draco smirks. 'Have you forgotten you're in a school? Where drinking is not allowed, not encouraged, or for 99% of the populace, not legal.'

'What about the other 1%? Why do we have to suffer?'

'Because you're stupid and you tried to drink your feelings.'

'Well, I tried to do something else with them and you wouldn't let me.'

'I see, so you decided drinking yourself into oblivion was the next best thing to do?'

'It was that or sit around thinking about what it must mean to be so consistently rejected.'

'I'm not rejecting you, you dickhead, I'm rejecting us. I simply don't think we should be thinking about pursuing anything. It's a terrible idea.'

'Thanks. That makes me feel way better.'

'Don't be so bloody precious,' Draco sighs. 'You know what people would be like. What they are like. It'll only get worse.'

'Only because you won't let me help,' Harry snaps. 'It'd be better in the long run. I mean, if they hate you, any positive association with me is only going to help your reputation, McGonagall said as much. Or do you have some surprisingly noble reason for not wanting to damage mine?'

'Potter, I'm sick of talking about this!' Draco cards his hands through his hair, and Harry wonders if he's imagining the slight shake in them. 'I'm only allowed to be here because of you. Even if everyone else backs off, if we fall out, what happens? Who else could possibly have enough sway to see me through the year so I can actually fucking graduate? Who would even care enough to try?'

'Is this not falling out?'

'Do you hate me?'

'No,' Harry admitted.

'Then this is better.'

'This sucks.'

'This is what we've got.'

'Ok, Fine. I do hate you,' Harry glares at the purple carpet.

'No you don't,' Draco says quietly. 'I'll make tea, go lie down.'

'No. I'm going for a shower.'

There's a patient sigh behind Harry as he walks away, and he almost feels sorry, but his gut is unhappy and his head hurts and his mouth tastes horrible and he feels too sorry for himself to have room for other people.

 

***

 

He goes back to his room feeling far cleaner, inside and out thanks to a vigorous teeth-brushing and pleasantly cool shower. Draco is sitting in an armchair he's never seen before but his desk chair is missing so he manages to put two and two together and realise Draco's very good at Transfiguration, even though he still doesn't feel completely sober.

There's a cup of tea and a large glass of water sitting on Harry's bedside table and Draco has somehow found him clean pyjamas and laid them out on the bed. It reminds Harry he is, yet again, only wearing a towel. This time he's tempted to just drop the thing and lock the door and see what happens, but the pounding in his head isn't going be helped by any other sort of pounding, so he figures he should probably just behave himself.

'Thanks for the tea,' he says.

'You're welcome. Do you feel better after a shower?'

'I feel cleaner, I don't know if I feel better.'

'I found this,' Draco says and unfolds himself from the plush velvet chair, hand going into his pocket as he places his tea cup next to Harry's. He's quite close, now, it turns out. Harry's ability to notice things seems to still be a bit less than average.

'I think I'm still drunk,' he says.

'No, you're just stupid and dehydrated and you probably need to eat something since you gave that lavender bush all your chips.'

'Oh,' he manages, amidst an onslaught of blurry, horrid memories.

'Drink this,' Draco hands him a small vial of bluey purple potion. 'Then the water. It'll help with the pain.'

Harry does as he's told. Partly because he seems to like it when Draco is bossy, and partly just because he feels like shit and he'll try anything. The potion tastes like aniseed, and reminds him slightly of Pepper-Up. He feels a little better straight away, so drinking the glass of water doesn't make his belly twitch like he thought it would. When Draco hands him a biscuit, he eats it, still standing there in his towel, slowly getting a bit too cold. He shivers.

'Can I put something on?' he asks, 'I'm cold.'

'But you look so hot, Potter,' Draco says and the hint of sarcasm means he must look about as bad as he feels.

'Shut up and pass me my pyjamas.'

Draco reaches behind him to the bed and grabs Harry's very old, very worn, 1980 Quidditch World Cup t-shirt - a present from Mr Weasley, he and Amos Diggory had gone that year when England was playing and they'd only had size XL left at the end when they went on sale. As such, it's loose and soft and comfy and Harry rather likes it. He likes it more when Draco demands 'arms up' and carefully pulls it on over his bare chest, standing close enough that Harry can smell him again. Still delicious.

A hand makes its way under the low hem of the t-shirt, then, and touches Harry's hip, curling into the top edge of his towel. His eyes snap open to find a certain someone suddenly entranced with the purple terry cloth and carefully not looking up. Harry reminds himself to breathe, and closes his eyes again. The light is too bright anyway and it's hurting them. Nothing to do with how fucking scary it is to have Draco standing there and obviously considering making Harry half-naked. And it's the more important half as well. He can't decide if his growing semi will be construed as over enthusiasm or a solid compliment. He feels way too sick to use it anyway and maybe Draco's counting on that because this is in complete contradiction to what he said he wanted, isn't it? You don't reject people and then undress them. If anything that should happen the other way around. Unless he's just fucking with him because he can and because Harry is a binge-drinking idiot who can't handle his own feelings. That seems far more believable. It also explains the evil smirk on his stupid pretty face.

'Stop looking like you're enjoying this,' Harry says.

'I am enjoying this.'

'You said...' Harry doesn't know how to finish that sentence because he can't actually remember what Draco said because his brain is foggy and sore and it's right then that his towel is tugged loose and he's suddenly bare from the bollocks down. He silently thanks Arthur for the XL t-shirt not leaving him completely uncovered. There's a soft sound as the towel hits the floor off to the left, as if Draco's thrown it aside in a fit of passion. Which seems ironic, since he's just staring at Harry now, completely still, gaze locked on his eyes.

'I said what needed to be said,’ he says. ‘Doesn't mean I like the situation any more than you do.'

'What? So you get mad when I kiss you but this is fine?’ Harry complains. ‘Randomly undressing me and putting me to bed is what gets you off?'

'It's hardly my biggest fantasy, Potter, dealing with you as a miserable drunk pillock who can't put his own pyjamas on.'

'And yet you're smirking.'

'I'm not,' he says easily and sinks to the floor with Harry's pyjama bottoms in his hand. 'I'm smiling,' he says, kneeling at his feet. 'Now put your hands on my shoulders.'

'Your smile is destroying any of my remaining confidence,' Harry whinges, because he's never felt further from sexy in his life.

'It shouldn't be.'

'And yet.'

'Do you need a cuddle, Potter, are you sad?'

'Yeah, actually, that'd be nice,' he gestures toward the bed. 'But being that I'm a miserable drunk pillock I should probably lie down in case I fall over again.'

'Of course,' he soothes. 'Now come on, one foot at a time,' and he holds the waistband wide, waiting.

'I don't really need this level of care,' Harry complains. 'I'm not confunded, and this is weird.'

'What's weird is that you'd rather stand there half naked with me at your feet than just get dressed and get into bed.'

'That's not weird, actually,' Harry says, getting annoyed. 'It's kind of what I was angling for earlier, except in my version you talked less.'

'My version doesn't end in my murder by your adoring fans, so we're going to go with that one.'

'Draco,' Harry takes a deep breath. 'My best mate got you to bring me home, you and I left together, early, so you could put me to bed. After what happened last weekend, it's going to look like my version no matter what actually happens.'

'It's not your best mate I'm worried about. Or the rest of the eighth years. These people know you and they can probably tell I'm not trying to seduce you as some sort of nefarious plot.'

'Then who the fuck are you worried about? Who else is there?'

'Everyone outside this tower,' Draco's smile is gone. 'Now put your fucking pyjamas on, my knees aren't made for stone floors.'

'I can get you a cushion?'

'Potter. Pyjamas.'

'Okay, okay.'

Harry gets his trousers on eventually, even though Draco seems to be trying to get a decent look at his cock instead of actually helping, which of course, makes seeing his cock easier, because it really likes being looked at and honestly, Harry is pretty sure he can actually feel Draco's breath on his bare thigh, and fuck that's amazing. By the time the waistband snaps into place around his hips, the fabric is noticeably tented and the smirk is back.

Draco, to his credit, follows through on his offer of a cuddle and even though he's still fully clothed, climbs into Harry's bed after him. It's surreal and slightly painful, emotionally, and crying seems like a viable response to Harry, but closing his eyes and just letting the weirdness happen is less effort for his tired, beer-buggered brain. Draco lies on his back and pulls him against his side, letting Harry's head settle on his chest, tucked just under his chin. He's is very aware of all of his limbs; his right arm squashed between them, his left lying hesitantly on Draco's chest, their legs somewhere between parallel and tangled.

He wonders if he's allowed to throw a leg over, remembering how nice it felt with Ginny to have his cock pressed against her soft thigh, to grind into it a bit. He thinks Draco probably won't appreciate that. Maybe he could just do it and try and claim again that he was still drunk. He flexes his fingers to see what happen if he moves, and Draco closes this hand over them, quelling their movement.

'That tickles,' he whispers. Then, 'Nox,' and the lights go out.

It all gets very real in the dark. Harry's senses redistribute their collective power so he can hear and feel things he hadn't noticed before. Draco's heart is fluttering under his hand. He's breathing faster than a properly relaxed person would be. He still smells absolutely amazing. Harry wriggles closer, pressing their bodies together, and lets his left knee crook slightly, so it's resting on top of Draco's thigh. He gets no complaints.

 

***

 

Harry wakes slowly, becoming aware first that he's warm and comfortable and there's something under him. He then registers that he's thirsty and he needs to pee. Thinking about the latter makes him realise what's under him. Who. Who is under him. In his bed.

At some point during their nap, Harry has fully committed and slid one of his legs between Draco's and his cock is, indeed, pressed against him. He's also stretched his arm out and wrapped his hand around Draco's shoulder, holding him. Now that he's used to the dim light, he can see a book resting on the bed beside them, Draco's fingers still inside it, holding his place. His other hand is in Harry's hair. He curses his dry throat and his wet bladder, angry they couldn't have just found a way to sort this out between themselves and let him stay here, asleep, where he wants to be.

He's tempted to rub his dick against Draco's hip, just to see what that's like, but it'd undoubtedly put more pressure on his bladder and pissing on him seems a sure-fire way to never get to rub anything on him ever again. He retrieves both leg and arm, slowly, not wanting to rouse his companion, since if he wakes up and sees Harry alive and awake and feeling better, he might go back to his own bed.

Regardless, Draco stirs and clenches his fingers in Harry's hair, which is stupidly arousing considering it wasn't intentional.

'You survived,' he murmurs in the darkness. 'Well done.'

'I did. My head feels better.'

'Get up slowly,' Draco reminds him. 'Don't tempt fate.'

'I'm fine,' Harry says and crawls over him and out onto the floor. It's cold, he isn't wearing socks, and he misses the warmth of another body immediately. He finds his slippers and steps quietly into the corridor, heading straight for the loo, and noting that the common room is occupied. He can't tell if it's Nightmare Club or people back from the pub, but wondering triggers the realisation that he hasn't dreamt at all. Maybe he should try and convince Draco to stay with him every night. Maybe it'd work.

When he's done in the bathroom he wanders out into the common room to make tea and sees it's definitely not Nightmare Club, since Justin is there, and Terry, and Hannah, who's sitting very, very close to Neville. He makes it all the way to the sideboard before anyone notices him.

'Harry,' Ron calls, and his voice, both in volume and exuberance, proves him in a similar state to what Harry was just a few hours ago. Major difference being that Harry had someone to look after him and Hermione is nowhere to be seen. 'You okay, mate?'

'Certainly not better than okay,' Harry says. 'Still a bit delicate, really.'

'You missed a harrowing game of Truth,' he says, stumbling over a pile of blankets that has Seamus' head and coming over to the sideboard. 'Neville and Hannah finally got it together, it was brilliant. Lisa had to admit she thought Malfoy was the best looking guy in eighth, Justin admitted he was fully gay, fucking Terry's had a threesome. It was mad.'

'It sounds far more eventful than my night.'

'Oh yeah,' Ron whispered. 'How'd that go? D'ya see how I got Malfoy to bring you back. Not that I had to try very hard, didn't exactly have to twist his arm if you know what I mean,' Ron raised an eyebrow. 'I reckon he really fancies you.'

'I reckon it's not going to matter either way,' Harry sighs and pulls out two cups. 'He seems to think he'll get shit for being with me, that people will think he's corrupting me or brainwashing me, or holding me under Imperius or something. It's mad. No one will care.'

'Don't be daft, of course they'll care. You deserve to be happy, the world owes you that,' Ron claps him on the shoulder, and he drops both teabags into the one cup. 'Though to be fair, he did have Rosmerta under Imperius for a while. He must be pretty powerful to be able to do that, actually.'

'He can do wandless as well,' Harry says, fishing one teabag out and putting it in the other cup. 'Just Nox so far, but still.'

'Still a bloody show-off then? Typical.'

‘Hey,’ Harry says. ‘I can do wandless, are you calling me a show-off too?’

‘Nah, it’s different with you. You’re not a git.’

‘Thanks for the distinction.’ The kettles flicks off and Harry pours, being extra careful since he's still feeling a bit off. 'He's changed a fair bit but he's still him.'

'I'm good for tea, mate, thanks tho,' Ron says, finally realising what he's doing.

Harry freezes with his hand on the milk jug.

'It wasn't actually for you,' he says slowly, studying Ron's face for clues. It takes a second for him to click, but when he does, there's no mistaking the shock.

'Harry,' he breathes. 'Is Malfoy in your room? Still? You came back hours ago,' he looks him up and down. 'And you're in pyjamas...'

'Nothing happened.'

'What've you been doing, then?'

'We talked, I fell asleep, he read a book and made sure I didn't choke on my own vomit. Nothing special,' he says, and feels a tiny bit guilty for lying. Helping Harry into his pyjamas and snuggling was definitely special. Or something.

'Right.'

Harry takes out the teabags and pours a splash of milk into the cups. 'Yeah.'

'Guess you better get back to bed, then?' Ron smirks.

'Fuck off,' Harry lets the corner of his mouth curl up in a grin. 'Goodnight.'

'Night mate.'

He pads into the dark corridor and hears Justin pipe up behind him, 'Did he just take two cups of tea back to his room?'

'Yeah,' Ron says, like it's obvious. 'Malfoy's probably in there.'

'Like... for real?'

'Tell you what,' his best mate says, and Harry lingers outside his room to hear the rest. 'It's real enough that I'm not going in there to find out what they're doing, if you get my meaning.'

Harry switches so he has two cups in his left hand and his right free to open the door. He enters to a soft light and Draco sitting up in bed with their Herbology textbook open across his knees. He looks perfectly at home and it makes Harry's heart ache with longing and he fights down the urge to beg for them to make this real.

'I don't think Justin will be bothering you anymore,' he says instead.

'What did you do?' Draco frowns.

'Nothing. After I left the room, he asked about the two cups and Ron said you were in here and he didn't want to know what we were up to.'

'Why would he say that? I'm reading a book.'

'Yes, but you...' Harry flicks his slippers off, puts their cups down on the bedside table and climbs up onto the bed. 'How much do you remember about Nightmare Club last Friday?'

'Can we not talk about it?' Draco moans, snapping the book shut. 'Like, ever.'

‘So you remember the conversation about you having someone pretend to be your boyfriend so Justin would leave you alone.'

'Vividly.'

'Well,' Harry shrugged. 'Ron remembered too.'

'Brilliant.'

'I'd take it as a compliment he wanted to help you at all.'

'I'd imagine irritating Justin would be almost worth it on its own.'

'No one else finds him quite as irritating as you,' Harry flops down on the bed, not bothering to get under the mussed covers.

'You do.'

'That's because you decided I'm your fake boyfriend and he's been glaring at me for a week like he wants the fucking Devil’s Snare to get a proper hold of me.'

'Maybe he wants to get a proper hold of you, and he's mad about your appalling taste in fake boyfriends?'

'That doesn't explain why he's glaring at me. If that was the case he'd be glaring at you.'

'Well, if he believes we're together, perhaps he thinks it's the one courtship ritual that'll work on you.'

'I suppose it must seem rather far fetched that we might be together, for some people.'

'I don't know, Potter. It's a fine line.'

Between love and hate? Love? It's as if he's trying to make this feel worse on purpose. Unless he didn't even think about it and implied it accidentally. Not that it matters, apparently.

'Over which we have thrown many hexes,' Harry says, not having the energy to deconstruct Draco's words right now.

'At least you never punched me in the face.'

'No, I just irreversibly scarred you, apparently.'

'Do you really want to see?' Draco sighs.

'Yeah,' Harry admits. For two reasons, but he'll only tell Draco one of them. 'I'm rather hoping it isn't worse than what I've imagined.'

'Fine,' Draco drops the book down onto the stone floor. He turns toward Harry and rolls up onto his knees, Harry still lying supine on the bed, cursing the residual dull throbbing in his head and wondering if the sudden, new throbbing in his trousers will diminish it.

In this position, with Harry reclined and Draco looming over him about to remove clothing, he suddenly remembers the more important reason why he shouldn't want this so badly, why the public opinion might matter. He doesn't want to be the reason Draco is thrown in Azkaban, because if he is, Harry never gets to see this again. No one will. And that's worse than not having him now.

But of course, that thought forms before Draco peels off his fine woollen jumper and tosses it on the bed so that the featherlight edge of it hits Harry's thigh and the whole thing becomes so much more than it is. And then it gets worse. (Better, whatever). It's not like the distinction matters, because the entire steaming cauldron of his feelings are a constant swirling mass of coming doom anyway.

As the layer below gets undone and shrugged off, a dark green, almost black button up that makes his skin look luminous, Harry wonders why he tortures himself like this. Then Draco is curling his fingers into the hem of his undershirt and there's a growing glimpse of smooth contoured skin, tight over fine muscle and bone and Harry is lost. His breath catches in his throat and he feels weightless with the surreal bliss of seeing this. On his bed, in the middle of the night, behind closed doors.

The soft white cotton retreats, as inch by inch Draco is revealed, and the wild imaginings that have kept Harry perpetually distracted and fuelled too many fantasies are proven completely inadequate. He's beautiful. Even the fine, criss-crossed lines of Harry's scar doesn't hurt the image of him kneeling over him on the bed, undershirt in hand, hair slightly tousled and a look of trepidatious pride on his face.

Which is when Justin walks in and ruins everything. Or perhaps saves them from making a glorious mistake. It's hard to tell when there's an unwelcome Hufflepuff standing there in the doorway, looking gormless and hurt.

‘Je suppose que tu as vraiment passé á autre chose,' he says and it takes Harry a second to realise, in his slightly muddled state, that that wasn't English.

'Je t’ai dit ça,' Draco snaps back at him. 'Putain, navet. Dégage.'

And if kneeling there in his bed, half-dressed and marked by his own magic wasn't enough to get Harry half-hard, then his bitching in French was certainly going to do the trick. He was doomed. But at least the view was good.

'What did he say?' Harry asks.

'Nothing of consequence, as usual,' Draco growls. 'How dare he just walk in here like that? To your room.'

'He's a dickhead. It's to be expected, surely, that he'll act like a dickhead?'

'Yes, but this exceeds even my expectations.'

'And you exceed mine.'

'What's that supposed to mean?'

'It means I don't want you to put your shirt back on.'

'Shut up, Potter, and drink your tea,' he groans, passing one of the cups over, but he makes no move to redress. And when he finishes his tea, he makes no move to leave.

Chapter Text

Harry dreams in Draco's arms that night. He dreams of fire and flying and the heat of a curse he can never forget. He dreams of seeing Draco, standing on a pile of lost things, looking around for a rescue that never comes. Harry tries to fly to him, tries a thousand times to dip his broom, to dive down, to sink beside him, to somehow get there. To save him. A thousand times he fails. He fails to reach his side, he fails to summon him, he fails to levitate him above the burning pyre. He watches him die again and again, sometimes falling into the fire, sometimes burning up, writhing in the flames. The last time Draco dies before he wakes, Harry dies with him.

He comes to with a start and a gasp and grabs wildly around for his wand. 'Lumos'  he begs into the darkness when he can't find it and a soft glow emerges from somewhere out of sight.

'Hey,' comes a rough voice from behind him and he spins around so fast he gets tangled in the sheets.

'Draco,' he gasps, putting a hand out to touch him, to make sure he's real, and here and alive. His chest is warm under Harry's fingers, the rise and fall of his breath welcome proof of all of those things. He can't help it, he lurches forward and kisses him hard on the mouth. 'Fuck,' he says, pulling back, remembering he's not allowed to do that, and he can't piss Draco off now because he needs him to stay. 'Sorry.'

'Potter? What's wrong?'

'You died,' Harry says, his thoughts still scattered. 'In the fire. The Fiendfyre.'

'Oh,' Draco says and he sounds resigned, like he understands. 'So you do dream of that day?'

'Yeah. Yes. Not,' Harry takes a breath. 'Not usually. Sometimes. Never like this.'

'You're crying.'

'Sorry, I just-' Harry bites his lip to stop it from wobbling.

'Come here,' Draco says and pulls him down. Harry is still tangled in the sheets and he overbalances, his weight heavy on his arms, one hand still pressed to the smooth skin of Draco's chest. There's a moment where he hangs there, slightly above him, so close. Too close. Their eyes lock. Harry stills, afraid of scaring away the one person he really needs to be here right now. But Draco is warm under him and real, and alive and here, and it's almost too much for him. He closes his eyes.

Soft fingertips brush his tears away, smooth his damp fringe away from his eyes, cup his jaw in a way that makes keeping his wants to himself perilously difficult.

'Don't,' he breathes. 'It's too hard to-'

'Hush,' Draco soothes. 'Come here,' and he wraps one hand around the back of Harry's neck, his fingertips threading through his hair.

'You can't touch me like this and tell me it means nothing,' Harry whispers, daring to open his eyes. 'I can't handle it.'

'It doesn't mean nothing,' Draco says. 'Come here,' and he tugs Harry closer still, close enough that he can't even focus on his face anymore. Their lips are nearly touching and it seems like such an invitation but what if he's wrong and Draco leaves now? He couldn't bear it.

'But what-' is all he gets out before lips rise up to meet his, soft and chaste and lovely, and then gone again.

'Lie down here,' Draco says, and pulls Harry into his chest like he didn't just break his own bloody rules and kiss him. Like it was normal.

It's a long time before Harry falls asleep again, with his room glowing softly and long fingers carding through his hair.

 

***

 

On Saturday morning, at around 6am, it starts to rain. It rains all through the day, pauses briefly during dinner, then starts again as soon as everyone has finished eating. Those few keen students who had pelted outside at the first sign of it letting up, forgoing pudding for fresh air, come back in the front doors dripping wet and laughing hysterically. One of them is covered in mud.

Sunday is much the same, and the eighth years spend the day as they had the day previous — homework, naps, games and a steady flow of complaints that they can't go outside. By Sunday evening Harry is so sick of the sound of other people he could quite happily hide in his room for the rest of the night but Draco is beside him on the couch, reading a different book this time, and Harry doesn't want to risk having to be alone by moving. Just because Draco stayed with him all of Friday night (and most of Saturday morning) doesn't mean he'll be keen to come off to his room now. Especially not in front of everyone. Justin isn't even here to annoy.

They get to Monday afternoon without incident or mention of Harry's nightmare, the resulting occurrences, or even the fact that Draco spent the night in his bed. Ron had given him a raised eyebrow at lunch on Saturday but he was too hungover to follow it up with questioning. Overall, it's been pleasantly normal, if Harry doesn't count the vivid flashbacks of making a drunken tit of himself, the nightmare, and the forbidden kisses that followed it.

But then Draco arrives in his room with tea, after classes but before their meeting with the Headmistress, and asks a question.

'You know how I said people were being shits about us being friends?'

'Yeah,' Harry says, wondering where this is going.

'I've talked to McGonagall about it before,' he says, handing over a cup. 'But I didn't tell her how bad it was. That it was at a point where it'd stop me doing certain things.'

'Understandable,' Harry says, assuming the certain things were him.

'I want to tell her I told you because she said I should, but I want you to know that she thinks it's just kids calling me stupid names and glaring at me in the corridors.'

'What is it actually?'

'It's not important,' Draco waves a hand airily. 'Not at the moment.'

'I completely disagree.'

'Well tough shit. We have Herbology to catch up on or we're fucked. We're already a few weeks behind,' he hands Harry a library book. 'Read.'

'Fine,' Harry says, and lies back on his bed with the book.

'Good,' Draco climbs up beside him, shooting an Engorgio at a pillow and wriggling til he's comfortable.

Harry isn't exactly sure when they got this cosy but he's unwilling to examine it in case looking at it too closely ruins it. He doesn't even think too hard about the fact than when Ron pops his head in the open door to say hi, he looks completely unsurprised and a bit smug about finding them both in there.

Their meeting with McGonagall is odd, slightly tense at times because Harry is hyper-aware that he's lying by omission by keeping Draco's secret, though really, he doesn't know the truth either, so it's not like he could tell, even if he wanted to. All he knows is that what they know isn't all there is.

He hangs back after to ask her about the letter and she confirms having sent a query but not having received a reply yet. He considers telling her that whatever harassment Draco is being dealt is worse than what he's saying but no good can come of it, so he keeps his mouth shut and leaves.

He regrets it later. Draco isn't in the common room when he gets back to The Hidden Tower. He checks his bedroom, making his way to the top floor for the first time, but he's not there either. Harry checks his own room, and finds it empty too.

He goes into his trunk and pulls out the Marauders Map. It takes him ages to find Draco, but there he is, in a disused classroom with three names Harry doesn't recognise, and one he does — the Ravenclaw Chaser that quit part way through his fifth and Harry's sixth year. He only remembers his name because they stopped playing at the same time and someone had started a rumour it was because they'd been fighting. In truth, it was because the boy's family had been attacked by Death Eaters. The implications of them having Draco alone are dire, and Harry's heart pounds uncomfortably in his chest and his head clouds with protective rage.

He makes himself sit and think. Draco will not want to be rescued. Harry doesn't think saving him will put the perpetrators off, rather it might make them suspicious Draco has brainwashed him. He needs it to look casual, almost incidental. He needs them to let him go to Harry without a confrontation. Like it's completely natural for the two of them to be friends and these kids have no idea what they're on about.

Fuck it, he'll figure it out later.

Harry slides the map into his pocket, leaves his Invisibility Cloak where it is and slips out of the common room. He jogs to the area of the castle where Draco is, trying to look like he's not in too much of a rush and risk alarming anyone. He reaches the general vicinity slightly puffed and decides he definitely needs to run more often.

He stalks closer in the dusty corridor, listening for voices. A door up ahead bears a telltale sliver of light beneath it and he creeps closer, his hand tracing the rough stone wall.

'What are you doing back at Hogwarts, then, if you aren't plotting to kill us all again?' comes a hateful voice from under the door.

'Going to class,' Draco snarks back, and Harry's relief washes over him like rain. 'Doing homework, getting casually interrogated, the usual.'

'This is boring, Crispin, he doesn't know anything,' comes a different voice. 'Can we go to dinner?'

'I'm not wasting Veritaserum on nothing,' Crispin snaps back. 'We're going to find out something interesting, at least. So, who are you shagging, Malfoy?'

Harry freezes, wondering if he should burst in there after all, or if he should just keep close in case something actually happens. And also wondering what he's about to find out, and whether he wants to know.

'No one.'

'Well, who did you last sleep with?'

'Harry Potter,' Draco says, plain as day, with no hesitation. That was a clever way to get around the question, but probably wasn't going to do him any favours.

'What does he want with you?' comes clear through the door at the same time as 'Is he gay?'  Harry reckons those two questions probably answer each other rather well.

'I don't fucking know,' is what Draco actually says though. Under Veritaserum.

'Well, why did he sleep with you?'

'He was drunk?' Draco guesses. 'I honestly don't know.'

'He should be embarrassed to even be seen with you, you filthy fucking Death Eater. Shouldn't he?'

'Yes,' Draco says, and Harry's heart breaks a little.

'You're pretty much worthless to him, aren't you?' Crispin, the little dick, warms to the new topic.

'Yes,' Draco says.

'You don't think he'd actually like you, do you?'

There's a pause. 'Not really. No.'

'And does that make you sad?'

'Yes.'

'Do you love him?'

'Of course I do. I'm not a fucking idiot.'

Harry stops breathing.

'Do you cry about it when you're in your bed?'

'No,' Draco grates out, before the serum makes him speak again. 'Once, but not in bed. Fuck you guys are such dicks.'

'Oh, but I thought you liked dicks, Draco Malfoy. Do you like dicks?'

'Yes.'

'Do you like them in your mouth or your arse?'

'Both. Obviously,' Draco tries to claw back some self-respect with a healthy dose of pompous disdain. 'Though I have no interest in yours, you seem quite excited by your power trip so I bet it's tiny.'

Harry reckons now's probably a good time to intervene. He even has an idea about the best way to do it without having to actually be there. He carefully retreats, hoping Draco can last another few moments without snarking his way to a beating. Once he's out of ear shot, he conjures his Patronus and gives it a message, sending it off to find Draco, and then he waits, disillusioned in an alcove.

It's only a few minutes before Draco shows up and Harry steps out of his hiding place, Finite-ing the enchantment.

'Of course you're just lying in wait, you tosser,' Draco sighs at him.

'I didn't think you'd appreciate being rescued from children.'

'Yet you rescued me anyway.'

'Yes, but they don't know that,' he says. 'They just think I'm on my way to find you using some tracking spell I invented five minutes ago.'

'You're a fucking pain in the arse.'

'Sorry, I'll use more lube next time,' Harry jokes, hoping Draco doesn't put two and two together and realise he's overheard more than he should've.

'I'm not talking to you anymore,' Draco huffs. 'Let's go get something to eat, I'm starving.'

'Are you?' Harry asks, wondering something.

'Yes,' Draco gives him an odd look.

'What do you want to eat?'

'Sausages.'

'And for pudding?'

'A fuckload of ice cream.'

'Do you want to kiss me?' Harry asks.

'All the time,' Draco blurts immediately. 'Oh, fuck you, Potter. Fuck you times a thousand.'

'Still under Veritaserum then?'

'Yes.'

'Are you going to stop talking to me if I keep going?'

'I've already stopped talking to you, you utter prick.'

'This might be the only time I can get you to tell me what you actually want from me,' Harry points out, sobering. 'Do you want me to ask?'

'No. I want to tell you myself,' Draco says, before rolling his eyes at how that sounds. 'You know what I mean. I want to tell you without having to. Please.'

'Sure,' Harry concedes. 'If it makes you feel better, I want dinner to be lasagne, followed by trifle, and I want to kiss you all the time too.'

'Potter,' Draco growls. 'Just shut up.'

 

***

 

Dinner is neither sausages nor lasagne, it's pork chops, which neither of them is fond of, but they do get apple pie and ice cream, so at least there's something. After they go back to Harry's room and resume studying their small stack of library books, picking out bits of information about henbane and drinking tea.

Harry manages to drop a piece of fresh elf-made biscuit in his lap and get warm melty chocolate chips all over his trousers. Upon inspection, he realises it's right on the zipper and he's probably going to have to deal with it now before it hardens if he ever wants to get these pants off.

'Bollocks,' he hisses, passing his cup to Draco and picking up the biggest of the biscuit crumbs.

'For goodness sake, Potter, does everything try and get into your pants?'

'It's fine, it just needs a Scourgify,' he says.

'Here, I'll get it,' Draco directs his own eleven inches of Hawthorn at Harry's crotch.

'Hey!' he squawks. 'No thanks. Watch where you're pointing that.'

'What do you think I'm going to do? Accidentally clean your dick off?' Draco looks curious. 'How do you clean up after you've been masturbating over an inevitably ginger someone in sexy Quidditch leathers? Or do you clean up the Muggle way with tissues and end up picking bits of paper off your cock for the next week?'

Harry gives him a withering look and waves a hand over Draco's own crotch, saying the incantation in his head. He's done it a million times before, dorm rooms being what they are.

Draco gets an odd, startled, slightly aroused look on his face.

'Did you just... clean me?' he hisses. 'Wandlessly and wordlessly?'

'Yes.'

'Why?' Draco squeaks.

'I was making a point.'

'Was the point how gay you are? You can't just go round cleaning other men's penises!'

'I honestly thought I'd made that point already,' Harry says, remembering the interrogation. 'I know I had a girlfriend a month ago, but I also like guys. Kissing you multiple times, and telling you I wanted to kiss you all the time, should've made that bit obvious.'

'Not as obvious as random genital cleaning, you fucking weirdo.'

'Whatever. I bet you liked it and you're just afraid to admit it.'

'You're appalling, read your book.'

'You're impressed though, aren't you? Wandless and wordless?'

'Read.'

Harry turns back to his book, smiling to himself. He likes this. Just being together, the banter. Sitting around drinking tea and studying. He wonders when he turned into Hermione. She'd probably find this cute. He should talk to her. About Draco's expectation of harassment over his association with Harry and whether he was being melodramatic or if he actually had a point. Harry knew he was a bit inclined to not notice things sometimes, and she was the observant sort, she had empathy and she was definitely on his side. She was an untapped resource in his fight against chastity. Not that he could enjoy any of that yet, with the threat of what the Wizengamot might say hanging over his head. He could always plan for it though, right? Just in case they were lenient?

He wondered what it would be like if they ruled out any possibility of them dating. If they asserted that Harry and Draco not even be friends. He's so much a part of his everyday life now, the idea seems ludicrous. He can definitely see why they might make a very clear distinction between friendship and romance, though. If not because love skewed one's morals, then simply because it would always look that way, no matter how much Harry said Draco was behaving himself. Not everyone would believe him if they were involved. Not with Draco's history of hating Harry and Imperio-ing people. Not that he'd be able to Imperio Harry, but everyone might conveniently forget that if there was a super-fun angry mob to join. The general public seemed to love a good old pitchfork-waving.

Worst case scenario, it would be suggested that Draco had used nefarious means to fall into good favour with Harry and there'd be no evidence to the contrary that would convince them. Or worse still, someone would manufacture evidence and they'd get Draco locked back up again, Azkaban or house arrest, neither outcome was remotely acceptable.

And the best case scenario if the Wizengamot said they couldn't be together? A secret relationship where they couldn't show any sort of affection in front of anyone. A lie. A very, very dangerous lie, because going directly against a court order would mean no one had to manufacture evidence at all and they'd have no hope in hell.

Harry didn't want secrecy. He didn't want lies. He didn't want a threat hanging over his head. All year. Again. He wanted to be able to live a normal fucking life. And if Draco and he couldn't be together at Hogwarts...

'You're somewhere else.'

'Huh?' Harry snapped back to reality.

'You were thinking about something. And I'm guessing not Herbology.'

'Yeah,' Harry flicked a glance at Draco, seeing curiosity tinged with concern. 'I was thinking about us. About what you said about people not... approving.'

'Oh.'

'I was just thinking how unfair that would be.'

'Welcome to life, Potter.'

'But also that it would only be that way here. At Hogwarts. After school, if the UK wasn't amenable, we could leave.'

'What? Together?' Draco's eyebrows disappeared into his fringe.

'It would rather defeat the purpose if only one of us left.'

'Are you asking me to live with you in another country?'

'I'm saying it's a possibility.'

'We haven't even been on a date yet.'

'Yet?' Harry feels the corner of his mouth lift.

Draco scowled gently. 'You know what I mean. You're getting ahead of yourself.'

'I'm trying to find a way to sit here next to you and not go fucking crazy.'

'Too late, you just skipped the first seven steps of courtship, you lunatic. Why don't we just get married and dispense with all of them?'

'Are two wizards allowed to marry?'

'Of course.'

'Huh,' Harry finds himself impressed with Wizarding society, yet again.

'I was kidding.'

'I need to talk to Hermione,' he says, and puts his book down. 'See you later, yeah?'

'I was kidding.'

Harry jams his feet in his slippers on his way out the door and checks the common room for his friend. No luck. It's nearly too late to visit her if she's upstairs, but he'll risk it. He takes the steps two at a time.

She's not in her room, but the Women's Lounge door is ajar and there are voices coming through the gap underneath. He taps politely and pokes his head in. Hermione's in there with Lisa, both sitting cross-legged, facing each other on long rubbery mats. Yoga. Damn.

'Hello Harry,' Lisa says and Hermione turns, her face halfway between pleased to see him and concern that he's here. There's a little bit of conniving glee in there too and Harry wonders if he's about to learn how to pretend he's a tree.

'Harry,' she says. 'Come in. What's up?'

'I have a question.'

'I can go?' Lisa says, sounding slightly awkward.

'No, stay, you know anyway,' Harry shrugs and closes the door behind him, eliciting a raised eyebrow from both girls. 'It's about Draco.'

'Oh?' Hermione says. Lisa just smirks.

'He's worried that the general populace of the school dislikes him. And that they might disapprove of us being... friends.'

'Friends.'

'Yeah.'

'Okay.'

'Do you think that's true?' Harry asks.

'I think there's always going to be people that think they get to have an opinion on your... friendships,' Hermione says diplomatically. 'And making decisions based on what other people think isn't going to make you happy. Especially if their opinion differs from yours, and that of your friends, out of ignorance.'

'So...?'

'If you want to be friends with him, it shouldn't be anyone's business but your own,' she concludes.

'Yeah, that's what I said.'

'But he doesn't agree?'

'Surprise,' Lisa says, speaking up for the first time. 'Draco disagrees with something that might be difficult for him to deal with.'

'Will it really though, or is he just assuming it will be?' Harry asks.

'That's a question you'd be better off asking him,' Hermione points out.

'How do you two feel about it?' he asks. 'About us being friends?'

'Can we stop saying friends instead of boyfriends? It's not like we don't all know what you mean,' Lisa says. 'It's a pointless exercise.'

'Okay.' Harry feels himself start to blush. Boyfriends. He hasn't thought that word yet. He likes it.

'I think it's probably a lot more logical than anyone will realise straight away,' Hermione says. 'I think you're well suited. You're both very strong in your opinions and I think anyone less than that would bore you both to tears. It's one of the same reasons Ginny and you worked. You challenge each other, but you're evenly matched so it's invigorating rather than draining. You'll feed off one another instead of one person devouring the spirit of the other because they're stronger. And you have differing areas of expertise, and different weaknesses, and I think that will mean you complement each other, and that you're stronger together than you are apart.'

'I just think it's fucking adorable,' Lisa says. 'And Draco's super hot.'

'Okay.' Harry pushes his fringe off his forehead, his face feels very warm. It seems as though Hermione has thought about this an awful lot. More than he has himself. 'How does everyone else feel about him, do you reckon?'

'Well. Ron's surprised he's not as much of a twat as he thought. He gets on with everyone in Arithmancy, he's very helpful. Even the seventh years have warmed to him, and they know what he was like last year as well as we do.'

'Except Justin,' Lisa points out. 'But that's a losing battle. They're never going to get on again.'

'Justin doesn't manage to get on with anyone much, does he?' Hermione asks.

'He's just so up himself,' Lisa sighs. 'I actually think it's made that class more sympathetic to Draco that Justin's such a dick to him and anyone with half a brain can see Justin's the bigger twat.'

'So, no one really hates him?' Harry asks. 'Except Justin.'

'I think the people that know him, don't,' Hermione says. 'There's probably still a bunch of kids out there who remember him at his worst, unfortunately.'

'Yeah. I-' Harry wonders if he should mention the incident earlier today. 'Have you heard of a kid called Crispin?'

'Yeah,' Lisa rolls her eyes. 'He's seventh year, Ravenclaw. Total asshole. Kinda scary. Should've been in Slytherin, if you ask me.'

'That's house stereotyping,' Hermione admonishes.

'That's sorting,'  Lisa mutters.

'Why do you ask, Harry?' Hermione directs them back to the conversation.

'I overheard something he said and it made me wonder. Do people think Draco's trying to rebuild the Death Eaters?'

'Only if they're stupid,' Lisa snorts.

'The Aurors were very thorough,' Hermione agrees. 'There are so few of Voldemort's followers left, scattered across the globe, it'd be impossible. On top of which,' she goes on, in full swing now. 'The Prophet took great delight in announcing how the 'cowardly' Malfoys changed sides before the end of the battle, and that none of them fought at all. Actual Death Eaters probably wouldn't trust them.'

'Oh.'

'Did you not read the papers at all, the whole summer?' she asks, mildly horrified.

'No,' Harry admitted. 'It's usually bullshit.'

'Bullshit or not, they didn't villainise the Malfoys, made them look a bit pathetic actually. Their trials got good coverage, especially when you popped up. In fact, when you appeared at Narcissa's and Draco's but not Lucius's, the general consensus was he had somehow got his family involved with You Know Who out of his own blustering stupidity.'

'That probably isn't far from the truth.'

'I think if people are stuck on what they personally remember of Draco from last year, then sure, they might be pretty mad at him still. But also remember, Neville led the rebellion and he and Draco get on fine.'

Neville, who had gossiped until he had an answer for Harry about the thing with Justin, who had been nice to Draco in Nightmare Club and Herbology and generally supportive of Harry when he admitted he had feelings for him.

'Hmm.'

'So,' Hermione says. 'If Neville appears to have forgiven him, that's going to go a long way with some of those kids.'

'I wasn't exactly in the thick of it,' Lisa interjects. 'But Draco wasn't the Big Bad last year. Everyone was focused on the Carrows and Snape. A bunch of Slytherins running around telling on people was the least of our worries, even if it did end up a bit hairy for a few people. I don't even think he was ringleader by the time it all properly kicked off.'

'Oh.'

That all gives Harry a lot to think about. But first, he needs to talk to Neville.

 

***

 

Neville is nowhere to be found. Incidentally, neither is Hannah, so Harry decides to not look to hard and hope for another opportunity. He doesn't expect simply sitting down on a yoga mat and talking will have any magical effect, so he's anticipating joining whoever else gets awoken by their demons in the common room that night. And as much as he might wish for his friends to sleep soundly, he hopes Neville will be there.

By the time he steps silently back into his room (he'd left the door open, and really, couldn't Draco have closed it on his way out?) he's ready to have a go at sleeping. He isn't expecting to find Draco still there. Asleep. Looking so good he's practically edible.

He dims his hasty Lumos to a soft glow and closes the door silently behind him. Draco doesn't stir. He's sprawled on his back, one arm thrown above his head, the other flung out toward the door, and a book splayed open on his chest. He's turned his head to the side at some point and his hair is falling slightly across his eyes. He'd also somehow managed to situate himself directly in the middle of the bed. Diagonally. There isn't really anywhere for Harry to be unless he's half on top of Draco as well. Which doesn't sound bad except if they spend another night together it's definitely going to test people's perceptions of their relationship, and if that gets back to the authorities... even if they interrogated Harry under Veritaserum, he probably couldn't exonerate himself at this stage.

He has to either wake him up and kick him out or leave him be. He can always sleep on the couch. Or in Draco's bed... Well, that's a rather interesting concept. Draco's bed. Having a wank in Draco's bed. Having a wank over Draco in Draco's bed. It's almost more exciting than sleeping next to him here, since there’s a 100% chance that he'll be getting off, and there'll be no one to tell him to behave himself. And his bed will smell of him... And that’s that decided.

Harry retrieves his pyjamas and changes into them, quietly as he can, tempting fate by stripping off completely before pulling his bottoms on, just for the thrill of being naked in the same room as Draco, even if he's asleep. He tucks his wand into his waistband and slips back out into the corridor, pulling the door closed behind him. There'll still be people up, the common room wasn't empty when he came through. Will they question him? Ask where he's going in his pyjamas? Or will they not even notice? He vows to not even look up as he passes through, and if accosted, inform them he's going to get Hermione so she can teach him moonlight yoga.

He's lucky, though, the only people in the common room are Leanne and Terry and neither of them look up as he slips past the sideboard and up the stairs. Adrenaline prickles in his veins but he makes himself take his time, look casual. He's silent in his socks as he picks his way along the girls' corridor, but ultimately hopeful of not running into trouble. Leanne is downstairs, Hermione and Lisa are on his side, and Hannah is apparently off somewhere with Neville, plus, she had conspired to give him information about Draco and is ultimately okay with general gayness, so she probably won't care if he's sneaking into a boy's room. He hopes.

Harry makes it to the next set of stairs and then to the top floor and scampers to Draco's door. He checks that he's definitely alone and turns the handle. It's locked. Of course. He pulls his wand out and whispers a quick Alohomora. It doesn't budge. He tries the only other two unlocking spells he knows with no luck and his heart sinks. He places one hand on the door in farewell to his highly anticipated stealth wank and is about to turn away when something goes click. He tries the handle again and it turns easily in his hand. Almost like he was welcome. And anticipated.

Harry pushes the door open, hoping it doesn't squeak, or more importantly, that it isn't boobytrapped. That'd be just his luck, and not an unbelievable thing for a Slytherin to do. He makes it in with no issues though, and closes the door behind him wondering if whatever locking charm was on it will keep people out or if he needs to do something else. He decides not to in case he ends up locking Draco out of his own room accidentally. Plus there's something about the thought of being sprung getting himself off by the person he was thinking of that sits pleasantly in his gut and makes him wonder just how depraved he is. Is this new slightly kinky streak because of Draco and how come it seems to be getting worse?

He lights a lamp and looks around a bit. There's very little in the way of actual mess or clutter, but the room is full of interesting little things that are like tiny clues into what Draco is about. Some things Harry recognises; that book, and the others in its series, are stacked by the bed. The huge scarf is slung over the back of the desk chair, like he'd been wearing it recently, even though Harry hasn't seen it since that night at the pub. The white cup is on the desk, and a few Herbology books, as well as the texts for Charms and Transfiguration, and what's probably Runes and Arithmancy, judging by their vague familiarity and formidable size.

The closet is closed, as is Draco's trunk, and the bed is made. It's neat, but not quite as pristine as Harry was expecting. His shoes aren't aligned perfectly perpendicular to the wall, for example. The bed isn't made with military precision. There's a pile of parchment on the desk chair; letters, ripped envelopes, photographs. He wants to look at them, of course, but that way lies madness. He's not here to stalk Draco, just to wank in his bed and have a sleep.

Okay, so he's being a bit of a creep. He sighs and draws the covers back, the familiar purple duvet making him feel a bit more at ease. He flicks a dismissive hand at the lamp, slips his glasses off and crawls into Draco's bed in the dark. It feels far weirder than he thought it would — being in someone else's bed without their explicit permission. It's kind of invasive, except that Draco is currently occupying Harry's bed, taking up all the space and looking all hot and unattainable. Well, not unattainable maybe. Maybe he could technically attain him. But. There was the small issue of Crispin and his cronies being immeasurable twats, and the rather larger issue of Harry's deal with the Wizengamot to keep an eye on him. He's still convinced the eye he'd been keeping on Draco isn't quite what the court had in mind. His eye is distinctly pervy. Though Draco isn't doing anything wrong, so there isn't anything for him to really be concerned with anyway. He's doing a lot of things right, really. And looking good doing them. Sadly, not doing Harry, but here in his bed, that could be imagined. Vividly.

Harry considers his options. He could have a standard 'get it done' sort of wank, which seems a waste since he's somewhere special with a very low chance of getting caught. He could go really far down the weird route, and like, hide in the wardrobe and pretend to be watching Draco wank. (Preferably while screaming Harry's name and experiencing never before seen paroxysms of pleasure.) Or he could be utterly filthy and wrap his cock in one of Draco's expensive shirts, completely ruining it (until he fixed it again). But those involve getting out of bed, and it's comfy and it smells nice, so Harry just rolls onto his stomach, buries his face in Draco's pillow and his cock in his Lubrio'ed fist and sets himself a slow, easy rhythm.

It doesn't stay slow. That infernal scent of secret cabins in the rain is embedded deep in the pillow and every breath smells of rapture. Every thrust is a gift, smooth and slick and perfect, the images in Harry's head dark and hot and vivid. He imagines Draco under him, taking him in, tangled limbs and sweat and heated breath, throaty sounds and shameless begging in low, needful tones for just a little more, a little harder, a little faster.

He loses sense of time and place, a tiny part of his mind knowing Draco might walk in and almost wanting it to happen. As the intensity blooms into something frenetic and desperate he curls his arm around the pillow and feels a loose bundle of fabric, soft and cool and smooth against his fingers. Draco's pyjamas. He doesn't think about it, just knows he needs it, more friction, more substance, something to lose himself in. He keeps himself propped on one elbow and releases his fist for just a second to grab the bundle and push it down the bed and bury his cock in it. He pumps hard into the soft folds, not even using his hand anymore, just rutting endlessly into the fabric Draco wraps around himself every night. He feels his balls tighten, the tingle deep within, and claws his hands into the sheets for purchase.

Nothing can stop him now, he's too far gone, he doesn't care who walks in, who he imagines might be watching from inside the wardrobe. He pictures the beautiful, furious owner of this bed and the silky ball of fabric he's going to fill with his come, telling him off for being so crass, slapping him hard across his arse as he pumps on and on, and all he can do is cry his name into the pillow on the tail of a breathless 'Fuck' and ride out the wretched spasms of his orgasm alone in the dark.

Chapter Text

Harry sleeps. After he cleans up, of course. It's the sleep of the recently sated, and he falls into it easily, safely surrounded by Draco's things and his smell and the knowledge that for some reason he loves Harry. Not that he's meant to know that.

He wakes to the sound of the door opening, he thinks, because when he cracks an eye open he sees Draco come in, all rumpled and lollopy and yawning. He sees him pause as he realises his bed isn't empty, but he can't be too surprised since Harry wasn't in his own bed, nor the common room, which he surely must have noticed on his way upstairs. He certainly doesn't say anything, though he probably thinks Harry's asleep. With the moonlight coming in the window behind him, his face will be deep in shadow.

Draco toes his shoes off by the door, which is in Harry's slightly blurry line of sight, before moving off toward the desk where he can't see him at all. Harry laments the lack of opportunity to watch him undress as he listens to the quiet rustle of fabric against skin. He can barely breathe a second later as a naked form appears, approaches his head and slides a hand under the edge of the pillow.

The same moonlight that's casting his own face in shadow is painting Draco's bare skin silver, and bare it is... Harry's face is less than an arms length from his cock, sitting heavy and pale in a nest of blonde curls. Harry fights the urge to open his eyes wider and drink more of it in. He wills his heart to slow, his brain to stop cataloguing images and his own cock to calm the fuck down. None of it works and he feels himself racing and salivating and hardening all at once. And that's just from looking. Draco's cock is better than he'd pictured it, all those weeks back when he put Michael on his knees for him and watched them fuck in his head. Typical.

Harry wants to know what it would feel like in his mouth, what he tastes like. He wants to know what it would be like to hold his body against Draco's, whether everything will line up, whether he'll be able to do again what he did tonight, but instead of empty cloth, having a slickened body to rut against. He wonders what it will feel like to rub his cock against someone else's. He wonders how he can be so hard again already.

Draco obviously gives up on the thought of extracting his pyjamas from under the pillow and wanders away to fetch new ones, giving Harry an uninterrupted view of his perfect arse — the same arse he'd imagined plunging into only a few hours ago. Again, it was better than he'd imagined. Round and firm, moonlight bouncing off every curve and darkness nestled in the cleft of his cheeks.

Dressed, Draco disappears from view again, and seconds pass before Harry feels the covers shift and the mattress dip slightly as he crawls in behind him. They're in bed together again, with little hope of it amounting to much, again, but Harry can imagine, and tomorrow he'll remember it in the privacy of his room.

Draco wriggles til he's comfortable, kneeing Harry in the leg and tugging on the duvet til it's too much to imagine Harry's slept through it and he has to pretend to wake up so it's clear he hasn't been awake this whole time.

'Hey,' he croaks, moving around a bit to make it look legit.

'Budge up a bit would you?' Draco whispers in his ear and nudges him in the arse. Harry shuffles forward, but not too much, in the hope they'll snuggle up again.

'You alright?' he asks. 'You must've been pretty tired to just fall asleep like that.'

'You could've woken me up, you know,' Draco says, not really replying as he settles himself right behind him.

'You looked peaceful,' Harry says by way of explanation.

They lie in the dark, a mixture of companionable silence and rich tension filling the room. Harry can feel every single place they're touching, and he’s mournful of all the places that they aren't. He keeps remembering what he's just seen, hyper aware that that painfully gorgeous body is right next to him wrapped in a thin layer of cotton, and its owner hasn't kicked him out of bed yet, even though he has every right to. There's literally no platonic reason for him to be here anymore. But there's no way he's going to risk it and offer to go back to his own bed. He doesn't want to.

But he does want to see if he can push this a little further. Tempt him. Now he knows how Draco feels, Harry's confidence is making him bold. Reckless, maybe. He stretches out a bit and maps where Draco's body touches his. Despairs at the remaining inches between them. Decides they need to stop existing. Figuring the worst thing that can happen is that he gets told off for overstepping by someone who clearly wants it, he wiggles back into the curve of Draco's body, pressing his back flush against his chest and tucking his arse up against his crotch. They're aligned from neck to knee, spooned perfectly, and Harry revels in the feeling of being the little spoon the first time in his life. Feeling loved and protected and wanted — even if it's a stolen sensation, one that can't last. Draco just sighs and drops an arm over his waist, giving in without so much as a groan.

Harry enjoys it for a few minutes before he has to say something.

'I asked Hermione if she thinks people actually hate you, and she reckons they mostly don't and if they do it's because they're ignorant,' he waits through a silence that seems far longer than it actually is.

'That's... very meddlesome of you,' Draco's voice is patient, uncomfortable.

'I know what it's like to feel like no one believes in you,' Harry says, placing his hand over Draco's where it's resting near his stomach. 'But sometimes people just don't care at all, and that's as good as support. Plus,  we  like you.'

'And yet when you take out those who are friendly and those who are neutral,' Draco's voice is soft, tired. 'There are still several fuckwits who are quite enthusiastic about their poor opinion of me.'

'But are you really willing to let people like them, like Crispin, make decisions for you?' Harry swallows. 'About me? Us?'

'Jesus, Potter,' Draco sighs, and Harry feels the heat of his breath on the back of his neck. He could get used to that. 'When you put it like that, no. Certainly not.'

'So,' he steels himself for the question to end all questions. It's like Schrödinger's Cat. He both wants to know and doesn't want to know and yet he can't help himself from checking. 'Are you going to stop this from happening if we both want it?'

'I don't know,' Draco sighs again. 'I've been trying.'

'And how's that going for you?' Harry smirks in the darkness, his face still turned away.

'About as well as you can imagine,' comes the murmur from behind him, and Harry feels a weight settle closer on the pillow behind him.

'Shit, then?'

'You're infuriatingly difficult to resist,' Draco whispers. 'Partly because you don't fucking give up, and partly because you have no idea how attractive you are.'

'That's true,' Harry agrees easily. 'You should totally explain that to me.'

'There aren't words, Potter.'

'Are there hand actions?' he asks, and hears a short huff of breath behind him, almost a laugh, and Harry feels the hand slung around his waist move, sliding over his ribs til it rests on his sternum.

'A few.'

'Show me one?' Harry pushes, his heart pounding.

'You're fucking impossible,' comes a growl and he feels the squeeze of a hug as Draco's muscles tighten around him.

'I'm not,' he insists breathlessly. 'I'm actually very, very easy.'

'Fine,' Draco says, and unfurls himself from their embrace, shuffling back. Harry panics he's gone too far and peers over his shoulder, trying to figure out what's going on. 'Come on then,' Draco places a hand on Harry's shoulder pulls him over onto his back, leaving him lying there, supplicant and exposed under the intensity of his gaze. 'You want this? You're sure?' he asks. Harry nods, not trusting himself to speak, what with the speed at which his heart is beating. 'It might go to shit,' Draco continues. 'You're probably going to have to save me from random children again. And you have to promise me you won't get me kicked out of school no matter what happens between us.'

Harry balks at that, because he knows that's a possibility, but unfortunately (fortunately, whatever) his brain is no longer in charge so he just nods slowly and rolls to face him, sliding his hand under Draco's shirt, delighting in the way his skin responds to his touch. He feels goosebumps under his fingertips, sees Draco's pale eyelids flutter slightly, just once before he regains control.

He doesn't want to be the one to start this, not again, even if he's just been given permission. There's a line here and it's Draco's to cross. So Harry just waits.

As the seconds tick by, he busies himself running his fingers over the soft, sensitive skin of Draco's ribs and trying not to get too excited too soon. Or too much. Or too obviously. He isn't doing very well, he was hard before Draco even got in the bed and if he moves any closer he's going to feel it. Not that he'll mind, what with liking dicks and secretly loving Harry, and having no idea how dangerous this might be. Harry pushes all thoughts of the stupid Wizengamot deep, deep down into a boring, sensible corner of his mind and decides he's tired of waiting, and pulls Draco towards him.

They meet in a perfect alignment of mouth and heart and burning stars of prophecy, coming together in a kiss so unlike any other, Harry wonders if he's ever kissed anyone properly before now. The heat and the weight of him is consuming as Harry sinks onto his back. It's better, stronger, than anyone he's had or imagined having. There's a complete sort of surrender in being pinned by another's desire.

Draco braces himself on his elbows either side of Harry's head and slides one knee over both of his, dropping the wiry weight of his leg over the other side til he's straddling him and his hips are squarely poised, hovering inches above Harry's own. Draco's lips never leave his, his tongue painting gentle stripes against his own.

Harry loses himself in their kiss, forgets every pained moment that has led them here, half-wondering if this is even true, if he's awake and it's real, or if it's some sort of divine nightmare. When Draco slides his knees apart, sinking lower and lower until their hips come together, he decides he doesn't care and bucks up against him without even meaning to.

'Christ, Potter,' Draco whispers against his lips as he returns the thrust, quick and grinding and perfect.

He sets a rhythm, agonisingly slow, now, and covers Harry's mouth with his own, not letting him move or breathe or think for long minutes, and Harry wonders if he was even capable of those things anyway.

Despite recently exploding into the mattress of this very bed, Harry feels himself losing control as their cocks labour against each other through their dampening trousers. He wants more, and less. Less clothing, definitely. More slide, less rub, more friction, less resistance, more heat, less cloying weight of covers and coyness.

He slides his hands up Draco's back, all the way to his perfect shoulder blades, dragging his shirt with him, up and over his head and off his arms one by one, then gone on the floor somewhere, out of the way. Draco deals with the World Cup t-shirt one handed, Harry holding himself up as it's whipped over his head. They come back together as if they've practised it, their mouths magnetic in the darkness.

Harry runs his hands tirelessly over the smooth skin of Draco's back and shoulders, lean and hard under his hands. When that's not enough, he slides his fingers under the waistband of his pyjamas, pushing them down and grabbing at his cheeks, pulling their hips closer, frotting harder against him. Draco groans into his mouth, his breath shaking. Then he's retreating, sitting back on his heels and Harry has only half a second to worry before his pyjama bottoms are unceremoniously, forcibly, removed down to mid thigh and he's hit with a Lubrio. He has another second to get used to it before Draco, now also naked to his knees, is back on him, propped on one elbow and taking both their aching cocks in his hand for one, two, three, nggh... five quick pumps, then he's back to smothering Harry in kisses and heat and grinding pleasure as they slide together. The lack of resistance in their movements, the added heat and speed of each thrust is enough that Harry forgets to take in the monumental fact that Draco just held his cock for the first time, and that he's about to get off with a guy for the first time, and that he's about to get off with another person for the first time in far too long without losing his erection. Because the only way this one is going anywhere is if Draco keeps going, just like that.

Harry gasps, shudders and feels the familiar tightening and the tingle and, 'Fuck,'  he breathes, 'Don't stop.'  He's not above begging, not for this. He digs his fingers into the flesh of Draco's hips, pulling at him on every downstroke until his heart is threatening to rip itself out of his chest and he has to clench his teeth to stop himself from crying out, but even then, as he hits his peak, a primal sound escapes his throat and he convulses with his arms wrapped around Draco and his face buried in his neck.

Seconds later, the arms either side of him tense and the thighs straddling his squeeze tight, just as he feels a splash of heat against his stomach that's not his own.

This is what it's like, and it's brilliant.

 

***

 

Harry wakes to the sound of movement in the corridor, this time, doors opening and closing, the other guys talking, chuckling at something. Draco isn't there. It feels different, being alone in his room with permission, being left there to wait for him.

Well, Harry assumes he's waiting, that Draco is coming back, that he's just showering. He could be wrong. He looks around for a note saying otherwise. He's about to get up when the door swings open and Draco walks in, fully dressed with wet tendrils of hair falling in his eyes, pyjamas and robe over his arm and a bag of toiletries in his hand. It occurs to Harry how inconvenient it must be for the guys on the top floor to have to go all the way downstairs and through the common room to shower. Then Draco smiles at him and he stops thinking altogether.

'Hi,' Harry says.

'Hello,' Draco hangs the bag on the back of the door and lays his pyjamas and robe over the foot of the bed. He sinks down onto the mattress and leans close. Harry can smell that intoxicating scent again and his brain melts. 'Did you sleep well?'

'Yeah,' Harry says automatically, then smirks. 'Not a lot, but soundly.'

'Good.'

'I should probably go, though.'

'Yes. We have Charms first.'

'I'm more interested in breakfast,' Harry tries not to grin stupidly and fails. 'I'm really hungry after last night.'

'Well you better hurry up, everyone else was leaving when I came up.'

'Good, then they won't see me creeping out of your room.'

'Ashamed?'

'No. I just-' Harry thinks about all the things everyone already knows about him, things they knew before he did. He wants this to himself for a bit. Then, of course, there's the possibility that this all might get them both in horrible trouble and Draco removed from school and thrown in jail and yes, they really do need to keep this quiet. 'I want this to just be ours for a bit. People know enough about me already without having to share this too.'

'Understandable.'

'You won't mention it to anyone? Even if they ask?'

'I don't think anyone's going to ask if I humped The Boy Who Lived last night.'

'On that note,' Harry flicks the covers back and feels his face heat. Humped. What a horrible, deliciously filthy word.

'You're blushing.'

'Yes. I'm also leaving,' Harry stood up. 'Pardon me while I go and wash the remains of your come off my stomach.'

'I'll only put it back later.'

'Stop it,' Harry closes his eyes in an attempt to block the images that conjures, a little taken aback at Draco's suddenly unrestrained flirtation. 'I have to go out there in light cotton and you're making it very difficult to look innocent.'

'I don't think you should be allowed to look innocent anymore,' Draco rises to stand before him. 'It would be false advertising.'

'I retain some innocence, thank you. At least, I hope that's not all there is.'

'Definitely not,' Draco wraps his arms around Harry's waist, tugging him in close.

'Good,' Harry breathes, and his chest feels tight and fluttery. 'What else is there?'

'Would you like me to show you?' Draco whispers in Harry's ear.

'Well,' he reasons. 'If I'm going to have to shower anyway...'

 

***

 

In the end, they both miss breakfast. Which probably isn't a particularly wise idea. But needs must. And Harry, for once in his life, decides that his needs really, really must.

 

***

 

He practically floats through most of the rest of the morning, even though Charms is kind of awful because his stomach is rumbling almost constantly and when class ends he can't get to the kitchen fast enough, and almost falls down the stairs. He spends half his free period eating and reliving the last few hours in his head, before remembering that Draco is also free and for some reason, not here. And then he realises he's going to have to tell him about the issue with the Wizengamot soon. Maybe today. Maybe now. And the day looks a lot less sunny.

Maybe he should get it over with. He can probably safely assume that leaving it longer when he could've addressed it now is going to make it seem more like he was hiding something. And he could also probably frame it so that it looks like he really only just thought of it now. Unless McGonagall drops him in it. He squirms. The mere thought of lying to Draco is actually quite uncomfortable. Huh.

Harry gets up from the little table in the corner of the kitchen and thanks the elves for his breakfast. They fill his hands with extra food and he thinks that's probably not a bad idea — if he's going to have to break the bad news to Draco, best to do it with cake on hand to ease the pain.

The walk to The Hidden Tower is over too fast and his chest feels funny as he balances his load in one hand so he can open the door. Draco's not in the common room, so Harry slips into the corridor and down to his own room to drop off his bag and his scarf and his shoes. Then he remembers why he was wearing the scarf in the first place and puts it back on. He probably needs Hermione to teach him some cosmetic charms or he'd be walking around with illicit hickies all the time. Hopefully. Maybe this will go badly and this one will be the last hickie he ever gets.

Draco is in his own room, sitting at his desk, flicking through a textbook. He's transfigured the standard issue desk chair into something more comfortable again and Harry is impressed. Again.

'Hey,' he says.

'Hello,' Draco gives him a look. 'You disappeared quickly.'

'Sorry,' Harry feels like a dick. 'I was hungry, after, you know...'

'Not eating breakfast?'

'Yeah,' he says. 'Let's go with that.'

'And now?'

'I thought you might also be hungry,' Harry proffers a muffin, a tart and a handful of strawberries, still wrapped in their napkin.

'Thank you,' he says. 'There wasn't much in the way of calories in what I had.'

Harry flushes at the casual reminder, marvelling at how their conversation has changed in the last eight hours. It's going to make bringing up the next bit that much harder.

'And also there's something I should tell you.'

Draco stops with his fingers on a strawberry. 'Oh?'

'Yeah.'

'Should I go to a Healer?'

'What? No,' Harry's blush deepens, even his ears are hot. 'Nothing like that.'

'Okay,' Draco says, claiming the berry and nipping the end of it off. 'What then?'

'About not telling anyone,' he starts. 'We should probably be aware of what it might mean for your parole if we get involved and people find out.'

'Get involved?' He gives him a look.

'Okay, point taken. I-' Harry takes a breath. 'I don't know what the exact parameters of our interactions are meant to be, in regards to how close we can get before my supervision of you becomes inappropriate.'

'Isn't it up to us what's appropriate?'

'Not if you think about it from their perspective,' Harry sighs. 'If they're effectively employing me to keep an eye on you, for their benefit, then that should probably be my main focus, and at the moment, I'm not thinking about them at all.'

'So you think our being involved will create a conflict of interest that they deem a violation of your agreement with them?'

'I wondered if we could claim I was just keeping a really, really good eye on you.'

'I think if you'd argued that in front of the Wizengamot they might have been annoyed enough to put me on trial again with new charges and you'd be too disgraced to save me.'

'Yeah, or that.' Harry is a bit surprised that Draco's taking this so well. At least he thinks he's taking it well. He's pretty good at hiding things. 'Technically, I don't have a formal agreement with them, I didn't sign anything. There weren't rules laid out, or limitations set on paper. I was basically just told that if I could give my word you weren't getting in trouble each week, that'd be enough.'

'Can't you still do that even if we're together?'

'I can,' Harry says earnestly. 'And I will. But I worry it'll look like one of us is being deceitful. Either that I'm abusing my power and forcing you, or you're using your Dark Arts experience to force me.'

'Ah.'

'We never gave any indication of not hating each other before this year,' Harry shrugs. 'There's no reason for them to think this was in any way expected.'

'Pansy would disagree with that.'

'Yeah, well, so would Hermione,' he says. 'And Ron. Possibly my ex-girlfriend as well.'

'I wonder about McGonagall too,' Draco smirks. 'She asks the most interesting questions when she gets me alone.'

'I asked her to write to the Wizengamot and find out what their stand is on our friendship,' Harry says. 'I was worried that they might consider even that a breach of court order or something and we might be in trouble.'

'I doubt friendship is the issue,' Draco sighs. 'And I think if we were deemed in breach of a court order we would definitely be in trouble,' he pauses for a moment, then looks suddenly thoughtful. 'When did you talk to McGonagall?'

'A little while ago,' Harry stares hard at the rug. So far this has been going okay. Would this been when it went to shit?

'So before today?' Draco says, his voice tight. 'Before I'd agreed to any of this?'

'Yeah.'

'I don't know how I feel about that,' he says.

'I didn't ask her if we could, like, be together,' Harry clarifies. 'I just said I was worried that the media might see us out in Hogsmeade or something and make it look like we were on a date, and if she could find out, specifically, whether or not that might be a problem.'

'I bet she saw through that before you even finished saying it.'

'She was very professional.'

'Right.'

'Are you mad at me?' Harry asks in a small voice, hoping he's just being paranoid.

Draco looks up at him from under his fringe, eyes cool, and no hint of the softness that had been there when he walked in.

'I really want to be mad at you, but I-' He swallows and Harry begs for a miracle. 'I understand why you didn't say anything last night. Or this morning.'

'I should have.'

'A Slytherin wouldn't have.'

'Yeah, well.'

'I think we probably need to give each other some space,' he says, staring hard at Harry's knees. 'For a few days at least.'

'Okay.'

Maybe he hadn't been expecting Harry to agree so easily, but all the wind seems to fall out of his sails and he just flops back into his chair looking forlorn.

'I want to say that I wish none of this had happened, but honestly, I'd be fucking lying, and I think that just makes it worse,' he says, looking over at Harry. 'That I liked it enough to be willing to go through this shit for you.'

'There's a Muggle phrase, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'.'

'Firstly, that's not a Muggle phrase. Second, does that even apply to us?'

Harry panics for a second that Draco's making a fuss about the word  love , but the sadness in his eyes points at something else and Harry feels immediately guilty. Well, guiltier.

'I don't think we've lost each other,' he amends. 'Just. We might have to wait a bit. If they don't like it. I don't think we'd be able to keep a lid on it here, even if we wanted to,' Harry swallows. In for a Knut... 'And I don't want to.'

'Excellent,' Draco tips his head back and stares at the ceiling. 'The nine months til school finishes are just going to fly by.'

'We might be able to sort something out before then.'

'A new, progressive, Wizengamot?'

'They might not even care, we don't know yet.'

'I think they probably feel fairly similarly as Crispin Archer does about me. I'm dangerous and not to be trusted. Certainly not with their saviour.'

'Or they might trust my judgement,' Harry points out.

'Like everyone did about The Dark Bastard's return and Sirius Black's innocence?'

'Yeah, okay, that might be a bit hopeful. On the upside, the Wizengamot isn't trying to sell papers,' Harry gives Draco a lopsided smile. 'Though, on the topic of papers...' he remembers Hermione's words from yesterday. 'Did you read The Prophet over summer?'

'No, they stopped delivering it part way through our occupation, their owls stopped coming back.'

'Owls?'

'Greyback. Used to eat them.'

'Fuck.'

'Yeah. I really should thank whoever it was that took him out.'

'Ron and Neville.'

'You're kidding?' Draco sits up in his chair.

'Nope,' Harry shrugs. 'My mates are savage.'

'Shit.' Draco is gone for a moment, lost in his head, sifting through memories probably, and Harry watches him with concern. 'I'll tell mother,' he says finally. 'She'll want to thank them too.'

'Was he... ' Harry stops. How do you ask if a werewolf was inappropriate with someone's mum?

'He was hideous but not completely stupid. He may have taken a shine to her but she's extremely capable and he knew that. She'd have fucking killed him if he'd even touched her,' he smiles. 'When you nicked my wand, she gave me hers, and it was, I shit you not, in a drawer. She didn't even need it anymore, not for everyday stuff.'

'She seems kind of... gentle,' Harry says, unable to imagine a powerful, vicious Narcissa Malfoy. Cold, distant, maybe, but not dangerous.

'No Black is gentle, you should know that.'

'You are.'

'I'm a Malfoy, too, we're a lot softer,' he smirks.

'Wouldn't have called you that last night,' Harry says, hoping the tension has passed enough to be joking about dicks again. 'Or this morning.'

Draco gives him a look, utterly scandalised and yet somewhere, there, a hint of amusement. Harry raises one ever so slightly suggestive eyebrow and he loses his composure completely.

'You're boorishly indiscreet, aren't you?'

'I'm normal, you're just very repressed.'

'Harry, you're far from just normal,' he shakes his head sadly. 'I'm going to miss you.'

'Don't say that, it sounds so final.'

'Maybe it will be. Seems a bit much to ask to be both free and happy after everything that's happened.'

'Yes, well, I'm asking anyway because apparently I deserve to be happy,' Harry says. 'I just don't think anyone expected it to be with you.'

'Did you get told that in your one therapy session?'

'Yes, actually. It completely invalidated everything else they said.'

'And yet you're repeating it now?'

'Yeah, well, now I actually want to be happy.'

'Shit outta luck there, Potter,' Draco stands up. 'You're suffering with me from now on.'

'Better than suffering alone,' Harry retorts. 'The view is much nicer.'

'Ever the optimist.'

Harry does feel optimistic, he really does, because there's no way he's going to let this go, and if he has to wait nine months for it, it can't be worse than the nine months he just spent camping.

Chapter Text

Draco is distant for the next couple of days, almost standoffish, and despite the knowledge that it isn't really over, it hurts. Deep down, somewhere, Harry knows everything will be fine, even if 'fine' is months away and possibly in another country. For now he has his friends, and a competent Herbology partner and the pub to look forward to on Friday.

And yet, he dreams. This time of being alone in a room with a lot of windows, but he's high up in a tower somewhere and no one hears him, no matter how hard he tries to yell. He wakes up hoarse and stressed and sick of not being able to even sleep like a normal human.

The common room doesn't disappoint. There's a fresh batch of biscuits on the sideboard and he flicks the kettle on for tea as he passes and heads for the couch. Dean is there with his guitar, and Lisa. He hopes he hasn't interrupted anything. He makes a pot just in time for Neville to emerge from their corridor and throw himself down on the other couch. Perfect.

'Why do I always dream the same thing?' he moans. ‘I'm so tired of it, it's not even scary anymore, it's just annoying.'

'Lucky you,' Dean says. 'Mine never fail to scare the shit out of me.'

'Well, that's what you get for running around in the forest like a hippie,' Lisa mocks.

'Can I ask you guys something?' Harry says, changing the subject. 'It's about Draco.'

They all turn to him and he has a sudden attack of paranoia and steps over to check no one is hiding on the stairs.

'What is it Harry?' Neville sits up. 'Is everything okay?'

'Yeah,' he replies automatically, then thinks about it. 'Well, it's mostly okay, I guess.'

'Did something happen?' Lisa leans forward, grinning.

'It's not about that,' Harry says, avoiding her question. 'I just wanted to know what you all thought of him. And not just you, everyone else. I think I'm a bit oblivious to the general consensus.'

'Like I said yesterday, I like him,' Lisa says. 'He's smart and pretty and not too nice.'

Harry finds he agrees, but Lisa's opinion isn't much of a comfort. He wants more.

'I'm cool with him,' Dean says. 'He was as decent as he could be while I was in his house. Seamus used to think he was a dick but doesn't really seem to care about him now,' he shrugs. 'No one really talks about him, Harry.'

'Other than the gossip about him and Justin,' Neville reminds them all. 'That got a lot of tongues wagging.'

'I think we were just surprised he turned out to be gay,' Dean says. 'We'd all assumed with the way Pansy was draped off of him half the time that they were shagging.'

'They were,' Lisa pipes up, and three sets of eyes turn to look at her. 'What? She and I used to talk occasionally.'

'So he's not gay?'

'He's presumably bi,’ she says, as if it’s obvious. ‘Considering he's been eye-fucking Harry for the last few weeks.'

'I had noticed that,' Dean says airily, his smirk firm in place.

'Hannah and Leanne were going on about it the other day,’ Neville says. ‘They think it's romantic.'

'Well there you go, Harry,’ Lisa soothes. ‘The most interesting, gossip-worthy thing about Draco is that he likes you.'

'Brilliant.'

'To be fair, Harry, you could probably have made anyone more popular at this stage.'

'I kind of wish he'd make me less popular actually,' Harry mopes. 'I don't mind people knowing I like him, and stuff, I just... I'd kind of like the worst case scenario to be the whole school finding out, not the whole country. I mean, can you imagine the shit they're going to print in Witch Weekly ?'

'Well, why don't we imagine it,' Lisa shrugs. 'I'd put a sickle on someone using the term, 'The Boy Who Loved'.

'Someone will probably refer to you guys hating each other for all those years and the ‘fine line between love and hate’.' There was that phrase again.

'Harry Catches the Golden-Haired Snitch?'

'Malfoy's Only Son The Only One For Potter?'

‘Malfoy Heir’s Chosen One?’

As they warmed up to the game, Harry realised that no matter what anyone out there said, the people who mattered would be here, taking the piss out of them for him and keeping him company in the middle of the night.

And that would be enough.

 

***

 

'Harry,' Hermione grabs onto his elbow as they make their way to breakfast on Friday, and drags him round the long way past Gryffindor Tower so they won't be overheard by the other eighth years. 'I did some research. About the Wizengamot and Wizarding law around sexuality over the last hundred years.'

'Okay,' he says, remembering to be thankful instead of embarrassed. They haven't really talked directly about his being into guys yet, all previous conversation revolved around Draco and what Harry might do to impress him. It had been acknowledged, accepted, but not discussed academically. Which was Hermione's favourite type of discussing.

'It's not good,' she sighs. 'Although diverse sexualities have been widely accepted as truth for a long time in Wizarding society — which puts them well ahead of Muggles, really, unless you count the Greeks who were actually very open minded, though of course everything went a bit downhill after that-'

'Hermione. You're digressing.'

'Yes, well. It's accepted and not persecuted as such, and there's virtually no hate crimes surrounding it which is really good,' she pauses. 'But it's sort of seen as a bit of a lark.'

'A lark?'

'Like it's not really... serious? There's gravity given to traditional heterosexual couples because of the ancient marriage rituals and the miracle of procreation and all of that, but being gay seems to be, to the older set anyway, a bit of a joke,' she looks apologetic. 'They find it funny, and a bit odd, and it's all very well for so and so's neighbour's nephew but it's still very much associated with the stereotypes of being unmanly or weak or effeminate so it's not exactly a desirable way of being for the, well, you know.'

'Saviour of the Wizarding World?'

'Yeah. I think in day to day life you'll be fine, I mean, everyone under 70 seems to find it a bit more normal, and not really care too much. I mean, Charlie never had any problems.'

'You talked to Charlie?' Lord, he hoped not.

'No, Ron told me. Molly and Arthur were a bit worried about it at Hogwarts, what with the potential for bullying if the old set had had too much of a hand in raising their grandchildren, but he didn't run into any trouble as far as they knew.'

Harry knows better, but he supposes having your boyfriend blank you because he was a coward wasn't exactly bullying, it just sucked. Bullying was being kidnapped, drugged and forced to out yourself. At least that he could do something about.

'Thanks for finding all that out,' he says. 'It doesn't exactly fill me with hope but I'd rather be laughed out of court than lynched I suppose.'

'That's the attitude,' Hermione brightens. 'When are you coming back to the yoga room?'

'Er... maybe tomorrow?'

'Excellent, we can work on your breathing, it's very helpful for stress.'

'Brilliant.'

 

***

 

'Hello, Crispin.'

'Harry Potter,' he splutters. 'Uh, hi.'

'I'd like to have a chat with you, if you don't mind.' Harry grabs him by the upper arm and manhandles him into an alcove. 'Just step in here would you.'

'I have somewhere to be, actually.' Crispin blusters, his posturing pointless when his pathetic little bicep is clutched in Harry's hand.

'That's a shame,' Harry says. 'I have some very interesting questions I want to ask you.'

Harry sends a casual Petrificus at him and watches carefully as he clunks back to lean against the wall. Actually, he doesn't want him damaged, falling over would leave too visible a mark and Harry is, of course, trying to avoid trouble. Plus, Crispin looks a bit panicky. To be fair, a full body bind does suck a bit. Harry shoots an Incarcerous at him instead, lifting the body-bind with a flick and a Finite and jabbing a wordless Silencio at him just in case.

'This is what's going to happen,' he says. 'You're going to drink this,' he holds up the tiny vial of clear liquid. 'And I'm going to ask you some questions. Then, depending on what you say, I'll either give you one simple task or I'll leave you here for two days until you're starving and covered in your own piss. Do you understand?'

Crispin scowls but nods. He's not completely stupid then. Good.

Harry interrogates him on all manner of topics, not wanting him to know exactly where this is headed. He asks him which professor is his favourite, whether he'd like to fuck anyone in the seventh or eighth years, if he's already has fucked anyone in the seventh or eighth years, if he'd go younger or older, what he'd do if he was stuck in a cave-in with his three best friends - which one of them he would eat first? Who was with him when he drugged Draco Malfoy and asked him all these stupid questions and whether he has a decent reason for being such an unimaginable prick to him?

Turns out, he thinks he does, and he's not at all hesitant in saying so. Harry wonders if the Veritaserum was even necessary, he only had a little bit and it seems a shame to have wasted it, even if he has found out a few interesting tidbits and gotten the names of Crispin's accomplices.

Apparently, a while back, members of his Half-blood family had been terrorised by Death Eaters, this much Harry knew. However, it turned out the Death Eaters in question were rumoured to be Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange, Draco's aunt and uncle. Which meant Crispin's actions almost would've made sense - if the Lestranges were alive to feel the petty revenge of a teenage boy, and if Draco had been in any way responsible for it, or, at a stretch, even in support of it. Harry was quite confident Draco thought his aunt was a crazy bitch and knew he'd never actually met his uncle since he'd be locked in Azkaban for his entire childhood.

In short, it's a satisfying but sort of depressing exercise.

However, he does manage to convince Crispin of one thing. Draco didn't hurt him, or his family, and there's little point in terrorising him now, when the war is over. Harry makes him promise to get help from a therapist and to apologise. To Draco. Without telling him he's doing it because Harry said so, and because Harry with a wand in his hand while you're tied up and drugged in a hidden alcove is kind of scary. He also makes him promise to keep their chat to himself or he might find himself Obliviated.

Harry considers leaving him tied up in the alcove with a small pair of nail scissors and one free hand but it seems to contradict his point of acceptance and kindness, so he releases him and they walk out of the alcove together, Harry's hand gripping the back of his robes, just in case he decides he's tough and tries to take a swing at him.

Which of course must look very interesting to the pair of tiny Hufflepuffs that happen to be walking by at that moment. Their eyes are huge, anyway. Harry isn't sure what they'll make of it - there will either be rumours they'd been fighting or rumours they'd been making out, and although Crispin wasn't half bad to look at, he clearly has some anger issues to deal with and Harry isn't interested. He isn't sure if there's a harmless third option for the inevitable gossip, but there's nothing he can do about it now and the tiny Hufflepuffs run off so he pushes it to the back of his mind.

It stays there, in the back of his mind, until later that night in the pub. Neville discreetly asks if he's been telling people he's into guys. He's overheard something in the greenhouses, apparently. Third years. Harry puts it together immediately that they've assumed he and Crispin were not fighting and that, were there a harmless third option that would've explained the situation, they haven't taken it. It isn't a disaster, he doesn't really care. Like they'd been talking about last night, the whole school knowing wasn't the worst case scenario by a long shot.

He wonders if a good gay scandal will cool the affections of the hundred faceless women who proposition him by owl every year. Or maybe it'll just be evened out by a bunch of guys. Surely there are less delusional gay men than delusional, straight, single women though? It would certainly explain the multiple cats issue.

'I reckon people will have something to say about it,' Neville says. 'Not because it's bad, just because people are weirdly invested in your life.'

'Yeah,' Harry says. 'But at least I know why it's come up suddenly.'

'Draco?' Neville whispers, smirking. Harry thinks he looks a bit smug, and wonders just how much he and Ron and Hermione are in cahoots, conspiring to get them together.

'No,' Harry sighs. 'I was seen coming out of a hidden alcove with someone. We probably looked a bit shifty. I was,' he sighed again at how it was going to sound. 'I had my hand twisted into his robes to keep him from punching me but from the front it probably looked affectionate instead of mildly hostile.'

'Oh,' Neville says, not pressing. 'Is everything okay?'

Harry wonders how much to tell him, he hasn't mentioned his slightly inappropriate display of dominance to anyone and he isn't sure he's comfortable with people knowing how much he'd toed that line of 'is it defence or is it just bullying a bully'? Neville would keep it to himself, and try not to judge, but he almost didn't want to risk seeing his friend's respect for him fade.

'It's fine. I just had a very honest discussion with him. He was being a bit of a dick to Draco.'

'I did wonder if some of them might still be a bit sore about last year.' Neville takes a sip of his pint. 'But he wasn't that bad, you could tell his heart wasn't in it, the torture and stuff. Crabbe and Goyle were awful, really scary. But Malfoy kind of just... faded into the background.'

Harry nods. It's always good to hear things like this because it makes him feel less bad for fancying someone who'd been a giant dick to a lot of people. But at the same time, now, he felt kind of sorry for Past Draco. For being so alone.

'He's definitely different than I expected.'

'He refused to torture the little ones a few times,' Neville says, and his eyes are unfocused, distant. 'We saw him do it, or I don't know if I would've believed it. Not after everything. Dumbledore and the like.'

'He refused to do that too, though, eventually,' Harry says. 'I was there that night. Dumbledore had Petrified me and hidden me under the Invisibility Cloak. When Draco came up to the Astronomy Tower, he was... really scared. They'd threatened his family, his mum,' Harry looks up at Neville then and something passes between them, the unspoken acknowledgment that both of them, without question, would kill to have their mothers back. And that they could never hold it against Draco that he'd tried so hard to save his own.

'People will figure it out eventually Harry, maybe you'll save them from their own prejudice this time.’

'Yeah, fingers crossed for all of Wizardkind.'

 

***

 

On Sunday, Harry goes for another run. He needs it. There's been a general increase in whispering and staring at him that makes him think the rumours are spreading and soon his not-worst case scenario might come true. Which meant his actual worst case scenario wouldn't be far behind. But fuck it, he'd deal with it. At least they weren't whispering and staring at Draco as well.

On his way back up to the tower, a trio of little ones accost him and he finds his way blocked.

'Mr Potter,' the bravest ones asks. 'We heard a rumour about you and we don't want to gossip, so we thought we'd ask you if it was true.'

'Okay.' He doesn't give them anything, for all he knows they might be about to ask him about the Hungarian Horntail tattoo Ginny told everyone he had in sixth year.

'Are you gay?'

Harry thinks about how to answer. He isn't, technically, he's bi. So answering yes or no is going to be a lie, either way. Which means he probably has to explain. He wonders if these tiny Hufflepuffs will understand. And then he remembers what Hannah said, about Hufflepuff being the gayest house in the school, and he thinks maybe he's not giving them enough credit.

'I'm bisexual,' he says.

The smallest one looks delighted, like it's some sort of sexuality Christmas and he's Queer Santa, giving out gifts of truth and acceptance. 'Me too!' she squeaks, before scooting behind her friend to hide.

'Is that all?' he asks them. 'Only I'm kind of tired and sweaty and I'd really like to go and have a shower.'

'Sure, sorry, Mr Potter,' they part ranks for him to pass and as he steps between them, he hears the frantic hiss of multiple tiny voices. To think he and his friends were being hunted by Britain's most wanted man and dodging werewolves at their age. They have no idea how lucky they are. 'Um, Mr Potter,' comes the brave voice again. 'We have a group, for people like us.'

'Okay,' he hopes it's not about to be renamed in his honour.

'Will you come along? Not always, even just once would be great. It'd mean a lot to the people who are scared to tell anyone.'

Harry wonders when he became a paragon of gayness and a role model to queer youth. He thinks it might have been about thirty seconds ago. And yet he can hardly say no, can he? Not when these brave little children are trying to make their place in society stronger, not when he knows what they're up against. He thanks Hermione in his head.

'Sure,' he says. 'Owl me the details.'

He smiles as he turns and walks away, aware they're probably making very excited faces at each other and trying to stay quiet until he's out of earshot.

The whole thing fills him with a sense of wellbeing, which jumps up for a ride on his post-run endorphins and leaves him grinning like an idiot, alone in the shower. He washes quickly then just stands under the water, letting it beat the tension out of his shoulders.

He misses Draco. The easy company, the pining, the hope and promise that not knowing brought. Now he's looked in Schrödinger's box, and although the view was spectacular, it's not one he can see himself forgetting. The cat was alive but he's not allowed to play with it. He's doomed to celibacy for the rest of the school year unless McGonagall comes back with good news (and having your sex life in any way depend on your headmistress is a weird and unwelcome development in one's adult life).

He and Draco are still civil with each other, still talking, still letting their gazes linger a little too long, but they've been very careful not to sit too close, tried to not be left alone anywhere. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry hopes they won't ever be the only ones to get up in the middle of the night and end up together in the familiar dark warmth of the common room, where all of this started. He doesn't fancy his chances of keeping himself in line — he remembers how much of a comfort Draco is post-nightmare. It'd be too easy to flop down next to him, lean into his familiar heat and wrap himself in the intoxicating scent of him and the knowledge of his affection. It'd probably get a bit too handsy. They'd crossed that line, and if the morning after had been any sort of indicator, once it's crossed there's no need to pussyfoot around it anymore.

It hadn't been quite like that with Gin, it'd been awkward and new and he'd never known what he was allowed to take. What he could do without her recoiling or smacking his hands away or sometimes just stepping away and declaring it was probably time for a cup of tea. It'd been frustrating at first, since he'd always imagined she was wildly more experienced than he was, but after finding out she's never actually slept with Dean, it made a lot more sense that she'd been nervous. It occurs to Harry, then, that maybe, despite her busy dating life, she might have actually waited for him after all. It fills him with guilt, but no true remorse. It'd probably contributed to the overall problem; there's nothing like the pressure of high expectations to destroy a man who has no idea what he's doing.

Draco knew what he was doing. And he'd certainly exceeded Harry's expectations, and they'd been pretty whimsical expectations, he'd thought, at the time he created them. Though he'd been more focused on Fantasy Michael at the time. He realises he's barely thought of him since they got back to school, he's been a bit preoccupied with a certain blonde. Well. Maybe he has to be celibate in his real life, but there's no reason Fantasy Harry has to be...

 

***

 

When he finally comes out of the cubicle in his robe, there's a familiar looking, tiny little Scops owl sitting on the edge of a white porcelain sink, staring at him with wide, startled eyes. Harry wonders if an owl's supersonic hearing can determine the sounds of furious wanking through a Muffliato. He pats his shoulder and Pig flutters up and settles there as Harry goes to his room and closes the door carefully behind them.

He unties the letter from Pig's tiny leg, reads it, sighs heavily and chucks it onto the bed, then opens the window and watches as the little owl flaps away in the direction of the owlery. Bollocks.

He dumps his running gear in a pile next to the desk for the elves and rummages in his trunk for some clean underwear. His wardrobe has miraculously acquired clean t-shirts and jeans overnight and he selects his softest, comfiest pair and a navy blue polo that he has a vague recollection of nicking from Percy's room while he was being a twat and he and Ron needed something smart to wear out to lunch.

He's just pulling it on when there's a sharp knock at his door and Draco slips in uninvited (but not unwelcome).

'What did you do?' he spits at him, closing the door behind him. They're alone. Harry thought they'd both decided to avoid this. For a weird second he wonders if he's got too caught up in his fantasy and this is happening in his head and he's still actually in the shower. Is there hallucinogenic mould in there? Or had Draco been in the bathroom too and Harry's Muffliato had failed completely? That would explain the owl's reaction.

'In the shower?' he asks.

'No, you idiot. Out there,' Draco gestures in the general direction of the common room and beyond, the castle proper. Where all the people are. Oh. Harry finally gets what he means.

'A Hufflepuff third year asked me if I was gay, and I felt sorry for them,' he sighs. 'I may have agreed to go to their support group.'

He and Draco had never talked about outing themselves individually, even if they couldn't do it together. He can see how that might seem a bit off. Secretive. And how it might put their relationship into question even if it's only Harry who is openly not straight. And Draco has the most to lose if it all goes to shit. He's the one who might end up incarcerated. It was shitty of Harry to not have told him. It had just never occurred to him since they haven't been anywhere private to have that conversation. But of course, they've been avoiding that.

'Not that,' Draco snaps. 'Fucking Crispin Archer just cornered me in the library. To apologise.'

'Er, oh,' Harry felt his jaw muscles slacken. That. 'I, er, kind of kidnapped him a bit and drugged him and yelled at him a lot,' he blurts.

'Great,' Draco says with heavy sarcasm. It's a bit ungrateful, really. Harry risked a lot, well, a little, to do that. And he used up his Veritaserum. 'I suppose now we just sit back and hope that Archer doesn't go chatting to any third year Hufflepuffs and that no one else puts two and two together and I end up in jail.'

Oh. Fuck.

'Ginny actually figured it out already,' he reluctantly waves a hand at the offending letter sitting on his bed. 'She was a bit mad. But she won't tell the Wizengamot or anything,' he says, starting to babble. 'Doesn't really like authority figures. Prefers to do things her way. That was kind of the problem really.'

'Potter.'

'Yeah.'

'Shut up.'

'Sorry.'

'What are we going to do?' Draco sounds desperate and Harry realises that maybe, despite him taking the news the other day in a calm, mature sort of way, didn't mean he was actually okay with the whole thing. He was obviously not okay now. And suffering with a friend was one thing, but suffering alone and hiding it from the person you were closest to was something else altogether. Harry feels like the worst friend ever.

'I don't know,’ he says. ‘I guess we make it look like the opposite of what it is, somehow,' a feeling of dread grows in Harry's gut as he realises what that is. Hate. They have to make it look like they hate each other again. Which means they can't be friends anymore. They can't even relax in Herbology class among Hermione and Neville who know the truth, because fucking Justin will be there, acting like a nosy, meddling prick and fucking with things that are already far too well-fucked already.

'So we are going to lose each other,' Draco slumps down on the bed and picks up Ginny's letter, scans it, scowling, and crushes it in his hand. Harry finds himself liking that he feels comfortable enough to do that, to know he doesn't have to ask to read it and that Harry has nothing to hide. It makes the knowledge that this is over that much harder to bear. He does, however, startle slightly when Draco sets it on fire in his palm and watches it burn away to ash. 'I hope you didn't need that,' he says quietly.

'Nope. I'm done with her.'

Draco looks up at him and Harry might imagine the look of appreciation on his face, but he's going to go with it anyway.

'I'll still wait for you,' he says. 'We can still meet in secret. No one will find us in the Fire Seed Bush cave.'

'Yay,' Draco deadpans. 'My favourite place.'

'We should stage some sort of epic falling out,' Harry realises. 'Make a point of it. Make everyone notice.'

'We haven't duelled in a while,' Draco points out. 'Is that still against school rules?'

'Yes,' Harry says. 'I was thinking we could just yell at each other. Somewhere public so everyone sees.'

'Great Hall, then?'

'Sounds wonderful.'

'When? Breakfast is probably best so people have a chance to gossip throughout the day, let it really get rolling.'

'Yeah. Tomorrow?’ Harry hopes not. He wants some time to work up to it. Get used to the idea of being alone again.

'Too soon I think. It'll come out of nowhere for the people that actually know us, they'll try and help and that'll be just as telling as us being nice to each other. We need to have them think we've tried and it hasn't worked.'

'Right,’ Harry feels himself tense. ‘So we aren't telling them the truth?'

'No,' Draco gives him an apologetic smile. 'If it doesn't work I'll instinctively want to blame them for spoiling the charade and I don't think our affection will be able to weather a Malfoy scorned. Sorry.'

'It's okay. Good self-awareness,' Harry smirks.

'I know I'm a brat,’ Draco snaps. ‘I'm not blind.'

'Fortunately, so does everyone else, which will work in our favour come Break-up Day.'

'Let's make it Friday, shall we, nothing like a hideously public un-friending to start the weekend off.'

'Excellent,' Harry grinds out.

'Right. I'll go then.'

'I'll miss you,' he says.

Draco nods and heads toward the door, head down and shoulders bowed. Harry doesn't watch him leave.

 

***

 

As per the agreement, they spend the next week sniping at each other and being generally unpleasant. The rising level of absorption into the hive mind of Hogwarts that Harry is bi is kept from growing to uncontrollable levels of gossip by the fact that all the guys he hangs out with now have girlfriends, including Dean, who has managed to convince Lisa that monogamy might not be as evil as she once thought. Harry's exceptionally happy for them, especially since it means him and Dean are now 'even' as far as the not-really-girlfriend-stealing goes. He's stopped caring that they have similar taste. Draco isn't going to be shared the same way. Ever. With anyone, if Harry has anything to say about it. Which of course he doesn't, because they are (expertly, of course) giving every indication of being back at each other's throats like the whole last month was a weird figment of everyone's imagination.

It's draining, and Harry wonders why he bothered with hating him all those years. Right now he just wants to curl up with a cup of tea and a book and his snuggle buddy and yes, he has definitely turned into Hermione at some point.

The week passes slowly, with only the occasional note passed between them to remind Harry it's not a permanent arrangement and that one day, maybe soon, they'll have the freedom to say what they like in Herbology instead of saying one thing and writing another on a tiny piece of parchment as they pore through a stack of books and copy countless recipes and diagrams and pictures of henbane. Worse, Draco is fastidiously careful and vanishes every scrap of parchment not fit for the eyes of the general public and Harry doesn't even have one of those to cling to. It's very lonely.

By Thursday at lunch, he's not having to fake his bad temper. He and Draco haven't seen each other since breakfast, he had double Arithmancy before morning tea and Harry used morning tea to set up for his double Defence right after, so they've been like ships in the night. The fact that Draco is for some reason now not even at lunch is enough to make Harry snap at Hermione and feel even shittier for it.

'What's got you in a snit?' Ron scolds him. 'You've been weird all day.'

'Nothing I want to talk about,' Harry says and stands up, grabbing a roll off a platter and looping his bag over his shoulder. 'Sorry, Hermione.'

He's about to head upstairs and check the map to see where Draco's hiding when he hears the click of formal shoes on the flagstones behind him. He turns to see McGonagall approaching, a piece of parchment in her hand and a stern expression on her face.

'A word, Mr Potter?'

'Er, sure?' he splutters. 'I mean, yes, of course, Headmistress.'

Has she heard back from the Wizengamot, finally? Or is that parchment something else? A notice of Draco's incarceration, or a summons to court or a letter saying he was simply quitting school, sorry, bye. She gestures toward the Entrance Hall. He studies her face for clues and she gives him nothing.

'Perhaps in private?' she says. Harry's heart sinks into his shoes and he feels like he might cry. If she's expecting an outburst, she'd definitely want it away from the eyes of the entire school.

'Of course,' he says, and drops the roll back onto his plate. He's certainly no longer hungry.

The front doors are open, and the Entrance Hall is bright and fresh and Harry hates it. He wonders if there's a spell for angry, hopeless thunderstorms. If there was, Draco would be the one to know it and isn't that just perfect.

'I received an owl from the Wizengamot this morning,' she starts, and Harry wishes she would just hurry the fuck up and ruin his life quickly so it could be over.

'About what I asked?' he confirms, because even if it is, at least it's better than a court summons.

'Yes. They included this,' she holds out the parchment. 'They request that you sign it and send it back at your earliest convenience.' Her voice is slightly mocking and he looks up to see a tiny, almost unnoticeable smile on her face. 'I think you'll find addendum number eight to be to your liking, if I understand the situation correctly.'

Harry looks down at the parchment, quivering in his hands. If she's smiling, what can that mean? He skims down the page til he finds what she's referring to.

  1. The exact nature of the relationship of the parolee, Draco L. Malfoy and the advocate, Harry J. Potter is not of consequence to the agreement, on the condition that the stipulation of weekly meetings with the Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Minerva M. McGonagall is met without fail and precise notes are kept on each of these meetings. In the unlikely event of cordiality, it is left to the discretion of the advocate, Harry J. Potter, as to whether such advances are acceptable to his person. In the event of inappropriate action (ie. any physical contact the advocate, Harry J. Potter, considers to be unwanted) on the part of the parolee, Draco L. Malfoy, it is recommended the advocate, Harry J. Potter, contacts the Wizengamot immediately to ensure the danger is properly addressed.

 'It would appear they think Mr Malfoy might attempt something inappropriate and unwanted with you, Mr Potter,’ she says, her eyebrows raised and her tone sternly amused. 'Curious, how they interpreted our request for information.'

'It's almost as if they don't believe their saviour could possibly be into that,' Harry says.

'It does seem that way, doesn't it?' she says.

'But don't they know Dumbledore was...' Harry breaks off, still not quite ready to talk about all of that yet.

'He never hid it from them, Mr Potter,’ she continues, a note of pride in her voice. ‘But it was deemed inappropriate to discuss such dalliances in polite company.'

'Dalliances? Him and Grindelwald's relationship almost-' Harry stops himself, feeling his blood heat. 'It's stupid,' he concludes.

'Yes,’ she agrees. ‘I rather think it's time for a change of attitude, don't you?'

'Yeah,' Harry hesitates. 'But I'm rather sick of being the chosen one for everything.'

'No one chose this for you, Harry. It's something you get to decide for yourself,' she gives him that relentlessly maternal stare and he's putty in her hands. 'I trust you to make the right decision and set a good example to the other children. Especially the Hufflepuffs,' she smiles at him, and he wonders why people ever try and hide things from her when it’s so obviously pointless.

'And the Slytherin girls?' he asks, assuming she’s heard about that too.

'I wouldn't worry about them so much,’ she soothes. ‘They had a very strong leader in Miss Parkinson. They're quite happy.'

'Pansy?' he blurts. McGonagall ignores him.

'The Hufflepuffs lost their chosen leader far too young when Mr Diggory died. They'll need someone to look up to.'

'Cedric?!' he squawks.

'I'll see you in Transfiguration first period tomorrow, Mr Potter. Don't be late. Either of you.'

And she leaves, with Harry staring open-mouthed after her. Pansy he can believe, but Cedric? Though, hang on, he has better things to obsess over right now. Like the fact the Wizengamot had just declared that they give exactly zero shits about what he and Draco get up to. Or rather, they simply think they won’t behave any other way than they already have before, and they're perfectly happy to leave it up to Harry to decide on what to do if anything changes. And that’s better than he’d hoped for. It's pretty much perfect.

He needs to find Draco. Now.

 

***

 

Except that he's nowhere. Nowhere on the map, anyway. Harry checks The Hidden Tower, every single classroom, the library, the greenhouse, the Astronomy Tower (though he doubts Draco'd be up there), the Quidditch pitch, the broom shed, the Slytherin common room. Nothing. He even physically runs down to the fucking cave of fiery doom, just in case it's somehow impervious to the map's power and Draco is in there but just not showing up on the parchment. Nothing.

By then the bell is about to go and he has to run to get to Charms. Draco is supposed to be there too, but he isn’t and when Harry pulls out the map under his desk, just as Flitwick is trying to settle them down, he's still nowhere to be seen.

He doesn't turn up to Charms at all. The entire lesson Harry is distracted and almost as useless as Seamus had been in first year. He only explodes one small bird though, so it isn't that bad, even if everyone looks at him like he's completely heartless and did it on purpose. This doesn't improve his mood.

He spends the gap between last class and dinner lying on his back in his room and staring at the map, waiting for Draco to turn up somewhere, wondering if he should sneak into Hogsmeade and check there. He's barely even hungry but he goes down to dinner just in case Draco arrives, because the Hall is right by the front doors and thus far closer than his bedroom.

He doesn't talk to anyone much, answering questions with single word answers until everyone is sick of trying to engage him and he gets left alone. Draco doesn't come to dinner.

He doesn't come back to the common room after dinner.

He's still nowhere on the map.

He's still nowhere at midnight.

Harry falls asleep around one and wakes again at five, kicking himself for being weak and needing trivial things like sleep. He pulls the map out of the pocket of his trackie bottoms and pores over it with his wand held between his teeth, shining softly on the worn parchment. And he's there. In his fucking bedroom. Which means he slipped in after Harry fell asleep and snuck past him. Dick.

Harry scrambles up, almost falls over the purple blanket someone's wrapped around him and shoots up the two flights of stairs to Draco's room. He doesn't knock, just places his hand flat on the door like before and waits for the click. Except it doesn't come, instead his hand feels like it's on fire and there's pain swiftly replacing his joy.

He recoils, but not fast enough, hissing multiple swear words under his breath in the dark as the pain fades to a light tingle. What the fuck was Draco thinking? Revoking Harry's entry permission was one thing, but boobytrapping the fucking door? That was... actually really clever. Because they had needed this to look believable in the morning. And if Harry had come up here trying to call it off, this would've put him back in line. But as it was, that's not at all why he was here. Well, it was, but... fuck. Draco would never believe him, not now, in the middle of the night with zero evidence.

Harry was going to have to wait til breakfast.

 

***

 

Expecting Draco to come down after everyone else had left, Harry goes to breakfast early, and secures a spot at the table for maximum efficacy. He wants to know when Draco walks in, wants to not even give him the chance to sit down. Mainly because that would mean waiting longer to kiss him. He's done waiting. It's action time. What he's best at. No thinking. Just doing. Just kissing his secret maybe-boyfriend in front of everyone. No biggie. No thinking.

No thinking about the fact that he was about to out both of them in the Great Hall, without Draco's express permission. No thinking about the fact it might go horribly and Draco might instinctively shove him away. No thinking about the fact that Draco might even think Harry was purposely dooming him to incarceration and hex him to death... actually, he probably should think about that. That would be bad.

He sips his tea and nibbles on his toast, mulling over different scenarios in his head. He could always say something before he did anything. Quickly, and hope Draco is fast enough to understand before Harry pounces on him.

The room fills around him, as he sits and imagines kissing Draco in various different ways with various different outcomes. As more and more people enter he grows increasingly nervous. His palms get sweaty. His heartbeat is almost audible. His eyes keep flicking to the door and every time someone drops a piece of cutlery he physically flinches.

Draco needs to hurry the fuck up. The eighth year table is full bar one. He's the only one left to arrive. Harry's eyes are glued to the door.

And then he's there, and suddenly there's no oxygen in the room, and it doesn't really matter because Harry has stopped being able to breathe anyway. Draco looks beautiful, of course, but sad and hard-eyed in a way Harry hasn't seen before. Resigned.

He’s rising out of his chair without thinking, Draco coming only a few strides into the Hall, pausing just inside the doors, as conversations around them stutter and stop.

'Potter,' he growls.

'They wrote back,' Harry says, as he steps away from the table, towards him. He makes it less than halfway before Draco closes the gap between them and grabs him by the front of his robes.

This isn't how it was meant to go, this wasn't one of his practised scenarios, what was Draco doing? 'Hold on a moment,' Harry begs, and it's the last words he gets out of his mouth before Draco snaps at him to 'Shut up' and kisses him.

Draco kisses him.

Harry tries for at least two long seconds to figure out what the fuck is going on. Then the general effect of being kissed with that level of force and suddenness and skill takes hold and he melts into the floor and stops thinking about anything at all. He vaguely hears the sound around him die out to nothing as the rest of Hogwarts takes note of what's happening. And then, from one side, comes a rising cacophony of... applause? From behind him, a localised cheering of high-pitched voices that sound a lot like a certain bunch of little Hufflepoofs. Somewhere in his periphery, a flashbulb goes off.

As the absolutely lack of privacy starts to hit him, he starts to worry. Draco doesn't know they're allowed to do this, he hadn't given any indication of understanding what Harry meant when he said they'd written back — his expression hadn't changed at all in the moments before he'd grabbed Harry and kissed him.

He stills his lips. Gives Draco a moment to compose himself and then leans back slightly.

'What are you doing?' he whispers.

'I decided I don't care if they throw me in jail,' Draco declares, and untwists his fingers from Harry's robes, releasing him. 'You're worth it.'

'What?' Harry squeaks. 'Really?'

'No, you idiot, you left this on the table last night,' he says and pulls out the agreement the Wizengamot had sent. Harry suddenly remembers keeping it with him the whole rest of the day in the hope of finding Draco. And that when he'd woken up on the couch, he hadn't seen it. Had actually kind of forgotten it existed after only four hours of shit sleep.

'You could've woken me up,' Harry huffs.

'You looked peaceful,'  Draco mocks. 'At least I gave you a blanket.'

'You're impossible,' Harry groans.

'No,' Draco says, smiling at him, and pulls him closer to whisper in his ear. 'I'm actually very, very easy.'