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King's Crossing

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It took awhile for Harry to coax Draco away from work. There was a potion that needed to be stirred under a waning moon for a week, apparently. Harry assumed the increased workload was why Draco had been acting a bit off the last time they parted, and then forgot all about it. He wasn’t really worried — Draco hadn’t made things official with words, but “I don’t kiss just anyone” spoke volumes, at least to Harry. It was now chilly out, the perfect time to go skating. They met at the park — their park, Harry thought of it as now. Draco showed up in a blue woollen coat with a high collar and a grey scarf wrapped around his neck. Harry thought he looked handsome, and told him so.

“Even though you look like a Ravenclaw in those colours,” Harry teased. He would have reached for Draco’s hand, but both were in his pockets. Instead, Harry gestured over to the small rink in the centre of the park. “Let’s rent some skates.” 

Draco followed quietly, not speaking much while he laced up the skates he selected. He pulled each lace through the eyelets slowly and methodically; Harry was abruptly reminded of that morning after pulling him from the Room of Requirement, as Draco buttoned his shirt in the Hospital Wing. When he was nervous Draco tended to focus on small things.

What could he be nervous about?

The rink wasn’t as crowded as it would become closer to Christmas, and Harry and Draco were able to glide along in relative isolation. Draco appeared to have no trouble with the basics, staying upright without any visible wobble, even if he didn’t attempt any twirls or spins like some of the skaters closer to the middle of the ice. Harry was less steady on his feet, relying mostly on his broom-riding experience for balance.

“Have you done this, or are you just a natural?” Harry asked.

“I used to skate on our lake back at the Manor,” was Draco’s answer. “It was shallow enough that it usually froze. If it wasn’t cold enough in Wiltshire that year, it would be magically frozen over.”

“Wow, that must have been pretty fun for you.”

Draco shrugged half-heartedly. “I wasn’t allowed to do jumps or anything, just glide around. Mother usually had a fancy winter tea in February.” He didn’t elaborate more than that, and Harry got the impression the memory wasn’t a particularly happy one. Maybe none of Draco’s childhood memories were happy anymore, tainted by what had become of his family. That was a depressing thought. He continued forward without pressing Draco for any further details.

It was relaxing, in a meditative kind of way, to just skate around the ice in circles beside each other. Still, it wasn't quite the date Harry had imagined. He’d pictured holding hands while they made their way tentatively around the rink, laughing at one another if they fell, trying to outdo each other the way they had in Quidditch. Afterwards there would be hot chocolates and a lot more kissing in the park. Harry was even hoping there might be kissing — or more — in Draco’s flat afterwards. Something about the way that coat fit; Harry wanted to get his hands underneath it.

He’d been thinking about this more often, about going further with Draco than kissing. It was only natural to want that with the person you fancied, after all. It was more than that, though. Truthfully, Harry enjoyed sex, but it wasn’t his highest priority. What he really wanted from Draco, he realised, was for him to stop acting like Harry was going to evaporate into thin air at any moment, to not be so hesitant with his emotions.

At last their legs became tired, and they made their way off the ice like wobbly penguins, much less agile while walking in blades than skating on them. Harry led Draco to a bench back behind the rental booth. The winter sun was going down already and they were hidden in the shadows cast by the awning.

It seemed private enough, and the park was familiar territory. As he had done before, Harry leaned in towards Draco, making eye contact and giving him enough time to pull back. When he didn’t, Harry nudged his nose alongside Draco’s, mindful of his glasses as always, and kissed him. 

Yet, in contrast to the last time they snogged in the park — when Draco had stroked Harry’s face, and eventually clutched desperately at Harry’s shoulders — Draco left his hands on the bench. He didn’t pull away, but he didn’t return the kiss enthusiastically — didn’t return it at all, in fact. After only a moment, Harry pulled back to look at him quizzically.

“Everything OK?”

“It’s fine.” It obviously wasn’t fine; Draco’s fingers curled against the bench and he wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Back to your place? “Further in the park?”

“No,” Draco said, almost timidly. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Harry swallowed against the lump that was forming in his throat. “Draco… Did I do something to upset you?” Harry recalled how stiff Draco had been when they said goodbye in the lift at the Ministry,

“I mean to say… that is…” Draco’s voice faltered. “I’m just not sure… I’m quite ready for a relationship.”

All the sounds of the park, the soft noises of other skaters’ blades across the ice, seemed to fade away. The bitter wind cut through Harry’s scarf, sharp as Draco’s words. “Do you want to go… slower?” Harry couldn’t imagine going slower than they already were. But for Draco… “We can do that,” he affirmed, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. 

Draco regarded him very seriously. “That’s not what you want.” Harry couldn’t deny it, so he didn’t. “You want to be together, to be boyfriends,” Draco clarified, stating the obvious. “You want to have me.”

That wasn’t how Harry would phrase it. Have him. Draco wasn’t a possession. He wasn’t wrong about the rest, though. “I do, yeah.” Harry cast around for reasons Draco might be saying such things. “Was I pushing too much? If you don’t want to go further than kissing, I don’t mind.” 

Draco arched a brow. “Really? Not ever?”

Was that it? Harry could work with that. He wanted more than snogging, but not so much that he wanted to lose Draco. And wasn’t that realisation a kick in the head?

“If that’s how you feel, yeah. I know some people don’t like it.”

“But you like it,” Draco said knowingly. “And that’s not it,” he added, cutting off any reply from Harry. “I enjoy physical intimacy.”

“Then what —”

“There’s just a lot to do, you know?” Draco rushed out, his words coming faster. “At, at work, and just — in life, and — there’s never enough time —”

“I thought you liked spending time with me,” Harry pointed out, stung.

“It’s too much, alright?” Draco was becoming visibly agitated, kicking the bladed heel of his skate into the ground in front of them. “Everything is too much.” He wrapped his arms around himself defensively.

Harry couldn’t think of a retort, only a feeble protest. “It just seemed like things were going so well.”

Draco squeezed his eyes shut. “Stop making this harder.”

“What, you want me to make it easy for you to dump me?” Harry replied, unable to hide his frustration. Draco appeared to shrink in on himself.

“I’m not… We never really…”

“I get it,” Harry said bitterly, then sighed in resignation. As much as he wanted to argue, wanted to insist Draco give him another shot, he found he couldn’t. Draco just looked so miserable there, his nose red from the cold, body stiff. Even as gutted as he was, Harry wanted to reassure Draco. “It’s alright, I promise. I’m not… are you angry with me?”

Draco relaxed slightly and glanced over. “No. I’m… you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Do you… not want to see me anymore?” Harry asked, afraid of the answer. “I like being your friend,” he added softly. It wasn't a lie; Harry had enjoyed Draco's company before he was interested in him romantically. But even as he said it, he knew being only friends would be difficult. He recalled the past few weeks of tentative sweetness he’d shared with Draco, already missing it 

Draco's expression said he had the same worry, but he smiled warily. “I like that, too.”

“OK then,” Harry nodded. “Friends.” It felt like a hollow declaration compared to the first time he had assured Draco they were friends, like this was a loss rather than an addition to his life. And it was, honestly — a loss of the hopes Harry built up around them. Suddenly the park didn’t seem welcoming anymore, only a reminder of the times they’d been here the past few months, growing closer both emotionally and physically. And while Harry usually tried to stretch out his time with Draco, he found he wanted to be anywhere else.

It seemed that Draco had the same idea, and Harry watched him, bereft, as he took a shuddering breath and leaned down to unlace his skates. “I guess we’d better return these.” 

Later that evening Harry stood in his back garden alone, looking up at the stars in the crisp, clear sky as his breath materialised and dissolved in the cold air, ephemeral as his short flirtation with Draco had been. From the beginning, something about Draco had seemed unreachable, but Harry couldn’t grasp it. He was making him just as distant as his namesake whirling in the heavens above.

Harry had tried his best, right? Had made Draco feel comfortable, had demonstrated his affection? Was there something else he should have done, something he was missing? Parvati had told him to discuss the threads, but Harry couldn’t see how that would have helped. What was Harry supposed to say? ‘No, Draco, you’re wrong; see, we’re supposed to be together, even if you aren’t ready’? Not only was that rude and utterly discounted Draco’s feelings on the matter, but Harry couldn’t prove anything about the threads, anyway.

If Draco didn’t want him, maybe they weren’t tied by a thread after all.

Maybe they were, and Draco still didn’t want Harry. Maybe Harry was just that unlovable, that even his soulmate didn't — 

Now that’s going too far, Harry told himself sternly. You’re over that feeling.

Still, Harry couldn’t help but wonder as he trudged back inside over the frozen grass if destiny had maybe skipped over him when it came to romance.

~~~

Even if they had determined to be friends, Harry thought it best he gave Draco a bit of space after the disastrous date-that-wasn’t. Rather than meet up with Hermione at lunch, he dropped off his newest batch of parchment — annotations for her proposal on the treatment of Grindylows — and made a beeline back for the lift, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally bump into Draco and come across as desperate. Before he could make his escape, he heard a throat clear behind him, and turned around cautiously.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Parvati asked with obvious concern. “You look like you’re trying to outrun another dragon.”

“Nah, just more work,” he joked half-heartedly. “You never know what Hermione will come up with next. Good to see you, though.”

Parvati was not easily dismissed and followed Harry into the lift. “What floor?” he asked.

“Whichever one you’re headed for.” Harry pressed the button for the Atrium, resigned. As soon as the lift began moving, she cast a spell he’d never seen before at the door and turned to him, the same strange nervous look on her face that he’d seen that day at lunch.

“How are things going with Draco?” 

“They aren’t,” Harry answered morosely. “He only wants to be friends.”

“Oh, dear.” Parvati appeared upset on Harry’s behalf, but not surprised. “Even after the kissing?”

“Yep. No more kissing.” Harry didn’t really want to discuss it. He hoped someone else would get on the lift to save him from this conversation, but no one did, and he concluded her spell must have been to keep people off.

She wrung her hands. “I’m really sorry, Harry. I could have sworn he was smitten with you.”

“Yeah, well, you were wrong,” he answered testily. “You don’t know everything, even if you do work with all the mysteries of love.”

“I never said I did.”

“You got my hopes up, gossipping like a schoolkid about how he liked me, and let’s not even talk about the threads —”

“You never did talk about the threads, maybe that’s your issue —”

“Fuck the threads!” Harry’s voice echoed in the small space. “What use are they, if we don’t even end up together? Are we even SUPPOSED to be together, after all that?

Parvati closed her eyes, guilt flashing on her face. “This is why soulmate threads are a secret. The questions are more trouble than they are worth.”

“Well, I’m never getting answers now.” Harry crossed his arms and leaned against the wall of the lift, which had come to a stop but wasn’t opening yet. “I just… I just wanted him. More than I realised, I guess. I wish I never knew about those stupid threads.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” she repeated. 

“It’s not your fault, not really,” Harry said, calm creeping back into his voice. “I have to get going, though.”

It appeared as if Parvati would speak again, but she turned away instead, abashed, and cancelled her spell on the lift. 

~~~

The winter was shaping up to be a long, cold one, perfect weather for Harry to curl up inside Grimmauld Place with a stack of work and wallow alone. He saw Draco around, of course: glimpses at the Ministry, or across the room with his co-workers, having casual post-work drinks at the Leaky. He was happy Draco had decided to be friendlier with people — the housewarming party had done him a world of good — and he even caught Ron chatting with him in line a few times as they waited for their ales. Harry sometimes talked with Draco as well, but their conversations lacked the warmth from their first foray into friendship. Harry couldn’t blame Draco for being distant; he knew Harry had been interested in him, and maybe that awkwardness would never truly go away.

Once Harry saw him in Diagon Alley, looking beautiful in the soft glow of the Christmas lights that were draped on every shopfront. Harry was about to say hello, until he noticed that Draco was with Blaise and Astoria. He turned sharply away before they could spot him and headed for another shop, any shop, and didn’t notice that he’d ended up in Scribbulus until a kindly old witch was asking if he needed to be shown around. He purchased three inkwells he didn’t need and fled.

Luckily, New Year’s was distracting. It was Bill and Fleur’s turn to host, and the entire Weasley clan had descended onto Shell Cottage. A large pavilion heated by Warming Charms was set up along the beach, and Harry laughed along with everyone, counting down and cheering for midnight. And if he remembered sweet autumn kisses on a park bench as the year began anew and couples embraced around him, that was an ache he would have to accept.

~~~

Unfortunately for Harry, the affection he felt for Draco didn’t dull as winter turned to spring, and careened right into summer. In truth, it only became worse as he watched Draco settle more into his life. Hermione told him that Draco had approached her about a project concerning the Ministry-distributed Wolfsbane, wondering if certain modifications could be made in the efficiency of the potion that would make the full moon even easier on those taking it. Harry’s heart swelled as he considered what a kind person Draco had become, what progress he made with his prejudices, but along with that came melancholy thoughts of what could have been.

Still, encountering Draco at work or around town had become easier as time went on. Which was for the best, since Daphne Greengrass had struck up a sort-of friendship with Hermione, and various Slytherins could now be found at pub nights with increasing regularity. Harry braced himself for the day that Draco came into the Leaky with someone on his arm, but it appeared that he had been truthful with Harry, and wasn’t looking for a relationship yet. 

A little voice piped up in Harry’s ear at times like these, saying that Draco hadn’t been ready then, but maybe he would be ready someday. Harry tried to swat away those thoughts like doxies, and was usually successful. There was no use getting his hopes up. Yet every now and then he felt someone staring at him, and would turn around to see Draco quickly look away. There were even times when Draco blushed as he and Harry chatted about whatever friends talk about — Quidditch, work, nothing that would normally make someone flush.

Harry told himself that was just lingering awkwardness. He also took pains to not focus too intently on Draco in mixed company, to make it clear he understood they were only friends. The first few times Harry had allowed their conversation to trail off and turned away to start a new one with someone down the table, Draco had looked confused, and almost suspicious, but taken it in stride.

Today, however, Draco was everyone’s focus: it was his twentieth birthday party. Now that he had more friends to invite, Draco’s flat had been deemed too small, so everyone had gathered at a local pub. After Harry grabbed a drink from the blessedly open bar, he made his way over to tell Draco hello.

“So, twenty years old. Not a teenager anymore.”

“Please, I haven’t been a teenager since I died.” Harry started, and Draco laughed. “I can joke about that now, you know. I’ve stopped waking up at night feeling for all my limbs and making sure I was solid.”

“I didn’t realise it had been that bad for you.”

“I’m sure you had it worse.” Harry tilted his head in question. “Oh, don’t tell me your last encounter with Old Noseless didn’t give you nightmares.”

Harry spit out his beer. “Old Noseless?!”

“That’s what Astoria calls him, apparently. Speaking of, is she here yet?” He craned his neck around to look over the crowd, and Harry felt his stomach tighten in unearned jealousy. “Blaise only just asked her out,” Draco continued, unaware of Harry’s misery. “I told him this wasn’t an appropriate first date, being that it’s my party, but he just can’t help himself. What are you smiling about?”

“Nothing,” Harry grinned in relief. He could chide himself for his possessiveness later.

“Harry, Draco; just the two I was looking for.” Hermione approached with a glass of wine in her hand; in contrast to her party dress and the wine, she had her work face on. Harry groaned.

“Can’t whatever memo you have for me wait until Monday?”

She turned to Draco expectantly. “Have you asked him yet?” Draco shook his head no, a faint blush rising on his face. 

“Asked me what?” Harry was very curious what could elicit that reaction.

Hermione waited, but when it was clear Draco wasn’t going to speak she sighed in exasperation. “Draco needs to interview some werewolves around the country about improvements he’s attempting with the Wolfsbane potion. It’s Ministry policy that any employee doing field work be able to cast a Patronus Charm for emergency communication. I told him you were the best person to ask, since you’re not only competent with the spell, but have experience teaching it.”

“I didn’t want to be a bother,” Draco interjected. “I can request people come to the office.”

“You know werewolves don’t trust the Ministry very much. Getting them to agree to be interviewed at all was difficult enough without asking them to set foot in the building.” She turned to Harry insistently. “You do remember how to teach the spell, right?”

“I — I mean, probably, but only if Draco wants.” Harry had imagined such a thing before: standing close to Draco, helping adjust his wand. How unfair for the opportunity to come up that now he knew just how much he liked Draco.

Hermione fixed her terrifying gaze on Draco, who gulped. “Yes, I’d like that very much,” he said quickly.

The look she gave Harry was a bit softer. Hermione knew, after all, that he had been sweet on Draco — Harry couldn’t have hidden his infatuation from her and Ron, even if he’d never discussed it with them like he had with Parvati. It only seemed natural to make her his relationship confidant, since she’d known about the threads, and Harry was sworn to secrecy on them, even if he’d felt badly keeping it from his two best friends. As far as Hermione knew, he and Draco had kissed a bit and awkwardly decided it wasn’t going to work out. In any case, Hermione didn’t consider social awkwardness when there was work to be done. “I’m sure we can work something out,” Harry agreed, mostly to get her to leave them alone.

“Hey,” Harry said softly as soon as she was gone. “We don’t have to, you know. I’m sure you can find another tutor if you’re uncomfortable with me.”

Draco swallowed. “Whyever would I be uncomfortable?” he said, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. 

Because you know I still want to snog you, Harry thought. “If it feels like too much pressure,” was what he said instead.

“I think I would pressure myself no matter who was teaching me,” Draco admitted. “I’ve always been worried I was incapable of casting one at all. That I wasn’t… I don’t know, good enough. In my heart or something.” He let out a shaky breath. “I don’t think I could have told anyone else that.”

If Harry hadn’t already been completely gone for Draco, he would have fallen right then, looking at his sad yet hopeful face as he confessed to Harry. “Well, that’s obviously not true,” Harry assured him. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try my best.”

“Very well. We’ll have to set up a time and place later, or else suffer the wrath of Hermione.” Draco looked behind Harry, and his eyes lit up. “Now come along, I think Daphne is bringing out my cake.”