The way that Draco’s heartbeat quickened when Potter spoke his name was sodding inconvenient.
Harry, Draco reminded himself as he walked a little faster towards the entrance hall, where Harry and his (other) friends waited. Granger gave Draco a slight smile and a nod. Weasley had a martyred expression on his face.
Because he’s rude. As open as Draco was allowing himself to be with his feelings right now, he still wouldn’t express all of them honestly around Weasley. Because it was rude.
Something someone should really tell him.
But he already knew that he would get in more of an argument than it was worth, so he stopped next to Harry and nodded. “I suppose you don’t have a schedule for the Hogsmeade visit and are simply going to wander around the village as the mood takes you.”
“Schedule?” Weasley snorted. “I suppose you do?”
“I had a schedule in the past, but that was when I went to Hogsmeade with people who aren’t here anymore,” Draco said as lightly as he could. He didn’t miss the way Harry’s hand twitched as if he wanted to reach out and touch Draco on the shoulder. Harry certainly was more inclined to touch you when you were his friend, was all Draco could say on the matter. “Since I’m going with you at Harry’s explicit invitation, I’m happy to do what you want to do.”
Weasley might have said something else, but Granger nudged him, and he sighed and turned away. Then they walked out together. Draco could feel more than one pair of incredulous eyes on his back.
Let them stare. He’d known people would stare when he chose this path of being more open. In fact, it had been the main consequence his mother had worried about, as if staring was more to be feared than attacks by a Dark Lord.
Draco sneaked a glance at Harry. He was walking next to the man who had made sure he would never have to fear a Dark Lord again.
It seemed strange to Draco that more people weren’t clamoring to take his place at Harry’s side. Then again, they probably didn’t want to do the work of sincere apologies, or assumed Harry’s supposed reputation as an avowed hater of Slytherins was the truth. He grimaced.
“Are you all right, Draco?”
“Fine.” Another thing Draco wasn’t used to—someone noticing the shade of an expression on his face and responding like that, instead of looking for weaknesses. “Just thinking that I’m surprised a whole bunch of people haven’t come up to flatter you and try to get into your good graces since the war.”
Harry snorted. The wind from Hogsmeade tugged his hair back and exposed his scar. “They tried that over the summer.”
“They did?” Draco thought back, but he couldn’t remember anything about it in the papers. Then again, he’d been rather consumed with his family’s trials until they were done, and then adjusting to his own plans about the new year of school and the changes that were coming up.
“Yeah.” Harry scowled at the path, and Draco moved a little closer without meaning to. Harry’s scowl melted again as he glanced sideways at him. “After the trials and other times I visited the Ministry, if you can believe it. Then again, that was practically the only time I was out in public except for funerals. I think even the ones with the worst taste decided it wasn’t worth bothering me there.”
“Exactly,” Draco said, although until this year he couldn’t have known for certain that he wouldn’t be one of those people. He caught Weasley’s eye over Harry’s shoulder, and then they glanced carefully away from each other. “What did you tell them?”
“To shut up and leave me alone.”
Draco couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out of him, and the look Harry slewed him didn’t exactly encourage him to keep it silent from now on. “You won’t make political allies that way.”
“I already have all the political power I could want.”
“But you’ll be working closely with some of these people once you become an Auror, probably. Or are you not worried about that?”
“I’m not going to be an Auror.”
“Mate, what?” Weasley actually came to a complete halt in the middle of the path, staring at Harry in appalled—rudeness, Draco thought before he could stop himself. “You have to! We planned it! We were going to be Aurors together! You’ve wanted to be one since fifth year!”
“Yeah, but it sounded a lot more attractive when I wasn’t spending a year hunting Dark wizards and things to defeat Dark wizards.” Harry shook his head and continued walking, which meant Weasley had to hurry up to catch him. “And I realized that I have no taste for killing anyone. I don’t want to do it,” he clarified when Weasley started to open his mouth. “I know Aurors don’t always kill the wizards they go after, but sometimes they do. I don’t want to anymore.”
Draco tilted his head slowly. That was something he hadn’t known about Harry until this moment. He supposed that it made sense, though, with the fact that his Housemates still whined about Harry being the model Gryffindor and the model hero. Harry didn’t use a mask the way Draco had in the past, but in a way, his name was almost as good. People looked at him and saw what they wanted to see.
I want to know more than that.
At least it sounded as if Harry wanted to tell him. He shook his head now as Granger asked, “What do you want to do instead?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Draco narrowed his eyes a little. He wasn’t a full Leglimens and couldn’t sense lies as well as they could, but he knew Occlumency, thanks to his dear aunt, and that at least let him sense shadings of the truth when they were especially powerful. He subtly maneuvered so that he and Harry fell behind Weasley and Granger. He had the impression that Granger gave him an amused smile, but Draco could ignore that as long as she helped him.
“That’s not true, is it? You know what you want to do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Harry.” Draco lowered his voice and was pleased to see the way it made Harry lean towards him. It always seemed to have that effect, one reason Draco took care to use it as often as possible. “You must know by now I’m not going to spread your secrets around.”
Harry was quiet for a second as the houses of Hogsmeade reared up before them. “I don’t want to keep it secret because I’m afraid of gossip. I’m afraid of laughter.”
“From Weasley and Granger?” Draco was truly astonished. Weasley might be a rude arse to him, but he was a true friend to Harry—one reason for Draco’s jealousy in the past. “Why?”
“If I told you that, I might as well tell you what it is.” Harry quickened his pace to catch up with his friends, and Draco followed, studying Harry’s back.
So Harry wasn’t as open as Draco had thought, while still being incredibly open compared to the Slytherins that Draco had spent time around since first year. Maybe he kept his secrets most of the time by simply not letting people realize they existed.
But he had stumbled this time. Draco had always promised himself, if he had a true friendship, that he would help that friend do anything in his power, whether or not they wanted to confess it at first. And he thought Harry was underestimating his other friends, too.
Besides, Draco felt the plucking of the curiosity that had always driven him to try and find out other people’s goals and motivations. It only increased when someone who spoke so freely most of the time wouldn’t tell him anything.
It would be good for Harry, too, to know that he can speak the truth to his friends and be fully accepted, Draco rationalized to himself, and smiled politely when he got a suspicious look from Weasley.
“Off with Potty and his little friends, then?”
“Yes,” Draco said calmly, ignoring the way that the Slytherin common room fell silent to listen. It was a smaller silence than it had been five months ago. Many Slytherins had either left permanently, fallen in the war, or, Draco thought privately, begged the Hat to keep them out of the House they should have been in last year and this year. With their reputation, Draco could hardly blame the firsties, especially the Muggleborns.
“All right, Draco, this has gone on long enough.” Pansy got up and stood in front of him, hands balled on her hips. Draco just watched her. “Fine, you wanted to learn Scarhead’s secrets and make sure he didn’t harbor a grudge against your family, but you know that now! Why are you still chasing after him?”
The small rustles that had been starting up again in the corners of the common room immediately died. Draco looked at Pansy and went on looking until a flush had started to creep up her cheeks.
“I’m doing this because I’ve changed. I told you that before. Life’s too short to pretend to a neutrality I don’t feel.” And Draco got up and strode over to the entrance of the common room. He had a study session with Harry planned, and he’d already lingered long enough.
“Easy for you to say.”
Draco nodded over his shoulder without letting his eyes go to Theo. “We all make our own choices.” Theo had had a Death Eater father, too, and Draco had admired Theo for his coolness and his refusal to let people get to him. But now Theo’s father was in prison—no Harry Potter to testify for him—and Theo was a ghost of himself.
If indifference turned out to be only a paper mask, if detached coolness wasn’t real, why should Draco practice it?
“You’re making a mistake!” Pansy again.
“That’s what you think,” Draco said, and let the door slide shut firmly behind him. It was hard for him to blame his fellow Slytherins, and yet, he was sick of them, too. They wanted things to be different, or so they said, but what they really wanted was to somehow flip a giant Time-Turner and have things be exactly as they were in the years before the war. They weren’t willing to make the effort to change.
Shaking his head, Draco eased his way up shifting staircases and around portions of corridors where whispering portraits watched him to the seventh floor. As Harry had promised, there was already a sleek black door waiting there, one with a circle of blue stones around the handle.
Draco still touched it gingerly. He knew this was where the Defense group in fifth year had met, and a fear kept thrumming in the back of his mind that someday the other Slytherins would get what they wanted, those days would suddenly rush back into life, and he would be shut out again.
Pushed away from the one person whose friendship he’d most wanted.
But the handle turned easily, and Draco found himself in a large room with warm red tiles on the floor and walls, a fireplace already burning, and a circle of golden and red couches. They were empty except for Harry, sprawled out on his belly and studying with his nose in his Potions book.
“Weasley and Granger didn’t want to come tonight?” Draco asked cautiously as he took the couch across from Harry. He’d made sure not to push for time alone with Harry, as much as having it now made him feel like champagne was fizzing in his mouth.
“Oh, they had an argument about one of Ron’s essays, and now Hermione is watching him to make sure he writes it.”
Draco nodded and began working on his own homework, which seemed both boring and infinitely precious compared to trying to learn the same things last year. He finished the last paragraph of a Transfiguration essay that he’d mostly been waiting to write so he would have an excuse for an even longer study time with Harry, and as he flicked through his Charms book in search of good examples in the chapters they’d recently read, he observed Harry.
Harry had been lying on his stomach at first, but now he was twisted on his back, holding up the Potions book over his head. It was just their ordinary Potions textbook as far as Draco could tell, not the special one that Harry had been using in sixth year. The firelight seemed to bring out glints of new color from everywhere, including the depths of Harry’s hair that Draco would have said was pure black and the blue Muggle shirt he wore.
Draco glanced back at Harry’s face and found that Harry had noticed his looking. Draco licked his lips, because he certainly couldn’t tell Harry where some of his thoughts were going, and said the first thing that popped into his head. “Your career that you won’t tell anyone about has something to do with Potions, doesn’t it?”
Harry actually dropped the Potions book on his head as his hands spasmed open in shock. He yelped, and Draco crossed the distance between their couches without really remembering that he’d done so and held out his wand.
“Let me heal it,” he murmured, studying the slight gash on Harry’s scalp above his eye.
Harry studied him with wide eyes, and for a moment, Draco’s stomach tightened. After all, Harry had never had any reason to trust Draco near him with a wand in his hand before. But then Harry shook his head a little as if reminding himself how much had changed, and said simply, “Okay.”
Draco murmured the soft spell, and watched as his magic swept Harry’s face, seized the blood and whipped it away, and then knitted the skin back together. It was a powerful healing spell, one Father had taught him to use with allies who really needed it, and Draco had never used it on anyone but himself before.
“Wow, that’s amazing.” Harry reached up and felt around, then smiled at him. “Thanks! I don’t even feel the pain from the book hitting me anymore.”
“The least I could do, when I made you injure yourself in the first place.”
“Um. You didn’t—”
“I was right, wasn’t I?” Draco sat down on the couch next to Harry, not feeling like going back to his books or essays right now. “Your career has something to do with Potions. Why would your friends make fun of you for that, though?”
Harry’s neck turned violently red as he glanced away. “It’s not that.”
“You said they would laugh. Well?” Draco leaned towards him.
Harry said nothing.
“I’m here,” Draco said, his voice as coaxing as he could make it. And he was still good at that. Even better, really, now that he wasn’t trying to talk a professor into overlooking a fight or trying to persuade his parents to do something other than protect him. “I didn’t tell your other secrets so far. Can’t you trust me?”
Harry tapped his fingers on the cover of the Potions book as if debating with himself. Then he glanced sideways at Draco, and Draco put up one hand in spite of himself. Harry didn’t have to spell out consequences for what would happen if Draco decided that he should tell someone anyway. The hardness in his eyes did it for him.
Merlin, he’s going to be formidable. In whatever career he chooses.
“Fine,” Harry said, although his voice was still close to inaudible. “I want to design experimental potions. Brew for a living.”
Draco sat absolutely still, so that the wave of incredulity could pass over him and then diminish. Harry had been—not right to fear mocking laughter, he thought, but right to fear a reaction. After the way that Professor Snape had acted towards Harry, the miracle was that he still had a functional ability in Potions at all.
“What made you decide that?” Draco finally asked.
Harry watched him, eyes narrowed, and his words were curt, as if he still expected laughter to explode out of Draco’s mouth any second. “After I found the book I used in our sixth year, Potions suddenly worked to me. It was like someone had been speaking this foreign language around me, and I was finally starting to understand. And the way that Slughorn and the books teaching Potions isn’t actually very good. They could be improved. A lot,” he added darkly.
“I am surprised,” Draco said, and reached out without thinking as he saw Harry’s eyes narrow and his neck arch backwards. “Not because I think you can’t do it! Just that you have any fondness for it after the way Professor Snape taught you.”
Harry sighed and turned away, watching the fire. Draco had the impression that he would have stood up and paced, but Draco’s hand was resting on his shoulder, and it seemed Harry was reluctant to dislodge it. “Yes, well,” Harry murmured when long minutes had crackled past in flame. “I know now why Professor Snape was the way he was. I still don’t approve of the way he handled me or Neville in class, but Potions is separate from that.”
Draco had the feeling that Harry was still hiding something, but he could wait to find out what it was. The important thing was that Harry had trusted Draco with his secrets. Draco reached up and combed back the black fringe from his scar, and Harry turned to him.
They were closer than Draco had realized, so close that Draco gasped. Harry raised an eyebrow and leaned away slowly, but Draco shook his head. Harry stopped his retreat, still watching him as if Draco was the one who had intriguing secrets.
“I think it’s wonderful that you want to do something so creative and innovative,” Draco murmured to him. “And I understand why you wanted to keep it secret for now. And—I don’t think I could have had the strength to go on with a subject if the professor was terrible to me.” It was one reason he wasn’t taking Defense this year. The way Amycus Carrow had handled it last year, turning it into a Dark Arts class, made his throat turn sour.
“You keep going on about how strong I am. Did it occur to you that you are, too?”
Draco blinked. He was discovering that just as being close to Harry let him see all the shadows and lights he wanted in Harry’s eyes, it also permitted Harry to see the same thing in his. He tried to pull away in turn, but Harry’s hands held him.
“I didn’t mean that I was weak,” Draco finally muttered. “I just meant that you’re strong.”
“So are you. To survive through the war and make the decision to come into the open after that. To torture people, which I know horrified you, and not be broken by it.”
Draco hissed in pain as all his muscles tightened at once. The throbbing panic in the center of his chest made it hard to speak. He finally cleared his throat and whispered, “How the hell did you know that?”
“The connection I had to Voldemort meant I got visions of what he was doing.” Harry’s eyes were as direct as though he hadn’t just said something utterly horrifying. Draco swallowed. “I could see him forcing you into torturing Death Eaters who had failed, sometimes. I know that you didn’t want to cause pain.”
“How could you see that?”
“I was there the night that Dumbledore died on the Astronomy Tower,” Harry answered quietly. “I know you didn’t want to kill him.”
Draco shook his head in slow wonder. He’d thought that he was going around baring his face and his throat to the world, and part of him had recoiled in intense fear at the thought of that even when he made his decision this summer. It was part of the reason it had taken him so long to make the decision in the first place.
And Harry had known and never told anyone. (Draco was at least sure that Weasley would have mocked him before this year). He’d kept Draco’s secrets long before they were friends, long before he had any reason to.
There were no words for this. Draco ran his hand slowly over Harry’s cheekbone, and watched his brow twitch a little in confusion, wrinkling the lightning bolt scar. Harry blinked and frowned at him, and Draco sighed and backed off. He was starting to glimpse what he wanted, but it seemed Harry hadn’t considered it at all yet.
“That’s amazing that you survived that and got through it with your sanity intact. Both the connection to Voldemort and watching Professor Dumbledore—” Draco still had to pause before he said the word, but at least he knew now that Harry wouldn’t think he was a coward. “Die.”
“Yes, we’re both strong, and amazing, and it’s a mutual admiration society,” Harry said. Draco laughed before he thought about it, and caught a glimpse of the way Harry paused, even though he was still shifting away to sit upright on the couch. For a moment, his gaze was fixed, this time on Draco’s lips.
Oh, Draco thought, and the delight tumbled through him before he thought about it. Maybe there’s another thing here that’s mutual.