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The Ways You Tell Me

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“’I love you.’ These words are a knot in my throat and I’ll soon die choked by them. With every glance you send my way and every smile that you bless this world with, I fall deeper into—“

Ron stopped reading, dissolving into laughter. “Look, I‘ve no idea who wrote this but whoever did is far too dramatic. They should calm down, don’t you think?” 

The two were sitting out on the grounds, enjoying the nice weather. Eighth year was finally reaching a close and everyone had begun to learn how to relax and have a normal life. But the past week, something had slightly changed: 

Harry had been receiving love letters every morning. And, judging by the handwriting, they were all from the same person. 

"I swear," Ron continued. "These get more crazy every time I read one. I'll tell you, mate, these were not written by someone in our year. They sound far too young and dramatic." 

Harry laughed along. "Honestly, I'm not too bothered. They seem harmless enough. None of the letters have come spritzed with a love potion or anything like that." 

"What's this about a love potion?" 

Turning, Harry saw Draco walking up to them behind him. "Oh, hey, Draco! Haven't talked to you in a while." 

Sitting down next to Harry, Draco sighed. "Yeah, I've been busy with studying. But now that exams are over, I can actually have a life again." He smiled at Harry. The two had been paired up in potions at the beginning of the year and out of that had slowly developed a friendship which then went on to extend itself into both of their friend circles. Around halfway through the school year, Ron had gotten on good terms with Draco. The only strained relationship between the two groups was Ron and Pansy. Other than that, they all got along fairly well. And, if Harry was being honest, the friendship that had grown between Draco and Hermione was a little scary at times because of how insanely smart they both were. 

"What's that?" Draco asked, clearly indicating the parchment that Ron was holding. 

As he handed it over for Draco to look at, Ron started explaining. "Yeah, I guess you haven't heard. Over the last week, Harry's been receiving love letters from an admirer." 

Draco laughed and looked teasingly at Harry. "Aww, one of your fans telling you how much they adore you?" But then he looked down at the parchment and began to read and his smile vanished. 

Luckily, he recovered from the shock quickly and no one seemed to notice. 

Ron was still slightly laughing. "Yeah, not quite. These are way over the top. I mean, do you see that? Another one said, 'When you look at me, my feet are rooted to the ground and I cannot move, I am so held by your eyes.'" 

"Oh, yeah," Harry joined in. "And the one that said, 'Every time I think of you, my heart skips a beat.' So cliche.”

"Yes, but whoever this is quickly got more creative. 'I feel as if my lungs are full of water, I am so drowning in my love for you.'" 

"'When you look at me, I am blinded by your beauty.'" 

"'When you accidentally touch me, it is electric.'" 

"'When you say sharp words to me, I feel as though I have been stung.'"

"'When you smile, I hear melodies.'"

They both paused, laughing hard. 

Draco thanked every god he could think of that they were too absorbed in their amusement to notice his panic . How did this happen? Quickly, he excused himself. He had a hunch he had to go follow. 

Bursting into the common room, Draco went straight to Pansy and Blaise, who were sitting together, laughing. 

"What did you do?" Draco said sharply, before he even reached them. 

They both looked up at him, surprised. "What do you mean, darling?" Pansy asked. 

"We're going somewhere we can have this conversation in private." 

Draco turned to walk to his and Blaise's room, but Blaise held out a hand to stop him. "Now, wait, Draco, whatever this is, let's just calm down, yeah?" 

Barely turning back, Draco grit through his teeth, "Now," and both of his friends followed. 

When the door was shut behind them, Draco whirled on his friends. "Would anyone like to explain to me how Harry Potter is receiving love letters I wrote to him in my diary years ago?" 

Both of his friends naturally acted shocked. "Why, Draco—“ Pansy began, but Draco shook his head. 

"Don't fuck with me right now. Which of my diaries do you have? I know it was you two; there's no use denying it." 

Blaise sighed. "Alright, fine. Usually I'd try and keep it going until we, you know, convinced you you were wrong—“

"Oh, so you're going to dig into my private things and then gaslight me about it? All for a joke?"

"—but you seem pretty upset," Blaise finished. He then shrugged. "We've got from seventh year all the way back to third year." 

Draco paused. "You don't have first or...second...year?" 

"No." 

Draco looked up at the heavens. "Seriously, whoever is up there, I know that you're playing games and fucking with me, but, whoever you are, I thank you with all my soul for not crossing that line.”  

Blaise's eyes lit up. " What is in the second year diary?” He practically screamed. 

Draco saw the look in his eye and paled. "That's it," he said. "I'm burning it." He turned to walk out of the room, too upset at his friends to keep talking to them. 

"Oh, Draco!", "Oh, c'mon!", "It's just a fun joke!" They yelled after him, but Draco didn't care. 

The next morning, Draco watched where Harry sat closely and, sure enough, there was another love letter. 

He turned to Blaise, glaring. Blaise shrugged. "If you admit you still have feelings for him and that's why you're getting so upset, I'll stop." 

"For the record," Pansy said, leaning past Theo. "I did stop. This is all Blaise." 

The two glared at each other the rest of breakfast, but Draco was silently making a plan. 

The next morning, things went a little differently. 

__________

Harry was talking and laughing with his friends when the now expected love letter dropped onto the table in front of him. Ron immediately snatched it up. He loved to read the things out loud, said that they were great amusement. But a moment later, a purple piece of parchment also dropped down in front of Harry. 

Wondering what that was about and with his friends absorbed in the love letter, Harry picked it up and opened it, scanning the printed handwriting the page was full of. 

Harry Potter, 

It seems as though my friends have found some old love letters I wrote when I was young and have decided to play a bit of a prank on me by watching my absolute mortification as they drop in front of you every morning. I can assure they are quite plagiarized by my friends and I have been told that I am no longer nearly as dramatic. But, I also figured, given the circumstance, perhaps you deserve an updated version. 

So, here is what a real love letter looks like, Mr. Potter. 

I have been in love with you for many years. Watching you at a distance. And before you wonder, no, it doesn't have anything to do with you being the "Chosen One" because I'm still a little convinced that that was exaggerated. Everyone thinks you're so great because you saved the world, but I can assure you, I loved you long before that. I loved you long before you defeated the Dark Lord. I loved you when you were still some kid with unkempt hair who was very improperly dressed for every occasion (although, other than your age, not much has changed on that front). 

We were never friends, all those years, so I don't believe I have earned the right to call you Harry in these letters. But know that I do love you, Harry Potter. And I don't think anything will cause that to cease. Sure, I might have been overly dramatic in my letters as a younger child, but I didn't know how to accurately describe the way I felt about you and so I didn't stop trying. Please understand, those letters were never meant for you to read. Just the ramblings of a heartsick thirteen-year-old. And saying "heartsick" is as dramatic as I will get in this letter, Potter.

And there it abruptly ended. 

His friends' attention still elsewhere, Harry took the purple piece of parchment and slipped out of the Great Hall. 

__________

Six years went by. Harry's correspondence with the purple-parchmented admirer quickly dwindled to once a week, but he could always expect that an owl would be sitting on his windowsill Monday morning before he left for work. On Thursdays, Harry would generally take a paperwork-day break from curse breaking and when the paperwork from that week would make him want to scream, he would compose his response. But he always made sure to send it out when he got home that night because he didn't want to be tempted to follow the owl. 

The letters got more personal, but the mystery person on the other side of them was very careful about not revealing any detail that would give away who they were. Harry had found out that they were a guy and that he worked at the Ministry in some capacity (a vague detail, but he would take it because it seriously narrowed down some things). He knew that he was one of the few people who didn't think Harry was still terrible at potions. And he was also one of the few people that had understood why Harry wanted to be a curse-breaker when everyone assumed he would be an auror. 

One thing Harry did know for sure: 

He didn't even know the man, but yet he knew the man and that was enough to fall in love. 

__________

"Ah, fuck ," Draco cursed, dropping the box he was holding. 

"What is it?" Ron said, running to his auror partner's side. 

"I don't know," Draco said. "But that really hurt."

Ron bent down to examine the box, careful to keep from touching it. "D'you think it cursed you? Do you need to go to St. Mungo's?"

Frustrated, Draco sighed. "It's possible it was a curse. Maybe we should call up Harry, see what he thinks." 

Coughing, Draco put a hand on his chest. "That was weird," he remarked. 

Straightening up, Ron look at him and was clearly concerned. He put a hand on Draco's shoulder. "What is it?" 

"No, it just felt like I had a heart palpitation or something." Yeah, he definitely should go see Harry. "Ah." He cursed. "There it is again."

"D'you want me to sidealong you to St. Mungo's?"

Draco shook his head. "No, take me to Harry first. See if it's a curse." Putting his other hand to his brow, Draco tried to shake off the funny feeling that was happening inside his chest. This was strange. A very strange thing for a curse to do to someone. 

Ron apparated them directly to Harry's office. It was a Thursday and Ron and Draco both knew that meant paperwork at his desk and that they would surely find him there. 

Harry jumped in his seat as the two showed up. Quickly noting that something was wrong with Draco, he sprang up, wand already out. 

"What happened?" 

Ron shrugged. "Not sure. Might be a curse, might not." 

Draco stared at his feet, feeling too strange to be much bothered to look up.

"Well, what did you do?" Harry asked, running some diagnostics with his wand. "Were you being fucking stupid?" 

"Ow," Draco shouted, suddenly, moving his hand from his chest to his arm. Shifting his fingers, he looked around at the spot the pain was from. It felt like he had been stung by something, but there wasn't any mark. And his chest was still feeling weird. 

"Here, sit down," Harry said, gesturing towards a chair. He was looking at Draco intently, hoping he wouldn't fall over and Draco started to take a step towards the chair, but found that his foot wouldn't move. 

"I need to go look at a curse-book," Harry said, turning away. "Ron, make sure he sits down and stays conscious. I'm not sure he can hear us. We might have to take him to St. Mungo's."  

As Harry walked away, Draco found he could move to the chair with ease. He figured it was just his imagination. 

Harry practically ran back while reading a page from the book, which he quickly sat down at his desk before coming in front of Draco, squatting down so Draco didn't have to look up. 

"Hey," Harry said, putting a hand on Draco's arm. 

Draco winced, eyes closed, feeling pain again, this time where Harry had touched him. But it was a different kind of pain: instead of a sting, it felt like a shock. 

Then, Draco opened his eyes to see Harry smiling at him and suddenly things got even weirder: 

Draco cried out, hands coming to his eyes. He couldn't see! And he knew that Harry and Ron were probably asking what was wrong and he could feel electric shocks on his arms and hands but he couldn't hear what their questions were because all he could hear was a strange melody, like a song. It was louder than anything else, filling his ears, so loud it hurt.

And suddenly Draco knew what was going on. 

Well, not exactly, but he was putting it together enough to realize that all of these things were things that he had said in his love letters to Harry, back when he was younger. And he opened his mouth to try and tell them this, unsure of if they were listening, or if they would hear him over their questions or if he was still in Harry's office or already at St. Mungo's, but he found when he tried to speak that his breathing was coming shorter and his lungs were burning. He felt like he was drowning. And so Draco tried to rush out the words, tell them what he had figured out so they could figure the rest out to break the curse before his lungs finished filling with water, but when he opened his mouth, no sound came out. 

Draco's hands flew to his throat, the feeling there suddenly much more pertinent than any of the ones that had come from the curse so far. He was choking. And he didn't know how to tell any of this to Harry and Ron. And he was going to die, choking on those words, just like his dramatic metaphor from when he was young. 

__________

When Draco's hands flew to his eyes and wasn't able to respond to anything Harry or Ron did like he couldn't hear them or see them, Ron started to piece it together. 

Heart palpitations. He yelled when Harry touched him and when Harry said something mean to him. Ron had noticed how he couldn't move to the chair at first. But what had changed when he was able to? Harry wasn't looking at him anymore. And now he couldn't see and he couldn't hear. 

And then Draco's hands flew to his throat, clearly choking, and Ron had it figured out. 

Harry had already taken Draco to St. Mungo's and Ron now quickly followed. 

When he arrived, mediwitches were gathered around Draco, running tests frantically. 

"His lungs seem to be..." One of them started, unsure how to say what she was finding. 

"Flooding?" Ron supported. "Like he's drowning?" 

She looked up at Ron. "Yes. That's exactly it. But that isn't what he's choking on." 

Another mediwitch next to her looked up to join the conversation. "I can't find what exactly it is that he's choking on, though. It seems like there's nothing there." 

"That's because it's words," Ron said. He grabbed Harry by the arm, ignoring the confused looks of everyone. "Harry! He's choking on the words 'I love you.' His lungs are filling with water because he's drowning in love. When he looks at you, he is blinded and when you smile all he hears is a melody. Whatever that curse did, it made all his crazy metaphors come true. Don't you see? The love letters! From eighth year!" 

Harry knew that they were running out of time, but it seemed like a bit of a stretch. "But that can't be! I send letters to that same guy every week now. Every week for the past six years! I would have known if it was Draco, don't you think? Besides, I know Draco's handwriting. And it's not the same!" 

Ron put his hands on Harry's shoulders, clearly angry and clearly not fucking around. "I don't care whether or not you believe me. I'm right. So you need to use that information and break—" He shook Harry with each of the last words. "This! Curse!" 

Seeming to snap out of it, Harry nodded, moving to Draco's side, wand out. "Okay, okay, okay. Love curses. Sounds cliche, but—“ Cutting himself off from his thinking-out-loud, he quickly kissed Draco. He pulled back and Draco was still unresponsive besides a jolt as if shocked. 

"Okay, not that. Umm..."

Ron jumped in. "He's choking on the words 'I love you.' Maybe that's something?" 

"I think you're right," Harry said, desperate to not be overcome with how frantic he was getting. "I think he has to say it to break the curse. But how is he going to say it if he's—“ Harry cut off again, now fully panicking. He twisted both of his hands in his hair, starting to cry through quick, shaky breaths. 

That was it. He was near sure of it. And he was going to watch Draco die because he figured it out too late. He knew the answer and it wasn't going to help. Draco was going to die. And Harry had just found out that the man he had loved all of these years was Draco. And he couldn't save him. 

"Well, if he's choking on it..." Ron started. "Heimlich?" 

Crazy with panic now, Harry shrieked, " That's not going to fucking wo— “ Before dissolving into a mess of sounds and tears. 

Ron's hand on his arm anchored him. "Snap out of it, mate. You panicking isn't going to help. Think .”

Still shaky, Harry took some deep breaths, knowing that every second that went by was more water in Draco's lungs. "Love curses, love curses, love curses," Harry muttered as he thought. "Need to say that you love someone. Other ways to say you love someone. Other ways to..." 

He drifted off, lost in thought. 

And he realized Draco had already it said it. In not so many words, but he had said it before. He said "I love you" when he would hand Harry a fruit in the mornings in the lift because he wanted to make sure that Harry wouldn't forget to eat. He said "I love you" in the way he would absentmindedly sort and file and send off Harry's paperwork whenever he would drop by Harry's desk just to chat. How he would let their pinkies touch each other whenever they sat side-by-side because Harry was used to physical reassurance from his friends. The way Draco would come over to Harry's home with no particular plan other than to "just spend time together." It was there in every "How did you sleep?" or "When was the last time you got some fresh air?" and "No, Potter, you may not look at these case files because while you may, of course, be better at catching Dark Wizards, you are also a workaholic who can't say no." 

Harry was jolted out of his thoughts when a mediwitch excitedly announced, "The water in his lungs is draining!" 

Ron looked at Harry in clear confusion. "Did you do something?" 

Harry was too stunned to respond so Ron just said, "Keep doing it." 

So he did:

Draco staying up with him all night because neither of them wanted to sleep because of war nightmares. Draco convincing him to move out of Grimmauld Place because it made him too sad. Draco helping him with said move. The constant fussing over Harry's hair and the way that he quickly learned that he did much better when he fussed about Harry's clothes in a way that wasn't necessarily about fashion. The time Draco replaced Harry's toothbrush because Harry hadn't done it in a long time and he just kept forgetting. Convincing Harry to go to doctor's appointments. Accompanying Harry to Ministry events for the sole purpose of deflecting attention from Harry. Harry and Draco—

Harry's attention snapped to the real Draco as he began coughing, sitting up as he continued. Harry wanted to reach out to him, but there were mediwitches blocking his way. 

Draco was compulsively swallowing like something was stuck in his throat and Harry pushed through, holding his shoulders. 

"Draco, I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can, tell me that you love me. It could break the curse." 

"I..." Draco croaked, his voice raw and his throat sore. His hands went back to his neck as he strained. "Love..."

"It's okay," Harry soothed, pushing Draco hair back from his face. "Take your time. It's okay."

"You," Draco finished and immediately gasped, his eyes flying wide open. 

After a moment of reeling through what he was feeling, Draco looked at Harry right in front of him. "I can see again! I can hear! I can talk!" 

Harry smoothed his hair back again. "You weren't able to hear me?"

Draco shook his head. "No, but I knew that was what I needed to do. It was related to the letters. The metaphors I came up with. But I thought I wasn't going to be able to do it and then..."

Harry smiled, cupping Draco's face in his hands. "I kept thinking of all the ways you've already said that you love me without those words specifically."

Smiling, Draco started to laugh. "I can't believe that worked." 

"Oh, and Draco?"

"Yes?" 

"I love you, too." The two shared a smile. "Oh, and Draco?" 

Laughing, Draco said again, "Yes?" 

"One more thing." 

"Yes?" 

Harry leaned forward and kissed him.