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Love Comes Tumbling

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October

Harry sat silently at the end of the Gryffindor table as he looked down the long expanse of the Great Hall. At every other Welcoming Feast that he could remember, the noise level had been just shy of deafening as friends reconnected, telling their classmates about their summer adventures. But this year, wounds were still too fresh and the usual cacophony was distinctly subdued.

"Eat up, Harry, the feast is almost over," said Ron through a mouthful of roast chicken.

Harry obligingly took a bite of potato simply to quell the thinly veiled look of concern on Hermione's face from where she sat across from him.

Even months later, he was always braced for attack. Hermione had said that it was perfectly normal, all things considered. "One doesn't spend over a year in fear for one's life without long-lasting effects, Harry." Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she'd called it, and had offered him a few books on the subject, but Harry was grateful that she hadn't pushed when he'd declined.

There'd been no question about his returning for the final year he'd missed out on. Though the eighth-year students were far fewer in number than there should have been, the ones that had returned did so with the need for stability and normalcy that Hogwarts had always afforded them in the past. It was exactly what Harry needed.

While the majority of Hogwarts had been repaired over the long summer, there was still much to be done. Many of the enchantments, such as the ceiling over his head, were dormant or gone altogether. The destruction of the castle and surrounding grounds last May had seemed, at the time, overwhelming, but McGonagall had convinced witches and wizards from all across the British Isles to help with the reconstruction. Still, Harry would never forget the look of disappointment and personal failure on the frail woman's face when she realised there would not be enough completed for start of term on September 1st. And so it was on this unseasonably cold first day of October that the Hogwarts Express took the journey from Hogsmeade to Platform 9 ¾ and back again.

As far as he could tell, the majority of students who made up their motley crew of eighth years were Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. There were a handful of Ravenclaws, most of them opting for some form of higher education elsewhere, and a particularly sparse group of Slytherins, most of whose names Harry didn't even know.

And then there was Malfoy.

McGonagall had warned Harry over the extended summer that when Hogwarts reopened, she intended on inviting every student who had spent their seventh year under the Carrows to come and repeat their final year, and that all would be welcomed back. It was what Dumbledore would have wanted, she'd written, and she had no desire to let the old man down even after his death.

She'd wanted him to be prepared, and after a few days thought, he was mostly okay with the idea of seeing them again – even Parkinson, if she showed, who had wanted to hand Harry over to Voldemort on a silver platter. Nonetheless, he hadn't expected any of them to actually show up.

And Harry's expectation was nearly reality. Malfoy sat alone, and was the sole Slytherin from his year to return. Salazar's House was by far the most depleted overall – there were barely two dozen scattered among the long table – and while Harry was not at all surprised by this, he was surprised to find himself a tad disappointed.

Hogwarts was not the same as it had been when he was younger, and never would be again. And even though he knew it was for the better, or so Hermione kept telling him, the lack of House rivalry was just another thing that he found himself missing now that it was gone. You could hardly have a rivalry with a House that was as decimated as Slytherin. But even despite the scars of war, the comfortable familiarity of the stone walls and chattering portraits soothed his still-frayed nerves.

As Harry picked at his food, he continued to watch Malfoy as he sat at the far end of the Slytherin table, the younger ones having given him a wide berth. He hadn't seen Malfoy since the trial barely two weeks after the war officially ended, and Harry noted that he didn't look much different now than he had then - he looked gaunt, and desperately in need of a good meal and a good night's sleep.

Harry could sympathise.

Harry looked to his right where Ron sat, having since moved onto the sausages, and was scowling heavily at Malfoy.

"Can't believe he's allowed back in here after what he did, that evil little ferret," he muttered.

Hermione was ignoring Ron in favour of telling Dean about Ginny's latest letter from her tryouts with the Holyhead Harpies, but Harry saw her rub at the forearm where Bellatrix had left the ugly scar. Like Harry's own curse scar, Hermione would wear the hateful brand for the rest of her life thanks to the enchanted blade used to mark her.

As Harry continued to watch him, Malfoy stood and made his way to the doors of the Great Hall. Other students began to take notice, and the whispers became that much louder. It seemed that Harry wasn't the only one surprised by Malfoy's decision to return, and as he disappeared into the hallway beyond without looking back, Harry pushed his plate away.

"Not hungry, Harry?" asked Neville.

"Just tired, I 'spose," Harry answered with a tight smile.

In truth, he wanted nothing more than to follow Malfoy . . . to ask him how he was doing.

And wasn't that strange? It wasn't that he cared, exactly, more that he was . . . curious. Unlike Ron, who would always see Malfoy as that snooty first year who made fun of his name and his clothes in front of everyone on the stairs, Harry's thoughts where Malfoy was concerned had evolved considerably, especially since the night that Dumbledore died.

Ron and Seamus had started a rather rousing whinge fest about the lack of Quidditch this year, owing to the fact that the pitch had been entirely destroyed and deemed the least important part of the grounds to be reconstructed. Harry nodded and hmm'd when it seemed as though he should, but truly his heart just wasn't in it. Much as he loved the game, Quidditch was the furthest thing from his mind these days, and he had trouble summoning any enthusiasm for it.

As Harry lay in bed that night, Ron's soft snores and the scratch of Dean's quill keeping him awake, his mind continued to drift to thoughts of Malfoy. He hadn't been entirely sure how he would feel upon seeing the other boy's face again, but now that the moment had come and gone, he realised that he hadn't felt much of anything at all except sadness. Lucius was in Azkaban and would be until his last breath, and Harry had spoken on both Narcissa's and Draco's behalf in a private meeting with Minister Shacklebolt ensuring their freedom, with his only request being that both Malfoys were never to know that he had done so. He wasn't even sure if Narcissa had told Draco about what she'd done in the forest on that final day of the war.

Harry had flashes of the images he'd seen through Voldemort's eyes of Malfoy's life under the Dark Lord. The horror of witnessing Charity Burbage's murder. The terror in the grey eyes when Voldemort so much as looked at the young Malfoy. The fear that he knew Draco felt whenever Voldemort berated Lucius, no doubt wondering if it was to be his father's final moments.

And he remembered that day nearly two years prior in the bathroom on the sixth floor when he'd found Malfoy crying, wishing he'd known then what he knew now. He would have turned around and walked away, and not inflicted the horrible curse that nearly ended Malfoy's life.

Harry cast a Silencing Charm in the hopes of blocking out Ron's snoring and finally falling asleep, and as slumber began to claim him, his last thoughts were of how much he would have done differently with Malfoy over the years, and of Dumbledore's final words to the other boy . . . "It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now."

Maybe, Harry wondered, he could find some mercy, too, and give Malfoy the second chance that Dumbledore had believed him worthy of.

November

On the surface, term progressed as if the war had never happened. Classes went on as normal, all the little cliques that had existed before were renewed (and new ones formed among the first years), and everyone groaned about too much homework and not enough time to do it in.

Beneath the surface, however, there was still a deep well of pain and grief. Everyone could feel it, but no one talked about it. Occasionally Harry would come across one or two people, huddled in an alcove or deep in the library stacks, where tear-stained cheeks and stifled sobs were the only release when memories overwhelmed.

The first few weeks had passed without incident. Until that morning.

Malfoy had come to breakfast with a split lip and a black eye, and Terry Boot's hand had been sporting a bandage that he had seemed quite proud of indeed.

This would not have seemed strange (it was Malfoy, after all) except for the fact that up until that point, everyone had been ignoring Malfoy . . . ignored him to the point that no one even acknowledged his existence.

Harry had been watching it all unfold for nearly a month now. The first week was full of dirty looks and name calling, but then one day – all of a sudden – it all stopped. It was as though Malfoy were invisible. Harry had watched people deliberately not move out of the way when Malfoy approached in the hallways, and not even flinch when they'd knocked into him. He'd watched Malfoy be blatantly ignored when he asked for the salt at the Slytherin table. He'd watched as more and more students hadn't even deigned to make eye contact with Malfoy, and by the time November had rolled around, Malfoy was a complete non-entity at the school.

While Harry was somewhat relieved that the outright bullying had seemed to cease, he wasn't sure that this was any better.

The other boy had cottoned on pretty quickly, Harry noticed, and reacted accordingly – by pretending that they were all beneath him anyway, so who was he to care? To add insult to injury, on the fifth day of the school-wide silent treatment, Malfoy had walked into the Great Hall for dinner with his sleeves rolled up, Dark Mark on full display and a challenge in his eyes that simultaneously said fuck you and what are you going to do about it?

Harry almost laughed.

But he also suspected that Malfoy did care, and very much so. There was a tinge of loneliness around him now, and he'd watch as Malfoy occasionally glanced around to see if anyone was looking at him. Harry had known since he was a child what true loneliness felt like, the kind that goes bone deep to the point that any sign of kindness from another human being is like a flicker of sunshine in a world of darkness, and he wouldn't wish it on anyone. His schoolwork had provided a sufficient distraction from the goings on around him, but this was becoming something that Harry could no longer ignore.

And while everyone was ignoring Malfoy and pretending as if he weren't there, Harry seemed to be the only person that Malfoy was ignoring. Several times when Harry would deliberately try to catch his gaze, Malfoy would knowingly look right past him.

It was, quite frankly, infuriating. So much for a show of mercy, Harry couldn’t even make Malfoy look at him, for fuck's sake.

Ron, of course, was his predictable gleeful self over this game of Malfoy Doesn't Exist, but it was Hermione's reaction after Malfoy walked in, face bruised and mouth swollen, for breakfast the morning after the Halloween Feast that had given Harry an uncomfortable chill.

"He's brought it on himself, Harry. Things could be a lot worse after everything that Malfoy's done."

"Yeah well, from what I've heard, he's only just started to get what he deserves," Ron added lightly as though he were privy to some plot that Harry was unaware of, and Harry suddenly lost his appetite.

"You're okay with this?" he asked Hermione, but she didn't look at him, just shrugged and went back to her toast and homework.

Harry felt anger well up in him, the likes of which he hadn't felt since the war. Yes, he wanted things to go back to the way they were, but not like this. It was enough to see Slytherin House decimated, but he wasn't about to sit idly by while an entire school systematically bullied one student. It made his blood boil, especially since the professors had to be aware of it. Ignoring someone was one thing, but hadn't they all seen enough blood and violence to last a lifetime? Wasn't it enough? Hadn't they all suffered enough? Even Malfoy?

"Is this what I walked into that forest to die for?" Harry heard himself asking, staring at his two best friends. He instantly regretted the words even as they were still falling from his lips.

The conversation around them died as Harry's challenge, clearly overheard by others, hovered between them. Hermione's mouth gaped as the shock of what he'd just asked washed over her. Tears began to well up, and she blinked them back quickly as she gathered her things, shoving them roughly into her bag. Harry watched her, feeling both remorse and irritation – at himself, at her – while Ron struggled to process what was happening.

"Hermione, I . . . I didn't . . ." Harry started to say, but Hermione was already halfway down the aisle, and by the time Harry had stood up to follow, she was already out of view.

Ron gave him an angry look before running out of the Hall to find her, and Harry sat back down, feeling sick to his stomach. It had been a horrible thing to say – to throw at them, especially her. Hermione, who had never failed him and had stayed with him in the forest. Ron, who lost Fred and who, despite everything, was the closest thing to a brother he would ever have.

Harry sighed, removing his glasses and rubbing at his tired eyes.

Harry had never shared with Ron and Hermione the depths of fear and terror he saw from Malfoy in Voldemort's visions, and maybe he should have. Maybe Hermione, at least, would understand why everything that was going on in the school toward Malfoy was unfair.

"Dick move, mate," Seamus said quietly from his other side, but there was no venom in his stare when Harry glanced up at him.

It struck him then just how much everyone around him had no idea about what had happened. Not to him, not to Ron and Hermione. Not to Malfoy. Everyone had their own experiences to share, but Harry had been at the center of it all, and while some thought that made his life public property, to him it was deeply personal and he held those events close to his chest. It wasn't a story, it was his life. It was Ron and Hermione's lives.

It was Draco Malfoy's life.

None of them knew about that moment when Malfoy had lied to Lucius and Bellatrix about Harry's identity when they'd been captured by Snatchers. How Malfoy had been pressured by his father and aunt to give the Dark Lord what he wanted – Harry, defenceless and ready to kill. It had been a crucial moment. If Malfoy had given Harry up, Harry might never have had the opportunity to take the Elder Wand from him; he might never have been able to end what was left of Tom Riddle. Harry would never believe that Malfoy hadn't known exactly whose disfigured face he was staring into that night – Ron and Hermione's presence alone was enough to confirm it.

Harry's eyes went to the Slytherin table where Malfoy was preparing to leave. A sudden thought struck him, and he stood, walking toward the main doors and preparing to intercept him before he could leave.

"Malfoy, wait."

The other boy looked startled for a moment at having been addressed by someone after weeks of being ignored, but that was quickly replaced with a look of wary suspicion.

"What do you want, Potter?"

Harry almost smiled, the familiar way that Malfoy practically spat his surname like it left a foul taste in his mouth, but even now, it lacked the venom it usually did. Harry wondered what was wrong with him that he'd kind of missed it.

Harry cleared his throat. They stood, facing each other, near the end of the Hufflepuff table where most of the seventh and eighth years were gathered. More students turned as they noticed the apparent standoff between Malfoy and Potter, waiting to see who would throw the first punch.

"I just wanted to say thanks," Harry said, intentionally louder than usual, "for not turning me and my friends over to Voldemort that day in the Manor."

Malfoy looked as though he'd been slapped.

"I know that you knew it was me, and it would have been easier for you to just confirm it. But you didn't. You saved our lives that day."

Harry watched as Malfoy continued to stand there, shocked into silence. Determinedly not looking at the crowd of quiet students who had heard the exchange, Harry nodded once and said "You should see Madam Pomfrey about that eye," before walking out of the Great Hall, leaving a stunned Malfoy behind him.

Harry hoped that what he'd just done would have its desired effect, but only time would tell.

^^===^^

Harry found Ron and Hermione in the Gryffindor common room, huddled on the small sofa over by the window. Hermione had turned her face away as soon as she saw that it was him coming through the portrait hole, and Harry wasn't certain if now was the right time to approach. Ron gave him a dark look as his arm tightened around her. Harry wasn't even sure if Ron was more angry at what Harry said, or the fact that he'd upset Hermione to the point of tears.

"You were bang out of line, mate," he said, frowning.

Hermione's bushy curls hid her face, but Harry saw her hand quickly wipe away tears and his heart sank with shame and remorse.

"I know. And I'm sorry." He shoved his hands in his pocket and stood there, ready for whatever screams and shouts were about to be thrown at him, but none came.

"I'm just tired."

"We're all tired," Ron said defensively.

"I just mean that . . . look, if people want to give Malfoy shit by pretending he doesn't exist, then fine, whatever, but that doesn't mean that Boot has the right-"

"Malfoy probably provoked him!" Ron interrupted, standing as he challenged Harry.

"Maybe he did, maybe he didn't," Harry said quietly.

Ron took a step forward. "Malfoy will never be punished enough for what he did to Bill," he answered, voice low, and Harry knew he was entering dangerous territory.

"Greyback-"

"Would have never been in the castle if it weren't for that slithering little shit!"

"And what would you have done, Ron? What would you have done if faced with the option of fixing that cabinet or having your family killed? What would any of us have done?"

"Stop it! Both of you!"

Hermione stood between them, eyes rimmed red from her earlier tears and seemingly determined not to let things escalate any further.

"Harry, just leave it, all right? Now is not the time."

"It'll never be the time," Ron challenged her.

"Leave it, Ron. Agree to disagree and drop it."

"Hermione, I didn't mean-" he started to say softly, but she put up her hand to stop him.

"I know, Harry. Just . . . enough, all right?"

They stared at each other, and Harry saw only sadness and disappointment in her big brown eyes. He turned and walked away, up the stairs to his dormitory and climbed into bed where he shut the curtains tightly around him. He didn't much feel like going to classes today.

^^===^^

Harry looked at his watch, the one that Molly had given him on his seventeenth birthday, and sighed. It was half past one in the morning, and he still hadn't fallen asleep. Ron had been frosty with him all day, unsurprisingly, but it was Hermione's distance that bothered him the most. Ron had a temper, he would get over it, but the thought of hurting Hermione made his heart ache.

Harry climbed out of bed, tucked his slippers onto his feet, and made his way down into the common room. He wasn't alone.

Hermione sat in front of the fire, writing in a small book.

"Hey," Harry said softly, walking over to her, cautiously awaiting her response.

She gave him a small smile and motioned for him to sit beside her.

"Harry, about this morning-"

"I shouldn't have said it. I'm sorry."

"I know you are, but I don't think you know why you should be."

Harry looked at her, brow furrowed. Of course he knew why, it had been a cruel thing to say.

"Harry, that day . . . when Hagrid came walking toward us, carrying your body-"

Harry heard the catch in her voice, and he grabbed her hand. "Hermione, you don't have to talk about this."

"But I do, Harry. You need to know."

He nodded and let her continue, but kept hold of her hand.

"When we realised that it was you in Hagrid's arms, I was so angry with you. I was, Harry," and here a tear slid down her cheek, "because you didn't say goodbye. I knew deep down what you had done, and all I could think of was that you didn't tell me first. You didn't say goodbye."

"I couldn't."

Hermione sniffed, and Harry thought she understood why he couldn't bear, at the time, to have faced them first.

"I know that, too, but it didn't make it hurt any less. What we went through, Harry, in the forest when Ron left and we didn't know if he was coming back . . . I would have never left you. You're my best friend. And when you died, part of me died, too."

She was crying openly now and Harry moved to sit beside her, putting his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm sorry, Hermione, I am."

"It was like it had all been for nothing. You were gone and Voldemort had won and I didn't know what we were supposed to do, it was just all for nothing. But that wasn’t even what I cared about the most, not then. My best friend was dead."

He rubbed her arm soothingly, pulling her close.

"It's over, and he's gone, and we're all okay. We're all right."

"Are we?" she looked up at him, wiping her eyes with the sleeves of the jumper she wore overtop her pyjamas. "Ron, he doesn't talk about it. Not about Fred, not about any of it."

"Well, you know Ron. Not one for talking." He held her hand, trying to offer comfort but feeling completely at a loss for how to handle her.

"Neither are you."

Harry shrugged. "We're talking now."

Silence fell between them and Harry thought that she might be feeling better. The tears had stopped, at least.

"I know you want to fix things with Malfoy, Harry, but I'm not sure that you should get involved this time."

Harry bit his lip, not sure how much he wanted to say, not wanting to break this fragile peace between them.

"Every single one of us have suffered, Hermione, even him. He's not his father and he doesn't need to be punished forever for decisions he made when Voldemort was threatening his mother. Enough is enough. It's done."

"You know that others won't see it that way. Malfoy can fend for himself, he always has."

"Can he, though? You've seen how dodgy that wand is he's been using in classes. It's almost as bad as Ron's the year he broke it and had to Spellotape it back together."

"Maybe that's not such a bad thing, considering the curses he likes to use when he gets into a fight," she said, looking at him pointedly.

"That was different."

"Why, because it was you? Do you think he wouldn't use the Cruciatus curse on someone else if he felt threatened?"

"I don't," Harry answered honestly.

Hermione fell silent, the crackling of the fire the only sound between them. After several long moments, Hermione stood and held her hand out to him. He grabbed it and let her pull him up.

"I'll give you my notes from today's classes at breakfast tomorrow, and . . . I'll talk to Ron."

Harry watched her walk toward the staircase leading to the girls' dormitory. She gave him one last look before she ascended, and a small smile which he returned.

A weight lifted. He couldn't bear to have Hermione not speaking to him.

December

Tensions between Malfoy and the other students had lessened considerably after Harry's declaration the month prior. They'd stopped deliberately bumping into him in the hallways, and were no longer acting as though he didn't exist. He still got the occasional dirty look, but even that was an improvement because it meant people were actually making eye contact again.

The strange tension between Malfoy and himself, however, only seemed to increase. While Harry had mostly steered clear of him, it seemed that Malfoy wasn't nearly as appreciative of Harry's efforts to get the rest of the student body to leave him alone as Harry thought he'd be. Which, really, should not have surprised him at all – since when did Malfoy do anything that Harry actually wanted him to do? Still, at least Malfoy hadn't come to class with anymore black eyes or a split lip.

Two weeks ago, Harry had even overheard three fourth-year Hufflepuff girls talking outside one of the greenhouses about how Malfoy had saved Harry's life, and there was more than a hint of reverence in the girl's tone.

And wasn't that just absofuckinglutely hilarious? Malfoy the war hero.

The fifth of December found Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the library on a cold afternoon working on a gruelingly long essay for Transfigurations. Harry's hand was already cramping from all the writing, and he threw his quill down.

"Who the hell needs twenty-five inches on Transformation versus Conjuration? It's six of one, half dozen of the other, isn't it?"

Hermione gave him a pointed look, which he ignored, and as he leaned back in his chair, he saw Malfoy swiftly approaching their table with a determined look on his face.

"Potter. A word?"

Ron looked up sharply, as did Hermione.

"Harry's busy, Malfoy, shove off."

Harry couldn't help but feel warmed by Ron's unwarranted defence. It had taken a couple of weeks for his friend to get over their fight, but he had and things were mostly back to normal now.

"It's fine, Ron," Harry said with a gentle tap to Ron's arm. "What do you need, Malfoy?"

"A word. In private." Malfoy glanced warily at both Ron and Hermione as they stared up at him.

Harry pushed away from the table. At least Malfoy didn't sound as though he were luring Harry back into the stacks to murder him and hide his body parts among the tomes.

"Well come on, then," Harry said, and walked toward a deserted section of the library over by the Restricted Section, assuming Malfoy would follow.

"What can I do for you, Malfoy?" Harry said cordially, placing his hands in his pockets and leaning against the shelves.

Malfoy looked irritated. At what, exactly, Harry didn't know. Malfoy always looked irritated these days.

"First, you can end this little crusade you have to reform my reputation, and secondly . . . I want my wand back."

Harry bit back a laugh. "Crusade?"

"Don't think that I don't know exactly what that little stunt was in the Great Hall last month. Saying that I saved you? Really, Potter?"

Malfoy was standing a little too close for comfort as he whispered furiously at him. Harry noticed the faint smell of something sharp and citrusy, but not at all unpleasant. Familiar, even, but he couldn't place it.

He straightened his glasses, avoiding Malfoy's glare. "It wasn't a lie."

"I didn't do it for you," Malfoy whispered furiously.

"And I don't care why you did it, I only care that you did." Harry stared at him pointedly now, challenging him.

"I mean it, Potter," Malfoy said, and paused to scowl. "I can't even make the Hufflepuff girls flinch anymore."

"Better to be loved than feared, Malfoy," Harry said, smirking.

Malfoy was unsettled, and for some reason, this made Harry feel surprisingly relaxed . . . in control, which he often didn't feel around Malfoy at all, the one boy who always made him feel irrational and unpredictable.

Harry had learned a lot about self-control growing up with the Dursleys, but damned if Malfoy didn't always know exactly which buttons to push to make Harry act without thinking.

"I want my wand," Malfoy reiterated, and Harry shook his head.

"Well you can't have it."

"Why not?" Malfoy reared back, clearly affronted at Harry's refusal.

"It's not yours anymore. It's not anyone's anymore."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Harry shrugged, but offered no explanation.

Malfoy actually snarled - snarled - at him, and made to turn around, but at the last minute he stopped and leaned forward, inches from Harry's face. Malfoy was about an inch taller than him, but they were eye to eye as Malfoy's grey eyes bore into his.

"Midnight, first-floor tapestry corridor outside the Potions storeroom. Bring my wand."

Harry watched Malfoy walk hurriedly away, glancing side to side as though ashamed to be seen with Harry. He walked back to their library table and sat down, and was immediately accosted with questions by his friends about what Malfoy had wanted.

"You can't tell him where it is, Harry."

"No need to state the obvious, Hermione."

"So you're not going to go, right?" Ron asked.

Harry shook his head.

"Oh. Well . . . good," Hermione said as she turned back to her essay.

A beat of silence passed.

"Well, actually . . . I might."

"What? Why?"

Harry looked over at Ron. "Dunno. Curious, I guess. Maybe he'll talk to me."

Ron looked dumbfounded.

"Why on earth would you want him to talk to you? The whole point, Harry, is to make sure that Malfoy never wants to talk to you. To any of us. He's a poncy little git."

Harry ignored the jibe, but knew that Hermione had kicked Ron's leg under the table. In his peripheral, he could see Hermione giving Ron a pointed look, but Harry's mind had already drifted to other things.

Malfoy really had smelled quite good.

^^===^^

It was five minutes past midnight when Harry turned the corner into the tapestry corridor and saw Malfoy standing impatiently just outside Snape's old storeroom. It was no longer in use anymore, Professor Slughorn preferring to keep his ingredients close at hand in the small office attached to the Potions classroom.

Harry slowed his gait ever so slightly, knowing it would irritate Malfoy who was starting to glare at him impatiently. Malfoy was still fully dressed, and Harry suddenly felt silly in his pyjamas and bathrobe.

"Is punctuality a foreign concept to you, Potter?"

"I had other things to do, Draco."

The use of his first name was met with a scowl as though Harry wasn't worthy of speaking it, and he held out his hand, palm open.

"Well, hand it over."

"Hand what over?"

"My wand, you stupid berk. What the hell do you think we're here for? A friendly midnight chat?"

"I didn't bring it."

Malfoy's hand dropped and he let out an exasperated sigh.

"Fine, where is it? And make it quick, I'm tired."

"It's not here."

"Then take me to where it is."

"No, I mean . . . it's not here in the castle. At Hogwarts." That was partly true, it wasn't in the castle, but Draco needn't know that. No one needed to know that.

Malfoy's lips thinned to a tight line, his eyes narrowing.

"What's wrong with the wand you've got now?"

"You're an ass, you know bloody well what's wrong with it."

"Looks perfectly fine to me," Harry lied. It was a shit wand and everyone knew it.

Malfoy's scowl was coloured by embarrassment. "The wand I have now isn't even mine, it never was, and it doesn't respond the way it should. It's affecting my marks, okay?"

"Oh."

"Yeah, oh. Now can you get my wand for me or not?"

"Um," Harry started, running a hand through his already messy hair, "I can't, actually."

"Why not?" Malfoy was positively exasperated at this point, and Harry was starting to feel a tiny bit sorry for him.

"Why can't you just buy a new one?"

Malfoy looked at him as though he were a small child who needed a very simple thing explained to him.

"Because, genius, no one is going to sell me a wand even if I did have the funds to buy one, which I don't because your precious Ministry seized all our assets and only gave us barely enough to live on, which coincidentally enough does not include the purchase of a new wand."

"I could loan it to you. The money, I mean."

Malfoy's scowl was as dark as he'd ever seen it. "Fuck off."

"Dra- Malfoy, wait." But he was already halfway down the corridor and Harry knew that chasing after him wouldn't do any good.

He sighed, and made his way back to Gryffindor Tower.

"That went well," Harry said to himself before crawling through the portrait hole.

^^===^^

Six days had passed since their conversation (if one could call it that, and Harry wasn't entirely sure one could) in the hallway. Draco had gone back to ignoring Harry entirely, though Harry was glad to see some of the younger Slytherins talking to him – asking him questions about assignments in the hallways when Harry happened to be a few steps behind him, saying hello during meals . . . that sort of thing.

Finally, the thing that Harry had been waiting for since that night happened. Draco got a thicker-than-usual letter from his mother at breakfast.

He was simultaneously trying to hold a conversation with Dean about Ginny's latest news from Harpies training and watching Draco's reaction as he opened the letter and, he hoped, a little something extra from his mother.

Draco's face went from boredom to confusion to thinly-veiled surprise as he read the letter, the small velvet pouch held in his free hand. Harry averted his gaze, looking anywhere but at Draco, and gave silent thanks to Narcissa Malfoy for following through on their agreement.

The day after Harry had grossly offended Draco's delicate sensibilities with the offer of money, Harry had decided that a little . . . friendly manipulation was in order. Taking a sizeable risk, Harry had put pen to paper and written the Malfoy matriarch a letter.

In that letter, he may have stated something along the lines that Draco was in desperate need of a new wand, and that he knew funds were limited and therefore wanted to help. He may have implied that she owed it to him to accept her help without argument since he saved her son from the Fiendfyre. He might have also demanded that Draco know nothing about the source of aforementioned funds, because her son was a stubborn, pig-headed narcissist who didn't know how to accept help when needed and subsequently offered, even if that help did come from someone that he hated. But, he added, he didn't risk life and burned limb for that stubborn, pig-headed narcissist only to have him flunk out of school thanks to a dodgy second-hand wand.

He might have also included a post-script stating that he knew of a wand maker who would supply Draco with a perfectly suitable replacement, without judgment, at a very reasonable price which the included packet of galleons should more than cover.

Narcissa had replied two days later with a simple 'Received, and accepted. Thank you.'

"Harry, are you sure you won't come with me next week? It's really no bother," Hermione asked him, interrupting his thoughts.

"No, I'm going to take McGonagall up on her offer and help with some of the things that still need repaired around the castle."

Both Ron and Hermione had asked if Harry would like to spend Christmas with them – Ron at the Burrow, and Hermione with her parents, who were still missing pieces of their memories.

The idea of spending all that time in the Burrow without Fred wasn't something that Harry thought he could bear, especially since Ginny would be there and he didn't want any more of that awkwardness. He still suspected that his refusal to resume their relationship was the real reason Ginny hadn't returned to Hogwarts (although she'd insisted otherwise), and he didn't know how to deal with Molly and George's grief. He felt selfish for refusing on those grounds, but he also knew that there was work to be done at Hogwarts, and it was something constructive that wouldn't leave him feeling drained and guilt-ridden.

He had asked Andromeda what her plans were for her and Teddy, and she had finally admitted – with much trepidation, he could tell – that she had the idea of reconnecting with her sister and that of course Harry was welcome to come and stay with her, but understood if he refused. He absolved her of the unnecessary guilt she felt, telling her what a wonderful idea he thought it was because family is family, no matter what.

He suspected that Andromeda's plans with Narcissa were the same reason why Draco's name was also on the very short list of students staying at Hogwarts over the holiday.

Later that week, Harry was walking in the direction of the destroyed Quidditch pitch, his steps leaving footprints in the light dusting of snow, when he'd spotted Headmistress McGonagall and Draco heading along the path that led to Hogsmeade.

Harry smiled. He happened to know a wand maker in Hogsmeade who he'd been corresponding with just recently.

^^===^^

Ron and Hermione had left for home earlier that morning with most of the others, leaving Harry and a very small smattering of students behind to get on with things.

Harry was the only Gryffindor who hadn't left. In years prior, there had usually been a fair amount who'd opted to stay behind, but with this being the first Christmas after the war, when there would be so many empty spaces around the dinner table, Harry supposed that this year it meant a little more than usual to be surrounded by family.

McGonagall had asked him if he might want to bunk in one of the other dorms during break, subtly adding that Malfoy, too, was alone in the Slytherin dorms, but Harry declined. He could do with the peace and quiet, truth be told, and he'd said as much.

The older students who had stayed behind, which consisted mostly of Ravenclaws wanting the extra time to study, and a few Hufflepuffs, were all given the option of assisting the professors with the final repairs that needed done in and around the castle. They would be paired up, according to their academic strengths, and be assigned a particular room or corridor.

He should have seen it coming, but he was still taken aback when McGonagall paired him with Malfoy and sent them to the Room of Requirement. "Assuming you even find it," she'd added.

And that was how Harry found himself staring at a large expanse of blank wall in the seventh-floor corridor, a disgruntled and clearly uncomfortable Malfoy by his side.

"Look, if you aren't going to concentrate properly, then go and stand over there or something," Harry finally said after several failed attempts.

"How do you know it's not you who's failing to concentrate properly?"

Harry inhaled deeply, trying to draw on his reserves of patience where Malfoy was concerned. He looked over at him and the permanent scowl that always seemed to be on the other boy's face these days (or at least, it was when Harry was in the vicinity).

"Nice wand," Harry said, looking at the twelve and three-quarter inches of elm.

"No thanks to you," Draco sneered, and Harry had to bite back a grin.

"I thought that no one would sell to you?"

"Yes, well, you underestimate Mother, clearly."

"Clearly."

"Just summon the fucking Room already."

"Such language, Malfoy."

He tsked and gave the other boy a light shove, and after a very colourful turn of phrase to verbalise his great offense at having been touched without permission, Malfoy took several steps down the corridor to let Harry get on with it and summon the Room.

Harry would never admit that the only way he could get the doors to appear was to think of the room in which Vincent Crabbe had died.

The overwhelming stench of sulphur that Fiendfyre leaves behind hit them like a wave once the doors had been opened. What Harry saw in front of him brought back memories best left buried, and he glanced over at Malfoy to see unbridled regret on the other boy's face.

"Nothing to be do but simply get it done, so come on," Harry said gently, grabbing him by the elbow and leading him over the threshold. The fact that he hadn't said anything about Harry's hand on him proved just how much he had been affected.

They both stopped and stood, looking around at the vast expanse of burned wreckage around them.

"What the hell are we supposed to even do? Everything is destroyed."

Harry shrugged. "We could probably just vanish it all. McGonagall said that the Room refused to become anything else until this was cleared away, so if it's ever going to be used in future, that's what we need to do."

Harry began to walk further into the room, shoes crunching over burnt rubble and ash. He looked behind him – Malfoy hadn't moved, and his face was paler than usual.

"What?"

"Potter, do you . . . Vince . . ." he finished on a whisper.

The thought had occurred to him, though he was hoping it hadn't occurred to Malfoy. Which was stupid, really. Of course it would occur to Malfoy.

"I don’t think he's here. If he is, well . . . it's just ash at this point, isn't it? Nothing that matters remains."

It was, apparently, the wrong thing to say.

"Nothing that matters? Nothing that matters?" Malfoy's face was turning red with anger as he stalked toward him. "VINCE FUCKING WELL MATTERED, YOU ARSE!"

Malfoy lunged at him then, and Harry fell backward into a pile of soot and ash that clouded up around them as Malfoy landed several punches to his midsection. The other boy's uncoordinated rage quickly allowed Harry to take the advantage, however, and was able to flip them over, Harry pinning Malfoy's arms to his side as the other boy sputtered and ranted.

"THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT, SHUT UP ALREADY!" Harry shouted at him.

Malfoy's squirming finally ceased and his head fell back against the bare spot of floor that Harry had rolled them onto. Harry thought he saw tears threaten to spill, and he leaned back on his heels, freeing Malfoy's arms which immediately went up to cover his face.

"It's . . . I honestly didn't mean it like that, Draco. I just . . . everything that made Vince Vince, everything that mattered, all of that is gone. It isn't here."

There was certainly no love lost between Harry and the two boys that he only knew as Malfoy's Minions, but clearly Draco cared about them. Even Harry knew the boy wasn't completely heartless.

Malfoy rolled his lower body to dislodge Harry, and Harry scrambled off of him to stand, brushing ash and soot from his clothes and deliberately avoiding looking at Malfoy's face. If he needed to have a cry about it, Harry wasn't going to stop him, but nor was he going to stick around to witness it, either. He could at least grant him that.

"I'll start over here," he pointed, and left Malfoy on his own, still lying on the floor.

About an hour had passed before Harry saw him again. He was knelt over a pile of . . . well Harry didn't know what, but he was turning something over in his hands, examining it.

"What's that?"

"Fuck if I know."

An awkward silence fell as Harry looked around him. The corner he'd been working in was the only part of the room that could be considered the least bit tidy, but it still needed a good scrubbing. This could take weeks, not days.

"Why aren't you with the rest of the Weasels?"

Malfoy stood, facing him, and Harry didn't feel like fighting him over the tired insult. It hadn't even been delivered with much malice – Harry suspected that Malfoy was just reverting to his old playbook at this point.

"They lost someone. It's the first Christmas without him, and they don't need me intruding on their grief."

Malfoy threw the charred remnant to the ground.

"What about you?" Harry asked.

Several moments passed and Harry assumed he wouldn't get an answer, but just as he turned to go back to where he'd been working, he spoke.

"I don’t ever want to set foot in that place again. I have no home, not anymore. I couldn't wait to leave, even if it did mean coming back to this godforsaken joke of a school."

Harry wanted to remind him that this godforsaken joke of a school welcomed him back with open arms even after he'd let Death Eaters in through the front door, but the gods of self-restraint nudged at him and he kept his mouth shut instead.

Mercy. Remember Dumbledore's mercy. Harry had a feeling he'd be reminding himself of that a lot until this job was done.

Malfoy looked up to the ceiling and sighed. "It wasn't your fault, you know," he said quietly.

Harry wasn't sure that he'd heard him correctly.

"What?"

"I'm not the only one who's being watched, Potter."

"What are you talking about?"

"You. You carry guilt on your back like a well-worn cloak. I used to think you were just playing the martyr for attention, but you really believe it, don't you?"

He walked toward Harry, his head cocked in consternation.

"What do you know about guilt?" Harry didn't mean the question to come out as harsh as it did, but what Malfoy had just said . . . he was treading on dangerous ground.

Malfoy laughed. "That's right, Potter, I've got no regrets in life. None at all. You stupid fucking idiot."

"Oh, so now I'm an idiot?"

"Yeah, you are."

"Fuck you."

Harry turned to leave, but Malfoy jumped in front of him, putting his hand against Harry's chest to halt him. Harry could smell that sweet citrus that he now associated with Malfoy through the stench of soot and sulphur.

"Fred Weasley. Lupin. My cousin. All of them. Wasn't your fault."

Malfoy removed his hand, and Harry wanted the warmth back immediately.

"I'm done for the night," Malfoy said, and with that, he was gone.

^^===^^

The next three nights, Harry and Malfoy worked in silence. Harry had thought of little but the stilted conversation they'd had; he'd kept turning it over and over in his head, as though it was important to prove to himself as well as Malfoy that Malfoy was wrong.

All that death, it had been his fault, and it wasn't as though Harry spent his time feeling sorry for himself over it – it was simply a fact, the way things were. Grass was green, the sun was yellow, and it was Harry's fault that hundreds had died. What really bothered Harry was the way Malfoy had honed in on it . . . implied that he'd been watching Harry as much as Harry had been watching him (but then, how could he have missed it because Harry watched Malfoy all the time), and had somehow figured out this very private, personal matter that Harry had never spoken about to anyone.

It was driving him mad, and the damn finally burst on the fourth night.

"What makes you so certain that you know what I might or might not feel responsible for?"

Malfoy laughed, but didn't even look over as he continued to vanish bits and pieces of a particularly large pile of detritus.

"I'm surprised you've held it in this long, Potter. Well done."

"You don't know anything, Malfoy."

"I know more than you think I do."

"Go to hell."

Harry was disgusted with himself for having taken Malfoy's bait. This was just another attempt to get a rise out of him, and Harry wasn't going to play this game. He was sick of it, and clearly he was deluded to think that Malfoy might have been sick of it as well. He went back to where he'd been working, intent on ignoring Malfoy for the rest of the school year. Fuck Dumbledore's mercy.

His resolve lasted all of five minutes until Malfoy decided to pick at Harry's scabs a little bit more.

"I've been in hell, actually, and I've no desire to go back quite so soon," Malfoy said behind him, and Harry fought with himself not to turn around and kept working.

Of course Malfoy couldn't take a hint and leave well enough alone.

"Maybe you do like the guilt. Maybe it's become so comfortable and familiar to you that you wouldn't know what to do without it, and the more that's piled on, the better you feel."

Harry's temper erupted, and he had Malfoy against the wall by his throat in a flash. And Malfoy, the sick fuck, was smiling.

"Don't you fucking dare tell me how I feel. You let Death Eaters and a werewolf into this school to hurt and kill the same people you shared classes and meals with!" He tightened his hold on Malfoy's throat, not caring if he was cutting off oxygen. "The Carrows tortured little kids, students who sat beside you every day for years and what did you do? You didn't do a God damn thing because you're a coward!"

Draco began to struggle, and Harry let go and stepped back, Malfoy heaving great gulps of air and coughing.

"Feel better?" Malfoy nearly choked out, his voice rough.

"You just don't know when to shut up."

Harry hated himself for letting things get this far, especially after everything he'd done since school started to try and mend fences. He couldn't remember now why he'd ever even bothered.

He sat down, his wand slipping from his fingers and hitting the filthy floor. He was so tired. He pulled his glasses off, rubbing his eyes with his palms so hard that he saw stars. He could hear Malfoy moving, and then felt a hand on his knee. Harry looked up to see Malfoy kneeling in front of him.

"You died, too, Potter. You died, just like everyone else. You've been punished enough. Let it go."

Harry couldn't help but laugh considering he'd said almost the same thing to Hermione in regards to the boy standing in front of him. "What do you care, huh?"

"Because if even the hero can't get past his guilt and shame, and live, how the hell is someone like me ever supposed to get over mine? If you can't have forgiveness, Potter, then the rest of us sure as hell can't, either."

Harry swallowed, the taste of soot in his mouth, and then the words just came tumbling out. "If I had given Voldemort what he wanted sooner, if I had gone into the forest earlier-"

"Maybe. Maybe not. I don't think that anyone can fault you for delaying your own death. For fuck's sake, Potter, no one's as noble as that. Not even you."

Malfoy sat down, their knees touching, and they were silent for a long time. Malfoy picked up Harry's glasses from the pile of ash Harry had laid them in, and wiped them off with the clean hem of his jumper before handing them back.

"You just look weird without them," he said.

Harry did put them on, and when he looked up at Draco, it was like seeing him for the first time. It was . . . different. New. He was still a little shit, but Harry thought he might know something about Draco that no one else knows – something he couldn't name, but something nonetheless.

Draco removed a piece of linen from his shirt pocket, and Transfigured it into a tall glass. Harry was impressed, the new wand was obviously working well, and he watched as Draco filled it with water from the tip of his wand.

Draco offered it to him, and Harry, surprised but grateful, took it, drinking it down in one go, the water cool and crisp, before handing the glass back to him.

"Lemongrass."

"What?"

Draco refilled the glass and took a drink.

"You smell like lemongrass. I couldn't place it before but . . ."

Draco actually blushed as he tucked a wayward strand of hair behind his ear. "Yeah, it's, uh . . . Mother orders these hand-milled soaps from France every year. She sends them to me."

Harry leaned forward, breathing deeply. Draco didn't move, just stared at him, and Harry saw a hint of something unidentifiable in those dark grey eyes . . . something that he was too afraid to explore further.

"It's nice. I like it."

Draco refilled the glass once more and set it on the ground next to Harry and stood, ignoring Harry's question about where he was going, and walked through the doors, closing them shut behind him.

^^===^^

Harry awoke early on Christmas morning, having slept better than he had in weeks. He and Draco had been spending every spare moment in the Room of Requirement, and though they never revisited their conversation from the week prior, or much conversation at all aside from casual pleasantries, an easy sort of peace had fallen between them.

It was actually kind of . . . nice, being able to work with Malfoy and not constantly worry about what the other boy might do. This partnership, academic though it was, was actually working out rather well, and he thought that if Dumbledore were still alive, he'd give Harry a wink and a smile.

He really did miss the old man.

Harry had originally thought that McGonagall paired him up with Draco to work on that part of the castle because they were the ones who had effectively destroyed it, but in fact he and Draco worked well together when they weren't trying to kill each other or bash the other's face in. They could communicate with just a look, and their magical signatures seemed to blend and complement each other's, making the job easier than he'd initially thought it would be.

In fact, they were nearly done. Harry had been sure to take over the area where he knew Vince had fallen, and though Draco had said nothing at the time, Harry knew it hadn't gone unnoticed.

Harry climbed out of bed, dressed in his most comfortable jeans and jumper and, after pulling on his warmest pair of woolen socks, made his way down to the common room. There under the large Christmas tree were a handful of packages, big and small, and he felt like a kid again. He hoped that his own presents to Hermione, the Weasleys, and Teddy and Andromeda had also been delivered on time – Kreacher was still a wee bit unreliable, albeit as loyal as ever, something that Harry still was not used to considering how the elf used to treat him before the final battle.

He waffled with whether or not to open his presents now or after breakfast, and opted for the latter. He was starving and the mere thought of crispy bacon was already making his mouth water.

He made his way into the Great Hall and the small collection of students were gathered at their respective tables. Harry walked toward the Gryffindor table but then, at the last second, spied Draco sitting alone and reading a letter while he ate, and thought why the hell not.

He walked over and sat down in front of him, pulled up a plate, and began dishing out his favourites.

"Careful, Potter, rumour has it that what we Slytherins have is contagious."

"If you're talking about the chronic case of sarcastic smart-arsery, I'm told that I already have it, but thanks for the warning."

Draco smirked behind his cup, and folded up his letter. Harry poured himself a large cup of coffee and smiled at McGonagall when she'd caught his eye.

Draco cleared his throat. "Find anything interesting under the tree, Potter?"

"Haven't opened anything yet," he said around a mouthful of eggs, ignoring Draco's moue of disapproval, "but I plan to after breakfast. You?"

"Oh the usual. Dark artifacts and the like."

"Ha bloody ha," Harry said with a roll of his eyes. "Letter from your mum?" He motioned toward the folded-up letter that lay next to Draco's cup.

Draco nodded but didn't offer any updates. Harry knew from Andromeda's letter the day before that they were spending the next several days in Cannes, France, in one of the old Black properties that her and Narcissa used to vacation in as a children. There was a beach nearby, she'd written, and hoped Teddy wouldn't decide to eat any sand.

"So, Potter-"

"Do you think you might start calling me Harry anytime soon?"

Draco looked at him as though he'd grown horns. "Why would I do that?"

"Nevermind," Harry laughed. "You were saying?"

"I think we can finish the Room today."

"But it's Christmas, and I had a very full day of napping, eating, and reading Quidditch Weekly planned," he frowned, this time around a mouthful of bacon.

Draco slapped his hand down just as he was about to shove another rasher in.

"I'm serious. We can finish, and then I thought we could, I don't know, test it out."

"Test it out?"

"Well, yes. Make sure it's still working properly. For New Year's."

"Malfoy, that's a week away. What's happening on-" and it hit him. "Oh my God, you want to have a party."

"No, just a . . . small gathering." Harry laughed at him, but Draco seemingly ignored him and pressed on. "Look, no one wants to spend New Year's with a bunch of decrepit old professors and, well, no one seems to hate my guts anymore since you spread that vicious rumour, and they are tolerable, I suppose, so I just thought it might be nice to do something on our own. With them, I mean."

Harry thought he might pull a muscle from rolling his eyes too strenuously.

"Honestly, Draco, it's okay to admit that you want to have a bit of fun, even if it does involve hobnobbing with Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. I suppose that even you deserve that," he smiled. "We'll have to clear it with McGonagall, of course, and I doubt any alcohol will be allowed, especially if the younger kids are invited, but yeah, I think we could manage a little something."

"Well. Good. Meet me in the Room in an hour." Draco stood and swallowed the last of his tea. "And do shower, Potter. You stink."

Harry made a rude gesture at Draco's back as he walked away.

After taking time for seconds at breakfast, Harry went back to Gryffindor Tower intent on tearing into his Christmas presents. He hadn't been disappointed. Molly had sent him the usual Weasley jumper, this time in deep green with a soft, pale blue for the letter, as well as a huge assortment of homemade treats and pies for him to feast on as much as he liked. He'd already eaten two of the treacle tarts by the time he got to Ron's presents – his favourite being a package of Weasley Wizarding Crackers from Weasleys Wizard Wheezes that, instead of a bang, shouted rude phrases to the person with the bigger half. He'd have to give some to Draco.

Hermione had been her usual practical self by gifting him with several new toothbrushes from her father's stockpile, Toothflossing Stringmints, and a couple of books that Harry doubted he'd ever open unless she made him. Andromeda gave him a photograph of Teddy sitting on the beach, smiling and looking like the happiest baby on earth, for his bedside table.

Harry thought he had opened them all, but then he spied a small package near the base of the tree in paper unlike the others. He picked it up, and the paper felt thick and expensive. There was a small card on the top, and Harry opened it to see who it was from.

Harry,
For reasons of which I am most curious,
Draco asked me to procure this for you.
Happy Christmas.
--Narcissa Malfoy

He opened the wrapping carefully, loathe to even tear the luxurious paper, and beneath several layers of tissue paper was an even more finely wrapped . . . bar of soap.

And it smelled exactly like lemongrass.

^^===^^

Harry was fifteen minutes late, but he opened the doors to the Room of Requirement, hair still dripping wet from his shower, and found Draco already working on the last bits needing cleared away in the far corner of the room.

He rushed toward him, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

"You're late."

"I know. I had to take a shower. Someone told me that I needed one."

"I'm sure they were only trying to help. You can start over there," Draco pointed to his left, "there's still a lot of soot ground into the stone."

"Yes, sir." Harry started with the scouring charms that Molly had taught him during his fifth year, glancing up at Draco who still hadn't acknowledged the fact that Harry had obviously received his present. Harry started to feel a bit guilty that he hadn't thought to do anything for Draco, but then, why would he? They'd barely just stopped hating the sight of each other. It had never occurred to Harry that Draco would get him something for Christmas, although it pleased him immensely that he had. He would share some of Molly's treats with him – no one could be disappointed in that.

Harry inched his way closer and closer to Draco until they were nearly shoulder to shoulder.

"Still think I stink, Malfoy?"

Harry watched, amused, as Draco's chin jutted forward and a blush stained his cheeks.

"It's a marked improvement."

"I smell like you. Whatever will people say?"

Harry had only been teasing, but Draco's blush quickly turned to pallor and his whole body tensed up.

"They won't say anything because there's nothing to say, Potter."

"I was only jok-"

"I've got better things to do than this. You're on your own."

Draco left without another word, and Harry was too stunned and confused by the sudden shift in mood to stop him.

It was starting to become a pattern between them – Draco walking away while in the middle of a conversation, and Harry letting him.

Well that was going to stop.

^^===^^

When Harry's initial search had been unsuccessful, he ran all the way back to Gryffindor Tower to dig out his father's map. After scanning the tiny dots, made much easier by the fact that the castle was nearly empty with most of the students away for hols, he finally spotted Draco in the kitchens.

Which was rather unexpected, all things considered. Harry hadn't known that the entrance to the kitchens was common knowledge. Draco surrounded by a bunch of house elves? This he had to see.

He tickled the pear and the portrait swung open. Draco sat there at the large table in the center of the kitchen while a house elf Harry didn't recognize poured what looked to be hot chocolate into a mug.

"Any left for me?" Harry asked the elf, who bowed several times as she backed away from the table and disappeared from view. Harry sat down across from Draco, and within moments, a steaming cup of cocoa appeared before him.

He could tell from the tense line of Draco's shoulders that his presence wasn't exactly welcomed, but he hadn't been yelled at to leave yet, so Harry took that as permission to stay. For now.

He sipped his cocoa, thick and rich and not too sweet, before finally breaking the silence.

"You're sending me a lot of mixed signals here, Draco."

"I'm not sending you any signals, I'm just sitting here," he answered defensively, squaring his shoulders.

"You know what I mean."

Draco didn't answer.

"I know that whatever this is," he motioned between them, "has barely even started, but . . . I like hanging out with you. When you're not biting my head off and running away, that is."

"Well that's just who I am, Potter, take it or leave it. I don't recall asking you to do either, come to think of it."

Harry set his cocoa down. "See, that's exactly what I'm talking about. What the hell did I say that's got your knickers all in a twist?"

Draco's scowl only deepened, but he didn't answer.

"Was it the soap thing? People talking? Draco, I was only joking about that, no one's ever going to notice something as mundane as that, trust me."

"Well of course you wouldn't care, people talk about you all the time!"

"They talk about you, too!"

"It's not the same!"

He exhaled a heavy sigh. "This is ridiculous, Malfoy-"

"I'm gay, all right?" Draco practically shouted at him. "I'm gay. I'm queer, I'm a poofter, a ponce, a pillow-biter."

Harry was stunned into silence. It was the last thing he had expected Draco to say.

"I . . . Draco, I don't care if you're gay." Harry shifted in his seat, knowing this was likely a big deal to Draco but not wanting Draco to think that Harry thought it was a big deal. Because it really didn't matter to him. "Bit surprised, maybe. I mean . . . Pansy and all that, but . . . it doesn't bother me."

Draco stood up and grabbed his empty cup, clearly agitated, and walked around the table to the large sink, slamming his cup down so hard that Harry was surprised it didn't shatter.

"It doesn't bother you because you wouldn't be the one accused of anything if people did talk."

"I hardly think that a silly bar of soap-"

"But you don't think, Potter! People notice things, they notice . . . things, okay?"

"Then why the hell did you have your mum send it to me?"

"I don't know!"

Harry was so confused. Nothing was making sense.

"Let me get this straight. You give me a Christmas present that you don't want me to use, because I'll smell the same as you, and therefore people will assume that we're, what . . . that we're shagging?"

Harry had never seen Draco's face so red.

And then Harry remembered that day in the library when Draco had asked for his wand. The way he'd surreptitiously looked around to see if they'd been seen having a private conversation in the stacks. When Draco had told him that Harry wasn't the only one being watched, but Draco had clearly noticed the struggle he'd been having with guilt from the war. The way Draco hadn't even finished his breakfast just that morning before leaving Harry at the Slytherin table alone as though he didn't want to be seen having breakfast with him.

"Drop it, Potter, please. Just forget I said anything."

"If you were that worried about people finding out that you're gay, why did you spend all your time with Crabbe and Goyle? And Zabini?" The whole school had known that Zabini slept with both girls and boys, and Draco had been around him quite a lot.

"Oh please, Potter, as if I'd ever be attracted to one of them."

Judging by the look on Draco's face, he'd realised what he'd said at the same moment that Harry did.

"But you could be attracted to . . . me?" he asked carefully.

Draco let the silence hover too long, and it was answer enough for Harry.

"No. God this conversation is ridiculous," Draco said, and pushed past him. "You're ridiculous, Potter."

Harry wasn't going to let him walk out yet again, and he grabbed Draco roughly by the arm.

"But you . . . you avoid me like the plague unless we're working in the Room. I've barely spent five minutes with you outside of there, so-"

"Let go of me, Potter," Draco said through clenched teeth, all the while avoiding Harry's eyes.

"This doesn't have to change anything."

"It changes everything!" Draco shouted at him, still clawing at Harry's fingers to release the grip on his arm but Harry was unrelenting. "You stupid, stupid man, don’t you get it?"

"No, I don't!"

"I don't want to be friends with you! I can't be friends with you!"

Harry's grip loosened at the vehemence behind Draco's words, and before he could respond, Draco's lips covered his own while warm fingers roughly cradled the curve of his jaw. His hands held Harry in place for the briefest of moments before they let go, and Draco stood back, a look of shock and horror on his face at what he'd just done.

This time, when Draco fled, Harry let him, too stunned to move.

^^===^^

Harry looked at the tiny dot labelled Draco Malfoy in the Slytherin dormitory on his map. He had barely seen Draco at all since Christmas Day. In just a few hours, it would be a new year, and instead of feeling hopeful for good things to come, Harry felt like shit.

He hadn't been sleeping well, partly because he couldn't keep his mind from racing when his head hit the pillow, and partly because . . . well, he was an eighteen year old boy - man - who hadn't had any interest in sex of any kind (owing to the fact that a murderous tyrant had been actively hunting him for the past two years), but then Draco sodding Malfoy kissed him and suddenly his cock decided to rouse itself from hibernation.

Harry wasn't gay, not as far as he knew. He'd dated girls. Well, two. There was that disaster with Cho, but he'd had a very nice time with Ginny, even if they'd never got past the whole under-the-shirt-but-over-the-bra stage. He had let Ginny take the lead, never pushing her to go further. It wasn't as if he'd ever talked to Ron about it, and God knows Ron never talked about what he and Hermione got up to, but the way that Ron used to talk about Lavender when they were dating . . . Harry was sure that he had never wanted in Ginny's pants the way that Ron wanted into Lavender's.

Did that mean something? Did a person have to be one or the other? Straight or gay? Zabini wasn't. Maybe Harry liked both. Maybe Harry liked Draco.

Harry had hazy memories of long, lazy kisses with Ginny under the trees in springtime, and the kiss at the Burrow on his birthday before the war erupted. But the kiss Draco had given him nearly a week ago in the kitchens . . . he could still feel it. It wasn't soft or gentle, but rough and quick, and if Harry's dreams were anything to go by, he wanted to try it again.

But he also couldn't forget the conversation – argument, really – that had led up to it. If Draco really was attracted to him, if even a little bit of that had been simmering beneath Draco's constant needling over the years, then Harry was going to have to tread very lightly.

What Harry needed was a plan.

^^===^^

When McGonagall had first offered Harry the chance to sleep over in another dormitory during hols to avoid being alone, she'd discreetly slipped him the password to the Slytherin common room as she'd hinted that Draco, too, was alone. She was a sly woman, and never was he more thankful for that than he was right now. Because that's how he found himself at the foot of the stairs to Draco's dormitory under his invisibility cloak at eleven o'clock on New Year's Eve.

He took a deep breath, and opened the door. Here goes nothing.

Draco sat up in his bed immediately as the door seemingly opened and closed by itself.

"Who's there?"

Harry pulled the cloak over his head, and Draco's stare went from trepidation to anger in record time.

"Who let you in? I'll have them in detention for a month."

"Relax, Draco. I just wanted to talk."

"Yeah, well. I'm busy."

"Doing what?" Harry scoffed.

"Sleeping, obviously."

"Would it kill you to cut the sarcasm for once and just have an honest conversation with me?" Harry tossed his cloak over the foot of Draco's bed. "Please?"

Draco eyed him warily, but nodded once. Harry removed the bag from his shoulder and set it on the floor next to the bed, unzipped it, and pulled out two bottles of Butterbeer.

"Here," Harry held it out, and Draco took the proffered bottle after a long moment. Harry pulled a desk chair away from the wall, and sat down, popping the lid on his Butterbeer and taking a drink.

Draco did the same, but before lifting it to his lips, which Harry had not been staring at at all, he looked at it suspiciously.

"You didn't dose this with Veritaserum, did you?"

"Seriously, Draco?" Harry mocked, but he traded Draco's open bottle with his own and took a drink before the other boy could argue. Draco made a show of wiping it off before he, too, tipped it back.

"So what have you been up to? I've been working on the room by myself."

"Nothing much," Draco finally answered, still looking anywhere but at Harry.

And that was okay, because it gave Harry the opportunity to stare without being yelled at for it. He'd always thought of Draco as pointy, but maybe chiselled was a better word. Draco was pointy, but not in a bad way. Harry realised that he was actually quite handsome in a polished, refined, not at all rugged sort of way. Or maybe that was just the kiss talking.

"Well, it's all finished. Work's great. Me and McGonagall tested it out just yesterday."

"Great." Draco's response was the exact opposite of enthusiastic, sounding rather disappointed instead, and Harry sighed.

Why did he expect this would ever be easy? When was anything involving Draco Malfoy easy?

"Did you know that I used to sneak into Hogsmeade in third year? Well, actually, way more than just then, but that's when it started."

Draco side-eyed him as he took another swig from the bottle. "No, but I'm hardly surprised."

Harry deliberately propped his feet up on his cloak and waited.

"Hang on, that was you! The mud! I fucking knew it!"

Harry laughed. "Yeah, that was me. Don't regret it one bit, either," he said with a wide smile.

Draco kicked his foot and it fell off the bed.

"I, uh . . . had another insurance policy as well. Aside from the cloak, I mean."

Draco looked at him expectantly, and Harry stood, extracting the map from his back pocket and passing it over.

"A blank piece of parchment?"

Harry moved closer to the bed, leaning over Draco as he pointed his wand at the map and activated it.

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

"Well that's fitting," Draco added, his voice trailing off as he saw the map come to life.

Harry took the liberty of sitting on the edge of Draco's bed as he unfolded the map, mouth agape as he realised exactly what he held in his hands.

"You little cheat!"

Harry grinned.

"What the hell, Potter? Do you know what you could do with this map?"

"Pretty sure I've already done it."

Draco stared at him, a mixture of disbelief and jealousy and even a little bit of awe in his eyes.

"I would have ruled the school with this kind of tool at my disposal, and I bet you used it for asinine things like stealing sweets and Butterbeer."

"Oh, trust me," Harry laughed, "I did a lot more than that."

Harry moved to make himself more comfortable, pleased when Draco actually budged over to give him more room. He divulged a few of his exploits with the map over the years, and by the time he was done, they were stretched out side by side, leaning against Draco's headboard, the empty Butterbeer bottles tossed at their feet.

"Why did you bring this?" Draco held up the map. "Why show me now?"

"Gesture of goodwill? A show of faith, I suppose?"

"That implies that said faith is needed," Draco responded, his voice soft and low.

"What if I said that I showed it to you because I want you to know that I'm not here to mess you about? That what I really . . . " Harry swallowed past the lump in his throat, his palms starting to sweat. "What I really want is for us to not hate each other anymore, and maybe that might include letting me kiss you again?"

It pained Harry to see Draco's walls go up so quickly, even though he'd expected it, but the openness in his grey eyes had just instantly disappeared.

"It's late, Potter. You should go."

"Just hear me out."

"Potter-"

Harry moved so he was facing Draco, didn't want him to so easily avert his gaze if Harry was going to spill embarrassing secrets, which was looking pretty likely.

"It's all I've thought about."

"You're confused, and I'm not about to-"

"Of course I'm confused, Draco. Have you any idea what my life has been like? I guarantee you, even you have had a life closer to normal than me."

"Meaning?"

Harry sighed. He was really going to have to say it. Out loud.

"A sex life, Draco. Or distinct lack thereof, in my case. I don't know what I want. I mean, I do but . . . up until six days ago, I hadn't even stopped to think that there were, you know, options. Christ, I'm eighteen, I've dated two girls my entire life, one of which didn't even really count because she spent the entire time crying over her dead boyfriend, and while Ginny was nice and sweet and everything, she-"

"You're not gay," Draco interrupted, and it was neither question nor statement, as he leaned forward, eyes wide and open once more.

"If my dreams lately are any indication, I'm not not gay, either."

They stared at each other, and Harry swallowed past all the foolish words that threatened to escape. He was too afraid that Draco would run. Literally. His mind scrambled for the right thing to say, but came up blank.

"What were you going to say?"

"When?"

"Just now. Before. About Ginny."

"Oh. Just that . . . her kisses never felt like yours," Harry finished on a whisper, and he could feel his cheeks redden.

Draco blinked, and Harry saw him swallow, Adam's apple moving up the long line of his neck, and just as Harry was wondering if it would taste of the sweet lemons from Draco's soap, he practically leapt from where he sat and had Harry pinned to his bed, lips crashing down and devouring Harry's in a brutal, wonderful, almost painful kiss.

He didn't even stop to think, just felt, as his hands scrambled for purchase in the loose cotton of Draco's shirt. They shifted, and Harry felt a sharp pain in his back. He groaned from the pain, trying to push Draco off of him so he could get rid of whatever was interfering with this perfectly imperfect moment.

Another hard push, and Draco finally leaned back, releasing him, both of them gasping for air.

"I need to-"

"What - leave?" Draco asked, hurt flashing in his grey eyes.

"No! No, I- there's a bottle," Harry said, half gasping. "Digging into my back."

Draco looked cautiously confused, and Harry sat up just far enough to reach behind him and pull one of the empty Butterbeer bottles out from underneath him.

"Oh," Draco said, blushing, and took the bottle from him, tossing it onto the floor.

They both watched it shatter against the stone, and then Harry lay back down, much more comfortable than he had been moments before.

"Better?" Draco smiled, and Harry nodded, reaching up and pulling him back down.

It was the single best kiss of his life. Harry hadn't realised kissing would ever – could ever – be like this. Draco was . . . gods, the feel and taste and smell of him . . . Harry hoped that, inexperienced as he was, kissing was the one thing he moderately excelled at, but Draco was firmly in control and Harry had never been happier to relinquish it.

He only faintly heard the chime of midnight from the clock on the wall, but it only made Harry cling to Draco tighter, because if the old adage about what you were doing at midnight on New Year's Eve were true, then he would damn well make sure that Draco didn't break this kiss. Harry could think of nothing he wanted more than to spend the entirety of the next year with Draco's hands in his hair, the bare skin of Draco's back beneath his fingertips, and that deliciously expert mouth against his own.

^^===^^

Harry didn't know how much time had passed, only that rushed and fevered kisses had led to slow and reverent exploration, and finally the gentle brushes of kiss-swollen lips against his neck and jaw.

They'd done nothing more than kiss – in every possible way, he didn't even know there were so many ways to kiss and be kissed - and Harry honestly wasn't sure if his already overwhelmed senses could have handled it if they had. Harry was almost painfully hard, and knew Draco was as well, but just this . . . it was enough for now. He was hesitant to push the fragility of whatever this was between them, didn't want to overcomplicate things. And maybe that's why he was still a virgin at eighteen, but Draco didn't seem to mind as he nuzzled against the crook of Harry's neck.

"I should go."

"You should."

Harry's fingers sifted through the soft strands of Draco's hair.

"Although, there are other beds in here. I could-"

"No," Draco laughed softly, "you should go." Draco raised up, propping his head on his hand, grinning. "If you stay here, I might do things to you in the middle of the night that you're not ready for, Potter."

"Is that supposed to be a deterrent?" Harry laughed, trying to will his erection away and failing.

"Tomorrow's another day, Potter."

"Technically it's already tomorrow." Harry reached up to slide his finger along the curve of Draco's jaw. He looked well and truly snogged, and Harry felt as proud as if he'd grabbed the snitch to win the game.

"If you're serious about giving this a go," Draco started with just a hint of trepidation in his voice, "then we take this slowly. Deal?"

He looked down at Harry, his gaze serious and questioning, so Harry pulled him down for an answering kiss.

"Slow," Harry whispered when he broke away, and then sat up, adjusting his pyjama shirt.

Harry sighed at the loss of Draco's warm touch, and climbed off the bed. His shirt had come completely unbuttoned while Draco had only lost a few, and Harry planned on getting even for that the next time.

The next time.

Harry smiled at the realisation that there would be a next time and at Draco's questioning look, leaned forward for a final quick kiss before grabbing his bag and invisibility cloak.

"Keep this until next time," he said, handing Draco the map. "You remember how to activate it?" Draco nodded. "Good," he winked, "password's on the back."

Draco smiled. It was downright indecent, and Harry laughed as he closed the dormitory door behind him.

He ran all the way back to Gryffindor Tower.

^^===^^

The next morning, Draco was waiting in the Gryffindor common room when Harry came traipsing down the stairs after his shower, wearing both his new Weasley jumper and a particularly good mood. The shock of seeing him there faded quickly as memories of the night before took precedence.

"I see you've made good use of that," he grinned, pointing to the map that lay open on Draco's lap. He flopped down on the sofa next to him, arms touching, and stretched his legs out in front of the fire to warm his feet.

Draco gave Harry a tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, and fell silent. Harry's good mood started to evaporate.

"So . . ." he started, waiting for Draco to state the obvious – that last night had been an appallingly bad mistake and it'd probably be best of Harry avoided him for the rest of the school year. It was written all over the other boy's face.

"Your friends will be coming back soon."

"In a few days, yeah. Yours, too."

"I don't have any friends," Draco scoffed, folding up the map with careful precision.

"You do," Harry answered, touching his hand lightly and halting his movement.

Draco laid the map on the armrest and turned toward him.

"Will you tell them?"

"You mean . . . about . . ."

Draco nodded, and Harry took in the tight line of his shoulders and shuttered expression. Did Draco want to keep this a secret? Was he afraid that Harry would tell – or wouldn't?

"I don't keep anything from them. I don't see why I should start now."

Draco seemed to relax a little at that, and the tight feeling in his chest eased up. He was genuinely relieved that Draco hadn't asked him to keep this a secret, especially from Ron and Hermione.

"They won't like it."

"Probably not at first, but they'll get used to it."

"This won't end well, you realise."

Harry shrugged. Maybe it wouldn't, maybe it would. He frankly couldn't care less at the moment, because Draco was next to him, and he was warm and right there and Harry could kiss him if he wanted to because he'd let Harry kiss him last night, loads of times, and really, what was he waiting for?

Harry leaned in, but a hand on his chest stopped him.

"Maybe you shouldn't tell them."

Harry's heart dropped. He looked up from Draco's mouth, which he really needed to stop staring at anyway, to those grey eyes and saw doubt staring back at him.

"Draco-"

"Just . . . for now. This might not- you don't even know if-"

"I have to tell them."

"Why are you so stubborn all of the-"

Harry silenced him with a kiss, and God, it felt just as good as it had last night. Draco resisted for the slightest of moments, but with a muffled groan, wrapped his hands in the fabric of Harry's jumper and tugged, leaning back against the cushions and pulling Harry with him. This time, Harry was in control and Draco seemed only too happy to let him have it.

Despite having had a particularly satisfying and leisurely wank in the shower barely ten minutes earlier, Harry's cock took a definite interest in the proceedings as Draco made the most fantastic sounds while Harry explored every inch of the other boy's mouth. He catalogued each one, every sharp inhale and every strangled moan as he worked along Draco's jawline and down the line of his neck. His hands were already making quick, albeit clumsy work of the buttons on Draco's pyjama top (slippery fucking silk), and it wasn't until Harry lifted up just enough to pull at the hem of his own jumper that he'd noticed Draco had placed his hands above his head, as though lying there in complete supplication and just waiting to see what Harry would do next.

"This is . . . okay?" he asked, desperately hoping that it was as he yanked the jumper over his head, dislodging his glasses as he threw it – with his glasses inside – onto the floor. When Draco nodded, Harry exhaled on a whimper as a dozen different visions of just what he'd like to do to the man beneath him flashed in his mind.

He opened the silk shirt, exposing the expanse of pale, creamy skin. There were no blemishes, no scars, and Harry had always wondered after the incident if Draco's body would be marred forever after what he'd done, but clearly he wasn't. When he looked at Draco's face, he could see that the other boy knew what he'd been thinking of, and when Draco reached a hand out to cup Harry's cheek, he pressed the palm to his lips and kissed it; a silent apology that should have been granted two years earlier, but better late than never.

The sleeve of Draco's shirt slid down, almost to his elbow and exposing his Mark. Harry's eyes were drawn to it, and Draco froze in place, worrying his lip. If he was at all nervous that Harry might change his mind because of it, Harry needed to erase that thought right now, and as he'd done with Draco's hand, he pressed his lips against the blackness and let his tongue taste the skin, kissing it gently.

Draco inhaled sharply at the daring gesture, and freed his hand to wrap it around the nape of Harry's neck, pulling him back into the kiss. As Harry sucked Draco's bottom lip between his own, he felt Draco's other hand reach between them, sliding down their bare torsos and stopping just above the waist of Harry's pyjama bottoms. Harry gave his consent by deepening the kiss and pushing down with his hips, feeling Draco's hardness against his own.

Christ, he'd never wanted anyone as much as he wanted Draco Malfoy in this moment. Any doubts he might have still had about his sexuality disappeared like wisps of smoke on a windy day when Draco's hand reached down into his pants and warm fingers wrapped around his prick.

He very nearly came right then and there, but suddenly the hand was gone and was instead pushing at Harry, urging him up.

"What?" Harry asked, trying not to sound overly needy and failing miserably.

"You'll like this, trust me." Harry was glad to hear the breathless tone of Draco's voice, the want and the need and God why had he wasted so much time fighting with Draco when they could have been doing this?

Draco's hips lifted off the sofa just enough for him to pull his pyjama bottoms and pants down in one swift motion, then did the same with Harry's.

He felt suddenly self-conscious, his cock out for Draco to see. It was stupid. Nearly every male in Gryffindor had seen it at some point, but this was different. This was Draco and he was looking at it, and not in the indirect way that you do while sharing a communal shower with other boys who are usually only half awake.

But, Harry pondered, Draco had his out as well – and it was a very nice prick indeed – so really it was fair game for looking. And he did look, and was fascinated by the sight of it, thick and hard and that was for him.

"Fucking figures," Draco muttered as he shifted slightly, aligning their bodies perfectly as he wrapped a leg around Harry's backside, pressing their cocks together in a glorious meeting of flesh on flesh.

Harry was going to ask what figured, but then Draco moved and he couldn't talk at all. He moaned, he couldn't help it, and he felt Draco's tongue on the underside of his jaw and then his hips were moving and their cocks were rubbing together in hot, delicious friction and Harry knew he wasn't going to last.

"I want to feel you come, Harry."

And Harry didn't know if it was the words or the simple fact that he'd called him Harry, but come he did, and when Draco followed moments later, his hand wrapped around both their cocks at the same time, Harry didn't even care that his oversensitive prick didn't want to be touched anymore. Draco's fingers, now slick and gentle, finally let go, and Harry collapsed on top of him, all his weight pressing Draco into the cushions.

"Well done, Potter," he said, still breathing heavy, and Harry could practically hear him smirking, the smug bastard, but his arms wrapped around him, thumb tracing the line of his spine, and Harry didn't much care what he said.

Except . . .

"What fucking figures?" he asked, lifting himself slightly to look at Draco's face.

Draco gave him a confused look for a moment, and then a small smile played at the corners of his mouth.

"I might have, at one point, wished for you to have a tiny dick on account of you ignoring me, but I can see now that that was all for naught."

Harry, feeling equal parts proud and embarrassed, buried his flushed face in the crook of Draco's neck.

"Lucky for you, then."

Draco's arms tightened around him.

"Give me a minute and we can go again."

Draco laughed.

January

Harry awoke unusually early on the day his friends were due to return from holiday break. Normally he relished the ability to sleep as late as he wanted, particularly when he was having such a wonderfully salacious dream. Nearly every waking hour since New Year's Eve had been spent with Draco, and since much of that time was spent naked, his subconscious had a veritable goldmine of experiences from which to mine dreams from – far more than he'd ever had up to that point, anyway.

Draco continued to surprise him in the way he handled Harry, literally and figuratively. He was both generous and possessive, and how Draco could be possessive when Harry was the only other one in the room, Harry didn't know, but he was. Harry found that he didn't mind it, not in the way he did with Ginny on the rare occasions she exhibited it. He was gentle as often as he wasn't, and Harry liked that even more. Just yesterday, they'd opted to eat lunch in the Great Hall with the rest of the students (who, judging by the whispering upon their entrance, had started to talk) instead of nicking food from the kitchens, and upon their return to the Slytherin common room, Draco had Harry pressed against the wall and warm fingers around his cock so fast he could barely breathe.

And when Draco slid to his knees and took him in his mouth, Harry didn't care if he never breathed again. There was no 'Can I?' orThis all right?' It was just Draco doing what he wanted, no questions asked, yet never taking things further than Harry wanted to go (which was still pretty damn far), and apparently what Draco wanted was to make Harry come more times in a day than Harry thought possible.

Draco didn't seem to care at all about Harry's inexperience – in fact, Harry thought he rather liked it, either because he could teach Harry to do things the way he liked them, or simply because he'd got there first.

Harry felt like his entire world had changed since that kiss one week ago, and in many ways it had. He most definitely was not straight, and he'd scarcely thought of his friends at all – Draco had consumed him, and he knew that all of that was about to end as the outside world returned. He hadn't even thought about how he was going to tell Ron and Hermione, let alone how the other Gryffindors would find out.

They'd agreed the night before to sleep apart on the off-chance that one of the older students would return early. Finding Harry curled up around Draco in Harry's bed was not how he wanted Ron to learn of this latest development in the saga that was Harry and Draco.

He dressed in his most comfortable jeans and the new Chudley Cannons shirt that Ron had given him for Christmas (now smelling of lemongrass) before heading down to breakfast. He made his way into the Great Hall and saw Draco sitting, alone as usual, at the Slytherin table, nothing but a cup of tea in front of him. He sat down across from him and grabbed a plate, dishing up eggs and sausage. It wasn't unusual anymore for them to be seen eating breakfast together.

"Not hungry?"

Draco shook his head. Harry noticed that he was back in his usual all-black ensemble, realising just then how little he'd actually seen him dressed in the past week, and the thought made Harry grin. Draco was watching the other students carefully, brows furrowed.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked after looking over and seeing several of the students watching them, and decidedly not caring.

"Nothing."

"Liar. Who cares what they think?" He took a bite of sausage, chewing slowly. The mood had shifted, and Harry already didn't like it.

"Easy for you to say."

"Would you relax?" Harry, without thinking, went to reach for Draco's hand just to give it a supportive squeeze, but Draco quickly placed his hands on his lap and didn't look at him.

Harry sighed, pushing his half-eaten breakfast away.

"In a few months, none of this is even going to matter. We won't be here, we won't see most of these people ever again, and we'll be living our own lives. I don't give a toss what anyone else says or thinks."

Draco looked at him sharply, eyes flashing with hurt that Harry didn't understand, and then he stood, the swift motion jostling his tea cup, and in the relative silence of the Hall, anyone who wasn't looking at them before was looking at them now.

"Where are you- Draco? Where are you going?"

But Draco was already to the doors, and when Harry called out for him again, he didn't stop.

Harry removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, frustrated. What did I do now?

^^===^^

Instead of going to find Draco, Harry returned to his common room to think. They'd been in such close quarters of late, with nothing of import actually being discussed, that Harry needed some breathing room to gather his thoughts and figure out just how to approach things with Ron and Hermione.

As for Draco . . . well, he'd have to deal with him later. Harry still didn't know what he'd gone off in a strop about, but maybe some breathing room would do him some good as well. As usual, Harry dove into this thing with Malfoy head-first, and maybe Draco just hadn't been prepared to dive with him.

Harry looked around at the mess they'd left from the night before. Wrappers from all the sweets they'd eaten after dinner, Harry's clothes still strewn across the floor from where Draco had removed them as they made their way across the room to his bed . . . of Draco finally letting him get on his knees when Harry had insisted he was a fast learner (with full credit to the teacher, of course). And the sounds Draco made when Harry first wrapped his lips around the head of Draco's cock, the soft, velvety feel of it against his tongue . . .

Focus, Harry!

There was a knock on his dormitory door, and he had to adjust his pants before he stood up. God forbid it be a professor who caught him with a raging hard on in the middle of the day.

He opened the door, wondering who it could be that felt the need to knock first.

"Draco-"

"You left this in my room yesterday," he interrupted before Harry could barely get a word out, and handed Harry his invisibility cloak.

"Oh." Harry took the cloak, draping it over his arm. He'd been using it to sneak into the Slytherin common room to avoid Slughorn's questions.

"Why'd you knock?" Harry asked, opening the door wider for Draco to come in. Clearly he wasn't over whatever it was that made him leave breakfast.

"That's generally what people do when faced with a closed door, Potter."

Definitely not over it, then.

Harry sighed. "Is this about Ron and Hermione coming back today? Because-"

"Why should they matter to me? After all, you'll be off living your own life in a few months, and-"

"Wait a minute-"

"I'll be living with Mother, hopefully in France and as far away from here as possible."

"France?"

"Yes, Potter, the country across the Channel."

"You're driving me spare right now."

"You were already halfway there," Draco said, chin jutted forward the way he always did when insulting Harry's intelligence.

"When I said we'd be off living our own lives, I didn't mean apart!"

"Well I'm sure as hell not living with a bunch of Gryffindors!"

"I didn't mean that, either!"

"Well you should have said!"

They both stood there, scowling at each other, and Harry didn't know if he wanted to laugh or hit Draco for being such an idiot.

"Would you get in here already and stop standing out there like some stranger?" Harry moved out of the entryway and waited. "Knocking on the door, really? You've had my dick in your mouth, I think we're past the point of social niceties, don't you think?"

Harry heard a strangled sort of noise come from the landing, and when he poked his head outside the door and looked to his left, there stood Ron, Dean, and Seamus. The latter two were failing miserably in their attempts not to laugh, but Ron . . . Harry's blood went cold at the sight of him. This was the exact opposite of what he'd planned, and Ron looked like he was choking on his own tongue.

"Ron, I-"

But Ron only put his hand up in a silent plea for Harry to stop talking, and he turned and fled back down the stairs to the common room . . .

. . . to the common room, which was likely full of Gryffindors by now, whose arrival they hadn't heard over their shouting, and how the hell had they not noticed the time?

Harry looked at Draco, whose face was void of expression but rage, but Harry could see the definite trepidation and fear in his eyes.

"Here," Harry said quietly, handing the cloak back to Draco. "Go."

Seamus and Dean shuffled between them, entering the dormitory without so much as looking at Draco but clearly still amused by the turn of events.

Harry watched as Draco disappeared under the cloak, then took a deep breath, waiting.

It didn't take long for Hermione's loud footsteps to echo across the landing, and when she came into view with Ron behind her, his heart sank. She looked angry. And worse – disappointed.

"Harry, what Ron just told me, it isn't- isn't true. Is it? It can't be."

Harry looked down, unable to meet her eyes, shoving his hands in his pockets. His lack of denial was answer enough for her.

"I see."

Her voice was curt, and Harry could recognize the tone of finality. This wasn't something they were about to discuss. Harry knew that they were both going to need time to process it, but he couldn't let them walk away without any sort of explanation.

"He's not the same, you don't know him," he offered, voice low as he knew that Dean and Seamus were listening.

"Do you? I mean, I thought that you did but clearly you don't!" Hermione's words reverberated through the landing, and then just as Harry feared she might burst into tears, she turned away and fled just as Ron had moments before.

He could hear her footsteps as they ran down the stairwell into the common room, and Harry stood there, still halfway in the doorway, with only Ron. He couldn't look at him, and he reckoned that Ron was likely having difficulty looking at him as well.

"Malfoy?" Ron said, voice strangled by disbelief, and Harry's heart dropped into his stomach. How was he ever going to make his two best friends understand something that he barely understood himself?

There was too much history there to simply say that it was no one's business but his own, even if that were true, and owing to the fact that they were Harry's best friends, no one else in the school had dealt with Draco's bullshit in the past the way that Ron and Hermione had.

Ron pushed past him into the dorm room, and Harry heard him drop his bag on the floor before walking out again and likely heading off to find Hermione.

Harry could only watch, frozen, at a loss of what to do or say.

"Fuck me, could this day get any worse?"

"Is that what you said to get Malfoy in your bed?" he heard Seamus shout from inside the dorm, both him and Dean erupting in laughter.

At least someone found his life amusing, because he sure as hell didn't.

^^===^^

By dinner, it was all over the school. Because how could it not be? He hadn't seen Draco since he disappeared under the cloak, nor had he seen Ron and Hermione. Harry was used to ignoring the whispers as he walked by, had got quite good at it during the Chamber of Secrets mess during his second year and had a myriad of opportunities to perfect it since then. He kept his head down and tried to focus on his school work.

He knew that the library was going to be his best bet – even though other students would be around, at least there they would have to shut up or face Madam Pince's wrath. It was there that he found his two friends, hidden away at a table in the back corner, books spread out between them and a particularly fierce look of concentration on Hermione's face.

He approached the table cautiously, clearing his throat. They both looked up at him, a cloud of anger quickly shadowing Ron's face while Hermione . . . she looked sadder than Harry had seen her in a very long time. It reminded him too much of the look she had after she'd realised Ron had Apparated away in the forest and wasn't coming back.

"What are you reading?" It was a feeble attempt at conversation, but one that he thought had the best of chance of getting Hermione to talk to him.

It sort of worked.

"I'm reading up on love potions and their antidotes, since clearly you need one."

"Hermione-"

"It all makes sense now, as it's the only logical explanation for why you would take up with someone as cruel and vile as Malfoy."

She didn't look at him as she said it, and Harry knew that wasn't what she was really reading. He pulled out the chair across from them and sat down, leaning forward.

"Look, I hadn't intended on you finding out that way," and at this, Ron looked furious, "but you did and I can't undo that. I'd like to talk to you – both of you – if you'll give me the chance."

"Oh, so now you want to talk to us?"

Harry shrugged, and Hermione's mood quickly went from sad to defiant. He had seen this from her before, only it was always directed at Ron and never him.

"It's been over six months since the war ended, Harry, and never once have you wanted to talk. I have given you chance upon chance to do exactly that, and you always brush me off. And that's fine, because I decided not to push you even though you clearly needed it, but now you've taken up with Malfoy and you want to talk about it?"

"That's not entirely fair."

"Isn't it? You know what isn't fair, Harry? Malfoy likes to call me Mudblood. He puts Ron down at every chance he gets, his father unleashed Tom Riddle on the school and nearly got Ginny killed, and he's the reason Bill is walking around with scars even worse than your own. " She looked down, picking up her quill and starting to write. "Maybe you should go and talk to Malfoy instead."

Ron reached over and rubbed a soothing hand along her back, continuing to ignore Harry.

Harry sat back, looking at the firm line of Hermione's mouth and she continued to silently seethe, and Ron trying to comfort her. He stood, and turned to walk away, but then stopped, turning back.

"Dumbledore thought that Draco was worth saving, worth giving a second chance, and I know that you're both angry with me right now, but Dumbledore wasn't wrong. He is worth it."

His words were met with more silence, which he expected, but as he left the library, his heart was as heavy as ever and he had no idea what he was going to do. He couldn't lose his two best friends, but nor was he willing to let go of Draco just to placate them.

He was tired of giving other people control over his life. Whatever this was with Draco, as infuriating as the other boy could be at times, it was his – his choice – and he wasn't going to just turn away from it.

^^===^^

Harry sat at the foot of Draco's bed, the other boy beside him, their legs pressed together and a heavy silence between them.

"I told you this would happen."

"Yeah, not helpful." Harry picked at a loose thread on the cuff of his shirt before Draco gently slapped his hand away.

"They're not going to get over it."

"They will, they just . . . it'll take some time, and . . ."

Draco sighed heavily. "Look, Potter-"

"Don't. Don't."

"Despite recent . . . carnal activities," and at this, Harry laughed, which earned him an elbow to the ribs, "we barely know each other, and we both know this is going to end in disaster." Draco paused, and Harry waited, wanting so badly to grab his hand but resisting, unsure how Draco would react. "Obviously they're more important to you than this, and you should cut your losses now." Harry didn't know how he felt at the apparent ease with which Draco offered him this out.

"Are you- do you want this to end?"

Harry watched as Draco bit the inside of his cheek, looking out the window.

"I think that, deep down, you do," Draco finally answered, "and I wouldn’t stop you."

Maybe it's that his nerves were already raw from the fight with Ron and Hermione, but those words, delivered with such stoicism when Harry was already fit to burst and feeling like he was the only one who, well, felt anything, set his teeth on edge.

"So you could just, what, be done with this? Continue on like it never happened? Weren't you the one who went off in a strop a week ago because you thought that I said we'd go our separate ways after term?"

"I just think that, when you weigh both sides-"

"Fuck both sides! I'm sick of having to choose, Draco!" He was standing now, pacing in front of Draco. "I'm sick of always having to lose something because I'm forced into a choice that I never wanted to make in the first place. Why can't I have both?" Harry stood in front of him now, waiting for the other boy to look at him. "Why can't I have you?"

Draco said nothing, but his expression softened, and when he pulled Harry into a kiss, he was able to forget for a little while about everything else.

February

By the time the second week of February had started, there were red and pink hearts and grinning ghost-like cupids floating all over the halls. He couldn't remember a Valentine's week at Hogwarts that was quite as festive as this one, and at the moment, he loathed it with a fiery passion.

Ron and Hermione were still freezing him out, and it seemed to act as fuel for the rest of the student body to continue with the whispers and rumours about Harry and Draco. This, despite the fact that they were rarely seen together (thanks to his invisibility cloak and Draco being the only one in his year in his dormitory) and for all intents and purposes behaved like nothing more than cordial acquaintances around each other.

Frankly, it was wearing thin on Harry and he didn't know how much more he could take. He had apologised to Ron and Hermione numerous times and in numerous ways, but aside from a particularly vicious shouting match with Ron over an absurd rumour that Harry had cheated on Ginny with Draco before the war, there'd been barely a dozen words shared between them. It was like fourth year all over again, except this time it wasn't just Ron, but Hermione, too.

And while Ron would at least get his hurt feelings out via the silent treatment and pretending Harry didn't exist, it was Hermione's treatment that hurt the worst. Because she was still nice to Harry ever since that day in the library – but nice in the way you'd be to a random stranger who asked you to please pass the salt at dinner. She'd put up a wall, and Harry had damn near given up trying to figure out how to either break through it, scale it, or somehow go around it. Anytime he worked up the nerve to approach her, she always had something else more pressing to do, or Ron was glued to her side, and he wouldn't push.

Things came to a head, though, the day before Valentine's Day, and at the worst possible place and time.

Harry was sat next to Neville during dinner, with Ron and Hermione on the other side of the table and a little ways down. McGonagall had asked him two weeks ago why they weren't sitting together at meals and if things were all right between them, but Harry could only tell her that things were 'complicated' and they'd work themselves out. He didn't need to tell her about Malfoy, he knew that she'd known since the Christmas hols, thanks to a particularly verbose house elf.

Neville didn't seem to mind about Draco, though, and it was a blessed relief.

"Love's a funny thing, Harry. No one can explain it."

When Harry had protested that he would hardly classify what was going on with Draco as love, Neville had merely shrugged and went on tending to his Puffapod.

Most of the other Gryffindors tended to leave him alone about it, though they weren't immune from sharing the especially ridiculous rumours when privy to them ('Harry and Draco are running away to get married right after we take our exams!'). Gryffindors did, for the most part, still protect their own. They actually seemed to be more preoccupied with what was happening between him and his two friends than between him and Malfoy.

And Draco, too, had some in his corner, primarily Slytherin girls who seemed proud of the fact that Harry 'chose' Draco, sick as they were of their House having the unfair reputation of producing unsavoury witches and wizards – if a Slytherin is good enough for Harry Potter, then anyone who says otherwise can fuck right off.

But during this particular dinner, one of the sixth year Ravenclaws had speculated a little too loudly over which one of them was the "girl" in the relationship, and Harry saw Ron stifle a laugh.

Anger boiling over, Harry pushed his plate away and stood.

"Right, then. If anyone has something that they want to say about me and Malfoy, then how about you just bloody well get on with it and get over it."

The entire Hall fell silent as all eyes were on him, including those of the professors at the Head table. He didn't care. Harry glared at anyone and everyone. He was so fucking sick and tired of dealing with weeks of innuendo and snide comments about him being queer, and how everyone felt it was their business who Harry did or didn't decide to shag.

He avoided looking at where Draco sat at the Slytherin table, afraid he would see anger directed back at him, but Christ, he couldn't just sit silent anymore. He'd had enough.

"No one, then? Lost your nerve, have you? Because you've all been pretty fucking vocal about it behind our backs."

He heard McGonagall clear her throat loudly from the Head table, and Harry must have looked sufficiently abashed at his language for her to not chastise him further.

He chanced a look at Ron, who wore the expressed of a scolded dog, while Hermione sat there looking too stunned to move.

"I'm all right with it, Harry," Dean suddenly said, and for a moment, Harry felt embarrassed that he'd made a scene, but Dean's public support meant more to him in that moment than anything and he gave his friend a grateful nod.

Harry sat back down, and silence still reigned. He spoke again, but this time he looked only at Ron and Hermione – if the whole damn school wanted to listen, so be it, but he needed to say this.

"I can't explain what's going on, I don't understand it myself. It's the craziest – maybe the stupidest – thing I've ever done, but that's never stopped me before. I just want to . . . accept it for what it is." Hermione looked away just as tears started to well in her eyes, and Harry looked over at Draco. There was no anger in his eyes, only a shocked sort of sadness. Their eyes held. "All I know is that I like this, I like him, and I'm done trying to justify my choices to any of you."

^^===^^

Harry had left the Great Hall almost immediately after his outburst, making his way back to the common room feeling both tired and relieved. He really was done with all of it – he couldn't allow himself to care anymore about how long or if Ron and Hermione would ever come around. He'd said what he needed to say, and if they were willing to cut Harry loose despite everything that they'd been through together just because Harry was involved with Draco, then maybe the war had changed them all in ways he wasn't ready to deal with yet.

It made him sadder than he'd ever been to think that he could lose his friends over this, but it wasn't a matter of choosing Draco over them – it was the principal behind it. If it wasn't Draco, it could be someone else they maybe disapproved of, and really, did he need to spend his life running his choice of boyfriend by his friends first?

Because even though they hadn't labeled it, that's essentially what Draco was to him. Maybe their relationship wasn't conventional by any means, there was still so much that they didn't know about each other, veritable land mines of history that they'd yet to touch on during conversation because they weren't sure how they'd come out of it on the other side. But he had Draco and that's what mattered right now, he would deal with the rest of it as it came.

"I can't believe you left me to deal with that by myself," said a familiar, gentle voice from the other side of the room.

Harry saw Draco appear as his invisibility cloak was pulled off the other boy's head and Draco stood in the open doorway. He walked toward where Harry sat by the fire, and as he got closer, his hand reached out and touched Harry's shoulder. Harry moved his feet so that Draco could sit next to him on the sofa.

"You're not mad?"

"Surprisingly not. It was a stupidly Gryffindor thing to do, of course, but it was, in its own way, quite charming. I might reward you later."

Harry heard the smile in his voice and a wave of comfort washed over him. He laid his head on Draco's shoulder, not caring at this point if anyone walked in and saw them. He breathed deeply, the scent of lemongrass all around as Draco leaned into him.

"Feeling sentimental, are we?"

"Shut up, Draco," Harry said, and this time, when he felt the need to grab the other boy's hand, he did, and Draco let him, their fingers intertwining.

"No one except my Mother has ever stood up for me like that," Draco said softly.

"I meant it."

"I know." Harry didn't miss the slight surprise behind his words, as though he was just as shocked as anyone that Harry made such a spectacle of himself for Draco Malfoy of all people.

"Things certainly have changed, haven't they?" Harry sighed.

Draco answered only with a gentle brush of his thumb over Harry's hand where he held it.

Several moments in comfortable silence passed before they heard the creak of the portrait swinging open, and Harry looked up at the doorway just in time to see Ron and Hermione crawling through the entry. Neither he nor Draco made a move to dislodge their hands. Let them see, Harry thought – there was no going back now.

Awkwardness filled the space as Hermione shifted from one foot to the other before finally moving forward and holding out a cloth-covered plate to Harry.

"We, um . . . we saved you some dessert."

Harry took the proffered plate with his free hand and nodded, unsure what to say or do. He noticed that Ron kept glancing at their enjoined hands, which only made Harry hold on tighter.

Hermione bit her lip.

"Harry, we- that is, Ron and I – we just want you to be happy."

"I know."

"And, uh, Malfoy. He does that?" Ron forced the question out as though it physically pained him.

"He does."

Harry watched as Ron looked to Hermione as though following her lead, which was most certainly how they had ended up back in the common room and not still in the Great Hall with everyone else.

Harry could only imagine what was being said about them now.

Hermione took a deep breath, and smoothed the front of her jumper, and Harry could see her gathering her resolve . . . and that it wasn't easy for her.

"All right, then. If this is going to be the new normal, then Harry, we support you. With one caveat."

Harry's burgeoning smile quickly dissipated as Hermione directed her attention to Draco. He felt Draco stiffen beside him. The last time he could recall Draco being in Hermione's sights, she'd decked him.

"I'm not going to ask you for an apology for all of the nasty things you've said and done. We trust Harry, and if Harry thinks you're good enough, then that's good enough for us." She took a step forward. "Just know that my trust won't come easily, not for you, however I'm willing to give you the second chance that Harry thinks you deserve."

Draco gave a terse nod, and replied with a gentle, "Thank you."

Hermione lifted the forgotten plate from where it sat on the floor and pulled off the napkin, revealing the two tarts that lay on top, surrounded by thick cream just the way Harry preferred.

"Treacle tart?" she offered Harry, and he could tell she was struggling for normalcy. She then looked at Draco and said, "It's his favourite."

"I know," Draco replied, looking at Harry, and Harry had never wanted to kiss him as badly as he did in that moment.

"We, uh, weren't sure what you liked, Malfoy, so Harry will just have to share," added Ron.

And as Harry looked down at the plate at the two tarts, it struck him that Hermione and Ron had made this dessert plate up for him - and Draco - after his outburst in the Hall. It was such a simple gesture of goodwill on both their parts, specifically for the person that Harry had recently included in his life, someone that they strongly disliked, and done solely for Harry's benefit.

He resolved then and there that he would cut the tongues out of anyone who dared question the wonderfulness of the two people stood before him.

Just minutes later, the four of them were clustered in front of the fire, eating treacle tart, and talking about the one safe subject between them – Quidditch. Ron was extolling the virtues of the Cannons to Draco, who Harry noticed was being surprisingly neutral considering he himself was a staunch Falmouth Falcons fan, but what Harry liked best of all about the awkward and stilted conversation was that Draco's hand was still joined with his, laying atop Harry's knee.

He smiled at Hermione, and she smiled back.

Epilogue - June

Draco and Ron sat cross-legged on the floor with Ron's battered chess set between them. Draco had beaten him twice tonight, and Ron refused to give up until he bested him at least once. So far, Draco had won nearly as many times as he had lost (which Harry was certain, in the beginning anyway, was on purpose). Ron might never admit it, but Harry suspected that he was glad to have an opponent that truly knew and loved the game, unlike Harry who only played out of boredom.

Draco's back rested against Harry's legs where he sat on the sofa, and at first Harry had taken liberties by stroking the back of Draco's neck with his thumb until Draco slapped his hand away, saying it ruined his concentration and he was onto Harry's scheme to guarantee Ron a win.

"Is your mum meeting you at the train station on Thursday, Draco?" Hermione asked, not looking up from her pile of knitting. She'd told Harry after exams that she had wanted to leave all of the house elves with a farewell scarf.

"No, I'm to take the train to London and then pick up a Portkey for Cannes at the Ministry."

Harry watched as Draco concentrated on his next move, trying to ignore the sad feeling that welled up whenever the idea of Draco leaving for France was mentioned.

Things had progressed between them after Harry's outburst in front of the Great Hall, and the rest of the school acclimated fairly quickly to the idea of Harry and Draco being together once he'd called them all out on their bullshit. But shortly after, it was learned that Narcissa was moving to Cannes once Draco left Hogwarts and expected Draco to join her. Despite Harry having spoken on their behalf to grant them full pardons after the war, the magical community in Britain was still judgmental toward the Malfoy name, and Narcissa wanted Draco to have a fresh start as he began his adult life.

Harry understood her reasoning, he just didn't like it.

He was as close to Draco now as he was to any of his friends. They'd even traversed some of those conversational landmines regarding parts of their past, coming out on the other side relatively unscathed. He told Draco what it was like growing up with the Dursleys, and Draco told him what it was like growing up with Lucius. They talked about Dumbledore and Snape, and about Charity Burbage. He told Draco about the graveyard and Priori Incantatem, and Draco told him about the Vanishing Cabinet and Crabbe's first experience with Fiendfyre.

And eventually they talked about that day in the sixth-floor lavatory, when they both cast spells they shouldn't have, intending to inflict harm on the other.

There were still subjects that were best left alone, one discussion having been enough, but they'd waded through them one by one, the unspoken regrets and apologies laid bare, and in the end, Draco had become as good a friend as Harry could have asked for.

A friend with some very nice benefits who could still make Harry's knees weak with just one kiss.

There was one idea that kept popping up in Harry's head, one that he wasn't sure he wanted to voice, because he honestly had no idea how Draco would feel about it, or if it could ever even work. His friends would all think him mad if it actually happened, but the more that Harry tried not to think about it, the more it dominated his thoughts. They only had a few days left at Hogwarts together, and Draco was going to be in France by this time next week.

Harry was going to have to bite the bullet, as the Muggles liked to say, and take the risk.

"Check and mate, Weasley. You lose again," Draco said triumphantly, not even bothering to hide his smug smile.

Ron grunted, and Harry laughed as he scolded one of the pieces for not warning him that he was going to lose.

Draco stretched his arms above his head, leaning his head back and looking up at Harry, his proud grin upside down. Warmth filled him at the sight, and he let his fingers touch the soft strands of Draco's hair where it fanned out against his leg.

"Fancy a walk?"

"Are you saying that I need the exercise, Potter?"

"Come on, I want to show you something."

^^===^^

"The Room of Requirement? I've actually been here before, you know."

"Shut up, and go stand over there so I can concentrate."

"So bossy," Draco said as he took several steps down the corridor.

Harry closed his eyes and willed for the thing he wanted most, being as detailed as he could be in the hopes that the Room would conjure every last detail, right down to the bars of lemongrass soap. After several long moments, so long that Harry didn't think it was going to work at all, the doors started to appear.

He went over to Draco and grabbed his hand, leading him to the now-solid wooden doors.

"Open them."

Draco eyed him curiously but did as requested, and when the doors opened and Harry had a chance to peek over Draco's shoulder and take a good look inside, even he was impressed with the level of detail that the room was able to recreate.

"I . . . don't understand."

Harry led him further inside, letting the doors close behind them as he stood in the middle of the room, arms outstretched.

Well, it wasn't just a room, not really, but a fully functioning flat. Like something that one might find in central London.

"Could you see yourself living here?"

"In the Room of Requirement?"

"No, I mean . . . the idea of it. Just picture a flat like this, or something close to it, in the city. In London, or Edinburgh, or . . . anywhere. With me."

Draco stopped his perusal of the room and looked at him, eyes wide.

"Are you . . ."

"I am," Harry swallowed nervously. "Yes."

"You want to live together. With me."

"Well, you don't have to say it like it would be the barmiest thing we've ever done, I mean, I haven't lost the plot, I just –"

"Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes."

Harry walked over to him, and that look of shock was still there on his face but Draco said yes and maybe he wasn't clear on exactly what it was that Harry was asking. He grabbed both of Draco's hands and held them.

"It could all end in hexes, I know, but I really want to give this a go, Draco, because I think we're a good match, you and me, and we'll probably fight over wet towels on the floor and what not, because I do do that, but I'm good with the washing up and I can handle all the cooking if you can make sure the bills are paid, because I know I'd forget, and-"

"I said yes, Potter, now shut up already."

This time when Draco kissed him, it was full of promises and reassurance and they were really going to do this, together. Harry was breathless by the time Draco pulled away.

"You know, Potter," Draco said as he started undoing the buttons on Harry's shirt, "it'd be a shame to let that big beautiful bed over there go to waste."

Harry smiled, and as he let his lips trail down the line of Draco's neck, on this day of new beginnings and fresh starts, together, Harry thought about all of the things he'd done with Draco with their clothes off, and the one thing they hadn't done . . .

And Harry had a pretty good feeling that today – this moment – was as good a time as any.