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Harry looked around the Great Hall, and felt a weight lift from his shoulders. Even though he was having vivid and alarming flashbacks to the Battle of Hogwarts, just being there in the hall, the familiarity of it, was already calming him. There was a low buzz of many children talking at once that soothed an ache he had only just begun to realise he had. He’d felt a strange sense of loss and absence of purpose ever since the war ended. Everyone else had been so excited, already planning out their future, but Harry had felt small. Often, while staying with Ron, he would retreat to the garden at the Burrow and stare out at nothing, wondering what he was meant to do with his life now. Life seemed so vast, and he felt so small within it.

When Minerva had visited to inform him that Hogwarts would reopen on schedule, and offering the opportunity for his year to finish their schooling, he’d leapt at the chance. Ever since the day he had discovered he was a wizard, his life had been full of danger. Peace made him edgy. Even though it was what he’d always wanted, he kept expecting it to break at any moment. Hogwarts offered a familiarity he couldn’t refuse. He wasn’t ready to face life after school yet. One more year to get settled into the new way of things was just what he needed.

“Careful, mate,” Ron said, pulling him from his thoughts and pushing him along, “stand around too long and someone will probably drool on you.”

Startled, Harry looked away from the ceiling and scanned the crowd as they moved towards the new eighth year table. There were many empty seats at each table they passed, but sure enough, all eyes were on him. Unease coiled in his belly. The Daily Prophet had made a ridiculous commotion over his defeat of Voldemort. They were calling him the most powerful wizard alive. It was complete nonsense. While he could admit that he had a lot of raw power, he was by no means highly skilled at using it. Somehow, people didn’t care about that. They saw only that he had killed Voldemort where even Dumbledore had failed. They didn’t know about the Horcruxes.

Half the wizarding world seemed to think he was going to turn evil at any moment, and conquer them in Voldemort’s place. Some wanted him locked away or put under surveillance as a precaution. The other half of the wizarding world thought he would become either the next Headmaster of Hogwarts, or the next Minister for Magic. The burden of their expectations, dark or otherwise, weighed heavily on Harry. His friends only expected him to graduate well and become an Auror, to keep fighting dark wizards. Even though that would be a comfortable norm for him, he wasn’t sure that was what he wanted anymore. Everyone expected something from him, but he didn’t even know what it was he wanted.

“Sod off,” he replied. “They’re just still reeling from that stupid article in yesterday’s Prophet.”

Apparently, he was single handedly responsible for over half of the known Death Eater fatalities during the Battle of Hogwarts. The fact that people not only read this, but believed it, made him very uncomfortable. Ron sent him a concerned look, but Harry waved him off. He didn’t like discussing the war, preferring to just try and forget it ever happened. Dwelling on the past was a waste of time. Figuring out what to do with the future looming ahead of him was far more pressing. 

“Shame on them for believing anything printed in that stupid rag,” Hermione huffed as she took a seat. “They barely publish anything other than gossip about the war heroes now. It’s shameful.”

Harry nodded in agreement as he sat next to her. At least he wasn’t the only one they scrutinised, many of the eighth years had been hounded by reporters as well, especially Neville. Harry cast about, trying to spot him. He’d been at Hogwarts early, working with Professor Sprout to re-establish the greenhouses. Many of them had been damaged during the battle, and any plants that had not been destroyed, some of which were dangerous, had spread widely. Finally spotting him further down the table, he caught his eye and waved. Neville grinned and waved back, before returning to his conversation with a Slytherin girl that Harry didn’t know.

The green on her robes caught his eye, and Harry glanced around until he found that characteristic blond hair. Malfoy’s return to Hogwarts had been all over the Daily Prophet as well. As the only student known to have committed crimes as a Death Eater, there had been violent opposition to his return. Harry’s words at his trial seemed to have swayed opinion just enough that he was allowed in, but he knew it would have been a close decision. Normally, the use of his fame like that would bother Harry, but he firmly believed that Malfoy deserved a second chance, even if he didn’t like the git. Although, he noticed the dark looks the other students were sending Malfoy, when they weren’t staring at Harry. It looked like Malfoy was in for a rough year. That much he deserved, at least.

“Harry, did you have a good holiday?”

Harry startled and looked across the table. Susan Bones looked back at him expectantly. Harry swallowed and tried not to look at the scarring down the left side of her face. By the time the battle was over, the dark magic of the curse that had maimed her had taken hold of the wound and prevented complete healing. She wasn’t the only one bearing scars that were difficult to look at, Harry had caught sight of a few others. Each one made his stomach churn with guilt.

“It was nice, quiet,” he said awkwardly. Over the holiday, whenever he bumped into other students from his year, save the Slytherins, they were all very familiar with him. He didn’t mind, but he still felt rather thrown by it all. “How was yours?”

“It was lovely,” she replied. “I was helping volunteer with the Ministry to find homes for war orphans. It’s amazing how everyone has come together after the war, isn’t it?”

Harry nodded, feeling his stomach clench with guilt. There had been a great number of organisations springing up after the war, to help with repairing Hogwarts and housing orphans. They had all been clamouring to gain Harry’s support, but Minerva had advised him to stay out of it, at least at the beginning. Given the way some of the lesser known, but still sought after, war heroes had been treated, he was glad he had taken her advice. No matter what they did, it was never enough, and public opinion turned quickly. Still, he couldn’t help but feel as if he could have done more. 

Part of him still felt as if it was all his fault, particularly what had happened at Hogwarts.

“It’s a pity it’s so hard to place the Slytherin children though,” said Theodore Nott, from further down the bench. “There are still many without permanent homes.”

The other Slytherins looked away but Nott held his head up, as if challenging them to say something derogatory about his house. For a while, everyone was awkwardly silent.

“I agree,” Neville said, breaking the silence. “Gran took in a Slytherin third year, and the Ministry actually tried to dissuade her. It was awful.”

A chill passed through Harry as the eighth years shared uncomfortable looks. The topic was a bit heavy for the Sorting Feast. Nott gave Neville a grateful nod, although the other Slytherins kept their heads down. The sight was unsettling. It was almost as if the Slytherin students felt they didn’t deserve to be there at all, and were determined not to draw attention to themselves. Unbidden, he glanced down the table towards Malfoy again. The blond was staring determinedly at the empty plate in front of him as if it were a fascinating magical artefact. Harry couldn’t tell if he had heard what they’d said, but he was willing to bet that he had been listening intently. He’d never known Malfoy to stay uninvolved when his house was brought up.

“People ought to remember that Severus Snape was a Slytherin, and without him the war would never have been won,” he found himself saying. He’d made that very clear after the battle was over, that Snape had given him vital information at great personal cost, without which Harry could not have defeated Voldemort. People didn’t have to start liking him, but he wouldn’t let them forget his contributions.

Before anyone could respond, the first years were being led in, and the chatter in the hall died down for the sorting. Harry couldn’t help but notice the whispers that followed any student sorted into Slytherin, and the way each child that walked to that table looked upset. He found himself frowning again. They’d have to do something about that. There was supposed to be unity after the war, not further dissension. Minerva had sent letters to each of the eighth years outlining their responsibilities in that regard. However, seeing the way some of them were looking at Malfoy and the other Slytherins, it might not have been enough. 

 

 

 

Minerva held back the eighth years the next morning after breakfast. As the younger students filed out of the hall, Harry sipped his tea and wondered if they were about to be lectured about inter-house unity again. From the way the professors had been eyeing the students at the welcoming feast, Harry hadn’t been the only one to notice the enmity displayed towards the Slytherins. 

Once the hall was emptied of other students, Minerva stood before them at one end of the table. She looked far too relaxed to have lecturing on her mind, and Harry felt more at ease. 

“This year you will all have the opportunity to undertake a research project,” she began. “You will pick a subject that interests you, I recommend choosing a field you wish to work in. You will write an essay, brew a potion, or whatever may suit the subject matter. These can be handed in at any time before your first N.E.W.T exam. They will be marked shortly after I receive them, and given back in a timely manner.”

There was a ripple of chatter following her words, and Hermione perked up beside Harry. Minerva gave them all a moment before raising her hand. Everyone quietened down at the motion.

“The purpose of this is to prepare you for further study or academic work,” she continued, looking over them. “Submitting a piece of independent research with your application for employment will give you an edge when you graduate alongside the seventh year students. I will also be writing a reference letter for each of you. This project is not compulsory, and while it will be graded, it will have no impact on your N.E.W.T. results. It is purely to help you move forward after Hogwarts.”

There was an outbreak of excited chatter again, but Harry felt anxiety creep along his veins. Once again, he was forced to face the fact that he had no idea what he wanted to do after Hogwarts.

“If you choose to undertake this project, you may approach any Professor who has the relevant skills for guidance,” Minerva said, smiling warmly at them. “We all want the best for you going forward, and will help you in any way we can. That being said, they will be marked seriously, and any potential employer you show your work to will see your grade as well as the comments attached to it.”

Several people shifted uneasily. Hermione looked ready to burst from excitement, along with several other students. 

“You’ve all been given the first class free today, so you can think about whether or not you’d like to attempt this,” Minerva continued. “We’d like you to write a plan of your intended research, and submit it before beginning. However, once you have submitted a plan, you are required to see it through, so only attempt this project if you are sure you will complete it, or it will reflect poorly on you.”

There was a ripple of uneasy chatter, and Minerva held her hand up for silence again. “You can make an appointment with any professor of relevance before making your final decision, to discuss your ideas. There is no deadline for submitting your plan. Take your time, think over your options carefully,” she said, “my door is always open to you. That is all, enjoy the first day of class!”

As Minerva left the hall, the table erupted into excited chatter again. Ron was groaning something about extra work, while Hermione was so excited she almost knocked over her tea as she pushed aside her plate to make room for parchment. She wasn’t the only one already noting down ideas.  

Harry looked down the table, and hoped he wasn’t the only one who didn’t yet know what he wanted to do with his life.

 

 

 

“Did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“Someone beat up Malfoy last night!”

“About time someone put him in his place!”

“I hope they get Parkinson next!”

Harry glanced around the hall, hearing the news travel. Some of the students had their heads bent together, talking quietly, but others were less subtle. The teachers were looking tense in their seats, surveying the hall with sharp eyes. Although, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor was looking unconcerned. She was reading something with a rapt expression, apparently unaware, or uncaring, of the tension around her. From what Harry had seen of her so far, she always appeared distracted. He hoped they weren’t in for another useless Defence teacher.

Turning back to Minerva, he saw she was looking more troubled than the other teachers, her eyes fixed on the Gryffindor table, and narrowed in speculation. Malfoy must not have told them who had hurt him, or Minerva would have surely made an example of them, even if it was a Gryffindor. In fact, probably more so if it was. As far as Harry had heard, no one had been punished. Looking down the length of the eighth year table, he didn’t see Malfoy at all. It must have been a bad beating if he was still in the hospital wing.

“He probably brought it on himself,” Seamus commented, as someone mentioned it loudly at the closest end of the Ravenclaw table. As the eighth year table ran parallel to the teachers table, they were closest to the seventh year students. While they were generally more subtle, they were also close enough to be heard clearly. It wasn’t the first time they’d overheard anti-Slytherin sentiment from them.

“That’s not fair, he’s been keeping his head down all week,” Dean said, earning a few sidelong glances, “I haven’t even heard him speak to anyone yet.”

“But how long can that really last?” Seamus returned, waving his toast around. “He’ll be back to his ways sure enough. People like him don’t change.”

“Tracey says most of the younger Slytherins hate him just as much as the other houses do,” Neville cut in. “It would be hard to go back to the way he was without anyone having his back.”

Harry frowned, wondering if Tracey was the girl he’d seen Neville spending time with lately. There were still a lot of eighth years he didn’t know, something he felt rather ashamed of now. 

“Why is that?” he asked. “He’s still one of them.”

“Well, he betrayed them by switching sides during the battle and refusing to join the Death Eaters, right? He fought a lot of their parents,” Neville replied. “But then, most of the other houses think he didn’t switch sides fast enough. Bit of an impossible situation, really.”

“It certainly would have been more helpful if he had changed sides earlier,” Hermione commented darkly, not looking up from the parchment she was scribbling on.

Ron and Harry both sent her concerned looks. He wondered if she was thinking of Malfoy Manor. They’d talked about the war a little, after the battle. Ron had mentioned that he was thinking of seeing a Mind Healer, although he’d never mentioned it again. Hermione had talked at length of what they’d been through, which helped Harry keep the focus off himself. But after everything she had said, he’d thought she’d moved on as well.

“He also could have done a lot more damage if he’d been more set on being a Death Eater,” Ron said carefully.

A lot of heads turned their way, but no one refuted Ron’s statement. Harry shifted uncomfortably as the atmosphere became tense. The eighth years were expected to be a leading example of inter-house unity, it was why they were housed together, but he had overheard a lot of them expressing negative views towards Malfoy, and the Slytherins in general. Neville seemed to be the only one actually making friends with the Slytherins, and was often seen with Nott and that Slytherin girl, who Harry now realised must be Tracey.

“No matter what anyone has or has not done, there’s no excuse for being violent,” Harry said, taking it upon himself to end the conversation and dispel the tension. “If we keep fighting amongst ourselves like this then we’re only continuing house prejudice, not fixing it.”

A couple of eighth years looked away with guilty expressions, and Harry wondered if they had been bullying Slytherins. He scowled. The Slytherins were being stubborn and refusing to report acts of bullying. Their pride was making things worse, although the eighth years should all know better.

 

 

 

Harry stood by the shore of the lake. It was calm, reflecting the clouds and barely rippling. The inside of the castle was too much for him. The Daily Prophet had published some drivel about his love life and his plans for the future, all of which were untrue. No one else seemed to believe that though. He’d had to fend off questions about when he and Ginny would be getting married, and why he went back to Hogwarts rather than entering Auror training right away. Ginny was taking things much better than him, although the jokes she made about why they were no longer together were a little inappropriate at times, and were bound to reach the Prophet sooner or later.

Sometimes he wondered if it would have been easier if he had just closed his eyes, and rushed along that path they had laid out before him. Only, he and Ginny hadn’t worked, and that was over. Ron was still not accepting it, of course, but he supposed everyone had thought they’d be forever. He still wasn’t quite sure why they hadn’t worked. The sex had been great, physical intimacy was not a problem for them, but everything else had just been so wrong. It was the same way he felt about becoming an Auror, thinking about his future with Ginny had left him feeling unsettled and bored.

Looking out over the lake, he closed his eyes and tried to figure out what would fill the sense of emptiness he felt. If he didn’t figure it out soon, he’d need to find himself a distraction to keep his mind off it.

 

 

 

“I still think you should have accepted the offer, Harry,” Susan said, as they walked into the eighth year common room. 

“I can’t believe that Kingsley released that statement,” Ron commented darkly. “That’s wrong, manipulating you like that!”

Harry grimaced. He’d turned down the offer to join the Wizengamot the same day he’d received it, not believing he deserved the seat just for killing Voldemort. For Kingsley to release a statement about the offer being made, yet not mention his refusal, irritated him immensely. 

“He’s under a lot of pressure with all those reforms he’s orchestrating, after only just becoming Minister,” Hermione said, taking a seat by the fireplace. They all joined her on the surrounding sofas and chairs, and continued the conversation, much to Harry’s discomfort.

“Even so, I made it clear I didn’t want it,” Harry said, glancing around to see the common room was mostly empty, save for Parvati and Parkinson studying at a table by the window.

“Why not?” Susan asked. “You ended the war, and you deserve to have a say in how we rebuild and restructure moving forward!”

“I wouldn’t know the first thing about being on the Wizengamot!” Harry exclaimed. “I’d rather not take a job I’d fail at, thanks.”

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said fondly, “they would surely teach you all of your responsibilities first!”

“My aunt often spoke of what they did,” Susan said sadly. “You get to vote in reforms to the law, and can propose new laws yourself if you desire. Not to mention sitting in on high profile criminal trials. You could be a real force of positive change, Harry! A lot of us would be glad to have someone young in that position, someone who knows what we went through. We need someone to speak for us!”

Harry felt a sinking sensation in his belly. Put like that, how could he refuse? Susan was right, their generation didn’t have adequate representation within the political system. Harry had known none of this until Hermione had started paying attention to politics over the summer. She’d been quite insistent that they all know what was going on. She should have been offered the position, not him. He’d said as much to Kinglsey, and received only mutterings in return.

“Well, it looks like the offer is still open,” Ron said. “I bet they’ll still take him once school finishes, if he changes his mind!”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. Talk of the future made him aware of that hollow, unsettling feeling again. Life after Hogwarts was just a gaping wide unknown. He had no idea what he wanted to do, and that frightened him. The constant reminders from the others didn’t help. The future seemed to be all that anyone could talk about.

Suddenly, Ron nudged Harry and nodded towards the door. Looking around, Harry was surprised to see Malfoy entering the room. Malfoy had been absent from classes and meals for three days, and no one had known where he was. Raking his eyes over him, Harry noticed that the blond was looking pale and shaken. With his head down, he walked across the common room and through the door to the dormitories. He, like Harry, had been given a single room. At the time Harry had thought it odd that Minerva hadn’t mixed either of them in with the other students, but he understood better now. She had clearly anticipated Malfoy’s treatment.

“Blimey, whoever got him must have done a real number on him,” Ron said in a hushed voice. “Did you see how peaky he looked? Do you think he’s been in the hospital wing this whole time?”

“Since when do you care about Malfoy?” Hermione asked, her tone just shy of aggravated. 

Harry tensed. Hermione had only become harsher every time Malfoy was mentioned. Whatever last vestige of trauma remained from her time inside the Manor, it wasn’t getting better, and she was now refusing to talk about it all.

Ron gave her an offended look. “He fought for us in the end. I still hate the git, but he doesn’t deserve to get beaten up for choosing the right side! People we know would be dead right now if he hadn’t switched sides and defended them once the Death Eaters broke through!”

“Can we not talk about Malfoy for once?” Harry asked. He agreed with Ron, but every time Malfoy was brought up, it caused an argument. He was tired of seeing Hermione turn pale and start to tremble from whatever she was feeling when she thought of him. It hurt to see her in pain when he could do nothing to help. “If he wants help, he’ll ask for it.”

Ron snorted. They all knew that Malfoy would never ask for help, but they dropped the topic anyway. 

“Did you hear Ginny and Dean have started up again?” Susan said, breaking the awkward silence that had descended over them.

Ron made a choking sound. “What?” He turned and gave Harry a wounded look. “I thought she’d end up back with you!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “How many times do I have to say it, Ron?” he replied, annoyed. “She and I are not getting back together. We didn’t work out, just drop it already.”

“Well, I haven’t seen you after anyone else,” Ron said defensively, “unless you’ve been shagging someone behind our backs.”

Harry coloured. Hermione smirked at him, and he threw a cushion at her. Finally, the tension was broken. Making him blush never ceased to amuse them. Even though he’d had sex, he still could not stand to talk about the topic, and blushed like a hormonal thirteen-year-old at the mere mention of it. It was beyond irritating.

“Sod off!” he snapped, when Ron started laughing at him. 

 

 

 

“Oi!” 

The two Gryffindors whirled around, brandishing their wands. When they caught sight of Harry striding towards them, they paled and hurried away down the corridor. Scowling after them, Harry knelt beside the Slytherin on the floor.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked, looking her over for injury.

She stared back with wide eyes, but didn’t move. Realising what had happened, Harry pulled out his wand.

Finite Incantatem! ” 

The girl let out a cry, and scrambled backwards, released from the spell holding her paralysed.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked again, reaching out a hand to help her up. “What’s your name?”

She stared at his hand with a confused expression, before looking at his face as if searching for an ulterior motive. Finally, she reached out and took his hand, and he helped her up. He felt a pang of sadness to see how tiny she was. She barely reached his chest. She was probably a first year.

“Thank you,” she mumbled, looking at the ground as she picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Are you sure you’re okay? No injuries? I can take you to Madam Pomfrey.”

She shook her head furiously, still not looking at him. Frowning, Harry was upset to see her afraid of him. Being around the seventh and eighth years made him forget sometimes, the way others feared him.

“Do you know who they were?” he asked. He didn’t recognise them himself, but they looked like second or third years from their size. That they would hex someone so much smaller than them was horrible.

Again, she shook her head and picked at her bag strap.

“Okay, well,” Harry said awkwardly, not really sure what to do without their names, “how about we go see your head of house and report this anyway?”

Suddenly, she looked up again with wide eyes, and shook her head. Harry frowned, and opened his mouth to say more, but she abruptly turned and ran away down the hall. Hovering for a moment, Harry scowled and strode away to find Minerva.

 

 

 

“I can’t do anything, Harry,” Minerva said tiredly. “If they don’t come forward and make a complaint, my hands are tied.”

Harry released a sound of frustration as he paced in front of her desk. “I’m telling you it happened, I’m making a complaint!”

Minerva sighed. “That’s all very well, but you don’t know their names.”

“So parade the little gits in front of me, I’ll identify them!”

“Harry, you know we can’t do that,” Minerva admonished gently. “If you already knew their names, we could act, but I won’t parade the entire male Gryffindor population in front of you like that and cause a ruckus.”

Harry threw himself into a chair. She sent him an understanding grimace and pushed his tea towards him. He stared at it for a moment, before taking a sip and putting it back down, attempting to calm himself.

“You should have seen her,” he mumbled. “She was so scared. She wouldn’t even look at me, or go to Slughorn. It’s not right.”

Minerva walked around her desk, and rested a hand on his shoulder. “I know, but unless they complain, there’s nothing we can do,” she said softly. “I’ll make an announcement to the Gryffindors tonight, and again at dinner to the whole school, but that won’t dissuade them.”

“Things were supposed to get better,” Harry said, hanging his head.

The hand on his shoulder tightened. 

“I know, and they will, Harry. We just need more time. These things take time.”

 

 

 

“Excellent demonstration, thank you, Mr. Potter.”

Harry nodded to Professor Zeltan, then returned to his seat. Ron rolled his eyes at him, and Harry grimaced in return. Their new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor liked calling on him to demonstrate, and it was getting rather irritating. Being at Hogwarts was supposed to be an escape from constantly being on show.

“Alright, everyone partner up and practise, paying particular attention to wand movement!”

Hermione paired up with Neville, and Ron shrugged lazily at Harry. As they began practising advanced non-verbal shielding, Harry noticed that Malfoy wasn’t partnered with anyone. After a surreptitious sweep of the classroom, he realised there was a group of three. Frowning at yet another blatant display of prejudice against him, he glanced at Professor Zeltan to see if she’d noticed.

The professor was staring darkly at Malfoy, but made no move to do anything about the situation. Harry glanced back at Malfoy. 

He was still looking pale and tired, even though it had been days since he’d returned from the hospital wing. He was writing on some parchment, and hardly seemed aware of what was going on around him.

“Oi, leave it alone.”

Harry startled and turned to Ron, who had followed his gaze.

“I wasn’t going to do anything,” Harry defended. “If he can’t ask for help, then it’s not our problem.”

Ron nodded. “Good, we don’t need you getting all obsessed again, like in sixth year,” he said.

Harry scowled. “I was right about that, though.”

Ron grimaced, and Harry glanced at Malfoy again. He supposed he couldn’t blame people for wanting to take revenge for all that he had done over the years. Still, it made him uneasy that the situation wasn’t changing.

 

 

 

“Is it true, Harry?”

Harry looked up from his tea with bleary eyes. Padma was waving the Daily Prophet at him from across the table.

“What are they saying now?” he asked tiredly. Whenever someone waved the Prophet at him, it was never something good.

“They’re saying you’re only pretending to use your wand most of the time, that you actively use wandless magic instead.”

Harry frowned. “How does that even work?” he asked. “If I’m holding it, then it would channel my magic regardless of intent, right?”

“Really powerful wizards and witches have been known to bypass their wand while still holding it,” said Nott from further down the table, leaning forward and looking interested. “It prevents wand movement from giving away non-verbal spells.”

Nott looked annoyingly awake, and Harry fought the urge to scowl at him. While he was glad Nott felt so comfortable joining conversations now, he really hated hearing anything in support of the ridiculous rumours regarding his magical power.

“Well, it’s not true,” Harry said shortly. “I can only do a few spells wandlessly, and I’ve certainly never bypassed my wand before.”

Padma looked disappointed, and moved down the bench to Nott. They started discussing the theory of wand bypass in excited tones, while Tracey and Neville shared an amused look, rolling their eyes at them. Harry squinted at them, wondering how they could talk about something so advanced so early in the morning. Looking around, he wondered why Hermione hadn’t jumped in, it sounded like something she would like. She was sitting next to him, nose buried in a letter.

“Anything interesting?” he asked, nudging her gently.

She startled, and turned wide eyes on him. “Sorry, what?”

“Your letter,” Harry said, gesturing. “Anything good? You look excited.”

Hermione blinked at him, and darted her eyes back to the parchment. Glancing back at him, she folded it and tucked it away.

“Nothing special,” she said. “Just an update about a book I’m trying to track down.”

Harry frowned. Her reaction seemed a little exaggerated to be about a book. But he didn’t want to pry, so he turned back to his breakfast. A few moments later, Ron stumbled to the table, scowling.

“What’s wrong with you?” Hermione asked, sounding amused.

“Bloody Ginny and Dean, snogging in the hallways,” Ron sneered. “I don’t need to see that!”

Harry immediately felt uneasy, and looked down at his breakfast. Ron was still not happy he had split up with Ginny, and seeing her with someone else didn’t seem to help. Ron, like everyone else, had just assumed they would stay together, and couldn’t seem to understand why they hadn’t worked out. Sometimes Harry didn’t understand it either, but at least it had been an amicable split.

“She’s of age now, Ron,” Hermione said fondly. Harry glanced at him to see his reaction, he was scowling. “You don’t need to protect her anymore.”

Ron grumbled something into his tea, and sent Harry a frustrated look, like it was all his fault. Harry sighed and looked away again. He hoped Ron moved past his hopes for Harry marrying his way into the family soon. It was a lingering awkwardness between them that he rather wanted to be rid of.

 

 

 

Harry was halfway through his potion when he suddenly realised something. All through class he had felt like something was wrong, and looking around now, he finally noticed that Malfoy wasn’t there. Frowning, he tried to remember if he’d seen him at breakfast. Malfoy was still being bullied, and for whatever reason, wasn’t fighting back or reporting the incidents. In fact, he’d been claiming he was just having unlucky accidents. The other eighth years were also starting to get uneasy about it, even though a lot of them had been prejudiced themselves at the beginning of term, only a month ago.

How Malfoy expected anyone to believe he hit himself with some of those hexes was beyond Harry. Minerva was right though, unless he came forward and made a complaint, there was nothing she could do except make the odd general announcement emphasising no tolerance for house prejudice and bullying. Such speeches were hollow, as none of the Slytherins ever came forward, and no one was ever punished.

“Hey, Ron, have you heard anything about Malfoy today?” Harry asked, keeping his voice low.

Ron cursed as his potion splashed on his hand, raising a violently green lump. “What? No, mate,” he replied distractedly, avoiding the globs of potion his cauldron was spitting at him. “It’s not our problem, he’ll ask for help when he needs it.”

Harry sighed and signalled Slughorn to help Ron. He supposed Ron was right, but that excuse just didn’t seem acceptable anymore. Malfoy’s pride would never allow him to ask for help. Knowing that, didn’t they have an obligation to try and help him? Harry didn’t think about Malfoy much, but he supposed he still disliked him for everything he’d done. Even so. After the Room of Requirement, Malfoy had changed sides and fought openly for them. That made him an ally. Allowing an ally to suffer just wasn’t right.

 

 

 

“I could have walked myself, you know,” Ron grumbled. 

They were walking up to the Hospital Wing, with Ron now sporting several large green lumps on his hands and face that were starting to spread, with burn marks around the edges. He was trying to look tough, but Harry could see the strain in his face that meant he was in serious pain. 

“Are you kidding? Glad to get out of there,” Harry replied, placing a hand on his back and urging him on a little faster. “Who knows what my potion could have done to me? I know I missed a step near the beginning as well.”

“What in Merlin’s name happened to you?” Madam Pomfrey asked, bustling over to them as they entered.

Harry showed her the parchment Slughorn had written some notes on, as he had no clue how to explain it. She nodded, and waved them over to a bed while she strode away to her storeroom. Harry watched Ron settle, then looked about the room. Almost immediately, his eyes were drawn to the far corner, where he saw a very characteristic head of hair.

“Merlin, Malfoy!” Harry said before he could stop himself. “What happened to you?”

Malfoy tilted his head slightly in Harry’s direction, then looked away again. There were several potion vials by his bed, and his clothes and skin were smattered with blood. He had been stripped of his robes, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to show a mottled mess of healing cuts and bruises. Harry’s eyes skittered over the Dark Mark and down to take note of the way one of his legs was propped up.

“Blimey!” Ron exclaimed.

Harry couldn’t help but walk over to get a better look. Malfoy winced, and shot him a glare.

“Sod off, Potter!” he snapped.

“What happened?” Harry asked again. The damage looked even worse up close. He didn’t like the git, but if that was how bad he looked every time he had a so called ‘accident’, Harry was surprised Minerva hadn’t simply forced the identities of his attackers from him. His injuries looked more like violent assault than bullying and pranks. Unease coiled low in Harry’s gut.

“None of your bloody business!” Malfoy hissed.

“Who did this to you?” Harry asked, ignoring Malfoy’s response.

Almost unbidden, he reached out, as if he were going to touch his shoulder in comfort. Malfoy flinched away from him, and a sick feeling crashed through Harry before he felt rage rise up. How could someone do that to another person, nasty sod like Malfoy or not?

“No one did this to me,” Malfoy sneered. “I was flying before breakfast and crashed. My broom splintered. Piss off back to your Weasel.”

Harry felt his eyebrows climb of their own accord, and glanced at Ron to see him looking just as sceptical. They may have been rivals on the pitch, but everyone knew Malfoy was a skilled flyer. There was no way he crashed without help, if that was even what had happened. Harry opened his mouth to say more, but suddenly Madam Pomfrey was bustling back in.

“Mr. Potter, stop bothering my other patient,” she scolded. “You don’t need to be here. You can go now.”

Harry moved away from Malfoy reluctantly, then nodded to Ron. He looked back as he left, to see Malfoy staring at the wall ahead of him, his fists clenching the fabric of his trousers tightly. Unease clawed its way back into Harry’s awareness. What was happening there wasn’t right, and he couldn’t believe no one was doing anything about it.

 

 

 

Harry groaned with frustration and threw back his covers. He just couldn’t seem to sleep. The injuries on Malfoy just kept appearing behind his eyes, making him feel sick. Why wasn’t Minerva forcing the truth out of him? If no one was ever punished, they would just keep doing it. He didn’t like Malfoy, but even he could see that what was happening was wrong. Ron had said he was still in the hospital wing when he’d been released after dinner.

Finally giving up on sleep, he dug through his trunk and retrieved the map. After confirming that Malfoy was still alone in the hospital wing, he left his room. He didn’t bother with the cloak. Eighth year students didn’t have a curfew as long as they were responsible. Although, he wasn’t sure he could explain why he was planning to visit Malfoy, if he came across someone.

As he neared the Hospital Wing, he heard a cry of pain and hurried to push the door open. The sight that greeted him made him come to a standstill.

Malfoy was on the floor, cringing and crying out as another student stood over him, kicking him viciously. For several moments Harry couldn’t move. Then, the other boy crouched down over Malfoy and grabbed the front of his shirt to pull him closer, raising a fist. Watching Malfoy flinch away and cry out as he was struck woke Harry from his daze, and he strode forward angrily.

“Oi! Let him go!” he shouted. 

The other boy made no indication of hearing him, and continued to punch Malfoy. Enraged, Harry ran forward and tried to separate them.

 

 

 

It was a slow transition, the moments between being unaware, and suddenly regaining consciousness. For Harry, it seemed like a fight to the death. There was such rage in his veins, clawing its way through his system, dragging his magic with it in unrestrained fury. He could think of nothing but the need to hurt whoever got in his way. 

He used no magic on the boy, but it flared around him unrestrained, destroying anything in its path. He was so angry, but he couldn’t quite remember why. The blood on his hands should have horrified him. The pain lancing across his knuckles should have made it easy to stop, but it only urged him on. 

And why should he stop? Why shouldn’t he make this person hurt the way they’d hurt him? He couldn’t remember why exactly, but he was sure the boy deserved it. He felt it down to his bones. The rage demanded retribution, and he gave it. 

Slowly, something else began to creep through his veins as someone gripped his arms tight, trying to pull him away. The movement broke through the haze of hate and startled him. Fear crept through him like ice. It emptied into his heart and gripped it tight, so tight. Moments later it struck his lungs, knocking the breath out of him. Gasping, he drew back for a second. 

Suddenly, the spell was broken.

With horror that grew stronger with every second, he took in the sight before him. It struck him suddenly that he didn’t even know who it was underneath him. Worse than that, the face of this unknown boy was so bloody, so broken, he wouldn’t have been able to identify him even if it was Ron. 

Who was this boy? What was he doing? 

He scrambled back, trying to get away from what he’d done. Merlin, he didn’t even remember doing it. But he must have. His knuckles burned, covered in blood, mostly this boy’s, but also his own, the skin broken and bleeding.

As he shuffled backwards across the floor, he shook his head, trying to deny what he had clearly done. Struggling to understand, he looked around. The hospital wing was in ruins, beds thrown around and broken into pieces. 

Why was he in the hospital wing? He couldn’t remember. How could he have done that and not remember why? 

A sound broke the silence, and he shuddered at the sheer pain and distress it contained. For a second he thought it was the boy, but then he realized the sound had come from himself. 

What had he done?

Another sound, similar in pain, filled the air, and Harry whipped around. His eyes found a horrified silver gaze locked onto the boy’s bloodied face. 

“Malfoy?” 

Malfoy visibly flinched, and shifted his gaze to Harry. Glancing around, Harry realized they were alone, just the three of them. Malfoy stared at him in horror, eyes flicking down to Harry’s hands, before slipping back to the other boy. Confusion swelled within Harry, as the terror that had overtaken him earlier had all but vanished. 

It came back to him now. He almost didn’t believe his own memories. How could he have been so enraged that he’d done that? Thinking back, he didn’t feel that angry about what he’d seen. He was upset, but not enough to justify his actions.

Malfoy, also covered in blood, seemed unaware of Harry as he continued to stare at the other boy. Malfoy’s breathing was shallow and fast, his skin so drained of colour that it made him look like a ghost, a horrible bloody ghost. For a second, Harry thought he’d hurt him too, before he remembered that no, the other boy had done that before he’d arrived.

“You need to leave,” Malfoy said suddenly, voice wavering as his gaze turned back to Harry.

“What?”

Harry was dumbfounded. He couldn’t leave. He had to help that boy, he had to find a professor. Merlin, why had he done that? How could he have done that? He hadn’t felt rage like that since he’d faced down Voldemort and almost used a different spell.

“Leave, Potter!” Malfoy snapped, trying to stand before falling again with a pained yelp. He touched his leg and groaned.

“I can’t leave!” Harry snapped back. “I need to find a professor! We have to get Pomfrey!”

Malfoy snarled something garbled and incomprehensible at him, as he failed again to stand and instead dragged himself over to the boy. He pulled his wand out of his trouser pocket and ran a quick diagnostic over him. Seeing something reassuring in the results, he suddenly sighed in relief and collapsed in on himself.

“Be reasonable, Potter,” he said, pain colouring his voice as he clutched at his ribs. “The world is terrified of your power. If you give them reason to fear you, they will throw you in Azkaban.”

A pained sound escaped Harry, and for a second he thought the bloodied boy on the ground had made it. 

“I did this, Malfoy,” he said, “I can’t just—”

“Yes, you can!” Malfoy snapped, interrupting him. “You must! This is my fault. Merlin, it’s my fault, not yours. Just leave, quickly.”

“How is this your fault? Did you curse me?” Harry asked, suddenly suspicious. That would make much more sense. He couldn’t imagine hurting someone like that of his own free will. “What did you do to me?”

Malfoy let out an angry, pained sound and suddenly flicked his wand in Harry’s direction. Harry shuffled back instinctively, realising he didn’t even have his own wand with him, before noticing the burning across his knuckles had disappeared. Malfoy had healed him.

“Just get out, Potter!” Malfoy hissed at him, directing a strange, scared kind of rage at him. “You saved my life, I owe you! They will use this as an excuse to get rid of you. I will not be responsible for that. Just leave!”

“Malfoy, you can’t be serious! I can’t just leave. I don’t know why, but I did that!” Harry snapped back, pain colouring his tone as he gestured to the bloody wreck of a boy lying next to Malfoy. Merlin, he didn’t even know how old the kid was, big enough to be above third year but small enough to be a fourth year. A terrible, tortured whine sounded in his throat as he realised he may have just beaten someone so young to such a state, with no real idea why.

Malfoy didn’t bother countering him with words. Instead he let out an enraged, almost inhuman sound, and gestured his wand angrily in Harry’s direction. It was like a wall had suddenly slammed into Harry, and he slid backwards, right out the open door to hit the wall of the hallway so hard he saw stars.

Paying him no further mind, Malfoy suddenly conjured a patronus. For a second Harry forgot to breathe. For some reason he’d never really considered, he hadn’t thought Malfoy was actually capable of conjuring a patronus. Suddenly faced with the reality that he could, he felt a sick sense of shame for his doubt. 

Malfoy muttered something quietly to it and turned his attention back to the boy, apparently now ignoring Harry completely. The patronus, a wolf, its form more wispy than solid, ran suddenly towards Harry before disappearing through the wall beside him. 

“Potter, you really need to leave now,” Malfoy suddenly said, loudly enough to be heard across the room. His words were followed by a low moan, and he clutched at his ribs again. “I’ll be punished for this, but not as severely as you would. Look at me! Clearly it was self-defence. Look at you, not a mark on you, they’ll probably think you beat me too!”

Harry stared at him, taking in the split lip, broken nose and several bruises already forming over the alarmingly pale skin of his arms and neck. He glanced down, taking in the way Malfoy still cradled his ribs and remembered how he had been unable to stand. He knew, logically, that Malfoy was right. Still, the thought of leaving made him feel sick somewhere deep down. He had no idea why he’d done what he had done. He could barely remember what had happened when he’d entered the hospital wing, and could not recall at all why he’d gone there in the first place. Perhaps Malfoy had cursed him. Maybe it was Malfoy’s fault.

Or maybe the war really had driven Harry to a dark place he couldn’t escape from, just like the papers sometimes said. 

Ultimately, the decision was made for him. Distant footsteps started echoing through the hallway, and out of ingrained habit, he pulled himself up and ran away. Many emotions churned in his belly as he ran, but Malfoy was right, they’d use any excuse. The wizarding world was so afraid of his imagined power that they’d rather lock him up over a petty crime, given the chance, than wait for him to turn later.

He hated himself for running, but he ran anyway.

Chapter Text

Minerva McGonagall

As Minerva walked into the hospital wing, hot on the heels of Malfoy’s patronus, she stopped and made a startled, gasping sound. Malfoy’s call for help had been a vast understatement. Jacinta Zeltan came to a standstill beside her. Her expression was darker as she took in the scene. The beds were strewn about the room, frames broken into pieces, mattresses torn to shreds. Two windows were shattered, and there were scraps of torn linen everywhere. In the middle of the mess was Draco Malfoy and another boy.

As she looked over the two boys, Minerva brought a hand to her mouth, hoping to smother the sound that escaped her. She failed, and Jacinta gave her a dark look. Ignoring her, Minerva let her eyes finally rest on Malfoy, and really looked. He was staring up at her with an open, scared expression. His face was a bloodied, bruised mess and he was clutching his ribs. The backs of his knuckles were raw and bleeding. It was immediately clear what had happened. 

Edging forward carefully, Minerva knelt down in front of him even though it was uncomfortable. “Poppy is on her way,” she said gently. “Is he still alive?”

Malfoy nodded, his expression fearful as he turned his gaze to the boy lying beside him. Finally, Minerva gave him her full attention. His face was so bloodied that she could not identify him. It was the most damage she had ever seen Malfoy inflict on another person. It was the worst incident he had ever had at Hogwarts, in all his years there. An icy feeling crept through her chest. Perhaps she should have listened to Jacinta, and not allowed him to attend that year, as advised. As soon as she thought that, she pushed it away. Malfoy needed to be at Hogwarts.

“I didn’t mean to,” Malfoy said, his voice tight with pain. “He attacked me, I couldn’t help what happened.”

Minerva looked at him. “Your situation is precarious, Mr. Malfoy,” she said, taking in his injuries again, “but rest assured, if this was an act of self-defence, I will ensure that you remain here at Hogwarts.”

Tension fled from Malfoy’s body and he slumped forwards, barely catching himself. As he braced against the floor with his arm, he made a pained sound, clutching tighter at his ribs with his other hand.

“You cannot allow him to remain here, Minerva,” came an icy voice from behind her. 

Minerva tensed. It was most unfortunate that Jacinta had been with her when Malfoy’s patronus had arrived. The younger professor was far too quick to condemn the boy. Upon hearing the other woman’s words, Malfoy looked up at Minerva again, eyes full of fear, and then looked away. It was clear that he did not expect support. It tugged at Minerva’s heart to see him that way. All those years...she had never seen the frightened boy that was hiding behind that sneering expression. She felt such guilt for never having helped him when he’d needed it, but she was determined to do so now.

“Thank you, Jacinta,” she said, not looking away from the broken boy in front of her, “I will take your opinion into consideration. Would you please put the room to rights? We’re going to need two beds.”

At that moment, Poppy bustled in, looking harassed. When she caught sight of the room, she stilled. Minerva gave her a significant look, and twitched her head towards Jacinta. Poppy followed the motion, and scowled. As Jacinta was distracted repairing the room, she hurried forward and began running diagnostic spells on the boys. Minerva could tell from the set of her jaw, and the tight grip on her wand, that she was deeply disturbed, but would refrain from commenting until Jacinta was gone.

“Can you wait until I stabilise him, Mr. Malfoy?” Poppy asked. He winced, but nodded.

Minerva placed a careful hand on Malfoy’s shoulder. He tensed, but didn’t look at her, or shrug her hand off. Her resolve was strengthened. She couldn’t allow Malfoy to leave the castle yet. It wasn’t safe for him out there while anti-Slytherin and anti-Malfoy sentiment was still so high. It wouldn’t be safe even after he completed his education, but it would give him more time to plan what he would do.

“Thank you, Jacinta,” Minerva said, as the other woman finished setting the room to rights. “We’ll let you know if we require your assistance.”

Jacinta scowled darkly. “I am the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor,” she replied, eyes darting to Malfoy. “This is rather within my field, wouldn’t you say.”

“Nonsense!” Poppy snapped, before Minerva could respond. “This is a healer’s work!”

Jacinta looked between them, and then back at Malfoy. “I’d feel more comfortable knowing that more than one person was watching him while you worked, Poppy.”

Malfoy flinched almost imperceptibly under Minerva’s hand. “That’s quite alright,” she responded icily. “We have an enhanced dosage of his potion ready for him to take. We are quite safe.”

Jacinta looked between them again for a few moments before scowling. “Very well. Please notify me immediately if you require help,” she said stiffly.

“Not a word of this to anyone, Jacinta,” Minerva said sharply. “We will handle the matter quietly, until we know all the facts.”

The other woman stiffened, and her eyes darted back to Malfoy. Sneering, she nodded and turned to leave. Once she was gone, Poppy disappeared into her office for a moment, returning with Malfoy’s potion, handing it to Minerva.

“I’m sorry I left, Mr. Malfoy,” Poppy said gently. “I didn’t think anyone would attack you inside this room.”

Minerva looked at the potion in her hands sadly. It was such an imperfect solution. Wordlessly, she held it out to Malfoy.

Malfoy looked up at her with frightened eyes. They stared at one another for a moment, and then Malfoy took it from her, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, before swallowing it.

“Will he be okay?” he asked.

Poppy turned her eyes back to her other patient. After a few moments, she looked back to Minerva. “Please contact St. Mungo’s, he needs more care than I can give him.”

Minerva felt that chill creep deeper in her chest and nodded. Malfoy shuddered and looked away.

 

 

Harry Potter

Harry sat slumped in his seat at the eighth year table at breakfast. He didn’t even pretend to be interested in eating, he had struggled to stomach food for days. Ron and Hermione were doing their best to be subtle, but they were eyeing him with concern. They weren’t the only ones. That day, like the previous six days, Harry sat staring silently at his hands where they rested in front of him on the table. The skin was flawless, aside from what he called his ‘Umbridge Scars’. For six days, he had stared at his hands, horrified at what he had done with them. The staring didn’t help, but he couldn’t stop himself.

Rumours had surfaced about what had happened, Harry now had a name and a year for the boy he’d beaten, although he tried not to think about it. Thoughts of that boy only made his mind spin, as he tried and failed to understand where his rage had come from that night. Malfoy had not been seen yet, but he hadn’t been expelled either. It was all anyone could talk about.

“Still no sign of Draco this morning?” Tracey asked, as she sat down opposite Harry, beside Neville.

Harry tensed, and picked up his tea. As he sipped, he glanced around. No one was really paying attention beyond those immediately near them. Nott was frowning as he finished chewing his mouthful. Harry looked down again. His stomach rolled at the thought of listening to this conversation again. 

“No. Pomfrey still wouldn’t let me into the Hospital Wing to see him either,” Nott said. “He must have been a lot more injured than we thought if he’s still in there.”

“Not as bad as Martin, surely,” Susan replied from further down the table, glancing between them. “I heard he’s still under round the clock watch. His parents were kicking up a fuss until yesterday, then they stopped.”

Harry’s hands started shaking, and he picked up toast to have something to do. Nibbling on a corner, but feeling too much like throwing up to eat properly, he glanced around again. No one was looking at him, but everyone appeared concerned by what had happened, as they had for the last few days.

“The inquiry ruled Draco’s actions as self-defence,” Nott said. “His injuries were more extensive than Martin’s, and it was clear that he’d been attacked first. I heard Madam Pomfrey did very intricate diagnostics, and the timing of the injuries was clear. Draco received most of his before he fought back.”

“Martin is in St Mungo’s, and Malfoy is just lazing around in the Hospital Wing,” Hermione cut in, looking disgusted. “How could they say Malfoy was worse off?”

“Martin is only in St Mungo’s because of the risk of brain damage, but most of his injuries are limited to his face and the back of his head,” Neville said, frowning at her. “We’ve heard that Malfoy had injuries all over his body. Whatever happened, it was obviously not as simple as Malfoy going into a rage and beating him up.”

Hermione huffed and returned to her breakfast. Her reaction once again caused a tremor of anxiety to pass through Harry. He was disgusted with himself for leaving, but even more disgusted by the relief he felt for having done so. After listening to the way the others talked about Martin’s injuries, he had no idea how he would explain himself. Deep and low in his gut, he felt like throwing up again. 

Every time he closed his eyes he could see the hospital wing, and the damage his magic had caused to the room as he’d beaten Martin. That kind of rage and hatred, the explosion of wild magic, he couldn’t remember ever feeling it before. 

Still, he couldn’t explain what had happened. No words came to mind when he tried to understand what had sparked his rage. Malfoy must have cursed him, he could think of no other explanation. It must have been a prank gone wrong. He had said it was his fault.

Harry sighed, and sipped at his now cold tea, while the others continued to talk around him. As much as he wished it was some awful prank, Malfoy wouldn’t have made Harry beat up another student and then plead for him to run away, only take the blame himself. That just made no sense. It also didn’t fit with Malfoy’s behaviour so far that term. He had been quiet and kept to himself. He’d only insulted Harry when Harry spoke to him first. 

So why? Why had he done it?

“Harry, you’re bleeding!”

He glanced to the side to see Hermione giving him a concerned look, reaching for his hand. Before she touched him, he pulled his hand away and stood from the table. His abrupt movement drew attention, and the people around them went silent, staring at him like he was about to explode. Ever since that night he had brushed off questions by saying he had been having nightmares. It sickened him, the looks of understanding he received. While it was true, he did have nightmares of what he had done, it made him sick with guilt, knowing that they assumed his nightmares were of the war, and that they sympathised with him.

Without looking at anyone, Harry quickly left the hall, not stopping until he was alone. Only then did he glance down to see he had been clenching his fist so hard he’d broken the skin with his nails. 

Without conscious thought he stumbled to the nearest bathroom and emptied his stomach. The sight of blood on his hands made him tremble. He couldn’t handle it anymore, he had to tell someone. He hadn’t known he was capable of such violence. Yet, for some reason he didn’t remember, he had done that. He had beaten that boy and destroyed the room with wild, uncontrolled magic. He needed to tell someone.

But Malfoy was right.

Harry had killed Voldemort. It didn’t matter that he’d used a disarming spell, he could have used the killing curse and the reaction would be no different. People feared him now. Dumbledore was dead, and Harry had defeated Voldemort. Apparently that made him the most powerful wizard alive, and that made him dangerous. That made people fear him. If only those who feared him weren’t louder than those who supported him.

Until six days ago, he hadn’t felt dangerous. He had been upset by the negative attention, worried by the way some people seemed to flinch when he pulled out his wand, but he hadn’t felt that their reactions were warranted. The eighth years, and most of the seventh, didn’t treat him any differently. They knew he would never go bad, just like he had been secure in the knowledge that he would never meet those darker expectations some people held for him. 

Until now.

And the funniest part of it all, was that he hadn’t even used magic to commit his most violent act. 

 

 

 

When Harry left the bathroom, his stomach was still churning and a sick, and an acid taste filled his mouth. He should tell Hermione and Ron. He wanted to tell them, he’d been thinking about it for days. But he was scared. They had been through hell together, hunting the horcruxes, and then the battle of Hogwarts. They were still healing. He didn’t want to bring up old wounds by asking if they thought the war really had broken him, like he now suspected. Like some had been saying all along.

Hermione had not always done what was best for him, she’d done what she thought was best for him. Most of the time that was fine, but sometimes it was so, so wrong. He couldn’t begin to fathom how she would respond to him committing such violence to protect Malfoy. Not when she was still so hostile towards him. And Ron. Harry tried not to stop and think about Ron too often, or too deeply. Any time that he did, he was haunted by every time that Ron had walked away. And yes , he always came back, and yes he was an amazing friend, but he also always walked away, whenever things got tough. Harry was convinced that one day he wouldn’t come back.

No, he couldn’t tell Hermione or Ron about this, at least not until he understood the situation, and was better able to explain himself.

Stumbling, he hit the nearest wall and put out a hand to steady himself. He’d been through a lot, but he had never felt so alone, staring down into his own soul. If he hadn’t known he could commit such violence, what else didn’t he know about himself? How deep did that rage and violence go? Where had it come from?

 

 

 

“Don’t you see? He’s been bullied ever since he returned to Hogwarts. All those accidents he has, don’t tell me you actually believe his stories?”

Harry paused in the dormitory hallway behind the door to the common room. It was slightly ajar, and Nott and Neville were standing in the common room.

“But why only act up now? Neville replied, matching Nott’s hushed tone. “Surely he could get payback without getting caught, and honestly, Malfoy has always acted like physical violence was above him.”

“You’re right about that,” Nott said quietly. “We both know it’s a pureblood thing, we don’t use fists, it’s just not done. Words or wand, never fists. Something about this is wrong. I heard he still had his wand, I don’t understand why he didn’t use magic.”

“I don’t know, Theo,” Neville replied. “He turned out alright in the end, but he’s not our problem, not until he asks for help. Even you said that before this happened.”

Nott sighed audibly. “I know, but everything about this feels wrong. I think Potter knows something,” he said. “He’s been acting so strange since it happened, stranger than usual at least.”

“You think Harry’s involved? He’d have said something, surely!” Neville said. “Unless you’re suggesting he did it. Not likely!”

Nott made a scoffing sound. “Of course not. Potter could never do something like that, he’s practically a saint,” he replied, exasperation colouring his tone. Harry felt his stomach drop at his certainty. Even a Slytherin didn’t think he could be so violent. “But I think he knows something. The timing is too close to be a coincidence. Maybe he saw what happened, and maybe Draco reacted the way he did because Martin did something really terrible to him, and Potter saw. Something that pushed him too far.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Harry tried to see through the crack in the door.

“Terrible like what?” Neville asked, his voice now laced with horror. “You don’t think th-”

Abruptly, Neville stopped talking, and Harry heard the door to the common room close. Footsteps were heading his way and he quickly darted back into his room, not wanting to get caught eavesdropping. 

He stood in his room, trying to calm himself. After hearing how certain Nott was that he could never do such a thing, talking to Ron and Hermione was definitely not an option. They wouldn’t understand. He didn’t even understand, and he had done it. If he couldn’t wrap his mind around it, then how could they?

 

 

Draco Malfoy

Draco itched for his wand. His hand tingled and twitched, feeling its loss. He no longer cared about the sensory deprivation that the room caused, or the boredom. Every time he was put in here, he always itched for his wand. His magic was the only safety he had ever known, or would ever know. Physical strength could fail, but not magic. Even when almost dead, a person’s magic could flare out, wild and chaotic, in an attempt to save them.

If someone came at him now, he was defenceless. He might be able to push a person away with enough strength to knock them down, and give himself time to escape, but at what cost? What if he was overwhelmed? Magic was his only guarantee. 

Severus would never have let them take his wand. 

Frowning to himself, he scratched his fingernails down the wall beside him, trying to lose himself in the sensation, to meditate on it, the repetitive scratch, back and forwards. Thinking of Severus hurt, he had to avoid that. He had to avoid emotional compromise. They wouldn’t let him out until he was calm again. Scratching the wall helped, it always did. Sometimes he scratched his arm, but they didn’t like that. There was a lot that they didn’t like following an incident. 

Draco was sure that they would have had him thrown in St Mungo’s if they hadn’t had one eye to the future. A redeemed Death Eater was a commodity these days. The public liked a story of redemption. He would be useful to them, to the reputation of Slytherin. If they could keep him stable. Easier said than done. Severus had managed well, allowing him to come off the potions, and live freely without detection. But Severus was dead. 

Don’t think of Severus .

He’d worn a track into the wood with his scratching. He didn’t understand why the room was lined with wood anyway. Was it supposed to be more calming than stone? He didn’t understand anything anymore. Not since Severus died. They didn’t know what to do with him until his education was finished and they could foist him off on the Department of Mysteries. That was surely where they’d send him. They’d parade him first, his reformation, his high academic achievement. Then he’d disappear. But would he work in that Department or be studied in it? He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything anymore. The potions muddled his thoughts.

Sometimes it seemed like McGonagall truly wanted to help him. But she still recoiled from him like all the rest. Professor Zeltan was persistent, eventually she would wear the Headmistress down. Then Draco would be thrust out into the world before he was ready. Although, he wasn’t sure he could ever be ready.

He should have let Potter stay. He should have kept his knuckles whole, instead of pummeling the floor until it had looked like he’d been punching someone. He wouldn’t be locked up in the isolation room if he had fled, and let Potter play the hero to his own victim.

The scratching stopped abruptly.

Deep breaths. In and out. Don’t think about Potter. Don’t remember that anger, that fear. Don’t think about the blood . In and out. 

He resumed his motion. Scratching the wall. It was so familiar, so repetitive. He slipped back into his meditation. 

In and out. 

If he held steady long enough then they would let him out. Breathe, just breathe. Don’t think of Potter .

Sometimes Draco wondered what it would feel like to be scratching someone’s skin instead. It had been so long since he’d touched another person without it being accidental. No one let him touch them anymore. It was like he was diseased, cursed. 

His arm stopped again. He shouldn’t think about that. They could have put him in Azkaban. If it wasn’t for Potter he would be in Azkaban, or dead. Stupid, noble Potter. No one else cared what happened to a Malfoy, but he had. 

Draco was lucky. He had to remind himself he was lucky. Touch starved was better than dead, or in Azkaban. Anything was better than Azkaban.

Severus would have held him. Severus would have made it all better within moments.

He took a deep shuddering breath. The potion would wear off soon. They’d dose him again if he didn’t calm down. The potion made things worse, made it harder to think clearly enough to gain perspective, to gain control. He’d tried to tell them, he’d shown them Severus’ notes. They hadn’t cared. They hadn’t listened. No one cared. 

Still. Unfeeling. He had to feel nothing. Beating a boy was bad, but he was beaten too. Self-defence was okay, as long as he wasn’t too angry about it, as long as he didn’t enjoy the boy’s pain. As long as he felt nothing. They knew he was being bullied, it was an easy sell. He’d snapped, lost control. It was about time.

Breathe. 

Don’t think of Severus. 

In and out.

Don’t think of Potter. 

In and out. 

Still and silent. 

Unfeeling. 

He could do this. It had been six days. He had to do this. They had to let him out. He raised his hand to the wall again. He could do this. 

Don’t think of Severus. 

Don’t think of Potter.

 

 

Harry Potter 

Harry gasped and fumbled around his bedside table for his wand. Feeling it under his hand, he cast a non-verbal lighting charm, and the room flooded with light. He hissed and closed his eyes. After a few moments, he looked at his hands. His knuckles were burning again, as if he really had been punching someone, rather than just dreaming, remembering. 

He fell back on the bed and looked up, tears collecting in the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept all night. It had been nine days since he’d hurt that boy in the hospital wing. Nine days. Malfoy had not shown his face, and Harry still had no clue why he had done such a thing. He still didn’t know if Malfoy really had made him do it, like he’d said, of he’d really just gone mad.

Rubbing at his eyes, he fumbled for his wand and extinguished the light. Even though he knew he wouldn’t sleep, he had to try. The professors were starting to notice that he was doing poorly, and it was only a matter of time until Minerva intervened. He’d already caught her giving him concerned looks at meals. Only the assumption that he was having nightmares about the war was holding her back, he was sure. Even though they were close after the war, she tried to maintain distance at Hogwarts, and that was the only thing keeping him safe. If she talked to him, would he be able to hold back? Or would he tell her everything?

Many of the students suffered from nightmares, and there was nothing the professors could do save recommending mind healers. Pomfrey had stopped prescribing Dreamless Sleep after a sixth year student had almost died taking too much. 

Minerva had already talked to Harry about mind healers, after the battle. He had been firm in his refusal to see one, knowing his fame would make things difficult and probably counterproductive. There was nothing she could do for him. Even though she’d noticed he was not well, he guessed he had a few more days before she would approach him.

 

 

 

Harry’s attention wandered as Professor Zeltan lectured them again about various advanced, non-lethal offensive spells. His mind turned back to that night in the hospital wing. His reaction when he thought of it was less severe than it had been, though he was still shaken from his nightmare. He was still struggling to remember the details. He couldn’t remember why he had been out of bed, although thinking about it now, he remembered seeing Malfoy in the hospital wing earlier, so he must have been going to talk to him. He remembered hearing a cry of pain, and entering the hospital wing. He hadn’t even thought about it. He’d taken one look at the scene before him and acted. Pulling Malfoy and Martin apart was easy to understand, no one deserved a beating when they were already injured. He still remembered the way Malfoy had looked earlier in the day, when he and Ron had seen him in the hospital wing.

But why had Harry then attacked Martin? The boy must have said or done something more. Surely Harry wasn’t so insane that he’d nearly killed him for hurting Malfoy. He didn’t care about Malfoy.

That was a lie.

Harry sighed quietly, shifting in his seat as Zeltan droned on. Malfoy. It all came back to Malfoy. Of course he cared on some level, he had saved his life. He cared for him the way he cared for everyone, in that way that meant everyone was worth saving. He’d been disturbed by what had been happening so far that term. He’d wanted to help. But he certainly didn’t care enough to do what he had done, what still made him wake up covered in sweat and already stumbling to the bathroom to empty his stomach. 

Then again, he had always felt so strongly towards Malfoy, and had, on many occasions, shoved and punched him rather than use magic. Maybe he really had snapped. He’d felt off all year, regretting his decision to return to complete school. Although, he imagined he’d feel worse if he hadn’t. He still felt empty and cold at times, having no idea what he wanted to do with his life, feeling lost.

“Harry?”

Harry flinched as he was pulled from his thoughts. He looked up to see Hermione and Ron staring down at him with concerned expressions. Glancing around, he realised the class was over, and everyone was leaving. Sighing, he packed away his things and moved to follow them. 

 

 

 

Harry really didn’t know why he still bothered with Potions. He was fairly sure that he didn’t want to be an Auror anymore. Slughorn had lost interest in him as soon as his miraculous talent had faded and failed to return. He must have absorbed something from reading the Half-Blood Prince’s book so many times though, because while he was no means skilled, he could at least brew passable potions now. Still, he didn’t enjoy the subject, and over the last several days it had done nothing but make him think of Malfoy. This, in turn, sent him stumbling back into that dark place in his mind, where his knuckles always burned and bled, and he felt things he couldn’t understand or control.

Slughorn had finished his opening lecture, and everyone was busy collecting their ingredients, when the door opened and the room was suddenly plunged into silence. Harry knew before he even looked up, there were few people who could cause such a reaction from the other students. Sure enough, when he did look up, he found Malfoy talking quietly with Slughorn before taking the last free space near the back, uncomfortably close to Harry’s own table. 

Without knowing what he had been expecting, Harry was disappointed. He felt no great explosion of fear or disgust, or even guilt, at the sight of him. Perhaps he had been building the moment up in his mind for too long, but reality was dull in comparison. Malfoy kept his head down, and didn’t look at anyone as he unpacked his things and retrieved the ingredients for the potion. 

Harry couldn’t help but eye him up, noting the complete lack of emotion. It was as if Malfoy was running on autopilot. He never looked up, and kept his distance from all the other students, which wasn’t difficult as they gave him a wide berth. Even Nott, who had expressed so much curiosity over the situation, watched him take his place and whispered to Tracey, but did not try to talk to him. The situation immediately set Harry on edge as he waited for something to happen. 

However, nothing happened, and the class soon returned to its usual noisy chaos.  Harry worked as best he could, but he was so distracted that he knew that his potion was going to fail. That was alright, he didn’t really care. He was already formulating plans to get Malfoy alone after class. He desperately needed to understand what had happened. Even if Malfoy hadn’t cursed him, he might still be able to help Harry figure out what had happened.

He wondered if Malfoy might have taken the blame as some misguided attempt to balance a debt. Harry couldn’t pretend to truly understand how life debts worked. He had managed to use one to his advantage thus far, but didn’t understand it. He could see why such a debt could cause Malfoy to take the blame as he had. But then, maybe he had already owed Malfoy a life debt for refusing to identify him at Malfoy Manor, in which case they were already even after the fire. Unless Malfoy considered Harry’s debt to his mother as his own.

There were some things about the Wizarding World that he didn’t think he’d ever understand.

When class ended, the students dutifully handed over their potions. Harry turned around to try and corner Malfoy, only to find him already gone. Letting out a frustrated groan, he waved Ron and Hermione on ahead, and deliberately packed his things as slowly as possible, before leaving. He needed space. 

What had he expected? For all he knew, Malfoy could be furious with him after the shock of the situation had passed. What would Harry even say to him? He couldn’t just casually ask if Malfoy had cursed him, and why. Being cursed was still the best explanation for what had happened, and if fit with what Malfoy had said at the time. It was at least the most comforting explanation. It was better than the possibility that he’d just suddenly, and without warning, lost control like that. Although, he could not think of a single reason why Malfoy would curse him in such a way, or what curse would even do that.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realise someone had stepped into his path until he’d almost collided with them.

“Are you actually incapable of watching where you’re going, Potter?” 

Harry’s gaze shot up. Malfoy merely raised an eyebrow at him. He looked annoyed, but Harry could see a fine tremor in his hands where they gripped the strap of his bag. Having caught Harry’s attention, Malfoy twitched his head towards the window.

“I’ve always said it’s only a matter of time until they find you wandering by the lake completely deranged and muttering like a lunatic.”

With that said, Malfoy sauntered off. Harry looked around in confusion. There was nobody nearby, no reason to be so subtle. He watched him walk away, noticing that his posture was rigid and full of tension. Perhaps Harry wasn’t the only one struggling with what had happened that night. In fact, now that he thought about it, Malfoy had more reason to be upset than Harry.

He had walked in on Malfoy being beaten when he was already injured and vulnerable, and Merlin knows where Madam Pomfrey had been the whole time. Then, out of nowhere, someone he hates saved him, only to go mad and almost beat his attacker to death, right in front of him. Malfoy was probably more shaken by the incident than Harry was.

Harry still couldn’t understand what had happened himself. Just like he couldn’t understand why Malfoy had taken the blame. Everything about that night was a puzzle, including what had happened to Malfoy afterwards. His wounds should have been healed within a day, two at most. His absence for nine days made no sense. There were so many questions Harry wanted answered, and it seemed he might finally have the chance.

He rushed to his room to drop off his things, happy to miss dinner if it meant getting answers and perhaps finally some peace of mind. Quickly, he made his way down to the lake, worried that Malfoy would wander off if he didn’t hurry.

 

 

 

When Harry reached the lake, Malfoy was pacing the shore, although he stopped abruptly when he noticed his approach. Immediately, he seemed to draw back into himself, his posture straightening, and that irritating expression of superiority forming on his face. Harry wondered if he was only noticing how fake it looked now that he’d seen him appear so vulnerable and scared. He stopped a few steps away, unsure of what to say. He had so many questions, and could already feel the phantom burn of his knuckles as thoughts of that night raced to the surface of his mind.

Malfoy raked his eyes over Harry, taking in his appearance before looking away over the lake. It seemed he also didn’t know how to begin. For a horrifying moment, Harry was struck by the thought that maybe Malfoy also knew nothing. That Harry really had just lost control that night, that he really was that violent.

“You look like shit, Potter.”

Harry reflexively frowned in annoyance, even as he felt himself relax. Hearing insults from Malfoy was so normal it was almost soothing, even if he had been less abrasive so far that year. 

“What happened, Malfoy?”

If Malfoy wouldn’t get to the point, Harry was determined to do so. He’d waited nine days for this, and was not leaving until he knew what had happened. At his words, Malfoy suddenly dropped his aristocratic airs, and let his posture slump slightly. 

“If they find out I told you about this, I’ll be in serious trouble,” he said quietly. 

Harry didn’t reply, instead he just looked at him expectantly. Malfoy sighed and glanced away with a frown.

“I don’t really know where to start, and I don’t want to tell you at all,” he continued. “But it was my fault. I made you do that. You, of all people. It must be killing you.”

Harry snorted. He found it hard to believe that Malfoy really cared how he felt about the situation. Although, he was correct. Harry was torn up over the incident. Part of him was relieved that Malfoy had done something to him, that he hadn’t been that violent on his own. But he wasn’t immediately outraged like he once would have been, because he still didn’t understand what Malfoy had to gain from doing such a thing. It just made no sense.

“You cursed me?”

Malfoy’s eyebrows drew together in a strange expression, sort of pained, confused, and frustrated all at once. He looked out over the lake as if it was suddenly the most fascinating sight in the world. The sun was setting quickly, and Harry pulled out his wand to cast a Lumos. Malfoy eyed his wand warily, but didn’t flinch like he’d expected.

“Something like that.”

Harry made a frustrated sound.

“Either you did, or you didn’t, Malfoy,” he snapped. “I have no idea what happened that night. I’m having a hard time believing you’d curse me, only to take the blame for what I did!”

Malfoy flinched away from him. “Please, don’t get angry. I need to try and stay calm,” he said, his voice suddenly sounding pained. “It was an accident.”

Harry was about to snap at him about how he was making him angry by not telling him what had happened, before he remembered what had happened the last time he’d been angry, and he jerked backwards as if burned. 

It suddenly hit him that Malfoy was now afraid of him. In the grand scheme of things, it was hardly special, most people were afraid of him following his defeat of Voldemort. But Malfoy never had been. It had been a nice constant whenever the fear other people showed him became too much. Malfoy had always gotten in his face, and baited him into anger, even when everyone else was terrified to so much as sneeze in his direction. Harry never realised how much that meant to him until now. Even though Malfoy hadn’t really done any of that so far that year, he’d sort of expected that he would fall back into that behaviour eventually, after the bullying died down. It was much the same as how Snape had always been an arse, even when Harry was hurting it had helped him keep perspective. He missed that constant.

“What happened then?” he asked, forcing himself to keep his tone even. Whatever was going on, he’d never get answers if he wasn’t patient.

Malfoy stared at the ground, suddenly scratching his hand up and down his arm. It looked like some sort of nervous habit. It made him look very small. Harry found the sight alarming, for him to look so small when he had always demanded attention. It reminded him of Malfoy’s trial and the first day back at Hogwarts. Those were the only times Harry had ever seen him seem so small and vulnerable.

“It’s like wild magic,” Malfoy started, still staring at the ground. “Sometimes when I’m feeling a strong emotion, or I’m in a lot of pain, my magic lashes out. It affects the people around me, if they touch me. I can’t control it.”

Harry frowned. That still didn’t really explain what Malfoy had done to Harry. “How does no one know about this if it happens when people touch you while you’re upset? Surely everyone would know about it by now.”

At this, a slight shudder passed through Malfoy. He continued to scratch at his arm. The sight was beginning to irritate Harry. It was like a complete stranger was standing before him. There was no sign of the Slytherin he had known for seven years. It was oddly jarring, and it made him feel off centre.

“No one touches me.”

Harry frowned. Thinking back, people had definitely avoided him so far that year but surely people had touched him previously. He distinctly remembered Parkinson being all over him for years. And Snape had always touched his shoulder when delivering praise, it used to annoy Harry because it made the favouritism seem so much worse. Because some part of Harry craved that kind of comfortable, caring show of pride from someone.

“Severus used to help me, he was trying to find a solution,” Malfoy continued, looking uncomfortable. “There is a potion that is meant to help, but the side effects are very severe.”

Harry still had so many questions but he didn’t know where to start. While he had suspected Malfoy had cursed him, he hadn’t really believed it, not when Malfoy had then taken the blame. But something about this explanation gave him an uneasy feeling. Malfoy’s posture and tone of voice were setting off all kinds of warnings, ones that he didn’t understand. He took a step towards him, but Malfoy stepped back, putting his hands in front of him in a gesture to stay back.

“Look, Potter,” he said, “I appreciate you trying to help me that night, and I really am sorry that I accidentally cursed you, but I only told you this as a courtesy. Please, just forget all about it, okay?”

Before Harry could even formulate a reply to that, Malfoy was hastily walking away, already regaining his signature posture and gait. For a second, Harry thought to follow him, then changed his mind. Malfoy’s explanation really didn’t explain anything, and only left him with more questions, but it was clear that the other boy didn’t want to talk to him in the first place. Pushing the issue might result in a similar incident as that night, and the thought of that made him want to void his stomach again. 

At least he now knew that he hadn’t been in control that night, and that a repeat situation was unlikely. It was like an immense weight lifted off his chest at that thought. It had worried him to think that he may lash out like that again, that he was capable of committing that level of violence, and it was a great relief to know he wouldn’t do it again. As long as he stayed away from Malfoy when he was upset, then it wouldn’t happen again.

Chapter Text

When Harry entered the common room after seeing Malfoy by the lake, he expected to deal with Hermione being concerned about him missing a meal. Instead, he found her sitting alone by the fireplace, frowning and scribbling rapidly on a piece of parchment. As he approached her, Ron suddenly intercepted him, and led him to the other side of the common room.

“Best leave her alone,” Ron muttered, glancing back over his shoulder with a frown. “She’s in a foul mood.”

“What happened?” Harry asked, glancing at Hermione to find her scowling as she flipped through a book beside her.

“I don’t know. She ripped into me when I suggested we take a break from studying tonight,” Ron replied. “She’s not even working on stuff for class, or her research project on Arithmancy.”

Harry frowned. “What’s she doing then?”

“Beats me,” Ron replied with a shrug. “She shut me down as soon as I asked about it. She’s not usually so defensive when it’s just stuff she’s interested in.”

“You two aren’t fighting, are you?” Harry asked awkwardly.

“No, or at least, not that I’m aware of,” Ron said, looking thoughtful. “She’s not talked much the last few days, but I thought she was just busy studying. Do you think I’ve done something to annoy her? I don’t think I have, and she usually has no problem letting me know.”

“Sorry, I wouldn’t have noticed, I’ve been distracted.” He hadn’t really noticed much of anything going on around him for the last few days, he’d been too busy struggling with what had happened in the Hospital Wing. 

Ron gave him a sharp look. “You missed dinner. Please tell me you went and got some food from the kitchens. You have not been eating enough lately.”

Harry felt uncomfortable, but nodded. Even though it didn’t change what had happened and the horror he felt about it, learning that Malfoy had been responsible for his rage and violence had finally settled his stomach. He’d felt hungry for the first time in nine days, and had gone to the kitchens after leaving the lake. After having to force himself to eat and feeling sick all the time, it was nice to suddenly want food again. The change was abrupt, but he wasn’t going to think too hard about it, not yet at least.

Malfoy’s explanation had left him with more questions than answers, but he wanted to try and sleep on it before thinking about it further.

“What’s going on with you lately?” Ron asked, shifting his attention away from Hermione, and focusing on him instead. “Are you still having nightmares?”

Harry winced at the sudden scrutiny, and nodded. Ron searched his face for a few moments. It didn’t look like he was accepting that excuse anymore, and it made Harry nervous.

“Maybe you should see a mind healer,” Ron suggested carefully.

Harry felt his expression harden. “I haven’t changed my mind since the last time you brought that up,” he replied. “You know that’s not an option for me.”

“You need to talk to someone, Harry,” Ron said, looking uncomfortable. His hands twitched, like he wanted to reach out and comfort him, but didn’t know how. “Talking helps, it really does.”

Harry scowled. “The last time I tried to talk about how I felt it was when Ginny and I called it quits.” He felt awful for bringing it up, but Ron’s words were making him start to feel nauseated again. He knew he should talk to them about what had happened, but he couldn’t. Even knowing that Malfoy had somehow made him do it, he had still beaten Martin almost to death. “That really didn’t work out well for any of us.”

Ron’s expression became impassive. It was something he’d started doing over the summer, and Harry found it very irritating. He’d done it during that talk too, and only later did Harry find out just how upset he was about the split. 

Ron was about to speak, when he stopped and looked past him. Turning, Harry saw Malfoy crossing the common room towards the dormitories. He had his head down, and didn’t look up before he disappeared through the door to the dorms. The room had fallen quiet when he’d entered, and Harry glanced around to see people starting to turn and whisper to each other. 

Nott looked like he wanted to follow, but stayed where he was by Neville and Tracey. Before Harry looked away, Nott suddenly glanced over and met his eyes. Startled, Harry looked away. After the conversation he’d overheard between Nott and Neville, he really couldn’t afford to appear too interested in Malfoy.

“I still can’t believe he wasn’t expelled for what he did,” Ron muttered quietly from beside him. “I’m all for giving him another chance, he does deserve it, but beating a kid like that…even if it was self-defence, I’m surprised by the school board’s decision.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, and looked back over at Hermione. It looked like she hadn’t noticed Malfoy at all. Harry had been so focused on his own reaction when Malfoy had entered class earlier that day, that he hadn’t really noticed much else, but he was curious if Hermione had moved past her rather harsh stance on the matter yet.

“Want to play chess?” Ron suddenly asked, drawing his attention.

Harry took in the impassive expression that was once more covering his face and sighed. Clearly Ron hadn’t forgotten their conversation before Malfoy had walked in, although it looked like he was dropping it for now. As they started playing, Ron began to relax, but Harry still felt a distance between them that made his chest ache. 

While he was terrified of how Ron and Hermione might react to what had happened, keeping secrets from them was only increasing the distance that had been growing between them since the war ended.

 

 

 

Harry slept fitfully that night, although it was still better than the many nights before. He glanced around the hall as he ate breakfast, watching as heads turned when Malfoy walked in. The teachers were looking more alert than usual. As he ate, Harry’s mind turned back to the conversation by the lake. Malfoy must have meant the teachers when he said ‘they wouldn’t want Harry knowing. If the teachers were aware of his apparent problem with wild magic, it certainly explained why he hadn’t been expelled. Even so, he found it hard to believe they would allow someone who could cause so much damage to attend school.

He still didn’t know exactly what Malfoy’s wild magic did to another person, whether it always drove them into a mindless rage, or only caused them to defend him by any means necessary. Had his anger been a product of Malfoy’s magic? Or had the magic only channelled his own anger to influence him towards violence? Was that even possible? 

While everything was still fuzzy from before he had entered the hospital wing and separated Malfoy and his attacker, he knew himself well enough to know he would have been very angry at the other boy for beating Malfoy while he was injured. Even the thought of it now made him angry. No one deserved to be hurt when they were already injured, not even Malfoy. Had Malfoy’s wild magic enhanced his anger? Or had it driven him to protect Malfoy? Was it a combination of the two?

He needed to talk to Malfoy again. He needed to understand how his wild magic had affected him. He also wanted to know where he had been for nine days. His injuries should have been healed quickly, which meant he was kept away for another reason. Maybe one outbreak of wild magic was quickly followed by another. Was that possible? 

He could probably ask Hermione, she’d know. If she didn’t, she’d soon find out everything there was to know about wild magic of that sort. But some part of Harry still didn’t want her and Ron to know, even though he now knew he was blameless. 

Regardless of blame, he had still been the one to physically hurt another person, and that was hard to look past.

He’d have to find out himself. When he knew more, and could explain what had happened more clearly, then he would think about telling Ron and Hermione. It would look suspicious if he suddenly started researching wild magic when he’d spent the last several days barely paying attention in class, but he doubted that Malfoy would answer more questions. Although, he could always turn it into his research project. He’d been undecided about whether or not to do one before everything had happened. It would be a way to access the restricted section without arousing suspicion, and if there was any useful information to be had in the library, it would be there. If he never submitted a plan for it, then he didn’t actually have to hand it in at the end of term.

Hermione would probably be suspicious. She had the tendency to treat any voluntary research by Harry or Ron as suspicious and highly unusual. He’d not yet told them that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be an Auror anymore. Although, if he claimed the research project was a way to increase his options after Hogwarts, she may accept that. With a frown, Harry wondered when it had become so normal for him to makes plans with the intention of deceiving his friends. 

Looking up, he found Hermione to be avidly reading a book, unaware of anything around her, and Ron talking animatedly about Quidditch with Dean. Feeling an empty sensation in his chest, he realised they were drifting. While they had shown concern over the last several days, it was nothing like the concern they used to show before the war ended. Once he sorted out what was going on with Malfoy, and what he had done to him, he had to try and bring them back together. 

Life after Hogwarts was frightening enough when he had no idea what he was going to do. The idea that he may have to face that uncertainty alone was horrifying.

 

 

 

Just one hour of researching wild magic was enough to dishearten Harry completely. He’d never known much about it, aside from the fact that children often used it, and that it was uncontrollable. It turned out that wild magic took many forms, and fell under multiple branches of magical study. Without more information, he couldn’t hope to even identify what kind of wild magic Malfoy had used on him.

He shut the book he was reading, and stood to put it back on the shelf behind his table. He had to talk to Malfoy again, even if he refused to tell him anything, he had to try.

“Harry, I didn’t think you knew where the library was this year!”

Harry startled, and turned to see Ginny grinning behind a stack of books held to her chest. He glanced over the titles and winced.

“I know, look awful, don’t they,” she said, dropping her stack onto his table. She leaned back to stretch a bit, then took a seat. “They’re really piling the work on us this year. We haven’t talked for a while. You’ve looked upset lately. Are you okay?”

Harry nodded. “Nightmares, just like everyone else,” he said quietly, feeling awful for once again misleading someone who would no doubt suffer from real nightmares of the war. He glanced towards the exit. Now that he’d decided to confront Malfoy, he just wanted to get it over with. But he couldn’t forget that loneliness he’d felt as he’d realised he was drifting from his friends. “How are you?”

Ginny shrugged as she pulled some parchment out of her bag. “As well as can be expected, given everything that happened. The only thing to do is move forward as best we can, right? Ron is still giving me shit about you though,” she said. “I keep trying to put him right, that I’m seeing Dean now, but he’s being a stubborn prat about it. Sorry about that.”

“It’s not your fault,” Harry replied. “He’ll get over it soon. How were tryouts?”

Ginny sighed. “A complete nightmare,” she said. “There’s not much talent coming in, and with you eighth years off limits, things aren’t looking good. But, I suppose it’s time another house had a chance at the cup.”

“I’m sure you’ll have them all in shape soon enough,” Harry said, fidgeting awkwardly. His mind was still on Malfoy’s wild magic.

“Don’t let me keep you,” Ginny chuckled. “I can see you have something on your mind.”

“Sorry, I’m trying to pick a research topic, I need to go ask someone something before I forget,” Harry said.

Ginny gave him an odd look. “You’re actually doing that? Ron said you were both avoiding it.”

“I changed my mind,” Harry shrugged. 

“Fair enough. Come by practise sometime if you like,” she said. “Maybe the lazy sods will work harder if you’re around.”

Harry chuckled as he left. For all that Ron was still confused by their breakup, he was glad they’d decided to return to being just friends. Pushing aside thoughts of Quidditch, he returned to his room to grab the map.

 

 

 

“Sod off!”

Harry ignored Malfoy as he walked into the old potions lab. All the vulnerability that Malfoy had displayed by the lake was gone. The glare he leveled at Harry, as he crossed the room to stand near him and his cauldron, was a familiar one. 

“I need to know more,” Harry said without preamble.

Malfoy scowled, and turned back to his potion to add something that made the room suddenly smell like aniseed. Wrinkling his nose, Harry leaned forward to peer into his cauldron, wondering what he was brewing. Aniseed was not something he remembered ever smelling in the potions classroom before. Malfoy flinched away from him.

“I already told you all that you need to know,” he hissed. “I shouldn’t have told you anything. Just leave it alone!”

“Just tell me what branch of wild magic it is,” he said, taking a step back as Malfoy started to look angry. He hadn’t forgotten what Malfoy had said about his wild magic problem being tied to his emotions. He knew he couldn’t avoid making him angry if he wanted information, but he was still cautious enough to keep his distance.

“Not only can I not tell you anything more, because I’d be in serious trouble if I did,” Malfoy said, glaring at him, “but I don’t want to tell you anything more. I’m sorry for what I did to you, but I didn’t do it on purpose and I owe you nothing. Now, piss off!”

Harry swept his eyes over Malfoy, noting how tense he suddenly looked and how white his knuckles were where he gripped the edge of the table. Vividly, he was reminded of the way his own knuckles had been torn and bloodied that night and felt nausea crash through him. A phantom burn flared up across his knuckles, and he turned and left the room before Malfoy could notice.

Outside, he leaned his forehead against the cold stone wall and waited for the nausea to pass. Images of that night were rearing up in his mind, the sight of Martin beating Malfoy, and then Martin’s bloodied face beneath him as he punched him again and again. Harry clenched his jaw as his stomach lurched, barely managing to stop himself from vomiting.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there before the feeling passed, and his mind cleared. Shaking, he hurried away before Malfoy left the room and saw him. He felt fear shiver its way through him. He had been feeling better that day, he’d thought he was past the worst of it. Seeing Malfoy the day before had barely affected him, but just seeing his whitened knuckles had thrust him back to that night.

When would it end?

 

 

 

“Ginny said you picked a research topic,” Hermione said, as she sat next to him in the library.

Harry groaned. Failing to learn anything from Malfoy, he had returned to the library and started researching wild magic more thoroughly. Even a few days later he was no closer to understanding what had happened.

“I think I was too ambitious,” Harry said, as he watched her flick through his notes. 

With a start, he realised he hadn’t seen her much the last few days. He was fixating on Malfoy, like he had in sixth year, although knowing that didn’t seem to stop him. He needed to know what had really happened. Knowing that Malfoy had used magic on him to make him do that to Martin wasn’t enough. He needed to know what that magic was, he needed to know how to prevent it from ever happening again. 

At first, he had felt bad for Malfoy, and the way he was treated. Now, he was getting angry again. He had a right to know, and by not telling Harry what had happened, Malfoy was making it possible for it to happen again. To simply tell him that it was wild magic influenced by his mood was ridiculous. They’d had so many fights over the years and nothing like that had ever happened. Harry was starting to think that perhaps Malfoy was lying to him.

“This is excellent research,” Hermione said, sounding surprised as she began to leaf through his notes more slowly, reading more carefully. “You’re cataloguing all the different types of wild magic?”

Harry sighed. “I wanted to look at the different ways people lose control of their magic, and the different effects they have,” he said. He’d planned out a lie after he’d returned to the subject following his failed attempt to get more information out of Malfoy. “But I didn’t realise there were so many different forms of wild magic. I think I’ll just give up now. I won’t need the extra credit to get a job.”

Hermione gave him a disappointed look, but then continued to look through his notes. Harry shifted uncomfortably. It was unlikely she’d be able to guess what had happened from his notes, but it still made him wary to have her reading them.

“You already have so much research completed,” she said, finally putting his notes back down. “I don’t think a comparative analysis like that has even been done before. Wild magic has always been sorted by its magical effect rather than its origin as wild magic, which is quite stupid when you think about it. You should talk to McGonagall before deciding to drop it.”

Harry groaned. Now that Hermione knew, she was likely to keep on him until he submitted a plan. Although, he supposed he should. Maybe the extra work would help keep his mind away from what had happened in the hospital wing, and how he felt about it. 

“Maybe,” he replied. “What have you been doing lately? Ron said it wasn’t your research project.”

“Oh, it’s just some interest research, you know me,” she said with a smile.

Harry nodded absently, his mind turning. He hadn’t yet gone over every form of wild magic, but he’d not found anything like Malfoy’s. Perhaps he really was lying, and he’d cursed him on purpose. But that explanation still didn’t make sense, given his actions afterwards. He needed to talk to him again, although he wasn’t sure he could handle it.

While seeing Malfoy wandering about did not upset him, he could not forget the way he had been thrown back into the hospital wing in his mind when he’d cornered him in the potions lab. It made him shiver to know that whatever Malfoy had done to him, wild magic or a deliberate spell, he had not only controlled him, but made him do something truly awful to another person.

He had to find out what really happened, so he could be sure it never happened again.

 

 

 

Harry was sitting at breakfast one day, listening to Susan and Neville debate some a new law being proposed. The law itself didn’t much interest him, it was something to do with potion sales, but the way they were debating it was. He’d not seen Neville so fired up about something other than plants before. 

It was as Susan made a passing comment about stricter regulations on potion makers being necessary because of dangerous potion side effects, that Harry suddenly remembered something. Malfoy had said Snape had been trying to help him, and that the potion that managed his wild magic problem produced severe side effects. That implied he wasn’t on the potion, or else the side effects would be obvious. He’d looked off lately, but that seemed more like anxiety than the side effects of a potion. 

Harry had a hard time believing the teachers would allow Malfoy to walk around with such a dangerous wild magic problem without taking all available preventative measures. Was he lying to the teachers and claiming to be taking this potion, when he wasn’t actually?

He could definitely believe that of Malfoy, and if he was being honest when he said that he had to touch someone for his wild magic to affect them, the chances of an incident were low. He could get away with it normally, but the bullying Malfoy suffered seemed to be escalating towards physical violence. Harry now knew for certain, it was only a matter of time before what had happened to him in the Hospital Wing happened to someone else. He had to talk to him again.

 

 

 

Harry didn’t manage to get near Malfoy to talk over the next few days. All he could do was stare from a distance. Ron was giving him concerned looks and muttering about sixth year, but Harry ignored him. If he said anything it would likely end up as an argument about how he’d been right, and that maybe Dumbledore would have lived if they had listened to him. Saying it didn’t help anyone, and he would feel awful afterwards, but he was still upset and hated the way they brought up how he’d suspected Malfoy so casually. 

He was sure that Malfoy was not experiencing any potion side effects, or at least none that were severe enough to be noticed. At Hermione’s urging, Harry had submitted a research plan. Minerva had mirrored Hermione’s comments about the originality of the work, which made Harry feel quite proud of himself, even though he was only doing it because of Malfoy. She’d given no indication that she suspected the true cause of his choice of topic. Harry had proposed it as a comparative analysis, which helped obscure the fact he was looking for something in particular. 

He hadn’t found anything useful yet, but having an excuse to be in the library stopped him from receiving strange looks every time he went in there. Hermione’s antics over the years as she tried to get them to study more had made the other students stop and pay attention if they were ever seen studying without her. When he had first started his research, he’d found the staring incredibly irritating. It didn’t help that he’d heard some whispers, and realised a lot of them thought he was researching dark magic. It was nice to clear that up.

The research project allowed him to investigate Malfoy’s wild magic problem without anyone knowing, but also allow him to escape to the quiet of the library without getting odd looks from its inhabitants. Once they stopped being surprised that he was there, and knew the nature of his research, those that studied there turned back to their own study and ignored him. Everywhere else in the castle he still faced blatant hero worship, or open suspicion. People still believed he may turn dark one day. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so upsetting.

Harry sipped at his pumpkin juice and glanced down the table to where Malfoy was seated. Sometimes looking at him reminded Harry of that night, and he would tremble from nausea, but curiosity and determination was swiftly overcoming that reaction. He wanted to know more about what had happened. After all the information on wild magic he had dredged up, he had still not found a single form that matched Malfoy’s description of what he’d done. Or perhaps Malfoy’s description did not match what had happened. 

Harry knew from what he had read that not all wild magic was loud and destructive, although it was always strong and powerful. One thing he had learned, though, was that it was rarely so specific. It could act on objects and people, but not to such a specific effect. The closest thing he’d found so far was anecdotal evidence of a muggleborn child using wild magic that drove her mother to suddenly start stabbing her abusive husband with scissors. But there was a description of the feeling from the mother in question, where she’d said she was completely lucid the whole time, and her body had moved as if on its own. That did not match what had happened to Harry. Instead, he had almost lost consciousness completely and only become aware after he had already destroyed the room and beaten the boy bloody.

He’d also found no mention of wild magic requiring skin contact. Wild magic was, by definition, out of control and did not need a conduit. Thinking back on the way the hospital wing had been destroyed, that was a clear expression of wild magic, and yet it had been Harry’s. If Malfoy had a problem with wild magic, then shouldn’t that have happened before Harry had even arrived? Why wait until Harry was beating his attacker to fight back? Why not lash out sooner? What Harry had done to the room was a more typical expression of wild magic than what Malfoy was claiming.

The more he researched wild magic, the more sure he was that Malfoy had lied to him. 

There was also no known way to control wild magic except through magic dampening potions, which would be counterproductive at Hogwarts, or through training with a conduit. It seemed unlikely now that the incident was caused by wild magic. While Harry knew Malfoy had lied, he did believe him when he said that whatever had happened was an accident. He had looked so guilty, and he had taken the blame. There was no reason for him to do so if he had acted deliberately.

As if he felt Harry’s eyes on him, Malfoy suddenly looked up and met his gaze. 

Harry had stopped bothering to look away when that happened. He wanted more information, and he wanted Malfoy to know it. Malfoy had been avoiding him since their conversation in the potions classroom, and he could continue to avoid him all he liked. Eventually, Harry would get the answers he wanted. He could be stubborn and persistent when it suited him, and if Malfoy wouldn’t talk, he’d figure it out on his own. 

 

 

Draco Malfoy

Potter was watching him. Again . It was never ending, wherever he went. It was driving Draco mad. He had known that Potter would never accept such a vague explanation, but he’d needed to tell him something. Potter was well known for his stubbornness. After he’d cornered Draco in the potions lab, he had been skilfully avoiding another conversation, but he couldn’t stop the idiot from staring at him whenever they were in the same room. Draco was just thankful it was fairly normal for them, otherwise Professor Zeltan would notice. She always kept her beady eyes on him during meals.

Draco knew she suspected he wasn’t taking his potions. If he really wanted to sell his compliance, he should put more effort into faking the side effects, but he couldn’t spare the effort to maintain such a charade. Keeping himself calm and controlled was hard enough, given the way the other students treated him. The fact that Potter still stared at him every chance he got was also exacerbating the problem. Potter had a way of making him lose his composure that no other had. It was infuriating, although he’d been unable to prevent it over the years. While Severus had been helping him, it hadn’t been a problem. Now, it was dangerous.

Rumour had it that Potter was starting his research project, and focusing on wild magic. It was only a matter of time until he could avoid him no longer. Whatever information there was on wild magic in the library, it was unlikely to be even close to what had happened that night in the hospital wing. Eventually the stubborn git would stumble closer and closer to the truth, and Draco would have to step in to make sure the idiot didn’t do something stupid, like talk to Granger. The teacher’s pet would immediately know he wasn’t on his potions, and go tattling to the professors at the first opportunity. He’d seen the way she looked at him, he’d overheard some of her comments. While he couldn’t blame her for hating him after what had happened in the Manor, he wished she would get over it. If she found out what was going on, her hatred for him would cause her to act without thinking of the consequences. He’d seen her act that way before, failing to think things through because she was ruled by a strong emotion, like concern for Potter or Weasley.

There was no doubt in Draco’s mind that Potter had figured out by now that he wasn’t on his potions. For all Potter’s flaws, lack of intelligence was not one of them. Sure, he could be amusingly oblivious, but it seemed he was not so oblivious when Draco needed him to be, just like in sixth year. He’d noticed him perk up and take notice whenever someone came close to touching Draco lately. The idiot needed lessons in subtlety before he ruined everything. Draco would not allow himself to be put back the isolation room and pumped full of potions again because of Potter. If it came to that, he’d tell Potter everything, and hope he wasn’t wrong about Potter’s sense of honour.

Merlin, but he wished Potter would stop staring at him. 

For years they’d played that game. Childish nemeses. As if that had ever really meant anything when there were far more dangerous enemies out there. It had been manageable with Severus’ help, but now he was alone. He had no anchor, and Potter had a way of throwing him off balance. He always had. 

That conversation at the lake had not gone as planned. Potter had become frustrated, but nowhere near what Draco had expected. In fact, he’d backed down as soon as he’d realised that his reaction was having a negative impact. Draco feared he’d woken his hero complex. He knew he’d appeared entirely too vulnerable, but it had been necessary to ensure Potter didn’t get too overly emotional, and cause a similar state in Draco.

They’d played off one another for years. If Potter had resorted to their usual insults and anger, Draco would have followed suit before he could have stopped himself. It was reflexive for them, and that terrified him. Some part of him still hurt over Potter rejecting his offer of friendship all those years ago. He could tell they would have been good friends, competitive, pushing each other, as they did now, but to be better, rather than the escalating spiral of insults they’d been locked into over the years as rivals. It used to be such fun to rile up the Golden Boy Who Lived, and show everyone he wasn’t perfect, that he got angry. Now it was dangerous. 

It still amazed him when he thought of what had happened in the hospital wing. Some part of him had never expected to actually be able to do anything to Potter, not when he could so famously resist magical coercion. All it had taken was that slight brush of his knuckles against Draco’s collarbone, completely unintentional as he’d gripped his collar to push him away. The intensity of what followed still left Draco breathless when he thought of it. He used to pride himself on his ability to make Potter angry, to make him lash out and prove he wasn’t so golden after all. But now he knew. He’d never really made him angry at all, he’d barely scratched the surface, until that night.

He couldn’t deny that, initially at least, he’d taken a sick pleasure in watching Potter beat Martin to protect him. But then it had gone too far, and he’d had to pull Potter off the boy before he killed him. It terrified him to know that Potter had nearly killed another person, and that it was his fault. To make someone like Potter do something like that was both thrilling, and sickening. It didn’t surprise him that it had taken him so long to recover while on the potions. His feelings about the incident had gone around in circles for a long time, before he’d been able to find a healthy balance.

He hadn’t been around to see how Potter had handled the aftermath in those first few days, but after years of observation, he was confident in his assessment of Potter. It would have ruined him. It was amazing that he’d refrained from telling Granger and Weasley, but also not surprising. Potter was terribly predictable. After all the articles about his potential to be a dark wizard, he’d never tell them what he’d done. He had looked awful when they’d talked, and probably hadn’t been sleeping or eating properly. Although, after hearing that Draco was responsible, he was looking better. That was also expected.

When Draco felt those eyes land on him, over and over again, he almost wished he hadn’t said anything by the lake. He only had to last until the end of the school year, and then he could retreat to some dark solitary laboratory and attempt to continue Severus’ work. If they didn’t ship him off to the Department of Mysteries. They’d been itching to get their hands on him for a while. It was such a rare phenomenon. He would be fascinated too, if it didn’t ruin his life. If only Severus hadn’t died, they had been making such progress.

Blinking, he forced himself away from that train of thought only to realise he was still returning Potter’s curious gaze. He immediately broke eye contact, looking to the side automatically to see if his sidekicks had noticed. Granger wasn’t even there, which was lucky. He had a feeling they’d been locked into each other’s gaze for what would have been an alarmingly long time. His eyes landed on Weasley, and he froze. Weasley was looking at Potter suspiciously, before turning his eyes towards Draco, eyebrows drawn together. 

The absolute last thing he needed was a confrontation with Weasley, who had become increasingly physical over the years. The likelihood for skin contact was too high. If the Weasel thought Draco was up to something, he could probably expect to be slammed into a wall in the next conveniently empty hallway. The three of them had an uncanny ability to find him whenever he was alone, though strangely, Potter didn’t seem to be using that usual method lately, or Draco would have failed to avoid him. 

Deciding to play into expectations, he raised an eyebrow and sneered at Weasley, not looking away until Weasley did first. Immediately he looked back at Potter, to see if he’d noticed, only to find him choking on his pumpkin juice and turning bright red.

Intrigued, he watched as Potter gave Weasley a scandalised look, and shoved him. Feeling his lip curl with amusement, Draco wondered what Weasley had said to elicit such a reaction, but quickly took the opportunity to slip away while Potter was distracted.

He’d have to start formulating a better explanation for when Potter came to him with more questions. Obviously that would be sooner rather than later. As much as he’d like to, he couldn’t avoid Potter for the rest of the year.

Chapter Text

“You know, Harry, you’re lucky I know you. If I didn’t, then I might mistake that look you’re sending Malfoy’s way as you mentally undressing him, or something.”

Harry choked on his pumpkin juice. Spluttering and trying not to get juice everywhere, he turned and gave Ron a shocked look. When he caught the amused expression on his friend’s face, he felt his own heat up. Scowling, he gave him a playful shove. He should have known better than to get lost in thought while staring at Malfoy. That wasn’t a particularly pleasant way of returning to reality.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked, dabbing at the juice he’d spilled on himself.

“I know that you’re curious about what happened to Malfoy. We all are,” Ron replied, a curious look on his face. “But, honestly, that intense look on your face...I’ve known you for years, I know it’s curiosity, that you’re thinking through the angles. You’re wondering what made him snap and use fists instead of magic. But if I saw anyone else looking at someone like that, I’d say they were thinking about shagging them.”

Harry gaped at Ron. He couldn’t even begin to think of a response to that, it was so ridiculous. Particularly because he’d been thinking about wild magic, and potions, and all the other possibilities of Malfoy’s strange condition. None of which he could tell Ron in his defence.

“Since when does curiosity look anything like—” Harry glanced around and lowered his voice “—thinking about someone naked?”

Ron snorted in amusement, and Harry flushed. Ron was way off the mark, but Harry always got so awkward talking about such things, and his friend knew it. Merlin, did other people think he was thinking such things while looking at Malfoy? Did Malfoy think that?

“I’m just saying, maybe you want to dial down the intensity a little when you’re trying to puzzle through what the git is up to,” Ron replied, still grinning. “Or not look at him when you do, at least.”

“That is…I can’t believe you would think I…Malfoy! Of all people!” Harry stuttered, still shocked and confused by the sudden uncomfortable topic. Going from thinking of that night in the hospital wing, and what Malfoy’s condition might be, to being told he was looking at him like that was too much. “Of all the people I’d think about…like that, Malfoy is not one of them!”

Ron finally lost it, and burst into a fit of laughter. Harry felt his face flare up red again. He knew he was being teased about his embarrassment over the topic itself rather than Malfoy, and he hated that he reacted that way. It reminded him of the horror that was the combined shovel talk and sex talk he’d gotten from the twins when he’d started dating Ginny, making sure he’d treat her right, but also treat her right

“Sorry, mate,” Ron choked out between breaths, still laughing. “You’re so easy to wind up, it’s hard to resist!”

“For Merlin’s sake, Ron!” Harry snapped, shoving him again. “Why Malfoy? If you must put me through that, then pick someone else next time. You’ll give me bloody nightmares!”

Although, even if he most definitely did not want to think about it, dreams of that sort would be better than memories of the hospital wing. Glancing back down the table, Harry was not surprised to see Malfoy had slipped away. He felt his flush deepen, and hoped he had left before Ron had started spouting that nonsense. He wanted answers sooner or later, and he needed Malfoy to take him seriously. He didn’t like people seeing him so flustered, and was immensely glad that most people had already left lunch, so there wasn’t much of a crowd.

He picked up his pumpkin juice again, trying to ignore the way Ron was still chuckling beside him.

 

 

 

Harry scowled in Ron’s direction as he made another amused sound. He was obviously thinking of lunch again. Hermione cast them a curious look, before returning to her potion. Ron had been laughing at him for being so embarrassed ever since that awful conversation. As mortified as he was at the idea of Ron suggesting he might be thinking about Malfoy naked, he couldn’t help but be glad Ron took the opportunity to tease him, rather than think too deeply about why Harry was so curious. Although, he did miss the way Ron used to hate Malfoy even more than he had. Once, Ron would have been equally horrified by such an idea, rather than use it to unsettle him and gain amusement. Ron had become just a little too mature and forgiving after the war, in Harry’s opinion.

He knew that everyone thought it out of character for Malfoy to beat up someone physically, rather than use magic. He was lucky that they attributed it to a reaction to all the bullying, because he didn’t want anyone thinking too hard and long about Harry’s continued curiosity. Nott already suspected he might have seen something. Someone who knew him better would never drop it without answers, if they suspected he was involved. 

Frowning, he glanced down at his knuckles as the phantom burn made itself known, as it sometimes still did when his thoughts turned to that night. Still frowning, he rubbed the knuckles of his right hand absentmindedly while he waited for his potion to reach the next step. With the knowledge that he wasn’t directly responsible for his actions that night, he was able to push those thoughts far to the back of his mind and get on with life. But it still bothered him that he remembered the physical sensation of grazed, bruised knuckles so easily. It was like his body didn’t want him to forget what he was really capable of.

He’d been careful to avoid looking at Malfoy all day, because he didn’t want Ron to start up that nonsense again, but he couldn’t help but glance over to the next table, which Malfoy seemed to have taken permanently. A bolt of alarm shot through him when he realised Malfoy was staring at where he was still rubbing his knuckles. Immediately, he stopped. A few seconds after his thumb stopped moving, Malfoy glanced up.

The expression on Malfoy’s face made Harry feel simultaneously hot and cold all over. He was clearly thinking about that night. While he looked slightly afraid, an expression Harry was now able to recognise even though it must be invisible to others, he also looked curious. There was an intensity to his gaze that made Harry shiver. It looked an awful lot like hunger. Like Malfoy wanted to see Harry lose control like that again. Or maybe he wanted to cause Harry to lose control again.

Shivering slightly, Harry actually understood that. He’d thought long and hard about Malfoy’s magic controlling him, wondering how that was possible when he was normally able to throw off such spells, like the Imperius curse. Everyone knew he could throw off those curses. It would be a power trip for anyone to know that they could use magic to make Harry do something against his will, but for someone like Malfoy, that he had history with... 

Now that Harry suspected it wasn’t wild magic after all, it made everything take on a new meaning.

That was what Harry was sure he was seeing in Malfoy’s face now, the knowledge that he had used magic to make Harry Potter do something that went against his nature, violently injuring a person he didn’t even know. Whether or not that was intentional, Harry wasn’t sure. He wanted to believe it was intentional, it would make it so much simpler. Still, Malfoy’s behaviour didn’t add up. He would never have taken the blame like that if he’d done it on purpose.

Without realising it, he started stroking his knuckles again, tracing the bumps where the skin had been broken and bloody, and still burned when he thought of that night. Malfoy’s eyes dropped to his hands again, and Harry felt an intense sense of vulnerability to see that expression on Malfoy’s face.

Malfoy knew he could use magic, even if unintentionally, to control Harry and make him violent. While that obviously horrified Malfoy to a certain extent, it quite obviously pleased him also. But was it the violence, or the control, that he obviously liked? If it truly was unintentional, would he do it on purpose to get that power over Harry back? 

Harry swallowed, and forced his hands apart. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that look on Malfoy’s face. Some part of him was uncomfortable with feeling that level of vulnerability, but it was Malfoy . Maybe it was their shared antagonism over the years, knowing each other’s limits, knowing how far to push, but also how far the other would push. If anyone else had used that kind of power over him he would have been a lot more horrified, not knowing what they would do with it. But was almost like he trusted Malfoy with it, which was absurd, Malfoy said he had no control over whatever he had done, and Harry mostly believed him. Just the thought of trusting Malfoy like that made Harry flush hot and cold again. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t more bothered by it.

After a while he glanced back over at Malfoy, more subtly this time. Malfoy was finishing off the last steps of the potion. He was at a stage he obviously couldn’t afford to look away from, but Harry could see that he knew he was being watched. His posture changed slightly, his shoulders and jaw noticeably tensing. It obviously took him conscious effort not to look back. 

Harry suddenly had a horrible thought. What if whatever Malfoy had done to him wasn’t temporary? What if there was some remnant that allowed a connection between them, and that was why Malfoy always knew when he looked at him? Harry mentally shook himself. That was a ridiculous thought. He would surely know if that was the case, and besides, Malfoy had always had the uncanny ability of knowing when he was being observed, it was something Harry envied about him. Such an ability would have been handy over the years.

Finally having finished his potion, Malfoy suddenly looked up and locked eyes with Harry again. He looked annoyed, which was not unusual, but also curious, as if he didn’t know why Harry was still looking at him. Clearly he had no idea what his previous expression had given away, or he was pretending he didn’t. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Harry. 

Surely he knew that Harry wanted more information from him, information he clearly didn’t want to give, if Harry was right about the wild magic being a deception. He shouldn’t be surprised that Harry would try to observe more information from his demeanour and actions.

Rather than just staring back at him until one of them looked away, Harry raised a questioning eyebrow right back at him, and tapped his knuckles gently. Malfoy’s gaze flicked down at the movement, and his face closed off slightly when he looked back at Harry’s face. Obviously he understood that Harry didn’t believe the wild magic explanation, though he didn’t look surprised. Maybe he was aware of his previous expression. But Harry was determined to get answers. He wanted to know what kind of magic could so easily control him, especially when it was wielded, even unintentionally, by someone with whom he had such a confrontational past. Someone who had just looked at him like he might want to do it again.

Harry decided he was going to have to be more aggressive in his attempts to corner Malfoy for another chat. He honestly didn’t know how he felt to learn that Malfoy, on some level, had enjoyed the thought of having power over him, although he certainly couldn’t blame him, given their past. It was uncomfortable to admit, but he would probably, initially at least, feel the same if their situation was reversed. He sent Malfoy a stern look, hoping to convey his intentions. Malfoy responded by rolling his eyes, tilting his head playfully and giving a subtle shrug of his shoulders. 

Harry glared back, recognising the challenge immediately. He’d gotten that look from Malfoy often enough back when they were actively antagonising one another. He was baiting Harry, knowing that he couldn’t say anything. He shook his head in amused disbelief. He knew he’d be able to corner Malfoy if he really set his mind to it, and Malfoy knew it too at this point. The only thing holding him back so far was the worry that he may upset Malfoy and spark another incident, and Malfoy probably realised that as well. The git smirked back at him in response, as if he could follow Harry’s train of thought.

For a second, it almost felt like they were back when they were younger, but without the intense hate. It made Harry a little sad to remember when Malfoy used to sit so high on his list of evil things, when he was still so unaware of what was really out there. Their rivalry had been so childish in the end, and even as they’d both come to understand this, as the world outside Hogwarts became more dangerous, they’d continued anyway. Harry sometimes wondered if Malfoy had felt the same as him, that their petty feud was a comforting baseline to ground them, or if he had still been genuine in all that petty hatred right up until he’d redeemed himself at such great personal cost.

Something in his demeanour must have shifted, because Malfoy’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, and his expression softened almost imperceptibly. He tilted his head to the side slightly and raised an eyebrow in question again. Harry sighed and shook his head slightly. None of that could be conveyed through a non-verbal conversation. Malfoy looked unconvinced, and glanced around as if he was preparing to do something indiscreet. Before Harry could find out what, Malfoy’s face closed off abruptly, and Harry followed his gaze to see Ron looking between them, his face impassive. 

Harry cursed himself for being so stupid, he’d forgotten they were in the middle of class. To be caught staring at Malfoy once again after what happened at lunch...Ron was definitely going to know something was going on. It didn’t help matters that he’d very obviously touched his own knuckles in a meaningful way during their silent communication, and that Malfoy had responded to it. How long had Ron been watching them? Had he seen that? As much as he hated being flustered, and being made fun of for his embarrassment, he almost wished Ron would just brush this off with another stupid joke. 

But he could tell from the look on Ron’s face that this would not be dropped like what had happened at lunch. He hadn’t just stared at Malfoy, they’d communicated. Harry knew that the significance of that would not escape Ron, especially given the way Harry had behaved oddly following Malfoy’s incident, and every time someone had mentioned it, until Malfoy had resurfaced. Harry glanced back at Malfoy to see him suddenly engrossed in his textbook, and frowned in annoyance. Obviously Malfoy was done with the matter. Turning back to Ron, he saw an expectant look on his face, and sighed. There was no getting out of that conversation.

 

 

 

All through dinner, Harry could feel Ron’s nervous energy beside him. Somehow he’d managed to communicate to Ron not to get Hermione involved, so he’d managed to avoid giving an explanation so far. Hermione had been glued to them ever since Potions had finished, rambling about the potion they’d made and its wider applications. Ron grunted monosyllabic responses to her in all the right places as they left the dungeons, but Harry saw that he kept an eye on Malfoy as he walked ahead of them. Curiosity about Malfoy seemed to be winning over Hermione suddenly being more talkative than she had been for some time. The same was true for Harry. He was far to concerned about Ron’s suspicions to enjoy Hermione's changed mood.

He didn’t know whether Ron shared Nott’s suspicions that he may have seen something that night, but he definitely knew Ron wasn’t thinking about harmless jokes now. Everyone discredited Ron’s intelligence, clearly forgetting that he was a master chess player. Harry was reminded every time he was stupid enough to play him. His logic and strategising skills were far beyond Harry’s, and no doubt he was now piecing together all the information he’d disregarded before that day, and thinking through all the possibilities. Harry’s strange behaviour after the incident, then his sudden improvement and curiosity once Malfoy had reappeared, would definitely start to paint a picture in his mind. 

Harry cursed himself for being so obvious. He was surprised Hermione had not noticed, but he supposed she was sufficiently distracted by her own coursework and whatever project she was doing for interest. Harry suddenly wished he could get Malfoy alone before he talked to Ron. He didn’t know what to say to him, but knew he’d have to go with the truth, Ron wouldn’t be dissuaded now. Malfoy wouldn’t want anyone knowing, Harry knew that much from his discomfort even telling Harry a lie about it. He supposed he could tell Ron the same lie, and just omit the fact he suspected it wasn’t the truth. He knew that if he told Ron too much, and Malfoy somehow found out, he’d probably never get the truth out of him. 

While some part of him, for some unknown reason that left him feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable, trusted Malfoy not to use that magic against him again, it was still an unknown force that could control him. That made it a threat. He had to know more about it, he had to learn how to fight it, or failing that, identify it, so he could be warned if it was going to be used against him again. If Malfoy could perform that magic accidentally, then there were probably others out there who could use it deliberately, whatever it was.

After dinner, Hermione left for the library, trying and failing to get them to join her. It was a rare invitation after how distant she had been recently, and Harry wished he could just go with her and forget the whole matter, but Ron stayed close to him, a looming presence at every turn. Not wanting to discuss the matter inside, he suggested they go to the Quidditch pitch and fly for a while first. He didn’t get to fly nearly as much as he would have liked to anymore. 

The first time he’d gone flying before returning to Hogwarts, he’d had a horrible sensation that fire was all around him, as if he could almost feel the flames licking at him again. At first it had terrified him so much he hadn’t flown for weeks, but eventually he’d overcome that. His desire for the feel of freedom flight gave him could overcome everything, eventually. 

Ron was eager enough, although he looked put off by yet another delay to their conversation. Somehow, though, he seemed to understand that the matter was serious, and allowed Harry the extra time to compose himself, for which he was grateful. While, at times, he couldn’t help but fall down into that dark space in his mind, where he wasn’t good enough, and Ron always walked away, Ron really was a good friend to him, and understood him well. He knew he shouldn’t let himself forget that as often as he did. 

When at last he could delay no further, and the sky had darkened too much for safe flying, they descended back to the ground. Tired, Harry just sat where he landed. Ron gave him a strange look, but joined him on the ground. Harry cast a new spell he’d learned, and a ball of light hovered above them.

“So I suppose it’s too much to ask that you really are thinking of shagging him?” Ron asked cheekily, quite obviously trying to dispel the tension that had fallen around them when they’d landed.

Harry scowled, and whacked him with his broom handle. Unable to help himself, he felt his face flush at the topic. Still annoyed that Ron would pick Malfoy for such jokes when Harry would react just as badly to anyone else, he whacked him again for good measure. Ron just chuckled and rubbed his arm a little where Harry had hit him.

“In all seriousness, mate, what’s going on?”

Harry sighed. He’d planned on thinking the conversation through while they flew, but had lost himself in flight instead. He had no idea where to begin, or even what to say. Ron let him have his silence for a while, before he spoke up again.

“We were all curious about what Malfoy did, but you got really weird there for a while,” he said cautiously. “It wasn’t really nightmares, was it?”

“I was having nightmares. I was there.” Harry winced, not having intended to say that at all. Somehow it had slipped out on its own though, and there was no taking it back. 

So many expressions passed over Ron’s face as he thought that through, and Harry cursed his friend’s logic skills, because he no doubt came to every possible conclusion from those last three damning words.

“Don’t ask, I don’t want to talk about it,” he said quickly, as Ron opened his mouth to say something. 

He didn’t know what conclusion Ron thought was the most likely, but he didn’t want to talk about how he’d beaten a boy almost to death. Not yet, maybe not ever. Shivering slightly, he picked at the grass so he wouldn’t be tempted to rub his knuckles again. They burned.

“You can’t just drop that and expect me to say nothing,” Ron replied, but to his credit his voice was steady and cautious, rather than angry or upset. 

“I’m not ready to talk about it, Ron,” Harry said, not looking up.

There was silence as Ron worked that through. Harry couldn’t bear to look at him. What if he knew? What if he immediately guessed the correct conclusion and knew that Harry had been the one to hurt Martin like that? Without knowing that he hadn’t been in control of his own actions, what would he think?

“Neville said Nott has a theory,” Ron started cautiously. “That something extreme must have happened for Malfoy to snap like that.”

Relief hit Harry like a concussive force. Ron still thought Malfoy had beaten the boy. Although, what other conclusion he’d come to, Harry couldn’t guess. He was so distracted by his relief that he almost didn’t hear Ron’s next words.

“He thought maybe Martin had taken things a little too far,” he continued, still so cautiously. “Crossed that line, you know, tried to assault Malfoy in that…other way.”

When Ron’s meaning suddenly became clear Harry reeled back slightly in shock. 

“You think he tried to…to…”

Merlin, he couldn’t even say it. Where had Nott even got that idea from? He almost wished Ron would speak again, to distract him, but now he stayed silent, his expression annoyingly impassive again as he watched Harry process his words. Merlin, he couldn’t even imagine someone doing something like that. Obviously he knew people did do that, sick people out there, far away from the safe haven that was Hogwarts. Nott and Ron couldn’t possibly believe that actually happened there, or that someone like Malfoy would put up with something like that. He’d probably kill anyone who tried.

Oh. 

Oh.

That was why they thought he’d reacted so violently, when he’d just silently suffered through everything else. He supposed their conclusion had some merit, given that they didn’t know Malfoy hadn’t actually done it himself. Although, now that he thought about it, did he really know what was happening in that hospital wing when he’d rushed in. Was it possible?

He’d just heard fighting and rushed in without a thought. He’d pulled Martin off Malfoy, but he hadn’t paid much attention beyond that. But he was sure Martin was just kicking and punching Malfoy. Their clothes were still on. Surely he would have noticed if…if that was happening. But, he couldn’t remember enough of what had happened to know for sure. When Malfoy’s magic had taken him, he remembered nothing but rage and pain.

Suddenly, he hated Ron for putting that idea in his head. Until then he’d not given much thought to the matter. Martin had been beating Malfoy while he was already injured, and that was that, he’d intervened. Now it may have been more than that, in the most horrifying way. Or Ron could be completely wrong. Either way, Harry couldn’t get it out of his head now. It shouldn’t change anything, but somehow it did. And he’d never know. There was no way he could ask Malfoy about it. If it was true, the reminder could push him into another incident. If it wasn’t true, Merlin knows how Malfoy would react to the insinuation, he was so proud, as shown by his determination to try and hide even the smallest acts of bullying.

Harry knew with certainty, though, that he couldn’t allow Ron to go around thinking Malfoy was a victim of… that . Somehow he knew that would horrify Malfoy whether it was true or not, as it did him. Malfoy was taking the blame for what Harry had done, and he couldn’t bear for people to use that to say things about Malfoy. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t know what other people would think about that, but he just couldn’t bear the thought Ron thinking that, especially if he thought that it had happened and Harry had done nothing but watch, or run away.

“That didn’t…Malfoy wasn’t…”

Merlin, he almost admitted to beating the boy himself. The way that he was reacting, Ron was probably thinking the worst. He had to come clean. If he told a lie now, he’d have to continue to tell that lie for the rest of his life. He could bear to let people assume Malfoy had done it, but he couldn’t outright lie and say that he hadn’t been involved. Taking a deep breath, he looked Ron in the eye. His friend looked so concerned he almost lost his nerve.

“Malfoy didn’t hurt Martin. I did.”

Looking into Ron’s eyes while he said that probably hadn’t been his brightest idea. As soon as they widened, he looked away. He didn’t want to see how Ron reacted to that. He had to keep going. If he stopped now, he’d never continue, and Ron would think he’d done it of his own free will.

“I didn’t mean to. Martin was punching and kicking him, Malfoy was bleeding. I pulled them apart, and then I…”

Groaning in frustration, he stopped. He didn’t know how to explain it. He didn’t want Ron to go running at Malfoy like he’d done it on purpose. He knew Ron had forgiven Malfoy after everything he’d done during the final battle. Malfoy had put himself had terrible risk for them, and Ron had forgiven him and moved on from the past. But old habits die hard. What if he assumed Malfoy had done it on purpose and went after him? He’d probably punch him and set off whatever it was that Malfoy did when he was upset. He couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t let Ron go through that too, when he was still struggling to come to terms with it himself.

“Malfoy has a problem with wild magic. He was upset, he was in pain, and it affected me,” he continued, cursing his voice for sounding so shaky, and so weak. “I didn’t even realise what had happened…what I’d done, until Malfoy pulled me off him.”

He let out a shuddering breath and looked up, terrified of what he might see in Ron’s face. 

All he saw was utter shock. Wide-eyed and open mouthed, Ron just stared at him. 

Minutes seemed to pass while Ron just continued to gape at him. Harry knew he had to give him time to process, but he wished the ground would just open up and swallow him. There were so many ways that Ron could respond, and Harry’s mind was only supplying him with the negative ones. He supposed it was only fair that Ron take his time to process, since he had come to a conclusion that was so very far from the truth.

After a while Ron’s gaze flickered down to Harry’s hands, which he realised now were clenched into fists. He quickly relaxed them, not wanting Ron to drawn any nasty conclusions from his discomfort. Ron shook his head slightly, as if clearing an unpleasant thought, and then looked to the side. Harry’s stomach lurched at the idea that his friend couldn’t even look at him. When anger rushed over Ron’s face next, Harry couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“It’s not his fault! I’m not mad at him, it was an accident.”

Ron turned back to him, looking incredulous. “You’re defending him?”

“He didn’t mean to do it, and he took the blame when he didn’t have to. He told me to leave and called for help, in fact he blasted me out of the room to make sure I’d leave, because I didn’t want to.”

The look that passed over Ron’s face was nothing short of murderous rage, and it made Harry instantly tense. 

“He used magic to make you put another student in St. Mungo’s! How can you look past that?”

“Because it’s a hell of a lot better than if I’d done it of my own free will!” Harry snapped back. “I spent nine days thinking that I’d done that! That I’d beaten him almost to death without knowing why. I didn’t even know who he was at first! Can you even understand what that’s like? I was terrified I’d do it again! Until Malfoy told me what had happened, I thought that everyone was right, that I was losing my mind and going dark!”

Harry was shouting by the time he finished, and he sucked in a deep breath and forced himself to relax. Even knowing that he wasn’t about to lose himself to anger like that again, there was still a part of him that was nervous about getting angry.

He seemed to have shocked Ron into silence once more. He was tempted to just leave him to process that on his own, but he had to be sure Ron wouldn’t say anything. Hermione would tell a teacher immediately, and Harry was fairly sure things would go horribly for Malfoy if the professors found out that Harry had been involved in the incident.

Ron’s face suddenly twisted in disgust, and Harry was thrown off balance, not knowing where that might have come from.

“Merlin, you’re not actually shagging him are you?” Ron asked. “I was just joking earlier.”

“What?” Harry would be concerned at the pitch his voice reached with that, but he was so thrown by the question that he could barely respond at all. One second Ron was raging, and now he was staring at Harry with suspicion and disgust.

“Well, first you defend the little shit after he essentially Imperiused you, and Merlin knows how he managed that unless you bloody let him get inside your head,” Ron continued. “And what were you even doing in the hospital wing when he was there anyway, checking up on him? Then he shows back up, and you two are having bloody conversations with your eyebrows, and all that intensity, like you’re planning your next shag or something.”

Harry gaped at Ron, completely speechless. For starters, he could barely follow Ron’s mood changes during the conversation, and for seconds, he’d never heard anything so ridiculous. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to form words and failing. His complete and utter shock must have shown how stupid and implausible the idea was, because Ron started to look uncertain.

“I don’t even know where to start with that, Ron,” he replied faintly, finding his words at last. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous, and I’m getting really worried by you fixating on Malfoy for these kinds of jokes.”

Somehow he must have said the right thing, because Ron sagged, and suddenly seemed very sheepish.

“Sorry mate, I was joking earlier today, I knew your response would be priceless, and then all this...it just seemed to make sense.”

“It makes no sense!” Harry replied, completely incredulous. He’d never seen Ron’s logic fail him so utterly before. It was almost amusing, if it wasn’t so uncomfortable.

“I can see that now,” Ron said, grimacing. “Can we just forget that I went off the rails there for a bit?”

“Only if you bloody promise not to bring all that up again,” Harry sputtered. “You’re so bloody far off the mark it’s embarrassing for us both!”

“Agreed,” Ron replied with relief. 

Harry nodded, thoughts already drifting. He couldn’t believe where that conversation had ended up. He was relieved that none of his horrible ideas had come to pass, but in a way, Ron’s ridiculous assumptions were worse. He didn’t want to think about Malfoy like that.

“You’re using your research project to look into his wild magic, aren’t you?” Ron suddenly asked, attempting to dive back into the topic. 

Harry nodded, unsure whether he should share his suspicions about it not being wild magic at all. It would explain the silent conversation he and Malfoy had in potions, just to clarify to Ron again that they were not going anywhere near the topic of shagging. But that would put him back in the uncomfortable situation of not knowing how much Malfoy would want Ron knowing. Although, a little more discomfort would hardly matter at this point. He was so damn uncomfortable from their conversation, he just wanted to run off and hide from Ron for several days, so he didn’t have to look at him and remember that he’d thought he’d been shagging Malfoy, of all people.

“You think there’s more to it?” Ron asked, and Harry nodded before he could help himself. “You’re trying to get him to talk, but he’s avoiding you?”

Harry nodded again, feeling numb. Now that the ridiculous mess of Ron’s initial suspicion was out of the way, he seemed spot on. In fact, if he didn’t know Ron better he would assume he’d done that on purpose to lighten the mood. But it had done anything but lighten the mood, instead only making them both uncomfortable, and Ron’s reactions had been far too genuine. Ron was not a good actor.

“Well, keep at him, I guess, and let me know when you find out more?”

Harry gave Ron a questioning look, surprised that he seemed to be dropping it so easily.

“Look, let’s be honest,” Ron started, “Malfoy is never going to tell you anything if I’m involved. This is obviously something you also feel you need to deal with on your own, or you would have come to us. Hermione is the best at research after all.”

Ron grinned, and Harry felt himself smile back, weakly. He couldn’t believe they were still okay after all that. It was like Ron was just stepping past the fact he’d beaten a boy almost to death, leaving it alone completely and moving on. He hadn’t expected that. He had thought he’d be forced to talk about it. Maybe Ron did want to talk about it, but remembered Harry saying right at the beginning of their conversation that he wasn’t ready. Either way, he was immensely glad they could move on.

“Don’t tell Hermione, yeah?” he suddenly remembered to ask. “Malfoy would get into a lot of trouble if the teachers knew he’d used magic on me like that, even accidentally.”

“Sure thing, mate,” Ron replied easily, probably thinking instead of what would happen to Harry if the teachers found out Malfoy was innocent and Harry was guilty instead.

They sat silently for a while longer. Harry still felt uncomfortable, but he did feel a lot better for Ron knowing about it. 

“Just…” Ron started, looking away and rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably, “if you did happen to…you know...shag a bloke…”

Harry felt his face heat up when he realised what Ron was trying to say, and groaned with frustration. After all that, if Ron was bloody teasing him again he’d hit him.

“It’s alright, yeah?” Ron concluded, looking just as uncomfortable as Harry felt. “I was only joking about Malfoy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not okay, you know?”

Harry hid his face in his hands, mortified that they were having this conversation. 

“Merlin, not Malfoy though!” Ron suddenly said, waving his arms around. “Not Malfoy, ever! But blokes in general, you know? Although...if for some insane reason, you did shag Malfoy, I guess that’s alright too...”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Harry said awkwardly, face still flushed and burning with embarrassment.

“Me neither, mate,” Ron said awkwardly. “But I never figured you might even be…that way, because of Ginny. I just want to be clear that it’s okay if you want to be, or already are shagging blokes, you know? In case my joking made you feel bad, or something.”

Harry chuckled, sounding a little hysterical, at how awkward and unreal the whole situation was. They’d gone through him possibly shagging Malfoy, to beating up a boy while under the influence of unknown magic, to him defending the person who’d used said magic, and now Ron was giving him the ‘it’s okay if you’re gay’ talk. Harry hardly knew what was happening anymore.

“Oh Merlin, are you shagging some bloke behind our backs?” Ron suddenly asked, looking horrified. “And I’ve been trying to get you back with Ginny even though she’s with bloody Dean now, and you’ve been shagging some bloke the whole time!”

“Stop, Ron, stop!”

Harry’s face was so hot now he felt like he was on fire. Knowing that Ron wasn’t just teasing him for his embarrassment at talking about sex, but was trying to be genuinely understanding made it somehow much worse.

“I’m not shagging anyone! When the bloody hell have I had time to even think about any of this? Any of it ?” 

“All right!”

They stared at each other for a few moments before Ron started laughing. Still uncomfortable, Harry still found himself joining in anyway. The entire conversation was so surreal, he hardly knew what to think anymore.

“But are you?” Ron suddenly asked.

“I just said I’m not shagging anyone, you silly git,” Harry replied, annoyed Ron seemed to be gearing up for another round.

Surprisingly, Ron flushed red. “I meant, are you, you know…gay. Which is okay, absolutely fine! Just curious.”

“If I was only into blokes then I wouldn’t have shagged your sister, now would I?” Harry replied, finally spying a chance for revenge for this entire embarrassing conversation.

“Oi!” Ron whipped his broom around and whacked Harry in the head with the tail end. He’d gone positively scarlet, the colour clashing with his hair. Harry started laughing even as he rubbed the side of his head. He was pretty sure he’d just been cut by a stray twig, but it was worth it.

“That’s enough of that! I don’t need to hear about that, ever! I hear enough of that shit from her!”

Harry just continued to laugh as Ron picked himself up and stormed off in a huff.

Chapter Text

Harry shuddered as cold water rushed over him. Shivering, he leaned his forehead against the shower wall and thrust his fist above his head so the water beat down on it. He'd woken from a nightmare so bad his entire body seemed to burn, instead of just his knuckles. The phantom pain felt so real he had been convinced for a second, before he had fully woken up, that he must have been punching something in his sleep. The icy water burned, but it also soothed.

He let out a frustrated groan. Foolishly, he had believed, after his talk with Ron, that he would be able to push that night further back into his mind. Having Ron know about it, and accept it had made him feel lighter, but it had all come crashing back. He had found himself back in that hospital wing when he'd closed his eyes, only this time it was Ron's face he was beating into an unrecognisable mess. The nightmare didn't make sense. There was no reason for him to be hurting Ron. He wasn't aware that he was afraid of that until he woke from the dream, skin burning and stomach rolling.

Even though he was shivering from the cold, he stayed there. How could he dream of such a thing? He'd assumed that his nightmares were just guilt he hadn't managed to let go, but he was starting to worry it was something else. He just wished his knuckles would stop burning. Always, when he thought of that night, they burned. When would it end?

In a sudden rage, he lashed out and punched the wall in three consecutive blows. The pain that washed over him was harsh, but somehow, it made him feel better. His knuckles burned and bled, and he may have fractured bone, but at least it was real. He flexed his fingers, wincing from the pain. The sight of blood on his hand should have upset him, but instead he felt calm. His hand didn't hurt because of some remnant guilt dredged up by a nightmare. His hand hurt because he'd punched the wall. It was real pain, from real damage. Sighing, he leaned his forehead against the wall again. Still shivering, he stayed there for a while.

 

 

 

"Mate, you look like shit," Ron said in greeting, as he met Harry coming out of his room the next morning.

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Had a nightmare, couldn't get back to sleep," he replied, wincing as he gripped the strap of his bag. He probably should have healed his hand.

Ron turned to say something else, but caught sight of Harry's hand. The colour drained from his face, and for a second, Harry thought he looked afraid. But of what? Was he afraid of Harry, or for Harry? Then the moment passed.

Ron dropped his bag and reached out for Harry's hand. "What happened here?"

Harry pulled away from him. "I knocked something during my nightmare. You know how I flail around."

Ron gave him a look that clearly said he didn't buy that for a second. Drawing his wand, he healed him before he could protest. Harry realised that was probably a good thing, what would he have said? 'No leave it, it makes me feel better'? Yeah, that would have gone over well.

"Are you alright?" Ron asked quietly, as they neared the common room. "I know we ended things in a weird place yesterday, but we're good, right?"

"Yeah, we're good, I'm fine," Harry replied quickly. He was ready to pretend everything was okay, until he suddenly realised he didn't have to. Ron already knew enough that he could try to ease his burden a little by speaking of it. The idea of talking had horrified him, but now he thought it might actually help. "I thought maybe I'd get a break from the nightmares for a bit, you know? I got a little frustrated and took it out on the nearest wall."

Ron gave him a conflicted look. "Talking makes it worse for a bit, brings it all back, you know? But if you keep at it, it will really help you in letting it go," he replied. "But it may be best if you leave off punching walls, yeah? That doesn't help anyone."

Harry was thrown for a second, hearing Ron sound so sure of what he said, before he remembered that Ron had said something about a mind healer during the month following the Battle of Hogwarts. He'd never mentioned it again, and Harry had thought he'd changed his mind. 

"Are you still seeing a mind healer?"

Ron grimaced. "Until school started I was. It really helps, but don't spread it around. I'm not ashamed or anything. I think we all have a lot of things we need to talk about after the war, and memories we need to see from another perspective, but I'd rather keep it to myself."

"Does Hermione know?" He'd never heard them discussing it before. It certainly explained how Ron had become more and more calm and at peace over the months before school started, and why he had such an accepting attitude towards the Slytherins after so many years of hating them.

"Yeah, she went once or twice herself, but didn't find it helpful. It doesn't work for everyone," Ron replied. "I mentioned I was seeing one, didn't I?"

Aside from that first mention, he really hadn't, and Harry couldn't understand how he hadn't known, unless Ron had been actively keeping it from him. Before he could reply, Hermione joined them, looking agitated. She was carrying stacks of toast and levitating tea, which she handed off to them, gesturing to the sofas.

"Blimey, you've already been to breakfast? What time did you get up?" Ron asked, eyeing Hermione with concern while he took his tea.

Ron and Harry had a bad habit of leaving only at the last possible moment to have just enough time to eat before class started. Sometimes Hermione joined them, other times she went early, though it never ceased to shock Ron that she'd willingly wake earlier than necessary.

Hermione glanced around the common room, nodding to herself when she saw that they were alone.

"There was an incident near the Great Hall just now, you won't believe it," she said. "A group of seventh years, mixed house, started cursing Malfoy, out of nowhere! In full view of other students!"

Harry felt his stomach drop, and barely managed to hold on to his food. Ron cast him an anxious look, which only made Harry feel more nervous. Would Ron to tell Hermione what he'd said about Malfoy? He couldn't let that happen, she wouldn't let it go like him, she'd tell a teacher. He quickly gulped his tea in an attempt to distract himself and chase away the chill that was spreading through him.

"What happened? Is he alright?" Ron asked.

Hermione shook her head, as if she could scarcely believe what she was about to say. "They surprised him, knocked him down with curses before he could even draw his wand in defence, and then they started hitting and kicking him, it was awful!"

Harry lost his grip on his mug, spilling tea everywhere. He knew where this was going, and he shot Ron a panicked look before he could help himself. Luckily, Hermione didn't even notice. She just waved her wand and cleared up the tea, before continuing.

"Then, and this is where it gets weird," she said, sounding almost excited, but also horrified, "they started fighting each other! It's like they all went completely mad!"

Harry felt a tremor start in his hands. He had known it would happen again, it was only ever a matter of time, but he hadn't thought it would be so soon. He still didn't understand what had really happened, he wasn't ready for Hermione to know. He shot Ron a desperate look. Ron, to his credit, looked completely calm. Harry couldn't tell if he was about to tell Hermione everything, or brush it off.

"He must have got off a spell while they were beating him," he replied. "Sounds like dark magic."

Harry closed his eyes for a second in relief. Ron shifted a little on the sofas, like he was leaning forward, interested in the conversation, but it brought their legs into sudden contact. Warmth spread through Harry when he realised what Ron was doing. That tiny feeling of support was exactly what he needed to steady himself. Breathing deeply, he composed himself and ate his toast so he wouldn't have to speak, even though he felt sick.

"The professors must have thought so as well. They didn't even hesitate, they just started stunning everyone and levitating them to the hospital wing!"

"I can't believe something like that would happen near the hall during breakfast," Ron said with a frown. "What were they thinking? Even if Malfoy hadn't got off that lucky spell, there's no way no one notices a group of kids attacking another! That's not even bullying, that's proper assault!"

"Maybe they've gotten bolder," Hermione said, calming down and looking speculative. "So far the professors have just been largely ignoring the bullying that's been going on, not just of Malfoy, but of all the Slytherins. Perhaps Malfoy wandered by at the wrong time and they thought if they were fast enough they would get away with it. Although, honestly, I saw the whole thing and it still doesn't make sense, they were just talking and not even paying much attention to anyone around them, and then suddenly they attacked him out of nowhere. He didn’t even say anything to them. There was no provocation at all."

Ron stiffened next to him, and Harry chewed his toast slowly, taking the chance to think things through. He was surprised that she seemed sympathetic, after the way she had been so spiteful towards Malfoy since school started. Perhaps seeing what he went through helped her realise Malfoy wasn’t the villain she thought he was. 

Either way, he now had a lot to think about. It was likely that Malfoy would disappear like he did the last time. The professors must isolate him somewhere away from other students when he had an incident. He could probably find him if he used the map. He was certain they wouldn't expel Malfoy, not if his incidents were self-defence towards bullying that they failed to stop. Still, it was suddenly a lot less likely he'd get Malfoy to talk more about their incident. He should have pushed harder to get him alone before this.

"What do you think, Harry?" Hermione suddenly asked, drawing him out of his thoughts.

Ron glanced at him and pressed his knee a little tighter against Harry's. It comforted Harry to know Ron had his back. He had no idea what he could even say. The whole incident seemed highly suspicious, even knowing Malfoy had that strange magic of his. For a group of students to suddenly and viciously attack another was so bizarre, Harry wondered if maybe Malfoy's magic had worked them into a rage without even touching them, but surely that wasn't possible. Malfoy had said it only happened when he touched someone. But then, he'd already lied about what kind of magic it was, maybe he was lying about that too.

"I can't think of a spell that would do that, except for the Imperius curse," he said, trying to find a way to turn this to his advantage. "There's no way Malfoy would risk that, not even to save himself. But he must have hit them with something strong, whatever it was. It would be unfair if they expel him over this, he was only acting in self-defence, and that's the professors' fault, not his. I still can't believe they’re turning a blind eye to the bullying this year."

Hermione looked thoughtful at his words. Harry was glad they had the intended effect. She would probably look up spells that could control people, inadvertently helping him without knowing anything. Ron shot him an annoyed look, clearly understanding what he'd done, and obviously not approving of it.

"The problem is that no one will go to them and admit to being bullied," Hermione finally said. "Most of them are Slytherins and they probably don't want to seem weaker than they already are. The teachers can't really do anything if no one will make a complaint."

Harry's mood darkened. "This kind of shit was supposed to end once the war was over! We didn't fight just to allow this prejudice to continue!"

Hermione shifted, looking uncomfortable. Harry wanted to feel bad, but instead he felt pleased she realised she was part of the problem.

"Some attitudes run too deep to change so fast, Harry," Ron said quietly. "It only takes a few people turning the other way for things like this to happen."

Harry stood angrily. "We're going to be late for class," he said shortly, before grabbing his bag and walking out. He didn't fight, and die, and come back, only for nothing to change.

 

 

 

Harry didn't speak to Hermione or Ron for the rest of the day. All through his classes he kept turning the situation over and over in his mind. The war was over, strange occurrences were no longer his concern, but he couldn't help but feel involved in Malfoy's situation. He wondered yet again how Malfoy had gone through six years without an incident large enough to draw attention, only to suddenly lose complete and utter control. He had said Snape was helping him, so maybe now that Snape was dead he was on his own.

It still didn't make much sense to Harry that the teachers would allow him in the school with such a dangerous condition, but then maybe his previous record of no incidents had won them over. Whatever the magic was, it was dangerous. If anyone else could do what Malfoy did, and used it on Harry, he was susceptible and that terrified him. While he didn't believe for a second that he was the most powerful wizard alive like the papers claimed, he held influence over people because he'd rid the world of Voldemort, while simultaneously frightening the world for the same reason. If someone could use magic to control him, they could do a lot of damage. He felt arrogant for thinking it, but he would be a fool not to realise it.

After dinner he avoided Ron and Hermione when they tried to draw him into conversation, and instead retreated to the library to think. He had exhausted all of the books on wild magic, and had determined that was not what Malfoy was using. Beyond that, he had no idea where to begin looking for answers. He was absentmindedly flicking through a book on compulsion spells, when Ron slid into the seat across from him.

"We should tell her," Ron said immediately.

"She'd go to McGonagall, you know she would," Harry replied, unable to look at his friend. He felt ashamed for hiding from responsibility like this, but he couldn't bear for more people to know. "Before this, she hated him. I’m glad that whatever last pain from Malfoy Manor she had is no longer blinding her to what’s being done to him, but I don’t trust her with Malfoy, not after the way she’s been. Besides, what good would it do?"

"She could help us figure out what Malfoy did to you, what he did to those seventh years," Ron insisted, trying to catch Harry's eye. "Look, mate, I know you don't want to talk about what you did that night, and I respect that, yeah? It horrifies me, so it must be killing you. But if Malfoy is hurting people, even unintentionally, he needs to be stopped!"

"The professors already know, Ron," Harry replied woodenly.

Ron stared at him for a long time while processing that. Harry could feel his eyes on him, even though he wouldn't return his gaze. He continued to idly turn the pages of the book in front of him, eyes blind to the words.

"Why are you so involved with this, Harry?" he asked. "This isn't your problem, if the teachers are aware, and they're handling it, then why can't you leave it alone?"

Harry slammed the book suddenly, making Ron startle so badly he jumped. "What if it happens to me again? I need to be able to fight it, whatever it was! And Malfoy…"

Harry growled with frustration and looked away. He couldn't explain why he was drawn to helping Malfoy. He didn't even understand it himself. He was afraid to even attempt to articulate the feeling, especially given Ron's poor taste in jokes lately. What was being done to Malfoy was wrong, and that piled on the way Harry suspected he felt about his magic. He couldn’t imagine how hard it must be for Malfoy.

"You didn't see him, Ron," he continued. "After, when he pulled me out of it, he was terrified, not just of me and what I'd done, but of himself. Whatever the professors know, they're not handling it at all. All these years, we've never heard of anything like this happening, and suddenly there's two incidents within weeks of each other? Whatever they're doing to help him, it isn't working now."

Ron stared at him impassively. Harry searched his face for some glimpse of understanding, or even sympathy for Malfoy, but found nothing. Maybe his compassion for Malfoy in this was misplaced, a product of them always revolving around each other over the years, even when they were at each other's throats. Somehow, he felt he had to be involved, he had to help. He never could look past someone in need, maybe he really did have a hero's complex.

"What do you think happened today then? Honestly?" Ron finally broke the silence, though his face remained impassive. It frustrated Harry when he did that. He missed when Ron would show everything on his face as he swung wildly from one emotion to another. Sometimes it felt like Ron was a stranger to him. He knew that the war changed him, and he respected that, it changed everyone, but he missed the old Ron at times like this.

"When they started hitting him, he definitely caused them to start attacking each other, somehow, it sounds like what he did to me. But I think it's odd how they attacked him in the first place," he said cautiously, not knowing where Ron really stood in all this. "I would suspect he somehow caused them to attack him initially, but he said he needed skin contact. There's also no reason why his magic would make others attack him, even if he couldn't control it. It should act to protect him. But it just doesn't make sense the way they all attacked him out of nowhere. We’re missing something."

"Well, you sparked Hermione's curiosity, so she'll be looking into it now," Ron replied, disapproval coating his tone. "I don't like it when you use her like that, mate, it's not right."

Harry nodded, he did feel guilty over that. He needed her help for the research, but he just couldn't bear to tell her what happened. "Are you going to tell her anything?"

Ron stared him down for long enough that Harry started to believe he would tell her everything.

"No," Ron finally replied, putting him out of his misery. "It's not really my place to tell her that, but I still think you should."

Harry nodded, opening his book again. Ron stayed and watched him for a while. The whole time Harry felt tense and uncomfortable, like Ron was judging him and finding him unworthy. Eventually he left, and Harry felt the tension seep out of his shoulders. He knew what he was doing wasn't fair, but he just didn't trust her reaction.

Glancing around, he confirmed he was alone, and pulled out the Marauder's Map. After activating it, he scoured it until he found Malfoy. Memorising the location, he folded the map and left the library. He needed answers, and couldn't afford to wait any longer. He also had a strange feeling that Malfoy needed help sooner rather than later. He didn't know whether or not he could help, but he was determined to try.

 

 

 

The room Malfoy was in appeared to have no doors or windows. It was placed, seemingly, in the middle of a blank wall. Without the map, Harry would never have suspected there was a room hidden there. It was a corridor, well out of the way of any classroom, with few candles lighting it, and no portraits. Of this he was immensely glad, as he stared down the patch of wall where he knew there to be a concealed door. The map did not give him a password or other way to get in. Whether this meant the room was made after the map, or whether it was simply warded well, he didn't know.

Somewhere, beyond that wall, Malfoy was alone. Harry didn't know anything about the room, Malfoy had told him nothing. From what he remembered of Malfoy's demeanour during their conversation by the lake, he had been struggling to remain calm. Perhaps that was the room's purpose, a place where he could regain a sense of peace, or something similar.

That made him hesitate in his plans. He really knew nothing of what Malfoy was going though, and bursting into that room while knowing nothing was probably not a good idea. But somehow, he just felt drawn to help him. Malfoy had been so scared when he'd looked at what he'd made Harry do. He was probably terrified of his own magic, even if some part of him had clearly enjoyed having power over his rival. It just made Harry feel jittery and uncomfortable, for someone to be afraid of themselves. Maybe because he could relate to the feeling. There had been many times he'd feared himself, and not just recently.

If he broke into that room, what would he find? What if Malfoy really was unstable, and he made it worse? What if Malfoy used that magic on him again? If there was no one else around, he doubted the magic would make him hurt Malfoy, because it should act to protect him. What did he really have to lose?

 

 

Jacinta Zeltan

Jacinta kept to the shadows further down the hall as she watched Harry Potter stare at the wall behind which Draco Malfoy was in isolation. When the wards at the beginning of the corridor had been tripped, she had dutifully checked, while never believing it to be a threat to the room. But it wasn't some lost first year, or a pair of seventh or eighth years looking for privacy, it was the Boy Who Lived himself.

That the boy knew there was a room beyond that wall was troubling. She didn't know how he knew, and was itching to question him. But there were rules she had been sworn to follow regarding the Malfoy boy. She was only to interfere if an incident was imminent. There was no way Potter could make it through the complex wards, even if he somehow detected them. She knew he was powerful, but he had a long way to go before he could use that power.

Yet again, she wondered why he was so interested in Malfoy. She'd seen him staring at Malfoy at every opportunity for days. She'd been told this was by no means unusual when she'd brought it to the Headmistress' attention, but it still bothered her. From the beginning of the term she had suspected Malfoy was not taking his potions, and had said as much. His two incidents proved her correct, and yet the others still didn't believe her.

Malfoy had them all believing that the potions had become so ineffective over time that they barely worked at all. And yet, he never seemed to display any side effects until they put him on an advanced dosage inside the room. Was she supposed to believe they too had faded over time? Unlikely.

The boy was lying. He had a dangerous ability and no interest in protecting people from it. The day he graduated and left the protection of Hogwarts could not come soon enough. The Headmistress had denied the Department of Mysteries their prize for too long. Some magic was just too dangerous to be allowed free.

Malfoy should have been expelled when he put that first boy in St Mungo's. Only his own injuries had protected him. Now several bruised and bloody seventh years were recovering in the hospital wing, and still he was allowed to stay. The Headmistress was soft. Maybe an incident with her Chosen One would make her see sense.

Without alerting Potter to her presence, she swiftly collapsed the wards that hid and locked the door to the isolation room. It would look like they had weakened and broken on their own. Such things could happen. Mcgonagall would likely not believe it, but there would be no proof of tampering. 

Without waiting to see if Potter would go in, she turned and walked away. Potter would be able to handle Malfoy, she had no fear for him, but she could not afford to be seen nearby. There were still things she needed to do at Hogwarts. Hopefully they would cause an incident damaging enough to finally make the Headmistress see sense.

 

 

Harry Potter

When a door suddenly appeared in front of Harry, he glanced around suspiciously. Over the years he'd learned enough to know such things didn't happen accidentally. There was no one in sight, but he lingered in front of the door, not opening it. If Malfoy really was in there, and didn't have control over his emotions, then he really should stay away.

As much as he wanted answers, he did not want to find himself lost in an unnatural rage again. But if he waited for Malfoy to return back to classes, which could take even longer than the last time, he would probably find it even harder to get answers out of him. He needed to catch him off balance, even though it may be dangerous.

Swiftly, before he could convince himself what an awful idea it was, he pushed open the door, and stepped inside.

Chapter Text

As the door shut behind Harry, he swayed on the spot. It was as if all his senses were suddenly, and violently, shut down. He could still see, but it was so silent he almost couldn’t hear his own breathing. The corridor outside had smelled strongly of dampness and moss, but inside seemed to smell of nothing at all. The room felt empty and dead.

For a long while he stood swaying, attempting to make sense of how he felt. After a time, he felt accustomed enough to the new sensations, or lack thereof, to move and look around. There were little to no furnishings, just a bed to one side, which only made the room seem emptier. His eyes were immediately drawn to the far corner to his left. Huddled in that corner was Malfoy. 

Malfoy looked very ill. His skin was deathly pale, and there was a visible tremor passing over him. He hadn’t noticed Harry’s entrance, and was staring blankly at his hand as he scratched the wall he leaned on, backwards and forwards. There must have been some kind of spell to lessen sound, because Harry could barely hear his own footsteps as he walked over to him, and could not hear the scratching at all.

“Malfoy?”

It sounded as if he spoke from far away, his voice faint and echoing strangely. A wave of nausea hit him, and he swayed on his feet again. Whatever spells were cast on the room, it was already making him feel ill and alarmed, even as he thought he was growing used to it. It made sense that Malfoy looked so ill, but he also looked strangely calm. Harry felt panicked from the strange, dulled sensation the room was giving him, and he sat down in front of Malfoy, barely feeling the floor beneath him.

Malfoy’s gaze shifted from his hand to Harry, although he didn’t cease the movement. There was a track worn into the wood. It seemed as if Malfoy had spent a lot of time in that room, an idea that made Harry feel sick all over again.

“Potter?” Malfoy slurred, sounding drunk, his voice also quiet and echoing strangely. 

Alarmed, Harry realised he must be on the potions he’d mentioned before, the ones with side effects. Malfoy’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, and he reached out to Harry, as if to check that he was real. His hand landed on Harry’s clothed arm, and Harry was glad to feel it normally, and not dulled like the floor beneath him. He couldn't even begin to imagine how it worked, and didn’t try to. He was just grateful he felt that touch fully, it grounded him somewhat.

“Why are you in here?” he asked.

Malfoy didn’t answer, he just kept his eyes on where his hand was starting to play with Harry’s sleeve. He ran his fingers over the fabric, like he was entranced by the way it felt. Harry watched him do this for several minutes before his hand came dangerously close to the exposed skin of his wrist, and he pulled away.

Startled by the sudden movement, Malfoy looked up at his face again. He looked confused, his eyes unfocused and glassy.

“Potter?” he asked again.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Harry replied, not knowing what to say. Malfoy seemed inebriated, and it was making him very uncomfortable. Was this what he would be like if he took his potions every day? How could anyone ask that of him? Bile rose in his throat at the idea that anyone would find it acceptable to make someone take a potion that rendered them so completely without their faculties.

Suddenly, Malfoy lunged at him with no warning, and Harry scrambled back in alarm. Malfoy overbalanced and sprawled half over his legs. Harry’s heart rate skyrocketed as he tried to move away. Malfoy had been reaching for his face. He was going to touch his skin, knowing that would make his magic act on Harry. Or maybe it didn’t with the potions. Harry didn’t know, and he didn’t want to find out.

All of a sudden, he realised what a stupid idea it had been to enter the room. He knew nothing of Malfoy’s situation. Malfoy was clearly under the influence of an unknown potion, which would make him completely unpredictable. Harry threw a panicked glance towards the door, relieved to see it was still there, and hadn’t become invisible like the outside had been. He needed to leave.

Looking back at Malfoy, he was startled to find he had clambered closer and his face was hovering just in front of him.

“Always staring,” Malfoy muttered, looking up at Harry with glassy eyes. “Always…always, not helping. She sees, you know? The way you stare.”

Harry carefully tried to push Malfoy off him, making sure not to touch any skin. Malfoy had said his magic manifested when he was upset, and Harry didn’t know if this counted. If it did, he was sure he didn’t want to find out what it would do to him. Malfoy reached out again and gripped both of Harry’s arms tightly.

“I didn’t mean to do it, I don’t even think I did do it,” he muttered, shaking his head, eyes wide, looking like he’d gone mad. “They were all around me...I could feel it, Potter! Somehow, I could feel it.”

“Okay, Malfoy,” Harry said gently. “You could feel it.”

He had no idea what was happening, and no idea how he should be handling it. Malfoy maintained a tight grip on his arms, but started moving his thumbs as if stroking the fabric. Harry supposed he wasn’t used to feeling something like that inside the room, and didn’t doubt that he’d probably be craving full sensation too after just a few hours in this room. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be here for days. Malfoy was still leaning uncomfortably close into his personal space, and Harry resisted the urge to struggle, in case he somehow made the situation worse. Still, his heart seemed to stutter in his chest. If Malfoy touched him, and he lost control, there was no one in the room to hurt. He doubted that Malfoy’s magic would make Harry harm him, so did that mean he would be made to harm himself? He didn’t know how it worked, but he struggled to stay calm. 

“But why? Why?” Malfoy continued, as if Harry had said nothing. In fact, he hardly seemed aware of his presence beyond where he still stroked the fabric of his sleeves. Even then, it was doubtful he was even aware he was doing it. “I shouldn’t have, it doesn’t work like that! I hate them...hate them…they felt it. They were so angry with me…I felt it.”

Malfoy’s hands were starting to drift higher, and soon they’d reach his shoulders, and his exposed neck after that. Harry forced himself to stay calm as he tried to ease himself from Malfoy’s grip. As soon as he started to move, Malfoy just clambered even closer to him, pushing him back until he was lying flat, and he was looming over him.

Harry felt fear start to take hold of his senses. He didn’t want to use force or magic on Malfoy with no idea how he would react while he was like this, but if he didn’t do something soon Malfoy might touch his skin. He didn’t know the likelihood of Malfoy using that horrifying magic on him, but he couldn’t risk it.

“Malfoy,” he said gently, determined not to alarm Malfoy, “do you think you could maybe get off me? Just for a bit?”

“I miss him, Merlin, how I miss him, you know? No, you don’t know, you don’t care. You hated him,” Malfoy muttered, as if he hadn’t spoken. “Everyone hated him, they didn’t know…they didn’t know.”

“Who, Malfoy? Who do you miss?” Harry asked, noticing that Malfoy kept his hands in one place while he talked, and only moved them in between. He needed to keep him talking until he could get away.

Malfoy shifted his confused and glassy gaze back to his face. “Severus, you idiot, who else? He was the only one...aside from Pansy, but Pansy didn’t get it, she never understood…she wasn’t stable. But Severus, he was nice, kept me sane, kept me stable. He cared, really cared.”

Harry looked on in horror as Malfoy started to cry, still looming over him, hands now fisting the cloth at Harry’s shoulders.

“No one will touch me, I can’t let them touch me, they all hate me so much,” Malfoy continued, letting out broken sounding sobs between breaths. His tears were starting to fall on Harry’s face, warm points of moisture that felt more real to Harry than the floor beneath his back. “I miss him, I miss the peace when he touched me. They just put me here and want me to calm down, but I can’t get calm, can’t think straight.”

Malfoy suddenly leaned down, and rested his forehead on Harry’s chest, sobbing and still clutching his robes tight. Harry had a second to be thankful he was resting his head on fabric, and not on his exposed throat, before Malfoy collapsed his weight onto him, while still holding him tight, knocking the breath from him. The strange sensory deprivation caused by the room meant he could barely feel the floor beneath him, but somehow he felt the full sensation of Malfoy’s body weight suddenly settling against him. He couldn’t even understand how such a spell would work, and would have to ponder it later when he wasn’t lying under a very distraught and potion-addled Slytherin. He’d never seen Malfoy cry before, except that one time in a bathroom he was sure they both tried their hardest to forget, and knew that if Malfoy was in his right mind he could never allow himself do so in front of anyone. 

He stared at the ceiling, unable to move while Malfoy just lay on him, crying with quiet, heart-wrenching sobs, still clinging to his robes. Without wanting to, he couldn’t help but feel immensely sad for Malfoy. He didn’t understand half of what the other boy was saying, but he certainly understood his pain at no one caring about him. He’d come a long way since those awful days and nights in that dark cupboard under the stairs when he was younger, but he still remembered the pain and the loneliness of thinking no one loved him. Sometimes, against everything he knew, he still felt that way, late at night while everyone slept.

Seeing someone so proud clinging to him made Harry reevaluate everything he thought he knew, and he felt his heart break a little for Malfoy in that moment. Whatever Malfoy might have done over the years, nothing could make Harry ignore that kind of pain. Malfoy was obviously touch-starved, and that was something Harry understood well. 

Awkwardly, and still mindful of the need to avoid skin, just in case, he let his arms encircle Malfoy. At this, Malfoy made a wounded, keening sound, and clung to Harry tighter. Harry almost felt tears come to his own eyes from the sound, even dulled as it was by the room. 

Malfoy would probably hex him silly when he regained his senses, but in that moment there wasn’t much else Harry could do, so he just held him while he cried.

 

 

 

It was a long time later when Malfoy seemed to regain some of his senses. He’d finally stopped crying and fallen asleep. Harry had been too afraid to move much in case he woke him, still not knowing what to expect, but he had managed to ease them over to the nearby wall so he could sit up a bit. It still wasn’t particularly comfortable, in fact, less comfortable than lying on the floor, but he had felt uncomfortably vulnerable lying under Malfoy like that while he was potion-addled. Instead, he was now propped up by the wall, with Malfoy still sprawled over his lap. His hands had loosened their grip, but still held onto his robes, head resting on Harry’s chest just below the collar of the shirt.

Harry rubbed circles on his back as he thought things through. He couldn’t pretend to understand what was going on with Malfoy, what his magic did, or how the potions he was on helped, if they did at all. But somehow, he felt very, very uncomfortable with the situation. Knowing Malfoy as he did, from years of rivalry, he knew that Malfoy must hate to lose his senses that way. He had seemed so lost and confused, eyes glassy and muttering nonsense. It wasn’t right.

If that was how the professors were handling the problem, he was not surprised they were failing. He knew he would never take a potion that rendered him so useless, no matter what the benefits. Clearly Malfoy felt the same, as he’d implied he wasn’t taking his potions when they’d talked by the lake. He supposed it was forced on him after an incident.

Harry was so lost in his thoughts he didn’t, at first, notice Malfoy had woken up. It wasn’t until he suddenly felt a cool hand on his neck that he realised he had. 

At first he was afraid, and instinctively tensed, which only served to make him grip Malfoy tighter. The last time he and Malfoy had touched was that brief contact in the Hospital Wing. Only horror had followed that. Harry was uncomfortably aware of Malfoy’s hand on his neck, not moving, but just resting there. When nothing alarming happened, he relaxed somewhat and looked down. Malfoy still had his eyes closed and his other hand fisted in Harry’s robes. He seemed peaceful. Oddly, it was the first time Harry had ever seen him look so peaceful. Unsure what to do or say, he did nothing. He couldn’t forget that Malfoy was still under the influence of an unknown potion, and might react badly to anything he said or did. In fact, he was lucky nothing worse had happened before Malfoy had started crying.

After a while, Malfoy’s thumb gently stroked backwards and forwards over Harry’s throat, though his fingers retained their loose grip over his neck and he made no other move. Harry relaxed further as nothing seemed to come of it. Maybe the potion really did stop his magic, or maybe nothing happened because he was calm. Either way, Harry was afraid to ruin the moment by moving and potentially upsetting him again, so he stayed still. By instinct, he resumed rubbing gentle circles over Malfoy’s back, and was surprised to find himself feeling content as he saw Malfoy’s cheek curve with a small smile.

It was at that moment that the door suddenly opened, and Madame Pomfrey and Minerva walked in. Harry froze, and the full extent of the situation washed over him. He wasn’t even supposed to know where this room was, let alone get into it. Not only that, but he was holding Malfoy and letting him touch him. His skin started to prickle in fear, if Malfoy got upset now, while he had a hand on him, what might happen? 

To their merit, the two women didn’t say anything, just took in the scene with alarmed expressions, perhaps also afraid to upset Malfoy while he had a hand on Harry’s skin. The moment stretched out, and Malfoy must have sensed Harry’s distress by how tense he’d become, because suddenly he was frowning and opening his eyes. First, he looked up at Harry, who held his breath and waited for what he was sure would be an explosive reaction. Instead, Malfoy looked confused, even alarmed, and Harry realised with a sinking sense of dread that his eyes were now clear, and not glassy. Sometime while he slept the potion must have worn off. Which meant his magic could affect Harry at any moment.

Still looking confused, Malfoy’s eyes fell to where his hand was still resting on the side of Harry’s neck. An indecipherable look passed over his face before he withdrew his hand and clambered off Harry, who immediately stood and moved away. Silence reigned, and for a few moments no one did anything. Eventually Malfoy turned to look at Madame Pomfrey, eyes falling on the vial of potion she was holding. A brief look of disgust passed over his face before he returned to his typical impassive expression.

“I won’t be needing that,” he said.

Madame Pomfrey looked at Malfoy, and then Harry, and then finally the Headmistress, before moving forward. Harry frowned at how quiet they were, how their voices echoed. He once again heard almost no sound, even though he was sure he should hear her footsteps. While he and Malfoy had been still and silent, he had almost forgotten how strange the room was. Being able to feel Malfoy in his arms had grounded him, and now he was swiftly feeling dizzy again. 

Minerva was staring at Harry as if she had never seen him before, and he shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. Malfoy was resolutely not looking at any of them as Madame Pomfrey cast a spell that sent a warm violet light over him. The light spread to cover his entire body before it shimmered twice and dissipated.

Looking surprised, she glanced at Harry again before turning to Minerva. “He’s balanced, a little alarmed and uncomfortable, but mostly calm. His can safely return to his regular dosage.”

A brief look of relief passed over Malfoy’s face before he settled back on his impassive expression. Walking over to Minerva, he held out his hand expectantly. With great hesitation and another indecipherable look towards Harry, she reached into her robes and withdrew Malfoy’s wand, which she handed over. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but closed it again as Malfoy just took his wand and walked over to the door, only stopping when he reached it to look back at Harry.

“Potter?” 

Harry looked at both women and quickly decided he didn’t want to be left in the room with them, and the strange looks they were giving him. He walked past them quickly, glad when they didn’t stop him. As he left the room, sensation suddenly seemed to flood back in the most alarming fashion. The scent of dampness and moss was overpowering, making him gag. His skin burned as if his clothing had rubbed him raw. Malfoy grabbed his arm to steady him as he almost toppled over at what felt like a sudden heavy weight setting on his shoulders. He groaned as he felt his stomach churn, and his head throb and spin. Malfoy glanced back at the room, a conflicted expression on his face. Harry leaned into his grip to steady himself, feeling as if he would vomit the moment he tried to move again.

Sparing the still open doorway another glance, Malfoy suddenly started dragging Harry away, even though he could barely stand.

 

 

 

Malfoy pulled Harry along until they were several corridors and two floors away from that room, before pushing him into an empty classroom and slamming the door behind him. As soon as they stopped moving, Harry doubled over, clutching his stomach as it threatened to empty itself. He could swear the room was spinning, and he felt several times heavier than usual, as if his bones had turned to stone and were trying to drag him to the ground. He could scarcely believe he had been able to stand, let alone make it that far. He shot a glare towards Malfoy, angry that he had forced him along while he felt so ill.

“You’re adjusting to regular gravity, it will pass in a moment,” Malfoy said, his voice guarded as he watched him from his position in front of the closed door. He looked perfectly fine, as if he wasn’t suffering any lingering effects of the room at all.

“What the bloody hell was that room?” Harry spat, giving up on staying upright, and sitting down before he fell down. “They keep you in there for days? That’s inhumane!”

Malfoy stared at him impassively for a long time, before answering. “They keep me in there until I’m calm enough to be safe,” he replied, his tone still guarded.

“Do they keep you on potions the whole time?” Harry asked, still feeling ill, but ready to take advantage of the opportunity to gain information, before Malfoy got angry that he’d witnessed him in that state. 

“Yes, an increased dosage.”

Harry stared at him, wishing he would show some clue of how he was feeling, rather than a blank face and tense posture. If he was in Malfoy’s position, he would be furious that anyone had seen him like that, especially his rival. It didn’t make any sense that Malfoy wasn’t angry, it went against everything he knew of Malfoy.

“That’s not right,” he finally said. “It can’t be legal.”

“The laws regarding my condition are vague and unhelpful,” Malfoy replied, moving closer, until he sat down in front of Harry.

Harry instinctively moved backwards a little. Malfoy was acting nowhere near the way he’d predicted, and it threw him off balance. Malfoy tensed when he moved, but didn’t say or do anything. He just stared at him, his face completely blank. As the moments passed, Harry relaxed slightly. He started thinking that maybe Malfoy was thrown off balance as well, and was just as unsure what to say next as he was. 

“How did you enter the room?” Malfoy finally asked. “How did you find it?”

Harry shrugged. “I was standing in front of a wall, a door appeared, I went through the door. You know what I’m like.” He tried to smile but found the edges of his mouth a little shaky. He couldn’t pretend to be calm about this, not until he understood what had really happened.

“You utter imbecile!” Malfoy snapped. “Do you have any idea the danger you put us both in? I could have done anything to you in there! Didn’t you learn anything from that night in the hospital wing? Curse your curiosity! You stupid Gryffindor!”

“How the bloody hell else am I going to get answers?” Harry snapped back, rising to meet Malfoy’s anger with rage of his own. “You wouldn’t tell me what happened, only fed me some lie about wild magic and sent me on my way. Compulsion magic doesn’t work on me, you stupid git! Voldemort couldn’t even hold me under Imperius! And yet, somehow, you made me attack someone I don’t even know! I need to know how you did it. I need to know how to stop someone else from doing it to me again!”

Malfoy seemed shocked speechless by his outburst, and Harry took a moment to force himself to calm down. He shouldn’t upset Malfoy in case they had an incident, he knew that, but he always had a hard time controlling his emotions around Malfoy. They always did have a way of spurring each other on, especially when they were angry.

“What happened in there? Do you even remember what happens while you’re under the influence of that potion?” he asked, determined to get answers. “Were you aware?”

Malfoy looked away, and started scratching his arm. Harry’s eyes were drawn to the movement. He remembered Malfoy scratching the wall in that room, and wondered suddenly if it was some kind of coping mechanism for when he was trying to calm down. He had been scratching his arm by the lake as well. Even if it did help him cope, it made Harry so uncomfortable, he moved before he realised he wanted to.

Malfoy stilled, his hand freezing under Harry’s, although he didn’t turn to look at him.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I’m not trying to upset you. I just need to understand all this. I need to know if you remember what happened in there, so you can explain it to me, because I don’t understand it at all.”

Malfoy looked back at him, eyes alight with anger again. He tore his hand away, and Harry leaned back slightly, worried about his change in temper. “Yes, I remember. I remember crying like a bloody infant, and clutching at you like some pathetic child. Thanks for the reminder, but I’d much rather forget!”

Malfoy straightened his back, and tried to assume an expression of superiority, as if he didn’t care, but he failed that task. There was a tremor in his hands and his expression kept slipping between unaffected and terribly vulnerable as he struggled to look strong in front of Harry. He lay one trembling hand over the other, as if trying to comfort himself. Once again, Harry was overcome with sympathy for him.

“It’s okay to feel lonely, Malfoy,” he said gently, following his instincts and leaning forward to place what he hoped would be a comforting hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “We all feel lonely at times, it’s alright to feel sad about that.”

Malfoy didn’t respond, but he looked down at Harry’s hand like it was a fascinating, but slightly horrifying foreign object that he wasn’t quite sure he wanted touching him.

“It’s the potion,” he mumbled after a while. “It makes me unable to organise my thoughts properly. But I’m still aware of what’s going on around me, I just can’t assemble a coherent train of thought about it. I get easily confused.”

“I’m sorry I went in there. I know you aren’t happy I saw you like that,” Harry said carefully, leaving his hand where it was for now, because he couldn’t forget how touch-starved Malfoy seemed. He still remembered every year when he saw his friends again after the summer holiday, pulling them into hugs, and feeling the utter relief at having some touch him with something other than hatred or disgust. He couldn’t help but react to seeing those feelings in Malfoy, even if the other boy would rather he ignored them. Even if he was probably trying to ignore them himself.

“I’m sorry,” Malfoy replied, suddenly looking embarrassed. It was an odd expression and Harry couldn’t think of a single time he’d ever seen it on Malfoy. “I kept trying to touch your skin, it must have terrified you, but I wouldn’t have been able to do you any harm while on that potion.”

“I’ll admit, I was quite frightened by it, but also because I still don’t understand what your magic is or does. I think at this point, maybe explaining it to me properly might help?” Harry asked cautiously, still worried Malfoy might suddenly become angry and storm off. Malfoy had a lot of pride, and was so far taking it all much better than Harry had expected, but he still didn’t trust him not to suddenly return to anger.

“When did I touch you?” Malfoy suddenly asked, seeming just as surprised by the question as Harry, as if he hadn’t meant to ask it at all. “I remember waking up, and my hand was already on your neck, but I don’t really remember putting it there.”

Harry suddenly flushed at the memory of that cool thumb brushing over his throat and shifted uncomfortably. Outside that room, with the danger passed, it suddenly seemed much more intimate than dangerous.

“After you, uh, wore yourself out crying, you seemed to fall asleep,” Harry said awkwardly. “I didn’t think you’d woken up but you, uh, put your hand on my neck, and you must have been awake at that point because you were, um, moving your thumb a bit, and, yeah.”

Harry felt his face heat up, and hoped it didn’t show. Once again, he cursed his embarrassment over topics of intimacy. It wasn’t even like anything intimate had happened, only now he was remembering just what the situation must have looked like for Minerva to be giving him that strange look. He’d been so worried about Malfoy’s magic at the time, and then distracted by his compassion for the boy’s sadness that he hadn’t really realised the position they had been in. Cradling Malfoy in his lap like that suddenly looked a lot less innocent in his mind.

Malfoy looked confused but nodded. “I remember when I woke up, my hand was already on you. I didn’t realise it was you until I looked though. I must have reached for you in my sleep. I probably thought you were Severus, he used to hold me like that when I got particularly upset, when I was younger. He was the only one who was balanced enough to calm me down, Mother and Father were terrible at it. I can’t believe you were able to calm me down.”

“There’s some significance to being held? Does it help calm you down?” Harry asked, confused. He decided to ignore any questions about Snape until later, he had a feeling Malfoy would get too emotional if he didn’t handle them right. He also wasn’t sure what to think of what Malfoy had said about Snape. “I thought skin contact was dangerous?”

Malfoy looked conflicted, and glanced around the room as if looking for a distraction.

“Honestly, Malfoy,” Harry continued, determined to get answers once and for all. “Maybe if you explained it all to me properly, I could actually help you instead of stumbling around and causing more problems?”

Malfoy looked at him with a conflicted expression. Harry almost held his breath to stop himself from saying anything else. He had a feeling that if he hadn’t been able to somehow calm Malfoy in that room, then they would not be having this conversation. He couldn’t even begin to understand the significance of him calming Malfoy, but he somehow knew that it was the only reason Malfoy might trust him with the truth. It seemed to have shocked him into being a completely different person.

“You don’t have to worry about someone else using this magic against you,” Malfoy said. “It’s an incredibly rare condition. I don’t think there’s even anyone else in England with it at the moment.”

“I would still like to understand,” Harry replied instantly. He could tell Malfoy was wavering. If he let Malfoy walk away now, he would only be left with more questions than before. “Whatever they’re doing to help you, it’s horrible, and it should be illegal. Maybe I can help if I know what’s going on.”

Malfoy eyed him thoughtfully, before finally nodding. “You’re probably right that you’ll cause more problems now if I don’t tell you,” he said, trying and failing to sneer. He was still looking far too shaken. “But can it wait until tomorrow? I could really do with some food, and proper rest, after being stuck in that room.”

Harry nodded. That was probably as good as he was going to get. “Alright, but I’m trusting you to tell me tomorrow, no backing out.”

“You have my word, I will explain everything to you tomorrow,” Malfoy replied.

Harry didn’t really know why he trusted him, it was ridiculous, but he nodded and stood, while Malfoy followed suit. They awkwardly looked at each other for a few moments, before Malfoy turned and crossed the room to the door. Before he opened it, he suddenly looked back.

“Did you know I was on the other side of that door before you opened it?” he asked curiously.

Harry grinned. “Of course. I don’t make it a habit of staring at random walls, you know.”

Malfoy gave him an indecipherable look. “You came looking for me? How did you know where I was?”

Harry tapped his nose. “I have my ways.”

Malfoy huffed in annoyance, and rolled his eyes, before leaving the room. Harry grinned at his back as he followed, before they went their separate ways. He’d probably not sleep at all that night. There was far too much to think about, but at least he would finally be getting answers, proper answers. While some part of him was very uncomfortable with what he’d seen in that room, another part felt unaccountably proud he’d put aside their history and comforted Malfoy when he’d needed it, and to such great effect. 

Whatever was facing him tomorrow, at least he would always have that.

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy

Until they went their separate ways, Draco was hyper aware of Potter walking just behind him. He’d managed to hide just how disturbed he was since waking, but he wouldn’t manage it for much longer. Vividly, he remembered how he had felt just prior to waking, and could not come to terms with Potter being the cause. Many times Severus had helped him reach balance, and was so good at doing so that Draco had merely had to reach out and touch skin to be instantly calmed by him.

Of all people, he never would have guessed Potter could be so balanced. For someone with a past like his, it was completely unexpected. Potter had always shown whatever he was thinking and feeling clearly on his face, and he often jumped rapidly from emotion to emotion. It had always infuriated him. And yet, he had been completely calm and content in that room with Draco. It was a puzzle, and it both frightened and excited him. He hadn’t felt so stable since Severus had died, and even the shock of opening his eyes and discovering that it was Potter holding him hadn’t been able to unsettle him. 

Even though Potter entering the isolation room should have been a disaster, he’d walked out of there faster than he had all year. He still didn’t want to tell Potter the truth, but it didn’t look like there was any other way at this point. It helped that Potter seemed to have the potential to balance him. Draco craved a calming influence so badly that he wanted to run back to Potter and beg for his touch again, and he hated that. There was no guarantee that Potter would want to help once he learned the truth, and even if he did, Draco wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a random, freak occurrence that couldn’t be repeated. 

But if it wasn’t, if Potter really was so stable, he couldn’t afford to pass up the chance, even if they hated each other. It amazed him that Potter could drive him to extremes when they interacted verbally, only to turn around and balance him so successfully through touch. It was both alarming and fascinating. It shouldn’t have worked, and yet it had. He would have to try it again to know for sure, initiate touch when he wasn’t on the potions, when he wasn’t already unstable, just to see what would happen.

Groaning with frustration, he realised he was getting ahead of himself. Even if Potter did balance him, did he really want his help? With their history? Whether Potter helped or not, he couldn’t let that change his life. He had relied on someone once before. He had felt safe and secure for years, and then Severus had died, leaving him alone and vulnerable. He couldn’t allow that to happen again. He had to learn to manage his condition on his own. No one would be there forever, and if they were, he would only be ruining their life as well as his own. Once he left school, he still had no idea what would happen to him. Involving someone else would only complicate matters further.

If Potter accepted what Draco told him and decided to help, then he would accept that temporarily, but he would not stop looking for a solution he could use on his own. He refused to be tied to another person by his condition. 

Never again.

 

Harry Potter

Harry sipped his tea and looked around the headmistress’ office anxiously. Minerva had completely changed the room until it was unrecognisable as Dumbledore’s office, making it feel strange and foreign to him, rather than welcoming as it had once been. During breakfast, he’d received a summons to see her. He supposed he should have expected it after she had found him with Malfoy, but it had slipped his mind after Malfoy had promised to tell him more. She sat across her desk from him, observing him shrewdly, and not yet touching her own tea. When he’d first arrived, she’d engaged in idle chit-chat, but had since fallen silent. It seemed as though she was unsure what to say to him, or perhaps she was still alarmed by what she had seen.

Harry wanted to break the awful silence, but didn’t dare. He should never have been in that room, and though he doubted he would be punished for it, it still made him uncomfortable to be at odds with Minerva. Both her and Madame Pomfrey had been shocked by what they had seen, but they probably assumed that Harry was fully aware of the situation. He had no idea how they’d react to find out he really knew nothing at all.  But he suspected that Minerva would be horrified, and disappointed, to know he had allowed Malfoy to touch him while aware he had a dangerous kind of magic that worked through touch. Especially as he was still unaware of the details. 

Maybe that was what it was like to have a mother, he pondered, to be so worried about disappointing someone, but also worried about upsetting them. He cared what Minerva thought of him, and he didn’t want to step wrong. So, even though the silence was awkward, he said nothing. Eventually, she cleared her throat, making Harry shift nervously in his chair.

“So, we can avoid the topic no longer,” she said. “That room was protected by very strong wards and enchantments, the least of which were hiding the door from sight. This is a serious security breach. How did you gain entrance?”

“The door appeared in front of me,” Harry mumbled, knowing full well he should have known better than to enter a room under such suspicious circumstances. Well, he had known better, and done it anyway. He suspected that was worse.

“And so you opened it?” Minerva asked, her tone dangerously soft. “Without knowing what was on the other side? Have you learnt nothing in all these years?”

Harry looked to the side, he couldn’t argue with that, he knew she was right. “I knew Malfoy was in there.”

The headmistress exhaled slowly, and leaned back slightly in her chair, as if she didn’t quite know how to address that. Finally, she sipped her tea, observing him silently. Harry shifted awkwardly under her gaze. Somehow, she always managed to make him feel like a naughty first year, and it was somehow so much worse now that they had grown closer after the war.

“I looked around, but there was no one there,” Harry continued, prompted by her silence. “One moment the wall was blank, and the next there was a door in it.”

“I will look into that,” she said, seeming angry. “If that door appeared then someone made it appear, and no doubt their intentions were not good.”

Harry shifted awkwardly again. He hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but it was very suspicious. Perhaps whoever had revealed the door had meant for a dangerous incident to occur. Such an event would not be unlikely given Malfoy and Harry’s previous interactions over the years. If that was the person’s intentions, then they had not counted on how Harry had changed during the war, and his determination to help, instead of mock, Malfoy for his weakness.

“Now,” Minerva continued, “to the matter of Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry winced, and sipped his tea so he wouldn’t be tempted to say something before she asked questions. If she found out he had no clue what was really going on he knew she would be very angry, and not only at him, but Malfoy as well. Bluffing wasn’t his strong point, and he had no doubt he would fail. Still, he was resolved to try, if he had to. 

“You understand the danger you put yourself in last night?” she asked, her eyes keen and assessing.

“Vividly,” Harry replied, thinking of blood and burning knuckles.

“I see,” Minerva replied shortly. “And how long have you been engaged in a relationship of that…nature, with Mr. Malfoy?”

Harry choked on his tea. Sputtering, he put his teacup down before he dropped it. “That is not what that was,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. 

“I see,” she repeated, raising an eyebrow.

Harry flushed, it was even worse than enduring Ron’s comments. “I was just comforting him, there was nothing more to it.”

“Forgive me, given the nature of his condition, and the intimacy required for such comfort, I just assumed,” she said, although she still looked like she was assessing him. “Even though it was very surprising given your confrontational past.”

Harry suddenly realised she was testing him, and focused all his effort into not looking surprised by what she said. “I don’t need to be intimate with someone to do what it takes to help them when they are in need,” he replied shortly.

While he could understand her concern, having seen the two of them fighting for years, he was upset she would jump to that conclusion, as if he would need such a reason to help someone he’d once fought with. Although, he now had some very pointed questions for Malfoy regarding this supposed intimacy. 

The headmistress merely sipped her tea and continued to stare at him. 

“We may have been rivals in the past, and hated one another,” Harry continued, feeling the need to defend not only himself, but Malfoy as well, “but we’ve both changed. The war changed us. To ignore what he went through, and deny him help when he needs it, would be not only selfish, but exceptionally cruel given his situation.”

Minerva put down her teacup, looking upset. “Forgive me, Harry, I was not questioning your capacity for compassion, merely his ability to accept it. You are correct, however, I mustn’t forget all that he went through.”

Harry nodded, satisfied that he’d made his point. “I know it’s not my place, but I don’t think it’s right, keeping him in that room like that,” he ventured.

His words drew a sigh and a pained expression from her. Suddenly she seemed very tired. “I agree with you there, Harry,” she replied. “It is awful, but we haven’t got many options. We didn’t know that he had you, or we would have sent him your way instead. I can understand why he didn’t tell us, he was under the strictest instructions not to speak of this to anyone. I applaud his attempt to protect you both, but he would have had an easier time if he’d just told us.”

Harry was feeling more and more out of his depth. He kept unintentionally continuing a conversation about a topic he really knew nothing about. If he didn’t leave soon he would probably give away his lack of knowledge. However, he couldn’t deny that it was an excellent opportunity to see things from the professors’ perspectives.

“Trust me, he didn’t have much choice in telling me, I figured out enough to ask some very uncomfortable questions,” Harry said, hoping he could continue to speak convincingly while remaining vague. 

“That I most certainly believe,” replied Minerva, giving him an affectionate look before once again becoming stern. “I must insist you keep this quiet though, for Malfoy’s safety, have you told Ron and Hermione anything?”

“Ron knows something is going on,” replied Harry, carefully. “But he doesn’t know any details, just that I’m helping Malfoy with a problem. Hermione doesn’t know anything, and I’m happy to keep it that way. She would be very uncomfortable with it, even knowing that you are aware of my involvement.”

The Headmistress said nothing for a while, merely giving him a searching look. Harry finished his tea in that time and fidgeted awkwardly in his chair.

“I am aware that Mr. Malfoy is not taking his potions,” said McGonagall, after a time. There was something about her expression, he could tell that wasn’t what she had been wanting to say, and that thought made him uncomfortable. What could be so bad she wouldn’t say it after everything else? “Madam Pomfrey also knows, but we have kept it from the other staff members.”

Harry was unable to hide his surprise. She smiled at him. 

“He is not very convincing, the side effects are no doubt tedious to replicate,” she explained. “We are keeping it from the other teachers because they will force the potion on him, or force me to expel him. Neither option sit well with me, and while I was worried about there being more incidents, you have given us a better option. He handled his condition well when he had help from Severus, no doubt he will be able to do so again in your care.”

Once again, Harry realised he had driven the conversation somewhere difficult. While it was very helpful to have learned this, and Malfoy would be glad for the information, he was once again faced with the possibility of revealing his lies.

“This is still very new for me,” he said, hoping it was the right thing to say.

“Of course, and you mustn’t feel pressured to continue helping him if it becomes too much for you,” she replied, looking concerned. “It is such an intimate and vulnerable position to put yourself in, especially if there are no strong ties between you. Madam Pomfrey and I will keep your involvement secret, some of the other professors will be very upset by it, as you can imagine.”

Harry nodded, feeling himself flush from another mention of an intimacy that he didn’t understand. If helping Malfoy was supposedly so intimate, he could definitely understand Malfoy’s reluctance to tell the truth. He’d been excited by plans to see him later, to finally learn the truth, but now he was becoming anxious. What was it about Malfoy’s condition that was so intimate? So far Harry had seen only violence.

“I understand, and I’ll let Malfoy know where you stand, I’m sure he’ll be glad to know,” Harry said. “In fact, we were going to meet today.”

“I mustn’t keep you then,” she said, standing. He quickly followed suit, surprised at how easy it was to leave. 

After she walked him to the door, she suddenly turned, and placed her hands on his shoulders.

“Harry,” she said warmly, “as surprised as I am by this turn of events, I’m very proud of you for putting aside your past with Mr. Malfoy and helping him, and I know Albus would be proud also. But please, stay safe. Even though you can help him, he can still hurt you, never forget that.”

Confused, and feeling guilty, he nodded. “Don’t worry, I’m aware of the risks, he was very clear with me.”

Playing along had been a good idea, he had learnt a lot, confusing as it was at present, but he did feel bad for misleading Minerva. She didn’t say anything further, but smiled at him fondly as he left. Still frowning, he hurried back to his room where the map was waiting. He needed to find Malfoy and get answers to what was beginning to seem a much more complicated situation than he’d realised.

 

 

 

“How did you find me?” Malfoy asked, sounding annoyed. 

Harry ignored the question, taking a seat in front of him, and looking around. Malfoy seemed to have found himself an excellent hiding spot. If Harry hadn’t been in possession of a magical map, he never would have found him. The clearing was just inside the treeline of the forest but still on the grounds, hidden completely from view by several large bushes. Malfoy must have cast a warming spell over the area, because the chill that had begun to pervade the air was gone completely.

“I just had a very uncomfortable conversation with McGonagall,” Harry said, finally turning his gaze to the boy sitting opposite him.

Malfoy, who had been scowling at Harry for not answering his question, suddenly looked worried. “I was wondering when she would talk to you. I’m surprised she hasn’t summoned me. What did she say?”

“She said a great many things that made no sense and made me very uncomfortable,” replied Harry. “I think you had better explain this mysterious condition of yours, before I drive myself insane speculating.”

Malfoy scowled at him again. “It’s a modified form of empathy, in simple terms.”

“Empathy?” Harry had never heard of such a thing, although he guessed, from the scorn that adorned Malfoy’s face, that he should have.

“I am sensitive to the emotions of those around me,” Malfoy explained further. “Normally, the ability stops there, but I can also manipulate emotions in people around me.”

Suddenly, it all clicked into place, including the alarming intimacy that McGonagall kept mentioning. Harry flushed as he realised just why she had made such an assumption about them.

“You can feel other people’s emotions? When you touch them?” he asked, feeling alarmed. Such things were private. The idea that Malfoy had been rummaging around in his mind last night made him very uncomfortable, and he quickly tried to remember what he had been feeling at the time, and whether or not he should be concerned by it.

“Yes, and if I get upset then they also feel mine,” Malfoy replied shortly. 

Part of Harry was glad that Malfoy was getting to the point so quickly, but he was still stuck on the idea that Malfoy had felt his emotions not only once, but twice. He knew he often showed his feelings on his face, he was terrible at hiding them, really, but there was something so horribly intimate in the idea that someone would feel them as he did. He couldn’t help but feel horribly violated all of a sudden.

Malfoy seemed to understand his discomfort, and tensed as if expecting a violent reaction. Given their past, that was not unreasonable, but it made Harry stop and take a few breaths. It was still rather instinctual to react harshly to Malfoy, but for the sake of this unknown condition, he had to at least try to stay calm. The last thing he needed was Malfoy getting angry. He kept turning it all over and over in his mind. Suddenly everything made sense.

“That was your anger that I felt? That night in the hospital wing?” he asked suddenly.

Malfoy nodded. “For such a strong reaction, I also suspect you picked up his anger as well, I was still experiencing it at the time, so it would have transferred. Normally it would take conscious effort to make someone else feel something, but I was unbalanced, in pain, and I was swamped by both his, and my own anger, so it just happened before I could stop it.”

Harry stared at Malfoy in alarm. “Malfoy, I nearly killed him! That came from you?”

“And from him,” Malfoy replied defensively. “It was not intentional. Most of the anger was probably his in fact, I would have been so consumed by his anger I would have barely had any time to dredge up my own.”

“Is that why he was attacking you in the first place? Because you pushed your anger on him or something?”

“Absolutely not!” Malfoy spat, enraged. “I don’t affect other people unless I’m already severely compromised by the emotions of those around me. For the most part, I require touch to feel anything more than a vague sensation from people. He attacked me because he was a sadistic arsehole!” 

Harry raised his hands in a placating gesture, alarmed by Malfoy’s sudden shift in mood. Malfoy looked at his hands before glancing at his face. Suddenly he looked determined, and Harry felt a sinking sensation in his gut when he realised what Malfoy was about to do.

“No, that’s really not a good idea, Malfoy,” he said, scrambling backwards.

“It would be better if I could just show you,” Malfoy replied, moving closer.

“What if you drive me mental again?” Harry asked, eyes widening in fear as Malfoy only looked more determined, rather than dissuaded.

Malfoy stopped moving, and frowned. “You’re afraid of me.” 

Harry stilled, alarmed and feeling violated. “Are you…are you doing it right now? Reading my emotions?” he asked.

Malfoy shook his head, but didn’t move. “Like I said, I need skin contact for anything more than a vague sensation, but you always broadcast your feelings so much I can read them much better than anyone else. Right now I can tell that you are afraid, but I can’t feel it myself, if that makes sense.”

Harry relaxed, but didn’t move any closer. “So, would you?” he asked.

Malfoy raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Would I what?” he replied.

“Drive me mental, if you touched me right now?” Harry normally did not feel embarrassed by fear, as he never let it get in the way of what he needed to do, but somehow knowing Malfoy could sense his fear, even vaguely, made him suddenly feel ashamed of it.

“No, I’m not upset right now,” Malfoy replied, moving closer again.

Harry eyed him warily, but didn’t move. “What’s going to happen then?”

“I’ll be able to feel whatever you’re feeling,” Malfoy replied, stopping just in front of him. 

Harry flushed. That sounded horribly intimate, and he wasn’t sure that was something he wanted to do at all. 

“What if I don’t want you to feel my emotions?” he asked.

For a moment, Malfoy looked utterly crestfallen, before he put up his familiar impassive expression. 

“Then I won’t touch you,” he replied, though he didn’t move, and remained uncomfortably close. “But if you’re worried about privacy, you should know I was feeling your emotions last night, when I was touching your neck. What does doing it again matter now?”

Heat flooded Harry at the thought. He was already feeling uncomfortable enough about that night. Now, he realised that not only had he been cradling Malfoy in his lap, but Malfoy was experiencing his emotions as well. He could certainly understand why McGonagall though they were romantically involved. To have someone feeling his emotions was so intimate in his mind that he was horrified it was even possible. He wasn’t sure he would ever want anyone to experience his feelings that way. To know that Malfoy, of all people, had done this made him feel very strange indeed. His face was warming, and he knew he was flushed.

“I thought you said it didn’t work while you were on the potions!” he said, embarrassed that his voice cracked a little.

“The potions block my ability to manipulate the emotions of others, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling them.”

Harry groaned, and buried his face in his hands. “So you felt everything I felt, while you were touching my neck? Do you just get an awareness of emotions, or do you experience them as the other person does?”

“A little bit of both really, when I’m calm” Malfoy replied. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about, by the way. I can’t read thoughts, or know why you feel certain things, or who they are directed towards.”

“Are you kidding?” Harry replied, still hiding his face, which he could tell was still bright red. “That’s unbelievably intimate. Feelings are supposed to be private!”

“It’s not like I do it on purpose,” Malfoy said, sounding defensive.

“That makes it worse!” Harry replied, still hiding his face.

For a long time, Malfoy was silent. Harry was surprised that he hadn’t just touched him anyway, if he thought it would be easier to explain that way. The fact that he was now respecting Harry’s boundaries somehow made his reactions all the more embarrassing. In a way, Malfoy was right, he had already read Harry’s emotions, what could once more do in the grand scheme of things? But the difference was that Harry was now aware of what he would be doing, and would be bound to feel something embarrassing.

“When those students attacked me outside the Great Hall, I think I felt their hatred more strongly than I should have without skin contact,” Malfoy said. “I’m afraid my condition is changing, advancing somewhat. I don’t think I did anything to them until they touched me, I shouldn't be able to at all, it doesn’t work like that, but I’m afraid that something like that may happen.”

Harry uncovered his face and gave Malfoy a searching look. Malfoy’s posture was rigid, but he didn’t look away. He met and held Harry’s gaze, even though he looked afraid. Whether he was afraid of what he was discussing, or afraid of Harry’s reaction, Harry didn’t know. Still, he was impressed by how honest Malfoy was being.

“Would that be possible?” he asked.

“Cases of this condition are very rare,” answered Malfoy. “Empathy is not uncommon, but usually people with it can only vaguely sense the emotions of people around them and nothing more. I get seriously affected by them if they are strong, and I always experience emotions strongly through skin contact. I can then allow others to feel my emotions. This is what makes my condition rare and unusual, that I can introduce emotions into a person that they weren’t already feeling. As far as I’m aware, any other Empaths that can manipulate people's emotions can only enhance or dampen something they are already feeling to some degree.  Severus believed that with training I may have better control and do even more things with it, but I was more concerned with staying stable enough to make it through school. I thought I’d have plenty of time after school to figure out the rest.”

“But no one counted on a war when making their plans for the future, right?” Harry said sadly.

Malfoy nodded. “I would have had no problem with this year, if it weren’t for my involvement in the war, first as a Death Eater, and then changing sides. I’ve avoided touching people all my life, except for those who could help balance me. If people didn’t attack me, I would never get upset enough to affect them, or even if I did, it wouldn’t matter if no one touched me.”

“McGonagall and Pomfrey know you don’t take your potions,” Harry said suddenly. Malfoy looked alarmed, and opened his mouth to speak before Harry held up his hand to stop him. “They’re alright with it, and are keeping it from the other professors. McGonagall doesn’t like the idea of making you take it. She was worried about incidents but says I’m a better option, not that I really understand what she meant by it. I played along anyway.”

“She thinks you’re helping me like Severus did,” Malfoy said, looking surprised. “I would think she would try to stop you. It may sound like a harmless ability, but it is very dangerous and unpredictable, as I’m sure you remember. You can never know what a person will do if you force them to feel a certain emotion. How could she allow you near me, knowing that?”

“She was adamant that I don’t feel pressured to help, but is glad I’ve put our past behind me,” Harry replied, deciding to wait until he knew more before addressing the dangers of Malfoy’s empathy. “How exactly does she think I’m helping?”

“There are some people who are very balanced, they don’t fixate on certain emotions, like staying angry at someone,” explained Malfoy. “If I get upset or lose control, being around someone like this helps because their balanced state soothes me and I instinctively try to match it. Not every balanced person works, sometimes they’re still too susceptible to absorbing my emotions and becoming unstable with me, but there are some who can resist that to a certain extent, if they focus. That was how Severus helped me since I was a child.”

“She thinks I’m balanced?” Harry asked, feeling surprised. He’d had quite a few bouts of extreme emotion over the years, all of which ended badly for him, and for those around him. The idea that he was balanced was ridiculous.

Malfoy gave him a wry look. “That’s what I thought too, before I touched you. You’re actually very calm, I found the experience very soothing. We spent so many years making each other angry, I expected you to be an opposing force, instead of how welcoming you actually were.”

Harry stared at him blankly. He didn’t quite understand that, and he had the feeling he should be embarrassed or insulted, but he wasn’t sure. “You lost me a bit there, how am I welcoming?”

Malfoy flushed a little and looked away. “When I touched you, the potion had already worn off, so I was, in effect, able to push my emotions onto you, I was severely unbalanced. Instead, touching you calmed me, almost immediately. You were so at balance, and so content to comfort me that you were almost pulling me in.”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t find the words. He felt himself flush again at the nature of their conversation. It was all sounding horribly intimate, and he didn’t think he liked the way Malfoy was describing him.

“I what?” he asked dumbly.

“It’s hard to explain,” Malfoy replied, looking confused as he tried to find the words. “We just seemed to be so in sync with our emotions at that time that it felt like we were one person, rather than two people sharing emotions. I hadn’t experienced that before, it was very strange.”

Harry’s face stayed hot as he heard that explanation. “What exactly does that mean?” he asked, hating how his voice squeaked from embarrassment.

Malfoy seemed amused by his reaction, but still looked mostly confused. “Honestly, I’m not sure. It could have just been a fluke, and it might not work a second time,” he replied. “Or, it could mean that you are well suited to being a calming influence for me, able to balance me when I get upset.”

“That’s why you wanted to touch me before, to see if it would work again, not because it would be easier to explain,” Harry said accusingly.

“It would still make for an easier explanation,” Malfoy replied, sounding defensive.

“If I’m supposed to be able to balance you, then how did you make me go mental that night in the hospital wing?” Harry asked suddenly, thinking back to that night. “If what you say now is true, I should have calmed you down, not gone mental.”

Malfoy sighed. “It’s not that simple. It doesn’t just happen, you have to put some effort into balancing another person, you have to be aware of yourself, and them. That night was a nightmare, I was so far out of it by the time you showed up, and I had been feeling his hatred and anger, and magnifying it back at him, which made him more violent than he may have been on his own. When you touched me, it was so brief that you just picked it all up. I didn’t have time to get anything from you. It wouldn’t have helped if I had, all that anger would have unbalanced you, since you had no warning.”

“This all sounds ridiculous,” Harry said, standing suddenly, and beginning to pace. “Helping you sounds more risky than anything, not to mention unbelievably intimate. I don’t think you can have that kind of connection with someone you’re not close to, someone you don’t trust.”

“I’m not asking you to help me, Potter,” snapped Malfoy, also standing. “I’m just trying to answer your questions and give you the full picture.”

“Yeah, but I bet you want me to help you, so they send you to me instead of that room,” Harry returned, suddenly aggravated. He was still feeling horribly violated by the whole business, and he shouldn’t take that out on Malfoy, who apparently had no control over his ability, but he couldn’t help himself. It was just so easy to fall back into fighting with him.

“I don’t want anyone’s help,” said Malfoy, his tone scathing. “You think I’d put my life in someone else’s hands like that? You may be able to help me, but what if I piss you off, you could suddenly change your mind and I’d be left trying to deal with it on my own after getting used to your help. I won’t put myself in that situation again!”

“I would never do that to someone!” Harry replied, completely outraged.

“You can’t promise that, no one can!” Malfoy replied, voice rising. “I need to figure out how to deal with this myself so that if I am alone, I can still function like a normal person.”

“Oh, yeah, you’re doing a great job so far,” Harry spat.

“I’d be doing a lot better if those arseholes would just leave me alone to live my life instead of attacking me at every bloody opportunity. All because I helped you, or didn’t help you fast enough, depending on who it is sticking a wand or fist in my face.”

“Maybe if you reported them, then the professors could do something about it!” Harry shouted back at him, infuriated by the way Malfoy seemed to be blaming him. “Maybe if you could swallow your damn pride for long enough, you could actually make your life better for yourself, instead of rejecting anyone who can help you!”

“No one can help me!” Malfoy shouted back, storming into Harry’s space. “You think you can help me? Clearly I was deluded to think so, we can’t even have a conversation without fighting. Last night was obviously a fluke, you don’t do anything but piss me off!”

“Well that’s bloody mutual, you arse!” Harry all but screamed at him, feeling utterly indignant at being told he was no help, even though he didn’t want to help Malfoy anyway. 

Suddenly, gripped by his frustration at Malfoy’s damn pride, and his own annoyance at being told he couldn’t help, he found himself reaching out for skin before he could stop himself. 

Chapter Text

Harry grasped Malfoy’s wrist. All at once, it was like the air was sucked from his lungs. He had been feeling indignant and annoyed, but suddenly he felt angry and sad. He just wanted to hit something, to feel pain and make it all go away. Malfoy glared back at him, trying to pull his arm back, but Harry held tight to his wrist. He was suddenly taken by the urge to hit him, and clenched his other hand into a fist. Malfoy’s eyes widened, and Harry was hit by a wave of fear. Stilling, fist pulled back ready to strike, he stared at Malfoy, feeling afraid and struggling to remember why he had wanted to hit him in the first place.

They stayed frozen for a few moments, Malfoy’s eyes fixed on Harry’s raised fist, trembling slightly under his other hand. The situation seemed strange. Harry felt afraid, but he was the one raising a hand. It didn’t seem right. Still, he’d never let fear stop him before, so he ignored it, pushed it to the back of his mind and lowered his hand, trying to understand what had happened. They’d been arguing, but he hadn’t really wanted to hit him, had he? The fear started to seep away, and he just felt confused instead.

It was like a fog was lifting, and he suddenly realised what had happened. Horrified, he looked down at his hand, still clamped around Malfoy’s wrist. Why on earth had he done that? What a stupid thing to do. Still, he didn’t let go. He realised now that had been Malfoy’s anger and fear, not his own. Malfoy had been right, experiencing it was very different to having it explained. He had thought it would be obvious to feel someone else’s emotions, and yet he’d been completely taken in by them. The emotions had felt so real he’d even forgotten that Malfoy could influence him.

Whether he was calming down and fighting Malfoy’s emotions, or if Malfoy was calming down himself, Harry didn’t know. He was confused, but no matter how he focused on the feeling, he couldn’t determine if it was his own confusion, or Malfoy’s. Now that he no longer felt afraid, he was fascinated by it. Were emotions the same for everyone? Was Malfoy’s ability actually pushing his own emotions onto Harry, or merely causing Harry to form matching emotions himself?

“How did you do that?” Malfoy asked in a hushed tone, as if afraid of breaking the silence.

“Do what?” Harry replied.

“Just push aside my fear like it was nothing?”

Harry frowned for a moment, then remembered why this had been a horrible idea. As he remembered that Malfoy was able to read his every emotion, he felt heat creep over his face. He released Malfoy’s wrist, but Malfoy suddenly reached out and grabbed his hand as it moved away. Harry froze again, waiting for some strong emotion to hit him, but nothing did. 

“I’m not sending anything your way anymore,” Malfoy said, his voice still hushed.

Realising that Malfoy had probably read his confusion, he wanted to pull away. Merlin, the idea was so intimate it made his head spin. 

“But you were? How did you stop, I thought you couldn’t control it?” he asked, trying to pull his hand away, but Malfoy held tight.

“You calmed me down when you just threw aside that fear like it was nothing,” Malfoy replied, awe colouring into his tone. “It was so surprising. How did you do that?”

Harry frowned, had he done that? Fear was something he just naturally tried to ignore, he didn’t think it was significant, but Malfoy was acting like it was some great, amazing feat.

“I don’t know. I just don’t let it control me,” Harry replied. “If I let fear get in the way every time I was afraid then I never would have survived my years at Hogwarts, or the war.”

Malfoy stared at him incredulously, as if he’d said something impossible. It made Harry feel uncomfortable, but he didn’t move, realising now that Malfoy was not going to let him go. Malfoy’s grip on his hand suddenly tightened and he leaned forward, staring Harry in the eye. Harry squirmed a little, feeling uneasy.

“Voldemort,” Malfoy suddenly said, staring at him intently.

Harry frowned at him. “What are you doing?”

Malfoy continued to stare at him for a few moments, searching his face for something. 

“Merlin, I can see it now,” he murmured, finally releasing Harry’s hand.

“See what?” Harry asked, stepping back a little.

Malfoy shook his head, then suddenly laughed. Harry frowned, but didn’t say anything further. He couldn’t remember ever seeing Malfoy laugh like that. It was a little hysterical, but also a little breathless, like he was excited, but also nervous.

“You really are balanced,” Malfoy finally said. “You just push aside emotions almost as soon as you feel them, you don’t let the bad ones take hold.”

Harry scowled, realising exactly what Malfoy had been doing. Assessing how he felt about Voldemort was an immense breach of his privacy. He hadn’t even talked to Hermione and Ron about how he really felt about the war. About killing Voldemort. They had both talked about it, but Harry had stayed silent. Suddenly, Malfoy knew more of how he felt about the war than his best friends did, and he hated it. 

“How dare you!” he hissed. “You had no right. How I feel about him is private!”

Malfoy actually looked a little sorry. It surprised Harry enough that he didn’t automatically storm off.

“I’m sorry,” Malfoy said, sounding genuine. “I needed to feel how you handled a complex set of emotions, to know for sure. He was the best way to get that result.”

“I’m not a bloody experiment,” Harry snapped. 

Malfoy looked conflicted. “It’s just...you don’t realise what you just did,” he said. “That you could so easily brush aside such complex feelings, like they were nothing. You don’t know what I would give to be able to do that.”

Malfoy looked away. He looked small, vulnerable, and Harry calmed down immediately. All this time, he’d been fixated on how violated he felt by Malfoy feeling his emotions, but he hadn’t stopped to think about Malfoy at all. He’d explained his condition but now that Harry thought back, he hadn’t said how he felt about it. Only when they’d argued had he given a glimpse of how helpless he had felt when he’d lost Snape as a calming influence.

“Can you ever turn it off?” he asked.

Malfoy shook his head. 

“So for your whole life, whenever you touch someone, you feel whatever it is they are feeling?” Harry asked, finally starting to see the bigger picture.

“Why do you think I never touched people the last several years?” Malfoy snapped. 

Instinctively, Harry wanted to snap something scathing right back at him. It was like a knee-jerk reaction that he had difficulty keeping in check. He settled for glaring at him and taking a moment to squash the urge to insult him. Getting Malfoy angry felt satisfying, but it really wouldn’t help the situation.

“You said that you have to concentrate, when you’re calm at least, to push your feelings onto another person,” Harry said. “If that’s the case, then shouldn’t you be able to shut off the other direction as well, if you concentrate?”

Malfoy snorted and rolled his eyes. “You sound like Severus.”

“I do not!” Harry squawked indignantly. 

Malfoy smiled and shook his head. “You do,” he replied. “He was always trying to get me to learn different ways of using my empathy, and you’ve known about it for less than a day and you’re already doing the same.”

“Is it possible though?” Harry persisted. Malfoy apparently wanted to handle his condition on his own, yet he had displayed a disturbing lack of understanding, unless he was still holding back from Harry. He wouldn’t put it past Malfoy to continue to lie, even now. “If you can control the flow in one direction, surely you should be able to control the other direction as well.”

Malfoy let out a huff of irritation. “You make it sound so easy, but you forget that when I touch someone I don’t have time to concentrate enough to stop myself from feeling their emotions. When someone touches me they’re usually feeling something very strong, and very unpleasant. Immediately I become overwhelmed, and open myself up to them.”

Harry grimaced. That sounded awful. He’d felt so violated knowing Malfoy had felt his emotions, he never stopped to realise that Malfoy probably felt the same way every time someone touched him and he affected them. Worse even, because it was his emotions that often made things worse.

Even with all the awful breaches of privacy, and the uncomfortable level of intimacy, Harry was still fascinated by Malfoy’s condition. If only because it seemed like Malfoy could do so much more with it, if he really tried. 

“Didn’t Snape ever offer to let you practice on him?” he asked, curious. “If he helped you stay balanced then he can’t have been opposed to the idea.”

“No, he wasn’t opposed,” Malfoy replied, looking sad. “He wanted me to figure it out, gain more control. But we thought we’d have more time. Once the Dark Lord came back, he barely had enough time to keep me balanced, especially since he was constantly trying to keep him away from me.”

A sudden chill passed through Harry. “Voldemort was interested in your ability?”

Malfoy shuddered. “Let’s not talk about that,” he said. 

Harry bristled, but didn’t say anything. He really had no right to any of that information anyway, and he had to remember he was lucky Malfoy had told him so much already. Still, it frustrated him that the subject was dropped so quickly. As much as he hated thinking about Voldemort, he still wanted to learn anything he didn’t already know.

There was still so much he wanted to learn, but he could really only see one way that Malfoy would open up to him.

“What would happen if I helped you?” he asked. “What would I have to do, how would it work?”

Malfoy looked surprised, and gave Harry a searching look. “I already said I wasn’t asking for help.”

Harry wanted to roll his eyes at Malfoy’s stupid pride, but refrained. “But now that you know I can help you, aren’t you tempted?”

Several conflicting expressions passed over Malfoy’s face, and Harry was surprised he didn’t try to hide them. 

“I understand what you meant earlier,” Harry continued carefully, “when you said that you didn’t want to rely on anyone again and get let down. Really, I’ve been there. But if you want to control it better, you need to practice using it actively. It seems like you need help now in order to never need help again. If that makes sense.”

Malfoy continued to look conflicted, although some of the tension in his posture seemed to ease away when Harry said he understood. Although, Harry really didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t really want to help Malfoy, did he? How could he want his privacy violated like that, over and over? Still, he found himself offering. It probably was the only way to get more information, but at this point, he knew everything he really needed to know. 

Really, he was lying to himself. He did want to help, he just didn’t know why.

“I thought you didn’t want me feeling your emotions,” Malfoy said finally, looking defiant.

Harry winced. There really was no way around that one. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “I don’t really want you snooping around like that, but I don’t want to be around if you cause another incident either.”

The horrible reality of what had happened in the hospital wing was becoming clearer to Harry. Malfoy had no control, and until he had control, it could happen again, at any time. It didn’t matter that Harry was able to balance him, he was still, in some way, susceptible to him. If he practiced helping Malfoy, then he might get better at resisting him too. He knew Malfoy would respect that as a reason, but he still couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“If something happens,” he continued, “if you hurt someone else, then I’ll never be able to forgive myself, knowing I could have helped you but didn’t because I’m too embarrassed by the intimacy.”

All of a sudden, Malfoy stopped looking conflicted, and instead looked amused. “So that’s why you felt embarrassed earlier,” he said. “I didn’t understand it at the time. So, you were thinking about how intimate it is?”

Harry flushed. “It’s a bit hard to ignore the intimacy of you feeling my bloody emotions. They’re meant to be private!”

Malfoy smirked. “Are you embarrassed because you’re worried you may feel something embarrassing?” he asked. “Or were you embarrassed because you were excited by it?”

“I was not excited by it!” Harry spluttered. “Feeling violated by someone you don’t like isn’t bloody exciting!”

Malfoy just laughed, and wiggled his fingers in the air. “You can’t lie to me, Potter,” he said with a smirk. “You were excited about something.”

“Excited about punching you, maybe,” he snapped, before he could stop himself.

Malfoy paled, and the smile dropped off his face. Harry sighed and ran his hand over his face. Just once he’d like to have a civil conversation with Malfoy, and not end up fighting him. Surely it was possible.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t really want to hit you, I’m sorry I almost did.”

Malfoy gave him an odd look. “I can’t tell, you know?”

“Tell what?”

“What the emotions are linked to,” he said. “You still have some privacy. I didn’t know what you felt embarrassed about until you mentioned intimacy, which made sense. If I concentrate really hard then sometimes I can see the links between emotions, which ones go together, but I don’t ever bother, it makes me really tired, and it’s not like I usually get a chance anyway. Anger is pretty overwhelming on its own.”

Once again, Harry found himself fascinated. There seemed to be a lot more that Malfoy could do, and yet he just kept saying that he couldn’t. Why would he turn down an offer to help gain better control over his condition? Did he hate Harry so much that he’d reject his help? Weren’t Slytherins meant to be ambitious? How could one turn down the opportunity to develop an ability that may be extremely useful once mastered?

“How would it work then?” Harry asked, determined to at least find that out before he made a decision. “If I decided to help you?”

Malfoy eyed him suspiciously before answering him. “Every now and then, when I feel like I’m getting overwhelmed by my own emotions, or the impressions I get around other people, I’d come to you and get you to balance me.”

“But what would happen?”

“I’d touch you and then synchronise my emotional state to match your balanced one,” Malfoy replied. “If you’re serious about it, then you can facilitate it by actively feeling something calming, which would speed up the process. Once I get used to that feeling, then even the tiniest contact would cause an automatic response in me to calm down.”

Harry thought that through. It really didn’t sound so bad. “But you’d be feeling everything I’m feeling, every time?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer. 

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Yes, Potter,” he said snidely. “That is the nature of this ability.”

Harry glared at him. “What happens if someone upsets you?”

“If I can, I’ll come find you, and essentially the same thing would happen, but it would probably take longer,” Malfoy replied. “If McGonagall thinks you’re helping me, she’d probably send me your way after Pomfrey heals me, if it’s that bad.”

“And what if I want you to actively practice controlling it?” Harry asked. “What if I make that a condition of my help?”

Malfoy scowled at him. “Trust me,” he said. “That would be the only reason I’m doing it, so that eventually I won’t need your help anymore.”

Harry squashed the annoyance he felt at that response. Would it kill Malfoy to act grateful, or did he really despise Harry so much, even though he could help? He seemed perfectly civil through most of their conversation. In fact, until the subject of help came up, Malfoy didn’t seem to despise him at all.

“Do you know how that would work? Or would we be figuring it out on our own?” Harry asked, feeling more comfortable with the idea of helping Malfoy if it annoyed him.

“We’d definitely be going into that blind,” Malfoy muttered. “It’s a stupid, dangerous idea, but you are right about it being necessary, if I want to be able to handle this on my own.”

Harry thought through everything they’d discussed, turning it over in his mind, along with how he’d felt when Malfoy had touched him. While there was a danger that he could be overwhelmed by Malfoy’s emotions if he was upset, he didn’t think anything bad would happen. As soon as he showed any sign of violence, Malfoy became afraid, which seemed to snap Harry out from under his influence. 

Making up his mind, he held out his hand. “Let’s do this then,” he said. “I’ll help you stay balanced, and you can practice learning how to control it.”

Malfoy eyed his hand with a strange combination of longing and disgust. It seemed some part of him wanted Harry’s help, while the other wanted nothing to do with him. Harry wasn’t surprised by this, and just waited.

“What do you get out of all this?” Malfoy asked, tone laced with suspicion.

“More information about a very interesting condition,” Harry replied. “The knowledge that I’m helping someone who needs help. If you want this to be more of an equal trade, then let’s say you owe me a favour one day.”

Malfoy nodded to himself, and took Harry’s hand. “Alright then,” he said, shaking Harry’s hand. “We have a deal.”

Harry felt nothing from Malfoy through touch, and wondered what feelings he was giving away. The idea still made him uncomfortable, and embarrassed, most likely to Malfoy’s amusement. Still, he also felt lighter. He had the ability to help, and he was. There was something freeing in that.

 

 

 

Harry shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun as he looked up the Gryffindor team. Ginny had not been lying when she’d said they were lacking talent. As he watched the beaters narrowly avoid whacking themselves in the face with their own bats, he shook his head. If she was right, and they were trying harder because he was there, then they were even worse than they seemed now. 

After another dismal attempt at flying in formation that had three of them almost falling off their brooms when they collided, Ginny flew down and dismounted next to him.

“What did I tell you?” she said, sounding irritated. “Utterly useless.”

Harry couldn’t help but nod in agreement. “Were they really the best this year?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ginny replied with a groan, leaning against him dramatically. “We have one or two good players from last year, but with you and Ron gone, we’ll never win.”

Harry chuckled, and slung an arm around her. “You’re a fair seeker yourself,” he said. “You should take the position, it’s much more important.”

Ginny groaned again. “I prefer chaser.”

“Do you want to win or not?” Harry asked.

Ginny sighed, and nodded against Harry’s shoulder.

“Then stop sulking like a child. Get up there and kick their arses into shape!” he snapped. “Double your practice time, increase the number of drills!”

Ginny huffed, and pulled back to glare at him. Defeatism didn’t suit her, and he was glad to see fire back in her eyes. Honestly, he was surprised she’d needed a push at all, it wasn’t like her.

“What’s really going on, Gin?” he asked. “I expected to see you whipping them into shape, not moaning about how awful they are.”

Ginny sighed suddenly. “I miss flying with you and Ron,” she said. “The team just isn’t the same anymore. It’s not as fun.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. Thinking back, he tried to remember the last time they’d all flown together. He was sure they had at some stage over summer, but even that was too long ago.

“I’ll talk to Ron, see if he wants to organise a friendly game with the eighth and seventh years,” he said. “You should have said something, I miss Quidditch too.”

Ginny sent him a piercing look. “You seemed to have a lot on your mind lately,” she said. “For a while there you didn’t seem to be sleeping or eating. Quidditch would have been dangerous.”

Harry looked away awkwardly. Sometimes he forgot how perceptive she was, how well she knew him.

“Are you okay, Harry?” she asked. “You’ve seemed better over the last few days, but it was a bit frightening seeing you like that. I wasn’t sure what to do, or what I was allowed to do.”

Above them, the beaters collided, and the sound of wood smacking together echoed around the pitch. They both winced, then Ginny was amplifying her voice and screaming up at them. Harry slammed his hands over his ears and watched in amusement as the team cowered for a moment, and then resumed practice.

“I should be up there,” Ginny said, after she had returned her voice to normal.

Before she took off, Harry reached out and put a hand on her arm.

“Don’t worry about what you can and can’t do,” he said quietly. “We’re still friends, right? Sometimes I need someone to kick my arse, and I would hate for you to be afraid to do that now. We ended things okay, right?”

Ginny placed her hand over his. “I’m sorry Ron took our breakup so poorly, and that the family was so upset,” she said. “I let that get in the way of being friends with you because I didn’t want them starting up again if we were still so close, Ron’s denial was bad enough. There’s no hard feelings, Harry. The sex was fantastic, I’d shag you again, but we weren’t going to work as a couple, we both knew that.”

Harry flushed, making Ginny chuckle at him. She reached out and stroked his cheek.

“I’ll never get tired of making you blush like a thirteen year old,” she said.

Harry scowled at her. “You and everyone else.”

Ginny laughed and gave his cheek a little pat. 

“Think about it this way,” she said, “whoever has you next will have low expectations and you’ll blow their mind with how brilliant you are in bed.”

“Ginny!” he hissed, glancing around to make sure the team was far enough away not to hear.

Still laughing, she took off. 

 

 

 

Harry stared blankly at the parchment in front of him. He was supposed to be writing an essay for Transfiguration, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Malfoy. It had been days since their conversation in that clearing, and Malfoy had been avoiding him again. As he had no reason to seek Malfoy out, he’d refrained from hunting him down using the map. While he couldn’t pretend to understand how often Malfoy would need his help, he was surprised that he hadn’t heard from him in several days. If he was being honest with himself, he supposed he was a little disappointed. 

However, he also supposed that if Malfoy didn’t come to him, he must be calm and balanced, and there would be no incidents. Agreeing to help the other boy did not make them friends, and he had no reason to expect Malfoy to talk to him about anything other than his condition. In fact, Malfoy was back to sneering and snapping insults in class. Harry couldn’t deny that he liked that, it was comfortably normal for them. Still, they had discussed many personal things during their conversation. He couldn’t help but feel that knowing each other’s vulnerabilities, or emotions...it changed things. Surely they should at least say a civil ‘hello’ every once and awhile, even if they still taunted each other the rest of the time. 

“Mate, you haven’t written anything in the last hour,” Ron said, tossing him a chocolate frog as he came in from the dorms. “I thought you told me to bugger off so you could concentrate.”

“Seems your nagging about Quidditch wasn’t the problem after all,” Harry said, smiling at him and putting aside his untouched work. “I suppose I’ll have to try again later.”

Ron had been enthusiastic about the idea of playing a friendly Quidditch game, maybe a little too enthusiastic. He seemed to enjoy organising it, and went as far as deciding who was on each team. Harry was also excited, but he wasn’t as interested in organising it, only playing.

Ron took the armchair next to him. “Anything you need to talk about?” he asked, innocently.

Harry scowled at him. Somehow Ron knew he’d had a breakthrough with Malfoy, even though he’d said nothing. For the most part he was leaving him alone, but at least once a day he’d ask that same question and give him a knowing look.

“You mean since you asked yesterday?” Harry asked, still scowling as he bit viciously into his chocolate frog.

Ron chuckled and opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Hermione storming through the portrait and into the common room. He took in the dark look on her face and shut his mouth. Tracey and Neville, who had been sitting on the sofa near Harry’s, quickly packed up their things and disappeared. 

“Are all the seventh years complete and utter prats?” she snapped, throwing herself onto the sofa they’d just vacated.

“Mostly,” Harry replied cautiously, glancing at the way her clothes were dishevelled. He could swear those were singe marks across her jumper. “What happened, are you alright?”

Hermione let out a growl of frustration, and leaned over to nick the other half of the chocolate frog right out of his hand. “A group of seventh year Slytherins just attacked Malfoy, I intervened and got hexed for my trouble. I should have let them have him.”

Harry sat up straighter, and could see Ron doing the same. “Is he alright? He didn’t come in with you.”

If Hermione thought his concern for Malfoy was strange, she didn’t show it. After she’d finished off his chocolate frog she sighed. “He’s alright, but he got hit with several nasty spells and I sent him to Madam Pomfrey. I think the spells were more annoying than serious, although he seemed quite rattled by it. He flinched something terrible when I tried to help him up.”

Ron sent Harry a significant look, which he ignored.

“I went straight to McGonagall and reported it afterwards,” Hermione continued. “Malfoy asked me not to, but I can’t let this go on any longer after seeing how bad it is. If people don’t start reporting these things when they happen then they are only going to escalate, like that fiasco outside breakfast last week.”

“What did McGonagall say?” Harry asked, wondering if they’d really send Malfoy to him instead of locking him away in that room. It didn’t sound like he’d had an incident, but he didn’t really know what criteria they used before throwing him in there before. Malfoy had certainly implied that he’d been in that room more times than Harry knew there had been incidents.

“She’s going to dock points and give a lot of detentions. She also said something about making an announcement at breakfast tomorrow, but I doubt that will dissuade them.”

Harry nodded, wondering how he could slip away. He doubted that Malfoy would come to him willingly for help if he needed it, even though he had agreed to. He’d have to go to him. Although, it turned out he didn’t have to. 

Malfoy suddenly stalked into the room, looking furious and storming off towards the dorms. 

“Glad you’re okay, Hermione,” Harry said, gathering his things together. “I’d stay and talk more but I’m at a critical part of my research, I’ll finish it off in my room.”

Without waiting for a reply, he hurried off towards the dorms. He knew he was being far from subtle, and Ron would no doubt know exactly where he was really going. But he had agreed to help Malfoy, and it would be pointless if he waited for Malfoy to try and calm down on his own before approaching him.

Dumping his things in his room, he hovered outside Malfoy’s door, hand raised to knock. Before he could, he was hit with a sudden surge of doubt. Could he really do this? He had brushed off the privacy issues, telling himself that helping Malfoy was more important, and Malfoy had already read his emotions before anyway. Still, he couldn’t help but feel very unsure of himself all of a sudden.

Before he could pluck up the courage to knock, the door suddenly swung open.

Malfoy stared at him in surprise for a moment, and Harry lowered his arm. “I hope you were coming to find me,” he said. “Hermione just told me what happened.”

Malfoy scowled at him. “I was doing no such thing,” he hissed. “I’m fine, I was going to go for a walk.”

Harry frowned. “You are not fine,” he said. “Come on, we shook on this, I can help you out when you need it. Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”

“I don’t need your help!” Malfoy snapped.

Harry scowled, and suddenly shoved Malfoy back through the door, walking into the room and closing the door behind him.

“How dare you!” Malfoy spat. “You can’t just barge in here whenever you please!”

“I would think it’s better than discussing this in the hallway where anyone can hear,” Harry snapped back, casting a privacy ward on the room and locking the door for good measure.

“I don’t want your help right now, I just want to be left alone!” Malfoy hissed.

“That’s not how this works, Malfoy,” Harry replied, putting his wand away. “You’re obviously upset, let me balance you.”

“You don’t even know how!”

“So we’ll figure it out together,” Harry said, moving closer. Correspondingly, Malfoy moved back. Harry frowned. It was like they were back to the beginning again. “What’s going on? Is there some reason other than pride that’s holding you back?”

Malfoy scowled at him. “It doesn’t matter, but we can do this later. Just leave me alone.”

“It does matter,” Harry replied. “We made a deal, that means we’re in this together from now on. I keep my word. Tell me whatever you need to, and then we’ll give this balancing thing a go.”

Malfoy sneered at him. “This was your fault. They attacked me today because of you.”

Surprised, Harry took a step back. His first reaction was to snap back defensively, but he forced himself to take a breath first. “How so?”

“They saw me help you, during the Battle for Hogwarts,” Malfoy snapped. “They saw me defending you from Death Eaters, from their families. It’s worse than the others who just know I betrayed the Dark Lord, they actually saw it for themselves.”

“That’s not my fault, you chose to do that, I didn’t ask you to!” Harry snapped, before he could think his words through. “You didn’t even do it for me! You did it because you knew I’d win, and you wanted to be on the winning side.”

Right after the words were out of his mouth, Harry winced. They’d never really talked about what had happened after the fire in the Room of Requirement. Malfoy had tried to stop Crabbe and Goyle, and had continued to protect Harry afterwards. He’d never offered a reason for his actions, not even when Harry had tried to talk to him after his hearing at the Ministry.

“I didn’t do it to be on the winning side!” Malfoy spat, furiously. “I did it for Severus!”

Harry felt his heart stutter in his chest. “What?”

Malfoy sighed. It looked like he regretted his words. “Severus told me to make sure you stayed alive until you faced the Dark Lord, in case he wasn’t around to do it himself.”

A chill took hold of him at the idea that Malfoy might know the truth. “What did he tell you? How much do you know?”

“Can we just get this over with and go back to ignoring each other?” Malfoy asked, seeming suddenly very desperate to get away. “I can’t talk about the war without getting upset, and I’m already unbalanced.”

“We’re going to have to talk about the war eventually,” Harry said, not willing to drop the subject again.

“I know,” Malfoy said. “But not now, not yet.”

“When?”

“When I trust you, when you trust me,” Malfoy replied. “When we can have a civil conversation without yelling at each other like children. There’s already so much bad blood between us, we should probably clear that up before we go anywhere near the war.”

“Fine,” Harry said shortly, sick of talking about everything but what he actually wanted to discuss. “Let’s get this over with then. You seem better now, are you going to affect me when you touch me?”

Malfoy nodded, and moved closer. “I don’t always look like a mess when I feel like one.”

Harry chuckled. “You’ll have to show me how to pull that off one day,” he said, rolling up his sleeve and holding out his arm. “I could avoid a lot of uncomfortable conversations if I could look fine when I wasn’t.”

Malfoy smiled weakly at him. “When I touch you, you’ll probably feel angry, most of all, a little sad too, and guilty. Be prepared.”

Harry looked surprised. “Thanks for the warning.”

“You were right, what you said before,” Malfoy said, reaching out. “We’re in this together. I can tell you aren’t comfortable with this, but you’re helping me anyway. The least I can do is give you a heads up.”

Harry smiled. He didn’t understand how they could go between yelling at each other and then almost being nice, and yet not have a neutral conversation. It seemed they always had to be at either extreme. It made no sense that Harry could help him when they couldn’t even talk.

Malfoy paused, hand hovering over Harry’s bared arm. He looked up at Harry, assessing him. He looked vulnerable again, and even though Harry had seen that look on him a few times now, he couldn’t get used to it. “Please, don’t hit me. It may make things worse.”

Before Harry could respond, he laid his hand gently on Harry’s arm.

Immediately, Harry felt himself swamped by anger. Fighting to remain aware of the fact that it wasn’t his, he reached out his other hand and latched onto Malfoy’s wrist just so he would have something to hold on to, to anchor himself. Even though he was overwhelmed by rage, he felt a jolt of surprise at the contact, and it was enough to keep him sane, to remind him what was really happening. He closed his eyes, and tried to see if he could tell the anger wasn’t his. 

It burned just as bright and hot as his own anger, and if he wasn’t desperately holding onto Malfoy’s wrist to remind himself what was really happening, he might forget it wasn’t his anger. It felt so real, so natural, even though he had no reason to be angry. He tried to bury it, to push it away, but struggled. He had done this to the fear yesterday, but he had been pushing away fear since he was a child. Anger was different. He never got truly angry often, and when he did he just gave into it and yelled and hit things. He had no reason to be this angry, he couldn’t just work through it. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to do this? Malfoy had said he could balance him. Why was it so hard? 

Feeling desperate, he looked for something else to latch onto. Immediately, he found it. Under the anger was guilt. Guilt he knew well, like an old friend, and he welcomed it. It was such a familiar feeling. Even though the feel of Malfoy’s wrist under his hand reminded him that it wasn’t real, the guilt slipped through his veins like it was part of his blood. It was followed by another little jolt of surprise, and Harry opened his eyes to see Malfoy staring down at him with fascination. As soon as he saw the look on Malfoy’s face, he could identify the feeling within him. It was hovering around the edges of the guilt and anger, slipping into focus and then out again. It was such a strange feeling, and one he could tell wasn’t his. When he was fascinated by something, it felt different, it felt all consuming, not like Malfoy’s curiosity, which just darted in and out of focus. 

Harry was so focused now on catching a better glimpse of this strange feeling, that he barely noticed the anger and guilt slip away. All too soon, it seemed, the fascination disappeared too, slipping away like sand between his fingers, soft and gentle, but he could almost still feel it after it was gone. 

Once everything had faded away, he realised Malfoy was no longer pushing emotions on him. He released his grip on Malfoy’s wrist, but Malfoy didn’t let him go. “I’m not quite there yet,” he said softly, still looking at Harry with fascination.

“But you’re calm enough that you aren’t influencing me?” Harry asked, even though he knew the answer. He wanted to talk suddenly, rather than stand there with Malfoy’s hand on his arm, knowing that every little fleeting emotion he experienced was being felt and understood by Malfoy.

“Embarrassed again?” Malfoy said, smiling. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about, you should be proud. For someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, you are doing pretty damn well.”

Harry flushed at the compliment, but felt even more embarrassed. He wanted to distract Malfoy from what he must be feeling, but was afraid to talk in case he asked questions that would make Malfoy angry again. He wanted to know why Malfoy felt guilty, and how it was that his fascination felt different to his own. Did people feel things differently after all? Malfoy had made it sound like it was all the same.

“When I got curious, how did that feel to you?” he asked, unable to stop himself.

Malfoy frowned. “It felt like curiosity, why?”

“I got something from you, curiosity or fascination? It’s what was on your face when I opened my eyes.”

“Curiosity,” Malfoy confirmed.

“It felt strange, different,” Harry replied. “I could tell it wasn’t mine.”

Malfoy frowned and tilted his head to the side, closing his eyes. Harry fidgeted uncomfortably as he realised that Malfoy was now focusing more intently on what he was feeling through Harry’s skin.

Malfoy suddenly chuckled. “Embarrassed, yet excited, again,” he said. “Are you embarrassed about the excitement this time, Potter?”

Harry scowled. “I’m not excited! Whatever you think you're feeling, you’ve got it wrong.”

Malfoy shrugged his shoulders, but didn’t open his eyes, still focusing. “You may not be aware that you are excited, but you are. It’s faint though, that might be why you haven’t noticed, it’s probably just a buzz in the background. You probably think it’s nervousness.”

“Maybe it is nervousness,” Harry said, annoyed.

Malfoy shook his head. “No, you stopped being nervous a while ago.”

Harry rolled his eyes but didn’t reply. Eventually Malfoy opened his eyes again, looking surprised.

“You’re right,” he said, sounding amazed. “Once I focus on it, your curiosity feels different than my own.”

“You never noticed that people feel things differently before?” Harry asked, curious.

“No. I never focus on what other people are feeling if I can help it,” Malfoy replied. “I had no idea. But you’re still excited.”

Harry scowled. “Prat.”

Malfoy smirked at him, then removed his hand. “You didn’t feel nearly as annoyed as you sounded, you know,” he said smugly.

Harry just kept scowling at him, though he was dying to ask more questions. How could Malfoy know so little about his own condition? If Harry was in his situation, he would have been actively seeking more information and learning to control it. He couldn’t help but feel the ability was wasted on Malfoy, though he still would not wish it upon himself.

“You’re alright now?” Harry asked, surprised.

Malfoy nodded. “Thank you, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be,” he replied. “How was it for you? You felt fine until I was no longer affecting you, then you seemed quite uncomfortable.”

“Because I felt embarrassed?” Harry asked, surprised Malfoy was bothering to ask.

“Because you felt violated and uncomfortable,” Malfoy replied seriously. “Not enough to throw you off balance, but enough that I noticed.”

Harry looked away. He’d been worried that Malfoy would feel that, and it only made the sense of violation worse. “Well, it can’t really be avoided, can it?”

“No, if we were friends, or you trusted me, then I imagine it would be different,” Malfoy said, tone still very serious. “And yet, you’re helping me anyway. You’re a better person than I am. Not that I didn’t know that already.”

Harry shrugged, not sure what to say. He would probably never trust Malfoy, not knowing what the other boy could make him do, not after everything in their past. He was amazed Malfoy was able to speak so openly to him. 

“At least it worked. You look much better now,” he said instead.

Malfoy nodded. “I am, thank you. I should be fine for a while, at least until some idiots throw spells at me again,” he said.

“Hermione went to McGonagall,” Harry said.

“I know.” Malfoy sighed and picked at the singe marks on his shirt. “McGonagall intercepted me on my way back here. I thought she may try to talk to me about you, but she just told me to be careful and let me go.”

“She’s a good person, she said she hated what they were doing to you, but she didn’t know what else to do,” Harry replied. “It’s why she didn’t let on that she knew you weren’t on your potions.”

Malfoy sighed as though he didn’t agree, but nodded anyway. When the silence dragged out and started to feel uncomfortable, Harry took down the privacy ward and unlocked the door.

“I have my own room too, you know,” he said. “If you need help, come to me, don’t wait until it gets bad enough that you may do harm if someone touches you, alright? If you need help but I’m with my friends, just let me know. Just gesture, or glare at me, or something. The better I get at this, the sooner you can try to control your end of it.”

Malfoy nodded, but didn’t say anything further as he left. Harry wandered back to the common room, suddenly feeling hungry. Ron was playing chess by himself by the fire, a couple of plates stacked with food were sitting near him. He looked up when Harry sat down and pushed the food towards him.

“What were you two doing that took so long you both missed dinner?” Ron asked, looking curious.

Harry blinked stupidly at him, then glanced at the clock above the fireplace. He’d been in Malfoy’s room for nearly two hours. It had only felt like half an hour, he couldn’t believe it. He hoped Malfoy was right when he said that he would get faster at balancing him over time. They wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret from people if they disappeared together for hours at a time. 

Harry flushed. He hoped Ron wasn’t thinking they were shagging again. He’d been oddly insistent with that joke. He used it often, now that he knew it flustered Harry so easily, even after their awkward conversation on the Quidditch pitch.

“I told you, I’m helping him with his magic problem,” Harry said. “I can’t tell you the details, McGonagall made me promise.”

Ron nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “I told Hermione that you’d probably fallen asleep studying, she doesn’t suspect anything, surprisingly. She’s so distracted by her coursework and research project.”

“Good, it needs to stay that way,” Harry said seriously. “I mean it Ron. She can’t know about this, McGonagall was adamant.”

“Alright, mate,” Ron replied in a huff. “But I don’t like keeping things from her.”

“I know,” Harry said sadly. “I wish things were different, but it’s fairly serious and needs discretion.”

“Alright, alright,” Ron said, pushing another plate of food at him. “Go feed your loverboy then.”

“Ron!” Harry gasped indignantly, annoyed to feel his face flush red with embarrassment. Ron just went back to his game, chuckling to himself.

Harry scowled, but took the food to Malfoy anyway. He was surprised that Ron had thought to get him some. It made him a little more worried that maybe Ron wasn’t joking as much as he thought he was. Feeling even more embarrassed, he realised that the truth would only make Ron more certain they were involved, if he knew that Harry was allowing Malfoy to feel his emotions. He would never live it down if word ever got out. 

Chapter Text

Harry watched with disappointment as his potion turned an alarming shade of pink. He heard a snicker behind him, and whipped his head around to glare at Malfoy. Malfoy just smirked as he stirred his own potion, which was the correct colour, of course. 

“Nice potion, Potter,” Malfoy remarked. “Tell me, how did you ever manage to get into N.E.W.T. level classes? You know using fame to your advantage is distasteful, yes?”

Harry scowled at him. They had met three times over the last two weeks, and even though they had fought each time, they’d also had moments of shocking honesty. None of that translated to outside of Malfoy’s room. Harry supposed it could be worse, Malfoy could be sabotaging his potion, not that he didn’t already do a good job of that himself, or he could be saying things that were a lot worse. Still, he wished he could be civil with the person he shared his emotions with.

At one point in time, Harry would have made a comment about Snape and favouritism, but now that he knew how important Snape had been to Malfoy,  he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“No comeback?” Malfoy continued, sneering at him. “I’d cover your potion if I were you, it’s fumes are likely killing your brain cells, what few you have at least.”

It was a rather pathetic insult as far as they were concerned, but it still irritated Harry. Although he supposed it was indicative of Malfoy’s improved mood, since he’d been mostly keeping to himself and ignoring Harry before all this empathy business. Still, it made him want to say something he knew he would regret.

“Ever heard of the muggle expression of boys pulling girls’ pigtails, Malfoy?” Ron suddenly asked, loudly.

Harry flushed, and whipped around to glare at Ron. The class didn’t quite know what to do, some laughed, some looked surprised or disgusted. Ron was looking amused by Malfoy’s reaction but Harry refused to turn around to see what it was. So far Ron had kept that stupid ongoing joke to himself, and he was livid with his friend for using it so publicly.

“Can’t say I have, it sounds disgusting,” Malfoy replied with a drawl.

Ron looked even more amused and opened his mouth to reply. Harry promptly stomped on his foot. He was regretting his decision to sit with Ron, and hoped he knew it. Ron yelped and fixed Harry with a wounded look that earned him no sympathy. Hermione turned around from her table in front of them and gave them a strange look, but returned to her potion without comment. Harry frowned at her back for a moment. She had become oddly distant again.

“Come on, mate,” Ron said. “You should have seen his face!”

“I swear, Ron,” Harry replied, shortly. “That joke is not funny.”

Ron snorted. “I think it’s hilarious.”

“You’ve made that painfully obvious, thanks,” Harry snapped.

He knew he was overacting, but he was a bit sensitive about Ron’s jokes given that he was regularly doing something with Malfoy that he considered much more intimate than sex. Which was, incidentally, why he still wouldn’t give Ron any more details.

“You two bicker like a married couple,” Malfoy commented from behind them. “Anyone ever told you that?”

Harry whipped around and fixed him with another glare. “Sod off, Malfoy.”

Malfoy smirked at him, and Harry was tempted to throw something volatile into his potion.

 

 

 

Harry read through the letter one more time, before tossing it in the fire. Ron reached out as if to try and pull it free, but stilled when Harry glared at him.

“Leave it alone, Ron.”

“Mate, you should at least consider the offer!”

Harry scowled. “I don’t want a seat on the Wizengamot. I haven’t earned it!” he said.

On the next sofa over, Susan and Neville both looked up from their conversation with Nott and Tracey. 

“You killed Voldemort and ended the war,” Ron said. “You’ve done more than any Wizengamot member ever has!”

“I don’t know anything about politics. Giving me a seat is ridiculous!”

“We need someone from our generation there,” Susan suddenly pitched in, looking hesitant when Harry turned his glare on her, but continuing anyway. “The decisions they’re making now affect us more than anyone else.”

“I agree, but anyone would be better than me,” Harry replied. “They should offer a seat to Hermione, she’d be brilliant at it. Or you, Susan!”

Nott shook his head. “Potter, they don’t really care about giving us representation,” he said. “It’s just a gesture to show unity after the war. They want to say ‘look, the Saviour is on our side’. You should take the position because they don’t expect you to actually do anything with it. Show them you can’t be manipulated, and do some more good with it.”

Harry saw the way they were all looking at him, expectant and disappointed, and felt rage rise up in him. 

“I died for everyone!” he snapped. “Isn’t that enough?”

His outburst was met with silence, but that did nothing but anger him further. Without another word, he rose and left the common room.

 

 

 

“Ron told me about your outburst.”

Harry sighed, and glanced at Ginny as she slid down the wall to sit next to him. He had expected Ron to send Hermione after him. After he’d left the common room, he hadn’t known what to do, and had wound up wandering by Quidditch pitch. He’d considered flying, and got as far as the storage shed before changing his mind.

“Don’t let them bully you,” she said, slinging an arm around his shoulder. “If you don’t want to be on the Wizengamot, then don’t. It’s your life, not theirs.”

Harry snorted. “Try telling them that,” he said. “They don’t seem to care what I want.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, nudging him and giving him a wry smile when he looked at her. “I knocked some sense into Ron before I came looking for you.”

Harry sniggered. He’d seen the way she ‘knocked’ sense into her brothers. Ron would be unlikely to bring up the Wizengamot again for a good long while. 

“What would I do without you?”

Ginny punched him lightly in the stomach with her free hand.

“Don’t you start that shit with me,” she said fiercely. “You are a great wizard Harry, and you are more than capable of doing brilliant things all on your own. You don’t need anyone!”

Harry felt affection rise up attempt to choke him. That empty feeling in his chest was back. He’d been feeling it a lot over the past few weeks, and didn’t know what to do about it. Sighing, he leaned his head on her shoulder and tried not to cry from it. 

“I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to be an Auror anymore, but I don’t know what else I’m meant to do.”

Ginny rubbed his upper arm with the hand she had around his shoulders. 

“You do whatever makes you happy, Harry,” she said. “If you don’t know what that is yet, then don’t worry. It’ll sneak up on you when you least suspect it.”

“Sometimes I feel like killing him was all that I was good for,” he admitted. 

He’d never really talked about that with anyone before. He supposed it made sense he’d tell Ginny, she had a better understanding of how Voldemort could mess with a person than anyone else did.

She moved her hand from his shoulder to gently toy with his hair.

“Sometimes I hear him talking to me in my sleep,” she said softly. “When I wake up, I’m afraid of what I might have done, until I realise I’m still in my bed, and he’s gone now. We’re all still struggling, it’s not a weakness. We are worth more than what he did to us.”

Harry closed his eyes and turned his face into her neck. She smelled of flowers and the burrow, and he felt soothed by it. While he sometimes still wished he had been able to love her the way everyone wanted him to, he was glad that they were still close. There were things about him that only she seemed to understand.

“I think sometimes they forget that you died because you’re alive now,” she said gently. “That doesn’t make your sacrifice any less, Harry. We owe you everything, and you owe us nothing. Don’t be a prat about it, but don’t forget it either, okay?”

“I could never have done it without all of you,” he whispered. “I never would have found the courage.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to listen if people are being pushy about what they think you should do,” she replied. “Just walk away next time. Or maybe hex them a little.”

Harry chuckled. “That would really help with those stupid rumours that I’ll go dark.”

“Maybe a healthy dose of fear would do them all some good,” she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “Show them no one pushes the mighty Harry Potter around.”

Harry scowled. “Don’t call me that.”

“I’ll call you what I like until you make me stop,” she said. “Stand up for yourself some more, you’re being a bit pathetic at the moment.”

He reached around and pinched her side. She yelped and smacked him over the head.

“Right, enough wallowing,” she said, pushing him over and standing. She smirked as he scrambled to his feet and brushed himself off. “Let’s put this storage shed to use.”

Harry choked, and sent her a horrified look as he felt his cheeks flush. She took one look at him and laughed so hard she nearly fell over.

“Too easy!” she gasped, putting on hand on the wall to stay upright.

“Sod off!” 

“I meant, let’s grab a practice snitch and some shitty brooms and have a seeker game,” she said, catching her breath but still smirking at him.

Harry scowled at her, knowing she’d phrased it that way deliberately to make him react.

“You’re on!”

 

 

 

Harry fidgeted uncomfortably. Malfoy fixed him with a glare and he stilled. For once, Malfoy had sought him out for help before he became unbalanced. Harry supposed he should be glad, but he was finding the experience a little boring without having Malfoy’s emotions to wrangle. Malfoy had been right about sharing nothing with Harry while he was calm and balanced.

Sighing, he opened his mouth to speak, finding the silence too uncomfortable. Malfoy immediately fixed him with a glare.

“You’re here for one reason, Potter,” he sniped. “Don’t spoil it by talking.”

Harry felt a rush of anger, and was irritated that Malfoy would feel it too. “You’re feeling my bloody emotions, Malfoy,” he snapped. “The least you could do is allow me to occasionally speak.”

“We’re not friends,” Malfoy replied, fingers tightening on his arm.

Harry narrowed his eyes. His immediate response to that was probably less unaffected than he’d have liked, and given the surprised look Malfoy was giving him, it was not what he was expecting either.

“Don’t worry,” Harry said, quickly. “I’m well aware. I’m just bored. Sitting here with your hand on my arm isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.”

Malfoy fixed him with a strange look. Harry quickly thought over his own feelings, frustrated that he didn’t really understand them half of the time. He didn’t think he’d felt anything weird. Or maybe it was what he had said. Flushing, he realised he probably shouldn’t have said that while they were sitting on Malfoy’s bed. Suddenly, he wished that Malfoy had more than one chair or that he’d insisted on standing. He tried to fight it, but felt the heat seep into his face. The fact he knew Malfoy would be feeling his embarrassment only made it worse.

“Just shut up, Potter.”

Harry scowled at him, but didn’t say anything further. He really didn’t understand how sometimes Malfoy would say startlingly open and kind things, and then turn around and be a complete and utter prat the next time they talked.

 

 

 

Harry managed to corner Hermione after dinner one night. It alarmed him to realise that he hadn’t spoken to her for several days. She talked about coursework for a long time but Harry wasn’t hearing her words, he only saw the tense lines around her eyes and the way she hunched her shoulders over, just a little.

“Are you alright?” he asked, interrupting her mid-sentence.

She looked startled for a moment, before her eyes found Ron and she seemed to tense even further. “I’m fine, Harry, just tired,” she said.

Harry wasn’t convinced, but suddenly realised he didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. If she and Ron were having problems, then it wasn’t really his place. Ron had given no indication, aside from voicing his discomfort with the way Harry was making him keep secrets from her. Although, he was doing that less and less the more that Harry helped Malfoy.

Before he could even try to fumble his way through a show of support, she quickly ended the conversation and left for the library. Staring after her, he wondered if he should follow, and try harder to convince her to talk.

A few moments later, Malfoy stormed through the door and glared at anyone who dared look at him as he crossed the common room towards the dorms. His robes were singed again, and there was blood soaking one of his shoulders.

Harry quickly changed direction and followed him, not even caring who saw, because what the hell was Malfoy thinking, walking around injured like that?

 

 

 

Malfoy bombarded him with pain and anger, but it wasn’t strong enough to hide a gut-wrenching sense of loneliness and despair. Harry wanted to say something, wanted to try and comfort him somehow. The feelings were so familiar. Harry had felt like that so many times that he felt a sick sensation in his gut. Malfoy shouldn’t feel like that when the world was at peace. Malfoy’s jaw was tense, and he sat facing away from him. 

“Malfoy…” Harry didn’t really know what to say. Experiencing Malfoy’s emotions was so consuming. He was so familiar with such loneliness, and hopelessness, from when he was a child, he felt like he was becoming lost in it himself.

“You’re losing stability,” Malfoy said softly, still looking away. “You’re starting to match me, instead of remaining yourself for me to mimic.”

Harry closed his eyes. With every passing moment, those feelings became stronger and stronger. He was starting to feel smaller. He was starting to feel as if he couldn't breathe.

“Potter?” There was a hint of panic in Malfoy’s voice, and Harry tried to focus on it, to remind himself what was happening. To remind himself that he wasn’t seven years old and stuck in his cupboard with a sprained ankle and no medical attention. That the feelings weren’t his, that they were Malfoy’s. That they weren't real. “Get a grip, Potter!”

“You feel like my childhood,” Harry whispered, drowning in their common emotions.

Malfoy ripped his hand away so fast that he almost pulled Harry over from the momentum. Harry kept his eyes closed. He didn’t want to look at him. What he’d just revealed, what Malfoy would have felt from him…

The silence was heavy, but Harry couldn’t bear to open his eyes.

“You’re lying.”

Harry opened his eyes, and was startled to find that Malfoy was blurred. He swiped a thumb under his glasses, and was shocked to see it come away wet. He was crying.

“Does it look like I’m lying?” he asked. “Did it feel like I was lying?”

Malfoy opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked conflicted, confused. 

“Just...forget I said anything,” Harry said, feeling shaky. “Give me a moment. We’ll get back to it.”

“No,” Malfoy said slowly, “you need to leave. You’re no good to me like this.”

Harry frowned at the way that hurt, just a little. “You need help.”

Malfoy exhaled slowly, looking away.  “We’ll try again in the morning. Go spend some time with your friends and cheer yourself up. You’ll be prepared for what I feel like in the morning, you won’t get as taken in by it.”

“But—”

“Stop being such an idiot!” Malfoy snapped. “We’re feeling the same things, mirroring each other. We’re only going to keep dragging each other down endlessly. You’re not good enough at this yet, and I…”

Malfoy ran a hand through his hair, and made a frustrated sound. Harry wanted to help, but he was still feeling shaky from what he’d just experienced. He’d been feeling fine before they’d started, but now he was overwhelmed by all those things he’d felt as a child, locked in his cupboard. That Malfoy could just push those feelings on him without even knowing what he went through...

When things were easy with them, he forgot just how devastating Malfoy’s empathy could be.

“Just leave.”

Harry nodded, and didn’t bother arguing further. Pushing Malfoy was not a good idea. He didn’t know what might happen if he did, and he didn’t want to find out.

 

 

 

Waking early, Harry met with Malfoy in his room. They stared at each other in tense silence for a while before they reached for each other. With a gentle touch, they were connected. Prepared for those feelings of loneliness and despair, Harry closed his eyes and focused on all the happy memories he had. He’d decided before going to him that morning that he should try to treat it like casting a Patronus.

He could feel Malfoy’s despair, and wanted to talk about it. He wanted to ask Malfoy why he felt that way, why he didn’t spend more time with the other Slytherins. But if he asked questions, Malfoy might do the same, and Harry wasn’t sure he was ready to talk about his childhood with anyone, least of all Malfoy.

So he kept his mouth shut, and hoped the feelings from his happy memories would help when words couldn’t.

 

 

 

Harry trailed Neville and Nott around the greenhouse. He had only agreed to a short visit, for Neville to check something with Professor Sprout. He’d needed the walk to clear his mind. Instead, they’d bumped into Nott, and he and Neville were deep in discussion about hybridisation. Harry didn’t understand half of it, but he nodded enthusiastically whenever Neville directed comments towards him.

Malfoy had become even harsher with him since their failed attempt to balance. He’d been prickly before, but now he was back to being cruel. Ron seemed irritated that Harry wasn’t fighting back, but he just couldn’t find the energy. He’d not been thrown back to his cupboard like that in a long time, and was still reeling from the experience.

In a way, he understood Malfoy’s reaction. It was hard to feel too angry at him for such obvious defensive behaviour. He was feeling rather defensive himself, and was just glad that Malfoy was so busy deflecting from the emotions in him that had caused the whole business, that he wasn’t asking Harry questions about how easily he’d mirrored him.

Once, Malfoy would have leaped at the chance to sell Harry’s secrets to the Prophet. Now, he just seemed to be pretending that he hadn’t heard Harry’s comment. Harry was grateful, but also dissatisfied. Malfoy should not be feeling that way. It wasn’t right or fair. And how much of it was just his life as an Empath, and how much of it was due to the way he was being treated by the other students?

It made Harry deeply uncomfortable to know anyone felt that way, when he knew it all too well himself.

Shaking his head to try and clear the thoughts, Harry realised he wasn’t walking anymore. He looked up to find Neville and Nott bent over a vibrant orange flower that seemed to have tentacles. Their heads were close together, and they looked so engrossed in their discussion, that Harry knew it would be a long time before they remembered he was there.

Smiling at their enthusiasm, he wandered away. 

 

 

 

Ron came marching into the hall during lunch one day, jaw set angrily and wand in his hand. Without words, he grabbed Harry by the arm and dragged him out of the hall.

“Ron? What happened?” Harry asked, because Ron had that look that meant he was angry, but also scared.

“Some Slytherins just attacked Malfoy, and the prat turned on me when I tried to help,” Ron snapped. “I almost hit him.”

A jolt of fear shot through Harry, leaving a shivery feeling in its wake. “Where is he?”

“I’m taking you to him,” Ron said, shortly. “You won’t give me enough information, but I know enough to know you’re the only one who’s even willing to help when he’s being an arse. And I know better than to hit him now.”

Ron fixed him with a look that seemed to pass right through him, and Harry knew they were going to have an awkward conversation about this later. When they reached their destination, Ron just shoved Harry into the room roughly, and slammed the door between them. His rough treatment surprised Harry, but he pushed it out of his mind. Malfoy had pulled his wand out the second he saw Harry.

“Whoa,” Harry said, raising his hands in what he hoped was a placating gesture. “Calm down.”

“Sod off,” Malfoy hissed. There were painful looking sores over one side of his face, and his left arm seemed to be smoking slightly, the fabric singed, burns covering what skin he could see.

“You need Pomfrey,” Harry said, approaching slowly, horrified by how much pain he must be in. 

“I need to be alone!” Malfoy snapped, but he was already reaching for Harry.

The force of his emotions made Harry’s head spin, and for the first time in a while, the anger took hold of him. He only came to himself when fear passed through him like ice. Malfoy’s wand was digging into his throat, his eyes wide and frightened. Harry found his hand was pressed tight onto the burns on Malfoy’s arm. Horrified, he let go, causing Malfoy to cry out as some of his burnt skin came away with his fingers. Stomach rolling, Harry wanted to take him to Pomfrey, but he knew Malfoy wouldn’t agree until he was calm.

He cast what healing spells he knew. They weren’t enough, but the way Malfoy relaxed, just a little, meant they at least took the edge off. It was taking longer to balance Malfoy than usual, and he still felt Mafloy’s strong emotions battering away at him. He didn’t understand it, and tried to focus on calm thoughts.

“Stop pitying me,” Malfoy suddenly hissed, pushing Harry away and pulling his wand back out.

They lost skin contact, and for a moment, Harry felt oddly empty, before irritation set in.

“For Merlin’s sake, Malfoy,” he hissed back. “I’m just trying to help!”

“I don’t want your help!”

Harry couldn’t help but roll his eyes. It was so petty of Malfoy to keep trying to push him away when he needed help, as if it made him less dependent somehow. “Well you need it, so shut up and let me help so you can go get healed properly.”

Malfoy sneered at him, but didn’t resist when Harry reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder where it met the base of his neck, under the collar of his shirt. It was an odd place to hold someone, and Harry regretted it, but he didn’t want to touch his burnt arm again or go anywhere near the hand Malfoy was still tightly clutching his wand in.

Harry wanted to tell him to report the attack. He wanted to report it himself. But they were still at such a fragile place ever since that failed attempt to balance, and he didn’t want to upset things further. He hoped that Ron would report it, even though he knew he wouldn’t. It disturbed him, how much he hated seeing Malfoy bullied by the Slytherins, because Malfoy was right. They did it because he had helped Harry. That didn’t make it Harry’s fault, not really. Malfoy’s choices during the Battle of Hogwarts were his own. Still, he felt responsible.

Malfoy stayed tense and angry, and even after he managed to calm down enough to stop the emotions from passing to Harry, his face was a mask of hate. Still, Harry could have sworn he felt Malfoy lean into his hand, ever so slightly. 

Sometimes he wished Malfoy could just accept his help, that they wouldn’t fight every time. He’d felt such horrible, sad things from him, and that in turn made him feel that way. But another part of him couldn’t help but like the tension between them. He knew that he was helping him, and that Malfoy hated it. Some part of him loved irritating him in that way, even if he still felt uncomfortable from the whole experience. Either way, Malfoy walked away each time calm and balanced while Harry was left unsure how he felt about it all, and torn between hating it and loving it.

 

 

 

The weather turned colder as Christmas was suddenly upon them. Harry had been so distracted by Malfoy and his empathy, that he had lost sight of time passing. As several weeks had gone by, he and Malfoy had settled into a somewhat comfortable routine. Although he tried to ignore it, he still felt violated every time they touched, and from the look on Malfoy’s face as he left, Malfoy was well aware of it. While Harry felt he was fully justified in feeling that way, he was also starting to feel awful about it. He tried to think about it from Malfoy’s perspective, to touch someone and not just know that they felt violated by his touch, but to actually feel it. He wondered often if Malfoy could feel his disgust at the idea, and if he would mistakenly think it was aimed towards him.

They still baited each other and often fought like petty children, but it was becoming easier and easier to put their history behind him as he felt the vast array of emotions that Malfoy regularly became overwhelmed with. Some feelings were even too complicated for him to understand, but stayed with him long after they parted. Perhaps it was a side effect of feeling how sad Malfoy was whenever he would wait too long before coming to Harry. The anger always burned so bright, but Harry was finding it easier to look past that. He kept noticing lingering sadness and loneliness that always seemed to trail behind it. Just like that night in the isolation room, and that failed attempt to balance, he could so easily identify with Malfoy, so easily understand those feelings, that he was finding it difficult to dredge up any dislike for him at all. 

Maybe he should have expected that. The intimacy of sharing emotions with someone made it impossible not to come to know and understand them. 

Sometimes he wished that Malfoy was more willing to talk with him. He wanted to know what Malfoy thought of what Harry felt, and to know if he was feeling the connection between them that Harry was starting to feel. He tried to resist it, but he was coming to care for Malfoy. It was too hard not to, he always cared for people in need, and Malfoy was so desperately in need of so many things.

 

 

 

Standing in front of Malfoy’s door one night, he felt distinctly uncomfortable and out of place. It had only been three days since he had balanced Malfoy, and he had never sought him out before without good reason. The Christmas holidays were approaching, and so far Malfoy had avoided the topic. He probably wanted the time to himself, but Harry knew it was probably the best time for Malfoy to start practising the active use of his ability. 

Even though he opened his innermost private feelings to Malfoy on a regular basis, he still felt unable to go to Malfoy without good reason. It made him painfully aware that even though Malfoy knew incredibly private things about him, things no one else knew, he still couldn’t call him a friend. As the weeks went by, it was making Harry more and more uncomfortable.

Sighing, he raised a hand and knocked on the door. He couldn’t avoid the subject any longer. He needed to know if Malfoy was staying for the holiday, and convince him to stay if he wasn’t. Even though Malfoy was reliant on him, he doubted he would have much sway over him. If anything, Malfoy would probably be more resistant to his suggestion simply because it would make him feel more in control, and less like he needed Harry. Malfoy often seemed to be ruled by his pride where Harry was concerned.

“What do you want?” Malfoy asked shortly as he opened the door. He eyed Harry with curiosity, but stayed firmly in the doorway, not inviting him in.

“Can I come in?” Harry asked. It was late and unlikely that anyone would walk by, but he still didn’t feel comfortable discussing this where he could be overheard. “I wanted to ask you something.”

Malfoy looked like he was going to refuse, before finally standing aside and allowing him to enter. Once the door was closed behind him, he turned to Harry with a surprisingly blank expression. “If you’ve decided you no longer wish to help me, don’t waste time with explanations, just say so and leave.”

“What?” Harry asked, dumbly. “Of course I still want to help you! Why would you think otherwise? Things have been working, haven’t they?”

Malfoy shrugged at him but didn’t answer. Harry narrowed his eyes. He had a sneaking suspicion that Malfoy was forming incorrect assumptions about the cause of some of Harry’s emotions. 

“I came to ask if you were going home for the holiday,” he asked, wishing he could address the discomfort between them, but unsure where to begin. He didn’t know where he stood with him, and was getting the feeling that he was forming an attachment that was not returned. Perhaps it was just that he could not comprehend allowing someone to know something as personal and secret as how he felt about things, and not be friends with them. He had the feeling that he was starting to think of Malfoy as a friend just to ease that discomfort. It only made him even more uncomfortable to know that he was nothing but a tool to Malfoy.

“No, I’m remaining here,” Malfoy said shortly, face still impassive and tension starting to seep into his posture. Harry could tell there was something emotional behind his reasoning, and wished that Malfoy would just talk to him about it. 

“Excellent,” Harry replied. “I’ll stay as well, and you can start practising control.”

Malfoy immediately scowled. “That’s not necessary.”

“It’s not up for debate!” Harry snapped. 

Generally, he was patient with Malfoy when he resisted help, but this was an issue he was not going to back down from. There was so much potential in what Malfoy could do with his empathy, and it irked Harry that for all his talk of not wishing to rely on someone else, Malfoy still did nothing to learn independent control. There was also a niggling thought in the back of his mind that suggested that to learn control, Malfoy would have to practise pushing emotion on Harry when he wasn’t upset. Even though he did this primarily to help Malfoy, he couldn’t help but be aware of the imbalance between what they shared, and feel excited by the idea of getting more than just his negative emotions.

“If you could feel how angry it makes me when you order me about, you would think twice before inviting experimentation,” Malfoy said darkly, giving Harry a rare glimpse of honesty, even though it was obviously meant to drive him away.

“So, show me,” Harry invited boldly. 

Malfoy scowled. “Be careful what you wish for, Potter.”

Harry just smirked at him. It wasn’t the first time Malfoy had threatened him with anger. The first few times it had terrified him, taking him right back to that night in the hospital wing. Since then, he’d realised that Malfoy was all talk. He was never upset enough at the time of his threats to actually share his anger with Harry, and they both knew it.

“You can’t do it, and you know it,” he replied smugly. Even though provoking Malfoy was not a good idea, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He had no doubt that it infuriated Malfoy to need help from someone he so clearly despised. Even though he felt disgusted with himself for doing it, Harry couldn’t help but take some pleasure in knowing this and irritating him as often as possible. It made him feel awful, but it also helped balance out some of the vulnerability and violation he felt after Malfoy touched him.

What they did was probably far from healthy, but it stopped Malfoy from causing incidents when he was attacked, and it kept him out of the isolation room, and that was really all that mattered in the end.

“One day I’ll manage it,” Malfoy spat, glaring darkly at him. “I’ll drown you in so much rage that you’ll be sorry you kept pushing this on me.”

Even though it should horrify him, a bolt of excitement passed through Harry at Malfoy’s threat. If Malfoy really did manage it, would Harry be able to resist? He was able to resist other forms of control and manipulation, but Malfoy could still genuinely influence him with emotion. Harry didn’t know if he would be able to resist it if Malfoy was in control, acting deliberately rather than accidentally, and that was such a new feeling that it excited him. If he did manage to resist, it would be an actual accomplishment. He had thought about it often since they began this arrangement. It would be such a test of his strength that he couldn’t help but feel excited by it, the same way he was excited by dangerous Quidditch manoeuvres.

“We’ll see,” Harry said, smirking at him and enjoying how he had managed to destroy Malfoy’s impassive expression.

Malfoy made an angry sound, and made a movement to touch him before he seemed to realise what he was doing and stopped. Harry stared him down, almost wishing he would touch him, if only so he would know how serious Harry was about it. He didn’t know how Malfoy would interpret his excitement, and that worried him somewhat, but it also excited him even more. His life after the war had become so predictable until his first incident with Malfoy. It wasn’t just about helping him. Sometimes he realised he was craving the danger that Malfoy’s condition presented, and though he hated himself for it, he still couldn’t stop it.

Malfoy’s arm still hung frozen between them and Harry started to have an awful idea. He knew that he would need to keep pushing Malfoy to make him experiment with his empathy. He didn’t want to push too far and cause a dangerous incident, as he still didn’t know all that Malfoy could really do to him, even Malfoy didn’t know everything about his empathy, after all. He also didn’t want to be too gentle with him. He and Malfoy had a history of provoking one another into stupid decisions. It was unhealthy, and dangerous, and yet so normal for them that it was almost comfortable. He always found himself doing so against his better judgement. So he wasn’t too surprised that he wanted to reach out and make Malfoy feel just how amused he was by the idea that he was all talk. He knew it would probably infuriate him into action. It was dangerous, given that he would be putting himself at Malfoy’s mercy if Malfoy succeeded, but it was also likely to be the only way to get Malfoy to do anything he didn’t want to do.

Smirking, he reached out and let the pads of his fingers brush the back of Malfoy’s hand, keeping his eyes locked on Malfoy’s face, and thinking about how amused he was by Malfoy’s empty threats. 

“Don’t,” Malfoy said through clenched teeth.

Harry knew Malfoy would feel the surge for fear that was inevitable when he threatened him, but now it was followed quickly by excitement. He wanted to see if Malfoy could use his empathy while he was balanced. He wanted to see if he could resist it. And maybe he also just wanted to feel something from Malfoy, something deliberate, so he could pretend that he wasn’t the only one baring himself for the other’s perusal. 

“I won’t back down,” he said. “If you want me to drop this, then you need to admit you can’t do it.”

Malfoy moved before Harry had even finished his sentence. Suddenly his head was ringing from being slammed into the back of the door and his shoulders ached from the impact, but Malfoy was right in his face, wrapping a hand around his throat. For a second, everything was still and silent, only the sound of their heavy breathing filling the air.

Harry wished he could feel what Malfoy was feeling. But Malfoy must still be balanced from their last session, and he felt nothing but the hand around his throat. He wondered, briefly, if Malfoy could feel his pain, and why he’d never thought to ask. He knew that Malfoy would know he was excited. He always had claimed that Harry was excited, even though Harry had so far denied it. There was no denying it now. Malfoy could cut off his air supply if he squeezed his hand any tighter, and even though Harry was afraid that he would, he couldn’t deny that some part of him was thrilled by the danger.

They had entered into such a comfortable, but unsatisfying state over the last few weeks. Sitting in silence while Malfoy used him to gain balance was fast becoming boring, and Harry had known all along that eventually one of them would do something stupid and break their tentative peace. Their little spats were nothing as they skirted around Malfoy’s need for Harry, and they both knew they couldn’t push too far because of the danger. But suddenly Harry had pushed too far, he’d said just the right thing to really force Malfoy into something other than his routine irritation. But it was the right thing to do. While they were comfortable, they would never move forward. The whole reason Harry was helping him was so that Malfoy could learn control and no longer require help. Somehow they’d gotten too comfortable. This really was the only way.

Malfoy’s hand was firm around his throat, loose enough that he could breathe, but tight enough that it made his head throb. All the while Malfoy stared into his eyes, expression enraged, but also controlled and focused. He had full access to every emotion that Harry felt, and while it still made him feel violated, he was distracted by how much he hoped he would feel something in return from Malfoy. He wanted Malfoy to succeed. He had no idea how that feeling would translate, or how Malfoy would interpret it, and that should terrify him, but again he just felt excited. Provoking Malfoy to physical violence gave him a sick sense of pride, it was so out of character for Malfoy that he must be truly furious in that moment. And yet, he maintained balance.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Harry asked, baiting him. He knew he shouldn’t, Malfoy could easily strangle him from this position, just grip his throat a little tighter, and yet he couldn’t help himself.

“Shut up,” Malfoy snapped, fingers tightening almost imperceptibly. 

Harry was starting to feel lightheaded from all that he was feeling, his excitement and fear. It was an intoxicating combination. Or maybe Malfoy was squeezing his throat too hard after all.

“Make me,” Harry said. “Make me angry, or sad! Make me feel something that will shut me up.”

Malfoy’s breathing hitched for a second, and Harry would have given anything to feel how irritated he must be feeling. How he must be struggling to keep his hand just tight enough to get his point across, but also just loose enough that Harry could still speak and breathe. He knew he would have hit him by now if their situation was reversed.

“Admit it, you can’t do it,” Harry taunted.

“Shut up!” Malfoy growled again, pushing him harder against the door, forcing a flare of pain to arc over his back.

“If you get angry enough that you lose balance, it doesn’t count,” Harry said, voice becoming raspy from the pressure. “That would be cheating.”

“Merlin,” Malfoy suddenly breathed, eyes fluttering shut and fingers tightening for a brief moment. He opened his eyes again, and looked dazed. “Do you have any idea what you feel like right now? I can’t concentrate. Just stop!”

“If you don’t like what I’m feeling, then make me feel something else,” Harry replied. He couldn’t believe that Malfoy was maintaining his balance. While he wanted Malfoy to be able to control his ability, he also wanted him to lose control, because then he would win.

Malfoy’s eyes dropped to the hand he had wrapped around Harry’s throat and Harry felt oddly bereft without that intense gaze boring into him. A look of concentration slipped onto Malfoy’s face. It seemed like he was actually going to try. Harry was surprised, but also excited. Malfoy had said that he could open the connection both ways if he concentrated, and yet seemed to be struggling to do so. Perhaps he had lied, and only assumed he could, but had never actually been able to.

Harry stayed silent, hoping Malfoy would be successful so he could be able to feel just how he was making Malfoy feel, but he also hoped Malfoy would fail, so he would admit Harry was right.

“I can’t tell if you’re excited for me to succeed or fail,” Malfoy said suddenly, looking back up at Harry. “But it’s very distracting. I bet you want me to fail, you bastard.”

“Maybe if you concentrated harder and practiced more, you’d be able to tell the difference,” Harry taunted. 

Malfoy’s hand tightened slightly, and he leaned closer. “Or maybe it’s neither, and you’re excited for an entirely different reason.”

Harry flushed at the implication, but didn’t push Malfoy away, as Malfoy no doubt expected him to. “You won’t shock or embarrass me into backing down,” he growled. “Either you push an emotion at me by concentrating hard enough, or you admit that you can’t, that I’m right about training over the holiday.”

Malfoy’s face contorted into a furious glare, but still Harry felt nothing from him. For a long moment he kept his eyes locked on Harry’s, looking like he was seconds away from squeezing the life out of him. His hand felt hot around Harry’s neck and his grip was dizzying. Suddenly, he noticed just how close Malfoy was to him, all hard angry lines pressing him into the door, face hovering so close to his own. They were locked into a fight for power, and Harry was starting to realise that maybe he had gone too far. Malfoy suddenly seemed too close, too warm, and Harry wasn’t sure what he wanted anymore, did he want Malfoy to back down and let him win, or for Malfoy do so something to make him back down? He didn’t even know what Malfoy would do, maybe tighten his grip and squeeze the life out of him, or whip out his wand and curse him. Not knowing was exciting and maybe a just a little intoxicating. He desperately wanted Malfoy to make his move.

Then, suddenly, Malfoy let go. Harry felt a rush of heat at the realisation that he’d won, but he didn’t move or speak. He’d just played a dangerous game, and didn’t know how Malfoy would react next.

“Fine, we’ll experiment over the holiday,” Malfoy finally said, admitting defeat, although his tone was lighter than Harry expected. Confused, he frowned at Malfoy. He sounded completely unaffected by what had happened. “Honestly, Potter, anyone would think you were eager for me to put my hands on you.”

He sent Harry a dirty leer that had him immediately blushing and feeling uncomfortable. But before Harry could even think of something to say in response, Malfoy had turned away from him.

“You know where the exit is, you’re leaning against it looking like a debauched tramp,” Malfoy said. “Now, sod off before I change my mind about strangling you.”

Harry was enraged, and almost said something stupid, before thinking better of it. He settled for glaring at Malfoy’s back. Somehow, even though he’d got what he wanted, Malfoy had won, and it infuriated him. Scowling, he wrenched open the door and left, slamming it behind him.

 

 

 

“So,” Ron began, looking anxiously at Harry as they played chess in the common room. He was decimating Harry, as usual, but he’d been oddly quiet the whole time. Harry sent him an annoyed look, knowing that tone meant he was going to ask about Malfoy again. 

“So,” he continued, “I happened to walk past Malfoy’s room last night.”

Harry froze halfway between moving his last remaining knight. He’d never gotten used to wizarding chess, and still moved the pieces by hand, much to the annoyance of the pieces in question, which liked to stab at his hands when they could. He thought back quickly, and realised he hadn’t cast privacy wards like he usually did. Malfoy had shoved him quite forcefully against the door, there was no doubt someone walking by would have heard them. Instantly, he flushed.

“You know, mate,” Ron said, “I love how easily embarrassed you are, but it’s really misleading sometimes.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harry replied, finishing his move. 

Ron didn’t immediately respond. Harry was surprised to find him looking alarmingly concerned. 

“I must have the best, or worst timing, mate,” he said. “Because I happened by right as something very heavy thudded loudly against the door.”

Harry looked away. He’d checked himself for bruises that morning, and was alarmed to find them spreading over his back, evidence of just how forceful Malfoy had been. By some stroke of luck, Malfoy had been just shy of leaving marks on his neck, so he had thought he wouldn’t have to explain anything. As long as no one saw his back, no one would ever know anything had happened. Of course, Ron was irritatingly persistent and nosy with regards to his arrangement with Malfoy.

“Sounds awfully convenient,” Harry replied, suddenly suspicious that Ron had been loitering outside Malfoy’s room specifically to try and overhear something. He had lent Ron the map the day before, so he would have known Harry was in there. Far too convenient.

“If I hadn’t heard what you were saying, I would have thought you were shagging,” Ron continued, seeming casual, but tense across his shoulders. “Although, to be honest, I don’t understand much of what I heard, so you could very well have been shagging anyway.”

Harry scowled at him. “Still using that old joke,” he muttered angrily. “We’re not shagging!”

“I rather wish you were,” Ron said suddenly, pretences aside, fixing Harry with a concerned and determined look. “Shagging him would be better than whatever it was that I overheard, because really, mate, that did not sound healthy.”

Harry sighed, and pushed the chessboard to the side. He should have known Ron would go snooping. If he had overheard them then he must have been listening right against the door, because Harry remembered they had been speaking quietly, or at least he had been because of how tight Malfoy had gripped his throat. 

“How much did you hear?” he asked tiredly.

“All of it,” Ron replied, at least having the decency to look a bit sheepish. “I nicked your cloak and followed you. I would have followed you in, but you closed the door too fast. ”

For a second Harry was horrified by the idea of what would have happened if Ron had followed him into the room instead of standing outside. Hearing it all was bad enough, but he dreaded what it must have looked like as he deliberately baited Malfoy while Malfoy had him in such a dangerously vulnerable position. At the time he’d found it exciting, but he’d since become horrified with himself.

“You had no right!” he snapped.

Ron’s eyes narrowed in anger. “No right?” he said, dangerously quiet. “I accepted everything you told me, even how you nearly beat a boy to death, who is still in St. Mungo’s, by the way, since you seem to have forgotten. And as soon as you get answers, you brush me off. I’m worried, mate, somehow Voldemort is gone and you still manage to find danger anyway. It’s like you’re drawn to it.”

Harry flushed with anger. He hated that Ron was right, but he was. There was a part of Harry that craved danger. He didn’t want it, he didn’t understand it, but he was aware of it. 

“Just answer me this,” Ron said, holding up a hand to stop Harry from an angry outburst. “When he pushed you against the door, was that all he did? You sounded odd.”

Harry fidgeted. He didn’t want to say. As soon as he told Ron what had happened, he knew his friend would be even angrier. Baiting Malfoy while he had a dangerous magical condition was bad enough, but to do so when the boy had a hand on his throat and could choke the life out of him, it was insane. Thrilling, in some sick perverse way, but insane.

“I’ve been driving myself crazy worrying about what happened in there,” Ron said. “I didn’t interfere because that would have put you in danger, but how badly did he hurt you?”

“He didn’t hurt me,” Harry replied instantly, petulantly.

Ron raised an eyebrow. “Right, so if I ask you to take your shirt off, I won’t find bruises on your back?”

Harry looked to the side. 

“Just tell me, please,” Ron pleaded. 

“He had a hand on my throat the whole time,” Harry finally muttered.

Ron let out a keening sound, somewhere between rage and despair. He stood abruptly. “I’ll kill him.”

Harry scrambled to his feet to grab him before he could go and do something stupid. He was stunned by how pale Ron had become. Usually Ron went red when he was angry. Harry wasn’t sure if him going white meant he was more or less angry than usual, but the sight alarmed him.

“Don’t!”

“Don’t?” Ron spat, leaning into Harry’s space, eyes wide and furious. “I’ve put up with a lot since this has started, but I will not stand for him putting his hands on you like that! I get that he can’t control his empathy, but he can damn well control where he puts his hands! He’s choosing to hurt you, Harry, even though you’re helping him! How can you defend that?”

Suddenly afraid, he knew he had to stop Ron from going near Malfoy. Ron felt emotions so strongly, if he touched Malfoy he would send him into an incident, and they’d probably end up killing each other.

“Look at my neck, Ron,” Harry said, tugging his collar down. “No bruises, he didn’t choke me, he didn’t hold on tight enough.”

If anything, Ron looked more furious. “And that makes it all right?”

Harry flushed. He knew, objectively, that nothing made it alright. But how could he explain it to Ron? How could he explain that he and Malfoy had been engaged in a battle of wills? Ron probably wouldn’t accept or understand that. He wouldn’t understand how stubborn Malfoy was, how the only way Harry could get him to do something he didn’t want to do was to manipulate him into it by taunting him and making him angry. 

The more he tried to think of a way to explain it, the worse it seemed.

“I was trying to make him do something he didn’t want to do,” Harry said, shoulders slumping in defeat. No matter what he said, Ron would not be pleased, so he decided to be honest, or at least honest in how he understood what had happened. He was fairly sure he knew what Malfoy was doing, but he’d never know for sure, not in the way Malfoy could be sure of him. “He wanted to prove he was still in control by threatening to strangle me, but he wouldn’t have done it.”

“Harry, that is not in any way justification for him choking you,” Ron said. “That is so far from alright.”

“He needs me too much to hurt me,” Harry replied, although he knew he was making it worse. At least Ron was now sufficiently distracted that he sat back down, looking concerned. “He was just trying to prove that I don’t control him, that he can still refuse me if he wants to.”

Ron stared at him. “You like it, don’t you?” he uttered, sounding shocked, his voice weak. He was suddenly looking at Harry like he didn’t know him, and it was making him profoundly uncomfortable. “After everything you’ve been through, you actually like it.”

“What?” Harry asked, although he was quite sure he didn’t want to know.

“The conflict, the fighting,” Ron hissed, each word sounding like a curse. “The danger.”

Harry frowned at him. “Why would anyone like those things?”

“I don’t know,” Ron answered. “But you do, don’t you? That’s why you went running off after Malfoy the second he started being dangerous again. You’re drawn in by it.”

“I am not!” Harry snapped, feeling insulted. But there was a voice in the back of his mind telling him that it all made sense and yes, yes . He thought back to the way he felt as Malfoy squeezed his throat and looked at him with anger and hatred, knowing that he truly held the upper hand, and that if Malfoy actually hurt him, Harry would win because it would mean Malfoy was admitting he was right. 

It wasn’t the danger, or fight for control, though. It was Malfoy . They’d always been like that, pushing each other. It was about proving who was right. It was looking Malfoy in the eye, knowing that Malfoy knew his deepest, darkest feelings but somehow, somehow , still maintaining the upper hand. Even as he was violated, again, and again, deeply, intimately, he still had power over Malfoy. 

Stunned, Harry sat back down. He’d been circling around those thoughts for weeks as he became more and more used to Malfoy’s empathy. That pesky excitement that Malfoy had been talking about all this time, that’s what it was. Even from the beginning, he had been excited by the knowledge that even though he was violated in the most disturbing, intimate way, Malfoy needed him. Or maybe he was excited by the violation itself, for someone to really know how he felt, to really see him. But how? How could he feel so disturbed and sickened by the intrusion, and yet so excited by it? It didn’t make sense. But now that he had connected it together in his head, there was no denying it. He enjoyed Malfoy’s empathy. He enjoyed laying himself open and bare before him, looking at him and saying ‘this is who I am’ to someone he didn’t even consider a friend, someone who he had once considered an enemy.

But Malfoy kept looking, because he had to. He needed Harry. Something about the way Harry felt, when he was laid open and bare, soothed Malfoy. Even in the depths of his vulnerability, he was helpful, he was in control. Malfoy depended on him. He felt a shiver pass through him. Did Malfoy know all this? He had been harping on about that excitement all along. Did he understand the feelings he got from Harry, or was he misreading them? He had never mentioned any of it. Did he feel the intensity Harry felt? 

Was he disgusted by it?

Feeling stunned, Harry had forgotten Ron was there until he laid a cautious hand on Harry’s arm. 

“Are you okay?”

Harry shook his head. Was he? 

“I don’t know.”

A disturbing look of understanding passed over Ron’s face, and Harry was suddenly reminded that Ron had called Malfoy’s ability by its name.

“You know what his condition is?” he asked, dreading the answer.

“A few generations ago, a Weasley had it,” Ron replied. “Most of the pureblood families have had one at some stage or another. It’s rare, but we all know what it is and how it works, not in great detail, but enough to recognise it.”

Harry felt numb. “Have you known this whole time?”

Ron looked guilty. “I suspected,” he replied. “I wasn’t sure until I overheard you last night though. It’s something all pureblood families know but don’t talk about.”

Harry closed his eyes. All that trouble keeping it from Ron, wondering how he would react, what he would say. He had dreaded explaining it, horrified by Ron knowing that he laid himself bare for Malfoy and invited him in like that, and all this time, Ron had known anyway.

“You didn’t say anything.”

“Interfering could have been dangerous,” Ron said. Harry opened his eyes again to see his friend looking at him sadly. “I’ve heard how intense and overwhelming it can be, to help someone with advanced empathy like Malfoy obviously has, with the way you’re helping him. I was hoping I was wrong.”

“Is it so bad?” Harry asked, feeling small. “That I want to help him?” Is it so bad that I like it? Even though he didn’t say the last part aloud, he was sure Ron understood him.

“If you’re pushing him to get better control of himself, then you’re doing the best possible thing, mate,” Ron said. “But you’re a fool if you think you’ll be able to just walk away when he doesn’t need you anymore.”

Harry let that sink in. From the beginning he had known this would end eventually. Once Malfoy no longer needed him, he thought they’d both be relieved to be free. He hadn’t stopped once to consider what would really happen, or how he’d really feel. Maybe he didn’t really think Malfoy could learn to control it. He certainly didn’t put any effort into it, even though he clearly hated needing Harry’s help.

“What have I gotten myself into?” Harry suddenly said, choking on the words and feeling terrified.

Ron gave him another sad look. “I don’t know, Harry,” he said. “It’s hard enough for normal people, but you and Malfoy? Who knows how that’s going to end up. I’m amazed you’re able to help him at all.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He looked at Ron’s hand, which was still on his arm. Feeling small and vulnerable, he laid his own hand over it. Ron only looked sadder at the contact and covered it with his other hand. 

“I really do want to kill him though,” he said quietly, voice tight with anger. “For him to hurt you, after all that you do for him, while he can feel what he’s doing to you. It’s disgusting.”

“I think it’s just who we are,” Harry said sadly. “We’ll always fight. One of us always has to win, has to be in control.”

“That’s not healthy, mate,” Ron said. “You need to be careful. Even though you are helping him, he can still hurt you.”

Harry frowned, Minerva had said the same thing. Even though they’d just been talking about Malfoy choking him, he got the feeling Ron was talking about something else entirely.

Chapter Text

Ron Weasley

Ron stood looking out over the grounds. He could feel the snow melting around his ankles and shivered. Pigwidgeon was perched on his shoulder, feathers ruffled to stay warm. He looked down at the letter in his hand. He had regretted it the moment he’d finished writing it. Still, he hadn’t managed to bring himself to burn it. Having Malfoy’s magic confirmed as empathy was just too much. Harry’s involvement with Malfoy had already been concerning enough when there was a chance it was mere wild magic, but now...Ron could barely sleep knowing how much danger Harry was in. After what Malfoy had done to Harry in the Hospital Wing, and what had happened with the seventh years, he knew Malfoy must have touch-based reciprocal empathy, capable of creating emotions within a person that were not formerly present even in small amounts. It was incredibly rare, and incredibly powerful. In fact, he could only be more powerful if his empathy wasn’t bound to touch. It was surprising that he had been allowed into the castle at all.

It was a serious breach of Harry’s trust to send the letter, but he didn’t know enough to be able to help him. He needed more answers, and he knew talking to Malfoy was out of the question. Harry had thrown himself headfirst into a dangerous situation he didn’t understand, yet again. While Ron was glad he was opening up to him about it, he found himself unsure what to say to help him understand what he was going through. His own experience with an Empath was so vastly different that it was of no help. Still, he had to try.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, feeling the chill seep into his lungs. He didn’t have a choice, Harry’s safety was more important than secrecy at this point. Yet still, he struggled. What Harry and Malfoy were already doing was dangerous, and what they planned to do was even worse. If there was any way for Ron to help, he had to do it. Harry would understand, he would do the same, Ron was sure of it.

With a sinking feeling in his belly, he nudged Pigwidgeon and presented the letter before he could stop himself. The little owl took the letter, and was gone before Ron could doubt himself further. Watching Pig disappear into the distance, he shivered again, and hoped he was doing the right thing.

If Malfoy was exposed, Harry might find himself caught in what would surely follow.

 

 

Harry Potter

It was snowing the day the students left for the Christmas holiday. Harry stood in the entrance hall, watching them leave. Ron gave him a concerned look. He’d tried to convince Harry to come with him to the burrow, and failing that, had wanted to stay, but Harry had told him to leave. In many ways, they had become closer after their talk. But some part of Harry still hated that Ron knew everything. He was still reeling from his realisation about how he felt with regards to Malfoy’s empathy. Even though no one but Malfoy could truly know how he felt, and it still made him uncomfortable to think that Malfoy could know, and he didn’t like the idea of Ron knowing everything.

Ron sent him another complicated look of concern before finally leaving with Hermione. Once again, she was completely oblivious, and Harry was both surprised and alarmed by it. Usually she was so perceptive of him. He didn’t know if suddenly she just wasn’t interested enough to notice, or if there was something going on with her that he didn’t know. Sometimes he got so caught up in his own secrets that he forgot that other people had them too. He watched her leave, and resolved to check in with her when she got back. If she and Ron really were having problems, it had gone on for a long time now. The Weasleys had invited them both for Christmas dinner, but he still wasn’t sure he would go.  He couldn’t help but feel responsible for all that had happened to them, and all that they had lost.

Harry shivered suddenly, pulled from his thoughts. Someone was watching him. Glancing around, he immediately caught a familiar grey gaze. Malfoy leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the hall. He wasn’t watching people leave, there was no one he cared for, Harry knew that well enough. But he was watching Harry. It was one of their signals. If Malfoy was somewhere Harry was, with no obvious reason to be there, and caught his gaze, it meant that he needed him. Harry shivered again. It had only been two days since that encounter in Malfoy’s room. He didn’t think Malfoy needed balancing. Did that mean he wanted to start experimenting with his control? Harry wasn’t sure he was ready for it, not so soon after his conversation with Ron. Not while he was so conflicted. 

Malfoy’s gaze narrowed, and he tilted his head slightly to the side. Harry felt a bolt of fear pass through him. He recalled Malfoy once saying he could pick up vague impressions from the people around him, and that Harry was somehow easier to read. Was he able to sense Harry’s indecision now, from across the room? Surely the mad, excited bustle of leaving students would drown him out. Or, more likely, he had seen something in Harry’s expression. Harry winced. He kept forgetting that Malfoy could read him so well.

Malfoy pushed himself off the wall, casually heading in his direction. Harry’s breath froze in his chest. It was a testament to how well they really knew each other that he knew, immediately and without a doubt, what Malfoy was going to do. Indecision pulled at him. On the one hand, he wanted Malfoy to advance, he wanted to take every scrap of progress he could get. He wanted, on some level, to be friends with Malfoy, to talk outside their balancing sessions, if only so he didn’t have to feel so uncomfortable all the time having someone know him so deeply and intimately, and yet not call him friend. On the other hand, he wanted to run in the opposite direction. He didn’t always understand his own feelings, and he was horrified at the mess he was feeling now, and how Malfoy might understand it, or even worse, the many ways Malfoy might misunderstand it.

Before he could really make up his mind whether to stay or run, Malfoy had crossed the hall. Looking determined, and not even a little anxious, he shouldered into Harry. To others it would look like he had just vindictively shoved him as he walked past, but he used the opportunity to brush the back of his hand against Harry’s. The contact was fleeting, and Harry wondered if it was even enough time for Malfoy to get an understandable impression. He didn’t get to find out, as Malfoy just left him stumbling to stay upright, walking past and away from him without pause. Harry stared at his back as he walked out of sight. 

No, he decided, with another shiver. He wasn’t ready yet for Malfoy to experiment with control.

 

 

Draco Malfoy

Draco maintained his composure just long enough that he was out of sight before he collapsed against the nearest wall with a shudder and quiet groan. Potter felt emotions so fleetingly before pushing them aside, but even fleeting, they were intense. Potter had displayed such a strange array of emotion as he’d watched Weasley leave, that Draco had immediately wanted to touch, to understand. He’d indicated they should meet more because he wanted to feel those complicated, intense emotions under his fingertips again, than because he wanted to genuinely experiment with his control. The terrified, conflicted look that Potter had sent his way was fascinating, and for a moment he could have sworn he felt those familiar emotions in the air around him. 

He hadn’t of course, that was ridiculous. Potter may be easier to read impressions from than anyone else, but not in a hall full of excited students. Draco still didn’t quite understand why he had been there to watch Potter farewell his friends, given how overwhelming all that excitement was, a vague impression from each person combining into a howling gale of feelings that were almost as tangible as the emotions he felt when he touched someone. Still, he had seen Potter and Weasley’s interactions become suddenly, and dramatically, more tense the previous day, and was curious.

Damn his curiosity. 

Leaning against the wall, he realised he was compromised. Potter was supposed to balance him, and mostly he did, but whenever he thought too hard about the infuriating Gryffindor and his overwhelmingly intense emotions, he almost always unbalanced himself again. He couldn’t understand it. Potter had just violently inserted himself into his life and suddenly made everything so much more difficult, even if he sometimes managed to help.

Draco still violently and desperately rejected the idea of needing his help. It infuriated him to no end. And yet, and yet , he found himself craving the feel of him under his fingertips. Shivering, he closed his eyes and thought back to that night and the frantic pulse beneath his fingers as he’d held him against the door, the howling tempest of excitement and fear Potter had been all but screaming at him. Somehow, against all odds, and in ways he would never understand, he had retained his balance. It defied all logic, that he could feel Potter’s intense emotions and only become unbalanced by them when he thought of them much, much later.

He was starting to slide down a slippery slope. All his life, through accidental touches, he had felt a wide array of emotions, and they all, without fail, unbalanced him. But Potter, Potter , kept him balanced even as he bombarded him with one intense feeling after another. It was amazing, intoxicating, dangerous

When Potter was afraid, he was excited, when he was angry, it was so quickly replaced by guilt, which he apparently needed no counterbalance for. Or perhaps it was a counterbalance for anger. How Potter felt guilt would haunt him for the rest of his life. When he had absorbed Draco’s guilt the first time he had tried to balance him, he had welcomed it so warmly, with such relief that Draco had felt an alarming jolt of arousal that he hoped had been masked by his surprise. 

Draco’s guilt settled into Potter like it was a part of him, like he had been empty until it filled him. It was similar, even as it was different, to the comfortable way Potter just brushed Draco’s fear to the background, like it was his favourite song left on repeat. Draco knew he should be horrified by these things, that they said something sad and tragic about The Boy Who Lived, and yet he was quickly becoming addicted to it.  Even when they had failed, and Potter had mirrored his despair and loneliness, it had been addictive. Even though he had been unbalanced, they had been in sync in that state, like one person. Their emotions had been so aligned, that Draco hadn’t even been able to tell how much was his, and how much was Potter’s.

For so long, emotions had been his enemy. He could not control them. His life was dictated by emotion, avoiding it, purging it, hating it. He had thought Severus was everything for the way he had balanced him with a mere brush of his hand. But Potter, Potter was different again. Now that he had a comparison, a real one, not a failed attempt at balance from Pansy, he knew that Severus was nothing but a cleaning charm. He had brushed away the surface dirt, but he never really cleansed him, not in the ways that mattered. 

With Potter, everything was different. Emotions were becoming exciting, intoxicating. He loved the feel of them thrumming under Potter’s skin, the way they came and went swiftly but were still so intense. He took whatever Draco threw at him and turned it around, beat it down, or alarmingly, absorbed it, took it into himself with such warmth and contentment that Draco could think of nothing but the startling and all-consuming intimacy of it all.

The cosmic joke of it all, was that Potter thought he was doing a bad job. Potter, for all his success, thought he was a failure. It shivered beneath Potter’s skin, the regret, like he wasn’t good enough. He had no idea that he was a perfect, intoxicating mess. He had only agreed to Potter’s help because his logic was sound. If he accepted Potter’s help and used him to learn true control, then he’d never need help again. 

Even as he was reluctant to try for fear of so many things, failure, vulnerability, revealing too much of himself to Potter, he had agreed to it. Only now, now , he had come to the horrifying realisation that he didn’t want to learn control. He never wanted to gain that independence because all he ever wanted, for the rest of his life was to feel the way Potter made art out of emotions, playing them like well-worn instruments. He was a symphony beneath his skin, the thrum of life within the earth. He was quickly becoming everything to Draco, and it terrified him even as he ached for it.

He had tried to deny it for weeks, but every time he touched that skin and felt Potter open up to him, and draw him in so warmly, even when he was angry, he could tell he was lost. He had tried to resist, he really had. He’d delayed going to Potter, tried to refuse his help, gone back to being spiteful, and hateful, but the stubborn prat had just searched him out, determined by his stupid Gryffindor sense of honour to help him, even when he didn’t want that help. 

Shuddering, he thought back to that night again, his hand around Potter’s throat, easily able to crush the life out of him and Potter had just stared at him. The challenge in his eyes had been intoxicating. Frustrating, yes, provoking, yes , but so intoxicating. He’d wanted to drown in the determination that was bleeding from Potter’s skin. Even as he’d tried to gain the upper hand, tried to force Potter to back down, to scare him, Potter had stayed firm. In a moment of weakness, he had been unable to avoid commenting on the breath-taking way Potter had felt, so overwhelmed by the excitement Potter was no longer denying. It was a moment of vulnerability he had despised in himself, but Potter had not understood, and Draco had been so relieved. 

Then he had tried to tease Potter into submission, knowing how easily embarrassed Potter was, only that had backfired spectacularly. 

Potter felt many things, and they were all, in their own way, warm and strong and reached for him as if to draw him in deeper. But his embarrassment, Draco didn’t know where to begin with that. It set his whole body on fire, but strangely, it was pleasant. It burned, no mistake, it burned sharp and hot and intense, scorching him from the inside out. But the afterimage of it soothed the paths it had travelled. It left a strange warm shaky sensation in its wake. It felt nothing like the embarrassment that Draco felt, which was always tinged with shame. Potter didn’t feel shamed by his embarrassment, he was annoyed by it, endlessly, furiously, but never shamed. In fact, Draco wasn’t sure he’d felt shame from Potter yet. Although he may have. Sometimes it was hard with him, to know where one emotion ended and another began, so overwhelming and brief as they all were.

Near the end of their battle for control, Potter had suddenly burned so hot and bright and intense . It was so different from the type of heat he'd felt before that he forgot he didn't want to back down, didn’t want to appear weak. In the space of a those few heated moments he’d suddenly realised just how close they had become and let go. He had turned away from Potter as he told him to leave, forcing his voice to stay light and unrevealing. Potter’s irritation left an almost tangible trail in the air, but he had left, thankfully. 

Draco didn’t want to think how Potter would react if he saw how he looked. He knew he had been utterly, physically, compromised by that last, hot surge of emotion, compounded by the shame and frustration of submitting to Potter and admitting that he was right. As soon as the door had slammed behind him, he had collapsed into a trembling mess. 

And yet, he was balanced. Again, it defied all logic. He wasn’t as balanced as he could have been, but enough to get by for a few more days. 

He’d viciously ignored the thrum of heat, low in his belly. He’d refused it. Denied it. He would not allow himself to be aroused by Potter, of all people. 

How had he become this weak creature? ‘ Never again’ , he had screamed at Potter. Never again would he allow himself to rely on someone else who could leave him alone and vulnerable with his empathy like Severus had done. Never would he allow another person to rule his life. And yet there he was, a trembling, overwhelmed, heap on the floor. All because of Potter. He had become reliant on his former enemy. Potter’s emotions now ruled his life. When he wasn’t feeling them, he was thinking of them, wanting to feel them again.  

Even as he ached for Potter’s complicated presence, he hated him. It still burned in him, somehow brighter and deeper than it had been before. He hated him. Even worse, he was shamed by him. He had looked Potter in the eye and submitted to him, allowed him to win, allowed him to have power over him. Worse, he allowed Potter’s feelings to invade his mind and body until they stirred a deep aching desire that alarmed him in its intensity, and humiliated him with its origin. And the fear, the fear was the worst. The fear that Potter would discover all this, and be disgusted by it. Worse, that his disgust, which Draco had caught fleeting glimpses of over the past few weeks, but didn’t yet understand, would arouse him also with its intensity, once directed forcefully towards him. He feared that Potter would leave. That he would walk away and leave him a sorry mess, addicted to him but no longer able to touch, to feel .

Strangely though, despite all this, Potter still balanced him. Perhaps he did so by sheer force of will and blunt shock, the emotions overwhelming him so much, burning him so deep, that he was just a hollow shell when they finished. That anything he felt was just a fleeting afterimage of Potter’s emotions and not his own. 

If he was honest with himself, one encounter with Potter could probably keep him balanced for months, but then he had to go and think about it. As soon as he recalled those emotions, he was lost all over again. It made no sense. It sickened him. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself for the way he had changed his entire perspective on his empathy. He hadn’t wanted to rely on anyone, and yet there he was, addicted to Potter, and still craving more.

They had agreed to practice control over the holiday, and even though he was desperate to avoid it, he had agreed, he had let Potter win. The shame from his submission still burned deep. He would need to go to Potter soon anyway, he may have retained balance even in the wake of Potter’s all-consuming emotions, but he was still dangerously close to losing it. 

Still, he wanted to avoid talk of experimentation, of pushing his emotions onto Harry through concentration. He was terrified by what Potter would feel, how he would interpret it, and ultimately, that he would abandon him because of it. He was going to have to find a way to mask his true feelings from Potter, even as he opened up to him.

 

 

Harry Potter

Malfoy seemed to avoid Harry for the first few days of the holiday, which was made painfully obvious, and equally awkward, due to the fact that there were so few students left at all, and no other eighth years. Still, he couldn’t complain, he hadn’t been ready to deal with him yet either. Whatever Malfoy had picked up from him that day in the entrance hall, it must have been strong, and he mustn’t have liked it, because he’d stayed away so long that when they did finally meet up, he was very unbalanced.

Harry was sitting in the eighth year common room, catching up on some coursework that he’d allowed to lapse when he’d grown preoccupied with Malfoy’s empathy, which Minerva had directed his attention to over tea that morning, when Malfoy walked in. He ignored him at first, well used to Malfoy coming and going but not speaking to him. To his surprise, however, Malfoy came to stand in front of him.

“I’m unbalanced,” he said shortly, as if irritated by the fact.

Harry raised an eyebrow. None of the more vindictive students were around, and he doubted anyone would dare attack Malfoy while numbers were so low. “How did that happen?”

Malfoy scowled at him. “Are you going to help or not?”

Harry frowned. Malfoy was always reluctant to ask for help, but he thought they were past the stage where he got defensive about it.

“Always,” Harry replied, reaching out a hand.

Malfoy stared at it like he didn’t want to touch it, his whole expression tightening, before he wrapped his fingers around Harry’s wrist with a firm grip.

While Harry could still get lost in the initial wave of Malfoy’s emotions, he was getting better and better at recognising them, and staying aware of the fact they weren’t his. But he was utterly unprepared for what he felt from Malfoy. The anger was different, and second to an alarming sense of fear and disgust. Shuddering, Harry instinctively tried to pull away, but Malfoy held on tight, as though he had anticipated the movement. 

Harry couldn’t remember if he had felt disgust from Malfoy before, but now he was sure he hadn’t. He was sure he would remember. It was a nasty cold feeling that seeped deep within him, throwing down roots and invading his thoughts. It was so foreign to him that he experienced it but didn’t become lost in it, for which he was glad, but it still felt overwhelming and uncomfortable. Malfoy sneered down at him, and a flurry of emotions hit him hard and fast. They were dark and angry, and made Harry want to crawl into a corner and hide. 

Whatever had driven Malfoy out of balance, it was not something that had happened before. These were new, unfamiliar emotions, they buried deep and made him shiver and shudder, and try to twist out of Malfoy’s grip. But Malfoy only tightened his hold, looming over Harry.

“This,” he hissed. “This is how I feel about needing your help!”

Before he could help himself, before he could remember that Malfoy could feel it, a dizzying bolt of pain and sadness tore through him. If Malfoy had just told him he was disgusted, it would have been okay, it would have upset him a little, he had thought they were past that after all, but to feel it, to really feel how Malfoy felt about his help? It hurt. It hurt, and it made him feel sick.

“Let go,” he gasped, reeling from the onslaught. 

“I despise you,” Malfoy snarled, so close that Harry could feel his rapid breathing. “I loathe your help. It turns my stomach.”

It hurt. When had he grown to care so much that it hurt this bad? Harry struggled again to release himself but only succeeded in pulling Malfoy even closer to him. 

“Stop!”

At first, he was so distracted by the nasty feelings hitting him and sinking into him, finding his vulnerable spots and striking at them, that he didn’t notice anything else. But Malfoy was unbalanced, and he still couldn’t control what he made Harry feel.

It was only a little at first, and Harry could barely recognise it, but it was there. Guilt. Once he felt it, he let out a relieved cry and latched onto the feeling with all his focus. As if a floodgate opened, it came pouring in, so much guilt bringing with it pain, and longing, and so many other complicated, foreign feelings that invaded just as deep, but didn’t hurt nearly as bad. 

Malfoy let out a ragged, wounded sound, and reared back, letting go, but Harry wouldn’t let him. He didn’t understand what was going on, or what Malfoy was trying to do, but he wasn’t going to let him get away with it. He grabbed at Malfoy, and they struggled. Every time their skin brushed Harry felt nauseating flares of overwhelming emotion. Whatever Malfoy was feeling, whatever unbalanced him, it was powerful. Harry wanted to run the other way, to hide and never go near Malfoy again, but something stopped him. Malfoy was pulling away, like he didn’t want Harry to know these new feelings, like they were secret, and Harry was having none of that. He regularly bared himself to Malfoy, and he would not allow him to run away because he was afraid of what Harry may feel from him in return.

Malfoy made a pained yelp as Harry’s foot connected hard with his shin, and suddenly they were tumbling to the ground. Seizing the moment of distraction, Harry suddenly crawled atop Malfoy, wrapped a hand around his throat and pinned him to the ground. Even though he was still reeling with the force of the emotions that were battering away at him, he felt a sick, satisfied jolt of heat at the way Malfoy suddenly went still beneath him. 

Fear hit him hard and fast, but he tossed it aside, used to it by now. Waves of powerful feelings shuddered between them. Whatever Malfoy was afraid Harry would feel from him while he was unbalanced was so complex and unfamiliar that he couldn’t identify it. Still, it raced through Harry’s veins, making him light headed. There was a strange longing in his chest, laced with pain and guilt and fear. He couldn’t disentangle the mess.  He was getting better at differentiating them, but he hadn’t felt such things before. He had no frame of reference.

“What the hell was that, Malfoy?” he asked. He tried to sound angry, but his voice wavered. 

“Get off me!” Malfoy demanded, voice raspy.

Harry loosened his grip ever so slightly, afraid of choking him even as he longed to do so, fighting to hold on to his own feelings amid the storm Malfoy was making. “Not until you explain!”

“You wanted me to learn control, to push emotion on you,” Malfoy spat, trying to pry Harry’s hand away from his throat, scratching him. He bucked his body under him, trying to dislodge him, but Harry only pressed him harder into the floor to keep him down. “What’s the matter? Did you think I’d have something pleasant to show you?”

Harry snarled at him, and squeezed tighter. Malfoy’s eyes widened and Harry could feel his fear intensify even as he continued to keep it hovering in the background of his mind, attempting to ignore it. 

“This is not control!” he snarled. “You’re unbalanced!”

“I controlled what you felt,” Malfoy said desperately, almost looking proud, the expression seeming strangely wild and feral. “I pushed only the bad things at you and kept back the rest! I’ve never done that before!”

Harry screwed up his face in disgust and disbelief. How could Malfoy be proud of what he had done to him, when he could feel the way it had hurt him? Did he truly hate Harry so much? Had he been fooling himself to think their situation would lead to friendship? 

Suddenly he stilled. It had been horrible, and he didn’t think he’d ever forget the way it had made him feel small and scared, like he wanted to hide in his cupboard and never come out. But had it been real? Malfoy said that it was how he felt about Harry, but then, all that guilt had come pouring out. Maybe they really were someone else’s emotions that he either carried with him the last few days, or tried to mimic. Was that possible?

“Was that really how you feel about me?” Harry asked suddenly, locking eyes with Malfoy, and loosening the grip on his neck slightly. 

Almost immediately, Malfoy’s eyes widened, his pulse jumped in his neck, and Harry was bombarded with complex feelings that felt both warm and welcoming but also burned painfully. Guilt followed, again, and it was all that he could recognise. Normally he could discern the different feelings, but what he was getting from Malfoy now was a jumbled mess.

“Let go of me,” Malfoy whined, scratching at Harry’s hand again, his blunt nails drawing blood.

Harry was upsetting him further, he could feel it in the way Malfoy’s emotions battered away at him, putting down roots and making him doubt his own state of mind, but he couldn’t let him go. Whatever Malfoy had just done was too much to forgive.

“No,” he replied firmly. He felt hot, like Malfoy’s feelings were burning him from the inside. Or maybe it was because Malfoy himself seemed to be burning under him, hot lines pushed against him as he pressed him into the floor.

“Every time you touch me I open myself up to you, willingly,” he said, and really, they should have had this conversation a long time ago. “You know me more intimately than my best friends, and yet you never give me anything in return but anger and fear. You don’t get to run away because you’re scared I’ll see something else. Not when you have seen all of me!”

Malfoy’s breath hitched, and a flood of warmth hit Harry, rushing through him. It was breathtaking. Surprised, he stared down at Malfoy, searching his face for a clue as to what that feeling was. But Malfoy’s expression was impassive. Frustrated, he wanted to wipe that expression away and see what was underneath.

“Stop hiding from me,” he growled. “I can’t help you if you aren’t open with me!”

Malfoy let out a gasping sob, and the complex emotions burying themselves in Harry flared brighter. “I can’t,” he cried out. “It’s too much!”

For a moment, it was as if the room was filled with blinding light as Harry’s head throbbed and he was struck with a wave of dizziness. His body felt alight with fire, scorching within him and over him. The brightness faded from his eyes and he was left with dark spots that left him feeling sick again. Horrified, he realised he could barely feel his own body. It seemed as if he had left his own skin, and was just hovering in pure heat and light. 

For several long moments he was lost, unable to find his way back to himself. With growing terror, he realised he was drowning in something he didn’t understand. Pinpricks of pain grew in his awareness but it took a long time before he realised that was his arm that was hurting. It seemed like such a strange thing, that he had an arm, that he had any physical boundaries at all, that he wasn’t just floating in nothingness.

Blinking against the dark spots in his eyes he looked down to see Malfoy digging his nails into his arm, scratching at him, struggling under him, his face a mask of complete terror. Horrified, Harry realised he was choking him too tight, even though he could barely feel his hand. The sight should have frightened him, but he felt nothing but the waves of intense heat scorching through him. Still, he focused what little intention he had, and let go. Malfoy took a shuddering, rattling breath, and his hands dropped from Harry’s arm to his own throat.

Immediately, their connection ended, and Harry barely had time to scramble to the side before he was voiding his stomach all over the carpet as he felt an intense force slam into him. He felt weightless and cold, and the room was spinning. It was like life had been drained from him in an instant. He had died, he knew death, and this was worse than death. There was a gaping, whirling void within him that was howling for something to fill it. Harry’s stomach lurched again as he tried to move, but could scarcely feel his limbs. 

As his vision flared white again, he closed his eyes and felt the ground fall out from beneath him.

Chapter Text

Pure, blinding terror had Harry sitting upright, awake in an instant. He didn’t remember falling asleep, or dreaming, but suddenly he was awake and afraid. Then the feeling disappeared almost immediately, and he blinked and took in his surroundings. Suddenly it all came back and his stomach lurched. Turning to the side, he dry-heaved several times, somewhat glad he had emptied his stomach earlier, but also wishing he had something to throw up as his throat burned. When his body was no longer racked with the contractions, he fell back and stared at the ceiling. The acid smell of bile reached his nose and he felt his stomach lurch again.

For a moment, everything was still and silent. He allowed himself a few moments to steady himself, during which time he was overwhelmed. He didn’t understand what had happened, and he fought the urge to get up and run before he was forced to look at Malfoy. But running would solve nothing. Steeling himself, he sat up and sought out Malfoy.

Malfoy was sitting several feet away from him, one hand covering his throat and the other holding his wand at his side. There were tear tracks on his face, and blood on his hands. Harry glanced at his own right arm to see deep scratches that had since stopped bleeding, but were throbbing painfully now that he noticed them. Horrified, he looked back at Malfoy, wondering if he was hiding bruises beneath his hand. 

He didn’t know what had just happened. He didn’t think he was capable of even processing all that he had experienced. It was just a memory of heat and dizziness that his mind shied away from. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but he realised that Malfoy had touched him, letting fear wake him. For a moment, he wondered if Malfoy had been afraid for him, or of him, before he realised it hardly mattered, because Malfoy was very obviously terrified of him at that moment.

Malfoy’s wand was at his side, but his grip on it was white-knuckled. His posture was tense, ready for action, and his eyes were sharp. For a moment, Harry was angry that Malfoy was afraid of him, when whatever it was that had happened had been Malfoy’s doing. But then he remembered that he had been the one to maintain contact after Malfoy had tried to pull away, he had been the one to put them in such a dangerous position. All of a sudden he was disgusted with himself for getting caught up in his frustration. If he had just let Malfoy keep his secrets then none of that would have happened, whatever it was.

For a while, nothing changed. Malfoy remained in the same position, and Harry wasn’t sure what to say. Eventually, he realised that Malfoy was waiting to see what he would do.

“Are you okay?” he asked, softly, worried that Malfoy might startle and curse him. His eyes returned to where Malfoy was hiding his neck behind a bloody hand.

“No,” Malfoy said with a wince. His voice was rough, and the sound made Harry want to reach out and soothe him, because it sounded so painful, and was completely his doing. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” Harry replied honestly. Whenever he tried to think about what had happened his mind skittered away and focused on something else, like the smell of his vomit, or the painful throbbing of his arm.

Several long moments passed where neither said anything, and they just stared at each other. Malfoy seemed to be frozen, and Harry realised he would have to lead the aftermath of what had happened. Clamping down on his own fear, he shuffled towards Malfoy, trying to ignore the way Malfoy flinched and raised his wand. The obvious display of fear sent another wave of nausea through Harry, but he kept shuffling closer, trying to look non-threatening.

Malfoy watched him approach with wide, frightened eyes. His knuckles were white where he gripped his wand, and his hand was shaking. Slowly, carefully, Harry reached out.

“Don’t touch me!” Malfoy said, his voice a raw, grating mess.

Fear and guilt blazed into Harry’s awareness, but he pushed it all away. He couldn’t afford to feel anything until he made sure Malfoy was okay, really okay. Carefully, and very slowly, he laid a finger over the end of Malfoy’s wand, and let the weight of his hand lower it. Malfoy watched it lower with terrified eyes, but didn’t offer resistance. Tremors were passing through his whole body now, and the sight hurt Harry, deep down. He’d never in his life seen someone so afraid of him, and his stomach threatened to empty itself again.

Dropping his eyes to Malfoy’s bloody hand where it covered his throat, he felt a keening feeling in his chest that he couldn’t identify. “Let me see?” he asked, soft and desperate.

Malfoy stiffened. Watching Harry fearfully, he shook his head slightly. Harry took a few deep breaths, not moving.

“Please, Malfoy,” he said, forcing himself not to move, not to feel. 

Malfoy shook his head again. It hurt something fierce, to see him reduced to a quivering, terrified mess, unable to speak where he would have normally snapped insults. Once again, as earlier that night, Harry wondered when he had grown to care so much.

“Please, Draco,” he said, voice cracking slightly. “Let me see.”

Malfoy flinched at the sound of his given name, but his hand twitched as if it wanted to comply. Harry took that as a good sign, and shuffled slightly closer.

“Draco,” he said, the name more of a soft exhalation than a word, “let me see. I need to see.”

Malfoy released a whimper, wincing as he did so, but didn’t move his hand. Harry ached to reach out and move the hand himself, but didn’t know if he was more terrified of scaring Malfoy further, or experiencing whatever it was that Malfoy was feeling at that moment.

“Please, Draco.”

Malfoy shuddered and closed his eyes. For a long moment, he didn’t move. Then, finally, slowly, he lowered his hand.

Harry couldn’t help but gasp. He must have been unconscious for a long time because Draco’s neck was a mess of livid, purple bruises, the skin surrounding them red and irritated. And Harry hardly noticed he’d stopped thinking of him as Malfoy but when he did he knew it was right. This was not the angry, nasty Malfoy he had known for over seven years. This was a terrified, broken boy who he felt he was meeting for the first time. 

And Harry had broken him.

He wanted to reach out and touch, to comfort, to heal, to do something . He knew he had done worse before. That night in the hospital wing he’d done worse, and that boy was still in a coma in St. Mungo’s, but somehow that was nothing compared to the sight before him. Perhaps the shocking paleness of Draco’s skin made it seem worse than it was, or maybe it was the startling realisation he had come to, that Draco meant far more to him than he’d realised. But guilt was burning through his veins, and he hated himself for what he’d done.

He opened his mouth to apologise, but no sound came out. What could he ever say that would stop Draco from fearing him? Even now Malfoy had his eyes closed tight, as if he expected pain. All Harry wanted to do was reach out and touch him, to let him feel how sorry he was, and how much he hated himself for it. But he was too afraid. He was afraid of what he’d feel from Draco, he was afraid that his touch would terrify and break him even more. 

“You need to go to the hospital wing,” he said, his voice weak.

Startled, Draco opened his eyes. He fixed a fearful gaze on Harry. “No.”

Harry took a shuddering breath. This was too much. He didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, he felt like a child, lost and in a desperate need of an adult to help him. “Draco, we need to get a professor.”

“No!” It was barely a word, more a sharp crackle of a sound. “How would we explain it?”

The rough rasp of his voice sent a shudder through Harry, and he just wanted to reach out and hold him. He didn’t understand it, any of it, neither what had happened nor how he felt about it.

“We’ll go to McGonagall, she’ll know what to do,” he said, wishing he both felt and sounded more sure of himself.

“She’ll expel me,” Draco rasped, terror flashing in his eyes.

Harry frowned. “You? Why would she do that?” he asked, shocked. “I nearly killed you!”

Merlin, he had. He’d nearly killed him. His stomach churned again, and his vision narrowed down to those livid purple bruises around Draco’s slim pale neck. He hadn’t even been aware of what he’d been doing.

“It was my fault!”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. There were so many things he wanted to ask, so many things he wanted to say. But Draco was looking at him with wide, fearful, yet guilty eyes and he didn’t know what to do. Did Draco think he was angry? Had he been afraid that Harry would hurt him out of anger when he woke? Letting out a wounded sound he didn’t think he was capable of making, he found himself reaching out before he could help himself.

Draco flinched back, and raised his wand again. “Don’t touch me!”

“I don’t blame you,” Harry said. “Let me show you, please, I’m not angry. I did this to you, I’m so sorry, I can’t…please, let me show you!”

Draco released a shuddering breath, and looked at Harry’s outreached hand like it was a violent weapon. It had been, Harry realised, his stomach sinking. 

“I don’t know what will happen if you touch me,” Draco finally said, wincing and swallowing around the words. 

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t know what to do. He should send a patronus to fetch help. Draco shouldn’t be talking, he needed to be healed. But he didn’t think he was capable of casting a patronus charm at that moment.

“What are you feeling? Will it overwhelm me?” he asked, inching closer.

The situation was so dangerous, and he was so unsure of what to do. But something, some instinct he didn’t understand, was telling him to reach out and touch. There was an urgency to it, as if he could fix everything as long as he acted fast enough.

“I don’t know,” Draco said, looking startlingly open and honest. Harry was hit again by the notion that he did not know this boy in front of him. This was a stranger to him. “I’m so afraid.”

Relief swept through Harry. “I can handle fear, remember?” he asked. “I can make it go away.”

The look that Draco gave him was so hopeful that it made Harry want to flee. How could he deal with this strange boy in front of him, full of fear and hope? What if he failed, what if he wasn’t good enough? If he didn’t handle this right, would he ruin them forever?

With a shaking hand, still stained with Harry’s blood, Draco reached out. Harry stilled, holding his breath and not moving, letting Draco control the moment. He’d gotten better at balancing him, but there was still so much he didn’t know. Even so, he focused all of his conscious effort into expressing how sorry he felt, and how much he wanted to make it right, and the strange complex set of feelings he had about seeing those marks on Draco’s neck and knowing he had put them there. Most of all, he focused on how much he had come to care for Draco. As startling as it still was for him, he let it come to the forefront of his mind.

Draco’s fingers had barely brushed his hand, before Malfoy let out a keening cry and threw himself at Harry. Alarmed, Harry froze as Draco wrapped his arms around him and buried his face into Harry’s neck. Draco shook in his arms as he started to cry in choking, painful sobs, warm tears splashing Harry’s neck. Instinct drove Harry again, and he enclosed Draco in his arms, one hand falling to his hair and stroking it soothingly. 

The position reminded him of that night in the isolation room, and the strange, content way they had settled against each other, before they had even come to really know one another. Surprisingly, Harry felt nothing from Draco. There was no fear. There was nothing. It was as if Draco was balanced. It was impossible. He pushed it to the back of his mind. He could worry about that later. All that mattered now was that somehow, miraculously, he had managed to counteract whatever fear had been gripping Draco, at least for the moment.

Whatever dangerous storm of emotions had taken them both earlier, it had passed, and they were safe. While he still feared what had happened and worried that it would happen again, he ignored that fear and focused on comforting Draco. While he knew they were both at fault for the way they provoked each other, he had been the one to cause physical pain, and he was the one who had to put it right.

 

 

 

“I told you that trying to push emotion at you was a bad idea,” Draco murmured, much later. 

He still had his face pressed into the join of Harry’s neck, and didn’t seem inclined to move. Harry wasn’t particularly inclined to make him move either. After they’d spelled away his vomit, and Harry had cast a mouth washing charm, because the lingering taste in his mouth only made him feel like throwing up again, they’d relocated to the sofa and he was quite comfortable. He had thought Draco would attempt to flee when he first suggested shifting, but Malfoy had just kept a hand on his skin while they moved, and then settled against him in much the same position. It made him wonder what he was feeling from him.

“And I told you doing so while unbalanced was cheating,” Harry said, carefully.

Draco tensed against him, but didn’t try to leave.  The bruises on his neck had only gotten impossibly worse since he’d desperately crawled into Harry’s arms, and Harry wanted to suggest a visit to Madam Pomfrey again, but was unwilling to disturb the peace they seemed to have reached. From his position, he could also see bloody crescent shaped marks where he must have dug his fingernails into the skin of Draco’s neck. He could hardly bear to look, but he forced himself to.

“What happened, Draco?” Harry asked, deciding to continue using his given name whether he liked it or not. They were in a decidedly intimate position, so he felt justified.

“I’m not really sure,” Draco replied, his voice hoarse.

Harry looked down at him, and brushed a gentle thumb over the bruising. Draco shivered and tensed, his eyelashes fluttering wildly against Harry’s neck. 

“This needs healing,” Harry murmured.

“It’s fine,” Draco said, reaching up and pulling Harry’s hand away.

“When I asked you to stop hiding from me, and you said it was too much,” Harry said, carefully, “what happened?”

Draco tensed against him again, and Harry could feel his eyes flutter shut. “I tried to open up, to show you everything,” Draco said. “I always try to hold back when I’m unbalanced, so I just...stopped.”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “That was everything you felt? All your emotions?”

Draco shook his head slightly. The motion felt as if he was nuzzling Harry’s neck, and it caused something warm to surge in his chest. “No, just the things I was trying to hide.”

Harry didn’t even know how to begin to process that. He still didn’t even understand what he had felt. “I felt like I left my body,” he said. “Everything was warm and bright. I felt like I was floating outside my skin, with no boundaries.”

Draco shivered, and curled into Harry a little tighter. “I think I pulled some of your consciousness into me.”

“What?” Harry was dumbfounded. “Is that even possible?”

“I don’t know, but all your emotions suddenly felt closer, as if they were coming from inside me, instead of flowing into me from outside.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Harry muttered. It sounded insane. It sounded terrifying and dangerous. It sounded fascinating.

“I think, maybe, I was pulling at your soul,” Draco said, sounding very small. “You wanted to see it all, and I wanted to just give in and show you everything. I think that translated into me trying to pull you into me.”

Harry felt a cold fear creep over him. Ever since learning of Horcruxes, he was disturbingly aware of just how malleable the soul could be. 

“What’s the matter?” Draco asked, tensing. “You’re suddenly afraid.”

“It made me think of Horcruxes,” Harry answered honestly. Draco frowned into his neck. “Sorry, it’s a reflex when I hear souls mentioned.”

Draco was silent for a long time, and Harry was beginning to suspect he had fallen asleep before Malfoy let out a shudder. “He wanted to turn me into a Horcrux,” he said fearfully. “He wanted me to take part of his soul into me and keep it safe.”

Harry’s blood froze in his veins. Draco shivered against him, and Harry instinctively held him tighter.

“He didn’t manage it,” Draco continued. “I don’t think there was enough left to split it again, and he was so repulsive it just made me sick when he touched me. I didn’t have enough control to do it anyway, if it was even possible.”

Anger burned through Harry at the thought of what Draco must have experienced at Voldemort’s hands. Draco shuddered again. “That’s the strongest anger I’ve felt from you,” he said.

“Of course,” Harry replied, tensing as he thought of all that monster had done. The idea of Draco being forced to feel his dark and twisted emotions was horrifying and repulsive. “What he did was awful.”

“Your affection for me feels nice,” Draco suddenly said. “I didn’t know you cared until today.”

Embarrassment flooded Harry, and he could feel Draco’s mouth curve into a smile against his neck. “Always so quick to embarrassment,” he said.  “Don’t be stupid, it’s nice.”

“How am I not feeling anything from you?” Harry suddenly asked. “I know you must be balanced now, but when you touched me to wake me up earlier I felt fear, but then after that, when I wanted you to feel how sorry I was, I felt nothing from you.”

Draco frowned, and pulled back suddenly. He swept his gaze over Harry’s face, and looked down at his own hands in surprise. “Maybe today wasn’t such a failure after all,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked with a frown. He was glad he could see Draco’s face while they talked, but already he felt oddly bereft without that weight settled against him.

“When I reached out to you, I was focusing intently on what you felt, and when it was…” he trailed off suddenly, and flushed. Harry raised an eyebrow.

“What was that you were saying earlier, about embarrassment?” he asked smugly.

“Sod off,” Draco said, lightly. 

“When it was…?” Harry prompted.

Draco flushed again. “You felt so concerned, so welcoming. It felt like you cared so much. I haven’t felt anything like it before. I focused on that feeling with everything I had, I let it consume me, and everything else just seemed to disappear.”

Harry frowned. Was it that simple? “So you balanced yourself?”

Draco shook his head. “No, I was still too upset, it’s hard to explain,” he said. “It’s more like instead of concentrating on stopping my feelings from transferring to you, I just focused everything I had on feeling what you were feeling and the connection from me to you just closed off on its own. Maybe so I wouldn’t spoil the feeling. I think…maybe I’ve been doing that all along when I touch you.”

“So, we’ve been looking at control all wrong,” Harry murmured thoughtfully. “Perhaps learning to focus will help the control come along.”

Draco was silent for a while. Harry dropped his eyes to Malfoy’s throat. He was glad that he had soothed Draco’s fear after he had almost strangled him to death, but he was horrified they’d been in that position. The scratches on his arms ached awfully and he hoped Draco knew some healing spells because he had no idea how to explain this to Madam Pomfrey. Minerva would be horrified, and he was sure Madame Pomfrey would tell her, even if they asked her not to. Still, Draco really needed his neck looked at. The bruises were awful to look at, and his neck seemed swollen too.

“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, still looking at Draco’s neck. “I couldn’t feel my hands, but it’s no excuse. I shouldn’t have been holding your throat in the first place.”

Draco sent him a complicated look. “It’s okay. It’s mostly my fault for provoking you.”

“No,” Harry said, his tone serious. “There’s no excuse for this.”

“Well, I kind of put the idea in your head by choking you first, the other day,” Draco said, trying to smile. “Seriously though, Harry, I came in here wanting to hurt you and push you away, it’s not surprising that I got hurt.”

Harry startled at the sound of his given name. Draco looked knowingly at him, and for a moment Harry assumed he could feel what effect it had, before realising Draco was not touching his skin now. It left a cold feeling coursing through him when he realised he preferred Malfoy to know what he thought of his words, rather than having to articulate a response.

“Why did you do that?” he asked. “I was only trying to help you.”

Draco looked ashamed. It was a strange expression to see on his face. Somehow, it made him appear younger. “I get so overwhelmed by you sometimes, it’s easier to lash out.”

All at once, Harry became aware of their position. Draco was still leaning against him even though he was no longer embracing him. They were entering the dangerous territory of how they felt about each other. Harry couldn’t have failed to notice that everything tended to fall apart whenever they were too honest and open. Still, it was gratifying to know that he wasn’t the only one struggling with overwhelming feelings he didn’t understand.

“I think we’re a bit dangerous,” Harry said, thinking of all the ways they’d pushed and pulled and hurt each other since he’d started helping Draco.

Draco fixed Harry with an almost forlorn expression. “I think that there’s no helping that,” he said. “It’s who we are.”

Harry felt immensely sad all of a sudden. “Why can’t we always just be like this? Open and honest and…and…” 

He trailed off as he couldn’t find the words. Maybe he had been foolish to think that they’d eventually reach some stable place where they were kind to one another. Maybe he’d been a fool all along for not understanding, truly understanding, what it meant to balance Draco. Maybe they were deluding themselves and Harry only seemed like he balanced him, because he was beginning to think he spent more time destroying him, destroying them both.

Draco suddenly leaned forward to rest his forehead against Harry’s. He kept his eyes closed. “I want to be able to show you,” he said, breath ghosting over Harry’s face, and maybe Harry was a little too focused on his mouth at that moment, because he almost missed the pained look that passed over Draco’s face, so close to his own. “I want to be able to choose how much I share, and with whom. I want to show you how you make me feel, without making you hurt me.”

Harry’s breath hitched in his throat at those words. He hoped Draco understood what he felt when he heard them, because he didn’t, and he wanted to. But suddenly, surprisingly and out of nowhere, he wanted to kiss him. He just wanted to hold him close and make it all stop, but also drown in it all at the same time. His earlier words were so true in so many different ways, they were dangerous. To go from hurting each other and sharing awful, angry, hateful feelings to this, this strange, soft moment that was achingly quiet and calm. They didn’t seem to be capable of a middle ground. It was one extreme or the other. Harry hated how much it thrilled him, even as it upset him.

A soft sound escaped Draco, and he opened his eyes. They were so close to Harry’s that he couldn’t even focus properly, but he was lost in them. “We should stop,” he said, so quiet it was like he just breathed the words directly into Harry’s mind. But he made no motion to lean away, if anything, his body shifted closer, and Harry ached with the desire to know how he felt. Was he just as overwhelmed and lost as Harry was feeling? Did he also feel a strange desire to hold him close even as he wanted to push him away? He supposed he must, even if it were only from Harry that he felt those things.

It was too much, too raw. Harry was lost in it. Earlier he had tried to pull away from Draco and all the horrible feelings he had forced on him, then he had almost choked him to death as he was overwhelmed by heat and light. Draco was right, they should stop and separate. They should take a day to calm down and dissociate from the intensity, because whatever happened now was going to be lost the next day. They always had moments of painful honesty that felt like it changed them both, only to find themselves fighting each other again the next day.

Harry decided that he would pull away, he would separate them so they could both think straight, so they wouldn’t become trapped in something they wouldn’t be able to express the next day. He decided this, he thought this, and yet he only moved closer.

“You intoxicate me,” Draco breathed, and then they were kissing.

Harry sobbed when he realised he could almost feel that heat again, that warmth that had so utterly destroyed him. He hadn’t realised how much he wanted it again until he was lost in the heat of Draco’s mouth and feeling empty, like there should be something, anything, just more . Maybe they were always headed in this direction, maybe it was inevitable for two people who shared something so intimate, so dangerous.

Draco’s hands were sliding into Harry’s hair and pulling him closer. Harry opened to him, allowing the kiss to go deeper. He hadn’t known he’d wanted to kiss him until suddenly they were, and he didn’t want to stop.

“I can feel you reaching for me,” Draco said, as his mouth shifted to Harry’s jaw and then neck, tracing a wet, hot path that left Harry dizzy and gasping for air. “I wish I knew how to let you in without destroying us both.”

Harry moaned. Whether it was the way Draco mouthed at his neck, or the words he said, he didn’t know. For a moment, he was tremendously glad that Draco couldn’t let him in, couldn’t open himself to Harry. He was already so overwhelmed and lost, he didn’t need the added danger of Draco’s emotions trying to drown him. Yet, at the same time, he ached to feel that warmth that he had felt sink so deep into him before. So often he felt nothing but hate and fear and sadness from Draco, when he was unbalanced and so out of control. But now he had felt more, he had felt warmth and light, and even though he didn’t know the name of those emotions, even though they had burned him and made him lose himself, he craved the feel of them.

“I want to feel you,” he breathed, before Draco’s lips found his again. Draco made a stuttering, broken sound that was lost between their mouths, and clutched at him like he was drowning. 

Then, suddenly, Harry was left grasping at air as Draco pulled back and shifted away, disentangling himself until he was sitting at the far end of the sofa. He looked utterly wrecked, taking deep, shuddering breaths, his fingers twitching reflexively, as if his body still hadn’t quite realised he was too far away to touch. For a few moments, only the sound of their heavy breathing filled the air, as they stared at each other. 

Harry just wanted to move closer and take . But he stayed back because he couldn’t quite forget everything that happened, and was all too aware of the danger he was in, constantly, whenever Draco touched him. If Draco felt overwhelmed enough to pull away, he had to remember not to follow. He should probably feel more alarmed that he had been kissing Draco Malfoy, a boy, but he found he didn’t care one bit. Maybe this was why he had been growing to care more and more for Malfoy over the weeks as he had been sharing his innermost feeling with him. Maybe it was inevitable. That should bother him, that everything he felt now could just be a symptom of what Draco could do. But it felt too real, too intense to be fabricated. More likely it was just a reflection of who he was, that he couldn’t bare himself so deeply for another person without feeling that way.

“Too much?” he asked.

Draco nodded, running a hand through his hair. “I think I almost lost control there for a second,” he said, breathless. “We really don’t want a repeat of earlier.”

Harry shuddered, eyes flicking once again to Draco’s neck.  “We’re going to the hospital wing, no arguments,” he said, standing suddenly. He couldn’t bear the sight of his handiwork any longer.

Draco flushed. “Give me a few minutes,” he said. “I’m a little overwhelmed. I’d like to calm down a bit before she comes at me with diagnostic spells.”

It took Harry a few moments to catch his meaning. When he did, he flushed, feeling a wave of heat pass through him. Promptly, he sat back down. Of course, Draco would have felt exactly how aroused Harry and been, in addition to anything he already felt. Harry hadn’t even thought about it. Embarrassed, he turned and gazed at the fireplace instead.

“You should really see your face right now,” Draco said, amusement colouring his tone. “You’ve gone bright red!”

“Sod off,” Harry said, though he didn’t put much effort into it.

“No need to be embarrassed,” Draco continued, still sounding more amused than comforting. “I’m in a worse state than you. If anyone should be embarrassed, it’s me.”

“Why aren’t you?” Harry asked, annoyed. 

“It’s hard to be embarrassed when you know the other person was enjoying it just as much,” he said, with a shrug and a smug smile. 

Harry scowled. That was entirely unfair. 

 

 

 

Madam Pomfrey took one look at them as they walked through the door, and threw floo powder into the fire to call for Minerva. Harry shifted uncomfortably under the intense gaze she settled on him while they waited. He knew exactly what they looked like, and hoped that the fact he was standing there with Malfoy at least gave some indication that they were okay. When Minerva came out of the fire, she looked at them and gasped, skin turning ashen and her hand coming to cover her mouth. Harry lowered his head. Even though he had not hurt Draco on purpose, he felt thoroughly guilty and ashamed of what he had done. 

Draco, in a kind show of solidarity, or perhaps just needing comfort, shuffled a little closer and brushed the back of his hand against Harry’s. Harry felt a brief flare of fear from him, before it was gone just as fast. It seemed Draco was either miraculously better at control, or had been balanced almost immediately. Either way, Harry didn’t bother worrying about how it would look, he took Draco’s hand properly, and held on tight. 

“Poppy, fetch us something strong to drink,” Minerva said, faintly. “I have a feeling we’re going to need the fortification.”

Madam Pomfrey gave her a disapproving look, but disappeared into her office anyway. The ensuing silence was uncomfortable, and Harry refused to look at Minerva. He knew he must have greatly disappointed her.

“I don’t even know where to begin, Harry,” she said tiredly.

“It was an accident,” Harry said quickly, before Draco could get it into his head to take all the blame. 

She pursed her lips, looking over Draco’s neck shrewdly. “An accident that no doubt took place several hours ago, and yet you are only seeking medical assistance now.”

Harry hung his head in shame. There was no excuse for the delay, and he knew it. He had allowed Draco to convince him to wait, and he shouldn’t have.

“That’s my fault,” Draco said suddenly. “I refused to come, I was…I needed to calm down first.”

Madam Pomfrey bustled back in, carrying a tray with four tumblers and a bottle of firewhiskey. Even Minerva looked at her in surprise, but she just passed the tumblers around. 

“Take a seat, Mr. Malfoy,” she said. “I’ll see to Harry’s arm after we’ve sorted out those nasty bruises.”

For a moment, Draco looked like he may protest, but Harry pushed him towards one of the beds. Petulantly, Draco scowled at him, but sat down anyway. Pomfrey bustled around him, casting diagnostics before settling another intense look on Harry.

“The bruising is very deep,” she said, her tony icy. “For how long was the pressure sustained?”

Harry looked at the floor. “I don’t know,” he answered, unable to look at Minerva to see her reaction. There was silence for a while, before Draco reached out and took his hand again. Looking up, he saw Draco frown at him. 

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said. 

Harry just looked to the side and didn’t respond. That may be true in some regards, but he shouldn’t have had his hand anywhere near Draco’s throat while he was unbalanced. He knew better. He knew how violent Draco’s empathy could make him.

“Can you enlighten us, Draco?” Minerva asked, using his given name as she seemed to realise the sensitivity of the situation. “It helps to determine the strength of the healing spells.”

“I’m not really sure either,” he said, then hesitated. Harry looked away again, knowing that he wouldn’t like what he was about to hear. “But it was long enough that my vision went dark, and I almost lost consciousness.”

A jolt of disgust passed through Harry, and he pulled his hand away. He didn’t want Draco to sense how he felt about what he’d done. Draco frowned at him, but didn’t force the issue. However, he did lay his hand on Harry’s clothed shoulder in a display of support that only made Harry feel worse.

Pomfrey tutted, and went about her spells while Minerva downed her drink in one gulp, reaching for the bottle immediately after. Harry stared at the tumbler in his hand. He didn’t think it would make him feel any better. He knew, with absolute clarity, that whatever closeness he had Draco had achieved that night, would be gone by morning. It was their way. They went between extremes and never stayed still in once place. It frightened him, how quickly their dynamic could change, and he suddenly wanted to be far away, so he wouldn’t have to experience Draco pushing him away once he thought through everything Harry had done. Or maybe this time he would be the one to do that.

“I’m assuming that he lost control and overwhelmed you with something bad, anger or fear, and you lashed out at him?” Minerva suddenly asked him. 

Harry raised his eyes from his glass. She was looking at him disapprovingly. How much worse would that look be if she knew it was in fact a good emotion that had caused him to lose sensation in a hand that he already had wrapped around Draco’s neck? How disappointed would she be to know that their accident only happened because he had dangerously pushed Draco too far when he was trying to pull away?

Harry shuddered, and downed his drink to distract himself. It burned like Draco’s emotions, and he felt his stomach drop. What was wrong with them? How could they hurt each other so much, and then turn that pain into compassion and lust? Would they always be this way? Perhaps Ron had been right, that he had been a fool to think he could ever walk away from this. It was like they were trapped in a time loop, making the same mistakes over and over.

“I need…” Harry looked to the side. Could he do this? Could he walk away from Draco, abandon him after hurting him so much? He’d sworn he wouldn’t do that, but he hadn’t known what he was swearing too. It was suddenly all too much. He needed to get away, he needed distance. He and Draco were a dangerous mess, and he wasn’t sure he could keep walking this path with him. “I can’t…”

Merlin, it was so hard. He’d given his word, and he hated himself for even wanting to back down from it. He glanced in Draco’s direction in time to see the bruises fade from his neck. The sight sickened him. It was suddenly as if nothing had happened, and if he stayed, that was how it would continue. They would go on as they had been, until the same thing happened again. It would always happen again. He raised his eyes to meet Draco’s gaze, and flinched at the intensity held there. It was as if Draco knew his every thought. 

“I almost tore away a piece of his soul,” Draco suddenly said. But no, this wasn’t Draco anymore. Malfoy was back. His eyes were hard, and his posture rigid. His vulnerability was gone. “He reacted instinctively to protect himself.”

Both women gasped. Draco didn’t even glance at them. He kept his gaze fixed on Harry, hard and unyielding. It seemed as if the cycle continued on, and they were back to hurting one another. Only this time, he was sure Draco had read his decision to leave in his eyes, and was far more hurt by it than anything Harry could have done with his hands. Whether Harry left or changed his mind and stayed, it seemed Draco had decided to hate him, in a way he hadn’t before. He would probably never forgive him for even thinking of leaving.

 

 

 

All the lights were out when Harry arrived at the Burrow. For a while, he stood outside in the snow. He didn’t know why he was so surprised by everything that had happened. He and Draco had been doomed from the start. He was a fool to have ever believed that it would work. Even though he had truly wanted to help, even though Draco had accepted his help, albeit grudgingly, he should have known he would fail. But he was surprised. Somehow, he had grown to care, and felt oddly heartbroken. Then again, perhaps nothing he had felt was real. Perhaps Draco had been in control the whole time, and had played him for a fool. How would he ever know? 

As he stood in the snow, staring at the dark house and thinking equally dark thoughts, a bright light bounded past him. For a second, the cat turned to stare at him, before continuing on its way. Sighing, he realised Minerva now knew he was no longer on the grounds. Perhaps he should have let her know, but he hadn’t really known himself where he was going until he’d stepped off the grounds and apparated away. A light flickered into existence in a window. It moved through the house until Ron was opening the door, rushing outside barefoot and clad in bright orange night clothes.

The sight of his friend, so dishevelled, half asleep, and yet running through the snow towards him with such open concern on his face broke something inside Harry. His knees gave out just as Ron reached him and pulled him into a hug, supporting his weight. The cat patronus shimmered in his peripheral vision, and Ron said something to it, but Harry just tightly shut his eyes and sobbed into Ron’s shoulder. Ron held him tight, one hand on the back of his neck, and Harry let out choking, painful sounds as he realised how empty that touch felt, now that he had known so much more.

Chapter Text

Ron Weasley

Ron closed the door quietly behind him. Harry had finally fallen asleep. With a heavy heart, he turned around.

“How bad is it?” he asked.

“I haven’t felt someone is so much pain since the battle, and the first few weeks after Fred died.”

Ron shuddered. McGonagall’s message had been short, only saying that Harry was probably coming, and that he would be very upset. Harry himself hadn’t told him what had happened, but Ron wasn’t an idiot. Something bad had happened with Malfoy. He’d known it was coming, as much as he’d hoped he was wrong.

“Can you help him?” he asked.

“No. If what you told me is true, then he’ll notice the second I use empathy on him,” came the reply. “Maybe after a few days, when he’s calmed down a little, I can help him stay calm. I think I can safely build on something that’s already there without him noticing, but right now he’s a mess, there’s nothing good there at all. The moment I try to dull his emotions, he’ll know.”

“Bloody hell!” Ron hissed. “I don’t know what to do here. He didn’t tell me what happened, but I have no doubt they did something stupid with Malfoy’s empathy.”

Ron kicked the wall, and a moment later his rage was seeping away.

“Stop that!” he snapped. “I have a right to be angry right now.”

“You don’t think clearly when you’re angry, and you need a clear head right now.”

Ron sighed, and nodded. It was true that he was a bit of a hot head. He needed his wits about him for Harry.

“What do I do? I thought you might be able to help, but if you can’t use empathy on him without him realising, then you can’t. I won’t risk you, as much as I want to help him feel better.”

Ron smiled as he suddenly felt warmer, his own affection rising in a way that was very telling. He crossed the room and was enveloped in a warm hug. Closing his eyes, he let himself be relaxed further.

“Just be there for him. Try to get him to talk, but back down if he doesn’t want to. I know it’s hard. After reading your letter I wanted to come and help right away. But being near Malfoy is dangerous, Harry as well, if they realise he knows. If Harry is this upset, I can’t imagine how Malfoy must be feeling.”

“How do you know the prat wasn’t the one who messed things up?” Ron asked.

There were a few moments of silence, and Ron was almost tempted to ask again, but he knew what was happening, and wasn’t about to interrupt.

“He feels guilt,” came the soft reply. “There’s so much of it. Whatever happened, he thinks it was his fault, whether it was or wasn’t. He’s also scared, a little angry. It’s all a big mess inside him.”

“Were you okay, when he arrived?”

“No, but I am now.”

“I’m sorry,” Ron said. 

“I know, and it’s okay. I’ll let you know if I feel anything from him that might help you talk to him.”

“Being his friend sure isn’t easy,” Ron replied with a sigh. “But he’s family, he’d do the same for me. I just wish he didn’t make it so hard to take care of him.”

“He loves you, Ron,” came the gentle reply. “He loves all of us, deeply. He has for a very long time. He doesn’t say it, but he feels it.”

Ron sighed, and nodded. “I know.”

 

 

Harry Potter

If Molly was surprised to see Harry the next morning, she didn’t show it, and a plate of food was pushed into his hands the second he entered the kitchen with Ron. His stomach rolled rebelliously, but he plastered a smile onto his face, and took a seat next to Ginny. The conversation in the room continued on uninterrupted, and Harry wondered briefly if that was what real family was. That he could just show up out of nowhere, be welcomed in, and given time to heal from whatever new hurts he had accumulated, with no questions asked. He liked it.

“Shove over, Gin’,” Ron suddenly said, trying to sit next to Harry.

Ginny fixed him with a withering stare, and defiantly took a very slow sip of her coffee, not moving even a little. Ron scowled at her for several moments, more and more red creeping onto his face from annoyance, before finally taking a seat opposite Harry instead. Harry grinned, loving the way Ginny expertly handled her brothers. They doted on her, and she used it to her full advantage when necessary. 

To be sleepy and in need of food was a serious business in the Weasley household, and Ginny was sitting closest to both the coffee pot and the teapot. Once Ron was seated, he gave the teapot a pointed look, while Ginny just continued to stare waspishly at him. Only when he had broken down and made ‘grabby’ hands in the air, did she relent and push it over to him. Harry smiled at this, Ginny and Ron had their own sort of dynamic due to their closeness in age. Half the time it made no sense, and was contradictory, but it was amusing to witness nonetheless. 

It made for a good distraction, but just not good enough.

Sighing, he pushed his food around his plate, until Ron suddenly kicked his shins and gave him a dark look. Obediently, Harry ate some eggs. He supposed he should feel embarrassed by the way he had cried last night. But somehow, Ron had made him feel as if it was to be expected, and therefore completely acceptable. He had just taken him upstairs, and set up the spare bed in his room. Although, they had instead sat on Ron’s bed for most of the night, Harry clinging to Ron and sobbing uncontrollably. Even though he knew that he was simply overwhelmed from everything he had been through in the day before he had shown up, he was surprised at the intensity of his own distress. But he was immensely glad Ron hadn’t prompted him to talk, and instead had just allowed him to get it out of his system.

It seemed all the Weasley’s were home for Christmas, even Bill, Percy, and Charlie, who was engaged in some sort of non-verbal conversation with George, conducted via eyebrows. Harry watched them for a moment, feeling oddly hypnotized, until Ginny elbowed him and shoved toast in his face. Raising his arms to fend her off, he almost fell out of his chair. She only smiled smugly at him as he sullenly munched on his toast. Ron was sending her an approving look as he wolfed down his own breakfast with an enthusiasm that made Harry a little nauseated. 

“I’m glad you’re here, Harry,” Percy said, ignoring the dark look Ron sent him the moment he opened his mouth. “I’d love to talk to you about your seat on the Wizengamot.”

“I rejected that,” Harry said awkwardly.

Percy waved his hand. “Of course, but I thought you might like to hear a little more about what it means, just so you really know what you’re giving up. I asked the Minister, and he let slip that no one briefed you before the offer.”

“I was meant to be briefed?” he asked with a frown.

“Yes. In fact, you were supposed to be interviewed and assessed,” Percy said, looking a tad irritated. “Of course, so soon after the war, proper procedure was second to getting the right people in the right positions, but it was negligent of them not to give you more information!”

“Leave him alone, Perce,” Ron said. “He doesn’t want it.”

Percy scowled at Ron. “I only want to give him all the information so he can make an informed decision,” he replied in a snobbish tone.

Harry chewed on a mouthful of toast as Ron and Percy started to argue about the Ministry. Even though he had initially turned down the offer without a second thought, he had listened when Susan and the others had told him the reasons why he should have accepted. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to at least hear Percy out.

“Sure, Percy,” he said, cutting in as Ron took a breath between insults. “I don’t think I’ll change my mind, but it can’t hurt to hear everything.”

Percy beamed at him, before making the mistake of commenting to Ron, and starting their argument all over again. Harry rolled his eyes at them, although he was glad. Everything seemed so normal, it was easier to push everything that had happened with Malfoy to the back of his mind and relax just a little. As Molly walked past, she slid two sausages onto his plate and ruffled his hair. Ginny pushed a cup of juice towards him, and looked pointedly at his plate. Looking around the table, Harry scowled at them for the way they were forcing food on him.

 

 

 

Later, Ron and Harry were sitting in the living room when Ginny marched through, dragging Dean behind her. She had mentioned he was visiting later that day, giving Harry a glare that he hadn’t understood at the time. 

“Harry,” she said, shortly. “Tell Dean you don’t care that we’re dating!”

Harry blinked stupidly at her. Dean gave him an apologetic look. “He won’t come for Christmas, or visit anymore over the holiday now that you’re here because he’s worried about hurting your feelings,” Ginny continued, ignoring the way Dean tugged meekly at her arm, looking embarrassed. 

“Ginny and I broke up ages ago,” Harry said, a little uncomfortable with the intense stare Ginny was giving him. It said, in no uncertain terms, that he should cooperate. “No feelings there, mate, so have at it.”

“Oi!” Ron yelped, giving Harry’s shoulder a playful shove. “Don’t talk about Gin like that!”

“See!” Ginny said, ignoring Ron and turning to Dean. “He’s like another brother now, he’s even on the clock!”

Harry jerked his head around in surprise. Sure enough, there was a hand on their clock for him, hovering over ‘home’. Something warm blossomed in his chest at the sight. 

“Didn’t I tell you about that?” Ron asked, eyeing him cautiously, as if expecting him to start crying again.

“No, Ron,” Harry said. “No, you did not.”

For a moment, he was insanely happy that the Weasleys considered him family enough that their house was his home, even if he lived elsewhere. But a moment later he recognised that warm feeling that was bursting in his chest. He’d felt that before, from Draco. Immediately it was like someone had dumped a bucket of icy water over him. If this was how he felt about having a home, what did it mean that he had felt that same emotion from Draco when he had stopped hiding his feelings from Harry? Why was he hiding it? If it was just that he felt at home at Hogwarts, then what was the problem? Or was it about Harry? Surely he couldn’t have come to care for Harry so deeply, so fast.

“Dean, go put the kettle on, yeah?” Ginny suddenly said, kneeling in front of Harry.

Harry sighed as he realised he was showing too much on his face.

“Are you alright?” Ginny asked him quietly. “I didn’t mean to make things awkward with Dean.”

Harry dragged a hand over his face, annoyed that Ron was leaving him to deal with this on his own by studiously observing the knitting needles clacking away in the corner. 

“Yeah, this has nothing to do with you and Dean,” Harry said. “I’m just…there’s…other stuff I’m working through.”

Ginny eyed him speculatively. “If a girl is giving you grief, you better give me her name,” she said darkly. “I’ll sort her out!”

Horror swept through Harry at the idea. “No thanks, I’m fine,” he said quickly.

“You know you have no reason to be insecure, right?” Ginny said. “Just because we figured out we’re more like friends doesn’t mean you were bad in bed. Don’t let that hold you back from dating. I’ve said it before, you’re a fantastic shag.”

Ron made a choking sound next to Harry, who flushed. All at once he was taken back to the common room and the way Draco had claimed to be intoxicated by Harry. For the first time, he thought about how that might work, that Draco may be already aroused himself by their intimacy, only to also feel Harry’s arousal. Would it blend together and increase in intensity? Or would it feel different, like he was two people at once? If he had become overwhelmed by just kissing, what did that say about his experience? Maybe he really was just as confused and lost as Harry, who had then abandoned him. Harry felt like he’d been dunked in icy water.

“Sod off, Ginny,” Ron snapped. “No one wants to hear this.”

“I recognise that look,” Ginny suddenly said, leaning closer to look Harry in the eye. “So that’s why you changed your mind about staying over the holiday! You’ve gone and shagged someone you shouldn’t have, and now you’re all worried. You’re hiding!”

Ron made a strangled sound. “Leave him alone,” he said sharply.

Ginny suddenly wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Oh, Merlin, please tell me you didn’t shag Ron!” she said. “Is that why Hermione broke it off?”

Harry only had a few moments to be thoroughly repulsed by the idea before fixating on her latter words. “Wait, what’s this about Hermione?”

Ron flushed red. “I was going to tell you, mate,” he said, looking uncomfortable. “But you were so upset last night I didn’t want to make you feel worse.”

“Oh, gross,” Ginny continued. “You are, aren’t you! Merlin, Harry! Not my brother! That’s weird!”

“Sod off,” he snapped at her. “What is it with you two trying to guess who I’m shagging? You’re both terrible at it!”

Harry only realised how poorly he’d worded that a few seconds before Ron did, and winced.

“Oh, Harry,” he said. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t,” he said quickly, cursing the way he felt his face heat up. 

“Oh, mate,” Ron said, looking wrecked, obviously thinking of the way he’d shown up crying in the night. “Why didn’t you say?”

“We didn’t!” Harry insisted, although he had to wonder if it would have even made things worse in the end. He didn’t really think that was possible. “That would only make everything more complicated!”

“Wait, what’s this?” Ginny suddenly asked, eyeing him with interest.

“Out!” Ron said, turning to her. “You don’t need to hear this.”

“But I want to hear this! Who is Harry shagging?”

“Out!” Ron snapped. Ginny gave him an unimpressed look but did so, dragging Dean with her as she passed him walking back in with two mugs of tea. He shot Ron and Harry a confused look, but followed her back out.

“We didn’t!” Harry insisted again.

“You did something,” Ron said. “Whatever it was, clearly it didn’t go well for you to show up so upset. Did he hurt you? I’m getting murderous urges again, you better fill me in before I do something stupid.”

Harry gave Ron an exasperated look. Ron gave him a cheeky grin, which was obviously meant to ease some tension, but it was undermined by the serious glint in his eyes.

“Leaving was about something else,” he said, even though he wasn’t entirely sure it was the truth. Everything with Draco had just become so tangled together, it was hard to know what had really made him want to run away.

“But you did do something? Harry, you had to know that was a bad idea before he learns control,” Ron said, sounding strangely calm all of a sudden. 

“Can we not talk about this?” Harry asked glumly. “I left because I needed to clear my head and get some space. This isn’t helping.”

Ron looked torn, but ultimately nodded. “Alright, but I’m ready to listen whenever you need to talk, even though I don’t like the git.”

Harry nodded, giving him a grateful smile. Ron continued to surprise him when it came to Draco. “Now, what’s this about Hermione?” he asked.

Ron sighed and ran a hand over his face. “I don’t even know,” he said. “As soon as we left Hogwarts, she said she had somewhere she needed to be all holiday and just disappeared, but not before she said we weren’t working out and called it quits.”

“I knew she was distracted by something,” Harry said. “But I thought you two were okay.”

“So did I, mate, so did I,” Ron replied. “Look, I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Harry grinned. “We’re going to be fun for Christmas,” he said. “You got dumped and I…well, it’s so complicated I can’t even talk about it.”

“At least we still have each other,” Ron said throwing an arm over his shoulder with a cheeky, mischievous grin. “Can’t believe Gin thought I’d want your sorry arse though, what a silly bint.”

Harry sniggered. The idea was ludicrous.

“I reckon you’d go for Charlie,” Ron said thoughtfully, “if you were going to go for a bloke other than that git that we’re not talking about. You two got on well over summer, and he works with dragons. You like danger, right?”

Harry scowled. “Sod off.”

“What’s wrong with Charlie?” Ron asked, trying and failing to hide his amusement. “He can wander dangerously close to nesting mothers, and you can do your hero thing. Sounds like your kind of foreplay.”

Harry picked up a cushion and walloped him with it. “Why does everyone think I’m into men all of a sudden?”

Ron gave him a pointed look. Harry flushed. “He doesn’t count.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “Why’s that? Seems pretty manly to me, shoving you against doors and whatnot.”

Harry grimaced. “It’s complicated.”

Ron gave him a penetrating stare, suddenly serious again. “Harry, if he can’t control what he does, then he can’t make you feel anything that isn’t real, not for longer than he’s touching you.”

Harry glanced to the side. That was a little on the nose. Ron was getting too good at reading him, now that he knew what Draco did. 

“I can never know for sure.”

“What happened?”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry insisted. 

Ron sighed. “Alright, mate,” he said. “When you’re ready.”

“How are you so okay with all this?” Harry asked, amazed by Ron’s composure.

“Honestly, mate?” Ron said, looking uncomfortable. “I was talking to my mind healer about how lost I felt after the war, and she said something that made me think of you. I suddenly realised that you would have it so much worse. Because for your whole life you’ve been defined by the role you had to play. So I figured only now, after he was dead, could you even hope to start to figure out who you really were, without him hanging over you. So I’m just trying to remember that you’re still figuring stuff out, and if I let my feelings get in the way, and act like a prat, it’ll only make it harder for you.”

Harry felt that same warmth in his chest at Ron’s words, and couldn’t help but wonder what he’d done to deserve such a friend.

“You’re right, I do feel lost after the war, maybe that’s why I got so involved with this, in the beginning at least,” Harry said. “There were other reasons, obviously, but also, it was just something to distract myself with because I don’t really know what to do anymore.”

Ron nodded. “I thought as much,” he said. “I won’t lie, I’m upset that you’re involved with something so dangerous, and with him of all people. But it’s your life, and a good friend lends support even when he doesn’t agree.”

“I’m glad you’re seeing a mind healer,” Harry said. “It seems good for you, you’re happier, but I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t tell me.”

Ron flushed red, and Harry knew he had been right about that. He knew he would have remembered Ron talking about it, if he had, after that first time. “We all have our problems to deal with,” he mumbled. “I went through some tough stuff while we were hunting the Horcruxes. I didn’t like some of the things I did. I just wanted to sort myself out, before worrying anyone.”

Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder. “Good for you, mate,” he said. “You should put yourself first more often.”

Ron gave him a lopsided grin in return. “Enough of this sappy nonsense, let’s see if Ginny and Dean want to play Quidditch, I think George and Charlie are around somewhere too.”

 

 

 

Christmas day was warm and bright in the Weasley household. For a time, Harry forgot all about the world outside this safe haven, which he supposed was very much the point of family. Ron was a little tense, waiting to see if Hermione would show up. Harry spiked his drink to loosen him up, although George kept nicking it, so it didn’t really work. At times, the holiday cheer died down, and Harry knew that they were all, as he was, thinking of Fred. It made him feel like he didn’t belong, but then Molly put an arm around him and he couldn’t help but be so grateful for being invited into their family like that.

It was late, and everyone was a little wobbly on their feet, when Hermione finally showed up. 

“Sorry,” she said, as Molly nearly knocked her over with an over enthusiastic hug. “I kept trying to get away, but I was so busy!”

Ron tensed beside Harry, but stayed where he was. Harry eyed him with concern. Eventually Hermione wandered over, and they shared an awkward hug while Harry watched. He swept his gaze over her, trying to gain some insight into where she had been, and why she wasn’t telling anyone. The way she held onto Ron for a little longer than would be platonic said she still clearly had feelings for him. Harry’s mood darkened. Whatever was going on with her didn’t seem quite right.

Harry looked away from them, and caught Ginny’s gaze. She looked at him as if he might know what was going on, but he shrugged at her. She looked exasperated as she turned back to Dean, who was looking much more comfortable than the last time he’d seen him. Harry was glad that he felt more comfortable, as awkward as it was for Ginny to force that conversation on them.  But seeing them together only made him think of Draco. 

Harry sighed and left the room. Taking to the stairs, he decided to retire early.

Once he got to Ron’s room however, he sat and stared out the window at the snow that was falling thickly. Without warning, his mind turned to Draco again, and his stomach churned with guilt. Malfoy had been quite firm about staying at Hogwarts, and quite upset by it, in that way where his impassive mask spoke volumes by its mere presence. Something about the idea of going home clearly upset him. How would he be fairing without Harry to balance him? It had been several days now since he had left. 

He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the cold glass. He didn’t even know if his help was better or worse than its absence anymore. But he ached to go back. He’d put on a strong face for Ron over the last few days, but he couldn’t ignore the emptiness he felt. Sometimes he wondered if Draco really had stolen a piece of his soul, and if it was waiting for him back at Hogwarts, calling to him.

 

 

Minerva McGonagall

Minerva hesitated before entering the eighth year common rooms. It was late, but she knew Draco was still awake. For many hours she had pondered what to do, as he was conspicuous by his absence from the Christmas feasting. She couldn’t help but feel responsible for Harry leaving. Although she didn’t know how, she was sure she could have handled the situation better. With a heavy sigh, she pushed the door open.

Draco was sitting by the fireplace, and looked very small. He glanced up at her entrance, and his face quickly cleared of emotion, but not before she saw a great sadness there, around his eyes. Crossing the room, she sat in the chair next to his.

“You were missed at the festivities, Draco,” she said, trying to ignore the way he flinched at the use of his given name. Perhaps she should have used it all along. Perhaps she should have done more for this sad and lonely boy, all these years.

“I’m unbalanced,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Minerva felt very old all of a sudden, and wished Albus or Severus were there to help. “I can contact Harry,” she said gently. “He would come.”

A wave of pain passed over his features. “No,” he said shortly. “I don’t think he would.”

“He’s had a shock, he just needs some time,” she continued. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Draco shook his head and looked into the fire. “I can’t stop you from putting me in that room, or forcing the potions on me. I’m well aware I have no rights,” he said, voice awash with pain. “But you should know, it won’t help.”

Minerva grimaced as sadness crashed over her. All that she had done to Draco, she had thought was for his own good, or for the good of the student population. It was an impossible situation, but she had thought any suffering caused by their treatment would be worth it so he could finish his schooling. Having made it through seven years in a cramped building with hundreds of emotional teenagers would work well for his defence in the struggles he would have ahead of him.

“I am sorry,” she said, “for all that we did. There is so much we don’t know, and you are such a powerful empath, well beyond those previously recorded.”

“I should never have let him help me,” came the soft reply. 

Minerva was startled to see him so honest with her. It spoke volumes on how he must be feeling, that he did not have the energy for deception. “Will you take a potion, and try to balance from myself or Poppy? We are both willing to try, to help you until he returns.”

“Don’t you understand?” Draco suddenly snapped, startling her. “He won’t help me anymore! We’re too dangerous, we push each other too far!”

Minerva put a hand on his shoulder as he ended with a sob. “You underestimate him.”

“You underestimate all that he feels,” he replied. “Even though I nearly died, we did make progress, but what if we need that danger to push me far enough to learn? I won’t risk hurting him, not when he has done so much for me, even as it has repulsed him to do so.”

Minerva frowned. “I can’t argue with you on the matter of what he feels,” she said carefully. “But I do know Harry very well. While he may have felt repulsed when you touched him, I very much doubt that you were the cause.”

“It hardly matters now,” Draco said, looking heartbroken. “We crossed a line we can’t ever come back from. Whatever applications I have for my empathy, they are stronger and more dangerous with him. I think I almost took a piece of his soul. I may have found a way to control bleeding emotion into him, that night, but I can’t ever hope to contain something so deep and dangerous as soul magic, if that is what that was.”

Minerva’s breath caught in her throat. How different things may have been if he had talked so openly at the beginning of the school year. It was too late now, the damage was done. She thought she knew Harry well enough to know he would come back, but days had passed with no sign of him. 

“What are you going to do? When term resumes,” she asked. “If you are right, and he does not help you, then you will be in a constant state of imbalance, like before, and a danger to all those around you. Even more so now that your power has grown.”

“I don’t know,” Draco said. “This is worse than when Severus died. Harry awoke a deeper power in me, and now it won’t go back to sleep.”

 

 

Jacinta Zeltan

Jacinta looked on smugly as Malfoy entered the hall for the first meal back after the holiday. Her interference with Potter had not had the intended effect, in fact it seemed to have had the opposite. But whatever had inspired their Saviour to help Malfoy had ended. It was gratifying to see Minerva enforce stricter measures on the boy. Heads turned as he walked by, his gloves conspicuous in the warm hall. Potter’s eyes followed him intently, but Malfoy didn’t so much as glance in his direction.

Curious. While she could admit she desperately wanted to know all that had transpired, she would take what victory that she could. Her interferences thus far had all been failures. She had thought, surely, that the incident with the seventh years would be sufficient for expulsion, but no, Minerva had seemed as soft as ever. But she couldn’t protect him forever. He had no rights, protected now only by Minerva and the Unspeakables’ desire to keep things quiet. Dragging a student, albeit an adult one, from the school was not quiet. 

She gripped the stem of her goblet tightly. She longed to force him from the school. Empaths were a dangerous breed fit only for the bowels of the Department of Mysteries. She would see him there, she just had to wait. 

 

 

Harry Potter

“Draco, wait!”

Draco whirled around and pinned Harry with a glare. “Don’t call me that!” he snapped. “It’s Malfoy to you, Potter!”

Harry’s heart clenched painfully in his chest. “Can we talk?” he asked, feeling concerned. He had been back at the castle for three days, and Malfoy had skilfully eluded him, even with the map. It was like he could sense Harry coming and joined the nearest crowd for protection. 

“There is nothing I care to discuss with you,” Draco sneered, turning to continue on through the dungeons.

Harry reached out and grabbed his arm, covered by those damn gloves. In an instant, Draco had spun around and pushed him into the wall. The breath was knocked from Harry and he found himself staring down a wand. Without thinking, he knocked it to the side.

“Seriously?” he asked. “How unbalanced are you right now? You need me!”

Draco sneered at him and stepped closer, dangerously closer. “That may be the case, Potter,” he said, spitting out the name like a curse. “But I do not want you.”

Disappointment rushed through Harry at those words but he fought to control his natural antagonistic response. He knew Draco would be very upset that he had walked away, but he had to try and make it right. He knew now that walking away had been a mistake. He had needed the time to think, but he could have done that at the castle. 

Helping Draco would always be dangerous, and even though the idea now horrified him, he had given his word. He would continue, even if it killed them both.

“I’m sorry that I left,” he said quietly, eyes scanning his face for any sign of the Draco he had come to know, rather than this old nemesis standing in his place. “I needed some time and space to think.”

“And you think you can just come back and everything will be as it was?” Draco asked. Suddenly his hand shot out to crush Harry’s throat. For a single moment, Harry was overwhelmed by the most profound sense of relief, before he registered that it was fabric against his neck, not skin, and disappointment crashed through him. He hated that Draco had started wearing gloves. “Should I strangle you next? Business as usual?”

Horror flooded through Harry, compounded by the fact that Draco could not feel it. They had been so close following that dangerous incident, they had been so open, and honest, and intimate with each other. It couldn’t have all disappeared in two weeks, could it? His eyes searched Draco’s face for some hint that this was a mask, that he was just hiding his pain behind anger. But he couldn’t read him. His instinctual response to Draco acting this way was to respond in kind, but the idea repulsed him now.

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he said. “I’m sorry that I promised you that I would stay, only to abandon you. I was overwhelmed by what happened.” He dropped his eyes to Draco’s lips. “By everything that happened.”

Draco’s grip loosened, and he too dropped his gaze. It was like they both suddenly realised they were standing too close. But there wasn’t enough skin contact, and Harry just ached to feel something from Draco. Before he knew what he was doing, he was leaning forward. Draco’s breath hitched. He pushed Harry back against the wall, only to follow him, moving close but still not touching him. His breath warmed Harry’s face and they stood for several seconds, mouths close, sharing air.

Harry had agonised over this. For days he had sat in the Burrow, trying to figure out how he felt and what he wanted. He had come to no conclusion. He could not begin to understand what he felt regarding Draco, and was starting to think he never would. All he knew was that he ached to be near him, to feel his emotions, to know that his were felt in return, and that his presence soothed Malfoy. At the same time, he shied away from that same notion, reminded of how he had nearly killed him without even realising.

He tried to move forward again, but Draco held him tight against the wall. He looked into Draco’s eyes, and wondered what he thought of this. He hadn’t left, which was promising, but he had not touched him either. It was all that kept Harry from reaching out and touching his face, the only skin exposed to him.

“Leaving was the best idea you have ever had, Harry,” Draco said, softly. “We will only destroy each other.”

There was pain and sadness evident in his voice that made Harry’s chest feel hollow and empty, as if it was carving a space for Draco’s emotions, just waiting to welcome him in. The feeling caused him to let out a pained sob.

“Touch me, please,” he begged.

Instantly he hated and regretted his words, and the desperation in his voice, but he couldn’t deny that he wanted it. Whenever they were apart he convinced himself that Draco was dangerous and they shouldn’t do this, but then they got close and it all vanished to become a yearning he couldn’t bear. He hated what Malfoy’s emotions did to him, but he couldn’t help but love the way they felt.

Draco’s eyes fluttered shut. “I almost don’t need to,” he said. “You’re seeping desperation into the air. It’s getting easier and easier to read you without touch.”

That should horrify him, Harry supposed, but instead it was like a bolt of heat hitting him low in his belly. He didn’t understand his reaction, nor did he understand any part of what he felt about Draco. No longer willing to wait, he reached out and pulled Draco down until their lips finally met. The influx of emotion was chaotic and dizzying. It almost overwhelmed him, but he kept his focus firmly on the feel of Draco’s lips and the searing heat of his mouth, to remind himself what was real. Draco shuddered, and removed his hand from Harry’s neck, but instead of pulling away he gripped Harry’s robes and pulled him closer. 

All Harry could think, as he was hit with wave after wave of intense emotions, so jumbled and raw that it was more like waves of burning heat or freezing cold, was that he had missed this. That emptiness he felt was gone, filled to the brim with all that Draco threw at him. But that heat, that glorious heat he had felt that night, when he’d nearly killed him, that feeling of coming home, was missing. Groaning, he turned them around and pressed Draco into the wall, leaning into him until he was one long hot line against him. He wanted more, he wanted fire.

Draco let out a desperate sound and pulled their mouths apart, leaning back against the wall and breathing heavily, his expression dazed. Harry moved to his neck, tugging down his high collar to find his pulse and mouth at it. Draco shuddered against him, tremors wracking his body. Warmth exploded through Harry, as if his desire had suddenly tripled, and his head spun from the feeling. 

Draco’s gloved hands clutched at him desperately. “Stop,” he breathed. “It’s too much, I can’t…please, stop.”

All at once the heat drained from Harry and he was left feeling cold and empty. Shuddering, he looked up to find Draco’s eyes shut tight, concentration and ecstasy warring over his face. He reached up, cupping Draco’s cheek to maintain contact. 

“Please, come back,” he moaned, desperation colouring his tone. He felt so empty without his emotions.

“I can’t,” Draco said, eyes still closed tight as if the sight of Harry would cause him to lose any control he had. “You’ve balanced me enough to stop me, if I stay focused.”

Frustration swept through Harry. While he was pleased to have balanced him, knowing it had been so cruel to leave him alone for almost two weeks, for the first time he wanted Draco to stay unbalanced. Malfoy was all hot, hard lines against him, but he wanted that heat within him. He wanted those hot, overwhelming emotions to burn through him like fire and chase away the cold.

Draco let out a moan suddenly, and pushed weakly at Harry. “Stop,” he said. “You’re too much.”

“Just focus,” Harry said, yearning for it so much it frightened him. “Open up to me, show me.”

Draco whimpered and pulled Harry back in, claiming his mouth as if he could force the feelings through that way. Harry pressed him back into the wall, hands sliding to his waist to find more skin while gloved hands pawed at his hair and neck as if he was unsure whether to pull Harry closer or push him away. 

Harry finally found the hem of Draco’s shirt and slid his hands under. Draco’s skin burned under his fingertips and he let out a deep, pleased sound. Draco shuddered again, but kept holding him tight. He moved from Harry’s mouth to his jaw and throat, stopping right where it sent the most blazing heat through Harry and tormenting the skin there.

“Please,” Harry gasped brokenly. “I feel so empty without you.”

Draco’s breath hitched, and he bit into Harry’s neck suddenly. Harry groaned as the warm, hot feelings suddenly flooded back in. Unlike the unbalanced mess earlier, this was all heat and light, and it burned through Harry just the way he craved. Still, he wanted more. He moved his hands out from under Draco’s shirt and gripped his head, pulling him back up and claiming his mouth again. Draco’s hands slid to his waist and pulled him tighter against him, dragging a groan from him as he pressed a leg between Harry’s. 

One hand still buried in Draco’s hair, he started tugging at his shirt with the other. Draco made another broken sound, and Harry started to feel himself slip beyond his own skin. Alarmed, he pulled back suddenly, separating them. The recoil as Draco’s emotions left him was dizzying, but much less severe than the night he had passed out. Breathing heavily, he leaned back in, placing his hands on the wall beside Draco’s head so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch. Draco stared at him through hooded eyes, expression dazed and aroused.

“Sorry,” he said, between breaths.

Harry shook his head. “Don’t be,” he said. Unable to help himself, he leaned in and kissed him softly, trying to calm himself so they didn’t overwhelm themselves again. He made a disappointed sound as Draco was now closed to him, and the kiss was just a kiss.

“Harry?”

Startled, they pulled apart. Harry felt his stomach lurch as he turned to see Hermione staring at him with wide eyes. Harry was suddenly, and violently reminded that they were in the middle of a dungeon corridor and anyone could have seen them. How could they have been so stupid?

“Hermione.” He had no idea what to say, and had to remember that she knew nothing, and this didn’t mean she had to know anything. As far as she was concerned, they were just two people having an intimate moment. 

He wished that certainty would stop him from shaking.

“Go,” he said, turning to Draco. “But come find me later, we still need to talk.”

Draco gave him a complicated look, but left quickly. Turning back to Hermione, Harry adjusted his robes slightly, and hoped he didn’t look as unsettled as he felt. Hermione just stared after Draco with a strange expression, somewhere between surprise and disgust. Unease coiled low in Harry’s belly. Ron had been so accepting, he had assumed Hermione would be the same, especially given the fact she knew nothing of Draco’s empathy, but it didn’t look like that was the case. After she’d witnessed the seventh years assaulting Draco outside breakfast she had seemed to overcome her hatred for him. Or perhaps, she had simply become better at hiding it.

“Look,” he started, then stopped again. He really didn’t know what to say, and suddenly wished Ron was there to make a stupid joke and ease the tension.

Hermione fixed him with a disappointed look that made him feel very small. “I have somewhere I need to be,” she said shortly, and promptly left in the opposite direction to Draco.

Harry stared after her. Suddenly, he wished he’d never gone looking for Draco. It always led to trouble. Shaking himself, he left to find Ron. He couldn’t let himself get too caught up in his thoughts, or he’d just go right back to where he and Draco were during the holiday. As he moved through the castle, he tried to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest that made itself known once again.

 

 

 

“So,” Harry said, sitting next to Ron by the fireplace, “have you seen Hermione in the last hour?”

Ron looked up at him and scowled. “She dumped me, remember?” he said waspishly. “I’m not exactly keen to be around her right now.”

Harry nodded sympathetically. “Well, she’s probably going to come and find you.”

“What did you do?” Ron asked, exasperation colouring his tone.

Harry winced. “Well, that’s not so important right now,” he said. “The point is, she doesn’t really know what it was she saw, so don’t enlighten her, please.”

Ron gave him a strange look, but before he could reply, the person in question stepped into the room and made a beeline for them.

“What on earth are you thinking?” she said to Harry, her voice shrill. Harry was glad that no one else was around. He did not want an audience for this. “Malfoy, of all people? There are witches throwing themselves at you, and you choose to snog Malfoy in the dungeons! Malfoy ?”

Ron turned to Harry and gave him the strangest look. He seemed determined to look horrified, but there was some pride seeping in around the edges, as if he was glad Harry was finally snogging someone.

“I see you finally cornered him,” he said, tone light, but also smug. “That’s one way to make him stop avoiding you.”

“You knew about this?” Hermione asked, shocked.

Ron shrugged. “Seriously, ‘Mione?” he said. “The way they’ve been staring at, and obsessing over each other for years, how are you surprised?”

“Hey!” Harry interjected.

Ron just shushed him, and continued. “Stop and forget it’s Malfoy for a moment,” he said. “You should be happy for Harry, if he’s found someone he likes.”

“Seriously, Ronald?” Hermione said, looking at him with a disappointed expression. “I thought you’d have more of an issue with this. Malfoy is the wrong sort of person for Harry! You and your bloody mind healing nonsense, you can’t just move on from all the bad stuff. It still happened!”

“Oi!” Harry interjected, before things could escalate. “First of all, I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thank you! And second, leave Ron alone. If seeing a mind healer helps him deal with all the crap we saw during the war, then he deserves our support!”

“He’s bad news, Harry!” she replied, angrily. “Think of how people will react. He was a Death Eater, never mind that he changed sides at the end like a coward. He’ll hurt you, it’s only a matter of time!”

“Then I’ll hurt him right back and we’ll be even,” Harry said, starting to get seriously annoyed. He didn’t know what was going on with her, but she didn’t seem like herself, she hadn’t all year. “What is wrong with you?”

Hermione didn’t reply, just stared at him with a furious expression. Ron was going red trying to hold in how angry he was, and while Harry appreciated the restraint, he really wished he’d just let it all out. 

“If you can’t accept my choices, then you can sod off!” Harry suddenly said without thinking. 

Hermione looked startled and hurt, but huffed and left the room. Harry stared after her, wishing that she’d stayed, even as he felt glad she had left.

“You were snogging Malfoy?” Ron suddenly said, the words bursting out of him in a rush. “Bloody hell, mate! I know I told you to sort out whatever caused you to run away during Christmas, but I meant with words!”

Harry sighed. He understood Ron not wanting to talk about whatever the hell had just happened with Hermione, but he didn’t much want to talk about snogging Draco. “It just sort of happened,” he said meekly.

“Are you alright?” Ron asked, picking up on his discomfort immediately. 

“Yeah,” Harry replied, grateful for the concern, even though he still didn’t really want to discuss it. “It was overwhelming, but nothing awful happened. I managed to pull away when it started getting dangerous.”

Ron let out a strangled sound. He was being great, but Harry could tell he still wasn’t happy it was Draco. Still, and especially after Hermione’s response, he was profoundly glad that he was friends with Ron.

“Was he okay?” Ron asked, hesitation colouring his tone, and looking like he really didn’t want to know the answer. Harry was surprised, but touched that he had asked at all.

“Yeah,” Harry replied. “He was really shaken for a while, though.”

“Of course he bloody was, poor sod probably didn’t know what to do with himself.”

Harry gave Ron a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”

“Seriously?” Ron asked, surprised. “Mate, you realise he has spent his whole life avoiding skin contact with people because he was a total git and people mostly hated him?”

Harry nodded.

“Well, when do you think he’s had the opportunity to snog anyone?” Ron continued. 

“Bloody hell,” Harry breathed.

Ron nodded at him. “Yeah, you might want to bear that in mind next time you think of trying to get in his pants.”

Harry flushed. “No wonder he was so overwhelmed!” he said. “I should have thought of that. Of course he was so upset I left at Christmas!”

“I knew it!” Ron said smugly. “I knew you had done something!”

Harry gave him an exasperated look. “You seem awfully okay with this.”

Ron shrugged. “Honestly? I want to skin the prat alive for all the times he’s hurt you, knowing how you felt while he did so, or for causing you to hurt him, knowing how much that hurt you,” he replied. “But you’ve chosen him, for whatever reason, and you’re a stubborn prat, so nothing I ever say or do will stop you going after him. Best to fall in line and help you not to make an arse of things.”

“Thanks, mate,” Harry said sarcastically.

 

 

 

Harry kept sneaking glances at Draco across the room. He’d tried to talk to him last night, but Malfoy hadn’t answered his door, even though Harry had known from the map that he was in there. He really hoped they weren’t moving backwards again. While he felt just as alarmed and anxious as he always did the day after they got themselves into a mess, his talk with Ron had helped him a lot. Knowing that Draco was probably a lot more lost and confused than him, helped tremendously. He really needed to corner him and apologise for pushing things along, he felt like an utter prat because of it.

Defence Against the Dark Arts was still Harry’s favourite subject, but he really had other things on his mind, so he was less than enthusiastic to learn they would be duelling. They were taken to a secluded room Harry had never been in, with a wide open centre and viewing galleries to each side. He was even less enthusiastic when Professor Zeltan paired him up with Draco. Harry really didn’t think duelling Malfoy would help with his plan to corner him. However, Draco gave him a goading smirk, and he promptly forgot all about how much he wanted to talk.

Duelling Draco was, oddly, like kissing him. It was fast and intense, and dangerous. It was intoxicating. Harry found himself responding instinctively as spells were cast his way, barely aware of what he was doing as they danced backwards and forwards. Almost immediately, Harry forgot they even had an audience. All he focused on was disarming Draco and wiping that smirk off his face. At some point, in sync, they both paused.

“Getting tired?” Draco taunted, even though he was breathing just as heavily as Harry. 

“You wish,” Harry sneered back, and then they were at it again.

At one point Harry laughed, a concussive spell blasting past his face, close enough that he felt it sizzle across his skin before it demolished the wall behind him. Duelling Draco was exhilarating. Malfoy seemed to be having just as much fun, as he dodged Harry’s spells gracefully and took advantage of his every opening. Even though Harry was sure Draco meant him no harm, he didn’t hold back. They were casting dangerous spells at each other, spells that would cause severe damage if they connected with their target. It was as if they knew, instinctively, that the other would be able to dodge it perfectly. There was trust in their duel, the trust that neither would falter and turn it from something fun and exhilarating into something serious and deadly. 

Finally, he left too much of an opening, and Draco disarmed him. Quickly, Harry tackled him, and wrestled his wand out of his hand. Their duel concluded with Harry holding Draco’s own wand in his face, and one hand resting gently on his neck to keep him down. Although if he were being honest, that was more because it was the most easily available skin to touch, and he was craving Draco’s empathy.

Excitement streaked through him at the idea that Draco could feel how exhilarated he was, and he yearned to know if Malfoy felt the same. He grinned down at him.

“You purebloods always forget that disarming doesn’t actually disable your opponent,” he said with a grin.

“Actually, I learned that lesson,” Draco replied, smirking, and Harry felt a prick of pain at his ribs. He looked down to see Draco holding a small knife against his chest, tip pressing just slightly too hard right where it would slide between the ribs to pierce the apex of his heart. He must have drawn it the second Harry had disarmed him, knowing what he would do.

He met Draco’s eyes again and grinned. It had been a while since he’d had so much fun. A second later, Harry felt more amusement and elation seep into him, and knew Draco felt the same. 

“You’re both disqualified,” Professor Zeltan suddenly said, snapping them out of their trance. “Physical contact is against the rules of a Wizarding Duel.”

Annoyed, Harry stood up, offering his hand and feeling disappointed when a gloved one took it. Still, he wasn’t about to let anything spoil the high he felt after duelling Draco. 

“Real life is quite different,” Harry said impetuously. “You’ll have to forgive us our instincts. During the war, observing the rules of duelling would have got us killed.”

The professor fixed Harry with a dark stare that made a shiver pass down his spine. Looking around, he saw the room was in shambles as the wards she had cast had not contained their spells, and the other students were huddled behind the support pillars of the galleries, staring at them in a mixture of awe and terror.

“Sorry, I guess we got a little carried away,” Harry said, wincing. “We didn’t hurt anyone, did we?”

“That was bloody awesome, mate!” Ron said, emerging from behind a pillar riddled with holes. 

“And yet entirely inappropriate for the classroom,” the professor cut in. “You were both casting dangerous spells, with no concern for your fellow students.”

“Then you probably shouldn’t have paired up Harry and Malfoy,” Dean said, also emerging from behind his pillar.

Harry eyed the professor suspiciously. If their duel had been so dangerous, why had she not stepped in and stopped them? 

“Potter, Malfoy, detention tonight,” she said, giving Dean a stern look as if daring him to comment. “You can repair the damage you have done. Class dismissed.”

As the students filed out, Hermione sent Harry a dark look. A chill passed through him. That display certainly hadn’t helped his cause. 

“Mate,” Ron said, sounding amused and a little alarmed. “That was intense! You looked about ready to start tearing each other’s clothes off at the end there!”

Harry scowled, and cuffed him over the back of the head. As the heat creeped onto his face, he realised now that Ron knew they’d snogged, he was never going to stop with the jokes.

“Good duel, Potter,” Draco said as they left the room, talking openly to him even though most of the students had lingered outside, presumably to see what would happen. 

Harry grinned at him, openly elated. “And the same to you, Malfoy,” he said. “Nice move with the knife, I wasn’t expecting that!”

Draco tilted his head to the side, and shrugged his shoulders, looking playful. “Well, you do have a habit of getting physical,” he said with a leer. “It pays to be prepared.”

Harry flushed and shot him a glare, while Ron made a choking sound, somehow sounding both amused, and disgusted.

Chapter Text

Harry winced as he neared Ron and Dean’s room. 

“You wouldn’t understand,” came the shrill voice of Hermione. “It’s not that simple!”

“Maybe you should tell me before making assumptions about how I’ll react!” Ron yelled in return.

Harry paused in front of the door, which was slightly ajar, wondering if he should come back later or listen in. Remembering how Ron had listened in on him and Draco once, he decided to stay. He was concerned with Hermione’s behaviour as well, and it would be good to finally have some clue about what was going on. He felt a little guilty but tried to ignore it. 

“Fine!” Hermione shrieked. “I’ve been offered a job in the Department of Mysteries as an Unspeakable!”

“Why the bloody hell would that make you break things off?” Ron asked, sounding utterly confused. Even though he had dramatically lowered his voice, it still carried easily through the door. For a moment, Harry felt bad, but then decided that if they hadn’t cast a privacy spell or closed the door properly, then it was their own fault he was listening. “If you still love me then what does your future job matter?” 

“I’ve already started doing preliminary research for them, and already it’s too hard! I don’t want to live the rest of my life unable to talk about my job!” Hermione replied, sounding upset. “It’d be easier to be alone!”

“’Mione,” Ron said softly. “You know I wouldn’t push you to talk about things you couldn’t talk about!”

“And then there’s that!” Hermione suddenly snapped. “Ever since you’ve been seeing that  mind healer, you’re a completely different person!”

“I like to think I’m a better person,” Ron said, and it hurt Harry to hear the pain in his voice.

“You were fine before you started going!”

“I abandoned you two at the worst possible time, just because I was paranoid and jealous and the Horcrux used it!” Ron snapped. “My insecurities about inadequacy and my jealousy were a problem that I needed to deal with! I can’t believe you’d rather I was still jealous of Harry. It made me resent him!”

“Well maybe Harry should see a mind healer if it’ll knock some sense into him,” Hermione said scathingly, switching topics. “How you could support the idea of him with  Malfoy is beyond me!”

“Merlin, ‘Mione,” Ron said, sounding shocked. “You used to tell us off for being mean to him!”

“Well, that was before the war!”

Harry suddenly stumbled back as Hermione stormed from the room, not even noticing him in her way. He stared numbly at her retreating back. 

“Oh, bloody hell, mate,” Ron said when he caught sight of him. “You didn’t need to hear any of that. How long were you standing there?”

“Since she mentioned the Department of Mysteries. Are you okay?” Harry asked, concerned. He walked into the room, and put a comforting hand on Ron’s shoulder. Ever since he’d become involved with Draco, he’d found it easier to express his need for physical comfort, and extend that same offer to others. Ron desperately looked like he needed the support.

Ron sighed, and shook his head. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. “Plenty of Unspeakables have families without issues. Why is she so determined to let it come between us? Unless it’s an excuse, and the other reasons are her real reasons. And I’d really rather not think about that, if that’s the case.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, not really sure what else to say. “I hope you know, even if she doesn’t, I fully support you seeing a mind healer if you feel that is what you need. I would have been your friend regardless, but I am glad you’re taking care of yourself.”

Ron sighed. “Thanks, mate,” he replied. “That means a lot. Let’s just let her simmer down a bit, and see if she changes her mind.”

Harry nodded, and pulled Ron into a hug. Ron tensed for a moment, then relaxed.

“Well, isn’t this cosy.”

“Sod off, Malfoy,” Ron snapped, not letting go of Harry. “Can’t you see we’re having a moment!”

Harry chuckled. “Don’t tease him, he just proved he can tie me in a duel, he could probably kick your arse.”

“Hey!” Ron pulled back, and gave him a playful shove. “You’re assuming I couldn’t kick both your arses!”

“I don’t know, Weasley,” Draco drawled. “My experience at the business end of your wand has been lacklustre so far. I do remember this one incident with slugs.”

Ron turned a deep shade of red, and scowled darkly at him. “Well then, we’ll have to duel sometime and correct that unfortunate history.”

“Do you need me, Draco?” Harry asked, before things could escalate. 

Draco shrugged, suddenly looking unsure of himself. “Not particularly.”

“Aww,” Ron gushed dramatically. “He just wants to spend time with you, how adorable!”

Draco flushed and glared at Ron. “Sod off, Weasley!”

Ron grinned at him smugly. “Well, you can both sod off,” he said. “This is my room, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Harry rolled his eyes at him. “Are you alright though?” he asked. “I can stay, we can play chess, or something?”

“Nah,” Ron said, waving him off. “It’s late, I’m going to turn in. You two have f-”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Harry interrupted, already walking away.

Ron scowled at his back. “Stay safe, wear gloves!”

Draco choked, and gave Ron an incredulous look. Harry scowled at his friend, and dragged Draco from the room before matters could escalate.

“How much does he know?” Draco asked “And I mean that for both things he was trying, inelegantly, to be subtle about!”

Harry pushed him along to his own room and shut the door behind him, casting privacy wards as he did so. He was surprised Draco was aware of that muggle colloquialism, but brushed it aside before he could start thinking why.

“He knows about the empathy, he knew what it was the whole time, but didn’t know for sure you had it until he overheard us talking once. He said a Weasley had it once, that it’s a pureblood thing,” Harry replied. “And the other thing he kind of guessed a while ago, and then Hermione confirmed it.”

Draco groaned and ran his hands through his hair. Harry watched the motion and wished he’d take the gloves off. 

“Bloody Weasleys!” Draco cursed. “They wouldn’t know proper empathy if knocked them on their arses!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I meant to ask, what did Granger say anyway?” Draco asked. “That wasn’t the best way for her to find out, though I had assumed you’d already told her.

Harry scowled at him, resolving to ask later about his criticism of the Weasleys. “She’s upset, and disappointed, but doesn’t know anything,” he said. “Ron helped with that, actually, you owe him.”

Draco settled a withering stare on him. “Not likely!

Harry sighed, he probably shouldn’t even try to do anything about that. “What you did today in class,” he said instead. “That was really awesome.”

Draco gave him a quizzical look. “You find me threatening you with a knife and landing us detention awesome?”

“No, not that,” Harry said. “Though that trick with the knife was wicked! You opened up just enough to send me a couple of emotions in a controlled way! That’s great progress, your control is amazing. I would have mentioned it during detention, but I swear she was just staring at me the whole time!”

Draco snorted. “Probably because she knows what I am, and is wondering how we didn’t kill each other when you touched me. Which was an incredibly stupid thing to do in a room full of people, by the way,” he replied, although the heated look he sent Harry’s way belied his words. “Ever since that night I finally let go and stopped trying to hide things, I seem to have an easier time focusing.”

“Oh,” Harry said, trying to sound amused, but horror was seeping into his tone anyway. “So all I need to do is strangle you to within an inch of your life every time you want to learn some new form of control?” 

“Harry,” Draco said softly, moving closer and reaching out. Harry grabbed his wrist before he could touch him.

“Don’t touch me with these on,” he said, voice tight with some dark emotion he didn’t care to identify.

Draco pulled his hand back, and stared at him for a few moments, before slowly pulling his glove off, one finger at a time. Heat immediately raced through Harry, at both the knowledge that Draco was going to touch him, and possibly use his empathy, but also at the look that Malfoy was giving him. Unfortunately, he was reminded of what Ron had said about Draco’s experience, and he forced himself to calm down. 

“Draco,” he started, hesitantly, “when you said, that time we first kissed, that I intoxicate you, what did you mean?”

Draco sent him a sharp look, seeming to understand him instantly. “You feel things intensely, Harry,” he said, moving closer while removing his other glove.  “Sometimes I find it hard not to be so completely overwhelmed by it that I forget it’s coming from you, and not myself. But it doesn’t make me do anything I don’t want to, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure he believed that. If Draco’s emotions could cause Harry to become excessively violent without even being aware of what he was doing, then surely Harry’s emotions could similarly affect the Slytherin.

“If I push you too far, you have to stop me,” he said. 

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you worry about yourself?” He stood close to Harry, looking down into his eyes, his gaze intense. “I’ve made you do awful things, Harry. I could still make you do awful things.”

Harry swallowed and tried to calm himself. Draco’s words should be upsetting him, but he was more distracted by his proximity, and the fact that his gloves were off. He could touch him at any moment, and fill that gaping void within him that was already making itself known all over again.

“And I’ve done awful things to you,” he replied. “I could still do awful things to you.”

Draco raised an arm, and brought his hand close to Harry’s face, but didn’t touch him yet. Harry’s breath hitched. How had he become so desperate for this? Even after all the horrible things that had happened since he was first exposed to Draco’s empathy, he wanted it so badly.

“You will,” Draco murmured. “Just as I will continue to make you. We can’t seem to stop.”

“If you tell me to stop, if I overwhelm you but I don’t back down,” Harry said, his whole body buzzing in anticipation of Draco touching him. But he had to say this, he had to be clear. This game of theirs was exhilarating, but it was dangerous. “Make me, just push me away, or curse me, or push fear into me.”

Draco smiled. “I like being overwhelmed by you.” He brushed his fingertips lightly down Harry’s face. At first, it was just a touch, but then Draco opened himself and the feelings came creeping into Harry. If he focused, he may have been able to tell what they were, but he chose to just feel them blindly instead. Heat raced through him, and that void in his chest filled to the brim again.

“Opening myself to you feels like coming home,” Draco murmured, leaning forward and resting his forehead against Harry’s. “You feel like home.”

Harry was suddenly hit with the realisation that they had crossed a line into something very serious. Finally, he understood what Minerva and Ron had been saying about Draco still being able to hurt him. It wasn’t about his ability at all. Although his empathy had pushed them closer together they could have possibly managed alone, the feelings they now had were real. They had to be. 

Harry had made himself vulnerable by caring for him, and that could be used against him at any moment. But he rather thought Draco was in more danger of that. Draco clearly cared for him, deeply. If Harry left him again, he suspected it would break him. Draco seemed to have forgiven him for Christmas, but he didn’t think he could forgive himself.

Struggling to find words to express this, he ran a hand through Draco’s hair instead. Maybe he didn’t need words, Draco could feel his every emotion. Surely he’d understand.

“You’re reaching out to me again,” Draco breathed. “It’s easier to control my own emotions now, but the soul magic is too strong. I don’t think I can control it.”

“You said that once about your emotions,” Harry said, trying to ignore how frightened he felt at the mention of soul magic.

“I’m sorry for scaring you,” Draco replied. “I don’t know how to control this, I don’t understand soul magic, it was never a problem until I opened myself to you. You shouldn’t even be reaching for me at all, and I shouldn’t be so desperate to let you.”

“Sometimes I wonder if you’ve already stolen a piece of my soul and every time you touch me it calls to me,” Harry murmured, leaning closer as the warmth of Draco’s affection coursed through him. “Even when we’re apart, even when I’m scared of what you make me feel, I want this.”

Draco let out a startled sound and surged forward. Their mouths met in a hot press, and Harry opened his to release a moan as the heat of Draco’s emotions intensified. Deepening their kiss, Draco pawed at his clothes until his hands found their way under his shirt and pressed hot against his skin. Harry longed to know what Draco felt from him. Did Harry’s emotions burn him like this? Like liquid fire coursing through his veins? 

Suddenly, Draco was pushing him, and they stumbled backwards until Harry’s back hit a wall and Draco was pressing his body tight against him. He slid a hand into Harry’s hair and pulled his head back, ending their kiss and mouthing at his neck until he found the spot that made Harry’s head spin. As heat coursed through him, his own and Draco’s, he suddenly realised what Draco was doing.

“You’re cheating,” he said breathlessly. 

Draco scraped his teeth over the skin he’d been sucking, making Harry shiver. “I’m letting you feel almost everything,” he whispered into Harry’s ear. “You can do the same if you focus on what I’m feeling.”

Draco left his neck and took his mouth again. His kisses were wild and deep, leaving Harry breathless and dizzy. Draco’s arousal was washing over him, combining with his own and he could barely tell the two feelings apart. It was all searing, overwhelming heat coursing through his veins. He clutched at him helplessly, desperate sounds escaping his throat as Draco slid a leg between his and pressed. The fire within him turned to erratic sparks, like electricity, arcing through him. Desperately, he fumbled with Draco’s shirt between them, as if more skin contact would intensify those bolts of heat and light passing through him. Draco let out a strangled moan as he ground against Harry, biting and tugging his lip as he pulled his head back. Moving back to Harry’s neck, he found another spot that made Harry’s legs weak and latched onto it. 

Barely able to think, Harry gripped his hips, slipping his hands under the waist of his pants to touch skin and hold on to something as they desperately moved against each other. Leaning his head back against the wall as Draco ground against him and teased his neck, he fought to stay conscious of himself. He didn’t think he’d ever been so aroused in his life. As much as he wanted to lose himself in this, he couldn’t forget there was still danger in what they did.

“Stop worrying,” Draco murmured against his skin. The hand he had resting on Harry’s hip tightened, and the nails scraped his skin as Draco tried to pull Harry tighter against him. “It’s distracting.”

Harry groaned and ground back against him. Releasing Draco’s hips, he gripped his hair and pulled him up until their mouths met again. Draco’s emotions were burning him up inside as his body burned him on the outside, and he felt as if he was drowning in the fire. Draco lowered his hands to Harry’s waist and started fumbling with his belt. Harry’s breath hitched as he suddenly felt something cool seeping through him, soothing the fire and feeling as though it was embracing him from the inside.

Draco ripped himself away from Harry so suddenly that he stumbled and fell. Eyes wide, he stared up at Harry. The look on his face was at odds with his appearance. His hair was ruffled, lips stained dark red and skin flushed. But his eyes held horror. 

Harry fell to his knees as Draco’s emotions were ripped violently away from him. The recoil left him trembling and feeling empty, light-headed from the loss. When the dizziness passed, his arousal was gone, and he was completely clear headed. 

For a moment neither moved.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked tentatively. He didn’t know what just happened but it didn’t feel like what usually scared them apart. Whatever emotion caused that cool soothing feeling had Draco severely rattled.

“Too much,” Draco said, sounding breathless. “Sorry.”

“What was that?” Harry asked, moving closer.

Draco scrambled backwards away from him and pulled himself to his feet. “Don’t!” he said, holding his arms out as if to ward him off.

Harry stopped and eyed him warily. “Talk to me, Draco.”

Draco shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “I need…I can’t…”

“Take a breath, calm down,” Harry said. 

Draco shuddered and turned for the door.

“No, don’t leave,” Harry said desperately. “Every time one of us runs away it’s like we have to start all over again!”

Draco turned and gave him a scared look. “I need to see McGonagall,” he said anxiously. 

Harry frowned..  “Draco, it’s late. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

Draco took a shuddering breath. “It can, but you can’t touch me again tonight.”

Harry hated that he felt sad hearing that. There was something going on here that he didn’t understand, and although all he wanted was to feel that heat again, Draco was terrified, so he had to force himself to calm down. Glancing around, he spied Draco’s gloves and picked them up. Feeling torn, he held them out to Draco, even though the idea that Draco may put them on and touch him with them made him uncomfortable. 

Draco stared at him for a while, as if he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Or maybe there was something else going on in his head. Harry had a hard time reading him even in a good situation. Once Draco decided he wanted his thoughts to be secret, he put up an impassive mask and was completely unreadable. Over the years, even when Harry had hated him, he had been envious of that ability, and always elated when he’d caused it to crumble.

Eventually, Draco nodded slightly to himself, and took the gloves, carefully avoiding skin contact. Almost with a sigh, he slipped them on. “It’s late, I should probably leave,” he said.

Harry reached out and placed a hand on his clothed shoulder. There was distance between them now that he did not like. While he respected the danger that Draco’s empathy still held when he became overwhelmed, he wished that they could be closer. Draco looked at him with a strange expression, before reaching out and brushing a gloved finger over his lips.

“If I stay, I’m going to be tempted to forget why kissing you is such a bad idea,” he said softly.

Heat simmered through Harry at the look in Draco’s eyes. The intensity between them was terrifying.

“Go then,” Harry said. “But try not to freak out about all this and avoid me tomorrow.”

Draco sent him an amused look. “Be sure to take your own advice,” he said. His tone was light and his expression amused, but his eyes had suddenly become cold and distant. Harry knew, with certainty, that Draco was recalling Christmas. 

Harry took Draco’s hand and gently ran his fingers over his palm and wrist. He longed to touch his skin, but he understood that Draco had shared an emotion that frightened him, and he had to respect that. The last time he had disregarded Draco’s emotional boundaries, he had nearly killed him. Even if it meant nothing, and the sensation was dulled by the fabric, he caressed Draco’s hand and wrist.

“I’m sorry I left,” he said, gently. “I won’t ever be able to apologise enough. But I came back, that has to count for something.”

Draco gave him an unreadable look before his eyes dropped from Harry’s face to his hand as it caressed him through his glove. 

“I can’t honestly say that it does, Harry,” he said softly, voice pained. “But I’m trying to move past it, I am. You don’t understand what it’s like, to rely on someone so much, and have them leave. Even if we never became intimate, you leaving me would ruin me.”

Harry felt a dull pain throb in his chest at Draco’s words. He tightened his grip slightly on his hand, but Draco did not look up. His first reaction was to defend himself, but he took a moment to think it over. Draco was right, and Harry knew it. He had known all along how much he was hurting Draco by leaving at Christmas, and had felt awful as a result. Draco’s dependency on him was frightening, it made him question their intimacy, but he couldn’t deny that he liked the idea that Draco needed him. It sickened him that he liked it, but he still did.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “We’ve already come too far. All we can do now is focus on control. I can’t imagine leaving again, but if you are prepared to handle your empathy on your own, it wouldn’t be as bad.”

Draco let out a breathy laugh and pulled his hand back. He gave Harry a sad look. “Oh, Harry,” he said, as he headed for the door. Harry didn’t try to stop him, reading the need for distance in his posture. “This is more than just empathy now.”

 

 

Minerva McGonagall

“You wished to see me, Draco?” Minerva asked, eying Draco with interest. 

She had seen the way he had avoided Harry when he had first returned, and had been saddened by the sight. Although, from the way Jacinta had been complaining, the two were close again after a stunningly dangerous duel. The Defence professor had been quite miffed when Minerva had expressed a wish to have seen the duel for herself, rather than being alarmed by it. If they had shared skin contact and nothing terrible had happened, then they didn’t need to worry for the moment. 

Whatever those two boys shared, it was dangerous and unpredictable, but it kept Draco balanced against all odds, so she would fight to protect it with everything she had. Although, given Draco’s demeanour, she was about to hear about another dangerous aspect of their relationship.

“I wanted to talk about the war,” Draco said, taking a seat opposite her. “More specifically, I wanted to ask about the Horcruxes.”

Minerva’s hand slipped as she poured the tea and it splashed over her desk. She hadn’t been aware that he had known of such things. She herself had only been made aware by Harry after the fact. Had they shared that much so soon? Perhaps the two were closer than she had suspected. Taking a few breaths, she cleared away the spilt tea, and poured again with a more steady hand. Draco accepted his cup with a nod, but didn’t say anything further, still awaiting her reply.

“As far as I am aware,” she began carefully. “Only so many people know that Voldemort used such artefacts. Did Harry tell you about them?”

Draco looked conflicted as he sipped his tea. While she was gratified that the damage she had done to him over the course of the year had not prevented him from seeking her out for help, she did wish he felt more comfortable with her. If he and Harry were as close as she now suspected, she wanted to be on good terms with him.

“You can ask me anything, Draco,” she said encouragingly. “I know we started off poorly, and there are many things I could have handled better. But I want you to know I am on your side, I always was.”

Draco gave her a sceptical look, but put his cup down. “Voldemort attempted to use me as a Horcrux,” he said. “He suspected my empathy could go that far, to manipulating souls and taking fragments of them into myself.”

Minerva’s heart seized in her chest. It was as if the world froze for that moment, and she felt nothing. Then it all came back and she felt a deep and penetrating sadness. That anyone, least of all a young boy, should be exposed to the evils of Voldemort’s soul was unimaginable.

“My dear boy,” she uttered, shocked. “I am so sorry for all that you have experienced. We should have done better by you, all of us.”

Draco looked to the side. “I didn’t give anyone the opportunity,” he said in a show of great maturity. “I need to know about Harry, as a Horcrux.”

Again, the breath was knocked from Minerva’s chest and her heart seemed to stutter, much like it had when Harry had first told her this. “You know that too? Did he know?” she asked, horrified to hear the answer.

“No,” Draco replied. “He was unaware. Severus was the one who told me.”

A familiar pain settled deep in her chest at the thought of Severus. His death saddened her greatly, more so because they had not reconciled before the end. 

“What is it you need to know? I’m afraid Harry knows more than I. But I imagine if you are here, then he is unwilling to talk, or you are unwilling to ask.”

“The latter,” Draco confirmed. “I wanted to know, did anyone analyse the status of his soul, after he came back from death?”

Dread crept into her senses. She did not like the direction this conversation was taking. “No, I don’t believe we did. He seemed perfectly healthy, and didn’t want anyone to fuss over him,” she replied. “Can you really use soul magic? You sound more sure than you did over Christmas. Has something given you cause for alarm?”

The strength of Draco’s empathy was unprecedented, at least by modern standards. It was partly why the Department of Mysteries was so desperate to acquire him. No doubt they suspected he possessed soul magic, and wanted to study it through him. She had hoped he was wrong when he said he had felt as if he were taking Harry’s soul. The idea was too terrible to contemplate.

“I’m not entirely sure of anything. Though I do believe I can sense the soul, even if I cannot manipulate it,” Draco said, leaning forward in his seat and frowning. “The night he strangled me, and on one other occasion, I felt a strange sensation, as if his soul was trying to leave his body. I don’t know what to make of it. I know this must terrify you, and you may wish to keep him from me as a result, but I have no one else to turn to.”

Minerva wished dearly for something stronger than tea. What a situation she had found herself in. Draco seemed to understand that Harry came first, that he would always come first. But she also wished to protect Draco. Torn between these, she hoped whatever they would conclude from this conversation would not require her to choose. In reality, there was no choice, it was always going to be Harry.

“Do you think that, because he died, his soul is still trying to move on?” she asked, feeling suddenly very cold at the idea.

Draco shook his head. “No, he feels completely alive, with no lingering darkness that I would expect from having had a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul inside him,” he replied, frowning. “Quite often, when we share emotions for an extended period of time, and particularly when I open myself to him, it feels like he is reaching for me, I can’t explain it better than that.”

“You can do that now?” she asked suddenly. “Intentionally? You weren’t sure around Christmas.”

“Yes, my control is not perfect, but I can halt the flow of emotions from myself now, and open up when I desire to do so,” he replied, a faint trace of pride in his tone. “It is when I intentionally open myself to him that I feel him reaching for me the most. At times it is so hard to resist, I’m afraid that if it is his soul, and I am capable of manipulating it, that I may damage it.”

Minerva leaned back and took a few breaths. While she was gratified Harry was indeed helping Draco, she was horrified by the danger it put him in.

“There’s more,” Draco said, looking uncomfortable. 

Minerva closed her eyes for a second. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear more. After taking a few more calming breaths, she opened her eyes and nodded for him to continue.

With every word that he spoke, she felt her heart sink deeper and deeper. With a shaking hand, she opened her top desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Ogden’s Finest. As she poured a measure into her tea, her hand was shaking so badly it kept hitting the cup and make tinkling sounds that carried through the room. Draco watched her silently, his eyes sad. When she offered the bottle to him he looked torn but ultimately refused. Taking a large mouthful, she let the burn wake her up somewhat. When Draco had wanted to speak with her, she had known it would be difficult. She had not expected that.

Minerva closed her eyes. She was not prepared for something of that magnitude. 

 

 

Harry Potter

“How much do you really know about this empathy thing?” Harry said, after he had dragged Ron outside following their last class. He’d been jittery and anxious all day. Draco wasn’t avoiding him, but he wasn’t talking either. 

“Trouble in paradise?” Ron asked cheekily.

“I’m serious, Ron,” Harry said. “Draco doesn’t seem to know as much as he should, or he is still keeping things from me. He’s starting to talk about soul-magic, and it’s scaring me.”

All at once, Ron’s demeanour changed. He went from being relaxed and cheerful, to tense and alarmed. The sudden change left Harry reeling for a moment.

“His empathy is that strong?” Ron asked, his tone tight and serious. “What’s happened? Has he taken part of your soul?”

“So it is possible?” Harry asked, feeling numb. He had taken Draco seriously at the time, but he had been sceptical in his own thoughts later on. Draco could barely control his empathy, and surely he couldn’t accidentally manipulate souls.

“It’s been theorised,” Ron said. “Although, the last time there was an empath reportedly strong enough to play around with souls was so long ago that no one really believes it. Most of the time an empath can only feel others’ emotions by proximity or touch, and sometimes it’s reciprocal. Malfoy was already looking to be a lot more powerful than any empath in recent years. If he can manipulate souls that makes him bloody dangerous, mate!”

“How do you know all this?” Harry asked, mind buzzing from the information. He’d never considered Draco to be powerful, he’d just assumed all empaths were the same. “I haven’t been able to find any information on empaths at all.”

It was true, once Draco had given the ability a name, he had scoured the library. So far, he’d only found vague references to the theoretical possibility of empaths, but no concrete evidence.

“The Ministry regulates information on them,” Ron answered, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “Only the family lines that have had empaths know anything about them, and keep their own secret records. Like I said, there have been one or two Weasley empaths over the last hundred or so years. Mum told us all about it for when we have kids, so we can recognise it if we need to.”

Harry really didn’t like the sound of Ministry regulation, it sent a chill through him. 

“Mate, please tell me he hasn’t been messing around with your soul,” Ron said before Harry could ask about the Ministry. “That’s dangerous!”

“No,” Harry replied quickly. “At least, I don’t think so.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked darkly. “If you’re mentioning it, then you must know.”

“Once or twice I’ve felt weird and he’s said it felt like he was pulling my soul into him, I’m not aware of much when it happens,” Harry replied, feeling more and more disturbed. “The first time was really bad, I almost killed him. The second time I pulled away as soon as I felt like I was leaving my body.”

Ron suddenly reached out and grabbed his shoulders in a tight grip. “You need to stop, Harry,” he said, urgently. “Soul manipulation is dangerous. He could take part of your soul and do Merlin knows what with it. You need to walk away, now !”

“It’s too late to stop,” Harry replied desperately. “I’m in too deep already.”

“What do you mean?” Ron asked, looking more and more disturbed. “Tell me exactly what you mean.”

“I can’t describe it! It’s like I feel empty all the time, and only when he’s sharing his emotions with me do I come even close to feeling whole again,” Harry said, trying desperately to put into words and becoming horrified by it when he did. Thinking about it and saying it were two very different experiences. “I want him every moment I’m away from him, even when I’m terrified of what he can do to me, and what I’ve done to him, I still want him.”

Ron let him go and stumbled back a few steps, running his hands through his hair. His breathing was unsteady and he looked torn between anger and fear.

“Has he done it already?” Harry asked desperately. “Has he already taken part of my soul? Is that what this is?”

Ron let out a shaky breath and shook his head. “No, if he’d done that you probably wouldn’t be wanting him all the time because part of you would already be there with him,” he said, sounding relieved but looked disturbed. “But, mate, it sounds like your soul is reaching out to him.”

“He’s said that to me,” Harry replied. “Several times. He says I’m always reaching for him. What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know, Harry,” Ron said. “I’m not an expert. Like I said, empaths with soul magic are basically unheard of. I’m only familiar with one-way empathy, not even the reciprocal kind Malfoy has. This sounds an awful lot like some kind of dependency, like an addiction. Like you’re becoming reliant on his empathy the more you’re exposed to it.”

“What do I do?” Harry asked. “I can’t walk away again, not just because of how much I want him, but because it would break him completely.”

“Merlin, Harry!” Ron suddenly said, exasperation lacing his tone. “You don’t bloody do things by half, do you? Voldemort’s gone so you find the next most dangerous bloody thing and go running towards it!”

Ron’s voice had risen to a yell, and Harry winced and moved back. It had been a while since he had been so angry at Harry. If Harry was honest with himself, he couldn’t really blame him. He had many conflicting feelings about what he and Draco were doing, and disgust was one of them. Life was meant to be calm and peaceful after Voldemort. While he had been hunting Horcruxes it had been all he could think of, the peace that was waiting for him at the end. When had peace become so boring? He was disgusted by himself and the way he craved the danger Draco posed. Then he felt bad for feeling disgusted. His feelings just went around in circles and he could barely understand them.

“What am I supposed to do about that?” he asked sadly. “I don’t know how to live without danger.”

All of the bluster left Ron, and he seemed to deflate immediately. “I’m sorry,” he said, wincing even as he said it. “I know it hasn’t been easy for you, and I know you didn’t really know what you were getting into. Maybe if I had known earlier what he was, I could have tried to stop this. But please tell me you realise how dangerous he is?”

Harry nodded, feeling numb. “I know he’s dangerous, worse, I know we’re dangerous together,” he said. “I know you don’t want to hear any of this, but I am attracted to him because of it. I know that’s wrong, but it’s the truth. We push each other and it’s scary, but also exciting.”

Ron sighed. “Mate, I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m really not,” he said. “It horrifies me to know you’re in such a dangerous situation, but then I’m also happy if it makes you happy. You don’t make it easy, being your friend.”

Harry pulled him into a hug, suddenly, and held on tight. “I don’t deserve you,” he said in a fit of emotional honesty that they didn’t often share.

“You deserve everything, Harry,” Ron replied, holding him back just as tightly.

 

 

 

For several days, Harry had noticed Minerva sending him concerned looks. It was starting to worry him. She never expressed anything when he was obviously looking, but as soon as she thought he was focused elsewhere, a profound sadness covered her face. It made him wonder if Draco had indeed spoken with her about whatever emotion had spooked him that night in his room. Or maybe, like Ron, Draco was starting to see the dependency between them and had mentioned that to her. He hadn’t said anything to Harry, although they hadn’t had much time alone since then.

By some miracle, they were okay. Neither pulled away, and they settled into a new dynamic. While they didn’t appear to have suddenly become friends over night, they stopped and greeted each other in the halls. Draco made snide, teasing comments at Harry again, similar to their early school days but with a light teasing tone, and a challenging glint in his eye. On many occasions, Draco had even amused Ron to the point of open laughter. Harry returned his teasing in kind, and the professors were becoming frustrated with their bickering.

Still, the bickering was a good distraction for the times Harry said or did something, unintentionally, that cause Draco to send him a dark, heated look that seemed to set him alight with arousal almost immediately. It should have alarmed him, the effect one look from Draco could have, but every heated glance reminded him of that night Draco had pressed him against the wall of his bedroom, and made him light-headed and weak with need.

“Mate,” Ron suddenly said from beside him. “Those are some serious bedroom eyes you’re giving Malfoy, tone it down a bit, yeah. People are starting to notice.”

Startled, Harry dropped Malfoy’s gaze and turned to his friend. Ron was giving him his patented ‘I’m amused, but also deadly serious’ expression and he flushed. Hermione, who was sitting in front of them, twisted in her seat and sent them both an incredulous look. The distance between them had lessened somewhat since her argument with Ron, but she had not yet reversed her decision to end her relationship with him.

“What?” Ron asked her, boldly staring her down. “Something to say?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. Ron had recently taken to openly goading her. Harry couldn’t tell if it was a tactic to annoy her into apologising or if he was genuinely so irritated by her that he couldn’t help expressing it. Huffing, she turned back around to work on her charm. Ron sent a hurt look at her back. Every time she refused to engage him, it upset him. But still he tried. Harry patted his arm in a comforting gesture.

“Only a matter of time,” he said quietly.

“I dunno, mate,” Ron replied, the mischievous glint returning to his eye. “She never looked at me like Malfoy looks at you.”

Harry flushed and his eyes darted back to Draco. He had decided to continue wearing gloves, even though he was no longer unbalanced, but he had taken them off for this class. They were working on concealment charms. Draco had succeeded very early into the practical portion of the class. He was just sitting there running his fingers over his invisible object. Harry couldn’t stop looking. They hadn’t touched in several days and he longed to have those hands on him again.

“Bloody hell, mate,” Ron said, giving him a gentle shove. “Never thought I’d say this, but focus on your bloody work, and stop looking like you want to shag the ferret.”

Ron’s words carried, and several people turned to look at him. Harry knew his face turned red as he quickly turned his eyes back to his desk. Sadly, not before he saw Draco smirk and wink at him. The prat.

“Sod off,” he muttered to Ron.

 

 

 

“Weasley really likes teasing you about me, doesn’t he?” Draco said, giving Harry an amused look as he sat down opposite him in the common room.

Harry scowled. “He’s a right prat about it, you have no idea.”

Draco smiled, but it was tense around the edges. Harry took in his appearance, worried he may have been bullied in the short space of time since he’d seen him at dinner. 

“You okay? You seem tense,” he said.

Draco looked around the room, noting the three other people that were trying, and failing to be subtle about watching them. Dean in particular had taken to watching them more closely and it made Harry wonder if he had overheard what was said while he had made tea for Ginny at the Burrow. The last thing he wanted was Ginny thinking all the jokes she heard about him and Draco were serious. While he was sure she’d be supportive, she was a Weasley, and there was no way she’d not make a fuss designed to embarrass him.

“Things have died down since we started talking outside of class,” Draco finally said. “Even though I insult you more often than not, people seem to think I’m under your protection or something and they’ve mostly backed off.”

Warmth surged through Harry and he didn’t even try to keep it from his face. While Draco never asked for help, there was no way he could do anything about the bullying without insulting his pride. It had left him in an uncomfortable position.

“That’s brilliant!” he said.

“Is it?” Draco asked, looking unsure. “How much do you want people to know? It’s still such an odd idea for people, that we could ever be friends. They are watching us very closely. With the jokes that Weasley makes, it’s only a matter of time before they learn something we may want to keep secret.”

Harry almost responded with something scathing, directed at such people, but stopped and took a moment. Draco looked only a little unsure, but there was a tenseness to his posture that spoke of how important this topic really was to him. With greater scrutiny came the chance that they would screw up and reveal his empathy. While Harry trusted in Draco’s new found control, aside from the strange new emotion that had frightened him so much, he could appreciate why such scrutiny would scare him. Still, he wasn’t in the habit of hiding away parts of his life.

Then again, he hadn’t really stopped to think through exactly what they were to each other. What they shared, the emotional connection, seemed so deep and complex, that the physical intimacy they had shared thus far just seemed to pale in comparison. Now that he took the time to think about it, really think about it, he struggled to define what they were to each other. Yes, they had kissed, and yes, they had shamelessly rutted against each other. And the brief moment he thought of it brought heat to his face. 

Did that mean they were dating? 

He had no idea, and he was afraid to ask. While he knew, intimately, how much Draco cared for him, having felt the warmth of those emotions, he did not know their name. 

It would be a mistake to assume anything, with regards to Draco’s feelings. The strength of what they shared was intense, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was love, or anything else stronger than fondness. What Harry felt from Draco could just as easily be lust, and only lust. He was not skilled at discerning the nature of the feelings he got from Draco, not the pleasant ones at least. He had no doubt that Draco understood all that he felt from Harry, it showed in what he said to him, and the way he had allowed Harry back into his life after he had left.

Did he even want to define them? Was it dangerous to do so? If they decided they were dating, and let themselves drown in even more intimacy, then they were probably setting themselves up for a very painful awakening. They had yet to discuss what would happen once school was over. Harry had avoided it because, even though he knew he cared deeply for Draco now, he was still not sure how that affection manifested. There was a desperate addiction that laced his every desire for Draco, and he felt that probably wasn’t healthy. Draco himself avoided all mention of life after Hogwarts, in a tense way that spoke of the knowledge of what was facing him, and that it was not pleasant.

“This is a conversation we have yet to have,” Harry finally said, after some consideration. 

Since Draco needed Harry, far more than Harry wanted him, he could not dictate the nature of their relationship, that was for Draco to do. Even though it irked him to cede control to Draco on this matter, it was the right thing to do.

“Indeed,” Draco replied, sweeping his eyes over Harry suddenly. 

While Harry was sure he was merely checking his posture and body language, as he himself had done to Draco, the intensity of his gaze caused a slow burn to pass through him. No doubt his arousal was obvious. Draco could light a fire in him with one look. It was mortifying, but also extremely arousing. He had never known this kind of attraction before. It was probably tied up in their constant battle of wills, the push and pull, the insistence on control, and the ceding of it when appropriate. Perhaps it was merely a product of his addiction to the way Draco made him feel. Or maybe he’d had the capacity to be attracted to Draco all along and had just needed a push. He didn’t know.

He didn’t want to know.

“I’m not in the habit of hiding who I am,” he said, lowering his voice slightly, mindful that they were not as alone as Draco’s gaze made him feel.

“I wish I could say the same,” Draco replied, leaning closer and also lowering his voice. “I’ve been hiding what I am, as best as I could, for so long. Anything that could reveal that frightens me immensely.”

Startled by his honesty, Harry almost reached out to touch him. From the way Draco’s eyes had darted to his hand, it was clear that he had read the intention in him. Could he do that? Could he touch Draco in public? The heat in Draco’s eyes told of how much he desired Harry’s touch, even now. But what would happen if he did? There were only three other people in the room, but one of them was Dean. He may have overheard suggestive comments about Harry’s sex life at the Burrow and, if so, would connect the dots very quickly.

Would Harry mind that? If people were to know that he and Draco were intimate? He honestly didn’t know. Everything was tied up in the complicated matter that was Draco’s empathy. What should have been a discussion about whether to be open about their, whatever it was, dalliance, or perhaps something more serious, turned instead into talk of risk and danger. Neither of them could afford Draco’s nature to come to light.

Then again, Harry thought, noticing that they were leaning towards each other even now, it would be an exciting position to place themselves in. To be so open with one aspect of their relationship, while always fearing the discovery of another. It would test Draco’s control, and probably cause him to improve it, yet again.

Deciding to see how Draco responded to the danger, he reached out and took his left hand. Fixing his eyes on Draco’s, he caressed the hand in his grip, as only a lover would. While it frustrated him that Draco was wearing gloves, the motion still excited him anyway. From the way Draco’s breath hitched and his eyes darkened, it excited him too. Part of him was surprised that Draco hadn’t pulled away. Perhaps his desire to be with Harry was outweighing his fear of discovery. While his gloves remained on, Harry would never know.

Still with his eyes locked on Draco’s, he slowly removed the glove, giving Draco ample time to resist. He did not. He merely kept his eyes on Harry’s, his pupils dilating with desire. It burned between them, almost tangible, and Harry could feel a stirring in his groin just from the anticipation of touching Draco’s skin, and all that he may share through that touch.

Once the glove was gone, Harry continued to caress Draco’s hand. Gently, he ran his fingers along and between every digit, lightly scratched across his palm, and stroked the inside of his wrist. Draco did not use his empathy to open himself to Harry, and even though it disappointed him, he also recognised a challenge. Draco would need Harry to push him to a higher form of passion, and cause him to, in retaliation, turn that passion back on Harry. Tingling with excitement, he knew just how to do it.

Still with his eyes locked on Draco’s face, as Draco had now drifted his gaze down to watch Harry caress his hand, he drew that hand to his mouth. Lightly, he laid kisses over Draco’s knuckles, nuzzled his palm, and latched on gently to his wrist. Draco’s breath stuttered again, and his face flushed. Nipping at his wrist, Harry grinned as he suddenly felt Draco open to him. The rush of arousal was dizzying, and he released a low, breathy moan against his will.

“Oi! Stop snogging Malfoy’s wrist and get a bloody room!”

Startled, Harry pulled back suddenly, just as Draco also snatched his hand back as if burned. Standing in the doorway to the common room was Ron, looking decidedly queasy. For a second, Harry was alarmed, before he looked more closely and saw the crinkles around Ron’s eyes that he was unable to hide. Ron was very amused. Once again, he marvelled at the way Ron could be so worried for him, and yet so supportive and laid back at the same time. Glancing around the room, he noticed three other pairs of eyes locked onto them. With a flush, he could tell from their expressions that they had noticed what he was doing long before Ron had entered the room.

He had completely forgotten their audience. 

“Sorry, mate,” he said sheepishly. “Got a bit carried away there.” 

Draco snorted inelegantly. He found Harry’s wrist with his left hand, and curled his fingers around it. With a mischievous smirk, he suddenly pushed white hot arousal at Harry through their connection. Eyes widening, Harry choked in his effort to prevent a moan from escaping him. Flushing deeply, he tried to subtly extricate his wrist, to no avail.

“Clearly,” Ron said, letting his amusement show. No doubt he was very aware of what Draco had just done, and approved of the way it embarrassed Harry. 

Maybe Ron being so supportive wasn’t a good thing, he thought waspishly. 

For a second the silence dragged on awkwardly, and Harry could still feel three pairs of eyes burning into his back, while Draco sent waves of heat his way. It took all his self-control not to let loose the desperate sound building his throat and just take .

“Well, this has been fun,” he said, standing. With a strong tug, he pulled his wrist from Draco’s grip, even though it left him bereft of that heat. Until they could be alone, he would just have to settle for his own arousal, and not the dizzying addition of Draco’s.

Ron snorted, and the look on his face spoke clearly of how many filthy comebacks he had for that statement. He moved to walk past him, but Ron grabbed his arm and pulled him closer.

“I bloody hope you know what you’re doing,” Ron hissed at him. Even though he was amused, he had clearly not forgotten their last conversation. “Be careful!”

Harry nodded and pulled away. When he reached the door leading to the dormitories, he glanced back at Draco. While he didn’t much care what Dean and the others thought of what an obvious statement it would be, he didn’t quite know what Draco thought of following him so openly. Indecision warred on Draco’s face before he finally stood and followed.

 

 

 

As Harry was about to walk past Draco’s room to his own, Draco grasped his arm suddenly and pulled them into his room. Harry guessed it was probably so he would have the advantage. He may be wrong, but they both often approached each other very aware of who had the upper hand. It probably wasn’t healthy. Then again, Harry was starting to think there was nothing healthy about them. Maybe that was a bad thing, or maybe it was just who they were, and what worked for them.

“That was quite the display,” Draco said as he threw up a privacy ward. “The rest of the school will know by tomorrow.”

“Is that alright?” Harry asked, moving closer to him and brushing his thumb over Draco’s cheek. Draco leaned into the motion before he seemed to realise what he was doing and pulled away. 

“Would you have stopped if I had wanted you to?” Draco asked, looking him right in the eye. He pressed two of his bare fingers to Harry’s exposed forearm. “Would you have hidden us if I wanted it?”

With a bolt of anger he couldn’t control, Harry wanted to pull away, but he didn’t. He could hardly blame Draco for wanting to be sure of his answer, in the best way that he could be. But it still irritated him. 

“Of course,” he replied honestly. “I may not be accustomed to hiding, but this isn’t about me. You are more at risk than I am if your empathy is discovered, so the decision is yours.”

Malfoy suddenly, and powerfully, opened himself to Harry. A shivering, warm feeling engulfed him. Harry didn’t know what it was, but from the look in Draco’s eyes, it may have been respect.

“You’re getting really good at that,” he said, shivering from the intensity, even as it was already fading into a low hum.

Draco smiled slowly, and widely, his face brightening from the expression. “I have you to thank for that,” he said, voice low. “Even though it damaged us both.”

Harry shivered and resisted the urge to pull away. He could still see those dark ugly bruises on pale skin and it frightened and disgusted him. No doubt Draco understood his feelings perfectly, especially the guilt. 

“You seem a lot better,” Harry suddenly said, to distract himself from the understanding, yet pained look that Draco was sending his way, and the corresponding feelings he felt course through him. “Did you speak to McGonagall about what frightened you?”

Draco tensed his hand as if he meant to pull away. When he did not, Harry expected to feel whatever emotion had sparked the desire, but felt nothing new. He raised an eyebrow. Draco’s control truly had become impressive if was able to hold something reactive back while already open.

“I did,” Draco replied shortly. “The matter was not resolved, but I feel better for having spoken of it.”

It was like a physical itch, the desire to know. But Draco had not offered the information, and was unlikely to answer him if he asked. Harry could not imagine what kind of emotion Draco would need to discuss with Minerva, but then maybe it hadn’t been about that emotion at all. Maybe Draco was just frightened by the loss of control, if an unexpected emotion had slipped through. Perhaps it was the dependency that Harry tried not to think about too often. 

Maybe Draco and Minerva had come to some kind of agreement while Harry was gone, like the gloves. It irked him that he wouldn’t know until Draco told him, but he was resolved to wait as patiently as possible. He would never forget the sight of Draco’s neck, covered in dark purple bruises, made by his hand. It was the image he was now struck with whenever he felt like pushing Draco. The consequences of pushing him too far would likely not always be the same, but what if they were? The idea that he may do that to him again made him feel sick to his stomach.

“What are we to each other?” he found himself asking, before he’d even thought of the question.

Draco looked startled.  “Harry, you must know by now that you are everything to me,” he said softly, pouring warmth and affection through their connection. “While I may feel your emotions, that does not guarantee I understand them. I don’t know what you truly feel for me. You care, I can feel that, but you also have other feelings which, at times, undermine that care.” 

Harry was shocked by his words. While it was true that he knew Draco needed him, and cared for him, he had not thought it so profound. There was no hint of denial in Draco’s tone. He had accepted how he felt for Harry, which only made Harry hurt deep down inside. 

The knowledge that he meant everything to Draco, even though he had nearly killed him, even though he pushed, and pushed him. That spoke of a dangerous word that he did not dare utter aloud. Whatever they were, they were too close, too intense. 

Draco was right, that he had complicated and contradictory feelings for him. They had become so close, so quickly, spurred on by Draco’s empathy, and Harry struggled to comprehend his intense attraction to Draco, an attraction that was both emotional and physical, with an intensity that frightened him. 

“It’s okay,” Draco murmured, drawing Harry from his thoughts. “I know you’re confused. I feel the way I feel even knowing your confusion.”

Harry reached out suddenly with his free hand, gently running his fingers over Draco’s face. With a touch so light, he may as well not have been touching him at all, he slid his fingers down the side of Draco’s neck. Draco shivered. Worried, Harry pulled back, but Draco grabbed his wrist with his gloved hand. 

Locking eyes with Harry, he lifted the hand back to his neck.

Harry’s heart stuttered in his chest and fear pulsed through his veins as Draco leaned his head back, baring his throat as he placed Harry’s hand on it. All at once a wave of warmth washed through him. 

“Do you feel that, Harry?” Draco said, murmuring his name like it was a prayer. “I trust you, even if you don’t trust yourself. Because you don’t trust yourself.”

Fire blazed through Harry, and for a moment, he thought it came from Draco, before he realised it was his own, rising up to scorch through him. Letting out a desperate sound he surged forward. Draco met him halfway, their mouths meeting in a desperate kiss. Gasping into Draco’s mouth, he gripped his hips and pulled him close. Arousal surged through him, and he could not tell whose it was. It didn’t matter, pressed together, he could feel that Draco was just as aroused at him, even though they had only been speaking. 

Draco let out a sound so low it was almost a purr as Harry pressed against him. His gloved hand clutched erratically against Harry’s shoulder, while his bare one had already found its way beneath his shirt to scratch at skin. Harry arced into his touch, overwhelmed by the dizzying combination of his own and Draco’s arousal coursing through him. How easy it was to fall into this with him. But still, he wanted more.

Drawing their mouths apart, he slid a hand into Draco’s hair, using it to pull his head back. Still with great care, unable to forget , he mouthed along Draco’s jaw and down his neck. Draco’s breath hitched and his hips stuttered. Whether it was from the feel of Harry’s mouth, or the feel of his emotions, Harry would never know. But the reaction sent a hot and frantic pulse through him. Groaning, he nipped and kissed and sucked on Draco’s neck, shuffling them backwards until Draco fell away from him and onto the bed. For a moment, Harry used the lack of contact to clear his head. The recoil as Draco was parted from him was only mild, so his arousal did not disappear from shock. Even if it had, the sight of Draco lying before him would have caused a resurgence.

Draco lay back, looking relaxed. His eyes were dark and locked on Harry’s, his lips swollen and parted to allow for heavy breaths. His neck was red where Harry had worried it and his posture was loose and trusting. The sight of him made Harry want to take and claim . It was a relief to see that he was still aroused without Draco’s empathy. Though he had known he wanted Draco without outside influence, it was still a relief to feel the proof. While he was clear headed, he reminded himself that Draco likely had no experience, that he had to remember he himself had no experience with men. It hardly seemed to matter. All that mattered was the heated way Draco was looking at him.

With a sound almost like a sigh, he moulded himself to Draco, claiming his mouth again in a deep heated kiss that Draco arced into. Draco’s arousal hit him like a concussive force, and for a few moments his mouth went slack, as all he could do was breathe through it. Draco seemed to understand, and they stayed like that, mouths open and so close, but just breathing each other until either Harry grew accustomed to the heat, or Draco mercifully dialled it back. 

As if he knew the moment Harry was ready, Draco was taking his mouth like he owned it. He was all fire and possessiveness, and it made Harry press him hard into the bed. A distressed and desperate sound came tearing out of Draco as their bodies realigned suddenly, perfectly. Draco grasped at Harry’s back, trying to pull him down harder. Harry obliged with a heavy roll of his hips, revelling in the way Draco moaned into his mouth, as a fresh jolt of arousal shot through him.

Draco suddenly pulled his head back, and turned to the side, gasping. “I need-”

Harry rolled his hips again, and Draco’s whole body twitched into it, a breathy moan interrupting his words.

“What?” Harry breathed, turning to the flawless stretch of neck Draco had bared to him. He didn’t think he had the restraint to stop, the waves of arousal building and crashing over him, stronger and stronger, doubled, rebounding between them. “What do you need?”

Draco didn’t answer, arching against him and clutching desperately at Harry’s back, sliding his hands under his shirt and scratching him with both clothed and unclothed nails. Harry shuddered, and bit down lightly on Draco’s neck. Draco shivered under him, and then suddenly that strange cool emotion came creeping into Harry’s awareness, like smoky tendrils, sinking deep into him and soothing the fire of their arousal. 

Draco shuddered, and gasped. “Stop! Get off me!”

Groaning from the effort, Harry rolled to the side. Shuddering through the sudden loss of Draco’s emotions, he stared at the ceiling, trying to bury his frustration. He wanted nothing more than to turn to Draco, and just force him to accept whatever emotion was frightening him so they could continue. But he had learnt his lesson the last time he had pushed Draco too far.

Draco released a pained and frustrated sound next to him, slamming clenched fists into the bed on either side of him. For a while, all was silent and still.

“It’s okay,” Harry said. His arousal had not died as expected, and he wanted nothing more than to beg Draco to touch him, but he held himself in check. He had to stop and remember that he didn’t know what Draco was feeling, he couldn’t assume anything.

“It’s not,” Draco replied, voice thick. “It’s really not!”

“Whatever that emotion was,” Harry said softly, refusing to look at Draco in case the heat was still too present in his eyes, and Draco might mistake it for insistence, “whatever it means to you, it’s okay. It didn’t feel bad, it was nice actually, soothing.”

Draco released a sob next to him, and Harry looked over in alarm to see that tears were slipping from behind his closed eyes. Alarmed, he stayed still, unsure what to do when he couldn’t touch and let his feelings speak for him.

“Draco?”

Draco opened his eyes and looked to the side to meet his eyes. There was a deep sadness in those grey depths, and Harry felt even more lost. Whatever that emotion was, it was tied to something that went too deep for Draco to push aside. 

“What if this is it for us? What if we always have to stop because I lose control?” Draco said, voice wavering weakly.

The urge to reach out was overwhelming and Harry clenched his fists into the bedclothes to stop himself. 

“That’s okay, Draco,” he murmured. “You are not just a body to me.”

Draco stared at him with such a vulnerable expression that it hurt Harry somewhere deep inside. Slowly, hesitantly, Draco got up to his knees. When Harry moved to follow, Draco placed a hand on his chest and held him down. Harry stared at the hand, it was gloved, and he still had his shirt on, but even through those layers it seemed to burn him. Still slowly, constantly looking at his and Harry’s bodies, Draco nudged a leg between Harry’s and lowered himself. 

Harry held his breath as he realised what Draco was doing. Arousal shot through him again, replacing what had faded. Draco settled against him and looked at him with wide, vulnerable eyes. It was all Harry could do not to reach out and touch him. 

Draco had the advantage, and reached out with his still-gloved hand. Running a finger down Harry’s face to rest on his lips, he gave Harry another fearful, vulnerable look.

“Is this okay?”

Some indiscernible emotion rose like a tidal wave in Harry, crashing through him. It felt terribly like that emotion he was too afraid to even think the name of. Unable to form words, he nodded breathlessly. Somehow, he was even more aroused than before. No one had shown him such trust as Draco had that night, first by placing Harry’s hand on his neck, and now, by fighting his fear to try and give them both the physical intimacy they craved. Harry was amazed that even through his shock, Draco had maintained his arousal, in fact, it almost seemed that he was firmer against him than before. 

Locking wide, vulnerable eyes onto Harry’s again, Draco gave a shallow, nervous roll of his hips. Harry clenched the bedclothes tighter in his fists. It was strange that Draco could look so vulnerable as he set a steady rhythm, moving against Harry with a surety he didn’t look like he had. Somehow, the idea made Harry’s mind spin. He’d never thought he could lie beneath someone and be so passive, and yet he was, and he was enjoying it. Some desperate primal part of his brain still wanted to roll them over and take , but another part made him gasp and arch beneath Draco like it was all he ever desired. 

Draco made a stuttering hiccup of a sound, his bare hand clenching the fabric next to Harry’s head, dangerously close to his skin. Harry knew he must be showing something of his thoughts on his face, because Draco was looking at him with dark heated eyes and a wondrous expression, like he couldn’t believe Harry was real. Then Draco leaned close and they were sharing air again, breathing hot and loud into the very narrow space between their mouths. It was so warm, and so intimate that Harry almost didn’t miss Draco’s arousal blazing inside him alongside his own. Somehow, even though this was less than they could feel together with Draco’s empathy, it was much, much more.

Wantonly, Harry shifted and hooked a leg over Draco’s hip, realigning them and pulling him in closer. Draco let out a gasp, and ground down hard. The movement pushed Harry deeper into the mattress and his upper torso arced up, fists still pressed down tight. Their faces were so close they almost touched, and the danger of it pulled a desperate keening sound from his throat. While he could safely grasp at Draco’s clothes, instead of the sheets, he somehow, instinctively knew not to. This was Draco’s moment to be in control, to own this moment, and all Harry could do was lay back and be swept along. 

Draco shifted his gloved hand to clutch Harry’s thigh where it gripped his hip, and used it for leverage. Harry let out an embarrassing cry at the feel of a hand on him, even though it was gloved, even though his leg was still clothed.  Embarrassed, he turned his head to the side, breaking their shared gaze for the first time since Draco had pressed against him. It was too much, too intimate. He had never laid himself vulnerable and passive like that for someone before. Never had he wanted someone’s touch so badly. He shuddered and arced into Draco’s every rolling thrust, and released stuttering moans with every exhale. 

Draco moved to hover over his neck, breathing just above his skin. The warmth of his breath ghosted over Harry’s damp skin, so close to touching, and Harry released another whimpering sound. He wanted that touch so badly. Everything was so close, and heated and his head was spinning. He was close to losing control and grabbing Draco, but somehow he kept his grip on the sheets, and let his hips tell of his urgency instead as he ground back against him. 

But Draco pressed back harder whenever he surged too high, as if he instinctively knew Harry was fighting for some modicum of control, and refused to give it to him. That should horrify Harry, it should anger him, and yet it only fuelled the fire burning in him, and he made a desperate sound every time Draco did it. He was so distracted by Draco’s mouth hovering so close to his neck, and his own hands clenching the sheets so hard he could almost feel his bones creak, that he didn’t notice his orgasm creeping in until it took him suddenly.

With a startled sound, his hips stuttered wildly and his next breath was one long deep moan. Draco gasped something unintelligible above him and then he seemed to follow Harry, hips pressing him harder and deeper into the mattress, rhythm lost to chaos. Draco made no sound, but his breathing was still hot and irregular against Harry’s neck and somehow that was better. After some frantic moments, they finally calmed down and stilled against each other.

After some minutes of silence broken only by their heavy breaths, Draco finally touched him. He rested his face against the curve of Harry’s neck. He must have been holding his empathy tightly in check, or had simply calmed down sufficiently, because Harry felt nothing from him. But he was relieved, he didn’t think he could handle the intensity of sharing emotions at that moment. He felt physically and emotionally drained. He didn’t think he’d ever experienced anything so intense in his life. What they had done was so basic, but so intensified by the trust it took to accomplish. Sighing, he released the sheets and carefully wrapped his arms around Draco.

When Draco only smiled against his neck, he relaxed fully and tightened his hold. With a soft, warm feeling, he realised he didn’t ever want to let go.

Chapter Text

“It’s not an unreasonable decision,” Hermione said, frowning. 

“I bloody well think it is!” Ron snapped in return. 

Neither of them looked up when Harry stumbled into the common room. Looking around, he was relieved to see that it was empty, and took a seat next to Ron on the sofa. If they wanted him to leave then they could say so, but if they were arguing again about Hermione leaving Ron, he wanted to be there for support if Ron needed him. His stomach grumbled at him for missing breakfast, but he didn’t have any early morning classes so he could go to the kitchens after.

“I would have to come home, every day, and be unable to speak of anything that I did,” Hermione said in a sad tone. “These would be things I’m excited about. Like right now, I’m only doing preliminary work, but the topic is a fascinating theoretical magical concept which may in fact already be occurring. And I can’t talk to you about it! It’s already so hard, and it will only get harder! The only people I can discuss it with are other Unspeakables!” 

“That’s okay! I don’t need to know every little detail of your life!” Ron replied, exasperation leaking into his tone, and his voice beginning to rise. “Yes, I would be upset that you couldn’t share your work with me, not because I’m interested in it, but because you would be upset about it! But you would still have your co-workers to talk to. The only real difference to being alone, or being with me, is that you would have a home to return to, and someone who loves you!”

Hermione scoffed. “And what happens when you start to resent the other Unspeakables for being able to share something I’m so passionate about?” she asked, waspishly. “What happens when you find out their names and faces, and can’t stop thinking about it?”

“You forget that I’ve been working on my jealousy,” Ron replied, suddenly very quiet. “This is another reason why I felt I needed to. You act like seeing a mind healer is stupid and unnecessary, and then turn around and use the very thing I’m seeing them for against me!”

Hermione made a startled sound, as if she had never thought of it that way. Harry shook his head at them wryly. It was only ever a matter of time before Ron won her over again. Whatever caused her to become so wound up by the job offer, and Ron seeing a mind healer, was fleeting compared to her love for him. He was once jealous of that love, after he’d left Ginny and wondered if he would ever find it. 

Thinking back on how Draco had acted the night before, he suddenly realised perhaps he already had found it. Perhaps he was so fixated on love being as he had seen it in others, that he was blind to the fact it may be different for him. Did he love Draco? Some part of him was whispering ‘yes, yes’ , in a small voice, but the rest of his mind rebelled against the idea. They still struck such a fine balance between hurting each other and caring for each other. Things were better, but they could always, at any time, tip towards pain again.

“But I don’t understand why you can’t just talk to us instead,” she said, sounding hurt and making a gesture in Harry’s direction. “Surely we could help you more than a stranger could!”

“I can’t see how talking to me about his jealousy would have helped,” Harry commented casually. His heart hammered in his chest, hoping Ron would understand what he meant and not be upset by the words. “I would have felt bad, then he would have felt worse, and then probably resented me for it.”

Ron made a little strangled sound. “As much as I hate it, he’s right, ‘Mione,” Ron said. “There’s a point when I can talk to you both about problems I’m facing that involve you, but to get to that point I need to talk to someone who isn’t involved, someone who has no bias, and no reason to lie or lay blame. I thought you would understand that.”

Harry leaned over and put a comforting hand on Ron’s shoulder. He hadn’t realised Ron was as torn up about the way he had treated them during the Horcrux hunt as they were. He was absolutely right, if he had tried to talk to them it would have escalated into talk of blame. There was no reason why he couldn’t feel jealous, but if Harry had gotten defensive about it, and felt attacked or blamed, he most definitely would have reacted badly. Ron patted his hand gratefully. It warmed Harry right down to his bones how they had mended their friendship, when he hadn’t really realised it was broken.

Ron looked at him and smiled. “He’s good for you,” he said. “Even with all the other stuff, you’re a lot more understanding than you used to be.”

Harry flushed. There were times he had lost his temper and become stubborn about ridiculous things, and hadn’t noticed until he looked back at them. Being forced to restrain his instinctive reactions somewhat with Draco was helping him control his temper overall. When he realised how easily he used to let his temper get the better of him, he felt ashamed.

Hermione wrinkled her nose. “I can’t imagine one good thing about that snake.”

Ron’s expression hardened somewhat. Harry tightened his grip, warning him. He didn’t want Ron to lose what progress he had made with her over his strange relationship with Draco. Not when he knew Ron himself was still not completely okay with it.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree there,” Ron said carefully. “You haven’t seen them work through their problems like I have, you’ve been so distracted by your job offer, and this research you’re doing. But Malfoy has come a long way from what he used to be like. They’re good for each other now.”

It meant so much for Harry to hear the surety in Ron’s tone, even though he knew Ron still struggled with the danger Harry was placing himself in. Hermione just pursed her lips and wisely stayed silent. Her eyes were darting between them, taking in the way they leaned into each other’s touch easily. They had gone from being not quite sure how to act around each other, not sure where they stood, and become closer than they ever had been. Harry imagined it must have been a shock for her to realise how much she had missed while she was distracted.

“I heard about what happened in the common room last night,” she said, turning a sharp gaze on Harry. “It’s was all over the castle by the end of breakfast, which you missed, again.”

“I didn’t think you’d noticed me missing meals lately,” Harry responded. While he was glad she and Ron seemed to be on the mend, he wasn’t quite ready to forget the way she had spoken to him after finding out about Draco. He resented being treated as if he couldn’t be trusted to make his own decisions, especially by someone who didn’t know the whole situation.

“Well I have, because Malfoy’s missing them at the same time,” she snapped. “You two could be more discreet, instead of rubbing it in Ginny’s face like that.”

Harry felt rage stir deep in his belly, the kind that made him want to hit things. Next to him, Ron also tensed. Why would she even bring Ginny into this? 

“You’re a fool if you think she wouldn’t support him every step of the way,” Ron hissed. “She’s far more understanding and accepting of Harry than you are, even after he left her!”

For a second Harry was thrown by the venom in Ron’s tone, before he realised it was more about Ginny than it was him. Hermione had insulted Ginny by assuming she couldn’t handle the idea of Harry being with someone else, and Draco of all people. It surprised Harry that she would make such a mistake. Even he knew Ginny didn’t take crap from anyone, and most definitely not family. Growing up in a house full of brothers had prevented her from ever doing anything other than demanding respect and independence. She’d called Harry a sort of brother now, as strange as that was given the fact they’d been intimate right after the war, and if he had upset her, he would most definitely know about it.

“I doubt that,” Hermione retorted.

Harry glanced between them and felt a sinking sensation. It seemed they were losing the ground they had made. At least, he supposed, this was not about him, but about Hermione foolishly bringing Ginny into the argument. Ron and Ginny may fight and tease each other more than any of the other Weasley children, but they were also far closer than any of the others, except for how close the twins had been. They had a strange relationship, and even though Harry had never understood it, he knew far better than to get involved. It had been one reason he was so terrified when he’d left her, knowing how Ron would react. He had been right too, Ron had been disappointed and hostile for a long time by the idea that Harry may have hurt Ginny.

“Yeah, well, you clearly don’t know her that well!” Ron snapped. “She and Harry broke it off as friends, and they’ve stayed friends. I pity the person who insults him, or someone he cares about in front of her! That includes you!”

Harry shuddered involuntarily. He had to agree with Ron on that point. Even if he was never quite as sure of Ginny’s regard for him as Ron, he knew better than to insult people she cared about in front of her. Somehow the conversation had veered widely off topic and he didn’t know how to fix it.

Hermione scoffed again. “You’re so blind where she is concerned!”

They all startled as the door to the dormitories suddenly slammed shut. 

“You lot sure know how to make your voices carry,” Draco said snidely as he strode across the room. “I could hear you all the way through to the bathrooms.”

“Stay out of this, Malfoy,” Hermione snapped. “This is none of your concern!”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Draco sneered, coming to stand behind the back of the sofa. “I couldn’t care less, except you’re upsetting both Harry and Weasley at once. I’m afraid I’m rather partial to scarhead, and he’s rather partial to the Weasel. So, I find myself involved regardless.”

Harry turned and gave Draco a warning glance, which he chose to ignore. He leaned over the back of the sofa and wrapped his arms around Harry. He buried his face in his hair for a moment, breathing deeply. Whether this was a show for Hermione, or just some way to let Harry know they were still alright after last night, Harry didn’t know. But he felt his eyes slide shut and a small smile stretched his lips at the warm feelings Draco was sharing where his arms brushed his neck. He wished he could have woken up beside him, but they’d been too afraid of Draco losing control of his empathy in his sleep. He still had frequent nightmares, and didn’t want to expose Harry to the emotions that went with them. 

Even though it made sense, Harry had lingered as long as he could, and left only reluctantly to sleep in his own bed. If it were up to him, he would have taken the risk.

“Funny that,” Ron said. “Weasels and ferrets are in the same family of animals.”

Draco released a startled laugh, and turned a brilliant grin Ron’s way. “Merlin, Weasley,” he said, sounding delighted. “That’s priceless.”

Ron seemed surprised by Draco’s humour, and darted a glance at Harry. Able to feel how genuine it was, Harry grinned as well. Whether or not they were both putting on a show in front of Hermione, to convince her that Draco was okay, Draco was still genuinely amused by Ron’s observation. Although, over the last few weeks he’d noticed Ron appreciating Draco’s humour, even as it was insulting and suggestive, especially when it was suggestive, and particularly when it embarrassed Harry. It was nice to see them interacting well.

“And honestly, Granger, even I know better than to assume girl-Weasley would be pining after Harry even when she’s with Thomas,” Draco continued. “I’ve been on the receiving end of her magic, and I will certainly endeavour never to give her cause to hex me again. Anyone who doesn’t feel the same is a fool who deserves what’s coming to them.”

Harry sniggered, remembering that incident well. Draco grasped his chin and tilted his head back so he could look at his face. Harry was extremely pleased the gloves were not present as he felt Draco’s amusement flow through him. It felt light and airy, like bubbles. Some of the tension caused by Hermione and Ron fighting eased out of him as the feeling swept through.

“You could sound at least a little sympathetic about my past torment at her hands,” he said, affecting a wounded tone. Ron sniggered.

Harry stared at Draco upside down, and smiled lazily. “No chance,” he said. “You were an utter prat, and you deserved every awful moment.”

A smile slowly crept through Draco’s wounded facade. Pleasure thrummed through their connection. It seemed Draco liked Harry openly and unapologetically voicing such views of their past.

“It was fun at times,” he said. “Wasn’t it?”

“I did rather enjoy throwing mud at your face, that one time,” Harry said, and Ron snickered beside him.

Draco scowled, a weak burst of anger pulsing through their connection. “I knew that was you!”

Harry gave him another lazy smile. “Dirty was a good look on you.”

Desire flickered through their connection, and Draco’s eyes darkened. For a few seconds, it seemed like Draco was going to kiss him, before Ron unsubtly cleared his throat and snapped them out of it. Harry sent him an apologetic look even as he stroked Draco’s hand, prompting him to let go of his chin so he could lower his head. 

“Want anything from the kitchen?” Draco asked.

Harry’s stomach rumbled noisily. Draco sneered at him.

“So uncivilised,” he said. “What about you, Weasel?”

“Surprise me, Ferret,” Ron replied.

Draco nodded, ran a hand through Harry’s hair and across the nape of his neck, before leaving without another word. Only once he was gone did Harry dare look at Hermione. It wasn’t the way they normally interacted, but then, something had changed last night. Draco had let down another barrier between them when he had showed Harry his vulnerability, not once, but twice. Perhaps their dynamic was changing again because of it. Some part of him found it exciting, while another was worried. As always, they walked a thin line where Draco’s empathy was concerned, and everything could be turned on its head in a moment.

Hermione was looking predictably, and stubbornly, set in her negative opinion. Before the war she had been a lot more forgiving of Draco, only now she seemed determined to hate him. Perhaps she couldn’t accept Harry being with a man, though she had said nothing to support such an idea. He was inclined to think there was some other reason he wasn’t aware of. Perhaps it was simply that Harry had surprised her, and she didn’t like discovering she had been wrong, or blind, about something. She did so hate to be wrong.

“You two should shag more often,” Ron suddenly said, cutting the silence. “I could get used to him fetching us food from the kitchens.”

Harry flushed.

 

 

 

“You alright, mate,” Ron asked casually as they walked to class that afternoon.

Turning red, Harry gave him a shove. “Fine.”

“So, how was he?” Ron asked, struggling between amusement and disinterest. “I mean, you know, did he-”

“Shut up, Ron!”

 

 

 

Harry fidgeted uncomfortably at his table. He could feel Draco’s eyes burning into him. But every time he looked, the two of them got lost in their own intensity and Ron made a lewd comment. The rest of the class were glancing at them periodically, and it was all Harry could do not to yell at them to sod off and mind their own business. He hadn’t really thought through making their relationship public, he just didn’t want to hide. If he felt a yearning for Draco’s emotions, he wanted to be able to reach out and initiate skin contact. If Draco was upset, he wanted to be able to calm him down through touch, and not worry about who saw. 

What he didn’t want was to suddenly have everyone know that they were intimate and smirk knowingly at them while snapping lewd comments that sounded far less kind than Ron’s. Still, he could barely keep his eyes off Draco, and it seemed the reverse was also true. It was shocking to think that they had probably possessed this intensity all along, but had simply channelled it differently. All Draco’s empathy did, Harry had decided, was intensify what was already there, and redirect it.

By the time the class had ended, Harry’s potion was ruined, and Draco was sending him smug looks as he handed in his perfect sample and left. Scowling, Harry hurried to pack his things and catch up. When he left the room, Draco was waiting for him in the hallway, smug smile in place but heat in his eyes. Harry’s scowl darkened. The prat didn’t have to rub his nose in it. 

Narrowing his eyes, he resolved to wipe that smug look off his face.

“Perhaps you should beg for Remedial Potions, Potter,” Draco sneered. “Although maybe we’re all mistaken and you’re actually a genius. After all, I didn’t think that particular shade of vomit was even possible to replicate.”

Dropping his bag, Harry strode over. Glaring darkly, he reached out and grabbed a handful of Draco’s hair to pull him down for a kiss. Startled, Draco opened his mouth in a gasp, and Harry wasn’t about to let that opportunity pass. He focused intently on the hot burn already awakening in him as he kissed him hard and deep. Draco’s bag hit the floor with a thud as he slid one hand around the nape of Harry’s neck and rested the other heavily on his hip. Without warning, Draco opened himself with his empathy and sent fire racing through Harry. 

Harry shuddered slightly and made a soft sound in his throat. The strength of Draco’s arousal never ceased to amaze him. It was almost as if he burned constantly for Harry, even when they weren’t touching, as if the fire was just waiting there below the surface, begging to be set free. 

But the feel of those damn gloves against his neck still frustrated him, and he let some of that bleed into the way he sucked and bit Draco’s lips. 

Draco released a startled moan, and pulled him closer.

A shrill whistle penetrated Harry’s awareness, and he groaned in disappointment, but pulled back, aware that he had taken that a little too far. 

Still, he thought smugly, he had achieved the desired effect. Draco was now looking at him with swollen lips and dark eyes. He looked decidedly dazed, rather than smug.

“Bloody hell.”

Harry whipped around to see Ginny giving them an appraising look. Abruptly, she let out a long, low whistle. It’s meaning was very clear from the look on her face. Blushing, Harry was about to take a step back when Draco’s hand tightened on his hip. Looking back, he saw a possessive glint in Draco’s eyes, and couldn’t help the thrill that raced through him. For a second, he felt immensely glad Draco couldn’t feel that, before realising he still had a hand tangled in Draco’s hair, pressed against his scalp. That smug look was back, and Harry scowled.

“I’d heard,” Ginny said. “I almost didn’t believe it though.”

“But when you remember what they were like the last few years, it’s not so surprising, right?” Ron cut in cheekily as he edged around the crowd that had gathered. He looked relaxed and amused, but his eyes were darting around nervously.

Harry flushed. In his desire to wipe that smug look off Draco’s face he had completely forgotten where they were. It was terrifying, the way Draco made him feel as though they were alone. Terrifying and intimate. Embarrassed, he removed his hand from Draco’s hair, and stepped back to a respectable distance. This time Draco let him go, but shot him another heated look, as if to say their distance would not last long.

“Christmas is suddenly making more sense,” Ginny said with a grin.

Almost as vividly as when it had happened, he could see Draco’s bruised throat, and the shaking wand trying to keep Harry away from him. Concerned, he looked at Draco just in time to see a flash of hurt, before his impassive mask took over. He reached out, but Draco stepped out of his reach.

“I’ll see you later,” he muttered, picking up his bag and wandering off.

Harry watched him go with an uncomfortable feeling in his chest. 

“I get the feeling I just stepped into something quite serious,” Ginny said slowly, eyeing Harry with concern. He wondered what he had shown on his face, before deciding he didn’t much care. No one would ever guess what had happened, there was no threat there.

Harry sighed. “Christmas was complicated, Gin. It wasn’t what you thought it was.”

“Sorry,” she said softly, laying a hand on his arm.

Harry shrugged. “We’re working on it. Anyway, were you looking for me for a particular reason, or just to see if I really was shagging Malfoy?”

Ginny hesitated. “Another reason, but it can wait,” she replied. “Go after him.”

Harry gave her a grateful smile, and hurried after Draco.

 

 

 

Ignoring his stomach as it scolded him for bypassing dinner, Harry followed the map to Draco’s hidden spot on the edge of the forest. When he stepped through the bordering treeline, he blinked at the dazzling lights Draco had enchanted to float around the clearing as the sky darkened. As one floated past him, he was surprised to find that it gave off heat. 

The warmth of the lights seemed to have melted away the snow and dried the grass, and if it were not for the chill in the air when he strayed too far from one of the lights, he could almost forget it was winter. For a second he was thrown by the impressive display of magic, and unprepared for the thrum of desire it sent through him. Draco looked up from where he was perched on a tree stump.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked quickly, before he could speak. “Do you need to be alone, or is this something we can tackle together?”

As much as he would hate to walk away, he would not push Draco on this. Many times he let his own feelings direct their encounters, but not this. He had nearly killed Draco that night, and no matter how well Draco appeared to be over it, Harry knew it was probably just an act. He knew he himself wasn’t over it, so how could Draco be?

Draco made a frustrated sound. “Are we ever going to be able to talk about that night without both getting upset?” he asked.

 “I don’t know,” Harry answered honestly. “I will never forgive myself for nearly killing you, no matter how skillfully you distract me from it. I will never forgive myself for walking away, even though I needed the space.”

“That space may have saved us,” Draco said suddenly. “If you hadn’t left, there’s no knowing what may have happened, maybe things would have been, and still would be, worse.”

Harry shook his head. “We can’t know that, and it doesn’t lessen what I did,” he said. “I was selfish, I only thought of how I was feeling. I knew that you were a lot more affected by what had happened than you seemed, and I still left. I left you alone to deal with the aftermath of nearly being strangled to death while you laid yourself bare to me.”

Draco was looking at him, startled and vulnerable. It was almost as if he had imagined Harry had not known this, or as if he had forgotten and was reminded all over again. Or perhaps it was simply because, while they had talked about Harry almost choking him, and Harry leaving him, they had not discussed that it was when Draco had finally stopped hiding how he felt, and shown Harry everything, that Harry had almost killed him. When he thought of it now, Harry wondered why he hadn’t noticed the significance before.

Perhaps it was the vulnerability and trust Draco had shown him recently, combined with an emotion he was clearly terrified of sharing with Harry. Perhaps, now that he thought on it, Draco was afraid of that soothing, cool emotion because the last time he had shown Harry everything, he had nearly died. 

Maybe all the ways he had shown he trusted Harry had distracted him from the fact there was still something he was hiding away, probably for good reason.

“Harry.”

The way Draco said his name sent a shiver down Harry’s spine. There was so much raw emotion in such a quiet and soft intonation. He didn’t think he’d ever heard someone say his name like that before. Reacting instinctively, Harry moved forward and embraced him, pressing his forehead to Draco’s neck and never being more glad for being shorter. As much as it had irked him for most of his last few years at Hogwarts, there was something so comforting to be held by someone taller. And he needed to be held. He felt so open and vulnerable, more so than any time Draco had touched him.

He had finally worked his way to the core of his feelings over that night. He’d been skirting around the edges for so long, it was almost a relief to finally get to the centre of it, but it also hurt so much. What he had done was the worst breach of trust. Never mind that Draco had initially baited him, never mind that he hadn’t meant to hurt Draco, he had still caused great physical harm at a moment Draco was most open to him, when he was most vulnerable. To know he had done something like that tore him apart, deep down inside.

Draco shuffled around a bit, and then warm, bare hands were touching his skin and he was engulfed in a soft, muted warmth that penetrated deep into his core. He let out a weak and desperate sound and clung tighter to Draco. He didn’t deserve that warmth. 

“It’s okay, Harry,” Draco said, once again speaking his name with a soft and intimate array of feelings embedded in his tone. It seemed as if he understood all that Harry was going through without the need for an explanation. “I forgive you.”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Harry sobbed.

Draco stiffened in his arms, and Harry felt fear and guilt arc through him like lightning, tangible only for a few seconds before everything was soft and warm again. Confused, he pulled back to look at him. Draco’s face was not impassive, as he had expected, but open and scared.

“You’re hiding something from me,” Harry said. It was a statement of fact, rather than a question. He could see the answer in Draco’s eyes, and he had felt the answer in that bolt of guilt.

“Yes,” Draco whispered, frightened.

“Something I should know?”

“Yes.” The word came out like a desperate plea. It was almost as if he wanted Harry to pull the answer from him by force. 

Harry stared at him for some time. He wasn’t sure what to do. While he hated the idea of secrets between them, after everything they had been through, and everything they had shared, he had to forcefully remind himself that he didn’t have the right to know everything at all times. Draco had demonstrated once before, to his own detriment, how dangerous it could be to force secrets out of him. Harry didn’t want to make that mistake again.

“Am I in danger, not knowing?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Draco was starting to make the word sound like a prayer. Each new utterance contained more desperation, and more longing, than the one before it. It was like he was urging Harry on.

“Will knowing hurt me?”

“Yes,” Draco sobbed.

Harry’s world almost seemed to spin for a moment. He didn’t know what to do, and clearly neither did Draco.

“I don’t know what to do with that,” he whispered, frightened and unsure. 

Again, it seemed, they had pushed forward only to be forced back. 

“Neither do I,” Draco replied. “I don’t want to hurt you, but it’s becoming more and more of a concern.”

“Does McGonagall know?” Harry asked, thinking of the way she had been looking at him lately.

“Yes. She suggested we wait until the end of the year and see if anything has changed.”

“Open yourself to me,” Harry murmured, catching Draco’s eyes and holding them. “Let me feel your reaction to what I’m about to ask, okay?”

Draco swallowed, and gave an affirmative jerk of his head, as if he didn’t trust himself to speak. Harry stared at him for a few more moments. He wasn’t really sure he even wanted to know the answer to his question, it would be meaningless without knowing what this secret was.

“How do you feel about waiting to tell me?” he asked, gently.

All at once, he was hit with a strong surge of guilt and fear. His breath hitched as he struggled through it. Draco released a sobbing sound, and started muttering apologies that were meaningless. Harry’s head felt like it was spinning, but he persevered through the sensation. He still had another question to ask.

“Would you feel better if I knew?” he asked.

Draco sobbed and clutched at Harry as he allowed his reaction to pass between them unhindered. It was a swirling mess of fear and sadness. There was loneliness tied in there also, and some other sensations that Harry could not identify. From Draco’s reaction he could not begin to guess at this secret. Something dangerous to be unaware of, but painful to know about. Then, almost as if it had been waiting for this last question, that cool, soothing emotion burst into his senses. Harry didn’t wait for Draco to pull back, and instead stepped away on his own. Draco let out another shuddering sob, and collapsed to his knees.

“I don’t know what to do here,” Harry said.

“Nor do I,” Draco said, looking up at him with vulnerable eyes.

Once, Harry had felt privileged to see that vulnerability, he had felt closer to Draco for having felt it. Now, it did nothing but make him wonder what else Draco had to feel so vulnerable about. Perhaps Harry was wrong, all those times he thought Draco was the one in control, the one with all the power. Maybe Draco was just very good at acting. Maybe Draco really had no idea, this whole time, what he was doing.

But, he was coming to a startling realisation that were not many things he could think of that would drive him away from Draco now. He felt closer to him than anyone else in his life. He had hated him for years, then after the war he hadn’t really cared either way, not strongly at least. Returning to Hogwarts, Draco had made him do awful things to another person and suddenly Draco was all he could think about, just like their sixth year. That had not ended well either.

All through learning about Draco’s empathy, with its unavoidable sense of violation yet inescapable intensity, had been the feeling of being drawn in, almost against his will. They grew closer, only to fight. They opened up to each other in new and frightening ways, only for Harry to nearly kill him. 

Harry ran away, but was welcomed back even though he knew it had hurt Draco so much to do so. Then Draco would feel something that frightened him, causing him to pull away, only to return and give himself to Harry in the most open and vulnerable way that he could, without ever once touching his skin. And now, he was once again hiding something from Harry, and they were standing at one of those turning points again.

Harry could only see two ways forward. They could hurt and hate each other, or they could love each other. There was no middle ground. There never had been. Not for them.

“I don’t think you need to be so afraid, or so guilty,” Harry said softly, kneeling in front of Draco to reach eye level. 

Draco avoided his gaze. “You don’t know what it is that I’m hiding.”

“No, but if it’s so dangerous, me not knowing,” Harry replied. “Then why hasn’t something awful happened yet?”

Draco met his gaze. “It’s not that simple.”

Harry sighed, and reached out to thumb a line across Draco’s cheek. When no swell of emotion met him, he felt sad. “Whether it’s simple or not doesn’t matter,” he said. “I trust you with all of me. I trust that even if my ignorance of this secret is dangerous, you’ll let me know if it becomes serious. Can I trust you with that, Draco?”

Draco caught Harry’s hand pressed it fully to his cheek, leaning into it. “I would never let this harm you,” he said, his voice strong and passionate, his eyes heated.

Harry’s breath hitched in his throat. Once again, they could veer from a complex and emotional discussion right into lust. All it took was one look from Draco, and he was burning for him. Shivering, Harry leaned forward to kiss him. Draco met him halfway, again. Unlike their previous kisses, this was slow and gentle. But Draco remained closed to him. Harry whined and clutched at him, deepening the kiss in the hopes he would push Draco into using his empathy. As if he could sense Harry’s intentions, Draco pulled back.

“My control may be better in a lot of ways, but not in this,” he murmured. “I need to restrain my empathy more.”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t want you to close yourself to me.”

“I know,” Draco replied sadly. “But I need to, for now.”

 

 

 

Ron took one look at him as he sat next to him in Transfiguration the next day, and sighed.

“What’s wrong, mate?” he asked quietly. “You look like someone’s killed your ferret.”

Hermione huffed from in front of them but didn’t turn around. Ron spared a moment to roll his eyes in her direction, before fixing his gaze back on Harry. 

Harry glared at him. “I’m fine.”

Ron gave him a sceptical look, eyebrows almost disappearing into his hairline.

“Fine,” Harry huffed, knowing he wouldn’t leave it alone, and would probably say more and more annoying things until he cracked. “Draco’s not sharing as much as he used to.”

The glint in Ron’s eyes told Harry that he immediately understood what he was saying. “Well, that’s only fair, right?” he asked. “You can’t expect him to tell you everything, all the time! People need to have secrets, Harry.”

“But I don’t have any secrets from him!” Harry hissed, letting his annoyance loose. He’d held it in check the previous day because the situation was so serious and Draco was so upset. But it still annoyed him to be shut out.

“Mate,” Ron said, looking sad. “Just because he knows things about you doesn’t mean he understands them. And if he doesn’t understand some of the things you do or say, then you still have secrets from him.”

Harry stared at him. Flushing, he realised Ron was right, and he was being unreasonable, again. Right at the start of this Draco had told him that he couldn’t tell where emotions came from, or what they were tied to. Harry often forgot, because Draco was so good at guessing his motivations. 

“I mean,” Ron continued, looking around and lowering his voice, “have you two talked about the war yet? I mean really talked about it?”

Harry looked away. They had still been avoiding that topic, along with sixth year. It was likely it would only lead to an argument, which they were both desperate to avoid.

“Alright,” he said. “You’re right, but I’m still allowed to feel annoyed, even if it’s pathetic!”

“Of course you are,” Ron said, patting his arm. “Just don’t be a prat about it.”

“You don’t even like him,” Harry retorted, irritated by the condescension in Ron’s gesture. 

Ron looked over at Draco thoughtfully. “I dunno, he’s growing on me,” he said. “If I can ignore the stuff I don’t like, at least.”

He shot Harry a meaningful look at his last words. That he would be so supportive, even while being wary of Draco’s empathy, gave Harry a nice warm feeling. Ron really was like family, even if Harry didn’t always understand what that meant until moments such as this.

“Thanks, Ron,” he said, giving him a little shove.

Hermione turned around and peered at them curiously. Ron opened his mouth to speak but Harry swiftly kicked him under the table. Ron glared at him, but stayed silent. Harry knew that look on Hermione’s face. She was re-evaluating something significant.

“You two really are closer than you used to be,” she said. “I didn’t really believe it.”

Harry bit his tongue to stop his natural retort. Well you haven’t exactly been around to notice! It wouldn’t help the situation. Instead he shrugged casually.

“He’s been so great about Draco, even though he doesn’t like him,” he said. “And honestly, he probably has stopped me from making a mess of things. He’s been there every time I really needed him, and he’s always known exactly what to say.”

Ron grinned, smug and proud. Harry sent him an indulgent smile. He’d honestly never imagined they would grow so close. Many times when he had thought of the future, he had rather thought they would stay static, or drift apart, rather than grow closer.

“What do you even seen in Malfoy?” Hermione asked, sounding exasperated.

Harry opened his mouth to answer, but Minerva swept in and began the lesson. Though he wanted Hermione to understand and stop being so distant, he couldn’t help but feel glad for the interruption. He didn’t really understand himself why he was drawn to Draco. His feelings were so tied up in the complicated matter that was Draco’s empathy that, at times, he was afraid of the answer.

 

 

 

It took some time for students to stop whispering furiously whenever Harry and Draco appeared near one another. Their display outside of the potions classroom, and rumours of what Harry had done in the eighth year common room, helped speed things along. Surprisingly, no one confronted him about it, aside from the whispers that followed him around. If he was honest with himself, he had never really thought through the consequences of being open about his relationship with Draco, but he had certainly expected more of a fuss. The Daily Prophet published several stories back to back about it, but he didn’t even bother to read them. From the comments Ron made, it was mostly just open curiosity about his choice of a partner and repeated recap of Draco’s actions before and during the war. The overall tone was less a condemnation of Draco, and instead more of a general confusion about how Harry had put Draco’s past behind him.

Perhaps the general undercurrent of fear the wizarding population still felt towards him after the defeat of Voldemort made them hesitant to criticise his choices too openly. Harry hated that he was feared, but he supposed there was a silver lining to it after all.

As they drew nearer to the end of term, the dynamic between he and Draco became more and more strained. They saw less of each other as their workload heading into N.E.W.T.s increased, and Draco had maintained his stance of opening himself as little as possible when they were together. As a consequence, he had gained excellent control over his empathy. 

Since he would not open himself to Harry, he had experimented with a rather understanding Minerva, and been delighted by his control. Part of Harry still simmered in discontent over the state of things, but he knew better than to be a prat about it. It was a difficult situation, made even more so by the fact that Draco could not maintain his control when they were intimate.

Draco often apologised, and it was clear he felt awful about their lack of greater intimacy. Harry craved more from him, but was content to take whatever he could get. Always, he had a mind on time as the weeks went past. He didn’t know what they were waiting for, but he trusted that Draco would let him know the moment a decision could be made. Whatever this great secret was, the time for its resolution was running out. Soon Harry would know what it was, whether it was still an issue or not.

While he couldn’t help but be worried by the way Draco became more and more tense leading up to the end of term, the fact Draco refused to make plans for the future worried him more. Sometimes, he felt like Draco was actively planning how to leave him once school was over. It was in the distance Draco placed between them when talk of life after Hogwarts came up. He tried to ignore it, but the feeling was pervasive, and even Ron had commented on it. He didn’t want to believe Draco would leave him, but he couldn’t shake the suspicion.

 

 

 

Harry fidgeted uncomfortably as he waited for Draco to arrive. They had been called to the Headmistress’ office, and he had a feeling that it wasn’t for a friendly chat. Minerva gave nothing away as she marked essays at her desk. Draco was running late, and she had refused to discuss the reason for calling them there until he arrived. The more he thought about it, the more Harry became convinced it was about that elusive secret. 

It was time, the end of the school year was dangerously close, and nothing had changed. The few times Draco had cautiously opened himself to Harry, he still pulled away in alarm at some feeling Harry didn’t understand. While part of him was glad he was finally going to know this dangerous and painful secret, mostly he was very apprehensive about it. Draco had been convinced that knowing would hurt him deeply, and he couldn’t imagine what it could be. 

“Ah, Draco,” Minerva said, as Draco rushed into the room. “Thank you for joining us, take a seat. Tea?”

Draco nodded, and took the seat next to Harry. As was their custom lately, he let his fingers caress the back of Harry’s neck as he walked behind him, even though he wore his gloves. Harry shivered. The gesture was comforting, but it worried him the way Draco wasn’t quite looking at him.

“Now, I know you don’t know much of what we are here to discuss, Harry,” Minerva said, putting away her papers. “But the end of term is near, and the matter must be addressed.”

Harry glanced at Draco curiously, only to find him studiously looking at his lap. His apprehension grew.

“Draco, would you like to explain things to Harry, or should I?” Minerva asked kindly.

Draco glanced quickly at Harry before dropping his eyes again. “I don’t think I can,” he answered quietly.

Minerva nodded sympathetically. “Harry, what you are about to hear is going to hurt you, but I must ask you hear it out in its entirety.”

Harry nodded numbly, feeling more and more alarmed. “Draco said it would hurt me to know, I guess I’m as prepared as I can be.”

Draco shuddered next to him. “I’m sorry, Harry,” he said. “I would tell you myself but I can’t. I should never have kept it from you, even though we thought it may resolve on its own if you didn’t know.”

Harry looked at him curiously. Every time Draco mentioned this secret it sounded stranger and stranger.

“Yes, well, as time has passed, Draco has informed me that the situation has not improved, and in fact, it has worsened,” Minerva said, her tone serious and sad. Her eyes held real pain as she looked at Harry, and suddenly he felt as if he really did not want to know this great secret. He had thought it was about Draco and the way he felt, but the way she was looking at him now, he realised it was about him.

“As you know, Draco’s empathy is very powerful,” she continued, gripping the arms of her chair as if to fortify herself. “Over time, he has realised he can sense a person’s soul by following the threads of their emotions.”

Dread settled into Harry’s belly, heavy and cold. Glancing to the side, he saw Draco was still staring at his lap. Part of him was immensely angry all of a sudden. If Draco could not look at him, then how was Harry supposed to know how he felt?

“As you know,” Minerva said, “the soul is highly malleable, though luckily the magic required to manipulate it is very complex, and requires great power. As Draco has told you before, he has often felt your soul reaching out to him when he uses his empathy on you.”

Harry nodded, feeling the dread seep through the rest of his body until he was almost shivering from it. He was starting to see where this was going and a horrible notion had formed in his mind. It was not something he had ever considered before, but suddenly it took up all of his thoughts. Certain things he had been feeling that year were coming to the forefront of his mind. With growing terror, he found he could not speak, and could only nod for Minerva to continue. Desperately, he wished Draco would touch him, to send him some comforting emotion. At the same time, he was beginning to think such a touch at that moment would make him sick.

“What he has not told you, even though he wanted to, is that, at times, he has felt his soul reach out to you in response,” she said sadly.

Harry swallowed heavily and forced himself not to look at Draco. It made sudden, sick sense. That cool soothing feeling that seemed to penetrate so deep, and fill an empty space within him, it must have been Draco’s soul. It made so much sense that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t suspected it before. Draco had always been so terrified whenever it had happened. 

What did that say about them? That Draco feared his soul being drawn to Harry, while Harry had never felt so warm and content as when his soul reached for Draco?

Harry thought he was starting to understand why that may be, but was desperately hoping he was wrong.

“There is a spell that can confirm this, and we should have used it last year,” Minerva said, eyeing Harry warily. “While we are fairly sure we are correct, we can use it for confirmation today, if you desire.”

Harry nodded sharply, but didn’t speak. He did not trust himself to speak.

“What we believe, what Draco has felt when your soul reached out to him, and when his soul reached back,” she said, then paused, eyes darting to Draco before turning back to Harry. “Harry, your soul is incomplete.”

Harry felt like the air had been knocked out of him. He had known the conversation was going in that direction, but still, suddenly suspecting something like that was no preparation at all. He didn’t even need further explanation. All he had to do was think back on all the times he had felt hollow and empty until Draco’s emotions had filled him. That cool, soothing feeling of Draco’s soul had filled him in a way that had been so comforting and felt so right, that he had always been shocked that the feeling had frightened Draco. Now that he knew that was Draco’s soul, and not a stray emotion, his reaction suddenly made much more sense.

Looking at him now, Draco still would not meet his gaze. His body was tight and rigid in his seat. It looked as if he was ready to run at any moment. For a second, Harry felt indescribable rage at not being told this. The condition of his soul was something he should have been informed of the moment they had discovered it. 

But then he remembered the complex set of emotions Draco had felt when Harry had asked him how he felt about hiding this, then unknown, secret. He wanted to rage about the deception, although at the same time, he wanted to avoid hearing any more. 

Forcing himself to calm down, he looked back at the Headmistress. The look she was giving him made him want to cry and reach out for comfort, but he nodded for her to continue anyway.

“We suspect that over the course of your life, your soul became so used to that fragment of Voldemort, that it began to engulf it until it became a part of you, rather than something separate,” she said. “We think that when it was torn away from you at death, your soul was unable to heal around the tear. That it was unable to tell that the piece that left you was not an original part of your soul.”

Rage filled Harry at yet another thing Voldemort had done to him. He still didn’t trust himself to speak, and gripped the arms of his chair so tight the wood creaked. He could not bear to look at Draco. The only thing stopping him from hating him was the memory that Draco had known this knowledge would hurt him, had felt guilty for keeping it a secret, but had ultimately wanted to shield him from this pain. He had to hold on to that knowledge, or he would do something stupid, he knew himself well enough to admit that.

“Cast the spell,” he said, his voice tight and low. He didn’t for a second think they were wrong, it all made sense. But still, he wanted confirmation.

Minerva nodded in understanding and drew her wand. The spell she cast had no visual effect that he could see, and he could not feel anything at its casting. Her grip on her wand tightened, and she looked tired all of a sudden. Harry knew then that the results supported their conclusions.

“Forgive me, Harry,” she said. “We never thought to check for this after the battle. You seemed so healthy.”

“What was the danger?” he asked suddenly.

Minerva sent him a confused look, but he could see Draco tense in his peripheral vision. He didn’t dare look at him. He was afraid of what his face may show if he did. He knew, intimately, how Draco felt about this secret, and how he had felt about Harry finding out. He was terrified and guilty. No doubt he believed that Harry would leave him again. If he was honest with himself, he was tempted. This was not something that ever should have been kept from him. But he couldn’t deny how he felt about Draco, even as he was afraid to define it. If he looked at him now, he would hurt him, and he didn’t want that, not even after Draco had hurt him by keeping this a secret.

“The void in your soul wants to be filled. It wants to become whole,” Draco said softly. “Whenever I remain open to you for too long, my soul begins to be drawn into it. There was a danger that part of it would break away and remain there to merge with your soul.”

Harry shuddered. That made it sound as if Harry would have welcomed any soul that he came into contact with. The idea horrified him. 

“That time I strangled you,” he said, suddenly remembering. “When it felt as if I had left my body completely. What was that?”

Draco let out a shaky breath. “I think that was your soul reacting to the first time I, unknowingly, exposed my own to you. I think, because that was so uncontrolled, more like I was drawing you in to see all of my emotions, rather than just showing them to you, your soul tried to reach mine by leaving your body. Since then, I’ve been more active in pushing my emotions on you, and thus my soul.”

Harry nodded, that made sense. Draco’s emotions had never felt as all-consuming as they had that night, even when they were incredibly intense.

“So I have a broken soul,” Harry muttered, feeling defeated. 

To have survived so much, to feel so broken by it but steadily climb back into happiness, only to find himself still broken at such a fundamental level...it was an awful realisation. 

“All hope is not lost, Harry,” Minerva was saying, though he could barely focus on her words. “We waited to tell you in case time healed the tear, but now it seems as though contact with another soul is preventing that from happening.”

Harry’s stomach lurched when he realised what she was trying to say. Horrified, he turned to look at Draco, who was still avoiding his gaze. His posture told of pain and guilt.

“You think that it will heal if I’m not exposed to another’s soul for long enough?” he asked, his voice breaking.

“It’s a very real possibility,” she said, looking at Harry with open concern. “After all, your soul is technically still complete, the part it lost was not originally a part of it. After enough time, it should heal itself.”

“How much time?”

“That is impossible to determine I’m afraid.”

Suddenly, with complete clarity, he realised what Draco had been doing. Draco had known all along it would come to this, and had been preparing. All this time he had been practising his control, perfecting it so that he would survive without Harry there to balance him. And he had kept it from him. Startled, he felt his magic start to slip from his control, and various items around the room began to rattle on their shelves.

Without another word Harry stood and left the office.

 

 

 

“I need to speak with you, Ron,” Harry said shortly, interrupting him as he sat talking with Hermione in the common room. 

“What is it, mate?” Ron asked, expression becoming serious when he saw the look on Harry’s face. 

“In my room,” Harry said shortly.

“Just Ron?” Hermione asked, looking hurt. “What’s this about?”

“Yes, just Ron, because he’s the only person I trust right now!” Harry snapped, angered that she felt she deserved to be there. Several glasses shattered around the room, startling their owners and splashing fluid everywhere. “Because I barely have control of my magic and I’m going to break things, and then I’m probably going to break down into a disgusting sobbing wreck and you have no clue what I’m going through. You haven’t noticed anything but your stupid job offer all year. You’ve done nothing but push us away! So why the bloody hell would I want you there? And what is this about? Do even have to ask? What is it always about? Yet another damn thing Voldemort did to me, yet another thing he took from me! That somehow, even though he is dead, he still won!”

Near the back of the room a window shattered, and someone let out a startled cry. Hermione looked like she was going to cry, and Ron quickly scrambled to his feet and ushered Harry through to his room. As soon as the door was closed behind them Harry let lose his magic. It was like a storm blew through the room, lifting anything that wasn’t bolted down and throwing around carelessly. Ron looked terrified and stepped closer to Harry. Though he still had enough control to shield both himself and Ron from the damage, he grabbed Ron and held him close, closing his eyes. He hadn’t lost control of his magic for so long, and the destruction frightened him.

Once his initial rage had finally simmered to the point his magic was fully controllable again, he opened his eyes to survey the wreckage. His room was a mess. The furniture was broken into pieces and all of his belongings were strewn about. Ron had his eyes squeezed tightly shut, his face a grimace of fear. As the silence continued on without a resurgence of destruction, he slowly opened his eyes. With obvious horror, he stepped back and looked around before fixing his gaze on Harry.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose control of your magic like that, Harry,” he said carefully. “What happened?”

“My soul is incomplete,” Harry replied, choking a little on the words. “Over the years, that part of Voldemort’s soul got integrated into my own, or something, so when I died and came back without it, it’s like a piece of my own soul has been torn from me!”

Ron went so pale Harry thought he was about to faint. “That can’t be right!” he uttered, disbelieving.

Harry let out a sob and felt a few tears escape his eyes. “All this time my soul has been broken, after everything he did I thought I made it through unscathed, but he broke my soul!”

“Harry,” Ron said softly, reaching out.

Harry rushed into his arms and clung to him. He could be embarrassed later. Ron held him tightly as he sobbed and cried. While they stood there, a loud crack sounded, and Harry looked around to see a house elf surveying the damage, before snapping his fingers and righting the room. All at once, it was as if nothing had happened. The sight of it caused something in Harry to break just a little more. 

“Was this what he was keeping from you?” Ron asked quietly. 

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Ron’s arms tightened around him. 

“Are we angry about that? Or more about the situation?” he asked, voice low and tone neutral.

Harry let out a little hiccupping laugh. “Both, but I asked him once how he felt keeping this from me, before I knew what it was, and he felt awful,” Harry said. “So I can’t really be too angry about it. But he’s going to leave me.”

“What?” Ron’s tone was dark and he sounded enraged. 

“McGonagall thinks my soul can heal itself in time, since it’s not truly missing a piece,” Harry explained. “But to do that I need to stay away from Draco. Every time he uses his empathy, my soul reaches out and pulls his into me, to try and fill the void. I think they suspect that if my soul knows it can fix itself that way, it will never heal on its own.”

Ron was silent for a long time, long enough for Harry to reign in his feelings and stop crying like a child. Pulling away, he wiped his eyes. Ron looked uncomfortable, and it wasn’t hard to guess why.

“It’s okay, I know that you would agree with that suggestion,” he said, putting Ron out of his misery.

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s awful,” Ron said quietly. “I know you’ve come to really care about him.”

Harry let out a broken sound. “Have I though?” he asked. “How much of what I feel is because of the empathy and the way my soul is drawn to his? It feels real, but how can I really know?”

“Time?” Ron suggested. “I know that sounds horrible, and impossible. But if you wait, and your soul heals, then you can be sure, really sure, that you want him because of who he is, rather than because he can heal your soul.”

Harry shuddered. As always, Ron was completely correct. The thought had already crossed his mind since leaving Minerva’s office.

“But they don’t know how long it may take!”

“Mate, if you think Malfoy is ever going to move on and want someone else, you’re a fool,” Ron said with a sad grin. “That boy is mad for you. He probably has been since the day he met you. I can’t imagine he’s happy about leaving you, even for one bloody moment.”

“He could have warned me! All this time he’s been practising his control in preparation, and I had no bloody idea!” Harry said. “I understand why they hid this from me, the idea of Voldemort still destroying part of my life even though he’s dead is bloody infuriating, but he could have at least warned me about this!”

“Do you want to blow up your room some more?” Ron asked, his body tensing as Harry’s voice rose to a yell.

Harry sighed. He still wanted to be angry, but he seemed past that now, and any anger he had left evaporated at Ron’s question. 

“How can I be so upset at the idea of not seeing him anymore, when I can’t even be sure anything I feel for him is real?” he asked sadly.

Ron frowned. “He can only affect you through touch though. If he’s not around, and you still have those feelings, then they’re real,” he said. “As weird as it is to be defending him like this, who cares how you two started? If you make each other happy then that’s all that matters!”

“Except now we have to separate because Voldemort broke my bloody soul!” Harry snapped.

“At least he did the right thing by pulling back and no longer using his empathy on you,” Ron said, suddenly looking thoughtful. “He could have left a piece of his soul in you and you probably wouldn’t have even noticed in time to stop him. That would make him safe from true death, until you died, you know.”

“He would never turn me into a Horcrux,” Harry said with a shudder.

“See, if you know he wouldn’t hurt you, then you know he must have been struggling with this the whole time,” Ron said.

Harry groaned. “You’re getting so good at talking me down.”

Ron grinned. “That’s what friends are for,” he said. “Stopping each other from making a complete arse of things when they’re upset.”

“What should I do?” Harry asked. He desperately wanted someone to tell him what to do, even though he already knew the answer.

“I think you should go and talk to him,” Ron said seriously. “You can explain it all to me later when you’ve properly calmed down. He’s probably a wreck right now, he needs you.”

Harry nodded, even though he was dreading the sight of Draco. He was starting to think dangerous thoughts. Even though he knew it was terrible, he was starting to wonder if it would be so awful for Draco to use his soul to patch up Harry’s. When Draco’s soul reached into Harry, it didn’t feel anything like a Horcrux. It had felt soothing and calm, like a gentle embrace. Would it be so terrible to carry a piece of that with him?

 

 

 

Draco didn’t answer his door until the third time Harry knocked. When he did, his face was impassive, but his hands were white where they gripped the edge of the door. His posture was slumped in a way that told of how much he was really hurting. Any rage Harry felt disappeared in an instant. 

“Can we talk?” he asked gently.

Draco stared at him for a few long moments, before opening the door all the way and standing aside. Harry nodded gratefully and entered. Once the door closed behind him, he turned but suddenly found himself unsure where to begin. Draco eyed him for a few moments.

“I heard you destroyed your room with wild magic,” he said, curiously. “Are you okay?”

“Have you talked to Ron?” Harry asked, confused, he had gone for a walk outside to clear his head before approaching Draco, but he didn’t imagine Ron would have intervened.

Draco shook his head. “You didn’t cast any privacy charms, everyone in the common room heard it, and after what you had already done there, it wasn’t hard for them to guess what had happened.”

At the reminder, Harry quickly cast a privacy charm. Draco raised an eyebrow and looked nervous, almost as if he expected Harry to destroy his room too.

“I’m sorry,” Harry apologised. “I needed to get out of there before I lost control of my magic. I wrecked that office a bit once before, when it was Dumbledore’s, I didn’t much feel like doing it again.”

Draco eyed him warily. “How angry are you?”

Harry briefly entertained the idea of holding out a hand for Draco to touch and feel for himself, before he realised he didn’t want that. He wanted to resolve this without empathy.

“Unbelievably, but most of it faded after destroying my room and talking to Ron,” he replied. 

Draco closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. “I don’t want to leave you, Harry,” he said, gently. “But if staying with you prevents your soul from healing, then there’s no choice involved.”

Harry’s heart stuttered in his chest, just a little. While he appreciated Draco going straight to the heart of the matter, he also wasn’t in the least prepared for it.

“Why didn’t we deal with this sooner?” he asked, desperately. “This would have been so much easier before…before feelings got involved. I don’t want you lose you when I only just found you.”

Draco gave him a startled look. It was the first time Harry had directly, and verbally, acknowledged he had feelings beside desiring Draco’s empathy.

“Harry,” Draco said softly, his hands twitching as if he wanted to reach out and touch, “we both know this got serious long before I had any idea your soul was in danger. If I had tried to pull away, you wouldn’t have let me.”

Harry flushed with shame. Draco was right, he would have fought the decision every step of the way, demanding information and explanations. The whole time he had been helping Draco he had been acting as if he was privileged to all the information Draco had to offer. His own behaviour made him feel sick. He’d didn’t like knowing he had acted like he was entitled to things he was not.

“Is there no other way?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“I won’t turn you into a Horcrux,” Draco said, his tone angry. “Don’t even suggest it!”

Harry flinched. Draco knew him too well. And Merlin, how much that hurt. Aside from the continued complication that was his empathy, Draco seemed perfect for him. He didn’t let Harry get away with being in control all the time. He challenged him, pushed him. Even though he no doubt hated Ron when all this began, he’d become perfectly civil with him. Worst of all, he had suffered greatly during the war in ways they had never known, and that meant, on some level, he understood Harry in ways no one else could.

“And here we both thought I would be the one to walk away,” Harry said sadly.

“We couldn’t have known that even though you balanced me so well, you were actually the worst possible person to do so,” Draco said. “If your soul was whole, we would have been fine, in fact, we would have been better that we are now. I have to do the right thing here, Harry. I have to step back and let you heal!”

Harry growled in frustration. “Even though he's dead he’s still taking things from me!”

Draco’s face contorted and he reached out, but Harry backed away. He still wasn’t ready for Draco to touch him. This could be the last time Draco would ever touch him, and yet he couldn’t stand the idea. It was like he was suddenly seeing Draco for the first time. 

It wasn’t just the empathy. The empathy had opened his eyes to the person Draco was. He was strong, he’d endured so much, and yes, he’d handled it poorly, but he’d never really had a choice. When it had finally come down to making a choice, and really having no way around it, he had risked his family and joined Harry’s fight. It didn’t matter to Harry that he’d waited until the end of the war to do so. He had abandoned his family to fight for the side of the light, and that took great courage for someone like Draco.

All this time he’d pushed all his thoughts and feelings into the realm of Draco’s empathy. But that wasn’t the case. Draco made amusing jokes, and he went along with Ron’s teasing. He duelled like it was second nature, but also so enjoyable. He genuinely relished a challenge. Upon hearing Hermione insult Ginny, he had defended her. He only had to look at Harry to understand what he was thinking most of the time. He had empathy, but he barely needed to use it. Years of Harry watching Draco, and Draco watching back, had allowed them to communicate almost non-verbally. 

The empathy was nothing but a pleasant addition to why he was drawn to Draco, and he was a fool for using it as a shield for so long.

“We can still see each other,” he said suddenly, resurfacing from his thoughts.

“Harry,” Draco started, sounding tired.

“No,” Harry interrupted. “Listen. We can still see each other! You just can’t touch me.”

“I can’t trap you into something like that,” Draco said, sounding annoyed. “You need more than that. You deserve more than that!”

“I don’t care about bloody sex!” Harry snapped. “I care about spending time with you, and learning more about you. I’ve been hiding behind your empathy as an excuse for why I feel this way, but it’s all a load of shit! I have feelings for you, real feelings, and they have nothing to do with your empathy!”

Draco’s breath hitched and he swayed a little. “You can’t know that,” he said, eyes wide. “Your soul knows I’m a source of healing, and emotions come from the soul! All of it could be false! Just some way for your soul to get you closer to me!”

Harry reeled back as if struck. “You can’t really believe that!”

Draco huffed and looked to the side. “For a while there, I didn’t,” he said quietly. “When we, when I…”

With an irritated sound he trailed off and ran his hands through his hair. “You proved to me that you wanted intimacy without the empathy, that meant something to me,” he said, his voice dangerously weak. “But it could still be your soul, trying to draw you in.”

Rage and fear rushed through Harry. If Draco truly believed that, how was he supposed to prove otherwise? It hurt to hear that Draco didn’t trust him to know how he felt. At the same time, he understood Draco’s concerns, they were also his own. But he was becoming more and more sure that his feelings for Draco had nothing to do with the damaged state of his soul. He had always been drawn to Draco, even if only to fight with him as children. There was something about them that just worked. Sometimes it was angry and violent, and other times it was passionate and gentle, but they were still drawn together regardless, and he didn’t think it really had anything to do with the empathy either. If Harry’s soul was drawn to Draco’s, he was sure it was just because of how well they suited each other, even when it seemed dangerous, rather than just because Draco could heal him.

“That meant something to me too,” he said softly, catching Draco’s eyes and holding his gaze. “You trusted me. You were intimate and vulnerable without using your empathy to know how I felt. I have never felt so close to someone as I did then, and we didn’t even touch. You can’t expect me to throw that all away?”

Draco made a broken sound. “You’re making this harder!”

“Good!” Harry hissed viciously. “You’re being an idiot. The only thing that has to happen is you refraining from using your empathy on me! There is no reason we can’t still see each other!”

“I don’t know if I can!”

“We can figure it out as we go!” Harry replied insistently. “We’ve come this far, and no one’s soul got damaged. We can afford to try. If something happens and we can’t resist the empathy, then we can deal with that issue then, not now!”

“You can’t even stand the idea of touching me right now!” Draco suddenly snapped. “How can I know that you won’t get used to that and, even if your soul heals, no longer want my empathy? It’s a part of me, and I don’t ever want to ignore it completely again, not after you’ve shown me the good in it!”

Harry blinked. There was so much to process in what Draco had said, he barely knew where to begin. Vividly, he recalled the look on Draco’s face that night, that seemed like forever ago, in the hospital wing. He remembered the way Draco had hated and feared his empathy. He’d had no idea his opinion had changed so dramatically. It warmed him to know that he had brought Draco some peace with himself, even if everything else was about to go down in flames.

“Draco, my reluctance to touch you right now is not what you think,” he said carefully. “I’m not balanced. I’m very upset, and angry, and I’m not even sure exactly what direction those feelings are going in. I know you hated lying to me, I know you hate this right now, but that doesn’t stop me from being upset and angry with you. If I touch you right now, I will hurt you, and I don’t want that.”

Draco released a shuddering exhale, and sat down on his bed. 

“Look,” Harry continued. “Just think about what I’ve said, alright? Take a few days. Just please, don’t brush me aside like this, not when there is a workable alternative!”

Draco didn’t look at him, and Harry briefly entertained the idea of yelling a bit to get a reaction, before scolding himself for the impulse. He had said his piece, and now he needed to give Draco some space to sort out what he wanted.  Sighing, he walked to the door. Looking back, he saw Draco was still staring down at his lap.

“I have feelings for you. They are real. You mean something to me, with or without your empathy,” he said softly. “I don’t want to lose you.”

With his point made, he left Draco to his thoughts, and hoped he’d really think about what Harry had said.

 

 

 

Harry paced in front of the stairway to Minerva’s office the next day. The gargoyle had informed him that she was due back soon from her last class of the day, but he couldn’t stand still. He’d said his piece to Draco, but he didn’t think it was enough to sway him. If they were ever going to go their separate ways for the sake of protecting someone, he hadn’t thought Draco would be the one acting so honourable. In fact, he thought he could rely on Draco to selfishly hold onto the things he wanted. It seemed he had underestimated him, again.

That should annoy him, but instead it thrilled him. Draco was so unpredictable, and just when Harry thought he knew what Draco would do next, he surprised him. It only strengthened Harry’s resolve that they were well suited to each other, once the matter of Draco’s empathy was stripped away. As he turned to pace back the way he had come, he caught sight of the headmistress approaching.

“Professor McGonagall,” he said, hurrying over to her. “Can we speak?”

If she was surprised to see him, she hid it well, and simply gestured him into her office without comment.

“There’s no need for formalities, Harry,” she said, as she summoned a house elf and requested tea. 

 “Alright,” Harry said. “Draco seems to trust you. You suggested he keep this information about my soul from me until the end of the school year, and he complied. I need to you to convince him we don’t have to undergo full separation.”

Minerva tensed. For a few moments she stared at him, as if trying to see into his mind. Finally, she sighed and put down her tea.

“Explain this to me, Harry,” she requested. “I can’t see a way around separating you. I’m afraid the healing of your soul is paramount, now that we know it won’t resolve while you are in contact with him.”

“Exactly! You say my soul can’t heal if it is exposed to his while he uses his empathy,” Harry explained, edging forward in his seat. “But if that’s the case there’s no reason we have to avoid each other! As long as he doesn’t touch me, everything will be fine!”

Minerva gave him a sad and tired look. “Harry, you have to know that is not a viable option,” she said tentatively. “While it would work, theoretically, have you not thought how difficult that will be for you both?”

Harry sighed, and leaned back in his chair. Obviously, Minerva agreed with Draco. While he understood their points, surely being together, even if they couldn’t touch, was better than being completely separate?

“What if it takes a long time to heal my soul?” he asked sadly. “I just got to know him, I don’t want to throw away all the progress we made!”

“Intimacy has a way of clouding the issue,” Minerva said wisely. “If Draco thinks full separation is necessary, perhaps it would be best to trust him. He will not only have to fight his own temptation to use empathy on you, but also your desire for it as well. Do  you really want to put him through that?”

Harry scowled and looked away. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard. As long as Harry’s soul didn’t take too long to heal, it would just be as it had been. It wasn’t as if Draco had been using his empathy much in the past few weeks anyway. They would only be stopping what little contact they already had. 

“Harry,” Minerva said softly. “Draco’s empathy is an overwhelming force. This time apart may be to your benefit. Use it to clear your head, so you are both better prepared for it when your soul has healed.”

Harry couldn’t help but glare at her. She was as good as telling him his feelings were due to Draco’s empathy. It took a lot of willpower not to snap something scathing at her, or whine like a petulant teenager. Biting his tongue, he waited to calm down before speaking. 

“For a long time I was confused about what was real, and what was due to his empathy,” he said, meeting her eyes so she would know how serious he was. “But I’m not confused anymore. I may enjoy his empathy, but I don’t need it to want him. It only brings out an intensity we already had, but didn’t know what to do with.”

Minerva nodded at him, looking sad. “I understand, Harry,” she said softly, seeming very old. “But you must allow your soul to heal, and if you stay together, you may very well last a long time before temptation gets the better of you, but then what? You would have to start over from the beginning, and how many times of this happening would it take for you to accept separation as an option? We also can’t predict what will happen upon empathetic contact after a long period of time, but before your soul has healed. It could very well tear your soul from you, regardless of Draco’s control.”

Cold dread settled in Harry’s belly. Unbidden, the memory of that first night he felt his soul move came to his mind. The first time his broken soul had touched another since he had died and it had almost torn itself from his body in a matter of moments. Since then, it had not been that bad, and eventually it was drawing Draco’s soul in, rather than attempting to flee. But Minerva was right, there was no predicting what would happen after so long a time. While the idea of having a piece of Draco’s soul within him did not upset him, as it did them, he did not relish the idea of losing his soul completely.

Chapter Text

After leaving Minerva, Harry sought out Draco. They were both right, he was being immensely selfish. How long would he have lasted before he was begging Draco to touch him? It had happened more than once already, to his embarrassment. It could very well happen again, and he could lose his soul if Draco gave in. There still had to be a better option, and he was determined to find it, but first he had to apologise to Draco. It seemed he kept hurting him without meaning to.

After searching fruitlessly, he finally resorted to the map. When he located him, his breath hitched in his throat, and his heart seemed to skip a beat. Draco was standing by the Room of Requirement. Almost tripping over in his urgency, he rushed to meet him there. Whatever Harry had said to him must have made him very upset if he had gone there. He had told Harry once that he avoided it. That he’d had nightmares of the fire for months, and was sick with fear whenever he was near it.

When Harry arrived at that corridor, he stopped when he saw Draco. Draco looked so small. His posture was hunched over, he was holding his arms as if he were cold, and he was so pale. It made Harry ache at the thought of what he must be feeling, looking at that room where he had nearly died, where one of his friends had died. Harry himself had been back several times, determined to put the incident behind him, although the room was not functioning, so all he could do was look at the permanently visible door and remember what had happened there.

“You know, it was here that I made the decision to fight for you,” Draco said, breaking Harry from his thoughts with a start. He hadn’t realised Draco had noticed him.

“I thought you said Snape asked you to keep an eye on me,” Harry said cautiously, moving closer.

“He did, but I was only going to do that if I could get away with it and still appear loyal to the Dark Lord,” Draco replied, his tone neutral, still not looking at Harry. “But after what happened in there, the fire, I changed my mind and decided to fight for you.”

“Why?” Harry asked softly, coming to stand beside Draco. They had never spoken of the war before, aside from the brief mention of Snape, and Voldemort attempting to use him as a Horcrux.

“You saved me,” Draco replied, voice low and filled with some emotion Harry couldn’t identify. The urge to reach out and ask to be shown that emotion made him feel sick. How did he think he could last even a few days near Draco and not touch him? How could he resist asking him to share his feelings over the weeks or months it might take his soul to heal?

“Of course,” Harry replied. “I couldn’t leave you there to die. That’s not who I am.”

“Exactly,” Draco said, turning to look at him suddenly. “I treated you like dirt for years, I tried to use the cruciatus on you. I let the Death Eaters in and caused Dumbledore’s death, and I stood by and did nothing while Granger was tortured. But you still saved me. You didn’t have to, but you did.”

Harry stared at him awkwardly, unsure how to respond. At the time, he hadn’t been thinking about any of the awful things Draco had done to him. The only thing that had been passing through his mind was that he had to get him out, that he couldn’t die in that fire. During and after, he’d never stopped to think about the reasons why he shouldn’t have saved him. It was a split-second, unconscious decision. In fact, there really was no decision. Draco’s life was one he could save, so he had.

“I don’t know what you expect to hear, Draco,” he finally replied, when it was clear Draco was expecting a response. “I didn’t even think of any of that. I just acted. I couldn’t let you die in there, it’s as simple as that.”

“No Death Eater would have done that,” Draco said. “In fact, I’m not even sure my parents would have gone back for me. But you did. You had so much else on your mind, and I knew, even then, exactly what was on your mind, and yet you took the time to save me. That night changed the way I thought about you, and the war. After that, there wasn’t any way I could fight against you anymore. You stopped being all these things I had convinced myself you were, and you became you. Harry, not Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. Because the Boy Who Lived was meant to kill Death Eaters, not save them.”

“The only person I was ever meant to kill was Voldemort,” Harry replied, his voice tense. It was still a sore spot that so many Death Eater deaths at the battle had been attributed to him, when really, he had only killed two, and not even directly. Even now, he couldn’t stand the idea of killing. He even had mixed feelings about killing Voldemort, even though it had been the only way.

“I know,” Draco said softly. “What happened in that room changed me, permanently. I fought for you, even knowing he would kill me and my parents if he won. Suddenly, life was about more than just survival. I wanted to do something good, like you had. I didn’t even think I would survive the battle, but I fought anyway.”

“Why are you telling me this? Why are you here?” Harry asked, gesturing the now permanently visible door.

“I needed to remind myself of these things,” Draco said. “I found strength that day that I didn’t think I had, and I need it again now.”

Cold swept through Harry, causing him to shiver. So it was his fault. He had been so unreasonable that he’d pushed Draco into reliving awful memories just to find the strength to push him away.

“I’m sorry.”

Draco appeared startled, and Harry looked down, unable to meet his gaze.

“I was being selfish,” he said. “I didn’t think things through. I brushed aside your fears because, even though I had shared them until recently, I had already moved past them. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”

“Harry, you have to know that I don’t want this,” Draco said, his tone earnest. Looking up to meet his eyes, Harry saw he was showing more emotion than he usually would. “If there was another way, I would take it. But I will not knowingly risk your soul, and neither should you!”

Harry nodded. “I know, I’m sorry, I talked to McGonagall about it. She made me understand it better.”

“I’m glad,” Draco said, sounding tired again. He always seemed tired lately. “I wasn’t sure I could dissuade you, even if I tried my hardest. You can be very determined when you want to be.”

Harry flushed. It shamed him to know Draco had been so worried about this, but still resolved to try and stop him.

“I’m still determined to find another way,” he said. “But I concede that being in close physical proximity will not work.”

Draco smiled wryly. “At least you see that much, I suppose.”

“We still have time,” Harry insisted. “There’s still a month before school is over. I’m not giving up without a fight!”

“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t try,” Draco said with a gentle smile. “That’s what I like about you.”

“There is something I want though,” Harry continued, nervously. “And you aren’t going to like it.”

Draco grimaced, and closed his eyes. “What is it?”

“I want you to use your empathy to touch my soul,” Harry said, predicting Draco’s reaction and bracing himself for it.

“Are you completely mad?” Draco said, his voice dangerously soft.

“No, I think it would be beneficial,” Harry said, gesturing for Draco to be silent when he tried to reply. “I want you to see how much you can learn from it. It’s part of your empathy, and you need to learn how to control it. I know it’s dangerous with me, very dangerous, but we both know how that feels now. We’re better prepared for it”

“I will not put your soul at risk just to experiment with this aspect of my empathy,” Draco hissed furiously. “I can’t believe you would even suggest it!”

“Emotions are tied to the soul, and I imagine it would be very obvious if one of those emotions was not natural,” Harry continued, trying to ignore how upset Draco’s reaction made him feel. “You say that my feelings for you are false, that my soul is tricking me to get closer to you. I say, let’s see if you can prove it.”

Draco stared at him as if he had gone insane. Several times he opened his mouth only to close it again. For a second, Harry felt unaccountably smug for rendering him speechless. But he really did want to try this, and he needed to hear Draco’s counter arguments in order to combat them.

“If we’re very careful, I don’t see why you can’t examine my soul with your empathy,” he said. “We both know how it feels when you go too far, and you keep saying you don’t know enough about your soul magic. Here’s your opportunity.”

“Are you completely mad?”

“You already said that,” Harry pointed out, helpfully.

“I swear to Merlin, Harry, do not push me right now!”

The intensity in Draco’s eyes, and the dark undercurrent in his tone sent heat racing through Harry.

“Or what?” he asked, stepping closer. “What will you do to stop me?”

It was dangerous, so dangerous, to push him like that, but he just couldn’t help it. He never felt more alive than when he and Draco did this dance.

Draco scowled darkly at him. “You are bloody insane!”

“Different words, same meaning,” Harry taunted. “Have I truly rendered you dumb? I can’t decide if I like that or not.”

An angry sneer passed over Draco’s face, and his eyes, for a moment, darted to Harry lips. Harry smirked. He rather liked the idea of Draco shutting him up that way, though he doubted that he would. Draco was not quite as recklessly impulsive as Harry was.

“What happens if we go too far and bind our bloody souls together?” Draco asked, voice strangely shaky, and not reflective of his appearance at all.

“I can think of worse fates than being bound to your soul,” Harry breathed, moving closer.

The air seemed to thicken around them. As always, their switch from discussing something hurtful and emotional, to suddenly baiting each other and sharing heated looks was rapid and intense. There was never a dull moment with Draco, and he loved it.

Draco seemed conflicted by his statement. His breath hitched in his throat and he looked simultaneously aroused and horrified. They were stepping into dangerous territory, and Harry knew he should be terrified of even possessing such a sentiment, let alone voicing it out loud.

Suddenly afraid of what he had just shared, and worried how Draco might respond, he pulled him forward into a kiss in the hopes of distracting him. Gloved hands clutched at him, but pulled him closer instead of pushing him away. Even as Draco deepened the kiss himself, he remained closed to him empathetically. For once, Harry didn’t mind. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what Draco was feeling. But, he wanted Draco to understand that although he craved his empathy and enjoyed it immensely when they were together like this, he didn’t require it to be intimate.

Gripping Draco’s hips, he pulled him closer, flush against him. As always, Draco’s arousal for him was surprisingly fast and strong, and he could feel the evidence of it against him, even though Draco did not allow him to feel the sensation itself. All it took were heated looks and a few deep kisses for him, for Draco, even less. As always, he would feel just how much Harry burned for him, in every touch and kiss. Draco could read the desire from his lips, in more ways than one. He loved that about Draco’s empathy.

Groaning, he pulled back, and nuzzled his way down Draco’s jaw to latch onto his neck. Slowly, he backed them up to the wall, pressing Draco against it gently. He wanted him to know he could, at any moment, pull back and Harry would let him. He knew that, at times, he had pushed him, demanding submission from him. While that excited him, and from his reactions, excited Draco too, even as he rebelled against it, that was not all they were. That was not all this could be, and he desperately wanted Draco to understand that.

Shifting slightly, he pressed his leg between Draco’s, startling a moan from him. All at once, he was battered by Draco’s emotions. With great reluctance, he pulled back and met Draco’s gaze. He shifted a hand to gently hold the nape of his neck, to maintain contact.

“Can you block that?” he asked breathlessly.

A foreign jolt of surprise passed through him. It seemed Draco had underestimated him.

“You don’t want to feel this?” he asked.

Harry shook his head and kissed him gently a few times, shallow and sweet, unlike before.

“Of course I do, I love to know the way this makes you feel,” he said softly. “But I don’t need that from you to enjoy this.”

Draco’s breath hitched, and an intense wave of arousal swept through Harry, followed closer by something much deeper, and much more gentle. Harry shivered. He could very well guess what that emotion was now.

“You are making everything so much harder,” Draco breathed, sharing a jolt of sadness.

“I should hope so,” Harry murmured back, twitching his hips and smirking.

Amusement flooded their connection, but Draco scowled and tried to look annoyed.

“Honestly, Harry,” he said, trying to sound disapproving. The feelings he was sharing undermined his attempts, only amusing Harry more.

“Can you keep your empathy closed on your end?” Harry asked, serious once again.

Draco shook his head. “I haven’t been able to so far. You overwhelm me, and it’s just easier to give in and share. But then, I haven’t tried particularly hard before now.”

Harry nodded. They had been less intimate while Draco had been trying to restrain his empathy. Every time they had tried, he had swiftly lost control when things became too heated. It was incredibly flattering, even as it was particularly irritating.

“I’ve said it before, you’re more than just a body to me,” he said. “But if you want to try, then it would be good practise for you. If you can keep yourself closed off when you are so distracted, then you can do so in an attempt to examine my soul.”

Draco flinched, and flooded Harry with fear.

“You still want to try that?” he asked, shocked.

“You didn’t think I was serious?” Harry asked “I’m very serious! I want to prove to you that this isn’t just because my soul wants to be healed, and you can fix it. I also want you to learn everything you can from me before we have to separate, if I can’t find another alternative.”

“You stupid, bloody Gryffindor,” Draco snapped. “Stop being brave and start being smart. That puts you at extreme risk!”

“I rather think it’s worth the risk,” Harry replied, softly.

Draco scowled at him for several moments.

“Fine, but I want Weasley there,” he said.

Harry blinked. “Why?”

“Because he knows about all this, and I want someone there in case something goes wrong.”

Harry glared at him. “You think he’ll talk me out of it as soon as I mention it to him.”

“I certainly expect him to try,” Draco replied. “But if he doesn’t manage it, his presence might help us stay focused and safe.”

“Fine, Ron can be there, but you know he’s going to be a pain in the arse about it, right?”

“I expect no less.”

 

 

 

Draco had been right about Ron trying to talk Harry out of his plans. They’d had a massive argument about it, but eventually he’d won Ron around, mostly by explaining that it was his only way to know for sure if anything he felt was real. That had made Ron deflate and stop arguing very quickly. He didn’t mention that he was already sure, and it was more for Draco’s benefit. He suspected Ron knew that anyway, and was only playing along at that point so they didn’t fire up for another round. If he was surprised that Draco had suggested his involvement, he didn’t show it.

“I still think this is bloody stupid,” Ron said petulantly.

Harry gave him an understanding look. The three of them were sitting on the floor of Draco’s room, Draco and Harry opposite each other, while Ron sat to their side.

“I mean, how can I know if you’ve gone too far?” he continued.

“I told you, Weasley,” Draco explained for the third time, “the soul revealing spell will give you a visual representation of our souls, if they start to shift towards each other then it’s too far.”

“But what if it’s already too late at that point?” Ron persisted.

“Well then it’s too late and you can rush us to the hospital wing,” Draco snapped. “Remember, I don’t even want to do this, so you’re really not helping here. I’m just about ready to walk out, but that will upset Harry.”

Ron scowled at him, but said nothing further. Harry rested a hand on his knee briefly to gain his attention.

“Thank you for agreeing to be here for this, Ron,” he said. “It means a lot to me. I know you’re not happy about it.”

Ron gave him a searching look before nodding. With that settled, Harry returned his attention to Draco. He couldn’t deny he was excited for this. It was dangerous, and he knew better than to underestimate that danger. But still, it thrilled him.

“Harry, you know how this works,” Draco said softly, catching his eye. “As soon as you feel your soul shift, or my soul make contact, you pull back. Also, I’ll be focusing quite intently, warn me when I start bleeding emotion, I may not notice.”

“I know,” Harry replied. “Thank you for doing this.”

Draco gave him a complicated look, before shuffling closer. Their knees touched, and Draco seemed to burn him through the fabric. It seemed strange that Draco was always so hot, or maybe he just seemed that way to Harry because he was so sensitive to his every touch.

Settling in, Draco reached out his hands. Smiling, Harry took them, thrilled to be touching his bare skin again.

“Tone down the excitement, Harry,” Draco murmured.

“Oh, gross, mate,” Ron said suddenly, screwing up his face. “Am I going to have to listen to you two getting all turned on and stuff? I didn’t sign up for that.”

Harry scowled at him. “He doesn’t mean that kind of excitement!” he snapped. “Calm down.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, and Harry flushed. So maybe he was a little aroused, he couldn’t help that reaction when Draco touched him with bare hands. Where once he had felt violated to know Draco could feel his every emotion, now he enjoyed it.

A slow grin appeared on Draco’s face.

“Oi! Cut it out, the both of you!” Ron snapped. “No shagging each other with your eyes!”

“Sorry, Weasley,” Draco drawled. “If you could feel what he’s feeling right now...”

Harry knocked their knees together, hard. Although Ron knew they were intimate, to a certain degree, he really didn’t need Draco spelling out for him how much Harry wanted him.

“If we could stop embarrassing me and get started,” he said pointedly.

Draco sent one last smirk Ron’s way before focusing intently on Harry again. Since he was going to minimise risk by keeping a tight hold on his own emotions, Harry could feel nothing. It was strange. Draco closed his eyes, and took on a look of concentration. His grip on Harry’s hands tightened ever so slightly, and then there was just silence. Ron was looking between them curiously.

“What’s it like?” he asked.

“I don’t know, he’s closed to me,” Harry replied.

“Try to sound less disappointed, mate,” Ron said.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Harry said. “I miss it when it’s gone, being so connected to someone, on such an intimate level.”

“Shut up,” Draco said, not opening his eyes. “You’re distracting me. Tone down the longing too, if you can, you know it makes it a lot harder to stay closed to you.”

Harry flushed. “Sorry, Draco.”

Draco tilted his head slightly to the side, but didn’t otherwise move or speak. Ron was giving him an interested look, but also kept his mouth shut. They all knew that the risk would increase dramatically if Draco opened himself to Harry.

The silence stretched on awkwardly, as Harry tried not to think too hard about what Draco was doing. He knew if he focused too much attention on the fact that Draco would be trying to feel his soul, he’d end up flustered, and probably cause Draco to open up unintentionally. It still amazed him that for all his new-found control, Draco still struggled to maintain it with Harry. He supposed it was flattering in a way, and very unhealthy in another. They both got so caught up in each other’s feelings, it was hard to dissociate sometimes. Hopefully, Draco would see through this exercise that what Harry felt was real, and would stop pulling away so insistently.

“Harry,” Draco said warningly.

“Sorry,” he muttered, attempting to clear his head again.

“This is bloody weird mate,” Ron said quietly, watching Draco with open curiosity. “So he’s actually feeling your emotions, right down to your soul?”

“I am,” Draco replied. “I can feel the torn part of his soul, it’s already calling to me, and I haven’t even let any of my own emotions through. Cast the spell, Weasley.”

Ron frowned. “I thought we only needed to do that if you lost control and opened the connection on your end.”

“I didn’t expect his soul to be so active without any of my emotions coming through, just cast the damn spell!” Draco said, scowling.

“Alright,” Ron replied, sounding irritated. “ Anima revelio!

Harry gasped as Ron’s spell hit Draco, and he cast it again at Harry. Wispy white smoke curled around their bodies, visually representing their souls. Draco had told him about the spell, but he hadn’t explained what it would look like. It was beautiful.

“Mate,” Ron suddenly said. “Look at yours!”

Harry looked down to see that the wispy representation of his soul was coiled around his wrists, close to where Draco’s hands touched his. It was more loosely packed than Draco, more of a mist hovering around him than the semi-corporeal ropes twining around Draco. While he knew it was just a visual representation, and not what their souls were actually doing, it alarmed him to see his soul was clearly pushing at the margins, attempting to get free.

“What is it doing?” Draco asked, keeping his eyes closed.

“It’s wrapped around his wrists,” Ron replied, sounding shocked. “It really does look like it’s trying to get loose.”

“Open up to me,” Harry whispered. “I want to see what it looks like.”

“That is a bad idea,” Ron said warningly.

“Draco, you know you can” Harry urged. “We’ve done this before, we have plenty of warning before it gets too dangerous.”

Draco frowned, as if he were about to argue, but moments later a tiny trickle of apprehension seeped into Harry’s awareness. Harry turned his eyes to where their hands met, there was no change.

“More,” he said breathlessly. Would he actually see Draco’s soul move towards his? He remembered feeling it seep into him more than once, he was sure they could risk a few moments of contact. Just remembering the sensation had him feeling hot all over.

Draco frowned again. “That is not wise, Harry,” he said. “Calm down.”

Harry ignored him, eyes still fixed on the representation of Draco’s soul as a matching heat from Draco started to build within him. As predictable as ever, Draco was easily aroused upon feeling Harry’s attraction to him and his empathy. Almost immediately, Harry could start to feel that void in himself, and knew now it was the gap in his soul. It was so strange that he could feel it, when he was sure he wasn’t supposed to feel his soul.

In his peripheral vision, he could see Ron bring his wand to casting level, as if ready to blast them apart at a moment’s notice. Suddenly, he was very glad Draco had insisted he be present. Harry was already getting lost in what he was feeling. He knew Draco would feel, and likely be overwhelmed by, the way he was longing for that brush of his soul, so cool and soothing against the combined heat of their desire for one another.

Almost as if it had known the direction of Harry’s thoughts, the coil of soul around Draco began to move, flowing down his arms until it reached his wrists.

“Give us a moment, Ron,” Harry breathed, afraid Ron would be too hasty.

“Mate, this is really dangerous,” Ron replied, his voice tense, scared.

“I know, just...we’ve gone this far before. It’ll be fine.”

Draco shivered as his soul visibly moved over their hands and made contact with Harry’s. All at once, Harry felt that cool feeling slip into the cracks of his soul, and shuddered with pleasure. A moment later, and Draco had pulled away.

Opening his eyes, he stared at Harry. Harry stared back.

Ron glanced between them. “Should I leave?” he asked warily. “You won’t mess with souls again, right? Just normal, boring sex, yeah? Nice and safe?”

Harry flushed, and glared at him.

“Honestly, Weasley,” Draco drawled. “Don’t be crass.”

“Seriously?” Ron said, his voice a little high pitched. “Don’t you two realise what you look like when you’re looking at each other like that?”

“I can imagine,” Harry said, eyes darting back to Draco.

Draco shivered under his gaze.

“Mate,” Ron whined. “Put a bloke out of his misery, yeah? I’m worried for your safety, but I really don’t want to be here while you two are polluting the air with sexual tension.”

“Then leave!” Harry snapped.

“Don’t leave,” Malfoy said, still staring at Harry.

Ron glanced between them again.

“I’m not in any danger from you,” Harry said to Draco, his voice low.

“Your soul reaches for me even when I have closed off my end of the empathy,” Draco said, voice tense. “We didn’t even know that before! I was never focusing enough to notice!”

“Nothing bad has happened yet,” Harry said.

“I can’t allow the risk,” Draco said, although he did not lessen the intensity with which he looked at him. In fact, the intensity in his gaze seemed to increase.

“Then no skin contact,” Harry murmured. “No risk.”

“Seriously? That’s your solution? That’s ridiculous,” Draco said.

“It’s not like we haven’t done that before,” Harry replied. Draco’s eyes narrowed, but his breath hitched at the reminder.

“You guys do remember I’m here, right?” Ron asked, sounding a bit queasy.

“You care for his safety, Weasley,” Draco said, still not looking away from Harry’s eyes. “Tell him physical intimacy is too dangerous.”

“Oh man,” Ron groaned. “I really don’t want to get involved there.”

“Seriously?” Harry asked, annoyed. “You’re going to gang up on me with Ron?”

“You can’t seem to make a safe decision yourself!” Draco hissed.

“You could just walk away, Malfoy,” Ron pointed out.

“I wish that were true,” Draco replied. “But my self-control where Harry is concerned is tenuous at best.”

Harry smirked.

“That doesn’t sound healthy,” Ron said with a frown.

“You really should leave, Ron,” Harry said.

“I dunno, I didn’t like the sound of that.”

“He just means he can feel how turned on I am when he touches me, and it combines with how he’s feeling. That kind of intensity is hard to turn down.”

“Mate,” Ron groaned. “Too much information.”

Draco scoffed. “If only that was the sole reason it’s so hard to turn you down,” he said.

Harry raised an eyebrow. They hadn’t discussed this before.

“That’s it, I’m leaving. I don’t need to hear this,” Ron said, standing up. “Be safe, I bloody mean that! If you can avoid skin contact, have bloody fun with that...whatever the hell that means.”

“It means exactly what you think it means,” Draco replied suggestively.

“If you two mess around with your souls after I’ve trusted you alone, I’ll bloody hex your balls off,” Ron hissed. “And yes, Harry, you too. It’s pretty clear now whose fault it would be.”

Harry broke eye contact with Draco to glare at Ron. His best friend just shook his head in disbelief, and left the room. Harry returned his gaze to Draco.

“Maybe you should leave too, if you’re so worried,” he said quietly.

That seemed to light a fire in Draco, being told to leave his own room, and he pulled out his wand. Harry smirked as Draco locked the door and cast a privacy spell. He was so easy to bait, though Harry had been completely serious about one of them leaving. There was a lot more vulnerability to being intimate without skin contact, for them.

For a moment, neither moved. They were still sitting in front of each other, legs folded and knees touching. Draco’s gloves were lying beside them, and Harry was trying his best not to look at them. While he hated them, he couldn’t help but suddenly imagine how useful they could be.

“This is a bad idea,” Draco said.

“Then leave,” Harry replied, with a smirk.

Draco scowled. Finally moving, he crawled forward and straddled Harry’s lap. Harry unfolded his legs to get more comfortable as Draco’s weight settled on him.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Draco said, looking down at him. Harry had a moment to be annoyed that he hadn’t thought of straddling Draco first to finally seem taller. It was still a niggle in his mind, that he was shorter than everyone else. Draco used his extra height all the time, looking down at Harry with dark eyes. “For me to admit that I’m scared and walk away?”

Harry leaned back, supporting himself on his hands. “If you need to walk away, then walk away, Draco,” he said, letting his tone become serious for a moment. “Games aside, I never want to push you too far.”

Draco smiled warmly. “I know that, Harry,” he said. “But you can’t deny you love it when you manipulate me like this.”

Harry smirked. “Like you’re any better.”

Draco curled a hand around the nape of Harry’s neck, letting the tips of his fingers sink into his hair. The gesture seemed oddly comforting.

“I do feel sorry for Weasley.”

Harry snorted. “Don’t,” he replied. “He was giving me shit about shagging you long before I was even talking to you. He bloody deserves it.”

Draco slipped his other hand under Harry’s shirt. The movement was so casual, it took Harry by surprise.

“Was that when you choked on your pumpkin juice so spectacularly at lunch, not long after we first talked by the lake?” he asked, running his hand along Harry’s ribs.

Harry leaned back slightly to give him better access. “Yeah, that would be the time.”

“I did wonder what he’d said to get such an amusing reaction,” Draco chuckled, fingers sliding over one of his nipples. Harry’s breath hitched, but Draco continued to talk as if he were doing nothing out of the ordinary. “You do blush so easily, it’s quite adorable.”

Harry nodded faintly as Draco continued to tease him delightfully under his shirt. He wasn’t quite sure what Draco was up to, acting so casual, touching him but not kissing him. But he wasn’t about to complain.

“Yes, well,” he said, pausing as Draco slid his hand to the other side of his chest and gave him a light pinch. He could feel his face flushing now at the sparks of pleasure Draco was pulling from him.

“Yes, well?” Draco asked mischievously. He massaged the base of Harry’s head with his other hand. Harry let out a faint moan, leaning into the touch. Smirking, Draco leaned forward and nosed at Harry’s neck.

Harry let his eyes slide shut as Draco seemed to hover for several moments, before finally kissing and nipping at his neck. Without trouble, he found that one spot that sent heat blazing through Harry, and teased it mercilessly. Breath stuttering, Harry wobbled on one hand so he could grab at Draco’s hair with the other. Draco let out a pleased sound, and gave his nipple another light pinch. Harry gasped.

How Draco was maintaining a block on his empathy was beyond Harry. By now, normally he’d be feeling Draco’s arousal crashing over him as well. Draco nipped a little harder at his neck and Harry wobbled on his arm again. He had a particular weakness for his neck, and he was about ready to fall down. Draco smiled against his skin, as if he knew and found it particularly amusing. Still teasing him under his shirt, sending little bolts of pleasure through him, he grabbed a fistful of Harry’s hair at the base of his head, and pulled his head back. Nipping his way down to bite lightly at his collarbone, he then licked and bit his way up to the other side of his neck to pay it similar attention. When he latched onto, and sucked, another sensitive spot, Harry let out a shaky breath, and his arm gave out from under him.

Tumbling to the floor, Draco hovered above him, not relenting for a moment as he teased his neck and chest. At a particularly firm pinch, Harry arched his back slightly and tilted his hips in search of pressure. Draco pulled back and smirked down at him.

“Who’s in control now?”

Harry flushed angrily, but Draco kissed him before he could reply. Harry became so lost in the searing heat of his mouth he promptly forgot why he was annoyed. As Draco finally pulled back and nuzzled down his neck again, a thought came to him.

“I thought we were doing the no touching thing,” he murmured.

“This may be the last time in a long time that I get to touch you, Harry,” Draco replied, pressing his fingers firmer against his chest for emphasis, and kissing his neck. “Let me enjoy it for as long as it’s safe?”

Draco’s words made Harry overwhelmingly sad all of a sudden. In an instant, Draco let out a whimper, and kissed him softly and briefly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to make you unhappy.”

Harry shook his head a little, but Draco was kissing him again before he could reply. It was messy and deep, and just a little bit frantic. Harry couldn’t stop feeling sad as he clutched weakly at Draco’s hair and shirt. He didn’t want it to be the last time they touched. He was still determined to find some other solution to the mess they were in.

Draco fumbled with his shirt until he managed to pull it off. His hands were shaking. Harry just wanted to stop for a moment, to take a second and talk about it. He didn’t want Draco feeling so desperate, like they had to do this before it was too late. There was an edge of finality to it that sent unpleasant shivers up his spine.

Even though he wanted to slow down and think clearly, he found he couldn’t. Draco was mouthing down his throat and across his chest, hands roaming as if memorising the way he felt. Breathless, he tried to figure out what to say to make Draco realise that this wouldn’t be the last time. But he didn’t really know, did he? They didn’t know for sure that his soul would ever heal, they only thought that it might. What if it took years? What if it took a lifetime? What if this really was the last time they would ever touch?

“Harry?”

Harry opened his eyes. He didn’t remember closing them and the room swam strangely. Blinking, he realised he was crying. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a wounded sound came out. Draco ran a thumb over his cheek, wiping away the tears. Harry tried to calm himself, tried to breathe evenly, but he only sobbed more. His breath was coming in stuttering gasps, and he was starting to shake.

“I’m sorry,” Draco murmured. “Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Harry shuddered, and rolled onto his side. Curling in on himself, he found he couldn’t stop the tears. He didn’t want this to end. He’d finally come to accept his feelings for Draco, only to have him torn away. How could he still be losing everything because of Voldemort? That monster was dead, and he was still taking things from him.

Draco moved away, and Harry closed his eyes tight. He didn’t want to watch him walk away.

Suddenly a blanket was draped over him, and Draco settled next to him, moulding to the curve of his back. Draco lifted his head gently and slid his pillow under it before throwing an arm over him and drawing him close. As he did so, Harry suddenly realised Draco had taken off his shirt and it was smooth skin settling against his own naked back. Draco didn’t seem worried as he nuzzled the back of Harry’s neck.

“Just breathe,” he murmured, his breath warming Harry’s neck. “Let it out, and breathe. I’m here, I’ve got you.”

Releasing a particularly loud sob, Harry curled in on himself tighter, one hand coming to clutch at the arm Draco had over him. He wanted to push Draco away, but he only pulled him closer. He felt as if he were drowning in sadness. How must that feel to Draco, with so much skin contact? He didn’t want to share that burden with him. Draco deserved better. But he couldn’t bear to pull away. They lay like that for some time, only Harry didn’t feel any better. Draco’s breathing was slowing, it sounded like he was falling asleep.

“Let me go,” Harry sobbed.

Draco held him tighter, and laid gentle kisses on the nape of his neck. “I won’t let you feel this alone. We’re in this together, remember? Your grief is my grief.”

“It’s not fair!” Harry wailed. “What if you’re right? What if it’s not even real? What if I heal and then it’s all gone? What if all I feel for you is just-”

“Your feelings are real,” Draco interrupted, his voice wavering. “They’re not a trick. They’re real, and they’re strong. You were right, I would know if they were false. We’ll get through this.”

Something inside Harry broke at his words, and he rolled over and kissed him desperately. It was messy, and inelegant, and just a little frantic. But it was them, and Draco leaned into it like it was all he ever wanted.

“I knew they had to be real,” Harry breathed as he pushed Draco over until he was lying atop him. Even thinking they were real, he’d been terrified they weren’t. That fear would probably never leave him. He supposed that was just something he’d have to get used to. That fear would probably never leave him. He supposed that was just something he’d have to get used to.

“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Draco replied, reaching up and pulling Harry back down so their mouths met in another desperate kiss.

Harry pulled back a while later, when things began to get too heated. “We can’t do this now,” he said regretfully.

“Why not?” Draco asked, running his hands up and down Harry’s bare sides, making him shiver.

“Because everything I feel right now, in addition to what you must be feeling on your own? You’ll lose control very quickly. You said you wanted to enjoy this last chance while you had it, yes?”

Draco nodded.

“Then now is not the best time,” Harry concluded. “We still have a few more weeks.”

“Then you should probably leave,” Draco said with a sigh. “It is getting late.”

Harry moved off him and stood. Draco raised himself up on his elbows and looked him over slowly. Harry flushed at the attention. He couldn’t bear to look at Draco’s chest. He had caught sight of his scars for only a moment, but it was enough.

“I hope you’re not about to apologise,” Draco said cautiously, noticing his discomfort. “We both did stupid things that year.”

Harry frowned, an apology on the tip of his tongue. Shaking his head, he realised Draco was right. Apologising would just lead to an uncomfortable conversation about their sixth year, and he was still reeling from his earlier thoughts.

“Actually, I was going to ask if I could stay,” he said instead.

Draco looked at him in surprise, and a little confusion.

“Not to do anything like that,” Harry quickly clarified. “Just to sleep. If that’s okay. If you think it’s safe.”

Blushing, he ran a hand through his hair and forced himself to shut up before he said something embarrassing. Like how nice it had felt to be held in Draco’s arms like that. Like how he was still being battered by his realisation of how much it was going to hurt, leaving Draco. That even though he was determined to find another solution, he was beginning to realise there wasn’t one.

“I don’t know what my empathy will do when I’m asleep,” Draco finally replied, softly.

Disappointment washed over Harry but he kept a straight face and nodded.

“I want to,” Draco continued. “I’m just not sure it would be safe. We may wake up to find I’ve bonded with your soul.”

“That’s okay,” Harry said, shaking his head as if it didn’t matter. “It was worth asking, but you’re right. You won’t be awake to control your empathy, and with the way my soul is desperate for healing, it would probably go wrong.”

Draco pulled himself to his feet. For several moments, he looked at Harry with an indecipherable expression.

“I’ll take the inhibiting potion,” he said, his voice neutral. “That way I can feel you but remain closed, and my empathy won’t be able to act on you.”

Harry stared at him, horrified. “I can’t ask you to do that!” he gasped. It was unthinkable.

Draco smiled softly, sadly. “I’m offering,” he said. “And it won’t be the dosage you were witness to. The regular dosage has less severe effects, and I’ll be sleeping through them anyway.”

“Draco, I can’t allow—”

“You can,” Draco interrupted. “It’s simple. We only have a few weeks before we have to go our separate ways to let your soul heal. I want to make the most of the time I have left with you, before then.”

Harry was conflicted. He never wanted to see Draco subjected to those potions again. But at the same time, he desperately needed more time with him.

“How bad are the side effects?” he asked. “And don’t even think about lying to me!”

Draco made a placating gesture with his hands. “I’ll be a little woozy, and I’ll have trouble stringing together sentences. I may be a little grabby with you, not much self-control. That won’t be a problem now, not like the first time.”

“I will not take advantage of you while you are on the potion!” Harry hissed, vehemently.

Draco stared at him for a few moments. “Technically, if I agree before I take the—”

No!

“Harry.”

Absolutely not!

Draco sighed. “It would be safe though.”

“I can’t believe you would even suggest that,” Harry snapped, striding over to him. Without hesitation, he touched Draco’s arm so he would know exactly how thoroughly repulsed he was by the idea.

Draco shivered. “Fine,” he said, trying to pull his arm away. Harry refused to let go.

“Please tell me you weren’t seriously considering that as an option?” Harry asked urgently.

Draco shrugged. It was a gesture that was out of place on him, and made him look oddly nonchalant and sheepish at the same time.

“Draco, I will say this, and you have to believe me,” Harry said, taking Draco’s face in his hands so he would feel his certainty. “I will not, ever , think that sex is worth you taking those potions. It would be like raping you, and I don’t care if you consented before you took them. Once on them you can barely control your own thoughts, let alone actions. Physical intimacy is nice, but it is not worth that!”

Draco averted his eyes. Nodding, he pulled Harry’s hands away from his face.

“Is this insecurity due to your lack of experience?” Harry asked. He could not imagine Draco’s thought process on that. He hated the potions, why would he willingly take them just for a little physical pleasure?

Draco flushed.

“It is, isn’t it?” Harry asked with a sigh. Maybe this was his fault, he should have addressed it before now. “Just because I’ve had sex before doesn’t mean I need that from you. I understand why that’s not possible. It’s okay, really!”

Draco scowled. “Well maybe I just want to, did you ever think of that?” he snapped. “Everything isn’t always about you!”

“Merlin, Draco!” Harry said in exasperation. “If you’re that bloody desperate, pass me one of your gloves and I’ll get you off right now!”

Draco flushed an even darker red. “Oh, real alluring,” he said scathingly. “Your seduction techniques have me weak at the knees.”

Harry let out a frustrated groan. “Draco, I understand that you want physical intimacy,” Harry said, trying a different route. “But taking those potions to do so is not safe, and it’s not healthy.”

Draco opened his mouth, probably to comment about the safety of it, but Harry clamped a hand over it to keep him quiet.

“Yes, it is safe with regards to your empathy,” he conceded. “But it’s unsafe in every other way! They are a mind-altering substance, Draco, that means you are unable to give consent! Even if you did beforehand, even if I was selfish enough to agree, which would never happen, it would be rape. You said yourself, you can’t form coherent sentences, so how are you meant to indicate what you want or don’t want? What if I hurt you and you wanted to stop? What if you felt bad about wanting to stop because you know I want more intimacy, and your potion-addled brain stopped you from expressing that desire to stop?”

Harry gave Draco a few moments to take in what he said, before he removed his hand and continued.

“You can’t ask me to do that, and quite frankly, I don’t think I would even be physically able to do it,” he said.

“Alright!” Draco snapped. “You’ve made your point. It was a stupid idea. I’m just a stupid, bloody, insecure virgin. Are you happy?”

“I don’t care about your level of experience,” Harry said softly, concerned that he was still so angry and defensive. “I care that you are comfortable, and happy, and safe. Surely that is more important?”

Draco looked to the side. “I know,” he muttered. “I do. But I just want more. I know you do too. You can’t hide it from me.”

Harry pulled him into an embrace. “Of course I do, but not at your expense.”

Draco shivered against him.

“Draco, I know that we’ve gone through a lot of shit to get to where we are,” Harry said gently, hoping Draco was receptive to what he had to say. “I have hurt you, physically and emotionally, in ways I can’t ever hope to atone for. But I need you to understand that I would never, ever , knowingly hurt you now. You must know that.”

Draco relaxed slightly in his arms and nodded.

“I do,” Draco said. “I don’t know why you can’t say how you feel aloud, but yes, I know.”

Harry winced.

“It’s okay,” Draco continued. “I can’t either, especially not now, not with what’s coming.”

“We still have a few weeks,” Harry muttered. “I’ll find another option!”

Draco nodded but didn’t speak. He nuzzled into Harry’s hair and took several deep breaths.

“I’m sorry for being an insecure little git just now,” Draco murmured after a few moments. “It was a stupid idea.”

“I never even thought you were inexperienced until Ron suggested it,” Harry admitted sheepishly, blushing. “You know how you make me feel, you have nothing to be worried about.”

Draco was silent for a while, placing a hand on the nape of Harry’s neck and playing with the hair there.

“Not when it counted,” he said suddenly.

Harry pulled back to look at him. “What?”

Draco flushed. He kept a hand on the back of Harry’s neck. “I didn’t know how you felt, when it counted.”

Harry flushed himself. Merlin, he couldn’t believe they were talking about this.

“Are you doubting that I enjoyed myself?” Harry asked, surprised. “Because I did, immensely.”

“I believe you when you say that, but it’s not the same as knowing. Even though I worry about not being able to use empathy to know how you feel, I still want to do it again.”

Harry felt arousal race through him as he suddenly thought of the many different ways they could do that. Merlin, but he wanted him.

“Not today, because I can’t bear the idea of being intimate so soon after what we were just discussing,” he said. “But before the leaving feast, we’ll have to have a repeat experience, so you can pay more attention as you turn me into an incoherent mess, so you can see just how much I enjoy you without your empathy.”

Draco’s eyes darkened. “I was too distracted by my…I wasn’t paying proper attention to your face, I’m afraid,” he said, his voice dropping low. He hesitated for a few moments, blushed, and then looked determined. “Maybe next time I can sort you out first, see how long I can control my empathy?”

Heat washed over Harry, and he nodded, feeling a bit lightheaded. Somehow, when he remembered that Draco didn’t really know what he was doing, it only made him more alluring. He was telling the truth when he’d said he hadn’t guessed himself. Draco was so sure of himself, and he fought so delightfully for control when they were intimate that Harry so easily forgot his lack of experience.

A slow smile spread over Draco’s face. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget how easy it is to make you feel this way,” he said.

“Oi!” Harry snapped. “Are you calling me easy?”

Draco raised an eyebrow, and smirked. Gripping Harry’s hips suddenly with both hands, he pulled him close. Harry groaned and looked down. When had that happened?

“We’ve only been talking, Harry,” Draco said, smirking.

Harry flushed. If he hadn’t felt an answering hardness against him he may have felt embarrassed. As it was, he was just trying to remember why he didn’t want to try any more intimacy that night.

Merlin, the way Draco made him feel.

Draco laughed suddenly and kissed him deeply. Harry gave up trying to remember why this wasn’t a good time, and slid his hands into Draco’s hair. Draco let out a pleased hum and let his hands roam over Harry’s chest again. Instantly, he was lighting a fire in Harry. Pulling back from the kiss, Harry scowled at him. Draco smirked back. He was using his empathy again to find the places that aroused him the most.

“Cheating,” Harry murmured, eyes sliding half shut as Draco teased his left nipple mercilessly. Draco chuckled, and then he was kissing down Harry’s neck and there was warm, wet heat replacing his fingers. Harry groaned and grabbed at Draco’s shoulders to steady himself. He hadn’t known he was so sensitive there.

Suddenly, Draco pulled back and stepped away, closing his eyes and taking a shuddering breath.

“Draco?”

“Just give me a moment,” he said, running a hand through his hair.

The motion pulled at the muscles in his chest and Harry finally looked. The scars immediately drew his gaze. They weren’t as bad as he’d been thinking, just faint white lines. In fact, they were almost attractive. While he knew he shouldn’t think that, he couldn’t help but focus on it as soon as he noticed. They gave Draco’s pale torso a more rugged appearance, and cut across lightly toned muscle at attractive angles.

“I hope you aren’t going to apologise,” Draco suddenly said, repeating his words from earlier, and drawing his eyes away. He was looking guarded.

Harry shook his head, and reached out. “May I?”

Draco took a few breaths, and Harry realised he was still trying to calm down. Finally, he nodded.

With trembling hands, Harry reached out and traced a scar that started near the top of his left shoulder, and cut down at a steep angle through his pectoral muscle, only narrowly missing his nipple. Reaching it, he glanced up at Draco, wondering if he should stop to administer payback. Draco was watching him with a heated gaze, and almost seemed to dare him to touch. Harry shivered, and complied.

Draco let out a little murmur of encouragement, and pulled him into a kiss. His hands began to roam again but Harry slapped them away, refusing to be distracted again. Draco grinned into his kiss, obviously amused by Harry’s determination.

Softly, Harry traced the scars, causing Draco to twitch his hips reflexively as he stroked the scar that disappeared over his hip and under his pants.

“Is it terrible that I think these are attractive?” Harry murmured, moving to Draco’s neck and tracing his pulse with kisses.

Draco released a breathless laugh. “Better than you feeling guilty and unable to look at them,” he said, burying his hands in Harry’s hair.

“I do feel guilty,” Harry murmured, kissing his way down Draco’s chest until he reached one of the scars. “But they do look good on you.”

Draco pulled him back up, and stared into his eyes. “I know, I feel it. But we’ve covered a lot of ground tonight, let’s not go near sixth year yet.”

It was on the tip of Harry’s tongue to say that they should, but he just nodded. There were still so many things they hadn’t discussed that he almost wished they could just get it all out in the open at once. But they would probably only fight if they did. While he genuinely accepted that Draco had not had much of a choice in what he had done that year, the results of his actions still hurt.

Draco, probably sensing the direction of his thoughts through what he was feeling, tilted his chin and kissed him as a distraction. It was deep, and just a little forceful in that way that both thrilled Harry, and made him growl and push back to try and take control. Draco pulled him closer until he was one hot line against Harry, firm and pressing in all the right places. Somewhere, deep in Harry’s mind, there was something trying to remind him he hadn’t wanted to do this tonight.

“Stop thinking,” Draco said with a groan, pulling back and biting Harry’s lower lip playfully.

“Try harder to stop me,” Harry challenged, tilting his head invitingly.

For a moment, Draco froze, then was overcome by a full body shudder. “Merlin, Harry.”

Like a floodgate opening, Harry was hit with Draco’s emotions. They were chaotic and forceful in a way they hadn’t been for a while, and he pulled away in surprise.

“You’re unbalanced!” he accused.

Draco sighed. “Just a little,” he admitted.

Harry frowned. “How is that possible? Shouldn’t I be balancing you?”

Draco flushed, and looked aside guiltily. “You’ve been unbalanced since I mentioned the potion.”

Harry scowled at the reminder. “For good reason,” he commented darkly.

“I know,” Draco muttered. “But seriously, Harry, I want to be intimate with you, and I hate that my empathy is holding us back.”

Harry frowned. As much as he too wanted the intimacy, he couldn’t shake the way it had made him feel when Draco suggested using the potion. They may play at who had control, but it was only playful and he had no desire to truly strip control from Draco, and he most certainly did not want anything from him if he could not, or did not consent. He may have only been in one safe relationship before, but he wasn’t blind to the dangers of mind-altering substances.

“Stop,” Draco said, pulling him from his thoughts.

“What?”

“Stop thinking about the damn potion!” Draco snapped.

Scowling, he advanced on Harry, grabbing his hips and shuffling them backwards until the back of Harry’s legs hit the bed, and he fell back. Even as arousal shot through him, he felt distinctly uncomfortable. The timing could not be worse.

“Draco,” he started.

“No!” Draco snapped, stepping away from the bed to pick up his shirt and throw it on. He tucked it into the waistband of his trousers, and pulled his gloves on.

Harry watching him, torn between dismay and arousal. He couldn’t lie to himself, he was desperate for that intimacy they had shared without empathy. It had been so intense, and the trust had only made it more so. With most of his skin covered, Draco strode back over, but Harry scrambled to his knees on the bed.

“Do you promise to never, ever , suggest using those inhibiting potions like that again?” Harry asked, fixing him with an intense stare.

Draco stared him down for just long enough that Harry started to feel genuinely concerned. But finally, Draco nodded and clambered onto the bed, pulling Harry into a kiss. Surprised, Harry almost pulled back on contact, but Draco was once again closed to him. Breaking the kiss, he intended to ask how that was possible when Draco latched onto that spot on his neck, and his words turned to moans. Merlin, but he was good at that. Draco started pushing him back but Harry resisted. Draco grinned into his neck, once again delighted that Harry didn’t cede control easily. Harry found himself smiling too. Until Draco’s hand slipped down past his belt and pressed .

Harry released a shuddering breath, and clutched at Draco’s shirt, surprised by his boldness. Nimble, hot fingers traced him through his trousers, and he tugged at Draco’s hair to try and get at his mouth again, but Draco just sucked harder at his neck. Groaning, Harry dug his fingers into Draco’s shoulder, hard, and gave his hair another forceful tug.

“So demanding,” Draco muttered as he lifted his head.

Harry didn’t bother responding, he claimed his mouth, and almost pushed him over with the force of it. They wobbled on their knees for bit, dangerously close to falling sideways off the bed and onto the floor. Draco hummed into the kiss. It sounded far too amused to Harry’s ears, so he pushed harder until Draco toppled backwards. Harry hovered over him for a second, taking in the way Draco was looking at him, relaxed and heated.

For a moment, Harry thought it should be harder than this. But, aside from the troubles involving empathy, they moved together so easily, knowing just how much to push, and just how much to pull away. Draco’s gaze turned quizzical as Harry remained motionless for a few more moments.

Harry shook his head with a soft smile, and kneeled over Draco, running his hands down his chest, stopping to flick at his nipples through the fabric. Draco made a stuttering sound, but didn’t move. Harry realised he was probably taking a moment to bring his empathy under stricter control for when they next kissed. The knowledge that he challenged Draco’s control so much by the sheer force of his arousal made him burn with heat. Deciding to follow Draco’s lead, he slipped his hand lower and pressed. Draco’s hips twitched up into his hand, and he released a soft breathy sigh.

Unabashed, Draco held Harry’s gaze with dark eyes, as Harry caressed him through his trousers. The fabric felt expensive and soft against Harry’s hand, and he imagined it must feel a lot nicer than his trousers felt on him. Leaning forward, he kept his hand where it was, and placed the other next to Draco’s head, staring down into his eyes. Draco made a desperate sound, but didn’t reach for him as his hips rolled shamelessly into every press of his hand. Harry broke his gaze, and swept his eyes over him, memorizing the details. He didn’t imagine he’d have many more opportunities to see Draco like this before the year was through.

His skin was flushed light pink, and his eyes were half closed and dark, the pupils blown wide. His lips were still bruised red, and parted to let out heavy breaths. Harry just wanted to kiss him and never stop, but instead he bent down to where Draco’s pulse was visible. Draco’s breath hitched and he slid a hand into Harry’s hair as he licked and nipped and sucked at his neck, determined to leave a mark he could look at the next day.

With Draco wearing his gloves, the only point of skin contact was Harry’s mouth on his neck, and he pulled back every now and then, depriving Draco of his emotions, only to dive back in. He wondered how that felt, if his arousal hit Draco with the same force that Draco’s invaded him with. From the way Draco moaned and shuddered every time his lips made contact again, he was willing to bet it did.

Draco tugged at his hair, and Harry pulled his mouth away to look at him. He looked wrecked, and it took all of Harry’s self-control to resist bringing their bodies together and ending this. But Draco just shuddered, and kept rolling his hips, pressing against Harry’s hand. Determining he must need a break from skin contact, Harry leaned down and mouthed at one of his nipples through his shirt. Releasing a desperate whimper, Draco arched his back, pushing into the sensation. Then Draco’s hands were scraping at his back, trying to pull him close but unable to get a grip through his gloves. Harry took the hint, and settled against him.

Draco released a contented, breathless sigh as their bodies came together. Harry stayed still for a moment, looking down at him. Draco smiled lazily and trailed a hand down his face. Harry wanted to kiss him, but Draco shook his head when he leaned down.

“I can’t stay in control,” he murmured apologetically, pressing at Harry’s bottom lip with his thumb.

Harry gave it a playful nip and rolled his hips. “I think I actually like this better,” he murmured. There was a different kind of intensity when they avoided skin, and it was just as exciting as the way Draco could make him feel with empathy.

Draco made a startled sound and tugged him down for a quick, desperate, and almost vicious kiss, before pushing him away just as fast. He closed his eyes tight, threw his head to the side and gasped as he broke away. His hips lost their rhythm for a moment, before falling back in time, moving to meet every one of Harry’s lazy thrusts. Harry was surprised he hadn’t lost control in that brief moment, though clearly he had been close.

“Are you sure you want it like this?” Harry breathed, leaning close. “I could put on a glove and—”

“No,” Draco gasped. “I like this…feel closer to you.”

Harry agreed, but the temptation to close that tiny distance and kiss him was so strong.

“I just want to kiss you, this is so hard!” Harry groaned.

Draco let out a breathy laugh and Harry scowled at him.

Draco smiled contently, and Harry just quivered at the sight. Draco really was something else. After everything they’d been through, the years of hate, sixth year, the war, and then the dangerous learning curve of Draco’s empathy, to have him lying under Harry, smiling up at him like that, Harry had never felt so happy, even knowing it wouldn’t be for much longer.

“Take off your trousers,” Draco suddenly said, drawing Harry from his thoughts. “Your belt is a little uncomfortable.”

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, realising he should have thought of that.

Pulling back was more difficult than he thought it would be. He quickly removed his trousers, feeling self-conscious in just his pants while Draco was fully dressed, and wearing gloves. Draco’s eyes roved over him hungrily, and Harry felt himself flush.

Draco suddenly laughed, a breathy, delighted sound.

“You blush all the way down your chest,” he pointed out, smiling at him.

Harry scowled, and Draco’s smile widened. When Harry leaned back over him, he gripped Draco through his trousers and squeezed. Draco gasped, and his hips jerked. Harry grinned smugly. Draco reached for him but Harry stayed back.

“You bloody tease,” Draco breathed, hands falling to clench the bed sheets. Harry grinned, and leaned forward to mouth at his chest through his shirt again.

Draco made a desperate sound. It almost broke Harry’s determination to stay back...almost. Smirking, he continued teasing his chest through the soft fabric, probably silk, of Draco’s shirt. Draco continued to jerk desperately into his hand, and his legs twitched as if he wanted to wrap them around Harry and force their bodies together.

Moving higher, Harry tugged his collar up until the thinner fabric under it covered his neck, and then latched on. It wasn’t the same as teasing his skin directly, but he just wanted so much more.

Draco gasped, and gripped his hair. It seemed he couldn’t decide what he wanted, and in turns, tugged as if to pull him off, and pushed as if to hold him there. Wisely, he arched his head back, so there was no chance his face would brush against Harry’s. The motion bared more of his neck, and Harry made a delighted sounded as he continued to tease it through the fabric.

“I want you so much,” Draco gasped, writhing under him.

“You have me,” Harry breathed, giving him a particularly firm caress through his trousers.

Draco’s breath stuttered on a soft sound, and then he was gasping, and warmth hit Harry’s hand. As he watched Draco shudder beneath him, he felt a surge of heat and possessiveness to know that he had caused that. How was he ever going to give that up? He desperately hoped that his soul would heal quickly, when all of this was over.

“Ugh, pass me my wand?” Draco muttered after he had calmed down, running a hand through his hair.

Harry cast about the room, not even remembering where Draco had put it. Shrugging, he also couldn’t be bothered leaving the bed for his own, and cast a wandless accio for Draco’s wand.

Draco shuffled out from under him, sending him a heated look at the display of wandless magic and plucking his wand out of the air before it reached Harry. Grimacing, he cast something nonverbal at his crotch. With look of contemplation, he cast something else at his right hand. Then, tossing his wand to the side, carelessly, he advanced on Harry.

Heat burst through Harry anew as he wondered what spell Draco had cast on his glove. Without stopping, Draco forcefully pushed Harry onto his back, and ran his right hand down his chest. Harry made a startled sound. Whatever Draco had cast on his glove, it made it feel so smooth and soft, it almost felt like skin.

“Like that?” Draco asked with a smirk.

Harry nodded wordlessly as Draco settled over him. He wasn’t quite sure he liked the idea that the sole focus was now on him and his pleasure. He almost told Draco not to worry, before realising how stupid that would be. Irritated, he felt his face and neck heat up, and knew he would be blushing again. Draco chuckled and ran his hand lightly over Harry’s chest.

“I love how easy it is to do that to you,” he said.

Harry muttered something scathing under his breath, which only served to make Draco chuckle again. He was about ready to tell him to shut up, when Draco’s hand slid south rather suddenly, and all that came out was a high pitched, rather embarrassing, sound.

Draco grinned. “This is a bit weird without kissing, isn’t it?” he observed.

Harry shuddered as Draco ground his palm against him, but nodded. It was a bit.

“Summon your shirt,” Draco suddenly said, leaning back. Harry flushed with heat as he realised Draco was going to do what he had done. Given how he had reacted earlier to such attentions, he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to comply and be reduced to a quivering mess.

“Harry,” Draco said slowly with a smile. “Aren’t I supposed to be the insecure, blushing virgin here?”

Harry scowled and summoned his shirt, sitting up to pull it on angrily. He wasn’t sure what irritated him more, being called out on his embarrassment, or the way he had done exactly what Draco had wanted him to do. Draco was far too good at manipulating him.

Smiling, Draco pushed him back again, then stopped and frowned, squinting at Harry’s shirt.

“What kind of awful material is this?” he said with a sneer.

Without waiting for a response, he clambered off Harry and grabbed his wand from the end of the bed. Turning back, he cast that same nonverbal spell on Harry shirt. Immediately it felt smoother and softer against him, and he shifted uncomfortably. The change was a little jarring. Nodding to himself, Draco discarded his wand again, and came back.

He ran his hands over Harry’s chest, watching his face to gauge his reaction. When Harry shivered at the alarming way it almost felt like skin caressing him, even through a shirt, Draco smiled smugly to himself. As Harry had done to him, Draco tugged his collar up and bit and sucked at his neck though the thin fabric. Harry shifted restlessly, wishing he could grip Draco’s hair again without the risk of touching his scalp. He found he quite liked Draco’s hair. Opting for the safer option, he gripped fistfuls of Draco’s shirt, trying to pull his body closer. Draco hummed against his neck, and resisted the pull. He trailed one hand down to tease at him through his shirt, sending bolts of pleasure rocketing through him, while the other supported him near Harry’s head.

His knees and calves were hot lines down the outside of Harry’s thighs, and Harry shifted again, desiring more contact. Draco just smirked.

“Not so fun being teased, is it?” he said with a smirk.

Harry glared, and opened his mouth to snap something scathing when Draco gave one of his nipples a firm pinch through his shirt, and he gasped instead. The spell he had cast made it feel like so much like skin, that he felt a momentary jolt of unease, which only seemed to heighten his arousal.

Whimpering and arching into Draco’s firm, and somewhat rough touches, he let his eyes slide shut. Draco continued teasing his neck also, alternating between playful nips, dizzying suction, and firm bites. Harry’s head spun, and he didn’t notice Draco’s hand move from his chest until it was suddenly sneaking into his pants.

The spell on his glove mimicked skin so convincingly that he panicked for a second, eyes flying open.

“It’s okay,” Draco murmured, leaving his neck to look him in the eye. It seemed he knew exactly what Harry was thinking. “It’s still the glove.”

Harry's breath hitched, and he nodded faintly as that momentary burst of fear faded away.

“Is this okay?” Draco asked, tone serious and eyes anxious as he gave Harry a gentle squeeze.

Arching into the sensation, Harry nodded. “Yes,” he breathed.

“I wouldn’t have,” Draco breathed, his touch alternating delightfully between gentle and almost too firm. Harry shuddered under him, fighting to focus on his words. “But you put the idea in my head earlier.”

Harry flushed. He’d rather thought he had offended Draco with his flippant offer.

Draco lowered his head to tease his neck again, and Harry shuddered and twitched his hips into Draco’s hand. For a brief moment, Draco’s temple brushed Harry’s jaw and Harry gasped as he was hit with a flurry of emotions. Draco similarly let out a startled sound and reared back.

Just before contact was lost, Harry had a few blissful seconds of Draco’s soul soothing the burn of his arousal, before it disappeared with the loss of contact.

“Shit!” Harry gasped. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault,” Draco replied, looking severely shaken.

“Ruined the moment though, didn’t it?” Harry asked, suspecting that Draco was frightened by the way his soul had so easily slipped free.

“Not for you, it seems,” Draco said, with a shaky smile as he gripped Harry tightly again.

Harry shuddered, and wondered if he should be concerned by that. But a moment later Draco was mouthing at his chest through his shirt. His grip on him was perfect. The fabric of his glove was just soft enough to pass as skin, but just rough enough to have Harry moaning and thrusting into it shamelessly. He promptly forgot he should be concerned by the dangerous, if brief, empathetic connection they had just shared.

“If you’re concerned, say so,” Draco suddenly said, leaning up and catching his eyes. “But can you tilt your head back?”

For a moment, Harry was frozen, even his hips falling still. Then, much to his continued concern, arousal shot through him in a hot wave, and he nodded. He tilted his head back and away, exposing his throat. Draco eyed him cautiously, before tugging his collar higher up. After what had just happened, the gesture made Harry shake. He felt vulnerable, and if had been anyone else, he wouldn’t have done it. But it was Draco. For Draco, he rather thought he would do anything.

Draco quickly, and rather skilfully, had him moaning on every breath and twitching up into every stroke and squeeze. Harry decided he could feel embarrassed later, as Draco continued to alternate between achingly gentle, and wonderfully firm. He continued to tease at his neck, occasionally drifting down to his chest. Harry shuddered through everything he did, amazed that Draco was even a little insecure about his lack of experience. He seemed to have no trouble knowing exactly what to do to Harry to have him whimpering beneath him. The fact he did so without having his empathy to cheat with made Harry almost dizzy with desire.

It only took a particularly sharp twist of his wrist, and a firm bite to his neck a few moments later, and Harry was squeezing his eyes shut, arching off the bed and moaning obscenely. Shuddering through the pleasure, he opened his eyes. Draco looked down at him with a heated gaze, but he worried his bottom lip with his teeth.

“Was that okay?” he asked, anxiously.

Harry shook his head, and couldn’t help but let out a breathless chuckle. Draco was so confident and in control whenever they were intimate, but always seemed to be a bundle of nerves afterwards.

“I can’t believe you have to ask,” he said. “The things you do to me, Draco. It was so much better than okay.”

Draco smiled uncertainly. He shuffled away to grab his wand, casting the same nonverbal cleaning spell, causing Harry to shiver uncomfortably. Smirking at his reaction, Draco settled back against him, carefully avoiding skin, but holding him close. Startled, Harry closed his arms around him.

“Thank you,” Draco sighed.

“You don’t need to thank me,” Harry replied, surprised.

“I forced the issue a bit,” Draco said quietly. “You wanted to wait.”

Harry tensed at the reminder, but didn’t speak.

“I can tell you’re still worried about it,” Draco continued. “So I won’t take the potion just so we can sleep next to each other. But can we stay like this, for a while?”

Harry relaxed. While he was still very concerned by everything Draco had said about the potion, he was glad he was taking those concerns seriously.

“We can stay like this for as long as you like,” he replied softly.

Chapter Text

“Harry!”

Harry glanced longingly towards the Great Hall, where dinner waited, but turned to Hermione with a sigh.

“Yeah?”

If he was honest with himself, he didn’t really want to speak to Hermione. He was reaching such a good place with Draco, and the fact that she didn’t seem able to accept them together still upset him.

“What happened the other day?” she asked. “Are you alright?”

Harry tensed. Now that the whirlwind of emotions he’d felt after discovering the state of his soul had passed, he deeply regretted his loss of control in the common room. Several eighth years had witnessed his wild magic, and heard what he’d said. Already there were people whispering about You-Know-Who, and what legacy he may have left behind that had upset Harry so much. No doubt the Prophet would run another article about his potential to turn evil once word reached them.

Part of him ached to tell her everything, but he found he no longer trusted her. If she couldn’t accept the idea of him being involved with Draco without complicating circumstances, how would she take the news that he had powerful empathy? He didn’t think that would go well. Neither was he sure he could tell her about his soul, without her asking how he found out and demanding an answer. He was far too tired to make up a lie.

“I’m alright now,” he said, finally. Hermione was looking even more concerned by the length of time it took for him to answer. “I just received some bad news and I lost control. Ron and Draco talked me through it, along with McGonagall. I’m feeling a little better about it now. Sorry if I frightened you.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows at the mention of Draco and Minerva. “Can’t you tell me what it was? If it’s something to do with Voldemort, then I should know!”

Harry couldn’t help the anger that he felt slide onto his face. “You should know?” he snapped. “You bloody hypocrite!”

“Excuse me?” Hermione said, looking irritated.

“You got a job offer, and started working for the Department of Mysteries while still at Hogwarts, and you didn’t tell either of us!” he hissed. “That’s big, exciting news, Hermione, and you didn’t share it! Then you broke up with Ron, without even telling him why! Why the bloody hell do you think you should know anything that is happening with us right now?”

“We’re still friends!” Hermione snapped.

“Are we?” Harry asked, sadly. “You put your career before us. Not only that, but you didn’t even tell us at all. You just drifted away, like we didn’t matter.”

Harry had been trying not to think about Hermione like that, but he found himself swamped with sadness and anger over what she had done to Ron, and her aggression towards Draco.

“Of course you matter!” Hermione gasped. “I didn’t put my career first! I was just distracted with trying to juggle research for them and my coursework!”

“Don’t give me that shit,” Harry snapped. “You put your career first when you dumped Ron so you could feel more comfortable about your job. You as good as told him he wasn’t worth as much!”

Hermione reared back, looking startled and hurt. It only served to make Harry feel more enraged. How could she act like they still mattered to her when she consistently pushed them aside? Was she really that blind?

“That’s not what happened,” she said, her voice wavering.

“Well, that’s what it looks like to us!” Harry retorted angrily.

Breathing deeply, he stepped back, alarmed to find that he was shaking.

“Harry?”

Startled, he turned to see Draco approaching, looking between them with concern.

“Are you alright?” Draco reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. Harry nodded to him.

“Do you just follow Harry around all day?” Hermione asked with a sneer. “Every time I see him, you’re not far behind. Merlin, Malfoy, that’s pathetic.”

Draco turned to her and raised an eyebrow, somehow managing to look bored even though Harry could see rage in every line of his body.

“Stalking is more Harry’s speciality,” he drawled. “Which isn’t saying much. He’s bloody useless at it, not subtle at all. I call this spending time with him. That’s what couples do, you know.”

Harry scowled at him.

“How can you let him speak to you that way?” Hermione asked Harry.

Harry couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes at her. “It was a joke, Hermione,” he answered, annoyed. “And even if it wasn’t, it’s the truth. I can’t very well get mad at him for calling me a stalker if it’s true.”

Draco snickered at the shocked look on Hermione’s face. She turned to Draco, incredulous.

“And you can just forget all that?” she asked. “The stalking, the way he left you bleeding on that bathroom floor?”

Harry breathed in sharply. Draco tensed, and scowled darkly at her. “If he can look past me letting the Death Eaters into the school, and bringing about Dumbledore’s death, then I think I can look past a little light stalking, and that one unfortunate curse.”

Harry turned to look at him, feeling concerned. They still hadn’t really discussed sixth year yet.

“Besides,” Draco continued, now smirking. “He did leave me with some rather dashing scars. So, it wasn’t a total loss.”

Harry made a startled sound and turned an incredulous look on him. Hermione, too, looked shocked, and just a little horrified by the flippant treatment of such a dark curse.

Draco turned to Harry. “So, are we going in to dinner, or are we going to let Granger pick a fight over all the crap I’ve done, when really she’s just pissed she never noticed we were together?” he asked nonchalantly.

Harry coloured. He too suspected that was the source of Hermione’s inability to accept he was with Draco, but to say it like that was a bit blunt.

“So you admit you’ve done awful things,” Hermione spat, eyes shining with anger.

Draco turned a cold look her way. “Of course I did awful things, Granger!” he hissed. “He had my family, he had my life in his hands. I would have done anything to keep him happy, to keep him away from me! You have no idea what it was like living with him under the same roof!”

Alarmed, and remembering exactly what Voldemort had tried to do to Draco, Harry reached out and gently placed his hand on Draco’s cheek, turning his face towards him.

“Hey,” he said gently, focusing on calm, warm feelings. “Don’t go back there.”

Draco shuddered, and let out a slow measured breath. He covered Harry’s hand with his own.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “For being so understanding.”

“What’s going on here then?”

Harry turned, letting his hand drop from Draco’s face. Ron was striding towards them, glancing between the three of them curiously. When he reached them, he looked at Draco and took in the weary look on his face, and the way his hands were trembling slightly by his sides. His expression hardened, and Harry gave him a warning glance, which he ignored.

“What did you say to him?” Ron demanded, turning to Hermione.

Hermione didn’t bother hiding her surprise at Ron jumping to Draco’s defence. “You’re siding with him?”

“Well, considering how he looks right now, I’m willing to bet you said something to upset him,” Ron replied. “Can’t you just accept that Harry cares for him?”

Hermione stared at Ron like she didn’t even know him. Even though Harry was still very upset with her, he was disappointed to realise that any progress they had made would have been undone by Ron defending Draco.

“For Merlin’s sake, ‘Mione,” Ron continued. “The past is in the past, and yes he was a prat during school, but we were just as awful to him. During the war he didn’t really have a choice in what he did. If Harry can put all that behind him, then that’s good enough for me!”

Ron glanced back, and took in the way both Harry and Draco were staring at him with wide eyes.

“And he’s not actually that bad, really,” he concluded.

Harry grinned at him, feeling a surge of affection. That must have been hard for Ron. Even though he was hiding it well, Harry knew he was still very upset about losing Hermione.

“You’d choose to be friends with Malfoy, over me?” she asked incredulously.

“No, I choose to be friends with Harry over you,” Ron said. “And once, I wouldn’t have, because of how I loved you. But you chose your career over me. What did you expect?”

With that, he gestured for Harry and Draco to follow, and strode into the hall for dinner. Still startled, Draco glanced and Harry, and then followed him.

Harry stared at Hermione a moment, feeling sad for her even through his anger at the way she had treated Ron and Draco. Whatever it was that was driving her choices, it was also driving a wedge between them. He didn’t know what was going on, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to. But he missed her.

“It’s not too late to fix this, Hermione,” he said. “But you need to stop treating us as if we’re the same people we were before the war. We’ve all changed. You need to accept that.”

Without waiting for a reply, he too entered the hall.

 

 

 

Ron kept glancing at Draco over his pumpkin juice. Harry nudged him and gave him a questioning look, but Ron shrugged and just went back to looking at him.

“What’s it like?” he asked.

“What?” Harry asked, also glancing at Draco. From the tense line of his shoulders, he was aware of Ron’s staring and was deliberately ignoring them both. Harry was worried he was still upset over what Hermione had said, though he looked more annoyed than anything. They were going to have to talk about it later, and Harry wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.

“What he does?” Ron clarified, glancing around and lowering his voice as Hermione took a seat further down the bench. “I’m curious after yesterday.”

“I can show you sometime, if you like,” Draco suddenly said, looking up and smirking. “Though you might not enjoy the lack of privacy.”

Ron flushed a little, but looked determined. “I’d like the chance actually,” he said. “It’d be nice to know what it’s really like.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t show his surprise. Harry eyed Ron speculatively. If he was raised to know about empathy, it made sense he’d probably jump at the chance to experience it, but what was it about last night that had sparked his interest so much? Harry had rather thought he’d been uncomfortable the whole time, given the suggestive nature of what he and Draco were saying to each other.

“Alright then,” Malfoy said with a shrug. “Come to my room tonight, I could always use practice.”

Harry looked between them. Even though he knew it was ridiculous, he felt a hot surge of jealousy.

 

 

 

Harry sat on Draco’s bed. Ron and Draco sat on the floor, facing each other. The knowing look Draco had given him when he’d asked to watch sent a surge of irritation through him, but he refused to let it show. He still felt jealous. While he wanted to deny it, he knew it was because he wanted to be the only one who felt Draco’s emotions.

Ron only wanted to see what it felt like, he forcibly reminded himself. It wasn’t as if it would happen again. Still, it made him burn with jealousy to know that Draco could use his empathy as long as he liked on Ron, with no fear of damaging their souls.

Draco’s eyes darted to Harry as he reached out a hand to Ron. It seemed he understood Harry perfectly well, even if he was trying to hide how he felt. Scowling, Harry fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. Ron was looking nervous, but also excited. As much as he didn’t want it to happen, for purely selfish reasons, he wouldn’t spoil it for him.

“So, you can tell everything that I’m feeling,” Ron asked, voice hushed and oddly reverent.

Draco looked down at where he held Ron’s wrist. Frowning, he tilted his head to the side.

“Yes. I must admit, Weasley, I’m surprised,” he said. “You don’t feel any sense of violation at all by the notion.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. Draco’s tone was laced with suspicion. He glanced at Ron, trying to read him. Strangely, Ron was wearing an impassive expression that he could not see through. Harry’s back stiffened. There was something going on that he didn’t understand.

“Guess my curiosity is winning out,” Ron said with a shrug. “So, can you show me what it’s like to feel someone else? I’m curious what being an empath is like.”

Draco stared at him for a few moments. Harry shifted uncomfortably. It seemed almost as if they were having a battle of wills. He didn’t understand what was going on, but he felt distinctly off centre to know that Ron and Draco were experiencing something together that was usually reserved for he and Draco alone.

“Alright,” Draco finally said. “I’m going to let a few things through now.”

A moment later, Ron’s breath hitched, and he tensed. Draco continued to watch him curiously, and Harry would have loved to know what Ron was feeling from Draco.

“That’s bloody overwhelming!” Ron said.

Draco smiled. “Now you understand why I have such trouble denying Harry anything. What I feel is nothing compared to the strength of his emotions,” he said softly, eyes darting to Harry again. “I’m only showing you how I feel about Hogwarts. Now I’ll show you how I feel about Harry.”

Ron made a strangled sound, and shut his eyes tight. Harry sent Draco a concerned look. He hoped Draco wasn’t showing him anything inappropriate, he did not like the idea of him sending something like lust at Ron. For Ron’s sake.

Draco slid his eyes back to Ron. “What else would you like to feel?”

Ron shuddered, and opened his eyes.

“Don’t hold back,” Draco said. “Whatever it is you’re hesitant about, just ask. This is your best chance to learn how I feel about everything I’ve done.”

Ron glanced at Harry, almost as if he was asking permission. Harry kept his face blank. Whatever the two of them were doing, he didn’t want to interfere. Jealousy would taint any answer he gave, and he did not want to ruin Ron’s chance to find whatever answers he was looking for.

“This might be a bit much, but can you show me how you felt in sixth year,” Ron asked softly. “Only, Harry was obsessing over what you were up to, and didn’t really notice, but Hermione and I thought you looked a bit messed up that year, before everything happened.”

Draco must have managed to control his reaction to the question, because Ron showed no sign of feeling anything new from him. After a while, Draco turned to Harry.

“I’ve not shared that with anyone,” he said quietly.

Ron turned and gave Harry an apologetic look. “That’s okay then. It was just a thought.”

Draco gave him piercing look. Whatever he read in Ron’s emotions must have comforted him. Without another word, he turned to Harry, and held out his other hand.

Harry felt a chill shiver down his spine. They had avoided talk of sixth year so far. This would be far more invasive and intimate than a conversation. Irrationally, he wanted to ask Ron to leave, so that he alone could feel what Draco had felt that year. But he had to remind himself that he did not have the right to dictate the use of Draco’s empathy. It was not there for his use alone.

Filled with apprehension, he joined them on the floor, and took Draco’s hand.

“If you feel my soul, then pull away,” Draco said, even as his feelings began to flood into Harry. It was a shock to feel such warmth, and know it was directed towards him, but also shown to Ron. He decided he didn’t like it. Draco gave him a knowing look, but didn’t stop.

Nodding, Harry looked at Ron, who gave him a wide-eyed look in response. A moment later, Draco unleashed the flood.

Ron made a startled sound, and Harry closed his eyes. He had never felt so hopeless and sad, not even after Sirius had died. The feeling was pervasive and cold, and it seemed to worm its way into every crack and crevice deep within Harry’s consciousness. Hatred was quick to follow, a horrible sickly variety that left traces that seemed to suck all of Harry’s own happiness away. Harry’s stomach churned as he was hit by several successive waves of disgust, each one slightly different from the last, as if directed towards different people, or even towards Draco himself.

It was as if he had suddenly developed a gaping void within him, sucking every warm and happy feeling away. Instead, he became cold and hollow, as if he’d never feel warm again. It felt like being in the presence of a Dementor.

Abruptly, those awful feelings disappeared and Draco flooded them with warmth instead. Forcing his eyes open, Harry saw that Ron still had his closed, and silent tears were sliding down his face. Harry turned to Draco, and felt as if he could cry himself. Objectively, he had known that Draco had suffered that year, but he’d had no idea the depth of what he had been feeling.

Suddenly, it was as if another wall between them had come crumbling down, and he felt closer to Draco than he had been before.

Draco closed off his empathy, and then withdrew his hands. He wiped at the stray tears on his own face, and stood, looking restless and overwhelmed. Ron opened his eyes and stared at Draco as if he had never seen him before. Scrambling to his feet, he looked at Draco with great sadness.

After a moment of hesitation, he reached out cautiously. Draco startled, but didn’t move away. He wore an expression of bafflement as Ron engulfed him in a hug. Harry himself was surprised, as he watched Draco seem to sigh, and then lean into the contact, bringing his arms around Ron’s back, and clenching the fabric of his sweater in tight fists.

They stood like that for a few moments, and then Draco’s shoulders started to shake. Ron made a gentle, comforting sound, and rubbed his back soothingly. Harry felt a surge of warmth for Ron in that moment. Though Draco had always been the first to admit he had done awful things in sixth year, he obviously craved forgiveness and understanding. That Ron would offer that to him in such a way was more than Harry had expected, and clearly more than Draco had anticipated.

 

 

 

Harry sat in the common room surrounded by books. He’d stopped working on his wild magic research once he’d learned about Draco’s empathy, but Minerva had refused to allow him to drop it. With N.E.W.T.s upon them, it was terrible timing, but she had simply given him a withering stare, and told him it was his own fault. In retrospect, he perhaps shouldn’t have told her that he’d had no idea about Draco’s empathy that night he had entered the isolation room. Still, it had been nice to clear the air when they’d had tea that morning after breakfast.

He had the weekend to finish and hand in his essay before his first exam on Monday. He was wracked with anxiety, having barely studied the whole term. Hermione was giving him disapproving looks from across the room. It felt so normal, that for a while, it was oddly comforting, before it became incredibly irritating. Ron wasn’t much help, he was asleep amongst a pile of Transfiguration notes on the sofa across from Harry’s.

Shaking his head with amusement, Harry let him be, and turned back to his essay. At least he hadn’t thrown out his notes when he’d found out Draco’s ability wasn’t wild magic, and only had to organise everything into a coherent essay. Because he’d researched all different presentations of wild magic, he was well set up for a comparative essay, and it was easier than he’d thought it would be, if still very time consuming.

“He’s going to regret falling asleep like that.”

Harry startled, and looked up to find Draco staring down at Ron with an amused expression. Ron’s neck was resting in an uncomfortable looking angle. Draco set down the bundle he was carrying on the coffee table, and pulled Harry into a gentle, but deep kiss. Smiling warmly, Harry cleared a space next to him for Draco to sit. Draco sat down and unwrapped the bundle, revealing several treats from the kitchens.

Harry’s stomach growled loudly, earning him a smirk from Draco.

“Oi! Weasley!” Draco snapped loudly.

Ron jerked upright, arm coming out as if brandishing a wand. He blinked stupidly at Draco for a few moments, before scowling.

“Bloody ferret,” he muttered, wincing as he rubbed his neck.

“Oh, you wound me, Ronald,” Draco said dramatically. “I fetched food for you, and this is how you repay me?”

Ron’s eyes darted around until he saw the bundle of treats on the table.

“I take it back,” he said, already reaching for a cupcake. “You’re a better friend than Harry, he never brings me food anymore!”

“Oi!” Harry yelped.

Draco sniggered, and snatched Harry’s essay from him. Settling back, he nibbled delicately at a scone as he read through what Harry had so far. Harry took a cupcake, and watched him anxiously. As much as he hated the short time he had to do the essay, due to his own foolishness, he did want to do well. Draco had finished his own project early into the term, even though he’d been struggling with his empathy. He’d developed a new potion that had an effect similar to Occlumency, shielding the mind from attack. Harry still didn’t understand half of what Draco had said about it, but he gathered that Draco was even more intelligent than he’d thought he was, because that sounded like something a Potions Master would be working on, not a student. The research projects were marked almost immediately, and Draco had been quite smug when he’d told Harry of his perfect grade.

Ron dived back into his notes, sending longing looks towards Hermione, and her well organised piles. They’d talked a few times, and seemed to have entered a tentative friendship again, but Ron was keeping his distance, worried it may fall apart if he was too pushy. Harry rather thought it would fall apart anyway, with the dark looks Hermione kept shooting Draco, and the jealousy that was obvious whenever she saw the three of them studying together. Ron wasn’t likely to abandon Draco now that they had bonded, and it didn’t look like she was going to accept him any time soon.

Just yesterday she’d walked into the spare potions lab to find Draco helping them, rather imperiously, with the potions that they may have to brew for the Potions exam. She had not reacted well, and said several unwise things before realising that Ron was directing angry looks at her. Harry felt sorry for her, they kept changing their dynamic when she wasn’t looking. As a result, she kept offending Ron without realising, and destroying any progress they made.

Still, Harry was glad that Ron and Draco were closer now. He was going to need Ron’s help once school ended, and so was Draco. It warmed him to know that Draco now had another person in his life who cared for him, when he had started the year with no one. In fact, after he and Harry had become openly intimate, the other Slytherins had started spending time with him again. That made Harry a little angry, but he supposed he couldn't blame them all for being cautious about who they spent their time with, when many suspicious eyes were still on them.

Suddenly, Draco ran his fingers over the nape of Harry’s neck to draw him from his thoughts. Once he had Harry’s attention, he waved the essay in front of him.

“Not bad,” he said. “I can’t even tell you’re doing it last minute. Did you really do all this research after we met by the lake?”

Ron scoffed. “Not for long. he figured out you were lying pretty fast,” he said, surfacing from his notes to reach for another cupcake. “If he had been stupider then and believed you, he may have actually done most of the essay and wouldn’t be stressing out right now.”

Draco turned a grin Harry’s way. “I can’t wait to see McGonagall’s face when she reads this! She’s probably expecting something awful after the fuss you made about only having two days to do it. This is actually excellent work!”

Harry gave him a tired look. “I bloody hope so!”

Draco massaged the base of Harry’s neck lightly with one hand while he handed back the essay with the other. “If you push through you can have it finished tonight and study Transfiguration tomorrow in time for the exam,” he said softly.

Harry sighed and leaned into his touch. For once, Draco wasn’t wearing his gloves. Even though he kept his empathy tightly closed off, the feel of his bare fingers was pleasant. Looking over at him, Harry gave him a lazy smile. It was nice to be affectionate in public and not worry. Ever since Draco had shown Harry and Ron what he had felt like in sixth year, he seemed to have relaxed more. He was more openly affectionate with Harry, and more playful and friendly with Ron.

This was a Draco Malfoy he hadn’t seen before, but he was quickly finding much to like about him.

“I’m about ready to fall asleep, and it’s only mid-afternoon,” Harry said tiredly.

Draco leaned over and kissed him, soft and gentle. Harry slid his hands into Draco’s hair and sighed into the kiss.

“Oi! None of that!” Ron yelped, having looked up from his notes. “Finish your essay, mate, then you can go snog or shag to your heart’s delight!”

Harry pulled away and scowled at Ron. Draco chuckled, and gave his earlobe a playful nip.

“Yes, Harry,” he said, breath hot over Harry’s neck. He pressed a couple of quick kisses under his jaw. “Finish your work, and then we can go play.”

Harry’s breath hitched, and heat flooded him. He could feel Draco’s mouth curve into a smirk against his neck, and his scowl darkened.

“Exactly,” Ron nodded, nicking another treat from the pile. “Positive reinforcement. Good idea, Draco! Give him hell!”

Harry glared at him as Draco chuckled in his ear, nuzzling the skin just behind it. Hermione whipped around with a startled expression when she heard Ron use Draco’s given name, but didn’t say anything. It was the first time he’d done so, but Harry wasn’t surprised. Once Ron decided to like someone, he went at it full strength. Draco seemed to alternate between ‘Weasley’, ‘Ronald’, and ‘Ron’ depending on his mood. If he were being honest, he preferred Draco calling him ‘Weasley’, he said it with such a sarcastic tone now that it made Ron pull the most amusing expressions.

Looking away from Ron, he noticed Dean and Ginny walk into the common room and make a beeline for them.

“Harry, can I ask you something?” she asked, not so much as batting an eye at the fact that Draco was still peppering his neck with kisses.

Harry cleared his throat, and gave Draco a little push.

“Sure,” he said, ignoring Draco’s disappointed huff, and Ron’s snigger.

“I wanted to ask you, are you still planning on living at Grimmauld Place after school?” she asked, casting a nervous glance at Ron.

Harry frowned. “Yes,” he replied. “I’m going to renovate it a bit.”

“Can I come live there?” Ginny asked in a rush. “Only, you have so many rooms, and I won’t get in the way or cause any trouble, I swear!”

Harry blinked. That was unexpected. “You don’t want to live at home?” he asked, feeling surprised.

“Merlin, no!” she said, sounding exasperated. “There’s no privacy, and it was so hard having Dean visit over Christmas, no one would leave me alone with him.”

“You’re too bloody young for all that!” Ron said with a scowl, his face turning red.

“For Merlin’s sake, Ronald!” Ginny shrieked, as if all her frustration had built up inside and was only now spilling out. “I’ve already shagged Harry! I’m not a bloody virgin, you can all stop trying to protect my honour! I want to shag Dean, and I bloody well will, no matter what you try to do to stop me!”

Harry flushed, and shifted awkwardly on the sofa as everyone in the room turned to stare. Dean looked away, avoiding Ron’s gaze. Ron squawked indignantly, looking between them all as if unsure who he was most offended by. The sounds coming out of his mouth were completely incoherent.

The silence was suddenly broken. Harry whipped around to stare at Draco in shock. Draco was laughing. Not his usual gentle chuckle, but a full hearty laugh that shook his whole body. When he realised everyone had turned to look at him, he wrapped his arms around his belly, and leaned forward, as if trying to force the laughter back inside. He failed, and almost fell off the sofa.

Ginny seemed to deflate a little as Ron became transfixed by Draco’s reaction. It was almost like he couldn’t decide if he was amused, or offended. After a long time, Draco finally wheezed to a stop, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Oh, She-Weasel,” he said, taking gasping breaths and sounding as if he was still moments from laughing again. “That was brilliant! Harry’s face! I’ve never seen him go so red before. And Ron…”

On mentioning Ron, he lost control and started laughing again. Harry felt just as transfixed as Ron. He had seen Draco smile and laugh now, after all the time he had spent with him, but not like that. It was a strange, and slightly alarming sight.

Then, almost as if it were being taken from her by force, Ginny let out a little chuckle of her own. On hearing this, just as he was calming down, Draco was off again, body shaking and perilously close to losing his perch on the sofa. Ginny’s chuckle turned into full laughter, and soon the both of them were set in a pattern of calming down only to set each other off again.

Harry shared a dark look with Ron. He was about ready to hit Draco over the head with a book, and it seemed Ron shared his sentiment.

“Oh, Harry,” Ginny gasped. “He’s right, you went so red!”

“And the sounds Ron was making!” Draco added with a wheezy laugh.

“Yeah, alright, laugh it up!” Ron huffed. “How do you expect me to react when my bloody sister comes in and talks about shagging my best mate! I don’t want to hear about either of your sex lives! That’s just gross! And in front of Dean! Shame on you Gin!”

Ginny rolled her eyes at Ron. “As if he has to worry about Harry! We’ve all seen the way he looks at Malfoy like the sun shines out his arse! He can’t keep his bloody hands off him, even in public.”

Harry choked, and felt his face heat up even more. Draco stopped laughing, and looked smug instead.

“Indeed,” he said, giving Ginny a look of approval. “He is most insistent and insatiable. I don’t even have to try. It’s very flattering.”

“Are you calling me easy again?” Harry snapped, embarrassment forgotten. Draco gave him a cheeky smirk, causing Ron to flush and Ginny to chuckle. Harry suddenly had the horrifying notion that Draco may have shown Ron a few inappropriate feelings when he’d shared how he felt about Harry.

“Alright, that’s enough!” Ron said, waving his arms around. “No need to elaborate, Harry’s a slut for Draco, let’s leave at that, yeah?”

Harry turned a dark glare on him, while Draco looked even more pleased with himself. Ginny chuckled again, before shoving Ron over and sitting next to him. Dean muttered something about studying, and wandered off.

“I suppose Ron will be living with you after school then?” she asked, bringing the conversation back on topic rather abruptly. Ron seemed relieved she was taking pity on him, and leaned comfortably against her shoulder. “There’s enough rooms though, right?”

Harry gave Ron another dark look before turning his attention to Ginny. He’d get him back for that comment later. Without looking, he also gave Draco a shove, annoyed he was still looking so smug.

“I haven’t really thought about it much,” he replied. “Won’t Molly be upset if you both leave home?”

“It has to happen sometime, and honestly, everyone still treats me like the baby of the family at home,” Ginny said with a shrug and a scowl in Ron’s direction. “I mean, we’re okay right? Living in the same house wouldn’t be weird?”

Harry waved her off. “We’re fine, you’re right, it’s a big house. I suppose there’s no reason you can’t live there. It’d be nice to have company,” he said thoughtfully.

“Oi! What am I then?” Ron asked indignantly.

Harry grinned at him. “ More company,” he amended.

Draco suddenly brought his hand to the nape of Harry’s neck again. As he massaged the muscles lightly, he also shared a wave of warmth and amusement with his empathy. Harry smiled, and leaned into the touch.

“It sounds like it will be a veritable hive of gingers when I come to visit,” Draco with a joking lilt to his voice. “No doubt George will gravitate there too. I’ll have to check everything I touch before I do so, lest I find myself turned into something unsavoury.”

Ginny’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that would be brilliant! You should invite him too, Harry,” she said excitedly. “He’s been a bit sad staying at home, in their old room, but he was too lonely living above the shop by himself.”

“Hang on,” Harry cut in.

“Mum would be a bit sad if we all left at the same time,” Ron interrupted. “Though George would definitely lighten up the place, if it’s still as depressing as last time we were there.”

Ginny chuckled. “Don’t let him help with the renovations though, Harry,” she warned. “He’d probably build pranks into the walls!”

“Hold on!” Harry tried again.

“Oh, you can set up a room for when Charlie visits!” Ron said excitedly. “He’s always complaining about being mothered when he goes home!”

Beside him, Draco started to chuckle at Harry’s growing horror. Harry turned to glare at him.

“This is your fault. I hope George turns you into a ferret!”

A lazy grin spread over Draco’s face. “You love weasels and ferrets,” he said.

Harry scowled at him.

 

 

 

Harry stumbled into the common room and let himself fall onto a sofa. Ron followed suit on another. Almost simultaneously, they both released relieved groans. They had just finished their last exam, and were officially done with their schooling. The sofa dipped, and Harry felt cool fingers at the nape of his neck. He turned his head to the side, and smiled up at Draco.

“We’re done,” he said.

Draco smiled back, and flooded him with warmth.

 

 

 

The eighth-years were told very sternly not to disturb the other students during their last week of school, but were otherwise free to do as they pleased. Harry and Ron stumbled into Draco’s room early on Tuesday, holding their brooms. Draco gave them a deathly glare from his cocoon of blankets, and tried to hex them as they proceeded to drag him out of bed.



 

The happiness that Draco sent Harry was bright and overwhelming. Harry tightened his grip just slightly over Draco’s fist, watching the wings of the snitch flutter as it tried to escape.

Losing never felt so good.

 

 

 

Draco and Harry stumbled into the common room, laughing at the way Minerva had grudgingly told Harry she’d never read anything so well written on the topic of wild magic. Ron looked up from what seemed like a serious conversation with Hermione, raising an eyebrow in question.

Harry grinned, and gave him a thumbs up. A smile so bright it was almost blinding spread over Ron’s face. Hermione turned to see what he was looking at. Harry just grinned and waved his paper, showing off the bright red ink displaying his almost perfect grade. Draco’s smile was just as proud and strong as his own.

Hermione’s mouth twitched. Harry turned his smile on her, and suddenly she was beaming back at him.

 

 

 

It was two hours before the leaving feast, and Harry couldn’t find Draco. Ron had been no help, muttering about how he should leash his ferret if he was so concerned. Harry took a swipe at the back of his head, which was expertly dodged.

After checking all of Draco’s favourite spots, he finally found him by the lake, and he wasn’t alone.

As he got closer, he stopped. Hermione was gesturing wildly at Draco. His eyes darted between them anxiously. Draco noticed him and gave the slightest shake of his head. Harry backed off, but stayed near, and watched them talk. Hermione was getting upset, but Draco was keeping his composure, though Harry caught the odd accusatory insult being thrown about by her.

He hoped that this meant Hermione was trying to understand. She and Ron had mended their relationship a lot over the last week, although Draco was still a sore spot between them, now that Ron had grown quite attached to him. Harry had maintained his distance so far, waiting to see where she and Ron would settle first, before he tried to mend things.

Finally, Hermione let out a particularly nasty stream of insults and walked away with tears in her eyes. Harry waited until she had disappeared from sight before walking over to Draco.

“She just needs more time,” Draco said, both his voice and his body incredibly tense.

Harry nodded, and stepped into his space. He rested his forehead against Draco’s neck. He just needed a moment before doing into the castle. Draco understood him perfectly, and placed a comforting hand on the back of his neck. Harry sighed and slid his hands under Draco’s shirt to feel warm skin, while Draco played with the hair at the nape of Harry’s neck. It was a familiar, and soothing, sensation that put Harry almost immediately at ease.

They stayed like that until it was time to go to the feast.

 

 

 

Draco shuddered and finally stilled against him. For several long moments, the air was filled with their heavy breathing. Then, when the risk had passed, Draco kissed him, gentle and sweet. Harry rolled them over and looked down at him. Draco smiled up at him, relaxed and happy.

Leaning down, Harry kissed him softly, knowing it could be the last time for a while.

Suddenly, he felt a rush of cold air and a tingling sensation down below and yelped. Draco grinned up at him with a mischievous expression and put his wand back on the bedside table.

“What are we? Heathens?” he said. “I’m not laying around with a mess in my pants!”

Harry scowled at him. “Could have warned me.”

Draco sniggered. “And miss that manly sound of surprise? Never!”

Harry couldn’t help but chuckle and lean down for another kiss. Draco sighed into it and his hand found the nape of Harry’s neck. He rubbed little circles there, and Harry made a sound of contentment. He wished that he could feel how Draco felt, but they had both agreed to avoid actively using empathy on their last morning at Hogwarts, too afraid his overwhelming feelings about leaving Draco would cause his soul to act out at any empathetic contact from Draco.

“Don’t be sad,” Draco whispered, pulling back slightly. “I’m in love with you, Harry Potter. A little distance won’t stop me.”

Harry felt overwhelmed by the affection that rose up in him at Draco’s words, and kissed him deep and desperate. Draco had never said it, although he had shown it in a myriad of ways, and not just through empathy.

“I love you, Draco Malfoy, don’t ever doubt it.”

The smile Draco gave him made him both insanely happy, and sad, and he rested their foreheads together, closing his eyes.

“You’ll fire-call me every day?” he asked.

“Every day, and I’ll visit too, Ron can keep us apart.”

Harry chuckled. “He’s going to both love and hate that.”

“This will work, Harry,” Draco whispered.

Harry nodded, and kissed him again.

They still had a few hours before they had to be on the train.

 

 

 

As they stepped off the train the flash of cameras caught Harry off guard. While they were at school, they hadn’t been bothered, and the Daily Prophet could only print speculation. Returning to public life was going to be a jarring change.

Harry sighed, but gave them a smile and a wave. He supposed he should have expected that. Their relationship, even though it was apparently, surprisingly, accepted by most of the population, was still big news. Molly and Arthur were there to greet their children. Harry grimaced at how upset she would be when she found out they were all planning to move into Harry’s house, and resolved to make it very clear she was welcome at all times without prior invitation.

Hermione’s parents were off to the side, and Harry gave Hermione a tense smile when she said goodbye. She’d not ridden in their compartment. They hadn’t mended things, but they had plenty of time. For a week or two, she had seemed to be warming to his relationship with Draco, but had suddenly returned to hating him with a passion, speaking out against them and confronting Draco like she had before the leaving feast. Harry didn’t understand, and wished she would explain what her problem with him was, but he supposed her trauma was something only she could manage, at her own pace. She and Ron shared an awkward, but lingering hug, and then she left with her parents.

Narcissa Malfoy was standing half in the shadows, looking smaller than Harry had ever seen her. With Lucius imprisoned, even with Harry’s public support following the war, he knew she had not had an easy time of it. He caught her eye and gave her a nod, on that she returned, rather solemnly. He would never forget the role she had played, and wished the rest of the world had not. He wondered what she thought of their relationship, knowing that Draco was an empath, and how dangerous it was. He supposed he’d find out soon enough. He had resolved to visit Draco at the manor, even though Draco was adamant they meet only at Harry’s.

Narcissa’s eyes suddenly widened with shock. Turning, Harry caught sight of Ginny pulling away from a hug, planting a kiss on Draco’s cheek. Draco managed not to look surprised, though Harry could tell he was from the line of his jaw. He always clenched it just so when he was trying to hide something. Ron was next, and that was less surprising. Harry smiled as Ron gave him a long hug followed by a solid thump on the shoulder. Draco said something, and Ron laughed. Then Draco turned to Harry.

Steadying himself, Harry was resolved not to cry. They had found a healthy compromise. They would fire-call, and owl, and have fortnightly supervised visits, supervised so they wouldn’t forget themselves and touch. Until he healed, things would be a little difficult, but not impossible.

Draco smiled at him, soft and intimate. He pulled Harry into a hug, hand finding the nape of his neck. He had worn his gloves, and Harry instantly mourned the feel of his bare fingers on his neck. Still, it was such a familiar gesture that he sighed, and smiled into the crook of Draco’s neck. They stayed like that for probably too long, but Harry didn’t care. They’d decided this would be the last time they touched, until Harry’s soul healed.

When they pulled away, Draco kept his hand on Harry’s neck. Smiling, Harry cupped Draco’s face gently and kissed him soft and deep, even though people were taking pictures. When they ended the kiss, he rested his forehead against Draco’s, and stared into his eyes.

“Until my soul heals,” he murmured.

“Don’t be melodramatic,” Draco huffed.

“Then, I’ll see you soon.”

Draco leaned in, and kissed him again softly. He let his fingers trail over the nape of Harry’s neck as he walked away. Harry felt a sudden, jarring sense of loss the moment that touch left him, but smiled. Draco was right, they would make this work. Things would be hard, until Harry’s soul healed, but it would all be worth it in the end.

The end.