Harry came back for his eighth year knowing what he wanted. He hadn’t after the very end of the war, but it was wonderful how a summer of not being with the Dursleys and not having to worry about Voldemort clarified things for him.
First, he wanted enough NEWTS that he could legitimately enter the Auror program, without listening to any envious taunts about favoritism.
Second, he wanted to relax once in a while, which meant not all of his time was going to be spent studying for the NEWTS, no matter what Hermione thought.
Third, he wanted Draco Malfoy.
It had started because of the Fiendfyre, maybe, because of the way that Malfoy had clung to him instead of trying to do something stupid like upsetting the broom, which he would have done if he really was an evil git.
But there had also been the way that Malfoy mumbled thanks for saving his life and his wand when Harry returned the wand to him, and there had been the way he attended his father’s trial with his face absolutely wiped clean of expression, daring anyone to mock him. And there was the fact that he was the only one of the Slytherins in Harry’s year to come back to the school, everyone else either going to Durmstrang or working with private tutors.
That took courage. Mad courage, perhaps, instead of sane, but that was the kind of courage Harry worked with a lot. He could admire it, too.
Draco was here, instead of hiding. He was doing what he wanted, pursuing what he wanted, instead of retreating into a sullen commitment to doing nothing because the war hadn’t worked out the way he wanted it to. He spent his time in studying or working with his head turned away, but that merely made him the greater challenge to catch and hold.
And Harry had always loved a challenge—one of the things he had learned about himself this summer, one of the reasons he had chosen not to continue dating Ginny. It would have been so easy to continue doing that, as easy as apple-picking, as falling in love on a summer’s day with the sun slanting down. Harder to fall in love in the winter, harder to fall in love with someone wintry.
But he wanted to, so he set himself to it. This was the kind of warfare that he would happily take part in.
“Harry? You coming?”
Harry smiled at Ron and swung his leg over his broom again. The rest of the team had already trotted, panting, into the showers. “We’re going to show them something,” Harry said. “But for that to happen, I need to spend some more time flying. It’s not like I got much practice in the last year.”
Ron grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. His smile was more open now, his swagger more of pure confidence than anxiety. Harry wasn’t the only one who had decided what he wanted during the summer. “Right, mate. I’ll see you in the Tower later.”
Harry nodded, waited until Ron was safely out of sight, and then took off again.
He knew Draco would be on the Quidditch Pitch in three minutes at the most. One of the ways that Draco seemed to regulate himself and kept his pursuit of what he wanted going was to stick to a strict routine, and he always went flying a little after five in the afternoon, when none of the other teams were practicing.
Not that he’d joined the Slytherin team again, either. He could have been the captain, but he didn’t want that.
Harry reckoned that it was time to see if Draco wanted a flyer.
He circled idly until he caught a flash of blond hair out of the corner of his eye. It halted immediately. He knew Draco would have seen him. Now he stood there wondering if it was worth continuing onto the pitch when it would mean a confrontation of the kind he and Harry had avoided all term.
Harry hunched his legs around the broom, his gaze remote and fixed on the horizon as though nothing could be less important to him than his audience.
And then he took off.
He streamed straight upwards, the wind whipping his hair so hard that he felt as if he’d swallow half of it. Then he flipped himself over and over, in place like a windmill’s rotating blades, but kept going upwards at the same time. The sky and the ground soared and swooped around him, and Harry laughed aloud.
He straightened at the point where his lungs were working hard for air and turned a single, hard circle before he stretched out his arms and began to pivot, with the broom as the center of his spin. It was dangerous; he could feel the wind tugging at him again, and he had to keep part of his attention on the circles and part on driving the broom forwards. But he succeeded, and he knew he looked like a spinning star as he made his way towards the Forbidden Forest.
He pulled up far short of the Forest, of course, and took a moment to press his hair back and another to gasp. Then he dived at the ground.
This was no Wronski Feint; this was a committed course, and if everything went well, Draco should be watching with bated breath, sure Harry would crash and wondering if he ought to run and tell someone before that happened. But Harry took the burden away and made Draco concentrate on something else—at least, he hoped he did—by beginning to spin as he fell.
Wild and swinging; not even as good a flyer as Harry was could control himself fully, and he knew that he staggered in circles that seemed destined to carry him into the grass. But he had done this before, and judged it more often, and he reached the point where he knew he had to turn or die.
He turned, and swept along parallel to the grass, his shoulder brushing the blades, before he landed, turned, and bowed.
Draco froze. He had come into the open, staring, drawn, and now he stood there as nervous as a deer, looking as if he wanted to scream insults before Harry could.
“That performance is dedicated to you,” Harry said softly, holding his eyes, and then picked up his broom and walked away before Draco could get a word in edgewise.
The owls were flying in with the morning post before Draco showed up at breakfast. Harry breathed a quick sigh of relief as Draco slid into place at the Slytherin table. His “brilliant” plan would have been utterly ruined had Draco not come in.
Draco perhaps heard the sigh, or was simply paranoid, because he sent Harry a quick and unconvincing sneer before he fell on his food. Then he had to stop and look up, because the post owl Harry had hired was hovering above him, extending a box wrapped in silver paper.
The other students at the Slytherin table looked over, and so did most of the others seated at the different tables. Harry had counted on that. He wanted others to see how appreciated Draco was, how desired. He sipped at his tea and tapped Hermione on the arm, nodding at Draco. She had asked him what he was up to with the things he had bought on his last trip to Hogsmeade. Gratifying her curiosity would please her and might earn him an ally.
Hermione looked up just as Draco finished casting a few protective hexes on the box and ripped the paper open. He had strips clenched in either hand and his teeth gritted, as though he defied the box or the sender to do its worst to him. Harry smiled, nearly bursting with pride. That was the Draco he had seen over the summer and got to know better since they’d been here. He stood up to what scared him, and tore through it if he could, or retreated with dignity if he couldn’t.
This time, it was a dark box decorated with gold paper that confronted him, and Draco’s hands shook a little as he opened it. Harry nodded when the chocolates inside appeared before everyone. He had bought Draco’s favorite kind, which luckily Honeydukes carried. They were the kind his mother used to send him, the kind Harry had seen him obsessively eating during his father’s trial.
Draco hesitated. Then he looked around the Great Hall, and his head stopped moving when his eyes fell on Harry.
Harry stood up and bowed. There could be no doubt about who had sent the gift, at least not between them. He wanted Draco to know someone cared enough to get him things he liked.
Then he sat back and started eating his breakfast, and slowly the rest of the Great Hall followed suit. Harry did catch movement from the corner of his eye a moment later, and looked up.
Draco must have used all the spells he needed to reassure himself that the chocolates weren’t poisoned. His hand was just retreating from his mouth, and his eyes were shut, and there was a thin line of chocolate around his lips.
Harry smiled, and kept eating.
“Do you need help?”
Draco started and glared at Harry. Their NEWT Potions class was so small they didn’t usually work with partners, and he had gone to the storage cupboard by himself. Harry nodded to the ingredients in his hands. “You’ll have an easier time mashing them up if you have a partner,” he said.
Draco paused. Harry could see the struggle in his eyes, between pride and the fact that he would do better on this particular potion if he followed Harry’s advice.
Common sense won, as it had since the war, as Harry thought it always would in this Draco he liked. “Yes, if you want to help,” Draco said in a clipped tone, and led Harry towards the table where he was working. Harry could feel Hermione’s astonished gaze on his back, but he ignored it. She was working by herself and doing a good job of it, so she shouldn’t mind if Harry went off and helped someone else.
Draco watched Harry’s hands carefully at first, but Harry sliced the roots and then mashed them with precision he had picked up through his NEWT study. It turned out there were all sorts of books in the library about how to prepare Potions ingredients if you looked for them. At last, Draco relaxed and began to work beside him, counting softly under his breath as he stirred the potion.
Harry watched his hands. Slender and nervous, but steady. Draco would go well, and would go far, if he could just maintain the stance he’d taken.
“Why are you doing this?” Draco asked out of the side of his mouth.
Harry answered honestly. He thought this Draco had come too far to be repelled by honesty. “I’d like to date you. You’ve proven that you’re stronger than anyone else thought. I’m interested in you.”
Draco turned and stared at him. “And you thought showing off was the way to win me?”
Interesting that he didn’t immediately deny I could be interested in him, Harry thought gleefully, and inclined his head. “You’re talking about the tricks I pulled flying? I thought that would be the way to capture your attention. Not always hold it.”
Draco was silent. Harry turned his attention back to the roots he was mashing. They would be syrupy in a short time, and ready to add to the potion.
“You’re doing too much,” Draco whispered. “I didn’t need your chocolates. I didn’t need your help with the potion.”
Harry looked up at him. “But you’ll do better with them,” he said softly. “That’s what I want to give you, the pleasures of life, not just the bare necessities that so many people might think you deserve.”
Draco spent the rest of class giving Harry soft astonished looks. Harry smiled at him when he thought he could get away with it, and lingered as long as he could in helping Draco prepare the potion, before he scurried back to his own table to finish his.
Draco’s potion received the highest mark in the class. Draco turned and looked at Harry when Slughorn announced that, and Harry shrugged back, smiling.
“I need to make a decision.”
Harry looked up. He had spent a long day making sure that others knew about the way Draco hadn’t identified him at Malfoy Manor, but since he hadn’t actually seen Draco anywhere, he had gone back to the library in order to study for the Potions practical. Now he leaned back and put a finger in his book, with his heart speeding up. Draco stood in front of him with a steady stare that Harry knew was either going to make or break him.
“Do you?” Harry asked, as calmly as he could. “What kind of decision?”
“I need to decide if I’m going to take you seriously or not.”
Harry just sat there, a lump in his throat, unable to say anything. He wanted to encourage Draco to do it, but ultimately, the decision had to be Draco’s. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? They had come this far, but this Draco Harry liked was the one who could make choices on his own, who wouldn’t let the decisions that others made influence him too much or control him.
“Go on, then,” Harry whispered, in a voice that he barely recognized as his own.
Draco sighed and stared at him. Then he said, “I’m taking the chance that this could be a joke. Or else that you’re just lonely because you’re not with female Weasley anymore and you’ll take up with her the minute she shows a sign of wanting you.”
Harry shook his head. “Ginny and I have our own lives now. She knows that I want something different, more of a challenge.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “But that’s just the sort of thing you would say if you wanted to trick me and make me believe you.”
Harry only sat still. Nodding in response might make Draco think he agreed, which might make Draco turn his back and walk out of the library.
Draco sighed hard enough to ruffle Harry’s hair and studied the ceiling of the library for a moment. Then he looked back down and said, “I’m going to take a chance. The way I did by coming back to Hogwarts in the first place, the way I did by not leaving the Quidditch pitch when I saw you flying. I’m going to take a chance on you.”
And he held out his hand, palm down.
Harry surged to his feet, grabbed it, and kissed it. Then he kissed Draco on the lips, which, from the way he stiffened and struggled for a moment, Draco had not been expecting.
But then he relaxed and kissed back, his hands rising so he could stroke the hair back from Harry’s face, his mouth opening under Harry’s. Harry greedily took the chance to kiss and lick at him. In fact, it took several tries for Draco to force him back, and then he stood there panting with Harry grinning at him, clasping his hands, until he seemed to recover his breath and his balance.
“You’re taking a chance, too,” he said, as if determined that Harry should have the benefit of his opinion. “You have no idea that this will work out.”
“I’m willing to take that chance,” Harry said, and kissed his hand once more, thinking of the Fiendfyre, and the flying, and the kiss, and all the days ahead.