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“Keep your eyes on your wand,” Harry calls, trying to hide his irritation as he once again has to duck to avoid a wayward zigzag of red light. Turning, he watches the hex collide with the wall behind him, which absorbs it harmlessly. The Room of Requirement is good like that. “Distraction gives your opponent the advantage.”

“Sorry!” calls a curly-haired third-year boy, the originator of the spell, looking apologetically at Harry before hurriedly throwing up a shield to protect himself from his apparently ruthless duelling partner.

“You will be,” Harry mutters under his breath as he turns away and carefully walks along his end of the room, watching the expressions of fierce concentration on the faces of most of these young students and breathing in the smell of exertion and mingled hexes, charms, and shields.

And OK, so perhaps today he’s a little more irritable than usual—he has an insistent, banging headache, he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep, and he was so busy at lunch helping Hagrid with a new consignment of something unpleasant and bitey that he didn’t have chance to eat anything—but really, he doesn’t regret setting up this Duelling Club for the younger students.

After the war had ended the previous year, demand had been high for some sort of continuation of the DA, both from the remaining members who had returned to Hogwarts, and from the younger students who had previously been denied involvement. Of course, once Dumbledore had jumped on board and declared the whole thing ‘a wonderful idea’, it had been inevitable.

Harry still has his dubious moments—particularly when he recalls his second year and the first incarnation of the Hogwarts Duelling Club. It’s not as though any of these students remember the general disaster area that was Gilderoy Lockhart, but still, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and their ex-DA comrades do their utmost to create something, in lunchtimes and free periods and whenever Harry isn’t being roped into some other ‘school unity’ type activity, that’s useful and educational and fun.

And it is fun, most of the time. And useful, Harry suspects, although he usually leaves the ‘educational’ to Hermione. No use breaking the habit of a lifetime. Today’s their day to run the club together, and he glances over to her side of the room and watches her ever-so-patiently demonstrating an effective defensive stance to a nervous-looking second-year girl. Her voice is soft—“That’s much better, Grace, now try that again,”—and Harry smiles. Lets her words dissolve into the cacophony of yelled spells and muffled curses and requests for help.

They’ve all learned such a lot already, hexes and shields and etiquette and technique, and at the risk of sounding like a complete sap, Harry’s actually rather proud—

“Mfleh,” Harry manages as he’s knocked off his feet and onto his arse by a flash of pale green and yellow light and a dull, percussive roar that makes his ears ring for a long few seconds. The floor is designed for such impact and he’s unharmed, but that’s hardly the point. Rattled and blinking rapidly, he looks around the room, which has fallen almost silent, and really hopes he’s managed not to swear. It would be a first, if he has.

When he focuses on Hermione, her face is twisted with concern and she mouths, ‘Are you OK?’

Harry wiggles his fingers experimentally and checks that all limbs and appendages are in their correct configuration. “I’m fine,” he calls, and she hesitates for a moment before biting her lip, nodding, and turning back to her students. As she does, the noise level in the room gradually picks up again as the other pairs resume their duels. Harry sighs and gets to his feet, feeling slightly dazed.

It isn’t until a pair of sharp, dark eyes catch his, lock for a moment and then dart away guiltily that he suddenly knows exactly where those stray hexes came from. And why is he not fucking surprised?

“Zabini!” he yells, irritation spiking as he stomps toward Blaise Zabini’s little sister and her Ravenclaw partner-in-crime. “Westwood!”

Both girls stop what they’re doing and Harry stands in front of them, arms crossed and eyes narrowed as the other battles rage on around them.

“Harry, must you call them by their last names like that?” calls an exasperated Hermione and he rolls his eyes.

Aurelia Zabini snorts softly, and Harry digs his fingers hard into his upper arms, fighting for control of himself. “Yes, I fu—flipping must, when they’re firing hexes at me!”

“You sound like Snape,” Hermione shoots back, and her little smile is not appreciated.

Moodily, Harry turns back to the troublesome girls. He realises that it’s unlikely even these two meant to knock him on his arse with a freak combination hex, but even so. Every single week it’s something with these two and patience has never been his strongest point. Christina Westwood has a Hermione-like intellect and a most un-Ravenclaw appetite for mischief, and Aurelia is... well, Aurelia is a Slytherin. And a Zabini. And a thirteen-year-old girl, which Harry secretly thinks is the most dangerous part of the equation.

“OK,” he says, voice not quite even. He reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose and knocks his glasses slightly askew. “Would one of you like to explain to me exactly how you managed to hit me when I was standing all the way over there?” he demands, throwing an arm out with more theatre than he would usually like. His head is pounding with a special kind of violence now, though whether hex, rage, or starvation-induced it’s difficult to tell. “You do realise I could have been seriously hurt?”

Aurelia shrugs and flicks her dark hair out of her face. “Are you?” she asks, and just for a second, the fathomless black eyes flicker with concern.

“No,” Harry sighs wearily, “but that’s hardly the point.”

“I think we cast at the same time,” Christina says brightly, looking up from her examination of her wand to gaze at Harry.

“Right. Now we’re getting somewhere. Where were your shields? Where was your focus? Can you tell me what you could have done to avoid knocking me to the floor?” Harry continues, warming to his theme, and by the time he’s finished his lecture, it’s almost time for dinner.

He watches the room drain of students, most of them in high spirits, chattering loudly, and he gets a guilty little twinge of satisfaction out of the petulant, woebegone expressions of the two girls bringing up the rear.

“Doesn’t even work, anyway,” Aurelia is saying crossly, glaring at her wand.

Harry snorts and opts not to spare a moment considering whatever horrible thing she had been trying to do to her partner and friend; instead, he watches the room tidy itself up under the slow sweep of his wand, and heads over to meet Hermione at the door. All he wants now is a good meal and a decent rant about his frustrating day. They’re just little complaints, after all, and he suspects that they can all be cleansed away by food, venting, and a long hot bath. Maybe he’ll be able to get this week’s password to the Prefects’ bathroom out of Ron or... out of Ron.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” she says, resting a hand on his arm and leaning up on her tiptoes to look very hard into his eyes.

Slightly unnerved, Harry nods. “Headache, but I had that before.”

“Are you sleeping properly?” Her eyes narrow and she starts poking at him with her wand.

“Yeah, I just—’Mione, stop it,” Harry complains, jerking away and ignoring her eye-roll as she sheaths her wand with a gesture of surrender. “Let’s just go downstairs for dinner before Ron eats everything.”

She hides a smile and follows him out into the freezing cold corridor. “Remember when Dumbledore said that running this thing would be a delightful experience for us?”

“I do, yes. Maybe we should be asking him for danger money,” Harry muses, shivering in his thin school shirt and wishing he’d brought his robes with him. “Fuck, it’s freezing.

Hermione’s shoes click on the stone and she nudges him with her elbow, pretending disapproval. “It’s November, what do you expect?”

Her tone is good-natured and Harry, ever the opportunist, asks: “Oh, I don’t know, how about the password to the Prefects’ bathroom?”

Hermione smiles and pushes open one of the heavy doors to the Great Hall. “Good try. Ron might tell you if you give him your dessert.”

**~*~**

Fifteen minutes and an indecent amount of shepherd’s pie later, Harry recalls Hermione’s words and thinks that chance would be a fine thing. It would help if he could manage to actually have something resembling a conversation with his best mate, but it’s just not happening. It’s not really Ron’s fault that his attention keeps being dragged elsewhere; at least, that’s what the part of Harry that knows he’s not really a sulker by nature is insisting.

He pokes at the remains of his second helping, moodily flicking at the ever-present peas with his fork. One pings away and hits Hermione on the shoulder. She doesn’t notice. She’s too busy—she and Ron—bickering in that familiar way that they’ve been perfecting for almost seven years. Harry knows this because he has watched, with a combination of silent amusement, exasperation, and a couple of ill-advised attempts at ‘helping’, as they have developed it.

He doubts Ron’s going to screw up his courage and ask her out anytime soon, and even Harry’s piss-poor sense of self-preservation prevents him from suggesting the same to Hermione. The thought draws an unexpected smile from Harry and he looks hurriedly away from his oblivious friends and down at his plate, to see that he has absentmindedly reduced the remains of his dinner to mush.

He sets down his fork and looks up. “Hermione, could you pass the juice?”

“Mm?” She glances vaguely in Harry’s direction for half a second and then nods. “Now you’re being ridiculous, Ron.”

Still juiceless, Harry gazes at her and rakes a hand through his hair. Waits. But no, now Ron’s shaking his head and waving a cake-smeared fork in the air, a wounded expression on his face and the sodding jug right next to his elbow.

Harry resists the temptation to drop his still-pounding head to the table and instead drops his chin into one hand and closes one eye. “Hermione?”

“Hm?”

“I was thinking of telling Snape that I’ve been wondering what he looks like naked, what do you think?”

“Definitely, Harry, sounds like a good idea,” she says without turning around, but the familiar encouraging smile makes him grin wearily into his hand. “Ron, you eat like a pig.”

Harry sighs and casts his one open eye around the table. It seems that all of his Housemates are involved in some absorbing conversation or activity and he’s somehow missed the boat. Trying with every fibre of his being not to be petulant (and perhaps not quite making it), he helps himself to cake and looks up just in time to meet Neville’s eyes as he says:

“I don’t think Snape would like that very much.” And grins. A lot.

Harry smiles gratefully across the table at his friend and slides a forkful of hot ginger cake into his mouth with a slightly more contented sigh.

“I’d be worried if he did,” he offers, words muffled by the cake he’s not quite swallowed.

“Stranger things have happened,” Nev says darkly, and passes Harry the pumpkin juice without being asked. “Club OK today?”

“Well, actually...” Harry begins, but that’s about as far as he gets before Ginny appears from Merlin-knows-where and squishes onto the bench beside Neville.

“Hi, Harry,” she says with a distracted smile before she flings herself practically across Neville’s lap and takes his spoon out of his hand so she can feed his cake to him.

Neville’s expression is caught somewhere between embarrassment and delight, and as Ginny beams and kisses him on the cheek, Harry thinks delight is winning out. Disappointed, Harry looks away. Separately, both are good friends and interesting conversationalists, but together... they’re all ‘new relationship’, he supposes, and that’s just the way it is.

He’s happy that Ginny no longer has any designs on him, especially seeing as he’s not really sure he likes girls that way after all, but even so. Harry licks his spoon clean of spicy, sticky sweetness and glances down the table, suddenly feeling rather alone.

“No way, it’s a three Galleon minimum,” Seamus is saying in a loud voice, bending over a small book with Dean, scribbling and gesturing frantically. Dean nods, and Parvati, Padma, and Luna, leaning over behind them, pull disappointed faces.

Intrigued, Harry drops his spoon into his bowl with a clatter and steps over the bench to approach the little group.

“Hey, what are you...” Harry trails off as Seamus slides the little book under his arm and all five of them cease their whispered argument.

He sighs heavily, feeling put out but not wanting to show it. Though he doesn’t know why he shouldn’t show it, other than the fact that everyone expects him to act a certain way. Helpful and heroic and self-sacrificing. Which gets a little bit wearing from time to time.

“It’s a nice night, isn’t it, Harry?” Luna says, looking at him serenely. She twists a long strand of hair around her finger, the one with the sparkly orange nail, and smiles at him.

“It’s a bloody cold night,” he says, but forces a half smile in return.

“It doesn’t matter about cold when you can see the stars,” she muses, casting wide eyes up to the enchanted ceiling.

Harry looks with her, and sure enough, the stars are coming out, glittering across the blank canvas of a surprisingly clear dark sky. “I suppose not,” he murmurs, and suddenly it’s obvious. “Cheers, Luna.”

And with that, Harry gives up on the idea of any dinner-table conversation and stalks, hands in pockets, out of the Great Hall. As he stomps out into the cold evening and down the main steps, he almost walks straight into Malfoy as he approaches the steps in the opposite direction. It’s only a light brush of shoulders, but Malfoy glares at him, eyes cool and silvery in the moonlight.

Harry pauses on the steps just long enough to glare back, even though he doesn’t really feel like it. If he’s honest, Malfoy doesn’t look as though he’s putting his heart and soul into the expression like he used to, and that’s rather disappointing. Malfoy glares were always overflowing with venom; they were the best Harry had seen, and something he could always rely on to be cut through with quality. A Malfoy glare was a beautiful thing, because it always seemed like he meant it.

Sometimes he’d even get a rude hand gesture or a little swish of robes in that almost Snapelike way, but not recently. Stupid Malfoy, Harry thinks; he can’t even get that right.

“Going on the run from your fangirls, Potter?”

Harry snorts, breath visible in the cold air. Malfoy’s mouth is twisted into a half-smirk half-sneer, and not for the first time, Harry is struck by the unwanted thought that he’d probably be rather attractive if he didn’t insist on looking so sour all the time. “Been making friends in the Forbidden Forest, Malfoy?” he throws out, needing to shake off the unsettling thought.

Malfoy rolls his eyes and brushes invisible dirt from the shoulder of his warm-looking cloak. Harry shoots it a covetous glance and pretends not to shiver in his stupid thin shirt, knowing that the only reason he’s dressed so unsuitably for the temperature is his own impulsiveness in storming out here.

“Whatever, Potter,” Malfoy snarls, and as he clicks up the steps in his expensive boots, wind blowing his hair into his eyes, Harry reflects grimly that this is almost the longest conversation he’s had all evening.

With Malfoy. Fuck’s sake.

Shaking his head painfully, Harry stomps out to the broom shed. And he’s definitely not wondering how he didn’t notice Malfoy’s absence during dinner. Because, after all, he has to keep an eye on—

“Shut up, Harry,” he mutters to himself out loud, and realises that if indeed that is the first sign of madness, he’s been royally screwed for a long time.

Soon, and before he can change his mind, he’s slinging a leg over his broom and kicking off as hard as he can, using the day’s unvented frustration to propel himself higher and faster into the night sky. He keeps his eyes on the stars and ignores the biting wind that shears through to his skin, ruffles his hair violently, and attempts to knock the breath back down his throat.

He swoops and spirals, higher and higher, driving harder than he ever has before and it’s exhilarating. Good old Luna. Harry doesn’t need fancy baths and he doesn’t need his friends to pay attention to him. Just this. He can barely even feel his headache any more as he grips the smooth grain of his broom handle hard and pulls into an ambitious loop, and...

...the world turns black. And silent. The stars are gone, as are the lights of the castle. Everything. Harry blinks rapidly but he can’t see a thing, and he can’t hear the rushing of the wind; he can’t hear his own shallow breathing; he can’t hear the “Oh, fuck,” he definitely yells. Or whimpers.

Panicked, fingers sliding on his broom handle, he’s suddenly aware that he’s practically upside down and the only thing stopping him from plunging to his death is the vice-like grip of his thighs around the broom. Swallowing hard, he wraps his fingers tighter around the handle and pours all of his adrenaline-jittery energy into slowly, carefully righting himself, using pure instinct to guide himself into a safer position.

Finally, disoriented and quite frankly terrified, he stills, leaning forward and trying to control his messy breathing and hammering heart rate. He can still feel the wind, that’s for sure, and he knows that everything hasn’t just... disappeared, so it’s got to be... oh, fuck. Fuckety fuck. It’s got to be whatever hit him this afternoon in Duelling Club. Surely third years don’t know time-delayed hexes...

“Oh, serious words are going to be had,” Harry says to the night that he can’t see, but he only hears it inside his head. Which is extremely disconcerting. Still, thinking vengeful thoughts about Aurelia and Christina seems to be taking the edge off the blank, cold terror of hovering on a broom several hundred feet in the air and barely knowing which way is up.

The trouble is, one way or another, he’s going to have to land this broom. And find his way across the grounds. Something in the pit of Harry’s stomach roils nastily at the prospect; the thought of wandering accidentally into the forest or the lake without his two most important senses rakes a cold finger down Harry’s spine and he shivers again.

Still, he can’t stay up here all night. Laughing silently and hysterically at his supposed Gryffindor courage, Harry tilts the front end of his broom downward and opts for slow, descending (he hopes) circles, because he knows that straight down just isn’t happening in this wind.

This wind, in fact, is horribly disorienting, and not only that, but Harry thinks he’s descending a little too fast now, but it’s surprisingly difficult to tell without his sight. He actually senses the ground a split second too late, a split second before he’s crashing into the hard, frozen grass at an awkward angle.

He’s flung from his broom with a string of colourful curses and lands painfully some unknown distance away with an impact that knocks the breath out of him. He feels his ankle twist and crumple beneath him, but the rush of pain is delayed for merciful seconds; when it comes, the wave is so sudden and intense that Harry wants to vomit.

Gripping the cold, frozen grass in numb fingers, he swallows back the acidic taste in his throat and pulls his breathing under control with a supreme effort. His eyes sting and the wind rips harshly across the tiny amount of moisture on his skin before he can scrub it away with his sleeve. Furious with himself, he releases an unchecked sound of frustration into the air, but it’s no good. He’s locked in this dark, silent box for the foreseeable and feeling sorry for himself isn’t going to help. Still, it’s the perfect end to a perfect day.

Carefully, he gropes for his wand, but it’s nowhere to be found. An experimental shift of position to allow him to widen his search across the grass jars his ankle slightly, leaving him retching, head spinning, and determined to stay still. The bleak fact of the matter is that he’s freezing cold, injured, he doesn’t know where he is and all he can conceivably do is sit and wait for someone to come. Hope for someone to come.

“No one’ll think to look for me for hours,” he says out loud, just for the sake of it. And when they do? Well, it’s certainly not going to help that he has the fucking map. The soft edges of folded parchment against his fingers tell him that that, at least, is still in his pocket—fat lot of good it’s going to do him when he can’t see.

Out of desperation, he casts a wandless Warming Charm, but it’s weak and barely holds for five minutes against the biting wind. He casts it again. Eventually, twelve similar charms and countless minutes later, he gives up. Wandless magic always drains him and right now, despite the panic circling in his chest and the sickening pain from his ankle, he feels as though he could just lie down in the cold grass and fall asleep—Harry’s no expert on medical matters but he knows that can’t be a good sign.

He hopes he’s not too close to the forest, because... fuck. Not only will he fail to see or hear something coming for him, but getting out of the way is going to be a fairly serious problem, too. Alarmed, he attempts to steer his thoughts away from that particular subject and instead spends some time cursing himself for being so easily riled and impulsive.

Had he been anyone else, he could be curled up on a warm sofa in his common room right now. In front of the fire. Even listening to Ron and Hermione argue, that’d be fine. Listening to anything would be nice, really. He’d even rather watch Ginny and Nev being coupley, or Seamus and his book-running, or Malfoy’s half-arsed glare, than nothing at all.

Harry sighs, and then there’s a gentle touch to his shoulder, which startles him so much that he jumps, setting off another nauseating pulse of pain that shakes him and makes his mouth water unpleasantly for several seconds. Along with it, though, is a powerful rush of relief—someone’s here.

“Who’s there?” he asks pointlessly. Nothing. Obviously.

He hesitates only for a moment before he’s babbling away, desperate to communicate.

“I can’t see or hear, just so you know. Not a thing. Sorry. I think I’ve done something to my ankle... I crashed my broom, and... I can’t see. Or hear. I mentioned that, didn’t I?”

Harry pauses for breath and of course there’s no response, or none that he can hear, but after a moment, a heavy cloak is draped around his shoulders. It’s deliciously warm and Harry suspects that his potential rescuer has taken it right off their own back.

“Thank you,” he says, turning to bury his face in the thick, soft fabric. It smells lightly citrusy and feels wonderful around him, blocking out the wind and the cold air effortlessly.

His sudden comfort is disturbed by a jagged burst of pain as his ankle is touched; he winces and the careful touch ceases immediately. Instead, his left hand is grabbed and held in cool, smooth fingers. He feels a firm downward stroke over his palm, and then a pause, though the person touching him does not let go of his hand.

Harry frowns. “What?”

He senses a shifting, as though the person is now leaning over him, and the wind carries a drift of that same citrusy smell into his nostrils. He waits.

Finally, he feels it again—the same straight, downward stroke, a pause, and then a bold C-shape, and suddenly it makes sense. This person, whoever he or she is, is trying to communicate with him, and Harry’s so relieved that he feels like crying. It’s so fucking simple.

“I get it,” he says, trying not to smile. “C, and the first, I. OK, go on,” he rambles, so pleased to have some way of communicating inside this dark silence that he doesn’t care how daft he sounds.

I. Pause. C. Pause. A. Pause. N. Pause. T.

“I can’t. Alright...” he encourages, and the letters come faster this time, the marked pauses indicating each new word.

I CANT HEAL BROKEN BONES SORRY.

Harry grimaces. “It’s broken? Oh, fuck. That’s alright, neither can I.” He pauses. “Can you see my wand? I dropped it.”

K, is the simple and immediate response, stroked against his palm, and then Harry’s hand is released.

He waits, pulling the warm cloak tighter around himself with his free hand and trying not to wonder if his mysterious rescuer has abandoned him. Or has come to murder him. Either way, he doesn’t suppose there’s a whole lot he can do about it.

When his wand is pressed into his hand within seconds, he’s flooded with painful relief and pathetic gratitude. “Thank you,” he manages, gripping it tightly in frozen fingers as though it might disappear again, and casting a much stronger Warming Charm that doesn’t drain all of the energy out of him. The warmth tingles through his veins and he sighs out loud, momentarily forgetting that he’s not alone. He remembers with a split-second rush of heat to his skin that has nothing to do with the charm, and throws out:

“Who are you?”

It occurs to him that were his rescuer Hermione or Ron, they’d have spelled out their name before they did anything else. There’s no response, and another shiver of apprehension ripples through Harry. He’s fairly sure that no one at Hogwarts actually wants to hurt him any more, and this person, with their cloak and their wand-finding, seems to want to help, but still. He’s extremely fucking vulnerable and it will do no good to forget that.

“Constant vigilance,” he mutters under his breath, or at least he thinks he mutters. He knows he’s talking, but he can’t hear a fucking thing; it’s surreal. He might be shouting for all he knows, and there’s that gentle touch on his shoulder again. Harry chews on his lip.

“Who are you?” he asks again, hoping to sound a bit more strident this time.

After a long pause, his hand is picked up again. NOT IMPORTANT.

“It might be to me!” Harry protests, scowling.

Those fingers tap against his palm for a moment, and then: TOUGH SHIT.

The response is so unexpected that he laughs, and it feels slightly hysterical, but he can’t help himself. It probably sounds hysterical too, not that he’d know, but he suspects it does because just for a moment, the mysterious person links their fingers together and squeezes tight as though to reassure, and it feels nice.

Harry grips back hard and stares down blankly at where he imagines his hand is tangled with the other student’s—and they have to be a student, because there’s no way Snape or McGonagall or any of the other professors would swear on his hand.

“Listen,” he says as his hand is released and he has to grit his teeth against the feather-light touch to his ankle. “I... I got hit by two combined hexes in Duelling Club this afternoon. I was fine up until about a minute after I got into the air, and I can’t imagine the two things are—fuck, that hurts—unrelated.”

Harry sucks in his breath, feeling the cool tingle of protective magic wrapping around his ankle. The pain deadens until there are no more sharp edges, just a dull, hot throb, and it takes him a moment to realise that his foot and ankle have been completely immobilised.

“Impressive,” he says, and he’s not sure if that one was out loud or not.

Either way, the partially-thawed grass is cold and wet beneath him, and he’s eager to try when he feels:

CAN YOU STAND UP NOW.

Harry inhales the cold, musty air hard and nods, allowing the other person to grab him and wrap one arm around his waist and another under his arm as he scrambles to get his undamaged leg underneath him. Disoriented and light-headed, he manages to struggle into an upright position, holding his injured leg carefully clear of the ground and leaning heavily against the warm, solid figure beside him.

For a moment, there’s no movement, and Harry has the horrible feeling that he’s about to be bound and levitated, or something equally humiliating; he’d prefer to struggle, irrational and stupid though that may be, and he’s just about to protest when his companion is stepping forward, and Harry has no choice but to follow him. Harry’s almost certain it’s a him, especially now as he half-stumbles, half-hops across the grounds, leaning heavily on the person pressed against his side. He senses a match in height and strength, and apart from anything else, that smell... that warm, citrusy fragrance that’s catching his nostrils every now and then... it’s light and not overpowering but definitely masculine.

And it’s pleasant, reassuring somehow. Harry clings to that scent and the warmth of the arms holding him up as they make painfully slow progress across the grounds—he hopes toward the castle, but he has no way of knowing. The idea of trusting someone he can’t even see once more sends a spiral of alarm through his veins and he opts for distraction.

“I know that Zabini girl was up to something. Bloody Slytherins,” he mumbles and the fingers gripping his hip seem to tighten reflexively. Unnerved, he decides to shut up about Slytherins and Zabinis, just in the extremely unlikely event that his rescuer is Blaise Zabini and he’s about to get dropped on his arse and abandoned to the elements.

Now that’s self-preservation, he tells himself, seconds before his drifting attention makes him stumble; still holding his damaged foot clear of the ground, he twists, wobbles, and is steadied by strong hands just in time for him to crash face first against a warm, wool-clad shoulder. “Sorry,” he mumbles after a second or two, inhaling deeply and feeling strangely reluctant to extricate himself from the comforting circle of arms.

As soon as that thought registers, he’s pulling back like something’s bit him. Heart racing, his distraction is such that he hardly notices the letters being traced into his palm and has to ask for them a second time.

STEPS HERE, and a pause, followed by, 12

The strokes this time around are sharp, rapid, as though he’s exasperated with Harry. Despite the pain and the vulnerability of his position, Harry can’t help but be rather amused by this.

“Up or down?” he asks, even though he knows there are no staircases that lead downward into the castle.

He receives a sharp flick to the soft flesh of his palm for his trouble, and hides a smile, and as he climbs the slippery stone steps in a jerky, uncomfortable step-hop-shuffle-lean-sway motion, he feels an odd—and maybe not totally irrational—rush of affection for his rescuer. For the warm cloak and the strange dignity he’s being afforded here, for the efforts to communicate and the way that a cold finger stroking across Harry’s skin is able to convey a clever, caustic personality that intrigues him.

Two steps left, he thinks, leaning heavily against the warm side. The warm side of a bad-tempered, citrus-scented male student, who... the fingers around his hip shift and Harry recalls that tight grip when he’d been ranting about... yeah. Who’s probably a Slytherin. Excellent.

“You’re not going to murder me, are you?” Harry mumbles as he feels the rush of warmer air that filters over his face when one of the main castle doors is pulled open. It’s not really a question, and as he’s hauled inside, his companion’s snort flutters hotly across his cheek.

Harry all of a sudden wants to touch him, to run fingertips over his face to feel the shape of his jawline, and slip hands through his hair to see if it’s curly or fine or long or short or—

WOULD HAVE DONE IT OUTSIDE.

“Hm?” Harry pauses, swaying precariously. His balance off-broom has never been anything to write home about. “Would have done what outside... murdered me? Oh, that’s nice.”

There’s no response as they cross what Harry assumes to be the Entrance Hall—it definitely smells like the Entrance Hall—until without warning, the hood of the heavy cloak is pulled down over his head.

“Hey! What the fu—mpnh,” he attempts to protest before a finger is placed across his lips for a split second. Long enough to leave a vaguely salty taste and long enough for him to feel startled and vaguely affronted.

“You’re hiding me?” he demands, wondering if his voice is being hampered by the thick fabric of the cloak. “You’re helping me, and you’re hiding me? What the hell is wrong with you?”

With Harry’s hands both occupied in keeping himself upright, and the probably-Slytherin’s gripping him tightly and dragging him along, there’s no reply, but Harry suspects that the elbow to his ribs isn’t quite accidental. Instead, he grumbles quietly to himself under the hood and tries not to think about whether the corridors are full of people, and whether or not they’re being stared at. He’s disturbed to realise that he has no idea how long he was outside; it could’ve been thirty minutes or three hours, and as such it could now be early evening or almost curfew.

When they stop again, Harry leans against the cold wall he feels behind him and ventures, “What time is it?”

16 STEPS UP. A thumb grazes over Harry’s palm and he shivers. AND SHUSH.

“You are not very nice,” Harry says defiantly but he grips that hand hard and allows it to pull his arm around a warm, slender waist where his fingers eventually settle against a leather belt.

Sixteen clumsy, awkward steps (hops) and more doors and then his remaining senses are assaulted by a powerful wave of heat, combined with the mingled aromas of various healing potions. He’s spent enough time here over the years to recognise them, too. Harry yanks down the hood and allows himself to be lowered unceremoniously onto a too-hard bed. At least, he thinks, his maybe-Slytherin has brought him to the Hospital Wing; that can only be a good sign.

Still, it feels strange to be alone again. In the absence of a distraction, the pain in his ankle seems to flare once more, making a pointed bid for his attention, and he grits his teeth, spreading his fingers out across the rough bed linen.

He sucks in a long, deep breath and releases it—he suspects noisily—into the warm air. Oddly, he’s still shivering, and when Madam Pomfrey approaches with her professional, bustling hands and her scent of eucalyptus, he submits to her examination with implicit trust but he’s still looking around pointlessly for his prickly helper.

He suspects he’s been abandoned, and while Harry can’t blame him—he’s done enough, really—he can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. Pomfrey’s touch is gentle and sure as she settles him against several pillows and under the sheets in standard-issue flannel pyjamas; she lays a brief hand against Harry’s windblown hair as she carefully tips a foul-tasting potion down his throat, and she heals his ankle with a roar of heat and the minimum of discomfort... but she doesn’t try to talk to him.

The sheets are tucked far too tightly around him and Harry sighs. There’s a final reassuring pat to his hand, and then nothing. He leans back against the lumpy pillows and tries not to think about how long he might be stuck with this sensory blackout, because when he does think about it, there’s that cold spike of fear again, and he suspects it would be far too easy to let it consume him.

“Now what?” he mumbles into the probably-not-silence.

Harry startles when the glasses are removed from his nose, but when his fingers are uncurled from his palm he has to bite down on a smile. He’s still here.

DONT NEED THEM ANYWAY, he points out with soft strokes.

“True. I thought you’d left.”

YES. A pause. HAVE LEFT. There’s a longer pause and a scrape of blunt fingernails. THIS IS A HALLUCINATION.

Harry doesn’t quite manage to stifle his snort of laughter but he hopes that his automatic, “Fuck off,” is the whisper he intends, just in case Pomfrey’s still around somewhere. When the fingers slide away from his, he grabs blindly for them, wrapping his hand tightly around a warm, lightly-haired wrist. “Don’t you dare leave me,” he adds before he can stop himself.

For a moment, he barely breathes. Horrified at himself for the display of weakness, he feels the steady pulse race under his fingers and still he doesn’t let go. He hates asking for help. He’s always hated asking for help, and he’s never been much of a fan of showing vulnerability, either, but there’s something about being stuck inside his own head that compels him to grab for a lifeline, whoever might be offering it.

“Don’t leave me,” he repeats roughly, forcing himself to loosen his grip and closing his eyes, heart pounding in an erratic rhythm. It must be the potion. Or the fucking hexes.

OK, comes the slow response after what seems like several years.

Harry swallows hard. “I didn’t mean to be all... well, you know how I was, you were here. Are here. It’s just that this is all pretty fucking weird, and you...” Harry hesitates, picking at the sheets with his free hand. “Thanks, alright?”

VERY COHERENT, is stroked rapidly across his palm and Harry can picture the accompanying smirk, even though his mind supplies it stretched across a blurry, indistinct face. A pale face, framed by equally pale hair, worryingly enough, but Harry decides not to think too much about that.

“I’m extremely coherent when I have all my... faculties, and things, I’ll have you know.” Harry yawns, cold and suddenly sleepy. “And when I haven’t crashed into the ground and broken my ankle. Et cetera.”

YOU FORGET THAT I HAVE MET YOU BEFORE.

“Well, I don’t know,” Harry says, shifting against his pillows and luxuriating in the lingering, unnecessary touch against his fingers even after the words are gone. “I don’t know who you are.”

There’s another sharp flick and he sighs, resisting the temptation to pull his hand away. Even as the thought occurs to him, though, he knows that he doesn’t really want to, and it’s not just because he doesn’t want to be left alone in the dark and the silence.

POMFREY LOOKING FOR COUNTER CURSES, is the abrupt change of subject that Harry half-expects.

“Did you tell her about Duelling Club?”

The almost-definitely-Slytherin traces OF COURSE, and Harry can once again feel his irritation. After a moment, there’s: SHES GOING TO ASK S—and then there’s nothing. The tracing finger and the hand that had been gently holding his are whipped away and Harry’s all alone but for the lingering scent of citrus.

Puzzled, and categorically not panicking, Harry waits for a moment or two before a definite presence announces itself at the side of his bed. Familiar, mingled aromas of flowers and food and something musty wash over him, and then there’s a small, warm hand gripping his so tightly that he fears for his circulation.

“’Mione?” he says at last, and the tightness of her grip increases exponentially. If she’s here, Ron’s here, too, though he’s never been much of a hand-gripper. Which is fine. “I’m OK,” he adds, because he can picture her pinched, anxious face and already knows she’ll be blaming herself for not insisting on a more thorough examination after the misfired hexes.

“Just tired,” he says eventually, and it’s a lie because those drowsy, peaceful feelings have dissolved and all he can feel is the tension between his unseen best friends as they sit by his bed and argue. He doesn’t need to see or hear them to know it’s happening, and while he’s grateful for their concern, there’s no attempt to communicate and he’s wearily certain that the visit isn’t doing any of them any good.

Besides, he thinks he wants his grouchy snake back.

In the end, Harry fakes a yawn and then pretends to be asleep, though it’s still a long time before his hand is released and his shoulder patted and once more he’s alone. He lies back, staring blankly at the ceiling and imagining the sound of his own breathing inside his head. His memory of sound, he soon finds, is so vivid that he can almost fool himself that his ears are working once again. And they will be, he tells himself, struggling hard against the rise of that tenacious panic.

“Stupid idiot wouldn’t even tell me what time it is,” he whispers into his hands as they come up to rub at his face.

He grimaces and folds his arms over his eyes. Rotates his healed ankle cautiously under the sheets. Sniffs at the air in contemplation, idly fascinated at the way that he’s already becoming reliant upon his remaining senses. And waits, because that’s all he can do. Waits, disappearing inside his own head for a diversion, fishing for images and memories and strange nebulous musings, oscillating gently between feeling irritated that his rescuer left when he said he wouldn’t, and wondering who the fuck he is.

Why he’d be so... solicitous, albeit in a cantankerous way, if he and Harry aren’t friends.

Why he can’t get Malfoy’s stupid scowl out of his head.

And why, more to the point, he cares so much.

**~*~**

Exhausted, sore-eyed and still fully conscious, Harry doesn’t know how much later it is when:

YOU OK is suddenly stroked against his left hand.

Something leaps in Harry’s chest and his free hand twists into the sheets. Still, he’s fuming.

“You fucking left me, you bastard! You said you wouldn’t leave me.”

SORRY.

“Yeah, you will be,” Harry mumbles, turning his head away for a moment. If he’s honest, though, his indignation at being left is already dissipating.

HG AND RW WERE HERE.

“I know. Hermione nearly crushed my hand.” Harry pauses and chews on his lip. “Did you have to leave because of them?”

There’s a long hesitation, during which all four fingertips rest lightly, motionless, in Harry’s palm.

“Tell me. Please.”

YES.

“Did they see you?”

NO.

Harry nods, mouth slightly dry. Even though he’d thought as much, the idea that someone Ron and Hermione dislike that much is to all intents and purposes holding his hand makes him ever-so-slightly nervous. And a bit more than ever-so-slightly exhilarated, not that Harry’s going to tell him that.

NO COUNTER CURSE SORRY, he continues after a moment, and Harry’s insides turn cold. And then: SEV AND LOOPIN MAKING POTION INSTEAD. READY TOMORROW.

Giddy with relief, Harry rubs at his face and smiles breathlessly. Then frowns, poking at the hand resting against his.

“Looooopin?” he enquires, drawing out the sound in his amusement.

LOONY LUPIN, the hand elaborates. HE AND SEV WORKING TOGETHER. SAW THEM. ALMOST KILLING EACH OTHER. FUNNY.

Harry absorbs this lengthy communiqué and then unleashes his smirk of triumph. “You are a Slytherin!”

WELL SPOTTED.

Before tonight and this whole carnival of surreal, Harry wouldn’t have believed it possible to sarcastically draw letters on the palm of someone’s hand, but he knows better now. Of course he’s a Slytherin. Fuck’s sake.

“I stand by what I said,” Harry says, idly stretching out his middle finger to trace the lines etched across the definitely-Slytherin’s palm. “Aurelia Zabini is a menace.”

COULDNT AGREE MORE, is the surprising response. KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN UNLESS YOU WANT POMFREY TO COME OUT AND POKE AT YOU AGAIN.

Harry’s definitely losing some brain function to exhaustion now, because he has to ask for the message a second and then a third time. Surprisingly, though, this time the strokes against his skin remain gentle, and fuck, if this Slytherin isn’t being astonishingly patient and tolerant for no good reason that Harry can see.

No bugger else seems to have the time to speak to him recently, and yes, he knows he’s feeling sorry for himself, but, he decides, if you can’t feel sorry for yourself when you’re spending Friday night stuck in the Hospital Wing, blind and deaf and recently broken with only a mystery Slytherin for company, when can you?

“Sorry,” Harry says, attempting a whisper and hoping for the best. “What time is it?”

LATE.

Harry rolls sightless eyes to the ceiling. “What time, you insufferable bastard?”

MIDNIGHT. DONT BE RUDE.

“Did you sneak out?”

No answer.

Harry knows he must’ve; it’s a silly question. No one’s allowed to wander about at midnight, spying on professors and sitting in the Hospital Wing in the dark. A sharp little bubble of something exciting inflates in his chest—much as he’s a fan of rule-breaking in general, he thinks it’s the idea of someone breaking the rules for him that’s so appealing. And why, more to the point?

Something, though, the little corner of his conscience that deals with caution and ‘sensible stuff’, tells him not to ask.

“I’m cold,” he says instead. Whispers. Hopefully.

DIDNT SHE GIVE YOU POTIONS.

“Yeah, lots of them, but I’m still freezing.” Harry shivers lightly at the mention of his frigid temperature in spite of the warmth of the room and he pulls his sleeve down over the fingers of his free hand.

For a moment the fingertips tap with a gentle, speculative rhythm in his palm, and then the mattress dips and the unexpected Slytherin is climbing onto the bed beside him and poking at him to move up. Startled, Harry complies as quickly as his rubbery arms and legs will allow and before he can say a word, his exhausted, pliant, potion-floppy body is being pulled against a warm chest. He resists for an embarrassingly short few seconds before relaxing completely, exhaling into the soft sweater that’s pressed against his cheek and relishing the strong arms that wrap around him, keeping him warm.

Breathing in and out with slow, deep tranquillity, he drags the citrus scent into his lungs and smiles, grateful that it’s dark and almost certain he’s going mad. He doesn’t even like it when people try to take care of him. In this instance, he’s not sure if it’s because he doesn’t have much choice in the matter, or because god, it just feels good.

A firm hand strokes up and down his spine and he sighs softly, turning his face into the soft fabric. He feels ridiculously warm and safe in the arms of this person. This Slytherin. My Slytherin, he thinks sleepily, and he might just have to Obliviate himself tomorrow, but for now, fuck it.

“Nice sweater,” he whispers, eyes heavy and closing. “Is it wool?”

CASHMERE, is traced at an awkward angle, and then, IDIOT.

Harry smiles. “You sound like Malfoy,” he mumbles.

Amused, he rubs his cold nose against the sweater and fights the pull of sleep as he waits for a response from his Slytherin, but there’s none forthcoming. Unconcerned, he curls closer, pulling their joined hands into his chest and twisting the other into soft, lemon-scented cashmere. Not wool. As he starts to drift, there’s a tentative hand in his hair, and his last thought is that the idea of lying in bed hugging Malfoy isn’t actually as horrible or weird as maybe it should be.

**~*~**

When Harry stirs into consciousness, he’s so comfortable that he’s fairly certain he doesn’t want to move ever again. Head pillowed against a firm, soft, gently lifting something, he’s warm, secure, and utterly calm. He sighs and allows his eyes to blink open. When he sees nothing but blank darkness, his stomach tips and cold horror grips him for several seconds before he remembers.

Remembers the crash and the darkness and being cold and afraid, remembers being half-dragged up here and snarked at by traced letters and remembers that he’s lying on a Slytherin who smells like lemons and... is still holding his hand.

“Fuck,” he whispers, throat dry. He lifts his head a little, flushing as he recalls how easily he had curled into the Slytherin’s chest and fallen asleep like some kind of fucking kitten.

The response, once their fingers are disentangled and Harry’s hand is splayed palm-up against the sheets, is simple: NO NEED TO PANIC, and then, after a beat, I DIDNT MURDER YOU IN YOUR SLEEP EITHER.

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Harry mutters, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and looking up briefly in the general direction of his pillow’s face. “And my friends tell me I’m always stating the bloody obvious.”

When there’s no response beyond a deep sigh that he can feel underneath him, Harry gives in, ignoring reason and flopping back against the warm, cashmere-clad chest.

BEFORE YOU ASK, I DONT KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS. BUT ITS STILL DARK AND POMFREY HAS GONE TO BED, is offered for free, surprising Harry.

“Is there anyone else here?”

NO.

Harry nods, feeling utterly comfortable once more. He runs idle fingers over the smooth leather belt, realising with an inappropriate jolt of warmth that what he really wants to do is slide those fingers higher, over leather and under cashmere and cotton to stroke them over warm, bare skin. He swallows hard.

“I’m not obsessed with time, you know,” he throws out, curling his nails into his palms to keep himself from touching. After all, it’s one thing knowing what he wants, but another thing groping unknown Slytherins in hospital beds. “I just have a lot of stuff that I’m supposed to do, and I have to operate on kind of a tight schedule.”

SCANDALOUS. I BET YOU DONT EVEN KNOW HOW TO DO NOTHING.

“I do,” Harry insists, wounded. “I’m doing nothing now.” He pauses, biting on a small smile as another sigh heaves dramatically under his cheek. He pokes at the hand in his. “And anyway, the trouble with trying to do nothing is that some well-meaning person always finds me and suggests-slash-demands that I help them out with another useful, altruistic... thing,” Harry finishes, feeling simultaneously aggrieved and guilt-ridden.

THAT WAS ALMOST ARTICULATE, offers the wry finger against his palm.

Harry pulls a face and pretends that he doesn’t still want to grope the irksome bastard. He does, though. Quite a bit. And that’s nothing if not inconvenient.

IF I WERE YOU I WOULDNT LET EVERYONE PUSH ME AROUND.

Harry presses his mouth against the soft cashmere and exhales hard. “Go on, tell me I’m too nice.”

YOURE TOO NICE, the finger obliges. NO IS A GOOD WORD.

Groaning, Harry picks up his hand before he can say anything else. “The middle of the night is no time for lectures from mysterious Slytherins,” he says. Frowns. “Or from anyone, really. You shush.”

It’s a nice hand, now Harry’s really paying attention to it. He pulls it into his lap and runs his fingers over skin that’s warm now that they’re inside. The fingers are long and definitely strong, he thinks, remembering that vice-like grip of his hip as they’d struggled over the grounds. The hand—or the owner, Harry supposes—is obedient and pliant, at least for now, allowing Harry to turn it this way and that.

He traces a familiar long callous across the palm that’s a lot like his own, but all that really tells him is that this Slytherin likes to fly, which isn’t all that helpful from an identification perspective. The nails, when he rakes his fingertips over them, are ridged and filed neatly blunt, but the skin around the edges is ragged from biting.

“You bite your nails!” Harry says gleefully and the hand in his tenses.

SO DO YOU.

Harry smiles, sensing that he’s missing an impressively indignant expression. “I know. I just wasn’t expecting you to, for some reason.”

WHY? is the rapid-fire response, and this time he even traces the question mark, which Harry finds oddly charming.

He shrugs and shifts a little closer, until their thighs are pressed together through the scratchy sheets. “I don’t know. House stereotyping? Slytherins don’t bite their nails?”

Harry falls silent and returns to his careful tactile exploration of the hand in his possession, stretching out his fingers and comparing one against the other. If he’d ever had any doubts, it’s most definitely a male hand. Way bigger than Hermione’s or Ginny’s, and so what if he hasn’t really held hands with a lot of girls? It’s clear—uncomfortably so at this moment—that that just isn’t his thing. There was Parvati at the Yule Ball, too, but she had tiny little hands as well.

This hand is large but not as huge as Ron’s; it’s probably about the same size as Harry’s, in fact, except that the fingers are longer and nicer. It feels good in his hand, anyway, which is why he’s holding it now, even though he doesn’t need to.

Or at least he is, until it’s pulled away in order for its owner to observe: YOU HAVE ROUGH HANDS.

“Oh, thanks,” Harry says drily, in truth not minding the reciprocating exploratory touch. “It’s not my fault. I’m outside a lot of the time.”

POOR EXCUSE.

Harry snorts. “Oh, right. And I suppose you...” He pauses in contemplation and sighs. “You have very soft hands, actually. Ponce.”

He thinks he probably deserves the vicious flick but that doesn’t prevent him from grumbling about it.

“I’m not sorry,” he asserts, although he doesn’t stop himself from trailing conciliatory fingertips over the warm hand, wrist, and inner forearm in an undeniable caress. “You started it,” he adds childishly, and the light shake of the body wrapped around him suggests amusement that’s both unexpected and embarrassingly affecting.

Suddenly on edge and a little too warm, Harry chews on his lip and breathes gently against the warm sweater, hoping his tension isn’t obvious. There are no words traced against his hand as it lies tangled loosely with the Slytherin’s in his lap, but the arm that’s still wrapped around him tightens and he swallows hard.

Try as he might, all he can think is that this cannot end well.

In all honesty, he’s been trying not to think about it at all, especially since the bloody Slytherin bastard decided to hold him, and Harry let him, and now there’s all of this quite unprecedented stroking, and the way that Harry’s heart and stomach and... other places are reacting to this person. This person that he can’t even see, and yet. Not only does it not seem to matter to his traitorous body, but he knows that if he allows himself to think about it, there aren’t all that many possibilities.

Alright, he admits silently, there are only two possibilities. The owner of the hand that has just stroked WHY SO TENSE against his palm has to be one of two possible Slytherins, and Harry honestly doesn’t know which would be worse...

“Don’t know... thinking, or something,” he says distractedly.

...because this person is too slender and too clever to be Crabbe or Goyle, which leaves Nott, Zabini, and Malfoy, but Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen Nott on a broom. And OK, he doesn’t necessarily have to be a seventh-year, but his reaction to Hermione and Ron (or their potential reaction to him) suggests otherwise, and oh, god. Why the hell would any of them sneak out in the middle of the night for him?

Harry’s heart is pounding like mad as he remembers exactly why he has been not thinking about this. From nowhere, the panic spirals once more into his silent, dark world and despite all the surreal, doom-laden thoughts inside his head, his first instinct is to press himself closer against what-if-it’s-Draco-Malfoy as he tries not to hyperventilate. And then there’s that comforting scent of lemons and a thumb stroking back and forth over the back of his hand and warm breath against his hair, and Harry breaks.

“Come here,” he mumbles, twisting under the sheets, reaching up to grasp arms and shoulder and pulling hard.

He doesn’t let go until they are both lying full-length on the bed, facing one another and pressed together, separated only by the tangle of sheets that have become uncomfortably wound around Harry’s legs and hips. The soft, shallow breathing against his lips tells him just how dangerously close they are, faces inches apart on this lumpy pillow that’s nowhere near as comfortable as being draped over a citrus-scented Slytherin.

There are no words, but after a moment Harry receives a sharp flick to his shoulder, followed immediately by an arm around his waist, which is nothing is not confusing.

“You don’t make any sense,” he whispers, breathes, and he doesn’t even know if it’s audible.

Then, before he can stop himself, he reaches out and does what he’s wanted to do all night. With one hand resting, palm flat, against the warm, cashmere-clad chest, he slides the other one into soft, fine, straight hair that’s neither long nor short and slips through his fingers like silk.

Harry’s stomach turns over. The hand at his waist tenses, and Harry wonders if the ‘oh, fuck’ moment—because that’s definitely what it is—is a shared one. For a moment, he doesn’t breathe, and then something, something basic and primitive that just wants to touch, makes him stroke his hand through that hair again. And again. And again, until that stiff hand relaxes and flattens against his waist, and until Harry’s breathing slows.

His heart is still racing, though, as he becomes increasingly audacious and slides his hand out of hair that is now white blond in his mind’s eye. He traces his fingertips over smooth skin, aristocratic cheekbones, paper-thin eyelids that close obligingly at his touch, brushing eyelashes against his fingers and dragging a small, involuntary smile from him. Definitely not thinking about it. No, just this.

He skims his fingers over a sharp, straight nose and he’s still not thinking about it. This skin is warm and soft and Harry luxuriates in it; he smoothes his palm along a severe jawline that doesn’t really surprise him, and a tiny patch of overlooked prickly stubble that does.

“Shaving the Muggle way?” he murmurs. ‘Malfoy?’ he almost adds, but he can hardly breathe, and anyway, he’s not thinking about that.

Instead, he runs his thumb over a gut-wrenchingly soft bottom lip, gently dragging at the warm, damp flesh with his slow, deliberate caress. Caught between quiet horror and painful arousal, Harry doesn’t know if he’s imagining things when the slender body trembles against his, just for a moment, but he doesn’t stop, and he definitely feels the short, hot breath against his skin—a caught breath, he thinks, and oh, god.

He closes his eyes because whatever this is that he’s doing, it feels far too intimate to do it with his eyes open, even though he can’t see a thing. It’s probably a good thing, he thinks, sliding the pad of his thumb over the sharp corner of the warm mouth, feeling it twitch briefly under his touch, and knowing that whoever this is... (Malfoy, his subconscious supplies in a helpful whisper) ... whoever this is, there’s no way in a million years Harry would be so daring, so forward, if he could see.

Feeling, outlining, experiencing the strange little smile under his fingers, Harry smiles back and tries to hide it, though the fingertips grazing the sliver of bare skin at his waist suggest he’s still not very good at subterfuge. He shifts closer, frustrated by and grateful for the stupid sheets, and traces that beautiful mouth again. Wonders if it’s still as beautiful as it feels now when it’s vocalising those sharp, caustic words. Wonders what, despite all of the stuff he’s not thinking about, this mouth would taste like.

When the lips part under his fingers—soft, damp, hot breath—heat pools at the base of Harry’s spine, and as they draw softly together to press a gentle kiss to his fingertips, there’s searing electricity everywhere and Harry knows he gasps, thinks it’s audible.

Still, he doesn’t move his fingers, and the Slytherin doesn’t draw away, even though he can see him. He can see Harry, of course he can, and has just kissed his fingers, and oh, fuck, his arousal must be written all over his face. It’s not going anywhere, because he’s still fucking drowning in sensation—the quickened breath and warm lips still pressed against his skin, the heartbeat under his palm that’s hammering just as hard as his own.

He breathes in deeply, lemons and cotton and potions and fresh sweat, and he shivers. Closer. Another gentle kiss to his fingers and he dissolves inside. As does logic. Closer, fingers slipping back into soft hair and threading firmly into place. He wants to say, demand, plead, Touch me, please, but he doesn’t dare. Apart from the fact that he doesn’t say things like that, the total lack of saliva in his mouth will make it come out like somewhere between a whimper and a rasp, and he doesn’t want to break this spell, even for a second, with his clumsy words.

Hot breath shared, hips arching into the gentle touch to his bare skin that he didn’t need to ask for out loud. He can’t be, he just can’t, because this aches and fits and feels so damn good and he’s never wanted to kiss anyone so much in his life. Perhaps it’s the potions, he thinks, even as he lifts into the hand that slips under his pyjama top and strokes his bare back. Perhaps all those healing potions Pomfrey has given him have sent him a bit loopy, because Harry Potter doesn’t kiss... Slytherins he can’t see in the middle of the night.

Except he thinks that maybe he might. Especially when they smell good and feel amazing and don’t murder him and find ways to talk and like to snark and snuggle and god, keep touching him just like that, and he’s lost, leaning those last couple of inches, fingers tight in probably-blond hair and reaching for that mouth, wanting it so much and almost growling with distressed frustration when it’s all yanked away from him.

The warm mouth, the soft hair, the arms around him—all gone. Harry’s heart jolts unpleasantly as he gropes around on the empty bed sheets and wonders what the hell he’s done wrong. Alright, so perhaps being kissed by Harry Potter isn’t high up on any male Slytherin’s ‘Things I Expect to Happen Today’ list, but the stroking hands had been... encouraging. Hadn’t they?

Harry flops back against the pillows and sighs. He’s still jittery and overheated and jerks, startled, when a familiar cool hand is laid against his forehead, bringing with it the smell of eucalyptus and an aura of efficiency. Pomfrey. Harry hopes her presence means that it’s almost morning, and also, with a little thrill of relief, that it’s the reason for his Slytherin’s abrupt departure.

When the lip of a potion bottle is pressed against his lips, he struggles up on his elbows to drink it, grimacing at the chalky taste and recognising it as a Sleeping Potion seconds too late. Pomfrey squeezes his hand in a cool, strong grip and then releases him, and he estimates that he has about a minute before he’s completely unconscious.

...or less, he concedes, as his eyes drift shut and his thoughts begin to swirl and coalesce. The last thing he remembers is a soft mouth pressed against his hairline and a series of shapes stroked against his hand that he hasn’t a hope of understanding.

His dreams are beautiful, and that might be the potion, too, but it might be the lemon-scented someone with a dangerous mouth that Harry still doesn’t quite get to kiss, and whose insults really mean something else.

**~*~**

Harry has barely blinked awake, oriented himself and fought down the wave of panic to which he’s almost become accustomed when a gentle but businesslike pair of hands is helping him to sit back against his pillows and offering another potion bottle. This one smells unfamiliar, sweet, and Harry gulps it down, tensing every muscle in his body as he dares to hope.

The potion blazes a warm trail through his body that isn’t entirely unpleasant and leaves the taste of stewed fruit in his mouth. He’s just wondering if ‘Sev and Loopin’ have managed to create this without killing one another when he hears a rubbery squeaking sound, definitely hears it, and his eyes sting with pure, intense relief. At which point he realises that his eyes are still screwed tightly shut.

He opens them, blinks repeatedly and examines each of the three figures around his bed in turn. They’re blurry, but definitely there—Madam Pomfrey, Lupin, and that moving blur of black? Harry takes his glasses from its hand, puts them on, and... oh, god, he’s never been so pleased to see Snape in his life.

“I see you’re back with us, Mr Potter,” he observes, lifting a dark eyebrow, and though his tone is as dry and exasperated as always, Harry doesn’t miss the split-second look of relief that he shares with Lupin.

He’s determined not to miss anything now he can see again, and glances around at the brightly-lit and empty Hospital Wing. So they were alone here last night. Thank god he hadn’t been lied to about that, and... now is not the time to be thinking about the ‘and’.

“Wonderful. Severus, Remus... looks as though your efforts have paid off,” Pomfrey enthuses, already drawing her wand and approaching Harry, who has been through this too many times to be even mildly ruffled about the standard tests he knows are coming.

Instead, he glances between Lupin and Snape as they stand at the foot of his bed. Both men appear tired and irritated but Harry can’t help noticing that they’re standing a little closer to one another than he’s ever seen them before, and Snape hasn’t yet spared one glare for his least favourite colleague. He seems to have plenty for his least favourite student, though, and Harry takes comfort in the fact that some things never change.

That being said, if Snape and Lupin can learn to get along, the world is a very strange place indeed.

“Thank you,” Harry says impulsively, addressing both of them. “There won’t be any... lasting effects, or anything, will there?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Lupin says, and is just opening his mouth to continue when he’s interrupted.

“Not for you, Mr Potter. You will be pleased to know that Miss Zabini has been suitably chastised for casting spells without the full knowledge of their effects.” Snape pauses and throws Harry a look which clearly says: ‘Not that you’d ever do that, would you, Potter?’ – Harry ignores it. “She and her equally brainless duelling partner have detention...” Snape pauses for effect, as he does, and Harry mentally fills in: ‘until the end of tiiiiime.’ “For the rest of the week. With Mr Filch.”

In spite of everything, Harry smiles. “Good.” He leans forward obediently for Pomfrey without needing to be asked, and Snape continues, lip curling.

“Of course, none of this rigmarole would have been necessary had you been able to exert a modicum of control over your students. There’s no excuse to become complacent, you—”

Lupin coughs pointedly behind his hand, and Snape falls silent. His scowl is beyond murderous but he doesn’t say another word. Harry watches, fascinated, momentarily forgetting all about hexes and blindness and nearly kissing Slytherins who aren’t quite as mysterious as they think they are.

“Um, so... what was it, anyway?” Harry says after a few seconds of odd silence.

“You were right about the combination of two hexes,” Lupin explains. “Aurelia apparently thought she’d try out a spell she overheard her brother discussing. After a little bit of investigation, it turned out to be a time-delay hex used to disorient opposing players on the Quidditch pitch—highly illegal, of course; she didn’t know that but I’m fairly certain her brother did. Christina’s spell was a fairly standard temporary sensory deprivation curse.”

Harry’s eyebrows lift into his hairline. Blaise Zabini’s got a lot to answer for, after all. “Time-delay hexes,” he mutters to himself, rubbing at his face and making a mental note to warn Ron about the potential dirty tactics; he’s glad he’s not Quidditch Captain any more.

Lupin nods, Snape snorts softly, and Pomfrey pulls at Harry’s eyelid with cold fingers.

“The first hex delayed the second, and obviously the whole thing went off once you were in the air. An accident, but incredibly dangerous; it’s fortunate that you’re such a strong flyer.”

“Yeah. And lucky I had someone to...” Harry pauses, chewing his lip in contemplation. The thing is, now he can see and hear again, his world has lost that dreamlike quality and he no longer quite trusts revelations based on uncertain, stroking fingers and his potion-blurred mind, and he also can’t quite comprehend having shared that intense experience with someone like Draco Malfoy. “You’ll know who brought me in, won’t you?” he says eventually.

“No idea, Harry, says Lupin. “Sorry.”

Snape doesn’t know either, or least that’s what Harry has to surmise from the arched eyebrow, almost-eyeroll and careless twitch of long fingers down at his side, as he doesn’t appear inclined to answer the question.

Pomfrey stops pulling at Harry’s face, steps back from the bed and sighs when he turns to her, expectant. “Sorry, but I promised the student in question that I wouldn’t say a word.”

Lupin gazes at her enquiringly and she shrugs, clutching the empty potion bottle. Snape snorts and she turns to him, all challenge. “Haven’t you ever heard of confidentiality, Severus?”

Snape snorts again, incredulous. “Yes, for patients.”

Pomfrey smiles slowly and Harry watches with interest as her open, well-scrubbed face becomes almost sly. “The young man was a patient. He had a twisted ankle from where he’d helped Mr Potter over some of the more treacherous parts of the grounds.”

Visibly exasperated, Snape turns away, exiting the Hospital Wing in a swirl of heavy black fabric. Lupin gazes after him for a moment before returning Pomfrey’s smile and addressing Harry as he turns to follow his colleague. “I’ll see you in class on Monday.”

Harry nods vaguely and flicks his eyes back to Pomfrey as she resumes her usual morning routine; the clinking of bottles and the squeak of shoes on the floor are welcome sounds but his mind is racing. The Slytherin (surely can’t be Malfoy) hurt himself helping Harry. He never said.

“Did you heal him?” he blurts out suddenly.

Pomfrey frowns. “Excuse me?”

“Did you heal him? The Slytherin who brought me in?”

“What makes you think he was a Slytherin, Mr Potter?” she says, pausing mid-task to stare at him.

“He told me,” Harry insists.

“How?” She has drawn close to his bed once more and Harry grabs her hand before she can stop him.

LIKE THIS, he draws on her cool, dry palm with his finger, and she stares at him.

“Goodness,” she whispers eventually, and then, “Yes, of course I healed him. He’s quite fine.”

Warm with relief that he doesn’t really know what to do with, Harry nods and releases her hand. “But you won’t—”

“Sorry, that I cannot do,” she interrupts, returning to her potion bottles. “But perhaps you should keep an open mind.”

Harry wraps his fingers around the bed sheets and groans inwardly. That’s what he’s been afraid of.

**~*~**

He takes his place at the breakfast table some twenty minutes later, fully prepared for the barrage of concerned ‘are you alright, mate?’-s and ‘we were really worried this time!’-s and a somewhat gleeful ‘wait ‘til you see how many points Slytherin’s lost!’

It makes a change from yesterday’s strange isolation, and Harry answers his friends’ questions and enjoys the short hiatus in their arguing as he calmly consumes his tomatoes on toast and drinks tea that’s not quite hot enough. Everything’s still so loud around him, the scraping of metal on ceramic, the clatter of footsteps, the rumble of a hundred mingled conversations, so intense after even a short absence.

For a split second he closes his eyes and wonders if perhaps the silence wasn’t all bad.

Just for a moment, though, and then he’s remembering that white-hot spike of panic and his eyes fly open just in time to meet curious grey ones across the packed hall. Harry’s stomach flips over just before those eyes narrow and flick away from his, leaving him uncomfortably aware that just for that instant, Draco Malfoy had looked worried.

The arrival of the owl post is a welcome distraction. Harry half-listens to Ron’s groans over a nagging letter from his mother and passes Hermione his copy of the Prophet without even glancing at it, all the while poking at the tiny glass jar wrapped in brown paper that has been dropped by the side of his plate by a school owl. Once reassured that there are no unpleasant hexes surrounding the mysterious object, he picks it up, turning it this way and that between thumb and forefinger and idly watching the early morning light glinting off the sparkling glass.

He waits until Ron is distracted, leaning over to Seamus and frowning at that sodding little book again, and then he nudges Hermione’s knee under the table.

“What’s this, do you reckon?”

She frowns, puts down her crumpet and takes the proffered jar. After a moment, she unscrews it and sniffs the contents. Her face clears.

“It’s cream, you know, for your face or your hands. Moisturising cream.”

Harry stares at her, bewildered. “Moisturiser? Seriously?”

She nods and dips her little finger into the jar, smearing the thick white cream across the back of her hand and watching it sink into her skin. “A nice one, too,” she approves and hands it back.

“Why would someone send me...?” Harry stops, a small, involuntary smile curving his lips as realisation dawns. “He said I had rough hands. The little bastard,” he mumbles, mostly to himself.

“Who?” Hermione wants to know, completely failing to keep the curiosity from her voice.

“I don’t know,” Harry half-lies, wrapping his fingers around the cold little jar and glancing once more at the Slytherin table.

At all of them, but especially at Blaise Zabini with his short hair that definitely wouldn’t feel like silk, and at stupid Malfoy with his stupid sharp angles and long fingers wrapped around his stupid coffee cup and cool grey eyes obscured by coffee steam that he’s blowing away with his stupidly nice mouth.

Oh, god.

Harry’s fingers slide on the slippery glass and he looks away with a wrench of his gut, reaching up to scrub at his chaotic hair.

Anxious brown eyes meet his across the table. “You look a bit flushed, Harry, do you want me to walk you back to the Hospital Wing?”

He smiles weakly at his friend and grips the little jar tighter. “Thanks, but I don’t think that’s going to help.”

**~*~**

Four days later, Harry thinks he may be beyond help after all. For all his gratitude at having his sight and hearing back, he’s still oblivious to everything around him because all he can think about as he drifts between classes, meals and his usual extracurricular workload, is that almost-kiss in the middle of the night. Those lips and that caught breath and the hot liquid want inside him.

The frightening thing is, he wants to finish it. Even if... yeah. He wants to finish it.

He shakes himself, rubbing at his face and picking up his pace along the cold corridor; he can probably still reach the Great Hall in time for dessert if he hurries. As he passes a stone archway, though, the sound of a conversation catches his attention and he stops. Leans against the wall, just short of revealing himself to the occupants of the courtyard.

“Don’t be an idiot, Blaise, Sev and Loony Lupin hate one another,” says a very familiar voice.

“Yeah, well, you know what they say about that fine line—”

“Don’t fucking start with me about that fine line,” interrupts the first. “You’re obsessed with the fine line. You get off on the fine line. I’ll fine line you in a minute—”

“Draco...” Blaise says, voice shot through with exasperation, and behind the wall, Harry catches his breath. The rough, cold stone scrapes at his fingers.

Sev and Loony Lupin. It’s not as though he hadn’t known, but somehow the revelation still kicks him in the stomach. Even so, he’s not the sort of person who hides behind walls from Slytherins. At least, he doesn’t think he is.

He steps out as casually as he can possibly manage, which he suspects is not very casually at all, into the torchlit courtyard and looks at Malfoy with his hands shoved into his pockets. He and Blaise both fall silent and gaze at Harry with matching coolly-expectant expressions.

Far too late as usual, he realises he has no idea what he’s supposed to say, if indeed there are guidelines or rules of etiquette for situations this bizarre. Not that it matters in the end, because what comes out after a painful second or two is, “That a cashmere sweater, Malfoy?”

With some effort, Harry keeps his, ‘what the fuck was that?’ inside and stares at Malfoy’s pale hair and skin in the flickering light.

Silvery eyes fill with horror and Harry knows that he knows. That Harry knows. Or something. The point is, the cat’s out of the proverbial bag and biting the crap out of everything in sight. And yet somehow, just in that moment, Draco looks uncertain and beautiful and Harry has no problem believing any of the things that happened in the dark.

“You know, I think I’ll just...” Blaise points vaguely and is about to make good his escape when Malfoy shoots a hand out and catches his wrist, stilling him.

“That won’t be necessary, Blaise. We were just leaving anyway, weren’t we?” he insists from between gritted teeth, attempting a glare in Harry’s direction that’s his most pathetic yet and striding past Harry into the castle.

Blaise follows him, turning at the last minute to address Harry with a smooth, “Sorry about my sister, Potter,” which is more apology than he ever expected to get.

And then he’s alone in the freezing cold courtyard, baffled and a little bit turned on. He lowers himself onto a stone bench and withdraws the little glass jar from his trouser pocket, turning it over and over absently in his hand.

So, it’s official: he’s had his hands all over Draco Malfoy. And Draco Malfoy, more to the point, has had his hands all over him. And he smelled really fucking good. And Harry fell asleep in his arms and trusted him completely and felt safer than he’s ever felt in his life.

And Draco Malfoy, who’s short-tempered and intolerant, patiently spelled out word after word just so that Harry didn’t feel cut off from the world. And gave him his cloak. And was sorry he couldn’t heal broken bones. And gave Harry back his wand. And snuck into the Hospital Wing to sit with him. And stroke him. And maybe... maybe... kissed him on the forehead, though Harry’s still not sure if he imagined that.

Draco Malfoy, who hates him, and yet sends him expensive moisturising cream as a sort of... part disparaging commentary and part... thoughtful if slightly strange gift?

Harry chews his lip. Unscrews the lid and rubs the heavy cream into his cold-numbed hands before tucking them into the ends of his sleeves and under his armpits for warmth.

He doesn’t really understand it yet, but he knows he’s never been so confused, intrigued, irritated or fascinated by anyone as he is by Malfoy.

On some level, he suspects he should be more surprised.

**~*~**

By the end of the week, Harry is quietly going mad. It isn’t as though he ever expected communicating with Draco Malfoy to be a simple task, but the Slytherin bastard is taking evasion to new levels. He disappears every time Harry gets anywhere near him, and whereas in the past he would’ve enjoyed that very much, now that everything has changed, he’s operating under a constant fog of frustration.

Now that Ron and Hermione have returned to their usual bickering, he has his thinking space back and though he hates being so preoccupied, he can’t help going over and over that night until his quiet disbelief turns to something he can’t quite name.

And he’s not sure it would help to name it, anyway.

When classes finish for lunch, Harry checks the map and smiles to himself. It’s a crisp, bright, clear day for November and he suddenly wants to be outside more than anything. And, given that he’s managed to wriggle his way out of yet another lunchtime commitment, there’s nothing to stop him. Winding his long scarf around his neck against the chill, he heads out into the grounds and picks his way across the grass toward his unsuspecting target.

Catching sight of him, Harry smiles. Malfoy is sitting under a tree, back against the trunk and knees drawn up with elbows resting casually on top. He’s staring out over the lake and hasn’t seen Harry yet, but it won’t matter if he does because there are no classrooms or closets or bathrooms to duck into, and no friends to rescue him.

“How’s your ankle?” Harry asks, drawing level with the tree.

Defensive grey eyes snap to his and pale hands clench into fists as Draco looks up at him.

“Fine. How’s yours?” he shoots back, managing to make an ostensibly concerned enquiry sound like an insult.

“Fine, thank you. But you already know that.” Harry shoves his hands into his pockets and kicks at the frozen grass, feeling supremely awkward. “Look,” he adds with an illustrative shrug, “I’m doing nothing. Flitwick wanted me to help him out with... well, something. I heard the words ‘inter-House unity’ and stopped listening. But the point is, I said no.”

There’s a flicker of interest in those cool eyes, just long enough for Harry to see it, and then he’s getting to his feet and hiding behind his stupid green scarf. “Scintillating though this conversation is, Potter, I suggest you finish it without me.”

Harry doesn’t know if he wants to kick him or ravish him up against the tree, but either way, his blood is hammering in his veins and he’s not quite in control. “Malfoy, for fuck’s sake! I just want to talk to you!”

“What for?”

Startled by a proper response at last, albeit a yelled one, Harry falters. “Er, to say... thank you?”

“You want to thank me?” Draco folds his arms and flushes lightly.

Something twangs in Harry’s chest and he doesn’t think it’s irritation; it’s ‘Draco Malfoy is all embarrassed and it’s sort of... cute’. And it’s ‘I want to see it again’.

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I do. You have a problem with that?” He steps closer, hiding his reaction with over-the-top challenge.

“Would it matter if I did?”

“Can you stop answering questions with questions?”

“Can you?”

“Fuck off, Malfoy,” Harry sighs, exasperated, and stomps over to sit against the tree.

“Ah, there’s the Potter we know and love,” Draco says lazily, turning to gaze down at Harry. “Continue.”

“You are maddening. Ridiculous. God.

Malfoy snorts, one corner of his mouth lifting in a smirk. “Well...”

“Don’t even,” Harry warns, but he doesn’t protest when Draco sinks to the ground beside him, cross-legged, and picks moodily at his fingernails.

For what seems like a long time, there’s silence. Harry casts his eyes around the sparkling, frozen grounds and flicks covert glances at Draco, who is doing a great job of concentrating very hard on his fingers and sucking gently on his bottom lip. White-blond hair falls into his eyes and Harry tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, not to think about swiping it out of the way for him. Even above the rich scents of cold earth and rotting leaves, he can smell warm citrus and it’s driving him to distraction.

And still, he has no idea what to say.

“How is it we managed to communicate better when I couldn’t see you and you couldn’t speak to me?” he says at last in a small voice.

Draco says nothing for a long time. Eventually, he reaches out and, without looking at Harry, takes his hand and traces: BECAUSE YOURE AN IDIOT, and there’s a very long pause before he adds: ?

Harry bites down on his smile and tries to ignore the little flutter somewhere low down that comes from the cool hand wrapped around his wrist and the light strokes of Malfoy’s index finger across his palm. By rights, the sensation should be dulled somehow now that he can see it, but the sight of the gentle but definite touch and the way that Draco rests Harry’s hand on his thigh to do it and the look of calm concentration on his face seems to heighten every stroke against his skin and eventually, feeling flushed and slightly squirmy, he has to look away. Instead, he attempts to focus on a skitter of rust-coloured leaves lifted by the breeze from the lake.

“If anyone’s an idiot, Draco, it’s you,” he says absently. Hearing the soft intake of breath from beside him—from the person who’s still holding his hand, no less—he adds, “Sorry.” And then: “Not for calling you an idiot. I meant for the, um, over-familiarity. Because you are an idiot. Seriously.”

“Good grief, Potter, didn’t those Muggle relatives of yours ever teach you to speak?” Draco says, whilst simultaneously tracing, I KNOW, into Harry’s palm.

Harry smiles and watches one leaf break away from the pack and spiral up over the lake. “No, I don’t think they taught me much of anything useful, as if you needed your view of Muggles reinforcing.”

YOUD BE SURPRISED, is the silent response, and Harry thinks that maybe he’d like to be.

“You’re using it,” Draco adds after a moment, genuine astonishment colouring his voice as he trails all his fingertips over the newly softened skin of Harry’s palm and laces their fingers together apparently without thinking.

“That stuff you sent me? Yeah. Once I decided it wasn’t poisonous and Hermione told me what it was,” Harry says with a sheepish sidelong glance. Draco’s tiny smirk and lifted eyebrow make him warm all over, despite the chill in the air.

“I take it she doesn’t know it has anything to do with me, then?”

“No.”

“What about your Weasel?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “No. But this isn’t about them.”

“Oh?” Draco enquires softly, and strokes his thumb softly across Harry’s palm. And then: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Harry swallows hard and can’t look at him.

“...Potter,” Draco adds, almost as an afterthought.

“Not sure, really,” Harry almost-whispers, sliding his thumb over Draco’s cold knuckles and looking at his nice nails and bitten fingers. He forces himself to look up. “You, I think.”

Grey eyes snap to his and they’re way too close. Too close to be sitting under a tree alone on a cold afternoon, too close to be holding hands, and definitely too close too be making that kind of deliberate, steady, heated eye contact that makes Harry want to groan out loud. Far, far, too close, and it’s just inches and he smells so good; Harry has no idea how he didn’t recognise that smell straightaway.

“You think?” Draco whispers.

“No,” Harry manages, biting his lip and holding the eye contact. Something flares in those silvery-pale eyes, something he can’t identify but something that makes his heart twist in an entirely new way. He untangles his hand from Draco’s and uncurls his fingers, pushing them away from his warm palm.

I KNOW, Harry writes with the tip of his finger. Slowly, carefully, never looking away from his eyes, afraid that if he does, this whole thing will disappear.

And then he sees something miraculous. Something he’s never seen before. Draco Malfoy smiles at him. It’s a small smile, but a smile nonetheless, and Harry is utterly lost. And it doesn’t matter that it should be weird, because it’s not, and Harry has enough should tied to him to last a lifetime.

And if it is a little bit weird, he thinks as he leans closer and fits his mouth against Draco’s, then that’s fine because it’s a wonderful weird. There’s no hesitation this time; he immediately lifts his free hand to thread into soft blond hair, stroking his thumb down over Draco’s face to slide under his jaw and angle his face into the kiss that he’s desperate for. There’s no need, though, because there’s a dry little sound emptied into his mouth and then Draco is leaning, scrambling closer, pinning their joined hands against the cold ground and wrapping strong fingers around the back of Harry’s neck.

Draco’s mouth is hot and delicious and opens hungrily against his, inviting the slow, soft brush of tongues that intensifies quickly and tastes like mint and coffee and brilliant. Harry feels every messy-needy collision all over his skin and it’s almost too intense, but he’s not stopping. Hot and hard and shivery all over, he throws himself into the kiss, gripping Draco’s hand hard and sharply thrilled to feel him grip back with equal desperation as he catches his breath and pulls gently at Harry’s bottom lip with his teeth.

“Fuck,” he whispers, fingers slipping into Harry’s hair.

Harry blinks, dazed, and stares into darkened, clouded eyes. He splays his fingers over Draco’s still-cold jaw and steals three soft, lingering kisses in quick succession, not quite ready to let go. He can’t quite believe what he’s just done—what he’s still doing—and is terrified that at any moment one or both of them might come abruptly to their senses.

Finally, after long seconds of staring and breathing hard, Harry’s fragile patience snaps. Fuck it, he thinks, leaning back against the wide tree trunk once more and tugging optimistically at Draco’s arm. When Harry finds himself with a scowling, muttering Slytherin pressed against his side, he smiles cautiously; when he shifts closer and rests his head on Harry’s shoulder, still muttering, the smile widens into a daft, painful grin.

“I have another question.”

Draco releases a long, drawn-out sigh against his shoulder. “My anticipation knows no bounds.”

“Hush.” Harry elbows him, still baffled by how normal-yet-surreal this feels. He has no idea what he’s going to do next but he thinks perhaps it’s only ever been a matter of time, really. “I was thinking that... it’s been a very long time since anyone went to so much trouble to communicate with me. Why would you do that?”

“Would you rather I’d left you sitting in the mud with a broken leg looking pitiful?”

“I did not look... never mind that. Answer the question.”

Draco sighs. “Your deductive reasoning leaves a lot to be desired.”

“In English, please,” Harry says, sliding a careless palm over the thigh that Draco has thrown over his.

“Good grief. I mean that, considering what just happened and the fact that I’m practically sitting in your lap, is it really necessary to ask that question?”

“You’re going to drive me mad,” Harry murmurs, hiding his smile in cold blond hair that smells like lemons and the outdoors.

“Of course. It’s all part of my evil plot.”

“You like me, you big sap.”

“I despise you, everyone knows that,” Draco mumbles, draping a section of his scarf over Harry on purpose.

“You say such sweet things,” Harry sighs, leaning back against the solid support of the tree trunk, wrapping his arm around Draco Malfoy, of all people, and having the strangest feeling that things are going to be alright. Strange and frustrating and unexpected, but alright.

“Shut up.”

“You like me really.”

Draco snorts irritably and grabs his hand. YES.