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A Forward Path

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Harry awoke early that last morning in Grimmauld Place, curled close to Draco. Pale winter light seeped in through the cracks around curtains in the ugly little room, illuminating the overwrought furniture and musty carpet. He tightened the arm he had slung over Draco’s waist and nuzzled his face into the blond’s neck, inhaling the sweet smell of his shampoo.

 

“Everything alright?” Draco murmured, groggily. 

 

“Just going to miss this,” Harry admitted, “waking up with you.”

 

“Hm,” Malfoy acknowledged, “glad you appreciate the privilege.”

 

Harry snorted and shoved the other boy forward, rolling him onto his front and trapping him there, straddling his thighs, pressing his chest against the flat of Draco’s back. 

 

“May I help you?” Draco asked, his voice muffled by the pillow. 

 

Harry rolled his hips meaningfully, his morning erection grinding against the thin cotton of Draco’s pants. He nipped at Draco’s earlobe. “Wanker.”

 

“What are you doing?” Draco yawned, turning his head so he could be heard more clearly. 

 

Harry wasted no time in pressing two fingers between the newly exposed lips. “Get these nice and wet for me, you mouthy little prat,” Harry instructed, “I’ve a lot of privilege to appreciate this morning, and finite time to do so.”

 

***

 

The return Hogwarts and the first few weeks of the new year were blessedly uneventful. Harry tentatively let himself believe that perhaps Wilma Brown was the lone culprit for the attacks in the autumn. Quidditch, the DA, and Occlumency lessons with Clark resumed without issue and Professor Haberdash-Pewter’s lectures returned to their customary omphaloskeptic tone. Hermione continued to collect funds for the Magical Children’s Equity Fund (she’d had to be talked down from the Fund for Under-served Kids). The M.C.E.F. was expanding, and Narcissa Malfoy was proving to be an astute administrator, building a board of directors for transparency and recruiting Harry for pleasant, personalised responses to major donors, which Draco insisted on editing. 

 

Harry was pleased to see Clark in good spirits after the holidays. Hiram (the boy, not the owl) was a near-constant shadow by his side and seemed to now admire the non-conformity that had so appalled him in September. Evenings not spent with him, the DA, or Wyvern practices, were filled with studying. N.E.W.T.s, as both Hermione and Draco were quick to remind him, were looming. Harry found he didn’t much mind the hours in the library, brightened by the occasional brush of Draco’s hand over his thigh beneath the long, communal tables crowded with eighth years and their endless quills and scrolls. Harry felt settled in their relationship in a way he hadn’t before, knowing a key to Grimmauld Place was stowed away in Draco’s chest. It soothed the irritation that came with slinking back to his own bed at four each morning so as not to be found out. 

 

It was shortly after falling back asleep in his own bed early one morning that he had the dream. 

 

In it, Wilma Brown stood in the entrance hall, just as she had that horrific evening. Draco was there, but instead of protecting first years, behind him was the entire Weasley family, cowering and wandless. Fenrir Greyback was hunched over at Mrs. Brown's feet, feasting on the remains of her daughter. The slick, viscous sounds of Lavender's viscera sliding down the werewolf’s gullet made Harry queasy. Draco’s bones were breaking again, only this time, Harry was watching it happen. He realised all at once he was immobile under his invisibility cloak, Draco’s voice raw with screaming as she snapped each fragile bone in his body. Not just his hands and arms this time, but his feet, his knees. The blond dissolved to the floor as his frame was shattered. The Weasleys’ eyes were on him, George’s gaze cold and unmoved, a thin-lipped smile tugging at his lips as Draco convulsed with pain, a frothy white mess dribbling over his chin. 

 

Over the noises of Greyback, Harry could still hear the wet crunch of Draco’s bones and the unnatural shifting of marrow as Wilma Brown popped his vertebra like ripe cherries. 

 

The rage and devastation somehow shook Harry in place, and despite the spell, he found his voice and soon he was howling. His sounds were brutal and wordless at first and then, as Draco’s eyes somehow found his, he called out the boy’s name. 

 

“Draco!” he roared, his helplessness tearing through him like shrapnel as he stood rooted to the stone floor. He repeated the blond’s name like a desperate mantra, sobbing and shrieking as that final, vital vertebra was collapsed with a flick of Mrs. Brown's pitiless wand. Draco lips parted soundlessly as he struggled to draw breath into a paralyzed cavity. All Harry could do was wail, call out for the boy he loved, and despair.

 

Then, in a macabre sort of farce, the crisp, competent voice of Draco Malfoy sounded from those lifeless lips. “Everyone get out, this instant; I don’t care what state you’re in, Longbottom, out.”

 

From the wall of the great entrance, Ron’s voice piped in, “You heard him, lads, move out. We’ve got this. A word about this to anyone and you’d best believe you’ll be hearing from me.”

 

Confused, Harry heard the clamour of footsteps, and in his dream, the Weasleys plodded out, grumbling their way to safety. Only it wasn't the Weasleys, it was the other boys in the dormitory, he somehow knew, although in the sudden darkness, he couldn't see them. Harry blinked awake. 

 

“Is he alright?” And that was Seamus’ voice, only Seamus wasn’t here and Harry couldn’t place him. 

 

“He’ll be fine,” Draco said, words clipped. He followed up the harsh response with a sincere, “We’ve got him, Finnegan, but thank you.”

 

“Hurry up, you lot!” Seamus urged the others.

 

The curtain of Harry’s four post bed was pulled back just as the realization that it had all been a miserable dream hit him with a wave of relief so intense he thought he might vomit. The concerned faces of Ron and Draco looked down at him. Ron was wearing only his striped pajama bottoms, and Draco was in his customary black pants and vest and seeing him whole and unbroken made Harry shiver against his sweat-soggy sheets. He sat up, observing the natural swell and fall of Draco’s chest as he breathed, unaided. Harry reached out, pressing a palm to the ribs that caged those healthy, functional lungs and that sturdy, capable diaphragm.

 

He started to cry. 

 

He started to cry and he couldn’t stop. 

 

Ron looked panicked but Draco fixed him with a sharp glance. “Find Granger and a calming draught. Now, Weasley.”

 

Relieved to have been assigned a task, Ron nodded and disappeared. Draco flung Harry’s soaked eiderdown off him and crawled in beside him. Harry felt petrified again, save for several violent tremors that coursed through him as Draco swept him up into his arms and pressed him against his chest. 

 

“I’m here, baby,” Draco said, voice softer and sweeter than Harry had ever heard it, “I’m right here, it’s okay. I’m not hurt. It was just a nasty dream, darling, it wasn’t real. I’m here now.”

 

Harry couldn’t speak, he only clung to the dark fabric of Draco’s undershirt, weeping breathlessly against Malfoy’s prominent collarbone. Draco clucked and fussed over him, petting his hair and kissing his head, but Harry couldn’t seem to calm down. He couldn’t get the image out of his head. 

 

“Sh-Sh-She killed you,” he gasped between tremulous sobs, turning his face towards Draco’s, “she killed you and I watched.”

 

Draco slicked the wet hair back from Harry’s forehead, looking down at him. He pressed his lips against Harry’s scar, then his eyebrow. 

 

“She didn’t, sweetheart, I’m right here, and I’m just fine. You and I, we're just a bit of a mess, that's all. Our brains are too full of memories that sometimes they overflow when we're not looking.”

 

Ron and Hermione appeared at the side of the bed then, and if Draco was embarrassed to be found cradling Harry and speaking so tenderly, he didn’t show it. Harry could only shake his head, emotions still rattling through him. He couldn’t catch his breath. 

 

“Do you have the draught?” Draco demanded and Hermione handed it to him, her face pale, but her jaw set.

 

Draco uncorked the little phial with his thumb, ignoring the stopper as it toppled to the sheets below. 

 

“Can you drink this for me, Harry?” he asked, “You don’t have to have it all, I’m just worried for you. Can you take a sip, darling, please?”

 

Not letting go of Draco, Harry gave a single nod. Draco tipped the phial between his lips and Harry swallowed down the smoky grey liquid. It was as if at once he was wrung dry. The overwhelming despair pulsed a final time and dispersed as if taken by a sudden breeze. 

 

“Better?” Draco asked, wiping Harry’s face with a handkerchief Hermione must have passed him, and pressing a quick, reassuring kiss to his lips. 

 

“I think so,” Harry spoke, surprised to hear his voice sounded calm and far away. 

 

“Right,” Hermione said, matter-of-fact, “why don’t you take him and get him showered, Draco. Ron and I will strip the sheets and let the rest of the boys back in. We’ll keep them out of the bathroom for twenty minutes or so.”

 

Harry reached out for his glasses and put them on, searching between the serious expressions of his friends. 

 

“I’m alright,” he said, wanting to reassure them. 

 

“We know, Harry,” Hermione said, her face full of tenderness, “it was just a nightmare. I suspect some damage control will be required; I’m not sure how we’ll keep twenty mouths shut. Might have to get ahead of it in the press, Merlin, I’m not sure.”

 

“Don’t worry, Hermione,” Harry told her, not liking to see his friend bothered and wishing he could share the lovely bloom of serenity in his chest, “Everything will work out.”

 

Ron chuckled darkly, “Better not let him get near that stuff too often, seems pretty potent.”

 

“This was an emergency dose. What he really needs a mind-healer,” Hermione replied grimly, “I thought the nightmares had eased off since this summer, but I should have guessed that incident in the autumn would bring things back up. I’ve never seen him this bad. I don't like it.”

 

“I’m not bad,” Harry offered, “I’m feeling ever so much better.”

 

“You’re blitzed off your nut, sweetheart,” Draco informed him. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

 

***

 

Draco gathered towels, toiletries and fresh clothes and then shepherded Harry down the corridor of eighth year boys who all stared curiously. Harry kept a hold of Draco's hand, even as everyone looked at them. He didn't mind being looked at. He just liked the feeling of Draco's fingers slotted neatly between his like they belonged.

 

“He alright?” Dean asked Malfoy, “You need a hand?”

 

“He’s fine now,” Draco confirmed, “Thanks, Thomas. Just give us a bit of time alone in there, yeah?”

 

“You heard the man,” Finnegan announced from beside his boyfriend and taking over in that exuberant, dictatorial way of his, “Leave off, keep your eyes in your own head. If anyone deserves a fecking breakdown, it’s Potter.”

 

Harry didn’t suppose that was exactly what Draco had had in mind, but it didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered, he found, and that was quite nice. 

 

In the bathroom, Draco undressed Harry and himself, putting Harry’s glasses on a cubby shelf and pulling him in under the spray. Draco’s expression was solemn as he washed both their bodies, so Harry brought him close and kissed him. “Nothing to worry about,” he insisted.

 

Draco gave him a wry smile, “Funny feeling you won’t be saying that in a few hours when this potion wears off, Potter.”

 

“Potter,” Harry echoed dreamily, “Not what you called me earlier.”

 

“Hm, suppose not,” Draco said as he turned off the shower and toweled Harry and himself off. “Can’t baby you all the time, though, can I?”

 

“Why can’t you?” Harry asked as Draco knelt, directing Harry’s foot to the leg hole of his pants like he was a child. “You’re doing it now.”

 

“I am,” Draco conceded, “because you need it. How's this, I'll always do it when you need it.”

 

“Will you go with me to breakfast?” Harry wondered out loud, thoughts flitting away as he felt sweetness float through him like candy floss melting on his tongue.

 

“I always go with you to breakfast,” Draco reminded him, pulling Harry’s trousers up and fastening the flies before guiding Harry’s heavy arms through the openings in his shirt. 

 

“Will you hold my hand again?”

 

“Probably best not to, today, love,” Draco said softly, “but tomorrow, if you’re sober and you still want me to, I’ll hold your hand any time you like."