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"We are young

Heartache to heartache, we stand

No promises, no demands

Love is a battlefield"

-Pat Benatar

 

Harry hasn’t thought of Malfoy in months, not really.

Not intentionally.

Not since seeing him released on probation, walking out of the Wizengamot, his pale hair somehow lackluster and far too short. Not since arguing with Ron about how Malfoy’s wand should be in a museum — “You defeated Voldemort with it, are you mental?” Ron had asked incredulously — rather than being returned to him. Not since receiving a thank you letter from Narcissa Malfoy so emphatic that Harry was embarrassed upon reading. Not since McGonagall had invited him into her office over the summer to give him the news personally that Malfoy would be returning for his eighth year as well, and say she knew she could count on Harry to be civilized — less because of the power of example he held, and more because she had utter faith in who he was as a person.

So, no, Harry doesn’t think about Malfoy. His classes and classwork are punishing, N.E.W.T.’s need to be taken before Auror training next year, and he’s still asked to attend too many memorials and give too many speeches, even five months after the war has ended. He has other things to do.

And yet, when he allows himself to sleep, sometimes he wakes up to the image of grey eyes staring, terrified, into his face at Malfoy Manor. Sometimes he dreams of long, sweaty fingers digging into his sides as scalding heat chases his broom through the air. Sometimes he dreams of Malfoy’s frozen face through Voldemort’s eyes as Malfoy's forced to watch another Avada Kedavra without blinking.

Fortunately or unfortunately, these aren’t the worst dreams that he has. He dreams of walking into the Forbidden Forest and finding himself in his cupboard, the noise of footsteps on the stairs above sounding frighteningly like Voldemort’s voice, hissing his name. He dreams of being eaten alive by Nagini, of hearing his own bones crunch under the force of her jaw. He dreams of being in his misty, empty King’s Cross station, and watching a train arrive and wishing with a deep hollowness that he could board it.

Harry doesn’t sleep much, anymore.

Ron and Hermione largely don’t notice, and Harry understands it, really. They’re in love, the war is over; they’ve been allowed to room together in the Eighth Year dormitories. Occasionally Hermione will nag Harry to eat a bit more or comment on how tired he looks. Ron will spend an extra hour with him before retiring, making jokes and studying. But they’re tired, too. They want to be happy.

Harry’s pretty sure that he does, as well, at least most of the time. But as it turns out, wanting happiness and being happy are two different things.

Like with Ginny, who was ready to pick things back up where they left off, and who couldn’t understand why Harry had difficulties responding the way he had before he’d left. He wants to want her now, still, and just… doesn’t. She tried to fight with him about it, but Harry lacked the energy for even that, to fight with her, after the fighting of his whole life is finally over.

He feels as though he’s been cracked into a few distinct pieces and can’t figure out a way to reassemble them to make the Harry that he used to be.

So Harry tries, really tries to be who he’s supposed to be, for them. For those who think that the person they still love exists. He volunteers as a student aid in Advanced Defense; he works on rebuilding sections of the castle; he visits with Hagrid and Professor McGonagall and Teddy and Andromeda; he shakes hands and hugs kids and laughs when he’s supposed to.

And when he’s alone, he stares into the fire of the Eighth Year common room until his eyes are grainy and swollen, and pushes down the constant urge to cry.

Because he’s Harry Potter, and all that entails; what does he have to cry about?

When he sees that platinum hair again, Malfoy’s head is bowed low over his plate at breakfast on the first day of term. Harry's sure Malfoy hadn’t been on the train (not that he was looking), but he feels oddly comforted that Malfoy's shown up to repeat his seventh year. Even if it is a condition of his release.

Harry looks away before Malfoy can catch him staring.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Harry finds out that they share only one class together — Advanced Charms. But he sits near the front with Ron and Hermione, and Malfoy is placed near the back, so Harry only catches the occasional glimpse. Malfoy arrives as class starts and leaves as soon as it’s over, and Harry never really has a chance to talk to him.

He sees so little of him that he’s not sure if Malfoy is actively avoiding him, or possibly just avoiding everyone. But Malfoy isnt his business, anymore, and Harry puts it out of his mind, over and over -- to the point of being quite astonished to find himself face-to-face with Malfoy in the waiting room of the school Mind-Healer.

Three compulsory Mind-Healer sessions are required for every student now, even the first years who didn’t experience the full ugliness of the war. Five, for those who had to endure the Carrows or were witness to or fought in the War. When McGonagall announced it at the great feast, Harry’d felt his heart drop even as he gave a cursory clap along with everyone else.

He's been avoiding it, because what can he really say? “Hi, I had a Horcrux inside me for sixteen years and I died and so many others did too and it was my fault and I might be a little fucked up about it. Oh, you don’t know what a Horcrux is? Here, let me explain!”

He doesn’t see that going over very well.

But after the first few weeks of term have passed, McGonagall's gentle reminders segue into more pointed missives about the mandatory participation in Mind-Healing sessions, and says that whatever sessions he takes part in at Hogwarts can be applied toward that.

And, well. He’s not sure about being an Auror anymore, either, really. He feels like maybe he’s just... done trying to find dark wizards to fight against. But most people, including Kingsley and Ron and Hermione, seem to expect it of him, and any plan is better than none, so.

*

He sits in the small, plant-filled room and watches a moving sculpture for a while as he waits for the wards to fall off the door and the Mind-Healer to come out to introduce herself. The sculpture undulates into different shapes: a blooming tree, swaying field grass, the nude, sleeping form of a woman. He stares at it and feels himself get sleepy from the soothing rhythm of the motions it creates. He wants to rest his eyes, thinks he will for a second, but there’s a sudden “ding!” and the wards over the door sparkle briefly before fading.

Harry stands and waits by the door until it opens. Malfoy steps out. Harry is flummoxed. Malfoy's face is thinner, but it seems like he’s grown into the pointiness of it; his cheekbones have sharpened and there are shadows under his eyes. He’s gotten taller too, and now exceeds Harry’s own height by a good inch or so.

Malfoy seems just as dumbfounded to see him. They're face to face, inches away from one another, and Malfoy’s quicksilver eyes widen into Harry’s before sliding to the floor.

“Malfoy?” Harry says, and it comes out a whisper.

Malfoy steps forward to move out of the way of the Mind-Healer.  Harry steps to the side to avoid being run over.

“Oh, Mr. Potter! You’re early!” the woman says.

Harry’s heart is beating too fast and he’s suddenly shaking for no reason he can figure out. Malfoy walks around him, head down and shoulders rounded, and leaves the waiting area without a word.

“My name is Agnes,” the woman says. “Please, come in.”

Helplessly, Harry does, still looking behind him to the closed door of the waiting room. With a small swish of her wand, the door to her office closes behind him and he hears the whoosh that accompanies a basic ward being placed.

He looks around; her office is cosy, comfortable, with a squashy-looking sofa and an even squashier loveseat placed across from a low-slung leather chair. A small table is positioned between the furniture and there’s a desk in the corner, near an empty fireplace. He waits until she’s sat down in the leather chair before perching tentatively on the edge of the loveseat.

“So, Mr. Potter,” she says, and Harry finally, really looks at her. Her face is puffy and lined with age, her hair done up in a long white plait, but her eyes seem kind.

“Er, hi.”

“Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” she says with a smile.

Harry smiles back awkwardly at this, because its laughable she doesn't know who he is — it seems everyone does, even though he doesn’t have the faintest for himself clue anymore. “I’m, uhm, not really sure what to say.”

“Well, we can talk about whatever you like,” she says easily.

“Quidditch?” he says, mostly as a joke. (Mostly.) There’s an odd, panicked fluttering in his chest. Harry darts another quick look around. The room seems too small and he wishes she would open a window, because he suddenly doesn’t feel like he can take in enough air.

“Okay, Quidditch,” she says calmly, watching him. She flicks her wand again and a window opens behind him and is quickly warded.

Surprise makes his breath stutter a bit. “Really?”

“Of course,” she says. “You play, don’t you? Seeker?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, not since… I haven’t for a while.”

“What’s your favorite thing about it?”

Flying. Freedom. The Ease of speed. How natural it feels. The exhilaration. The way the broom responds to me, like my wand, like an extension of myself. Harry tries to decide which of these things to say, when a memory that tastes of ash and burnt stone comes, unbidden, into his mind. Adrenaline fills him. His hands start to shake and he stares at her wordlessly.

Agnes tilts her head. “Harry. I’m going to call you Harry, is that all right?” At his silent nod, she continues. “Harry. It’s okay to be nervous. But my specialty in Mind-Healing is, by all rights, simple therapy to help wizards and witches cope with events or feelings in their lives for which they may have no reference point. We can talk, as little or as much as you want to, and nothing you say will go beyond these doors. And I may be able to give you some exercises or potions to help with—“

“Dreamless Sleep?” he interrupts.

She leans back in her chair, eyeing him shrewdly. “I have been given the transcripts from the medical wing for each student, so I’m aware that you’ve reached your limit on Dreamless Sleep, Harry. For the whole year. You do understand that it can be incredibly dangerous and cause coma or even death when taken so immoderately?”

His breath trembles in his throat. “Not sleeping can be dangerous too,” he counters.

Her head inclines. “I may be able to offer a light sedative potion on occasion if it gets too bad. Would you like to discuss the trouble you’re having sleeping?”

No, he doesn’t.

“Malfoy,” Harry blurts.

Her eyes widen fractionally. “You’re having trouble sleeping because of Mr. Malfoy? The senior or the younger?”

“Draco. No!” he says, hearing the rest of her question. “No, that’s not why— He’s not why. I just… saw him. Is he okay?”

Agnes’s lips purse thoughtfully. “I don’t discuss any of my patients with anyone, Harry.”

“I’m not asking— I mean, I just want to know if he’s all right,” Harry says, pressure building in his chest.

“I don’t discuss my patients with anyone,” she repeats. “For any reason. If you have any questions for Mr. Malfoy, you should ask him.”

Harry stands. He knows he’s being rude, and strange, but he feels pressed by the need to leave, to get away, to find Malfoy. He doesn’t know why it seems so important, but it does, and it seems like Agnes has given him permission to do something he can no longer deny having wanted to do for months.

“I’m sorry. I can’t— right now. I need to reschedule or something,” he says, and his voice sounds oddly tight to his own ears.

“Harry.”

He starts for the door, ignoring her cry of, “Let me take down the wards!” before he crashes through them, feeling them splinter apart around his body, his magic crackling with his need to escape.

He needs to find his map.

***

Draco doesn’t notice, at first, when Potter starts following him again.

He’s done his very best to avoid the Potter. It isn't too difficult -- just one more person in a long line of them.

It doesn’t matter, really, being alone. As the only returning Slytherin — a condition of his probation was that he return to retake his N.E.W.T.’s, and they wouldn’t allow him to do so from the relative safety of his home, insisting that he retake the entire year — no one wants to talk to him, anyway.  Being alone and being lonely are two different things, he knows.

It’s barely a problem that he’s both.

But it’s not as bad as it could be. He remembers how his cold week in Azkaban had felt like a year, remembers the sound of his mother’s weeping when they had released him and how she told him about Potter’s letter, demanding that all students being held in Azkaban be released while their trials were pending. He remembers the sting of that, to his pride, and the wary acceptance that this is the world he lives in now, where Potter is the hero, and he is no one.

He'd tried so hard to be someone.

When the Ministry had listed the conditions of his probation — a year-long tracking spell on his wand, and the necessity of returning to Hogwarts, after all he’d done — he was certain that he’d be facing challenges for duels in every darkened corner. He’d known for a fact that people would spit and curse at him, like they had outside the Wizengamot upon his release.

Instead, it’s rather like he doesn’t exist.

The teachers don’t call on him; the students don’t look at him. He has his own quarters in the eighth year dormitories, which he slips in and out of unobtrusively, past couples snogging on the couch in the Common Room, past people arguing in the loo. He sits away from the cluster of Slytherin students when he bothers to come down to eat. It's not very often; he remembers people being masticated in front of him by a giant snake at nearly every mealtime.

*

When he meets with the Mind-Healer for his first session, Draco doesn’t speak.

On the whole, he thinks it’s a ridiculous profession; he knows that some of them practice Legilimency, and so he carefully constructs his mental wards before stepping into her office. He’s secure in his talent for Occlumency, taught to him by Snape before Draco had even known there would be such a need for focusing on nothing but the present and not allowing his mind to wander into dangerous territory. But even if he’d not known how to shield his mind, he has no idea how one is supposed to trust another person with all of their secrets, particularly immediately upon meeting them.

The Mind-Healer offers her name, Agnes, and then asks him about himself, and waits for him to speak.

And waits.

After a while, she gets up to fix some tea and brings him a cup, sweet and dark, the way he prefers.  He holds it in his hands and allows it to warm them, taking cautious sips as he watches her.

She’ll know about his Dark Mark, of course, and about his arrest and trial. She’ll know he’s a murderer, or close enough to one for the distinction to be negligible. She’ll have been given all of the pertinent information by the headmistress, or the Ministry itself, and is probably just waiting to report back to them, despite her opening assurance that everything he said would be private.

At the end of an hour, she stands, smiling at him, and says, “Good session! So, I’ll see you here again. Does Friday next work for you?”

Draco’s dumbfounded, mostly at her smile, which seems kind and genuine. His throat feels tight, and he gives her a curt nod, walking to the door and waiting for her to release her wards.

Once they’re down, he steps out and finds himself face to face with Harry Potter. Surprised eyes, greener than Avada Kedavra, stare at him from behind his round glasses. Draco shifts uncomfortably at the stare, a roar filling his ears, and he’s unable to maintain eye contact. He feels a flush of shame climbing up his neck as Potter just continues to gape at him, mouth opening and closing mutely. He whispers Draco’s name.

Agnes gives him cause to escape, almost making him trip over Potter in the process, who seems to have gotten taller since Draco has seen him, his shoulders wider. His birds' nest of black hair remains pretty much the same.

Draco stumbles past him quickly, managing not to run until he’s cleared the outer office. He heads up to his dormitory, his heart pounding with exertion and panic, and hunts through his things until he finds the Calming Draught mother has sent along with him. Draco takes a small sip, then another for good measure, and waits for his heart to slow, for his breath to ease.

The potion doesn’t work as well for him as it had before coming back to school, but he lays on his bed and waits, and after twenty minutes, his trembling finally begins to subside.

There are regulations on Calming Draught, of course, and the bottle is nearly half-empty in less than a month. But lately he can’t seem to function without feeling like the world is going to end, which he knows is perfectly stupid, because… It already has.

He manages to make his way down to dinner, keeping his head down as he forces himself to chew and swallow, and resolutely resists the urge to glance toward where Potter sits. He can see the damn speccy git just looking at him from his periphery, and he wonders why Potter is still interested; he has the world, and Draco can’t compete, anymore.

*

It’s not until two nights later that he realizes he’s being followed.

He’s become so accustomed to no one noticing him in class or at meals or in the dorms, has become accustomed to the whirl of noise around that never includes him.

But he sees a peep of black hair bobbing after him on the way to the washroom one night, and when he comes out, Potter is lounging in the hallway. He gives Draco a sort of nod, but doesn’t enter the room Draco has just left, just stands there as Draco nods back and walks away, and Draco can feel his eyes follow him.

He cringes at the idea of finally being noticed again.

Potter is waiting for him outside of Advanced Charms the next morning. Draco deliberately shows up just before class begins; it’s the only class they share, and it’s hard enough to see Potter sitting a few rows ahead of him, his hair wild, turning to give brief smiles to Granger.

When he arrives, he sees Potter’s lanky form leaning against the stones, one knee bent, foot balanced on the wall. His arms are crossed, and as he observes Draco’s approach, he pushes off from the wall with his foot, straightening gracefully.

“Hi, Malfoy.”

Draco feels caught. He doesn’t know what to say, really, or why on earth Potter is waiting for him, so he brushes past him into the classroom, mumbling, “Hi,” in a voice that sounds scratchy from disuse.

It’s only when his throat aches from the word that Draco wonders how long it’s actually been since he’s said anything. He thinks on it during class; most of their Charms work is practicing nonverbal spells, like last year, and he’s fairly adept at them. He’s also taking Advanced Potions and Advanced Arithmancy, along with Ancient Runes, and so many of his lessons don’t require his voice.

After class, Potter approaches him again while he eats. Draco uses all of his control to not shrink beneath his earnest green eyes. He wants to run, because he doesn’t understand what’s going on in Potter's head. They’ve never liked each other and now, after everything is over, he knows Potter must detest him even more, despite what he did at the trials.

Potter crouches down and Draco takes a forkful of food so he can pretend to be immersed in eating.

“Hey.”

Draco darts a quick, worried glance at him. More people are looking, following their hero with rapturous eyes. To get it over with, he chews and swallows. “What.”

Suddenly Potter seems awkward, like he hasn’t thought beyond the greeting. He shrugs. “I just… How’s your mum?”

Oh. This, Draco understands. The tightness in his lungs fades a bit. “She’s well.”

“So, erm, tell her I said hi, okay?”

“Okay,” Draco says, with absolutely no intention of doing so. It would invite all sorts of fluttered questions about Potter talking to him, and how Draco is faring at school, and how he’s sleeping, and she would ask him to return Potter’s regards, and he just… can’t. But the word seems to have its desired effect, and Potter gives him a hesitant, lopsided smile and moves off.

Draco sees a bit of a flurry between Potter and his friends after that. He leaves the dining hall and returns to his room.

This is usually the only time he sleeps, when everyone is still eating. Other things occupy him at night, and there are only so many freshening and Morning Brightness charms he can use on himself before the effects fade exponentially. So he naps fitfully until he hears people begin to return to their rooms and get settled. When the elves come in to lower the fires around midnight, Draco puts on his dressing robe and silently leaves the Common Room to wind through the castle and up the stairs to reach his destination on the seventh floor.

The Room of Requirement still exists; he’s done multiple tests. It’s opened to him as a classroom, as a private potions lab, as a sitting area, as a library filled with ancient books. But the one thing it won’t seem to revert to is the Room of Hidden Things, no matter what request he makes of it.

He spends his days trying to figure out new ways of thinking what he needs, but when he makes his attempts, he ends up staring at a blank stone wall as he sits in the dark, drafty castle, feeling rather like a ghost from a Victorian novel. A ghost of any kind, really.

It seems a proper descriptor.

Tonight, he walks past the wall thinking, I need the room that burned, and, I need the room where hidden things are stored. These don’t work any better than asking for the Room of Hidden things or the room where Vince died, which is really why he’s here.

He finds himself thinking about Vince more often now than he ever did when they were friends -- although friends might be an inaccurate description of their relationship. But until seventh year, when the Carrows gave Vince and Greg personal lessons in torturing first years, they were both just two slightly stupid, rather sweet blokes who were easily offended on his behalf.

And he used it, of course he did, pompous child that he was. He liked being richer than them, and smarter and better looking than them, and having them need him. He thinks they might have actually liked him, which makes him feel ill when he lets himself ponder it -- he doesn’t think he said a single kind thing to either of them during the length of their relationship. He’d thought himself a leader, and they were his followers. And look how that had turned out.

After walking in front of the wall for an hour, Draco sits on the stone floor, sagging against a hanging tapestry. He’s so tired, and the castle is quiet and oddly peaceful around him. It’s not until he hears a squeak coming from the corridor, and sees a flash of shoe, that he realizes.

The thing of it is, he’s not even offended. Instead, he just feels the weight of his sadness grow heavier.

“You’re getting too tall for that cloak,” he finally says.

There’s a pause, and then Potter removes it. The silvery fabric swishes around him and he folds it in two pieces over his arm. He walks up to Draco.

“I’m not doing anything,” Draco mutters.

Potter nods. He sits beside Draco on the floor, drawing his knees up in an identical pose. “I didn’t think you were.”

Draco isn’t sure he believes this, but what can he do? “Why are you here, then?”

“I just… I don’t know. I saw you the other day and I thought…” Potter’s voice cracks. “I thought I’d see how you’re doing.”

“I’m fine,” Draco says dully. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, too,” Potter says, and there’s a sort of listlessness in his voice that makes Draco glance at him sharply. He has deep violet smudges under his eyes; the whites of them are veined with red. As he watches, Potter removes his glasses and rubs at them.

“So you’re not here to accuse me of dark magic, then?” Draco asks, to make sure.

Potter cracks a laugh. “No. I just… have trouble sleeping. And I heard you leave the dorms and I… was curious.”

Draco gets that. He’d been curious about Potter for years before he’d met him: what he’d be like, what games they might play together, where he was at. It was all very mysterious and exciting when he was young.

“I just come here, sometimes,” Draco hears himself offering. “I think Vince’s father would like to have a proper funeral for him.”

He’s surprised at himself; not only because he’s told the truth, but because he’s told it to Potter of all people.  Potter just sort of nods, his hair brushing against the stone behind him. He scratches his nose and puts his glasses back on.

“Does the Room ever show up?”

“Not the right one. Why can’t you sleep?” 

At this, Potter seems to draw away, although he doesn’t move an inch. Draco is surprised again to find himself feeling sorry about it.

“I have nightmares,” Potter says suddenly, in a low voice that sounds as though it’s being wrenched from him.

“Why are you telling me this?” Draco asks, startled. “There must be thousands of people who’d like to hear about your dreams. Your friends…”

“They don’t know,” Potter says fiercely.

Caution steals over Draco like Potter’s Invisibility Cloak. “Know what?”

Potter gives an unsteady sigh. “What you know. You lived with him in your house for years. I lived with him in my head.” He pauses. “It still fucks with me, that’s all. And I’m not… supposed to…”

That’s when it clicks for Draco: no one expects Potter to be merely human anymore, either. It seems outlandish that Potter might actually feel as cast out of himself as Draco does, but he understands that feeling with a bottomless ache that burns under his ribcage.

“Anyway,” Potter continues uncomfortably. “I guess I thought… If you want to talk… We could. Even if you still hate me.”

This rankles. “You mean, even if you still hate me,” Draco corrects, searching himself for his usual loathing of Potter. But the feeling that he’s so used to carrying just… isn’t there. In its place is a vague sort of grief. “And anyway, isn’t that what the Mind-Healer is supposed to be for?”

“I don’t hate you anymore, Malfoy,” Potter says, so quickly and seriously that Draco feels adrift from it. “And what am I supposed to say to her?”

That had occurred to Draco, too. His lips quirk in a smile that feels as dreamlike as sitting with Potter on the stone floor does, talking to him as if they’ve ever been friends.  “I know,” he says at last. “Here, let me tell you about when the Dark Lord seared this mark into my skin, and how I could smell burning flesh for days afterward.”

He’s immediately horrified. He doesn’t know why he said that, doesn’t even know why it popped into his mind. And now stupid Potter is going to curl his lip in disgust and peek down at Draco’s aforementioned Mark, reminded of who he’s actually chatting with at half-one in the morning.

Only he doesn’t. Instead, Potter lets out a strangled laugh. “Hey, would you like to hear about what it’s like to get Avada Kedavra-d?”

Draco finds himself snickering. “Have you ever been forced to Crucio someone? Here, let me teach you.”

“Would you like to know what it’s like to be worshipped because a lot of people died to save you?” Potter says, laughing even louder.

“Have an interest in werewolves? Greyback had all sorts of appetites; I can tell you about them.”

And suddenly they're giggling, a high-pitched, unsteady sound that echoes across the hall. Draco’s shoulder’s shake andd Potter’s eyes are screwed tight, his mouth an oddly-shaped smile as they laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Then Potter grabs his hand, just lifts it as though it’s not the most perverse action he could take, and laces his fingers through Draco’s, who clutches at him and realizes that, at some point, his humour has turned to tears that he has no way of shutting off.

Potter grips him tight with a cold, dry hand, and Draco clings back as his mouth quivers and his tears fall. He feels ashamed, so ashamed, for crying in front of Potter; he doesn’t know why it has to be this boy with him during so many of his weakest moments, to witness so much of his misery. But at least this time Potter isn’t yelling at him and trying to slash him in half, and Potter’s black, tangled lashes are wet, too, his eyes as dark as an evergreen wood, and so Draco just breathes and holds onto Potter and cries.

He hears it distantly as he starts to wind down -- a pathetic, repetitive little sniffling-sob that his father would surely hate him for.

But his father is in Azkaban, and Draco is not; he is here, being held by Potter, who has clumsily pulled Draco into a hug, and that makes all the difference.

***

Harry wakes up with a crick in his neck. He blinks as awareness takes hold; apparently, he’d fallen asleep with his head on Malfoy’s shoulder. It feels like it should be weird, but somehow isn’t, and Harry lifts his head to rotate it carefully.

Malfoy’s head is leaned back against the stone, his throat exposed in a long, pale arch, his mouth sagging open slightly, even though he’s breathing through his nose. He’s slumped a little against Harry, his legs extended straight in front of him, feet bare and incredibly white. Harry stares at them a moment; the high, elegant arch, the bony toes with a dusting of golden hair across the tops, the knob of ankle where Malfoy’s pajama pants are riding up. They look cold and strangely vulnerable.

Harry’s not sure what he expected when they began talking last night, but he’s blindingly aware that he’s just managed to get more than two hours of sleep without waking up from a dream that made him want to vomit. He knows it was either Malfoy’s presence or his tears, but he doesn’t want to examine the reason too closely; he’s just glad—deeply, violently glad—that he couldn’t get Malfoy out of his head.

“Malfoy.”

Malfoy stirs. His eyes blink once, twice, and then he’s looking at Harry, grey eyes wide as sleep flees from him. He opens and closes his mouth, grimacing, then grabs his wand and casts a breath-freshening charm.

“We fell asleep,” he says. He casts a look at the wall, still blank, across from them, and then raises his knees, drawing his feet closer to his body, protectively.

Harry’s relieved; for a second, he’d thought that Malfoy would revert to form and untangle the delicate balance of whatever last night was, which has turned out to be one of the first nights Harry has felt like himself in months, crying aside. Or not.

But as the pale glow of sunlight starts creeping across the walls, everything feels the same between them as it had in the darker hours. He no longer hates Malfoy, and Malfoy no longer hates him, and they had sat together like friends for hours, though much of it was in silence. It feels comforting and disconcerting all at once, particularly as Malfoy looks at him again, head tilted, and Harry feels the urge to take a pinch of Malfoy’s shortened hair and rub it between his fingers.

He looks away, and Malfoy clears his throat. “I was thinking… Maybe the room won’t open for me because I wasn’t the last person alone in it. Maybe if you came back, and we both tried…”

“Sure. I could help,” Harry says.

They’re both lying, he knows. He’s not sure why Malfoy wants him back, but it’s not only to help him find Crabbe’s body. And Harry is embarrassed, but he actually likes being around this Malfoy, who knows him but who doesn’t fawn or, alternatively, worry. Harry doesn’t have to think about all of the things he isn’t, and all of the things he’s supposed to be, when he sits with Malfoy, and he wants more of it.

He heaves himself up, feeling his muscles ache at the awkward position they were in, and holds out a hand to help Malfoy stand. Malfoy stares at his waiting hand for a long time, eyes traveling up to Harry’s, before he reaches out and takes it, holding fast as Harry pulls him to his feet. They eye each other like that for a moment and then break the simple, sterile contact, and Harry feels a little ripple go through him.

“So, I’ll, er, see you tonight,” Harry says, tugging on his ear a little.

Malfoy gives a clipped nod, and makes a flapping gesture with his hand. “I’ll wait here for a bit; you should go. This would look…”

Harry feels crawling flush start at the base of his neck. Ron and Hermione had seemed pretty irritated that he’d gone to talk to Malfoy at dinner the previous night—“Really, Harry, you can speak up for someone because it’s fair, without having to abuse yourself with their presence,” Hermione had huffed, shooting a tight-lipped look after Malfoy, who at that point was leaving the Hall—and he has to admit that it might look awkward, the two of them coming in to the common room together at dawn, in their pajamas; it doesn't even occur to him to use his cloak.

“Yeah, okay.”

Harry runs a distracted hand through his hair, not really sure how to leave. Is he supposed to say something else, maybe comment on the previous night? But Malfoy just stares at him pointedly, and so Harry swivels on his heel to go, resisting the urge to look back.

*

Harry feels something he barely recognizes for the coming nightfall: anticipation. It’s been so long since his life has been anything other than an obligation to perform that actually wanting to do something feels foreign to him. Over lunch, he considers talking to Ron and Hermione; despite their disdain of Malfoy, he thinks they would support him. But telling them about it might mean explaining the fog that has enveloped his life—they went through a period after he broke up with Ginny of hushed voices and constant concern and, “just tell us what’s wrong, Harry, we can help!” and he’d rather not relive it.

So instead he eats, and studiously doesn’t look in Malfoy’s direction at mealtimes. He receives a note from Agnes, asking him to return for another session the following Monday, and scribbles a note back saying that would be fine, his lips quirking at the memory of talking to Malfoy about her.

It’s mandatory, and he should get it over with as soon as possible. Besides, he feels steadier than he has in months after four hours of uninterrupted, unaided sleep and something to look forward to.

After dark, he waits in his room until he hears the telltale rustle of Malfoy creeping past his door. Harry grabs his cloak, whips it over himself, and catches up.

“It’s me,” he whispers as they leave the common room.

“You’re the only one in my acquaintance who actually has an invisibility cloak,” Malfoy points out dryly. “I figured it was you.”

Malfoy is carrying a small basket and a little leather bag. He has slippers on this time, Harry notices, as they walk in silence through the castle to the Room of Requirement. Malfoy sets his things aside and Harry takes off his cloak, and they stand in front of the empty stone wall together. Malfoy gnaws on his lip for a moment.

“I thought we could both think, ‘we need to find the room Crabbe died in.’ I’ve tried it before, but then it was… only me…” he says, voice trailing off uncertainly.

They walk together, shoulder to shoulder, and Harry concentrates. When it doesn’t work, Malfoy suggests another phrase, and another, and before Harry realizes it, almost two hours have passed in search of something that refuses to appear.

Malfoy knocks Harry’s arm with his elbow, and leads him over to where they were sitting before, against the tapestry facing the missing Room. He reaches into the tiny bag and pulls out a blanket, wrapping it over his legs, and motions for Harry to sit with him, so Harry sits. He feels more comfortable now, in the presence of his longtime nemesis, than he has for six months in the presence of his friends, and Harry wonders what that says about him.

Still, it’s not as if he can’t see that Malfoy has changed; he’s still unsure what Malfoy has become but Harry’s heart tightens as he looks at the blond boy, reaching into the basket he’s brought and pulling out sandwiches and crisps. He hands food over to Harry.

“I thought—if we got hungry—you don’t need to eat it, though,” Malfoy says, voice soft.

Harry feels his stomach rumble and realizes with surprise that he feels hungry; it’s been a while since food has had much appeal. He takes a bite of the sandwich, and the flavor of cheese and meat and horseradish explode on his tongue. He gives a groan. “No, this is brilliant. Thanks.”

Malfoy shrugs and they eat quickly, without talking. When Harry’s bag of crisps his empty, he looks up to see Malfoy holding out a bottle of pumpkin juice, and he takes it gratefully.

“Do you usually bring food?” he asks.

“I’m not usually hungry enough to, lately,” Malfoy says, his voice catching.

Harry nods; the stone behind him catches on his hair and he pulls away a little. “Me neither. Why you?”

There’s a long pause. Harry abruptly feels stupid, tangled. Did he think they were friends now? That because they’d shared a moment of confession and a meal that Malfoy wanted to talk to him? The hallway seems smaller than it usually is, and the walls press closer as his heart begins to rattle.

“I think of Nagini,” Malfoy says quietly, putting down his empty bottle of juice. The glass scrapes against the stone. “I think of how the Dark Lord used to have him eat people on my dinner table. I…I didn’t, just now. What about you? I see you eating.”

Harry winces. “I make myself eat. People get worried when they see that you’re not hungry, especially when you spent a months starving in a forest. I don’t want to worry anyone,” he says lamely.

Malfoy shrugs, a lethargic gesture. His face speaks of a tiredness that Harry relates to; one that has nothing (and everything) to do with lack of sleep.

“They would anyway, probably. You are who you are, Potter, and you’ve done what you’ve done,” he says, and it doesn’t sound like a compliment or an insult, merely a statement of fact.

The air is thick with repressed magic; Harry can feel it building inside of him. This happens sometimes, lately. St. Mungo’s has called him powerful; McGonagall has hypothesized it’s because his magic might have grown when he defeated Voldemort; Molly says to give it time. Harry just tries not to be frightened when the windows start to shudder because of the thundering of his heart, when the flame of candles spark and explode the wicks. He sees the flakes of dust from the grooves of stone as it begins to vibrate, and takes a deep breath.

“Did you know,” he says in a low voice, “that my room, before I came to Hogwarts, was a cupboard under the stairs?”

Malfoy rolls his head sideways. His eyes are pewter-colored and flat in the shadows. “I’d heard rumors,” he says simply. “I didn’t know if they were true.”

“They are. Probably everything you’ve heard about it,” Harry admits, and the vines tightening around his heart loosen a little with his admission. He knows he’s not supposed to talk about it anymore; Ron and the Weasley’s are his family, and they made sure he knew what it was like to be loved. It’s not supposed to matter, now, not after all he’s done. “Sometimes I feel like I should just tell everyone about it; that maybe if they knew I grew up in second-hand clothes and bruises, everything else wouldn’t be such a big deal and they could stop looking at me like… like…”

Malfoy makes a drawn-out little hum, thinking. “Probably not. But at least that explains why you always wore clothes three sizes too big. It doesn’t explain why you wear clothes now that are too small, though,” he says, taking a glance at Harry’s cotton pajama bottoms, which stop about an inch above his ankles.

Harry’s mouth twists into a smile. “Yeah. I don’t feel, you know, comfortable having so much. Being able to just get things I want. It’s been years, and it still feels… wrong to just go out and get things if the stuff I have is still useful.”

“Poor little Potty, can’t bring himself to spend his gobs of gold,” Malfoy says thoughtfully, but his tone his gentle. Harry finds himself entirely unoffended by the remark, when two years ago it would have caused him to brandish his wand. Malfoy’s voice drops to a whisper. “It doesn’t feel comfortable when you have nothing after a lifetime of having everything, either.”

It feels like a trap. “I thought the Ministry didn’t take everything,” Harry says carefully.

Malfoy smirks, but the expression is shadowed by his eyes, which are large and dark. “It’s not the money, Potter. It’s not the Ministry, either. There are other things you can lose.”

Harry thinks about this; he supposes it’s true—Malfoy used to surround himself with friends and lackeys. He used to be so damn proud of his name, a name that people curl their lip at now, when it’s spoken in public. He was sort of a social butterfly, back then, before sixth year began, and now people don’t even bother to speak to him; everyone knows he’s back at Hogwarts as a term of his release.

“Like your mind, right?” Harry says, a sneaking feeling of pleasure flickering inside him when Malfoy’s mouth curves.

“Like your mind.”

Malfoy’s hand is sitting at an odd angle on the floor between them; palm up and fingers splayed slightly. Harry’s mouth goes dry as he stares at the strange, waiting pose and he reaches out to pick it up like he did last night, embarrassed and brazen, and lets out a breath when Malfoy’s fingers fold through his own.

“He made my father use Cruciatus on me,” Malfoy offers into the void.

Harry’s head jerks; his hand flexes, tightening over Malfoy’s. “What?”

“What, are you surprised?”

Harry considers. “No,” he says, at length. “Just that your father would. On you, I mean.”

“There are worse punishments, believe me,” Malfoy murmurs flatly. “Punishments that he protected me from, every day. That happened to be the cost.”

“What about your mum?”

“We both did what we could to protect her,” Malfoy says grimly.

“…That’s what I would have done, too,” Harry says, throat constricted. “If I’d gotten to make the choice. Which most people wouldn’t understand. But I do. Because if I’d had the choice between protecting my parents and doing… well. I can’t say I wouldn’t have.”

Malfoy doesn’t respond. His eyes are closed, and his breath comes evenly, a steady rise and fall of his chest. Harry doesn’t think he’s asleep, not yet, but he puts their linked hands in his lap and lets his own eyelids drift shut.

*

“Thank you for joining me again, Harry,” Agnes says mildly. “You seem a bit more relaxed today.”

“Yeah, I’m, er, sorry about Friday. I’ve gotten a little sleep over the weekend,” he offers vaguely.

It’s true. He’s met with Malfoy for three nights in a row, and each night has yielded a horribly aching neck and absolutely no dreams. He and Malfoy don’t talk about it when they wake; they return to the eighth year dorms separately, and avoid eye contact throughout the day, but just the promise of sleep and Malfoy’s company seems to help Harry get from one hour to the next.

“That’s wonderful to hear,” she says, offering him a cup of tea. “Do you have any ideas on what you’d like to discuss today?”

“Malfoy,” Harry says again.

Agnes simply looks at him, face perplexed. “I’m sorry, Harry, I simply can’t discuss—“

“No,” Harry fumbles, embarrassed. “I mean, I want to talk about him.”

“I see. What about him?”

Harry feels a flush spread across his cheeks. He takes a sip of tea to stall; it’s prepared just as he likes it, heavy on the cream and sugar.

“You can’t talk about this?” he asks, to make sure.

“No,” Agnes says seriously. “Nor would I.”

McGonagall has told him as much; the Mind-Healers have signed magically binding contracts with the school, and they are unable to release any information, even under the effects of Veritaserum, without the explicit permission of those they see. But it’s good to hear from her own mouth, when he’s paying attention.

“I’ve been, sort of, spending time with him the last few days,” Harry admits.

“From what I gather from your files, you two have a particularly tangled, acrimonious history,” Agnes observes, and Harry barks out a strange laugh. “What do you do together?”

“Sit, mostly,” Harry mumbles. “Talk, some.”

“What do you talk about?”

Harry hesitates. “Things we have in common, sort of.”

“Like the war?”

“Well, we fought on opposite sides,” Harry says uncomfortably.

“That doesn’t mean you didn’t have similar experiences, mentally if not objectively,” Agnes says quietly. Her eyes are very direct. “And it doesn’t mean you did. Just means that you both fought in a war and came out changed.”

Harry’s hands tremble. “Things seem… easier around him.”

“Easier how?”

“Like… There’s less pressure. He doesn’t think of me in a certain way. I thought, when I went up to him, that it might be like it’s always been between us. Even that would have been better than… what strangers do,” Harry admits. “And sometimes my friends. But he doesn’t seem to expect anything.”

“And you find this comforting.”

Harry shrugs. He does.

“When your perspective has been shifted as drastically as I suspect yours has,” Agnes says, giving her wand a little twirl over her tea, “you may find the unexpected to be exactly what best fits. Tell me, do you enjoy his company?”

“Yes,” Harry says, surprised. “At least, I don’t expect him to run off to the Prophet about me anymore.”

“I’m interested in the way you deflected your positive answer,” Agnes says bluntly. “As if it’s not enough to simply enjoy his company.”

“He was a Death Eater,” Harry blurts. He hadn’t even realized that it mattered to him until he said it; Malfoy had even brought it up, that first night, and all Harry had felt was a prickle of pity. He feels ashamed that somewhere, deep inside, it bothers him—after everything.

“You were the Chosen One, were you not?” she points out kindly. “The titles people give us may remain, but the real question is: who are the two of you now?”

Harry looks away and tries to calm his suddenly racing heart, because that’s exactly the problem: he doesn’t know.

***

The week passes swiftly for Draco.

If anyone had told him, even six months ago, that he would be spending his days looking forward to talking privately with Potter, he would have told them to stuff it and probably thrown in a decent hex as well. But, rather than making him feel ill, knowing that there’s someone who listens to what he says—even just for a few hours each night—makes the feeling that he’s wrapped in Potter’s invisibility cloak a bit more bearable.

They meet for the next few days; always under the guise of looking for Vince. However, they haven’t put much effort into it lately, preferring to walk back and forth together a few times, in a rather cursory way, before sitting down and eating whatever Draco has brought.

Potter has started to bring snacks too; the fare he supplies occasionally makes Draco’s stomach hurt, but is generally more fun—he brings chocolate frogs and acid pops and fizzing whizbees, and strange little silver-wrapped pastries called Pop Tarts that his house-elf procures for him. They talk, and eat, and sleep, and it’s a very nice routine, indeed.

Sometimes, he feels the temptation to smile at Potter in the halls but he controls it because the strange little slice of time that they share between the hours of midnight and six seems sort of precious, and he doesn’t want to see Potter overlook his smile; doesn’t want to see the boy pull away from him the way everyone else has. And then there are the times when Potter smiles at him, as though it doesn’t matter. It’s a little thing; a tiny, private curve to the side of his mouth, and it makes Draco feel flustered in a not-entirely-unpleasant way.

The first two times it happened, Draco had to return to his room to take a sip of his potion so that his racing blood would settle, but after that he recognizes the bubbling in his chest as pleasure, and he lets it happen.

Draco has long known about his proclivities, although it wasn’t until a fumblingly wet kiss from Pansy in third year that he finally admitted it to himself.

He wonders what his father would say; the one time he mentioned, as a nine year old, that he wanted to marry the Chaser for the Falcons, his father had cuffed him on the side of the head with the handle of his cane, looking down coldly as Draco had touched his bleeding temple in shock. His mother had tried to explain it to him later, and it was only then that he’d understood his father’s fury.

But there’s something different in letting his eyes linger on Potter in that way. After a few half-hearted tumbles in the Slytherin dorms with different boys in fifth year (really, the students in his House will do practically anything with enough Firewhiskey and a dare), he has to admit that just the act of looking at Potter affects him on a different level.

When Potter leans forward and his shirt drags up, revealing twin dimples at the base of his spine, Draco’s mouth goes dry. When he nudges Draco’s foot with his own (he’s taken to stealing a portion of the blanket Draco brings to drape over his legs), he feels the imprint of the pressure for hours afterward and it’s with shock and no small amount of relief that he feels his body begin to respond for the first time since before meeting Greyback.

They hold hands, too, every night. It’s just a thing Potter does, Draco knows; he’s seen him holding hands with Granger and linking arms with Weasley, and even throwing a friendly arm over Longbottom’s shoulder. But it becomes the highlight of Draco’s nights, that tangled grip, the occasional sweep of thumb over the back of Draco’s hand.

When they’ve been meeting for nearly a week, he waits for Potter’s arrival by setting down his blanket on the chilly floor and unpacking the food onto plates. He wonders what they’ll talk about; each night it’s something new, just a few minutes of discussion about the war or their dreams, but Draco suspects that it’s the reason they’re both able to sleep.

The previous night, Potter had told him about Snape; about how he still struggled with hating him, although he understood his motives now. Draco recognizes the story of Snape’s bravery as Potter tells it; it had been splashed all over the papers right before his arrest late in the spring, how his godfather had been a triple-agent for the Cause, how he had saved so many. But he didn’t comment on the complexities of Potter’s feelings toward the man; Severus had been a difficult man to be around even for those about whom he’d cared, and he certainly had never done Potter any kindnesses out of the goodness in his heart.

He’s sitting when Potter shows up, and Potter falters a little. “Do you want to try--?” he breaks off, giving a quick glance at the wall.

“Later? I wasn’t able to eat much dinner,” Draco says, biting into his food.

Potter heaves a sigh and settles next to him, hunting through Draco’s offerings. “Oh, good, you brought those stale cream things.”

Draco snorts. “They’re meringues. I can’t keep eating your candy.”

“Afraid to go to the dentist?” Potter asks, taking a bite out of one and closing his eyes on a sigh in a way that makes Draco’s body tighten.

“What’s a dentist?”

“They drill into your teeth with instruments to scoop out any weaknesses that will cause pain,” Potter explains, directing a side-long smile at Draco’s horrified expression. “It’s a Muggle thing.”

“Why would Muggles allow someone to do that?” Draco asks, appalled.

“Muggles pay them to do it,” Potter corrects, and that’s even worse. “Hermione’s parents do it. It’s a type of doctor, though, like a mediwizard for teeth. Only no magic.”

“I’ll stick to my cleaning potions, thanks,” Draco says, and is surprised when Potter laughs. They don’t laugh much, the two of them, not since the first night, not since Draco wept. But now Potter does, throwing his head back, his face bright and relaxed. Draco is disconcerted by the swell of happiness he feels at watching it. “Anyway,” he adds, “that’s not why. I think all of your candy is making me gain weight or something. We’re not twelve, anymore.”

“We’re not fifty, either,” Potter says dryly, and then a broken look flits across his face, so quickly that Draco wonders if he’s imagined it. Potter shakes his head and clears his expression. “Our lives aren’t… over. Besides, you look good.”

“I look good?” Draco looks down at himself, a little confused.

His hair was cut short in Azkaban, and hasn’t reached its proper length yet; his nails are bitten to the quick and, if he’s honest, he doesn’t look in mirrors as much anymore. Mirrors can be tricky things when you stare at them for too long; he avoids looking at himself as much as everyone else avoids the fact of his presence.

Potter is tugging on his earlobe again in what Draco has come to recognize as a nervous gesture. “Well, yeah. You know.” He looks away. “Those are good pajamas.”

“You like my pajamas?” he asks, and wants to bite his tongue. Why can’t he stop reframing Potter’s comments as questions?

“Well, they fit,” Potter mumbles. “Unlike mine, right?”

Draco looks at him uncertainly; his stomach flutters. “Right.”

There’s a long silence, and then Potter huffs a little through his nostrils. “Can I ask you something?”

“All right,” Draco says cautiously. “What you said about Greyback,” Potter starts, haltingly, and the fluttering in Draco’s stomach wraps itself into a tight knot of dread. “What did you mean by that?”

And so, all right, this is tonight’s subject. He and Potter haven’t deflected from questions so far, but this one makes him wants to vomit; he fumbles through his basket for a moment to pull out his bottle of Calming Drought and take a deep swallow of it. As an afterthought, he offers it to Potter, who is watching him worriedly, and Draco waits while he takes his own sip.

“Greyback was… he was like my aunt,” Draco says, his voice almost too low for even him to hear. Potter nudges closer and tilts his head as he listens. His eyes are focused on the wall on front of them and his face is impassive, which helps. “The way he liked to hurt people.”

“Voldemort did, too,” Potter says, and Draco shakes his head.

“Not like… It was different.” Draco closes his eyes, struggling to make himself explain. He feels the memory of a large hand fondling his flaccid prick through his trousers, thinks of wet, sour breath in his ear. “He would bring in Muggles… Anyone that—that Voldemort would give him. He would attack them. He tried to make it a group sport.”

“Attacked? To make more werewolves?” Potter asks. Draco looks at Potter, expression flat, and he sees when the other boy understands because his eyes dilate and his mouth presses into a thin, angry line. “Oh. A group sport?”

“Through Imperius,” Draco clarifies, voice tight. He remembers the soft globe of a woman’s breast filling up his palm, the vague ripples of happiness as he’d floated in the effects of the curse, pinning her wrists above her as she’d screamed and thrashed under Greyback. “He liked to order us to—“ his voice breaks. Harry is still staring at the wall. He reaches for Draco’s hand without looking, and Draco flinches at first, then relaxes into the touch.

“He made you…?”

“No. He—he tried. I couldn’t. I was able to break out of it before… But I did other things. I had to watch. I had to…” Draco trails off, thinking of her fragile wrists again, the bones so delicate as he’d held her down for Greyback, feeling nothing but complacency. He swallows hard, feeling wobbly and off-kilter. He wasn’t there, of course, but he suspects his father was unable to break out of the sweet stasis brought on by Imperius; he remembers his father’s face, stark and white, glancing constantly at Draco’s mother, the morning after one of Greyback’s get-togethers. Or, maybe his father wasn’t Imperiused, at all.

He explains it to Potter in as much detail as he can; the punishment he’d taken after breaking out of the curse and running away; the sly, delighted threats the werewolf would whisper at him whenever he caught Draco alone in a corridor or room, while cornering him and touching him and wondering aloud what the Dark Lord would say if he’d understood that women weren’t to Draco’s taste. He even admits to not having been able to get aroused, since. He looks away when he’s done and the other boy is silent for a long time as Draco trembles, sweat beading throat and forehead.

“It wasn’t you, though,” Potter says finally. “You know that.”

“I know that,” Draco replies, almost sure he does. “She didn’t, though. The people who look at me wouldn’t believe it, either. I have this.” He pushes up his sleeve and displays his faded Dark Mark, and Potter’s eyes land on it, almost curiously.

“I have scars, too,” he whispers.

“You didn’t make the choice to get yours.”

“Some of them, I did,” Potter says quietly, and his free hand comes up to rub at his chest.

Draco feels oddly lighter, though he’s aware that he’s still shaking a bit too hard from his revelation. He hesitates and then lowers his head, dropping it to rest against Potter’s shoulder.

They don’t do this when they’re awake; somehow the fact that they lean on each other while asleep seems harmless, less strange, and more like something that can be ignored during daylight hours. Draco waits for Potter to say something or shrug him off, but he doesn’t. Instead, he tilts his own so that his cheek rests lightly on Draco’s hair, and it doesn’t feel like something Draco will be able to ignore, but it doesn’t feel strange at all, either.

*

“How do you know how I take my tea?” Draco says. It’s halfway through his fourth session and he finally breaks his silence simply for the sake of being polite—the Mind-Healer has been relentlessly patient with his lack of speech and he has the nagging feeling that he owes her.

Agnes doesn’t seem surprised at his non-sequitur, nor at his first words in nearly five weeks. “The cups are charmed,” she says with a slight smile. “They add milk, honey, lemon, or sugar depending on the holder’s preferences. It’s a useful bit of magic, that, in my line of work.”

Draco nods and takes another sip. The steam wafting up smells like citrus and flowers and spice. “Do you like what you do, then?”

“Oh, yes. I find it very rewarding,” she says seriously. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was young.”

Draco feels a sharp pang of envy. “That must be nice.”

“Doing something I enjoy? Yes.”

“Being able to do something you enjoy,” Draco corrects, trying not to sound petty.

“You don’t feel you have the opportunity to do that?” she asks, and her question, though earnest, makes him want to smile bitterly.

“Are you saying you haven’t read my files?”

“Of course not; I’ve read about you in the papers, as well,” Agnes says bluntly, but her face is mild. “Making up one’s own mind is an important aspect of being one’s own person, wouldn’t you agree?”

He looks for the hole in her argument. “Not everyone would say that.”

“A person like that probably doesn’t know themselves, or others, very well,” she murmurs comfortably. “And are you feeling the effects of that? Of being pre-judged?”

His mouth twists into something between a smile and a frown. “People don’t notice me here,” he admits. “Even the teachers. But that’s better than the alternative.”

Grey eyebrows raise over her delicate silver glasses. “Even the teachers?”

Draco flushes. He makes an abortive gesture with his hand. “They don’t call on me. It doesn’t matter. Last year, I was…” He sighs and clutches the cup tighter. His fingers feel nerveless. “Last year, they did. A lot.”

“And you developed a reputation from the kind of work they had you do,” she surmises frankly.

“Before that. But… yes.” He can still hear the screams of first year students in his mind; some of those same students now pass him in the halls as though he doesn’t exist. It’s as he said: there are worse alternatives.

Agnes leans forward suddenly; their eyes lock. “Has it occurred to you, Draco, that the teachers might not call on you so to lessen the pressure you feel at coming back? The faculty is aware that you’re back under less than ideal circumstances, and not of your own choosing. Would it surprise you to know that the Headmistress herself discussed your case with me out of concern for your care?”

It would; it does. Draco doesn’t quite know what to say. There’s a cluster of something unidentifiable building in his chest and he thinks it must be fear—that’s what he knows.

Agnes leans back again. “And the students? None of your other housemates from your year returned, if I’m correct.”

Draco thinks of Pansy with a sudden desperate longing. Her father, though in support of blood purity, managed to escape becoming a Death Eater, and when she began to receive hate mail after her attempted deliverance of Potter to the Dark Lord, had swept her way from England. He thinks she’s currently in Tokyo right now, but it’s been months since he’s heard from her, so he can’t be sure.

When it had gotten bad last year, he could lay his head in her lap and feel her slender fingers brush his hair back as she murmured quietly to him. She would let him stare straight up at the ceiling, requiring nothing from him but the acceptance of her comfort.

He clears his throat. “No, they didn’t. They don’t—we don’t associate.”

“That must be lonely,” she observes.

Draco shrugs. He has to tell someone; if Pansy were here, it’d be her, but… “I have a friend, or someone like a friend, that I talk to sometimes. It was worse, before.”

“That’s very good to hear. It’s as important to allow ourselves to rely on others as it is to make sure that people can rely on us.”

“It’s Potter. Harry Potter,” he says, as though she could possibly be confused. He feels his flush deepen, and waits for her to laugh. When she doesn’t, he risks another glance at her; she’s staring at him patiently, her head cocked to one side.

“I’m aware of your history,” she says, simply. “And do you find him different as a friend than you thought he was before?”

Draco chews on his lip. “He doesn’t… He isn’t…” He spreads his hands helplessly, frustrated. “He acts like he doesn’t care what we used to be.”

“Would you feel more comfortable if he did?” Draco grimaces. He takes a sip of his tea to stall, because yes; there is a part of him that would feel more comfortable if Potter was calling him Malfoy in that brutal, angry way of his instead of letting Draco lean on him every night and hold his hand.

However, it’s drowned out by the larger part of him that has come to crave that comfort, unwittingly, like a flower whose petals search for the sun.

***

“I’d like to sleep in a bed again, sometime,” Malfoy says, casting Harry an uncertain look.

Harry feels surprise ripple through him. As grateful as he is to be sleeping at all, he understands the sentiment. In the month since he and Malfoy have been… doing whatever it is they’ve been doing, Harry’s accidental magic has eased off; he finds himself smiling more and responding to Ron and Hermione’s comments and jokes; even his grades have improved. He slants a look at the other boy, who is staring at the wall.

“Do you… Did you want to go back to your room?” Harry forces out the question. He’s certainly not going to ask Malfoy to stay, if he wants to leave.

Malfoy makes an odd face, determined and embarrassed all at once. “I thought we… I thought I might…” He gives a nod to the wall.

And it’s flustering how ordinary it feels when the idea takes root in Harry’s mind; he thinks, why haven’t we been doing that for weeks? It’s not as if he’s—they’re—doing anything wrong, really. His friends might not like it if they found out, he tells himself, and Merlin knows the press would have a field day, and Ginny would probably start furiously demanding answers and… Harry sucks in a panicked breath.

Malfoy’s hand in his is suddenly tense and carefully still.

“We could try that,” he hears himself say, and together they stand and begin to walk back and forth in front of the wall. Harry thinks, We need a place to sleep, and when the door appears, he doesn’t let himself consider what they’re doing too hard before tugging the handle open and walking inside. Malfoy shuffles closely in behind him, closing the door with a soft thud.

The room is small; intimate. There are candles burning from sconces on the walls, creating a flicker of light that dances over the stones and produces shadows that undulate over the bed, which is smallish and looks comfortable. It has about a hundred pillows on it, and Harry sags suddenly, feeling his exhaustion. He casts Malfoy a smile. “Good idea.”

Malfoy still seems embarrassed. He looks everywhere but in Harry’s direction; at the fire burning lowly, at the small table next to the bed, at his own slippered feet. Harry grips his wrist loosely with his forefinger and thumb and tugs him over, climbing in bed with a casual resolve he doesn’t feel. He slides under the covers, tossing a few of the extra pillows to the floor, and shoves over, propping himself against the remaining ones.

Malfoy stands for a few seconds, wordlessly following Harry’s movements with his eyes, and Harry glances at him.  “Aren’t you cold?”

The other boy finally meets Harry’s eyes again; he nods. He slips into the bed, fluffing the bedding over him carefully, and rests apprehensively on his back against the pillows. He licks his lips. “This is weird.”

Harry laughs with relief. “So I’m not the only one who thinks so?”

Malfoy smiles a little, at that. He gestures between them. “I mean, this whole thing. What we’ve been doing.” He looks over, grey eyes dark and questioning. “Isn’t it?”

Harry contemplates this for a moment. “I guess. Only, it feels like the most normal thing I’ve had in a long time. And now that we’re… Well, mates…” Malfoy’s eyes are curious and Harry realizes he’s blushing. He falls silent for a moment before concluding, “Well, I’ve shared a room with blokes lots of times.”

“Mmm.” Malfoy settles himself deeper into his pillows and closes his eyes. His hand disappears beneath the covers and Harry feels the side of it, just the press of Malfoy’s pinky finger, find his own. He laces their fingers together deliberately.

“Okay?” Harry asks, trying not to make it sound like a question.

And yet it does. With the room, and the bed, and the fact that he can only sleep when Draco fucking Malfoy is with him, everything is somehow a question. Fortunately, they’re the only kinds of questions that make him feel as though he’s got air in his lungs.

“Okay,” Malfoy confirms softly. He pauses. “Are you still with the girl Weasley?”

Harry sighs. “No.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing,” Harry says, and it’s the truth. It’s humiliating the way his voice trembles on the word, but Malfoy doesn’t comment on it.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not…” Harry blows out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not good for her. I’m not good for anyone, I don’t think. I can’t be what they…”

“What they want you to be?”

Harry laughs and it sounds a bit hysterical, even to his own ears. “What they need. I’m no good anymore, in that way. I think I lost my…” he trails off, grinding his teeth together as if doing so will trap the words inside his mouth.

Malfoy’s voice is endlessly gentle. His hand grows tighter. “What did you lose?”

Harry swallows. “My ability to love someone, like that.” The flame in the fireplace grows, puffing out at his admission, and the candles blink out. Harry sucks in a worried breath.

“Maybe you just don’t love her, anymore,” Malfoy replies after a moment. “Maybe you just changed, during…”

“You don’t understand,” Harry retorts bitterly, and it’s the first time he’s said that to Malfoy since they started talking. “I loved her. I was going to marry her; raise a family with her. I had it all in my head. And now it’s just gone.”

Malfoy doesn’t open his eyes, but his face closes off. “You think I don’t understand?” he asks painfully. “You think I don’t understand what it’s like to not want the life you used to want? To not love the things you used to love? To know you’ll never be good enough?”

Harry’s chest hurts, but this time the pain almost feels good, like vindication. He rolls to his side, tugging on Malfoy’s hand a bit until the other boy’s eyes flutter open to gaze at him. Malfoy rolls, too, so they are facing each other.

“No,” Harry says apologetically. “I know you understand.”

And this is the thing he’s been wanting to say for weeks—to Malfoy, to himself: that he knows that Malfoy understands it all. He seems to understand Harry’s pain and regret and fear in a way that Harry’s closest friends can never, and he’s filled with a sense of satisfaction at the way Malfoy looks at him, unflinching and certain, in the shadows of the room.

He leans forward, slowly, wondering what he’s doing and if Malfoy will let him do it. Malfoy’s body has gone still, like deer once it’s been sighted, as though he doesn’t know whether or not to flee.

He doesn’t.

Harry pauses a hair’s breadth from his mouth for a split second before he presses in. It’s less of a kiss than a thank you; it’s dry and sterile the way his lips move against Malfoy’s frozen mouth. But then Malfoy’s lips are moving, too, and it becomes warm as their mouths part, just slightly, saliva and breath making it slick. Harry’s lower lip is being licked by Malfoy’s tongue, tentatively, for the barest of seconds before he pulls away.

They look at each other, stark and silent, for a long minute. Malfoy’s eyes are wide and glassy; his pupils have dilated to the point where only a faint rim of silver remains around them. Harry swallows hard again and rolls onto his back.

After a moment, Malfoy copies him and Harry, finally, feels like he can sleep.

*

“What does it mean when, er…” Harry tugs on his ear as Agnes hands him his tea and sits down opposite him.

“When?” she encourages gently when it becomes obvious he’s not going to continue.

“When you start thinking about… things you’ve never thought about before?” Harry fumbles.

He and Malfoy haven’t talked about it. In the weeks since the first kiss, it has become a ritual; like the holding of hands and the falling asleep. A kiss, just this side of chaste, shared with someone Harry once considered to be an enemy.

He’s less bothered by the fact that Malfoy is a bloke, but even that creates its own problems because if everyone knew, they would start to talk, and so many people would be disappointed because he wasn’t what they thought he was, maybe never was, and then how could they count on him anymore? But what does it say about him that his deepest sort of comfort has come from one of the people he used to most hate?

“Harry?” Agnes’s voice breaks through his reverie. “You’re hyperventilating,” she informs calmly. “I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose, and then hold it for three seconds, before exhaling slowly through your mouth.”

He darts a glance at her; the windows are beginning to rattle in their frames and he feels breathless, nervous; his chest is tight. She quirks an eyebrow at him patiently, and he takes her advice. On his second breath, the windows become quiet again.

“Would you like to tell me what you were thinking about when that happened?” she prods evenly.

Harry gulps; his throat still feels tight. “I’m not who everyone thinks,” he blurts.

To his surprise, this makes her smile. More, she actually laughs, the sound light and merry. She gives him a look that’s almost affectionate. “Oh, Harry, of course you’re not! You are who you are, separate from what anyone else desires for you to be.”

It sounds so simple; it’s as simple as waking up with Malfoy should never be but always is. “What if they’re disappointed?”

“How is that your fault, if they are?” Agnes parries. “That someone else has made you into something you’re not? How is it your responsibility to ensure you be what they think?”

Harry scrubs a hand through his hair. “I kissed someone. Have been. Kissing someone.”

She sits back; her mouth draws into a little frown, but it somehow makes her appear thoughtful rather than disapproving. “Yes?”

“And it’s not someone that would… People would… Talk,” Harry mutters, feeling ashamed of himself in a way that he never does while he’s actually doing the kissing.

“Harry,” she says quietly, compassion heavy in her voice. Her face is sad. “I’m so sorry. I can see that it’s incredibly upsetting to you to know that people may say things about you, negative and positive alike. And I know you’re aware of this, but I feel I need to say it anyhow: you did something very difficult that a lot of people are grateful for. You will likely be the topic of conjecture and gossip and praise and even possibly ridicule for the remainder of your life. But I hope someday it becomes clear to you that those people? Those ones talking? They are not important in your life.

“The fact that you may be important to them does not give them agency over what you should want or value. The people who are important to you—those who love you and are loved by you—those opinions will matter more, but should never matter as much as your own in regards to what makes you happy,” she finishes.

“What makes me happy?” Harry hears himself ask. Agnes nods. Harry turns it over in his mind. What makes him happy? “I don’t know what that is, anymore,” he says finally.

The look she gives him is almost too perceptive. Harry shifts in his seat. “Have you ever had much of an opportunity to find out?”

Harry shakes his head uncertainly. “I don’t want to be an Auror,” he whispers, too low for her to hear.

Agnes cocks her head. “What was that?”

It’s horrible enough that his tea begins sloshing in its cup where it rests on the table between them; it’s terrifying to think and even worse to say aloud. But she can’t tell anyone, anyway, and so Harry tilts his chin up stubbornly and looks at her in the eye. “I don’t want to be an Auror,” he says again, louder, and is confused when it comes out sounding angry. Agnes blinks.

“Then don’t become one.”

Harry gives a laugh tinged with bitterness. “Don’t become one. Because everyone would say that it was because I was traumatized. Because Ron would never let it go that I wasn’t going to do that with him. Because everyone who relies on me to be there, to save them from everything in the future, wouldn’t have something to say. Don’t become one,” he reiterates. “Just like that.”

“Yes, Harry,” she says smoothly. She sets down her tea and looks at him squarely. “You can want the things you want apart from whether or not you’ve been traumatized, which, by the way, is nothing to look down upon. I daresay each of us has been, by the War, and there’s no shame in it. Do what you want. Fuck them. Just like that.”

Harry finds himself choking on a laugh by her language, and he looks back at her; her expression is satisfied, her eyes twinkling.

“It’s Malfoy,” he admits, apropos of nothing, when he’s finished laughing.

There’s a long silence.

“The person whom you’ve been kissing?”

“Yes.”

There it is again, that twinkle, that slight twitch of her lips. “And you never find yourself inclined to call him by his first name, now?”

Harry snorts. “No.”

“And do you have romantic feelings for Mr. Malfoy?”

Harry gusts out a sigh. He stabs a hand through his hair again and avoids her gaze. “I have… We have… We’re friends. Does it have to mean something like that?”

“Hmm.” The clock ticks for several seconds and finally Agnes gives a long exhale. “While I fully support exploration of relationships, as well as having relationships that remain unlabeled if both parties choose, I do think it’s important to be able to identify the feelings one has while pursuing them. So. Can you explain how you feel about Mr. Malfoy?”

There’s no one good answer; everything is completely jumbled in his mind when he tries to think about it. Saying that sometimes he just needs to fall asleep without a potion sounds heartless, although it might be the simplest truth of them all. Except, Malfoy makes also him feel understood and, better, capable of understanding another person—something he’s wondered for months if he could still do. There are mornings when he wakes up, and his erection is pressed tight against Malfoy’s arse, and neither of them mention it but neither do they pull away as they slowly rouse themselves from sleep. The kissing sounds weird, Harry knows, but it feels good—feels really good, in ways that have nothing to do with the way his cock responds to it.

But Malfoy is broken, too; the things he’s seen and experienced at the hands of Greyback make Harry want to throw something, and he knows he can never push the other boy for more, no matter how much he’s starting to want to. And there’s Ginny, as well… She was perfect for him. If he can’t love someone perfect for him, what does it mean that he’s having feelings for someone like Malfoy?

“No,” he says finally. “I really can’t.”

***

On the eve before winter break, Draco settles into bed to wait for Potter with a heavy heart.

He can barely stand the thought of returning to the Manor over Christmas, but neither can he leave his mother alone with the memories that lurk in the shadows of the cavernous hallways. He wishes he had attempted to talk her into finding a new house; he wishes that his mother would consider it on her own. But Malfoy Manor has been in his family for generation upon generation; though tattered now, perhaps, it is still one of the few points of pride his mother can cling to, and he knows she will never willingly leave—if not for her sake, or Draco’s, then for the hope of returning his father to it one day.

He has even debated finding a flat of his own, possibly in Diagon Alley, if anyone were willing to rent to him—no one would be, of course—but as frightened as he is to go home again now that he can finally sleep, he finds himself disgusted with his character at the prospect of abandoning his mother who no longer even has his father with her for comfort. So he’ll go, and endure for two weeks, and when he returns, there will be Potter again.

Potter, who now simply says, “G’night, Malfoy,” after kissing him, and then curling his body behind Draco’s in a modified hug as they fall asleep. Potter, whose body responds to him—he can feel it, before sleep and upon waking—but never touches him in a way that feels like too much, or too reminiscent of those moments at the Manor when he was caught in a corner with Greyback before someone walked by. Potter who smells clean, and has gained some good weight, and who laughs at him when he gets acerbic, and sometimes opens his mouth long enough during their kiss that Draco can taste him. Potter, who has started featuring prominently in his dreams, which have returned in surprisingly beautiful ways.

Potter, who Draco loves.

He has no illusions that the same feeling is returned. He knows Potter struggles with the idea of closeness now, hard cock and shy tongue notwithstanding. He knows, too, that he brings Potter a level of ease that Draco, himself, finds from their interactions, although he still struggles with understanding why.

But it no longer matters; he’s finished trying to deny it to himself. His absurd and unlikely attraction to Potter from previous years has become something deeper, filled with affection and fear and longing, as well as the desire that has always been buried beneath his skin.

In his short life, he has been spoiled and proud, a traitor to his name when he lowered his wand on the Astronomy tower, and a traitor to himself when he raised it in the first place. He has been at once a bully and a coward, but he thinks now that if Potter asked him to, he could be kind; he could be brave.

He thinks he could do anything that the other boy asked him to.

It’s nearing one in the morning when Potter finally slinks into the room, shutting the door with a soft echo behind him. His face lightens when he sees Draco already in bed, and Draco’s heart lightens with it.

“Hey. Sorry I’m late.”

Draco sneers at him, but there’s no venom to it. “Allowed me to catch up with my many friends.”

Potter chuckles a little. He climbs in to bed. “Shove over.”

Draco scoots, and Potter slides in beside him, up close. The awkwardness from those first few nights has completely diminished, and Potter no longer seems to have any reservations about sharing his space—or, indeed, even encroaching upon Draco’s.

“Your feet are bloody freezing!” he objects with a little cry as Potter slips them under his own. Potter smiles unapologetically and doesn’t move them. Draco pauses. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Got into it with Ginny, a bit. And then she stayed up in the common room; she knows about my Cloak, so I didn’t feel like I could sneak past her until she went to bed,” he explains.

Draco feels a twinge at the word “sneaking,” but doesn’t have a rebuttal; that’s what they’re doing, after all, for good or ill.

“What did she want?” he asks curiously. Potter shakes his head.

“Something I can’t give her, anymore.”

“Again?”

“It’ll ease off. I think. Ron and ‘Mione say so, at least. Agnes, too,” Harry says, running a distracted hand through his hair. Draco eyes the motion, wanting to feel Potter’s hair under his own fingers, before the last part of what Potter has said registers.

“Agnes? You’re still seeing her?” Draco says, surprised. He is as well; once he’d started talking, she’d declared it their first official session, and they have one left after he returns from home before he’s done.

Potter’s countenance is both defiant and sheepish. “Yeah. She says… Well, she tells me it’s okay for me to… think stuff that maybe I haven’t been letting myself think about. She’s not as bad as I thought.”

“No,” Draco murmurs. “She’s not.” He’s feels peculiarly hurt that Potter needs someone else to talk to, even though it’s the same for him. “What kind of things do you need to think about?”

He doesn’t miss it when Potter’s eyes flick to his mouth. His throat grows dry, but Potter just shrugs and looks away.

“What I’m going to do with my life. My friends. Everyone who…” He trails off, waves a hand at the empty room. “Everyone else.”

“We should go to sleep,” Draco says suddenly. He has never initiated a kiss before, but feels that he’s likely to if Potter doesn’t, soon, and it usually happens before they lay down together.

“Oh.” Potter’s mouth relaxes. “Yeah. We’re leaving by Floo in McGonagall’s office first thing tomorrow. Less people to… you know.”

Less people to gawk at him than if he takes the train, he means. Draco nods; he wonders if Potter can hear the thundering of his heart.

“Think you’ll be able to sleep? There, I mean,” he clarifies softly.

Potter tugs on his ear, staring at him. “No,” he whispers. “I don’t. But maybe…”

“Maybe?” Draco prompts.

“Maybe if I have something better to dream about.” Potter suggests reservedly.

And then he is kissing Draco and it’s heavy and sweet, persistent in a way that it hasn’t been before. His mouth opens quickly to the touch of Draco’s tongue and it’s hot inside, and slick, and Potter tastes of toothpaste. Draco’s head spins with the access he’s suddenly allowed, and he leans in too hard, fumbling the kiss, clicking their teeth together painfully. Potter jerks back, eyes wide, and touches his lip with two fingers as Draco pants and stares at him in shock, but he doesn’t seem mad.

“Try that again?” he asks—he asks, as if Draco would say no—and Draco bobs his head dumbly in response.

More gently this time, different than ever before, Potter’s hands come up to cup Draco’s cheeks. Draco’s fingers fly up to encircle his wrists as if to hold them in place as Potter lifts his head again and presses another deep kiss to Draco’s mouth. Potter’s tongue sweeps in unhurriedly, almost teasingly, and Draco melts against him, afraid to question whether this is actually happening.

His fingers loosen on Potter’s wrists and slide down, brushing the sides of Potter’s worn cotton shirt and tracing the ridges of his ribcage. At his touch, Potter shudders against him, his hands on Draco’s face and mouth on his mouth tremble and suddenly the languid kiss has turned heated and Potter has a hand wrapped tightly in Draco’s hair, his mouth slanted hard against Draco’s lips, tongue rubbing silkily against his own. Draco feels his answering moan more than he hears it, head swimming, mouth burning with sensation.

One of Potter’s hands slips down, trailing across his chest and down his stomach, and settles, flat, on Draco’s upper thigh. His thumb angles out and flutters hesitantly along the firm outline of Draco’s cock and Draco makes a whimpering sound as his own hands move further down, of their own volition. He grips Potter’s hipbones, then slides his fingers under the elastic of Potter’s pajama pants to curl around his shaft, which is stiff and thick.

Potter pulls away, breathless. His hands and mouth are suddenly gone from Draco, leaving him feeling cold and confused, with one hand still down the other boy’s pants. Draco yanks it out, his face hot.

“Sorry,” Potter says, voice rumbling and awkward. “I didn’t mean for that to…”

Draco shakes his head, swallowing hard as his equilibrium returns. “No need to apologize,” he forgives faintly, as though he weren’t a willing participant.

“I wasn’t. I mean, I was.” Potter takes off his glasses, which are crooked on his nose, and plops them onto the side table. “But I just don’t… I didn’t want you to feel like…”

Draco gapes at him uncomprehendingly. He wonders wildly if it’s remotely possible that Potter has been waiting for him to say it’s okay; he’s starkly cognizant of Potter’s anger over Greyback and what his threats have done to Draco.

“Harry.” He says it quietly. Like the kissing, like the sleeping, and the holding of hands, it feels like something that simply is; he manages to use Harry’s given name as though that’s what Draco has always called him. He says it again, just because he can, now. “Harry.”

Harry’s head comes up; his green eyes are dark and glistening. “I’m sorry, Draco,” he says hoarsely.

Draco holds up a hand. “Don’t. Don’t be. Don’t. You can…” You can do anything, he wants to say. You can do anything you want, and I’ll only love you more for it. “It’s all right,” he says instead. “Really. All of this is,” he murmurs, gesturing to the room and in between them. “All of it.”

Harry gazes at him and for an endless moment, Draco thinks he’s going to be kissed again. Then he sighs and touches his forehead to Draco’s, lightly; his arms come up to grasp Draco’s biceps and he maneuvers Draco onto his side so that Harry can fit himself against the line of Draco’s back. His feet—warm now—twine with Draco’s under the covers and one strong arm wraps around his middle, dragging his back closer into the press of Harry’s chest and stomach.

“I’ll see you after the hols, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Draco responds.

“G’night, Draco.”

“Goodnight, Harry.”

*

The Manor is a glittering jewel of an example for the holidays; bright, gleaming and projecting prosperity. His mother has made sure of it. She invites family and friends in for the first time in over two years for their annual party, and though more than half of those invited choose not to attend, Draco still finds himself in a sea of witches and wizards in formal robes on Christmas Eve. Candles dance above them, music plays merrily from an enchanted quartet of instruments, and there are too many gifts to count under the twenty-foot fir tree in the foyer. People laugh and mingle and drink his mother’s good wine and even smile at him as though their pretense of not knowing what he’s done is kind.

And all Draco wants is to be back in the Room of Requirement, with Harry.

He doesn’t know when he’s given up the idea of ever finding Vince’s body. He’s ashamed of how little it seems to matter anymore; the Room has given him something far more humbling and hopeful, and these people—dancing and eating and circulating—make the travesty of the last year all the more clear. He catches his mother eyeing him cautiously and pastes a smile on his face as he snags another glass of champagne from the tray being passed through the room by an elf and downs it quickly.

His mother was relieved to see him; she’d held him tightly once he’d descended from the Hogwarts Express, her tiny hands grasping his face tenderly as she’d inspected him and exclaimed at how much better he looked. He smirks as he thinks of Agnes’s advice to be honest, and considers telling his mother exactly why he’s looks so much better.

The anger he finds himself feeling toward her is unbearable; she has always been the one who has loved him, above all others. At least he understands his fury at his father; the remnants of love there don’t leave him nearly as conflicted as he feels when he looks at his mother and thinks, Your actions almost made me a murderer, because he knows it was also her actions that ultimately saved him from that fate.

He realizes he’s staring at her and jerks his gaze away to the witch who is babbling in front of him. She’s youngish, perhaps a year or two older than him, and pretty; the set-up is transparent, with the way his mother keeps glancing over with an approving smile. But either this girl—he’s sure she’s said her name at some point, not that he’s bothered to remember it—has been born and raised in another part of the world to be flirting so heavily with him, or she’s not bothered by what he’s done, which is repellent in and of itself.

“I’m sorry,” he grinds out, interrupting her endless stream of words. “I have something important to attend to.”

“But…” Her voice trails off behind him as he stalks through the crowd.

He heads up the staircase and down the hallway to the east wing; all of the sconces have been lit to their brightest flame since he’s returned, perhaps in rebellious reaction to the darkness that permeated the Manor for years. It makes traversing the length of his house more bearable, but only just. When he gets to his room, he wards the doors and scrambles for his Calming Draught. He hasn’t taken it in months; hasn’t needed to, but it feels as though fire crabs are crawling under his skin.

The draught takes a few moments to work, and he uses that time to remove his clothing until he’s sitting on the bed in nothing but his pants, staring hard at his fireplace and wondering what would happen if he traveled to the Burrow, just for a moment.

A soft knock comes at the door, and his mother’s hesitant voice, with it. “Draco, darling?”

Draco waves his wand listlessly at the doors, dropping the wards, and after a moment she steps inside.

“I can’t be part of that, Mother.”

She walks over to the bed, resplendent in royal blue silk, and sits down beside him. “It’s difficult for me, as well.”

Draco laughs; it’s a sharp, cutting sound, and her eyes widen at it. “Then why are you doing it?”

“I… We need to begin rebuilding our name, Draco.”

Our name is what people associate with Death Eaters and murderers and lackeys, Mother. We should just change it if you want any kind of a normal life; we’d be well shot of it,” he says snidely.

“People will always know us, darling. It’s better if we make the effort, for the future,” she says steadily, though her hands have knotted subtly in her lap. “You’ll thank me, one day.”

“I’ve heard that before,” he snaps out, and stops. The silence is heavy and appalling. He can barely stomach the idea of looking at her but when he finally does, she is staring at him with such a shocked, pained expression that his stomach rolls over. “Mother…”

“No.” Her expression is tight; frozen. “You’re right. I will never stop regretting what we’ve done to you, Draco. But I don’t know how else to repair things. For you. For us.”

“Perhaps you could have invited some Muggle-born wizard families,” he suggests dryly, surprising himself. His mother’s face softens into an ironic smile.

“Perhaps,” she allows. “Although they wouldn’t have come.”

“It would have been a start,” he says. He sighs. “Everything is a start.”

“I suppose.” She glances at him sideways. “You’ve been seeing the Mind-Healer, then? You mentioned her in one of your first letters, and then nothing.”

“I’ve been seeing her.”

“And you find her helpful? Is she who I have to thank? I daresay you would not have been so open with me this summer.”

Draco’s cheeks warm up. “She helps,” he says simply. He wavers for a moment before adding, “And I’m… I’m in love with someone.”

“Oh, really, dear?” She looks slightly dismayed. “No wonder you were so put out with Arabella downstairs.”

“Well.” Draco swallows. “She’s also not the correct gender.”

There’s another long silence. His mother casts her eyes up at his bed hangings and takes a deep breath. “If you had told me that, I would have made sure there were some suitable wizards in attendance. Or we could have invited whomever it is you’re seeing.”

Without thinking, he leans over and envelops her in a hug. Her hands settle on the bare skin on his back; she smells like lemons and roses. “Thank you, Mother.”

Finally, she pulls back, and looks at him shrewdly. “What do you need from me, Draco?”

He thinks of Agnes, who encourages him to simplify whenever he can. “I’m not ready to stay here, yet,” he admits. “It’s not… good for me, here.”

“Where would you like to go, my love?” Narcissa asks.

He looks again at the fireplace and shakes his head ruefully.

“Hogwarts.”

***

Harry makes it five nights at the Burrow before his first nightmare; he wakes up to Ron shaking him and the mess of clothing and sporting paraphernalia usually stuffed under Ron’s bed flying around the room.

Hermione barges in, Ginny at her back, and they stare as Harry manages to rouse himself enough to sit up and begin breathing, in the way Agnes taught him. The tumble of objects eventually slow and then still in mid-air, finally falling to the floor heavily.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbles, rubbing the flat of his palm over his face to clear it of sweat and tears.

Ron is gazing at him open-mouthed. “Merlin, Harry. I thought you were done with all that.”

“I—I.” He casts another look at Ginny, whose eyes are wide and scared, whose mouth trembles as she looks back at him blankly. She seems to get hold of herself and gives him a small nod before backing out of the room.

Hermione heads forward and plunks herself at the foot of his bed. “Is this why you sneak out of the dorms every night? So as to not disturb people with it? You should know better, Harry,” she says, gentle in her bossiness. “We can figure out a way to fix it.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to talk to him about the sneaking out thing,” Ron mumbles to her in an aside that does nothing to stop Harry from hearing.

Hermione gives him an exasperated look. “Really, Ron.” She turns back to Harry. “We didn’t realize it was still this bad. Are you over your limit on Dreamless Sleep again?”

Shocked, Harry leans back against the headboard. “How did you even know I was taking it?”

“Oi, mate,” Ron says irritably. “You were having night terrors every bloody night over the summer and then they were just gone. I’m not stupid, you know. Plus, Hermione told me.”

Harry cracks a smile. “It hasn’t been like that in a long time,” he admits. More carefully, he adds, “The sneaking out helps.”

Hermione’s hand finds his and grips it loosely. “Why do you think they came back? Was it about Voldemort?”

Harry rifles through his memory; unlike his dreams of Voldemort or the Dursley’s, this one has faded until he’s primarily left with the impression that it was about Draco getting hurt somehow. “No, it wasn’t,” he tells them, surprise evident in his voice.

“What was it about then?” Ron asks.

He settles himself better on the foot of the bed, next to Hermione, and casts a distracted Cleaning charm at his room with his wand. His clothing and other items disappear back under his bed.

Harry scrutinizes them; both of his friends seem concerned, but they are no longer treating him with the anxious consideration from six months ago, instead simply sitting patiently, expressions mild, as they wait for him to speak.

“What if I told you…” He pauses, looking down at his hands, and takes a deep breath. “What if I told you that the reason I’ve been sleeping better is because I’ve…” There’s really no good way to say it, so he just does. “I’ve been sleeping with someone.”

Hermione draws back, her face so astounded that it gives Harry the inappropriate urge to laugh. Ron seems startled as well, but he’s more used to not knowing everything, so it doesn’t look nearly as funny on him.

After a moment, she controls herself. “You mean… Sex?” she asks hesitantly, failing to hide her blush.

“No.” Harry shakes his head. “Just, I, er, made a friend with sort of the same problem and we ended up falling asleep together. We just talk about things and sleep. Mostly. Sex isn’t… It hasn’t, yet, I mean, but maybe, I mean I’m thinking about it and I think—”

He’s grateful when Hermione holds up a hand to stop him. “So, you’re saying that you met someone who you became friends with because she’s been dealing with the same issues, and there are perhaps romantic feelings evolving between the two of you, and she’s been helping you sleep at night,” she summarizes in her succinct way.

“Blimey, Harry,” Ron says, hushed, glancing at his closed door. “Is this why you didn’t tell us? Because you’re worried about how Gin will feel?”

“It’s not a girl,” Harry blurts.

Ron stands, staring down at Harry, face abruptly and shockingly red. “You’ve been shagging a bloke?” he hisses, looking again at the door as if expecting Ginny to come marching in. Hermione looks back and forth between them, expression vaguely panicked, but when Ron doesn’t say anything else, she huffs a little and ignores him.

“I already said we’re not,” Harry says crossly.

“You said some other stuff, too,” Ron points out, slowly lowering himself back onto the bed. “Sorry. Just… Gin’s going to shit Kneazles.”

“Ginny and I are over, Ron,” Harry says tiredly. He tips his head back to rest against the wall for a moment. He feels oddly proud of himself that he barely feels guilty about it anymore.

“Right, but seeing someone so soon after—“

“It’s been over eight months,” Hermione says softly. “And, anyway, Ginny is trying to move on.”

“She is?” Harry’s head comes up. “She wanted to talk to me not even a week ago about our relationship.”

“Right, and if you had actually bothered listening or talking to her instead of making assumptions,” Hermione says, irritation plain, “you’d have heard her say that she wants to be friends with you again instead of having you avoid her all the time, and that she’s been seeing Dean again for over a month.”

A warped kind of jealousy pulses to life in Harry’s chest and fades just as quickly. He sighs. “Good. That’s good. Things are too different between us, now.”

“What’s your friend’s name,” Hermione asks gently.

Harry scrubs his hand through his hair and takes another deep breath to alleviate the completely different pressure building in his chest. He squeezes her hand gently; despite Agnes’s reassurances that he needs to do what feels right for him, he knows this will not go well.

“That’s the part you’re not going to like.”

*

Harry steps out of the Floo in the Headmistresses office at half-four in the morning, thankful he’s been granted access to it, and dusts himself off angrily.

He had been right; it had not gone well.

Amongst Hermione’s protests that it was doubtful someone like Malfoy could just change, that Harry was too traumatized and trusting, and Ron bringing up Bill’s injuries, Ginny’s experience as a first year, what had happened at Malfoy Manor, and the ease with which he had called Hermione a Mudblood on numerous occasions, he’d barely gotten a word in edgewise; it had rapidly devolved into shouts (from Ron), tears (from Hermione), and the rest of the Weasley’s camped outside of Ron’s door, listening with shaken expressions.

After several hours, Harry had given up. He’d Summoned his things and gave a curt apology to Molly, unable to look her in the eye for fear of what he’d see there before scrambling down their staircase to the Floo.

In retrospect, it may have been a better idea to explain his relationship with Draco in full before revealing his name. But at least he hadn’t accidentally made Ron’s head explode for the things he was calling Draco.

Who was… what? Harry wonders as he stalks back to the Eighth Year dormitories. Someone he cared about, yes. Someone who has helped him. Someone who no longer reminded him of the vile, hateful creature he’d been even two years ago.

Draco was someone he could trust, Harry admits to himself. Is someone he’s attracted to. Someone who he’s not afraid of hurting with the dark pieces of himself that have been too prominent since the end of the War. His boyfriend?

He is fairly certain that Draco’s feelings for him extend further than he’s said; while they still talk about what troubles them, ugly things about themselves or their lives during and before the War, they also laugh together. Draco’s wit is cutting but no longer vicious, his smile sharp but no longer cruel. But he’s unsure of how Draco does feel; it’s one of the few things they haven’t discussed.

They’ve shared dozens of kisses, months of nights together, more secrets than he can count, and one proper snog that ended when Harry became worried he was pushing Draco too far, despite the eager, startlingly hot fingers down his pants.  He feels a twinge, thinking about it, and wonders if pulling away from Draco that night will have changed anything between them.

When he reaches the Eighth Year dorms, Harry relates the password to the portrait of a Wizarding Knight in full armor, who gives a yawn and swings open to admit him. Harry walks into the common room and stops, staring blankly at the back of Draco’s head, white-blond hair glinting in the light from the fireplace. Draco sits on the couch in front of him, facing the fire, but even as Harry begins to process his presence, Draco turns and sees him standing there.

He stands, dropping the book he was holding onto the sofa, grey eyes shadowed and amazed. “Harry?”

Harry can’t think; Draco is a few feet away; he looks so good, if a little confused, and as Harry watches, he bites down on his lower lip.

Harry stalks forward and grabs his shoulders, hauling him up close. Draco makes a bleating sound, but then his arms are winding around Harry’s waist, his mouth is opening up under Harry’s own. They stand together and Harry doesn’t know anything at all—not his pain, or his past, or his friends. He only knows the heat of the fire they stand in front of for so many endless minutes, the heat of Draco’s tongue licking against his own, and the press of Draco’s body, all sleek muscles and slender angles as they sway in place with the kiss, slowly wrapping around one another.

Harry finally breaks away and Draco’s mouth tries to follow him; he makes a little noise of complaint. Harry sucks in a ragged breath and drops his forehead onto Draco’s shoulder. “Is this okay?”

Yes, Harry.” Draco grabs a handful of his hair and pulls Harry’s head up, none-too-delicately, so he can look him in the eye. His eyes are steady and sure. “Yes.”

Harry screws up his courage and slips his hand down Draco’s chest, running his fingers against his flat stomach until they’ve settled against the tenting of his pyjama bottoms. He grasps Draco’s erection through them with a light hand. “Is this okay?”

Draco hisses, canting his hips forward as he pulls Harry into another kiss. It makes him feel as though he’s drowning, the way Draco nips at his lips and licks his tongue against them, then sweeps it inside of Harry’s mouth, aggressive and hard in response to Harry’s hand, which has begun to rub the fascinating shape of Draco’s cock. “No, no,” Draco mumbles into his mouth, and Harry freezes, palm in place, but Draco just removes his hand and walks Harry backwards into the sofa, giving him a light push so that Harry sits and then angles him so he’s lying down.

Draco surveys him for a moment, eyes alight, and then stretches out on top of him, one foot still propped on the floor for balance as he resumes the kiss.

Draco seals his lips firmly around Harry’s and proceeds to quite fully take him apart with movements nothing like his timid responses before they go to sleep; his tongue teases and ravages, coercing a wrenched groan from Harry’s throat. It feels the most them that it has since they’ve gotten together again; the Malfoy and Potter from another life. The kiss becomes feral, like a fight, like a war, like one Harry thinks, dizzily, that he’s all right with Draco winning.

Draco’s body is a smooth, delicious weight on top of his and Harry can feel the press of his cock drag against his own as Draco makes tiny, rolling little thrusts against him like a dancer. Harry’s hands come up of their own accord to grasp at his narrow hips and guide him in a more satisfactory rhythm. The friction through his jeans is incredible; he feels Draco’s swollen prick line up against his own and he feels his balls tighten. Sweat breaks out on his brow and he looks up at Draco, whose face is tight with repressed need.

“Draco, I want—I’m going to—”

Draco makes a guttural sound, thrusting against him harder, faster, the muscles in his thighs bunching as he moves, and then his entire body stiffens, trembling, and he holds himself still above Harry.

Harry watches him fall apart before letting his eyes roll back in his head; he feels the warm spread of liquid against his pants and all it takes is one more unsteady rutting of Draco’s cock against his before he’s coming, too, pleasure suffusing him like waves, cock pulsing hard in his pants, making them hot and sticky.

Draco rests against him for a long time, unmoving, no longer a dancer and more like a bag of sand.

Harry snorts.

Draco raises his head. “Yes?”

“For someone so skinny, you’re a lot like dead weight,” Harry snickers.

Draco scowls at him, but there’s something sweet to it. “Insults, Potter, really? Is this how you always act after sex?”

“I guess it is,” Harry says, coloring slightly. “I guess we’ll see, next time.”

Draco looks like he’s thinking over the implications in that statement and he nods after a moment. “You’re supposed to say nice things, I’m fairly certain,” he finally says.

“Nice things,” Harry repeats obediently, voice softening. “All of the nice things.”

Draco smiles, lazy and satisfied. He reaches down and scoops up his wand from the floor and casts an efficient cleaning charm on them both.

“What are you doing back, Harry?”

Harry brushes the pale blond fringe out of Draco’s eyes. His hair has gotten longer in recent months; it’s almost back to its former length. “I told Ron and Hermione. About… I don’t know. Us. Everything,” he admits. “Which was stupid, I know, because we haven’t even talked about it, yet, but…”

“We didn’t really need to. Right?” Draco offers, only a little uncertainly.

Harry nods, relieved. He reaches up to press a kiss to Draco’s reddened mouth. “They didn’t take it very well. And besides,” he adds, his voice thick, “I missed you. I didn’t even know you would be back. Why are you?”

Draco closes his eyes and laughs a little to himself. “We’ve gotten incredibly confessional with our loved ones over the holidays, haven’t we?” He drops his head down to rest his cheek against Harry’s shoulder. “I told my mother. Not about us; not really. About me. About how I couldn’t be back there yet. About being—being with someone.”

Harry tenses. “Did she kick you out?”

“No. She let me leave. I needed to. I’ve been back for almost two days,” Draco tells him. “I don’t sleep much here, but it’s better than there.”

“Want to fix that?” Harry slides his thumb along the edge of Draco’s jaw, marveling at the fact that he’s allowed to do so; shocked at the fact that he can actually identify something he wants again.

“What do you mean?”

“We have beds, here, Draco. I have a room. You do. We could always go to the Room of Requirement, if you prefer,” Harry adds slowly.

Draco thinks for a moment. “Your room is closer.”

Harry smiles. His heart beats erratically.  He kisses Draco, pulling away long enough to whisper, “I didn’t know it would be you. That it could be us.”

Draco’s lips taste suddenly of salt. When he finally responds, his voice is raspy. “I think I always did.”

***

Draco comes back into Harry’s room, pausing for a moment at the threshold. Harry is strewn across his bed, stubbornly asleep; he didn’t so much as move when Draco had gotten up.

He’d removed his jeans and shirt—whipping them off before they had gone to bed like revealing all of that olive skin and those beautiful, wretched scars was conducive to Draco’s sleep at all—and his pants are riding low on his hips as he sprawls out on his stomach. Draco can count the knobs of his spine; can see those tantalizing dimples above his arse and feels shaky and nervous by the sudden urge to lick them.

Harry has one pillow stuffed under his arm and Draco suspects it was supposed to replace him. He takes off his own shirt—he wants them to be skin to skin—and slides in, prying the pillow away from Harry’s grip and settling under the arm that slings over him. Harry makes a muffled, snoring sound and nuzzles his nose into the side of Draco’s neck; it jangles his nerves and sends a skitter of arousal down to his groin.

They had fallen straight to sleep after returning to Harry’s room the previous night. Harry took his usual place curled up behind Draco and Draco had wanted to push it; he’d wanted to see if Harry would do more to him—with him—but lying with Harry like that after making him come had a specialness all of its own, and Draco had not wanted to shift the new pattern of awareness between them in an attempt to change it into something else. But Merlin, he wants to now.

Memories of Greyback touching him have been muted by Harry’s tenderness and ease and arousal, if not outright obliterated. He thinks of the werewolf with a vague sense of disgust now rather than fear, because now he knows what sex can be like, will be like, so far apart from those clumsy, drunken ruttings in the Slytherin dorms in fifth year, so different than anything he’d been forced to see or fear at the Manor.

He strokes Harry’s arm slowly; his hand travels down the line of muscle on the top of Harry’s forearm to the base of his wrist and he winds his longer fingers through Harry’s shorter, blunt ones.

“Hey.” Draco turns to see Harry blinking at him, green eyes bright in the morning sunlight, smile sleepy and warm. “Where were you?”

“Doing something I should have done a long time ago,” Draco murmurs. His free hand traces the dip in Harry’s spine, running along the bumps of it until it reaches those divots he wants to lick.

Harry closes his eyes and his smile widens into a grin. “A good way to wake up,” he whispers. “Do more of that.”

“Bossy.”

“About to get bossier.” Harry’s arm slips down and encircles his waist; his fingertips brush around the top of Draco’s pants above his arse and then two of them slowly dip inside, stroking lightly at the top of the cleft there. Draco gives a hum of appreciation and mimics Harry’s movement, slipping his hand into the other boy’s pants. He slides his fingers along the crevice and then palms one side of his arse firmly; his fingers dig deep into the muscles of Harry’s arse cheek and suddenly Harry is rolling on top of him, kissing him, open-mouthed and insistent, and Draco doesn’t even mind that he hasn’t brushed his teeth yet.

The world swoops around him as Harry pumps his hips against Draco in a brief imitation of what Draco did the previous night and then begins to snake his way down Draco’s body. He mouths at Draco’s neck, tracing the line of his carotid with his teeth, and then moves lower, taking little nipping kisses from his chest. He circles the line of Draco’s nipple with his tongue and then sucks on it softly. Draco arches and gasps, and Harry releases him to look up with wide eyes.

“Is that okay?”

“Fuck, Harry.”

Harry smiles. One of his hands begins palming Draco’s erection through the fabric of his pyjama bottoms, and his eyes follow his movements as Draco thrusts up against Harry’s hand helplessly. When Harry glances at him again, his face is tense and wanting and clouded. “Can I do more?”

“Uhhhn,” Draco mutters in response, frustrated beyond belief with the light touches Harry drifts over him. He reaches down and hooks his thumbs under the elastic of his pyjamas and his pants and shoves them down to mid-thigh, barely cringing at the sudden embarrassment of exposing himself so bluntly. Harry’s eyebrows rise; he looks relieved and amused all at once.

“Guess so.”

“Shut your mouth, Harry,” Draco grunts, trying to wrangle his clothes off.

Harry’s eyes take on a wicked gleam. “Actually.” He moves quickly, startling Draco, and removes Draco’s clothes with two quick tugs and tosses them aside. He spreads out on his belly between Draco’s legs and then just… stops. Draco lifts his head and flushes as he sees Harry studying him intently. Harry’s eyes are interested and hot and eager as they stare at the length of Draco’s cock, which is rosy in color and so hard it’s bobbing aloft of his body, just inches away from Harry’s nose. Harry slowly slides his hands up Draco’s thighs and tangles his fingers in the blond hair surrounding the root of Draco’s cock, giving it a gentle tug. “I love how fucking pale you are everywhere,” Harry murmurs. He rubs his cheek, tentatively, against the crown of Draco’s cock, which glistens with moisture and twitches at the sensation. “Except for this.”

Draco moves his legs restlessly on a gasp; Harry releases his hold on Draco’s pubic hair and scoops his arms under Draco’s legs, draping Draco’s thighs effortlessly over his shoulders. Harry’s head dips forward and his tongue flicks out tentatively, swiping across the fluid beginning to drip from the slit of Draco’s cock. The point of contact sends little shocks of pleasure shooting through Draco’s groin and up his spine.

Harry stops again. His face is apologetic, his green eyes wary. “I’ve never… I mean, I’ve thought about it, with you, but I’ve never—I don’t want it to be bad,” he rushes out.

Draco gives a pleading little thrust up with his hips; the head of his cock bumps into Harry’s earnest, pursed mouth. “Merlin, Harry, just do something,” he pleads recklessly, voice thin.

Harry gives a small, pleased chuckle and nods. He lowers his head again and wraps his lips gently around the crown of Draco’s prick, and gives a small, experimental suck, almost as though he’s sipping from it.

Draco groans and flexes upward again, and this time Harry’s mouth opens wider; his lips stretch around the shaft, and suddenly Draco is buried in the heat of his mouth, warm, slick tongue curling around the head and then licking further down the shaft. He feels engulfed in heat; feels ready to come just from seeing his cock disappear into Harry’s mouth like this. He desperately wants to watch, but the pleasure spikes through him, overwhelming all of his senses, and his head falls back onto the pillow; his eyes screw shut tightly.

Harry makes a long little humming noise; the vibration of it shudders along his cock. He bobs his head over Draco and it’s a strange, intoxicating feeling—that slickness, that heat, smoothing over the sensitive skin of his prick and then away. Harry can’t seem to decide what to do with his tongue, either; he licks it against the underside of Draco’s shaft and then tongues along his delicate foreskin, pushing it back, before swiping in irregular intervals over the slit. Draco moans obscenely, hips pistoning upwards frantically as the tension gathers in his spine and his balls begin to draw up, tight, against his body.

Harry wraps one unsteady hand around the base of Draco’s cock, trying to pump it in time with the movements of his mouth and then suddenly his other hand is cupping Draco’s balls lightly, rasping blunt fingers over them and giving them short, light little tugs with his palm.

Draco wrenches his eyes open; he lifts his head and shoves his hand in to the thick, gorgeous mess of Harry’s hair, guiding the tempo, trying search for the words to inform him that he’s too close, that he’s about to climax, but the only thing that leaves his throat is a sort of agonized howl of completion as his cock begins to twitch and throb under Harry’s awkwardly perfect ministrations. And then he’s coming, coming so hard into the heat of Harry’s mouth that Harry gives a little cough from it but determinedly keeps going, tongue working faster over the underside of Draco’s cock and hand tightening on his balls which almost burn with the force of his release.

When it’s over, his hips relax back heavily into the mattress and his fingers become lazy in Harry’s hair, stroking it softly as Harry continues to lick him clean, pulling off to burrow his nose into the crevice between Draco’s thigh and his groin and inhaling deeply.

Finally, Harry looks up and meets his eyes; he somehow looks cautious and mischievous all at once. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Draco confirms thickly. “Come here.”

Harry’s hips shift against the mattress some, pressing, indicating his arousal, but he only says, “You don’t have—”

“Get the fuck up here, Potter,” Draco growls impatiently pulling hard on his hair. “I’m not going to let you beat me at this, too.”

Harry snorts, but obligingly climbs back up the length of Draco’s body, draping himself over it. “You’re comparing this to Quidditch?” He drops a sweet, open-mouthed kiss onto Draco’s lips; he can taste himself on Harry’s tongue and is remarkably turned on by it.

“I’d at least like to tie, for once,” Draco informs him breathlessly. He nudges Harry until he’s sitting up, straddling Draco’s stomach. “Come on.”

He reaches around and grasps Harry’s arse; soft and muscled, and compels him closer. Confused, Harry shuffles on his knees over him until he’s straddling Draco’s upper-chest. His eyebrows knit together like his mind can’t wrap around it, but Draco thinks that’s quite all right, because Harry’s cock doesn’t seem to have a problem understanding. It’s rather lovely, slightly shorter and thicker than his own and currently a deep pink color, almost red at the tip, arching out from a thick nest of black curls at the base. Draco licks his lips.

“Er,” Harry mumbles above him. “Will this work? I’ll suffocate you.”

“Just put your weight on your knees and your hands,” Draco instructs him tightly. Apparently, an orgasm wasn’t enough to uncoil the sharp edge of lust in his stomach; he wants to taste Harry; wants to taste him now. “Lean forward and don’t push too hard,” he says before lifting his head further to envelop Harry’s length in his mouth.

Harry gives a strangled groan. His hands come up to grip the headboard tightly as he puts pressure on his knees and pumps a little frantically into Draco’s mouth before remembering to gentle himself. Harry’s cock feels strange and heady in his mouth, swollen and hard and twitching against his tongue and he pulls his head back on one long slide, hollowing his cheeks in as he does, sucking hard.

“Jesus, fuck, Draco,” Harry mutters, thrusting forward in time with Draco’s movements.

Draco thinks of what Harry did to him and tries to focus it a bit; he pays attention to the flushed opening of Harry’s cock, liberally weeping pre-come, salty-bitter and fresh against his taste buds and then he tongues his foreskin back gently before finding the vein on the underside of Harry’s shaft and licking it up and down on each slide of his mouth.

Draco keeps his eyes open; Harry’s face is tight and beautiful with repressed release; his stomach muscles jump in time with the motions of Draco’s tongue against his prick. His hands on the headboard are slick with sweat; they keep slipping as he grapples with it so as to not lose his balance.

Experimentally, Draco takes more of him in; his hands on Harry’s arse urge him deeper and he gags a bit as Harry’s cock butts against the back of his soft palate, but then he relaxes his throat and watches with satisfaction as Harry’s head falls forward, helplessly, as he fucks into Draco’s mouth. Draco manages to get Harry’s cock in almost all the way to the base and he releases the tight muscles of Harry’s backside to slither his fingers up the crevice in between the cheeks. Harry gasps as Draco’s fingers slide in, fluttering softly against the smooth skin there, until he finds Harry’s puckered hole and delicately traces the rim of it.

Harry’s hips stutter. He presses forward unsteadily, all rhythm gone as he thrusts jerkily into Draco’s throat once, twice, three times before he’s flooding Draco’s mouth with his release. His cock pulses rapidly against Draco’s tongue; his come slickens in the inside of his mouth further as Draco works to swallow, swallow, every last bit. Harry’s face is screwed up with lust as he pants brokenly, his thrusts becoming gentle and his hands falling from the headboard to stroke Draco’s hair, sticky with sweat, away from his forehead as he finishes swallowing and pulls his mouth away.

Harry levers his weight off Draco, lifting one thigh up and over, and collapses onto the mattress, falling onto his back. They lie side by side for several minutes, until Draco rolls to his side and nestles into Harry, tangling their legs together and pressing his face into the hollow of Harry’s throat. Harry’s arms come up and enclose him and he drops a light kiss onto Draco’s hairline.

“Well,” Harry breathes, at length, “that round definitely goes to you.”

Draco snickers, fumbling to pull up their blankets one-handed; the room feels cooler as their sweat begins to evaporate. He covers them up awkwardly and drops his head back onto Harry’s shoulder. “I’ll take it,” Draco mumbles into Harry’s skin.

When Harry next speaks, several minutes have passed and his voice is hesitant. “I think I should tell you… I was wrong about myself. I’m pretty sure.”

Draco blinks. He lifts his head again, grimacing slightly at the twinge he feels from the exercise he gave it a few minutes prior. “What do you mean?”

Harry clears his throat; he stares at the bed hangings above them studiously. “About my ability to… to feel things, for another person. Maybe Gin just wasn’t the—the right person anymore, no matter what my head told me.”

“Oh.”

Draco’s head falls back to Harry’s chest as he lets this information sink in. Harry has just confessed, in his own bumbling, Gryffindor-ish way, that he thinks he could—or does—care for Draco as deeply as Draco does for him. It’s nothing Draco had ever expected or hoped for; not after their first night together, not after their first kiss, not even seconds ago after tasting Harry’s climax on his tongue.

He thinks, I am the man that Harry Potter loves. And although Harry’s name does not make it more special than it already is, a thrill goes through him at the knowledge.

“Is that all right?” Harry finally asks, a touch anxiously, when Draco doesn’t say anything.

Draco leans back up and kisses him, slow and sweet.

“Harry,” he says softly. “I’ve already told you—it all is.”

*

The sky has been dark for hours when a faltering knock comes at Harry’s door.

Most of their day has been spent in various modes of heated exploration, and Draco is somehow both exhausted and exhilarated by the way his body fits with Harry’s, over and over, in different ways. Draco can smell Harry on his own skin, and himself on Harry; his mouth feels strange when it’s not in the act of kissing Harry’s lips or some part of his body; his skin feels cold on every centimeter that is not being touched.

Several minutes back, Harry had carefully pried open Draco’s arse with, slick, questing fingers and then replaced it with his tongue and Draco can’t figure out how it’s conceivable that Harry doesn’t get perfect grades with his schoolwork when he seems so dedicated to learning.

Draco’s body is still experiencing small aftershocks of pleasure jolting through his cock and up his spine when the knock breaks through a moment of replete recovery for each of them. Harry gives him a confused shrug, pointing his wand and wordlessly Summoning their shirts, which they throw on hastily as he calls out, “Who is it?”

“It’s Hermione and Ron,” Granger says quietly through the heavy wood.

Harry’s dark brows draw together; he flicks a nervous glance at Draco. “Do you want me to tell them to go away?”

Draco shrugs; he shakes his head. He’d been hoping for this, but hadn’t realized they’d come back so soon.

“Come on in.” Harry waves his wand and unlocks the privacy charm he’d shielded over the door early in the morning.

Draco ticks the bedcovers up a few more inches; from the waist up, he and Harry are clothed, but they are sitting together in bed, with blankets up to their waists completely nude underneath, and the scent of the room is heavy with sex. Harry’s skin is flushed, his hair is more wild than usual, and Draco suspects his own skin is fairly blotchy at this point, from love bites and the graze of Harry’s stubble and his recent orgasm; he knows they’re not fooling anyone.

That isn’t the point, anyway.

Harry’s face stiffens as Granger and Weasley enter; his lips press together tightly, guardedly, and he takes Draco’s hand in what feels almost like an act of defiance.

“What are you guys doing here?” he asks, getting to the point.

Granger is biting her lip; she seems to be making the effort to look anywhere but at the two of them, in bed with one another. She sits in Harry’s desk chair and spins it so it’s facing the bed, but her eyes settle on the floor in front of her. Weasley simply studies them for a moment and then, to Draco’s surprise, kicks off his shoes and climbs onto the foot of Harry’s bed, criss-crossing his legs to get comfortable. He pulls a piece of parchment out of his pocket and passes it over to Harry. “We’re here because of this.”

Draco winces; he had rather hoped they would approach him in a civilized, discrete way, but, well, Gryffindors.

Harry takes the letter and scans it; Draco looks away, but he can feel Harry’s eyes flick up to him periodically, questioningly. “Draco?”

He passes the letter over. Draco glances down, but doesn’t bother to read it; he knows it by heart, having written one version or another several times in his mind since the last date of the trials. This one is more extensive, to include Harry in it, but it begins along the same lines:

Granger and Weasley,

I am writing in a long-overdue effort to apologize directly for my behavior of years’ past. I do not expect forgiveness and in fact understand why it may never be given based on the words I have said and actions I have taken that have hurt you and your loved ones.

Without excusing myself, I would like to explain that the War changed my perspective on many things and enabled me to understand my folly in regards to my beliefs about blood status. This may or may not be one of my lesser crimes—to you—but it is important for me to establish that I had been struggling with things I had been taught for the duration of the war and that many of my actions were dictated by these beliefs.

I deeply, genuinely apologize for what I have done.

I greatly respect your relationship with Harry. He has told me that you were displeased with finding out about our friendship and I understand why that would be. I do want to assure you both that I am not the same person you have known; Harry’s friendship has been the most important of my life—I did not even feel as though I could move past what had happened during last year until I was confronted with his acceptance of me and all that I am and have been.

It is exceedingly difficult to write this letter without revealing the truth, which is intensely private to me but also what I feel may help best allay your fears about Harry and myself, so I will: I am in love with him.

I will not hurt him. If you ask me to make an Unbreakable Vow to that effect, I will. He is under no obligation to return my feelings and I would never press him for that; I simply feel you will be more comfortable in knowing where my heart lies. It’s with him.

I very much hope you can accept our friendship, as I feel that I have been helping Harry as well. We are both still seeing a Mind Healer—separately—which has had, I believe, a profound effect on each of us, but perhaps not as profound as the one we have had on each other.

Thank you for reading this letter. Please feel free to approach me at any time to discuss it, should you ever wish to do so.

Sincerely,

Draco L. Malfoy

Harry’s hand tightens on his and Draco finally looks at him; his eyes are patient and understanding and affectionate. “This is what you were doing this morning when I woke up without you?”

“It needed to be said, Harry,” Draco tells him, and Weasley gives a little start at hearing Draco use Harry’s given name.

There’s a long silence, and then Granger pipes up, “It really did.” She is calm, but her voice is tense. “I deserved that apology, after all of the nasty things he’s said about me over the years. Ron’s whole family deserved that apology-”

“I’ll write to them tonight,” Draco interjects.

“-And you can’t expect us to come to the same realization you have in a split second when you’ve been getting to know him for months, Harry,” Granger finishes, talking over him. “It was… It was a lot.”

“You don’t know the stuff he’s been through,” Harry defends, voice hard.

“Because you don’t talk to us anymore,” Granger says, her voice rising. Draco wants to point out that the two of them may have been a tad preoccupied to not notice—because in retrospect, he wonders how subtle it could have been, the way he and Harry would look at each other in class, the way they both disappeared every night—but he feels it would be impolitic so soon after apologizing, and anyhow, Granger has always been fairly quick on the uptake. She sags a bit. “We’ve been sort of… distracted, though, to be fair.”

“I want you guys to be happy,” Harry says, glossing over the truth of her statement.

“We want you to be happy, too,” Weasley suddenly blurts. He’s staring at Draco very hard, as though trying to complete some clumsy version of Legilimency but he doesn’t look angry. “We shouldn’t have yelled at you like that, mate. Mum’s beside herself. Gin, too. Practically everyone went a bit batty when you left and ‘Mione and me didn’t… Well, you ‘n me, we get in rows and then she patches us together again, only, this time with Malfoy…”

“What about him?” Harry challenges, chin coming up. Draco admires the look of it for a moment. “You read his letter.”

“Yeah.” Weasley rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. “That’s why we came. Mum was still in the process of tearing us a new one-”

“Molly’s never yelled at me like that before,” Granger said dejectedly.

“-When it came. We took a look at it and talked a bit and the thing is…” Weasley took a deep breath. “We’re not over the stuff you did, Malfoy,” he says directly to Draco. His face is pinched, struggling. “But, maybe, give us as much time as Harry’s had to get to know you, and we can be.”

Draco swallows. “Thank you.”

Weasley nods. Granger gives a sniff, followed by a wobbly smile. She stands up, and Weasley follows.

“So, ah, we’re going to head back for the rest of break,” he says. “You’re welcome to come back, Harry. …You—you too, Malfoy, I guess,” he finishes, only a little grudgingly.

“Ah—No, thank you,” Draco says in a hurry. “I mean I appreciate it, but—not, not this time. Thank you,” he adds again.

Harry looks a bit like he wants to laugh. “I think I’ll stay here, too. I’ll owl your mum in the morning, though.”

“Right.” He pauses. “Guess you got over the whole thinking of shagging him thing, right?”

Harry reddens a bit. Draco turns to him, shocked. “You told them that part?”

Granger laughs a little. “You might want to get used to us knowing all sorts of uncomfortable things about the two of you,” she informs him. “Harry may not be the most eloquent, but he knows how to get the point across when he has something to say.”

Draco darts a glance at her; her face has softened, her brown eyes are warm. She looks a bit pretty, and he can almost guess why Weasley likes her. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he murmurs.

“Hey,” Harry calls as they head for the door. His friends stop to look at him. “Thanks. For coming. For—Well, thanks.”

They give him quick smiles and leave, and Harry turns to Draco. “And you, too. Thanks.”

“For my amazing, newfound prowess in bed?” Draco says coolly in a way he would not have been capable six months ago. Harry’s mouth quirks, and Draco lets himself smile.

“That, and for writing them.” Harry touches the letter Draco still holds. “They’re important to me. And what you said in the letter… What you said is important to me.”

Draco looks down to where their hands are entwined. “I never apologized to you, either.”

“You’ve never needed to,” Harry says, and then steals his breath with a kiss.

***

“You look pleased with yourself this morning, Harry,” Agnes says with raised eyebrows.

Harry shrugs, a little smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. He’d left Draco in bed not twenty minutes prior, flushed and wrecked against the sheets, covered in sweat and not a little of both their body fluids. In the six weeks since term had begun again, they had chosen to sleep apart for several nights, to work on what Agnes called their ‘sleeping dependency,’ with good results. However, one of them somehow inevitably finds their way into the other’s bed by the morning.

“I am,” he answers simply.

Agnes chuckles a bit and passes him his tea. “I’m glad for you. Have you thought any more about what we talked about last time?”

Harry wrinkles his nose a bit. She’d started him on making a list of goals that he felt were worthy and enjoyable and important to him, which was difficult when coupled with her admonishment that he not take into account the public’s ideology of him. On his list so far are things like Quidditch and teaching—he’d thought briefly of applying for a Defense Against the Dark Arts post at Hogwarts, if his N.E.W.T.’s turn out well enough—and even just travelling; it’d be good to get away for a while, and he’s never even visited the Continent before, let alone Africa or the US. But none of them feel right, and he tells her so.

“Why teaching?” she asks. “And why did you disregard it?”

He shrugs again. “I don’t know. I liked it; we had something of a club here in fifth year where I got to teach defensive skills, and I feel like I got pretty good at it. Plus, some of my professors were really… I guess, influential?” He tugs on his ear. “I think it’d feel good to influence someone who needs it. And I disregarded it for the same reason as the Aurors, I think. Defense is important, but I don’t… Want to do that with my life,” he finishes.

“And the Quidditch?”

Too much traveling. Too much press,” he explains, shaking his head. “Wouldn’t be able to take it.”

A small, pleased smile curves Agnes’s mouth. “I’m happy you’re getting better at recognizing your boundaries. I heard you got a couple of offers from some professional teams?”

He’d gotten four, actually; reserve Seeker for each offer, just to start; Ron had practically howled when he’d said no to them, but by that time the responses had already been sent off with owls, and he still felt pretty good about the decision.

“It wasn’t too hard to turn down,” he tells her with another shrug. 

“Well, you say you liked teaching,” Agnes points out practically, “But why must that be Defense? Or any magical subject? Or Hogwarts, for that matter?”

Harry thinks, stumped as to why that hadn’t occurred to him. Muggle schools probably aren’t the best option, but there are wizarding primary schools; there are so many kids to need a leg up—Oh.

He tilts his head. “What if I wasn’t teaching kids so much as helping them?”

She laughs a little. “I think teaching is helping, but I like wherever your mind is at. Care to explain?”

“Next session, maybe? I want to think about it a little; run it past Draco and Ron and Hermione.”

“How is Draco?”

Harry smirks. “I know he’s still coming here to see you, Agnes. We actually do talk about things other than the war, now.”

Agnes raises her eyebrows at that, amused. “That’s good to hear. Let me rephrase: how are you and Draco? Particularly after that article?”

The Quibbler article had come out just two days prior; a special edition that had already had three reprints, to hear Luna tell it. He and Draco had given a joint interview about the importance of interhouse unity, and had disclosed their relationship primarily to stress how important it was not to prejudge other people. In the wake of the war, there had been an uptick in crimes against pureblooded wizards and those associated with them, and even children were afraid to be Sorted in to Slytherin these days. Though Agnes had insisted that it wasn’t his responsibility to save the world, it was a small enough thing to do, and he wouldn’t have done it if Draco hadn’t been on board, anyway.  Draco had claimed to be tired of hiding his presence.

Whatever doubts Harry had about coming out about his relationship with Draco were felled when Draco read the article to him in bed the night it was released, beginning at Harry’s feet and working his way up his legs with each line.

Harry cups his tea in his hands and swirls it gently; steam rises, sweet and hot, and he takes a sip. “We’re good. Better than good. I’m… happy, mostly. Really happy. I think he is, too.”

“And do you talk about the future at all? With each other, I mean,” she clarifies, “Not each of your futures, individually.”

“No,” Harry tells her. But he smiles.

*

“Hey, how’d you do?”

Draco stands from where he’s been sitting in the corridor; it’s a fluid, graceful movement. He looks around at the students milling past them—it’s to their credit that no one seems to be gawking at them right now, as tends to happen whenever they’re sighted out of the dorms together—but gives Harry a quick kiss, anyhow. Harry leans forward, prolonging it just a bit, even though he knows how attention still flusters Draco.

“I think I might have gotten an O,” Draco tells him, a bit numbly, as they walk to the dorms. Harry feels a flash of joy and pride and whoops loudly, turning to scoop up Draco and hug him tightly in the middle of the hall.

“Are you serious? Of course you are!”

“Put me down, Potter, people are looking,” Draco hisses, but he looks a little flushed and pleased when Harry finally obeys.

When Draco calls him by his surname now, Harry knows to take him seriously; whether in bed or out.

“I’m really, really proud of you,” Harry says softly as they start walking again. “St. Mungo’s?”

Draco nods, his pale cheeks pinkening up. “I’ve been thinking, what if I changed my specialty?”

“Not Curse Damage anymore?” “I’m thinking… Mind Healing,” Draco says, casting Harry a sideways look.

Harry blinks. “You’d be brilliant, Draco. And if you actually got an O, which of course you did, you’re already in, right?”

At McGonagall's encouragement, Draco had taken an assessment and placement test with St. Mungo’s. As distasteful as Draco found it that his relationship with Harry seemed to make the public forgive many of his misdeeds, Harry was simply enthusiastic upon learning that upon Draco’s assessment he’d been offered a coveted internship at St. Mungo’s after Hogwarts, if his N.E.W.T.’s were up to par.

It worked out perfectly; had Draco not gotten into St. Mungo’s program, he’d been offered a position at a program in France, and while Harry was willing to follow him there, it would have been a bitch setting up the wizarding orphanage that he was already raising donations for from out of the country.

Harry didn’t think he’d ever go for too long without a dream about his cupboard; fortunately, Draco was now there to wake him when it happened.

But Agnes’s questions had given him an idea of what to focus on, and the facility he was working on would hopefully encompass children with no family who could take them in—or children in neglectful and abusive situations whose families did not want them around, due to their magic. He also planned on teaching there, once it was opened, after receiving his certification from the Ministry.

“I guess I am,” Draco responds, sounding mystified.

“Then what are we waiting for?” Harry tugs at his hand and starts running. “We have to celebrate!”

Draco starts laughing, a bright, vocal flag of happiness behind him, so different from his withdrawn silences at the beginning of the year, as he trails after Harry, who has absolutely no idea where he’s going.

Draco, too, has gotten better. He’d spoken to McGonagall after the winter holidays about passing his N.E.W.T.’s to Healer standards, and she had given him a surprising amount of help. Ron and Hermione had given up glaring at him for the most part, too; probably partly because whenever they started, Harry began snogging him in front of them and they were sick of it, but also because Draco had made the effort to not only stick to the apology he’d made, but to seek out others he’d hurt and apologize to them as well.

Those weeks had been hard; Harry had had to wake him from a nightmare every night, but the hatred Draco had expected from people—the hatred he still largely feels he deserved—had not been forthcoming. People were as tired of conflict as Harry was, at this point, and mostly wanted to move on with their lives.

Harry takes a hard right at the end of the hallway and runs up a flight of stairs, pausing for a moment as it shifts under them, and then continues. He continues pulling Draco after him, finally skidding to a halt in front of the wall where they began meeting.

Draco gives him a curious look. “Really?”

“We’ve only ever slept in there,” Harry says with a breathless snicker.

Draco’s mouth twitches. He raises one eyebrow. “We leave in two weeks. It’s true we might not get another chance,” he concedes.

Harry grins at him, hopelessly in love.

They pass in front of the wall three times, and when the door appears, it leads them into a room similar to that which they slept in for all of those weeks, but with a larger, more grandiose bed, and a selection of lubricants on the bedside table.

He tugs at Draco’s tie, loosening it with rough jerks so he can slide it out of the collar. Draco’s hands alternate between unbuttoning Harry’s shirt and unclasping his school robes. Harry kisses him and Draco’s mouth nudges his open, his tongue skillful and delicious, making Harry’s head swim as he leads him over to the bed and climbs on top of him.

Harry never tries not to think of Draco, anymore.

And because of this, for the first time in his life, his future seems pretty damn bright.