Title: Kindred in Courage
Word Count: 12.700
Warning(s): Angst, some humiliation
Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Beta-ed by Linda, awesome as usual. Written for the prompts virgin!fic and Veritaserum at the hd_cliche fest.
Summary: Draco's private source of humiliation—that he's still a virgin—has just been surpassed by his shock at reading that Harry Potter has confessed to his own virginity. In public. Under Veritaserum. Draco can't stop thinking about it. Eventually, of course, he has to speak to Potter.
Kindred in Courage
The newspaper had gone soft and worn from the way that Draco constantly folded it and carried it around. He made sure, now, that the curtains around his four-poster were secure, and that all the usual charms against jinxes were in place. Slytherin House after the war wasn't always a safe place to be either someone who had been a Death Eater or someone who had been pardoned for it.
He unfolded the paper again, and stared at the photograph on the front, which was of Harry Potter's smiling face. Draco kept trying to determine what the source of that smile was. Was Potter smug? Arrogant? Contented because he knew a secret that his enemies didn't know?
He surely couldn't be cherishing a secret of his own. Everyone in the wizarding world knew the truth about him, now.
HARRY POTTER STILL A VIRGIN? said the headline beneath the picture. Draco frowned and skipped over it. Sometimes he liked to stare at it, but right now, the sight itched beneath his skin.
The article started beneath that, accented with a second photograph of Potter, standing with some sort of trophy in his hands. Draco hadn't bothered to ever read the caption to that picture, so he didn't know what Potter had received the trophy for. It didn't matter, next to the words in the story that rang like a gong in the center of Draco's chest every time he saw it.
I sat down today with Harry Potter, Savior of the Wizarding World, Chosen One, and already selected to be part of next year's class of incoming Auror trainees, for an intimate chat under Veritaserum. Mr. Potter is very busy and agreed to this interview under Veritaserum, with license to ask any questions I wished, with the provision that it would be the last interview he would give for a year.
Draco shook his head in wonder. He still wondered how the Prophet had managed to get Potter to agree to the Veritaserum, only interview for a year or not. Maybe it helped that the reporter was a nobody named John Moriarty, not Rita Skeeter.
He turned up the Lumos Charm on his wand—all the other Slytherin boys were securely in their beds by now—and went on reading.
I asked Mr. Potter questions about the war, of course, and mostly got answers so familiar that I won't repeat them here. It seems that Mr. Potter really is mostly honest when it comes to the part he played in the war, and the credit that he gives to his friends for helping him.
When it came to his personal life, I learned some rather more interesting information.
It began with a casual question, the sort I would ask any celebrity I was interviewing, from Celestina Warbeck to the Minister himself. "What about your personal life?" I asked. "Ginny Weasley was your girlfriend last year, I gather. Is that still true?"
His smile grew, and he inclined his head to me. He was the most responsive subject under Veritaserum I've ever seen. He could talk and express himself almost normally, and the words being a little slow were the only sign of his altered state.
"Ginny and I aren't dating anymore," he said. "I didn't want her to come with me on the quest, and she took that badly. Now that I think about it, I can't blame her. I didn't mean to leave her out of everything I did with Ron and Hermione, but I suppose I sort of did."
I was surprised, because all my sources rather indicated that the youngest Weasley had been hanging on his sleeve.
"Is there anyone else on the horizon?" I asked then. "Anyone who could tell us about the heart of the Chosen One?"
He gave me a pained smile then. I know that our Mr. Potter doesn't like the name "Chosen One," but I'm afraid he'll have to endure it. He earned it, after all.
"No," he said. "I don't think so. I already have enough to concentrate on with all the ending of the war and going back to Hogwarts. I have to get good NEWT marks so that I can get into the Auror training program, you know."
But I knew all about that, and I was interested in bringing the public news they hadn't heard before, not news they had.
"So you don't even have a bit of comfort on the side?" I asked, probing, maybe, deeper than I should have. "Maybe someone who warmed the nights for you during your quest? Anyone at all?" I have to admit, I was thinking about the rumored closeness between him and Hermione Granger, even though she's engaged to Ron Weasley. It wouldn't be the first time that engagements didn't limit people to their own beds, and we know they were alone for a time.
But, dear readers, I could never have anticipated what he revealed next.
Draco had to stop, the way he always did before he read this part. He rubbed his hands on his trousers, wiping off the sweat. Preservation Charms could only do so much to keep a cheap newspaper safe for more than a day. He would have to cast them again when he was done with this particular reading.
Maybe it was because of my last question, but his face grew a trifle strained. Then he smiled again.
"No one at all," he said. "I'm afraid that you're talking to a virgin hero."
I was stunned, to say the least.
Draco didn't need to read the rest of the article, which was just Moriarty's gloating about how he had been the first to find out about Harry Potter's virginity. He laid the paper down, cast another Preservation Charm on it, and then stared at the hidden ceiling of his bed.
The questions raced around his mind like hyperactive owls. How in the fuck could he just—just admit that? What gave him the courage?
It wasn't just being a Gryffindor, Draco knew. Other Gryffindors didn't go around advertising their virginal status all the time. Most of them liked to brag about having more lovers than normal, in fact.
Maybe he would have just been able to put it down to Harry bloody Potter, the Boy Who Lived To Be Different. Maybe he would have been able to say it was just the press being interested in things about Potter that wouldn't have been news when it came to anyone else—a tendency Draco had taken advantage of during the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
But then he thought of the way that Potter was walking around the school, with the same smile on his face that he'd worn in the newspaper article. He didn't seem humiliated. When people made jokes about him being a virgin, Potter joked right back by asking if they knew anyone they could introduce him to. He laughed at the Howlers, and he'd devised some kind of spell now that flung them right back out of the school. He acted like he was normal.
Draco knew what would have happened if someone had done that to him. He would have never dared return to Hogwarts. He would have hidden away at Malfoy Manor and cast a spell that would deafen himself rather than listen to the taunting letters.
It was impossible, what Potter had done. Yet he kept walking around.
And Draco wanted to know…
This was the realization that had been coming for a long time, he decided later, but right then, in the darkness of his bed, it burst on him like a firework.
Draco wanted to know how he'd done it.
Draco lay there with his eyes shut so tightly they felt frozen. He could almost feel the ice crystals creeping across them. He finally reached up and wiped carefully at them, shivering a little. No, it was only tears.
Something else I could never admit.
Draco had been afraid of so many things for so long. Not making good marks. Losing to Potter in Quidditch. Not pleasing his parents. Failing to be a good Slytherin, a good Malfoy, a good child, a good student, a good man. Failing in his task, and losing his parents to death. Doing something that would make him into a Death Eater like Fenrir Greyback, lost in some way that had nothing to do with the Mark on his arm. The Dark Lord. Torturing people. Not torturing people. Failing. Succeeding.
His virginity was one more thing to be afraid of, and the idea that someone might discover it had tormented him since he had read the article about Potter. The Prophet had published a few articles speculating about Longbottom and Weasley and Granger and Weasley's sister since. If they were interesting enough to do that with, what would prevent someone from speculating about Draco?
In his mind he knew there was a difference between him and a war hero, but that didn't stop his palms from sweating and his breathing from speeding up all the time.
Tomorrow, Draco thought, his head slowly drooping on his pillow, he would go and talk to Potter.
Because he had been afraid for years, and he was so tired of being afraid. Maybe, if he talked to someone who hadn't been afraid, even if he'd been tricked into admitting a secret under Veritaserum, then Draco could learn how to stop the fear.
It was a feeble plan, but it was better than just lying in the dark and reading the article about Potter over and over again.
Draco sat bolt upright in his seat and watched the owl post come winging in through the open windows of the Great Hall. It came at the same time every morning, just as it had before the war. It was one of the ways that the new Headmistress was trying to hang onto the past and make everything the same, Draco thought.
There was no post for him, but there never was, unless someone sent a Howler or a jinxed letter. Draco ignored the lack of birds descending towards him and instead watched the unremarkable Hogwarts post-owl that circled down to land on the table in front of Potter. It hooted softly, drawing his attention to it.
Potter pulled out his wand and cast familiar spells, the same ones Draco used when he did receive a letter. His friends looked up a few times, but not with much interest. Potter got so many marriage proposals and requests to speak and the like that even the joking Gryffindors had got inured to it.
Finally, the spells revealed a safe letter, as Draco had known they would. He had to look away when Potter opened the letter.
He'd had the courage to write down a few hasty lines telling Potter that he had to talk to him and asking Potter to meet him in the dungeons that night shortly before curfew, but not enough courage to sign his name. He'd given the place instead.
Now, Draco decided, staring resolutely down at his plate, he'd been stupid. Why should Potter take an anonymous demand for a personal meeting seriously? Well, or he would take it as a serious threat, and show it to his friends, and all bets would be off.
But that had been all Draco had courage for. He didn't know if he could learn the right kind of courage again, unless Potter taught him.
Silence, or seeming silence, because all around him people still chattered and he had the roaring of his heart in his ears. Finally the tension of not knowing how Potter had taken the letter outweighed the tension of facing him, and Draco looked up.
Potter was looking straight at him.
Draco bit his tongue. Potter's eyes were wide, but not hostile. He must have recognized my handwriting.
And even as Draco stared, Potter nodded, then tucked the letter away in a pocket, with a joke and a laugh and a shake of his head at something Weasley said to him. Weasley didn't immediately turn to glare at Draco, so Potter couldn't have revealed what he knew.
A spark of uneasy hope danced and glowed in Draco's chest.
Let him come. Let this be enough.
Draco closed his eyes and tried to imagine that he was one with the stones around him, heavy and calm and immovable. He didn't care what anyone else thought. Someone could discover his protected secrets, and he wouldn't care. He would never—
Draco jumped, and the illusion shattered. When he opened his eyes, Potter was right in front of him.
He looked exactly the way he had before the war, right then. His stance was the same, standing there with his arms folded and one hand dangling near his wand to show that he didn't trust Draco. The shadows under his eyes were the same, and so was the wildness of his hair. Draco could feel the old bitterness welling up in his throat, choking him.
He could speak the bitterness and the ashes, he knew, and Potter would turn around and walk away. And maybe that would be better.
"Malfoy? What's wrong with you?"
That was different, though. Draco clung to it, and struggled through the moment when he wanted to tell Potter to leave just because that was what he had always done, and breathed easier when that was over.
"I saw that article in the paper," he said. "The one where Moriarty tricked you with Veritsaerum." He thought he might as well start out with some sympathizing and get Potter on his side by showing him that Draco was partially on his side.
Unfortunately, Potter blinked and stared at Draco as if he was crazy. "What? Tricked me? Of course he didn't. I was the one who chose the Veritaserum. It was part of the conditions for them interviewing me and leaving me alone for a year." He shrugged, rolling his shoulders until Draco thought the bones would pop. "I have to admit, some of the questions he asked me were bloody unexpected. But I wanted them to leave me alone, and they did."
Draco froze. He understood—he had thought he understood—he knew that Potter was courageous in dealing with the consequences of the article—
But he had never for one moment thought that Potter was that courageous, in inviting that kind of truth upon himself.
He couldn't teach Draco that sort of courage. It was mad, foolhardy, and Draco wasn't sure he wanted to learn it anyway.
"Then nothing I have to say will make sense," he muttered, knowing he sounded disjointed, and that Potter was watching him both critically and with some concern. That was new, but too much was different now, and he shook his head, backing away from Potter. "I can't—I didn't know—"
He turned, ready to run down the corridor.
Potter leaped forwards from behind him, and Draco found strong arms wrapped around him, so firmly that he had no chance to get away, however he struggled. He tried it anyway, heart pounding. For some reason, it mattered that Potter had stopped him using touch and not magic. He didn't know why, but it mattered a lot.
"Will you slow down?" Potter muttered into his ear. "I don't know what you called me here to discuss in the first place. I thought it was going to be about your father. Now you have—what? You found out that I took the Veritaserum on purpose and so you don't trust me anymore? I don't understand that. I would have thought that my taking that potion would make you more inclined to trust me."
Draco laughed bitterly and rested his head on his hands folded in front of him, refusing to look at Potter. "I have a secret of my own," he whispered. "A secret that obsesses me. I read the article and the only thing I could think of was that you somehow survived one of your secrets being discovered and everyone making fun of you. I thought you could teach me how to accept what would happen even if my secret was discovered and—and live with it, somehow. But now I know that you took the risk of your own free will. You can't teach me that. It's not being brave. It's just being mental."
Potter was silent for a long time. Then he said, "I still don't really know what secret you're talking about, Malfoy. It might be any of them." Draco tensed his shoulders, but Potter either didn't notice or didn't think it worth his while to let go of Draco even now. "But I can tell you this: I think that it might help you if I explain to you why I can resist them making fun of me so well."
"You'll say it's because you're Gryffindor and brave," Draco muttered. "You'll say that I could do it, too, if I just paid attention to the Gryffindor side of myself. Or something." Now that he was speaking those words, it seemed ridiculous to him that he had ever gone to Potter for help. Of course Potter was going to echo Dumbledore, who had offered Draco sanctuary right before he died. And those would be the same impossible standards that Draco couldn't live up to without being Sorted into another House.
But unexpectedly, Potter chuckled against his cheek. Draco stiffened. Again, Potter didn't trouble himself to notice. "No. I was almost Sorted into Slytherin, you know? The Hat said that I could do well there, but I wanted to stay with Ron. So I wanted to be somewhere else, and it chose Gryffindor."
Draco had no idea what to stay. The idea seemed almost as strange as the one that said he would stand here in the darkness with Potter's arms wrapped around him, listening to what he said, and feeling no urge to sneer or run away.
Well, all right, the urge to run away was still there, just buried deep. Draco tensed his shoulders as he listened, but Potter kept on talking, his voice as soft and murmurous as a flowing stream.
"I decided that after the war, some things just mattered more to me than others, that's all. It doesn't mean that nothing would ever hurt me again. It means that I wanted to come back to Hogwarts and have a normal year without the Prophet popping up all the time more than I wanted to keep my secrets. And I wanted to be with my friends and talk to them more than I wanted to respond to the Howlers and other nasty messages that people keep sending me because I'm a virgin. And I wanted to find a way to stop the Howlers more than I wanted to avoid doing the work. So I decided to work that way. It gets me angry sometimes. I'm only human." He shifted, and Draco bit his lip to avoid blurting out something stupid about how Potter's chest felt too warm to be human against his back, his heart beating too steadily to be real.
"But I have a shield. That shield is made of all the things I want to do. When someone throws an insult at me, I get angry, but that insult just makes me stronger in the end. Because, later, I don't get hurt by it as much. So they make me stronger and stronger by probing my weaknesses." He chuckled again. "I suppose that I should thank even you for that. You were the one who taught me that insults about my parents don't matter as much as I used to think they do. I don't feel that rush of anger anymore when someone taunts me like I got around you."
Draco swallowed, and swallowed again. Potter stood there, holding him, and it felt better than anything had since Draco had seen that damn article.
"Can you teach me to shield myself that way?" Draco whispered. "Or not? It sounds like you just made a decision. I don't know if I can do that."
"I decided what mattered to me," Potter corrected him, and released him at last. "You make decisions like that all the time. Being back here mattered more to you than the taunts and jinxes you might get, didn't it? I know that you deal with them all the time, but you're here, and you haven't complained to anybody."
Draco know he turned around and gaped. "How did you know about that?"
Potter brushed his hair out of his eyes and closed one in a slow wink. He really did look nothing like he had before the war, Draco thought. He must have been dreaming to see him that way. "I pay attention. What I mean was, you have to think about what you really want. I don't think you have any problem doing that. You even contacted me in the end because you wanted to talk to me more than you worried about exposing your weakness, didn't you?"
Draco thought about it, and realized it was true. He spent some time blinking and opening his mouth, but could find nothing to say.
"That took a kind of courage," said Potter, gentle, understanding. "So. I think I can teach you. Maybe not the way I taught myself, but I spent a lot of time talking to my friends, too." He paused. Draco said nothing about how terrifying he found the idea of opening his soul to other Gryffindors, and Potter finally murmured, "So you want to meet here tomorrow and see if we can talk about this again?"
Draco managed a swallow and a nod. Potter didn't seem to require any other response. He grinned at Draco, said, "Good. It's almost curfew now, and I don't want to get in trouble," and he turned away and faded down the corridor.
Draco stood there for a bit, feeling the cool dampness of the dungeons stroke his forehead like a breeze, and then walked back to the Slytherin common room. He got there just in time, but he didn't hurry. He didn't even pay attention to the people in the common room itself who called out his name, just went upstairs and stretched out on his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
He had nearly forgotten how light it made him feel, to be fearless.
The next day hadn't been too bad, Draco thought, as he paced slowly back and forth in the same corridor he had used to meet Potter last night. He had been afraid that everyone in Slytherin would take one look at him and see his secret emblazoned on his forehead, that he had been talking to Harry Potter in secret and trying to keep something from his Housemates that they could taunt him about.
But people had only noticed him for one prank jinx that he defeated easily, and when they needed him to pass something at the table. It made Draco think back on some of his other interactions with them, and, well…
They just didn't care that much about him. Not like they had at the beginning of the year, when they thought they could take revenge on him with pranks or get entertainment by making him cry. That hadn't been satisfying, so now a lot of them—although not all—would rather go on with their personal lives and ignore him.
Maybe that's another way that Potter managed to handle his virginity revelation. Eventually, a lot of wizards stop caring.
Although they would never care as much about him, because Potter was a celebrity and Draco a lot closer to a nobody. Maybe that would make his life easier.
Draco spun around. He had one hand on his wand before he realized it was just Potter, pulling the hood of his fabled Invisibility Cloak back from his head. Draco nodded stiffly, still a little upset that he hadn't heard Potter coming.
"Have you thought about what I said?" Potter drew his wand, ignoring Draco's start, and conjured a few chairs. Draco sat slowly down in the one that Potter obviously meant him to take. It was hard and wooden, but with a thin cushion on the seat. A neutral chair. "About deciding what you want most of all, and going ahead and taking it?"
"Yes." Draco clenched his hands on the cushion, taking in the reality of it, thin or not. "And I was wondering…do you think that most people don't care about anyone but themselves?"
"I don't know about that," said Potter, with one of those smiles that made Draco wonder what he was seeing. It certainly wasn't anything in this wretched little dungeon corner. But he did take the Cloak off completely and drop it on the floor, and that was a display of some kind of trust. "I think that so many people helped me on the way to defeat Voldemort that I'd be reluctant to make that claim."
Draco shifted restlessly. "But I mean, they care more about their business than your business. Even if they're obsessed with you, they care more about living their lives than sending you Howlers."
"Oh, that kind of uncaring. Right." Potter waved his hand. "Yes, I think a lot of people spend conversations thinking only of what they'll say next, and they'll gossip, but then get bored of stale gossip and switch to another topic when one comes along. I've used that to my advantage several times. People are flattered when you ask them what they think about something, and they'll stop pestering you about battles to talk about that."
"People still do that even though you don't get many letters?"
"Some of the biggest gossips are my fellow Housemates." Potter grimaced a little. "But I keep remembering that I'm going to have a bigger life soon, one that goes beyond Hogwarts, and I won't be around them forever."
Draco leaned slowly back in his chair. "That seems obvious when you say it, but I didn't think about it," he said. When he had envisioned someone discovering that he was a virgin and maliciously spreading the gossip around, he had always pictured another Slytherin. Of course, they were the kind of people who would delight in doing it, but still. He would only have a few more months until his NEWTs, and then that was the end of Hogwarts.
Now, it seemed obvious that he should have thought of that before.
"Oh, don't do that. I can't stand to see people do that."
Draco blinked, realized he was looking at his hands instead of Potter, and stared up at him. Potter had leaned forwards with one hand outstretched. "What? What are you talking about?"
"You're going to beat yourself up for not thinking of something like this before," Potter said, and snapped his fingers at Draco. "Ron does it sometimes when he thinks that new Quidditch moves are so obvious he should have invented them on his own. It's tiresome with him, and it's tiresome with you."
Draco folded his arms and looked away. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time by inviting you here, Potter—"
"And that sanctimonious little dismissal is no better. Hermione does that sometimes." Potter drilled his stare into Draco, who had to admit it was impressive. Probably the kind of stare that Potter had perfected dealing with reporters. "Come on. You know that there's a world beyond Hogwarts now. Or you remember there is. Can't you be happy about that, instead of sulking about it?"
Draco sat up very straight, letting his arms drop to his sides and forcing his face into the haughtiest mask he could make. "Please don't insult me by comparing me to your friends, Potter."
"They'd be just as insulted by the comparison as you are. Console yourself with that, if you want."
Draco smiled. It felt like an alien gesture. Well, he couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled in front of Potter, that was true. Their last few encounters before this one had been the ones that had created the life-debts, and Draco had been screaming or spellcasting or stumbling about. And before, there had been more screaming and sneering and cutting each other open.
Potter closed his eyes in one slow, satisfied blink. "Yes. Exactly. Like that. I think you should smile more often."
"Why?" Draco challenged him, the words tumbling out of him. "I was usually planning some kind of trouble for you when I smiled at you."
"But recall how rarely that trouble came off." Potter slung one leg over the other and smiled comfortably at Draco. "You should do it because it makes you more alive."
"And you want that?" Despite the way Potter had held him last night, despite the way they were talking now, that was news to Draco.
Potter leaned forwards and rested one finger in the center of his chest. "I had enough of the dead during the war. I want everyone alive who can be."
An opportunity to test exactly how alive he should be came the next day, when Draco was writing an essay in the library.
He had drifted into thoughts about Potter and the meeting they had arranged for tomorrow night; Potter had said that his friends would start getting suspicious if they found him out of bed late too many nights in a row. Draco had said he understood, and he did. After his own struggle to keep his secrets in Slytherin, he would have been a fool if he had been offended at what Potter was saying.
But his mind betrayed him now, exploring the way that Potter's face looked when he had smiled, what he had said about Draco smiling, how strange it was to get along with someone he would have derided without stopping before the war, and he forgot to keep his guard up. A pot of tossed ink crashed into his essay, and Draco flinched and flung his arms and wand up before he realized that it hadn't hit him. By then, though, ink was flowing across his essay. A Vanishing Charm would just make the words that he had written disappear along with the spill.
A sixth-year Slytherin Draco knew was called Shedder was laughing across the library, his head buried in his arms. Madam Pince wasn't silencing him; with a single glance at her desk, Draco saw she wasn't there. She was probably scolding someone in another part of the library.
Shedder hadn't missed Draco looking for Madam Pince, and he hooted and wiped away what looked like actual tears. "Poor baby Malfoy, do you need defense and protection against the Big Bad Slytherin?"
Draco stared for a second with his mouth hanging open. Shedder said something else, but he didn't actually hear it. Instead, his rage came to life, gleaming and incandescent, like a crystal his father had once owned filled with fire.
He aimed his wand under the desk, and thought a nonverbal Vanishing Charm. Then he did it aloud, and Shedder and the two girls sitting with him laughed as the mess and the essay both disappeared from his parchment.
Draco gathered up his things and turned and walked out of the library. But he didn't go far. There was a little alcove down the corridor where a suit of armor had once stood, and Draco lingered there, listening.
A second later, Shedder shrieked.
Draco smiled. He had become skilled with nonverbal magic of necessity in the past year, and his much more powerful Vanishing Charm had got rid of the words not only in Shedder's essay on the table but in several of his textbooks.
Shedder might tell one of the professors, of course, but doing so would be a confession of weakness, just like Draco going to one of the professors about Shedder's prank would have been. In Slytherin House, you were supposed to hold your own and either make others too afraid of you to attack you, or take vengeance in a clever way—which Draco had done.
Besides, Draco hadn't been in much trouble this year, bar the times that he had stayed up too late reading the article about Potter in the paper and been sleepy in class the next day. If the professor Shedder complained to asked why Draco had used the Vanishing Charm, what Shedder had done would come out.
Draco strutted part of the way back down to the Slytherin common room. He would have to spend time rewriting his essay, of course, but that was okay. He remembered most of the conclusions he had come up with, and a lot of the words were quotes from his Potions book, anyway.
He passed Potter, accompanied by his two friends, in the corridor nearest the dungeons. Potter gave him a single intense look. Draco pretended he hadn't noticed.
But he received an owl at dinner that night that said simply, Well done. And the owl sat on the back of his chair, waiting for a reply.
Draco raised his eyebrows and wrote on the back of the same sheet of parchment, For what? You can't possibly know what happened.
The owl whirled away and out, not returning to Potter, probably so as to avoid the obvious conclusions other people would draw. But it flew into the dungeons to Draco that night, and he ignored the stares as he opened the message.
You were smiling. Thank you.
Potter laughed when Draco finished telling him the story of Shedder and the ink, and what Draco had done in retaliation.
Draco was glad that Potter had his eyes shut while he laughed, his face lowered and his forehead resting on his hands as he whooped, because that way, he wouldn't see Draco staring like an idiot.
But Draco couldn't help it. He had never heard Potter laugh like this, sincere and open and free. He chuckled cruelly when Draco was around, but that was about it. This—this was the kind of laughter that could make someone gladly follow him, maybe give up their lives for him.
Draco shook his head sharply and managed to stop thinking that way, just in time. Potter was brushing the tears of laughter out of his eyes, and now he leaned forwards with a bright, hungry smile.
"No one tried to get you back for that?"
"No one's tried, yet," said Draco. Of course, Slytherins could brood on revenge a long time and extract it when their victims thought it was long over, but he didn't think Shedder was that kind of person. He hadn't looked at Draco since the incident in the library, in fact, and had taken pains to avoid sitting near him at the table in the Great Hall or being alone with him in the common room. "Someone might, but not yet."
"Good." Potter leaned back in the chair he had conjured for himself tonight, a thick, soft armchair with red and gold fluffy cushions. Draco had one that was identical, except for being silver and green.
Draco decided that Potter being in a mellow mood made this a perfect time to ask questions. "Why do we have more comfortable chairs tonight? Is it something I did to earn it?" Potter hadn't known exactly what Draco had done to retaliate against Shedder, of course, but he had known Draco had done something according to his instructions.
Potter peered at him curiously under one dark curl of hair. "No, of course not. I just hadn't conjured chairs in a while, and I had to look up the spell to make them more comfortable. And different colors, too."
"Oh." Draco flushed a bit, and leaned back in his chair, shifting restlessly. "So what do you think should happen now?"
"You took one risk," Potter said, gazing thoughtfully at Draco. "Even if you thought Shedder wasn't the kind of person who would try to get revenge on you right away, it's still a risk."
Draco nodded, impressed that someone other than him had recognized that. Perhaps what Potter had said about being almost Sorted into Slytherin had some merit after all. "Then what kind of risk should I take next?"
Potter paused. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle and low. "I don't think I should tell you that."
"Why not?" Draco sat up, bristling. "Does your tolerance towards me only go so far, and this is the limit?"
"You're so quick to see insults everywhere," Potter sighed. Draco gave him a pointed look, and Potter lifted one hand. "All right, so you have reason to. But I think that you have to start deciding on your own course of action. For example, this secret you mentioned that made you seek me out. Is there any way that you can protect it?"
"No," said Draco fiercely. He had thought and thought of that, but there were no spells that would defend him against every circumstance that could reveal he was still a virgin. "I just have to keep on going and hope no one ever finds out."
"Okay," said Potter, his voice gentle. "But what if that's not sustainable in the long run? Have you thought about entrusting your secret to someone else and letting them help you hide it?"
Draco tightened his hands on the arms of his chair, which no longer comforted him. "I can't bear what you did, with so many people screaming at you about being a virgin and sending Howlers to…" What, exactly? "Why did they send you the Howlers? Did they think you would sleep with them if they insulted you?"
Potter gave him a single piercing glance, and then relaxed and laughed. "I never figured out the purpose of that any more than I did some of the plans Voldemort used against me. It's all stupid. I don't think you would have as great a problem, though. You don't have as many people interested in your personal life."
"But I have plenty of people who want to humiliate me."
Potter nodded, accepting that more easily than Draco had thought he would. "True enough. Okay. That's out. Why don't you think of something else you can do, something that will make you happy and comfort you even if it doesn't really reduce the risk that someone will discover your secret?"
"Talking like this with you makes me happy."
Potter smiled. "And I'm glad of it," he said, so softly Draco almost asked him to repeat it. But Potter was continuing. "But something else. I know that you're not on the Quidditch team this season, but what about flying? Can you do that?"
"That's not much fun without someone to compete against." Draco had thought about fighting for re-entrance onto the Slytherin Quidditch team, but Potter wasn't playing, concentrating on his NEWTs instead, and Draco meant what he'd said. It had never been Quidditch itself that fascinated him, not once he saw the way Potter flew. It had been playing the opposite side of a game from him.
Potter gave him a smile with lots and lots of teeth. "Then I'll have to see what I can do about that, too."
Draco walked into the middle of the Quidditch pitch, his hand firm on the broom that dangled at his side. He saw some people who were studying sprawled beside the lake or having a class with the new Care of Magical Creatures professor turn to look at him. He managed to ignore the crawling sensation on the nape of his neck. Potter had promised to meet him here, and that was what mattered.
He waited. The sunlight and the glares both grew warmer. Draco could feel a blush heating up his face in response, despite the gentle breeze that had initially made it a pleasure to be outside. He wondered if Potter meant to keep his word after all, if meeting in the daylight was somehow different to meeting at night—
"There you are! Sorry, I had to explain to Ron several times why he couldn't come along."
Draco turned around and managed a distant nod that he didn't think showed the relief cascading through him. "You didn't want Weasley to see that you're playing with me?"
Potter paused and tossed that curl of hair out of his eyes again, staring at Draco intently. "Thank you for not calling him Weasel," he said.
Draco snorted despite himself. "Give me some credit for a little vital diplomacy, Potter."
"All right," said Potter, in a horribly happy voice that Draco suspected heralded nothing good headed his way. "I will." He swung his leg over his broom. Draco cocked his head. It was a Firebolt, but a different one than the broom Potter had ridden when they were playing—before the war wasn't such a bad term, Draco supposed.
"What happened to your other broom?" Draco asked.
"The war," Potter said, and a second later, he was circling smoothly above Draco. "I brought the Snitch," Potter added, holding up something gleaming and golden. "Shall we play?"
Draco bristled a little, more irritated by that short reply than he wanted to admit, but nodded and kicked his own broom into flight. He felt the breeze increase, the blueness of the sky change around him, the early autumn warmth become cold.
But most of all, he saw the way that Potter flashed his eyes at him before he threw the Snitch as far away as he could.
Draco dived at once. Potter followed. Draco jigged up beneath the Snitch and swept a hand towards it.
That made the Snitch dive, too, right into the trap of Draco's other hand waiting to snatch it. Potter laughed breathlessly and circled up right beneath Draco, one hand out.
"Good catching! Now it's my turn."
Draco smiled and held out his hand as though he was going to drop the Snitch into Potter's palm the way he'd suggested. He waited until Potter was leaning off his broom in his eagerness to take the little ball, then swiveled around and tossed the Snitch all the way to the other end of the pitch.
Potter whooped and took off after it. His new Firebolt was fast, but Draco had learned to get the best effort out of his own broom during the summer, when he'd taken to obsessive flying to try and calm his nerves about his trial. He drew even with Potter rapidly, the wind stinging both of them, whipping color into Potter's cheeks and his hair around hard enough that Draco had to duck.
Potter whooped at him again. Draco grinned in answer.
Then Potter dived. Draco paced him, too intent on watching his face to really look around and see whether Potter had spotted the Snitch.
It turned out he hadn't. Potter leaned to the right and drove his broom around and up and back to the reaches of the skies; it had been a feint. But since Draco came up with him and they rose together, it was wasted.
I made him do something that was useless, Draco thought, and his heartbeat was drumming hard enough that his breastbone felt hollow. Something he didn't want to do. I fell for his trick, but I made him waste it anyway.
Potter looked at him heavy-eyed as if he knew what Draco was thinking, snorted, and went up at such a steep angle that Draco knew it would tear his broom apart if he tried to follow. He circled below instead, and turned his head to the left, and there was the telltale gleam of gold there. He immediately charged ahead.
Potter had, somehow, probably by watching Draco more than he'd admit he did, seen what he was doing, and he was coming straight back down. Draco cried out, gone breathless with the wind in his teeth.
But he was racing, and he was the one who was going in the right direction, and he was the one with his hand out.
The Snitch hit hard enough to spin him around. But Draco still mastered his broom when it wanted to dip towards the ground, and he clenched his knees hard and his hand harder. Potter blew past him a second later, but not in time to take the Snitch away.
Still, watching the way Potter's teeth were bared when he circled back around, Draco knew a moment of apprehension. Would Potter hate Draco for catching the Snitch twice in the middle of a single game?
"What a game!"
No, Draco realized, dazed. Potter, instead, was shaking his head at Draco, and his grin was as wide and sincere as the ones Draco had seen him offer his friends when he was being taunted by the Howlers.
"You've improved," said Potter, and dangled upside-down from his broom a short distance from Draco as though that would enable him to see Draco better. His face was gleaming with sweat and sunshine. He put out a hand, and Draco clasped the Snitch a little closer to his chest in instinctive response. Potter snorted. "No, idiot, that's me wanting to shake your hand because it was a good game."
"Someone who calls me an idiot sure sounds like he admires me," Draco muttered, but he stretched out his arm in response. Potter took it and shook it hard enough to hurt his wrist, which really wasn't the plan, but he didn't resist when Draco pulled it back.
"That's it," Potter said, his quiet voice making a little space of privacy for them both above the pitch, even though the people on the ground were yelling up at them now and some who had brooms were rising rapidly. He wouldn't look away from Draco's eyes, and Draco found it equally hard to do the same with Potter's face.
"That's you coming back to life," Potter whispered. "That's what I like to see."
And before Draco could do anything or say anything, even to arrange for their next nighttime meeting, Potter turned and flew towards his clamoring fans. Draco could hear his voice from this distance, laughingly answering questions, saying the game was great, that he had wanted to play with Malfoy and Malfoy had obliged him, giving Draco the time and ability to slip away if he wanted.
Draco took it, for now. He slipped down and landed on the pitch and was inside the castle before anyone could get away from Potter. He reached the Slytherin common room in the calm assurance that no one was looking for him, because that was the way Potter had arranged it.
Because he had assumed that was the way Draco wanted it.
But although he took his usual place in his bed and drew the curtains shut, Draco was no longer perfectly sure that it was.
"Malfoy. Oi, Malfoy!"
Draco despised the way that the word and his name rhymed, but he turned about obediently. It wasn't usual for Weasley to talk to him since the war. The possibility that he was delivering some message from Potter wasn't out of the question.
But Weasley walked up to him with his arms folded and a scowl in place. Draco sighed to himself. He should have heeded the silent warning of his own gut and just kept going. Let Weasley jog to keep up for once.
"What?" Draco snapped. Weasley had at least chosen a moment when lots of students were already vanished from the corridors, on their way to class, but that meant Draco was going to be late in a second, too.
"I want to know why you were playing Quidditch with Harry the other day."
Draco opened his mouth, and the words that came out were nothing like the ones he had imagined speaking, certainly nothing like the ones that he would have spoken just a day ago if Weasley talked to him. "Hasn't he told you? I've been blackmailing him with the threat of telling everyone how he owes me a life-debt if he doesn't do what I say."
Hilariously, Weasley checked in a way that indicated he believed him for a second, his mouth hanging open. Then he snorted. "That's ridiculous. Even if he cared about the life-debt, Harry wouldn't care that you'd told anyone about it!"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Right. I know. The Great and Grand Potter is the one who doesn't have to worry about hiding secrets. Why don't you ask him, then? He'd probably tell you."
Draco felt a tremor as he spoke the words, wondering exactly whether Potter held other people's secrets as casually as he did his own. He couldn't tell Draco's secret to his friends because he didn't know what it was, but he might take the stance that Draco should be courageous enough to have the secret of his meetings with Potter blabbed all over Gryffindor Tower.
Weasley narrowed his eyes, probably reassured by the flickers and twitches of nervousness he could see on Draco's face. "I just might." He turned and marched away.
Draco's fingers twitched with the impulse to call Weasley back, or at least snatch his wand and cast a Memory Charm. What if he wasn't brave enough? What if Potter thought Draco was brave enough and made everything worse? Weasley was the last person Draco would choose to know anything about him.
Then he cocked his head, remembering. Potter would say that it was only a secret, and Draco might even be stronger for the way it had been revealed. And this was a much less damaging secret than the one about Draco's virginity.
I think Potter likes me enough not to betray me, either. He wouldn't conjure padded chairs for just anybody. He learned the spell to make me more comfortable.
But Potter's friends were his best friends, and he might tell them anything they wanted to know…
Trusting someone was more terrifying than thinking about someone taking his secret had been. But in the end, Draco managed to turn his back on Weasley and walk to his rooms. He would have to hope that Potter was really as trustworthy as Draco thought he was.
"Malfoy. Can I talk to you?"
Draco turned around, making sure to keep the slight, bored smile on his face. They were in public, and Potter hadn't told his friends about Draco's secret—Draco knew that, for certain, or he would already have begun to face the taunting—but he didn't know what Potter wanted.
"Of course," said Draco, when Potter only stood there, behind his table in the library, and seemed to wait for actual permission. He rested his hands on the table and scanned Potter from head to foot. "Is there something I can do for you? Fashion advice, perhaps?"
A faint smile crossed Potter's face, and then he leaned one hip on the table and regarded Draco earnestly. Draco waited. He didn't think that Potter would want him to betray how wildly his heart thumped and his smile wanted to broaden. He was sure that Potter would say that he was supposed to be more courageous than that.
"I'd like to talk with you." Potter's voice had dropped, suddenly, and the people seated at the tables around them felt as if they were no more present than one of Draco's nightmares during the day. "Tonight, in the usual place?"
"Of course," repeated Draco, but he did wonder why Potter wanted to renew their nightly talks when it had been several days since their Quidditch game, and they hadn't met at all in their time. "Does this have to do with your friends?"
Potter studied the far wall in a way that made Draco certain it was, but why Potter was hesitating this way, he couldn't imagine. After all, this was Potter. If he wanted to tell Draco off for being rude to his friends—not that Draco had been, but what a Gryffindor and a Slytherin called rude were not the same thing—he would have just blasted his lungs about it, probably to the entire library.
"No," said Potter abruptly, and Draco started. He had been too interested in watching the corners of Potter's eyes and jaw, as if they contained the message he had been waiting for. "Why should I keep it secret?" He turned and looked at Draco. "I think I might know what you're hiding. And I want to discuss it."
Draco's whole body chilled then. If Potter had cast a Frost Charm, he couldn't have frozen Draco to the chair more effectively.
It didn't matter that Draco trusted Potter not to betray it now, and especially not to betray it to his friends. Draco just wondered how Potter had found out. Draco knew it wasn't from Legilimency; he would have recognized the feel of that, after the many torture sessions of it he'd suffered under dear Aunt Bellatrix and the Dark Lord. But that meant it was something unconscious, and other people might read the clues Draco had been sending out and come to the same conclusion.
And then the humiliation would come. No matter how brave he had become about some things, Draco found the imagined threat of people knowing he was a virgin and pitying him for it was as potent as ever. He had been fooling himself to think he could stand up to it.
He rose to his feet, fingers shaking, and started gathering his books and papers. Potter's smile became perplexed. He shook his head. "Where are you going? I can't meet now, I have Divination in a bit."
Draco managed a sneer at the name of such a useless class, but it was so half-hearted that he thought Potter would probably see right through it. "You know my secret. You must despise me for it. That's—I know you wouldn't—but other people. I can't face it." He turned away and started trotting towards the door out of the library.
The one word that would manage to stop him, and of course Potter found it. Draco shut his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. The doorframe of the library? He didn't even know if he had come that far. He couldn't open his eyes and check. Not when he heard Potter's footsteps approaching behind him, and he knew that he would stay if he looked into his eyes.
"You must despise me," he whispered, a kind of truth that would protect him, even though he had no idea if that was true anymore.
That was Potter's hand on his shoulder, Potter's breath warm in his ear, and Draco shuddered all over. "Even if you don't despise me, I can't talk about this here," he said, truth wrung out of him, and Potter must have heard it as truth, because he paused.
He didn't retreat, though. Draco would think about that, later, and all the things that it could mean.
"All right," Potter said, finally, softly. "But I do need to talk to you. Tonight, at ten, in the usual place?"
Draco nodded, jerk of his head and another jerk, and then he finally pulled free and ran. He could feel Potter standing behind him, and the gaze pursuing him, the gaze of the one person he had learned to trust and so couldn't hide or run from.
He made it to the Slytherin common room unmolested, but flinched away from going to his bedroom. He would only be tempted to get the paper out again, the one with the article about Potter's virginity—although he hadn't actually looked at it since he started meeting the real Potter—and then he would obsess over the meeting. He flung himself on a couch and reached for a book instead.
Draco looked up, tense and rigid with rage. Shedder, the one who had spoken to him, didn't seem to realize that. He leaned in, mouth set in a friendly smile but eyes hot, one hand on his wand. He'd obviously got his courage up for vengeance after all. "I owe you one," he whispered.
Draco didn't even think, didn't even pause to consider that his mind was filled with Potter; he just reacted. "Serpensortia!"
The sneak leaped from his wand and nearly hit Shedder in the face. Shedder screamed and flinched backwards, one hand coming up to protect himself. The serpent writhed around and sank its fangs into his arm.
Draco was the only one who knew that he'd conjured a snake with painful but not fatal poison. No one else knew that, and people were shrieking all around him.
Draco stood up. "Leave him," he commanded the snake, and made sure that everyone could hear him. He couldn't speak Parseltongue, but that wasn't going to matter, not if he could make Shedder and anyone who might support him see that Draco wasn't a helpless target for their boredom anymore.
The serpent slithered back and curled around his ankles. Draco glanced briefly at it, because taking his eyes off Shedder for too long could be fatal for him right now. The snake had bright green scales and a black edge to them, but no actual hood or black throat. Not a cobra or a black mamba, then. Shedder was lucky.
"I'll tell the professors about this! You'll get expelled!"
Draco looked at Shedder again. Shedder's voice seemed to wither and die in his throat. A second later, he did make a sound, but that was to clutch the arm the snake had bitten and moan pitifully.
"Maybe I will," Draco said softly. "And then I'll have no restrictions holding me back, will I? I'll be outside the protection of the school, and I won't have any reason not to kill you because you're a member of my House and someone I see every day."
Shedder stared at him only a second later before he turned and ran, whimpering. Draco spun slowly in place, meeting fascinated stare after stare. Some people turned away; some people whispered without taking their gazes from him.
"Anyone else who thinks that they can do whatever they like with me?" Draco gave them a thin smile. "You should tell your friends that times have changed."
And then he did go to his bedroom, accompanied by the snake, in the sure and certain knowledge that no one would follow him. He lay down on his bed, pulled the curtains shut, and let the snake coil around his arm.
Would Potter be pleased with the kind of courage Draco had found? Maybe not. But Draco had found it.
Draco brought the snake with him when he went down to his meeting with Potter. He thought he should know right away how Potter was going to react to it.
Potter stepped into the little dungeon corridor, saw the serpent around Draco's neck, and went still.
"Well?" Draco raised his head. He realized that he was shaking, a little. He didn't want Potter to abandon him. He didn't want the understanding he thought they had to dissolve because of misunderstandings.
But it was probably going to do that anyway. If Potter had figured out his secret, really figured it out, he would be laughing up his sleeve. He might have decided to get his virginity out there and deal with the people who despised him for it, but—
Potter opened his mouth and spoke, but not to him. The delicate flutter of hissing made Draco's snake raise its head, mouth agape for a second as if it couldn't believe what it was hearing. Then it hissed back.
Draco felt as shut out of the conversation as he had one of the few times a wizard from France came to converse with his father and they spoke in French. He folded his arms instead. "The newspaper didn't say you could still speak Parseltongue," he said.
"Well, they didn't care about it, did they," Potter said, turning to look directly at him. "They only cared about stupid things like my virginity." He hissed at the snake again, and the snake twined down Draco's arm and dropped on the floor, then slithered away down the corridor. Draco watched it go gloomily. He doubted he would see it again.
"So if you think it's stupid to be concerned about that, you really must despise me," Draco said.
"You're fixated on that." Potter hadn't conjured the chairs for them this time. Instead, he moved a step towards Draco. "Why would a virgin despise another virgin? I'm more interested in how you got the snake."
"Serpensortia," Draco snapped. "Cast at someone who bothered me right after you did, in the library."
"So you finally struck back in a way that they couldn't ignore." Potter gave him a fierce, approving grin. "Good. Keep the snake. I told him to defend you anyway. He should last longer and be more loyal than most of the other ones you could conjure with that spell."
"You—" Draco stopped, at a loss. "I thought you would think I was being a bully for doing it," he finally said.
"No," said Potter. "Not after some of the things I had to do, which were a lot worse. I know you wouldn't kill anyone." He paused, then added, "And I get being tired of people picking on you and lashing out."
He looked Draco in the eye, and Draco swallowed again. "And it's not bad after some of the things you had to do."
Draco closed his eyes. "You know about them."
"Yes," said Potter, with a clear tone in his voice, not an apology. "I had a connection to Voldemort that let me see what he was seeing at the moment. I saw you being used like a torturer. Treated as worse than a dog." From the sound of his steps, he was coming nearer, and Draco shouldn't have jumped like a spider when Potter's hand came down on his shoulder, but he did anyway. "You could have done worse," he repeated.
Draco looked bleakly at him. "How did you learn I was a virgin?"
Potter, good for him, didn't make a speech about how it was fine to be a virgin and Draco was just overreacting. He nodded slightly instead and said, "The way you emphasized it when you said that you couldn't put up with people sending Howlers to you because of your virginity. It made sense to me that that was the particular secret you were trying to protect, not another one."
Draco nodded back. So it was his own obsession that had betrayed him. He ought to have known that. Obsession was what had betrayed the Dark Lord into losing the war and his father into losing a house-elf and a lot of other people Draco knew into losing a lot of other things.
"I don't know why you look like your grave's going to open up and swallow you." Potter sounded offended, and Draco's gaze snapped to him. Was the old Potter going to return, the one who could make even Draco's own grief all about himself?
But instead, Potter confronted him the way he had confronted Draco about Quidditch in the past, the way he had confronted him about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with anything but each other. "You have to know that I would never betray your secret."
Draco sighed. A misunderstanding in a different way. "I know that, Potter. You've changed, and I appreciate it."
Potter paused, then eased back onto his heels. "Then why are you so devastated I discovered it?"
"Because that means other people might." Draco swept his hand over his face. "You didn't do it by asking me, you just happened to find out. There are people in Slytherin who are going to be watching me day and night now. They could do the same thing you did." He looked up, saw Potter watching him with a slightly dropped jaw, and had to snort. "No offense, Potter, but you aren't uniquely smart."
"I don't understand, though," Potter said. "If it bothers you that much, why not just get rid of it?"
It took Draco a long moment to understand what he meant. Then he crossed his arms, and looked into the dungeon corridors, wondering where his snake was.
The more times Potter called him that, the more immune he ought to be to it, but that didn't seem to be the way it worked. Draco's body still shook and jolted from it as though Potter had plucked a heartstring. "Because I don't trust anyone enough," he muttered. "Because I don't trust them not to run off and blab to someone for the gossip, at least if they're in Slytherin. And the other Houses and Muggles are just—out of the question."
Another thoughtful silence from behind him. Draco expected the speech this time about how it wasn't so bad and there were other solutions.
And Potter did say that, but not in a way that Draco'd expected. "Well, what about me?"
Draco spun around, quickly enough that he almost fell. He caught himself against a wall, and stared. Potter only stood where he'd been, and considered Draco with the same intent expression.
Draco immediately scorned himself for stuttering, but it didn't seem Potter did. He smiled instead, a long, slow, deep smile that started from somewhere down inside him and burst out like a flowering plant.
"See," Potter said casually as he started walking towards Draco, "it's mere chance what the Daily Prophet reporter found out and what he didn't. He asked if I was a virgin, and I had to answer honestly. But he didn't ask about the Parseltongue." He stopped a short distance from Draco and put up a hand on the wall as though he needed the support to lean nearer to Draco's fascinated, staring face. "And he didn't ask what sex I actually prefer."
"Which one do you prefer?" Draco breathed. He couldn't lose his sense of being in a privileged, small confined space, learning ancient secrets. It was like finding a library stuffed with rare Dark Arts books. It was like having Viktor Krum give him private lessons in Seeking. It was like—
It was like being with Potter, and Draco's obsession with the newspaper article and even with Potter in general in the last few years suddenly looked different to him.
"Boys a little more," Potter said. "I still like girls, but I've never had the chance to be with a boy. Never had a chance to be with anyone, really, if you want to talk about more than kissing." He was grinning wildly, and moved a hand to Draco's shoulder. "See, I'm still a virgin, too. And now that everyone's had a chance to get used to it and it's not as interesting anymore, I'm getting a little bored with it."
Draco bit his lip. His heart hammered wildly. His mouth said, "But you don't know if I prefer boys."
"Oh, yeah," said Potter, with a wave of his hand that made that an easily solved problem. "But you trust me enough to tell me, right?"
"Right," said Draco, and stood there blinking some more. Potter waited for him, although the soft shine in his eyes said that he was a little amused.
Draco trusted him enough to turn his attention inwards, though, and reason through some of the things he was feeling, the same way Potter had trusted Draco enough not to run away or be angry about Potter's interference with his snake.
To be honest, he hadn't thought about it before. He had taken Pansy to the Yule Ball. He had graced a few Slytherin girls with his attention in the days before he became a Death Eater, when they still clamored for it. And then he was Marked, and his life vanished into a haze of pain and fear and desperation. He tried to remember, for the first time, if he'd even thought about sex during those years. Probably not. He was too afraid that the Dark Lord would see it. And wanking was out of the question, with Fenrir Greyback around to "help" if he caught him.
"I don't know," Draco said, deciding finally that was the only honest answer, and he wanted honesty right now. "I don't know what I prefer."
"Then let's see," said Potter, and leaned in with his hands on the walls around Draco's head now—Draco had even trusted him enough to let him come close and do that without paying attention—and kissed him.
Draco gasped in surprise. Potter took advantage of that, slipping his tongue in and tasting Draco's mouth with the same carefulness and thoughtfulness that seemed to come naturally to him since the war.
Draco couldn't let Potter have all the fun, and he didn't know if he could answer Potter's question without some experimentation of his own. So he put his hands on Potter's shoulders, and rocked him back until Potter's tongue had to retreat a little, and then he went and explored.
Potter's mouth shattered some of his preconceptions. It was hotter than he'd known a mouth could be, and it tasted better, even though what it mostly tasted like was heat. Draco groped down Potter's shoulders and chest and thought he was supposed to do something else with his hands, but mostly what he wanted to do was kiss.
"You do like boys?"
Potter had pulled enough away to gasp that. That was simply not acceptable. Draco gave a brisk nod and reeled him back in with a hand on the nape of his neck.
But he felt that skin beneath his fingertips, and it was salty and sweaty and warm, too, and interesting. So Draco used one hand to slide beneath Potter's shirt, once his tongue was back in Potter's mouth and he was reassured that Potter wasn't going anywhere.
Potter's skin flexed with his breath, with the beat of his heart, with a thousand miniature living processes that hadn't even occurred to Draco until he felt them. And now that he could touch them, he wanted to touch them more.
So he pulled away, promised himself another kiss in just a minute, and dived for his wand. When he came back up, he Vanished Potter's shirt, wandlessly, and had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes widen.
"Good," Draco explained simply, and Vanished his own shirt, because it had occurred to him that Potter might like to touch Draco's chest, too, and he resumed the kiss.
Potter pushed him back against the wall like a wild animal, cutting and sucking and biting at Draco's mouth with his own mouth. Draco hissed in utter pleasure. This was something he hadn't known existed, this competition. Sure, he'd kissed someone before. That didn't make it like this.
Potter squirmed against him, and at least Draco had the comfort of knowing that he was affected much the same way.
Well. And the comfort of trusting Potter. That was probably bigger, honestly.
"Come on," Potter said, and Draco tried to ask through the kiss, without stopping it, what he meant, and then Potter snarled and hooked his ankles around Draco's ankles, pulling Draco towards him and himself towards Draco, so they stumbled and met somewhere in the middle of the corridor, but nearer the wall.
And their groins came together.
Draco gasped aloud. This was heat he hadn't known existed, groins butting into one another, hands entwining, anxious and impatient thrusting that meant he could feel Potter's hardness against his own, and no, he hadn't known he could be this hard…
His hands clawed at Potter's shoulders. Potter clawed at his, and then managed to get them close enough together that they were pressed against each other from shoulders to groin. Draco shuddered at the delicious feel of it, taking a moment to appreciate the sheer sensation of thigh touching thigh, his nipples glinting with tiny flashes of fire.
Potter shuddered back, and said something so guttural and low that Draco didn't understand it. But he didn't need to understand the language of Potter's words when he could understand the language of his body, the way it moved, the mouth that turned up under his expecting another kiss, and the way that their erections thrust and brushed and thrust against each other.
It was that kind of moment when Draco knew he was wild with trust and pleasure and half-anger that it felt so good—but he couldn't stop because it felt so good.
The moment when he slumped against Potter and shuddered again, shuddering out his orgasm, was nearly silent. He couldn't say anything. He was saying it all in the mouth he clasped over Potter's once more and the hands that trailed down his chest in languorous silence.
Potter made more than enough noise to make up for his lack, although it was only tilting back his head and hissing hard through parted teeth. It still seemed the end of silence for Draco, the moment when he crashed back into his body and felt the uncomfortable stickiness in his pants and the wetness translating to his robes and wondered if the taste of blood in his mouth was real and where his conjured serpent had got to.
And what they would do next.
Potter stirred while Draco was still thinking about that and whispered into Draco's ear, "Tell you a secret."
Reluctantly, Draco nodded, before he could think about it. And he wasn't eager to let Potter out of his arms, which was at least some kind of indication.
"I don't know what to say," Potter confessed, still whispering. "Because I've never had a moment afterwards like this, you see. Because I was a virgin."
Draco chuckled before he could think about his response, and Potter stopped back with a small, bright smile. "Good," he said. "So. That was fun, and I'd like to do it again." He examined Draco with an equally bright but much more challenging eye. "The only question is, will you let me do more than that?"
"Go—further?" The thought would have been unthinkable this morning, but Draco was only eager now to see if it would feel good.
"That would be nice, but I wasn't talking about that. I mean, if we decided that we wanted to, would you let me be with you in public?"
Draco waited, and waited. Potter stared at him curiously. Finally he asked, "What are you doing? I'm the one who asked the question."
"I was waiting for my insides to freeze," Draco said. "But they didn't."
Potter gave him another smile, deeper and warmer, the sort of smile that could be lifelong. "So that means you'll consider it?"
"Hmmm," said Draco, reaching out and feeling the back of Potter's neck. It no longer fascinated him the way it had when he was touching it in the middle of the kiss, maybe because it wasn't as warm or new. But it still felt pretty bloody good. "I might enjoy having Harry Potter as my secret lover. All to myself, where no one else could interfere."
Potter caught his hands, reaching backwards for the one, forwards for the other. "But not as much as I would enjoy having Draco Malfoy openly as mine."
"You do…" Draco gasped when he could recover.
"What?" Potter leaned near, concerned. "What stole all your air? I should be the only one to do that."
"You do know the exact right thing to say," Draco pointed out, and grabbed Potter's mouth and neck again, and dragged him in against him.
As Potter made a contented purr and settled closer, Draco thought he could trade the death of one secret and the potential public disapproval for the discovery of two more secrets: how good Potter could make him feel fucking, and how fucking good courage felt.