When Harry stumbled through the massive grate of 12 Grimmauld Place, he immediately knew that something was wrong. There was no whistling that alerted him that the kettle was on, no sound of turning pages from the sitting room, no sound of lithe footsteps in the bedroom— no sound of life, whatsoever.
Nonetheless, he tried to stifle the gnawing worry and panic that was brewing in the back of his mind. He called out, tentatively, "I'm home!"
He waited, but still only silence greeted him.
He tried again, "Hello?"
Harry whipped around at the sound of dragging footsteps, only to be greeted by an old, graying house elf. Kreacher bowed deeply, nose almost touching the floor, "Welcome, master."
"Welcome," Harry muttered distractedly, "Have you seen Draco?"
"Master Draco is not home."
"Did Master Draco happen to mention where he was going?"
"He is saying nothing, sir. Is only asking Kreacher to give Master Harry this," Kreacher said, handing a piece of parchment to Harry.
"Oh," Harry breathed, worry filling his mind yet again, "Er, thanks."
He took a deep breath and unfolded the parchment, steadying himself for impending heartbreak. What Harry saw knocked the breath out of him, but for a much different reason than that of his expectations. He stared at the elegant cursive, unable to stomach the letters they formed. Two words— the parchment held only two words but they were enough to tip his world upside down.
"How long has he been gone, Kreacher?"
"As long as master's being in the wizard hole, Kreacher thinks," the house-elf said, bowing deeply again.
Harry tried to count back to the hours he's been away at the Ministry, and his frown deepened. Seven hours. Draco's been keeping this to himself for seven hours. Harry pushes back the slight sting in his chest on why Draco didn't come to him sooner, maybe send an owl to inform him. He sighs. This was not about him. He knew Draco well enough to know his reasons behind his actions, and knew well enough not to question them on unfounded hunches.
He looks at the parchment again before he mutters, "Don't wait up."
And then Harry set out with a purpose, the two words still engraved in the back of his mind.
Harry didn't know what he expected when he stepped foot into the large entrance hall. Maybe he expected drapes of black cloth, or a pavilion of flowers lining up the walls, maybe he expected house-elves scrambling back and forth trying to fix whatever needed fixing before other guests arrived. Because he knew other guests would arrive, Draco would not have it any other way. It was only a matter of when they would start arriving.
But Malfoy Manor looked the same as it always did. Save for the telling silence that echoed through the halls as Tippy escorted him to the West Wing, where she has informed him that— "Master Draco is brooding. He is scaring the elves, he is."
Harry pushed down the bout of unease in his stomach. He knew what Tippy meant. Draco rarely shuts up, more so on a bad day. That he was reduced to this... Only once has he been faced with a brooding Draco, and it did not bode well for him. The house elf left him in front of a large wooden door, bowing slightly as she left him with a worried, almost frantic look in her eyes as she disapparated with a quiet pop.
Harry peered inside and ignored the sudden lump in his throat. Draco's back was to him, facing the large portrait that now hung beside Lucius Malfoy's, but even from this distance Harry could see the tight lines on his shoulders, the too stiff upright posture.
Draco didn't turn, he didn't say a word, but the slight ease from the tension of his shoulders was enough of an acknowledgement for Harry. He went to stand beside Draco, ignoring the narrowed eyes that he was so used to receiving from the other generations of Malfoys. His hand brushed slightly against Draco's pale one.
"Draco..." Harry started.
"Please, don't," Draco said, sounding almost pained, "You don't know what it feels like to lose a mother."
It was only then that Harry looked at the portrait of the woman in front of him. It echoed the woman he remembered in the forest eight years ago— beautiful, harsh aristocratic features, eyes that flashed with grim determination. But he knew her better now, knew the kindness that made the cold color soften, knew the love that could make her entire face glow. And he couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow as he looked into those stormy eyes and remembered a different set of eyes.
Different, but oh so similar.
Eyes that belonged to a different face that held a playful smirk and its own roguish beauty. Eyes that once shone with love for Harry, love that could have rivaled his mother and father's.
"I... apologize," Draco's voice snapped him out of his thoughts, "That was quite insensitive of me."
He watched as Draco closed his eyes, and he saw how the stiff set of his shoulders melted away, how the blank, detached expression crumbled into a sorrow so deep that it pained Harry to look further. Suddenly, there were no words that could be said. Harry held out his hand in silent offering.
Draco gazed at it for a second, before allowing a small smile to appear on his lips. He reached for the hand and held it firmly. The two boys were silent for a while, fingers twined together, merely looking as Narcissa blinked down on them from her portrait. The slight tug of her lips was now so familiar to Harry— the way it was there one second and gone the next, the way it spoke of secrets shared between them, and the way it was always, always accompanied by such a knowing look that almost made Harry squirm like a guilty little school boy.
He felt like squirming under her studying gaze now, as she sent him that look again. Like she knew something that Harry didn't.
Then Draco turned around, and seemed to curl up on himself, shocking Harry into remembering the vulnerable sixteen-year-old trying to hide his tears in the girl's bathroom.
"You're right," Harry told Draco, his tone careful and a little wary, "I don't know what it feels like," his hand tightened its hold on Draco's, thumb rubbing over smooth skin, "But I know what it feels like to lose someone you love. Someone who loves you. And I think that counts for something, don't you?"
He feels Draco lean against him, and he lets go of Draco's hand only to wrap his arms around Draco's waist. "When will it get better?" Draco asked, his voice rough and slightly cracking.
Harry hesitated. "The truth?"
Draco steeled himself and nodded.
"It doesn't," Harry answered, a sad smile on his lips, "It doesn't get better."
He felt Draco's hands came up to cover his, and Harry allows himself to support Draco's weight as he leans back against Harry' chest. "Well, that's a horribly pleasant thought," Draco said.
Harry almost smiles at the return of the familiar, sarcastic tone. "You wanted the truth."
"I did," Draco nods. And just like that, the morose mood snaps back in place.
Harry rests his chin on Draco's shoulder. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss Sirius. Or Remus, or Fred, or Tonks... I've just learned to live with it. That doesn't mean that I've forgotten— not that I'd ever want to. But I know they'd hate it if I just let it eat me up. That's not what they would've wanted."
Fingers tightened around his. "It hurts," Draco whispered, so soft that Harry almost missed it. The words themselves was a shock to him, and the manner of admission left him quite a bit shaken up.
"I know," Harry whispered back, in a no nonsense tone, before planting a kiss to Draco's shoulder.
Draco seemed to consider this. He breathed out, having seemingly decided on something, and nodded. Then he looked down at the way their fingers entwined against Draco's stomach, "Will you stay?"
"If you want me to."
Draco's hand twitched in his. He turned in Harry's arms, and Harry found himself looking into grey eyes filled with grief. Draco looked so lost that Harry's heart gave a painful squeeze. Behind him, the sun was starting to set, casting a warm glow on Draco's pale hair. It was now aglow with a warm, rich color— a halo around the pale face that looked so beautiful it made Harry's insides ache.
"Don't let go," Draco murmured.
He didn't even have to ask. Harry knew what he meant. "I won't."