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"You are late, Potter."

It's going to be even easier to infuriate Snape than Harry thought. The minute he steps into his office, Snape is swirling towards him, wand aimed, eyes narrowed as if he thinks that intimidates Harry anymore.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" A second later, Snape pauses and laughs in a way that frankly sounds more hissing than some of the laughter Harry gives in Parseltongue. "Of course, nothing."

Harry holds Snape's eyes and shoves forwards the memory of the last time they were all in Grimmauld Place and Sirius called Snape "Snivellus." They didn't think he was there, listening, but he was. It's strange how much easier it's been to disappear since he's stopped speaking English, as if mute means deaf as well.

Snape takes the bait, and although the pain wells through Harry's head like blood as Snape dives in, it's beyond satisfying to see Snape rip his way out again with rage blooming on his face.

"You insolent brat," he says, softly enough that Harry would be frightened except that he's kind of gone beyond that at this point, and this is exactly the result he wants anyway. "You think that your godfather's childish insults give you a right to ignore my teaching? I am doing this out of the goodness of my heart—"

Harry laughs. It's an honest reaction and a hiss anyway, but Snape seems to have figured out what that particular one means. He stares at Harry for a second. Harry stares back with a mocking smile.

And Snape loses it.

"Get out of my office!" he roars, and snatches a jar of what looks like cockroach clusters from Honeydukes to launch directly at Harry's head. Harry dodges easily—compared to Aunt Petunia and the frying pan, it means nothing—and ducks back into the corridor with his heart banging crazily.

An end to pain, a perfectly acceptable reason for stopping the Occlumency lessons with Snape, and a way to protect Blaise.

Not bad for an evening where all he had to do was conjure a memory he's actually rather fond of.

"Harry, I don't understand why you don't say anything when I'm trying to use sign language with you!"

Harry glances up with a sigh. Hermione has joined him in the library in the afternoon more often lately, which means Blaise can't. And it means more one-sided conversations, too. Hermione will happily talk to him in either English or BSL, but she still isn't patient enough to read most of what he writes down.

Harry taps his throat with his wand now.

"I know that! I mean, why don't you sign back?"

You go too fast, Harry decides to bluntly write down now. He hasn't done it before because he does appreciate what Hermione is trying to do for him, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. Besides, usually she signs fast and then goes back to her own homework or conversation with Ron or whatever it is. So that means she doesn't look at his parchment.

When he turns it, Hermione reads it and immediately turns red. "Oh, Harry, I'm sorry! I didn't know!"

Now you do, Harry mouths. Hermione turns redder and slumps down in her seat for a second. Then she sits back up and nods determinedly.

"Okay. What can I do to make it better? Do I need to go slower? Do I need to work on the words with you? Would that help?"

Harry feels part of him relax. It seems that his worries that he would hurt Hermione too badly and she would get incredibly upset were groundless. He wonders if some of the other ones are, too, while he gets out his book on BSL and shows Hermione some of the signs that he's having trouble with, because they look a lot like each other.

"Oh, of course, because you wear glasses." Hermione looks more embarrassed than ever, before she perks up. "You know, Harry, there are some magical ways to fix your eyes! I looked into them a while ago. You can't do it until you're seventeen, because they need a legal adult's permission to cast certain spells on your eyes, and well, I know the Dursleys would never go for it."

Harry smiles and lets Hermione tell him about that, while he wonders, fleetingly, whether they might have those methods of correcting a wizard's eyesight in Italy, and whether Blaise's mother would be willing to give permission for the right spells to be cast.

Harry rolls his eyes a little as they walk out of Defense Against the Dark Arts. He supposes Professor Greer, a retired Auror who agreed to become the new Defense teacher as a favor to the Ministry, is better than Umbridge. It's not like she's torturing people, and she does let them use their wands in class. But she insists on explaining all the theory behind a spell before she'll let them cast it, and she explains it in a way that only rivals Binns for dryness.

Harry sees Blaise step into the corridor ahead of him and make a small gesture with his head. Harry looks at Ron and Hermione, who are already bickering about whether the new professor's way of teaching is a good thing or not, and falls quietly behind. With any luck, that's the kind of argument that will keep them occupied all the way to the Great Hall. And Blaise is weirdly insistent that Harry not miss meals, so Harry can follow them to lunch soon enough.

Blaise draws Harry lightly into the corridor, and smiles at him. "How's Professor Greer?"

Harry holds up his hand and tilts it back and forth. Blaise snorts. "Yeah, that's my impression, too. Listen. I'm getting a bit worried about passing my Defense OWL. Would you mind teaching me?"

Harry stares at him.

"I hate whoever put it in your head that you're not good at things," Blaise says, softly but with enough intensity to make Harry flush. "I know that you're good at Defense. I've heard rumors about the Patronus Charm, and I've read your essays—"

Harry raises a doubtful eyebrow. Blaise shrugs the way he did when he admitted to spying on Ron and Hermione in the hospital wing. "Early mastery of the Disillusionment Charm and Defense professors who don't lock their doors all the way."

That's all the explanation Harry's going to get, so he reluctantly tilts his head and, this time, taps his wand against his throat. Blaise only smiles at him. "So the impressed way Granger was talking about you mastering wordless casting of some spells is a lie? And the way that you can cast some spells in Parseltongue?"

Harry isn't sure those spells could include the Patronus Charm or others that would be useful for Defense, and he knows his doubt shows on his face. Blaise reaches out, careful to keep the motion of his hand open and ordinary, and feathers his fingers through Harry's hair. Harry closes his eyes before he thinks about it.

Do friends touch each other like this? Harry doesn't know. He's never had any friends other than Ron and Hermione. But it feels too good to pull away.

"All I ask is that you try," Blaise murmurs to him. "We can work on the Patronus Charm together. It's not like I would get it on the first try, either. How old were you when you cast it? Third year?"

Harry nods, his own motions as slow as the way Blaise reached out to him. Blaise laughs, low and warm. "You're a prodigy, Harry."

Harry wakes up and pulls sharply away. Blaise stares at him. "What is it? You take some kind of exception to that word?"

Harry doesn't know what to say, except that it's a Hermione word, and it doesn't belong to him. But he also doesn't think Blaise is lying or anything. It's just—it sounds wrong.

But he doesn't have to stammer that aloud thanks to the curse, so he pulls out a piece of parchment and writes on it, Can we combine the Defense lessons with the Occlumency lessons? Is my mind healed enough for that?

"Let me see."

Blaise's hands also feel absurdly warm as he reaches out and cradles Harry's cheeks to hold his face still for the Occlumency. Harry concentrates on remaining as relaxed and open as he can. It's easier when he concentrates on how Blaise's hands feel instead of his own stupid emotions.

"Yes, they're healing nicely," Blaise says at last. "All right. Eight tonight? We'll meet in the library? There are a few private places we could go to have the lessons, but some of them are too close to the dungeons, so we'd be better off finding somewhere else."

I know a place, Harry scribbles, and tucks the parchment into his bag. He flicks his eyes down the corridor Ron and Hermione took, and tilts his head apologetically at Blaise.

"I wouldn't want you to miss lunch anyway. You're too skinny. It's like someone denied you food."

Harry stumbles in spite of himself, and Blaise laughs, a sound that Harry can only identify as laughter because it's not a snort or sobbing or anything like that. "I thought so. I have plans for that."

Harry doesn't bother telling Blaise not to, because it's never going to happen anyway—he literally cannot picture Blaise and the Dursleys in a room together, his brain shuts down when he tries—and because it makes him warm inside, the way Blaise's hands do. He squeezes Blaise's shoulder once and goes down to lunch.

Hermione and Ron are indeed still arguing about Professor Greer, and immediately both try to enlist him on their side of the argument. Harry smiles peacefully at them, and eats his lunch. He's hungry, and Blaise will ask him what he ate later anyway.

He doesn't want to lie to Blaise.

Harry is on his way to the library to meet with Blaise when Dumbledore seems to step out of the wall in front of him and say, "Harry? I'm afraid that I need to speak with you. It's about Sirius."

Harry stops at once, because Sirius is important, and he hasn't had any news from him lately. Even though the Ministry is no longer monitoring Harry's owls or Floo calls, he can't get over the impression that it's dangerous. He looks up at Dumbledore and waits.

"In my office, please," Dumbledore says.

If they climb all the way to Dumbledore's office and Harry has to come back down, he's going to be late to meet with Blaise. He frowns unhappily. Then he takes out a piece of parchment, writes on it, I'm going to be late. Headmaster, and folds it into a semblance of an airplane. Holding it up to his lips, he hisses, "Find Blaise."

The paper animates and darts off at once, sailing kind of drunkenly around the corner. Dumbledore sighs. "I believe I have told you about casting with Parseltongue, Harry."

Harry only waits. He doesn't have another way to cast quite a few spells if he doesn't use Parseltongue, either because he hasn't practiced them enough wordlessly in English before he has to cast them in class, or because he never knew how to cast them in the first place. He doesn't know how to make a paper airplane find someone not in his direct line of sight in English. Or Latin. Whatever.

He finds himself wondering if Dumbledore would rather he just fail his classes instead of use Parseltongue.

"My office, Harry," Dumbledore says again, and begins to walk.

Harry follows him, thinking all the way. It seems weird to him that Dumbledore cares about things and doesn't care about them at the same time. Does he want Harry to pass his classes or not? Does he want Sirius to be okay or not? Sirius won't be okay if he stays cooped up in Grimmauld Place all the time. Does he want Harry to stay safe or not? Or does he not class the Dursleys or not being able to cast spells at all as "unsafe"?

It's a puzzle, and one that Harry isn't sure he'll solve. He walks just behind Dumbledore and thinks it's at least a new perspective. And Blaise is the one who taught him to think about things like that, because Blaise fucking listens and wants to know what Harry's thinking.

It's weird. Why would a Slytherin Harry never interacted with before this year be better at it than the Headmaster of the school who's saved Harry's life a few times?

Harry has to come out of his thoughts when they enter Dumbledore's office, because Sirius is standing there. "Sirius!" Harry hisses before he can stop himself, and Sirius smiles back at him, even if a little nervously, because he learned to recognize that particular Parseltongue word for his name before Harry had to leave Grimmauld Place.

Harry leaps forwards and hugs him. Sirius hugs him back, his hands running up and down his back as if he's counting Harry's ribs.

Then he sits down in a chair in front of Dumbledore's desk and clears his throat awkwardly. Dumbledore is gone, Harry notices, maybe to a back room.

"Um," Sirius says. "Dumbledore wanted me to talk to you about Occlumency. Even though Snivellus ended the lessons and I think it's a fantastic thing he did. So is there any reason I should persuade you to go back to them?"

Harry shakes his head violently and looks around for parchment. Sirius promptly hands him a piece. Harry writes down, No. I have someone else who can teach me, and he says Snape was basically tearing my mind apart.

Sirius reads those words, and his eyes widen. Then they narrow, and he bares his teeth. "He was doing what?"

Harry nods and writes down, You have to have trust between teacher and student for Occlumency to work. I know Dumbledore thinks I should trust Snape, but I just don't. So it's never going to work.

"I should say not!" Sirius folds his arms and nods as violently as Harry shook his head. Then he asks, "Who have you found, pup?"

Harry looks at him and says nothing. It's partially because he thinks Dumbledore is probably hiding in the next room and listening, and even if he isn't, the portraits who yelled at him last time might report something. But it's also because Harry thinks, in a confused way, that if he's keeping Sirius secret from Blaise, he should also keep Blaise secret from Sirius.

Sirius takes it better than a lot of adults, just chuckling and reaching out to ruffle Harry's hair. "Like a true Marauder, huh? Protecting your friends? Saying he?"

Harry relaxes as he realizes that Sirius probably thinks Hermione is teaching him. Well, that's fine. Even if Sirius or Dumbledore asks Hermione and she denies it, they might assume she's just keeping the secret.

And meanwhile, Harry can keep his.

Harry nods to Sirius, and they spend the rest of the visit talking about what's going to happen during the summer (with Harry lying more than a little), and making vague plans for some time in the future when Sirius is going to be free, and they can live together. Harry's heart aches for that when Sirius finally hugs him one more time and vanishes into the Floo, but not as much as it used to.

He loves Sirius, but it's nice to also have other options.

Blaise's eyes are fixed on him, and Harry can't think of any reason to delay any longer. He steps forwards, aiming his wand, because part of him can't let go of the idea that he needs it even if the Parseltongue works, and hisses, "Expecto Patronum!"

For a second, a silver light bobs at the end of his wand, and his heart sinks to his heels. But then the silvery light bursts into mist, and his stag forms and rears up as though he thinks Dementors are on the ceiling and he's going to strike them with his antlers.


Harry grins and turns around to face Blaise. They're in the Room of Requirement, which Harry made almost a replica of the Defense classroom, except that there's no chairs or desks. There are some Defense books on a shelf and a huge map of Britain on the wall like Professor Greer's got, though.

Blaise looks at the stag, and back at him. "How many Dementors can you drive away with that thing at once?"

Harry hesitates. It's going to sound like bragging if he tells the truth.

"Harry," Blaise says, with that slow lifting of his lips and spark in his eyes that always manages to convince Harry to spill his secrets even when he thinks he might not.

Harry turns and aims his wand at the wall of the classroom. "Make my wand a writing tool with light," he says in Parseltongue, confidence rising as he watches another spark hover at the end of the wand, this one amber, and then fly away and impact with the wall. Carefully, Harry draws the number 100 on the stones.

Silence behind him. Harry shifts from foot to foot, but doesn't turn around, just in case this is the case that proves too remarkable for Blaise to believe after all.

Blaise steps up behind him and links his arms around Harry's waist, leaning his chin on his shoulder. Harry leans backwards instinctively. Hermione has hugged him like this before, although that was after he'd known her for a long time. It's different with Blaise, but—nice.

"Next time you think you're no good," Blaise whispers into his ear, "I want you to think of that number written on the wall, and remember that no one else could do what you did. No one I can think of."

Harry could protest that maybe Dumbledore drove that number away from the Quidditch match where he fell off his broom, but he doesn't feel like giving Dumbledore the credit right now. He nods and closes his eyes, leaning more heavily on Blaise. Blaise runs his hand through his hair again, in the way that Harry's rapidly coming to like.

"All right." Blaise steps away. "Now, I know the incantation is Expecto Patronum, but would you make the wand movement more slowly? There's no way I can imitate a wand-whip that fast."

Harry winces a little, since it reminds him of his own difficulty with Hermione's BSL, but he already knows that being self-deprecating isn't something Blaise appreciates. He nods and goes through it slowly. Blaise has him do it several times while he walks around Harry, studying it from all angles.

"All right," Blaise says. "And what kind of happy memory do you think about?"

Harry pauses. He sometimes doesn't focus on a particular happy memory; he's cast the Patronus so many times that it simply leaps from his wand. But now…

He thought of Blaise visiting him in the hospital wing. He thought of his friends visiting him and, even when they were arguing, sitting by his unconscious body faithfully. He thought of being free of Snape and Umbridge.

He points his wand at the wall again and writes in careful sweeps of amber light, My happiness since you came into my life.

He turns around to see Blaise giving him a look that's not really a smile, since his lips don't turn up, but the light is there in his eyes. He nods as if Harry has confirmed all his dearest hopes and then exhales slowly.

"All right." Blaise draws his wand up, his eyes closed. His wand looks to be made of cherry wood, Harry thinks, but then again, he never was that good at identifying wood. Blaise's wand snaps down in the first movement of the Patronus Charm.

He stops in a second, though, looking disgusted. "I'm not doing it right, am I?"

Harry shakes his head. Your wand motion is too sharp, he writes on the wall. I can show you again if you like.

Blaise has a smile that's deep and shark-like for some reason. "Stand behind me and guide me?"

Harry nods and steps behind Blaise, gently cupping one hand under Blaise's elbow and the other over his shoulder. Blaise seems to draw in his breath and hold it without moving, which is annoying, so Harry pokes him in the stomach with his own elbow to make him release it. Blaise lets out the air in a shaky chuckle.

"Like this," Harry hisses near Blaise's ear, and then feels like an idiot. He moves his hands in the right patterns instead, and this time, Blaise's motion is natural and more flowing as he completes the standard set of gestures for the Patronus Charm.

Harry gently guides him one more time, lingering purely for the sake of getting to touch someone who isn't pulling away for once, and then steps back and in front of Blaise. He gives him an encouraging smile.

"All right." Blaise closes his eyes to focus a second, and then moves his wand through the first three gestures perfectly. The fan-like circle at the end is a little off, but Harry can see how he can improve it. "Expecto Patronum!"

A bit of silvery mist flips away from the end of his wand. Blaise snarls and tosses his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes. "That's it?"

Harry uses his wand to write on the wall again. A little less emphasis on the circle at the end. Think of it as a fan that's rotating with your wand as one of the blades, not as though your wand is trying to fling something sticky off.

It's hard to tell with Blaise's brown skin, but he looks as if he's flushing for a second. Harry glances at the wall in concern, wondering if he did something wrong. Well, Blaise is staring at the words "something sticky." Harry flushes himself, but leaves them up. It would just look stupider now if he tried to erase them.

Blaise glances at him with wide eyes, and licks his lips. "How long did it take you before you got the charm right?"

Months of trying, Harry writes honestly.

"Well." Blaise frowns, then taps his wand against his palm and gives Harry another of those smiles that he makes more with his eyes than his lips. "Luckily we've got months ahead of us, since you're coming to Italy for the summer with me."

Harry smiles back, even though he mistrusts enough of what happens to him that he'll believe he's standing in Italy when he feels the sun on his face. It's pleasant, the way his stomach flips when he looks at Blaise smiling at him, even if he never sees Italy or meets Mrs. Zabini.

"Okay, so you've been sneaking off somewhere, mate, and we want to know where."

Harry swallows and turns away from the fire in the Gryffindor common room to study Ron and Hermione. Hermione has her hands on her hips. Ron is just finishing casting a Silencing Charm around this little group of chairs.

He knew he wouldn't be able to hide his lessons with Blaise from his friends forever, but this is more quickly than he expected.

"We don't want to hurt you or take anything away from you," Hermione says, softening her voice, maybe because of his expression. "We just want to make sure that you're not getting in trouble or hurting yourself."

Harry knows they don't mean to be condescending. They're his best friends (he keeps exempting Blaise from that category for reasons he doesn't really understand yet). But still, something snaps in him the way it did with Dumbledore the other day.

I always have to be getting in trouble? he writes jerkily on the side of his Defense notes, and holds it up so they can see.

Hermione blushes the way she did when he told her about her fast signing. Ron takes over. "No, mate, of course not. But—you're just sneaking off, and it's pretty frequent, and you haven't told us who—"

Then his eyes widen, and he says, "Shit. Sorry, mate. It's about a girl, right? And Merlin knows you deserve it, after all the people who run in fear when you start talking to them." He looks around the common room and glares hard enough at some people outside the Silencing Charm to make a couple of firsties squirm.

"It is?" Hermione looks startled, as though this never, ever occurred to her.

Harry sits there like a stone, because it has occurred to him, he realized now, but not as consciously as Ron's words are making him think about it. The way he likes to spend time around Blaise, and to touch him, and for Blaise to touch him back, and the way Blaise's smiles flip his stomach, and even the way Blaise talked about not wanting to be his friend when they were first discussing Occlumency lessons.

Harry would panic, except that he does remember Blaise's words, too. And the self-satisfied look in his eyes when he studies Harry sometimes, and the way he wants to know all his secrets, and the way he was the one who touched Harry first.

He knows what he wants. He was waiting for me to catch up.

Harry becomes aware that he's been silent too long when Hermione and Ron start peering at him. He ducks his head and writes, Yeah, there's someone. Sorry. But I don't want to give them up so soon.

There. He's not lying about Blaise, not calling him a girl, which is important. Very important. But he's also not telling Ron and Hermione anything they can use to figure him out, which is also very important, until Blaise tells Harry that he doesn't want to be a secret anymore.

"Oh, of course, Harry." Hermione's voice is very soft now, and she leans forwards and gives him a gentle hug of the kind she's never given him. "You deserve all the happiness in the world. If they don't want to meet us yet, that's fine. We'll wait. Won't we, Ron?" She nudges him with one elbow.

"Of course," Ron says, rolling his eyes a little at Harry when he thinks Hermione can't see. Harry wants to laugh, but he'll just hiss again, so he contents himself with smiling warmly at Ron.

Curse and everything, his life is still so much better than it was a few months ago.

"Yes, you need to shift your shields so that your will is what's blocking me from seeing that memory—yes, that's it!"

Harry falls back in his chair in the modified Room of Requirement, panting and exhausted. Blaise said they needed softer chairs for the Occlumency lessons in case one of them managed to knock the other on his arse, so Harry called up overstuffed armchairs and long, padded couches. It's nice to fall onto them even though no one has been knocked on his arse yet.

Maybe Harry has, though, metaphorically. Every time he glances at Blaise he notices something else new and wonderful he can't believe he didn't notice before.

Like his eyes, for instance, the way they tilt up at the corners and seem to glow when he's giving Harry that smile. Or the way his mouth opens in what's almost a laugh when he's angry. Or the way his chest flexes when he stretches with his hands behind his head.

Luckily, Blaise seems to be peering at him and smiling a little almost as often, so Harry can be confident he's not alone in his new obsession.

"All right," Blaise says, and picks up one of the sandwiches they stopped by the kitchen to collect before they came up here. It's after curfew, but with Harry's Invisibility Cloak, they aren't going to get caught on the way back anyway. "Your mind is healing rapidly, and you're also getting better at Occlumency rapidly. I told you you could do it. What the hell was Snape doing, that he left bleeding wounds in your mind like that?"

Harry munches on his own sandwich as he aims his wand at the wall. He kept telling me to clear my mind. Nothing about how, of course.

Blaise snorts. "Well, that must be the method that worked for him, but it's very hard to think of nothing at all. Instead, it's about will, like I showed you."

Harry nods. Blaise taught him how to clear his mind by telling him that he has to want to keep that memory hidden, which makes so much more sense that Harry has decided Snape is just a poor teacher in everything, from Occlumency to Potions.

"You aren't perfect yet, but you're getting there." Blaise toasts him with his butterbeer, and Harry leans over the table to clink their bottles together. "And now that we're getting somewhere, we can talk about some of the memories I did see."

Harry pauses. He wonders for a second if Blaise is going to talk about the conversation with Ron and Hermione in the common room. Harry wasn't really trying to hide that one.

But no, Blaise's eyes are intense the way he gets when he has murder on his mind. "Harry. I want to know. How often did the Muggles abuse you? I saw the cupboard and the going without food, but—other things."

I was never beaten or raped the way you're thinking, Harry immediately says via the amber letters on the wall. His hand is shaking, a little, but if Blaise can read his sloppy handwriting on parchment, he can do it here.

Blaise looks at him with his face full of cold rage. "It doesn't need to be those things to be bad."

Harry hesitates. He trusts Blaise, of course he does. He just never got used to talking about this. Hell, he doesn't even talk about it with Ron and Hermione. They know some things, like the bars on his window and how much he doesn't want to go back to the Dursleys, and that's just the way it is. No more than that.

Tell me.

Blaise doesn't say it aloud this time. Instead, he's holding Harry's eyes and projecting the thought. Harry takes a deep breath and waits for his stupid hand to stop shaking before he starts writing again.

The cupboard was my bedroom for ten years. My aunt used to try to hit me in the head with a frying pan. They yelled at me about being a freak all the time, and they lied about my parents. I didn't know wizards existed until I got my Hogwarts letter. They punished me for accidental magic. My cousin chased me all the time and beat me up with his friends and warned the other kids at school about me. I didn't have any friends until I was eleven, either.

Harry stops, because Blaise is clutching the table so hard that he might actually flip it over. Harry tries to rescue the food.

"That settles it," Blaise says, and his voice seems to ring too loudly in the silent room, like Harry was actually speaking aloud and Blaise is talking after him. "You are coming to Italy with me this summer. If you try to avoid it, I will take you, Harry. I will Stun you some evening when you aren't expecting it and bind you and carry you back home in my bloody trunk, if that's what it takes." He faces Harry and waits.

Harry swallows. Thank you, is the next thing he writes.

Blaise pauses, and then backs down and nods. He seems to understand why Harry is saying it. "Why hasn't anyone tried to do anything about the abuse before this?"

Most people don't know. Dumbledore says that I have to go back there to build up the blood protections my mother put around me with her love when she sacrificed her life.

"Blood protections don't work where there's no love," Blaise snarls. "Dumbledore's a fool." He pauses and closes his eyes. Harry cradles his butterbeer and watches him carefully.

"I was worried that you would be put off by how violent I got when I was talking about kidnapping you," Blaise murmurs without opening his eyes. "Not that I still wouldn't have done it."

Harry isn't put off. If anything, he's a bit thrilled that someone is willing to do all that for him, even if it would be against his will. Blaise really does sound as if he would do anything for Harry. He's already helped him kill.

He's staring at Blaise in what must be admiration when Blaise looks at him again. Time seems to turn to crystal around them.

Blaise smiles, and this time, it's a new smile Harry hasn't seen before, one so dark and glowing it's like seeing into the inside of a diamond. He gets slowly to his feet, never taking his eyes from Harry, and walks equally slowly around the table. He holds out his hand, caressing Harry's face for an instant before he tilts it up.

He leans down most of the way, but Harry surges up, and their mouths meet together.

God, it feels good. A river of warmth purrs through Harry, and he reaches out and grips Blaise's shoulders, not wanting this to end. He's swaying on his feet, moaning a little, when Blaise opens his mouth, and Harry feels a whole new heat, a spark like a needle, as their tongues touch.

Blaise eases back from the kiss after that, and stands with his own hands resting on Harry's chest. "I've wanted to do that for a bloody long time," he whispers.

Harry just nods. Nothing he could write would encompass that experience anyway.

Blaise trails his fingers along Harry's cheeks for a moment, up into his hair, his expression so focused and possessive that Harry can only look back at him. Then he nods. "You're coming with me to Italy," he says. "It looks—I can't be sure, but it looks as if the Parseltongue curse might be anchored to that connection with Voldemort that you've talked about in the back of your head. It means that a good Legilimens, like my mother, might be able to cure it. Maybe," he adds hastily, because Harry can feel his eyes widening. "I can't promise it. But either way, you're going to be there, and if you'll trust her to look into your head—"

Harry will trust her if Blaise vouches for her. He'll trust anything that Blaise vouches for.

Right now, he trusts that he really wants to kiss Blaise again. So he does.

The next morning, Blaise comes over to the Gryffindor table and puts his plate down next to Harry. And takes the seat next to him, nearly sitting on Seamus before he squawks and moves out of the way. Harry wants to say that Blaise didn't see Seamus sitting there, to his fellow Gryffindor's offended look.

But besides the fact that he literally can't, Harry knows it's not true. Blaise saw Seamus sitting there. He just didn't give a fuck.

Hermione, who has been chatting with Harry in slow BSL about OWL exams, stares at them in shock and wonder. Then Blaise drops a casual, possessive hand on Harry's hip and starts eating with his other hand, and she blinks and smiles. "This is the someone you've been sneaking off to see?" she asks in English.

Harry nods. He should have known that Hermione wouldn't be fooled by the fact that he used "someone" and "they" instead of "she."

"Mate?" Ron asks. "Um?"

"Is it because he's male?" Hermione spins around to face him at once. "Because I'll have you know that it should be perfectly acceptable for Harry to date a boy—"

"He's a Slytherin!"

Harry rolls his eyes. That, of course, is what Ron would care about.

"And so what? If a Slytherin is good to Harry, Ron Weasley, I for one welcome him to our table!"

The bickering breaks out, right on schedule. Harry looks around surreptitiously. Ginny is gaping at them. Malfoy is gaping even wider, which makes Harry's day.

Well, it makes his day until he turns around and looks at the Head Table, and Snape is staring at them, utterly pale, with his jaw so far down his chest than Harry can probably see his tonsils if he squints.

Harry hiss-laughs. Blaise kisses him on the cheek and leans harder against him, then murmurs into his ear, "And you'll be partnering with me in Potions from now on. We're going to get you at least an Exceeds Expectations on that OWL exam."

Harry nuzzles against Blaise and watches as though Snape looks like he's going to vomit. He listens to his friends—who are now arguing about the feud between Gryffindor and Slytherin that started the House rivalry in the first place—and knows everything is going to be fine there. Dumbledore is staring disapprovingly at him, but he doesn't matter. Malfoy glares, but he has no power now with Umbridge gone.

Harry is going to take his OWL exams, and he'll do fine. He'll go to Italy with Blaise for the summer, and meet his mum, who is not going to murder Harry. He'll maybe even get rid of the Parseltongue curse.

He'll spend time with someone who wants him. Someone who helps him. Someone who listens to him.

Harry leans back. Blaise is waiting for it, and their eyes meet. Blaise projects a thought with all his strength. Harry is a good enough Legilimens by now to catch it from a direct stare and a really strong yearning to have it heard.

Your life is going to be so much better than it's ever been.

Harry smiles at him, and sends the thought flying back. Thanks to you. You're what I want, Blaise. I could be happy in a cupboard with you.

Blaise smiles with his eyes, and kisses him again. Someone drops a fork, someone else a glass. Harry gives in and laughs, hisses, into Blaise's mouth.

His life is going to be so much better than it's ever been.

The End.