Author's Note:This chapter was a monster to write. It kept turning all angst-ridden on me, then I'd have to grab the boys by the collar, shake them, and tell them to play nice. I'm sorry it took so long! I'm not terribly confident about writing romance (hence all the spontaneous angst), but I hope this chapter came out okay.
Thank you for your patience and for all the wonderful reviews! Enjoy! -- Claire
Chapter 14: Adamant and Starlight
Harry ran down the gentle slope from the castle toward the lake, enjoying the crunch and slither of fresh snow beneath his boots, his face alight with happiness. It was Christmas Eve, and the world was blanketed in the white perfection of the season's first snowfall, the lake frozen solid, Hogwarts castle frosted like a particularly gothic wedding cake. To Harry, the winter landscape was beautiful and inviting beyond description. It had called to him all through breakfast, tempting him out of the castle, away from the furtive looks and determined silences that made his hours inside so uncomfortable.
Out here in the clean, cold air, with virgin snow under his feet and the promise of Draco's company to warm him, it didn't matter that no one back there in the castle understood. It didn't matter that Ron and Hermione had gone home for the holidays, leaving him alone to face the confusion, suspicion and resentment of his classmates. It didn't matter that Harry seemed to be the only happy person in the world at the moment. Because he was happy - deeply, wonderfully, astoundingly happy - as he had never been in his life, and he didn't intend to let anyone or anything ruin this time for him. The horrors and tragedies of the outside world would come back to him. It was inevitable. But not yet, and not before he found the secret of making Draco just as happy as Harry was himself.
He spotted a dark figure silhouetted against the snow, moving slowly along the edge of the lake. He knew, without seeing the other boy's face, that it was Draco. The posture, the walk, the tilt of his head betrayed it as plainly as the glint of silver-blond hair in the sunlight. Harry put on a burst of speed and called a greeting.
At the sound of his voice, Draco halted and turned to face him. Harry sprinted the last few steps, kicking up snow from beneath his boots, and came to a panting stop at Draco's side. Without hesitation, he reached out and caught the other boy's arm, pulling him close and dropping a kiss on his lips. Draco accepted the touch of both his hand and his mouth without any sign of shyness, but the moment Harry broke the kiss, he turned and resumed his stroll along the lakeshore, forcing Harry to let go of his arm. Harry fell into step beside him and shoved his hands into his pockets.
They walked together in silence, Draco's eyes on the distant shadow of the Forbidden Forest and Harry's eyes on Draco. The familiar archangel's face looked pale and drawn, as though Draco hadn't been sleeping, and when he wasn't consciously smiling at Harry, his mouth drooped in a distracted frown. Harry, who knew that face better than his own by now, and who loved it better than anything in the world, could not see the shadows beneath Draco's cheekbones and eyes without worrying.
"I missed you at breakfast today," Harry finally said, breaking the long silence.
"I was there."
"I still missed you." Draco said nothing, and Harry went on, unselfconsciously, "I always miss you, when I can't talk to you."
"Is that what you want to do? Talk?"
They had reached a tree, and Harry glanced up at it, laughing. "Maybe later." Putting his back to the tree trunk, he slipped an arm around Draco's waist and pulled him close. "After all, we can talk any time."
Their breath steamed in the chill air as their lips met in a long, searing, mind-altering kiss. Draco softened instantly, slipping his arms around Harry's neck and leaning into the kiss, pressing his body the length of Harry's from lips to toes. In the time it took their mouths to find each other, he went from careful, cool distance to melting heat and started the golden fire singing in Harry's head. The combination was powerful and intoxicating, Draco's silver flames and Harry's gold ones, lust and love and wizarding power, all bound up in the touch of another boy's mouth on his. Harry held a creature of adamant and molten steel in his arms and swore to himself that he would never let it go. Never. Not if he burned forever in gold and silver fire with no hope of rescue.
He had to break the kiss at last, when he felt an incredible heat gather in his body. Wizarding power turned to something else, something more driven and dangerous, and Harry knew that he had to stop or he'd quickly reach the point where he couldn't. It was no part of his long-term plan to shag Draco in a snow bank, under the gaze of hundreds of castle windows - much as he might enjoy it - so he had to exercise a bit of restraint. For now.
Lifting his head, Harry sucked in a deep, cooling breath and let it out on a heartfelt groan. "How do you do that, anyway?" he asked the bare branches over his head.
"Do what?" Draco said.
Harry looked down into his face and privately marveled at the difference a quick snog could make. Draco was no longer pale, distant or tired. He was completely present, focused, alight with pleasure, his body pliant and almost soft in Harry's arms. When Harry met his gaze, he lifted his eyebrows in question and smiled, very slightly, as if enjoying a private joke at Harry's expense.
It was The Look. The one that destroyed Harry's rational mind and drove him to desperation with the need to snog Draco senseless. He had no defense against The Look and wanted none. When Harry saw it, he began to understand how the ancient Greeks could have fought ten years of war and sacked Troy to get one woman back. He'd do it. Not for Helen of Troy, who had nothing on Draco Malfoy as far as he was concerned. But for Draco and the chance to see The Look again? Oh yes, he'd do it, and Heaven help the Trojan who got in his way.
Luckily for both of them, Harry did not have to climb over a pile of dead warriors to reach Draco and wipe that smile off his face. He had only to tighten his hold on the other boy, lifting him nearly off his feet, and bend his head to kiss him so hard that he forgot how to breathe. Harry forgot, too, and he was getting dizzy by the time he came up for air. He heard Draco growl a wordless protest as he pulled away. Throwing caution to the wind, Harry pressed another kiss to Draco's temple, then to his forehead and eye, savoring the chance to touch him though it might well signal an abrupt end to their closeness. Draco's breath hissed between his teeth, and he stiffened slightly in surprise, but to Harry's relief he did not push away.
"How do you make me feel like a leper one minute and the King of the World the next?" Harry murmured into silver-gilt hair tickling his cheek.
This time, Draco stiffened in earnest. He put his hands on Harry's shoulders and shoved against them hard enough to force their bodies apart. He was frowning, the expression sharply at odds with his flushed cheeks, reddened lips and heavy-lidded, glittering eyes.
"Like a leper? What do you mean?"
"When you won't let me touch you."
"You touch me all the time."
"I don't mean like this. Not that this isn't nice..." Harry tightened the clasp of his arms, trying to coax Draco back against him, but the other boy was having none of it. "I mean just... touch you. Hold your hand. Put my arm around you when we sit together. Little things. Why won't you let me touch you like that?"
"It's too easy. It doesn't mean anything."
"It makes me feel closer to you and like... like you actually enjoy my company."
Draco's frown deepened, but Harry saw more pain in it than discontent. "Do you really worry about that?"
"I worry about a lot of things, including that."
"I'm here, aren't I? I wouldn't be, if I didn't like your company."
"But you aren't happy."
Draco stepped away from him, his body unconsciously drawing up haughtily, distancing himself from Harry in every way he could. He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm fine."
As Draco began walking slowly, continuing his interrupted stroll by the lake, Harry pushed himself away from the tree and hastily straightened his clothes. Draco, for all that he had withdrawn so abruptly, was not trying to escape, so Harry had no hesitation in falling to step beside him again. He'd grown used to Draco's prickly moods and knew better than to take this as a true rejection.
"Is it because of what they're saying around school?" he asked, waving toward the castle above them. "The things they call you?"
Draco's lip curled in a sneer. "Potter's Plaything?"
"I didn't think you cared about gossip."
"I don't. I don't give a flaming, bloody damn what a bunch of half-wit half-wizards call me."
A pang went through Harry, and he whispered, "I hate it when you talk that way."
"And I think you're lying to me. I think it bothers you when they call you my plaything or my trophy, and you take it out on me. Push me away. Pretend you don't care about anything, including me."
"Is that what you think?" Draco stopped walking and turned to face Harry. His eyes were snapping and his face cold. "That's brilliant, Potter. I had no idea I was pushing you away, when I let you grab me and kiss me and wrap yourself around me in full view of the school. I had no idea I was treating you like a leper, taking out my humiliation on you, making you fret over my delicate mental state. I thought I was giving you what you wanted."
"You are. But it's no good, if it isn't what you want, too."
Draco just stared at him, unblinking, his face frozen into a look of blank disbelief.
"Why is that so hard for you to accept?" Harry asked. "Why can't you believe that it matters to me? I'm happy, Draco. For the first time in my life, I feel like I've got something that's really mine, just for me, just what I wanted, and it makes me so happy I don't know what to do with it all! Now I want to make you that happy, to give you what you want, what you deserve, just for you."
"You already have," Draco whispered.
"No, I haven't. I may be lovesick, but I'm not stupid."
A small, stiff smile tilted Draco's lips for a moment. "Granger said something like that about you."
"I wish I could wander around the castle in a sickly-sweet haze, writing bad poetry to your left eyebrow, telling everyone what a fabulous kisser you are and exchanging lurid stories with my friends in the dormitory at night." Draco flinched, and Harry went on, earnestly, "But that's not real life. That's not what you do when you really love someone and want to make it last longer than a couple of late nights behind the greenhouse."
"You think we've got more than a couple of nights in us?"
"I know I do. I can only hope you do, too."
Draco gazed at him thoughtfully, face distant and a little sad. "That's why, isn't it?"
He turned quickly away, giving Harry only a glimpse of the dark pain in his eyes. "You're afraid to use up your couple of nights. Well... I suppose it's better than being Potter's Plaything, but it still stinks." With that, Draco set off up the hill at a near run, leaving Harry standing by the lake, staring at him in shock.
"Draco!" The slender figure did not slow or turn. "Draco, come back! Please!" But Draco did not come back.
*** *** ***
The sound of muffled voices startled Harry out of his brooding thoughts and back to the present. He glanced around the empty common room, hunting for the source of the noise, then down at his watch. He had missed lunch. No wonder his stomach felt so hollow and heavy.
The portrait swung open and Seamus climbed through the hole. He hesitated when he saw Harry seated by the fire, then nodded once, his face carefully neutral.
Harry caught the note of constraint in his voice but chose to ignore it. "Hallo, Seamus," he answered easily.
"What're you up to?"
Harry lifted the book that lay open on his lap - Ron's copy of Flying with the Cannons. "Just reading."
"We're having a snowball fight. Gryffindors versus Hufflepuffs. Want to come?"
A strange, rather nasty expression flitted over Seamus' good-natured face, and his mouth twisted into a mocking smile. "What's the matter, Potter? Don't you play with Gryffindors anymore?"
Harry shot him a cold, furious look that wiped the smile from his lips and rocked him back on his heels. "Have we got a problem, Finnegan?"
"Yeah, I think we do."
But before Seamus could vent the spleen so clearly rising in him, the portrait swung open again and Neville stuck his head in.
"Come on, Seamus! Get your cloak and let's go!" His eyes lighted on the boy seated by the fire, and he smiled. "Oh, hey, Harry. Do you want to help us trounce the Hufflepuffs?"
"Don't bother. I already asked," Seamus snapped, as he strode over to the stairs and bounded up them two at a time. "Precious Potter has better things to do!"
Neville looked confused for a moment, then understanding hit him and he rolled his eyes at Harry, grinning apologetically. "Don't pay any attention to him. He's just mad."
"Aren't you mad?" Harry asked, trying not to sound too defensive.
"Me? What have I got to be mad about?"
"Oh, I don't know... the Green and Silver Menace?"
"I've known you for six years, Harry, and you've never let me down. Why should now be any different, just because you're spending your time with Malfoy?"
Harry took a moment to absorb this, then said, fervently, "Thanks, Neville."
Neville blushed, his round face alight with shy pleasure. When he spotted Seamus standing on the bottom stair, he called, "Hurry up or we'll miss the war!"
Seamus crossed to him without acknowledging Harry and climbed through the portrait hole in stony silence.
"We'll be out by the Quidditch pitch," Neville said, "if you change your mind." Then he, too, was gone and Harry was alone again.
Slumping back in his chair, Harry turned once again to the vexed question of what to do about Draco. He was not angry with Draco for his behavior that morning. Nor was he afraid that the other boy's temper tantrum meant they were finished. He thought he knew what had sparked that little explosion and didn't blame Draco for reaching the end of his patience. But Harry was deeply frustrated.
It was exhausting, he decided, being the one who always made the first move. He was scared, too. He was uncertain. He wanted Draco to take the initiative once in a while. He wanted some guidance from the boy he hoped to call his lover, some indication of when and where and how that change might come about. If he screwed up and hurt Draco, he would lose him. And Harry suspected that the loss of Draco's love would be the one blow he couldn't take. It would, finally and completely, destroy him.
But how was he supposed to unravel the mysteries of their relationship all on his own? If Draco wouldn't tell him what he wanted, how was Harry supposed to figure it out? If he would just tell Harry what he wanted, this would all be so much simpler!
Harry couldn't help smiling at that thought. Sometimes, when he lay alone in his bed at night, unable to sleep, thinking of the hours he had spent walking a careful distance away from Draco and talking about Quidditch or Potions class, he would try to imagine Draco casting aside his reserve and throwing himself at Harry in a fury of passion. The picture never failed to excite him, but it also made him laugh, because the Draco who did things like that was not the Draco he knew.
Draco did not ask. He did not demand. He did not reach for Harry, ever, except the one time that he had rested his adamant fingertip against Harry's scar for a moment in a carefully neutral gesture. And the truth was that Harry could hardly blame him. They didn't have a good record, when it came to Draco asking and Harry responding. One try, six years ago, had blown up in their faces and set their feet on a path of hatred, rancor and jealousy.
Harry could still remember the scene in the hospital wing... a small figure in flannel pajamas standing at the window, his entire body taut with strain, his eyes like wounds in his pale face. Harry's hands on his stiff shoulders, sharing warmth and the closest thing to comfort he would allow. And his voice, so low and rough that Harry had to strain to hear it, saying, You made the choice for both of us that day... You spat in my face and walked away.
He could still hear the pain in Draco's voice - an old, festering, bitter pain that had ripened over years - when he spoke of that day. And he knew that someone as proud and prickly as Draco would never risk a second rejection of that magnitude. Would Harry, if he were in Draco's shoes? Maybe, but as Dumbledore had said - was it only a few weeks ago? - Harry always listened to his heart.
Except when he tried to over-think things, Harry reflected, ruefully. Maybe that was the source of his problem. He wanted to be cautious - like Draco - and guard himself against every possible mishap, while he expected Draco to be open and reckless, like the stranger in his fantasies who threw him down on the ground and demanded that he shag him silly. The last time Harry had tried caution, he had spent a week in agony, convinced that Draco hated him, all because he didn't trust his own instincts. Didn't listen to his own heart.
Well, never let it be said that a Gryffindor didn't learn from his mistakes! To hell with caution! Draco was not going to magically turn into a different person to suit Harry. Draco was Draco, and Harry would just have to learn to deal with his perverse nature. Which meant that Harry would have to make things happen himself, rather than waiting around for Draco to take the lead.
It was Christmas Eve, Harry was in love, and he wanted to be with the person he loved tonight. That was a given. The person he loved had run off in a snit that morning, so Harry would have to charm or coerce him into another meeting. Not too difficult, he judged. Probably a simple invitation would do the trick. He could not afford a repeat of the morning's temper tantrum, so he would have to be very careful not to set Draco off again. For that, all he had to do was to remember a few rules: no holding hands or casual touching, no asking what Draco wanted, and no apologies. Which left only the question of where Harry wanted to take his ill-tempered archangel on this cold Christmas Eve night to have his way with him.
Harry bounced to his feet, his book sliding unnoticed to the floor, and raced up the stairs to the dormitory. In his room, he flung open his trunk and dug out parchment, quill and ink. Then he sat down on the bed and commenced chewing on the end of the quill.
Draco would come; Harry was sure of that. And Harry would scrupulously follow all the rules, doing nothing to upset him. What would happen then was anybody's guess, but the instincts that Harry had tried so hard to ignore these past few weeks told him that he had only to make the first move. That's all Draco was waiting for.
Harry grinned and dipped his pen in the ink. It had to be someplace private, where they would not be disturbed. Someplace romantic, though Harry hadn't the foggiest idea what Draco would find romantic. Someplace... someplace perfect.
He scribbled a short note on the parchment, then tore off the excess and dropped it back in the trunk. Down the stairs and back through the common room he ran, nearly colliding with Lavender Brown, as she stepped through the portrait hole. Harry gasped a greeting and an apology in one breath, ducked through the hole, and was gone before Lavender could answer.
*** *** ***
Draco stared critically at his reflection, taking in every detail of his appearance with detached clarity. He'd worked very hard to achieve this result. He had even managed to pull his hair back with a ribbon, though no one - least of all Potter - would ever know how long it had taken him to tie a decent bow behind his neck, where he could neither see it nor feel it with his crystal fingers. The few strands of hair that fell loosely over his forehead, tickling his eyebrows, softened the austere style just enough to suit him. In fact, the entire picture suited him and made him feel more confident than he had in weeks.
Draco was neither as vain as most people believed, nor as desperate for attention. But he was a person who valued power, and he knew how to play to his strengths. When it came to Harry Potter, the only strength Draco had was the effect of his looks on the strangely modest, susceptible boy. He had no desire to dominate Potter or to push him away. He did not put on his most elegant and flattering clothing or wrestle with the impossible task of tying a bow at the nape of his neck so he could crush Potter's fragile ego beneath his expensive boot heel. He did it because the unabashed, almost childish delight in Harry's face when he looked at Draco gave him an illusion of control and of mastery, however fleeting, and made him feel just a little less overwhelmed by his own feelings.
If he were to think about it, Draco would probably find some reason to distrust Potter's admiration. He would decide that it wasn't genuine delight at all, but pride of ownership. After all, Draco was his trophy, and the more beautiful the prize the more value it held in the eyes of others. If he were to think about it, he would realize that the Ravenclaws were right and he was nothing more than Potter's Plaything. If he were to think about it... which he wouldn't.
Calling his mind sternly to order, he smoothed his cuffs down over his hands and squared his shoulders. Not too shabby for a wizard who could barely do up his own buttons. But was it the right effect, or was he leaning too heavily on the elegant, over-priced aristocrat look? Potter could be strange about these things, sliding back into Muggle thinking or turning awkward over money. Look at the way he'd reacted to the bag full of junk Crabbe had brought him in the hospital! Draco smoothed the fine silk of his sleeve again, noting the way the lace on his cuff fell over his adamant hand like a tracing of snow on clear ice, and tried to see it through Potter's eyes.
After a moment, he shook his head and smiled wryly at his reflection. It was hopeless. He couldn't look at himself the way Potter did, no matter how hard he tried. The best he could do was to arm himself for the evening ahead and hope he'd chosen the right ammunition.
Potter's note had given him very little information to work with. Dropped in his dinner plate by a mangy little owl that looked more like a feathered Snitch than a bird, it had been short and to the point, giving nothing away.
Meet me on the North Tower at eleven tonight. Please. Love, Harry.
Typical of Potter to issue a command, then soften it with a touch of pleading as an afterthought. Typical of Draco to bridle at the summons, grumble over the feathers in his food, then rush off to spend hours getting ready for only Potter-knew-what, without ever admitting to himself that he was actually going. But of course, he was going, as Potter no doubt knew.
Giving himself a final, measuring look, Draco pulled a leather glove onto his right hand and swung his cloak around his shoulders. The finished picture was immaculate enough to please the most stringent critic, and Draco couldn't help giving his image in the mirror a slight, mocking smile. Off to charm the knight errant into sparing the life - if not the virtue - of the wicked dragon.
"Well, Malfoy," he murmured to his own reflection, "time to face the music."
No one in the common room acknowledged his presence as he strode through. He stepped from the Slytherin dungeon into the dank, low-ceilinged passage outside and headed for the stairs that led to the upper castle. Like a black and silver shadow, he slipped carefully through the dark corridors, making for the North Tower and Harry, and in his stealth he had no need of an invisibility cloak.
The upper tower room was empty, but there was a ladder pushed beneath the trapdoor that let onto the roof. Draco did not hesitate, but set his feet on the rungs and climbed swiftly to the trapdoor. Outside, it was bitterly cold. The clouds had blown away to leave the sky clear and a glorious array of stars overhead. Potter was sitting on a blanket near the parapet, his back to the trapdoor, but at the sound of its protesting hinges, he turned quickly to see Draco's silver-gilt head poke through the hole.
Getting hastily to his feet, Harry crossed to the trapdoor and held out a hand to pull Draco up. Draco climbed onto the roof, acutely aware of Potter's eyes on him. Just as he had expected, Potter was dressed in a shapeless bundle of ill-fitting Muggle clothes, with a Weasley sweater on top for warmth, his hair standing up erratically and his glasses sitting crooked on his nose. And it didn't matter a damn, because when he smiled, his face lit up, his eyes danced, and suddenly, there was nothing in the world more alluring than that lumpy green sweater with the H on the front.
Draco smiled back, fleetingly, then turned to look at the blanket. Harry had turned it into a little oasis of schoolboy comforts. There were several bottles of butterbeer, pumpkin tarts, various packages from Honeydukes in shiny paper, and a jar of blue wandfire, burning like a brazier, with a kettle perched on top of it. A slight shimmer in the air told Draco that Potter had cast some kind of spell over the blanket, but what exactly he couldn't tell.
His mouth twitched in a half smile. "Waiting for your date, Potter?"
Harry laughed. "Not anymore."
Draco told himself not to betray his pleasure by blushing. He couldn't afford to let his guard down yet and expose himself to Potter's sharp, knowing eyes.
Harry nodded toward the blanket and said, "Come sit down."
"It's freezing out here, Potter. If you wanted to go on a date, did it have to be an Arctic expedition?"
"It's warmer over here. Trust me."
With a shrug, Draco followed him over to the blanket. As he stepped through the telltale magical shimmer, he felt the temperature rise, and he realized that Harry had cast a warming spell. It only came up to Draco's midriff, so his legs were nicely toasty while his head was freezing. He chuckled and sat down, folding himself onto the blanket and bringing his entire body into the shelter of the spell.
"Nice touch," he remarked, lightly, as he unfastened his cloak and shrugged it back off his shoulders.
Harry grinned at him, eyes gleaming in the combined light of wandfire, warming spell and stars. "I know lots of useful spells."
Draco's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "You're flirting with me."
"I usually do."
"Yes, but this morning I bit your head off and walked out on you. Shouldn't you be angry? Or at least a bit peeved?"
"Are you just going to pretend it didn't happen?"
"No, I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen again." He gave Draco a cocksure smile and lifted his hands, spreading them wide to show his empty palms. "No touching, I promise, unless it's for a good snogging. Not so much as a quick grope under your cloak. Though, I would like to get that piece of hair out of your face..."
Unconsciously, Draco leaned his head away from Harry, making the other boy laugh.
"I said I wouldn't."
Draco tried to smile, but it came out crooked. "Right. Perfect Bloody Potter always keeps his word."
"I'd also like to take off that ribbon," Harry added.
"Hey! That took me a long time to tie!"
"Really?" The confident smile dissolved into one of simple delight. "Did you do it for me?"
Draco flushed and muttered under his breath, "Maybe I just wanted to comb my hair," but Harry ignored this.
"Thank you, Draco."
This conversation was not going the way Draco had envisioned it, and he found himself getting increasingly uncomfortable. He turned his attention to the steaming kettle and, grasping at the handy distraction, asked, "What's that?"
"Mulled cider. It seemed like a proper drink for a cold Christmas Eve. Want some?"
Draco shrugged and nodded, once more trying not to show his pleasure. He loved spiced cider, and he felt a warm, happy glow in the pit of his stomach at the thought that Harry had spent his evening dreaming up proper Christmas Eve treats to share with him on this icy tower roof. The cider was a coincidence, he knew, but it made him ridiculously happy anyway.
Harry handed him a cup, and he curved his right hand around it, soaking up the heat that flowed through the ceramic. He kept his gaze on the drifting steam, away from Harry's face, and hoped that the other boy would not notice the stain of color in his cheeks.
"Do you know why I asked you to come up here?" Potter suddenly asked.
Draco glanced up at him. "So we could drink cider and make out?"
"Obviously, but why here? There are warmer places to make out..."
"Isn't that my line." He looked at Harry steadily for a moment, then dropped his flippant tone. "I don't know. Why?"
"Because it seemed like a place where you belong, with the stars and the snow and the huge black sky. A place where your beauty fits."
If anyone else had said such a thing to him, Draco would have laughed. But the stilted and rather sentimental phrases sounded utterly natural on Harry's lips, and they brought equally impossible words, unbidden, to his own.
"I belong anywhere you are," he murmured, then, acidly, "and you bloody well know it, you prat."
"Yes, I do." Harry gazed directly at him, drinking in his face, and Draco turned away to stare into his cup again. After a moment, Harry said, "If I ask you what you're thinking, will you tell me the truth?"
"Are we playing that game again?"
"It's not a game. I need to know."
Draco hesitated, feeling a cold trickle of fear go down his back, then he nodded.
"Why are you so sad?" Harry whispered.
"Because I feel betrayed," Draco answered, without thinking.
"What have I done?"
"It's what you haven't done. You haven't..."
Harry's eyes fixed unwaveringly on Draco, forcing him to meet his gaze. "Made love to you?" Draco nodded. "I didn't know it meant that much to you."
"I thought it meant something to you."
"It does. So much that I'm terrified of it. But you don't really think, because we haven't..."
"It's why we haven't done it. You don't trust me to stay, afterward." He saw understanding flash through Harry's eyes, followed closely by pain, and he turned away so he wouldn't have to watch the play of emotions in the other boy as he spoke. "I didn't figure it out until this morning, when you made that crack about having more than a couple of nights in us."
"Before that, I was just confused. I didn't want to believe the whispers in the castle. I was sure that you would never use me like... like..."
Draco felt his face heat, but he kept his head up and his voice level. He did not want to say any of these things or expose himself to Harry in this way, but he had agreed to tell the truth. And if he were going to speak this kind of truth, then perhaps this tall, isolated tower in the middle of a frozen night, where he and Harry were pinned up against the stars and utterly alone, was the one safe place to do it.
"I believed you when you said you wanted it. Every time we were close, you made it impossible for me not to believe you. But then you would pull away, start talking, try to fondle me like I was some kind of toy that you had the right to play with. And when we were alone - really alone, where no one could see us - you didn't touch me at all."
The words were coming more easily as he grew used to the sound of his own voice and let some of his brewing resentment come out. "I waited for you to make up your mind, or screw up your courage, or whatever it was that needed doing. I told myself that you knew more about this stuff than I did, that I could trust your instincts better than my own. I waited, Harry, and I waited. Maybe it doesn't feel like very long to you, but it feels like an eternity to me! Every time you kissed me and I knew you meant it, it only hurt worse when you backed away!"
"You could have told me how you felt," Harry interjected, softly.
"How? Throw myself on your neck and beg you to take me to bed? That's very dignified!"
"Just tell me. Like you are now. Only next time, do it before you start losing sleep over it."
"You make it sound so easy."
"It could be. Or at least less agonizing. Draco, can I ask you something?"
He gave a small, choked laugh. "Can I stop you?"
"Why do you pull away when I touch you?"
"I told you, it's too easy. It makes me feel... cheap, I guess."
"Does everything have to be hard?"
"Love does. Admit it, Harry. Loving me is hard."
"Sometimes. But other times, it's as natural and easy as breathing." Harry eyed him intently. "So you don't believe that I mean it when I try to be... gentle?"
Draco shook his head and took swallow of cider to mask his face from those piercing eyes.
"But you believe it when I kiss you like I did by the tree this morning."
"It's kind of hard not to believe you when... well..."
"When you can tell just how badly I mean it."
Draco grinned down at the cup in his hands, his blush hot on his cheeks. "Yeah."
"Let me get this straight. You believe that I want to get into your pants, but you don't believe that I want to touch you just for the sake of touching you. Just because I like it."
"I guess that's right."
"That means you don't believe I really love you."
"No. It means I'm not terribly clear on how love works. I know you love me, Harry. And I know you want to get into my pants. But I don't know what else there is to it."
"I could show you, if you'd let me."
Draco gazed doubtfully at him. "I don't know."
"There is more to it than sex, even for teenage boys."
They both fell silent for a long minute. Then Draco picked up the thread of truth-telling with a question of his own.
"If you want to get into my pants so badly, why haven't you done it yet?"
"A lot of reasons."
"Give me the highlights."
"Okay. Because I don't want you to think it's only about that. Because I want it to be so special that you'll never doubt me again. Because I wasn't sure what you wanted, or when, or how to do it just right without scaring you off. Because there's something amazing about waiting and wanting so much, and it brings you back to me day after day..."
"That's not what brings me back, Harry. Or not the only thing." He fixed Harry with his most intent gaze, dropping his guard at last to let the other boy see the fierce, almost desperate yearning in him. The answering blaze of hunger in those myopic green eyes made his stomach clench painfully. "I have all the nights in me that you can stand, and then some. You just have to trust me to stay."
Harry leaned close but, true to his word, did not touch him. The other boy's breath was warm on Draco's face when he whispered, "I love you so much that sometimes I think I'll go mad from it."
"You already are mad, if you love me. Haven't you figured that out by now?"
"I don't care. The only thing I care about is having you with me."
Draco wanted to reach for Harry and pull him into a kiss that would melt the rivets on his jeans. He wanted it so badly that his chest ached from the pressure of it. But his hands wouldn't move, his body wouldn't obey him, and he could only sit there, looking into Potter's face, wishing that he did not have six years of bitterness and suspicion weighing him down at this particular moment.
Fingers brushed his jaw, sliding into his hair. Draco closed his eyes and muttered, "You're breaking your promise."
From less than a finger's breadth away, Harry answered, "No, I'm not."
Then those familiar hands were drawing him close and the mouth he adored was fastening over his and the blood was singing in his ears, drowning out the chorus of fear that tormented him. Draco took one shuddering breath and let go, abandoning himself to the heat and longing of Harry's kiss, casting aside reason and resistance, forgetting his own name until he heard it again from Harry's lips.
Reluctantly, he dragged his eyes open again to find that Harry had broken the kiss but had not drawn away any farther than necessary to move his lips. His eyes were half open, gleaming in a way that made Draco hurt to have his arms around him, and his hands were still clasping Draco's head. "What."
"I think you just spilled hot cider in my lap."
"Bloody Hell!" Draco pulled abruptly away from Harry and looked down at the cup still clutched in both his hands. It was nearly empty, while both Harry's sweater and his own shirt had great, amber-colored stains down their fronts. He plucked at his shirt, grimacing, then started to laugh.
"You might have damaged something valuable, you know," Harry scolded.
Draco just laughed harder. "It's not that hot, you git!" Still laughing, he toppled back to lie on the blanket, his body going limp as the last of his tension drained away. "Gryffindors are such babies!"
"And Slytherins are mean. Here, let's see how you like it when I pour a whole kettle of the stuff down your trousers!"
"Don't waste it! I'm warm enough already!"
Harry rolled his eyes and groaned, setting Draco off laughing again. When he finally stopped, he felt drained and happy, as though his fit of hilarity had banished some lingering shadow in him. He gazed up, through the faint brightness of Harry's warming spell, at the masses of stars overhead and wished that he never had to move again. Never had to disturb this moment.
He heard Potter stir and turned to see the other boy stretching out on the blanket beside him. They lay shoulder-to-shoulder, looking at the wide winter night, but thinking only about what was happening inside the sheltered, warm space they shared.
"You're such a perfectionist, Potter," Draco mused, his eyes still on the stars. "Things will never be right enough for you."
"Yeah. But that's okay. I can wait, as long as I know why."
"So, if I decided that we shouldn't sully our virtue until we're legally adults, you'd be okay with that?"
Draco turned to shoot him a sour glare and caught him trying to wipe a grin from his lips. He didn't manage it very well. "Sully our virtue?"
"Well, we are kind of young."
He knew that Potter was baiting him, but he couldn't quite hide the edge of panic in his voice when he demanded, "What are you saying?"
Harry twisted onto his side and pushed himself up on one elbow. He looked down at Draco, his eyes gleaming in that disturbing way again. "Put your cup down."
Draco put his cup down.
"Now listen very carefully." Leaning closer to him, Harry said, very softly but clearly, "Draco Malfoy, you are so incredibly gorgeous that I can't keep my mitts off you and I have to ravish you or I'll go mad."
"Do you mean it this time?"
"I mean it. Did it work?"
"Can't you tell?"
"Say it," Harry urged.
"It worked." A sob was rising in Draco's throat, threatening to choke him, but he could not risk letting it out. If Harry heard, he would know everything - everything Draco had fought so hard not to reveal by word or look or touch for fear of driving him away again. Ruthlessly, he swallowed the sound and let his eyelids fall nearly closed to mask the fierce hunger in his eyes.
"We're going someplace dangerous, Draco. I can feel it," Harry whispered, letting his head droop even closer to Draco's. The brush of warm air on Draco's mouth when he spoke was an agony, but Draco remained outwardly still and poised. "Someplace far from everything we know. Once we're there..."
"We won't come back," Draco finished for him.
"No. We won't."
Then Harry's mouth was on his, so lightly that it might have been his imagination, had it not been for the liquid heat that flowed through his body at the delicate touch. His eyes fell closed and his lips parted in a vulnerable, pleading gesture that terrified him even as he made it. Once again, he could not move for the fear in him, and once again, Harry understood.
Harry's hands slipped around his neck and up to cradle his head, lifting it from the blanket, and Harry's mouth pressed down hard on his. In the space of a breath, Draco found himself pinned beneath the other boy's weight, his head thrown back, his mouth open to receive the full, furious demand of Harry's kiss. The sob rose again in his throat, betraying him, baring him to those eyes that missed nothing and forgave nothing, but Draco didn't care. He would tear open his chest and show Potter his very soul if that's what it took. So he let the sound come, giving voice to the love that haunted him in the only way he could manage.
To his dismay, Harry broke off the kiss and pressed his lips to Draco's temple. The other boy was shaking violently. Draco could feel it in his hands, his arms, his lips, and he could feel the thudding of Harry's heart in his own chest. Harry remained very still, sprawled on top of Draco, his breath burning Draco's cheek. Draco made no move to escape or to recapture the kiss. As always, he held himself in reserve, waiting for Potter to give a sign of what he wanted. But Harry said nothing, and the pain in Draco's body was more than he could stand with the thing he desired so close.
"Are we going to do this, Harry?"
Harry lifted his head and braced one hand on the ground, pushing himself slightly away. The eyes he fixed on Draco were bright and earnest, no trace of a smile in them. And no doubt.
"Yes. And when we're done, you'll stay with me. You won't get up and walk away. You won't look at me with those cold, forgetful eyes. You'll stay with me."
It wasn't a question, but Draco answered anyway. "I'll stay."
"Because you love me."
Draco swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry with mingled fear and desire, and Harry brushed his lips lightly with his own.
"It's okay," Harry whispered, "you don't have to say it."
Harry's mouth came down hard on his, and Draco suddenly had no breath or reason left in him to argue. He felt Harry's hands on him, pulling at his clothing, touching his bare skin in ways that no one had ever touched him, and he wanted to scream but he could not let go of Harry's lips long enough to do it. He was lost, adrift, burning and drowning all at once, and Harry was the only solid thing left in his universe. Harry, who had brought him to this place and thrown him into the black sea, and who now floated with him in the treacherous currents, tangled together with him on the breast of the water. Harry, who loved him more than anyone ever had and hurt him more than his father ever could, but who would never leave him to burn and drown alone. Harry, whom he loved with everything in him. His Harry.
Final Note:Yes, this is the last chapter. No, I'm not done with the story. I've already started a sequel, called Adamant and Starlight, that picks up the narrative a few months later. I didn't make it a continuation of this one, because it focuses on a separate series of events and deserves its own story arc.
Anyway... the sequel is underway. I'll begin posting it very soon on both ff.net and Schnoogle.
My deepest thanks to all of you who've read, reviewed and enjoyed my story! I have appreciated every word of encouragement and advice! I truly hope you like the last chapter, and I hope you'll drop in and check out the sequel, say hello, tell me what you think, hang out with Harry and Draco a while... g
All the best,