Hi everyone! Here is the final chapter of Tempus Fugit, which I started a year ago. Thank you to everyone who has reviewed this story and sent me such wonderful words of encouragement and constructive criticism. This isn't the end of the Tempusverse as I will be posting various short sequels and ficlets over at my Livejournal, username Stylophile. I hope you enjoy this chapter! And Merry Christmas…
Chapter 13: Patience
I believe in you, and I don't really give a damn
If we're stigmatised
We live our lives on different sides
But we keep together you and I
We live our lives on different sides
Stigmatised - The Calling
Whatever the instrument sticking out of his mouth was measuring, Draco was certain it wasn't his temperature. Shaped like a thermometer, it was fashioned from glass and a silver line embedded inside it was rising alongside a scale written in some arcane symbols that Draco had never seen before. He was studying it closely while holding it in his mouth as instructed when Snape came in and raised one eyebrow at him.
"You've gone cross-eyed again, Draco," he said mildly. Draco mumbled something around the instrument that was completely unintelligible which Snape wisely chose to ignore. He and Harry had woken up from their magical unconsciousness only the day before and since that morning their hours had been filled with rigorous examinations from Madam Pomfrey and the Potions Master. Madam Pomfrey had clucked her tongue at him disapprovingly and tried to put him back to bed again, proving remarkably forceful for so birdlike a woman. Snape, on the other hand, was treating him like a rather interesting science experiment. Draco wasn't sure which was the lesser of the two evils.
"Arnchoodonyed?" Draco said.
Snape looked amused. "Excuse me?" he asked.
Draco scowled and took out the instrument from his mouth. "I said, aren't you done yet?"
"Very well." Snape took the instrument out of his hands and tapped it with his wand. "You are, without a doubt, the worst invalid I have ever had the misfortune to tend," he said. "I suggest you spend at least a few minutes considering everything it means to be a patient, including all definitions of the term."
"I'm not an invalid," Draco protested, ignoring the comment.
"Of course you're not," Snape muttered absent-mindedly, his long, eagle feather quill making notes all by itself on a piece of parchment. They went on in silence for a few moments, Draco staring at the fascinating specimen cabinet, his eyes drawn to a small jar into which a dead octopus had been squeezed.
"Draco?" Snape broke him out of his reverie and Draco glanced up to see the Potions Master taking a seat beside him, a look of concern on his face.
"I know that you thought I reprimanded you a little harshly yesterday," Snape said slowly.
"I never said that." He had entertained the idea briefly but hadn't given it much thought.
"You didn't have to," Snape said wryly, his mouth quirking into a faint smirk. "Your glower spoke volumes."
Draco sighed in a long-suffering manner. "It's a family thing. It comes with the name. You should see my father's when the house elves iron a crease in his trousers," he said, grinning slightly. "It's terrifying."
"Yes, quite." Snape coughed decorously. "What I mean is, I want you to know that it was out of concern that I spoke to you like that."
Draco narrowed his eyes for a moment, wondering where this conversation was heading as it was completely out of character for Snape to express any semblance of paternal concern. Draco knew it was there, but it was more usual for it to be conveyed through a quick nod and instructions to take care of himself. He supposed their sudden unconsciousness must have caused more anxiety than he thought. "I know that," he said. "Severus, is everything alright?"
"Yes of course," Snape replied at once, not quite looking at Draco. "I merely wanted to make you aware of how worried I was for your well-being. You may not always see it, Draco," he sighed, "but I am very fond of you." He fixed Draco's eyes with his own, which were dark for such sallow skin, and seemed shot with obsidian.
"I know," Draco said quickly, feeling inexplicably like a child in the face of this clumsy reassurance.
"Which is why I feel I must ask you—" Snape trailed off, looking discomfited.
"Yes?" Draco prompted, eager to get to the heart of the matter.
"This…attachment to Potter," Snape said, and looked away again.
Draco wasn't sure that this was an avenue he wanted to explore with his teacher. After the unplanned revelation the previous day absolutely nothing had been said and he was rather hoping to let the matter fade quietly into insignificance in Snape's mind. Unfortunately it seemed as though his hopes were not about to be fulfilled. "Ah."
"How on earth did it come about?" Snape asked, a mild desperation apparently mingling with his curiosity.
"Well, you know, opposites attract and all that," Draco said, knowing that a blush was rising to his cheeks. He sighed and looked at his feet. "We did have a lot of time to spend together with no-one else to talk to. Our future selves were living together and we learned a lot about each other in a very short space of time. I know you hate him, and I can appreciate why, but he's not as bad as you might think." He chanced a look up at Snape. His face was impassive as ever but Draco fancied that there was hint of incredulity present in the curl of his mouth.
"Draco, he's the very antithesis to yourself and you've always despised him," Snape said after a few long moments of a very awkward silence. "I can't help but wonder whether you are—" he trailed off again.
"Having safe sex?" Draco asked, a trace of wickedness in his smile.
Now it was Snape's turn to blush, a hint of colour rising to his cheeks and fully gratifying Draco's sense of sadism. "No, you idiotic boy," he said and paused again. "Making the right decision," he finished.
"Oh." Draco sat back in his chair and tried not to fiddle with his hair. "Don't worry, I can look after myself," he said.
"I don't doubt that," Snape replied, busying himself with tidying up several coloured bottles that stood on the table. "Draco, just be careful. I can't tell you how much I wish you'd chosen to bed a Slytherin, but if you've set your heart on having Potter then I suppose there's nothing I can do." He looked almost downcast and Draco had the horrible edge of a feeling that Snape felt almost betrayed by Draco's choices and actions. He knew how much of a shock it must have been but knew also how difficult his choices were going to prove to be, without the people closest to him resenting him for making them.
"No," he said firmly, "there isn't. I know you worry about me, and I have always been quick to take your advice, but I'm sorry, Severus, this time everything is different. I'm different."
All feigned indifference was replaced by an intense sadness that Draco could only feel himself, in the very core of his person. "I can see," Snape said softly, so softly that Draco almost didn't catch the words. "At some point in the last six weeks you've grown up." He raised his eyes to meet Draco's again. "I am very sorry I missed it."
Outside, Harry was waiting for him, leaning casually against the stone wall of the corridor, gazing into space, a faraway look crossing his clear features. The rooms were below ground level and the flickering torchlight caught at the shadows under his eyes and jaw and for a split second they cast them into darkness, making him look gaunt and tired, and very young. Draco shut the door behind him with a soft snap and Harry peeled himself from the wall so they could walk together.
"How'd it go?" he asked and Draco shrugged, feeling rather despondent.
"Not bad," he said. "You?"
Harry had been with Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing, undergoing the same examination as Draco. "Ok," he said. "She poked and prodded me a bit but at least she gave me a Ginger Newt. Everything ok? You look a bit down."
Draco shrugged again then, feeling like an idiot, said, "just something Professor Snape said. He thought I'd grown up and he was sad that I missed it." Harry said nothing but Draco could feel him shooting a look of concern. "I just feel a bit as though there's this distance between us now that I don't quite know how to cross." He suddenly felt a bit embarrassed about telling Harry this, although he supposed that if he was going to tell anyone, it might as well be Harry. "Doesn't matter," he said quickly. He felt an arm move around his shoulders as they were walking and Harry was suddenly much closer, his body a line of warmth next to Draco.
"Sure it does," Harry said quietly, not looking at the Slytherin. They turned to go up the flight of stairs that led to the Entrance Hall when Harry stopped briefly. Draco looked up to see Ron standing at the top of the stairs, his back to them and his mouth split into a grin as he talked to his sister. "I know how you feel," Harry said and Draco didn't even need to look at him to know how disconsolate he would look.
Hogwarts was a veritable hive of activity and when the inclination descended, an infallible source of information, however potentially untrue or distorted. Harry Potter, most high profile student to ever attend the school, had been comatose for over six weeks and as a consequence the entire school was buzzing with the news that he was awake. That Draco had shared in his misfortune was of huge interest also when it transpired that such hugely hostile rivals had shared more than the bad luck involved in screwing up a difficult potion.
"No way." Hannah Abbott shook her head vehemently, so that her sandy pigtails swung in her freckled face. Her mouth was set in a stubborn line and her upturned nose wrinkled in disbelief. "I don't believe it."
Ernie Macmillan, who was sitting opposite to her, paused in eating his plate of goulash and cast her a smug look. "Dispute it all you like," he said, straightening his robes pompously, "but they were seen."
Hannah's mouth dropped open. "Who by?" she asked.
Ernie smiled enigmatically. All the Hufflepuffs in the surrounding area had their eyes fixed on their prefect. "The Gryffindor sixth-year boys," he said. "Apparently they shared a bed the night Harry woke up."
"No!" Hannah exclaimed. "That's crazy! It's Harry and Malfoy!"
"It's true!" Ernie replied, nodding. All the Hufflepuffs were talking to their neighbours, casting curious glances over to the Gryffindor table and whispering to each other excitedly.
"I heard it was a spell!" a ginger-haired fourth year piped up from across the table. "I heard that Malfoy bewitched Harry into falling in love with him because he's fancied him for ages!"
"Harry Potter, bane of the Dark Lord bewitched by Malfoy?" Ernie scoffed. "I don't think so, somehow." The fourth year looked downcast. "No," Ernie went on. "They were attracted to each other, pure and simple."
Hannah sighed dreamily. "How romantic."
The Gryffindor boys weren't taking the news quite so well as the Hufflepuffs. They sat in a dejected silence that morning at breakfast, each inwardly hoping that neither Harry nor Draco would come to breakfast and thereby spare them further discomfiture. They obliged. After the awkwardness that morning they had hidden themselves away about the school, just enjoying each other's company in a seclusion that would soon prove rare. After spending so long with only themselves and their uncertainties, to be thrown back into a place of nostalgia and kaleidoscopic demands was all too intense. The mind takes time to adjust, a fact much lamented by the eager gossips of Hogwarts, all keen on hearing first hand about the consequences of a badly made Pertho Draught and forced companionship with one's sworn enemy.
The Slytherin dorm was nestled in the very depths of the castle, beneath layers of crumbling corridors and a receding dankness that seemed to settle in the stone walls between which they inhabited. The common room, spun with its silvers and greens, was a flurry of familiarity as Draco entered it, filling his core with a bittersweet nostalgia. The smell of the air, slightly reminiscent of the dying embers in the grate and the rich leather of the old sofas, was homely and comforting. It was absolutely deserted and Draco felt like he was coming home after a long journey. He ran his fingers across the cloth of the throws and cushions, the cold stone of the fireplace, the papery levels of the notice board with some satisfaction. Here was a familiarity he had craved without realizing it. This place had been his home for so long that it was hard to envision ever leaving it, hard to envision ever breaking free from the memories that were so deeply entrenched within his mind. It was like an echo repeating itself to some inner part of him, folding over the old sense of contentment with a renewed recognition that seemed to open his eyes differently to everything about him. Suddenly it was all new and marvellous for being so.
He slid open the door to his dormitory and entered inside. The silent line of beds looked as it had ever done and Draco was overcome with a sense of childlike excitement that claimed him completely. Caving to it, he jumped backwards onto his neatly made bed and lay sprawled, gazing absently at the canopy of green that hung above him. He sighed.
"I wondered when we'd be seeing you." The voice was quiet but Draco sat up with a start, his heart thudding. He looked around and spotted Gregory Goyle sitting on the edge of his bed, the tousled hair and heavy eyes suggesting he had obviously just been disturbed while sleeping.
"Goyle." Draco tried for polite inquiry, but his voice came out more as a croak. He coughed.
"So you're awake then," Goyle said, with no hint of a question in his voice. "We heard all about it, of course, the whole school knows."
"Heard about what?" Draco asked, deflating slightly. He had always been on excellent terms with Goyle whom he had regarded as one of his most faithful friends. This attempt at cold conversation was a novel method of interaction which Draco didn't much care for.
Goyle shrugged. "The lot," he said and fidgeted a bit on his bed. He wasn't looking directly at Draco; he fixed his eyes on a spot on the wall instead. "We heard from Snape as soon as you woke up but we expected you to come back last night. When you didn't, we heard from the Ravenclaws about you and…Potter."
"Oh." Draco picked gingerly at some imaginary lint on his bedspread. "That."
"Yeah." Goyle sighed. "You were out for six weeks, Draco, we thought—"
"I'm sorry," Draco said quickly.
"For what?" Goyle asked, looking tired.
"I know what you think of me," Draco replied, artfully avoiding such direct questions. "What you must have thought when you heard about Potter—"
"Of all people," Goyle cut him off. "Of all people, Draco, I don't understand it."
"I'm not asking you to," Draco said slowly. "I'm not even asking you to accept it."
"Good." Goyle sounded irritated. "Because he's a stupid, Gryffindor wanker."
Draco didn't say anything in response to this, feeling that it might just exacerbate the situation further. He could hear snatches of noise and conversation drifting up from the common room and realized that the students must have begun to file back in. Footsteps neared them and the door slammed open unceremoniously to reveal Crabbe, Blaise and Pansy, all apparently deep in conversation. Their jaws dropped on beholding Draco who gave them a little wave.
"Hi," he said, for want of something better.
"You- you're here," Blaise said incredulously. "What are you doing here?"
Draco felt a small grasp of annoyance. "Would you rather I left?" he asked in his best effort at disdain.
"I…" Blaise trailed off. "No," he said. "S'just weird to see you after so long. Wasn't sure if you'd want to hang out with us any more when you woke up."
"Word is you've got new friends now," Crabbe supplied helpfully. "Or maybe 'friend' isn't quite the right word, is it, Draco?"
Draco knew that this might be the reaction he met when he came here. He knew that as sons of Death Eaters, his friends equated to sworn enemies of Potter, which might prove fatal at one point for someone or another. Draco didn't particularly want to consider that. He slid fluidly off the bed and leaned against the post, crossing his arms against his chest. Crabbe and Blaise still stood in the doorway, Pansy's face peering apprehensively over their shoulders.
"Maybe not," Draco said carefully.
Blaise stepped forward, his face grim, dark shadows of righteous indignation lingering about his eyes and the set of his mouth. "Six weeks you were out," he said. "Six weeks and then you go and fuck off with Potter. Everyone knows about it, Draco, no matter how much you hide yourself away." Draco wondered at his voice. He had known Blaise for a long time, and prided himself on being able to detect even the faintest traces of emotion in his friend's voice. Here there was no sense of menace, just complaint. "You have any idea how worried we were about you?" Blaise went on. "No-one knew if you were ever going to wake up, your father came down and raised all kinds of hell-"
Draco hated seeing Blaise like this, his mouth bitten to bloodiness and his eyes shadowed with sleepless nights. "Blaise…"
"…and then just to finish it off, you go and shack up with Potter!" Blaise finished, looking as though he was torn between fury and concern. Draco became very aware of the roaring in his ears, of Blaise's words washing over him, dousing him with the presence of another person, another set of memories. Once he would have given in to his rising anger and sense of pride and hexed Blaise to shut him up but now he wasn't that person any more. So much inside him had changed, so many priorities had shifted violently so that all that was left was a sense of discovery, complete and unsettling.
He took a deep breath. "Blaise," he said again.
"What?" Blaise snapped, although Draco was sure he could see hurt more than anything on his friend's face.
Draco moved towards him slowly before stalling any protest by folding his arms around Blaise and pulling them close together in an awkward, impromptu hug. There was a horrible second where Draco felt Blaise stiffen and worried that he would push him away. The edges under his hands were unfamiliar and bony but after a moment the rigidity in them relaxed and Blaise just collapsed against him, his face nestled somewhere in Draco's collarbone, his breath warm and ragged against Draco's skin. The moment broke and Draco tightened his arms to contain his limp friend who wound his hands around his neck and clung on to him, murmuring in his ear.
"…thought you were dead," Draco caught. "Thought we'd lost you."
"I know," Draco whispered back. "I'm sorry."
Blaise pulled back a little, his lovely dark eyes full of emotion and he managed a weak smile. "Potter?" he asked, a bitterness returning briefly.
Draco sighed and shrugged. "Something changed," he said. "Lots, in fact."
Before Blaise could say anything, Pansy had pushed past Crabbe and jumped on Draco, flinging her arms around his neck, the force carrying him back against the bedposts. He let out a muffled noise of surprise but circled her with his arms and let her sob, relieved, into his shoulder. The air seemed to lift as though a cool breeze had suddenly sliced through the searing tension, settling disputes and clearing the air of every ill-feeling.
"We couldn't even come and see you that often," Blaise said. "Snape said it wouldn't do any good, especially for you. He thought you'd be mortified if you knew we'd seen you without you having your hair brushed for six weeks."
That was when Draco knew everything was going to be alright.
Painted chests rose and fell, accompanied by the soft snores of every Headmaster or Mistress of Hogwarts since the 1300's. They hung on the walls of Dumbledore's office, offering advice when it was little needed and telling him when they thought he needed to change the décor. Fawkes, with his violent red and gold plumage, was snoozing as well, his head tucked under one wing, the feathers of his tail twitching occasionally.
Dumbledore was sitting on one side of his mahogany desk, tinkering with his various spindly silver instruments whilst Professor McGonagall sat on the other side sipping delicately at some Ogden's Old Firewhiskey.
"It's quite remarkable," she said after a few minutes quiet. "For those two to—" she broke off, not quite knowing where to look. "I would never have believed it."
Dumbledore sighed, his blue eyes twinkling behind his half-moon spectacles. "Ah Minerva," he said, looking up at her and plucking something from a pocket inside his robes, "the human heart is just as complex as this rubix cube. You never quite know what will happen when you try to move pieces of it." He produced a small rubix cube and started fiddling with it.
Professor McGonagall raised one eyebrow. "I beg your pardon, Albus?" she said, staring at the toy in his hands. "Rubix what?"
"Ah, forgive me," Dumbledore offered her the cube. "It's a muggle toy I have become particularly fond of. No matter what colour robes I have chosen to wear, it is very obliging and matches every outfit."
"Yes, indeed," Professor McGonagall said to this declaration. Sometimes words just failed her.
"I agree with you when you say that this situation is remarkable, though," Albus said amiably, "but I think, not unwelcome."
"No." McGonagall swirled the amber liquid around her glass before settling down on the edge of the desk. "It will be nice not to have to break up so many duels. Those two were always the most violent rivals, Potter knows so many hexes and Malfoy," she shuddered slightly, "I dread to think where he gets his knowledge from." She looked grave for a moment before casting her eyes up to the headmaster and adopting a more curious expression. "I wonder, Albus," she said.
Dumbledore smiled at her. "Yes?"
"All this came about because they saw themselves as…lovers," McGonagall went on, apparently a little uncomfortable with such terminology when it concerned the pair in question.
"I believe so," Dumbledore replied as benignly as ever.
"But won't their future now change because they know this?" she asked. "Are they at risk now from meddling with fate?"
Dumbledore did not answer for many moments and knotted together his withered hands atop his silver beard, which shone brightly in the candlelight. He looked thoughtful. "Fate, Minerva, is the most subtle and intricate web that we in our short lives will ever know," he said slowly and without humour. "Everything that has happened was meant to happen or it would not have done."
"I suppose," McGonagall said.
"Not even the gods themselves would be willing to touch fate," Dumbledore said, shrugging his old shoulders. "Imagine if Zeus had spared Sarpedon? Such havoc would have been wreaked."
McGonagall scoffed. "Oh come now, Albus," she said briskly. "You can't possibly believe in such myths."
Dumbledore just smiled again. "Ah, I am but an old man and at liberty to believe in whatever I choose," he replied. "Fate will bring about the right ends, for everyone. Observe." He picked up an instrument that stood on the corner of his desk and gave it a quick polish with a cloth. It was shaped rather like a child's spinning top, except it seemed to be forged from silver, was very heavy and had a certain glow about it that immediately marked it as highly magical.
"Another of your toys?" McGonagall asked, raising the second of her eyebrows.
Dumbledore did not look up at her, but instead busied himself with setting the instrument on its point. "Indeed, but a wizarding one for I fear the muggles lack the inclination to make such things," he said.
"What does it do?" McGonagall asked, unable to repress her curiosity.
"It is a simple divination device," Dumbledore said, "of a sort. It will indicate whether or not the future of Messrs Potter and Malfoy will be changed beyond recognition."
McGonagall was silent as Dumbledore tapped the instrument with his wand and it started to spin of its own accord. Faster and faster it spun, the silver becoming a single glowing line as it reflected the candlelight and then McGonagall let out a tiny gasp and held one hand to her mouth. The instrument had emitted a brief keening sound before the walls of Dumbledore's office had become the stage for a huge and sudden shadow theatre. Although the façade of the spinning instrument changed in no way, it seemed to be forming the shadows that leaped and danced over the walls haphazardly, forming recognizable shapes and huge masses of black.
"What does that mean?" McGonagall asked.
Dumbledore studied the shapes forming thoughtfully. One shape kept repeating itself over and over again, appearing between the other figures every so often, without changing at all. McGonagall couldn't quite make out what it was. A misshapen wand perhaps, or an arrow. Yes, that was closer.
Finally, the spinning stopped and the shadows receded from whence they came. The instrument fell still, resting on its side. Dumbledore picked it up in his hands, his lips twitching into a smile.
"Well?" McGonagall prompted him.
"Did you see the arrow?" Dumbledore asked her and she nodded. "Ah, a symbol if ever there was one, and its constancy was reassuring, no?" She did not reply. "It means," Dumbledore continued kindly, "that whilst material things, location and experiences may change, there will be one thing for them that will be unremitting and faithful. Now they have really found each other, they will love each other."
McGonagall looked surprised but before long her face, moved by Dumbledore's own pleasure, became one of vague satisfaction.
"It's a funny thing, time," she said after a while.
"Oh indeed," Dumbledore replied. "I quite agree."
Complex refrains of shifting sunlight and the subtle monotony of birdsong formed a laziness over the Hogwarts grounds that everyone outside was urged to succumb to. It produced a kind of reverie that made them unconscious of the day and its creeping shadows. The golden stands encircled them in their starry glow like a bracelet, and in the one place where Harry and Draco met to compete, they forged another battle of wills that created a sense of irony in the blazing path where their lips met.
"I've missed this," Draco said softly, looking down at the grass.
"This," Draco gestured around at themselves, the castle and the grounds, "this, being young, having fun. After being denied a childhood for so long, and to then almost lose what little we had of being teenagers. I've missed it." He looked suddenly wistful and Harry felt his stomach jolt. He loved watching Draco, just watching him. He looked so beautiful, too effeminate to be handsome yet he carried the gracefulness to perfection.
The pair of them were seated on the bank of grass at the edge of the pitch, the air full of moving shapes as the Gryffindor Quidditch team met for a practice above their heads, captained by Ron on his Cleansweep Eleven. Harry was watching them absent-mindedly when Draco tapped his arm.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Over there," Draco pointed, "we've got company." Harry followed his line of sight to where a small group of Gryffindors and Slytherins were coming towards them.
He groaned. "What now?" After spending more than a month isolated with only each other for company had had serious effects on both boys. It now seemed natural for them to spend long periods of time alone together, and therefore it was with reluctance that they stood up to greet the intruders into their private world.
"Hello," Hermione smiled when they reached them, "we didn't see you at breakfast."
"Couldn't face it," Harry shrugged, "I didn't want to hear all the rumours being spread." Hermione held out a stack of toast, which Draco snatched hungrily.
"I thought you might be hungry," she said, looking amusedly at Draco.
"What are you doing out here?" Harry asked as they all moved to take seats in the stadium.
"As I said, we haven't seen you," replied Hermione, "not for ages, not properly. It isn't quite the same, talking to a comatose body. You start to wonder if you're actually talking to yourself, becomes a bit unnerving after a while."
Harry felt immediately remorseful, even though he had done nothing to merit it. He supposed, though, that he should have paid more attention to Ron and Hermione since he had been back. He had been so wrapped up in Draco that his feet had barely touched the ground. "I know, I'm sorry," Harry rubbed thoughtfully at the back of his neck. "It's just weird, you know? I mean, we've seen you all the time." Leaning back underneath the welcoming glow of the warm sun, Harry and Hermione continued to talk quietly as Draco sat, eating toast with Pansy and Blaise.
"Have you talked to Ron?" Hermione asked, looking up to see the redhead in question hurl the quaffle at Ginny who shot it neatly through the centre hoop.
Harry shook his head. "No," he said, a little sadly. "He's avoiding me."
"Ok team!" they heard Ron yell above them. "I'm going in but I want ten minutes more practice on that manoeuvre you just learnt." Harry looked up to see Ron swoop down on his broom, landing heavily and heading towards the changing rooms.
Hermione nudged him. "Where's Draco?" she asked. Harry looked around, Blaise and Pansy were sitting by themselves.
Draco let the door to the changing room shut behind him with an audible click. Ron looked up in surprise. "Oh. What do you want?" he asked, pointedly not looking at Draco, his lips pressed together and firm lines of tension appearing on his face. He unbuckled the leather arm guards and tossed them roughly to the floor.
"To talk, Weasley," Draco said, sighing and leaning as nonchalantly as possible against the lockers, "if you can bear to." His heart was pounding in his chest as he watched the redhead tense visibly.
Ron turned his back on him, unzipping his Quidditch bag with careful, studied movements. "I have nothing to say to you."
Draco felt his temper rise. "Well I do," he said, a little more snappishly than he had first intended. "And you'll listen to me."
"Oh yeah?" Ron whirled round, nostrils flaring angrily. "Go on, Malfoy, why's that?" He strode towards Draco until he was standing right in front of him, and then he shoved him lightly on the shoulder, just enough to propel him backwards so that he banged against the lockers.
Draco gritted his teeth. "Get off me and stop being such a prat," he said brushing Ron's hand off him roughly. "Where are your manners?" He injected as much disdain as he could into his voice.
"You come in here demanding to talk to me and you say I'm bad mannered?" Ron scoffed, disbelieving.
"Yep," Draco said without missing a beat. "Now listen to me."
Ron's temper was clearly rising, a rich flush colouring his cheeks and his eyes narrowed to slits. "Why the fuck shou—" he began, before Draco cut him off.
"Because it's about Harry."
Ron faltered for the very briefest of moments. "I don't want to hear it," he said, not meeting Draco's eyes. "Go away, Malfoy."
"No," Draco replied, wishing very much that he could do just that. He sighed. "I don't like you, Weasley, and I know exactly how much you'd like to hang me upside down outside Gryffindor Tower. But Harry, for some strange and unfathomable reason, is miserable without you."
Ron spun around again and shook his armguards at him in irritation. "That's all your fault!" he exclaimed.
Draco waved this fact away with one hand. "Details," he said dismissively. "Are you really telling me that you'd be prepared to give up five years of friendship just because you don't like his choice of…company?" he asked, choosing his words carefully.
"This is none of your business!" Ron cried and Draco felt his own sense or anger renewing itself inside him.
"Fuck off!" he spat. "You just reminded me how much all of this is my fault so don't start that one."
Ron came very close to him again, his entire body tensed with an anger that was suddenly cold and unbearable and present in every line of his form. "Do you know what, Malfoy?" Ron asked through a clenched jaw. "I wouldn't care if Harry fancied Seamus, Filch or that pot plant over there. It's you I can't stand. I would be ok with absolutely anyone but you." The sheer hatred that Ron managed to convey in those words surprised Draco a little. He congratulated himself for a moment before coming to his senses and realizing that this antipathy was potentially destructive.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because!" Ron yelled desperately. "You are an insufferable, arrogant git that has done everything possible to make us unhappy while we've been here! Harry might have taken leave of his senses and forgotten everything you've done to us, but I haven't!" He was pacing now, backward and forward across the room, almost as if he was delivering a monologue instead of talking to Draco, who stood on the periphery, listening intently. "What about those Potter Stinks badges you tormented him with in fourth year? Or when you insisted on reading out every scrap of humiliating news about him from the Prophet in front of everyone? Or in third year when you dressed up as a Dementor to make him fall off his broom? You didn't care about the horrible things he used to hear in his head when Dementors came near him because anything that hurt him was good for you! And now you come and claim a whole new part of his life and I'm supposed to just accept it? How long before you cast him aside and spill all his secrets to the Slytherins?" He rounded on Draco and shook one finger accusingly at him.
"I am not going to hurt Harry," Draco said as calmly as he could manage, whilst knowing it would do little good.
"I don't believe you," Ron replied promptly.
Draco saw Ron open his mouth to continue but cut him off quickly. "I don't give a damn because quite frankly I'm not here to have a touching reconciliation, belatedly realize you are actually quite a nice person and invite you out for drinks and reminiscing," Draco said sarcastically, trying to recall a little of his old self. "I'm here because the one person I care about more than anything in the world is upset because you won't talk to him. And as you so kindly pointed out, it's my fault and so I'm here to make you see sense and stop acting like a complete prick."
"Fuck you, Malfoy!" Ron cried and kicked over his broomstick.
"No!" Draco yelled, standing his ground. "You can dredge up every single instance of us behaving like brats if you like, such as the time you three left me hexed to within an inch of my life on the Hogwarts Express." Ron smirked at this and Draco bristled. "I'll thank you not to laugh, that was a highly traumatic experience."
"I can imagine," Ron replied.
Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair, tousling it. "You can hate me all you want, I don't care. Just don't take it out on Harry," he said with an edge to his voice that could have been construed as pleading if it was studied very closely. As much as Draco hated Ron, he couldn't stand the idea that Harry would lose something that meant so much to him. "He doesn't deserve it, after everything he's been through."
Ron was quiet for a long moment and Draco could hear his heart beating in his ears as he wondered how the Gryffindor would react. Would he start shouting again and start throwing things? At least that would be entertaining for a while. Hardly productive, though. "Are you done?" Ron asked, after apparently doing some very quick thinking.
Draco narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Did I mention that I would never hurt Harry?" he asked.
"Yes," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
"Then yes, I'm done."
"Fine," Ron replied shortly and continued to fold his discarded clothes.
Draco's mouth dropped open slightly in surprise. "Fine? Fine what?" he asked, frustrated. Ron went to go into the showers, seemingly ignoring Draco, which would never do at all. "Come back here!" he yelled.
"Ron?" The voice was Harry's. "What's going on?" He was standing in the doorway, framed with the light from the Quidditch pitch, his skin flushed from the outdoors and his eyes bright and laced with concern. He looked a little uncertain as he addressed Ron, obviously unsure as to the cordiality of the response he could expect, but Draco knew that finding himself and Ron alone in a room would usually indicate a fight about to break out. No wonder Harry was worried.
"I—" Ron said, turning round.
"Is everything alright?" Harry asked, looking between the pair. Draco was stubbornly silent. He had said his piece and had made his point quite satisfactorily. It was Ron's call now, whether he wanted to sacrifice the first friendship of his life and Harry's that had ever meant something. Draco hoped he would make the right choice. He shrugged and looked over at Ron.
Ron's shoulders dropped with weariness and resignation and his voice, when he spoke, held no malice or accusation. "Yeah," he said, his tone a half sigh. "Yeah it is. I'm just going for a shower but I'll meet you guys out here in a bit."
"Ok," Harry said, his face brightening visibly in a way that made Draco's heart beat just a little faster. "Thanks." Ron nodded briefly before vanishing into the shower area, leaving Harry and Draco alone together.
"So I'm the person you care most about in the world?" Harry asked, turning to Draco with a grin on his face.
"You were listening?" Draco exclaimed, shocked. "Potter, you dick!" He slapped him on the arm but Harry caught him and tugged him against his body. With a deliberate slowness he wrapped his arms around Draco, locking them tightly together in their own island of warmth and affection.
"Actually you were very persuasive," he said, his voice low and husky. "The insults were an especially nice touch." Draco smiled at him, unable to help it. "Thank you," Harry said, even more softly and hugged him. "I mean it."
"Never say I don't fucking love you," Draco growled, "whether it took a trip to the future to realize it or not. I almost miss that life, I can't wait until it's reality, so to speak."
Harry knew just what he meant. The vague recollections that he had about his time in the future were all centred around the lingering feelings of sublime comfort, luxury and happiness. His life had seemed filled with the glorious sensation of his own self-determination. He had power, friends, success, and above all, freedom. He had the freedom to make his own choices, to love, lose and live as he pleased. He had the freedom to be with Draco and hidden away from prying eyes. He hoped the years would speed quickly by and that their prospects would remain the same as they had foreseen. With adulthood would come an intense liberty.
"Well, you know what they say," Harry grinned, "tempus fugit."