Title: Take My Hand

Author: Sevfan

Rating: PG13

Warnings: Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Fluff

Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters belong to the wonderful J. K. Rowling. They have been borrowed for entertainment purposes only.

Beta: Constant Vigilance – thank you so much for your sage advice and hard work. It is appreciated more than you know!

Summary: Written for the Hex Files August Challenge: No word limit, but must be a one-shot. The last line of the challenge must read "Shut up and kiss me." (Must be in quotes).

Harry returns to Hogwarts to find Draco Malfoy a broken man. He vows to help him – can he succeed? Contains HBP spoilers.

As Harry made his way through the halls, he couldn't help but feel nostalgic. It felt so bloody good to be back! So many things had happened to him since. So much had changed. People had come and gone from his life, some forever, never to return. And yet here it stood, as grand and impressive as it had been on that day in September so many years ago. It had survived, the stone walls as strong as they had always been, the same, yet not. Something was missing; someone was missing. Harry stopped at the foot of the marble staircase and listened. It was not supposed to be this quiet. The air should be filled with the sounds that children make on their way to and from class. Where were the laughter and the shouts of discord as rivals vied? This was the sound of late August. In two weeks time, all would be as it should. Hogwarts would come to life once again. Harry's gaze travelled upward and stopped at the first landing. If he closed his eyes, he could still see him. There he stood, as he had so many times before, peering down over the top of his spectacles, eyes twinkling, a broad smile on his thin lips. If he concentrated hard enough, Harry could even hear his voice welcoming him heartily. The memories were still vivid, even after so much time. He opened his eyes with a sigh. Of course, Dumbledore was not there. Dead and buried some five years now. Harry shook off the cloak of sadness that enveloped him and he started up the stairs.

"Jelly Babies!" said Harry. He bounded up the stairs as soon as the gargoyle had moved aside, knocking loudly on the large wooden door at the top.

"Come in!" called a voice.

Harry entered the office and broke into a wide grin. "Good afternoon, Professor McGonagall, or perhaps I should say Headmistress?"

"Harry! How lovely to see you!" she cried. The usually staid, reserved woman arose and pulled Harry into a hug. "Professor will do, Harry. How have you been?"

"I am fine, thank you. Yourself?"

"Considering my age, quite well. Please, have a seat. Would you care for a cup of tea?"

"Yes, please. That would be most welcome." As Professor McGonagall poured the tea, Harry continued, "It feels rather strange to be here. I haven't been in this office since…well, you know."

"I do imagine it would. It took us all some getting used to it."

Harry looked around him and said, "You haven't changed this room much. I can see the odd bits and bobs here and there, but on the whole, it's exactly the same." Harry grinned and added, "You still use a sweet for a password."

Minerva smiled. "It only seemed fitting. You remember what a sweet tooth Albus had."

Before Harry could say another word, a voice spoke behind him. "Ah yes, I must say that I miss them terribly."

"Professor Dumbledore!" Harry said, a huge grin lighting up his face. "I had forgotten that you would be here. Um, I mean that your portrait would be. I…I…what I'm trying to say is…" The large lump in Harry's throat prevented him from speaking further.

"I know, Harry, I know. It is good to see you, too. Please, don't let me interrupt you further. Please continue, Minerva."

"Thank you, Albus. Shall we get down to business? I am dying to know – have you decided to accept my offer, Harry?"

Harry took a sip of tea and paused before speaking. "I have been wrestling with this ever since I received your owl. Going back and forth, yes and no - been going spare over it, actually."

"Have you reached a conclusion?" asked Minerva anxiously.

"Believe it or not, I still hadn't decided when I came here today. I made my mind up the minute I walked in the door."

"Harry Potter, will you please just tell me!"

"My answer is yes. I'd be thrilled to take the position vacated by Madam Hooch."

Minerva clapped her hands in delight. "Excellent! You will make a fine addition to our staff, Harry."

"Well done, my boy, well done," said Dumbledore from his frame.

"Thank you both," said Harry. "Are you really sure that I can do this?"

"Harry, I wouldn't have asked you if I thought that you weren't up to the task. You should know me better than that."

A slight blush crept up Harry's cheeks. "Um, you're right. I should have realised. My apologies, Headmistress."

Minerva waved her wand and a rolled piece of parchment appeared in her hand. "Think nothing of it. Now, before you sign this contract, I have a question to ask you. Please answer truthfully."

"I wouldn't answer any other way. Please, what is your question?"

"Professor Snape is my Deputy Headmaster. Will you have a problem with that or with him personally?"

Harry hadn't given a thought about Snape still being at Hogwarts. Snape – the name still made his stomach twist.

Harry cleared his throat and said, "I won't deny that he is not my favourite person. I spent a lot of time hating him, especially after what he did. There was a time that I longed for his demise, preferably by my own hand." He paused briefly to gather his thoughts before continuing. "That said, the truth of what happened has been explained to me. I have also spoken to Professor Snape. He and I have come to an understanding."

"Good!" said Minerva. "It was something that I had to know, Harry."

"I understand, Headmistress. There is a question that I must ask, if I may?"

"You may always speak freely here."

"Thank you," replied Harry as he arose. He walked to Dumbledore's portrait and said, "I need to hear it from you, Professor. Did Snape kill you on your orders?"

"Professor Snape, Harry," Dumbledore gently chastised. "Yes, I made him take a Wizard's Oath that if the situation arose that warranted my death, he was to perform the Avada Kedavra. He acted entirely on my orders."

"Thank you," said Harry with relief as he turned back to his seat.

"There's one more thing that I think you should know, Harry. He didn't want to do it and he protested most violently. I made him see that it might very well be necessary and he reluctantly agreed. As you know, I was correct and he performed his duty admirably. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to do what he has done. Can you imagine how you would feel if you had to kill Mr. Weasley for the greater good? I am very proud of Severus."

Dumbledore's question hit Harry hard. He couldn't imagine being able to complete that particular task and was grateful it had not been set for him. "Thank you, sir. That does give me a new perspective."

Harry reached for the parchment and quill but a hand stopped him. "There is one more thing you should know before you sign, Harry. Draco Malfoy is also here at Hogwarts."

"Malfoy! What in blazes is he doing here?" Harry asked angrily. He had made his peace with Snape, but Malfoy was another matter.

Seeing that Harry was not pleased, Minerva said, "The fact is that he is here and here he will stay. The reasons are really none of your concern. However, since you and Mr Malfoy are acquainted, I will say this, he had nowhere to go, no money, no family, no hope of finding gainful employment, in short, he was destitute. Draco has endured much since the night Albus died."

"I'll bet," said Harry with a snort of derision.

"It is not my place to relay that information to you Mr Potter," said Minerva sternly, "but trust me when I tell you that this was necessary. Professor Snape and I convinced Professor Slughorn to take Mr Malfoy on as his assistant. Is this going to pose a problem for you?"

There was no way in hell that Harry was going to let Malfoy spoil this for him. "No Ma'am, it won't be a problem at all. I will keep myself in check."

"See that you do. You may sign now, that is, if you still want to in light of what I have just told you."

Harry quickly signed his name to the contract. The smile returned to Minerva's face. "Congratulations, you are Hogwarts' newest teacher. Welcome."

"Thank you," replied Harry.

They finished their tea and discussed the particulars of the job that lay ahead for Harry – what was expected of him, his quarters, his salary, all the mundane details of a new job. When all had been said, he bid Minerva and Albus goodbye and took his leave. As he walked down the path to Hogsmeade, he swore to himself that Malfoy would, indeed, be no problem at all. Draco Malfoy had ceased to exist in Harry's life five years ago and that was the way it was going to stay.

Two weeks later, Harry stood in the middle of his quarters, surrounded by boxes and suitcases, the sum total of his worldly possessions all neatly stored in various containers. He set about unpacking with eagerness, finding the perfect spot for each and every thing he owned. When the job was done, he threw himself down in the easy chair by the fireplace and surveyed his handiwork. He had only been here for a few short hours but already it felt like home. He sighed contentedly and sat back, saying to himself, "You're home at last, Harry. This is where you belong, where you have always belonged." He arose and fetched himself a shot of Firewhisky to toast the occasion. It seemed the fitting thing to do.

The first day of September at last arrived and with it came a curious mix of emotions for Harry – anticipation, excitement, glee, with a good dose of worry thrown in for good measure. He was barely able to sit still the whole day, moving restlessly around his rooms and the corridors, all the while trying to deal with his fears of possible failure in his new career. Harry made the trek to Hagrid's cabin in the hopes that his friend had at last returned but was disappointed when he found the little house silent. As he walked back up to the castle, Harry tried to assuage his fears. "You're teaching flying and Quidditch, hardly the most complicated of subjects. You're good at both, aren't you? The students are not going to intimidate you, so why are you afraid?" He couldn't really answer that last question. So, finding no logical reason for his nervousness, he decided to push those feelings aside and enjoy the moment. He was suddenly determined to be the best bloody flying instructor that Hogwarts had ever seen.

Harry made his way to the Great Hall not long after he heard the whistle of the train as it pulled into Hogsmeade station. Relieved to find he was not the first to arrive, Harry greeted his fellow teachers heartily – Professors McGonagall, Sprout, Sinistra and Flitwick returned the sentiment and wished him the best of luck.

"Yer wouldn' mind if I was ter sit here, would yer?" said a loud voice.

Harry spun around and exclaimed, "Hagrid! You're back! It's so wonderful to see you again!"

Hagrid gathered Harry into a bone-crushing hug that knocked his glasses askew. "Right grand seeing yer again as well. Imagine tha' - Harry Potter come ter teach!" said Hagrid with a sniff. "Wonnerful, simply wonnerful."

"Now don't start blubbering, Hagrid, or you'll get me going as well. This is a happy occasion," said Harry patting Hagrid's arm.

"True," replied Hagrid as he wiped his eyes with a large handkerchief. "Look, 'ere comes Professor Slughorn."

Harry, who had been wiping his glasses on the lapel of his robes, slipped them on his nose and turned to look. Sure enough, Horace Slughorn was waddling up to the head table, followed closely behind by Draco Malfoy. Slughorn had grown even wider around the middle, which was no surprise to Harry. What did surprise him, however, was Malfoy's appearance. Gone was the cocksure, defiant, sneering Slytherin. In his place was a pale-faced, painfully thin, timid looking young man whose eyes never looked up from the ground. Harry watched in fascination as Malfoy, always several steps behind his mentor, took up his spot at the table and sat down, never giving as much as a glance at him or anyone else, for that matter. Harry could swear that Malfoy looked frightened, almost as if he would jump out of his skin if anyone dared to address him. But that was impossible, wasn't it? He turned to ask Hagrid about Malfoy, but was stopped by Slughorn shaking his hand very enthusiastically.

"Harry Potter, I do declare! Simply smashing to see you again. I was telling the Minister just the other day how you were coming to join us here at Hogwarts," crowed Slughorn.

"Still as pompous as ever," thought Harry before speaking. "Good to see you again, sir."

"Now, now, no more of that, m'boy. We're colleagues now. Please, call me Horace."

"Very well, good to see you, Horace. Oh look, here come the students. We should take our seats," said Harry, quite relieved to be rescued from Slughorn's fawning.

Harry watched as the older students filled the Great Hall, dividing themselves into four parts as they took their seats at their house tables. It was very odd to be watching from the High Table; Harry felt as if he were on the wrong side of the room. He knew that the feeling would quickly pass. The room fell silent as the first-years entered, accompanied by Professor Snape. The Sorting Ceremony was now his responsibility as Deputy Headmaster. Harry couldn't help but feel sorry for those children. Professor McGonagall had been scary enough in his day, but to have Snape sort you into your house? Harry was sure he could see the great majority of the first-years quaking in fear.

The evening played out as Harry knew it would. The food was just as wonderful as he had remembered, made even better by the wine that replaced the pumpkin juice in his goblet. Being a teacher had some perks, it seemed. During the meal Harry stole the odd glance at Malfoy. As the blond ate, his eyes never left the table. He never said a single word that Harry saw, and stood to leave only when Slughorn arose. He followed the large man out the way he had come in, always a few paces behind.

"Care ter wet yer whistle, Harry? Down in me cabin, I mean," inquired Hagrid.

'I'd like that, Hagrid," answered Harry with a smile.

The two friends set off across the grounds, chatting amicably as they went. Hagrid served Harry a rather large goblet of wine and offered up a toast of friendship, to which Harry readily drank.

"Hagrid, what's up with Malfoy?" asked Harry after a bit. "Professor McGonagall said that he had fallen on hard times, but she wouldn't elaborate. Can you tell me?"

"Well, now, if she wouldn' tell yer, I really shouldn' either. Reckon she figures it's private."

"But you do know what happened, don't you?" inquired Harry.

"Aye, tha' I do."

"I saw him tonight – he doesn't even look like the same man! I can't stop thinking how much he has changed. Look Hagrid, I'll be honest with you. I have…issues with Malfoy that go back to the night Dumbledore died."

"Great wizard, he was. May he res' in peace," interrupted Hagrid.

Harry nodded solemnly. "If there's anything you can tell me that might help me deal with those issues, I need to know. Please, Hagrid? I swear I won't breathe a word of it to anyone."

Hagrid regarded Harry for a moment and said, "Jes' wha' is it 'bout yer tha' makes me spill me guts?" Harry just grinned. "Awrigh', I'll tell yer. Promise yer won' tell anyone else?"

"I swear, Hagrid."

Hagrid sighed and began. Harry listened intently to Hagrid's words as the tale of Malfoy's life since that fateful night unfolded. When it ended, Harry found himself at a loss for words. He recalled feeling sorry for Malfoy five years ago, a sentiment that had been quickly lost, all but erased by the events that followed. Harry had witnessed Draco lamenting in the bathroom one night, heard his words and had seen him cry. How could he have forgotten this? Tonight, the little seed of compassion and sympathy began to sprout anew.

"Hagrid, have you forgiven him, I mean for what he was going to do?"

"Aye lad, I have. Didn' have much choice, did he now?"

"No, I suppose not. Thanks, you've given me a lot to think about. It's getting late. I should go up. Goodnight, Hagrid."

"G'night, Harry. Good luck with yer firs' class."

Harry turned back and gave Hagrid a sad smile. "Thanks."

As he walked back up to the castle, Harry couldn't help but replay Draco's story. He had run that night, but there was no place to hide. He had been quickly captured and brought before Voldemort, who was not at all pleased that the younger Malfoy had failed in the first task he had been given. Why Voldemort had not killed Draco outright, Harry would never understand. He had instead imprisoned him, torturing him whenever the mood struck. Voldemort quickly made Malfoy his favourite whipping boy, taking out his anger and frustration upon him as the need arose. Malfoy had even been raped, Hagrid had said in a hoarse whisper, by master and servant alike. Harry shuddered at the thought.

The torture had gone on for months, in spite of the constant begging by Narcissa Malfoy. She had repeatedly prostrated herself in front of Voldemort and pleaded with her master for him to spare her only son's life, offering to take Draco's place. Many times, Voldemort refused until one day he grew tired of her incessant begging. He held her in Crucio until she died screaming in agony, before Draco and Lucius. Not only had Draco witnessed his mother's horrific death, he had seen his father stand by and watch it happen without as much as a word said on her behalf. Harry was suddenly quite glad that Lucius Malfoy had died that day when he finally brought Voldemort down. He deserved it.

Harry had never wondered what had happened to Draco; he had assumed Draco had been murdered for failing to kill Dumbledore. The Aurors had found Draco in a dungeon, barely alive. He had used what little breath he had to plead with the Aurors to kill him and put him out of his misery, a request that they could not fulfil. He was instead brought to St Mungo's where he spent more than a year recuperating. Once he was well enough to speak, he was questioned and he willingly told everything that had happened to him, all that he had endured, beginning with his forced taking of the Dark Mark and subsequent mission to kill, a task which had also been forced upon him. He had acquiesced in order to spare the life of his parents. Veritaserum had been used during the interrogation, so there was no doubt of his story's veracity. It was decided that Draco had committed no crime and had become a Death Eater under duress, so he never stood trial and was a free man when he left the hospital.

This was not the end of his problems, however. Draco left St Mungo's physically healed but with nothing to go home to. His attempts to find work failed miserably, no one wanting anything to do with a Malfoy. Right or wrong, the Ministry had confiscated his family fortune, leaving him penniless. Fortunately for Draco, Severus had intervened on his behalf. He convinced Minerva that Draco was in dire need of their help, that he had nowhere else to go. They, in turn, had appealed to Horace Slughorn's better nature and thus Draco found himself as an assistant, living at Hogwarts. The staff had hoped that, having found a place in the world, Draco would come around and regain some of the ground he had lost. Unfortunately, the opposite had occurred – he withdrew deeper into himself.

As Harry readied himself for bed, he couldn't help but feel guilty over his reaction when the Headmistress had told him about Draco. He really had been through an ordeal and was very lucky to be alive. Judging from Draco's demeanour, he wondered if Draco thought himself lucky. He had a very strong suspicion that he didn't. Harry fell asleep that night feeling very sorry for Draco Malfoy.

Harry began his observation of Draco, something he could only do at mealtimes in the Great Hall, for he never saw him anywhere else in the castle. Day after day, he tried to catch him in the corridors or on the stairs, even in the staff loo, but to no avail. It was as if Draco vanished once a meal was over. So Harry watched as best he could, stealing a glance here and a peek there. What he saw varied little. Always the same as it had been that first night. He rarely spoke, and only when spoken to first. In fact, no one seemed to bother with Draco at all. He hoped that things were different in private, feeling that Severus surely spoke to him then. He would, wouldn't he? Even Snape couldn't be that cold to leave Draco completely alone? Could he? Harry felt like he wasn't sure of anything anymore.

Weeks went by and Harry continued watching. The blond had not looked at him, not even once. Harry longed to see the spark that had once been in Draco's eye, to hear him laugh once again, even if it was in mocking. He longed to see him react just a little bit to something, anything. All that Harry saw was the Draco of the down-turned eyes. His demeanour reminded him of a programme he had seen on the telly as a child. It had been about abused animals and Harry had never forgotten it. He hated to say it, but Draco reminded him of the badly mistreated dog he had seen that day – shying away from human interaction, never making eye contact, terrified and trembling. Harry vowed at that moment he would try to bring Draco out of his shell and back into the land of the living. He didn't have a clue how he was going to do this, all he knew was that he had to try.

Harry pondered the best course of action and decided that he would take it very, very slowly, using caution and finesse. Gentleness was what Draco needed, calm words and actions. Undoubtedly anything too harsh or quick would only serve to push Draco further into himself and that was not what Harry wanted at all.

Harry arrived for breakfast the next day a little bit late, done with the idea of arriving after Slughorn and Draco, instead of before, as was his wont. He also arrived in front of the High Table so that he could greet the two face to face.

Harry walked slowly forward and said, "Good morning, Horace. How are you today?"

Slughorn finished chewing and wiped his greasy mouth with a napkin. He said with surprise, "Good morning to you, Harry! I am well. How are your classes going, my boy?"

"Brilliant! Couldn't be better." Harry stopped and turned to face Draco. "Good morning, Draco," he said very quietly. He watched as Draco froze, his knuckles turning white as he gripped his fork tightly. He did not look up but nodded briefly and then began to eat once more. Harry glanced at Slughorn who was shaking his head at him as if to say don't do it. Harry made his way to his seat, not because of Horace's actions, but because he did not want to overwhelm Draco with his sudden interest.

Harry repeated his actions morning after morning, stopping to talk to others as well as Slughorn and Draco, just so it wouldn't be obvious what he was doing. He had yet to get more than a nod from Draco.

One afternoon, a little girl handed a note to Harry. He recognized her from class, timid little thing she was. Harry made a show of thanking her and she walked away beaming. The note was from Slughorn, inviting him to come to his quarters that evening for a wee dram and a chat. Harry had a pretty good idea what the chat was to be about.

Harry presented himself at the appointed time and accepted the proffered brandy gratefully. "So Horace, what was it you wanted to speak to me about?" asked Harry.

"No beating about the bush, eh? Well, it's about Draco. I want to know what it is you think you're playing at? Trying to draw him into conversation every morning like that, it isn't right. He isn't up for it. Can you not see that?"

"I'm not playing at anything. It is a very serious matter. I'd like to help Draco come out his shell."

"What makes you think you can succeed where we all have failed? I see you're surprised. Did you really think we have always treated him the way we do now? We tried, all of us. Each and every person here has tried to get through to him. Each and every one of us has failed. Eventually, we just stopped trying."

Harry had not considered that he was not the first to try to help Draco. He felt a little foolish. Of course they wouldn't have just brought him here and then left him be! Perhaps the task was going to be a bit harder than he thought.

Seeing that he had given him something to think about, Horace continued, "Look, you might be the Chosen One and all that, but don't think you're a miracle worker. Draco Malfoy is a broken man, and I don't think that even you can help him. Don't count on him as being the next feather in your cap."

Harry was incensed! Never had such thoughts crossed his mind. "HOW DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST SUCH A THING," he shouted.

"Please lower your voice. There's no need to shout."

"Sorry, but you picked the wrong thing to say," spat Harry. "This is not about me, Horace. I don't need another feather in my cap. I'm not out looking for lost causes to make myself feel better," said Harry, the tone of his voice starting to rise once again. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, this is about Draco – not me, not you, nor anyone else here. My concern is for him and him alone. I don't know if I can get through to Draco, all I know is that I have to try. Please, don't make it difficult for me. Let me try!"

"I apologise for what I said, Harry, and if I have misjudged your motives I am very sorry. It's just that he is so fragile; I don't want to see him hurt anymore than he already is. I have become quite…fond of my assistant." Horace gazed sadly at Harry. "I watch him, you know. I wait for a sign, any little indication that he might be coming around. Every morning, even after so many years, I awake with hope. Every night, I tell myself that perhaps tomorrow will be the day. He is just a child. Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking – that he's a man." Horace stopped and patted his chest. "But in here, he's a frightened little boy. Surely you can understand why I doubted you? I must protect him and make sure that he comes to no harm. I...I couldn't bear it if it did."

"Apology accepted. I would never do anything to hurt him. You have my word. Would you mind terribly telling me how he is when the two of you are alone?"

"He does everything I ask him to, does it very well, too. He will talk to me when I speak to him first but he has never initiated a conversation. He comes to eat with me in the Great Hall and when he isn't working for me, he is in his rooms. That's all there is to tell, Harry."

Harry looked at Horace with dismay. "Surely there has to be more! Doesn't he go out sometimes? For a walk around the grounds or into Hogsmeade? Or perhaps for a fly on his broom? He used to love flying." Harry suddenly realised he knew precious little of what Draco liked or disliked.

"No, I have never known him to venture out," said Horace with a shake of his head. "No, never, not once."

"I see," replied Harry. "Are you sure there's nothing else you can tell me?"

"Well," said Slughorn hesitantly, "he…he doesn't liked to be touched. One afternoon, years ago, he had done a very good job at something I had asked, don't remember what, so I clapped him on the shoulder to say thanks."

"What happened?"

"He recoiled from me as if I had cursed him. He sunk down against the wall, pulled himself into a ball and began crying and begging me to stop and not to hurt him. Became right hysterical, I didn't think I'd ever get him calmed down. I did it without thinking. I didn't mean to upset him."

"You couldn't have known, so don't feel badly about it, Horace," said Harry gently. Downing the last of his brandy, he continued, "Thanks for the warning and for this. Goodnight."

"Good night, Harry." When the door closed, he arose and went to the sideboard to refill his snifter. Taking a deep sip, he held up the glass to the closed door. "To you, Harry, and to your task. May you succeed."

Harry's meeting with Slughorn had left him more determined than ever to succeed. He persevered until one day, he was given a reward, seemingly small, but to him it was gigantic.

He had greeted his fellows one by one, ending with Draco. He was just about to take his seat when he heard it. It had been said so very quietly that it had almost been missed.

"Morning," whispered Draco, not looking up from his plate.

Harry's heart leapt! It was all that he could do not to grab the blond and pull him into a hug! Harry and Horace locked gaze, both breaking into smiles of incredulity. This was the first glimmer of hope, the first concrete evidence that the Draco Malfoy was, indeed, still there.

Harry stood for what seemed an eternity, but was in fact, only seconds, not quite sure what his next move should be. He had to do something and found himself saying, "And a good one it is, too, Draco."

Harry was overjoyed by Draco's response and would not be deterred when Horace warned him not to get carried away – Draco still had a very long way to go.

"I know that, Horace. It's only a start but I'm more convinced than ever that I can help him," said Harry with determination.

Horace watched him walk away, feeling for the first time that Harry might actually be right.

From that day on, Draco always answered Harry's greetings, whether it be morning, noon, or night. One evening, Harry ventured a question, hopeful that he would receive an answer.

"That was a fine beef stew we had tonight. Did you enjoy it, Draco?"

"Yes," said Draco. Grey eyes gazed quickly upward, catching the sparkling green for a fleeting instant and then falling back downward. "Thanks."

"Can I get you some more?" asked Harry. Draco merely shook his head. "Oh well, he doubled his vocabulary. Can't expect more for tonight," thought Harry.

At breakfast the next morning, Harry changed his tactic and arrived before almost everyone else, intending to visit with Draco after they had eaten. Horace arrived with Draco in tow and nodded to Harry, sitting down to begin eating at once. Harry happened to glance in their direction – wait! Had Draco been looking at him? Harry wasn't positive, but he could swear that Draco had looked away, just as he turned to look! He waited a bit and then dared to peek at Draco again, this time catching him – he was looking at him! Harry hurriedly finished eating and made his way to the other end of the table.

"May I finish my coffee here with you? If you don't mind, that is?" he asked.

"We don't mind at all. Do we, Draco?" replied Slughorn.

"No," said Draco.

Harry saw Draco tense as he sat down, but was glad to see that he did not bolt from the room. He began a conversation about Quidditch, surreptitiously watching the blond as he spoke. It wasn't long before Draco relaxed; he appeared to be listening intently. Harry cracked a joke and saw one corner of Draco's mouth quirk ever so slightly. He was listening! From that day on, Harry took all of his meals with Horace and Draco, sitting next to the younger man, trying to bring him into the conversation. It was as Horace had told him, Draco would answer when spoken to, but never first. Harry was patient; he knew that this, too, would come.

One evening, Harry made his way to Slughorn's office to return a book he had borrowed. He secretly wished that the man would not be there, hoping to find Draco instead. He knocked on the door and entered.

"Horace? Are you in?" called Harry. No answer was forthcoming. He was about to leave when he heard a tinkling sound. Turning back, he heard the sound again. It was coming from an adjoining room.

Seeing that the door was ajar, he rapped lightly upon it and then ventured in. He soon realised that this was Slughorn's private laboratory – the room was chock-a-block with all manner of books, papers, jars, bottles and phials. The tinkling sound made him look up to see Draco emerging from an antechamber carrying a tray laden with flasks.

"Oh, hello, Draco," said Harry brightly.

Draco's head snapped up in surprise. The tray flew out of his hands and crashed to the floor, breaking the glass into a million pieces. "No, no!" cried Draco in horror. "They're broken. I've broken them."

Harry rushed forward. "No, Draco it's my fault. I'm sorry that I frightened you. Please forgive me. Let me help you."

Draco was kneeling in front of the glass shards, his hands trembling as he attempted to pick them up. "Don't punish me. Please don't punish me," he chanted.

"Oh Merlin, what have I done?" thought Harry. "Draco, no one is going to punish you. It was an accident. Look at me, please?"

Draco kept his eyes trained downward. "No, please, don't hurt me. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Oww!"

Harry watched as Draco pulled back his left hand and caught it in his right, transfixed by the sight of blood pouring down his arm.

"Draco!" cried Harry. "You've cut yourself! Let me see." Without thinking, he grabbed Draco by the arm.

"NO! NO! DON'T HURT ME! KEEP AWAY!" screamed Draco as he pulled himself away from Harry. He backed himself to the wall and hugged his knees and began rocking back and forth, sobbing and begging Harry not to hurt him.

"Draco, I would never hurt you. Please don't cry. You're injured; please let me have a look." When Draco continued weeping, Harry sat down cross-legged in front of him, close, but no so close as to cause him further alarm.

Speaking very gently, Harry said, "No one will hurt you. You're safe here. Shhh, don't cry anymore. It's okay, Draco." An idea popped into Harry's head. "Watch, Draco. I'm going to fix the flasks for you. Reparo! See, all mended, so now no one will be cross with you."

Draco lifted up his head with a sob and saw that the tray was again full of flasks, just as it had been before the accident. He looked over at Harry, his eyes filled with gratitude. "T-thanks," he whispered with a sniff.

"It's the least I can do, since it was all my fault to begin with. Don't you have your wand with you?" Draco shook his head. "Do you know where it is?" Again, the blond head shook. "We'll have to see to that," thought Harry. "No matter. Your hand is still bleeding. I need to have a look at it. I won't hurt you, Draco. Please, will you give me your hand?"

Draco trembled and gave another little sob, but kept his hand close to his body.

"Draco, I want you to listen to me. You have my word that I will never, ever hurt you. I'm going to put my hand on your knee, just to show you that I mean what I say. I promise to stop if you don't like it." Draco said nothing but made no protest either. Harry took this as permission and went ahead with his plan. Draco tensed, but nothing more. He was soon stroking Draco's leg gently.

"There, you see? I always keep my promises. Doesn't that feel nice?" Draco nodded. "Will you give me your hand now?"

Harry thrilled as the hand came forward. Taking care to make no abrupt movements, he pried it open. "There's so much dried blood, I can't see how bad the cut is. I'm going to clean you now. Aguamenti!" Harry took out his handkerchief and wet it with the water he had made appear in one of the flasks. He dabbed at Draco's hand, cleaning it the best he could. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Draco sniffed and said, "No."

"Hmm, it doesn't look too deep and the bleeding seems to have finally stopped. I think we should go see Madam Pomfrey, however. I'm rubbish at Healing Spells," said Harry with a reassuring smile. "Will you let me take you?"

"Okay," replied Draco.

Harry stood, bent back down to pick up the tray of flasks and deposited them safely on the table. He then held out his hand to Draco and held his breath to see if he would take it. Draco looked up at Harry, his face tear-streaked, his eyes and nose red, and stopped, unsure what to do. Hesitantly, his right hand came forward in staccato movements until it touched Harry's, who took hold and helped him up.

"Good man, Draco," said Harry. "Let's get you fixed up."

They walked to the hospital wing together, Draco holding tightly onto Harry's hand the whole way. Harry could see by Madam Pomfrey's face that she was surprised to see the two of them enter hand-in-hand, but to her credit, she did not comment. She ushered them to a bed and bade them to sit while she fetched her wand. Harry felt Draco's grip tighten in fear as the mediwitch examined his hand. He squeezed back to let him know everything would be all right and that he was safe. It wasn't very long at all before Madam Pomfrey had healed Draco's cut completely, declaring him fit to leave the infirmary.

Poppy smiled and lightly brushed a lock of Draco's hair aside. "You did well to come and see me, Draco, very well indeed," she said and left the room.

To Harry's delight, Draco did not even flinch when Poppy touched him. He stood to leave but was stopped by the hand that held him fast.

"T-thank y-you," murmured Draco, his eyes down turned. His gaze lifting, he added, "H-harry."

A lump formed in Harry's throat – it was the first time he had spoken independently, but more importantly, it was the first time he had said his name.

"You're welcome, my friend," spilled somewhat awkwardly from his lips. There were so many things he wanted to say, but did not dare. He rejoiced inwardly, allowing only a wide smile to form as a sign of his emotions. "Shall I walk you back to your room now?"

"Yes, please," replied Draco.

Standing in front of Draco's door, Harry inquired, "Will you be all right?" When the blond nodded, Harry continued, "Good. I'll say goodnight, then. Um, I'll need my hand back, please."

Pink tinged Draco's cheeks as he quickly released the hand he had been clutching so tightly. Pale eyelashes fluttered downward in embarrassment. Harry reached out and, using just his index finger, gently chucked Draco under the chin, easing his face up. "G-good n-night, Harry," stammered Draco, who quickly disappeared through the door to his room.

Sleep eluded Harry that night. He lay clutching his pillow tightly to his chest, turning on one side and then the other, in a desperate attempt to find comfort and then slumber. But Draco was there, filling each corner of his mind. Harry watched helplessly as Draco cowered and sobbed once again, terrified to the very core of his being. Harry's heart ached. He saw the hand tentatively reach out and take his own, grasping it tightly. Harry's heart leapt. He remembered the hushed voice, the unsure words of gratitude and his name. Draco had said his name. Harry's heart swelled. Most vivid of all was the memory of Draco's face; the rosy blush as it crept upwards, the trembling lips, the eyes. Swirling grey clouds, dark and stormy they were, showing the pain and suffering once endured, the burden long since carried and yet, there was more. Gazing into those eyes tonight, Harry had seen it, infinitesimally small, fleeting, but there nonetheless – the spark. That which he had been searching for, the sign of hope had finally appeared. Harry's heart squeezed in a manner he had never felt before.

Secure that he had truly connected with Draco, Harry began working to bring him even further into the world. He used his presence at mealtimes to an advantage and got Draco to eat more. His body gradually began to fill out and lose its skeletal form. Draco had balked at Harry's suggestion they take a walk, but his reticence was short-lived. They began with a quick stroll around the grounds, gradually increasing the distance they covered. The fresh air did much to improve Draco's appearance; his pallor was replaced by a healthy glow. The change in the young man was clearly visible for all to see.

Gradually, Harry brought Draco into Hogsmeade. It had been difficult the first time, Draco clearly tensing at the sight of so many strangers. Harry made that visit brief, a quick turn of window shopping and then back to the safety of Hogwarts grounds. After several trips, Harry took Draco to Gladrags Wizardwear. Being that Harry was in desperate need of new clothes, he thought that the outing might create an interest in Draco to add to his own wardrobe.

Harry selected several pairs of trousers and shirts and went to the cabin to try them on. He stepped out and looked himself over in the mirror.

"I think this will do nicely," said Harry.


Harry looked at Draco in surprise. "Did you just say no, Draco?"

He blushed and replied, "I-I'm s-sorry. I s-shouldn't have s-said."

"No, it's fine. Just explain what you mean," said Harry giving Draco a reassuring smile.

"Um, w-well, that s-shirt, it doesn't s-suit you."

"Oh! What would?" asked Harry.

Draco scanned the many shirts on display and finally pointed. "That one."

"That one, eh? Okay, I'll try it."

Draco had been right – this new shirt was made for him. It brought out the colour of his eyes magnificently.

"Thank you, Draco! You are so right. This one is perfect. I should have known; you always were a sharp dresser. I'll just pay for these and we'll go home."

Draco grinned broadly as he watched Harry pay for his purchases. He was pleased that he had been able to help.

A month later, as was his habit, Severus entered the staff room for his afternoon tea. The room was empty, save for a very sad looking Harry Potter.

As he held his cup out to the teapot while it poured itself, he exclaimed, "Good heavens to Merlin, Potter! You have a face on you that looks like the back end of an Erumpent. What is wrong with you? Lost your best friend?"

Harry's eyes shot up to glare at Snape. "Not that it's any of your business, but no, I haven't lost my best friend," he said snarkily.

"Well, I know that, Potter. I would have heard if any misfortune had befallen Mr Weasley," replied Snape with equal snark.

"Thank you, but it's really nothing you should concern yourself with."

"As you wish," said Snape. He took up a seat by the fire, picked up the Prophet and began to read.

"Sigh." Snape's eyes rolled behind his newspaper.

"Sigh." Snape cleared his throat and rustled the paper as a sign of his displeasure.


Throwing the newspaper aside with great flourish, Snape growled with a deadly tone, "I am endeavouring to have a quiet cup of tea and to read, something I can not do with your incessant moaning. I thank you to be silent, Potter."

"I wasn't moaning, I was sighing," answered Harry.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "It is of no import what you call it. Suffice it to say, it was disturbing me. Please desist at once."

"Sorry," offered Harry.

"Thank you."


Severus' five minutes of peace was shattered once again by Harry. Sighing himself, he said, "I can see that pleading with you is of no use. Will you please just tell me what it is that is bothering you so that you can stop that bloody racket!"

Harry looked over at Severus and said, "Well, if you must know, I'm in love. Head-over-heels, madly in love."

Severus' eyebrow quirked. "I am, of course, no expert in such matters, but if memory serves me correctly, one is supposed to be happy, no?"

"In theory, yes," replied Harry sullenly.

"Well, please explain to me why you look like a wet Wednesday in November."

"I don't know how he feels about me or if he could ever love me back. Hell, I don't even know if he's gay!"

"That is a dilemma. Do I know the lucky gentleman?"


Severus waited for a beat and then said, "Do you want me to hex the information out of you? Spit it out, man!"

"It's Draco. Severus, I'm in love with Draco!" Harry ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "He was so hurt by what happened to him and he's only just now really coming back to his old self. How can I tell him how I feel about him? He might not be ready; he may never be ready. Why did it have to be him?"

Severus steepled his fingers in front of his face, lost in thought. After some time, he spoke. "As you may have noticed, Harry, I am not a man who offers praise or gratitude. However, I have been remiss when it comes to what you have accomplished with Draco. You have achieved what I thought was the impossible – you have brought him back to us and to himself. For that, I will be eternally grateful to you. Thank you."

Harry was deeply touched. 'I…I don't know what to say, Severus. I am honoured by your words."

"As for your feelings toward him, are you very sure that it is love that you feel? That it is not just a case of the caregiver falling for the patient?"

"I have asked myself that question many times. I have examined my feelings and it is more than that, much more. It is love; I have no doubt. I've never felt like this with anyone else. What do I do now?"

"You have no clue as to his feelings for you?"

"No, Severus, I don't."

"I, for lack of a better term, am an observer. I see things that many do not. I have witnessed something that I think may interest you a great deal, Harry."

"What's that?" inquired Harry.

"I watch Draco; I have always done. Lately, I have seen something new in his behaviour. This change is in the way he looks at you, Harry."

Harry sat up straight. "H-how he looks at me?"

"He is very clever and is careful not to let it show when he thinks others might see. But I see. Harry, when he looks at you, his whole countenance changes. Although Draco has never confided his sexual preferences to me, I do believe that he is as smitten with you as you are with him."

Harry couldn't help but gasp. "Are you saying that you think he loves me too? Really?"

"I, of course, can not be sure, but yes, I do think so. I'm quite surprised you've never seen it yourself."

Harry's heart ached at that moment, desperate to see that look with his own two eyes. "How do you think I should tell him, Severus?"

"I'm afraid I can't answer that, Harry. You'll know. When the time is right, you will know."

"You're right; I'll just have to play it by ear and see how things develop. Say, would you like some more tea?"

Severus held out his cup and saucer. "Please."

Harry prepared fresh cups for both of them, placing an extra biscuit on the saucer for Severus, taking care to select the kind he knew he particularly favoured.

"Here you are. Just the way you like it. Um, Severus? I-I just want to say how much I appreciate what you told me. It makes me feel much better about my situation. Thanks."

"I was merely trying to obtain a little peace and quiet for myself," said Severus evenly.

"Oh, um, right," said Harry with a blush, "I'll leave you to it then."

"At last!" exclaimed Severus. He picked up the paper and began to read. Turning the page, he glanced over at Harry. He was sitting with his legs over the arm of the chair, rubbing his thumb absentmindedly over the rim of his teacup and smiling. Harry was a million miles away, lost deep in reverie. The thoughts were obviously extremely pleasant, judging from the broad grin that had replaced the scowl on his face.

Severus brought the paper up higher to cover his own little grin. "Now that's more like it," he thought with satisfaction.

In the days that followed, Harry tried as hard as he could to catch Draco looking at him, but Severus had been right; he was too clever. Harry finally gave up, deciding he would let nature take its course. Draco would show him the look when he was ready, which hopefully would be very soon.

One Saturday afternoon, Harry came upon Draco in a corridor. "Hey Draco, wait up!" he called.

The blond turned and smiled. "Hi Harry."

"I was just wondering, are you busy right now?" inquired Harry.

Draco shook his head and replied, "No, why?"

"Would you come flying with me? I thought I would bring a Snitch and we could practice catching it. What do you say?"

"Y-you w-want to f-fly? W-with me?" stammered Draco.

Harry knew he had made Draco nervous. He had stopped stuttering when he spoke and only did it now when he was uneasy or frightened. Harry pressed on.

"I need a worthy opponent. You always gave me a run for my money, Draco. It'll be fun. Please say yes."

"You t-think I'm a m-match for you?" asked Draco incredulously.

"Why, of course you are!"

"I haven't b-been on a b-broom for years."

"It'll come right back to you. You know what they say about never forgetting how."

"I don't even own a b-broom. It would be no use borrowing one if the school's. I could never keep up with you on one of those rickety old things."

"Don't worry, I have just the thing for you. Will you come?"

"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try," said Draco.

"Brilliant! You go dress up nice and warm and meet me back here. Won't be long," called Harry as he trotted off. He knew that Draco was pleased with his idea – he had stopped stuttering.

Harry returned to find Draco snugly dressed in a thick jumper and a coat. He handed one of the two brooms he had been carrying to him.

Draco inspected it carefully, running his hands over the smooth burnished wood of the handle, and stopped to read the gold engraved name. "But I can't use this! It's your personal broom!" he cried.

"That was presented to me by the manufacturer. They thought by calling it the "Potter Power Purveyor" that they could get me to endorse it. They were wrong. I find the name a little embarrassing, if you must know," said Harry with a laugh. "It's a really good broom and all, but I just prefer my trusty old Firebolt. Shall we?"

Draco nodded and they headed out to the snow-covered Quidditch pitch. It was a beautiful day and not too cold, just enough for the air to be invigorating. At Harry's urging, Draco mounted his broom and pushed off gently. He flew close to the ground at first, going rather slowly, trying to find the balance he had once had. Wobbly soon gave way to steady, and before he knew it, Draco was flying faster and faster and higher and higher, soaring with the grace of an eagle. Harry flew up to join him.

"See! I told you it would all come back! Are you ready to try the Snitch?" called Harry.

"Yes!" yelled Draco with glee. "Bring it on!"

Harry released the glittering orb and it sped away with Draco hot on its tail. Harry followed, and after some quick manoeuvres, grabbed the Snitch out of thin air.

"You'll have to do better than that, Malfoy," he said holding the Snitch triumphantly in the air.

"I intend to," replied Draco. "Let it go, Potter." There was no malice in his voice; the bitter rivalry they had once shared was now replaced by camaraderie.

They flew round after round, with Harry emerging victorious. Draco was not swayed. He kept at it with determination until, at last, just as the sun was waning, he caught it. Hovering on his broom, he stared down at the vibrating golden ball in disbelief.

"Woo hoo!" yelled Harry. "You got it, Draco! You got it!" Draco beamed with pride. "I don't know about you, but I'm knackered. Had enough?"

Draco handed the Snitch back to Harry who stowed it away in its box. "Yes, I think this is a good time to stop." As they flew slowly downward, Draco said, "Thanks for letting me catch it, Harry. I appreciate the gesture."

"What are you talking about? I didn't let you do anything. You caught that fair and square."

Draco's eyes grew wide as saucers. "You mean I beat you for real?" Harry nodded and smiled. "Wow! I can't believe it."

Harry had never seen Draco so happy. His face was lit up like a Christmas tree, his grey eyes sparkled, his cheeks and nose were rosy from the cold. But his smile – that was the best of all. It was joyous, warm and wonderful, reaching all the way to Draco's beautiful eyes. It took Harry's breath away.

"Believe it," said Harry as they landed. Draco touched down and dismounted, running to catch up to Harry. "Did you enjoy that?"

"It was amazing. I had forgotten how much I love flying. Thanks for helping me remember." As they walked into the Quidditch locker room, he asked, "Wait. Why are we coming here?"

"That was some workout we had. I don't know about you, but I'm sweating like mad. I suspect that I smell quite rank by now as well. I thought we'd have a shower before going back up to the school."

Draco balked. "N-no, I'm okay, you g-go on and I'll m-meet you later."

Harry failed to notice that Draco was stammering again. "Nonsense. Look at you, you're dripping. C'mon!" he said all the while pulling Draco forward.

"Lumos! Ah, that's better. It's nice and warm in here," said Harry as he grabbed a thick white towel, shoving it into Draco's hands. "Here you go. Get undressed and I'll go get the water running."

Draco removed his clothes slowly, sitting down on a bench clad in only his vest and boxers. Harry soon returned and, not taking notice of Draco, quickly stripped down until he was in boxers alone. Just as he was about to shuck them as well, he glanced at Draco. Something was amiss. He was just sitting there, staring off into space, rocking gently back and forth. An alarm went off in Harry's head.

He approached him and knelt down, asking, "What's wrong, Draco?" Draco did not answer and did not look up. Harry had no hidden agenda when he had suggested they take a shower and he wondered now if Draco thought it was a planned seduction. Harry wanted Draco desperately, but not like that. He wanted Draco to come to him of his own free will. "Are you shy, Draco? There's no need to be. Don't you remember how we used to do this back when we were students? How we'd all come in and get cleaned up after a match? That's all this is, Draco. Nothing more, nothing less. It'll be fine. Here, let me help you." Harry tugged at Draco's vest and before he knew what had happened, he had removed it. Harry's hand flew to his mouth to cover his gasp. "Oh Draco!" he cried.

Scars! Draco's entire torso was covered in scars of varying lengths and colours. Harry was hard pressed to find one square inch of unblemished flesh. Seeing Harry's reaction, Draco quickly reached for the vest and held it to his chest in an attempt to hide his body. Tears began to flow freely down the once pink cheeks.

"I'm sorry for the way I reacted, Draco. I was surprised, that's all. Don't be ashamed to show me," Harry begged. Reaching out to brush away Draco's tears, he whispered, "Shhh now, it's okay. Please don't cry anymore."

Draco buried his face in his hands and wept. Harry watched helplessly, unsure of what he should do or say next. A wave of guilt washed through him for once again bringing Draco's grief to the surface.

He reached out with a shaking hand and petted Draco's shoulder gently. "W-would you like to talk about it?" he asked, terrified it was the wrong thing to say. Draco's head came up out of his hands, but he didn't answer. "You know you can tell me anything, Draco. If you need to tell someone, I'll listen." Draco sniffed, but still did not speak. Harry took a deep breath and asked in a hushed tone, "Did…did Voldemort do this to you?" It was one of the few times in his life that Harry had been afraid to say the name.

The floodgate opened. Draco began to speak as best he could, great gulping sobs punctuating each word. "He…d-did… this…to…m-me! The…p-pain…the…n-never-ending…pain! He flew into Harry's arms and cried as Harry held him tightly. "It was excruciating. Oh Harry! I begged for death, but he wouldn't give in. I just wanted to die, just die, that was all I asked for. But he kept at it. Over and over again."

As Harry held Draco, he saw that his back was in the same state as his chest. There was one particularly nasty scar, wide and long it was, that ran from Draco's neck all the way down and disappeared in his boxers. It alone was still red, as if recently inflicted, whereas all the others had faded. They were not faded sufficiently to disappear, however. The evidence of Draco's torture was still very vivid.

"Let it all out, Draco. You've been holding this all in for too long now. Share it with me. Let me help you carry this burden," offered Harry.

And Draco took Harry up on his offer. The words came pouring out, flowing like a river, relentless, until the whole story had been told. Every last detail, every horror that Draco endured, he shared with Harry. What Harry had heard from Hagrid had been only a small fraction of the truth. Voldemort had committed terrifying, depraved acts upon Draco's poor body, breaking not only the flesh, but the soul as well. Harry forced himself to listen, pushing the bile back down to keep himself from being sick. He wanted it to stop. He wanted to hear no more of Draco's suffering and anguish. He wanted to cry and wail in protest, but he held himself still and continued on. If Draco could endure this nightmare, he could and would hear it all. The anger also rose within him. He had been the one to kill Voldemort and he found himself wishing he could do it all over again. The end would not be so quick this time around. No, he would make him suffer, make him endure even more than Draco had. He would pay dearly for what he had done to this man that he loved so dearly now.

"If only I had known then," thought Harry. "I would have done it for you, my love."

When at long last Draco's tale ended, Harry held him until his sobs faded away and the two sat in silence, neither one daring or wanting to move.

It was Harry that spoke first. "Are you okay, Draco?" he asked hesitantly.

The blond sat up to look at Harry. His eyes were almost swollen shut from the tears he had shed. Wiping them with the back of his hand, he replied, "I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth." His voice dropped to a whisper. "There are things I told you that I've never told anyone before. Things…things I haven't allowed myself to even think about."

"I know," said Harry gently. "You don't have to worry. I'll never repeat a word of it to anyone. I swear, Draco. I am honoured to be the one you opened up to."

Draco sniffed and gave a weak smile, but said nothing.

"Do you think you're up to having that shower now? I think it'll help you feel a bit better," said Harry.

"Yes, I think could," replied Draco as he let himself be helped to his feet by Harry.

The water had been running all this time so the shower room was steamy and hot. Draco stepped in and let the water flow down his body, relaxing as it gently massaged his tense muscles. He lathered himself up, scrubbing until his skin was almost raw and then stopped to watch the suds flowing down the drain.

Harry also watched as the foam disappeared. "If only all his problems could be as easily swept away," he thought sadly.

Draco washed his hair quickly and then stepped out, wrapping himself in the big white towel. He padded back into the locker room and began to dry off. Harry had already completed the task and had slipped his boxers on. Draco watched as he combed his hair and then spelled it dry. Harry turned around and caught Draco staring at him. The blond quickly averted his eyes and blushed.

"Here," said Harry tossing Draco the comb. "Give that a run though and I'll dry yours as well. Can't have you going out in the cold with a wet head, now can we?"

Draco did as he was told and soon his hair was dry, too. He pulled on his boxers, and then his trousers and socks. He was reaching for his vest when Harry stopped him.

"Let me put some lotion on your back for you, Draco. I noticed that your skin is all dry and rough."

"Okay," agreed Draco. "It's a little hard to do it myself. Thanks."

As Harry rubbed the lotion into Draco's back he asked, "Do they still hurt?"

"Only the big one on my back." It was the red scar Harry had noticed. "It burns like fire every now and then."

"Um, can't they do anything for your scars? The Healers, I mean."

"Fraid not," replied Draco in a sad tone. "They're curse scars, so I'm stuck with them." He turned to face Harry. Sweeping his fringe to the side, Draco ran his fingers over Harry's forehead. "Kind of like yours," he whispered.

Before Harry had realised what was happening, Draco leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. Harry was stunned! It was what he had been wanting and waiting for, thinking of little else low these many months. He was so caught up in the surprise and the joy of the moment that he froze for a heartbeat.

Draco pulled away. "I-I'm s-sorry," he cried and ran full speed out of the locker room.

"NO! DON'T GO," shouted Harry, but it was too late. Draco had fled. "You bloody fucking idiot, Potter! Look what you have done now," he scolded himself. He looked at Draco's shoes and coat that were still lying on the floor. "Shit! He's gone out into the snow undressed and it's all my fault." Harry quickly dressed, grabbed Draco's things and ran out after him.

"Draco! Where are you?" he yelled. "Please come back! DRACO! Lumos!" Harry held his wand out and saw the footprints in the snow. He followed the tracks to the back of the Quidditch arena – Draco had gone in under the bleachers. "Draco? Where are you? You must be freezing. I have your clothes. Please, tell me where you are so I can give them to you. Draco!"

Harry stopped and sighed. Draco could be anywhere and was more than likely well hidden. If only he had the map with him! He was just about to try a Summoning Charm when he heard it. Harry strained his ears and there it was again. A faint sob! It was Draco! He closed his eyes and concentrated on the direction that the sound was coming from. He set off and soon came upon Draco, huddled in a corner, shivering.

Harry ran forward and began to help Draco into his shoes and coat. "What do you think you're playing at? Running out into the snow half naked! You'll catch your death of cold." Draco's teeth chattered loudly as Harry conjured a fire and pulled him close for warmth.

'I-I'm sorry, H-Harry. I shouldn't have d-done it. S-sorry." Harry was just about to say that it was all right when Draco began to speak again. "I s-should have known. W-why w-would you want me? F-forgive me. Please tell me you forgive my mistake."

"What mistake are you on about?" asked Harry.

"I hoped that you would. It was foolish of me. How could you want someone like me? Someone with a fucked up brain who's scared of his own shadow…"

"Draco, please let…"

Draco wasn't listening to Harry. "Someone ugly like me. How could I think that you'd want this hideous body of mine? God, I'm an idiot!"

"You're not…"

Draco grabbed at the lapels of Harry's coat in desperation. "Please don't hate me! I couldn't bear it if you did. I'm sorry for thinking you could ever love me. Forgive me, you have to forgive me," he begged.

"STOP IT! Stop right now. What are you trying to tell me, that you love me?"

"Yes," whispered Draco as he looked away in shame.

"Why did you kiss me and then run away like that?"

"You didn't kiss me back. I'm sorry if I disgusted you. I promise to never do it again."

"I don't want you to promise that, Draco."

"W-what? I don't understand."

"This love that you feel for me – is it the real thing or is it just gratitude because I helped you?"

"Why are you making me say this, so you can throw it back in my face? It isn't just gratitude at all. I've asked myself this question over and over. I truly love you. There, are you happy now that I said it?"

"Yes as a matter of fact, I am. You really don't understand what's going on, do you? You see, I have been asking myself some questions, too. I keep getting the same answer, over and over again. All these months, I haven't dared let myself believe that it could be possible."

"What do you mean, Harry?" asked Draco.

"That you could ever love me," said Harry, pulling Draco up into his arms as he spoke, "as much as I love you."

Draco gasped, "How can you? I have so many problems."

"We've worked out a lot of them together, haven't we? We can handle whatever comes along."

"Doesn't my body disgust you? I saw your face when you saw me tonight."

"What you saw wasn't disgust. It was just the shock of seeing the tangible evidence of what you had been through."

"So it's pity you feel for me, then."

"It isn't pity at all, Draco. It's empathy for your suffering. I want you more than ever. I want to make love to you gently, to kiss you everywhere and make the memories fade away. You make me hard, Draco. Pity doesn't make you hard, desire does. I want and need you so very much."

"Why didn't you kiss me back?"

"Because I'm a stupid git, that's why. I was so thrilled when it happened! I couldn't believe it was you who finally had the courage to make the first move. I was stunned. You bolted before I could react."

"S-so you really do love me?" asked Draco.

"Yes, I do, my love."

Draco whimpered. "You called me my love."

"Only the first of many. We have our whole lives ahead of us and a million my loves."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Draco, I am very sure. Are you?"

"Yes!" was Draco's instantaneous reply. "But…"

Harry put his fingers over Draco's lips to make him hush. "I have spent months trying to get you to talk to me, so I don't believe I'm about to say this."

Draco looked questioningly at Harry and tried to speak once again.

"Draco," whispered Harry as he touched his forehead to Draco's, "shut up and kiss me."