"He just won't stop Hermione!" he complained, making a frustrated gesture. "When I said goodbye to him last night he said, 'I'll see you tomorrow, sweetheart'. And he said 'careful, love' in Care of Magical Creatures. In front of the Slytherins!"
"They're his friends," Hermione pointed out. "He probably gets teased about it much more than you do."
"But it's embarrassing," Harry whined. "And it's weird. I don't want my hot seventeen year old boyfriend to call me 'sweetheart'!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Well, I think it's lovely that Draco wants to use endearments with you. It shows how much he cares about you. If other people's boyfriends," and here her voice rose and she looked sideways at Ron, who was trying to vanish into his armchair, "were as considerate, and made as much of an effort to be affectionate, then those boyfriends might not have so much cause to whine that they're not getting what they want. In fact, those boyfriends might get a very nice reward."
Ron's blue eyes lit up. He instantly stood up, and offered his Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans to Hermione. "Would you like some, darling?"
Hermione stared at him measuringly. "No thanks."
Ron's face fell but he carried gamely on. "All right, darling."
Apparently that was enough. Hermione smiled, and they both left for the Room of Requirement, leaving Harry to stare morosely into the fire and mutter to himself.
Next morning, Harry was feeling much more cheerful. It was nice that Draco wanted to call him 'love' and 'sweetheart' and all that. He was lucky to have Draco, a Slytherin who was still prepared to be sappy for the one he loved. Harry was glad he wanted to do so. He nodded to himself firmly.
Of course, part of this cheerfulness was probably caught off Ron, who hadn't been beaming this much since they brought out mint Chocolate Frogs. He and Hermione were walking close and giving each other private smiles. It was very cute, and made Harry want to spend time with his own boyfriend.
Harry caught sight of Draco arriving halfway through breakfast, and gave him a wide smile. Draco headed over for a quick moment together, and sat down opposite Harry, apparently impervious to the annoyance of some of the Gryffindors. Hermione and Ron didn't seem to notice.
"Hi, baby." Harry felt his smile freeze. He tried to convinced himself once more that all this was nice but then he heard Seamus snigger and all his attempts were ashes.
"Look, Draco, about calling me 'baby' – " Harry didn't quite succeed in keeping the irritation out of his voice.
"Does it bother you?" Draco looked so worried, his big grey eyes so anxious, that Harry found himself completely unable to continue.
"No, no, of course not," he assured the blond.
"Then what about it?" Harry winced, and scrabbled for an answer. Luckily, just then Draco was distracted. "What's up with Hermione and the Weasel? I haven't seen anything that gooey since my parents' wedding anniversary."
Harry shrugged. "She said something about affectionate boyfriends getting rewards, and he started calling her 'darling'. I guess it paid off."
A wide grin broke out on Draco's face. "It's like dog training. She gives him treats when he's good and trains him to be obedient." Harry was about to protest indignantly on his friends' behalf, but Draco just pointed to Ron. He was staring at Lavender and her three undone buttons. Hermione turned to look at him, and her brown eyes narrowed for a second before she whacked him over the nose with her Daily Prophet.
Draco cracked up.
They didn't see each other again until Potions late that morning. Draco greeted his boyfriend with a wide smile and a, "hello, sweetie!"
The class cracked up. Draco frowned a little at Pansy Parkinson, who was making wheezing noises that sounded as if they might be fatal, but otherwise seemed utterly impervious. Well, the other members of his house were still his friends, even if they laughed at him for this, and it wasn't like the Gryffindors had ever respected him.
Harry gave Draco a smile, but it felt awkward on his face. Luckily, there was no time for more endearment-related embarrassments, because Snape had just slammed the door behind him. Harry rushed to his seat, settling down as Snape swooped by. He usually slouched at the back by Ron, so they could play noughts and crosses. Hermione, who was sitting eagerly at the front, naturally, had insisted they both sit with her for this lesson because they were going to make a fiddly acidic potion.
Snape gave them instructions in his usual sepulchral tones and they settled down. Harry was still mortified at Draco's loud greeting ten minutes ago, and started loudly complaining as he hacked at an unidentified root.
"It's humiliating is what it is. He just doesn't seem to get it! I don't want to be simpered at, do I?"
"Concentrate," Hermione admonished.
"I guess it's nice that he wants to call me pet names. I just find it weird, you know? And I can hardly tell him – last time I tried he went all doe-eyed and I wimped out."
"Harry!" Hermione whispered. "Be quiet."
"But don't you think he could figure it out for himself?" Harry demanded of Ron. "I never call him any pet names, it's a torture reserved for me. If he's such a cunning Slytherin why can't he take a hint?"
This time Harry didn't even bother responding. "I mean, if I wanted some sap as a boyfriend I'd be going out with a first-year Hufflepuff – "
"Harry!" Hermione hissed again. At her tone Harry turned, and felt his stomach drop. He hadn't been as quiet as he'd thought. Draco was standing frozen at his desk, staring at him, not even noticing the liquid dripping onto his shoes from the lizard heart he was holding. His face was white.
"Draco – " Harry started desperately, with no idea at all what he was going to stay next.
Draco shook his head frantically. "No, no, don't worry, I'm glad to know. I won't do it again, Harry, don't worry. It's fine. Professor Snape, may I be excused?"
He didn't even wait for the "yes" before he was heading for the door.
Harry mainly spent the rest of the hour clunking his head against the desk and moaning about how stupid he was. Ron tried to comfort him, but to judge by Hermione's steely gaze she entirely agreed with Harry's assessment.
He couldn't believe he hadn't thought to lower his voice more – he knew Draco's desk was only one row behind Hermione's. Why the hell couldn't he have kept quiet, or at least checked to see if the blond was listening? As it was, he'd royally screwed up, and he didn't have a clue how to fix it. He kept seeing Draco in his mind's eye, pale-faced and staring at him with hurt grey eyes.
Draco didn't come back for the rest of the lesson. By lunchtime, the Slytherins were giving him a united baleful glare, but Harry barely noticed. He packed his bag as quickly as he could then ran for Gryffindor Tower and the map.
To his surprise, Draco wasn't hidden away in his dorm or one of the towers. He was by the lake with Crabbe and Goyle. Harry hurried out there immediately.
By the time he got to the lake, the three Slytherins had been joined by Terry Boot and Daphne Greengrass. Harry smiled awkwardly at them all and approached. Draco had his back to him and was doing a melodramatic impression of Hagrid on a broom (under the circumstances, Harry decided not to complain about this). The other four were laughing, but then they noticed Harry and their faces went cold, disdain rolling off them like mist off the sea. Draco turned.
He hesitated, and Harry saw a flash of unmistakable upset before he pasted on a look of calm pleasure that reminded Harry of Lucius. "Harry! Do come sit down."
Harry frowned, confused, and so did the others. "Draco, I wanted to say sorry – "
"Oh, nonsense," said Draco airily. "It's fine."
For the next three days, Harry tried to apologise to Draco, and get him to talk.
Draco managed, with supreme effortlessness, to put him off.
He didn't avoid Harry, or shout at him, or refuse to spend time with him. He just shrugged when Harry tried to talk about emotional things, and didn't have time to spend time alone with him. He was calm and cheerful. He repeatedly told Harry he was 'fine'. But he didn't use endearments any more, and most ominously of all, he'd stopped telling Harry he loved him.
"Maybe it really is fine," Ron suggested through a mouthful of stew.
Hermione snorted. "This situation is not fine. Draco's hardly known for his calm. And I don't just mean when he's angry, either – look at how gooey he's been with Harry. This whole impervious look just means his feelings are seriously hurt."
Harry nodded gloomily. "I know. The only solution I can think of is to ambush him and force him to talk to me."
Hermione looked sceptical. "How are you going to do that?"
Having tackled Draco in the Owlery, Harry didn't wait for him to recover, and perhaps swear and hex. He just got off him sharpish and pulled Draco up after him, keeping an bruising grip on one of the blond's wrists.
Draco looked distinctly displeased. "You're insane, Potter, you know that? And melodramatic. There are better ways to get a shag out of me."
"Actually, I wanted to talk. Properly. And I don't want you shrugging or saying you have homework to do."
A hint of unease flickered in Draco's grey eyes. "What about?"
Harry took the plunge. "What I said in Potions."
Draco's face went stiff. "It's fine, Harry."
"Don't lie to me, Draco. We both know it's really not fine. But I didn't mean any of that, I swear I didn't. I was just letting off steam. None of it was what I really thought."
"But you don't want to be called pet names," Draco pointed out quietly.
Glad as he was that Draco seemed willing to discuss it, the pain underlying the statement made Harry's heart contract. "I can live with it if you'll tell me you love me again. I shouldn't have said all that anyway." Harry felt hopelessly romantically incompetent. Was any of this going to work?
"It wasn't what you said – well, it was," Draco amended. "But it didn't help that you went off about me in Potions. Especially to Weasley – he doesn't need any more ammunition, does he?"
Harry winced. "I really am sorry," he said softly, stroking his thumbs over Draco's knuckles. "And you can call me anything you like."
Draco gave a weak smirk. "Better not offer that to a Slytherin, especially after all this."
Harry chuckled. "I'll take my chances."
They stood in silence for a few minutes more. Then Draco raised his head to meet Harry's intent green gaze and whispered, "it was like you didn't value any of it. Talking about it like that."
Harry cringed. Instinctively, he reached out and cradled Draco's face gently with both hands, and gave him a kiss. He pulled back a bit, but Draco followed his lips, and the following kiss was rather lengthy. Eventually Draco pulled back and said breathlessly, "Room of Requirement?"
And Harry proceeded to show Draco just how much he valued him.
Afterwards, they lay curled in a sweaty tangle among the bedsheets, listening to each other's breathing as it evened out. Draco was warm against Harry's side, his ruffled blond head cushioned on Harry's chest.
"I love you, Harry," he yawned, snuggling down.
"Love you too, honey."