Title: Work After Wartime
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own all characters appearing in this story. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Harry/Draco, brief mention of canon het pairings as of the end of DH.
Warnings: DEATHY HALLOWS SPOILERS, but not epilogue-compliant. Language and light slash.
Summary: After the defeat of Voldemort, there's still work for Harry to do –for example, helping Draco Malfoy overcome his water phobia.
Notes: For raphsody606 over on LJ, whose prompt was "wet Harry." And this story does indeed include a wet Harry, several times.
Work After Wartime
Harry thought that the frenzy was over.
Oh, the days immediately after Voldemort's defeat had been an endless round of celebrations and funerals, official speeches and demands for his presence at places and times when Harry thought the work could have been done perfectly well without him—the official Wizengamot session to choose the new Minister, for instance—and more mundane work like deciding where he'd live and whether to attend Hogwarts the next year and sit his NEWTs. Of course, the last choice Hermione really made for him, so he could strike that one off the list.
He didn't know what he'd really felt during that time. Mostly, everything happened too fast for him to feel.
But then the insanity of both joy and grief had eased, and Harry found himself at Hogwarts in the autumn term of his second seventh year, granted the chance to return to a normal educational process. Even better, he could do it without a Dark Lord hunting him and with Ginny in the same year as he was. They still hadn't picked up their relationship from where it had fallen at the end of his sixth year, but her coy glances were becoming more frequent. Harry might flush when Ron teased him about it. He always thought that as least he was alive to flush, and if this and Hermione's nagging about revision were the greatest problems he faced, he was damn lucky.
Everything was calm. There was no work outside school to do.
That impression lasted until the night in September when he caught two Gryffindor students trying to drown Draco Malfoy.
"Well, good-night, sir."
Harry always said that whenever he left Dumbledore's tomb. He visited it two or three nights a week, just to speak to the Headmaster's departed spirit and think aloud. Hermione thought it was awfully morbid, and had lectured him several times already on his mental health.
Harry just nodded. He never told her that he was sure he had seen and talked with Dumbledore after his death, or that death itself had lost most of its fear for him after he faced Voldemort's Killing Curse a second time. Eventually he would tell his two best friends that, but he had to find the words first.
He ambled away from the tomb, turning back a time or two to watch it shine in the moonlight, and then faced the dark grounds. It was a beautiful night, September's full moon, not yet very cold. Harry wanted to walk before he let stone walls close around him again. He was very comfortable in the Gryffindor common room and even in the room he now shared with Seamus, Dean, Neville, Ron, and the Gryffindor boys who had been a year behind him, but one couldn't really ask for solitude there.
He wandered towards the lake, partly to watch the reflection of the round silver disk in the water, and partly to watch fish leaping and rising to no lure but the beauty. He had reached the shore and was standing there, enchanted, when the sound of a scuffle and a quick cry cut the night to his left.
Harry whirled, his hand on his wand before he even realized it. His heart had also picked up the way it had when Fenrir Greyback captured them during the war. Peacetime hadn't destroyed his instinct for danger.
He listened again, intently now, and heard nothing. But he wasn't inclined to dismiss the sound just because of that. What would have happened if he'd decided Snape's Patronus which led him to the Sword of Gryffindor was nothing?
"Lumos," he muttered, but kept the lit end of his wand cupped behind one hand as he edged around the lake. Nothing but trees and grass greeted his eyes. No sounds, either. Of course, a lot of the animals out at night in the Forbidden Forest were unlikely to make a sound—
No, wait, there it was again! Splashing and a struggle, and now Harry could see at least two human shapes on the edge of the lake about a hundred feet away, along with the bobbing light of another wand. He broke into a run, several hexes ready and waiting on his tongue. If this was a Slytherin bullying a younger student, maybe one of the newly-arrived Muggleborns—
One of the shapes whipped towards him, hesitated, and then took off. That still left two, though; Harry could see now that the first figure, crouching on the shore amid mud and reeds, was trying to hold the second face-first down in the water. The second one thrashed and yelped, screaming when he could get his mouth clear, but he was going to lose.
"Reducto!" Harry shouted, even as his inner McGonagall pointed out that he had probably used too harsh a spell and primly deducted points from Gryffindor. But this didn't look like a prank to him.
The first figure went flying, his lit wand parting company with his hand at the same time. Harry blinked in the sudden darkness and renewed the Lumos charm on his own wand. He looked expectantly towards the lake, thinking the victim would come splashing up now and wreak his own revenge on his attacker.
Instead, he saw floating, heavy robes and a still body.
Panic struck Harry like a lightning bolt. He hadn't been close to death in months, but he'd seen too many people die before that to just stand around and hope for the best. He kicked off his trainers, on a vague memory that told him one shouldn't be wearing shoes when one swam, and then plunged in.
The water struck him like a fist in the chest and solar plexus, and he shouted and shivered and splashed like a mad thing. Even that didn't rouse the floater, though. Harry kicked off from the edge of the shore and paddled furiously, his wand clutched in his teeth. It seemed like too long, though it was probably only a minute, before his hand snagged the edge of the robes and he flipped the victim over.
He nearly dropped his wand. The light clearly showed Draco Malfoy's face.
Harry shook his head, decided that he couldn't take the time to ponder how this had happened right now, and slung Malfoy's arm about his shoulders. An awkward aiming of the wand and a muttered Severing Charm chopped off Malfoy's waterlogged cloak, letting Harry haul him more easily.
By an ungraceful mixture of treading water, twisting this way and that way, stabbing the bottom with his feet whenever he encountered it, and balancing Malfoy's weight so they wouldn't go over, they reached the edge of the lake at last. Harry stumbled at the sudden cessation of support as he came out of the water, and then set about pulling Malfoy to safety, feeling rather like a werewolf dragging its kill.
He turned Malfoy over and started pounding his back with his fists, grimly aware that at least he could enjoy this part of the rescue.
Malfoy coughed about a minute into the pounding, then turned his head and was nosily sick. Harry stepped cautiously back. Malfoy might not have the strength to turn his head and vomit on Harry's feet, but it was the kind of thing that would probably occur to him.
When the sound of vomiting had turned to the sound of dry heaving, Harry Summoned his shoes and looked around for the student he'd blasted. He saw no sign of him, though. He grimaced. I'll have to ask Malfoy about them, and Merlin knows he'll probably lie.
He turned back to his former rival, only to find him staggering upright. He patted his robe pockets frantically, but pulled his wand out a minute later. Relaxing, he dried his face and clothes. Harry, watching him, shook his head.
Malfoy apparently caught sight of this and seized it as something to object to. "What, Potter?" he asked, in tones that goblin metalsmiths could have used to forge armor. "Is it so hard to believe that I'm not falling at your feet and warbling my gratitude like the rest of this bloody school?"
Harry rolled his eyes. Malfoy was exaggerating, as usual. But pity had stayed Harry from getting into any of their usual pissing contests since they came back to Hogwarts—pity, and boredom. Fighting with Malfoy just wasn't much fun anymore. "I don't care one way or the other, you git," he said. "I just want to know who attacked you."
Malfoy paused in the middle of scouring his hair dry. Harry wondered if he was calculating his odds for naming Ron as one of the attackers. Or maybe he was just too wary of appearing weak to want help.
When Malfoy did speak, his voice was odd, twisted in the middle like a cloth wrung to dry. "It was two of your Gryffindors, actually, Potter. I didn't see their faces, but I saw their ties before they grabbed me and tried to find out if I know Mermish."
Harry blinked. "You're lying," he said reflexively.
"Am I?" Malfoy's voice was cool. He ran his fingers through his hair and turned around, stalking close to Harry. Both their wands were lit, and Harry could see the twist to Malfoy's lips, which matched the one in his tone. "No wonder that you haven't made an effort to curb your lions since you came back, then," he said. "If you think they aren't doing anything, or if they're only harming the nasty slimy Slytherins, what reason do you have to interfere?"
Harry swallowed. Maybe it was just the intensity of Malfoy's gaze, maybe the fact that he had almost died and Harry didn't know who his assailants had been any more than Malfoy did, but he couldn't look away and he couldn't just assume that this was a Slytherin retaliation born of Malfoy's embarrassment at being rescued. "I—I haven't heard anything like that," he said. His voice had lowered, though not of his conscious volition.
"Would you have done something about it even if you had?" Malfoy whispered.
"Yes!" Harry snapped. "I hate bullying, Malfoy, even if it's Slytherins being bullied!" Snape's memories flared in his head like comets; Harry had never found a way to get rid of them or dim their impact. "I'm not my father!"
He winced when he realized what he'd said, but Malfoy, apart from a brief curious glance, seemed too interested in his own grievances to pursue it. "Then open your eyes and look around you, Potter," he said, raising a brow and stepping away. "The world isn't sunshine and light because you defeated the Dark Lord, you know, and not all the bullies were Death Eaters."
Harry frowned at his back, and wished he had something daring or cutting or original to say, something that would force Malfoy to come back and continue the argument. But it was as if his rejection of their usual method of relating left him with no choice but to be silent now.
He'd spent too much of the last year in pursuit of important truths to deny this story off-hand. Uneasy, he wandered towards Gryffindor Tower, wondering if his strange mood would wear off by the time he reached it and he'd just think of Malfoy as an untrustworthy git again.
It hadn't. After Harry had taken a warm shower to counteract the effect of the cold lake water, and dried himself with a thick towel—so much more satisfying than a charm—he lay in bed and made a promise to himself to keep his eyes open tomorrow. He'd probably realize quickly enough that this was all Malfoy's paranoia. He became a victim, and he thought the whole world was against everyone.
Harry sat at the Gryffindor table and wished he had a Time-Turner. Then he could have saved Malfoy—the only thing he still felt good about—but refused to listen to his bitter rationalization of the post-war world. Because now that Harry was looking through Malfoy's eyes, he could see shadows everywhere.
It was in the way everyone at the Gryffindor table was extraordinarily careful not to look at the Slytherin table, as if their very existence was an affront to the existence of other Houses—even though Pansy Parkinson was the only one who had proposed turning Harry over to Voldemort, and she hadn't attended Hogwarts this year. It was in the hunched shoulders when certain people passed, and the suddenly raised voices discussing what Harry knew were Gryffindor in-House jokes. It was most frequent if a Slytherin walked past them, but it happened even with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. Harry stirred uneasily when he tried to find a common link between the victims of the exclusion, and located it almost at once.
The students who had stayed in the Room of Requirement with Neville and the others were shutting out the ones who had done a better job of surviving Snape's administration.
Harry glanced at the Ravenclaw table. Other than Luna, who was staring dreamily at a piece of parchment as if it were the only thing which existed in the world, each of them also seemed quietly determined to pretend Slytherin didn't exist. And the Hufflepuffs had acquired a collection of hangdog looks that Harry would have dismissed as contentment just yesterday. It was true that not as many Hufflepuffs as others had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, but that wasn't a matter for the whole House to feel bad about, Harry thought, frowning. Not all the Gryffindors had fought, either.
And some of those who had hadn't ended up with heroism for their troubles.
Harry grimaced at the memory of Fred and set about trying to choke down his toast. Hermione had begun to give him those motherly concerned looks, and soon enough she leaned over and whispered, "Are you all right, Harry?"
"Fine," Harry whispered back, and then shook his head. "No, wait." Maybe his policy of honesty with his best friends, which he'd tried with so many successes during the last year, would serve him again. "Hermione, do the other Houses seem—well, contemptuous of Slytherin to you?"
Hermione frowned. "Well, no, Harry, not any more than they've ever been." She spent a moment staring at the Ravenclaw table as if she expected anti-Slytherin banners to emerge any moment, then looked at the Hufflepuff one. "There's some bad feeling because they ran away—"
"Not all of them," said Harry, thinking of Narcissa Malfoy and Slughorn and Snape. Then he added, "Although Malfoy probably should have." The idiot wouldn't have nearly died in the Room of Requirement if he hadn't stayed.
"But those were adults," Hermione said calmly, biting into a piece of toast spread so thickly with marmalade Harry raised his eyebrows. Hermione didn't appear to notice. "What the other students remember is Parkinson standing up and denouncing you—"
"She was just one—"
"But that's what they remember." Hermione patted his hand. "You can't blame people for their feelings, Harry. Let some more time pass since the war, and they'll learn to start remembering other things."
Harry nodded. He supposed Hermione was right, and asking for miracles just five months after the war ended was silly. But then, he'd thought everything was perfectly normal, so…
"Have you heard about any pranks happening against Slytherins?" he asked. He didn't want to mention Malfoy unless he absolutely had to; the poor bloke would probably be embarrassed at the thought of Harry's friends knowing Harry had saved his life yet again. "I, er, thought I saw one last night, and I was surprised, because I didn't think they were happening."
"Pranks?" Ron leaned around Hermione. "You mean, like the time last week when Dean and Seamus Transfigured Nott's arm into a snake, tied it through a skull, and cast a spell that made him say he wanted to be a Death Eater to everyone he met? Some Ravenclaw whose brother died in the battle finally hexed him so hard he wound up in the infirmary." Ron snorted into his pumpkin juice.
"I didn't hear about that!" Harry winced a moment later at the sound of his own voice. It sounded…outraged, somehow.
"Well, why should you have, Harry?" Hermione said, and shook her head a little at him. "That was the night you were serving detention with McGonagall. Besides, I like to think that some of us have grown up through our ordeals." She frowned at Ron, though it was half-ruined by the pleasure that always haunted her face now when she looked at him. Ron and Hermione certainly hadn't wasted any time, Harry thought, and sometimes he wanted to imitate them as far as being with Ginny was concerned. More often, he thought there was no rush.
No rush about anything since the war.
But with this? There very fucking well was.
"I didn't know it was going on," he attempted to explain, since Ron had stopped eating to stare at him expectantly, perhaps because he wanted Harry to explain why he didn't find the prank on Nott funny. "I didn't—well, I thought the Houses only hated each other as much as they did before the war."
"That's impossible, Harry," Hermione said, and started ticking points off on her fingers. "There's the division between the people who fought and the ones who didn't, and then there's the fact that the Slytherins got better treatment from the Death Eaters in the school even when they still suffered, and then there's the people who wish they had fought, and so are trying to make up for it now."
"I don't understand," Harry said, thinking again of the funerals he'd attended in the wake of Voldemort's death. There had been more tears than calm masks of acceptance, more shocked and stunned expressions than consolatory speeches about how "they died fighting." "Why would anyone want to have done what we did?"
"You know the answer to that one, Harry," Hermione said, in the slightly scolding tone she adopted whenever she thought he wasn't pushing his brain hard enough. "Because they don't know what it was really like. They weren't the ones on the run or constantly fearing capture by the Death Eaters. But now they look back on that, because the people who survived are heroes, and wish they'd done something more than listen to Potterwatch—and lots of them didn't even do that much, because they didn't dare or they were living with people who were too afraid."
"And they think that harassing Slytherins is the way to do that?" Harry shook his head. He wasn't sure what disgusted him more, the fact that this was happening or that he just hadn't noticed, because he'd been so busy hoping that the world had just gone back to normal.
"I don't see why you're so upset, mate." Ron watched him thoughtfully as he tried to take Hermione's toast and Hermione slapped his hand away, the exchange so usual now that they didn't even bother to look at each other, though both were smiling. "I mean, it's not as though you caused this, or could have prevented it. And the pranks against the Slytherins are pretty funny, you have to admit."
"Even if they involve almost killing someone?" Harry asked sternly, his mind filled with Malfoy trying to restrain Crabbe and Goyle in the Room of Hidden Things. He might have wanted to turn Harry over to Voldemort, he might have been monumentally stupid, but even he had thought it was better for Harry and his friends to live instead of dying. He wasn't the kind of person who tried to drown someone else in a pond for fun.
"Who told you that?" Ron asked, raising his eyebrows. "I promise, Harry, nothing's threatened anyone's life. We all know better than that."
Harry opened his mouth to tell them about Malfoy's near-drowning—
And found himself closing it again. There were a lot of reasons. Malfoy might have lied about the attackers being Gryffindors, and telling someone else would only alienate Harry from his own House. And Ron might see the sense in sparing anyone else's life, but not Malfoy's. And it could prejudice Malfoy against answering any more questions Harry wanted to ask him.
But the main one was that he wanted to see the truth with his own eyes. He'd fallen right back into the trap of relying on his friends' word-of-mouth for what was going on, and they didn't make it sound bad—nothing like the glimpses of hostility between the House tables that made Harry's stomach close up. But it probably wasn't as bad as Malfoy was painting it, either. He had always loved to exaggerate, even if it meant a hippogriff would be executed for his lies.
So. He'd just have to look for the truth. It probably lay somewhere in the middle. But at least if he looked, he would be able to decide if it was something he could affect. Did he have to try and save the world again, or could he sit back and allow someone else to do it? Or maybe there was no problem, and he could go back to staring longingly after Ginny and avoiding Hermione's lectures again.
He'd only observed the Great Hall at breakfast. There was still a day of classes and two meals to go. Harry nodded firmly, told himself not to be a pessimist, and settled in to eat again, carefully not looking towards the Slytherin table.
"Fancy finding you here again, Potter."
Harry just grunted, and heaved another stone into the lake. It shattered the surface with a loud splash and large ripples, and that was all he wanted. At least if he was throwing stones, he wasn't up in Gryffindor Tower hexing his Housemates, and he suspected that everyone from Professor McGonagall to Hermione would find that an improvement.
"Done any thinking about what I said?" Malfoy leaned on a tree not far from him, though Harry noticed that he kept a healthy distance between himself and the water. In fact, when he thought Harry wasn't watching, he darted looks of loathing at the lake-shore. Does he think the Giant Squid is going to be personally insulted that he doesn't like swimming? Harry thought.
That provided him a brief moment of amusement before his mood soured again, and he threw another stone.
"I didn't come out here to be ignored," Malfoy finally said, and because he left out the sneer, it actually sounded semi-impressive. "Now, Potter. I want to know if our most heroic Gryffindor can change his mind, or whether you'll just close your eyes and go back to being blind like the rest of them."
Harry sighed and turned to face him, absently casting a Warming Charm. The temperature seemed to have dropped dramatically between last night and this evening. There was no moon, either, or at least only scattered glimpses of it between racing clouds. Maybe there would be a storm, Harry thought hopefully, and then he would have an excuse to go inside and avoid what he suspected would be a very uncomfortable conversation with Malfoy.
"Why do you care what I think?" he asked. "Why not just go back to—well, I don't know what you're doing about it, but go back to doing that and ignore me? Why tell me about this?"
"Because," Malfoy said at once, "you might have the power to do something about it, even if no one else does." His wand shifted, and the light flaring at the tip was just enough to show his lips curved in a sardonic smile. "There's no point in going to the Weasel, he'll just laugh. And the Mud—"
Harry gave him a disgusted glance. Malfoy paused, and seemed to consider something. Perhaps he was remembering that he was eighteen bloody years old now, a bit too adult to throw childish insults around.
"Granger," said Malfoy, with the air of someone conferring a great favor, "would just fuss and flap her hands and want to organize some meeting of students from different Houses which wouldn't actually solve the problem, just drive it deeper under a veneer of false politeness. Right now, it's close enough to the surface that we can fight it."
Harry cocked his head. "But then, why come to me? I don't think that making a speech about it or reminding them that I killed Voldemort and they didn't would do anything more permanent than Hermione's solution."
"Potter, I will never know how you survived a year on your own, away from the watchful care of adults," Malfoy said, shaking his head slowly and tragically. "Unless Granger counts as an honorary adult, which I'm sure she does. Your example is what people are going to follow. Right now, they're against Slytherins partially because they think it's what you want—"
"I did not—"
"But you fought with Slytherins when you were just an ordinary student, and it was a Slytherin who decided that the 'Boy Who Saved Us All'"—Malfoy quoted the Daily Prophet's latest title for Harry with a fitting scorn "—should be turned over to his enemy. You might not have encouraged this, but you bloody well didn't discourage it, either. If you show them that what you value instead is friendship and reconciliation, it's at least probable that they'll follow you on that."
"I don't think so," Harry said slowly. "Hermione mentioned that some of them are acting out of frustration and shame of their fear during the war, and grief over loved ones who were killed. People like that aren't going to change their minds on a whim."
Malfoy smiled. It was an exasperated smile, but almost fond. Harry blinked at him. Maybe part of the reason that they hadn't been fighting was Malfoy himself, and not just Harry's newly mature tolerance.
"You really have no idea of how celebrity works at all," Malfoy murmured. "Sillier fads than friendships with Slytherins have started because people with powerful images decided to use that power. Did you know that Celestina Warbeck's new robes have inspired an incredible demand for imitations? Even though most witches don't have the figure to pull them off and that shade of pink looks horrible on anyone who isn't named Celestina?"
"You pay attention to things like that?" Harry shook his head. "You are a very strange person, Malfoy."
"And we could stand around and say things like that to each other all night," Malfoy said, suddenly brisk, "but the point is that I've given you a problem, and I plan to give you half the solution, too. There's a Slytherin who would be willing to act civil to you in public, as long as you acted civil in return." He stepped forwards and studied Harry evenly for a moment.
"And that's enough?" Harry asked.
"Potter, you have no idea of the power your name commands. You killed the Dark Lord. The Daily Prophet will pounce on this as the juiciest new thing it's had to say about you in a while, and—"
"That's not what I meant." Harry waved a hand. "I'm willing to trust that this will work out if you say it will. But are you sure that you don't want revenge on the students who tried to drown you? Stopping the pranks against the Slytherins before they escalate again is enough?"
It looked as though Malfoy couldn't decide which part of the statement surprised him more. He blinked and rubbed his temple with the heel of his hand, all the while staring at Harry's glasses as if they would provide him with the answer to the mystery. Then he sighed and said, "You didn't see their faces either, did you?"
"No," Harry admitted. "And by the time I'd got you on the bank again, the one I'd blasted had run off."
This time, he knew he didn't mistake Malfoy's look of loathing towards the lake, though what he meant by it was still unclear. He spoke almost at random. "Are you afraid of water, Malfoy?"
The other wizard jerked, then turned with slow dignity towards Harry and said, "Tell me that you could be almost drowned and not suffer some fear."
"No," Harry admitted. "I'm just surprised that you're not jumping back into the lake to prove to yourself that you're not afraid. You had enough courage to survive close contact with Voldemort. Why does water frighten you?"
"That wasn't courage, that was cowardice," Malfoy said, and his lip curled. "By now, you ought to know I'm a coward if nothing else. I don't have the desire to lie to myself, and lying to you isn't possible."
"You survived," said Harry. "And you took an awful risk for us when they brought us to the Manor, even though you could have been rewarded with everything you desired. I don't think you were a coward when you were trying so hard to survive last year, either." He looked at Malfoy and wondered if his view of him had changed, along with his view of the situation in the school, so that it hung between two views, the old one and a new one where Malfoy would perhaps be someone respectable. "I'm not saying that you're a great person, mind," he added, when he noticed Malfoy looking at him as if Harry had advised him to be friends with Hagrid. "But you're not as bad as you seem to think you are."
Malfoy made a hm sound under his breath and almost visibly put the matter aside to deal with later. "Why does it matter if I'm afraid?" he asked, with a shrug. "I'm afraid of hippogriffs, too, and yet I don't run shrieking off the grounds because there are some in the Forbidden Forest."
"I think," said Harry, "that this gambit we're trying on the others won't work unless we both believe in it. I can act civil to you in the daytime. At night, meet me here and I'll teach you to swim."
Malfoy took a step back from him. "What are you playing at this for?" he demanded. "I'm giving you an opportunity to save the day for people who tried to kill you. I'm admitting I need your help. What could possibly be more thrilling for a hero than this?"
"I want to teach you how to swim," Harry said stubbornly. "It's the only repayment I can give you for two Gryffindors—"
"So you do believe me!"
Harry gave an irritated shrug and forged on, trampling Malfoy's attempt to distract him. "Trying to drown you in the first place, since we aren't telling anyone about that." He promised himself privately that if he did uncover evidence of who Malfoy's attackers had been, he would go after them himself. "I just—I think it's wrong that they should have brought you face-to-face with your fear again, when you've spent months trying to recover from that."
Malfoy stepped nearer. Harry tensed on instinct, making sure he could grab his wand if he needed it, but forced himself not to back away and not to flinch or avert his gaze. Instead, he let Malfoy examine his eyes and, it seemed, his soul through them. There was no other reason for him to spend that much time looking.
Malfoy finally nodded, once. "All right," he said. "You're right that I don't want to be crippled by this." Harry, though he hadn't said that word even to himself, nodded. Malfoy shuddered at the lake again and then turned away. "And we'll use each other's first names," he said. "Nothing more than that at first—no handclasps, no hugs. Act casual around me." He had vanished towards Hogwarts before Harry could respond.
"Right," Harry said, and then spent some of his time breathing Malfoy-free air. Or maybe it would be Draco-free air, now, he thought.
He didn't have much idea about what he thought, which was one of the problems. Just a day ago, he had been absolutely certain how he should act, and now he had a new bunch of problems that he might or might not be able to solve, and a close tie to a person who might or might not be trustworthy.
Harry blinked at the lake, then shook his head. He still didn't trust Malfoy—Draco—not to prank him or scream childish insults at Hermione, but he no longer thought there was any serious danger of Draco trying to kill him.
Voldemort was gone, and the Death Eaters were on trial or in Azkaban, yet somehow it hadn't occurred to Harry how much that should shift Draco's position in his mind. Not fighting with him had been enough. Whether he trusted him hadn't seemed important.
Why didn't I think about that more?
Harry picked up another stone and thoughtfully threw it into the lake, though this time he spun it in a high arc first, so that it made a softer splash but longer ripples when it landed. When the last tiny waves had finished washing up on the mud and marshy grass at his feet, he went to bed.
Harry began it the next day. They were both still in Potions—though, to Slughorn's disappointment, Harry had lost his miraculous talent—but Harry usually sat with Hermione and Draco alone in the front of the room. This time, Harry nodded and smiled to Hermione but walked past her to sit down next to Draco and pull out his cauldron and tools as if this were something he did every day.
"Hello, Draco," he said.
"Harry," Draco with, with a slight inclination of his head but no pause in the smooth motions of his hands as he plucked out his knife and scales and lined them up neatly next to his own cauldron.
Harry could feel Hermione's stare drilling into the back of his head. More significant, though, was the silence of the Ravenclaws in the class. Harry missed the muffled whispering now that he was listening for it. He smiled grimly. That was one of the things he had noticed yesterday and which had distressed him—how eagerly the Ravenclaws watched the "war heroes," like Ron and Harry, and copied their actions towards the Slytherins.
Harry still didn't think he and Draco were going to change the behavior of students in the school overnight, but if his "followers" were as dedicated as they pretended to be, they at least couldn't act anymore as though their paragon was unquestionable.
Slughorn peered at him as though Harry were some strange species of beetle which had just flown into the room and demanded to be sliced into Potions ingredients. "Mr. Potter," he said, his voice gentle. "Are you sure that you wouldn't wish to sit in the back of the room?" Hermione sat there in order to have swifter access to the shelves of ingredients.
Harry looked up and smiled the way he'd learned to smile as he was bumped and washed through occasion after occasion. It was a small and cool expression, and it could mean almost anything that someone else wanted it to mean. "No. I'm comfortable here, Professor."
That started the Ravenclaws whispering again, but in a different manner. Harry shot a sideways look at Draco and found him half-smiling, in a way unlike his more usual sneers and smirks. Draco, of course, caught his eye at once and jerked his head at Slughorn, to encourage Harry to pay attention to his part in the script.
When Harry glanced back at Slughorn, he caught what might have been a glint of appraisal in the Professor's eyes. That didn't worry him. Slughorn appraised everyone that way, and he was probably just trying to decide how much his own position as Head of Slytherin House would change if Harry changed his politics.
"Well, if you're comfortable," said Slughorn, laying so much emphasis on the last word that even Harry winced at the lack of subtlety, "I certainly wouldn't try to move you." And then he nodded and winked and moved away.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Ridiculous," he said under his breath.
"I told you, Potter," Draco muttered as he started copying down the instructions for the potion from the board, "the power of the name is very great."
"If names are so powerful, then call me Harry," Harry commented, and grimaced. The potion called for chopped slugs. He hated chopping slugs, and he wasn't so stupid as to think that Draco would chop them instead.
There were stares on the back of his neck all through class. He ignored them—more successfully than he had expected he would. But then again, this wasn't just a one-day effort. This was something that had to become a normal, workable part of the world after the war. So Harry would have to do this more than once. He might as well cope with stares the same way he did when he went out in public in Diagon Alley, and live with the consequences of his actions.
"Because I don't like the way people treat Slytherins," Harry answered when Hermione caught up with him after Potions class and demanded to know why he'd sat with Draco. Draco had turned down the corridor towards the Slytherin common room, since he had a free period next, but Harry had nodded to him before he vanished. "Draco thinks it's likely that people might change their minds if I treat them differently. Maybe it won't work perfectly, but I'll try."
Hermione said, with frown lines etched between her brows, "But I didn't know that you were upset about the way people were treating Slytherins, Harry."
"I am now."
"But you don't just make up your mind overnight to do something like this," Hermione argued.
Harry stopped and faced her. "Well, I do," he said. "And we practically made up our minds overnight to go after—what we needed to go after, didn't we?" Even now, he and Ron and Hermione didn't mention the word "Horcruxes" where anyone else could hear. Maybe Ginny would be brought into their confidence after she and Harry started dating properly.
"That was different," said Hermione. "That was a quest, and it was important."
"And this is important to me now," Harry countered, and then turned towards the Astronomy Tower. They weren't watching stars in the daytime, of course, but Professor Sinistra had assigned them essays on the fixed stars, and Harry hadn't quite completed his. "Just like your exams, Hermione. I mean, they won't matter to everyone else in the wizarding world the way you-know-what did, but they matter to you."
"Harry! The NEWTs influence everything from the careers that we're fit to pursue to wizarding society's estimation of our talents—"
Harry grinned to himself. Now that Hermione was on the familiar track of the exams lecture, she would rattle on that way until they arrived at the Astronomy Tower. It quite convinced her to forget about small things like Harry being friendly to Slytherins, or Harry confessing freely to her what was important to him.
That was the way he wanted everyone to act, finally. Politeness to Slytherins, and friendliness with some of them, should be natural. Harry planned to play dumb with anyone who knew him less well than Ron and Hermione did, and portray this as something that he simply wanted to do. If someone argued otherwise, then and only then would he announce that he planned to keep it up for the foreseeable future.
Watch and learn.
On it went. Harry and Draco nodded at each other on their way into the Great Hall for lunch. They shared the same table in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and their new instructor—an old, battle-marked witch named Hilda Grayscale—partnered them together at their request. Harry showed Draco the basic defense spells that Dumbledore's Army had already worked on, and Draco showed him a few hexes just this side of legal. They were talking quietly when Professor Grayscale announced that the class was over, and Harry found himself reluctant to end the conversation. He caught Draco's sleeve as he was about to turn away, and asked, "Tonight at the lake?"
Only a flicker deep in those gray eyes warned Harry that Draco might have thought about backing out. He nodded, and then picked up his books briskly, as if the speed with which he did it could keep him from having to think about the water.
"Mate, what are you doing?" Ron caught up with him after Defense, and he wore an expression much like Slughorn's—though since Ron wasn't a Potions professor, Harry thought of it less in terms of looking at him like a beetle wanting to be sliced up and more as the way Ron would look if Harry lost a game of Quidditch.
"Being friendly to Draco," said Harry. "I thought that was obvious."
"I already tried to talk to him, Ron," Hermione said, coming up on the other side of Harry and rolling her eyes. "He will be impossible about it."
"I just want to know why," Ron muttered. "I can see what for myself, thanks."
Harry refrained from pointing out that Ron should have asked his question differently, then, though he knew it was what Draco would have done. Antagonizing his friends with sarcasm wasn't the best way to get them to pay attention to the pranks on Slytherins. "Because the school's practically in danger of collapsing from within with hatred of the Slytherins," he said. "And I never noticed it before. And M—Draco agreed to participate in a friendship with me. If we can be civil, when we have reason to hate each other, maybe those people who were regular students in the war and after can figure out how to behave."
"But no one's doing anything serious," Ron argued. "It's just pranks. And I think it's natural, since none of them would fight with us. It'll pass."
"It's not just pranks," Harry said. "I stopped at least one murder attempt." He ignored Hermione's gasp and went on. "And I don't think the members of the House should be blamed for the actions of one individual. Unless you want to start saying that it's the fault of the Gryffindors twenty years ago for not preventing Peter Pettigrew from betraying my parents."
"Who tried to kill someone?" Hermione whispered. "Harry, this is serious. You have to tell Professor McGonagall!"
"I doubt this person would trust her, since she used to be Head of Gryffindor," Harry said. They were the same arguments he had used on himself when he was wondering if he should ignore Draco's desires and simply go to the Headmistress. "Besides, I didn't see their faces. The person who was attacked says they were Gryffindors, but they might not be. Until I have some proof—unless I get it—I'm not going to tear apart the Houses looking and only turn everyone against the Slytherins further. This way is better."
"I don't see why you should have to save Malfoy," Ron muttered. "You already saved everyone once. Isn't that enough?"
"I don't think so," Harry said, and shook his head when Ron opened his mouth again. "If it's about trying to persuade me out of this, it won't work."
Despite the warning, Ron kept asking him throughout dinner if he wouldn't at least reconsider having his "Slytherin friend" be someone less dangerous, like Nott or Zabini. Harry ignored Ron's questions, though he responded to everything else Ron said, and nodded to Draco again as he was leaving. This time, he saw several speculative Slytherin gazes, especially those of the younger students, following him when Draco nodded back.
It couldn't hurt, Harry thought. He didn't know how much the Slytherins might have fought back against the pranks directed at them, but if they could feel a little more secure at the same time, then the tensions might ease still further.
"Come on, Draco," Harry said, as kindly as he could, considering he had already stripped down to his pants and Draco was still leaning against a tree and regarding the lake with profound distaste.
"I said I would let you teach me to swim," Draco said, and his gaze traveled very slowly to Harry's face. Every line of his body said he had better things to do, and only remained here to indulge Harry. "I never said it would be tonight."
Harry opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it again. He would gain nothing from pushing Draco. Besides, this would probably affect their ability to act civilly towards each other tomorrow.
And perhaps a demonstration was more in order.
"Suit yourself," he said, with a small shrug, and then turned and stepped into the lake.
"What?" Draco asked, apparently stunned by the lack of resistance. Harry smiled to himself. A good reason to do it more often.
"I said, suit yourself," Harry said over his shoulder, and then waded deep enough that the water was up to his chest. It was cold, but the Warming Charm he had cast before he took off his clothes stood him in good stead. He was not a complete fool, no matter what Hermione thought, and this wasn't a winter pool where he had to dive without any protection at all in order to receive a sword that a mad Headmaster—two mad Headmasters—had decided could not be retrieved any other way.
It was pleasant in the lake, despite the slimy things that sometimes pushed past his legs. The water supported his weight, and Harry was able to lie back and float, hair drifting around him, eyes fixed on the clouds obscuring the moon. They darted away again. Harry thought he heard a howl in the woods, but he ignored it. The moon was two nights past the full, so they didn't have to worry about werewolves.
His eyes half-shut, and he yawned.
"Potter!" Draco's voice was very nearly shrill.
"It's Harry to you," Harry muttered, and shut his eyes. "And what is it? Is the Giant Squid making for me?"
"You can't fall asleep while you're swimming." Draco sounded scandalized. Harry found he didn't even have to open his eyes to picture him; he would be leaning on the tree but straining forwards as if against invisible bonds, aghast at Harry's stupidity. "People die that way."
"This is not a bathtub, and I am not three years old." Harry pushed himself back to the surface and shook his head, scattering trails of wetness down his face as he trod water. "Neither are you, for that matter. If you want to get in, I promise I'll hold you all the time. It won't hurt you."
He paused, because Draco was looking at him with a very odd expression. Perhaps the Giant Squid had come up behind him after all. Harry waved a hand cautiously behind his back, but found only a curious fish which darted away after an exploratory nibble confirmed he wasn't food.
"What's the matter?" Harry asked, wondering if fear could send Draco into hypnotic trances.
Draco looked away from him then, and coughed theatrically. "Nothing," he said. "Why on earth should anything be the matter?" But his voice shook slightly, and Harry wondered. "I—you promise that you won't let me go?"
Well, this is a change of pace. But since it might actually let him repay the debt Harry still felt he owed—for not stopping and identifying the students, for not preventing the prank in the first place, for not noticing anything until Draco pointed it out—he wouldn't complain. "I won't," he said. "My word as a Gryffindor, or as the hero of the wizarding world, if you trust that more."
"There are no heroes," Draco muttered, but he had started stripping. Harry was startled to realize his skin was so pale it actually shone the way the reflection of the full moon had two nights ago. It certainly wasn't flawless—the lines of Harry's own Sectumsempra twisted across his chest, and there was a large round scar on his back that might almost have come from werewolf teeth—but it was human, and mostly healthy, and Harry found himself studying it with more interest than was warranted.
He shrugged and looked away, breaking the spell for himself.
When Draco was stripped down to his pants, like him, Harry waded to the shore again and waited while Draco arranged himself, slowly and fussily, against his chest. Harry ducked his head so that his chin rested in Draco's hair as he dragged him carefully back out, happy for no reason. It was an exact reversal of the position they'd been in when he saved Draco's life.
In everything, even emotion.
"You can trust the water to hold you up," Harry murmured, noticing that Draco had tensed the moment they moved too far for him to feel grass or sand beneath his toes. "You really can. Tilt your head back, spread your arms around you, and distribute your weight evenly. Close your eyes if you want," he added, and Draco snarled at him.
"I'm not suicidal, Potter."
"Harry," he said, and he had never heard his own voice so gentle. Of course, he had never found himself mostly naked in the Hogwarts lake with Draco Malfoy before, either. It made a difference, somehow.
I've never done it before. Maybe that's all it is.
"Spread your arms," he whispered, and Draco did. "Lift your feet." And Draco did. "Lean back against my chest now. I'll support your head, but let the water take the rest of you."
Several harsh breaths puffed against his ear. Harry repeated his instructions two more times, not varying his pitch or his words, letting the very act of repetition, as well as the fact that he hadn't drowned yet, soothe Draco.
And then Draco actually did it, drifting, with his head and shoulders and the upper part of his torso resting against Harry as he paddled backwards, but nothing else.
"Excellent," Harry whispered, a deep glow of happiness in his heart. He was reminded of times when the entirety of Dumbledore's Army succeeded in some simple spell, but this was enhanced by Draco's status as his rival, and their surroundings, and the one-on-one instruction, and—everything, really. "Now, why don't I let you go, and you can float flat on your back—"
Harry recognized active, instinctive fear in that tone, having felt it himself when he saw the basilisk coming for him. He curled himself around Draco at once, taking more of his weight, stilling his arms before they could begin a panicked thrashing. "Shhh, it's all right," he murmured. "It's all right, I've got you, we won't do it yet, we can wait, there's no shame in this…"
"Easy for you to say," Draco muttered, but he had stopped moving as if he thought sharks were going to tear his legs off. He drifted against Harry for a moment, then shook his head. Wet hair brushed Harry's collarbone, and he had to stifle a startled chuckle. Draco probably wouldn't take any laughter well right now, or give Harry a chance to explain that he was just ticklish. "You've never been afraid of something like this."
"Not like this," Harry said, and pulled him in to shore so that he could stand on his own two feet. "But I've been afraid. Of Voldemort, of dragons, of dying before I could—"
"But those are all things that you should be afraid of." Draco sounded more than bitter as he sat down on the curve of the lakeshore, just before it vanished into the water. Harry studied his face in the light of their shining wands, and made out an ugly flush there. "Not water. That's just—my father—" And he turned his head away.
"Your father would be ashamed of you?" Harry asked softly.
"I didn't mean to say that," Draco said, and moved his arm roughly across his eyes, as if not looking at Harry would take back the embarrassing words.
"I think it needed to be said." Harry sat down beside him and took his free hand, ignoring Draco's attempt to pull away. Perhaps it was strange, that he sit here like this when they were both almost naked, and that his greatest concern was comforting a wizard he would have turned away from two days ago. But things could change. And if Harry wanted to live in the kind of world he had thought he was living in after the war, then they needed to happen this way instead. What had the old way brought them but hatred and fear and death? "And I don't think he would care, not—look, Draco, I saw his face during the Battle of Hogwarts, all right? He only cared about you. He was asking Voldemort about you. It wasn't his glory or his power or his Malfoy pride he wanted then."
"You're making that up," Draco whispered, the words so quiet with disbelief that Harry winced. Why did he have to be the one who had seen Lucius Malfoy like that, and not Draco? He was forever receiving gifts that should have gone to other people, he thought, attention and adulation not the least of them, but there had never been something quite this personal before.
"I'm not," Harry said quietly. "Your mother asked me about you before she lied to Voldemort to save my life, too. They love you, Draco." He paused, then added, to move them past the moment, "And I think they'd want you to keep on with the swimming lessons."
Draco sighed, but managed to turn it into a sneer by the time he lowered his arm and faced Harry. "So says the man who likes the look of me naked."
Harry blinked, well aware that either "Yes" or "I do not!" would be the wrong response.
"Well?" Draco had risen to his feet and glanced down at his chest, as if the Sectumsempra scars were reasons to be proud. "Don't you? Say that you only want me in the lake so you can flirt with me."
"Maybe when you eat some more," Harry said, shaking his head as he stood. Draco was teasing, and he was glad to see it. He didn't think he was ready to explore, quite yet, that he'd reassured Draco Malfoy about his parents loving him, as if they were best friends. "Or put on some color. Honestly, Malfoy, you'd think your ribs had never seen the sun."
"Malfoys are naturally pale," Draco said, managing to look down at his nose at Harry even as he reached for his robes. "And naturally handsome, I'll have you know."
"Call it 'beautiful,' and you'd have it closer," Harry muttered.
"Your flirting so far has been pitiful, Potter, but make efforts like that, and you may well improve."
Harry rolled his eyes and whipped his wand over his body, drying his skin, before he pulled his robes on. Much as he preferred towels, he would simply arouse too much interest if he used the showers in Gryffindor Tower now. "I think we have the strangest friendship ever, Malfoy."
"You've never flirted with the Weasel?" Draco hummed. "I suppose that you do have some standards. That is reassuring. You may continue to pay court to me."
Harry acted before he thought about it. He scooped up a handful of lake water in his palm and threw it at Draco.
Then he winced, wondering if he ought to have done that, if Draco would react badly to suddenly being soaked again, if it would remind him of the attack—
When he caught an enormous blast of water in the face a moment later, he supposed the answers to his questions was no.
He didn't get back to Gryffindor Tower that night without his hair hanging in dripping wet strands down his back. He couldn't mind that much, not when the "fight" had also increased the size of his grin.
Harry had hardly entered the Great Hall the next morning when Zacharias Smith caught up with him and hissed into his ear, "What are you doing?"
"Currently? Saying good morning to my friend." Draco had crossed behind him—they'd planned it that way—and towards the Slytherin table. Harry nodded to him, and received a nod in return, with a faint smile that he knew remembered the water fight in the lake but which he suspected would be absolutely impossible to interpret for anyone who hadn't shared that experience. He smiled, too, then, and turned to face Smith. "Was there something you wanted?"
"You know what he did!" Smith's face had turned red, but he appeared reluctant to actually point at Malfoy.
"Rather better than you, I imagine."
Harry disliked pulling "rank" as a war hero on someone else, but Smith deserved it for being a fucking wanker. And it worked. He'd turned pale, and even though he had a resentful look in his eyes, he couldn't quite keep himself from glancing at the floor.
"It's your right to associate with Slytherins if you want to," he muttered.
"So glad you recognized that." Harry leaned forwards. He felt slightly sorry for Smith, but on the other hand, anyone who approached him right now would be made an example of. It was just Smith's unlucky day that it happened to be him. "And I reckon you won't object if I talk to Draco outside of classes, or forgive him for his part in the war, or even continue my friendship beyond Hogwarts? That meets with Your Majesty's approval?"
Most of the Great Hall was watching them by now. Smith had no graceful way out of this, and from the clenched fists that hung at his side, he knew it.
And then he did a stupid thing. He decided to threaten Draco.
"You know," he hissed, "even you can't protect him forever. What happens when he's walking through the corridors after detention one night and someone ambushes him? Are you going to cry fake tears then?"
Harry had his wand out before he thought. He could hear surprised gasps and Headmistress McGonagall's snap of, "Mister Potter!", but he didn't care. Smith was grinning openly at him, and turning his head as if inviting others to witness his triumph.
"Listen to me, Smith," said Harry, in a voice that stole the Hufflepuff's smile and his triumphant stance. "If something happens to Draco, you'll be the first person I question. And whether or not you had anything to do with it, you'll be the first person I take revenge on, too."
"That's—you're threatening me?" Smith blinked, as if the school could tolerate threats to Slytherins with impunity but anyone else was beyond the pale.
"Of course." Harry leaned closer. "You might ask yourself exactly what happened to the Death Eaters Voldemort sent to trail me during the war."
A bluff, of course, since he'd so rarely run into them. But Smith shivered, and Harry gave him a disgusted glance, put his wand back in his sleeve, and turned away.
McGonagall bore down on him and assigned him a detention with her—his second since he'd come back to school. Harry barely heard. He was watching the other students instead, the fascinated and horrified and grief-stricken faces as they took in where he stood—
And the small smile on Draco's face.
Still small, Harry noted absently as he accepted the Headmistress's punishment, but not the same smile that had recalled the lake. This one promised something different.
Too bad Harry had no idea what it was.
Harry knew he should have anticipated the confrontation with the Gryffindors. After all, he'd shot down a Hufflepuff, and the Ravenclaws couldn't doubt that his little display with Draco in Potions yesterday was directed at them. And he probably even should have anticipated that the Gryffindors would corner him after Transfiguration, which McGonagall no longer taught but which they still thought of as "their class."
He hadn't thought about it, though, and so he put his back to the wall and looked at his friends as evenly as he could.
Ron was peering quizzically at him, as if peering alone could tell him why Harry had gone mad, and Neville stood slightly off to the side, looking uncomfortable. But Dean and Seamus were a few steps short of furious, and so were the Gryffindor sixth-year boys Harry didn't know as well. Parvati Patil, not giggling for once, shook her head when he caught her eye. Ginny touched his arm, drawing Harry's attention to her. Hermione was hovering anxiously at the back of them all.
"We just want to understand, Harry," Ginny said in a soothing voice. "Why Malfoy? What about him is special enough to attract your attention?"
Harry blinked. That struck him as a stupid question. "He doesn't have to be special," he said. "Not when I've known him for seven years. He just—he doesn't deserve the treatment that's being heaped on him because he's Slytherin. He wasn't even here last year to benefit from the treatment Snape handed out." He wanted to say something in defense of Snape, too, but he couldn't do it without revealing the memories from Snape's last moments, and he was still far more uneasy about that than he was about his friendship with Draco. "It's unfair," he added, when he noticed that his words hadn't softened Dean's and Seamus's stares.
"You don't know what it was like, either," Seamus said passionately. "Does he, Nev?" He turned and nodded at the other boy as if expecting his support.
Harry looked at Neville, too. He sighed and shook his head as though he was having to come to a weighty decision and hated it. Harry could sympathize.
"I don't think that any of us know what it was like for Malfoy," Neville said. "And if we did, we'd probably wake up sweating from nightmares."
Dean stared hard at Neville from the corner of his eye; Harry had some hope that he might consider the truth of his words, at least. Seamus had dropped his jaw. Ron drew back, looking uneasily from Seamus to Neville, as though he assumed he would have to stop a fight any moment. Ginny's hand on Harry's arm grew a little tighter.
"I just—it wasn't that hard for him, was it?" Seamus muttered. "He's a Slytherin. He survived. He was probably right next to You-Know-Who when he did half his killing and torturing—"
"And imagine what would be like," Harry cut in, his voice harsher than a crow's, and shaking. He couldn't stand it anymore. Visions of Draco as he'd seen him through Voldemort's eyes were all too clear and present. "Maybe he didn't do what we would have done, but I don't think we could have done much better. Imagine what it would be really like, Seamus, waking up and going to bed around Death Eaters, who thought you were a Death Eater too."
Seamus appeared to be fuming, but also to lack words. Finally he muttered, "I'm just saying that I don't think he's changed."
"I do," Harry said. "He has."
"How do you know?"
And since Harry's knowledge came from sources he wasn't about to share with them—maybe Draco, if he ever wanted to know that Harry had seen him in visions, but no one else—he could do little other than glare. Seamus nodded slowly, seeming to think that Harry had admitted defeat. "You see? You don't really know. He might be starting a new plan. Maybe he wants to use you for political prestige or something."
Harry controlled the impulse to snap that Draco would never do that. Instead, he gave Seamus a humorless smile. "And you really think I would let myself be used that way?" he asked. "That after years of people like Lockhart and Fudge and Ludo Bagman wanting to climb on my back to reach the top any way they could, I wouldn't recognize it and fight it?"
"You're just too forgiving, Harry," Seamus said earnestly. "That's all. It's the way you've always been."
"Wake up, Seamus," Harry said, and he had lost his temper now; his voice snapped like ice. He shook off Ginny's hand and turned away to walk down the corridor alone, not caring if any of them followed. He was done with this conversation. "I've gone through a bloody war."
"Quite a dramatic turnabout you did."
Harry jumped, even though he had promised that he wouldn't let Draco surprise him when it came to visits by the lake, and especially not when he was still pulling his robes off. He turned his head and smiled faintly, since he couldn't hide his reaction in time. "With my friends? I reckon you heard."
"Yes," Draco said simply, and leaned on his tree to watch him. Harry rolled his eyes and went back to undressing. Now that he knew Draco had the courage to get in the water if he wanted to, he felt more than a little self-conscious about being peered at when he was halfway to naked, but he didn't intend to show that, either.
"Clothes off. Now."
"You do find the most interesting things to say, Potter," Draco murmured, his voice flavored with laughter, but Harry heard the sliding of cloth that meant he'd obeyed. He stepped into the water without looking back. The mood he was in, he might stare, and he didn't think Draco wanted that.
Everything had gone all strange again. Of course, just one night of swimming lessons wasn't really foundation for the establishment of a routine, but Harry felt a different mood stinging at him than had happened last night. That had been gentle, almost magical, and Harry had moved into reassuring Draco about his fears even outside of the lake. Now, there was—
Shyness, maybe? Harry shook his head. He didn't pretend to understand life much any longer. He'd been blind to the torture of the Slytherins, and even the envy people felt towards him for having participated in the war. God knew what else he'd wake up tomorrow morning and discover looming over him like an elephant.
A warm hand slid against his shoulder. This time, Harry thought he controlled his flinch well, but it was still enough for Draco to notice.
"You're jumpy tonight," he muttered, as he leaned back against Harry's shoulder. "Something else happen besides the fight with your friends?"
"No," Harry said, with a little sigh. "I don't know what it is. Thinking too deeply, maybe." He wrapped his arms around Draco's shoulders and coaxed him to float with a wordless pull. Draco did it at once, and then began breathing deeply, obviously relaxing himself for more. Harry was content to wait.
This time, the slide of wet hair against his skin was noticeable, as was the heat of Draco's body in contrast to the coldness of the water. Harry shivered, and Draco muttered in between one breath and the next, "Cast a Warming Charm, then."
"Can't, wand's on the shore," Harry murmured. He was very glad that Draco was almost entirely prone now, not touching much more of him than a few square inches of skin. He was feeling—peculiar, and he couldn't say how he might react if someone else pressed against him.
"I'm going to stretch out now, Harry." Only the slight edge to Draco's voice gave the lie to his appearance of perfect easiness. "All right? I trust you to catch me if I start to go backwards or sideways."
"Of course," Harry said, and banished his deep thoughts, inappropriate ones and appropriate ones, to the closets of his mind. He watched intently as Draco began to slide away, lifting his hands free of the other wizard's shoulders only when he was sure that the first attempt wouldn't be a disaster.
And then Draco was floating, his breathing sure and strong, his hands spread wide around him. Harry found himself grinning, partially because he knew how much courage it had taken him to do this, and then gave in to the first impulse that had come to him and started applauding.
Draco jerked; Harry tensed. But the motion had been too small to affect his balance. He floated for a few moments longer, then splashed one hand up and down. Harry waded over to him and supported his weight again as he sank his legs beneath the surface and shook water out of his eyes.
"That was—I don't know what that was," Draco said, and his voice was soft but very clear.
"That was me being an idiot," said Harry ruefully. "Sorry; I didn't think you'd react that way, or I wouldn't have clapped."
"It was idiotic, but it wasn't useless," said Draco, and frowned thoughtfully and refused to say what he meant when Harry questioned him. Harry shrugged and helped support him back to the shore. This hadn't taken as long as their lesson last night, or it seemed it hadn't. He found himself reluctant to put his clothes back on, or to take his gaze off Draco, even when the other wizard pointedly turned his back.
"Well," Harry said, when he realized that he couldn't think of any excuse to linger longer near the lake, "good night, then."
"Good night," Draco replied, and slipped away. Harry watched him go, and shrugged. They were both going back to Hogwarts, and they might as well walk together, at least until they reached the entrance hall and the steps that led down into the dungeons.
But perhaps neither of them was ready for that, sensible as the decision seemed to be. Harry waited until Draco was out of sight before he started walking. He shivered absently as a breeze rasped up his skin, and renewed the Warming Charm.
"I can't believe you didn't notice, mate."
"What?" Harry asked, looking up from his lunch. He and Hermione had had a grueling round of Double Potions that morning—made worse because Draco actually insisted that Harry read the instructions, and fussed at him when he didn't—and he hadn't seen Ron since breakfast. Ron was now gazing at him as if he had important news to impart, but he only made mysterious gestures, and Harry rolled his eyes and turned back to his potatoes. "That the treatment of Slytherins is a little better? Ravenclaws sometimes make eye contact with them now. Or that Seamus is staring at me as if I said everything to him in another language yesterday?"
"None of that," Ron said, with a brushing-off gesture. "I'm talking about important things, Harry. Things like—" He leaned forwards and lowered his voice. "Like Ginny sitting in Dean's lap."
Harry blinked and looked down the table. Dean and Ginny were sitting close to each other, having what looked like a furious whispered argument regularly interrupted by laughter. "I wouldn't say that she's sitting in his lap," Harry said, and shrugged. The mashed potatoes were fairly good this afternoon, and he sighed when Ron tugged at his shoulder, forcing him to pay attention to the conversation again. "What, Ron? I'm not Ginny's keeper. She can do whatever she wants."
Ron blinked. "But I thought she and you were—you know."
Harry stifled laughter at Ron's inability to say the word "dating" about his own sister. He suspected it wouldn't earn him points right now. "Not the same way you and Hermione are," he said. "If she's interested, then I think I'm interested—"
"You think? After the way you went after her last year—"
"The year before—"
"I just don't understand you sometimes, Harry—"
"What's the astronomical significance of Orion in relation to lunar eclipses?" Hermione interrupted.
Ron blinked again and said, "Er." Harry went back to his mashed potatoes, chewing thoughtfully, now and then looking at Ginny and Dean but just as often looking across the Great Hall at the Slytherin table. Some of the other Gryffindors had joined him, he noticed, although their glances were more often cautious than eager.
Once he caught Draco's eye. Harry grinned. Draco raised his eyebrows and openly stared, but Harry just shrugged as he finished his lunch.
Whatever was changing between them, he felt no impulse to either hurry it or question it that much.
It was October now, and Harry had cast several Warming Charms on the lake itself. He still intended to teach Draco to swim, but he saw no reason that either of them should freeze to death while it happened.
Draco was late this time. Harry frowned, scanning the darkness closely, but decided to give it ten minutes before he would suspect another attack and search for him. This practical decision might or might not have had anything to do with the fact that the water was now warmer than the air, and Harry was swimming in it with a lazy enjoyment.
Draco was standing on the bank when he returned from a short journey to what had seemed like an interesting object but was only a clump of dirt and weeds. Harry floated in water up to his chest and nodded at him. "Are you ready to try?" Draco could drift and tread water now; Harry wanted him to actually move.
"Yes," Draco said, and removed his robes slowly, watching Harry intently between each movement of cloth. Harry blinked, and stared back. The air between them shimmered like the sky before a storm. Harry shivered and licked his lips. Draco drew his wand with that same faint smile they always shared and cast another Warming Charm.
"I'm not cold," Harry said softly. It was hard to talk above a whisper when they were like this.
"Then don't shake," said Draco, and dropped easily into the water, treading until Harry reached him and slid his arms around his chest. This time, Harry had to close his eyes. Much more than Draco's hair was pressed against him, and he knew it would stay that way until Draco was confident enough to master his own movements.
"Ready?" he asked. He hated how shaky his voice was, too.
"I trust you." Draco mouthed the words almost against his neck. Harry swallowed and drew him out into the middle of the lake.
Draco tensed only a bit as they left shallow water behind, and went deeper than they'd ever been. Harry did his best to concentrate on the ripples and slight splashes the two of them made, instead of the body heat that was building between them, or the slide of slickness against slickness—
If you're not thinking about it, then don't think about it.
"All right," he said, when he was sure they were distant enough from shore to matter, and Draco wasn't about to panic. "You said that you wanted to learn the sidestroke?"
"Yes." Draco tilted his head so that his hair wafted across Harry's face again. Harry would have snapped at him to stop that, but he knew Draco wasn't doing it out of malicious motives. The way he moved, the way the fine hairs on his arms and neck stood up, and the soft sucking sounds he made as he gripped his lower lip between his teeth all had their own echoes in Harry's body. Whatever this—thing—between them was, soft and unknown and cautiously growing, Draco was part of it, too.
"Follow me, then," Harry whispered, and began to guide his limbs in the proper patterns. Draco trod water for a time as he watched, then began to swim on his own with Harry hovering behind his shoulder, snatching him now and then when he started to sink or made a fearful noise. That didn't happen often, and by the end of an hour or so, Draco was gliding confidently from Harry to the clump of weeds he'd noted earlier, and then from Harry to the shore and back.
"Excellent," Harry said, when Draco had finally fetched up against him, shaking this time with exhaustion, and occasionally loosening his muscles with a full-body quiver. "I don't think you'll need many more lessons."
And that, of all things, made Draco tense again. He lifted his head and stared straight at Harry. "Really?" he asked.
"Yes, really." Harry blinked. The thing between them had taken another turn. Now his thoughts weren't of Draco's progress or even what it felt like to touch him, but how well the faint dappled light revealed the sharp angles of his face, the splayed ends of his hair, and the slowly lessening circles beneath his eyes. It was an intense physical awareness of the small things about another person that Harry hadn't ever felt before.
"Too bad," Draco said, never looking away, though he must have realized the charge building between them; he was neither blind nor stupid. "I quite enjoyed—them."
Harry heard the words behind that statement. Being with you, spending time with you. And now I won't have an excuse to do it anymore.
Draco was probably afraid to say them.
Harry wasn't, but, on the other hand, they weren't his words to say. He felt more like doing something else.
He bent his head, edging closer and closer and expecting a withdrawal at any moment, which would hurt but which wouldn't be the end of the world. Draco just watched him come, eyes wide and expectant, closing only when he must have known what Harry was doing and had had plenty of opportunities to draw away.
Harry kissed him lightly, uncertainly, shivering again when their lips brushed; it was too much like the touching of wet bodies for comfort. He couldn't tell what was going to happen from moment to moment, or what Draco might be thinking, or even why he was doing this. Well, the last had the answer of "I want to," but nothing more than that.
Draco pulled back first, and Harry waited for any criticism. Instead, Draco whispered, "Pleasant, but it'll be even more pleasant when you stop thinking that I'm going to run away. I'm not." Then he swam closer, hooked an arm around Harry's neck, and pulled him gently down again.
Harry went, thrilled beyond words, beyond anything that he'd felt before. This was soft, not sharp the way his kisses with Ginny had been, but still deep. He wrapped his arms around Draco at an urging shift of his shoulders, and that was even better, to have all the magically warmed and naturally softened skin beneath his hands, only the rigid spine distracting him from the experience. And then Draco opened his mouth and admitted Harry's tongue, and that was even better.
Harry stopped the kiss when he needed to breathe, and they floated side-by-side with their arms around each other for long enough that the charms started to fade and the water cooled.
Harry had no idea what was going to happen next.
He found he didn't care.
Harry came to a stop, staring. Ron had run into the Gryffindor common room yelling urgently that they needed Harry in the dungeons, but he had somehow neglected to tell Harry that the cause was Draco holding Zacharias Smith and Seamus upside-down with an expression of incipient murder on his face.
Draco caught sight of him, and jerked his head, a motion that clearly summoned Harry to his side. Harry went, ducking around the two floating boys, ignoring their pleas for help. He suspected he might already know what Draco had discovered, and if he was right…
"They're the ones," Draco murmured into his ear as soon as Harry was close enough to hear him. "Zacharias made a stupid remark about how he hoped my swimming ability had improved, and then he ratted on Finnegan the moment I swung him upside-down, the git."
"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "He could have seen our lessons—"
"More than that," Draco said, and he almost spat the words. "He hinted how many things one could get away with when wearing a Gryffindor tie."
Once again, Harry's potential sympathy for Smith drained away. But it didn't escape his notice, even as he turned on the two culprits and drew his wand, that Draco hadn't accused Harry of telling someone else the truth, as a source for Smith knowing more than he should. He trusted Harry too much for that.
Harry's hand sneaked down his side and latched onto Draco's. Draco squeezed back.
"Harry," Hermione's uncertain voice said. Harry looked at her and found her standing near the mouth of the corridor, eyes so wide it looked as if they must hurt. "You really should tell Professor McGonagall about this."
"She'll probably expel them," Harry agreed casually, "but that will be after Draco and I give them a good hexing."
"You could be expelled, too, mate—" Ron began.
"Do you really think she will?" Harry asked.
Draco leaned against him, pressing on Harry from shoulder to hip. "It'll be the word of two against four," he added. "Not to mention that they'll reveal they wanted to kill me under Veritaserum."
"Harry," Hermione sighed.
But she wasn't moving to stop him. Harry turned to face Smith and Seamus with a vicious grin, and saw Seamus in particular wriggle uncomfortably. Draco leaned forwards next to him, catching his eye with their faint smile.
His hand remained implacably tied up in Harry's fingers.
Harry felt a smooth burst of uncomplicated joy well up in his chest. There would undoubtedly be questions to answer when Ron and Hermione found out just how deep his bond with Draco had gone. And he didn't know what would happen after that, with Ginny or Professor McGonagall or anything else. He didn't even know yet what spells would be enough to punish Smith and Seamus.
But he did know that he was going to make what lay between him and Draco work, no matter how much labor it took, even if it lasted the rest of his life.
And that was enough.
Especially when I have hexes to perform, he thought, and he and Draco cast at the same time.