A/N: This touches on a mental disorder.

Thank you to fat_teaspoon and lusiology for looking this over.

Chapter 4

Harry kept Chimera Downs.

He liked the security of knowing that it was still his. He could go to it whenever he chose. There was still an escape. Harry didn't plan on using it, and he liked that too.

He still owned Grimmauld Place as well, but he was never going to live there. Instead, Harry had rented out a flat Malfoy had helped him find in Cantcomp Lane, another wizarding district of London—more residential than Diagon Alley, and rather less busy. The address was 92, and his flat was number five.

As Harry unpacked the boxes in his new flat, Malfoy lolled about on a worn sofa, watching him. Hermione and Ron and George had helped him move; now it was mostly a matter of getting settled in. Ron had said he'd come over again to help unpack more boxes, and Hermione had fretted about being there because she feared the men's taste in decorating, but then the baby had developed colic.

So it was just he and Malfoy unpacking: Harry doing all the unpacking, and Malfoy doing all the watching him and occasionally whinging. Harry brought up the conversation they'd had that day flat hunting, something along the lines of Malfoy thinking he could help Harry with his love life.

Malfoy looked appalled. "I said someone needs to help you. Certainly not me."

Harry snorted. "Just like you helped me look for a flat?"

Malfoy turned his nose up. "Please note: I never come to help you. I come to mock you."

Harry shook his head. "You really do, don't you."

"Malfoys always do exactly what they intend. Even your tiny powers of observation should've discovered that."

Harry didn't say anything about Lucius. "You know," he said, dumping a load of his Quidditch equipment into a cupboard, "you're not one to talk. It's not like you've got a girlfriend, either."

"What makes you so sure I like girls?"

Harry turned to look at him, surprised. "I thought you fancied Hermione."

"Well." Malfoy waved a hand about in a derisive manner. "Of course I didn't. She's a Muggleborn, and I'm a Malfoy, and—" He paused thoughtfully, tilting his head. "And obviously our mad, wild monkey passion was doomed from the start."

"Um. Monkeys? I'd really rather not think about Hermione and—"

"Yes." Malfoy nodded enthusiastically. "And so, to preserve ourselves, and a doomed—doomed!—passion for which the world was not ready, we had to bury our love, bank our consuming passion—primate passion. She had to marry a brainless boor just to significantly cover it up and I had to have many threesomes with beautiful, beautiful Scandanavian blondes, and once a Veela, and anyway a long line of desirable and devoted love-slaves."

"Oh." Harry went back to sorting through the box that had had his Quidditch gear. "Where are you keeping the love-slaves, again?"

"I'm still working on that part."

"Right." Harry pulled out some pictures from Hogwarts and a couple of old books. "And there was Parkinson."

"If you ever accuse Pansy of being a part of anyone's harem but mine I will use your ears for tiny teacups."

"Well, she is married to Goyle."

"Tiny teacups, Potter."

"Anyway, I meant, you like girls, because you went out with Parkinson."

"So? You went out with Chang."

"Yeah. Um, so, are you?"

Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "Am I what?" Harry rolled his eyes and Malfoy said, "No. I'm not; I . . . You just—you shouldn't assume, you know."

Later, Malfoy said, "At least, I don't think so."

"You don't think this is where it should go?" Harry looked down at the pine chest he'd just pushed into place. Instead of moving it with spells, Harry had been pushing it around. He liked the idea of arranging his new flat by the force of his own body, rather than the force of his magic. The place felt more real that way, and he had to think less of fields.

Malfoy no doubt disapproved. He was disdainful of physical labor when the same work could be accomplished by wand. No doubt he disdained of sweat, also. It was beaded on Harry's brow, and he'd stripped down to the t-shirt under his jumper. The chest was heavy, and Harry wasn't looking forward to moving it again.

Malfoy had been sitting on the couch the whole time watching. "It works terribly there," he said, "you can't put your feet on it from this couch, and I don't think I'm gay."

Harry almost dropped the lamp he'd been thinking about putting on the chest. "I'm not moving this again just because it's not convenient to where you happen to be sitting."

"Suit yourself. Even though yourself is infinitely less design conscious than myself."

Harry sat down on the chest and looked at Malfoy. "So, how come you don't know for sure?"

"How am I supposed to?" Malfoy said, irritated.

Harry shrugged. "You're twenty-five."

"I'm well aware of my age, thank you. I . . ." At some point before he'd told him to move the chest, Malfoy had stopped lolling about on the couch in a lounge-like fashion. His legs were pulled up on the couch in front of him, his arms around them. He looked stiff, like a folded paper gargoyle defending some position. "It's not like I've ever done it."

"Done what?"

"A bloke. Keep up."

Harry shrugged again. "Maybe you should try it."

Malfoy glared. "And who am I supposed to try it with?"

"Just—" Harry had been going to say, "do what I did," but then, he didn't ever want anyone to do the things he had done, and certainly not Malfoy.

Harry hadn't turned to men because he thought that he might like them; he had done it because he thought he wouldn't. He had hated himself for the way he had treated Ginny. She had loved him to the point of forgiving things she shouldn't. In the end, that was why he had had to leave, but he hated himself for leaving her, too. He hated the pain that it caused her, but even more than that, he hated that he could not have her.

He had defeated Voldemort. He had saved the world. He deserved some measure of happiness in return. Maybe he deserved Ginny. Maybe he even deserved to treat her the way he had . . . .

Harry had left because he had been disgusted with himself. He hated thing things he thought about Ginny. He hated the things he thought about his friends. He hated his desires. Instead of seeking to destroy said desire, he had sought to sate them in ways that disgusted even himself. He had been seeking punishment.

He had found prostitutes easily enough. When he encountered his first rentboy, he realized he did not care about gender or sex. He wanted not to care about anything at all, and he found oblivion just as easily in men as women.

"You're a lot of help," Draco said.

"I don't know," Harry said, his voice rough.

"Well, I can see that." Malfoy was trying to sound mocking, but instead he was coming out gentle. Malfoy was always making mistakes like that. "So, it's not like I have anyone to try it out on, because the only one I know who's a poof is you." He paused.

Harry didn't say anything, and then Malfoy blithely continued, as though the pause had never happened. "And certainly that's not on. One does not experiment on—on friends."

Harry stood up and took a step toward Malfoy. Malfoy's gray eyes flickered again, and suddenly, Harry remembered several weeks before, when he'd really first noticed Malfoy's preternatural interest in his love life. He remembered almost half a year ago now, Malfoy shredding grass while asking him if he was really gay, and Harry saw now that that had been nervousness.

Taking another step forward, Harry saw that this was nervousness now. It was also confusion and curiosity, and—something—

Harry could show him.

But then Harry thought of what he could show him, the only things he could show. He did not want Malfoy to learn the way he had learned, nor did he want to use Malfoy in that way. He couldn't do that to Malfoy. He couldn't do that to anyone he cared about; he couldn't do that to anyone ever again.

"You're right," Harry said, carefully and without expression. "I should move the chest."

Malfoy looked away.

Bracing his legs, Harry started on moving the chest across the floor, pushing it in increments.

"I've only just remembered," Malfoy said, "I've got a haircut. And data entry for that centaur contract. And tea. I've got tea, except I haven't got any, so I've got to go to the shop, and—I've a very busy day."

"You can go."

There was a little pause, which almost made Harry look. But he couldn't look; he couldn't. If he looked he wouldn't see the field; he would see Malfoy, Malfoy and the way he usually was so smug, but Harry was sure somehow that he would not be smug now. He would be uncertain, and Harry was certain he couldn't take uncertainty. So he kept on moving the chest.

"Your flat," Malfoy said, and didn't finish.

"It's okay," said Harry. "You weren't helping anyway."

"Ah." There was a short silence. "I'll be going then."

Then Malfoy was gone, and Harry slumped against the chest.

He had got a job, just like Malfoy had said. He had got a flat, just like Malfoy had said.

He didn't want the flat. He didn't want to think about where to put the chest. He didn't want to think about his failed relationships, the things he had done with men and women after Ginny. He didn't want to think of Malfoy, either. Harry never had been sure why Malfoy showed up at Chimera Downs. Whatever he had been looking for, he deserved better than anything Harry could have given him.

Feeling like something was trying to claw its way out of him that could destroy his new flat, destroy his careful routines and efforts and relationships with friends, destroy this new life he had built, Harry thought of the field.

The slope rolled down like the shoulders of a giant, slumped and laid down like moving was too much effort. The grass across the giant's back was very green, and stirred slightly in a light breeze. Other things were sleeping, but insects hummed in lazy heat. There was no road, and Draco Malfoy was coming down. Down and down and down . . . .

Harry kept that thought of the field. He kept it so he could keep the people he loved safe, so he could keep Malfoy safe. He kept it the next time he saw Malfoy, and was thinking of it as he half sat, half leaned against Malfoy's desk at work while Malfoy was saying something about his centaur rights bill.

Harry was only half-listening, distracted by Malfoy's hands, the way the wrists were slender and strong, the fingers long and thin. Those fingers moved amongst the papers deftly, with agitation. Then when Malfoy got really into the conversation, the hands occupied themselves with taking a quill apart and putting it back together, the work more small and delicate than Harry's fingers could have done.

There were ink stains on them now, blots black and dirty on pale skin, and Harry didn't want Malfoy to wash them off.

"Why don't you have a girlfriend?" Harry said abruptly.

"Excuse me?" Malfoy's voice was sharp. The fingers hovered for a moment over the quill, then set it down and got rigorously scrubbed clean on one of Malfoy's napkins.

"A girlfriend. We were talking about it last week. Or a boyfriend."

"Will you shut up?" Malfoy quickly looked around. Most people had called it quits for the night, but there were still stragglers in the office.

"You don't want anyone to know?"

Malfoy frowned. "No. I don't care." He clicked his tongue. "Look here, Potter. My sexuality is my own business."

"You said before you couldn't find out on your own. You said that you would need a bloke."

"Well, it wouldn't be anyone from the office!" Malfoy looked around again and lowered his voice. "Anyway that wouldn't be convenient, sleeping with someone I work with."

"It would be very convenient. You wouldn't have to go far."

Malfoy was peevish. "I only said I didn't know if I like wizards because I've never tried it. I was trying to be open. I was trying to . . . to let you know you're not special because of that, either."

"You thought you might be gay, just for my sake?"

"God." Malfoy covered his face with a hand. "Don't you even listen to yourself?"

"Sometimes." Harry smirked.

There was ink on Malfoy's hand, very stark against his skin, all sharp shadows and circles under his eyes.

Harry watched him. "Why don't you have a girlfriend?"

Malfoy took his hand away from his face and sat there for a while moodily. "In case you hadn't noticed, most of the wizarding world thinks people like me are pariahs. As for people like me . . . ."

"You were attracted to Parkinson."

Malfoy glared. "She's married. To one of my oldest friends, ye of selective amnesia."

"You said the other day, about her being a part of your—"

"She's married. Maybe that doesn't stop Gryffindors? Maybe, them being so dim, the only thing they see standing in their way is a husband's wrath, and they're brave enough to chance that, after all. Maybe you and—"

"Don't," Harry said, because when Malfoy was angry he lashed out. Malfoy didn't hurt Harry often, but he could mention Ginny, and that would.

Malfoy didn't mention Ginny. "Anyway. Pansy isn't dead. Goyle isn't dead. Thank you, Potter, for pointing out the two people I cared for who actually survived. It was so much help. Without you, I certainly wouldn't have figured it out. Without you—"

Harry reached over and brushed his thumb across Malfoy's cheek.

Malfoy stopped and stared.

"You had a smudge," Harry said, gesturing at his own face.

Malfoy still looked blank.

"From the the ink. Here." Harry handed Malfoy another paper napkin.

Malfoy wiped his cheekbone. "Is it—?"

"Yes." Harry shifted his weight on Malfoy's desk. "You could always meet new people." When Malfoy continued to look blank, he said, "You could date."

"Fabulous. Thanks for the advice." The words were sarcastic, but no longer vindictive. He just sounded tired and bitter.

"Why not?"

"This is why not, Potter, and it's not coming off with a napkin." Malfoy was suddenly jerking up his sleeve, thrusting his arm under Harry's nose.

Harry looked down at Malfoy's arm.

Malfoy tried to pull his sleeve back down. Before he could, Harry grabbed his wrist. "This," he said, and stared down.

Malfoy's arm was milky white, the veins blue beneath clear skin. Malfoy was neither particularly muscular nor strong, but he also was very slim, and Harry could also see the cords of tendons, the shape of muscle. It could have been beautiful, and the effect of it was ruined by the shape of the Mark, hideous, red and twining, churning up that otherwise so flawless flesh. It was heinous, willing destruction, just as all the Death Eaters had been.

Harry couldn't stop looking at it.

"This," he said again, his voice rough.

Malfoy tried to pull away again, and Harry let him go.

For the first time since Malfoy came to Chimera Downs, the first time in a long time, it occurred to Harry that he could be the strong one. "That isn't who you are," he said.

Malfoy yanked his sleeve down. "What would you know about it?"

Harry remembered the field. "My scar isn't who I am."

"Come off it. You're the Chosen One. Savior of the wizarding world. Boy Who Lived. Witch Weekly's Number—" "

Harry's fingers curled in on themselves. "You said I was just a man."

"Because you seem to think you're some super-wizard alien from Mars, who can't live among mortals. When really you're just a scarhead with bad hair."

"Yeah. And you're just a snot with an ugly arm." Malfoy scowled and hugged his arm to himself. Instinctively Harry reached to touch it, but did not.

"You told me I was a man," Harry said. "Then you told me I had to act like one. Sorry, but you do too. You have to move forward. You have to reach for what you want."

Malfoy looked away. His sleeve was still loose. "Maybe I can't have what I want."

Harry took his arm. "Because of this?"

Malfoy frowned. "Maybe I don't know what I want."

"Then you have to try," Harry said, still holding Malfoy's arm. "It's what you told me. It's what I've been doing. I'm not thinking about the past. I'm not thinking about the future. I'm just trying to do what feels—"

Harry stopped because Malfoy did move forward, and then Malfoy's lips were brushing the corner of Harry's mouth, hesitantly, barely a whisper of a touch. Malfoy pulled back, and he was close enough Harry could actually see his eyes widen, see the skin at the corners stretch out. The pupils were flicking rapidly over Harry's face, as if reading a reaction.

Then he pulled back farther, and said, "There was a smudge."

Harry didn't move. Malfoy started to pull away, and Harry instinctively tightened his grip. His eyes dropped from Malfoy's eyes to Malfoy's lips, and Harry caught his breath.

"Malfoy," Harry said hoarsely, and leaned in.

Harry had forgotten the field by then. He had forgotten about being the strong one.

He was only thinking getting it again, that warm soft press of lips, reach for what you want, he had told Malfoy, and Malfoy had. Harry kissed him, tasted Malfoy's hesitation, tasted Malfoy make a sound, melt under him. Malfoy's hands went up to hold him, Malfoy's mouth open under him, and Harry went deeper.

Malfoy was so warm; Harry had missed this. It felt so good, it felt so willing, another person's body, another person's heart, someone else to hold him, and take it all away.

Harry wasn't sure how Malfoy got up against the wall that formed one side of his cubical. He didn't know how he got to be standing between Malfoy's legs, holding him so Malfoy could hardly move. Malfoy was alive in his grasp, warm and gasping, saying incoherent things. His heart was beating hard enough for Harry to feel it.

Harry wasn't sure, but he thought he was no longer kissing him. This was something else, with teeth and tongue and hard hands holding down. Harry was crawling inside his mouth until he didn't know what the rest of the world felt like. He had been trying so hard to live again that he had forgotten how much he hated his own skin, but Harry remembered now.

The monster had never liked it there.

Malfoy's arms were around his neck; Malfoy's narrow hips pressed into his as Harry committed lewd, disgraceful acts inside Malfoy's mouth. He pulled away, turning Malfoy's face, opening access to the jaw, the neck, where he sucked and scraped his teeth until Malfoy said, "You're," then began again, "You'll leave a bruise."

Harry wanted it to bruise. The clawing in his chest raged outward, tearing through his throat, right out of his mouth and down to ruin Malfoy's perfect skin, to call up the blood beneath. He felt alive. He felt full of joy, filthy and full and leaping high, letting this leashed and coiled power loose to wrap around Malfoy, to take him and make him his. This, all of this was his: Malfoy's body, Malfoy's throaty, rough sounds of need, that low spot of warmth, that raw tenderness that Harry felt whenever he thought of Draco Malfoy; Harry wanted to mark

Harry pushed him away.

Malfoy panted, his eyes blown almost black, as though he'd been drugged or drained of blood. He moved like that, as though on the verge of crash; blindly he reached out.

"I'm sorry," Harry said. Then he went away, before he did anything much worse.

Harry went to Chimera Downs.

He looked at the cottage the way Malfoy must have looked at the cottage, having just come down the slope: a peaceful, innocent little place. A man could have everything he needed there. He would never have to leave.

Using wand and words, Harry pulled it down. He could feel it fall apart beneath the magic coiling inside him, the monster large and awake and clawing out of his throat. He did not even need his wand; merely his hands, his voice, could destroy it all. The monster could wreak havoc. The monster could end it all.

It had only been a kiss, but in some ways it was the closest Harry had been to another person in two and a half years, and all of the sudden he remembered he could hurt them. Once only love and jealousy had brought the monster with it, but as things had devolved with Ginny, with the Aurors, even with his friends, hate and despair and desire brought it too.

He could get a flat. He could get a job. Harry could be with his friends, but things like kissing—intimacy, they felt like too much.

The cottage came down, and the fence. The sycamore cracked in half, and Harry was on his knees. The broken cottage was shaking; the stumps were shaking; the ground was shaking. Harry's eyes were hot and he thought that they were most likely red. The rest of his body had no blood, and all the world was cold.

He felt free. He felt unfettered. He felt full of joy, and felt the world could fall to him. Then he saw the field.

There it was still. The grass was still green for the end of summer. It was the color Harry's eyes used to be, as green as Aveda Kedavra and growing things. The stalks swayed gently with the shaking of the ground, just as though within a breeze. The sky was blue and blue and blue. It went on forever.

Harry gasped and closed his eyes, Draco Malfoy came strolling down the rise, his posture relaxed and easy, his hair tinted in the waning light. His lips twitched the way they did before a smile, and his hands were long and slender by his sides. He didn't seem to know or care what Harry was, the color of his eyes. He just kept coming down to him, coming down.

Harry gasped, and gasped again, and slowly caught his breath. When he opened his eyes, the field still was green, and the sky had opened up to show bright stars. Grass moved gently in the breeze. Dark was coming on.

There was no road, Harry realized. His cottage was in ruins, the grounds in ruins, but the field still was there, and there was no road.

Slowly, Harry stood again. He had started rebuilding the moment Draco Malfoy first came down that slope.

Time to start again.

When Harry knocked at the door of Malfoy's flat the next day, Malfoy opened the door and stared at him. When Malfoy kept staring like that and didn't say anything, Harry said, "Um, how are you?"

Malfoy said, "Good, I'm fine," and waited.

"I . . . I wanted to see you."

"Right, that's fine." Malfoy left the door open and went into his flat.

It was actually the first time Harry had been in Malfoy's flat. Sometimes he'd dropped by to see if Malfoy wanted to go down to the pub or play Quidditch or see a film, but inevitably Malfoy had immediately come out to the pub or played Quidditch or seen a film, instead of inviting him inside. Harry thought that maybe since most of the Malfoy fortune and all of its properties had gotten seized, Malfoy was embarrassed because the flat really wasn't much to look at.

It wasn't, Harry supposed. The walls were thin, the wood floor scratched. The cupboards looked like the kind that would stick. Nothing was neat; there was detritus of Malfoy everywhere. Piles of parchment were rolling themselves in scrolls in the corner; there were socks folding themselves. Portraits hung haphazardly, and one was Lucius Malfoy, who frowned sternly at Harry and walked out of the frame. The hat rack looked like it might be violent.

Harry could begin to understand why Malfoy got soppy over Molly Weasley. Harry should have known; Malfoy's desk was like this on a smaller scale. There were always strange odds and ends on it—a stuffed hedgehog, a lantern, a ceramic vessel that looked like birch, a license plate. These things always looked haphazard among stacks and stacks of papers, assorted scrolls, and documents bundled with brown string. Malfoy always claimed he had everything in order, and slapped at Harry when Harry moved things.

"I'm surprised to see you," Malfoy said, after several moments of staring at Harry staring at his flat.

"Why?" Harry turned to face him, rather hoping Malfoy would suggest they simply forget yesterday. He thought that he could do this if only Malfoy would.

"Admittedly it wasn't a trait of yours at Hogwarts, but ever since the Dark Lord died you've become quite talented at running off and hiding when you can't handle something."

"I did run off." Harry took a step towards him. Malfoy looked like he wanted to take a step back, but didn't. "May I see?"


"Your . . ." Harry touched his own neck.

"Don't be ridiculous." Malfoy jerked his collar, exposing a clean expanse of pale throat. "We are wizards, as you so often seem to forget."

"I'm sorry," Harry said.

"I kissed you first."

"I still . . . treated you badly."

"Do you mean because you ran away, or because you pushed me up against a wall?"


Malfoy moved away, his face in profile. "I knew you were going to be like this. I'm not an idiot, alright?"

"I know you're not."

"No, you don't. And I should hate you for that, but instead I forgive you, because you're too dumb to even know when you're being dumb for thinking other people are dumb. You can't help you're a Gryffindor."

Harry's lips twisted. "Thanks for that."

"I kissed you first." Malfoy held up a hand as if Harry was going to protest again, which Harry was. "I told you I'd been thinking about . . . blokes like that, and I told you you were the only one I knew who . . . felt like that, I told you I wanted to try it."

Harry felt like he could have been knocked over by a feather. "Maybe you're completely terrible at propositioning someone. What kind of come on was that?"

"The sexy kind?"

There was silence. They looked at each other. "Well, you're here; do you want a drink?" Malfoy said, shifting uncomfortably.

"Do you have pumpkin juice?" Harry asked, and followed Malfoy into the kitchen.

"I have . . . um. Ketchup. I'll make some hot chocolate, hold on."

"Okay." Harry sat down at his breakfast table.

"I didn't find out." Malfoy fussed with the cocoa.

"Find out what?" Harry was distracted by the fact Malfoy's table top was Formica. Formica seemed so Muggle.

Malfoy fussed with the milk next. "I didn't find out whether I was gay. Yet."

"Yet?" The Formica abruptly took back seat.

"I still don't know, do I? It was just a kiss. And you messed that one up." Malfoy sounded like he was talking about the weather. "I was surprised, and you—" Harry had marked him, but Malfoy didn't say it.

Ginny had liked the marks, sometimes, had even liked it when Harry got rough. People after her had liked it too. But there was a line between some kinds of possessive behavior and . . . other kinds, Harry knew. And Harry knew he was over the line, even if others didn't know it.

Harry didn't know whether Malfoy knew. Malfoy had never seemed to care much what Harry's problems were at Chimera Downs. Harry didn't know if Malfoy had liked it when Harry got rough or not, and he didn't plan on finding out.

"Look," Malfoy saidd, "I didn't mean to . . . I hadn't planned on—on doing that. Kissing you, I mean," he said, as though forcing himself to say it. "It was just—you said—I wanted to . . ."

"You said you propositioned me before."

"I was curious. I . . . you said I was supposed to try."

Harry understood that. He thought that it was good. Malfoy was trying to get things sorted, and that was—that was good. He wasn't going about finding out if he was interested in men the way that Harry had, and that was good, too. But this—what Malfoy was doing—was new, and fragile. He needed someone who could show him . . . gentleness, and experience also. Someone who could help him. Someone who wasn't Harry.

Harry realized this with sudden firmness. Malfoy was his friend, and he didn't want to ruin that, just because of—of the monster in his chest. Because of the things that darkness wanted, and the way that Malfoy had tasted under him.

"I can't," Harry said.

"I know." Malfoy walked back to fill his own mug. "I already knew that. I mean, I had decided against it. I told you that. It—it was an accident, purely circumstantial, you know how it is, when you can't help—" Malfoy broke off abruptly, and clattered the kettle back on the cooker. "Don't think I was pinning every hope of experimentation I had on you."

"Thank you."

Harry drank the chocolate. Then he sighed and stood up, heading for the whipped cream. Malfoy clung to the kettle as if it would protect him.

"There are other reasons it wouldn't be a good idea," Harry said, standing beside Malfoy now.

Malfoy snorted. "Of course. There's always the possibility you'll say, 'I'm sorry' and run away."

"About that, I already said—"

"That you were sorry?" Malfoy snorted again. Then he registered the expression on Harry's face, and sighed. Looking away, he scrubbed his face. "It's alright. I get it."

"Maybe you don't."

"Don't I? Let me guess. You hied to your hermitage, and threw things around. Or unrooted tree stumps and held a little light show. Then your own penchant for drama wore you out; you cried a lot and put all the tree stumps back, and thought about how you were just too sad and savior-of-the-worldish too ever love anyone or touch anyone or need anyone or desire me. Something about how you're special, and making a sacrifice, saving the world just by not screwing around, because heaven help you if you did screw around, there would be tree stumps everywhere. Am I warm?"

Harry looked down into his cup. "I guess. Warm as you ever are."

Malfoy put his mug down, turned around and faced him. "I thought you—I thought you might not come back. I thought I might not see you again, that—that you were going to be a real prat about everything. I thought I wouldn't see you again."

Harry looked up. "You're my friend."

The line appeared beside Malfoy's mouth. "Well, it's true that we are dire rivals under temporary truce, as circumstance dictates. We are—"

Harry grabbed his wrist. Malfoy's eyes widened again. "Don't joke right now. We're friends. You told me to act like a man, and I'm trying."

Malfoy's eyes proceeded to get larger. For the first time, Harry noticed the gray was circled at the edges by narrow rings of blue. "Harry, you—" Malfoy began. "You." Malfoy licked his lips.

Harry dropped his wrist.

"You should learn to control your grabby hands."

"Yes," Harry said, because it was all about control. If he could learn it, master it enough, he could do this. He could touch and it would not be dangerous. He could have what Malfoy was talking about, maybe even something more, either with Malfoy or someone else he came to care about. He could do it. He just had to be in control first.

He somehow had to explain. "Malfoy," he began.

"No." Malfoy looked away again. "I already know what you're going to say. And I already said it's fine."

"But if you want—"

Malfoy squared his shoulders in that heartbreaking way he had, and turned to face Harry as though to face an assault. "Let me put this in a language you can understand." His voice was very crisp, the way it got when he decided crazy things. "I do not resent you for not wanting to—to make—to have—for not wanting to fuck around. You needn't worry about me harboring a grudge about it. Or a crush. You don't need to worry about my ickle feelings or that I feel any differently about you. You needn't worry about me at all, because you are a crazy person, and have enough things to worry about."

Harry opened his mouth to protest.

"I care about you," Malfoy said, which made Harry shut his mouth with a sharp click. "I care about you because you are my friend, something like this can't come between us. Ever, because if it does, I will hunt it down. Now, shake my hand."

Malfoy stuck his hand out and Harry stared at it. He felt his heart in his throat, but did not feel the monster in his chest.

That did not mean there was not danger. Harry knew that if he took this feeling too far, he could end up destroying Draco Malfoy. He could get jealous over Malfoy; he could get violent; he could possess him, until only Harry remained. He could be all the things he didn't want to be, all the things Malfoy had helped him move beyond.

In that moment, a choice opened up before him. He could walk away, as he had once done from Ginny, the Aurors, all his friends. He had done it to keep them safe, and he could keep Malfoy safe this way. The next option was to utterly give in, to consume Malfoy and himself in the inferno of his own possessiveness and power.

Love or intimacy were too difficult, but Malfoy wasn't asking for those. Malfoy was asking only for what he could give; he was asking for friendship.

The third option was to walk the line between.

Harry thought that he could try. He might be able to do it. Malfoy made him want to do it.

Malfoy was pulling back that hand and something was shutting down in his face before Harry made a wild grab for Malfoy's hand.

"No need to cripple me, Potter." Malfoy he seemed amused.

"I just—um—you said, about grabbing you, I didn't want it to be—"

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Nor will there be sparks whenever we touch. And don't think anything I just said will stop me from hexing you unconscious and stuffing you in an alley in which feral cats will lick off all your skin if you really deserve it. Now let go of my hand. Please."


"And get out."

Harry looked at him in confusion. "I thought maybe we could—" He broke off, frowning. "Why aren't you at work?" It was the middle of the day on a Tuesday; Harry hadn't thought about it. He had come here after Chimera Downs as soon as he was sure he could hold all of himself in.

Malfoy looked lofty. "I have important things to do."

"You always say that whenever you make excuses."

"I'm making an excuse, then." Malfoy smirked.

"But why? Are you sick?"

"Didn't I say you didn't have to worry?"

"That's not how it works." Harry looked around curiously, trying to see if he could divine a reason for Malfoy staying home. Maybe it was the sixty-seven things going on in his living room, but the thing about Malfoy was he most likely always had sixty-seven things going on in his living-room, even when he was gone at work.

Malfoy was rolling his eyes. "Don't you think you could tell if I was sick?"

Harry thought about that day setting up his flat—what Malfoy had been asking, and Harry hadn't realized. There were so many things Malfoy kept a secret, and he still didn't talk about his parents. "Not for certain, no."

Malfoy gave him an exasperated look. "I'm fine."

"But why aren't you at work?"

"Because I want to be by myself! Don't you ever feel that way?"

Harry had felt that way, and Malfoy knew it. Harry had thought he needed to be alone at Chimera Downs, until it had turned out that was not what he needed at all.

"I'll leave," Harry said.

Malfoy briefly closed his eyes, then opened them. "Thank you."

Harry had come with the intention of telling Malfoy he couldn't give him what he wanted. Leaving, Harry was beginning to think he could try at least to give Malfoy needed. He could try like hell.

Malfoy had done as much for him.