Author Notes: Oops. Did I say this was to be a one shot? Looks like I can be bullied quite easily after all. *sheepish smile* I have a real soft spot for vulnerable!Draco now. Damn. But I will still continue HMN and complete it. Promise! In the meantime, thank you all for your lovely reviews, alerts and favs. Enjoy this chapter.
Appreciation: Thank you to Sara Holmes once again for her very kind encouragement and generous review. I think I'm still in love with her Dormiscere fic because I've taken a couple more details from it. If you've read that fic, you'll know which ones they are. And er, borrowed a detail from her Mental fic as well. Loving that too. You write Drarry like no other, girl :D
- Chapter Start -
Draco Malfoy stood in front of the bathroom mirror. He ran a comb through his freshly washed hair with deft, practiced strokes and then sighed at his reflection.
Oh sure, behave perfectly now but the moment my back is turned, you're going to go flat before I even reach the Great Hall.
The mirror chuckled as if it had heard his thoughts. Draco resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at it. He sighed and tossed the comb into his toiletry basket, eyeing his reflection critically. He had worn his white blond hair slicked back for the first two years of school, the way his father did. After that, he thought it more trouble than it was worth what with muddy Quidditch practices, incessant rain and howling winds, not to mention the never ending showers and endless Scourgify charms courtesy of potions classes in which no one smelled the same coming out as they did going in.
Draco stuck out his lower lip and blew out, watching his breath stir the fine strands already stating to tumble over his grey eyes. He gave up and reached instead for the small glass bottle in a corner of the basket. This one had arrived exactly two weeks ago. Narcissa Malfoy had ordered it via owl order since she was under house arrest and had it sent on to Hogwarts after it met with her approval. Draco pulled the stopper out and held the bottle up to his nose, eyes drifting shut as he took a reverent sniff.
Aahh... Mother's taste is as usual, impeccable.
Draco had fallen in love with the cologne at first sniff. It was different from the one he had used before. It was citrusy rather than woody, blended with a nice hint of green tea. It was a refreshing scent, far lighter than his previous choice. To Draco, it signified a new and fresh beginning - a chance to start afresh. It was something he wanted more than anyone else in the eighth year.
Except for one other.
Draco wanted to turn his back on everything that had happened to him and everything that he had been for the past seven years. No, longer than that – perhaps all his life. No one had ever asked him what he wanted and if they had, he probably wouldn't have been able to answer. All he had to go on with were the beliefs and the prejudices he had grown up with, things he had thought to be the absolute truth. Things that had started to crack under the surface but he still refused to see, truly see, until that horrifying incident at the end of his sixth year. That was the moment when those invisible blinkers had finally come loose and then during the tense and frightening summer holiday that followed, fallen from his eyes forever.
Who I am compared to that one other person.
Draco hadn't had a chance to do anything about it then – he was literally terrified out of his wits, for himself and for his parents. But he had that chance now and he didn't want to waste it. Wasn't going to in fact. He wanted to break, to crush the beliefs he had been brought up with. He wanted to be different, to show that he was different. He knew he was one lucky bloke considering the past couple of years, the things he had been involved in however reluctantly, the things he had done and the single most dreadful thing he had almost done. Yes, he was damned lucky. He and his mother had been spared Azkaban. He had been allowed to return to Hogwarts to complete his final year at school and to sit for his NEWTs. He had been allowed to walk around the school freely and to join the others during Hogsmeade weekends provided he didn't break the vows he had made to Shacklebolt.
All because of that one same person.
Draco owed his life and everything good that had happened since to him, even the small bottle in his hand. Shacklebolt was all for throwing him on board the Hogwarts Express with nothing but the shirt on his back, not even his wand. All it took was one disapproving lift of Harry's eyebrow and those strong arms crossing over his chest and the stubborn glint in those eyes. Draco was allowed to return to Malfoy Manor to pack his trunk properly, give his tearful mother a goodbye hug and get on board the train with his hawthorn wand safely up his sleeve. He had forgotten to pack his Nimbus but when he realised it later, he hadn't cared. The memory of that devastating FiendFyre was still fresh in his mind, along with other equally painful memories.
A good part of that fear was gone now but he still didn't care that he hadn't brought his broom with him. He had another one to ride even if wasn't his. Even better, he had promised to join the other eighth years on the next flying session... and to remain behind for an hour or so after the others went back.
All because of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. His... friend.
A small, secretive smile tilted the corners of those pale lips, the sharp cheekbones gaining a faint flush of pink. He was finally, finally friends with Harry Potter. Heck, the Boy Who Lived had put his arms around him just over two weeks ago. Three times in fact. The smile widened, the pink flush deepened. The first hug was completely unintentional of course. Harry had pushed him onto the Firebolt and they started tussling wildly high in the air, Draco desperately trying to get his feet to touch the ground, Harry trying just as hard to stop him. A small shiver rippled through Draco, his eyes closing briefly. That stunt could have ended badly for both of them but once again, Harry had saved the day.
Typical Gryffindor. Typical of the Saviour of the Wizarding World.
Ugh. That didn't sound remotely sarcastic, not even in his head. But Harry had done more than just that. He had helped him face his fears without making a big deal out of it – he had trusted him enough to give him control of the Firebolt. It had resulted in the second hug that was probably still unintentional since they were flying and all. It had also resulted in the best half hour Draco had had in months, perhaps even years. With those sure strong arms around him, he felt as if he could have flown forever.
How does he make it seem so easy?
But the third and best hug of all had come right at the end and this time, it was completely intentional. Draco didn't know if Harry knew just how much that handshake meant to him. The memory of Harry's first outright rejection of his hand during their first night in Hogwarts had haunted him for so long, fueling the insults he regularly hurled at his rival but finally, he could put it to rest. The sheer knee weakening relief he felt when Harry grasped his hand had caused those blasted tears to reappear. He hadn't been able to hold them back then, not when they had fallen so often in the past year or two but it was all right. Harry hadn't laughed at him or turned away from him. He had just pulled him in and embraced him hard and long as if Draco was someone who mattered, as if that hug was something he himself wanted and not to just... give away. Draco had never wanted that moment to end. And as for those startling words Harry had blurted out - Draco took a deep breath and shook his head, refusing to wish for the impossible, refusing to let his heart hope for too much.
He's a bloody Gryffindor. He's like that with everyone.
But it didn't stop him from tipping a little of the contents of the bottle onto his finger and dabbing the cool liquid behind each earlobe and on his inner wrists. It didn't stop the stupid hope from welling up inside him anyway.
"And... we're still primping," came a deadpan voice by the bathroom door. Draco's eyes flicked to the reflection of Theo Nott's head in the mirror. In the old days, he would have said something snarky and probably even pointed his wand for emphasis but he didn't feel like it now.
"I'm ready," he muttered, looking down at the bottle in his hand. How fitting that it had arrived two weeks ago on the very morning of that flying outing. Draco had ducked into the nearest washroom right after breakfast and tried it on immediately. He was glad he did. Very glad. He added just a dab more over his heart, stoppered the bottle and placed it back in the basket. Unlike Finnigan who apparently thought it necessary to render all noses within a ten mile radius of him numb with shock, Draco knew the proper way to use cologne. The less the better. A hint was so much more enticing than a splash. Not that he was trying to entice anyone, of course, least of all...
No, the point of the matter was that he was a Malfoy and as such, he knew when less meant more. Not that a Malfoy was ever short on the 'more' part either. The Malfoy manor was second to none and the Malfoy vault literally overflowing with gold. The Malfoy name opened doors and carried weight, pulled strings and secured favours. But that was all in the past. Draco's grey eyes unfocused, his thoughts pulling his lips down at the corners. Now, the pile of galleons had shrunk significantly and the name Malfoy only got sneers and a rush to distance oneself. It was synonymous with the infamy of having played host to the vanquished Dark Lord and having your father call Azkaban his new home. It reeked of dishonour, an irredeemable darkness in one's soul and a mark on one's left forearm that would forever be nothing more than a mark of shame.
Something familiar and hot threatened to fill Draco's eyes. He sucked in a deep breath, almost choking on it when a quiet cough sounded behind him. Theo was adept at fading into the background despite not being a ghost.
"Hey, you all right?"
Draco blinked twice and Theo's worried reflection came back into focus. He pushed all his troubled thoughts to the back of his mind and took a deep breath.
"Yeah. Let's go," he said quietly. Theo swallowed the words that wanted to come out. He simply nodded, allowing the other boy to exit the bathroom before following. Draco had been much too quiet ever since he came back to Hogwarts. Of course everyone knew why but they were all polite - most of the time - and no one mentioned it if they could help it. That hadn't stopped Theo from worrying over the fact that Draco was absent for breakfast half the time and as a result, had grown even thinner and far too pale.
Theo was honestly glad when an improvement came about two weeks ago. It had started with the unexpected sight of a windblown Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy walking into the Great Hall together, late for dinner and with slightly sheepish smiles on their faces. It had continued with Draco's regular appearance at the breakfast table with the result that those hollows under those too sharp cheekbones were finally starting to fill out. Theo was a smart boy. He knew who was responsible for it. He didn't have to say a word, none of them did. Everyone was still... polite.
- o -
As always, Harry's green eyes were the first thing Draco looked for when he and Theo approached the eighth years' table. The Great Hall was emptying fast as classes would start soon. At their table, only Harry, Ron and Hermione remained. Draco's eyes passed assessingly over their plates. Weasley had a four inch tall stack of heavily buttered toast on his while Granger was doing her usual thing - reading and sipping juice instead of eating - as if mere words would fill her up. They probably did. Harry's plate was empty but the crumbs showed he had already eaten. Draco sat down before he even realised he had taken the seat opposite Harry. Funny how fast some habits changed - he used to take the seat furthest away. Almost immediately, Harry pinned him with a disapproving frown.
"Class starts in ten minutes," he said pointedly. Draco would have preferred a smile but was still ridiculously pleased by the frown. He only wished Harry's two shadows would leave him alone.
"Good morning, Harry," he said with a bright smile, voice deliberately cheerful. Perfect timing - Weasley choked on a mouthful of buttery toast, causing Granger's eyes to appear briefly above her book, her eyebrows drawn together. Draco had no doubt the Weasel still found it hard to believe they were no longer 'Potter' and 'Malfoy'.
"One bite at a time, Weasley," Draco advised airily. "I'm sure even you can manage that."
He reached for a piece of toast and froze, eyes narrowing at the hand absently patting Ron's back. That was it - no more making the Weasel choke if Harry was going to touch him like that.
"You should wake up ten minutes earlier so that you can eat a proper breakfast," Harry said suddenly, his eyes disparaging the thin layer of butter Draco was carefully spreading on his slice. Draco lifted an eyebrow, the movement so practiced now it no longer required thought. It didn't come with an insult though. Funny how little he missed the sneers and jeers he used to throw at Harry. They only reminded him of bloody petty he had been.
"Yes, Mother," he replied instead with another blinding smile, just before biting into his toast and leaning back slightly. Perfect timing again - Weasley was taking a gulp of pumpkin juice to clear his throat but he choked on it instead, spewing juice soaked crumbs everywhere. Granger sighed and snapped her book closed. Draco watched as he chewed, both eyebrows up in genuine surprise this time as she gathered up her things and pulled a red faced and hiccoughing Weasley from the table, hustling him away. Draco watched Harry looking after them with a frown and smiled craftily to himself. He was going to think of other outrageous things to say that would lead to Harry being left alone with him.
"Pass the jam, Draco?"
Draco sighed and obliged. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those times. Theo was seated beside him and so quiet one tended to forget he was there. When Draco looked up, Harry's gaze was on him. There was a hint of something in those eyes. With a small jolt, Draco realised it was the same frustration he felt inside. Everyone in their class now knew they were finally friends but since they shared the same classes and common room, they hadn't had much chance to talk in private.
And Merlin knew if any two people needed to talk, it was Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.
- o -
"All right, pair up and get started on the potion. All the ingredients are in the store cupboard. You have exactly one hour."
Slughorn's amiable tone caused the usual scramble to find partners. Draco's shoulders tensed, his eyes already boring steadily into the dark head in front of him, willing Harry to turn around, willing him to not partner Ron or Hermione as he usually did.
"Draco, shall we?" Theo asked quietly by his side. Draco sighed and dropped his gaze. Apparently, his stare wasn't strong enough to penetrate messy dark locks. Or the bloke who owned that head of hair was just too damned thick to notice.
"Yeah, all right. You go get the stuff, I'll set up my cauldron," Draco muttered and bent down to retrieve his bag from the floor.
"Draco, you taken?"
The blond Slytherin sat up straight so fast his spine almost cracked in protest. Harry had finally twisted around and those green eyes were filled with more hope than they should have. Draco opened his mouth, half glanced at Theo and shut it again. He was suddenly and acutely miserable.
"Nope. He's free and unattached. I think I might partner Longbottom, actually."
Draco swung around to Theo whose smile was as innocent as his words. He fully deserved to wear the Slytherin badge. Draco stared at his retreating back and then swung back to Harry.
"Are you?" Harry asked, his hopeful eyes demanding an answer.
"I am now," Draco replied with a smile. He was glad he had showered. He was glad he was wearing his make-a-fresh-beginning cologne. He was going to thank Theo right after this.
- o -
Half an hour later, Draco had almost changed his mind about that last bit. Harry really was rather dismal at potions. Draco could almost understand why Snape used to deduct so many points from him even if vindictiveness had been a good part of it. Draco desperately wanted good marks, if only to justify Harry's help in getting him back to Hogwarts but he didn't want to jeopardise his new friendship either. He sighed and employed tact when Harry chopped a little too carelessly or when he wanted to add in something a little too early. Draco told himself learning was a good thing. Tact and politeness weren't things he had had to worry about for the past seven years but it wasn't all that difficult once you set your mind to it. It also helped that Harry didn't seem to mind, content enough to follow his lead, content to move closer and peer into the cauldron every five minutes, wondering aloud if the potion had changed colour or not. It made Draco smile. He made up his mind to send his mother another thank you letter. A long and newsy one, the kind she liked to read.
They were finally at the last step of the potion, just waiting for it to boil before adding in shredded mandrake leaf. Apparently, it wasn't just the screaming roots that were useful. Draco glanced around and realised they were the fastest. Even Granger had had to start afresh. Draco smirked at the sight of her pressed lips and the Weasel's downcast face that suggested he had botched their first attempt. Or first and second attempt.
He looked up, a small fluttering in his chest as he encountered those green eyes again. Harry was once again bending close to him under the pretext of peering at the simmering yellow liquid. At this point, it didn't smell so good. Draco cursed himself for using only a dab of cologne. He probably smelled of bat wings by now. Perhaps Finnigan's overenthusiastic use of perfume had its merits. On Potions days at least.
"Do you want to go grab some food from the hall? I'll dish this up for Slughorn and clear up. We could uhm, have lunch down by the uh, lake."
Harry's muttered words sounded like a statement but his expressive eyes added in the question mark and the uncertainty. Draco nodded without hesitation, his eyes lighting up. It didn't even occur to him that Harry might be pulling his leg.
"By the large tree, the one with the bent branches?" he murmured back. Harry nodded and gave a small smile, mostly with his eyes. It was enough to make Draco let go of whatever was in his fist into the cauldron. Good thing it was the shredded leaf. Even better, it was the right time to add them in.
"Let it boil for one minute exactly and it's done," he whispered, starting to shove his things surreptitiously into his bag. Harry nodded, his eyes now on Slughorn. Draco glanced the same way. The portly Potions Master was sitting behind his desk, staring off into space as his fat fingers drummed lightly on the desk. Probably thinking of how to get his next supply of crystallised pineapple without having to pay for it.
Without a word, Draco turned around and walked out quietly, getting a few curious gazes but no comments. He hoped Harry wouldn't bungle up that simple last step and frowned. Which was more important - a good mark in Potions or lunch with Harry Potter? Draco's forehead wrinkled. But Harry Potter alone without his two shadows? Draco smiled to himself. No contest, really.
Harry stared at the cauldron, willing its contents to boil faster. He knew he was grinning and kept having to force the corners of his lips back down. Finally, the minute passed. Carefully, he took the cauldron off the fire. He ladled the liquid into a vial and strode up to the desk in front, holding the too hot glass by his fingertips. Slughorn's approving look at the vial eased his heart - it appeared that Draco did indeed know his potions.
"Harry m'boy, the fastest as usual! Lucky thing for your partner Malfoy, eh?"
Harry managed a weak grin. He returned to his desk, cleaning up and packing his things at top speed and escaping before Ron or Hermione could question him. Taking advantage of the mostly deserted corridors, he swiftly made his way out of the dungeons, slinging his bag onto one shoulder. He hoped Draco had brought enough food for their lunch but even if he hadn't, Harry didn't really care. It wouldn't be the first time he had gone hungry. By the time he reached the main entrance, there were more students coming out of the classrooms, on their way to the Great Hall for lunch or to the washrooms. Harry popped by a washroom himself to wash his hands and run them through his wild hair. He grimaced when he caught himself thinking about silky straight blond strands.
It's just lunch. Get a grip.
Harry left the washroom and skirted around a couple of chattering first years. They needed to talk, he told himself, unconsciously trying to justify his spontaneous suggestion. It had been impossible trying to find some time alone with Draco. Well, that wasn't strictly true of course - there was that free period last week when he had followed Ron and Hermione back to the common room only to have the two of them disappear for a whole hour. Then there was the morning three days ago when Harry had woken up early and found Draco coming down to the common room a few minutes after he did. But in the end, those periods were spent mostly in an awkward silence where they had just exchanged nervous smiles and stilted comments about the weather and assignments. Perhaps they had so much to say that they just didn't know how or where to start. Or perhaps the spontaneous hug Harry had given Draco two weeks ago was uppermost in their minds and both were quite unable to think of anything else. In the end, nothing much was said but their eyes spoke a lot and left both of them feeling rather warm in the face by the time the others trooped downstairs.
Today was different, though. Harry's steps quickened. He felt a lifting in his heart that surely had nothing to do with his long time rival who - just by the way - was smelling all sorts of wonderful. Harry had first noticed that utterly distracting scent two weeks ago. It was light but he was sitting so close to Draco on the broom and of course, they had hugged by the lake. Harry really liked that scent. It was light and... well, it was sweet. No, not sweet exactly but... innocent. Innocent in a way that Harry never thought someone like Draco Malfoy to be, what with that annoying swagger and boasting. Funny thing was, it suited Draco and damnit, that fact distracted Harry no end.
He had caught himself leaning close to Draco a few times in class just now and was absurdly pleased when the blond didn't back away. He had to fight back another silly grin as he ran down the entrance steps. He wasn't the only one outside. A few small groups of students were sitting in the courtyard on the stone benches around the tinkling fountain, taking advantage of the weak sunlight that shone through the clouds. No one seemed to be heading out to the grounds however and Harry took heart in that. He walked on further, hoping Ron and Hermione hadn't finished with their potion yet. Not that he wanted them to do badly, just that he hoped they wouldn't come looking for him. He made his way to the largest tree overlooking the lake. There - he had caught a glimpse of a head of white blond hair.
- o -
Draco spread his cloak on the grass and lined the inner green silk with a handful of paper napkins taken from the Great Hall. Next, he carefully extracted the napkin wrapped bundles from his bag, hoping he hadn't squashed anything. He had nicked the food from the nearest table, ignoring the disapproving mutterings and pointed looks from the two Hufflepuff second years already sitting there. He heaved a frustrated sigh - his hands were shaking. He was just having lunch with Harry Potter, for Merlin's sake! There was no need to be nervous. It was just a simple lunch. Just a means of snatching a few minutes together away from prying eyes, that was all. After all, he had a million things to apologise for and it would be difficult enough apologising without having an audience of bloody curious people gawking at him. The eighth years seemed to do everything together. Harry never seemed to have a moment alone that didn't include Weasley or Granger. Or the female Weasley. Draco frowned for a moment before deciding she wasn't worth a single wrinkle and smoothed out his forehead.
He carefully took out a bottle of pumpkin juice along with two plastic cups, still unconsciously justifying his current actions to himself. After all, he and Harry had missed out on seven years of friendship - that alone would mean hours of catching up on. But having been school rivals, having stood on opposite sides of the war, having exchanged nothing but angry, insulting words and hexes, some more painful than others... well, it would mean a lifetime of catching up, really. Draco pointedly ignored the way his heart stuttered and then raced at the word 'lifetime'.
Yeah. Sure. And Harry wishes for that too.
Draco sat back on his heels and stared moodily out at the lake. The brisk wind teased his hair into his eyes and he swept it back absently, squinting at the cloudy sky, his mind sliding effortlessly to that incident two weeks ago. Flying in the air with those arms around him and a chin resting companionably on his shoulder... Draco's dreamy look turned into a wary one only when he heard swiftly approaching footsteps. Leaning on one arm, he carefully peeped around the tree trunk. There was no mistaking the all too familiar head of messy hair. Draco smiled in relief but instead of calming down, his heart only beat faster.
"Hey," Harry greeted with a quick grin. Draco nodded, his gaze shifting automatically behind Harry.
"No one followed you? Potion OK?" he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
"No and yes." Harry sat cross legged on the ground opposite him and ran his hand through his hair, his eyes looking at Draco and then darting away.
"So - what'd you get?" he asked, gesturing to the napkin wrapped bundles in front of him. Without waiting for an answer, he started unwrapping the nearest one. Draco also sat down cross legged and reached for the other bundle. In less than five seconds, Harry was staring at the food with his eyebrows well raised.
"Is this lunch," he quirked a rather mischievous smile at Draco who was suddenly glad he wasn't holding anything or he might have dropped it, "or did you just bring dessert?"
Harry was obviously teasing but Draco found himself prickling up anyway.
"It is lunch!" he insisted, pointing a long finger at the small pile of sandwiches. "Look, ham and egg and cucumber on rye - covers all your basic food groups."
"Uh huh," Harry didn't look convinced. "That's only enough for one person."
Draco scowled indignantly.
"It's a wonder your Firebolt can take off with you on it. Fine, eat the lot. I'm not hungry."
"Hey, I was only joking!" Harry protested at once. He had gone without food more times than he cared to remember. He wouldn't take anyone's lunch away from them, especially one who looked as if a good breeze would blow him away. Draco only shrugged, those pale lips pursing in what looked suspiciously like a pout. Harry sighed and dropped his gaze.
"And that on the other hand is..." He looked askance at the much larger pile that seemed to consist of nothing but cake, pudding and fruit tarts.
"Dessert. Also a valid food group." Draco's voice was a little clipped. Harry raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
"Right. Did you know you've inverted the food pyramid?" he asked dryly.
"I have a sweet tooth!" Draco sounded defensive, even to his ears.
They shared a startled glance that turned into nervous grins.
"You used to receive sweets from home - I remember," Harry said softly, staring at those devastating eyes as they widened.
They're the soft grey luster of the pearls Aunt Petunia used to wear when she had a fancy dinner to go to.
No, they're the shade of the clouds that gently envelope the mountaintops, just before it rains.
No, they're the early morning mist that brings the fragrance of flowers wet with dew before the sun rises.
Harry blinked, mortified at the utter nonsense going on inside his head. It was bad enough when he was trying to pin down the colour of Draco's eyes with a single word but he had apparently progressed onto flowery phrases instead.
Draco didn't notice, preoccupied with how much he had anticipated receiving his weekly supply of sweets way back in first year. How childish he had behaved then, crowing over his gifts loudly and distributing them to his fellow Slytherins, relishing the grovelling thanks he got and the envious looks – probably imagined – from the other tables. Seriously, what a pompous peacock he had been then.
"You remember," he said softly. Harry shrugged, his gaze dropping uncertainly. He picked up a sandwich, tossing it up and down in his hand. Then he looked up.
"Yeah, I do." The bright green looked directly at him and Draco met them head on.
"What else do you remember?" he asked, curious more than anything else. Harry shrugged.
"Other things... but -" he shook his head, his lips thinning and his eyes clouding with memories. Draco wasn't stupid. He remembered the shouted words, they petty revenges, the glares and the snarls just as well as Harry did.
"I was a stupid git then," he said, surprising himself as much as Harry. The green eyes widened and Draco had to force himself to hold that gaze.
"I was too," Harry returned quietly after a moment. Draco rolled his eyes.
Typical Harry Potter.
But the thing was, he believed what Harry said. It was there in his eyes. Over the years, he had seen them angry and determined and frightened and brave and defiant... but they were always honest. Whatever Harry Potter thought or said, it was mirrored in those green eyes of his. Perhaps if he had responded with an insult, Draco would have snarled back and left in a huff but they were talking. Finally talking. And the words were suddenly there, just waiting to be said.
"I... was angry when you refused to shake my hand," Draco started. He couldn't seem to speak above that soft murmur which was actually fine with Harry because then it whispered over his senses like… pure silk over bare skin. Harry gritted his teeth, wondering if he had accidentally taken a Poetry Enhancing charm without realising it. He forgot when Draco glanced up, all pale face and pointed chin and huge grey eyes before looking down again. Harry followed his gaze, staring at long thin fingers nervously twisting the corner of one napkin.
"I thought it was my chance to be friends with the famous Harry Potter."
Draco wondered if an empty stomach made for a loose mouth. He winced but when he chanced a look up, Harry was smiling, his eyes glowing with warmth.
"Well, if you'd known that I was lousy at Potions you'd never have-"
"I wouldn't have cared!" Draco blurted out, cheeks flushing a sudden, attractive pink. It was proof enough that one should never speak when hungry. He clenched his jaw but forced himself not to look down. Surprisingly, Harry's smile turned wistful.
"Thanks... but circumstances being what they were, you would have," he said gently. It wasn't a reprimand. He didn't mean for it to sound like one but Draco ducked his head anyway, all the long years of hating and anger and fear and bitter, tearful regret swelling up inside him. He had no idea where to begin to let it all out. But he had to try.
"The things," Draco began and stopped. His voice was shaking again. He gave a hurried glance to Harry before looking away. He swallowed, took a deep breath and tried again.
"The things that I thought mattered for so many years... " Damn, what was wrong with his voice! He broke off and shook his head agitatedly, staring at the lake, at anywhere except at those eyes that he swore could break right into his soul and see him for the terrified and insecure boy he was. He took another deep breath and tried again.
"None of that mattered in the end. I - my family - we were all so caught up in what we thought was important - due to fear - or loyalty - when-"
Draco broke off. He swallowed and gulped another deep breath. This time, he looked straight at Harry and the sight of those grey eyes gleaming brightly twisted something hard inside Harry.
"... when what you had - have - was the most important thing of all," Draco completed in a shaky whisper. Harry blinked, his right hand itching to reach out and rest his palm against one of those flushed cheeks, his thumb ready to whisk away the moisture that was just a breath away from falling.
"And what's that?" he whispered gently. Draco glanced away briefly, blinking hard. When he looked back, his eyes were brighter than before.
"Friends," he said simply. Harry stared at him and slowly nodded. Ron and Hermione – he would have died if it weren't for them.
"They not only kept me sane, they saved my life," he said quietly, knowing Draco would know whom he meant. The latter nodded, willing his tears away. It was so bloody silly to want to cry when they were just saying things that should have already been said but it hurt to think they had come so close to not knowing each other, to not reaching this moment. A warm hand squeezed his shoulder and Draco looked up immediately.
"One can never have too many friends, you know," Harry said quietly. Draco nodded. He was trembling so hard inside he couldn't possibly say anymore. He grabbed a tart from the pile in front of him, holding it out in a hand that shook.
"There's uhm, treacle tart too," he mumbled. Harry sighed and gave a reluctant smile. He sensed this wasn't the time to start getting everything off their chests. They would just have lunch and go back inside but still, it was enough to see the hint of colour in those pale cheeks and to be able to look at him without wondering about what others would say.
"So I wasn't the only one staring?" he teased. Draco could feel warmth in his face again. He looked down, wondering why on earth he had changed the subject. They were just about to finally get started on their past history and he had chickened out. Again.
"Well, let's eat," he said in a brisker tone. Harry just nodded. They had all the time in the world now and besides, it was kind of nice to have an excuse to have lunch with Draco again. They had a lifetime to catch up on after all. Not that Draco would want a lifetime with him, of course. It was just a thought.
- o -
Twenty minutes later…
"So, that's all you brought?" Harry gestured at the empty wrappings in front of them. Draco blinked at him.
"It's not enough?" he asked incredulously. Harry gave him a tentative smile.
"It's OK but dinner's a long way off."
Draco's eyebrows shot up.
"You took most of the sandwiches!"
Harry tilted his chin at him.
"You ate most of the cake. I'd watch my weight if I were you."
Appraising green eyes flicked over Draco's body, still far too skinny in his opinion. Draco rolled his eyes, pretending he hadn't noticed the scrutiny and ignoring the goose bumps that rippled into being. Then he remembered something and grabbed his bag.
"Wait. I have apples."
Harry sat up straighter, his eyes caught by that perfect profile with those fine silvery strands half hiding those intriguing grey eyes.
Draco reached into a corner and pulled out something white. He laid it on his cloak and pulled off the linen handkerchief with a flourish. They both stared at the solitary Washington Red sitting there. Draco sighed and his shoulders slumped under the white school shirt. Harry's eyes were caught by the movement and he remembered the bony feel to those shoulders and that body when they had hugged two weeks ago, the feel of it so different from Ron's well fed muscular built and Hermione's and Ginny's softer cushiony feel.
"Here, take it." Draco sounded resigned. Harry's gaze snapped up to see the red apple held out to him. He frowned, making no move to touch it.
"What about you?"
Draco looked away, shrugging.
"Not your fault I brought only one," he muttered. Harry blinked, still not quite used to this strangely selfless side of Draco. He moved his gaze to the apple, seeing how well the pale thin fingers and clean short nails contrasted with the rosy red skin.
How many meals had Draco taken by himself until he had gotten so used to taking only one portion?
"It is a pretty large apple," he said quietly. Draco's eyebrows shot up and then wrinkled together. For a moment, he wondered if Harry was possibly making some sort of double entendre but he had never heard of one involving an apple before. Unless you were talking about girls. Harry returned his stare calmly. Draco's mouth opened in a small 'o' or realisation as he finally deciphered the silent 'We could share' offer in those bright green eyes. They were kind of distracting.
Still, it started a tiny tingle of warmth in Draco's chest. He didn't think he had ever shared food before. Not like this anyway. He smiled, the sheer brightness making Harry blink.
"Wait - we'll need..." Draco fished his wand from his sleeve, his free hand reaching for the empty juice bottle.
"Right. Let's see if I still remember this."
He placed the tip of his hawthorn wand on the mouth of the bottle and frowned in concentration. Harry watched him, the blond bangs still half covering those eyes, the pale eyebrows drawing together. He forced down a sudden... want... a longing to... hell, he didn't know what. But it shook him. He sharpened his stare when the pale lips curved in a pleased smile and something shimmered just out of reach of his vision.
Harry looked down, a little surprised to see a short silver knife lying where the bottle had been. He was impressed but something about that knife made him uneasy. He looked up to see Draco sliding his wand back in his sleeve with a somewhat arrogant flourish that he hadn't seen in a long while, the pleased smile lingering on that pale face.
"I'll do the honours, shall I?" Draco picked up the apple and tossed it in the air a couple of times, his other hand reaching for the handle of the knife. The handle was black, the end of the hilt fanning out and then curving inwards... a little like a curled black moustache. Harry's stomach clenched hard, feeling cold and uneasy. He closed his eyes but that was a mistake. Flashes of images burst immediately in his mind, swift and unstoppable.
A silver knife flying across the room... a surprised look on an ugly face with round eyes and large bat like ears... the dark stain that grew and grew... the cold feel of silver on his fingers, denial swelling up like a screaming rush inside of him, clawing to get out...
"Don't touch it!" Harry burst out. He was finding it hard to breathe. Draco froze with his fingertips just barely grazing the handle, head jerking up.
Harry was shaking. He knew he was being ridiculous. He had handled knives after that, they were needed in Potions after all. Besides, he and Ron must have chopped up about a hundred heads of cabbages for coleslaw one hot summer's evening at the Burrow after George accidentally 'lost' their wands for an entire afternoon. But none of the knives in the Weasley kitchen had looked remotely like this. Harry knew he was behaving oddly. He was staring at the knife as if just discovering it was a Horcrux. It was perfectly harmless but his breathing still sounded too loud in his ears. He didn't want to see it held in those pale fingers.
"Don't touch it," he whispered. Draco must think him mental.
It's just a knife! Pull yourself together!
But he couldn't. It reminded him too much of...
"I won't. It's OK."
A pale hand touched his shoulder tentatively, thin fingers giving a hard squeeze. Harry opened his eyes. Draco was kneeling, half leaning towards him, his other hand flat on his thigh, his face concerned. Harry could feel perspiration beading on his forehead. He took in a deep breath, pulling that elusive hint of citrus into his lungs. It tempted him and calmed him. At that very moment, that scent was forever locked away in his mind as something that belonged exclusively to a pair of grey eyes you could drown in. This time, Harry had no idea how long he stared only by the time he blinked, those sharp cheekbones were pink again.
"Sorry," Harry apologised hastily, wincing as his voice cracked. He reached up automatically, his hand closing over the cool thin fingers on his shoulder. It wasn't Draco's fault that the knife looked so alike. He was a Slytherin after all. Ex-Slytherin. Who was looking sharply at him as if he might go mental at any moment. Then realisation softened that gaze and Harry trembled anew.
"Aunt Bellatrix," Draco whispered at last. "She threw -"
"Don't!" Harry shook his head, violently this time. "Don't, Draco. Not now..."
"All right," Draco whispered. He had never seen this side of Harry, he hadn't ever seen him this close to cracking. Harry obviously couldn't talk about it now but at the same time, it lit a small flame of hope inside Draco. They both had their share of nightmares. Perhaps one day, they could... share them.
"I'm fine," Harry finally said, relieved to find his voice steadier now. "Just - just don't use that knife. All right?"
Draco nodded slowly. He tugged his hand back and Harry released it with a self deprecating smile, watching quietly as the blond drew his wand again and transfigured the knife back into the bottle. The silence lasted for a whole minute. Draco had kept back his wand and didn't seem to know what to do with his hands. Finally, he grabbed the apple and shoved it at Harry.
"Here, you take this. I don't want it," he said shortly. Harry frowned.
"You eat it. You brought it here," he countered. Draco's eyes narrowed. He knew it - Harry was being noble again. Stubborn Gryffindor.
"I don't want it," he repeated, pushing the apple closer to Harry's face, almost bumping it against his nose. Harry leaned back and swatted his hand away irritably. Stubborn Slytherin!
"Just take the damned apple, Potter!"
Harry's eyes narrowed at the angry tone. Back to being 'Potter', was he?
"Why, did you poison it or something, Malfoy?" he drawled.
Draco scowled, not pleased to be called 'Malfoy' again.
"I told you to call me Draco!" he hissed, jaw clenched. Harry pressed his own lips into a thin line.
"And I told you to call me Harry!" he shot back. Draco blinked at him, the movement erasing the frown on his face.
"So you did," he said, sounding a little surprised. For no reason at all, Harry felt his lips twitch. He pressed them together but they curved upwards. Again, he tried to force them into a straight line but they persisted and before he knew it, he was grinning at a surprised looking Draco. The blond stared back at him and then he started smiling and before they knew it, they were chuckling over nothing at all.
"Here - just take it," Draco finally said, holding the apple out at a more reasonable distance from Harry's face. The green eyes dropped to the apple and back up again.
"We could still share it, you know," Harry said quietly. Draco squinted at him suspiciously.
"We haven't got anything to cut it with, remember?" he said crossly, refraining from pointing out that Harry had almost freaked out over that knife earlier. Harry stared at him, obviously waiting for him to mention it. Draco purposely didn't. He just pushed back his hair with his free hand, chin lifted almost defiantly. Harry finally sighed and reached out, fingers closing around the fruit.
"Thanks," he said softly. Draco shrugged again and folded his arms, looking away. The audible crunch of teeth biting into crisp sweet flesh almost made him flinch as did the sweet fruity smell that wafted over to him. Then something red bobbed into his line of vision and he realised that the apple was right under his nose.
"Bite the other side," Harry offered. Draco's startled gaze dropped to the fruit. There was no sign of a bite mark on the shiny red skin and he realised Harry was holding the unbitten side out to him. He rolled his eyes.
"Typical Gryffindor," he tried for a sneer but it morphed almost immediately into a smile. Harry swallowed and then smiled back.
"What would a typical Slytherin do?" he challenged. Draco grinned and rolled his eyes again.
"Go on, I want another bite," Harry said impatiently. Draco's hand came up, one pale thumb and middle finger closing delicately around the top and bottom of the apple, causing Harry's knuckles to brush against his palm. Draco inhaled shakily as Harry carefully slid his hand out. Suddenly, he knew how he wanted to share. Not in the painful things they still couldn't speak of... but in a way that didn't need words.
Harry blinked when the grey eyes grew intense. Then the pale fingers moved and Harry stared as they nimbly rotated the apple around so that the unbitten part was now facing him. He didn't breathe, his eyes going wide with disbelief. Then the mouth was opening, the pale lips were pulling back and the white teeth were closing in on the apple, sinking into the red skin right next to the missing chunk that he had bitten out earlier. The same juicy crunch sounded and Harry blinked. Draco was chewing solemnly, still staring at him.
Harry swallowed. He couldn't think of a single thing to say. Draco held that disbelieving gaze, feeling exactly like he had two weeks ago after sticking out his hand in friendship. He chewed slowly, willing himself not to choke. His face was hot again. Had he made a fool of himself?
"Just to show you it's not poisoned," he mumbled. "Here, your turn," he added, abruptly shoving the fruit at Harry who made no move to take it. Instead, he got up onto his knees and shuffled closer, holding the uncertain gaze. He leaned forward and opened his mouth and saw Draco's jaw drop. The grey eyes blinked twice and flicked from the bitten apple to Harry's mouth. Slowly, he brought it up higher. Harry was pleased to see the bitten side facing him. He took another bite of the apple, the tip of his tongue automatically coming out to lap at the juice running down the skin. Draco swallowed, his eyes now huge. Harry's tongue was licking the exact same spot where his lower lip had rested earlier.
"Your turn," Harry whispered around his mouthful. Draco gave a jerky nod, bringing the apple up to his lips, his hand shaking slightly. Another bite and one third of the apple was gone. It had to be the funniest thing ever, bonding with your previous enemy over something as ordinary as an apple but neither of them laughed, They kept their gaze on each other and on the mouths that were chewing and on the lips that were glistening with the sweet, sweet juice. And then Harry's lips twitched. He gave a small roll of his eyes and Draco burst out grinning and then they were laughing and taking turns to demolish the apple. It couldn't have been a particularly large one because far too soon, it was gone and Draco was only holding the core. He put it carefully down on the napkin, absently licking at his sticky fingertips.
"Well, that beats fighting any day," he murmured wryly. He looked up and stopped breathing. Harry was still watching him as if he were hungry and he couldn't be because he had devoured that pile of sandwiches and Draco had only had one.
"So does this," Harry whispered and he leaned in close. Draco gulped as the warm apple scented breath brushed over his cheek but he didn't pull away. All he could think of was that Harry's face was so close and his eyes, even behind those glasses were a brilliant green and God, he was going to die if those parted lips didn't come any closer to his. Then the intense eyes fluttered shut and Harry tilted his head and Draco suddenly knew what to do. He tilted his head the other way and let their lips touch.
But even then, Harry was pulling away, eyes snapping open and looking like he had been stunned.
"Sorry! I - sorry, don't know what uhm, came over me," he apologised with a shaky smile. It looked more like a grimace than anything else. Draco swallowed, his lips tingling from a contact that was so bloody brief, it didn't even qualify as a kiss. So... damned... close... he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to keep the hurt from crushing him.
Draco shook his head, all the words sticking in his throat. He started gathering the napkins together and froze when they vanished from his hands, leaving only his cloak on the ground. His head jerked up in time to see Harry sliding his wand back into his sleeve, looking utterly torn. Draco started to scramble to his feet but Harry was faster and Draco found his chin captured in one strong hand, those green eyes searching his face, seeing far more than they should.
"Let go," Draco whispered desperately, once again perilously close to tears.
"Please. Let -"
"Did you want... that...?" Harry interrupted him. The sheer uncertainty in those eyes was enough. More than enough. Draco nodded, defeated when his vision started to swim. He blinked and a tear escaped, sliding down his cheek. He saw Harry's gaze track its progress and then look up, frowning.
"But don't you think -"
Draco shook his head.
"Don't think. Just do it," he whispered shakily. Harry's honesty would be his downfall one day because he could never hide what he was thinking and the only thought running through his mind was that he wanted to obey Draco more than anything else this very minute. He nodded and tilted his head and Draco did the same thing, his hands clutching at Harry's shoulders. It was a proper kiss this time. Much too short and rather sticky with apple juice but Draco's hair was soft against Harry's forehead and Harry's shoulders were hard beneath Draco's palms. Harry thought Draco smelled wonderful and Draco thought Harry smelled as good as he always did.
When they drew back, they were smiling. Sheepishly.
"Still friends?" Draco asked tentatively. Harry stared at him. Then he nodded.
"Yes," he said firmly.
"Then kiss me again," Draco whispered.
It wasn't as easy as that, of course but they had the time now. They would find another suitable moment to talk and share. Right now, with the cool breeze lifting their hair and the promise held in that soft apple scented kiss, everything else could simply... wait.
- Chapter End -