Disclaimer: All recognizable content belongs to JKR and the Publishers, and I'm not making any money from this.

Summary: Harry thinks there's got to be a reason that Draco can't get the hang of this Patronus lark.

A/N: For those who don't know – this is a complain piece to 'Mental,' so Harry and Draco are in an established relationship. As Draco revealed in chapter 21 that he couldn't cast a Patronus, someone asked (told) me to write a piece where Harry teaches him to do so. I couldn't decide on the form it should take, so we got interactive and had a (free-for-all) vote.

Thank you to Elleir, Invinktus, hunnyfied, saladita, Becoming-Obsessed, Kinky Kat, ieatmyfeelings, wolfeyedalice, Nyroc the wolfeh, flywolfsilver, , DARKMATT3R, Corrina-erin, Shanti-smurf, Patron-of-TV-4815, xbloodlustangelx, modestmercury, and-so-it-goes, captaindan, chadders, Cordelia Darcy, babes in arms and shakkalakka, O-chan, zcst$eva, Lady Queria, Pezlie, Gilaine,Firefly1989, Sasparilla123, Hikari Kame, C, tora, Thoughts of a Fallen Angel, Lonleylover85 and gali-o- for playing!

Special thanks go to MultiColouredFlooPowdeR and DeathEather934 for the Harry-teaching-Draco a Patronus story suggestion, and to Alexx Cross and thefeyrabbit for sending me links to Patronus illustrations.

I had suggestions for *deep breath* doe, hippogriff, goose, wolf, jarvey, fox, arctic fox, panther, swan, unicorn, seaturtle, cat, horse, wildcat, porcupine, leopard, zebra, phoenix, fishing cat, Russian blue cat, hedgehog, stag, fawn, wild-boar, hyena, lion, snake, dragon, canary and ferret.

Kudos to Invinktus, P. Cthera, Corrina Erin, Patron-of-TV-4815 xbloodlustangelx, And-so-it-goes and captaindan for their epic reasoning. Special mention to ieatmyfeelings for the out-of-the-box award for sea turtle, Becoming-Obsessed for the Tom Felton's feet rationalisation, and Hikari Kame for suggesting that the Patronus be Harry.

So here we are. I could only pick one and it took forever. As you know, the choice was made based on which idea had the most convincing reasoning alongside :)


Animal Inside.

Harry Potter yawned widely, belatedly covering his mouth with the back of his hand as he ascended the final steps up to the dormitory, feet dragging and limbs weary. He was officially knackered; exams were bloody hard work. The only salvation was that he'd managed to shake off Hermione and had thus escaped the post-exam panic and question discussion. Ron hadn't been so lucky, and had been unceremoniously dragged in the direction of the library ten minutes ago, casting a pleading look over his shoulder at Harry as he'd been hauled away.

Dropping his bag onto the floor, Harry flopped down onto his bed with a grateful groan, flexing his fingers to try and dispel the cramp that had arisen from writing frantically for the last two hours. At least he felt that the pain wasn't all in vain; he felt reasonably confident about the exam he'd just taken, rather than being overwhelmed by panic and worry.

He now had a whole glorious week in which to revise for his last exam, which wasn't scheduled until after the next weekend. Which meant four days of relaxation then three days of cramming theoretical knowledge, and hopefully an E when results came in.

He slipped his hand in to his pocket and pulled out the galleon that he now took to carrying everywhere with him. Stifling another yawn, he shook his wand out of his sleeve and tapped it, watching as the serial numbers shimmered and then moulded themselves into lettering, again thankful that he and Draco had had the idea of using the old coins to communicate. It was a good compromise for not having the old Legilimency link; instant communication no matter where they were. Along as they remembered the coins, of course.

Come relax in the tower.

He waited a few moments, turning the coin over and over in his fingers, waiting for the familiar warmth that would tell him his message had been replied to. Sure enough, barely a minute later the galleon grew hot against his fingertips.

Studying with T for a while. Later.

Harry read the message, feeling slightly put out and then tutting at himself for being as such; Draco still had two exams left and wanted to do well in them both, so Harry couldn't really begrudge him the studying time. However, it had been just over a fortnight since exams had started and Harry had barely seen Draco; their time together had been pretty much reduced to sleeping in the same bed, before they parted ways the next morning. Even if they studied together they actually had to work, so conversation and touching was unfortunately at an all-time low.

Resigned to the fact he wouldn't be able to get his hands on Draco until later, if at all, Harry rolled over to his bedside table and pulled out the Marauders Map. Maybe he'd see if Hermione and Ron were still in the library. Or maybe he'd see if Seamus and Neville were about somewhere. Hell, he might even track down Nearly Headless Nick for a chat. Or maybe go lounge around in the afternoon sun down by the lake, but it was bound to be swamped with fifth years who'd just finished their exams.

Eyes flicking back and forth, Harry quickly concluded that Ron was still held captive in the library by Hermione, Neville was walking along the Charms corridor with Hannah Abbot at his side, Seamus was with his latest Gryffindor fling outside by the lake, but was accompanied by Dean and Ginny. Going for last resorts, Harry tracked down Nearly Headless Nick, and found him hovering suspiciously close to the Grey Lady outside an empty Arithmancy classroom-

Hang on.

Harry frowned, leaning in to look at the supposedly empty classroom, realising that it was actually occupied. By a single dot labelled Draco Malfoy.

Harry immediately sought out the Slytherin common room and saw that Nott was sat there with Pansy and Blaise. Frowning, he looked back to Draco's dot, alone in the middle of the classroom.

He pulled his Galleon back out of his pocket with the intention of asking Draco why he was alone when he said he was studying with Theo. His other hand was halfway to his wand when he paused, thinking hard. Why was Draco lying? Why would he say he was with Theo if he wasn't? It wasn't like he was with anyone else and using Theo as a cover story. Feeling slightly disconcerted, Harry watched Draco's dot and then Theo's, waiting to see if either would move towards the other.

A small flicker of guilt went through him as he watched. He had sworn to himself he wouldn't use the map to spy on Draco anymore, under any circumstances. But, Harry thought defensively, he hadn't used the map with the intention of finding Draco. He'd just accidentally stumbled across his lying Slytherin arse.

Now thoroughly suspicious and resigned to the fact he was acting like such a bloody Gryffindor, Harry got up off his bed, eyes scanning the map one last time before he set off determinedly in the direction of the Arithmancy classroom.


The Chinese fireball on the tapestry next to the classroom door flapped it's wings and growled menacingly as Harry approached, sparks and smoke shooting from its nostrils. As always Harry ignored it, focussing instead on the door and wondering how best to confront Draco. Hesitating for a moment, he cast a surreptitious notice-me-not charm over his feet, trying to dispel the guilt at the realisation that he now really was point-blank spying on his boyfriend. Well, not really spying - he was curious, that was all. With that half-arsed defence in mind, he cast another notice-me-not charm, this time on the door, before slowly pushing it open.

"Expecto – oh fuck this."

Harry's eyes widened as Draco lowered his wand, visibly frustrated. He was standing in the middle of the room, shirtsleeves rolled up and wand in hand. As Harry watched, he ran his hands through his hair and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He shut his eyes and swallowed and then raised his wand again.

"Expecto Patronum."

Nothing happened and Draco swore violently, looking like he wanted to throw his wand across the room. Harry's eyes widened as he realised what Draco was trying to do. Without any success whatsoever, it would seem.

Before he was aware he wanted to make his presence known, he'd cancelled the notice-me-not charm on both his feet and the door, and then knocked softly on the heavy oak, making Draco whip around in shock. Harry barely had any time to open his mouth before he was forced to duck as a jet of red light streaked across the room from Draco's wand, hitting the doorframe just above Harry's head and showering him in sparks.

"Fucking hell, Draco!" Harry exclaimed, looking up at the mark left on the doorframe. "Do you stun everyone who knocks?"

"You made me jump!" Draco hissed, not looking the least bit apologetic. "You could have knocked before opening the bloody door-" he paused, his expression shifting from angry to suspicious. "How did you know where I was anyway?"

"Magic?" Harry offered, edging into the room and shutting it behind him.

Draco's eyes narrowed and he raised his wand a fraction. "Are you spying on me?"

"Don't be daft," Harry said dismissively, avoiding Draco's eyes nonetheless. "Were you trying to do a Patronus?"

The outright question distracted Draco from the issue of Harry spying on him; he opened his mouth and then shut it again, a dull flush rising in his neck as he looked away.

"No," he muttered, folding his arms across his chest. "Course not."

"Why are you embarrassed?" Harry asked curiously, slipping his hand in his pockets and walking across the room. "Nothing wrong with learning-"

"I can't bloody do it, okay?" Draco snapped, rubbing his temples. "Three weeks of trying and I still can't fucking do it."

"Three weeks?" Harry asked as he stepped up close, astounded that firstly Draco had managed to put that much effort and dedication into learning something, and secondly that he'd kept it from Harry. "Why didn't you ask for some help?"

Draco shoved half-heartedly at Harry's shoulders. "Oh yes, please Mister Master of Defence, come and help poor little me because I'm shit at this."

"You help me with potions," Harry pointed out, reaching for Draco and pulling him up close, wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

"Well you are shit at potions."

"Oh har har," Harry said, pressing his mouth to Draco's cheek. "What's with the sudden interest in Dementor defence anyway?"

Draco was quiet for a moment, and then he finally spoke. "Don't like you being able to do things I can't," he admitted.

Harry laughed quietly. "Sounds about right," he murmured. "Come on. Let me help. I've taught this before."

"Oh goody for you," Draco sighed, rubbing his cheek against Harry's. "I suppose."

"You'll let me help?" Harry asked, pulling back a little.

"Yes," Draco said. "But so help me, if you start being patronizing, or acting like you're brilliant-"

"Like I would," Harry insisted, ignoring Draco's exaggerated look of disbelief. "No, I promise. I'll behave if you behave."

Draco sighed and turned to press a kiss to the corner of Harry's mouth. "I'm sure I'm going to regret this."


An hour and a half later and Harry was definitely regretting his offer to help Draco. It wasn't that Draco was being difficult or argumentative – well, not much anyway. It was more that no matter how hard they both tried, Draco just couldn't produce a Patronus. Hell, he couldn't even get the tiniest wisp of white smoke to come out of the end of his wand, let alone for it to form a corporeal shape.

"I just don't get it," Harry said, genuinely perplexed. "Normally you'd at least be producing some sort of-"

"I know," Draco interrupted, shoving his wand up his sleeve and slumping back against the desk that was behind him. "I just can't do it."

An hour ago Harry would have immediately disagreed and tried to encourage Draco, telling him it was just a matter of time, that he'd get it eventually, that Harry believed in him. Now, he wasn't so sure. As such, he kept his mouth shut and instead walked over to lean against the desk next to Draco.

"Maybe you've just got some sort of mental block," he pondered aloud. "That or the memory you're using isn't good enough."

Draco folded his arms across his chest. "It is."

"It would be infinitely helpful if you actually told me what it is, you know."

Draco's only reply was to glare, and Harry sighed, tugging at his fringe. "That might be the problem. Most people don't get hold of a strong enough memory."

Draco exhaled a matching sigh. "It is good enough," he said, his tone turning deadpan. "It makes me feel like I'm full of rainbows and Felix Felicis and sunshine."

It was Harry's turn to glare balefully at his other half. "This won't work if you're not taking it seriously."

"I am taking it seriously," Draco insisted. "Just trust me. The memory's fine."

Harry nodded, and then a smile tugged at the corner of his lips and he cleared his throat. "Rainbows and sunshine and Felix Felicis?"

"Something like that," Draco said with a shrug, and then sighed. "Let's just forget it and try again tomorrow." He pushed away from the desk to collect his bag from the other side of the classroom, swinging it over his shoulder and then walking back to Harry, reaching for his fingers.

"You sure?"

"I'm starving and sweaty and tired," Draco said. "I've had enough."

Harry nodded and let Draco pull him away from the desk and out of the classroom, walking quietly hand in hand down towards the Hall. It was a mark of how quickly gossip became old in Hogwarts that no-one even blinked in their direction as they traversed the corridors. However, at that moment Harry wasn't concerned with the other students they passed; he was preoccupied with thinking about Draco's issue with the Patronus. It was frustrating that Harry hadn't managed to teach Draco anything in the time they'd been working together. He felt oddly like he'd let Draco down.

"Sorry."

Harry looked up, uncertain as to whether he'd actually heard anything. As he did, Draco glanced up and then away again.

"Sorry," he said again, this time more audibly. "For wasting your time."

Harry blinked at him as they walked over to the Gryffindor table, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "You didn't," he said, letting go of Draco's hand so he could sit down. "It's advanced magic, not everyone gets it straight away."

"You did it when you were thirteen," Draco said flatly, clambering over the bench and sitting next to Harry. "And you taught your whole gang of goody-goody Gryffindors."

"It wasn't just Gryffindors," Harry started to argue and then backpedalled. "Anyway. I had motivation in third year. I had to learn or -"

"Oh yeah," Draco grinned, placing the back of his wrist across his forehead and faking a swoon, slumping across the table.

"That not old yet?" Harry asked, a warning edge to his voice.

Draco straightened up, though his grin didn't entirely disappear. "Mostly."

"So, definitely want to try again tomorrow?" Harry asked as he reached for a goblet.

Draco shrugged. "Yeah, why not."

The Patronus issue was dropped as they ate dinner, joined midway through by Ron and Hermione. Ron immediately occupied himself with his post-exam comfort dinner – a normal dinner but with extra everything – and Hermione carried on talking about the exam. Draco was happy to discuss the questions with Hermione, although Harry did have to surreptitiously kick him under the table mid-way through a monologue that was well on the way to convincing Hermione she'd answer question twenty-one completely wrong.

Halfway through his helping of treacle tart, Harry felt a hand slip onto his knee under the table, long fingers gently squeezing. He waited a moment and sure enough the hand slid up his thigh until fingertips were dangerously close to his crotch, pressing against him firmly and insistently.

"Subtle," he muttered and out of the corner of his eye he saw Draco grin into his drink. The fingers squeezed briefly and slid back to rest mid-thigh in a slightly more innocent position.

"Right, I'm going to go drop my stuff off and get revision stuff for tomorrow," Draco said, hand leaving Harry's leg, the warmth missed instantly and leaving Harry mentally cursing Draco's teasing. "I'll come up to Gryffindor in a bit."

"You will, will you?" Harry asked, amused.

"Either that or you're sleeping on your own," Draco said, pulling his bag onto his shoulder.

"Am I waiting for you?" Harry asked casually, hoping Draco would get the subtle hint.

Draco shook his head. "No, I'll shower in Slytherin today," he said, hiding a smirk as Ron choked on a mouthful across the table. Harry aimed another kick at Draco, who slid back along the bench out of range, looking like he was fighting the urge to laugh. "See you later," he grinned and blew a kiss at Harry before climbing off the bench and sauntering away.

"He's still doing it to wind me up, isn't he?" Ron asked mournfully, and Harry snorted with laughter.

"Yeah."

"You're being terribly homophobic," Hermione said reproachfully, and Ron turned to gape at her.

"I don't care that they're gay, I care that it's Malfoy. And that it's not fair that Harry gets sex whenever he wants."

Hermione's eyebrows rose and Harry choked a laugh into his juice, watching as Ron hastily tried to backpedal, succeeding only in digging his metaphorical hole even deeper and offending every girl within earshot. Highly amused, Harry watched for a while longer before abandoning Ron to his own inevitable fate and heading back to the tower, looking forwards to having a shower and finally relaxing, hopefully with Draco at his side before too long.


"Evening Malfoy."

"Finnegan. You owe me a Galleon."

"Bloody mercenary bastard. Ever thought of a career in the Gringotts tax division?"

"Ever thought of not making stupid bets?"

Harry grinned as he heard the conversation, somewhat muffled by the drawn hangings around his bed. He let his book fall forwards onto his chest, feeling the familiar warm anticipation in his chest at the sound of Draco's voice.

"Oh, hey Malfoy. Harry's in bed."

That was Neville, sounding exhausted yet amicable. He'd been working harder than anyone – except maybe Hermione – to try and earn himself some decent NEWTs, and it was starting to really show. Harry heard faint footsteps cross the room and waited, straining to listen.

"Here. Longbottom. Thought you might like to borrow this."

That was Draco again, this time over the other side of the room nearer Neville. Harry frowned, feeling even more confused as Neville replied, sounding surprised and pleased.

"Really? Wow. I mean, thanks."

More footsteps followed, then the sound of shoes being kicked off and a bag being dropped, and then Harry's curtains were pulled back. Draco clambered onto the bed, twisting around to shut the curtains and then drawing his wand to lock and silence them.

"What did you just give Neville?"

"A book," Draco said, yawning widely. "Magical medicinal plants. Heard he was contemplating speciality Healing."

Harry's face broke into a grin. "Check you out, being all nice."

"Oh shut up. If I make an effort with Longbottom then he backs us up when Finnegan starts whining about me being here all the time. Anyway, I only knew because I overheard him and Granger the other day. I don't actually care."

"Why did you have a book about medicinal plants?" Harry asked curiously, setting his own book aside.

"I didn't have a tell-vision, I had a library," Draco said pointedly. "It's why I'm smarter than you."

"Fair argument," Harry yawned. "You're overdressed."

Draco rolled his eyes but obediently stripped off his shirt and then unbuttoned his trousers, wriggling out of them in a sinuous motion that made Harry's pulse quicken. Draco didn't seem to notice; he kicked away the clothes and then laid down, tugging at a pillow to get comfortable.

"I'm knackered," he said, breathing out heavily and nuzzling down into the pillow, eyes shut.

"Exams and spending an afternoon trying to do advanced magic will do that to you," Harry said, rolling onto his side and placing a hand on Draco's stomach. Draco reached out in response, carefully lifting Harry's glasses away from his face and closing the arms, shoving them under the pillow.

"So, why is this Patronus business so important to you?" Harry asked, blinking at Draco's slightly blurred form. "I mean, you've got NEWT's to think about. It can't just be about beating me."

Draco shook his head slowly. "It's not. Well, it is partly. But it's kind of…being scared, not being able to protect myself. That belongs in the past, really. I just need to prove that I'm better than all that, that I'm not owned by that anymore. None of the other Death Eaters could do it, so..."

Harry nodded, understanding. "Do you want to try first thing tomorrow?"

Draco shook his head again. "Revising with Theo before lunch." He paused for a moment. "I'll meet you after though?"

"Are you actually going to be revising with him? Or is that code for something else?"

"Oh har har," Draco replied dryly. "I'll meet you at one, okay? After lunch?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's fine," he yawned widely and traced his fingers over Draco's chest. "I still think you need to think about your memory-"

"The memory's fine," Draco interrupted.

"It might not be," Harry said. "It's got to be really good, something that makes you so happy you can feel it." He blew out a frustrated breath. "If you'd just stop being awkward and tell me what it is…"

Draco reached out then, tracing a finger over Harry's chest. It moved in a slow looping pattern, and Harry stared as Draco repeated it.

"What-" he began and then stopped as Draco gave him a pointed look, repeating the motion again more firmly. "Oh!" Harry exclaimed as he realised what Draco was doing. "Y."

Draco nodded and then traced his finger in a new shape, and then another.

"Y. O. U - you. Me? It's me?"

Draco nodded, looking down. Harry couldn't help but smile, feeling something warm swelling in his chest as if he'd simultaneously been hit with a cheering charm and dunked in a cauldron of Amortentia. "What about me?" he asked quietly.

"When we first kissed in the hall. When everything was alright."

Harry pulled Draco close, pressing kisses over his face and ignoring Draco's noise of protest. That was a brilliant memory for Harry, and if Draco felt the same way about them as Harry did…well, then that memory might just be good enough to produce a Patronus.

"I think that'll do," he murmured and Draco smiled against his mouth, finally giving into the kisses and relaxing in Harry's arms.

"Told you so," he murmured and then rolled them both over, lying on top of Harry and kissing him properly, hands sliding down Harry's shoulders.

"That good, eh?" Harry laughed breathlessly, hands moving down to cup Draco's arse.

Draco grinned down at him. "We'll see."


...


Tapping his foot impatiently, Harry checked his battered old watch again, leaning back against the desk in the Arithmancy classroom. Half past one. When they'd parted ways that morning, he'd made sure to confirm their meeting time with Draco, and now the agreed time had been and gone. Whilst Draco was normally a little hit and miss with being on time, to be this late wasn't normal. Patience rapidly running out, Harry shoved his hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out his charmed galleon, tapping it with his wand.

Patronus practice, get here.

The reply was quick, and Harry almost suspected Draco had been keeping an eye on his galleon, waiting for Harry to call him up on being late.

Not coming.

Harry stared at the two words until they dissolved back into serial numbers, confident that Harry had got the message. What the hell? He shoved the coin back in his pocket and strode from the classroom, narrowly dodging Peeves who was swooping in the other direction and shrieking madly. Harry was confused and more than a little annoyed; yesterday Draco had been all up for trying again, and today he had apparently given up. Harry was sure if something else had come up then Draco would have explained. No, Harry strongly suspected that the issue was with the Patronus, although he didn't know what the issue could be. Draco said he had a strong enough memory, so what else could there be?

Bloody temperamental bastard. It seemed that that side of Draco was never too far away after all, even if he seemed more level-headed most of the time. Harry understood to an extent, but was also irritated that Draco hadn't bothered to even try to talk to him about it.

The library revealed no Draco and one instance of Harry hiding behind a bookshelf to avoid Neville who was looking confused and like he wanted to talk to someone. The Great Hall was also a Slytherin-free zone, and by that point Harry was getting fed up enough to contemplate stalking Draco down on the Marauders Map. He was heading vaguely in the direction of Gryffindor tower when he heard familiar laughter and voices drifting through the open archway that led out to the sunlit courtyard. Frowning, he stopped and then backtracked a couple of steps so he could see through the archway.

"Gotcha," Harry muttered as he spotted Draco lounging on the grass with Theo, Pansy and Daphne Greengrass, books and bags cast aside behind them. Despite being outnumbered, Harry didn't think twice about sauntering over, hands in his pockets. As he did Pansy looked up and spotted him, a strange look flittering over her face before she schooled it back to neutrality, nudging Draco with her elbow. Draco looked up and around, and as he spotted Harry he grimaced, wrinkling his nose.

"Ah, shit."

"Thought we were practicing?" Harry called as he walked over, remaining stood up so Draco had to tilt his head up to look at him, squinting in the sunlight.

"Nope," Draco said casually, shaking his head and looking back down. "Changed my mind."

"Want to tell me why?" Harry asked, nudging Draco with his foot and maybe using more force than he normally would.

"No," Draco said, and his voice had an edge to it that Harry recognised instantly. Defensiveness and anger, mixed with a subtle hint to back off.

"I'll drag you to practice if I have to," Harry said conversationally. "Yesterday this was the most important thing in the world-"

"And now it's not," Draco replied. "Come on, sit down. You're making my neck hurt."

"Why are you giving up?" Harry asked stubbornly. "Just because it's taking some work?"

"Leave him alone, Potter," Pansy chipped in suddenly, watching Harry with fierce eyes. "He doesn't want to do whatever you've dragged him into, so back off."

"Me?" Harry exclaimed. "This was his bloody idea!"

"What are you trying to do?" Theo asked, looking curiously from Harry to Draco. "Actually, do I really want to know?"

"Shut up," Draco sighed. "Just spellwork. I wanted to learn something and now I can't be bothered so-"

His words ended in a shriek as Harry flicked his wand at him, wrenching him up in the air by his ankle. Harry ignored Pansy's protests and grabbed the front of Draco's shirt, dragging him forwards. Behind Draco Daphne was cackling with laughter and even Theo was chuckling, hand held over his mouth to try and stifle it.

"What are you fucking doing, you fucking maniac! Put me down!" Draco shouted, trying to pull Harry's hands off of him. "This jinx is getting old, Potter!"

"Oh shut it, I've not dangled you upside-down in months," Harry said with a roll of his eyes. He summoned Draco's schoolbag and slung it over his shoulder, before walking away across the courtyard and hauling Draco with him, ignoring the laughter and shouting that followed them.

"I'm going to be sick," Draco gasped, looking up at his feet and still trying weakly to pull Harry's hands off of his shirt. "Potter, you fucking idiot!"

"Stop whinging," Harry said impatiently. "It's your own fault for standing me up."

"Standing you up? It was my practice," Draco argued, coughing. "You should have been grateful I let you off the hook."

Sure that they were now out of view and earshot, Harry came to a standstill around the corner, pausing in an alcove next to a set of large windows through which they could see the base of the South Tower. He let go of Draco's shirt and turned to face him, folding his arms across his chest. Draco glared at him, grabbing his tie and wrenching it out of the way so it didn't dangle in his face.

"Why have you suddenly changed your mind?" Harry asked calmly, as if they were having a regular conversation without anyone floating upside-down.

"Because," Draco said, swallowing hard. His cheeks were growing redder and redder by the second, and the look of discomfort on his face was intensifying. "Potter. Put me down."

"Not until you tell me why you bailed."

"Please," Draco bit out. "I'll talk when I'm the right way up."

"Promise?"

"Harry!"

Rolling his eyes, Harry stepped forwards, pulling his wand out. He grabbed Draco around the shoulders, holding him securely before thinking hard of the non-verbal counter-jinx. Draco yelped as he tumbled to the floor, kept half upright by Harry's grip on him. He twisted awkwardly, landing on the floor on his knees and staggering slightly, holding Harry's arms tightly.

"Oh that's dignified," he snapped, struggling to his feet and wrenching his shirt straight.

Harry stepped back, raising his hands in supplication. "I could have dropped you on your head."

Draco's scowl was murderous, but Harry was used to it by now. "Come on then," he said, reaching out to straighten Draco's tie. "Why did you bail?"

To his surprise Draco didn't say anything. He crossed his arms across his chest and bit his lip, still half-scowling. Harry waited, feeling slightly cautious, and then finally Draco sighed and looked down at the floor.

"I don't know what it's going to be," he finally muttered.

"Well, no-one does, until they make it," Harry said, confused.

"What if it's something…I don't know. Stupid. Bad."

Harry stared at him. "You're worried about what form it's going to take?" he asked, astounded. "Really?"

"Knowing my luck it'll be a fucking ferret," Draco said, and then his expression shifted, turning almost fearful. "Or something horrid."

Harry couldn't believe it. The reason for the struggle Draco was having with the charm was so simple, yet powerful enough to ensure he couldn't even produce the slightest hint of a Patronus. He'd never heard of anyone being scared of the form a Patronus would take, but when he considered it, it seemed in a way to be bloody typical of Draco and his insecurities.

"It'll be a sort of reflection of you in a small way," Harry started, and Draco gave him a pointed look.

"Exactly."

Harry looked at him a little helplessly, before reaching out and running his hands over Draco's shoulders. "Come on, you're not that bad," he said. "It's not going to be anything horrid. Or stupid," he added, praying with every fibre of his being that the Patronus – if it ever came about – wouldn't be a ferret.

"What if-" Draco began and then swallowed. "What if it's a snake?"

Harry pulled him close. "It's there to protect you. It's never going to be something you're afraid of. It goes against the nature of the Patronus."

"How can you be sure?" Draco asked, pulling back and searching Harry's expression for something, his earlier façade now gone, worry and vulnerability clear and open in his face.

"Trust me," Harry said, reaching up to smooth Draco's hair back from his face with his palms. "You'll love whatever it is, I promise."

Draco hesitated, and then nodded, breathing out deeply. "I'm still going to kill you if it's a ferret."

Harry grinned. "Still not finding that funny?"

Draco glared at him. "Not ever," he said. "Now if you insist we have to do this can we do it now, before I change my mind again?"

Harry nodded and stepped back, taking Draco's hand. "Want your bag back?"

Draco snorted. "After that bloody stunt you can carry it."

Harry smiled and nodded in acceptance, starting to walk along the corridor and calculating the quickest way to the old Arithmancy classroom they normally worked in. Actually, a Transfiguration classroom would be quickest to get to, as long as the doors were unlocked-

"Can Patronuses be magical creatures?" Draco asked suddenly as they passed a large group of giggling Hufflepuff girls on the stairwell, edging past them with only a modicum of elbowing and pushing.

Harry nodded as they edged past, wincing as the girls all shrieked with laughter about something or other. "Dumbledore's was a phoenix," he said. "That's the only one I know of though. Most peoples are regular animals. That's if they ever get to make one in a corporeal shape."

"You sound like a professor," Draco said, wrinkling his nose. "Professor Patronus Potter."

"Lupin taught me, and he was a professor," Harry pointed out. "And then I had to teach everyone in Dumbledore's Army."

"Which makes you a professor," Draco said smugly, his 'I told you so' tone firmly in place.

"Working overtime apparently."

"I can repay you in favours," Draco said slyly. "Or does that contravene the professional student-professor relationship?"

"Oh definitely not," Harry grinned at Draco, before turning serious again. "I reckon we might get somewhere today though, now we've worked out what the problem is."

"If you say so," Draco said, with a shrug which would make it seem like he couldn't care less. Even with the mental link that had once bound them long gone, Harry could tell he was bluffing.

"I know so," Harry said confidently, coming to a halt outside one of the Transfiguration classrooms and reaching out to test the door handle and luckily finding it unlocked. "Come on."

They slipped inside and locked the door behind them, and Harry walked over to put their bags on the floor as Draco waved his wand to move all the tables back, giving them a clear space at the front of the room in which to practice. Harry watched as Draco drew his wand and strode purposefully into the open space, taking a deep breath, eyes fluttering shut. He raised his wand, swallowed thickly, and then lowered it again.

"Fuck," he muttered, rubbing his face. "I just know it's going to be a fucking snake."

"It won't," Harry said, walking over to stand behind Draco, pulling him back a step so their bodies were flush together. "Stop worrying," he murmured.

"That's what everyone called me. Malfoy, the cowardly little snake. And I saw that snake eat people." Draco broke off, shaking his head. "What if it says something about me, shows I'm actually still a complete-"

"It won't," Harry repeated firmly, wrapping his arms around Draco's waist. "Even if it were once a snake, they change as you do. You're not that bloke anymore."

"They change?" Draco asked uncertainly.

"Yep. Tonk's did. George's did. If you have an emotional upheaval or feel differently, they can change," Harry said.

"I didn't know that," Draco said after a pause. "So even if I was a bad person…"

"You're not anymore, so the Patronus won't be bad. And like I said, it can't be something that scares you. It's there to protect you, be a companion."

Draco exhaled deeply and seemed to relax back into Harry's embrace. "Stay there," he said quietly and Harry nodded, rubbing his nose against the back of Draco's ear.

"Course."

Draco shut his eyes again and Harry half wished for the old link back so he could comfort Draco just as he used to. He waited and felt Draco's body shift, and then Draco lifted his wand.

"Expecto Patronum."

A silvery burst of light shot from the end of the wand and Harry felt Draco's body jolt in surprise. He grinned into Draco's shoulder and squeezed him gently around the middle, willing him to try again.

"Expecto Patronum."

More wisps of light flowed out of Draco's wand, swirling in their air, hovering for a moment and twisting itself around as if it were deciding whether to form a shape or not. It hung there for a tantalizing moment, and then drifted away into a shapeless cloud.

"Fuck," Draco muttered, frustrated. "Expecto Patronum."

This time nothing happened, and Draco hissed between his teeth, body tensing.

"Calm down," Harry murmured. "Concentrate on your memory. Think, just remember how it felt and focus on that. Pretend you're back there. Don't worry about the shape, just focus on the memory."

"Expecto Patronum!"

This time slivery light burst from the end of Draco's wand with force, instantly flooding out and coiling into a shape on the floor, twisting up and around. Harry glimpsed four legs, a long sleek body and a muzzle, pale eyes and pointed ears-

Draco gasped and jerked back, stepping on Harry's feet and staggering off-balance. Caught off guard, Harry lost his own balance and they both stumbled back, crashing painfully to the floor with Draco atop Harry.

"Fuck!" Draco rolled awkwardly off of Harry and looked to where the Patronus was fading into swirls of glittering white light. Sitting back on his arse with his hands planted either side of him, he looked back to Harry, and then to the spot where the creature stood, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.

"Ow," Harry groaned, sitting up and rubbing his back. "Christ, Draco. Are you really that scared of what's inside you?"

Draco swallowed. "I swear to Merlin I thought it was going to be a ferret."

"Definitely too big for a ferret," Harry said, excitement now starting to fill him as the shock and pain of being bowled over backwards was fading. "Try again, go on."

Draco remained sitting down, his legs stretched out in front of him. He reached behind him, groping for Harry's hand, tugging on it the moment Harry slipped his fingers into Draco's palm. Harry obediently shuffled forwards with his legs either side of Draco's body, pressing up close. The moment his body was touching Draco's, his hands on his waist, Draco raised his wand.

"Expecto Patronum!"

It happened so fast Harry barely had any time to blink before the Patronus was taking shape in front of them, the white smoky light instantly twisting into a form. Harry drew in a sharp breath as the light settled in the shape of an animal he'd not been expecting.

"Bloody hell," Draco said weakly, sounding on the verge of hysterical laughter, still holding his wand aloft.

As if in response, the wolf cocked its head and loped over to him, leaving mesmerizing trails of white light in its wake. It watched Draco with pale eyes and then lowered its muzzle, sniffing at his outstretched foot.

It was beautiful. A fair size, with a thick fur coat that Harry guessed would be grey were the animal real. The tips of its ears appeared darker, as did the fur on its legs. Despite the thick fur, it seemed to be quite slender, having a narrower chest than any domestic dog breeds of the same size. The way it moved was an odd mix of awkwardness and grace, as if it wasn't quite used to its legs yet. At the moment it looked friendly and inquisitive, but Harry didn't doubt that it would appear quite different if guarding Draco against a Dementor. He imagined it growling and snapping and immediately knew that Draco would appreciate the clear display of defensive behaviour if he ever had cause to use the Patronus.

"Wow," Harry murmured and Draco laughed shakily, reaching out towards the wolf. It stepped forwards and sniffed at Draco's hand before letting out a yip of an echoing bark, twisting around and bounding away across the room, loping easily before tumbling to the floor and rolling over, tail wagging and leaving more wisps and trails of light with every movement.

Draco lowered his wand and the shape dissolved almost instantly, the white light drifting away and soon blending with the afternoon sunlight. When it had completely gone, Draco twisted around in Harry's arms, his face flushed and excited.

"Told you it wouldn't be a snake," Harry said, a fraction of a second before Draco leant in and kissed him, hard. He threw out a hand backwards to stop them toppling over again, and tried not to laugh.

"I had – a wolf. It's a wolf," Draco said breathlessly, pulling back and looking thrilled. "That's not bad at all."

"Not at all," Harry repeated, grinning at Draco's obvious excitement. "Not what I was guessing."

"What did you think it'd be?" Draco asked. "Something stupid?"

"No!" Harry insisted. "A fox, maybe. One of the white ones that live in the snow. Or a hedgehog."

Draco's delighted expression turned incredulous. "A hedgehog?"

"Well yeah," Harry shrugged, a sheepish smile in place. "Prickly on the outside."

"A bloody hedgehog," Draco said flatly. "Unbelievable."

He clambered to his feet, brushing his trousers down before holding a hand out to pull Harry up as well. "Hedgehogs are great," Harry said as Draco heaved him up. "Bet you didn't know they've got natural immunity to snake venom."

Draco looked mildly impressed. "Really?" Never mind, I don't care about hedgehogs, not when I've got a wolf. Did you see it? I can't get over it - It's just so big."

"Well you're a big character," Harry shrugged, but Draco was looking puzzled, biting his lip. "What?"

"I don't really get it," he admitted. "How it's a reflection of me."

"Never watched Animal Planet on television, I take it?" Harry said, then hurriedly continued as Draco pulled an exasperated face, presumably because Harry knew full well he'd never seen a television. "Well, they're pack animals by nature, they like being in groups."

"Wonderful," Draco muttered, folding his arms across his chest.

"Stop it. It's not a bad thing, wanting to be part of a group. Anyway, they have like a social standing in their groups, a bit like you in Slytherin. They show either submission or dominance depending on who else is around…I'm making this sound shit, aren't I?"

"A bit," Draco admitted. "But I get it, I suppose."

Harry racked his brains to try and remember what else a summer of watching the Dursley's Sky television package at two in the morning had taught him. "They're very smart. They'll hunt things way bigger than they are. I suppose they can be a bit scary, which suits you because of, well, you know. Bit of a bad reputation that they don't deserve, because they don't really hunt people. Oh! And they're loyal because they mate for life."

Draco's eyebrows rose at that. "Really?"

"From what I remember," Harry said with a smile. "Very territorial too. You could do a lot worse for a Patronus."

"I know," Draco said, stepping up close and gently kissing Harry on the mouth. "I could have some sort of deer or something."

Harry pinched at him and Draco laughed, arching away. "It's a stag, idiot," Harry said, pulling Draco back close and kissing him again. "Very noble."

"Bet my wolf could eat your deer."

"Stag," Harry repeated against Draco's mouth. "I'd like to see it try."

Draco laughed again and wrapped his arms around Harry's neck. "I like the wolf," he said, and Harry smiled, knowing that that was as close to a thank you he was going to get. He leant in and kissed Draco again, sliding his hands down his back and feeling his breath hitch in his chest. He nuzzled Draco's nose with his own, feeling both incredibly proud that he'd managed to help Draco master the charm, and also ridiculously proud that Draco accomplished what had evaded him for so long.

"You're welcome."

.