A/N: This was written for tariana in the 2012 H/D Smoochfest. Thanks to birdsofshore for pre-reading and evilgiraffe82 for betaing. :-)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Trust in Hope
Draco's world had been reduced down to single words by the time he'd found himself clinging to Potter on the back of a broom, fleeing Fiendfyre, leaving behind Vincent's stupid legacy of destruction, paid for with his own life. Fire, hot, fear, death, he said to himself. Potter.
At the trials he'd watched as the Wizengamot and Aurors, grim-faced and high on the power of victory, stripped his father of his pride and his liberty. He'd listened to tale after tale of cruelty and hatred, and he felt sick with it, with his part in it. After it was all over he returned to the Manor with his mother, tired, defeated, yet finally free. If it had been up to Draco, he would have torched the whole place. He had seen the hungry, avenging flame, and he thought it was the only way to remove the taint of that mad man, of the year of terror they had lived through. They hid in the Manor, the world treating them like murdering torturers. Which they were, of course. And what had it been worth, that sacrifice? Nothing, nothing at all.
Draco himself went through his choices, over and over again. Could he have acted differently? Would it have made any difference? He was ashamed of the cowardice he'd displayed on many occasions, but could not see how anything could have been different. No matter what he might have done, he would still have had the same parents, the same fear of the Dark Lord. He couldn't have saved the Muggles he'd seen tortured and killed, not without dying himself. And death had scared him more than anything else, there was no getting away from that.
In his sleep he saw flames, heat, fear, death. Potter.
"Draco, my love, I want to you to stop. Stop!" Narcissa held onto Draco's arm as he stood, wand in hand, ready to incendio his school books and robes. Her fingers dug into his flesh, painfully. Her hold on him was strong and it focused his wild anger for a moment.
"What's the point? I don't need them anymore, I'm never going back," he shouted, his voice hoarse. He winced though as she flinched, and immediately lowered his voice. "I'm sorry, Mother," he whispered, and he bowed his head, ashamed. She had been through enough, she didn't need to be scared by her own son too.
Narcissa's grip loosened a little, and she drew him closer. She moved him to face her, and pinned him with her eyes. They were a pale blue, and flashed with emotion as she spoke in an even, low voice.
"Draco, you are going back. You are going to do it for me, if not for you," her eyes never leaving his face. "You are going to salvage what you can of your life, however hard that may be. Do you understand?" Draco fought back tears of anger. He felt trapped, but he knew there was no way out. He nodded, mutely, afraid to speak in case he hurt his mother again. Narcissa stepped back and released him. "Good, now go pack your things for school," she paused, and quickly gave him a small kiss on the cheek, then walked off, returning to her task of magically marking up the furniture in the Blue room, ready for sale. Draco was left standing alone, the warm wet trace of his mother's rare kiss drying on his cheek. He went to pack, his desire to fight all gone. All that was left was simmering resentment and a good pinch of self-hatred. Nothing new, in other words.
When his trunk was packed, Draco went to sit outside in his mother's rose garden. She had started planting it when she married and became a Malfoy, and he had many memories of running free and happy, up and down wide gravel paths as a child, while she pruned and tended to her thorny plants. Now it was full of blooms, pink and white, red and blush, the air sweet with their scent, rich and heavy. He would miss this place, and sense of peace. The day was warm and still, although for Draco life felt more like a series of cold and empty rooms. He shivered, despite the sun. It was strange to think that they would never return here, but the Manor was being handed over as part of the family reparations, and whilst he still had good memories of the grounds and gardens, Draco had enough he would rather forget about the rooms and spaces inside. As he watched fat bees make their ways from flower to flower, he thought over his mother's words. He would try, for her. And perhaps, for him too.
Draco never actually heard any whispering. He didn't need to though, to know it was happening. He could tell, from the way that Pansy now turned away from him if he sat next to her at breakfast. Or the way that Blaise didn't talk to him if they were partnered for Potions. It wasn't just his year, either. Third-years and fifth-years and all the rest of the Slytherins avoided him too, giving him a wide berth at the dinner table or in the common room. At first, he had tried to talk to his friends. Or more accurately, the people who used to be his friends. He was upset, frustrated; rejected. Now he... well he didn't exactly not care, it was more... resignation. They were just being wise, avoiding the taint of association with a known Death Eater. He always kept his arm covered, but in a shared room it was inevitable that they would see the Mark, and of course, of all the students in the school, most of his house knew already. The worst thing was, he knew that he would have done the same if their positions were reversed. That knowledge had a bitter taste, merely reinforcing how worthless a person he was.
The first time he'd seen Pansy, after he got off the train, she'd looked straight through him. Draco had hoped she was merely distracted, but the next few days proved him wrong. Every now and then hope would rise up in him, as he caught sight of the pain in her eyes as she looked everywhere but at him. But whatever she felt, she still didn't talk to him. Finally, he'd managed to corner her and pull her into a dark corner near the dungeons.
He stood close to her, holding her gaze until she turned away. In a quiet, strained voice, Pansy finally spoke.
"I can't, Draco, I can't. This is killing me, but I've got to make up for trying to throw Potter to the Dark Lord. I can't be seen with you."
"What about when you're not seen with me? Can't we be friends, secretly?" Draco had asked, desperate. Pansy shook her head.
"No, no we can't. If I was close to you, I couldn't keep up the pretence," she looked up and reached out to touch his cheek. "I care about you, but not enough to jeopardise my future," her tone had hardened and she withdrew her hand. "I'm afraid it's all or nothing, with me. I know I could never be more than your friend, so there isn't really the... motivation to risk myself to be with you. I'm afraid, Draco, that you're going to get nothing from me." Draco pulled back from her, understanding finally that this was the consequence of his rejecting her advances the year before. She paused for a moment, then spoke firmly, emphasising each word. "You have to stop trying to talk to me and just leave me alone," and pulling her robes around her, Pansy swooped off.
After that, Draco kept to the quiet and hidden corners of Hogwarts. The only time he spoke to anyone was in class, or if a first-year, ignorant of his history, asked for directions. Even these queries lessened as the newest pupils did a bit of whispering of their own, and worked out who he was. There were first-years everywhere, tiny little things in their new robes or worn hand-me-downs, either perpetually lost and wide-eyed, or full of bluff and bravado. He could not imagine that he had ever been that young, although he certainly knew in which category he had belonged.
He made his way up to the main entrance of the castle, and slipped out for a walk. The trees in the Forest all looked dead, their branches black against the white winter snow. There was a feeling of emptiness around the newly-restored school, both inside and out. Draco had become adept at hunting out the loneliest of spots, in his search for solitude. It was a cold day. He wrapped his thick cloak around him, grateful for the heavy wool. He skirted the edge of the trees until his cheeks hurt and his fingers were numb. He got to Herbology just in time.
The greenhouses were warm enough inside. Draco was not actually late, he'd merely missed the awkward wait before they were allowed in. Draco was never late. He never had points detracted, and he worked hard. He was miserable but he was here for a reason. "Open one door and more will open for you," his mother had said. Well, he was wedging this one open with his foot, and he wasn't going to let it shut on him, not for anything. He sat on his stool, humble and obedient (not broken, his mind whispered, in a vain attempt at reassurance, not broken), while Professor Sprout talked about their extended project, success in which would contribute towards their final NEWT marks. The aim of the project was to extend some aspect of Herbology beyond plants, beyond the classroom. Draco took notes, not wanting to miss anything out. The project would take four months to complete – they would finish in the Spring, just before the Easter break – and would be partnered. Draco's heart sank. Partnered? Who would choose to partner him? Sprout must have seen the look of panic on his face as she quickly added "Partners have already been assigned, by me," and she held up a parchment and started to read out names. The names were being listed alphabetically. That meant—
"Longbottom and Malfoy,"
Draco looked over at Longbottom, who was now scowling at him. He had changed almost beyond recognition in the past year or two. His hair had grown and he'd lost his baby fat. And of course, he was a hero now. Draco was almost bitter about it. He'd spent years cultivating friends and admirers, and it was all gone now. Whilst Longbottom the former buffoon was now the centre of an awful lot of attention, of the kind often accompanied by giggles. Longbottom would just blush, like the innocent he was, but it was still... irritating. Reining in his resigned sigh (humble, obedient; not broken) Draco picked up his things and went to sit next to his new partner, who sat, arms folded and stony faced, as everyone moved into their new pairings. He got jostled once or twice as he moved across the room, and saw other Slytherins meet the angry shoulders of their fellow students too. Such was the world, after the war.
As Professor Sprout kept talking, Longbottom turned to regard him, briefly. He was scowling, distrust written all over his face. He wouldn't meet Draco's gaze, and turned to glare into the distance. Draco's sigh threatened to escape, but instead he decided to say something.
"Longbottom, we're going to have to find a way of working together. I don't know about you, but I need these marks," Draco spoke quietly but he was all too aware that Sprout was frowning at them. "Can we talk, after class?" Longbottom sat absolutely still for a second, then nodded. Draco dutifully took notes for the rest of the lesson, trying very hard not to think about his upcoming conversation with his new partner. At the end of the class they both hung around until all the other students had left. Fixing them with a particularly wary look, in the end Sprout too had left them – once Longbottom had nodded to reassure her.
There was an uncomfortable silence and the greenhouse felt close, over-hot.
"My Herbology marks matter a lot to me, too," said Longbottom in the end. "But I don't know how I can work with you. Maybe we can request to work by ourselves on this one." Draco knew that somehow, this was a pivotal moment in his life. It was strange enough just to be talking to another person, whoever he was. But Draco also knew he had a choice to make, about what he said next. It was no choice really, in the end. He looked down at his quill, running it through his fingers until he forced himself to stop and look at Longbottom.
"Before you do that, I've got something I'd like to say," he paused, trying to find the courage to continue with what he had to say. "I'd like to apologise for... everything, I suppose. For being such a pompous idiot for so many years. For calling you and your friends names. For following my father without once ever thinking about what he stood for." He was whispering by the end of his list of failings, but he had more to add. "For how I was under the Carrows last year," he looked at Longbottom, sorrow on his face, "I'm sorry."
Longbottom chewed his lip and stood, silent. Eventually he let out a long huff of breath.
He nodded his head once, quickly. "Alright. We'll give it a go and see how it goes."
"Thank you," whispered Draco. He couldn't believe that his chances for the future now hinged on the Gryffindor he'd always thought the least of, but then he had been so wrong about who he had valued before.
They left the greenhouses and walked back to the castle through the snow together, in silence. But something had changed, and it took Draco a few days to work out what. As he went about his daily routine, waking and eating, learning and hiding, he realised he felt a new emotion, something pushing his eyes up from the ground, something making him struggle against the confinement of his life. It was, he eventually understood, the beginnings of hope.
Two weeks into the project, and he and Longbottom had met several times already. Each time it got a little easier. Longbottom had hardly spoken to him the first few times they'd met, but slowly his need to ask questions about the project, and his own encyclopaedic knowledge of growing processes had fused into the two of them talking. Longbottom seemed to be beginning to trust Draco with his work, if nothing else.
They had chosen to cross Fluxweed with peppermint, to see if they could make a plant which could be used as a more robust Potions ingredient. Fluxweed was rare and difficult to get hold of. It was also notorious for being a tricky plant to work with, even when you did have some: it had to be harvested just right, and half the time no matter how you prepared it, the leaves would turn to an unusable green slime before they reached the cauldron. They were hoping to use a combination of spells and potions, to aid cross-fertilisation and to speed the growing process. Despite himself, Draco was quite excited about the challenge the project offered.
Draco looked up from the large book on the desk. They were sitting in the library, researching how they were going to approach their assignment.
"So we can cross Fluxweed – let's call it A – with the peppermint – let's call it B –and grow several plants, to see how consistent the result are. Then try crossing an AB with and A, and an AB with a B, to see which characteristics are the most dominant," Longbottom was nodding, and taking notes. Draco pushed the book aside and started to draw up a timetable and list of what they would need. Longbottom watched him with approval.
"How will we determine those characteristics?" he asked. Draco thought for a minute before answering.
"Well, we can make observations of the plants - see if we've made the Fluxweed a bit more stable, for one. But how about try make a Sleeping Draught with each example? See how it changes the process? We could test it on those horrid little Pygmy Puffs, I bet Hagrid still has more than he can cope with."
"Yes!" said Longbottom. A happy look crossed his face. "We're bound to get extra marks if we do that." Then his face fell and he frowned. "But we'll need to use the Potions room. I don't even do Potions anymore! And it really wasn't my strongest area."
"Don't worry about that," said Draco, "Slughorn might not like me, but I can't see him refusing a request from you." Draco spoke matter-of-factly, with no personal resentment. It was just the truth, that any of the heroes of the war would get preferential treatment. And that he... well, that he would get the opposite. "And I know my way round a cauldron, remember?" Draco's eyes were gleaming. This was going to be fun. He became aware that Longbottom was looking at him strangely, his head tilted and his eyes narrowed.
"You know, you're nothing like I thought you were. You really love all this stuff, don't you?" Longbottom said, his hand sweeping at the open books and scribbled-on parchment. He hesitated before continuing. "Every time you call me Longbottom though, it feels like we're in class. Do you... do you think you could call me Neville?"
Draco put down his quill. His voice faltered as he answered. "Ok then, Neville," he looked at his hands, and felt his face heat.
"Good, Draco," said Neville. Draco felt a thrill at being called his name again. No one had said it for months, he realised. He shook himself and tried to concentrate on what... Neville was saying. "Now how do we take into account the effects of the full moon on the growing phases of Fluxweed? Should we consider that as a factor with the hybrids, too?" Draco turned his attention to the question, and soon they were chatting away and getting their plans finalised.
After another month of planning and preparation, which had included a lonely Christmas in the greenhouses for Draco, they had a row of seedlings under a range of charms. Neville smiled triumphantly at Draco.
"This calls for a drink," he announced. "We've wasted a whole Saturday—" he paused and laughed when he saw Draco's stricken face, "–well ok, not wasted, exactly. But I haven't seen any of my friends, and it's the weekend." He shrugged his coat on. Draco stayed by the seedlings, his heart sinking. Of course he wasn't one of Neville's friends. And actually, this was one of the best Saturdays he'd had in a long time. He hadn't had to hide once. He watched forlornly as Neville headed towards the greenhouse door. He should never have allowed himself to think that he was being tolerated for any other reason than to complete the project. He scowled and fought the urge to kick something.
As Neville reached the door he turned round. "Come on then, get your stuff: I said, this calls for a drink," and Draco quickly gathered up his cloak and made his way to the door. He felt confused and overwhelmed; he didn't understand how or why Neville would invite him. But there was no way he was turning this down, either. He had a chance to go out, to talk to another person, one who for some reason seemed able to tolerate him. He quickly joined Neville at the door, and they made their way down to Hogsmeade at a leisurely pace.
Draco paled when they got to the Three Broomsticks. He stopped by the door. Neville turned, a look of confusion on his face. Then discomfort and understanding broke through.
"Oh, er, yes. Madam Rosmerta isn't here anymore, she–" Neville glanced nervously at Draco for a second, and swallowed, his voice much quieter as he continued, "–she never really recovered and went to live with family..." he trailed off. Draco was silent. His shoulders dropped.
"Will I even be welcome here? If you don't want me to come, I can just head back to school," he looked down at his shoes, certain that this was the end of his evening out.
"No, I asked you to join me and that still stands. Draco, I don't think you're that person, not anymore. C'mon, come inside," and he reached forward and pulled the door open. As they stepped into the pub, the loud chatter inside turned to a chilled silence. Draco began to back away, but Neville caught hold of his arm and kept him there. He dragged him over to the table which was, of course, full of his friends, Gryffindors and Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs all together, red-faced and merry. Any Slytherins in the room were scattered in smaller groups at the edges, younger students who had escaped the Death Eater taint. None of the older Slytherins were there.
For some reason Draco had forgotten that Neville's friends would all be at the pub. Thankfully the golden trio were absent, but he still squirmed. Neville cleared his throat, then addressed the room.
"Draco's here with me. We're working together on a project and I promised him a drink," and he looked round, challenging all those who stared. He was such a Gryffindor. Draco suddenly discovered a new-found admiration for the house. Reluctantly, he lifted his head up. Might as well act like a Gryffindor, myself. When he spoke his voice was quiet, a little shaky, but clear enough to be heard.
"I've already apologised to Neville. I'll say it again though, I'm sorry for how I've behaved in the past, and for everything I've done to hurt people. And for making such bad choices."
His words didn't seem to have done much to shift the mistrust evident on everyone's faces. Regardless, Neville dragged him to sit down at the table. The sound of others talking slowly rose in the background, as it became an issue for that particular group, rather than the whole pub. No one at the table spoke though.
"Look, I–" Neville was pale now, the words escaping him slowly. He held everyone's attention though. "Do you know when my parents– when they were attacked? After Voldemort had disappeared. I... I don't think lingering hatred helps. Draco has kept out of trouble and I promised to have a drink with him."
Dean Thomas and Hannah Abbott were nodding, but Seamus Finnigan was frowning, his face pinched in tight lines. Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley were sat together, both looking unhappy. Draco turned to Luna first. Before he could say anything though, she spoke.
"I don't have good memories of my time at the Manor," she started, her voice slow but lilting, and Draco winced, "but I don't think you do, either. We could hear them sometimes... with you," she whispered. She looked up at him, and then at Neville. "I'll get your drinks," she announced, and wandered off towards the bar. Ginny watched her go, then turned her back to Draco. He sighed.
Draco sat silently for most of the evening, cradling that first pint Luna had bought for him. It tasted horrible, but Draco persevered with it, grateful for the gesture and nervous about drinking anything else in front of this noisy group. Neville spoke to him quietly, a little, but soon became distracted by his friends. Even on the edge of the group like this, being deliberately ignored by most of them, was more social contact than he had experienced since starting back at Hogwarts. He sat back, stiff and upright amongst the flailing arms and merry faces, and listened, learning more about Dean's not-so-secret crush on Ginny, and Luna's theories about wrackspurts, then he ever wanted to. After a while they seemed to forget he was there, and began to talk more freely. He enjoyed watching their to-and-fro. He walked back to the castle with a slightly merry Neville, and went to bed feeling like a stranger in his own skin. He had just sat in a pub with people who hated him, and no one had hexed him. He had almost enjoyed it. Deep inside, he hoped that he could do it again.
That night though, the dreams came anyway. He woke up shaking, the images still strong in his mind: flames, heat, fear, death. Potter.
Professor Slughorn looked none to happy to be disturbed in his rooms. He looked between Neville and Draco, his reluctance clear to see.
"Much as I would like to help, my dear Longbottom, I feel that if you will be using the Potions classroom and equipment, you should have some suitable supervision. Personally, I can't spare the time and I don't wish to leave a non-NEWT standard student and someone of questionable... well, er, the two of you alone," he paused and frowned in thought. "Perhaps if you could find someone suitable to supervise?"
"How about Harry?" Neville instantly offered. Draco tried hard to hide the horror he felt. This would never work. Potter hated him, and he felt... complicated about Potter. He dreamed about him almost every night, for Merlin's sake, saving his life.
"Yes... Potter would be a most suitable candidate. If he agrees, then yes, you can use the classroom, equipment and some basic supplies," he coughed and began to pull the door shut. "And now if you'll excuse me, gentlemen," and the door closed with a loud thud.
Draco turned to Neville. "Are you mad?" he asked. "There is no way Potter will help me," Neville looked at him sadly and nodded.
"I know. But he'll help me. Look, leave it to me, I'll go ask him now. Maybe... maybe we can meet in the library in about an hour? Bring all our notes, and I'll see if I can get him to come so we can explain the project to him."
An hour later, Draco had spread out their plans and their research across his favourite desk in the library. He spent much of his time hiding here. It was near a window and Draco always felt comforted by the wide space outside. Snow was falling, the sky grey and white. Although he was nervous, he had got a little lost in making sure all the details flowed well. Neville was right, he did love this kind of work. He felt free when his mind could work through a problem, when he could think through a set of tests. He was neatly underlining a word when he heard a slight cough from behind him. He turned to find Hermione Granger, looking over his shoulder, reading his notes.
"Interesting," she said. "Have you taken into account the changing phases of the moon?" Draco was startled, but answered immediately. He was especially proud of how they were ensuring they replicated the optimal growing conditions for one out of each pair of identical plants, through the use of stasis spells. Granger nodded and asked him a few more questions.
They both looked up, startled, when Potter appeared with Neville, telling him in a whisper loud enough for everyone to hear, "I don't see why I should help that git too." Draco sighed at the insult. It was no more than he expected – in fact, it was pretty tame. Perhaps because he had relaxed after getting so involved in his work, or maybe because he felt closer, somehow, to Potter due to the dreams, old reflexes made him answer before he was even aware of what he was saying.
"Is that the best you can do, Potter? 'Git'?" He immediately clamped his mouth shut. Merlin! What was wrong with him? Spending time with a Gryffindor, even one of the meeker ones like Neville, was obviously having an effect. What had happened to being humble? What if he had just ruined his chance to get a good mark? This whole thing would fall apart without Potter's help. Draco felt fear gnaw at him and he held his breath.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Traitorous Death Eater. Is that better?" Potter snapped back, and Draco shrank into himself, hurt. It wasn't like it used to be: he had nothing now, there were no comebacks. This was why he usually said nothing at all.
Draco spent the next few minutes working out how quickly he could escape this encounter, whatever the outcome, even as Granger, then Neville, reassured Potter about the project and told him that the potions bit really was necessary, and really would help Neville get a better mark. He noticed, bitterly, that he was nothing more than an obstacle in the way of Neville's success. For a moment he didn't care about the project, or marks, or anything. He just felt the burning shame of his position. His breath caught painfully in his chest. Draco forced himself to put his resentments aside though: he knew that school work was the only thing he had. He needed Potter to agree.
"Please," Neville said. Potter looked at him for a long moment, before glancing over at Draco and frowning. He turned back to his friend and sighed, then nodded his head. His body though, slumped in annoyance, or perhaps frustration. Draco started breathing a little easier.
As soon as they'd fixed a time for meeting in the potions classroom the next day, Draco gathered up his things and ran back to his room. It was early yet, and everyone ignored him as he walked through the common room. The squid swam past the window, an eye fixed on him for a moment, before it disappeared into the gloom of the lake. Draco stashed his things, put locking charms on his trunk, then got into bed. He pulled his curtains closed and went to sleep. There was nothing else to stay up for.
That night he cried when Potter reached out his hand, but he still took it. Behind him lay fire, flames, death.
At the time allotted, Draco was stood outside of the Potions classroom. The hallway was dimly lit and empty: classes were over for the day, and natural light never found its way down here. He was neither early nor late. Either would have worried him too much. He hated to wait around or be made to wait. He paused at the door, and heard voices from within. From force of habit, he listened.
"...you're just going to have to behave yourself, Harry. He's been fine, you know."
"I don't know, Neville. I just don't think that you should be so quick to... trust him," Draco sighed. Who could blame him for being so suspicious, after everything?
"I don't have to trust him, Harry. I just have to work with him. And he's good at all this. There's no way I could have set this up so well. For one thing, I wouldn't be making these potions–"
"I don't think someone can just change like that, overnight," Potter interrupted, his voice harsh and flat. This time, Draco heard Neville sigh.
"Actually, he has changed, I do think he has. He apologised. And he's just so... sad all the time. I don't think anyone talks to him, ever," Draco winced at this. He hated that his isolation was so obvious to others. But his slowly-growing sense of hope held on to the fact that Neville had defended him.
"Well, I'd keep an eye on him if I were you," said Harry quietly.
"You keep an eye on him, if you want. It's what you always did, isn't it? But I'm ok with him," and Draco could hear anger begin to rise in Neville's voice.
Draco swallowed down his bitterness at how much Potter disliked and distrusted nhim. He didn't know why it mattered, but it did. He decided he'd heard enough, and twisted the door handle noisily. When he walked in, Neville looked up and smiled, and Potter eyed him warily. Draco gave Neville a small, guarded smile back, but avoided Potter's eye, hating how small Potter was making him feel. He could feel himself moving as awkwardly and self-consciously as he had when he had first started working with Neville. He had fought so hard to keep what he could of himself – with Potter, he felt like he really was completely worthless.
Draco walked up to the bench and held out a list of potions ingredients. Harry sat with his arms folded and looked the other way. Draco suppressed a roll of the eye and handed it to an embarrassed-looking Neville. He pretended not to notice Harry's childish behaviour.
"This is what we'll need. And here's the schedule we drew up of what needs to be made when. Let's just get on with it, shall we?" It was the most he'd said in front of Potter since the trials. Potter scowled, but took the list from Neville and went off to collect the ingredients.
"I'm sorry about Harry," whispered Neville.
"It's fine. At least he's here," Draco replied, sighing heavily. Really, he hadn't expected anything less.
After that, the three of them worked quietly, with Neville slicing and preparing ingredients with Potter, under the watchful eye of Draco, who really didn't want to mess this up. The potions or the fledgling trust. The atmosphere was tense, and Draco tried to just focus on the work. He found Potter's presence distracting. He always had, but this time there was no way he could sidestep it with insults. There was only his very real awareness of Potter, who seemed to take up more physical space than the room could offer. It felt like there was no air left for Draco to breathe. He was suffocating in his presence. The more time they spent in the same room, the more Real Potter, full of distrust, converged in his mind with Dream Potter, wild and strong and coming to save him from the flames, and the Potter of his memories, who he had watched for so many years. He found he couldn't look at, or talk to the one standing in the room with him.
His dreams became a tangle of flames and insults, being saved and being scorned. Fear gave way to confusion.
Somehow, and Draco never really understood how or why, but he was invited, more than once, to the Three Broomsticks with Neville's friends. It was almost becoming a regular occurrence. First, Neville asked him along after their long work session the next Saturday, but then he helped Luna with her Potions homework and she asked him along, and one day Hermione had dropped into the greenhouses to ask them both about the project, and before Neville could ask, she'd told him they would have to continue their conversation on the way to the pub. Mostly he would sit quietly at the sidelines, watching and listening, and even though he hated to admit it to himself, he was starting to like them all. They slowly asked him to call him by their given names — all but Potter and Weasley, who still watched him with distrust. Still, since spending time with them, Draco hated to admit it, but he was starting to think of them as Harry and Ron too. He would watch Potter the most, wary of the glances he received in return, long and speculative, or short and scowling. He rarely spoke to him, too scared of how he might react. The times they did speak it was through necessity, stilted and awkward, a quiet 'excuse me' or 'thank you'.
"So when are you going to make a move on her, Dean?" asked Seamus, weaving slightly from side-to-side. Dean glanced over at Potter, a look of horror on his face.
"I don't know what you're t–t–talking about," he stuttered. Seamus threw his head back and laughed loudly. Once he recovered, he paused to wipe his eyes.
"Oh, Harry doesn't mind, do you, Harry?" Seamus asked, blustering on.
"Er, no, I don't mind. Up to her who she sees," muttered Potter, clearly embarrassed.
"I'm her brother, I should get a say," interrupted Ron.
"No, no you don't!" said Hermione laughing. At that moment, Ginny returned from the bar, carrying several drinks.
"No you don't, what, Ron?" she asked, pointedly. He blushed and shook his head.
Draco watched them all with amusement. This was a recurring theme of these nights out – Dean's obvious mooning after Ginny, and his reluctance to do anything. They all handled things so differently from his Slytherin friends. It had all been most entertaining, this way, but now it was becoming a little tiresome.
"He doesn't get a say in who you go out with," Draco said in a quiet low voice, just wanting them to get on with it. He wasn't doing anything anyone else round the table didn't want to do.
"Shut up, Malfoy, it's none of your business," snapped Potter. Draco flushed and bit his lip and the from what I can see it isn't yours either, response he wanted to make. Ginny however, leapt to his defence.
"Oi, leave him alone. He's right, anyway. You," and she pointed at Ron, "can't decide who I go out with," and here, her eyes bright and the courage of a couple of pints in her voice, she turned to Dean. "And maybe, I know who I'd like to see, and I don't need my brother to tell me or approve my choices," and she fairly leapt onto Dean's lap and kissed him. Ron recoiled in horror. Others whooped and whistled, and Seamus broke the kiss by slamming his hand on Dean's back in congratulations. Dean smiled sheepishly, then grabbed Ginny for another kiss.
Draco looked back at Potter, who watched the couple for a second, a wistful expression on his face, then turned away and sighed. As if he knew he was being watched, Potter turned to glare at him.
"What are you staring at?" and Draco immediately cast his eyes down. "Stupid ferret," added Potter, and Draco ground his teeth. Stupid speccy scarhead, he thought, but he kept his mouth clamped firmly shut. Potter sighed loudly. Draco heard him mutter "Don't know why he's here, anyway," as he turned back to Ron. Draco counted to ten in his head, even as he felt the sting at the back of his eyes. This was pathetic. He could see he was slowly becoming something, even just at the edge, of this group of friends, but Potter would never want to be his friend, or even a civil acquaintance. He of course, had coveted Potter's friendship since he was eleven. Trying hard to hide how hurt he felt, Draco returned to his watching and listening; the quiet man in the corner.
There was a full moon and the slightly unsteady bunch of young people had their route marked out by the sharp divisions between moonlight and the dark of the shadows, as they made their way home from Hogsmeade. The scene was eerily quiet and bright, snow covering everything as far as they could see. Even so, they were still stumbling and giggling loudly as they did so. Dean and Ginny walked hand in hand.
Draco never drank much, not happy at the thought of losing control: what small bits of control he had over his life, he held onto tightly. He stayed at the edge of the group, nearer those who tolerated him the best, Luna and Hermione. He kept walking ahead of the group, and forced himself to slow to match the more leisurely pace of the others. Draco heard the rumble before anyone else, a deep growling noise. The ground shook slightly, and then dipped in front of them. Draco immediately knew what it was: a giant collapsing gnome hole. Hermione was dangerously close to the fast-appearing dip in the middle of the road. Without thinking, Draco lunged sideways and grabbed her, pulling her up with one arm, just as she began to slip down into the hole opening up beneath her feet. By the time she had righted herself, a wide deep gap was visible, black in the midst of the compacted snow of the path. Luna stood at its edge, her feet stopping just before the ground gave way. She was staring down into the hole, and Neville made his way to her and pulled her back, gently. Ron had rushed to Hermione's side and held her close. He looked up at Draco.
"Thank you," he said, his voice shaking. "You were so quick. I– I wouldn't have reached her in time," he took in a great, shuddering breath before continuing. "I haven't seen a gnome hole this big for years." Draco shrugged in acknowledgment of the thanks. His air of nonchalance though, was rather ruined by the breathless quality to his voice as he explained to some of the more puzzled-looking in the group.
"Collapsing gnome-holes. I've seen it at home. They burrow and join them together until there is just a big void under the ground. The sound is a dead give away," he turned to Hermione. "Are you ok? Sorry I pulled you away so hard." She looked up, her eyes wide and face pale, and nodded.
"No, it's fine. Thanks," and the group edged round the hole and made their way back to Hogwarts, somewhat more subdued than before. Draco slunk to the back, uncomfortable with the attention. He had become used to being on the periphery, being ignored. Ron kept his arm around Hermione all the way back. They weren't an overtly demonstrative couple, but this seemed to be the exception.
Draco was startled when Potter fell into step with him.
"I– thank you," he started. Draco forced himself to look at Potter. He could already feel adrenaline rushing through his veins after grabbing at Hermione like that, but turning to talk to Potter pushed him into a shallow-breathing state of nervous anxiety. The moonlight was bright; Potter's face a sharp contrast between white skin and black hair. It was so far from the memory of flames that he calmed a little. Potter sighed, a cloud of white in front of his face.
"I– I might have been... wrong about you. I haven't heard you insult Neville or Hermione or anyone else. I haven't really heard you speak except about work. I— I'm still not entirely sure about you, but I don't think I've got the energy for hate anymore." Draco looked at Potter with suspicion. Was this really the same person who had called him names only an hour or two earlier? Harry returned his look, calmly, then held out his hand. "Truce?" he asked. Draco regarded the hand in front of him, the look of earnest effort on Potter's face. The knot of self-hatred deep inside of him relaxed, slightly, despite his misgivings. He nodded and shook Potter's hand. Even through his gloves, Draco could feel that it was cold but solid. They looked at each other for a moment, then started walking back up to the others.
When Draco went to sleep that night, the flames were cool and far away. Potter though was close, and Draco felt him, solid beneath his arms, as he held on tight, the flames and death receding fast behind them.
Early on Sunday morning, Draco went down to the greenhouses to find Neville. They had only a few more leaves to harvest and potions to make, and then they could start testing and write up their project. He knew Neville would be there: Neville was always in the greenhouses. If Draco hadn't seen him out with his friends himself, it would have been easy to believe that Neville's only friends grew in pots under glass.
He was surprised when he got there though, to find that Neville was not alone. Potter was with him. He watched Potter for a moment. Merlin, but Potter had so much energy. He fairly fizzed with it. He hummed and half sang snatches of song to himself as he moved. Neville had set him to work, repotting giant Flutterby and Screechsnap plants. Although it was still chilly and misty outside, the greenhouses were warm and slightly humid. Potter had stripped to his t-shirt, and Draco could see he was beginning to sweat from the exertion of digging and lifting. There were smears of dirt across his t-shirt, arms and face. His skin had the pallor of winter about it, and to Draco, it looked wrong. Potter was always tanned, his skin should look like he spent all his time outdoors. But it didn't. Draco blinked and looked away. He shouldn't be staring at anyone like that, least of all Potter. He turned to Neville and flushed, sure that he'd noticed how long Draco had stared at Potter, and feeling he'd been caught out somehow.
"I, er, I came to see how the plants are doing. And to see if you were around too. I didn't realise you'd have company," explained Draco in a rush, eager to turn Neville's attention back to something else.
Potter stopped what he was doing, and looked up. He wiped the sweat from his brow, leaving behind a dusting of fine soil, a wide streak across his face. Draco swallowed. He looked so... And why did every room he find himself with Potter in have to be so airless?
Draco forced his eyes back to Neville, again.
Neville though, had noticed where he had been looking and nodded over to Potter. "He comes in on a Sunday, sometimes. Helps me with some of the more back-breaking tasks. Don't you, Harry?" Potter shrugged and returned to his task. Draco tried hard not to become distracted by the strong, confident movements of Potter's body.
"I just wanted to chat about how we can divide up the report and essay portion of our project. I've jotted down some headings we could work from. I was thinking..." Draco trailed off when he saw the look of annoyance on Neville's face, and the way his eyes flicked to Harry as if to say what an annoying idiot Draco is. Harry avoided Neville's eye and kept digging.
"Oh, I didn't think... are you free now, or later?" said Draco. Neville grimaced slightly.
"You know, Draco, I do have other work to do too."
"Oh, yes, yes, I know. I just had nothing else to do this morning," or the rest of the day, as usual, "so I thought I'd come find you... but I can see I've been taking up too much of your time. I– I shouldn't have come here." He finished almost on a whisper, and bowed his head, defeated.
"No, no you shouldn't. I know we're working together, but I'm not just here for your convenience! We already spent all of yesterday together. Anyway, I do have something else to do now: Professor Sprout is going to show me a particularly tricky patch of Devil's Snare in the Forest, she needs a hand with it. I'm sorry, Draco, but now really isn't the best time." Looking up, Draco noticed the professor, pacing up and down outside the greenhouse. Neville was flustered now, his cheeks reddened and visibly annoyed. There was a silence as Draco looked at the floor and bit back a defence.
Relenting slightly, Neville sighed and added "Look, we can still meet – how about the library, about three?" Draco nodded mutely and Neville left to join Professor Sprout. They were soon involved in animated conversation, as they walked towards the Forbidden Forest. Draco watched them as they shrank into the distance. He hated himself for getting caught up in his desire for acceptance and believing they were friends outside of this project. He hated how pathetic he felt.
After a moment Draco remembered that Potter was in the room. Great, a moment of weakness witnessed by Harry Potter: it really didn't get any worse than that. Taking a deep breath, he turned to face the pair of eyes he could already feel burning into his back. Potter was standing there, his hands tight on his spade, knuckles white.
"What happened to you?" asked Potter, his voice holding an edge of anger. "Where's your fight gone?"
Draco sighed. "What use is fight, to me?" Potter just looked at him, his face screwed up, his incomprehension and frustration clear to see. "You of all people know how I used to... strut around. If I want to be anything, do anything in my life, I have to get away from that." For some reason, Draco felt he was pleading. He wanted Potter to understand. "I can't be who I was. I can't," he whispered. Potter took a step closer to him.
"But you're not being you. This isn't you. I–", he stopped and ran a hand through his hair. "My friends are ok, but everyone else calls me a hero, a saviour, and–", he looked up, his mouth looking like he wanted to speak, almost moving, but no words coming out. Eventually though, he managed to finish what he wanted to say, "–the only person who ever challenged me was you. And Snape. But he's gone and you... you're this empty version of yourself." He shook his head. "Nev's a mate, but I never thought I'd see the day when he talked down to you like that."
"And this is supposed to make me feel better somehow?
"No," said Potter through teeth clenched together, "you can have changed but still have some life left in you, you know. You're infuriating." Draco's pulse was loud and fast in his ears. He had spent years wanting to get this kind of a reaction, a confession of his importance, from Potter, and now he had it, what could he do? He stared at Potter.
"You're right, but I'm– it's not easy, acting this way, keeping my thoughts to myself."
"Then why don't you just let go sometimes?"
"Because what would happen to me then? I'm just going to keep my head down and get through this year, then I'm going to try to make something of my life," Draco shrugged. "That's my plan."
Potter gave him a long look. "Ok, I can understand that. Just... just don't feel you have to be that way around me. Honestly, I'd prefer if you never do that whole humble bowing thing with me," he shuddered.
"Oh, I'm sure that will go down well, me mouthing off to the Chosen One. It will do my reputation no end of good," Draco began to feel his anger rising. "Actually, you really have no idea, at all, what it's like for me," he took a deep breath. "No one talks to me. The teachers despise me. I have seen death and torture and I have no choice but to be here, humbled and repenting, to show I am not the person I was." His hands were clenched at his sides in fists by the time he had finished. Potter just looked at him sadly. "Honestly, Potter, I can see the cogs whirring as you think! Say something."
Slowly, deliberately, Potter spoke. He had a strange light in his eye. "OK, I guess I hadn't thought it through properly. But... I wish that you could be yourself. In the end, you know, it will be easier if you can be who you really are. Living a half-life just doesn't suit you. But I'll leave you alone."
Draco was reminded of Pansy, oddly, for a moment. But then Potter was gone, and Draco was alone in the greenhouse, the smell of earth and sweat in the air.
He went for a long walk, Potter's words echoing round his head. It was the first time in so long that anyone had wanted to talk to him, the real him, and for it to be Potter was a little confusing, but mostly filled him with rage. It was too late now. The futility of the situation struck him hard. He stomped his feet, each jolt against the ground helping to calm him a little. By the time he had got to the lake, he was feeling a little calmer. But Potter's words still whirled through his mind, unsettling him. How could he reclaim a bit of who he was? Now the words had been said, he knew they were true. He sat by the cold water and thought. The water looked deep and black, but it did reflect the sky through the ripples of its gentle waves. Draco was stiff and cold by the time he stood up, but he knew what he wanted to do.
The door to the Quidditch store was stiff in the damp air. Draco pushed it open with his shoulder, and five minutes later was kitted out with a broom, gloves, flying cap and goggles. Everything smelled musty and a year ago he would never have touched any of these things, judging them inferior and disgusted at the thought of second-hand sweat. Actually, that still disgusted him a little. He hadn't been on a broom since Potter had saved him, and he needed to do this. He needed to get back in the air, just for himself. He had always loved flying. He would have come out the day before, but he had been busy with Neville. Who had offered him a half-apology, bundled up with a half-smile. It was enough for Draco.
No one else was around: it was a cold and miserable day. Most of the snow had melted, grey and slushy patches all that remained, here and there. Clouds hung, dark and heavy in the sky. Draco stood, ready to move up into the sky but stuck firmly on the ground. He closed his eyes, and saw flames. But then he focused on Potter's words. "No more half-life," he whispered to himself. Draco felt fear compete with excitement as he pushed off from the ground. And then he was flying, up higher and higher, and he felt everything drop away beneath him. The wind was loud in his ears, and he aimed the old broom straight ahead and flew it as fast as he could. He flew into the wind shouting, he flew with it at his back, pushing him to higher speeds. He felt gusts of it threaten to unseat him, and he didn't care. He flew until his fingers, even in the cracked leather of old gloves, felt carved of ice, and reluctantly he made his way back to the ground.
Draco stood panting, his whole body shaking with the exertion of his flight. He felt like himself. He took off his goggles and undid the straps of his flying cap and pulled it off his head, letting the wind catch his hair, whipping it about his head. It was long enough now that it reached far past his collar. He wanted to just feel the wind. He turned slightly, so it blew through his hair and kept it off his face, and closed his eyes. He felt the sweat on his scalp cool, and shivered slightly. The wind was strong, and he felt the flush of his cheeks as a rawness as the cold air moved across his face; the occasional tendril of hair a whip across his sensitive skin. He faced into the wind and laughed with pure joy.
It looked as if it was going to get dark soon. Reluctantly, he turned to put back the things he'd borrowed. He jumped back in shock: there, watching him, was Potter. He was leant up against the Quidditch shack, his eyes dark, fixed on Draco. Draco walked towards him, ready to tell him to just leave him alone. But as he got closer he became unnerved by Potter's unwavering attention. He slowed his stride, then stopped. Potter was still staring at him. The words he had meant to say fell away. They stood like that for a moment.
"You look... different," said Potter, quietly. "I er, I was out for a walk, and I saw you flying. You were fantastic. And just now, standing there, you looked... free. Your hair..." and here Harry trailed off, flushing and looking embarrassed. He finally broke his gaze as his eyes moved back in the direction of the school. "We should be getting back now," he said, and pushed himself away from the rough wood of the large shed. "I'll just let you put your things away," he muttered, and he walked away a short distance, facing away from Draco.
Draco's breathing was fast and shallow as he put the broom and the rest of the things back onto the dusty shelves. He took a deep breath and stepped out. Potter still had his back to him. He jumped when Draco joined him.
"Sorry," said Draco. Potter shook his head.
"It doesn't matter, I'm just a bit distracted today," and Draco nodded. They walked for a while, saying nothing. Their strides were evenly matched, and they set quite a fast pace. Draco got the impression that it was Potter's energy again, pulling them forward.
Draco was unsure why Potter was there. He glanced over at him. Potter's eyes were fixed forward, focused far in the distance. His jaw was set in firm lines. Draco looked away before Potter noticed him looking again. Their feet made little noise on the damp grass, and the day – what was left of it – still felt invigorating.
"I hadn't been on a broom before today, not since..." said Draco. Potter turned his attention back on him, and once again Draco felt himself floundering under its intensity. There was a silence.
"Sometimes I dream about it–" said Potter.
"The flames," Draco finished for him. "Me too."
"So why today?" asked Potter. Draco stopped walking and looked at him.
"You know why," he sighed, "it was what you said to me. I wanted to do something that was just... me."
Potter looked at him, his eyes green and fiery. Draco suddenly realised how close they were standing. He could feel his heart beating all of a sudden; it felt as if it wanted to escape his chest. They were so close and it was what he had always wanted at some level, just to be close. The nearest he got was when he dreamed at night. He watched the way the wind tugged Potter's hair, and he wanted to touch it. He remembered Potter staring as the wind blew through his own hair.
"It suits you... just being you," whispered Potter. This felt different to their previous conversations: it felt more raw. Draco looked away. Potter put a hand on his arm, "Malfoy, look at me," but Draco couldn't bring himself to. Hope rose and mingled with fear and bitterness. "Draco," said Potter, and Draco finally looked at him. "You have to be you again. Every time I look at you and you shrink away, from everyone else, from life, all I can see is a reminder of the war. We have to move beyond it, all of us."
Draco felt disappointment wash through him. He had hoped to hear different words from Potter. Yet again he had been stupid to trust in hope. He shrugged it off and tried to respond.
"You called me Draco," he said. Potter cocked his head.
"I wanted to get your attention. It worked," he smiled. Draco smiled back, shyly.
"Do you think we could? Call each other by our names, I mean?" he asked. Potter's smile broadened.
"Yes, I think I'd like that, Draco."
"Ok then, Harry," the name felt strange on his tongue. It was just as raw and intimate as everything else. At that moment, he couldn't think about life plans or what his mother would say; it was just the two of them, Draco and Harry, standing on some grass with a darkening sky above them. After a minute or two, Draco nodded back in the direction of the school, and they started walking again.
"You know," said Harry, "you were pretty good up there today, but I can see that you've got a bit rusty. Your turns looked a bit... sluggish."
"Sluggish! I'd like to see you do better, Pot– Harry," said Draco. Harry flashed a smile at him.
"See, you really are getting back to yourself," and the mood was lightened. They carried on walking, chatting a bit about flying, even batting a few mild insults between the two of them, until they reached the castle. At the main entrance Harry looked down and shuffled his feet.
"I guess Ron and Hermione might be looking for me by now. I'd better go. But... keep being yourself, ok?"
"Ok, but you're going to have to stop going on about it. It could get irritating after a while," Draco smiled. Harry's eyes were warm as he smiled for a moment, then turned away. He looked back once, then disappeared through the doors.
Draco went down to the Slytherin common room. It was quite busy, in that time between lessons and dinner when friends catch up and the students in general found ways to unwind a little from their day. He felt the familiar pang as he saw Blaise and Pansy, heads bent together, on the sofa by the fire. Most people didn't even bother looking up as he came in, but those who did sneered at his sweaty, windswept appearance. For once, he didn't care, buoyed by the knowledge that he was becoming, perhaps, friends with Harry Potter. Pansy gave him a long look, which he couldn't quite read. Draco snuck into the showers, which were blissfully empty at this time of day. As the hot water pounded down onto his shoulders and neck, he let out a long, shuddering sigh. It had been almost too much, being watched by Potter – Harry, being close to him. Draco closed his eyes.
Friendship was good. Friendship was what he'd wanted, for years. But now, remembering Harry's face lit by the fading light of the day, remembering his hair moving in the wind, remembering the intense gaze he'd fixed Draco with, Draco wanted more. His mind flashed to the memory of Harry, solid under his arms, and it mingled with his dream-memories. He moaned. He wanted to feel that solidity again. He wanted to touch that restless energy which sparked around Harry. It wasn't going to happen, it couldn't happen. But just the thought of it, as the water ran down his body, was forcing his body to react. His body felt alive, from his scalp to his toes. Blood coursed through him, and seemed to pool in a tight focus of want in his dick. Too far gone to care if anyone walked in, he leant one hand against the wall, resting his head against the tiles, and let the images swarm in his mind. He snaked his hand down and with fevered, long strokes, thought of Harry: black hair, green eyes, a smear of dirt across his face. His heart was squeezing almost painfully, and then he was coming, long spurts hitting the tiles before being washed away. The relief of orgasm eased his heart. He rested, panting, until he got his breath back. Some of the frustration he felt had left his body.
Unexpectedly, when Draco got dressed, he still felt good, despite the impossibility of the situation. He went down to dinner, feeling lighter than he had done in ages. As he sat at the end of the table, separated by only a short distance from chattering first years, he was only aware of Harry at the Gryffindor table. It was reflex, after so many years, to glance over at the spot usually occupied by Harry and his friends, but this time felt different.
The hall was filled with loud chatter and Draco couldn't hear what Ron and Hermione were saying to Harry, but he could see that Harry was distracted and that they were trying to get his attention. At that moment, Harry looked up and straight at Draco. Their eyes met for a second, and Harry immediately flushed and looked away. He threw himself into conversation at the Gryffindor table, and Draco did not see him looking again.
Lying in bed that night, he thought about Harry before he went to sleep. Hope was creeping back, pulling its way up into his soul. Maybe, maybe, this time it could stay. When he fell asleep, there were no flames. Just the broom moving through the air, his arms clasped tight round Harry, his head pressed to his back.
Draco began to watch Harry more. He wasn't sure, but sometimes his eyes seemed to linger on Draco. And when they were together, things had changed too.
"Watch it!" said Draco, "you have to stir ANTI-clockwise, not clockwise."
They were sat in a NEWT Potions class. Without really realising it, they had sat next to each other and were now tasked with making Calming Draught, of all things, together. It was a little more subtle and challenging than the sleeping potion they had both grown so accustomed to making. The room was busy with the noise of chatting partners, and it masked their conversation slightly.
"And do you have to be so messy while you work?"
Harry finished counting his stirs, and put the glass rod down carefully. He fixed Draco with a look which spoke of fast-dwindling patience.
"Draco, you're going to have to loosen up a bit if we're going to work together."
"Loosen up? This isn't Quidditch, Harry. This needs to be exact and precise. It's Potions."
"I know it's Potions," said Harry, rolling his eyes. "Fire, cauldron, big pile of ingredients... couldn't be anything else, now, could it?"
"Well if you can work that out, perhaps it wouldn't be beyond you to keep everything you chop neat and separate," said Draco, pushing Harry's hand away from the pile of lacewings he was about to contaminate with the sage leaves he'd just shredded. His hand tingled where it had touched Harry's, and he absent-mindedly rubbed it as he checked the potions book for the next step.
When he looked up, Harry's eyes were on him, but he quickly looked down at his own text book. Draco felt a spark of possibility thrill through him. He looked at Harry's face. His shaggy hair hung down, and there was a frown of concentration on his brow. His tongue, wet and pink, peeked out from between his lips and slowly licked across them as he sucked in his top lip and reread the instructions. Draco stopped breathing. His hands were clenched into fists in his lap. Shaking slightly, he forced himself to look away and inhaled deeply.
The fumes of the Calming Draught were acrid as they wafted from the cauldron. Draco frowned, checked the book, and added a pinch of sage. The scent dispersed. Harry looked at him questioningly and then nodded in approval. Draco snorted.
"As if you know why I did that," he said.
"I– actually, you're right. I don't know exactly why you did it. But it does smell better now," said Harry a little sheepishly. Draco huffed and leant forward to turn the page Harry was looking at.
"Here," he said, and he jabbed a finger halfway down the next page, "see, it tells you that the potion should be 'clean-smelling and fair: a foul air shall spoil your effort'. If you had actually read the instructions, you would have known that already."
"Well you looked in the book, you had to look it up! Don't make out that you're such a know-it-all, Draco."
"I looked in the book because I remembered there was something about the smell. I was merely checking, so I could be exact and precise. Potions, remember?"
But Harry didn't answer. Draco suddenly became aware that as they both sat, tall stools pulled close together, looking at the book, he was now pressed up against Harry. Their thighs were touching, and Draco's elbow was nearly in Harry's side. He could hear him breathing. He darted his eyes sideways, and saw that Harry's eyes were closed. He forgot what he'd been saying – he had no idea what they'd been talking about. All he could see were the black eyelashes below thin eyelids, fine veins just visible. He tore his eyes away, but his body was frozen there, the heat from Harry seeping through their clothes, touching his skin. He could feel the dense solidity of muscle against his own. He heard Harry swallow. And then he felt Harry's body shift, subtly, away from him, and heard the scratch of quill on parchment. This time when he looked over, Harry was making notes, a studious look on his face.
Draco could still feel Harry's warmth along his leg, but it was just the memory of the sensation. Harry seemed unaffected, busy scribbling away, but Draco could feel his heart as it beat in his chest, he could feel the heat in his cheeks, and most mortifyingly he could feel the growing tightness in his trousers. He knew his lap was covered by his robes as well as the potions bench itself, but he still turned his body slightly, angling it away from Harry.
He forced himself to go through his mental checklist for this potion, and seeing that it was now a pale blue, added the rest of the sage. It took every bit of self-discipline that he possessed, but Draco didn't touch Harry again, and they finished making the potion without further incident.
His dreams became a torment of fire; desire licking its way across his body like flames. And always Harry, sometimes there with him, sometimes out of reach, Draco missing his hand and falling back into the flames.
"I don't know why I thought this would be a good idea," muttered Draco, running a hand through his hair. Neville fixed him with a hard glare.
"It's a bit late to complain now," he said, through gritted teeth. They were in a disused classroom, surrounded by lots of pink, fluffy little creatures. They were all on separate little cushions, and were all fast asleep. The room was filled with the sound of tiny snores and snuffles. It had just taken them an hour to give each one a carefully measured dose of sleeping potion, and there were complex spells on each, timing the duration of their sleep, as well tracking which version of the potion each Pygmy Puff had been given. Draco walked over to the one corner free of the creatures, to check that the charmed parchment was recording all the data accurately. It all looked fine.
"You do realise," Neville said, with an evil grin, "that we are going to have them all waking up again in about half an hour, don't you? And that we'll have to wait here until every last one is awake. And then get them back to Hagrid." Draco groaned. This was the part of the project he had dreaded the most. Neville sighed, long and loud. He caught Neville's eye, and then the two of them were laughing so hard they had to sit down, and wipe tears from their faces once they had stopped.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done," said Neville. They had spent all morning ferrying the Pygmy Puffs over a few at the time. And then it had taken ages to separate and magically label them all. "You've been a good work partner, Draco," said Neville, suddenly. His words came out in a rush. "You're bright and you work hard, and I've enjoyed working with you." He chuckled to himself. "I never thought I'd say it, but you're ok, Draco. You're ok."
Draco blinked, surprised. "Thanks," he whispered, a little overwhelmed.
"Friends?" asked Neville, extending his hand. Draco paused, and smiled before responding.
"Friends," he said, taking Neville's hand and shaking it. "After everything I've done, I never expected to... I never thought I'd be making new friends this year," he murmured.
"Well you have," said Neville, decisively, and gave his hand one more shake for emphasis before letting go.
The moment was broken by the sounds of quills scratching as the first few Pygmy Puffs woke up. Draco looked at them with an appraising eye and frowned, then conjured a large basket. Neville's eyes widened and he nodded in approval. As each of the little creatures woke up, he and Neville levitated them into it. They chatted quietly during the lulls in the wakings.
"Do you think maybe it was a bad idea to test the potions all at once?" asked Draco.
"Maybe," laughed Neville, "but I just want to get this over and done with now." Draco nodded. He knew what Neville meant. They were almost four months into the project and Draco was getting a bit tired of going over the same old questions.
"Just the write up left to go," he said. "Well, and the presentation too."
"We'll be fine, Draco, I think we make a good team," said Neville. Draco nodded, smiling in agreement.
Two hours later they wearily made their way back to Hagrid's hut, levitating the basket, with its lid magically stuck shut, along behind them. It had been a bizarre, tiring day, but Draco had been dogged by the feeling that something was missing. It was only later that he realised what it was: it felt strange not having Harry there, laughing alongside them. But there was no more reason for them to spend time together outside of lessons, now they had finished brewing all the variations of the sleeping potion. Draco felt a pang of regret at the thought.
Over the next week Draco finished writing up his share of the project, and the next weekend they put it all together. He felt a quiet pride in their work, and began to think about life beyond Hogwarts: perhaps he might do further work research with potions, that whole side to the project had fascinated him.
His dreams that week were searing fragments of images: flames which transformed into towering piles of small furry bodies, firm handshakes, flying through the air and always, always, Harry, tantalising close yet somehow out of his grasp. The nights Harry receded from sight entirely left Draco gasping as he woke, overwhelmed by a feeling of emptiness.
"Oh don't be such a baby, we won't hurt you, come on!" said Neville, standing by the portrait of the Fat Lady. "I want to celebrate the fact that we did well in our project. And Draco," he put his hand on Draco's shoulder, "I really couldn't have done it without you." Draco smiled shyly at the praise. He knew that it was nothing but the truth, of course, but it meant a lot to hear Neville saying the words. He nodded and followed Neville in through the portrait hole.
Neville rushed to the centre of the Gryffindor common room, which was, predictably, hung in red and full of earnest Gryffindors. "We did it! She loved the project," he turned to Harry, who was perched on the arm of a sofa, reading a book. "Thanks for helping us out." Harry looked at them both, his eyes resting on Draco, and smiled.
"My pleasure," he said. Draco felt his cheeks redden and he looked away. He looked around the room, curious. It was much lighter than the Slytherin common room, which was to be expected really, as it wasn't underground. It was crowded and looked comfortable. Draco felt a stir of disappointment: as an eleven-year old he had imagined that it would have mounted animal heads on the wall alongside lots of spears, or something equally tasteless and manly, not something so welcoming as this. When he looked back, Harry had gone, which was how things were now - friendly when they saw each other, but not seeing that much of each other.
By now Neville had launched into a full-on impression of Professor Sprout. Draco was a little shocked – Neville always seemed to revere his teacher. But then here he was surrounded by his friends, and for all there weren't spears on the wall, they were still Gryffindors.
"I don't know how you did it boys," Neville said in a voice which somehow seemed to catch the woman's odd inflections, "but somehow you haven't killed each other. Full marks, indeed. Oh yes, and the project was fine too." He burst out laughing. When he spoke again, it was in his normal voice. "She awarded twenty points each to Gryffindor and Slytherin for 'excellent inter-house co-operation', and she might have said a bit more about our work too," Neville said, smiling broadly.
His friends were happy for him, and no one commented on Draco's presence, apart from Hermione who came over to talk to him about their work. She seemed genuinely interested and she was animated as she asked him question after question. Hermione was fascinated about the effects of each variant of Sleeping Draught on the sleep cycles of the Pygmy Puffs, and spoke with such conviction about the implications for the brewing of Polyjuice that Draco began to grow suspicious about possible extra-curricular potions work. The whole experience was a little surreal. It was not where he had imagined he would be a year ago.
Eventually, Hermione seemed to satisfy her curiosity, and went off to talk to other people. Draco stood a little uncertainly, unsure about what to do now. Although he hadn't been thrown out as soon as he walked in, he still wasn't sure if he really belonged here. It was so... loud. Jovial. Draco appreciated the company, but could have done with it all being a little more quiet. He felt bad for a moment. He should be feeling more grateful. But now he had begun to remember who he was, to talk to people again, it was becoming harder to maintain his humble and obedient thoughts and façade. Draco noticed Luna standing talking to Ginny by one of the windows. Moving away from the group around Neville, who was still very excited, he made his way over to them. As he got closer though, he realised that they were also talking to someone sat on the deep windowsill. It was Harry. He hung back for a moment.
Luna and Ginny were in the midst of a deep conversation about Conjuring Charms. Ginny had been a little warmer towards him since he'd helped push her and Dean together. Still, Draco was instantly bored, as they were just going over a sixth year essay question. They were making some good points about the differences between conjuring birds and mice, he conceded, but he didn't really feel like joining in. He took the opportunity to stand back, hoping the folds of the heavy curtains would hide him from Harry's view for a while longer, and watch him instead. Harry was sat with his back against the stone side to the window, clear evidence of just how thick the castle walls were. His knees were drawn up in front of him, and he had his arms wrapped around them. He looked totally at ease.
Draco suspected that Harry wasn't listening at all, as he rested his head on his knees, and turned to stare out of the window. Draco could just make out the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, and he looked like he could almost be asleep. Harry looked peaceful, and for a moment Draco felt the urge to sit next to him and share the warmth of his body. He was interrupted though, by Luna noticing his presence.
"Oh, hello, Draco," she said. "It's strange, isn't it, being in another common room?" Draco nodded. She hummed in response.
"I still think that you're wrong," said Ginny, and Draco was startled, unsure why she'd feel that about Luna's comment. But then it became clear that her mind was still on her essay when she added, "My Standard Book of Spells is upstairs in my room. We could settle this now." Luna sighed but turned to go with her.
"See you, Harry, Draco," called out Luna, with Ginny adding a distracted "Bye," and then they were gone, still arguing it out.
"She always was stubborn," said Harry, and guessing by the slightly sad look on his face, Draco decided he must be talking about his former girlfriend. Stubborn wasn't a word people tended to use when describing Luna, although it was a good fit for her too.
"I don't know, it's good to see people so passionate about their work," said Draco.
"Like you are?" asked Harry. Draco shrugged.
"There's not much else for me to focus on, at the moment," but Harry shook his head.
"I don't believe you. I've seen you flying," and the memory which came to Draco wasn't the wind rushing past or the feeling of freedom, but Harry leaning up against the Quidditch shed, looking at him with hot eyes. Harry flushed, perhaps remembering the same thing. "I mean, no one flies the way you do without passion to drive them. It's why I could never believe your quiet act: you just can't lock that away."
"What use is passion though, without hope?" asked Draco, thinking of the hours he had spent, subdued, just trying to get by in class, little or no hope in the future.
Harry coughed and spluttered, and Draco suddenly realised what he had said.
"I meant how could I care about anything other than work when no one trusts me?" added Draco quickly. "I've lived without trust, or hope, since I came back here," and he sighed, heavily. He hadn't thought about it as much recently, but his future still felt pretty bleak. Harry, recovered and looking sober now, eyed him curiously.
"You still believe that?"
"I don't know. Yes, probably," Draco sat down at the opposite end of the window to Harry, his life weighing him down again. He rubbed at his eyes. "It is... amazing that you have all... accepted me like this. Astounding, really, but at least we've known each other for years. Out there are people who have never met me, who hate me, who will always hate me, for who I am, my name. And for what I've done," he finished, on a whisper. He looked up when he felt a warm pressure on his knee. Harry had leant forward and had placed his hand there.
"Draco, if I have learned one thing, it is that there is always hope," he said, his voice gentle but intense, his eyes focused solely on Draco's face. They were sat closely now, and Draco could feel the warmth from Harry's body, where their legs touched, and from the hand, still on his knee. Harry's hair had fallen in front of his eyes, his long fringe hiding his scar. Draco fought the urge to reach up and brush it aside, find the lightning bolt and trace it with his finger. They were just so close. He could just feel the edges of Harry's breath touch his skin. Draco swallowed. Harry might want him to have hope, but this was one area in which he couldn't quite make the leap. In his dreams maybe, but not like this, not face-to-face.
He leant back, the cold stone against his back a welcome reminder of where he was. Harry sat back too, finally pulling his hand away from Draco's leg. Draco could still feel it there though, a warm and gentle pressure.
Harry looked out of the window again, wrapping a silence around him. Draco didn't know how to break it. He wanted, he really wanted, to reach out and touch Harry back. But liking another boy at school, he had long ago learned, did not necessarily mean that they liked him back. And that was without them being Harry Potter.
"I still can't trust in hope," he said, quietly. Harry looked back at him. "It's just not enough, sometimes." Harry shook his head, and took a breath as if to speak, but said nothing. His eyes didn't leave Draco's face, as if he was searching for something.
"There is always hope, Draco," he repeated, in the end. This time Draco looked away. They sat there in silence for a while, until it became almost comfortable: just two friends sitting together at the edge of a room.
Draco crept into the Slytherin common room, well past curfew. Dark windows, black and empty, reflected his face back as he walked past. The room was empty, a low fire casting a red glow at the far end. Draco thought of the warmth and noise of the Gryffindors, a trace of a smile on his lips. He walked up to the fire, staring into the flames as if searching for answers. He was startled to hear his name being spoken.
"Draco," whispered Pansy. She had been hidden from view, lying across the sofa by the fire. Her face was soft with sleep, and stretched then rubbed at her eyes. Pansy yawned, then fixed her big, dark eyes on him. "I was waiting for you," she said, quietly.
"You're talking to me now?" asked Draco, bitterness sharpening his voice.
"Yes," she answered simply, "I am. Are you friends with Potter now?" Draco stared at her.
"You've broken your vow of silence, or whatever it was, to ask me that?" Pansy gave him a long look and sighed.
"I wasn't speaking to you because I tried to throw Potter to the Dark Lord, if you remember," she hissed, "and if you are friends with him now it negates the need for me to avoid you, doesn't it?" Draco said nothing. "I'm sorry, okay? I wanted to talk to you, but I couldn't. I couldn't! You know that," she took a breath. There was steel in her voice when she spoke again "Are you friends with Potter now? I only ever see you talk to Gryffindors now!"
"I speak to Ravenclaws, too."
"Draco! I am being serious here. Do not mock me."
"Well, who else am I going to talk to? And it's not like you care," he paused. "I thought you'd never speak to me again," he said, giving her a wounded look. "Anyway, why does it matter?
"Draco," Pansy said softly, "sit down, talk to me. You know you want to," and Draco gave in, and sat down next to her. He had missed her, he had missed all his friends.
"Yes, I'm friends with Potter now," he said quietly. He looked at her. "Sure you still want to be friends with me?" he asked, only half joking.
"Well, Gryffindors, really? Isn't it frightfully eager and a bit too... bold over there, for you?
"What do you think, that I'll turn into a Gryffindor overnight?" He said bitterly and he looked away, staring into the glowing fire, and whispered, "Don't worry, there's no chance of that happening. I'm too much of a coward."
"Draco, darling, don't be such an idiot. You don't want to be like them, do you? Oh, you can be friends, but you... you are you, and never forget it," Draco laughed quietly at her choice of words.
"Harry said exactly the same thing to me, Pansy," and she raised an eyebrow.
"You really are friends, aren't you? It's what you've always wanted... so why the long face?" Draco scowled. He'd barely been talking to her for two minutes and she was already nosing her way into his business. It was just like old times.
She looked at him as if trying to puzzle out his mysteries. Understanding dawned on her face, and she laughed. "Oh, I see," she said. "You're fooling no one, you know. I've seen the way you look at him. Oh don't look so shocked! I've known about your preference for years, silly. It's the only reason you'd turn me down, of course," she flicked her hair flirtatiously. But when she spoke again she was serious. "Have you been torturing yourself with this, Draco?" but he wouldn't answer her. She rested her head on his shoulder. "Silly boy," she said. They sat like that for a while. Draco had missed this, too: the feeling of being near another person.
After a long while, he spoke in small voice. "It's hopeless though, Pansy," and she sat up and faced him.
"You really believe that?"
He nodded. She looked thoughtful. "I'm not too sure. You're not the only one I've seen with the longing stares, you know." Draco flushed but shook his head sadly.
"Sometimes I can almost believe it, but it's just not... not the Boy Who Lived. It couldn't..." he trailed off.
"We'll see, Draco. We'll see."
Draco's dreams that night made his heart race and left him covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Harry was there and not there; a brush against his arm, a solid hand on his back, a flame flickering out in the distance.
Going down for meals became a different experience for Draco now that Pansy was speaking to him again. Sometimes he still chose to sit on his own: he had become accustomed to the solitude and besides, he wanted her to know that he hadn't entirely forgiven her, not quite yet. She seemed to respect his need for distance, and made little fuss when he sat away from her.
Draco looked over at the Gryffindor table frequently. Sometimes Neville saw him and they would smile at each other. But it was Harry who Draco was watching, and Harry would sometimes stare back, his expression unreadable, and sometimes look away quickly. Draco felt fear and uncertainty grow inside of him – now the Herbology project was finished, would he still be welcomed by Harry and his friends? A smile across the hall wasn't the same as an evening in the pub, and he knew it. It was wonderful having Pansy to talk to again, but it made his time with the Gryffindors seem like a dream, like something he had imagined. And he missed them, he realised.
Pansy and Draco were sat, talking quietly over breakfast one morning – Draco still basking in the warmth of having a friend to share the start of his day with – when Ron and Hermione, trailing Harry behind them, stopped at the Slytherin table. Heads all over the hall turned to see what was happening, speculation being hurriedly whispered at the other tables.
"So, er, Draco," started Ron, "we're having some friendly pick-up Quidditch and maybe some Seeker's games on Saturday," he paused and Hermione gave him a little push, "and, er, we were wondering if you'd like to play? I don't think anyone else fancies their chances against Harry." Draco looked at Ron, then Hermione, and finally Harry. His eyes stayed on Harry, as he answered.
"Yes, that sounds great. What time? Who's playing?"
"Me, Harry, Seamus, you and a few others," answered Ron. "Er, so see you there? Two o'clock?" Draco nodded and the trio walked off, to the sound of whispering from all around.
Pansy sighed and shook her head."Always so earnest," she said. Draco laughed, but sat back feeling satisfied too. Let everyone stare: he was just happy that they still wanted to be his friend. Although there was a part of him that revelled in how wonderfully public this declaration of friendship had been. And he was going to get to play Quidditch! He grinned to himself in happiness. Draco was so pleased he missed the backwards glance from Harry, and the twist of confusion in his body as he turned back. But Pansy saw it, and she smiled.
"Honestly, Draco, you'd think you've never put Quidditch leathers on before!" said Harry, exasperated.
"It has been a while," said Draco tersely, "sorry we don't all have a guaranteed place on the house team."
"I turned down the offer!" said Harry.
"Yes, but you had the offer first, didn't you?"
"Oh, here we go again. Is that the sound of a violin?"
"Always so original with the insults, Potter." Harry flashed him a grin. He seemed to find it amusing when Draco called him Potter.
"You're not worth much more effort than that, Malfoy."
"When you've both quite finished, do you think you could actually get the bloody things on?" shouted Ron. Harry glared at him, then marched back to where Draco was standing, holding his Quidditch gear in one hand.
"You haven't even got your robes off yet, Draco! Look, get them off and I'll help you get this gear strapped on," and Draco took this as a sign to drop all his gear and pull his robes over his head. Harry took a step back in surprise.
"Are those... jeans you're wearing, Draco?" Harry asked in a strangled voice. Draco had been mortified when Pansy had presented him with them that morning, insisting that they were just the thing to wear for a friendly game of Quidditch. Looking in the mirror, he couldn't really see how they'd be any more practical than his normal Quidditch gear, but had been flattered enough by the gift to wear them. He now suspected that she may have had another reason for wanting him to wear them.
"What?" he asked, "I'm just trying to fit in. You all wear jeans when you go flying."
"Yes, but not... those jeans are so... I..." Harry stopped talking as his mouth literally hung open for a moment. He snapped it shut but kept looking. "Bloody hell, Draco, but they're just so... tight."
"You don't expect me to wear nasty jeans, do you. I've been assured that these are the best," sniffed Draco.
"We're going flying, Draco, not clubbing," Draco looked puzzled. "It doesn't matter," muttered Harry, and he bent down to help Draco strap on his shin guards. He paused, and his hands were shaking slightly as they did up the buckles. The brush of nervous fingers and the pressure of leather being pulled through buckles then tightened on the backs of his legs was torturous, and Draco had to focus on reciting the names of all the Quidditch positions and balls, over and over again, to keep himself distracted from just how close Harry was to his– to him. Seeker, Chaser, Beater, Keeper, Bludger, Quaffle, Snitch. Seeker, Chaser, Beater... By the time he had finished, their faces were red and they both had a slight wildness about the eye. Draco forced himself to look at Harry to thank him for his help, but Harry ran back to Ron and the others before he could say anything. Picking up his broom, Draco hurried to catch up too.
"Took you long enough," grumbled Ron as they rejoined the group. There was a snigger and a cough from Seamus. Ron glared at him before continuing. "So we've only got two Chasers. The Bludger is a practice one – it's supposed to be a little less, er, aggressive." He handed Draco a white strip of fabric, Harry an orange one. "There'll hopefully be time for some Seeker's games too, afterwards. We ready now?" They all nodded and Luna tossed up the Snitch. Half the players wore white tied to their arms; the other half orange. The teams were a mix of Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, with Draco as the lone Slytherin. Everyone was calling each other by their first names, and everyone called him Draco.
It didn't take long before the old reflexes came back and he was flying through the air, focused only on finding the Snitch. He knew he loved flying, but he'd forgotten just how much he loved this too. It was fast and competitive. He'd only really been competing with himself this year, for better marks. This though, the urge to better someone else: it was magnificent. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Harry dip away, and he swiftly followed, leaning into his broom to make himself faster. They sped to the edge of the pitch, only to find nothing there. Harry turned his broom in a heart-stoppingly small space, and as he flew past Draco, he caught sight of his face. It was fierce and possessive and terrible, and he looked straight into Draco's eyes before disappearing behind him. Draco flew back to the main group of players, vaguely aware of the Chasers, Susan and Seamus on his team, Mandy and Ginny on the Orange team, moving back and forward as they moved the Quaffle through the air. He felt the air flick as he flew past Neville, hovering in front of the goal, his white band clear on his arm. A Bludger whistled past his ear, and suddenly Hannah was there, grinning ear-to-ear as she batted it far away from him. He was pulling himself away from the distractions of the other players, when, high above him, he spotted the gold flash of the Snitch. The sky was clear and the sun bright, and he had to squint to see it, but it was definitely there. He quickly scanned the field for Harry, and spied him at the other side of the Chasers, his team's Beaters, Terry and Ernie, flanking him while Dean sent the Bludger his way.
Hoping Harry was sufficiently distracted, Draco flew up to where he'd seen the Snitch, trying to make it look like he just wanted to survey the game below. The Snitch wasn't where it had been, but then, suddenly, he saw it moving in a Iine towards the far end, where Ron was guarding the Orange team's goals. It was also where most of the other players were. He saw Harry move up as he too, caught sight of it, and Draco knew that this was it. This was his chance to finally catch the Snitch. He put everything he had into his flight, his body held tight against his broom, the wind screaming in his ears as he hurtled towards the small gold ball. Harry was coming closer and closer, and as they reached the Snitch it became clear that they would collide if one of them didn't move over. Draco held fast to his line of flight, his desire to win stronger even, in that moment, than his desire to survive. The distance between him and the Snitch became every barrier in his life, and he tore through them all.
There was a loud thud as Draco flew straight into Harry, and the pair began to fall from the sky, together. Several cushioning charms later, they landed otherwise unscathed. Draco opened his eyes. Clenched tightly in his fist was the Snitch. He broke out in a wide smile. He'd done it. But then he looked over at Harry, who was lying still and pale. Draco's smile disappeared.
"Harry?" he asked, terrified. People crowded around, but Hermione appeared and shooed them all back. She checked Harry quickly.
"I think he's fine," she said, as his eyes fluttered open. They were bleary, but when they focused, they sought out Draco. His heart leapt with relief. Harry's eyes dropped to the Snitch in his hand.
"You finally did it, then," Harry croaked, and he smiled, wanly. He leant back and shut his eyes. "You had to knock me out though, didn't you, Malfoy? How did you even move so fast in those bloody tight jeans?" At this Hermione shushed him, and announced she was taking him to Madam Pomfrey, just in case.
Draco watched as Harry walked away, rather wobbly even with the support of his friends. Neville came to stand next to him.
"Blimey, you didn't half get him there, Draco! Still, all's fair in love and Quidditch, and all that," Draco shut his eyes at Neville's choice of words.
"And we won! 180 to 60 points. Well done, Draco," added Seamus who was putting the balls back in their case. He followed Draco's line of sight, Harry, Ron and Hermione now tiny in the distance. "Ah, don't worry about him. He's made of tough stuff, our Harry," and Draco smiled weakly.
As Draco was unbuckling his protective gear, remembering Harry's trembling hands, the others were getting ready to walk back to the castle.
"You walking back with us, Draco?" asked Luna. He sighed and stowed his things away, then joined them. Surprisingly, no one seemed angry with him for giving Harry concussion, with Seamus cheerily inviting him to the pub later.
Draco made his way back to the Slytherin common room. He found Pansy sat in a corner, reading a book and eating from a box of chocolates. She put them aside when he joined her.
"And? How was it?" she asked, her eyes bright.
"I knocked Harry out," Draco answered flatly.
"He liked the jeans, then?" she asked slyly. Draco huffed.
"Whether he liked them or not, I knocked him out. As in concussed."
"Oh. Oh, Draco! Why did you do that? Did you get into a fight?" Pansy looked worried. Draco shook his head.
"No, nothing like that. Just Quidditch," he sighed.
"You idiot, Draco," said Pansy, gently enough for him to know she didn't really mean it. She seemed fond of calling him that, anyway. "Is he ok?" she asked. Draco raised his shoulders in a shrug. "You idiot," she repeated, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she offered him a chocolate. He took one, and it was good. It made him feel a little better. Pansy gave him a speculative look. "Have them," she said, and she thrust the box into his hands. "Mother keeps sending them to me and they do nothing for my figure," she cast an eye down his skinny frame, "and I don't think it's really something you have to worry about." He took them. No one had given him chocolates – even a half-eaten box – in a long while.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"Just take them, and go for a walk or something. You look like otherwise you'll claw a hole in something with worry. I'm sure that by the time you come back for dinner, Potter will be fine and eating in the hall with his friends," seeing the sceptical look on his face, she rolled her eyes. "Trust me!" she said, and she pushed him away. "Now leave me alone with my book."
Draco wandered out of the school, walking aimlessly, the chocolates tucked under his arm. Pansy was right. He felt jittery with worry about Harry. He'd seen Harry open his eyes and heard him talk, but he'd looked so pale... Draco increased his pace, the action of walking calming him just a bit. He walked up towards the forest, which had sprung alive in a fuzz of bright green as Spring forced its was through the old wood of the trees, then back down towards the school, going off towards the greenhouses. The greenhouses were empty. Neville presumably still with his friends, Sprout supervising students in Hogsmeade. It was a nice day, the sky clear and blue above him, so Draco found a spot in the corner of Greenhouse Four, tucked behind a large and gently quivering Flutterby bush, and sat down. He closed his eyes and let the sun filtering through the glass warm his face. He lost track of the time, just breathing in, and out. It was calm, calm enough that he may even have dozed slightly.
Draco was roused by the flutterby bush, the gentle up and down movement of its leaves suddenly more active, the flapping noise they made filling the greenhouse.
"What kind of a place is this for a Malfoy to hide himself away in?" asked a low, amused voice. Draco opened his eyes, and his stomach did a flutter of its own. Harry was standing in front of him. He looked fine.
"Are you ok?" he paused, and added, "I'm sorry I crashed into you." Harry dipped his head and smiled in reassurance. "Good," said Draco. He looked at Harry, standing tall and confident before him. "What are you doing here?" the words tumbled out of Draco's mouth.
"I came to find you," answered Harry, simply. There was a pause before Draco said the first thing to pop into his head.
"How do you keep finding me like that, Harry?" asked Draco, genuinely bemused. Harry sat down next to him. Despite the cool of the Spring day outside, he was warm. They leant into each other a little. Harry was real and solid; reassuring in his presence.
"Let me show you something," he said, and he took out a worn piece of folded parchment from his pocket. Draco tipped his head to the side to look a question at him. Harry opened it up to show it was blank, then tapped on it with his wand, and solemnly declared something about being up to no good. Draco felt a shiver work its way down his spine at the words. Then his eyebrows rose as a map revealed itself. A map showing the whereabouts of everyone in the school.
"When I went flying!" he said, in sudden understanding. Harry nodded.
"I came to find you then, too." There was a long silence, full of unspoken words.
Draco moved around so he was half facing Harry. He reached out, gently picked up the map from between them, and put it to one side. He looked at Harry, who met his gaze. Neither looked away.
"Today, when I saw the Snitch, I wasn't going to stop, not for anyone," said Draco, quietly.
"l saw," said Harry, "you were you."
"I made the leap, Harry. I trusted in hope. I think... I think I might be ready to, now," he whispered, and he leant forward and placed one hand on Harry's knee. With his other he reached out and held Harry's face, very gently. Harry held absolutely still. Draco's heart was racing, and he felt Harry's breath shudder across his skin. And then he wasn't sure if he kissed Harry first, or Harry kissed him, but their mouths were on each other's and Harry's breath was hot on his face. Lips touching, hard yet soft, and tongues moving together, they clung to each other as if drinking from a well in a desert. Draco moved his hand into Harry's hair, soft and strong; he ran his fingers through the strands, along his scalp, and pulled Harry closer. He felt Harry's hand on his leg, and heard Harry groan as he ran it up the seams of his jeans. They rested their heads against each other and tried to get their breath back.
"These jeans, Draco. Were you trying to torture me?" Harry asked, and Draco smiled.
"Maybe," he said, pressing himself closer to Harry. "I wasn't sure if you were looking."
"Really? I didn't know how much more obvious I could make it, Draco. I've been... looking for a while, now."
"I couldn't let myself believe–" started Draco, but Harry shushed him and ran his hand through the hair around his face.
"It was the day I saw you flying," he whispered, "your hair... I didn't want to believe it at first, either. But I've been watching you, for years," he smiled sadly. "It doesn't matter now," and this time Draco stopped him from talking, by kissing him again. The kiss was hot and strong and needy. Draco pushed his hands under the layers of clothes keeping Harry warm. Harry shivered as Draco's cold hands began to make their way across his back. He burrowed his hands, hot and desperate, under Draco's clothes, and every bit of skin they touched came alive, nerves tingling, as they moved across Draco's back. The greenhouse suddenly felt overly hot and the clothes just a hindrance, getting in the way. Their fingers eagerly, shakily, began to unzip and unbutton, tug and pull. It became a competition, like so much between them. Draco got Harry's jumpers and t-shirts off first. Under them all, he was lean but firm with muscle beneath the skin. Draco dragged his hands across Harry's chest, and was rewarded with a low moan. Harry then finished removing Draco's t-shirt, and stopped, suddenly pale. His finger touched the silver scar running down across Draco's torso.
"Oh," Harry bit his lip and frowned. "I did this to you," he ran his finger along it again. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. Draco took Harry's hand in his, and pressed it flat against his chest.
"Yes, yes you did do this. And it almost killed me. But it doesn't matter Harry, because you've saved me since," he pulled Harry's hand up to his mouth and kissed it. "You pulled me from the flames, Harry. I– I've held onto that memory ever since. And... you helped me find myself again. No one else told me they wanted the old me back," he smiled bitterly, "only you."
And Harry leant forward and kissed him, with all the passion that only life and death can bring. He was like fire, and Draco felt himself burning up. Suddenly kissing wasn't enough, the hands on each other moving more and more purposefully, kneading, pushing, pulling. Harry pulled back, a predatory glint in his eyes. He reached forward and flicked open the top button of Draco's jeans.
"These jeans are the fucking hottest thing I have seen, ever," he growled. Draco felt the pit of his stomach fall away at the words and the look on Harry's face. Harry flicked open another button, and another. "Fuck!" he shouted, and Draco moved back a fraction, startled, "Draco, are you... have you got nothing on under these?" Draco's mouth widened into a wide smile.
"I never do," he said, and Harry swallowed then licked his lips.
"Never?" he asked shakily, and Draco shook his head.
"Fuck," Harry whispered, and his hand shot down into the blond hairs visible through the open fly. He wrapped his hand around Draco's cock and pulled it free, somehow pushing the jeans down a little too. Draco felt the blood from his entire body rush into it. Harry rubbed an experimental thumb across the head, and Draco inhaled sharply. It took everything not to just come, there and then. Harry then began to move his hand, and it was... incredible. Draco couldn't stop the sounds escaping him: little sighs and moans, which turned into a surprised gasp when Harry knelt forward, and licked his way along Draco's cock. Draco whimpered as Harry took him into his hot mouth. The heat moved around him, and there was a tongue and suction and pressure and he fell back, supporting his body somehow on his elbows. He moaned as Harry's mouth kept moving, relentlessly, around him.
Draco closed his eyes. There were just flames, and Harry. Harry was the flames; licking at him, consuming him, burning him up. He cried out and came in an orgasm so powerful it was almost painful. He knew, somehow, that his dreams would never be the same again.
He lay there, panting for a minute, then opened his eyes. Harry was sat before him, his lips swollen and red, his eyes gleaming and possessive. Draco pulled himself up and kissed him, a hard kiss, wanting somehow to occupy the same physical space as Harry. He could taste himself in Harry's mouth, and it made him want more. His tongue pushed and sought it out, then Draco tore away and pushed Harry down. He fought with Harry's flies and yanked his jeans and his boxers down. Underneath, Harry's cock sprang free. It was thick and dark and heavy and full, and he took it into his hand. Something deep inside clicked and a sense of relief spread through Draco. Finally. Beneath his fingers Harry felt hot, like the rest of him, and soft and hard; full of life. Harry made a small sound in the back of his throat, and Draco looked up. His head was tilted back and his eyes were half closed, and Harry fixed him with a look of pure fire from beneath his eyelashes. He looked delicious, and Draco's heart missed a beat as he leant forward and kissed Harry again.
Harry's cock twitched, and Draco moved his hand a few times, enjoying the weight of it in his fingers and palm. As he twisted round the head, Harry gasped and thrust his pelvis up. Draco wanted more. He wanted to taste Harry as Harry had tasted him. He didn't know what he was doing, exactly, but he knew it didn't matter: it would feel fantastic. Making his way down Harry's chest with kisses and licks – enjoying the sweaty saltiness of his skin – Draco's mouth found its way to the heated flesh around which his hand still moved. His tongue licked around Harry's head, and then kept moving, all the way to his balls. Draco groaned, at the taste and the smell and the heat of Harry. He breathed in deeply, if shakily, then worked his way back up with a series of wet, sucking kisses. He glanced up again at Harry, watching the rapid fall and rise of his chest, before opening his mouth and sucking him in. It felt good. He shut his eyes and just enjoyed the sensations, of having his mouth filled, of feeling Harry's heat so directly. He shook when he remembered how good this had felt when Harry had done it to him, and redoubled his efforts. He was rewarded with moans and sighs, a catch of the breath. Draco moved and took, his tongue swirling and his hand grasping until he felt Harry tremble and hot spurts fill his mouth. Draco surprised himself by greedily swallowing them down, but he couldn't let anything go to waste. Harry tasted amazing. With a long groan he fell back and lay at Harry's side.
They were quiet as they both got their breath back. Draco turned to face Harry. "I have never wanted anything as much as I want you," he whispered, and touched Harry's face gently with his fingers. Harry smiled.
"The feeling's mutual," he said softly. They lay there, looking at each other in wonder. The light was fading outside, and although it was fairly warm in the greenhouse, Draco was suddenly aware that they were naked. He was naked with Harry Potter. Goosebumps sprang up on Draco's skin and he shivered. Harry ran a gentle hand across Draco's arm. He stopped when he got to the heavy black lines. Draco looked up, terrified at what he might see in Harry's face: horror, disgust, rejection. But Harry's eyes were shining and he pulled Draco closer and kissed him again.
"It doesn't matter," he said quietly. He exhaled heavily. "I know this was never you." This time Draco kissed him, hard and with an edge of desperation. Harry soothed him with his lips, his tongue.
Once a little warmer again – Harry cast a warming charm – they sat next to each other, legs trailing lazily over one another. They each had an arm around the other, and both held on tight. Their backs rested against the smooth wood of a heavy tub. Draco drew his knees up, and Harry rubbed his hand on one of Draco's legs. They turned and shared a kiss, more gentle, more tender now than before.
Harry's stomach rumbled. Draco laughed.
"Not enough to fill you up, then?" he asked, and Harry blushed.
Draco reached over and retrieved his chocolates from where they'd been knocked under a plant. He offered the box to Harry, who eagerly took one and popped it into his mouth. Harry hummed in appreciation as he chewed, and Draco felt a stir in his groin at the sound. He took a chocolate from the box, and brought it slowly to his mouth. He was aware that Harry was watching him now. He placed the chocolate between his teeth, and bit down, closing his eyes at the bitter richness. He let it melt on his tongue, and as he put the second half in his mouth, Harry flung himself at him. Harry's mouth was pressed to his, and they ate the chocolate together.
Harry pulled back and reached for another chocolate. "More?" he asked, his voice low and full of promise, then placed the truffle between his lips. Draco was quick to lean forward and claim his half.
It was past nine and long since dark when Draco and Harry joined the others at the Three Broomsticks. Their clothes were a little dishevelled and there were leaves and the odd twig in their hair. There was what looked like a smear of chocolate on the side of Harry's neck. The table fell silent.
"Bloody hell!" said Ron, looking shocked. Hermione elbowed him not-too-discreetly, and he refrained from saying anything else. No one said anything, and Draco shuffled uneasily from foot to foot. Beside him, Harry put a calming hand on his back, out of sight from the others.
Seamus arrived back at the table carrying a tray of drinks. He looked at the two of them stood before the silent group.
"Oh thank Merlin! Have they finally stopped with the eye-fucking then?" he said, loudly, and he sat down. Draco inhaled deeply and turned to Harry, who reached out and offered his hand. Draco paused for a second then took it. They looked rather sheepishly at each other.
"Was it that obvious then?" Draco asked, a little embarrassed.
"Not half as obvious as it is now," said Ginny, and Draco and Harry both flushed a deep red. Everyone laughed, then started talking again. Draco and Harry sat next to each other and tried to join in with the chat round the table, but to be honest Draco wasn't aware of much more other than a hand resting on a thigh, or fingers just touching, for the rest of the evening.
His dream gripped him and he felt the flames heat his body, the cool hand pull him up. He clung on with every ounce of strength he possessed. And then the cool hand was stroking his face, and Draco woke up. He was lying next to Harry in his Gryffindor room, the other beds empty in the quiet of the Easter holidays. Pale moonlight streamed in through the window.
"You were having a nightmare, Draco," said Harry on a low voice. He ran a finger over Draco's cheeks, and wiped away a tear.
"Harry," whispered Draco, his voice shaking. Harry bent down and kissed him gently. "It's ok, I'm here. I've got you, and I'm not letting go."
Draco moved his hands and felt the outline of Harry's body, warm beside him. He raised them to trace the contours of Harry's face, the contrast of smooth skin and rough stubble.
"Yes," he whispered. "You really are here." And he pulled Harry to him and kissed him.
When they finally fell asleep again, wrapped in the warmth of each other's bodies, Draco slept deeply. In his dreams he walked freely into his future. The flames, fire, fear and death were no more. There was just hope, and Harry.