“Hermione! Hermione, he’s up!”
Ron’s voice was the first thing Harry heard when he roused. He kept his eyes closed, but he could see light and shadow moving just beyond his lids. His head ached, a dull, pounding throb situated just behind the centre of his forehead that pulsed in time with Ron’s speech.
“Not so loud, Ronald!” Hermione hissed, though her voice wasn’t much gentler on Harry’s ears. Carefully, somehow fearful that even opening his eyes too quickly would send him swooning, Harry blinked and found the familiar canvas roof of their tent stretching over him. “Harry! You’re awake!” Hermione said, and Harry shifted his gaze toward the sound of her voice. She was holding on to Ron’s shoulder, and their faces mooned at him from right beside the sofa on which Harry was apparently laid out. It was the second time in the past year he recalled waking up to see the two of them hovering over him with no memory of how he’d come to be there.
“Seem to be, yeah…” he mumbled, blinking again. It was morning, he thought—or daylight, at least. And bright, which wasn’t helping his headache at all. “Headache…” he complained, and a phial was shortly pushed into his hands, with his fingers wrapped around it to be sure he wouldn’t drop it.
“That should help—though I didn’t dare make it too strong. I wasn’t sure how it might interact with whatever’s left in your system of the virility serum.”
“The—what?” He knocked back the potion with one hand, groping on the side table for his glasses with the other.
Ron passed them to him with what Harry now could tell was a wry grin. “Virility serum, mate.” He waggled his brows. “Strong stuff according to Witch Weekly Readers’ Dige—ow!”
He rubbed his arm where Hermione had pinched him, and she pursed her lips into a thin line. “He doesn’t need to hear the whole story just now.” She turned to Harry, concern in her big brown eyes. “Are you feeling all right, Harry? No pain or…lingering effects?”
He didn’t know what ‘lingering effects’ he was supposed to be on the lookout for, as he still couldn’t quite tell what he’d been dosed with. “Just a headache…” he said, as truthful as he could be at the moment. He then noticed that there was a party missing. “Where’s Draco?”
Ron jerked a thumb behind him. “Sanctuary. Greyback sliced him up but good, so he’s gotta let the dragon heal itself for a bit. Hermione kicked him out earlier this morning when the watch changed.”
His memory began to return in bits and pieces: the whirring Sneakoscope, Greyback, blood and flame and spellfire flying. The magnificent white dragon, screeching in frenzied agony.
Panic speared through him, and he tried to brace his arms beneath him, to shift upright, but Hermione and Ron were on him in an instant. “Easy there, mate,” Ron chided softly. “You had a close call, no sense in pushing yourself so soon.”
“I feel fine,” Harry said shortly.
Hermione gave him a knowing look. “You just said you had a headache.”
“Yeah, and I took a potion for it.” Neither looked very convinced, so he tried a different tack. “Can I at least use the loo? Or d’you have a bedpan for me in that bag of yours?”
Hermione coloured, drawing away. “No—of course, that’s fine.” She inclined her head in silent indication for Ron to let Harry up. “Just don’t be too long? Your body’s been through an ordeal, and it’s best you avoid overexerting yourself for at least another twelve hours.”
“I don’t think a piss is going to tax me that much,” he assured her with an easy smile, and she shooed him away.
He refused Ron’s offered arm, professing a confidence he could make it to the bathroom just fine on his own, and shuffled away. Once he glanced back and saw Hermione and Ron were distracted in huddled conversation, though, he took a sharp turn and slipped into the Sanctuary instead.
The first thing he noticed once over the threshold was a group of unconscious strangers laid out on the ground just inside the entrance. After a moment’s consideration, though, he realised that they weren’t strangers at all: it was Greyback and the other wizards who’d attacked them in the night…how long ago had it been? He really ought to have asked Hermione and Ron. It could have been last night, or it could have been days ago, for all Harry knew. He rubbed at his chin, and the stubble peppered along his jaw said it’d been more than a day at the very least.
He ignored Greyback and his gang for the time being; they were bound up tight and out cold, so obviously they weren’t going anywhere for a while.
He scanned the clearing instead for Draco—then gave a start when he saw not a human but the great white dragon, napping in the patchy sunlight. Ron had said that he’d had to ‘let the dragon heal itself’, but Harry hadn’t quite connected the meaning until now.
The dragon was laid out in an inelegant sprawl to keep the pressure off its ripped wing, which as Harry approached he could see looked painfully inflamed. He wondered if Hermione had convinced Draco to let her inspect it for infection; he didn’t know if dragons could regrow lost limbs, and he didn’t really want to find out.
He worried for a moment that there might be something sinister underlying the dragon’s unconscious state, but the steady rise and fall of its barrel belly suggested that it was indeed simply snoozing. It reminded Harry of one of Mrs. Figg’s cats that could sleep almost anywhere that would stay still long enough.
He bent down to pick up a small stone, then chucked it at the dragon, striking its exposed underbelly. The dragon woke with an irritated grunt, snarling with a concentrated burst of flame from its nostrils and snapping its head around to see who’d disturbed it.
The moment it caught sight of Harry, though, it struggled to its feet—one wing still held out gingerly from its side while the other rested in repose—and took several toddling steps backwards.
Harry approached slowly, but the dragon kept backing away; perhaps Draco had been dreaming and couldn’t tell if Harry was really up and about or not. He raised his hands to show he meant no harm and crooked a small grin. “Uh…nice to see you, too?” The dragon only regarded him with eyes of piercing yellow shot through with a roiling mud-red. “Draco?” he tried again, taking another tentative step forward—but it was clear the dragon had no intention of letting Harry close the distance between them.
A gathering dread settled upon Harry’s shoulders, draping like a funeral shroud as snatches of dream coalesced into memory and filed his veins with ice. “…It was real, then?” he whispered, half to himself.
It was the only explanation for the way Draco was avoiding him, dancing like a spooked horse but not daring to strain his still-mending wing by trying to fly away.
Harry had dreamed while he’d slept—or at least, he’d thought he’d dreamed. He was now realising, with dawning horror, that what he’d seen, what he’d done, hadn’t been a dream at all.
“I don’t—” His voice broke, and he swallowed, cursing under his breath. “I don’t suppose it…would do any good to say I’m sorry?” That sounded like a rather cheap thing to say, though; you couldn’t just apologise for doing that to someone, and more to the point: Draco was absolutely the grudge-holding type, so even if Harry had done something that might have been excused with an apology, it wouldn’t have worked on Draco. One could hope, though. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have—but I did. And I know it doesn’t change it, but—I’m sorry. Truly.”
The dragon just stared at him, nostrils flaring, and Harry had to wonder if Draco was actually in there at all. Maybe he’d retreated to that misty moor, traumatised; Harry would have understood. He suddenly felt incredibly stupid; he should have rested like Hermione had urged and waited for Draco to come to him when he was ready instead of pushing. “Fuck it,” he muttered, and turned to head back into the tent. If Draco wanted to have anything to do with him, then well: it was a small tent, they’d run into each other.
“You’re sorry?” came a shout from behind, and Harry stopped in his tracks, slowly turning to glance over his shoulder. The dragon was gone, and there stood Draco in a crisp button-up of spruce-blue with one sleeve rolled up to his bicep, cradling his mangled arm against his chest. “You?”
Harry shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “…Yeah? I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Draco spat, incredulous.
God, was he going to make Harry say it? Harry wiped a hand over his face; no, of course he was going to make him say it. He ought to, after all. Face what he’d done without hiding behind excuses. He was a Gryffindor, wasn’t he?
“For—for what I did to you.”
All right, so maybe he was a bit of a coward after all; he’d almost been sorted Slytherin, so it stood to reason he had a healthy bit of self-preservation swirling around in him.
Draco’s expression was a maelstrom of emotion—confusion, revulsion, guilt, but most of all white-hot fury. Harry imagined he could feel the anger radiating off of Draco palpably, like heat waves. Or maybe it really was heat waves, and he was about to belch lava all over Harry. “What—what you did to me?” he hissed.
Harry took a step back, wary; he really didn’t want to get socked in the jaw, even if he deserved it. “…Yeah. What I did to you. When I was…not myself…”
That was a pathetic excuse, he knew—and hardly a truthful one either. He’d probably been more himself in that dark, stolen moment than he’d been in a while, and while he’d felt a lot of things at the time, ‘not himself’ hadn’t been one of them.
He grimaced. “I shouldn’t have—”
“Do you even fucking remember what happened? Merlin, did Granger check you for a concussion? Of course she didn’t; stand still—”
Draco approached with lifted wand, a diagnostic spell on his lips, and Harry batted it away with a flare of irritation.
“I remember, all right? I remember. I remember waking up, slowly like from a dose of Dreamless Sleep—and I remember you being there. I remember…” He closed his eyes, because he didn’t want to have to see the way Draco’s face washed over with disgust—or worse, pity. As if Harry’s actions hadn’t been something he’d had a degree of control over. “I remember the need. I remember—begging. Begging you for…for help.”
He opened his eyes again, but kept his gaze fixed on his toes. It was curious how Hermione’s Atmospheric Charms kept the chill from seeping into his flesh; he ought to have the beginnings of frostbite by now, surely. “And I remember you giving me that help. Even though you didn’t want to, and even though I never should have asked for it.”
Draco’s eyes flashed in anger. “Of course you shouldn’t have asked for it! But I shouldn’t have done it!” He clenched the fist of his good hand around the haft of his wand, shoulders tightening, like he was barely holding himself back from throwing some curse or another at Harry’s head. “You were the one who was drugged up with that potion, and I was…I was…”
“You were there,” Harry finished for him. “You did what needed to be done. Because I asked. Because I needed it.” He still didn’t like the idea of using the potion as an excuse for his behaviour, but he liked even less Draco blaming himself for this whole nasty business. “…Kind of like how I do things for you, when you need it.”
Draco scoffed, lip curling. “That’s hardly the same thing—”
“But if it were. If it were, I’d do it.” Harry made himself face Draco head on now, forcing his eyes to meet Draco’s. “I’m not drugged up now, and I’m telling you I’d do it, if you needed it. And if it came down to it again, I’d want you to do it, too. What…” He swallowed, tongue tripping on the words. “What needed to be done.”
A long pause stretched between them, making the physical distance separating them seem all the more insurmountable. “…If I needed it,” Draco repeated in a dull monotone, expression unreadable.
Harry nodded. He’d learned, over the course of the past several months, that there were lots of different sorts of needs.
He’d told himself, all this time, that he’d only been doing what needed to be done—what the dragon required, what it took to keep Draco from losing his sanity and retreating back to that lonely moor. But he’d never really minded the touching at all; he’d grown up without much physical affection from his relatives and had been subconsciously trying to make up for lost time for years now. And the kissing…well, it hadn’t bothered him in a long while, and by this point, they’d broken all of their rules except for telling Ron and Hermione.
So what did it mean, when you kissed for kissing’s sake? When you liked it, when you looked forward to it?
When you enjoyed yourself with someone even when you weren’t kissing?
Harry had had to stop himself from following that line of thinking on more occasions than he cared to admit. He had to keep telling himself, drilling it into his mind until it became second nature, that this was all something they did because it was what the situation demanded. They could not hate it, could even like it, but it had to stay behind that barrier of ‘have to’.
Which was just a stone’s throw away from for the greater good, but it was dangerous to think of what they were doing in any other words.
If Harry allowed himself to consider that either of them actually wanted this…well that was something he just couldn’t deal with right now. His head was already a mess, and he was mental roommates with Voldemort half the time as it was. It was best for all parties involved that this just…not become a thing. It was better this way. Less complicated.
Draco released a low, keening whine and launched himself at Harry, arms going vice-like around his neck as he squeezed the life out of him. “Fuck you, Potter,” he bit out, voice thick with emotion.
Harry let his hands gingerly come up under Draco’s arms to lock around him. “I thought we agreed on ‘Harry’…” He closed his eyes and breathed in Draco’s scent—it was just as he’d dreamed it had been: antiseptic and old blood and woodsmoke.
Draco hugged him tighter, nose buried in the crook of Harry’s neck. His breath tickled Harry’s skin, and he wondered if he was memorising Harry’s scent in the same way. “You’re better off accepting that you’re always going to be ‘Potter’ when I’m pissed off at you.”
Harry shrugged. “So long as you accept you’re always going to be ‘Draco’ no matter how I feel about you.” A tremor ran through Draco, and he sighed audibly against Harry’s neck. He thought he felt lips ghost over his pulse, but he could have imagined it. Harry rubbed his hands up and down Draco’s back. He was getting pretty good at this reassurance business.
“…I still mean to have words with you about running off in the middle of a battle without backup,” Draco mumbled. “You’re a hazard to my health…”
“Sure, let’s have that conversation right after you tell me how long you put off getting your hand looked at. Do I need to make apologies to Hermione and Ron for your terrible behaviour again?”
“Please; I’ve been nothing but a gentleman.”
“As I heard it, you had to be practically forced at wandpoint into letting your better half heal itself.”
Draco drew back, brows knit in concern. He swallowed, throat bobbing. “…Tell me you didn’t tell Granger and Weasley. About…”
“Oh, god no. I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“Do I look like I want to be flayed alive? Why the fuck would I tell them that I—I—”
Harry gave a wry grin, brows lifting. “Er, gave me a helping hand?”
Draco closed his eyes, grimacing. “Merlin, if this is going to be another ‘M word’ issue…”
This was fine, Harry told himself. They were still safe. They could joke about it, tiptoe around it—so long as it remained a need. Aid given because they one or both couldn’t help themselves and had no choice but to do things that they otherwise would never have considered.
They were fine, for now.
They had to be.