Harry found he was in much better spirits after a good night’s sleep, though the unearthly vision spit out by the Horcrux in its death throes still lurked at the edges of his mind, ready to move front and centre should he get distracted.
Hermione and Ron were, suffice it to say, quite shocked when Harry tossed the sword and shattered remains of the locket onto the breakfast table the next morning. The blade shone, unblemished, sitting next to a plate of half-burnt toast (courtesy of Ron), and the charred locket was almost indistinguishable from the blackened bacon rashers (courtesy of Hermione).
They pelted both Harry and Malfoy with questions, though Malfoy largely ignored anything he was asked, content to let Harry endure Hermione’s lectures and Ron’s admonishments while he calmly sipped his morning coffee and pieced through Hermione’s well-worn copy of Hogwarts: A History.
“Honestly, after all we’ve endured the past few months, you still don’t understand the danger of heading off alone?” Hermione sighed. “It would’ve been dangerous enough even without a bounty on your head and You-Know-Who combing the countryside looking for you. I’m really disappointed in you, Harry.”
He thought she was missing the fact that, if he hadn’t gone, they wouldn’t have the sword of Gryffindor plus one less Horcrux to have to deal with. “I do understand the danger—” Malfoy snorted derisively, covering it with a dainty sip and keeping his eyes glued to the text in his lap. “But I wasn’t alone! I had Malfoy with me!” Hermione and Ron shared a torn look, and Harry hotly reminded them, “And he was the one who Charmed me up so I didn’t have to go skinny-dipping in the middle of December, all right? And he’s the one who actually destroyed the Horcrux.” He pointedly left out the part where Malfoy had half-threatened him once they were away from the camp and all alone in the darkness.
“He’s also the one who can hear you talking about him,” Malfoy bit out, flicking his gaze up to meet Harry’s, and Harry didn’t appreciate the tone; he was the one defending Malfoy, after all.
“…Sorry, Malfoy—we didn’t mean it like that,” Hermione said, sounding genuinely contrite, and even Ron had his head ducked in shame. “Just…we really shouldn’t take any chances, going out in smaller groups than necessary, especially if it’s to chase down a lead.” She pursed her lips, looking at Harry. “Promise you won’t do anything so foolish again?”
“I’d have thought you’d be a little happier we found the sword and smashed the locket,” Harry muttered, taking a savage bite out of a piece of toast and wishing he had a boiled egg to dip it in.
Harry had offered them a tastefully edited version of the events in the forest, stripped of any mention of the disturbing visions the locket had produced, and both Hermione and Ron had seemed far more interested in who had produced the Patronus and placed the sword there for them to find than in the fact that they were halfway to their goal.
“We are, but aren’t you the tiniest bit curious about this sudden stroke of good luck? We happen to camp in the same area where someone coincidentally stashed the sword of Gryffindor for you to stumble across, except you didn’t stumble across it, someone’s Patronus led you there?”
Malfoy poured himself another cup of coffee, using his wand to bewitch the kettle and a teaspoon into doing his work for him, just because he could. “Potter tells me he’s very lucky, Granger; surely this is par for the course.”
Harry only barely reined in the urge to kick Malfoy under the table. “I am, but just…no amount of digging is going to make it any more obvious who our mysterious benefactor is, so I’d just as soon rejoice in the fact that we’re finally making some damn progress.”
Hermione and Ron’s suspicions were dampening Harry’s mood, and he could already feel the tendrils of doubt worming their way back into his mind, whispering insidious suggestions. He had felt a buoyant optimism on rising that morning and bumping his shin against the sword’s hilt, certain that their fortune was finally on the upswing now, but his spirits were rapidly deflating, leaving behind a vacuum into which flowed those niggling thoughts he’d been working so hard to keep at bay.
Perhaps he could have settled his nerves if he’d bothered to confront Malfoy about what the locket had shown him, but he knew without asking that Malfoy would shut down before Harry got past, “Hey, can we talk about—” and then probably not speak to Harry again for several days. Harry could have handled that, but it would prompt questions from Hermione and Ron, and Harry could not handle that.
So, reluctantly, he let it stand, though this did nothing to keep the shades from haunting Harry at every turn, as if he’d been the target of their malevolence and not Malfoy. For his part, though, Malfoy didn’t appear to have gotten off scot-free either, as he grew increasingly fidgety and restless over the subsequent few days, dragging Harry into the Sanctuary for extra flight time, or even just a Seeker’s game or five to ‘blow off steam’ as he claimed.
He found every excuse he could to lounge uncomfortably close to Harry on the sofa, linking arms or tracing Harry’s knuckles with his long, slender fingers, like he was just itching to thread them together. He would barge into the bathroom during Harry’s morning or evening toilette, claiming a need to gargle or wash his face that evidently couldn’t wait until Harry had finished, and more often than not, he would sit in the chair just next to Harry at meals, brushing knees or reaching across him for a condiment and nudging him with an elbow.
And as Malfoy did these things, performed these gestures that perhaps even he was unaware of, Harry’s idle thoughts and concerns began to coalesce into conviction. He started to see things that Malfoy did not—or else that he refused to. Inevitabilities.
The vision that had presented itself to Malfoy had almost certainly caused some emotional turmoil, shaking the foundations of Malfoy’s heretofore reasonably comfortable surety of his place in Harry’s life. Harry had taken strides to show Malfoy he trusted him, which had seemed for a while to help ground those dragon-bits that ached to be reassured Harry held him in special regard. Between that and the odd cuddling session on the couch, they had been getting by.
But then that damned locket had gotten a final jab in, unsettling Malfoy and making him question everything all over again. They were back to square one, and while Malfoy would probably never admit as such, it was clear from the vision that he was jealous—jealous of Harry’s friendship (or some imagined more-than-friendship) with Ron and Hermione. It was an utterly ridiculous assumption to make, completely twisting his relationship with his friends into something it never had been and never would be. Ron was Ron, and while Hermione was very fetching in both body and mind, he’d already been her friend for so long once he reached an age he might care about the fairer sex that he couldn’t imagine getting romantically involved with her (though he suspected Ron did not share that same failing).
How was he meant to explain that to Malfoy, though? He’d get entirely the wrong idea, and then they’d have a row, and then things would be even worse than they were now. Malfoy didn’t like dealing with problems until they blew up in his face—sometimes quite literally when it involved this stupid M-word business—and while Harry wasn’t much better, one of them had to be the adult in this relationship. Or predicament, as Malfoy had called it.
And he could see a bright, unwavering line leading from one point to another, from now, as they stood, to a future, perhaps far but very probably near. A line they would, in all likelihood, have to walk. Malfoy’s dragon craved reassurance, begged for Harry to look at him, to see him, and not just accept him but to want him. And if it didn’t get those things, if it wasn’t confident in how Harry felt about it, it would lash out and go to often dangerous lengths to make Harry recognise it.
Which meant Harry had to make a preemptive strike and convince the dragon—convince Malfoy—that he was a unique presence in Harry’s life, someone apart from Ron and Hermione and important to Harry in his own way.
And Harry hadn’t a clue how to manage that…other than to do something audacious. Something he would never, could never do with Ron or Hermione—but for the purposes of their ‘predicament’…something he could do with Malfoy. At great cost to his mental stability, albeit, but Voldemort was already driving him absolutely out of his gourd, so what was another jaunt round the twist?
For a brief, fleeting moment, he considered bringing the situation up with Hermione; she’d probably find it fascinating, though, and he didn’t think he could deal with her academic curiosity just now. Or worse, she’d agree with him.
When had it come to this? When had he stopped digging his heels in and fighting and started rolling with the punches? He supposed an hour in the Sanctuary each night or close quarters on the couch was hardly a sacrifice to pitch a fit over, but by starting down that slippery slope, he now found himself tumbling head over heels for an eventuality he was not entirely comfortable with.
Plus, he really didn’t think this sort of thing fell within the purview of his responsibilities, to be quite honest. Malfoy needed his reassurance bolstered, yes, but who was Harry to decide this was the best way to go about it?
No, he couldn’t make this decision on his own, and he couldn’t consult Hermione about it either.
So naturally, he went to Ron.
It was to be Malfoy’s turn at the hob at dinner that evening, so he and Hermione had popped over to the nearby Muggle town to restock on essential supplies and whatever bits and bobs he needed for what he had assured them was a time-tested Malfoy family recipe but what Harry suspected would wind up being a stack of ready meals of some variety or another. Malfoy had been delighted to learn that Muggles pre-packaged entire meals for reheating and scolded Harry for making him slave over the stove like a common house-elf.
“Been a while since we got this place to ourselves,” Ron said, shielding his eyes from the sunlight glinting off the snap-frozen heather. It was a rare sunny day, and Harry had invited Ron into the Sanctuary to fly a bit. “Sure your better half won’t be jealous?”
Harry frowned, rubbing the condensation off the handle of his broom. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, a little indignant.
“Nothing! Just, you spend a lot of time in here with him these days…” Ron shrugged. “Seems a bit mad to me, honestly.”
“Join the club,” Harry muttered, and Ron grinned.
“If eleven-year-old Harry could see you now… Hobnobbing with the likes of Malfoy.”
“Pretty sure eleven-year-old Ron would feel the same way,” Harry reminded. “You cooked him up a bowl of that porridge he likes special just the other day.”
Ron made a face at the memory. “Yeah, well, he bitches something fierce if he’s got to cook for himself or eat the same thing as the rest of us plebs. I didn’t want to deal with it first thing in the morning.” Then he looked at Harry, just stared at him for an uncomfortably long beat. “…You’re a nice guy, Harry.”
Harry shifted, leaning on the broom. “Er, thanks?”
“I mean, it’s really good what you’re doing. It’s not as if you haven’t got enough on your plate already, and you still go and stick your neck out for someone who’s been such a git to you all these years. To all of us, really.”
“What with the attempted murder and all.”
“Yeah. So anyway, you’re a stand-up bloke. Doing what you can so he doesn’t fly off his rocker, when it’s no concern of yours. You’re amazing sometimes, y’know?” Ron shrugged. “Dunno why I felt like saying that, but I did.”
Harry settled his forehead against the broom handle, wincing. “That was nice and all…but I really wish you hadn’t said that.” The last thing he needed right now was Ron telling him what a great person he was, how much he was sacrificing just to make sure Malfoy didn’t lose it. Now he’d look like a total wanker if he knew what he ought to do and decided not to just because it was a bit gross.
“Never mind…” He wiped a hand over his face and straightened up, clearing his throat. “…Can I ask you something?”
Ron tugged on his gloves; the humidity in the air tended to make the broom handles slick once they gained any altitude. “Shoot.”
“Speaking in a purely hypothetical sense…” Harry took a breath. “Would you eat a cockroach if your mum were crying and you knew the only way to stop it was to eat that roach?”
Ron gave him a long, worried look. “…You doing okay there, mate?”
“I know, it’s a silly question, just—just answer it, all right?”
“You sure almost drowning didn’t do a number on your head?” Harry gave him a hard look, and Ron nodded, holding his hands up. “All right, all right. It’s a day for weird hypotheticals, I guess.” He tapped his chin in thought, then shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not? I like Cockroach Clusters; the buggy bits aren’t so bad if they’re toasted properly.”
“Yeah, but this wouldn’t be a Cockroach Cluster. I’m talking about a big, nasty thing—live, too, so those twiggy little legs are flailing about.”
Ron blanched and then seemed to balk. “…Oh, er, well, I dunno… I mean, that could be hazardous to your health, in that case…”
“But your mum is crying! And—and probably hurting too! And this is the only thing that can make her feel better, and you’re the only one who can do it.” He knew he was being dramatic, but Ron needed to understand the difficult position Harry was in, and this was the only way Harry could think to present it to Ron without letting on who Molly Weasley represented…and what eating a cockroach was meant to be.
Ron bit his lip, brow furrowed, then took a deep breath, nodding again. “…Yeah. Yeah, I could do it, I reckon. It’s gross, but it’d be over and done with in a flash.”
Harry felt his stomach drop out. “Seriously? You’d eat a live cockroach—?”
Ron looked hurt. “What? You mean to say you wouldn’t eat a bug if my mum were crying?!”
Harry threw his hands up in defence, quickly walking his words back. “No—no of course not. I would absolutely eat a bug to stop Molly crying. It was just a hypothetical, that’s all!”
Ron grunted his acceptance of the apology, then slung a leg over his broom. “Well if we’re all done talking about roaches and my mum bawling her eyes out? You’re gonna put me off my lunch, and that’s a feat with me.”
The conversation with Ron did relatively little to settle Harry’s feelings, particularly as he’d been looking for an excuse—any excuse—not to do what he was probably going to wind up having to do. As such, he endeavoured to put the thought from his mind, kicking the can as far down the road as he could and convincing himself that Malfoy would settle, eventually, and things would continue on much as they had before the locket had poured poison into Malfoy’s ear.
That worked for a couple of days, but then Harry’s bladder had woken him in the middle of the night, and he’d found Malfoy standing over his bed in the dark. Malfoy had quickly scattered, claiming he’d only been on his way for a piss of his own, but the unsettling encounter had hardened Harry’s resolve considerably.
There was no getting around it, and as Malfoy didn’t seem to realise what needed to happen—or else was too proud to admit it—Harry would have to do it himself, or risk Malfoy combusting at any moment.
So he steeled himself and cleared his throat over breakfast. “Fancy a Seeker’s game or three after you’re done?”
Malfoy gave him a long look over his mug of tea. “…A Seeker’s game?”
Hermione frowned. “Harry, are you sure—” She cut herself off when Harry kicked her shin under the table, utterly flabbergasted.
Malfoy glanced between Harry and Hermione, immediately on his guard, and Harry tried to recover the moment with, “I’ve got an itch, indulge me? Ron’s been off a broom so long he’s hardly a challenge anymore.”
“Hey,” Ron said, throwing a grape at Harry.
“Be serious, Potter. He was never a challenge to begin with.”
Now Ron threw a grape at Malfoy with an offended, “Hey!”
Malfoy sighed, finishing off his tea with a loud slurp. “…I suppose. Who am I to deny the Chosen One his humiliation when he asks for it so nicely?” He sent his mug soaring back into the cupboard after blasting it with a quick Scouring Charm, then shoved his chair back, crooking a finger at Harry.
Harry stood to follow him, and Hermione fixed him with a purse-lipped questioning look. He just shook his head at her; no, he didn’t want to explain why he was skiving off research when they needed to find the next Horcrux now more than ever.
Malfoy, blessedly, didn’t question what had really prompted Harry’s request, though Harry didn’t doubt he’d seen through the pithy excuse. It only went to show how thinly Malfoy’s restraint was stretched, that he’d accept any excuse to have Harry’s attention all to himself, even if it was perfectly obvious to all lookers-on that was what was happening.
He hadn’t really intended the offer of a Seeker’s game to be anything more than a ruse to get Malfoy into the Sanctuary without arousing too much suspicion—on Malfoy’s part or Hermione and Ron’s—but now that they were here, with Malfoy grabbing a pair of broomsticks from the trunk they stored their gear in, he supposed it would be a good way to loosen his nerves. Maybe the adrenaline high sure to accompany any such diversions with Malfoy would help propel him through the next part of his plan.
They set off after the Snitch in a blur, both convinced that they’d yet manage to wring just that little bit more speed from his broom to beat the other, but they still wound up having to resort to outrageous manoeuvres. Harry’s blood was singing, his cheeks chapped from the wind and eyes watering, and he could have gone for another twenty rounds, but Malfoy begged off after Harry caught the Snitch before him the third time in a row, claiming an itch to get out of his skin and into something warmer.
Harry’s stomach sank, dread settling onto his shoulders, and he followed Malfoy back down to the ground with a whimper. He supposed it had to be now, then.
Malfoy was already putting away his gear by the time Harry landed, unclasping his leathers and tugging off the Quidditch robes he’d Transfigured for himself because, “If you’re not going to make the effort to do something right, why bother doing it at all?”
Harry found a rock half-buried in the snow that was suddenly very interesting and began toeing it with his trainer. He coughed to clear his throat and—to his own horror—licked his lips, as they were very dry and chapped from the wind. “So, er, how are you feeling?”
Malfoy ran a hand through his hair to smooth it down after he’d tugged the robes over his head. With a Finite incantatem, the robes turned back into the dressing gown they’d been before, which Malfoy folded neatly and draped over the lid of the trunk. “…Fine,” he said, bemused.
“I mean—with the whole…transforming thing. Has it gotten any easier?”
“Easier?” His tone was no longer bemused and edging on outright wary now, and if Harry wasn’t careful, he was going to spook Malfoy off before they actually did what they needed to do here.
“To manage, I mean. I know early on you had some…issues, but we’ve been working on them and…” Harry swallowed. “I was just wondering, that’s all.”
“You were just wondering?” Malfoy repeated evenly—then he shrugged in that elegant, one-shouldered way of his. “Well, have you seen me sick up lava recently? Obviously I’m making it work.” He then added too cheerily for Harry’s comfort, “We may even be able to cut down on our time in here. It’s a pleasant enough distraction but not a wholly necessary one these days.”
It was shit of the highest grade, and fragrant at that. Harry nodded. “So you’ve been attached to me at the hip for the past week…because you fancy me, then?”
“That—of course not!” Malfoy sputtered, ears pinking. “Just because—and you know that—I haven’t been attached—it’s only—” He cut his babbling off with a frustrated huff. “Has Granger been suggesting I’m not pulling my weight? That snotty little Mu—ggleborn knows it’s only thanks to me you’re even still alive at this point, and Weasley spends half the day fiddling with the Wireless like—like—”
He seemed to have lost his train of thought, or else ran it off the tracks himself, knowing he had to stop before he really got going, else there’d be no end until he’d complained himself hoarse.
Harry couldn’t help but stare in bald wonder. Malfoy was so nakedly desperate to prove himself, aching to fit in where he felt he wasn’t wanted, just like the locket had taunted. It had been full of lies, Harry knew, but it seemed to seek out—and find—the darkest, most desperate part of you and then magnified those fears and worries a hundred-fold.
And Draco Malfoy was afraid—afraid that Harry Potter didn’t think he was worth anything. That given the choice, Harry would cut Malfoy loose so that he and Hermione and Ron could get on with their quest. The locket told him he wasn’t their friend, wasn’t their partner—was just a failed Death Eater and a successful murderer, and what had any of them really done to disabuse him of those notions?
So Harry had to do the only thing he could think of to convince both the dragon and Malfoy that he was special, that Harry was still here, would stay here, and that he was willing to do something a little gross and a lot embarrassing to prove it, because words had never really worked well with Malfoy and Harry, and he didn’t honestly expect that to change now.
He swallowed down the lump that had lodged in his throat. “…Close your eyes.”
“Close your eyes,” Harry repeated firmly, and after only a quick flick of his eyes around Harry’s face, judging how serious he was being, Malfoy did as asked, lashes fluttering down. Something coiled in Harry’s stomach at how readily he complied—no sharp words, just action. He never would have been so trusting before, and Harry wondered when things had changed. Was it faith, or mere curiosity?
He supposed they were about to find out. He exhaled slowly, settling one hand on Malfoy’s shoulder. “Just…don’t freak out. And don’t hit me.”
Malfoy frowned at the warning, but he didn’t open his eyes or pull away, so Harry was left with no other choice—
He leaned in, head cocked to the side, and brushed his lips over Malfoy’s.
Malfoy jerked back like he’d been slapped, bringing one arm up to cover his mouth and using the other to shove Harry hard across the chest. “What the fuck are you doing?” he snarled, flushed a dark, angry red from his nose to his neck. His eyes were wide and dancing in confusion. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
Harry rubbed his chest; he ought to have known this would be how this played out, given it was Malfoy. “What? Of course not—”
“I’m not going to be a part of your poofter fantasies!”
Harry’s irritation spiked. “This isn’t a part of—it’s not a joke, and it’s not a fantasy, don’t be ridiculous!” Where had that calm, trusting version of Malfoy from only a moment ago gone? The one who knew Harry was a strange character but tolerated him mildly and made fun of him later if the occasion called for it? “I just assumed this was the next step.”
“The next step—in what?!” Malfoy was practically shrieking now, and if Harry didn’t sort this out stat, he was going to start hyperventilating, and who knew how that might manifest when you were dealing with a dragon Animagus.
“In your—your ‘predicament’, obviously!” Harry waved a hand at Malfoy. “You’ve been impossible to deal with ever since the locket showed you that absurd vision, all moody and demanding and even more handsy than usual.” Malfoy crossed his arms and looked away, jaw tense. “And you said before that…” Harry forced himself to take a breath. “That sometimes the dragon needs reassurance. So consider yourself reassured. I’ve never done…that with Hermione or Ron. And I wouldn’t have done it with you either, just so we’re clear, but needs must and all that.” He shrugged. “I figured it was the grandest gesture I could make to show you I’m willing to do some embarrassing things in order to help keep you sane.”
That should show him, right? He didn’t want to even consider what he might further be asked to do should this not be enough. It had to be enough. Malfoy had to look at this and understand that Harry was practically bending over backwards to show Malfoy he was…well, Harry didn’t want to say important or special, but it was something like that. He was an existence apart, so Harry had given him something to show as such.
Malfoy just stared at him, breathing heavily. “…You did that…because of the dragon.”
“Of course! Why else would I?” And because he didn’t want Malfoy getting any strange ideas about Harry’s gesture of choice, he hastened to add, “Just—all this ‘reassurance’ talk is really about…about M-word stuff, right?” Malfoy grimaced. “So I figured that might get the message across best. I didn’t do it because I wanted to—but we might have to accept that this kind of thing is…necessary.”
“Necessary,” Malfoy spat, as if it were a vile word. “You think this is necessary?”
“Yeah, I do,” Harry said, tone flat, because now was not the time for Malfoy to throw another of his strops. Unless he had a better idea of how Harry could convince their scaly little problem that Harry was genuine in his acceptance of Malfoy and this absurd situation, they would have to understand that this was going to be the new normal.
But Malfoy, being Malfoy, could never do things the easy way; he had to go down kicking and screaming, so Harry supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised when Malfoy stalked forward, bumping Harry roughly with his shoulder, and continued on to exit the Sanctuary without another word. The door slammed shut behind him, echoing across the empty, frost-covered hillside.
“Fine, be that way,” Harry muttered, sensing another Cold War coming on; this would be a battle to see who could hold out the longest, because Harry knew he hadn’t been imagining the way Malfoy’s attitude had shifted since they’d destroyed the locket. Things would escalate further now, and they would both dig their heels in—because Harry sure as hell wasn’t going to invite Malfoy out for more ‘Seeker’s games’ after this debacle—until Malfoy capitulated. And it would, of course, be Malfoy who gave in; he was the one with his mind to lose.
One wondered if Malfoy remembered that, though, for he ignored Harry as best he could for the next several days. He took to the sitting room during meals—if he joined them at all—and spent most of his free time in their room, always asleep by the time Harry turned in. Ron didn’t seem to really notice Malfoy’s odd behaviour, and Hermione blessedly did not ask what had happened between them, but there was a very palpable tension that had draped itself over the tent and all of its occupants.
Still, Malfoy showed no signs of breaking, and Harry felt his patience wearing thin; that they had come all this way, forged a kind of wartime camaraderie even, only to have it undone because Malfoy had been freaked out by a simple peck on the lips was ridiculous. If Harry could be adult about everything he’d been asked to do thus far, surely Malfoy could relax his starched propriety a hair so he didn’t snap.
He reminded himself that this was siege warfare, though; Malfoy was the one who needed him, and all he had to do was wait, just a little longer. In due course, the prissy prick would Accio himself a pair of balls and they would do what they must. Malfoy had already been riding the raw edge of sanity before Harry had tried to kiss him, so he was unlikely to hold out for much longer.
In the end, he lasted four days. Well, four-and-three-quarters, to be generous.
Harry was the last to turn in that night after a long, dragging day of trying to trace Ravenclaw’s line down through the ages. They’d lost track of her somewhere around the 1600s, with no mention of her diadem or if it had even really existed. After Hermione and Ron bid their goodnights, Harry shuffled to his room to grab his pyjamas.
Malfoy was already curled up in bed, fast asleep as was typical in recent days, and Harry resigned himself to another day at a draw—but barely had he closed the door when Malfoy threw off his blankets and leapt to his feet, rounding on Harry with startling speed. It was more than a little intimidating, being backed up against the wall, as Malfoy was taller than Harry by several now-meaningful inches, and their time in the Sanctuary and three square meals a day meant he’d gotten a bit broader about the chest as well, no longer the skin-and-bones frail thing he’d been when they had rescued him from the Ministry.
He was standing uncomfortably close to Harry and practically vibrating with anger, a manic look dancing in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak several times, but he seemed to reconsider before any words passed his lips. His face was a contorted mess of emotions, and Harry imagined he was holding himself together with little more than a thought and a prayer.
Enough was enough.
Harry grabbed Malfoy’s wrist with a frustrated growl, dragging him from the room and marching for the Sanctuary. It spoke to how far gone he must have been, how near he was to plunging over the edge, that Malfoy didn’t object to being manhandled.
They’d finally had Hermione sort out the Temperature Charms inside the Sanctuary, though she’d confessed to being flummoxed by how to handle the weather, unable to get the Conjured room to reflect an environment of her choosing. This resulted in the rather odd scene Harry and Malfoy stumbled into, with snow falling in a bright white curtain, only to dissipate before it settled, melted by the magically maintained balmy temperature.
He dropped Malfoy’s wrist, running his hands through his hair and pacing in a circle until he calmed down. Malfoy was already agitated; Harry didn’t need to make it worse by gloating. He could save that for afterwards.
He shoved his hands into his pockets, staring at Malfoy. “It’s really not that big a deal; you didn’t have to freak out like that about it.”
“Fuck you,” Malfoy snarled morosely, head hanging. He looked absolutely miserable, though he only had himself to blame.
“I told you—I didn’t do it because I wanted to.” Something unreadable crossed Malfoy’s face, and the fists clenched at his sides tightened further; if he took a swing at Harry, then he was going to regret it. “I did it because that’s how it’s got to be.” It felt like he was lecturing Malfoy at this point, but well, he kind of needed to be lectured at. Hermione was better at this sort of thing, but Harry really didn’t want to involve her in this if at all possible. It was bad enough he had to be involved. “You’re not a dragon. You turn into one on occasion, but you’re not one, no matter what these weird emotions and urges and instincts you’re dealing with are trying to tell you. You’re a human, so the way I see it, it’s human expressions of fidelity and whatnot that’re gonna settle whatever it is inside of you that’s bleeding over from your Animagus form.” He shrugged, trying to impress upon Malfoy how not a big deal this was. “If a peck on the lips is enough where you’re not gonna self-immolate, then I can handle it, really. And you should be able to handle it, too. Just close your eyes, think of England, and get it over with.”
Slowly, Malfoy brought his eyes up to meet Harry’s; Harry tried not to show how relieved he was not to see embers dancing behind them. Maybe Malfoy hadn’t been quite as far gone as Harry had feared. Then Malfoy blinked and looked away, wiping a hand over his face as he released a rough, mirthless huff of laughter. “This is rich.”
“You think this is me just being dramatic? That—what, I’m just twisting myself into knots because oh heavens a boy’s kissed me as a gesture? You think that’s what this is all about?” His expression was hard as steel. “Please. All the shit I’ve been through, and you think I’ve honestly got the energy to have a fit over this?”
Harry felt his world tilt, just a few degrees. “…Er, then…what’s the issue?” He’d been operating under the assumption that Malfoy had, understandably, been shocked to be told that if he wanted to maintain his sanity and keep his dragon in check, he’d need to endure a snogging session with another boy. Harry accepted that this was a predicament they were both involved in now, and when Malfoy had shown reluctance, Harry had necessarily taken up the slack.
Except now Malfoy was claiming it wasn’t reluctance, it wasn’t shock. So then—what?
Malfoy stared at him, then his throat bobbed—and he lashed out, grabbing Harry’s face and slotting their lips together, sudden and bold and demanding, and Harry froze. There was a disconnect, his mind only processing what had happened two beats behind, and before he’d even registered he was being kissed, Malfoy had his tongue sliding over the seam of Harry’s lips, breath hot and moist against his skin as he ratcheted the kiss up to eleven.
Pure reflex of shock had Harry struggling to jerk away, but Malfoy moved one arm down his back and locked it, leaving Harry to squirm feebly in his embrace. He tried to turn his head to the side, blood rushing in his ears—
But then just as quickly as it had started, it stopped, and Malfoy pulled back but not away. He rested his forehead against Harry’s, little beads of sweat dotting his brow with his eyes clenched shut tight, like he wanted to forget what he’d just done.
“That,” Malfoy breathed.
“That…huh?” Harry’s mind buzzed, still playing catch-up, and he imagined he could still feel the sweet burn of Malfoy’s bruising kiss, the heat and slide of Malfoy’s tongue on his lips. “What? What the hell—”
“That’s the issue.” Malfoy opened his eyes, and damn it all, the embers were kindled, flickering inside the iris with a worrisome, jerking dance. “It wouldn’t be a ‘peck on the lips’, you fucking tosser. You can’t cheat this. It’s got to mean something.”
Oh. Harry realised with dawning horror that he was right. Just like it hadn’t been enough before to simply shake hands or clap Malfoy on the shoulder—he’d needed to practically sit in Harry’s lap before the beast would be satisfied. Harry would have—had, even—given chaste kisses to friends, if occasion called for it, so that brief brush of lips had been par for the course, really.
It’s got to mean something.
Because this all meant something to Malfoy—subconsciously or consciously. They were in this situation in the first place because Harry meant something to Malfoy, and since he hadn’t said that kissing period wasn’t what he needed…that suggested it was only the kind of kissing that hadn’t been up to snuff.
This wasn’t swallowing a bug. This was settling in for a five-course dinner, soup to nuts, of every sort of creepy-crawly imaginable.
Harry closed his eyes, praying his voice didn’t break or quaver when he spoke again: “…We should, um. We should set—set some rules, I think.”
“Rules?” He could hear the confusion in Malfoy’s tone; for someone usually so sharp, he could be frustratingly oblivious when he wanted to. “…You’re not actually going to do this.” It was an accusation, daring Harry to take it back.
“Do I really have a choice?” Harry opened his eyes again, flicking them over to meet Malfoy’s. He kept his gaze steady, impressing upon Malfoy that he wouldn’t back down from this unspoken challenge. You can’t handle this, Potter, Malfoy didn’t say, but Harry heard it all the same, and while he honestly didn’t know if he could handle it or not, it was looking like he’d have to. “You can’t seriously think I’d say no, can you? Knowing what it would do to you?”
Or maybe he did think Harry would say ‘no’. He thought back to the visions the locket had produced, how they’d taunted, seeking out Malfoy’s weak spots and applying pressure until he broke. Malfoy wouldn’t allow himself to think that Harry might do this for him, might humiliate himself, because then that would be willingly placing his sanity, his well-being, in Harry’s hands. Trusting him.
Rely on others and you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.
Malfoy was going to wind up crushed one of these days, carrying all of that weight on his own shoulders. “Wasn’t I the one who tried to kiss you in the first place?”
“Only because you thought you could get away with the kind of kiss you probably gave your grandmother,” Malfoy sneered, and Harry didn’t remind him that he’d never had any grandparents, nor had he ever wanted to do more to a relative than slap them cross-eyed. “I believe I just explained that’s not going to work.”
“Yeah…” Harry made a face. “Vividly…” He could still feel the heat of Malfoy’s ‘explanation’ on his skin. “But I was ready to do it all the same.”
“Ever a Gryffindor,” Malfoy muttered, hunching his shoulders and staring down at the ground. “Diving headfirst into a commitment you’re nowhere near ready to bear.”
Harry could only shrug, because Malfoy wasn’t entirely wrong. “It’s kind of a running theme with me, if you haven’t noticed. I mean, look where we are now.”
Malfoy actually did look around, though Harry had meant the comment to be rhetorical. “…I’m still not entirely convinced this isn’t just some drawn-out nightmare, and I’m actually still safely tucked away in the Department of Mysteries under a Stasis Spell…”
If Malfoy was back to whinging, then that meant the arguments were over and he’d accepted his fate.
“All right, then—rules.” Harry tried to sort out in his mind what he was and wasn’t comfortable with, though he supposed it was really what he was less uncomfortable with and more uncomfortable with. “Um, number one—we only do it in the Sanctuary.” He rubbed his arms, squirming. “Just…it feels weird, if we do it elsewhere. Whatever’s in here…it’s just what we have to do.” He nodded to himself. Not the most eloquent of phrasing, but it got the message across.
“What we have to do,” Malfoy parroted, and he had that strange unreadable expression on his face again.
“…Yeah.” Harry tapped his lips in thought, pacing. “Oh, number two—only do it on the lips.”
“Where else would it be?” Malfoy shrieked, his cheeks and the tips of his ears flushed pink.
“Well, like—no bites or anything.” He’d caught glimpses of Aunt Petunia’s stories on the telly, he knew that people—couples—could get…a little carried away. He just wanted to make sure Malfoy understood this wouldn’t be anything like that. It was just…a business transaction, of sorts.
“Trust I shall make every effort to rein in my roiling, unbridled passion,” Malfoy drawled, lip curled into a sour sneer. “Right, I get to add one, then: Number three—you don’t breathe a word of this to Granger or Weasley.”
“Why would I tell them?” Harry sputtered.
“I don’t know! But you haven’t had any problems blabbing about all the stuff we’ve gotten up to so far, so I’d rather not chance it!”
“Trust me, if I could self-Obliviate and forget all about this, I would.” He shook his head. “They couldn’t Crucio it out of me.”
“See that it stays that way,” Malfoy said, threat evident in his tone. He then wilted, as it sank in that they were really going to do this. “This is so not fair!”
“Come on, pull yourself together.”
Harry rolled his eyes; the dramatics were back. “Yes, and it’s just as embarrassing for me, I hope you’ll remember.”
“Oh, is it?” Malfoy said flatly, glaring. “You get to come off like you’re doing all of this out of the goodness of your own heart! While me? I look like I’ve just been aching for you since First Year and this is the culmination of all my hopes and dreams!”
“And you haven’t,” Harry said, tone rising a bit at the end in question because, honestly, given the state of things…
“No, I haven’t, you utter titarse!” Malfoy shouted. “You think I just cast Unforgivables at you for a lark? Smashed your face in ‘cause I thought it looked better that way?”
Harry held his arms up in defence. “All right, all right. But then I don’t see the problem. Hermione’s already said it’s not about romantic feelings or anything—”
“I know what she says!”
“—It’s about finding a partner, an equal—”
Malfoy scoffed. “You’re so far from being my equal it’s not even funny.”
Harry’s patience, already thin enough to see through, was fading with each word that fell from Malfoy’s lips. “Well I’m not going to force you.”
“As if you could.” He always seemed to want to have the last word.
Malfoy really wasn’t helping anything; this was going to be difficult enough as it was, but with Malfoy griping and complaining the whole way, it was going to be downright dismal.
They were adults; surely they could be mature about this. Probably. “Well—think of it this way: you stopped fighting the urge to transform, and it didn’t turn out so bad, did it? Maybe this will work out the same.”
Malfoy sneered. “I’ve heard tell of your snogging prowess, Potter; trust my expectations are at the ground floor.”
And now Malfoy had bruised his ego. Harry’s patience could take quite a beating, but this was a bridge too far. “Oh, and you’re so much better at it? Felt like you were going to gnaw my face off earlier.” It wasn’t entirely the truth, but he took the swipe anyway.
“I’m at least the more experienced between us,” Malfoy said, studying his nails.
“Sure about that, are you? You’ve only ever seen me at school—but you know I’ve spent my summers with my Muggle relatives, and when I’m not with them, I’m with the Weasleys, who live near a lovely wizarding village of several hundred.” Harry could count the number of times he’d set foot in Ottery St. Catchpole on one hand, but Malfoy didn’t need to know that.
Malfoy’s expression darkened at the implication, and Harry felt a brief flicker of concern; perhaps it wasn’t the smartest of ideas to trigger what were likely deep veins of jealousy and possessiveness.
He took a steadying breath and paced out a circle, letting their tempers cool. “…Look, I know this isn’t ideal—” Malfoy snorted as if to say No, really? “But we’ve both got far bigger, more important issues to focus on now, so let’s just…do this, so we can move on?”
“Fine,” Malfoy ground out, wrinkling his nose. “…Try again, if you must. I’ll try to tamp down the urge to clock you this time.”
“Wh—now?” Harry blinked, thrown. He hadn’t realised Malfoy would expect them to just get right to it.
“Backing out, Potter?” Malfoy arched a brow, lips pressed into a thin, judging line. Like he’d known Harry would try and weasel out of the agreement. “What was all that talk for, then?”
“No, just—I mean, I thought…” Well obviously, whatever he’d thought, he’d thought wrong, and he should have seen this coming. Malfoy had been dancing on the edge of a breakdown for several days now, and with potential salvation so near at hand, the urge to claw back some of that reassurance and confidence would be nigh unbearable. “…All right.”
Malfoy swallowed, throat bobbing, and uncrossed his arms. He was holding himself stiff as a rail, and he looked terrified.
“Did you…want to close your eyes again?”
“No I did not. Just get it over with.”
Malfoy’s voice broke just on the end, and he seemed to bite his tongue in frustration. Harry took several measured steps forward until the toes of his trainers kissed the tips of Malfoy’s fancy leather loafers—where had he dug out all these spells for this ridiculously fashionable wardrobe?
Was he meant to touch Malfoy? They hadn’t discussed etiquette—and at this point, Harry didn’t really want to. Discussing it was nearly as bad as doing it, so he decided to play it by ear. Touch was something that he knew settled Malfoy, at least on a subconscious level. If Malfoy didn’t want Harry touching him, he would surely let Harry know.
He brought his hands up and let them rest just at the knobby joint of Malfoy’s elbows, steadying the both of them in the tentative embrace. He could feel the fine thread of tension racing through Malfoy’s sinewy body, stretched tight and taut and ready to snap in the next strong breeze. Slowly, so as not to spook, Harry traced the jut of bone, memorising it, like Malfoy had done to him after the close call in Godric’s Hollow. He felt the tension ease, though only a hair, and Malfoy released a soft, haggard breath.
Harry found himself suddenly over-conscious of his technique. His earlier boasts of experience had been pure bravado, and while Harry was not entirely ignorant of the dynamics of kissing someone, he was certainly no Casanova. He and Malfoy were the worst people in the world to be stuck doing this. They were both equally terrified of losing face in front of the other, and both able to cut each other particularly cruelly if they felt so inclined. When it came down to it, Harry thought he’d probably rather kiss Voldemort than Malfoy, if only because he didn’t really care what Voldemort thought of him.
He did care what Malfoy thought of him, though. It was curious to think, but true. He didn’t want to seem cruel, or insensitive. He had so much power over Malfoy right now, in so many respects, and he wanted to show Malfoy that this trust he was obliged to place in Harry—this trust he would never have freely offered—was not unappreciated and not something Harry took lightly. He wanted to show him he appreciated the efforts Malfoy was making—though the steps were small at times, and he backslid on occasion.
The larger battle they were embroiled in now, together, made these smaller ones seem so inconsequential, and he just wanted to stop wasting his energy on these pointless fights so they could focus on the more important ones.
Harry lifted his chin, tilting his head just to the side so that the tips of their noses brushed—and Malfoy inhaled sharply, holding his breath. Harry stole his moment, leaning forward to bring their lips together. They held there for a long beat, neither moving, with mouths clamped shut and lips pursed tight. It was nothing like the heat and bruising force Malfoy had used on Harry earlier, and Harry felt a bolt of panic spear through him. He hadn’t a clue where to go from here—when the other party was this unenthusiastic, generally it was good manners to stop—and any moment now, Malfoy was going to realise he’d been bluffing and storm off in a strop.
But then Malfoy let his mouth fall open, just a hair, and a breathy little sigh escaped. Harry gave a gentle tug on Malfoy’s elbows to draw him down, closer, and he deepened the kiss. Malfoy’s hands slid up to curve around the back of Harry’s shoulders, clutching the fabric of his shirt with an edge of desperation, and he let Harry nibble on the soft of his lip. He pressed forward, for more contact, and Malfoy met him, turning into the pressure and running his tongue over the seam of Harry’s lips, like he’d done before.
It was slick, and hot, and bloody brilliant. Another way to make Malfoy shut up, aside from the occasional little sigh or catch of breath, and if Harry just focused on the sensations, gave himself over to it, it was…really not bad. Not bad at all. Too easy, in fact, to forget who he was doing this with and why. Too easy to just let it happen, to do it.
Harry took an open-mouth breath, and Malfoy’s tongue slipped between his lips, brushing against Harry’s. It was alarmingly hot, but Harry struggled to find the will to break the kiss to address it. It probably wasn’t important. Probably. He nipped Malfoy’s lower lip, then laved his tongue over it in apology. “…Is your tongue getting hot because you’re about to puke fire, or…?”
“Dunno…” Malfoy’s pointy nose was digging into Harry’s cheek, and his lashes fluttered against Harry’s. “Should we stop, to be safe?”
“Nah…” Harry said, muzzily, and laid down a soft, insistent kiss at the corner of Malfoy’s mouth, encouraging him to turn into it at a lovely angle that let Harry cover Malfoy’s lips wholly with his own. They moved with a gentle, languid rhythm that Harry could get drunk on, and what had he been worried about? How had he thought he could screw this up? They fit perfectly, so warm and right, and it was like Malfoy read his mind—could Malfoy read his mind? Oh, what if they used Legilimency and—
A hand came to rest on Harry’s hip, though, and Malfoy drew back, their noses brushing. Harry’s breath was coming in warm, short huffs, and he felt flushed all over. His lips tingled, plumped and full, and he tamped down a giddy little grin, tilting his head to press in again—but then Malfoy pulled back, properly, and glanced away, covering his mouth with his arm and clenching his eyes shut tight.
Harry tensed. “What? Wh—did I do—”
Malfoy just shook his head, taking a step back. With the distance came fresh air, and each breath cleared the haze from Harry’s mind just a bit more. He took a moment to put his head back on straight while Malfoy collected himself.
Fuck. He’d just been snogging—full on snogging—Draco Malfoy. And…and he’d kind of liked it. Granted, that had been the point of the whole exercise: human contact, intimacy, and that damned reassurance. The dragon had to be purring like a kitten after that display, surely. Harry could say, unequivocally, that he’d never done anything like that with…well, anyone. If Malfoy needed further reassurance that he was not someone Harry was going to dismiss so easily, that he was not someone Harry was disgusted to touch, Harry didn’t know how he could express it. He’d had Malfoy’s tongue halfway down his throat, for god’s sake.
Malfoy straightened, slapping his cheeks a few times. He blinked, and the embers were gone now. On the whole, he looked a lot healthier than he had five minutes ago. He cleared his throat, then said to Harry, “You should go to bed.”
Harry frowned; that hadn’t exactly been what he’d expected to hear after all that. “Uh…okay…” It was late, admittedly—but he wasn’t really tired. He’d let himself get carried away, though, so perhaps turning in was for the best. He needed some time to unpack what he’d just done. A decade ought to do it.
He turned to leave—but Malfoy just stood there, arms crossed over his chest again and blankly staring off into the distance. “You’re not coming?”
Malfoy shook his head shortly. “…I need to fly a bit, I think. Clear my head.”
Harry only just stopped himself from offering to stay; the unspoken request for privacy could not have been any clearer.
There were no biting remarks. No derisive comments that, “Well, it was adequate, but honestly I expected more from the Chosen One.” Harry supposed it was the best he could hope for, under the circumstances. He didn’t think his ego could take brutal honesty right now, and as the fog of arousal lifted from his mind, he found he was happy to place a bit of distance between them.
“I’ll…see you tomorrow, then?”
Malfoy had one arm thrown over his chest now, stretching. “Yes, I expect you will.”
“You sure you don’t need me to—”
“You’ve done quite enough this evening,” Malfoy bit out. “Good night.”
For reasons beyond Harry, Malfoy seemed almost as tense and irritable now as he’d been before they’d kissed, and this was probably the kindest send-off he was going to receive. A not insignificant part of Harry felt offended he was being so curtly dismissed, like a cheap lay, but now did not seem to be the time to discuss it, so bereft of excuses to dawdle in the Sanctuary any longer, and with his own complicated emotions to sort through, Harry returned to their bedroom alone.