The turn of the year failed to bring substantial progress in their quest, but the notion of a fresh start did boost their spirits somewhat. Harry poured himself wholeheartedly into Patronus training with Draco—Draco, he had to remind himself at odd intervals, because if he was going to insist on being called Harry, some reciprocation was merited—who still struggled to produce even the finest of protective mists. However, where before his failures had been met with tantrums and snits, Draco now simply redoubled his efforts with grittier determination when he came up short (most days, at least), which Harry counted as progress in and of itself.
Further, it seemed to make Draco feel a little better knowing that Harry was struggling almost as valiantly with mastering the egg custard as he’d resolved, which usually burned or didn’t set properly. He’d managed it decently only once, while Draco and Hermione had been out on a food run, but Ron had eaten the evidence before they’d returned. Draco had gone on to insist Harry had just made up the story, which only made Harry want to shove his pale, pointy face in all of the failed attempts.
Horcrux hunting was no easier, by any stretch, but the new year had still brought a certain degree of levity and hope to their situation, and like an early thaw, everything suddenly flowed just a bit more smoothly, easing tensions all around. To Harry’s pleasant surprise, Draco’s stubbornness shifted to a sort of plucky perseverance and a passion for research that rivalled Hermione’s own. The two were never going to be the best of chums, but they made an interesting team that Ron and Harry could only observe from afar with bemusement and wary curiosity.
It was in the midst of one of the pair’s more spirited ‘disagreements’—this time concerning whether Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem had truly been lost or stolen, or if it might have been secretly passed down to her daughter for reasons unknown—that Ron cornered Harry as he finished the Scouring up and cleared down the dinner table.
“…So, ‘Draco’, huh?” Ron asked, after taking a long sip of his post-prandial cuppa and staring at Harry for an uncomfortable beat.
Harry left the dishes to their own devices, casting Tergeo on a grimy dish cloth before wiping down the table. “I dunno, just seemed silly otherwise. After all we’ve been through, you know? He hasn’t been horrible, not in a while, you’ve got to admit. And it was the new year, so I just thought…” He’d tried to be as casual as possible, but by the end of his rambling, he worried he’d just come off defensive.
Ron, who’d borne the greater brunt of Draco’s cruel jabs over the years, just stared down into his mug with a thoughtful frown. “…Yeah, I suppose.”
Harry realised the idea of his getting on well with Draco must have struck Ron as odd at best and foreboding at worst, and he quickly reassured him, “I’m not saying you have to call him that or anything—honestly, I’m not. It just…felt like it was time. For me, I mean. But hey—” He nudged Ron with an elbow and waggled his brows. “I hear girls really like guys showing that they’re the bigger man and all, too. Y’know, letting bygones be bygones and all that?”
Ron flicked his eyes up to meet Harry’s, frown tinged with suspicion. “…You really think?”
“Guess they didn’t include that one in Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, huh?”
Ron shoved his shoulder with a loopy grin, and Harry let Ron’s infectious good mood wash over him. Draco would hate Ron using his given name—he barely tolerated it from Harry as it was—but maybe it would guilt him into calling Ron and Hermione by their names as well. This wasn’t exactly conducive to churning up happy memories for Draco, but it would definitely bolster Harry’s own Patronus.
When Patronus practice got to be just too much for Draco, Harry switched off with training in other defensive and offensive spells as well, occasionally convincing Ron or Hermione to join them for mock duels. Draco was not a poor dueller, and his skills did not appear to have slackened since they’d first crossed wands back in Second Year. He soaked up each new spell like a sponge, soundly besting even Harry in short order after each lesson, to Harry’s mortification—perhaps his own skills were slipping?
But these sessions reminded Harry sorely of the DA and the camaraderie they’d built up between the Houses and years, and he caught himself daydreaming on more than one occasion.
It was only, he couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if he’d tried—really tried—to get to know Draco before all of this. If he’d invited Draco and other Slytherins to join the DA, gone out of his way to be the bigger man, like he’d been lecturing Ron, and made an effort at understanding these people whose worth he’d decided upon before he’d ever even learned their names.
Would this—the four of them on the run across the British countryside, trying to figure out how to take down Voldemort—have been the plan all along? Would Draco have been one of the seven Harrys, risking his life for his friend? Would Dumbledore still be alive?
These were dangerous what-ifs if he dug too deeply—and even without digging deeply, they still brought about a kind of dull pain, like a rotting tooth that throbbed when he poked at it, so he tried to tell himself to leave well enough alone. There was no changing the past—he’d learned that back in Third Year—but he could still learn from it and try to make up for it. To be better going forward. Malfoy had been an annoying, vindictive, cruel little pissant, but Draco was all those things turned on their head. He was stubborn and calculating and fixated, and those were all qualities they could use right now, if applied properly.
Hermione had suggested, months ago now, that Draco just needed to feel like he was a part of something, that he was valued—and she’d been right, of course. That desire to belong, to be needed, to be wanted was at the core of everything that Draco was, and Harry marvelled that he actually felt guilty for having held back his acceptance of Draco’s hand in friendship for so long.
It wasn’t as if he’d forgotten, well, everything Draco had done back when he’d still insisted upon being a horrid shit to the three of them (and most everyone else not sporting Slytherin green-and-silver).
It was only that he’d realised now how little real effort it would have taken to thaw the hostilities between them—and what a bounty he would have earned in return for such a gesture. So many wasted years, Harry struggling where he needn’t have—Draco trapped in a cycle he thought he might never escape, broken only by an extraordinary act of desperation and a heavy sacrifice.
Harry knew if he tried to bring it up with Draco, if he made any attempt at apologising, it would blow up in his face—because Draco was the picture of pride, and he hadn’t yet been worn down enough, hadn’t yet let Harry close enough, that he could be that naked and raw. There were still lines they didn’t cross, topics they didn’t discuss, and that was how it had to be for now.
Just for now, though. Just until Harry got Draco to trust in him, to believe in him. Then, who knew?
Harry jolted awake with a start, immediately on his guard and groping for his wand with one hand and his glasses with the other. It was dark, so dark he couldn’t tell if he had his eyes open or still closed. Someone was shaking his shoulder roughly, and Harry blinked blearily in the darkness until Draco’s pale, peaky face swam into view. He was leaned over Harry, one knee on the mattress, and he looked like he’d just seen a ghost.
Harry lifted up onto his elbows. “Wh—what’s wrong?” The lamps brightened a tick, just enough to gild everything in a warm glow. Draco’s hair was in disarray; whatever was happening, he hadn’t taken the time to make himself presentable—and Draco always took the time. Harry swallowed nervously. “Is something—”
“I had—” Draco grimaced, shaking his head. “Just—can we go? To the Sanctuary?”
Harry’s thoughts were muzzy, and he struggled to understand what Draco was asking. “What time is it?”
“Almost four,” Draco said. “…I know it’s late—or early, but…I just need to go. I need you to come with me.”
“Seriously?” Harry wiped his face. “Right now?” At this hour, he was beyond caring if he sounded short—but a sliver of worry wormed its way into his thoughts. Draco hadn’t needed to go to the Sanctuary at this time of night for months now. Not since early on, when he’d still been struggling for reassurance that Harry gave a damn about him. If something had happened that had him waking in the middle of the night…
Draco’s breathing was ragged, and he ran a hand through his hair, tousling it into something less like bed-head and more like ‘freshly tumbled’. “I—had a nightmare,” he grit out, mortification thick in his voice, and though the lamps burned too low to tell, Harry was sure he was blushing furiously. An irritated whine caught in his voice as his desperation mounted. “I just need to—just for a moment…” He still had a hand on Harry’s shoulder, and he squeezed to impress his meaning. “I don’t need to transform or anything, really, just…” He clenched his eyes shut, and his tongue darted out between his lips, just a peek of pink that betrayed how closely he was skirting the edge of restraint.
Harry flopped back down on the bed, his heartrate returning to normal territory from the panicked fibrillations Draco’s rude awakening had caused. There was no worry of Draco collapsing and painting the floorboards with white-hot lava, no chance the dragon was about to tear its way through Draco’s skin like wet paper. It was just a nightmare—a bog-standard nightmare. Harry covered his eyes with the back of one hand, releasing a juddering exhalation. “Jesus, you scared the crap out of me…”
“Can we go then? I’m—Potter, I need to…”
Harry brought his arm back down; Draco was still leaning over him. Even in the dim light, he still looked pale. He always did, though—it was a fair complexion that the ancestral Malfoys had probably made ritual sacrifice to achieve. Like fine porcelain, and just as fragile.
Fatigue washed through Harry now that the adrenaline burst had dissipated, and he groaned inwardly at the thought of hauling himself out of his warm bed, putting on a robe and slippers and making the trek out into the Sanctuary. He’d never be able to get back to sleep afterwards, he was sure; it was too close to dawn.
And they needed all the sleep they could spare these days, to be sure they were ready for anything. Hermione had insisted, worried they’d miss something in their research if they stayed up too late poring through books for Horcrux hints.
Draco was clearly in a bad way, though, and Harry eased upright, pulling his legs up so he was sitting cross-legged on the mattress. He patted the empty space he’d made, smoothing out the sheets. “Let’s just…do it here. Do you mind?” If Draco really didn’t need to transform, then there was little point in going all the way out to the Sanctuary. All he needed was closeness and the soothing comfort of Harry’s palpable presence—which meant he should be able to be…reassured…anywhere, really.
Harry could feel Draco’s eyes weighing heavy on him, dark and wary. “…That’s against the rules.”
“…Yeah, but it’s a rule I set. And I’m exhausted and I really want to go back to sleep.” Harry waved vaguely towards the doorway. “Anyway, we’ve…” He had to take a running leap to get the word out. “We’ve kissed outside the Sanctuary before, back at New Year’s—”
“I hardly think that counts—”
“—and the world didn’t end, and maybe…maybe this’ll calm us both down, and we can get it over with and go back to sleep.” Harry reached out and grabbed the sleeve of Draco’s frou-frou ruffled nightshirt, tugging him forward. Draco held his ground, long enough to swallow thickly and mouth some manner of oath under his breath, and then shifted onto the mattress. He still looked lost and desperate, and he left an armspan of space between himself and Harry.
Harry was too tired to wait forever and still a little sleep-drunk, so when struck by the urge to hold Draco’s hand, he indulged. “…You’re shaking,” he said.
“I just had a nightmare; of course I’m shaking.” Then he added, with a sharp, warning look, “And I know you’ve had your fair share of them, so you’re hardly in any place to judge.”
“I wasn’t judging,” Harry said, running a thumb over Draco’s bony knuckles. “…Did you want to talk about it?”
Draco stared at him with an odd longing, and Harry wondered if sometimes he got lost in imagining the what-ifs too. “…No, I don’t,” he said, then leaned forward to close the distance and pressed his lips to Harry’s.
He brought his free hand up, fingers braced along Harry’s jaw rough with the previous day’s stubble, then dipped his thumb into the divot of Harry’s chin and coaxed his mouth open just wide enough to run his tongue along the soft of Harry’s lips.
Harry leaned into the kiss, shifting closer on the bed and smiling in the warm darkness when he felt Draco draw his other leg up. He took the hand he’d been stroking by the wrist and brought it up to splay, palm flat, over the soft cotton of Harry’s t-shirt. He held it there, just over his heart, so Draco could feel it beating, pumping steady and strong, and know that whatever he’d seen in his nightmare, it hadn’t been real. Reassurance. He let his hand drop away, and Draco clenched his fist in the flimsy material of Harry’s shirt, holding on for dear life.
But desperate as he’d sounded and torn though his expression had been, Draco’s kisses tonight were just as exhausted as Harry felt—slow and languid, less like a kiss and more an excuse for closeness, to touch, to be touched and grounded. Sometimes, Draco kissed him like this, and Harry had yet to wrap his mind around it. Draco had told him it had to mean something, these things they did—be it talking or touching or kissing—but he’d never quite explained what it had to mean. What Draco thought about, in moments like this.
It was too early to be doing any sort of thinking, though, and mimicking Draco back at New Year’s, Harry cocked his head to the side and mapped a trail of nibbling kisses over Draco’s baby-smooth cheek to his ear. “We really should sleep.”
Draco pulled back, ducking his head in to rejoin the kiss with a whining huff that said he hadn’t appreciated the interruption. “I don’t…want to sleep,” he breathed, voice rough and gravelly, and a wild part of Harry wondered what he wanted to do instead: just more and more of this?
But that was, by definition, a want—and not a need. So not likely.
He lost himself in the ebb and flow of Draco’s kisses for another lazy few minutes. He’d long grown tired of making a competition of it, letting Draco take what he needed and simply going along for the ride—it was easier that way, and more pleasant for it. Too soon, though, he felt sleep snaking its insistent arms around him. He sighed, and kissed the curve of Draco’s lips, holding there to whisper against his skin, “It wasn’t real, you know.”
Draco’s arms slid up around his shoulders, and he nearly squeezed the life out of Harry. “You think I don’t know that?” he said, bitterness thick in his voice.
“…Yeah, I guess it’s just one of those things you say.”
Harry carefully extricated himself from Draco’s embrace, sliding down onto his back and holding up the comforter in invitation. He was rapidly draining of energy for further ‘reassurance’, so this would have to do if Draco wasn’t ready to face the night on his own again just yet.
He wasn’t certain Draco would accept—it was a tiny bed, after all, and perhaps their mini-snogging session had been sufficient. Dreams could feel just as real as reality sometimes, but Draco was generally loath to let his mask slip and be vulnerable. Even for Harry. Or maybe especially for Harry.
But after only a moment’s indecision, Draco gingerly unfolded himself so he could fit alongside Harry without elbowing or kneeing him anywhere sensitive. There was only room for the one pillow, so they wound up sharing it, facing each other in an awkward silence.
Harry tried to dispel the tension, running his fingers up and down Draco’s arm distractedly—but the hypnotic gesture mostly only served to lull him into a quiet doze, his eyes fluttering shut as he drifted between sleep and waking. “…Sure you don’t want to talk about it?” he murmured.
Draco’s eyes were heavy-lidded and dark, fixing Harry in the gloom. “Why would you want to hear?”
Harry shrugged. “Well clearly you know I’ve got a little experience with nightmares myself. It’s nice sometimes, hearing about ones that aren’t real.”
A long stretch of silence settled between them. The lamps dimmed again, down to faint little embers that reminded Harry of Draco’s eyes on the verge of a transformation—all that rage and power just barely leashed, waiting to explode with the furnaces already lit.
Then Draco spoke in a soft, velvety voice that felt like it brushed against every single one of the tiny, sensitive hairs in Harry’s ears. “I dreamt I was the dragon…in a battle. I saw the Dark Lord standing alone, apart from his Death Eaters, and I struck him down with fire and fury and everything I had. I ripped and crushed and burned and it felt…” Draco closed his eyes, sighing in relief. “Amazing. Except when I looked on what I’d done…all I saw was my mother.” He opened his eyes again, his gaze boring into Harry’s; there was no more exhaustion, only grim acceptance. “She was the one I’d attacked, not him. I held her, held her right in my arms as her life drained away, and she tried to say something to me, before—” He inhaled sharply and was quiet, collecting himself. Harry didn’t prod, and he didn’t doze. “…I wanted to kill him. So badly. I’ve never wanted to kill anyone before, not even—” He caught himself. “But I wanted to kill him, and I could feel his blood, wet and warm in my mouth, except it was—”
He bit his tongue, whimpering in pain, and Harry winced sympathetically.
Harry had had dreams like that before. Just normal ones, not the prophetic type—ones where he had finally struck down Voldemort in any of a dozen ways, only to find his shotgun focus had cost him the lives of his friends. Sometimes it was Ron or Hermione—or both—sometimes it was a beloved member of the Order. Sometimes it was even his parents and Sirius, dying all over again so that Harry could live, do what he’d evidently been destined to do.
He wondered what his Boggart would look like these days.
Harry let his hand drop down between them, groping until he found Draco’s and laced their fingers together with a hearty squeeze. “We’ll save them.”
“You can’t promise that,” Draco said miserably. “You can’t even promise we’ll survive.”
“…No, I suppose I can’t,” he admitted, and this drew a rough, mirthless chuckle from Draco.
“You’re not doing a very good job of getting me to trust you.”
“I dunno,” Harry said with a lopsided shrug. “You’re sleeping in the same bed as me; clearly you trust me a little.”
“I’m not asleep.”
“No, you’re not; let’s fix that.” He released Draco’s hand, punching the pillow to fluff it beneath his head. It had been four when Draco had woken him; now, it would be nearer to four-thirty, and that was almost five, which might as well be morning. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and then letting it out in a long, slow exhalation as he struggled to quiet his thoughts.
“Weasley called me ‘Draco’ today.”
Harry smiled into the pillow. “’S your name, isn’t it?”
“Nothing good will come of this. I’m not calling him ‘Ron’, just so we’re clear.”
“You just did,” Harry grumbled. “Now shut up and go to sleep or go back to your own bed…”
He thought for a moment that Draco might do just that, if only to be contrary; they were no longer kissing, and it was…strange. Lying here like this, so close and vulnerable. He’d bunked with Ron before when space had been in short supply at the Quidditch World Cup, but this was a different beast altogether. There was a fragile intimacy that Harry worried he’d crush if he moved even a muscle. He didn’t want Draco to go, and risk disturbing whatever this was before it had taken proper root.
But Draco wasn’t saying anything, and he wasn’t moving, and Harry had to know—he opened his eyes. Draco was staring at him with that curious expression of longing again, lip tucked between his teeth.
But it was four-thirty going on five, and Harry was tired. So he surged forward to kiss Draco quiet again—if only because he really, really wanted to go back to sleep.