Title: A Matter of Truth
Summary: Damn everything to hell, he was in this mess because he hadn't been truthful about things, and even if it made things worse, he was going to be truthful from now on.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Deathly Hallows compliant? Up until the epilogue.
Word Count: 7400
Author's Notes: For crimson_stained with much love.
A Matter of Truth
June, Grimmauld Place, London
Working together during the war had significantly changed the way Harry thought of Draco. He knew that the anger and frustration and antagonism that had colored his feelings for Draco when they'd been back at school had long since faded, but he also recognized that the feelings he'd developed for Draco were ones he'd never expected.
Some were easy to acknowledge. There was curiosity, certainly; however much he'd discovered about Draco (and he'd discovered quite a lot over five and a half grueling years of war), he still had about a thousand questions he wanted to ask but had never dared to. He felt genuine sympathy for everything the other boy had been through: he'd lost his father during the war, and though his mother had survived, her health—both physical and emotional—was fragile. He even, Harry admitted to himself, had a lot of respect for Draco. They'd worked on the same side for almost as long as they'd been on opposing ones, and he'd had plenty of chances to get to see what he knew now was the 'real' Draco. Over time, they'd gone from working simply on the same side to often working side by side, and Harry had found himself seeking Draco out not just as an ally but also as a companion, someone whose company he found comfort in. Someone whose company he enjoyed. And that was where it got tricky, because he knew he felt things that he was hesitant to actually define. Whenever he let himself think about it (which wasn't often), he danced around actually putting a label on it, and tried instead to generalize things.
Draco, Harry had finally decided, made him feel…well, 'at home' came close. However bizarre it might seem, it was not his friends from Gryffindor with whom he felt most able to be himself, it was the Slytherin with whom he had been at odds for years. Somehow it was never necessary to present the façade of being 'The Boy Who Lived' with Draco, whereas that facet of his identity always seemed to be thrust upon him when he was with anyone else. Even Ron and Hermione.
He knew on a subconscious level that his feelings about Draco would have to be addressed, but during the war he told himself that he couldn't afford to be confused or distracted, so he pushed them firmly away and told himself he'd figure everything out when they were finally on the other side. If they both made it.
And for a few giddy, time-blurred weeks, everyone had hung on, living in the Order headquarters and celebrating, wrapping up loose ends that didn't really need wrapping, and making plans for how to resume the normal life they'd had before the war. Harry had pulled away from the chaos to make plans of his own, but to his frustration, his days of self-imposed seclusion were not particularly helpful. In fact, he'd come to only two conclusions: first, that he didn't seem to have had a life to resume, and second, that he couldn't get Draco Malfoy out of his mind.
He pulled further back from the hyper-happiness of his friends and allies and spent more days by himself, ostensibly working with the Ministry to sort out odds and ends from the war, but really trying to figure out why the hell every thought he had led him back to Draco. Far from finding any answers, he only found himself getting more confused and frustrated. By the time he realized that the only way to really figure it out was to go see Draco, Draco had packed his few belongings and left.
He hadn't even said goodbye.
Harry had felt bereft, and oddly betrayed. He told himself he had no right to feel either of those things. After all, the war was over. People had lives to get back to.
Except me, he reminded himself. I have to build one.
September 28, Hogwarts
When he took the job as flying instructor and Quidditch coach at Hogwarts, Harry had expected to work hard. He knew that just because flying was something he excelled at, something he found both remarkably easy and enormously fun, that didn't mean that it would be simple to teach it; that even though there were loads of straightforward strategies and drills one could focus on in Quidditch, it was one of the most complex and difficult games in the world.
In fact, he had been ready to sign one of the four contracts he'd been offered to play professional Quidditch when Professor McGonagall had owled him and asked him to think about joining the staff at his old school instead. To his own surprise, he'd only hesitated a second before accepting. He packed up and moved back to Hogwarts, and the relief he felt at refusing the Quidditch contracts and leaving the tiny flat he'd been living alone in for the past six months was superseded only by the sense of rightness he felt as soon as he got back on school grounds.
He settled into his quarters and immersed himself in the daily life of school from the new and delightful perspective of not having to worry about either homework or Voldemort. If he felt a bit hollow inside, well, that was just because it was different without all his friends there. It would take a bit of time to adjust. That was only to be expected.
If he sometimes caught himself looking unconsciously around for a tall blond, well, he told himself, that was to be expected, too. After all, Draco had always been at Hogwarts with Harry, so it was only natural that once Harry was back there he'd expect to see him. He steadfastly ignored the little voice in his head that demanded to know why, if that were the case, he wasn't also looking for Ron or Seamus.
He also ignored the feeling of emptiness he had inside by pouring all his energy into his students and the fledgling House Quidditch teams, and told himself he was expecting too much to want more than what he had. Life, he tried repeatedly to convince himself, was fantastic.
Then, three and a half weeks after the start of the school year, three things occurred practically at the same time, and together formed a catalyst that turned his peaceful if unsatisfying life into complete chaos. Madam Pomfrey was called away to look after an elderly aunt; an unexpected and vicious outbreak of Dragon Pox tore through the school; and, for the second time in his life, he broke his right arm while flying.
This time, he'd been working with a timid first year from Ravenclaw whose fear of getting on a broomstick was reminiscent of Hermione's; he'd finally coaxed her into the air only to have her panic and fall off the broom. He'd flown beneath her and broken her fall, but she'd landed heavily on his outstretched arm and, just like back in second year, he'd felt the bone break.
It happened before Poppy had been called away. They'd exchanged pleasantries about how much easier it was for her to heal the bones than to have to re-grow them, as she had last time, and Harry had just been walking out the door of the Hospital Wing when the first of the Dragon Pox cases had come in. They were two Hufflepuffs who were scratching up a storm and whose skin was covered in the distinctive greenish-brown rash, and they complained of feeling weak and nauseous. Within minutes, they'd both been sick all over the floor, and Harry had departed as quickly as possible, holding his breath against the vile odor and waving his newly-healed arm in gratitude.
By the following day, seven more cases of the highly contagious disease had been diagnosed, and by the end of the week, the count was up to eighteen. The Hospital Wing was filled to overflowing and as cases continued to walk, literally, through the doors, Professor McGonagall appealed to the staff for help.
"Poppy can't do all this by herself; if you have had emergency medical training, please report to the Hospital Wing to assist her." She'd looked pointedly at Harry. "Potter, you were, I believe, present when the first cases were diagnosed; if you haven't contracted it by now, you're probably immune."
Resigned, Harry had cancelled his classes and headed over with two of his colleagues. By the end of the following week, they had set up additional beds in the corridor, and when Poppy was called away the week after that, Harry was at his wits' end. He was the only one of the three who'd been working in the Hospital Wing who was still healthy, the other two having come down with the disease themselves, and he was exhausted.
"Can't we get someone from outside Hogwarts to come help?" he asked desperately when McGonagall stopped by to see how things were going.
"Do you think I haven't tried? I've owled everyone I know. Who, exactly, do you suggest I ask, Potter?" Her crisp voice lanced through him, and Harry winced. He knew she was stretched thin these days, too; in addition to all of her regular responsibilities involved in running the school, she was trying to cover all of his flying classes.
"I don't know!" He waved his wand distractedly, cleaning up yet another mess from a sick student nearby even as he moved to assist one throwing up across the room. "As long as they're qualified medical help, I really don't care who shows up at this point."
Before he made it more than a step, three more students appeared, scratching and heaving, and he groaned inwardly, feeling exhaustion and his own nausea rise, along with an uncharacteristic surge of irrational annoyance. "Honestly. I'm not asking for anyone to take over or anything. All I'm asking for is a bit of help. Doesn't being The Boy Who Lived carry any weight, anymore?"
October 2nd, Hogwarts
"Draco Malfoy?" Harry's voice was high and incredulous. "You got Draco Malfoy to help?" Two solid weeks of unabated sick duty had taken its toll on him; he was, he decided, much too emotional. Certainly, the jolt of adrenaline that rushed through him had to be due to exhaustion. He couldn't be that excited about seeing Draco again. Or that nervous.
Professor McGonagall adjusted her spectacles and shot him a hard look. "I thought you'd be a bit more appreciative that help is on the way, Potter. I rather thought you and Mr. Malfoy had buried the hatchet some years ago. It seemed to me as though you got on reasonably well together during the war. And if I may quote your own words back to you: 'As long as they're qualified medical help, I really don't care who shows up at this point.' As you well know, Mr. Malfoy is quite qualified: over the course of the war he completed his medi-wizard training with the highest marks; he was one of our best medics."
Harry stared back at her, still reeling, and tried to keep up. "We did. And he was." He couldn't, somehow, get past the idea that Draco would be arriving to help. To help him. He'd be working with Draco again…his heart skipped a beat. "And so you asked him to help?"
Her eyes narrowed and Harry recognized the hard squint—even in his completely distracted state—as being a sign that she was losing patience. "Not this time. You did."
"Me?" Her reply commanded his immediate attention. "I did?"
She narrowed her eyes even more and drew in a deep breath. "Quoting again, I do believe your exact words were, 'All I'm asking for is a bit of help. Doesn't being The Boy Who Lived carry any weight?' Apparently, Mr. Potter, it does. When I asked last week, he refused me." She picked up a quill and pulled a stack of parchments waiting for her signature toward her, and looked back at Harry, one eyebrow lifted slightly and what looked suspiciously like a smirk at one corner of her mouth. "This time, I told him that the request was from you personally; he was much more willing to entertain it." She nodded dismissively. "He'll be here in the morning. Why don't you try and get some sleep, Potter? You look as though you could use it. I'll head over to the Hospital Ward after I sign these and cover for you for a bit."
Harry stumbled back to his quarters, mind spinning and dead on his feet, snorting to himself. "'Much more willing to entertain it...' What the hell does that mean? And of course I could use some sleep; I've been cleaning up vomit and applying lotion to scabby teenagers for almost three weeks straight." Draco Malfoy is willing to entertain personal requests from me… He felt a surge of heat flood through his system, curling through his center in a disturbingly sensual way; his mind went dangerous places and he yanked it back. Sleep, he told himself, you need sleep. You have to get up tomorrow and go back to the Hospital Wing.
And tomorrow, Draco Malfoy would be in the Hospital Wing helping him. Why did that thought suddenly make vomit and scabs so much more appealing?
October 2nd, Paris, France
"Explain again, please, how it is that you've been roped into this?" Pansy tried hard to keep the impatience out of her voice, but she knew she failed. Badly. "I thought you said 'no' to McGonagall's owl last week." When Draco was at his most open and communicative, it was difficult to get information out of him; when he was being deliberately evasive, as he was now, it was damn near impossible. She watched her best friend shrug noncommittally and toss another jumper into his open bag.
"I did." He pulled open a drawer and put half a dozen pairs of socks in the bag on top of the jumper. "I got another owl yesterday; he's—they're really strapped. So I'm just going for a few days. To help out a bit."
She snorted, noting the change of pronoun and deciding to let it ride for the moment. "Yes, Draco. Because your altruism has always run so deep."
"Pansy, I realize I have not always been the epitome of benevolence toward my fellow man, but is it so hard to believe that I might truly want to help, here?"
She stood and placed her hands on her hips. "When 'helping' means taking care of puking teenagers, yes, it is, actually." She watched his chin lift almost imperceptibly in the way she knew meant he wasn't going to budge from his story and her eyes narrowed. Why he thought for a second that she would fall for it, she didn't know. Deciding to take the bull by the horns, she folded her arms across her chest and changed to direct attack mode. "This change of heart wouldn't have anything at all to do with the fact that Harry Potter is in residence at Hogwarts, would it?"
He froze for a second and then, not meeting her eyes said casually, too casually, "Well, actually, he's the one who asked for me. This time, I mean." He shrugged elaborately. "It's the least I can do, you know?"
Her heart sank. She didn't like this. Not at all. It had been bad enough during the war, when Draco and Potter had ended up working together nearly all the time and she'd had to watch the long, slow, painful process of Draco falling in love with a completely oblivious Potter.
She'd never seen Draco that vulnerable in her life. It had terrified her. The fact that Potter had begun to genuinely like Draco—to trust him, to rely on him, to finally give back nearly all the things that Draco was giving Potter—only made things worse, because it was clear to her that although Potter hadn't meant to give Draco false hope, that's exactly what he had done. The whole thing, to Pansy's mind, had been a recipe for total disaster. There had been times when she'd been afraid that Potter would see it—that he would realize that what Draco felt for him was way more than friendship—but either he'd been too distracted by the war, or he just wasn't the observant type. She rolled her eyes mentally. Or maybe both. Whatever.
When the war had ended, Draco had stayed around like everyone else had, and to Pansy's overly-aware eyes, he'd made it clear that he was very interested in spending a lot more time with Potter, but Potter had…Pansy groped mentally for the right words. He hadn't done a bunk, but he'd pulled so far back that he might as well have. He'd practically gone into hiding in his room, spending hours away from everyone, and Pansy had watched, helpless, as the quiet, fragile happiness that had emanated from Draco had hardened and then vanished. He'd retreated behind that cool reserve of his, and after two weeks of Potter's avoidance, he had gone to Paris to stay with his mother. She'd been relieved. She knew he wasn't over Potter, but she thought he'd at least come to the realization that hanging around was only bound to hurt.
But now…now he was going to Hogwarts, and he'd be in close contact with Potter all the time. Without the distraction of any real danger to focus on, Potter might figure out how Draco really felt about him, no matter how careful Draco was about hiding it. And if Draco thought Potter was making overtures, he might not be careful at all. After all, it wasn't like Draco to open himself up to being hurt; when he'd gotten that first owl from McGonagall, he hadn't even thought twice before refusing. It was only when Potter had appealed to him that he'd acquiesced.
If Potter knew that Draco was in love with him, he would pull back, and he would still be friendly, but with a polite distance; it would be like the way he'd treated the Weasley girl when he'd finally figured out that he didn't love her the way she did him. Everyone had seen that, and everyone had seen her crumple under the careful, impersonal kindness Potter had extended her. Pansy shuddered inside at the thought of him doing the same thing to Draco. He might even pity Draco, and that…that would be the one thing Draco wouldn't be able to take.
She took a step forward, knowing she should hold her tongue but unable to do so. "No, actually, it's not the least you can do." Her words were tart. "It would be quite a lot less for you to owl back and tell Potter that you're sorry, but Malfoys don't wallow in other people's vomit." He raised a brow at her but didn't answer. Not that she'd expected him to. She waited a beat and tried again. "Don't you think Potter the Great should be capable of emptying a few buckets and brewing up a cauldron of some anti-itch lotion on his own?" She tried to make her tone light, but even she could hear the edge in it.
"Pansy, relax. I'm just going to help out for a few days." His voice was amused. There was a pause, during which Pansy allowed herself to believe that maybe it really would be okay. If the conversation had ended there, she'd have let herself be convinced that she was over-reacting. Then Draco spoke again and she could hear it: that faint thread of hope in his voice. "He asked me to come. He said it would mean a lot to him."
Pansy didn't reply out loud, but her lips settled in a grim line. If Potter hurt Draco, she'd have his guts for garters. Boy Who Lived or not.
October 4, Hogwarts
That first morning was so busy that Harry didn't have time to say any of the things to Draco that he really wanted to. He wanted to say, "I can't believe you're here," and "Why did you change your mind about coming to help?" and "Do you ever think about all the times we worked together?" and "Would you like to have dinner some night?" but all that came out was 'I was just about all in; thanks for coming'.
Draco just smiled at him and said, "You asked me to, Harry. Of course I came."
When Harry thanked him again at the end of the first day, and a third time during the second day, Draco responded exactly the same way. Harry swallowed hard each time, remembering his exasperated request to Professor McGonagall for help—any help—and her tart words back to him.
Most of all, he remembered that he hadn't really asked Draco at all…he'd been so flat out busy that he hadn't even thought to.
But Draco thought he had. Draco had come specifically because he thought Harry had appealed to him.
He forced back the uneasy thought that he should straighten all that out; he would, he told himself; just as soon as things slowed down the slightest bit, he'd talk to Draco and explain everything.
October 12, Hogwarts
Over the course of the next week, the pace did finally slow down; it seemed as though the epidemic of Dragon Pox was ebbing at last. Between keeping the buckets beside each bed clean—not to mention the floor around the buckets, because students often missed when they leaned out of the bed to heave—and keeping a steady supply of the soothing lotion they needed on hand, there hadn't been much time for any kind of extended conversation. It wasn't lost on Harry that his own mood was not only lighter, however, and that the hollow feeling he'd been carrying around inside seemed to have disappeared.
As the days passed, they settled into a comfortable routine and the easy camaraderie that they'd shared during wartime returned. Draco had set up a huge cauldron in the far corner of the Hospital Ward and brewed an enormous batch of the lotion they used most. Harry had been popping down to the Potions storeroom and filching bottles of it from there. He'd noticed the supply was running low, and he was more than a bit chagrined that he'd never once thought of how much easier it would be to have such a large supply so readily on hand. It wasn't even that difficult to brew; he could have managed it quite easily.
When he ventured to say as much, Draco looked up from stirring the cauldron and offered him a wry grin. "Well, it's not as though you haven't had plenty of other things to think about here." He gestured around them at the slumbering students. At this point, it was easily manageable; there were only about half a dozen students left in the wing, and they were all past the worst of the disease. They'd been given dinner and were sleeping; it was late in the evening.
The weather had been unseasonably warm and the windows were open, admitting a fresh breeze. It was blissfully quiet in the room, and Harry tucked the last stack of freshly laundered towels onto the shelf and followed Draco to a table tucked into one corner where a late dinner was laid out for them. He reached gratefully for the wine; Professor McGonagall had offered to take the overnight shift so that he and Draco could have a break, and Harry fully intended to take advantage of being off duty by enjoying wine with dinner. He lifted the glass and sipped at it, relishing the cool, clean taste of the pinot grigio and the quiet of the evening. Draco seemed to be happy with those same things, and the thought crossed his mind that that life, right that moment, was good. Really good.
Despite the weeks of fatigue and mess and hard work, the students were getting better, and on the heels of the devastation of the war, it was gloriously satisfying to work in a situation where you could count on that.
He stretched lazily, sipping again at the wine and propping his feet on an empty chair. Draco was sitting across from him, one hand cradled loosely around his glass and using the other to fork tender pieces of beef onto their waiting plates. When he added roasted potatoes and fresh green beans, shoving a plate towards Harry with a knowing grin, Harry grinned back, feeling a light, buoyant feeling inside that had nothing to do with the sips of wine he'd had. He hadn't been this at ease—this purely happy—since he'd spent time with Draco during the war. The thought caught him by surprise and his head snapped up to stare at Draco as the penny dropped.
It wasn't just that the weather was nice, or that it was good to sit down at the end of a long day; it wasn't even that the number of students with Dragon Pox was finally down to a manageable number that made him happy. It was that he was with Draco.
The thought centered in his mind and he put the wine down, letting his gaze feast on the blond across from him with new awareness humming in his veins. No wonder he'd gotten so flustered when McGonagall had said that bit about Draco responding to a personal request…no wonder he'd been so much happier about his temporary enforced duty in the Hospital Ward once Draco had arrived…and no wonder the empty feeling he'd had inside since the war had ended, had been filled again once Draco had arrived.
Slightly dazed, he shook his head to clear it. The silence suddenly seemed unnatural and he cleared his throat. "I—I really am glad you came to help."
Draco grinned at him. "You've mentioned that. Several times. Considering what you were up against, I was inclined to believe you the first time." Before Harry could speak, Draco went on. "Actually…I've been meaning to tell you…it meant a lot to me that you would ask me for help. I mean…" He gestured vaguely and looked almost embarrassed. "I know we worked through a lot of old history during the war and all, but to have you actually think of me when you needed help—well." He broke off and offered Harry a lopsided smile; it was half embarrassed and half smug and somehow all Malfoy and incredibly arousing, and if Harry hadn't twigged how he felt about the blond sitting across from him before, he would have then. Desire curled in the pit of his stomach and he tried hard to focus on Draco's words. "I've always viewed that sort of thing as your way of really showing trust—you've only ever directly asked your closest friends for help, you know?"
The words were like a cold shower; Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. That was true. And yet, in this latest crisis, he hadn't appealed to anyone directly…unless you counted his plea to McGonagall to find him help. What did that say about his state of mind? And more importantly, how the hell could he tell Draco the truth now? You should have told him back on that first day, he chided himself. He hesitated. He could still tell him. Draco would understand.
But before he could say anything, Draco reached out and placed his hand on Harry's forearm. The pressure was warm and reassuring, and Harry shivered as the fingers trailed slowly down to cover his hand. Fire surged through him at the contact, centering in his belly. His hand turned of its own accord, and their palms touched briefly in a sweet meeting that was part handshake and part caress. Before Harry could prolong the contact, Draco released his hand and reached for his fork. The moment had been so spontaneous, so genuine, so real somehow, that Harry couldn't bring himself to ruin it by mentioning exactly who had thought to send the owl. Later, he promised himself. I'll tell him later. He settled for lifting his glass in a toast and saying softly, "To close friends."
Grey eyes glowed back at him, and Draco lifted his glass in return. Though the conversation turned to more desultory topics, the air between them held on to the intimacy of that one touch and Harry basked in the feeling of warmth.
October 16, Hogwarts
"Harry? Oi, Harry!"
Harry pulled back from the desk he'd been crouched over and turned, surprised to hear Ron's voice.
"In here," he called back, reluctantly pulling his attention from the Quidditch rosters he'd been looking at.
"Hey, Harry!" Ron exploded into the room, all smiles and high energy, and cuffed Harry affectionately on the shoulder. "How's the teaching life? Still mopping up puke, or have you been sprung from sick duty?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I've been sprung, thank you very much. Just this morning; we finally released the last of the Dragon Pox patients and, knock wood, there haven't been any new ones in five days."
Even as he spoke the words, his eyes flickered to the door behind Ron. He was expecting Draco to show up any second; they had plans to go to lunch in Hogsmeade. Anticipation was bubbling through him at the thought and he listened with half an ear to Ron's cheerful babble. The drop in patients had allowed him and Draco to spend quite a bit of time together the past few days; they'd gone flying together several times and spent a long, lazy evening ostensibly playing chess but really just talking. It had been…Harry flushed, remembering. It had been amazing. He'd felt so comfortable, so happy, and at the same time he'd been so agonizingly aroused that it had been all he could do not to lean over and capture that wicked grin with his own mouth. The only thing that had stopped him was his own uncertainty about how it would be met: Draco had certainly made it clear that he wanted to be friends, good friends, but Harry wasn't sure just exactly how far that extended.
And Harry was loathe to do anything that would ruin what they had.
Which didn't stop him from wanting Draco. Badly. He shifted in his chair, nodding absently at Ron and remembering how he'd pictured, in exquisite detail in his mind last night, exactly what he wanted from Draco while he'd brought himself off after he and Draco had finally parted company. He wanted Draco naked and hard, he wanted to see that unshakable Malfoy poise give way to urgency and need, he wanted to feel Draco's hot cock in his mouth and hear whatever sounds Draco might make when he came….
"Harry?" Ron's voice finally registered. It was obvious from the impatient tone that he'd been trying for some time to get Harry's attention. "Are you even listening? I asked who you finally talked into helping you."
"Helping me?" Completely at sea, Harry stared blankly. "With what?"
"With the Dragon Pox disaster, obviously."
After that, it all happened so quickly that Harry had no time to react. Draco walked into the room, his face open and smiling; when he saw Ron, his guard came back up a bit but Ron hadn't seen Draco and continued speaking. "I've been wondering who you suckered into helping you. You know, with that last plea McGonagall sent out. She owled the world, practically. 'Harry's really in need, blah, blah, blah, it would mean such a lot to him if you could help out, blah, blah, blah.' Brilliant, really, because I'm sure there's someone out there who's still dying to spend time with The Boy Who Lived, even if they have to mop up puke to do it."
The hurt that flashed across Draco's face was gone so quickly that Harry wasn't sure he hadn't imagined it, but then Draco spoke and his voice was so cool, so distant, that the hours of easy companionship they'd shared might never have been.
"That would, apparently, be me, Weasley." He nodded with careful cordiality at Ron and turned to face Harry, his face completely blank.
Harry stepped forward, one hand extended palm upward in entreaty but Draco stepped pointedly back. He met Harry's eyes evenly, his own hard and unreadable and his voice was cold. "It seems I've arrived at a bad time; sorry for the interruption, but I won't keep you long. I've just come to let you know I'm afraid I can't do lunch today after all." His eyes flickered to Ron, who was watching with undisguised curiosity, and then returned to Harry's, and this time there was the brutal lash of sarcasm in his tone. "I'm sure Weasley will be happy to go with you though. Especially if you tell him how much it would mean to you."
Before Harry could find words, he was gone.
That same day, forty-five minutes later, Hogwarts
"Where does it hurt?" Draco's voice was quiet, patient.
Harry stood quietly in the doorway, watching as Draco gently palpated the fingers and hand of a first year boy from Gryffindor, trying to determine the extent of his injury. "What did you do?"
"I fell down the moving staircase." The boy's voice was barely audible. He was in pain; that much was obvious, but he was also frightened. Draco continued to talk to him, his voice low and soothing, and eventually the winces and small sounds of distress quieted. The boy looked up, wiping at his nose with the back of his uninjured hand and drew a deep, quavering breath.
"Is it broken?"
Draco nodded gravely at him, extending his hand toward the boy's uninjured one. Puzzled, the boy took it and Draco gave it a firm handshake. "Congratulations; it's one of the best broken arms I've ever seen. You've managed to break three bones in your hand and fracture both the bones in your forearm." He sounded very impressed. "When you break bones, you really break bones. After I heal them all, you'll have quite a story to tell to your housemates."
His easy, confident tone reassured the boy, whose fear dissipated a bit, joined now by a tentative wonder. "Really? Three? And both in my arm? Do you think anyone else has broken so many in one go here before?"
Draco's grin was wry. "Likely not. You're probably the record holder." He pulled his wand out and set to healing the broken bones; Harry knew from experience that the sensation wasn't particularly pleasant, but it was quick, and the child was clearly more excited about being able to brag to his friends about the extent of his adventure than in worrying about the discomfort of the healing.
Despite the heartsick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Harry had to swallow a grin; the boy would certainly gain admiration in Gryffindor Tower when he told his tale; Draco's take on the event had turned it easily from a clumsy accident to boasting status. He watched as Draco continued to work, carefully healing each bone and working the fingers and wrist afterward to make certain there was no residual pain. He chatted amiably with the boy—Sean, Harry remembered—and by the time he was finished, Sean's fear was completely gone and he was gazing up at Draco with admiration shining in his eyes.
"That was awesome! Thanks ever so!" He hopped off the table, wiggling his fingers in eleven year old exuberance and bounded toward the door; it was only then that both he and Draco became aware of Harry's presence.
"Professor Potter!" The boy beamed up at Harry. "I broke five bones in my arm!"
"Five!" Harry managed to pretend surprise. "That must be some sort of record!" He tried to catch Draco's eye over the boy's head, but Draco had turned away and was making careful notes on a parchment.
He shifted his attention back to the small glowing face in front of him and forced a grin. "You'd best be off, then; you're late for lunch."
He waited until the boy vanished down the hall before turning back. Draco was still bent over the parchment, in profile to Harry and his face like stone. Harry cleared his throat. "Draco? Draco, I…that wasn't what it sounded like. I need to explain."
Draco kept writing, one shoulder lifting in an indifferent shrug. "No, you don't. You needed help and you did whatever you had to do to get it. It worked, and that's all that's really important."
It was so far from the truth that Harry's frustration at the whole situation boiled over and he exploded. "That's not true!" He raked one hand through his hair and strode forward, placing one hand on Draco's shoulder and tugging him up until they were face to face. His words were fast and furious, evidence that he was past the point of caring about anything but making his side of things known. "Yes, I misled you about the owl that first day, and yes, I should have made it clear how that came to be sent when I thanked you and you made it clear that you'd only come because I asked you. You have no idea how many times since then I've kicked myself for not clarifying it right away."
Draco's face was still a mask, the eyes hooded and he shrugged again, pulling away from Harry, but Harry held on. Damn everything to hell, he was in this mess because he hadn't been truthful about things, and even if it made things worse, he was going to be truthful from now on. He lifted his free hand to rest on Draco's other shoulder and moved as close as he dared. "When McGonagall told me you were coming—and because she'd used my name—I was blown away. Draco, you left. After…everything…you just left." He stopped, breathing hard. "I thought…" He shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what I thought. But I missed you. And when you came to help me, it was…I just couldn't believe it."
He paused. Draco still hadn't spoken, but his eyes were softer, he was looking at Harry as though he wanted to believe him but didn't dare, and Harry took a deep breath. "Draco, you know me." His hands gentled on Draco's shoulders but he didn't let go. "I swear to you on all I hold dear that every single thing that has happened between us since you got here has been genuine. You have to believe me. You have to trust me that much. Please."
There was a long moment, and Harry realized he was holding his breath; when Draco nodded, just once, he sagged in relief. "Can I tell you how it happened?"
Without waiting for a reply, he rushed on. "You saw what it was like when you got here; I was nearly mad. It'd been like that for almost two weeks. McGonagall owled everyone she knew and no one could—or would—come and help. I don't think people realized what a nightmare it was—a couple of cases of Dragon Pox, no big deal, right?" He laughed humorlessly. "Right. Anyway, I was desperate. I made some crack to McGonagall about just needing some help, and didn't being The Boy Who Lived pull any weight anymore now that Voldemort was dead, and just went on with things." He moved to a chair and sank into it, surprised at how relieved he was to finally tell someone how he'd felt. "I couldn't believe it, you know? I thought for sure Ron would come—" He broke off. "Well, you heard him." He rolled his eyes. "You should have stuck around; you'd have liked my response to him."
Draco's eyes were looking warmer by the second; he moved to perch on the desk next to where Harry sat. "Do tell." There was undisguised curiosity in his voice.
Harry grinned up at him, beginning to feel for the first time as though things might not be completely ruined. "I told him that I thought it was a lot less interesting how many owls I'd sent asking for help and a lot more interesting which of my close friends had shown up to give it." He was staring straight at Draco as he said it, and watched, fascinated, as a pale wash of color flooded Draco's face.
"Did you really say that to him?" The words were careful; guarded.
"I did." Harry's reply was immediate and firm. "Things got a little dicey after that, because he accused you of just trying to win favor and I told him that you didn't need to, you already had it." He shrugged. "I tried to tell him all that back at Grimmauld Place, but you know Ron…he pretty much only sees what he wants to." He paused, trying to decide whether or not to continue. He closed his eyes briefly, bringing to mind memories of the times he and Draco had worked together over the grim years of the war and then of the past few weeks, and of how he had been so absolutely happy. Truth, he reminded himself.
He looked up at Draco and allowed himself a rueful grin. "And you know what else? If I had known that you would do something just because I asked, I wouldn't have wasted my wish on having you help me clean up after Dragon Pox."
He was the one blushing now, he could feel it, and he watched as the look in Draco's eyes changed from puzzlement to comprehension to something that looked like predatory anticipation.
When Draco spoke, all the distance and coolness were gone. It was the familiar Draco, the one he'd spent hours with and with whom he shared a long and complex—but absolutely cherished—history. "Really? What, pray tell, would you have asked for, Harry?"
The last word sent shivers through Harry; the tone was rich and warm, and the words carried an openly sensual insinuation that made him dare to hope.
He stood up, moving boldly into the open vee of Draco's legs; he placed his hands deliberately on the desk on either side of Draco's hips and leaned forward. Draco moved slowly, almost lazily to meet him, tilting his head to one side so that their mouths were a breath apart. "Something…something sort of like this…." Harry let the words trail off and pressed his mouth against Draco's.
Draco's arms came around him instantly and the kiss, gentle and exploratory, went on for long, head-spinning minutes. When they finally broke apart to breathe, Harry realized he was trembling. "Draco…" He stopped, not sure how to ask for what he wanted. He was trying to think of the right words to string together when Draco saved him the trouble.
"I'd be happy to oblige. For as long as you want to ask."