Tip #01: Repressed anger can be toxic to the soul. Write a letter to someone you are angry with, perhaps even hate. Be as expressive as you wish, really let the venom flow – remember they will never see it! – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

Potter –
You suck.
D. Malfoy

Draco sat back on the antique sofa and smirked at his own wit, before turning back to the book that was currently occupying his attention. Trust mother dearest to buy him such a useless piece of twaddle, but if it stopped her fussing it was worth it, he supposed. There was nothing wrong with him, nothing at all, and if he occasionally woke up the household with nightmares that made the bedclothes stick to his damp skin, screaming himself hoarse, then– Draco frowned. Then they should damn well mind their own business. But his mother did fuss so. He supposed that was what she was there for. A strand of pale hair fell across his eyes and he swept it back impatiently. It needed cutting, but he was damned if he was going to let anyone near it. People must think him a fool if they expected him to let just anyone with a wand near his throat, and while mother had many skills, hairdressing was not one of them. Let it grow. Draco snorted at himself and tossed the book aside. Ridiculous amateur psychology for losers, he thought. A Malfoy scorns such imbecilic nonsense. But, as directed by the Meadowbrook bitch, he curled the parchment scroll up and sealed it, punching the Malfoy seal viciously into the red wax, and threw it in the direction of the rubbish bin. Nonsense. Ridiculous, imbecilic nonsense.

***

The next day, Draco felt an unusual sensation tugging at his insides. He examined it irritably. His conscience wriggled under such close scrutiny, but he persevered. He’d become so used to feeling nothing but a dull terror, that a new sensation interested him. He prodded it. Was that guilt? He laughed humourlessly as understanding dawned. Of all the things to feel guilt over, when he had… He pushed down the terror that threatened to overwhelm him, biting his lip until he tasted blood. It was that stupid, moronic letter from that ridiculous, pointless, indescribably useless book. He supposed that – while a valid statement, and perfectly to the point (not to say true, and verifiable in many ways) – “you suck” was not quite what Melusina Meadowbrook – may she rot in hell – had had in mind. And he’d promised his mother he’d at least try. Merlin knows she’d done enough for him over the years, catering to his every whim and placating his temper at every turn. And he couldn’t even try to make her happy by doing a stupid letter from a stupid book? It wasn’t as if he were busy or anything, stuck in this hellhole of a house with nothing to do but brood and hate and obsess– and okay, Draco admitted to himself grimly, maybe his mother had a point.

It wasn’t as if he, Draco, wanted to work. As a Malfoy he was quite capable of lounging around, of occupying his time in a noble, fruitful and perfectly correct manner. Only frightful oiks and Mudbloods had to work. His family – and their money – were forever. Even Vol… even unfortunate events which were not, repeat not, his fault couldn’t harm his family’s name, status or finances. At least, so father said, although all evidence pointed to the contr… But now he was getting cross again, and mother always told him not to frown, or his forehead would become lined and his fine, aristocratic looks would spoil. Sometimes, in the privacy of his own head, Draco despised himself.

Potter-

I suppose I should begin Dear Harry, but you were never dear to me and we were certainly never friends, so I think I shall dispense with the formalities. It is safe to say that I have despised you with all my heart and soul, ever since the first day we met and you rejected me.

Draco paused, and his face flushed as he realised what he’d written. Ever since you rejected me? What arrant nonsense was this? He was writing a letter of hate, not the love song of a wounded puppy. A Malfoy would never care about being rejected by a Potter, of all people. A dirty half-blood, with poor taste in friends and the most ridiculous hair that ever graced this earth. He scratched a line through the offending words.

You were always insolent and sarcastic, and you showed no respect for me, my family or my friends.

But then again, I never respected yours, and have – on more than one occasion – tried not only to kill you, but to assist an insane madman into world domination Draco’s traitorous hand attempted to add, before he stopped it, with a huge ink blot that spread horrendously and marked his pristine, pale wood desk.

It was your fault that father was sent to Azkaban, where he suffered tremendous torments. Your fault that Voldemort then lost faith in him, and I was ordered to kill Dumbledore or my parents would die. My parents, Potter! The pain of the Dark Mark; you cannot imagine the pain…

Draco dropped his quill, and put his hands to his head. He was, for some reason, shaking slightly and mildly aware that his forehead was beaded with a cold sweat. Enough for one day, he thought with a far-away sensation of panic. Quite enough for one day.

In conclusion, Potter, I hold you entirely responsible for the way my life has turned out, and the fact that I am now practically trapped in a house that holds far too many vile memories for its own good, with little hope of renewing my former position in society. D. Malfoy

All in all, it was a better attempt than “you suck,” Malfoy thought dully. But it had left him with rather a headache. He sealed the letter quickly and tossed it next to the bin. Hopefully now his conscience would stop plaguing him. He’d tried his mother’s miracle cure and it didn’t work. Maybe now she’d leave him alone.

***

It had been a year now since Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry Potter found that the more time went on, the easier it was to sleep – and the harder it was to wake up. He lay in bed in a state of absolute exhaustion, attempting to ignore the tinny whistle of his alarm and the rough shaking of his shoulder which suggested that someone was trying their hardest to get him up. He snuggled deeper into his covers and played dead. Whoever it was, they’d have to try harder than that. He was asleep, it was Saturday, and…

“Hey!” Harry said, sitting upright indignantly and glaring myopically at the person who had so rudely awakened him. “It’s Saturday, go away!”

Ron loomed into his vision, and threw a pillow at him. “Well, it was you that set your alarm, you daft pillock. Besides, I couldn’t wait a moment longer to find out what that tosser’s written to you about.”

Harry frowned, groping for his glasses, and ran a hand through his dishevelled hair. It was getting far too long. When it was this long it attempted to imitate a hedgehog. This, Ron kept telling him, was a bad thing when it came to impressing the ladies. But Harry had become increasingly blasé about impressing anyone of late, and while he and Ginny were now the best of friends, he wondered if killing Voldemort had somehow mucked up his internal wiring. He hadn’t felt horny for…

“Open your letter!” Ron burst out impatiently, hitting Harry over the head with it, before throwing himself down on the bed next to Harry. “Open it before I jinx you, and open it myself!”

Harry grinned and focused. His jaw dropped. “That seal… isn’t that…?”

“Yes, yes, it is,” Ron said, rubbing his hands together. “I hope he’s got himself in trouble.” His expression went dreamy. “Maybe he’s asking for help. Help which you will then refuse and then we can CRUSH him like a BUG!” Harry broke the red seal and unfolded the parchment. He snorted, and tossed it to Ron.

“You suck? You suck? What sort of a pointless, useless, cowardly thing is that to write?” Ron fumed. “I vote we jelly-legs hex him all the way to next week, mate.”

“Tempting though that is,” Harry said mildly, “irritating Malfoy is no longer my main priority.” His face fell. “Oh Merlin, I still have that essay on stealth and tracking in urban environments to finish. Twenty inches before Monday!”

“And no Hermione to help,” Ron said sympathetically. “Hard luck, mate. I mean I know Auror training is supposed to be a lot of work, but this is only your first year. You could do with a holiday.”

“Tell me about it. I can’t believe Hermione didn’t invite us to stay with her in Australia,” Harry complained, and then grinned. “Sure, her parents don’t have a big enough house, but she could just have transfigured the garden shed for us or something!”

“I know,” Ron said, far too glumly.

“Sorry, Ron,” Harry said, suddenly feeling guilty. “You must really miss her.”

“Yeah,” Ron said with a sigh. “I really miss having two mums. And I especially miss learning all those fascinating facts from Hogwarts: A History.”

Harry laughed and whacked Ron with the pillow.

“All right! All right! I can’t wait til she’s back,” Ron grinned. “But what do you reckon about this?” he said, indicating the letter.

“It’s just typical Malfoy behaviour,” Harry said sourly. “After everything we’ve been through, he’s just the same dickhead as ever. Well, I’m not rising to the bait.” Harry glared at the scroll before shoving it in a box beside his bed. “Evidence in case I murder him later, and need to demonstrate provocation,” he said, when Ron gave him a funny look.

Ron broke into a grin. “Good thinking, mate. Race you to breakfast!”

***

The next day when Ron woke him from a deep and gloriously dream-free sleep, Harry decided that this thing with Malfoy was getting old.

“Another random insulting letter?” he said crossly, as Ron brandished the scroll at him. “It’s Sunday! I resent insults on a Sunday!” He scowled as he knocked over a glass of water in the search for his glasses. “What is it this time – an insult from Bellatrix from beyond the grave? A love song from Voldemort? A joint effort from Crabbe and Goyle?”

“It’s from Malfoy, you twat,” Ron grinned. “Hurry up and open it, before I die of curiosity.” Ron felt it gingerly. “It’s thicker this time.”

“Maybe he tells me I suck, twice,” Harry snorted. He ripped it open and scanned it quickly, moving his lips as he read. He paled, then coloured. Ron tore the scroll from his hands.

“Bastard!” Ron said finally, almost speechless. “What a bastard!”

Harry shrugged. “It’s just Malfoy, Ron. Don’t let him get to you.”

Ron waved the scroll at Harry. “What does he think he’s playing at, sending you this rubbish?”

“He has a point,” Harry mumbled, not looking Ron in the eye.

After ten minutes of ranting, Ron finally calmed down.

“You look like an apoplectic tomato,” Harry offered, and ducked as Ron whacked him with the scroll.

“All right, it’s not my fault that Malfoy’s unhappy,” Harry conceded, ignoring Ron’s vehement and serves him right too, the foul git. “I dunno though.” He shrugged. “I guess I just feel a little sorry for him. He never had the same good friends as I did. He must be lonely.”

Ron gaped. “You feel sorry for Malfoy? Merlin, Harry, I think you must be under some kind of spell.” He looked suspiciously at the parchment, then dropped it, his skin paling. “You don’t think the scroll is cursed, do you?” he said hoarsely. “Merlin. Cursed with feeling sympathy for Malfoy.” He shuddered dramatically. “Come on, let’s forget about him. Maybe if we pretend he’s dead, he’ll actually get the hint and, you know, drop dead,” he suggested brightly.

Harry laughed. But he still felt a little bad for Malfoy, all the same.

* * *

Tip #23: Sometimes, talking about your feelings can be beneficial to letting your repressed anger go. Find a trusted friend and have a heart to heart. Sharing your experiences can sometimes bring much needed relief, as well as a little perspective! – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

“Mr Malfoy, are you paying the least bit of attention?” Snape said acidly, crossing his arms and tapping his foot. “As I am giving up my very, very valuable spare time to assist you in achieving your Potions N.E.W.T. out of the pure goodness of my heart, I would prefer it if you would treat my pearls of wisdom as indeed instructions to be followed, rather than as mere background noise for your own tortured, late-adolescent ruminations.”

Draco snapped to attention and flushed. “I’m sorry, Professor. I was thinking of something else.”

“Of something else, or of someone else?” Snape mocked. “Is Potter the star of your fervid daydreams, Mr Malfoy, or do you fantasise of another?”

Draco scowled, but said nothing. When Professor Snape was in this kind of a mood, arguing back was always a mistake. It seemed that, of late, Snape was always in a bad mood with Draco. At least when Potter had been in class, Snape had taken out his ire on him, rather than Draco. Private tuition was rather more of a trial than Draco had expected.

“Well? Are you going to sulk like a small child, or are you going to be a man and beat him?” Snape said smoothly, turning back to the cauldron in which he was demonstrating the correct way of stirring a highly volatile potion.

“Beat him?” Draco echoed, confused.

“Mr Potter has not taken his NEWT examinations,” Snape said icily. “Which is, of course, as I expected. It was highly unlikely that such a boy as Potter would knuckle down and commit to a firm course of action. You, on the other hand, Mr Malfoy…” Snape shot him a sharp look.

“Yes,” Draco said warily. “But isn’t Potter studying to be an Auror?”

Snape looked as if he was barely containing his anger. “Apparently qualifications aren’t necessary for the Boy Who Lived to Irritate. While others need excellent NEWT results, he is free to pick and choose his career. For all Potter’s notions of ridiculous Gryffindor honesty and fairness, he is Slytherin to the hilt.”

“Then I don’t see why I should have to take the things,” Draco muttered sulkily. “It’s not as if anyone will employ me, even if I do pass.”

Snape said nothing for a moment, simply stirred the potion calmly. “People will forgive you, Draco,” he said finally. “But you have to want them to. Stop obsessing about Potter and think of how you come across to others, for a change.”

Draco gaped at him, made to speak and then stopped.

“If you’ve finished catching flies, then I suggest you make your own attempt to concoct this potion. I recommend a modicum of restraint when proceeding. I doubt your father would be too happy with me if you blow Malfoy Manor sky high.”

Draco shut his mouth and set to work.

***

Several hours later, Professor Snape and Draco were sitting in silence in the large, richly furnished space that served Draco as a personal living room. There was tea, enough biscuits to feed an army and scalding hot crumpets, dripping with butter.

“Out with it, Draco,” Snape said in an irritated manner, after some time had passed. “Whatever asinine thing you are itching to share with me, please do so at once. The sooner it is over with, the sooner I can leave you to your brooding and get some valuable work done back in my laboratory.”

Draco glared at him, but noted that the professor had called him Draco. This occurred only rarely, and was generally a sign of exceptional good humour – or exceptional worry.

Snape took a long draught of tea. “On the other hand,” he said speculatively, “perhaps your revelation will be so awful that it will intrigue even someone as jaded as myself. Tell me, Mr Malfoy, are you perhaps in love with Mr Potter?”

Draco spat out the tea he was in the process of drinking and choked for a moment. “NO!”

“Ah, well, it can hardly be worse than that,” Snape sneered. “I was, you may find it hard to believe, young once. Whatever dark and tawdry thing it is that worries you, I’m sure I have done – and thought – much worse.”

It was an interesting way to elicit confidences, but Draco knew the Professor well – and he knew his mother better.

“It’s that bloody book, isn’t it?” he said heavily. “She’s told you about the bloody book.”

“Hmmm,” said Snape noncommittally, wisely choosing that moment to ingest a biscuit.

“I resent this, sir,” Draco flared up.

“Feel lucky you have a mother who cares,” Snape said with surprising gentleness.

Draco felt, rather disgustingly, his eyes well up with tears. Potter doesn’t have a mother, for all his boasting about his precious mother’s love that saved the world, he thought viciously, and then felt uncomfortable. A Malfoy wouldn’t– actually yes, a Malfoy would be that cruel and vindictive, using his enemy’s weaknesses against him at every opportunity. Draco felt slightly sick, but decided it must be the fault of the biscuits. They were too sweet and rich by far.

“It’s nothing specific, sir,” Draco muttered.

Snape rolled his eyes. “You’d better get more detailed than that, or I will tell Narcissa that you are indeed suffering from the love that dare not speak its name.”

Draco pulled a face. “It is related to Potter,” he offered, reluctantly.

Snape sighed. “A fact which, I’m sure you’ll grant, surprises me not in the least. What has the idiot boy done now? He takes more and more after his father by the day.”

“He did save the world,” Draco said to his shoes. “And I did kind of try and stop him.”

“Draco, you were just a child. You’re still just a child, in my opinion,” Snape said with an audible sniff. “You were manipulated at every turn. No-one could have acted any differently.”

“Potter did,” Draco snapped, irritated that at 18 he was still considered a child. “Potter still managed to be the eternal, sickening hero. Whatever I did, however much I tried, I still came second best to that revoltingly earnest Gryffindor with the hero complex. However much I tried to derail his plans, he still came and saved my fucking life over and over again. Whenever I close my eyes there he is, hanging over me like a puppy dog, doing the right thing.”

“You wanted to do the right thing?”

“No! Yes! Fuck. I don’t know what I wanted,” Draco said bitterly. “The attention that was due me as a Malfoy, I suppose. To be as respected as my father. To be better than Potter for one single moment of my life.”

There was silence. Snape pulled a sour face. “I’m sure you will appreciate the irony of my offering advice on your emotional problems,” he said with a sneer. “Although, taking into account the callow and self-absorbed nature of youth, I doubt you have once considered that a man such as myself even has a personal life.” He frowned. “Except, perhaps, in crude terms, with optional hand gestures. I know what students are like.”

Draco moved to speak, but Snape waved him into silence. “Children are vile,” he muttered, “I must have sinned greatly in a former life to be subjected to this tiresome existence.” He pulled himself together. “No matter. I trust you understand, Mr Malfoy, that any confidences I, albeit reluctantly, entrust you with are personal? And that if you reveal any part of this conversation with any other human, beast or inanimate object you will find your liver irrevocably parted from you at a distance of some miles?”

Draco smirked. “Of course, sir.”

Snape closed his eyes and steepled his fingers together. He looked very long-suffering and extremely irritated. “I too was once the enemy of a Potter. Potter’s father, to be precise. He was very deserving of my dislike. He was a typical Gryffindor – a loud, brash bully with confidence instead of brains, and a group of intensely irritating and unpleasant friends. Nevertheless.” Here Snape paused, and made a face as if he had sucked a very sour lemon. “I have, through the years, come to realise that my hatred of James Potter would have been simply mild distaste and well-deserved scorn, if it were not for the unavoidable fact that I was in love with his wife-to-be.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Potter’s mother?”

Snape nodded reluctantly, eyes still closed, his face partly veiled by his long, lank hair. “Sometimes we hate for rather more complex reasons than because the object of our disgust deserves it. It is a hard lesson.” The corner of Snape’s mouth quirked up into something that wasn’t quite a smile. “Of course, James Potter was a reckless moron who tried to kill me, so in my case the hatred was entirely deserved, but I believe my point still stands.”

“So you think I hate Potter for being–” Draco trailed off, not sure he liked where the conversation was going.

“Indeed,” Snape said dryly. “I have often thought that with a different upbringing, more discipline perhaps and fewer indulgences, you could have reached the heady heights of Potter and his ilk. Still, we can’t all have the luxury of dead parents and abusive uncles and aunts to give us some backbone. Now eat a crumpet, Draco, you’re turning into skin and bones. It’s not a good look for you.”

Draco did as commanded, but vowed that if he ever met Melusina Meadowbrook, she would pay for writing that book.

***

It was at 3.30am that Draco finally had had enough. His thoughts, which often kept him awake and shivering from a combination of anger and fear, refused to let him be. He clenched his jaw and dragged out his quill and parchment. It was time to write another song of hate to Harry. Anything to distract him from the endless buzzing of his thoughts, even that. Besides, it would be something to tell his mother, he supposed. She’d been looking increasingly sad of late. And how pathetic was Snape? Mooning after some Mudblood. Draco bit down the thought that he wasn’t much better himself, obsessing over Potter, with Snape the only person his mother could think of to force to talk to him. Maybe he and Snape weren’t so different after all. Draco shivered.

Potter-

You did reject my friendship, all those years ago, and I confess it is childish but I never forgave you for it. I was used to getting whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I honoured and obeyed my father over everything, but he was often too busy to do more than humour me, or teach me his views to delight in me parroting them back in front of his friends. I admit I was probably a selfish and spoiled child. Perhaps I was unlovable. But I could have been a good friend to you. Better than the Weasel and Granger. I could have introduced you into high society. With you at my side, I suspect that Voldemort’s followers would have been far more reluctant to show support once more. I could have been a hero of the war, rather than a bitter casualty. Because, do you know, Potter, it wasn’t much fun being a Death Eater after all. Torturing and maiming on command wasn’t precisely what I signed up for – or rather, what my father signed me up for. Sitting on the right hand of a lunatic? Turns out to be rather less of a thrill than anticipated.

Maybe Snape is right. Maybe I do hate you because you are the Boy Who Lived, better at Quidditch, luckier, popular without trying, braver than I could ever be. It was just so wearying to try so hard, all the time: at Quidditch, at friendships, at lessons, at everything. Could you never have once just lost? Conceded that I was better at something, anything at all? Damn you to hell, Potter. I don’t know why I care, and it shames me beyond belief to admit that I do.

D. Malfoy

Draco scrawled the letter out viciously, sealed it and flung it across the room. It hit the bin with a dull thud and bounced onto the carpet. He felt no better, but the buzzing sensation in his brain eased a little and soon he fell into an uneasy sleep.

* * *

Tip #47: When things are feeling raw, it is best to try and avoid confrontation. Now is not the time to seek out your demons and attempt to slay them. Now is the time to take a bubble bath and reflect on the new things you have discovered about yourself. You are strong – you can do this! – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

“Er, Harry, there’s someone here to see you,” Ron said, looking agitated. Harry groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Can I never sleep without you waking me up?” he complained. “It’s 11 o’clock at night! Who is it, and can you get rid of them?”

Ron’s expression was one of a man who has lately received a blow to the head. “It’s–”

“Potter, you bastard, I want my letters back!” Draco yelled, slamming the door open. His face was bright red and his hand was curled around his wand.

Ron’s eyes narrowed, and he stood between Draco and Harry’s bed. “Back off, Malfoy. I told you to wait outside.”

“Get out of my way, weasel breath,” Draco shouted, raising his wand.

Ron took a step closer, brandishing his own wand. “I don’t have to stand for you in my own home, ferret face. Try anything and I’ll have you in Azkaban faster than you can blink.”

“Awwww, big bold Won Won still standing behind other, better wizards?” Draco sneered.

“Harry’s training to be an Auror,” Ron said steadily.

Draco’s sneer didn’t falter. “Yes, fame comes with benefits these days, it seems. I remember when one had to have qualifications to do that job.”

“Harry has qualifications!” Ron protested, his face glowing as red as his hair.

“And he can fight his own battles,” Harry said quietly behind Ron, groping for his glasses. “I appreciate your support, Ron, but I can handle this. Give us a moment, will you?”

“You want me to leave you alone with, with, him?” Ron spluttered. “With that Death Eater bastard?”

Draco’s face drained of all colour, before flushing brick red. “Just give me back my fucking letters, Potter, and I’ll leave,” he hissed.

“Ah yes,” Ron said, a vicious light in his eyes, “your friendly little notes. Well let me tell you…” He subsided when Harry gave him a hard look. “Fine, fine, I’m leaving. But keep your hands where Harry can see them, Malfoy. We don’t trust you as far as we can throw you. You may have been cleared, but everyone knows you deserve to rot in Azkaban.”

As the door shut, Harry looked at Malfoy curiously. His old enemy was wearing his disdainful, sarcastic expression of old, and his fists were curled. But Malfoy did not look well. His skin, always pale, had taken on a frighteningly white cast and his hair was long and unkempt. Dark circles greyed his eyes, and Harry could swear he could count his ribs through his robe.

“Hello, Malfoy,” Harry said, gritting his teeth and attempting to be polite. “I’m afraid I wasn’t expecting you. I tend to go to bed early these days.” There was silence. “I was asleep,” he added, rather redundantly. The being in bed was probably a clue.

“Cease this babbling,” Malfoy said, sounding like a poor imitation of Snape, Harry thought uncharitably. “Just give me my letters and I’ll leave.”

“Oh, of course,” Harry said. He ran his fingers through his dishevelled hair. “Just give me a minute to remember where I put them.”

Malfoy scowled. “It would, of course, be too much to ask that you’d actually grown a brain in the time we’ve been apart. But then as you never showed any evidence of it at school, I suppose it was a waste of time to hope.”

Harry frowned, as he pushed back the covers and rose. He was ridiculously aware of the fact that only a pair of thin pyjama bottoms lay as protection between him and one of his oldest enemies. He wondered if he should pick up his wand, and decided against it with a small shrug. Malfoy obviously noticed.

“Worried I might murder you, Potter? I was cleared of all charges, you know.”

Harry glared at Malfoy. What the hell was wrong with him? “I know,” he said irritably. “I testified in your defence, remember? Even though you weren’t nearly as innocent as you made out,” he said, bending down to retrieve the letters from the box on his floor. He sneezed, as a cloud of dust rose about him.

Malfoy looked taken aback for a moment, then visibly pulled himself together. “Surely it’s unhygienic to let the dust actually evolve and breed into a sentient species,” he sneered, snatching the letters from him.

Harry suddenly noticed that Malfoy looked more than a little worried. He was scanning the letters quickly, his lips pressed together so tight they whitened.

“What was the deal with those, anyway?” he asked curiously, perching on his bed and yawning.

Malfoy waved his hand at Harry irritably, to shut him up. When he reached the third letter, a blotchy red colour rose up his throat and spread across his cheeks.

“You sounded almost human in the last one,” Harry said quietly.

Malfoy said nothing, but Harry noticed that his hands were shaking and he was gripping the paper far too tightly.

“I didn’t let Ron read that one,” Harry continued, hoping that Malfoy was embarrassed rather than angry, and didn’t suddenly decide to hex him into the middle of next week before Harry could reach his wand. “Didn’t seem fair. What’s your deal, Malfoy?” he asked suspiciously. “Is this another one of your plots, or were you actually attempting to explain yourself to me?”

Malfoy cleared his throat. “This was an unfortunate misunderstanding,” he said frostily. “These letters were never meant for your eyes.”

“But they’re addressed to me,” Harry said, feeling confused.

“Obviously,” Malfoy sneered. “I see your mental powers are yet again flourishing.”

“Listen, Malfoy,” Harry snapped, suddenly angered, “I didn’t ask to be the recipient of your pathetic confidences. I think I’m doing you a favour here by returning your letters, rather than passing them to the media. Something, I might add, which you would do without a second thought if the situation was reversed.” He stopped, out of breath, his face hot.

“Quite,” Malfoy said coldly. “I won’t waste your time with any more of my pathetic whingings, Potter. I’m sorry you were subjected to them.”

“Malfoy, wait,” Harry said, as Malfoy stalked towards the door. He’d been bemused at first, and then rather saddened, by his third letter. He didn’t like Malfoy, but he didn’t especially relish the thought of him being that miserable. And it was one thing gloating over an enemy’s downfall in the comfort of your own home, and quite another to have said enemy in front of you, looking emaciated and deeply unhappy. Harry supposed that he was a mug, and that he was once again demonstrating some more of that Gryffindor nobility that the Slytherins so despised. He couldn’t seem to help it, though. If someone was hurting, you tried to fix it. Otherwise, you might as well be Uncle Vernon and have done with it.

“Do you… Do you want to have dinner with me some time? As mates, I mean,” he hastily clarified, the words coming out of his mouth before his brain had had a chance to process them. He felt as surprised as Malfoy looked, just for a second, before a habitual sneer clouded Malfoy’s beautiful features.

“Of course not, Potty,” he said haughtily, and slammed the door behind him.

Harry gaped at the door. Had he really just made a friendly advance to Malfoy of all people? And had he really just looked at Malfoy and processed him into the category of ‘beautiful’? He shuddered. He must be coming down with an illness. A really, really terrible illness. Harry was almost disappointed when the next day he woke up refreshed, and 100% not ill.

***

Draco apparated home with a soft pop, and proceeded to kick several hundred galleons worth of damage out of the antique furniture. When he had calmed down, and a bevy of frightened house elfs had begun to tidy up his mess, he slunk back to his bedroom before his mother could start to fuss again. He knew she’d fuss. Why couldn’t she ever just tell him off? She’d no doubt tell him he wasn’t trying to get better, and attempt to feed him sweets to prove her affection, he thought acidly. He had to take a series of deep, cleansing breaths (as recommended by Melusina Meadowbrook) to prevent himself from kicking yet more furniture. It was with a sense of deep gloom that he found himself, at 12 midnight, immersed in a deep bubble bath and trying to relax.

As Draco reflected on his day, he thought that, all in all, things could have gone a lot worse. He had managed to refrain from handing his favourite house-elf, Tibby, an item of clothing, and also managed not to hand her a rope to hang herself with. He had even refrained from hanging himself. Another bonus. He groaned slightly, and slipped under the water, pushing his wet hair back from his face as he resurfaced. Seeing the letters, sealed and ready to go, Tibby had done simply as any house elf would – at least in the Malfoy household, Draco thought bitterly. Other masters would not behead an elf for failing to deliver a scroll that had fallen under the bed, but Draco suspected that Lucius could, and would.

It had only taken a simple charm to reveal who the scrolls were addressed to, Tibby had squeaked, wringing her hands and cringing every time Draco had moved even slightly near her. So she had delivered each one as she found them, when she cleaned the room to its usual pristine state each morning. Delivered the sodding things directly to Potter. And Draco, so used to being waited on hand and foot, to having his crap picked up by an army of servants, hadn’t even noticed that the scrolls had gone.

Draco mentally added Harry Potter to his list of people he had refrained from murdering today. Naturally, it had been more than a challenge to resist the lure of tearing Potter’s ears off and forcing him to eat them, but Draco had learned a modicum of self-control during the horrendous months that Voldemort had lived amongst his family. It wasn’t Potter’s fault that Tibby had made a mistake. Draco grimaced as he realised that, as usual, he was shifting blame. It wasn’t Tibby’s fault that he, Draco, had made a mistake. He scowled, as he relived the scene at Potter’s house. He certainly had not intended to burst in at 11 at night, and drag Potter half-dressed from his bed. Draco’s mind took an interesting detour as he recalled Potter’s sleep-tousled hair and near lack of clothes, until he realised what he was thinking and swallowed some bath water by mistake. Bubble bath is not recommended as a night time drink, and by the time Draco recovered, he’d pushed the horrifying discovery of Potter’s slim, muscled form as far down into his subconscious as he could. He had quite enough to retch about with the taste of chemicals in the back of his throat, without the thought of Potter– Oh Merlin.

Draco went slightly green, and prayed he was coming down with a terrible, horrible illness. When he woke up the next morning, his hair a mess from sleeping on it wet, but his body otherwise 100% illness free, he was almost disappointed, but more than ready to repress.

Then he remembered. Potter had asked him to dinner. He nearly wept.

* * *

Tip #59: Do something fun with a friend. A trouble shared is a trouble halved!

– Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

The smell from the cauldron was insidious and deadly. Draco began to retch, but Snape seemed immune. He did, however, glance at Draco briefly, and the corner of his mouth turned up in an almost-smile that was as far as Snape ever seemed to get to laughing.

“The more repellent the smell, the more potent the potion,” Snape said softly, as he stirred, the smell growing stronger by the second. Draco wondered if he would die. Please, he thought distractedly, I’m too young to go this way.

Snape motioned to Draco to add the final ingredient, and, swallowing hard, he did so. The smell immediately was replaced by something rich and earthy. Snape looked pleased, but all Draco felt was a sweet relief. He’d rather face Voldemort again than be subjected to that smell, he thought crossly. But immediately the muscles in his left arm spasmed, and he tried not to wince.

Draco supposed it must be psychological, the way his arm reacted to any thought or mention of the Dark Lord. The Dark Mark was still there, a screaming reminder of all Draco’s past mistakes, but without Voldemort it could be nothing but an ugly tattoo. He tried to relax, but realised, too late, that not only was he rubbing anxiously at his arm, but that Snape had noticed.

Snape gripped his hand and pulled it away, but, Draco noted with a flood of relief, said nothing. He presumed that Snape had much the same distaste for the Mark as he did. The man never rolled up the sleeves of his robe to reveal it, whatever the weather or the situation. Draco would have bet the Malfoy fortune on Snape’s nightshirt having long sleeves. Not that he, Draco, was much better. He still covered his arm with a thin bandage so that he’d never have to look at it, even by accident, but he could always feel his blood pumping through it, feeding the vile death’s head every second of the day.

“We’ll break for tea,” Snape said in a harsh tone, but he kept his grip on Draco’s arm until he was safely sitting down. Once more there was silence.

“Just don’t,” Draco said bitterly.

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Well, that makes a change,” Draco snapped. “Not going to insult me about every aspect of my personal life?”

“I will if you like,” Snape said dryly. “I didn’t realise it was required.”

“Potter asked me out on a date,” Draco said, trying to regulate his voice so he sounded light and amused. It didn’t quite work.

A faint snort came from the direction of Snape’s chair, but Draco didn’t dare look up. “And did you accept his invitation?”

“Of course not,” Draco snarled. He bit his lip and tried to calm down. “He felt sorry for me. Me!”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Snape said, sounding as if he was saying the most reasonable thing in the world.

“No!” Draco said, horrified that his voice came out rather like a howl of despair.

“Did he, in fact, simply offer the hand of friendship to you, after learning how much you regretted that the two of you had not been friends?”

Draco glared at Snape, who glared back. “You’ve been talking to my mother again,” Draco hissed between clenched teeth.

“No,” Snape said, looking angry. “She has been talking at me. Constantly. And let me tell you, Mr Malfoy, you will have dinner with Potter or I will make you smell that potion every day until you accept!”

Draco quailed, but he was nothing if not a Malfoy, and so he pushed the tea table over so the crockery smashed and threw the teapot against the wall. “Fine! The potion it is!” he yelled, before storming out. In his bedroom, he rested his head against the cool wall and groaned. I’m 18 going on 8 he thought bitterly, and blamed Potter entirely for his predicament.

***

After a week of continuing stench, Draco was exhausted but feeling victorious. He had endured, and he would continue to do so. He was not a Malfoy for nothing. He could do this. Snape was a bastard, but even he had a heart. Soon he would give in and Draco could breath again without retching.

After two weeks, Draco began to wish for death. His clothes stunk, his hair stunk. Hell, even his skin stunk. Showering began to no longer remove the fearful smell, which clung to everything. Draco’s mother refused to be in the same room with him, and even the house elves had begun to avoid him. Snape seemed impervious to both the smell and Draco’s distress, popping by each evening to insult him and goad him into brewing more and more. Draco supposed, reflecting sullenly after yet another pointless bath, that he could rebel and simply refuse to brew another cauldronful of the wretched stuff. But that would be admitting defeat. And a Malfoy never admitted defeat.

After three weeks, a Malfoy admitted defeat. “All right,” he snarled one evening when Snape dropped by and wrinkled his nose, just a little. Just pointing out that he, Draco, reeked worse than the foulest, putrefying thing. And Snape didn’t labour the point, just inclined his head, as if to say just so.

“But you will arrange it with Potter,” Draco snarled, running his fingers through his tangled, matted hair (and trying not to retch yet again, good heavens it stunk). “I refuse to beg for his friendship. This is your doing, not mine.”

Snape snorted. “You are a very ungrateful young man, Mr Malfoy. But I shall certainly convey to Potter that you will accept his invitation, even though you are too cowardly to do so yourself.”

And that was how Draco found himself sitting down to write yet another wretched letter to that infuriating Gryffindor idiot. And then, just a few days later, pacing his bedroom whilst trying to decide just what exactly a Malfoy would wear when going to a humiliating and ridiculous dinner experience with his arch-nemesis.

Once dressed, the matter appeared to be settled. His second best robes – black, with green embroidery. His signet ring. An expensive chain, tucked inside his shirt, which the likes of Potter would never have the taste or means to purchase. He even allowed his mother to trim his hair. It appeared that when a wizard went to meet his greatest rival, he dressed to impress. Draco smirked at his reflection in the mirror. Potter wouldn’t know what hit him.

And then it hit him. He was dressing to impress Potter. And Draco felt an unfamiliar, wholly unwelcome sensation tug at his insides before he shoved it violently down. He didn’t even like Potter. I must be losing my mind, he thought wildly, as he prepared to Apparate to the restaurant Potter had chosen. His mother had smiled at him like he was a child and told him to have fun. His father had even wished him luck, and told him that Potter could open many worthwhile doors for him. The whole idea made him sick. Potter made him sick. And the thought of Potter, clad solely in thin pyjama bottoms low slung on his hips, his hair a mess–

GAAAAAH, Draco screamed in the privacy of his own room, and Apparated to meet his doom.

***

Draco arrived with a lurch, and stumbled, coming up against a wall with a painful thud. He looked around surreptitiously. It would be too much, of course, to hope that Potter had missed his ignominious arrival. He scanned the room impatiently when his eye didn’t immediately light upon the tousle-haired moron.

“Can I help you?” a waitress said, coming up to him. Was it him, or did she look at him rather in the manner of one examining a turd on the bottom of one’s shoe?

“Malfoy,” he said shortly. “Here to meet Potter. Is he here yet?”

The waitress evidently struggled not to gasp. “Yes. This way.”

Draco twitched when he realised that he no longer merited a simple “yes, sir” from a common waitress, but bit down an insult. He refused to make a scene in a restaurant. He looked around warily as the waitress led him across the floor. It was a pleasant spot, he had to admit. Low lighting, but a warm atmosphere. The soft music didn’t quite cover the shocked whispers as he headed towards Potter, though. He began to wonder if leaving his house had been a terrible mistake.

As he approached Potter, and yes, he could see him now, and he’d already covered the dining table with textbooks of some kind (some part of Draco cocked an eyebrow at Potter studying of his own free will), a man jumped up and waved his wand at Draco threateningly.

“It’s all your fault my sister’s cousin twice removed is dead!” he hissed. “You and those like you! Keep away from Harry, I won’t let you kill him!”

“I assure you, Potter is quite safe, although I fail to see how someone like you could protect him if I decide to suddenly snap,” Draco drawled. His insides twisted. Yes, it had definitely been a mistake coming out. He turned, as if to leave, but Potter had seen him now. Had noticed that his dinner guest was already making a scene. Was, no doubt, already regretting proffering the invitation.

“Draco!” Potter called, looking up from his textbooks with a puzzled frown. “Over here.”

Draco smirked at the shocked look on the man’s face, when he saw that Potter was beckoning him over. And then frowned. Had Potter just called him by his first name? He never had in all the years Draco had known him. It must be some kind of trick.

“Potter,” he said, trying to keep his cool. He looked down at the table and tried to look intimidating. “Is there enough room in your brain for all this information? Do take care you don’t overload it and explode.”

Harry’s frown deepened. “Malfoy.” He hurriedly gathered his textbooks together, knocking over a glass of water in the process. Draco carefully transformed his expression into a sneer. How had this clumsy oaf managed to survive all these years?

The waitress hurried over and mopped up the mess, whilst Potter apologised continually in that ridiculous, over-the-top way of his. Draco noticed that Potter’s face was unusually red. He steeled himself for whatever asinine comment Potter would begin their so-called friendship with.

“I didn’t actually expect you’d come,” Potter blurted out, then looked shocked, as if he hadn’t thought the words would come out of his mouth that way.

“Well, as you see, here I am. Although I can go away again, if I’ve spoiled your self-satisfied glow,” Draco said. He was aiming for supercilious, but to his own ears he just sounded needy.

Potter sighed, and removed his glasses to rub his eyes. Draco noticed that his eyes were brilliant green, and then wished he hadn’t noticed. How had he not noticed all these years? Was he blind? The man’s eyes were like, like, well they were green and that was all he had to say on the matter.

“What are you staring at, Malfoy?” Potter asked. He sounded suspicious.

“I was just wondering if you styled your hair that way on purpose, or if it just naturally grew to look like a mauled hedgehog,” Draco said, and then wondered why he had. It wasn’t as if he’d meant to insult Potter, he was just so used to it that he couldn’t help it. He just opened his mouth and insults came out. It wasn’t his fault that Potter was so easy to insult.

“Malfoy,” Potter said, putting his glasses back on and staring down at his hands. “I’m tired, it’s been a hell of a long week. I’m not sure I can deal with you being so, so…”

“So what?” Malfoy snapped, already on his feet and ready to leave.

“So prickly! Please, Malfoy, just sit down. Let’s have a meal, get pissed and if this is, as I suspect it is, a terrible mistake, we can both wake up with painful hangovers and pretend it never happened.”

Malfoy sat down. Please? The mighty Potter had said please? “As long as I get to choose the wine,” he conceded. “If my head is going to ache, I at least want it to be worth it.”

Harry smiled slightly. “Agreed.” Then, to Draco’s horror, he wrinkled his nose. “What is that smell?”

“That, Potter, is something I never, ever, wish to discuss,” Draco said, unable to stop himself from shuddering. And then, to his own great surprise, he grinned at Potter. And Potter, damn him, grinned right back.

***

Ten minutes later, after Potter had, to Draco’s suspicion and intense relief, cast a spell that entirely removed the noxious odour, they had lapsed into an uneasy silence while they waited for the wine to be brought to their table. At least, it felt like an uneasy silence to Draco. Harry was, apparently, simply studying the menu with deep concentration.

“I’m not sure what to have,” Harry said finally, with a sideways grin at Draco that made his insides tilt in an odd and most unwelcome way. “Fancy restaurants always get me wanting to order everything in sight.”

Draco turned his attention to the menu, turning up his nose slightly. “It’s hardly fancy, Potter. But then–” He paused, and managed, with some difficulty, to bite down the insult on the tip of his tongue. Potter tried, and failed, to look like he hadn’t noticed, and Draco felt deeply, deeply irritated. This was truly a trial of magnificent and deadly proportions. He tensed his shoulders and sought for something pleasant, or at least neutral, to say.

“You look nice, by the way,” Harry said, in a voice that was surely too casual to actually be casual.

Draco flinched. “But?”

Harry looked up, surprised. “But what?”

Draco subsided. “Nothing.” He looked around. “Where is that waitress with the wine?”

“I expect she’s too busy gossiping in the kitchens to bring it,” Harry said slightly sourly. “Or ringing around the gutter rags, looking to sell her story.” He sighed. “Never mind.” He looked up, smiled vaguely in a direction just over Draco’s shoulder, and they were suddenly surrounded by at least four waiters and waitresses. “We’re still waiting on our wine, I’m afraid,” he said, in the general direction of one of the women. In under ten seconds the wine was brought, and poured.

Harry grimaced. “Sorry about that,” he said apologetically. “I usually wear a disguise when I go out to eat. It saves a lot of hassle.”

Draco cocked an eyebrow as he sipped his wine. It was a mediocre but acceptable grape, and would do the job. He didn’t want to bankrupt Potter, who he was sure would insist, in an insufferable Gryffindor way, on paying for the meal at the end of the evening. He was trying so hard to behave that he wondered if he’d burst, but there was no way he could let Potter’s last words pass by. A man could only take so much.

A disguise?”

Harry laughed, wrinkled his nose as if in disgust and nodded. “A disguise.”

“False nose?” Draco inquired, with a reluctant grin. “I can see you in a false nose. And a ginger beard. With stick on spots!”

Draco’s attempt at humour was evidently appreciated by the Boy Who Hid Under A Balaclava To Eat Out. Harry laughed. “Not quite. But you get the general idea.” Harry bent his head back to the menu. “So, what shall I have?”

“You’re actually asking me, without expecting to get tricked into eating snails, or generally poisoned?” Draco said, without thinking.

Harry looked surprised for a moment. “Well you haven’t hexed me yet, so I live in hope. Besides, if I got poisoned, it would be fairly obvious that you did it. I’m thinking with all that Slytherin charm, you’d be a little more devious than that.” He smiled. “Plus, I’m planning on having what you’re having. So if you pick something vile for me, you’ll have to eat it too.”

“Oh, that is the height of cunning,” Draco mocked. Slytherin charm? Slytherin charm? Potter had to be taking the piss. He stared at the menu, and frowned. “I hate to ruin your plans, but I’m not actually all that hungry.”

Potter stared at him, and evidently bit back a remark. Draco wondered if Potter cared that his emotions showed up so easily on his face, that even someone who professed to hate him could read him so easily. “What,” he said testily, wanting to get it over with.

Potter blushed and looked at his menu. “Nothing,” he muttered. But Draco wasn’t fooled. Potter had almost the same look in his eye that Draco’s own mother often had. He was obviously gearing up to fuss.

“What!” Draco repeated, his voice a little louder.

Potter’s mouth opened and closed. Then he shrugged. “If you’re not hungry, you’re not hungry,” he said.

This time it was Draco’s turn to open and close his mouth. Particularly when Potter then called over the waitress and ordered himself a suspiciously large meal, consisting mainly of items that could be shared by two. Draco wanted to drop the subject, but it suddenly seemed churlish not to at least explain himself to Potter. They were out to dinner, after all.

“I haven’t felt very hungry of late,” he snapped, almost daring Potter to say something rude. He stiffened his shoulders and waited to be insulted. He was quite aware of how thin he was. He didn’t need to be reminded, with that disgusting look of pity that people sometimes had when they looked at him these days.

Potter, to Draco’s carefully-veiled surprise, seemed to relax at this. “If I’d eaten everything that Mrs Weasley tried to feed me over the past year, I’d be bigger than my cousin Dudley.” He smiled. “And trust me, that’s big. We all have our own ways of coping, I guess.”

The Boy Who Binged, Draco almost snorted out loud, and tried to cover it up by taking a swig of wine. He didn’t think that Potter would appreciate his Slytherin sense of humour quite as much as he did. He was slightly depressed that he couldn’t think of anything at all to say that wasn’t snide, or bitter. But then he’d never really had to make small talk with someone quite like Potter before. He drank some more wine and tried not to grind his teeth.

***

Harry was trying his best not to look as nervous as he felt, but he was all too aware that he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. For a start he’d not actually expected Malfoy to show up, so he’d made next to no effort deciding where to take him or what they were actually going to talk about when, if, he arrived. The restaurant was a snap decision, and although it seemed nice enough, Harry had had misgivings as soon as he’d arrived. It was fancy enough to make him feel slightly uncomfortable, but no doubt not good enough to avoid Malfoy’s sneers. And it seemed very important to Harry that he should avoid Malfoy’s sneers, because he felt quite sure that, if Malfoy provoked him, he would have no compunction against turning him into a ferret and throwing him all around the room. This, he thought, would probably not be helpful with regards to anger management.

Then, of course, when Malfoy had actually arrived, it was fairly obvious that he was the centre of some rather unwelcome attention and Harry, flustered, had called him Draco and knocked over a glass. Real smooth, Harry, he thought with a wince. And Draco had been typically insulting, and rather than tell him to sod off and go to hell, Harry had told him he looked nice. He does look nice, Harry’s traitorous brain reminded him, and Harry had squirmed and blushed, causing Draco to raise an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth curling up into an infuriating sneer.

Draco did look attractive though Harry thought, peering surreptitiously at him as the boy sipped his wine, his eyes seemingly focused on a spot somewhere over Harry’s right shoulder. He’d always had a flair for clothes, and his hair was neater than when Harry had seen him last. He was still far too thin, but his skin was flushed from the wine and the low light somehow softened his sharp features.

He was still a tosser, though. It appeared that although Harry had asked him out for dinner, he wasn’t actually planning on eating anything. Was, in fact, just planning on sitting there, all gaunt and underfed, and watching Harry eat twice as much food as was good for him. Possibly while he commented on Harry’s table manners. Or maybe he’d just continue to sit there uncommunicatively. The silence yawned in front of Harry, and he gazed into a pit of all the things he really, really didn’t want to discuss with Malfoy, for fear he’d either burst into tears or attempt to dismember the boy in front of him.

“So, Malfoy,” he said, grasping wildly at the only non-controversial topic he could think of, “played any Quidditch recently?”

Malfoy’s lip curled up in disdain, and Harry flinched slightly. Okay, it was a stupid question. A question that, no doubt, only a moron would ask. But at least he’d said something! At least he didn’t just sit there and, and, and, look bored and mildly contemptuous!

“No,” Malfoy said shortly. “You are the first person from school I have seen for a long time. There has been little opportunity for Quidditch.” He shifted slightly in his chair, as if he were itching to leave.

“Oh?” Harry said, feeling a kind of reluctant pity for Malfoy. He wondered what it was like to have all your friends abandon you. But then Malfoy had never really had friends, as far as Harry could tell, just people who he ordered about. “That’s a shame.”

Draco’s expression was icy. “I can’t say I feel the loss. Of either.”

“You don’t want friends?” Harry said, not sure whether to be horrified, sympathetic or enraged. “No-one good enough for you to associate with? I’m surprised you’re here now,” Harry said a touch bitterly, warming to his theme. Malfoy looked cold and disdainful, and Harry didn’t feel the slightest urge to hold back. “But oh yes, I’m the Boy Who Fucking Lived. I guess you must want something from me.”

Harry felt a spike of anger race through him, but then wished he’d bitten his tongue. There was no point in saying such things to Malfoy. He’d demonstrated time and again that nothing wounded him, and rudeness only increased the spitefulness of the eventual revenge he’d take. But they weren’t in school any more, and Malfoy didn’t have any of his bullies to back him up. There was no reason why Harry should be wary of him any longer. He took a deep breath and looked Malfoy full in the face. “What do you want, Malfoy? Why did you come?”

Malfoy’s lips were pressed tight together, and he sat so upright that he could have had a poker up his arse. He looked furious. Harry wondered if he should duck. There must be a curse already on Malfoy’s lips. He flexed his fingers, ready to leap for his wand.

“I came because you invited me.”

Harry blinked. Malfoy’s tone was sharp but, despite his obvious anger, he was not attempting to turn Harry into a pig and then feast on bacon. Well, thought Harry, rather startled, this is new.

“This,” Malfoy started, and then stopped, curling his fingers tightly together and visibly trying to compose himself. “This is more unpleasant than I thought it would be.”

“WELL, GO THEN!” Harry shouted, shooting up. This was unbearable, he thought glumly. And everyone was looking. They must think he was cracked.

Malfoy’s expression turned back into a sneer, but the words that came out of his mouth were unexpected. “You misunderstand me, Potter. I didn’t mean that this, this,” he waved a hand irritably, “meal is unpleasant.” His sneer deepened. “Although I would appreciate it if you would sit down and stop sharing our business with the whole restaurant.”

Harry frowned. “What did you mean then?”

Malfoy picked up his wine glass and stared into it for a moment, before downing it. “I hate feeling this way, Potter,” he said viciously. “In debt to you. Contemptible in other people’s eyes. A Death Eater coward who didn’t even have the courage of his own convictions.”

“You would rather have enjoyed being a Death Eater? Would you feel better now if you’d succeeded in killing Dumbledore?” Harry said impulsively, feeling horrified. Whatever he’d expected from the evening, it was not this. This he did not want.

“Of course not,” Malfoy said listlessly, twirling the empty glass between his long, thin fingers. “I hated Voldemort in the end.” His mouth twisted. “More, even, than I hated you.”

“Thanks,” Harry muttered. He felt rather like a deer caught in the headlights. He didn’t want to listen to Malfoy’s confessions, but he couldn’t escape.

Malfoy inclined his head slightly, seemingly unaware of Harry’s sarcasm. “I rather seem to be spoiling our little reunion,” he said, putting down his glass and rubbing his left arm.

“Stop it, Malfoy,” Harry said wearily. He was beginning to wish that he could just simply hate Malfoy again. It was certainly simpler.

Malfoy said nothing, just continued to rub his arm. It was almost as if he didn’t realise that he was doing it.

Harry snapped, and leant over the dinner table, gripping Malfoy’s right wrist and tugging it away. They sat, for a moment, like statues in a strange tableau, before Malfoy shrugged away.

“I don’t need your pity,” Malfoy breathed, his eyes hard and bright.

“You don’t have it,” Harry snapped, and then felt slightly sick. “It’s just a scar, Malfoy,” Harry continued, almost as if he were pleading with him. “I have one too.”

“That’s rather different, don’t you think?” Malfoy said bitterly. He sagged against the table as if all the fight had gone out of him.

Harry shrugged. “It’s still just a scar. You don’t have to let it defeat you.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“You think my life is easy?” Harry said, incredulous. “Oh yes, it’s so much fun being the hero all the time. Almost everyone I love has died because of me, but don’t worry it’s all worth it, because I get to read about my supposed love life and what breakfast cereal is my favourite every day in the paper.” Was Malfoy some sort of idiot? Oh, but of course not, Harry thought sourly. Malfoy was always clever in some deceitful and underhand way. There was probably a reporter from the Daily Prophet lurking under the tablecloth as they spoke.

“At least you can walk into a restaurant and the fucking waitress doesn’t look at you like you’re scum, and the other customers try to hex you just for existing,” Malfoy hissed, his voice low.

“Oh yes, it’s so much better to barely be able to move without people wanting to cash in on my fame. Do you know how many offers of marriage I’ve had just this evening alone?” Harry spat back, his face red.

Malfoy’s face flickered. “No?”

“Three,” Harry sighed.

“Really?”

Harry felt himself blush. He nodded tensely.

Malfoy smirked slightly. “Slow night?”

“Oh, very.” Harry barked out a laugh. “But then I did receive a sack full of declarations this morning, so I’ve already hit my quota.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

What,” Harry said, feeling irritated. “It’s not my fault the world is full of nitwits.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you, Potter?” Malfoy said, after a short silence.

Harry nodded and looked down at his hands, watching Malfoy out of the corner of his eye. Malfoy’s habitual sneer had dropped, leaving an expression that was vulnerable somehow. It made Harry feel uncomfortable, and he wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps it was that Malfoy suddenly looked almost human, and no pigs appeared to be flying. It was a shock.

“And do you answer this mail?” Malfoy suddenly asked, his sneer back so quickly that Harry blinked and stuttered yes before he’d had a chance to think.

“The Harry Potter Fan Club back in action,” Malfoy said unpleasantly. “Do you send signed photos? I remember you doing rather a line in those, back in the day.”

“I have to reply!” Harry said hotly. “If I don’t–” He shuddered slightly, as some painful memories surfaced.

“Why?” Malfoy asked, sounding interested against his will. “What happens if you fail in your great civic duty?”

“Sometimes they send howlers,” Harry said glumly.

“That doesn’t sound that bad,” Malfoy said dismissively.

“To me at work,” Harry continued.

“Well that’s embarrassing,” Malfoy conceded, “but not exactly fatal.”

“Mostly though,” Harry said, not quite sure why he was handing Malfoy ammunition so readily, “they show up in person.”

“Oh.” Malfoy sounded grudgingly amused.

“All dressed up. Flashy accessories. Drowning in jewellery. Best robes,” Harry said flatly, then shivered, remembering one elderly wizard in particular. “One man even turned up entirely nak…” Harry clamped his mouth shut. “Thanks, Malfoy,” he said bitterly, keeping his eyes down. “I was doing quite well repressing the memory of that one.”

A sudden snort dragged his mind away from the horror, and he looked up warily. Malfoy was almost helpless with laughter.

“Hey! I’m glad you take comfort in my pain,” Harry said severely, rather amazed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Malfoy laugh. Granted, Malfoy was laughing at him, but he supposed it was rather funny. He and Ron had certainly laughed about it enough.

“Potter,” Malfoy wheezed, “were you really propositioned by a naked man?” His face was alive with humour.

Harry decided that he’d rather be mocked than sneered at, any day. There was something quite attractive about Malfoy’s face when he laughed. His jaw relaxed and he lost that tense, cross look.

“Naked. Totally naked,” Harry said quickly, to cover his sudden confusion. Malfoy attractive? Harry quickly tried to envision the nude wizard, with his matted black body hair and saggy, reddened skin. But the vision morphed before he could stop it into an unsatisfyingly blurred Malfoy, all pale skin and endless limbs. Harry’s heart nearly stopped.

“Potter, you’re staring,” Malfoy drawled.

Harry focused, dazed and more than a little confused. Malfoy had managed to pull himself together, but the corners of his lips still twitched as if he were half a breath away from hysterical laughter. He smirked a little, and the movement seemed to set something racing through Harry’s blood – almost as if, for a limited time only, Malfoy’s mouth was somehow hotwired to Harry’s nerves. Harry realised, with rising panic, that the crotch of his trousers was suddenly far too tight.

“So,” Malfoy said casually. “Shall I propose now, or after dinner?”

Harry wet his lips. “What?” he squeaked.

Malfoy’s smirk deepened. “Well, I wrote you a letter. I got dressed up.” He waved a hand at himself, and pouted winningly.

Harry didn’t speak, for he was certain that the only word that would come out would be an incoherent ‘guh’.

“Although,” Malfoy’s eyes widened and he snickered, “maybe I shouldn’t have dressed at all.”

Harry tried not to whimper. He was sick, he thought frantically. Ill. Dying. Wouldn’t someone save him from this terrible hallucinogenic disease?

“Potter, you’re blushing!” Malfoy said, sounding delighted.

Harry closed his eyes and hoped his death would come quickly. Surely no-one could get this sick and live? With his eyes closed, Malfoy’s laughter sounded almost warm.

“I believe I’ve found the advantage to our little date,” Malfoy said, his voice sarcastic but a fraction less cutting than usual.

Harry opened his eyes and downed a glass of wine. “And that is?” Harry prompted when Malfoy fell silent, watching him more closely than Harry felt comfortable with. Date? Did Malfoy really think they were on a date?

Malfoy started slightly, and rolled his eyes. “To my great surprise, Potter, you are being mildly amusing.” He smiled slightly. “Perhaps you would share a few more tales of your romantic conquests?”

Harry frowned, not sure of the wisdom of this.

“Or we could just reminisce about the good old days,” Malfoy said with a dangerous glint in his eye.

“Er, no thanks,” Harry said hastily but paused, uncertain.

Malfoy refilled both their wine glasses. “Well do begin. Preferably before we die of old age.”

So Harry began. And to his minor satisfaction, when the food arrived and he pushed it towards Malfoy, still regaling him with tales of his tragic suitors, the boy tucked in without a word, as if they’d decided to share it all along.

* * *

Tip #73: If you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, remember that – sooner than you think – you’ll be able to look back and laugh. Recall some of your previous embarrassments and work through the feelings they provoke, either alone or with a trusted confidant. – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

Draco awoke with the certain knowledge of two things: one, that he was dying, and two, that there was someone lying next to him. His time with Voldemort had taught him how to suppress his emotions more than effectively, so he was able to lie still and run through a quick mental check list. Limbs? All seemed attached, so no problem there. Wounds? Well, he ached in places, so possible bruising. Memory? Impaired. He couldn’t remember having a terrible accident, although his head was pounding so severely that he supposed he must be suffering from concussion or head injury of some kind. Next his mind moved on to the worrying issue of the body pressed against him. It was vibrating slightly, so it wasn’t dead. A minor, although not highly reassuring, relief. Then it groaned, as if in terrible pain, and Draco froze. He knew that voice. Oh Merlin, it couldn’t be. He felt the body stiffen against him and his whole body went rigid in response.

“Malfoy?” Potter groaned, his voice sounding a blend of confusion and pain. “Oh, hell.” There was a pause and Potter shifted slightly, evidently taking in the situation. “I would just like to say,” he said a little more firmly, “that my feelings for you are still on the side of loathing and dislike, despite that fact that I appear to be, er,” Draco could practically hear him blushing, “hugging you. But,” Potter continued, his voice sounding rather pathetic, “if I move, my head will fall off.”

Draco forced an eye open, but couldn’t even summon up enough energy to turn around and glare. “Potter!” he hissed, and then needed to pause to rest. Merlin’s balls, his head hurt. He tried to pull himself together, when he caught a faint, slightly unpleasant scent on the air. Was that him? “Potter, please tell me you weren’t sick on me,” he pleaded.

“I don’t think so,” Potter mumbled against his hair. “I think you might have been though.”

Draco blanched. “In public?” he whispered, shamed beyond belief. Illogically, he was sure he could feel Potter frown against his hair.

“I can’t remember.”

The moron’s head flopped against Draco’s, sending a shooting pain through him. “Will you move your head!” Draco snapped. “Are you trying to be the death of me, or does it just come naturally?”

Potter seemed to consider this, but didn’t shift. His warmth was strangely comforting. Draco groaned. He must be in a bad way to be thinking such a thing. “Tibby!” he yelled. There was a soft pop as the house-elf appeared, looking rather nervous.

“Your father would like to see you, Master Draco,” she squeaked.

“Don’t let your father anywhere near me,” Potter muttered darkly in his ear. “I won’t be responsible for the consequences.”

“Shut up, Potter,” Draco sneered, feeling an odd mixture of insulted and impressed. When had Potter grown a spine? When he killed the Dark Lord. Whilst you were too busy being a self-serving coward, his brain replied. He scowled. “Tibby! Fetch myself and Potter a vat of the strongest hangover cure you have.”

The elf paused, jigging up and down anxiously. “Your father said immediately, Master. Sorry, Master!”

“TIBBY!” Draco yelled, and wished he hadn’t. His insides weren’t best pleased with him. Tibby vanished though, at least. “You’re in my father’s house, Potter. Try not to annoy me or I’ll feed you to the piranhas.”

Potter pulled a face. “I didn’t mean to be in your house,” he said. “I have no idea why I am.” Draco felt him shrug slightly. “That smell is probably just that potion, by the way. I think the spell I cast to conceal it has worn off.”

“What?” Draco gasped. He had not told Potter about that. Surely he had not told Potter about that. Please let him have not told Potter about that.

“I wonder if that book has anything to say about it,” Potter sniggered.

Draco maintained a dignified silence with superhuman effort. Maybe if he could reach his wand he could Obliviate Potter without him noticing. He would bide his time.

“What else did I tell you?” he said icily.

Potter sniggered again, in an infuriating way. “Stuff.”

Stuff?” Draco repeated, trying not to explode.

“Well, you confessed your feelings for me,” came the unlikely response. “And then we kissed.” Potter sounded mournful. “You don’t remember?”

“WHAT!” Draco yelled. His memory of the previous evening was patchy, to say the least, but that? That? With Potter? Fine, he’d confess within the privacy of his own brain that Potter was, well, passable. If you liked the cute, dishevelled lost puppy look which he, Draco, certainly didn’t. And the ‘most powerful wizard in the world’ fact was, was, well there it was. But leaving aside the not insignificant inconvenience that Potter was male, the fact of the matter was that he was Potter. And if Draco was going to go about kissing men, he’d surely pick someone less, less… Potterish. Surely?

“Oh, Draco,” Potter murmured, and shifted slightly closer.

Draco’s skin tingled where Potter pressed against him, and he felt a ridiculous and unsettling thrill of anticipation. Clearly, Draco thought rather gloomily as a flush of warmth ran through him, he – and his traitorous body – had gone insane.

“I… I.” He swallowed hard, unsure of what one said in this situation. Although kissing Potter was less of a situation and more of a horrible, hideous catastrophe. Then the bed suddenly began to shake and Draco realised – after he’d checked to see that his head was still attached – that Potter was laughing. Hysterically.

“Got you, Malfoy!” Potter forced out between choking, gasping laughs. “Your face.” He cracked up again. “Your face!”

“Very amusing,” Draco said icily. “Hilarious. If you’re eight.” Draco was hideously aware that he actually felt upset. He probed the feeling, as one might poke a snake: warily, as if it could bite at any moment. Hello! Draco’s mind said. You’re upset because you didn’t kiss Potter! Hardly, he sneered back. Because Potter didn’t kiss you? Because he doesn’t want to? Oh hell

Harry sniggered again. “It’s still funny. Anyway, you took the piss enough out of me last night.”

Draco didn’t reply. It was infuriating how little he remembered of the previous night’s adventures. Potter was so close and the room was so hot. His head spun.

“TIBBY!” he yelled viciously.

The elf popped back looking startled, clutching two cups of steaming liquid. “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry Tibby was so long!” she said. “Tibby had to fetch and pour and heat–”

“Whatever,” Draco said dismissively, sitting up slowly and reaching out. It was an effort not to die.

“Thanks, Tibby,” Potter said, in that ridiculously polite way he had. Draco stored up a snide remark and downed the potion. Bliss. Indescribable bliss. Draco stretched, and shook his head tentatively as he felt the liquid spark through his veins. The pain had all but vanished.

“Pot–” he said, then stopped. “What,” he inquired incredulously, “is that?”

Potter looked around dizzily. “I can’t see,” he frowned. “Accio glasses!” The glasses flew to him and he shoved them on.

Draco gaped – wandless magic? – but refused to be derailed.

“That,” he pointed out frostily. “It hardly matches the décor, Potter.”

Harry laughed. “It’s a traffic cone.”

“Words come out of your mouth,” Draco complained, “but they have no meaning. I ask again, what?”

“It’s a Muggle thing. They use them to mark roads when they’re digging them up.”

“I see,” Draco lied, staring at the orange monstrosity. “And the flashing light?”

Potter shrugged.

“But why-” He broke off again as he noticed another foreign object. “What is that, that headgear?” He shuddered. “And why, in the name of all things holy, is it adorning the bust of my great-grandmother?”

“It’s – it’s a policeman’s helmet,” Potter spluttered.

“Do I want to know?” Draco said wearily.

“Muggle Aurors.”

Draco ripped his eyes away from the disturbing sight and turned to focus on Potter. That sight was equally disturbing. The boy – the man, his mind amended – was sprawled across the bed in, in Draco’s own favourite nightclothes. Black silk slid up revealing Potter’s toned stomach. Those pyjamas had been a gift from his mother. He would never be able to look her in the eye again. Potter looked so sexy it was quite obscene.

Potter blushed under Draco’s scrutiny. “I presume these are yours?” he asked moronically, apparently following Draco’s train of thought.

“Evidently. Unless you mugged a sleeping stranger for their pyjamas,” Draco said sarcastically, cocking an eyebrow.

Potter blushed harder. “Um.”

“Um?” Draco mocked, unable to stop himself watching the colour move down Potter’s throat. His whole body was blushing. Even his stomach seemed to be blushing.

“Er, Draco?” Potter said, his voice sounding strained, and Draco jumped realising – in the name of the four Founders what was he doing – that his eyes had travelled inexorably downward to the silken folds covering Potter’s crotch. And Potter, who was often so unobservant as to be practically blind, had of course noticed. Draco blushed furiously and looked away. He could feel himself grinding his teeth.

“Bring them back well washed, Potter,” he said coldly. “On second thought, don’t bother. I’d only have to fumigate them, and I’m not sure the silk could stand it. Just bin them.” He stalked to the door of his en-suite bathroom. He was filled with anger at himself, and he had to get away before his body betrayed him by displaying his sudden and ridiculous feelings for Potter. He could already feel the blood dropping away to fuel a growing embarrassment that nothing on earth would compel him to let Potter see. It was all too shaming. “I’ll give you some privacy to change,” he added curtly. “Yell when you’re done.” He shut the door behind him with a resounding click.

Draco sat on the floor and put his head in his hands. Was he really, of all the unlikely and disturbing things, entertaining sexual thoughts about Potter? His mind wandered over Potter’s long, toned limbs and lightly tanned skin. Draco’s cock twitched. Yes, it appeared that he was. Had Potter been working out? Draco clenched his fists. No he wouldn’t think these things. He couldn’t. He bit his lip and, for the first time, regretted being an only child. It was his job to marry well and continue the Malfoy line.

Draco frowned. He was overreacting, he told himself. Potter was the first man he’d ever thought about in that way. But then it wasn’t as if he’d exactly– His frown deepened. It had hardly been his fault that pledging allegiance to the Dark Lord had resulted in a non-existent love life, he thought peevishly. He’d barely kissed anyone, let alone– He groaned slightly in self-pity. Merlin, he was pathetic. A virgin loser fixating over his worst enemy. 18 years old and not even sure of his own sexual preferences.

Draco tried to pull himself together. As much as he’d wanted to have Potter prove to him how right and deserving he was of his hate, the previous night had been – fun. What he could remember of it. And Draco wasn’t exactly rolling in offers of friendship from people as well-connected, famous and influential as Potter. Wasn’t exactly rolling in offers at all, despite his quality, blood and wealth. He frowned. Perhaps he should apologise for his unpleasant remarks just now. They were certainly unfair and uncalled for. Besides, he thought, cheering up, the look on Potter’s face when he said sorry would be most amusing.

Then a chill feeling ran through him. Potter had been an awfully long time. Surely even someone as inept as Potter had managed to get dressed by now? “Potter, are you dead?” he called.

No response. Draco waited, and then thought sod it. He opened the door and peered around. Potter had gone. The silk pyjamas lay neatly folded on the made bed. On top of them lay a note. This was obviously a mistake. Let’s just forget it, Malfoy. And then, rather illogically for a ‘flouncing off in a huff just like a girl’ note, Draco thought scathingly, Sorry.

Draco scowled and balled up the note, throwing it across the room peevishly. I am not upset, I am angry, he informed himself sternly.

Unfortunately, he didn’t find himself all that convincing.

* * *

Even more unfortunately, this was the moment when his father – evidently losing his patience with Draco – decided to storm in. Or, more accurately, enter Draco’s room a fraction of a second after rapping imperiously on the door. It was, Draco thought rather bitterly, typical of his father to maintain an illusion of politeness in the rudest possible way.

Draco flinched when he saw his father’s eyes travel from himself to the balled up note and back again. Lucius’ lip curled slightly, and he looked at Draco with a veneer of false concern.

“Are you well, Draco?” Lucius said smoothly.

Draco tensed. “Yes, sir.”

“Only–” And here Malfoy senior opened up a copy of the Daily Prophet and tapped the front page scathingly. “I feared you had gone insane. Now, happily, I learn that that is not the case, and that you have instead brought shame upon the family in sound mind.”

Draco went scarlet, and struggled to hold his tongue. His father was in the finest cold rage he had ever seen.

“Do you think I have worked so hard, and compromised my dignity so greatly to restore our family name on a whim? Does family honour mean nothing to you, Draco?”

Draco winced as his father’s tone became icier and icier. He craned his neck, but his father had the paper angled away so he couldn’t quite see the headline.

“I intended you to befriend the Potter spawn,” Lucius practically spat, “Not foul the family name in this ridiculous manner.” He dropped the paper on the floor with disdain. His lips whitened as he pressed them together. “Do not attempt to put this right. I have no faith in your diplomatic skills. I will fix this mess.” He turned and left the room, shutting the door with a contemptuous click.

Draco stared at the paper on the floor and tried to hold back the tears of sheer rage that threatened to well up. He was too old for tantrums, he thought viciously. But then… He’d certainly never had his father make such a studied insult to him before. Telling him off as if he were a child! Dropping the newspaper so he had to grovel on the floor to pick it up, as if he were a house elf! Draco clenched his jaw.

Since Voldemort’s death, two vastly differing views of his father had warred within him. He was, in many ways, the same authority figure that Draco knew and respected. Charming, ruthless and impossibly influential. He deserved admiration now even more than ever, Draco supposed – managing not only to keep himself out of Azkaban with a series of smooth deals and betrayals, but to make himself indispensable to the Ministry, and buying his way into popularity once more with donations to charities upon charities (all funded with profits from illegal enterprises of course, not that the Ministry were to know).

But, on a purely personal level, Draco had realised to his horror that he actually loathed his father, almost as much as he adored his mother. His father had, in many ways, tricked him into becoming a Death Eater, to prove his loyalty to Voldemort. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, Draco looked back and saw himself as nothing but a bargaining chip to his father – to be used, and discarded, as necessary. He knew, grimly, that if he had died his father would have mourned the loss of his heir, but not necessarily the loss of Draco. His father’s attitude was pure, undiluted Slytherin ambition – and Draco was discovering, with a sense of discomfort and almost betrayal, that perhaps ambition and position weren’t quite everything.

Draco grit his teeth and bent down to pick up the paper. Judging by his father’s reaction, it was not going to be a fun read.

* * *

Hermione was obviously trying to stop laughing, but every time she took a deep breath and tried to calm down, Ron spluttered and set her off again. They’d been going for about ten minutes now, with no sign of stopping.

Hermione wiped her eyes and tried to pull herself together. She’d only returned from Australia that day, and had arrived to the screaming headlines of the Daily Prophet, a sound asleep Harry and a Ron who was trying not to wet himself from laughter.

Now they were all sitting in the flat’s cosy sitting room while Hermione and Ron tried to tease Harry, but only managed to speak in incomprehensible splutters and giggles.

Harry grinned, wryly. “Okay, Okay,” he said, raising his hands. “You’ve had your laugh. Can I please, please see the article now?”

Hermione took some visible deep breaths and passed the paper to Harry.

Harry read the whole thing with deepening gloom. It didn’t seem all that funny to him. The newspaper article – spanning five pages of dense text – was sickeningly, greasily complimentary towards him, and full of carefully concealed spite towards Draco. DEATH EATER LEADS OUR HERO ASTRAY the headlines screamed. SHAMED MALFOY JR. THREATENS TO KILL THE SAVIOUR OF THE WIZARDING WORLD. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The article’s main tone was one of cloying concern for Harry. It spoke of him as of a child who didn’t know any better; a naïve boy who was too trusting, under the spell of a “spoiled, spiteful Death Eater wannabe, kept from jail only by the generosity of his former schoolmate”.

He read on, past insinuation after insinuation. Finally he scowled, and pushed the paper aside. “It’s not funny,” he said shortly.

Ron managed to stop laughing, and looked slightly uncomfortable. “It is funny, mate,” he said, slightly apologetically. “Did you read the same article as we did? It’s so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. And some of those pictures are downright hilarious. The one with the traffic cone…” He cracked up again.

“Yes,” Harry said, crossly. “It was the same old stuff as ever. Harry Potter can’t be trusted to look after himself. Harry Potter goes out on the town and gets drunk. Harry Potter’s being taken advantage of…” Harry paused, and picked up the paper again, skim reading. He found the paragraph he was looking for, and went red. “Draco Malfoy was doing his best to be a charming, attractive companion,” he read out loud, “Almost as if he had a hidden agenda! The staff at the Daily Prophet would like to warn Harry that appearances can be deceiving.” Harry looked shocked. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

Hermione laughed. “What, that you shouldn’t trust Malfoy because he’s an awful Slytherin? Or that you should be protected from his seductive wiles, which will soon trick you into his bed?”

“Ha ha,” Harry mumbled, then blushed. “The traffic cone thing was funnier at the time.”

The phrase ‘traffic cone’ set Ron off again. “Pretty damn funny right now, if you ask me!” he spluttered.

Hermione grinned, and then looked at Harry thoughtfully. “Did you enjoy the evening?”

“Of course he didn’t,” Ron interrupted. “Did you, mate?”

“Um,” Harry said, going a bit red. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Ron gaped at him. “Please tell me you didn’t have fun.”

Harry laughed nervously. “Well he didn’t try and kill me,” he said, “whatever this rag says. And he wasn’t particularly oily or charming. He was just Malfoy, with the nastiness turned right down low.” Harry shrugged, and looked a bit embarrassed. “We got quite drunk. To be honest, I don’t remember very much of it.”

Hermione grinned, and tried to look disapproving. “You didn’t turn to pages nine through eleven,” she said. “That should clear up a few holes in your memory.”

Harry did so, and then laughed. “I didn’t?” he said, and then remembered the policeman’s helmet in Draco’s room. “Oh hell, I did.” He paused. “We did.” He shook his head. “But it’s never going to happen again. There’s no way Malfoy will ever want to go out again if this is the end result. It’s not exactly a flattering portrait of him.”

Ron snatched the paper back and read, with some glee: “Draco Malfoy, looking worryingly thin but certainly not suffering from an absence of confidence, spent much of the evening casting longing looks at his companion, who responded as politely as could be expected. Harry, who has been exclusively photographed by this publication with a string of today’s most eligible society beauties, was unmoved by his associate’s oily charm and flattery.” Ron laughed, and then went slightly green. “Longing looks? Crikey. Please tell me that didn’t happen, or I might die, right here on our carpet.”

Harry smiled faintly, all too aware that if there had been any longing looks, they may well have come from his direction, rather than vice versa. Although the previous evening was rather a haze, he did have a clear and abiding image of Draco smiling, his blond hair tipping in soft strands across his face, gesticulating wildly with long, slender fingers. It was an intensely appealing image, and Harry wasn’t quite sure what to do with that information yet. It was all too bizarre. Besides, he thought with a frown, Draco wouldn’t want to see him again, even if… Nah, the very idea was ridiculous.

“No,” Harry said firmly, as if trying to convince himself. “No longing looks.”

“Oily charm and flattery?” Ron asked, sounding hopeful.

Harry laughed. Draco had been sarcastic, sharp-tongued and bordering on rude for the majority of the evening. It had made a pleasant change to the way that many of the people he met treated him. “I wouldn’t say oily, no.”

“Damn!”

“Ron, get me a cup of tea will you?” Hermione asked suddenly.

Ron looked suspicious. “Why?”

“Because I’m thirsty, you twit!”

Ron grinned, and strode off to make a pot of tea.

Hermione leaned in towards Harry when Ron was out of the room. “Will you see him again?”

Harry tried not to blush. Hermione had an uncanny way of telling what he was thinking before even he knew what he was thinking, sometimes. He wondered what she was thinking right now. He shrugged. “We didn’t leave on good terms,” he admitted. “Malfoy was rude and I stormed out. Besides, he certainly won’t want to meet up again after this article.”

Hermione looked thoughtful. “I think you went about the first meeting all wrong,” she said. “I mean honestly, Harry. In public? With two gallons of alcohol? It was bound to all end badly. The fact that you didn’t kill each other suggests that it’s worth following up.”

Harry snorted. “It’s not exactly a glowing recommendation is it? You didn’t manage to kill each other, so you must be a match made in heaven.” Harry stopped, realising what he’d just implied, and wondering if it was just a slip of the tongue or if he actually meant it. “I didn’t mean it that way,” he mumbled, but was once more overwhelmed by the image of Malfoy laughing, his face almost sweet as his eyes crinkled with mirth.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, sounding sad. “Would it be so bad if you did mean it that way? I wouldn’t mind. I wish you could find someone special.”

Harry gave her a squeeze, and smiled faintly. “I’m sure that you’ll figure out who’s best for me before I do, so just make sure you let me know, okay?”

“Oi!” Ron said, coming in with three cups and a teapot bobbing precariously behind him. “Hands off my girlfriend, hero boy!”

Harry grinned, and relaxed. It was good to be among friends. He spent the evening talking, laughing and trying – with mixed success – not to think about Malfoy.

It would have been no consolation to him to know that Malfoy was trying twice as hard to think of something that wasn’t Potter related – and doing twice as badly.

* * *

“Ron.”

“Yes?” Ron yawned, turning over and tucking Hermione tighter into his arms.

“Would you care if Harry liked men?”

Ron made a surprised noise, and sat up slightly. “Does he?”

Would you?”

Ron snorted, and lay back down. “Of course not. He can go out with whoever he likes. I’m not sure he’ll have my blessing if he chooses a Hippogriff, but as long as he’s happy.”

“What about if it were…” Hermione said cautiously, “Draco Malfoy?”

Ron tensed, and then snuggled closer to Hermione with a sigh. He pulled a pained face. “Hell, he can go out with ferret face if he wants. I’ll enjoy kicking him to death once he fucks up and hurts Harry. Why? Do you think he will?” Ron shuddered slightly. “I’d have thought he’d have more taste.”

Hermione laughed sleepily. “Just call it female intuition. We’ll see.”

* * *

“By the by, Mr Malfoy,” Snape said, sounding weary. “I cannot help but notice that you did not conduct yourself with an eye to the media, during your little expedition with Potter. Did it not occur to you both that making a spectacle of yourselves would be an unwise thing to do?”

Draco, who had been engrossed in pouring a complex potion into a small vial, started and dropped it. He swore loudly as a cloud of noxious gas rose from the floor. A patch of cream carpet had been entirely eaten away.

“If you had prepared that properly,” Snape said coolly, waving his wand to clear up the mess, “the resulting potion should have eaten its way entirely through the floorboards. You will try again after a short break.”

Snape turned and swept out of the room. Draco followed gloomily. He’d been a nervous wreck in the few days since that article had come out, wavering between a white-hot rage that threatened to consume him, and a dark sadness that ate away at his insides and left him unable to eat or sleep.

It was typical, Draco thought rather bitterly, of Harry-fucking-Potter to have, once again, made his life even more insufferable than it already was. The uneasy truce between himself and his father dissolved into an all-out cold war; his name once more splattered with mud in the press. Draco grit his teeth. Theinsinuations of that article! That he, a pure-blood, aristocratic Malfoy should be… be… chasing after Potter’s affections like some kind of slobbery dog. If anyone should be being chased it should be Potter doing the running – and that, Malfoy thought, was a notion that certainly should not be in his mind at all.

And, moreover, certainly should not make his insides flip in that odd, unexpected way. Draco wished vehemently that self-denial came in liquid form, because his own – usually quite robust – variety was doing nothing for him on this important matter.

And that picture in the paper certainly wasn’t helping.

It wasn’t as if it was anything particularly embarrassing, or stupid (though there were a good collection of embarrassing, ridiculous action shots that fit nicely into that category. He made, it seemed, a rather clumsy drunk, which would at least explain the bruising on his knees). This shot was tame in comparison to the others. But there was something about it… They must have been about to Apparate, because why else would he be clinging onto Potter’s arm so tightly? Harry was looking lost, his expression sad and confused. And then – then he turned slightly to look at Draco and his face just… cleared. Not happy, not sad. Just… calm. Relaxed. Safe. It filled Draco with a kind of light-headed, bubbling sensation that he gloomily suspected must be happiness, or at least something like it.

The whole idea was intolerable.

“I presume my mother has been talking?” Draco said crossly, slumping into an easy-chair opposite Snape and folding his arms. This was one conversation he wasn’t looking forward to.

Snape sighed and looked immeasurably cross. “You are a tiresome child, Draco. Sufficeth to say, yes, Narcissa has spoken at some length with me regarding your strained relationship with Potter. You should feel honoured that you have such a caring mother. What do you plan to do?”

“About Potter?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “No, Mr Malfoy, about the violent attack I shall be forced to make upon your hapless person should you continue to annoy me.”

Draco flushed with temper. “Why should I do anything? It was his fault.”

“What was his fault? That it appears you imbibed a full ocean’s worth of Firewhiskey, and made a spectacle of yourself? Or that you seemed to actually enjoy said revelries, despite the ridiculous nature of the reportage in the Daily Prophet?”

“They distorted events,” Draco said stiffly. “It didn’t happen exactly like they said.”

Snape’s lip quirked into something that hinted at amusement. “Dare I ask about the traffic cone?”

Draco winced, and smiled reluctantly. “If I could remember, I certainly wouldn’t share that information with you.”

Snape snorted. “That would be wise. Wiser still would have been to not meddle with Muggle traffic implements, and law-enforcement officers.”

“Don’t go on about it,” Draco snapped. “I fucked up. There’s not much I can do about it. Potter won’t want to…“ He stopped abruptly.

“Potter won’t want to what?” Snape asked curiously. “Won’t want to see you again? Draco, if you seriously desire to see everybody’s favourite Gryffindor again in a social situation, I have no doubt that you will find a way to do so.”

“With my oily charm and flattery?” Draco quoted, attempting to make a joke but, to his dismay, sounding bitter instead.

“With your pig-headed determination and stubbornness,” Snape said dryly. “But I’m quite sure you can perfectly charming if you wish to be, Mr Malfoy. As I recall, Mr Potter was not the only young man who was popular in your school year.” Snape’s expression soured. “As for longing looks, I cannot profess to have any great wisdom in that area to share, but if you are that way inclined, so to speak, you could certainly do much worse than Potter, though it pains me to say it.”

“You think I want to… to… date Potter?” Draco spluttered.

Snape looked inscrutable. “Do you?”

Draco went red. “That is absolutely none of your business!”

Snape’s lips twitched. “From which I take that the idea holds a certain charm,” he said, sounding amused. He held up a hand to stop Draco from speaking. “We should return to work.”

“Yes, sir,” Draco said rather sulkily. What the hell did Snape know about anything?

As Snape rose, his robes billowing out around him dramatically, he said, in an off-hand manner, “It is worth bearing in mind that being Slytherin does not prevent one from apologising. On the contrary, a smooth apology can be a useful tool indeed. It is a quick, and relatively painless way of getting people on your side – particularly impressionable, honest people who value such gestures.”

Draco considered this. The idea of apologising to Potter was unpleasant, but not intolerable. He had, after all, been on the verge of doing so when Potter had fled the Malfoy home in an unmanly huff. “That won’t fix my standing in the public eye,” he said, following Snape back into the makeshift lab.

“Perhaps not,” Snape said, “but is that your main concern?”

Draco scowled and busied himself with the potions ingredients. That was not a question he particularly felt like answering.

* * *

Tip #84: Sometimes it is important to do things that take you out of your comfort zone. Making new friends, or going out with a new group of people can be scary, but is a worthwhile thing to do. Be brave! Have a go! – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

Draco straightened his collar grimly, peering at himself in the mirror. This whole thing was, he reflected, a very bad idea and one that was bound to blow up in his face. He wasn’t used to wearing Muggle clothing, but when Harry had let him know that they usually hung out in casual apparel, he’d decided to go on a shopping trip. He wasn’t an admirer of Muggle wear, but he had to admit that the items he had on now weren’t too appalling: a dark green roll-neck sweater, black trousers and shoes. He almost looked stylish. The sales girl had evidently advised him well.

He shot a glance at his watch. It was nearly time for him to leave. He scowled at himself in the mirror and wondered how he’d managed to get himself into this situation. Dressed up in Muggle clothes, a bottle of the finest wizard-brewed wine he could find wrapped and ready to go, and – horror of horrors – an evening of entertainment with three Gryffindors to look forward to. It was going to be a trial.

After apologising to Potter via a hastily scribbled scroll (which he hadn’t even re-read before sending, in case he lost his nerve), the situation had rapidly run away from him. Instead of that being that, when Potter had suggested another meeting, he’d actually agreed. Willingly. And from there it had only been a short step to the suggestion that, rather than expose themselves to public humiliation once more, he, Draco, should visit Potter in his own home. The home he shared with Weasley and Granger. Who would be in. And were, apparently, going to make it a dinner party. It was all too dreadful.

Plus, it was evidently all a ruse to lure him to their apartment and murder him. They did, after all, have just cause. And perhaps death would be preferable to an uncomfortable evening with three people who hated him in varying degrees (although if his father found out he’d disobeyed him and met up with Potter again, he would be dead anyway). It was a lose-lose situation.

Draco took a final look at himself in the mirror to check that his appearance was acceptable and Apparated, feeling sick to his stomach.

* * *

“This was a really bad idea,” Harry said, as he rubbed gel through his hair, trying unsuccessfully to make it lie flat. It never did, but he’d never quite given up hope that one day it would look neat. “I can’t believe you talked me into this, Hermione.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Stop fussing with your hair, you’re making it worse.”

Harry looked in the mirror and groaned. She was right. Now he looked like a porcupine. He shoved his head under the taps and rinsed the gel out.

“I can’t say it’ll be easy,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I mean, if he calls me a Mudblood in Ron’s hearing then we might be scraping bits of Malfoy off the carpet for the next fortnight. But I don’t think even Malfoy would be that stupid. I’m hoping he’s grown up a bit.”

Harry cast a drying charm on his hair. “Do I look alright?” he asked anxiously.

Hermione smiled. “You look fine, Harry. Stop worrying.”

“You don’t think I should have worn a shirt rather than a t-shirt?”

“Honestly, Harry, you look fine. If you fuss any more I’ll think you’re treating this as a date, rather than a friendly meal.”

Harry gave Hermione a hunted look. “It is not a date.”

Hermione raised her hands. “Fine. Fine. But you’d better finish up, because he’ll be here any moment.”

Harry groaned and took another look in the mirror before making his way to the kitchen to check on the food. He made a mental note to never listen to Hermione again. It was her suggestion that he should ask Malfoy over for dinner, and her suggestion that herself and Ron stick around. Therefore it would definitely be her fault when the whole evening turned into the disaster it was guaranteed to be. There was just no way that things were going to go smoothly. No way in hell.

* * *

As soon Harry opened the front door to Malfoy he knew two things simultaneously: one, that Malfoy was, quite possibly, the most attractive thing he’d ever seen in his entire life; and two, that the pasta sauce he’d been cooking had splattered on his white t-shirt, making him look like a messy two-year-old.

Malfoy looked surprised for a moment, and slightly nervous, and then his expression shifted into something more supercilious. “I didn’t know you could cook, Potter,” he said, shoving a bottle of something that looked expensive into Harry’s hands. “Tomato-based dish, is it?”

Harry tried not to blush, and looked at the bottle to distract himself. He knew very little about wine. He frowned. “I’ll just stick this in the fridge, shall I?”

“It’s red, Potter. It needs decanting so the wine can breathe, and should be served at room temperature. Perhaps I should have brought a case of Butterbeer, if that is what you’re used to,” Draco said, sounding far too pompous for Harry’s liking.

“I’ll show you around,” Harry said, biting down a sharp response. “Give me a sec, I’ll just shove this in the kitchen.”

“He’s here?” Hermione whispered, when Harry hurried into the kitchen.

Harry groaned. “Yes, giving me a wine lesson and taking the piss about my cooking.” He batted Hermione away, who was advancing on him with a damp cloth. “Stop it. Sort this wine out, will you? It needs decanting apparently, whatever that means.”

“Don’t stress out,” Hermione said severely. “Give him the tour, and I’ll meet you in the sitting room with Ron.” She waved him out of the kitchen.

Malfoy was waiting in the hall, a bored look on his face. His arms were crossed and he was leaning against the wall. He straightened up when he saw Harry, and an odd look flashed across his face. Harry wondered if he should be worried.

He gave Malfoy a quick tour, showing off the flat with some pride. It wasn’t big or posh by any means, but it was comfortable and homey.

Malfoy’s eyes glinted when Harry, feeling slightly uncomfortable, pointed out his bedroom.

“No red and gold wallpaper, Potter?” Malfoy drawled. “You surprise me. You almost show some taste.”

Harry narrowed his eyes, not sure if Malfoy was being rude or not. His room was about a quarter of the size of Malfoy’s own, and about ten times as cluttered. Malfoy was, from the looks of it, rather a neat freak, with everything tidied away in its exact place.

“I like it.”

“So do I,” Malfoy said, sounding faintly surprised. Then a nerve in Malfoy’s face twitched. “Tell me, Potter. Is the Weasel out for my blood? Do I need to protect myself?”

Harry surprised himself by laughing. “Well if you call him the Weasel, then you might need to duck to dodge a hex. His name is Ron.”

Malfoy didn’t smile. “I’m aware that my presence is not welcome here. I was surprised you suggested this.”

Harry shrugged. “It was Hermione’s idea,” he said, and then wished he hadn’t, when an expression of almost hurt flashed across Malfoy’s face. Was it possible that Malfoy actually cared what he, Harry, thought of him? That he was nervous about meeting Hermione and Ron again, not for concerns about his own personal safety, but for deeper, more confused reasons? “I’m glad you came,” he said, trying to sound casual, but watching Malfoy’s face closely out of the corner of his eye.

Malfoy’s expression didn’t alter but (or was it Harry’s imagination?) a faint pink colour tinged his cheeks. “Well shall we move on, or shall we remain in your bedroom all night?” he drawled, and then, to Harry’s surprise, did actually blush.

Harry led the way to the living room, and ushered Malfoy to a chair. Ron went a funny puce colour, but managed not to brandish his wand, although his hand was suspiciously close to his pocket.

“Miss Granger. Mr Weasley,” Malfoy said coldly, politely.

There was a stony silence. “Um,” Harry said. “I should…”

“I’ll go and check on the food,” Hermione said hastily.

Harry glared at her. He’d hoped he could escape for a moment. This was turning out to be as hellish as he’d expected. What the hell did the four of them have to talk about? Malfoy and he had managed to chat quite successfully, but then they had both been completely drunk and both moderately willing to ignore their uneasy past, with all its problems. He wasn’t sure Ron was quite so willing, and even Hermione looked slightly uneasy, as if this was far more difficult than she had expected.

“So what have you been up to, Malfoy?” Ron asked suddenly, looking pained.

Malfoy’s expression was icy. “Keeping to myself mainly.”

There was a cold silence, in which Harry could see Ron struggling not to say something rude.

“I’ve been training to become a Mediwizard,” Ron said finally. “It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it.”

Harry could see Malfoy visibly swallow, as he evidently thought about possible replies to this. “I’ve been studying for my N.E.W.Ts during the past few months,” he said, sounding as if he dared Ron to disagree. “Professor Snape is tutoring me in Potions.”

Ron took a deep breath. “Lucky you,” he said. “Snape was a right bastard at school, but he turned out to be a hero.”

“And I didn’t, you mean?”

“No, you didn’t,” Ron said angrily, but to Harry’s surprise, didn’t reach for his wand. “Look Malfoy, we all know what you were like at school so there’s no use in pretending. You were a tosser, and worse than that, a prejudiced, Death Eater tosser, who would have happily seen us all dead. But…” And here Ron took a deep breath, his face beetroot red, “Harry here thinks we should give you another chance, and I trust Harry’s judgment. It wasn’t your fault your dad’s the loser he is, and taught you to believe all that blood purity shit. Now it’s up to you to prove that you’re better than that.”

Harry sat, frozen, to his chair, and ran through some of his basic first-aid training in his head. He wondered what awful hex Malfoy would throw at Ron. But, to his great surprise, Malfoy just sat there, his face rigid.

Hermione entered, carrying a tray of wine glasses and a full decanter of red wine. She stopped, and narrowed her eyes as she took in the scene.

“Malfoy,” she said, then squared her jaw. “This is stupid. Can I call you Draco?”

Malfoy unfroze slightly and turned to her. “Of course,” he said quietly.

“Draco, can I ask you to pour?”

Draco inclined his head and went to help Hermione with the glasses, handing them round.

“I would like to propose a toast,” Hermione said. “To friendship, and…” she looked slightly nervous, “to forgiveness.”

Malfoy flinched slightly, but didn’t say anything. He raised his glass and took a large gulp.

“Everything okay?” Hermione mouthed to Harry.

Harry smiled slightly, and shrugged. He had no idea.

* * *

After dinner, which was a quiet and uneventful meal, Hermione nudged Ron. “We’ll wash up.”

Ron looked startled, and then gloomy. He followed Hermione into the kitchen, and shut the door behind them.

Harry looked at Malfoy nervously. “How’s this going?” he asked, and then couldn’t quite believe he’d asked it.

Malfoy’s mouth twisted into an almost smile. “Possibly okay,” he said. “Infinitesimally better than expected.” He looked down into his wineglass, strands of blond hair falling across his face. “You?” he mumbled.

“Oh,” Harry said, and considered. Apart from finding myself horribly attracted to you, it’s going well, he thought, and winced. There was no way he was going to voice that particular idea. “No-one’s killed anyone else,” he said, “and the stains on my top are tomato sauce rather than blood, so on balance, it’s going well.”

Malfoy looked up, running a hand through his hair to push it out of his eyes, and actually laughed. “Poor messy Potter,” he said, “poor baby.”

Harry reached over to whack Malfoy, who dodged with a laugh, and then looked surprised.

“Potter, you are, to my infinite surprise, actually proving to be amusing twice running,” Malfoy said, looking superior. “Keep this up, and I might start thinking that someone has stolen your body.”

And then Malfoy did something that made them both freeze.

The room was uncomfortably warm, with the fire on full blast. Hermione often complained of cold, so the boys kept the temperature at roasting when she was home, partly to keep her warm, and partly to annoy her. Malfoy was dressed in a thin polo-neck sweater, but even a thin sweater was too hot for the room.

Malfoy rolled up his sleeves.

As soon as he did so, Harry stiffened, and Malfoy realised what he’d done. He pulled them down instantly, his face turning expressionless.

They sat there in silence for a moment.

“Are you sorry?” Harry burst out. “Because I can’t do this if you aren’t sorry. Voldemort murdered my…” He stopped, and shook his head. “You may not have had much of a choice in the course you took, but you still had one. You chose wrong, Malfoy. I can’t…”

Malfoy’s face was carefully blank. He wet his lips. “Sometimes I wake up at night screaming to think of the things I’ve seen and done,” he said finally, his voice toneless and passionless. “I will never be able to atone for it.” He shut his eyes for a moment. “It was a mistake to come here, I think. I apologise for subjecting you to my company. Mr Weasley was, in many ways, correct about what he said about me.” He rose and tugged down his sleeves. “Thank you for the meal.”

Harry jumped up and tugged Malfoy down onto a sofa, sitting down beside him. Malfoy resisted slightly, then gave up.

Harry bit his lip. He wasn’t sure if what he was planning on doing was a good idea, or a really terrible one that would backfire completely. Still, he was a Gryffindor for goodness sake. He decided to go ahead.

He reached over and took Malfoy’s left arm, and rolled up his sleeve.

Malfoy froze. “What are you doing, Potter?” he said icily.

Harry was tugging at the thin bandage that covered Malfoy’s left arm, unwinding it gently.

“Demonstrating something.”

“You think I need to be reminded of the extent of my folly?” Malfoy snapped, doing his best to pull away from Harry, but Harry kept his arm in a tight hold.

Harry quickly finished unwinding the fabric, then flipped Malfoy’s arm over so his inner arm was facing upwards.

The Dark Mark, now merely an ugly, offensive tattoo, stared up at them.

“What is this supposed to prove?” Malfoy said tightly, no longer trying to pull away, but holding himself stiff and tense.

Harry ran his fingers over the Mark, examining it curiously. He’d seen the Mark before of course, but never had a chance to examine it. It was ugly, but without Voldemort it was nothing more than ugly. It looked bizarre against Malfoy’s creamy smooth skin. Malfoy felt warm and soft under his fingertips, and Harry realised, through the beating of his own heart, that he was enjoying this far too much.

He pulled himself together, and shrugged. “That it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I mean, it does a bit, of course, but not as much as I thought it might.” He laughed shakily. “I’m not sure whether that helps. Probably not. I don’t know.”

Malfoy looked down at his arm. “That’s the first time I’ve looked at it since…” He cleared his throat. “Since you defeated Voldemort.” He looked shaky but defiant.

“I always meant to apologise about that time I nearly killed you, by the way,” Harry said, feeling that now was as good a time as any to get that off his chest.

“I’ve still got the scars,” Malfoy said, sounding rather annoyed. He rolled up his right sleeve almost unconsciously, and lifted his jumper to reveal a lean, pale stomach. “They’ve never faded.”

Harry tried not to let his jaw drop. Malfoy’s stomach, even lined with the faint reminders of Snape’s hex ‘for enemies’, was perfect. He swallowed hard, and tried to look unaffected.

Malfoy covered himself back up. “I suppose you did save my life about a million times though, so I may forgive you, in time.” He smiled slightly, as if to signify that that were a joke.

Harry smiled back faintly. This whole attracted to Malfoy thing was getting out of hand, but he had no idea what could be done about it except to push it down and try denial. There was no other option.

* * *

Tip #101: My final, and most important, tip is this – remember to always be honest, both with yourself and with other people. Honesty is key to happiness. If you cannot be honest with yourself, how can you expect your desires to be fulfilled? Think about what you really want from yourself and from others – and let them know. Only by doing this can you fix your troubles and heal your heartaches. Good luck! – Extract from 101 Ways to Heal Your Wizarding Woes by Melusina Meadowbrook.

Over the week that followed, Draco sank into a deeper and deeper depression. It was, he thought, highly ridiculous that Potter could make him feel that way. The meal, with its accompaniment of red-haired idiots and Mudbloods (and now, to his surprise, he was starting to wince every time he thought that word), had been more than bearable. By the end of the evening, after that bizarre and uncomfortable incident with Harry, it had, in fact, almost been enjoyable.

After Harry had forced him to reveal his Dark Mark, the awful tension between them had faded, to be replaced by something even more terrible: attraction. At least, attraction on Draco’s side. He had no doubt that if he even hinted to Potter that his feelings were anything other than friendly, their tentative relationship would be completely finished.

Not that he wanted a relationship with Potter, of course – tentative or otherwise. His father had made it quite clear that staying away from Potter was the right thing to do, and a series of much more flattering articles had appeared in the press, no doubt the result of the application of charm and money to various female journalists. Draco completely, emphatically, 100% agreed. He would, should and could stay away from Potter. It would only be a matter of time before his unwise and inconvenient attraction to him died down, and faded. He would soon come to his senses.

The problem was, that after a friendly letter from Potter (which he had re-read more times than he cared to admit), a slightly more formal letter when his first remained unanswered, and a faintly hurt sounding note (which Draco had emphatically not wept over, any water that had leaked from his eyes being the result of dust, not sadness), Draco was – in truth – more infatuated than ever.

It surprised Draco immensely how much it hurt to stay away from Potter. He holed himself up in his room and refused to see anyone, turning away even Professor Snape. There was a limit to how much he could take, after all, and he knew the Professor would say something rude and sarcastic, and Draco just didn’t think he could take it without bursting into tears. Which would be shaming and awful, because Malfoys certainly didn’t cry, and if they did, they did it in the privacy of their own rooms, behind a muffling charm. And if they screamed into their pillows they certainly didn’t tell anyone about it.

And then something unexpected, awful and terrifying happened that made Draco forget all his self-made rules with a gut-wrenching panic.

His house-elf came with a message and a Portkey from Hermione. “Harry’s had an accident. He’s badly hurt. Please come as soon as you can. The Portkey will take you straight to him.”

Draco didn’t even think. He just stood there, swaying slightly in shock, and gripped the Portkey, feeling the familiar sickening tug as it dragged him to its destination.

* * *

Draco landed with a stumble, and tried to breathe. He was panicking, and it didn’t help that the room he was now in didn’t resemble a hospital room in the slightest. It was a small living room, with a warm fire, and a conspicuous absence of Potter.

Draco suddenly wondered if he’d been a bit of an idiot. There were plenty of people out there who were after his blood – and he’d just taken that Portkey blindly, without even verifying that it was, in fact, from Hermione, as it was signed.

He bit his lip. “Potter?” he called.

Potter flung open the door and stormed in, looking incredibly cross. Draco regarded him with a mixture of heartfelt relief and irritation.

“Potter,” he said coldly, feeling like an idiot. “It seems that reports of your demise are greatly exaggerated.”

“I could say the same about you!” Potter said hotly. “Hermione told me you were really sick, so I took the Portkey she gave me, and ended up alone in this place. What are you playing at Malfoy? First you ignore me after I thought we’d made friends, and then you give me a heart-attack and drag me here for no reason.”

Draco tried not to gape. Potter had been worried about him? “It appears we have been the victims of a practical joke,” he said, trying to sound calm. “I too was informed you were deadly ill by a letter from Miss Granger.”

Harry frowned. “You’re joking.”

“No.”

“Well let’s get out of here then.”

“An excellent suggestion.”

Draco pushed his way past Harry and stalked through the house. The place was gloomy, and at first he’d thought it was because all the curtains were drawn. But, on pulling back curtain after curtain, he realised that it was because there were no windows behind them. No doors. No exits.

“We appear to have a problem,” Draco said, trying not to grind his teeth. “We are trapped.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Potter said dismissively, and disappeared from the room. He came back just a few minutes later, clutching a letter in his hand and looking red-faced.

“Um,” he said.

Draco winced, and shut his eyes. “Go on,” he said wearily. “Tell me the worst. Get it over with quick.”

“Um, it’s from Hermione,” Potter stammered. “And, um, Snape.”

Snape?”

“Yeah. Apparently they think we need to be more, er, honest with each other. So they’ve locked us in.” Harry flushed. “The exit will only appear when we’ve been, in their words, acceptably honest.”

Draco felt his insides start to squirm. Honest? About how he felt about Potter? To Potter’s face? Absolutely no chance. “Give that here,” he snapped. “There must be a way around this. You’re the Super Wizard. Do some wandless magic or something. Just get us out of here.”

Harry handed over the letter wordlessly. There was, Draco noticed sourly, a copy of the last tip from Melusina Meadowbrook.

“Well?” Draco snapped, starting to panic. “Do something!”

“I already tried,” Harry said, sounding far too reasonable for the awfulness of the situation. Although seeing as he wasn’t half in love with his oldest enemy, there was nothing for him to stress out about. “Nothing worked. It’s a strong spell, and I can’t work out how it’s done.” He shrugged. “I may be powerful, but unless I know how to break it, I can’t do it.”

“Well what are we going to do? We’ll starve to death!” Draco said, aware that his voice was almost a wail.

Harry looked ridiculously calm. “Don’t worry, Malfoy. There’s plenty of food – enough for weeks. It’s warm. They’ve moved some of our clothes here. There’s a bed.”

A bed?” Draco parroted, picking up on something that struck terror to his heart.

Harry looked at him as if he were an idiot. “Yes, Malfoy, one bed. A big double. But if you’re worried I’ll jump you in the night, feel free to sleep on the sofa.”

Draco felt himself scowl.

“Come on Malfoy, it’s not that bad.”

“Not that bad? Not that bad?”

Harry grinned. “I never knew you were such a drama queen.”

Draco rose, left the room and walked quickly to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. He was enraged to find that the bathroom door had no lock, so he sat with his back against it, and tried – ridiculously – not to cry. It was beyond intolerable to be trapped in this awkward situation. To be forced to share a bed with a boy completely oblivious to his effect on him, and scarily ready to be honest with him. Hah! Well if he, Draco, had to spend the rest of his life in here, so be it. He refused to crack. He would be strong.

About half an hour later there was a knock at the door.

“Piss off,” Draco muttered.

“There’s tea if you want it,” Harry said through the door. “And biscuits. And a sofa. And sulking won’t solve anything, you know.”

Draco threw the door open. “I am not sulking!” he snapped.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “No?”

“I am feeling infuriated, and put upon, and enraged, and… and…”

“Yes, I know,” Harry said soothingly. “Come and have a nice cup of tea.”

Draco followed, aware that he had rather lost the upper hand.

* * *

For the first few hours, Draco refused point blank to talk about anything, other than to order Potter to get them out.

For the next few hours, he sulked. He knew it was unreasonable, and that it wasn’t helping, but he just couldn’t seem to help it. He was unused to not getting his own way. While his hideous time with Voldemort had taught him how to keep quiet when he was afraid, it hadn’t taught him patience. He was quiet now, but inside he fumed.

“Shall I get us some dinner?” Potter asked, far too cheerily for Draco’s liking.

Draco forced a shudder. “If you must.”

Harry looked annoyed. “I’m not that bad a cook,” he said. “Feel free to cook dinner yourself if you’re complaining.”

“I never learned,” Draco said superciliously. “We have servants for that sort of stuff.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “I’ll cook then shall I?”

Draco perched on a chair and watched Potter as he chopped and stirred. He had an appealing frown when he concentrated. Draco pulled a face. Had he really just thought that?

“What?” Potter said, as he poured out the stir-fry onto two plates. “It doesn’t look that bad.”

“It looks fine,” Draco said gloomily. It did look fine, but Potter looked tastier. And therein lay the problem.

They ate in silence. After they had finished, Draco stretched. “That was quite acceptable, Potter,” he said. “Is there any alcohol? I feel the need to drown my sorrows with a large amount of the drink that cheers and certainly does inebriate.”

Harry laughed. “That’s a rubbish compliment, Malfoy. And no, there’s no alcohol. I looked.”

Draco’s heart sank. Alone with Potter, without even a bottle of booze to numb his feelings. The thought of bedtime, with the one double bed, loomed large on his horizon. It was going to be a nightmare.

* * *

A couple of hours later, Draco was feeling simultaneously more relaxed and more uptight. Potter was being surprisingly pleasant, and the time was passing more easily than he’d expected. Potter hadn’t even had a go at him for ignoring his letters, or brought up the topic at all. But Potter had started to yawn, and the idea of sharing a bed with him was far too much to take. Draco decided that, unpleasant though the idea was, he’d have to take the sofa.

“I’m knackered,” Potter said suddenly. “Do you mind if we go to bed?”

“I’ll just stay up a bit longer,” Draco said, feeling uncomfortable. “I’ll take the couch.”

Harry laughed, and grabbed Draco’s hand, hauling him up. Draco tried not to react. “No you don’t. Don’t be stupid. I don’t bite. The bed’s big enough for two. I promise I don’t snore.”

When they got to the bedroom Potter vanished into the bathroom, and emerged, all too soon, wearing pyjama bottoms and a thin t-shirt. He smiled at Draco. “All yours. I think there’s some of your stuff in there too.”

Draco went in rather gloomily, and changed into his own pyjamas and brushed his teeth. When he went back into the bedroom Potter was already in bed. While the bed could, technically, be described as a double, it was not a large one by any means. He would have to lie very still to avoid touching any part of Potter.

Draco slipped in gingerly, and turned out the light. He lay very still, praying for morning.

After a few minutes, Potter shifted, his leg brushing against Draco’s own. Draco held still, but Potter didn’t move away. Draco had an odd feeling that Potter was holding his breath.

“Malfoy?” Potter said, yawning.

“What is it now, Potter?”

“Can I call you Draco?”

Malfoy’s heart leapt, and he tried not to feel ridiculously pleased. “Yes,” he said shortly.

“Brilliant,” Potter said. “I’m Harry, nice to meet you,” he added, and he sounded like he was smiling. “Goodnight Draco.”

“Goodnight Harry,” Draco said, and the word sounded odd on his lips. He’d become so used to thinking of Harry as Potter, that it seemed far too intimate to call him by his first name.

Potter – Harry – shifted again, and the exhilarating pressure against his leg was removed.

Draco relaxed slightly and, lulled by the sound of Harry’s breathing, soon fell asleep.

* * *

The next day went pretty much the same as before, only now there was a slightly strange atmosphere between them. Every time Draco said Harry’s name – and he said it as often as he dared, thrilled by the sound of it on his lips – Harry started slightly and looked pleased. But Draco found himself unable to snap out of his sulk, and when Harry suggested they try a bit of honesty and see what that did, he absolutely refused.

But then, when the evening came, Harry handed him a cup of tea, pulled him onto the sofa, and sat distractingly close to him. “Right, we’re going to talk,” Harry said firmly. “I don’t want to be stuck here for the rest of my life. Have you ever known Snape or Hermione to give in? Trust me, we’ll be here forever unless we do something.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Draco snapped, his insides clenching. “You should do something.”

We will do something,” Harry said, sounding calm. “We’ll talk.”

“What about?” Draco mumbled.

Harry frowned. “They’ve left us a list. We could start at the top. Favourite food? Mine’s probably chocolate frogs.” He grinned. “They remind me of the first train journey to Hogwarts. One of the best days of my life.”

Draco groaned. “You’re kidding.” He thought about it. “Roast lamb,” he said finally. “That’s nice. The only proper meal my mother has ever cooked for me.”

Harry smiled. “Really? So she does cook occasionally?”

“Sometimes. So what next? I notice that that little exchange of facts has failed to free us.”

“Um,” Harry looked down the list. “We’ll probably need to try something a bit closer to our hearts. How about, how do you feel about your father?”

“Pass,” Draco said.

Harry paused, and looked thoughtful. “I never knew my dad,” he said finally. “But I have mixed feelings about him. I worshipped him for a time. He seemed so exciting, and he died to save me. But then I found out some things about him that made me doubt him.” He frowned. “He was reckless and thoughtless. He nearly got Snape killed and he never even cared. I found it hard to take that in. I wish I’d known him so he could explain himself.”

Draco bit the inside of his cheek. He could do this. He could talk to Harry about this. It wasn’t so bad. “I admire my father,” he said, “and loathe him in equal measure. He doesn’t especially love me.” He stopped, unable to go on. That was honest enough for anyone, surely?

Harry looked sympathetic, and Draco wanted to punch him. He didn’t want sympathy. He loathed sympathy. “Don’t feel sorry for me, Potter,” he hissed.

“It’s Harry,” Harry said calmly. “And thank you for sharing. I can see that was hard to say.”

“He would kill me if he knew I were criticising him,” Draco said bitterly. “It feels like betrayal. But then I don’t feel like I owe him anything. He nearly got me killed. He cared nothing for me.” He stopped abruptly. “Is that fucking door not open yet?”

“Sorry,” he said. “How about…” he blushed. “Well we could go for the last thing on the list. Presumably that’s the one that’ll get us out. Um, how do you feel about me?”

Draco stared at him. “You’re crossing the line, Potter,” he said coldly.

“It’s Harry.”

Draco tried to shuffle away from Harry on the sofa. He knew it was childish, but he felt unbelievably awkward. Almost as if Harry could read his thoughts. “Whatever.”

Harry looked away from him, his expression tense and a bit scared. “I hated you at school. You were so unpleasant. All you cared about was blood status – who your parents were, and what House you were in.”

“I didn’t like you much either!” Draco snapped.

“Can you let me say this?” Harry said, with a touch of anger. “I’m not done yet.” He paused, and shook his head. “Then I got, er, a little obsessed with you. I thought you were a Death Eater, and I took to following you about all the time. I was determined to catch you. Everything I had went into catching you out.”

Draco squirmed. “I was a Death Eater,” he said, a little too loudly.

“I know.” Harry frowned. “There were plenty of times I saved your life when I could have just let you die. But that never seemed an option. I felt sorry for you, I guess. You were as much forced into your role as villain, as I was into my role as hero. And now…” He looked uncomfortable. “I, um. Well.” He cleared his throat. “I feel a bit differently about you now.”

Draco hardly even heard him. He was too caught up in those awful words I felt sorry for you. It was insufferable. He knew that he had to get out before he killed Harry.

“I never felt sorry for you,” he said coldly. “I loathed you. And now I loath myself, because, despite the fact that you’re an awful Gryffindor and I should despise everything you stand for, I find that I cannot think of anything other than you. It is insufferable that I, a pure-blood Malfoy, should be infatuated with you of all people. I hope very sincerely that this madness passes very quickly, or I shall be forced to kill myself to fix it.”

There was a faint click, and a doorway appeared in the wall. Draco got up faster than a speeding bullet, but a hand snaked up and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back down. His cup of tea slopped, and a stain formed on the knee of his trousers. “Watch out, you sloppy moron,” he snapped. “Let me go!”

Another hand took the cup out of his hand (and he found he was shaking, gods damn it), and he didn’t even have the courage to open his eyes. Why, in Merlin’s name, had he said those things? They were true in a way, he supposed, although what he was currently feeling was less like self-loathing, and more like terror.

“Did you mean that?” Harry said, his voice low and sounding slightly bewildered.

“What, that I loath myself? Or that I love you? Either. Both. Neither. It doesn’t matter,” Draco said wildly. “Nothing I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks has made any sense. I don’t know what I think. Can I go now?”

“No,” Harry said, and his voice sounded odd.

Draco opened his eyes to glare at Harry, and flushed at the look on his face. Harry was looking at him with a kind of bemused awe.

“If I kiss you, will you kill me?” Harry asked.

What?”

“You heard me,” Harry said calmly.

“Are you mad?” Draco said, his voice rising into a squeak.

“No,” Harry said. “I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now. I never thought that maybe you wouldn’t mind. But I’d like to make sure before I have a go.”

Draco opened his mouth, and closed it again. He was completely speechless. He wanted Harry to kiss him so badly that he trembled with it, but there was no way in hell that he was going to ask him for it. It might all be a trick, designed to cause him maximum embarrassment.

Harry shifted slightly closer. He looked a bit nervous. “Well I’m going to do it,” he said. “Last chance to say no.”

Draco sat very still.

Harry stopped. He looked upset. “You’re not saying anything,” he complained. “I know I’m not being very romantic here, but I’m not getting any feedback. I value my organs. I’d like to know if you’ll tear them out if I make my move.”

Something inside Draco snapped. He launched himself at Harry, who fell backwards on the sofa with a surprised noise. Draco pressed his lips against Harry’s, and tried not to gasp at the warm, softness of Harry’s mouth. He tasted of mint and sweetness, and he responded with a fervour that sent a zing all the way through Draco’s body, straight to his crotch.

Harry tangled one hand in Draco’s hair, and wrapped the other around his waist, pulling him closer against him.

Draco wondered if it were possible to die from desire. Harry’s kiss was gentle and soft and sweet and passionate, and his bulk was solid and reassuring and unbearably erotic all at once. Someone was moaning softly, and he realised, to his embarrassment, that it was him, and that he didn’t really care.

It was amazing, when he thought about it, that he was doing this fuelled only by tea.

Harry was pushing back at him, and they half-rolled, half-fell onto the thick-pile carpet, in a tangle of limbs, Draco hooking a leg over Harry’s and tucking him in closer. Draco realised, feeling both horribly embarrassed and disgustingly horny, that not only was he completely hard, but that he was, without even really meaning to, rubbing himself against Harry. He pulled away slightly with a gasp.

Harry was red faced and breathing hard. “Um,” he said.

“Yes?” Draco said sharply, preparing for a rejection.

“Shall we take this, you know, next door?”

Draco felt himself go bright red. There was another bit of honesty that he felt he really must share, even though he’d rather die than mention it. “I’m a…” he started, then stopped, unable to even think the word, let alone say it out loud.

Harry looked slightly uncomfortable. “Er, me too. I have with, er, a woman. But not, you know.”

Draco tensed. “Well I haven’t. Either,” he said, really hoping he didn’t have to spell it out.

“We probably shouldn’t rush things,” Harry said, his face flaming.

“Oh don’t be such a wuss, Harry,” Draco said, with a slight sneer. “Let’s just go and fuck.”

Harry sat up. “You’re not exactly getting me in the mood, Draco.”

Draco considered this, and frowned. He pulled Harry towards him gently, and kissed him so softly, and so slowly, that his mind went to a whole new, wonderful place. When he pulled away, Harry was pink faced and panting.

“Fucking hell,” Harry said eloquently.

Draco tried not to feel smug. There might be a hell of lot of stuff he didn’t know, but if there was one thing he prided himself on, that was his ability to kiss.

Then Harry looked as if he were pulling himself together to say something unpleasant. Draco tensed.

“I, er, listen Draco.”

“What?” Draco said, hoping he didn’t sound too nasty. His words had a terrible habit of coming out of his mouth dripping with a venom that he didn’t always intend.

“I don’t do one night stands,” Harry said finally, and then looked at Draco, as if he expected a response from him.

“I think it’s fairly evident, Harry, that I don’t do that either,” Draco said bitterly. It was just his luck. The saviour of the Wizarding World had morals in this particular area too. Not only was he evidently putting him, Draco, firmly into the ‘one night stand’ box, but wasn’t even going to get…

Draco went red, and tried not to scream. It was ridiculous that he should want such a thing, and unbelievably awful that the idea of not getting such a thing – with its attendant dates, and presents, and hand-holding, and, for fuck’s sake, he could even tolerate snuggles – was tearing him apart.

“But, um… Would you? You know, if you did?” Harry said, sounding tortured.

“I’m lost, Potter,” Draco sneered. “In what reality does that constitute a properly constructed sentence?”

“It’s Harry,” Harry said, looking both annoyed and nervous. “What I mean is that I don’t want to piss about. I can’t believe that these words are actually coming out of my mouth, by the way, but I’d quite like to see you again, if that’s okay.”

“You want a… a… a relationship?” Draco asked, trying not to sound as incredulous as he felt.

Harry shrugged. “I’d like to give it a go. I know it’s a bit bizarre, but I kind of like you that way, in case you hadn’t noticed. The kissing thing was a bit of a clue, I thought.”

Draco stood up shakily, and made for the door. Harry didn’t follow. “Well are you coming, or not?” Draco said, aware that he was blushing right down to his toes. “There aren’t many people who can say they’ve buggered a Malfoy. It would be remiss of you to pass up on this opportunity.”

Harry blinked and looked bemused. “Do you know, your surname is not high up on my list of desirable attributes in a partner,” he said, getting up.

“And I can’t say your hair is what I’ve always dreamed about,” Draco said, feeling both sick and excited. He was really going to do this, it seemed. “Honestly, Harry, is there nothing you can do about that?”

Harry grinned. “Nope. It’s always been like this.”

Draco backed up, found himself in the bedroom all too soon, Harry right in front of him. He gasped as he stumbled over the bed, sitting down with a curse.

“Always this graceful, are you?” Harry said, and Draco already had a sharp reply on his lips when Harry half-straddled him, his hands sliding down to tug Draco’s own shirt up and off. Draco decided to shut up.

It wasn’t cold in the room but, shirtless in front of Harry, Draco shivered. The fabric of Harry’s t-shirt felt cool and rough against his bare skin, and he felt bizarrely sensitive. Harry was trailing his fingers over Draco’s back, sparking off odd and exquisitely pleasant sensations that buzzed around his entire body.

Draco tried to restrain himself from purring. It was a difficult task. It wasn’t that he’d never wanted to get intimate with anyone before. He had, in fact, gone further than intended with several Slytherin girls, including his former best friend Pansy Parkinson. But he’d never felt the pulling need to, putting it politely, finish the job. Or, come to think of it, cuddle. He’d always supposed that this was because of his Malfoy pride: only the best would do for a partner for a pure-blood such as himself, and there had been no-one quite good enough at school. Now, feeling the blood rush down to fuel a part of his body that demanded urgent and pressing attention, he wasn’t quite so sure.

Draco pouted, frustrated by his lack of progress. He tugged at Harry, nearly sending him sprawling on top of him.

Harry laughed breathlessly and pulled back slightly, tugging his t-shirt over his head, and shucking off his trousers with surprising speed.

Draco tried not to tremble as Harry’s hands moved towards his belt.

Harry evidently noticed. He paused. “You okay? We don’t have to if you’re not ready…”

Draco felt himself go red. “Just get on with it,” he snapped, and winced at the words that came out of his mouth.

Harry stopped dead.

Draco did something he’d never, ever, in a million, trillion years, expected he’d ever do. He reached over and pulled Harry into a tight hug. Harry was stiff at first, but then he relaxed and hugged back.

“This is… nerve-wracking,” Draco mumbled, feeling wretched. It was hard to speak calmly and without sarcasm, but he did his best. He pulled his inner Gryffindor screaming and kicking to the surface, and scowled at it. He took a deep breath. “But I really want to.”

Harry gave Draco a squeeze, and then – horrors – Draco found himself actually giggling as Harry practically picked him up and tossed him fully onto the bed, pinning him down and tickling him until his eyes watered.

“Stop it, you bastard,” Draco laughed, struggling to get free and tickle Harry back. It was, he thought dizzily, both silly and sexy. The only way to stop Harry, it seemed, was to wrap his arms as tightly around him as he could, and kiss him.

It was, Draco reflected with some pleasure, an excellent strategy that worked to its full potential. Harry kissed, Draco thought with increasing pleasure, almost as well as he did himself. He was passionate and enthusiastic without being the least bit sloppy, and when his tongue caressed Draco’s own, Draco couldn’t suppress a shudder of delight.

After a good few minutes of increasingly fervent snogging, Draco’s desires conquered his nerves and – with a hand that only shook a token amount – gently tugged one of Harry’s hands down towards his belt buckle.

Harry sat up slightly and Draco blushed – partly from the sheer horn of seeing Harry stretched out, naked except for his boxers, and partly out of fear that he’d done the wrong thing. But Harry’s face was flushed and his lips were slightly parted. He rummaged around in the drawer of the bedside cabinet, and withdrew a small packet and a jar, putting his glasses next to them.

“And we’ll have to do something about those glasses, Harry,” Draco said, in an attempt to cover his nerves. “They really are… oh.” Draco broke off as Harry ran a hand gently over his stomach, and undid his trousers with deft movements, tugging them down and off. Harry smiled down at Draco, his gaze a little off focus.

“Just how blind are you, anyway?” Draco asked suspiciously.

Harry laughed, but didn’t reply. Instead he straddled Draco on the bed, bending down to run the tip of his tongue over Draco’s right nipple. Draco gasped and started to protest, when he realised, as Harry went for a second lick, quite how good it felt. He relaxed, and tried to keep his breathing steady as Harry’s deft tongue flicked between nipples, and worked its way down his chest, licking and kissing warm trails down his ribs. Draco actually laughed when Harry’s tongue tickled his bellybutton, and he felt Harry smile against him.

And then Harry kissed a line along his aching, throbbing cock through the thin fabric of his boxers, and Draco nearly came just from that. He bucked and moaned, all idea of humour forgotten, and only dimly aware that Harry was having to hold his hips down for his own safety, as he kissed a lazy trail along Draco’s inner thighs.

Harry rose slightly, and hooked his fingers under the waistband of Draco’s boxers. Draco held his breath, and his heart raced.

“May I?” Harry asked.

Draco nodded, and lifted his hips slightly, hoping that Harry would get the message.

Harry slid Draco’s boxers off quickly, and Draco nearly sobbed from frustration as the fabric grazed his hard-on.

Harry looked faintly nervous for a moment, but then all of Draco’s thoughts turned to mush as Harry bent down again, and licked a speculative line along his cock.

Harry, it seemed, was either unbelievably good at giving head, or he, Draco, was just down right desperate. Because, Merlin, Draco thought, as he writhed and moaned against Harry’s wet, amazing mouth, he’d never felt quite this horny in his entire life.

And then Harry, the absolute bastard, stopped.

Draco couldn’t quite summon up the strength to glare at him, but he let out a bereaved noise that he didn’t intend.

Harry gave a breathy laugh. “You taste good,” he said, and Draco had to clench his insides and think of the most disgusting thing possible to stop himself from coming without even being touched. “Draco?”

“Yes?” Draco said, sitting up on one elbow, and pushing the damp hair out of his eyes. “Are you trying to kill me? Because I’m quite sure it’s possible to die from frustration.”

Harry grinned. “No. I kind of like you alive. I was, er…” He looked nervous. “I was wondering if you’d let me, er… If you were happy for me to…”

Draco considered the unspoken implication of these words. “Why?” he asked, suspiciously. He was quite willing to lay back and let Harry do all the work, but he didn’t want Harry thinking any less of him if he let him do it.

“Because I’d really, really like to,” Harry said, with a blush. “But if you’re not comfortable with it, you can, er, do it to me if you like.”

Draco squirmed, aware that this choice – although ineloquently put – meant that he’d actually have to articulate his thoughts.

“If you hurt me I will kill you,” he said, trying to sound haughty, but realising that he sounded scared.

Harry smiled, and bent over to kiss Draco on the lips. Draco could taste himself faintly on Harry’s lips, earthy and masculine. It was bizarre but incredibly arousing.

Harry leant over and rummaged on the bedside table. Draco craned his neck to see what he was doing, when he felt a wonderful cool, slippery sensation against his throbbing cock. Harry was sliding a lubed hand up and down his penis, with a look on his face that suggested he was almost as turned on by it as he, Draco, was.

“Slow down,” Draco whispered, trying not blush. “Oh… that feels good.”

Harry smiled, and leant forward to kiss him. It was, under the circumstances, therefore less of a shock when he felt a cool, slippery finger pressing against his anus. He tensed, but the sensations of pleasure running through him from Harry’s gentle manipulation of his cock meant that he couldn’t keep clenched, and when he relaxed, Harry’s finger slid inside him.

For a while it was uncomfortable, and Draco wondered if he’d made a very bad error of judgment. But then Harry pulled away from the kiss, scooted down the bed slightly, and took Draco’s cock in his mouth.

The feeling was divine, and Draco found his hips were thrusting almost of their own accord against Harry’s mouth, each movement back and forth pushing himself against Harry’s finger – first one, and then two, curling inside him until Draco was groaning with the oddness and sheer pleasure of the sensations rolling through him.

Harry withdrew his fingers, and Draco opened his eyes. Harry was rolling on a condom, and slicking himself and Draco’s entrance up with copious amounts of lube.

“Okay?” Harry murmured, evidently holding himself back with some effort.

Draco nodded, biting his lip, and opening his legs wider.

Harry positioned himself, and pressed against Draco’s entrance very gently. Draco felt himself tense, but he tried his hardest to relax and push back against the unusual intrusion. It didn’t exactly hurt, but it wasn’t comfortable. He craned up towards Harry, who ducked down to kiss him, a strained look on his face.

“Does it hurt?” Harry whispered, looking anxious.

Draco shook his head. “No.” It wasn’t entirely true, but it wouldn’t help Harry to know that.

And then something amazing happened. Harry moved again, and a jolt of something electrifying rushed through Draco. “Ohhh,” he said, and then blushed. “Do that again.”

Harry obliged, starting to move within him, each slow thrust rubbing against a certain spot that sent sparks fizzing through his entire body.

Draco tugged Harry’s head down, straining for his kiss. The sensation of Harry’s tongue in his mouth, his penis moving inside him was overwhelming and wonderful. “Please,” he moaned against Harry’s mouth, not even quite aware of what he was asking for. “Merlin.”

Harry sat up slightly, balancing on one toned arm, the other hand snaking down to wank Draco off.

Draco flushed under Harry’s gaze, but was unable to stop himself from panting and crying out. The sensation of being brought to the brink of orgasm by Harry fucking Potter, the cock of the hero of the Wizarding World moving hard inside him, was something else entirely. He thought he’d, quite possibly, never been so turned on in his entire existence.

Even the idea that Harry was about to see him come, actually watch his face as he came all over his stomach and Harry’s hand, was unbearably erotic rather than plain embarrassing.

Harry’s hand sped up, and, simultaneously, Draco realised that Harry Potter was going to come inside him in the very near future. The feeling, combined with the mental image, was enough to tip him over the edge. His limbs trembled uncontrollably, and he came with a yell and a whole-body spasm, bucking as he pushed himself hard against Harry’s cock, and against the indescribably good sensations running through him.

Harry’s face was red and sweaty, and while Draco was riding out the aftershocks of his orgasm, Harry’s movements within him prolonging the feelings to an almost unbearably sensitive level, Harry came, looking Draco right in the eye.

After a few moments, Harry withdrew carefully from Draco, peeling off the condom and throwing it into the bin. He lay down and smiled at Draco.

Draco wondered why he wasn’t feeling nervous, or scared, or even disgusted by what he’d just done. Instead he felt… contented. And, disturbingly, more than ready for a cuddle. But he wasn’t planning on initiating one. Draco suddenly felt uncomfortably aware that he hadn’t exactly played an active role in their encounter. Did Harry think he was selfish? He hadn’t even touched him… He started to panic.

Harry, seemingly oblivious to Draco’s sudden fears, raised a hand to Draco’s face and ran a finger down his cheek. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured, and then looked embarrassed. “And I, apparently, am so cheesy,” he said. “That was amazing, by the way.” He grinned. “You’re amazing. Thank you so much for giving that to me.”

Draco tried not to look pleased, and failed miserably. “It was more pleasant than expected,” he said, and then laughed. “Not bad at all.”

“Not bad?” Harry said, in mock indignation, and pulled Draco close. “Not bad? You’re lucky I’m too sleepy to tickle you, or you’d be begging for me to let you go.”

Draco relaxed in Harry’s arms. Then he stiffened. “You didn’t put that stuff in the drawer,” he said, stating the obvious.

Harry snorted. “No. Did you recognise the jar? It’s one of the sort that only Snape uses.” He shuddered. “Snape brewing that for us… It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Draco felt, for a brief moment, horribly embarrassed. Then he laughed. Snape would never, ever let him forget this. But right now, curled up in Harry’s arms, he didn’t care in the slightest. He was warm, he was safe and he was happy. Everything was, perhaps for the first time in his life, entirely perfect.

THE END

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