Author's Notes: Thanks to all the usual suspects (libertine, kissaki, krissy, lunarennui, Miss Breed, Rube, and to Audrey, without whom this ending would not exist. Thanks to and to all reviewers, who's comments are cherished.
Chapter Eighteen - Breathe
By Ivy Blossom
This won't work as well as the way it once did
'cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I'm not I still don't know who I am
But I know I won't keep on playing the victim
Ginny Weasley wanted a drink. She wandered down the streets of muggle London, shuffling through the puddles of pale lamplight pooling on the sidewalks. Her head was spinning. Harry had been released from the hospital four days ago, after nearly three weeks. There had been some debate about releasing him. He was healed, by all accounts, but he still couldn't walk without support, he couldn't stand, he could barely use his hands. Even lying down, not moving a muscle, he was in constant pain. They tried spell after spell after spell to cure him, to no avail. Finally they threw up their hands and brought in a counselor. "It must be psychological," Ginny had heard them whispering. Harry listened dully to the advice of the doctors, psychologists, experts of all varieties.
Dumbledore had come to visit as well. He hadn't said very much, really, not that Ginny had overheard. He had just sat with Harry for a while, patting his hand, pouring him cups of tea, listening to what Harry wanted to say like a priest in a confessional, nodding and doling out Hail Marys, Our Fathers. But Dumbledore had no easy solution to Harry's mea culpa. Instead he patted Harry's hand, poured more tea. On Harry's lap were letters, sealed, sent and returned, organized in a shoe box according to date. Ginny guessed that there were perhaps seventeen or eighteen of them, some of them bound together with twine, some without envelopes, written on scrap paper with the hospital logo on it. A couple of them toward the end of the box were scratched rather badly by Hedwig's talons, as if she had offered them personally with her bony fists, not waiting for them to be untied. Harry ran his fingers over them. When Dumbledore left, he took the box with him.
And so they had prepared Harry and Ron's flat for his arrival. Malfoy had left no mess, only an absence. Ron fretted, piling cards and gifts and flowers on the desk in the corner, rearranging Harry's closet, stripping his bed. He gathered up what few things Malfoy had left (some pieces of clothing, two brightly painted pasta bowls, a collection of photographs, a wristwatch, a stack of books, a well-floured cookbook, a small decanter) and sealed it into a box, which he hid under the rafters at the very top of the front closet, behind discarded mittens, a Russian rabbit-fur hat, and a stack of old divination textbooks. Ginny and Hermione both helped in silence, looking, stupefied, at the forlorn objects, so casual and inoffensive, which were now forced into hiding. They added a few charms here and there to help with Harry's movement around the flat according to the instructions in the pamphlet Ron had brought back from the hospital (cushioning spells around corners and slippery surfaces, like the kitchen and bathroom; magical grips on the walls which were invisible until you reached for them; spells to automatically light or extinguish candles from a distance, and so forth). They moved slowly, not entirely believing all this was necessary. Sitting with Harry in the hospital was one thing; bringing his new, mysterious disability into the real world was another.
It had been Ron who endured the disastrous confrontation. Ginny found herself both jealous of Ron's burden of knowledge, and relieved that it wasn't hers to divulge. He had come home from the hospital, head pounding and eyes still burning from lack of sleep to find Malfoy in Harry's bedroom, packing his things. Ron had pressed him, but Malfoy said very little, other than a series of stinging insults in an over-loud voice. "Tell him it's over, he should forget about the whole thing. My mistake. Tell him I have nothing else to say."
"Tell him your damn self, Malfoy. You owe him an explanation, at the very least."
"Fine. So don't tell him. Then he'll just never know." He lifted a bag onto his shoulder and headed for the door.
"But Malfoy " Ron spluttered. "...but you love him. Why are you doing this?" Malfoy didn't turn, and didn't stop walking. Ron was left standing in Harry's bedroom, hearing the door slam, and angry feet clomping down the hall.
Ginny rubbed her temples, feeling sore. She had a headache and the soles of her feet were burning. She had been walking for hours, staring blankly through the windows of restaurants and shops, looking at people whose lives were continuing forward just as they had the day before, and as they no doubt would the day after next. It had been a sensation in the wizarding world, of course. The pictures in the Daily Prophet were dramatic and congratulatory. Front page: Draco Malfoy, pictured walking out of St. Mungo's carrying the dead body of You Know Who splayed out like a rag doll in his arms. Ginny was almost completely certain that the picture was faked; Malfoy's lolling burden didn't move in tandem with his heavy tread down the front steps. He looked exhausted, and not in the least triumphant. If anything, Malfoy looked profoundly sad.
He was hailed a hero immediately. His supervisor at the ministry was interviewed, along with his co-workers; his talents and qualities were tabulated and published with aplomb. He was a renowned magical expert; he was a convert from the dark side; he was the unlikely saviour of future generations. Many puns and metaphors were used in headlines revolving around the word 'faith' ("Our Bad Faith led to Accusing Malfoy", "Faithful Malfoy Ain't Bad", "Malfoy's Good Faith") He was described as a lost child, humble, gentle and sensitive. It was noted that he refused to bask in the glory of his daring confrontation with He Who Must Not Be Named, where he not only stared down the beast himself, but managed to chose the right side, regardless of the personal cost to himself and his family. Witches everywhere swooned. He looked dashing and repentant, lonely, tired, and disheveled. Letters to the editor demanded to know if Malfoy was single, and if so, if he would receive marriage proposals. Apologies ran rampant, from the front pages of the Daily Prophet to the back section of the Witches Weekly. A fund was started to account for his lost belongings, and to make up for weeks of lynch mob threats. Malfoy himself said very little.
The truth had wormed its way down to Ginny in whispers. The wizarding world was rejoicing, but the truth was that Voldemort was not defeated at all, but was back; only now he took the form of a young girl. No one was sure where she had Narcissa had gone. Malfoy Manor had gone up in flames the moment she disappeared from St. Mungo's; Lucius Malfoy had barely escaped with his life. The ministry was keeping this under wraps, and they were mildly suspicious of the whole debacle. The body of Voldemort was pretty sophisticated evidence. But Harry had shaken his head, sad, feeling guilty, noting that while he had crippled Voldemort as an infant, as an adult he had set him free.
Ginny stopped walking. She had just seen something that had sent her stomach into her shoes. In the darkness she could easily see through the large street-front window into a low-lit muggle pub. Sitting at a table by himself, with a fluted pint glass nearly finished in front of him, sat Draco Malfoy. As she watched, a waiter ambled by. She saw him ask the obvious question, saw Malfoy nod his assent. Another drink arrived as Draco stared down at a piece of parchment on the table. He ran his fingers over it, shut his eyes, and opened them again, tracing words on the page, his lips moving briefly. He folded the parchment, and pulled out another. Ginny steeled herself, and walked into the pub.
He looked up as she pulled out a chair and sat down. He looked shocked, his eyes well glazed over. "Oh hell." He said, his speech rather slurred. "What do you want, Weasley?"
"Ginny." She said. "The name. Is Ginny."
He sighed and took a long gulp of his beer. The waiter hovered over the table as Malfoy realized that he had left an open letter on the table. "I'll have what he's having," Ginny said, watching him snatch at the letter and shove it back into his pocket.
"I was just leaving."
"Yes, it certainly looks that way," she noted drily. "Look, I want to talk to you."
"I gathered that."
Ginny smiled tightly as her drink arrived. They sat for a moment, drinking, not looking at each other.
"Why did you kiss me?"
"You don't remember? You kissed me. At Hogwarts. Your last year. In a field. Oh, come on, after a quidditch practice. Are you telling me you don't remember? You kissed me."
He hmmed. "Oh. Right. Yes. I remember now." Tracing his finger on the bottom edge of his glass, he chuckled.
"So why did you do it?"
"As I recall, you initiated that."
Ginny snorted. "Really. Why did you do it?"
He shrugged. Ginny noticed that he looked profoundly tired, tired like a man who hadn't slept in ages, like a man who had never slept. His eyes were red-rimmed, and Ginny wondered if he had been crying before she came in. "I figured it would be the closest I would ever get."
Draco winced. "Yeah."
Ginny hmmed. "Well. As it turns out, it's as close as I ever got. Isn't that ironic."
Draco smirked rather coldly. "Well, he's free now, Weasley. Why are you sitting here with me? Go get him. Or do you want some pointers?" His tone was getting angrier by the second, but Ginny was sensitive enough to ignore it. "I would have thought you'd have scooped him up by now." He went on. She noticed his hands clenching into fists as he spoke. "Or is he out with some some " Ginny watched as this train of thought become altogether too painful for him, and he reached for his glass.
"As you must know, Harry is in no condition to go anywhere with anyone right now," she said quietly.
"What are you talking about?" Draco asked, clapping the glass back down on the table.
Ginny looked at him. Could he really not know? "Well, he's in constant pain. He can't walk."
Ginny nodded. "He can't walk, he can't move around much at all. He can barely use his hands. It's been just awful. They don't know what the problem is. He's healed, he's been healed for weeks. But"
He was blinking at her, the shock seemed to sober him up. "Didn't they oh no, they didn't know enough to " He sighed heavily. "Hyssop." He said. "That's what he needs. That will take away the pain. I can't believe they didn't know that."
He closed his eyes and sat back in his chair. "They didn't know. God. I'm such an idiot. Of course they didn't know." Ginny considered agreeing with the idiot part, but held her tongue. "Well, tell them that well, I have some books on the hyssop formula "
Ginny shook her head. "Why are you doing this, Malfoy? Why don't you go to him yourself? Why all this drama?"
She heard him growl. He covered his face with his hands. "I don't know why you're bothering to ask. I know you want him. Why not just go take him?"
"Because he needs you. And I love him, and I want him to have what he needs."
He laughed. "Well. He won't get it. It's a farce, you of all people must know that." Ginny raised an eyebrow. "What do you want to hear me say? God. The lot of you. No one will get off my back about this. Look. He doesn't trust me. He's never going to trust me. Not that I should entirely blame him, but I will anyway. I know what I've done. I know who I've been, so do you. You still won't eat my food without wondering if I'm trying to kill you." He laughed hollowly. "It was never going to work. It was a dumb idea. Malfoy and Potter? Really. Villains and heroes don't end up together, it's just not the way it goes." He drained his glass, and motioned for another.
Ginny sighed. For a moment she wondered if this was enough. Perhaps this was it. She could get up now and tell Harry something reassuring, something to make him feel as if it were okay to move on. ("He's too weak to see his own mistakes.", "It's not you, it's him.", "He's found some easier prey, you are just too good for him.", "He's a jerk, Harry. He eats puppies for breakfast and he's screwing Millicient Bulstrode.") She could drop this conversation now and gather the broken Harry in her arms, be the instrument of his miraculous cure. She could walk into the sunset arm in arm with her hero. She could even let some of their piercings grow in, get a nice gingham dress. She rubbed her earlobe anxiously. She wasn't sure who to blame for what she was about to do, her genes or the sorting hat for making her such a noble and self-sacrificing Gryffindor. She smirked.
"God, Malfoy. You blame everyone else for essentializing you, and then you go ahead and do the same thing to yourself. And to Harry. You know what?" She pushed her glass aside and laid a fist on the table. "Harry isn't a hero. He's not perfect. Sometimes he fucks up. He doesn't know how to handle it, because it's never expected of him and he's never really done it before. There's no room for failure when you're Harry fucking Potter, you know. Even when he's in the wrong, he does just the right thing. People don't even question it. They just expect him to know what the right move is all the time. Oddly enough, Harry is human."
She was getting angry, and his eye-rolling across the table didn't help matters at all. "Oh, come off it, Malfoy. He hooked up with you against the better judgment of everyone he knows. He trusted you enough to take you in. When no one else believed you, he did. He spent weeks at the ministry defending you. Doesn't that speak of a little trust? So when it came down to it, and it looked as if you were going to deliver the Dark Lord back to his former glory, he wavered. Of course he did. Jesus. He was scared, for god's sake, he wanted to protect you, like the knight in shining fucking armour that everyone thinks he is. You run to him when you need to feel protected, and then get pissed off when you think you might need it." He was looking down at his hands now. This did not tempt Ginny to stop. "And you're hardly the villain anymore, much as some of us have a hard time coming to terms with that. Look at you. Look what you've done. You're still a right bastard, but you're not the anti-Christ. God, Malfoy, from the way you talk, you'd think you were living a fairy tale or something."
She sighed. Malfoy's face was hidden now. He was running his fingers along the packet of letters in his pocket. "He was still right, even when he was wrong. He was right to trust you, he was right that all this wasn't your fault. Are you going to be just like everyone else and act all shocked when he can't live up to all of your expectations? Isn't it enough that he lives up to most of them? Jesus. What more can you ask for?" Malfoy said nothing. "He gave you a chance. He gave you a lot of chances, I'll wager. Can you give him one? God, just let him fuck up, let him be sorry for it. Let him make it up to you. How hard is that?" Ginny shook her head. Men are so stupid, she thought. You only get so many chances at things like this and they just stare it in the face and wander off. Feh. Maybe he deserves to sit here sulking.
"I know you want to see him, Malfoy. It's very bleeding obvious. You sit here mooning over his letters, which, I'll have you know, are very VERY painful for Harry to write, PHYSICALLY painful, you sit here moaning and getting piss drunk and crying your eyes out and you think you can just walk away from this?"
"Fuck off, Weasley." Malfoy's eyes narrowed.
Hmm. Hit a chord there. Good for me, Ginny thought. She ignored the statement and softened her tone. "Well, you want him to trust you. Sure. But you can't expect him to trust you point blank, you have to give him time. You've really proved yourself, you know. You're acting as if everything just fell apart, but maybe it fell together. You proved him right, you deserved his trust, everybody sees that now."
"I shouldn't have to fucking prove myself." He hissed, looking up at her angrily, eyes glazed over and unable to hide his uncertainty.
"What, did you get that from Witches Weekly? Please. Of course you do. Trust doesn't just spontaneously appear, you know. Not even for Harry. It has to develop, particularly when you've offered someone up to the prince of fucking darkness in recent memory, Malfoy. Just like everyone else, you're expecting Harry to be superhuman. Stop it."
She told him about Harry's pain, his regret, his guilt. She told Draco about how she had found him staring blankly at a scrap of paper in his hand, clutching at it. "A scrap of your notes," She said. "A bit we didn't manage to hide away. Don't tell me he doesn't trust you. Don't tell me he doesn't need you. Geez. Men. Something scary happens and you forget every damn thing you ever knew."
Malfoy sighed heavily. "What do you want from me?" He looked defeated.
Lucky for me he was so damn drunk when I walked in. Ginny grinned.
Ron heard the knock at the door while he was washing dishes. Now, he thought. Who would be dropping by at this time of night? He draped the tea towel over his shoulder and walked toward the door. "We're popular tonight, Harry." He said jovially. He saw Harry smile. He was sitting in the armchair beside the fireplace, a blanket over his aching legs. When cures for the pain had led nowhere, they had attempted to simply stem its tide. But wizarding cures for pain seemed to be hopeless. They shifted into muggle medicine, trying acupuncture, massage, morphine, shock treatment, yoga (a disastrous idea, it turned out), hypnotherapy; nothing seemed to do the trick. For the moment they were simply trying to wait it out. Ron and Hermione had turned the chair toward the window so that Harry could look out into the night sky, pulled the swivel lamp closer beside him, made sure there was a glass of water on the table, and left him to read.
Harry was delving into the muggle classics now, for some reason. He had sent Ron out on numerous occasions with booklists: Wuthering Heights; Mutiny on the Bounty; Jude the Obscure; The Catcher in the Rye; Atlas Shrugged. He seemed to melt through these. He absorbed them and tossed them aside, as though they didn't quite give him the answers he was looking for. As I lay dying; To the Lighthouse; Waiting for Godot; Great Expectations. Ron wasn't certain whether he was actually reading them at all, or simply looking for something to distract him from the ache in his legs. Between books he was constantly restless; unable to move much, he used what strength he had in his hands to hold anything with words on it up to his face. He read the backs of cereal boxes and various packages, the instructions booklets for his quidditch equipment, for an old cauldron, for his quick quotes quill. Ron kept the newspaper at a distance, and Harry never asked for it. Fifth Business; The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz; Slaughterhouse Five; My Name is Asher Lev. Ron wondered if it was the task a book represented that soothed Harry. The weight of it against his hands, the fact that they had a beginning, and a middle. But the end of a book he started to look nervous again. Ron had never seen him like this.
They didn't talk about Draco. At least, Harry and Ron didn't. Part of Ron wanted to tell Harry what he had learned from Draco that day he moved in; the past history of abuse, for one, and more importantly, the confession. He loves you, you know, Ron wanted to say. Did Draco ever get around to telling Harry the truth? Ron had no idea, and wouldn't even hazard a guess. God, people are so dumb. Don't they realize how rare it is to love someone and have them love you back? Ron sometimes caught snippets of conversations between Harry and Hermione, between Harry and Ginny. ("Of course he does." "No, no, Harry, you couldn't have done differently. It was a completely natural reaction." "I don't know, Harry. I can't even imagine." "No, I haven't seen him either." "I'm so sorry.") Ron hovered in the background of these conversations, knowing what they were about, knowing what the response to them had to be, but not participating. He was glad Malfoy hadn't shown up. He would have strangled him with his bare hands.
Tea towel casually over his shoulder, Ron opened the door. "Ginny!" He said. "Hi, what are you" She had her finger to her lips. Then she pointed down the hall. Draco. Ron was caught off-guard, and shot him a nasty glare. Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Hiya, Ron!" she said brightly. "I know it's late, but I was hoping you could come have a drink with me. Oh " She noted loudly, "I brought something for Harry. I thought it might make him feel better." She pressed Ron aside and walked into the flat. "Dont say a word, Ron. Let's just let this work itself out, shall we?" she whispered, walking past Ron and dragging Draco in behind her. Ron smelled alcohol on him. He looked decidedly sheepish.
Ginny left him by the door and walked over to Harry, crouching beside the chair, half looking at Ron and Draco, half watching Harry. "Hi, Harry, how are you this evening?" She said gently. He smiled.
"Oh, I'm alright. What was this I heard? Did you bring me something?"
"I did, Harry. I think it will keep you occupied while I get Ron out of your hair for a while. Okay?"
Harry looked puzzled, but smiled and nodded. Ginny stood, stroked Harry's hand, and leaned over, kissing him on the forehead. "I love you, Harry." She said.
"I love you too, Gin. Thanks." She smiled. "Okay!" She said, rather loudly. "Ron, got your coat? We'll be back shortly." She took walked back to the door, and took her scrambling brother by the arm, pulling him outside, closing the door behind them. She exhaled, and walked briskly outside, still latched tightly onto Ron. Once outside, she leaned against the wall, slid to a crouching position the ground, and burst into tears.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Draco stood nervously at the door, staring at the back of Harry's head. He sighed heavily, feeling far too tipsy and certain that when he was sober he would regret this. Potter probably will too. He walked as casually as he could toward Harry's chair, seating himself on the coffee table in front of him without making eye contact. He could hear Harry take a sharp breath, and not exhale.
After a few moments, he looked up. "Breathe, Harry," he said.
Harry looked shocked, and scared. He sighed and brought a shaky hand to his lip, rubbing it absently. He was thinking about something to say, having had thousands of things to say just moments ago, just before he looked up and saw Draco in front of him. He felt vacant. He was afraid to hope, and afraid of what variations on "I never loved you" would come from Draco's mouth. Harry wanted to know and didn't want to hear it at the same time. He wanted to shut his eyes tight, but also wanted to stare at Draco, who was there, finally, in front of him. Harry looked at his face, saw the glazed eyes, smelled the alcohol on him. He was drunk. Well, so that's what it took.
"Hi." Harry said, finally.
Draco gulped. He knew he probably looked afraid. He was, and he was in no state to hide it. Why on earth did he let that Weasley girl talk him into this? "I hear you're in a lot of pain, Harry. I can fix that." He winced a little. That came out all wrong. "I have a cure for it, I mean." He pulled out a cloth pouch from his pocket and held it up as evidence. "Can you stand?" Harry nodded stiffly. He pulled off the blanket on his lap and pressed his slippered feet against the floor. Draco intended to avoid touching him at all costs, but found that there was no option. Harry cried out as collapsed onto the floor, his body trembling in familiar pain that reached out through his limbs, snaking under his knees and elbows, ripping his sinews and tendons from his bones, dropping him, feeling bloodied, weeping and groaning into black oblivion.
Draco inwardly swore. This should never have happened.
When Harry came to it was to the sound of running water echoing all around him. For a moment he thought he was drowning. The water will rise, and cover my chest, and then my throat, and I'll feel it beneath my chin. And then it will cover my mouth and my nose and I won't struggle. But when he opened his eyes he found that he was just in his own blurry bathroom, sitting on the small, square cushioned stool the hospital had recommended, his back against the tile. Draco was on the floor in front of him, pulling off Harry's socks.
Draco held Harry's ankle carefully, dropping the sock on the floor, and for a moment, stroked his instep as if in a memory. I told him here, Harry imagined him thinking. It was in this place, among others, that I told him I was his. And he didn't believe me. He looked up, saw Harry's eyes opening blearily, saw him attempting to make sense of the unfocused world.
"You're going to have to get in there. It will get rid of your pain." He motioned with a nod toward the bathtub, which was half-filled, and spoke guiltily, which was not something Harry expected to hear in him now. He nodded, and fumbled with his shirt, feeling Draco gently drop his foot, felt his hands pulling tangled and creased material over his head. The tile was cold against his back. Exhausted, his closed his eyes as he felt Draco unzip his pants, felt arms pull him against a warm chest in order to lift him enough to free him off them. Harry's face feel by habit into Draco's shoulder, his lips pressing against the skin of his neck.
The smell of Draco reminded Harry of many things, so many that it had come to form a single thought in his head. Simply, Draco. Cold mornings; the smooth feeling of sheets against his arms; stiff fencing jackets; buttered breakfasts; night air; feeling weightless, certain, powerful, and oddly, safe. Safe. His body screaming in pleasure, and not pain; the taste of his skin; the sound of his moaning, the small words. He smelled like alcohol and cigarette smoke. Draco had a tendency to drink too much when he was nervous, depressed, afraid. Harry breathed him in. And then, fainter, Harry was reminded of other things; blood on the coverlet, the sound of Draco screaming; little arms around his neck (no, not his, hers); the sight of him, tiny, sleeping in an ornate cradle while the wolves howled outside. He shivered and was released, feeling the cold tile again, his pants slipping from his legs.
Draco stood and turned the faucets off, checked the temperature of the water, sniffed. He pulled out the pouch and sprinkled nearly a third of its contents into the water, which shimmered slightly, and then returned to normal. He turned and looked over at Harry, but, myopic and without his glasses, he couldn't see Draco's expression. A long moment passed in silence.
"Here," Draco said huskily. "I'll help you in. It will be better soon." Harry wondered for a moment if Draco was crying. He felt himself pressed into that embrace again as Draco helped him stand, and then steadied him while Harry lift one leg, and then another, into the water. He eased down, feeling the water on his hips, rising up against his chest. Draco released him as his back pressed into the cool enamel of the bathtub. His arms and legs tingled at a little, his toes pressed against metal chain looping against the rubber-stoppered drain.
"Is it any better?" Draco asked hopefully.
Harry shut his eyes, and then opened them again, and shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "Not yet, at least. I can feel tingling, a little, though."
Draco nodded. The front of his shirt was sopping wet, his cuffs still dragging in the water.
Harry hesitated. "I'm so sorry."
Draco bowed his head. "I know."
Draco didn't say anything for a long time, just traced an absent finger against the surface of the water. Please. Please don't leave. Don't go home, stay with me. Don't leave me. Draco picked up the pouch, dumping a small amount of the powered substance into his hand. He reached under the water, and stroked his palm against Harry's right calf. Harry gasped. He could feel pain seeping out of his bones.
"Is that better?" Draco asked again.
"Yes. Yes it is." Draco nodded, poured more powder into his hands and massaged Harry's thighs, feet, his knees, hips, shoulders, his arms, finally, for a long time, his hands. Harry felt the pain seeping into the water leaving him curiously empty. He almost cried from its absence with an emotion he couldn't identify. Draco's hands on his skin felt electric, and sad. He touched him with certainty and finality, already knowing the breadth of him, tracing the contours of his bones, lingering with sorrow and regret over a freckle, a childhood scar, a rough patch of skin. Draco pulled Harry's right hand from the water and looked at it, tracing the lines on his palm. Heart line, head line, life line. He leaned forward and pressed it against his own cheek. His eyes were shut.
He could feel Draco's jaw move with the syllables, felt his heart beating rapidly under his palm. He was afraid to answer, afraid to break the stillness of this moment. "Yes."
"Would you ever have been able to trust me?"
Harry exhaled slowly. He sensed that he was treading on very delicate ground, ground that might disappear at any moment, or might take him with it. Like quicksand, he might sprint over it or stand and sink. "I do trust you, Draco."
Draco grunted, and shook his head.
"No, I do. I just thought that I didn't really know you. I thought I did, but then I wasn't sure. I didn't know how much you could take. Having just seen what I had just seen."
"How much I could take?"
"She was so sure, you know. So sure that you would return to her, and it was hard not to be convinced. And she showed me " Draco moved Harry's hand from his face into the water again. "She showed me things I didn't know what to do with. I was.scared. I didn't want to see you fall into something I didn't want to lose you like that. I thought it was me who had to be strong enough."
"I don't always need to be rescued, you know."
"But it's what you do best, isn't it."
"You don't think you know me?"
"I didn't think so. I was wrong. You're not your past, not anymore. I understand that now. But."
"I wish you could have told me. I wish "
"You would have hated me for it."
"Who doesn't trust who here?"
Silence. Harry sluiced closer, lifted his tired arms out of the water and wrapped them around Draco, who was motionless neither rejecting nor repelling him. He pressed his face into Draco's neck, kissed him softly, ran his newly nimble fingers through Draco's hair. "Please forgive me. I love you. Please. Don't leave me."
"It's too late, Harry."
"No it's not."
Silence. Harry felt wet hands on his back, sliding up to his shoulders, back down again, tracing wet skin under the water. He could feel Draco shudder.
"Can you forgive me? For what you've seen?"
" of course. I'm not sure what you need my forgiveness for. It's me who needs forgiveness here."
"She showed you about the hmm. The Death Eaters."
"Yes. That wasn't your fault, Draco."
"You're a stronger person that I've given you credit for. Than you give yourself credit for as well. I reckon. If you want my forgiveness for that, you certainly have it. If you'll forgive me for taking the same kind of of "
"It's not the same kind, Harry. Not at all."
Harry sighed, tucking Draco's shoulder under his chin. "Well then."
"Of course there is."
"I'm not sure you'll understand."
"I probably won't. But I won't forget again. Who you are now. Please."
"I love you."
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