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Beyond the Barriers

The inn was small and shabby, but under the circumstances it was the best -- and only -- thing he could find. He looked at it for a moment, emerald eyes watching intently and nodded, stepping forward, careful that his features wouldn’t be seen clearly from under his cloak. He still wasn’t into safe territory yet and letting himself be known was a risk.

As he drew closer, he noticed there was no sign of blackness anywhere on the door and he sighed with relief. That meant the inn he was about to enter was a neutral place and so it would not matter if his identity was discovered. No follower of Voldemort’s would be seen in a neutral place. For tonight, at least, he was safe.

His first impression of the inn was correct the closer he got to it. It was worn, run-down and shabby, but he could see the warm light pooling from the windows and knew the service wouldn’t be bad from that positive hint. As he stood before the door, he glanced upwards and saw the faded sign swinging gently in the night, its paint peeling: The Black Cat. His lips twisted in a small smile, before he pushed open the door and stepped inside.

The inn was crowded and people talked raucously, their laughter filling the room and giving it a heartening atmosphere. Smoke clogged the air, but no one took any notice. The cheerful light had been made from the numerous candles stationed around the inn. Thankfully, not many noticed his entering due to the height of the noise and that was the way he intended to keep it. Hesitantly, he lowered his hood and let his face be seen clearly to those who gave him a quick glance, hoping they were all too drunk to recognise him. But unknown to him, someone had seen him and from a corner, grey eyes narrowed in recognition.

The owner of the pub, a plump witch who hadn’t had any severe casualties to her family from the war yet, saw him enter immediately and made her way over to him. “I’m sorry, we’re full for the night,” she told him bluntly, failing to recognise him from the thick smoke in the room. “You’ll have to journey on.”

“Surely you would not turn away one weary from the trials of war?” was his soft answer and hard green eyes locked on hers. “It is to be a cold night.” Before, he wouldn’t have dreamed of using such persuasion to get what he wanted, but he was desperate. It would be too dangerous to sleep outside tonight with the Death Eaters tracking him...

The witch looked at him again, this time more sharply and she saw the faint scar on his forehead and clicked things together. She gasped softly, a hand covering her mouth in amazement. “You...”

He closed his eyes and cursed inwardly, berating himself for not paying closer attention to his scar and how much of his hair had been covering it. “Yes. Please, I am desperate for a room. I am in danger of being captured tonight and extensive torture awaits me by the Dark Lord himself.” Well, they said to always use truth as a last resort. And that was what he was doing. For it was his last resort.

The witch looked at him and he could see the frustration in her anguished chestnut eyes. She clearly wanted to help him, but there was no denying that there wasn’t a room left... “I’ll sleep on the floor,” he told her roughly, his nerves stretched to breaking point by then. “Just please, let me stay inside.” If he was sent outside, then he knew he would be captured before dawn even thought of gracing the horizon.

The witch sighed, opened her mouth -- no doubt to tell him what part of the floor to sleep on -- when they were interrupted by a quiet, smooth voice. A voice he remembered quite well and which made him stiffen in a mixture of surprise and shock when it reached his ears.

“Now really, there is no need for the mighty Harry Potter to spend the night on the floor,” the voice interjected softly, but there was no need for such discretion, for the noise in the inn had reached fever-pitch -- all in it were desperate to forget the atrocities of the war and used on-edge laughter to try and hide their fear. The deeper into night they went, the louder the laughter became.

Harry turned and stared into clear grey eyes, ordering for his silence at that moment and he obeyed, keeping his mouth shut. He knew there were times for him to stay quiet and this was one of them. The witch turned to their interrupter, clearly unsure and he confirmed for her. “He will spend the night in my rooms; I will gladly pay for his boarding, naturally.” Sharp emerald eyes bored into his as he spoke, but they did not achieve their desired effect -- the interrupter's voice remained steady as he spoke. The witch, possibly the only inn owner whose eyes didn’t lit up at the mention of money, nodded slowly, clearly still unsure. “We will have our meal in our room,” the interrupter continued, still acting completely natural, much to Harry’s exasperation. The witch nodded once more, before turning and hurrying away.

Harry met the interrupter’s eyes but said nothing, simply following him as he wove through the crowd easily, towards the stairs. Harry paused for a moment at the foot of the stairs, but then followed uneasily, suddenly wishing he had taken the floor instead, for it couldn’t have been as complicated as this would be.

He was allowed into the room first; the moment he crossed the threshold, he immediately turned to face the other man, too suspicious for his own good. He crossed his arms, eyes wary and waited for the door to be closed. He tensed as the other man turned and regarded him, his face still amused despite the annoyed expression on his face. “Why, Potter,” he drawled, a faint hint of the arrogance he had once possessed still in his voice, but faint now. “If I didn’t know any better... I’d say you didn’t trust me.”

“I don’t trust anyone lately,” he answered shortly, silently noting how his surname had been used instead of his first name. Not a good sign. His head was screaming for him to look away, to look down, to look anywhere except at him, but he kept his eyes locked on the grey ones, feeling for some reason like he’d be seen as weak if he looked away. Perhaps that was his first mistake.

A dry chuckle reached his ears then and the second man took a step towards him, moving gracefully, the movement perfectly controlled. Grey orbs never left his vision, mocking him to a degree, daring him to tell him to stop and keep away. No words came from Harry, but his teeth clenched and his lips tightened to a grim line, evidence to his disapproval of the situation. He felt his hands curl into tense fists and he resisted the urge to step back, once again believing that he would be seen as weak. It seemed some things never changed, no matter how much time passed and what events occurred during that time.

Finally Harry spoke, his tone quiet but the sharpness still evident underneath his controlled voice. “What are you playing at, Malfoy?” If his own name was rejected for his surname, then so would his.

Draco Malfoy, now admittedly a few years older, regarded him with a sly smile curling his lips. He let one hand rest on his hip, cocked his head slightly and simply watched him. “As far as I can see,” he replied calmly, the smile still lingering on his mouth as he spoke, “I’m merely watching you. Last time I checked that wasn’t a crime punishably by death.”

Harry felt his eyes narrow. “You never ‘merely’ do anything, Malfoy, and you know it. Now I’m going to ask you again: what are you playing at? Why are you... looking at me like that?” Even as the words spilled from his lips, he knew he’d walked straight into the trap and groaned inwardly, embarrassment heating his face.

Malfoy laughed, the sound full and rich, the complete opposite to the boy in general now. Draco had suffered in the war just as much as he had, as hard as it was to believe. Lucius wasn’t exactly a fan of his son now, since Draco had rejected the Dark Lord’s side and joined forces with Dumbledore and the rest. It had been unexpected, but still genuine, considering Malfoy was still on their side and had proved he made a rotten spy, so he certainly wasn’t working for the Death Eaters.

“Walked into that one, Potter, didn’t you?” he said gleefully, and Harry glared at him, embarrassed beyond belief now. Malfoy’s amusement increased as he took another step towards him. Harry abandoned all thoughts of pride this time and stepped back in accordance.

“Go to hell,” was the first thing that came from his mouth, as it was the first thing that entered his mouth. He surprised himself as much as seemed to have surprised Malfoy. Both of them stared at each other, shocked by how feeble his comeback had been.

Malfoy composed himself rapidly. “Been there and lived, Potter.” He made a tutting sound and shook his head in mock-disappointment, his silvery-blonde hair rippling slightly from the motion, a shine flowing along the strands as they moved. “Your barbs disappoint me.” Malfoy’s most beautiful feature was definitely his hair, a colour almost like moonlight, but softer somehow. Harry remembered dimly what it had felt like to run his hands through that hair, to let those strands run through his fingers like water and quickly tossed that memory away. No use thinking about that. Not now, not after everything that’s happened. No use on dwelling in the past.

“Excuse me for trying then,” Harry replied sarcastically, his tone cutting. “I wasn’t aware that I had standards to reach.” He had to hide behind the anger, behind the safety of cutting remarks meant to hurt, had to stay behind that safety... going beyond it would just complicate things drastically.

Malfoy gave a bark of abrupt laughter, his grey eyes glaring into Harry’s. “I know what you’re doing, Potter -- and it won’t work. We are not hiding behind the safety of old arguments.” His grey eyes were lit with a silver fire by this time, burning with savage emotion. “We are dealing with this and we’re dealing with it tonight,” he ground out through clenched teeth, and in that instant his careful mask slipped and Harry saw his true emotions at last; anger, pain, hurt, confusion mingled freely in his face and Harry struggled not to let his dismay show on his face. He was in way over his head. I definitely should have taken the floor. Definitely.

Before he could react in any way, Draco began to approach him, his eyes sparking with anger and his lips set in a determined fashion. Harry found himself paling and began to back away... only to find himself pressed against the wall. Great, Potter, absolutely great. How the hell have you managed to evade the Death Eaters for the past three months and you can’t even avoid Malfoy in the same room? Sighing resignedly, Harry finally looked up and met Draco’s eyes, almost positive that the emotions mixing in his grey eyes were in his own. Draco’s face was so close that he could feel his warm breath trailing along his cheek and he fought not to shiver. Too close. He was far too close and was stirring up far too many memories --

-- a knock on the door made them both start and Draco flung himself away from Harry in a blur.

“Our food,” Draco realised, with a smile, before walking over and unlocking the door, but not before doing a sensing spell to make sure it was the witch. The spell had developed as assassins became more adept at blending in flawlessly. Like Harry, he trusted no one anymore, even if they were in a neutral place. Spies and assassins found remarkable ways to infiltrate anywhere.

Minutes later Harry found himself seated on one side of the bed, his travelling cloak discarded, warily seizing up the chicken, vegetables, potatoes, cheese, bread and other assorted foods before him. One thing was obvious: Draco still held his standards, even in food. Harry secretly knew that the food for the people downstairs wasn’t as carefully prepared as this. It seemed the name Malfoy still generated some awe, although not as much as before the war. Noticing Draco’s gaze on him, Harry slowly picked up a hunk of honeyed chicken and bit into it, almost moaning as hot flavour flooded his mouth. It seemed like an age since he had tasted food like this. Only neutral places like this still had satisfactory food rations -- other places simply made do with what they could find. Harry had been living off beef stew for over a year.

Malfoy seemed incredibly amused at his reaction to the food and Harry simply raised an eyebrow. Once he had swallowed, he simply said to him, “Try living off beef stew for a year and then see how you like it.” He immediately looked back down at the food, suddenly realising how hungry he was and because of this he never saw the flicker of concern that entered Malfoy’s eyes as he watched him.

They both ate in silence for the next few minutes, both enjoying the delicious food and Harry began to add up approximate estimates in his head for the food and his one-night stay. He knew it would be expensive, even for one night, for food prices had skyrocketed during the war and the inn needed the money. Once the last bite had been taken and Draco had sprawled on his side of the bed, one arm carelessly flung across his eyes, shielding them from the dim candlelight in the room, Harry brought out his small drawstring bag that held his money.

It was a very small amount, mostly due to the fact that since all of Diagon Alley was now a safe haven -- for those lucky enough to reach it -- one simply couldn’t go into Gringotts and withdraw substantial amounts of money like they used to, as they wouldn’t be allowed out of the Alley again. As one of the main fighters of the war and one of the most pursued wizards in it, Harry wasn’t allowed anywhere near Diagon Alley. The fortune his parents had left him was still in his underground vault; he just wasn’t permitted to open it and neither was anyone else. He’d been living off beef stew for the past year not only because it had been one of the few nutritional meals around; it had also been the cheapest.

He guessed it was the sharp jangling of coins that alerted Draco to take his arm away; he was a Malfoy after all. He hauled himself up to a respectable sitting position and watched Harry silently count out coins, his brow furrowed in concentration. “What on earth are you doing, Potter?”

“As I recall, I have to fork out a payment, don’t I?” was the dry reply, Harry not bothering to take his eyes away from the money in front of him, still counting in his head. “Nothing comes for free, after all.”

There was silence for another few minutes, before Draco snapped in annoyance, “Don’t be an idiot, Potter. I’m not letting you pay.” Upon receiving a glare from emerald eyes, his annoyance turned to anger. “Get over your stupid Gryffindor pride, Potter! I’m not exactly demanding a favour from you for this, am I?!”

“Knowing you, Malfoy,” was the calm reply, “it’s extremely possible.” Still money was being counted out. Harry was doing a lot of rounding up. Then he jerked in surprise, as pale hands grabbed his money bag and wrenched it from his grip. Moments later his money had been stuffed back inside and it was tossed back to him.

“I’ll tell you again, this time in simpler English for you to understand,” Malfoy ground out in anger. “I’m not taking your Money, Potter. I. Am. Not. Taking. It.” As each word was forced out, Malfoy’s face got closer and closer to Harry’s, without him realising it. But Harry did. Now that Malfoy’s face was close to his once more, he was able to see the burning silver of Malfoy’s eyes as they glared at him and the flushing of anger on his cheeks and how strands of silvery-blonde hair framed his face where they weren’t yet long enough to be tied back. Getting your hair cut wasn’t exactly a major concern when you were in the middle of a war. His own hair was getting slightly too long, but there was nothing he was willing to do with it until the war was over.

Suddenly they both realised how close they were to each other and they knew again that it was too close. “Shit,” Malfoy hissed, and there was a tremor of low fear in his voice.

But Harry ignored him. “Now who’s hiding behind pride?” he said quietly, his nose almost touching Malfoy’s. As he watched the other man slowly breathe in front of him, he realised he almost couldn’t breathe himself. It seemed like he was anticipating something... but what? It couldn’t be... no. No.

At last Malfoy spoke. “Damn you.” The bitterness and anger were evident in his voice and he knew they were directed at him, even if Malfoy hadn’t said his name. “Why couldn’t you have picked another inn, instead of this one? I wasn’t ready for dealing with you, not yet.”

What did he expect him to say? Harry decided on the blunt truth. “Besides the fact the nearest one to this was another two miles, it wasn’t like I had any choice.” When Draco’s eyes sharpened, he elaborated. “I have Voldemort’s Inner Circle after me. For the past three months in fact.” A grim smile twisted Harry’s face. “Now you know why I was even willing to sleep on the floor.”

Draco let out a deep breath, one he probably hadn’t even realised he was holding. He sat back on the bed and regarded Harry carefully. “Shit, Potter,” he said at last, shaking his head. “You really know how to get yourself stuck in it, don’t you?” He looked at him and Harry knew he was really looking at him for the first time that night. Saw how unnaturally pale he was, how thin and gaunt his face was from lack of proper meals and nourishment. Saw how his green eyes had sunk in a little, how thin his lips seemed to have become. “Damn you, Potter,” Malfoy whispered, this time drawing closer to him. Harry stiffened, frantically aware of how the atmosphere had changed, how small the room had suddenly become. It finally hit him how there was only one bed. Shit.

But he couldn’t move, his body didn’t seem able to obey the desperate commends his brain was screaming at it. He could only watch, his eyes becoming wide behind his glasses, as Draco came far too close to him and slowly placed one hand on the side of his face. “How to you manage to be such an idiot?” were Draco’s next words, trailing his fingers across the visible cheekbone. Harry shivered, trying to ignore the heat that surged through him from that slight contact. Shit, shit, shit!

“Natural talent, I suppose,” he replied, his voice just as soft, aware that his body was now shrieking for that familiar touch, resurrecting half-buried memories of closeness, lust, touch, warmth and shadows, of soft whispers and trembling whimpers, of gasping cries and aroused moans. His breath hitched in his throat, as he felt the first stirrings of arousal lower down, tremors quivering up and down his spine and making panic unfurl from deep inside him, panic and an undeniable excitement.

“Natural talent for a lot more than that, I can assure you,” Malfoy murmured, his voice husky. His eyes had melted to a warm grey that spilled with life, as he ran his hand down Harry’s cheek and traced it down his neck, making the dark-haired man tremble even more. “For completing and utterly driving me mad.”

“I suppose I should be proud,” was Harry’s choked reply, his gaze drifting to the corner of Malfoy’s lips, so endearingly tempting and yet forbidden at the same time. “We can’t...” he muttered, his eyes never leaving those lips. “We shouldn’t...” But he was drawing closer even as he spoke, as was Malfoy.

Heat was the first thing that came to his mind as he and Draco kissed. A deep, throbbing warmth as their lips met and caressed each other, warm breath mingling. And then they were probing the other’s mouth and it was so deliciously warm and safe... Harry heard a moan enter the air and realised it was from himself. At that moment his control broke completely and he leaned fully into the kiss, his tongue exploring Draco’s mouth eagerly, stroking his tongue fiercely. He wound his arms around Draco’s neck without realising it, as Draco’s hands drifted down to his waist, pulling him closer to him. Harry moaned as his aroused lower body brushed against Draco’s and he felt the erection that brushed against his, setting off a surge of heat through his body that threatened to overwhelm him. But it was only beginning...

Harry knew he was getting in far out of his depth when Draco’s nimble fingers reached up and began tugging the hidden buttons of his robes, impatiently opening them and easing off his robes with an experience he was frightfully aware of. Not willing for Draco to take complete control of the situation, he began to do the same to Draco, soon making similar progress on the body pressed against his.

Draco suddenly pulled back for air, his chest heaving and his face flushed. “God,” he gasped, flinging Harry’s robes to the floor and groaning at the appearance of the shirt and trousers underneath them. “For Christ’s sake...”

“I sleep in odd places,” was the crisp reply, before Draco started in surprise as his robes were unceremoniously yanked from him and tossed down beside the other pair, revealing his black boxers. Harry raised an eyebrow, and Draco shrugged.

“Snape wears black, doesn't he?” Harry accepted the polite rebuke and began to pull his shirt from over his head, expertly keeping his glasses intact from practise and Draco swallowed slightly as Harry’s chest was finally exposed. It had become blatantly thinner since the last time he had seen it and Harry’s ribs were more obvious than before, but it was still somehow the same chest he had showered attention on a few years ago.

The disowned son of Lucius Malfoy didn’t know why he was nervous, as he tentatively reached out towards Harry’s chest. His slender fingers must have been cold, for Harry shivered lightly as his fingertips brushed over the pale skin, but perhaps, now that he thought about it, it wasn’t from sudden cold. If Harry had said right then and there that he wasn’t aroused, he knew it would have been an lie. His body screamed for him in its own way, from the tautness of his skin and the faint sheen of sweat, to the laboured breathing being forced from gasping lips and the nipples rapidly responding to his delicate touch. No, Harry Potter was most definitely aroused and he was proud to say that he had a part in it.

Harry’s response when he touched his lips to his once more, was even more heated than before, if it was even possible. Draco felt a strangled gasp rise from his throat as he entwined his tongue with Harry’s, his hands quickly fumbling with the clasp of the dark-haired man’s pants, impatiently dragging them down. He noted dimly that Harry had already removed his shoes and socks. And then there were only the boxers left and then... there wasn’t anything left, except glorious skin.

His hands roamed over that thin body with a possessiveness he had thought was gone, that he’d thought was finally forgotten. It was as if he was trying to commit every patch of that white skin to memory, as if he wanted to remember every cleft and curve with his hands and mouth. He wasn’t aware that he’d roughly shoved Harry back onto the bed until he realised he was stretched on top of him, kissing his neck to memory and making the man underneath him writhe and moan as sensitive places thought to be forgotten were relived once more and touched and caressed.

Feeling like the soul was being sucked out of him, Draco opened his eyes to find heated emerald orbs staring up at him, partially glazed with lust. For a moment time seemed to disappear and there was only the two of them there, staring at each other, aware of the blood rushing in their veins, of their need, of the turbulent emotions in their eyes, of their fear, of whether they could touch hidden wounds -- still raw -- so soon, of whether they could do this now after the amount of heartache they had put the other through...

...and of the pressing need inside them both to be together, to have someone close to them and treat them like they were gods, because they were both afraid of everything that was happening around them as they had no control over it. For all they knew, they could both be dead the next day and they literally, needed the closeness.

It was as if the thought crossed both of their minds at exactly the same moment and Draco saw something change in Harry’s eyes, saw the bright emerald depths shift ever so slightly, as if some hidden shield had been slowly lifted away and he had bared some part of himself to him again. A wary invitation to see and touch those emotional wounds and perhaps, if he was lucky, to try and heal them. He had the hint that there would only be one night and only one chance... and he had only one try to chase some of the hurt away.

Feeling as if he was treading a thin, wavering line, Draco leaned down and kissed him and tried to put some of his soul into Harry, clinging to that hesitant warmth as if it was a lifeline.

Harry had seen the conflict in Draco’s eyes as he had stared down at him, had seen the fear, pleading and wariness in their grey depths and hadn’t known how to reach out to him. He had been hurt so bad and had done his own amount of hurting in the process that he’d almost forgotten how to make intimate contact with another person... his emotions had been locked behind an icy wall under the excuse of being in a war. It was also extremely likely that Draco wouldn’t give that excuse a moment’s consideration. But he needed him at the same time... needed him so badly it was like an endless craving inside him that he’d been ignoring for so long... whether he wanted it or not, Draco was unintentionally -- or perhaps intentionally, with him one couldn’t tell -- shattering those walls and he knew he couldn’t hide any longer.

The war had been building for so long now and he’d been caught in the thick of it for so long that he’d been able to ignore the building panic inside him, a harsh warning that the stress was finally getting to him and it was going to come out in a highly undignified way very soon, if he wasn’t careful. And very soon was rapidly becoming right at this minute and he couldn’t stop it; the frantic hysteria was a rushing river at this point that no dam could hold in.

The moment Draco leaned down and kissed him gently, Harry felt the tears silently stream down his face as his carefully-erected barriers finally crashed and burned.

He felt Draco stiffen and break the kiss, holding him underneath him and no doubt wondering why on earth he was crying as if he held a fountain inside him. But he couldn’t stop, as sobs continued to torment him and cause him to shake uncontrollably.

He could see them all, drifting up from his tightly-guarded memory to taunt him -- Sirius, captured by Wormtail and the other Death Eaters, tortured for seven days and seven nights, deprived of food, water, light and sleep, finally killed after being broken by Voldemort and Wormtail. He’d reached him just as Voldemort cast Avada Kedavra on him. Sirius’ short, abrupt shriek was the last thing he heard before he slumped to the ground, an odd ringing in his ears. Tears had been streaming from his eyes when he’d killed Wormtail, the man who had caused the deaths of all those he’d considered his Family. But the death of the slimy traitor hadn’t made him feel better; it only sank him further into a depression that clothed him in blood and darkness.

Innocent, naive Percy, torn between his family and the Ministry, eventually slaughtered when Fudge had gone mad. The Ministry, divided in two, had turned on each other, performing one of the worst blood-baths in the entire war. Arthur Weasley had been unable to save his son in time.

He could remember them all... Ludo Bagman... Winky... Dobby... Lavender Brown... Ginny Weasley... Dean Thomas... Professor Trelawney... Professor Sinistra... Parvati Patil... Hannah Abbot... Justin Finch-Fletchley... so many, many more. People he had known, people he had cared about, people who hadn’t deserved to die. And he blamed himself for all of their deaths, blamed himself for every drop of innocent blood spilled needlessly. He’d kept it bottled up inside him, heedless of whatever advice Hermione and Ron had tried to give him, hadn’t let anyone known about the silent hell he was going through and now he was paying for it so very dearly...

“My fault...” he whispered in a choked voice, still shaking as their faces -- so many faces, all so familiar! -- appeared before him, watching him with pitying eyes, as they whispered, as they blamed him... He shook so badly that he was beginning to wonder if he was having a panic attack. “My fault... all my fault...” It was beginning to dawn on him that he hardly deserved to live himself, for he was even more of a monster than Voldemort as he had let them all die... all his fault.

Warm arms encircled him and he felt himself being pressed against something warm and strong, felt someone talking to him softly, trying to calm him and hinder the steady flow of tears coursing down his face. “How could it be your fault, Potter?” a quiet voice murmured to him. “You couldn’t exactly be in every place at once, you couldn’t protect them all.”

He refused to believe him, even if he was surprised that Draco had correctly interpreted the cause for his breakdown. “Still my fault, still my fault,” he hissed, his fingers clenching skin so tightly he heard Malfoy wince and immediately lessened his grip. Just because he was suffering from pain inside and out didn’t mean he had to do the same to another... but wasn’t that what he was doing, by collapsing in his arms?

He tried to haul himself back together, then, even though he knew it was too soon.

But Draco wasn’t fooled as he’d thought he would be. Long fingers eased under his chin and made him look up to meet calculating grey eyes. “Cry,” came the blunt voice, “cry and let it out. You’ll be the better for it.”

No.” He knew Draco was surprised at the venom in his voice, but he didn’t understand. How could he; he hadn’t set himself up for so many years of fear and being hunted by unknowingly paralysing someone he hadn’t met until he was eleven. How could he possibly understand, then? It defied all matters of logic and he knew it. “I can’t... I’ve done enough to you already.”

“Harry!” He winced at the furious anger in Draco’s voice, yet he knew he deserved it. “Don’t you remember anything?! I caused you just as much pain! For once, think of yourself instead of everyone else!” What hurt most was the truth in his words.

Since he was eleven, he had always been concerned about keeping everyone one else safe, about keeping Voldemort at bay long enough until he figured out how to defeat him, and as the years passed and events started to spin out of control, he had known, deep inside, that he wouldn’t be able to keep everyone safe, that when war finally blew out of all proportion people would die and he wouldn’t be able to save them, no matter how hard he tried. And that frightened him more than he could possibly understand. He had been wary when his tiny thread of control had begun to unravel and be hauled away from him, but he had still been afraid, for he felt incredibly guilty for all the deaths that would happen, because of him... and he felt like his parents’ deaths and the deaths of everyone else who had died before he had been born would have been in vain if he wasn’t able to protect everyone. It hadn’t taken him long to realise, that, as far as guilt trips for himself were considered, he was able to make the biggest one of all. Nothing Snape had ever tossed at him could rival anything he managed to toss at himself. He’d heard that people were their own biggest critic and with himself that was true. Very true.

And he just couldn’t deal with it anymore. He just didn’t want to be responsible anymore, just wanted this enormous burden to be taken off his shoulders for one instant so he could be normal and free... but he would never be either of those things, not while Voldemort still lived. And he doubted that he would ever be normal, but even this was getting too much. It had always been worry, always be careful, always be vigilant, never be careless, always be one step ahead, always fight, never give up.

It had been all of this and more that had thrown him headfirst into a war that was too large for him and he couldn’t cope and stay sane at the same time. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that he was barely an adult and had been a child who had grown up far too quickly. His teenage years had been mainly trying to stay alive with the numerous attempts on his life. And as every day of war drew to a close, he had retreated further and further inside himself, locking his emotions behind a barrier that he kept impenetrable, not realising until it was too late that the barrier was tearing him apart inside and out and destroying him, had made him keep everyone close to him away at a safe distance.

For everyone close to him that he’d known and loved had ended up dead.

Everything had come tumbling down when Sirius had died, held in his arms as he grew cold, the last person of his family really gone. Everything had gone crazy, even more so than it had. Perhaps he’d taken his first step towards insanity then, when he’d tilted his face up to the pouring rain and screamed out his anguish, feeling his heart break... and then had turned his head to stare at the quivering Wormtail with raging eyes...

He buried his face in Draco’s chest and truly wept, crying for all those he had lost and the parts of himself that had gone with them. And Draco held him, rocked him, talked softly to him, because to a certain degree Draco understood. Not as well as he would have with firsthand experience, but deep-down, Draco had lost part of himself the day his father had disowned him. The only person he had told had been Harry.

The two had worked together during the war, had saved the other’s life so many times over, so many that they learned to trust each other without hesitation... and then they had been more than that. Then they had done something so stupid it had torn them apart and ensured years of bitterness, hidden feeling and pain.

Yes, his tears also reflected on what he had done to Draco and what Draco had done to him... and the parts of him that had been locked away because of him.

The tears flooded down his cheeks and he felt like his soul was pouring out with them. And he didn’t know how to stop or if he could. Harry felt himself being lost in a grey mist of anger, fear and pain, as the sobs became harder... and yet all the time those arms enveloped him in a steady warmth that he clung to like a lifeline, screaming silently, for he felt if he’d let go, then he’d lose himself.


* * *

He must have fallen asleep, although he didn’t remember it. When he opened his eyes and found his glasses, he saw that shadows had crept further into the room and the candles were dim and wavering. The room was quiet, so quiet, the only soft sound breaking into the thick silence was Draco’s low breathing. He lay in the bed, the covers pulled securely around him and the silence like a thick comforter, for it was hardly broken.

Draco lay beside him, but there was still distance between them, as he was right at the edge of the bed, the blankets pulled around him. His back was facing him and the candlelight danced along the pale skin, highlighting the curves and muscles and the controlled strength that belonged to that broad back. Silvery hair held a golden tinge to it that flickered when the candle flames spun and fluttered frantically.

Harry stared at the darkened ceiling above him for what seemed like an eternity. Seconds could have passed, or hours, for all he knew, as he tried to deal with the conflicting emotions bubbling inside him. Despite his breakdown earlier, they were still there, still raw and painful. A terrifying ache swelled inside him as he remembered his emotional collapse and what he had put Malfoy through. Guilt rushed through him... yet again he had caused pain to another by trying to let his own out.

He looked at the pale back again, before his eyes closed for a moment -- just a moment -- before opening again. He sighed, the sound seeming louder than it surely could have been and it seemed to echo in the warm room. His lips moved slowly, as if he needed to find the courage to say the words -- which was partially true. They practically flowed and curled from his lips: “I’m sorry Draco. So, so sorry.” It had been the first time that night he had said Draco’s first name out loud.

He’d thought he was asleep. So panic naturally roared inside his head when he saw movement tremble along that back, before Draco slowly turned to face him, grey eyes shining a fierce silver that made him think of memories and times he dearly wanted to forget. In a few short hours Draco had found all of his barriers gone and had seen the real person behind all the masks he had hid behind for all these years -- would that warn him enough to tread differently this time?

Apparently it did, for he did not say anything for a few seconds, instead simply staring at him and Harry was aware that he was staring back at Draco just as intently. Then he saw something flicker in those silvery depths and he knew that Draco had noted the use of his first name in voice. Then Draco spoke, breaking the heavy silence that had descended over them. “You have nothing to be sorry for. You had a right to do everything you did.” And recent events weren’t the only things implied in that sentence. Harry closed his eyes and winced.

They snapped open a moment later when a hand roughly grabbed his chin and tightened just enough for him to be surprised. He looked into stormy eyes that were filled with rage. “Don’t you ever listen, Harry?!” came the low hiss. “Stop with the guilt trip, just stop! You aren’t to blame for the entire world turning on itself and get that into your thick skull!”

Trembling emerald eyes met that statement and Draco waited with bated breath, waited to see if Harry still had the steel backbone he’d possessed when they had been in school, or if the war had finally shattered it to bare rubble, never to be rebuilt again. He was aware that the raven-haired man had fooled all of them for so long, had made them think that he was strong enough to deal with everything that had been tossed at him again and again and again. But he hadn’t been, he knew that now. Inside that husk of a calm, collected man, there had been an anguished boy screaming for help, but no one had heard because they hadn’t been listening hard enough.

And he was aware that he’d once fed that anguish and he hated it.

Then those shining forest eyes closed again and Harry sighed long and hard and Draco wanted to yell out in relief, for that sigh had said so much to him. He watched as Harry slumped forward and took several guttering breaths and he saw the relief that gradually spread over the thin face and saw the faint lines of worry and fear smoothen and fade. He watched as Harry finally, for the first time in years, let go of the guilt and pain that had plagued him for so long and the people that went with them. Not the memories, for he would always remember them, but the agony and guilt he had unknowingly associated with them for years.

Harry didn’t look so old and weary anymore.

He tensed as Harry hesitantly lifted his face up and met his eyes. Draco looked upon the man he had loved for so long, now free of the shadow of himself that he had become. And he wanted to be so close to him... wanted to break the few remaining barriers around him and finally be One with him. He knew it was in his eyes and knew that Harry could see it.

His breathing anything but steady, Harry slowly rose to his knees, leaned in and brushed his lips fearfully against Draco’s, as if afraid that he would be rejected. But he needn’t have worried, for rejection was the last thing on Draco’s mind.

With a joyous inward cry, Draco caught those lips and deepened the kiss, slowly pulling Harry closer to him, their lips pressing together gently and their tongues entwining. Harry responded quickly and eagerly, wrapping his arms around Draco’s neck, trying to get even closer than he already was. His fingers worked nimbly at the knotted leather that held the silvery-blonde hair back from his face and untied it, letting it spill around Draco’s shoulders in a silvery curtain. He hurriedly tangled his fingers in it.

Draco was hesitant to press Harry down on the bed again, wary of what had happened before. His uncertainty must have shown on his face, for Harry gave him an expression of intense frustration, before lowering himself back onto the bed, gently pulling Draco down on top of him. “No regrets,” he whispered, stroking a hand down Draco’s face. “No hesitations.”

And he didn’t have any.

He wasn’t sure how long the foreplay lasted -- it could have been hours for all he knew -- but he did know it left him utterly helpless and utterly dazed, as he kissed and touched Harry with a need he could hardly understand. He wanted him so badly... and Harry wanted him just as much, perhaps even more, craved for a familiar touch, even if it came from his hand. But that wasn’t a bad thing, considering what they had brought each other through before.

When he entered Harry, he nearly cried out softly, even though he hadn’t yet come. It felt so tight, so familiar... in some bizarre way it felt like home, if he could allow himself to become that sentimental. As he moved in and out of him and Harry’s gasps and moans filled his senses, while he writhed desperately underneath him, Draco knew that this was much more than just sex. This wasn’t just getting as good fuck, this was even more than making love... this was becoming One. As he moved and felt Harry clinging to him, his head tossed back as he tried to contain the steady orgasm that was slowly coming closer, Draco knew that he was feeling much the same way as he was. They were being slow and rhythmical for a reason. It had been deliberate.

For both of them, it felt like coming home.

He gasped, clutching Harry tighter as he felt the tautness deep inside him, a warning that the slowly-unfolding orgasm inside him was coming closer and closer. With a last, shuddering moan, he felt himself come, a flood of coursing feeling sweeping over him and enveloping him, setting his nerves alight and making sheer strength leave him, as if his bones had turned to jelly. He fought not to collapse onto the body below him as violent spasms jerked through it. Harry arched his back like a tightly-strung bow as he came, a scream spilling from his lips that rapidly formed into a word.


As the last piercing ripples of the orgasm ebbed and faded, Draco allowed himself to whisper softly, the sound curling and echoing around the moonlight. The sound was almost a hiss, one could say. “Harry...”

At last he was able to control himself enough so that he was able to slump onto the bed and not onto Harry, pulling the other man to him tightly and burrowing his face into his hair. “Harry...” he whispered again, breathing in the scent of his hair gratefully.

The other man sighed softly and nestled into him, curling himself around him. “Draco,” he replied, his voice just as soft. “Mmmm...” A moment’s pause, and then, “We need a bath.”

Draco couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Would you like to explain to the innkeeper on how we both need a bath at the same time?”

Another pause. “Good point. Then you can.”

“Very funny,” Draco growled at him. It was Harry’s turn to laugh this time.

“Let’s just sleep.” He uttered another sigh before pressing even closer to Draco, pulling the warm covers around them. Within moments Harry Potter was asleep.

But sleep did not come so easily to Draco Malfoy.

* * *

”You’re not doing it!”

”The last time I recalled, you were in no position to tell me what I could or could not do.” A cold voice. So very cold and angry.

”I’m not dictating you! I just don’t want to see you get hurt!” Why hadn’t he understood, why had his words seemed so difficult to understand?

A short, bitter laugh. “From where I’m standing, it certainly appears to be dictatorship.”

He hadn’t been able to reply at first, too shocked at what he had heard, shocked at the cold fury in that voice. “Harry...”

”No. Leave it.” He gave him one last scathing look, his face pale with anger, before he turned and stormed out of the room. It had been more than their argument referred to in his words. Their relationship was over.

He was only able to stare at the slammed door in shock, hardly able to believe what had just happened. Pain twisted in his chest, but he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore it. He couldn’t break down, he couldn’t, not now. He took in a deep, shuddering breath, before speaking, his hoarse whisper echoing around the cold room. “Harry...”

Draco came awake with a severe jerk, his eyes wide and his breath deep and harsh in his chest. He looked around frantically, fear coursing through him as he tried to separate memory and reality. Then his gaze fell on the sleeping man beside him and he relaxed fractionally. Harry was still here. He hadn’t left him... again. He winced as he closed his eyes, but the memory of the argument lingered in his mind.

That had been the first. It had, by no means, been their most furious argument -- far harsher ones had followed, but that had been the one that had sent them spiralling downwards to the relationship’s doom. He only had a vague idea of what had caused them to argue in the first place, but the cause had sent a wide chasm between them that had simply widened and lengthened as time passed.

He stared down again at the sleeping man curled against him and something that could have been sorrow flickered in his heart. In sleep Harry looked calm and peaceful, as composed as the mask he wore during the day. No grief or sorrow filled that pale face as it had only a few hours before. Had it really been only a few hours before? It seemed so much longer.

But the memory of the sex left him on edge. Now that he thought about it, perhaps sex hadn’t been the thing Harry had really needed, seeing the fragile state he had been. But he’d also known that Harry had desperately needed close contact -- and there had been no other close contact as effective as that. And he had been in no state for refusal.

As he continued to brood, Harry murmured softly in his sleep and crept closer to Draco, who automatically accommodated the movement. And what where they to do when morning came? He knew Harry would be leaving then; it was unwise to spend more than one night at any place, even in a neutral holding and he would have to remain one step ahead of the Death Eaters pursuing him. And Draco knew he would have no place in Harry’s frantic running. Neither of them seemed to know what they would do when morning came.

Harry moved again in his sleep and muttered something quietly. Draco, seeing this as something like a hint, sighed and slid back down beneath the covers, pulling them around them and curling beside Harry, slowly breathing in the scent of his hair. They’d see in the morning and no doubt arguments, sharp words and frustration would fill this room in a few hours time, but for the time being they were together and they had each other. And in the middle of a desperate, uncertain war, that was more than enough.

As Harry’s scent curled around him, Draco slowly closed his eyes and slid back into sleep.


Harry Potter