The following characters are the property and creation of J.K. Rowling; they are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. This story is set in Harry's seventh year, but only nonspecific spoilers for the series are involved. Nonexplicit references to male/male sexual activity are included, so if this bothers you, stop reading right away.

Thanks are due to my betas, Rheanna and Tehomet, as well as to Sabine, who requested this fic via Fan The Vote. Feedback would be greatly welcomed at yahtzee55555@yahoo.com.

**
MASKED
By Yahtzee
**

"What is it that you see in him?" Hermione said.

Harry didn't look up; he suspected Hermione was still bent over her books as well. It was easier to have this conversation without eye contact. "I don't know."

The silence of the library surrounded them for a few minutes. He breathed in the musty scent of the pages, stared down at the page of the Potions book he was studying. It showed the correct method for severing the wings of bats, for greater brewing strength. Careful attention had been paid to detail: sinew, tendon, the arteries that lead into the wing. Harry still preferred looking at the drawing to meeting Hermione's eyes.

"If you don't know," Hermione said at last, "why are you with Draco to begin with?"

"Because I want to be." He did not add, because I have to be. Because I couldn't do anything else. If Hermione really understood, Harry wasn't sure how she would react. Despite his uncertainty, he was glad that she wanted to understand. It meant that they were still friends.

Hermione hesitated, then closed her Charms book; it twinkled briefly before relocking itself with a series of metallic clicks. "Harry, I want to ask you one more thing. After this, I promise - I won't bring it up again. Not even if - well, I won't."

He recognized that tone of voice; it preceded her recitations in class, and her lectures about rule-breaking, and her latest mission statements for S.P.E.W. Focusing on the tiny claws at the end of the bat's wing, Harry said, "Go ahead, then."

"Are you certain you can trust him?"

Harry hadn't been expecting that.

Her words came quickly, tumbling one atop the other, high-pitched and uncharacteristically unsure. "Draco's family are still tied up with the Death Eaters, you know it wasn't just his father, don't you? And I don't mean to suggest that Draco is necessarily a traitor just because some of the Malfoys are, that would be unfair -- but the things he says - Harry, he could be one of them. And if he's one of them, and he's this close to you -"

"Hermione, stop." Harry wasn't angry. Only tired. "Draco won't betray my trust. He never could."

They were silent. He focused on a brass plate above the library door, one that had been mounted during the summer. In Memory of Neville Longbottom. His grandmother had refurbished the entire Herbology collection, in his honor. If the war went on much longer, Harry thought, Hogwarts would be filled with such plates, such gifts, the tribute of the dead.

Hermione finally whispered, "Do you - do you really love him, then?"

"I know him." Hermione didn't seem to think it was much of an answer. But Harry knew it was the only one he could ever give. It was the truth.

**

Harry had never imagined that Draco might think of him - that way - until the last Quidditch match of sixth year. The Gryffindors were still singing, "Weasley is our King" on the pitch, the beginning of what promised to be an all-night bash, but Harry was sweaty and tired. He'd ripped off his playing robes and his T-shirt, ready only for the showers.

When he jogged back into the equipment room, he'd known a few Slytherin players might still be back there, sulking. So he hadn't been surprised to see Draco shoving a resisting Bludger back into its box. But when Draco had glanced his way -

--his eyes had swept down Harry's body, past shoulders and chest, belly and thighs, only a glimpse, only a second, and yet unmistakable -

--Harry had felt it like a punch in the gut.

They stood there, staring at each other, breathing hard - from the exertion of the match, Harry had told himself, and for his part could believe. Draco's white-blond hair seemed to be the only light in the room. Neither of them said a word. Probably it hadn't been more than thirty seconds before he turned away from Draco, but those seconds played in his mind over, and over, and over.

During the summer, he had time to consider. To weigh the repercussions. To realize what people would say, what they would think. Sometimes Harry pushed the memory away. Sometimes he didn't.

Late at night, when he was alone in his room, he would reach down with one hand and try to think of Cho, or Fleur, or the pretty girl with curly hair who read the Muggle news in the morning. But even then - as he shuddered and sweated and ached for release - he couldn't help thinking: Draco wants this. He wants to touch me like this.

By the time seventh year began, Harry had known what he meant to do.

He had no opportunity until they'd been in school nearly a month, one evening after Potions, when Snape ordered them both to stay late scouring cauldrons. They worked in silence, backs to each other, until Snape finally left for dinner.

The heavy door swung shut, hinges creaking. As soon as he heard the thump, Harry glanced over his shoulder. Draco had already turned toward him, hands against the table's edge, as though he were bracing himself. Their eyes met, and for the first time Harry knew what his decision would mean - if he held true to it. If he dared to do what he'd imagined all summer long. The reality was a thousand times more dangerous than he'd dreamed, and they hadn't even touched.

Yet.

Two quick steps and Harry was with him, on him, mouth to mouth, body to body. His fingers were raw from scrubbing the iron-bellied cauldrons, tender and sensitive, making every touch torment. That night he lost his virginity in an empty study room, crying out in as much surprise as pleasure.

Afterward, Draco went back to the Slytherin tower, and Harry finished the cauldrons. The die was cast, and he had never questioned his choice that night.

**

"I used to think Hogsmeade could never get old," Ron said. He sounded a little too cheerful; he was trying too hard. "Who'd ever think Honeydukes could get boring?"

"After Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, everything seems boring." That got him a smile, a real one, and it was good to see. Since Ron had found out about Draco - Harry had never exactly told his friends about it, but he'd never tried to hide it, either - everything had been different between them. Of course, Harry had expected that and accepted it, but it didn't make it that much easier to endure.

Swarms of third-years jostled around them on their way out of the sweet shop, bags of sherbet lemons and Bernie Bott's clutched in their mittened hands. Through the shop window they could see the proprietor, his ever-present scowl as permanent a fixture as the cash register. "Always grumpy, that one." Ron shook his head. "What's that about, then? Being surrounded by sweets all day, making pots of money - seems like a good life to me."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe it's just Hogwarts weekends. He gets attacked by dozens of screaming kids who've eaten too much sugar."

Just then, a fourth-year with frizzy dark hair ran by, shrieking at the top of her lungs as two boys chased her with a Spontaneous Stinkbomber. Ron raised his eyebrows. "Never thought of it that way. For the people who live here, these weekends must be like the Ogrish Invasion of 932."

"Did you just remember something from History?" Harry only had to half-feign his astonishment.

Ron looked even more shocked than Harry felt. "Some of it must have sunk in. Don't know how."

"Hermione will be proud." His two best friends made a good couple, Harry thought. They seemed to be happy when they weren't fighting, and often even when they were. "She'll say it's because she's such a good influence."

"Tell her about this, and next practice I'll knock you off your broom." Ron's step hesitated, just briefly, but Harry knew what was coming. Tension knotted his shoulders, his back, his stomach. "Speaking of, uh, of romance -"

"I wouldn't call it romance." Sex on or against any available flat surface was something, Harry realized, but not romance.

Ron grimaced. "I'd rather call it that."

"Suit yourself."

"Hermione said she talked to you. About Draco." His friend's broad hands were crammed in the pockets of his robe, the fists visible even through the fabric. "Said you didn't want to hear it."

Harry fixed his eyes on the far horizon - soft shapes, the trees and homes, covered with frost against a gray sky. He wished for the textbook that showed the bat's wing, anything that would give him an excuse not to face Ron. "That's right. I don't."

Ron breathed out heavily, not quite sighing. After a brief silence, he said, "He could be lying to you. Setting you up for a fall. I know you don't like to think about it, but it's possible."

"Draco's not setting me up for a fall." Though sometimes, Harry thought, it felt like falling. Like plummeting through the dark, arms outstretched to catch the wind, the sensation almost indistinguishable from flying.

"Your dad never thought Peter Pettigrew was setting him up." Harry stopped short and stared at Ron. A blush made the freckles on Ron's cheeks all but invisible, but he kept talking. "They weren't - I mean - they were just friends, but they were good friends for years and years. Didn't matter. Wormtail betrayed him, killed him and your Mum and for all he knew, you too."

Some third years gamboled by, giggly with bottles of butterbeer in their hands. After they'd passed out of earshot, Harry said, "Draco isn't Wormtail. My father's life isn't my life."

"I know you - you like him, and all, but - Harry, you know what kind of person Draco is. He's the kind of person who could do that."

"Who could do what?"

"Lie to you. Even when you're together, even when he's telling you - I don't know what he tells you, but, but -" Ron's panic at trying to talk about romance and Draco in the same sentence might have been funny, in different circumstances. "-He could say all these great things to you, and be lying through his teeth. He could turn around and tell his friends everything you do, everything you say. Betray you in the worst way anybody could ever betray anyone. Draco's enough of a snake to do it, you know he is, you HAVE to know that -"

"SHUT UP!" The shout escaped Harry, against his will. Ron stepped back, but more as a matter of politeness; Harry could see that he wasn't surprised. He'd been expecting something like this. So had Harry, really, but it hadn't made any difference.

They were quiet together for a while, staring down at the frost-crusted ground. Harry wished he could explain, but knew he never could.

Finally, Ron said, "You know it's not because - not because Draco's a guy, right?"

Harry blinked. "Yeah. I know."

"Because I don't care about that."

Privately, Harry thought Ron might have cared quite a lot about that, at least at first, if his horror of Draco hadn't outweighed everything else. Probably Ron would now give his blessing to any other guy in the world Harry wanted to be with, as long as it wasn't Draco.

Of course, that wasn't going to happen.

**

Draco had a room of his own.

He got permission for it this year; the Malfoy coffers had opened up for the Board of Regents, and the right donation cleared the way. Sometimes Harry wondered what that meeting with Dumbledore was like. Other times he was just glad they had the broad, soft bed, the roaring fireplace, the four thick walls that closed them in from the rest of the world.

Reaching that room meant going through the Slytherin common room. It wasn't forbidden for students to visit the towers of other Houses, but he'd never gone into Slytherin before this year, at least not clothed in his own skin. The Slytherins stared at him, disdainful and amused, but their respect for or fear of Draco kept them quiet. Walking through there, with everyone knowing what he's there for, was embarrassing, but Harry found it preferable to Draco's one and only visit to the Gryffindor common room. Nobody there feared Harry, and the snide comments were not in short supply. That alone, Harry might have borne, but far worse was the way that some of them - Hermione, Ginny, Colin Creevey - had tried to be nice to Draco for Harry's sake. Draco hadn't responded in kind.

But once he got to Draco's room - he could stop thinking about that. He could think about what was more important.

Draco's hands were slim and smooth. Sometimes Harry just liked to close his eyes and think about nothing but those hands. Then Draco would kiss him, and it would be his mouth Harry thought about. Their kisses seemed to swallow up the whole world.

Was it still just the same battle between them? The same struggle for domination or control or vindication? Harry wondered that often enough when he had Draco's silky hair entwined in his fingers, or when their hipbones collided, sharp edges of bone pressing through the flat muscles of their bodies.

When Draco spoke to him - they didn't do all that much talking, most nights - it sounded as though nothing had ever changed. "What's the matter, Potter?" he would pant in Harry's ear. "Can't last any longer?" The taunts might have been about Quidditch, about a wizard's duel, any of the countless battlegrounds they'd chosen for each other over the years.

But in the end, every night they were together, Harry triumphed. When they were covered in sweat, bodies entangled, excited already beyond the point of frustration, Draco would be the one to give in. He rolled over on his stomach, a simple and wordless surrender that set them both free.

In one of Aunt Petunia's romance novels, a younger and curious Harry had once read that the submissive partner was always the dominant one, really. Sometimes he thought about that as he gasped out the last of his passion and sank down, his forehead against Draco's back.

**

Ginny sat up with him by the fire one night in early spring, talking with him about anything and everything in the world as they played chess. Really, Harry thought, she was just letting him talk - coaxing him out of the shell he'd created the past few months with clever questions and a sympathetic ear. He tried very hard not to think about how familiar that pattern had become. But he knew that if the pattern held, trivial questions would soon give away to important ones - as soon as the others were all gone, and they were alone.

After midnight, Seamus and Lavender parted at the door to the girls' rooms with a few last, lingering kisses. Ginny raised her eyebrows, but Harry didn't smirk. He had little enough reason to mock anyone's love life at this point.

"Poor Neville," Ginny said as soon as Seamus had gone. Harry frowned at her; there were many reasons to say that, but he was at a loss as to why Neville was more to be pitied at this moment than at any other since his death almost a year before. Seeing his confusion, Ginny added, "He had a bit of a thing for Lavender, you know."

"No. I didn't know that."

If Neville had lived, would he have made a move? No, Harry thought. He would still be watching Lavender across the room, lovestruck and lonely. Every once in a while, he thought about all the days Neville wasn't going to have, all the things Neville was too frightened to do, the life his friend would never lead. Those memories strengthened his resolution about Draco, his conviction that he'd done the right thing by acknowledging that fleeting revelation of desire in the Quidditch room. No more time wasted. No more opportunities lost.

They'd reached the point in the dance when Ginny would ask the hard questions, dig in for deeper answers. Harry was ready for that. He was not prepared for her to simply withdraw a small blue phial from her robes and set it on the chessboard between them. "Vassuage elixir," she said. "It detects betrayal between, well, people who are close. The fluid starts to glow, and remains that way for hours."

Harry stared at the small phial. "You need a piece of one of the partners' bodies for Vassuage," he said. He'd read about it in one of Hermione's advanced Potions books, which she'd pressed on him in preparation for their O.W.L.s. "It's like Polyjuice."

"Hermione brewed it up," Ginny said, brushing her red hair away from her cheeks. Her skin was flushed slightly pink from the heat of the nearby fire. "Ron pulled some hair from your comb."

"I don't need this," Harry said. "But - I understand why you all did it."

"Really and truly?"

He took her hand in his, just for a moment. "Really and truly."

"Will you take it with you, then? Not that you need it. Not for yourself." Ginny leaned forward, and her robes brushed against the white figures of her chessmen. "For your friends, because we care about you. To make us feel better. Will you, please?"

"I'll take it." Harry palmed the phial as he gestured to his queen, which was menacing her bishop with rude gestures. "Better do something about that, don't you think?"

After that, they played the game with true concentration and enjoyment. Ginny went up to bed around 2 a.m., and as her light footsteps faded on the stairs, Harry remembered the crush she'd had on him long ago, how different everything might have been.

Then he took out the Vassuage elixir and stared at the swirl of blue for a few seconds. One quick pitch and it shattered in the fireplace, turning the flames an electric green for a few seconds before it evaporated and was gone forever.

**

The last Hogsmeade weekend of the year emptied the school of all but its youngest students - and those who had better things to do than buy candy.

Draco stretched beside him in the bed, lazy and spent. "You're not going to be an Auror. You wouldn't do anything so ridiculous."

"It's not ridiculous." Harry didn't let Draco bait him. They couldn't have spent time together any other way. "Though I don't know if they'll take me in the training program."

"Oh, they'll take you." Draco rolled onto his back so that they were side-by-side. His foot brushed against Harry's calf. The day's heat was already oppressive, and even the thin sheet that had covered them had been kicked to the floor long since. "The great and powerful Harry Potter? Nothing Dumbledore's bootlickers would like so much as to make you their boy wonder."

"It turned out I wasn't so great and powerful after all," Harry reminded him. "It was Neville all along."

"Turned out Neville wasn't so great and powerful either." Adrenalin surged inside Harry, and he bit down on his tongue to keep his silence. "The boy from the prophecy could've killed Voldemort, but he didn't, did he? The prophecy turned out the other way round."

Deep breaths, Harry reminded himself. "Still. Neville was the one in the prophecy. Not me."

"Tell it to the readers of Witch Weekly. They still take on over you. Ridiculous, really." Draco sat up, then shook his head fast enough to ruffle his hair. "It's too bloody hot to live. Stupid house-elves. I'm going to make them fetch us something cold to drink."

"Good idea." Harry watched Draco go, the long lines of his slim, muscled frame. Then he sat up, wondering how Draco would react if he said he wanted to borrow a robe. Wearing anything in such heat seemed unimaginable, but sometimes concealment felt like a good idea.

The wardrobe would hold dressy clothing, furs and silks, all of it appropriate for Ministry functions and none of it interesting to Harry. He opened a few boxes - heavy oak, with iron padlocks Draco hadn't bothered to use - and found only junk: spellbooks and broomstick-maintenance kits. After a moment's hesitation, he knelt by the bed and pulled out a battered brass case he found there. No spell was needed to pry off the lid.

"Lemonade. Can you believe that's all they've got? Pumpkin juice would -" Draco's voice trailed into silence. Harry did not turn to face him, just looked down at the brass case's contents.

The black robe, the green mask: They might as well have been in the center of a spotlight. Death Eater's garb.

Harry heard a soft clanking that was undoubtedly Draco putting the tray down. Then he felt hands on his shoulders turning him around. As Harry stood, heir eyes met. "What were you doing?" Draco asked.

Just like Draco, to begin with a demand. "I wanted a robe."

"It's nothing. You know that, right?" Draco was already relaxing, settling into some semblance of calm. "Pranks on Muggles who've got it coming."

How much could he possibly accept? Harry didn't have much time to answer that question. "Death Eaters serve Voldemort," he said. "Some of them tortured me." He didn't add that Draco's father had been among those; either Draco already knew that or he never needed to.

"That's not what it's about! Not for me, anyway." Draco hesitated, then stepped closer, putting his hands on Harry's shoulders. It was a gentle gesture, lover-like, in a way very few things were between them. Harry tried not to reveal his surprise. "Maybe I hear them talking sometimes. But none of that concerns me - or you. Neville was the one they were after, and they got him, and you're safe. Got that, Potter? Safe as houses."

"Are you protecting me?" How good that would be, to believe in a protector.

Draco smirked. "No need. I'm enjoying you, that's all." But his voice was a little quieter as he added, "Don't get any other ideas."

"Never," Harry said, in a way that made it a lie. When they kissed the next time, it was different than it had ever been before - deeper, softer, more true.

As they fell back into bed, Harry turned away, so he wouldn't have to see the mask grinning at him from within the case. Betrayal took so many forms, visible and invisible, always in shades of gray.

**

The portraits in Dumbledore's office pretended to be reading or doing a bit of mending, but Harry wasn't fooled. They were listening raptly, as well they might; he figured his conversation made an interesting change from second-years confessing to cheating on their homework.

"You're quite sure, Harry?" Dumbledore twirled a quill between his fingers.

"I can't yet be positive. But I think Draco's involvement in the Death Eaters is exactly what he told me, and no more." Harry slumped back in the soft chair. "But he hears the Death Eaters talk, and that's just as good. Better, maybe."

Dumbledore's eyes were sad behind his half-moon spectacles. "When you suggested this charade to me months ago, you thought there might be far more to Draco's involvement. I would never have aided you in this if I hadn't agreed."

Harry often wished he'd been able to hear Dumbledore's conversation with the school regents about Draco's private room. Had the old man really been able to sound surprised? "We've learned a lot about the Malfoys this year. We know that they're still convinced Neville was the boy from the prophecy. It's enough, isn't it?"

"Perhaps, for the purposes of the Order." Dumbledore considered Harry carefully. "But the consequences for you, Harry - for you as a person -"

Ron's voice rang in his memory: He could turn around and tell his friends everything you do, everything you say. Betray you in the worst way anybody could ever betray anyone.

"We're fighting a war," Harry said. "After Voldemort's dead, then we can worry about - stuff like that."

"Honor, and friendship, and love." For a moment Dumbledore bowed his head. "After the war."

For no reason he could name, Harry found himself thinking once more about the method to cut away a bat's wing, how to know what to save for use and what to cast aside. The living creature the bat had been was forgotten, because it had to be. You couldn't brew potions any other way.

**

THE END

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