Consciousness was approaching fast. With it came the knowledge that he had been awoken by forces external and not because his body had wanted to wake. The reason for his waking was made painfully apparent when the figure sleeping next to him thrashed out and kicked at his legs.
Draco bolted upright and reached out to the sleeping form next to him - Harry was drenched in sweat, it was running in rivulets across his face, the tears undistinguishable, and his hair was plastered to his forehead. He was entangled in the sheets, desperately trying to free himself, but to no avail. His thrashing movements just served to further trap him in the soft white cotton.
"Harry!" Draco's voice was loud and firm, and not a little bit anxious, as he tried to free the sheets and banish the horror.
Harry screamed, a painful, soulless yell; and more tears welled in his eyes and ran free. His body arched off the bed and he thrashed and twisted frantically.
"Harry!" Draco called again, taking Harry firmly by the shoulders and shaking him awake.
And suddenly he was looking into startling green eyes - eyes that spoke of horror and pain and unspeakable sadness.
"Harry," Draco's voice was soft now; soothing. He kept pulling at the sheets, freeing Harry from his prison.
Harry's eyes widened when he saw Draco's face and he let out a shocked gasp. "Oh God," he voice barely above a whisper. And then, arms freed, he grabbed Draco and pulled him close, clinging fiercely to him as if he were a lifeline. And perhaps he was.
"Oh God, oh God." The words were a litany muttered against the mussed blond hair. "Oh God."
Draco returned the crushing embrace. "Ssssh." There was nothing else to say. He did not know what Harry had seen while he slept. He could guess at a number of things - but as to which particular horror Harry had bore witness to this time, he could not know. "Ssssh. It's okay."
Harry was still shaking.
Reaching up with one hand, Draco touched Harry's face - his thumb smoothing over Harry's cheek, wiping away the tears. His fingers slid into the sweat-soaked hair behind his ear.
"I love you," he whispered against Harry's ear.
Draco didn't think that Harry's hold on him could get any tighter.
"You died." His voice cracked as he spoke. "And I couldn't save you." He paused and swallowed, and then continued slowly; his voice dry. "They chained me up against a wall, my wrists were bound to the wall and my feet were bound together. I tried to pull against them but they got tighter and tighter. And I tried to use magic to release them, but I was powerless."
Tears continued to slide down his cheek, continued to be slowly swept away.
"I'd been in there for what felt like forever, and suddenly they dragged you in. They dragged you because you couldn't walk; your leg was broken, the bone cut right through the skin and they just dropped you. Let you fall to the ground. And your eyes were black, your nose was bleeding and your lips were cut. You had scars on your face - big, bleeding gashes - and there was a gaping wound in your side, your shirt was soaked in blood and had been ripped there."
He shuddered at the thought and took a deep breath before continuing.
"They started to kick you and they kicked you so hard that they broke your ribs. I think they must have punctured a lung because it suddenly looked like you couldn't breathe. They stepped back and I thought that they were going to stop. But they didn't.
"One of the pulled out his wand and pointed it at you and muttered the Cruciatus. You doubled up in pain and screamed out. I kept trying to get loose and get to you but I couldn't get loose. And they kept torturing you. Each one in turn. Sometimes it was relentless, one after the other, and sometimes they would wait, and wait, and wait before they did it again. And they always did it again. And I couldn't get free. I kept hoping that they would leave you be. Or just kill you and stop the pain. Anything to stop the torture.
"And then one of them muttered the word again and nothing happened. You didn't move. There were no muscle spasms or cries of agony. And I was so relieved that you were out of pain. But then they tried Revivicus. And it worked. And they started all over again."
He let out a pained sob. "I couldn't stop it."
Draco pulled back to look into the pained green eyes. Their gazes locked, Draco trying to put every little bit of his love for Harry into his eyes, hoping that if he tried hard enough he could drive away the terror he saw reflected back at him.
He leaned down and pressed his lips against Harry's. "I'm fine."
The words seemed so hollow. So small and so inadequate, but it was all he could say.
"I'm fine. I'm here, and I'm fine," he repeated. "I love you."
"Love you, too."
Harry began to wriggle and free his legs from the tangle of sheets and his hold on Draco loosened. Draco rolled onto his back, pulling Harry with him.
They lay in silence - Harry nestled into Draco's side, Draco absently stroking Harry's hair.
Draco had been somewhat surprised to learn that Harry rarely had nightmares. He had thought that, given all that Harry had been through, all that he had seen and done and survived, that nightmares would have been frequent. But they were not.
They were a rarity - in the three years that they had been together, Harry had had few enough nightmares that Draco could still count them all on his fingers. But when Harry had a nightmare, it was a real humdinger. Awful didn't begin to describe them. Draco hated them. He felt powerless in the wake of such distress. He wished that he could take it all away, all the hurt, the memories and let Harry sleep untroubled. But he could not. He doubted that he would sleep any more tonight. He would keep a silent vigil over Harry while he slept - if he slept - in hopes that somehow that would keep any more nightmares at bay.
Harry reached out for Draco's free hand and pressed their palms together. He could feel the cool metal of the silver ring that encircled Draco's ring finger against his hand. He shifted his fingers slightly to the left and let them fall between Draco's so that their fingers were laced together.
Finally he spoke. "Thank you."
Draco squeezed his hand. "For what?" he asked lightly.
"For being here."
Draco dropped a small kiss on his forehead, just missing the jagged scar. "I'll always be here. You can't get rid of me that easily, I'm afraid. I'm here to stay."
"Good." Harry snuggled down.
Draco's hand began to make its way down Harry's neck and then down his spine. The touch was light and Harry suspected that Draco wasn't entirely aware of what he was doing at all.
He felt his eyes falling closed and he forced them open again. He didn't want to sleep again. He didn't want to return to where he had been.
His eyes fluttered closed again. And again he forced himself to open them and not to succumb to sleep.
But he was fighting a losing battle. And he slipped into unconsciousness.
When Harry woke, he was still nestled against Draco's side. Draco's hand had stilled and now rested flat against his back. Their clasped hands were now pulled close against Harry's sternum.
Thin slivers of sunlight peeked through the curtains heralding the morning, and it was only then that Harry realised that he had slept again.
He could not remember what he had dreamed of, or even if he had dreamed of anything at all. His apparent lack of movement and a feeling of... not quite peace, but as close as he could hope to get given the circumstances, led him to believe that he had slept untroubled.
He tilted his head up to see Draco's grey eyes staring back at him. There was a soft smile on the other man's face. "Good morning."
"Morning," his voice was rough with sleep. He yawned. "What time is it?"
Draco didn't reply. Instead he bent down and captured Harry's mouth with his own. A second, somewhat more intimate, good morning.
Harry found that he didn't much care about the time.
"It's just gone half eight," Draco said, pulling back.
Harry grimaced and buried his head against Draco's chest. "I have to meet Hermione at nine. She wants to make an early start." The words were muffled but his tone clearly expressed his opinion of the early meeting. He looked up again. "Do you think she'd mind if I was late?" he asked with studied innocence.
Draco chuckled. "I think she might just."
Harry heaved a heavy sigh and stayed put.
Draco pulled his hand free of Harry's grip and prodded his side. "You'll be late."
"I suppose I should get up."
"Yes." The sound was drawn out, the tone amused.
Harry hit Draco's chest but there was no force behind it. He kissed the area he had hit and then he pushed himself up so that he was sitting.
He yawned again as he made his way off the bed and through to the bathroom. The door was half-way closed when suddenly he yanked it open again and stuck his head around the door.
"Want to share?" he asked with a suggestive smile.
"I'd love to." A wicked grin spread across his features momentarily before fading away. "But I don't think that's a very good idea," he said reluctantly.
Harry pouted. "I'm sure Hermione wouldn't mind if I was a little bit late," he tried.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Wouldn't she?" Eyebrows raised, he simply stared at Harry.
"I suppose you're right."
"Of course I am," Harry heard as he closed the door.
Harry stripped off his pyjama bottoms and stepped into the shower, the hot spray helping to wake him. He simply stood for a moment, simply letting the water wash over him. Images from his nightmare flitted through his mind and he screwed his eyes tight shut.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his mind, he reached for his shower gel.
He showered quickly and dried himself off and wrapped his towel around his waist. He brushed his teeth and then exited the bathroom.
"What time will you be ho...." he trailed off. Draco was fast asleep. He lay on his stomach, sprawled across the bed.
An affectionate smile slid easily across Harry's features. Draco undoubtedly had not slept since Harry had woken him in the small hours of the morning. A wave of tenderness swept over him. That someone would do that for him... it amazed him. He couldn't believe how truly lucky he was.
Draco was meeting his mother for lunch, but, as far as he knew, his morning was free. Harry crossed to the bedside table and picked up his wand. He touched it to the alarm clock, which suddenly, briefly, flashed 12.00 in bright blue figures before reverting to the glowing red 08.47.
Harry began to dress, taking his eyes off Draco only when absolutely necessary. He raked a comb through his hair in a vain attempt to tame the unruly mess.
After a brief hunt for his shoes, which he always managed to misplace, he sat down on the edge of the bed to tug on his socks and shoes.
He looked over at Draco again. He leaned over and pressed a kiss against his forehead and then rose. With once last glance at Draco when he reached the door, he left.