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Hero of the wizarding world Harry Potter wins Most Eligible Bachelor for SECOND year running as he prepares for public unveiling of twenty-foot high SOLID GOLD statue in his honour

He’s the handsome young wizard who saved the world just two years ago and stole our hearts in the process. And now Harry, 19, is set to take a starring role in this year’s anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts – beautifully rebranded as the First International Harry Potter Day – by unveiling an enormous gold statue in his honour.

Harry, sole heir to the Potter fortune, was his characteristically modest self when quizzed by Witch Weekly’s top celebrity reporter, jesting that the statue was ‘unnecessary’. The thousands of witches who voted for him to keep his Most Eligible Bachelor crown will undoubtedly disagree.

Harry has been single since splitting from rising Quidditch star Ginny Weasley, and we can exclusively reveal that the green-eyed Auror has no plans to settle down right now. Asked if he was looking for love, Harry replied: ‘No.’ But we know the right girl’s out there for him, and if you think you’re the one to win our hero’s heart, we’re informed that he’ll be mingling with the guests at the Ministry’s star-studded Harry Potter Day party tonight. ‘It’s my job,’ he quipped. And no one could fill out the Auror uniform better in this humble reporter’s opinion. We’d go so far as to say that the sight of Harry in his form-fitting robes would almost make it worth getting arrested! Bring on the interrogation, Auror Potter, sir . . .

“Leave me alone!” Harry said into his pillow, trying not to eat cotton. It was annoyingly hard to simultaneously sulk and breathe. “I’ve decided to never leave the house again, and nothing you can say or do will convince me otherwise.”

“I think the green-eyed Auror needs a pep talk,” Ron said in tones of great hilarity from the other side of Harry’s bedroom door.

“You’re just jealous that no one would ever visit Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes hoping to catch a sight of you in your form-fitting robes, Ron,” Hermione replied. “No one in their right mind, anyway,” she added thoughtfully, and then started giggling, her laughter soon accompanied by the sounds of an epic struggle.

Harry tried to nod fervently in agreement, but he had to add this to his list of things that were difficult to do whilst face-down in your pillow.

“Come on, Harry,” Hermione – the clear victor – said when the battle was finally over. Her coaxing tone had an odd, hollow quality, as if she’d bent down to speak through the keyhole. “A handsome young heart-stealing wizard like you shouldn’t—”

Harry leapt out of bed in one bound, and fell to the carpet in one equally smooth move, his legs tangled in his robe without hope of extraction. So much for sympathy! He didn’t know what Rita Skeeter was playing at, he really didn’t. There was no chance in hell she actually fancied him, but ever since he’d won the sodding Most Eligible Bachelor award for the first time, she’d been working herself up to ever-increasing displays of adoration in the media. Yesterday’s article, all eight horrendous pages of it, had been the worst one yet. “I hate you both,” he told the carpet firmly.

The doorknob rattled, and Harry managed to heave himself to his feet, batting at the front of his robes to knock off the dust. Was that a good excuse to stay at home today? Essential housework? The epic battle between man and dust?

“Come on, Harry—” Hermione repeated, a touch of irritation now in her voice.

“Harry, nineteen,” Ron interrupted, with great hilarity.

“—we’re going to be late if you carry on messing about like this. You can’t be late to your own ceremony!”

“I can,” Harry muttered, but he strode over to the door and cast a quick unlocking charm.

Hermione nearly fell into the room, tottering on shoes that made her strangely taller than usual, and Ron grabbed her to keep her upright. He was still grinning, the sod. He’d been grinning, Harry suspected, ever since he’d read that wretched article. And he hadn’t just read it; he’d apparently duplicated the sodding thing and popped into the Ministry before work to hand-deliver a copy to every single Auror Harry worked with. To make sure – Harry supposed – they all properly took the piss out of him. Harry had tolerated it as best he could – it wasn’t like this sort of thing was new to him – but when he returned to the office in the late afternoon after a painful meeting with Kingsley about the new monstrosity of a statue, it was to find a six-foot image of his face on the wall and the other Aurors kneeling down in front of it and throwing rose petals. A man had his limits, and apparently rose petals were his.

“Been wrestling with your bedroom carpet?” Hermione said, tone judgemental as she looked him up and down.

Harry drew himself up to his full height. “No,” he said with great dignity, attempting to surreptitiously reach down and flick off a bit of carpet fluff he’d missed. “At least I can walk in my shoes without falling over!” he said, and then felt himself flush as Hermione raised her eyebrows. It was true that he hadn’t entirely intended to commune with his carpet just now. “You, er, look very beautiful,” he quickly amended as Hermione waved her wand at him, casting a quick cleaning spell that had his skin feeling fresh and tingly and his robes fluff-free.

Ron slung an arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “Doesn’t she just!” he said cheerfully, and gave her a smacker of a kiss on her cheek.

Hermione rolled her eyes, but her cheeks went pink. “Ready to go?” she asked Harry.

Harry folded his arms, aware that this wasn’t the most dignified he’d ever been. “No!” he said.

“Mate, it was just a joke,” Ron said. “Don’t be a tosser. Aren’t you dying to see the statue?” he quickly added when Harry opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t a tosser, he was just extremely hard done by and deserved a bit more sympathy.

Was Harry dying to see the statue? The twenty-foot solid gold statue of him? That would, from now on, greet him every time he went into the Atrium of the Ministry? The Ministry where he worked?

“It could be worse,” Hermione said unsympathetically. “It could have been a hundred feet. This one’s relatively modest, considering.”

“Hah!” Harry said, lost for real words.

“And skulking about here isn’t going to Incendio it,” Hermione added firmly. “It’s just going to let down all the Ministry staff who’ve worked incredibly hard to organise today’s events and make sure everything goes smoothly. Not everything’s about you, Harry.”

“Just most things,” Ron added lightly. “And you know . . . if you weren’t single, there wouldn’t be such a fuss every time you deigned to leave the house,” he continued, his voice taking on a pointed tone.

Harry tried not to a pull a face, but failed.

“I’m just saying!” Ron said. “If you hadn’t dumped—”

“Ron—” Hermione interrupted.

“I didn’t dump Ginny,” Harry protested simultaneously. “You know I didn’t. We agreed it wasn’t working, and we moved on.”

She moved on,” Ron said. “Back to Dean Thomas! I like Dean, sure, but when I pictured my brother-in-law, I always pictured . . .” He trailed off. “Not Dean Thomas,” he muttered. “Are you sure you don’t want to give it another go with her?” he asked. He raised a hand to his mouth and started chewing on a fingernail.

“Ron, that’s not fair,” Hermione said.

No, it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that when the war was over, and the funerals had all taken place, that Harry had looked at Ginny and found only a woman he wanted to love, nothing more. She was a good, kind, courageous person, and he’d wanted so desperately to feel the passion for her that he’d once felt, but he couldn’t. So he’d told her so, and hoped he hadn’t broken her heart. And for a hundred, thousand reasons he really didn’t want to go into – not now, not ever – he hadn’t dated anyone else since.

“Ron, I—”

Ron heaved an enormous sigh. “Sorry, Harry, I’m being a wankbadger,” he said, and stepped forward to give him a brief, backslapping hug. “It’s your business who you date. You’ll always be one of the family to me, regardless. I just . . .” He shook his head. “I can’t say that the second of May is ever going to be my favourite date, yeah? Let’s go to the Ministry’s shitty party, and I can mock you and your terrible statue, and we can get really, really drunk and get this arse of a day over with. OK?”

Hermione reached forward to give Harry’s arm a squeeze, before wrapping her hands around Ron’s arm and pushing comfortingly into his side. Harry didn’t often feel lonely, but he did, sometimes, when he saw his best friends together like this. Still, Ron had a point. Today wasn’t all about him, even if some bright spark had decided that it was more cheerful to celebrate the living than to mourn the war dead. Harry Potter Day was about Harry Potter the suave, international – and entirely imaginary – green-eyed hero of Rita Skeeter’s ridiculous article, not the real-life Harry who’d just fallen over his own feet and ended up covered in fluff. No one was interested in him.

“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’ll—”

Before he could even finish his sentence, Hermione was simultaneously pushing a pot of Floo powder towards him and guiding him towards his bedroom fireplace. Harry had a brief moment of regret that he’d renewed his Floo Network license for the year as he stepped in – and a further brief moment when he wondered how much trouble he’d be in if he said, for example, The Leaky Cauldron, rather than The Ministry – before he sprinkled the Floo powder, stepped into the roaring green flames and the magic whisked him away.

^^^^^^

As Harry laid eyes for the first time on the statue in his honour – a thousand golden filigree butterflies fluttering their enchanted clockwork wings as they lifted the red velvet sheet that had been covering it up, up and away – his first thought was that it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. His second thought was that that was because it was so much worse. Beside him, he could feel the enormous vibrations of Ronald Weasley trying not to laugh, and he attempted to fix his already fixed grin into a suitable expression of delight.

“Oh, mate,” Ron whispered beside him in a hoarse cackle, almost losing control. “Mate!”

“It’s . . . It’s . . .” Hermione said with determined, false brightness. “It’s.”

Well, that said it all, didn’t it? Even Hermione, who had always managed without effort to find Dumbledore’s welcome speeches inspiring, and who enjoyed formal occasions far more than was healthy, in Harry’s opinion, couldn’t find anything positive to say about this.

“Do I really look like that?” Harry forced out through gritted teeth. It was hard work maintaining the smile. He didn’t think he’d get many compliments on it in the next day’s papers, no matter how keen the reporters were to flatter him at all times.

“Harry, no,” Hermione said, in such tones of horror that he was immediately filled with sweet relief, even as the level of indignation rose within him. He didn’t think he looked like that, but it was good to get external confirmation. The statue was so . . . And its expression was so . . .

Ron, struggling with forces against which one man was no match, collapsed into laughter so ferocious that tears sprang out of his eyes.

“It’s not that bad,” Harry said, leaping instinctively to the defence of his face, even if the statue did faintly suggest that he was the unfortunate offspring of a gorilla, Gilderoy Lockhart and . . . “Who’s that famous bloke with the big nose?” he whispered doubtfully.

“It is that bad,” Ron said as Hermione wrinkled her forehead and said, thoughtfully, “Pinocchio? Cyrano de Bergerac?”

“Gosh, Harry, I never noticed what a large and magnificent nose you have,” Luna said, seeming to pop out of nowhere and give Harry a heart attack. “Now the artist has pointed it out, I can see it more clearly,” she added serenely.

These were not the words of comfort Harry had hoped for. “My nose isn’t that big!” he protested.

“No, not physically,” Luna agreed. “But in contrast to Voldemort, your spiritual nose is full and glorious. I feel the artist has merely given form to this metaphysical richness. Don’t you?”

“Er,” said Harry.

“I’m going to go and see if I can take a closer look,” Luna said, raising her elbows in a combative stance and splaying out her aubergine-embroidered dress robes as she did so. Her shoes, Harry couldn’t help but notice, were a rounded, shiny purple and had a curious auberginey texture to them, as if she'd simply taken two of the vegetables and hollowed them out. “Wish me luck!”

“Good luck?” Harry said, and Ron and Hermione echoed his words as she vanished into the crowd in the direction of the statue, a chorus of owwws accompanying her passage. Harry couldn’t help but notice that she was pretty much the only person moving in that direction; the rest of the room, which seemed to consist of everyone in the wizarding world ever, was turned in his direction and inching dangerously closer.

Ron hadn’t stopped laughing yet, but his hysterics had quietened down into more sporadic snorts. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Your spiritual form goes to the gym a bit more regularly than you do,” he said, with deep unkindness, Harry thought.

It was enough to set Hermione off though, and she dissolved into giggles.

“You’ll wish my shoulders really were that broad when we’re crushed to death by witches in their best robes,” Harry said gloomily, which seemed to help Hermione pull herself together again, at least. The Atrium was full to bursting, and Harry didn’t have to look hard to spot half a dozen – female – reporters in the front of the crowd, their Quick-Quotes Quills moving as rapidly as the women’s lips. There would be more shit in the papers tomorrow, he just knew it.

A rush of irritation overwhelmed Harry. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? That was all he wanted: to be left alone to get on with his job. All this . . . fuss about his love life just left him feeling anxious and mixed-up, and the more he tried to visualise the type of person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, the less certain he felt that he could ever be a good enough partner for anyone. He was rubbish at feelings. Hopeless at flirting. And . . . he hadn’t fancied anyone in ages, in any case, Harry told himself firmly, even though he knew that wasn’t true. He hadn’t fancied a woman in ages. And anything else was a bit, well, weird, wasn’t it? Best kept in the privacy of his own brain, at any rate, and preferably until he either found a woman he wanted to date or the end of time arrived, whichever came first. Anyway, Harry thought, trying to pull himself together, there was nothing wrong with being single. And single he should remain, he thought wryly, the statue catching his eye again, if he had a nose like that. It would practically be child abuse to pass on that gene to the next generation.

“Can I go home now?” Harry found himself saying, turning to Hermione and fixing her with a look of mute appeal.

“No,” Hermione said firmly – and heartlessly. “You haven’t given your speech yet. And you haven’t mingled with the guests. Not everyone here wants to get in your knickers, you know.”

“Just most of them,” Ron murmured helpfully.

“I’m wearing boxers! Manly, heroic boxers!” Harry protested, a tiny bit too loudly. Half a dozen pairs of reporting eyeballs swivelled in his direction, lit by the triumph of a hot scoop. “That’s your fault, Ron,” he hissed as Ron’s face went red with mirth again.

“I always hoped that one day you’d graduate from grotty white Y-fronts to a proper man pant,” Ron gurgled, slapping Harry on the shoulder. “You’ve done me proud. You’ve done us all proud.”

The reporters were now all wearing expressions of orgasmic joy.

“Merlin, how can we shut him up?” Harry hissed at Hermione. “I blame you for him!”

“I am never to blame for Ron,” Hermione said sternly, but she was grinning, the swine. “But best lead him to the buffet, I reckon.” She wrinkled her nose. “Faced with any buffet, Ron always stuffs his face with sandwiches as if he hasn’t eaten for a decade.”

“I do not stuff my face as if I haven’t eaten for a decade,” Ron said, straightening his shoulders and giving Hermione a firm, masculine stare. “A month, tops,” he added, lips quirking into a grin.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “One day you’ll look like a sandwich,” she warned.

“It can’t come soon enough,” Ron said, and he winked at Harry before turning in what Harry presumed was the direction of the food. He sometimes suspected Ron of having a spiritual connection to buffets; it was amazing how, even before knowing where one might be laid out, Ron could unerringly point in its direction like some sort of sarnie-compass.

“How do you put up with him?” he mock-whispered at Hermione.

Hermione grinned, but it was Ron who answered. “My sheer animal magnetism, of course,” he said, without turning back. “Now follow me! Our future awaits!”

^^^^^^

It took nearly two hours for Harry to cross the main hall of the Atrium and reach the buffet tables, set up in the long, narrow hallway that housed the Floos. It was a bit of an odd place to put them, Harry thought, given that any guests would pretty much spring out of the fireplaces and land nose first in a tray of smoked salmon, but then he caught sight of Ron demolishing a sausage roll and considered that that was possibly some people’s idea of a dream come true. Besides, he thought gloomily, there was no one left to arrive. The whole world was inside the building already, gazing dreamily at him from an impolite distance as he eyed the buffet and didn’t feel the tiniest bit hungry.

“Smff-age rollff?” Ron said, brandishing the tray at Harry.

Harry considered this. There was always the danger that if he said yes, his preference for sausage rolls would become the stuff of epic legend, and every time he made a house call as part of his job the lady of the house would shyly withdraw a platter of them from some hidden place as a special treat. He didn’t mind sausage rolls, but he had his limits. The room held its breath. “Ladies first,” he said politely, turning to Hermione and giving her a little half-bow.

“Thanks, Harry,” Hermione said with matching aching politeness. “I’ll remember you did that.”

The only benefit that Harry could see to being near the buffet, rather than in the central section of the Atrium, was that Ron had shut up about his underwear. And, he supposed, at least he’d got some of the dreaded mingling out of the way. Every step he’d taken, a witch or a wizard – mostly a witch, in her best pointed hat and ancestral jewels – had thrust their way forward to shake his hand and engage him in small talk. As he’d grimly forged on, at the speed of someone basically standing still, he’d had to politely reject half a dozen marriage proposals, several dozen dinner invitations and hundreds of gifts. He hated doing it – it was boring, and embarrassing – and yet every so often he’d find himself talking to someone who’d lost a loved one in the war, or who’d fought alongside him for freedom, or who just wanted to pay their genuine respects, and it suddenly felt like it was worth his time, after all. He didn’t know why anyone would be comforted by talking to him, of all people, who’d only done what he had to, nothing more, but . . . if they did, he would give all he could. It was only what his fallen comrades deserved.

And every now and then, to his deep relief, he’d come across a genuine friend – someone he actually wanted to talk to. Many of his former schoolmates were at the commemoration, although some had stayed at home, to spend the day more quietly. Mrs Weasley had asked him round to the Burrow for the day, to celebrate and mourn all at once, and he’d tried to persuade Ron and Hermione to go there without him, but had been unable to. He'd wanted to go to the Burrow, more than anything; but he was Harry Potter. And there was a statue to unveil. It had been impossible for him to say no to Kingsley, to the party invitation. It was his duty, after all.

Harry realised he’d been brooding, and Hermione gave him a pointed look as if she was about to start flinging the sausage rolls at him, so he looked around desperately for distraction. At the end of the hall was . . . No. It was best not to look at the statue. That way lay madness and nose-based despair. The buffet table held a heap of potential problems for the future. But by his elbow was a goblin in a sharp suit, holding a silver salver topped with delicate wine flutes fizzing with a pale liquid. “Elf wine, sir?” the goblin murmured.

Harry felt a sudden, irresistible urge to get extremely drunk. And hadn’t Ron basically promised him that he could? “Yes, please,” he said, taking a flute.

Hermione narrowed her eyes as Ron swiped a glass immediately, but then seemed to give up her inner fight and took one too.

“A toast!” called an elderly wizard with a very curled white moustache, a tiny white Puffskein perched on his shoulder. “To the boy who lived! To the saviour of the wizarding world! To our hero! To HARRY POTTER!”

Harry tried not to wince as the man’s words were taken up first by the crowd immediately surrounding him, and then by the rest of the guests, echoing off the walls and bouncing off the marble floors and ornate ceilings. People raised their glasses to him as the voices began to crescendo, until the whole world was nothing more than the chant: “HAR-RY POT-TER! HAR-RY POT-TER!”

Hermione nudged him and took an ostentatious sip of her drink, clearly indicating that he should do the same. He didn’t want to, though! Who was big-headed enough to drink to a toast like that? But the longer he dithered, the louder the crowd roared. So he reluctantly raised his glass in the air, in a toast to the crowd, and lifted the glass to his lips to drink.

The moment he did so, the nearest Floo sprang to life, green flames shooting up, and a slim wizard, dressed entirely in black, but with a shock of dazzling bright hair, so blond it was almost white, half fell out of the fireplace. And crash-landed, as Harry had half suspected anyone exiting the Floo might, right into the nearest buffet table, spraying both himself and the nearest guests with sprigs of parsley and tiny triangles of bread and ham.

Ron had half-lunged forward to help the man up, but he did a strange sort of contortion to stop himself dead in his tracks, and staggered backwards again, a look of disgust twisting his face. Hermione raised her chin and stepped forward, the set of her shoulders radiating extreme reluctance, but even she faltered when she caught sight of the look of unconcealed rage on . . . on Draco Malfoy’s face.

Because it was Malfoy, of course it was. If anyone was going to crash land in the middle of the whole world chanting Harry’s name, it had to be Malfoy. He was the only person in the universe who could make this worse. And apparently he wasn’t just here to witness one of the most embarrassing displays of ‘famous Harry Potter’ that Harry had ever experienced. No, he was here to . . . to . . . What was he here for, Harry wondered. It didn’t seem like the sort of party Malfoy would have been invited to, let alone be willing to attend.

He was here to make Harry feel strangely guilty, it quickly became apparent. Because . . . people were laughing at him. Openly. Unkindly. And while Harry’s feelings for Malfoy swung wildly between disdain and pity these days, apart from on those odd, uncomfortable nights he woke shaking after dreams of Malfoy’s body pressed against him, the Fiendfyre curling round their ankles, it didn’t seem fair for people to mock him. If Ron had fallen in the sarnies, then yes, absolutely fine and reasonable. But Malfoy . . . No. Harry couldn’t explain why, but it wasn’t the same.

“Malfoy,” Harry said, a little awkwardly, and Malfoy flinched as if he’d been punched in the stomach, before slowly straightening up, loosening his death grip on the tablecloth and flicking parsley off the front of his robes.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Malfoy said icily, and seemed to have no trouble looking Harry in the eye. His gaze was sharp, and cold, and Harry found himself unable to meet it for more than half a second, instead dropping his eyes to stare at Malfoy’s neck. It was long, and pale, and he could see Malfoy’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

Someone in the crowd hissed, “Death Eater scum,” and it was suddenly so quiet in the room that Harry could hear his own heart beating.

Malfoy didn’t flinch; he just stood there, completely motionless, not even breathing, as far as Harry could see. A tiny, horrible part of Harry whispered that it served Malfoy right, because it was true, wasn’t it, before he squashed it, feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself. Malfoy had been a complete wanker, true enough, but Harry had come to believe that everyone deserved a second chance. And as far as he was aware, Malfoy hadn’t done anything since the war had ended except keep himself to himself and comply perfectly with the terms of his sentence.

He . . . he was here, in the Ministry, to meet with his assigned Auror, wasn’t he, Harry realised with horror. No one had thought to cancel his appointment. No one had thought that maybe, on today of all days, Draco Malfoy, of all people, would prefer to be anywhere but here.

Draco had lost people too, in the war. Harry closed his eyes and swallowed hard against the tiny voice in his head that reminded him that he shouldn’t care if Malfoy was suffering, that it was only what he deserved. Malfoy’s sentence, and the part he’d played in Voldemort’s return, had spun around so many times in Harry’s head that he no longer had any sense of what Malfoy might or might not deserve, only that he felt desperately sorry for his former rival, whilst suspecting that the only thing that would make Malfoy’s life any worse than it currently was was knowing that Harry felt sorry for him.

“Malfoy, let me—” Hermione said, each word ringing awkwardly into the tense silence.

Harry’s eyes shot back open, and he unwillingly locked eyes again with Malfoy. He felt an unbearable pressure to relieve the tension, the unpleasantness, and he found himself attempting a horrendous, awkward smile. Malfoy flinched. He hadn’t flinched at the mocking laughter of the crowds. He hadn’t flinched at the hissed insult, or the unpleasant silence that followed. He flinched at Harry smiling at him. And he looked, for a fraction of a second, as hurt as if Harry had stabbed him, before his usual mask of smug disdain slid back across his face.

“Thank you, Miss Granger,” Malfoy said, barely moving his lips, still staring rigidly at Harry. “But frankly, I’d rather die than accept your help.” And he made a reasonable attempt at a cutting smile, his lips a tight, compressed line, tipped his chin in the air, and turned away in a swirl of expensive fabric and stray parsley leaves, to stalk back to the Floo he’d entered in and flicker away.

The noise, once he’d left, was almost deafening, a babble of voices Harry could only catch fragments of. Well, I never seemed to bubble out of it, along with the nerve of the man and disgusting and should have been locked in Azkaban, him and his parents, and—

“You all right, mate?” Ron said, leaning in to semi-shout in Harry’s ear. “Only, you look a bit like you’re about to vom. I’d’ve encouraged you to line your stomach with a few of these fine sausage rolls if I’d known a hideous blight on humanity like Malfoy would pop up and put us all off our wine.”

“Harry, you’re not responsible for Malfoy,” Hermione said quietly in his other ear, her hand a warm and irritating pressure on his upper arm. “You couldn’t have done more at his trial.”

Harry wondered if that was true, and felt guilt, that familiar old friend, crawling through his insides. He’d spoken up on Malfoy’s behalf, but that hadn’t stopped his old Slytherin enemy being sentenced first to house arrest, alongside his parents, and then to weekly Ministry appointments to – what? To convince them he was still being a good boy, Harry supposed. He wasn’t allowed to know any of the details; had been told by his boss that it was inappropriate, given he and Malfoy had been at school together. He’d been sorely tempted to look anyway, but had decided against it. It wasn’t his job to look out for Malfoy, and Malfoy wouldn’t thank him for it.

“Harry?” Hermione repeated. “Do you want to go home?”

Harry didn’t want to go home. He wanted to chase after Malfoy and check he was all right, even though that was completely ridiculous. He didn’t know what the hell was wrong with him. Pull yourself together, he ordered himself, and took first a deep breath and then a deep sip of his wine. By some miracle he was still holding it, rather than wearing it down the front of his robes. “No,” he said, trying to summon up some determination; he knew he had some somewhere. “I’m here to do a job, so I’m going to do it.”

“That’s the spirit,” Hermione said in rousing tones, and Harry turned to force a smile at the nearest person and slide back into making boring small talk. He tried very hard not to think about Malfoy as he did so. Sod Malfoy. He wouldn’t be spending the rest of the day brooding about Harry, so why the hell should Harry waste another thought on him?

^^^^^^

Harry probably wouldn’t have chosen twelve Grimmauld Place as his home if it hadn’t been for Kreacher. He’d once suggested moving to a new house – one with less dust and fewer insane portraits – but Kreacher had spent the next few days refusing to speak to Harry other than to insult him in a mutter, and he’d burnt so many of Harry’s meals that Harry had let the old elf win. Sometimes, when he belched, he could still taste the charcoal; eating the food had been preferable, at any rate, to refusing it and suffering Kreacher’s expression of grim disapproval at his master’s ingratitude.

Some days he almost liked the old house, with its poky corners and creaking floorboards. Most days, he found it depressing. The empty rooms, the endless dust that seemed to sprout in corners whenever Harry wasn’t looking, no matter how much cleaning Kreacher did. The house felt like it was waiting for something and was miserable that Harry wasn’t providing it. “I’m not going to get married just to make you happy!” he found himself telling the hallway once, and the house had seemed to exhale a gust of dust, the wallpaper peeling in despair. He was imagining it, of course. The house wasn’t alive. It just felt that way sometimes, layer upon layer of history bleeding through to affect Harry’s mood. He’d suggested to Ron and Hermione a year or so ago, in an off-hand way, that they move in too. It had taken a full day before Walburga’s portrait had stopped screaming the word Mudblood, and Harry hadn’t felt able to mention it again. Besides, they had their own tiny cottage now – cosy, not cramped, Hermione insisted – and if they moved in it would be out of pity for him, and that would be unbearable.

Still, it was on nights like these that Harry wished he’d gone against Kreacher and moved somewhere – anywhere – else. The walls seemed to be closing in on him, and although he was tired to his bones, he knew that if he tried to sleep he’d end up lying awake, thinking about things he didn’t want to think about. So he tiptoed up the stairs, trying not to let the ancient floorboards creak and wake the elderly elf, and grabbed his broom from its spot on the fourth-floor landing. He eased the sash window upwards and swung his legs over the window ledge, shoving the broom under him and pushing off and up. It was risky, and stupid, of course, to fly in a Muggle district, but he knew he’d stay concealed by the house’s inbuilt charms if he was careful to keep close to the walls. It only took a few seconds before he was hovering above the flat roof, and he touched down lightly, letting the broom rest by his side and sitting cross-legged on the very edge.

Harry pulled his wand out of his pocket and cast a Deluminating Charm. Instantly, all the streetlights in the neighbourhood spluttered and sparked out into nothing, and the night sky sprang into life above him, a swathe of stars against an inky, navy canvas. He knew he’d get it in the neck from his boss, Robards, the next day – his Islington street was becoming notorious amongst the local Muggle council for faulty streetlights that nevertheless seemed to work perfectly whenever they were checked during the daytime – but right now he didn’t actually care. There was something about the night sky that loosened the knot in his chest that he didn’t even notice when he was busy, but which was always there. Today – it was so late at night it was probably the next day – the knot felt particularly tight, as if it was trying to choke him.

Accio Firewhisky,” Harry said with a vague swish of his wand, and the bottle hit his left hand with a satisfying slap. He shoved his wand back in his robe pocket and undid the bottle, knocking back several swallows of the liquid. It burned his throat on the way down, fierce and harsh, and he wiped moisture from his eyes before taking another long gulp. Merlin, if he never had to do another fucking ‘Harry Potter Day’ again, it would be too soon, he thought. He toasted the sky with his bottle, and for a brief moment his view blurred, before he blinked hard and it cleared again. It was stupid to cry. It didn’t bring anyone back.

Harry’s head pounded, and he wondered vaguely why anyone would ever choose to be famous. It was terrible, and he was terrible at it, and he heartily wished he could have saved the world in some anonymous, quiet way that no one had ever needed to know about. Malfoy had always gone on about Harry’s taste for fame, as if it was something Harry had wanted. God. Malfoy should try being famous, see how he liked it. Except . . . Malfoy was famous now, wasn’t he? Or, rather, infamous. Harry supposed it wasn’t really the same thing. He’d had a taste of being infamous himself, back when everyone had thought he’d been lying about Voldemort’s return, and he couldn’t say that had been much fun either. Well, he was more than happy to pass over all his fame to Malfoy, and good luck to him, Harry thought fuzzily, taking another swig of alcohol. It was what Malfoy had apparently always wanted. It was a shame that life didn’t work that way.

Harry scrubbed a hand over his eyes. God. Why was he even thinking about Malfoy, anyway? It wasn’t like Malfoy gave a shit about him. It was pathetic, to be sitting, pissed, on his roof and feeling terrible about the way that Malfoy’s life had turned out. If Malfoy had wanted to have a happier time of it, he could have tried a bit harder to be a more tolerable person, Harry told himself crossly, taking another drink. Merlin, though, the stars were beautiful tonight. He sat and watched them twinkle, and his eye was caught by a trail across the darkness. Was it an aeroplane? Harry took off his glasses and rubbed them on the edge of his robe, before shoving them back on his nose. The streak was joined by another, and then, a few minutes later, a further stream of lights, streaking the sky with burning blue-white lines. Shooting stars, Harry realised, watching the sky dance with them.

The sky suddenly seemed a vast, empty expanse, and Harry felt very small and insignificant in the face of these balls of fire, thousands and millions of miles away. Depression settled on him once again, like a heavy cloak. “Merlin,” Harry said, and took a sip of whisky as he gazed out into the endless darkness, punctured by exploding stars. “I wish things were different.” But they weren’t, were they? Harry shivered, struck by some nameless dread. He’d wake up the next morning and things would be as they always were. He’d be famous, Malfoy would be an unspeakable tosser, and—

Harry swayed slightly, realised he was too drunk to be sitting on the edge of a roof. And he was getting cold, too. That was undoubtedly the source of the nameless dread, he told himself wryly. He was drunk, and cold, and . . . and . . . fucked off with everything. He staggered upright and managed to get back on his broom, lurching precariously through the air and back through the open window.

Kreacher was standing in the hallway glaring at him. “Master has let the night air in again,” Kreacher said with a sniff of disgust. “Night air is poison. Master will catch a chill.”

“I’m fine, Kreacher. You didn’t have to wait for me,” Harry said, feeling an overwhelming tide of sleepiness wash over him.

“Master is lucky he didn’t fall and break all his bones,” Kreacher continued, watching Harry with bright, suspicious eyes as he staggered through the nearest door and into his bedroom. “Did he expect Kreacher to go out in the cold poison and scoop him up? Master should—”

“Goodnight, Kreacher. Sleep well,” Harry said, shutting the door on the old elf’s muttering and half falling into the large, ornately carved bed that had once belonged to Sirius. The mattress was as hard as nails. He should probably do something about that, he thought as he began to drift off. He bet Malfoy wasn’t sleeping on a second-hand, uncomfortable mattress right now. It was a mistake to think of Malfoy again, Harry realised in the small part of his mind that was still awake, but he was already being sucked down into dreams that made him hot, and uncomfortable, and aching with something inexplicable. He succumbed to the pull of sleep, to dream of flashes of blond hair so pale it was white, the long press of a male body against his own, and searing heat that didn’t hurt at all.