"I can't prepare for death anymore than I already have"
I open at the close.
The black stone with it’s jagged crack running down the centre sat in the two halves of the Snitch. The Resurrection Stone had cracked down the vertical line representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and the circle representing the Cloak and the stone were still discernible.
He closed his eyes and turned the stone over in his hand three times.
All the trees were bending down to hold him in their arms. It was only the wind and the weight of the branches, but for Harry it was like walking into a cool embrace.
In daylight, seen from the edge, dappled patterns of sunlight danced on the forest floor, and the leaves shone in various shades of green. It was a lovely facade. Tonight there was only darkness, and if Harry closed his eyes it didn’t make much difference.
So much death in the Forest. The unicorn in first year, the acromantulas, the thestrals. The Death Eaters themselves. And now Harry, the dead man walking.
Surely there had to be life here, somewhere? Insects in the cracks of the wood, or worms in the soil. Strange birds and small mammals. The centaurs were nowhere to be seen, which was maybe for the best.
His hand was shaking as he rotated the stone. There must be a reason Dumbledore left it for him: to meet death, but not alone. He’d been taunted with this so many times. The Mirror of Erised. Priori Incantatem. This time it would be real — right? With a shuddering breath, he opened his eyes to greet his beloved dead.
But James and Lily Potter were not standing in the Forest. Nor was it Sirius, an eternal madcap grin on his face. Instead, it was a solitary boy, his blond hair nearly transparent in the moonlight. Not just his hair; his entire figure was shimmering like a mirage. Harry could see the trees through his face as he approached, bearing down ominously. Even from twenty feet away, Harry knew who it was.
The expression on Draco Malfoy’s face mirrored the last time Harry had seen him, filled with terror as the flames bore down on he and his friends in the Room of Requirement. Harry had turned back, Ron and Hermione's cries of protest ringing in his ears, but through the thick smoke of the Fiendfyre Harry had only found Goyle, whose slippery hand he barely managed to clasp. Behind him, Ron —Gryffindor to the end — appeared with Crabbe in tow, but neither of them could locate Malfoy.
Malfoy had called out for help, crying, begging, but had vanished in the smoke. Now he no longer pleaded, instead looking around in mute confusion. Was this a trick? Had he escaped the Room? It couldn’t be. If the Stone had somehow called Malfoy to him, then the other boy was definitely dead.
Malfoy approached, his feet passing through a low bush. Glancing around fearfully with every step, he finally spotted Harry and gasped.
“Potter? What are we doing here? Did the Room change again?”
The Room? Did Malfoy not realise? Something clenched in Harry's chest, and he found himself unable to answer.
“Why would it be a forest?” Malfoy continued, oblivious to Harry’s distress. “I didn’t know the Room did trees. Or are we outside for real?”
“It’s real.” Too real.
Malfoy closed his eyes in apparent relief. “Thank Merlin. I thought I was going to die.”
A sound like a ragged laugh escaped Harry’s lips, and Malfoy eyed him suspiciously.
“What are we doing in the Forbidden Forest, Potter?” Malfoy asked with an anxious tone.
Harry answered carefully. “I need… I’m going to Voldemort.”
“You can’t go to him, he’ll kill you!” Malfoy unexpectedly protested.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Harry countered reflexively. Malfoy paled even further, his translucent skin going white.
“Absolutely not. These past few months have been hell.” Harry remembered his shouts in the Room. Don’t kill him, don’t kill him!
“Then you know I have to stop him."
"All alone? Where did Granger and Weasley go? And where are Crabbe and Goyle?"
“They're back in the castle,” Harry said carefully.
“So why am I here?” Malfoy pressed.
“You’re… I called you here. With the Stone.” Turning his palm face up, he showed Malfoy, who peered at it skeptically.
“And what is that supposed to be.”
“The Resurrection Stone.”
“That’s a myth.” Realisation was dawning on Malfoy’s face. “And it’s for dead people.”
“Yeah, it is.” Harry had to go, he was on a deadline. He didn’t have time to talk Draco Malfoy of all people through an existential crisis.
"I don't believe you,” Draco sneered. “For one thing, I’m not dead. And why on earth would you call me from beyond the veil to look upon my face one last time?” It sounded as if Malfoy was quoting a story. Harry supposed that pure-blood children grew up with various versions of Beedle the Bard.
“I didn't call you. It just happened.”
“You're trying to scare me.”
“I don't have time for this, Malfoy.” Harry stepped back, and Malfoy thrust a hand out to grab him by the sleeve.
“Get back here, Potter!”
His fingers passed through Harry's like a wisp of smoke.
“I’m so sorry, Draco,” Harry whispered.
Malfoy gasped and backed away, clutching frantically at the ferns and bushes around him, falling through them helplessly each time. “No, I can’t, I can’t!” He crashed to his knees, and Harry abruptly wondered why ghosts could walk along floors without falling through. But was Malfoy actually a ghost? How did the Stone even work?
Malfoy slapped himself in the face, shocking Harry. “Wake up!” he cried out, but of course nothing happened. His eyes rolled wildly, and he clawed at the left sleeve of his robe, wailing at the sight of the Dark Mark still starkly present on his flesh. Now verging on panic, Malfoy keened and wrapped his arms around himself. “Everything was for nothing,” he whimpered. He took several heaving breaths that sounded like he was sicking up.
Voldemort was waiting, but Harry couldn’t help wanting to comfort Malfoy, who was starting to hyperventilate. And did ghosts feel the need to breathe?
Through his gasps, Malfoy asked, “Are my parents still alive?”
“As far as I know.”
“If you see them, if they are with him… Will you please.... Please tell them I’m…” He broke off, barely able to speak.
Harry frowned. “I could tell them you said you love them?” He doubted he’d be able to have a conversation with any Death Eaters, but there was no reason to argue the point. Malfoy could believe whatever he needed to.
“They know that! Merlin, I’d have run away at sixteen if I didn’t!” The stark admission took Malfoy aback just as much as Harry. He sat back on his heels, took a shuddering breath, then stood up on shaking legs. He seemed to take a moment to gather himself, then said in a trembling voice, “Tell them I wasn’t afraid.”
Harry couldn’t help himself. “That’s a lie, too, though.” Draco turned away sharply, his see-through eyes glistening.
“I know. But tell them anyway.”
They stood silently for a beat, and then Harry blurted out, “Does it hurt?”
“Right now, no. I’m starting to recall… just a moment of total, searing pain. I think that must have been the Fiendfyre.” Harry cringed. The screams had been terrible, not to mention the smell of a thousand books and brooms and forgotten objects crumbling to ash.
Malfoy shook as he remembered it. “There won’t be a body. There’s nothing left of me. I’m nothing, oh god I’m nothing, I’m nothing — !”
“How CAN I? I’m dead, you prick!”
“So am I!”
This stopped Malfoy short. “Wait, really? Is that why you can use the Stone? I thought you were on your way to some heroic, climactic battle.”
“No.” Harry didn’t have time for a full explanation. “I am on my way to Voldemort, but I have to die. I’m... he can’t die until I do, it’s total shit but it has to happen, I can’t tell you more than that.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “What, so you’re just calmly,” he waved his hand in the air, “walking to your execution?”
Harry nodded. "Something like that.” His shoulders sagged. "I wanted to see my parents. That’s why I used the stone.”
Malfoy had the good grace to look abashed. “I don’t know why I’m here instead. Maybe because… it just happened. Is that why you asked about it hurting?”
“Well, he’s more like to use Avada Kedavra as anything, so it probably won’t.”
This didn’t make Harry feel any better. “Yeah, well… I’m kind of on a schedule here, so…”
“Oh.” Malfoy cast his gaze downward.
“I really am sorry, Malfoy. I didn’t want anyone to die, not even you.” He paused, unsure if this admission would make Malfoy feel better or worse. “I wanted to save you. I tried to find you, but the flames were so high, and the smoke was too thick.”
Malfoy cocked his head curiously. “You tried to save me?”
Harry clenched his fists. "Too many people have died because of me." Malfoy snorted at that.
"Don't be a martyr, Potter. It's unattractive." The word martyr hung in the air between them. "Anyway,” Malfoy continued, clearly trying to maintain a brave front, “then I would have been in your debt, and I’d have been a right arse about it, I’m sure.”
“Right.” The silence of the Forest was deafening around them. "I'd better…”
“Do you want some company?” There was a desperate note in Malfoy’s voice. “Until it’s time.”
Harry tried to lick his dry lips, but didn't have any spit. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”
He wasn’t sure which way to go, so he just picked a direction and started walking. Malfoy followed close behind. It couldn’t hurt to have him along, right? When they read the story of the Three Brothers, Hermione had wondered aloud whether it was really the dead girl’s spirit or a false shade sent by Death to capture the second brother. There was no reason for Death to send Malfoy to tempt Harry anywhere, though. Oh, he’d tempted him in several ways over the years, but not in any way that would dissuade Harry from his task.
A few of last year’s leaves still covered the forest floor, and they crunched as Harry walked over them. Malfoy appeared to stride beside him, but his steps were soundless.
“Death is stupid,” Malfoy blurted out. “We’re wizards, why haven’t we figured this out yet?”
“I dunno, why don’t you ask Voldemort,” Harry answered dryly. “That was always his goal, to never die, and he’s killed for it.”
“I think that’s why they lie to us, you know. To stop people from trying, because it can go so wrong. Read a book about the search for the Philosopher's Stone, it’s always painted as such a fool's errand.”
“Lie about what?”
“People,” and Malfoy didn’t elaborate on which people, “say we can only appreciate life with the threat of mortality hanging over us. But that’s bunk. I didn’t appreciate being alive any more while knowing I could die any day in the Manor. It just made me terrified.”
“You don’t think you’re grateful to have experienced the good things from your life?”
“No. All I can think about are the things I’ll never do.” His plaintive sigh cut Harry to the bone. Whatever things Malfoy had dreamed for his future, Harry would never do them either.
‘Of course,” Malfoy continued, ‘I haven't let myself think about the future for some time now. It was survival, day to day.”
‘I know exactly what you mean.” The long days spent camping, the rows, hunger, the strain on his psyche. It had been one foot in front of the other. He hadn’t even given much consideration to Ginny, to a career, to a life after. Maybe that was for the best; now Harry didn’t have many hopes to dash.
The Forest grew denser as they went deeper within. Harry found himself pushing branches aside; Malfoy ducked behind him, unwilling to glide through them even though he now had the ability. If he was trying to not bring attention to his ghostliness, it wasn’t working. Facing Malfoy’s mortality was bringing Harry’s own into stark relief. Distantly he recognised the practicality of Dumbledore not revealing his fate until the end: the more time he had to dwell on it, the more frightened he became.
Malfoy spoke up again. “People are going to remember you. They’ll remember that you did this, tell the story.”
“So what?” Harry snapped. Malfoy jumped back; he’d obviously meant it as a comforting statement. “I won’t be there. People can say what the fuck they want about me, I won’t know it.”
“Better than what they’ll say about me, I wager!”
“Who fucking cares? You won’t know either!” Harry picked up his pace, and Malfoy obviously scurried faster behind him, because his voice was right in his ear.
“Maybe I will know! Maybe — maybe people will come here and taunt me. Merlin, I’m going to be a dare for generations of Hogwarts students. Sneak into the Forest and take the piss out the ghost of Draco Malfoy.”
Harry snorted at that. “I thought ghosts were so strange when I came to Hogwarts. Most Muggles don’t think they’re real. They’re really afraid of death, too.”
“Most people are afraid of death.”
“Yeah, but it’s different. We know there’s at least something else, for ghosts at least. And people don’t just disappear, there’s… there’s portraits, and shades.” Harry remembered the figures of his parents emerging from Voldemort's wand.
“Portraits aren’t real, though. It’s like a Pensieve of a person.”
“Do you have one? A portrait.” Harry imagined a snooty little Malfoy, berating passerby from a tapestry.
“I have several. I was sixteen in the last. I suspect my mother will burn it,” he added matter-of-factly.
“She never liked them. She thinks a glimpse of what you can never have again is cruel. She and Father had an awful row about putting her mother’s portrait in the Manor. I'm inclined to agree with her. It feels like grasping at a desire you can never fulfill.”
They moved deeper into the trees, winding around a small pond. The Forest didn’t smell as it should down here, like loamy soil and rotting leaves, crisp moonlight and chlorophyll. Instead it had the vague scent of Trelawney’s classroom: artificially spicy, damp velvet and black tea. Harry thought about portraits, the ones he had known at Hogwarts, the ones he wished existed.
“I don't have any of Sirius,” he voiced at last. “There weren't any in Grimmauld place, he was disowned.”
“He's my cousin,” was Draco’s only reply.
“Was your cousin.”
“I suppose I'm past tense now, too.”
“I hope I see him.” An owl hooted in the distance, and a thought struck Harry. “If you go anywhere, and see him first, if you see my parents, don’t tell them I’m coming. They'll be so sad.” It would have been different if they’d been able to hear it from Harry himself.
“Don’t be stupid, Potter. Even if I can escape this purgatory, I would never go to the same place as you.”
Did Malfoy believe he was going to Hell? Fuck, what if he was going to Hell, trapped by the dark magic performed by and around him, imprinted in his very skin? Was there a Hell at all? Was there even a Heaven?
“Ghosts think there is Heaven, at least,” Malfoy said, and Harry realised he’d asked the question aloud.
“Ghosts also have a Headless Hunt,” Harry said nonsensically, and Malfoy burst out in startled laughter.
“They are rather absurd, for the most part. Binns doesn’t even know he’s dead.” He tried to swat at a leaf, but his hand passed through ineffectually. “Do you think I’m stuck here?”
Harry tried to imagine it: an eternity of the Forbidden Forest, only the animals and centaurs for company. Malfoy had always been frightened of this place.
“Maybe this is my punishment,” Malfoy continued, gazing around the Forest in trepidation. “It's an awful destination. Perhaps I am in Hell.”
“To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure,” Harry quoted. “Dumbledore told me that. No, I don't believe there is a Hell,” Harry decided. “And I don't believe you'd go there, even if there was one. You don't take any pleasure in it.”
“In what, exactly?”
“Any of it. Torture, murder. You aren't your aunt.”
Malfoy scoffed. “We’re a whole rotten family, Potter, don't kid yourself. I don't think there’s any way for me to escape my roots, even in the afterlife. I'm tied to my tree surely as the leaves are tied to the ones all around us.”
“But Sirius and Andromeda…”
“They were brave. I'm a coward.” Malfoy gestured at the Forest. “I think I know why I'm here. I wasn't even brave enough to face the afterlife. I died like I lived, too weak to pick a side. Now I have to stand here helplessly and watch you be brave, take the stand I couldn’t.”
“You think I'm brave? You don’t think I’m just giving up?” Harry whispered.
“You're stronger than me.” Malfoy closed his eyes, clearly uncomfortable at the admission. “I think I always admired you, in a way. I was jealous.”
“I wish…” It was pointless, but Harry felt it was something he should say. “I wish things could have been different.”
“No, you don’t,” Malfoy said, without malice. “You knew what you were doing when you refused my hand on the train. We were never destined to be friends, you and I.”
“Guess not.” There was no more to be said; Harry had spent enough time wallowing in what-ifs when he was younger.
They continued along the path, and Harry spied a faint glow in the distance, likely from a fire. That had to be where Voldemort was waiting. Malfoy obviously spotted it as well, because he baulked along the path.
"I don't think I can go with you."
“No. I have to do this alone.”
“Everyone dies alone.” Malfoy ran a hand through his hair. “How unfair life is,” he muttered, almost petulantly. Harry figured he had a right to whinge. They were only boys, only children really, no matter how old Harry felt in his bones.
And if he didn’t step up and do what he was raised for, more were going to die before the night was over. This was it, then.
The fear inside him made him reckless, and Harry stopped on the path and thrust his hand out. “Let's start over, here at the end. Potter. Harry Potter. Thanks for walking with me.”
Malfoy stared at the offered hand so long Harry thought the gesture might be refused. Finally he raised his eyes to Harry’s. “Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. It’s been an honour, strangely enough.” His ghostly pale hand rippled through Harry’s own sweaty one, a chill skittering along Harry’s fingertips. Suddenly Draco’s eyes went wide, and he watched his own hand fall limply back to his side. It was his right, so he couldn’t be looking at the Dark Mark. His gaze was locked on his wrist.
“I suppose I should have expected no less from this tragedy,” he murmured. He looked at Harry again, with a gutted expression. “It’s a pity, isn't it. You and I. Our threads cut too soon.”
His voice was as hollow as his appearance. Harry wanted to comfort him, but there were no words of comfort to be had here at the bitter end. A sharp laugh echoed through the trees — Bellatrix? — and Harry squared his shoulders.
“Go on, Potter. You're going to die like you lived, as well. Righteous and principled to the end.” There was an odd tinge of pride in the statement.
“Goodbye, Potter. Good luck.” Harry saw Malfoy glance down at his hand, and hesitate, before fading back into the Forest.
Green light, and nothing.
In Kings Cross, much was revealed.
Harry’s talk with Dumbledore had been truly illuminating, but he could sense it drawing to a close.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.”
Harry nodded. “Fewer families. Remus and Tonks are gone, you know. They left a son.” If only he could have seen Remus one more time, to say that he would look after Teddy.
“Yes,” Dumbledore nodded sadly. “And so many of your peers, felled in their prime. But that is not your fault, Harry.”
“Our threads cut too soon,” Harry murmured.
“Oh, nothing, just something Malfoy said.” Harry didn’t think he would ever forget a word of their conversation, the last before his apparently temporary death.
“Draco? Was he fighting alongside you?” Dumbledore looked hopeful. He had been willing to give Malfoy a chance, back on the Astronomy Tower. Harry hated to tell him the bad news.
“No, he died. In the Room of Requirement. It all happened so quickly.” It was still so surreal, the fact of Draco's death.
Dumbledore seemed crestfallen. “I did not see him cross over. Perhaps his spirit hid from me. Did he not realise the error of his ways, then?”
“I think he might have, afterwards.”
“After death? So many of us do, it seems. I suppose you can assume Draco did, as well.”
“I don’t have to assume, he told me,” Harry explained. Dumbledore started beside him. ”Sir, the Stone, it didn’t work right. It just made Malfoy appear. Was it supposed to be my parents? Was it because he had just died?”
Dumbledore stared at him more intensely. “Are you very sure it was Draco Malfoy who came to you, Harry?”
“Completely sure. He was still a git, but he was really upset about being dead. He also wanted me to lie to his parents and tell them he wasn't afraid.” Harry didn’t finish the story. Draco walking with him as far as he could go, speaking with him about death and the afterlife, his words a strange comfort… that was a secret between the two of them.
“Oh, Harry. My poor boy.” Dumbledore looked piteously sad, and Harry was suddenly frightened.
“Why, what’s wrong?”
Dumbledore merely placed a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe someday you will understand. A thread cut too soon, indeed.”
Harry never felt so guilty as when he awoke on the cold ground of the Forbidden Forest and lied to Narcissa Malfoy.
"Then this is the place where time reverses..."
Five Years Later
“Teddy, be careful!”
Andromeda’s voice rang out across the garden, as Teddy barrelled full tilt over the grass, zooming his new figure of the Magpie’s star seeker up and down with his hands.
“That was a great present, mate,” Ron said, coming up behind Harry with a fresh drink in his hand. “Only, did you have to get him Bridger? Are you trying to turn him into a Magpie’s fan?”
Harry took the cool glass of lemon squash with a nod of thanks. “Maybe the Cannons can sign him, eh?”
Ron snorted. “I’m a lifelong fan, but even I know their limits.”
Laughter echoed around them, from children and adults alike. Even the absence of Teddy’s parents at this special occasion, his fifth birthday party, didn’t seem to bring the guests down. It was exactly the kind of carefree, pleasant day that Harry had needed.
“He certainly likes that better than our present,” Hermione observed.
“Andromeda will read it to him at bedtime, I’m sure he’ll love it,” Harry assured her. “I wish I’d grown up with Beedle the Bard.”
“We got him Tales from Tabitha, as well. I’d not heard of that one, but Ron and Ginny both mentioned fond memories.”
It was bittersweet for Harry, discovering Wizarding culture for children through the eyes of Teddy. “Does that one have morbid stories like Beedle, too?”
“Worse!” Hermione laughed. “There’s one about a witch who eats toes, to the point she goes mad and eats her own. I’m not sure what lesson it’s supposed to impart. Oh! And there’s a fox character who reminds me of Lockhart that gets into an argument with a mirror trying to one up himself.”
“Does he end up in St. Mungo’s, too?”
“No, he ends up shouting the mirror to pieces. Most of the stories are humorous, actually, even the more disgusting ones. Ron and I got into a small argument about the Tale of the Threads, though.”
“It’s about a girl searching for her soulmate.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I said it was a metaphor, but Ron insisted there was truth in the story. Honestly, I think it sounds cruel to be tied to one person by a thread, doomed to unhappiness if the other dies and it’s cut.”
Something pricked at the back of Harry’s mind.
Our threads cut…
“And what about the concept of choice?” Hermione continued. “Ron took it as a bit of an insult that I didn’t think we were soulmates, but I don’t need a thread tied from my wrist to his to know that I love him.”
“I’m sorry, what kind of thread?” Harry asked, suddenly picturing the devastated face of Draco Malfoy, five years ago in the Forbidden Forest, staring at his right wrist.
“Oh, some sort of intangible one.” Hermione waved her hand in the air dismissively. “Supposedly a secret spell reveals it. Or death.”
“And it’s on…”
“…your right wrist.”
Malfoy’s sad, lonely voice came rising out of the fog of Harry’s memories.
“It’s a pity, isn't it. You and I. Our threads cut too soon.”
“What happened to the girl?” Harry asked, suddenly feeling very uneasy.
Hermione was oblivious to Harry’s thoughts. “She chased down Death to beg him to show her the thread. It’s obviously a parable about the dangers of fixation and the folly of the very concept of destiny.”
“We thought the Three Brothers were just a story,” Harry pointed out.
Hermione flushed. “Well, that had tangible proof! Your cloak is real.”
“So you don’t believe in these soulmate threads at all?” Harry pressed, recalling how Dumbledore had also become melancholy over the topic.
“Honestly, don’t you start in on me as well.” Hermione sighed. “Don’t you think if fated lovers were real, you’d have ended up with Ginny?”
Harry cringed. “Ouch, Hermione.”
“I’m sorry.” She frowned apologetically. “I know that’s a sore subject.”
“I just wish it wasn’t such a do in the tabloids.” Harry took another sip of squash, swirling the ice thoughtfully. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t… soulmates, or whatever, though.”
He could feel Hermione’s curious eyes on him. “Well,” she said, almost begrudgingly, “if you’re interested in stories about soulmates, you might ask Parvati if she has any sources.”
“She just started working in the Department of Mysteries."
Parvati drove a hard bargain.
“I want you to set me up on a date with Oliver Wood. Puddlemere is amazing this season.”
Harry's eyebrows shot up. “You want what?”
“You heard me. I know you still talk.”
“Are you sure you’re allowed to trade a date for all the hidden knowledge of the Department of Mysteries?”
She waved him off. “Psssh, no Unspeakable knows everything. And it’s you. You probably have some epic, world-saving reason for asking.” Her voice was teasing. “So you’ll speak to Oliver?”
“I’ll even suggest that fancy new French place in Diagon,” Harry assured her.
As she led him towards her office, Harry considered her: her perfectly manicured hands, the delicate fabric of her robes. “Why did you…”
“Why did I go into the Department and not my Ravenclaw sister?” Her tone indicated he wasn't the first to insinuate she was the less-clever twin. “After the war, I found myself questioning everything. Life, death, fate. I wanted answers.” They turned down a dim hall with sparkles in the air like stars, and Harry knew this must contain the Space room. Further on was Fate and Prophecy; he steeled himself against the memories he would face, but they continued past it.
“Oh, I’d assumed…”
“That because I liked Divination in school, I’d stick with that? You aren’t in Professional Quidditch, or an Auror. Why should I be any different?” She cocked her head. “What are you doing these days, anyway?”
“Fending off questions like that,” he muttered. They stopped in front of a glowing door. The metal seemed to ripple, and a faint scent tickled his nose.
“What do you smell?” Parvati asked curiously.
“Broomstick polish? Orange blossom, and… wait. That’s Amortentia!” he accused.
She nodded. “I work in the Love room.” The door opened to reveal a table of bubbling potions, all smelling of treacle and orange, as well as several experiments in progress. The entire room was filled with a gold sparkling mist.
Parvati led Harry to the centre of the room and allowed the mist to settle on their skin. “So, you had questions about the String of Fate?”
Harry started. “You do know about it, then?”
“We do,” she conceded, “though it isn’t common knowledge, for a number of reasons. First, we’d have the entire population down here trying to hold hands with everyone else, and it would turn into chaos. Second, although there’s a deep magic here that we don’t yet understand, being tied with a String doesn’t mean two people will never have problems, or even be perfect for each other.”
“But it does exist.”
“It does.” She did a complicated movement with her wand, then pointed it at her own wrist. Slowly a thread appeared, like a ghost in the fog. It was translucent, but clearly visible. The end was jagged, like it had been cut with a knife.
Harry watched in curious fascination as it moved in an invisible breeze. It was true, the whole story was true. And the thread had even been cut. “Why is it like that?”
Parvati smiled sadly. “Lavender.”
“I'm sorry.” Harry was suddenly afraid what his thread might look like.
“So am I.” She waved her wand in a reverse pattern, and the thread disappeared. “If she were alive, it would have extended to the border of the room, pointed in whatever direction she was on earth. Not very helpful, of course, since the world is so large. So you see that it can’t be used to actually find your soulmate, just tell you if they are still around.”
“What if they were in the room with you?”
“Then your wrists would be tied together. Unspeakables have seen it in the past, by bringing in two people who were excellent candidates. They even,” and here her voice lowered, “brought a couple in after one had died and become a ghost, to see if the threads held. They didn’t; both were cut. We don’t know what happens if both people are dead.” She looked at Harry gravely. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”
Harry wasn’t sure at all. What if it pointed outward? Should he bring Ginny to the room with him to test it? He still loved her, but not like the way he imagined true love would feel. They were better as friends.
But what if it was cut, like Parvati’s? That didn’t mean it was Malfoy at the other end. The two of them as soulmates — that was crazy. But there had to be some reason Malfoy had stared so wistfully at his wrist, or been summoned by the Stone in the first place.
“Do it,” he said.
Her wand waved again, and Harry felt warm. The air around him glittered brighter, and there it was, coalescing out of nothing.
Dangling forlornly from his wrist was a thread, torn and frayed.
It waved feebly, seeking out completion. Harry gulped back a sob, unexpectedly bereft. Was it really his fate to lose anyone he loved, anyone who could love him back? He glanced over at Parvati and noticed she had tears in her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Harry.”
He wiped at his own eyes. “I think I knew.”
“Do you have any idea who?”
He hesitated. Perhaps Malfoy was his secret to keep. “Take the spell off, please.” She reversed the spell and the thread disappeared.
Parvati and Harry were silent as they made their way out of the Love room and into her small, cosy office. Harry couldn’t think of anything to say; eventually Parvati spoke up.
“It will be OK, Harry. There’s a lot of life left to be lived.”
He plucked the tassel of a cushion idly. “How did you move on? I mean, obviously you’re looking to date.”
“With time, and love for myself. Lavender wouldn’t want me to be unhappy.”
“And you know it was her?”
“I loved her,” Parvati whispered painfully, “and she’s gone. It makes sense. But I also have something she’d enchanted with her personal magic, and was able to use it like a compass. The thread points to it.”
“I don’t have —” Harry stopped. He did have something of Malfoy’s. He had his wand.
“Harry, do you want to tell me what this is actually about?” Parvati asked carefully.
“Not really.” Harry steeled himself. “But I will. I have to know.” She waited patiently as he gathered himself. “You know the story of the Deathly Hallows, right?”
“Of course. Once word got out that Voldemort had been looking for the Elder Wand during the war, the Department began researching them immediately.”
“Really?” Harry perked up. “Do you have information on the Resurrection Stone?”
“You can’t bring people back to life,” Parvati said sternly. “And there’s no evidence of the Stone in literature past a certain point, and all of that is hearsay.”
“Look, Parvati. I’m asking you as a friend, as someone who was in the DA, as someone who fought with me. Can you keep a secret?”
“Er, Harry,” she answered, bemused. “I’m an Unspeakable.”
“Right.” He stood up and paced, as much as he could in the small office. “You know that I met Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest right before the final stand.”
“Everyone knows that. Even if Rita Skeeter hadn’t written three books already, Narcissa Malfoy’s testimony is public record. She lied and said you were dead, because she blamed Voldemort for her son’s death.”
“No. She lied to get back to Malfoy in the castle.”
Parvati’s brow furrowed. “But Malfoy was dead already. Did she not know that?”
“I told her he was alive.”
Harry flinched at Parvati’s gasp. “Harry! How cruel!”
“I needed her to lie for me. It was the only way to get back up to Hogwarts.”
“Well, it got her out of Azkaban, so she can’t be too angry at you.”
“Er, not so much,” Harry winced. “She said if I ever try to speak to her again she’ll hex me so hard our shared Black ancestors will feel it.”
“I suppose I can’t blame her. She’s grieving. As big a prat as Malfoy was, he was still her only child. Merlin, she didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
“But I did,” Harry said, almost to himself.
“Right, you were the last to see him in the Room of Requirement.”
Sometimes it still bothered Harry how many details of the final battle were public, but he’d taken History of Magic for long enough that he wasn’t surprised. The Wizarding world was obsessed with details.
“Did you know McGonagall told me the Room won’t open anymore?” Parvati continued.
“Really?” That took Harry by surprise. “The castle was repaired within a year.”
“I went back to consult on applications for the new Divination professor. It refused to reopen. McGonagall thinks it might still be on fire.” She didn’t meet his eyes.
“Merlin, that’s horrible.” Feeling sick, Harry recalled Malfoy’s trembling hands as he described the fire. There won’t be a body. There’s nothing left of me.
“So…” Parvati pressed, “What’s this secret? That you lied to Narcissa Malfoy while you were playing dead?”
“Playing,” Harry snorted, and ignored Parvati’s puzzled look. “No, that’s not it. The secret is I saw Malfoy again, as a ghost. In the Forest.”
“Poor thing,” she murmured. “Did you speak to him?”
A small part of Harry still marvelled at the easy acceptance of ghosts. “Yeah. It was… kind of awful, how confused he was at first.”
“That’s understandable. Ghosts can be agitated when they first arrive back on our side. I’m surprised it happened so fast, though. And why was he in the Forest?”
“I sort of… called him there.” Harry grimaced. “With the Resurrection Stone.”
Absolute silence fell over the room as Parvati looked at Harry, aghast. “You —” she finally stammered. “You tried to bring Malfoy back from the dead? ” Her voice rose, and Harry shushed her.
“I didn’t! I wanted to see my parents —”
“You tried to resurrect your PARENTS? Harry, you can’t mess around with life and death like that!”
“No!” Harry collapsed back in the chair, both hands pulling at his hair. “I just wanted to say goodbye before the end! Dumbledore left me the Stone to use, I thought if I could just speak to them, it would all… be OK.”
Parvati took a deep breath and composed herself. “So… why Malfoy?”
“That’s what I’ve always wanted to know. For a long time, I assumed it was because he’d only just died, and I’d been there. But there was something else.”
“The soulmate threads,” she breathed. “Oh, Harry, I thought you hated him! I didn’t know you were —”
“We weren't!” Harry hastily explained his encounter with Malfoy in the Forest. “And right before we said goodbye… he saw something. He stared at his wrist like the world was ending, said it was a tragedy that our threads had been cut too soon.”
“So you weren’t having a forbidden love affair?” she asked. Harry shook his head vigorously, and she looked almost disappointed. “Then why would you think it was a soulmate thread?”
“Dumbledore — I saw him as well, just don’t ask — said something about them, too. That I’d understand about the threads someday. Look, Parvati, I don’t think it was a coincidence.”
“So you weren’t in love,” she asked doubtfully, “but you still think your soulmate was Malfoy.”
“I don’t know what to think. But that person, whoever they are… obviously, they’re dead. We saw that in the Love room. And Malfoy… he looked heartbroken.”
“And you didn’t see what he was looking at.”
“No. But could he maybe see it as a ghost?”
“It’s feasible,” she mused. “Ghosts can see many things mortals can’t, like portals and wards. But why would Malfoy think it was you of all people?”
“It showed up when he tried to touch me,” Harry said flatly, and Parvati winced in sympathy.
“It does sound possible, Harry. Is that what you came to find out today?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. “I’ve wanted to know if the soulmate threads are real since I heard about them and put two and two together. And then, I suppose I wanted to know if it really was Malfoy, and if the Stone brought him over because of it.”
“If he was your soulmate, then yes, I think that could be why. This is all conjecture, of course.”
“I have his wand,” Harry offered. “Maybe I could…”
“Will it help?” she questioned, not unkindly. “Knowing for sure?”
Harry sighed. “Maybe not.”
“I tell you what, think about it and let me know. I owe you, Harry —” she put her hand up to stop his protests “— not just like we all owe you, but personally. For showing me I could be brave, for teaching me to fight.”
“You’re a Gryffindor, Parvati,” Harry smiled. “How could you do anything else?”
Two weeks later, Harry hadn’t made up his mind. He’d taken Malfoy’s hawthorn wand out of a drawer and stroked it idly, feeling the magic inside. But he couldn’t seem to resolve whether to take it to the Love room, or hide it away again, or give it to Narcissa Malfoy.
Before he could make a decision, Parvati’s owl arrived with a summons.
Back in her office, Harry noticed that her expression was more wary than the last time they’d met. “Parvati? Did you have something to tell me?”
She motioned towards the chair. “Sit, Harry.” He did as he was told. “After we spoke last time, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Everything we know about the Resurrection Stone involves the bearer summoning a shade on purpose. You didn’t consciously call for Malfoy, it sent him, which lends credence to the idea that he’s your soulmate, although we don’t know for sure.” Harry’s hand twitched toward the wand in the side-pocket of his robes.
“And then,” Parvati continued, “I began to think about the Room of Requirement. Specifically, about how it works.”
“Er, magic?” Harry joked.
“I think it works on probability. That is, the Room is all things at once, and becomes what you need because it already is. There is some magical precedent for that, and all my research indicates the Room is a perfect culmination of the craft.”
“And we broke it.” Harry slumped in his seat. “Just another thing ruined by the war.”
“Or…” Parvati bit her lip, obviously hesitant. “Harry, it’s your turn to keep a secret.”
“Yeah, of course. You can trust me.”
“The Room of Requirement… it’s not really broken, per se. It’s reverted to a state of quantum superposition.”
Harry straightened a bit. “Meaning?”
“I did a little investigating. There’s no way Fiendfyre could burn for this long. But something you did locked it in a moment. The last moment, before Malfoy died.”
“Locked it?” Harry said, horrified. “You mean — he’s still dying in there?”
“No!” she rushed out. “I mean he’s not only dead.”
“I’m sorry. What?” Harry shook his head to clear it. “Parvati, I spoke with his ghost.”
“You may have spoken with a psychic projection. From what I can gather, it shouldn’t be possible for someone to die in the Room at all. It’s imbued with protective magic and should eject people in cases of true mortal peril.”
“But it closed with Malfoy inside,” Harry protested.
“Fiendfyre is one of the most destructive curses known, because it causes both physical and magical damage. Even then, the Room should have spit you out when it started, before the damage was able to spread. But it couldn’t, because something Dark was holding it open.” She gave Harry a hard look. “You had a Horcrux in there, didn’t you.”
Harry wavered. “Yes,” he admitted at last. The existence of the Horcruxes — six of them, at least — had come to light when he’d had to account for his actions at Gringotts and the Ministry, and clear Snape for Dumbledore’s death.
Parvati nodded, almost smugly. “I knew it. The Horcrux was more powerful than the Room, and blocked the protective magic, allowing the Fiendfyre to spread with you all inside. But you — and I'm still not clear on how — carried the Horcrux out, and then the Room was able to seal itself. You didn’t see Malfoy die, did you?”
“I heard him screaming for help,” Harry whispered. “And he told me he felt a searing pain before appearing in the Forest… but he wasn't burned. But why didn’t the Room eject him after the Horcrux was gone, if he wasn’t dead yet?”
“By that point it had been too badly damaged by the spellfire to work properly anymore. But since the Room is based on probability… well, have you ever heard of Schrödinger’s cat?”
Harry laughed, a bit hysterical. “Why is there a cat involved all of a sudden?”
“It’s a Muggle thought experiment. I’m not going into physics at this late hour, but think of the Room like this: it exists in every possible state. It’s still burning, or the fire burned out. Malfoy died, or he’s about to die, or he’s about to be spit out of the Room. Until we open the Room, or fix it, it won’t come to a conclusion.”
Harry tried to comprehend what she was telling him. “But you said we can’t open it.”
“Not yet. But Harry, there might be a way. No one has really tried until now, because the idea of the Fiendfyre escaping was so dangerous to Hogwarts. But what if we have a channel to someone inside?”
Harry took a shuddering breath. “You think I can use the Stone to talk to Malfoy. But doesn’t the fact that the Resurrection Stone is what called him up in the first place mean that he’s really dead?”
“He may have died before the door shut, yes. But the Stone may have simply worked because his death is one ongoing possible state. Either way, perhaps there’s still a way to use that connection.”
Harry’s mind was racing with the possibilities. “Parvati… you’re — you’re a genius. How did I never know this about you?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t always apply myself in school. Being an Unspeakable, though. It’s enlightening.”
The last thing Harry wanted to do was go back to the night of the Battle. But if there was a chance to save Malfoy…
"So many people died that night," he said softly, mindful of Parvati's own loss. "If it's really possible to save him, I want to try."
She nodded in agreement. “We’ll get your man, Harry.”
“He’s not my man,” Harry snorted. “He just doesn’t deserve to be left there.” It was more than that, of course. Malfoy had shown Harry a different side of himself as they walked through the Forest. “This isn't because he might be my soulmate, or whatever,” he added hastily. “I still can't wrap my head around that. Even if I could move past our history, I don't know how I feel about him.”
“And he hasn't had a chance to move past anything,” Parvati pointed out.
“Merlin, he’ll still be seventeen,” Harry realised with a start. “His mother is going to faint if I pull this off.”
“Send an owl to McGonagall,” Parvati encouraged. “Let me know what she says, if we can have a go at fixing the Room of Requirement.”
“We?” Harry was taken aback. For all she was helping him, he and Parvati weren't close.
“I just… I want you to have this chance, Harry.” The chance I didn’t have was left unspoken.
They shared a moment of knowing silence. “I'll owl McGonagall tonight,” Harry said at last. “Thank you, Parvati.” He stood and hugged her tightly. “Thank you.”
Professor McGonagall had been intrigued by the idea, but insisted they wait until term was over for summer before trying any “half-cocked plans.”
Once June was over and it was deemed safe, Harry met up with Parvati at the Three Broomsticks; they didn't stick around for a drink. Nervously, Harry glanced over at Rosmerta. He knew Malfoy would have to answer for the things he’d done, but it was better than being dead. Or not-quite-dead.
“There's no time limit on this, right?” Harry asked as they made their way down the path to Hogwarts. Somehow it felt longer than when they were at school. “I mean, if we can't figure it out, the Room will just stay… stuck?”
“In theory. Of course, all of this is theory. I'm just hoping that connecting Draco to the outside world while we open the Room will lead it to expel him.” The way Parvati had explained it to Harry was in three parts: he would contact Malfoy, then open the doors while they were connected. Professor McGonagall would hold back the flames from spilling out into the school, as Parvati would work the complex repair magic she had been researching on the Room of Requirement, causing it to spit Malfoy out as it was originally designed.
“And not kill him. Or us, actually.”
“Right. I don't think McGonagall would have agreed if she was truly worried the fire would rage out of control, but then again, she did ask us to come between terms, so…”
The gravel on the pathway crunched under their feet as they approached the gates. In the distance loomed the Forbidden Forest, imposing as ever. It seemed quiet as a grave, Harry thought. His own grave. He had never known anyone other than himself who had come back. Was Draco frozen in time? Or was he somehow conscious in his limbo, thinking he was dead?
“Do you still think we shouldn't mention the threads to Professor McGonagall?” Parvati asked hesitantly, intruding on his morbid thoughts. Neither she nor Harry had been entirely clear in their letters on why they thought Draco Malfoy might still be alive, only that Harry hadn’t seen him die.
“It won't matter, will it? It might just throw her off. I know I'm still in shock. I mean, it's Malfoy. We didn’t exactly get on.”
Parvati laughed lightly. “Perhaps it does make sense. You and Malfoy always clashed, but you also paid an absurd amount of attention to each other. If the war hadn’t happened, or more importantly, you hadn’t started out on the worst foot possible, that may have evolved into attraction.” Harry snorted, but Parvati gave him a knowing look. “I do work in the Love Room, you know.”
“It’s so strange,” Harry said, glancing at the Forest again. “I’ve thought of Malfoy from time to time, but never because of that. Only when I’m thinking about… well, death.” Malfoy’s death and his own had become inextricably linked in Harry’s mind. He wasn’t the first or even the last person Harry had seen die in the war, but their final encounter had been so intimate.
Intimate. He’d better not say that word to Parvati, who hadn’t lost her matchmaker tendencies, genius or not. Luckily, he was saved from any more uncomfortable talk of romance by their arrival at the school.
Harry paused, looking back over his shoulder. The Forest was verdant with spring. He realised he'd never been inside during daylight, at least not past the edges. It didn’t look quite so foreboding against a blue summer sky.
Parvati eventually cleared her throat. “Harry? Are you coming? McGonagall is expecting us.”
“Can you go on ahead, Parvati? I'd rather get this over with.” He gestured toward the Forest.
“You don't want me to come along?” She looked disappointed. But Harry couldn’t bear the thought of having someone else make the walk that Malfoy had accompanied him on. Especially since Parvati didn't know the whole truth — didn't know Harry had died as well.
“I’ll catch up.”
Harry had told Dumbledore he would not go looking for the Resurrection Stone. He felt badly for breaking his promise, but as he approached the Forest, he also felt a sense of excitement. It had been a long time since a rush of adrenaline had surged through his veins. Rescuing Malfoy was a new adventure, and although the stakes were high, the fate of the world wasn’t resting on his shoulders.
Not like last time. Bracing himself against the memories, he attempted to retrace his — and Malfoy’s — steps.
The Forest seemed brighter than it ever had before. Streaks of sunlight came through the canopy to illuminate clumps of ferns and wildflowers, and there was a fresh scent in the air. It made Harry’s task a bit easier. Still, he didn’t let his guard down. Hagrid may have told Harry back when he was eleven that there was nothing to fear in the Forest, but that hadn’t been true in the end.
And Malfoy was with me the first time I came here, too. The first, and the last. Maybe Parvati was right, maybe there really was some sort of destiny winding around he and Malfoy, something they’d never recognised drawing them together over —
No. That’s not why he was saving Malfoy. If there was a way to reverse any casualty of the war, short a Time Turner, Harry was going to try.
And he owed it to Malfoy in particular, didn't he? Harry had failed him in the Room, then brought him out to the Forest and watched him shake in terror at the fact of his death. Even if they'd reached some understanding at the end, he knew that Malfoy would never have wanted Harry to witness his fear.
Tell them I wasn't afraid. Harry hadn't told Narcissa Malfoy anything of the sort. He'd lied to her face, whispered that her son was safe in the castle, then watched her calling out for her only child in the last hectic moments of the battle. He never liked her and he never would, and he knew he did what he had to. It didn't make facing her any easier, the day after everything shook out. When Harry admitted there'd be no body for her to bury, he thought she might kill him by the force of her glare.
If everything goes well, by tomorrow she'll have her son back.
And Draco would have a lot of catching up to do. He was legally an adult when he… disappeared, but he'd still been in school. Now his father was in prison, his mother on house arrest, and his friends had likely moved on. Harry wasn't exactly sure; he mostly kept to himself and his close family these days. Honestly he didn't feel as if he'd grown up all that much, five years older or not.
Snapping off a low hanging branch, Harry recalled how Malfoy’s hand had slipped through the leaves even as his feet glided along the path beside Harry's. He'd always thought of the other boy as a coward, but Malfoy had seemed to face his death with some fortitude, in the end.
The footpath was still visible, and eventually he came to the clearing where the Death Eaters had gathered during the Battle of Hogwarts. The spiders had never returned, but a few trailing wisps of web still fluttered from a stately sycamore tree. Here the Forest was not so renewed, and a staleness settled around Harry as he scanned the area. Somewhere under the years of fallen leaves, all his answers lay hidden.
It took less time that he expected.
First he kicked aside some debris where the path ended, where he would have paused before marching to his death. Then he went down on his knees and sifted through the dead leaves with his hands. Before he began spreading out, he pulled his wand.
“Can’t hurt,” he muttered to himself. “Accio Stone!”
A rustle, and the Stone was flying towards him. Wide-eyed, Harry grabbed it from the air like an errant Snitch, and blinked. That was easy.
It looked just as it always did in his dreams, and nightmares. Cracked and small, deceptively simple for so powerful an artifact. Harry stared at it lying in his palm.
He still wondered if it could summon his parents.
It was too great a risk: what if the Stone called Malfoy out in the Forest again? But perhaps, if Harry concentrated…
With a gasp, Harry spun around, but there was no one there. “Harry!” the voice called again, this time closer. A butterfly, its wings beating madly, suddenly appeared in front of his face; Harry tamped down the instinct to swat at it.
“I’m in McGonagall’s office,” the butterfly said, and Harry realised it was Parvati’s Patronus. “You’ll need the password,” her voice continued. “It’s Jelly Slugs.”
With a jolt of painful nostalgia, Harry gave the gargoyle the password and headed up the spiral stairs. As she said, Parvati was waiting for him, along with Professor McGonagall, who peered at Harry over the top of her spectacles.
“May I ask why you felt the need to visit the Forbidden Forest all of a sudden, Mr. Potter?”
It was like being a first-year again. “There was something I had to check on, Professor.” He didn’t think he’d ever be able to call her Minerva, even if they were on much less formal terms these days.
“This school is my responsibility, now. Please refrain from trespassing in places that are labelled forbidden, not that any sort of rules have stopped you before.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest that he was an adult now, but caught sight of the smile tugging at Professor McGonagalls lips. “It is good to see you, Harry. Now, tell me about this plan you and Ms. Patil have cooked up.”
Harry let Parvati do most of the talking, while his eyes wandered over the portraits still on the wall. Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen. That was good; Harry wasn’t in the mood for explanations or apologies. The space where Snape’s portrait once hung was blank, however. Had he requested it be moved to the dungeons? Only the curious eyes of Phineas Nigellus Black were focused on Harry. Draco was his descendant, wasn’t he?
“Your theory is sound.” Professor McGonagall stated, bringing Harry back to the present. “I will be able to help you, to an extent. The school works with me, you see. If I cast a strong Protego, it should hold against the Fiendfyre long enough for the two of you to bring out Mr. Malfoy. Perhaps it will even help protect him from the flames. You must act quickly, however. Time will be of the essence. Harry, Ms. Patil tells me that you have a way to communicate with him?”
Flicking his eyes back over to Dumbledore’s portrait — still empty — Harry opened his hand. “It’s the Resurrection Stone, Professor.”
The only betrayal of Professor McGonagall's shock was a tensing of her hand. “You cannot bring Draco Malfoy back from the dead if this fails. That is not what I agreed to.”
“No, Professor!” Parvati assured her. “That’s not our intention. But he’s between life and death, so the Stone can allow us to speak with him, and act as a focus. Remember, we’re hoping to stop him from dying in the first place.”
Professor McGonagall eyed the Stone with distaste. “I won’t ask how you came by such a thing, Harry. I only ask that you never use it again when this is over.”
“Then let us proceed.”
The route through the halls to the Room of Requirement was imprinted in Harry's mind. He needed no directions. Parvati trailed behind he and Professor McGonagall, making small motions with her hands and muttering to herself. Harry supposed she was going over the plan one final time with herself.
“Have you given any more thought to my offer, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked him. Parvati didn't make a sound, but Harry could almost feel her interest pique.
“I've had other things on my mind, Professor. But I promise I'll consider it.”
“Indeed. Professor Barnett only signed on as a temporary measure. We will be without a Defence Against The Dark Arts instructor again after this coming year. I’d hate to think you applied yourself and studied for your NEWTs so soon after the war just to let your education go to waste.”
“That was Hermione’s idea.” Harry didn’t regret it, necessarily. But it had been so exhausting, and so soon after the funerals… Her next idea had been much more appealing.
Eventually they stopped in front of the large double doors of the Room of Requirement. Harry approached them cautiously, and sprung back when he felt the heat emanating through them out into the hall. Memories rushed back, of spells soaring through the air, of screaming, of Draco’s voice pleading for help.
“How could anyone survive in there?” he asked, despair creeping into his voice.
“It hasn’t concluded yet, remember?” Parvati’s voice was soothing even as she reassured Harry by explaining the plan for what felt like the hundredth time. “It’s like the cat, when we look inside the experiment resolves. We’ll all work together to make sure it resolves the way we planned.”
Harry rolled the Stone around in his sweaty palm. “Right. Got it.” A terrible thought occurred to him, one he should have considered sooner. “What if he dies while we’re trying? Will the Stone bring him back, even though that’s not what I’m trying to do?”
“His ghost, maybe.” Parvati cocked her head thoughtfully. “I’m still not convinced the Resurrection Stone really brings people back. You’ll have some explaining to do if that happens. I can’t imagine Malfoy’s ghost would be happy with you.”
“Do let’s try to get this right, then,” Professor McGonagall added dryly. “I’d rather not have Draco Malfoy haunting the halls of my school.”
Parvati laughed, but Harry could only recall Malfoy’s despair at not leaving a body. If they bollocksed this up, that fear would come true, and it would be all Harry’s fault. His previous excitement withered away in the hot air of the hallway.
There would be no second chances.
“Right,” Harry said, swallowing back his nervousness. Soulmate or not, Malfoy was depending on him. “Let’s do it.”
None of them had been faced with a battle since that fateful night five years ago, but they all fell into their stances easily. Professor McGonagall cast a wide, strong field of Protego while Parvati began making complex movements with her wand, preparing the Arithmantic spells that would hopefully repair the Room. For his part, Harry braced his feet and held the Stone in his open hand, thinking hard about speaking to Malfoy.
Seconds ticked by as nothing happened. At long last, a faint shimmer materialised in front of the warm doors and slowly resolved into a person.
Appearing exactly as he had on the morning of May 2nd, Draco Malfoy stood blinking in confusion. He was still transparent, still dishevelled, but unburnt or otherwise injured. Harry nearly gasped in relief; their plan was working so far.
“Po— Potter? What’s happening?” Malfoy looked around frantically, both at the setting as well as Professor McGonagall and Parvati, who were both seemingly pointing their wands straight at him. It had to be unsettling, to be in the Room one moment, then the Forest the next, then back in Hogwarts.
“Why are we here? Didn’t you — I thought you were dead? Are we all dead?”
“Malfoy, I need you to stay calm.” Harry held one hand out in a placating manner. He couldn’t resist a quick peek at Malfoy’s wrist, and his own, but no threads had appeared. “We aren’t dead, and you aren’t, either.”
“I don’t understand. We were in the Forest. He didn’t win, did he?” Malfoy cringed, horrified at the thought.
“No! You’re safe now. Your mum is safe.” That caught Malfoy’s attention, and Harry continued. “We’re trying to save you.”
“But I’m…” Malfoy was baffled. “Potter. We said goodbye. Don’t you remember?”
As if Harry would forget that moment, ever. “I was wrong.” Malfoy’s eyes went wide, but he only stared at Harry, who continued to try and reassure him. “We’re trying to fix the Room, OK? I’m going to open it while we’re talking and… you’ll see. Just focus on me, alright?”
“You look different,” Malfoy pointed out. Harry didn’t respond to that; he didn’t want to deal with the five-year time gap while they were still trying to save Malfoy’s life.
“Everything will be fine.” Harry glanced over at Parvati, who was drawing complicated shapes in the air. “Your mum is going to be so happy to see you, yeah?”
Hope glimmered on Malfoy’s translucent face. “She’s really alright?”
“Really soon, I promise.” Harry gave a slight nod to Parvati, then spoke to Malfoy again. “Don’t lose focus on me.”
“I still don’t understand what’s going on, but trust me Potter, you have my full attention.”
Harry began concentrating on the door just as he used to. I need the room where everything is burning, he thought, although there were no other options. A low creak echoed around them as the doors seemed to strain at the hinges, and Parvati began chanting furiously, while Professor McGonagall’s stern face told Harry her Protego was holding well.
“Don’t be scared,” Harry said, as much to Malfoy as himself.
The doors burst open in a rush, and tongues of fire licked at the edges of Professor McGonagall's shield spell. Malfoy whirled around in panic, but being a shade, the fire couldn’t harm him, only terrify him. Parvati’s voice grew louder, and light flared from her wand and illuminated the doors, outlining them in vivid blue.
“Stay calm!” Harry tried to yell to Malfoy over the roar of the flames. “Just stay —”
“No!” Harry turned to Parvati in a panic. “Where is he? Did it kill him?”
“It’s resolving!” she shouted back, her wand still in movement. “He’s no longer between possibilities! The Stone can’t call the living!”
“He could still die!” Harry felt helpless, there was nothing else for him to do now, only hope that Parvati’s repair spells combined with bringing Malfoy to focus had allowed the Room to —
In a great rush of warm air, the flames pulled back, and Malfoy came tumbling out of the Room of Requirement just as the door clanged shut behind him.
A solid, opaque Malfoy.
He was on his knees, gasping for air. Quickly, Harry scrambled forward to help him. The tips of his blond hair were singed, and he was covered in soot, but didn’t appear to be burned anywhere. Harry reached out to place a hand on his shoulder, and shuddered in relief as it met resistance.
“You’re OK. Merlin, you’re OK.” Harry fought back the urge to embrace Malfoy, who still seemed to have trouble drawing a breath.
Professor McGonagall appeared at Harry’s side. “Smoke inhalation,” she pronounced, wrapping Malfoy in a sort of bubble charm. “He needs to be taken to Poppy immediately.”
“He’ll need to be isolated overnight with clean air. You can see him in the morning.” She turned to Parvati. “Ms. Patil, can you finish things here?”
“Yes, I can perform the rest of the repair spells on the Room from here.” Parvati stared in fascination at the trembling, sooty Malfoy.
“Potter,” he croaked. “You’d better explain what’s happening.”
“Don’t try to speak, Mr. Malfoy. And no, don’t try to stand, either. You’ve been through an ordeal.” Professor McGonagall levitated Malfoy beside her. “Everything will be explained to you shortly.”
Malfoy coughed violently, and tried to catch his breath. “Just tell — tell me — is it — over?”
“The battle’s over,” Harry confirmed. “Now try to rest.” Malfoy nodded, and closed his eyes, allowing Professor McGonagall to levitate his still-shaking body alongside her towards the Hospital Wing.
Harry stood back as Parvati finished the spells, lost in his thoughts. He’d had weeks to think about what he’d say to Malfoy, and was still no closer to knowing. For Malfoy it had only been moments between saying goodbye in the Forest to being pulled out of the Room. How would Harry explain the circumstances leading up to the rescue? For that matter, how would Malfoy deal with the five years he had missed? Harry was under no delusion that they would suddenly become friends.
But Malfoy was alive. They had done it! After so much planning, it was over in a manner of minutes, and they had succeeded. All of Harry’s fantasies of saving people who’d died in the war… and he finally got to save one of them. He couldn’t help but grin. He'd figure out what to say in the morning.
And he definitely wasn’t going to mention the threads.
The next morning, Harry crept into the Hospital Wing before breakfast. Madam Pomfrey was nowhere to be found, but alone in a bed at the end of the row was Malfoy. He was sitting up, still looking exhausted and pale, but no longer covered in soot or gasping for breath. A tray of breakfast was on the table next to him; he picked absently at a piece of toast while staring into space. He must be in shock, Harry thought. I would be too, if I suddenly tumbled five years into the future.
Just then, Malfoy caught his eye and froze. Harry scuffed his foot on the floor, unsure if he should approach. Of course things were going to be awkward. For Malfoy, the war had ended abruptly only a day ago. Gathering his courage, Harry strode down the aisle of beds and spoke into the silence.
“Hey, Malfoy. You look like you've seen a ghost.”
Malfoy sank back against his pillows, some of the tension leaving his shoulders, and then arched a brow, a gesture so familiar that Harry was thrown back in time. “And you look as if you finally bought clothes that fit. Took you long enough.” His voice was raspy, but the old Malfoy wit was seemingly intact. The small smile he gave Harry was a far cry from his old sneer, however.
“Grew into them, I guess.” Harry smiled nervously. “So you know, then, about…”
“That I've been stuck in a time loop? That the whole world has moved on five years while I've been there?" Malfoy shook his head in disbelief. "Yes, Professor McGonagall filled me in. Madam Pomfrey as well, once she got over the shock of seeing me.”
“It was more like a probability loop,” Harry explained. “You were the cat in the box, see —”
“I beg your pardon?” Malfoy coughed, one hand over his mouth. Harry went to fetch him a glass of water from the tray.
“Thank you.” After taking a sip, Malfoy continued. “How am I a cat?”
Harry scratched his head. “Parvati should explain it. I mean, I understand, she's just better at putting it in words.”
“I noticed her outside the Room of Requirement. Why was she helping?”
“She's with the Department of Mysteries, now. Absolute genius, it turns out.”
“Hmm.” Malfoy took another drink of water. “But why was she… I mean, how did you get her to help?”
“Get her to…?” Harry noticed Malfoy’s downcast look and sat down on a small stool beside his bed. “Malfoy, she wanted to help. As soon as I heard her theory about the Room being broken, I knew we had to try. We weren't going to leave you there.”
“But I was on the other side,” Malfoy whispered roughly. “I wasn't — wasn't brave enough to not be.”
Harry sighed. “Look, I can't speak for anyone else, and I'm not saying you don't have anything to answer for, but… you didn't deserve to die. I couldn't live with myself if I left you there.”
Malfoy's eyes were wet, and Harry worried he might cry. “Thank you, Potter. Thank you.” He leaned forward toward Harry, emphasising his words. “I'll never be able to thank you enough.”
They were so close. Suddenly, Harry wanted to see what Draco had seen, those floating threads that bound them together. Was he still thinking about it? When he saw Harry now, did the words soulmate ring in his head? Or did he just want to forget about it, and move on with his interrupted life?
Instead Harry blurted out, “You said knowing about death didn't make you appreciate life. Do you still feel that way?”
Malfoy pulled back abruptly. “You remember that?”
“Of course.” Harry had gone over every word of their last conversation in his head these past few weeks. Before he could stop himself, he asked “Do you remember what else you said?”
“Like it was yesterday.”
And for him, it was. Harry didn't get a chance to ask for more details, because all of a sudden the doors to the Hospital Wing burst open.
Narcissa Malfoy came barrelling down the aisle, far more dishevelled than Harry had ever seen her. With a wild look, she practically flung herself over her son’s bed. “My darling!” she cried between gasping sobs. “Oh, my baby!”
Harry caught Malfoy’s eye over his mother’s shoulder. I'm gonna go, he mouthed. Malfoy nodded distractedly, and Harry crept backwards to the door. He could hear Malfoy over Narcissa's cries as he left the Hospital Wing. “Mother, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to worry you. I love you, I'm sorry, I love you.”
Harry allowed himself the small pang of jealousy at such an intimate family moment; he was used to that sensation by now. Malfoy and his mother deserved privacy. Harry would get a chance to speak with him once he'd recovered, to explain how the rescue happened, and give him a primer on the last five years. And then… Malfoy would go his own way.
After all, it wasn't like they were friends.
The walk down the grand staircase into the Great Hall was like coming home. It had been too long since Harry had come to Hogwarts. Immediately after the war the memories had been too painful, but now Harry was able to look around and remember the good times. It didn’t hurt that everything had been completely repaired.
There was a breakfast served for the staff that remained over the summer, and the food looked as delicious as ever. Harry slid into the seat next to Parvati, who glanced up, eyes hooded with exhaustion.
“Rough night?” he joked.
“It was a little draining.” She gave Harry a tired smile. “But it's done. I went back this morning after the spells had a chance to settle, paced three times and asked for a study room and it worked like a charm. Should have asked for a spa.”
“I'll bet McGonagall would give you the password for the prefect’s bathroom if you want a good soak. It's ace.”
Parvati slid her gaze suspiciously over Harry. “You weren't a prefect.”
Harry reached for a pasty and smirked. “Didn't stop me. I was in there fourth year.”
“You were such a troublemaker,” she conceded with a laugh. “What's more, you were a terrible date.”
“I was a little preoccupied, thanks. I was in the middle of a life-or-death tournament.”
“Hmm. I think it was more like Cho being there that took your attention from me. Shame, my dress was spectacular.” Harry could tell she was only teasing.
“Have you spoken to Malfoy?” she casually added as she buttered a roll.
“I went up this morning. He looks… shocked. We didn't get to talk very long, his mother arrived.”
“Yes, she was allowed off house arrest,” McGonagall chimed in from Harry’s left. “The Ministry considered it a family emergency.”
“I'll say. Nothing like having your child back from the dead. Do you think he'll be put on house arrest with her?” Parvati asked.
“What?” Harry wheeled from her around to McGonagall. “Is he being arrested?”
“That's not up to me,” she said, but Harry could tell she disapproved of the idea.
“I rather think he’s been punished enough,” Parvati said. “And knowing —” Harry glared at her, and she cut off.
Conversation after that turned to plans for the next school year, then to Quidditch, as McGonagall’s beloved Montrose Magpies were making a hard run for the League Cup. Harry was arguing against their current strategy when a figure appeared in the entrance to the Great Hall and made its way to the table.
Narcissa Malfoy’s eyes were red-rimmed, but she still held herself with dignity. “Can I help you, Mrs. Malfoy?” McGonagall offered.
“No, thank you. I wondered if I might speak to Mr. Potter. Alone.”
McGonagall tensed, but Harry rose from his seat. “Yeah, alright. Out by the entrance?” Narcissa nodded, and Harry followed her out of the Great Hall, to the entryway where they could see the main doors.
Facing Harry, Narcissa took a deep breath; obviously what she had to say pained her. “It goes without saying that I cannot repay you, Mr. Potter. I will be forever indebted to you. Myself and —” Lucius, she was probably going to say, but wisely thought better of it. Harry would never have to contend with forgiveness for Lucius Malfoy; he was serving a life sentence in Azkaban.
He wondered what Draco felt when he learned of his father’s fate.
“In any case,” Narcissa continued smoothly, “you cannot know what this means to me. Maybe someday when you have a child, you will understand. However,” and her eyes narrowed, glittering in a way that reminded Harry sharply of Draco, “I must ask. Did you know about this when we spoke?”
She didn’t have to specify when they spoke; Harry knew she was referring to that moment in the Forest. She was asking if it was really a lie, if he thought Draco was actually alive at that time.
“No,” Harry answered honestly. “I didn’t know. I really thought he was dead. As far as I knew, I was lying to you.”
“Hmm.” She regarded him carefully for a moment. “I believe I threatened you for that lie when we last saw one another.”
“You did,” Harry answered, unafraid. “Even though my testimony that you helped me with no expectation of reward is what saved you from prison.”
“Oh, I am well aware of how it worked out for me. And I am also aware of why you did it. For you, it was quite necessary. A very Slytherin action, one might say.”
“So you lied twice. Once to me, and once when you allowed the Wizengamot to believe that I switched sides out of vengeance, and not of hope.”
“Would you have?” Harry asked curiously. “Turned on Voldemort if you knew Draco was dead.”
There was a long silence. “I am not sure,” she admitted at long last. “I certainly blamed that creature for a great many things that happened to my family. But his was a compelling force.”
Harry snorted in derision. “Plenty of people resisted him.”
Narcissa clenched her fists. “I have lived these past five years with a broken heart, one made worse by those final, agonising moments of tearing my way through a battle, searching for a son who was already gone. Do not expect me to forget that so soon.”
“I — no.” Harry stepped back, chagrined. “I don’t regret the outcome, but I do regret that you were hurting, Mrs. Malfoy.”
She nodded, somewhat appeased. “In any case, you have settled the debt twice, now. I do not think I can stay quite so angry with you anymore, now that you have returned my Draco to me.”
Harry wasn’t sure he could remain so angry with her, either, after seeing how much she loved Malfoy. Family stuff always got to him. He didn’t think they would ever be friendly, though.
He couldn’t help it, he had to ask. “What will happen to Malfoy now?”
“Draco will return home with me,” she stated decisively. “He is being discharged to my care this evening. I am leaving with my Auror escort now to prepare the Manor for him.”
“Right.” That was that, then.
Narcissa made to leave, then turned back. “What exactly was it that lead you to pursue this, after all these years?”
“Er… Parvati had a theory.” If he wasn’t talking to Malfoy about the soulmate threads, he certainly wasn’t telling Narcissa.
“Ah, the Unspeakable. I suppose we can trust her to keep a secret.”
“Secret?” She wasn’t planning on hiding Malfoy away forever, right?
She arched a brow. “About your spectral conversation with my son. He told me all about it.”
Harry gaped at her. Wait, so she knew I really thought Malfoy was dead? Was she testing me?
Narcissa didn’t wait for an answer, only went towards the main doors once more. “I’d be careful who else you tell about that little artifact, Mr. Potter,” she remarked as she went. “Playing with death is a rather Dark subject.”
Before Harry had a chance to respond, a man in Auror uniform appeared, and Narcissa Malfoy’s heels went clicking down the steps of Hogwarts.
That could have been the end of it. Harry had seen Malfoy this morning, knew he was going to be alright. But things felt… unfinished, and Harry found himself in the Hospital Wing once more, later that afternoon.
Malfoy stood next to his bed, no longer in a patient’s robe, slowly buttoning a dark blue shirt that appeared a size too big for him. His old clothes must have been too smoke damaged to repair, and he’d had to settle for a spare set from Pomfrey.
“You’re back,” Malfoy said. He looked better than this morning, though his hands were shaking slightly.
“Yeah. Wanted to say… goodbye, I guess.” Malfoy didn’t answer, and Harry continued. “Your mother is something else.”
The buttoning stopped. “What do you mean by that?”
“She’s… talking to her feels like being caught in a spider web.”
Malfoy didn’t actually seem insulted. “Yes, she’s quite clever, isn’t she? Did she interrogate you?”
“She had questions, yeah.”
“About that mean little stunt you pulled on her, I’d wager.” Malfoy began buttoning again, very deliberately.
“I — she told you about that?”
“I was puzzled how she avoided prison. She told me she helped you, but that didn’t ring true, so I pressed her for the whole story.” Malfoy finished the last button at this throat and clenched his jaw. “You knew very well I was dead and yet you tricked her.”
“Malfoy… I had to. I couldn't risk saying no when she asked, I didn’t know how she would react. And I suppose you weren’t dead, after all.”
“That doesn’t make it less of a lie.”
“No, it doesn’t. I don’t regret doing it, but I feel awful, if that makes any sense.”
“So.” Malfoy sat back down on the cot and began pulling on his socks and shoes. “Five years. It’s all so surreal. Yesterday I was barely coming to terms with my death, and now I have to learn how to live in a whole new world.”
“It’s a good world, for the most part,” Harry offered.
“And will I be allowed to live in it?” Malfoy asked bluntly. “My mother told me what her consequences were, as well as my… my father’s. Am I to be put on trial as well?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “But I really doubt it. There was a special court right after the war, because so many people in the Ministry had been corrupt, and that was dissolved after all the trials. They declared everything closed so the world could… move on. As much as we could. So I’m not sure how they would try you.”
“You’d be surprised,” Malfoy said grimly.
“I won’t let them,” Harry declared, shocking both himself and Draco. “You didn’t really want to be there, and you were so young, so —” He stopped short, and laughed. “You are so young, I mean.”
Malfoy glowered. “I’m of age.”
“I know, I know. And I know you don’t feel like a child — I didn’t at your age, at the end of the war. It’s just, it’s so strange. You’re a teenager. What are you even going to do?”
“Catch my breath. This is still completely surreal.” Harry could tell that Malfoy was attempting to be stoic as he stood on unsteady feet. “I just want to crawl into my own bed and sleep for a week. And after that… well, study for my NEWTS. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I don’t think my mother will let me leave her side for some time. So I’ll be on a sort of house arrest as well, which… let’s not pretend I don’t deserve it.” Malfoy looked away from Harry, out the window of the Hospital Wing where the late afternoon sun was shining brightly. “I need to make amends for some things,” he admitted.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Harry recalled another part of their conversation in the Forest. “You can think about the future now, instead of just surviving.”
“Indeed. I can actually walk the halls of my own home without running into… well. That’s also something I have to thank you for.”
“I have to thank you, too,” Harry admitted.
Malfoy cocked his head. “Why?”
“You walked with me. When I thought it was all over, that I wasn't coming back. I know it was hard for you in that moment, that you thought you were dead, but you still stood beside me.”
“I’m… I’m not sure I can talk about that yet. I felt…” Malfoy’s voice shook, and he put a hand out to steady himself against the windowsill. “I thought I was being punished. That I’d be trapped in the Forbidden Forest for all eternity.”
“I’m glad we were both wrong,” Harry offered. “That we’re alive.”
“Perhaps someday you can tell me how you’re alive.” Harry twitched; he’d never told anyone about King’s Cross, except for Ron and Hermione. Maybe it was only fair he tell Malfoy, since they had both crossed the line.
“Maybe,” he answered vaguely.
Malfoy didn’t press him for any more details on that. Instead he furrowed his brow and asked, “Just what exactly put the notion in your head to come and rescue me now? After all these years, you just decided to come looking for me?”
He could lie. Harry had been thinking about lies all morning, and their consequences. He’d been honest with Malfoy in the Forest, thinking he deserved to hear the truth at the end. He’d lied to Narcissa, using her love against her, betting on her desperation. It all came down to risk: what did Harry risk by telling the truth, that he’d heard a fairy story about soulmates and thought it might mean them?
A terribly uncomfortable conversation, for one. Did he expect Malfoy to admit to being Harry’s soulmate? He’d just gone through an extraordinary ordeal. Questions about destiny and… and love were probably the last thing he wanted to deal with. Harry didn’t even know how to deal with it himself. And he definitely didn’t want Malfoy to think Harry had rescued him hoping for something more between them. He didn’t even know if he was attracted to Malfoy, let alone able to fall for him. He was seventeen! Or eighteen? It was past June… Merlin, Harry didn’t even know for sure they were connected by a thread — he’d never taken the wand into the Love room to test it.
And what did Harry stand to gain?
Nothing. I don’t expect anything from Malfoy. What could there ever be between us?
No. It was for the best Harry leave it be. It didn’t matter in the end, right? Parvati had told him most people didn’t end up with their soulmate. Her colleagues at the Department of Mysteries weren’t even sure if everyone had a soulmate.
Ignoring his misgivings, Harry chose omission as the best course of action. “Parvati and I spoke about her theories on the Room of Requirement, and I mentioned I hadn’t actually seen you die. It all went kind of quickly from there. You know how I am.”
Malfoy seemed dubious, but graciously didn’t push for a better explanation. “Once again I benefit from the Gryffindor tendency to charge in. I’d say three Gryffindors, but McGonagall is far more level-headed.”
“Good thing,” Harry joked. “I might have burned down the castle.”
Malfoy shivered at the mention of the Fiendfyre. He moved away from the window, and Harry backed up to let him pass, wondering when they’d gotten so close. He found he didn’t want their conversation to be over, but Malfoy was looping a cloak around his shoulders, apparently ready to leave. He seemed edgy, as if he wanted to put some distance between Harry and himself. Was he thinking about the threads?
“I suppose this is goodbye for now, Potter.”
“Right, yeah.” Harry couldn’t resist, he looked at Malfoy’s wrist — stupid, they weren’t in the Love room and didn’t have a Deathly Hallow to guide them. He wasn’t going to see anything. Malfoy looked at him suspiciously, and Harry thrust his hand forward to cover for his strange behaviour.
“I’ll see you around.”
Malfoy shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You shook my hand already. In the Forest.”
Harry shrugged and dropped his hand. He wasn’t going to push. Malfoy watched the motion with what Harry thought might be resignation, then straightened, backing toward the door of the Hospital Wing. He inclined his head towards Harry, bowing slightly in a gesture of gratitude.
“Again, thank you. Truly.”
It was too formal, almost forced, and Harry wanted to stop him from going. The conversation seemed unnaturally cut off, like the thread on Harry’s wrist. That can’t be it. Not after everything.
But he couldn’t find words to express that, so he simply nodded, and watched as Malfoy turned and left.
New year, new chapter. Thank you all for your lovely comments and for waiting patiently! I participated in the most recent HD Erised, and Tropesfest right before that, which took my attention since those were gift exchanges on a deadline. (I hope you'll check those fics out!) Also it's been a rollercoaster of a year for me emotionally. It's honestly been a relief to get back to this fic. I'm on tumblr and I'd love to see you over there!
One of the most difficult things about having adventures, as Harry discovered over the years, was the fact that life went on immediately after. Mundane things like work and chores could only wait for so long.
With Malfoy safely on his way home, McGonagall had congratulated Harry and Parvati on their daring idea, and then gone back to her duties as Headmistress. Parvati was involved in several time-sensitive projects at the Department of Mysteries, and wasn’t able to stick around and celebrate. So it was that only a week after the breathtaking rush of speaking to Malfoy again, Harry found himself alone again at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, staring at his neglected mountain of paperwork.
Working with Hermione couldn’t exactly be called exciting, but it was important. It was something Harry had fallen into rather than chosen; he’d been so indecisive about a career, and Hermione tended to take on more work than she could possibly handle, so when he’d offered to help her sort memos one night during her first few harried months at the Ministry, it only made sense. Two years later, and Harry was still her valued assistant.
He was just going over line edits that had been added to a bill on Centaur employment rights (not that Harry could ever imagine a Centaur applying for a job, Firenze aside) when a tap-tap-tap at his window drew his attention.
Sitting on the windowsill was the largest, most terrifying owl Harry had ever laid eyes on. It glared at him and scratched at the glass, emitting one baleful hoot.
Harry carefully opened the window, his wand hand at the ready, wondering who would be sending a strange owl to his secret address. When he reached for the parchment, the owl pecked his hand sharply and pushed into the room. Harry yelped and watched it perch on the back of his chair.
If an owl could roll its eyes, Harry would have sworn that was exactly what it did. It made no more violent moves, though, so Harry opened the parchment after casting a number of detection spells revealed nothing malicious.
Your house seems to be under a Fidelius Charm, but given that you were my cousin’s heir, I can only assume you are at the Black residence. This is my mother’s owl, and (through spells I am not privy to) I am told it can find any Black property in existence. If you would be so kind as to give me your address, I won’t be forced to send this beastly creature again.
As if it sensed Draco’s insult, the owl gave another threatening hoot. Harry, no longer worried, shushed it and continued reading.
I am writing to let you know that I have arrived safely at the Manor. It is rather — and here were several scratch marks, as if Malfoy had changed his mind about what word to use — strange to be back here. It is very quiet. Mother is of course beside herself with happiness at my return. I was faced with one of the most peculiar encounters of my life when I presented myself at the Ministry records department to have my death certificate cancelled, although the ancient witch at the desk seemed to have done this sort of thing before.
I have been informed that I will not be charged with any crimes by the Ministry. They have, as you predicted, moved on, and can’t be bothered with someone who was a minor for a portion of the war. It is not possible to describe my relief.
Harry was relieved, too. He’d spent the last week nervously speculating what reaction Malfoy would face at the Ministry. Not that he deserved no repercussions at all, but Harry didn’t want to see him in prison.
I cannot help but feel I have got off lightly. As I indicated in our previous conversation, I am aware that I must answer for certain things. In the meantime, Mother thinks it best if I lay low for a while. She’s still terrified that the Aurors are going to show up and drag me away.
One consequence of my actions is that I am definitely expelled from Hogwarts. I will be allowed to sit my NEWTS privately, but given that the last year of school wasn’t conducive to studying, I will be starting from scratch. There are things from the sixth year curriculum I have to revisit as well. As I can no longer depend on my name or connections (and I know you must find that hilarious), I will have to be diligent with my marks to ensure I have employment opportunities.
Thus my immediate future appears to be a quiet one, and I must admit that I am thankful. My apparent death is still like a nightmare, one that will take me some time to come to terms with. Still, I owed you a letter to set your mind at ease. And if I may be so bold, I promise I will not make you regret saving me, whether our paths cross again or not.
You do not owe me a reply, Potter.
“You do not owe me a reply,” Harry snorted. Malfoy had as good as asked for one, when he requested Harry’s address. Well, if Malfoy was going to reach out, then Harry was definitely going to write him back. Maybe not right away — that was desperate — but eventually, and not in nearly as formal a tone.
In fact, even if he waited to send it, he could start composing his reply straight away. He tossed an owl treat out the open window, slammed it shut as soon as the aggressive owl flew after it, and searched for a blank piece of parchment.
Malfoy, Harry began.
The owl found me just fine. Please don’t send it again. My address will be on the envelope.
I’m glad you’re not going to Azkaban. You’ll have to figure out what atonement means on your own, but it sounds like you’re already thinking about it.
As far as studying goes, I took some catch-up courses for my NEWTS and I did fine, so a swot like you should be aces. I studied more after Hogwarts, too; it’s a long story but if you ever want to hear it let me know.
I’m not sure if you’re being literal about nightmares, but I have a few suggestions about dealing with them. Even after five years it can be hard to believe it’s all over. Just don’t go too hard on the Dreamless Sleep, even if you’re tempted.
You don’t “owe” me a reply either, but feel free to write me back.
There Harry paused, unsure how to sign off. In formal letters he used ‘sincerely,’ and with his friends he said ‘love.’ What could be in between? ‘Yours?’ That made Harry blush furiously. In the end he decided to just leave his name.
After that first letter, Harry found himself corresponding with Malfoy. It was infrequent; Harry didn’t want to seem too eager to talk, and Malfoy was likely busy catching up over a whole year’s worth of courses. But he kept Harry updated with briefs on what he was cramming for, and peppered his letters with scathing humour aimed at everything from the tutors his mother hired to the last few peacocks who were roaming wild on the Manor grounds.
It wasn’t as if Malfoy was a secret that Harry was keeping. Paperwork had been filed at the Ministry, and Hogwarts hadn’t been entirely empty for the summer, so there had been an inevitable article in the Prophet, breathlessly detailing his rescue and return to the living. “He wasn’t really dead,” Harry had muttered, suspecting that Narcissa was the unnamed source in an attempt to drum up sympathy for her son. It had worked: Rita Skeeter thought he was a poor, tragic figure who would forever be displaced in time.
In fact, as Malfoy had disappeared on May 2nd, and returned in the first week of July, he had missed his birthday of June 5th entirely. Short of moving his birthday forward, however, there wasn't much to be done to reconcile his true chronological age. (Harry had mentioned this to Parvati, who laughed and said, “Malfoy as a Leo? Ha! Can you imagine?” Harry could not imagine. He didn't even know what that meant, even being a Leo himself.)
Harry himself had firmly refused any interviews, as he always did these days, and returned to his very important but very much un-newsworthy work of assisting Hermione. Today they were gathered around a pile of proposals from the Department of International Magical Cooperation. It wasn’t boring, necessarily, especially when they worked together, but McGonagall’s offer simmered in the background of Harry’s thoughts. A rapid scratching sound caused him to look up from the papers.
“Is that another letter from Malfoy?” Hermione pointed at the large eagle owl perched on her windowsill, an envelope clasped in its beak. It didn’t scratch at the glass more than once, choosing to sit and wait calmly for Harry to let it inside.
“Hey, Perseus.” Harry opened the window, and the owl blinked at him placidly and held out its leg.
“Rather dignified, isn’t he?” Hermione remarked. Harry stroked Perseus along his beak, earning a soft hoot. “He likes you, it seems. Rather like his owner.”
Harry scoffed, and Hermione hid a small laugh behind her hand. “It’s true, isn’t it? That’s certainly not the first letter you’ve received from Malfoy.”
“It’s nothing special, we’re just catching up. He thinks he owes me.”
“I’d say he’s right.” Harry turned an incredulous look towards her, but Hermione continued. “I know you would never hold it over him. That’s not the way you are. But going from speaking to Parvati about children’s stories to pulling him from the jaws of death, well, that’s something, even for you.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. He’d told both Ron and Hermione that a casual conversation with Parvati about the soulmate threads had led to further discussion about her work in general; eventually her research into the Room of Requirement came up, and after comparing notes they’d decided Malfoy might still be alive. Even if he trusted his two closest friends with his own secrets, he didn’t feel it was his business to reveal anything about the threads, not now that Malfoy was alive and involved as the other party.
Not that Malfoy was aware Harry knew anything about that.
He couldn’t help but wonder if the threads were why Malfoy was making an effort to stay in contact. Near-death experiences aside, there was never any love lost between them, and their past antagonistic relationship was much closer for Malfoy than Harry, who’d had years to get over childhood rivalries. Was Malfoy trying to be friendly because he believed Harry was his soulmate? Or was it his way of making amends, of being a better person? Did he even like Harry?
With every sporadic letter they exchanged, Harry grew more curious. Somewhere beneath jokes and platitudes were deeper conversations waiting to be had, and Harry didn’t know how to start them. He was also worried about pushing Malfoy too far, of scaring him off.
And so here he sat, seven months later, back to his old routines as if he didn’t have a looming metaphysical question hanging over his head. When he left Hogwarts, he’d been resigned to never knowing the answer, and told himself he didn’t care. But then Malfoy had reached out, and Harry couldn’t help himself.
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice broke through the fog of his thoughts. “You’re a million miles away. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing. Sorry, where were we?”
She eyed him skeptically. “You’ve had something on your mind for a while. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me?”
Harry laughed nervously. “What could I possibly have to tell you?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I asked.” She shuffled a few papers while pointedly not looking Harry in the eye. “I thought perhaps you’d met someone, except you don’t find time to go out and meet new people.”
“I go out!” Harry protested.
Hermione waved him off. “I’m not saying you don’t, only that it’s with the same crowd. There’s nothing wrong with that. Goodness knows I’m the same.”
“Eh, you meet new people all the time.”
“Yes, for my job. Otherwise I’ve a close-knit group of friends, and I’m perfectly happy for it.”
“Well, I am too.”
“Again, that’s fine. I was only saying that if you had met someone, I can’t imagine where.” Hermione glanced up at Harry slyly. “You know, for a moment there, Ron and I thought you were dating Parvati.”
Harry sputtered, his huff of indignation so strong that several papers went skittering across the floor. “Why did you think that?”
“You were being so mysterious about meeting up with her.”
“That’s because she works in the Department of Mysteries. Anyway, I told you what we were up to eventually.” Mostly.
“No matter, we knew it couldn’t be true once she blazed across the society pages with Oliver Wood.”
“Too right.” Harry nodded decisively. He respected Parvati and enjoyed her company, but he wasn’t attracted to her. In any case, she believed he was destined to end up with Malfoy.
Malfoy, whom Harry couldn’t stop thinking about.
In his experience, Hermione would eventually figure everything out. Maybe it was best to get ahead of her. Harry gathered his scattered pages and tried to act nonchalant.
“I suppose I have met someone new,” he threw out casually. Hermione whipped her head around, her curls following a moment later.
Harry tried to keep a straight face, but her surprised expression was too funny. “Malfoy,” he laughed.
She rolled her eyes. “Malfoy isn’t new, you’ve known him forever.”
“He is, though,” Harry said, realising how true it was. “The way he writes in his letters, he’s so different. The shock of being basically thrown forward in time, thinking he was dead… he’s still kind of a git, but he’s not mean anymore, you know?”
“I imagine that would be distressing,” Hermione agreed. “And to be quite frank, he already seemed traumatised during the war.” She frowned. “Still, Harry, it’s one thing to exchange letters, and quite another to truly become friends. He may feel that he owes you his life, but as a child he was cruel and violent to you, to all of us. Do you really think he’s changed?” There was no judgement in Hermione’s voice, which Harry appreciated.
“I guess it’s hard to tell from just letters,” he admitted. “He could just be acting sorry.” It hurt Harry to consider that Malfoy may have been leading him on, but for what purpose? Because Harry was famous and respected?
“You have a big heart, and you like to believe the best of people. Just keep that in mind. But I’m sure whatever his intentions, that Malfoy must appreciate writing to you. It must feel very lonely, being displaced like that.”
Harry nodded in agreement; Malfoy did sound lonely, even if he tried to hide it with snark. He left Hermione to the paperwork and took a short break to read the latest letter. True to form, Malfoy and he were still on a last-name basis, regardless of how Harry signed his own replies.
I trust the new year is finding you well. Our holiday celebrations were subdued, but lovely. Thank you for the dragonhide journal — I did tell you not to get me anything, but as usual you never listen to reason. I refuse to feel guilty for abiding by the no-gifts agreement.
Harry smiled to himself. He’d spotted the little journal at Flourish and Botts, and thought it might be perfect for Malfoy to take notes in while studying. He suspected that Malfoy had suggested the ‘no-gifts’ rule because his family vaults had been well-depleted by reparations and he was low on funds, but Harry had more money than he knew what to do with, and expected nothing in return.
Mother has stopped looking at me with panic in her eyes, as if I might disappear at any instant, which is quite a relief. Her house arrest term is coming to a close soon. She keeps talking about moving elsewhere, perhaps France or Switzerland, when she is free, and I can tell she expects me to follow.
That made Harry frown. He had become used to having Malfoy back in his life — not that owls couldn’t be sent across the Channel, but it seemed so far away. He realised with a start that he’d been expecting to see Malfoy in person eventually, now that they were civil. Harry felt a slight tug of want and dismissed it, reading on.
I don’t think I want to leave Britain, though. I should be ready to sit my NEWTS in June, and my tutor in Potions believes he can connect me with an apprenticeship somewhere. (You would hate this man, Potter — he’s like a cross between Binns and Snape, very boring yet very exacting. I appreciate the rigorous curriculum, myself.) I doubt Mother wants me to work, and if I follow her I wouldn’t have to, since there are definitely vaults hidden in Switzerland. (I shouldn’t tell you that, but somehow I trust you. Look at me, I’ve become sentimental.) Yet I find myself with the desire to make my own way. I’m sure you find that admirable. I find it practical — I’ll never be accepted back in society by resting on the privileges that were afforded to me in the past.
Harry did find it admirable, and suspected that Malfoy had reasons that weren’t only practical: his pride, and wanting to distance himself from the unpleasant things that relying on power and money had drawn him into, before he realised he wasn’t cut out for it.
Of course, no plans can be made until I actually pass my exams. I am confident but I prefer not to get ahead of myself. So I will try to appreciate this last bit of time I have, a simple student living with his mother, before real life rushes back at me. It has been immensely helpful to have the months of relative quiet. When you told me that you went back to Hogwarts to sit for your own NEWTS, I admit I have wondered how you dealt with the memories. Even in a peaceful setting they often threaten to swallow me whole.
Enough with the morbidness. It’s a whole new year, after all. If you feel like writing, tell me what gifts you received for Christmas.
Malfoy still wrote letters like an old man, even though he was a teenager. It made Harry chuckle every time. He’d been formal and stilted with Harry when they spoke the morning after his rescue, as well, and Harry thought it might be a defence mechanism of some kind. Would Malfoy would still speak that way in person, or would some part of his old snarky self shine through? Every time Harry thought about asking him to meet up, his Gryffindor bravery faltered. What was he hoping to gain from that? Just some witty banter? And what excuse would he give?
The answer was staring him in the face Malfoy would take his NEWTS in June, just after his birthday. Harry could ask him out for a celebratory drink. Should he? Folding the letter carefully, Harry worried his lip, trying to determine if that was a good idea or not. When he looked up, he saw Hermione staring at him knowingly; he set the letter aside with a flush and got back to work.
He had time to decide.
What a difference a year made. The Malfoy who showed up in the park, a stone’s throw from the Leaky, was healthier looking than the one Harry had spoken so haltingly with in the Hospital Wing. He was still pale, of course, but his eyes were bright, and his cheeks were flushed with life. Harry was still a bit awed at seeing him so alive, after thinking of him as dead for five years.
In deference to the Muggle park, Malfoy had eschewed robes, but he was still overdressed for the weather in dark grey trousers and a crisply pressed black shirt. Interestingly, his hair was growing out, and he nervously pushed a lock of it behind one ear as he sat on the far end of the bench that Harry had chosen.
“I’d say I was surprised to receive your summons, but doing the unexpected is honestly what you live for.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s not a summons. I invited you. Here, it’s hot out, thought you might like a cold drink.” He produced two bottles of Fanta that he’d picked up at a corner shop and surreptitiously placed under a Cooling Charm.
Malfoy raised a curious eyebrow at the Muggle drink, but accepted it with a short nod of thanks.
“So to what do I owe this ‘invitation,’ then?”
“Eh, you know. Thought you might like to celebrate passing your exams with someone other than your mum.”
“Rather bold of you to assume I passed.” Malfoy took a long swallow of the orange drink, glancing at Harry from the corner of his eyes.
“You did pass, right?” Harry sputtered.
“Relax, Potter. Don’t get your broomstick twisted. I passed with flying colours. No excuse not to, with how hard I’ve studied.”
Harry relaxed. “That’s good, then. And how was your birthday?”
“Our last house elf made me tarte tatin, and my mother gave me a number of small, tasteful presents. Certainly nothing like the spread I would have received in my youth. Also I've no idea what my real age is, anymore. Am I really nineteen?” Malfoy pouted.
“A Leo,” Harry snorted.
“Nothing. Sorry you didn’t get an armful of presents.”
“Don’t apologise. It’s better than not being here at all.” Malfoy ran his finger along the rim of the bottle. “Which I have you to thank for.”
“You don’t have to,” Harry protested. “You’ve said as much in your letters.”
“I didn’t really expect you to write me back, you know,” Malfoy admitted after a minute of silence. “I knew I owed you an update, after what you went through to save me, but that was it.”
“Just like I didn’t owe you a reply,” Harry teased.
“So why did you??” Malfoy asked, confusion evident in his slightly shaking voice. “We weren't exactly friends. Far from it. Why act like we are now?”
Harry already struggled with his reasons for being interested in Malfoy's well-being; he certainly couldn't begin to explain it Malfoy himself. Part of him almost wished Malfoy would admit to having seen something that tied them together on that fateful night, so it would be out in the open. But if Malfoy didn't want to address it — whatever his reasons were — Harry wasn't going to bring it up.
“You don’t think we’re friends?” Harry asked instead. Malfoy wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Because we’ve been writing to each other for a while now. A whole year, in fact. It’s not the same as hanging out, but still.”
Malfoy gazed out over the trees. “I suppose it’s time we talked for real,” he said quietly. “I did pull a runner at Hogwarts, right after.”
Harry shifted on the bench, crossing his legs at the ankles. “Well, you’d just been through a traumatic experience. Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there.”
“Is that what you did after the battle? Pulled a runner?”
“Not as such. I slept for like a week, though.” If Malfoy had tried to talk to Harry about this years earlier, he’d have met a stone wall, as Hermione liked to say. But it had been long enough that Harry felt okay opening up at least a little, even to Malfoy. “It was hard to be around people, even the people who had been there for me through it all. It was over, but it didn't feel over.”
“I understand that,” Malfoy murmured in agreement. “Even after everything, seeing that years had passed since the war, it took time to accept.”
“I let everyone just pull me along for a while,” Harry continued. “I am glad I didn’t try to return to Hogwarts in the fall, because it was still under repair and I think that would have been awful. Like I wrote to you, I studied at home before going back to sit the exams.”
“I didn’t have fancy expensive tutors,” Harry teased. “Just Hermione.”
“I’m sure Granger was more than competent,” Malfoy said, then blinked as if surprised at himself.
Harry grinned. “I’ll tell her you said that.” Malfoy reddened, and looked away. “Anyway, it was her idea to go to Muggle university for a two year course after that. Ron didn't come along, he went to help George at the shop.”
“Yes, you briefly mentioned that in one of your letters. Was it strange? Living in the Muggle world?”
“You forget I grew up as a Muggle. And we didn’t live there, just went to classes. I never even declared a course of study.” That was simply a lack of filing; he’d mostly taken classes in Education, feeling drawn to that department.
Malfoy cocked his head. “Why go then?”
“I couldn’t decide what else to do,” Harry confessed. “I didn’t want to be an Auror after all, even though that’s where I focused my NEWTS. I didn't want to play Quidditch professionally, either, even though I was asked. I might have done nothing if I hadn't gone with Hermione. “
“And Granger? Why did she return to the Muggle world?”
“She studied political theory, which isn’t exactly offered in NEWT courses.”
“Ah. Hence her position in the Ministry. Which I’m still rather vague on.”
“She created it,” Harry smiled proudly. “Interdepartmental Liaison to the Minister. Basically she takes everyone’s good ideas and tries to make them a reality.”
“Nosey as ever. I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Malfoy rushed to clarify. “Seems as if she’s found a way to do everything, rather than decide on just one career.”
“That’s why I help her. There’s just… so much.”
“It surprised me to hear that you were doing paperwork,” Malfoy admitted. “You never seemed like a diligent student. But I suppose you had other things on your mind back at school.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“And what will you do when you get tired of being Granger’s secretary?” Malfoy asked with a sniff.
Harry only laughed. “I’m not ashamed to be helping Hermione out. She’s done a lot of good.”
“Of course. But you’re not a follower, Potter. You’re a leader.”
“I…” It was true that Harry knew he was doing good, working for Hermione. But he was also bored more often than not. Strange, that Malfoy seems to know me so well. “I’ve been avoiding a decision,” he admitted. “The DADA position at Hogwarts was offered to me.”
Malfoy leaned back and crossed his arms smugly. “See! That seems much more your speed.”
“You said you received an O in your NEWT, right?”
“Right.” And McGonagall knew he’d studied teaching. “It’s just… a lot of responsibility.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you aren’t teaching now. It would have been odd to have you administer the exam to me last week.”
“What’d you get?” Harry asked curiously.
“An E,” Malfoy admitted. “I can’t cast a Patronus. All that studying, and foiled by a charm that no amount of book smarts can produce.”
Teaching his friends how to cast a Patronus had been a bright spot in Harry’s otherwise dismal fifth year, and he remembered it fondly. Maybe there was something to McGonagall’s offer after all.
Maybe I could even teach Malfoy.
He could picture it: standing side by side, guiding Malfoy’s wand movements. What would his Patronus be? Harry caught Malfoy regarding him strangely, and quickly came back to the conversation, deflecting from himself.
“Is that all you’ve were doing since coming back, then? Studying? It’s mostly what you wrote about.”
“What else could I do?,” Malfoy sighed. “There are only so many cups of tea I can drink with my mother.”
“I dunno. Go out with your friends? You’re allowed to leave the house.”
“I leave,” Malfoy said testily. “I’ve begun a catalogue of the wildflower species in the woodlands around the manor. It may serve me well as a thesis option should I go into Potions.”
“You sound like Neville,” Harry laughed.
“You still see Longbottom around?”
“We’ve a regular pub night at the end of every month, the whole lot of us.”
“That sounds nice,” Draco said wistfully.
It occurred to Harry that he never saw any of the other Slytherins from their year out and about, in Diagon or elsewhere. “Have you not heard from anyone?” he asked, not unkindly.
“Blaise wrote me to say he’s glad I’m not dead. Otherwise, no. Let’s be honest, Potter. I wasn’t exactly cultivating close friendships those last couple of years at school.”
“Well, maybe you could go visit Blaise, then.” Harry had the sudden reckless notion of inviting Draco to pub night, but set the idea aside for later.
“Perhaps.” Malfoy tapped on the bottle in his hands with one nail, a distant expression falling over his face. Harry understood all too well the temptation to isolate himself rather than open up.
“It’s good to have someone to talk to.”
Malfoy shrugged dismissively. “Are we not talking now?”
“About things that are bothering you, I mean.”
“Who says anything is bothering me?”
“Malfoy.” Harry’s tone was insistent, and Malfoy met his eyes begrudgingly. “You don’t have to hide from me, you know. I get it. I’ve been there, I’ve stared death in the eye.”
“It’s like the whole world was a rug pulled out from under me,” Malfoy admitted. “One moment, there was no hope, and then…”
“And then the rest of your life is before you again. And you’re happy about it, you are, but there’s still a feeling in the pit of your stomach, like the other shoe is going to drop.”
Malfoy nodded in agreement, then furrowed his brow. “I’ve been wondering. You said you had to die. Why didn’t you? I know you tricked him somehow, Mother saw you were alive. What happened?”
“I didn’t... I didn’t trick him,” Harry said thickly.
“Potter, are you telling me…” Malfoy’s wide eyes seemed translucent, as they had on their long walk to the end.
Only Ron and Hermione knew the truth. And Harry had told them very soon after the battle, when things were still foggy and surreal. Speaking of it in a brightly lit park six years after was sharper somehow. But Harry remembered the tired resignation on Malfoy’s ghostly face, and the way he walked with Harry to offer a slight bit of comfort, and felt as if it was right to tell the whole story.
It still sounded absurd, saying it out loud.
“He killed you,” Malfoy said in a trembling voice, almost to himself, and Harry figured he must still be afraid of Voldemort, even after all this time.
“He killed a piece of himself,” Harry clarified, “one he’d left behind years ago, and sent me along with it. That’s how I came back. And he’s gone for real, Malfoy. I promise. I saw that piece on the other side.”
Letting the now empty bottle fall to the ground, Malfoy wrapped his arms around himself. “It feels like I shouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Malfoy. You weren’t even dead, only stuck, and that’s because the Room of Requirement broke. I’m the one that shouldn’t be here.” Harry said the last part lightly; he’d mostly processed his survivor’s guilt and was grateful to be alive.
Malfoy smiled wryly. “You deserve your second chance, though.”
“And you don’t?”
“I don’t know.” He sighed and raked a hand through his hair, letting it fall in his face. “You know, I expected hate mail, or an angry mob, especially after the Prophet published that I was back. But they were more concerned with your heroics, and I suppose even that’s worn stale, while I’m too pathetic for people to bother with. No one spat on me in the Leaky when I came through today.”
“It’s been six years. I told you people wanted to move on.”
Malfoy scratched absently at his left arm. Harry’s eyes flickered to the motion briefly, then back up to his face. He couldn't catch Malfoy's eyes.
“Do you want to be hated?” Harry asked gently. “To be punished?”
“No one wants to be hated,” Malfoy answered. He paused, then took a deep shuddering breath.
“Do you know what I thought, at that one moment of bright, searing pain from the surrounding heat, before the Room — froze, I suppose?” Harry shook his head no. “I thought, this is what you get, Draco.” Malfoy screwed his eyes shut, but continued talking. “And then in the Forest, when I thought I was a ghost, it was even more apparent that I was being punished. And I couldn’t find it in me to disagree.”
Harry was struck with the urge to take Malfoy’s hand, but didn’t think it would be appreciated. “I think maybe you expect people to hate you because you hate yourself, in a way.”
“When did you become a Mind Healer?” Malfoy asked bitterly.
“I could tell you regretted it, even in the Forest.”
“How could I not, faced with your righteousness?” Malfoy turned to face Harry with a fervent look. “There you were, so brave. You were a martyr at seventeen, caught between life and death as we spoke. I was terrified, but I was also… in awe of you, a little bit. Ashamed, of my own actions. And just… so sad, that it had come to that.”
Harry suspected that Malfoy was sad for another reason as well, one that had come to light when they tried to shake hands. He pushed that aside as a conversation they might never have.
“I’m not that righteous, you know. I was doing what had to be done. We were both sacrifices, in a way. On different sides.”
Malfoy scoffed. “It’s true,” Harry insisted. “You were set on a path just like I was.”
“And I could have left it at any time.”
“Really? I know how much you love your parents.”
Malfoy kicked at the bottle that lay at his feet, sending it toppling over with a clank. “Stop trying to defend me.”
“I’m not! Believe me, I’m not.” Harry thought back to fifth year, to Malfoy smirking as he led Umbridge to the DA. “You’ve actively made some very bad choices. You want to talk about hate? I hated a lot of things about you, Malfoy.”
“Yet you write me letters like we’re the best of friends.”
“Self-pity isn’t attractive, you know.” Harry blushed at his own choice of words, and rushed past them. “Stop trying to push me away, its not working. I know you’re attempting to move on.”
Malfoy blinked, but let Harry’s remark slide. “Moving on is easier said than done. I say I should make amends, but I don’t know where to start. I’m hiding like a coward.”
“Why study for your NEWTS, then? Why stay in Britain? You told me it was because you wanted to make your own way in the world, on your own merits.”
Malfoy couldn’t argue with his own words being quoted back at him. “Why are you so insufferable?” he grumbled. “Is this what I came back for? Harry Potter, my own personal cheerleader? I should have stayed dead.”
“There’s the drama queen,” Harry laughed. “I knew you still had it in you.”
“Oh, hush. You can’t tell me you miss the spoiled little boy I was.”
“I don’t miss you being a nasty little shit, no, but it seems weird for you to be so self-deprecating.”
“Big word there, Potter. Do I have Granger or the Muggles to thank for the expansion of your vocabulary?” The smile tugging at the corner of Malfoy’s lips indicated that he was teasing, and Harry couldn’t help smiling as well.
“I’m smarter than you think, Malfoy.”
“I know,” Malfoy said softly. For a long moment, he and Harry simply stared at one another.
“So… what’s next?” Harry said at last.
“My potions tutor believes he can get me an apprenticeship with the Ministry distribution department. It’s not glamorous,” Malfoy qualified. “They provide Wolfsbane and Blood Substitute for werewolves and vampires who are unable to purchase their own. But it’s a start.”
“I know about the program. It was one of the first things Hermione sent up to Kingsley for approval.”
“I was meaning to write her a letter,” Malfoy said hesitantly. “Her, and a number of others. I’m just not sure where to start.”
“Hermione loves to read, but I think it’s best you do this in person.” Malfoy blanched, and Harry, ever a risk-taker, put a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”
“If you insist, Potter.” He held himself stiffly, but didn’t flinch away from Harry’s touch.
“I don’t think I have to. I think you’ll do the right thing all on your own.” Malfoy’s pleased smile made him more handsome than he had any right to be, and Harry pulled back. He had to have imagined Malfoy’s eyes following his hand — no, his wrist — as it went.
“You know what I do insist, though? Stop calling me Potter.”
Malfoy scrunched his nose up indignantly. “But then you’ll call me Draco,” he complained, “and that would be weird!”
Merlin, he was right. “Yeah, maybe I didn’t think that through!” Harry laughed, and earned himself a shove that spilled the last of his soda.
Harry wasn’t stupid; it would be difficult and awkward for both his friends and Malfoy to make peace with each other. It was also getting harder to ignore the little swoop of nervousness that made Harry’s stomach jump every time Malfoy smiled. He had to ignore it though — Harry wasn’t going to be led around by destiny any longer, and anyway, it would just complicate things… right?
But thread or not, they were tied together by circumstance, and Harry couldn’t imagine life without Malfoy, now that he was back among the living.
Part of Harry’s work for Hermione involved going to various bookshops up and down Diagon Alley to pick up orders she had placed. Some shops were more niche than others, their entrances hidden under eaves, unlike the bright window displays of Flourish and Blotts. Thus Harry found himself opening a creaky door and settling off a dusty bell one afternoon in late August.
The bookshop was dark and smelled musty, but in a good way. It was a homey scent that he associated with Hermione. The clerk was holding her order in the back, and while they went to fetch it, Harry browsed the shelves idly.
A few titles in the tiny children’s section caught his eye — maybe Teddy would like one of these? As Harry flipped through the brightly illustrated pages, he heard a familiar drawl.
“I see you’re in the proper section for your reading level.”
Leaning casually against the corner of the bookshelf was Draco Malfoy, a teasing smirk on his face.
“I thought you agreed I was smarter than you think,” Harry teased back.
“Anything would have been an improvement on my previous opinion.” The smirk turned into a smile, and Malfoy pushed off the shelf in one fluid movement to stand beside Harry.
He scrunched his nose up. “Oh, are we really doing that?”
“Seems like it.” Draco sighed in a rather put upon way, but Harry took it for acquiescence. “So what brings you here?”
“I’m ordering a potions text for my first research project.”
“Right. How’s the apprenticeship going?” Harry hadn’t heard from Draco in over a month; they were both busy, but Harry found that he missed him.
“It’s not bad. I’m obligated to help with brewing most of the day, but I'm beginning independent research as well. It’s certainly a lot more work than I expected, but you won’t find me complaining.”
“That’s a surprise.” Harry grinned. He liked being able to take the piss out of Draco a bit.
“Hush.” Draco jabbed him with a pointy elbow, then blushed slightly. “I thought you missed my whining.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. And anyway, complaining about work isn’t whining, it’s what everyone does. Welcome to adult life.”
“I have a feeling you complain out of earshot of Granger, though.” Draco traced a finger over the spines of the books on the shelf in front of him. “Speaking of Granger... I ran into her the other day. At the Ministry.”
“Oh?” Hermione hadn’t mentioned anything to Harry. “How did that go?”
“First, I thanked her. As one of the founders of the program, she would have been well within her rights to block my acceptance to the apprenticeship.”
“She wouldn’t do that.”
“Yes, you’re all interested in reconciliation, I know.” There was no bite to Draco’s voice. “I also... I apologised to her. It wasn’t much, she was quite busy and there were memos diving at her head, but... well. I did my best. At least, I hope it was a start.”
“What did you tell her?” Harry asked, quite curious. There were innumerable instances of Draco antagonising Hermione over the years; which ones had he deemed most important?
“I said I was sorry for my cowardice,” Draco admitted. “I doubted she wanted to go all the way back to first year. But I told her I was sorry I wasn’t able to take a stand, that I allowed harm to come to her and those she cared about.” Draco swallowed and looked away. “I said I was sorry for the actions of my family as well, especially my aunt.”
Harry remembered that night at Malfoy Manor all too well, how frightened he had been for the lives of his friends. He also remembered how frail and terrified Draco had looked as Bellatrix ordered him about. “I sometimes forget you’re related,” he said instead.
Draco shuddered. “I don’t. I’ll always have complicated feelings about my father, and I love my mother no matter what, but I’m glad that harridan is out of my life.”
“Right.” Harry was suddenly very aware of how exposed they were, standing in a public bookshop. It was quite slow at the moment, but anyone could come by. He saw Draco’s eyes dart around and assumed he’d come to the same conclusion.
“Where are you off to next?”
Draco stopped peering down the aisles and turned back to Harry. “The Leaky, I suppose. I’m going to London to look at flats.”
“Muggle London?!” Harry couldn’t keep the shock from his voice.
“Technically, yes. The housing here and on Horizont Alley is too dear for my purse, so I’m venturing outward. The flats around Diagon are visible to Muggles, but they are Wizarding-friendly.”
“I didn’t realise you wanted to move.”
Draco shifted uneasily. “Yes, well, the Floo at the Manor can only be connected to the Leaky now. It was disconnected from the Ministry. And it’s time consuming to Floo there first and then walk to the Ministry by foot every day, then back again.”
“Yeah, almost no one uses the toilets anymore.”
Draco shuddered. “Quite. So you can see my predicament.”
“You want some company?” Harry found himself offering. “I know my way around Muggle London a sight better than you, I’d wager.”
For a moment, Draco seemed like he was going to refuse. Harry knew he wanted to be self sufficient. Eventually, though, he shrugged. “Alright, Harry,” he said with a small smile. “Lead the way.”
Harry ignored the slight trickle of happiness that ran down his spine at Harry. “Just let me grab these books and I’ll meet you out front.”
He emerged back onto the street a few moments later, blinking in the sunlight. Draco stood a few paces away, nervously glancing up and down the street. No one seemed to give him any notice, however. Harry set off toward the Leaky and Draco fell in step beside him.
“So, do you already have a few places in mind?” Harry asked, adjusting the satchel of books on his shoulder.
“I know of one building, at least. If I don’t like or can’t afford any of the flats in that one, I can look around the area.”
“One bedroom? Two?”
“A bedsit is fine, honestly, as long as it’s clean. I can go home on the weekends. My only real requirements are good windows and a Floo I can connect to the Ministry atrium.”
Harry hiked his satchel up on his shoulder again as it started to slip. “Should be easy to find something you like, then.” It was difficult to picture Draco in a bedsit after seeing the sprawling manor he’d grown up in. Perhaps this was all part of the changes he was trying to make.
They quickly arrived back at the Leaky. “Need more Floo powder?” the barkeep asked. He was a younger, less scruffy man than Tom. Harry realised it had been quite some time since he actually set foot in the Leaky.
“No, we’re just passing through to the other side,” Draco answered. Not-Tom nodded and went back to polishing glasses. Harry gave him a nod as well, and promptly caught the strap of his satchel on a barstool and nearly went sprawling.
“Honestly.” Draco rolled his eyes. “Come here.” He waved his wand, and the satchel shrunk down to the size of a wallet. “Put that in your pocket. Have you forgotten you’re a wizard?”
Harry didn’t answer. His gaze was fixed on the cherry-coloured wood of Draco’s new wand. “Hello?” Draco waved the fingers of his other hand at Harry’s face.
“Er, sorry,” Harry said at last, shaking his head.
“Any other last-minute magic we need to perform before mingling with the Muggles? No? Alright then.” Draco opened the door and peeked out, looking right and left before he stepped out into Muggle London.
The streets on this side were just as bustling, although the fashion was a bit more sober. The building Draco had mentioned was only a few minutes' walk down the street. Harry supposed it made sense for the Wizarding-friendly flats to be near Diagon.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him. “Wait, why don’t you Apparate to work?”
Draco turned on him with an incredulous look. “Are you serious?” Harry nodded. “I assumed you knew I hadn’t passed the test yet. And this only just occurred to you? Merlin, you really do forget you’re a wizard sometimes, don’t you?”
“You aren’t the first person to say that.”
“Most powerful wizard of his generation, and he can’t even remember that Apparition exists,” Draco muttered under his breath. Harry made to protest — most powerful, really? — but Draco was already pushing a buzzer on the door of the building. It was a second button some inches to the left of the main one, so Harry figured it must be covered by a Muggle-repelling charm.
“Hello?” a voice crackled over the speaker.
“Yes, it’s Mr Black here for the three o’clock appointment.” Harry raised an eyebrow, and Draco shrugged.
“I wasn’t sure if the realtor would make an appointment with a Mr Malfoy.”
The door opened, and a middle-aged witch in plain but sleek robes gestured for them to enter. She raised an eyebrow at them — neither Harry nor Draco had made any attempt at changing their appearance, and they were both quite recognisable — but she made no comment. “This way, gentleman.”
They wound their way up a back set of stars (again, disguised under a charm). She glanced at the two of them over her shoulder. “I was under the impression I was showing single apartments, not for a couple.”
Draco spluttered, and Harry went red. “He’s just here to give his opinion! ” Draco said insistently.
“My apologies.” She didn’t seem sorry, and Harry privately thought that she was very brave for winding up two rather notorious people. He glanced over surreptitiously to see if Draco seemed appalled at the suggestion they were together; he simply looked flustered.
They emerged into a hall painted in an innocuous light blue colour. “I have two one-bedrooms and one studio flat on this level. Which would you like to see first?”
“I’ll start with the studio, Miss- er, Mrs…?”
The studio was painted the same light blue colour as the hall. It was rather small, but built-in shelves added to the storage space. The loo was simple, with only a shower. Draco nodded as Miss Rollins went over the plan and showed him where the appliances were located, a mixture of magical and Muggle.
“It’s wired for electricity, but you don’t have to make use of it,” she explained. Draco pulled a small notebook from his pocket — the one Harry had bought him for Christmas, he noted with pleasure — and jotted down a few things with a biro.
They went down to the other end of the hall where two flats were vacant, facing each other. “They’re mirror images, so we only need look at one.” She unlocked the door, revealing a light green paint scheme this time. The flat was nearly double in size as the last one, with the same built-in shelves.
“Everything about wiring and appliances is the same here,” Miss Rollins said as Draco peered into the bathroom.
Harry lingered in the kitchen, fiddling with knobs. This would be a nice place to cook dinner, he mused, noting how clean and new the stove was. Draco returned from his inspection and scoffed.
“Aren’t you supposed to be giving me some input?” he asked.
“Sorry,” Harry said sheepishly. “The place looks clean and well-lit, which is what you wanted, so I think it’s up to you. Do you need the extra space?”
“I suppose I don’t,” Draco conceded. “Only, I like the idea of the privacy of having a bedroom door, even if I’m here alone. I know that might sound strange to you.”
“Not at all,” Harry said, thinking of how thrilling it had been to get a room of his own, rather than a cupboard with feet pounding on the stairs above.
“Also, this one has a bathtub.”
Sudden images of Draco in a bath flashed behind Harry’s eyes, and he blinked them away. Mercifully, his subconscious didn’t provide too many distracting details. “It sounds like your mind's made up, then.”
Miss Rollins looked pleased to be acquiring a tenant, and didn’t blink when Draco signed his real name on the lease. She thanked him and showed them out the front door, letting Draco know his keys would be available for pickup by the end of the week.
“That was rather easy,” Draco remarked as they headed back down the street. “What did that take, an hour? It’s not even time for dinner.”
“Are you going home, then?”
Draco twitched his wand over the Leaky’s secret brickwork passage and stepped through. “I think I may get something to eat here, actually.” He looked up at the limited, simple menu posted outside the bar. “Well, maybe not at this particular establishment, but in Diagon.” His steps slowed, and he glanced at Harry apprehensively. “Would you… like to come along?”
When Harry didn't respond right away, Draco added in a rush, “Just as a thank you. Or, not as a thank you, mind, you weren’t any help at all, but you know what I mean.”
“And if you don’t want to be seen with me, I understand, but —”
“Draco!” Draco stopped rambling, and Harry sighed. “I’ve been all over Diagon with you today, do you really think I don’t want be seen with you? I just have other plans. I need to get these books to Hermione, and I’m stopping by the Burrow.”
“Sorry,” Draco said, obviously embarrassed.
“It’s fine.” Harry didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t answered at first because his mind had been trying to work out a way to say yes. “Do you think you’ll move in this weekend, then?”
“That is the plan. I suppose I’ll have to shrink everything I need, and bring it through the Leaky.”
“I could help,” Harry offered. “I could always Side-Along you.”
Draco bit his lip. “I wouldn’t think you’d want to come to the Manor.”
“Oh.” He was right; Harry’s continued curiosity about Draco didn’t quite extend to his creepy house, or the possibility of an encounter with Narcissa. “Well, I could meet you here.”
“I don’t want to put you out…”
“You aren’t,” Harry insisted. “You’re supposed to have your friends help you move. It’s part of the friend contract, don’t you know?”
“The friend —? Oh.” Draco rolled his eyes. “Like first names and such.”
“You’re the one that decided we’re friends now, you know.”
Harry stopped short, and turned to Draco, ready to — what, apologise? Protest? It didn’t matter, because he saw that Draco was smiling slyly.
They paused outside the Leaky. “I’ll see you this weekend, then,” Harry said, and Draco nodded, still smiling. Harry though it was rather nice to see him in such a good mood. “See you on Saturday?”
“Not too early. I need my beauty sleep.”
Harry held his tongue and waved goodbye at Draco as he headed down the street.
Moving Draco was rather easy, as he hadn’t brought much more than clothes or books. Apparently Narcissa had made a fuss at the idea of “pillaging the Manor,” so Draco had left all his old, expensive furniture and paid to have a new set delivered to the flat — bed, wardrobe, table, settee, and several chairs. There wasn’t much for Harry to carry, but he waited to let the delivery elves in while Draco unpacked what looked like a small library.
“Hermione would love to see that collection,” Harry said. Draco shrugged, obviously doubting such a thing could ever come to pass. Suddenly, Harry had an idea.
“You should have a housewarming party!”
Draco tilted his head skeptically. “And invite who?”
“Aren’t you speaking to Blaise again?”
“In a letter. And last time I heard, a party was more than two people.”
“I’d come. And I’d bring Hermione, so she could see your books.” Now that he’d brought up the idea, it occurred to Harry that it was the sort of thing he’d suggest to his regular mates, the ones he saw round the pub, who were all friendly with each other. Still, he forged on, not wanting to take back the suggestion and make Draco feel even worse. “And I’m sure Parvati would, as well.”
“Still a pathetically small group.”
“You can’t think of anyone else?” Harry’s brain tried to run through a list of Draco’s old friends and got stuck at Goyle. I need to think before I speak.
“The Greengrass sisters, maybe,” Draco said after an awkward moment while he visibly ran through the same list in his own head. “I’ve seen Astoria around the Ministry since I started, and she was kind to me. I remember them always being up for a party. If we include plus-ones in the invitation, that would pad it out.”
And Ron would be Hermione’s plus-one, Harry realised. Well, if he was going to be spending time with Draco — he was helping him move house, for Merlin’s sake — then it would have to happen, eventually.
“So, assuming everyone has a guest, that’s…” Harry counted on his fingers. “Eleven, including me.”
“I may not have gone back to Hogwarts, but I can count,” Harry joked.
Draco counted his fingers as well. “Blaise, Daphne, Astoria, Parvati, Hermione, you. That’s six. Double it for plus-ones.”
“Oh, not me,” Harry laughed nervously. “I don’t do plus-ones.”
“Everyone else will be paired off except you, then,” Draco said, turning away and idly reshuffling a stack of books.
“Maybe one of your friends won’t, either. Like Blaise.”
“Blaise always has a date,” Draco said with an eye-roll. “He likes to show off how irresistible he is.”
“Is he, then,” Harry muttered. He didn’t recall Blaise being that compelling in school. It was Draco that drew his attention.
Before Draco could answer definitely one way or the other, a knock sounded at the door. It was the delivery elves, with a modest-sized crate between them and one very large wardrobe floating behind. Harry moved aside for them to float the crate into the centre of the living room.
“Where do you want this?” one elf said, pointing to the wardrobe.
“In the bedroom, please,” Draco answered, while taking a clipboard from the second elf to sign for the delivery. The first elf disappeared with the wardrobe and then reappeared a moment later with a crack.
“Thank you,” Draco said with a nod as they left, and began removing small pieces of furniture from the crate. It was quick work to unshrink the chairs, table, and settee, and Draco took the tiny bed into the other room.
“Bugger!” Harry heard a yell, and made his way into the bedroom.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse before,” he laughed. “What is it?”
“I wanted the wardrobe on the other side of the room,” Draco complained. “Now I have to move it myself. It looks dreadfully heavy.”
“Just levitate it?” Harry offered, but Draco shook his head.
“It’s a Self-Sorting Wardrobe. It puts all the clothes in order, and cleans them and presses them if need be. You can’t shrink it or levitate it, you’ll mess up the spells.”
So that was why the elves had arrived with it separate from the crate. “Apparate, then? The elf did.”
“Elf magic is a different sort of teleportation.” Draco huffed, and braced himself against the wardrobe, pushing. “I was right, it’s very heavy.”
Harry watched him huff and puff for a moment. “Uh, Draco?”
“You can ask for help, you know.”
Draco stopped his slow pushing of the wardrobe — it had only gone about half a foot — and sighed.
“Would you, Harry, please help me push this monstrosity over by the window?”
Harry laughed and rolled up his sleeves. “No problem. And it’s better if we lift it, I think.”
Together it was much easier, although Harry could tell he was holding up more of the weight. They wrestled the wardrobe into place, against the window but not blocking it, and dropped with a huff.
“You’re, er, stronger than I expected,” Draco said, sitting on the edge of the now full-size bed to catch his breath. His eyes casually raked over Harry’s now bare arms. “Do you still play Quidditch?”
“Only pickup games at the Weasleys. I keep active, though.”
“Like a regular workout?”
“I dunno. I run, do pull-ups, that sort of thing. After running up and down the stairs at Hogwarts for so many years, sitting still doesn’t feel right.” Harry was no stranger to being admired, but people were usually looking at his scar, not his physique. He decided not to roll his sleeves back down.
“I should get some tips from you. My physical activity is mostly limited to going between floors in the Ministry.”
“The lift isn’t exercise,” Harry teased.
Draco idly picked at a button on the exposed mattress. “I tend to avoid the lift.”
“Oh? Why’s that?” Draco hesitated, and Harry sat down next him, making the bed dip.
“I don’t like being in enclosed spaces,” Draco confessed. “Feels like I couldn’t escape if someone decides they don’t like Death Eaters working at the Ministry any longer.”
“You’re not, though,” Harry said quietly.
Their hands were separated by only a hair's breadth; he felt Draco’s fingertips twitch as if he wanted to take Harry’s hand in his own. Instead he tilted his head just a fraction in Harry’s direction. His mouth opened, maybe to protest, or to agree, but instead he said, “You’re a good friend, Harry.”
Harry’s eyes widened, and he nodded slightly. He didn’t respond with words, though, and they stayed like that — leaning into each other's space, not daring to go further, yet not backing away — for the space of several breaths. Harry was pleased that Draco was acknowledging their friendship, that he was opening up, but the moment felt like more than that.
It felt more than friendly.
The scant centimetres between their fingers suddenly seemed like a gulf. What was stopping Harry from reaching over? Why did he suddenly want to reach over? Was the magnetic pull Draco seemed to have over him all in his head, dreamed up by a mind that had been preoccupied by destiny half his life?
How much of this is real?
“Huh?” Harry’s head snapped back up from where he’d been staring at Draco’s pale hand. He seemed just as discomfited as Harry, but repeated himself.
“For this party you think I should have. Two weeks from now?”
“I mean, don’t have one just because I say so.”
“No, you’re right.” Draco sat up straighter, out of Harry’s personal space. “I can’t isolate myself forever. And it gives me incentive to fix the place up.”
“Just don’t make it look like the Slytherin common room.”
“And what would you know about the Slytherin common room?” Draco asked with narrowed eyes.
“Now that’s a story,” Harry laughed, grateful for the lighter conversation. “So, back in second year…”
Harry left Draco to his own devices regarding the housewarming party. Although it was his suggestion, it wasn’t really his business to plan it. Part of him still worried that it had been a terrible idea, that no one would show up, but the next weekend Ron had cornered him at the Burrow and produced a pale piece of parchment.
“Your pal Malfoy sent Hermione a party invitation,” Ron said, scrunching his nose up and holding the parchment away from him, as if it might attack.
“He has a new flat,” Harry had explained, all while ducking a small practice Snitch that Teddy had let loose in the house. “I may have put him up to it.”
“I admit nothing. Ow!” The Snitch connected with Harry’s forehead. “Teddy, catch this thing or I will!”
“I still don’t understand your weird obsession with Malfoy,” Ron said, and reached out to pluck the Snitch from the air with a grin. “Looks like someone’s out of practice.”
“I’m not obsessed,” Harry mumbled, trying to grab the Snitch away from Ron, who held it in the air over his head.
“Keep telling yourself that, mate. Just like you keep telling yourself you’re still a Quidditch ace.” Of course, Harry couldn’t resist a challenge, so the subject of Draco had been dropped while he and Ron arranged teams for a pick-up game.
Harry was thankful for his best friend’s easy-going nature. How could he explain his friendship with Draco without also trying to explain the strange pull he felt, and his confusion over their growing closeness? The only other question Ron had asked was whether Harry would be bringing a plus-one, which he emphatically denied. If he (somehow, somewhere) found a date, how would he pay attention to Draco? What if he needed help with the party, or was feeling vulnerable and needed support?
Harry didn’t say any of that to Ron. Obviously.
And so he arrived at Draco’s flat once more, holding a plate of biscuits, waiting for the man who’d jumbled his thoughts up to answer the door.
“You’re a bit early,” Draco simply said when he finally let Harry inside. “Which is fine, Daphne and Blaise are here, too. He’s been interrogating me for ten minutes about everything that happened last year, and it’s tiresome.”
Harry wondered if tiresome was Draco’s way of saying traumatic. “Doesn’t seem like good party conversation,” he agreed. “I have some biscuits, where should I put them?”
Draco unsuccessfully hid a smile. “How domestic. Let’s put them here in the kitchen, with the wine Daphne brought. Would you like some?”
“Sure, let me just —” As Harry placed the tray of biscuits on the counter, Draco reached for the bottle of wine, and their hands brushed. Harry managed not to tremble, but he was sure he blushed. “These are lemon, by the way.”
“And this is róse,” Draco replied, his cheeks slightly pinked as well. “I haven’t any fancy glasses, sorry.”
“That’s fine, when have you ever known me to be fancy?”
Draco poured a glass — his was already halfway full — with a thoughtful expression. “I suppose I do know you, now,” he said, almost to himself. He handed the glass over, and as Harry took it, their fingers brushed once more.
“This is nice,” Draco added, after a moment of silence. “It’s like we’ve always been friends.”
Before Harry could respond (probably for the best, because the first thing that sprang to mind was just friends? and that was absurd), the sound of laughter echoed from the parlour.
“I- I’d best see to my guests,” Draco stammered. “Coming?”
Overall, the small party seemed like it was a success. Harry had watched Draco open up over the course of the evening, laughing with both his old friends and Harry’s. Oliver Wood’s presence as Parvati’s date had gone a long way towards smoothing tensions between the two factions — everyone had an opinion about Quidditch. Harry left the spirited discussion for a moment to get another biscuit (they were excellent, he had to say) and ran into Parvati, who immediately cornered him in the kitchen.
“So, you’re helping him with the housewarming, hmm?”
“It’s not like that,” Harry hissed under his breath.
“You’ve barely said two words to anyone who isn’t him all night. Can you even tell me the names of those other people?”
“Er…” Blaise and Daphne had showed up with dates; Astoria had not.
“That’s what I thought. Well, the man with Daphne has been making eyes at your man, and so has her sister, so I’d say you’d better figure things out before someone else swoops in.”
“Wait, really?” Harry tried to look around the corner surreptitiously, then caught himself. “He’s not mine. Anyway, isn’t the point of soulmates that you always end up together?” he groused, then stuffed a biscuit in his mouth before he could say anything else stupid. Parvati beamed triumphantly.
“Not without some work. I told you there’s no guarantee. I take it you’ve been thinking about it, then?”
Harry swallowed. “I don’t want to be led around by some invisible string.”
“Better than being led around by your prick, like most men.” Harry choked on his second biscuit. “I do think I understand where you’re coming from,” Parvati continued, “but it seems to me that you’ve become friends all on your own. Rather organically, yes? And he absolutely has been making eyes at you, Greengrass guests be damned. He looks besotted.”
“You think so? Really?” Harry asked hesitantly. “You can’t tell from just tonight, can you?”
“I’m very good at following my intuition.” She peered at Harry closely. “You are interested in him, aren’t you?”
“I…” Harry looked over his shoulder once more, and pitched his voice even lower. “It feels like there’s something between us, yeah. But how do I know that not just because… well, because of what we know?”
“What we suspect,” Parvati corrected him. “And I think you’re too smart for that, Harry. You're asking questions instead of just blindly accepting that it's meant to be, for one thing."
“Well, I’ve got a lot of them.” He reached for yet another biscuit, then thought better of it. “But what about him? What if he’s only interested in me because he saw that string in the Forest?” Harry shivered, recalling the feel of Draco’s cold, ghostly hand. “Sometimes I wonder if I just imagined that. It was so many years ago. Although not as long for him, I guess.”
Parvati nodded. “How do you feel about that? The difference in years?”
“A little strange? But he’s an adult, and I don't much feel like an adult myself, sometimes. And he’s the one working and paying rent. I’m just coasting.” Harry signed and leaned against the table. “Maybe I never grew up.”
“You work hard for Hermione, I know you do. But no one blames you for taking your time, Harry. You deserve time to be young, after everything you went through. And you still are young! Not that I’m calling you immature, and there’s more than one way to ‘grow up.’ But you extended your teenage years out a bit, and you and Malfoy appear to be on equal footing, to me at least.”
“You’re like an old village matchmaker, you know that?” Harry said, shaking his head with a smile. Just then, Draco entered the kitchen.
“I wondered where you’d gone off to.” He eyed Harry and Parvati curiously. “More reckless plans to make?”
Parvati laughed. “I hope not! That was quite enough for me. I’m certainly pleased we saved you, but I prefer my days much calmer, thanks.”
“Yes, I think the last few years have had enough excitement to last me a lifetime. Maybe not for Harry over here, but he’ll get himself into trouble without help from either of us, I think.” All three of them laughed, but then Draco continued on more seriously. “Thank you again, Parvati. I never expected your help, but I’ll be forever grateful.”
“It was worth it just for the report I was able to make. Such an interesting analysis of the Room of Requirement! Not exactly where my research usually lies. It certainly made a few colleagues jealous.”
“I’d like to read the paper, if you publish.”
“It’s in draft form, if you’d like to stop by on a lunch break sometime at the Ministry.”
“I think I’m more interested in arguing over the Wasps versus the Kestrels than in research talk,” Harry joked. “I’ll be back in the sitting room if you need me.”
“Actually, I came looking to let you know —”
“Mate, I think we’re headed out.” Ron appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. Harry looked around and saw the rest of the guests gathering their coats; the party must have wound down without him. “You coming?”
Astoria was saying goodbye to Draco; she kissed him on both cheeks in a continental fashion. “Er, I’m not sure where I’ve put my jacket, and I need to wash the biscuit tin. I’ll see you later this weekend?” Harry answered.
Oliver found Parvati, Daphne pulled her own date rather forcefully along by the wrist… and then it was just Harry and Draco.
“I must say,” Draco finally broke the silence, “you may have been right about this. That didn’t go nearly as badly as it could have.”
“Seemed pretty successful to me,” Harry answered, still not making a move to find his coat.
“Blaise and Weasley nearly drew wands over the Cannons, but otherwise, yes.” Draco’s brows drew together; Harry had never noticed how pale they were before now, nearly matching his hair. “Have you… lost something?”
“Oh! No, I just, um…” Harry whirled around and grabbed the biscuit tin, swiping a quick Scourgify over it. “Just didn’t want to forget this. Or my coat?”
“It’s on the settee, I’ll get it for you.”
They met at the door as Harry pulled his trainers back on. “I’m glad it was nice for you, the party I mean, it’s nice to have friends — I mean, if you want to be friends with my friends, I don’t mean to say…” Harry trailed off as Draco stood there, holding his coat with a bemused look. “I’m not sure what I’m saying.”
“It is… nice. To have friends. And you’re… you’re a good friend.”
“A good friend,” Draco repeated. His eyes flicked down to Harry’s mouth. “Here. Your coat.”
“Right.” Harry took it but made no move to leave. “Owl me?”
“Mmhmm.” Another glance down, and Draco moved in, just a bit.
Harry froze as Draco kissed him softly on the corner of the mouth. It was close enough to be romantic, but far enough from a real kiss that he could brush it off as one of Astoria’s charming French-like kisses, if he wanted. Draco pulled back, looking at Harry with wide, almost frightened eyes. A lock of hair had escaped from behind his ear and hung down across his pale face.
What should Harry do? Did he return the kiss? Did he want to? Did Draco mean it? How much wine had both of them had? Harry heard Parvati whispering in his ear to go for it; he also heard another voice, much like his own, urging caution; and another, more insidious, that said Draco only cared because of the threads.
In the end, he simply reached out and brushed the stray bit of silver-blond back behind Draco’s ear. “Owl me,” he repeated, and walked down the hall.
All night, his fingers tingled as he remembered the soft feel of Draco’s cheek.
“You’re hopeless,” Parvati said, digging into her second pudding. “Brushing his hair back? I thought you wanted him.”
Harry slouched down in his chair, arms crossed defensively. “I wasn’t sure what he meant by it, alright?” He glanced around furtively; he had faith in his privacy spells, but it wouldn’t do for the rest of the Ministry canteen to hear about his problems.
“I am actually surprised he kissed you, even a kiss with room left for interpretation.”
“Why’s that? I thought you could tell he was interested.” Harry slowly inched his hand toward Parvati’s tray — he wanted to hear her theories about Draco and his possible attraction to Harry, of course, but he also wanted the third pudding she was hoarding. He’d arrived to lunch late, not being bound to a Ministry schedule, and all the dessert had been taken — which was especially tragic, since they were serving sticky toffee that week.
“He is interested,” she answered confidently. “He’s just been more reserved these days.” She reached for something beneath the table, but Harry paid it no mind. “You have to admit he’s quite different than the boy we knew in school. He’s had just about as close a brush with death a person can have. That must have had a profound effect on him. Living in London, keeping his head down, hosting mixed company at parties — I would have never believed Draco Malfoy could be such a pleasant person if I hadn’t seen it for myself.”
“I know what you mean. He still has a sharp edge, but he’s…”
“Not a sneering little bigot?”
“Not that I can tell. I mean, we haven’t discussed everything he did or said, but…” Harry recalled Draco saying, on that first meeting in the park, how he had assumed his death was a just punishment. “I know he regrets a lot of things. He told me he wasn’t sure he deserved a second chance.”
“I assumed you must have discussed the past somewhat. Soulmates or not, you would have never been able to get close enough to fall for him if he hadn’t changed for the better. I mean, you nearly killed each other in school, Harry.” He squirmed in his seat, aware of just how close he’d come to actually killing Draco. That was yet another conversation they needed to have.
“It’s true,” he admitted. “I’ve been able to see parts of him I never knew existed. I mean, he’s not soft, he wouldn’t be Malfoy without some snark in him. But I like it.”
“Well, he seems to be settling into life nicely,” Parvati said with a nod. “And here he is, kissing you! I think you have the all-clear.”
“I just…” Harry sighed, leaning back in his seat. “I’m not sure how to go about it. I’ve never been very good at relationships, especially not starting them,” he admitted.
“I think you’re going to have to be the pursuer this time. He may have found his footing, but it’s evident that he’s still a bit wary.“
“I told him to send me an owl. And it’s been almost a week.”
“Did you consider that he’s having the same thoughts as you, the same doubts? Even if he has any ideas regarding the threads, that doesn’t make you a sure thing.”
“And we come back to that, again. What ideas does he have about them?”
She pointed her fork at him. “You’re never going to know if you don’t ask.”
That was not a conversation Harry was looking forward to. “I almost don’t want to know, at this point,” he admitted. “I never gave him his wand back —”
“I thought I might want to use it to check! But I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want that to be my motivation for being with him.”
“And how do you know he doesn’t feel the same? Tell me, if he really thought you were destined, would he be so unsure of himself?
Harry shrugged. “Maybe? We’re still Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Maybe he can’t get past that.”
“And yet he kissed you?” Parvati rolled her eyes. “Please, Harry, you’re just talking yourself in circles at this point. You like him, you’re attracted to him, he likes you back, he’s given you all the signals. Ask him out to dinner and kiss him proper at the end.”
“Just that like that, huh?” Harry laughed. “You’re really something, Parvati.”
“Well, I’m tired of having the same conversation with you over and over. Have it with him, for once.”
“I will. I promise.” Harry sighed ruefully. “It isn’t any easier dealing with men than women, turns out.”
“Welcome to the bisexual drama club,” Parvati laughed. A moment later, her arm twitched slightly; Harry’s hand, reaching again for the pudding, suddenly stung. He pulled it back with a yelp, and she leaned forward to claim the dessert, revealing her wand from under the table with a grin.
“Next time, get here early.”
Still settling into your new place? Let’s get lunch this week, you can catch me up. Or dinner?
There. Short, to the point, nothing embarrassing or overly sentimental about how Harry wondered what it would have felt like if Draco’s lips had been an inch further to the left. After sending the message off, Harry paced in front of the window for longer than his carpet likely appreciated, wondering if he should have waited for Draco to write first like he’d asked.
The reply he received the next morning was heartening.
Dinner is good. This evening, at six? That new Muggle-style place on Horizont?
Harry grinned, then forced himself to take a deep breath. Six was early enough for a post-work meet-up between friends; it wasn’t necessarily a date. And that new restaurant was fairly casual, with a lot of their business through takeaway due to limited seating space.
Sure enough, the few tables on the patio were already occupied when he arrived to find Draco there, standing at the entrance. “Harry. There you are. I was just asking if there was any room, but it looks like —”
The hostess went owl-eyed at the sight of Harry. “I, er, I’m sure can find you a place!”
Harry cringed internally, but put on a smile. “Takeaway is fine. We can wait at the counter for our order.”
Draco watched him curiously after they had ordered sandwiches and chips. “You really don’t like special treatment, do you?”
“More trouble than it’s worth, I’ve found.” The food smelled delicious when it arrived. Harry looked down the street and immediately knew where to go. “Come on,” he beckoned to Draco, who followed just behind. “That park we met at before is actually only about a ten minute walk.”
On the way there, they caught up with each other about their respective work weeks, and a bit of Quidditch gossip. As luck would have it, the very bench they had sat on during that fateful conversation was free. Harry sprawled on it a bit inelegantly and began unpacking their food. “Bit of a picnic, yeah?”
“No blankets, but I suppose,” Draco said, shaking his head fondly at Harry’s easy posture and sitting rather more primly beside him. “Did you get vinegar on the chips?”
“Course, I’m not a monster.” Harry passed him the food and for several minutes they ate in silence. Some Muggle children were shouting and running around the play equipment at the far side of the park. Harry watched them, contemplating.
“September always feels special,” he remarked. “Even though we aren’t in school anymore, there’s still a bit of excitement in the air, for me at least. I always looked forward to it so much.” Hogwarts had, after all, been an escape for Harry — for the most part.
Draco picked at his chips, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I looked forward to it in a way, I suppose. Hogwarts never felt like home to me, though, not the way it seemed to for you.” He went quiet. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the full experience.”
Harry shrugged “Neither of us did, in the end. I bet the graduation feasts are really boring though, eh? I can’t imagine McGonagall manages to put any humour in her speeches.”
Draco laughed despite himself. “She’s certainly nothing like —” His face fell. “Like Dumbledore,” he finished at last.
Harry looked out past the tree line. He thought over what Draco had said in this park earlier that summer, before they had truly become friends, before whatever this was between them had started to bloom. “I hope you still don’t question whether you deserve a second chance. You’ve been doing alright with yours, I think.”
“I’m serious. You’re not still —”
“Guilty? Ashamed? I don’t think those feelings will ever go away.” Draco’s gaze followed Harry’s out across the park. “And they shouldn’t, not really. I fucked up back then. But I’m not still punishing myself for it, if that’s what you mean. I’m trying to live every day as it comes, and try my best to earn it.”
Harry had wanted to take Draco’s hand back then but didn’t; now they were closer, and the low humming current between them had grown to a loud buzz. He inched his hand over and clasped Draco’s in his own. Draco started a bit, but didn’t pull away.
“So… you don’t feel like you shouldn’t be here?”
Draco turned to look at Harry, who tentatively met his gaze. There was heat in his eyes, and Harry found himself drawn in. “I find now I’m enjoying being alive.”
“Yeah?” Harry asked, low. “What’s your favourite part?”
Draco bit his lip, suddenly shy. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“I tell you what I really liked.” Harry leaned in. “This part.” He gently kissed the corner of Draco’s lips, just as Draco had done to him. He lingered for a moment, giving Draco the chance to pull away, while silently willing him to guess what Harry meant.
Come on, you must know how I feel, I’m not the type for silly little play kisses.
Draco trembled and turned, just a bit, but enough for Harry to take it as a yes. He tilted his own face and nudged in a little more —
And they were kissing.
A thrill shot up Harry’s spine as their lips connected, and he pressed in a little further. Draco’s lips were soft underneath his, even softer than his cheek had been. Draco didn’t pull away, but he didn’t open his mouth either, and after a moment they both pulled back. It had been an achingly sweet kiss, one like Harry couldn’t recall ever having, and he longed for more right away. But Draco looked out toward the park again, and Harry didn’t dare press his luck. From the pink tinge of Draco’s cheeks and tiny smile still on his lips, Harry counted this as a success.
It became a habit, after that — meeting up for lunch, or an early dinner, and ending with a kiss. They lingered longer, but never deepened. It felt like Draco was holding back, and Harry would have questioned how eager he was, except for the fact that Draco always looked quite pleased afterwards.
The weather turned, and with the chill came scarves and hats and gloves, but still Harry and Draco went to the park. Today there was hot chocolate, and as they made their way to their customary bench, Harry took Draco’s hand in his, soft leather gloves meeting up with fingerless, worn mittens.
They took a seat, and Harry heard Draco laugh. “What’s funny?”
“You have…” Draco mimed wiping at his face. Harry brushed a hand across his cheek, and Draco shook his head fondly. “Not there.” He leaned forward, bringing his own hand up, then seemed to think better of it. Quick as lighting, he came in close and kissed Harry on the nose, swiping him quickly with just a hint of tongue.
‘Whipped cream,” he explained, licking his lips to catch the bit that had transferred.
Harry stared at him, suddenly overwhelmed with affection. He set his hot chocolate down on the bench beside him, then reached over and took Draco’s from his hand as well.
“Hey, what are you —”
Chocolates secure, Harry took both of Draco’s hands and pulled him in, planting a firm kiss right on his lips. Slowly, Harry teased his tongue along Draco’s bottom lip, until he opened his mouth on a gasp. Harry wasn’t sure which one of them pressed in first, but in a flash the kiss turned passionate, surpassing all other kisses they had exchanged before. Draco tasted like chocolate, and Harry bit back a moan, not wanting to seem too overeager. It felt so good to have Draco in his arms at last, responding with equal fervour.
It was nothing like their previous tentative goodbyes — and there would be no denying what was going on between them after this. It was almost terrifying, but as Harry lost himself more in the warmth of Draco’s mouth, he silently cheered. Finally!
The sound of a throat clearing cut through Harry’s blissful thoughts, and they pulled apart quickly. An older Muggle woman apparently disapproved of their public display of affection, and had made a displeased noise as she walked past. Harry watched her move away, then let out an embarrassed laugh. He noticed Draco nervously glancing up and down the path beside the bench and hastened to reassure him.
“It’s OK, you know? People snog in parks. I bet she’s just jealous.” Draco nodded, but stiffly, obviously discomfited.
What had him worried? Was it being in public? Was it being spotted by anyone they knew? Or was it maybe even that Draco was ashamed about being seen with another man? Harry dismissed that; Draco had never shown any hint that gender mattered to him, and held Harry’s hand eagerly enough. He seemed to notice Harry’s furrowed brow, and answered.
“No, it’s alright. I just… I’m still unsure what people think of me. Any sort of judgement... I tend to take it quite personally.”
“Right.” Draco was sitting stiffly now, and made no move to return to their intimate position. Harry tried to hide his disappointment — he was determined not to push, but he couldn’t deny the pace was frustrating to him. It had taken him some time to decide how he felt about Draco, but once his mind was made up, there was no more hesitation on his part.
As Draco watched him, several expressions seemed to flit over his face, before his jaw set stubbornly and he reached over to touch Harry’s cheek. “Let’s not let the Muggles interrupt us, shall we?” Then he was leaning in, and his lips were firm on Harry’s, and it was even better than before.
There was something about being thoroughly snogged, Harry thought. He was in a good mood all week. Draco had been quite busy at work, even over the weekend, but Harry managed to convince him to eat lunch in the Ministry canteen on Monday.
Knowing that Draco was the punctual sort, Harry actually arrived in time to collect two puddings — sticky toffee yet again, he was in luck. He navigated his way to the table that Draco had chosen (in the back, Harry noted) and took a seat.
“You know, I come here to eat with Hermione sometimes, or Parvati, but I never see you here.” Harry didn’t admit how he’d looked around for Draco hopefully in those days before they’d finally made a tentative step towards — well, towards something.
“I pack a lunch. I would have thought Granger would be equally discerning about nutrition.” He eyed Harry’s pasty, jacket potato, and puddings dubiously.
“Oh, she doesn’t really eat much, just corners other people while they can’t escape and talks them into things they might not agree to in their office.”
Draco laughed at that, and Harry found the scrunch of his nose so adorable that he wanted to kiss it. He settled for taking his hand. Draco tensed and looked around at the other Ministry employees in the room.
“I — Harry, what are you doing?”
“I hold your hand in the park, yeah?” Harry said, unable to keep the injured tone out of his voice.
“Yes, but… the Muggle park.”
“I don’t care if anyone knows I fancy you.” A deep blush rose all the way up Draco’s neck to his ears, and it occurred to Harry that he hadn’t actually said it yet. All the kissing in the world was no substitute for words, it seemed, and the reality of the situation — Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, a relationship — suddenly came into sharp focus under the bright lights in the canteen. They weren’t in their own little world anymore, safe in an anonymous park.
Draco was still holding Harry’s hand, though, even if he was trembling a bit, and Harry took this as a good sign. “Things are better than you thought they’d be, yeah? You’re getting along. Can you trust me on this, that it’s alright? I mean… if it’s something you want, too…” He trailed off, aware now that Draco had never said anything, either. They had so far communicated solely through actions.
Draco threw him an exasperated look. “Potter, I don’t just kiss anyone.”
“Back to Potter, eh?” Harry asked nervously.
“When you’re being obtuse, yes.” Draco squeezed Harry’s hand reassuringly, before dropping it to reach for his teacup. “I am at work, you know. Just because you can’t be fired for anything doesn’t mean I enjoy the same largess. I have no doubt you could be caught with your trousers down in the lift and get away with it.” There was a smirk on his lips, and Harry laughed, happy to see the old Draco back, the one who teased Harry with impunity.
“There might be a limit to even my star power. Especially since I don’t wear pants.” Draco dropped the teacup with a clatter, even redder than before.
“Potter!” His eyes narrowed at Harry, who shook his head mirthfully. “Is that — stop trying to get a rise out of me!”
“But it’s so easy!” Harry took a satisfied bite of pudding. This was turning out to be a lovely day. Maybe they could stop being so awkward around each other.
But Draco went serious, and stared at him for a long moment, then with no small amount of wonder in his voice, said: “I never expected this.”
Harry swallowed, unsure how to answer. But aren’t I your soulmate? Surely Draco had to have considered this at some point, as unlikely a couple as they had seemed. Did Draco not believe in the threads at all?
Did he somehow not remember?
Harry had seen no reason to broach the frankly terrifying subject of destiny when things were moving along on their own with no push from fate. That didn’t mean he’d forgotten about it; that broken thread on his wrist was always somewhere in the back of his mind, no matter how he tried to avoid it. Parvati’s warning that Harry would never know if he didn’t ask rang in his ears.
He ignored it.
“Right,” he instead answered slowly. “Who would have ever guessed?”
Draco cocked his head, seemingly trying to parse Harry’s tone, to discern what he was trying to hide — he’d never been good at lying, and it had to be there somewhere in his voice. Draco opened his mouth, and Harry braced himself for whatever difficult question was about to come out, when —
“Well, well, well. Look what the Crup dragged in.”
Speak of the devil on his shoulder.
Parvati stood behind Draco, smiling like a cat who’d got the cream. “Come for a visit, Harry? I see Draco’s made a special trip out of the office for you. We never see him down here with the rest of the commoners.”
“Some of us have taste,” Draco drawled, and Harry let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He was grateful for Parvati’s sudden appearance, as it bought him some time. With luck, the strange moment between him and Draco could be forgotten and he could continue to resolutely bury his head in the sand.
“Certainly not Harry. How many puddings has he had today?”
“Only two.” She and Draco shared an amused look.
“Oi, you’re bad as I am! Leave my sweet tooth out of this.”
“You think you’re sweet?” Draco said, eyes sparkling. “That’s cute.” His eyes caught somewhere behind Harry, and he let out a put-upon sigh. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. There’s Drover from Accounting, I’ve been trying to track him down by memo for a week. I should have known to look in here.”
“Soon you’ll be harassing people with Hermione.” Harry watched him go, then turned back to see Parvati’s expectant face.
“Are you on a date?” she asked gleefully.
“I — no! He’s at work!”
“So? Tell that to Anise and Moira.” She pointed at two witches in the corner, one in Junior Auror robes, who were feeding each other pudding. Harry hoped he never got quite that bad.
“He’s not a big fan of public affection.”
“I’d love to know how you found that out.” She leaned in, her eyes gleaming.
Harry squirmed under her gaze. “Snogging at the park,” he admitted at last. She crowed in triumph, and Harry quickly shushed her.
Mercifully, she lowered the volume of her voice. “Finally! How’s it going, then?”
“It’s going pretty slow, actually,” Harry said, then hastily added, “but that’s fine! I’m not rushing him.”
“You know,” Parvati mused, “I thought when you two idiots figured it out, everything would boil over all at once. You were so intense with each other back in the day.”
“Rivalry is different than dating,” Harry pointed out. “And anyway, he’s been through a lot.”
“I suppose.” She fixed him with a hard stare. “You haven’t talked about the threads yet.”
Harry cringed under her accusing gaze. “No. I didn’t want to spook him! He still seems doubtful.”
“Even after snogging?” Parvati looked across the room at Draco, who was leaning over Drover and talking animatedly while the other man nodded.
“Draco is different now, yes,” she mused, almost to herself, “but...” Her brow furrowed, and Harry got the impression that her mind was working out several problems at once. It was times like these he had a better understanding of how she’d become an Unspeakable. She seemed about to continue, but then Draco made his way back over to the table.
“I think I made some progress with extra funding for a study.” He took a seat beside Harry again, beaming. “I should come down here more often. Not to eat, mind you.”
“Maybe you can bring me some pudding, then.”
“Never,” Draco said with a snort. “Get your own assistant. Wouldn’t that be something, an assistant to the assistant to the Interdepartmental Liaison to the Minister.”
“Bollocks!” Harry exclaimed, and many of the nearby witches and wizards turned to look at him in shock; they were used to having him in their midst by now, but he was still The Boy Who Lived, and some undoubtedly held him on a pedestal. “Sorry,” he said in a quieter voice, to Draco and Parvati’s surprised faces. “Just, that reminds me, Hermione is out for the week and I told her I’d pick up a few things. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll entertain Draco,” Parvati said, taking Harry’s seat.
He could have grabbed the files on the way out, but Hermione’s offices were just upstairs from the canteen, while Draco’s were all the way across the Ministry, and he’d wanted to walk him back to his office when he left. It took Harry all of five minutes, but when he returned he saw that Draco was standing up and fetching his robes from the back of his chair.
“Oh, is lunch over?” A quick look at the permanent Tempus charm over the door of the canteen told him there were fifteen minutes left.
“I should… get back to work.” Draco pulled his robes on slowly. “Potions to stir. Brewing waits for no lunch break, you know.”
“I’ll see you off, then.”
Parvati looked between the two of them, biting her lip. “Draco, if you still want that report on the Room, you can come by anytime.”
Draco froze, then adjusted his tie and shrugged. “Eventually. It was good to see you, Parvati.” He turned to Harry, paused, then then started for the door, forcing Harry to wave at Parvati over his shoulder as he followed.
They made their way to the next hallway over, where the lift was located. It was empty while everyone else finished their meal; Draco stepped in just across the threshold, then turned to face Harry. “Thanks for lunch.”
“Thank yourself, you packed it,” Harry laughed. Draco smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Want me to go up with you?”
“That’s not necessary.” Draco leaned forward a bit, his hand on the door to the lift preventing it from closing. “Harry, I…” he trailed off, then cast his eyes out into the empty hallway. Harry presumed he was looking for any co-workers. A quick glance of his own told him the coast was clear, so he closed the distance and kissed Draco goodbye. It was a bit stiff, but Harry figured that was just Draco worried about being seen. Draco was the one to break the kiss, and he stepped back further into the lift to select his floor.
Harry kept his own hand on the door another moment. “What are your plans for this weekend?”
Blinking in the strange glowing lights of the lift — Harry had always hated them, they made him squint — Draco took a moment to answer. “I might be working,” he said at last.
“Well, let me know, OK? There’s a new bakery I want to try out, though we could get some biscuits and go look at the skating rink in the park.” Draco only nodded.
“Bye, then,” Harry waved, and watched as the lift door closed. Somehow, he felt like he’d missed something.
It was only later that Harry remembered — Draco usually tried to avoid the lift.
It took awhile for Harry to coax Draco away from work. There was a potion that needed to be stirred under a waning moon for a week, apparently. Harry assumed the increased workload was why Draco had been acting a bit off the last time they parted, and then forgot all about it. He wasn’t really worried — Draco hadn’t made things official with words, but “I don’t kiss just anyone” spoke volumes, at least to Harry. It was now chilly out, the perfect time to go skating. They met at the park — their park, Harry thought of it as now. Draco showed up in a blue woollen coat with a high collar and a grey scarf wrapped around his neck. Harry thought he looked handsome, and told him so.
“Even though you look like a Ravenclaw in those colours,” Harry teased. He would have reached for Draco’s hand, but both were in his pockets. Instead, Harry gestured over to the small rink in the centre of the park. “Let’s rent some skates.”
Draco followed quietly, not speaking much while he laced up the skates he selected. He pulled each lace through the eyelets slowly and methodically; Harry was abruptly reminded of that morning after pulling him from the Room of Requirement, as Draco buttoned his shirt in the Hospital Wing. When he was nervous Draco tended to focus on small things.
What could he be nervous about?
The rink wasn’t as crowded as it would become closer to Christmas, and Harry and Draco were able to glide along in relative isolation. Draco appeared to have no trouble with the basics, staying upright without any visible wobble, even if he didn’t attempt any twirls or spins like some of the skaters closer to the middle of the ice. Harry was less steady on his feet, relying mostly on his broom-riding experience for balance.
“Have you done this, or are you just a natural?” Harry asked.
“I used to skate on our lake back at the Manor,” was Draco’s answer. “It was shallow enough that it usually froze. If it wasn’t cold enough in Wiltshire that year, it would be magically frozen over.”
“Wow, that must have been pretty fun for you.”
Draco shrugged half-heartedly. “I wasn’t allowed to do jumps or anything, just glide around. Mother usually had a fancy winter tea in February.” He didn’t elaborate more than that, and Harry got the impression the memory wasn’t a particularly happy one. Maybe none of Draco’s childhood memories were happy anymore, tainted by what had become of his family. That was a depressing thought. He continued forward without pressing Draco for any further details.
It was relaxing, in a meditative kind of way, to just skate around the ice in circles beside each other. Still, it wasn't quite the date Harry had imagined. He’d pictured holding hands while they made their way tentatively around the rink, laughing at one another if they fell, trying to outdo each other the way they had in Quidditch. Afterwards there would be hot chocolates and a lot more kissing in the park. Harry was even hoping there might be kissing — or more — in Draco’s flat afterwards. Something about the way that coat fit; Harry wanted to get his hands underneath it.
He’d been thinking about this more often, about going further with Draco than kissing. It was only natural to want that with the person you fancied, after all. It was more than that, though. Truthfully, Harry enjoyed sex, but it wasn’t his highest priority. What he really wanted from Draco, he realised, was for him to stop acting like Harry was going to evaporate into thin air at any moment, to not be so hesitant with his emotions.
At last their legs became tired, and they made their way off the ice like wobbly penguins, much less agile while walking in blades than skating on them. Harry led Draco to a bench back behind the rental booth. The winter sun was going down already and they were hidden in the shadows cast by the awning.
It seemed private enough, and the park was familiar territory. As he had done before, Harry leaned in towards Draco, making eye contact and giving him enough time to pull back. When he didn’t, Harry nudged his nose alongside Draco’s, mindful of his glasses as always, and kissed him.
Yet, in contrast to the last time they snogged in the park — when Draco had stroked Harry’s face, and eventually clutched desperately at Harry’s shoulders — Draco left his hands on the bench. He didn’t pull away, but he didn’t return the kiss enthusiastically — didn’t return it at all, in fact. After only a moment, Harry pulled back to look at him quizzically.
“It’s fine.” It obviously wasn’t fine; Draco’s fingers curled against the bench and he wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes.
“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Back to your place? “Further in the park?”
“No,” Draco said, almost timidly. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Harry swallowed against the lump that was forming in his throat. “Draco… Did I do something to upset you?” Harry recalled how stiff Draco had been when they said goodbye in the lift at the Ministry,
“I mean to say… that is…” Draco’s voice faltered. “I’m just not sure… I’m quite ready for a relationship.”
All the sounds of the park, the soft noises of other skaters’ blades across the ice, seemed to fade away. The bitter wind cut through Harry’s scarf, sharp as Draco’s words. “Do you want to go… slower?” Harry couldn’t imagine going slower than they already were. But for Draco… “We can do that,” he affirmed, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.
Draco regarded him very seriously. “That’s not what you want.” Harry couldn’t deny it, so he didn’t. “You want to be together, to be boyfriends,” Draco clarified, stating the obvious. “You want to have me.”
That wasn’t how Harry would phrase it. Have him. Draco wasn’t a possession. He wasn’t wrong about the rest, though. “I do, yeah.” Harry cast around for reasons Draco might be saying such things. “Was I pushing too much? If you don’t want to go further than kissing, I don’t mind.”
Draco arched a brow. “Really? Not ever?”
Was that it? Harry could work with that. He wanted more than snogging, but not so much that he wanted to lose Draco. And wasn’t that realisation a kick in the head?
“If that’s how you feel, yeah. I know some people don’t like it.”
“But you like it,” Draco said knowingly. “And that’s not it,” he added, cutting off any reply from Harry. “I enjoy physical intimacy.”
“Then what —”
“There’s just a lot to do, you know?” Draco rushed out, his words coming faster. “At, at work, and just — in life, and — there’s never enough time —”
“I thought you liked spending time with me,” Harry pointed out, stung.
“It’s too much, alright?” Draco was becoming visibly agitated, kicking the bladed heel of his skate into the ground in front of them. “Everything is too much.” He wrapped his arms around himself defensively.
Harry couldn’t think of a retort, only a feeble protest. “It just seemed like things were going so well.”
Draco squeezed his eyes shut. “Stop making this harder.”
“What, you want me to make it easy for you to dump me?” Harry replied, unable to hide his frustration. Draco appeared to shrink in on himself.
“I’m not… We never really…”
“I get it,” Harry said bitterly, then sighed in resignation. As much as he wanted to argue, wanted to insist Draco give him another shot, he found he couldn’t. Draco just looked so miserable there, his nose red from the cold, body stiff. Even as gutted as he was, Harry wanted to reassure Draco. “It’s alright, I promise. I’m not… are you angry with me?”
Draco relaxed slightly and glanced over. “No. I’m… you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Do you… not want to see me anymore?” Harry asked, afraid of the answer. “I like being your friend,” he added softly. It wasn't a lie; Harry had enjoyed Draco's company before he was interested in him romantically. But even as he said it, he knew being only friends would be difficult. He recalled the past few weeks of tentative sweetness he’d shared with Draco, already missing it
Draco's expression said he had the same worry, but he smiled warily. “I like that, too.”
“OK then,” Harry nodded. “Friends.” It felt like a hollow declaration compared to the first time he had assured Draco they were friends, like this was a loss rather than an addition to his life. And it was, honestly — a loss of the hopes Harry built up around them. Suddenly the park didn’t seem welcoming anymore, only a reminder of the times they’d been here the past few months, growing closer both emotionally and physically. And while Harry usually tried to stretch out his time with Draco, he found he wanted to be anywhere else.
It seemed that Draco had the same idea, and Harry watched him, bereft, as he took a shuddering breath and leaned down to unlace his skates. “I guess we’d better return these.”
Later that evening Harry stood in his back garden alone, looking up at the stars in the crisp, clear sky as his breath materialised and dissolved in the cold air, ephemeral as his short flirtation with Draco had been. From the beginning, something about Draco had seemed unreachable, but Harry couldn’t grasp it. He was making him just as distant as his namesake whirling in the heavens above.
Harry had tried his best, right? Had made Draco feel comfortable, had demonstrated his affection? Was there something else he should have done, something he was missing? Parvati had told him to discuss the threads, but Harry couldn’t see how that would have helped. What was Harry supposed to say? ‘No, Draco, you’re wrong; see, we’re supposed to be together, even if you aren’t ready’? Not only was that rude and utterly discounted Draco’s feelings on the matter, but Harry couldn’t prove anything about the threads, anyway.
If Draco didn’t want him, maybe they weren’t tied by a thread after all.
Maybe they were, and Draco still didn’t want Harry. Maybe Harry was just that unlovable, that even his soulmate didn't —
Now that’s going too far, Harry told himself sternly. You’re over that feeling.
Still, Harry couldn’t help but wonder as he trudged back inside over the frozen grass if destiny had maybe skipped over him when it came to romance.
Even if they had determined to be friends, Harry thought it best he gave Draco a bit of space after the disastrous date-that-wasn’t. Rather than meet up with Hermione at lunch, he dropped off his newest batch of parchment — annotations for her proposal on the treatment of Grindylows — and made a beeline back for the lift, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally bump into Draco and come across as desperate. Before he could make his escape, he heard a throat clear behind him, and turned around cautiously.
“Are you alright, Harry?” Parvati asked with obvious concern. “You look like you’re trying to outrun another dragon.”
“Nah, just more work,” he joked half-heartedly. “You never know what Hermione will come up with next. Good to see you, though.”
Parvati was not easily dismissed and followed Harry into the lift. “What floor?” he asked.
“Whichever one you’re headed for.” Harry pressed the button for the Atrium, resigned. As soon as the lift began moving, she cast a spell he’d never seen before at the door and turned to him, the same strange nervous look on her face that he’d seen that day at lunch.
“How are things going with Draco?”
“They aren’t,” Harry answered morosely. “He only wants to be friends.”
“Oh, dear.” Parvati appeared upset on Harry’s behalf, but not surprised. “Even after the kissing?”
“Yep. No more kissing.” Harry didn’t really want to discuss it. He hoped someone else would get on the lift to save him from this conversation, but no one did, and he concluded her spell must have been to keep people off.
She wrung her hands. “I’m really sorry, Harry. I could have sworn he was smitten with you.”
“Yeah, well, you were wrong,” he answered testily. “You don’t know everything, even if you do work with all the mysteries of love.”
“I never said I did.”
“You got my hopes up, gossipping like a schoolkid about how he liked me, and let’s not even talk about the threads —”
“You never did talk about the threads, maybe that’s your issue —”
“Fuck the threads!” Harry’s voice echoed in the small space. “What use are they, if we don’t even end up together? Are we even SUPPOSED to be together, after all that? ”
Parvati closed her eyes, guilt flashing on her face. “This is why soulmate threads are a secret. The questions are more trouble than they are worth.”
“Well, I’m never getting answers now.” Harry crossed his arms and leaned against the wall of the lift, which had come to a stop but wasn’t opening yet. “I just… I just wanted him. More than I realised, I guess. I wish I never knew about those stupid threads.”
“I’m sorry, Harry,” she repeated.
“It’s not your fault, not really,” Harry said, calm creeping back into his voice. “I have to get going, though.”
It appeared as if Parvati would speak again, but she turned away instead, abashed, and cancelled her spell on the lift.
The winter was shaping up to be a long, cold one, perfect weather for Harry to curl up inside Grimmauld Place with a stack of work and wallow alone. He saw Draco around, of course: glimpses at the Ministry, or across the room with his co-workers, having casual post-work drinks at the Leaky. He was happy Draco had decided to be friendlier with people — the housewarming party had done him a world of good — and he even caught Ron chatting with him in line a few times as they waited for their ales. Harry sometimes talked with Draco as well, but their conversations lacked the warmth from their first foray into friendship. Harry couldn’t blame Draco for being distant; he knew Harry had been interested in him, and maybe that awkwardness would never truly go away.
Once Harry saw him in Diagon Alley, looking beautiful in the soft glow of the Christmas lights that were draped on every shopfront. Harry was about to say hello, until he noticed that Draco was with Blaise and Astoria. He turned sharply away before they could spot him and headed for another shop, any shop, and didn’t notice that he’d ended up in Scribbulus until a kindly old witch was asking if he needed to be shown around. He purchased three inkwells he didn’t need and fled.
Luckily, New Year’s was distracting. It was Bill and Fleur’s turn to host, and the entire Weasley clan had descended onto Shell Cottage. A large pavilion heated by Warming Charms was set up along the beach, and Harry laughed along with everyone, counting down and cheering for midnight. And if he remembered sweet autumn kisses on a park bench as the year began anew and couples embraced around him, that was an ache he would have to accept.
Unfortunately for Harry, the affection he felt for Draco didn’t dull as winter turned to spring, and careened right into summer. In truth, it only became worse as he watched Draco settle more into his life. Hermione told him that Draco had approached her about a project concerning the Ministry-distributed Wolfsbane, wondering if certain modifications could be made in the efficiency of the potion that would make the full moon even easier on those taking it. Harry’s heart swelled as he considered what a kind person Draco had become, what progress he made with his prejudices, but along with that came melancholy thoughts of what could have been.
Still, encountering Draco at work or around town had become easier as time went on. Which was for the best, since Daphne Greengrass had struck up a sort-of friendship with Hermione, and various Slytherins could now be found at pub nights with increasing regularity. Harry braced himself for the day that Draco came into the Leaky with someone on his arm, but it appeared that he had been truthful with Harry, and wasn’t looking for a relationship yet.
A little voice piped up in Harry’s ear at times like these, saying that Draco hadn’t been ready then, but maybe he would be ready someday. Harry tried to swat away those thoughts like doxies, and was usually successful. There was no use getting his hopes up. Yet every now and then he felt someone staring at him, and would turn around to see Draco quickly look away. There were even times when Draco blushed as he and Harry chatted about whatever friends talk about — Quidditch, work, nothing that would normally make someone flush.
Harry told himself that was just lingering awkwardness. He also took pains to not focus too intently on Draco in mixed company, to make it clear he understood they were only friends. The first few times Harry had allowed their conversation to trail off and turned away to start a new one with someone down the table, Draco had looked confused, and almost suspicious, but taken it in stride.
Today, however, Draco was everyone’s focus: it was his twentieth birthday party. Now that he had more friends to invite, Draco’s flat had been deemed too small, so everyone had gathered at a local pub. After Harry grabbed a drink from the blessedly open bar, he made his way over to tell Draco hello.
“So, twenty years old. Not a teenager anymore.”
“Please, I haven’t been a teenager since I died.” Harry started, and Draco laughed. “I can joke about that now, you know. I’ve stopped waking up at night feeling for all my limbs and making sure I was solid.”
“I didn’t realise it had been that bad for you.”
“I’m sure you had it worse.” Harry tilted his head in question. “Oh, don’t tell me your last encounter with Old Noseless didn’t give you nightmares.”
Harry spit out his beer. “Old Noseless?!”
“That’s what Astoria calls him, apparently. Speaking of, is she here yet?” He craned his neck around to look over the crowd, and Harry felt his stomach tighten in unearned jealousy. “Blaise only just asked her out,” Draco continued, unaware of Harry’s misery. “I told him this wasn’t an appropriate first date, being that it’s my party, but he just can’t help himself. What are you smiling about?”
“Nothing,” Harry grinned in relief. He could chide himself for his possessiveness later.
“Harry, Draco; just the two I was looking for.” Hermione approached with a glass of wine in her hand; in contrast to her party dress and the wine, she had her work face on. Harry groaned.
“Can’t whatever memo you have for me wait until Monday?”
She turned to Draco expectantly. “Have you asked him yet?” Draco shook his head no, a faint blush rising on his face.
“Asked me what?” Harry was very curious what could elicit that reaction.
Hermione waited, but when it was clear Draco wasn’t going to speak she sighed in exasperation. “Draco needs to interview some werewolves around the country about improvements he’s attempting with the Wolfsbane potion. It’s Ministry policy that any employee doing field work be able to cast a Patronus Charm for emergency communication. I told him you were the best person to ask, since you’re not only competent with the spell, but have experience teaching it.”
“I didn’t want to be a bother,” Draco interjected. “I can request people come to the office.”
“You know werewolves don’t trust the Ministry very much. Getting them to agree to be interviewed at all was difficult enough without asking them to set foot in the building.” She turned to Harry insistently. “You do remember how to teach the spell, right?”
“I — I mean, probably, but only if Draco wants.” Harry had imagined such a thing before: standing close to Draco, helping adjust his wand. How unfair for the opportunity to come up that now he knew just how much he liked Draco.
Hermione fixed her terrifying gaze on Draco, who gulped. “Yes, I’d like that very much,” he said quickly.
The look she gave Harry was a bit softer. Hermione knew, after all, that he had been sweet on Draco — Harry couldn’t have hidden his infatuation from her and Ron, even if he’d never discussed it with them like he had with Parvati. It only seemed natural to make her his relationship confidant, since she’d known about the threads, and Harry was sworn to secrecy on them, even if he’d felt badly keeping it from his two best friends. As far as Hermione knew, he and Draco had kissed a bit and awkwardly decided it wasn’t going to work out. In any case, Hermione didn’t consider social awkwardness when there was work to be done. “I’m sure we can work something out,” Harry agreed, mostly to get her to leave them alone.
“Hey,” Harry said softly as soon as she was gone. “We don’t have to, you know. I’m sure you can find another tutor if you’re uncomfortable with me.”
Draco swallowed. “Whyever would I be uncomfortable?” he said, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Because you know I still want to snog you, Harry thought. “If it feels like too much pressure,” was what he said instead.
“I think I would pressure myself no matter who was teaching me,” Draco admitted. “I’ve always been worried I was incapable of casting one at all. That I wasn’t… I don’t know, good enough. In my heart or something.” He let out a shaky breath. “I don’t think I could have told anyone else that.”
If Harry hadn’t already been completely gone for Draco, he would have fallen right then, looking at his sad yet hopeful face as he confessed to Harry. “Well, that’s obviously not true,” Harry assured him. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try my best.”
“Very well. We’ll have to set up a time and place later, or else suffer the wrath of Hermione.” Draco looked behind Harry, and his eyes lit up. “Now come along, I think Daphne is bringing out my cake.”
The door to Draco’s flat loomed before Harry like the gates of the underworld, ready to swallow him whole. “You can do this,” he told himself as he knocked. “You can be in his house, be practically up against him, and stay friendly.”
Draco answered the door, looking as handsome as ever. Harry couldn’t help remembering the almost-kiss that happened right here on this threshold, and blushed against his will. “Professor Potter, here for training,” he joked.
“Professor, eh?” Draco lifted a pale brow, and stood aside for Harry to enter.
“It looks good in here” he said, looking around. Draco had obviously added more decorations around his flat — a mirror here, a vase there, and several paintings of landscapes that appeared both peaceful and foreboding.
“It’s nice to have a place of my own, though at first it was strange. When I was young I thought I’d live in the Manor my whole life.”
Harry couldn’t imagine Draco back in Malfoy Manor anymore. He’d grown beyond that, grown into himself. He followed Draco into the house.
“I’ve moved the furniture in the sitting room out of the way so we have room to practice.”
“It’s not a violent spell, we won’t be blasting anything,” Harry pointed out. “Although maybe your Patronus will be an elephant or something large.”
Draco looked scandalised. “I’m sure it will be graceful and elegant, just like me,” he said, obviously trying to fake a confidence he didn’t feel.
“Hey.” Harry placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder and turned him slightly so they were facing each other. “Even if we don’t get this today, it doesn’t mean you can’t cast one, alright? It’s a complicated spell —”
“A spell nearly everyone I know can cast.”
“What about your co-workers in the potions lab?”
Draco shrugged half-heartedly. “I’ve no idea. They’re content to stay inside with the cauldrons.”
“And you are trying to do something to improve people’s lives,” Harry pointed out. “You have the motivation, and I personally think you have the skill.”
“Tch,” Draco scoffed. “Well of course I have the skill, that’s not the issue.”
“Yeah, you can stop going on about how you’re such an evil little shit deep down. We both know that’s not the case. You’re just being defencive.”
“It’s slightly worrisome how well you know me.” Draco regarded Harry with a searching look, then moved toward the centre of his cleared-out sitting room. “Let’s get to it, then.”
“Right.” Even though he was nervous to be here with Draco, Harry was looking forward to teaching him. He thought back to the DA in fifth year, and to McGonagall’s repeated assurances that there was a place for him at Hogwarts. “I think the best place to start is a demonstration.”
“Never miss a chance to show off, do you?” Draco’s smirk was playful rather than goading.
“You know it,” Harry replied jokingly. “Now watch my wand movements. Expecto Patronum! ”
The familiar stag leapt from Harry’s wand and pranced around the room several times before coming to stand between them. Draco watched it, awed; his fingers twitched but he didn’t raise his hand.
“They used to say it was a rare ability,” he said quietly, not taking his eyes off the stag. “That’s not quite accurate. Rather, it was a spell attempted rarely. There was a long period of time where it wasn’t needed, with the Dementors under control at Azkaban. Then more people started using it during the war, and once its usefulness in communication was revealed, it was taught more often, and then became part of the seventh year curriculum.”
“I thought I was supposed to be teaching here,” Harry teased. Draco didn’t respond, still entranced, his eyes reflecting the glow of the Patronus. Harry swished his wand quickly, causing it to dissipate. “I’ll cast again.”
“You can just show me the wand movement.”
“Alright, then. Here, start with your wrist like this —” Harry held his wand out, demonstrating “— on Expecto. Then move like this for the second part of the incantation.”
Draco watched him carefully, his own wrist mirroring the movement. “Seems simple enough.” He went through the motions several more times, then faltered. “It’s what comes next that I’m unsure of.”
“Have you been thinking about what memory to use?”
Draco shifted from one foot to the other. “Does it have to be a memory? I’ve read some discussion that happy thoughts can also work.”
Harry shook his head. “It’s not quite the same. I mean, it can work in theory, but the emotion you’re using has to be really strong. Just thinking about something you want usually won’t work. It has to be something you actually experienced.”
“I suppose that makes sense. After all, thinking about something you want to happen still carries the pain of unfulfillment, no matter how strong the desire is.”
“You make it sound really poetic.” Harry laughed.
“Just distracting you from how nervous I am.”
“And you know, if you’re worried… You don't have to tell me what you’re thinking of.”
“I hadn’t planned on it,” Draco murmured. He assumed the stance that Harry had shown him. “Alright, then. Here goes.”
As Harry expected, Draco’s first few attempts produced nothing but disappointment. With each try, Draco grew more tense, until his wrists were too stiff for the first wand movement. “Here,” Harry said, stepping up to him and gently correcting his posture with a touch on the shoulder. It was the closest they’d been since their… whatever it was had ended, and Harry knew he wasn’t imagining the blush creeping over Draco’s cheeks, but he moved away immediately. “Try it again.”
A faint wisp emerged from Draco’s wand. “Oh! Did you see that!”
“See? I told you it was possible!”
Draco grew even more determined, but as before, with each successive attempt he let his frustration take hold of him and grew sloppier with his wand movement.
“Don’t give up now,” Harry said, touching his arm to move it into place once more. This time he lingered — to settle Draco’s posture, of course, nothing more. “And don’t overthink it. Just feel yourself in that memory, in its warmth. Imagine it as real as the moment it happened to you, as if it’s happening right now —”
“ Expecto Patronum! ”
And there it was, spilling from Draco’s wand, long and lean. It darted sinuously between Draco’s ankles and paused to look up at Harry. Draco stared in awe.
“A huh?” Harry did know what that was, actually. He was just too busy being charmed by the graceful yet adorable spectral animal gazing up at him from Draco’s feet.
“They hunt snakes. Rather ironic.” He followed his Patronus’ eyes up to Harry’s. “It likes you.”
“It’s cute.” Harry grinned slyly at Draco. “It looks a little like a —”
“First person to call it a ferret is getting hexed.”
Harry laughed as Draco flicked his wrist and the mongoose faded away. “I knew you could do it.”
“I — I can’t quite believe I managed it,” Draco spoke after a moment of silence. He was still pressed against Harry, having made no move to retreat. “Thank you.”
“I just showed you the method. The casting, the memory, that was all you.” Harry was quite curious as to what that memory had been, but he wasn’t going to push.
“Not all of it,” Draco murmured, glancing up at Harry, his eyes flicking down to his mouth, then back up. “You’re a very good teacher, you know,” he said almost absently.
“You’re, um, a good student. A fast learner.”
“Well, I suppose that’s it, unless you want to try again —”
Out of nowhere, Draco kissed him.
It wasn’t like their kind, soft kisses from before. Draco pressed his lips to Harry’s almost wildly, one hand coming up to clutch at his neck and reel him in. Harry was startled, but didn’t pull away, the part of him that so desperately wanted Draco back taking over almost immediately, his body running ahead of his mind.
His lips were all too happy to work against Draco’s, but eventually his thoughts caught up, spurred on by the feeling of Draco’s fingers trailing down the collar of his jumper. What is this? Did he change his mind? Why?
Draco had told him pretty clearly that he wasn’t ready for a relationship. But that had been some time ago. Maybe it was the teaching session — had Draco realised how nicely they worked together? And he’d also said he never had enough time… had he just been scared? Had waiting helped him see that Harry could fit into his life?
Whatever he was thinking, it had lit a fire in Draco that was previously unseen. Before, he had been quite deliberate in his affections; now he seemed as if he were trying to devour Harry whole, artlessly licking into his mouth. It was all Harry could do to keep up. After a minute of fumbling kisses, he could feel himself quickly hardening, but he tried to put that aside — this was going much faster than their previous snogging sessions had, but maybe Draco simply wanted to kiss and not go further. That was fine with Harry. This was more than he ever dreamed he’d get again.
Yet no sooner than he thought this is enough, he felt himself being pushed backwards, stumbling a bit before the sofa hit the back of his legs. Harry went down in a heap, Draco following somehow more elegantly, coming to rest in Harry's lap. He didn’t break the kiss, didn’t give Harry a chance to catch his breath. They’d never been closer, but something seemed off, and Harry managed to gasp “Wait!” He pulled back to look searchingly at Draco's flushed face, his panting mouth red from kissing. Harry placed a palm on his cheek, partly to feel the soft skin there, but mostly to hold Draco away.
“You said…” Harry’s brain was foggy and overwhelmed by the sudden turn of his fortune. He frantically tried to recall their conversation when Draco had told him ‘no.’ “You said everything was too much,” he finally remembered.
Draco didn’t move from his perch, but he leaned back, searching Harry’s face. “You’ll always be too much, Potter,” he said, so quietly Harry could barely hear. He turned his face into Harry’s grasp, then licked at his hand. Harry twitched, then whimpered as Draco started to suck on one, then two of his fingers.
Everything about Draco’s actions was out of character, but every movement he made was full of desire, and Harry had never felt more wanted. A tug at his hair, a pull on his shirt, yanking it from his trousers to expose the skin — Draco was pretty clear about what direction they were headed. Harry wasn’t a virgin, but he’d never felt like he was on a runaway train as part of the foreplay.
It was impossible to ignore just how hard they both were, not with Draco squirming in his lap, but Harry wasn’t going to be the one to break. It had to be Draco’s choice. Finally, Draco raised both hands to Harry's shoulders and braced himself as he pressed down, hesitantly at first. The feel of their cocks against each other, even through layers of clothing, was achingly pleasurable, and Harry couldn’t help arching up. The little gasp that move elicited from Draco was almost as sweet as the sight of him becoming lost in his own desire. He ground down harder and Harry grabbed at his bony hips, holding him firmly. Draco bit his lip as he glanced down between them, before slowly reaching down to unbutton his trousers.
“Oh, fuck,” Harry couldn’t help but curse as the head of Draco’s cock peeked out at him. “Are you sure?”
“I know what I’m doing,” Draco said with an edge in his voice.
“That wasn’t what I was asking — ohhhh, fuck.” Draco’s hand had found Harry’s cock, and he was rubbing him through the fabric. Haltingly, Harry reached down to help with the buttons, Draco’s eager yet shaky fingers getting in the way several times before they both pulled themselves out.
The first drag of skin on skin made Harry throw his head back against the sofa. His moment of inattentiveness cost him his grip, and suddenly Draco was holding them both, jerking them off together. He only stopped to lick his palm, and then it was both hot and wet, and there was no way Harry was going to last long. He managed to look up again and was treated to Draco blushing with pleasure, eyes half-lidded and mouth opened in a moan. He looked more erotic than Harry had ever dared imagine him. He seemed to be getting close as well, his stroking now accompanied by little bouncing motions in Harry’s lap as he rocked into his own fist, fucking his cock along Harry’s. His long fingers tightened, and Harry thought he was about to watch Draco come, when his own orgasm hit him out of nowhere.
It seemed to go on forever. Deep down, his mind still clouded with doubts, Harry wished it would, that they could stay in this moment forever and not have to face the inevitable questions.
Draco’s eyes were now wide as he stared down at Harry’s come pulsing out over his hand, and with a sharp cry he reached his peak as well.
They were silent in the aftermath, their panting breaths echoing around the room. Harry hadn’t known it was possible to come that hard from simply wanking together. At last he spoke, still dazed as his body shuddered with the aftermath of his truly spectacular orgasm.
“We fit so well together. I knew we would.”
Above him, Draco froze. Carefully he withdrew, standing and buttoning his trousers, looking anywhere but at Harry. It took Harry longer to get his bearings; he still sprawled limply across the cushions.
“I need to move the sofa back.”
“I… what?” Harry blinked in confusion.
“The sofa. I need to put the furniture back in place.” Draco was already waving his wand at the armchair and side table, floating them to their previous arrangements.
“Oh, sure.” Harry stood awkwardly, his softening cock flopping out of his trousers. He quickly set himself to rights and moved aside so the sofa could be manoeuvred back into the centre of the room. Draco didn’t seem to be one for cuddling in the aftermath, that was fine, Harry could get used to that — was he going to have the opportunity to get used to it?
“I’m glad you changed your mind,” Harry offered, the question of why? implied in his tone.
Draco turned to him quizzically, no evidence of their encounter left in his expression. “My mind?”
“About us being together. I wasn’t going to push you, you know, but I still… yeah.”
Stilted, Draco leaned over and fluffed one of the pillows Harry’s arse had pressed down. “Can’t two people have fun together?” he asked nonchalantly.
Harry suddenly felt hollow. “Fun?” he asked faintly.
“Did you not have fun?” Draco looked pointedly at his crotch.
“I — of course, but —”
“I still don’t have time to pursue a relationship,” Draco continued smoothly, backing toward the kitchen. There was a glint of panic in his eyes, but Harry was too upset to care or be delicate with his feelings.
“You might have said that,” he grumbled, “before you jumped me.”
Draco did his best to look abashed. “It was an intense moment,” he protested.
“Sure, fine.” Harry followed him to the door, able to take a hint and suddenly wanting to be anywhere else. Rejected again. He needed to lick his wounds elsewhere, somewhere that Draco’s intense eyes weren’t boring a hole into him. And he needed to clean his trousers.
“You know, I liked you better before all this,” he grumbled under his breath. Draco started beside him as he opened the door.
“Yeah,” Harry waved a hand between them. “This.” Draco’s lip trembled, his facade threatening to crumble, and Harry took pity on him. He was still head-over-heels for the bastard, after all, even if his pride was stung. “Never mind. I’ll see you around.”
“Right.” Draco looked away, then back. “Thank you. For the lesson,” His hand tightened on the door jamb, and he continued softer. “I meant it, you know. You’re a very good teacher.”
That was cold comfort to Harry as he made his way home.