Harry was never in it for the glory. He was especially not in it for the glory in the moment that Professor McGonnagal approached him and said that she wanted a portrait of Harry made and hung in the school to commemorate his little act of heroics in the past year.
Harry had tried- really tried- to change her mind about this because he “just wanted to be normal now” and he “already had his name in enough history books and news articles that nobody would be forgetting him any time soon,” but McGonnagal was adamant.
“Whether you want to acknowledge it or not Mr. Potter, you have done more for our school and for the wizarding world than most any other wizard this century. It would be a pity for our school to not have you memorialized on its walls. Besides, our portraits can meet for tea every fortnight if they wish; it would not be lonely!”
Harry had tried to talk to Ron and Hermione about how ridiculous it was, but they were taking a different approach than Harry about coping with the aftermath of the Second Wizarding War. Where Harry was trying to avoid the limelight by more or less becoming a hermit in Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Ron and Hermione must have been making up for lost time or something because they usually had their mouths occupied by things other than Harry’s qualms with portraiture. Because he couldn’t get any backup, Harry begrudgingly agreed after many a conversation and owl correspondence to have a portrait made but with a few terms: The portrait was to be hung in a broom closet on a side hallway and nobody was to be told of its existence until Harry was graduated from Hogwarts after his eighth year.
The portrait was kept a complete secret, so naturally the whole school knew. The moment Harry stepped onto Platform 9¾, he knew he was right to worry.
“Harry! Playing in the big leagues now, even got yourself a portrait!” Seamus Finnegan half-shouted, patting Harry on the back.
“Wh- How did you know?” Harry spluttered
“Oh you know, people talk. I think it's incredible though! I can tell my kids when they go to Hogwarts to say hi to Harry for me, imagine that!”
Even though Seamus meant well, Harry was regretting agreeing to this more and more.
“Relax, Harry. Everyone will have forgotten about this by next week! Besides, you’ve dealt with much worse and you know it.” Hermione said after they found an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Express as an escape from the looks of awe and admiration from younger students in the corridor. One Hufflepuff third year had actually asked for his autograph as he was climbing on to the train, which made Harry walk swiftly in the other direction, leaving the poor thirteen year old empty-handed.
“I don’t even know why you’re so upset about the stupid portrait. You saved the entire bloody world last year so people would be talking about you, portrait or not. I doubt most of them even care about it.” Ron added, sitting entirely too close to Hermione.
“I know, I know! But the fact that I got a portrait done makes it look like I enjoy the attention.”
They were interrupted by a knock on their compartment door and a glimpse of blonde hair made Harry think it was time for the annual jeering comment from Malfoy on the train which usually ended up in someone being held back for risk of attacking the other. Harry just knew that the coming remark would be something along the lines of “I heard you got a portrait of yourself painted, Potter! Just can’t help yourself, can you? I bet you’ll have the thing prancing around the school reminding everyone of just how important and famous you are, won’t you?”
As it turned out, the blonde at the door was not Malfoy, but instead Luna asking if she could sit with them in their compartment. Malfoy, in fact, did not come at all that train ride, though Neville joined them a couple moments after Luna did. Luna and Neville had apparently spent some time together over the summer and had a bit of a summer romance, of which Luna told the trio a sensational recap. Neville turned slightly pink at a few of her comments, but overall Harry was happy that his friends were happy. Harry did feel very aware of the fact that he was fifth-wheeling in this compartment. Though he knew she was completely justified, Harry was a little sad that Ginny was not sitting in there with them.
The two of them had tried to make it work again after the war, but it became immediately evident that it just wasn’t happening. Where Ron was coping with the loss of his brother by attaching himself to Hermione, Ginny didn’t want to deal with a relationship on top of her grief. Harry didn’t blame her at all and he himself was also not in a place for a relationship, so they mutually called it off and ended on good terms. That didn’t mean that things weren’t awkward between them, so he had seen little of the fiery red head since then.
By the time he arrived at Hogwarts, Harry was feeling better about the portrait, though he did get flashes of the inside of a broom cupboard for some reason. He sat down with his friends at their usual spot at the Gryffindor table, and suddenly Harry realized how surreal it was to be back at school starting a normal school year when just months ago he had been destroying horcruxes, flying a dragon, and defeating Lord Voldemort. He looked around the room and felt nauseous from how much it reminded him of how many people had died right where they were sitting. Harry forces himself to push those thoughts to the back of his mind. He had to eat here for the rest of the year and he couldn’t bear the guilt if he thought about it too much. After Flitwick had led the first years in the sorting and food had appeared on the plates, McGonnagal stood up to give her opening speech to the school.
“I welcome each and every one of you to Hogwarts, and this year more than ever I am so happy to see all of you safe. These past few years have been devastating for so many people, and I hope that finally we will have peace enough to begin to move on. I know that this year is going to be a process of growing, healing, and rebuilding for all of us. I ask that we remember those we have lost and the sacrifices that were made, but also that we do not dwell in the past. We must keep moving forward and to do that we must eliminate past grudges and understand that we are all rebuilding together.” Many wary eyes fell on the Slytherin table, who were significantly more subdued than Harry remembered them being in his younger years at Hogwarts. “I also ask that you treat everyone as equals and remember that everyone here is here to learn, regardless of their name or accomplishments.” At this, most of the eyes turned from the Slytherin table to Harry instead, where he stared into his potatoes. “Many changes have had to have been made this year, firstly I am your new Headmistress and Professor Flitwick the new deputy headmaster. We have new teachers in Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Muggle Studies, as well as changes to accommodate the lack of instruction received last year. Curriculums have been revised, and as many of you have noticed, there are many returning to finish their NEWTs. All eighth year students will not be living in their house dorms, but instead in the new eighth year dorms constructed in the South Tower. This will be a wonderful opportunity to get to know students from other houses, and it is imperative that you do so because we must stand together in order to rebuild. Division is what caused the war, and unity is the only way we can ensure we do not make the same mistakes again.”
Harry tuned her out after this, as he became preoccupied by avoiding the stares of wandering eyes from all around the room. His gaze fell onto Malfoy and for the first time Harry realized the toll that the war had on him. Malfoy had nothing of the smug smile and better-than attitude of his youth, all of that being replaced by a sullen, sunken version of the blonde. While Harry had admirers, Malfoy had quite the opposite. Harry couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He knew, of course, that Malfoy was a death eater and probably deserved to feel some remorse, but Harry had spent a good amount of time thinking that summer and felt that he couldn’t really blame him for his decisions. Yes, Malfoy had been nasty as a kid, but in the grand scheme of things that really didn’t matter. And with him joining the death eaters, Harry almost thought that he would have done the same thing in his position. Harry didn’t know what it was like to have parents, but he remembered what he would have done to save Sirius and he couldn’t blame Malfoy for doing what he had to to protect his mother and father. Harry owed his life to the Malfoys twice, even if it wasn’t through big acts of heroics, so he was willing to offer them a second chance. As Harry’s mind wandered, he had another fleeting thought of a dark broom cupboard before coming back to reality as everyone stood up to head to bed for the night.
The eighth year dormitory was set up similarly to Gryffindor tower, but decorated very differently. The common room had a much more neutral color scheme and had the Hogwarts crest on the walls instead of the Gryffindor lion. Most of them weren’t paying the room much attention, and were instead focusing more on the fact that they now had to share a dormitory with students from other houses.
“I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t want to have to share a bathroom with some people,” announced Zacharias Smith. “How am I supposed to have any peace of mind when I could be hexed in the shower?” There were noises of agreement from some of the other students.
Instead of reacting, Malfoy and the other Slytherins just glared at Zacharias and remained huddled together at the back of the group.
“Come on Smith, the war isn’t over until we stop fighting it.” Harry said, even though he was still slightly wary of some of the other Slytherins.
“Harry’s right, we all have to get along somehow! Everyone’s just here to finish their NEWTs and I doubt anyone wants to keep thinking about the war.” Hermione added
“Well how about we hear it from one of them?” Zacharias shot another glare at the group of Slytherins
“We won’t do anything to you if you don’t do anything to us!” Pansy Parkinson snapped.
Eventually Hermione convinced Zacharias and the others that the only option was to try to be civil to everyone. Harry was surprised by how much she agreed with him, given her history with Malfoy, but thought that maybe she had come to the same conclusions as he had over the summer.
They headed up to their rooms to crash after the long train ride. Harry was struck by how normal it seemed sharing a room with Ron, Neville, Dean, and Seamus. Harry relaxed into the easy banter with Ron, and into Dean and Seamus endlessly flirting, and soon found himself drifting off to sleep.
Where Harry was able to mostly block out the memories of the war while he was awake, he had never mastered the art of clearing his mind through occlumency so the nightmares still came full force. Harry got flashes of the Battle of Hogwarts and of his friends dying and every awful thing that he had seen during the war. This was nothing he wasn’t used to, and he took solace in the fact that these were just dreams and all of it was either in the past or just created in his own head, not by any intervention from dark lords. Harry had one strange new dream though. Nothing happened in it, just a clear vision of the inside of a broom cupboard. He could hear the voices of people walking by beyond the door, but he could do nothing to open the door or touch anything in the cupboard. Harry awoke the next morning thinking that that was a very strange thing to dream about.
The start of the school year was as normal as it possibly could have been. Harry went to class, which was different because he now had a lot of classes with the seventh year students. One thing that Harry had not predicted was the number of teenage girls who hoped to take advantage of the fact that Harry was single and ready to mingle. Apparently, being the savior of the whole wizarding world made him somewhat more attractive to adolescent witches than he had been considered in the past. Part of Harry wanted to say yes to them, but as Hermione often told him, “they only want you because you're THE Harry Potter, they don’t even know you!”
Of course, rumors about Harry's portrait continued to circulate the school. After a few weeks of searching without any success, some of the younger students started trying to get answers out of Harry himself.
One time, just after Harry dodged another question from a young Gryffindor, he realized something. He kept seeing the inside of a broom cupboard, which was probably where the portrait was being stored. What was strange, though, was that he had never gone and seen the portrait where it was hanging, yet he seemed to be able to see and hear what his portrait did. Harry didn’t know much about the magic of Hogwarts portraits, so naturally he went to ask Hermione.
“Hey Hermione, have you read any books about magical portraits?” Harry asked after accidentally breaking up a moment between her and Ron.
“Not really, why? You’re not still worried about that are you?”
“No it's not that- well, it kind of is- um just don’t think I’m crazy, but I think I can see what my portrait sees.”
“Woah mate really? What did you see?” asked Ron.
“Just the inside of a broom cupboard like in weird flashes throughout the day, and then at night I dream I can see the cupboard and hear anything that went on outside of it that day. I’m not positive if it's the portrait but why else would I be dreaming of a broom cupboard?”
“I think I might have heard of that happening somewhere! I’ll go to the library and ask Madame Pince for any books she has on magical portraits!” Hermione scampered off to the library, leaving Ron and Harry in the common room.
“Do you want to maybe test it? Like if I go in there and you see if you can see me?”
“Yeah that's a good idea! How about I stay here and you go and talk to my portrait and I will see if I can tell you what you said? It is in a cupboard near the prefects’ bathroom.”
Ron left Harry sitting alone by the fire in the common room. Harry started to work on his Potions essay hoping that his friends didn’t decide that Harry was in fact just going insane. Suddenly, Harry saw red hair in an open doorway. Not clearly, but as though he were remembering it. He got a couple more flashes of a ginger while he kept working on his essay, not sure if this made him more or less sane.
Ron got back before Hermione.
“It was weird, mate. It was like talking to you, except not. It looked like you but only said what someone who didn’t know you very well would think you would say. It tried to disarm me when I came in! I didn’t do anything and there he went! Expelliarmus!”
“Oh God. I don’t want to talk to myself, that would be so weird. Did you make sure nobody saw you?”
“Yeah I checked that the coast was clear before I went in. When I came out Malfoy was walking by but that was it. If he heard anything, at least he probably won’t go around telling any first years.”
“Why is it always Malfoy? But anyway, I saw you! I didn’t hear anything but I got flashes of you in the doorway when you came in. Maybe tonight I’ll dream of whatever you told me?”
Ron went a little pink, but Harry wasn’t sure why.
Hermione got back from the library after an hour or so, seeming triumphant with a stack of books in her arms.
“Apparently it is incredibly rare, but sometimes the subjects of portraits can somehow share consciousness with their portraits when they are in close proximity to them! It is not well documented because it doesn’t happen often and many of the subjects of the paintings are dead. I don’t think it should bother you too much. Maybe just a lot of dreams of broom cupboards but besides that it's really nothing. So I don’t think you’re crazy! Maybe you should talk to Professor McGonnagal if you want to know more since I know she already has her headmistress portrait.”
“Well I’m sure glad I’m not crazy but that doesn’t make it any less weird. Thanks for looking though, Hermione, what would I do without you?”
That night, Harry found out why Ron had gone pink earlier. Harry learned all too much about Ron and Hermione’s love life in his dreams, and the first thing he did when he woke up was to throw a pillow at Ron’s face.
“But you still love me!”
After that, school mostly went on as normal. Normal meaning like actually normal, not normal for Harry which usually involved facing Lord Voldemort or nearly dying. Eighth years weren’t able to play quidditch, but he made sure to get out on his Firebolt as much as possible. He usually played with Ron, and Ginny had even started joining them. In the eighth year common room, there was still tension between the Slytherins and most of the other students, but nothing had happened that suggested any shower jinxing was happening. Zacharias was always sure to broadcast that he was putting wards on the Hufflepuff room and that if anyone tried anything he would make sure there were repercussions. Harry wasn’t sure how to tell him that he was the one being ridiculous, and that the Slytherins were keeping to themselves.
Harry spent lots of meals and time in the common room watching Malfoy and how he had changed. It was odd seeing him without Crabbe, and Harry felt sorry for him. He had lost a friend but nobody showed him any sympathy. In the hallways there were whispers wherever he went, the words “death eater” echoing in stone corridors. There were also jinxes sent at any Slytherin students with death eater ties, despite McGonnagal’s best efforts to make them stop.
A few weeks after Ron’s experiment with the portrait, Harry got another vision of an open door instead of the normal dark cupboard. He stopped reading his transfiguration textbook and looked up at Ron.
“Someone’s in the cupboard!” he whispered “The cupboard with the portrait!”
“Relax, Harry, it’s probably just Filch getting a mop,” chided Ron.
Harry saw a head of blonde hair, but elected to drop it with Ron and to investigate on his own.
“Yeah, I guess. Hey, I’m going to run to the dorm and get some parchment- I’ll be back in a moment.” Harry hurried to his room and dug through his trunk for the Marauder’s Map. He closed the grey curtains on his bed.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
His eyes darted to the fifth floor near the prefects’ bathroom and found the cupboard where his portrait was kept. Eyes widening, his suspicions were confirmed. Draco Malfoy, the map read. Harry wasn’t sure what to think. What could Malfoy be doing there? Harry figured he would just have to wait until that night to see what business Malfoy had with Portrait-Harry.
Harry wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t want to tell Ron about Malfoy. Maybe it was because Harry knew Ron was holding more of Draco’s past against him than Harry was and he would probably suspect ill-intent, or maybe Harry just wanted to investigate on his own. Either way, Harry grabbed a scroll of parchment and headed back down to the common room to finish his homework for the night and ponder over what in Merlin's name Malfoy could be doing with his portrait. He got a couple more blurry glimpses of the closet, but nothing concrete enough to piece together a theory.
Most of Harry’s ideas on what Draco might be doing had something to do with mocking Portrait-Harry or trying to get information out without talking to the real Harry. He had not imagined that in his dream he would be watching a teary-eyed Draco delivering a disjointed, emotional apology to Harry for all the terrible things he had done. Harry wasn’t able to recall every detail, but it was something along the lines of that Draco didn’t know who else to go to since he didn’t have any real friends and that Harry hated him anyway so he wouldn’t listen to him. He apologized for being a death eater and for doing Voldemort’s bidding and for being a prat all those years.
Harry woke up dumbfounded. How could Draco Malfoy, the death eater, be giving tearful repentance to a talking portrait of Harry Potter? Harry wanted to talk to Draco about it, but then he would have to reveal that he had seen, which was the opposite of what Draco probably wanted. Instead, Harry decided to mind his own business and not embarrass Draco. That didn’t exactly go as planned.
Harry had gotten out of bed and dragged himself down to the bathroom to take a shower. He had bathed and tried to forget about his dreams and get on with his day. He stepped out of the shower with a towel tied around his waist and suddenly he was face to face with a half naked Draco Malfoy on his way to the shower.
Seeing boys undressed in a communal bathroom was a common occurrence, but seeing one half naked after just hearing their heartfelt apology to your own portrait was not. Harry found himself staring, his eyes drawn to the scars on the other boy's too-skinny chest. Harry was horrified to realize that he wasn’t only looking at Draco's scars, but really looking at Draco and his exposed body. Draco stared back.
“I- are those- did- I” Harry stammered, tearing his eyes from the boy’s stomach and up to his tired-looking face.
“Oh um- yeah” said Draco, looking down at the sectumsempra scars across his chest
“I never told you- er- I’m sorry. About that.”
They stood there for another moment too long before awkwardly walking opposite directions. Harry walked over to the mirror and looked at his bright red face. What was wrong with him?
Harry avoided Draco for the rest of the day, purposefully sitting as far away from him as possible in classes and trying not to look at him in the Great Hall.
“You’re acting weird. What’s up?” Ron asked at dinner.
“No I’m not! I mean er- nothing. I’m fine.”
“You’re obviously not! You have been jumpy all day and you made us sit at the table in the corner in potions. You’re hiding something, I just don’t know what.” Hermione said.
“I promise I’m fine!” Harry shouted before staring at his food and ending the conversation. Ron and Hermione exchanged a worried look before changing the topic.
The next night, Draco was back. Harry sat on his bed with the Marauder’s Map open in front of him. He wasn’t sure why he cared so much that it was Draco talking to his portrait. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Draco since he woke up that morning. He wasn’t sure why he was so fascinated by his shirtless body and how his light blonde hair fell in his grey eyes while he was in class. He wasn’t sure why it took so much effort to avoid him and to stop thinking about him. Bloody hell. Harry knew why.
Now that Harry thought about it, maybe this was nothing new. He definitely hadn’t let himself think about it during the war, and he was busy dating Ginny anyway. But before that, Harry realized how often he watched Draco in the Great Hall over the years and how much the two of them had gone out of their way to get on the others’ nerves. As long as Harry was convinced that Draco was evil he didn’t let his mind go there. But now that Draco was repenting for everything he had done, Harry was finding himself in a surprising place. Draco was certainly very attractive.There was one problem, though. Harry didn’t like boys. Although now that was sounding like further and further from the truth.
Draco exited the room with the portrait and started walking quickly away. Harry watched closely where he was going. Draco’s name moved across the old parchment towards the astronomy tower, where he stopped. Draco stayed in the astronomy tower until Harry fell asleep.
That night, the dream was even more clear. This time, Draco started apologizing again but soon sacrificed words for silent tears before leaving for the night. Harry woke up feeling so much sympathy for him. How could he help him?
The next few days, Harry tried his best to avoid seeing Draco for fear that his face would reveal too much. Were people able to tell that every time he walked into a room Harry couldn’t keep his eyes off of him? He thought he was being subtle.
Harry was sitting by the lake with Luna and Neville. He and Ron had just finished a game on the Quidditch pitch and now Ron was off with Hermione, and had asked that Harry leave them alone for the afternoon. Third wheeling two separate couples was really starting to seriously blow.
After chatting with Harry for a while, Neville gave Luna a kiss on the cheek and said that he had to go meet with Professor Sprout about an exotic plant that they were getting delivered. This left Luna and Harry alone by the lake.
“You should talk to him, you know.”
“Draco. You keep watching him and he clearly wants to talk to you too.”
“What- no!” Harry denied, then sighed. “How did you know?”
“Boys are not very good at being subtle, you know.”
After that conversation, Harry doubled down his efforts of Not Looking At Draco. It didn’t seem to work much, because he just kept noticing things about him. He seemed so different than he had in the past, so much more vulnerable and reserved.
After a week of avoiding Draco, Harry got another flash of blonde in the cupboard. For reasons he couldn’t quite explain, he gave half hearted excuses to Ron and Hermione before grabbing his invisibility cloak and hurrying down to the room with his portrait.
He arrived outside the door and heard what sounded like the end of a conversation. Draco was yelling this time. Suddenly, the door opened and Draco stormed out, his face red and puffy. Harry made sure his invisibility was covering him and held his breath. Draco walked swiftly with his head down; Harry followed far enough behind that he wouldn’t be heard, but close enough that he didn’t lose him.
Harry followed Draco around through the corridors and up the stairs all the way to the astronomy tower. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and listened. Draco sat on the floor, sobs escaping his mouth after holding it in the whole way there. Harry stood and listened and debated what to do. Did he just stay and listen? Did he leave and give him privacy? Or did he go and talk to him?
From what Harry remembered from his dream, Draco wanted to talk to Harry in person but he didn’t think he would listen. Harry decided to muster all the Gryffindor courage he had, take off the invisibility cloak, and climb the stairs.
Harry’s head breached the floor of the highest tower in the school. He was struck by how different yet similar the scene was to the last time he was in the astronomy tower with Draco. Both times featured the blonde crying, but this time he seemed so much more vulnerable. Draco was curled in a tight ball sitting against the wall, sobs shaking his skinny frame. Harry walked up the final steps and made his presence known
“What do you want?” Draco snapped
“To talk,” Harry said quietly.
“Why would I want to talk to you?”
“Because I will listen.” Draco was quiet for a moment before responding.
His voice broke. “Why?”
“You don’t have anyone to talk to.”
“But why would you want to listen to me? You hate me!”
“I don’t hate you, Draco.” The name felt strange on his lips after years of calling him by his surname. “I don’t blame you, you know. I probably would have done the same thing in your position.”
“No you wouldn’t! You’re famous Harry Potter, the savior of the wizarding world. Everyone loves you. You wouldn’t make the mistakes I did.”
“I didn’t ask to be the boy who lived! Everything I did was to make sure that my parents didn’t die for nothing. You did everything to protect your family. You just happened to be stuck on the wrong side of a war.”
“That doesn’t make it okay! You have no idea the things I have seen and done. He lived in my house. He made me kill for him. He made me a monster!” He dissolved into sobs again.
“You’re right, it wasn’t okay, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back from it. The war is over Draco. I forgave you. It's time you forgave yourself.” Harry said, nearing a whisper. He was sitting down now, with his hand on the other boy’s back.
“Why are you here? How did you find me?” He paused. “Why?”
“You needed someone. I’m here.”
“Again with the heroics. You still haven’t told me how you found me.”
“You’ll just think I’m crazy.”
“Just tell me!”
“I can see everything that portrait sees. I can hear everything it hears. I get flashes during the day and then I see everything in my dreams.” Draco was silent, as if he was realizing just how much Harry knew.
“So you- you heard me?”
“And you believe me? That I’m sorry?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“But how? I was terrible to you for years! I was a prejudiced piece of shit! I was a fucking death eater! Nobody else believes me that I regret everything! Why should you?”
“Because I’ve been there. I have thought I was a monster and had people think the same of me. I have had my name slandered and my friends turned against me. I know how much it hurts. You need help. I can help you.”
“You don’t get it though. You were always right. I was always wrong. People didn’t just think I was a monster, I was a monster! I still am!”
“The fact that you are so upset about it proves that you are not a monster. You did what you had to do to save your family. But Voldemort is gone now. You can make your own decisions. Just decide who you want to be.” Draco didn’t say anything, and instead just looked out at the stars. “Look, there you are, Draco,” Harry said pointing at the dragon constellation in the sky.
“Why do you care about me? I don’t deserve it.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance.” Harry whispered
They were sitting very close to each other. Harry felt like he was in a dream. He realized this was the first time he had ever talked to Draco without fighting. Suddenly, Harry felt even more brave than he had when he first came up the stairs. He turned to face Draco and put a hand on his chin, turning it towards him.
Harry placed his lips on Draco’s and kissed him. Draco jumped but then leaned into it, wrapping his arms around Harry and pulling him closer.