It was early enough not to be too hot yet, birds were singing, and a young man in dreadlocks, one of Malawi’s rare Rastafarians, was pushing off from the lakeshore in a dugout canoe. Harry looked out past the green leaves and tropical blooms to the silver blue of the water, the soft blue of the sky. Nkhata Bay was picture-postcard beautiful, but few tourists made it this far off the beaten track. Most of the other guests at the small beachfront hotel and cabins were backpackers or, like Harry, volunteers taking an in-country holiday. And most of them weren’t up yet – there’d been a lot of drinking and loud music ‘til well past midnight. So this morning was still peaceful, and with no lessons to plan or papers to mark until the next term began, Harry could relax.
A snorkeler was coming back in to shore, with slow kicks of lean pale legs. Likely to burn badly in the African sun with that complexion, Harry thought idly. Haven’t seen anyone that pale since…. The man, young, was standing now, splashing up the last few steps onto the beach. He pulled the mask off an angular face, shaking lake water from the lightest of blond hair, more glistening drops running slantwise on a chest faintly slashed by a long jagged scar. Harry’s jaw dropped as his worlds collided.
The man stopped abruptly and shocked grey eyes snapped up to Harry’s own. He looked at Harry blankly for a moment, saying nothing. It couldn’t be Malfoy. It had to be Malfoy.
“What are you doing here?” Harry continued, still a bit dazed. Malawi was poor, obscure, placid and friendly – nothing to interest a Malfoy. Unless…. “How did you find me?” he added suspiciously.
“Extraordinarily bad luck?” the man said, half under his breath, then squared his shoulders. “Honestly, Potter, why would I go traipsing around the middle of Africa to look for you?”
“It is you.”
“Of course it’s me. What are you doing here?”
Harry wondered that himself sometimes.
“Saving the world?” Malfoy didn’t sound as snide as he had in the old days, but somehow Harry blushed a little.
“Seriously? What, curing pestilence? Averting famine? Spreading the light of truth and justice?”
“Not so successfully, no.”
“Well, it’s a tall order to take on single-handedly.” Malfoy seemed to take a deep breath, then moved to go on up the path. “Been lovely chatting with you, but I have to get out of this sun.”
Without thinking, Harry blocked his way. “No, you can’t just go!”
Malfoy froze. “Acquitted of all major charges, Potter. Served my parole years ago. If you’re looking for a threat to the wizarding world, it isn’t me.”
“What? No, I mean, of course you can – go wherever, I guess, just – it would be too strange to run into you here of all places and then not talk any more than this.”
“Everything is strange, Potter. Strange is how things are. And it’s not like there’s anything normal in us having a civil conversation.”
That was true enough, but Harry found himself unable to just let this go. “Yeah – well – maybe we could just… try, anyway?”
Malfoy regarded him in silence for a moment, then said “Alright. Not here, though, I really do need shade. Come on, then.”
“It’s fine - thanks,” said Harry, surprised to be served anything by Malfoy, who just nodded. Harry started to reach for some mango, then hesitated. Maybe he was being naïvely trusting. “I’m, uh, not hungry, though.”
Malfoy sighed. He ate a piece of mango and a biscuit somewhat grimly, then sat back and regarded Harry.
Harry realized that making conversation was up to him, and that he had no idea how to start. They’d always been antagonists, to put it mildly, and hadn’t talked since the war ended. But he hadn’t seen anyone from home in over a year. Somehow the sight of Malfoy wasn’t as unwelcome as he might have expected – if he could ever have expected something as surreal as Draco Malfoy playing the apologetically polite host. Harry made himself say something. “You still haven’t told me what you’re here for.”
“Have you been snorkeling yet? They’re a type of tropical fish, and there are an incredible variety of them here - this lake is famous for them.”
“Famous if you’re into fish, maybe.” Which he wouldn’t have expected Malfoy to be.
“Oh – well, the Slytherin rooms were under the lake, you know, and some of them had windows. I suppose that’s how I got interested.” Malfoy was becoming more animated. “The fish here are gorgeous. Indigo, electric blue, gold, purple, red, all sorts of stripes and speckles and blends of color.” His hands darted through the air like the fish amid the rocks. “There’s one called Dragon Blood Peacock, how could I resist?”
Harry was dubious. “So you’re going to become the Prince of Cichlids?”
“What are you talking about? Rule over the local merpeople? No, Potter, I don’t think I could keep a bubble-head charm going that long.”
“I mean, are you in business to import tropical fish or something? Getting a monopoly on them for potions ingredients or aquariums or something?”
“No – not too fond of trapping and penning. I travel. I just came here to look at them.”
“Doesn’t seem very ambitious for a Malfoy.”
The light drained from Draco’s eyes, and his face and hands stilled. “Well, our family ambitions didn’t serve us very well in the end.”
Harry’s memory flashed back years, to Lucius Malfoy groveling before Voldemort in a cemetery. “Your family’s ambitions didn’t serve anything worth serving,” he said in a tight voice.
“I don’t dispute it,” Draco answered levelly.
Harry waited, but Draco didn’t continue. “You’ve changed,” Harry said abruptly. It came out sounding like an accusation.
“I had an eventful youth,” Draco began dryly, as Harry snorted. “It gave me food for thought.”
Harry scowled, and finally snorted again. “You think you had an eventful youth.”
Oddly enough, that earned him a wry half smile of acknowledgment. Then something small, shiny and golden was flying at Harry’s head. Reflexively he snatched it from the air, and found himself holding a wad of foil biscuit wrapper. They didn’t make Snitches like they used to.
He flicked the crumpled biscuit wrapper back at Malfoy’s face. It had all been simpler back on the Quidditch pitch. “God, I miss flying,” he sighed. “Let’s go find some lunch.”
“Zikomo,” Draco nodded to an old woman swaying down the path toward them with an enormous bundle of firewood on her head. She bent her knees slightly in response, in lieu of nodding her head.
“Zikomo? You learned how to greet and thank people in Chichewa?”
“It’s courtesy, Potter. Don’t look so surprised.”
“Yeah, well, before today I didn’t exactly associate you with politeness.” Especially not to barefoot old women with sticks on their heads.
“I’ve always had good manners.”
Harry snorted. “Forgive me for never having noticed.”
“Yes, well, you were a special case. You refused my hand when I introduced myself.”
“When I was eleven? And what, I scarred you for life?” Harry scoffed, before remembering that glimpse of a thin line slanting across Malfoy’s chest. Apparently, in fact, he had.
But Draco was answering somewhat stiffly, “Of course not. But clearly, courtesy would’ve been wasted on you. And you were no angel yourself.”
“Granted. And Ron?”
“He laughed at my name.”
“So that justifies continually sneering at his family?”
“Ron was no angel either.”
Draco was silent for a moment. “Alright, so I was a horrible person. Are you satisfied? Pephani.”
“You’re apologizing to me, now, in Chichewa, for calling Hermione a Mudblood all those years?”
“I shall apologize to her in English when next I see her. And not just for that.” Malfoy flung himself down onto a large rock and folded in on himself, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped tightly around them, chin on knees. He frowned into space, looking more grim and – wretched? - than Harry had intended.
“Well – that’s good….”
“She was tortured in my home, Potter. Rather a serious breach of hospitality, don’t you think?”
Harry took a few breaths. “Do you think you could have stopped it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know how. I could’ve tried to say it wasn’t her, but they already knew it was, and then I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me about not recognizing you….” Draco had gotten hold of some leaves and was ripping them to shreds.
“You knew it was me, then?”
“Of course. A swelled head isn’t that much of a disguise on you.”
“So why would you want to cover for us?”
“Well, I couldn’t abide you, but that doesn’t mean I wanted you dead. And you seemed to have the best chance of defeating that madman, why I don’t know. You and that crazy luck of yours. I don’t stay stupid, Potter. You were deeply annoying, but he was…. I don’t even want to talk about it.”
“Yeah. Well – maybe for that bit, anyway, you weren’t to blame, if you were doing the best you could.” Harry himself couldn’t quite believe he was saying that.
“Says Mr. Carries the World on his Shoulders. Why are you defending me?”
“Um – ‘cause you’re not?”
“Is that all it takes? What, is this opposites day or something? So I should say, ‘Harry, I adore your dark tempestuous locks’?”
“What?” Harry had the sensation of playing verbal Quidditch against someone with a faster broom.
“Uh, yeah, I enjoy your scintillating repartee also.”
Draco grinned. “Not bad, Potter,” he said, getting up and tossing a handful of shredded leaves into Harry’s dark tempestuous locks.
Malfoy stopped in his tracks, only his eyes moving to Harry’s face.
“With that hex, in the bathroom, sixth year,” Harry clarified. “I didn’t know what it did. And I thought you were going to Crucio me.”
“I was,” Malfoy replied after a moment. “Though I don’t know that it would have worked. I turned out not to be so good at Cruciatus. But that hex - I’m surprised you knew anything that dark. Where did you find it?”
“Snape invented it.”
Draco stared at him, incredulous. “Snape? And he taught it to you?”
“No, I found it written in a textbook that used to be his. Back when he was a sixth year student himself.”
Draco shook his head slowly. “What a messed-up bunch of teenagers we all were.”
Startled, Harry laughed.
“I know you’re not bored, Potter, you have me for company.”
“No, I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Late night, then? Up carousing?”
“I wasn’t, but everyone else was. Those dorm rooms by the bar are never quiet, but it’s all they had left.”
Draco looked at him for a moment. “You could rest in my cabin, I suppose. There’s an extra bed.”
“Oh – thanks, but – I don’t want to bother you.”
“I was just going to read somewhere outside, so it won’t trouble me. Anyway, Potter, you pulled me out of an inferno once, I imagine I can let you use the spare bed.”
“I wasn’t planning on calling in a Life Debt on it,” Harry answered, surprised that Malfoy had brought it up. “But a nap would be nice. Thanks.”
At the cabin Draco waved Harry in, pointed out the bathroom, grabbed a paperback book and left. Harry looked around. One bed had slightly rumpled sheets and a few things by the bedside stand, and the mosquito net was hanging down. Clearly Draco was sleeping there. On the other bed the sheets were crisp, the stand was empty, and the mosquito net was tied up in a bundle above it. Harry untied the net, kicked off his flip-flops, and put his glasses on the bedside stand. He hesitated a moment, then took off his khaki shorts and peeled off his sweaty T-shirt, and climbed into bed in just his pants. In the familiar tropical ritual, he lifted the mattress on all sides to tuck in the mosquito net until it spread above him like a gauzy tent, then lay back to sleep.
He was close to dropping off when he heard the whine of a mosquito close by. Secure in the knowledge that he was surrounded by net, he ignored it. Until he was bitten. Without his glasses, Harry couldn’t see the bug, but he knew one must’ve got into the net, and now he was trapped in there with it. Damn – the whining was louder, how many were in there? Only the night mosquitoes carried malaria, but there were other insect-borne diseases, too. While wizard blood offered protection against some diseases, like HIV, it gave no immunity to others. Besides, the itchiness of the bites was annoying.
He untucked the net enough to reach out for his glasses. When he could see clearly again, he groaned. The net had several tears and small holes, and one big gaping one. It was worse than useless. Back in England he could have used a Reparo, but in Africa he didn’t use magic. He’d come to get away from wizarding politics for a while, and he had no desire to run afoul of a witch-hunt here, where fear of magic was strong. He could get by like a Muggle again for a couple of years, if it was the price of a peaceful life.
All of his insect repellant was back up in his dorm room, and he was really sleepy. He looked over at the other bed. The net there had looked fine, and presumably Draco Malfoy would not have put up with a holey mosquito net. What would it hurt, really, if he just lay down there for a few minutes? He could get up before Malfoy came back.
He stumbled over to the other bed, and sat down. Just before he took his glasses off again, he noticed a pale hair on the blue pillowcase. It made him think of Polyjuice potion, and as he lay down and finished tucking the net around himself, he wondered vaguely what it would be like to look in the mirror and see pale straight hair, grey eyes, an angular aristocratic face. His mind’s eye filled in the rest of the lean body he’d seen emerge dripping from the lake that morning. He turned his head against the pillow, pulled the sheet over him, smelled a faint, indescribable but pleasant scent. He dropped off to sleep.
He was swimming underwater, deep in the lake, breathing as easily as in air, while schools of gorgeous fish darted around him, striped and speckled, yellow and turquoise and orange and rose. There was a flash of brilliance ahead that he knew was the most beautiful fish of all, but he couldn’t quite see it clearly. He swam faster, trying to catch up to it, but it was elusive, dazzling, just out of reach. It would hover until he came close and then dart ahead.
Finally he was within reach – he stretched out a hand to touch its tail, and found he was grasping a human foot. The fish had turned into a young man, who spun about and turned towards him. Alarmed, he swam backwards, with the man in pursuit. The stranger reached out a hand to stroke his leg, then propelled himself backwards, beckoning. Hair swirled around his face, so Harry couldn’t see his eyes, but his smile looked teasing and playful.
“Oh, it’s a game,” Harry thought, and swam after him. He caught the man around his slim waist, pulling him close, wrapping his arms around him to keep him from wriggling away. They were both naked, their legs twining together as they spun easy and weightless in the water, laughing, floating up into brightness, the other man’s hands stroking up and down Harry’s backside, twisting into his hair, pulling him into a kiss. Their bodies now hungry for each other, they slid together in a rhythm that grew faster and more demanding, pressing and moving against each other with delirious urgency, his lover’s face pulling back for a moment to shake fine blond hair out of grey eyes before closing in again with a kiss of such sweet heat that it pulled a hot spurt of climax from Harry as he clung to this one human anchor in a bright whirling world.
Stunned with pleasure, Harry gradually drifted back to consciousness. His body felt heavy, as though he had honey in his veins, sweetly sluggish. His pants and the sheets were wet and sticky. He couldn’t move. There was a slight sound off to the side.
Harry forced his eyelids to flutter open. Blurrily he saw that he was in a strange bed, and that light sparkled off water somewhere outside the window. The lake. He was in Draco Malfoy’s bed, in a cabin by the lake. He had just come all over Draco Malfoy’s sheets, from a wet dream about Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, who was doubtless that dark shape in the doorway that Harry could barely make out from the corner of his eye, who had doubtless made that small sound. And there was nothing Harry could do about it. He couldn’t even move his head. He shut his eyes again, and waited for the little noise of Draco leaving. He fell asleep.
When he woke the second time, he was alone and had energy to get up and wash. Then he swapped the cleaner sheets onto Draco’s bed. It was the best he could do. When he went outside he saw Draco sitting under a tree some ways off, not reading but staring at the water. Harry wandered over. “Sorry I used your bed,” he said, unable to look Malfoy in the face. “The other net was torn and I was too tired to do anything about it.” He waited for iciness, derision, scorn.
But Draco just kept his eyes on the lake and said, “Sorry – I didn’t think to check the net.” If it hadn’t been so unlikely, Harry would have thought he was blushing. But it must have been sunburn.
Harry had meant to excuse himself and leave, but he found himself staying, just looking at the lake. It wasn’t as if there was much else to do. After a while they began to talk again.
“So you never really answered - what are you doing here in Malawi, Potter?”
“I’ve been here a couple of years as a volunteer – I just have a few months to go on my assignment.”
“Which is doing what?”
“Um – I’m an English teacher.”
Malfoy choked. His eyes were dancing with laughter which he was unsuccessfully trying to disguise as a cough.
“Don’t hold back on my account,” Harry said sourly.
“Well, the job doesn’t exactly seem to play to your strengths.”
“You admit that I might have strengths?”
“No, I think you only defeated the evil maniac because you had the luck and gall to steal my wand when I was injured. Don’t fish, Boy Wonder. And don’t look like you half believe what I just said.”
Unsure how to take the compliment that was tangled amongst those insults, Harry responded lightly, “Bossy, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea. Much good it does with you, though. You’d make a rotten follower, Potter.”
“Thanks. Not much like Crabbe and Goyle, then,” Harry retorted and then could have kicked himself – he’d somehow forgotten Crabbe’s death in the Room of Requirement.
“No,” Malfoy agreed, brief and bleak. Crabbe had sneered at him and nearly killed them all, setting the Fiendfyre, but Malfoy had still mourned him afterwards. And he’d stayed with the stunned Goyle, at risk of his own life, until Harry, Ron and Hermione had rescued them on brooms. Maybe Malfoy had actually cared about his minions after all.
“How is Goyle, then?” Harry asked uncomfortably. Crabbe and Goyle had been goons, but inseparable. “Did he go to Europe like the other…” Death Eater kids “…Slytherins?”
“No – can you see Greg speaking French?” Draco smiled – fondly? “He ended up going to family in Australia. He’s playing Quidditch there as a Beater, I think. He sounded - not too bad considering. Thanks for asking. Back to you, though. How did you end up here being Professor Potter?”
Rather to his own surprise, Harry found himself describing how after Voldemort’s defeat, feeling at loose ends and weary of his unwanted celebrity, he had wanted to get away from British wizarding society, see something of the world, do something quietly useful. He had found a Muggle organization looking for overseas volunteers and requested to go to Africa. It had sounded interesting and he’d heard of the many children orphaned by AIDS. But his wizarding skills didn’t translate. He wasn’t much use at Muggle health care or agriculture. So they’d assigned him to be a teacher at a rural secondary school.
“There’s such a shortage of teachers in the rural schools – and of everything else. Sometimes there’s barely enough chalk to go around, never mind textbooks. And the students struggle because the classes are in English, which many of them don’t really understand very well. Luckily they’re pretty well behaved, and the other teachers are friendly. But I never really seem to know what I’m doing.”
“Maybe feeling that you know what you’re doing is over-rated,” Draco commented, to Harry’s surprise. “My father always seemed utterly confident,” he added somewhat bitterly, then looked thoughtful. “I imagine you’d be a good teacher of the right subject – that club of yours seemed quite effective. Too bad you can’t teach Defence against the Dark Arts or coach Quidditch or something.”
“No, Muggles here believe in magic – and they hate it all. It’s all dark, as far as they’re concerned, and they’ll blame just about anything on witchcraft. People have been killed for being suspected of witchcraft. I stay away from the subject as much as possible, because I like my neighbors so much otherwise. So as far as wizarding goes, I’m definitely not out.” Immediately Harry regretted the wording as Malfoy’s eyebrows went up.
“It’s an expression, it means…”
“I know what it means.” Draco held his eyes in a level gaze. “So you decided to lock yourself in, Harry? Taking lessons from your benighted Muggle relatives?”
Harry drew in a sharp breath. Suddenly he wasn’t even sure how many loaded topics they were discussing – being a wizard? Being gay? Being a neglected child locked in a cupboard under the stairs? And since when did Malfoy call him Harry?
“You said you don’t do magic here either, Malfoy.”
“Yes, but I’m passing through. You live here. Do you think it’s healthy to be hiding so much of who you are?”
“And you’re not hiding? It sounds like you do an awful lot of traveling - you’re always just passing through.”
“But I, unlike you, have a number of things to be ashamed of.”
“Well, maybe if you stayed put somewhere, you could make a fresh start – do something you could be proud of.”
“I thought I’d start small, and just try to do no harm.”
Harry gave a short laugh. “And you say you’re not ambitious.”
Draco stiffened. “I’m aware it may seem amusing to think a Malfoy could - ”
“No, that’s not what I mean – it would be ambitious for anyone – I could never manage it. Snape sure couldn’t, and he turned out to be a hero. Even Dumbledore couldn’t. It’s easier to do a little good than to do no harm, I think.”
“Mm.” Malfoy was looking at the lake again.
Harry looked too, and saw the small fishing boats coming in to shore as the sun sank lower at his back. If he crossed the lake eastward, he’d be in Mozambique; if he followed the shore as far north as it went, he’d reach Tanzania. But for now he was content to be here in Malawi, the “warm heart of Africa.” He hoped that his volunteer work at least somewhat repaid the welcome he’d received from the people of this poor but peaceful country.
A fish eagle soared over the lake.
Malfoy stirred. “Want to get dinner here at the restaurant?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
The food wasn’t bad, but the noise from the bar was as bad as ever. “Your room is here? How can you sleep?” Draco exclaimed.
“I can’t,” Harry replied.
“This is ridiculous. You can stay in my room, we can fix up that net somehow.”
“I – thanks.” Just because the quiet would be such a relief, Harry told himself as he followed Draco back again. He spent awhile bunching up and tying off the areas of net that had holes in them. When he had finished, the net was so shortened that it was a bit hard to tuck in around the spare bed, but he didn’t want to mention it. Feeling awkward, he decided the best thing would be just to go to bed. It was dark already, and Draco was reading by candlelight.
“I’m going to turn in. Thanks for letting me stay.”
“Alright. I’ll blow the candle out in a minute, I’ve almost finished the chapter.”
“Good night then.”
Soon Draco put the book aside and there was darkness. Harry lay there willing himself to sleep, without success. His dream of the afternoon came back to him vividly. Here he was in the same room – between the same sheets, even – and there was Draco, just in the next bed. Why had he imagined he’d be able to relax here? Finally he couldn’t keep still any longer. He got up as quietly as he could, felt around for his glasses and flip-flops, and groped his way toward the door.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was just going out to look at the stars.”
Harry heard the scritch of a match as Draco re-lit the candle and left it burning on the bedside table, then followed Harry outside. There was the barest sliver of moon, and the sky blazed with stars, thousands of stars, warm and brilliant. “God, the southern skies are beautiful,” Draco breathed.
“I wouldn’t have figured you for a star-gazer, Malfoy.”
“I’m named for a constellation, Potter. Half of my mother’s family are named for heavenly bodies. The night sky is like a Black family genealogy.”
“I’d forgotten – you were on that tapestry.”
“Of the family tree? You’ve seen that, at the grim old place?”
“Sirius showed it to me. My godfather. But his name was burned out.”
“My mother’s cousin? Well, he hasn’t burned out up there,” said Draco.
Harry’s throat tightened thinking of the friend of his father’s youth, who’d tried to be both friend and father to Harry. Charming, arrogant, devoted, reckless. Handsome, grey-eyed Sirius Black. He hadn’t thought to look for him in the sky – astronomy hadn’t been one of Harry’s better subjects. He liked looking at the stars, but remembered only the most obvious constellations.
Draco pointed. “There’s your godfather. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky.”
The brightest star in the sky. Harry looked in the direction Draco had indicated and indeed, there was one star that shone whiter and brighter than the rest. Hello, Sirius, he thought, oddly comforted.
Draco was still talking. “His brother Regulus is a star in Leo somewhere. Andromeda is a constellation of her own – you can see her low on the horizon sometimes – she’s my mother’s sister. And Aunt Bellatrix, who unfortunately was the one I actually knew. She’s in Orion, not hard to find, but let’s not look for her.”
“When Bellatrix killed Sirius – she was killing her cousin.” It was still hard for Harry to fathom. Not that there was any love lost between Harry and his own cousin – but he couldn’t imagine himself and Dudley actually trying to kill each other.
“She was insane, frankly. But yes – family feud. And there’s nothing civil about a civil war.”
Malfoy’s voice, at the end, sounded subdued, bleak even. What had the war looked like from his side, to have changed him so much from the maliciously cocky child of privilege that he had once been? Through Harry’s memory flashed a quick succession of moments – Draco sobbing in a bathroom at the murderous task that was beyond him, trembling as he confronted Dumbledore, helpless as Voldemort turned his home into a torture chamber, choking with grief at the death of his friend Vince. Trapped by family allegiance and bad choices, desperate, terrified. His courage, it seemed, had come afterwards – to look clearly at the past, to try moving in a new direction.
Harry wanted to change the subject. He focused again on the dazzling night sky, looking for patterns. “I’d like to be able to find Andromeda, too. I haven’t seen her for a long time.”
“She’s near Pegasus – it’s a big square - and Perseus. But you can’t see her right now. How do you know my aunt Andromeda? I don’t really know her myself.”
“She’s Teddy’s grandmother.”
“Remus and Tonks’ kid. My godson.”
He half expected a comment about werewolves polluting the family blood, but Draco sounded, if anything, eager. “I have a little cousin, then? What’s he like?”
“Well, he was pretty small when I left. But he’s a Metamorphmagus like Tonks was, he can change the color of his hair.”
Draco laughed, sounding warm and amused. “I’d like to see that.”
Feeling unexpectedly comfortable with this starlit Draco, Harry waved an arm at the sky and asked, “Where are you, then? Up there, I mean?”
“Draco? Well, I’m kind of long and twisty and not that easy to pick out. And a confirmed northerner, I’m not sure you can see anything this far south. Maybe a pointy chin at the right time of year. But let’s see what else we can find.”
Harry turned, scanning the skies, but much was unfamiliar. He gestured to a spot that looked like someone had spilled a little heap of stardust there. “Do you know what that is?”
Draco came up to stand directly behind him. Startled, Harry moved slightly, and felt a light touch at his waist to keep him in place. Draco’s face was next to his, to look along Harry’s line of sight, his other hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Where?” Draco murmured, close enough that Harry could feel the puff of his breath.
Harry pointed again. “See that little smudge of light?” He turned his face slightly, inhaling that scent he had smelled on Draco’s pillow. He caught his breath and couldn’t help leaning back slightly against the chest behind him.
The hand at his waist moved to splay out over his abdomen and press him back firmly. He heard Draco’s breath catch. “There?” Draco whispered, turning his face toward Harry’s, so close.
“Mm-hmm,” Harry replied faintly, but neither of them was looking at the sky. He could just see the glisten of Draco’s eyes. Harry broke eye contact to look straight ahead for a moment, then tipped his head far back to stare at the dazzling river of the Milky Way. He felt warm breath on his neck. His knees felt a little weak suddenly, and he swayed. Draco’s other arm immediately wrapped around his chest.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, just – tired I think,” Harry managed.
“Better get to bed then.” Draco loosened his arms, but took one of Harry’s hands and led him inside. They stopped inside the door, hesitating.
“I don’t think that net’s safe,” Draco said, breath coming a little quickly. “You’d better come under mine.”
“Do you think - there’s room?”
“Oh yes. Give me your glasses.”
Harry handed them over, slid out of his flip-flops and climbed into Draco’s bed, still wearing his boxers and T-shirt. He lay stretched out on his back, legs straight and arms at his sides, on the far side of the bed. Draco set Harry’s glasses on the little table, sat on the bed to take off his sandals, then pulled his legs up onto the bed. He frowned over toward Harry’s side of the bed. “Net’s come untucked there.” Draco leaned across him to tuck in the mosquito net, sending a jolt of desire through Harry. Still hovering above him, Draco again asked in a low voice, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” breathed Harry, looking up at Draco backlit by candlelight, wanting nothing more than to reach up and pull that warm body down to him. But this was Draco Malfoy, who had been his enemy so long. Who was now, at best, unknown. Who was passing through this place just long enough to be confusing. If – if something happened, well then it did, but no one was going to say he started it. In the dark, if they didn’t talk, afterward it could be like nothing had happened at all.
Draco had turned back to blow out the candle, then tuck in the net on his side, where the opening was. Then he lay down. In the dark, Harry just heard their breaths and the rustle of sheets when one of them moved. He turned onto his stomach, facing away, hoping that would help him sleep. His foot brushed Malfoy’s.
“Oh,” said Draco. “I forgot to get you the other pillow.”
“Here.” Draco pushed the pillow to the center of the bed, between them. Harry lifted his head to rest on the pillow next to Draco’s, turning to face him. The spot on the pillow was warm.
In the narrow space, the slightest restless stirring made a foot brush a calf, a hand brush a thigh. At first they stilled at these small contacts, but when neither pulled away, their touches began to linger, turn into strokes. Their bodies slid closer to the center of the small bed. Harry heard Draco start to say something, but shushed him, skating a hand across his body until his fingers found and pressed against Draco’s mouth. Warm lips pressed back, and a hand landed lightly on his hip. So a conversation began without words, halting at first but gaining fluency, a language of hands and limbs and mouths and tongues and breath.
In the darkness they bumped and fumbled, but it didn’t matter. All Harry could hear was their quickening breathing and the blood pounding in his ears. This could be anyone, Harry tried to tell himself. He traced his fingers lightly over a sharp cheekbone, pulled a T-shirt off over a head of fine silky hair, ran his hands over a smooth back and a chest marked by a thin line of scar tissue. Anyone, he insisted, leaning his head into a surprisingly tender kiss, hooking a leg around narrow hips, rocking against another body in the dark. But it was the scent of – Draco – flavoring the rising smell of sex, the taste of Draco’s mouth and salt of his sweat on Harry’s tongue. Harry’s skin sang, his body electric with touch. Anyone. He knew he was lying.
Suddenly Malfoy’s body tensed. Harry quickly closed his eyes and feigned sleep. He felt Malfoy slip out of the bed. When he heard the sound of the shower, he jumped up and pulled on his clothes. When Draco emerged from the shower, already dressed, he looked a little pink in the face as he wished Harry good morning. “Here, let me get you a towel,” he added. “You’ll want a shower. Um - did you sleep all right?”
“Very well, thanks,” Harry replied, inwardly rejoicing that apparently they didn’t have to talk about it. Rashly, cheekily, he added “…eventually.”
A smile gleamed in Malfoy’s eyes. “Good. Want to get breakfast and go snorkeling?”
“So what will you do when you go back?”
“I don’t know,” Harry answered. He’d thought he might find some answers to life overseas, but it seemed he was as uncertain as ever. “Keep bees?” he said at random. If the volunteer workshops were to be believed, it was a good Income Generating Activity. But mostly he was remembering the wild sweetness of the fresh honeycomb he’d bought a month ago, from a man selling it out of a metal box strapped to the back of his bicycle.
“Mmm. I’d like apple orchards and rosebushes, myself.”
“You can’t tell me Malfoy Manor doesn’t have rosebushes.”
“I suppose it still does. I don’t know, really. It isn’t Malfoy Manor anymore, though.”
“What do you mean?” Harry couldn’t imagine the Malfoys selling their ancestral estate.
“The Ministry took it over, after – well, they let my mother stay there until…. It was too big for one person anyway.”
He sounds as inarticulate as I usually do, Harry thought. “What are you saying? What happened?”
“You didn’t hear? Well, my father – didn’t do well going back to Azkaban, you know, he was - broken. My mother was trying to appeal his sentence, but I knew that wouldn’t work, and I was angry with him for - turning our whole lives over to the Dark – madman. And, and then my father got sick in prison and – died, and I hadn’t…. Well, and then we didn’t do much of anything because we didn’t know what to do, and then my mother was sick and I tried to take care of her – but she – now she’s gone too. And then I didn’t know what to do because it didn’t seem to matter. And then they took the house. So I left.”
Draco was looking bleakly out over the water. Harry was at a loss. “I’m sorry about your mother,” he said finally, deciding to avoid the topic of Lucius Malfoy entirely.
Harry had a sudden vivid memory of Narcissa Malfoy bending over him in the Forbidden Forest where he waited for discovery and death, the long pale fall of her silky hair shielding his face as she whispered to him, asking after her son. “She was brave. She lied to Voldemort to protect you. And that saved my life too.”
Draco looked back over his shoulder at Harry and tried to smile, before turning away again as a wave of grief swept over his face, twisting his mouth and casting his eyes adrift. It was a long moment before he turned again to look at Harry. Another moment before Harry noticed that his own hand had somehow moved to touch Malfoy’s hair. And another moment before he let his hand fall.
“This is a slow song, Potter.” Draco tilted his head. “Are you even listening to the words?”
He hadn’t been, actually – Harry really never danced and it hadn’t occurred to him that the music mattered much. He tuned in and heard the singer crooning “You are my African Queen.” Embarrassed, he looked at Draco, who was trying not to laugh.
Mercifully, the song changed. The new music was encouraging. “You can get it if you really want,” Jimmy Cliff was chanting. “You can get it if you really want.”
He did really want. He did. He pulled Draco onto the dance floor.
“But you must try, try and try, try and tryyyy,” Jimmy urged him. “You’ll succeed at last.” He wrapped his arms around Draco’s waist.
Draco was saying something he couldn’t quite hear. It looked like he was saying something about “indiscreet”, “drunk”, and “dear”, but that last one couldn’t have been right.
The song changed again, disco beat pulsing out at them. “What did you say?” Harry shouted.
Draco pressed his mouth to Harry’s ear and sang along into it. “Young man, there’s a place you can go, I said, young man….”
Harry was distracted by a group of happily inebriated Peace Corps Volunteers climbing onto the bar to spell letters out with their bodies. “Y.M.C.A.,” they chorused as Draco pulled Harry out the door.
“You’re taking me to the Y.M.C.A.?” Harry laughed.
“Yon Malfoy’s Cabin.”
“The A, what’s the A?”
Draco’s hips twitched.
“Arse? Young Malfoy’s Cute Arse?”
“A, Potter, is for Ask and ye shall receive.”
Harry willingly followed that promise down the path in the night.
“I’m trying to be polite, but why won’t anyone say ‘zikomo’ back to me? Is my pronunciation off?”
“This is the north, and the lakeshore. Maybe the people you’re meeting aren’t Chichewa speakers. Maybe they speak Chitumbuka, or Chitonga or something.”
“What should I say instead?”
“I’m not sure - Yewo, maybe?”
“Zikomo is better,” Draco said definitively.
“Isn’t the one people understand better?”
“Yes, but zikomo starts with a Z.”
“The letter has panache. How many English words do you get to say that start with a Z?”
“Zipper,” Harry said, his eyes unaccountably drawn toward Malfoy’s … waistband. “Um, Zabini.”
“Interesting train of thought, Potter. Yes, Blaise did have panache.”
“Where is he now?”
“Italy, last I heard, but that was some time ago. He didn’t … keep in touch. That wasn’t an English word, though, Potter. Focus.”
“Zacharias,” said Harry, apparently stuck back at Hogwarts.
“Smith? Ew. Bad example. Unworthy of the letter. You can do better than that.”
“Yes! Do you have any?”
“Do I, personally, have zebras? You mean, wandering around my yard? No, Malfoy. Most of Africa is not a safari lodge.”
“Pity. That is an animal with definite panache. So what do you have wandering around your yard?”
“My neighbor’s chickens, mostly, and the occasional goat. And the neighbor’s kids, when the mangoes on my tree are ripe.”
“That sounds awfully domestic.”
“Well, it is my home we’re talking about. Let’s see. Monkeys turn up sometimes, to tease my cat. I have a brilliant cat. I don’t have enough of a garden to have been raided by baboons, luckily – they’re nasty customers. Once or twice I’ve heard a hyena whooping at night, off in the distance. That’s about it for big animals, unless you count the neighbors’ dogs. Then there are birds, bats, snakes, lizards, geckos. The toad that took up residence in the cat’s water bowl. Oh, and the millipedes.”
“Millipedes? You’re trying to lure me to your home with promises of millipedes?”
Am I? Harry wondered, as they reached Malfoy’s cabin and settled into the chairs outside. But he had to defend the millipedes. “They’re quite striking, actually. And harmless. They get to be about 6 inches long at the beginning of the rainy season, and they’re shiny black with all these feathery orange feet, and they glide along like some sleek modern train, with their legs rippling in and out in waves.”
“You’re turned on by undulating millipede feet? You are perverse, Potter.”
“They’re called pongololos.”
“You made that up.”
“Lovely language they speak here,” Draco mused. “Still, when it comes to seduction, Potter, you could use some lessons.”
“Supposing I wanted them,” Harry said, clearing his throat, “are you offering to teach?”
Getting no immediate answer other than a long look, he leaned back, slid his foot out of his flip-flop, stretched out a bare toe and nudged Malfoy’s knee.
“I learn well by example,” Harry added. “Hands-on experience, that sort of thing.” He wiggled his foot a bit higher up the inside of Malfoy’s thigh.
“I think some private - tutorials - might be possible.” Malfoy’s breathing had an odd little hitch in it. “Fees to be arranged.”
“Payment in kind.” His toe pressed onwards. Draco was starting to slump back in his chair, but with an effort struggled to his feet and pulled Harry with him into the cabin.
“Stop that or I’ll think you pulled this on Snape, back in the day.”
“Now who’s perverse?”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
“Oh, smooth line.” Harry was still laughing, which broke up the kiss a bit at first, and their noses bumped. First sober kiss in the full light of day. But he felt a giddy confidence, backing toward the bed, tugging Draco along.
“Just – take these things off,” Draco muttered, trying to unhook Harry’s glasses.
“These things?” said Harry, reaching for the button on Draco’s trousers.
Draco nearly tripped as he tried to step out of them, and landed sprawled on the bed. He leaned over to put Harry’s glasses safely on the nightstand. “Wanton, that’s what you are. Ever hear of finesse, Potter?”
“Unh-unh,” said Harry, joining him on the bed. “You’ll have to show me sometime.”
He didn’t expect an answer to questions he didn’t even know how to ask aloud. But later, when they went for a walk at dusk, Draco spoke about his changes since the war.
“It seemed clear that I had to rethink everything. Father had made it sound like there would be a glorious reign of the Dark Lord, protecting the wizarding traditions, but what I saw up close – it was hellish. And if he was wrong about that – what about all the other things I’d accepted? I started to think that the things we’d insisted on the hardest were the ones that had no support but prejudice, the ideas that wouldn’t stand up to close examination. Pure-bloods were supposed to be superior, but Granger was clearly the best student in the school, regardless of how clueless her parents must have been about anything magical. You wouldn’t know a pure-blood tradition if it bit you, but your raw magic was ridiculously powerful. Never mind what you could do on a broom. I was supposed to be the best because I was a Malfoy, but best at what? At annoying you, maybe, but I couldn’t even be truly effective at that. Sic a snake on you, and you start a conversation with it. Do you have any idea what a frustrating person you are, Potter?
“So when I went to France to see Pansy, and to Italy to see Blaise, and they seemed to be just trying to transfer the same pure-blood social world there – I didn’t really want to be part of it. I didn’t know what I did want to do – I didn’t have a career prepared. My parents had some money in European banks, so I could get by if I was careful. One day in Italy I thought, I’d like to see the Sphinx. And then I thought, why not? So I went to Egypt. And from there, I thought I’d like to see dragons in China – they’re creatures of water there, not fire, you know. So I went to China. And it turns out that I’m actually a pretty good traveler – I like languages, so that helps. And each place I went, I’d hear about something else, somewhere else that I was curious to see. It kept me going.”
“But here – you’re not using magic. Wasn’t it hard for you to learn to do things the Muggle way?”
“Yes – but really people – Muggles – were often quite kind when I was lost or confused. I guess they sort of expect it of travelers. Actually, people were far kinder in places where I was a stranger than back in Britain where I was known. It was – humbling. But compared to horrifying, humiliating or heartbreaking, humbling isn’t so bad.”
“Madagascar, I think. I’ve been wanting to go there for awhile.”
“If you have time, want to stop off and see where I live first?”
“To meet your millipedes?”
“You can meet my cat.”
“Well, in that case. And the bees?”
“What bees?” Harry asked, baffled.
“You’re going to be a beekeeper, remember?”
“I was just making that up.”
“I could see it, though.”
“You could see me as a beekeeper?”
“Why not, it calls for a foolhardy constitution, fending off the stinging hordes and all.”
“Um, I don’t think it’s supposed to come to that point, Draco. I think you’re supposed to keep them calm. So they let you get to the honey.”
“I can still see it. I mean, you calm me down. After you annoy me, that is. And I am known for a stinging wit.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think I could handle hordes of you. One is plenty.”
“Just the right number, in fact,” Draco beamed.
Draco, squeezed between Harry and a young woman nursing her baby, merely remarked that it was lucky neither of them was tall. There was little leg room, shoulder room, or any other kind of room, but they were better off than the conductor, who had no seat at all when the bus was full, and contorted his body into whatever limited space was available. Children sat on laps, packages lay underfoot, and a few chickens flapped their wings disconsolately under the seats, legs tied together to prevent escape.
The baby finished nursing and turned its attention to Draco, regarding him solemnly. Draco gazed back at it for awhile and finally, with a brief smile at the mother, offered an extended forefinger. The baby grasped his finger and drew it close to examine, eventually pulling the finger into its mouth and gumming it. “I hope my finger’s clean,” Draco said absently.
As the bus jolted to the side of the road to load and unload passengers at Nathenje, food vendors rushed up to the windows. “Hungry?” Harry asked, looking out the window to see what was offered.
“Are there any chips or samosas? Or groundnuts?” Draco asked, turning to him.
“No, around here it’s mostly ears of roasted maize. Oh, and there’s a kid with hard-boiled eggs.”
“Bananas, the sort of angular ones. Want some? I’ve got it,” he added, as Draco started to shift on the seat in an attempt to reach his money. Harry passed a few crumpled bills out the window and bought a bunch of bananas and an ear of the hard, dry, chewy roasted maize, enjoying the smoky smell. Later he flung Draco’s banana peel and his maize cob out the open window. A goat would eat them.
It was late afternoon when they got off the bus and began to walk the last mile to Harry’s house, going steadily uphill. There were few people on this particular road, but as they got closer they ran into a couple of students from Harry’s school, Madalitso and Lonjezo, who insisted on carrying some packages for them, balancing them on their heads as they walked.
“Is this your brother, Mr Potter?” asked Madalitso.
Harry and Draco looked at each other. They were the same age and about the same height, both British and both white, but there the resemblance ended. “No, this is - Mr Malfoy,” said Harry, thinking it sounded very odd.
“My cousin is Mr Potter’s godson,” Draco added, to Harry’s surprise. It seemed to satisfy the students.
They reached the little front gate in the reed fence surrounding Harry’s small mud-brick house, and he thanked the students as he and Draco entered his bare dirt yard. By the time he’d gotten the old-fashioned key to turn in the lock, Kili had turned up, meowing loudly in welcome, and he had to scoop her up for a moment to give her a proper greeting. The sun was sinking. “You can see the sun set behind the peak from the back door,” he told Draco. “Oh – I’m low on drinking water – excuse me, I should run to the borehole before the light is gone. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
“I’ll come,” said Draco, taking one of the small plastic buckets from Harry. Kili trotted after them for a little way, anxious about Harry leaving again so soon. They crossed the dirt road in front of the house and entered the empty school grounds, going down the wide cement steps where students sat for assemblies, then on a steep winding dirt path between the dorms, finally crossing the open area where the boys played football, near the girls’ netball hoops, and down to the community borehole. No one else was there this late. It didn’t take long to pump enough water to fill the two pails, and then they headed back in the fading light. Kili was waiting.
Inside again, Harry hurried to find a candle and match while he could still see. “Sorry it’s a bit of a mess,” he said, entering the little living room. The wavering candle flame showed Draco sitting on one of the woven reed chairs with Kili purring on his lap, a small warm smile on his face. A sudden, unexpected happiness caught Harry by the throat.
“Uh, no, this is Mr Malfoy.”
“My cousin was Mr Potter’s godfather,” Draco supplied helpfully.
“Ah, welcome, welcome!”
“No.” Another volunteer had described them as the basic snack food – greasy, crunchy, good with salt – but Harry couldn’t ignore the little dusting of insect legs left on the hand, no matter what a good protein source they were. “I would’ve thought Malfoys didn’t eat insects.”
“This Malfoy might, if the alternative is those dried packaged soya bits.”
“Oh – sorry about those.” Harry didn’t mind them, really, and they were convenient in the absence of refrigeration or cooling charms. But he could see that the orange color might be a little off-putting.
“Don’t tell me you actually bought those stinky little dried fish!” Draco exclaimed, noticing Harry’s little blue plastic bag.
“They’re for Kili.”
“Your cat eats lizards, Potter, in case you hadn’t noticed. She leaves the heads.”
“I like to give her options. And I think those lizard heads are for you.”
“And I thought she liked me,” Draco sighed.
“She adores you, she’s just misjudged your taste. Let’s get some eggs. You got tomatoes?”
“Yes, and something that looks like a cross between a cucumber and a sea urchin. And two heaps of peas.”
“Good, you don’t see peas very often.” They stopped for bread rolls at the little bakery stand, and candles from another little shop.
“Oh, and I can get a bar of laundry soap from Mr Kaliwa’s shop.”
At the tiny shop run by Harry’s teaching colleague, Mrs Kaliwa smiled warmly at him and exchanged greetings in Chichewa. Harry tried to buy something there each time he came to market, but the inventory was so small that it took some ingenuity. Meanwhile Draco admired her roly-poly baby son.
Finally they set off uphill toward Harry’s house, with Draco trying to balance the market basket on his head, to the amusement of several teenage girls who did the same with no effort at all. “How do you do that?” Harry asked. “Nothing ever stays up for me.” Draco smirked and Harry swatted him. “No rude comments, you know what I mean.”
“My mother was quite insistent on good posture. I don’t have the neck muscles to do this for long, though. Oh look, a chip stand – carry the basket and I’ll feed you chips.”
That didn’t seem quite fair, since Harry had his own bag to carry, but the hot chips were delicious, and so was the sparkle in Draco’s eyes and the feel of his hand on Harry’s shoulder. Harry pursed his lips to suck in the tips of Draco’s fingers as the next chip arrived. Draco’s eyes darkened.
“ Let’s get home.”
They somehow managed the last quarter mile, dropped the shopping on the verandah, stumbled inside and reached for each other.
“Are those your eyelashes?”
“Those are bee feet, Potter. Someone must cure you of your obsession with feathery millipede legs.”
“Who’s the obsessed one here?”
“Mmm, good question. Let’s find out.”
Still half drugged with sleep, Harry found himself kissed and stroked and rubbed and grasped and licked and sucked into such arousal that he was moaning toward a climax when Draco, laughing, whispered, “Shhh. I hear your neighbors walking by just outside. Probably on their way to church.”
“You,” Harry panted, “are an evil, evil man.”
“Should I stop, then?”
“No! Oh – oh god – oh….”
To the pealing of church bells, Harry came.
Draco learned to ride Harry’s bicycle and rode out to some of the surrounding villages. He read, took walks up to the peak, and planted some fruit tree seedlings in Harry’s yard from a nursery he’d found near the market. Still, he had a lot of free time when Harry was at work, and after a while Harry could tell he was getting restless.
One day Draco came back from a ride unusually silent. “Where did you go today?” Harry asked.
“Out to the next school over. One of the teachers showed me around. I asked about the name of the school.”
“He said it was named for the peak near there. Something like ‘fire mountain.’”
“Not a volcano, surely?”
“No. It was a place where they used to burn witches.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. Draco seemed a little paler than usual. “They don’t burn them now, though,” Harry said. “I told you people were hostile to magic here, but we’re not using magic.”
“It doesn’t unnerve you at all?”
“What do you expect me to do about it?”
“You? Nothing, Harry, I don’t expect you to solve everything, you don’t even have local wizarding contacts, do you?”
“I guess I just don’t think of myself as a wizard here most of the time.”
Draco stared at him. “Some of us don’t have other options.” He turned to leave.
“Draco, where are you going?”
“I need to take a walk.”
Harry watched him leave, feeling uneasy. Was he supposed to apologize for something, and if so, what? But Draco didn’t mention it when he returned home. He didn’t shout, like Ginny had when she was angry. And he didn’t weep like Cho Chang, thank goodness. Maybe they were all right. Harry let it go.
Someone hailed him. “Good morning, Mr Potter! And who is this?”
Harry answered before Draco could start in with his stories. “Just someone I knew from my school days.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to feed him all that cousin/godparent stuff you keep coming up with,” Harry said after his acquaintance had passed by.
“It’s all true!” Draco answered in surprise. “Truer than saying we ‘just’ knew each other in school.”
“It’s a partial truth, and not the point. It’s misleading.”
“I’m just trying to give them a positive connection they can understand. They can see that we’re close.”
Close. Harry had a mental picture of Ron and Hermione. What would they think of Harry being – whatever he was being with Draco Malfoy? He pushed that thought away impatiently.
“What do you want from me, Malfoy?”
He got a startled look in reply.
“What?” Harry said. It was too hot for this.
“It’s been a while since you called me that.”
“It’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Right. And it always will be, so if you still have a problem with that, I guess it’s better to remember it now. You want to give people the whole truth about us, Harry? We can barely handle that ourselves. I’d like to get out of this country in one piece.”
“I’m the one who’s committed to stay here.”
“That’s true,” Draco said. He didn’t speak again until they reached the house, where he left the market bags by the door. “I’m going for a walk.”
“In this sun?” But he was gone.
“There are baobabs here.”
“One kind, but there are about six kinds there. French cuisine.”
No one came to Malawi for the cuisine.
“Tsingy. Rice terraces.”
“They follow the line of the hillsides. I hear they’re beautiful from above, all green and silver, sun glinting off the water.”
“Yeah. Well. Enjoy your rice terraces,” said Harry dully. He knew an excuse when he heard one.
“Come with me?”
“You know I have work to finish up here. I can’t leave for three months.”
“It’ll be cyclone season there by that time.”
“Right. Well then, I guess you’ll just have to go see your rice terraces and tell me about them later.”
“Sure. Next time you’re passing through Malawi.”
In the yard, the seedlings Draco had planted were drooping. Harry was tempted to ignore them, until one of his students noticed them and shamed him by going to fetch buckets of water. In a country of subsistence farmers, one could not neglect a future source of food, even though he’d be gone long before the trees bore fruit.
The school year was almost over, and soon Harry’s term as a volunteer would be completed. And after that? He wished he knew.
Meanwhile it was hot and the students complained that they couldn’t concentrate. Harry flipped through the English textbook looking for something that might hold their interest. No one wanted to work on grammar, himself included. He found an excerpt from the novel Harvest of Thorns by Zimbabwean author Shimmer Chinodya. It described a school in a refugee encampment in the bush, run by guerilla fighters during their war for independence. Maybe that would make a good lesson.
His class bent over their shared books in groups of two or three. They took turns reading aloud, and together sorted out who the characters were and what happened.
“How was their school like your school?” Harry asked. “How was it different?”
They made lists on the blackboard. “Those students sat outside on the ground under a tree. Their school didn’t have a classroom or chairs or books, like we do,” his students said. “But they had teachers, they answered questions, they learned new words, like us.”
“What was good about their school? What wasn’t good? Do you think it was a good school, overall?” It wasn’t good, some students said, because it wasn’t safe. It was too close to the war, classes were interrupted, children got hurt. It was a good school, others argued. The teachers and soldiers and doctors cared about the students. They taught them. They tried to feed and help and protect them.
It was an unusually successful lesson, Harry thought afterwards. The students were involved, they were thinking, they were discussing ideas. He wanted to talk about it with someone.
How was their school like our school, Draco?
We learned new things. Teachers tried to protect us. Children got hurt. The war was too close.
But the war was over now.
They can see that we’re close.
His eyes stung. He wished….
A breeze was pushing dark clouds across the sky as he opened the gate of his reed fence to see, sitting on the porch with the cat on his lap, a smiling Draco Malfoy. Harry’s jaw dropped.
A chill fell and the clouds seemed to boil up high and black in the sky.
He felt obscurely angry. “You came back.”
Draco’s smile faltered a little. “You said I could.”
The wind rose a little, pushing at them.
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you actually would.”
“I said I would.” Draco looked puzzled and a little apprehensive, rising slowly to his feet as the cat, sensing trouble, jumped away. “I can go, if you’d rather….”
“I WANTED you to STAY THEN.”
“Oh,” said Draco softly. “You didn’t say.”
“You were SUPPOSED to KNOW.”
Draco was silent for a few moments, then looked away. “I don’t … assume I’m wanted.”
Harry’s words died in his throat. Having spent so much of his childhood locked in a cupboard, he couldn’t pretend not to understand. “No,” he said raggedly, “neither do I. Can you see where we might have a problem here?” He unlocked his door and pushed his way blindly inside, as twigs began to snap from the blue gum trees and whirl across the yard.
Draco paused on the threshold, studying him. “May I come in?” Getting no answer, he took a few cautious steps inside, closing the door behind him. Harry stood, arms clenched across his chest, refusing to look at him.
Draco took a long, uneven breath, then approached Harry slowly as one would a wounded animal, speaking in a low voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know, I was stupid.”
Harry couldn’t say anything.
Draco tried again. “I’m sorry, Harry. Staying here – I don’t have work, and it’s hard to keep hiding – not just being a wizard, but being with you. They think it’s a sin here for men to be lovers, you know that. All these kind people, but they’d think we were damned twice over if they really knew us. I couldn’t spend three months pretending, and I did want to see Madagascar. But I thought about you everywhere I went.” His voice cracked a little. “I didn’t know it would be so hard.”
By now Draco was standing an arm’s length away, a tentative hand outstretched. Finally he reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind Harry’s ear. “You can assume,” he added in a shaky voice, “that I want you.”
Harry had stood frozen, but now he began to tremble. He couldn’t get a word out. A dam of ice was giving way but he wasn’t sure what might come flooding forth.
There was a flash of lightning, a crack of thunder, and rain began to pour down outside in sudden fury. It drummed deafeningly on the metal roof. The sheer noise cracked something open in Harry and he pulled Draco to him. For a moment Harry just held tight and breathed him in, muttering, “Nobody smells like you do.”
Draco, shaking, turned his head to give Harry a desperate kiss. Then Harry was kissing him fiercely, nipping, pressing Draco back against a wall. Suddenly he couldn’t get close enough. Draco grabbed his arse and arched into his body, baring his neck to Harry’s mouth and gasping his name. “You in me or me in you,” Harry rasped, sinking to his knees and nuzzling Draco’s groin, pulling at his clothes.
“Yes – anything.” The cacophony of rain loosened Draco’s restraint and he cried aloud in passion as Harry’s hot mouth closed over his straining cock. He came quickly, slumping against the wall, eyes dark, face softened.
“I need to be in you, now,” Harry panted, rising and turning Draco against the wall, tugging at his own trousers.
“Wait, just -”
“Just get the lube -”
“Too far.” Harry put his fingers in his mouth to coat them and leaned forward, but Draco was turning and pushing back against his chest.
“Harry,” Draco said firmly. “It’s been two months, it’ll hurt.”
With difficulty Harry held himself back, then wrenched himself away and stumbled five steps to the pantry, grabbing the vegetable oil. When he returned Draco was shedding the last of his clothes.
“I’ll do it,” Draco said, rough voiced. “You strip. I need to feel your skin on mine.” He coated his fingers with oil and breached himself until he was moving against his own fingers, gazing at Harry with eyes heavy with desire.
Unbearably aroused, Harry tore off his own clothes and launched himself at Draco, kissing, biting and sucking at jaw, earlobes, neck, murmuring, “Now? Now?”
“Now,” gasped Draco, pulling his fingers out and turning to bend over the table.
“No – want to see you -” Harry swept a pile of papers to the floor, turned Draco around and hoisted him onto the table.
Draco lay back, grabbed his knees, and spread himself as wide as he could for Harry. Harry drank in his flushed cheeks, rosy swollen lips, nipples and cock, now rising again. The tip of his own cock pushed against his lover’s pink hole and he entered that sweet tight heat with a cry of pleasure. With effort he held back, watching Draco’s eyes, until he got a breathless nod and began to move. So good, so good.
Outside the rain slackened for a few moments and Draco’s moan came out startlingly loud. It was a sound of sexual gratification, not pain, and Harry, used to don’t-wake-the-neighbors lovemaking, found it unutterably hot. He grinned at Draco’s flushed face. Just then the rain returned with redoubled force, crashing against the metal roof, and they both laughed, eyes locked on each other. Harry spit into his hand – he couldn’t reach the oil – and stroked Draco’s cock until Draco arched his back, tossing his head with high-pitched cries of approaching orgasm. He spurted hot and wet over Harry’s hand and clenched around Harry’s cock, and Harry hauled him up into a kiss. He kept thrusting, face buried in Draco’s neck, Draco’s legs wrapped around his waist, until he came with his own shout of release.
Harry might have collapsed on the floor, but Draco wouldn’t let him. “Bed - much more comfortable - I’ll take you, not far.” Harry was too hoarse to protest.
Later, when they got up to eat, Draco told him, “I brought you a couple of things.”
There was a gorgeous polished stone called labradorite that shimmered midnight blue, crossed by a few black lines and white sparks, like a winter night sky seen through bare branches. And a handful of vanilla beans, smelling dark, rich and heady.
“A distant one,” Draco smiled.
“We went to school together,” Harry said.
“Ah, an old friend from school! Talking over your happy memories? What was our Mr Potter like back then?”
“Nothing would have been the same without him,” Draco assured Mr Banda, who welcomed him and went off to check on the sound system.
“Now you’re my cousin?” Harry asked.
“Everyone is related if you’re willing to acknowledge it. There’s a Potter on my mother’s family tree somewhere, I’m sure of it. There’s even a Weasley, for that matter.”
The students were making their own mortarboard caps from taped together white paper. The caps rose high, like a chef’s hat, with long strips of accordion-pleated paper taped on for the tassels. Draco took a scrap of paper and folded an origami crane for Yamikani, the warm, earnest, capable Head Girl, who started a fad by attaching it to the end of her tassel. He was thereafter kept busy folding more and giving origami lessons to whichever laughing students had the patience to make their own.
The ceremony itself brought tears to Harry’s eyes. These students had persevered through years of long dusty or muddy walks to school, or sleeping on reed mats on cement floors if they were lucky enough to be boarders. Years of scraping together the fees for tuition and supplies and uniforms from their meager family resources, standing in line once a week for the privilege of briefly borrowing one of the few textbooks from the library, carrying their blue plastic chairs on their heads from one classroom to another as their overstretched teachers shifted the schedules and combined classes. Many teenagers had lost one or both parents, often to AIDS although no one would say so directly. Many of them would not pass the national exams they had just taken – exams that were designed for them not to pass. Jobs were few, though there were shortages of so many kinds of skilled workers, and subsistence farming was a chancy business. And yet the students came down the aisles singing and dancing, in the joy of music and movement, fellowship and accomplishment, hope and youth.
So Harry was a bit choked up when it came time to sing the national anthem, but Draco had picked up the words and tune from overhearing them at the school assemblies, the combined voices of several hundred students having carried easily across the road to Harry’s little house. Now Draco’s clear tenor blended into the seemingly effortless beauty that is Malawian choral singing:
“Oh God bless our land of Malawi,
Keep it a land of peace.
Put down each and every enemy,
Hunger, disease, envy.
Join together all our hearts as one,
That we be free from fear –
Bless our leader, each and every one,
And mother Malawi.”
“I was lying, you know,” said Draco, pulling him into his arms. “You never needed any lessons in seduction. That day I went back to my cabin to find you coming in my bed was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen.”
“God, that was humiliating. You did see it, then?”
“You were writhing. And then you just lay there in a daze of bliss.”
“I didn’t mean for you to see that.”
“That was painfully clear – you looked horrified when you cracked your eyes enough to see me. At least, you looked like you’d have been horrified if you could’ve summoned the energy. ”
“I wasn’t trying to, you know, wank in your bed. It was a dream, I didn’t have any control.”
“I’d have loved to see that dream.”
“Oh, you were that dream.”
“Oh!” said Draco, surprised and pleased.
“’Nuff talking,” said Harry. “I can see that if I want any seducing done here I’ll have to do it myself. I want to see you writhe.” He pulled Draco into the little bedroom.
Draco flopped back on the bed and flung his arms over his head, grinning. “Have at me, handsome.”
Harry just looked at him.
“They’re a kind of cattle, with humps and these gorgeous long curving horns,” Draco elaborated. “People practically worship them.”
“Zebu. They’re the real reason you went to Madagascar, aren’t they? You just have a thing for the letter Z.”
“And what if I do?” Draco reached up to trace lightly, so lightly, over the zigzag of Harry’s lightning-shaped scar. Harry sighed and bent to kiss the faint trail of scar on Draco’s chest.
“You know,” he added once his mouth wasn’t busy elsewhere, “Zambia’s not far from here, and they have zebras there.”
“Oh, we have to see them then! Your work’s almost over here, right?”
“Yeah,” Harry admitted, with a little pang for the things he loved about the life he’d be leaving here. But he understood a little better what Draco had once said about finding one thing to look forward to, to keep you going. “What do you suppose they have in Zanzibar?”
“I’d say we have to find out! It’s practically on the way home, anyway.”
“Home… where’s that,” Harry muttered to himself, uncertainty about the future washing back in.
“Home is where you make it, Harry,” Draco answered, serious now, a questioning look in his eyes for a long moment before he abruptly turned his head away. Chilled, Harry felt him withdrawing – hell, what just happened? He made himself take a deep breath. I don’t assume I’m wanted. Ask and ye shall receive, Potter. Ask, just ask.
He stroked Draco’s arm to get his attention. “Where we make it?” Like a logjam breaking, he thought, watching the light pour again out of his lover’s eyes, dazzling and warm.
Finally Draco said, “I think home will have to be somewhere with an orchard where my-cousin-your-godson can climb my apple trees.”
“Our apple trees?” said Harry, deciding to push it.
“Oh, now you want my apples, do you?”
“And your bees are going to be all up in my rosebushes. Zzzzzz,” Draco buzzed against the side of Harry’s neck.
“You’re the only bee I care about right now.”
“Better keep me then.”
“Oh, I will, I will.”