"I take it back," Ron squeaked from the backseat. "Muggle driving is not less terrifying than a flying car."
"Shut it, Ron," Hermione said. "Flying cars are certainly more terrifying."
Her phrasing wasn't lost on Harry. And her fingers trembled as she unbuckled her seatbelt.
"It needs new shocks," Harry explained. Though that had hardly been the reason he'd almost run up onto the pavement. Twice.
Harry patted the wheel of his birthday present to himself, a fog-coloured 1961 Morris Minor sedan. He'd figure it out eventually, he knew. Even though he'd not be able to touch it for almost an entire year after this week.
"Ready?" he asked his passengers, but Ron was already shoving Hermione's vacated seat up and disembarking so quickly you'd have thought his underwear was on fire. "Guess so," Harry sighed. He pocketed his keys, stepping onto the pavement right under the Leaky sign.
By the time he'd worked out how to pay the meter, Ron and Hermione were already inside. It seemed loud for a Thursday afternoon when Harry opened the door and stepped into the tavern.
He didn't have to wait long for the din to go nearly completely silent as all heads turned toward him.
There were wide eyes and whispers of "Harry Potter," and "…saved us," and other such proclamations. Harry tried to meander through the pub unobtrusively -- as if he could -- skirting between close tables and giving small nods to people he knew but mostly avoiding eye contact.
It wasn't long – he hadn't even made it to the bar – before cheers started rising up and it seemed everyone wanted to buy him a drink. Hands patted his back, reached for his hand to shake it… Even the gnarled old hag that was a fixture at the far end of the bar lifted her face and gave him a smile. It would have been frightening had he not learned she rehabilitated stray cats for a living and was considered the prevailing medi-witch of her age. Which had been a very, very long time ago.
"Thanks," Harry said, smiling around compressed lips. "Thanks very much. No, that's not necessary, thank you."
He gave Ron a wide-eyed 'help me' face, but the git just downed half a Butterbeer and then shot him a foamy grin. "Want one? They're on the house."
Hermione rolled her eyes and kicked Ron's barstool, but she'd got a tea to go, so she couldn't be too cross with him.
"I'd just like to get going if it's all the same to you," Harry said. Then, "Hey there, Tom. Good to see you."
Ron shrugged, wiped his mouth, and then they were off.
"So what does everyone need?" Harry asked as he tapped the correct brick and sent the wall between them and Diagon Alley to transforming.
Hermione whipped out her list with authority. "Let's see. Ron is due for a new cauldron. I'd like a new rune set. Harry, I have here that you're to get new robes. Maybe we could all meet back at Flourish and Blotts after? Ron, you're meeting your mum at Gringotts, don't forget."
"How could I? I'm Knutless until I do."
Harry couldn't help but snigger a bit at that, but then the wall had become an arch, and all of Diagon Alley waited for them beyond, and Harry thought it looked nearly as awe-inspiring as the very first time he'd seen it.
Some of the shops had yet to fully recover, of course, but many were well into extensive renovations. Ministry emergency funds meant they might actually improve and expand.
Harry stepped out into the street, soaking in the hustle and bustle all around, the smell of sweets rich in the air and the sound of dozens of eleven-year-olds gasping, laughing, and chattering filling his ears.
Predictably, when he stepped into the throng, people took notice. Harry ignored the hushed talk and went and stuck his nose to Quality Quidditch Supply's window just like the rest of them.
"Do you think we'll play this year?" Ron asked by his side.
"Dunno," Harry said. He felt like he'd been saying that a lot. About a lot of things. Ever since the end of the war.
"If we do, I want that one." Ron pointed to the brand new Shooting Star 'Vector'. "She's a beauty."
Hermione harrumphed. "Brooms are not shes, I hate to break it to you."
Ron began arguing with her good-naturedly.
"Well!" Harry interrupted Hermione's thesis statement on broom gender identification. "If I don't get a new robe, I'm going to be stuck in one that looks like a mini-skirt, so… Meet you to get our books in an hour?"
"Right," Ron said. "I'll just be here, licking the glass for a bit."
Hermione kissed Ron's cheek and dismissed herself to Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment.
Harry clapped Ron on the back and then made his way down the alley toward Madam Malkin's, shoving his hands into the pocket in the front of his Muggle hoodie and enjoying the stroll. Though it turned out to be quite a bit shorter than he'd remembered as a nascent Hogwarts student.
He'd remembered the handle on the door feeling huge and as though the door might be too heavy to open. But it was a normal handle on a normal door. Harry pulled it open, making the little bell overhead clatter as he walked into the shop.
Madam Malkin came toward him immediately. She was perhaps a couple inches shorter than before but still in her mauve robes, now complemented by a pair of thick-lensed glasses.
"Hogwarts, dear?" she asked in exactly the same way he remembered from when he was eleven years-old.
He smiled at her. "Er, yes, thanks."
She blinked behind the glasses. "My, but you do resemble Harry Potter now, don't you?"
"I am Harry Potter," Harry said, a bit taken aback.
"Oh, pshaw! Can't fool an old witch like me. He's gone and opened a new Ministry of Magic in America now, hasn't he?" She tsked at him and then led him by the elbow toward the back of the shop.
Harry followed, bemused but unwilling to correct her. It was, in fact, the first he'd heard of this particular venture of his, but it hadn't been the only rumour that had been floated about him over the summer. If he attempted to explain that he was Harry Potter and that, contrary to her sources' information, he was returning to Hogwarts to finish his education, she'd undoubtedly think he was pulling her leg. People liked to think he was doing suitably great things rather than just being an eighteen-year-old boy. But if she asked him again what his real name was, he really wasn't sure what he'd say. He certainly didn't fancy pretending to be Vernon Dudley again.
The question of what he might call himself left his mind completely when she pulled back the curtain of the back room and he entered.
Because there he was.
Harry's mouth went utterly dry.
"Well, come on, young man," Madam Malkin insisted.
Malfoy turned atop his footstool at the sound of her voice and saw Harry staring at him. For several tense moments, they simply blinked at one another.
"I'll pin it crooked if you keep peering around like that, Mr Malfoy," said the wizard fitting his robes.
Malfoy dropped his gaze and turned forward again with a soft, "Sorry."
Harry wasn't sure which was stranger: the fact that he was here at the same time as Harry, or the fact that he'd just said the word 'sorry' without any trace of a sneer.
Madam Malkin prodded Harry up onto the stool beside Malfoy's.
There was nothing for it, Harry thought.
"Hi," he said.
Malfoy's eyes flitted over to him briefly. "Potter." It lacked the vitriol Harry had found himself expecting.
Madam Malkin disappeared between two rows of robes. They closed behind her like the hedges inside the Triwizard Tournament maze. Harry swallowed and hoped she made it back out again. If only to give him something to do besides try not to give Malfoy a thorough once-over.
He was failing at that. Malfoy was being fitted for dress robes, Harry noticed. They were deep green and cinched at the waist, flaring out past his narrow hips so that they'd no doubt sweep the floor in an almost royal fashion. The split in the front of them showed off Malfoy's tight black trousers and fine boots. But when Harry's gaze returned to his face, nothing royal or fine was reflected there.
Malfoy looked… tired. His hair was shorter than usual, and it revealed the harsh line of his jaw, the dour slant to his mouth.
And his ears. His pale pointy ears which were inexplicably red at the tops and—
"Here we are," Madam Malkin said, bursting through the fabric with a glaringly scarlet robe.
"No," Harry said, shocked, before he could stop himself. The woman had braved a veritable forest of robes to fetch him that, but… Well, no.
"Oh, but why not?" she fairly wailed.
Harry glanced at Malfoy to see his lips twitch. Well, at least that hideous robe made someone happy.
"Er," Harry began, "I'm just shopping for plain robes, thanks."
"Oh no, dear," Madam Malkin said with a touch of misplaced alarm in her voice. Of course, her life was robes. Perhaps this warranted a level of alarm Harry himself could never fully appreciate.
He bit back his impatience. "No?"
"No, no. You're one of the eighth years, aren't you, young man?"
"Yes," Harry said warily. Although, he'd happily repeat sixth year if it meant not wearing that bloody thing in her hands.
"Well, I was given specific instructions to fit both regular robes and dress robes," she said.
Harry looked over at Malfoy. He was, indeed, being fitted for dress robes. Either they'd conjured an elaborate robe hoax to play on him before he'd entered or…
"All right." He cleared his throat. "But do you have anything in black?"
She compressed her lips and sighed hard through flared nostrils. "I suppose." She turned and disappeared back into the folds of fabric.
"Should have suffered the red, Potter," Malfoy said. "Now you're on her shit list."
"Language," the wizard pinning his robes admonished.
Malfoy didn't apologise this time. He said nothing at all, actually.
"I'd rather not look like Father Christmas, thanks." Harry shoved his hands into his sweatshirt again for lack of anything better to do with them.
At that, he caught Malfoy smirking. But only for a moment.
Then Madam Malkin had returned. "Oh this won't do." She frowned at him. "Take off that silly jumper at once!"
Malfoy's gaze slid to his own and then fluttered away.
Harry felt heat rise to his cheeks. He didn't know why he was blushing. He had a t-shirt on underneath. But it was a sort of ratty one with a hole in one armpit and another one near the hem. Hermione would have been dismayed had she known.
Still, he stripped off the hoodie, feeling a telling draft of air along his left side before he could get his arm down again. He chanced a peek Malfoy's direction, but Malfoy was staring straight ahead, a muscle in his jaw flexing.
"Here now, try this." Madam Malkin shoved the robes into his arms. "You're not as tall as I'd first thought," she added accusingly.
"Uh, thanks." Harry slipped the thing over his head, and sure enough, it fell past his feet and all the way over his hands. He felt eleven again. And he was increasingly certain Malfoy was right about that shit list.
The bell rang at the front.
"LaPorte," Madam Malkin addressed the wizard fitting Malfoy. "Would you hem this one once you're finished there?" Then she toddled off through the door, leaving Harry there swimming in his robes.
"I told you," Malfoy said.
Harry snuck another look at him. Malfoy stood with his chin held high, but something in his eyes was off. He didn't look cocky. He looked the opposite of cocky, whatever that was. When Malfoy swallowed, Harry's eyes followed the motion of his slender throat.
"All right then, Mr Malfoy," LaPorte said, standing. "I believe you're finished. Would you like to see?" He gestured to a mirror across the room.
But Malfoy was already stripping the thing off. "That won't be necessary," he said. He handed the robe back to the wizard to wrap up and then stepped down off the footstool. Now that he was out of the dress robes, any façade of arrogance vanished. His plain white dress shirt was unremarkable except for the tailored fit and the fact that… Well, Malfoy had never been bad looking. Not even when his behaviour was at its ugliest.
Harry, suddenly very conscious of his lack of hands and feet, cleared his throat and looked away.
"Thank you," Malfoy said to the man who'd fitted him, and Harry fiddled with his sleeves, shocked again by what had come out of Malfoy's mouth. But then Malfoy was speaking to him. "See you, Potter," he said in a very resigned sort of way. He started to walk out.
"Wait," Harry said, turning on his stool and nearly falling over the stupid robe.
Malfoy stopped and frowned at him.
Harry swallowed. "I have your wand," he blurted.
Malfoy's lips parted on a soft gasp. He regained his composure, working that same muscle in his jaw again. "What, with you?" he asked. Harry could tell he'd tried to sound scoffing, but there was real hope underneath.
"Er, no. At home. But… Well, I'll bring it to school. If you'd like."
Malfoy's face turned into a mask. He shrugged. "I'm buying a new one anyway. Do whatever you want with it."
"I want to give it back to you, Malfoy." God, he was like one of the seven bloody dwarves in this stupid robe; it made trying to have a serious conversation ridiculous. It was rather stunning, in fact, that Malfoy wasn't having a laugh at him right this moment.
"Whatever," Malfoy said. "It doesn't matter." Then he turned around and left. Moments later, Harry heard the bell over the door and then LaPorte cleared his throat.
"Are you really Harry Potter?" he whispered.
Harry swallowed, realized his hair was covering his scar for once, and said, "Dudley. Vernon Dudley." Then he spared one last look over his shoulder toward the front of the shop. But there was nothing but the silence Malfoy had left.
The number of people Harry had turned down to take him to the train station was ridiculous.
There were, of course, the Weasleys. But ever since his break-up with Ginny, he'd been guiltily avoiding all of them but Ron. It wasn't as though they blamed or hated him. He just wasn't sure he wanted the awkwardness, and he definitely wasn't sure seeing Ginny on her own home turf would be anything but totally awful for everyone.
Not that he still hurt over it. It had been surprisingly unhurtful really. They'd been kids when they'd first snogged. A war had been starting. By the time it was finished, they were different people altogether.
It was one thing to date the Future Saviour of the World. It was another to fight side by side with someone else. To suffer with them.
Harry didn't begrudge Ginny for falling for Neville. He had turned out awfully fit, after all, and he was one of Harry's best friends. Merlin knew she could not have picked a lovelier person. It wasn't as though he was jealous.
Which had sort of been the problem on his end.
But yeah, with no Voldemort to worry about, Harry didn't need to be chaperoned on the way to King's Cross. So he'd turned down the Weasleys' invitation to have him come to the Burrow and leave from there. He'd also turned down a Ministry escort, Luna Lovegood's three owls, and numerous offers from Stan Shunpike to bring the Knight Bus around to Grimmauld Place.
Harry had a car now. He'd happily drive it there himself and then get around paying for long-term parking with a few handy Disillusionment charms.
Harry loved his car. In fact, if he could, he'd drive it all the way to Hogwarts. As he packed his trunk into the backseat, he once again lamented that he'd have to go without it for so many months. He turned toward the house with a sigh. He'd be leaving it all – this home he'd made for himself. This place where he was finally safe. Not even Hogwarts had given him that. Although it had given him far more precious things than safety.
Harry was walking around to the driver's side when he remembered the wand.
"Bollocks!" He ran back inside, up the stairs, and down the hall.
He walked over to the desk by the window in his room and opened the third drawer down on the left. He lifted the lid on the box and picked it up carefully: ten inches, Hawthorn, core of unicorn hair.
Harry held it up to the late morning light and ran his fingers up the shaft to the tip, feeling the dormant magic that still thrummed there. If asked, he'd be embarrassed to admit he'd taken Malfoy's wand out rather often over the last few months. He wasn't sure why he'd done such a thing, other than the fact that it was fine craftsmanship (which was a laugh of a reason). Maybe he did it to reassure himself that that part of his life had happened – that there had been a time when Draco Malfoy had risked his life in not naming him.
When Malfoy had given the most cursory and pathetic attempt to keep his wand out of Harry's hands. Almost as if he wanted Harry to have it.
As if he'd wanted Harry to win.
Harry placed the wand back in the box and tucked it under his arm as he jogged back down to his waiting car.
He opened his trunk in the backseat and pillowed the wand case between his pyjamas and socks, then he got in the car and started it. Looking up at the house's bleak façade, Harry put the car in gear and pulled slowly away.
"Firs' years! All firs' years, this way!" Hagrid's voice boomed over the train platform. But it boomed no louder than when he'd seen Harry waving from amidst the throng. "HARRY!"
"How are you?" Harry asked, suffering a hug that hurt his ribs.
Hagrid hugged Hermione and Ron in turn. "I'm grand now I've seen you lot! Been busier than any summer before in my life, but… Well, I reckon yeh'll see why when yeh get to the castle. I'd better be goin'. Come by the cabin in a couple days after you've had a chance teh get yer bearings." He looked down at all of them with bleary, blinking eyes. "So good ter see yeh." Then he sniffed and called again, "Firs' years! All firs' years, follow me!"
Hagrid was right. When the carriages pulled within view of the castle, they all leaned forward to get a better view. It was no longer in a shambles – no longer resembling a huge pile of rubbish and broken rock – but it certainly wasn't in the condition Harry remembered so fondly from his childhood either.
Several of the towers and turrets looked half-built, opening up to the sky like great mountain crags rather than enclosing dormitories as they had before. The jagged rock scratched at the darkening sky. Harry was sure it would look almost threatening to the new first years who had never seen it any other way. Scorch marks still marred the stone, and only the light of the stars above cast a warmth about the upper-most reaches of the walls where formerly lit windows had felt like they summoned him closer.
"Where are we going to sleep?" Ron asked.
"Dunno," Harry answered for the umpteenth time.
Harry held his breath as they walked up the stone steps and into the entrance hall, but the door itself was unblemished, the entry floor sparkled, and the stairs leading up to the next few floors were as beautiful as ever. The art was back on the walls that still stood. Peeves flew overhead cackling, and Harry found himself actually grateful for the sound. He let his breath out, and when they walked into the Great Hall for the Sorting and the feast, Harry couldn't help smiling in relief.
Hermione nudged him. She was wearing a small smile of her own, and there were tears in her eyes. They shared no words as they made their way to the Gryffindor table, except…
"This way, dears," Madam Sprout said, giving them a big smile and a wink.
Harry looked at Ron and then Hermione, but then as they began to follow Professor Sprout away from their house table, he saw why. At a table near the front, parallel to the staff table, sat all of Harry's friends.
"Harry!" Seamus shouted, standing and waving madly.
Harry waved back, his smile widening.
There was Dean, too. And Neville. And several other Gryffindors from his year. And…
And… Millicent Bulstrode of Slytherin.
And Blaise Zabini.
There, near the end of the table. There, with his head down but still completely unmistakable.
And then it seemed all kinds of obvious. They were eighth years, no longer segregated by House. They were to eat together. Learn together. Maybe even – Harry gulped – sleep together?
Whatever the case, they were certainly to sit together.
"Blimey." Ron sounded rather dismayed.
"Come on," Harry said, budging up his resolve. "We've all got one thing in common."
"What's that?" Ron asked as they found two seats together and one across.
"We're all starving."
He took the open seat at the far end of the table next to Luna.
"Hey, Luna," he said. "No offence, but I thought this was the eighth year table." He gave her a big hug.
"Oh, it is. It's just that I don't really have any friends in Ravenclaw." She sounded predictably merry about this incredibly sad thing she'd just confessed. "I decided to sit here instead. It's wonderfully marvellous to see you, Harry."
"You, too, Luna."
When he pulled back, he couldn't help but cast a look all the way down the table and across to where Malfoy sat. To Harry's surprise, he wasn't ensconced with the other Slytherins so much as… adjacent to them. He'd sat himself beside Padma Patil and across from Hannah Abbot. He was speaking to no-one, but it wasn't long before he lifted his gaze and found Harry staring at him. Again.
Harry felt a strange smile quirk his lips almost involuntarily. Malfoy blinked. A slight frown creased his forehead. His lips parted as if he might speak, even though Harry wouldn't have had a chance of hearing him so far away unless he intended to Sonorus himself. He did nothing of the sort. He did nothing at all. He just blinked at Harry with his parted lips and red-tipped ears, then he dropped his gaze away.
When Professor McGonagall stood and walked around their table to bring out the stool and the Sorting Hat, Harry knew he should be paying better attention. This was the last time he'd ever see it happen. Everything that happened this year had the potential to be the very last of that thing in his life. Harry reckoned he should be watching the first years walk up to the hat with fear in their eyes while getting nostalgic tears in his own.
But all he could do was watch Malfoy.
Harry knew why he was here. He'd have to be a hermit not to know that returning to Hogwarts to complete his education was part of Malfoy's conditional release after the war. Harry had to wonder if that was the only reason he'd come back.
What would Malfoy be doing if he wasn't here at Hogwarts, gazing fixedly at a spot on the table? Would he be in France with his mother? Would he have gone into hiding? Would he be rallying forces to avenge his family name?
Would he be in Azkaban with his father?
Harry didn't know how much goodness there might be lurking in Draco Malfoy's heart, but the war had shown him evil, and Draco Malfoy was not evil. If he were, Harry would not be seeing what he saw in Malfoy's eyes just now as neither of them paid any attention to So-and-So Peterson, "Hufflepuff". He would not see the shame and dejection on his face. Malfoy would not look like he wanted to melt into his chair and disappear.
As he watched, Malfoy's eyes lifted to find Harry's once more. "Ravenclaw!" the hat shouted over-top of Melinda Richardson's head, and Harry found himself nodding down the table at Malfoy while the rest of his friends clapped, and Ravenclaw cheered its newest arrival.
To Harry's surprise, Malfoy nodded back.
After the feast, Professor McGonagall rose and gave a short speech about solidarity and cooperation and living up to Professor Dumbledore's dearest wishes for the school and its students. Harry believed in every word she said, and he listened attentively and nodded.
"And now," McGonagall said, "all Prefects, please refer to the instructions sent to you over the summer and lead your fellow students to their dormitories, please."
Harry looked around. He knew Ginny had been made a Prefect, but she hadn't told him anything about this year's rooming situation. Not that she'd have reason to after they'd split up.
Watching the other students file out of the Great Hall, Harry realised he didn't know much of anything anymore. It was a bit like being a first year all over again. But with an itchy five o'clock shadow.
"All eighth year students, please follow me into the chamber next door, please," McGonagall said in a softer voice.
When they arrived in the room – the very same one in which Harry had been received so scandalously as the second Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament – there was a fire going in the hearth, and it felt much cosier and safer than Harry remembered. Then again, it would, since he wasn't now being asked to combat a dragon, rescue his friends from the bottom of the lake, or navigate a maze full of perils. He wasn't being asked to do anything except be a student. It seemed a little backwards, of course, to become, first, a powerful wizard and then to finish his education, but it was really no different for any of the rest of them, and he supposed that was why the professor had summoned them all here together.
As the last student came into the room, McGonagall flicked her finger and shut the door, enclosing them all inside.
"Well," she said, turning a warm smile on the group. "It is so very good to see all of you back."
Harry could tell she was fighting her emotions, and the fact that his tough-as-nails Headmistress was close to tears threatened his own hold on himself.
"The fact that there is still a school at all is due to all of your extraordinary efforts," she said.
Harry slanted a glance at Malfoy and saw him drop his gaze to the floor. The other Slytherins looked a bit sheepish at that as well.
"Whether you fought against You-Know— Voldemort... or returned this past summer to help us begin rebuilding, you've each made a significant contribution and difference to this institution, and I thank you all."
Bulstrode and Zabini seemed to stand a bit taller, and Harry had to wonder what had gone on here at the school that perhaps the papers had not reported.
"I suppose you are wondering now about a fair number of things," McGonagall went on. "For instance why you were instructed to bring dress robes again this year. I assure you a wonderful surprise is in order, and your formal wear will be put to good use." She smiled, and Harry could tell immediately that he was not going to like this particular surprise.
"When not in class, you may roam about as you like as long as you are back inside the castle and in your dormitory by eleven o'clock."
At this, a collective gasp went up around the room.
"You mean," said Seamus boldly, "after dinner, we could, say, go into Hogsmeade for a Fi—" Dean elbowed him hard, "Er, Butterbeer, so long as we're back by curfew?"
"That is correct, Mr Finnigan. Although you should be fairly warned that any inebriated students on school grounds will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Does that answer your question?"
Seamus deflated somewhat. "Yes, ma'am."
But Harry was erupting with excitement on the inside. Gone were the days of permission slips not got and sneaking about in his Invisibility Cloak with Ron stepping on his feet. They could go out on their own. Just walk straight out through the front door, past Filch, and there wasn't anything anyone could do to stop them.
Harry cast a furtive smile at his friends but then found his gaze flitting over to Malfoy once more. But Malfoy was staring at an old vase on a side table, hands thrust into his trouser pockets, almost as though he wasn't paying attention at all.
Harry wiped the smile from his face, cleared his throat, and went back to listening intently.
"And finally, your dormitories," McGonagall was saying. "As I'm sure you've already ascertained, you will be eating together, regardless of House affiliation. Therefore, you will also share dormitories. I have here," she said, pulling her wand and illuminating a chart on the wall which previously had not been there, "your rooming assignments, but please don't crowd, don't crowd! Oh—" She might have thrown up her hands. Harry couldn't be sure, as he was one of those crowding around the chart.
"Yes!" exclaimed Hannah Abbott, turning to hug another Hufflepuff girl behind her. Together they began jumping up and down.
"You're joking," Bulstrode groaned. She gave Hermione a withering glance and sulked away.
Harry and Ron elbowed each other fiercely, each vying for the next spot in front of the chart. Zabini made it in ahead of them. "Draco!" he called, and Harry's ears perked up. It gave Ron the edge he apparently needed as he shoved forcefully past Harry and stuck his face up close to the wall. But Harry was still listening to Zabini. "It's you, me, Longbottom, and Weasley." The last name was spat, of course.
Harry felt the dual disappointment hit him soundly in the gut.
Ron and he weren't rooming together.
Malfoy and he weren't either.
Which wasn't exactly a disappointment. Wasn't a disappointment at all. He'd just thought maybe it might be interesting. To see Malfoy clean his teeth. To see him in pyjamas. That sort of thing.
But by far the greater grief was being separated from Ron.
From the thunderstruck look on his friend's face, being separated from Harry came in a distant second to the pain of rooming with both Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy. Poor Neville, though a much needed ally, couldn't exactly make up for it either.
"Shit," Ron whispered. "Harry, what am I going to do? They'll kill me in my sleep and cut me up and use my internal organs for dark experiments."
"For Merlin's sake, Ron, no they won't."
"Easy for you to say; you're with Dean, Seamus, and some Hufflepuff I've never met. Never heard of a Hufflepuff cutting anybody up and using their parts for experiments, have you?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer that he and Neville would have each other's backs and could maybe sleep in shifts or something, but McGonagall cleared her throat as loud as a Chinese Fireball with the flu and thus wrangled their attentions again. She then informed them where they'd be sleeping.
"D'you mean Fluffy's old hallway?" Ron blurted.
"Yes, Mr Weasley. But I think you'll find it's been properly converted so that you'll enjoy all of the comforts to which you've become accustomed at this school and probably then some." She smiled at them. "And with that, you're free to go visit your new dormitories and common room and to… reacquaint yourselves," she said.
There was a lot of shuffling and grumbling and excited talk as they all filed out and back through the Great Hall to the entry.
"Where do you think the others are?" Ron asked as they ascended the stairs.
"They've used wizarding space in Ravenclaw tower," Luna said, appearing out of nowhere.
"Neither Slytherin nor Hufflepuff were damaged as much in the battle," Hermione added.
"So we might have the third floor to ourselves at night?" Dean chimed in.
"Brilliant." Seamus beamed.
Harry was about to wholeheartedly agree when Hermione's sigh of exasperation stopped him. "Honestly," she said. "If I'd wanted to go to a party school, I would have enrolled at Beauxbatons."
They reached the third floor landing and ventured into the hall together. Gone were the dark shadows and forbidding corners. Bright sconces lit the way to the door at the end, and happy paintings all voiced their hellos as they walked by. Still, as they neared the fated door, Harry heard Ron gulp beside him.
"Harry," said a Ravenclaw girl from up ahead, "is this where you, ah, where you all had to… get past the… thing… to get to the Stone?"
"Yeah. But I'm sure Hagrid's come through with a pooper scooper by now." Harry tried for a joking tone, but her fraught face told him he'd failed.
"Well," Blaise said. "Who wants to open it?"
Harry opened his mouth to say that he would, but Dean came forward first. "I will. If that's all right with everyone?"
There were nods and murmurs of assent around the group.
Several of the others stepped back as his hand wrapped around the knob. McGonagall had given them the password which, unlike the other common rooms, worked with the lock itself rather than through a painting. "Flesh-eating slug," Dean said loudly.
Ron made a sick face. "Merlin, why?"
The lock clicked open, and Dean swung the door in. They wandered into a room that in no way resembled Fluffy's former abode.
Harry was struck first by the fact that it wasn't a hallway at all but had been expanded into a nice-sized common room, laid out similarly to the old Gryffindor one with a large fireplace at one end, already lit, and lots of comfortable chairs, sofas, tables, and bookshelves.
But maybe the most striking thing about the room was the colour: it was purple. Harry supposed it made sense. It conformed to no House and therefore claimed no loyalties. But it was a tad on the nauseating side – unless you were, apparently, Luna Lovegood, who twirled around, exclaiming, "It's like the night sky over Stonehenge during Chizpurfle mating season."
"Great," Millicent sighed dryly.
Someone had – and Harry had to wonder who – littered the room with House-coloured throw pillows, though. Dean sank into an armchair with a scarlet and gold one and sighed happily, sticking his feet up on the table in front of him.
"Make yourself comfortable, Thomas," Blaise sneered.
"Sod off, Zabini. This is my common room."
"Yeah, well, I don't fancy putting anything of mine where your mud-caked, secondhand boots—"
"Doesn't anybody want to see the dormitories?" Goldstein asked, and there was a murmuring of agreement from everyone.
Two archways flanked either side of the room. Over one was the word 'Women', over the other, 'Men'.
"Women," Hannah whispered.
"Men." Neville gulped. "Who else feels like we skipped a step?"
Harry gave him a grin as they made their way toward the arch, but his gaze slid past and landed on Malfoy, who was looking just as disturbed as Neville.
They entered the hallway past the arch to find three dormitory doors with their names tacked up on parchment.
Goldstein stopped at the first door with his roommates and gave the rest of them a little wave.
Ron's room was next. "Did you see the chess set in the common room, Harry? Want to play later? Soon?"
"Sure." Harry watched him disappear with Neville, followed by Zabini, and last, Malfoy.
Malfoy looked up at the last moment and caught Harry's eye. It looked like he was about to say something, but then he just dropped his gaze and stepped through the doorway.
Harry, Seamus, Dean, and Ned-the-Hufflepuff took the last room.
"Big," Seamus said, finding his bed with his trunk already at the foot and jumping into it.
Harry's bed was against the wall closest to Ron's room with a little window next to it, overlooking the Forbidden Forest beyond. The sun had set, leaving a tangerine glow over the trees, quickly bruising red and purple.
A pillow slammed into his head, and any and all solemnity came to a halt.
Harry smiled, grabbed his own pillow, said, "Dean, you're going down," and joined the fray.
The common room that evening was a typical hubbub of activity, made no less inviting by the fact that they were no longer split by house. Not that they were all friends now, of course. The Slytherins scoped out a corner of their own with just a couple added Ravenclaws for flair (including Luna Lovegood, who hadn't seemed to have got the memo that Millicent Bulstrode disliked her -- or that she wasn't an eighth year). But everyone else blended throughout the room, organising their books for the next day, playing games, talking and laughing, and generally just hanging around.
Harry and Ron played three games of wizard's chess while Hermione colour-coded her parchments by class.
"That's brilliant," said Padma next to her.
Hermione blushed and smiled. "Thank you!"
Harry supposed rooming with two Ravenclaws would be especially good for Hermione; she'd finally get the accolades she deserved for being as persnickety as she was.
Ron's huge yawn brought his attention back to the game.
"Need to turn in, mate?" Harry asked. It was after midnight, and the crowd had begun to thin.
But Ron shook his head. "Why do you say that? No, I'm good for another game. Maybe two," he added.
"You're so full of shit. You just don't want to be murdered in your sleep."
"Keep it down," Ron whispered. "They'll hear you."
"And get ideas?" Harry grinned. He looked back over his shoulder at the Slytherin area. It was only Malfoy and Bulstrode now, and Millicent appeared to be falling asleep with a book on her chest.
Malfoy, however, was studiously reading – Harry squinted -- Spellwork for the Pre-Professional Witch and Wizard. He seemed engrossed, a slight frown settling on his brow.
Maybe Ron had a point.
But just then Malfoy looked up and caught Harry squinting in his direction. Harry blinked, trying to look like he hadn't been staring. Malfoy resituated in his chair, turning away slightly, and then went back to his book.
Harry turned back to Ron. "He's harmless." At Ron's stare, Harry amended, "Okay, he's not harmless, but he's…"
"He's…" Harry looked at his friend. "He's Malfoy."
"You're immensely helpful, Harry," Ron grumbled. "Fine, I'm going to bed. See you in the afterlife."
"Goodnight," Harry said, beginning to put away the remaining pieces. He carefully averted his eyes when Ron walked over to where Hermione sat and kissed her briefly before departing through the arch. But Harry wasn't exactly paying attention to what he was doing either, because one of Ron's knights bit him on the finger, and Harry dropped it to the floor. "Ow!" He stuck his finger in his mouth and went to pick up the bloody thing when he came face to shin with…
Harry looked up. Malfoy was standing there frowning at him.
"Hey," Harry said.
"Can I speak to you for a minute?" Malfoy asked, his tone clipped.
"Isn't that what you're already doing?" Harry leaned forward, ignoring how close Malfoy was standing, and gingerly picked up the knight by its base, letting it dangle from his fingers, swinging its mane ineffectually.
He sat back up again and tossed the piece into the box, shutting the lid resoundingly.
Malfoy looked around the room as if he didn't want to be overheard. Was he about to… tell Harry a secret?
It felt weird to be looking up at him, and Harry would have stood to put them on an even footing except that Malfoy was standing too close.
Malfoy huffed. "I-- You said you might... bring me my wand?"
"Oh." Harry blinked, his whole face losing tension while Malfoy's seemed to take it on. "Yeah, I did! It's in my room, if you want to…"
Malfoy took his cue and stepped back. Harry stood and edged past, leading Malfoy toward the archway.
"Goodnight, Harry!" called Hermione, yawning and packing it in herself.
"Night, Hermione." Harry smiled. Though with Malfoy following him, it felt… odd.
They walked through the arch and down the hall until they'd reached the last door. Harry opened it. "It's just in my trunk. Do you want to come in?"
Malfoy frowned and peered past him. "I'll wait here."
"Suit yourself." Harry left the door ajar as he walked over to his bed and opened his trunk, rummaging through it hastily.
When he turned with the case, it was to find Malfoy leaned just almost into the doorway, watching him. He jumped back when Harry saw him.
"What are you up to, Harry?" Dean called from his bed where he was doing some drawing.
"Nothing. Be right back."
Harry joined Malfoy in the hall, but before he could shut the door, his new companion animal scampered out and began sniffing all around Malfoy's ankles.
"Bugger," Harry huffed. "Gordon, inside."
Malfoy stepped back hastily as Gordon did not obey. "Is that—? You have a ferret?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "Gordon, don't." He attempted to grab the little beast away, but Gordon skittered out of reach, making little chirps of interest at Malfoy's expensive shoes.
"Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?" Malfoy snarled.
"You'd think," Harry sighed. "But no. Gordon, go back in the room." Harry snapped his fingers and pointed.
Gordon sniffed at Malfoy one last time but then scampered away under Harry's bed. Harry finally closed the door to the room.
He thought about explaining Gordon. That, no, he hadn't procured a ferret solely to torture Malfoy but that the thing had accosted him when he'd gone to see about getting a Kneazle. That, even though Harry had not purchased the offending ferret and had left the Magical Menagerie animal-less, Gordon – who had then been unnamed – snuck into the car and stowed away under Harry's passenger seat, scaring the bloody hell out of him when they arrived back at Grimmauld.
It was invite him in or drive all the way back.
The creature had turned sad crup-like eyes on him and wrung his little ferret hands. And that had been that.
But Malfoy was looking at the wand box, and Harry felt it was probably best just to drop the whole ferret thing after all.
"I, uh, bought a case for it," Harry said, thrusting it out. "You can keep it if you like."
Malfoy swallowed. He took the case in his hands and ran his fingers gently over the top. Harry could tell he was dying to open it.
"Go ahead. It's there. Not broken or anything. Still works."
Malfoy frowned, their gazes meeting. "You kept using it?"
"Oh. No. I just held—" He stopped abruptly. Dear Merlin, had he been about to tell Malfoy that he'd held his wand for bloody fuck's sake? And yet the word just sat there, and with every second that Harry didn't think of a cover, it became more and more obvious what he'd intended to say. "—onto it for you." He cleared his throat. "I cleaned it."
Malfoy nodded slowly, as if he was willing to accept that answer. Then he opened the case, and Harry watched his eyes light up. It was only for a moment – only long enough for him to touch his fingers to it for a few seconds. Then Malfoy closed the case once more.
He nodded to Harry, frowning again, business-like. "Thanks."
Harry scratched at a place on his neck. "You're welcome. Thanks for letting me borrow it."
Malfoy's gaze shot to his, and for a moment they just stared at one another. Harry gave him a little shrug. Malfoy, to Harry's shock, gave a tiny, rueful laugh and a quirk of his thin lips. He ran his fingers over the case once more. He turned and took the five steps down the hall to his own door.
Harry turned to head back inside, but Malfoy's voice stopped him with his hand on the knob.
Harry felt his pulse begin to pound inexplicably.
Then they each opened their dormitory doors and disappeared inside.
Harry dreamed of Quidditch and Transfiguration and that he'd forgotten to wear trousers to breakfast and of different muffled voices murmuring nonsense in his ear. When he woke, it was slowly and to the dawning realisation that he had a huge erection.
It was sort of a new thing lately. So often at school before, he'd wake up from a fresh nightmare. His body could never quite adjust nor his mind ever really relax, and it was all too rare for him to find himself in a state of semi-conscious arousal rather than semi-conscious terror.
That had changed – a lot -- over the summer months.
Harry stretched and thought about taking care of it, but by the sounds coming from the other side of his bed curtains, he knew he was perhaps the last one awake. The sun glinted bright through the windowpane and slanted in through the gap near the bedpost, making Harry squint and blink.
He'd bring himself off in the shower before breakfast, he decided.
And he'd remember his trousers.
He rolled out of bed and gathered up a change of clothes, holding it over his crotch in a way that he knew couldn't possibly fool anyone, and dragged himself across the hall to the bathroom.
Before he could close his hand around the doorknob, though, a damp Malfoy emerged. He was dressed, of course, but his hair still dripped in places, and when he and Harry nearly collided, a bead of water flung off him and landed on Harry's face.
"Malfoy," Harry said, hugging his clothes closer to his pyjama-covered crotch and letting the drop of water drip down his cheek unimpeded.
"Potter," Malfoy said with what Harry was coming to realise was a ubiquitous frown that maybe had very little to do with Harry and very much to do with Malfoy's face being Malfoy's face.
Harry stepped to the left just as Malfoy stepped to his right, though. Then they both reversed it. Malfoy sighed through his flared nostrils. "I'll stand still."
"Right." Harry moved around Malfoy to the door. Malfoy's body still emanated the heat from his shower. He smelled bright and lemony. Harry's shoulder bumped Malfoy's, and he dropped his bundle of clothes, his shield, to the ground. "Fuck."
It was only a split second, but the damage was done. Malfoy's eyes went straight to his tenting pyjamas before Harry dropped to a crouch, grabbing up his things as quickly as possible. He ended up in the humiliating position of clutching his shiny white pants up against an erection that, with the change of position, was trying to peek out of his fly. To make matters worse, he dropped his jumper twice more, too.
To his utter horror, Malfoy actually stooped to help him.
"I've got it," Harry said, probably too tersely.
Malfoy looked right at his stupid pants for all of three seconds, then he licked his lips, stood, gave Harry a short nod, and walked off down the hall, his hair dripping down the back of his neck.
Harry sighed and shook out his jumper.
Now…NOW…his hard-on began to wilt.
He took a short, rough shower, unfairly angry with Malfoy the whole time and glaring at the tile wall.
Breakfast, however, was delicious and erection-free. Ron looked like he hadn't slept a wink, though, with dark circles under his eyes and his face propped on his hand.
"Stay up all night to keep the Slytherins from hexing your bollocks off?" Harry asked him around a bite of sausage.
Hermione answered for him. "No, apparently. I guess Neville's developed a snoring problem." She reached out and sifted a tender hand over Ron's bed-head.
"Well, I guess that's irony for you. Did nobody think to Silence him?"
"Yeah, but it kept wearing off," Ron groaned.
"Well, look at the bright side," Harry said. "Maybe Zabini and Malfoy will decide to dissect him instead of you."
Ron seemed to brighten a little at that. Harry pushed the teapot in his direction with a rueful smile. Ron liked Neville well enough, but ever since he'd begun dating Ginny… Well, Ron had been side-eyeing him for flaws, imperfections, and impure thoughts. Which was nice for Harry, since it meant Ron had quit doing those things to him.
The tea seemed to perk Ron up a bit, too, and they all made their way to Transfiguration together with the seventh year Hufflepuffs. Professor Sinistra had taken over for McGonagall when a suitable Transfiguration teacher had not been found, and because she was still teaching Astronomy as well (and was a confirmed night owl) she looked as tired as the students, which relieved Harry to no end.
Charms was just after with the Ravenclaws, and to Harry's embarrassment, both Flitwick and Sinistra had to spend most of their time trying to keep the other students from watching and studying Harry's every move. It was especially embarrassing when everyone watched him fuck up a simple Gripping charm and accidentally pinch Ron hard on the nose instead.
"OW!" he groused, rubbing it. "Incompetent git."
And as humiliating as it was, Ron's perception of Harry as nothing more than the bloke who just pinched the hell out of his nose helped Harry feel less like the Saviour of the World and more like his ordinary self. Mostly. His mistake had seemed not to dampen the almost terrifying ardour of a good deal of the seventh year girls. Unfortunately.
None of that truly mattered, though.
What mattered, to Harry, was Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Harry felt like he'd been waiting for this one class forever. All he knew was that it was an eighth-year-only class. They had not been told who the professor would be, and Harry couldn't help but suspect McGonagall herself. But when they filed into the room, it was mysteriously empty. As in, so empty even the paintings on the walls weren't even paintings. They were empty frames with plain canvases in them, no people or landscapes to liven them up.
And they were placed strangely, too, Harry noticed: all around the room, blank canvas after blank canvas lining the walls, with one particularly large one mounted on the far wall that faced the door.
He looked at Hermione, but she just shrugged.
The rest of the class – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin alike – seemed equally mystified, peering around and murmuring.
"Do you think we have the wrong room?" Hannah Abbot asked.
But the words were no sooner past her lips than he appeared, walking into the large canvas imperiously, his hands disappeared within the deep folds of his black robes.
Harry would have gasped, but he was too busy not breathing at all.
"Professor Snape!" Hermione exclaimed.
Their chatter filled the room until his booming voice quieted them.
"Silence!" The only sound then was Neville Longbottom's book bag dropping to the floor.
When Snape spoke again, his voice was soft and commanding. "Welcome," he said, "to Defence Against the Dark Arts."
Harry shared looks with Hermione and Ron and then turned his stunned attention back to Snape's portrait, which went on as if he'd never died and was standing there in the flesh.
"There will be no extraneous talking, no foolishness -- no late assignments, excuses for tardiness or shoddy spell-work." His eyes flashed over them one at a time, and Harry fought his mixed emotions. He felt sure neither tears nor a smile would be at all welcome at the moment. "You have all, one way or another, proven yourselves worthy of an advanced Defence curriculum, and I will suffer none of you shirking, slouching, fidgeting, gallivanting, or otherwise besmirching this class or each other. Do I make myself clear?"
Ron gulped. Otherwise the room was deathly silent.
"Do I… make… myself…clear?"
"Y-yes, Professor," Hermione managed.
"Thank you, Ms Granger," Snape said with a smile that could not be termed warm. "From the one person least likely to be found guilty of gallivanting anywhere at any time."
When Ron sniggered softly beside her, she elbowed him rather forcefully.
"Let us find out how rusty your skills have become now that there are no Dark Lords to fight," Snape said.
Leave it to Snape to phrase it that way, even after everything, Harry thought.
"I believe we'll begin with a duel," he said next. "Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter, please come to the front of the room."
In the moment before he stepped forward, Harry actually felt the rest of the class take a step back in relief, leaving him and Malfoy standing at disparate angles in the middle of the room. Harry looked at him once, though Malfoy was only looking at Snape as they both walked to the front of the class.
They turned to face one another, a good twelve feet apart. Harry pulled his wand and watched Malfoy slowly draw his own – the one Harry had given back to him just the night before. Harry couldn't decide if it was a benefit or a detriment that he'd held it, too – used it. That he knew its quirks and nuances, the notches in the wood and how they fit his fingers.
"I do so hope it is obvious," Snape said, "that your intent is not to harm but to stun, disarm, incapacitate temporarily, and so on." His sharp gaze raked over them both, and Harry fought a shiver even knowing Severus Snape had been on his side all along. "There will be no Sectumsempra from you, Mr Potter, and Mr Malfoy, no reptiles." He said the word with great disdain, like he'd been insulted by one at some point rather than…
Harry blinked. He shifted his wand in his fingers.
"Bow," Snape instructed, and they both brought their feet together and took the ritual bow before getting into a duelling stance.
"You may… begin."
The last word had not fully left Professor Snape's lips when Malfoy threw a wordless hex that Harry countered with a defensive charge, sending the magic skittering over the floor instead.
Malfoy threw two Stinging hexes in quick succession, and Harry deflected them, too, before casting his own Conjunctivitus. Malfoy's defensive magic met his between them, fluctuated, sending sparks in every direction, and then threw Harry's off to the side.
They stood, motionless but ready, for another five seconds.
"Steady," Snape said. "Stay alert."
Harry cast four hexes in a row, but Malfoy ducked one and subverted the others with his own Oppugno, charming two chairs to come at Harry from across the room.
"Reducto!" Harry cast on one, and then when the other came at him through the dust of the first, he ducked and rolled. The chair slammed into the wall behind him and broke into pieces, and both Neville and Hannah Abbot screamed a little.
Harry and Malfoy stopped again, standing and panting, the buzzing silence their magic left, a loud and distracting thing.
"Widen your stance, Mr Malfoy, he could knock you over with a light breeze, and don't take your eyes off his, Mr Potter; how else will you know when he's about to—"
But before he could finish, Malfoy threw a Petrificus Totalus at Harry's chest. Harry jumped to the side and sent an Incarcerous, taking Malfoy out at the knees and binding them together. He cast Locomotor Mortis just after, but he knew Malfoy could nullify each in a matter of seconds, so Harry bore down on him, sending Stunning spells that Malfoy deflected from the floor over and over again.
Harry stalked forward even as Malfoy crawled back using both feet and one hand, his wand raised to defend against Harry's assault. Soon enough, though, Harry cast an Expelliarmus that hit the mark and sent Malfoy's wand tumbling end over end across the floor. Harry stood over him, pointing his wand at Malfoy's chest, breathing heavily.
They stared at each other for three seconds. Then Malfoy blinked, and his gaze dropped from Harry's face directly to his crotch.
Harry blanched, the memory of that morning coming instantly to the forefront of his mind. He quickly looked down at his fly, the instinct too strong to ignore and…
"Accio! Incarcerous! Levicorpus!" Malfoy threw one on top of the other.
And before Harry knew it… Well, he was bound hand and foot and hovering twenty feet in the air.
"That's enough," Snape called. "Mr Potter, get yourself down."
And as he did still have his wand in his grip, Harry nullified Malfoy's spells, the ropes unwinding from his now numb wrists, releasing his ankles, as he floated back down to earth.
When he landed, he holstered his wand and dusted off his trousers.
Snape looked at Malfoy, now rising as well. "Juvenile," he accused. "But effective."
Harry walked forward. Zabini clapped Malfoy on the back, and Pansy Parkinson was smirking like some sort of demented feline, but Malfoy himself wore an implacable expression. He looked almost…sorry?
It was spur of the moment, but Harry's body was moving almost before his mind made itself up. He walked up to Malfoy and extended his hand. "Nice misdirect there," he said with a small self-deprecating smirk.
Malfoy blinked at him a couple of times, and his stunned face was really worth it, Harry decided. Then Malfoy reached out and shook his hand. His grip was hesitant, and Harry felt his hand trembling slightly. His own hand was sure and warm and a little sweaty.
While he watched, Malfoy's face transformed. He broke into a smile that could be described as at once smug and apologetic. He shrugged. "Just using all the tools at my disposal, Potter."
"Next time I won't hesitate."
Malfoy's eyes flashed with the challenge.
They dropped their hands away. Malfoy licked his lips and stepped back. Zabini and Parkinson didn't look quite so pleased anymore.
Snape cleared his throat. "How lovely," he mocked. But in his next breath he began instructing them to split off into groups of three and practice some protective spells.
They went their separate ways and did the assignment – Harry with Ron and Hermione, Malfoy back with his crowd -- and Harry listened to Snape and did everything he asked, even when he jumped portraits and scared the bloody hell out of him, showing up right beside Harry just as he was attempting his first full Patronus of the day.
It didn't matter. It was still the most brilliant class he'd ever attended at Hogwarts. His whole body was sore from duelling Malfoy, but he felt like he could do it all over again -- would love to do it all over again.
When Snape dismissed them, Harry felt exhilarated. He strode to the front of the class even as the others pushed for the door.
"Professor," he called when Snape turned in his frame. "Professor, may I have a word?"
"My office hours are three to six Tuesday and Friday, Mr Potter. Please see that you respect that."
"Er, yes, Professor. Of course," Harry said, deflating.
But Snape stopped on his way back out of the frame again. He turned his head to look over his shoulder, not quite meeting Harry's eyes. "Valiant effort today, Potter," he said. And after that, he walked away, leaving an empty canvas in his wake.
Harry took a deep breath and let it out, watching the space where Snape had been.
The next couple of weeks flew by, and despite having recurring dreams that he was dressed only in a shirt and socks in his classes -- with someone, again, murmuring nonsense in his ear the whole while -- Harry was having his best year yet.
The eighth years were being kept too busy to enjoy it, however. Hermione, Ron, and he had only been by to see Hagrid once so far, but as Hagrid was only too thrilled to show them his newest hatching of Fire Crabs (and they'd all come away singed), Harry wasn't too keen to return until he'd at least moved on to a less inflammatory species.
Harry hadn't gone into Hogsmeade at all, either, like some of his cohorts had -- just because they could. He was too intent on keeping up with his coursework, which was considerable. But even that was exciting. It was amazing how much more he enjoyed studying without the threat of Voldemort constantly hanging over his head.
But by the first scheduled Hogsmeade trip, Harry was most certainly ready. There was a definite air of anticipation and mischief in the air, and most of the talk centred around getting royally pissed as soon as possible.
In the early afternoon, they headed off. The air was crisp and clean after a hard rain the night before. Everything smelled of pine and ozone, and Harry breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs.
He spent the afternoon with Ron and Hermione, going from shop to shop and enjoying the freedom. The day passed quickly, and when the sun dipped low in the western sky, Harry was shocked to discover the time.
"Anybody fancy sitting down with a drink?" he asked.
They ended up in the Three Broomsticks, waved over to a table near the hearth where many of their friends already sat. Harry noticed that Malfoy and his clan were seated at the next table over. Zabini sniggered at something Parkinson said, but Malfoy only gave a wan smile and ran a finger around the rim of his whiskey glass.
"Harry!" Seamus called over the din of the crowd, and, at that, Malfoy looked up.
Harry greeted his friends. He glanced at the Slytherin table, too, but by the time he did, Malfoy's attention had been drawn away.
The rounds began. Firewhisky, Firewhisky, Firewhisky, with some apple brandy and red currant rum for spice. Hermione tried the dandelion wine and exhibited signs of inebriation before she'd even finished the glass. Nobody was Apparating or flying or even risking a dodgy Floo experience. They were all of age, and it was the first time the lot of them had been out together with the sole purpose of getting pissed.
They were a headmistress' nightmare and a bartender's dream.
Harry felt quite relaxed after his first two Firewhiskies and was slowly imbibing his third, while Seamus and Dean seemed to be having some sort of contest. That was until Seamus made a desperate run for the loo. When he returned, he switched to Butterbeer, and Dean claimed victory with yet another Firewhisky. In fact, he bought the entire table a round.
"Them, too!" Dean slurred a bit, handing his Galleons to Goldstein and Ron, who had offered to fetch the drinks since Dean was properly ensconced against the wall and couldn't be arsed to move.
"Them who?" Ron asked.
"Them!" Dean waved his hand at Malfoy's table. "That lot!" He belched.
Blaise looked sceptical. "You're buying us a round, Thomas?" He squinted at Dean. "Are you having a laugh?"
Dean snorted spectacularly. "Well, yes, but not at you. Live a little Zabini. Or are you… scared?" He leaned forward on the table and blinked blearily in Zabini's general direction.
That caught Malfoy's interest. He looked between Blaise and Dean before his gaze came to rest on Harry.
Malfoy licked his lips, cleared his throat, and spoke up. "He's not trying to poison you, Blaise. Isn't that right, Potter?"
Harry blinked at him. "Well, yeah. I mean, even if that was his intent, he's really in no shape to pull it off."
"See?" Malfoy lifted his hand as if that decided it and then let it drop back to the table.
Harry found his gaze travelling over Malfoy's elegant fingers as they rubbed at a knot in the wood. Over his wrist and the pale hair there. The way he leaned back in his chair, his long legs stretched out before him. Harry blinked slowly, staring at the fine black wool of Malfoy's trousers.
Ron and Goldstein's return, and the many, many drinks they were levitating ahead of themselves, broke Harry's tipsy reverie.
"Fine," Blaise said. "Thanks."
"Ta," Millicent said from her end of the table.
Pansy smiled witheringly.
Malfoy took his glass and raised it to Dean a little. "Cheers." Then he turned his gaze to Harry, raised his glass minutely again, and drank.
Harry felt a searing heat flare up his spine.
Obviously, he was drunk. Totally pissed. The fact that Draco Malfoy looked less like a spectacular git in that instance was just… whiskey goggles.
It was just… maths. It was arithmetic, pure and simple. A little too much whiskey, plus Malfoy being not a git, equals searing heat up one's spine.
He'd felt something similar when he'd snogged Cho Chang – and when he'd made out with Ginny. Sort of. Except for the heat. And the searing. But his spine had definitely been affected in each instance in some regard. Hadn't it?
Not that there was anything similar between the three of them. Cho and Ginny, yes. But not Malfoy. Well, except that they all played Quidditch. Maybe that was it. Quidditch. Harry missed Quidditch. That was really all there was to it, probably. Malfoy might look like a Veela, sitting there all blond and relaxed and saying non-prattish things like "Cheers" and "See?" But he was just Malfoy. And he was in Harry's direct line of vision. And Harry was a little drunk. And missing Quidditch.
It wasn't like Harry was gay. Or that it would be a bad thing if he were. He just wasn't.
Draco Malfoy was just in his line of vision, and he was licking his lips and smiling at a joke Bulstrode made, and the hairs on his fingers, just under his knuckles, were sort of wiry and nice. His nails were very clean, and his knuckles were sort of wonderful looking. Strong and graceful. Harry imagined them wrapping around a jittery Snitch, careful not to bruise the tender wings and—
"Harry James Potter!" Hermione yelled for what seemed like the third or fourth time.
"Huh?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows at her. They'd seemed to grow enormously heavy.
"Budge up, will you? Ginny's here."
"Oh," he said. "Hey, Gin. Nee. Hey, Ginny."
"Hi, Harry," she said with a soft smile. It was a nice smile.
"How about a Butterbeer for my little sister!" Ron bellowed.
"Oh nice, you arse," Ginny said crossly. "They're really going to serve me now."
"I got you an apple brandy," Neville said and dismantled the Disillusionment charm around it.
A bright smile lit Ginny's whole face.
"Way to go, mate," Goldstein whispered.
Truly, it was sort of epically romantic. Ron was silently furious.
Ginny sat next to Neville and then leaned in and kissed him.
Malfoy's gaze found Harry's. It took Harry maybe five seconds of bleary staring at the plonker to understand, though: Malfoy hadn't known he and Ginny had split up.
Harry gave him a belated and perfectly not-barmy thumbs-up. Malfoy's brows creased into a confused frown.
Yeah. The thumbs-up? That was stupid. Harry dropped his hand to his lap.
Harry pushed his whiskey away and drank deeply from his water glass. Hermione had insisted that they all try to stay hydrated, and right now he could really kiss her, because the water was sweet and soothing down his whiskey-burned throat.
"Anybody have the time?" Millicent suddenly yelled.
"Uh, we can hear you," Pansy said.
"Half ten," Luna said.
"Bugger! We've got to get back!" Seamus went to stand, rammed his chair into Neville's, pitched forward straight into Dean, and then ricocheted onto the floor.
The walk back was cold and perfect. Harry felt his thoughts settle back into his brain where they ought to have been in the first place. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked behind Ron and Hermione, who had their arms linked and only weaved slightly.
They made it into the castle with ten minutes to spare but were shushed by several portraits as they ascended the stairs to the third floor and then walked (some stumbled) down the hall toward their common room door.
"Flesh-eating slug," Goldstein said.
Hannah Abbott and the two Ravenclaw girls, busy studying, looked up as they all crowded into the common room, still talking and laughing, a few of them hiccupping. The fireplace roared to life with a little magic. But before everyone could either get comfortable there or head to bed, Dean stood on a footstool and made an announcement.
"Hey, guys. I have a brilliant idea."
Silence fell as everyone waited to hear it.
"What do you want, a Sonorus?" Pansy asked.
Dean pulled his wand with a waggle of his eyebrows. Blaise made to duck, but then, seeing Dean didn't mean to hex anyone, tried to play it off like he was just popping his neck.
"Accio Twister!" Dean called triumphantly. In moments, a box flew into his hand.
"What is that?" Luna asked.
"It's a Muggle game."
"A Muggle game?" Millicent frowned.
"It's really fun," Dean went on as Seamus grabbed the box out of his hands and began perusing it. Padma grabbed it from him and Ron from her. In that fashion it made its way around the room as Dean explained.
Harry didn't need to see the box. As a young "Muggle" boy, he'd always wanted one. Dudley had three, but of course, he never shared anything, nor would Harry have wanted to play with him. He'd seen it advertised on the telly a few times when he was little, and the kids in the ad looked so happy to be falling all over one another.
Of course, Harry had never imagined playing as a drunken eighteen-year-old wizard.
"Yeah!" Seamus said. "Yeah, let's do it!"
There were various nods and murmurings around the room. Even Blaise appeared intrigued. Malfoy sat in a chair in a corner, looking sullen and withdrawn.
"There's no room here," Ron protested, drawing his wand. "Help me move some of this furniture."
Hermione huffed. "What if some of us don't want to play and would like to have someplace to sit?"
"Why wouldn't you want to play?" Ron asked.
In an uncharacteristic moment of reticence, Hermione just shrugged.
"Well, okay, how about…" Seamus worried his bottom lip between his teeth.
Ned-the-Hufflepuff spoke up. "The Room of Requirement."
"Are you mad?" Goldstein asked.
Pansy looked suddenly quite interested. "Mad genius," she said, smiling broadly. Her eyes cast up and down Ned's chubby frame like she might have him for a midnight snack. Ned, wide-eyed, gulped.
"Are we sure it's... safe in there?" Parvati asked.
"That's a good point." Hermione looked between Harry and Ron, crossing her arms.
"We can check it out and make sure," Harry said.
"Do you really think so, Harry?" Dean asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do." He felt something stubborn and angry enter his voice. "He's not allowed to take anything from us anymore." He looked around at his friends' faces to see some of them scared, some others resolute. He turned to his best friend for back-up. "Ron?"
"Right," Ron said. "This is our castle. It's our school."
"Yeah, that's right!"
The others, even the ones who'd looked afraid,were nodding now.
Harry glanced at Malfoy in his plush chair. He'd paled, and his wide eyes stared into space, at nothing.
Crabbe had died in there. Harry hadn't thought of that.
But now the others had taken up the cause.
"Room of Requirement," Dean said. "Brilliant."
"Yeah," Seamus added, grinning. "Operation: Take Back the Castle! I'm in!"
"It's after eleven," Padma reminded everyone. "If we get caught sneaking around the school…"
"We'll just have to not get caught," Seamus said. "Who's with us?"
There was a brief silence. Then…
"We are!" Hermione shouted from where she and Ron had been talking, heads together, in the corner. She sounded a bit shrill but confident.
"We are?" Ron asked.
Harry's pulse started to pound with the excitement of, once again, sneaking through the castle. "I'm in, too," he said.
"We're in," Parvati said for herself and her reluctant twin.
"Absolutely," Luna agreed.
"Yeah, all right." Millicent nodded.
There were additional nods and 'brilliants' and such as Dean jumped down from the footstool and they all headed to the door.
Everyone except two Ravenclaw girls who headed to bed.
And Malfoy, still resolutely parked in his chair.
Harry took a deep breath and let it out.
The group had started discussing their options for not getting caught.
"Muffliato might be good."
"Oh my God, you cannot Apparate in Hogwarts castle!" Hermione fumed. "Where have you people been studying?"
But Harry was, for better or worse, walking over to where Malfoy sat slumped into gigantic purple cushions that threatened to swallow his lanky body.
"Do you want to come?" Harry asked.
Malfoy looked up at him, surprised. "Er, no. No, I don't think so."
"Malfoy..." Harry stopped, completely unsure how to broach this -- if he even should broach such a tender topic. "I'm sorry... about what happened... in there."
Harry took another fortifying breath. "A lot of people died here," he said. "I don't want that to be the last word on it. Do you?"
Malfoy's gaze lowered to the floor, and he blinked.
Harry looked over at the others still arguing about how to get from the third floor to the seventh en masse. He looked back at Malfoy. Truthfully, Harry wasn't sure why he was bothering – why he cared about this person who'd intentionally made his life hell.
But the fact was... Harry did care.
Maybe it was remembering the fear on Malfoy's face in that room, believing he was going to die alongside his friend.
Maybe it was knowing Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban and that with one slip, Draco could end up there, too -- that his entire future was riding on this one year.
Maybe it was how Malfoy looked right now: lost and empty.
Harry didn't wish that on him. Not anymore.
He opened his mouth to say something else, though he was hardly sure of what, when Luna bounded over, a benign smile on her face.
"Come with us, Draco," she said.
"I--" Malfoy began. "I can't."
Luna grasped Malfoy's hand then, and he looked at her like she'd lost her mind. "They're not going to expel all of us," she said, "and it would be unfair to punish you more harshly than anybody else."
Harry saw more then in Malfoy's eyes than his questioning of Luna's sanity: He saw indecision. He saw the war there between what Malfoy feared and what he wanted.
"We'll protect you," Harry said.
A tired sneer lifted one corner of Malfoy's mouth. He peered past Harry to the larger group and then blinked his gaze back to Harry's face. "You really believe that?"
Harry looked at Malfoy's friends, who'd barely deigned to glance his way. He looked back down at Malfoy in the big chair. "We'll protect you," he said again and hoped Malfoy understood: whether or not Zabini or Parkinson would put their necks on the line for their friend, Harry would. He was pretty sure Hermione would. And they could strong-arm Ron.
"We're going in groups of three under Disillusionment charms," Luna said. "You can come with Millie and me." She swung his arm to and fro like they were old childhood friends. Malfoy's elbow banged into the chair arm with every pass, but Luna seemed not to mind.
Harry couldn't fight the grin that spread over his face. He kicked at Malfoy's shoe. "Come on then, Malfoy."
Malfoy sighed and stood, pulling his hand out of Luna's and brushing off his trousers.
"Excellent," Harry said.
"Lovely," Luna agreed.
Malfoy followed them to the door to join the others without further comment. Harry felt irrationally excited.
Neville, Pansy, and Goldstein went first. Then Hermione, Ned-the-Hufflepuff, and Hannah. Malfoy, Millicent, and Luna were next. On it went until Ron and Harry were the only ones left.
"Like old times," Ron said. "Want to use the Invisibility Cloak instead?"
"Nah, Zabini'd probably nick it."
"Wait," Harry said.
"What did you and Hermione talk about? Why'd she suddenly decide to come?"
Ron shrugged. "Beats me. One minute we're talking about her staying and getting some studying done and me doing this, and the next she's volunteering the both of us."
"Do you think she thinks it's going to get… Well, racy?" Harry asked.
Ron's eyes went very round. "Will it?"
"I dunno. But I'm guessing Hermione reckons it might. Maybe she's coming because she wants to make sure you don't end up sprawled on top of the Patil twins, you know?"
"Blimey…" Ron breathed. "Wait, she's already there! Do you think they've started? Do you think Zabini's got his hands all over my girlfriend right now? Or Seamus? Or Ned-the-Hufflepuff?"
"Or Pansy," Harry supplied. He didn't see the need to remind his friend that their hands went on the mat, not each other.
Ron gave him a very strange look then. Like his face didn't know whether to be happy or angry. "All right, I say we run. Get a move on, Harry."
Harry pulled his wand and cast a Disillusionment charm, and they set off for the seventh floor.
The castle was quiet and still, and it felt odd to not have to stick close to Ron's side and try not to step on one another's feet. They met no-one in the halls, and of the portraits they passed, most were already sleeping. They stepped onto the seventh floor landing and let their breath out.
They looked at one another and then, quick as they dared, made their way to where they knew the door would appear.
"We need the room with our friends in it and the Twister game," Ron murmured.
"You couldn't think of a better way to phrase that?"
Ron shrugged, and it didn't matter anyway, because the door coalesced out of the wall nonetheless.
They smiled at each other, Ron opened the door, and they both stepped inside.
There wasn't much to the space, but Harry supposed there needn't be. There was room for the mat, which was already laid out, and then comfortable chairs for those not playing to lounge in and watch.
"Harry, Ron, you make it okay? Nobody saw you, right?" Dean asked.
"No, we're good. You?" Harry asked, walking into the room. His palms were sweating.
Harry looked around. The room was smaller than before, perhaps because of the damage it had sustained. Someone had worked on it, though. That much was plain. The walls appeared sturdy and mostly unscathed. There was one corner that was charred black, and Harry wondered if it was simply unhealable. If that marked the spot where Voldemort's Horcrux was destroyed.
He thought about coming back sometime when they weren't there together to try to fix it himself.
Casting his gaze about the room, he couldn't help but glance at Malfoy looking apprehensive against the far wall. He may have felt Harry's gaze, because he looked up. Their eyes met. Harry gave him a small smile. Malfoy let his breath out, and Harry could see the tension leave his shoulders. He gave a nod in return that made Harry's chest feel funny.
"Fine, fine," Dean was saying. "Well, Hannah tripped over a suit of armour's foot, but Hermione said she cast a Muffliato, so all's well." Dean turned back to the whole group. "Okay, now that everybody's got their groups…"
"Wait, what?" Ron interrupted.
"You're with Hermione, Ron, no worries," Dean said. "Harry, it's you and Luna."
"Great." Harry figured she'd either be stellar at Twister or simply awful. Either way would be fun.
"Neville's volunteered to do all the spinning tonight – thank you, Neville."
Neville took a little bow, and there was a smattering of applause that ranged from enthusiastic to mocking in speed and volume.
"Right!" Dean said. "Seamus and I are going first. We'll be facing off against… Who drew first from the hat again?"
"We did," the Patil twins answered in unison.
As Seamus and Dean took to one side of the mat and the twins to the other, everyone clapped, and Harry took a squishy-looking chair nearby.
"Right hand red," Neville called.
Everyone hurried to comply and get a good spot.
Neville spun again. "Right foot blue."
Things got a little more complicated as four feet tried to find a blue dot without any right hands moving.
"Ow!" Seamus growled as Dean elbowed him in the ribs, jockeying for position. Pansy laughed so hard she snorted.
"Go, Padma and Parvati!" Goldstein shouted between cupped hands and then clapped.
"Hang in there, Dean!" Ron said.
The first person to drop was Seamus, though, as Neville called, "Left hand yellow," and he and Dean went for the same dot. Seamus' arse hit the mat. "Seamus's out!"
"Gee, thanks, Neville. I hadn't noticed my arse hitting the floor," Seamus said, exiting the mat and rubbing his backside.
"What a loser." Pansy laughed.
Seamus shot her two fingers, and she actually flushed and looked away. Harry made a mental note that rude hand gestures were effective against Pansy's nastiness.
He was so busy watching the sidelines that he completely missed Parvati wiping out with "Right foot green."
"It's all right, Parvati," Goldstein coached. "Get 'em in the semi-finals."
But the game went on, and Dean and Padma hung in there to get stuck in some pretty impressive positions, until…
"Bollocks." Dean slipped, his knees touching.
"Round one goes to Padma Patil!" Neville shouted. He smiled. "This is fun."
"Next up," Dean announced, reaching into the hat, "Granger and Weasley against... Abbot and Ned-the-Hufflepuff!"
There was clapping all around. As they took their marks, and Harry whistled for his friends, his eyes leisurely scanned the room. Blaise Zabini yawned. The Patil twins seemed to be strategising. Seamus and Goldstein had their wands drawn and were trying to get the Room of Requirement to grant them a fully stocked bar. They were failing. Harry laughed just as his gaze landed on Malfoy.
He was sitting on a stool on the opposite side of the mat from Harry, clapping unenthusiastically for Merlin knows who as Neville called out, "Left hand blue!"
Malfoy had unbuttoned the top of his shirt, exposing his pale throat. He was entirely overdressed for a game of Twister, but… Well, Harry had to admit it suited the git. Everything about him was perfectly pressed and tailored. Harry remembered how he looked in Madam Malkin's – resigned, his dignity bruised – and that funny thing in his chest ached a little.
The last time they were in this room together...
Harry remembered the heat from the blaze, how it felt to grasp Malfoy's hand and feel him grip Harry's arm. If he thought about it hard enough, he could still feel the trembling body pressed to his and the burst of speed from the broom like nothing Harry had ever experienced before.
And now here they were again. About to play Twister. Malfoy and his pressed trousers, his humbled arrogance. Harry with nothing left to save.
He swallowed and turned his gaze back on his friends.
"Right foot green!"
Hannah Abbott slipped into an awkward sit on the mat and then sulked off the floor. Hermione was in some kind of yoga pose, and though Ron was out of breath and sweating slightly, he seemed to be holding his own as well, so Harry let his gaze travel once more.
It landed unerringly on Malfoy yet again.
Malfoy's foot dangled and intermittently tapped against the stool's leg, and his arms were crossed now. A wry slant twisted his lips, and Harry absently licked his own. Neville shouted, "Right hand red," and just as Ron fell, Malfoy looked up and caught Harry staring at him.
Harry kept staring at him, and Malfoy stared back. It lasted only a moment – only so long as it took Ron to stagger over to Harry's chair and plop his arse down on the arm.
"She took me out at the knees. Did you see that? My own girlfriend took me out at the knees, Harry."
"Knees," Harry said.
Malfoy blinked away, watching the match again, which was now between a very determined Hermione and a wobbling Ned-the-Hufflepuff who, after two more spins, went down.
"Magnificent. Isn't she?" Ron said as Hermione righted herself and came over to join them, her hair a bushy, dishevelled mess. When she approached, Ron stood and took her hands. "How did you do it?"
"Well, for starters, I didn't leave my socks on, Ronald," she told him, glancing down at his feet.
"What? I have a weird pinky toe."
"The scandal." She leaned in and gave him a lingering kiss. Ron blushed all the way down his neck and up into the roots of his hair.
"Next up!" Dean called. "It's Lovegood and Potter against…" He took an extra long time drawing from the hat, it felt like to Harry. "Bulstrode and Malfoy!"
"Take your shoes and socks off, Harry," Hermione advised.
Harry looked at Luna skipping toward him, already barefoot, and hurried to kick off his trainers. He pulled off his socks and wiggled his toes.
"Ready?" Luna asked.
"Uh, yeah." But for some reason, his heart was going like he was about to play for the Quidditch Cup, and the sight of Malfoy slowly stripping off his fancy, black socks to reveal long, pale, bony feet was making Harry a little lightheaded. Which was probably just the lingering Firewhisky sloshing through his veins. Never mind that he'd felt stone-cold sober for about an hour now.
Harry and Luna took their places on one side of the mat as Millicent and Malfoy took theirs on the other. Millicent looked nervous, Luna was the same as ever, and Malfoy looked a little like Harry felt – like their old Snitch-catching rivalry was anything but dead.
Harry rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans and did everything he could to avoid looking at Malfoy's feet again.
The dial spun around the card. "Left foot yellow!"
Simple enough. Everyone stepped one foot onto the mat. Harry swallowed and kept his eyes on Malfoy.
"Right foot red!"
Harry deliberated on which dot might provide the most stability and was about to go for it, when Malfoy's skinny foot landed there first, providing him a nice wide stance. Harry sighed and went for a more conservative dot, while Luna, next to him, practically did the splits to land on hers.
"Impressive," Harry said.
"It's all part of my master plan," Luna informed him with a grin.
"Left foot blue!"
Harry and Malfoy moved toward one another at the same time, their feet coming to rest on adjacent dots.
"Oh, for Merlin's—" Millicent grumbled behind Harry, but he didn't dare turn to look at what sort of state she and Luna were in. All Harry could see was Malfoy. He was so close that Harry could hear the prat breathing.
"Left hand blue!" Neville said with what sounded like imminent glee.
There was an "Oomph" and a thud behind him, and then Luna was sighing, "So much for my master plan. See you, Millie, Draco! Good luck, Harry!" and she skipped off the mat.
Left hand blue. But blue was on the other side of Malfoy. Blue was way over there. Unless Harry bent backward, which he felt sure would be pretty awful. Harry was working out how he was going to get around him when Malfoy bent at the knees, looked behind himself, and then half-fell, half-eased into the very backward position Harry was trying to avoid.
Harry took a deep breath. It was either go for something identical and hope Malfoy's back went out before his did or…
"Harry, you have to move," Neville reminded him.
"You can do it, Harry!"
Goldstein bellowed something Harry couldn't quite make out between his cupped hands again, and Padma put up extra privacy spells in response.
Harry made up his mind and made his move. He reached forward and let his weight carry him as he landed over Malfoy, his left hand in the vicinity of Malfoy's shoulder. A roar of approval and some giggling went up from the crowd, and Malfoy lifted his head to see where Harry had positioned himself.
"Potter, you git."
"Shut it, Malfoy."
"Bollocks," added Bulstrode before she careened to the side and landed with a string of expletives.
So then it was just Harry and Malfoy.
Just Harry hovering over Malfoy.
Just Malfoy face-up beneath Harry, breathing hard and trembling slightly, the both of them held up by only one arm.
When Neville spun – and had a dial ever taken so long to bloody stop? – and then called out, "Right hand red," Harry was so relieved about getting to put his other hand down, he barely registered where he was putting it. Or why it mattered. A lot.
Malfoy put his hand down and properly bolstered his crab-like stance, and Harry reached over him, planting his right hand next to Malfoy's head.
And, horribly, it was like the mechanisms in a clock all turning, gears interlocking, everything flipping so that it clicked into place to chime the hour.
Harry was on top of Malfoy, their faces mere inches apart, their bodies flush from chest to…
Harry swallowed. His foot was slipping due to renewed sweating, and he shifted it on its dot a little. When Malfoy grunted, Harry couldn't stop the whisper that escaped his lips. "Sorry."
He couldn't help that his crotch was nestled snugly against Malfoy's -- that he was cradled between Malfoy's bent, open legs.
Harry inched his foot forward once more. And this time instead of grunting, Malfoy just inhaled and held his breath.
"Sorry," Harry said again.
Malfoy's fierce eyes blazed up at him. And that was when Harry felt it.
Plump and stiff along his right hip.
Malfoy was getting an erection.
Harry's eyes widened. Malfoy jerked his face away and exhaled hard. He adjusted his hands, his chest rubbing against Harry's. His whole body rubbing…
"Shit," Harry breathed as his own prick woke to the movement of Malfoy's body under him.
Merlin's fancy pants.
He was getting hard, too.
They were both getting hard.
For each other.
Which Harry would have been readily humiliated by if it didn't also feel bloody fantastic.
"Right hand red!"
"They've already done that! Spin again!" Seamus yelled.
"That's not how it works, Finnigan," Goldstein said.
"Yeah, it is. Their hands are already on red!"
"Yes, but if you look in the rule book—"
The argument went on for a while, and Harry and Malfoy simply had to wait like that, pressed together. Malfoy huffed with the effort of holding his position, and his breath bathed Harry's face, faintly Firewhisky-flavoured and warm. Harry shifted again surreptitiously and whispered, "Sorry." An outsider would only suspect fatigued legs, sweaty hands. But he and Malfoy felt it. Their hard cocks rubbed together through their clothes, and Harry felt that strange thing in his chest explode as he watched Malfoy bite his lip, his brows furrowing, in response.
Seamus had apparently won the argument in the meantime through sheer force of shouting, and Neville spun again.
"Right foot blue," he called.
Oh, there was no way! Literally no way. Plus, it meant at least partially leaving this position, and Harry's body protested that with everything it had. Merlin, Malfoy smelled like the forest – like rain-wet needles and woodsmoke and lemon trees – and his body was trembling against Harry's, and his cock felt really hard. The last thing Harry wanted to do was move away from him. But it was that or take the fall.
With Malfoy under him, however, falling seemed the more pleasant option. Even bony and pointy as Malfoy was.
"Potter…" Malfoy suddenly whispered, his teeth gritted. He dropped his head back, exposing that length of throat, the knot of his Adam's apple, the breath moving through his chest pushing him up into Harry's body.
What would happen if he leaned down and inhaled that spot on Malfoy's neck where his pulse was pounding?
What would happen if Harry opened his lips over the throb of it and tasted Malfoy's fear and arousal on his tongue?
Malfoy's head came back up, his cheeks flushed, and he looked at Harry almost beseechingly.
Harry wanted to lean down and kiss him.
Fuck, he wanted to kiss him.
"Harry, Malfoy," Neville warned.
Because Malfoy, Harry realised, hadn't made for his own blue dot either.
Harry took a breath and tried to sneak his right foot onto the nearest blue dot. His toe touched it. He very nearly had it…
But at the last moment, his left foot slipped out from under him completely. His weight landed on Malfoy, and they both went down in a tangle.
Their friends began a heated argument about whose fault it had been, about who slipped, and Harry would have readily taken the blame since it was all his, but he was too busy being on top of Malfoy for a few precious moments. He looked down into Malfoy's eyes, and Malfoy blinked up at him. Harry's cock throbbed where it pressed against Malfoy's thigh, and Harry could still feel Malfoy's, too, against his stomach.
Harry said the only thing he could think of. "Sorry, Malfoy."
"Not a problem," Malfoy murmured.
"Good. Glad to hear it."
Ron was yelling that clearly Malfoy had cheated, while Blaise scoffed that it was all Harry's doing (and for once, he was right). Luna suggested that it was a mutual falling and everybody should just be friends.
Harry licked his lips as Malfoy stared at him.
"Are you going to move off me sometime tonight, Potter? Or should I Summon you a blanket?"
"I'm going," Harry assured. "The fall stunned me."
"Yes, it was from such a great height." Malfoy rotated his hips minutely and…
This time it was Harry who grunted. Malfoy watched his reaction, still making no move to extricate himself. But when the shouting escalated and it sounded as though Ron and Zabini might come to blows, Harry took a deep breath and rolled off Malfoy's body.
"It was me!" he yelled over his friend. "Ron, stand down. It was me. I slipped. Malfoy won." He'd drawn his knees up and wrapped his arms around them to disguise the state of his cock. When he glanced back at Malfoy, he saw him stealthily untuck his dress shirt to cover his crotch. Harry's face heated, his whole body a riot of arousal and shock and excitement and something that might turn into horror once he thought about it a little more, he wasn't sure.
Malfoy stood and smoothed back his hair. "We slipped at the same time." He held out his hand to help Harry up.
Harry blinked at it for a moment before he took it. Malfoy was stronger than he appeared, and he hauled Harry up easily. "Er, thanks," Harry said. His jeans were a bit too big anyway, so he felt sure the only person who would know from looking at him was…
Well, Malfoy. And he knew anyway.
Merlin, he knew. That knowledge was buffered only slightly by the fact that Harry knew about him, too.
Harry let go of Malfoy's warm hand. "See you."
They parted ways, walking off the mat in opposite directions, but Harry's heart still pounded like they'd been going for the Snitch.
It pounded like it never had for Cho or Ginny or anyone.
Harry sat back down in his big squishy chair as Dean drew from the hat again and a new game began.
Harry sat in his big gay chair with his pounding gay heart and what was left of his throbbing gay erection, and it was all so bloody clear, he didn't know whether to feel immensely relieved or scared out of his mind.
Because he wasn't just gay. He was gay for Malfoy.
And that was a whole new level of acceptance.
They went in threes again back to the dormitory at one in the morning. Harry had only played one more game of Twister, and he'd wiped out right away when Hannah Abbott took his green dot. Luna had gone on to triumph, and Harry readily celebrated her victory even as his gaze kept slipping over to Malfoy.
Yet as they snuck back to the common room, Harry regretted the dissolving of their houses for the first time. What had happened with Malfoy... Well, he needed some space to think about it. Or to actively distract himself from it. How was he supposed to do either one with Malfoy there being all... breathy and fit and aroused. On the common room sofa! Not that he'd be all those things on the sofa. But he was now all of those things in Harry's mind. Harry was scared to think what it would feel like to see Malfoy coming out of the shower now.
Harry wished he could just escape Malfoy's pointy face and sit with his friends and talk about… Gryffindor things.
Except there really were no such things.
Before, his life had been all about Voldemort. It had been about when he'd hear from Sirius next, finding out Professor Lupin was a werewolf, trying to avoid Fred and George's Canary Creams.
But Sirius was gone. Fred was gone. Lupin, Tonks, countless others were all gone.
Voldemort was gone.
There was still school work, which they all had. There was life after Hogwarts, which they all would face. There were their love lives, and Harry wished he hadn't thought those words even before they'd finished making a sentence of themselves in his head.
There just seemed to be nowhere Malfoy wasn't, so Harry took refuge in the one place he could: his bed. Except that…
"Oh Merlin, Gordon, you didn't."
The ferret stood on his hind legs and looked at Harry innocently. Yet all Harry's covers had been stripped off the bed and dragged beneath.
"Made yourself a nice little palace, didn't you?" Harry crawled under the bed to retrieve everything Gordon had stolen. "You have very soft bedding in your enclosure, and I highly doubt—"
Harry's words died in his throat as he pulled his coverlet away from the wall under the bed to find…
Harry squinted and inched forward as best as he could. There… In the wall… He reached his fingers out and touched it.
There was a hole in the stone. Not very large, but big enough that when Harry got close to it he could hear distinct words from the adjacent room.
Ron's room, Harry realised happily.
Malfoy's room, he realised just after.
So that was who'd been murmuring nonsense in his dreams. Perhaps he'd just been hearing Neville snore.
Or Malfoy talking in his sleep.
Harry tried to peer into the hole, but it wasn't a straight shot through. He lay there amidst his bedding, Gordon having crawled in after him to sit on Harry's arse while he listened.
He thought he heard Ron yawning and complaining that he couldn't find his favourite socks. He thought he heard a trunk being moved around on the floor.
"How the bloody hell should I know?" That was Blaise.
"…just thought…" Definitely Malfoy.
"What? …designs on Potter's ex-girlfriend?"
Harry listened very hard then.
"No…just didn't know…"
There was some rustling, the creaking of bed springs, a heavy sigh.
Malfoy's heavy sigh.
He must have taken the bed against the wall, just like Harry.
"Shush, you," Harry whispered. But try as he might, he couldn't hear anything else except for some murmuring which was probably Ron across the room, looking for his socks.
"What are you doing under there, Harry?" Seamus asked.
"Er, nothing." He crawled back out again. "My ferret just made off with all my covers."
Gordon, seeming to sense the blame was back on him, ran off into his cage and curled up into a protective ball.
Everyone settled into bed, Harry last because he had to make his from scratch. He also, quite possibly, moved his mattress out from the wall a few inches so that he had better access to whatever words might filter through the hole he'd found.
"Goodnight, you lot," Dean yawned from his bed.
"Goodnight." Harry pulled his bed curtains closed.
He lay there, close to the wall, listening, trying to hear everything, to hear anything. But within moments, he was fast asleep.
Harry was completely preoccupied the whole next day with his being gay and all. He picked opportune moments to feel Ron out about it. (He avoided Hermione; she'd cotton on from nothing more than how he lifted an eyebrow, he was sure.)
Before breakfast: "So, you've got a big family. Anybody gay?"
To his surprise, Ron shrugged and said, "In the immediate family, just Charlie. But there are probably others. Why?"
During Herbology: "Does Ginny ever talk about what it was like to snog me?"
A funny look. "Have you lost your mind? She's my sister. Why?"
During Defence: "What do you think of Malfoy?"
"Less of a git than before. Why?"
"No— Ow!" Harry rubbed his arm where the Stinging Hex had hit.
Ned-the-Hufflepuff stood there, looking sheepish. "Professor Snape told me to."
Harry turned to find Snape's portrait glaring at him. "Is Ms Parkinson and Mr Finnigan's duel boring you, Mr Potter? Do you need more advanced work? Possibly during a detention?"
"No, sir," Harry said. Then for good measure, "Thank you, sir."
Snape rolled his eyes and moved into a different frame.
Harry rubbed his arm, left off staring at Malfoy, and watched Pansy Parkinson wipe the floor with his friend. Literally.
After dinner, Headmistress McGonagall gave him somewhere else to put his wayward thoughts, though it wasn't a pleasant place.
She stood, tapped her glass with a teaspoon, cleared her throat, and spoke. "In a week, we will be holding Quidditch try-outs. They will be conducted on the pitch, October 15th, from one to six pm."
Harry and Ron looked at each other.
"I have spoken with the other professors and, unfortunately, due to the fact that it would mean other students not receiving spots they otherwise would have, our eighth years will not be allowed to join any House teams."
Ron's face fell immediately, and Harry turned his gaze on McGonagall, trying to ascertain if this was some kind of early Hallowe'en trick.
"However, the pitch will be open to you for recreational flying whenever there is not a scheduled practice for the teams." She gave them an apologetic smile.
When she'd dismissed them, Harry and Ron just sat at the table staring morosely at the empty space where their plates had been.
"She's right, you know," Hermione said.
"How can you say that?" Ron asked. "We can't play Quidditch!"
"I didn't say it was fair. I only said it was right." Hermione kissed the top of Ron's dejected head. "I need to talk to Professor Sinistra. Meet you in the foyer." She didn't wait for a reply before she hurried away.
"What are we going to do?" Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. "Dunno."
Ron sighed, his mouth twisting in thought. "I guess it is only fair that Ginny gets to be captain."
"She'd be great at it," Harry agreed.
"Say, maybe she'd let us... I don't know... strategise with her?"
"Sure," Harry said, though the disappointment still hadn't quite dissipated.
He felt like Voldemort had reached into his life from beyond the Veil, or wherever he was if any scrap of his soul still existed, and ripped yet another thing away from him.
And then he promptly felt very overdramatic for thinking it.
Ron broke him out of his self-pitying reverie. "I'm going to draw up some game plans. Show them to Ginny. I mean, she knows Chasing and Seeking, but Keeping isn't her strong suit. I could maybe, I don't know, help. What do you think?"
"Yeah, sure." They stood and talked goal-tending techniques as they made their way into the entrance hall.
But when Harry turned to the stairs to head back to the dormitory, Ron stayed put.
"I need to wait here for Hermione. We're supposed to… I said I'd… We're going on a…"
"Yeah, a date."
"Why couldn't you just say that?" Harry asked. "Look at you. You're blushing like a bloody virgin, aren't you?"
And that was when Ron went so red Harry feared he might expire right there from embarrassment.
Harry's eyes widened. "You— You two are going to—? Tonight?"
"What? Are you kidding, Harry? This is Hermione. No, tonight we're going to talk about it."
"Oh." Harry nodded slowly. "Still. Have you ever…talked about it… you know… before?" He tried not to fidget too much or to in any way outwardly indicate how his skin was crawling from the topic.
Ron looked vaguely miserable. "Only after we've made out for four bloody hours and I'm dying."
"I see," Harry said. He didn't know what else to say. Then, unfortunately, he thought of something. "Can't you… you know… take care of it yourself? There's no rule against that, is there?"
"No, I'm… consoling the one-man band," Ron said. "It's just… Well, I'm sort of mental over her, right? I sort of need it. A lot. And she seems okay with the kissing. She's some kind of sexual… camel or something."
Harry couldn't help but make a bit of a face at that.
But then Hermione came into the foyer and headed straight for Ron with a glowing smile. Harry smacked Ron on the arm, not really knowing what else to do. "Have fun, mate," he sighed.
"Yeah. All right, Harry. Talk Quidditch later?" Ron looked like someone about to go take his N.E.W.T.s.
"Absolutely. See you, Hermione." Harry waved, frankly glad to be shot of the both of them, circumstances being what they were. Harry bounded up to the common room alone.
"Flesh-eating slug," he said, turning the knob and stepping inside.
The room was pretty sparse. Just Goldstein playing chess with Padma, while Luna and Ned listened to the Wireless over by the window.
And Malfoy reading on the sofa in front of the hearth.
Harry didn't let himself think. He just walked where his feet wanted to go and sat heavily right next to Malfoy. It earned him a sardonic eyebrow.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked.
Malfoy, face unchanged, raised his book.
Harry read from the cover. "Advanced Potion Work for the Pre-Professional Witch and Wizard. Volume Three."
Malfoy dropped the book back into his lap. "What of it, Potter?"
"Nothing. It's just not the book for our class. Are you doing a special project or something? Slughorn give you extra credit work?"
"Is this you making conversation? Because I can do better. How's the erection, Potter?"
"Not bad, Malfoy. How's yours?" Harry tried to conceal how exciting it was to be openly talking about their penises.
Malfoy's lips twitched. The tips of his ears went pink again. He sighed. "What do you want?"
He didn't sound like he was offering a one-off, so Harry scooted about a foot down the sofa, giving Malfoy his space. An idea had formulated on his way up to the dormitory. He took a deep breath. "Are you disappointed you can't play for Slytherin?"
"Why would I be?"
"Why would you be -- why wouldn't you be? You were their Seeker. You played… decently."
Malfoy suppressed a laugh. Merlin, Harry had almost made him laugh. It was hard not to smile.
"I'm too busy anyway." Malfoy picked up his book as though he meant to read it again.
"With that? Surely you can pass Potions without—"
"I don't want to pass Potions, Potter." Malfoy scowled. "I want an Outstanding. Don't you?"
"Not if it means taking a pass on Quidditch. Come on, Malfoy, don't you want to play?"
"We don't get to play." Malfoy's jaw went hard and angular. Harry suspected he was gnashing his teeth.
Harry steeled himself and let his idea out. "What if we formed our own teams?" He didn't want to let himself think about why he was talking about this with Malfoy first rather than Ron. Ron was busy, he rationalised. Malfoy was here. On the sofa.
Looking fit, his dick chimed in.
Malfoy turned his gaze on Harry, and the caustic disbelief there was almost… arousing. Merlin, he had to get this Malfoy thing out of his system and soon. "What are you on about?"
"I'm talking about us. The eighth years. We form our own teams. Play for fun."
Malfoy frowned at him harder.
"Should I take your intense scowling for a maybe?"
Malfoy broke then. Not completely, but enough. He huffed a laugh and shut his eyes.
For a split second, Harry wanted to kiss him.
"I need to read this, Potter." Malfoy righted his book again.
"That's almost a yes, isn't it?"
"Go away." There was a definite lift to the corner of Malfoy's mouth.
"Only if you say that's almost a yes."
"God, bugger off, will you?"
"Merlin's tits, Potter, fine!"
"So you'll speak to the Slytherins? Get them on board?"
"Have you once. Ever. Seen any one of them on a broom?"
Harry frowned. "No, I suppose not. But Hermione hates flying, too. Tell you what. I'll get her if you get one of yours. We need enough for two teams. We can interchange people, but we still need enough just to play."
"Are you always this infuriating?" Malfoy turned his gaze back to Harry again, but it belied his words, travelling over Harry's face, down his body, and back up.
"I think that depends on you, Malfoy."
Pink-tipped ears again.
"Enjoy your book," Harry said. Then he bounded off the couch, down the hall, and into his room.
He flopped down onto his bed and pulled the curtains. He tossed up some privacy charms and shoved his hand into his pants.
Then he consoled the one-man band.