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Dear Diary

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Author note: Hello, there! I would strongly, STRONGLY advise turning on the Creator’s Style for this fic. As much of it contains two individuals writing back and forth, having the text style active will make it significantly easier to distinguish between the writers, and the read will be a much more enjoyable experience. :)

“Harry? What are you on the floor for?”

Harry looked up. Ron stared down at him with a baffled expression from the other end of the aisle, a stack of books in his hands.

Trying desperately not to appear as shocked as he felt, Harry gave his friend a casual shrug and lifted the first book he touched. “Sorry, just… got distracted.”

Ron peered at the cover and scratched his head. “Really? You could've just asked mum, you know. We've always got loads in the garden." He hefted the weight of his books and jerked his head toward the front of the shop. "I'm going to go find Hermione. Meet you outside in a few?”

“Yes, definitely,” Harry agreed, waving absently.

Once Ron was gone, he looked at the book in his hand to figure out what Ron had been talking about. He grimaced upon reading Garden Snails: Miracle or Mother Nature's Menace? Shoving it back onto the shelf, he crawled forward to pick up the book he'd actually been investigating (and subsequently dropped and stumbled away from) just prior to Ron's interruption.

The book in question was a small, leather journal wrapped in twine. One piece of yellowed parchment was inside, folded in half at the spine to give the journal a mere two pages to its name. There was nothing on the cover: no markings, no symbols, no writing. The leather wasn't even straight; rather than cut or folded into a neat rectangle, it was an inconsistent shape, but at its widest points was still no bigger than about five by seven inches. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like something a five year old had put together on an idle evening.

Harry normally wouldn't have given it a second thought, had it not been just under the perfectly ordinary journal he'd picked up. The drastic difference was curious enough for him to flip it open and eye the lack of pages in confusion when something alarmingly familiar happened.

Ink began filling the page.

—going back. I almost wish I'd died in the war instead. Everyone would have been better off.

Now that he was seeing the words long enough to actually read them, Harry sucked in his breath sharply.

Had he taken a moment to consider the situation, his instincts would have reminded him firmly of Riddle’s diary. This wasn’t normal; this wasn’t safe. Of course, it was possible that the notebook was some sort of harmless magical toy, but harmless coincidences didn’t seem to happen much in his life. Besides, Arthur Weasley’s warning not to trust anything that thought for itself if you couldn’t see where it kept its brain still tended to rattle about in his skull. He typically erred on the side of Dangerous Artefact these days; it was better safe than sorry.

But he didn’t take that moment. The desperately miserable words struck an instant blow. Without thinking about Riddle, he removed a pen from his pocket (much as he loved quills, he missed the easy convenience of pens and pencils) and wrote back.

Don't ever wish that. The only way for a problem to be fixed is to survive it.

Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then writing began flooding the page beneath his in a spill of angry, blue lines.

Who is this? Where are you? Why are you writing to me? How did you find this parchment? If this is a trick, I'm not going to fall for it. Who sent you? I've got nothing to tell!

Taken aback, Harry hurriedly started to write again. For a few words they overlapped, but the other stopped after a moment to let Harry finish.

Nobody sent me! I found this in a bookstore. I'm just buying textbooks. Why do you think somebody's after you?

The space underneath remained blank long enough for Hermione and Ron to come looking for him, already done checking out. He hurriedly grabbed the last of his textbooks and went to pay before the three of them headed off to lunch.

The journal left with them, tucked in Harry’s back pocket.

In the bustle of getting ready to return to school—and how strange was that? The idea of returning to Hogwarts after a year hungry, tired, terrified, and on the run was surreal—Harry forgot about the journal for a time.

He remained at the Burrow for a few days before he and Ron went to to visit the Grangers, now that they were back from Australia. However, as the restoration of their memories and news of all Hermione had endured during their absence had left the family rather uncomfortably prone toward breaking out in tears and spontaneous hugs, the boys didn’t stay long. Brushing off Ron’s insistence that Harry return with him, Harry reminded him that he needed to see to Kreacher and start work on fixing up Sirius’s house before school resumed.

Bidding each other farewell, the trio parted ways for the summer.

It wasn’t until Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place alone that he finally had a chance to remember the journal. After fixing himself some dinner under Kreacher’s wary eye and settling in the drawing room, Harry was rather disappointed when he opened up the journal to find nothing new.

Chewing on his lip consideringly, he got out his quill and ink and began to write.

Are you still there? I’m sorry for startling you. I hope, based on your shocked reaction, that you are a person and not just a very sentient spell.

He waited a few minutes, both to see if the other person responded and to try and decide what more to say. He felt a little self-conscious writing to himself if the other person had binned their journal, but feeling self-conscious wasn’t enough to stop him.

My name is Harry.
I got all of my books, if you were wondering.
I bought a Grey Owl yesterday. I don’t know what to name him yet. Any ideas?

At this point, he reached the end of the second page and moved to close the book, but the fall of the parchment revealed that the first page had gone blank. Realising that it must have been charmed to clear out one page once the other was filled—no wonder the journal was so thin—he continued writing at the top of the blank page.

My house is very cold. I’ve cast a few warming charms, but they keep wearing off.
Do you know anything about furniture? I think I need to do some redecorating this summer.
I suppose it doesn’t have to be this summer. There’s lots of time now, right?
I’m glad I survived the war.
I’m glad you survived the war, too.

When Harry woke up the next morning and reached for his glasses, his fingers brushed across the unexpected feeling of leather. Having forgotten he’d placed the journal on the nightstand, he pulled it over as he fumbled his glasses on. He flipped open the journal, keeping himself braced for disappointment again, but to his pleasure, found everything he’d written replaced by the stranger’s handwriting scrawling over both pages.

Merlin, you have no survival instincts, do you? You’ve revealed to a mysteriously enchanted parchment that you’re a school-aged Harry who is responsible for your own house, implying you don’t have close family; who thought you might not survive the war, therefore placing you in Europe; who seems to favour babbling in English, so you’re probably in the UK. Which means you’re a 15-18 year old Harry Something attending Hogwarts with money and no parents. Do you even realise what someone could do with that sort of information?

Harry’s stomach dropped. He hadn’t realised how much he’d given away in what he’d considered very neutral statements, but all strung together like that…

The part of him that was still reeling from the recent war felt uneasy and on guard. It was now that he thought of Riddle’s diary and the ongoing nightmare of second year. Then again, Riddle hadn’t tried to pretend he was a living human then, just like wizarding portraits fully acknowledged that they were just portraits; he had a good feeling that this was a real person.

At any rate, if his mystery penpal did have hostile intentions, he probably wouldn’t have announced it. Right? Right.

Wow. Aren’t you perceptive? Should I be worried? I’m glad to see you’re still alive, though. You had me worried there.

Getting out of bed, he took the notebook and a pen with him to the kitchen. With a flick of his wand, he heated up some of the leftover roast, potatoes, and steak and kidney pudding that Mrs. Granger had sent home with him. Her cooking wasn’t quite on the level of Molly’s or even his Aunt Petunia’s, but it was still quite good nonetheless—and still beat trying to cook without any groceries.

While waiting for his coffee to boil, he flipped open the journal idly, then sat up straight when he realised there was a response.

Your penmanship there was hideously lazy. Did you just wake up? It’s gone eleven where you are.

Grinning at the glimpse into the other person’s life, Harry quickly wrote back. This time, he left the journal open in case they replied.

That it is, and yes, I did. It’s my last summer holiday! So where are you? What’s your name?

If you really think I’m going to answer that, you’re even thicker than I suspected. And there you go again with the revealing information.

I’m about to start school in a few weeks. Do you really think I’d stalk you to New Zealand or wherever you are?

New Zealand? That’s your guess? Try a little closer to home.

Europe?

Somewhere in there.

Italy?

You’re getting warmer.

Finland?

Colder.

Spain?

Really? You skipped right over it.

My geography’s a little weak. And I just woke up. Germany?

Try France.

Okay. If you don’t want to tell me your name, what should I call you?

You shouldn’t call me anything. You shouldn’t be writing back at all. Don’t you have better things to do?

Like you observed, I don’t have family to bother, and my friends have their own things to do. So, not really.

Name your owl and decorate your house.

Suggestions?

After a few minutes without a response, Harry suddenly remembered his water. He finished preparing his coffee and returned to his now-cold breakfast, but there was still nothing.

Trying not to feel disappointed, he reheated his breakfast again and ate it.

Although he checked the journal periodically throughout the day, it wasn’t until he was getting into bed near midnight that a reply finally appeared.

Eltanin.

Harry stared at the single word, waiting for an explanation. Was that a suggestion for the owl’s name, or a furniture store? A city in France, maybe?

Not for the first time, he wished the wizarding world had an equivalent of Google.

What’s that?

My name. You can call me Eltanin.

Bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? El?

No.

Tani?

GOD, no.

Ninny?

You are making me reconsider that “still alive” bit.

Merlin, don’t even joke like that! I’m sorry. Eltanin it is.

Harry fell asleep waiting for a reply, hand curled around the journal.

Eltanin’s message didn’t come through until tea the next day.

After a harrowing grocery experience with Molly and Ron earlier in the summer that had involved a neverending onslaught of well-wishers coming up to thank them, Harry’d decided to stick with Muggle stores. Luckily, there was a Sainsbury’s just up the road, so his day was spent grocery shopping in blissful anonymity.

This was then followed by less blissfully clearing out closets and cabinets and arguing with Kreacher about his right to bin old, worn, moth-eaten women’s clothing. In exchange for letting him finish cleaning in peace, Harry agreed to Kreacher cooking for them. They were still working out which tasks Harry was comfortable delegating versus what he preferred to do himself—not to mention their sometimes very different ideas of what constituted a good meal—but luckily, the pork shank and pasta Kreacher fixed up was neutral enough to be perfectly palatable.

Waiting for dinner to be finished, Harry picked up the journal again and noticed the reply.

If you were shopping for textbooks, why did you take this journal?

I actually was looking at journals, too. Thought of keeping a diary or something. I don’t know. Trying to… I’m not even sure. Put my thoughts into words?

I’m reconsidering the 17-18 year old boy thing. Are you, in fact, a twelve year old girl?

As exhausted as he was from cleaning and negotiating chores with Kreacher, Harry took the mockery harder than usual. Frowning down at the words, he wrote back a curt Hilarious. and set the journal aside for the rest of the night.

This is a war-related thing, isn’t it? If so, I apologize for poking fun at you. I’m told that my sense of humour is barbed.
If it’s a sexism thing, I meant no real ill against twelve year old girls, either.

By the next day, Harry calmed down enough to regain perspective. In retrospect, it was pretty obvious that the comment had been intended as a joke, and he felt guilty for pushing Eltanin away for it. The apologies that came through now made him feel worse.

What? No! It’s okay. I know you were just teasing. I’m sorry I was short with you. I had a tiring day.

Productive, though?

Not as much as I’d hoped, but yeah.
Still no name for the owl, though. :(

What is :(?

Upon reading the question, Harry laughed. Then he frowned, realising that it wasn’t necessarily a wizard versus Muggle thing; he didn’t have the slightest idea what Eltanin’s age was. What if he—or she, actually—was elderly? Something about the idea felt more than a little creepy.

Can I ask how old you are? And if you’re male or female? I just realised I was automatically assuming you were like me, even though the only things I know about you are that you live in France and speak English.

I’m close to your age. Won’t say more than that. Male. I also speak Italian and a bit of Norwegian.

Wow! I only ever learned English. Why all the languages?

Norwegian, because I wanted to attend Durmstrang. Italian, because my mother considers it romantic.

Is it strange that I don’t know what you look like, but I’m picturing you rolling your eyes as you write that?

No stranger than the fact that I WAS rolling my eyes as I wrote that.
What is :(?

Muggles call it a smiley face. The dots are eyes, and the ( is a frown.

Why is it called a smiley face if it’s frowning?

Uh… that’s a good question, actually. I think the original ones were smiling, like :) But the name became an umbrella term?

That’s strange. Muggles are strange.

I take it you’re a pureblood, then?

Is that a problem?

Of course not. Some of my best friends are purebloods. And some of my best friends are Muggleborns. As long as you’re okay with that, I’m okay with you.
Are you OK with that?

I’m still working out my thoughts on the topic.
We should maybe avoid talking about the war.

Harry stared at the paper long enough for Eltanin to start writing again before he could come up with a way to word his disappointment.

Or you can try to sway me so long as you don’t get angry over it.
I grew up taught that everything Muggle was backwards, weak and uncivilised. I haven’t conversed enough with Muggleborns to be convinced otherwise.
But I am not in favour of genocide.

How are Muggles “backwards, weak and uncivilised”?

They don’t have magic, they pollute the environment, they don’t live as long as we do, their bodies are more susceptible to illness and damage, and their medicine is medieval. Our societies are also ultimately incompatible. Magic disrupts electronicity, and they rely on that stuff, don’t they? Similarly, our society revolves around the ability to use magic. You need a wand just to use the bank. And they’ve persecuted us every time they get wind of our existence.

Okay. First, electronicity is not a word. You’re combining electricity and electronics. Electronics are the devices, like a wand or artefact. Electricity makes them work, like magic. Second, Muggle medicine is very advanced. It just takes longer than a Skele-Gro or something. Third, not all Muggles pollute. A lot of them are working to save the planet.
And you can’t possibly blame them for having a shorter lifespan or weaker bodies? The sort of accidents that we can survive are mad, really. We’re the extreme ones.

I don’t blame them. That’s why I said I’m not in favour of genocide. I’m just also not in favour of intermingling wizards and Muggles. And the incompatibilities between our societies? And the history of persecution?

I don’t have an answer for those. I haven’t dealt much with either society, really. I’ve never used a Muggle bank, or tried to use much magic around electronics. But I believe humanity is creative enough to come up with workarounds if we try. Areas for high magic versus high technology, maybe.
We’re still the same species. We’re still human. That’s as silly as hating someone for their skin colour.

And yet Muggles do that, too, don’t they? Go to war over skin colour or religions or national borders.

And wizards don’t?

Not generally. There are few enough of us that since the Statute of Secrecy was established we don’t often go to war unless it’s with another species or as a revolution.

Muggles AREN’T a separate species. Just because there are differences between wizards and Muggles doesn’t make us different species, or there wouldn’t be Muggleborn wizards or Squibs. It’s more comparable to genetic mutation.

What’s that?

I don’t know about Beauxbatons, but I really wish Hogwarts taught about biology in school… I don’t know much myself, since I stopped going to Muggle schools when I was ten, but it’s basically evolution. The way we change as a species as generations go on, and sometimes the changes are good, and sometimes they’re not so good.

So you’re saying that we ARE the biologically superior race.

You sound like Hitler.

Who?

Muggle version of Grindelwald. I think Hermione said they were even defeated at the same time, and were probably connected.

The Global Wizarding War that ended in 1945?

Yeah. There was a Muggle war going on at the same time called World War II. Again, no Muggle schooling after age ten, so I never learned much about it. We really should learn more about Muggle history in our schools, given that there are many more of them than there are wizards.

No, thank you. History classes are boring enough with magic involved. I don’t think I could stay awake through Muggle history.

Tell me about it. My history professor is literally dead dull.

No immediate response came back, but Harry was distracted enough thinking about the conversation that he didn’t feel like pestering Eltanin. At least he’d been open to discussing the topic, even if Harry felt like he probably hadn’t been able to say enough to make a difference. But he hoped he’d at least given Eltanin some food for thought.

As he was getting ready for bed, he noticed that a response had finally come through.

Well, Harry, it was semi-educational chatting with you. I admit I’m surprisingly disappointed that I need to cut our exchange short. I’ll be on holiday with my family for a time, and won’t likely have enough privacy to correspond.

But after?

After what?

After you return, do you want to continue to correspond?

Won’t you be in school?
I suppose there isn’t much harm in telling you that I’ll be returning to school this September as well.

I’m happy to take the journal with me if you’re up to it.

Are you sure?

This can’t possibly go worse than the last time I kept a diary. Trust me.

That sounds dramatic.

Story of my life.

All right, then. If you’d like, and if we both remember, I’ll continue to write with you once we’re back in school.
You’ll have to tell me about your last diary.

I look forward to it! Have a good holiday.

You, too.
And you should look up Jolie Hamlet. About the furniture, I mean.

Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind!

Harry did his best to leave Eltanin alone after that. He checked the journal a few times over summer in case there was a reply, but after a couple of weeks he decided that:
A) Eltanin probably hadn’t even taken the journal with him on his holiday,
B) even if he had, he was spending the time with his family, and
C) Harry’s compulsive checking of the journal was bordering on pathetically needy.

It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything better to. He owled regularly with Hermione, Ron and Ginny, and exchanged a few letters with Luna and Neville. He went to visit Andromeda at least once a week to share their grief and get to know Teddy, and he even ventured into several Muggle shops to replenish the wardrobe he’d completely outgrown while on the run.

He got in touch with Jolie Hamlet after asking Ginny the best way to do so, never having owled a stranger before. He was pleased to learn that she was an interior decorator who worked with a wide variety of clientele rather than just witches and wizards with old money or celebrity-level income. Once she realised who he was, she was more than happy to give him some advice if he wanted to embark on the project on his own or schedule a consultation if he wanted to hire her.

(He felt guilty, of course, in case it was his name influencing her kindness. Still, he reasoned that Eltanin wouldn’t have suggested her if she would have been likely to refuse him.)

Even so, he couldn’t shake his penpal from his mind. Part of it, he knew, was concern; given their rather unpleasant introduction and the other boy’s hesitance toward the war, Harry couldn’t help but worry about what he might have gone through and how he might decide to feel about the blood purity issue. He was relieved that Eltanin was willing to reconsider his thoughts on the matter at all, but wary that they’d needed reconsidering. And of course, it disturbed him that he hadn’t had a ready answer for how to intermingle their lives given the very valid points of electronics versus magic, the reliance on wands and wandwork in wizarding culture, and the history of hostility between them...

More selfishly, there had been something about the ready conversation with Eltanin that Harry appreciated, and he missed that most of all. It possibly had something to do with the fact that they were strangers from across the channel, so it was a very low-risk correspondence; however, that didn’t explain the sense of camaraderie. More likely, it was the desire for a human connection when they were both clearly struggling with re-adjusting to a postwar world.

Harry’s desire, at least. He could only hope that it wasn’t all in his head.

The last few days leading up to Hogwarts and the first week back at school kept him busy enough that it was easy to ignore the journal, but it wasn’t long before his hands began itching for a pen. Being back in Hogwarts’ corridors inevitably meant recalling the nightmarish experience of May, and between the students who’d died in the war and the students who’d simply not returned, the empty seats in every class were painfully apparent.

And that was combining the new seventh years and those in Harry’s cohort who’d returned to finish out school shoved into one class. He couldn’t even imagine what the lower years’ classrooms would be like.

There weren’t very many returning should-have-been-graduates, but those there were had been unofficially dubbed “eighth years.” It was almost funny... if it weren’t for the sympathetic looks they constantly received. Were they to be pitied for something as mundane as not being able to graduate on time?

But those looks were still nothing compared to the ones Harry, Hermione and Ron specifically received now.

“Anyone else feel like their skin is crawling lately?” Ron grumbled as the trio sat together outside at lunch, sharing a basket of food from the kitchens to avoid eating in the Great Hall.

“If one more person asks me to sign something, I’m going to scream,” Hermione agreed before biting into a sandwich with a vengeance.

“The idol worship had actually tapered off the last few years,” Harry mused wistfully. “This feels like first year all over again.”

Even their fellow Gryffindors—including those in their own year—treated them differently now. Harry’d given up trying to point out that they’d had a hell of a year at Hogwarts with the Carrows and had probably suffered more torture within the walls of their beloved school than he, Hermione, and Ron had while on the run; it never did any lasting good. There was something about the mystery of their absence that seemed to place them on an uncomfortable pedestal in the eyes of their peers.

The Slytherins were particularly subdued this year, remaining quiet in classes and the Great Hall and sticking to the edges of corridors to stay out of everyone else’s way. Unsurprisingly, their house was hit the hardest in the aftermath of the war: the house was down to only 30% of its population from previous years, and despite that most of them had been too young or neutral in the war to be allied with Voldemort, the way most of the school treated them made it very clear which side of the line they were being placed anyway.

Harry couldn’t help but worry for the the small group. Within the first week, he broke up half a dozen public confrontations where a young snake had gotten isolated from his or her (or variations thereupon) classmates and were being yelled at, insulted, or anonymously hexed.

And that wasn’t even counting Draco Malfoy, one of only three Slytherins from his year (along with Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass) to return. He was being treated like a pariah, and while Ron insisted that he wasn’t worth feeling sorry for, that didn’t stop Harry from watching him.

(“I don’t like bullies, Ron. It doesn’t matter if he used to be. He isn’t now.”

“It’s still Malfoy, mate.”

“We weren’t exactly civil to him, either.”)

Then again, nothing had ever really stopped him from watching Malfoy, but at least it was without wariness or suspicion this time. There were no more glares from across a busy room, no more snide remarks, no more being shoved into walls; in fact, other than a quick and brief nod of acknowledgement on the train, Malfoy seemed to avoid him completely.

(“Well, good. He should feel gutted,” Ron huffed when Harry commented on the defeated behaviour.

“Can you please pretend to possess a sense of empathy sometimes?” Hermione shot at him, spurring their old argument.)

Classes were about the only time that things almost felt normal. After the first somber day back, the professors made a point of keeping everyone busy to leave little time to dwell. After lessons, Hermione threw herself into her coursework, which everyone expected. Less expected was for Harry and Ron to do the same.

(Nobody needed to know that it was largely an excuse to be visibly preoccupied and left alone.)

Three weeks into school, while Ron was off showering, Harry picked up the journal again.

Would Reuben be an odd name for an owl?

Ron returned to the room before Eltanin gave a response, so Harry put the journal away. The next day there was no answer, nor the one after that, nor the one after that; on the fourth day of waiting, however, Harry opened up the journal in the morning to find Eltanin’s scrawling handwriting underneath his question.

Really? You still haven’t named it? And Reuben is a terrible name. He sounds like a sandwich.

Harry laughed unexpectedly, then took a moment to be grateful that Ron could sleep through a Weird Sisters concert.

I don’t know, that seems like a pretty happy reason to go with Reuben.

Because it’s food? Were you by chance starved as a child?

Definitely not having expected Eltanin to respond immediately, Harry dropped his pen in surprise as the ink began appearing as soon as he finished writing. He rooted about under his sheets for it to reply.

Actually, I kind of was. Just sometimes.

Merlin. I was not expecting that.

It’s okay. It didn’t stunt my growth or anything.

I can’t imagine any world in which starving a child is okay. Is this an appropriate time for a :( ?

This time, Harry’s bark of laughter did wake Ron. Covering it up with a coughing fit, Harry smiled at the blearily squinting redhead. “Sorry. Choked. Go back to bed.”

“The butterflies’ll eat ‘em,” Ron mumbled, already drifting off again.

Smiling affectionately, Harry turned back to the journal.

I just woke my roommate laughing! Yes, that’s the perfect time for a :(.

So it made you :)?

You catch on fast!

I try. How is your school year going?

It’s. I don’t know. It could be better. It could be worse. It’s just

Not sure how to finish the sentence, Harry stared at the parchment.

It just is?

Yeah.

Nothing feels right anymore? You’re happy to be back and see the people who made it, but you can’t not see the people who didn’t.

Are you a Legilimens? You took the words right out of my brain.

Occlumens, actually. Never had cause to learn Legilimency.

I’m pants at Occlumency, so you’ve still got me beat.

Really? You’ve tried Occluding but couldn’t?

I can do it now, if I really need to. It takes extreme circumstances. You?

I picked it up pretty quickly, actually.

Really? HOW? I picked up the Patronus charm easier than Occlumency.

You can cast a Patronus?

For a moment, Harry froze, wondering if he gave too much away. After a moment, he relaxed. Eltanin had already guessed that he attended Hogwarts anyway, and everyone in Dumbledore’s Army had learned to cast a Patronus.

Yeah. I take it you can’t?

Haven’t really tried much.

Why not?

There was a pause, long enough that Harry almost closed the journal for the morning. Just as he was considering it, Eltanin began to write again, albeit more slowly this time.

I’m afraid to.

Afraid why?

I’ve done some not good things. I don’t really want to be consumed by maggots.

But you regret them? What you did?

No.

Do I need to worry about you?

You don’t even know me.

That doesn’t matter. We’ve been talking… sort of… for months… sort of.

i think most of that time doesn’t really count. But no, you don’t need to worry. I regret that my unsavoury actions were necessary, but they were necessary. I can’t regret that.

Sounds complicated.

Something like that.

Do you want to talk about it?

Most certainly not. So, Puddlemere or Ballycastle?

Puddlemere, of course!

What is this “of course”? The Bats have more wins than any other team!

Not for long, I bet!

Harry had a niche.

He had various niches all around the castle, but this one was a particularly nice niche. It was just large enough for him to curl up in, located in the rear of the library behind Philosophy and Religion, and had been coated in far more dust than one summer warranted. As religion wasn’t much of a thing for wizards (and dense texts on philosophy not much of a thing for adolescents), it seemed to be wonderfully neglected. A limp curtain obscured half of it, as if even that had given up on trying to keep up appearances. Whatever the library used to keep in the niche was long gone.

On the days when Ron and Hermione were testing the waters of their newfound relationship and Harry didn’t want to be alone in his room or left to fend off peers uncomfortably, he came to this niche. Sometimes he did homework; sometimes he flipped through a book; sometimes he simply sat and thought. After the first two visits, he began keeping a cushion from the Gryffindor common room there to sit on.

He often brought the journal with him, and many of his conversations with Eltanin took place whilst curled up in his niche.

Harry liked his niche.

Three weeks of intermittent chatting later, Eltanin asked a question that made Harry realise why he was feeling so unsettled.

Weren’t you looking at journals to keep a diary? Did you ever start doing that?

Actually… you know, I completely forgot. I got distracted by this one writing back.

Do you still need to?

I can’t imagine when I’ll get out to a shop again...

That’s not what I was suggesting.

Harry stared at the parchment. Surely Eltanin didn’t mean...

Yeah?

You don’t need to trust me. You can use fake names, dates, places. Outright lie if you’d like. I can be quiet, or respond. But this parchment clears when it’s full, right? So no evidence left behind. That’s why I was using it, after all. So if you need to write, I’ll not judge you. I won’t even read it, if you let me know when you need it and when it’s safe to check again.

Wow. I don’t even know what to say… thank you.

One day, Harry looked up from his niche, waiting to see if Eltanin was around, when Malfoy turned the corner.

It took the blond several long seconds to spot him. He appeared to be legitimately searching for something on the shelves rather than looking for somewhere to hide, as Harry had. Harry remained quiet, not wanting to startle the Slytherin when he ordinarily worked so hard to avoid him.

When Malfoy did notice him, to his credit, he didn’t jump, shout, or immediately run. Unfortunately, what did happen wasn’t much better. Eyes wide, hand raised to the spine of a tome, shoulders stiffening, he went completely still. It was debatable if he was even breathing.

Harry recognised that freeze. He’d seen it when Greyback got too close to Hermione while they were behind the wards in the Forest of Dean. He’d seen it when Ginny was little and couldn’t speak to him. He’d done it every time he wore his Invisibility Cloak and somebody got dangerously close.

Fear.

Malfoy was afraid of him.

Harry was still struggling to get his thoughts together and find something to say when Malfoy finally moved. Very curtly turning away, he abandoned his search and left.

Feeling ill at the idea that Malfoy, of all people, was afraid of him, Harry looked down at the journal in his hands. He shut it, held it for a moment as he debated running after his ex-rival, then opened it again and picked up his pen.

I think one of my classmates is afraid of me and I’m not sure why.

He closed the journal again (there was no response to the last message anyway), but almost immediately opened it back up. Eltanin had offered...

No, that’s bollocks. I have a few theories, but they’re all such rubbish.
Something happened that was out of either of our hands. I think he’s afraid of what I might say because everybody else is treating him terribly for it. Or maybe he’s ashamed of what he did. Or maybe he’s depressed from everything that happened. I don’t know if I should talk to him. We’ve never been friends. Hated each other, actually. I don’t think he’d feel comfortable with a heart to heart. But Merlin, I don’t want him afraid of me.

Harry waited, but Eltanin didn’t respond.

Could be. Or it could be none of the above, or a combination. Or, if you hated each other before, maybe he just thinks staying out of your way is what you want. You’re operating entirely on your own assumptions here.
I apologise for the slow response. I was unwell the last few days.

It was four days later that the reply came through, long enough for Harry to worry that something had happened to Eltanin or the journal.

Merlin, don’t apologise for getting sick! Are you okay now?

More or less. Don’t worry about it.
What do you want to do?

Are you sure you’re okay?

Yes, I’m sure. Are you avoiding the topic?

No! I just don’t want to bother you over my problems when you’re not well.

I’m well enough, or I wouldn’t have written back. Ignoring your preconceived notions about this person, what do you, Harry Middlename Lastname, want to do?

Haha.
I don’t know. Talk to him, I guess. Try to clear the air. But I don’t know how to do that without scaring him away.

You’re not scary.

How do you know?

Like you said, we’ve been writing off and on for months. I have a pretty good instinct for threatening people, and you’re not threatening, which is why I think this person is probably just trying to appease you.

So I just walk up to him and say we need to talk? Given that most of our interactions in the past have been to fight, I don’t know that he’d take that well.

Merlin, no. If he’s avoiding you, don’t corner him. But you seem to express yourself well enough in writing. Say what you want to say in a note or something.

That’s a good idea… I’ll think about it.

Harry knew that Eltanin had a good point, but it felt cowardly to write his concerns to Malfoy in a note rather than face them head on. So he compromised.

Years before, Malfoy’d sent Harry a note in a folded paper crane. It had been a nasty one, of course, but Harry could appreciate the artistry of the delivery.

Harry didn’t know how to fold a crane. He sent a paper aeroplane instead.

Standing beside a pillar, he floated the aeroplane over to where Malfoy sat in the Clock Tower Courtyard beneath one of the eagle statues. The blond jumped when the plane hit his sleeve, peered down at it, then immediately stood and swiveled around suspiciously. He tensed when he caught sight of Harry.

For a moment, neither of them moved. When it became clear that Malfoy was so jarred by his presence that he’d forgotten the aeroplane, Harry rolled his eyes, gestured toward it, and made exaggerated unfolding and reading motions.

Malfoy furrowed his brow through the gesticulations before cottoning on. As Harry watched, he read the note, paused, lowered it, made a complicated expression that Harry wasn’t sure how to interpret, glanced at Harry, glanced back at the note, made the previous complicated expression again, and finally let out a heavy sigh.

He sat back down.

Harry took that as his cue and walked over, perching at the edge of the fountain a polite distance away. “How are you?”

Malfoy gave him an unimpressed look before averting his gaze back to the ground.

Harry resisted the urge to bristle. “No, really—how are you? I know we don’t like each other, but… I don’t know. You went through a lot the last couple of years.” And I don’t think you really had anyone to talk to about it, he did not add.

(He spared a morsel of attention to be suddenly and overwhelmingly grateful to Hermione and Ron.)

“I’m not up to anything,” came Malfoy’s unexpected response.

Frowning, Harry drew his legs up onto his perch and swiveled around. “I didn’t think you were. I know what you look like when you’re planning something, Malfoy. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what is it about?” Malfoy muttered, crossing his arms (defensively, Harry thought). “It’s not like you to concern yourself with me if I’m not causing trouble.”

“We just went through a war. My perspective’s shifted.”

In the wary silence that followed, Harry let out a slow breath. “The other day, in the library. You ran away from me.” Ignoring the way the blond tensed up even more, he continued. “You’ve never done that before. Running from a situation, yes—but out of everyone except my closest friends, you’ve always been the least likely to just run away from me. Of course it bothers me.”

Malfoy toed at a patch of grass peeking up from between the stones. “I’d have thought it would relieve you, not bother you.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Not fighting with you anymore relieves me. Both of us being alive relieves me. Seeing you acting so defeated? Does not relieve me.”

With a huff of something suspiciously close to laughter, Malfoy finally looked up. “Why? You hate me.”

“You hated me first,” Harry pointed out.

“This isn’t a contest,” Malfoy drawled. “And I did not.”

Harry stared at him.

Malfoy sighed. “I didn’t. I was perfectly willing to acquaint myself with you until your Weasley began laughing at me. It probably wouldn’t have lasted, since we were enemies for a reason, but I most certainly did not hate you first.”

Harry wracked his brain, trying to remember what their first meeting was like. It took him a moment to realise that it hadn’t even been on the train—it had been Madam Malkins’ robe shop. He remembered disliking the other boy immediately, but it had been long enough that he couldn’t remember why. He couldn’t imagine them arguing about blood purity or prejudice then, so had it been purely on the basis that Malfoy was clearly spoiled…? “I… I don’t really remember,” he confessed. “Everything and everyone was so different from what I grew up with, I was a little overwhelmed. I remember you making fun of Ron.”

“After he made fun of me first,” Malfoy shot back.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

“I was a proud, spoiled, barely eleven year old child who’d just been laughed at and had my friendship refused.” Malfoy scowled. “How did you expect me to act?”

Harry ignored the question. “You hated me for seven years for that?!”

No, I hated you for like thirty minutes for that. I hated you for siding with the Weasley for a couple of weeks, and then I hated you for being a nosy do-gooder for whom everything went your way for seven years.” Malfoy paused to reevaluate his timeline. “Or more like five, really. I didn’t have the energy to care about you after that. Anyhow, the way the rules always got bent for you was ridiculous. Even Dumbledore was so bloody bias—”

Belatedly catching onto whose name he’d just blurted out, Malfoy froze. Harry watched him, not having any reaction beyond a pang of missing Dumbledore. Certainly, he’d been Harry’s headmaster and mentor, but he was under no illusion; their relationship hadn’t been ideal. Dumbledore had kept far too many secrets, regularly let him go into dangerous situations as a child without backup, and had generally been a frustrating enigma. He mourned the wise man’s death, but he wasn’t going to break down when he came up in conversation over a year after his self-orchestrated death, especially after losing Remus and Fred and Tonks so much more recently.

Once Harry realised that Malfoy was waiting for some sort of cue on how to proceed, he snorted. “Yes? Even Dumbledore was biased, and?”

Malfoy furrowed his brow, apparently disgruntled by the anticlimactic lack of reaction. “Even he was horribly biased in an entirely unprofessional manner once you came onto the scene. Distributing just enough house points for Gryffindors to pull forward, making exceptions to the rules for you all the time, excuses to protect you from the consequences of your mistakes—”

“He made excuses for everyone!” Harry protested. “He was a peacekeeper. He didn’t want anyone to suffer if it could be avoided.”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “This is not an argument you want to get into with me.”

“I think it is,” Harry shot back. “Yes, that even included you. You think he didn’t know what you were up to? He was hoping you’d turn to him for help.”

“Why would I have done that? When has he ever given anyone in my house a reason to turn to him?” Malfoy snapped.

“When’s he ever given you a reason to not?”

“Maybe when you nearly killed me and got off with nothing more than detention!”

“That—” Harry stopped. Deflating as his expression crumpled into one of regret, he sank back and pushed up his glasses to rub his eyes. “That wasn’t Dumbledore’s decision; it was Snape’s. The curse was his invention; he didn’t want it to get out just how bad it had been.”

Malfoy stared at him with a look of disbelief. “And that’s an excuse how?”

“It’s not.” Fixing his glasses, Harry dropped his hand miserably. “I’m sorry. I never said it to you, but I’m so sorry. We’ve always been awful to each other, but I’ve never wanted you to suffer like that. I never wanted you dead. I had no idea what the spell did.”

“You cast it!”

“I found it in a book. It didn’t say what the effects were,” Harry explained. “I knew it was for enemies but not what it would do, or I never would have used it on you. Nobody deserved that.”

“You used a spell when you didn’t know what it would do?” Draco demanded indignantly.

You launched a snake at me and broke my nose knowingly! Harry was tempted to return, but he bit it back. He meant what he’d said: he was tired of fighting. “Yes,” he agreed simply instead, letting his guilt fill his voice. “That’s exactly what I did, and I know it was stupid, and I know you had to suffer for it. Particularly then, when you were struggling enough as it was.” He took a deep breath. “I also know there isn’t a way to apologise enough for what I did to you, but I am sorry, and I will keep saying it. Hermione and McGonagall read me the Riot Act, but I know that doesn’t begin to make up for it. If there’s anything—”

Malfoy was grimacing uncomfortably from halfway through, but at that point he began waving Harry off frantically. “Stop, stop, stop. You’re sorry, I get it. I’m sorry for being a prick to you for the past x number of years, too. Can we please stop emoting now?”

“We’re not emoting!” Harry protested. “We’re having a civilised discussion on past mistakes and making amends!”

“We’re not ‘making amends’; we’re absolving our senses of guilt with half-meant apologies,” Malfoy argued.

“They’re not half-meant! At least, mine aren’t half-meant!”

“They’re absolutely half-meant,” Malfoy scoffed with a sharp laugh. “You’re honestly sorry for nearly killing me, but you’re not sorry for the way you treated me growing up because you still resent the way I treated you, and vice versa. No apologising now changes the fact that we meant everything we’ve said and done to each other. I still think you’re annoying and get off easy for everything, even if I can acknowledge that you suffered a lot to do the right thing and were mostly right in the end.”

Mostly right?” Harry echoed, feeling so indignant and bewildered that his emotions circled right back around to amused. Nobody—not even Ron when they were fighting—managed the level of blunt rudeness that Malfoy did even on a polite day.

Ignoring him, the blond continued on. “And I’m sure you still think I’m arrogant and selfish, even if you can acknowledge that I’m not as evil as you thought and don’t deserve to die. So. If we could leave the sentiment there and resume ignoring each other, it would be lovely.”

“I don’t want to ignore each other!” Groaning, Harry rubbed his eyes. “Ignoring each other isn’t like us. It’s unnatural. The whole reason I came to talk to you was because it was weird.”

“Well, you don’t want to fight, and you don’t want to ignore each other, and you don’t want to be friends, so what exactly do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “I mean… no, I don’t know. I guess we could try to be—”

Harry was cut off with a sharp wave of Malfoy’s hand. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence. Neither of us want to be friends, so trying to force it would be pointless and superficial at best. Can we just ignore each other in a less tense and more ‘You’re-my-classmate-but-I-don’t-care-about-you’ way?”

“Okay,” Harry agreed quickly. He was disappointed in the way one always was when told they were not wanted, but he couldn’t deny also being relieved; this was better than suffering through failed attempts at forced politeness.

“Okay,” Malfoy echoed. “If you’re done making me tremendously uncomfortable now, please go away.”

“Okay,” Harry agreed again, standing. He paused awkwardly, feeling like he should say something else but not knowing what it was. “Well…”

Malfoy made a shooing motion.

“Bye,” Harry blurted out before turning and walking back to the castle.

You cornered him, didn’t you?

Lying in bed that night with the journal open in the middle of a textbook, Harry muffled his laugh with a cough.

In the bed to his right, Ron sighed. “I can’t believe you’re getting yourself sick over homework.”

“I’m not getting sick,” Harry replied with a smile as he wrote back. “Just something stuck in my throat.”

I took your advice and wrote to him first! And then kind of cornered him, yeah. Maybe a little. But I gave him the chance to say no!

I bet you absolutely cornered him.

I’m not very patient, I guess. Besides, he’s been avoiding me, so I was afraid he would ignore a note if I wasn’t there to get an answer right away.

“That ‘something’ is a study bug. I can’t believe you’re doing homework in bed,” Ron grumbled. “You’re turning into Hermione.”

“It’s just some light reading,” Harry replied distractedly.

“You’re definitely turning into Hermione.”

So what was the answer?

He said

Harry’s quill paused as he ran the conversation over in his head, trying to figure out if he’d gotten an actual answer.

Did you run out of ink?

No, just thinking, sorry. I don’t know. It was kind of an intense talk at times. We both had things to clear up and apologise for. Misunderstandings, differences in perspective or memory. I think he just didn’t know how to treat me? We weren’t fighting anymore, but we didn’t know what to do or say in place of that.

And the final decision?

Ignore each other less obviously?

“I’ve been replaced by Hogwarts: A History,” Ron huffed.

And are you satisfied with that decision?

Not really. But he made it clear he didn’t want to be friends.

Do you want to be friends? You said you hated each other?

We did. We do. Did? I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t think we’d know how to be friends. I don’t hate him now, but I don’t think I like him, either? I think I had some things wrong about him, or at least not entirely right. I guess I don’t really know who he is outside of the things we’d fight over.

“You aren’t even listening to me right now!” Ron complained.

“I am, I absolutely am,” Harry replied distractedly, responding more to the tone than the words; Hermione had years of practice with expressing that exact sentiment.

That’s all right.

Is it?

Sure. You don’t need to be friends with everybody. Ignoring someone you used fight with is still several steps up.

I don’t know.

You’re saying that a lot. What do you know?

“I’m going to throw ‘Mione over for Luna, I think,” Ron announced.

Harry frowned down at the journal, trying to figure out the right words. “That’s nice,” he replied absently as he began slowly, carefully penning his thoughts.

“And maybe Seamus.”

“Let me know how that goes.”

We spent so many years aware of each other. Glaring and exchanging petty insults on a good day, or hospitalising each other on bad ones. Being ignored by him was weird. I don’t know if I’ll manage polite indifference. I’m not sure I know how to——

Harry’s writing cut off abruptly when a pillow hit the side of his head. “Ow! What’s that for?” he scowled, tossing it back to Ron’s bed.

The redhead was rolled onto his side, his back to Harry. “I’m not talking to you.”

“You’re talking to me right now,” Harry pointed out, bewildered. “What did I do?”

“La la la LA LA LA.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry turned back to the journal. “Good night, Ron.”

How to what?

Sorry, my roommate just threw a pillow at me. I was trying to say I don’t know how to stop being aware of him.

Eltanin didn’t respond, which Harry was used to by now. He knew the other boy went to Beauxbatons and studied hard, so he generally assumed extended silences were him talking to somebody, getting caught up in coursework, or when it was late, falling asleep.

Harry waited for a bit just in case, and then he gave up for the night. He closed the book, just missing the words that appeared across the page.

Maybe he doesn’t know how to stop being aware of you, either.

The winter holidays came, and Ron and Hermione went.

Ron had long ago given up being irritated with Harry’s distraction. Based on bits of overheard (and quickly hushed) conversations between his best friends, Harry strongly suspected that Hermione’d lectured him on patience and acceptance of people’s different coping methods after the war.

Harry wanted to argue that he was coping just fine. Given that this thought was usually accompanied by holing himself up in his niche or losing track of time thinking or avoiding the Great Hall more and more, however, he decided he really had no leg to stand on and was better off keeping his mouth shut.

It was almost a relief when Ron returned to the Burrow and Hermione returned to her parents in December. Of course Harry missed them, and of course he’d been invited to both of their homes for the hols, but he really just wanted some peace and quiet and no strained attempts at normalcy.

The celebrity worship had died down a bit, fortunately. As their peers remembered that Harry, Hermione and Ron were their ordinary, familiar classmates and not just Dark Lord Slayers, things gradually returned to normal. There was still a bit of gawking from the younger years, but Harry, at least, was used to that much.

Less fortunately, the attitude toward Slytherins had not died down. There were fewer hexes being thrown at them now, as the professors had put a stop to that nonsense as early as they could, but the sense of clear exclusion was still there. Harry tried to offer them smiles when he saw them or intervene if someone was being picked on, but he couldn’t be in twelve places at once. And it was frankly exhausting.

Just another reason to be grateful for the empty castle now.

Harry was in his niche again when Malfoy showed up, rounding the corner once more and triggering a distinct sense of déjà vu.

This time, Malfoy saw him more quickly. He still froze, but unstuck himself after a moment. With a curt nod of acknowledgment, he turned his attention back to the shelves and began pulling out books to inspect them.

Since their talk, things were better between the two of them, but still strange. Their eyes often met out of pure habit when one would enter the other’s space, whether it was a classroom or a courtyard, and there was always that moment of “What do I do?” before one would break the eye contact. Malfoy no longer went out of his way to stay far away from him, however, so Harry couldn’t really complain.

Well… he couldn’t complain, but really, he wanted to.

Coming to a decision, Harry stood up. “Hey, Malfoy. Are you busy?”

Malfoy frowned suspiciously at him. “I’m preparing for the Transfigurations project… Why?”

Harry cocked his head in the general direction of the door. “Because the castle’s nearly empty, and I’m bored. We could play a little Seeker versus Seeker?”

Malfoy’s eyebrows rose impressively. “In this weather? Are you mad?”

Shrugging, Harry smiled wryly. “It’s just snow and wind. We’ve flown in much worse conditions.”

“That’s true… but why?” Malfoy’s desire to turn tail and flee was nearly palpable. “We’re not friendly enough to play a game together.”

Harry gave an exaggeratedly dramatic eye roll. “Because we’re not enemies anymore, either, and I’d offer to play with any classmate who liked flying. Besides, we’ve played against each other for years.” And really, they flew well together, pulling off absolutely suicidal stunts trying to compete with one another or throw the other off their game.

He missed flying. He missed Quidditch. He didn’t miss avoiding Slytherin Beaters (the dirty cheaters), but he did rather miss the intensity of playing against Malfoy. Their games had certainly never been boring.

He could see Malfoy waffling, so Harry decided to help him make the right choice.

He smirked. “Scared, Malfoy?”

For the first time in ages, the competitive glint returned to the blond’s eye. Making a scoffing sound, he shoved his books back onto the shelves. “You wish. See you on the pitch, Potter.”

“Don’t take too long, or I’ll assume you forfeit,” Harry shot back.

“In your dreams!”

Incidentally, Harry did sometimes dream about Malfoy.

Usually, they were boring dreams. Flashes of the Slytherin in nightmares about failing exams or wandering the corridors or playing Quidditch, memories of one-sided snowball fights, or irrational feelings of anger or resentment as he searched for his rival but couldn’t find him anywhere. The inevitable sort of dreams one had when they spent too much time around someone for years.

This particular summer, the dreams had involved more—more darkness, more fire, more fear. But then again, all of Harry’s dreams then had involved fear.

After the spontaneous Seeker’s game that snowy afternoon, the dreams of flying came back: Malfoy on a broom, racing toward the sky, but this time pursuing light instead of pursued by it. They were cool instead of hot, green and blue instead of angry orange and red, open and free instead of trapped.

And for the first time in over a year, Harry dreamt of laughter.

How would you, hypothetically speaking, make someone who doesn’t want to be friends your friend?

Hypothetically, it would depend on how strong their feelings on the matter are and what sort of history we had. What are you planning?

Nothing yet.

”Yet”?

There’s this person. I think being friends would be good for us. But he’s said he doesn’t want to.

If he has directly declined, then I’d suggest leaving it alone.

Leaving things alone is not my forte.

Then why are you asking me instead of one of your friends who’d actually know the both of you?

My friends would not agree with me.

Maybe you should listen to them.

No… I left it alone for a while, but it’s notI don’t It doesn’t feel right. I’m going to do this. I just thought I’d get some advice on how to do it.

Never had to convince someone to be your friend before?

Not really. People and I seem to either just get along from the start or never click.

Is this that bloke who was avoiding you? The one you ignored my advice and cornered?

Yes, actually.

Well, then, ignore my advice and corner him.

Eltanin…

I’m kidding. Merlin, don’t be so serious about this. You’re looking for a friend, not a business partner. Just say hello here and there, probably out of the public eye if you’ve got history. Give him space to get used to the idea, and start bumping it up to invitations. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll probably make him think you’re up to something.
Are you up to something?

Ha. No.

Do you think he’s up to something?

What would he be up to? The war is over and he keeps to himself.

That’s not a no.

No. I mean, no, I don’t think he’s up to anything. I just don’t want to go back to what we were before, but I don’t like where we’re at now. I think it’s worth trying to move forward.

And if you trip and fall along the way?

Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?

...Harry.

What?

Are you hinting something there?

What? Oh. God, no! That’s not what I mean at all. I don’t fancy him! I mean, friend-love, family-love, just… good things, you know? The good things make the bad worth it.

Mmhmm.

I mean it! I’m straight. I think?

You think, or you assume?

Both?

Wrong answer. Either you’ve thought about it and came to the conclusion, or you haven’t thought about it and made a baseless assumption.

It’s not baseless! I’ve fancied girls.

Have you also fancied boys?

NO!

No need to get so adamant about it. I have.

You’re queer?

That depends on how you define it. If you mean anything not heterosexual, yes. If you mean homosexual, you’re making assumptions again. I never said I didn’t fancy birds as well.

Oh. Sorry if I offended you there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it at all. I just hadn’t thought about it before in relation to me. The idea took me by surprise.

It tends to do that.

Are you cross with me?

Not at all. I’m just letting you digest this conversation.

Oh. Thanks. I don’t know why I still bother to make assumptions… my life’s had a lot of being wrong about people, or at least not entirely right.

Assumptions are natural. They’re mental shortcuts. We’d have no time to do anything else if we didn’t rely on judgment calls. I bet that for all the wrong assumptions you made, many more of them were right. We’re just used to that, so we don’t think about it.

That’s not really a good excuse, though. We SHOULD think about it. People get hurt when we make baseless assumptions.

So don’t make baseless assumptions. Make educated ones.

I mostly just trust my gut.

And that’s why people get hurt. When you interact with someone who isn’t friend or family, you’re not already privy to how they think and what their motives may be, and vice versa. Your actions may make sense to you but just completely confuse or alarm someone else if you’re not on the same page. Not even a Legilimens walks around reading people’s thoughts all day.

Huh. I’ll keep that in mind.

Harry did keep it in mind.

He kept it in mind when he encountered Malfoy in the corridors the next day. “Hey, Malfoy,” he greeted casually as he swept past. When the blond paused and turned to stare at him, Harry tried to imagine how he’d feel if their roles had been reversed and Malfoy had started greeting him instead. Confused, suspicious, waiting for the other shoe to drop… well, he assumed most of those doubts would be eased with time.

He kept it in mind when he saw him in the library while working on a DADA project. “Oh, excellent, you’re tall—would you mind grabbing that book for me up there? The blue one by Caskey?” Malfoy stared at him, but obligingly fetched the book off a high shelf and passed it off to the other man. Harry opened his mouth again to push for another game or chat or something, but Malfoy turned his back to him immediately, clearly shutting him out. Noting his hunched shoulders and the tense lines of his body and the way he huddled closer to the shelves, Harry wondered what was going through his head. Was he feeling bothered? Cornered? Irritated? Was he already making up polite rejections just in case? Not wanting to push him when he was already so guarded, Harry opted to thank him quietly and head off instead.

He kept it in mind when he looked around the Great Hall at lunch and noticed that Malfoy wasn’t there. His first instinct was, of course, to hunt him down and feed him, as he’d spent so many years alone wishing somebody would hunt him down and feed him, but—well, that was obviously him projecting his own thoughts and desires onto his peer. Maybe he’d already eaten. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he really wanted to be alone. Harry stayed seated.

He kept it in mind when he arrived to Herbology late, looked around, and saw only two seats open. One was by Michael Corner (who was not a bad fellow, but come on, he’d dated Cho just after Harry and Ginny just before; Harry was allowed to feel weird about him) and the other was by Malfoy. Without needing to think about it, he made a beeline for the Slytherin after a moment’s pause and tapped his shoulder to ask permission to sit. He earned a very disturbed look from Malfoy and reminded himself of Eltanin’s “out of the public eye” comment, but the blond nodded nonetheless so he took a seat.

He kept it in mind when he found Malfoy one evening at the library. Malfoy glanced up at him before glancing away again but didn’t seem particularly agitated this time, so Harry suggested another Seeker versus Seeker game. He kept it in mind as Malfoy then became uncomfortable, looking around anxiously as if to make sure nobody else heard; rather than jumping to his own conclusions, he asked what Malfoy was looking for.

“Nothing. No one,” Malfoy replied quickly. “Just making sure… you know, I don’t even know.” Harry patiently waited for an answer. “... All right, I suppose. Why not?”

(Harry dreamt of flying again that night.)

He kept the other part of the conversation in mind, too.

When he caught his gaze lingering on someone, he took a moment to note if they were male or female, or at least particularly masculine or feminine. He tried to compare the type of attention against the way he’d felt about Ginny a year before as opposed to when they were younger or even now. He decided it wasn’t a very good gauge, given that she’d been too shy to talk with him before and things were still a bit awkward between them at the moment.

When Seamus jokingly flirted with boys in his exuberant, charismatic way, Harry observed how their peers reacted compared to how he himself reacted. There wasn’t much notable difference there, but then again, Harry could definitively state that he was in no way attracted to his friend so it probably made for a poor experiment.

When he felt flustered whilst interacting with somebody, Harry tried to determine the reason for it. Was there a trend to what sort of gender-related characteristic made him feel awkward or shy or goofy? How often had he felt intimidated in the past by someone based on their superficial appearance or mannerisms? Cho, obviously, with her long, dark hair and warm smile and kind demeanor everywhere from a classroom to up in the air on a broom. Ginny with her fiery hair and equally fiery wit, her excellent humour and willingness to play rough. Oliver Wood had certainly been intimidating, but Harry decided that the intimidation factor there had come more from his obsessive, almost over the top fixation on Quidditch more so than his good looks. Cedric… who still hurt to think about, who still appeared in Harry’s nightmares sometimes, but who also appeared sometimes in his dreams, all bright smiles and sun-kissed skin and wavy hair and sturdy build and…

Huh.

In the end, Harry decided that his bout of heavy introspection was Eltanin’s fault, so it would be best to return to the source.

I’m second-guessing everything now thanks to you.

Oh, gods. What did I say?

A lot of things. The thing about assumptions is okay, but the other one about whether I think or know that I’m straight...

Oh, Merlin. I’m not sure I’m prepared to walk you out of your closet.

I don’t even know if I have a closet to be walked out of! I can’t even figure out anymore if I liked people because I fancied them or because I found them respectable or just objectively attractive, and therefore automatically unnerving.

Well, describe the people you know you’ve fancied, and then describe the people you’re not sure about.

My ex-girlfriends looked nothing alike, really. Both had long, straight hair? Both were lean, but that could be because they both played Seeker. They were both smart. One has black hair and brown eyes and the other has red hair and green eyes. One was sweet, but too… I don’t know. Emotional? Our timing was awful. We had kind of a bad break up. The other is very reasonable, hilarious, loyal, absolutely wonderful. Definitely has a temper to her, though. I just think I see her as more of a sister.

Anyone else?

I guess my friend’s now sister-in-law caught my eye at first, but she’s a Veela, so I’m pretty sure that was the only reason why… she’s certainly beautiful and tough, and I respect her dedication to her family, but I’m not interested in her.

All right. And the ones, presumably non-female, you’re not sure about?

My Quidditch captain was very fit, but I think I liked his enthusiasm for the sport more than anything else. An older boy in a different house… actually, he was also a Quidditch captain, and played seeker. Definitely not small like my exes, though. Maybe my friend’s brother. Very tall, very handsome, really great style. Long hair, fanged jewelry, that sort of thing. He has a pretty dangerous job.

Did he also play Quidditch?

Not that I know of, although most of his family did. Actually, one of his brothers is really neat. He was an amazing Quidditch player in my house, before I came here. People say he could’ve gone professional, but he went to study dragons instead, how great is that? I haven’t spent much time with him, but the rest of the family clearly adores him, and he seems really confident.

I’m laughing at you.

What? Why?!

I suspect you like Quidditch more than people. If you put out an advert to pull someone, your requirements would say: “Confident, roughhousing athlete with a strong will.”

Oh, Merlin. If you put it that way...

”Long hair recommended. Family sentiment is a must.”

What do you mean by that?

You fancied, or came close to fancying, three siblings from your friend’s family plus their sister-in-law. Either this entire family looks like rock stars or you’re particularly drawn to strong family ties.

Huh.

Anyone else to take into consideration?

I don’t know. Maybe.

Maybe?

Well, when you put it that way, the person I’m trying to befriend also is confident, plays rough, plays Quidditch, and is extremely loyal to his family.

You hadn’t mentioned being attracted to him, other than by your inability to leave him alone.

Well, of course he’s attractive. That’s a given.

How is that a given?

If you saw him, you’d understand. Lean, pale, princely. Sharp features like a model, a smug smirk. He used to walk around like he expected the world to bow down at his feet. It should’ve looked ridiculous, but he actually sort of pulled it off. His narrow-minded pride used to make me so angry, but I think the war shifted a lot of that. I don’t like seeing him so defeated, though. It doesn’t suit him. For all that I wanted to hex him anytime he opened his mouth, it feels wrong to see him not happy or sure of himself. At least I’ve got him flying again sometimes. There was never anything like the thrill of going against him. He played dirty but flew brilliantly. It’s even better without the rest of the team now. No Quaffles to worry about, no Beaters to dodge, just us and a Snitch.

Quidditch again.

Haha. That’s the part that stands out?

Sorry, it’s getting late. I’m a bit tired.

Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you up! You should go to bed.

Yes, I think I will. Good night, Harry.

Good night, Eltanin.

Trying not to be disappointed by the abrupt departure, Harry put the journal away, set his glasses on the nightstand, and crawled under his covers.

Just before he drifted off, he dimly recalled Eltanin counting three siblings. He stayed conscious long enough to wonder when he’d mentioned that Ginny was related to Bill and Charlie, but the thought was soon lost to sleep.

As the year wore on, it became progressively more difficult for Harry to escape into his niche. Between lessons, preparing for N.E.W.T.s, attempting to keep up with Ginny and Neville and Luna and other friends, ducking more persistent fans, avoiding the constant onslaught of owls from various publications, and the usual chaos of a wizarding school, he found himself feeling stretched thin. Even the lack of Quidditch, girlfriends, or murderous Dark Wizards didn’t make him feel any freer than in previous years.

There were a few things that he always made time for, though.

Firstly, naturally, was spending enough time with Hermione and Ron, specifically the latter. Hermione seemed happy enough to snuggle with Ron, check on Harry, and otherwise give him his space, but they’d spent such an intense time together the previous year that Harry was fairly certain their souls were as entwined as two could be short of one being a Horcrux. They didn’t need hours together to understand each other’s needs; a weary look or a tight smile or a reassuring nod could do the job just as nicely.

But Ron was Harry’s roommate; Ron came from a large, sociable family; Ron still battled insecurities about his position in their trio regularly; Ron had more of an explosive temper when feeling slighted. So Harry made sure they hung out to do nothing together at least on a weekly basis to avoid being pummeled with a pillow again.

Secondly, he made sure to write to Eltanin daily. More and more often it was just a quick hello/good-night before bed with real conversation happening on the weekends as they caught up on each other’s lives—or rather, as Eltanin caught up on Harry’s. The French student remained stubbornly reticent about his personal life, but he did relax enough over the months to reveal that he was an only child, didn’t have many friends, did enough schoolwork to rival Hermione, and enjoyed Conjuration, heights, and flying and hated Herbology and Divinations. He also revealed a knack for terribly drawn but hilariously crass doodles.

Thirdly, Harry made time for Malfoy. His schedule always seemed to serendipitously open up when Malfoy was around and amenable to a visit.

What a coincidence.

If the weather was agreeable and the pitch was empty, they flew more often than not; if there were too many students out of doors or they were both feeling antisocial, they’d sit in a corner of the library to read or study and pretend the company was mere coincidence. Once in a while, Harry would notice Malfoy sitting alone in a courtyard or alcove, go fetch a game from his room, and return, and they’d lose a few hours over Wizard’s Chess, Gobstones, or Exploding Snap.

Malfoy stubbornly resisted at first, of course. That never stopped Harry from trying again, and his efforts gradually paid off; over the course of February and March, Malfoy slowly but steadily refused his overtures less and less.

Ron thought he was barmy for wanting to be friends with Malfoy. Hermione loudly fussed and quietly worried, but she also seemed to better understand, if the furtive glances she sometimes cast their ex-rival’s way were any indication.

In April, the status quo between Harry and Malfoy shifted again. This time, it wasn’t even Harry’s doing.

They were flying over the Forbidden Forest near the mountains when the winds hit. They’d noticed the grey clouds upon heading out, but any actual rain seemed far off and unimportant. After years of Quidditch, a bit of weather wasn’t about to scare them off.

Until the bit of weather decided to turn into a full-blown thunderstorm racing in and taking up residence right over the school.

When a particularly sharp gale nearly knocked Harry from his broom, they gestured at each to land, unable to hear themselves over the pounding precipitation. Most of the descent went fine as they headed for the edge of the forest to take cover under the trees, but just as Harry dismounted, another sharp wind snuck up on them. Draco was blown off his broom, although he just barely managed to keep his grip on the handle and keep it from flying off into the forest. Unable to maintain his balance against the wind’s momentum, he tripped and toppled over the moment his feet hit the ground.

Luckily, Harry was there to cushion his fall.

Unluckily, it wasn’t on purpose.

Harry managed to turn just in time for Draco to hit and knock them both over. His arse absorbed most of the impact, and the soil was muddy enough to soften the landing when his head splashed down into the wet earth next. He didn’t have much thought to spare to be grateful, though, when he found himself with an armful of Slytherin.

Malfoy let out an impressive stream of colourful language upon impact, but he didn’t immediately get up. Harry could understand that; all the air had been knocked from his lungs, and he imagined Malfoy was experiencing the same. They were cold and drenched and sore, and he was pretty sure he had mud in places that mud absolutely did not belong, so he certainly wasn’t about to complain about the lack of immediate movement.

The Shift happened about forty-two seconds in. Harry’s breathing was almost back to normal—and, incidentally and fascinatingly, nearly in sync with the rise and fall of the other man’s chest—when Malfoy tried to roll off of him to sit up.

The Shift started when Malfoy propped himself up with his hands on either side of Harry, thereby reallocating the majority of his weight downwards, and oh

The Shift went into full effect when Malfoy collapsed back down onto him with a pained cry.

“What? What’s wrong?” Harry distantly heard himself ask. He was concerned, naturally, but it was admittedly more than a little bit an automated response; most of his attention had abruptly rerouted itself to the peculiar sensation of being pinned down by a familiar, non-threatening weight and the way he could smell Malfoy’s cologne or shampoo or natural scent over the rush of rainwater.

“I twisted my ankle,” Malfoy muttered through gritted teeth. “Give me a second.”

“Okay,” Harry replied distractedly, breathless all over again.

A second turned into two turned into twenty turned into an eternity. Harry lost track. He couldn’t say how long they lay there in the rain.

He could say—at length—how Malfoy’s hair glowed when backlit by rain and cracks of lightning, and how he smelled like parchment and leather oil and a little like mint, and how his flat chest lined up so neatly against Harry’s own, and how his weight was just enough for Harry to feel trapped but not enough to be uncomfortable, and how striking his warm breath felt against the rain-chilled skin of Harry’s neck.

Once Malfoy’s ankle presumably stopped throbbing enough for him to move, he did. Harry continued to lie in the mud long enough for Malfoy to give him a confused look. “Are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

“What? No. No, I’m fine,” Harry reassured after another moment’s delay as he tried to screw his head back on and stop hyperfocusing on the way his heart was beating too quickly. All he could think about was that he needed to talk to Eltanin, and fast.

Trying to deflect from his odd behaviour, Harry pulled off his glasses to wipe some of the rain from his eyes and gave an exaggeratedly bright smile. “Are you worried about me? I feel like we’ve officially reached the next stage of friendship.”

“We’re not friends,” Malfoy bit back so immediately it was clearly reflex. Catching the idiocy of his own statement as they sat there in the mud, drenched in rain, after spending the last hour flying together and exchanging insults and avoiding their peers, his expression shifted to one of disgruntlement.

Harry burst out laughing. After a moment, Malfoy—no, Draco—joined in.

I think I’m in trouble.

By the time Eltanin responded, Harry’d chewed off most of his fingernails and cuticles over the night. The journal lay open on his chest, propped up for him to see despite the fact that Eltanin was undoubtedly sleeping like a sane person.

Oh, Merlin. What now?

Harry nearly fell off the bed in his haste to grab his pen and write back. Ron obliviously snored on.

I think you were right.

I generally am. But pray tell, what about?

I think I fancy him.

I love how you think I’m able to guess who, out of all the complete strangers that are your friends, you are referring to with that masculine pronoun.

But you can, can’t you?

Unfortunately. That poor bloke you’ve been bullying into being your friend?

Yeah. I don’t know what to do.

What do you want?

I don’t know.

You must have some idea. Do you want it to fade? Do you want to date him? Do you want to experiment and move on? Is this bi-curiosity? Or did you catch him playing Quidditch and get confused, because I still think you’re Snitchsexual more than anything?

HA. No. No, I don’t think I’m confused. We had an accident the other day where he fell on me, and Merlin, I couldn’t think about anything but how he felt and smelled and looked. It could have been hailing for all I cared. Actually, the weather was awful enough that it really might have. And now I can’t stop thinking about him.

You were doing a piss-poor job of not thinking about him before, honestly.

You do call me a stalker. I’ve got to live up to expectations, don’t I?

Well, you certainly do a bang-up job of it. So, what do you want?

I don’t know. I mean, I only just got him to finally sort of admit that we’re friends, and then I go and fancy him? I can’t imagine dating him, or dating any bloke, but I like being around him. We spent so long at each other’s throats that there’s no need for pretenses, and I can relax around him in a way I usually only manage with my two best mates.

You can be attracted to your friends without wanting to date them, you know. Thinking they’re fit doesn’t have to change anything.

But I’m worried that it will. It’s like I opened Pandora’s box, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

:(

Hahaha!

Well, I can’t really give you advice (that you’ll ignore) if I don’t know what your goal is, so I’d say to figure out what you want first, and then we’ll talk. It’s entirely possible it’s just a physical reaction, and the novelty is what’s distracting you.

Yeah, you may be right.

Think on it, okay?

Sounds good.

It’s not just a physical reaction. I think maybe it’s not as new as I’d thought, either?

Good morning to you, too. What makes you think that?

My friend hitting me with a scroll at breakfast and telling me to stop staring at him and eat. Apparently I missed my mouth while trying to drink my juice.

Are you serious?

Sadly, yes. Even more sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve done that.

You’re adorable. Okay. What do you want to do?

I don’t know. Dating him would be so weird, especially given where we come from. There would definitely be a lot of opposition from our friends if we did. And most importantly, I don’t think he’s even interested in men anyway. He had the same girlfriend almost all through school.

Are you sure you’re not making assumptions again? Especially if, based on things you’ve said about him in the past, his business is usually public, he may just keep non-heterosexual dalliances discreet. And maybe there was another reason for why he had the same girlfriend for so long. It’s atypical for such a young relationship to last years, after all.

That’s possible. But then it’s even scarier. Although I guess it doesn’t matter. He’s barely willing to be friends, so why would he want to be more? And besides, even if he weren’t straight, I’m really not his type.

Assumptions. If he’s been discreet, you wouldn’t really know what his type is, would you?

Based on his friends? Sarcastic, proud, wealthy, and very selective of who they choose to grace with their company. Aside from the ones who were more like pets or bodyguards, also generally good looking.

Harry, if corresponding with you these last eight months has taught me anything about you, it’s that you’re very sarcastic, proud, and selective of who to grace with your company. You are also your own guardian and have a house so I’m guessing you have more money than you talk about, and two-thirds of looking good is just knowing how to groom. Unless you mean you’re horribly disfigured or something, natural features matter less than people think it does.

That’s what you think. After dealing with the war last year, I’m still sort of scrawny, my hair is actually untameable, my glasses are dorky, and at best I look boringly ordinary. I’m not in the best condition to attract someone right now.

Unless they want me for my name, Harry resentfully did not write. He was so lucky to have grown up with his friends for long enough that they didn’t give him special treatment. The younger students had gotten over most of the idol worship they’d picked up again at the start of the school year, but it was nothing compared to going anywhere else in the wizarding world—even Hogsmeade. He couldn’t wait to drop off the public radar and be allowed to mind his own business again.

This was one of the reasons he was so grateful for Eltanin’s company. Harry knew he’d let slip enough over the months that Eltanin possibly had some guess as to who he was, or eventually would, but the other man never acted on it or conversed with him differently for it.

Ordinary is fine. Ordinary can be improved upon when circumstances call for it. And you’ll put on weight again if you keep eating and flying. The outside is not that important. You already voluntarily spend time with each other over most of the rest of your peers, so I’d say that’s not a bad start.

A bad start to what?

To whatever or wherever you want to pursue this, friendship or otherwise.

Do you really think I’ve got a chance?

You’re a good person, Harry. If he likes you enough to go from being your enemy to your friend and he’s interested in men but doesn’t give you a chance, he’s a blind fool.

You don’t know that.

Yes, I do. I definitely do.

Harry was losing his mind.

Spilling his juice at breakfast was only the start of the story. Through the rest of the month, it seemed like Draco was everywhere, and about twelve times more distracting than he’d already been.

Breakfast was a lost cause when he had a direct line of sight to the way Draco would absently twirl a butter knife in his dexterous fingers while snickering at something Blaise or one of the other remaining Slytherins had said. Harry wound up with more food down his front than he would have in a Weasley family food fight.

In Transfigurations, Draco had taken (or maybe he’d always been prone) to chewing on his lower lip as he thought, neat, white line of teeth worrying at and reddening the skin. Harry missed the rock he was supposed to transfigure into a rabbit and accidentally gave Neville a puffy tail instead.

In Potions, Draco leaned back idly in his seat during lectures, brushing the feather of his quill back and forth over his lips and cheek as he awaited lab time. Harry missed about two-thirds of the instructions and started a fire in his cauldron that singed Hermione’s hair.

Harry even spotted him in the library several times, backlit by a window as he read. Draco’s version of reading seemed to involve tipping back in his chair so that his long, lean legs were kicked up on the table, nibbling obliviously on a knuckle and occasionally smirking to himself, entertained by the words on the page. Harry tripped over his own foot and went crashing into a bookshelf, dropping his homework and tearing his Herbology essay in half in the process.

Draco became more reckless on a broom, daring Harry to fly higher, farther, pulling more and more ridiculous stunts in their eternal one-up game. (Harry successfully managed to avoid hurting himself these times. Then again, that was most likely due to being midair without anything to run into, drop, set on fire, transfigure, spill, choke on, or otherwise destroy.)

And then there was the closet incident...

May first would forever mark the closet incident.

It started out as a normal Monday. The students had breakfast (Harry accidentally stabbed himself in the hand with his fork while watching Draco drink milk), went to classes (Harry avoided causing any… permanent… damage), had dinner (Harry didn’t notice Ginny steal his beloved treacle tart, and hadn’t that caused a round of exaggerated shocked gasps), and did homework in the library (Harry obsessively checked his journal in hopes of a response while pretending he wasn’t looking around for Draco).

In late evening, they very nearly tripped over each other in the corridors. Harry began to ask what Draco was up to when the blond clapped a hand over his mouth, fervently hissing “Shhh! Filch is around here somewhere.”

Distracted by the feeling of Draco’s broom-calloused skin, it took Harry a moment to process the warning. He nodded in acknowledgement, and Draco removed his hand in order to grab his sleeve and drag him down the way Harry’d just come. “He was just here—probably just let Mrs. Norris loose. We’ve got to find a place to hide.”

Harry thought fast. “One of the unused potions labs is back this way,” he whispered. “The lock was broken the last I looked.”

Draco nodded and let Harry take the lead. The lock to the small lab was indeed still broken, and they vanished inside just as Mrs. Norris padded around the corner, sniffing the air suspiciously.

Following their scents to the door, she meowed loudly and pawed at it before dropping onto her side. She clawed at the wood a few times before swiping her paw underneath, mrrring victoriously at the sharp “Ow!” that came from inside.

“That’s what you get for crawling around on the floor like an animal,” Draco hissed.

“I was looking for Filch!” Harry hissed back as he wiped the little dots of blood off of his nose.

“You were looking like an idiot!”

“Shhh, he’s coming!”

“What have we here, my sweet?” Filch’s voice wafted through the door, as grating and vindictive as ever. Mrs. Norris yowled in response.

Harry and Draco took the opportunity of Filch’s slow, dragging step to scramble for the only other door in the room: the door to the narrow supply closet. As this lab was seldom accessed, the supply closet was fortunately unlocked; unfortunately, it was also still stocked. There was little quite as creepy as hiding among jars of unidentified body parts and mysterious fluids, holding one’s breath against the distinctly noxious scent of formaldehyde.

The boys took one look at each other before taking deep breaths and diving in. Harry got the door shut and locked with a Colloportus just as Draco cast a Disillusionment Charm and something he’d never heard of—Avexi Something? Odus?—over the both of them. Harry followed it up with a Silencing Charm.

And they waited.

And waited.

They could hear the door to the lab open. They exhaled, inhaled, resumed holding their breaths, and waited some more.

Filch murmured to his cat. They exhaled, inhaled, resumed holding their breaths, and waited some more.

Mrs. Norris pawed at various spots around the room, mrrring again in dissatisfaction. Harry winced as the shelf digging into his back reached the point of Impossible to Ignore and leaned away from it. Draco inhaled sharply and smacked the side of his head, and they waited some more.

Mrs. Norris clawed at their door, then moved on. Draco slowly let out a breath and relaxed his entire body. This time, it was Harry’s turn to inhale sharply, but Draco didn’t react. They waited some more.

The closet door swung open.

Harry and Draco grabbed at each other before Filch came into sight, peering into the darkness. Harry silently prayed that the Disillusionment was enough to keep the groundskeeper from reaching in and poking around.

Filch crinkled his nose. He leaned in just enough to make Harry and Draco lean away, huffed in frustration, and drew back. Slamming the closet door shut, he shuffled off. “Come along, Mrs. Norris. They must be around here somewhere. We’ll find them yet!”

Neither student moved for a full minute after the main door to the lab shut. Draco was the first to crack, letting out a sigh of relief and dropping his forehead against Harry’s shoulder as he slumped. “How is it we just went through a bloody war, but the idea of getting caught out past curfew by Filch still scares the sorcery out of me?” he grumbled.

“Habit?” Harry offered weakly. Now that the threat had passed, he was having trouble thinking of anything but how bloody close they were standing, and the fact that they were still clutching each other anxiously. “I trust Hermione with my life, but her disappointed glare can still make me feel four years old.”

“You didn’t know her when you were four years old,” Draco reminded.

“Tell my crushing sense of shame that,” Harry drawled.

Draco laughed, and Harry shivered as the sound and breath traveled down his neck. His grip on the black material of Draco’s robe tightened as he struggled not to make a sound or lean in closer. He couldn’t, however, resist allowing his temple to rest against Draco’s shoulder. That was okay, right? He was only mirroring the other man’s position. That was safely platonic.

Lingering together in the dark while waiting for the last vestiges of panic to ebb was safely platonic.

Breathing in time while clinging to each other was safely platonic.

Not.

As soon as Harry got back to his room, he got undressed, grabbed the journal, and burrowed into his bed.

I am in so much trouble.

I highly doubt that.
I’m working on a paper so I’ll be slow to reply, but feel free to rant.

Okay. Good luck.
And I am absolutely in trouble. There was an incident with the person I may or may not fancy. We were sort of stuck together for a few minutes. In a narrow, dark place. And I don’t even know how to describe it. We didn’t leave as soon as we could have. Should have? We just kind of stayed there a while. I don’t know why. Nerves? I sort of felt like I was losing my mind.

Did something happen?

Yeah, we were out past curfew and the groundskeeper nearly caught us.

No, I meant did something happen between the two of you.

Oh. No. I mean… no.

That sounds less like “no” and more like “sort of, but I don’t want to say.”

I may have… had an inappropriate reaction. I don’t think he noticed. If he did, he was polite enough not to react.

True to his word, it was a good quarter hour before Eltanin replied. Harry tried not to fret; homework came first, after all. Although what Eltanin was doing homework at this hour of the night for was a mystery...

You were in a narrow space? I’d say it’s a little difficult for a bloke not to notice when another bloke is feeling frisky for him.

I’m hoping the adrenaline of the situation either distracted him or excused me.

What would you have done if he’d commented on it?

Died of embarrassment, probably?

Haha. Other than that.

Merlin, I don’t know. It probably would have depended on what he said and how he said it.

If he was not disagreeable?

Not disagreeable doesn’t mean actively interested. It could just mean he’s polite and not homophobic.

If he hinted that he was actively interested?

God, I don’t know how to do this. My first girlfriend and I were horribly awkward, and my second girlfriend and I got together on an adrenaline rush. I don’t know how other people negotiate their relationships.

So you want a relationship now?

As opposed to?

Not a casual shag sort of guy, then?

Er. No. Not really. I mean, maybe if the last couple of years hadn’t been so chaotic and miserable and I’d had a normal school life, but. No. I don’t think so.

All right. So you want a relationship with this bloke, then? Or you want to wait it out in hopes that the inappropriate reactions stop happening?

The first one. I think. I still can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to date him, and external variables will definitely make things difficult, but I think it would be worth it to try. Although I can’t imagine how the topic would ever come up… And I still think he would be horrified if he knew this was how I thought of him.

He won’t be horrified. I promise you that.

What makes you say that?

No response came.

Eltanin? Are you just trying to be encouraging?

A few minutes later, Harry got impatient with waiting and tried again.

Are you asleep, or are you really still working on homework? It has to be what, nearly 2AM there?

I have to tell you something.

Yeah?

You’re going to be angry with me.

What about?

I’m desperately hoping that you’ll be as forgiving of me as you are of your ex-rival-turned-closet-crush, although I’m thinking it’s not likely. Please bear in mind that I really never in a thousand years expected us to keep corresponding for this long.

You’re starting to scare me. What is it?

I… didn’t explicitly lie to you, but I let a deliberate misunderstanding go on for too long.

Harry’s stomach sank. Eltanin knew him well enough by now to know that he didn’t exactly have an unreasonable temper. If Eltanin thought he’d be angry, there was probably a good reason for it. But what could he possibly have lied about?

What, are you secretly a girl?

What? No, why would I lie about my gender?

Are you actually a creepy old man?

Of course not!

Are you not really French? Got a German chin, do you?

About that...

You’re not French?

I am. Sort of. One half of my family is originally French, anyway. And I really was in France when you were first trying to figure out where I was.

Was in France. But you’re not now?

No.

Oh, Merlin.

Yes.

You go to Hogwarts.

Yes.

Harry felt like he was going to be sick. Had Eltanin been manipulating him all this time? But he hadn’t done or said anything that caused Harry trouble, and in fact, routinely argued and got exasperated with him.

You know who I am?

You don’t exactly make it difficult to guess.

You know Draco?

One could say so.

What do you mean?

I’d rather tell you in person, if that’s okay.
Actually, even if it’s not okay, we really need to talk in person.

For a moment, Harry’s stomach twisted in excited anticipation rather than anger. It was pure reflex; for months now Eltanin had been a constant for him, so of course he wanted to meet him. But then the reality of their current conversation came crashing back down on him.

Eltanin knew him. Knew him. Probably saw him in the corridors or the Great Hall. Maybe he’d told his friends about what a pathetic idiot Harry was, confiding in a diary despite how much trouble Riddle’s diary had gotten everyone into. If he was a seventh year, he probably had classes with Ginny and Luna—hell, maybe he was even housemates with one of them.

Maybe he was housemates with Harry. He didn’t read like a Gryffindor, but Harry knew better than to rely on house stereotypes anymore.

He began to write again, hand scrawling quickly, letters sharp and furious. He wasn’t even sure if his writing was legible, but at the moment, he didn’t really care.

You’ve been lying to me for nine months? You let me natter at you like we were strangers and it was safe! I wouldn’t have said anything I said if I knew you were here! I listened to you—I liked you! I’d been planning to go out to France this summer to meet you! I nearly sent you a letter by owl post—in fact, I should have, so Reuben would have flown straight to you! Now you tell me you’ve been lying to me for almost a year? What else have you lied about?

I tried not to lie. That’s why I didn’t say much about myself. And I guessed it was you, but I wasn’t sure at first. I thought I was being paranoid and reading into things too much. I almost stopped talking to you a dozen times because this was too strange and I felt guilty. I didn’t even like you at the beginning of the year, but you kept writing to me whether I responded or not.

Why did you do this? Why didn’t you tell me at the beginning?

He underlined “at the beginning” thrice before slamming his pen down.

There was no immediate reply. Harry assumed Eltanin was putting his thoughts together. He wouldn’t just disappear now like a complete coward, would he? The mere thought of being left hanging after all of this made Harry curl up more tightly, trying to hold onto the hot flash of anger in his chest, trying not to give in to the stupid, ridiculous urge to cry.

When the response came, it wasn’t as neat as Eltanin’s usual writing. It varied between quick, messy scrawling, abrupt stops, and slow, careful lettering. Harry felt a stab of vindictive pleasure that Eltanin was clearly upset, but it was immediately followed by a sharp pang of guilt that the thought had ever crossed his mind.

At first it was because I didn’t expect to keep writing with you anyway. I wanted to see what you were really like without other people around to influence us. And after that… I don’t know. I changed my mind. I was afraid that if you knew, you would stop responding. I liked you more and more. I liked arguing with you. I liked giving you suggestions and waiting to see how you’d blow them off and what you would do instead. I liked hearing events we both experienced from your perspective. I told you I didn’t have many friends… truth is, I’m not sure I even really have one. Our correspondences became something I wanted to keep, and keep private. And then I started to really like you, more than I should have. The way you like Draco. I kept hoping it would go away, but it didn’t. I don’t think it ever will.

Harry’s head spun while he tried to process that. Eltanin liked him? Eltanin fancied him? He’d never guessed. And to think he’d just been happy that the other boy tolerated their penpal arrangement at all… But now that very happiness felt like a lie. Their entire friendship felt like a lie. How much of it had been real? Did Eltanin really think of him that way—and so seriously—or was this just more hero worship for Harry to have to worry about?

Which possibility would be worse?

Are you really a seventh year, or was that another thing I guessed and you let me believe?

I’m in your year.

Groaning, Harry pushed the journal away for a moment and wrapped the blankets tighter around himself. He was half-tempted to wake Ron to complain, but he was pretty sure Ron’s preoccupation would be with the fact that Harry’d gone and gotten himself into more diary-related drama despite how badly the situation in second year had blown up. Also the fact that Harry’d been writing with this secret friend all year. Also the fact that Harry was in a bloody love triangle, and that it involved Draco Malfoy and said secret friend.

Harry pulled the journal back.

Fuck. Who are you?

Can we talk about this in person?

You know I can’t reciprocate. I can’t even trust you right now.

I know. That’s exactly why we should talk about this in person, so all the cards are on the table.

Where and when?

Tomorrow after dinner. I’ll meet you in the library.

Where in the library?

Wherever you want. I’ll find you.

Why won’t you tell me who you are now?

Because I’m scared to death that you won’t show up if I do.

I’ll show up. I keep my promises.

I know you do. Please?

Fine. But after this, I really don’t know that we can be friends.

I know. I know this will probably all go to hell. But I need to talk to you anyway. You deserve the entire truth.

Did you get me this diary on purpose?

No. I actually still have absolutely no idea how you ended up with it. I thought the only surviving copies were with my family. Apparently there was another one floating around in the world.

Fine.

We should try and get some sleep. And I know you have no reason to believe me, and you’ll likely hate me come our meeting tomorrow, but if you can believe anything I’ve said, believe that I really do care about you.

I cared about you, too.

Good night, Harry.

The next day, Harry was an absolute mess. While it was mostly Eltanin’s fault, however, some of it could not be blamed on him.

He’d been so distracted with both N.E.W.T.s and Draco recently that he’d somehow managed to completely miss that the second of May marked exactly one year since the Battle of Hogwarts. All around the school, students and professors were quiet and somber. Morning classes were let out early, and afternoon classes were canceled altogether in honour of a memorial held in the Great Hall. Many students attended; many others couldn’t bear to.

For obvious reasons, Draco wasn’t there.

Harry stuck close to Ron and Hermione and Ginny. About halfway through the memorial, however, he began to feel the itch of too many stares. When the urge to escape became overwhelming, he gave Ron’s shoulder a squeeze, Hermione a hug, and Ginny’s hair a kiss before heading out.

He passed Luna on the way. “Hello, Harry,” she greeted in her light, airy way. “What a lovely day for remembrance.”

“I guess,” Harry agreed noncommittally, wearing a tight smile. “Ginny’s up near the front left, if you were going to look for her.”

“Thank you,” Luna replied. “And Malfoy’s in the rear of the library, if you were going to look for him.”

Harry came to a dead stop. He turned, blinking at the fey girl. “Wait—why did you tell me that?”

Already mid-step, Luna paused and peered back over her shoulder. “Aren’t you usually looking for him?”

Harry’s stomach sank. Was it that obvious?

Luna turned to face him again. “Oh. You’re upset,” she observed.

“I-I. Is. Um,” Harry croaked. He ran a hand through his hair anxiously. “How many people think that?”

Tilting her head, Luna hummed as she considered. “Well, I’m not sure. I think we’re all just used to it.”

“Used to it?”

“Well, yes,” Luna nodded slowly. “You’ve been watching each other for years, after all. It’s nothing new, even if the way you look at each other has changed.”

Harry stared at her.

Luna smiled. “Have a good evening, Harry.” She slipped into the Great Hall, letting the door softly shut behind her.

Harry ran for the library.

When he got there, Harry found Draco curled up in his niche. His eyes were closed, but there was a quill in his hand and a book on his lap.

“Are you really doing homework right now?” he asked as he approached, wincing when the blond jumped in surprise at his voice. “Sorry about that.”

Draco eyed him uneasily.

Harry was startled to find bags under his eyes, his pale skin even paler, worry lines creasing his brow. The questions he’d wanted to ask—mostly along the lines of a hopefully better worded “How do you look at me?”—vanished at the sight. “Are you okay…?” he asked, settling down in the niche. There really wasn’t enough space for two, but he nudged Malfoy’s curled legs back into the space until he could just barely perch there.

“Shouldn’t you be at the memorial?” Draco asked, throat rasping slightly from disuse. “What are you doing here?”

“Luna mentioned you were here,” Harry explained. “I wanted to see how you were doing. It’s… not really a day to be alone, I think.”

“Oh.”

As the silence began to feel uncomfortable, Harry’s concern grew. It had been a while now since they were so awkward with each other. “Do you… want me to leave?” he offered hesitantly. “I mean, I know it’s a rough day and all—”

“No,” Draco interrupted sharply, much to Harry’s immediate relief. “No, I’m not—it’s not about what happened last year. Really. I’d… it’s unforgivable of me, but I’d actually forgotten what the date was. I’ve just got some things on my mind.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Harry agreed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Draco took a deep breath and looked down, fidgeting with his quill. “No, I really don’t. But we need to.”

“‘We’?” Harry echoed. His stomach gave a nervous twist. Draco needed to talk to him? About something that was clearly making him anxious and lose sleep?

“Yes.”

Was it possible that what Luna’d hinted at was right?

“About…?”

Was it possible that Eltanin was ri—

Eltanin!

As Draco continued to avoid meeting his eyes and playing with his book, another terrible thought occurred to Harry.

No. It couldn’t be. There was no way. The coincidence was too improbable. And it hadn’t sounded like him at all, and surely he would have said something…?

“I thought I’d have more time,” Draco began slowly in the hushed tones of a guilty confession. “I thought you’d stay at the memorial, and then go to dinner, and maybe I’d figure out what to say by the time you got here.”

Dinner.

The library.

Harry looked down at the book that Draco nervously toyed with.

A thin leather book, about five by seven inches at its widest points, an inconsistent shape, and looking like something a five year old had put together on an idle evening.

Harry stared down at it in shock. “No.”

Draco flinched.

Jerking away, Harry bolted to the bookshelves that shielded them from the rest of the library. He ran a hand through his hair as he turned his back to the other man, feeling his face heat up in embarrassment. He was horrified—he was angry, of course—but more than anything else, he was mortified.

He’d known. Draco’d known every damn thing Harry’d thought and said about him. He’d known about Harry’s uncertainty before they’d started spending time together, he’d known about Harry’s desire to be friends, and he’d known about Harry’s stupid crush.

If he hadn’t known about Harry’s reaction to the closet incident before, he certainly knew now.

Oh, Merlin, he’d probably been laughing at Harry this entire time! Hell, he was the one who’d called Harry a stalker. How many times had he taken the piss out of Harry for obsessing over Draco? How many people had he told? Nobody had come to harass Harry yet, but it was probably just a matter of time—

Except… that wasn’t quite right.

It had never felt like taking the piss. And his friendship with Draco had been left alone to develop slowly and organically. Not even Hermione and Ron had given him much trouble about it after the initial “Have you gone mad?” arguments, and not a single Slytherin had so much as smirked his way all year. “Eltanin” hadn’t once come across as malicious. In fact, if anything, he’d consistently erred on the side of caution and restraint.

Come to think of it, “Eltanin” had been giving him advice all along.

“Eltanin” had alternately discouraged and encouraged him, depending on the course of action he’d intended to take. “Eltanin” had tried to get him to leave Draco alone back when Draco’d been entirely resistant to friendship. “Eltanin” had suggested he take things slow and quiet, keep their changing dynamic out of the public eye. “Eltanin” had advised him to observe what traits he was attracted to without ever rushing or belittling him. “Eltanin” had told him again and again not to rely entirely on his own assumptions.

“Eltanin” was interested in men.

“Eltanin” had promised that Draco wouldn’t be horrified to know how he felt.

“Eltanin” cared about him, fancied him, in a way he didn’t think would go away.

“Eltanin” was terrified that Harry would hate him after their meeting.

Draco liked him.

Yes, Draco had been lying to him all year, and Harry was angry about that; he would continue to be angry about that. They were going to be having some significant trust issues for a while. But given the circumstances and knowing what Draco was like, Harry could sort of see why he’d done it as well. And Draco hadn’t said or done anything to hurt him, pressure him, or upset him—he’d used the anonymity to be surprisingly responsive and supportive, and in some ways, maybe even more honest than he would have been otherwise.

That didn’t make everything okay, but it helped. The rest could come in time.

Harry turned around and marched back before dropping down into the alcove again. His heart broke a little at the cornered look on Draco’s face. “Did you mean it?”

Draco flinched (again; they were really going to need to work on that). “Which part?” he asked before shaking his head and hastily continuing, “It doesn’t matter. Yes. Except for the parts that were covering up who and where I was, yes, I meant everything I wrote.”

Harry smiled.

Draco still looked like he expected Harry to take out his wand and hex him six ways to Sunday, but his shoulders marginally relaxed. “You’re not… you don’t hate me, then?”

“I’m definitely mad at you,” Harry corrected. “We’ll probably have a proper row about this later, and I’ll be upset off and on for a while. And you can’t do this sort of thing again. But...” He shrugged one shoulder. “I thought you’d be the one disgusted by me. I really didn’t think—as you know,” he added mildly, this time deliberately trying to make Draco wince, “that I’d ever have a chance with you. So I’m angry at what you did, but finding out how you feel about me…”

“I love you,” Draco blurted out.

Harry’s heart began pounding in earnest as he gaped. He knew Draco/Eltanin cared about him and was interested in him, but that was a bit… well, a bit more than he’d been thinking.

Draco took advantage of his stunned silence to continue, leaning forward. “In case it wasn’t clear last night. I’m so sorry. By the time I cared enough to not want to lie, it had been long enough that I didn’t know how to back out. I was scared of messing everything up. But I really do care about you.”

Harry’s smile widened. “You can’t backtrack like that. Which is it—you love me or you only care about me?” he teased.

“I love you,” Draco responded again without hesitation. “I know you’re still working some things out, and I know your feelings aren’t that strong, and I’m not going to push you to commit to anything, but—”

“You’re an idiot,” Harry announced. “I already thought of Eltanin as one of my best friends, and I’ve been spending more time with you lately than anyone else. Knowing you’re the same person is like having the best of both worlds rolled into one. Yeah, I don’t really know what I’m doing or what a relationship with you would look like, but we’ve already seen each other at our worsts, and it’s amazing how far we’ve already come in less than a year. We can make it work.” He stopped as a thought occurred to him. “I mean, if you want to. Feelings are one thing, but I know there’s a lot of bad blood between your family and me, and I don’t want to make things difficult for you.”

“It’s a bit of a tradition on mum’s side to fall for someone the family hates anyway,” Draco shrugged. “What’s the worst that can happen? Father has to be on good behaviour now, and mum won’t care so long as I’m safe and happy. You’re the one with a lot to lose, getting tangled up with the likes of me.”

For a moment, Harry was too distracted to respond.

“Other kind of tangling,” Draco drawled.

Harry blushed. “Am I really that obvious?”

“Little bit,” Draco admitted. “It’s okay. It’s cute.” When Harry’s blush darkened, Draco laughed and held out an arm invitingly. “Come here.”

The niche wasn’t really large enough to hold the both of them, but Harry went anyway. If he had to drape half over Draco to avoid falling off, well, neither of them were about to complain… and the kiss Draco welcomed him with was well worth the effort.

Hey.

Hi!

Why aren’t you sleeping? We’ve got a busy day tomorrow.

Why aren’t you?

Nervous.

About graduating?

About what comes next.

We talked about this? We’ll get jobs, eventually move in together, and live happily ever after. :)

Haha.

Should I be offended that you’re laughing at the idea of happily ever after with me?

Nope. I’m laughing at the idea that it’d be so neat and tidy.

Nothing worth having is ever easy.

My parents would beg to differ.

Your parents are an exception. They fell in love when they were like twelve...

And they’re still utterly soppy, which is why they’d beg to differ. Also, they’re going to be there tomorrow.

They ARE?

Yes. Mum arranged a Firecall today with the school to tell me.

Why’d she Firecall instead of just sending an Owl?

She had a confession to make.

What sort of confession?

The diary you’re using is hers.

WHAT?

Yeah. Apparently there were three diaries that were custom-made for her and my aunts. Aunt Bellatrix burned Andromeda’s after she married Tonks and left hers behind when she married LeStrange. When mum saw that I’d found Bella’s diary and started using it, she dug out hers and had one of our elves place it at the bookstore. She was tired of seeing me mope about the Manor and wanted me to find someone to talk to. I guess she thought I’d find it easier with a stranger.

Wow. That’s… really meddling and a little creepy, but also weirdly sweet? And she had good intentions?

Yes. At least it ended well, but I was not exactly pleased. She’s also demanding credit for our getting together.

I thought she didn’t like me?

She thinks you’re rude and uncouth, but she doesn’t otherwise have a strong opinion on you one way or another.

I assume your father still hates me, though.

Just as much as you hate him.

But he’s still coming to the ceremony tomorrow?

Yes.

That’s good? You want him there, right?

So long as the two of you don’t try to kill each other.

I can’t speak for your dad, but I’ll be on good behaviour so long as he is.

We’ll see. He’s not fond of public family fights, so he’ll probably save the drama for when we’re back at the Manor.

But you’re still coming to the Black house after, right?

Yep.

Your dad won’t change your mind?

Nope.

You’re sure?

For God’s sake, Harry, I won’t change my mind. I love you. I chose you. I’m not going anywhere.

Until after the ceremony. After we get jobs, when we eventually move in together...

And then yes, I suppose we’ll live happily ever after.

:)