A Fluffy Little Olive Branch
Over the past couple of years, Harry had got into something of a routine. His office, once a blank canvas, alive with possibilities at the start of his career as an Auror, was now decked with familiar photos, stacks of old case files he hadn’t checked in months, a shelf full of books for reference, and a clock that tick-tocked reassuringly every minute of the day. He was too tired from his workload to ever think about changing anything, or sort through old notes that were no longer needed. It was enough just to tackle one case after the next.
His routine as well had become startlingly unvaried during the week. Whilst his friends had got married and were even starting to have children now, Harry’s personal life, as far as romance was concerned at any rate, had flat-lined. It wasn’t like he didn’t still see everyone, especially at weekends; there were always Quidditch matches to go to, pubs to visit and films to watch, but at the end of it all Harry would go home to an empty house, filled with quiet, darkened rooms.
There wasn’t much point in spending a lot of time there he felt, so he liked getting to the office early and staying there late, eating up the hours when other people were engrossed with the ones they loved.
He had become aware that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of spontaneity in his life, but he found that sort of comforting after the volatile years he’d spent at school, dodging death at every other corner, or so it felt. His fieldwork provided a decent amount of drama and action after all, and after only a couple of years as a trained Auror he already had one of the best success rates in the department.
Occasionally, he would lament that he didn’t have someone to share that with when he stepped through his front door. Ron, being his partner, already saw him most days and knew what he was up to anyway, which meant Hermione knew too. Of course he would have stories to tell when he met up with Luna or Neville, or at Weasley family gatherings, but it wasn’t quite the same.
At times like this he would sigh, shake himself, and remember that he had a very happy life. He didn’t need anyone else by his side to validate it. It just…might be nice. But without that inspiration, his office stilled, reminding him that routine and predictability had become his friends in all aspects of his life.
That was, until that morning.
He had taken the Floo early and arrived at the Ministry before most of his colleagues as usual, and headed down to the Auror division without more than a handful of people to say hello to along the way. All the doors along his well-walked corridor were closed as he came to a halt to unlock his own, stepping inside to turn on the lights to aid the weak dawn sunshine.
And there, on his desk, was a box.
The box had not been there when he had left the previous night, and he had most definitely locked his door like he always did. So for a moment, Harry just stared, possibly trying to determine the box’s origin by sight alone.
Eventually he looked back out into the corridor, which was still empty, but he decided to have a wander up and down just in case. At the end, where the hall met the central lobby of the floor, he spotted Damien the receptionist and department office manager. He, like Harry, was always in on time, if not the very first on the whole floor, and nothing got by him. His whole persona was pristine, from his neatly buttoned waistcoats to his finely combed hair. If anyone would know how a mysterious box had appeared into Harry’s office, it would be him.
“I’m sorry Auror Potter,” he said, frowning. “As far as I’m aware, no one has had access to the offices. Shall I call security?”
Harry waved his hand at him. “No, that’s alright,” he said with half a smile. “Not being funny, but if I can’t deal with a suspicious box, that would make me a pretty rubbish Auror.”
Damien gave him a smile that showed his confidence in his abilities didn’t doubt he could handle the box, and not for the first time Harry toyed with the idea of asking the younger man out. Until he remembered that not only did they work together, but Damien already had a boyfriend. Of course he did, he was the organised sort of man that had his life together like that.
So Harry sighed and made his way back to his office where the box, unsurprisingly, was still sat there. More people were starting to arrive for the start of the working day now, and rather than have to answer questions, Harry closed the door and pondered the new addition to his office in private.
After several spells he was almost certain the box had no magical qualities to it. It was just a regular cardboard cube, perhaps two foot high and wide, with no discernable markings on it to help him identify either the sender or the contents. That was, until he got a little closer, and looked properly at the lid. There were over a dozen holes pierced into the top, and Harry’s eyes widened.
He could have been wrong, but holes were generally put in boxes because there was something alive inside that preferred fresh air to breath. Had someone put some sort of animal on his desk?
There was only one way to find out. So he edged over, wand at the ready, and carefully eased open the top flaps with a gentle charm. He didn’t want to startle whatever was inside.
When nothing jumped out, he crept closer again, still with his wand out, and peered inside the box.
A fluffy baby owl looked back up at him with golden orb-like eyes, and hooted once.
Harry blinked. Why, on earth, was there an owl on his desk. Had someone lost it? The little thing hooted again and shuffled on its feet. It was stood on cream coloured shredded paper that rustled as it hopped about (its eyes never leaving Harry’s face), and Harry suddenly realised there was an envelope tucked in next to the small creature.
Curious, Harry reached down, only to pause at the last second. “You’re not going to peck me, are you?” he asked the little bird, whose only response was to hoot back excitedly and hop from foot to foot again. So Harry reached down, and plucked the letter from where it was nestled in the paper.
Before he could carefully retract his arm though, the miniature owl jumped up and hooked its talons into his sleeve. It didn’t hurt Harry, but it did startle him a little bit. “Um, hello?” he said.
“Tu-woo,” went the owl, and narrowed its golden rimmed eyes so it looked like it was smiling.
“You want to come up?” Harry asked, warming to the little thing despite his reservations. He hadn’t ruled out the possibility someone was trying to kill him via ornithology, but if they were, they had chosen an extremely small assassin. “Okay then.”
The baby owl perched happily by his elbow as he eased his finger under the seal of the envelope. It was a pretty thing he had to admit, its fluffy feathers a mixture of white and brown that marked it as a regular ‘True Owl’. It was watching Harry with interest, large eyes focused on the letter as it hooted again in something akin to encouragement.
“Is this from whoever put you on my desk?” he asked.
If an owl could look mischievous, this one managed it.
“Fine,” Harry laughed. “I’m sure the note will tell me anyway.”
The note did not in fact reveal the sender’s identity. It was actually only a line or two long. “He looked like he needed a friend,” the elegant, black scrawl stated. “And I thought maybe you did too.”
Harry turned the parchment over, but there was nothing else. He felt a small flair of indignation at someone being so presumptuous. He had plenty of friends, and they all knew better than to try and palm a new owl off on him. He had never wanted another one since he had lost Hedwig in the escape from Privet Drive, knowing he could never replace her after all her loyal years of friendship.
“This is just temporary,” he snapped a little harshly at the owl, but he shrunk away from Harry’s displeasure, immediately making him feel guilty. He rolled his eyes and huffed. “Alright, no need to take it personally,” he grumbled, but the owl still scowled at him. “Okay,” he said, sighing again. “How about a job? Would you like to deliver a letter for me?”
He perked up instantly, hopping back and forth on Harry’s arm. He hardly weighed a thing, so Harry couldn’t even really feel it.
“I thought you might like that,” he said, feeling less guilty for taking his anger out on the miniature bird. It wasn’t his fault after all that someone had been thoughtless in buying him presumably for Harry to keep. “I’ll keep it small so you can carry it.”
He grabbed a bit of parchment and tore it into an even smaller sliver that he could roll up and attach to the owl’s leg. “Thank you, whoever you are,” he scribbled quickly. “However I have plenty of friends, and no need of an owl.”
The baby bird seemed absolutely delighted to be given the responsibility of delivering Harry’s letter, flapping his wings excitably and ‘tu-wit-tu-wooing’ several times as Harry carefully tied the note to his leg.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” he asked dubiously as he opened the door, but the owl gave him that little eye-smile again and took flight without another moment’s pause. So Harry sighed, and slumped down into his chair finally, picking up the now empty box with one hand and placing it on the floor by his feet so it would be out of the way.
He imagined the owl would be quite some time, but he was back before Harry had even taken a sip of his freshly brewed tea. He blinked as the bird landed in a tumble of feathers before he hopped back onto his feet and proudly wiggled his little leg in the air, showing a new message was attached.
“You got a reply already?” Harry said, impressed despite his reluctance to feel goodwill towards the gift he’d received. “Are they close by?” The bird just carried on hopping though for Harry to take his letter, hooting indignantly. “Alright alright,” he said with a chuckle, freeing the note and unrolling it.
“If you didn’t have an owl though,” the short reply read under his first message. “We wouldn’t be talking now.” Harry read the words several times, then, taking a gulp of his sweet tea, slightly enlarged the parchment and hastily penned a response.
“Does that mean we don’t talk already?”
The owl was already waiting for the bit of parchment to be re-rolled and re-attached, and Harry couldn’t fault his enthusiasm. “It’s a shame you don’t have a name,” he said as he tied up the small bow. “But I’m not keeping you, so I can’t really give you one.”
The owl looked smug, as if to say ‘We’ll see about that.’ Before Harry could tell him he meant it, he didn’t want another pet owl, the bird took flight and was out the door, turning right down the corridor towards the lobby.
Harry tapped the side of his mug with his fingernail, keen to see how fast the owl would be this time. Whoever had sent him and the letter were obviously close by in London, if not in the actual Ministry building itself.
He opened one of his latest files, hoping to distract himself, but the more he thought about how long it took to decide what to write and then write it, added to flight time, the mysterious author couldn’t be that far away at all, no more than a few floors.
So who was it? What department did they work in?
He managed to force himself to start writing up a fresh report, but it wasn’t more than a minute before the beating of tiny wings drew his attention up sharply.
This time the speedy little bird achieved a slightly better landing, only tumbling over his head once before presenting the now familiar roll of parchment up for Harry to remove. “They’re in the building, aren’t they?” Harry said as he pulled it off. The owl kept up a remarkable poker face though. Harry grinned. “I’ll get to the bottom of this eventually.”
“No,” said the letter. “We don’t really talk now sadly. I want to, but I’m not sure how to. I guess I could use a friend too.” Images of a lonely, stalker type flittered through Harry’s head. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to suffer fans like that, especially after he and Ginny split up. He’d had to put up with several women who were convinced they were absolutely perfect for each other, and had spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince him of their destiny together. That was until Harry had come out of the closet in an exclusive with the Quibbler, dashing all their hopes. He’d had a couple of anonymous love letters from guys since then, but he found the hysteria had somewhat worn off.
Something about these messages though told him that this wasn’t like that. “But we DO know each other then?” he wrote back. “Why don’t you just say hi, I promise I won’t bite!” Then, as an after-though: “How did you get into my office anyway?”
Only once the bird had shot from his sight again did he belatedly think about at least looking out into the corridor to see where he went. But he was still hoping his secret new friend would reveal themselves of their own accord he supposed.
With a determined grunt he turned back to his report, and focused on filling it out meticulously. He couldn’t afford to make a mistake, and he wouldn’t let idle day dreams about potentially handsome but also totally imaginary secret admirers cause him to blemish his perfect record.
He couldn’t help but be intrigued though. Someone wanted to be friends, but was too afraid to just come up and talk to him. Most people couldn’t wait to get a word in with the famous Harry Potter, and he felt it spoke of good character that this person was putting a little more thought into it than that.
But what exactly did they want? Friendship? Romance? Harry tutted to himself at that and started the next section of his report, trying (but failing) not to look at the wall clock to see how long the tiny owl had been. He’d definitely taken longer this time, so the other person must have either moved further away, or, more likely, was writing a longer response.
How pathetic was he that he was hoping this was some lovely, single guy, offering up a romantic gesture to sweep him off his feet. But seriously! he couldn’t help but think. Who buys owls for people they don’t even know?
Or sort of know. The person had said they ‘didn’t really’ talk. So they might talk a bit. Stupidly, his mind wandered to Damien out in the lobby again, before remembering both the reasons they weren’t dating already, and then on top of that excluding him from such a round-a-bout tactic. Harry bet whoever his boyfriend was, he’d got a formal, written request on the matter, then a fully updated calendar schedule for the year. There would be no ambiguity with someone that organised.
Harry had to say he was enjoying this subterfuge though. This was the most unexpected fun he’d had in months and months, and he was positively tingling with it.
“There you are,” he cried in relief as the owl flew back through the door. “I was starting to worry you’d gotten lost!” After his best landing yet, the owl definitely gave him a scornful look, as if such a notion was absolutely preposterous. “Alright, I’m sorry,” he apologised. “Please may I have my letter?”
The bird acquiesced and stuck out his leg. Harry hurriedly freed the note and unravelled it, but then had to apply a small enlargement charm as their chain mail had obviously gotten out of hand and bigger parchment was needed to carry on their conversation.
“Someone owed me a favour,” the note started with a winky smiley face. “You might want to add some extra charms to your door when you leave for the night.
“Yes. We do know each other. And I don’t think you’d really want me to come up and talk to you, let alone be friends, but I had to do something. We’ve never really gotten along, and that’s my fault, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, for everything. I’ve always liked you Harry, a lot, but I was utterly useless and never knew how to tell you just how much. But when I saw this little fellow, all alone at Eeylops, I thought about how you didn’t have an owl, and how much that would limit you just talking to whoever you wanted, and that made me sad. You don’t have to talk to me, we don’t have to talk again after this letter if you want. But you deserve to be happy.
“Having a new owl doesn’t mean you have to forget your old one, I know she meant a lot to you. But you don’t seem to really be living your life, and after everything you did to save those of us less worthy, you’ve earned the right to live the fullest life possible. You DIED for us, so please. Live for us too.
“I’ll sign off now. I’m not sure you know who is writing this to you, and maybe that’s for the best? Despite everything I’ve ever done, I do like you Harry. In fact, I might very well love you. But your light far outshines my own, and I wouldn’t want to burden you with the trouble of being polite and acting out any kind of friendship. I will just be happy to know that you are reconnected to those you love because of this keen little owl, so please, keep him. Not for me, but for you. You deserve to be connected to the world, not shut away from it, and he just might help you do that.
You friend xxx”
“No!” said Harry out loud. “No it can’t end there – who sent this!”
The owl looked up at him with sympathy, and stuck his leg out for the expected reply. Harry just looked back down at the letter again though, and re-read it several times. A niggling suspicion was forming at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t fully put it into words. Perhaps he did know who was writing to him though, perhaps he knew exactly who his new little owl had been bought by.
“I’ve got a good guess,” he wrote without any preamble. “I think I might know who you are, and-” he paused, quill hovering above the parchment. This wasn’t the time to second-guess himself though, he had to be honest. “-I might not mind as much as you think. The war changed us all, we’ve all grown up. But we won’t know until we try. Please, I want to talk. Harry xxx”
He almost took the kisses off several times, but in the end he shrunk the damn parchment before he could change his mind, and clumsily tied the note to the owl’s leg. “Go, before I burn the damn note entirely,” he begged the speedy little bird, who nodded his fluffy head and shot into the air.
He – and Harry was almost certain he now knew who the mystery person was – he loved him. He felt so confused if that really was the case, there was so much hurt and animosity to unravel, but Harry hadn’t felt anything like that towards this man in years. He’d felt sympathy and even a touch of forgiveness from afar, but now, if he was right, he had a chance to get closer than he ever had.
If only the alarm hadn’t sounded.
His head shot up as if the ceiling might take the klaxon back, but there was no denying it. A top level emergency had broken out, and Harry should already be running out the door.
He clenched his fists and let out a noise of annoyance, but that did nothing to wave off the crisis. So he made several more sounds of disgruntlement, grabbed his wand, and pelted out of his office, taking the time to follow his pen-pal’s advice and throw up some extra locking and protection charms.
After several hours of gruelling pursuit and a number of hexes to the head that had been entirely too close for comfort, Harry trudged back to his office, slightly singed, pretty knackered, but mostly just eager to see what reply his owl had brought him.
Except, there was no owl.
Harry stood as the door swung open to his dark, empty office, and felt like his heart was being dragged down by an anchor. He hadn’t realised until that moment how much he had been looking forward to the new note, to seeing the little ball of fluff hopping up and down on his desk, eager to see him return. Instead there was nothing, and Harry didn’t know whether to shout or cry.
He was so sick of being alone. Maybe a rambunctious bird and an anonymous friend weren’t much, but they were better than the nothing he’d let himself get so used to over the past couple of years.
For the first time he could remember in forever, he simply grabbed up his things and left work on time, perhaps even just a bit early. He walked to the Floo stations on auto-pilot, worrying where his bird had got to, and if he was safe. Perhaps he was still with the writer of the notes? Harry hoped so, that way he’d be safe. He wished he hadn’t locked his door now, of course he couldn’t have been there, waiting for Harry, when he’d put up more protection wards than the perimeter of Azkaban.
He got a raised eyebrow from Damien as he departed, but Harry didn’t care. He was restless and irritable and needed to get out of the place he’d let swallow so many hours of his twenties already. He was young! He was single! He needed to actually start living life a bit more.
He jogged the way to the fireplaces, avoiding eye contact with anyone so as to evade getting dragged into any chit chat. He just wanted to go home, and he’d deal with what to do next after that.
He stepped into his kitchen in a flurry of flames and magic, and his heart suddenly leapt. For there, on the table, was one very excitable owl.
“You’re here!” Harry cried in delight, dropping his bag and travelling cloak unceremoniously on the floor. The owl tu-wit-tu-wooed loudly and repeatedly as Harry darted over to him, holding out his arm to let him hop up. “And you have a reply! Oh good owl, clever owl,” he gushed, extremely relieved no one was around to hear him being such a sap.
His heart thumping wildly, he quickly unrolled the note and enlarged it to see what his friend had written under all their other notes. “I care about you deeply Harry,” it stated. “Enough that I want to put your needs above mine. We can keep talking, if you like? But I don’t want to confirm who I am. It’s better this way xxx”
“My arse it is,” Harry said belligerently. “Come on, follow me,” he instructed the owl as he took flight and zoomed around Harry’s head as he headed for the back door. There was still plenty of daylight seeing as it was summertime, and Harry didn’t waste a moment dashing over to his shed. He grabbed one of his sturdier brooms, one made for long distance travel, and threw his leg over. “Can you take me to him?” he asked the tiny owl hovering in front of his face, hope making his throat contract.
The little bird puffed up his chest like he’d been waiting for this moment his whole, short, life, and pelted up into the sky. Harry kicked off the ground immediately, casting a hasty invisibility charm over himself as he soared over Muggle London, excitement zinging through his veins.
“Just let me know if you need a rest,” he called to his owl. “You can sit on my shoulder and give directions.” The owl glanced at him as if he was offended, then put on an extra burst of speed. Harry struggled to keep up.
They only travelled for about half an hour though by Harry’s estimations before they started to make a descent into a residential area. There were several newly built high-rise flats, and the baby owl tumbled down onto a balcony connected to one of the flats five stories up. “Are you okay?” Harry asked worriedly as he panted from his perch on the railings, but he gave him one of his eye smiles that showed he was pretty darn proud of himself.
Harry carefully dropped into the balcony, dismounted, and propped his broom into the corner. The curtains were pulled on the other side of the windows, but there was light spilling out from behind them against the twilight, and Harry thought he could maybe hear music.
“How do I look?” he asked, nervously running his hands through his hair. He should have thought this through – he should have changed his clothes and brought a brush with him. He sighed. There was nothing he could do about it now. He was here, and he better do something before he chickened out and just flew back home again. “Time to start living life again,” he muttered to himself as the owl hooted and fluttered his wings happily.
He knocked on the glass; two sharp taps with his knuckles that he hoped would convey a confidence he didn’t really feel, and stood back holding his breath…
Until Draco Malfoy opened the curtains.
He couldn’t help it, his face split into a large grin. He’d been right.
Draco stood on the other side of the glass as he blinked in surprise, sighed, shook his head and gave a little smile of his own. He reached over with the hand not holding a glass of wine, and unlocked the door. “Of course you’ve appeared on my balcony,” he said, half in exasperation, half with a shy fondness that made Harry incredibly glad he had.
“May we come in?” he asked, rolling on the balls of his feet.
“We?” Draco asked, raising a golden eyebrow. He really was gorgeous, so much less harsh looking than when they’d been at school together. So much more mellow too – he and Harry did talk occasionally as his letters had suggested, and the former Slytherin had dedicated his life to making up for past mistakes by working in the justice department. Harry had a lot of respect for what he’d been doing the past few years.
“Gonzo and I,” Harry replied.
Draco frowned at him, half a smirk curling at one side of his mouth. “Gonzo?” he asked deadpan.
“Yeah, erm,” Harry said, feeling his cheeks go a little pink as he held out his arm for the little owl to hop on to. “I um, figured if I was going to keep him, he needed a name.” He glanced up to see Draco actually smiling now, a look of something like pride on his face.
“Gonzo,” was all he said though, as if repeating the name might bring some clarity for him.
Harry huffed. “Yeah – like Speedy Gonzalez, the mouse? It’s a Muggle cartoon, and he flies so fast it made me think of it. Gonzalez is a bit long though, soo…Gonzo.” He felt pretty stupid as he finished his explanation, but the owl ruffled his feathers as if he couldn’t be happier.
Draco took a sip of his wine, his eyes smiling over the top of the glass much like a certain little bird Harry knew. “So, are you going to stand around on my balcony all night?” he asked, a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Or are you going to come in and have that talk, seeing as you’ve obviously ignored my last few messages and come storming over here anyway?”
Harry grinned. “I think I’d like to come in,” he said, eyes locked with Draco’s silver ones, alight with possibility. “I think I’d like that very much.”