“The banners are mocking me,” Harry said, glaring at a particularly offensive one hanging over the Slytherin table.
Hermione followed his gaze and then turned back around to narrow her eyes at him, while Ron scoffed and replied, “Right, the banner over there is what’s mocking you, mate.”
“Yes, Ron, the banner,” Harry insisted. “I mean, I know this sounds petty and all, but Merlin, whoever told Helga Hufflepuff that yellow and black was an attractive color combination should be hanged.”
“Because that wasn’t a horrendous thing to say,” Hermione said on a gusty sigh.
“Fine, fine, I take it back. The hanging bit, though, not the black and yellow bit.” Harry shrugged his shoulders and reached for a roll from the bread basket. “‘S’only fit for bumblebees.”
“You’re sulking, Harry, for fuck’s sake!” Ginny said, as she leaned across the table and grabbed the pitcher of pumpkin juice to pour herself another glass.
“I am,” Harry agreed, lips curving up into a smile now, “I am totally sulking.”
“At least you can admit it,” she replied, giving him a grin of her own. “Seeing as this is all your fault.”
Harry laughed at that, even as he picked up a handful of grapes and threw them at her in rapid succession. She caught one in her mouth and chomped it playfully, which only made him laugh harder. “Not entirely my fault,” he then said, “but…” He trailed off and glanced up at the House Points hourglasses above the Head Table; for the first time in over ten years, Hufflepuff had taken the House Cup, and its hourglass was practically overflowing with diamonds. Gryffindor’s measly fifty or so rubies paled in comparison. “I will admit that this is largely my fault.”
“I had thought you’d managed to redeem yourself,” Hermione put in, leveling a stern look in his direction. “You were doing so well the last few weeks.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” Harry smiled at her. “Honestly, Hermione, it’s not like I go looking for trouble. I think you know that better than most.”
“Yeah, I distinctly remember a certain Chosen One saying that he was planning on having a completely normal year, this year,” said Ginny.
“Right, as we were riding in thestral-drawn carriages--thestrals that almost everyone could see, by the way--across the grounds,” added Ron, “our Harry says that he’s going to have the kind of school year he always should have had.”
“Yes, and it seems our Harry,” Hermione continued witheringly, “severely underestimated his own capacity for normality.”
“I don’t suppose anything about this year was going to be normal, honestly. Not after everything,” Harry replied somberly, frowning gently.
Hermione opened her mouth to comment, but shut it again quickly and glanced at Ron. Ron dropped his gaze to his plate, staring almost resolutely until the emotion had passed. Harry’d seen him do it plenty of times this year--go off into his own head for a few moments to collect himself, as if stoicism was the only way to process his grief--and it didn’t hurt any less each time. It was likely going to be a very long time before the sudden moments of remembering all that had been lost didn’t hurt so sharply and intensely.
“Normal’s overrated anyway,” Ginny then said, her voice a bit hoarse, as if she’d had to swallow around the ache.
Harry gave her a soft smile and reached across the table to place his hand over hers. “Totally overrated,” he repeated, and she squeezed his hand gratefully.
“Well!” Hermione said brightly, bumping her shoulder against Ron’s. “At least we all thoroughly passed our NEWTs! And in a few weeks, it’ll be off to the Auror Academy, which is very exciting. I actually received the syllabus I’d requested from Auror Dawlish the other day, and in our first--”
“--leave it to our Hermione to already be planning our next set of schoolwork,” Ron teased. He leaned over, though, and pressed a smacking kiss to her cheek, causing Hermione to flush prettily.
“Well forgive me for being excited about our future,” she said, as she gave him a fond swat in return.
“Mood restored,” Ginny murmured, quirking her eyebrows at Harry. Harry nodded back at her, and she then jerked her chin toward the Slytherin table. “And speaking of moods…”
Harry turned and watched Slytherin’s slightly subdued celebration of the end of term. No one seemed particularly pleased about Hufflepuff’s win except Hufflepuff itself, obviously, which was probably to be expected, but having had much more to prove than the rest of the school, Slytherin’s defeat likely hit them a bit harder than normal. Malfoy, however, couldn’t have looked happier if he tried.
“Merlin, he’s so ridiculous,” Harry said.
Harry watched as he gestured animatedly, obviously in the midst of a story, and threw his head back laughing when he reached whatever punchline he’d been heading towards. Parkinson and Zabini across from him seemed quietly amused, and Nott at his side shook his head and went back to eating his dinner. Malfoy then turned, reached into his bag, and pulled out the hooded sweatshirt.
“Oh no,” Hermione said. “No, Harry, don’t--”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Harry muttered, his eyes never leaving Malfoy.
“Liar,” Ron said. “I cannot believe I’m about to say this, but can we please, please have one meal without you going in on Malfoy?”
“I’m with Ron on this one,” Ginny said, eyes glittering with amusement. “As much as I love your Malfoy rants, I think we’re beyond them at this point.”
“Fine, fine, I won’t say anything...even though honestly, how is he still wearing it? It’s bloody June! Isn’t he boiling? It’s already warm in here, there’s no need for him to be--”
“--no ranting!” Ron cut him off.
Harry grumbled quietly, but held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m shutting up, I promise.” He turned then in time to meet Malfoy’s gaze across the space between their tables. Malfoy smirked at him and lifted his hand in a teasing wave, just his fingers waggling back and forth, and even that only barely visible because his sleeve came up halfway over his hand.
“...and we’ve lost him,” Ginny said, shaking her head. “It was good while it lasted.”
With a growl, Harry rose from his seat. “That’s it...I have to know. No more mucking about,” he threatened.
“Wait, Harry no--”
“--no, Hermione, I’ve been waiting all bloody year. It’s time!”
“Mate, can’t you just--”
“--nope,” Harry aggressively popped the ‘p’. “Whatever happens now, please know that it was justified!” Then, ignoring, or rather barely even hearing, Hermione and Ron’s further protests, Harry strode over to the Slytherin table and loomed there until Malfoy stopped pretending not to notice him and looked up.
“Good evening, Potty,” Malfoy said faux-politely. “Bit drafty again in the Hall, isn’t it?” He punctuated it by pulling his bright yellow hood up and smirking like the goddamn cat that got the cream.
With his blood practically thundering in his ears, Harry opened his mouth to ask the question he’d been dying to know the answer to all year: “For Merlin’s sake, Malfoy, why?”