It’s in the tea.
Harry watches as long fingers wrap around the handle of the teapot and tilt it gracefully. Translucent, steaming liquid pours from the spout into the black mug on the table between them, mixing with the milk at the bottom of the mug. The mug, the teapot, the table—they’re all elegant lines and slim shapes. Harry suspects that everything in this room was precisely selected with quiet beauty in mind. There is a sort of serene atmosphere to it all, to the colours and the arrangement and the slate-grey curtains dampening the harsh light from outside. He thinks it’s all meant to put him at ease. To comfort and calm him; to keep him from feeling or acting mental.
Mental. He’s here because he’s mental.
The mug, now full, sits there on the table between them. It remains right where it is, not held up or pushed forward in offering, but the hint is clear. He’s meant to drink it.
“Do you want to do this?” Draco Malfoy asks.
“It’s all right if you don’t.”
“Isn’t that the point, though?” Harry slouches in his chair. “Haven’t I agreed to, just by coming?”
“You can leave whenever you want to,” Malfoy says. “No one is going to make you do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Showing up does not mean you’re agreeing to anything. We can work up to it, if you’d like. Or you could leave, if you’d rather, and not come back. Nothing is required of you.”
“I can’t leave.”
“I need help.”
Malfoy doesn’t say anything.
“That’s the first step isn’t it? Admitting I need help.”
“Yes, it’s a very good step,” Malfoy says evenly.
“And the next step. The—accepting the help. I have to accept it. That’s what I’m supposed to do now.”
Malfoy doesn’t say anything to that, either. He has a very intense stare, Harry notices. It feels like Malfoy is really seeing him, seeing all of the parts of him that he doesn’t want seen, including parts that can’t be seen at all but are somehow betraying themselves anyway. Malfoy reminds him of Luna in that moment, which feels appropriate. Harry didn’t think that would happen, despite it all.
“I promised Hermione,” Harry says, and picks up the mug. Malfoy watches as he takes a sip. “Do I have to drink all of it?”
Malfoy shakes his head. “Drink it as you would drink any tea.” He reaches for the teapot again and produces a second mug, which he begins to fill. He adds sugar and stirs it carefully before raising the mug to his lips.
“You’re drinking it, too?” Harry says immediately, surprised.
“The idea is to encourage honesty and trust,” Malfoy says in response. “It is important that you open up, but it is important that you believe what I say to you as well. Yes, I am drinking it, and I will drink it for every session unless you request otherwise.”
“I didn’t know.”
“I gathered,” Malfoy says, sounding more like the unpleasant prick Harry used to know than he has since Harry entered this office. It’s gone in a moment, though; cool professionalism comes over Malfoy’s countenance once more, as he drinks his tea with quiet composure.
“I don’t feel any different,” Harry observes.
“I don’t see why you would.”
“I’ve taken Veritaserum before,” Harry says. “I always feel it.”
“It isn’t Veritaserum,” Malfoy says, seeming slightly surprised.
“It—it isn’t? Hermione said it was Veritaserum.”
“She was mistaken.”
“So—what? Can you lie, then?”
“No,” Malfoy says, and pauses for a moment before continuing. “I can’t lie, and neither can you.”
“But it’s weaker.”
“Not exactly. You are not compelled to speak, but you are encouraged to, and required to be truthful when you do. Veritaserum is designed to extract information; this is meant to facilitate honest communication. Veritaserum is much more forceful, and we do not want to make you to say anything you are not entirely ready to say, or discuss anything that would be triggering for you. This is more of a nudge than a push, if you will.”
“But can you fight it, then?”
A pause, and: “I can.”
“Then what’s the point of you taking it?”
“I can’t lie once I’ve taken it. I can avoid the truth, but I cannot lie outright.”
“Why would you ever need to avoid the truth?”
“As I said, we don’t want to force any situation that would be too difficult for you.”
Harry contemplates that for a moment.
“Does it bother you?” Malfoy asks. “That I can fight it?”
“Yes,” he says; he feels the potion pulling the word from his lips. Gently.
“You could fight it.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You’re a very powerful wizard with a great deal of willpower. You were able to resist the Imperius Curse at fourteen. I suspect that at twenty-nine you can handle a truth potion.”
“Then what’s the point of me taking it?”
“I’ll know that anything you say is true, and you’ll know anything that I say is true. With this encouragement, we can reach a level of trust that could be impossible otherwise.”
“You realise the idea of us trusting each other is rather absurd, yeah?”
Malfoy shakes his head. “I trust you.”
“Why do I trust you?”
“Yeah, why do you trust me?”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
“You know, avoiding my questions right from the start isn’t going to help me trust you any.”
Malfoy actually smiles at that. “Point taken.” He sets his mug on the table between them and laces his fingers together in his lap. “I trust you because you saved my life eleven years ago, at great risk to your own. I trust you because you are the only reason I was not sent to Azkaban at seventeen, and therefore the only reason I am able to live the life I live now. I trust you because you’ve been a marvellous influence on Teddy—a child who quite deserves marvellous influences. I trust you because I believe that while you may not be taking care of yourself, you have never stopped wanting what’s best for others.”
Harry doesn’t know what to say to that. He doesn’t know what to say to any of that. He knew they weren’t enemies anymore, him and Malfoy, not for a long time. Not since Malfoy screamed at Crabbe and Goyle not to kill him, and Harry flew low above the flames and grasped his sweaty hand to pull him onto Harry’s own broom. Or maybe since before then; maybe ever since an utterly insane, power-hungry wizard stole both of their childhoods. He knew they weren’t enemies. But he also knew they weren’t friends. A polite nod and a bit of small talk when crossing paths was the most they’d exchanged over the past decade, and Harry thought Malfoy’s regard for him stopped there.
He trusts him.
That’s everyone’s first mistake.
“I miss Teddy,” Harry says at last.
“I know,” Malfoy says. Of course he knows. “Do you write often?”
Harry nods. “Almost every day.”
“And how is he?”
“He’s having a great first year,” Harry says, though he is sure Malfoy already knows this. “In Hufflepuff like his mum, and loving Transfiguration like his gran.” He clears his throat. “And Defence.”
Malfoy nods. “He seems happy?”
“Yes,” Harry says, and he wants to sound glad about this—he is glad about this—but his voice shakes slightly.
“Do you think this will work?” Malfoy asks gently, after a moment.
“Would you rather talk to someone else?”
Harry blinks. “It’s not as though I’ve a host of options, is it?”
“There’s Luna, of course—” Malfoy starts, and Harry cuts him off, shaking his head.
“I can’t talk to Luna.” It was Luna who helped him decide on Malfoy in the first place. Luna is one of his closest friends; he knew he’d never be able to properly tell her anything.
“Would you mind telling me why not?” Malfoy asks.
Harry appreciates how he phrases it. He does not feel an answering nudge from the potion, and is free to say only what he wants to. “I wouldn’t want to hurt her,” he says, and it isn’t a very complete answer, but Malfoy accepts it anyway.
“Rachel, Thomas, and Karen are all available,” he says, listing the other counsellors he and Luna have hired.
Harry shakes his head again. “They all—they’ll expect things.”
Malfoy is quiet, waiting for him to expand.
“They’ll know me as Harry Potter, and they’ll either pity me or revere me. I don’t think there’s any chance of me opening up to someone who came of age right at the height of my fame and sees—or has ever seen—me as some sort of…legend.” He remembers Malfoy taunting him when they were children, Malfoy racing him for the snitch, Malfoy petrifying him and stomping on his face. “You know I’m a person.”
If he could have his way, he’d talk to a Muggle. Someone who would never know who he is or what he did when he was seventeen. But who he is and what he did when he was seventeen is the hugest factor in what’s wrong with him now, probably, so he can’t talk to a Muggle.
“Me being your only option doesn’t make me a good option,” Malfoy says, after a measured pause. “Do you think this will work?” he asks again.
Harry thinks about why he’s here—how he’s been feeling, how his friends have been looking at him, Hermione’s birthday. He thinks about Malfoy, and all of his composure, and all of their history, and his insistence on trust. He hopes it will work. He thinks it might work.
He nods and downs another gulp of his tea.
“All right,” Malfoy says, and picks up his own mug.
“Should we start talking about what’s wrong with me, then?” Harry prompts, as Malfoy sips. “Inner demons? Childhood trauma? Repressed emotions?”
A trace of a smile crosses Malfoy’s expression. “Do you want to talk about those things?”
Harry shrugs. “That’s what therapy is for, isn’t it?”
“I’m here to talk about whatever you want to talk about,” Malfoy says. “If you want to talk about repression—”
“I don’t want to talk about repression.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
Harry considers the question, and it takes him a long time to answer. Eventually, he realises why he can’t say anything. “I don’t want to talk about anything, I don’t think.”
“We don’t have to talk about anything if you don’t want to.”
“No, I—it isn’t that I don’t want to talk at all. I just mean…there isn’t any particular thing I want to talk about. It’s—it’s weird, you know? I think it might be a while before I really want to talk.”
Malfoy nods. “That makes sense.”
“I think you’re going to have to prompt me,” Harry decides. “Since I don’t know what to say, really.”
“Why don’t we start with why you’re here?”
“Don’t you know?”
He shakes his head. “I know the information you gave when you made the appointment, and I know what Luna has told me, which isn’t much. You have had trouble sleeping, mood swings, and feelings of helplessness, as though your actions and what happens around you are not under your control.”
It sounds much more clinical than what Harry has experienced, somehow exaggerated and overdramatic, but also a vast understatement, all at once. “You talked to Luna about me?”
“A bit,” Malfoy says. “When you first discussed therapy with her, she wanted to gauge whether I’d be able to help you.” He doesn’t say anything specific that they talked about, and Harry doesn’t ask. He isn’t sure he wants to know. He imagines that if Malfoy had not been pushing this whole openness and honesty thing, he wouldn’t have admitted knowing anything about Harry’s situation at all.
“It sounds like you know why I’m here, then.”
“No, I only have a vague idea of some of the problems you’ve been struggling with. I don’t know what made you decide to ask for help.”
Harry thinks for a moment. Malfoy has been careful with his phrasing again; Harry wonders whether he will always be this accommodating or if this is a way of easing Harry into it. “I’m not taking care of myself,” he says eventually. “I’ve shut down, and I’ve been shutting people out, and I need help so that I can start to take care of myself again. And start to be myself again.”
Malfoy is quiet at first, as though expecting Harry to say more. When he doesn’t, Malfoy says, “What I’m wondering is what made you decide you needed help. Because—and I beg your pardon if I am mistaken—that didn’t sound like it came from you.”
No, that didn’t come from Harry. It’s what Hermione said, almost word for word, when she sat him down and begged him to get help. Then she started crying, and Harry started crying, and Ron started crying, and they all cried together for a little while.
“Harry?” Malfoy prompts. It feels strange. It’s strange to hear his given name coming out of Malfoy’s mouth.
“I’m here because my friends are worried about me,” Harry says, and it’s the truth. Not a half-truth, or an allusion to the truth; the whole truth. He’s here because of Hermione, and Luna, and Ron, and Ginny—and Neville and Hannah and Dean and George. And—everyone. Everyone is worried about him. “I don’t like it,” he says. “I don’t want them to be worried about me.”
“Why are they worried about you?” Malfoy asks, and it annoys Harry. It annoys him because it’s a stupid question, and Malfoy obviously already knows the answer. He’s talked to Luna. He knows why they’re worried.
“I’m scaring them,” Harry says shortly. At Malfoy’s silent, questioning gaze, he grudgingly continues. “I—I don’t eat properly anymore. I don’t really sleep either. I haven’t slept more than two hours at a time in over a month.”
“And am I correct in understanding that this behaviour—this isn’t bothering you in and of itself. What’s bothering you is that it worries the people who care about you.”
Harry wants to say no, but he can’t. “Yes.”
“You’re all right with not eating or sleeping properly?”
Harry shakes his head. “I mean, no, I’m not—I’m not all right with it. It bothers me. Of course it bothers me. It just...it feels like that’s just how it is. That’s just how I am, so I’m not—it doesn’t feel like a problem. The problem is that they’re all worried.”
Malfoy nods, as though understanding, though Harry can’t shake the feeling that he is actually thinking that Harry is terribly far gone, terribly disturbed, so terribly messed up that Malfoy cannot help him.
“Have you eaten today?” Malfoy asks.
Harry wants to say he has, and the impulse surprises him. He thought—he knew the truth potion would be important for the hard things, the things Harry has avoided for years, but he hadn’t expected it to be necessary for questions this simple. “I haven’t.”
“Do you plan to eat today?”
“Yes. I’m going to Ron and Hermione’s for dinner.” So that he can tell Hermione that he went, that he’s going to get better, and see that worried crease between her eyebrows ease, even slightly.
Malfoy nods. “And when you don’t eat—is it because you aren’t hungry?”
“I think most of the time it simply doesn’t occur to me,” Harry says slowly, considering it.
“Most of the time?”
“And the rest of the time?”
“Sometimes it just isn’t a priority,” Harry says with a shrug. “Sometimes there are other things that seem more important for me to be doing.” When Malfoy waits, not asking anything further but merely staring in that penetrating way, Harry adds, “Sometimes it feels like I don’t deserve it.”
Malfoy is impassive, and Harry isn’t sure whether that is better or worse than the mix of horror and concern he would have seen if he had said that to one of his friends. He hasn’t ever said that to any of his friends; he hadn’t thought it, not consciously or completely, until he said it just now. There’s the potion working, then.
“Do you ever want to hurt yourself?” Malfoy asks, and his voice is kind, but there is a distance to it.
Harry’s mind fills with images of bruises and cuts and burns, and he shakes his head. “My damage to myself is more of neglect than intent, I think.”
“Any thoughts of suicide?”
“No,” Harry says, and he is immediately flooded with relief that he was able to vocalise even that single syllable. He doesn’t want to kill himself. He knows that for sure, now, and as much as he’d rather have already known, this is nearly as good. “I’m not suicidal,” he says confidently. It doesn’t come even close to being a complete answer, but it is the answer Malfoy was after, and the answer Harry wants to give.
“That’s good.” Malfoy gives him a small smile.
“Yeah,” Harry agrees.
“This time is for whatever you want it to be for,” Malfoy says, leaning forward slightly and returning his mug to the table. “We can work on whatever you want to work on; discuss whatever you want to discuss. It’s entirely up to you.”
Harry nods slowly, not understanding why Malfoy feels the need to clarify this now.
“I suggest,” Malfoy begins carefully (and Harry understands), “we work on your routines, or lack thereof, to start. Does that sound like something you want to try?”
Harry shrugs. “I mean, it’s definitely important.”
Malfoy nods. “In the next three days, then, why don’t you try—as best as you can—to eat something every day. I suggest that you eat very small portions to start, and eat every few hours rather than at strict mealtimes. Can you try that?”
“I think—I think so.”
“Okay,” and Malfoy is smiling again, just a little. “On Friday we can talk about how it’s gone and come up with some strategies to get you into a more regular routine, with both food and sleep. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good.”
“Good.” Malfoy stands, pushing back his chair, and Harry sets his mug on the table and does the same.
He isn’t sure how these things are supposed to end. He thinks he would try to shake a stranger’s hand, probably, though it would likely be a bit weird to be touching a stranger who he’s committed to telling all of his closest, most personal secrets. Malfoy is not a stranger, and Harry doesn’t know whether that makes shaking his hand an expectation or even more of a taboo. He decides to let Malfoy lead, which works just fine because Malfoy does not move to touch him at all, and stands just out of Harry’s reach.
“I know you have Luna’s number, and our primary number here, but should you wish to reach me before Friday—” He hands Harry a cleanly white business card, with only his name and a mobile number. “Sometimes we get people who don’t like that we don’t have a Floo option, but I imagine this works all right for you.”
Harry nods. Even after all this time, it is strange to think of Malfoy with a mobile, but then, all of this is strange, and that may in fact be the easiest part of it to process.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“No, I think—I think I’m all right, for today.”
“All right,” Malfoy says, with that slight smile, and he opens the door.
Harry hesitates in the doorway, just before stepping into the wash of light streaming through the sheer curtains of the reception area window, above the low row of bookshelves. He turns back to Malfoy, Malfoy who has his curtains drawn, Malfoy who is softly lit but retains his basic sharp edges.
“Thank you,” Harry says, as close to audibly as he can manage. Malfoy meets his eyes, and Harry is the one who looks away first, turning and stepping out of the room. The door closes behind him with a quiet click.
Ron and Hermione have a small, comfortable home. They’ve lived there for four years, after one year at the Burrow while Hermione was between jobs and money was tighter, and before that, four years in a one-bedroom flat. Rose is three now, and with the birth of Hugo just two months ago, Hermione is working from home and spending almost all of her time with the children. It’s clear that she’s excited when Harry arrives, excited to see him and excited to have someone there with whom she can actually converse (though she does tend to address Rose like an equal, and is met with full comprehension). It’s also clear that she wants to hear all about how his first session went, and Harry doesn’t know what to say.
“Sit down, sit down,” she urges, pulling out one of the chairs at the table for him. Rose is sitting in another, drawing on a large sheet of paper. She’s using ink, with a precision that would surprise Harry in any other child.
Harry can see the questions burning Hermione from inside, can recognise the bright curiosity in her eyes. She is quiet, though, waiting for him to speak first.
“Is Ron bringing something home?” he asks, and he sees the brief, impatient twist of her lips; there are more important things to discuss, here.
“Yes, he’s picking up takeaway, on his way home.” She straightens the papers in front of her on the table. “Harry—”
“Will he be here soon?” Harry asks. It’s nearly six.
“I think so.” She frowns slightly.
“Hermione.” Her eyes sharpen, her lips a straight line. “Can we wait until he’s here? I don’t want to go through it twice.”
She nods, her eyes rounder, and says, “Of course!” Her concern is, for the moment, pushed to the side in favour of making sure Harry is as comfortable as possible. Which, then, makes Harry feel even worse. And he knows he can’t tell her that, which compounds the problem.
She sets about clearing her books and papers off the table. Harry jumps up to help, getting plates and flatware from the kitchen.
Ron arrives just after six, appearing in the fireplace in a burst of green flames. He has, as Hermione said he would, a bag of takeaway in hand, from an Indian place near the Ministry. He takes off his outer robe and tosses it over the back of the sofa before sitting at the table. Red, with the black trim of a Senior Auror. He made it three years ago, and could easily be Head Auror in another two, with the way things are going. Sometimes, he still talks like it could have been Harry. Harry knows it couldn’t have been.
“How’d it go then, mate?” Ron asks, once they’ve all served themselves out of the takeaway boxes, and Hermione straightens in her chair.
Harry swallows, takes a deep breath, and tells them he is going to be better. He is going to go to therapy twice a week and talk through everything that has been plaguing him, and eat every day, and sleep every night, and leave his flat and be a part of the world. Hermione smiles a lot and Ron makes a lot of encouraging one-word interjections. But Harry stops them before they can say anything real about it because Rose is right there at the table, and she may not know all of the words yet, but she can understand. And Hugo is getting applesauce all down his front. Hermione and Ron don’t need to worry about him anymore anyway; he is getting help.
Getting help from Malfoy, but he doesn’t tell them that part. He thinks about it but decides not to. He thinks this openness and honesty policy should probably extend to the rest of his life, should definitely extend to his best friends, but he doesn’t know that he’s ready for that yet, and so he doesn’t.
They know it’s a possibility. They know Malfoy is one of the options, and they know he isn’t talking to Luna. But they probably think that Harry wouldn’t want to talk to Malfoy, that he wouldn’t even consider him and would choose one of the near-strangers instead. Harry guessed they would think this, and he’s not sure he wants to correct them. Eventually, perhaps, maybe. But right now, with all of the many things he doesn’t know how to say to them, this particular bit seems comparatively less relevant.
“Well, that’s really wonderful, Harry,” Hermione says when he’s finished. She doesn’t comment on his obvious evasion, though he’s sure she noticed. “We’re so proud of you.”
Ron nods in support, his mouth full of tikka masala.
I haven’t done anything to be proud of, Harry wants to say. Instead, he forces a smile and forks rice into his mouth.
Harry’d had this hope, this completely ridiculous fantasy, that agreeing to therapy would flip a switch inside him and he would be able to fix himself breakfast and go outside and see his friends without feeling a constant sense of guilt, like a heavy, leaden weight in his stomach. But the days after the first time he sees Malfoy are just as difficult as the ones before—perhaps more difficult, with this new added disappointment. When he comes to see Malfoy again on Friday, he’s only eaten three times and slept about seven hours over the last three days.
They go through the standard ‘How are you’s and ‘How has the week been’s, and Harry—well, he doesn’t see the point of it. It’s been shit. Of course it’s been shit; everything’s been shit. But he can’t say that.
First, they talk about sleep. Harry is forced to admit that he hasn’t managed much of it.
“What do you do instead?”
“What do I do?” Harry repeats.
“Instead of sleeping. Do you lie in bed and try to sleep? Do you do something else?”
“I read, usually,” he says slowly.
“Until you’re tired?”
“Until I’m done with the book.” Malfoy frowns a little at this.
Harry really doesn’t have much of anything to say about sleep. It’s a lost battle at this point, and he’d rather concentrate on things that he might actually be able to achieve.
Malfoy asks about food next.
“I ate dinner on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday night, and then nothing until this morning.”
Malfoy seems to consider that.
“I know I should eat more,” Harry adds quickly, for some reason deciding that voicing this is necessary.
“I know,” Malfoy says, sounding very gentle.
“I don’t think of it,” Harry starts. And then, because it is the truth, he adds, “And I don’t—it’s hard to do it when I think I...shouldn’t. When it feels like I’m not supposed to.”
“When you don’t deserve it,” Malfoy supplies.
“Yeah,” Harry says softly, “when I don’t deserve it.”
“Do you think you could do it anyway? When you think you aren’t supposed to, do you think you could tell yourself that you actually should, anyway?”
Harry shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“Is there anything you like to eat? That you would enjoy eating, even when you don’t feel like it?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“Do you think—could you try eating anyway? Small things. Just a bit, every few hours. Your body needs food, Harry. It needs the calories to work right. For brain function alone, you need to be eating.”
Harry nods. “Yeah. I could—I could try.”
“When was the last time you ate three meals in a day?”
“Sometime in September, I think. I had breakfast at the Burrow, lunch with Ron and Hermione, and dinner with Luna and Dean, all in one Sunday.”
“Would you say you find it easier to eat when you’re with your friends?”
“Yes,” answers the potion. “But it,” Harry continues. “It isn’t—it’s more of a reminder, I think. When it’s just me, and I don’t feel hungry, I forget.”
And when you don’t deserve it?
Malfoy doesn’t say that.
“Do you think you could spend a little more time with your friends? Make plans with them a few times a week, or even every day, for dinner or for lunch, and eat with them?”
Harry imagines it, but when he thinks about his friends, he pictures their worried faces from Hermione’s birthday party, and after. “I told you why I’m here—that my friends are all worried about me.”
Malfoy nods. “And would they want to help you work on improving your routines, do you think?”
“Yes,” the potion makes him say, which is comforting. “But I—I really scared them.”
“When?” Malfoy asks, and it’s the right question.
Harry lets the potion take over, speaking slowly and without feeling. “When I vomited birthday cake all over myself, and a little on Dean, at Hermione’s birthday party.” He pauses and has to force himself not to resist continuing. “And then—passed out, and had to be taken to St. Mungo’s for stabilisation.”
Malfoy is almost inscrutable; he very nearly doesn’t react. But his eyes widen, just slightly. Harry thought he’d known. He thought someone had told him.
“What happened?” Malfoy asks, which is stupid because Harry just told him exactly what happened, but he means, why?
There are a lot of things Harry would like to say. He would like to say it isn’t actually a big deal, that it turned out fine, that he’s really okay. He’s said all of these things to Hermione and Ron in the last week, every time they look at him in that concerned, hurting way that they do. Harry can’t say any of these things because none of them are true.
“I hadn’t slept or eaten in a few days and my body didn’t like it, I guess.”
“You guess,” Malfoy echoes, sounding oddly bitter, somehow.
“It wasn’t—” He can’t say it. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
“Harry,” Malfoy says slowly, carefully, “were you under the impression—did you think someone had already informed me about that?”
Harry shrugs. “I thought, maybe.”
“I want to make this very clear: I don’t know anything that you haven’t told me. I don’t have access to your medical records. We operate separately from St Mungo’s because this is a private program that Luna and I have designed, and it is still relatively new. We do not have Healer qualifications, only Muggle degrees. I can put you in touch with a Healer if you require any additional help, but that is the extent of our contact with wizarding medicine. If there is anything in your medical history that you feel is pertinent for me to know, you will have to tell me yourself.”
Malfoy pauses, looking very intent. Harry traces the handle of his mug with his finger.
“I know this is unusual, and in an ideal situation we would not have any personal history or any sort of involvement in our lives outside of these sessions. But while I am aware of some aspects of your life, I am not privy to your experience of any of it, and that is what you’ll have to tell me. I am close with Luna, and I do see what I can of Teddy and my aunt. But whatever you may think, they do not inform me of your life in lurid detail, and even if I have heard something from them—which I assure you is not at all the norm—it is what they know of you, and not what you know of you.”
Harry didn’t know Malfoy could look this earnest. “That makes sense,” he says.
“And while I’m on the topic, I want to be sure you understand that everything said during these sessions will remain between us.”
Harry would have said he understood that already, but as Malfoy says it, Harry realises he’s surprised to hear it. He did know that, on some level, but he also imagined Malfoy and Luna talking. He knows they talk, and he knows they’ve talked about him. But they won’t, is what Malfoy’s saying. Not about anything Harry tells him.
“The only situation that would force me to tell anyone else anything you tell me would be if I believed you were a threat to yourself or others, and Harry—” He pauses long enough that Harry looks up, and his grey eyes are very bright. “I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe it will happen.”
“I’ll let you know if—if that changes,” Harry promises.
He doesn’t think it will happen, either, though this is not because he is hopeful or anything. He doesn’t think he is a threat to others because he is distanced enough from their lives to keep from affecting them negatively; he’s seen to that. And he only knows he isn’t a threat to himself because the potion let him say he wasn’t suicidal. As pathetic as it was that he didn’t know until then, it is still reassuring to be sure.
Malfoy tries to convince him that seeing more of his friends is a good plan and not a cause for panic, and Harry tries to believe him. He knows they care, and he knows they want to help, but—that’s part of the problem, really.
He tries to explain this to Malfoy but winds up frustrated and unable to articulate it; it seems the potion’s no help when it comes to finding words for things he really doesn’t know how to express. He just says ‘I don’t know’ a lot, and stares at things that aren’t Malfoy’s face.
They care about me, he tells himself repeatedly. They want to help me. He said so under the influence of the potion, so he knows he believes it. What he doesn’t believe, and what he isn’t sure how to believe, is that letting them care about him is a good thing.
Plans with other people are helpful, he tells himself. He’s known that for a long time, that he’s his best self when he has other people to think about. But when things are—worse, he has never felt quite worthy of being his best self. He hasn’t felt that he could be. He never considered forcing it like this.
He tries to make plans with everyone, rotating it so he isn’t too much a burden on anyone. Ron and Hermione have done enough for him lately. Everyone is very kind; Harry never doubted they would be. He also didn’t doubt that they would be awkward, and conversation would be stilted, and everyone (including him) would be at a loss as to what to do or say. When Harry goes to Luna and Dean’s the first time, Dean makes a joke about Harry keeping his vomit to himself this time. He immediately looks horrified at the completely tactless humour, but Harry is relieved by even that slight break in the tension.
And Luna, as Harry should have expected, is a wonder. He has always felt grateful for her uncanny ability to make him feel at ease, no matter how he’s feeling, but it is times like this that he fully appreciates how rare a skill it is. She treats him exactly the same as she always does—no long pauses before speaking, or carefully casual tones, or confusing mix of staring and avoiding eye contact. Seemingly unconcerned with her fiancé’s discomfort, she says, “There’s a special on the French Revolution, if you don’t mind it being on,” indicating the television.
Harry shrugs. “Sure.”
Ron was watching a crime serial when Harry came over for dinner the night before, and Hermione gave him pointed looks until he turned it off. Ron is almost always watching something when Harry comes over, if he’s already home, and he usually leaves it on. Or, he used to.
Harry just wants things to feel normal. He doesn’t know how he can begin to feel normal himself if everyone else keeps treating him as though he isn’t.
In seeing Malfoy for an hour twice a week, Harry finds himself spending more one-on-one time with him than he has with anyone since the summer, when he saw Teddy just about every day. Actually, given that he generally sees his friends in pairs, if not groups, Malfoy is really the only person he ever sees alone. It surprises him how quickly he grows accustomed to it.
The fact is, Harry hadn’t given Malfoy much thought. Not in years. A decade, even. Not since the war ended and Harry returned his wand and spoke for him at his trial and got him a lenient probation sentence. That fall, Malfoy went to Hogwarts and Harry started Auror training with Ron and Neville, and their lives no longer had much of anything to do with each other. Later on, Harry became aware that Malfoy and Luna had struck up an unlikely friendship. And eventually, Harry started seeing Malfoy around, at Andromeda’s cottage and at Luna and Dean’s flat, always in passing, never memorably. Malfoy was just a person, a person with his own life, and Harry was busy—busy living his own life, at the very least.
Sometimes, they chatted a bit, but never very much. Harry didn’t think about it at all. He knew that Malfoy was in school, and then that Malfoy and Luna had the idea to develop therapy for wizards, and also that Teddy seemed to think Malfoy was a nice man. Harry didn’t have any opinions on Malfoy one way or another, though. Not anymore. Malfoy wasn’t evil; he hadn’t wanted Voldemort to win, and when it came down to it, he hadn’t ever successfully done anything Voldemort wanted him to do, and so he wasn’t a criminal, and so he was free to live his life. It didn’t have anything to do with Harry.
But now, Malfoy’s life has a lot to do with Harry, and while Harry’s life is the topic at hand, he can’t help wondering what in the last ten years turned Malfoy into this person. This person who is unfailingly polite, and always wears Muggle dress, and seems wholly concerned with Harry’s comfort and well-being. There are some reminders of who he used to be. There’s the vague aura of superiority that comes over him at times, seemingly unbidden, as though he simply cannot help feeling better than Harry. And he always wears button-up shirts, sometimes with varying additions of ties or jumpers or waistcoats, and he always has the sleeves folded just over halfway up his forearms, so that half his Dark mark is visible. He does it so neatly and so consistently that Harry is sure it must be deliberate; for whatever reason, he does not want anyone to forget that he was once a Death Eater.
He still doesn’t tell Hermione or Ron that he’s seeing Malfoy. He only says that he’s regularly talking to someone, and that he thinks he’s making some progress. He guesses his discomfort is obvious enough to minimise any interrogation as to further details, but part of him wishes someone would flat-out ask him and force him to answer. It’s easier to talk about when it isn’t his choice to make.
He doesn’t say anything about it to Andromeda or Narcissa either, which makes visiting supremely awkward. Andromeda moved into Malfoy Manor last spring; with Lucius Malfoy passed and Teddy preparing to leave for Hogwarts, the sisters decided they’d rather live together than alone. After a brief debate over whose home was more suited to the both of them, they settled on the Manor, as it would have room for Teddy during school holidays. In the six months Andromeda has lived there, throughout the summer of Teddy being there too, Harry hasn’t actually seen Malfoy there once. After his first few visits, Harry managed to divorce his previous memories of the Manor from its current reality entirely, including that it was ever Malfoy’s home. Now, when he is there he is highly conscious that Malfoy visits his mother and aunt as well, and may well have just been to see them.
Malfoy wouldn’t say anything about him to them; Harry knows this. All the same, he is present now, sitting invisibly between them at the dinner table. When Andromeda says things like, “You’re looking healthier lately,” and “I’m so glad to see you’re feeling better,” she doesn’t mean that she can tell therapy is having an effect; she means he doesn’t look nearly as awful as he did when she visited him while he was in hospital. But no matter what Harry tells himself, he feels as though she knows, and he is tense throughout the meal.
He also doesn’t mention to Teddy that he’s in therapy at all. It isn’t hard to avoid the topic; throughout September and October, he wasn’t up to much of anything anyway, so their letters generally centred on Teddy’s life at Hogwarts. Now, Harry is doing something with his time, but telling his eleven-year-old godson things like Your cousin is helping me find the motivation to eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired seems like it would put unnecessary emotional stress on him. So he keeps the focus on Teddy, only referring to others in the context of their asking after Teddy. Hermione is wondering how you’re liking the new addition to the Charms curriculum, but she doesn’t want me to give you any hints as to what she changed. Write her, will you?
In steering conversations away from therapy, he hears a lot about Hermione’s efforts as Hogwarts Curriculum Developer. When he shows up for dinner at their place, Ron often isn’t back from the Ministry yet, and Hermione is generally sitting behind a stack of books with a gurgling Hugo in her arms and a mess of parchment on the table. Harry will relieve her of Hugo, greet Rose with a hug, and sit down to hear about whatever grievous oversight in the material taught at Hogwarts that Hermione is addressing today.
“Nott is the only one who’s been fully cooperative in sending me regular results,” she starts tonight. “I know the professors who have been there for decades are creatures of habit, but it’s no help to me if I don’t know if the changes are even, well, making changes. I’m not even sure they’re all putting the changes into effect. It sounds like Sprout has been listening to me—”
“I asked Teddy to write you about Charms.”
She smiles widely. “Oh, thank you, Harry. Flitwick is a very good teacher but he—he’s one of those creatures of habit, you know. With Slughorn retired he’s the oldest of the lot, and very set in his ways, I think. He didn’t send a single survey back last year, did I tell you?”
She’d told him several times, but Harry feigns interest anyway. He is only half listening as she goes on about the inconsistencies overlooked when one professor replaces another—“Slughorn hadn’t recorded half his lesson plans, with so much of it committed to memory over the years, so I’ve just had a letter from Nott about Soothing Solutions”—and starts paying more attention to the dragon that Rose is drawing with her enchanted crayons.
It isn’t until Harry hears a name that definitely does not relate to Hogwarts that he snaps back to attention. “What was that?”
“I said Ginny is coming for dinner tonight, too.”
She is studying the contents of one of the parchments in front of her and does not seem to notice the way Harry tenses as he hears this.
“Will she and Ron be along soon, then?”
“I’m not sure,” Hermione says, still reading. “Ron said he’d be home by seven, and Ginny is coming by as soon as she can, but I think she had an errand to run on the way.” She looks up at last, and her expression immediately shifts. The familiar widening of her eyes and wrinkle in her brow return, and her lips part, ready to say something Harry doesn’t want to have to acknowledge.
“It’s fine,” he says, before she can ask.
“Are you sure?”
He can tell the possibility that it might not be fine hadn’t even occurred to her, and that she feels terrible about this. She shouldn’t feel terrible; it really should be fine. It’s just—Harry hasn’t seen Ginny since his last day in hospital. She lives with a teammate Harry doesn’t know very well, and has a boyfriend Harry has only met twice, so Harry hasn’t invited himself over the way he has with Ron and Hermione, and Andromeda and Narcissa, and Luna and Dean, and Molly and Arthur, and George and Angelina, and Neville and Hannah—it hasn’t seemed right. And with the friends he’s seen, he’s had the time to prepare himself for it, to ready himself for the looks they’ll give him and the careful way they’ll speak to him. He doesn’t have that time now. She could come in at any moment.
He realises he hasn’t responded to Hermione and nods quickly, but he can tell he took too long. But just then, Ron comes through the front door, two bags of takeaway in hand.
“Gin here yet?” he asks, as Rose runs up and hugs him around his legs.
Hermione shakes her head and looks back at Harry, that look still on her face.
“Catch any bad guys today?” Harry asks Ron, as casually as he can manage. Hermione chews her lower lip and continues watching him intently, but allows him to change the subject.
“Stuck behind the desk all day, but Neville got a good lead on—” Hermione shoots him a warning look. “Someone we’ve been after for a while,” Ron says quickly.
Just then, the fireplace lights with green flames, and Ginny steps out of it. Her shoulder-length hair is pulled half-up off her face, and she’s dressed casually in jeans and a cozy-looking jumper. “Sorry I’m late,” she says, dusting herself off.
Rose runs to her, and Ginny picks her up under the arms and spins her in a circle before adjusting to rest her weight against her hip. Harry feels a brief, sharp pang as he looks at them, as he often does when he sees Ginny with her nieces and nephews. Rose looks too much like Hermione to be mistaken for Ginny’s daughter, but they have strikingly similar smiles.
Ginny’s smile, though, fades somewhat as she meets Harry’s eyes. “Hello, Harry. How are you feeling?”
“Can I show you my dragon?” Rose asks, not seeming to notice that Ginny has spoken.
“Of course you can show me your dragon,” Ginny says, looking away from Harry and back at the small girl in her arms.
Ginny sets her down, and Rose guides her and Harry both over to the coffee table, where her crayons are organised neatly in rainbow order and her dragon drawing sits at the top of a modest pile. “I made it fly,” she says.
The dragon, multicoloured and disproportionate but recognisably reptilian, flaps its wings in demonstration. The enchanted crayons were a gift from Luna and Dean for her third birthday; Harry thinks he ought to mention how much of a hit they’ve clearly been the next time he’s over. Rose quickly loses interest in the adults once they’ve thoroughly complimented her drawing, taking out another sheet of paper and starting something new in purples.
Ginny glances up at Harry, hesitant, and steps away from the coffee table, toward the window. Harry follows, his hands in his pockets.
Ginny is very small, but she tends to appear larger than her frame. Her energy, her fierceness, her smile that takes over her whole face—she has such a presence. So much so that sometimes when Harry hugs her he is surprised by how tiny she seems in his arms, how the top of her head only comes up to the middle of his chest.
Right now, with her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes uncertain, she looks every bit her size.
“You look a lot better,” she says quietly.
He attempts a grin. “People keep telling me that.”
“Are you—you’re doing better?”
“A fair bit, yeah.”
Her eyes travel up and down his frame; he knows he’s not quite as thin as he was the last time she saw him.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” he says softly. “I promise I won’t do it again.”
“You won’t scare me again?”
“I don’t think I can promise that,” and he smiles a real smile this time. She returns it, though her eyes are still sad. “No, I promise I won’t let it get that bad again.”
“Can you promise that, really?”
“I’m working on—things. I’m in therapy.”
“With Luna?” Ginny asks, her eyebrows rising.
“Dinner is served!” Ron announces from where he and Hermione have been setting the table. He sits at one end, pulling a wriggling Rose up into his lap. Hermione is tending to Hugo next to him, and Harry and Ginny come to fill the other two chairs.
“You aren’t talking to Luna?” Ginny asks, holding onto the thread of conversation.
Ron is busy negotiating portion size with Rose as he scoops carrots onto her plate, but Hermione freezes slightly, a spoon halfway to Hugo’s mouth.
“No,” Harry says. “We didn’t think it would be good for our friendship.”
“But you’re going to—her practice? You’re talking to one of her and Malfoy’s people?”
Harry nods, mid-chew.
“What’s that like?” Ginny asks.
Ron has caught on to the conversation now, and he and Hermione exchange a perturbed look.
“It’s good,” Harry says.
“Ginny, I—” Ron starts, but Ginny is already continuing.
“Luna told me they use Veritaserum? Is that weird?”
“Not Veritaserum,” Harry says. “A different truth potion. Milder.”
“Not Veritaserum?” Hermione repeats, surprised.
Harry shakes his head. “Malfoy developed it.” He told Harry this last week, during a very slow session that involved Harry asking a lot of inessential questions and sidestepping the ones Malfoy asked him. “With Nott, actually,” and Hermione perks up a little at the mention of the Hogwarts Potions professor. “It’s meant to, er, encourage a person to talk, rather than force them to.”
“How interesting,” Hermione says, and Ron and Ginny look apprhensive at just how interesting she might find it. “It’s not a diluted form of Veritaserum, but a new potion altogether?”
“That’s what—” Harry stops himself. That’s what Malfoy said, he almost said. “Yeah, apparently.”
“Well, it would have to be,” Hermione says, mostly to herself. “Even the smallest amount of Veritaserum would have the same effect—but a different compound…”
“So it isn’t like being interrogated or anything, then?” Ginny asks.
Harry shakes his head. “No, it—it’s more of a slight push than a hard shove, I’d say.”
“That makes sense. I mean, they know what therapy is like, so I’m sure they’ve done their best to make it comfortable for you.”
“They?” Ron says, though he appears to be only half listening; Rose has dropped something in her lap.
“Luna and Malfoy.”
“They went to school for it and all that, didn’t they?” Ron says.
“Yes, but I meant—they know what it’s like to be patients. So I’d imagine they’ve built their practice from that experience, at least in part.”
Ron’s brow furrows. “Luna and Malfoy went to therapy?”
“That’s how the idea started, Ron,” Hermione says. “They had to talk to Muggles because there wasn’t an equivalent for wizards at the time. Which was problematic, obviously, since they couldn’t say anything about magic at all, let alone the war.”
Ginny nods. “And St Mungo’s wasn’t any help. They’ve always been more concerned with magical ailments, or ailments with magical cures.”
Harry stares at his plate.
“Is that why they’re operating separately?” Hermione asks. “I’d wondered why they didn’t try to do something more integrated—therapy alongside the potions and supplements they prescribe at St Mungo’s—”
“Luna told me the Healers they consulted at St Mungo’s weren’t interested in incorporating Muggle methods. Of course, that was a few years ago, when they were working out how to start up. Things may have changed.”
“Apparently they’ll refer you to St Mungo’s if you want that extra help,” Harry says. “If you want any sort of mood-altering potions, or—sleep aids, or anything like that.”
“That’s awfully close-minded,” Hermione says, and Harry and Ginny both start, before she amends, “Not them for referring you. St Mungo’s for not wanting to incorporate Muggle methods. Clearly there’s a void there. Magical methods fix the symptom but won’t do anything to diagnose the underlying issues, and potion dependency has become a real problem for our generation. This makes me question their rehabilitation program, if therapy’s not a significant component—”
She continues in this vein, even starting to draw comparisons to the archaic and outdated traditions at Hogwarts. Harry stops listening. Ginny doesn’t seem to be listening either, but is watching Harry, her brown eyes heavy.
“There was so much talk about change, ten years ago,” Hermione is saying, “and you’d think by now we’d have made some progress, but it’s all still so backwards—”
“We’ve made some progress,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes and breaking her gaze with Harry. “Don’t be dramatic.”
Hermione purses her lips.
“Dessert?” Ron interjects, before Hermione can say anything about the rights of sentient non-humans.
“What dessert?” Hermione asks.
“Mum sent biscuits.”
Ron hoists Rose up out of his lap and deposits her in Harry’s, where she curls up sideways, her head against his chest, drowsy with after-meal fullness. Hermione stands up to clear the table, but Ginny is still for a moment, watching Harry, her expression again achingly sober.
“You’re really doing better?” she asks, her voice soft.
“I’m working on it,” he says.
The thing is, it’s taking too long.
Yes, Harry eats at least once a day now (usually twice). Yes, this is an improvement. But he knows he still wouldn’t be eating if he were on his own, and he still feels flat all the time and wouldn’t leave his flat, or even his bed, if not for non-negotiable plans, and he still can’t sleep properly (though there probably isn’t any remedy for that at this point). But he’s been seeing Malfoy for over a month. Something should be happening.
He thinks he must be doing it wrong.
“It’s going to take time,” Malfoy keeps saying. “But you’re trying. That’s all that matters, Harry.”
“I feel like I should be trying harder, is all.”
“There isn’t a should, Harry. Take it at your own pace.”
But what if my pace isn’t fast enough, Harry wonders. What if it’s too late for me to ever catch up.
He wants Malfoy to hurry him up. He wants Malfoy to set the pace instead, because isn’t he the expert, here? Haven’t they established that Harry has no idea what he’s doing?
“I want to talk about my childhood,” Harry says abruptly one Friday morning.
Malfoy blinks. “All right.”
“All right,” Harry says in turn.
“Is there any particular reason why you want to?”
“Well, I mean. It’s definitely important. I know it’s important. So we should probably talk about it, yeah?”
“Why is it important?”
“Why is childhood important?” Malfoy nods, so Harry says, “It makes us who we are, wouldn’t you say?”
“No, I mean—is there something that has happened recently that has made you think about it more? Or something you’re struggling with now that you’re tracing back to something in your past?”
Harry shrugs. “I think about it a lot. Not just lately, but—for years, probably. Especially with Teddy, and, you know. I mean, it’s probably inevitable to think about your own childhood when you’re with a child, isn’t it? To think about what you were like at that age.”
Malfoy nods. “Your childhood, then. You grew up with your Muggle relatives?”
“Yeah.” He clears his throat. “They hated me.”
“Why do you think so?”
“I don’t think so,” Harry bristles. “I know they did.”
“No, I mean—what do you think was their reason?”
“They have a very narrow definition of the word normal, and for them, normal is also synonymous with good.”
“They didn’t approve of magic,” Malfoy guesses.
Harry shakes his head. “They hated it. Even when I was young and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, even when I didn’t mean to be doing it, they hated it. And they—they made sure I was a thing they could hate, I think. They hated how I looked, but it was them who gave me nothing but Dudley’s old clothing to wear. They called me scrawny and too thin, but they underfed me and overfed Dudley.”
“My cousin. I lived with my mum’s sister Petunia and her husband Vernon and their son Dudley.”
“And they were—unkind to you.”
Harry snorts. “That’s an understatement. They thought I was subhuman.”
“How did this manifest?”
“I lived in the cupboard under the stairs until I was eleven. Dudley had a second bedroom full of old toys, while I slept in a cupboard. They locked me in there as punishment, sometimes. If there wasn’t school, they’d sometimes keep me in there for days. The only reason I ever stopped living in the cupboard was that they thought someone had caught on and was under the impression I was being mistreated. Not that someone had caught on to me being mistreated, mind you—just that someone knew the cupboard was my bedroom, and might get the wrong impression from that. So I got to move into Dudley’s second bedroom. Which was an improvement throughout my teenage years, I’m sure, in that I could at least stand up and walk around, and all that. But before second year, they thought if they kept me locked up they could keep me from going back to school, so Vernon put bars on the window and a lock on the door, and they didn’t let me out for days except to go to the bathroom. They gave me food through a cat flap installed in the door.”
Harry lets the potion push all of these words out, without pausing, and with barely any inflection. He tells Malfoy about all of it. How Petunia would hit him with anything she might have in hand while angry, and how he learned to dodge these blows, or stay out of range. How the things that made them angriest were often accidents, but they persisted in believing Harry had done these things intentionally. How toothpicks and dog biscuits were the closest things to presents that he ever received from them. How his only value was in making Dudley look better in comparison, or even baser, in being one of Dudley’s playthings.
Malfoy sits, and listens.
“Sometimes I think that’s all I am. Just a boy who grew up in a cupboard who isn’t good for much of anything, save perhaps as a punching bag. I know it—” Harry is mute, suddenly.
“You know it…?”
“I know it isn’t—” He frowns.
Malfoy watches him intently. “Harry?”
“I can’t say it,” Harry says, understanding what is happening, and wishing he weren’t. “It’s—I’d be lying.”
“What were you going to say?”
“I was going to say—I wanted to say that I knew it wasn’t true.”
He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t know it isn’t true. He thinks it is, clearly. He thinks that’s who he is. He thinks that’s what he is.
“It isn’t, though,” Malfoy says. “It isn’t true. That isn’t who you are.”
“I—on some level, I do know that,” Harry says. This, he can say. “There are people who love me. I matter to them. But it—it affected me a lot. For nine years, I was not shown any affection at all. And that’s—formative, obviously.”
He’s talked this through with Hermione, and with Luna. Many times, over the years. He knows he has a lot of lingering—issues, when it comes to the Dursleys and the way he was raised. But he’s never talked about it with Malfoy. This may well be the first time Malfoy is hearing about any of this (and it doesn’t matter either way, does it, after Malfoy telling him not to assume he’s heard anything Harry hasn’t told him directly). His expression doesn’t betray him, though.
“I didn’t have anyone. Not until Hogwarts. And no one outside Hogwarts, no one like family, until Sirius, and that was only for—two years, about. And he was in hiding the whole time, first on the run for a year, and then shut up in his family home. It wasn’t as though we had much of any time together, even in the time we had. And I—I love the Weasleys. They’re like family to me, and I do love them, but. They’re like family to me. They aren’t, quite.”
“Is family only the people you’re born to, then? Not the people you choose?”
“No, I,” Harry says, shaking his head. “Family is the people you choose, too. And I wouldn’t—I love the people I’ve chosen. I wouldn’t give them up for anything. But the friends you find along the way, they’re different to the siblings or cousins you grow up with, or the parents who raise you. And I suppose this can be good or bad, but all I’m saying is—I don’t have that. I didn’t have family like that, growing up.”
“Why did they take you in?”
“Dumbledore convinced my aunt. She was my mother’s sister and my only surviving blood relative, and there was protection in that—because my mother died for me. That sacrifice protected me until I reached adulthood, but only while I called my aunt’s home my home.”
“Protected you from what?”
“But not from them.”
“From them?” Harry repeats.
“Your family.” Malfoy’s voice is even as ever, but family has a coldly angry tone to it. “The way they treated you—that’s inhuman.”
I know that, Harry wants to say, and can’t.
“Harry, that wasn’t right. You didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that.”
Harry nods mutely. And then, “I didn’t want it to be like that for Teddy,” he says, redirecting the conversation.
Malfoy seems opposed to this shift, but doesn’t fight it. “Like what?”
“I mean with—with no parents, and being raised by an extended family member. I want him to still know he is loved, and supported. I want to be there for him the way Sirius was kept from being there for me.”
Hermione has a lot to say about this, and most of it does hold up well. Harry relays some of it now. He sees himself in Teddy. He, too, lost his parents in a war against Voldemort, too early to remember them. But he was left at the mercy of relatives who held no love for him, while Teddy has his grandmother, and his great aunt, and—his cousin. And Harry. Sirius was in Azkaban, but Harry can do everything for Teddy that his own godfather couldn’t.
And, Hermione says, Harry can now redeem his own childhood through Teddy’s. Harry can make sure that Teddy never knows what it’s like to be locked in a cupboard, or go without food, or wear ratty old hand-me-down clothing, or not hear a single happy birthday. Harry can do it over, and this time he has agency. It helps him come to terms with his past, and gives him something to do with his present.
“Hermione thinks that’s why it’s been so much harder for me, lately. I’ve grown so used to having him around, and it’s been a—difficult adjustment.”
He looks up at Malfoy then, finding him staring at Harry with his brows drawn together. He doesn’t speak at first. Then, “And she thinks this is a healthy way for you to cope?”
“Not healthy, necessarily. Maybe. But a way to cope, sure.”
Malfoy’s mouth is drawn tight with things he is keeping himself from saying. Carefully, he says, “And do you think that’s helped you, as a coping mechanism?”
“Well, if you look at me now in comparison to how I was even two months ago—yes.”
“You know that you can’t change the past.”
“Yeah, I know. But—emotionally. I can change how I feel about it.”
“And how do you feel about it?”
“Bitter,” the potion supplies immediately. “And impotent.” He stares at the remaining liquid in the bottom of his mug.
The silence stretches, and Harry thinks that Malfoy must be levelling a measured gaze at him right now, and he doesn’t need to see that. He brings the mug to his mouth and tips back the rest of the tea.
“Being there for Teddy—being there for another person—makes me feel capable, and worthwhile, and like I really can do something right. Nothing else makes me feel like that.”
He glances up just in time to see Malfoy nod, shortly, and looks down by the time Malfoy says, “I see.”
The hour is nearly up. They briefly discuss food, again, and Harry’s eating goals between now and their next meeting, before it’s time for him to go.
If this is what honesty is, Harry thinks, he really can’t see how they’ll ever make it to trust.
Harry has Luna and Dean in his weekly rotation three times, more than anyone else. They don’t seem to mind, and he reminds himself: they want you here. They like having you here.
He generally goes to Ron and Hermione’s on Tuesdays. Friday is their date night, when Molly watches the kids, and that puts Luna and Dean in the Friday slot; he tried lying about his therapy days over dinner with other friends and hated himself for it, so instead he’s taken to only seeing people who know on those evenings. And Hermione, Ron, Luna, Dean, and Ginny are the only people who know.
This Friday, he steps out of the fireplace in their flat and finds it empty. He knows they close off the Floo when they don’t want visitors, whether because they aren’t home or because they’re otherwise occupied, so they must be here, just not in the main room. The lights are low over the stove in the kitchen, but Harry can smell something rich and meaty.
He knocks lightly on the door to their bedroom but receives no response. He turns to the second door, to the spare room that Dean uses as an in-home studio, and before he raises his hand to knock he hears the sound of something moving inside the room—canvases rearranging, or a wooden easel shifting. They’re in there, then.
He turns to the empty room. The curtains are half-drawn at the windows and there is hardly any daylight left; the only illumination comes from a blown-glass lamp on the side table to the left of the couch. He steps toward it almost instinctively. It sets off the room in soft rose tones. This is the first time that effect hasn’t been dampened by the light of other lamps.
In the three years they’ve lived here, they’ve slowly amassed a collection of oddities. Not oddities, no—not nearly as odd as some of the things Harry’s seen at Luna’s father’s house. But where Ron and Hermione’s place has a cozy, familial warmth to it, this flat carries the sense that the seemingly hotchpotch decor in fact comprises many individual items of aesthetic or sentimental significance to their owners. Luna handmade many of the throw pillows, Harry knows, and some of the frames on the mantel.
Some of the frames contain photographs, both Muggle and wizarding, while others contain drawings, by Dean and Luna both. There is a moving photograph of a whole set of people in their two years just before they graduated from Hogwarts—there’s Hermione, Ginny, Seamus, Ernie, Hannah—and off to the left, his arm linked with Luna’s, is Malfoy. They were together by that point, Harry knows, but Dean is further to the right, with Seamus.
In a sketch—one of Dean’s, Harry can tell—Luna grins hugely, Malfoy beside her with a smaller, more private smile on his lips. It’s a few years old at the very least. They’re both wearing scarves, and Dean has somehow captured their faces flushing in the cold, even in black and white.
There’s another picture, this one Muggle, that captures three men up close as they each pull goofily cartoonish faces. Dean in the middle, Seamus on one side, and—Malfoy on the other.
Eighth year was when Luna and Dean got together, Harry is pretty sure, and it’s also when Luna and Malfoy’s sudden friendship began. Harry first heard about it in a letter from Hermione, who initially suspected some sort of love triangle and thought Dean and Malfoy were fighting for Luna’s affections. But soon after, Luna and Dean were clearly an item, and Malfoy hadn’t gone anywhere. It’s been ten years, and he still hasn’t gone anywhere.
There are moments he feels so curious that he considers interrogating Luna about him, but it seems like a betrayal, somehow. He doesn’t know if Malfoy’s promise that he would not be discussing Harry with anyone else was meant to extend to Harry committing to the same, but something about it feels wrong to him, despite his continuing curiosity.
They grew apart. They all grew apart, collectively, simply by virtue of no longer being cooped up in a boarding school together. Some grew further from each other, and some stayed close, and some grew closer. Harry has stayed in contact with a good many people, and has seen most of them at least monthly, but it’s inevitable that he would miss things. First in not finishing at Hogwarts, and then in not actually becoming an Auror with Ron and Neville, and then in concentrating most of his energy on doing everything in his power to make Teddy happy. He knows he was never consciously excluded from anything by any of them—in fact, he probably excluded himself plenty of times, all while his friends were trying to make him a part of things.
Even so, there is a small twist of discomfort in his stomach as he sees how close so many of them are with Malfoy, and how, somehow, this closeness has not touched him.
Harry looks behind him, at the door to the second room. Dean is standing in the doorway framed in the brighter light from inside his studio, almost glowing with it. “Hey,” Harry says. “Sorry.”
“Thought I heard a knock, a minute ago?” Harry nods. “Sorry I’m in the middle of this, mate.” He holds up a slender piece of wood with one hand and a second, shorter one with the other. Harry doesn’t understand what they’re for, but he nods again like he does. “I think Luna’s out on the balcony. I’ll be done in a few—dinner’s been stewing for a while and it should be ready soon.”
Dean gives him an apologetic smile before shutting the door. Harry stares at it for a moment, and turns back to give the frames on the mantel one last glance, and goes out onto the balcony.
It looks out over a small courtyard with neatly arranged foliage, but there’s not much to see. The sky, though, looks beautiful at this time of evening, and it casts cool blue-grey tones over their surroundings.
Luna is leaning against the railing; it presses into her upper abdomen in a way that looks like it would be somewhat uncomfortable. She has her mobile phone to her ear, and she is speaking in soft tones. She glances behind her at Harry when he steps out, flashes him a quick smile, and turns her attention back to her phone call.
“Of course,” she says. And then, even more gently, “I know you wouldn’t.”
She has pushed up the sleeves of her jumper, revealing the small, inked words more thicker than forget on the inside of her forearm.
Luna has many tattoos—Harry thinks the total number might be upwards of twenty. But they are all quite small, and scattered across her body. On the back of her neck, behind her ear, the top of her foot, the inside of her left wrist, just above the inner crook of her right elbow. She and Dean have matching symbols on their left hands, in that hollow between the bones of the thumb and forefinger. Harry sometimes forgets the others are all there during the colder months, while they’re hidden from view, and finds himself surprised all over again as her shorter sleeves and shorter skirts reveal them each spring. It hasn’t been long since the summer, but he’d already forgotten about this one on her forearm.
They’re all very stark against her light skin, and Harry can’t help staring sometimes. Like now. He’s read the words several times over by the time he glances up and realises Luna is no longer on her mobile, and she is giving him an odd look.
“You’ve seen it before,” she points out.
“Yeah.” He’s still looking at it, though, and when he looks up at her again, she is still giving him that odd look. “How do you know you’ll always want it?” he asks.
“Any of them.” Where her hair is tucked behind her ear, he can see the edge of the bird he knows she has inked back there. “How do you know you want them on you forever?”
He knows they aren’t as permanent for wizards; they can be covered up with glamours at any point, and removed entirely with more complex magic. But even so, there is a weighty sense of permanence to them, though that permanence is more symbolic than actual. In tattooing something on yourself, you are saying you want that mark on your body always.
He thinks of Malfoy’s Dark mark, perpetually half-covered by his folded shirtsleeve. That mark really is permanent. No spellwork will cover it, or take it away.
“They’re meaningful for me,” Luna is answering. “Even if they don’t mean as much to me later, they always will have meant something once. It’s like a story.”
His eyes flick down to the collar of her jumper; he knows there’s another one, a dragonfly or something, in the hollow under her left collarbone.
“Is it because of your scar?” she asks.
“Is what because of my scar?”
“Your interest in marking,” she says simply. “I chose mine, and you didn’t.”
Harry hadn’t been thinking of that at all. He’d been thinking of how Luna’s mean something to her, and tell a story to her, but are more opaque for other people, and how the meaning of Malfoy’s is immediately evident to all who see it. And still he lets them see it.
He wonders if Malfoy chose his, really.
“Maybe,” Harry says. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” The meaning of his, too, is immediately evident to all who see it. Not everyone knows his face, now that it’s been a decade since it was heavily plastered all over everything, but everyone knows his scar.
He doesn’t know if he’d ever want to mark himself again, even willingly. The things that are meaningful to him, the things that will feel significant always—he carries those around with him already.
“Food!” Dean calls from inside, and Luna follows Harry back in.
Dinner is already served and waiting at the table. As they start to eat, Dean explains the project he’s working on right now, which is for an upcoming gallery show; he starts talking about something like integrating sculptural elements in a two-dimensional space, and Harry doesn’t follow any of it. His eyes instead follow Dean’s hands, expressive as he talks, and the way his eyes light from inside with excitement.
Harry studies the small tattoo on Dean’s left hand, the one that matches Luna’s. It’s less immediately obvious on his darker skin. There are more, Harry knows, under the long sleeves of his t-shirt. It’s like a story.
Back at Hogwarts, Harry hadn’t realised that art was what Dean actually wanted to do with his life. Dean hadn’t realised either, though. He’s said so a few times, when jokingly bemoaning that he wasted his time returning to Hogwarts for an eighth year when he’s never done anything requiring NEWTs anyway. A joke, of course, because without that year, he and Luna wouldn’t have the life together they now have.
Harry’s glad for Dean, glad that he’s able to do what he loves and make a living out of it. He envies him too, somewhat. Not like Ron, working for the Ministry, or Hermione, working for Hogwarts, or even Luna, who also works for other people’s benefit. Dean does something that comes solely from him, and fulfils him, it seems, and successfully convinces other people to pay him for it. Harry, on the other hand, doesn’t work—has never worked—and still manages a higher income than any of his friends through biography royalties alone.
But it’s not about money, he reminds himself, as he did when Hermione’s nonprofits crumbled and Ron hadn’t been promoted yet and they had to move back into the Burrow, and when Luna was at uni and not working full time and she and Dean lived in a two-room apartment with a Muggle couple. It’s about knowing what you want, and going after it.
Dean nearly knocks over his glass of water as he spreads his hands wide, indicating the size of a canvas, and he and Luna both reach to steady it. Luna leaves her hand there, resting on the back of Dean’s, and its movement quiets as the other one continues gesturing.
Harry wishes there were something he wanted.
They are sitting in another tense silence. Harry has rambled for twenty minutes about the last week’s letters from Teddy, giving Malfoy information that is both irrelevant and likely redundant, and Harry does not have anything left to say.
Nothing new, at any rate. The only thing he is thinking, the only thing he seems to be able to think, is that this is not going the way he wanted it to.
He thought—talking about his issues is what therapy is about. He is supposed to tell Malfoy about the things that have damaged him, the things that have made him like this, and work through those things, and then he’s supposed to be happy.
“Is there anything—” He stops, and tries again. “Is there something I could do, some sort of—exercise, or something, that would—” He swallows. “I feel like I’m meant to be working harder. Like if I—” and he lets the potion take over—“could just work at it a little more, I’d get to be happy. I know you said it only matters that I’m trying, but I think if I could do something, I could…”
The potion fails him. He stares at his mug.
“Harry.” Malfoy waits until Harry looks at him, like he does when he thinks what he has to say is very important, too important to allow for the possibility of Harry not fully hearing it. “No one deserves to be happy. It isn’t a prize.” His eyes are narrow, studying Harry, as though trying to gauge whether this is something Harry might truly believe.
Harry thinks of Teddy, and Hermione, and Ron, and Luna, and—“Some people do.”
Malfoy shakes his head. “No, Harry, no one deserves it. And no one deserves unhappiness, either.”
Harry stares. “That one definitely isn’t true.”
Malfoy exhales, exasperated, and tries again. “What I mean—it isn’t about justice. There is no objective scorecard. There isn’t anything that a person does that tips the balance from ‘deserving’ to ‘undeserving’, or vice versa. A ‘deserving’ person will not run out of worthiness after a set time of happiness and have to then go about working to deserve it again. And an ‘undeserving’ person does not have to suffer at length before having the opportunity to be ‘deserving’.”
He has that intent, almost earnest look that he gets sometimes, but Harry doesn’t understand what to make of it.
“I don’t want to be unhappy,” Harry says. He feels a twinge of anger at the implication.
“I never said you did.”
“But that’s what you’re saying—I’m suffering because I think I’m meant to be.”
“That’s a little oversimplified.”
“Then what are you saying, because I—”
“Do you think that some people deserve to be unhappy?”
“You know I do.”
“Yes, which people do not deserve to be happy, Harry?”
“I don’t—bad people. People who have hurt others, or killed others, or—”
“Do you have any particular examples?”
“Voldemort, for example,” Harry snaps. “Voldemort deserved to be unhappy.”
“A rather extreme example,” Malfoy says coolly, “but all right.” His eyes narrow. “And you, Harry—do you deserve to be happy?”
He wants to snap yes, just as forcefully, but cannot.
“Do you deserve to be unhappy?” Malfoy says slowly, almost mockingly.
He resists the potion’s nudge to answer in the affirmative, instead pressing his lips tightly together and glaring hard at Malfoy’s unblinking grey eyes.
“So in other words,” Malfoy says, eyes glinting with something like triumph, “you consider yourself on level with Lord Voldemort.”
“No,” Harry says, still glaring. “I do not consider myself on level with Voldemort.”
“He hurt people to the point of deserving unhappiness.” Malfoy is expressionless, but his tone is coldly furious. “And apparently, you consider yourself to have done the same. Tell me where the distinction is.”
“People died because of me,” Harry says tightly, “but I never killed anyone.”
“And where is the distinction between causing someone to die and killing them?” His voice is even and measured now.
“Are you suggesting I have killed people?”
“No, I am saying that no one died because of you.”
Malfoy’s gaze is fierce and challenging, even while the rest of his face holds its usual impassivity. There is no tension in the set of his jaw, and the line of his mouth is relaxed. There is only the slight draw to his eyebrows, and that concentrated stare.
“I don’t know how you can say that,” Harry says at last.
“People died because they were fighting in a war, Harry. You are not responsible for that. If anyone could be deemed responsible for it, it would be Voldemort, and as you have just stated, you are not on level with him in terms of damage wrought on others’ lives.”
“But people did die—”
“Who died?” Harry says with incredulity.
“Who died because of you?”
“Loads of people—”
“Name some.” Malfoy sounds nearly venomous.
“Remus and Tonks,” Harry starts. “Sirius. My parents. Fred Weasley. Dobby the house elf. Mad-Eye Moody. Colin Cree—”
“You’re listing people you knew and cared about who died in confrontation with Voldemort or his supporters.”
“Yeah,” Harry says, face flushing, though he’s not entirely sure why. “That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“I fail to see how any of these deaths were because of you.”
It feels like Malfoy is baiting him somehow, but unlike all of the schoolboy taunting of their past, everything he says now is delivered with complete civility, and none of his words are remotely mean-spirited. All the same, Harry is losing patience. “They died because I—”
“They made the choice to fight for what they believed was right. For what they—I can only assume—considered worth dying for, as every one of them was more than aware of the risk involved. You did not so much as request that a single one of them do so, let alone force them to.”
“My parents literally died for me,” Harry says as calmly as he can manage. What on earth is Malfoy playing at?
“They made the choice to stand against him rather than surrender. From what I understand, he would have been more than content to kill you and leave them alive, and they also had no way of knowing that anything they did would leave you protected from the Killing Curse, as no one had ever survived it before. So, then, they had the choice between staying alive and letting you die, or dying—and you dying anyway. They chose to die defiant, but Harry, it was their choice. One that you did not consciously influence at all, as you were a year old.”
“They wouldn’t have died if not for me,” Harry says, still struggling to understand Malfoy’s aim.
“They wouldn’t have died if not for Voldemort,” Malfoy corrects. “Voldemort chose to come after you. You did not have anything to do with that choice.”
“Well, it was my fault that Sirius—”
“A fully autonomous adult—a member of the Order of the Phoenix—died in combat at the hands of Death Eater. He was not only a willing participant in battle, but also more than aware of the risks.”
“I stupidly believed—”
“And he chose to come.”
“I force-fed poison to Dumbledore.”
This, at last, seems to catch Malfoy off-guard.
“That night, he might have made it out alive had he not been so weakened by the poison he’d made me give him to drink just before we came to the tower. And I didn’t stop him, or you, or Snape—”
“You cannot possibly blame yourself for not stopping another person’s actions. And Albus Dumbledore carefully orchestrated his death, including any part you played in it. He meant to die. You said yourself, he made you give it to him. That wasn’t your fault.”
He stares, almost awestruck, at Malfoy’s unmoved expression. “You’ve an answer for everything.”
“The only person whose death you’ve ever caused, by any stretch of the imagination, is Voldemort, and you didn’t even cast the Killing Curse. He did, and killed himself.”
Harry tries to gather his thoughts, searching for anything he might say that Malfoy won’t immediately contradict, but before he can speak, Malfoy does again.
“Do I deserve unhappiness?” When Harry only stares and doesn’t answer, he says, “I’ve tortured people.”
Harry flinches involuntarily.
“I’ve cast the Imperius Curse.” His tone is curiously flat, and there is no hesitation as he speaks. “I’ve tried to kill people. I nearly killed Katie Bell. I nearly killed your best friend. I stood by as your other best friend was tortured. Whatever part you played in Albus Dumbledore’s death, mine was larger. I mocked the dead, and those they left behind. I’ve repeatedly, intentionally, and maliciously hurt others. I’ve—”
“Under duress,” Harry interrupts. “That wasn’t—”
“Not all of it.”
“Yes, but you’ve worked to—to make it better. To fix things, and apologise, and—”
“Redeem myself, yes. But Harry, wouldn’t you say that if apologies and amends are enough to redeem the mistakes I’ve made, saving us all might be enough to redeem any mistakes you’ve made?”
“It isn’t the same thing,” Harry says quietly.
“The system doesn’t hold up,” Malfoy says. “With human judgement, and human bias, we cannot be the arbiters of justice like that. We cannot define who is deserving or undeserving because these concepts come with inherent relativity. The most we can do is mete out punishment for measurable, observable offences—our justice system. But to determine the amount of pain a person has caused others, and how much they must suffer to compensate for that—that is not up to us, nor would we be even capable of doing so if it were. If you do believe in some sort of scorecard for this, the only suitable judge would have to be an objective, omniscient deity, and in that case, you would have to leave that up to them. While you may consider yourself to have caused so much misery that you yourself must now be miserable, the people who love you would insist otherwise. Whom do you believe?”
He says all of this so evenly and with such conviction that Harry can’t help thinking he has been through this many times before. He can’t help thinking that, perhaps, Malfoy has spent a lot of time convincing himself of these very statements.
“Harry,” Malfoy says, and Harry suspects that he would do that thing where he waits for Harry to look at him, but Harry is already looking at him. “You deserve to be happy.”
“I thought no one deserved to be happy,” Harry says after a moment.
Malfoy shrugs. “No one deserves it, or everyone deserves it. It’s the same thing.”
“That isn’t the same thing at all,” Harry counters, but his voice is quiet now, all the fight gone out of it. He looks down at his mug, tapping his fingers along the handle idly.
He realises with a jolt that this is the first time in many long minutes that he has looked at his mug, or even anywhere at all other than at Malfoy’s face, for more than a quick glance. He has not been avoiding eye contact. There have been no searching pauses. In the past ten or so minutes, Harry has felt more at ease than he has in all of their sessions so far, even with Malfoy carefully provoking him and contradicting him and forcing Harry to talk about painful things, things he usually avoids—he felt almost normal. For once.
He glances up from his cup, fighting a grin, and looks at Malfoy. He’s surprised to find that Malfoy is not amused, as he is, or satisfied by his victory. Instead, he looks—worried. He is frowning slightly, and also seems to have been watching Harry’s fingers on his mug.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Harry is baffled.
“I didn’t mean to get argumentative,” Malfoy says softly.
“That wasn’t—that was fine. I didn’t mind. At all.”
“I think I prefer it, actually,” Harry says quickly, before he can convince himself it’s something he’s not supposed to say. “I think I’d rather you be—well, honest with me.”
“I’m always honest with you,” Malfoy says, seeming unsure.
“No, I mean—I liked that better, you arguing with me. It did feel more honest, I think. Because when you’re—more careful, I suppose, I can’t help wondering whether there’s something you’re keeping yourself from saying. If that makes any sense.”
Malfoy nods slowly.
“What makes me feel most normal, I guess, is people treating me like things are normal. Not being careful or gentle or anything, but just—treating me like I’m me, and like there isn’t anything wrong with me.” He pauses, and swallows. “No one argues with me, you know. I think they’re all very afraid of sending me a downward spiral, or something. But it’s not—I’m not so unbalanced that I can’t handle a person saying I’m wrong about something. It’s refreshing, honestly. Luna’s the easiest of my friends to be around, you know,” he adds, figuring he might as well. He’s on a roll. “She doesn’t ever speak carefully. She always says exactly what she thinks. It used to make me really uncomfortable sometimes, back when I was first getting to know her, but now it’s really comforting.”
There is understanding in Malfoy’s eyes, and Harry is glad he mentioned Luna; he feels suddenly quite certain that Malfoy experiences that same sense of ease around her, and perhaps values her company for that same reason, at least in part.
“So then, do you mean—is that how you’d like it to be with us, then? That would make you feel more comfortable?”
“Well, I—” Harry starts. “I don’t need it to be constant arguing, or anything. I just mean—I’d like you to argue with me when you feel so inclined, and not hold yourself back from it, or feel as though you have to apologise for it. Just. Act normal, I guess. Do what comes naturally, or whatever.”
“Honesty,” Malfoy says, his grey eyes bright.
That’s what Harry wants. Complete, utter honesty, and not this careful mimicry of it they’ve been playing until now.
Harry is the one to meet Teddy at King’s Cross. Andromeda and Narcissa are preparing the Manor for his return, whatever that entails, and besides, Harry would have offered even if Andromeda hadn’t suggested it in the first place. He stands alone on the platform, and for the most part, the people around him ignore him entirely. A few eye him from several metres away, and they could just as easily be wondering if he’s Harry Potter as wondering what a man his age—too young to have any Hogwarts-age children—is doing waiting alone for the train.
It arrives just before seven, and the children emerge in streams, bringing with them a mess of luggage and pets. Harry stays where he is, trusting Teddy to find him; he’s not even sure what hair colour he’d be trying to spot if he were to look for Teddy in the crowd. Teddy reaches him before he even realises he’s been spotted—there is a sudden impact to his front, and Teddy is there, his arms wrapped tightly around Harry’s middle. His hair is black and wild.
“You don’t have any luggage?” he asks.
Teddy shakes his head, his face still pressed into Harry’s jumper. “Hermione’s rucksack,” he says, and now shakes his shoulders. Harry hears books clunk together in the enchanted rucksack Hermione gave Teddy as a going-away-to-school present over the summer.
“Of course. Should’ve known.”
“It’s really great to see you, Harry,” Teddy says, before finally releasing him. He puts his smaller hand in Harry’s and leads the way as they start walking. Harry’s chest feels tight with it. He’d had a great deal of unfounded anxiety that Teddy would return and have outgrown him, even only in little, subtle ways. Teddy wouldn’t want to hug him where his friends could see, perhaps, or would walk several paces away instead of with their hands linked the way they have since he first learned to walk.
When Teddy was smaller, Harry’s hand supported him. He’s older now. He’s spent nearly four months living away from home. Harry’s the one who needs support, now.
They go to the Leaky Cauldron to use the Floo. Harry still prefers not to Apparate if he can help it, and Teddy doesn’t like it either. When they arrive at Malfoy Manor, Harry finds that the Christmas decorations have quadrupled since his last visit. Andromeda and Narcissa both come at Teddy with running hugs, which he returns energetically. Harry stays for dinner, and Teddy tells the three of them about his day on the train before moving on to oral retellings of everything they’ve already read in his letters.
Sitting in Malfoy Manor with Teddy, Andromeda, and Narcissa became perfectly normal earlier this year, but it feels different all over again now because in a few days, he will be here with Teddy, Andromeda, Narcissa, and Malfoy. Andromeda mentions this offhand and Teddy cheers, excited to have both his godfather and his cousin present for Christmas Eve dinner. No one at the table has any idea that this is a big deal for Harry, or that Malfoy actually asked Harry’s permission to be in his own family home for Christmas, just in case it would make Harry uncomfortable.
Things with Malfoy are different. It’s changed. On Tuesday, Malfoy laughed at him. Or, didn’t quite laugh, but smiled in a way that made it clear that he was suppressing laughter.
But that’s what Harry wants. He wants Malfoy to tell him he is being an idiot, if that’s what Malfoy thinks. So Malfoy has been telling him. Malfoy tells him all the time. He tells him his fears are unfounded and his concerns are baseless, and Harry needs that. Harry needs that slap of reality.
And he also needs that sense of warm comfort that he gets when Malfoy tells him that yes, he can do it, yes, he did it right.
Malfoy speaking without hesitance, uncushioned and unrestrained, helps a million times more than he ever did when he was buttoned-up and professional.
Harry thinks it might even be nice to spend Christmas with him, a thought that never would have occurred to him even a couple of weeks ago. When Malfoy brought it up, Harry said of course it would be all right; why would Malfoy even ask? Malfoy gave him a pointed look and gestured at their surroundings, and Harry felt silly.
He does think it might test the durability of the divide between their therapist-patient relationship and their ties of mutual friends and family, but Harry did not much care for their formal therapist-patient relationship anyway, and thinks a bit more casualness might do him some good.
He spends almost every hour with Teddy over the next few days, at the Manor and elsewhere. They go to the Burrow so Molly and Arthur can gush over how grown-up he’s become. They go to Ron and Hermione’s, and Teddy holds Hugo with wide-eyed wonder. They go to Diagon Alley to see the ridiculous Christmas displays George and Lee have created. Harry does more in single days than he has in entire weeks while alone, and while part of him feels thrilled at this seeming progress, he also knows that when Teddy returns to school, this willingness to do things will go with him.
The Manor grounds are covered with snow on Christmas Eve, like something out of a greeting card. Together with the sparkling garlands and floating ornaments throughout the Manor’s interiors, this creates an almost fantastical atmosphere. Harry feels as though he’s stepped into some sort of alternate reality, which is disarming and comforting all at once.
And seeing Malfoy is disarming, too. Malfoy is wearing robes instead of his usual shirt and slacks—high-necked, floor-sweeping robes of deepest blue, unadorned but striking in their simplicity. Harry had prepared himself to see him in this new setting, to interact with him in this new way, but the change in appearance is unexpected, and he feels off-balance for a moment.
“Potter,” Malfoy says with a nod of acknowledgement, and Harry feels steady again.
As Narcissa hugs Malfoy in greeting and kisses him on both cheeks, Harry watches the light play on the silky fabric of her robes, and he wonders if he ought to have dressed more formally, or more like a wizard. Teddy is wearing a new set of robes that Narcissa gifted him early. But Andromeda is wearing a soft-looking jumper and long velvet skirt, and Harry didn’t come in a t-shirt or anything; he’s worn a nice, festive red button-up shirt for the occasion.
They go to sit around the fireplace before dinner, settling in the beautiful but not-quite-comfortable sofa and armchairs. Harry sits on the sofa with Teddy close at his side, Andromeda next to them, and Malfoy and Narcissa take opposite armchairs. Harry has adjusted to Malfoy constantly looking at him in that focused, searching way, and it is new to be sitting here with him there and have Malfoy not looking at him much at all. Mostly, he looks at Narcissa, and sometimes at Teddy.
As they sit and talk and Harry lets the comfortable conversation warm him, he realises he cannot recall the last time he actually saw both Draco and Narcissa Malfoy at once. Malfoy has shaped Harry’s relationship with Narcissa, but only through his absence. First when Narcissa lied to Voldemort on Harry’s behalf so that she could get into the castle and find her son during the Battle of Hogwarts. Then when Malfoy was in Azkaban after the battle for three excruciatingly long weeks and Narcissa kept in constant contact with Harry, begging him to fix it (something Harry had already committed to doing, though he could understand why she might have had trouble believing that). And again when Malfoy completely cut communication with his parents while at university and Harry introduced Narcissa to Luna so she would stop sending him letters for information.
Because of all of that, Narcissa has always approached Harry very warmly, and in the time that she and Andromeda have lived together, Harry has begun to think she may even like him on his own merit, not only for how he helped her son all those years ago. She seems to really appreciate how much he loves Teddy. She’s even asked after Hermione and Ron a few times, when Harry has come for dinner in the last couple of months.
But she is Malfoy’s mother, first and foremost, even if it is odd to see them together after all this time of only seeing them apart. It recasts Narcissa as a mother rather than a sister. Harry can see the way he feels about Teddy in her face every time she looks at her son, and she makes sense to him in a way she didn’t before.
They eventually relocate for dinner. Harry thought perhaps they’d eat in the dining room tonight, as it’s something of a special occasion, but they settle around the same modest table with six chairs that they’ve eaten at whenever Harry’s come to dinner before. Andromeda and Narcissa sit at one side, Harry and Teddy on the other, with Malfoy at the head. Harry wonders whether Lucius would have sat at the other end, or if Draco has taken his father’s place. It’s the first he’s thought of Lucius Malfoy in a long while.
The conversation by the fire had quickly centred in on Teddy’s experiences at Hogwarts, and now as they eat Andromeda and Narcissa begin to reminisce about their own years at Hogwarts between stories from Teddy. Harry is glad they seem more than willing to continue in this vein without any input from him or Malfoy; he’s not sure bringing up their school days would be conducive to the amiable atmosphere they’ve maintained thus far.
“Is there still that trick step between the third and fourth floors?” Andromeda asks.
“I dunno,” Teddy says, “but there’s one on the sixth floor. My friend Candace got stuck and I had to find a prefect to help get her out.”
“Your grandfather got stuck on his way to the Halloween Feast our fourth year. He took an indirect route and everyone else in the castle was in the Great Hall, so he had to wait alone for hours until someone came across him. Didn’t get a bite to eat that night.”
“During our first Halloween Feast, there was a troll,” Malfoy says with a small smile.
“Wasn’t that how you became friends with Hermione?” Teddy asks, and Harry nods. Teddy loves that story.
“I wish I’d done anything that exciting,” Teddy says wistfully. “I just met Candace on the train. And Stephen’s in the bed next to mine in the dorm, and David sat next to me on the first day of Charms.”
“It’s so nice to be hearing about all of this,” Narcissa says, and Malfoy gives her a sharp look that confuses Harry. “It reminds me of when Draco came home for Christmas during his first year, and all of the stories he told us. There’s nothing like watching your child grow up. Isn’t it nice, Draco?”
“Yes, it’s very nice. I’m glad you’re enjoying Hogwarts, Teddy. I loved it, too.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to hear stories from your own son, Draco?” Narcissa continues as Teddy opens his mouth.
“I’m sure it would be, Mother,” he answers tightly, “if I had a son.”
“It’s hard not to worry, though,” Andromeda interjects, and Harry can see the careful way she is regarding her sister and nephew. “When Dora went away half of what I heard of her adventures involved scrapes and bruises and broken bones. Thank goodness Hogwarts has a competent and well-equipped hospital wing. It was ages before I finally accepted that she was in good hands and they’d be able to fix whatever damage she did to herself.”
Narcissa looks very much as though she’d like to say something more to her son, but Teddy is beaming at the thought of his mother getting hurt and going to Madam Pomfrey for repairs. He begs Andromeda to retell the story of the first time Tonks fell off her broom, and grins all the while.
“Harry,” he says when Andromeda is finished, “tell us about the time Madam Pomfrey had to grow back all of your bones!”
“Just one arm,” Harry clarifies, which lessens the shock in the women’s expressions somewhat. He tells the whole story, from Dobby sabotaging the bludger to Lockhart turning his arm into the fleshy equivalent of a rubber glove. By the end of it, Narcissa seems to have entirely forgotten whatever she wanted to say to Malfoy. She and Andromeda have never heard this story, and they are quickly caught up in it.
Malfoy witnessed all of it—was even playing against Harry in that match—and therefore does not react to the story’s twists. He also doesn’t react to the small mentions of him, including how he didn’t notice the snitch because he was too busy taunting Harry. He merely sits quietly and listens with polite interest, smiling at times. It’s new, talking at length while Malfoy listens but does not analyse or interpret or study, and Harry finds he likes it.
After that, Teddy wants to hear all about their time playing on their respective house Quidditch teams, and he directs questions at Malfoy as often as at Harry. Malfoy does not at all play down the Slytherin team’s blatant, unapologetic cheating, but it sounds much more playful and much less vicious the way he tells it. He makes Teddy laugh frequently, and manages to draw smiles from Harry, even with tales of things that had Harry far from smiling at the time.
“And after all that work I’d done to ensure a Gryffindor loss,” Malfoy says, after describing Ron’s first match as Keeper very differently than Harry would have told it, “they still won. So naturally I had to even the score, as it were, and I managed to taunt your godfather to the point of attacking me! Which got him—and two of his teammates—kicked right off the team for the rest of the season.” He smirks complacently, and Harry feels fifteen. When it happened, Harry didn’t think he could ever hate a person more. Now, Teddy is laughing, and Harry finds himself smiling a little, too.
They all keep talking until nearly midnight. At five minutes to twelve, they go to the impressively large, colourfully decorated Christmas tree. For a moment, Harry finds the eclectic combination of ornaments a bit jarring in the otherwise elegant room, but Teddy starts pointing out his favourite ornaments—ones he hung himself, ones he made by hand, ones his mother made by hand—and Harry understands.
Teddy is allowed to open one present at midnight, and the rest the following morning. Harry is saving his present for tomorrow afternoon at the Burrow. Teddy studies the ones addressed to him under the tree thoughtfully, finally selecting a simply wrapped package tied with a single silver ribbon.
“That’s from me,” Malfoy says, and Teddy beams. He seems to weigh it in his hands, and watches the large clock on the wall in anticipation. At exactly midnight, he tears off the paper, exclaiming with glee as he reveals the gift.
“Transfiguration Tales: Practical Transfiguration and Its Applications! And it’s by the Headmistress!”
“She compiled and edited it,” Malfoy clarifies. “It’s a collection of essays—from Aurors and Hit Wizards and travellers and even a Quidditch player, if I’m remembering right—about times Transfiguration helped them out in a pinch. Professor McGonagall included spell guides and tutorials on some of the magic described.”
Teddy rushes to hug him around the middle, the book still clutched in his hand hitting Malfoy hard on the back. “I love it, Draco,” he says, his voice muffled in Malfoy’s robes.
“I thought it might be a nice supplement to all of the theory you’re learning in the classroom,” Malfoy says, and he looks almost embarrassed.
“It will be!” Teddy releases him and holds the book up with both hands. “I’ll start reading it tomorrow!”
Tomorrow he’ll have more Christmas celebrations, first in the morning here at the Manor, then at the Burrow in the afternoon and into the evening. Even so, there is no doubt in Harry’s mind that he really will find time to start reading it at some point in the day. He’ll probably bring it along to the Burrow and go over it with Hermione, and anyone else who will listen. It’s a perfect present. Teddy has always been interested in Transfiguration, starting with his Metamorphmagus abilities, and intensifying since he started school. He loves hearing true stories about magic in action. And he’s wanted to be an Auror almost since birth, never lighting up more brightly than when he hears about everything his parents did in their lives to fight Dark wizards.
Harry is giving him a collection of Auror memoirs.
He watches the way Malfoy is smiling, the hint of surprise in it, the slight flush to his pale cheeks. Curiosity flares in him again, stronger than ever before.
Narcissa and Andromeda insist that he’s more than welcome to stay the night if he wants, but he elects to return to his flat. As welcome as they make him feel, it’s not his home.
So he wakes up alone on Christmas morning, as he does every morning. He’s slept only a couple of hours, as he does every night. He showers, dresses, retrieves Teddy from the Manor on his way to the Burrow, and has a very good day.
He has many good days. He pushes aside his concern that these good days depend on Teddy and will go away once he’s gone, and he pushes down the irrational hope that this is actually a turning point and there will only be good days from now on. He doesn’t have to let concern about what will happen later ruin his experience of what happens now. So he lets each day be what it is, and does what he can to enjoy them. He takes Teddy out to Muggle London and they see a film. They go flying around the Malfoy grounds, heedless of the cold. Even better, they go for ice cream in Diagon Alley, though the trip is ostensibly to replenish a few of Teddy’s potion supplies for the new term. Harry takes it one day at a time, and he feels all right.
At Luna and Dean’s New Year’s Eve party, Malfoy is again present in what had been a Malfoy-free zone to Harry, despite his awareness that Malfoy was actually present there quite often. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought he’d see Malfoy with Luna and Dean eventually, but he hadn’t expected it this soon, or without warning. Part of him assumed that Malfoy was intentionally avoiding being there when he knew Harry would be, and that Luna was keeping him warned of Harry’s presence. But now, there he is, standing easily amongst the rest of the group.
It goes much the way Harry thought it would go, especially after Christmas Eve, but it is also not quite what he thought. Malfoy and Seamus seem to get along well, and Harry thinks of the photo on the mantel of them on either side of Dean, pulling faces. Of course they get along well; Seamus is Dean’s best friend. But then, their take on getting along well apparently involves a steady back-and-forth of cutting insults, which make Luna laugh and Dean grin but seem to engender uneasiness in others, as they attempt to gauge the sincerity behind the remarks.
It’s not only Seamus, though. It’s—everyone. They aren’t friendly with Malfoy, not quite, not all of them, but nobody seems remotely taken aback by his presence. And, well, they have no reason to be. This has happened before, many times, in the past decade. Draco and Luna are close, and he seems to be on friendly terms with quite a few of the others. This is not unusual. What’s odd is that Harry is the only one who knows anything has changed.
And they’ve changed again; Harry can feel it. They haven’t had a session since before Teddy came home (Harry insisted it would not be necessary while he was home, and Malfoy agreed on the condition that Harry schedule something if the need arose), and Harry is sure it will feel different the next time they do.
It doesn’t matter right now, though, because he is taking it a day at a time. He can worry about those things next week. For now, he laughs with his friends and welcomes the new year and whatever it may bring.
The morning after Teddy returns to Hogwarts, Harry decides to leave his flat.
He’s going to leave his flat eventually today, either way, because he’s going to Neville and Hannah’s for dinner. But right now, at half nine, he already feels a bit restless. It has been two weeks since the last time he didn’t start his day by leaving his flat and going to meet Teddy, and even though he doesn’t have a reason to leave now, he feels itchy with the need to. Tomorrow he has his first session with Malfoy since before Teddy came home, but today—today going out is entirely up to him.
It takes a while, but after a while of lying awake in bed, a long shower, and two pieces of toast, he goes. At first he’s not sure where to go, or what to do, even after thinking about his options all while getting ready to leave. He starts by getting coffee, and while waiting in line he thinks of a bookshop that he used to go to sometimes, when he didn’t have Teddy. He hasn’t been there since last summer.
It’s been long enough since he’s last been here that he’s stopped associating books with window displays and neat, perusable stacks. Books are what he does when he can’t sleep at night, and what he’s collected on a series of tall shelves in his bedroom and sitting room. Books are a way to take a step back from thinking about his life, a way to distract himself and become immersed in something easier.
But they can be this, also. They can be a quiet, gray morning in a little bookshop with tall windows. He does not have to restrict his interaction with books to when he is alone, locked away in his flat. He can make a day of it, coming to the bookshop with his cup of coffee and perusing the shelves, sitting in an armchair with a short story anthology for a while, loading up on new material to read before bed, in bits. He can be a part of the world, and interact with other people, and have a time of it.
He asks a woman who works there if she can recommend him anything, based on his enjoyment of a series of spy novels; he’s nearly finished the final installment and is looking for something new. She guides him from shelf to shelf, asking him about what else he’s read, and by the time he leaves it’s late afternoon and he has bag heavy with new purchases, two of which he’s already started reading in the window armchair in the shop. He hasn’t eaten lunch, hasn’t ingested anything but two pieces of toast and that cup of coffee, but he wouldn’t have at home, either. He probably wouldn’t have had the toast.
But he did have the toast, and the coffee, and he went to the shop, and he bought books, and he talked to that woman. He didn’t lie in bed all day. He showered long before he had to leave for dinner; he showered in the morning. And over dinner with Neville and Hannah, he not only listens as they share about themselves, but shares himself with them, too.
It starts simply, and Harry is surprised at how it doesn’t actually feel very different at all. Malfoy returns to being very polite, and very studying, though nowhere near as careful and buttoned-up as he once was. And he continues being argumentative, as Harry requested, and sometimes even mocking. But Harry does not feel as though the holidays have followed them back here, or as though Narcissa or Luna or Teddy is somehow present with them. It’s just them, and the potion, just like it was before.
They talk about how he felt with Teddy home (great), and how he feels now that he’s gone (significantly less great). Malfoy seems very pleased to hear that Harry went to the bookshop yesterday, and he transitions into a subject that Harry has long expected him to broach. In fact, he is surprised Malfoy hasn’t brought it up until now.
“Harry,” he says, “is there a reason you don’t work? Have you ever worked?”
Harry shakes his head. “No, I just—there’s not a reason, not really. There wasn’t ever anything I wanted to do. I suppose that’s a reason.”
All of his friends had aspirations. They took their NEWTs, or went through Auror training, or attended university, and then pursued their goals, and now they’re all working, in one way or another, on things they want to be working on. Everyone has had things they wanted, and Harry—hasn’t. He hasn’t ever wanted anything.
“But you—you are supported? Financially, I mean. You have some sort of income.”
“Yes, I—it’s mostly royalties from the authorised biography. It still sells, you know. Even though there’s an entire decade now that it doesn’t touch, it still sells. I get a percentage of every copy sold. And there are other deals, too. George gives me money for the right to use my image on some products. A few people do. It wouldn’t be enough to live on if I lived more extravagantly, but it’s enough for me, as it is. It pays for this,” he says, indicating their present situation. “It’s enough that I haven’t ever had to touch my inheritances from my parents, and from Sirius, not since I was in school.”
“Would you like to work? Even though you don’t need to?” Harry’s confusion must show on his face; Malfoy quickly clarifies. “I don’t mean work, I only mean—something to do, something to devote time and energy to. Something to get you out of your flat and out in the world, as you put it. Something that would provide a routine, and a schedule.”
Harry briefly lets himself imagine what that could be like. Most jobs he can think of involve talking to people, in one way or another, and he doesn’t think he’d enjoy that part very much. He also doesn’t like the idea of being accountable to a superior, whom he’d inevitably disappoint. And there are so many days that he doesn’t feel up to doing anything at all, days when all he can manage is dragging himself out of bed in the early evening, going to Ron and Hermione’s, eating, and going home and getting back into bed. He can’t imagine what it would be like to try to work on a day like that.
“I don’t think I want that,” he says, and he expects Malfoy to argue, but he only nods with understanding.
“Do you think, perhaps, you could instead try to come up with some other things you could do to get you out? Things that could keep you busy and give you some semblance of routine. It seems like dinners, as a set activity that other people expect you to be present for and to take part in, have gone very well for you over these months, and I’m curious whether we might be able to build on that.”
Harry considers this. In the moment, he really can’t think of anything, and they move on. But over the next few days he keeps thinking about it, and he does come up with some things. He can watch Rose and Hugo, as he has every now and again in the past, whether simply to give Hermione a well-deserved break or to allow her to go to Hogwarts in person when her job requires her to, rather than relying solely on correspondence with the professors from this distance. He can help Dean with some of the necessary labour on his current work, as he knows Seamus does at times; because Dean is now working on sculpture in addition to painting, there are pieces that involve nearly as much holding and lifting as they do actual artistic talent. He can visit Molly and Arthur more often, now that the prospect isn’t as terrifying as it was when he was so thin and almost sickly-looking that he thought Molly might burst into tears after even a single glance at him. He can spend time with his friends outside of mealtimes, whether in planned activities or simply in enjoying their company, like he did with Teddy while he was home. And he can go out alone, too, whether to the bookshop or just on walks.
So he starts to do these things. He finds ways to keep busy, and reasons to get out of bed. It doesn’t always work. He doesn’t always make it, especially when plans are looser, or when it’s something he intends to do alone and there’s not another person he’s accountable to. And talking to Malfoy helps with this, both in keeping up his motivation to try and in reminding him not to beat himself up on the days he can’t manage it.
Talking to Malfoy helps with everything. Their conversations have become even more straightforward and natural than Harry ever thought possible. He’s been telling Malfoy things he doesn’t want to tell his friends from the very start, in the spirit of cooperation and making this work, but now instead of having to tell himself he should, he just—does it.
Most of the time Harry is too involved in the conversation to stop to think about it, but every now and then he is reminded of how odd it is to be sitting two feet from Malfoy and looking at him with such concentration. Aside from the simple fact of communication, so lacking in most of Harry’s friendships, there is also the matter of physical proximity. Sitting this close to Malfoy, and staring at him directly for this long, is very strange. Harry never paid very much attention to Malfoy’s face, before. He knew he was pale, and sharp, and that he had grey eyes. He knew the ugly shape of Malfoy’s sneer and the way his eyes could go cruel and bright.
But he hadn’t considered how very light Malfoy’s eyebrows are, and how they are just two shades away from being undefined and nearly invisible. He hadn’t thought about Malfoy’s pale eyelashes, either, and how softly they frame his eyes. He hadn’t followed the line of his cheekbone and how it neatly echoes his narrow jaw.
It feels like seeing Malfoy with his glasses off, right at the distance where his eyes start working to focus. The shapes are all still there and he still gets the big-picture view, but the details blur unless he strains to look at them, and so he looks more intently.
He has become so used to Malfoy’s consistency, his regularity. There really is comfort in routine. The way he can count on Hermione and Ron and Luna, how he can predict them after all of these years and know exactly how they will react to something, or what they might be doing at any given moment, or what they might say—he begins to count on Malfoy the same way. He only sees Malfoy during their sessions, but he saw him casual and unguarded over the holidays. He is piecing Malfoy together, taking the parts he can see here and the glimpses from before and working toward understanding the rest of the man.
On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve both, Malfoy wore long sleeves. Harry didn’t think about this at first, but a while into Luna and Dean’s party he noticed Malfoy casually pushing up his sleeves, and this caught him off guard, somehow. Harry was used to the neat, intentional display of the mark, not a casual partial glimpse, with the edge just barely showing. He thought the long sleeves might have been to cover the mark to keep from making things awkward with his friends’ friends, but then he realised Malfoy was just wearing long sleeves, like everyone was wearing long sleeves, because it was winter. The mark is not a centrally important thing he must either hide or reveal. It is just a part of his arm. Sometimes he pushes up his sleeves.
Harry looks up. Malfoy is watching him curiously. He has been staring at the neatly folded cuff of Malfoy’s left shirtsleeve.
“Did you hear me?”
Harry shakes his head. “Sorry. No. What?”
“I was hoping we could talk about—sleep.”
“Sleep,” Harry repeats.
“Yes. I understand if you still aren’t comfortable talking about it, but Harry—”
“Not comfortable?” Harry says, nonplussed.
“I think it’s important we discuss it eventually, and things seem to have been going very well otherwise lately, so I thought—”
“I’m not uncomfortable,” he asserts.
“You avoid it every time I bring it up,” Malfoy points out. “I was under the impression—”
“Not because I’m uncomfortable. Because I—well, I know I can’t do anything about it, and it seems pointless to waste time on that when we could be making progress on something else.”
“What makes you say you can’t do anything about it?”
“My body can’t sleep normally anymore. That’s just how it is.”
“But why can’t it?”
“I was—” He swallows. He doesn’t ever talk about this. Hermione and Luna are the only people he’s told, and he downplayed it to both of them. “I took sleeping potions for over five years, every night.”
He doesn’t have to explain the implications of this; comprehension immediately dawns on Malfoy’s face. “Until you couldn’t,” he says.
“Until I couldn’t.”
“They were prescribed?”
“Yes, I went to St Mungo’s for a new supply every month. And every several months I had to move up to a stronger potion, until eventually I hit the limit of what could be legally prescribed. The Healer told me my body would adjust back eventually, just like it had adjusted to the potion in the first place.” Malfoy’s eyebrows draw together, but he doesn’t say anything. “For about six weeks I didn’t sleep at all. I mean, I fell asleep—my body couldn’t actually stay awake for six weeks—but it was in brief, half-hour bursts, when I was physically too exhausted to continue, and it wasn’t ever at all sustainable. And I couldn’t make myself do it, it would just happen suddenly, every forty hours or so. Eventually I managed to fall asleep in bed at night, intentionally, but it would again be for just a half hour or so, and then I’d lie awake for awhile before falling asleep for another half hour, and so on.”
“But it’s become easier, over time?”
“Yeah, really slowly. I can manage a couple of hours without waking up, now, and can get six in one night, if I try. It’s just—it’s strange. I get tired mentally, but not physically, if that makes any sense. My brain wants to take a break, but when I lie down my body won’t cooperate, and I just feel restless.”
“So you read, instead.”
“I prefer it to lying awake, yeah.”
Malfoy sits in silent thought for a minute. Once, Harry would have found this awkward, this sitting and waiting for Malfoy to speak, but now he just sips at his tea and watches the cogs turn in Malfoy’s mind.
He can tell from the hint of uncertainty on his pale face, from the tight line of his mouth, that he wants to ask Harry something more, and that he is not sure whether he should do so. Harry opens his mouth to offer whatever information Malfoy is after, but Malfoy speaks first.
“Dreamless Sleep?” he asks.
Got it in one. “Yes.”
Malfoy’s expression is inscrutable now, but Harry sees something determined in his eyes. “And you saw the same Healer for five years?”
“They’re not supposed to do that. Dreamless Sleep is a temporary fix. It addresses the symptom, not the cause.”
“That’s why you don’t work with St Mungo’s,” Harry says. “Why you only make referrals.”
“And that’s why you’ve never asked for a referral,” Malfoy says, matching Harry’s tone.
“They don’t have anything that can help me. This,” he says, indicating Malfoy, and the mug in his hands, “this helps me.”
“We’re going to talk about it,” Malfoy says. “I don’t care if you don’t want to, or if you think it won’t change anything. We’re going to talk about it.”
It being his motivation for continuing to take the potions for five years, knowing all the while he couldn’t keep it up forever. It being whatever dreams were so awful he preferred this to having them.
“All right,” Harry says. “Next time.”
Malfoy’s eyes widen slightly; he did not expect Harry to agree so easily. “All right.”
“Just—so you know,” he starts. “I don’t anymore. I don’t dream at all. So it did help in that regard, I guess.”
“Help,” Malfoy repeats. And then, “I guess you can call it that if you want to.”
Harry remembers the nightmares perfectly. They are seared into his memory, even with so many years separating them from his present. He relives them at night sometimes, even without dreaming anymore.
There are the ones that involve people he loves dying. He’s lost everyone in dreams, at one point or another, each time in a version of something that actually happened. But in dreams, things end the way they could have instead of how they did. And in dreams, dying needn’t happen only once.
Hermione and Ron can die over and over, at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange, and again by Nagini’s bite, and again through drowning under icy water, and again and again—through Harry’s mistakes. They fall to their deaths in the deep caverns under Gringotts. They return for Goyle at Harry’s urging and the Fiendfyre takes them.
When he started taking the potions, at the very beginning, he was dating Ginny. He lost her in so many ways, in bizarre combinations of things that happened and things he knows didn’t, of things he saw with his own eyes and things he reconstructed from what he was told. He didn’t tell her what he was dreaming, but he could tell she was putting it together. He didn’t want to have to tell her about it, didn’t want her to ask, and he also didn’t want her to worry anymore.
He went to St Mungo’s, and the Healer didn’t ask anything past, “Nightmares?” before writing out a prescription.
The worst dream, worse than any of his loved ones’ graphic deaths, was his own death. It went exactly as it really had, but—different. His parents, Sirius, and Remus appeared, but they didn’t offer comfort. They said he should die. They said it was time he grew up and stopped letting others die in his place. They said they’d all died for him, and for what?
He hadn’t been worth it, they told him. They thought he’d be able to defeat Voldemort, and after all of this, after the sacrifices they’d made, he was going to die anyway. They’d given their lives, and he wasn’t even going to live for them.
Die then, they told him. Die. It’s all you have to offer.
Snape joined them, and Mad-Eye, and Ted Tonks, and Cedric, and every other person who’d ever died because of Harry Potter. They came in droves, telling him he had to die. Telling him he deserved it.
So he approached Voldemort, just has he had, and he left his wand limp at his side, just as he had. He let the Killing Curse take him, just as he had. And just as it really happened, he opened his eyes and found himself in a ghostly mirror of King’s Cross, with Dumbledore and the small, grotesque piece of Voldemort. And Dumbledore said: You stupid boy. Dumbledore said: Dying willingly, just as I raised you to. As I knew you would.
You thought you were special? Dumbledore asked, and laughed. You thought we were doing this for you. It was never for you, you stupid boy. It was all to win. You were only a piece in the game.
And then, instead of returning, Harry stayed.
“It was almost like a—” Harry swallows, and looks down from Malfoy’s blank face. “A happy ending. I wanted to be dead, by the end of the dream, and I got to be. But it was the worst dream. Because when I woke up from the others, when I woke horrified because I’d lost Ginny, or Hermione, or Ron, or anyone, I knew they weren’t really dead. I could wake up, and look around, and tell myself it was only a dream.”
He stops. He can feel Malfoy’s eyes on him, and he doesn’t want to break with him watching.
“This is hard to talk about,” he says, pointlessly, just to say something. “The only time I’ve ever—one time, I was drinking with Luna and Dean and Seamus, and they started playing drunk Exploding Snap or something, and Luna and I started talking, and I told her. But only part of it, just—just the part where I sometimes stayed dead. That I sometimes wondered about what it would have been like if I’d stayed dead. And she just hugged me and said, ‘Well, I’m glad you didn’t,’ and that was that.”
“I’m sure she is,” Malfoy says quietly. “We’re all glad you aren’t dead, Harry.”
“Yeah, I—” He stops. The potion makes him stop. He tries again: “I know people care about me.”
Malfoy doesn’t say anything more. He wants Harry to finish talking about the dream. Harry closes his eyes and continues.
“I couldn’t wake up from that one and tell myself it was only a dream because it didn’t feel like a dream. It felt true. It felt like what everyone was too decent to say to me—that people had lost their lives needlessly, and that I was responsible for that.”
He knows Malfoy wants to tell him again that it’s not his fault, and they died not for him but for the cause, and they made their own choices about what they considered worth risking their lives. He knows this is what Malfoy believes, but as much as Harry would like to agree, it simply doesn’t feel true.
“And even though people care about me, I couldn’t help thinking—they’d be better off without me. Wouldn’t it be better if—if I’d just given my life for them, and been finished? If they could go on with the rest of their lives and just have me as a memory, someone they could look back on, but who they wouldn’t have to worry about anymore.”
He opens his eyes, looking determinedly at Malfoy, whose eyes are wide, but whose face is otherwise expressionless.
“That was why I had to start taking Dreamless Sleep. Not because of the other dreams. Because of that one. I told myself it was because I was scaring Ginny. I told myself that it was because I couldn’t handle watching her die over and over again, and everyone else. But that wasn’t true. It was because hearing them say those things to me, over and over again, and not being able to tell myself they weren’t true—it was destroying me. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t dream anymore because there was no way to stop dreaming that.
“And now I don’t dream at all, and that’s given me some distance from it. It’s not as bad as it was then. But I still—” He has to close his eyes again. “I still think it. Sometimes. I still think it would be better if I hadn’t come back. I still remember them saying these things, and it’s almost as vivid as real memories. I still believe them.” His throat tightens, but he presses on. “I still want to be dead.
“I told you, the first time, that I’m not suicidal. And that’s true. I’m not. I’m not, or I couldn’t have said so. I don’t want to kill myself. But if it had been—if this potion in the tea was Veritaserum, and it made me talk, I would have said—I don’t want to kill myself, but I do want to be dead. I’m not—” He takes a deep breath, and releases it slowly. His eyes are still pressed tightly shut. “I couldn’t do it myself. I could never kill myself. Not after growing up without parents, and losing Sirius, and—everyone. I know what it’s like to be the person left behind, and I couldn’t do that to the people I love.
“But—if it was an accident. If it happened in some other way. If instead of taking my own life, it was taken from me. Somehow. I think about that a lot. I think about the ways it could happen. I would want it, if it happened. And then I tell myself to stop thinking like that because I don’t want that to be Teddy’s life. I don’t want Teddy to live the way I had to. But Teddy—he’s not stuck with the Dursleys, like I was. He has Andromeda, and Narcissa. He has the Weasleys. He has—you. He would be loved, and he would be happy, even without me.”
Because after all, Harry is very damaged and very sad, and Harry can’t take care of himself, let alone another person. Let alone a child.
He loves Teddy, but. He’s not very good at it, is he?
Harry opens his eyes.
Malfoy’s not expressionless anymore. He looks almost horrified. It’s the least professional he has ever looked, and Harry revels in it. Malfoy looks so very hurt, so very personally stricken by this. He does not have a prepared, professional therapist-speak in response to this. He goes very, very quiet. Neither of them speaks for a long time.
Finally, Harry says, “What are you thinking?”
“Honestly,” Malfoy says, without any upward inflection. “You want me to be honest, not careful.”
“You’re unbelievable,” Malfoy says, and his voice shakes slightly. Harry thinks he sounds scared, even. “I didn’t know you’d actually died. I—I didn’t know.”
“Your parents were there,” Harry says uncertainly. He can’t imagine they’ve never told him about it.
“My mother checked and you were alive. She assumed you’d had some method of thwarting the Killing Curse.” He seems to barely hold back a laugh. “You were always managing things everyone else had thought impossible.”
“No, I—came back,” he says, and stops; he already explained what happened while describing the dream.
Malfoy’s eyes are wide, and he speaks a shade higher than usual. “You walked directly into certain death and didn’t so much as attempt to defend yourself.”
Harry stares at him. He thought Malfoy would—he thought the reaction would be to Harry wishing he were dead, not to this much more straightforward information. Harry’s talked to his friends about dying. It’s the wishing it had stuck that he’s kept to himself. Eventually, though he doesn’t think Malfoy expected an answer, he nods. “I knew Voldemort wouldn’t die otherwise. I was—he’d put a part of his soul in me, by accident, when he tried to kill me when I was a baby. That part of him had to be disposed of in order for him to be truly killed, or he’d just find a way to come back again. So I knew I had to die.”
Malfoy shakes his head. “You didn’t know.”
“Yes,” Harry insists, “I—”
“You believed. You believed it was the right thing to do, so much so that you were willing to die for it. Without any sort of guarantee.” He looks scared and fascinated all at once, and for a moment he opens and closes his mouth soundlessly, as though searching for words. “You really died,” he says. “You died, and you came back.”
“It wasn’t—it wasn’t blind faith, or anything,” Harry says. The idea that he just took Dumbledore’s word as fact without question is rubbing him the wrong way a little. “It all added up. We were linked. I knew we were linked, and finding out that he’d put a bit of himself in me—well, it explained everything.”
“I don’t mean that you did it blindly. I only mean—” He takes a deep breath, and his voice is steadier as he continues. “You amaze me, Harry. You’re amazing.”
Malfoy looks at him straight on. “I have never met another person so giving of himself. And when I think of the environment in which you were raised, and everything you’ve been through—I’m just amazed. I can hardly believe a person like you could exist, but here you are.”
Harry is stunned into silence.
He told Malfoy he wants to be dead, and Malfoy thinks he is amazing. He thinks he must be missing something. And even now, Malfoy still looks so sad, and so shocked. He is staring at Harry with this mess of emotions on his face, staring as though trying to understand something truly incomprehensible.
They sit without talking for a short while, Malfoy staring at Harry like some sort of puzzle and Harry likely holding him in a very similar gaze; he cannot understand why Malfoy reacted this way.
Eventually, seemingly with regained control, Malfoy says, “I used to resent you.”
Harry physically jolts in surprise. “What?”
“You knew that,” Malfoy points out evenly.
“No, I—” I don’t understand why you’re saying this now, he wants to say, but Malfoy interrupts him.
“I thought you liked the attention. Everyone always talked about you. You were a legend before you could even walk, and it only became more pronounced over time. And I thought they had to be exaggerating because—no one could ever be all of that. No one could have done all of those things.”
Harry shifts uncomfortably in his chair.
“But you did. All of it was true, and then some. And the more I find out about you, the more I’m stricken by how—unbelievably selfless you are. You didn’t do any of it for attention. You don’t want any attention at all, from anyone. It makes you uncomfortable to know that people are thinking of you. But Harry,” and his voice is shaking again, “you deserve that. For all of the thought that you give to others, you deserve to have people thinking of you in return. You really do. You deserve to have people who care about you, and want good things for you. Not expectations, but hopes. You deserve people who love you. I’m so glad you have people who love you, and I just hope—I hope you can let them.”
He doesn’t look shocked anymore, or puzzled. He is movingly, desperately earnest. It makes Harry’s chest hurt to look at him.
Another quiet passes, in which the only sound is the faint ticking of the clock on the wall above the couch. Then Malfoy says in a quiet voice, “Thank you for telling me.”
“Thank you for listening,” Harry says.
Harry doesn’t think he can handle talking about anything difficult during their next session. And based on Malfoy’s reaction last time, he probably doesn’t want to discuss anything too heavy, either. So instead, Harry treats it as though it’s a casual dinner conversation with his friends, in which they talk about the recent mundane goings-on of their lives.
“Rose apparently told Hermione on Wednesday that she’d rather spend the day with me than with her,” he tells Malfoy. “She said she loves Hermione more but I’m more fun. And Hermione pretended to be offended and blustered about it a lot, but I think she’s actually pretty relieved. She wants to stop working from home as soon as she thinks Hugo will be all right without her, and now Rose has essentially given her permission to do so.”
“You like watching her?”
“It barely feels like watching her,” Harry says, and laughs softly. “It’s like spending time with a peer, almost. Teddy was a lot more—when he was small, he was such a kid, you know? He played with his toys and threw things and sometimes had tantrums, and ran around everywhere, and just—he was such a hyperactive little kid. He never stopped wanting to talk to me, and tell me the same things over and over again, never with any less excitement than the first time.”
Malfoy smiles, remembering too.
“But Rose—she runs around too, and has so much energy, but somehow she’s always doing something? Last week she was insistent we rearrange the bookcases in the sitting room by spine colour. She wanted to do it herself but could neither reach nor comfortably lift the books, so she had me do all of the manual labor. She doesn’t think of me as an adult at all, I don’t think. And she gets tired of me and just ignores me, sometimes. If she’s drawing and wants to do just that, she’ll act as though I’m not even there, and then demand that I come over and look when she’s done—but once I’ve seen it, she goes right back to ignoring me.”
“I met her once,” Malfoy says. “Luna was watching her on a weekend, last summer. She was just like a tiny Hermione Granger.”
“Essentially, yes. But with redder hair.” He can’t help smiling as he thinks of the small frown she wears while concentrating, so like her mother’s. “Ron and Hermione made a pair of really beautiful children. I know I’m biased, but I think that’s objectively true.”
“Do you want to have children?”
Harry shrugs. “I do love kids. I’m good with kids. If the opportunity arose I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but as it is, it doesn’t seem likely. I know it’s not—too late, or anything, but when my friends are all well into the marriage stage of life, and some already have children, it seems like I’m past the point where I could have done that.” It would have happened with Ginny, if they’d stayed together. They’d be married, and they’d already have at least two children.
“Is it strange for you?” Malfoy asks. “Being single while all of your close friends are married, or at least engaged?”
Harry shrugs. “It’s been like this for so long that I’m pretty used to it, I think. The children are newer, but there’s that built in adjustment period of pregnancy,” he says with a grin. “And Ron and Hermione have been married for—six years? Seven? It’s been a while. He asked her when she finished at Hogwarts, and they waited until she’d finished uni, but even before then we all always knew they’d be together. And everyone else—I mean, you know Luna and Dean. Attached at the hip since eighth year. Neville only won Hannah over five years ago, but—yeah, five years is a while. And George and—”
“Do you feel left out, at all?” It’s nothing like his careful, pointed therapist questions; he seems simply curious, and his tone only suggests friendly interest.
“Not really? It’s just how things are. It probably helps that, you know, they’re all my friends. I mean, it might be different if my friends had paired off with people I didn’t know at all, but it’s all people I already knew and liked a lot, so I haven’t felt excluded, or anything. If I’m with Luna and Dean and Neville and Hannah, it’s like I’m with four friends, not two couples.”
It occurs to him then that Malfoy is also, as far as Harry knows, unattached, and also spends time with coupled friends—Luna and Dean, at the very least.
“Have you had any serious relationships?” Malfoy asks.
“I wouldn’t call them serious, no.”
Harry hasn’t dated in years, not really. He hasn’t dated since his early twenties, and even then nothing serious, nothing like the way Malfoy means. The last time he felt serious about a person was with Ginny and, in retrospect, he’s pretty sure that his serious was not the same as everyone else’s serious. He’s heard the way his married friends talk about each other, seen the way they look at each other, felt that warmth emanating from them when they’re around each other, and he knows he’s never experienced any of that in his life. Anything with Ginny was—well, it was something, but it wasn’t that.
For a while, he thought he ought to be trying. He dated people, and with some of them he might even call what they had a relationship. He dated Susan for a few months, a year or so after Ginny. And when he realised he wasn’t particular about gender, he dated Anthony for a bit. But he always felt fake, as though he was playacting the role he’d seen his friends genuinely experience. It felt like lying—to the people he was dating, and to himself.
In the past four years, Harry hasn’t bothered pretending; he’s just stuck to sleeping with strangers, and that was that. And since ‘stranger’ meant ‘Muggle’ when the entire wizarding world knew your name, Harry slept with people who not only didn’t know who he was and what he’d done, but also didn’t (and couldn’t) know a very fundamental aspect of him as a person. It worked. It became routine, and he didn’t mind it.
“I don’t do it often,” he tells Malfoy, after doing his best to sum all of this up. “I’m not having constant one night stands, or anything. It’s just—sometimes I want that. And when I do, it’s a lot easier if that person doesn’t know me. Not in a while, though. I haven’t in months.”
Malfoy nods, looking thoughtful.
“Why don’t you date?” Harry asks, suddenly curious.
“Me?” Malfoy asks, and Harry is afraid for a moment that he’s overstepped the boundaries of the casual framework they’ve carved out, but Malfoy does not seem offended at the inquiry, only surprised. “I don’t want to.”
“Why not, though?” he asks, feeling braver.
“Why does anyone want to date?” Malfoy says with a shrug. “I’m not lonely. I am emotionally fulfilled. There is no great void in my life that another person would fill. The only social pressure to marry is for the purpose of having children and producing a pureblood son to be the Malfoy heir, and that’s no longer a concern for me.”
“Those aren’t the only reasons people date.”
“You didn’t say anything about love.”
Malfoy laughs shortly, a single exhalation. “I said I’m emotionally fulfilled. I have people in my life whom I love, and who love me, and I don’t consider that love less simply because it isn’t romantic.”
“Don’t you ever—” He almost thinks better of it. “What about sex?”
“Is that what love is?”
“No, but—the difference between loving a friend, or a family member, and loving a romantic partner. It’s sex.”
“You can have sex without romance,” Malfoy points out, and Harry almost argues, before thinking of his confession only minutes before that he only sleeps with strangers. “And you can have romance without sex.”
“And you don’t mind having—neither.”
“I don’t much like the idea that we require another person to be happy, or to be our best selves. I find that concept, and the way our culture encourages it, incredibly damaging. So no, I do not mind not being in a relationship, or not dating. I do not feel that I am lacking anything.”
“So is it about independence?”
“Does contentment without romance have to be a statement?”
“Not a statement.”
“Or do you not think contentment without romance is even possible?”
There is a strange, studying look to Malfoy’s eyes, and Harry’s not sure when Malfoy turned his questions on him. “Not impossible.”
“But less probable. Is removing the chance for it in your own life, then, a form of self-denial?”
Harry stares at him. He feels a small flare of anger at the insinuation, but Malfoy’s lips are relaxed, his brows drawn just slightly together. This question, unlike some, was not targeted to provoke. “I’m not sabotaging my own happiness.”
“No,” Malfoy says, and inclines his head, just barely. “But you think you would be happier if you were in a relationship?”
“I just told you that I’ve never felt right, in any of my relationships.”
“So you did.” A small smile crosses his lips briefly. “But is it something you want?”
“I don’t know,” the potion allows him to say. “Maybe. But not—I don’t want ‘a relationship’ in the abstract sense. But—I like the idea of having a person. The right person. Not in the sense that—I don’t believe there’s one right person and I’m searching for them, or anything. But when I imagine myself in a relationship, the specifics of that, the specifics of what a shared life would mean, are entirely dependent on who the other person is. I don’t have an outline of a ‘relationship’ in my head with a blank left in for that other party. I don’t want to be in love, or be loved, full stop. I want to be in love with a person, and be loved by that person in turn, and I don’t want to force it with another person I don’t feel that way about.”
Malfoy is staring at him with an unreadable expression.
“Does that make sense?”
“Yes. It makes perfect sense.”
“It’s just—I think that’s part of why it has never felt right. Not just that I haven’t ever tried with a person who was right for me, but also that I haven’t ever approached it in a way that left room for adapting to the specifics of that person. It’s always been about—how relationships are supposed to go, and I think it kept me from seeing what was actually happening. I had all of these expectations and assumptions about what being a boyfriend meant, or what being loved meant, and those were all I saw. Instead of trying to understand how to be Ginny’s boyfriend, I just did the things I already had in my head that a ‘boyfriend’ would do.”
Malfoy gives him a curious look, a look full of something that looks almost like wonder.
That fragile, uncertain way that Ginny looked at him the first time she saw him after his brief stay in St Mungo’s, shortly after he started talking to Malfoy—it is suddenly sharp in Harry’s memory. The only other time she looked at him like that, he remembers, was the first time she saw him after their breakup, all those years ago.
“It’s not fair to do that to a person,” Harry says. The potion is pulling all of it out. “I laid so many expectations on her, and on myself, and I think—part of me blamed her for it not going right. Because I was doing everything I was supposed to do, wasn’t I?” He shakes his head, trying to clear it. “But I wasn’t—I never told her anything. I didn’t communicate with her at all, and expected her to stay with me, and care about me, even while I was shutting her out. And that—that was never going to work.”
Malfoy doesn’t say anything. Harry doesn’t know what else to say, but Malfoy isn’t saying anything, so he continues.
“The thing is, I—I don’t want to relate to people in an impersonal way. I don’t want to follow some sort of friendship template and check of all the boxes. Because I do want there to be communication, and personal connection, and all that. But it’s—it’s like you said last time,” he says, and his voice gets quiet. “It makes me uncomfortable to think of people thinking of me. So then it’s difficult to open up, and invite that.”
They stare at each other. Harry hadn’t meant to bring up last time. He wanted to keep things light, or as light as they could be. They simply look at each other for a while, and Harry can tell that Malfoy is deciding whether to take the conversation further in that direction.
Before Malfoy says anything, though, Harry surprises himself by asking, “Why did you say producing a pureblood heir was no longer a concern?”
“Earlier, when you were saying—about the social pressure for marriage. You said a Malfoy heir was no longer a concern. But it is, isn’t it? Your mother—”
“My mother may not have accepted it yet, but yes, it really is no longer a concern. I neither plan nor foresee offspring in my future. Teddy will inherit the Manor, and the Malfoy estate.”
“Of course. He’s the next closest male blood relative on the family tree. It will go to him automatically.”
“That still doesn’t make him a Malfoy heir, by any stretch.”
“No, but since I’m not going to have children—”
“But why not?”
Malfoy gives him a puzzled, almost squinty-eyed look, and says, after a moment, “Because I’m not sexually attracted to women and have no interest in a loveless, sexless marriage, particularly not one founded on the obligation to produce a child.”
Harry tries not to pause for too long. “Two men can raise a child.”
“You assume I’m sexually attracted to men.”
“I didn’t say I’m not. I just find it interesting that you think a person must be sexually attracted to at least one gender.”
“You keep saying sexually attracted. Is there another kind of attracted?”
“Didn’t we agree earlier that romantic and sexual attraction can be separate?”
Harry wants to say he never agreed on any such thing, but he refrains, and nods instead.
“My mother still wants grandchildren,” Malfoy says, “and she will likely always hope for them. Perhaps one day I will be able to give them to her, unlikely as it seems to me. But while my mother would like me to marry and have children, my father was insistent upon it. When he died, my obligation to produce an heir died with him. However much my mother may insist, she will never force me to do something against my will. My father had no such reluctance, but he’s dead now. That is why I say it is no longer a concern.”
“Because you’re emotionally fulfilled,” Harry says.
“Yes. Unbelievable as that may be to you, I am more than content to be unmarried and childless.”
“It’s not unbelievable,” Harry says, shaking his head. “I think it’s great.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows rise. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I wish—” He stops. “I’m glad you have people you love, who love you, and that you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. That’s really wonderful.”
Even though I have that, and I do feel like I’m missing something, Harry doesn’t say.
They each raise their mugs to their lips, and Harry knows that Malfoy can feel those unsaid words between them.
Harry hopes that Dean will be home when he comes over unannounced one Saturday afternoon. The Floo connection is open, which bodes well, but the apartment is quiet when he arrives, and for a moment he thinks the room is empty.
“Luna’s in the bath,” says a voice to Harry’s right. He looks up, and there is Malfoy, sitting on the couch, alone, with his feet up on the coffee table and a book in his lap. “And Dean’s at his studio.”
Harry was afraid of that. Now that Dean is doing mostly larger pieces, he tends to work in the studio space he rents, rather than in the smaller room in the flat. But Harry isn’t thinking about this anymore, because Malfoy is here. He steps closer to the couch. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
The image is wrong. There is a couch in Malfoy’s office, but neither of them has ever sat on it. And Malfoy—he is always buttoned up, but now he is wearing a t-shirt, and jeans instead of neatly pressed slacks, and no shoes. The t-shirt has short sleeves, shorter than the point inches below the elbow where Malfoy normally folds his button-ups, and—the Dark mark is not the only ink on Malfoy’s arm.
Harry is thrown off balance for a moment, as though the world is at a sudden tilt; the Dark mark is not the only ink on Malfoy’s arm. Harry has seen him twice a week for months now, and he thinks this is something he should have known at this point. He hasn’t spent a great deal of time imagining Malfoy with his shirt off (not a great deal, just a little, every now and then, idly), but he thought he knew that past that edge of his sleeve, folded most of the way up his forearm, there was more clean, white skin, at stark odds with the still-covered half of the mark.
But the mark is not the only ink on Malfoy’s arm, and there is ink on his other arm as well, and there is more than likely even more ink all across the rest of his torso; the collar of this t-shirt is more open than anything Harry has ever seen him wear, and Harry thinks he can see the beginnings of something just at the edge of the collar. He imagines Malfoy with his shirt off—consciously for once, intentionally—and feels sure that he is tattooed everywhere that his t-shirt covers.
Harry’s eyes drift to the mark again, and there are words above it, coming down the crook of his elbow toward it. There are words all over Malfoy’s upper arm, mixed in with images, as though they are dripping down his skin. Harry cannot begin to parse them fully, but he sees consequently I rejoice just below the edge of Malfoy’s sleeve.
For what is done, not to be done again, reads Malfoy’s arm, an inch above the mark.
“I didn’t know,” Harry says, not thinking.
“Oh.” Malfoy looks down at his t-shirt, and his arms. “I forget sometimes. I’m so used to them.” He looks back to Harry. “Did you want to sit down?”
“Oh—sure,” he says, and sits. “I was just—I wanted to ask Dean if he wants any help this week.”
“I’m sure he’d like some.”
“I’d go to his studio directly, but he keeps it warded against entry so no one can come and accidentally mess everything up,” Harry says. He doesn’t know why he’s talking. To do something other than stare at Malfoy’s tattoos, probably.
“I know,” Malfoy says, and Harry looks at his face. He’s smirking slightly. “You can ask, if you want.”
“I just—I don’t really understand tattoos, I don’t think. The very concept of intentionally marking yourself in a permanent way. I don’t connect with that at all.”
Malfoy’s eyes are on his scar. When he sees that Harry has seen, he looks down quickly. “Sufficiently marked already?” he asks.
“That’s what Luna said.” Harry’s gaze drifts back down to Malfoy’s arms. His right arm, the one closer to Harry, is covered in feathers. “But it’s—these are just for you, aren’t they? They mean something to you.”
“And you know you’ll always want them?” He wants it to just be a question, but he can’t keep the skepticism from his voice.
“I know I will never regret getting any of them. All of them are related to very important people or life events, and while their significance may eventually be less immediate, they will always have meaning to me.” He turns his left arm, the spill of words moving with his skin. “And I’m very happy with how they look. I worked with my friends to ensure they all looked exactly how I wanted them to.”
“Your friends?” Harry says. Malfoy’s t-shirt is white, and through it, Harry can make out the contrast of the ink against his skin. There is a large piece across his chest, but Harry can’t tell what it is through the fabric.
“Dean designed most of them for me. Luna drew a few as well. Our friend Tacey is a tattoo artist, and she’s done all of mine, and Dean’s, and most of Luna’s.”
“Tacey,” Harry repeats.
“Dean met her in art school,” Malfoy says.
A Muggle. It seems ridiculous for Harry to find this surprising, after everything else that’s changed, but he can’t help it; he’s surprised. Not wanting to offend Malfoy, he reigns this reaction in, and says instead, “You always dress to cover them.”
“Yes. Or, well, I intentionally got them in places I knew my clothing would cover. They’re not for show; they’re for me. Reclaiming my body.” His eyes flash uncertain for a moment, as though afraid he’s said too much, but they’re cool and confident again almost instantly.
“You have more? Other than your arms, I mean.”
“Yes, there’s”—he indicates various places on his torso with each word—“here, here, here, and one on my back. I’m planning another two right now, and I’ll probably always want more.”
“Do you think you’ll ever get them somewhere—more visible? Where people would see them?”
Malfoy shrugs. “There are plenty of covered places still available. I like how Luna has her small, visible ones, but I—she and Dean have symbols and things that are special to them, but I don’t know what I’d ever want that would be small and fit neatly on my wrist or somewhere, you know? Everything I have, and the ones I want eventually, are bigger, so it makes more sense for them to be on my chest or back or wherever.”
Malfoy looks at him then as though expecting another question, as though prepared to answer another question. They are talking about Malfoy and not about Harry, and for a moment Harry thinks—this is so backwards. But haven’t they been doing that lately, actually? Haven’t they been letting the conversation drift over to Malfoy nearly as often as it stays on Harry?
“So I guess you don’t plan to ever remove them,” Harry says. “If you don’t think you’ll ever regret them.”
Malfoy shakes his head. “I can’t imagine why I ever would. It’s my body, and I like them.”
I like them too, Harry almost says. Aloud, he says, “Would you remove the mark if you could?” Which is worse than what he didn’t say.
Malfoy gives him that familiar studying look, but it is different when they are not sitting in chairs opposite each other with a small table between them. It is different when Malfoy is wearing a t-shirt that shows the tattoos on his arms, and Malfoy is the topic of conversation instead of Harry. He says, “I can’t. That’s why I did this.” He indicates his left arm, and the words tattooed onto it.
“But if you could,” Harry pushes.
He does a small sort of half-shrug. “I can’t, though.” And then he says, “Would you remove your scar if you could?”
“Yes,” Harry says, without hesitation. “And the other ones, too. If I could.”
Harry holds up his right hand. “I must not tell lies,” he says. The words are illegible on their own, as they were imprecise from the start and Hermione did get to it with some of that essence of murtlap, but they can be read once you know what they say. “Souvenir from detention in fifth year. And there are others, too,” he adds, his left hand raising instinctively to the horcrux scar on his chest. “I’d get rid of all of them if I could.”
Malfoy tilts his head, and he wears another expression that Harry has seen on him before; a mixture of curiosity and fascination, and something else that Harry can’t identify.
They are looking at each other, silent, when the bedroom door opens and Luna’s gentle voice says, “Harry! You came.”
“You weren’t—expecting me?” Harry says uncertainly.
“You should eat lunch with us,” she says without explanation. Her hair is tied in a big wet knot at the top of her head, and her bathrobe trails behind her as she walks to the kitchen.
Harry looks back to Malfoy and sees no objection there, so he stays. He sits at the table with them, Luna in her bathrobe and Malfoy in his t-shirt with his tattoos exposed, and it immediately feels like something they do all the time.
On his way out, when he is only steps from the fireplace, Malfoy says, “Didn’t you want to ask Dean something, Harry?”
Harry had forgotten entirely. He leaves his question with Luna, who promises to pass it on to Dean. When Harry steps into the fireplace, the last thing he sees before the room starts spinning is Malfoy’s smile.
For the first time, they sit on the couch in Malfoy’s office.
Harry says, “Can we sit on the couch? My back’s not very happy with me today. Too much heavy lifting all week.”
Malfoy looks at him wordlessly, for a moment, and Harry is momentarily afraid he has crossed some line. But then, Malfoy goes to sit on the couch.
He sits on the left, Harry on his right, and it feels so much like sitting on Luna’s couch together that Harry is again sure a line has been crossed, here. But Malfoy hands Harry his mug and picks up his own mug, and the routine goes on the way it always does.
Malfoy wants to talk about work again. Harry has been doing so well with all the other ways he’s keeping busy, he says. Would he be interested in making a larger commitment?
“It doesn’t have to be a job,” Malfoy says, because Harry is resistant. “You don’t have to find a career. But working can be incredibly rewarding, simply in having the opportunity to work on projects, and complete them, and contribute to something bigger than yourself. You could volunteer, even. Anything that sounds like it could be a valuable effort for you.”
“I don’t know,” Harry says. He can’t suppress the anxiety that rises inside of him with every word Malfoy is saying. He looks at Malfoy, sitting comfortably straight-backed on the other side of the couch, and reminds himself that Malfoy is not trying to pressure him. Malfoy does not want him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He only wants Harry to try, and no more than is comfortable for him.
He takes a breath, and looks at Malfoy, and calms down.
“I’ve never wanted anything,” he says.
It’s not at all a response to what Malfoy is asking, but Malfoy doesn’t seem to mind this. He waits, and the gentleness in his eyes convinces Harry to keep going.
“Ron and Neville and I—they offered us direct admission to Auror training, waiving the NEWTs required. After the war. And I thought, well, there hasn’t ever been anything else I’ve wanted to do. When we had careers advice, in fifth year, I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted, and I thought—that’s what I’m going to be doing anyway. Fighting Dark wizards. So that’s what I decided I ought to be prepared to do as a career. But then we—training started, and we started learning, and I realised it wasn’t anything I wanted. It was all wrong, in both directions. On the one hand, it felt like an almost comical reduction of what real war was like. Nothing we could talk about in a classroom was like really facing it. And on the other hand, all of it was too much, and reminded me of so many things I didn’t want to have to think about anymore.” He clears his throat. “I was still having nightmares at the time.”
Malfoy nods, just slightly. “That must have been difficult.”
“I made it through just over four months of training before I had to quit. And I thought, well, what could I do now? I had missed the first term at Hogwarts, so I wasn’t going to go back and get my NEWTs. I certainly wasn’t going to do that the next year, at nineteen. And there wasn’t anything I could think to do other than that. I thought another year at Hogwarts might have given me some time to think and figure out options, but I wasn’t going to do that. So I thought of what else I could do. To keep busy. Something that seemed like it would be a—valuable effort for me.”
They are silent for a moment, just looking at each other. Eventually, Malfoy says, “And what did you decide to do?”
“I cleaned out Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. The old Black family home, which Sirius had willed to me. I cleared out all of the dark artefacts, and broken down old furniture, and nasty pureblood junk. I took down all of the old family magic and the enchantments put up by the Order during the war, and I stripped off the wallpaper, and I cleaned and painted everything, until it was like nothing had ever died there.”
“Not to live there, though,” Malfoy says.
“No. It’s an orphanage now. As of a few months after I finished. The whole thing took me about ten months. And by then, Ron and Neville were well into Auror training, and Hermione was starting at university, and Ginny had started as a reserve Chaser for the Harpies. It was—I didn’t know what to do with myself, all over again, so I figured, why not put some of my money to use? So I traveled, for about six months. Europe first, and then America, and then a bit of Asia. When I came back, Ginny and I decided to start things up again, and between her and Teddy, I was more than busy enough.
“And then she ended it, and I just had Teddy, but—he was more than enough.”
“And now,” Malfoy says softly, “Teddy’s not around all the time anymore.”
“Yes, which means I should find something else to fulfil me, I know,” Harry says. “But I—I don’t want anything. I’ve never wanted anything. That’s what I’m trying to say. Hermione is doing something she cares about. Ron is doing something he cares about. Ginny, George, Neville, Luna, Dean—you. You’re all doing something you want to be doing with your life, and. There isn’t anything I want to be doing with my life. I don’t have that. I have people I care about, but I can’t make them my life. I mean, obviously. That hasn’t worked out so far.”
Malfoy cracks a smile at that, and Harry can’t help matching it.
“But the only thing,” Harry presses on, “the one thing I had to do with my life—I already did it. Not something I wanted to do, but something I had to do. And now—ever since, I haven’t been able to find anything to do next. Not anything.”
He thinks that Malfoy might have ideas, or suggestions, or pointers. Something to convince him that this working idea really would be good for him. But Malfoy really does only want him to be comfortable. He really does only want Harry to try, and if considering it is all he can manage right now, it’s enough. Harry feels a surge of gratitude inside as Malfoy lets him turn the conversation to other matters.
After that day, they always sit on the couch.
And Harry starts to realise, in a slow dawning, that he has become aware of Malfoy in a new way. He is aware of the line of Malfoy’s shoulders, the angle of his back, the way his hands rest in his lap and his arms hang at his sides. He is aware of what Malfoy’s arms are like underneath those folded shirtsleeves, and the shirtsleeves are no longer a part of Malfoy in his mind.
Sitting together on the couch, there isn’t anything between them. There’s no table, just less than a foot of empty space. Malfoy’s body has weight to it, a new weight to it, where he sinks into the couch beside Harry and makes the cushions shift. Harry thinks he looks shockingly solid, and then he wonders what is shocking about this.
Malfoy looks very thin and very fragile, sometimes, but he also looks very strong. Sometimes even rigid, but Harry thinks—there is a soft quality even then, in the muted light of this office.
He watches the way Malfoy holds his mug, and the angle of his wrist as he brings it to his mouth. He watches the give of Malfoy’s lips as the black ceramic rim presses against them.
He thinks about these things, sitting on the right side of the couch and looking at Malfoy where he sits on the left. He thinks, There is so little space between us. He thinks, You are almost something I could touch.
“You’re frustrated about something,” Malfoy says.
Harry thinks, How could you tell. He says it, also. “How could you tell.”
Harry is slouching on the couch, his head pressing into the back of it and his arse nearly at the edge of the cushion. Usually, he sits with his back to the arm, facing Malfoy. They have been sitting here for nearly five minutes, and until just now, Harry hasn’t said anything outside of noncommittal, grunted responses to Malfoy’s questions.
It was a rhetorical question. Malfoy answers anyway. “You won’t look at me, for one.”
Harry lets his head roll to the side, making eye contact with Malfoy. “I’m frustrated about something,” he concedes.
“What are you frustrated about?”
“I just—” He faces forward again. “I’m frustrated about everything.”
“There are,” Harry says, “a lot of awful things I want to say. Things I can’t say, because you don’t say those things to people. And I’m frustrated because I know that I should be communicating with people more, people other than you, but I can’t because the only things I’m not saying to them, the only things I want to say to them, are things I can’t say to them.”
“Why don’t you try saying them to me, instead?”
And Harry feels even more frustrated, because—he likes this time with Malfoy. He likes talking to him. It makes him feel calmer, as if the things that are wrong with him aren’t something terrible and frightening. He doesn’t want to spend this time being angry.
He also doesn’t want Malfoy to know how ugly some of his thoughts are.
Harry scoots up the couch, sitting a little straighter, and looks at Malfoy again. “It would just be me being angry.”
“You’re allowed to be angry,” Malfoy says.
“I don’t want to be angry.”
“You don’t have to be. But it’s all right to be, if you are.”
“Can you at least tell me what prompted this?”
“Dinner last night,” Harry says shortly. Malfoy’s calm expression doesn’t waver. Harry sighs, and adds, “We went to Hannah and Neville’s. Me, Ron, Hermione, Rose, and Hugo. They just redid their kitchen.”
“And it was—unpleasant for you.”
“No. It was a perfectly nice evening, with my perfectly nice friends.” He starts meaning this to sound sarcastic, but it comes out defeated, instead.
“Harry,” Malfoy says, and there’s that earnest look, the one Harry finds very difficult to refuse. “Please tell me what’s bothering you.”
“They all—they have everything. All of it is going right, and they know what they want, and they have what they want, and—” He glares. “I don’t want what they have. I don’t want to be on track to be the next Head Auror. I don’t want two small children of my own. I don’t envy them, I only—I wish I could have that security and contentment, the way they do. I want to want something.”
Malfoy nods, so patient and understanding that Harry wants to scream.
“And they—they don’t see how much they take for granted. They all have such narrow ideas of what constitutes success, and they assume that what has made them happy would make anyone happy. But I really don’t want what they have! Ron feels sorry for me. I can see it. He’s never been good at keeping his opinions to himself, and even though he’d never say it—it’s there in the way he looks at me. I’m doing so much better than I was a few months ago, and he’s still—he thinks things would be better for me if I’d finished Auror training and was working with him and Neville now.
“And Hermione, she thinks the same way, but not that I—she doesn’t think I should have been an Auror, necessarily, but that I should have at least gone back to Hogwarts and finished. She thinks I wasted my potential, and that I could have done more with myself. And she thinks—she keeps telling me she’s proud of me, and I know she’s glad I’m doing better, but I don’t think she’ll ever be able to grasp that I’m never going to do anything big or important, not ever again. Because she wants the world to change, and she thinks everyone should be helping her change it, and she thinks I could affect change most of all. But no matter how much I ever work on it, I’m never going to be comfortable being a figurehead, or a spokesperson, or any of the things she’d like me to be. I think she has it in her head that if she goes back to advocacy, once she’s done with Hogwarts, and I help her this time—I think she thinks that’s what it would take. And I can’t do that. That’s not something I’ll ever want to do. And instead of accepting that, she will always think I could have done more with myself.”
Harry pushes the words out in a long stream, finally vocalising the things he has been containing in abstraction for so long. He is so incensed that now that he’s started, he can’t seem to stop.
“Hermione thinks she can fix everything, and everyone, and she can’t. She’ll never be able to change everything she wants to. Something will always be lacking. And Ron! He needs to stop acting like he’s not a successful and powerful and able adult, and start admitting he’s proud of himself. He has so much to be proud of, and instead he’s always playing it as though he’s some sort of bumbling idiot who found himself accidentally at the top. He said, again, that it could have been me looking at Head Auror, like it was a compliment, but it’s him who’s good at strategising, and leading, and all that rot. It never would have been me. I would have hated it. Neville—Neville hates it. Not the strategising, but the field work, and the risk-taking, and he should just fucking quit the Aurors and take the teaching position at Hogwarts like we all know he wants to. He keeps hedging, but he’ll be miserable if he doesn’t. And then he and Hannah could finally have kids, like she so obviously is dying to—the way she was looking at Rose and Hugo last night was just pathetic. You should have seen it.”
And then, at last, he stops, feeling as though he’s had all of the pus drained from an infected wound. Malfoy is looking at him wide-eyed, and suddenly, helplessly, Harry laughs. Malfoy’s eyes go even wider, and Harry laughs harder.
After an interval of laughter that Harry can’t manage to suppress, Malfoy finally says, “Seems as though you had a lot to get off your chest.”
“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “Yeah, I think I did.” He is grinning, and his face hurts after all that laughing, but it feels wonderful at the same time. “I can’t believe I said all that.”
“Harry,” Malfoy says. “You know none of that was anywhere near awful, right?”
Harry’s smile wanes slightly. “I could never say it to them, though.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be very polite, but—what I mean is, there is no reason to feel bad about thinking those things, Harry. You have no reason to feel guilty. And even if you don’t want to say it to them, you know you can always—say it to me. There’s nothing so awful you couldn’t tell me.”
Harry knows that this is true, because Malfoy is his therapist, and he has already told him so many things that he hasn’t been able to tell anyone else. But there is something odd in the way Malfoy says it.
“I know,” Harry says. “I know I could tell you, but I—I don’t like being angry with them.”
“It’s normal, though,” Malfoy says. “Nothing you said—we all think these things about each other. Everyone gets angry. It’s normal to get angry. Healthy, even. Venting can be very good.”
Harry laughs shortly. “Well.”
“I can’t emphasise enough, though, Harry: it’s human to feel frustration, and anger, resentment, and—all of it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Before—just now, before he started talking and kept going—Harry would have argued with him, probably. Now, he just smiles helplessly again, and feels overwhelmingly fond, despite himself. He doesn’t know how Malfoy manages it. He doesn’t understand how Malfoy can always make him feel calmer, and more steady. Malfoy doesn’t make him feel good, or even better. He makes him feel as though his existing state, the way he is already, is more than all right.
He wanted Malfoy to be there, at dinner last night. He imagined how differently he’d have felt about the whole thing if Malfoy were beside him. It would have been easier, he thinks. He wouldn’t have felt nearly as rattled afterward.
“I do think, perhaps,” Malfoy says, “they aren’t quite as content as you say you think they are. I think, maybe, however settled they may appear to you, they are struggling along toward happiness, just like yourself.”
He’s right. Of course he’s right. Harry just listed all of the ways they aren’t really satisfied.
He thinks that might be what’s truly bothering him, underneath. They have everything they want, and they still want more. If they’re still struggling, well. What does that mean for Harry?
On Sunday afternoon, when it’s been just over two days since he’s seen Malfoy and just under two days until he’ll see him again, Harry goes to the bookshop. It’s been almost a month since he went last. He was going every week for a while, but for some reason it slipped out of his routine.
But this afternoon, he goes again. He needs to clear his head. He wants to read something, but not something he’s already chosen, and he doesn’t want to do it at home. He grabs coffee, even though it’s the afternoon, and sips it as he peruses the shelves, and as he settles in a window armchair with a selection of things he’s sure he doesn’t already own. An art history book with an impressionist painting on the cover, a dream analysis guide (he thinks a Muggle take might be even more absurd than Divination at Hogwarts), and an anthology of 20th century poetry. Something, anything, to distract him.
He starts to flip through the dream analysis guide, but it’s difficult to focus on the pages. His head is swimming, and he feels as though something fundamental has shifted beneath him.
At some point, he started measuring his life in terms of when he’s last seen Malfoy, and when he’ll see him next.
He feels restless, the way he did when Teddy left in January. He wants to do something about it, but leaving his flat without a plan is no longer a drastic move. He’s going to the Burrow tonight, and that doesn’t feel big enough either. He wants something to change. He wants to take another step forward, but—
He’s not supposed to take the step he wants to take.
He closes the dream guide abruptly and stares out the window.
Malfoy is his therapist.
Malfoy is his therapist, and Harry has been fantasising about taking him to couples dinners.
Harry closes his eyes, but this doesn’t take the thought away. It makes it clearer, the image of it sharpening in his mind. He wants to see Malfoy every day. Not in his office. Not while drinking tea spiked with a truth potion. He wants to see him casual, and messy, and approachable. In jeans, not slacks. On Luna’s couch instead of the one in the office.
He has opened up to Malfoy in ways he hasn’t opened up to anyone, and told him things he can’t bring himself to tell other people. And Malfoy has heard these things and not judged him, not said That’s how you feel now, but you can get better, or You can change, or There are ugly parts of you, but there are good parts too. Malfoy makes him feel as though his ugly parts and good parts aren’t separate things. Malfoy has made him see that he can be struggling and strong all at once, and that the strength doesn’t lie at the end of the struggle, but all the way through it.
He thinks—it wouldn’t be like this with someone else. It’s not about therapy. He wouldn’t feel this way about any other therapist. The therapy has helped him, but the way he now feels—it’s about Malfoy.
It’s always been about Malfoy. He wanted it to be Malfoy from the start.
And now he wants Malfoy in a different way, a way he shouldn’t.
He opens the poetry anthology. Poetry is a series of fragments, with broken up lines and nonsensical phrasing. Harry thinks if there is ever a right time to read poetry, now is that time. He scans the index, hoping something will leap out at him. He has a few volumes of poetry on his shelves at home, but it’s never appealed to him the same way storytelling does. Most of the poets’ names are unfamiliar to him.
E.E. Cummings—no, Harry has read him, and doesn’t like him at all.
Rita Dove, Robert Duncan, Stephen Dunn, Louise Eldrich…T.S. Eliot.
The poem leading down to Malfoy’s mark, all over his left arm, is a T.S. Eliot poem. Malfoy told him so a couple of weeks ago, one of the times that Harry’s staring was so obvious that it changed the topic of conversation. Harry opens to the first page of the Eliot poem and starts to read.
It’s not the poem Malfoy has tattooed. It’s another one, and Harry thinks he may have skimmed it before; some of the lines reverberate in his mind in half-formed memories. The further he reads, the more unsettled he feels. There is something desperate in the words, something that reminds Harry of stagnant, long-abandoned hopes resurfacing and begging to be addressed. The lines blur in front of him.
Do I dare, he thinks.
For the first time in longer than he can remember, he wants to do something. He wants something to happen, and even if it’s not exactly what he hopes will happen, either way—there will be results. Something will change. He wants something to change.
He closes his eyes and allows his focus to narrow.
The feeling is new and startling inside him. He wants.
He wants something.
He tries to do it on Tuesday, but the impulse feels reckless, and the consequences seem bigger as he sits on the couch with Malfoy than they did when he was alone in that armchair.
He considers it on Friday, and again the following Tuesday. He imagines how he might do it. Carefully, steering the conversation in that direction and letting it come out, if he can find the words. He could announce it right at the beginning, while Malfoy is pouring the tea. While they sit on the couch, he could cross that immense, ten-inch distance and—touch his wrist, or his shoulder. He imagines what that would be like, to feel the give of Malfoy’s skin, and the fine bones of that wrist.
Malfoy is his therapist, but. He is also Teddy’s cousin, and Luna’s best friend. He and Harry spent this past Christmas and New Year’s Eves together. Malfoy’s mother likes Harry. When Harry asks Malfoy about himself, he no longer hedges or redirects, but answers readily.
Harry begins to feel afraid because for all that he is thinking about it, and for all that he is preparing to act, he may not have a choice. He could be forced, one of these days, to speak before he’s ready. There is the potion in the tea. Harry can resist it when he wants to, but the truth of what he’s feeling is growing inside him, and it wants to come out.
He’s in love with Malfoy.
He thinks it to himself, testing it. I’m in love with Malfoy.
He likes the way it sounds. He feels strengthened by the sureness of it. He’s in love with Malfoy.
He thinks, I have to tell him, and he also thinks, He must already know.
Because Harry can feel how terribly obvious he is being, can feel the expression transforming his own features. It’s a familiar expression, one he’s seen so many times on other people, but one he’s sure he’s never worn before now. He looks at Malfoy, and he feels almost dizzy with it.
“You seem happy today,” Malfoy says almost teasingly, with a fond sort of smile. He looks so soft when he smiles.
“Maybe,” Harry says, smiling too. He is sitting sideways, as he always does, his legs crossed and his elbows on his knees as he leans forward. Malfoy is angled toward him as well, his posture relaxed. He is leaning in toward Harry, too. “Nothing quite like your level of emotional fulfilment, I’m sure, but I might be getting there.”
Something changes in Malfoy’s expression, though the smile doesn’t waver. “I’m not sure my level of emotional fulfilment should be your goal,” he says.
Harry’s lips twitch; there is no reason for this to make him grin. But everything about Malfoy makes him want to grin. “Don’t have it quite so together as you claim?”
Malfoy presses his lips together and then releases them. “No one has it together, Harry.”
“I thought you had everything you wanted,” Harry says.
For some reason, he feels suddenly, helplessly hopeful.
Malfoy shakes his head, just slightly. His eyes are steady as they look at Harry, and Harry can’t quite read him. There is something changed in them that he can’t quite read.
“There’s something you want?” Harry says, willing his voice not to shake.
“Something,” Malfoy says.
Malfoy said that Harry could tell him anything.
“There’s something I want,” Harry says. His heart is racing. “I thought I—I thought I’d never want anything, but I do, now.”
Without even thinking about it, Harry is leaning closer, the inches between them shrinking.
“What are you doing?” Malfoy asks, his voice very soft; Harry can feel it on his lips.
“I’m in love with you,” Harry answers.
Malfoy goes very still, and his soft edges are gone. Harry moves away slightly, surprised, and when his eyes meet Malfoy’s, Malfoy is as startled and frightened as he was when Harry said he’d died.
“You don’t mean it.”
“Obviously I mean it! I couldn’t very well say it if I didn’t mean it, now, could I?”
Malfoy is very still, and his lips press together into a thin line.
“Truth potions only force you to stick to what you believe to be true, and render you unable to say things you believe to be false. Saying you want me doesn’t make it true, Harry.”
“That’s ridiculous—I believe it because it is true!” Malfoy is looking at a point just over Harry’s shoulder, avoiding his eyes. “And what sort of nonsense is that anyway? Is there some sort of proof of love aside from a person’s word—”
“There isn’t any potion.”
The statement does not make any sense to Harry; he cannot fully process it. But Malfoy is very tense, and very serious, and will not look Harry in the eye, and all of this is completely wrong, and Harry knows that something important is happening.
“There isn’t any potion in the tea,” Malfoy says slowly, carefully. “There hasn’t been for weeks.”
“I don’t believe you,” Harry says, already realising he doesn’t mean it as he says it.
And he still said it.
“Try to lie,” Malfoy says, with quiet force.
If there was potion in the tea, Malfoy couldn’t say there wasn’t.
“Lie,” Malfoy says insistently. He still won’t meet Harry’s eyes.
“I don’t love you,” Harry says weakly.
Malfoy laughs, and it sounds so hollow.
“Why, Malfoy? Why did you stop?” Malfoy closes his eyes and takes a slow, deep breath. “Did you think I had to lie? Did you think there was something I needed to lie about? I haven’t lied to you, not once.”
“I know,” Malfoy says.
His eyes are screwed tightly shut. “I needed it.”
“You needed to lie to me,” Harry states slowly.
“You’ve been lying to me?”
A beat. “What have you been lying about?” Harry’s voice is shaking, and he struggles to steady it. “Why did you have to lie?”
“I cannot, in good conscience, be your therapist anymore.” He opens his eyes and blinks very rapidly; Harry wonders if he might be trying not to cry. Harry hopes he’s trying not to cry. He wants Malfoy to cry. He wants to cry, too, and it doesn’t seem fair for him to be the only one.
“I’ve broken your trust,” Malfoy says, and he’s looking just to Harry’s left again instead of directly at him. “I’ve lied to you, and—abused your trust, and I’ve allowed the relationship between us to become completely unprofessional. I cannot help you if you think that you’re in love with me.”
“I still trust you,” Harry insists. “I know you wouldn’t have done it without a good reason.”
“You still trust me,” Malfoy repeats sceptically.
“I love you,” Harry says again.
He shakes his head. “No.”
“I think about you all the time,” Harry says, ignoring him. “I miss you all the time. When I spend time with other people I’d always rather be with you. When I’m alone I want to be with you. I think about you as I fall asleep, and when I wake up.” He swallows hard. “I think about you when I wank. Last night I imagined sucking you off.”
“Harry,” Malfoy says, and Harry stops talking. He normally likes the way his name sounds in Malfoy’s mouth. It sounds different now, and he doesn’t like it at all.
“Harry, you’re fixating. You’ve associated me with your improvement and have become overly attached to me as a result. I can’t help you anymore. We can’t do this anymore.”
“I’m not fixated—”
“You are,” Malfoy insists, sounding cracked, splintered. His gaze falls to the carpet. “This isn’t—this isn’t real, Harry, and it has to stop.”
“It’s real,” Harry says. “I love you, and it’s real.”
“Stop—stop saying that. Please, Harry.”
Harry takes a deep breath. “What did you have to lie about?”
“I can’t. Harry, I—I can’t. I can’t do this.”
“You knew how I felt?” Harry asks, and Malfoy shakes his head. “Can you at least—can you just look at me? Please?”
Malfoy closes his eyes again, and keeps them closed for several moments. When he opens them, he finally looks at Harry, and his eyes are shuttered, and Harry can see that he is using Occlumency. It doesn’t make any sense. Malfoy has thoughts he wants to hide from Harry. He is doing what he can to keep Harry out of his head, even though Harry’s not trying to get in, wouldn’t even know how to if he wanted to. Malfoy has been lying to him for weeks, and—it doesn’t make any sense.
“Harry,” he starts. “We talked about—how you focus on other people to avoid focusing on yourself. You can’t think about me all the time, Harry. You can’t use me to replace Teddy.”
“It’s not like with Teddy. It’s nothing like with Teddy,” Harry says.
“I understand that your interest in Teddy wasn’t sexual, Harry, but it’s the same thing underneath.”
But no, that’s not it. It’s nothing like with Teddy because taking care of Teddy made Harry feel like an adult for once, like a person who could do the right thing, the best thing, for another person. Like he had a chance, and like he could be happy. Talking to Malfoy has made him admit terrible things about himself. It’s made him feel awful, and like he may not ever be capable of being anything he’s long considered normal. Like he may not ever be happy, not the way he thought.
But he can’t say to Malfoy, You make me feel awful, so I love you. The words are wrong. It’s not what he means.
“My interest in you isn’t sexual,” he says instead. “I don’t just want to fuck you. I l—”
“But you do want to fuck me,” Malfoy interrupts, speaking over him before he can say that again. “You want to fuck me, and I’m your therapist.”
Harry can see how that is a problem, when Malfoy says it like that. “I don’t—I don’t need it, or anything. I just want to—I like talking to you. I don’t want to stop seeing you.”
“Even if I thought that were true, even if you really could just turn it off—doesn’t it bother you? Don’t you feel—I’ve been lying to you for weeks, Harry. That’s a problem.”
“No.” He’s not bothered. He is trying to be, and he’s not.
He is disappointed, but not in Malfoy for lying to him. He is disappointed in himself for not having the self-control to keep his feelings hidden, because Malfoy is right about that; they cannot continue to be therapist and patient now that Harry has said this.
“You can see someone else here. I’ll—I’ll figure it out. I’ll talk to Luna, and we’ll figure it out, and you can see one of the others. I’m not going to—even if I can’t see you, I’m not going to just—” He exhales, long and slow. “I know you still need help, Harry. I’m not going to take that away.”
Harry’s throat feels tight and painful. He knows he hasn’t been fixating, or any of the things Malfoy has said, or—he thinks he hasn’t been. But even so, this time together is everything to him. He needs it. He knows he wouldn’t be doing as well as he is now without it.
“Do you think you could talk to one of the others?” Malfoy is asking.
Harry shrugs. “I don’t think I could tell them anything I’ve told you.”
“Do you think that talking to any of them—could it be helpful for you?”
He shrugs again.
“Harry—” Malfoy is looking away again. “I’ll discuss it with Luna. Is that—will that—” He doesn’t finish.
“That’s—that would be good,” Harry says.
“All right. I’ll—do that.” His eyes flick over to Harry, then down to his hands in his lap. He is twisting two of his fingers on his left hand with his right. It looks like it hurts. “Can you—” He doesn’t finish that sentence, either.
Harry stands. “Yeah, I’ll. Go.”
It is still brighter in the reception area than it is in Malfoy’s office. The light still cuts through the curtains the same way.
He goes to Luna’s that evening, after spending the afternoon in the window armchair at the bookshop. He’d normally go to Ron and Hermione’s tonight, but he decides he should go to Luna’s instead. He thinks, for a second, that maybe she is just Malfoy’s now, and that maybe it’s not fair of Harry to put her in the middle like this. But it’s Luna. She’s the person to tell.
When he gets there, Luna is not home yet. Dean is in the kitchen, cooking, and does not seem surprised at Harry’s arrival. Harry knows neither Luna nor Malfoy himself would have told Dean what happened, and that Dean is unsurprised because Harry has come over for dinner so many times that it is routine at this point, but he still wonders if it shows on his face: I’m in love with Draco Malfoy.
“Should I make enough for three?” Dean asks, indicating the vegetables he is sautéing. So casual, and so welcoming. Harry is not a burden. He is their friend, and they like to have him around.
“If you don’t mind,” Harry says. “I wanted to talk to Luna about something.”
“She should be home soon. But you might as well eat if you’re here, yeah?”
Harry nods his agreement. He might as well eat.
He wouldn’t have, if he had gone home. He probably would have read three mystery novels and not tried to sleep until past dawn, and not eaten until the next evening.
But he has better habits now, doesn’t he. He knows not to go home. He knows the right place to go.
Luna arrives at half seven, later than normal, but Harry doesn’t let himself think too long about her sitting with Malfoy in his office, talking about all of the ways that Harry has ruined everything. It helps that Luna greets him with her usual unaffected smile and, like Dean, does not appear remotely surprised or put out by his uninvited presence.
Dean is still cooking, doing some sort of reduction for the sauce, and Harry doesn’t really mind if he overhears anything. He and Luna sit on the couch, and he says, “Malfoy told you what happened.” He meant to ask, but he’s sure that Malfoy did.
But then Luna shakes her head. “He told me you can’t see each other anymore and asked me what I thought of you seeing someone else.”
“He didn’t say why?”
“He said he didn’t think you two could continue to see each other because he’d been deeply unprofessional.”
“He didn’t tell you what I did?”
“You did something?” she asks, and it sounds like she really doesn’t know.
It doesn’t even cross his mind to lie. “I tried to kiss him.”
Luna’s wide eyes go wider than usual. “Oh. Well, I suppose that explains a lot.”
“I’m in love with him,” Harry continues.
“Yes,” she says, and while her eyes are very wide, he supposes she’s taking it a lot more easily than she might have. “I can see how that would complicate things.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, it’s good that you did.” She reaches out and rests her hand over his, on his knee. “That couldn’t have been helpful.”
“But I,” Harry says. “I don’t want to stop seeing him.”
“I don’t think you can anymore, Harry. I’m sorry.” Her voice is very gentle, and her fingers trace soothing circles on the back of his hand. “You know there’s an inherent power imbalance between therapist and patient. He knows all sorts of things about you. You’re incredibly vulnerable. You know nothing could ever happen between you, right? He would be taking advantage, inevitably.”
Harry has never thought of it like that. He has never considered there to be a power imbalance, and if so, certainly not in Malfoy’s favour. He pulled Malfoy out of Fiendfyre and flew him through thick black smoke out into the clean air of the hallway. He was there when Malfoy raised his wand to Dumbledore, and when he lowered it. He saw Malfoy crying in a bathroom, and he cut him open.
“He doesn’t know anything about me that you don’t know,” he says, because he has told Luna about dying, and the Dursleys, and loss. He even told her about wishing he’d stayed dead. Luna is one of the reasons he’s made it this far. “And Hermione, and Ron, and Ginny. And I—I know things about him, too. All sorts of things.” He turns his hand over, stilling the movement of Luna’s fingers. “I don’t think of him as just my therapist.”
“Then maybe,” Luna says, slowly and deliberately, “he’s not just your therapist.”
Her expression is inscrutable as Harry searches it, trying to determine whether she might actually mean what he hopes she means. “Luna, do you think—”
“Dinner is served!” Dean calls.
He emerges from the kitchen carrying two steaming plates to the table, a third levitating behind him. And Luna turns and looks over her shoulder at him, smiling in that warm, familiar way that Harry thought he’d never feel.
He said to Luna that Malfoy doesn’t know anything about him that his best friends doesn’t know, and that’s not true, is it. But it is true that Malfoy doesn’t know anything about Harry that he doesn’t now feel a very strong urge to share with his friends as well. Communication is important. He admitted this to himself a while ago, and yet still hasn’t done anything about it. Maybe he doesn’t want to shout at them in a burst of anger, but—that doesn’t mean he should hold back from telling them anything at all.
He’s taken to watching Rose and Hugo in the afternoons and staying for dinner half the time, but he asks if he can take them to Molly and Arthur tonight. He doesn’t think he makes it obvious, but Hermione gives him a serious sort of look as she says yes, that would be all right. Molly is happy to see her grandchildren, as she always is, and grateful that Harry has already let them spend the afternoon’s energy.
Hermione makes chicken and carrots and potatoes. They’re eating it when Harry says, “There are some things I ought to tell you.”
And then he tells them about sleeping and not dreaming, and about wanting to eat but waiting, and about not feeling entirely capable of going outside. He tells them how hard it was to see them worried, and how much he didn’t want to worry them. He tells them that it was hard for a long time, for much longer than anyone realised, even Harry. He tells them he was talking to Draco Malfoy.
Hermione listens quietly until that point, her restrained concern betrayed only by her small frown and the slight draw to her eyebrows. But when Harry says this, she interrupts with, “You aren’t—done going to therapy, are you?”
The question startles Harry; this was not one of the things he expected her to say in response to all of this new information. “No, I’m still going.”
“It’s only,” she says, and stops to clear her throat. “You said it in the past tense. ‘I was talking to Draco Malfoy.’”
“Yeah, I—I was talking to him, but I’m not anymore.” He hadn’t decided what to say about this part. He’d half-hoped it wouldn’t come up, and he’d be able to wait to tell them later. But now that he’s said this much, they will probably assume things went badly in an entirely different way if he doesn’t tell them all of it. “I’m seeing someone else now.”
“Oh, I’m glad,” Hermione says, and she immediately looks as though she wishes she hadn’t reacted so quickly. “I only mean, well—I’m glad you’re still going. It seems like it’s really helped, and I’m sure it will continue to do so, so I’m glad you’re—still doing it.”
“Yeah. It has helped. A lot.” He closes his eyes for a moment, deciding. And opens them. He will say it before they ask. He will offer the information freely. “But I’m not seeing Malfoy anymore because I had feelings for him, and I told him, and it messed everything up.”
The dramatic reaction he expects doesn’t come. Hermione only continues to look concerned, and Ron’s eyebrows draw together in an expression eerily similar to Hermione’s. He waits for either of them to speak.
When neither does, he clears his throat and says, “With therapy, and opening up, and all of that, I had to—come to terms with some things I haven’t wanted to talk about, or think about at all. And a lot of that did require, you know, a professional, and I still don’t think I could really talk to you about those things, but I realised there were other things that I had somehow—made worse in my mind, bigger and scarier, so that I was afraid to tell you even though I had no reason to be. Because you’re my best friends, and you love me, and I can trust you. But I let myself forget that, at some point.”
“You can tell us,” Ron says, speaking for the first time since Harry started. “You can tell us anything, Harry. You—” He stops, and Harry can see how careful he is being; he does not want to accuse, or blame, or say Harry was wrong. “I’m sorry I ever let you think there was anything you couldn’t tell me,” Ron says at last. “Because there’s nothing you can’t tell me, Harry. Nothing.”
Hermione is nodding. “We want to be here for you,” she says, and her voice is high and tight.
“You are here for me,” Harry says, the doubt on her face twisting at his insides. “You’ve really been wonderful, and I’m not—you haven’t done anything wrong. Even without knowing, without me letting you know, you’ve done so much for me. Coming for dinner, and watching the kids, and—it’s helped me so much.”
“I’m glad, Harry,” Hermione says softly, and Harry hopes she won’t cry.
“Whatever you need,” Ron says. “We want to help, however you need us to.”
“I know,” Harry says. He does know. He’s always known. But he thinks now, maybe, he can finally accept it.
For a moment, no one speaks, and they let all of it sink in. Harry tries to hold back from grinning in relief, feeling much as he did when he ranted at Malfoy for longer than he knew he had in him. He should do this all the time, he thinks.
Finally, Ron coughs. “Malfoy?” he says weakly.
“Not because of who he is,” Hermione says quickly. “Because he was your therapist.”
“And because of who he is,” Ron says, but looks chastened when Hermione shoots him a look. “Luna likes him, though,” he adds, sounding as though the thought is dawning on him for the first time; anyone Luna likes can’t be all bad.
“It wasn’t—he thought I was confused because he had helped me so much, and I’d convinced myself it meant more than it did. But it wasn’t about therapy, or the truth potion, or any of that. I just really liked him. Like him. I want to know about him, and spend time with him, and share myself with him. All of it.” He shakes his head. “I fucked it up, though.”
“I thought that might have been it,” Hermione says quietly, so quietly that Harry is not entirely sure she knows she said it aloud. At the look he is giving her, she says more audibly, “Not that it was Malfoy, but—I thought you might have found someone. Aside from how much healthier you’ve been looking, and how much more we’ve seen of you, you sort of—well, you’ve seemed almost dreamy, sometimes.” She pauses. “I thought that might have been what you wanted to talk about tonight, or part of it.”
“I wasn’t going to bring it up, actually,” Harry says. Honesty. “I only wanted to—not play it down anymore. I don’t want to pretend. Not with you two.”
“We don’t want that either,” Ron says. Hermione reaches across the table to hold Harry’s hand.
Talking to them will never be the same as therapy. He will always want to keep from worrying them too much, or hurting their feelings, and their reactions are nothing like those of trained professionals. But there is healing in being open with them, and comfort in accepting their love.
And therapy itself is different now, too. Harry knew it would be, and in fact, the change is less jarring than he expected. He does not trust Karen implicitly, but with the potion, they do know they are always being truthful with each other. She validates his successes and makes suggestions for other things he can start to work on. Like Malfoy, she thinks Harry should look into starting to work, if he thinks he’s ready. Like Malfoy, she thinks it’s important he keep fewer things to himself and work on communicating more with the people he cares about. Unlike Malfoy, she does not ever incite any feelings in Harry that inspire him to kiss her.
There’s a chance it’s an improvement, actually.
He scales his sessions with Karen back from twice a week to only once, on Wednesday mornings. He continues on the way he has otherwise, watching Rose and Hugo and helping out Dean and joining his friends for dinner, but now he tries to stop steering conversations away from himself. He tries to answer questions honestly instead of carefully. Some weekends, he cooks himself breakfast and manages a whole three meals.
He misses Malfoy, but this will not force him to stop moving forward. He doesn’t need Malfoy’s help to keep progressing. He doesn’t need Malfoy. He wants him.
Dean and Luna have everyone, or nearly everyone, over for dinner on a Saturday night in early June. The couples with kids leave them with their parents, matching the couples without kids for the evening. They are all couples, except for Harry. And, newly, Ginny.
“What happened with Geoff?” Hannah asks her.
“We fizzled out,” Ginny says. “The spark was gone, or whatever.”
Hannah nods, and pats her arm sympathetically.
Dean has prepared something exotic and spicy with a name Harry can’t pronounce. They crowd into the kitchen in something like a queue and scoop it into bowls, and there’s not enough room at the table, so half of them file over to the couch and armchairs. Harry sits in the high-backed green one, with his back to the window.
Harry does not mind being single in a mass of coupled friends; it’s never made him feel bad because it wasn’t ever anything he wanted. Even now, still wishing Malfoy could be here with him, it is Malfoy he wants, not a relationship. He doesn’t know if that’s something Ginny wants. He doesn’t know how she is feeling, or if she misses Geoff, or if she misses being half of a pair.
But she seems fine, if a bit tired, and that tiredness could be attributed to the last two Harpies matches, both of which went on for several hours as the snitch eluded the seekers for far longer than usual. Harry wonders if she would have ever mentioned Geoff at all if no one had asked.
She perches on the wide arm of the couch, holding her bowl high as she eats. Every now and then she nudges Dean playfully with her knee; with Hannah half in Neville’s lap and Hermione on their other side, Dean is crowded against Ginny’s end of the couch. Harry remembers the tense, angry looks Dean shot the pair of them at the end of sixth year, and how Ginny mocked Dean’s affection for Luna for the first few months of it.
They’re all so much older now.
For him, tonight is seeing nearly all of his friends at once rather than in the usual paired dosages, but for most of them, this is a night away from kids and work and obligation. A night to be young again. For them, this is a break from the norm. This is all Harry ever does. He doesn’t have those obligations, not to a career or to a partner or to offspring, not with Teddy at school. His only obligation is to himself, and this is not a break from that. Seeing his friends, and being all right with it—this is obligation. Not something he owes them, but something he owes himself.
He slept for five hours last night without waking, and this morning, he walked down the street for coffee and sat in the park as he drank it, enjoying the summer air.
He looks over at the table, where Luna, Ron, Seamus, and Seamus’s date are laughing hard at something. He looks over at the mantel, across the room from where he sits; that picture of Dean, Seamus, and Malfoy pulling faces for the camera.
On the couch, Neville is recounting one of last month’s Auror adventures, and Ginny is smiling brilliantly, her empty bowl held loosely in her lap.
He always thought of their relationship as a failure borne of apathy; they did not feel as strongly about each other or work as well together as a couple needed to. But he has since come to realise how badly he handled their relationship, and how little of it can actually be blamed on negligence. He marked the day Ginny’s things disappeared from his flat as the end of their relationship, but it was long before then, wasn’t it.
But then, they’ve never talked about it.
Hannah doesn’t watch Neville as he narrates. She’d have to turn almost all the way around to do so. Instead, she keeps eating, and sometimes glances at Dean and Ginny as they laugh and interject comments. Her weight is mostly on Neville’s left thigh, and he has a hand resting on her hip, between her and Dean. When she finishes and sets her bowl on the coffee table, Neville wraps that arm around her middle and tugs her back against him to lean against his torso, and keeps talking. Hannah closes her eyes, and listens.
A little while later, Dean stacks up the empty bowls and takes them to the kitchen, and Ginny disappears to the balcony. Hermione turns sideways, leaning back against the right arm of the couch, and starts asking Neville about a plant that Harry has never heard of, one that is apparently taught for NEWT-level Herbology, and Hannah shifts off his lap, instead sitting beside him with her head on his shoulder.
Harry looks out at the glass doors that open to the balcony. With the light from inside reflecting off them, he can just barely make out Ginny’s silhouette.
For a long time, and for many reasons, Harry thought of Ginny as his chance. A chance he’d missed. If he felt now the way he’d felt five years ago, he would be taking her newly-single status as a sign that he should try again. That they should try again. But Harry knows now more than ever that he’s never been in love with her, and that love is not a voluntary feeling.
She looks up as he steps onto the balcony, but glances away once she’s seen him. He wonders if she was expecting someone else.
“All right?” he asks.
She shrugs and brings her cigarette to her lips. It’s the only bad habit Harry has never picked up; she started with the first boyfriend she had after they broke up, and she’s spent the six years since their breakup saying she’ll quit.
Harry comes up next to her and rests his forearms on the railing. He watches her as she stares out into the evening. She doesn’t appear to be looking at anything, but she seems very focused all the same.
The base of her eyelashes is the same copper of her hair, but they fade out to blonde at the tips. She used to do something to them; makeup or charms or something. Something to make them dark brown, and more visible; something that was meant to be, as Harry understood it, more beautiful. Harry liked how it looked, but he also likes how she leaves them natural now. The first time he saw her eyelashes natural, up close, was the first morning they woke up together.
“Did you want something?” she asks, after a while.
“We didn’t just fizzle out, did we,” he says.
Her eyes are tired, any remaining feeling long dulled. “Not really.”
“I was awful.”
She shakes her head. “You weren’t in any state to be in a relationship. You’ve never been. That’s not your fault.”
“But I shouldn’t have put you through that.”
“That’s true. I shouldn’t have put myself through it, either.”
“I knew from the start it wouldn’t work, Harry. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with hoping.”
“There is when it makes you miserable.”
“I don’t think there’s anything miserable about hoping.” He watches her long drag on the cigarette, and the exhale of swirling smoke. “Are you miserable now?”
“I think I’m all right. I think I’ll be all right.” She holds her thumb to her lips, her brow furrowed.
“Did you love him?” Harry asks, not knowing whether it’s an appropriate thing to wonder but not really caring.
She doesn’t even pause. “I don’t think so.”
Harry considers that. “Did you love me?”
“Of course,” she says, and glares at him.
“I mean,” he tries again. “Were you in love with me?”
“Oh.” She is quiet for a moment. “No, probably not.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not—” she starts.
“I’m sorry anyway.”
She looks at him—steadily now, not a flashing glare or sidelong glance. “This has been bothering you,” she says.
“Yes,” he says.
“I was so—I was never there for you. I never came to you with anything, either, or let you be there for me. We barely talked. About anything. We spent hardly any time together, and when we were alone together we were having sex.”
Ginny smiles dryly at that. “It’s been nearly eight years, Harry.”
“I know but—what I mean is, I didn’t see anything wrong with it at the time. I thought that was all normal. I didn’t know there was another way.”
“It’s not all on you. I was more than complicit in our dysfunction.” There is something slightly amused in her voice, in the tilt of her head as she looks at him.
“Yes, but I didn’t—you didn’t deserve that. You deserved better.”
“So did you,” she says evenly. “And it doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me.”
“All right.” She stubs out her cigarette on the railing, then Vanishes it. She is quiet, then, waiting for the rest of whatever he has to say.
“I started taking sleeping potions while we were together,” he says, and she nods. He never hid it from her. “I told myself it was—for your sake. So I wouldn’t wake you up with the nightmares. But it was for me, and I kept using them after we broke up. I didn’t think about what they were doing to me. I thought—I thought, ‘These potions make sleep easier.’ I didn’t think I was avoiding anything, or bottling anything up. I didn’t think that the reason I needed to not dream in order to sleep might be the same reason you left me. The reason being”—he clears his throat—“that there were things that had affected me, things I was refusing to acknowledge had affected me, and I wasn’t dealing with them.”
Understanding is plain on her face, and he tries not to think of how different things could be if he’d been able to say this to her then.
But he didn’t, and he can’t go back. He can only try to tell her now.
He summarises the nightmare. He explains that the sleeping potions stopped working, and that without them, he couldn’t sleep, and still doesn’t dream. He describes the way he felt when things were at their worst, and how hopeless everything seemed. He tells her about therapy with Malfoy. And he tells her he’s in love with Malfoy.
“Oh,” she says, and she is smiling very gently.
“I don’t,” he starts. “I don’t need you to do anything about it. I’m not asking you to help me, or fix me.”
“And I’m not telling you because I think you should know. To be perfectly honest,” he says, “this is for my sake, not yours. I’m telling you for me. Because it bothers me having you not know, not because I think you’re better off knowing.”
“I appreciate the honesty,” she says, the corner of her mouth quirking up.
“I’ve let myself go for so long thinking that accepting care from other people is bad, and hurts them, and makes me weak. But it doesn’t. I deserve people who care about me, and telling you—this is me accepting care,” he says, trying to put it into words. “Because you cared for me, and you were scared for me, and I didn’t want to see that, so I pretended not to. I let it get so bad, and I’m so sorry. I’m sorry it happened, and I’m sorry we never talked about it.”
She doesn’t say anything. She places her hand over his, on the railing, and holds it there.
“You wanted to help me, and I didn’t let you. I should have.”
She is so small, but he feels smaller.
“It didn’t expire, you know,” she says, and he stops staring out at the dark courtyard, and looks at her. “I still care about you. I still want to be there for you, if you ever need it. Or want it.”
He looks at her big, dark eyes, and the sincerity in them, until his throat feels tight. She squeezes his hand, and he pulls her into a sudden hug that she accepts with a surprised laugh against his sternum. He holds her tightly, so small in his arms, and lets himself feel weak for the moment. Knowing he’s safe to.
When he releases her, she smiles up at him warmly. “I’m so glad you’re okay Harry,” she says. “Or getting there, at least.”
He smiles back, torn between gratitude and self-consciousness. “Yeah.” Unsure whether it’s a strange thing to say, he adds, “I am, too.”
“So, tell me about Malfoy.” Her eyes seem to twinkle as she grins.
The self-consciousness takes over. “What about him?”
“How’d you fall for him? Do you think you can see him again, outside of therapy? How do you think he feels about you?”
He laughs helplessly under the onslaught of questions. And then he addresses them, one by one, and each of her follow-ups, and the follow-ups to her follow-ups. They stay out on the balcony for over an hour, as the one person Harry has ever seriously dated asks him all about the one person he’s ever fully fallen for.
Some of their friends assume that they’re dating again. The theories seem to be that either Harry is serving as Ginny’s rebound relationship as she gets over Geoff, or Harry has finally seen the light now that he’s doing better, or some combination of the two. He and Ginny talk about it, and they decide it’s not worth trying to correct them.
“They find it easier to sort people into pairs,” Ginny says testily. “Couples’ minds work differently, I’ve found.”
“From all of your experience being in couples?” Harry teases. She hasn’t been single for longer than a few months since the war. When he came back from travelling and they got back together, she had been single for almost three months; now that they’re spending time together more comfortably again, he’s joked that he slipped right in before the window of opportunity closed.
She rolls her eyes. “The same experience you’ve had, having nearly all of our friends paired off. I know it’s awful of me, but I’m really thankful you’re single. We can be miserable together, instead of me having to sit there as a fifth or seventh wheel and be miserable all by myself.”
“That isn’t awful,” Harry says. Then, as an afterthought, “And I’m not miserable.”
“It is awful,” Ginny insists, “because I ought to be rooting for you to be with Malfoy, and being supportive, and all that. But, you know. Misery loves company.”
“I’m not miserable,” Harry repeats.
He’s not. He’s really not. He has his friends—his family—and he’s doing more than all right. Yes, he misses Malfoy. Yes, he still thinks about him. Yes, he sometimes imagines what would happen if he approached Malfoy and just—asked if they could spend some time together. It wouldn’t have to be sexual, or romantic, or anything. He thinks he’d even enjoy sitting next to Malfoy in total silence, if that was all Malfoy could comfortably do.
It’s fine, though. It’s really fine.
He has his routines. The Burrow on Sundays. Ron and Hermione, Mondays and Thursdays. Luna and Dean, Wednesdays, Fridays, and sometimes Saturdays. Neville and Hannah, Tuesdays. Rose and Hugo every weekday afternoon. Dean some weekday mornings. The bookshop every Sunday morning.
He’s become a recognised regular over these last several months. He used to keep talking to a minimum as he bought his books, but the woman behind the register is always very friendly, and she now routinely recommends things to him based on recent purchases, and he always tells her what he thinks of what he’s read in the past week.
He only realised what felt strange about this a month ago, while talking to Karen. He hadn’t given it thought, but the thing was: no one in the Muggle world ever paid attention to him. Not like that. People were polite, sure, but never friendly. In the wizarding world, people were often friendly, and it was always because they knew he was Harry Potter. It was strange to know she was being nice just to be nice. It wasn’t about his fame, and it wasn’t about selling books either, because he came in often and always bought something, conversation or no conversation. She was being nice to him with no motive whatsoever.
Harry would like to be a person who could accept that easily, but he will settle for being a person who can recognise his reluctance and choose to let go of it.
This Sunday, he overhears a couple in the children’s section, laughing to themselves as they try to select a book. They joke about the covers and the titles, picking them up and setting them back down. After listening for a few minutes, Harry asks them what they’re looking for. They need a gift for the man’s niece, who’s fifth birthday is in a few days. Harry doesn’t know any five-year-old girls, but his friends’ daughter is almost four and his godson was five once, he tells them. He talks them through some of the ones Teddy liked best and two of Rose’s current favourites, and soon the couple leaves happy with their purchase.
When he makes his own way to the front counter a while later, the woman compliments his impressive familiarity with children’s literature. She jokes that he ought to work there.
“I’m only half joking,” she says quickly, as though suddenly afraid she should have said it humourlessly from the start. “We really could use some extra help here, even just part time.”
She introduces herself as Jane, and he introduces himself as Harry. He says he’ll think about it.
Over dinner with Hermione, Ron, and Ginny the next day, he asks what they think, and all of them say that if he wants to do it, he should do it. Two days later, he comes back and asks Jane if she meant it, and she says they’d love to have him. The pay and hours are low, she warns him, but it’s not as though he needs the money.
And so short shifts at the bookshop become a part of his routine as well. Just a few hours every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, but it’s something. He likes it even more than he hoped he would.
When Teddy returns home, one of his friends has come to stay with him at the Manor for a month so they can enjoy their summer holidays together. Teddy cannot spend entire days with Harry; they barely manage an afternoon a week. Harry doesn’t mind. He’s plenty busy, and he wants Teddy to have a fun summer, even if that means Harry has to see less of him.
On his thirtieth birthday, they have a party out in the garden at the Burrow, enjoying the warm summer air. Afterwards, he, Ginny, and Seamus—the only single ones left—go out and drink themselves silly.
When Harry arrives at Luna and Dean’s several hours before they expect him for dinner, he does not expect them to have company; he half expects the flat to be completely empty and to have to leave a note. But Luna and Dean are home, and Malfoy is with them. Malfoy is there, lying across the couch with his head in Luna’s lap. They are watching the television, and Dean is sitting on the floor with his back against the couch and a sketchbook propped up on the coffee table.
Luna is running her fingers through Malfoy’s hair, and Harry feels a strange, warped echo of a memory, another time that he saw Malfoy spread across multiple seats with his head in a girl’s lap and her fingers in his hair. But Malfoy was sixteen and proud and performing then, conscious of his audience and their expectations, and playing with his hair was a privilege. He is thirty now, and this is not about status at all. Harry is thirty, too. And he is not invisible and he is not sneaking or spying, but he feels very much an intruder just the same. For a moment he wants to leave, even having only just arrived.
“Oh, hello, Harry,” Luna says in her soft, lyrical way, and Harry doesn’t leave.
Dean looks up from his drawing and smiles at him. “Harry! It’s not seven yet, is it?”
“No, I’m actually—Ron was wondering if I could watch Hugo and Rose, actually. So I wanted to…see.”
He is fumbling and so terribly awkward, but it’s hard to find his words when—well, Malfoy. Malfoy is lying there, just lying there, and even so, he is incredibly distracting. His shirt is sleeveless and has a low neck, and Harry can see more of his tattoos than he ever has. There is the edge of something thin and sharp across the bottom right side of his collar, and the feathers on his right arm begin at his shoulder.
Malfoy sits up, then, looking sidelong at Harry; he takes the remote from the coffee table and pauses whatever has been playing. Luna’s hand lingers in his hair for a moment, even as he rises and his head lifts above Luna’s own height. She smooths her hand over the top of his skull and lets her fingers trail down his cheek as she lets him go, and Harry feels a sharp pang in his chest.
“Malfoy,” he says.
“Harry,” Malfoy says.
“You don’t have to come for dinner,” Luna says.
“Thanks,” Harry says. “All right.”
“Do you want to—” Malfoy starts, but glances down at Dean, and over at Luna.
“You can use the balcony,” Dean suggests. He stands up, making room for Malfoy to get off the couch. “If you want.”
“Do you want…” Harry starts, and Malfoy nods.
Harry follows him out, and when he closes the glass doors behind them and turns, Malfoy says, “I was hoping to talk to you at some point.”
He doesn’t sound hopeful. He sounds resigned.
Harry comes up to stand next to him, leaning back against the railing while Malfoy leans forward onto it. Malfoy says he wants to talk, but for the moment, he doesn’t say anything, so Harry doesn’t either.
As they stand there in silence, he finds himself staring at Malfoy’s skin. He can’t help it. He can see in the bright sunlight that the feathers on his right arm are peacock feathers, but colourless. They are visible only in relief, outlined in delicate shadow. And just under the right side of his collarbone—Harry’s right, Malfoy’s left—there is more text, the beginnings of the words that trickle down his left arm. Because I do not hope to turn again, it says. Because I do not hope / Because I do not hope to turn. Harry can now see that the flowers mixed in with the poem are daffodils, softly yellow.
“Dean’s working on my next right now, actually,” Malfoy says quietly, at last, and Harry looks up to meet his eyes, his face feeling warm for reasons unrelated to the sunlight.
“We’re playing with thestral designs. To complete the winged creature trifecta, you know.” He doesn’t explain what the other two winged creatures tattooed on his body are, and Harry doesn’t know if he’s supposed to ask. “My back has been feeling too bare.”
“Your back,” Harry echoes.
Malfoy turns, showing him the back of his right shoulder. The piece is mostly covered by his shirt, but Harry can see a wing, a soft wash of reds and oranges, as though painted in watercolour.
“A phoenix,” he says.
Malfoy nods, turning back to face him. “New life borne out of the fire,” he says softly.
Arms tight around his waist, panicked screaming in his ear. “Oh.”
“Yeah. But that’s—that’s the only thing on my back.”
Harry glances down at the Dark mark, and the words leading down to it. May the judgement not be too heavy upon us / Because these wings are no longer wings to fly—
He looks up at Malfoy. “I miss you.”
Malfoy clenches his jaw, briefly, and then moves it slightly from side to side, shaking it out. “I wanted to talk about that.”
“I’m not—I don’t want to fixate. Or anything like that. I don’t think I need you, or anything. I just—I do miss you.”
“I never,” Malfoy says, seeming to want to stop Harry from saying any more of this. “I never told you why.”
Harry doesn’t understand. “It was because I—”
“Why I stopped putting the potion in the tea,” Malfoy says. “Why I—lied.”
“Oh.” Harry hasn’t thought about it in a while. It’s been his mistake, and only his, for a long time. “I don’t—”
“I need to tell you, though. Even if you don’t.”
“Oh. Er, all right. If you want.”
Malfoy looks at him, a sober, penetrating look, and Harry can tell he is trying to understand why Harry’s not angry about this. Why Harry not only is not demanding an explanation, but is only taking one as a courtesy. Harry meets his eyes, and tries to say, I trust you.
“The problem,” Malfoy says, in the soft, resigned way he’s been speaking this whole time, “wasn’t you.” He turns, looking out into the courtyard below.
“It wasn’t,” Harry repeats, just as softly, not wanting to discourage Malfoy from speaking; he only barely inflects it, only barely makes it a question.
“The problem was me,” Malfoy says.
It sounds like Malfoy is justifying a breakup, and when that’s the justification for a breakup, it is always a lie. The problem is always both people. Harry trusts Malfoy, though. He believes him.
“The problem was, you could never be a patient to me. And I thought it was the only way, and it only mattered what you were comfortable with, but Harry—I wasn’t comfortable. I was never comfortable.”
It hurts to hear.
“You said—you said I knew you were a person. Just a person. But Harry, you’re the person. You’re the only person that means anything. Not in a—not in a big, dramatic way. You aren’t the only person. You’re just the—the person. The person, Harry.”
“No, don’t—please, don’t.”
“I wanted to be able to help you.”
“I wanted to be able to keep helping you. I didn’t want to hit a breaking point. I didn’t want to have to stop. To have to—lie. I’m so sorry, Harry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right,” and he means it.
“I’m so incredibly sorry,” Malfoy says, and he turns back to look at Harry.
“It’s really all right. I’m not mad at you. It’s really fine.”
“But Harry, I,” he says, looking startled. “I lied to you.”
Malfoy blinks, his pale brows knit together.
“You aren’t just a person to me either,” Harry says. “I mean, you never were.”
“Oh,” Malfoy says.
“I think I wanted to talk to you because—because I never apologised for cutting you open, or for not shaking your hand.”
“It probably could never have gone on any longer than it did.”
“But I think—if it’s all right with you—I’d like to be friends. If that would be all right.”
“That would.” Malfoy swallows. “Be all right.”
Harry can’t help grinning. “All right.”
Malfoy is his friend.
Harry meets him for lunch, and some mornings they grab coffee together, and Luna and Dean invite the both of them over for dinner instead of alternating between one and the other. Some nights, Harry goes out to dinner with him instead of eating in with his other friends, the same way he sometimes goes out with Ginny. Sometimes they sit and talk for hours, not really doing much of anything at all.
Harry doesn’t want to overwhelm him, though. It is tremendously important that Malfoy be in his life, and Harry does not want to do anything that risks compromising that. He will not scare Malfoy off. He will be very, very careful, and not do anything rash. Harry will not be throwing himself at him again, or anything else that might make Malfoy go still and not look at him.
He no longer holds nostalgia for his sessions with Malfoy. Karen is fine—good, even—and that’s not what he wants with Malfoy anymore. Harry wants Malfoy to be the person with whom he eats the breakfast, not the person who is actually reminding him to eat it.
They do eat breakfast together, in fact. Harry has imagined waking up with Malfoy and eating a home-cooked breakfast in his flat (he tries not to torture himself with thoughts like this, but sometimes he can’t help it), but he hadn’t expected to come to Malfoy’s favourite cafe and eat a leisurely breakfast with him on a Sunday morning, the way they don’t have time to when they get coffee on weekdays. It becomes a regular thing. Harry used to go to the bookshop on Sunday mornings but stopped once he started working there, and this is replacing that, in a way. But it is also something else.
His routines start to fall away, and Harry finds he doesn’t miss them. He finds he doesn’t need established plans with his friends to remember to eat dinner. He has the option of checking in with any of them and seeing what their plans are that night and if he can be a part of them, but he can also invite Malfoy over to cook for him, or go to Ginny’s with takeaway and eat it on the floor of her sitting room in front of the television, or swing by the Manor and spend the evening telling stories to Teddy and his friends who so often like to spend the night. Harry likes having options. He feels as much comfort in this flexibility as he once did in the more rigid routines.
And on top of the options as to what to do and who to do it with, Harry becomes newly aware of the fact that most of his friends are also friends with each other, and he can spend time with them in combination. When he was always going to their homes, he really only saw whoever was hosting him each night, with the possible addition of another guest or two invited by his host. But the possibilities seem bigger, now. He can go to Luna’s, or he and Malfoy both, or he and Ginny both, or he and Malfoy and Ginny, which happens to result in some of the most fun he’s had in a long time.
Hermione reminds him to be careful. She reminds him a few times.
“I am being careful, Hermione.” He has to talk quietly; Hermione has chosen to say this to him again with Malfoy in the very next room, where he is acting as a polite audience for Rose as she talks him through the picture book she made last week. She has already shown it to everyone else in the house at least five times. “This is important to me. I don’t want to ruin it.”
“But how important?” she asks. “Because if you’re still—”
“I am still,” Harry interrupts, “but it doesn’t matter because I’m happy with the way it is, too. I’m not going to do anything like that again.”
“That’s not what I mean by careful,” Hermione says. “I don’t mean in what you do, I mean in—what you let yourself expect, or hope for. I don’t want to see you hurt, Harry.”
“Hermione. It’s fine.” From what he can hear of Rose’s voice and what he can remember of her showing it to him, she’s almost done with the book.
“I just wish you’d at least see if—”
“It’s fine,” Harry says, as Rose says a very loud and dramatic The End.
Hermione follows Harry back into the sitting room. Malfoy is sitting cross legged on the floor, Rose standing in front of him. The warm smile as he looks at her makes Harry’s breath catch in his throat. Malfoy looks up at him, still smiling, and Harry can feel his heart racing, and Hermione may have a point.
She wants him to discuss it with Malfoy. She thinks it’s important he let Malfoy know that he still wants what he did then, so that Malfoy can make an informed decision as to how to progress. But telling Malfoy how he felt was what made things go wrong last time, and Harry’s not going to do that again.
He knows it’s why Hermione asked him to bring Malfoy along tonight, though. She wants to see what they’re like together, and decide what she thinks Malfoy’s reaction to Harry telling him would be, so as to better needle Harry about it. Plus, she’s Hermione. She can’t help being curious.
Ron is significantly less interested in seeing them together; he seems to have adopted a ‘if that’s really what you want, go for it’ policy, and he’s not fussed as to whether friendship or romance is what Harry goes for. He doesn’t involve himself in the dinner conversation much at all, allowing Hermione and Malfoy to guide it.
And Harry can’t help feeling a surge of pride as Malfoy not only passes all of the small tests Hermione embeds in the conversation, but inquires after Hermione’s efforts at Hogwarts. Not politely, but with genuine interest.
“Luna’s told me a bit of what you’ve done,” he says, “starting with establishing solid introductory courses for first years, and obviously, more rigorous standards for the professors all the way through. I was wondering, though, what your thoughts were on teaching to the exam?”
Hermione doesn’t gasp, exactly, but her facial expression conveys the same sentiment. Ron and Harry leave them to it, and they wind up talking for another two hours without stopping. Ron finds the whole thing amusing, joking that Hermione may be Harry’s new competition for Malfoy as he and Harry put Rose and Hugo to bed. When they return to the sitting room, Hermione has spread a great deal of parchment all over the coffee table, and she and Malfoy look as though they could easily continue for several hours more.
Ron reminds them that they all have to work in the morning, which Hermione admits is an important enough reason for the discussion to stop for the moment. They say their goodbyes, and Harry and Malfoy Floo back to Harry’s flat. They planned to beforehand, when Malfoy was convinced it could go badly and he’d want to recuperate afterward. Instead, when they settle on Harry’s couch, Malfoy is beaming.
“We’re going to get coffee on Saturday,” he says, as though he can’t fully believe it yet. “I suppose I passed the test.”
Harry wants to say, That wasn’t the test. He also wants to say, I’d really like to kiss you. Instead he says, “I’m glad.”
Neither of them actually do have to work in the morning—Harry doesn’t work on Fridays, and Malfoy’s only regular Friday morning appointment cancelled on him. So they sprawl on the couch and watch Charade, as Malfoy had requested before the night went well. Malfoy lays across the couch with his feet in Harry’s lap, and Harry lets him. He falls asleep, and Harry lets him. This is the third time they’ve watched it together, after all. Harry looks at him in the flickering dark, lit by the film neither of them is watching anymore, and he knows he needs to tell him.
Instead of going to bed, Harry sleeps right there on the couch, sitting up, with Malfoy’s feet in his lap.
“Why do you still call him Malfoy?” Ginny asks.
“It’s his name?” Harry says uncertainly.
“I mean,” Ginny says, “you’re the only one who does the—surname thing. Nobody else calls him Malfoy, and Draco doesn’t call anyone by their surnames at all.” Dean and Seamus nod seriously.
“But that’s just—” He looks at Malfoy. “That’s just your name.”
Malfoy shrugs. “I never said I minded.”
“I just think it’s weird,” Ginny says. “Considering everything.”
She means, Considering you’re in love with him, but Malfoy does not appear to notice that. He ought to, because Ginny is quite drunk, and not at all subtle. They are all quite drunk, except for Malfoy, because Malfoy doesn’t drink. It’s past two, though, so he is probably very tired at this point, and perhaps his observational skills are not up to their usual standard.
Harry doesn’t think he’s as drunk as Ginny, but he can admit that he is a little bit drunk. Not drunk enough to be fully participating in the proceedings, but enough to cooperate when people do ask him things.
At some point, Seamus decided that in addition to the simple act of drinking, there should also be a drinking game. And at some point, this devolved into asking and answering questions. Harry is pretty sure the questions were supposed to be raunchier, or something, and some element of it was supposed to prompt drinking. But no one seems fussed with the particulars, so Harry doesn’t start nitpicking.
He nudges Malfoy’s knee with his own. He was going to say something, but forgets what it was by the time he opens his mouth. It was going to be something witty about Malfoy not being drunk, he suspects, but he’s lost it now.
Luckily, Malfoy saves the moment. “Want to leave them to it?” he whispers, leaning close to Harry’s ear.
Harry almost says, Your place or mine, but he manages to leave it at, “Yes.”
They don’t get up and leave, though, not quite. Harry stays seated, scooting over without picking his arse up off the floor, and Malfoy only makes it up to walking with his knees. They move around the couch and come to settle against the back of it. Ginny, Luna, Dean, and Seamus stay on the floor in the remains of the circle around where the coffee table usually is. Harry can still hear them talking, but doesn’t bother with the effort of deciphering the words he’s hearing.
“Is this really any fun for you?” Harry asks. His voice comes out quiet; they are not sitting very far apart.
Malfoy matches his volume. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“They’re all drunk.” At Malfoy’s raised eyebrows, Harry amends this to, “We’re all drunk.”
“You’re all very entertaining drunks.”
“I’m not an entertaining drunk,” Harry says. He rests his head on Malfoy’s shoulder, as it is very conveniently located at the moment. “I just get sort of mellow. And sometimes melancholy.”
“You don’t seem melancholy,” Malfoy says.
“They all seem to find everything very funny. I think it’s sort of funny, but not quite as funny as they think it is.”
“It is sort of funny,” Malfoy agrees. His arm comes up around Harry’s shoulders, and his hand rests in Harry’s hair. “It’s nice they’re having fun.”
“I am too. Although not quite as loudly,” he adds, as Luna and Seamus’s laughter rings out.
“I don’t think I understand the point of the game,” Harry says. Malfoy’s hand has started to move in his hair, and it feels nice.
“It’s simple,” Malfoy says. “Someone asks someone else a question, and they answer it. Then they ask someone else a question, and they answer it.”
Harry thinks he got all of that, but mostly he was paying attention to the feel of Malfoy’s fingers on his scalp. “Where does the drinking come in?”
“I think everyone’s already managing the drinking part just fine, don’t you?”
“I don’t see how it’s a game, though,” Harry says. “That’s just a—conversation. That’s just what a conversation is. Maybe if the questions were harder to answer. But I guess alcohol is sort of like a truth potion, a little. Drunk people aren’t very good at lying, are they.”
Malfoy’s fingers slow on truth potion, and still entirely by the time Harry stops talking. It takes Harry a moment to understand why, and he straightens so he can look at him.
“Malfoy,” he starts, “I don’t—”
“No, it’s all right,” Malfoy says. “It’s fine. I can’t keep—” He closes his eyes for a second, and opens them. “It’s fine,” he says again.
“No, but,” Harry says, his hand rising to Malfoy’s shoulder, “I’m not angry about that at all. I really don’t care. I didn’t care then, and I don’t now.”
“But—why?” His eyes are entrancing in this soft, late light, and Harry can look nowhere else.
“I trust you. I trusted you, and I trust you. Because trust is—it’s not knowing the other person drank truth potion. It’s believing they’ll tell the truth without it.”
Malfoy’s eyes widen, and he stares back at Harry unblinkingly.
“I don’t care,” Harry repeats. “It never bothered me at all. The only thing that bothered me was not getting to see you. That’s—that’s the only thing I’m afraid of. That I’ll mess up again, and I won’t be able to see you. I don’t ever want to not see you.”
“You didn’t mess up,” Malfoy says, and his voice is so soft that Harry can barely hear it over whatever Dean is saying on the other side of the couch. “I messed up.”
“I messed up,” Harry insists. “I messed up, and I lost you. And now I’m just afraid—what if I lost you again. I don’t want to lose you again.”
“Lose me,” Malfoy repeats.
“I don’t want that,” Harry says. He is probably holding Malfoy’s shoulder too hard.
“You couldn’t,” he says, “lose me. I’m not going anywhere.”
Harry’s mouth feels dry, and he swallows. “Do you promise?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Malfoy says again. So, so quietly, but they are so, so close.
“Not even if I—say something I shouldn’t.” Again.
Malfoy’s hand comes up to Harry’s shoulder, and slides along to his neck. The tips of his fingers brush the hair on Harry’s nape. “Harry,” he says, and there are so few inches between them. “There’s nothing you can’t say to me.”
Harry tries to remember why saying this has felt so weighty and impossible before now, but that seems like something far away and unimportant. He can’t imagine why he wouldn’t say it. He’s going to say it; it’s inevitable, now.
“I’m still,” he says. “I still want—”
“We’re so stupid,” Malfoy says, and kisses Harry.
Harry is so overwhelmed he forgets to kiss him back, for a second, and then overcorrects, responding far too enthusiastically. It is not a very good kiss. He doesn’t care. And Malfoy doesn’t seem to care either, because Malfoy is smiling against Harry’s mouth, and cupping his face, and kissing him again and again, inelegant but wonderful. It’s wonderful, and Harry thinks he will burst with it, and wants to. He doesn’t want to not be kissing Malfoy ever again, if he can help it.
But then there’s a voice, closer than the other voices have been, sounding as though it’s coming from above them. Malfoy breaks away, which makes Harry let out a very embarrassing noise of complaint. As with the bad kissing, he really doesn’t care. But Malfoy is looking up, so Harry looks up too. Luna’s face is hovering above them, wearing a broad grin.
“Oh!” she exclaims, and her face disappears back to the other side of the couch. “They’re kissing!” she announces very loudly.
Harry looks at Malfoy, who is smiling helplessly. Their friends are cheering, of all things, and there might be some applause as well.
“Yes,” Harry says. “We’re kissing.” And so they are.
“You’re going to be late,” Harry says. It’s the third time he’s said it in the past minute, and Malfoy does not pay any more attention than he did the first two times.
“You can call in.”
“You can’t call in,” Harry points out.
“But you can,” Malfoy says, infuriatingly calm.
Sometimes, on days like this, Harry thinks that moving in with a therapist was about the worst idea he’s ever had. And then he feels terrible, because moving in with Malfoy was one of his better ideas, really. It’s not Malfoy’s fault that Harry is not having a very good morning. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Harry’s. Harry would say so, but Malfoy would argue with him at length, and he would be even more late.
“I’m fine,” Harry says.
Malfoy crosses his arms, unwavering. “Call.”
“Go to your office,” Harry retorts.
“I’m not staying home. I’d feel worse if I stayed home. Going to work will give me something to do and make me feel like a human instead of a sack of useless shit, so I am going to go to work.” He stands and moves to where Malfoy is standing in the doorway. “And you are going to your office because you have a patient coming in less than ten minutes and it is hugely unprofessional to not be there.”
Malfoy abruptly walks away, down the hall and away from their bedroom. Harry would like to think he would give in so easily, but that definitely wasn’t Malfoy giving in.
It’s not a big deal. He’s exhausted, but he is no stranger to exhaustion, and he is completely sure that laying in bed feeling exhausted will only exacerbate the problem. Going to the bookshop, on the other hand, will probably help. Might help. But might is better than nothing.
There is over an hour until Harry needs to be at the bookshop, and roughly six minutes before Malfoy will be late to see his patient.
Harry finds him in the kitchen. “You don’t get to decide for me,” he says, cornering Malfoy against the counter. “I decide how to handle it, and you respect my decision.”
Malfoy shoves a mug into Harry’s hand, surprising him. “Harry,” he says, “you’ve had a single night’s worth of sleep in the past three nights. You need to take it easy.”
“Draco,” Harry says, “if you’re late because of me, I am going to feel exponentially worse. I won’t be able to go to work because I’ll be too busy thinking about how much of an inconvenience I am for you and how much better off you’d be if you didn’t have to deal with me. So I am asking you, please, to just fucking go to your office.”
It’s probably the lowest blow he could have struck. Malfoy looks back at him expressionlessly for several moments.
Then he leans in and kisses him once on the lips.
“Drink that tea,” he says, indicating the mug he gave Harry. “It’s one of Luna’s, and it should help. Drink it, and eat some toast, and decide what you want to do with your day. I’ll be home around four.”
He kisses Harry again, just above his eyebrow, and disapparates.
Harry checks the clock. Malfoy made it, with minutes to spare. He looks at the counter and sees the plate of toast. The two slices are freshly buttered, likely just before Harry came into the kitchen. And the tea smells really, really good.
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