Harry breathes out slowly, watching the heated air rise and spiral toward the dark sky. The night is clear and biting cold and, not for the first time, he wishes he’d listened to Hermione when she’d called out after him to ‘take a coat, Harry – I’d rather you didn’t develop pneumonia’. In all fairness, he thinks, he might’ve taken more notice of her had she not been soaking wet and giggling, and had the instruction not been issued from around the apple clamped between her teeth. The fact that even his most sensible friend has somehow been sucked into the festivities can only mean that this year’s Gryffindor Halloween party is particularly spectacular.
Harry wrinkles his numb nose at the stars and hugs his knees tightly. He’s pretty sure there was, at one point, a warming charm underneath him, but he can no longer feel his arse and the stone of the castle steps seems more unforgiving than ever. He sighs. It must be after midnight now, but there’s no way he’s pulling his hands out of his sleeves to find out. The music is still going, at any rate, and he knows that the Gryffindors aren’t the only ones celebrating; all the houses seem to be engaged in their own post-feast revelries, just like always. He cranes his neck in the direction of Ravenclaw tower and, right on cue, a louder-than-usual voice that sounds a lot like Terry Boot’s yells something that sounds a lot like, ‘I am the lord of the goat army! Wave your horns before me!’
Harry snorts. It’s true what they say—it’s always the quiet ones that...
“Padma! Show me your beard!” Terry demands amid a cascade of laughter. And goat noises.
This time, his sigh is so loud that it manages to startle him, and for a brief moment, he wishes he was at the Ravenclaw party, or, indeed, any of them. For a slightly longer moment, he feels like an idiot for sitting out here on his own when he could be playing daft apple games with his friends and taking pictures of Ron that’ll frighten him in the morning. Because... yeah, it’s different for him; the date has a significance for him that his friends will never truly understand. And yet.
It’s been at least two hours, walking the grounds and sitting on these steps, freezing his backside off and thinking. Remembering, or trying to. And he doesn’t feel better. He hasn’t been swept up in emotion and he doesn’t feel closer to his parents. He just feels like a tit on a step.
Your dad’d disown you for missing out on such a good party, advises a little voice in the back of his head. He doesn’t know whose it is, but it seems to be making a good point. And your mum wouldn’t want you moping, would she?
“I’m not moping,” Harry mumbles, lips cold-numbed and rubbery. “I’m... yeah, okay.”
With a weary groan, he levers himself to his feet and prods experimentally at his frozen buttocks. Nothing happens, so he climbs the rest of the steps to the castle, tipping back his head and inhaling the crisp, tangy scent of almost-winter, shuddering as the chilled air shreds at his nose and lungs. The Entrance Hall is deserted, eerily silent, and Harry slams the heavy door behind him, needing to disturb the hush. He turns for the stairs and then pauses, hovering indecisively. When the draught from the entrance swirls around him and makes him shiver, he abandons the party, at least for now, and heads for the kitchens. He can celebrate—of course he can—but first, a hot drink is in order.
When he opens the door, it is immediately apparent that something isn’t quite right. For one thing, he doesn’t think this room has ever been so quiet. Frowning, he glances around—not a house-elf in sight. He bends down and looks under the table and behind stacks of pans, heart racing as he allows himself to realise that he might actually be going mad this time. And then there’s a soft thud, and he turns to see something even odder than a lack of house-elves, something that is apparently taking place at the other end of the kitchen.
Harry rubs his eyes in puzzlement, because that thing is Draco Malfoy. And he’s carving a pumpkin.
All Harry can do is stare, because the very idea of it makes no sense, but there it is—there he is, sitting at the head of the long, scrubbed pine table, shirt sleeves rolled up and eyes narrowed in concentration, doing what can only be described as gouging at an enormous pumpkin with a large kitchen knife. Beside him sits a steaming mug of something that fills the air with a delicious spicy aroma, and as Harry watches, Malfoy reaches for it, smearing the brightly-coloured ceramic with orange gunk, drinking deeply and then flicking his pale fringe out of his eyes with the blade of the knife before starting once more into the pumpkin.
In the low light, Malfoy’s skin seems as white as his shirt fabric and his eyes dart brightly across the surface of the vast fruit as he works. He genuinely appears to have no idea he is being watched, and for a reason he cannot explain, Harry is mesmerised. At least, he is for a minute or two, which is about the limit of his standing-still-and-waiting-quietly ability these days.
“What are you doing?” he asks, not bothering to lower his voice, even though it feels like he should.
Gratifyingly, Malfoy jumps and the knife slips out of his hand, skittering across the table and landing wetly in a small mountain of pumpkin flesh and seeds. Eyes narrowed, he retrieves it and twists his features into a withering expression.
“What does it look like?”
“I know what it looks like,” Harry says, taking a kettle of out the fireplace and rummaging around for potential hot drink ingredients. “I just can’t quite believe it.”
“Maybe you’re just dreaming, then,” Malfoy says irritably, stabbing at the pumpkin and lodging the knife firmly in its flesh. He mutters under his breath and pulls hard, leaning back, one pale hand splayed across the top of the fruit, until the knife suddenly comes free and sends him reeling.
As he scrambles to stay on his stool, Harry hides his smile behind a box of apple tea, pretending great interest in the contents. “A nightmare, more like.”
“You’re hilarious. Now hurry up and make your drink so you can leave me alone,” Malfoy says, the haughtiness in his voice only slightly undermined by the slimy orange stripe that now decorates his cheek.
“I don’t know if I can do that, Malfoy,” Harry says, pouring his tea and adding sugar and a cinnamon stick. Amused, he perches on the edge of the table, cold hands wrapped around his cup. It’s always fantastically warm in the kitchens and as good a place to thaw as any, perhaps the best now that he has Malfoy on the back foot and enough intrigue to keep him going for hours.
Malfoy looks up slowly, knife stilling. “And why is that?” he asks through gritted teeth.
Harry shrugs. “Because you’re doing something weird and I want to know why.”
“I see. And why is it that I cannot do anything without you getting involved somehow?”
Harry scrubs at his hair, face heating slightly. “You’re imagining it. What did you do with the house-elves?”
“I didn’t do anything with them. They all ran away when I opened the knife drawer,” Malfoy says defensively as he leans back to examine his pumpkin. “I don’t know what the problem was—I told them what I wanted it for.”
Relieved, Harry sips at his drink, closing his eyes briefly as the hot liquid spreads a delicious warmth across his chest and down his spine. “Okay. Where did you get it?”
“From the drawer,” Malfoy says, frowning and waving his knife vaguely over his shoulder.
“I meant the pumpkin, idiot.”
Malfoy scowls. “Why is it fine for you to come in here and call me an idiot?”
“Because you are one?” Harry guesses, shrugging.
“So are you, but some of us are trying to be more civilised these days, Potter,” Malfoy retorts, sawing away at a particularly tough piece of rind. His knife skills are less than expert and Harry finds himself cringing and watching through one eye; it’s only a matter of time before he loses a finger. Not that he’s going to say anything about it. He’s not ready to turn into Hermione, and besides, it’s Malfoy.
“Civilised? Is that what you—oh, fucking hell, Malfoy, will you be careful?!” Harry snaps, and the words come too late, whether or not they were supposed to come at all, because the knife has slipped, just as he knew it would, and the point has embedded itself into Malfoy’s fingertip.
Hissing in pain, he drops the knife onto the tabletop and examines his injury. Even from a good ten feet away, Harry can see that it’s a small cut, but deep, and is determinedly sending a trickle of shockingly red blood over Malfoy’s finger.
“Are you alright?” Harry asks tentatively. He feels responsible somehow and has no idea how to proceed. It’s a nothing injury; Madam Pomfrey will heal it in two seconds flat, and yet his insides are twisting in empathy and he has no idea how to stop them.
Malfoy nods wearily and withdraws a handkerchief from his pocket. As soon as he wraps it around his finger, the scarlet stain blossoms and spreads, joining several others that splotch the clean white cotton. Harry breathes in slowly.
“How many times have you cut yourself doing that?” he asks, not really wanting to know.
“I don’t know. It’s a very sharp knife... or, at least, it was before I started carving this demon fruit,” Malfoy says, eyeing the pumpkin with an oddly familiar expression. Harry thinks it’s the same one Malfoy used to wear when he looked at him. Apparently undeterred, Malfoy wraps the handkerchief more tightly around his finger and resumes carving.
Exasperated, Harry smiles, until something pleasant and horrifying begins to flip around in his stomach. Suddenly on edge, he cradles his warm cup in his lap and swings his legs back and forth as he scrabbles for even ground once more.
“So...” he manages. Coughs. “Where did you get it? The pumpkin?”
Harry blinks. “You know... usually when you borrow something, you’re planning to return it in at least roughly the same condition.”
Malfoy’s mouth tugs into a half-smile, but he doesn’t look up. “Don’t get technical on me, Potter, it doesn’t suit you.”
“Oh, and you’d know, would you?” Harry snaps before he can help himself. When Malfoy meets his eyes and allows his smile to widen, just for a second, Harry wishes he could just hide under the table and have done with it. He has no idea what’s going on here but it’s extremely unsettling. He could be doing anything else right now. Sitting by the fire with a Butterbeer. Pretending to be a goat. He groans inwardly.
“He won’t miss it, don’t worry,” Malfoy says, sawing away with the abandon of someone who hasn’t already cut themselves multiple times.
Harry’s eyebrows shoot up. “You stole a pumpkin from Hagrid?”
Malfoy narrows his eyes as he levers a large round piece from the pumpkin. “I borrowed it. And it’s not like that—this one had rolled away from the others, it was all snarled up in the grasses. Anyway, it’s only a little one. Practically a runt.”
“Yeah, it’s very... runty,” Harry mumbles, gazing at the huge pumpkin. That said, in comparison to the ones Hagrid had provided for tonight’s feast, he has to admit that Malfoy’s assessment isn’t all that far out. “Can I see it?”
“Because I said so,” Malfoy snaps. “Are you really, really sure you haven’t got anything better to do?”
Harry shivers. Scowls. “You know... I really, really am. Anyway, shouldn’t you be somewhere? At your house’s kink-fest of a Halloween party or something?”
Unexpectedly, Malfoy laughs. “What do you know about our parties?”
Harry shrugs, affecting nonchalance. “I hear things.”
“It’s not as exciting as all that, Potter, but don’t tell anyone you heard that from me. This year, I fancied something different,” he says, squinting and scraping at the rind with the point of the knife.
“You fancied a pumpkin,” Harry says, deadpan.
“That’s right,” Malfoy agrees, not giving an inch.
“Because I have never carved one before.”
Surprised by the simple honesty of that statement, Harry laughs softly. “Me neither.”
Malfoy looks up, blowing a strand of hair out of his eyes. “I thought Muggles did this sort of thing all the time?”
Harry finishes his tea and sighs. “I didn’t realise you were such an expert.”
“I’ll have you know I had an ‘O’ in Muggle Studies before I gave it up,” Malfoy informs him.
Harry isn’t sure what to think of that, except that it’s probably true. Malfoy always has been annoyingly good at any subject he chooses to put his mind to.
With a sneaking feeling that he’s giving in somehow, he grips the edge of the table and nods. “Normal Muggles do. Not the ones I grew up with. They’re terrified of anything that even vaguely resembles magic.”
Malfoy scowls. “Ridiculous.”
“Yeah,” Harry agrees easily. “The kind of Muggles that give all of them a bad name.”
Malfoy looks up sharply, silver-grey eyes gleaming in the gloom, luminous and heavy with something Harry has never seen before. Something he likes. Something terrifying.
Goats, he thinks wistfully. Pointlessly. Should’ve stuck with the goats.
When he shakes himself and looks at Malfoy again, he’s gazing down at his pumpkin and setting aside his knife with an air of satisfaction.
“You’ve finished,” Harry remarks helpfully.
“Yes.” Malfoy stands and stretches, and for the first time Harry wonders just how long he’s been sitting there. Just him and a borrowed pumpkin. He decides not to ask, instead watching Malfoy as he draws his wand and casts several spells in succession to wipe the table, clean the knife and his empty mug and send them flying back to their places. He heads to the sink and turns on the hot water, passing his hands under the stream again and again and sending steam curling into the air. “Have you finished grilling me now?” he asks with his back to the room.
“I don’t know,” Harry says honestly, eyes drifting to the pumpkin. All he can see is the smooth curve of the uncarved side and it seems to be mocking him somehow. He knows that Malfoy doesn’t want him to see it, and that just makes him want to see it all the more. Mischief sparking in his chest, he takes advantage of Malfoy’s inattention and slides down from the table, creeping noiselessly across the tiles and reaching for the pumpkin.
“Don’t you dare!” Malfoy cries, turning from the sink and drawing his wand in soapy fingers, but it’s too late.
Harry drops back onto Malfoy’s vacated stool, eyes wide and heart pounding. If he knows just one thing, it’s that he no longer believes that Malfoy has never carved a pumpkin before. What he sees is rough in places and it’s easy to see where the knife has slipped, even spilt blood, but it is so obviously and perfectly what it is that he almost expects it to take a breath.
“It’s me,” he says after what feels like a very long time.
“I told you not to look at it,” Malfoy says defensively. Harry hears rather than sees the moment he shoves his wand back into his belt and folds his arms; he can’t quite pull his eyes away from the detail of his face in pumpkin form. It’s not just the combination of glasses and scar that he thinks he’d probably produce if someone asked him to draw a picture of himself. It’s his hair, the shape of his nose, the bit of stubble that he nearly always misses when he’s shaving. It’s him.
“But... it’s me,” Harry repeats, bewildered.
Malfoy dries his hands and throws the towel down with a heavy sigh. “There’s no need to look so worried, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not my fault that you have the right kind of face to carve into a giant fruit.”
“Oh, thanks,” Harry mumbles, forcing himself to look up at last. “And what kind of face is that?”
Malfoy gestures awkwardly and looks away. “Just a face... I didn’t plan this, you know! Your face just happened to be in my head!”
“Why?” Harry asks, glancing at the pumpkin and then up at Malfoy again, feeling himself weakening at the cross, frustrated expression on his face.
“I don’t know,” he says at last. “It often is. It’s very annoying. Anyway, I think that’s enough interrogation for one night, don’t you, Potter? I’ll be at Hagrid’s hut if you want me.”
“If I want... sorry, why will you be at Hagrid’s?” Harry asks, standing up and taking a puzzled step closer to Malfoy.
He smiles slowly. “I’m going to replace this in his pumpkin patch. You never know, it might give him a scare.”
Harry stares, wondering what happened to his breath and when he might be getting it back. Malfoy stares back and for a long time, nothing happens at all. Finally, Malfoy nods, tucks the pumpkin under his arm, holding it in place with his uninjured hand, and stalks out into the corridor.
Harry continues to stare after him until the door clicks shut and the kitchens are silent once again.
“Is Harry Potter having a good Halloween?” inquires a squeaky voice.
Harry turns and squints into the darkness at the back of the room, where he is just able to make out a pair of tennis ball eyes peering out from behind a huge sack of potatoes.
“Maybe,” he offers and, biting down on a smile, he heads for the pumpkin patch.