“Oh, you wonderful people, welcome!”
The familiar bellowing voice issues from somewhere near Harry’s shoulder as he steps out of the fireplace, but it takes him a moment to find his feet and waft a cloud of ash away from his face before he is confronted by the massive shape of Blaise Zabini.
He grins. “Nice costume.”
Blaise grins back, showing both rows of white teeth. He smoothes his massive hands down over the iridescent fabric that clings to his body and wiggles his hips, making his skirt of shimmering tentacles swish from side to side. On top of his head sits a tight skull cap made of the same shiny material with two large googly eyes attached at his temples.
“Thank you, Harry,” he says gravely, before his attention is caught by Hermione, who is stepping out of the fireplace behind Harry, wearing what now looks like the little sister of Blaise’s costume. “Hermione! You bloody genius!” he declares, grabbing her by the wrist and twirling her towards him across the tiles.
She laughs, somehow maintaining her balance despite her bulky shape, and hugs Blaise carefully.
“Well, there’s no hiding it, so I thought I might as well incorporate it into my outfit,” she says, resting her hands on her pregnant belly.
“I put the eyes on,” Ron says helpfully, stumbling out into the room in an impressive but unwieldy full-body lobster costume. “She couldn’t see if they were straight.”
“You look splendid,” Blaise declares, glancing from the orange fabric stretched over Hermione’s abdomen, to her ten dangling tentacles, to Ron’s multiple waving legs and Harry’s springy antennae. “All of you. Come out onto the lawn—it’s like the floor of the bloody Med out there.”
Still chattering away, he leads them through the ground floor of his palatial country home and out into the evening sunlight. The lawn is lush, soft, and dotted with little groups of friends, talking and laughing and drinking champagne from delicate flutes. It could be any other elegant birthday party thrown by a wealthy twenty-nine-old, Harry thinks, if it weren’t for the fact that every person present is dressed as a fish or crustacean or other sea-dwelling entity.
“Here, have a drink,” Blaise murmurs, pressing glasses of champagne into Harry’s and Ron’s hands and sparkling pumpkin juice into Hermione’s. “Don’t look now,” he adds, leaning closer to them for a moment, “but I think we might finally be reaching an interesting point in Katie/Oliver relations.”
Harry, Hermione and Ron exchange glances, waiting for a minute or two while Blaise strides off across the lawn with his arms flung open before they look, as one, over at a small group of willow trees where Katie, with a large pink fish strapped to her head, and Oliver, dressed all in green with various waving fronds, are standing rather close in intense conversation.
Harry is impressed. The two of them have been skirting around each other for years, and if they are indeed finally getting somewhere, he isn’t going to say anything about it. They are doing far better than he is when it comes to finding that right person and settling down with them. That being said, in his case, it’s not really a matter of finding the right person. That part of the equation was settled long ago. Harry knows exactly where he is.
He’s just over there, standing by the pond and talking to Pansy.
Harry sighs and sips his champagne.
“Do you think he’ll ever ask her out?” Ron says, poking a pincer out of the way of his glass.
“Oliver’s never been very good at knowing when someone likes him,” Harry shrugs.
“She’ll ask him first,” Hermione says, resting one hand on her bump and regarding the not-quite-couple pensively. “Maybe I should have a word with her.”
“No!” Harry and Ron shout as one, and several pairs of eyes, human and fishy, turn to fix upon them for a moment.
Hermione wrinkles her nose. “Alright, alright. I just don’t want them to waste any time. It’s obvious they’re crazy about each other.”
“They’re not wasting time. They’re... making sure,” Ron says stoutly.
Harry smiles, drifting away from the conversation beside him as he looks around at the other party guests. Every single person has committed to Blaise’s ‘under the sea’ theme in their own way: many, like Ron, have rented impressive costumes from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes—George, with his usual business acumen, has tapped into the new scene and has been sourcing and hiring out costumes ever since fancy dress became insanely popular amongst Ron and Ginny’s vast group of friends—and Harry sees several brightly-coloured fish, a huge starfish, and a whale scattered across Blaise’s lawn.
He isn’t really sure how the whole thing happened, or even who started it; he isn’t sure if they enjoy it so much because none of them really had the chance to do anything truly daft as teenagers, or whether maybe, Voldemort or no Voldemort, they would all be running around dressed as sea creatures anyway.
He doesn’t suppose it really matters. The plus side of being a bit too old for dressing up is that they all have the money or the time to spend on their costumes, which is a good thing, because it does sometimes become rather competitive. Harry has discovered an odd sort of satisfaction in making his own costumes, and even though he knows he will never be a world-class sewer or charmer of fabric, he has to admit that there is something childishly enjoyable about hacking at yards of cotton or corduroy or organza, gluing on eyes and stitching on sequins and fashioning bizarre headdresses on his living room floor. He has had a few compliments over the years, and as his confidence has increased, he has turned up to gatherings dressed as an impressive range of characters, including Cornelius Fudge, a house-elf, and a slice of treacle tart.
Tonight’s outfit is... unusual. It is, Harry thinks, quite realistic and brightly coloured, and, as he scans the lawn once more, he is pleased to note that it is definitely one-of-a-kind. It’s not as though he really expected anyone else to come dressed as a sea slug, but the excitable little costume designer inside him is secretly delighted.
Just then, Padma, crossing the lawn with two champagne flutes in her hands, catches sight of him and flashes an approving grin. Harry grins back, taking in the multicoloured starfish that cover nearly every inch of her dress and the smaller sparkling ones that she has woven into her long, braided hair.
“Oh, darling, yes,” Pansy cries, holding out her hand for one of the glasses and touching her forehead theatrically.
“That woman’s got a voice like a bloody banshee,” Ron mumbles through a mouthful of something that smells distinctly fishy.
“Mm,” Harry agrees, wrinkling his nose and attempting to focus instead on the pleasant, summery scent that rises up from the sun-baked earth.
The evening air is warm but a light breeze still manages to drift around the guests on the lawn, gently picking up long hair and skirt hems and tentacles. Harry smiles to himself, pleasantly startled by the sheer diversity of his social circle, even after all these years. After the war, after Hogwarts, after what Ron calls his ‘sticky period’, during which Harry had floundered, unsure what to do with himself, vacillating between trying new interests and jobs in panicked succession and hiding in his house, refusing to see anyone but his two best friends, he had been, to put it mildly, lost. These people, the ones currently dressed as sea creatures, have anchored him. Kept him afloat. Every single one of them has been essential in their own way—even the ones who, on occasion, sound like banshees.
And even though he is no longer lost, perhaps even has found his place in life, there is something extremely comforting about being part of something bigger and stronger than himself. A circle that is always there, whenever he needs it. A circle that shares the births, marriages, heartbreaks and celebrations of its members and puts out a constant glow of warmth, silliness and friendship that wraps around every single one of them. While some activities and meetings involve only smaller sub-groups, at big events like this evening’s party, it often feels as though everyone Harry knows and likes is gathered in one place.
At the heart of this extraordinary circle are Blaise and Hermione. For seven or eight years now, they have been closely monitoring the work of the Unspeakables from a little office buried somewhere in the bowels of MLE, where their mutual love of toast and strategy have led to an unexpected friendship and the bringing together of several smaller groups, including the ex-Slytherins, and, most notably, Draco Malfoy.
Harry sighs and looks away from the group at the edge of the pond, focusing instead on some of the newer members of the circle, the partners and siblings of Harry’s friends and classmates. Standing in the patio area at the front of the house are Hannah Abbot and her partner, Finlay. At about ten years’ Hannah’s senior and painfully shy, Finlay had been initially terrified by the fancy dress parties, but now, as he stands quietly but contentedly at Hannah’s side, he has a large multicoloured fin strapped to his back.
Talking rapidly to Hannah is Theo’s German girlfriend, Sabine. Harry had been completely intimidated by her the first time they met, and she still looks rather forbidding when she isn’t smiling, but she is a creative whirlwind, making stunning costumes for herself and Theo from scratch. Even more surprisingly, Lavender, who has grown into a charming and much-less-annoying young woman, has brought her younger sister, Sorrell, into the group, much to the delight of Luna, who has found in her a firm friend with a quirky personality to rival her own. As Harry watches, quietly sipping his champagne, the two women, dressed vividly as plimpies, attempt to throw grapes into each other’s mouths across some twenty feet of lawn.
“Sorrell!” Blaise shouts, and the dark-haired girl turns to him, grape held aloft. “Birthday grape!”
Laughing, Sorrell adjusts her aim and flings the grape with impressive accuracy towards Blaise. He catches it in his mouth, dispatches it with a quick chomp and affects a little bow that sends all his tentacles whirling.
“Well done!” Luna calls, applauding.
“It would have been more impressive if you had managed to miss a mouth that size,” says someone with a smooth, refined voice that sets Harry’s stomach turning.
Slowly, inevitably, Harry turns to see Draco Malfoy looking coolly between Blaise, Luna and Sorrell with a small smile flickering around the corners of his mouth. He is alone now, looking ridiculously elegant with a champagne flute in one hand, the other dangling carelessly at his side.
“Are you volunteering as a target, Draco?” Sorrell asks, grinning.
Draco just lifts an eyebrow and she returns to firing little green projectiles at Luna. Lifting his drink to his lips, Draco turns to gaze at the horizon and Harry guiltily takes the opportunity to study him.
Inevitably, he looks perfect. It takes Harry a moment to properly appreciate his costume, but when it all comes together, he just laughs softly and shakes his head, determinedly ignoring the tugging feeling in his chest. How very appropriate. Draco is dressed as a shark. He is dressed as a shark, and he is—of course—the most elegant shark Harry has ever seen. His sleek, grey suit has long tails and an all-over sheen that makes the fabric gently iridescent in the sunlight. His usually white-blond hair has been sculpted into a fin on the top of his head and spelled a sparkling silver. As a finishing touch, a glassy eye has been attached to either side of his head.
Draco has been coming to the parties and quizzes and barbecues for a long time now but Harry can’t say they are close. They are polite, sometimes even gently teasing, and they have shared a laugh or two over the years, but Draco is always a little bit distant and it drives Harry completely mad. Partly because Draco is, as should be expected, being a pain, but mostly because Harry is so helplessly in love with him that it is only a matter of time before he loses his mind.
He watches as Draco kisses Pansy on the top of the head and then strides, coat tails flapping behind him, across the lawn and into the house. Knees wobbling slightly, Harry closes his eyes for a moment and exhales slowly. The whole thing is, of course, ridiculous; he doesn’t even know Draco all that well any more. It doesn’t matter, though. He knows enough. He knows that Draco is a grown-up, redeemed man, with a wicked sense of humour and a smile that makes Harry want to curl up into a ball and weep.
But he won’t. Apart from anything else, he doesn’t want to get grass stains all over his sea slug costume.
Hermione is laughing. “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” Harry asks, dragging his eyes away from the spot where Draco had been standing.
Ron turns to him, lobster eyestalks bobbling. “I was just saying—you can say what you want about Draco Malfoy, but you can’t deny that he’s class in a glass.”
Harry swallows dryly. “I suppose you could say that, yeah.”
Hermione gives him an odd little smile. “Yes, but what does it actually mean?”
“It’s... I don’t know,” Ron says, frowning. “It’s hard to explain. It’s a quality. When you see it, you just know.”
Hermione tilts her head on one side. “Do you just mean that he’s handsome?”
Ron snorts. “No! Well, I don’t know, he might be, but it’s not about being handsome.”
“I don’t know, Hermione, you should ask my dad. He’s the only person I’ve ever heard saying it,” Ron sighs, apparently frustrated at his inability to make her understand. Harry thinks he knows exactly what Ron is talking about, but he is reluctant to involve himself in any conversation that has to do with Draco Malfoy, just in case he gives himself away.
“Did Blaise actually invite him?” Hermione asks, pretending to look around. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
Ron laughs. “I hope not, or I’ll never live this costume down. The thing is about class in a glass... you’ve got to have a sort of presence. Gravitas. You’ve got to be cool.”
“Ah,” Hermione says, eyes lighting up. “Sangfroid?”
“Never mind.” Hermione sips her pumpkin juice thoughtfully. “Like Kingsley?” she offers after a moment.
“Exactly like Kingsley,” Ron agrees, relieved.
Hermione smiles, clearly pleased at having deciphered her husband’s strange words once again.
For a moment, there is silence between them. Ron crunches on another canapé. Hermione picks up her heavy hair and exposes the back of her neck to the breeze. Harry looks over at the house and wonders what Draco is up to.
“Why were you talking about Draco, anyway?” he asks before he can stop himself.
Ron and Hermione exchange a split-second glance that only makes his regret intensify. He waits, holding his breath and, to his surprise, it’s Ron who speaks first.
“Well, since you spent the last ten minutes staring at him, we thought we’d better have a talk about... you know... how we feel about him,” he says, expression caught somewhere between reluctance and determination.
Harry stares at his friend, knowing he is flushing violently but unable to do a thing about it.
“What?” he mumbles weakly.
“It’s alright, Harry,” Hermione says, reaching out to touch his arm. Her smile is wonderfully reassuring, but for some reason it doesn’t stop Harry feeling as though he’s just fallen off a cliff.
“How long has it been now? Three years? Four?” Hermione says gently.
“More like five,” Harry groans, tipping his head back to avoid their gaze. He squints in the soft sunlight and just about resists the urge to set down his glass and cover his face with both hands. Finally, he takes a deep breath and lowers his gaze back to his friends. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“We were trying not to interfere,” Hermione says lightly.
Harry groans again. Why now? he wants to ask. Why this time? But Ron and Hermione both look so concerned that he doesn’t have the heart.
Horrified, he realises that if he has been obvious to Ron, he must be obvious to everyone he knows. And alright, he hasn’t had a particularly successful relationship history, and none of his friends’ attempts to set him up have ever gone anywhere, but still.
“Does everyone know?” he asks, almost in a whisper.
Ron and Hermione look at each other again, exchanging their secret glances.
Harry’s heart speeds unpleasantly. “Are you serious?!”
“Well, not everyone,” Hermione says kindly. “We’re pretty sure Draco doesn’t have a clue.”
“Yeah, you two are as bad as each other,” Ron says through a mouthful of salmon vol-au-vent. Vaguely, amid the horror and embarrassment swirling inside his head, Harry wonders where he keeps getting those things from. He hasn’t even seen the canapé tray yet. That said, he has apparently been otherwise occupied for longer than he had realised.
“Great,” Harry mumbles. Draining his glass, he seeks out Katie and Oliver and watches them, for want of a better idea. Their awkward flirting is quite compelling, and besides, he’s not sure how to look at his friends right now, never mind talk to them about his feelings for Draco. Just the idea of it makes him feel slightly sick, and the sight of Draco emerging from the house at Blaise’s side isn’t helping one little bit.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” Hermione says, and when he looks at them at last, their faces are tight with anxiety. Something about seeing that expression on a six-foot lobster pulls a ripple of laughter from Harry and he allows himself to relax. These are his best friends, after all. And if all his friends know... well, it’s completely humiliating, but he has suffered many worse embarrassments in his time. Probably.
“You look ridiculous,” he tells Ron, who is now laughing along with him.
“We all look ridiculous,” Hermione points out, swishing her tentacles until they bump against Harry’s legs.
“Except him,” Harry says, still smiling as he looks back at Draco and his elegant shark costume.
“That’s class in a glass for you,” Ron says, clapping him firmly on the shoulder.
“What about Blaise? He’s pretty... you know,” Harry says, gesturing vaguely.
Hermione smiles. “Ah, Blaise. I think he probably needs a category all of his own.”
Harry agrees silently, spotting the waiter with the canapé tray at last and taking a couple of the least fishy-looking items. Ron takes several and stores all but one in the claw of his costume, while Hermione looks on in distaste.
Harry sniffs at his canapé, smelling tuna and olives and herbs. He shrugs and takes a bite.
“What’s the matter?” Ron asks, holding out a miniature prawn cocktail to Hermione. “Don’t you want one?”
She shakes her head. “No, thank you. Doesn’t it seem a bit cannibalistic to you?”
Harry grins and finishes his tuna thing in two bites.
Ron frowns at her. “What?”
“You’re dressed as a lobster and you’re eating prawns, which are as much like little lobsters that it doesn’t matter,” Hermione says, eyebrows knitted.
Ron stares at the canapé in his hand, eyes wide. “That is weird.”
“Weird and wrong,” Hermione says firmly.
“Tell that to Blaise,” Harry says, opting to vanish his second canapé.
“I think I will,” Hermione says, hitching up her tentacles so as not to trip over them and striding off in the direction of the birthday boy.
Harry and Ron watch with interest as she marches up to Blaise and immediately begins telling him off, arms and tentacles waving all over the place. Blaise, who is by now completely accustomed to her and her pregnancy hormones, listens carefully and then disappears into the house. Within minutes, Hermione is back, crunching away happily on hot buttered toast, plate resting comfortably on her bump.
“The baby’s going to be massive,” Ron says, mostly to himself.
“It had better not be,” Hermione says darkly, starting on her second slice.
“Don’t say that,” Ron argues. “We want it to be healthy.”
“Healthy, yes, but not massive,” Hermione points out. “Unless you want to push this one out yourself?”
Ron pales. Hermione lifts an eyebrow.
“Alright... I think I’m going to go and talk to Neville for a minute,” Harry says, straightening his eyestalks and walking away across the lawn, leaving his friends to their stand-off. He knows better than to interfere when it comes to the baby, and besides, his glass is completely empty.
Refill in hand, he joins the small knot of people sheltering under a large, white gazebo on the edges of the lawn. Ginny’s mermaid costume has left her pale shoulders bare, and she hovers in the shadows as though afraid that the slightest touch of the evening sun will burn her to a crisp. She might be right, Harry thinks; he’s seen Ron sunburned a few times and it’s not a pretty sight. Beside Ginny, Neville is dressed as a whole shoal of silvery fish and is chatting, rather incongruously, with a hammerhead shark that Harry thinks contains Justin Finch-Fletchley.
“Arguing about the baby?” Ginny asks, shooting him an amused sidelong glance.
“Not so much arguing... just the usual needling we all know and love.”
Ginny grins. “Where did she get that... is it toast?”
“Don’t ask,” Harry says, and then hesitates. “Gin... did you know about... erm... Draco...”
She turns to him, eyes sharp. “That you’re in love with him? Yeah. I knew.”
Harry sighs. “Good.”
She smiles and nudges him with her shoulder. “Don’t be an idiot, Harry. I’m the last person who’s going to make fun of you for pining after him. You do remember how many years I spent mooning over you, don’t you?”
Harry grants her an apologetic glance. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Believe me, I felt a lot better when I found out the real reason we didn’t work out,” she says, grinning. “He is good looking, bloody Malfoy. I wish I could say that he felt the same way about you, but even after all this time I’m never sure what he feels about anything.”
“You and me both,” Harry says grimly.
“Hi, Harry,” Neville says, turning to them as Justin waddles over to the nearest waiter. “Did you get those banisters you were looking for in the end?”
“No,” Harry says, grimacing. “I’ve looked everywhere. I don’t think the hallway is going to look right without them, either, but I’ll have to think of something.”
“You will,” Ginny assures. “It already looks fantastic and you’ll sell it in no time.”
Harry smiles gratefully, hoping she is right. He loves spending his days renovating old houses, but over time it has brought out an unexpected streak of perfectionism in him, and he can never quite settle on selling a property until it is just so. He had really wanted those fucking banisters, too.
“You knew about the Draco Malfoy thing, didn’t you, Nev?” Ginny asks, lowering her voice and doing a terrible job of concealing a smile.
“Er, yeah,” Neville admits, eyes tracking something beyond Harry’s field of vision. “But we’d probably better not talk about it because he’s coming over here.”
“Hello Ginevra, Harry. Neville, I was just wondering if I could have a quick word about this quiz night,” Draco says, glancing briefly at Ginny and Harry before turning his attention to Neville.
Harry takes a deep breath and gulps at his champagne, mouth suddenly dry. He can hear Neville and Draco talking but none of it really makes sense; every now and then he catches words like ‘stringent’ and ‘musical’ and ‘swindle’, but all he can do is look at Ginny and hope the empathy in her eyes isn’t a reflection of just how pathetic he looks.
When Draco speaks to him, he nearly drops his glass.
“I’ve been looking at your outfit for the last hour and I still have no idea what it is,” he says, smiling and revealing to Harry that he has spelled his teeth pointy to complement his costume. “You must enlighten me.”
“I’m a sea slug,” Harry says, indicating his red trousers and t-shirt, his yellow spots and his bendy antennae. “Obviously.”
“Obviously,” Draco repeats, eyes glinting. “Only you, Potter.”
“Absolutely. Will you excuse me? I must talk to the birthday boy before the champagne goes to his head and he becomes incomprehensible,” Draco says and, with a quick nod to each of them, he turns and stalks away.
“Oh, god. Was that awful?” Harry asks, rubbing the heated back of his neck.
“It’s not your fault he’s so odd,” Ginny shrugs.
“He does make a good shark, though,” Neville says.
The next day, he Apparates into the garden of the Burrow to find Ron and George firing cleaning spells at the huge patio table while Ginny drags the chairs into place and Hermione watches wistfully from the back step and balances a steaming cup of coffee on her bump. The familiar, delicious aroma of roast chicken catches Harry’s nostrils before he even reaches the house and he smiles. Molly’s Sunday lunches are an institution, and exactly what he needs to shift the last of his champagne headache.
“Alright?” he says, giving Hermione’s shoulder a squeeze as he steps around her and into the house.
She nods and tips her head back, showing him a half-smile. “I just hate not being allowed to help.”
“Enjoy it while you can!” Ginny laughs, wiping her hands on her jeans and following Harry inside.
In the kitchen, Molly hugs him tightly, holding her dripping spoon just about clear of his favourite old jumper and Arthur waves to him from behind a gigantic fruit salad.
“I can never remember—is it Ginny or Charlie who doesn’t like bananas?” he asks of no one in particular, waving the whole bunch in the air.
“It’s me, Dad—please put those down,” Ginny says, wrinkling her freckled nose.
“Ah. Yes. Sorry, dear,” Arthur says, flinging the bananas across the kitchen and into the fruit basket with impressive accuracy. “How are you, Harry?”
Harry opens his mouth to reply but Molly cuts him off.
“He’s thin,” she declares, looking him up and down. “Make sure he gets extra meat.”
Harry just smiles at her, accustomed by now to Molly’s weekly panics about his health and her constant insistence that he must try harder to take care of himself. He’s not worried; he eats plenty. The trouble is, he’s never been able to eat as much as any of the Weasleys—including Ginny—and he’s always been on the thin side. Sometimes he wonders if Molly looks at him and still sees that half-starved little boy she had met on the train station platform. Whatever her motivation, he has learned that the easiest way to deal with her hand-wringing is to just let her get on with it and then try to eat all the extra chicken or lamb or roast beef he has been given.
And if he sometimes slips some of it onto Ron’s plate when she’s not looking, that’s his business.
“I’m fine,” he says, letting her search his face with anxious eyes. “I had a great big pizza last night when I got home from the party. I’m not going to waste away.”
“Hmm,” Molly replies, unconvinced. “You know, Harry,” she says, forehead wrinkling suddenly. “I worry about you. You’re so handsome but you really don’t make the most of yourself.”
Startled, Harry frowns and tries to ignore the not-quite-silent laughter behind him as Ginny collects a stack of plates. “What exactly do you mean?” he says at last.
“Oh, Harry, dear, don’t be upset,” Molly says, dropping her spoon into the gravy pan and clasping both of his hands between hers.
“I’m not upset,” he promises. “Just a bit confused.”
Molly smiles, squeezing his hands tightly and pressing her work-roughened skin against his for a moment before letting go and plucking at the thin, green sleeve of his jumper. “I’m all for getting a good amount of use out of things, but this is falling apart,” she says gently. “And your trousers are full of holes.”
Harry does his best to ignore the slight against his favourite jumper and instead glances down at his jeans, which are indeed full of holes. He toys with the idea of telling her that they are deliberate—bought that way, like the pair he has seen Lavender wearing—but he doesn’t think she’ll believe him. It’s not true, anyway; he can remember where he gained most of these holes. The big one across his left knee was made by a rusty old gate catch, the one at the bottom of the right leg from a near-miss with a nail gun, and the ones on his inner thigh are the result of his weekend looking after Hannah and Finlay’s badly-behaved kitten. Okay, so they’re a bit scruffy, but they are just so comfortable.
“Sorry, Molly,” he says eventually, flashing her his best smile. “I promise to wear something a bit more presentable for next Sunday.”
“Don’t be daft,” Arthur puts in, peering over Molly’s shoulder. “You don’t need to dress up for us.”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Molly says, looking exasperated. “But... well... Harry, you’re the only one of my boys—”
“And Ginny,” Arthur interrupts helpfully.
“Oh, Ginny thinks she’s a boy anyway,” Molly says, waving a dismissive hand. “You’re the only one who doesn’t have someone, Harry, and I worry about you. Don’t you want to settle down? Get married?”
“Er... I hadn’t given it much thought,” Harry lies, pushing aside several years-worth of daydreams about finding a house with Draco, doing it up together, and living in some sort of oddly domestic bliss. “I don’t know if I want to get married,” he adds, and at least that part is true.
“It doesn’t matter that you’re gay—you know that, don’t you?” Molly asks anxiously. “Men can get married to other men. We saw two men getting married in the park just last week. Didn’t we, Arthur?”
“We did,” Arthur says uncertainly, looking about as comfortable with this conversation as Harry feels. “They were... very well dressed,” he says triumphantly, before sloping away to poke at his fruit salad, leaving Molly and her worried eyes and her gravy-splattered apron, staring up at Harry as though she is genuinely fearful for his prospects.
He takes a deep breath. The back door is open a crack and he can hear the others talking and laughing around the table. Not one of the buggers is going to come and rescue him, so he’s going to have to manage by himself.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” he assures, finding a warm smile for her. “If and when I meet someone, they will just have to take me as I am.”
Molly continues to stare anxiously up at him for a moment or two, and then her features relax into a smile. Sensing the panic is over, Harry gives her a hug and reaches over to stir the gravy before it starts sticking to the bottom of the pan.
“Life would be easier if I didn’t worry about you all so much,” she sighs ruefully, leaning against him for a moment and tucking her warm, herb-scented hair under his chin.
“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t worry,” Harry says and she laughs, taking back the spoon.
There is definitely a chill in the air as they sit down around the garden table to eat, and Harry is grateful for his old jumper, whatever may have been said about it. The table is loaded with food, including several chickens, a vast tray of roast potatoes, and every side dish imaginable, and Ginny has had to add several extra chairs to accommodate all the diners. Charlie is absent today as he is currently on the other side of the world with work, but Percy has brought his girlfriend, Bill and Fleur have Teddy with them as well as Victoire, and Lee, who has turned up for a quick chat with George about a new product, has been dragooned into staying for lunch by Molly.
Harry works his way steadily through his extra chicken, listening to the warm chatter of his family and feeling rather contented. By the time most of the food on the table has been devoured, the sun is hanging low in the sky and the scent of cut grass and tea drifts around them on the cool breeze. When Molly gets up to fetch the fruit salad, Harry catches Hermione’s eye across the table and laughs when she indicates his leftover chicken with a hopeful expression. Amused, he swaps their plates, drawing his fingers across his lips in a zipping motion.
Arthur serves his creation with some ceremony, passing out the bowls and sending jugs of cream bobbing gently around the table.
“You know what would be really amazing with this?” Hermione says suddenly.
“Bananas?” Harry suggests. Ginny pulls a face at him. He pulls one back.
“No. Gherkins.” She blinks, wide-eyed, as everyone else around the table laughs and grimaces. “No? Oh, well. It’s lovely without, too,” she says, smiling at Arthur and spooning a piece of pineapple into her mouth.
“I’ll get you some gherkins on the way home,” Ron whispers. Hermione kisses him on the cheek.
Harry watches them covertly as he eats his dessert. They are still so perfect for each other, even after all this time. He can’t imagine them without each other. He chews his lip thoughtfully. It isn’t as though he’s lonely, not with all of these people around him, but perhaps it might be nice to have something like they have.
He wonders if Draco would buy him pickles.
The weather is warm and humid as he lets himself into the back garden of Pansy and Padma’s beautiful art deco-style house two weeks later. He can smell the heavy scent of hot charcoal and the citrusy tang of insect-repellent charms and cocktails even as he fights his way through a jungle of tall plants—some of which he is pretty sure are groping him as he passes—and emerges into a sun-drenched clearing which has been draped with tiny lights and whirling currents of cool air.
He heads quickly for the nearest artificial breeze and stands beneath it, letting the air lift his heavy wig as he glances around for the hostesses. He can’t see them yet, but he doesn’t appear to be the first arrival, which is something. Four people are sitting on white wooden chairs at the other end of the garden, and while they look rather familiar, Harry suspects that at this particular gathering, appearances will be deceiving. Apart from anything else, the group appears to contain two Rons, and Harry is pretty sure that Ron and Hermione had said they were going to be arriving a little late due to an appointment with their antenatal mediwitch.
As he looks on, amused, one of the Rons lets out a rather high-pitched giggle.
“Hello, Sabine,” Padma says, weaving her way through the plants towards him. She proffers a brightly-coloured drink with a slightly loopy grin that matches her costume perfectly.
“Luna,” he says, grinning back as he takes in the vividly-patterned dress, the earrings in the shape of cobs of corn, the armful of rubber bracelets and the impressive spellwork that has turned Padma’s jet black hair into waves of shimmering blonde. “Very impressive!”
She laughs. “You should have seen my sister’s face when she first saw me. She’s got a modelling assignment tomorrow so I’m afraid she has completely wussed out and come as me.”
“That’s cheating,” Harry says, turning to look back at the group, where the person who had looked like Parvati—who actually is Parvati—is drinking through a straw with her feet tucked up underneath her.
“I agree,” Padma says, shrugging. “She’ll dress up properly at the next one if she knows what’s good for her. Is that a wig?”
Harry nods. He isn’t as good with appearance charms as his host, and has chosen to come as Sabine to the ‘dress as one of your friends’ barbecue because he had found her look the easiest to copy. He has bought a chestnut coloured wig and used a combination of spells and scissors to fashion it into her distinctive Cleopatra-like blunt bob and heavy fringe. He is wearing black trousers and a loose white shirt, along with her trademark waistcoat, for which he has trawled the local charity shops, finally finding one in forest green that just about fits him. The fact that Sabine rarely wears skirts is a bonus, because it wouldn’t be the first time he has ended up shaving his legs for a costume and he cannot stand the prickling sensation that is inevitable as the hair grows back. Women, he thinks, must be clinically insane to put themselves through it on a regular basis.
“I was going to do the red lipstick and everything,” he admits, pressing his fingers to the cool surface of his glass, “but I thought it might melt off my face.”
Padma laughs, corn cob earrings swinging. “I think we can let it slide.” She looks back at the house, leaning up on tiptoes to see over the plants. “Have you seen Pansy yet?”
Harry hasn’t. In fact, Pansy does not emerge from the house until the garden is full of bizarrely-dressed people and Padma has already disappeared behind the grill with a huge tray of seasoned meat and vegetables.
“Oh my goodness... she’s me,” Hermione says faintly. She has been quiet for several minutes, standing between Harry and Ron and chomping happily on the pineapple from her drink, but now she follows Pansy’s progress through the plants with wide eyes.
Beside her, Ron is snorting with laughter, and Harry can’t take his eyes off Pansy’s bump. He wonders just how many imaginary babies she is carrying underneath the neat shirt and knee-length skirt combo that is so perfectly Hermione that Pansy could have raided her wardrobe to find it.
“Ah, there’s my inspiration!” Pansy declares, making a beeline for Hermione with a very pregnancy-unfriendly drink in her hand.
For a moment, Harry wonders if Hermione will be offended but she merely laughs and pokes at Pansy’s belly with one finger. “How are you finding it?”
“Exhausting, darling, I don’t know how you manage it,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m not doing this for real, are you listening?” she calls, flicking her new curls over one shoulder and addressing Padma.
At the grill, Padma merely lifts an eyebrow and carries on turning sausages.
They really had been a surprise, Harry thinks as Pansy examines Hermione’s outfit with one hand resting protectively on her fake bump. Especially considering Pansy’s years-old reputation for jumping on anything in a pair of trousers. Still, one look at Padma’s rather skimpy dryad costume at Draco’s ‘mythical beings’ Samhain party and her previously well-hidden Sapphic side had come bursting out. Harry has to admit that he had been among those who’d said that the relationship wouldn’t last a month, but here they are, four years on, going strong, and their mutual flair for barbecues continues to hammer all summer opposition into the ground.
Last year’s theme had been the roaring twenties, and god, Draco had looked good in pinstripe and Oxford bags. Too good to be allowed, really. The year before had seen Pansy and Padma issue the challenge of ‘stars of Muggle cinema’, which had resulted in several nights’ worth of Indiana Jones fantasies for Harry, and several hours’ worth of grousing from Ron, who had wished he’d thought of it first.
Today, Draco is nowhere to be seen. Harry frowns, having another look around for him, but he is definitely not among the people on the grass, and even though there is still plenty of time for guests to arrive, his absence seems odd somehow. For a moment, Harry is distracted, watching the conversation taking place between Parvati and Blaise at the opposite end of the garden.
“You’re lucky my sister hasn’t seen you,” Parvati is saying. “She’ll go mad that you haven’t dressed up.”
And he hasn’t. Which is highly unusual. Harry frowns harder, straining to hear Blaise’s response, but his voice doesn’t seem to carry the way it usually does.
“Ron, don’t you think it’s weird that—”
“Imposter!” Blaise bellows, but the voice seems to have come from behind Harry.
Slowly, he turns, and everything falls into place. The man who is currently trying to squeeze through Padma and Pansy’s rather narrow gate, wearing a long red wig and a pair of bright green shorts, is unmistakeably Blaise Zabini. Ginny, who is dressed as Harry, almost chokes on her drink at the sight of him.
The man at the bottom of the garden spins around. “You, sir, are the imposter,” he declares, but the characteristic depth is all but missing from his voice.
“Draco Malfoy!” Blaise cries, striding across the grass in his little shorts.
Harry just stares at them both, quite unable to look away. He doesn’t seem to be the only one.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, old thing,” Draco-Blaise insists, hands on hips.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Draco, I can tell it’s you by the way you stand,” Blaise-Ginny says, grinning. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that Polyjuice is cheating?”
Draco-Blaise sighs. “You always have to ruin my fun.”
“I think I’ve had too much to drink,” Hermione says faintly.
“You haven’t had anything to drink,” Harry points out.
“Oh, good. I’m just going mad, then.”
Harry laughs and puts his arm around her.
“I don’t think it’s you.”
Pansy waddles across the grass to join both Blaises and Harry rests his chin on top of Hermione’s head for a moment, musing that this year’s outfit will definitely not be featuring in his catalogue of Draco Malfoy costume fantasies. Which is fine. He probably has enough of them anyway.
He startles as he appears to see himself walk past, bright pink cocktail in hand. He shakes himself. Sabine has been at the barbecue for at least an hour now but her costume is quite uncanny and makes him jump every time she catches his eye.
“What a lovely costume,” she murmurs, shooting him an amused smile.
He grins back, knowing full well that she has done a far better job of dressing as him than he could ever do of dressing as her. Her costume is alarmingly accurate, right down to the holes in his jumper and the scruffy shoes that would never pass muster for her on a normal day. The hair, too, is spot on, and he suspects she has spelled her own hair to look like his messy mop.
Ginny, on the other hand, is definitely wearing a wig, and it almost falls into Harry’s drink as she runs to hug him with Neville in tow.
“So, we have news,” she says, beaming up at each of them in turn with her glasses slightly askew.
Ron looks at her expectantly, blowing a stray blond curl from his face. “Go on, then.”
“We’re engaged!” Ginny announces. She grabs Neville’s hand and he grins, turning an impressive shade of pink that looks quite out of place with the rest of his Pansy outfit.
“Congratulations!” Hermione says, hugging each of them at an awkward angle and tweaking one of the feathers on Neville’s fabulous hat.
“That’s brilliant, you guys,” Harry grins, already beginning to cast around for the perfect gift for them.
Ron groans. “You mean I’ve got to buy another set of bloody dress robes?”
“You can come in whatever you like as long as you come,” Neville shrugs, beaming.
“Maybe we’ll have a theme,” Ginny mumbles, smiling against her brother’s shoulder as he hugs her tightly, grumbling good-naturedly all the while. “Maybe you’ll be wearing a dress.”
Knowing Ginny as he does, Harry thinks that could be more than just an empty threat. He watches them warmly as they head off to share their good news with the rest of their friends, leaving behind promises to come back later.
When the smell of the barbecue becomes impossible to ignore, everyone begins to drift across the grass in little groups, collecting chargrilled meat from Padma and salads from a well-stocked table under the trees, sitting around with plates on knees and tables and the ground as the sunlight softens and the tiny lights glow in the branches above. Pansy puts on a record of lilting calypso music and those with the gift of coordination—along with those who have merely had too many cocktails—sway along to the beat.
Draco has allowed his Polyjuice disguise to wear off and is now sitting on the ground, leaning against the broad trunk of an oak tree and nodding seriously as Theo explains something to him that seems to involve a lot of illustrative hand-waving. His Blaise outfit is now hanging off him, and Harry has already heard him tell Pansy that he refuses to get up because his trousers will fall down, which does give Harry cause to wonder why he doesn’t just spell them to fit, but then again, when it comes to Draco, many things are a mystery.
“Harry, you’re staring,” Hermione says kindly, prodding his ankle with her foot.
Harry turns around on his chair to look at her. “Sorry. It’s just... how does he look so...” Harry sighs, shaking his head. How does he look so good, so effortless, so ridiculously beautiful, just lounging there under a tree with his hair all ruffled and his clothes several sizes too big for him?
She gives him a sympathetic smile and continues to gnaw on a chicken leg for a moment.
“I’m not saying I don’t understand why you want to look at him,” she says finally, glancing over at Draco. “I just can’t help thinking that if you don’t take a break every now and then, one of you is going to burst into flames.”
Harry laughs. He can’t help it. “Well, just in case you’re right, I’ll turn around this way, shall I?” he suggests, swivelling to face the table on which Hermione is steadily amassing a small mountain of chicken bones.
She is, apparently, much happier with Padma’s barbecue food than Blaise’s fishy canapés, and has been eating incessantly since the moment the food was ready. She had been the first at the grill with her plate, the first to raid the salad table and the first to return to ask apologetically if she could have seconds. Fortunately, Padma always puts on enough food to feed a small army—something she always says is her mother’s fault, and Parvati is happy to back her up. At Hermione’s elbow sits a crumb-strewn, sauce-splattered plate and a not-inconsiderable pile of salad, yet to be attacked.
“I don’t know why you don’t just talk to him,” she says, setting down the clean chicken bone with a happy sigh.
“It’s not really as easy as that. Every time we end up talking he can’t seem to get away fast enough,” Harry says, resting his elbows on the table.
“Maybe he’s nervous,” Hermione says.
Harry snorts. “Does he seem to you like the sort of person who gets nervous?”
She shrugs. “Everyone gets nervous about something.”
“It’s true,” Lavender puts in from the other side of their table. “Even Viktor Krum’s scared of horses.”
Harry sighs, blowing his heavy fringe away from his forehead. He’s still not quite used to the idea that everyone bar Draco knows his secret, but there doesn’t seem to be much point in hiding from it. These people know him too well. They’ll find him.
“I can see how horses might be scary. I’m not scary. Look at me,” he insists, gesturing at himself. “I’m dressed up as a thirty-year-old German woman.”
Hermione giggles and Lavender frowns, or at least, she tries to. Beside her, Sorrell is all wide eyes and tightly-pressed lips and Harry has the definite feeling that all three women think he is ridiculous.
“Do you want another hotdog, ’Mione?” Ron calls from the grill.
“What do you think?” she calls back and grins at Harry, who is rather relieved at the change of subject. “We went to one of those all-you-can-eat Chinese places last night and he got full before I did. I honestly think he’s a little bit shaken by it.”
“Of course,” Harry says. “He’s a Weasley. Eating is sort of their thing.”
“I’m a Weasley, too,” Hermione reminds him.
“No, you’re a Lovegood,” Luna says, catching the end of the conversation and dropping into the seat next to Sorrell with a plate of hotdog buns, which she immediately begins dipping in ketchup.
“And a Brown,” Sorrell adds, grinning at Hermione’s costume. She has, once again, managed to use her bump to her advantage by wearing a long blonde wig and doing up her belly with a face and a dark brown wig of its own, allowing her to come as both Luna and Sorrell, who are so rarely seen apart.
“It really is wonderful,” Sorrell says, picking up a strand of ‘her’ hair and beaming at Hermione. “I hope the baby is as clever as you.”
Hermione flushes but looks pleased. “I just can’t wait to meet him.”
“I didn’t know you knew,” Lavender says, passing Hermione the mustard without being asked when Ron returns with two plates and sets one of them down in front of his wife.
“Not for certain. But it feels like a boy.”
“One that takes after his dad, judging by your appetite,” Harry says.
“Definitely,” Hermione says, squirting mustard onto her hot dog. “I was never this hungry with Rose, and she’s a picky little madam, still.”
Harry crunches an ice cube thoughtfully as he watches her. Not only is she hungrier this time, she is more relaxed. She seems to be enjoying her pregnancy rather than panicking about it, and she is surrounded by the glow of health that people always seem to talk about. With Rose, she’d spent much of the time washed out and nauseous, and nothing the Healers tried seemed to help her. Now, with only four weeks to go, Harry thinks the only worry is what will happen if she runs out of food.
Amused, he glances over at Pansy, who is sprawling on the grass nearby with her head resting against Blaise’s bare calf and a huge bowl of ice cream balanced on her outsized bump. Sensing his eyes on her, she turns her head and smirks at him.
“I’m eating for two,” she says airily.
Hermione laughs. “Two what? Balloons?”
“Darling,” Pansy says, shaking her head. “No. I massacred a cushion.” She whips up her shirt and shows off the impressive mound of stuffing attached to her abdomen.
The sound of laughter attracts the attention of Draco, who immediately turns sharp eyes on Harry, making him catch his breath. For long seconds, they hold there, and then Theo touches Draco’s shoulder and shows him something, and he looks away. As they drift back into conversation, Sabine hoists herself up from the ground and wanders over to Harry’s table.
“They are yet again talking about broomsticks,” she announces, pulling up the empty chair beside Ron.
“Men,” Lavender sighs.
“Not only men—just people who are obsessed with broomsticks,” Sabine says, pointing out the fact that Ginny is now crouching on the grass beside them and poring over the leaflet in Theo’s hands.
“You’re safe over here,” Hermione says. “I promise we are not talking about broomsticks.”
Harry doesn’t hear Sabine’s response because he is too busy examining her costume. Now that he can see her up close and sitting still, he realises that her Harry costume is even more intricate than he had first thought. Not only does her jumper have holes and frayed cuffs, but the hem and sleeves are lightly spattered with paint and her worn jeans have several realistic-looking burn marks. As she lifts a hand to push her glasses up her nose, he notices that her fingers and knuckles are covered in dried paint and a collection of scratches that he hopes are the work of charms.
Darting a quick glance down at his own hands, he lets out a careful breath. There are the scratches, there are the stubborn little splatters of paint that he has almost stopped noticing. He’s pretty sure they are there all the time; they don’t come off in the shower and he has given up spelling them away only to put them all back during the following day’s work. He hadn’t ever thought they were a particularly noticeable feature of his, and maybe they’re not. Maybe Sabine just has an eagle eye.
Then again, maybe not. Ginny’s costume, while lacking the finesse of Sabine’s, still gives a clear picture of a very scruffy individual. Her jeans are so worn and baggy as she leans over on hands and knees to point at something Draco is holding that they slip down to an almost obscene level, and her t-shirt also looks a little like someone has been decorating in it.
This is what people see when they look at him. Messy hair and paint splatters and worn out clothes.
Harry sips his drink slowly, trying to figure out just how he feels about that. He can’t help feeling that he shouldn’t feel anything. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, after all. There are more important things. And yet.
Gaze inexorably drifting back to Draco, Harry sighs. Even as he tries to suppress it, the thought niggles, the thought that his careless scruffiness could be a barrier to impressing Draco, and he hates it, but then Molly leaps back into his head, telling him that he doesn’t make the most of himself, that his clothes are falling apart, that he isn’t ever going to get married looking like that.
He rolls his eyes.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, she ate bratwurst with strawberry jam,” Sabine is saying.
“Oh, I love German sausages,” Hermione sighs, and Ron hides a snort in his drink.
Harry smiles for a moment and then frowns as he looks at his hands again. The thing is, he’s never needed a fancy wardrobe, or ever really wanted one. In his line of work, the most important thing is to be comfortable, and he likes it not to matter if he gets paint or varnish or glue on his clothes, if he catches his sleeves on old nails or stands on the lids of lacquer tins and ruins his shoes. Using both magic and elbow grease to complete his projects means that he is often surrounded by mess and chaos, and that’s just the way things are.
He shouldn’t have to change himself to make himself interesting to Draco.
Across the garden, Ginny, Theo and Draco dissolve into laughter. Draco’s laughter is always surprisingly warm, and the sound of it dissolves Harry’s stubbornness into nothing. He can buy some new clothes. It’s not a big deal. Certainly worth a try... isn’t it?
“Why so serious, Harry?” Sorrell asks, and he looks at her, startled.
He shakes his head. “I think I just drifted off into my own world, I’m sorry,” he says, and it’s at least partly true.
“We were just talking about Pansy’s exhibition. Have you seen it yet?”
“Not yet,” Harry says, allowing the thought of it to drag a smile from him.
“I’ve seen it,” Ron says, and when Harry looks at him, he looks slightly dazed.
Beside him, Hermione puts down the last bite of her hotdog and laughs gleefully.
“Are you talking about ‘Five Thousand Years of Fuck’?” Pansy demands, dropping her spoon into her ice cream bowl with a rattle.
“How did she hear us from all the way over there?” Ron mumbles, but he knows as well as Harry does that Pansy has the ability to pick up on the use of her name from several miles away. She is also a very talented creator of what she calls ‘multi-media erotic art’.
“It’s your turn to watch the barbecue,” Padma announces, dropping into a graceful lotus position beside Pansy and shaking out her long hair.
“No one’s still eating,” Pansy points out and Hermione turns away from her to hide her mouthful of hotdog.
“Hermione is,” Ron says, apparently without thinking. At the sight of Hermione’s expression, he pales slightly. “I’ll go and get you some ice cream.”
“Fuck me, no,” Draco says loudly at the other end of the garden, swatting Ginny on the side of the head with the broomstick leaflet. His voice is slightly cocktail-unsteady as he adds: “Do you want my trousers to fall off?”
Harry thinks it might be time for another drink.
After a particularly heavy Sunday lunch, during which Molly insists that everyone eats extra helpings of trifle because Arthur has made too much, Harry spends much of the evening slumped on his sofa with a suspenseful crime novel in the hope of staving off a food coma. When he still feels lethargic on Monday morning, he heads out to the salvage yards, hoping to walk off the feeling and maybe find some replacement banisters at the same time.
The yards are often quiet in the early mornings, and Harry seems to have the whole place to himself as he wanders around, picking through mountains of unwanted fittings and enjoying the cool sweep of the breeze through his hair. He turns at the sound of heavy footsteps and waves to Stan, the manager, who is trekking through the yard with a steaming polystyrene cup in one hand and a mammoth bacon sandwich in the other.
“Alright, ’Arry,” he calls in his rich cockney accent. “There’s a lovely Belfast sink behind that skip—won’t be there long I don’t fink.”
“Thanks,” Harry calls back, nostrils wrinkling with interest at the scent of bacon despite the fact that five minutes ago he had thought he might never eat again.
“No bother,” Stan shrugs. “Gimme a shout if you want some ’elp moving it.”
Harry watches as he wanders off, biting into his sandwich and wiping his fingers on his tatty overalls. Instinctively, he looks down at his own clothes and sighs. Perhaps he should get on with that shopping trip sooner rather than later. There’s no time like the present, after all.
Well, maybe after he’s had a look at that sink.
One hour later, Harry emerges from number twelve and sets off for Diagon Alley with a spring in his step. He has paid for and set aside several items for his new house, including the sink and a fantastically carved cherry balustrade; now all he has to do is turn up outside of business hours, shrink them down and spirit them away as he usually does. If Stan finds this behaviour odd in any way, he hasn’t ever said so. Harry suspects he is happy enough that the strange young man with the glasses and the scruffy clothes always pays up front and doesn’t try to haggle over the prices.
He has showered and tried to flatten his hair and dressed in his least paint-splattered clothes. He thinks he knows where he needs to go, and he doesn’t want to be thrown out for looking like a vagrant before he even tries to buy anything. As he reaches the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, he hesitates, picturing the brightly-lit, sparsely decorated shop at the top of the alley, tucked away between Borteg’s the whisky shop and the dark office of a licensed Seer. It is the sort of shop where Harry thinks Draco would buy his clothes, and it is absolutely terrifying.
He sighs, pressing himself against the nearest shop front to allow the stream of pedestrians to carry on without him as he flails in his indecision.
It’s no good. Whether he wants to smarten himself up or not, he needs an outfit for Hannah and Finlay’s wedding, and, as per their invitation, he needs a hat to go with it. Harry rubs his face and groans quietly. He looks ridiculous in hats. This is going to be a disaster.
“What’s wrong with that man?” pipes a small child, followed by a loud ‘Shh!’ and Harry opens one eye. A little girl is being rushed away by her mother but is still looking over her shoulder at Harry.
Oh, good. Now he’s being scruffy, indecisive and dramatic.
Pushing off the wall, he looks up and down the street, at the door to the Leaky and back the way he came. And then he has an idea.
The art gallery is around here somewhere.
He had promised Pansy he would go and see ‘Five Thousand Years of Fuck’ as he left the barbecue on Saturday.
Relieved, he steps back into the flow and strides purposefully away from the Leaky and the scary shop with the Draco Malfoy clothes. Ten minutes later, he is walking into a light, cool space, footsteps echoing on the stone floor as he meanders slowly around the other exhibits on his way to Pansy’s installation. He exchanges quiet smiles with a pretty young teacher and her group of clipboard-wielding students as they pass each other in a wide hallway, wondering if they have seen Pansy’s art and been scarred for life. When he reaches the entrance to her exhibition, however, he is rather relieved to see that the room has been screened off with rich red curtains, and has a bored-looking gallery worker posted at the entrance.
He nods to Harry and holds open the curtain, allowing him to pass into a surprisingly large room that is flooded with natural light from a glass panelled roof. Soft, sensual music washes over Harry as he steps quietly inside, tipping his head back to examine a vast phallic sculpture made of coiled wire and flickering lights. He has seen Pansy’s work before and knows what to expect, but she nearly always manages to catch him off guard with something. He just wonders what it will be today.
Amused and intrigued, he abandons the twelve-foot penis and works his way around the smaller pieces that line the walls of the room. As the title of the exhibit would suggest, Pansy has created an odd sort of timeline of sex over the last few millennia, focusing, as she always does, on the alternative sexualities. Harry inspects paintings of cross-dressing tribesmen, etchings of Greek adolescents, many small sculptures of Victorian lesbians and a whole set of replica ceramic dildos with beautiful, delicate patterns painted on them.
She is very talented, he has to give her that, and looking at her work is definitely an improvement on his original plans. He is almost disappointed to reach what he thinks is the end of the exhibit without his mouth dropping open even once.
And then he sees it.
Just beyond a short passageway lies another small room. Harry walks slowly towards it, stopping in front of the vast painting that takes up almost the entire wall on which it hangs. It is the only piece in the room, and as soon as Harry is able to focus on it properly, he can see why.
“Well,” he mumbles through a small, surprised cough of laughter.
The painting in front of him is a riot of colour, texture and erotic imagery. If the rest of the exhibition is a carefully set-out journey through sexual history, this last piece is nothing less than a no-holds-barred orgy. Hyper-realistic Vikings are wrapped around soft-focus Ancient Greeks, Roman gladiators are being penetrated by eighteenth-century dandies, naked medieval noblemen look on as a writhing cluster of beautiful women pleasure each other with slow, sinuous movements. And they are moving, Harry realises, wondering if Pansy has worked some subtle charms into the painted lines that only magical viewers can see.
There is so much of the painting and so much going on within it that Harry just stares, eyes moving slowly from image to image, tracing the soft, inky lines that connect each part into a hot, twisting whole. He doesn’t know how long he stays there but he is aware of his mouth becoming dry as he comes back again and again to the same image: a flowing, stirring depiction of two young men, one pale, one darker, pinning each other by turn, backs arched and fingers tangled together. It makes him think of Draco, and he wishes it wouldn’t, because being hard and breathless in a public place is just humiliating.
Of course, he could just stop looking. He could.
When there is a sharp intake of breath beside him, he almost trips over his own feet.
With some effort he pulls his eyes away from the painting and forces himself to look at the interloper. At the sight of the blond hair and startled expression, he bites his lip, heart pounding, and wonders if he can just slip away without even being seen. Draco is looking at the images in front of him very hard indeed, and even as Harry wishes he could make himself disappear, he realises that if he had needed it confirmed that Draco was interested in men, the darkening of his eyes as he looks just where Harry had been looking dashes any doubt into the ground.
Draco’s eyes flick to meet his. Harry swallows dryly.
“It’s an interesting painting,” he says weakly, hating himself.
Draco’s mouth twitches. “Yes, well, Pansy does always produce ‘interesting’ work.”
“I was just looking,” Harry says. “I didn’t know you were there.”
“I know,” Draco says, mouth twitching even more.
Harry stares at him for a moment. Maybe he could just Disapparate. That wouldn’t look desperate at all.
“Mm,” he manages.
“I was also... just looking,” Draco says suddenly, one hand coming up to flick his hair out of his eyes.
“That’s... good,” Harry mumbles. “It’s a good place for looking. The painting, I mean. The gallery. Art.”
“Harry, are you drunk?” Draco says, forehead creased in something like concern.
“I just thought I’d ask.”
“Well, that’s fine, but I’m... fine. I just have to go now,” Harry says triumphantly, giving the painting one last glance and heading for the exit as quickly as he can before he makes things any worse. “I’ll see you at the wedding.”
Draco nods and Harry turns away, walking quickly through the corridor, through Pansy’s room of madness, through the rest of the gallery and out into the morning sunshine, rifling in his pocket and throwing several coins into the donation box by the door as he goes.
He finds a quiet spot behind the gallery and Apparates over to the house-in-progress, where he sits on the bare, paint-streaked stairs and drops his head into his hands. There is something very wrong with him, and the worst thing is that he knows exactly what it is.
There will be no shopping today.
As it turns out, there is no shopping the next day, either. Or the day after that. In a desperate effort to distract himself from the horrible awkwardness with Draco at the gallery, Harry throws himself into his work. He scrubs and sands and re-varnishes his new balustrade, spends several hours on firecalls with several frustrating assistants only to find that his favourite joiner is on holiday, and decides he likes his new salvaged sink so much that he scraps his current bathroom plans and redraws them to fit around it.
With short breaks for sandwiches and sleep, he trundles along quite happily, determinedly not thinking about Draco at all, and it’s only when Hermione pokes her head into the kitchen fireplace on Wednesday evening that he realises he hasn’t seen a soul since Monday, and he isn’t thinking about what happened then.
“So, what’s the matter?” she says, quickly dispensing with pleasantries.
“Nothing,” he lies, picking at a spot of varnish on his jeans. “How are you?”
“I’m very uncomfortable in this position, so you need to not wander all around the houses like you usually do,” she says, and her eyes mean business. “Are you hiding?”
“I’m working,” Harry frowns. He sighs and drops into a cross-legged position on the cold tiles. “Yeah, maybe a little bit.”
“No one’s been able to get hold of you since the weekend,” she says. Her expression is unreadable as she adds, “Have you been sleeping here?”
Harry rubs his face sheepishly. “Well, there’s a bed upstairs and I’ve been working late.”
“I see.” Hermione purses her lips. “And this doesn’t have anything to do with running into Draco at the gallery on Monday?”
Horrified, Harry stares at her. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“Blaise told me, though I don’t think he was supposed to.”
Harry groans. “It was horrible.”
“Was it really that bad?” Hermione asks, and she doesn’t actually tell Harry to stop being dramatic but she might as well. Quietly, Harry thinks it’s all a bit rich coming from her. He’s been witnessing her little dramas with Ron for years now with barely a word of complaint.
“Yes,” he says stubbornly. “It was horrible.”
Hermione sighs. “You know what? I’ve seen the painting—I’m sure it was pretty embarrassing,” she says, biting her lip. “But what are you planning to do? Hide here until he forgets about it?”
“Can’t say I had anything as organised as a plan,” Harry says. He sighs and rests his head on his knees. “I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?”
“Only a little bit,” Hermione says, smiling. “It happens to us all.”
“Of course, none of this would have happened at all if I hadn’t thought it was a good idea to go clothes shopping,” Harry mumbles, mostly to himself.
“I’m sorry—you went clothes shopping?” Hermione demands, incredulous.
“I chickened out. That’s how I ended up in the fucking gallery.”
“You’re not making a huge amount of sense, Harry, but you know... maybe the whole clothes shopping thing isn’t such a bad idea,” Hermione says, grimacing as she shifts position in front of her fireplace.
“What exactly are you trying to say?” Harry asks, attempting to inject a note of humour into his voice.
“I’m not trying to say anything. But you do know that most people have different clothes for work and the rest of the time?” she says gently.
Harry nods, exhaling against the rough fabric of his jeans. She’s right—he knows she is, and what’s more, he has already been through this in his head plenty of times—but it doesn’t stop him from feeling like a naughty child for a moment or two.
“I know,” he says at last, meeting her eyes again. “I tried that, but everything always just ended up in the same pile.”
Hermione laughs. “I hate to say this but you really need someone to organise you.”
“I can organise myself,” Harry says indignantly, even though there’s a good chance that, once again, she’s right.
“In that case,” Hermione says triumphantly, “I look forward to seeing your new wardrobe.”
Once Hermione has spoken, of course, the whole thing turns from a vague plan into an inevitability.
Still, in the spirit of rebellion, Harry manages to make breakfast, showering and dressing take a good couple of hours, and then, of course, he can’t waste any of the coffee in the pot, so it’s coming up for midday when he finally slams down his cup and Apparates to Diagon Alley before he can change his mind.
It’s just a bit of shopping, he tells himself firmly as he walks into the glass-fronted building. Just shopping and clothes and people in sharp outfits. He can cope. He’s dealt with worse. There’s nothing to be frightened of, he insists silently, and yet, as an assistant seems to melt out of the wall and walk towards him, he just wants to run. His fighting days may be well behind him, but he is still a confident man. Confident-ish at the very least. He isn’t afraid of evil or failure or death; he can move his own spiders out of the bath.
This is just a man—a very young man with flawless dark skin and far too much aftershave, and he’s flashing perfect teeth and opening his mouth to speak to Harry.
“Good morning, sir, how can—”
“Imran, I believe your lunch break has started,” interrupts someone with an intriguing, light Eastern European accent.
The young man called Imran presses his lips together for a moment and then walks away, muttering under his breath about commission. Harry watches him for a moment as he appears to dissolve back into the soft grey walls of the shop and then turns to face his rescuer. He’s instantly relieved; this man is tall, immaculately dressed and astonishingly handsome but he is a good ten years older than Imran, which is a good start, and Harry finds the lack of sculpted facial hair oddly reassuring. His dark hair sweeps elegantly back from his face and his cool, pale blue eyes flick over Harry with interest.
“My name is Calvin. How can I help you, sir?” he says at last.
Harry exhales slowly, looking around at the clothing on display, the rich traditional robes, the Muggle-style casual and formal-wear and the stuff that Harry gathers is the latest thing: a sort of blend of the two. He has no idea what he’s looking for and no idea how Calvin can help him. All he does know is that he needs to at least attempt to show Draco that he is a man of taste.
“I’m going to a wedding,” he says suddenly.
“Ah,” says Calvin. He frowns for a moment and then his face clears. “Come with me.”
Harry stares at his retreating back for a second or two, trying not to be intimidated by the garments that are already flinging themselves off the rails and into the man’s waiting arms as he walks away. Finally, he shakes himself and follows Calvin through a heavy door at the very back of the shop, noticing, just as he does so, that another assistant is standing silently by a long rack of dress robes. As Harry closes the door behind himself, the man nods politely to him, just once.
The room in which he now finds himself is composed of floor-to-ceiling mirrors and Harry is struck by the endless, repeating images of the two of them—him in his threadbare jeans, and Calvin in his spotless, knife-crease shirt and waistcoat—fanning out again and again and again from every conceivable angle. Harry blinks, feeling slightly dizzy.
“Sit,” Calvin invites, indicating a carved chair with a tapestry seat, and Harry obeys gratefully, only slightly concerned for the fact that this man is already ordering him around. It’s just a means to an end, after all, and the fact that he is so easy on the eye takes a lot of the sting out of it.
Resting his hands on his knees, he watches Calvin hanging up the various bits of clothing and wonders how Draco deals with being told what to do when he comes shopping. He probably doesn’t deal with it at all, Harry realises with a grimace. He probably doesn’t need to ask for help in the first place.
“My name’s Harry,” he says impulsively, addressing the back of Calvin’s head. “And... erm... I’ve never done this before. I mean... I’ve bought clothes, but not like this. I tend to just grab things off the shelves and hope they fit. Which you can probably tell, can’t you?” He sighs, meeting his own eyes in the mirror and shaking his head. “Sorry. This is all a bit weird for me.”
Calvin remains motionless until Harry falls silent, at which point he turns and fixes him with steady eyes. “I know who you are, Mr Potter,” he says. “I promise to make this as painless as possible.”
The split-second smile that follows those words changes his face so completely that Harry is startled into silence. It’s a good smile—a brilliant one, in fact—warm and clever and just a little bit knowing.
“Right then,” Harry says after a moment.
Calvin nods, face serious once more. “Would you like coffee?”
For the briefest of moments, Harry’s confused brain tells him he is being asked out and he has absolutely no idea what to do with that. When good sense kicks back in, he declines politely and looks anywhere but at Calvin, who he is certain is now looking at him as though he is a special kind of stupid. The quicker he gets this over with, the better. He takes a deep breath and stands up.
“Okay... what do you want me to do?”
Calvin walks slowly across the room and stands behind him, placing one hand on his elbow and turning them both to face the bank of mirrors. “I want you to relax, Mr Potter, and stop looking at me as though I’m about to torture you. This isn’t going to hurt, and you may even enjoy yourself.”
Harry exhales in a rush, realising that Calvin is right and he has been holding himself stiffly with all his muscles tensed as though bracing for impact. With some effort, he lets go, allowing his shoulders to drop, his hands to uncurl themselves at his sides and his jaw to unclench.
“Sorry,” he says, giving Calvin a small smile in the mirror. “And Harry is fine.”
“Harry,” Calvin repeats solemnly. “You may call me Cal. And I think I know exactly what you need.”
Harry watches in the glass as he Summons three very different sets of clothing into his hands and shakes them out gently.
“Try these,” he instructs, pointing to a mirrored door that is just visible amongst the other panels. “I have a hunch, but it’s always best to explore every eventuality.”
Baffled, Harry takes the hangers and heads for the door, which reveals a spacious—but thankfully not mirrored—changing room with a thickly carpeted floor and a comfortable, squashy leather bench. He kicks off his shoes, jeans and t-shirt and leaves them in a pile on the floor before reaching for the first of the outfits. The robes are incredibly soft and smell cool and new as he pulls them over his head and allows the hem to drop neatly to his ankles.
He looks down at himself and plucks at the grey fabric. “I’m not sure about this,” he calls.
“Let me see,” Cal insists, and Harry steps out of the changing room uncertainly.
He’s never been all that comfortable in robes. He thinks they’re probably fine for people who have grown up wearing them, and there are definitely those who look fantastic in them, but Harry can’t help feeling rather... exposed without his trousers, and there is no way he is going to wear trousers and bloody dress robes in the middle of summer. He has to admit, though, the robes are a perfect fit, and he hasn’t seen Cal take a single measurement yet.
“You can wear robes,” Cal murmurs, walking slowly around Harry and inspecting him in such a careful way that Harry feels extremely self-conscious. “They hang better on a leaner frame, you see,” he confides, meeting Harry’s eyes for a moment. “If you want to go traditional, I can definitely do something with this, but I think we should keep going. Don’t you?”
Harry nods, startled by the sort-of compliment. “Yeah. I think you’re right.”
He ducks back into the changing room and removes the robes, taking care to replace them properly on the hanger before he reaches for the next outfit, a pair of wide-legged trousers with a matching pale blue shirt and a long, sweeping cape-type effort. With a pained expression, he walks out into the mirrored room and stares at himself in dismay. This may well be the latest fashion, but he looks like he’s about to perform a circus act. Or a part in a very strange musical. Either way, it’s pretty damn bizarre, and he hopes to anyone that is listening that Calvin does not decree this to be his perfect look for Hannah and Finlay’s wedding.
Because then they will have to argue, and Harry hates arguing.
When he looks at Calvin, though, his harsh features are arranged into a very, very serious expression. “Hm,” he manages after a moment.
“Please tell me what you’re thinking because honestly, I have never felt so ridiculous in my life,” Harry says, turning to one side and then the other and sending the cape swishing around him.
Cal just frowns harder. He coughs. “Well, let’s come back to that one, shall we?” he chokes out, waving Harry back into the changing room.
Just before the door closes on Harry, he catches a glimpse of a bright grin in the mirror, and as he happily removes the circus outfit, he reflects that actually, he isn’t having the worst time after all.
The third hanger contains a charcoal grey suit, single-breasted and fitted all over. The trousers are a little on the long side and the shoulders a little tight, but the second Harry puts it on he feels smart and comfortable. With a little more confidence than before, he walks out to face Cal and the mirrors and he can’t help but smile at his own reflection.
“This is better.”
“This is much better,” Cal agrees, scrutinising the fit and drawing his wand. “I did suspect you were a classic suit, but I prefer not to jump to conclusions.”
“Did you really think the clown outfit would suit me?” Harry asks, emboldened by the way the suit jacket hugs his torso and the cut makes him look lean rather than desperate.
Cal smiles briefly. “The clown outfit, as you call it, is one of our best sellers at the moment. The crossover look is very popular with young wizards.”
“Do you like it?” Harry asks.
Cal looks up from where he is crouching at Harry’s feet, carefully adjusting the length of his right trouser leg. “No.” He shrugs and moves to the other leg. “But I do work on commission.”
Harry smiles, relishing the unexpected honesty. Cal finishes taking up his trouser hems and moves onto Harry’s shoulders without a word, silently asking Harry to lift his arms and then drop them to his sides, making minute adjustments to the fit with his wand until he is completely satisfied. Harry is surprised when he begins to play with the length of the jacket, the width of the lapels, the fit of the waistband and god-knows-what-else, humming to himself under his breath and adding and retracting fractions of inches that are impossible to see, yet when Harry looks again, the suit looks even better, seeming to fit as though it were made specially for him.
“So,” he says as the thought occurs to him. “Do I need a waistcoat or something?”
“Not for a summer wedding,” Cal says, frowning and unbuttoning Harry’s jacket. He jumps. “If you want one, I can make it work.”
“No, not really. They always make me feel fussy,” Harry admits.
Cal lets go of Harry’s lapels and stands back, one dark eyebrow lifted. “Harry, if you want me to dress you, you are going to have to tell me if something makes you feel uncomfortable,” he says sternly.
Harry blinks. It hadn’t occurred to him that his comfort was in any way relevant to the process.
“Right, well... I don’t like waistcoats. Or clown capes. Or dress robes.” He frowns, realising that he is, essentially, promising to come back for more of this at some point. He supposes it’ll be alright. “Can you work with that?”
“It’s a start,” Cal assures. “Now, you said something about a hat?”
“You look like a gangster,” Hermione says, gripping Harry’s hands in hers and leaning back to properly look at his new suit. The day of the wedding has dawned clear and bright, and as the guests gather by the willow canopy on the edge of the New Forest for the afternoon ceremony, the air is soft and cool and fragrant with the scent of damp earth and wild grasses.
“Don’t listen to her, mate, you look really smart,” Ron says, shaking a curious earthworm from the hem of his dress robes. “I wish I could get away with something like that.”
“You could,” Harry says easily, though he does think that Ron looks pretty dapper in dress robes, now that he isn’t being stuffed into ancient hand-me-downs.
Hermione sighs. “Of course you could. Anyway, I meant it as a compliment. It suits you.”
“Thanks,” Harry grins, tipping his hat to her. To Cal’s eternal credit, he has managed to find a fedora in charcoal grey that fits Harry and doesn’t make him feel like too much of an idiot. Clearly, he is a talented man.
In response, Hermione removes her own hat, a wide-brimmed straw effort, with a flourish and affects a clumsy little curtsey with one hand splayed over her belly.
“I like your hat, Harry,” Padma says, and Harry turns to see her and Pansy picking their way through the grass, fingers laced together.
“Thanks,” he says with a smile, adding “likewise” as he spots the miniature top hat pinned to the side of her head.
“These heels were not made for nature,” Pansy complains. She flicks her glossy dark hair out of her face and grins at the three of them. “There should have been a warning on the invitation.”
“Like the word ‘forest’, perhaps?” Padma suggests drily.
Pansy makes a face. “Yes, well. Please tell me we don’t actually have to go in there,” she says, shooting a horrified glance at the uneven forest floor.
“I don’t think so,” Hermione is saying, but Harry isn’t really listening, having been pulled back by Pansy’s entreaty to the mirrored room, where, just days ago, Cal had been equally appalled by the idea of Harry taking off the beautiful suit and putting on his tatty old jeans and t-shirt.
“Please tell me you are not going to wear those clothes out of here,” he’d beseeched, pale eyes large with dismay.
“Afraid so,” Harry had said, and then, after thanking him and paying for the suit (without even thinking about how much it had cost), he had made a run for it.
He had carefully hung up the suit and accessories in his bedroom at home and returned to his work, offsetting the strange tangle of unease and excitement brought on by the shopping experience with the reassuring and the familiar. Unfortunately, it hadn’t seemed to matter how much he had lifted and carried and rearranged and scraped and grouted, he hadn’t been quite able to get Cal out of his mind. Even now, he’s not sure exactly what it is about the man that insists on sticking in his head, but whatever it is, he’s just there. Harry hears his unusual accent when everything around him is quiet, sees flashes of pale blue eyes and flickering warm smiles in his dreams. When he had dressed in his suit just hours ago, he had stared at himself in the mirror and imagined strong, elegant hands fastening up his jacket and straightening his tie.
Having snapped out of it at last, Harry had left his tie slightly crooked in a pointless and probably juvenile act of rebellion, and it has stayed that way, despite Hermione’s efforts to correct it for him.
He sighs, irritated with himself, and smiles at Ginny as she waves to him from over by the canopy, where Neville is examining the weave of the branches and appears to be taking notes. Even at this distance, her new sapphire ring is easily visible, glinting brightly every time the sun touches it.
Cal isn’t even his usual type. He’s just not. He’s just haunting Harry for some reason that he doesn’t fully understand, and it’s becoming rather frustrating.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” announces someone with a Sonorus-enhanced voice, effectively silencing the chatter of the guests. “Please take your seats for the ceremony.”
As everyone begins to move towards the semicircle of chairs set out before the willow canopy, Sorrell springs up at his side and tucks her arm through his.
“You look brilliant, Harry,” she says, beaming up at him from under her sparkly beret.
“You do,” Luna agrees, appearing at his other side, sporting a headdress of pheasant feathers. “Have you had your hair cut?”
Harry laughs. “Not recently, but thanks.”
Sorrell tilts her head and regards him, frowning for a moment before a smile creeps back onto her face. “Have you seen Draco? I didn’t think a bowler hat could look so sexy,” she whispers.
Harry flushes slightly. “No, I thought maybe he wasn’t coming.”
“Draco never misses a wedding,” Luna points out. “He’s a peacock.”
“He’s a what?” Harry says, taking a seat in the second row with Sorrell, Luna, Ron and Hermione around him.
“A peacock,” Luna repeats, large eyes clearly expressing the ‘obviously’ that she doesn’t voice. She fans her ring-decked fingers out in an illustrative circle. “Weddings are perfect places for showing off your feathers.”
“Especially in order to impress someone in particular,” Sorrell adds, and Harry doesn’t miss the amused little glance she shares with Hermione, but he does miss whatever is said next, because Draco’s voice catches his attention and he glances to the other side of the semicircle, where he and Neville are looking over a bit of parchment together as they take their seats.
Harry’s heart races painfully as Draco smiles at Nev and pats him on the shoulder before placing a hand on the back of his chair and turning to survey the view. Sorrell is right—he does make a bowler hat look sexy, and Harry hates him, just for a second, as his newfound sartorial confidence crumbles into dust before Draco’s effortless cool. He doesn’t hate him, of course, which is part of the problem, but really, no one should be able to look like that. The sage green bowler, tipped low over his eyes, coordinates perfectly with his waistcoat and immaculate cravat; the perfectly tailored grey trousers just seem to make his legs look longer, and the crisp white shirt and silver watch chain pull together a look that on anyone else would look idiotic. He looks like he has stalked out of the pages of a magazine and Harry honestly doesn’t know whether he wants to stare at him or push him up against one of those oak trees and mess him up a bit.
“Class,” Ron intones, leaning back in his chair to meet Harry’s eyes across Luna’s back.
“Doom,” Harry corrects, smiling at his friend in spite of himself.
At that moment, the sound of a harp begins to rise above the conversation and everyone shuts up, turning in their seats to see Hannah’s entrance. Flanked by her mother and father, she walks slowly around the chairs to the willow canopy, where Finlay is waiting, looking thrilled and terrified in his top hat and tails. Hannah is radiant in a long dress made of filmy layers of delicate, sunshine yellow fabric, with wildflowers woven through her loose golden curls. Just before the ceremony begins, Finlay takes off his hat and throws it to his brother in the front row.
The ceremony is short but heartfelt, leaving many of the guests in tears. As everyone makes their way over to the nearby marquee for the reception, Blaise walks with Harry, sniffling and dabbing at his face with a vast handkerchief.
“You know, Harry, it almost makes me want to get married,” he says, adjusting his straw boater and blinking furiously.
“Almost?” Harry laughs. “You’ll be married the second you find the right girl.”
Blaise sniffs. “Ah, but does such a girl exist?”
“Blaise, don’t be such a drama queen. She’s probably right under your nose,” Draco says, catching up to them with ease as they enter the marquee.
Harry and Blaise exchange baffled glances. After a moment, Blaise shrugs and heads inside, probably drawn by the alluring aroma of the pig roast set up in one corner of the tent. Harry hangs back, ignoring the growling of his stomach. He hasn’t seen Draco since the incident at the gallery and now that he’s done his bit of hiding, he’s fucked if he’s going to feel awkward every time they run into one another for the rest of time.
“Hi,” he manages, feeling slightly sick.
Just talk to him, Hermione says inside his head. Stand up straight—this suit depends on your posture as much as your body, Cal adds, throwing further confusion into the mix.
“Hi,” Draco says evenly.
Harry corrects his posture. “I like your... erm, you look... nice.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Thank you. You look very smart.”
“Thanks.” Harry takes a deep breath as he glances into the marquee and realises that nearly everyone else has taken a seat. The Abbott clan are chattering excitably amongst themselves while Finlay’s quieter family look on, beaming with pride, and every other table is stuffed with friends and colleagues. He doesn’t have long. “About the other day...”
Draco pales slightly and shakes his head. “Forget it. Please.”
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” Harry says, tucking his hands into his pockets and completely ruining the line of his suit. He doesn’t care. He has to put them somewhere before he does something he regrets.
A strange smile steals across Draco’s face, and when he says, “I don’t get embarrassed,” Harry doesn’t believe him.
“Well, okay,” he says anyway, shrugging. “I just thought—”
“I’m sorry, Potter, I think Pansy is calling for me,” Draco interrupts. “Would you excuse me?”
Harry watches, insides twisting, as Draco shoots him a tight smile and disappears inside the marquee, leaving him standing alone in the entrance like the idiot he is.
And the most idiotic thing of all is that somewhere back there, just for a moment, he had started to believe that Draco could be interested in him. In reality, he’s just embarrassing himself.
Turning, he finds himself looking into concerned blue eyes. “Sorry, just got distracted.”
“Come on, you’ll miss the pig,” Ron says, taking his elbow and propelling him into the marquee. Just before they sit down, he looks at Harry, frowns, and says, “People like him are always bloody hard work, you know.”
Harry is rather moved by this unexpected statement and he smiles at Ron, shaking away his moroseness and picking up his glass. This is a wedding. If Draco doesn’t want to be anywhere near him, then so fucking what?
“Who’s ready for pig?” bellows Hannah’s father, holding up a large fork and carving knife.
“PIG, PIG, PIG!” cries half the room while the other half look on with surprised amusement.
“Pig!” Hermione shouts, stroking her bump in what appears to be a silent promise.
Harry takes a deep breath, turns away from Draco’s table and raises his fork in the air. “Pig!”
All things considered, Harry thinks he does rather well with his new ‘so fucking what?’ philosophy, carrying it through the reception and evening portion of the wedding with relish by regarding Draco with as much calm indifference as he can muster and applying himself fully to the spirit of celebration.
And alright, he might have slipped once or twice on the staring front, but it is not his fault when Draco takes off his bowler hat to dance with the bride and his hair is all ruffled and just-got-out-of-bed sexy, and he is definitely not to blame when they accidentally end up pressed together in the middle of an impromptu conga line that weaves in and out of the trees, wobbling frequently and sending his hips bumping against Draco’s backside like that.
It could have been a lot worse, Harry reasons as he wakes from a very vivid dream reprise of the conga line on Monday morning. In the dream, he hadn’t pretended to be too drunk to continue and slipped away to cool off. No, he had... taken advantage of the situation. Draco had been very willing, but then, so had everyone else who had decided to conga in a ring around them, watching and shouting encouragement.
He covers his eyes for a moment, exhaling messily and ignoring the fact that he seems to have enjoyed the bizarre dream a little bit too much.
So fucking what? he tells himself, scrambling out of bed and immediately regretting his haste. The base of his spine is badly bruised and his left shoulder protests in pain as he tries to stretch, and he’s going to kill Blaise when he sees him. Staggering to the bathroom, he pokes around in his cabinet for a pain-killing potion as he tries to remember why he had thought it a good idea to volunteer as Blaise’s dance partner even for a moment. Sober Blaise is graceful, coordinated and strong as an ox, but drunk Blaise is the sort of person who picks Harry up, tries to spin him around and drops him on the ground instead. Harry finds the potion and gulps down a couple of mouthfuls, grimacing at the taste and deciding that it is a fair punishment for forgetting that the difference between sober Blaise and drunk Blaise is approximately two glasses of wine.
As he waits for the pain to melt away, he sits on his bed and idly begins to plan his day. He has work to do—there is always something that can be done—but nothing is urgent, and, perhaps more importantly, nothing is really piquing his interest. What he really wants to do is start on the bathroom, but the plumber can’t come until Wednesday, and he has learned from experience that certain jobs are always better left to the experts.
He gazes at the charcoal suit that is lying in a slightly crumpled heap over the back of a wooden chair. He had received a lot of compliments at the wedding, even if many of his friends had looked at him with furrowed brows and tilted heads as though unable to discern just what was different about him. The thing is, he doesn’t think it was just the suit. It was the confidence. The way he stood, or, at least, the way he stood when he remembered how he was supposed to be standing.
It was Cal, because Cal is apparently some sort of miracle worker.
Harry stares at the suit for a minute or two more, tapping his fingers thoughtfully on the edge of the mattress. Half an hour later, he is striding out of the Leaky Cauldron and making his way up Diagon Alley; five minutes after that, he is pretending not to notice Draco and Pansy having breakfast at a little table outside the Dragondale Deli, and two minutes after that, he is striding into the glass-fronted shop and looking around for Cal.
“Good morning, sir, can I help you?” Imran says, appearing before Harry with a confident smile.
“Hi... ah, I don’t suppose Calvin is here, is he?” Harry asks, trying not to appear too hopeful.
A minute flash of irritation touches Imran’s face and then it is gone, replaced by another bright smile. “I’m afraid not, sir. Calvin doesn’t work Mondays. I’m sure I could help you instead, if you’d like?”
Harry hesitates. He doesn’t want to be a pain in the arse but fucking hell, Imran can’t be more than eighteen or nineteen years old and he is painfully fashionable.
“Sir?” Imran prods, looking uncertain for a moment. “I know I’m a lot younger than Calvin but I promise you, I know what I’m doing.”
“It’s not that,” Harry says, smiling as he imagines Cal’s reaction to being called ‘a lot older’ than his colleague. And alright, he has to give Imran a chance. He’s here now. “Maybe you can help me find some jeans without holes in them.”
Imran grins, all of his confident swagger restored. “Absolutely, sir. Would you like to come through?”
Harry follows, unable to stop himself noting the differences in technique between the two men. Imran doesn’t Summon the clothes into his hands but instead zips around the shop floor with impressive speed, gathering up more pairs of jeans than Harry has ever seen in one place. Inside the mirrored room, he holds up one pair after another in front of Harry, frowning, nodding or shaking his head as he sorts them rapidly into three piles according to some system that leaves Harry baffled. There’s something about his manic approach that makes Harry slightly breathless and by the time he is bundled into the changing room, his head is spinning.
“Oh, nice,” Imran approves as Harry steps out in the first pair of jeans. “Kalim from the Lacewings has a pair just like this, you know. They’re basically copied from Westwood, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
Harry blinks. Reluctant to admit that he hasn’t understood a word of what Imran has said, he merely nods and says, “No, it doesn’t matter. They’re... cool.”
As far as he can see, they are jeans. Blue jeans with a couple of patches on the back pockets. He has no idea. He is relieved when Imran waves him back into the changing room.
This time he looks Harry up and down, arms folded. “These are bit more louche-chic, you know? A bit dragon-tamer-meets-pureblood-playboy?”
“Yeah,” Harry mutters, staring at his reflection. The waistband of these jeans is so low-slung that he is just one false move away from indecent exposure, and oh, god, he feels old. “I’m not really comfortable in these,” he admits at last.
“They’re very in right now,” Imran says, dark eyes fixed on Harry’s hips in the mirror. “But okay.” He shrugs. “Try the next pair.”
As Harry peels off the obscenely tight jeans and reaches for the next pair, he can’t help feeling that Calvin would not have even suggested them in the first place.
“If you like jeans, I’ve got a great idea for an outfit,” Imran says through the door. “Have you been to The Freezer recently?”
Harry pulls the next pair over his hips and stares at the wall in mild panic. “Er, no, not for a while,” he hedges, hoping that it will not be obvious to Imran that he has no idea what The Freezer is.
“They’ve changed it a lot—not all for the better if you ask me, but they’re doing this brilliant thing with neons and all this other stuff from ages ago, you know, like the eighties or something,” Imran says and Harry winces. “I saw a dancer there the other week wearing stonewashed jeans and about five different t-shirts that changed colour. I can really see you in something like that.”
“One t-shirt is usually enough for me,” Harry says, trying not to think about the rest of it.
“Well, it’s just a thought. Those are a bit baggy but I can spell them to fit if you want,” Imran offers, stepping forward with his wand as Harry emerges in what he had thought was a perfectly serviceable pair of jeans.
“No, it’s okay. I like them as they are,” he says, turning slowly and admiring the comfortable fit and the way that there aren’t any holes where there shouldn’t be.
“Well... alright,” Imran falters. “What about a belt?” he suggests, brightening. “If you’re going to go baggy, you’ll need a belt.”
Harry smothers a ripple of laughter. “Sure, why not.”
“I’ll be right back.”
When the door closes behind Imran, Harry meets his own baffled green eyes in the mirror. The jeans he is wearing aren’t baggy, they’re just... normal.
“I guess I’m just never going to fit in at The Freezer,” he tells his reflection, and it smiles wryly back at him. On the plus side, he supposes, Imran does seem to assume that Harry will know what he’s talking about, so perhaps he doesn’t look past it, even if he sometimes feels like it.
“Neons!” Imran announces, striding back into the room with several garishly-coloured belts held aloft. At Harry’s bemused expression, he quickly adds: “Or not!”
“I don’t think I’m ready for neons,” Harry says gravely and Imran nods his equally sober understanding.
He slings the neon belts over a nearby rail and produces a single plain belt in soft, brown leather.
“I thought... just in case,” he says, flashing a smile and passing the belt to Harry. It smells amazing and feels supple and flexible in his hands as he turns it over and over, examining the dull silver buckle with its roughly-engraved patterns.
“Perfect,” Harry says happily, weaving it through the belt loops of his new jeans and regarding the combination of the two with satisfaction. “Thank you. I’ll take both.”
This time, Harry opts to stuff his old jeans into the bag that Imran provides and walks out into the street wearing his new purchases. He feels good, and if he happens to wander back past the Dragondale and not look at Draco and Pansy, now drinking coffee, he can forgive himself.
On Thursday night, he walks into the Leaky for Neville’s quiz night wearing his jeans, his belt, and the newest-looking t-shirt he owns, which happens to be his bright orange Cannons team shirt. Of course, all of that pales into insignificance compared to his beard. Nev has made facial hair an entry requirement for his male and female friends alike, and Harry is rather proud of the Imran-style beard he has produced with a little spellwork and a lot of time in front of the mirror. He looks ridiculous, but that’s sort of the point.
The pub is full of his friends, having been booked out for the night by Neville and Draco, and the first person Harry sees as he walks into the warm, beery atmosphere is Ginny, who is sporting a luxuriant, red handlebar moustache and handing out self-inking quills at the door. He grins at her, taking a quill, and they exchange glances of moustache admiration.
At the table nearest the door, Hermione is sitting with an open bag of crisps resting on her bump, picking crumbs out of a beard with a volume to rival Hagrid’s. Ron’s effort is sculpted and curly, projecting out from under his nose for a good three inches on each side. As he scans the pub, Harry sees Padma and Pansy, Justin, Theo and Sabine, Sorrell and Lavender, Anthony, Parvati, and several others, sitting at tables, leaning on the bar, comparing moustaches and generally making a lot of noise. Neville is sitting on the edge of a table, shuffling through papers and arguing with Draco through the most fantastic Dumbledore beard that Harry has ever seen.
Draco frowns and his pointy, white-blond Van Dyke quivers alarmingly. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” he says, and the briefest quirk of an eyebrow is the only sign that he isn’t completely serious.
“We only need one quizmaster, Draco,” Neville says, blinking innocently.
“I would make a fantastic quizmaster,” Draco sighs.
“Be that as it may, I’ve written all the questions, so I’m the only one who knows all the answers and therefore can’t be on a team. So...” Neville shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“You are a sadist,” Draco says, folding his arms and drawing Harry’s attention to the fact that they are wearing the exact same belt.
Harry smiles, as does Neville. Draco looks around for a moment and then sticks his tongue out, apparently under the impression that no one is watching him. Harry forgets all about ‘so fucking what?’ and falls in love with him just a little bit more.
When Neville calls the proceedings to some kind of order just minutes later, Harry gravitates towards Ron and Hermione’s table. He doesn’t really mind where he sits for the night, but wherever Hermione is, there will be food and correct answers in large quantities. It soon becomes apparent that Neville has other ideas. With a flick of his wand, he sends little round badges flying around the room, each attaching itself to a different member of the group, apparently at random.
“Your badge contains your team name,” Neville explains, raising his voice over the intrigued murmuring and comparing of collars and lapels. “You need to find the rest of your team and then find a table. There should be three in each group. Arguments mean forfeits.”
Harry glances at Neville, catching his grin as he waves a piece of parchment meaningfully in the air. Nev has always taken his quizzes seriously, but this is an entirely new development. Abandoning Hermione and Ron with a rueful smile, he takes his pint and begins searching the room for the other two members of ‘Swans on Rollerskates’. Hermione, he is amused to note, is part of the ‘Hatful of Ferrets’ team, and Ron is one of three ‘Dragons in Stilettos’.
“Harry, you’re a swan!” Luna calls, wrapping her fingers around his wrist and pulling him gently until he folds into a seat at a nearby little round table.
“Apparently so,” he laughs, rather pleased with his team already. Luna knows an unsurprisingly large amount of weird shit, and that can only prove helpful on a night like this.
She puts down her heavy barrel glass and wipes bitter foam from her top lip. “Oh, look—here’s our last swan,” she announces, beaming.
Harry turns and looks up, right into the startled eyes of Draco Malfoy. He groans inwardly. So much for a pleasant evening—even with Luna to act as a wonderfully batty buffer between them, Harry is fairly certain that the menu reads pure awkwardness from here on in. And god, if he didn’t love the bones of the man, he would dearly love to hex him in the eye.
“You have a very strange look on your face,” Draco says, sitting down and quirking an eyebrow in Harry’s direction. “Is something the matter?”
“No,” Harry grinds out, finding a smile from somewhere deep down inside and hanging onto it. Already his heart is racing, his fingers are slipping on his glass, and he can feel the heat and energy pouring off Draco, even though they aren’t touching at all. That being said, their knees are very close under the tiny little table, and it’s all Harry can do not to shrink away and fling himself to Luna’s side. “I was just thinking. About who should write,” he lies.
“Not me,” Luna says quickly, taking the answer sheet from Neville as he passes and pushing it into the centre of the table. “Last time I did, we hardly got any points because no one could read my handwriting. Personally, I think they just lacked imagination.”
Harry smiles at her, and it’s genuine this time. “I’m not much better. Draco?” he says hopefully.
Draco shrugs, taking the sheet and writing in their team name in plain but elegant script. “It’s good to know that all those years of penmanship lessons have come in useful for something,” he says, looking up and flashing Harry an unexpected and devastating smile. The crinkle of his eyes and the self-deprecating humour in his tone are utterly ruinous for Harry, and by the time he manages to pull together a response, Neville is calling out the first question.
He’s not going to have a relaxing evening, and, at this rate, he’s not going to be any kind of help to his team, either. The way things are going, it will be a miracle if he can just get through the evening without doing anything stupid.
He makes it through the first round (famous people) and the second (unusual plants) without incident. He contributes an answer every now and then, but he has to admit that Draco and Luna are doing most of the work. When Neville announces with a smirk that round three will be on the life and career of Gilderoy Lockhart, Hermione laughs out loud, and Harry finds himself wondering just how well her second-year memorising has stuck with her.
“It was a memory charm,” he says under his breath, when Draco and Luna appear stumped at the last question of the round. “It was a memory charm that backfired.”
“Are you sure?” Draco asks, lifting an eyebrow.
Harry frowns. “Of course I’m sure, I was there!”
From somewhere across the pub comes a familiar snort of laughter—Ron’s—and Harry realises he has forgotten to lower his voice. Draco gives him a long, searching look and then writes down the answer Harry has given him.
Round four is a particularly evil set of questions about potion-making, and Draco spends much of the round with his head bent over the answer sheet, scribbling away quietly. Harry thinks he should mind that he is not even asked for his opinion, but he knows very well that he has very little to offer and nothing that Draco doesn’t already know. Luna, who has never cared for the subject, either, takes her opportunity to head for the bar and buy a round. After the first pint, Harry decides to switch to ginger beer; he’s going to need all the wits he can muster this evening, especially when Draco starts brushing the feather of the quill against his lips as he thinks, eyes raised to the ceiling, chin propped on one hand. Harry stares, mouth dry. Even with the ridiculous beard, the action is painfully alluring. He doesn’t even seem to know he’s doing it, and when Luna returns with the drinks, he simply thanks her and continues, swiping the soft feather over his bottom lip for long, long seconds before he smiles and writes down what looks like ‘5% aconite solution’.
Harry gulps at his drink, focusing hard on the spicy snap of bubbles on his tongue. He just won’t look at Draco. That’ll be fine. Or listen to him. He definitely won’t brush his knee against Draco’s by accident like he did a minute ago, because that had made them both jump and had made Luna stare at them as if they were both mad. He won’t even smell him, and that’s fine, because he shouldn’t be able to smell anyone above the warm, all-encompassing pub smell. He can’t smell Luna, and he’s sitting just as close to her. She’s not trying to drive him mad with her feather-stroking, elegant, citrusy ways.
And yes, he really is going mad.
He catches Hermione’s eye across the room and her face creases into a light frown of concern.
“You okay?” she mouths.
He rolls his eyes and smiles at her. “Fine.”
He can tell she doesn’t believe him, but there’s nothing much she can do, and when Theo leans over and asks her a question, she lets it go.
“Round five – nature,” Neville announces with some relish.
Harry decides it’s time to start listening again.
“What is the largest thing that can be swallowed by the blue whale?” Nev asks. “Okay – you have four options: a) a grapefruit, b) a Remembrall, c) a Quaffle or d) a mermaid?”
Harry, Draco and Luna glance at each other.
“Aren’t blue whales vegetarian?” Luna whispers after a moment. “I don’t think they eat mermaids.”
“Yes, but is it an actual mermaid, or is the mermaid just an example of size?” Draco says seriously.
Harry snorts, forgetting completely that he isn’t supposed to be looking at Draco. “I think Luna’s right. I mean... I’m not sure they’re vegetarian, but I think it’s something little.”
“All the others are little compared to a mermaid,” Draco points out.
“True.” Harry glances around the room, noting that Hermione’s team have already decided on their answer and are now balancing hula hoops on their quills and eating them off one by one. Next to them, Blaise is frowning and making a range of shapes and sizes with his cupped hands. Sorrell is sitting beside him, looking up at him with amused dark eyes as she sips her drink. Pansy is at the bar, but incredibly, they don’t seem to have noticed her absence.
“What is the only living relative of the giraffe?” Neville asks.
Harry turns back to his team. “What did we put?”
“Quaffle,” Luna says. “It seemed like a good compromise. Do you think it’s a camel?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admits.
“Eets a flameengo!” cries Ginny, and for several seconds, the room is filled with soft, baffled laughter.
“It’s an okapi,” Draco says eventually.
“What’s that?” Luna asks, twiddling her plaited beard around her finger.
“It looks a bit like a zebra and a bit like a deer. I saw them at the zoo in Denver last year,” Draco says, looking intriguingly abashed. “My mother has a fascination with African animals, especially giraffes.”
“Draco, that’s lovely,” Luna says, beaming. “You should take her on safari!”
“I will,” he says, taking a rather large drink from his small glass of stout. “Soon.”
Slightly puzzled, Harry opens his mouth to speak, but Neville is already asking the next question, and by the time they have finished adding up the legs and stomachs and eyes of various creatures, he has forgotten all about it.
Round six (‘finish that WWN jingle’) is the last round before the half-time break, which turns out to be a good thing, as by the end of it, everyone is breathless from laughing at Neville’s tuneless attempts to start off each musical advertisement, and giggling even more at the stupidity of the adverts themselves. Harry listens to a fair bit of the Wizarding Wireless Network when he’s stripping walls and putting down flooring; he likes to flick between the WWN and the stations that play the Muggle music from his childhood. Luna, too, likes to have the wireless on in her office.
Draco is endearingly baffled by the whole thing.
“Don’t you listen to the radio, Draco?” Luna asks, as she and Harry dissolve into laughter following their whispered rendition of ‘Mrs Miffy’s Minced Marvels’.
“Not really,” he says, holding on to the threads of his dignity as his teammates roll around in front of him. “I listen to records, mostly, and if that’s what goes for music on the WWN, I think I’ll pass.”
Harry grins. The genuine laughter he has shared with Luna has relaxed him wonderfully, and though he is still being careful not to touch Draco under the table or look at him for too long, he feels much better and finds himself wishing that Draco would loosen up a bit.
“I think you’re missing the point,” he advises.
“I dare say I’ll cope,” Draco says, shaking his head and writing in the answer anyway.
“Number six,” Neville says, and clears his throat. “They come from near, they come from far...?” he sings, projecting his terrible voice all around the pub.
Harry and Luna look at each other in delight.
“Brent Glassington for bezoars!” they sing, heads bent close to the table and voices muffled, so as to keep their answer from the other teams.
Draco lifts a weary eyebrow but Harry has the oddest feeling he’s trying not to smile.
When half-time comes, Harry visits the bar for a refill and then wanders out into the cobbled street, leaning against the wall of the Leaky and relishing the cool night air on his skin. The sky is a soft, inky blue, dotted with stars and swirled with smoke and steam from nearby restaurants.
“You found me,” someone says in the near-darkness, making him jump.
“Draco?” he says, even though he knows. And of course, there he is, sitting on a low wall and looking at Harry with uncertain pale eyes that seem to reflect in the darkness like a cat’s. “I didn’t know you were hiding,” he adds, frowning.
“No, not really,” Draco says, and nothing more. He looks away.
Taking a deep breath, Harry walks across the cobbles and sits on the wall beside him. Not too close, but close enough. He shivers.
“It was... it was interesting to hear about your mum. You don’t talk about her very often.”
“No, well, it sort of slipped out,” Draco says, frowning.
“It’s not a bad thing,” Harry says. He bites his lip and adds: “You obviously know that. Sorry.”
Draco grants him a split-second glance, and in that moment, all Harry can see is fear. “My mother is a private person. Ever since my father died, we have looked after one another. I’m protecting her, you see.”
“Of course,” Harry says softly, chest aching. He knows Draco well enough to know that he doesn’t really miss his father—at least, not the person he had become—but all of this is uncharted territory. “I’m not here to ask difficult questions.”
Draco turns to look at him. “What are you here for?” he asks, almost in a whisper.
Harry catches his breath, fingers pressing into the rough stone beneath him. Draco’s eyes catch him and hold him, drawing honesty from him, pulling it out in strands. “I thought... I want... I just needed some air,” he says suddenly, freeing himself from the intense gaze. Just as suddenly, it drops away.
Draco stares at his fingers thoughtfully. “Yeah. Me too.”
It seems like an awfully long time before Luna appears and drags them back into the pub.
Faced with a room full of slightly-sozzled friends and unable to rationalise Draco’s odd behaviour, Harry does the only thing he can—he pushes the strange little moment to the back of his mind and throws himself into the evening’s activities. Draco is quiet for several minutes but is soon back to his usual self, and Harry doesn’t know whether to feel relieved or exasperated.
Either way, having failed to contribute much in some of the earlier rounds, Harry is rather satisfied to find that he completely carries his team on the Muggle culture round and definitely holds his own on round eight (Quidditch).
For the most part, anyway.
“Which team holds the goal-scoring record in the National Quidditch League for the 2008-2009 season?” Neville asks, idly swinging his long, white beard from side to side.
“I can’t imagine it was the Cannons,” Draco says, glancing at Harry’s orange shirt.
“I’m wounded,” Harry says drily. “And of course it wasn’t.”
“Actually, you’re both wrong,” Luna whispers, leaning forward. They both turn to look at her, surprised. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. Running the fantasy Quidditch league for the Quibbler staff team does keep me quite well informed. The Cannons may have finished in seventh position this year, but their points from goals scored gave them a new team record.”
Draco blinks. “Well, that’s us told,” he says.
“Yeah,” Harry mumbles. “Nice one, Luna.”
Luna beams, leaning back in her seat and exchanging a thumbs-up with Sorrell. Harry turns to look at the other team. Pansy is drinking something brightly coloured through a straw and nodding as Sorrell chats animatedly and Blaise carefully plaits a fine section of her hair. Harry doesn’t think any of them are the slightest bit interested in Quidditch and he wouldn’t be surprised if they have written down something bizarre for every single answer. Blaise laughs heartily and Sorrell twists to smile at him for a moment. He wonders if she is the right girl that Blaise is looking for. They would be a good fit, but then Luna would be without her partner in crime. They do everything together.
Harry smiles to himself. There’s a thought.
“Music and lyrics!” Neville declares. “And you will be relieved to hear that I will not be singing this time.”
This announcement is met with a mixture of cheers and complaints.
“This will not stand!” Blaise shouts theatrically. “We demand to hear your beautiful voice.”
Neville laughs. “Sorry, Blaise, but my beautiful voice will give the game away. I’m going to read out some lyrics, and you need to come up with the next line.”
“Spoilsport,” Blaise sighs, turning back to his plaiting.
“Well, if you win, I’ll sing you an entire song of your choice,” Nev says, and while the offer seems brave, Harry knows as well as Neville does that any team with Blaise on it is highly likely to suffer from a serious case of distraction and come, almost always, dead last.
Mollified, Blaise turns back to his team and Neville examines his sheet of parchment.
“Okay. First one – ‘So hold me tight until first light because together...”
As soon as Neville falls silent, the room is buzzing with soft voices as the teams repeat his words to themselves, some scribbling triumphantly and others shaking their heads in confusion.
When Harry turns back to his own team, he finds that both Luna and Draco are looking at him expectantly.
“What?” he whispers. “I don’t know!”
“I thought you listened to the wireless,” Draco says, frowning and tapping the quill against his chin.
Harry looks away, pretending interest in the condensation on his glass. “I do. This one obviously didn’t stick in my head.”
“Mine either,” Luna says, shrugging. “Perhaps it’s new.”
“Never mind,” Draco whispers, grinning and writing down the words ‘two wrongs make a right’. “Parvati knows it, and she doesn’t know how to whisper, which is her loss.”
“You can’t cheat, Draco,” Luna hisses, looking genuinely scandalised.
Draco blinks at her in puzzlement and Harry hides a smile with a small cough.
“I’m not cheating. It’s not my fault if some people can’t moderate the volume of their voices. Besides,” Draco says, prodding Harry’s foot under the table and making him look up, almost as though looking for confirmation of his words, “it’s not as though we’re playing for a prize. I just don’t want to come last.”
“We won’t come last,” Harry says confidently. Draco gives him a small smile.
“Second,” Neville announces. “The Dementors are calling from the sky above!”
“Fly me away on your broomstick of love!” Harry whispers, startled when he meets Draco’s eyes and finds him mouthing the words along with him. For a brief moment, there is silence, and they stare at each other, then they both dissolve into quiet, stifled laughter. Luna laughs, too, but Harry just can’t look away from Draco; it’s suddenly as though something has shot out of nowhere and tied them together for a brief few seconds of shining, ridiculous connection. And then it’s over, and Harry is looking away as the dimly-lit pub settles back in around him again. He sighs.
At his other side, Luna is frowning into her glass and muttering to herself in what sounds like Greek, though Harry can’t be sure.
“Are you alright?” he asks, nudging her.
She looks up and blinks her large eyes innocently. “Oh, yes. Although I think Celestina actually sings ‘fly me away on your broomstick, my love’. I think I like your version better, though,” she admits.
“Really?” Draco says suddenly, staring hard at Luna. “I should never have trusted Blaise. That’s the way he always does it on the piano.”
Harry snorts. “Blaise does have a talent for making any song sound dirtier than it actually is.”
“That’s true,” Luna agrees. “Like... it’s ‘Grandma told me to take it slow’ not ‘Grandma told me to have a blow’.”
Having chosen that moment to take a sip of his drink, Harry almost chokes at Luna’s deadpan delivery of this statement. She watches him for a moment, bemused, and then reaches over and pats him on the back until he is wheezing and waving her away.
“That man is a menace,” Draco says, eyebrows crinkled in consternation.
They stay that way for the rest of the round, softening only momentarily as he laughs at Luna’s impression of all six members of I.M. Perious and the Cauldron Kickers, and there is something inescapably charming about the surprise and tiny flash of naivety amid all his usual cool savoir faire that tugs at Harry somewhere tender and refuses to stop.
By the end of the main part of the quiz, there is no doubt in Harry’s mind that this thing—the Draco thing—is just getting worse. He has managed it, and managed it fairly well, for several years now, but now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag and everyone bar Draco knows about it, it just seems to be strengthening and growing and wrapping ever more tightly around him. It’s only a matter of time before it trips him up, and then he’ll fall, spilling feelings out everywhere.
And that will be one hell of a mess, he thinks, reaching into his pocket and throwing a handful of Sickles into the bag Ginny is carrying for the one-question swindle. Because if he thinks it’s awkward now, he cannot even imagine how awkward it would become if Draco knew how he felt. It might even become so horrible that one or both of them would have to step back from the circle, and that doesn’t even bear thinking about. Maybe he should just forget the whole thing and find someone who has nothing to do with his friends. That might be less complicated.
He sighs. It wouldn’t be Draco, though.
After a few last-minute repeats and desperate attempts to fill in blank spaces, Nev instructs the teams to swap answer sheets for marking, and Harry is pulled out of his unhelpful thoughts by the arrival of a sheet of parchment with ‘The Skateboarding Skrewts’ written across the top in large, loopy script. They appear to have swapped with Blaise’s team, and when Harry turns around to look, Pansy, Sorrell and Blaise are all poring over their answer sheet with rapt interest.
“Oh, Blaise—I told you it was a weeping cactus!” Sorrell sighs.
“Sorry, old girl,” Blaise says, covering her small hand with his huge one.
“Less of the old,” she murmurs, but doesn’t move her hand.
Neville manages to get through the answers almost without incident, successfully subduing most attempts to argue with the quizmaster by waving his sheet of forfeits until the quibbler backs down, but Ron goes one step too far with a challenge of an obscure Quidditch term and is forced to leave the Dragons in Stilettos and perform an Irish jig for the amusement of the other teams. Ron manages this with some aplomb, despite being completely sober and bright red with embarrassment, and he retakes his seat to a thunderous round of applause from his friends and several wolf-whistles from the ladies behind the bar.
As Harry had predicted, Swans on Rollerskates do not come last. In fact, by the time they are halfway through the answers, Harry has worked out that they already have roughly twice as many right answers as Blaise’s team. That being said, the Skrewts’ answers are far more entertaining.
“No, Blaise, the question was ‘how do Muggle doctors treat appendicitis?’ and you cannot have a point for ‘putting a hat on it and hoping for the best’,” Neville says, trying to keep a stern expression in place but failing rather miserably.
“How did you know it was my answer?” Blaise demands, glancing over at Harry, who had been the one to read the response out in the first place, wondering if he could give a point for sheer creativity.
Wisely deciding that there is no real response to that question, Neville moves on.
Luna is right about the Cannons, and between her and Harry, they garner maximum points on the WWN jingles round, which is more than can be said for the Skrewts, who apparently think that Professor Dingle’s Minty Mingles ‘make your flingles jingle’ and that all the witches come to Gandor’s Glamour because ‘their warts are numerous and beginning to form their own political system’.
Luna is gleeful when Draco’s act of dishonesty comes to nothing—having misheard the correct answer ‘two wands make a right’ as ‘two wrongs make a right’, but Draco doesn’t appear to even notice, so delighted is he by the Skrewts’ answer of ‘we fly a kite, tonight, on the isle of Wight!’
“I know this isn’t right but I really want to give it a point,” he sighs, smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
I’ll give you a point in a minute, Harry’s tension-weary subconscious threatens helpfully.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Hermione’s team wins by a mile, and she, Theo and Padma stand to affect little bows and dramatic waves at the catcalling group.
“As you know, there is no prize for coming first, except for the undeniable glory, in which you are free to revel until the next quiz,” Neville says, coming out from behind his quizmaster’s table and brandishing a large wooden spoon. “However – we do have a prize for the most woeful performance of the evening, as always, so please be upstanding....”
Neville waits, spoon held aloft, until everyone is on their feet.
“... for the sacred Professor Snape Dunderhead of the Night trophy!” he announces, and the room explodes into applause and cheering.
Harry can’t quite remember when Neville started awarding the Snape spoon at his quiz nights; all he does know is that the evening would feel horribly incomplete without it.
“Fix!” Draco calls, continuing to clap as Blaise, Sorrell and Pansy rise and make their way to the bar to collect their trophy.
“Sod off, Draco, we worked for this!” Pansy cries, holding out the spoon to her teammates and then thrusting it dramatically into the air. Somewhere behind Harry, a camera flashes.
In the midst of the celebration and the crush of everyone heading for the bar at once, Harry turns to look at Draco, only to find that Draco is looking at him. The grey eyes snap hurriedly away, and Harry holds in his sigh, pretending not to notice when Draco drifts over to Theo’s table and sits down.
“It makes me sad to see you so unhappy, Harry,” Luna says quietly.
Harry turns to her. “I’m not,” he says, and it might even be true. He’s frustrated, definitely, and he hurts, but he’s not unhappy.
“I don’t believe you,” she says simply. She gets up from her seat and rests a hand on his shoulder. “I’m not sure you do, either.”
With that, she walks away, seeking out Sorrell and giving her a congratulatory hug. Alone at his table, Harry drops his head into his hands for a moment, startling at the rub of his neat beard against his palms. Pushing out his irritation in a long, rough breath, he gets to his feet and wanders over to join Ron at his table.
“You did well,” Ron says, lifting his drink in Harry’s direction. “Second might as well be first, since we know that Hermione’s always going to win.”
“It’s hardly a foregone conclusion,” Hermione says, sidling over with her hand in a little bag of dry roasted peanuts. “You did do well, though.”
“Especially considering... you know,” Ron says, shooting Harry a significant look.
Harry shrugs, feeling his face redden. “It was fine.”
“You looked like you were getting on very well,” Hermione says lightly, pretending intense interest in the peanut in her hand. “And he couldn’t run away for once.”
“Mm,” Harry says. “Any chance we can talk about something else?”
Ron shrugs. “Well, I was just saying to Ginny that—”
“Neville—about that offer of yours,” Blaise booms.
Ron falls silent, turning to look over his shoulder. Hermione stops eating peanuts and looks, too.
Nev turns to Blaise, drink in hand. “Yeah?”
“Well, it didn’t escape my notice that you said if we won, you would sing us a song. Now,” Blaise says, holding up the wooden spoon delicately. “It also hasn’t escaped my notice that we are the only team to have won anything. Therefore... I rather think you owe us a song.”
Neville stares at him for a long time. Finally, he sighs. “Fair enough. But only if you’ll sing with me.”
“Of course.” Blaise’s dark eyes sparkle.
Hermione snorts and resumes crunching on peanuts. “As if he would refuse a chance to perform.”
Within seconds, Blaise is sitting at the piano in the corner. Nev leans against it, sipping his firewhisky with a resigned look on his face.
Blaise plays several rousing opening chords, and then sings, “Well, I knew you were trouble when you dropped the tangerine down my pants!”
Neville laughs and joins in with: “I should’ve known you’d be more bother than a field of cursed ruminants!”
The singing continues late into the night, and Harry and Draco do not exchange a single word for the rest of it.
Which is fine.
After waking on Friday morning with a clear head and a belly full of restless energy, Harry heads for Diagon Alley without stopping for breakfast or anything resembling a plan. He is rattled, and he needs something to do—something different. He doesn’t know why, but he is confident that his usual fix of decorating and hard physical work just won’t cut it today. He needs a real challenge: one for his brain and his comfort levels. Only one thing will do.
A little out of breath from his almost-jog all the way up Diagon Alley, he walks into the shop, heart swooping with relief when he sees Cal striding towards him. Imran smiles politely at him from behind the counter and Harry smiles back, feeling safer with that solid barrier between him and the dreaded neons.
“Good morning, sir. You look as though you are in a hurry,” Cal says, pale eyes sparkling.
Harry shrugs sheepishly. “Not really. I was just feeling... energetic.”
“There is no shame in energy,” Cal says. “Would you like to follow me?”
Harry thinks he would. He walks slowly behind Cal, who does not send clothes flinging themselves across the shop this time. Without that distraction, Harry finds himself watching Cal’s long legs, clad in dark, sharply-tailored trousers, and the graceful, stalking way he walks, which reminds Harry of Draco. Quickly, Harry pushes that unwelcome thought to the back of his mind and follows Cal into the mirrored room.
This time he accepts the offer of coffee and sinks down into the carved chair to drink it. The rich roast warms his insides and the caffeine quickly sends his restlessness into overdrive. He doesn’t even care. Cal watches him in silence for a minute or two and then asks:
“So, what are you looking for today?”
Harry swallows the last of the bitter liquid in one and sets the cup down on the floor.
“I have no idea,” he admits, hiding his embarrassment with another shrug. If he wants a proper distraction, he supposes he has to throw the whole thing wide open and see what happens. “What do you think I need?”
A slow, genuine smile spreads across Cal’s face. “That is quite a question.”
Harry laughs. “Yeah, I suppose. But here’s the thing: last week you sold me a suit, and on Monday Imran sold me these jeans. Everything else I own is either covered in paint, full of holes, or ancient. The real question is, can you help me?”
For several seconds, there is silence as a look of calm understanding passes between them.
“Yes,” Cal says, and he nods to Harry before he disappears back onto the shop floor.
Harry rises and stares at his reflection, at his messy hair, his favourite old jumper, his hands shoved into his pockets. Cal is going to help him, and that thought alone soothes a little of the nervous energy from his veins. He breathes slowly, telling himself that this isn’t about Draco any more; it’s not about what he thinks. It’s... not entirely about what he thinks, anyway.
Cal returns within minutes, draped in trousers and jeans and shirts and god-know-what-else. He hangs everything up and returns to Harry, arms folded casually.
“You restore houses, Mr Potter,” he says. It isn’t a question.
“Yes. And it’s Harry,” he insists.
Cal nods. “Of course. I cannot, in good conscience, provide you with a working wardrobe. These clothes are not for working. They are for enjoying. Do you see?”
“Yeah,” Harry mumbles. Cal’s expression is carefully neutral, but he can’t help but feel he is being scolded, and he probably deserves it. Quietly, he resolves to make a concerted effort this time to keep his new wardrobe well away from the chaos of his work.
“You have many clothes for work, I imagine,” Cal says with an odd little smile, and then he turns away, flicking through the hangers and passing Harry a stack of garments.
Harry says nothing, taking the items and walking into the changing room. He knows the drill now.
He is standing in front of the mirrors in the third outfit, a crisp white shirt and a pair of dark linen trousers, when he speaks again, and he doesn’t know why he says it. Maybe he just needs to break the silence; maybe it’s the calm warmth in Cal’s eyes as he fusses around with the shirt’s collar; Harry has no idea. It just comes out.
“Molly Weasley started it, you know.”
Cal’s eyes flick up to meet his. “Oh?”
Harry chews his lip. “Yeah. She’s... well, she’s like a mother to me, so of course she worries constantly.”
Cal smiles, making a small noise of understanding and motioning for Harry to hold his arms out to the sides.
“She said I didn’t make the most of myself. Because of my clothes and stuff, you know. Which was sort of alright because that’s what mothers do. And then I went to this party where we all had to dress up as each other... I know it sounds stupid but it’s just what we do,” Harry says, turning his wrist at Cal’s request and continuing to stare at his own eyes in the mirror, wondering why the hell he is saying any of this. He supposes he’s started now, though, and he doubts that Cal is going to tell anyone.
“If you enjoy it, it is not stupid,” Cal says without looking up.
Harry smiles. “Exactly. So, a friend of mine dressed up as me and her costume was... let’s say it was a bit too accurate for comfort. I suppose it made me realise what a mess I looked—and that’s how people saw me. I didn’t think it should matter, but... I’m trying to explain this to the wrong person, aren’t I?” he sighs.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, look at you,” Harry says, indicating Cal’s immaculate outfit and carefully-styled hair. “You obviously think it does matter.” When Cal lifts an eyebrow, Harry groans, horrified. “God, no... I didn’t mean... I don’t mean that you’re shallow. You just obviously never have the problem of looking like a disaster area.”
Cal laughs. “Harry, this is my job. If I came to work looking like I had just rolled out of bed, no one would want to buy clothes from me. Our circumstances are very different.”
“I suppose,” Harry says, “though I can’t help feeling that people like you just wake up looking perfect.”
Cal shakes his head, lips curving into an amused smile. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Harry says nothing. He gazes at Cal’s reflection in the mirror as he bends over the other sleeve and finds himself wondering just what he looks like first thing in the morning, dark hair ruffled and long limbs free of stiff fabric. He lets his mind drift, imagination flickering over the line of a pale back, strong, lean shoulders, soft dark hair that shifts into white blond and cool blue eyes that turn silver-grey and curious.
“You can take this off now,” Cal says, tapping Harry on the shoulder.
He jumps, heart thudding as he comes back to himself. “Right, okay,” he manages after a moment.
Inside the changing room, he pulls his breathing under control and quietly tells himself what an idiot he is until Cal speaks again.
“I know Molly Weasley—a little. I cannot help but wonder why you are taking fashion advice from a woman who wears... such a cardigan.”
“She loves that cardigan,” Harry protests, hiding his amusement as he buttons up the next pair of trousers and presents himself for inspection.
Cal’s mouth flickers. “I’m sure you love that jumper, too, don’t you?”
Harry glances back at his jumper defensively. “That jumper has been with me for a long time.”
Harry thinks he should be offended, but he just laughs. “That’s fine. It can come to work with me when all these clothes are forced to stay at home.”
“I approve,” Cal says. He frowns. “I do not approve of that shirt—I have no idea why I thought that colour would suit you. Please forgive me.”
Harry looks at the light green shirt, puzzled. “I think it’s fine.”
“No,” Cal says flatly. “The trousers are good, though. I think I will just take them in a little bit...”
Harry nods, only vaguely paying attention as Cal’s wand flicks around his waistband, making the usual minute adjustments. The whole thing feels so normal now; he has no idea what he had initially been so frightened of.
Cal’s hands are light and careful as he manipulates lapels and hems and buttonholes, and it is beginning to feel perfectly natural to be manoeuvred into position or to have his posture corrected at regular intervals. He doesn’t mind Cal touching him. It’s fine. And though he is extremely attractive with his sardonic smile and his warm, herbal scent and his clever eyes, there is no jump of electricity when their skin comes in contact, no twist in Harry’s chest when Cal stands behind him or kneels at his feet or steps close to fasten or unfasten a top button.
No, that’s all Draco, and Draco does—not—want—him.
Cal is an interesting man. He’s intriguing. Harry doesn’t even know where he comes from, which area he lives in, whether he’s straight or gay or whether he has a family. He could ask those things, he supposes, and the thought fills him with curiosity and confusion.
“Some of the time, I help people like this because they are trying to impress someone,” Cal says, almost as though reading his thoughts.
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Harry asks cagily.
Cal lifts one shoulder in an elegant shrug. “I don’t know. Perhaps you make me a little curious.”
Harry sighs. “I suppose it could be a factor,” he admits, feeling rather ashamed of himself.
“Is he aware of your efforts?” Cal asks, directing Harry back into the changing room. “Please put that shirt on the ‘absolutely not’ pile.”
“I doubt it very much,” Harry grumbles, flinging the shirt onto the bench and dropping down beside it, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, raking his fingers through his hair.
“Much as it is in my interest to sell you as many clothes as possible,” Cal says through the door, tone careful and ponderous, “I believe that words are far more effective in these situations.”
Harry laughs shortly. “You’re probably right,” he says, hauling himself to his feet and reaching for the next hanger. It contains a very confusing garment that seems to lack fasteners of any kind. “When I get brave enough to try that, I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, how the hell do these trousers work?”
Harry emerges from the shop into a blisteringly hot afternoon, weighted down with string-handled bags and assurances from an amused-sounding Cal that there is plenty of work yet to be done. He Apparates back to number twelve at the first available opportunity and hauls his purchases upstairs before he can change his mind. After a few minutes of consideration, he pulls his old clothes out of his ancient wardrobe and stuffs them—with the help of an extension charm or two—into a chest of drawers. He then hangs up his new shirts, suits and trousers, and folds the jumpers and t-shirts into neat squares like Cal has shown him before placing them in the bottom of the wardrobe.
Unsure what to do with the shoes and boots but certain that they don’t belong in a heap in the hallway with his existing pairs, he settles for stacking them in their boxes by the side of the wardrobe. Finally, he fetches a huge mug of iced water and flops back onto the bed, gazing at the array of colours and fabrics with satisfied incredulity.
At the Burrow that Sunday, his new t-shirt and linen trousers are admired by Bill, who wants to know where he got them, examined thoroughly by Ginny, who tells him she is looking for holes, and fussed over by Molly, who is thrilled at the improvement in Harry’s wardrobe but anxious about the long scratch that extends along his right arm from wrist to elbow.
“It’s nothing,” he insists for the third or fourth time, taking three extra roast potatoes from the tray in an attempt to distract her. “I tripped and scraped it on a broken tile. It could have been a lot worse.”
Molly doesn’t look at all convinced, but thankfully, she just squeezes his hand and carries on eating.
“If you want to worry about something, you should see the state of my ankles,” Hermione says irritably, leaning back in her chair and fanning herself with her napkin.
Molly gives her a sympathetic glance. “I was like that with all of mine, I’m afraid. You ought to ask Ron to rub them for you,” she says, shooting a pointed look at her son across the table.
“I tried,” Ron says, almost in a whisper, avoiding the eyes of his mother and his wife and choosing to stare beseechingly at Harry instead.
Harry has nothing to offer, but he does feel for Hermione. The combination of the recent soaring temperatures and her heavily pregnant state has left her frazzled, overheated, and grumpy, and while he knows her usual good humour is in there somewhere, he also doubts that a blazing hot, humid afternoon in the Weasleys’ back garden is the way to bring it out. She is, however, still eating everything in sight, and Ron seems to have resorted to waving food under her nose whenever a frown threatens.
“Only two more weeks,” Percy says brightly, but his attempt to lighten Hermione’s mood is instantly shot down by the dark look she throws his way.
“Is there any more crackling, Mum?” Ron asks, tone slightly desperate.
Molly nods, looking as though she is trying to hide a smile as she passes a small dish to Ron, who immediately places it down in front of his wife like an offering.
“Hmm,” Hermione says, picking up a piece of crackling and sinking her teeth into it with an almost contented expression. Beside her, Ron seems to deflate with relief.
Amused, Harry watches her, unable to deny a twinge of sympathy for his friend. It’s more than hot enough for everyone at the table, and none of them are carrying a child and what she assures him is half a ton of extra water around with them. The air is hazy and thick, making Harry shift position frequently, questing for the smallest hint of a refreshing breeze and finding nothing. He feels damp and sticky, even in his new Cal-approved summer clothes, and every now and then a bead of sweat rolls unpleasantly down his spine. Molly, who is suffering in the heat just as much as the rest of her family, has still seen fit to cook a full roast dinner, and Harry can’t be sure whether he should be applauding her efforts or summoning a qualified Mind Healer.
Either way, he leaves the Burrow as he does every Sunday—exhausted, and full of enough food and love to keep him going for quite some time. He hugs Hermione carefully as they part, letting her lean against him for a moment and pressing a kiss to her damp hair when she lets out a heavy sigh against his shoulder.
“Go home and have a cool bath,” he murmurs. “You can even get Ron to run it for you. He’ll do anything to make you happy, you know.”
She smiles against his t-shirt fabric. “I know. I’m sorry for being a grumpy old cow.”
“You’re doing fine.” Harry grins and releases her. Ron immediately takes her hand and squeezes it.
“Come on,” he says, shooting Harry a grateful smile and leading her back into the house. “I thought you could have a bath and I could make you some cheese on toast.”
“With gherkins?” Hermione asks hopefully.
Harry smiles, watching as they disappear inside the house. Idly, he lifts his arm and examines the long, ugly scratch. On impulse, he draws his wand, concentrates for a moment, and heals it.
Over the next week, temperatures continue to rise, quickly bypassing the ‘pleasant’ range to reach ‘too fucking hot to do anything’ and stubbornly sticking there. In order to continue working, Harry spends the early mornings and late evenings in the half-finished house, surrounded by as many cooling charms as he can muster, and returns to number twelve in the afternoons to do the only thing that seems feasible in the ridiculous heat: lying very still and reading a book.
He quickly makes his way through the pile of novels and manuals that he is usually too busy to read, flopping flat on his back on the bed with multiple fans and charms whirring around at once and the book hovering lazily above his face. With the curtains shut and the windows firmly wedged open, he can smell the burning pavements and the drift of freshly-cut grass from below. The chatter of his neighbours, the disoriented buzzing of insects and the laughter of children with water pistols combine to form such a soothing, evocative backdrop that Harry is reluctant to abandon his position. He opts out of a lunch, a pub crawl and a picnic in the park, choosing to remain in his cool little haven, abandoning it only for work and hastily-constructed sandwiches. It’s the heat, he tells himself firmly. He just wants to be comfortable, and it’s always healthy to have a little bit of time alone.
He certainly isn’t avoiding Draco, that’s for sure, and he certainly isn’t confused by the fact that the only place he really wants to go is Cal’s room of mirrors. And it’s not because he reminds Harry of Draco. Because he does, at least a little bit, but this isn’t about Draco. Except that Harry can’t even think that without groaning and letting his current book fall onto his face, because everything he is somehow manages to be about Draco, and it fucking hurts.
He makes it to the end of the week before he finds himself in Diagon Alley again.
A soft magical breeze wafts over him as he walks into the shop, and from behind the counter, Cal smiles as though genuinely pleased to see him. Harry follows him to the mirrored room without a word, wrapped in a feeling of pure relief. Somehow, this is where he needs to be. He can work out the rest later.
“And how can I help you today?” Cal asks. As always, he looks perfect, dressed despite the heat in dark trousers, a striped shirt and a neat waistcoat.
Harry hesitates. It hadn’t occurred to him that he would have to answer this question, even though Cal has asked it every time they have met.
“Well... you gave me the impression that we had more work to do,” he says at last, shrugging awkwardly. “And it’s too hot to do anything else.”
Cal stares at him for a moment, expression unreadable. “Yes. Yes, I did say that, didn’t I?”
Harry stares back, suddenly unsure of himself again. Cal seems uncomfortable, distracted, and he isn’t sure how to deal with that. Usually, he’s the one who feels uncertain and out of place, and Cal is the one who always knows just what to say and do. It’s just the way of things.
“Are you alright?” he asks after several long seconds of silence.
Cal blinks rapidly. “Yes, of course. Forgive me. I will just go and find some things for you.”
He turns on his heel and stalks out of the room, leaving Harry to stare after him in bewilderment. When he returns, his calm confidence is firmly back in place, and Harry is soon taking up the usual routine of trying on outfits and presenting himself for approval and adjustments. By the time he leaves and hurries down a sweltering Diagon Alley with his bags to Apparate back to his cool bedroom, he has almost forgotten Cal’s moment of unease, but not quite.
The next few days see temperatures holding at a steadily oppressive high, along with the crumbling of Harry’s sanity as he gives in to his urge to see Cal several more times. His excuses grow more transparent with each visit, starting with some vague mumblings about needing a new pair of shoes and deteriorating to the point at which he just walks into the shop and reports to the mirrored room without a word. Cal is impressively unfazed by this, accepting Harry’s pathetic presence with his usual warmth and professionalism. He doesn’t seem to mind in the least helping Harry to buy things he doesn’t need, and he has to remind himself every now and then that yes, that’s probably because Cal is being paid to be nice to him.
Still, he does seem perfectly content to go above and beyond. On a particularly soupy Wednesday afternoon, as Harry is trying on brightly-coloured shirts for Ron and Hermione’s heatwave-themed dinner party, he looks up from his casual recline against the wall and says:
“Tell me, did you make any progress with this man?”
Harry exhales in a rush. “No,” he says eventually, glaring at himself in the mirror. “None at all.”
“I had wondered. You have an air of frustration around you,” Cal says thoughtfully. “I hope I haven’t offended you. It simply makes me more curious.”
Harry laughs, meeting Cal’s eyes in the mirror and wondering. ‘An air of frustration’ is probably something of an understatement, but he’s not offended. Just... curious right back, he supposes.
“No, it’s fine. I’m not very good at that sort of thing... maybe that’s the problem.”
“Then you do not know if he is impressed with your new clothes,” Cal says.
Harry shakes his head. “It seems a bit ridiculous now,” he admits. “You shouldn’t have to change to make someone love you, should you?”
Cal pushes himself off the wall and comes to stand behind Harry. Their eyes meet and hold in the mirror as he straightens out Harry’s collar and rests both hands lightly on Harry’s shoulders.
“No,” he says after a moment, voice soft. “No, you should not.”
Harry sighs, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing himself to imagine that Cal’s hands are Draco’s, that the comforting presence behind him comes with the sharp grey eyes and angular features that he can never quite get out of his head. It doesn’t help. He opens his eyes.
“Maybe I should just give up. I’ve tried about a thousand times. Maybe it’ll work this time.”
Cal lifts a dark eyebrow. “Or you could try talking to him.”
“I can talk to him... I mean, we spent a whole evening together not long ago... but I don’t know how I would even start trying to talk to him about this,” Harry says, face heating at the thought. “I’d probably just explode or something.”
Cal smiles. “It is worth a try, certainly, before you give up.”
Harry smiles reluctantly back at him as they turn to face one another.
“Do you give all your customers such good advice?”
Cal’s smile turns wicked. “Only the nice ones.”
By the time he turns up at Ron and Hermione’s cottage the next night, Harry has decided to take Cal’s advice. There’s nothing else for it—he has to talk to Draco. And okay, the whole thing might be humiliating and it will probably be a complete disaster, but he can’t go on as he is. He hasn’t slept comfortably in weeks, and he knows it’s only partially due to the weather.
The grey, heavy heat is particularly unpleasant, though, as he Apparates into their back garden and is immediately leapt on by a warm and wriggling Rose. He scoops her up and swings her around, smiling at her giggling entreaty of, “Be careful, Uncle Harry! I’ve just had my tea!”
“Oh, really? And what are you doing out here, then?”
“I’m waiting for grandma,” Rose says, fiddling with her long, red plaits as Harry puts her down. “We’re going to make ice lollies with fruit in them.”
“So we are,” Molly says, appearing behind Harry and holding her hand out to her granddaughter. “Harry, what on earth are you wearing?”
Rose giggles. “A funny shirt.”
“Yes,” Harry says gravely, glancing at the obnoxiously bright Hawaiian shirt he had ended up buying from a much less fancy shop than Cal’s. He hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to show the shirt to Cal, though, and his expression had been entertainingly horrified. “I’m just committing to the theme, Molly. It has to be done.”
Rose is still giggling about his outfit as she and Molly leave for the Burrow. Harry doesn’t mind; apart from anything else, he has come here determined to talk to Draco, not to impress him with misguided attempts at fashion. He is just going to have to deal with Harry the way he is tonight. Even if the way he is tonight is draped in a too-big Hawaiian shirt, knee length shorts and a garland.
Knowing Hermione, she will have seated the two of them together, partly because subtlety always takes second place to efficiency when it comes to her attempts to interfere with his love life and partly because he is pretty sure that most of the other guests tonight make up couples. As he approaches the cottage, he sees Padma, Pansy, Finlay and Hannah grouped around a garden table that is partially shaded by apple trees. The newlyweds are tanned and relaxed and appear to be showing the others photographs from their honeymoon in the south of France. Hannah, who is dressed in a brightly-coloured sarong, waves Harry over with a grin.
“Good to have you back,” he says, leaning over her shoulder to see the pictures. “Did you miss us much?”
“Not for a moment,” Finlay says solemnly, and Harry has to look closely to see his smile, but it’s there.
“Behave,” Hannah laughs, wrinkling her slightly peeling nose. “We didn’t expect to come back and find it even hotter here, that’s for sure.”
“I know, it’s dreadful,” Pansy says, flapping a vast oriental fan in front of her face. “On the plus side, the gallery has had an absolute surge in visitor numbers since it started. Something to do with their air conditioner, apparently.”
“Who’s got an air conditioner?” Hermione asks, walking out into the garden wearing a vivid red dress and a flower in her hair. “How much do they want for it?”
Padma laughs. “Pansy’s gallery, but I think your charms are doing a wonderful job out here.”
Hermione smiles, but Harry notices that she still looks overheated; her face is flushed and glistening slightly and she stands awkwardly with her back arched as though she can no longer put herself in a comfortable position.
“Lovely dress, darling,” Pansy says from behind her fan.
“Thanks. I’m hoping I won’t need to wear it again for a long time,” she says, looking pointedly at her bulging belly. “Are you listening in there? I want you out on time!”
“Did that work last time?” Hannah asks.
“Of course. Rose was born exactly on time, which is just like her,” Hermione admits.
Harry smiles and hugs her lightly, trying not to overheat her. “Is Draco here yet?” he asks, lowering his voice slightly, even though the others have returned to the photographs. “I need a word with him.”
Hermione bites her lip anxiously. “Bugger it. Harry, I’m sorry, I was going to firecall and let you know and I completely forgot. Draco isn’t coming. He owled me this afternoon, said he had a family thing and couldn’t make it.”
“Oh,” Harry says, trying not to show his disappointment.
Hermione sees it anyway. “Sorry, Harry,” she says again.
He shrugs, affecting nonchalance. “It doesn’t matter. It can wait.”
“You don’t have to...” Hermione hesitates. Gives him a tight smile. “I’m not daft, Harry. I could tell you were working up to something, and it’s good. Whatever you’re going to say, it needs to be said.”
“Yeah, well,” he sighs, finding he is not at all surprised by her perceptiveness. “It doesn’t look like he wants to hear it.”
“What do you mean?”
Harry shakes his head, wishing he could shake off his sudden irritation with it. “A ‘family thing’? Isn’t that one of the oldest excuses in the book?”
Hermione gazes at him, dark eyes bright with frustration. “It’s also the thing you say when you have some sort of issue with a relative that you don’t really feel like discussing,” she points out.
And she sounds reasonable, she really does, but for some reason, Harry just doesn’t care. He’s hot and tired and all psyched up for nothing, and Draco is avoiding him. He scowls, silencing the little voice that is trying to point out that even if Draco is avoiding him, he has been avoiding Draco just as much recently. The whole thing is just too confusing and unpredictable and... fuck it.
“Come on,” Hermione says, tucking her arm through his and forcing him to look at her. “Screw him. This is the last party I’m going to be able to have for months and months and I need my best friend to celebrate with me. Please?”
Harry takes a deep breath and nods. “Yes. I’m sorry. I am here, and I...” Harry pauses, catching movement in his peripheral vision, and before he can say another word, he is snorting with laughter.
“Yes, I am here!” Blaise declares, hula-ing his way down the garden in a shirt even brighter than Harry’s and a long grass skirt. “Shall we get the party underway?”
Everyone at the table cheers and whistles and Ron pokes his head out of the back door, drawn out by the sudden racket.
“Great minds!” he shouts, emerging from the cottage and wiggling his hips back and forth, making his own grass skirt swish around his pale, freckled legs.
Blaise whoops with delight, and for several minutes, not a word is spoken as the two of them meet in the middle of the garden and put on an impromptu show of terrible man-dancing. In the midst of this spectacle, Ginny, Neville, Sorrell and Luna arrive, and all four stand by the gate, watching with wide eyes, until Ron and Blaise are defeated by the heat and collapse to the grass in a cackling heap.
The sight restores Harry’s good mood quite effectively, and by the time dinner is served, he is having a fantastic time with his friends. Ron, who is what Harry likes to think of as an indecisive cook, has made an absolute mountain of food, ranging from sausage rolls and pickles to smoked salmon and meringues. Hermione has given up grumbling about not being allowed to help and seems content to remain seated and compete with Blaise for the unspoken title of ‘most food consumed in one sitting’. Whenever she does get out of her chair, Ron hovers nervously around her until she loses her temper.
“Ron,” she snaps, attempting to put her hands on her hips. “It’s not going to just slip out, and to be honest, I rather resent the implication that it might.”
“Sorry,” he mumbles, grinning sheepishly and sitting down to scattered laughter from the others.
Hermione lowers herself carefully back into her chair, graciously accepting Pansy’s fan and wafting it vigorously in front of her face. “If I do go into labour, you lot won’t mind staying behind to tidy up a bit, will you?” she sighs.
“No problem,” Harry says, frowning in concentration as he rescues a tiny spider from his glass of wine.
Carefully, he sets it down on the wrought iron table and watches it flailing around for several seconds until it seems to settle on a direction and disappears through one of the gaps in the table’s surface. A moment later, he sees it descend slowly to the ground on a long string of silk.
Pleasantly tipsy, dressed in a stupid shirt and surrounded by good friends, Harry smiles, leaning back in his chair and blinking up at the fireflies dancing in the warm, dark air. Draco is missing out.
As Harry flops into bed in the early hours of Friday morning, stretching out and kicking his covers to the floor, he focuses for a brief, blurry moment on the memory of a conversation between Hermione and Hannah about the upcoming naming day for the baby. He doesn’t know what makes him think of it, but he does know that it is a fantastic excuse for a new outfit. His last thought before sleep takes him is that something very odd indeed is happening to him.
He doesn’t make it to Cal’s shop until the middle of the following week—the next few days are taken up in a flurry of work-related activity, and when he isn’t assisting the plumber, making cups of tea and cleaning up piles of plaster dust, he is making frequent firecalls to the cottage to check on Hermione. By the time the plumber leaves, allowing Harry to take a break, it is Wednesday, and Hermione’s baby is already five days late. Ron, who has taken the week off work, only seems to be adding to her stress by pacing anxiously and asking her if she is feeling alright every ten minutes.
“I’m not, Ron, I’m fed up,” she grumbles, heaving herself out of her chair with what looks like a massive effort and stomping heavily around the living room.
“Anything I can do?” Harry asks, already knowing the answer.
“No, unless you can persuade your plumber friend to come round here and build me a bigger shower. I can’t turn around in ours any more,” she says, and promptly bursts into tears.
“Oh, ’Mione... I’ll run you a bath!” Ron suggests, looking alarmed.
She drops back onto the sofa and sniffles. “Don’t. I probably won’t be able to get back out.”
Stricken, Ron sits next to her and squeezes her hand. “Don’t cry. I’ll think of something.”
Harry speaks up from his spot on the rug. “We could take you outside and spray you with the hosepipe?”
Hermione looks at him, eyes brimming with tears. Astonishingly, she laughs. It’s just a gurgle at first, a reluctant, snotty hiccup, and then it’s a giggle, and soon she is laughing harder than she is crying.
“Oh, god, I’m such a state,” she splutters, tears streaming down her face, breath catching with every word. “It’s just a baby. It’s got to come out sometime, hasn’t it?”
“I hope so,” Ron says, staring at his wife as if he doesn’t know quite what to do with her. “We’re all buggered if it stays in there.”
Hermione smiles and tips her head back against the sofa cushions, letting out a long, ragged breath and attempting to regain control of herself. When Ron offers to make a cold drink, she puts her arms around him and holds on tight for several seconds, and Harry feels much better about leaving them to it for a while. She’s going to be okay, at least until the next meltdown.
“I’ll call after lunch,” he promises as he Disapparates, heading for Diagon Alley.
When he walks into the shop, Cal is nowhere to be seen. Imran is straightening out a rack full of silk dress robes and another man, this one redheaded and muscular, is standing at the counter, resting vast hands on the wooden surface. Harry hovers near the doorway for a moment, torn between his instinct to beat a hasty retreat and the very real desire to stay exactly where he is, caught between two separate currents of deliciously cool air.
Imran looks up and smiles, making the decision for him, and Harry’s heat-fried brain is happy enough to let it happen. There is no way that he is going to let Mr Neon dress him for the naming day, but it can’t hurt to hang around for a little bit, stay cool, and add a couple of new shirts to his collection.
“Hello, Mr Potter,” Imran says, flashing his gleaming teeth as he approaches. “I assume you’re looking for Calvin?”
Surprised, Harry says nothing for a moment. “Er, yeah, but it’s nothing personal, you know?”
Imran fixes him with clever dark eyes. “Of course it is. Every customer has different needs, and they always find one of us a better fit than the others. Conrad is very popular with the sporty types,” he says, indicating the man at the counter with a careless gesture. “The people who choose me tend to want whatever is the latest fashion. All of us have our niche. Calvin seems to attract a more... classic clientele,” he says, frowning lightly as he searches for the right words.
Harry hides a smile, suspecting that what Imran really wants to say is that Cal takes care of the older customers, but he is far too polite to use those exact words. He thinks perhaps he should be offended but he’s just not. He’s almost twenty-nine—he knows he’s not old, but he’s not a kid any more, either. He doesn’t want to wear skintight jeans and drink himself stupid every Friday night; he wants to be comfortable and look half-decent or occasionally ridiculous and eat home-made pickled onions and drink good wine in his friends’ back gardens. He’s okay with that. He wants to just be.
“I think he’s sorting through some new stock,” Imran says, apparently amused by the situation. “I’ll go and tell him you’re here.”
“Thanks,” Harry says, relief pulling a smile from him that is immediately reflected back by the Viking at the counter. Amused, Harry gives him a friendly nod and heads for the room of mirrors.
“A naming day?” Cal muses five minutes later. “Let me have a think.”
“It’s my friend Hermione,” Harry says, perching on the chair and wondering why on earth he had thought it a good idea to accept coffee in this weather. He drinks it anyway, though, because it’s good and also because he doesn’t want to offend Cal. “She’s five days over now. I think I told you about her.”
“Once or twice,” Cal murmurs, smile flickering.
Harry wrinkles his nose, embarrassed. “Sorry. I suppose you’re just easy to talk to.”
Cal’s smile blooms for a split second, and then he turns away, tapping his fingers against his chin as though in deep thought. “Will this be a summer occasion?” he asks at last.
“Oh, yeah. The baby might be disorganised but Hermione’s had this booked for months. It’s going to be in August, in the garden at the Burrow—that’s Molly and Arthur’s place. She had her daughter’s naming day there, too. I think it’s a Weasley tradition,” Harry explains.
“So... a traditional family event,” Cal mutters, mostly to himself. “A garden party... August. Do you trust me?”
“Erm... yeah, of course,” Harry says, fingers tightening around his cup in anticipation.
Cal nods and strides out of the room, leaving Harry puzzled and a tiny bit excited. He looks at himself in the wall of mirrors for what feels like the hundredth time now, and is almost surprised to see that he still looks exactly the same. He can’t be. He feels changed, somehow, and the very least of that change seems to be manifesting as an ability to feel excited over a mystery outfit.
Unless that’s not what he’s excited about at all, but he doesn’t want to think about that. It’s just too confusing.
“I know you don’t much care for our crossover items,” Cal says as he returns.
“I didn’t much care for the clown cape, no,” Harry puts in.
Cal’s eyes sparkle. “Well, exactly. However, I would like you to try this for me—I think you will look smart but not too formal, and you will not melt in the heat as you would in an ordinary suit.”
He produces an odd-looking suit made of sandy-coloured linen, which he hands to Harry with a rather stern look.
“Really?” Harry says, eyebrows knitted. “It’s a bit... shapeless, isn’t it? Won’t I look like I’m wearing a dress?” He looks at Cal, feeling the need to add: “I have worn dresses, you know. I’m not weird about things like that.”
“Good,” Cal says, mouth twitching slightly. “Just try it on and we will see.”
“Okay.” Harry shrugs, takes the linen thing into the changing room, and puts it on.
When he sees himself in the bank of mirrors, he lets out a small sound of surprise. The suit Cal has chosen for him does not look like a dress, nor does it look like a sack and a pair of trousers as Harry had thought it might. It’s not a perfect fit just yet, but he can already see that the soft colour sets off his summer tan, the row of round metal buttons all the way down the front make the whole thing look really quite smart, and the unusual neckline somehow balances the fact that the tunic falls all the way to his knees. The linen is light and cool against his skin, catching the magical breezes perfectly as he moves from side to side to look at himself with interest.
“I have no idea why I even bothered to think that you were wrong,” he admits, silently delighted by Cal’s wide smile.
“It needs some alterations, of course, but I think you would look very smart in this for your friend’s naming day,” Cal says, coming to stand behind Harry.
“Thank you,” Harry says, grinning at his reflection. “You’re an absolute wonder.”
Cal laughs. “I can’t take all the credit. My resources are top of the line, and you are not a difficult man to dress, Harry. You look very good in many things. Look,” he says, resting his fingertips on Harry’s shoulders. “Not everyone can wear a Mandarin collar. One must have the right neck.”
“Well, thanks,” Harry laughs, face heating slightly. “My neck is very flattered.” He shakes his head, meeting Cal’s eyes in the mirror. “Honestly, what did I do before I met you?”
“Many things, as I’m sure you continue to do. I merely help you to look more handsome while you are doing them,” Cal demurs, smiling again.
Harry nods, staring at their reflections and wishing Cal’s smile didn’t remind him so much of Draco’s, and then the words are out of his mouth before he has time to reconsider:
“Listen, do you want to have a drink sometime? Or... you know... just coffee or something?”
“No!” Cal snaps, eyes widening. He steps back from Harry as though he has been hit with a stinging hex, and Harry’s stomach drops unpleasantly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No,” Cal says again, voice softer this time. “I meant... well, I’m not allowed to date customers.”
Harry doesn’t turn around, instead continuing to watch Cal in the mirror. He looks rattled, upset, even, and Harry feels terrible. He has no idea what he had even been thinking of.
“Look,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, and it was a stupid idea anyway. I’m not over Draco, whatever I might have told myself, and it was unfair of me to put that on you. It’s just... it’s been so nice spending time with you and... fuck, I hope I haven’t ruined it.”
“You’re not over Draco?” Cal asks quietly.
Harry turns to face him at last. “No. I’m really not. Wow.” He lets out a long, messy breath. “I really need to sort my head out. I genuinely am sorry, Cal.”
Cal stares hard at the floor for long seconds. When he looks up, his face has cleared, and he smiles easily at Harry again. “Don’t worry about it. I am flattered, believe me.” He laughs, but it sounds a little forced. “I have quite a few alterations to make here,” he says, indicating the linen suit. “It will take a while, but I know you well enough now to fit it without you, so why don’t you come back a little later?”
Harry nods and heads for the changing rooms, returning the linen suit to its hanger and pulling on his t-shirt and jeans. He can recognise an ‘out’ when he sees one, and he doesn’t need to be asked twice. He apologises one more time as he hands the suit back to Cal and then flees the shop, leaving the painful awkwardness of the mirrored room behind him.
“You are so stupid,” he mumbles to himself as he walks quickly down Diagon Alley. The sun is directly overhead now and the sweat is already beginning to trickle down his back but he doesn’t care. “You are a fucking idiot, in fact,” he mutters, and an old lady, dressed inexplicably in a coat and headscarf, turns around and scolds him for his bad language.
Vaguely, he wonders how Hermione is doing, wonders if he should Apparate back to the cottage to check on her. He quickly decides against this plan, though, suspecting that she will know, even in her current state, that something is wrong, and will somehow wheedle the entire fiasco out of him.
Not today, he thinks wearily, slumping onto a bench and rubbing his palms against the rough, sun-warmed wood. He gazes up at the sky, watching the patches of blue being swallowed up by endless stretches of heavy, soupy grey. His jeans are damp at the backs of his knees and his hair feels gritty and dirty, despite being washed just hours before. The air around him feels thick enough to swim in, the slats beneath him are beginning to burn his thighs, and he really is an absolute wanker.
He scowls, watching the people pass by, all looking just as sticky and miserable as he feels. When a woman with a screaming baby sits down on the bench next to him, he gets up and starts walking again. When he reaches the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, he has a flash of inspiration. What he really needs is somewhere cool where he can think, somewhere he won’t be disturbed by old ladies or crying children. He knows just the place.
Pansy had not been exaggerating about the swell in visitors caused by the heatwave—the gallery is not at all quiet, and Harry almost changes his mind halfway across the main atrium, but he forces himself to keep going in the hope that ‘Five Thousand Years of Fuck’ is a little more peaceful.
Beyond the red curtain, he finds only two middle-aged ladies, who smile politely at him before returning to their inspection of Pansy’s painted dildos. Relieved, he walks in the opposite direction, finding himself inexorably drawn towards the room with the large painting. He stands in front of it for a long time, relishing the cool air around him and half-listening to the soft voices of the two ladies as they quietly admire Pansy’s art. He loses himself in the painting, letting the hypnotic movements of the spellwork soothe away his irritation and embarrassment.
The more he looks, though, the more the dark and light-haired couple begin to look like himself and Draco, and the more he watches them writhe and caress one another, the more his mouth turns dry, the more he begins to wonder if Pansy painted them that way on purpose, and the more ridiculous he begins to feel about his thoughtless words to Cal. Of course he still loves Draco, and for perhaps the first time ever, all he wants to do is Apparate to his side, grab hold of him and tell him everything.
And he can. He absolutely can. It’s not too late.
First, though, he has to make things right with Cal. He has to just walk back in there and do whatever is necessary to make things feel normal between them again, because Cal is not only a useful person to have around, he is—or was, before Harry messed things up—starting to feel like a friend.
As Harry turns to leave the room, the two ladies enter, eyes growing entertainingly wide as they take in the vast painting.
“Goodness, Linda, look at that satyr!” one says excitedly.
“You don’t have to go, young man,” says the other, beaming at Harry. “We aren’t embarrassed!”
Already starting to feel better, Harry grins. “I know. But I have to go and see a man about a man.”
The ladies turn to each other and exchange delighted looks. “Well,” says the one called Linda. “Have a wonderful time!”
“I hope you got plenty of ideas from the paintings!” calls the other.
Harry definitely isn’t blushing as he leaves the gallery and returns to Diagon Alley. Definitely not.
“Is Calvin here?” he asks of the Viking behind the counter.
“I’ll call him,” the man says in a surprisingly soft voice. When he returns, trailing Cal, he shoots Harry a knowing grin.
Harry just follows Cal to the mirrored room and sits in the chair, bringing out a concealed paper bag containing two iced pumpkin juices and offering one to Cal.
“Peace offering?” he says hopefully as Cal accepts the cold drink.
“Please stop apologising,” Cal says. “You did nothing wrong. I overreacted.”
Harry sighs, taking the lid off his drink and sipping it slowly. “It was stupid, though. I don’t want things to be weird between us. I really like you.”
Cal smiles. “I like you too, Harry. Thank you for the drink. Don’t tell Imran.”
“Will he be cross that I brought them in here? I promise not to spill on anything important.”
“No,” Cal laughs. “He’ll just be upset that you didn’t bring one for him, too. Are you ready to try on your suit again?”
Harry nods, replacing the lid on his juice and setting it carefully on the floor, well out of the way. He takes the hanger into the changing room, strips off and hesitates. The cool air of the gallery has done him a lot of good, but he still feels grubby and he cannot in good conscience try on something like this without at least casting a couple of cleaning charms. He draws his wand and mumbles the spell, shivering as the cold, fresh sensation ripples over his skin. Then, satisfied, he puts on the suit and returns to Cal and the mirrors.
This time it’s perfect, and he smiles gratefully at Cal. “That’s great, thank you.”
“I knew I would find a crossover for you in the end,” Cal says, regarding Harry with satisfaction. “I do always enjoy a challenge.”
“I don’t know about a challenge, I’m pretty sure I’m a complete nightmare,” Harry says, relieved and delighted to be talking comfortably again.
“No.” Cal shakes his head and frowns. “I think I’m just going to take these sleeves in a fraction more,” he says, drawing his wand and running his fingertips around Harry’s right cuff. “So, is this your next big event, or will you and your friends be dressing up again soon?”
“Well, Justin’s having a cocktail party in a couple of weeks, and then it’s my birthday,” Harry says, grinning as he remembers the theme that he, Ron and Hermione have come up with. “Everyone’s going to dress up as Hogwarts professors... well, not just professors. I think some people are coming as ghosts or people from portraits. I’m going to be Filch. I’ve already got the outfit, I’m just trying to decide whether to get a stuffed cat or borrow one from somewhere.”
Cal smiles absently as he works. “Well, either way, I’m sure it will be a more recognisable costume than the sea slug,” he says, and then freezes.
Harry frowns. Cal drops his sleeve and turns away, but the mirrors show his horrified expression to Harry over and over and over again.
Heart pounding, Harry turns to stare into the back of his head. “I never told you about that.”
Cal turns around and smiles unconvincingly at him. “I’m sure you must have. How else would I know?”
“I didn’t,” Harry insists. “I never told you about that party. How did you know? Were you there?” he demands, stomach in knots.
Cal just stares at him, horrified. “I was... Harry, of course not,” he whispers.
Harry can’t speak. He just stares right back at Cal, letting everything wash around in his head, unsure if he wants any of it to make sense. Something is shifting, something huge, whether he wants it to or not, and he can barely breathe as the pieces begin to fit together: the person who hadn’t understood his slug costume is the same person whom Harry had seen out with Pansy on the day that Cal never seems to work, and the same person whose name had clearly made Cal feel uncomfortable... Harry shakes his head, incredulous.
It cannot be. Just because he wants it so much, doesn’t make it so.
“Who are you?” he asks, voice catching slightly.
Cal pushes out a slow breath and looks at the floor. Slowly, he raises his head and meets Harry’s eyes again with grim determination.
“Don’t hate me. Please,” he says, distinctive accent fading away as he draws his wand and closes his eyes. A softly-murmured spell dissolves a web of glamours, and, as each of them falls away, Harry’s fingernails cut more painfully into his palms.
“Draco,” Harry whispers, and that’s all he has. His knees turn unsteady beneath him as the whole thing seems to hit him like a tidal wave, shaking him and filling his head with the memory of every stupid thing he has said to Cal since they met, every secret he has confided, every failing exposed, and all to Draco, who is standing in front of him now, wearing Cal’s clothes and Cal’s cologne and the carefully blank expression that belongs to both of them.
“This is such a mess,” Draco says quietly. “Harry, I really am very sorry.”
“It was you the whole time. I can’t believe it was you,” Harry mumbles, running a hand through his hair and wishing he knew where to put himself.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Draco says, staring fixedly at his hands, but Harry can’t process his words.
Numbly, he steps back and lowers himself into the chair, trying to drag his breathing under control. He doesn’t know what he is supposed to feel in this ridiculous situation; all he knows is that he is a mess inside, shocked and terrified and aching right down to his fingertips, awash with so much sharp relief and confusion that he can’t even pick it apart enough to know what to do next.
“I feel like such an idiot,” he says at last, vaguely aware of movement in the corner of his eye as Cal—Draco—walks slowly towards him and lowers himself to the floor, leaning back against the mirrors with his knees drawn up and his arms resting loosely on top.
“You are not an idiot,” he says firmly. “You came to a shop to buy clothes. You made a connection with someone. Nothing you did was wrong.”
“Yeah?” Harry says, looking up with a bark of hollow laughter. “Then why am I the one who feels completely fucking humiliated?”
Draco sighs. “I feel pretty humiliated, too, if it helps.”
“Not really,” Harry says, but the harshness he intends to inject into his voice just dissolves away when he sees Draco’s anxious, remorseful expression and the nervous tapping of his fingers against his knees. Something about the posture tugs at him, tells him that he doesn’t want to be angry—and he’s not; he’s just... he’s exposed, and he hates it. “So,” he tries, taking a deep breath. “Are you going to tell me why you’re doing this?”
“If I promise to tell you another time, can we skip over that one for now?” Draco asks.
“I’m not really sure that’s how this works,” Harry says, picking at the flawless fabric of his brand new tunic. “I can’t just walk out of here and pretend I don’t need answers, Draco. I’ve been chatting away to you for weeks now, thinking you were this interesting man who knew about clothes, but nothing more. It’s... I told you things,” he says, anguished at the thought.
“I know,” Draco says, narrowing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “Alright. The short explanation is this: I work here because I need the money.”
Harry stares at him, astonished. “I didn’t know you were... struggling,” he mumbles. Suddenly, Draco’s slightly odd reaction to Luna’s suggestion starts to make sense. He will take his mother on safari... when he has enough money. Harry bites his lip.
“We aren’t,” Draco says with an odd little smile. “We have the Manor and a few other assets, but most of the Malfoy fortune has been spent. Mother suffered a lot of spell damage at the hands of our... house guest, and I found the best treatment for her. I had Healers brought in from all over Europe, as well as the best physiotherapists money could buy.” Draco glances at Harry, expecting surprise and finding it. “She is well now, for the most part, although she has occasional relapses, like the other night. I was sad to miss Hermione’s party, but she couldn’t get up from her chair in the afternoon and I couldn’t get her Healer to come before the next morning, so I...”
Draco frowns and falls silent.
“So you what?” Harry asks, guiltily remembering his thoughts at the time.
“I got her into bed... somehow... and I read to her until she fell asleep,” Draco says, turning slightly pink, and Harry’s heart thuds heavily in approval.
“So... you do this to pay for your mother’s treatment?” he asks. “Draco, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Draco shoots him a wan smile and ruffles his hair distractedly with long, pale fingers. “Not all of it. Some of it goes on the things that just make life nice. Gifts and lunches and costumes and nice clothes. This job actually pays rather well, you know. And the staff discount is extraordinary.”
Harry laughs; he can’t help it. “I can imagine.”
“More than that, though, I seem to have found something I’m good at,” he says, sounding genuinely surprised as he tips his head back against the mirror and regards Harry steadily. “I enjoy it. I like working out what will suit people and making them feel good about themselves. Besides, I can’t stand doing nothing all the time. I start to go a bit strange after a while.”
“Me too,” Harry says softly, and Draco looks so unguarded in that moment that he has to lace his fingers together in his lap to stop himself reaching out to swipe his hair out of his eyes. “Why didn’t you just tell me? The first time I came in? I know we haven’t exactly been close but fuck, Draco, I would never have judged you.”
“I haven’t told anyone.” Draco shrugs. “People have a certain image of me and I’ve found it’s best not to disappoint them.”
Harry shakes his head, utterly bewildered. “You’re... what? Draco... this...” He indicates his suit and the mirrored room. “This was... oh, god. I was trying to impress you! I didn’t care what you did for a living—I still don’t. I don’t give a fuck.”
“Yes, well, I didn’t find that out until very recently, did I?” Draco snaps, sounding rather cross for some reason. “And you needn’t have bothered!”
Harry stares at him. “What?”
Draco looks up at him, grey eyes fierce. “You needn’t have bothered trying to impress me. Haven’t you noticed anything about the clothes I chose for you?”
“Er... they were nice?” Harry tries, glancing down at the shiny buttons on his tunic.
Draco sighs, closing his eyes for a moment. “Apart from those formal outfits, all I did was sell you the same sorts of clothes you were already wearing. Granted, they didn’t have stains or holes and they all fit you properly, but Harry... I was never trying to change you. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not?” Harry asks, voice rough and chest tight with dangerous hope.
Draco’s mouth curves into a small smile, and Harry now has no idea how he didn’t realise it was his every single time he saw it on Cal’s face. Just as quickly as it had appeared, it fades away, and Draco sets his face, shifting position on the floor so that he is facing Harry, legs crossed and fingers plucking fitfully at his trouser fabric.
“I’ve behaved badly,” he says stiffly, shaking his head when Harry opens his mouth to interrupt. “I’ve behaved badly, and when I say that, I mean me, not Cal: this person that you apparently feel strongly enough for to try to change yourself, and I have no idea why. I have avoided you and been rude to you and honestly, I feel like a complete fool, because the only reason I have for any of it is the fact that I haven’t known how to deal with my... emotions.”
The usually-sharp eyes are bright and vulnerable as they burn into Harry. His skin tingles all over as he stares back, and for once, neither of them look away. Slowly, almost fearfully, he slides down from the chair and onto his knees beside Draco, bringing them as close as he dares.
“Here’s the thing,” he mumbles, letting his fingers slide across the cool floor until they are almost, almost touching Draco’s, holding the eye contact, even as his mouth turns dry and his stomach flips uncontrollably. So close. Draco doesn’t smell like Draco, but he smells good, and it’s too much.
“What?” Draco urges in a harsh whisper.
“This has all been pretty weird for me so far, and as there’s every chance that I’m misinterpreting the whole thing, I’m going to need you to spell it out for me,” Harry admits. “Just in case.”
Draco laughs softly, eyes warm as he leans in closer, fingertips grazing Harry’s on the floor.
“Candour isn’t really my strong point.”
“Please try,” Harry whispers, close enough now to see the flecks of darker grey in Draco’s eyes and to feel the intoxicating heat of each exhalation. Please, he repeats silently.
“I want you,” Draco says boldly, fingers sliding forward to tangle with Harry’s. “And not just for a little while. Will that do?”
“Yes.” Harry smiles until it hurts, cautious hope taking flight and dragging years of quiet, painful longing in its wake. Feeling like he might burst if he doesn’t kiss Draco right this instant, he grips their tangled fingers tight and leans across the last few inches that separate them.
The knock at the door startles them both and they jump guiltily apart.
“Is Mr Potter still in there?” Imran calls.
Draco leans back on his hands and groans quietly. Harry watches him, delighting in the suspicion that he is silently plotting horrible revenge on his colleague for the interruption.
“I’m here—is there something the matter?” he calls back, eyes still on Draco.
“Well, yes and no,” Imran says. “I have a message from your friend Ron. He says to tell you that Hermione has gone into labour. I don’t know if I should have opened it, but it was addressed to ‘shop bloke’ and the owl kept trying to bite me until I did.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Harry says hurriedly, scrambling to his feet and reaching for the door handle. Just in time, he pulls his hand back and turns to Draco, who quickly rises, draws his wand and reinstates his glamours. With Cal back in place, Harry flings open the door. “When?” he demands.
“I don’t know,” Imran admits, looking uncertain for the first time since Harry met him. “They’re at St Mungo’s now, so...” He hands Harry the piece of parchment and glances between him and Cal.
Harry takes it. “Thank you.”
Imran nods, lingering for a moment before heading back to the counter, looking very much as though he wants to hang around and find out what will happen next.
“I have to go,” Harry says, turning to Draco. Of course, now he looks like Cal, and that is nothing if not unsettling for Harry’s heart and nervous system. He shakes himself. “She was really quick with Rose, and second babies are faster, aren’t they?”
“I have no idea,” Draco says faintly.
“I’d better go now, just in case.”
“Of course,” Draco says with a weak smile. “Let me know as soon as there’s something to know.”
Harry nods, but he doesn’t move. He doesn’t want to leave Draco now; in fact, at this moment he feels like he might never want to leave him again, but he can’t just... Harry looks around. Imran is here. The Viking is here. Most sane people are too hot for clothes shopping; the place is empty but for an elderly man who is quietly looking through a rack of casual robes.
Harry holds out a hand to him. “Come with me.”
Draco blinks and raises an astonished eyebrow. “Like this?”
“Like whatever you want,” Harry says, backing across the shop floor towards the door. When he inevitably bangs into a rail, Draco laughs, and Harry just grins like an idiot. “Change when we get there if you like, I don’t care. But I have to go and I want you to come with me.”
“Okay,” Draco says, smiling Cal’s smile and stalking towards him. “Imran, you’re in charge. I have an emergency,” he calls over his shoulder in Cal’s voice.
At the counter, Imran just stares, apparently unaccustomed to this sort of impulsive behaviour from his ancient colleague.
“Great,” Harry says, turning to face the glass door. “Let’s... well, that’s been coming.”
Draco comes to stand beside him and for long seconds they both stare out at the downpour. The rain is so heavy that Harry can barely see through it to the other side of the street, and as the drops hit the cobbles and windowsills and awnings, they bounce straight back up, filling the air with high velocity water from all angles.
Harry sighs, looking down the linen suit he had almost forgotten he was still wearing.
“Oh, god, I should go and put my jeans back on, shouldn’t I?”
“Fuck it,” Draco whispers, arching a dark eyebrow. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll just make a run for it.”
“We could Floo from the Leaky,” Harry says, grimacing. He stills detests Flooing but it’s the quickest and safest way to get to St Mungo’s right now, and that’s all that really matters.
Draco nods, face tight with a mixture of fear and exhilaration, and Harry grins at him.
He pulls the door open with some difficulty and they pelt out into the rain, laughing and swearing as the downpour closes in, drenching them almost instantly. Within seconds, Harry’s linen suit is clinging wetly to his skin, the tunic flapping against the backs of his thighs as he runs. His shoes slide on the rain-slick cobbles and he can barely see two feet in front of himself but he keeps going, pushed on by the need to get to his friend and the reassuring, thrilling sound of Draco’s running footsteps at his side.
Diagon Alley is deserted, and it almost feels as though he and Draco are the only people in the world—it’s just them and the storm of fat, warm raindrops and the wonderfully rich smell of water seeping into parched ground. Draco keeps pace with him all the way to the Leaky, and they race for the fireplace without pausing to return Tom’s amused greeting.
St Mungo’s is bustling, far too warm, and shockingly noisy after the peace of the shop and the rain-soaked silence of Diagon Alley. Harry hesitates for a moment, distracted by the sparkly powder clinging to his wet fingers. A raindrop rolls down his nose and into his mouth.
Draco laughs softly. “Come on, let’s keep going.”
Harry blinks. He stares at Draco, feeling suddenly disoriented by the sight of dark hair dripping into pale blue eyes. It’s just Draco, he reminds himself. Not Cal. Except that Cal is Draco.
Oh, fuck, he doesn’t have time for this. “Right,” he says decisively. “She’ll be on the fourth floor. Where’s the lift?”
He takes off across the foyer before Draco can respond, but the reassuring click of boots on stone follows him all the way to the lift. As soon as the doors close behind them, Draco draws his wand and takes down his glamours again, revealing water-darkened blond hair and an expression that is caught somewhere between amusement and dark, glittering arousal. He stares at Harry, leaning back against the wall of the lift with his wand dangling loosely from one hand, breathing hard and mouth slightly open. Something deep in Harry’s gut contracts violently and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s reaching out and slapping the emergency stop button with his palm.
The lift shudders to a halt. Draco’s eyes widen but Harry doesn’t give him the chance to voice his surprise. He closes the distance between them in two long strides and then he is lifting his hands to cradle Draco’s jaw, sliding fingers into wet hair, and pulling him into a kiss. Draco makes a soft sound in the back of his throat and kisses back, pressing his cold lips against Harry’s and clutching at the soaked linen at Harry’s back. He shudders, letting everything but this feeling dissolve into nothing as he deepens the kiss, groaning as Draco’s hot tongue slides against his own.
Flooded with intense relief, hot and hard, Harry slides his hands down Draco’s back, over the damp fabric of his shirt and waistcoat, dragging him closer with fingers splayed desperately over his hips. This is it; this is everything, and it’s exactly and nothing like he has always imagined. God, he knew Draco would kiss like he meant it, but he never knew his breath would catch like that, as though kissing Harry is just too much somehow, and he never imagined the corners of his mouth would flicker like that, even as they kiss, making Harry want to smile and love him and take him over all at once.
“Excuse me? Is there anyone in there?” comes a faint female voice.
Harry pulls back, just enough to make eye contact. Draco blinks, looking slightly unsteady.
“I think the lift’s broken,” says someone else. “I’ll go and get the maintenance man.”
“No!” Harry calls, panicked. “No, it’s fine... it wasn’t working... but it is now.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow. Harry stares at him for a moment and then snorts with laughter.
“I have no idea,” he whispers, and then, louder: “Just give me a second!”
He leans forward and presses the brass button, releasing the lift. Just before the doors open, he glances at Draco, who is looking at the floor and trying to hide a smile. Harry takes his hand, tangling their wet fingers together. Startled, Draco stares at him, but he doesn’t let go.
“Well done, young man,” says the first woman, a tall nurse with a large, matronly bosom. “I was worried for a moment you might be stuck.”
The second woman, dressed in lime green Healer robes, glances between Harry and Draco with amused interest. “Very worried indeed,” she echoes, clearly not meaning a word of it.
Harry thinks he should be embarrassed, but he just can’t find it in himself to care. Draco says nothing, but he grips Harry’s hand more tightly and doesn’t let go until they have reached the fourth floor and been directed to a wooden bench to wait for news of Hermione.
The maternity ward is a hive of activity, with nurses and Healers dashing back and forth past the bench and along the corridors, ducking in and out of rooms from which cries of anguish and pain leak at regular intervals. Harry and Draco exchange anxious glances as a fantastically calm Healer attempts to tell a woman that she mustn’t push yet, only to be met with a stream of expletives and the assurance that, “I’m going bleed on you on purpose, you insensitive bastard!”
“That’s not Hermione,” Draco says, and it doesn’t sound like a question.
Harry shakes his head.
“Calm down, Sheila, take a breath,” says someone else inside the room.
“No,” Harry says. “It isn’t.”
“You calm down!” shrieks Sheila, and then there is silence. Charm-based, Harry suspects.
When, several minutes later, a harassed-looking nurse comes to tell them that Hermione’s labour is progressing quickly and safely, Harry thanks her and drops back against the hard wood of the bench. Now that he can relax a little, he is even more aware of Draco’s presence and the warm hum of anticipation that seems to have settled between them. He is wet, he is cold, and he can’t be bothered to do anything about it, so he rests his elbows on the back of the bench and attempts to make himself comfortable. They have time now; he supposes he might as well use it.
“So,” he says thoughtfully. “Who is Calvin? Does he have a last name?”
Draco laughs. “He’s a character I very much enjoy playing. He’s also me.”
“Looking back, that seems sort of obvious,” Harry says, ruffling his own wet hair. “I should have seen it.”
“Of course you shouldn’t. I didn’t want you to see it. I came up with Calvin when I realised that I needed to find a job, and I’ve developed him over the years. I’m particularly proud of the accent,” Draco says, flicking Harry an odd little glance.
Harry grins. “I like Cal, I really do, but don’t you think you could do the same job as yourself?”
Draco wrinkles his nose. “Yes, but I’m not particularly enchanted by the idea of what would happen when the Prophet got hold of it. They still haven’t quite let go of their liking for making me and my mother look ridiculous, and I imagine they’d have a field day with Draco Malfoy and his menial job.”
“That is incredibly pathetic,” Harry sighs, but he knows that Draco isn’t exaggerating.
“Pathetic but true,” Draco says. “I don’t care, anyway. Not any more. I like my job, and no one ever suspects anything because they all assume that I spend my days doing nothing at all. It works out rather well, really.”
“No one knows?” Harry asks, gazing at Draco in disbelief. “Not even your mother? Or Pansy?”
Draco surprises him with a snort of laughter. “My mother, yes. Pansy? Good grief, no. I love Pansy to pieces but she can’t keep a secret. I might as well scream it into Rita Skeeter’s ear myself.”
Harry smiles reluctantly at the image. “I’m sorry you have to do it at all,” he says, biting down on the very real urge to tell Draco that he doesn’t need to worry about money ever again—he has a feeling he knows how well that will be received.
“I’m not,” Draco shrugs. “Not now, anyway,” he adds, grey eyes turning serious.
Harry’s heart clenches. “Why now?”
Draco’s mouth twitches into a small, lopsided smile. “Because you know,” he says simply. “And you didn’t run a mile when you found out. You’re still here.”
“You’re surprised,” Harry says, shaking his head.
“Harry, you’ve always been...” Draco stops, voice catching. He takes a long breath and gazes across the corridor at nothing in particular. “I don’t know how to explain it to you, because you so clearly have no idea how fucking fantastic you are.”
“I’m really not—” Harry tries, but Draco shakes his head.
“Don’t,” he says roughly. “I won’t have it. You don’t see it, you never have, but I see it. I’ve spent more years than I care to think about standing around at parties, watching you looking at me, and not once have I allowed myself to hope that you could like the person that I actually am.”
Harry stares at Draco, all words stolen away by the sudden ache that steals through him.
Somewhere out of sight, someone lets out a long wail of frustration. A nurse pelts past the bench, robes flying. Someone casts a spell that fills the corridor with the clean scent of mint. Harry shifts uncomfortably on the hard bench, pointlessly plucking the cold, wet linen away from his legs as he tries to string a sentence together. Draco sighs, spelling the fabric cool and dry without a word, and Harry finally finds his voice.
“Draco... I love you, alright?” he says, all in a rush. “I don’t care if you want to wash rats for a living.”
Draco’s smile looks like it has been startled out of him, and it’s beautiful. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good,” Harry murmurs through an uncontrollable grin.
“Of course, Cal and I are both hopelessly in love with you,” Draco says casually, wrapping his fingers around the edge of the wooden seat and directing a flickery little smile at the wall. “But we do need you to keep our secret... at least for a while.”
“Of course. But you should know that I’m not really a fan of secrets,” Harry says, struck by how grown up this all suddenly seems. He is having a conversation about feelings. With Draco. In a hospital corridor.
Draco turns and grants him a slow, ruinous smile. “Neither am I. This, for example,” he says, nudging Harry’s knee with his own, “I have absolutely no desire to keep quiet. Just so you know.”
A swell of hot, fierce pride erupts in Harry’s chest and he grins, trailing his fingers idly through Draco’s hair. “Yeah? Why’s that?” he asks, beginning to feel relaxed and playful.
Draco arches an eyebrow. “Well, for one thing, I’m keen to let the baying masses know that you’re off the market.”
Harry laughs. “I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t think there are any baying masses.”
Amused, Draco looks away, pretending interest in a heated discussion taking place between two Healers at the other side of the corridor. “Just because you don’t pay attention to them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There is at least one jumped-up shop assistant who would give his favourite waistcoat to be with you.”
“Imran?” Harry says innocently.
Draco spears him with a horrified glance. “Please don’t put that image in my head. It’s quite bad enough listening to his massively exaggerated tales about the girls he meets at The Freezer every bloody weekend.”
Harry says nothing, choosing to grin to himself and pick at the paint that has managed to make its way back onto his hands. Some things never really change, and maybe that’s okay.
“He does have a last name,” Draco says.
“Cal. You asked if he had a last name. It’s Klein.”
Harry frowns. “Calvin Klein? Why does that sound familiar?”
Draco grins. “He’s a Muggle fashion designer. Imran nearly had a fit when I introduced myself, so I told him we were related.”
“Did he believe you?” Harry asks.
Draco strokes a crease out of his spell-dried shirt. “What do you think?”
Harry smiles. The sound of approaching footsteps makes him turn, and, seconds later, Ginny and Neville dash around the corner.
“Have we missed it?” Ginny demands, clattering to a halt in front of the bench.
“No,” Harry says, amused to note that her eyes widen fractionally at the sight of his outfit, but not at the sight of him sitting so close to Draco.
“There’s no need to panic, Ginevra,” Draco says mildly. “I doubt that it’s going anywhere for a while after it emerges.”
Neville snorts and takes a seat on the bench, pulling Ginny down with him.
“Mum’s going mad at home, but she’s got Rose,” she says, leaning back and catching her breath.
“Apparently we’re supposed to owl her the moment the baby is out,” Neville offers, expression clearly conveying the affectionate bewilderment he feels for his future mother-in-law.
“Such a patient lady,” Harry grins, letting his hand rest alongside Draco’s on the bench.
For several seconds, the occupants of the bench sit in silence, a calm little island in a sea of noisy chaos, before Ginny blurts out: “You’ll never guess what.”
Harry bites. “What?”
“I can’t believe you’re going to gossip while you’re waiting for your brother’s baby to be born,” Nev says, looking amused and very much like he does believe it.
Ginny wrinkles her nose. “Well, we’ve got to talk about something while we wait, the tension is killing me. You know how no one’s seen Katie and Oliver for a few weeks?”
Surprised, Harry nods. No one else needs to know that he’s been far too distracted to notice.
“They got a bit drunk together at Hannah and Finlay’s wedding, finally confessed that they’re mad about each other and went to Las Vegas on the spur of the moment,” Ginny says, pausing to relish the release of the final piece of information. “And they got married.”
Harry’s eyebrows shoot up. “What?”
“Congratulations, Ginevra, that is easily the best piece of gossip I have heard since the one about Blaise and his underwear,” Draco says, clearly delighted.
Ginny beams. “I know! They went to one of those little chapel things. Katie says the man who did their ceremony was dressed up like an alien.”
Something in Neville’s face makes Harry wonder if he considers this a viable option for his own wedding, and Ginny doesn’t miss it, either.
“No chance,” she says flatly, turning to give him a stern look. “I want everyone to come to our wedding and Katie says the place was really small.”
Nev shrugs, taking out a small notebook from his pocket and drawing a line through something written inside. “Just a thought. We could stop going back and forth on who’s going to do the ceremony and just have whichever alien is on duty that day.”
Draco snorts. “I actually think that makes a lot of sense. Should I be concerned for my sanity?”
“Yeah, but not because of this,” Ginny says, flashing him and Harry a knowing grin.
Harry pulls a face at her, ignoring his messy blush as best he can.
“I know what I’m getting into,” Draco says airily, and at that moment a door swings open at the end of the corridor and Ron steps out, looking somewhat dazed.
He approaches them slowly, ruffling the back of his hair and taking no notice of the corridor traffic. Nurses and Healers dart around him easily, as though they are used to this kind of behaviour, and Harry supposes they probably are.
“Well?” Ginny asks, sitting up straight. “What did she have?”
“A baby,” Ron says, blinking slowly. “A massive one.”
“Are they both okay?” Harry asks, trying not to laugh.
Ron nods, catching Harry’s eyes and, for the first time, appearing to notice the eager gazes of the four people on the bench. He grins. “They’re both brilliant,” he says proudly. “My wife and my little boy.”
“Congratulations,” Draco says. “Are they ready for viewing?”
Ron closes his eyes for a moment and seems to shake himself. “Yeah. That’s why she sent me out here. I don’t think I’m... she’s more with it than I am,” he admits, eyebrows knitted.
“I think that’s probably just a Hermione thing,” Neville says, getting up and guiding Ron back down the corridor with a reassuring hand at his back. Ginny gathers up her bag and follows, and Harry gets to his feet. Draco doesn’t move.
“Come on,” Harry urges, holding out a hand.
“Do you think I should—”
“I don’t want to intrude—”
“Draco. Just come, okay? I didn’t ask you to come here and wait all this time only to leave you sitting in the corridor on your own at the end of it,” Harry says firmly.
Draco says nothing but allows himself to be pulled to his feet and along the corridor to Hermione’s room. His expression remains appealingly baffled, and Harry just can’t stop smiling. When they enter the room, Ginny and Neville are already leaning over the bundle of soft, white blankets in Hermione’s arms, murmuring gently and reaching out with careful fingers. Hermione, propped up on several pillows, looks weary but radiant. Her damp hair spills across the cotton pillowcases and sticks to her forehead as her eyes flick contentedly over her visitors. At her side, Ron continues to hover, buzzing with anxiety and just about bursting with pride.
“Ten pounds,” Ginny is saying, grinning as a tiny starfish hand closes around her finger. “I can’t believe it.”
Harry smiles to himself. He can easily believe it, but he knows better than to say so.
“I’m under no illusions,” Hermione says darkly, glancing at the baby and then at her husband. “If we have another one, I will find a way for you to give birth to it, and you needn’t think I’m joking.”
“I think two is enough,” Ron says, flicking an appealing glance in Harry’s direction.
“Don’t look at me,” Harry shrugs. “I think that’s fair enough.”
At the sound of his voice, Hermione smiles at him and then glances between him and Draco for several seconds. Eventually, she sighs.
“Thank goodness for that.”
“Hermione!” Harry mumbles, suddenly finding his cuffs very interesting indeed.
“Oh, Harry, it’s been a matter of time, that’s all,” she says, expression daring him to disagree. In the end, he decides not to argue with the woman who has just given birth and just smiles and shrugs and threads his fingers through Draco’s.
“Are your mum and dad on their way?” he asks, delighting in the tight grip of Draco’s hand.
Hermione nods. “I think they’re still stuck on the ring road. Mum’s lost her glasses so she can’t drive, and she’ll be going mad at Dad because he drives like a little old man.”
“I’m sure they’ll get here soon,” Nev says, pulling up a chair at the bedside.
“I’m not worried,” Hermione says easily. “We aren’t going anywhere for a while. Look, little one,” she says, shifting the baby in her arms so that he can see the eager onlookers. Slowly, he blinks large blue eyes and grabs at his mother’s hair. Harry thinks it looks painful but Hermione doesn’t even seem to notice. “Here’s some of your great big family. This is Auntie Ginny—she’s going to teach you to be naughty, and Uncle Nev, who will pretend not to help. Uncle Harry here will probably have you prowling the salvage yards before you can walk, and Uncle Draco will teach you how to be effortlessly stylish, just like him.”
Harry barely has a moment to enjoy Draco’s astonishment before George comes barrelling into the room. Beaming, he skids to Hermione’s side and peers down at the baby.
“Well, that’s a relief. He doesn’t look like Ron.”
“You said that about Rose, too, but she looks loads like me now,” Ron points out, accepting a huge, backslapping hug from his brother.
“I know, poor little mite,” George sighs. “Mum’s on the way, guys, thought you should know.”
“I didn’t even send an owl yet!” Ginny protests.
Hermione smiles. “See, now,” she says, waving the baby’s tiny hand at his uncle. “This is your Uncle George, and he’s going to teach you how to make things explode.”
“Absolutely,” George says, gently bopping his tiny nephew on the nose with his finger. The baby merely blinks and lets out a surprised ‘ah!’ sound. “I can already tell he’s got more mischief in him than his sister.”
“Well, I’ll look forward to that,” Hermione says with a wry smile. “Do you want to hold him?”
George takes the bundle of baby and blankets, cradling him with practised ease and grinning down into his little face. Hermione watches him for a moment or two before she settles herself back onto her pillows and turns to regard Harry.
“Look at you, all dressed up,” she says with an odd little smile.
Harry glances down at his crumpled linen suit. “I was trying on stuff for the naming day. I sort of made a run for it when I got Ron’s message.”
“Did you pay for it first?” Draco asks, arching an eyebrow.
Harry stares at him, horrified. “I didn’t. Oh, fucking hell, I’ll never be allowed back.”
Hermione’s mouth twitches and her tired eyes glow. “Harry, my baby is very sorry for accidentally making you a criminal,” she says, voice wobbling slightly with amusement.
“He’s not sorry at all,” George says, carrying the baby over to Harry and tipping him slightly so that his crumpled little face is visible. “He thinks it’s hilarious.”
Harry gently takes the baby from George and gazes down at him, basking in the rush of love that surrounds him when the big blue eyes fix on his and Draco leans over his shoulder to look, too, warm and solid and comforting against Harry’s back.
“Such clever eyes,” Draco murmurs. “He’s going to be a bright young man.”
“Thank you, Draco,” Hermione says, beaming. “It’s interesting that you should say that, because we were going to call him ‘Hugh’... it means ‘bright in mind and spirit’. But...” she sighs, wrinkling her nose. “When he came out, he just didn’t look like a Hugh.”
“You’re right, he doesn’t,” Ginny says, lowering herself onto the end of Hermione’s bed.
“Maybe he’s a Hubert,” George suggests, and Ron immediately pulls a face. “No?”
“Well,” Draco says, sounding as nervous as Harry has ever heard him, “The Germanic equivalent of ‘Hugh’ is ‘Hugo’. He could be a Hugo.”
Harry glances at Draco’s startled face as a soft chorus of ‘oohs’ fills the room for a moment.
“What do you think, Harry?” Hermione asks.
“What do you think?” she repeats. “You’ve got him—does he look like a Hugo?”
Harry hesitates as a rather heavy feeling of responsibility settles on his shoulders. Finally, he looks down at the baby and lets his gaze rest there as he repeats the soft sound of the name over and over again inside his head.
“Hugo,” he whispers at last, and the baby makes a grab for his glasses. He looks at Hermione and nods.
“Class,” Ron mumbles to no one in particular, and Harry smiles.
“Well done, Draco,” Hermione says quietly, eyes suspiciously bright. “I think you’d better hold him.”
For a split-second, Draco looks utterly terrified by the suggestion, but he sets his face and takes little Hugo from Harry with the utmost care, holding him close to his body and barely daring to breathe, as though the slightest whisper of air might damage the tiny bundle. Harry can’t take his eyes off them, so charmed is he by the picture of fragility and determination that they make together.
“Er, hello,” Draco says after a moment, peering down at little Hugo as though expecting a formal greeting and a handshake. His damp hair falls into his eyes as he bends his head to lean in closer, but his little smile of astonishment at being one of the first to hold the baby is clear for all to see.
“Harry,” Hermione whispers, drawing his attention with some difficulty. He sits on the edge of the bed as he is bid and leans down so that she can kiss him on the cheek and whisper in his ear: “Be happy.”
“I am,” he promises, grinning against her damp curls. “Congratulations.”
Suddenly, the sound of a commotion makes everyone turn instinctively to look at the door, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds for Harry to pick out the unmistakeable voice of Molly Weasley.
“Come on, come on, I need to come through!” she cries.
“If you could just take a seat for a moment, Madam, it’s just that she has five visitors already,” says someone with an impressively calm voice.
“She won’t mind!” Molly protests, and there is a clatter of footsteps out in the corridor.
“I don’t,” Hermione shrugs, but she continues to listen with the others.
“These regulations are for the mother’s comfort and safety, Madam,” insists the hospital employee. “If you and the little girl would just—”
“I don’t think you understand!” Molly insists, sounding slightly hysterical now. “I’m the grandmother! And this little girl needs to meet her new brother!”
“Yes, I see, but—”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake.” Hermione rolls her eyes and throws back her covers.
“No!” cry Ron, Ginny and Harry as one.
Hermione flops back into bed mutinously. “Fine. But will one of you please go and tell that woman to let Molly in before she causes a riot?”
Ginny goes to the door, conducts a brief discussion with an exasperated nurse, and then steps back to allow Rose and a red-faced Molly into the room. Rose runs to her mother’s side and hugs her tightly, while Molly looks around for her new grandson. She is clearly startled to see him in Draco’s arms, but, to her credit, merely walks over to his side and waits patiently, admiring little Hugo in silence until Draco hands him over.
“Oh, love, he’s beautiful,” she murmurs, glancing up at Hermione, who is now sharing her bed with a wriggling Rose. “He looks just like Ron, doesn’t he?”
George makes a small disparaging sound. Molly doesn’t seem to notice.
“Your father will be here as soon as he can,” she says, lifting Hugo to her face and sniffing the top of his head rapturously. “And Harry, don’t think I didn’t notice that lovely linen suit, but honestly,” she adds, turning to him with a look of pure exasperation, “couldn’t you have run an iron over it first?”
Harry stares at her, unable to piece together a coherent response.
“Don’t worry, Mrs Weasley,” Draco speaks up at his side, “I’ll make sure he irons his clothes in future.”
“Will you indeed?” she says faintly, beginning to look as though any further excitement will land her in a St Mungo’s bed of her own.
“Is the little bugger out?” Blaise cries, bursting into the room with a huge arrangement of orange and yellow orchids.
Molly stares at him and quietly lowers herself into a chair with Hugo in her arms. It’s clear she thinks that the lot of them are mad, and secretly Harry doesn’t think she’d have it any other way.
“The little bugger is here, Blaise, and if you can keep your voice down for a moment or two, I think he’s going to nod off,” Molly says matter-of-factly.
“I’ll do my best,” Blaise stage-whispers. “But you should know that I saw Pansy in the foyer and I’m fairly certain she has only one volume setting.”
On hearing this news, Harry decides that he should get going before Hermione’s room turns into a small circus. He doesn’t think his friend would mind, but Molly might just implode with frustration, and he’d rather not risk it. He says his goodbyes as quietly as he can, promising Hermione, Ron and Hugo that he’ll be back soon, and making sure to make a special fuss of Rose so that she doesn’t feel left out. Draco leaves with him, looking entertainingly torn between relief and disappointment.
They walk through the corridors in silence, breathing in the charm-heavy air and weaving around the harassed streams of Healers and nurses. They take the stairs by mutual tacit agreement, neither seeming willing to return to the close quarters of the lift quite yet, and walk past the bustling Floos to the main entrance. Together, they step out into a cool, fresh breeze and a world that has been flooded with sunshine. The rain has stopped but the air is still deliciously damp, and everything in sight is draped in a soft haze, as though someone has washed it over with a watercolour brush.
The air smells green, full of promise, and Harry inhales it greedily. He walks slowly at Draco’s side along the shining pavement, wondering if Draco has any more of an idea than him where they are heading. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but he finds he wants to know all the same.
“What now?” he asks, fingertips brushing Draco’s as they walk.
Draco turns to look at him, eyes bright in the sunlight. “Well, I could help you iron your clothes,” he teases.
Harry laughs. “Maybe later,” he says, and Draco’s smile is a promise.
“You know,” he says after a moment. “Cal isn’t allowed to have coffee with you, but I am.”
“Coffee it is,” Harry says, heart leaping as Draco’s fingers thread so easily through his. It’s a start and, for the first time, they are starting from exactly the same place.
“Where do you want to go?”
Harry shrugs easily. “I don’t care. Surprise me.”
Draco laughs and pulls him around to walk in the opposite direction. “I’ll see what I can do.”
This summer there won't be a cloud in the sky
I'm so made up I feel I could take off and fly
This summer we've pulled all the sheets off the bed
I'm so happy I can't get you out of my head
This summer I am so in love with you