Harry has got years of peace and quiet under his belt since the war and the turmoil that came after reached its end. He’s got a nice place to live, with warmth to curb the winter cold and shade against summer’s heat. His garden is full of honeysuckles and peonies, providing him with frequent dirt under his fingernails and an unexpected joy in digging his hands into solid earth.
He’s got a wide circle of acquaintances he meets up with a couple of times a year, a grownup godson he’d do anything for and two best friends who know him better than he knows himself. His Ministry desk job gives him days of little discontent and nights of undisturbed sleep of the kind he could only dream of in his youth.
He goes on dates with nice and interesting people, some more so than others. It seems like a natural string of events when his relationships all fizzle out with no nights spent crying into his pillow in their wake.
His magic is fierce, tinted with shockwaves of wandless power at times of intense emotions. It’s just as well that in recent years there are long lapses of time between every one of those shockwaves.
He’s perfectly at ease with his life. Fulfilled and untroubled. Nothing more he could wish for.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that for a second,” says Hermione, reaching for a steaming cup of tea before leaning back in hers and Ron’s comfy sofa. Her brows are pulled together in that sharp way of hers, telling Harry not to be fooled by her relaxed demeanour. He’s fairly certain that Hermione is on a mission. If the overly casual expression on Ron’s face as he sprawls across his favourite armchair in front of the fire is anything to go by, he’s in on it too.
“I don’t see why it’s so hard to believe,” Harry says, wincing at the defensive tone to his voice. “This is exactly what we wanted. It’s what we dreamed of. Lives without all the turmoil we used to have. Come on, it’s not as if any of us misses looking over our shoulders all the time or being scared that we won’t see the ones we love again.”
Across the living room he meets his own dull reflection in the window. He sits up a little straighter, taking a sip of his tea. It’s too hot and he puts it down again. “I’m grateful for the life we have now.”
“We all are, Harry. Of course we are.” Hermione’s brows soften as she turns to look at him. “We have a lot to be grateful for. But that doesn’t make it wrong to still wish for things in your life, you know. There’s no need for you to settle.”
A part of Harry wants to protest loudly, to say that he’s not settling, not at all, how on earth did she come up with that idea, that’s preposterous, because he most certainly isn’t. He isn’t.
In the end he says nothing.
“Maybe it wouldn’t take much to spice things up a bit,” says Ron. He is lying down as low as humanly possible while still being in a chair. Ever since Rose and Hugo went off to Hogwarts, Ron has treasured his evening downtime with growing fervour. Well deserved downtime when spending his days wearing an Auror uniform chasing scoundrels. “I mean, when’s the last time you took some time off and went on holiday, for instance?”
“I hardly think spending a little time in another place is going to drastically change my life, Ron.”
“Maybe not, but it’s healthy to take, I don’t know, a break or something from your everyday life. To get some new impulses and see something else than the stuff you always see and have more time to think about things.”
“Nothing in particular, just... If you’d like to make some changes in your life, or, yeah, something like that.”
“What changes?” Harry grabs for his tea again, surely the stupid thing must’ve cooled off by now. “I told you, I’m perfectly fine with my life the way it is. And it’s not as if Hermione has any more action at work than I have.”
“The difference is,” Hermione says calmly, “that I happen to like working my way through papers and Ministry documents and finding the meaning of bureaucratic nonsense to make a change where it’s needed, even if it’s a slow process. But you, Harry, you don’t. It’s not who you are. Maybe it was for a while, after everything, but not forever.”
Hermione’s words do sound an awful lot like the voice that sometimes whispers in Harry’s head, late at night when sleep is unable to find him. The one that stirs up his doubts and tears at the edges of the safe familiarity he’s carved out for himself. The one that says that yes, it’s perfectly understandable for Harry to crave peace, but is this really all he wants out of life? Is it?
Harry sighs around the edge of his teacup, and fuck it if it isn’t still too hot. “No,” he says, so quietly he can hardly hear the word. “Maybe not forever.”
Ron and Hermione share a look, but say nothing. At least not out loud.
Merlin, he hates it when they gang up on him like this. Even when they have a point.
Especially when they have a point.
“Okay,” Harry says. “You know what, I’m going on holiday. It’s not as if it’ll change anything, but I suppose a change of scenery can’t hurt.” He takes a sip of his tea, perfect temperature now. At least he’s not scolding his tongue anymore. That’s something.
“That was easier than expected,” says Ron, glancing up at him. “Now all you need to do is figure out where you’re going.”
“And that is completely your decision, Harry, of course.” Hermione pauses, considering, before she lays a hand on Harry’s shoulder, rubbing gently. “We love you, you know. We only want for you to be happy.”
“I know,” Harry says, and he does. Hermione smiles, pulling her hand back.
“I might have an idea,” she says. “Luna talked about a place when I saw her last. It’s a resort on a magical island near the Hebrides. They’ve got lots of activities to choose from, and Luna said it’s beautiful there. I think I might’ve kept the pamphlet she gave me.”
She gets up to rummage through a drawer, returning with a colourful sheet, the letters Magical Getaway dancing around at the top.
“Mmh,” she says with her nose in the pamphlet, sinking back against soft cushions. “Yes, this looks lovely, really lovely. You can take this home with you if you want to and have a look. Luna even made a few notes here as well, and it looks like they've got.... Oh.”
“What?” Ron says.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Hermione waves her hand around and no one believes her. The curse of knowing their friends so well and all that. They tend to let each other get away with it in unspoken agreement, and Harry hides a smile as Ron digs a half-eaten chocolate frog from his pocket and starts chewing away.
“Sticky little bugger, this one,” he says, licking his fingers. “Well then, Harry. When are you going?”
~ ~ ~
There must’ve been something wrong with his Portkey. He lands near the edge of a cliff, wobbling before finding his balance. The hillsides are the brightest green he’s ever seen at this time of year, despite wisps of fog in the air, contrasting against the dark sea forever rolling towards rocky shores.
It’s beautiful. But it’s definitely not where he’s supposed to be. His breath goes up in smoke and he curses his own meagre planning, standing there in his thin cloak.
Not a five-minute walk from his unplanned landing place he can spot a small cluster of houses tucked together behind rugged cliffs. It looks like a farm. Might as well ask for directions to his real destination, no point in Apparating around the island when he doesn’t know where to go.
Once he gets closer, he sees that the farm is bigger than he’d first assumed. One large main building, brick stone upon brick stone, with several smaller buildings scattered around, some of them with animal sounds he’s not able to identify. Sheep are grassing peacefully in front of the barn, undisturbed by the stranger walking by.
“Hello,” he says, knocking at the moss green front door of the farmhouse, old and stained and welcoming, poking his head inside when no one answers. “Anyone here?”
“I’ll be right with you, just a minute, dear!”
Harry can hear someone stomping down the stairs, and then he’s greeted by an elderly woman who might as well be Mother Earth herself. She quickly wipes her hands on a towel, deep brown eyes almost disappearing in a net of smiling wrinkles as she takes his hand between both of hers.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, young man. I was just about to put the bread in the oven, you see, they had risen exactly the perfect amount. So, how may I help you?”
Harry doesn’t even have to make an effort to put warmth into his smile. “I’m afraid I’m a bit lost,” he says. “My Portkey was supposed to take me to The Magical Holiday Inn, but I ended up here instead. Do you know if it’s far from here?”
The woman peers at him through her tiny spectacles.
“Maybe the Portkey took you exactly to where you were supposed to be,” she says, mysteriously. Harry is spared from coming up with a suitable response when the woman nods and continues.
“The guesthouse is pretty close to here, less than a mile. Aye, it’s quiet up there this time of year before guests arrive for the holidays, but this island is full of magic and things to explore, so I’m certain you’ll enjoy your stay.”
Her voice is warm and Harry smiles wider.
“The man who does most of the work with the animals around here, a young man such as yourself, was just on his way up there with some eggs and vegetables for the house-elves in the kitchens. Why don’t you tag along? He won’t mind, I’m sure.”
She turns around and speaks to someone inside the house. “Will you, Draco?”
There’s no time for Harry to enjoy being called a young man – something that happens more and more rarely, and by older and older people – before his breath comes to an unintended stop on its way out of his throat. He’s standing face to face with Draco Malfoy for the first time in what must be about two decades, give or take.
A little bit thinner in his hair, a few more lines around his mouth, but definitely him, as pointy and pale and annoyingly good-looking as he was the last time Harry saw him.
“Hello,” Harry says.
Malfoy says nothing at first, but he doesn’t really have to. The way his eyes widen and his skin turns even paler than it was a second ago says all Harry needs to know about what Malfoy thinks of seeing him again.
He visibly pulls himself together, pulling at his sleeves, clearing his throat, and says, “Hello, Potter.”
Harry sees it all as if he’s outside his own body, as if he’s someone else watching a scene. A surreal, awkward scene.
“Shall we go?” Malfoy says. He gives the woman in the doorway a pat on the back and mumbles something in her ear before stepping outside. He won’t look Harry in the eye. Instead he watches the nearby sheep as they keep chewing their grass, like nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
The walk up to The Magical Holiday Inn is one of the weirdest experiences Harry has had in a long time. In the short minutes since he was out here last, thick fog has covered the landscape. It almost seems too fast to be completely natural, but whatever it is, Harry has no desire to get lost in it. He stumbles over his own feet in his eagerness to follow Malfoy as he strides up the road and into the fog.
“I didn’t know you lived out here,” says Harry when the silence has poked at him long enough.
“Why would you?” says Malfoy, and then they lapse into silence once more.
Harry can’t help himself, he tries to strike up conversation again. Merlin, he hopes walking side by side with a very reluctant Draco Malfoy isn’t a sign of how his holiday will turn out. He might not have been particularly eager to come at first, but now that he’s here, he intends to enjoy himself.
“I’ve heard nice things about the guesthouse,” he says.
“Yes, well, my parents tend to own only things and properties worth having,” Malfoy says.
“Your parents own the place?” Suddenly Hermione’s little oh when reading Luna's notes in the pamphlet makes a lot of sense.
“You didn’t know? That surprises me.”
Malfoy shrugs and pulls up his collar. Merlin, it’s cold, and Harry would’ve followed Malfoy’s example if he’d had the foresight to put his winter cloak on.
“I would’ve assumed,” says Malfoy, “that thorough investigations were made before sending Harry Potter himself off to a remote island.”
Harry does his best to smile politely. He’d forgotten how annoying Malfoy could be.
“I’m hardly an important figure in the wizarding world these days. You’ll be surprised to hear that there’s no big committee in place with the singular task of helping Harry Potter when he decides to go on holiday.”
Malfoy offers a shadow of a smile. There’s no malice in it as far as Harry can see, and his own smile loosens up.
“Hermione and Ron tipped me about this place. They gave me a pamphlet, but I have to admit I didn’t read it as carefully as I should’ve.”
“Anyway,” Harry ploughs on, “I wouldn’t have thought running a guesthouse was something your parents would end up doing.”
“I never said they run the place. They own it. There’s a difference.”
They walk another minute in silence before Harry stops to bring out his wand. He usually doesn't bother with Transfiguring his clothes, but he really needs a warmer cloak now. He can hear the distant cry of a bird, an eagle maybe, and he’s surprised to find that he’s rather looking forward to exploring the island once the fog lifts. The silence is a little less awkward now, or so it seems, and Malfoy catches Harry by surprise when he’s the one continuing the conversation as they keep on walking.
“Running the guesthouse themselves would be far too vulgar for them.”
Harry lets that sink for a minute before asking, more spontaneous than tactful, “So running a guesthouse is vulgar, but working at the farm is okay?”
“I’m not my parents,” Malfoy says sharply. “I’m too old to need their approval in every choice I make.”
“I suppose we’re never too old to appreciate our loved ones’ blessing, though.”
There’s no reply from Malfoy besides shoulders tensing under his collar. There are things he’s not saying, Harry is certain, by the line of Malfoy’s shoulders and the way he hunches over, just a little. Harry wonders what it is that Malfoy has lost along the way.
By the time Harry can glimpse the gates of the guesthouse somewhere in the white mist, it's raining, a hazy drizzle landing softly in his hair. Malfoy reaches inside his pocket and pulls out a green umbrella. He unfolds it and holds it over the both of them, silently, keeping his eyes on the road.
“I wonder why I never knew that your parents own this place.” Harry isn’t quite certain if he talks because he’s really interested, or if it’s his need to fill the silence. Possibly it’s both.
“I mean, apparently this is a well-known destination. For those who usually go on holiday, anyway.”
Malfoy waits a couple of beats before he replies. “They haven’t owned it for long.”
To be perfectly honest, Harry hasn’t offered many thoughts to the Malfoys in a while. He remembers talk and vague rumours when they disappeared from their highly visible position in Britain’s wizarding world after the war. He remembers some old witch whose name he never caught buying Malfoy Manor, apparently for far less than it was worth.
Harry kept half an eye out for news about them, like he did with everyone who’d gone to Hogwarts with him. But years trickled by and they never popped up on the radar. Before too long Harry more or less forgot about them.
Now he wonders what they’ve been doing, what path that led them here, acquiring a holiday resort on a magical island on Scotland’s west coast. He keeps the question in his head. There’s no telling what kind of stories are hiding behind Malfoy’s lips, and pulling them out in the open doesn’t seem like a good idea.
So they continue in silence, steadily heavier raindrops falling on Malfoy’s umbrella, the sound of boot-clad feet crunching on wet gravel with every step, arms brushing together as they walk.
“We’re here,” Malfoy says and stops walking, abruptly enough for Harry to take a step from under the umbrella and into the rain before realising what’s happening.
“Oops,” he says and steps back. “It’s wet.” Yes, Potter, rain is wet, very clever observation. Harry can almost hear the words from Malfoy’s mouth, but nothing is coming. They’re not in school anymore.
The fog is still too thick for Harry to make out the details of the place, but they seem to be in front of the main house. It’s an elegant three story building of pale brick and dark wood, with rows of large windows looking down at them. For a moment the two of them stay quietly under the umbrella and watch.
Finally Harry clears his throat and turns to Malfoy. “Thank you for showing me up here,” he says. “I never would’ve found it on my own.”
Malfoy shrugs. “I’m quite certain you would’ve. And I was on my here anyway, so – “
“Well,” says Harry. “Thank you. Maybe I’ll see you around?”
“Maybe,” says Malfoy, nodding to Harry, the smallest possible movement, before he disappears around a corner, taking his produce and his umbrella with him.
Harry is left standing in the rain, looking at the spot where Malfoy went into the fog.
He’s been here little more than an hour, and already his stay here has managed to shake him up.
Strangely, a pang of gratitude flares up in his chest that he took the Portkey, a malfunctioning Portkey leading him astray. He remembers what the woman at the farm said. Maybe the Portkey took you exactly to where you were supposed to land.
He shakes his head. If he had a Galleon for every time someone had made mysterious declarations about him, he’d be – Well, he’d be even wealthier than he is now. He tears his eyes away from where Malfoy’s shape disappeared, walks to the main entrance with soggy steps and trudges inside.
~ ~ ~
He wakes with a hint of a headache, sunlight peeking in through a gap in the curtains. The room is nice and light, kept in Gryffindor colours no less, and by the time he’s finished showering and dressing and saying “Good morning” to the mirror on the farside wall (it had got quite cranky when he didn’t say “Good night” the previous evening), he’s beginning to perk up.
He opens the window to let in a gust of cold air, looking at the group of houses, all in the same style as the main house, sunlight making the tiled roofs shine. The sky is a velvety ocean of blue and he inhales deeply a few times, waving back at a couple of kids running over the yard as they laugh and wave at everyone they see.
A jar of Floo powder beside the fire-place catches his eye. It’s time to make a call.
“Hello,” he says, crouching down and poking his head inside once the Floo powder has done its job. “You guys up yet?”
“Harry!” beams Hermione at the other end, obviously just finished dressing for work, just as Ron sits down and says, “Jeez, Harry, what are you doing up at this hour? You’re supposed to be on holiday, not slumming it at the crack of dawn with us commoners who have to go to work.”
“Yeah well, I’ll sleep in tomorrow,” Harry smiles, though they all know it’s not true. “Just thought I’d check in to let you know I’ve arrived and that I’m, you know, still alive and all that.”
“And it's so good to see you. How are things over there? Do you like it?”
“So far it’s mostly been fog, over-eager staff telling me to fill out a form and tick off every activity I’d like to try, and a mirror with a love for manners. The bed is really soft, though, so yeah. Can’t complain.”
“Good. That’s good,” Ron says, yawning into his coffee.
“Have you met the owners?” Hermione is more hesitant that Harry has seen her in ages.
“Nope,” Harry says. “Haven’t seen as much as a whiff of them.”
“Oh,” says Hermione.
“Why, should I meet them?” If neither Hermione nor Ron will bring it up, than Harry certainly won’t.
“No, no. It’s just, there’s something I might’ve forgotten to tell you, nothing major, nothing at all really, but...”
“The Magical Holiday Inn is owned by Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy,” says Ron. “Which has no bearing on Harry’s stay there whatsoever.”
“I see,” says Harry.
Ron finishes off his coffee. “None at all.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” says Hermione, wringing her hands together. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, Harry. I just thought you’d love that trip so much, we both did, and I was afraid that maybe you wouldn’t go if we told you. It’s silly, I know, and I’m sorry.”
It’s her white flag, and Harry accepts it as such without any further ado, and anyway, it doesn’t matter to him one way or the other who owns this place.
“It’s all right,” he says. “It’s funny, really, because I met Malfoy yesterday. He told me about his parents buying it.”
“You met Malfoy?” Ron says. “And you’ve still got all your teeth intact?”
“Every single one,” Harry says, gaping widely to demonstrate. “See? None of them are even loose.”
“I should hope not,” says Hermione, smiling despite herself, “seeing as we’re not little children anymore, and haven’t been for a couple of decades.”
Ron mimes exaggerated fighting and aims his own fist at his mouth, yelling in what would’ve been horrible pain had it been real. “No, no, Potter, please!” he squeals, in an exaggerated, posh tone. “I know I used to be a dreadful twat, but show mercy!”
Hermione rolls her eyes. “Well, not being children anymore is true for some of us, at least.”
Harry laughs into his sleeve. “Not a single punch was delivered or received, I’m very proud to say. Quite the contrary, we had a perfectly civilised conversation. He even let me borrow his umbrella.”
“Ooh, his umbrella!" says Ron. "Now that's a different story entirely. You don't just share your umbrella with any old wizard you happen to meet, do you? This is all rather juicy, do I hear wedding bells somewhere in the distance?”
Ron grins, and Harry finds himself smiling back, even though it’s not particularly funny.
“Honestly, you guys are worse than Rose and Hugo when they tease each other about their Hogwarts crushes. If you’re going to poke fun at Harry about some guy he meets, Ron, at least make it someone a teensy bit more believable that Malfoy.”
“Agreed,” says Harry, but his heart isn’t really in it. “That shouldn’t be so difficult.”
“Fine, fine,” says Ron, holding up his hands in surrender.
“This whole thing is curious, though,” Hermione says. “Last I heard of Draco Malfoy and his parents they were in Argentina or Brazil or somewhere equally far off. Why didn’t they come back until now?”
“I can check a little at the Auror office if you’d like,” Ron says, slowly rising to his feet. “Speaking of which, I better get a move on, unless I want Head Auror Brown to yell at me for being late. I swear to you, it’s like she gets meaner and stricter every year.”
They say their goodbyes, and Harry watches them fade away as he pulls his head back, two people getting ready for their day, together.
~ ~ ~
A few hours later, Harry crams himself onto one of the low, damp stone benches in front of a grey brick house, barely resisting the urge to pop up his feet on the bench in front of him. He’s back at the farm where he first landed when he came to the island, outside one of the smaller houses scattered around the yard, waiting for a couple of hours of treasure hunting with a Niffler.
He doesn’t quite know what to expect, but it was basically the first activity that caught his interest when he scanned the list he got, quickly, so here he is.
Maybe he’s a bit curious if he’ll be seeing Malfoy again as well. Maybe.
He’s not alone sitting with his knees tucked under his chin waiting for a Niffler to arrive. Two young witches with matching pointy hats, and a family of four – possibly the same one he spotted from his window earlier – are there as well, the kids putting a wad of chewing gum into their mouths as they wait. Otherwise the benches are empty.
Quiet season indeed. Not that Harry minds.
Harry sees the Niffler first, long snout and fluffy, black fur. He’d almost forgotten how cute and funny-looking they are. The next second those thoughts are pushed to the back of his mind when a man dressed in comfortable-looking cotton trousers and a woollen sweater with a turtleneck high enough to hide cold chin and red cheek is walking towards them, Niffler in tow.
When Harry saw Malfoy yesterday, cloak-clad and awkward, he recognised him at once. This man, with unruly and windswept hair and a relaxed curve around his shoulders, is so different from the Malfoy of his memories, both present and past, that it takes Harry a couple of heartbeats to connect the dots.
But it’s Malfoy, all right. His boots are muddy and his hands are covered by a pair of beaten gloves. Harry rather wishes he’d brought some for himself. It’s the second day he’s dressed too lightly, indoors man that he’s become with an office job and evenings spent reading or visiting Ron and Hermione or weeding his garden if it’s not too cold. But it’s certainly going to be the last time he’s caught off guard by the fact that Scotland in winter is cold.
Malfoy looks up and sees Harry, catches his eye and holds his gaze for a moment before scanning over the scant amount of potential treasure hunters waiting for him.
“Welcome,” Malfoy says, precise and to the point. ”I’m Mr Malfoy and this is Neo the Niffler. Around the yard and the area around there are several coins of gold hidden. You all get a turn with Neo here, and let’s see if anyone is able to find any gold, with Neo’s help, of course. Children are allowed to go first, if you’d like. If you’re wearing jewelry of any kind, I sincerely advise you to remove it and keep it in our lockers inside for safe-keeping, unless you’d rather go hunting for your own treasures once Neo discovers them and not the ones in the ground.”
Laughter from the people sitting on the stone benches fills the cold air. Before long Harry finds himself in that strange place again, the one where the lines between what’s real and what’s not seem to be blurred and hazy. Just like he did the day before, he watches as if from a distance, yet he can hardly remember when he last felt this present in the moment.
Maybe it’s because of the joy he gets from working with an animal, almost forgotten about along the way in years past. Maybe it’s recalling doing this in Hagrid’s class back at Hogwarts, almost hidden in the deep labyrinth of memories. Maybe it’s hearing children’s euphoric laughter whenever Neo locates a piece of shining metal in the ground, a rare sound since Ron and Hermione’s kids grew up.
Or maybe it’s seeing this side to Draco Malfoy, unplanned for and unannounced as it is. Maybe it’s Malfoy pulling out an abundance of patience from a place inside him Harry never knew existed when Neo twirls around himself instead of doing what he’s told. Maybe it’s the relaxed line of Malfoy’s jaw and the light in his eyes when he pets Neo or gives him instructions.
Rays from the low winter sun throws a warm, serene glow over the hillsides and the people walking or running or jumping across them. Harry steals another glance at Malfoy. His face is tilted up towards the sunlight, and a faint smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.
So different from the Malfoy of yesterday. What Harry sees now is someone at peace with the world and his place in it.
A dull ache of something Harry can’t name settles in his chest.
It’s not until the end of the session, a couple of hours and an abundance of laughter later that Harry finds himself alone with Malfoy for a moment. Malfoy has taken Neo back to his shed, and has just said thank you to everyone joining today.
“Why did you decide to come here?” Harry says, drumming cold fingers against his jeans. “To work here, I mean.”
Malfoy says nothing at first, just keeps still, watching the two kids as they count how many gold coins they’ve found between themselves. Harry takes a deep, steadying breath.
“It seems to suit you. I’m just surprised, is all.”
“So was I,” says Malfoy, his voice soft. “It’s not what I’d envisioned for myself.”
“Yeah well,” says Harry. “Life doesn’t always work out the way we’d planned, does it?”
Malfoy looks at Harry, briefly, his head tilted to the side. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
He bends down to pick up his bag from the ground. His hair falls into his eyes on his way up again. For a second, Harry finds it hard to look away.
“If things had worked out the way I’d always thought,” Malfoy says, “I’d be living a life pleasing those around me instead of myself.”
He shakes his head, looking away when Harry smiles at him. “I’m not saying it’s all been good,” he says. “But I’m rather pleased with the way it’s turned out now.”
They stand in silence while Malfoy waves his wand, fastening the chords on his bag before throwing it over his shoulder.
“Yeah, you seem to be doing all right here,” Harry says after a while.
“It’s feels good,” says Malfoy, still not quite meeting Harry’s eye, “when you’re able to achieve something, to make a difference, among those who care for neither prestige nor disgrace.”
He drags his hand through untidy hair, messing it up even more. It makes him look acutely young. Harry feels ancient.
“Yeah,” Harry says. “I understand what you mean.” He thinks of days at work where he doesn't really make much of a difference to anyone and wonders if he really does understand.
~ ~ ~
As the days go by, Harry adjusts to life on the island rather well, with its ever shifting weather and its holiday guests with an endless appetite for adventure or recreation. He spends hours playing moonlight Quidditch one night, falling asleep at dawn exhausted and soaked through and content. He tries hot stone massage and rock climbing on magical, ever-moving rocks, he learns all there is to know about the subtle art of making Firewhisky, and he talks to someone new during every venture he throws himself into.
It’s nice and interesting and fun and all. Hermione and Ron would be pleased. At night he lies in bed, staring at nothing in particular, picturing unforeseen confidence about your place in life found in people he never would’ve thought. He imagines warmth in grey eyes he used to equate with haughty contempt.
“Huh,” he tells himself in the morning, squinting blearily at his own reflection in the mirror. “This is weird.”
“You always look weird before you’ve put your glasses on,” the mirror replies.
So far it’s been a highly proper mirror sticking to morning and evening greetings only, and Harry can’t bite back his startled grin.
“Not quite what I meant, but thanks for pointing that out,” he says.
“Oh,” says the mirror, “you mean your newfound curiosity about the youngest Mr Malfoy?”
“Er,” says Harry, frowning as he puts his glasses on. “I might.”
“Then you should probably re-evaluate your plans for today,” the mirror says, slowly, as if talking to a child. “Drop the cooking class that you’ve been looking forward to and join Malfoy’s care of Puffskeins course that doesn’t interest you at all.”
Harry shakes his head, confusion slowly building in his stomach, until he can’t keep his laugh in any longer, a sudden, tittering sound from somewhere deep in his throat.
“That,” he says, “makes no sense.”
But the more he thinks about it, the more appealing it seems. After all, there’s no harm in getting to know Malfoy a little better. It’s a good thing, actually, building bridges and all that. Surely, that’s exactly why he wants to do this.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” he tells the mirror. “You’re showing me what’s already there, inside me. What I already wanted.”
“That’s what mirrors tend to do,” says the mirror. “Off you go now. Or not. It’s really all the same to me, I’ll just hang here anyway.”
Harry smiles and thinks that is just as well. It wouldn’t do to have someone walking around who could see all his secrets.
~ ~ ~
The morning is dreary and grey, the farm is muddy and wet, and there’s distant thunder rumbling somewhere in the drizzle as Harry slips inside the shed he’s been directed to. He’s scanning the area for Puffskeins, aspiring Puffskein keepers and one Draco Malfoy.
Malfoy is already there, hunching over a cage holding a couple of furry, ball-shaped animals. Five or six kids are jumping up and down, eager to get on with it, pulling at their parents' sleeves.
“All right,” says Malfoy as he gets to his feet, gesturing at the cage. “Today we’re going to have fun with these little chaps. You’ll all get to cuddle with them, kids, maybe even get them to hum in your arms. Be sure to wipe your noses first, because before you know it they might stick their tongues up there and munch on whatever they may find.”
The kids all combust in delighted giggles, rubbing at their noses with various degrees of discretion. Malfoy smiles as he opens the cage and pulls out a Puffskein. Once again Malfoy is dressed in cotton trousers and a warm sweater, this time a light jacket thrown over his shoulders.
Harry is bundled in layers of wool himself, having finally remembered how cold wintery Scotland can be. He pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and wonders why he feels awkward.
“Hey,” he says, a little too loudly. “Do you have room for one more in here?”
Malfoy turns, brows arching towards his hairline when he sees who’s talking.
“Certainly,” he says, not missing a beat. “Having someone above the age of twelve attending is always refreshing.”
“Well then,” Harry says with a smile, moving closer to the animals as well as the man tending to them. “I’m happy to be of service.”
This time Harry is better prepared for the calm, relaxed version of Malfoy, the one who’s quietly confident and handles these strange little animals with care and respect. The one who answers all possible and impossible questions the kids might have without blinking. The one who cleans up in the shed and serves everyone tea and makes certain they all have a good time.
Later, Harry will be hard pressed to tell much of what he’s learned about Puffskeins. He’s not at the farm to study animals. He’s not certain why exactly he’s here, if he’s to be completely honest. Curiosity about old acquaintances from school will have to be explanation enough.
So he looks at Malfoy, studies him as he moves about and smiles and talks, takes in the lines on his face and the sharpness of his jaw and the way his moist hair curls above his collar. When Malfoy’s eyes flick to meet Harry’s, just for a second, Harry diverts his gaze. He has no desire to be caught staring.
Judging by the tension in his shoulders and the puzzled wrinkles in his forehead, Malfoy has noticed anyway.
“Looks like you’ve done quite well for yourself after the war,” Malfoy says once the session is over. The Puffskeins are sleeping in their cage and the kids and their caretakers have waved their goodbyes and disappeared into the cold afternoon. Malfoy keeps his hands busy and his eyes trained on the water bowls and the boxes of food pellets he’s rearranging. He speaks as if it’s an afterthought, a lingering echo from things said the last time they spoke.
“I mean,” he continues, “it’s not exactly cheap to stay at The Magical Holiday Inn for a couple of weeks. But then I never doubted that you’d find your place in the post-war wizarding world.” His voice turns hoarse, brittle, like a bubble before it bursts, and Harry wonders what exactly it is that Malfoy isn’t asking.
“Well.” Harry clears his throat, not sure what to do with his hands. He settles for shoving them into his pockets. “I did inherit from my parents, you know, and Sirius, so I’ve been lucky enough to avoid worrying over money. I have a desk job at the Ministry now, which is nice enough, but it hardly makes a person rich.”
Malfoy nods, though if it’s because he already knew or because he’s affirming what he’s just been told is anyone’s guess. He steals a glance at Harry, his restless hands calm for a second, looking away as Harry grins at him.
“I see,” Malfoy says, starting to rearrange and move things about again. His face is covered in shadow as he turns towards the corner, and his hair is almost glowing in the dim light. Harry exhales, audibly, wondering if he ought to step outside, head back to the guesthouse and leave Malfoy to it.
Instead, he stays right where he is.
“Yeah, so,” he babbles on, “no big adventures on the work front for me, I’m afraid. Or in life in general, I suppose. But I’m doing all right. I’m doing well. Maybe I haven’t quite found the one thing in life where I get to, you know, feel at home in the same way that you seem to be doing here. But that might not be in the cards for everyone.”
Silence fills the shed, except the distant drumming of raindrops hitting the roof and the sharp, metallic clunk as Malfoy puts a box down on the shelf with a little more force than Harry suspects is strictly necessary.
Harry has learned long ago that once he’s dipped his toe into the water, he finds it hard not to follow through with the rest of the foot, no matter how cold the water is. So he keeps talking, despite the voice in his head telling him to stuff it, asking the questions he’s wanted to ask since he first saw Malfoy at the farm.
“How long have you been working here?”
“Not long.” Malfoy stills and turns towards the window. His face is expressionless, but in the light from the window Harry sees the sharpness of his mouth and the shadows on his cheekbones from fluttering eyelashes.
“Okay,” says Harry. He unties his scarf, the somewhat warmer air inside the shed belatedly catching up with him. “Did you... Did you stay abroad before then?”
Malfoy pauses, briefly, and then he says, “Yes. We’ve lived in various places for years, my parents and I. Southern Europe. Scandinavia. South America most recently. My father especially, he’s been... restless. Unable to settle down in one place. So he and Mother moved around a lot.”
“And you moved with them?”
Malfoy shrugs. “I didn’t have much to keep me anywhere else, really, so – “
He says it like it’s no big deal. Like it’s just one of those things that hardly matters one way or the other. The sound of his deep exhale tells a different story.
“You’ve settled down here now, then, have you? The three of you are here to stay?”
Malfoy makes a sound in the back of his throat that could pass for laughter or a sigh or anything at all, really.
“Probably,” he says. “It’s good here. It’s good work, nice people. And it’s not as if we have a lot of other options. We’ve been allowed back into the country now, finally, but the centre of the wizarding world has forever shut us out.”
Without warning he turns from the window and walks towards Harry, stopping just short of entering his personal space. His expression is still blank, but his cheeks are flushed and his voice is rougher than it’s been all day.
“It’s weird,” he says. “I’ve ended up in a place I like doing work I’ve come to love, but I can’t fully enjoy it because I’ve got invisible chains giving me little choice in the matter. You’ve got all the freedom you could possibly wish for, but you haven’t been able to figure out what it is that you want to do with it.”
Malfoy’s eyes drift away. “Or so I gather?”
In the ensuing silence, Harry swallows and squares his shoulders. “You’re not completely off-mark, I suppose,” he says. “Not at all.”
Later, back in his room at the guesthouse, he paces back and forth in small circles and wonders when exactly it was that he stopped being eager about new opportunities. When he gave up on life’s endless possibilities. Has it been like this ever since the war, or has he settled into it little by little, unnoticeably, as the years have gone by?
He fire-calls Hermione and Ron, assures them he’s still enjoying himself and laughs it off when they ask if he’s seen any more of Malfoy. He’s not certain why he says nothing about his days at the farm, about his conversations with Malfoy. And right now, after spending way too much time pacing in his room, he can’t find it in him to dig too deep into the whole thing. Instead he eats dinner at the guesthouse restaurant, he talks to the two witches he met the first day and has spoken to occasionally since then, and he goes to bed early in his sensible pyjamas with a cup of tea and a good book.
He’s having a perfectly lovely evening and he doesn’t think about if he’s playing it too safe or if life is passing him by, and he certainly doesn’t spare many thoughts on anything that Draco Malfoy might do or has to say.
~ ~ ~
When Harry wakes the next morning, he’s thirsty as if he’s slightly hungover, and there’s a dull ache in his chest he can’t quite explain.
“Of course you can explain it,” says the mirror, which has now taken on the role of advisor and mentor with remarkable enthusiasm. “You just say you can’t because it’s uncomfortable to face certain truths about yourself and the life you’ve been leading.”
Harry frowns, unconvinced. “You’re not implying anything that my friends haven’t said to me already. Why should it be any different now?”
“I’m really only telling you what’s buried underneath in your own mind, remember?”
“So you keep telling me,” says Harry. “But I’ve never – “
“Oh, don’t you ‘but I’ve never’ me,” the mirror says. “I think you might’ve suspected for a while that you’ve become a bit too fond of your comfortable life. Maybe you needed some distance to see it clearly.”
“Maybe,” Harry says. A part of him is happy to embrace it. Eager to keep exploring new experiences. Even more eager to learn new sides to old acquaintances.
“A bit more uncertain about this revelation today, are we?” The mirror sounds as concerned as a mirror can, Harry thinks.
“Not uncertain, exactly.” Harry pulls a sweater over his head and drags his hands through messy hair. “But I need some fresh air, I think. And maybe I ought to talk to my friends about this. Lately, I’ve done that less than I probably should’ve.”
“Hey,” the mirror calls after Harry. “Don’t mind me. I’m just the one who opened your eyes in the first place. No need to thank me or anything.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. Thanks.” Harry grins, and walks out the door.
~ ~ ~
Harry adapts to his increasing awareness of life’s many opportunities in two ways.
First, he talks to his friends. The ones who’ve always been there for him from the day they met.
“I don’t know,” he says through the fire, “why it’s so hard to realise that maybe... Maybe I do want more. But it’s like admitting that means downgrading the life I have now. Because I do like my life and I do feel content, and there’s nothing wrong with, I don’t know, little dreams and a quiet life. That’s what I’ve chosen, and saying that it’s not enough for me feels like belittling the choices I’ve made or saying I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. And that’s not a nice thought. Because I haven’t. I think.”
“Or maybe,” says Ron, pausing for a lingering sip of his tea and possibly collecting his thoughts. “Maybe it’s just that there are different phases in life. Like, these days I’m perfectly happy sitting at home, drinking beer and listening to a Quidditch match on the wireless. Life was so hectic when the kids were smaller and we were new to our jobs and everything, and back then I would’ve been bored off my arse by the life I have now. So maybe you’re just entering a new phase in your life, Harry?”
Hermione nods and smiles, her brown eyes bright. “I think Ron’s got a good point, Harry. What you’ve had in life was right for a while. Now you’re ready for something new.”
Harry isn’t convinced this is all there is to it. But it makes sense, he supposes, and he tucks away any remaining doubts and moves on with his day.
The second thing he does is telling himself to stop worrying over why exactly it is that he finds himself drawn to Draco Malfoy. Whether it’s fascination with Malfoy as an animal caretaker, Malfoy the former enemy he can actually have a conversation with these days, or if it’s something –
Maybe just go with the flow a little. There’s always room for overthinking later.
So he Apparates to the farm, no activity scheduled. The sun is already setting low behind the sharp cliffs on the horizon, turning the sky into an orange blur when he lands in front of the sturdy farmhouse. Cold winter air makes his face feel wind-burned and stiff, but the smile that tugs at the corner of his mouth when he looks around is warm enough.
Down below the farm, on the fields where some of the bigger animals are kept, a couple of wizards and witches are carrying big sacks, stopping every now and then to dig out food. They’re too far away for Harry to see if Malfoy is one of them, but the sight is riveting regardless. One wizard bows to a hippogriff, waits for the animal to return it, and then lays what looks like dead birds on the ground for the hippogriff to eat.
With the sun setting behind them, they’re all silhouettes against the stone fences and windswept fields.
Harry walks closer, following a rocky pathway down the hill, and lets out a cold breath of air when he gets close enough to see that the wizard tending to the hippogriff is indeed Malfoy.
Malfoy has finished feeding the hippogriff and is standing still, like a marble cut statue. He’s looking at the animals, his back to Harry, and his hair is curling in the humid air. Harry bites his lip and thinks, he could watch this all evening.
“Hey,” he says instead. After all, he’s here for a reason.
Malfoy turns to him, grey eyes wide. “Potter,” he says, startled. “What are you doing here?”
A part of Harry has an urge to joke about how much has changed since Malfoy approached a hippogriff in front of Harry the last time, but he rather suspects that Buckbeak isn't a subject that Malfoy would appreciate. Better save that particular joke for another time.
“I was wondering if you'd like to go somewhere with me, get something to eat, or, I don’t know, a coffee maybe? One day when you're free?”
“What,” says Malfoy. He’s not phrasing it as a question.
Harry attempts a smile, but he suspects it ends up more like a weird grimace. “I just thought, it would be nice to get to know each other again. Know each other better, I mean, more than talking during your animal courses.”
“But we’ve never known each other, you and I.” Malfoy’s tone is brittle, and the second the words leave his mouth, he looks away.
“Maybe it’s time we change that, then,” says Harry, grateful for the opportunity to hang his request onto something.
Malfoy looks down, tucks his chin to his chest and shoves his hands into his pockets. For a second he says nothing.
Then another second.
After what feels like a very long time, he speaks, one gruff word that Harry almost misses.
Harry fights a losing battle against the wide grin bursting across his face, irrationally pleased by that one word.
At least until Malfoy looks up, breathing deeply through his nose and says, “Just to be clear, it’s not like a date or anything.”
Harry hadn’t particularly meant it as a date. More like an open-ended, unnamed get together. He and Malfoy together are like an untouched rock he’d surprised himself by seeing something compelling in, and without warning wanting to chisel into a sculpture, not knowing what kind of artwork it would turn out to be.
Apparently Malfoy has a clear idea of what he does not want it to be.
“Not a date,” Harry nods, because there’s not much else he can do. “Tuesday okay with you? At the restaurant at the guesthouse?”
“Let’s meet somewhere else,” Malfoy says, quickly. “There’s this nice little pub down in the village. You know where it is?”
“Yeah, I’ll find it.”
Malfoy looks at him with the barest hint of a smile. “Okay, then.”
“Yeah. Good. See you then. It’ll be fun.” Harry nods goodbye and desperately hopes it’s true.
~ ~ ~
When Harry enters the pub, Malfoy’s already there, sitting at a solid table in the back. It’s been snowing for three days straight, quite the rarity on these islands, and the pub is a snug place to be on a cold winter's night. Aromatic woodsmoke is wafting from the open fire and the candlelit bar wears the marks of centuries of drinking.
Malfoy is holding an untouched goblet of wine in one hand and a worn book in the other. He’s wearing black velvet robes and leather boots, looking a lot more like the Draco Malfoy from the first day Harry came to the island. His hair is neatly combed, and he looks beautiful. Harry has a hard time deciding which version of Malfoy he finds the most intriguing.
He doesn’t look up from his book until Harry pulls out a chair and sits down across from him.
“You found it,” he says, putting his book down.
“Of course. Wouldn’t want to miss this,” Harry says, surprised by how relieved he is that Malfoy is here.
They stay until they’re almost the last ones left in the pub, except a few foreign tourists the bartender does her best to entertain with tales from the island’s history. Harry and Malfoy share mundane stories from their lives, but the mood warms up when they start thinking up backgrounds for the other guests as they share the spicy wine. It’s a weird place to find common ground, perhaps, but his belly buzzes pleasantly and Malfoy’s eyes are bright with relaxed joy, so Harry sees no reason to question it.
“What do you think of that one?” Malfoy asks, nodding towards a tall wizard wearing an emerald green cloak and a neatly groomed goatee.
“An Unspeakable,” says Harry. “He takes great pleasure in blending in with the crowd on his days off, but when he’s on duty he’s doing cutting edge research and volunteers for the most daring experiments.”
“Nice,” says Malfoy, smiling into his goblet. “But the witch over there.” He glances across the room to an elderly witch in a long dress and her hair tied in tight buns above her ears. “She’s been a stay-at-home witch, and the last couple of years she’s been a Trainee Healer. Everyone around her kept telling her she couldn’t do it, that her chance for a working profession of her own was well and truly over, but she gritted her teeth and tied up her hair and followed her dream without looking back.”
He sends Harry a smile, and Harry returns it, refilling their goblets. He’s no longer certain who exactly Malfoy is talking about.
Later, when even the eager tourists have left and the bartender starts tidying up, sending the two of them glances that probably mean it’s time to go, Harry snorts with laughter as Malfoy empties the last of his wine with an exaggerated sigh of wellbeing.
“You’re such a snob,” Harry says, eyeing the label on the bottle Malfoy insisted on buying. Harry might not be a wine expert, but he knows enough that he wouldn’t be surprised if Malfoy had ordered the bottles ahead. They’re that rare.
“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the finer things in life,” says Malfoy, wiping non-existent spill on his napkin. “Not when you’re actually able to have them again.”
By the time they’re both standing outside on the cobbled street, wobbling on the ice, they’re pleasantly drunk, bundled up in their cloaks and scarves. Harry might’ve kept it inside had he been a little more sober, but as it is he doesn’t have it in him to censor his mutter of, ”Well, this rather feels like a date, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t say that,” Malfoy whispers, clouds of hot breath mixing with Harry’s.
Malfoy closes his eyes, just a second, and says, “I do like you, Potter. Maybe I always have, I don’t know. But I’m in no position to start dating anyone, even if I wanted to. Least of all someone like you.”
Something in Harry’s chest aches. “What do you mean, someone like me?”
But Malfoy only shakes his head. His hands rest on Harry’s elbows, and he stays silent for a long time. Finally, he says, “I’d like to see you again, though. I probably shouldn’t, but how would you like flying around the island with me? There are many lovely places to see, and I do use my broom way too seldom.”
“I’d love to,” says Harry without pausing, the corner of his mouth twitching despite his confusion. “But not a date, I assume.”
“Not a date.”
They say goodnight underneath the soft glow from a nearby lamppost. Harry lies awake in his bed for a long time, wondering if he’s making a mistake, meeting Malfoy again. In the end he falls asleep to the thought of friendships and how important they are, telling himself it's a wonderful thing to be forming a new one. He's lucky. Very lucky indeed.
~ ~ ~
“Hermione was right,” says Ron, kneeling in his and Hermione’s living room, looking good as always in his Auror uniform. “The Malfoys did live in Argentina until recently. I had to do some digging, it seems someone didn’t want their case to be all that public.”
“Why not? Was something not right?” Harry leans on his elbows on his desk, scooting forwards.
“Well, nothing was wrong as such, not as far as I can see. It was more the Ministry wanting to get it all over with, I think. To start ‘mending bridges’ and all that stuff they talked about morning, noon and night after the war, remember?”
Harry remembers vividly. All the pompous speeches and newspaper articles urging for peace and moving forward. Which would’ve sounded a lot better if the nice words had been followed by actions and a real effort to build a future together.
It seems all too likely that some of the high-profile cases would’ve been a hushed and rushed affair, and while Harry is all in favour of holding people accountable for their crimes, he’s also a big supporter of an open system where justice is ensured.
For everyone, including the Malfoys.
“Anyway,” Ron says, “the only one with an actual verdict was Lucius. He was sentenced to staying abroad for twenty years, and apparently it’s only through some underhanded deal or other that he was allowed to be doing business once he returned.”
“What about Narcissa? And Draco?”
“It’s weird, actually. While neither of them were convicted, they got a warning. The details are a bit blurry, but whoever gave them those warnings made certain that they would always have a huge stain to their names. No return to wizarding society as they knew it.”
Harry wonders if Malfoy’s expression when he’s hinted at these things is because he misses that world, or because he misses having the choices.
“Have you seen any of them? Oh, wait,” Ron says with a laugh, “has Draco lent you his umbrella again?”
Harry sits back on his chair and shoves his hands into his pockets.
“I’ve seen him.”
“I’ve talked to him rather a lot, actually.” He hesitates to talk about it, when there’s no reason at all why he should. “Turns out the grown-up version of him is quite all right.”
“You and Draco Malfoy spending time together. That’s odd,” Ron points out, scratching his head with careful movements.
“I don’t know about that,” says Harry. “We’re just talking, it’s not like I’m falling for him or anything.”
“I should think not! Oh, that would be something.” Ron grins and waggles his eyebrows. But soon he looks like Ron-the-Auror again, the one who looks at an issue from more than one side and doesn’t reach a conclusion until he’s got all the facts.
“Come to think of it, maybe someone like him is just what you need. I bet he’d ruffle you up a bit when necessary. In life in general, I mean, I don’t want any other images into my head. Ugh.”
“Well, he’s not intimidated by me, if that’s what you mean.” Why in Merlin’s name did he ever think this was going to be an awkward conversation? He’s got the best friends, without a doubt.
“And,” Ron says, “maybe he’s outgrown the worst of his snobbery as well?”
Harry thinks of velvet robes and pre-ordered wine and smiles. “He’s still a little snobbish. But there’s a lot more to him than that.”
He startles as another voice chimes in. “I hate to interrupt,” the mirror says, “but you do have a Wizarding Yoga lesson in fifteen minutes, and we don’t want to be late, now do we?”
Harry can’t imagine why, but he’s actually grown rather fond of that mirror. “I suppose not,” he says.
“Wizarding Yoga!” says Ron. “Oh, I’d love to see you doing the Lotus position, or learn the wand movements to help you into the floating Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose.” He’s showing rather more enthusiasm than Harry is able to muster. “It seems having clandestine rendezvous with Draco Malfoy isn’t the only new thing you’ve been doing lately.”
No, Harry thinks. No, it isn’t. Nor should it be. But it’s turned out that meeting Malfoy is the one thing that’s brought him the greatest joy.
~ ~ ~
They go flying in the early morning, just when the haze of night has turned to dawn. The sea is nearly black save for the reflection of the tentatively rising sun. It’s the coldest day on the island since Harry came here, and the two of them are packed in so many layers of clothes that he wonders if they’ll even be able to fly.
“Of course we’ll be able to fly,” says Malfoy.
The tip of his nose and his eyes are the only parts of his face that aren’t covered by wool in radiant colours. He’s got an enormous pair of fluffy air-muffs and knitted mittens of the kind Molly makes.
Harry watches him and wonders if there are as many sides to Malfoy and the man he is today as there are different looks to him. He thinks it is, and his next thought, slightly alarming in its intensity, is that he’d really like to find out.
And so they kick off from the frosty grounds, into the eternal sky. They fly across wide plains that seem to disappear into the steadily lightening horizon. They circle above rocky shorelines and peaty moorlands, now covered in a thin, windblown layer of snow.
“Look,” says Malfoy, flying up besides Harry to make himself heard. Their shoulders are bumping into each other and Malfoy’s voice is warm against his ear.
“Down there. The machair was my favourite spot when I came to this island last summer.”
“The what?” Harry blinks, the speed bringing out tears in his eyes despite his glasses, and tries to see what Malfoy is talking about.
“The machair. The plains are covered in wildflowers of all colours in the summer. I even found orchids there. And there are these great yellow bumblebees that live there. They look like miniature, fluffy Hufflepuffs, actually.”
He speeds up again, shouting over his shoulder. “There’s not much to remind you of that image here now, though.”
Later, Malfoy brings them to a small, sandy beach, set in between jagged cliffs, giving it an almost cave-like feeling. Once they’ve landed, Malfoy digs up a purse, waves his wand, and starts pulling things from the small, obviously magical item.
Soon, a big, soft-looking blanket lies on the beach, neatly set with plates and cutlery, glasses and pumpkin juice, sandwiches, sausages and eggs, what looks like chicken pie, salad, a plate of éclairs and a generous slice of treacle tart.
Malfoy glances over at Harry, looking away when Harry smiles at him.
“Wow,” Harry says, straight from the heart. “This looks – this really looks great.” It also looks awfully cold, but he makes no mention of it. “Have you made this yourself?” And then, because he can’t help himself, “If I get food-poisoning I won’t be happy, though.”
“I’ll risk it,” Malfoy says with a grin that Harry can’t help but return.
“Hang on.” Malfoy whirls his wand again. A light, silky fabric flies up from his pocket, floating above their heads in what reminds Harry of a fairy dance, before arranging itself like a see-through tent covering the blanket with all its delicacies and the two men standing beside it.
Malfoy casts a Hot-Air Charm, and instantly their little cave feels like a pleasant day of spring, with the clear cold winter sky and freezing sea providing the view outside.
“Well, this is impressive,” says Harry, meaning every word.
Malfoy shakes off a few of his layers of wool and lays them tidily on the blanket, tugging at the sweater he’s got underneath so it sits right. “I figured if I was going to spend a day showing you the island I may as well do it the right way. Oh wait, I almost forgot – ”
Another wave of his wand, and then, “– eggnog! It’s not Christmas just yet, I know, but I’ve always loved the taste of some proper eggnog on a winter’s day.”
Harry frowns, slowly sitting down onto the blanket once he’s removed a few items of clothing himself. He has no idea what to make of this.
He’d met up with Malfoy this morning with no expectations and no agenda, or even specific thoughts on what this day meant to Malfoy. The last time they spoke, Malfoy hadn’t, after all, been particularly subtle in declaring he had no intentions to see their meet-ups as dates. There had been a moment outside the pub where that statement had been easy to forget. Afterwards Harry had chalked it all up to too much wine and the atmosphere of the evening.
Now it’s hard knowing what to think.
“So, are you interested in flowers?” he asks instead of worrying any further, thinking back to Malfoy talking about last summer.
“It’s a hazard of living with my mother, I suppose. She’s quite the accomplished gardener, always has been. So some of her interest may have continued through me.”
Malfoy gestures for Harry to help himself to the food, and they eat in silence for a while. The fabric above them does nothing to keep out the sounds of rolling waves and elegant seabirds calling for their mates. A red deer shyly steps onto the beach from steep pathways by the cliffs, before realising the beach was no place to be, quickly heading back.
As always when seeing deer, something warm and soft and melancholy stirs in Harry's belly.
“Are you very close to your parents?” he asks, dabbing his mouth with a napkin after a hearty bite of pie. “I mean, if you’ve moved around together for years.”
Malfoy says nothing at first. He finishes his pumpkin juice and takes his time fastening the lid and putting the juice back onto the blanket.
“Yes. And no. If none of this had happened, the war and... Everything that came after. If Mother and Father had stayed at Malfoy Manor and I had been free to pursue a career, at the Ministry, maybe, then we’d probably be seeing each other a couple of times a year. We’d have polite lunches and avoid political discussions as best as we could, or at least I would. And Mother would no doubt be nagging me for grandchildren.”
He sits up a little straighter, running long fingers through silver hair. “With everything that did happen, we found a lot of comfort in each other, I suppose. And, well, they’re my parents. So I went with them.”
“I’m sure they appreciated that,” says Harry, wondering if it’s actually true. “I mean, you didn’t have to go, did you? The Wizengamot never convicted you of anything?”
Malfoy glances at him from the corner of his eye. “What they did was make certain that beside my name in every registry there would be a footnote about my wrongdoings during the war. Every time I’d apply for a job or get a place to live, all of that would come up. Every single time. You know as well as I do there’s little forgiveness to be found when it comes to those who followed The Dark Lord. It would’ve been impossible. So I’m hard pressed to see what other choices I had than going with my parents.”
“Could they really do that? The Wizengamot, I mean, when you had no actual verdict?”
“I hardly think anyone back then cared to ask about the details, as long as the processes were finished and people could start looking forward.”
Harry remembers the headlines in The Daily Prophet after the war, he remembers what people talked about in Diagon Alley and in Gringotts and in bookshops and ice cream parlours. He remembers Ron and Hermione talking about whispers they’d heard at the Ministry, whispers of shortcuts and working beside the law to get things done. The overall atmosphere seemed to be that everyone knew who was guilty anyway, so there was little reason to waste time and money on long legal processes when the result was already given.
“Maybe you’re right,” Harry says. “Maybe we were too eager to face the future to do right with the past.”
“We?” Malfoy jerks towards him, eyebrows raised in question.
“I meant the more general ‘we’. But yeah, I suppose I was a part of it. I couldn’t wait for my nice, carefree, safe life to begin.”
“Did you find that life?” Malfoy turns away again, leaning forward to help himself to some éclairs.
“Yes,” Harry says, softly. “Yes, I did. But I think I might’ve lost something on the way.”
Malfoy hums and takes a bite. “Whereas I knew right away that I’d lost the life I’d been looking forward to. And in the process I found another life, one that suits me just as well. Maybe better.”
He sighs. “I love the life that my situation has given me. But chains are still chains, and I have no love for them.”
A quick glance at Harry, and then, “Especially now.”
Harry finishes the rest of his eggnog, his head tilted back towards the velvety blue sky. Malfoy has kept casting the Hot-Air Charm frequently enough to keep the temperature comfortable, but for a moment it feels unnaturally hot here.
“I’m certain,” Malfoy says, in a more clipped and formal tone than Harry has heard in a long time, “that you now see the necessity of my no dating rule. There’s no way I’d enter a relationship knowing full well that the other person would be facing difficulties because of me. That’s not a burden of guilt I’m willing to take on.”
“That seems a bit harsh on yourself,” says Harry. “It’s been a long time since the war. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as you think.”
Malfoy jerks away, impatient. “I know what my parents and I went through just to be allowed to work and buy property here, on this island. The only reason things have worked out so well for me here is the woman who runs the farm, the one you met when you were lost that first day. She’s one of a kind when it comes to believing in people and offering motherly advice. And she knows things.”
His fingers flit gently over Harry’s hand. “As far as the rest of the world is concerned, nothing is over, Potter. Believe me, my life has been complicated enough. I’m purely being selfish when I say I have no desire to add to those complications. If we’re to keep meeting every now and then, I need you to respect that.”
A flurry of questions races through Harry’s head. Is it really as simple as Malfoy says? Does he deny himself based on fear? Is the elaborate picnic purely friendly? If the circumstances were different, would he want more from Harry?
In the end, all he says, through the sudden frost in his throat, is, “Of course I respect that.”
“Thank you,” Malfoy says, and then he moves closer, settles at Harry’s side and touches his elbow with a light hand. He’s softer around the edges than he was a mere minute ago, as if Harry agreeing to not pursue anything romantic between the two of them took all the pressure off.
“You know,” he says as he rests his head gently against Harry’s shoulder, “just because I have no wish to pursue a courtship, that doesn’t mean that everything else is off the table. If that’s something you’d like to consider.”
Harry is stuck somewhere between smiling at Malfoy’s use of the word ‘courtship’ and suppressing the shiver running down his back at the rest of his words.
It’s been such a long time since he’s been involved with someone – years, to be honest – but it’s not all that difficult to figure out what Malfoy is implying.
He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. But then Malfoy lifts his head and meets Harry’s gaze, capturing him in infinite grey. He lays his hand on Harry’s, giving it a light squeeze, and the second Harry finds himself tightening his own grip, he knows his decision is made.
“We could – “ he says, fumbling for words. “We can... Yes.”
He’s known that he was attracted to Malfoy, of course he has, ever since he joined that first Niffler treasure hunt in what seems like a long time ago. But it’s been in an abstract sort of way, one that he never examined and looked at too closely of fear that it would all crumble to pieces.
This is something else entirely, this rush of want settling in every part of his body and his heartbeat and his breathing. Malfoy leans in, lifts one hand to cup Harry’s cheek and lowers his face, slowly, like it’s all happening in slow motion.
His lips are softer than Harry had imagined, winter air chapped as they are. His tongue is warm and tentative, carefully stroking against Harry’s lower lip. Maybe Malfoy hasn’t done this in a while either.
“Okay?” Malfoy asks, the word warm against Harry’s mouth. Harry lets out a whimper and nods, wanting more as he peeks up at Malfoy’s heavy eyelids.
“Okay,” he says and starts kissing Malfoy again, hungry for as much as he can get.
This isn’t enough, not even close. But it is what's on offer. So this is what he gives himself.
Malfoy’s mouth opens against Harry’s, and the aching need moves down his body like a tremor, tearing through him so hard he’s not certain he would’ve been able to sit upright had it not been for Malfoy’s arms holding him up.
Afterwards they sit side by side, looking at the darkening ocean. The chill of the wintery afternoon has seeped into their tent, despite Malfoy’s repeated Charms, and they both know they should get going soon.
“Can I ask you something?” Harry says, eyeing the last of the treacle tart, but having no desire to break the moment. Instead he lets his hand cover Malfoy’s, entwining their fingers.
Malfoy turns to look at him, his eyes narrow. “Go ahead.”
“Is it okay if I call you Draco?”
“What?” Malfoy’s eyes go from narrow to wide in a split second. At another time, Harry might’ve found it amusing.
“I mean,” Harry says, “it just feels weird to call you by your family name after we – ”
Malfoy’s entire face cracks up in a delighted grin, and once again he looks so very young. “After we’ve made out like a couple of horny teenagers, you mean?”
“Yes,” says Harry, wondering if the shivers running through his spine is a good or a bad thing. “That’s exactly what I mean. Draco.”
“Okay, then. Harry.”
An eagle circles above them in the horizon, and they sit quietly, watching, their hands still entwined.
~ ~ ~
That night Harry lies in bed, staring into the all-consuming darkness of his bedroom. He tosses and turns, never finding a comfortable way to arrange his covers, folding his pillow this way and that, until he gives up and sinks back against the mattress flat on his back, hands behind his head.
“I know I said,” he whispers to himself, “that I wasn’t falling in love with him. But I lied. I lied. I am.”
There’s no reply, not even from the mirror. But then again, what is there to say?
~ ~ ~
The Magical Holiday Inn is buzzing with life when Harry steps into the restaurant for breakfast. Witches and wizards of all ages are occupying most of the tables, and for the first time he sits down next to the two witches he’s been talking to the most because of lack of space as well as for the pleasant company.
“Apparently the Knight Bus was here this morning,” one of the witches says around her breakfast roll, “with a busload full of guests for the holidays.”
“Already?” Merlin, he can’t possibly have been here that long, has he?
“I’m afraid so. I’m glad we decided to take our honeymoon here before the guesthouse became this crowded.”
The other witch nods, sending her wife a warm smile. Harry can hardly think of a nicer place to be on honeymoon.
He was supposed to meet Malfoy – Draco – later today, and he can’t keep back the delighted grin when he sees Draco in the crowd in front of the reception area once breakfast is consumed.
He makes his way past enormous winter robes, colourful umbrellas – apparently the rain has started up again – and pointy hats towards Draco, but as it turns out he isn’t alone. He stands flanked on both sides by an elegant couple Harry would recognise anywhere.
“Mrs Malfoy,” he says, nodding at Narcissa with what he hopes is a friendly smile and not a panicked grimace. “Mr Malfoy.”
Lucius narrows his eyes at him and opens his mouth as if to greet back, but nothing comes out. Perhaps he simply doesn’t recognise Harry.
Instead it’s Narcissa who extends a small hand and a perfectly civil, though not precisely warm, smile towards Harry.
“How do you do, Mr Potter,” she says. She seems to be one of those women who hardly ages at all, and Narcissa Malfoy is every bit the sophisticated witch as she was decades ago.
Lucius on the other hand looks worn and tired, deep lines across his forehead telling tales of years gone by. His eyes are as sharp as ever, though, and they don’t waver when he returns Harry’s nod and says, “Mr Potter, I see.”
“Wonderful place you’ve got here,” says Harry, gesturing vaguely around the reception area. “I’ve had a lovely time staying here. Are you here to check up on your investment?”
“First and foremost we are here to speak with our son, Mr Potter.” Narcissa lays a hand delicately on Draco’s arm.
“Yes. Yes, of course,” Harry says, noticing only now that Draco doesn’t meet his eyes. He’s dressed in his usual relaxed sweater, but his mouth is a thin line and his jaw is sharper than ever.
Harry refuses to feel embarrassed. He opens his mouth to talk about the wildlife of the island when Lucius beats him to it.
“And you, as well, are here to meet our son, I gather.” His tone doesn’t make him sound particularly happy about the prospect.
“There, there, darling.” Narcissa lifts her hand from Draco’s wool-clad arm and leans over to pat Lucius’ velvet-covered one. “Now you’re assuming things.”
“Yes,” says Lucius, “and it’s an assumption I feel very comfortable making.”
“Father,” says Draco, finally lifting his eyes to Harry, if only briefly. “I’m perfectly capable of deciding who I meet and where I meet them on my own.”
“Of course you are.” Lucius nods and fixes his gaze at Harry. “How long are you planning on staying here again, Mr Potter?”
Harry watches the three of them, the outcast trio who’d probably got what they’d deserved, at least to a certain extent. He's got an idea of what Lucius might be referring to, and Harry really wishes that he wasn’t the one to potentially hurt his son.
Then again, Draco is the one who’s keeping him at arm’s length, after all. A flash of anger runs through him and he lifts his head when he replies, “I’m staying until Friday.”
“I see.” It’s Narcissa now, voice mild but never wavering. “And then you’ll be going back home? To your Ministry job and your friends and your life in the wizarding world?”
Well. It seems someone has been keeping score. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I am.”
“Mother and Father,“ Draco says with an impatient huff, “you need to hurry now if you’re not going to be late for your meeting with the house-elves in the kitchens. You wanted to go over next month’s menu, remember?”
“The house-elves can certainly stand to wait for us,” Lucius sniffs. Nevertheless, he holds his arm out for his wife.
“We’ll speak with you later, Draco,” he says, and then, with a short nod, “Mr Potter.” Together the two of them stride in the direction of the kitchen area.
Draco lets out a shaky breath, keeping his gaze locked at his parents disappearing in the crowd.
“Well,” he says. “At least you didn’t have to hear Father’s ‘but working at a farm is the most useless thing any Malfoy has ever done, Draco’ speech. I tend to just let him go on. This is, after all, everything he’s got left.”
“They seemed quite protective of you though.”
Draco looks at Harry then, a ghost of a smile touching his lips. “It’s complicated.”
Yes, Harry thinks. Everything about Draco seems to be. Complications weren’t what he came here for. Maybe it’s just as well that he’s soon going home. Back to his nice home and his nice job, as uncomplicated as they could possibly get.
Still, he doesn’t feel a single flutter of joy at the thought.
~ ~ ~
Draco lives in a small cottage made of white brick not far from the farm. There’s a greenhouse in one corner of the garden, where Harry can easily picture Draco puttering about tending to his plants in the summer. Or he can see himself doing the same thing.
He walks up the steps to the old oak door and doesn’t bother to knock, he simply pushes the door open as instructed. Inside there are hardwood floors and exposed brick walls and window panes that seem to have seen better days. There are more floating candles all over than Harry can recall seeing since the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and there’s one Draco Malfoy, sprawled across the sofa with long legs dangling over the armrest.
“Welcome,” he says, voice low and gravelly. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“So have I,” says Harry, truthfully so, almost managing to hide the tremors in his voice. He wonders for a second if having this night together, a no-strings-attached, uncomplicated night, was such a good idea after all.
But then Draco gets up from the sofa, stretching like a cat. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and it’s quite possible that he’s never looked more delicious. “Let’s move this to the bedroom, shall we?”
Harry swallows. “Someone’s in a hurry, aren’t they?”
“Mhm.” Draco looks like the cat just found the cream. “If we’re going to do this one time before you leave tomorrow, I don’t intend to waste a single minute of this evening.” He steps closer, slowly. “Do you?”
No, Harry supposes that he doesn’t.
Draco stretches out his hand. Harry takes it, and together they walk into Draco’s bedroom, shoulders brushing with every step. The bedroom is naked and bare, save for an enormous window where all Harry can see now is the dark evening, a huge bed where soft pillows and fluffy covers are neatly arranged, and some floating candles that have found their way in here as well.
Draco turns to Harry and leans in, cupping his face and drags his fingers through Harry’s hair, before finally their lips meet in a long kiss.
When they break free for a much needed breath of air, Harry no longer feels awkward about this, he no longer thinks about how long it’s been since he’s done this. The only things that exist are the two of them, this room and this bed.
And the low, steady, insistent thrum settles in his body, the one that tells him he can do anything. The one he hasn’t, with one exception, felt in far longer than he cares to remember.
It starts somewhere in his spine, or maybe it’s his chest, it’s hard to tell. It spreads through his body like a warm ache, like a restless need, and Harry knows his magic is ready.
“Draco,” he whispers, and when Draco’s reply is to grind against Harry in an obscene gesture that leaves no room for doubting his intentions, something inside Harry explodes.
“Sweet Merlin, I want you,” he says as he casually waves his hand and Draco’s clothes are all Vanished. He lifts Draco up from the floor, feeling as if he could lift anything right now with his bare hands, and he lays Draco on the bed, gently, despite the raw power of want and magic thrumming in every part of his body.
“Harry,” says Draco, breathless and full of awe, splayed on top of the covers like a goddamned piece of art. “I had no idea you could do wandless magic so effortlessly.”
“Only,” Harry says, crawling onto the bed to kneel at Draco’s knees, “only when I feel a lot. And I mean a lot. It hasn’t happened in a while.”
And then he wastes no time talking – all his attention, all his desires are directed at the man lying there, and Harry aches, he wants, he needs everything he can get and he wants it all at once.
His eyes glide over Draco’s body, from his bony feet and long toes through his lean long legs, to his half-hard cock lying against his stomach, his heaving chest and strong arms, ending up at his face, his wide eyes and his oh so tempting mouth.
But right now there are other places where Harry wants his mouth to be even more.
He's still fully dressed when he leans down to kiss Draco’s foot, ready to worship every inch of his naked body. He leaves small, soft kisses before circling his tongue around his big toe, sucking lightly.
“Salazar, Harry, this is...” Draco never gets to finish as Harry moves his mouth to Draco’s ankle and Draco lets out a long whine. He’s having problems lying still as Harry works his way upwards, and by the time Harry is leaving wet kisses around his knees, he’s squirming on the bed.
“Please,” he says, spreading his legs, breath hitching.
“Please, just... Just anything, Harry. I need... Something. Please.”
Harry isn’t one to deny such a request, especially when it's for something he desperately wishes himself. He bites down on the inside of Draco’s thigh, not hard, just a gentle tease, breathing warm air onto it afterwards. He leaves a trail of kisses on the outside of his thigh, up towards his hip. He circles his tongue around Draco’s hipbone, focusing so intently on Draco that he hardly notices he’s so hard it aches against his jeans.
“Can I – “ he says, having a hard time finding the words, but apparently Draco is able to understand through the haze of lust.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, yes, anything.”
Harry crawls between Draco’s legs, and he keeps his gaze on grey eyes as he leans down to draw his tongue from the base of Draco’s cock all the way to the tip. He moans at the feel of warm flesh against his tongue and he licks again.
“Jeez, Harry,” Draco says, making it sound more like a whine. “I feel like I can come from only this. From you lapping at me, Merlin, don’t stop.”
“I won’t stop,” says Harry before diving in again, “and you won’t come. Not yet. Okay?”
“Fuck. Yes, okay. I want this to last as much as you do.”
Harry takes Draco’s cock fully into his mouth. The strain of his thickness against Harry’s lips feels wonderful, exhilarating, and it makes his own cock jerk impatiently. He draws his mouth up to suck at the tip before sliding down again, taking his time, loving every second.
But then Draco reaches for Harry’s hair, pulling him off. “Any more of that,” he says, red cheeked and glassy eyed, “and this evening would’ve ended a lot sooner than I would’ve liked.”
Harry smiles, disappointed not to still be tasting Draco’s cock against his tongue, eager to try everything else.
“Maybe it’s time you took off some of those,” Draco says, eyeing his clothes. Harry focuses, and it doesn’t take much, he’s already so high strung, his magic floating thick in his veins, ready to burst. The next second he’s naked, crawling up to straddle Draco’s lap.
“I want to feel you inside me,” he says into Draco’s ear.
“Fuck yes. Let me – “
Draco already has got a generous supply of lube on his fingers, Summoned from goodness knows where, and he takes his time getting Harry ready. He's slow and methodical, working his way from one finger, two, three, with gentle yet steady movements. He pulls out and draws his forefinger down through Harry's crack, and Harry can literally feel Draco's wide smile as his fingertip comes to rest over him, teasing and soothing before pushing in again, until Harry is dripping wet and aching for something more than fingers inside him.
Harry lays his hand on Draco’s shoulder, reaches behind and lines himself up, not even trying to hold in his moan as he slowly pushes himself down onto Draco’s cock. He slides up and down, his breath catching. Draco pushes up against him, meeting him every time, and Harry is reeling for how good this is - it's almost too much. Leaning forward on trembling arms he kisses Draco, meeting his mouth and his tongue, their bodies entwined and their hearts beating fast.
“I’m too gone already,” Draco says into his mouth, and Harry can only nod. He reaches down to touch himself, and then he’s shouting into Draco’s mouth, his voice cracking; garbled sounds with no meaning in them except the silent, “I think I love you.”
Draco comes with a groan. Afterwards, when his body is calm against the covers and his breathing is even again, he pulls Harry down onto his chest and kisses his hair. “This was wonderful,” he says. “Really wonderful,” and he keeps stroking Harry’s hair in long, slow movements.
Harry tilts his head and breathes into Draco's neck, wondering if he'd ever have got enough of this if given the chance. He very much doubts that he would.
~ ~ ~
They fuck one more time before Harry leaves.
He lays between Draco’s legs, pushing him into the mattress with every thrust. Draco's hands are restless and searching, touching Harry's shoulders and back, gliding over his hips and grabbing his arse, pushing at him to fuck harder, more, more. Harry leans down to kiss drops of sweat from Draco's collarbone, and his one coherent thought is that he’ll never feel what it's like to be inside Draco again.
What did he think would happen, once he opened up for this? What did he think would be the consequences, once he let Draco in? Did he think it would cleanse him, take away the thrill now that he's had a taste, and set him free to walk away, satiated and relieved?
He finishes with a moan, shortly after Draco. He's slumping onto his side, and he tugs Draco close, so close, wishing he could stay there forever.
"Merlin's twisted beard," Draco says, eyes closed and voice drowsy. "I may not have done this in a while, so I have little recent experience to compare with, but I'm pretty certain that was some spectacular sex." He opens one eye and glances at Harry, a sleepy grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "And all it took for your wandless magic to re-appear was a roll in the hay with yours truly. Who'd have guessed?"
"Actually," Harry says despite himself. It's a stupid thing to say. "It has happened before now. Recently, I mean."
"Yes. That day we went flying around the island. On the beach, when we were holding hands, and when we... when we kissed. I felt it then. I could've done it then."
Draco opens both his eyes then. He cups Harry's cheek, his thumb stroking back and forth. "Oh Harry," he says, quietly.
Harry finds Draco's other hand and keeps hold of it as he curls against him: Draco Malfoy, warm and strong and solid, and not his to keep.
~ ~ ~
It’s late at night when Harry finally manages to tear himself away and leave.
There's a part of him that desperately hopes Draco will come after him. That he will run to catch up with Harry before he Disapparates. That he will stand there in front of him, out of breath and with big eyes, telling Harry that he knows it’s going to be hard to be together, but he’s willing to give it a go anyway.
He knows it won’t happen. Draco lies safely in his bed, tucked in by the same covers that caressed Harry’s skin as well only minutes ago. Lying on the same mattress that they’ve fucked each other into. Or maybe he’s up and about, taking a shower and feeling perfectly at ease with how they’ve left this thing between them, not sparing a single thought to what it could’ve grown into. Draco is not going to try and catch up with him, he’s not going to Apparate to the guesthouse, he’s not going to make a grand gesture to show Harry he’s changed his mind.
Harry walks quickly and refuses to look back as he Disapparates. He doesn’t have it in him to take in the sight of empty stairs and an empty garden, or the cottage where he’s just had one of the best and one of the worst evenings in a very long time.
~ ~ ~
Coming home is a mixed blessing.
He’s missed his own place, and he’s missed his garden where he’s already laying plans for which plants to grow come summer. He’s brought back a myriad of seeds from the Hebrides, and he can’t wait to put them into the ground when spring comes around again. Hopefully they’ll be able to grow here.
He’s not missed his work, and to be honest he’s not missed most of his colleagues with their curious questions about if he met someone on holiday and their endless jokes about how he's certainly old enough to start dating now, haha.
He has, though, missed his friends.
“Did the trip live up to your expectations?” Hermione pulls up her legs on the sofa and cradles her teacup with graceful fingers. “I mean, did you get some new impulses and maybe see some things in a new light?”
“Well, it certainly spiced up his love life, didn’t it?” Ron and Hermione have got the whole story in every sordid detail, or so they think. Harry has spared quite a few details for himself, and he suspects his friends are grateful for it. Or at least they would be if they'd known about it.
“Falling in love wasn’t necessarily a part of his hopes for the trip, though,” says Hermione around the brim of her cup.
“No,” says Ron, “but now that it's happened, in the most unthinkable way in the universe, I might add, he can’t exactly just pretend that it didn’t.”
Harry snorts into his own teacup, smiling nonetheless. “If the two of you are done talking about me like I’m not here, then maybe we can actually get somewhere.”
“Well then,” Hermione says, already onboard with the idea of Harry and Draco having connected. Just like Ron it had taken her a second to get used to it, and then she was only concerned with Harry’s happiness. If Harry has got one thing right in his life, it's the choice of best friends. Something warm stirs in his belly at the thought.
“Do you think that he liked you? I mean, he obviously liked you. But did he like you like you?”
Harry has given it a lot of thought. Way too much, probably. But yes, he’s fairly certain that Draco did like him. His reluctance was because he was afraid, maybe, or his ties to his family, and the fact that he could never come back here, into the wizarding world as he'd once known it. He made no secret of not wanting to deal with someone being dragged down because of him. Of not wanting that guilt.
“Yes,” Harry says. “I think he did. But there’s no way he could come here to ever find out for real.”
“But you could go to him, though?” Ron pipes up, opening a bag of chips and pouring the content into a bowl.
“Malfoy held back because he could never be a part of your world, right? Doesn’t mean that you can’t be a part of his.” Ron puts the bowl down onto the table and starts munching away with a satisfied grin. "None of that stuff about him dragging you down and all that rot would be an issue out there, would it?"
“I don't know. I suppose not. I mean, he was respected there. And The Magical Holiday Inn is so beloved and so remote that I don't think people care much who owns it, as long as his parents are discreet about it." Harry leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "But still... Move there, you mean?”
He'd been thinking of the same thing the night before, vaguely, just a fleeting thought in the moments before sleep found him. It's something about hearing it said out loud that makes it real.
“Well,” Ron says, “you loved the island, didn’t you? It wouldn’t only be because of him.”
“True." He did love the island, and he's got a feeling he's only seen the surface of its charm and its magic. "And, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily have to move there,” Harry says, allowing himself to toy with the idea. It's sudden, but he sees no point in pretending the thought doesn't appeal to him. “Not for good. I could stay for a while and see how I'd like it."
"Maybe you could get a job there," Hermione says, eager on Harry's behalf now, "more of an outdoorsy thing, maybe. And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always a place for you here. You know that, Harry.”
It’s not all that long ago that the three of them sat here last, in Ron and Hermione’s living room, talking about the future and making plans. Following that plan did add a lot to his life the last time. A lot of things that Harry wouldn't have wanted to be without, no matter how this will all turn out.
This is something entirely different, though.
“Do you think he’d be interested in that?” Ron opens three bottles of Butterbeer and pass them around. “If you lived there, I mean? Was it you going back here to a world he no longer belongs to that held him back the most?”
“Maybe,” Harry says, trying and failing to suppress a giddy grin from spreading across his face. “I think so.”
“Well then. Go get him.”
And Harry thinks that he may just do that.
~ ~ ~
Harry sits down by the desk below the window in his nice, but somehow empty living room. He pulls out a piece of parchment and his favourite quill, and he stares out of the window while trying to collect his thoughts. And then he writes a letter to Draco Malfoy.
It's not long before an eagle owl brings one letter back, one from Draco. In beautiful handwriting he tries to convince Harry it's a terrible idea, of course, but hidden between the lines Harry can find traces of dreams and desires, giving him courage to write again.
It's the start of a correspondence unlike any other Harry has been a part of. Every letter brings with it doubts and worries and lingering hope. Every letter carries with it tentative plans, and with quills dipped in ink and their hearts on their sleeves, the two of them painstakingly map out a future where it might be possible for their paths to meet.
They talk about complicated family bonds and about ambitions in life. Harry says that his greatest ambition right now is to end this persistent feeling of being out of place.
I've known that feeling all too well, Draco writes.
Maybe we can end the feeling together, Harry writes back.
When Harry lands on the island the next time, his Portkey takes him straight to where he’s supposed to be – to a cottage close to a farm, with a greenhouse in the garden and a wizard named Draco Malfoy greeting him with nervous, yet open arms.
~ ~ ~
Harry has got years of peace and quiet under his belt. He’s got two best friends who’ll always be there for him, as he will for them.
He’s got a job offer from the guesthouse's Quidditch instructors that gives him great joy, and a mirror especially acquired from his guesthouse room hanging on Draco's - their - wall. He’s got a box full of letters and a trunk full of stuff, plenty of wildflower seeds he wishes to plant in the garden when spring arrives, and a newfound belief in how it's never too late to start again.
He’s got hope and excitement for the future in a way he hasn’t had in a long time. And he's got, inexplicably, in a way he could never have imagined, something that looks a lot like love.