Tom may not always understand normal (inane, tedious, stupid) human emotion, but he can read the writing on the walls quite clearly. It’s in the way that Harry makes a reservation at the Silver Wand for his and Ginny’s one year anniversary, the way he brings his mother’s engagement ring out of storage, the way his fingers trace its shape in his inner robe pocket even when Harry isn’t consciously thinking about it. Not only is there nothing Tom can do, but there is no reason for him to do anything. No matter what Harry might say, he doesn’t actively try to micromanage his followers (minions, Harry always corrects). The happier and healthier they are, the better they serve him.
Harry, who’s been his friend for their entire lives, ever since they were grouped into the same foster home at a young age, isn’t an exception in this specific case. He won’t ever be Tom’s follower, but he passes interesting gossip from the auror department to Tom’s corner of the legislative branch, and he supports Tom in his goal to be minister of magic. Supports Tom in nearly everything, really.
In turn, Tom gives him support as well. He has Harry’s first auror partner transferred to another country when Harry begins to look unhappy at the thought of dealing with him. He makes sure Harry’s boss doesn’t keep Harry any longer than a junior auror should be kept. It’s Tom who’s the workaholic; Harry claims to have something called a social life.
And Tom isn’t so cruel that he’d deny him happiness simply because he despises Ginny Weasley.
She’d been alright a year ago, back before she and Harry got together, but as the months passed everything she did began to grate at him. She takes up Harry’s time and attention, and while Harry tries hard to balance his friends and his girlfriend, Tom is never satisfied. He’s a Slytherin; he’s not supposed to be satisfied.
Harry is the Gryffindor, the one who’s meant for a grand romance with a woman whose family has all but adopted him. Tom barely manages to escape from the holiday events Harry drags him to each year. Tom is meant for greatness, for politics, and there’s something to be said for all that he’s managed to accomplish in the five years he’s worked at the ministry.
Ambition always warms him, but Harry’s presence is a cold comfort, an uncomfortable reminder of the fact that Harry won’t always be there at his side. They aim for eating lunch together at least twice a week, but one day Harry will have more distractions that will keep him from their standing meetings. The engagement, the wedding... children.
As Tom approaches Harry, who’s already bought their lunches and is sipping a latte, the glint of the ring in his hand, Tom can almost see the scene coming up. Ginny might be running late after quidditch practice, having forgotten the date and not even realized its significance, while Harry would’ve simply ordered everything she liked. Harry would have the ring in his hand because he’s an impatient idiot with no awareness of his surroundings unless he’s on the job. Ginny will see it and gasp, and Harry will see her and startle, and he’d jump up as she approached before realizing he may as well get on one knee now. Maybe Ginny will kiss him before he’s able to, or maybe she’ll wait and let him get out the whole speech he’s no doubt written and rewritten a dozen times.
I love you, Harry would say, whether it’s his first words or last words or somewhere in the middle. I love you. I love you.
Harry looks up as Tom approaches, his green eyes light with happiness. Tom takes it as his due, rather than Harry perhaps being so happy because he’s imagining Ginny saying yes to his proposal.
“I see you’re still overthinking things,” Tom says, sitting down across from Harry. He hopes his friend will put the ring away soon; Tom would rather not have to deal with it being visible.
Luck isn’t on his side. Harry places it on the table next to his plate before he takes a sip of his drink. “Usually you’re on my case about me underthinking things.”
“That, too. If you wait any longer, you’ll lose the ring before Weasley even sees it.”
“You’re such a dick,” Harry replies. “She has a name. It’s a good one. Very cute.”
Tom sighs loudly and turns to his food. Harry had ordered hot soup for him, as though he’d realized what a terrible day Tom is having. It’s made only worse by the object in the corner of his vision, just blatantly sitting there on the table. At this rate, Ginny will hear about Harry’s plans from gossip before the day even arrives. “I’m sure I’ll remember it eventually. You’re not worried someone we know will see it?”
“I’ve already sworn twelve people to silence,” Harry says with a touch of color to his cheeks. It’s unbearably fucking adorable. “Ron has already started taking bets on whether I’ll be able to make it to our anniversary. Hermione says one day Ginny will just come up to me and demand it from me already.”
How do you possibly manage as an auror, Tom thinks, feeling the impulse to roll his eyes. But he knows. Harry is better than anyone would give him credit for at keeping the secrets of others. He’s kept Tom’s for years without a single slip. It’s only his own that Harry struggles with. Or perhaps the better phrasing is that Harry often simply doesn’t bother with his own secrets. He lives a surprisingly open life, something Tom has never understood. Instead, he asks, “Is that what you’re hoping for? I hadn’t taken you to develop laziness.”
“No,” Harry immediately says. Then, a little sheepishly, he covers the ring with a napkin. “That would be a dickish thing to do. Gin may be a tomboy, but she likes romance, too.”
“Then what is all of this?” Tom digs. It’s part curiosity, part... something he doesn’t want to put a name to.
Something he has never been able to put a name to, in truth.
Romance is something Tom has never truly bothered with. He knows his lack of spouse will be a point against him once he begins campaigning for the minister’s seat, but he’s not willing to put up with someone in his personal space simply for politics. There is a lot he will do for ambition, but Tom won’t put up a fake act behind bedroom doors. If he marries, it will be because he wants to, and he will do so to someone he actually wants and cares for. Both points have always been unlikely.
He’d tried romance twice while in Hogwarts. Once, when Cho Chang had asked him to Hogsmeade and Harry nearly spontaneously combusted from jealousy when Tom said yes. Cho is beautiful and would later join Tom’s cause, but the date itself had been lacking in everything Tom had assumed dates were supposed to include. The only fluttering in his heart had been a touch of indigestion; the closest he’d allowed Cho to approach was to slip her hand inside his own.
The second time, he’d kissed Draco back when his dormmate pressed up against him at a party. It had been better, but not enough. He’d kissed him back out of curiosity. Draco wasn’t an idiot and cottoned on to Tom’s interest being considerably less than his own, and they’d chalked it up to a night best left unremembered.
(”Do you like Draco?” Harry had asked him all those years ago, on the day after that party. He’d caught sight of Tom with Draco, and now there was a strange expression on his face. It couldn’t be distaste—Harry wasn’t a hypocrite—but something about the sight had caused Harry to be displeased. “Or, er, men in general?”
Tom had shrugged, trying to find the words for it. “I don’t like anyone.”
“Sexually, I mean, not your usual misanthropy.”
Tom had sighed at him, thinking the things I put up with from my first follower. “I do mean sexually.” He’d stopped there, because he was the fucking brightest mind of their generation (Hermione Granger could watch and weep) and a magical prodigy and there was nothing fucking wrong with him, but in this he was different. Different was inconvenient for one with ambitions as grand as Tom’s. But it came rushing out of him anyway. “I don’t want to fuck Cho or Draco. I don’t want to fuck anyone, not even when my body decides to inconvenience me some mornings, not truly. I would rather have a perfect breakfast or a day of solitude working on my spellwork or—” a day with you, with you driving me up the wall. (Looking back on it from the future, Tom thinks that maybe, his feelings aren’t so sudden at all.)
“Hey,” Harry’s voice had been soft, as was his touch to Tom’s shoulder. When Tom didn’t pull away, Harry hugged him tightly. “You can have breakfast and spells if you want.”
“I know that,” Tom grumbled, but he still felt moderately better. “I don’t need you to tell me that. I’m going to do whatever I want. I always do.”
“And I’ll be by your side, keeping the murdering to a minimum.”
They’d gone to the great hall after that conversation, and no one had commented on Harry eating breakfast with Tom at the Slytherin table, already used to them flouting that particular social convention.)
Harry lets Tom stew in his own thoughts for a long time before he says, “I’ve just been thinking a lot lately. About what I want. Who I want. I love Ginny, but what if I don’t love her enough? Or it’s not really love? I can’t just ask my dad what had been in his head when he’d given my mum this ring. I want to be—don’t laugh at me—worthy of passing it on to her. You probably think it’s stupid.”
“I do, but I think most of what you do is stupid.” He tries, but the words don’t come out as anything but fond. “You’re aware of the fact that you’re not obligated to marry her? She’s an international quidditch player; it’s not like she wants to settle down right now.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t get married?” Harry asks, leaning in.
Tom hasn’t given his opinion one way or another. He doesn’t plan to start now. It would be one thing if he planned to steal Harry away from Ginny, but that’s not the case.
These feelings have made him uncharacteristically hesitant. If this were anything else, Tom would stride forward and take without a care in the world. Harry already cares for him as a friend; a year ago, five years ago, hell even ten if he’d been very precocious, Harry might’ve said yes to more. But Tom is paralyzed by the fact that he doesn’t know what he wants.
He wants Harry to break up with Ginny, but he’s always been a possessive arse. He wants to kiss Harry, but he isn’t sure that he’ll keep wanting to after trying it out. He doesn’t even know if he wants to fuck Harry. Probably not. Mostly, he just wants him to stay. He wants Harry across the table from him as they eat lunch, beside him when he announces his campaign for an elected position in a few years, next to him in bed with his body warm and solid against Tom’s as they sleep. He wants something between friendship and what Harry wants from Ginny, and it’s unbelievably irritating that he does.
Fucking hell, Harry is going to be the death of him. Someone should’ve warned him that the tiny kid with impossibly green eyes would be such a menace in a decade and a half. Actually, who’s he kidding, Harry has been a menace every day of his life.
“I don’t know how much my opinion is worth in this particular matter,” Tom simply says.
Harry breathes out deeply, his breath catching a few low-hanging strands of his hair. There’s a scar peeking out of his fringe, only noticeable if you’re already looking closely. Harry has few vanities, but he doesn’t like his scar. The occasional superstitious magical has gotten his case about it—a scar in the form of that particular sigil has to mean something, even one from a childhood accident he doesn’t recall—and one obnoxious seer had proclaimed it to be his duty to vanquish a dark lord because of it.
Humans are idiots, all of them.
“A lot. Your opinion always is, asshole. I’ve never heard you fail to give it.”
Alright, with that flattery, there can be an exception. Harry’s already an exception for so much. “Fine, I’ll tell you my opinion if you tell me how all of this started. Was it something Ginny said? Because I don’t remember you ever caring about marriage.” When Harry shifts awkwardly in his seat, Tom takes another look at the situation. “Or is it her parents who are pushing you?”
“No one is pushing me to do anything,” Harry hastily says. He sounds exactly like he had when he’d lied about stealing sweets as a kid, stealing dragon eggs as a teenager, and how severe his injuries for an auror mission were as an adult. There’s the same shifty look in his bright green eyes. Whatever else, Harry isn’t meant for lies. Or perhaps it’s that Tom knows him so well that he won’t stand to be deceived.
“I’ll bet your ring on it being Molly,” Tom muses. “Arthur doesn’t strike me as the type to meddle unless he’s doing the bidding of his wife, and she’d want to spring the first attack herself.”
Harry frowns. “It wasn’t an attack. No, stop with that face, it wasn’t. I came by to help with the gnomes and the others were running late—”
“—a likely story—”
“—and Molly and I had some tea while she asked me about Ginny. She’s really happy for us. She was just concerned about it having been nearly a year and Ginny having said nothing about marriage and kids. I couldn’t just tell her that it was because we’d never talked about any of that.”
“Because you’re both short-sighted Gryffindors.”
“No, because no one else has a detailed twenty year plan for becoming minister!”
“Fifteen, and I know you said twenty just to annoy me.”
“And because it’s more realistic. We just don’t talk about the future much, me and Ginny. Between our work schedules and everything else, it’s hard enough to get enough of the present with her. I know she loves me and I love her, so what’s the harm in leaving the future for another day?”
Tom sighs. He can’t look into Harry’s mind and immediately piece together a solution. Well, he can look into his mind, but Harry’s emotions rarely make much sense, and Tom doesn’t need the added confusion. What he can do is relieve some of the pressure from Harry. Tom doesn’t know Molly well—despite her best efforts—but she is unfailingly warm, even when pushy and irritating. There’s a high chance that she hadn’t realized just how much panic she’d caused Harry. And no matter Harry’s denials, he is panicking.
“Go find Molly and tell her she made you feel pressured. That’s my advice.”
“Really? That’s all you’re going to say?” Harry asks, disbelief coloring his tone. “Nothing about how there are other fish in the sea? I know you don’t like Ginny much.”
Ginny Weasley’s entire purpose in life, as far as Tom is concerned, is to make Harry happy. Despite Harry’s conflicting feelings on popping the question, she does make him happy. That should be enough. It has to be, because Tom can’t manage to act selfishly. He doesn’t share Ginny’s feelings for Harry. His feelings, maybe even love—he hates to use the word, especially now that he’s even more confused about what love is—are less soft, less sweet. He wants to tie Harry to himself so firmly that Harry will never think to walk away, but he doesn’t want him in a sexual way. And sex has always been something Harry’s expressed interest in, from curious fumblings with his dormmates to the possible love of his life’s patterns of freckles.
“That’s all I’m going to say,” Tom affirms. “But I’ll allow you to finish your sandwich before catching up to Molly before your lunch break ends.”
“I haven’t said I’m going to go.” Though Harry does take another bite.
“What was I thinking, putting my trust in your decision-making,” Tom sighs, appreciating Harry’s glare.
In the end, Harry does go.
There is some shuffling of feet and frowning and deep-seated insecurities about not having a blood-related family who loves him, but he still goes. For all that Harry grieves the loss of the parents and grandparents who died in the Godric’s Hollow explosion of 1981 and who he doesn’t remember, Tom can only appreciate their loss. Their loss was his gain; he can no more imagine life without Harry than he can life without his wand. It’s only inconvenient that Harry does so deeply want a family, enough so that he’ll propose to a woman he isn’t sure about on the suggestion of his mother figure.
Tom has the odds on Harry speaking with Molly and the situation being resolved in favor of Harry placing that ring back into storage. But there is still a chance that without the pressure hanging over his head, Harry will realize he genuinely wants to marry Ginny. That chance haunts Tom as he returns to work. Outwardly, he’s the same as ever. He can’t afford a dent in his reputation just because he can’t keep his emotions in line. But inwardly...
I love you, Harry would say to her, and it burns.
Work is not sufficiently distracting, but at around four he receives a copy of Hermione’s speech to the Wizengamot on the matter of house elf rights, which she plans to present in two days. Tom takes great joy in taking the letter apart from a pureblood perspective. It’s not completely a way to let loose some steam. Really, it’ll help her form her arguments. Reluctantly, Tom adds some points on how to better word her arguments. Just for Harry.
Merlin, he hopes she’ll have moved on to another crusade by the time he becomes minister.
...although he can already see her storming into his office to discuss gnome rights. Maybe he’ll use his power to have her deported. She’d have a lot to say about MACUSA’s policies, that should keep her distracted for most of his term.
Harry finds him again at the end of the day, saying hello to each of Tom’s coworkers before making his way to Tom’s office. Those same coworkers are halfway convinced that he and Harry are already dating; nothing Tom says has dissuaded them. Neither does the fact that Harry hugs him immediately after stepping into Tom’s office. Tom had stood up, but he hadn’t gotten a greeting and/or sarcastic remark out before Harry’s arms slipped around him.
Tom can see his boss’ open office door, and her eyebrows are raised high. Nosy old woman, Tom thinks, scowling at her before focusing on Harry again. Harry’s embrace is warm, and that’s the only adjective Tom will ascribe to it. It’s warm. So fucking warm.
“I take it that it went well?” Tom asks.
“It did, you jerk,” Harry mumbles into Tom’s shoulder. “I hate how you’re always right. Molly was so nice about it and she apologized and said she’d had this same conversation with Tonks ages ago and that she sometimes needs reminding that her darling kids are all adults with their own lives. She made me promise to remember that I’m also one of her kids and that I can tell her to back off if I need space from her meddling, although she says she’ll never be able to keep out completely.”
“You could keep her out if you ceased interacting with that blasted family,” Tom helpfully adds, stroking the back of Harry’s head.
“Never. I love them, all of them, even if they can be overbearing. And I love Ginny. It’s just that... without all this pressure, I can admit to myself that I don’t love her like I would a future wife. She’s amazing and fun, but she’s not even—” Harry abruptly stops.
Tom tugs gently at Harry’s hair. “Not even?”
“Nothing. Just thinking about the other of my failed loves,” Harry says with a rueful shake of his head.
It feels nice against Tom’s neck. He could stay this way for a very long time. When Harry doesn’t continue, Tom takes a guess. He’s not particularly worried; whoever Harry’s thinking of couldn’t have been much of an influence on Harry’s heart if even Tom doesn’t know them. “Ah, Cedric Diggory. I always knew you were one of his fans.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with idolizing with the avatar of goodness who somehow found his way to earth,” Harry replies, slowly pulling away. “But it’s not him.”
Tom is a grown man and not a koala, so he doesn’t try to keep holding onto Harry. “Cho Chang, then.”
“A goddess, but I don’t date your followers. And I haven’t forgiven you for dating her.”
“It was one date.”
“I was heartbroken,” Harry asserts, but there’s only amusement in his voice. “And angry, especially when I realized you only went out with her to piss me off.”
“Ancient history.” Tom waves the thoughts away. “Luna Lovegood?”
“No,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “It doesn’t hurt to say it, I guess.” Still, he’s quiet for a few moments, leaning against the edge of Tom’s desk, his gaze on Tom’s collarbones instead of Tom’s eyes. “It was you.”
Tom’s brilliant mind halts. “Me.”
“That’s what I said,” Harry says, crossing his arms. “Don’t get a big head about it. I’ve been interested in a lot of people. Just because you’re you, and all, doesn’t mean... Look, it’s your own fault. You’re my best friend and you’ve protected me from every shitty thing that came my way and you’re kind to me even when you’re being a dick and you understand me. And you’re handsome. That doesn’t hurt. I know you’re not interested, so can we get to the part where we forget this ever happened?”
He’s been infected by Harry’s stupidity. That’s the only explanation for how slowly he parses Harry’s words. But also, “That’s the least eloquent confession I’ve ever heard.” Before Harry can open his mouth with a retort, Tom adds, “I do care for you.”
Harry swallows. “But not like that. I know.”
It feels as though hives are breaking out on his skin. Vulnerability is intolerable, but he still says, “I want you in every other way. Your friendship, your love, everything except for that. I still don’t want to fuck you,” Tom cautions, not because he thinks Harry’s forgotten, but because Harry often rushes into things without considering all the details. Tom is lucky that Harry hadn’t immediately proposed to Ginny after that initial conversation with Molly. “I just want you.”
“Yes,” Harry immediately says, his green eyes wide and joyous. “We can figure the rest out later. Yes. A thousand times yes.” And then he’s hugging him again, and Tom realizes there’s going to a lot of it in his future, but he can’t begin to complain. Harry’s rambling about how he’ll tell Ginny straight away, and how he should’ve brought this up ages ago, and all Tom can do is hide his smile in Harry’s dark hair. He can’t even keep it from his face as Harry smugly says, “So you didn’t want me to marry Ginny at all because you wanted me to marry you.”
“I’ve said nothing about marriage,” Tom mutters. “You on the other hand won’t stop talking about it.”
“Mum’s ring won’t fit you,” Harry teases.
Tom can’t help his smirk. “That’s fine, I’ll take you father’s.” He pats Harry’s robes pockets and finds Lily’s ring, which he slips into one of his own pockets despite Harry’s denials. “In the meantime, I’ll hold on to this so that you don’t propose to any strange women.”
As Harry splutters, Tom mentally revises the key points of his fifteen year plan to the minister’s seat. Somewhere in between, he’ll fit in the marriage this idiot wants. Forever does have a nice sound to it, even if it’s embarrassing, how much Tom wants this.