Over the six months Harry and Draco have been flatmates, they’ve developed a specific Wednesday night routine.
They’ve developed a lot of routines, ones Harry never imagined he’d share with Draco Malfoy, but Wednesdays are something else altogether, because they’re not like navigating who can shower when and who is going to wash dishes and when’s an acceptable hour to play music from the 80s out loud — they’re for fun. On purpose. Weekly, just the two of them, in bare feet on the couch.
Harry gets home from the Lily Center, exhausted from wrangling five-year-olds all day, at about the same time Draco arrives from the lecture for which he TAs, often with essays he fully intends to ignore for the night in his bag. They order takeaway, and they take off all their outside layers, and they put on the X-Files tapes Luna let them borrow.
Draco wanted to watch the X-Files, initially. Harry procured the tapes for him, but he didn’t really mean to stay and watch, too. Only he did. And now he’s hooked, because if Harry loves anything, it’s a good mystery.
Draco doesn’t really care for the overarching mystery of the series in the same way; sometimes, Harry will present a theory and Draco will reveal, inadvertently, he has no memory of the episode Harry’s referencing. Draco just really likes the monsters of the week, and speculating about the effects muggles use for television. The only long, complicated mystery he has any energy for, it seems, is found in all the dusty history books Harry finds all over the flat — in the kitchen cabinets and the muggle fridge, on the back of the toilet and between the couch cushions. The Dropping of the Veil: The Evolution of Magical Culture in 17th Century Britain. Mary II and the Ministry. The Puritans and the Exclusion of Magic from the American Dream.
Mostly, though, Draco just likes to see cool monsters.
Not that he’s particularly excited about the one on the TV tonight. The moment a great ugly thing bursts out of someone’s neck, Draco shrieks, “What the fuck?” and startles badly.
Harry blocks Draco’s foot before he gets kicked across the couch. He knows what to expect now from a surprised Draco in front of the TV. Rice spills onto the floor from Draco’s plate, which he’s been balancing on his knees. “Oh, this is worse than Tooms,” Draco says. “Fuck.”
Harry picks up Draco’s bare, bony foot and places it back on the couch next to him. “Fuck, your feet are freezing,” he says, and he grabs Draco’s foot again, unable to help himself, and runs an experimental finger along the side of it. It’s May, but they’re like ice. “Why are you so fucking cold all the time?”
Draco jerks away from Harry’s finger. “Don’t,” he says, but he doesn’t actually take his foot completely away — he just digs them both hard into Harry’s leg, as though trying to shove them underneath his thigh. “My socks are far away.”
“You’re a wizard. With a wand, did you know? And — ” Harry tries to squirm away from his endlessly pushing feet, “ — so am I, I’ll hex your fucking feet — or just tickle them, I guess.”
“Did you threaten to tickle me?” says Draco, whipping his feet away again. Some more rice falls into the couch cushions. He ignores it. “Are we having a sleepover?”
“We’re always having a sleepover,” says Harry, pretending very hard that he is not embarrassed about threatening to tickle Draco Malfoy.
Draco gives him such an intensely withering look that a weaker man — a man who hasn’t heard Draco sing Toto’s Africa off-key in the shower — would have crumbled. “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that,” says Draco, giving him one last kick in the thigh. “For your sake.” He wrinkles his nose at the body on the screen and looks back at his dinner. “Why do we eat while we watch this?”
“Fuck if I know,” says Harry, looking at his lo mein with new suspicion.
“How do muggles think of these things?”
“Dunno. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a curse out there that does something like that, though.”
Draco pales, which is really saying something. “Oh, don’t. I don’t want to know. Don’t you dare look it up.”
“I’ll try to contain myself,” says Harry dryly. He never looks anything up. He can almost guarantee, however, that Draco will emerge from the university library some time in the next week grim with the answer to this question.
Draco stabs halfheartedly at his chicken. “I suppose they’re going to make us look at that again.”
“They definitely are,” says Harry.
Draco shudders. “Scully will figure it out,” he mumbles, almost to himself, and Harry tries very hard not to laugh out loud at him. Draco loves Scully. If Draco wasn’t gay, if he wasn’t living here because his long-term boyfriend dumped him and left him with nowhere to go (and for the record, Harry never liked Azi), Harry would think Draco had a massive crush on her.
“Or Mulder will,” says Harry, just to annoy him.
Draco scowls, and like Harry knew he would, he says, “Mulder wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for Scully. He’s got one goal and that’s it, fuck everything else, not to mention he’s always just sticking things he finds in his mouth…and this is why you don’t do that, you know!” He gestures to the screen, where Scully is explaining this awful neck thing as some sort of parasite. “Infection. Great ugly things bursting out of your neck.” He shudders again. “I do wonder how they did it, though, the TV making people.”
Draco studies muggles as a PhD candidate in History, specializing in Magic/Muggle relations, and Harry thinks he ought to write something about muggle special effects and magic, he’s so interested in it. But Draco’s all wrapped up in planning his dissertation. Despite only understanding about half of it, Harry has by now memorized the phrase “comparing the British and American applications of the statute of secrecy and the way their differing historical contexts brought forth contrasting cultural divisions.” All Harry really knows is it’s made Draco…different.
In a good way.
“That’s not really my field,” Draco always says when Harry says he ought to write about “muggle illusions,” but he was all flustered with excitement when Harry gifted him a book called Muggle Magic this past Christmas.
“Computers, probably,” Draco mumbles to himself. “Graphics.”
Draco spends a significant portion of the episode hiding behind a pillow. Whether it’s just “muggle magic” or not, he does not seem very excited to watch a parasite shoot out of people’s necks, nor to fear for his precious Scully’s life. At one point, he smacks the pillow down on Harry’s arm and buries his face in it, as if needing further shielding, and nothing even ends up happening — Harry laughs and laughs at him, and Draco smacks him across the face with the pillow, discombobulating the messy bun Harry usually shoves his hair into and sending his glasses flying.
“I don’t like watching that thing move around in their necks, it’s disgusting!”
“Jesus, I don’t like it either,” says Harry as he hunts for his glasses, pulling the bright yellow scrunchie that used to belong to Luna all the way out of his hair. “You don’t have to hit me for it.”
“For your information, I didn’t actually mean for it to be that hard — ” When Harry puts his glasses back on, a soft pink is blooming on Draco’s pale cheeks. “Just — but — don’t make fun of me.”
“I’m not laughing at you,” Harry says, knowing full well how much Draco will hate his words and fighting not to smirk as he flops back down on the couch. “I’m laughing with you.”
“Yeah, right,” Draco grumbles.
“I also don’t like looking at the parasite, Draco,” says Harry, tugging his hair back again. “I’m here for you.”
When the episode ends, before the tape’s even out, Draco says, “Go to bed, Potter.”
Harry snorts. “You can’t stand having a witness to your fear of the TV monster?”
Draco rolls his eyes and gives him a shove — much gentler than the smack with the pillow. “You have your Thursday meeting tomorrow,” he says. “And I’ll be here in the evening, so I don’t want to hear you whinging about how tired you are because you had to get up too early. Go to fucking bed.”
“Oh, no swot pub night?” says Harry, wanting to get up, actually, but not feeling particularly inclined to do so. He can’t apparate to bed from the couch. Draco would never, ever let it go, even if he is the sort of person who would rather complain than accio a pair of socks.
Draco stands, oblivious to Harry’s struggle with this particular task. He stretches. He’s so…long. Through Hogwarts it felt like the two of them were competing with height like with everything else, shooting up an inch above the other every once in a while. This fight, Draco’s won — by just a few inches, but by enough to notice, and that’s what counts.
It doesn’t actually bother Harry, though. Not anymore. It’s more just…he notices.
Harry remembers noting Draco’s changes over the years at school, the way he sprouted up but didn’t seem to get any wider, like a stretched piece of dough. Pasty. Stretched so far he might tear in places, if he wasn’t careful. Now he’s…different. He’s long, yes, and maybe his arms are a bit twiggy, but his face has matured, grown into its sharpness. He looks a little less consumptive and a little more distinguished.
Maybe it’s only the way he carries himself — less rigid. Gentler. But it’s something.
“Moved to Friday,” says Draco in response to Harry’s question, and for reasons Harry cannot fathom, his cheeks go very pink again — a lot pinker than they did before, actually.
“Oh,” says Harry. “Uh, okay.” It’s just pub night with Draco’s fellow students; he can’t imagine why anything about that would be embarrassing or different. “It’s ANEWT night Friday.”
“Yeah, I remembered,” says Draco, and he seems to go even pinker.
Harry’s too tired to analyze this, beyond the idle thought that he used to think Draco looked so stupid like that, flushing with anger or embarrassment, and now…well, he just doesn’t think like that anymore. He teases him sometimes, about acting like he doesn’t have any feelings but showing them all on his skin anyway, but he doesn’t actually look stupid. Not really.
“Oh,” Harry says again. “Well, I was going to invite you, which you know is a very exclusive invitation and all, but if you must go hang out with smart people…”
Draco stiffens. “You were going to…invite me?” He raises an eyebrow, looking like he’s trying to analyze Harry. Harry wonders if Draco has spent part of his life practicing eyebrow based expressions in front of the mirror. Harry tried, recently, but he can’t seem to get his eyebrows to move apart from each other.
Harry frowns. He was kidding about the “exclusive” bit. Well, sort of. It is true that ANEWT nights are usually just for the ANEWT crew — all the people Harry took his Adult NEWT classes with a couple years ago. But last month, Harry hosted at the flat, and nobody minded that Draco was in for the night. Most of them seemed to really take to him — Benjamin, in particular, an older gay man, kept beaming at Draco like his existence was precious — and Harry knows Draco and Blaise were happy to see each other.
“I thought you’d like to see Blaise again,” Harry says. “I know you haven’t since then. Er — well, I don’t think you have, anyway.”
He doesn’t know why he assumed he knows what Draco’s been up to, when he isn’t here. But…he kind of does know. Recently, Draco’s been telling him things like that, and Harry’s been trading with his own information — Draco meeting with his advisor, Harry seeing Hermione about the new squib program they want to start up at the center, Draco going to visit his Mum, Harry going to catch up with Luna.
Draco’s shoulders loosen a little, but he doesn’t exactly look happy. “Right,” he says. “No, I haven’t seen Blaise — I’ll see her another time.” He blinks. “We could invite her over, I suppose.”
“We could,” says Harry, having trouble picturing the three of them sat around the kitchen table like some sort of trio. He never expected to like Blaise at all, but since she’s come out as a woman, a lot of the chip on her shoulder has been knocked away, and like Draco she’s wickedly funny and fiercely loyal in ways Harry never saw or understood at school. Perhaps they could have fun, the three of them.
“Well,” says Draco. “Anyway. You need to go to bed.” He bustles to get his things together, grabbing his empty plate and his overstuffed bag, avoiding Harry’s eyes. “If you’re lucky, I’ll let you eat whatever I make for dinner tomorrow.”
“So pasta,” says Harry. It’s the one thing Draco’s managed to learn to cook in all his years away from the manor. That, and toast.
Draco snatches up the pillow and whacks him with it again.
It was the worst kind of deja vu.
“Merlin,” Draco said, “Have you ever knocked?”
“Have you ever locked a door?” Harry asked.
“Just don’t fucking slice me up this time, will you?” Draco snapped, and Harry said flatly, “Oh.”
“Right,” said Draco. His shoulders dropped. “Surely you’ve figured out by now that I tell very bad jokes.”
The thing was, Harry did. It’s not like they were best friends or anything, but he knew Draco better now than he thought he ever would. It was impossible not to by now. Hermione as good as adopted him back at uni, developing a strange, close friendship which seemed to make both of them cry a lot, only “in a good way,” whatever that meant, and Harry and Blaise got their NEWTs together, and Luna still flitted back and forth between their friend groups with ease, despite breaking up with Harry that summer.
When Harry was getting his teaching certification and Draco was in his last year of his first degree, the two of them ended up in the dining hall at the same time every Tuesday and Thursday, and they couldn’t just sit there and burn a hole in the back of the other’s head, and they absolutely, completely could not just ignore each other, so…they ate together. For a semester, they laughed together, and even talked about their lives a bit. Draco turned out to be an excellent complaining partner, once he remembered it was Harry he was speaking to, because (Harry supposes) Harry’s the one person whose opinion Draco doesn’t give a toss about, and Draco’s the one person who has never seen Harry as a hero who can never be wrong.
Harry supposes that, like the X-Files nights they have now, the lunches did in fact count as socializing. For fun. Friendship, or whatever.
In the bathroom that night at the Burrow, Draco performed a spell to wash away most of the splotchiness of his face, which was good because it’d been making Harry feel something horribly uncomfortable and possibly entirely new.
“And I cry in loos, too,” Draco said gloomily. “Whatever. It couldn’t get any fucking worse. It’s only fucking natural you’re here.” He ran a hand aggressively through his hair. He remained staring at the mirror and not at Harry.
“I heard, er,” said Harry. He wished immediately he hadn’t said it. Before the party, Hermione’d told them all that Azi had dumped Draco and Draco was insisting on coming to the party anyway because he was fine, it wasn’t like it hadn’t happened before, and somehow they were at a point in life where all of them knew this was just like Draco Malfoy and he wasn’t fine at all.
But Harry understood, and he thought he’d be furious if he was forced to confront that everyone had been whispering about him and trying to walk on eggshells.
“I’m sure Granger told everyone,” Draco snapped. “With her big fucking mouth — ” He froze, then closed his eyes and let out a long breath. “Merlin.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. Draco rarely called any of them by their last names anymore, especially not Hermione.
“Sorry,” said Draco. He looked a bit like Dobby in that moment, like he might start bashing his head against the wall, but luckily all he did was do another spell to fix his hair a bit. When Harry still didn’t respond, Draco said, “It’s not — it’s just. It isn’t him, I’m not that weak.” He said it like there wasn’t anything worse. “It’s — I thought I knew what the PhD was going to be but it’s really fucking hard, and now I’ve been turned out on my arse and there’s no way I’m going to live with my Mother — I don’t know how I’m going to — oh, fuck, what are you, my therapist? Could you stop staring at me and go away now, you know I won’t stop if there’s a pair of ears around, even if they are yours.” He dropped his hands from his hair and turned to glare.
Harry knew that, too. He said, “I’ve a spare room.”
Draco goggled at him.
“Er, no pressure, or anything,” Harry added hurriedly. “But I do have that. And you know, we — er, well I think we get on alright. Now.”
“Well,” Draco said. “I suppose I’m not bleeding.”
Harry winced. “Please — don’t.”
Draco shrugged. “I can do whatever I like to deal with my trauma,” he said lightly. “Just — go away, Potter, would you, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay. But I — ”
“Can you let a man muster up some fucking dignity before you keep talking to him, Merlin, Potter. Go piss in a bush, I’m sure there’s a gnome out there that’d love it.”
Harry wrinkled his nose. “You’re weird, Malfoy.”
“It won’t change,” said Draco.
Harry made sure to make eye contact with him in the mirror before leaving. “I know that.”
And it hasn’t changed.
Well, Draco didn’t get less weird, anyway.
But — well, it’s strange, how much you can learn about someone, living with him, even when he’s always at the university or buried under a pile of books. Even then, his unnecessary amount of hair products are all over the bathroom, and he leaves books and papers and quills and bottles of ink everywhere, and little sticky notes that say inexplicable things like “postcolonial perspectives? Meet with Liz” and “Bible???” And when he is around he’s impossible to ignore, impossible not to learn about, because he paces, and he hovers, and he hums and mutters under his breath like it’ll kill him to stop making noise for once in his life, and occasionally a weird mood will strike him and he’ll do something like try blowing up a marshmallow in the microwave just to see what will happen.
Sometimes it’s annoying, but Harry’s been bickering with Draco over half his life now; it’s as normal as having to do laundry or look for his glasses in his blankets when he passes out wearing them.
Mostly, it’s just…different. Nice, even. It’s nice to live with an equally sloppy person and not feel guilty about the state of the place. And sometimes Draco’s weird whims are kind of fun. When he blew up the marshmallow, the two of them ended up making the marshmallows duel by sticking toothpicks in them like wands until one pierced the other, and then they ate all the sticky goo that was left, and nobody was around to point out they’re twenty-five year old professional adults and perhaps should be beyond blowing up food on purpose.
Harry thinks living with Draco Malfoy is nice. They’re…friends, who do things alone together, for fun.
Teenage Harry would die. For real this time.
But that’s okay.
He met with some difficult parents this afternoon, and it’s spoiled his mood and left him with a headache, but he doesn’t want to miss ANEWT night. He pretends not to notice the pain pressing into his left temple as he makes his way through the chatter of the Friday evening customers and the strong smell of Indian food.
Where Hogwarts was Harry’s first home, and the Weasleys were Harry’s first real family, ANEWTs was the first time Harry figured out what really, truly fitting in could be like. Hogwarts did feel like that a bit — magic is a part of a Harry, a part that opened up like a rising sun when he went to Hogwarts. And it’s true that Ron and Hermione and all the Weasleys made Harry feel loved for the first time. But everybody doing ANEWTs…they’re all the other parts of Harry, too, the ones he didn’t used to know how to name.
All of them have some reason they didn’t sit for their NEWTs at the “proper” time, and for most of them, it’s something tough. They’re not just war kids, but people who’ve dealt with all sorts — illness, addiction, disability, abuse, disownment. They know about trauma. Harry’s friends from Hogwarts know about trauma, too, but most of them haven’t known it since they were in nappies, not like the ANEWT crew. Few of them are white, and apart from Blaise, estranged now from her family, and Victoria, kicked out for getting pregnant at sixteen, none of them come from money. They’re all different ages, from Benjamin and Katie, honorary parents in their fifties, to twenty-one year old Jonas, a whole year sober last month and finally acquiring some meat on their bones.
Harry knows Ron and Hermione don’t judge him, and nothing will ever be like the bond he has with them. But Ron and Hermione are engaged, and they’re going to have two kids and a fluffy pet and a nice cottage, probably, and Harry…after Luna broke up with him, until Draco moved in, he sometimes just sat there in his pants letting it get dark, wondering how exactly he fits into all that. Wondering if something got broken inside him long before the war, and that’s why all his other friends, traumatized by war as they may be, seem to have no trouble with easing into normal adult life — real grown up relationships, marriage, all the feelings things.
But with these friends Harry never feels off like that. He feels normal.
“Here he is!” a bunch of them shout when Harry enters the private room Nisha’s parents let them have for these meet-ups. They’ve all been taking turns hosting everyone monthly for the two years or so since they sat their exams. The shouting makes Harry’s headache throb, but he pushes out a smile anyway.
“Sit next to us, baby brother,” says Nisha, and she gives Harry a quick, tight hug before pushing him into the seat between she and Ravi. Ravi tweaks the knot in Harry’s hair fondly. At first, Harry felt awkward at the way the two of them did this, calling him their brother and joking with him about being Indian and knowing nothing about it, and sometimes he still does. But…Nisha’s parents are so fond of him, and they get teary and shove food on him like Molly Weasley, only different, and it feels like…it feels like finding a little piece of something that got taken from him.
So he doesn’t always mind it.
“Hello, Harry!” says Kambili in his booming voice from Ravi’s other side; he is an actor, and occasionally he reminds Harry a bit of Lockhart with his gregariousness — except he actually has talent to back it up, and he’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He claps Harry on the back, and Harry tries not to wince.
“Hello, Potter,” says Blaise, who is sat across from him, between Natalie, who is anxiously checking her mobile phone as she always is when she’s away from her young son, and Katie. Blaise always looks very sardonically amused about knowing Harry like this. She seems to face life like that, since her mum kicked her out and cut her off, armed with dark humor — though Harry knows she’s vulnerable. He knows Draco, so he can see the signs.
“Hello, Blaise,” says Harry, who has been trying for first name basis for ages. He never imagined it would be easier to do this with Draco than with Blaise.
Blaise rolls her eyes, tapping her long nails on the table. Lavender Brown, from Nisha’s other side, giggles. Since the war, she’s been a werewolf. When she showed up for the first ANEWTs session it was like she was a different person, not because of her scars but because of the massive chip on her shoulder, the way she expected them all to revile her. Over the years, she’s softening again, into the person she used to be, and Harry never thought he’d care so much about this, that he’d welcome it so warmly.
“How are you, Harry?” asks Katie, giving Blaise a little look. They all call Katie “Mum,” jokingly, because she’s the oldest, and in fact she has a teenage child. This child is trans, so Katie always takes special care to make sure Blaise and Jonas are well; Harry is not surprised to see her sitting with Blaise, nor is he surprised when he realizes they appear to have matching purple manicures, though he thinks Blaise would die if Harry made it clear he noticed.
“I’m alright,” says Harry. “A bit of a headache, but — I think I just need to eat, probably.”
“I hope you’ve at least eaten some time today,” says Benjamin from Katie’s other side. Like Katie is their honorary mum, Benjamin’s the group dad. He’s invited them all to Passover and Sukkot and Chanukah with he and his long-term partner, always getting all teary over having lots of people come for the holidays, since his Mum is dead and his father doesn’t speak to him.
“I have,” Harry says, and he isn’t lying like he might have been a few years ago.
Benjamin smiles. “How is your flatmate?”
Blaise shakes her head and picks up her water glass, taking a sip. The only alcohol they’ve ever had at ANEWT events is for Kiddush at Benjamin’s holidays, and now he just uses grape juice when they come, for Jonas and Lucy.
“Yeah, Blaise?” says Harry.
“Oh, nothing,” she says airily.
“What?” says Ravi, zeroing in. He grips Harry’s shoulder. “Is there gossip on this front?”
“Let’s hear the gossip!” says Kambili.
“Is there gossip?” says Harry, honestly confused. He exchanges looks with Jonas, who is the quietest of them all and understands how overwhelming it can be to be the center of attention. They shrug in their holey sweater.
“It’s nothing,” says Blaise, rolling her eyes again. “Draco’s just — you know.” She swirls the water glass around like it’s fancy wine or something. “He’s very…himself. Living in the dorms with him was quite enough.”
“I like living with him,” says Harry, rather more hotly than he meant to.
Blaise puts down her water and holds up her hands as if in surrender, but she’s smirking worse than Draco ever does.
Nisha coughs a bit into her own glass, and she exchanges looks with the rest of the girls, Lavender and Lucy and Natalie. Harry tries to catch Jonas’ eyes again, but they’re looking down at the table, long fringe hiding their eyes. Ravi shakes Harry’s shoulder in a way that doesn’t help his head at all and lets go, laughing.
“He’s good, Benjamin,” says Harry, ignoring them because he doesn’t really understand their behavior and doesn’t have the energy to fight through his headache to do it. “He’s out with school friends tonight.”
“It’s nice they’re getting out and having fun,” says Katie, shooting the still-laughing Ravi a “mind your manners” sort of look Harry used to associate only with Molly Weasley. “I know it must be so stressful, my niece is studying literature and she’s always buried in work. Plus I can’t understand half of what she’s talking about when I do get to see her.”
“Yeah, it’s like that with Draco sometimes,” says Harry.
The conversation veers to Lucy beginning her own degree in Potions next year, which gets to the topic of Harry being shit at it except when he’s cheating, which gets to cheating stories (Lavender is particularly scandalized by the way Harry and Ron handled Divination with Trelawney, which makes Nisha snort water out of her nose). Katie pretends to be scandalized by all these stories until she admits she married a man who got kicked out of France, which immediately becomes the hot topic for the whole table, the lot of them making so much noise the rest of the restaurant must hear them through the walls, until Nisha’s beaming parents bring them loads of food.
Harry’s dreams that the food will relieve his headache don’t come true. Normally, the sounds of everyone talking and laughing around him make him feel good, but right now they just push and prod at the spot above his left eye, making both his eyes water, and his mood plummets more and more, because he loves Nisha’s parents’ food, and he just wants to hear about Katie’s criminal frenchman and Jonas becoming a sponsor and Kambili’s new play and everything else flying around the table over heaping platters and dishes.
Strangely, he has the fleeting wish Draco came with him, as though Draco being busy is what changed the mood of this night. This has nothing to do with Draco. This just happens sometimes. He calls them “Voldemort migraines,” if he’s not in the mood to care about Hermione hating the phrase, because he never used to get these, not like this, before a piece of a Dark Lord got ripped out of his body. Harry has had many a good night without Draco, many a night with no Draco and no Voldemort migraine. He has, in fact, spent most of his life considering Draco an impediment to a good night.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Harry?” says Katie kindly, taking his hand across the table.
“I’m…” Harry shakes his a bit and winces. “I don’t think this headache is going away,” he admits.
“Did you take anything for it?” asks Nisha.
Harry doesn’t want to answer. This seems to say enough, because Nisha sighs and Ravi clucks his tongue and shoves Harry’s arm. “Go home and take a potion, mate,” says Ravi. “We’ll see you again.”
Harry doesn’t want to leave early. But now Katie and Benjamin have heard, and they’re insisting he get some rest, and recommending potions, and Ravi and Kambili start arguing about whether regular over-the-counter muggle painkillers are better than charms or potions, and Jonas is jumping in to insist muggle drugs have helped them a lot since they can’t take potions anymore, and Nisha is telling everyone to shut the fuck up so she can get a word in, and the rest of the girls, not having noticed any of this, are screaming with laughter over something, and — yeah, Harry has to go.
Laden with leftovers and hugs and well wishes from everyone, Harry apparates right home.
The flat is blessedly dark and cool and empty.
He grabs a headache potion from the medicine cabinet, thinking it might belong to Draco, technically, but whatever, their things mix like this more and more lately, and he collapses into bed.
And then, exactly when Harry thinks things might be improving, Harry’s life gets turned entirely upside down.
He’s nearly asleep when he hears the front door. And that’s okay, whatever, it’s Draco, home from his own night out. Harry’s gotten readjusted to another person coming and going at all hours. He shifts in bed and presses his aching temple into the pillow.
But then there’s another voice mingling with Draco’s.
It’s a deep, rich voice, floating easily through the thin walls of the flat. And Draco’s voice — it’s different than usual, different than how he always talks to Harry. When he talks to Harry, he has two modes, it seems, either annoyed or amused. Although sometimes, lately, he even sounds…warm, like Harry didn’t know Draco could be.
But the way Draco’s talking now feels like when girls sometimes try to speak to Harry and think he might like them to be coy or helpless, which Harry never likes or understands, and which sounds very, very odd in Draco’s voice. Harry quite can’t hear what it is they’re saying — just the rise and fall of their voices, the odd tones, the occasional rumble of laughter.
Harry’s interest is mildly peaked, but he relaxes and rolls over again, ready to ignore it, because he’s too tired and in pain to really care.
Until they take it to the bedroom.
Then he’s wide awake.
Draco’s gay he thinks wildly, and it’s the stupidest and weirdest thought to have. He knows this. He’s known this for years. He met Azi several times, and yeah, he never liked the bloke very much, but he was Draco’s boyfriend, and he did a favor for them when they were starting up the Lily Center for Muggle Borns, checking Grimmauld Place over for lingering dark magic, so Harry was always polite enough. He knew Azi broke Draco’s heart, and in order for this to have happened, Draco had to have loved him. He had to have been…you know. Gay.
But it’s never made Harry feel like his heart is in his throat like this.
They’re not ridiculously loud or anything. It’s not like — porn, or something, with a bunch of embarrassing dirty talk or anything like that. (Not that Harry has a lot of experience with porn. It always makes him feel weird. The girls never look like the sort of girls Harry likes, and they act in ways he doesn’t like much, either, helpless and artificial. And Harry doesn’t really see the point, anyway — what is sex without someone he loves involved?) But the walls are thin. Harry can hear the bed creak, the occasional soft human noise that makes his breath catch in his throat. There’s no question what’s going on. Draco’s having sex with a man in the other room.
Harry’s afraid to cast a silencing charm, because he’s afraid to move again, even a little. He doesn’t want to make any noise at all, anything that will let Draco know he can hear this.
It’s stupid, but before this moment, he’s never really given a lot of thought to the mechanics of two men in bed together. It just…never occurred to him. Back when Harry first found out about Draco, he was a bit shocked, but just because he didn’t think he’d ever known anyone gay. He just didn’t think about that sort of thing, except as a vague concept the Dursleys didn’t like and people didn’t want you to be in the showers at school. And then Ginny started dating Cho Chang (Ron and George think this is just hilarious), and Lavender started dating Parvati for real, and Benjamin was gay, and it turned out Charlie didn’t have any interest in sex or marriage altogether, and Harry just thought…well, some people are different, and they want different things, and that’s okay.
But now — now, hearing the bed creak more vigorously in the room across the hall and hearing someone — Draco, he’s pretty sure it’s Draco — let out a sudden audible “Oh,” and a low approving response from the other man, Harry’s mind is filled with what exactly Draco is doing in there, and he feels…
And then he feels a thousand times worse.
It isn’t right to feel sick at the thought of…of…sometimes people gave Draco and Azi shit, back in the day, out in public. Once some chavvy bloke called Draco an unrepeatable word in a pub, and Harry almost knocked him out — which Azi, for some reason, did not appreciate, but Azi was always weird.
Harry knows it’s wrong to judge Draco on the basis of who he likes or how he likes to…to have sex. He’s always thought, once he had occasion to think about it, that people who make a big deal out of it aren’t any better than Death Eaters. And yet…Draco’s having sex with whoever that man is, and Harry can hear it, just a bit, and that means he can picture it, and…
It makes him feel awful. It makes him feel like he’s going to throw up.
It’s not supposed to be like this.
He’s accidentally overheard Ron and Hermione having sex before, and it wasn’t ideal, he’d rather not have it happen again, but he didn’t feel…ill like this. They couldn’t meet each other’s eyes for maybe an hour or so, after they’d realized Harry was home, and then they’d all burst out laughing at once. But the idea of laughing with Draco about this…it makes Harry’s heart twist oddly, like he can’t bring himself to embrace it as okay. It’s not okay! his heart seems to shout at him, but it is. It can’t not be. Harry’s not like that. He’s not like those people who glance sideways at Draco if he’s talking with his hands too much, or if he stands in the way he does when he forgets himself and his legs slide closer together and his hip cocks out to the side, like his parents tried to train out of him.
Draco isn’t doing anything wrong. He’s twenty-five and he went out and he’s brought somebody back, probably thinking Harry isn’t back yet. He hasn’t been with Azi in half a year. It’s probably a good thing, that he feels like he wants to sleep with other people, that he’s moving on from that. Azi really fucked him up, kicking him out of their flat like that.
Harry’s known Draco’s gay, and it’s nothing. It’s nothing to do with Harry.
But his headache feels worse. His stomach roils. He can’t imagine facing Draco, knowing…picturing…whatever’s happening. For a brief, wild moment, Harry imagines himself shouting at the man to go away, to get out of the friendship the two of them have managed to make.
To stop Harry from learning this horrible thing about himself.
But he can’t do that. He can only listen to the soft tones of people who have just slept together in the room across the hall, hating himself intensely.
He’s been doing pretty well on that front recently, the whole hating himself front. He goes whole days, whole weeks even, without thinking of how awful he is. And now he’s gone and turned out to be more deserving of that hatred than he thought.
He doesn’t get out of bed on Saturday until well past noon, and when he does Draco is hovering around the kitchen to ask him if he’s well, which is one of the worst possible things he could do.
Draco doesn’t look any different. Because he isn’t any different from who he was on Wednesday, with Harry on the couch.
He’s in jeans, dressed like a muggle like he’s done since he started at the university for the first time, and his feet are bare. His hair’s a bit damp. There’s no sign a pair of lips touched him anywhere, and of course there’s not, because they’re not sixteen.
Harry wonders if that man slept over. If he saw Draco’s secret bedhead. If he…if they did anything else, while Draco was like that. If they showered together, some man touching Draco in Harry’s shower like Ginny used to touch Harry, like Luna used to.
“I’m fine,” Harry croaks as he shoves some bread in the toaster (an appliance Draco finds endlessly fascinating for some fucking reason). He is. Yeah, he’s got a bit of a migraine hangover, and his hair probably looks rank, down and un-showered, but that’s all.
“Right,” says Draco. “I got some new hangover potion, if you need it.”
“Needed it this morning?” Harry asks dully.
Draco gives him the raised eyebrow. “No,” he says. “But when it was lunch time and you weren’t up, I thought maybe you would. I thought you lot didn’t drink when you were out, but I also know…what you’re like, so.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry says. He didn’t mean for it to come out so harshly.
“Relax,” says Draco, both eyebrows now raised. “I meant I know what your hangovers are like, and this is classic hangover behavior. I don’t care if you went out to drink after with someone, I’m not a fucking Puritan.”
It’s true Harry does this sometimes, with Nisha or Lavender or Kambili.
“Thanks,” Harry shoves out.
“Right, well, I won’t get in your way,” says Draco.
“Okay,” says Harry, which probably isn’t the right, polite answer, and Draco tuts a little before he leaves the room. Harry watches him go, his skinny arms and legs and his ridiculously light hair and his pink sweater, and…he can’t help it.
He thinks about it.
Draco took his clothes off in front of a man — took out his long limbs, the light hair on his legs, and the scars Harry knows slice across his chest. The man touched him. The man kissed him, probably. Harry thinks of some man’s mouth on Draco’s, a mouth surrounded by stubble maybe, like Harry’s is — and his gut roils, and he swears when his toast pops up.
There’s something wrong with him. What does it fucking matter to him? What does it fucking matter now? It’s not like he thought Draco never had sex. It’s not like he didn’t know.
Harry hopes he’ll be over it when the weekend ends, but Monday morning, while they’re both bustling around the kitchen before work, Draco receives an unfamiliar little owl, and when he takes the short letter from its leg he lets out a little smug “hmm” and does not pay any attention to Harry.
All Harry can think about is what that letter said.
Was it…dirty? Is Draco going to sleep with that man again? Surely not while Harry’s around this time. He doesn’t appear to know Harry was there.
Harry loves his job, but starting off the week with these thoughts in his head makes it very hard to concentrate properly, even at work, and as the week drags on it doesn’t go away.
The Lily Center for Muggle Borns opened its doors nearly a year ago. Hermione, Dean, and Justin Finch-Fletchley are jointly responsible for the idea — a way to integrate muggle born children to the magical community sooner — and it’s up and running thanks to Harry’s donation of Grimmauld Place, Azi’s free look-over for anti-muggle magic, and years of planning, legal battles regarding the statute of secrecy (with Hermione at the helm and Draco in the background), and renovations.
Harry never expected to end up teaching, especially not little ones. He went into Auror training right after the war, bypassing his NEWTs with Ron. It was horrible. He had flashbacks and nightmares. He shouted at his friends a lot, like he was fifteen again. He was distant and mean to Ginny. He was lucky one of the training officers didn’t press charges after he threw his wand to the side and punched the man hard in the jaw after failing a practice exercise for “being a hero” and not leaving one dummy behind to save the rest. He graduated training by the skin of his teeth, but he didn’t go back. He didn’t join the force. They were soulless there. They did things by The Rules, not by sense or empathy. He left humiliated and depressed.
He doesn’t actually remember a lot of the year after that, except that he thinks maybe he might have died, for good this time, if his friends hadn’t convinced him to go to therapy.
But now, over five years later, Harry’s got his NEWTs, and with them a lot of new friends, and these children in his care, who he can help without hurting anyone. He’s known all his students from their first home visit, in which he, Dean, and Professor McGonagall go to break the news of their magical abilities, and he finds them the only people he’s ever been able to harness any patience for. They don’t know any better. And Harry can help them to know better. He can help them to know confidence, and patience, and love. They can be more prepared for magic than he ever was. They can turn into someone different from him.
This week, he gives them too much free time. He was already behind on his lessons, but for the first time Harry sees their innocent faces and does not feel heartened but instead dirty and awful in comparison.
When Mohammed loses a favorite toy, Eleanor and Callum help him look all over the classroom for it. They don’t tell Harry at first, though he’d be able to accio it, because they don’t want Mohammed to get in trouble for bringing a toy to school when he’s already sad. They band together trying to make sure Harry doesn’t see Mohammed’s tears. He does, because it’s his job, but he can’t help but be charmed by this little loyal trio.
When Saoirse falls on the playground and skins her knee, Lewis starts running a whole comedy routine to make her feel better while Harry puts a plaster over her knee, telling her jokes that don’t make any sense like, “Why did the crocodile cross the road? Because he farted and then it made him run real fast!” until she’s giggling and free of tears.
When Georgia makes fun of David’s new glasses, Mohammed tells David, “Mr. Harry has glasses and he’s the best teacher ever,” and he cuts Georgia such a Look Harry thinks Draco would be proud, leaving Harry with a pile of mixed emotions over the whole interaction.
When the school days are over, he stays late, deep cleaning the toys the muggle way, dragging out his meetings with Dean, and offering to sort paperwork for Hermione, as she only makes it to the center about once a week — she mainly practices law. The last one makes Hermione look at him askance, but she doesn’t ask — not yet, anyway.
He doesn’t even know if Draco’s going to be home, half the time. He has evening classes on Tuesdays, and he’s always having extra meetings to fret to his advisor, and probably even if he’s home he’s holed up in his room muttering aloud while he reads about witch burnings and the expelling of wizards from Harvard University and William III and whatever else.
But there’s no chance at all Draco will turn up at the center while Harry’s scrubbing chunky legos and plastic dragons. This is Harry’s space, a space free of sex or bigotry.
The one thing he can’t avoid is Wednesday, not without looking suspicious — and he really, really doesn’t want to be a person who avoids X-Files night with his gay friend. So he doesn’t. Maybe he really does need to stay late at work some days, but he can think of no good excuse for staying away on X-Files night, not when he hasn’t missed a single one before.
Draco brings perfect hot, greasy fish and chips from a shop near the University to which they used to go when they were sick of the dining hall. He shows up minutes after Harry looking harassed, like always, and he is in his most frequent TA outfit, a collared shirt peaking out from under a sweater. It’s the blue sweater that makes his eyes look almost blue, too — Harry’s favorite thing Draco wears.
He remembers this is his friend, and that for days now, he has been being very stupid.
“That smells so good,” says Harry, his shoulders loosening.
“Good,” says Draco, dropping his bag at the door and toeing off his shoes. “I walked by on my way to class and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole time. A girl was presenting on the Romanovs’ breaches of the statute of secrecy, doing the whole ‘what cool fallen martyrs’ song and dance, as if they weren’t all, you know, vile, and still all I could think about was fried food.”
“Saved her life, then, I guess,” says Harry. He knows for a fact Draco used to think the Romanovs were so cool, and he looks at every student like this as though they were a tiny him — meaning with no sympathy whatsoever. It’s not, Harry thinks, exactly the best method for teaching, but he’s not going to say anything. The people he teaches are a bit different from undergraduates, and this is the first time Draco’s ever done anything even similar to teaching.
“Didn’t save her grade,” says Draco, “But that’s a problem for future me.” He collapses onto the couch and presses his nose against the greasy paper containing his food. “Put the tape in, Potter. I must see Scully.”
Harry snorts. “Right away, sir, but I’m gonna need my food first.”
“No, I think I’ll eat them both,” says Draco, but he passes one of the hot parcels to Harry.
So it’s okay at first. Draco’s quickly bored by the plot, and even Harry can’t quite make sense of this one, but the food is good, and Draco’s wearing his blue sweater and occasionally interjecting with dry criticisms of Mulder’s actions.
This is Harry’s friend, and Harry is a good person.
But then Draco, frowning at the TV, brings his legs up onto the couch and, like last week, tries to press his bare feet under Harry’s thigh. And Harry, like an idiot, like the horrible person he actually is, flinches.
Draco stares at him, perplexed. Harry waits, sweating, for the moment Draco realizes he’s living with a homophobic arsehole who’s no better than anyone else who’s ever been grossed out by someone being in love. This moment doesn’t seem to come — if it did, Harry thinks, Draco would be much more upset, and he would probably leave, and he would be well within his rights to do so.
But he does take his feet away and refrain from further contact.
Harry can’t look at him now. He thinks of the way they joked last week, Harry running his finger over Draco’s bare foot and making him balk from ticklishness, and wants it back desperately. He wants just the beginning of the evening back, even, Draco smiling and pressing his nose to the greasy wrappings of fish and chips. Harry remembering that they are friends, and they’ve both worked hard to get here.
But he can’t have it back.
He wants to blame Draco or the man he slept with, but he knows it’s his own fault.
Harry’s still feeling mopey and off-kilter on Friday afternoon when Dean sticks his head into the Purple Room and says, “Who’s ready for Friday Free Art?”
Naturally, Harry’s running behind, and it’s worse because of how much free time he’s allowed them this week; he gives Dean an exasperated look as the children immediately forget they were participating in any kind of lesson and cheer.
Dean doesn’t care. He says, “Mate, it’s 1:30.”
“Oh — ” Harry looks at the clock and narrowly avoids swearing in front of his tiny Year 1s. He completely forgot about his scheduled meeting with Luna. He hasn’t thought about it all week, because apparently he can’t think about things he should anymore, things other than his roommate’s private business. “Okay, Purple Room, papers in your cubbies, we’ll finish up next week, then take a seat and wait for directions from Mr. Dean — ” He turns back to the man in question. “Wasn’t I meant to meet her at 1?”
“Luna wasn’t here yet,” says Dean as the children all begin talking at once, scrambling over chairs and leaving papers and large chunky pencils behind everywhere. “I don’t know how the two of you ever got anywhere back in the day. We used to take bets — yes, hello, Callum!”
“Mr. Dean, I saw you this morning!” Callum, who has been desperately waving for Dean’s attention since he walked in, says. “I saw you in the office when mummy brought me in late!”
“Yeah, I saw you, too, mate!” says Dean. “Made my morning.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all,” says Harry to Dean, and it feels weird to say “we” like that about him and Luna like it’s 2002. “Take your seat, Callum, alright, so Mr. Dean can start soon?”
“Mr. Harry!” shouts Georgia from the cubbies. “Mohammed put his things in my cubby!”
“It wasn’t on purpose, I didn’t know — ”
“That’s alright, Mohammed, just put it in yours and no harm done,” says Harry. “Georgia, what do we do before coming to me?”
“Work it out together,” Georgia says darkly.
“Right.” He turns to Dean. “Where am I going?”
“Mr. Dean, can I draw a tulip today?” asks Louise.
“It’s Friday Free Art, you can draw any idea you can think of,” says Dean. “But first we have to be seated with our listening ears on.” He turns to Harry. “Luna’s — ”
“Mr. Harry,” says Lewis, tugging on Harry’s sweater.
“I lost my crocodile.”
Harry blinks. “Well — okay, when did you have it last?”
Lewis frowns. “I don’t remember that part.”
“Okay,” says Harry. “We’ll find it somewhere. But Lewis, remember, we shouldn’t bring our own toys to school, because — ”
Lewis looks at him like he’s starting speaking another language. “It’s not a toy, it’s my crocodile. I lost him in the tube. He lives down there now, eating the tracks.”
“Right,” says Harry. “I hope he doesn’t eat the tracks I need all up before I get home. Can we take a seat?”
“Mr. Harry, you don’t take the tube, you do apparating,” says Eleanor.
“I can’t get anything past you lot,” says Harry.
“Mr. Harry has to go have a meeting, friends,” says Dean.
“What’s your meeting for, Mr. Harry?” little voices call out. “Who are you meeting? Are you meeting the Magic Minister?”
Dean says firmly, “We’re all going to worry about ourselves, and if you take a seat and wait for directions, we’ll get to talk while we do our art. Harry, Luna’s in my office, you can head over there. Georgia, our bodies to ourselves, please.” He gives Harry a wry look and says, “Run while you can, man.”
Harry hurries out the door. He can hear Georgia’s voice still through the walls, indignant, and across the hall are the Year 2s with Chelsey, who appear to be singing, but in comparison to the Purple Room itself, the hall is blessedly quiet.
Harry does love his job, in a way he never imagined he could, but that doesn’t mean it’s never given him a Voldemort migraine.
The thought of those headaches threatens to sour Harry’s mood further, but as he makes his way downstairs to the ground floor, which is now made up of offices, the Friday afternoon energy is everywhere, and he can’t help but smile at the contagious joy. He can hear bursts of laughter from upstairs and outside, and Georgia’s voice still. From the yard, children’s voices shout a rhyme in unison and an adult yells, “Be careful!,” and from upstairs he hears Dennis Creevey say clearly, “Absolutely not!”
Harry thinks his familiarity with chaos might actually have been an important tool in succeeding in this career path.
Luna is perched on Dean’s desk when Harry gets to the office. Technically, Dean is the resident social worker, but he spends an hour each day doing art with one of the classes. Because Friday is the Purple Room’s art day, this is the time Dean offered up his office for Luna to interview Harry for the Quibbler about the new programs they’re starting up for muggle born and wizard born children to spend time with each other before Hogwarts. (They do not say “pureblood” at the Lily Center.) She’s already talked to Hermione and Dean and Justin together, but she insisted her readers will want to hear from Harry.
Harry probably wouldn’t do it for anyone else. He doesn’t like swinging his name around; people should pay attention to important things whether he’s said something about them or not. But he’ll always love Luna, if not in the same way he used to, and he knows she means well and wants to help. And if he’s going to use his fame for anything, it might as well be for something useful, something good, something he actually believes in.
“Harry,” Luna says happily, standing up to give him a light squeeze. In typical Luna fashion, her wide legged floral trousers clash with her polka dotted top so much even Harry notices, but he always thinks she looks nice anyway. “I think I was late,” she says, like it’s a curiosity, not anything to feel bad about or apologize for.
The years they were together did not do much to help either of their ideas of manners. Hermione would never, ever admit it, but Harry’s pretty sure she was relieved when they split up. Hermione’s softened up with Luna very much over the years, but Harry and Luna wandering about the world together probably came closer to giving Hermione a coronary than any of the law work she does. “Could you imagine if they have children?” he overheard her fretting to Ron once. “They’ll get to Hogwarts having never heard of a clock.”
Whatever Hermione thinks, though, Harry remembers fondly the days he and Luna spent going nowhere and doing nothing in particular, entirely unaware of anyone else. Luna’s really good at making the rest of the world disappear.
She’s also entirely uninterested in being a mother, which is one of the things that led to their breakup, but that’s not really Hermione’s business.
Harry smiles at Luna and shrugs. “You know I never know what time it is.”
“A construct,” says Luna. “That’s what it is.” She drops into Dean’s desk chair like she owns the place. Her earrings are like little dangling wind-chimes; they tinkle softly when she sits.
“Too right,” says Harry, settling into the chair across from the desk and trying not to feel like he’s getting scolded by a professor.
“I suppose we should start,” says Luna, and they talk about Harry’s students, the upcoming party to kick off their community events, the way the center works and what they teach. Luna hums, stares off into space while her quill writes on its own, puts her feet up on Dean’s desk, drums her fingers on the armrest, and several times cocks her head to stare at Harry like a curious cat. Whenever she does this, he is reminded uncomfortably of Dumbledore, feeling like she is seeing far past the words he’s saying. Luna always seems to know things. And it doesn’t help that she’s sitting behind the desk, even if it is far less grand than Dumbledore’s.
If Luna can tell what’s been plaguing him all week, she’ll be so disappointed in him.
This thought spoils his tentatively lifting mood at once, returning him without mercy to his emotional state at home.
“And is there anything new going on with the squib program?” Luna asks.
“That’s more Dean and Justin’s area,” says Harry, trying to pretend he’s glum over this instead. “I know Hermione’s got them in contact with the Office of Squib Affairs, but the whole thing’s only, what, two people? And I don’t even think they work full time.”
“No, they don’t,” says Luna. “Terry was mentioning it, do you remember Terry Boot? His Aunt is one of the employees they have, she’s been there forever. I do hope you’re able to be another resource for people.”
“We hope so, too.”
“Anyway, I think that’s all I need.” Luna takes her quill into her hand, scribbles down something herself, and slaps her notepad shut. “Thank you, Harry. Now.” She folds her hands on the desk and looks at him expectantly.
“Now?” says Harry, stomach sinking further.
“Something is troubling you.”
“No,” Harry says fruitlessly. He’s never been able to hide from Luna.
“I don’t believe you,” she says simply. “Dean said you were a bit under the weather this week. But you don’t seem ill, so I don’t think it’s a physical thing.”
“Gossiping about me?” Harry says, knowing how grumpy and stupid he sounds right away. He slouches further into the chair like he really is sixteen again.
“Caring about you,” says Luna. She leans back in Dean’s chair and starts pulling her long hair into sections to braid. She’s doing that thing where Harry swears she’s taking too long to blink. It always makes him squirm.
“I’m okay,” Harry insists. “I mean, it’s nothing. It’s stupid.”
“How are things at home?” Luna asks.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry snaps.
He is an idiot.
Luna raises her eyebrows. “So,” she says. “It’s home. Draco, probably?”
For some reason this simple guess at the real problem makes Harry want to cry, of all things. “Draco hasn’t done anything wrong,” he says hotly.
“I didn’t think he had,” says Luna, and she sounds calm where Harry might sound defensive or sarcastic. It makes him feel even worse about disappointing her — disappointing his friends, himself, Draco.
Harry stands abruptly. “I’ve got to go back to my class to finish up the day, Luna — everything’s fine.”
“You can talk to me even if we’re not in love anymore,” Luna says, blunt and innocent at once like only she can be.
“I — ” Harry swallows. “I know that, Luna, thank you. I’ll talk to you soon.”
He leaves before she can say any other good things that make him feel like a shit person.
Normally, he’d drop some things home at first, maybe change his clothes or shower — his Friday jeans have mud on them now from the yard, his hair’s falling out of its bun, and he smells like fingerpaints. But he doesn’t go home.
The fact people have noticed his discomfort this week makes everything feel worse. If Dean has noticed, if Luna noticed…what has Draco noticed?
The last thing Harry wants to do is hurt him. But he thinks of the way he flinched away from Draco’s feet on Wednesday and his heart clenches.
He can’t go home and mess up again.
He doesn’t often go to the Burrow on Friday; it isn’t a routine or a tradition or anything. The family tends to show up on Sundays, the kind of thing for which nobody needs either an invitation or an excuse for not showing up (unless it’s been more than a few weeks, upon which you might receive an owl with a passive aggressive, but genuinely concerned all the same, note). But Molly is thrilled to see him, hugging him tightly, and so is Teddy, turquoise haired and chatty; Harry offered to babysit this weekend, but Teddy got sent to the Weasleys, Andromeda saying Harry needs a break from kids nowadays, too.
Honestly, Harry thinks she doesn’t quite like the idea of Teddy in the messy flat of single men in their twenties, and he can’t say he blames her. Neither he nor Draco can be trusted to have nutritional food around at any given time, let alone food that hasn’t expired, and you never know what Draco will leave lying around.
Ron, Ginny, and Cho are over, too. Harry feels strange seeing the girls, because he remembers how Ginny and Charlie struggle to get Molly to understand their lives. He wonders if he should really be here — reminding Molly that he and Ginny were once a thing, not to mention polluting the scene with his own, apparently awful, private thoughts. But right now Molly is beaming at Cho and talking to her like she’s part of the family, so Harry sits down to eat shepard’s pie with everyone else.
“No Hermione?” he says to Ron.
“At her parents,” says Ron. He shoots his parents a mischievous look. “So I figured, why not, sounds like as good an idea as any.”
“No one to cook for him, so he has to wander over here like a lost lamb,” Molly clucks.
“Hermione can’t cook, Mum,” says Ron, with the sound of someone who has said this many, many times. “I cook.”
Harry catches Cho’s eye; she looks away quickly before she laughs, slipping potato into her mouth to keep it occupied.
“He’s learned from the best,” says Ginny diplomatically, which is unusual for her, but then she adds, “Someone had to absorb it, I mostly eat TV dinners.”
“You do not,” says Cho.
Molly shakes her head, but before she can say anything, Arthur says, “TV dinners?”
“You don’t know what I do when you’re not shoving vegetables down my throat,” Ginny says to Cho.
“I think I do,” says Cho. “We do live together.”
“What is a TV dinner?” Arthur insists. “Why haven’t I heard of it?”
“Oh, Merlin,” says Ginny, but she launches into an explanation, knowing her dad will want every possible detail.
While Ginny and Arthur’s conversation devolves into the finer points of supermarket freezer aisles, Teddy says, “Harry, my whole class is coming to the Lily Center party. I asked and every single person said they’re going to come, even Wilkes, and he’s not very nice usually.” He shoves potato into his mouth and beams at Harry with a mouth full of food, something he certainly doesn’t get away with around Andromeda.
“Unfortunately even mean people go to parties,” says Harry, amused. “But it seems like there’ll be loads of kids there, so you’ll be able to avoid him.”
“Oh, I know,” says Teddy. “I just mean I think it’s good he’s coming. I think he should see people who aren’t like him, that’s what Draco said. He said that can help a person be less mean.”
Harry blinks. “Oh,” he says. “When did you talk to Draco about it?”
“Last night,” says Teddy. “He came round for dinner. Grandma said she thinks he was feeling lonely. When I was little he always came to see me when he was feeling lonely. I don’t remember that, but Grandma said. But where were you?”
Harry’s chest suddenly hurts.
“I…well, I was with different friends.”
He went for drinks with Kambili, Ravi, and Nisha. He didn’t get home until Draco was shut up in his room.
“You should have asked Draco to come,” says Teddy, like a wise man dolling out advice. “Maybe that’s why he was lonely. One time my friend Gemma went to my friend Charlotte’s house on a Saturday, and when I found out about all the things they did without me I felt really lonely.”
“I’ll — yeah, I’ll think about that next time,” Harry manages. For the second time today, his throat hurts like it does when he realizes he’s going to cry and tries to stop it. “I think you’re probably right.”
When Teddy is distracted by Ginny’s apparently wrong explanation of some muggle supermarket curiosity, Cho asks, “You okay, Harry?”
Harry shrugs. He picks at his food, much less hungry than he thought he was. “Oh…you know.”
She laughs. “I mean, I know why I’m stressed out,” she says. “Smith is foaming at the mouth about the Harpies next week. She thinks we haven’t got a chance, and I mean…we’ve got this one to worry about.” She gestures at Ginny, who is pretending to believe muggles use little monkeys to work the conveyer belts at the tills in order to infuriate Teddy. “But you’ll have to tell me about your woes.”
Harry looks back and forth between Ginny and Cho — Ginny’s strong arms and sparkling eyes as Teddy splutters at her, Cho’s soft face and flowing ponytail. He remembers how he used to feel about them. The heat of his first crush. The intensity of his first love. Noticing what colors they wore and how they smiled, relishing their laughs and the exchanging of private looks.
There’s nothing wrong with Ginny and Cho feeling this way about each other now. There’s nothing wrong with Draco feeling this way about a man.
If Harry knows this to be true, if he can say it to himself with such absolute certainty, why does he feel so awful when he thinks of Draco last week? When he thinks of the possibility that Draco could do it again, tonight? This weekend?
Why can’t he stop thinking about it?
“I’m just tired,” Harry tells Cho finally. “I do love the kids, but there’s a lot going on at the center right now. I don’t know how Hermione does it.”
“Hermione’s not like everyone else, that’s how,” Ron interjects proudly.
This catches Ginny’s attention; she pretends to stick her finger down her throat in disgust.
“Last week you told me Cho’s the best player in the league and because of her the Tornadoes are the only team with a chance to beat you,” says Ron. “And I’ve never heard you say that about anyone else. So go boil your head.”
“Boil my head?” says Ginny, her ears going tell-tale Weasley red. “Are you just becoming Mum as you age?”
Cho laughs and looks away from their bickering, but she looks really pleased.
“What?” says Molly. “I don’t say that. Do I say that?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a common theme,” says Arthur, “But you did say it about twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh, boil your head, then, Arthur.”
Everyone laughs, but Harry, for a fleeting second, feels hopelessly lonely.
He wouldn’t feel lonely if he was in his flat with Draco. He never feels lonely there.
When dinner’s over, Harry takes a moment to sit outside. He thought being with family would help, but just like it was with Luna, all he can think about is disappointing them.
It doesn’t take long before Ron shows up, plopping down next to him with a gentle, “How’s it going?”
“Hermione said she thought you were having a bad week,” Ron admits. He rests his elbows on his knees, ducking his head to look at Harry carefully. “She feels awful ‘cause she meant to check in on you and never did. She was in a state about letting her work get in the way of her friendships. She started making charts and scheduling out Harry Time in them. But it’s me who’s the real git, I wasn’t even all that busy this week. I just forgot she’d said anything. I’m sorry, mate. I’m a shit friend. What’s up?”
Harry wants to cry again. He hasn’t felt this teary in years. What the fuck is going on?
Whatever it is, it doesn’t deserve this sort of kindness and care. It’s him who’s the shit friend.
“Malfoy giving you a hard time?” Ron asks. He picks a blade of grass by his feet.
Ron is a lot more perceptive than people give him credit for, especially nowadays — his time in the Aurors has only improved this.
“No,” Harry lies. “No, Malfoy’s fine.”
“What’s he up to?” Ron says easily, flattening the blade of grass out between his fingers.
It might seem like normal, friendly conversation, but Ron is so good at being Good Cop Harry feels a bit like he’s being interrogated. But it would be weird not to answer, probably, so he says, “School. Visiting Teddy, I guess.” And he shouldn’t say it, but — “Shagging some bloke, apparently.”
“Oh,” says Ron. For a moment, he looks a bit like he got tossed into a lake unexpectedly. He takes a moment to blow hard on the grass and make a loud, obnoxious honking noise.
“What was that?” says Harry.
“Celebratory horns, I don’t know,” says Ron. Harry snorts, and Ron rubs at the grass again and seems to find his footing. “Hermione did say she thought Malfoy had a bit of a crush, now I think of it, so I mean, good for him, I guess.”
“A crush?” Harry repeats, and he has no idea why this makes his heart sink. What’s the difference between Draco having a crush and Draco having casual sex, as far as it affects Harry’s life?
“Yeah,” says Ron. He looks at Harry oddly, finally dropping his plucked grass back to the ground. “One of the other uni nerds, I don’t know. She said he won’t stop going on about his research. She told me what it was, something about curses on old racist’s houses or something, but you know them, it’s not like she said it in actual English so I don’t know. But I imagine that’s how they express their true love over there, talking about research.” He pitches his voice up and flutters his eyes stupidly on the last word.
Harry remembers now — Draco has talked about some bloke’s research a lot recently. Something about pureblood estates and curse networks and shifting culture, or something. What was his name? Todd? Ted?
He wonders if it’s homophobic also, having assumed it was casual sex, a one night stand even, and not that Draco might really like someone — that he might have a new boyfriend. He reckons, just…Draco would tell him, wouldn’t he, if he had a boyfriend? Don’t they have that sort of friendship by now? He’s seen Draco in joggers. With bedhead and bare feet. He’s heard him sing in the shower. He knows all his takeaway orders. Surely he merits news of a new boyfriend.
“Oh,” says Harry. “Yeah, I don’t know, uh, I mean, he hasn’t talked about it. Not to me.”
Ron frowns. “If he hasn’t talked about it, how do you…” It seems to dawn on him slowly, and then he winces. “Oh, Merlin,” he says. “I see. Were they like…loud?”
“Er,” says Harry. He feels very hot about the face now. The truth is no, not unreasonably, but…what does it make him look like, if he listened anyway?
“Ergh,” says Ron, screwing up his face. “Nobody wants to hear that, tell him to learn what a silencing charm is.” Hurriedly, he adds, “Not because he’s gay, mind.” Harry’s stomach pangs. “Because it’s Malfoy. I just don’t want to hear Malfoy getting off, just — full stop. And I put up silencing charms no matter who’s home now, and it’s not like we’re even that loud, you just never fucking know. Your best mate could’ve turned up to cram all your Christmas cookies in his gob without announcing himself.”
Harry snorts, and Ron laughs at him heartily before mellowing and saying, “That’s all that’s going on? Why are we talking about what Malfoy’s doing — what about you?”
Harry doesn’t think he can stand keeping this in anymore.
He can’t talk to Ginny. He can’t talk to Luna or Hermione. He certainly can’t talk to Draco. Ron’s the only one who might understand, even a little. Harry knows Ron had to adjust a bit, when Ginny came out as a lesbian. Maybe he has advice. Maybe he can tell Harry how to be better without making him crumple up in shame. And they’ve gotten this close to the problem already.
After a pause that is undoubtedly far too long, Harry blurts, “It kind of…bothered me.”
Hesitantly, Ron says, “What did?”
Harry swallows. “The um — what we were talking about.”
“Oh,” Ron says. Harry doesn’t look at him. “Well. I mean, yeah. Like I said, it isn’t exactly — ”
“I don’t know,” says Harry, voice too loud. “I don’t know if it’s like you said.”
He sneaks a peak at Ron now; he’s frowning again, his head cocked slightly, looking at Harry like he’s a puzzle on a chess board. “What d’you mean?” Ron says finally.
“Well, I…I…it just, it wasn’t like when I heard you and Hermione. Which, like, you know, I really would rather not — ever do that again! But overhearing Draco, it made me…I felt all…I didn’t think I cared! You know? I’ve never cared what he…it’s just suddenly when I could hear I felt sort of…” Swallowing hard, Harry barely whispers, “Gross.”
“Gross,” Ron repeats. He scratches his chin, still frowning. “You mean, like…because of the gay thing?”
“I don’t know,” Harry says miserably. “I didn’t think I was like that.” He clenches his fists against his thighs. “I don’t want to be like that.”
Ron shuffles in his position and looks away from Harry, frowning at the grass now.
“I know it’s fucked up,” Harry says, throat raw. “I know it’s awful.”
“Hey,” says Ron. He looks back at him, face softening. “Look. I used to be…I mean, Hermione and Ginny have made me a better person, you know? Not that I think you’re a bad person, or anything, but — it used to make me think, like, well I don’t want to do that. So I know how — I know how you can think that. But.”
Ron picks a few more blades of grass, tearing them up in his fingers.
“Mum said that to Ginny, you know,” he continues. “Like — well, I would never want to sleep with a woman, that sort of thing. And Ginny was really pissed off. She was like, ‘I don’t really think you want to sleep with Harry either, and you didn’t say that to me then,’ and Mum was like, ‘don’t be disgusting.’ But Ginny’s right, isn’t she? Nobody’s asking us to do it. It’s a weird thing to say, or to think, if you actually think about it.”
Harry searches his thoughts, turning each one over carefully like a stone that might be hiding a bug or a newt. He decides to immediately eliminate the new image in which Ginny is yelling at Molly about sleeping with him. “I don’t think I was thinking about me doing it,” he says, and it’s true. He’s been thinking about Draco doing it. Draco getting kissed by some tall, thick, stubbly man. Draco talking the way he was, all soft and coy. Draco letting out that little “Oh” through the thin walls, and what might be making him do that. “And I wouldn’t ever say that to someone.”
“Okay,” says Ron carefully. “Well. What, um — were you thinking, then?”
Harry suddenly feels like “about Draco doing it” is a weird thing to say, so he doesn’t say anything.
“Well,” Ron repeats. “Whatever it is, what Hermione said to me, when I was being a bit of an arse with Ginny…she said I needed to think about the whys of it. Like why really did I feel weird? What was it about it that made me feel weird?”
When Harry still doesn’t answer, Ron continues.
“Like, you know, in therapy,” he says. Both he and Hermione were in therapy before Harry. “And you know, I realized, like…” He looks much more uncomfortable now, but he soldiers through it. “I got so used to wanting to protect Ginny. And then I didn’t know what to do with girls she might date, instead of boys, and then…you know, all that made me have to think about women and men and how maybe they weren’t what I thought they were, or they didn’t have to act like I thought they did, and maybe, like, relationships weren’t even like what I thought they were, and…it was so much stuff in my head it made me mad, and I had to think about things I was doing wrong all along, like I never should have been so up Ginny’s arse in the first place about dating, so that pissed me off too.”
Harry thinks. He was a little baffled when Blaise turned out to be a woman, and a little more baffled when Jonas said they weren’t really a woman or a man, but he was never angry, and it slid pretty neatly into his world as time went on. Harry is used to learning new things every day; he’s been doing it since his eleventh birthday, more even than most children that age. And since he’s had a brain at all it’s been filled with things he doesn’t understand, either because he’s forgotten bits or missed bits or somebody put the wrong bits in there in the first place — the Dursleys, Voldemort. Dumbledore.
He doesn’t need to be told Draco’s normal, or that gender is different from what people think it is, or even that the whole thing isn’t really his business. He knows all that. These thoughts have been banging him on the head for a week.
“I’m not really…angry,” Harry tries, but he can’t really think what he is instead, other than guilty — but guilty can’t be the source of it all, because there’s got be something he’s guilty about. Sadness? Pain? Confusion?
Ron nods. “Listen…Harry.” He squeezes Harry’s shoulder firmly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I know you beat yourself up over everything, right, and I think…well, it’s just you’ve never had problems with this before. You know? What about all this time you’ve been friends with Malfoy and Zabini and your ANEWT friends…and you were really good to Ginny when she came out, like almost weirdly okay about your exes dating. So I think…maybe all that happened is you overheard someone you don’t think of like that having sex and it was really weird. But because it was gay, you know, you got all anxious, because you worry about being a good person so much.”
Ron leans forward with his elbows on his knees again, holding his freckly chin in his hand. “Like I said. Being fully forced to confront that Draco Malfoy fucks is not something I ever want to do, and it’s because to me Malfoy is a weird git who somehow likes school more than Hermione and stole all my friends, not that he’s gay.” When Harry makes a small noise at the idea of Draco stealing Ron’s friends, Ron waves him away and says, “I’m joking. But really. I don’t want to hear you having sex. I don’t want to hear Neville having sex. I don’t want to hear Malfoy having sex. I think that’s normal, yeah?”
Harry supposes Ron isn’t wrong. It is probably normal to feel the way Ron is describing. Harry just doesn’t know if that’s what he’s feeling.
If that’s what he’s feeling, why is he so sad?
If that’s what he’s feeling, why does he keep seeing it, over and over, not like a war flashback or the time he saw a scene in a horror movie that, despite all his life experiences, made him gag, and then he kept thinking about it at night — but more like when he remembers something like turning seven and getting a toothpick for a present, or turning twelve and missing Ron and Hermione, with no letters to prove they were real?
He remembers back then he’d thought even the sight of Draco would be welcome. He thought of Draco as his nemesis. It almost makes him laugh.
“Yeah,” Harry says, plastering on a smile, because he doesn’t think Ron is going to be able to fill in these missing pieces for him after all. “Yeah. I think that’s normal.”
He decides he wants to walk a bit, think some more. After he talked to Ron, they went back inside to have ice cream and act like normal people, and as Molly drove Ron up the wall with wedding talk, Harry sat with Teddy and talked about different species of dragons and let his talk with Ron settle in the back of his head.
Now, walking in the cool, early May night, he opens it up again. Maybe Ron is right about some of it. Maybe he just…overreacted. It wouldn’t be the first time he beat the shit out of himself for not reacting perfectly to something at first — when Ron and Hermione first got engaged, he had a bit of a crisis, trying to understand why he felt so sad about it. He just felt left out, then, and that was normal, and it was unnecessary for him to spiral into guilt, to berate himself as jealous and clingy and broken.
Harry tries to remember when he has therapy next. It’s written in his calendar, probably. Hopefully.
By the time he gets to his door, he’s got to the point of thinking Ron might really be right. Harry might really just be anxious over getting things wrong, might really just have felt uncomfortable to find another layer of closeness with Draco thrust on him, one which actually might have been a bit too close.
Maybe, Harry thinks as he opens the door, this week will get put behind him and never come back. Maybe he’ll go to therapy and talk it out and everything will get better.
He steps into the flat and everything gets a hundred times worse.
There is a man on the couch.
There’s a man here Harry doesn’t know, and his legs are spread, and in his lap is Draco.
They’re fully clothed, but they’re kissing — really kissing, like they’ve been at it for a while, the man’s large hands gripping Draco’s hips, rucking his sweater up, and Draco’s long fingers tight in the man’s curls.
There’s a roaring in Harry’s chest, a sick feeling in his throat. “Oh,” he says, and it comes out like he’s been punched in the gut.
Draco jumps, his hands sliding out of the man’s hair. Their mouths separate with a terrible wet noise. The man has a beard, thick and dark, and around Draco’s mouth it’s a bit red like it’s been scratching at him, and for some reason this makes the thing in Harry’s chest burn hotter, angrier.
The man scrambles, his hands flying up in the air like an Auror’s burst in.
“Oh,” says Draco, and a hot red blush seems to unfurl over his entire head. He slides off the thick, denim-clad thighs he was straddling and, horribly, wipes his mouth.
There is a tense silence, during which Harry’s pretty sure he’s supposed to say something like “Fuck, sorry” and scuttle back out the door, but instead he says something far stupider, his voice shaking: “Is this what you do when I’m not around?”
It doesn’t make any sense. The hurt and disdain in his voice is inexplicable in the face of the amount of guilt he’s felt all week.
“Shit,” says the man. “Is this…” Horror mounts in his expression as he looks at Harry. “You’re not his boyfriend, are you? Fuck.” He jumps up from the couch, and to Harry’s own horror, adjusts himself in his jeans. “I didn’t know, I swear!”
“Relax,” says Draco, standing up, too. Harry determinedly does not look anywhere near his trousers. “Jesus. He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just my flatmate — what the fuck, Harry?”
The word “just” lances through whatever’s in Harry’s chest. “Is this the same one as last week, or someone else?” he asks. He knows he’s making it worse, but he can’t seem to connect that thought to the actions of his mouth — or his pitching stomach or his burning throat or his ringing ears.
“I beg your pardon?” says Draco, his shoulders stiffening.
“I think I should go,” says the stranger, grabbing a cardigan off the couch.
“You don’t…” Draco says, but Harry thinks he’s probably ruined the mood completely for both of them, and he instantly hates the triumph that wells in his chest at this thought, and at the sight of the man covering up his muscled arms.
“I should definitely go,” the man insists. “Good luck with this shit, mate, I’ve had enough of it to last me a lifetime.” He doesn’t clarify what “this shit” is, or even which of them he’s talking to, before he scuttles out of the flat, shutting the door tight behind him.
When Harry looks back at Draco, he feels even sicker.
Draco’s trembling with fury, his face bright red, his hair out of place. “What the fuck?” he says again. “What’s wrong with you?”
Harry thought he knew the answer to this question, thought he’d figured most of that out by now — but it turns out he hasn’t. He says nothing. He has nothing to say.
“Did you just — did you slut shame me?” says Draco, as though trying out a new phrase. “Did you really just ruin my dick appointment by coming in here and implying I’m a slag?”
Harry’s brain cannot possibly process all that at once. Slut shame? Dick appointment?
“‘Is this the same one as last week?’” Draco continues in a viciously mocking voice, slow and stupid. “How did you even — for your information, no. It wasn’t. It wasn’t the same bloke. What are you going to do about it?” Harry still can’t even begin to formulate a response — Draco’s flying through this conversation far too fast — before Draco answers for him. “Nothing, you fucking imbecile, because I could fuck a different man every single fucking night and it’d be none of your fucking business!”
Harry knew Draco would be upset, but the strength of his fury takes him aback completely. “It’s — well, it’s my business if you’re just out here on my couch doing it!” Harry says, fighting to find some sort of foothold in the argument. He might have started this, but he has no idea where it’s ended up.
“Oh, now it’s just your couch, even though you’ve barely been home,” says Draco. “What am I supposed to do, just never shag again just in case you decide to show up?” He says this so fiercely his voice cracks.
Harry stares at him.
“Fuck you,” says Draco, his lip curling like they’re at Hogwarts again. Harry cannot understand how or why this argument got to be the magnitude of all the things that were going on at Hogwarts. “You don’t know anything. That was the second time ever, in history I brought anyone here — you shouldn’t even know about the first one, you weren’t supposed be here. You didn’t say anything. Excuse me for trying to — to not be so — ” Draco swallows hard. “Thanks for ruining my night, Potter, I really appreciate it.”
He goes to turn toward his bedroom, but Harry says, “You said I was just your flatmate.”
Draco stills so suddenly it’s like someone put a full body bind on him, his body frozen halfway through the act of turning around. Except he can speak, clearly, because he says, “What?”
“Well, I just, I thought.”
He thought what?
“What the fuck did you think?” says Draco, turning all the way back around. The expression on his face is a bit wild, like he’s moments away from whipping out his wand and hexing Harry into pieces.
“I — well, we’re friends,” says Harry, not so sure he hasn’t fucked that one all the way up. At the increasingly wild look on Draco’s face, he has the urge to step back.
“Fucking hell,” Draco says, and he storms into his room and slams the door so hard Harry feels like the flat shakes.
Somebody bangs on the wall from the next flat over and says, “Will you keep it down over there, you fucking slag?” and Harry really hopes Draco didn’t hear it.
He stares at Draco’s closed door for a long time. It’s so quiet Harry’s sure Draco’s cast a silencing charm, shutting him out completely.
When Harry drags himself out of bed Saturday afternoon, Draco’s gone, his bedroom door open, and by midnight, he’s still not home.
Harry thinks about flooing Hermione or Blaise, asking them if they’ve seen him, just if he’s okay, but the thought of explaining to them why he’s worried is so humiliating he can’t bring himself to do it.
When Draco’s still not home by Sunday afternoon, Harry takes a tentative step into Draco’s open bedroom. He never comes in here, is usually faced with a closed door, and with his luck, Draco will come storming in exactly now and get even angrier with him. But Harry is nosy, and he’s worried, and he’s sad, so he does it.
The bed’s too big for the room — that part Harry knew. And the books everywhere are not a surprise — they’re crammed onto too many shelves, stacked next to the bed, spread open on his little desk, its size compromised due to the enormous bed, which Harry thinks is an odd compromise for a scholar, but Draco’s never truly made any sense to him.
Harry hasn’t ever looked closely, though. He’s never really looked at the photos tacked up along the side of the window, over Draco’s pillows. There’s one in which Draco holds his framed bachelor’s degree up and smiles like someone who thinks he has to do everything ironically because it’s too embarrassing to truly be happy, posing with a collection of people from uni. Every once in a while, photo-Draco rolls his eyes. Another shows Draco and Blaise in Paris, looking stylish and carefree on a windy day, and another features Draco, Goyle, and Crabbe, around the time they started Hogwarts, from what Harry can tell. There’s a photo of Hermione sleeping across a thick textbook next to a photo of Draco doing the same, a quill dangling from his fingers; Harry assumes they took these of each other. There’s one of Draco’s mum, smiling over a cup of tea like she’s trying not to, and another in which she is young and sparkling, holding a very small Draco as he leans from her arms to smell a rose.
There are no photos featuring Lucius.
When Harry steps closer to the photo of toddler Draco, amazed that at any point in Draco’s life his face could have been even a little bit round, he nearly steps on a paper. Looking closer, he sees it is the back of another photo, and it has been ripped into a few pieces. The dirt of a foot print lays across the white pieces, as though it’s been stomped on.
He notices an empty space next to the photo of Draco’s mum.
Slowly, Harry turns the pieces on the floor over.
It’s the only photo of Draco and Harry, just the two of them, that exists, as far as Harry’s aware. It was taken a couple months ago — by Luna, Harry remembers. They’re at a pub quiz night, a muggle one. They’re arguing in front of a basket of chips. The photo cycles through the two of them bickering in earnest, then, slowly, smiling and bursting into laughter.
Harry hates the rips in the picture. He hates the dirty footprint on the back of the pieces. He hates himself. For the first time in ages, years maybe, he walks into the hallway and punches the wall so hard he breaks plaster and skin.
Horrified, he examines his fingers, moving his fist back and forth in the sunlight filtering out from Draco’s room.
Okay, he thinks faintly as he walks into his own room and sits on the edge of the bed. Okay. So maybe Ron was wrong. Maybe Harry needs to talk to somebody else.
He floo calls his therapist, then remembers she isn’t in on Sundays. He could call her emergency line, he thinks, but it makes him feel worse, somehow, more embarrassed, to call her emergency line and say, “I punched the wall for the first time in years because I think I’m homophobic and I don’t like that about myself,” so he doesn’t.
The Weasleys are likely to all be at the Burrow by now, probably, and it’s very possible Hermione’s with them. But he tries her anyway, at the flat she and Ron share.
He almost cries with relief when he finds her sitting on her living room couch with a stack of books, a biro behind her ear, nearly lost in her hair.
“Harry!” says Hermione. She climbs down to the hearth to see him properly, not letting go of her paperback. “I thought you’d probably be at the Burrow — are you, actually? Is everything alright over there?”
“I’m not at the Burrow,” says Harry. “I — neither are you.”
“No,” says Hermione, and she looks a bit sheepish. “I…” She takes a deep breath and lets out, as though she expects Harry to admonish her, “I just couldn’t hear anything else about the wedding! I needed some peace. I told Ron to tell Molly I’ve a headache, but I’m just…reading.” She glances with embarrassment at the book she didn’t put down when she scrambled over; curly script across the cover reads The Auror, the Art Theft, and the Amortentia, which is really something, and on any other day Harry would probably tease her about it, but he has other things on his mind.
“I don’t mean to interrupt your peace,” he says. “But I…do you mind if I come through? Only I called my therapist and she’s not in Sundays, and I don’t think I should call her emergency line, but I…”
He doesn’t know how to explain, but Hermione instantly says, “Of course,” tossing her book to the side and standing up to let him through.
The moment he steps into Hermione and Ron’s living room, Hermione is fretting, “Oh I should have called you, or owled, I thought it was odd you wanted to do my paperwork and you seemed unhappy, but Ron said he talked to you and — what happened to your hand?”
Harry looks down; his knuckles aren’t bleeding profusely or anything, but the places where the skin got ripped off are welling with little drops of blood, and his index finger is bruising. It’s the same hand with I must not tell lies across it, faded and white, and something about it being there right now makes Harry feel worse, though he’s had ten years to adjust to its presence, and normally he barely notices it. “Oh,” says Harry. “I punched the wall. I shouldn’t have done it. It’s been ages.”
“Oh, Harry,” says Hermione, her hands fluttering to her mouth for a second, then dropping again. “I — oh Merlin, sit down, I’m going to get you a cup of tea and heal your hand up and we’ll talk about it, okay?” She all but shoves him onto the couch. “I should have checked in with you. I’m so sorry. Hold on just a second.” She darts into the little kitchen.
“Nothing’s your fault,” Harry tells her as she clatters around in there. There are more novels on the table, apparently by the same author as the one about the auror — The Beater, the Baker, and the Bedroom. The Curse Breaker, the Catacombs, and the Caress. Hermione apparently had a long afternoon planned.
“I should check in on you,” she says firmly, and he hears her mutter a heating spell. “You’re my best friend. I had a feeling and I ignored it because I was so swamped, and I shouldn’t — there’s nothing more important than you and Ron.”
“You’re out there saving the world,” says Harry, pulling his legs up to himself and staring into the fireplace.
“And you know very well that tossing out your friends to do that isn’t the right way to go about it,” says Hermione, and she bustles back into the room with two cups of tea. “Give me your hand.” She wipes and heals it carefully, and if she also gently strokes I must not tell lies for a moment, neither of them say anything about it. “What’s happening, Harry? What’s the matter?” She looks at him earnestly as the bruise that was steadily blooming across his finger fades.
“I think I messed up,” Harry says.
“Okay,” says Hermione. “We all do. Yeah?”
“With Draco,” says Harry.
Hermione sighs, as if maybe she expected something like this, but she gives him another gentle, “Okay.”
“Has he spoken to you since Friday night?” says Harry.
A frown briefly flashes across Hermione’s face. “No,” she says. “He hasn’t. What happened?”
Harry sips his tea, cupping its warmth tight in his hands. He doesn’t know exactly how to begin. “Well,” he says. “I just want to say — I know it’s wrong. I don’t need you to tell me that, I — I know it’s me who’s wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it.”
Hermione just wrinkles her brow with concern.
“I got home Friday,” says Harry, swallowing hard, “And Draco was, er — he was with a man. You know, like…with, they were…er, I mean, nobody was um, I mean, their clothes were on.” He considers dumping the hot tea all over his head. “But I sort of — freaked out.”
“What do you mean ‘freaked out?’” Hermione asks, and it looks like she’s fighting very hard to keep her face blank. That only makes Harry feel worse.
“It wasn’t like — I guess I don’t know what the fuck it was like.” Harry puts his tea down on the table holding the lamp beside the couch and buries his head in his hands. “I tried to explain it to Ron, but I can’t…I don’t think he understood, or, or, I don’t think he was right, exactly.”
“When did you talk to Ron about this?”
“It was before this part, it was — you said he mentioned talking to me.”
“He said that was at the Burrow Friday — did this happen before the Burrow? He didn’t tell me what you talked about, only said he thought you were going to be fine.” She glances at Harry’s hand as though she wants to grab it and wave it around in Ron’s face later.
“No, it…well this was actually the second time,” says Harry miserably. “Only this time I actually walked in, and he saw the way I reacted, Draco, I mean, and he was…he was very upset, and I mean, he’s right to be, only he hasn’t been home since then and…I think I fucked it all up, I, I know I did but I don’t know how to fix it, because I don’t know why I can’t stop!”
“Can’t stop…what?” says Hermione gently.
“Being so — so — I hated it!” Harry bursts, and Hermione jumps with his sudden increase in force and volume.
“Hated…seeing him with a man?” says Hermione. He notices her hands are trembling a little, and he thinks she must be so disgusted with him, so disappointed, but he’s started already, so he might as well keep going.
“Yes!” says Harry. “I hated overhearing it and I hated seeing it and it made me feel — I didn’t think I was homophobic, I didn’t think I cared! I don’t understand why I feel like this. I never had a problem when he was with Azi — I mean, I didn’t really like Azi, but I didn’t feel so — and Ginny and Cho have never made me feel so — I’m so angry, and I’m so — I feel like I’m going to throw up, and like I want to scream at them, I want them out of my house, I feel so sick and I feel so fucking…sad. Ron tried to tell me how it was with Ginny, how he felt angry and why he felt angry and what all he did to fix it, but I don’t think it’s the same thing, because — I saw Draco ripped up a photo of us. And I punched the fucking wall. I…I care about him! I never thought I would, but I do, and if I care about him why am I such an arsehole, why can’t I let him be happy? Why did I punch the wall, like it’s fucking 1999?”
After a long moment of breathing heavily, staring at the fireplace, he forces himself to look at Hermione.
She has covered her mouth with her hands. While Ron looked confused, a little rattled, even, by the possibility Harry could harbor secret homophobic thoughts, Hermione looks — she looks horrified, she looks so…sad.
Harry makes to get up from the couch, ready to run away, to keep running away until he can’t feel the waves of disappointment coming from his best friend anymore, but she grabs his wrist. Her hand is trembling worse than before.
“Don’t go,” she says, and she grabs on with her other shaking hand, too. “Harry. Stay.”
Harry shrinks back into the couch, but he doesn’t pull his wrist away.
“Oh, God,” says Hermione.
“I know,” says Harry. “I told you, I know I’m the one who’s wrong — ”
“No,” Hermione says quickly. “I’m going to kill Ron.” Her trembling hands leave his wrist and grab onto his hand instead, tight enough to hurt. “Never talk to Ron without me present again. Fuck, men are so…or straight men, maybe.”
Harry blinks, but he doesn’t let any part of himself un-shrink from the couch yet. Hermione rarely says “fuck;” not, he thinks, from any kind of moral code, but from the way she tries to weigh the importance, the impact, of her words. “What?” he says roughly.
“Maybe I should get Ginny,” Hermione says.
Fully alarmed now, Harry says, “Why? Don’t get Ginny. She’ll hate me. I never want her to know I — ”
Tears spill over Hermione’s eyes, and Harry stops talking abruptly.
This is not going the way he expected.
“Harry.” Hermione lets go of his hand and scrambles onto her knees on the couch, but then she takes both of his hands in hers instead of just the one, holding them tightly in her lap. “I’m going to tell you what I really think. I don’t want to tell you how you feel, only you truly know that, and Ginny really — Ginny really is the better person to talk to, but she’s at the Burrow and you…I’m going to tell you what I think, and I don’t want you to get mad, and I don’t — I don’t have to be right.”
“I,” says Harry. He stares at their joined hands, more than a bit freaked out. “Er, I don’t know — I mean, you should say what you think.”
“I think you might be jealous,” says Hermione.
Harry blinks. “Er,” he says. “Jealous?”
“Jealous of…what, of who, Draco?” It’s true Harry hasn’t dated in a while, not since Luna, but…
Hermione shakes her head. “No,” she says. “I don’t think you’re jealous of him. I think you might be jealous — over him. I think you might be jealous of those other men.”
Harry stares. “Of…those men?” He feels like a stupid parrot.
“Yes,” says Hermione. “Do you think it could be possible? That you might feel jealous of the men Draco has slept with?”
“Of…you mean, like, you think I’m — ?”
Harry’s heart is in his throat.
He thinks, again, for what feels like the thousandth time, of the noises he heard from Draco’s room, and Draco’s long limbs, and his blue sweater, and the way that man pushed it up with his big hands, and, and, if it was him who — if he —
“But…how is that possible?” says Harry, head spinning.
“Well,” says Hermione. “Why isn’t it possible?”
“Well, it’s just — I mean, I like women,” Harry says, and he feels like he’s grasping in the dark for something that makes sense. More tears spill over Hermione’s eyes. He doesn’t understand why she’s crying.
“Maybe,” says Hermione. “And maybe not.”
“But…but Ginny. And Luna.”
“I know, Harry, but — ”
The floo suddenly roars to life, and Harry and Hermione both jump, letting go of each other’s hands.
Ginny’s head appears in the fire. “Hermione? I know you’re not really ill, Ron’s so easy to bribe. Please, I need someone to save me, if I’ve got to be with straight people they could at least not be men — oh, hi Harry. Um. Am I interrupting something?”
“Oh,” says Hermione, relieved. “Oh — no — I think we need you.”
Ginny frowns, but she steps through right away, brushing ash from her t-shirt. She’s wearing jeans with holes in the knees, and though it seems to be fashionable to do that on purpose, Harry wouldn’t be surprised if she really did rip them herself. “What’s up?” she asks.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Harry says faintly as Ginny looks them over, her hands on her hips in a Molly-like gesture.
“Harry’s been struggling a bit,” says Hermione, her voice rather high.
“Okay,” says Ginny. Tentatively, she sits on the edge of Ron’s armchair, resting her elbows on her spread knees and reminding Harry also of Ron, of the way he sat while they talked outside the Burrow. “What’s going on?”
Hermione and Harry exchange glances. Harry doesn’t think she knows any better than he does who should start this conversation, or what it is they’re supposed to say.
“I don’t want to speak for Harry,” says Hermione carefully.
“Hermione thinks I’m.” Harry looks back and forth between them. “She thinks I’m jealous of the men Draco’s sleeping with.”
Ginny startles into a more upright position. “Oh,” she says.
“I thought I was being homophobic,” says Harry faintly, still not sure this is wrong.
“Oh my god,” says Ginny.
“Why don’t you explain?” Hermione says, and Harry does not really want to hash it all out for a third time, but he gives Ginny a condensed version, not meeting her eye, more guilty speaking to her than he’s been yet. “But,” he finishes, “I know I loved you — you know, like that, and I know I loved Luna…”
“But that doesn’t automatically cancel everyone else out,” says Ginny.
“Er.” Harry looks back and forth between her and Hermione again. “Doesn’t it?”
“Harry,” says Ginny. “No.” She gets off the chair and climbs onto the couch on his other side, budging him over towards Hermione so their knees touch. Hermione makes room.
“But…you always said…I know you don’t like men really,” says Harry. “And I know it’s bad when people say you might, I know it hurts you, I know you…can’t.”
“That’s me,” says Ginny. “I’m a lesbian. But you could be — you don’t have to just be gay or straight, Cho just says she’s queer, because she doesn’t only like women. You could be that, or you could be bisexual or pansexual or…you don’t even have to call it anything. There aren’t actually rules.” She takes his hand, and Hermione grabs onto the other again.
Harry’s head hurts, and his chest does, too.
“Some men have feelings for men,” Ginny says. “That’s all. Maybe you don’t, but it sounds to me like — I remember being angry like that. I remember being angry at other girls because I didn’t understand how I felt.” She looks at the hearth and swipes a hand through her hair, her brow furrowing. “God, I thought I hated Fleur, I sort of did, even, but I was…I was jealous. I was furious at the way I missed you but felt like it wasn’t the right way to miss you and thinking of Fleur…it was different. Maybe for you it isn’t different, but…men have feelings for men, and that can include you, Harry, whether you’ve loved women or anyone else — you’re allowed.”
“I…” says Harry. “I mean, it’s just. Draco’s — and I’m not…”
He doesn’t actually know what he’s going to say he’s “not.”
Ginny says, “If you mean you don’t think you act like you’re gay or whatever, I remember I used to sit around and weigh all these things like — well, I like sports and I don’t like to cook, but I like getting dressed up for events and having long hair, and…all this stupid shit that doesn’t matter.” She lets go of Harry’s hand and takes his head in both her hands, looking him in the eyes so intensely that Harry wants to shut his. “You don’t have to be like Draco. You don’t have to be like anything. You can have feelings for men, just — you’re allowed.”
Ginny lets go of his head and squeezes his hand again, hard. Harry sits there between Ginny and Hermione and tries, tentatively, to turn over the stones of his thoughts. To dig underneath them.
He thinks of Draco and some man together, in bed, in the shower, on the couch — the truth of the feeling that stabs through him at the thought. He thinks of Draco coming home with the fish and chips, hair windswept from the day, the collar under his sweater a bit lopsided. His bony bare feet, his books all over the flat. The flush on his face while he talks about his research. His desperate search through history for what it is that keeps wizards and muggles apart.
Carefully, carefully, Harry takes out the thought of — of his own fingers on Draco’s hips, on his sharp cheekbones. His own nose pressed to Draco’s neck, to his hair, so close, so close to the way he — he smells — Harry’s pulse skyrockets, and he catches his breath. His own, his own mouth on Draco’s — cautious. Gentle.
Oh. Oh. Harry realizes he’s crying. He’s sitting there really crying this time, thinking about Draco but also about — the Dursleys and the things they said, and Dumbledore, and Sirius, and Cedric Diggory, and all these things he never looked at closely because for some reason he just couldn’t. He didn’t know how.
He could — if he wanted to — he’d be allowed —
“Oh, Harry,” says Hermione, grabbing him into a tight hug. “Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry. I should have — I had no idea. If I’d known you were struggling — I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know,” Harry says. “How didn’t I know? I’m so stupid. Fuck. I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” says Ginny fiercely. She has tears in her eyes as well. “How could you know?”
“How does everyone else know?” says Harry. “You knew.”
“Not always,” says Ginny.
“And you’re not like everyone else, Harry,” says Hermione.
Harry snorts. “Yeah.”
“What kind of thing to say is that?” says Ginny sharply.
“No, I mean — sorry, I only meant you’ve been through so much, Harry!” says Hermione. “You do the best you can and you don’t have to do any better. It’s okay you didn’t know. I know I don’t know like you two do, but I know it’s hard, I mean, I see it’s hard.”
“It’s really hard,” Ginny assures him, leaning against him.
“Jesus,” says Harry, dazed. “I’m jealous.”
“Yeah,” says Ginny. “I think you are.”
“I don’t want him to sleep with other people. I want him to…” He can’t bring himself to say it aloud quite yet, at least not to his friends, like this, but… “Fuck. I should never have invited him to live with me.” He wants to bury his head in his hands again, but one of them has been claimed by Ginny, and Hermione’s kind of squishing the other. “God, did I do it because I — I fancied him? That seems…that doesn’t seem right.”
“Oh, Harry, you didn’t do it on purpose,” says Hermione.
“I don’t know that it works like that,” says Ginny. “You’ve always been really intense with each other, yeah, and I think maybe living with him just…you know. It all clicked.”
“Fuck,” says Harry. “And I really fucked it all up, too. I mean, I don’t think he — I can’t imagine he — ” The sick feeling pulses in his gut again. “But I don’t want to lose him,” he says. “As a friend. And I really fucked it up.”
“He likes you very much, Harry,” says Hermione. “I won’t pretend to know anything about his…romantic feelings, for anyone. He doesn’t talk about things like that. The only reason I ever know about that is he won’t stop talking about the guy. But I know he values your friendship very much. And I think he’ll listen if you talk to him.”
“Ron said you thought he had a crush,” Harry says glumly.
Hermione winces a bit in sympathy. “I…well, he was talking a lot about one of his classmates. So I thought…” Ginny looks at her sharply, and Hermione sighs, “Yes. I thought he fancied him. He might. And it could be one of those men you saw. Or heard.”
“He said it was a different bloke on Friday than it was before,” says Harry. “But I reckon that probably doesn’t mean anything.”
“I don’t know, Harry,” says Ginny. “But you do owe him an apology. You don’t have to tell him how you really feel. But after Friday — you really do need to let him know you’re not disgusted by him, because that hurts. That can really hurt someone.”
“I know,” says Harry quietly. He slumps against Hermione, and Ginny slumps against him. “I didn’t want to hurt him,” he says, his voice very small.
“I know you didn’t,” says Hermione.
“But you’ve been hurting, too,” says Ginny.
He has. He’s been hurting, and he didn’t even know why.
They sit there for a long while in comfortable silence, Harry slowly taking out feelings to reexamine. Watching Draco watch the X-Files. Watching him eat and read. Hearing him sing in the shower and mutter to himself. Wishing he was at ANEWT night. At home. So Harry could look at him, and hear him, and…
The floo roars again, and Ron steps through.
“Er,” he says, taking in their close, tear-stained appearance. “Hello.”
Hermione glares at him. “Hello, Ronald,” she says.
“Um.” Ron blinks. “What did I miss?”
Sirius might have had bikini-clad muggle women on his walls, but here, under the floorboard…underneath a poster reading David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust, featuring a man who looked like he might be wearing lipstick, there were some crumbling lipsticks and powders, and folded photos of posing naked men, not women.
And a letter.
The letter was fading, the handwriting vaguely familiar, and it said things like I’m already so many things I shouldn’t be and I know you are, too and one day, when we’re older and I know you have a hard time with delayed gratification, but this isn’t a ‘no,’ Padfoot, and tucked in like the biggest secret of them all, I’ve thought about it every day. It was signed with a paw print — not a real one, but one meticulously drawn.
Harry doesn’t know a lot about animal prints, but he’s pretty sure it was a wolf print.
He sat on the floor in Sirius’ room and cried and didn’t know why, exactly, this felt so much worse than many other things, so many years out from the war. But it did, and he cried and missed Sirius harder than he had in years, and then he cleaned himself up in the bathroom and went downstairs and went out to dinner with everyone else.
Harry wants so badly to get up right away, to go to him and beg for forgiveness, but he manages to stop himself.
First of all, Draco probably doesn’t want to speak to him in the wee hours of the morning, when they both need to wake up early, and it’s not likely Draco will be receptive. And second of all, though Harry knows he needs to apologize, that he needs to explain himself somehow before Draco’s hurt grows into something too big to fix, he doesn’t know if he’s ready to look at him.
He’s jealous. He doesn’t want other people to touch Draco.
Fuck. Of all the people to have a gay crisis over, Harry chose Draco fucking Malfoy.
Not that he thinks he really chose him, in so many words. Or even, if he’s honest, that he’s the first man Harry’s ever felt something like this about. He’s spent the past few hours in bed thinking about Bill Weasley, and Cedric Diggory, and even Remus, in third year, when he showed Harry so much kindness.
But still. Draco Malfoy. If Harry thought his teenage self would die at the thought of their friendship, he has no idea what his teenage self would do if he heard about this.
Monday afternoon, Draco finally turns up at the flat, but he’s with Blaise.
The sight of him, in this new, ever-expanding context, is…a lot.
He’s wearing a blazer with elbow patches on it, only it’s too new and stiff to give him the mad professor-ly sort of look Harry thinks he’s really going for, and it’s so charming, and.
Harry wants to touch him.
He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to do it, but he does, so much.
But Draco and Blaise chat the whole time they’re there, almost as though they are deliberately trying to fill up the space so any words Harry might have can’t get through. Harry feels a low, pulsing jealousy in his gut just watching the way Blaise holds onto Draco while she laughs, and the way Draco calls her “darling,” which he never calls anyone else — and that’s just stupid. Draco doesn’t like women. Harry doesn’t want to be called “darling.”
Draco and Blaise leave arm in arm talking of dinner, Blaise cutting Harry a look like she never befriended him, leaving Harry feeling very small and alone in the kitchen.
He supposes he deserves it.
But it makes his throat and his eyes burn anyway.
He skips dinner and lies in bed and watches the light change thinking about how men might touch each other. He supposes it doesn’t have to be too different, in some ways, than touching other people. He could put his fingers on Draco’s feet again, but he could go further — to his ankles, to his thighs. He could wrap his hands around Draco’s bony wrists. He could kiss his neck. He could kiss his mouth. That, he thinks, is probably not all that different.
He thinks of Draco saying “Oh” in bed that night with whatever faceless man that was, and he wants to be the one to make him say it. He wants to see Draco’s face while he makes a noise like that. He doesn’t know exactly how to do it, but he can learn. As far as Harry knows, he and Draco have got similar…bodies.
There’s so many things he can think about. So many things he didn’t know he could think about. That he didn’t even know existed.
Harry might feel like he’s living in an entirely different world now, but he still has to go to work. He has to somehow ignore the bursting of the dam occurring in his chest and be there for the children. But there’s no day this is harder to do than Wednesday.
Will Draco show up at dinner time? Will they watch TV like normal? If he doesn’t show, will he say anything, make half-hearted excuses, or will he just pretend like it’s never been a thing? Will Harry be able to sit next to him on the couch if he does show, knowing what he now knows about the snarled roots of his feelings?
That afternoon for choice time, Harry lays out paints, legos, and the bin of costumes, which is mostly filled with old things of Luna’s. Most of the children run over to the legos, but Georgia runs to go boss Saoirse and Lewis about in an elaborate game in costumes, and the Callum, Mohammed, and Eleanor trio go to the paints — once he gets them to stop chatting to him about his hair.
His hair is an endless source of fascination to the children; at the beginning of the year, they always wanted to know why he had “girl’s hair,” and now if any of the other classes ask about it at least one Purple Room child is quick to share their newly learned wisdom that there’s no such thing as girl hair or boy hair, it’s all just hair. They like to hear him repeat this. They like to hear him repeat just about anything they find novel or interesting, and it never seems to become less novel or interesting to them.
Harry is supervising the costumed group most carefully due to its historically volatile mix of children, and he’s just explaining to Georgia that perhaps Saoirse and Lewis have some ideas as well when there’s an ominous thunk, and Callum, Eleanor, and Mohammed all burst into tears at once.
Everyone else stops to gape like they’ve never seen anyone cry before, let alone cried themselves.
Harry hurries over to find an overturned tub of red paint, which has obliterated Mohammed’s likeness of his new puppy. He manages to deter the rubberneckers, clean the paint, and offer soothing words and new paper fairly easily, and Eleanor and Mohammed are soon consoled. But Callum can’t seem to stop crying, and Harry works out it’s Callum who knocked the paint over.
“It’s okay, Callum,” says Mohammed. “I’m gonna do a new one, see? Did you hear what Mr. Harry said? I have plenties of time left, and now I’ve practiced, so I can make it even better.”
Eleanor wraps her arms around Callum in a tight hug. “Accidents happen!” she sing-songs, pressing a kiss to his head.
“That’s right,” says Harry, but Callum can’t seem to stop his tears, so Harry brings him over to his desk to sit in the big chair next to it. It’s for any time someone needs a break, and by the armrest a shelf holds a baskets of items to fidget with and hug. Callum selects a sparkly, squishy tube and slides it back and forth in his hands, sniffling, the occasional fresh tear leaking down his cheek.
“Do you want to sit with yourself for a while?” says Harry, settling into his desk chair. Like he can never stop himself from doing, he pushes the rolling chair gently back and forth with his foot. Another reason he likes his job is he’s made to sit at the desk very rarely. “Or do you want to talk to me?”
Callum says nothing for a long moment. Then he squeezes the tube hard and says quietly, “I’m a bully.”
Callum is one of the sweetest little boys Harry’s ever met; taken aback, he says, “Callum, I don’t think that’s true.”
“Bullies do mean things to their friends,” says Callum. His bottom lip quivers.
“Bullies are mean on purpose,” says Harry. “You only had an accident, yeah? Accidents happen all the time, to everyone. Sometimes you don’t mean to, but…you hurt someone you love.” He blinks and swallows, trying to focus on the present moment.
Sometimes it is very hard to be the adult in the room.
“But,” says Callum. He squeezes the tube in both hands this time and mumbles something. He begins to cry in earnest again, his little hands shaking around the tube.
“I didn’t hear what you said,” says Harry gently. “But you can take your — ”
“It wasn’t an accident!” Callum bursts out.
Surprised, Harry says, “Oh.” He looks over the rest of the students; no one is paying them any attention, other than the occasional worried glances from Mohammed and Eleanor. He lowers his voice anyway and says, “It was on purpose?” Callum turns big, teary eyes back on him, and Harry adds quickly, “You aren’t in trouble. I promise. I just want to talk about it.”
“Mohammed always talks, talks, talks about his puppy,” Callum says, like he’s been holding this in for quite some time. “He always wants to say things about the puppy! Only I want a puppy! I wanted a puppy for probably a whole year before Mohammed did, probably even since I was born, but I can’t, because Mummy is allergic, and that’s not fair that Mohammed has a puppy and I don’t!”
“Ah,” says Harry. “I see. I understand that.”
“Yes. Of course. When I was your age, I had a cousin who got all sorts of things I couldn’t have, and that always made me feel really angry. And really sad, too.”
Sometimes, Harry wonders why it’s so much easier to talk about feelings with children than with adults, or why he can figure theirs out so quickly and his own take ages to even notice. Partly, he thinks, it’s life experience they haven’t got. But sometimes…sometimes it helps him, too, to narrow the feelings all down to child-sized pieces. It made me angry. It made me sad.
It made me jealous.
“And jealous,” Harry says. “I felt jealous, too. Is that how you felt when you saw Mohammed painting his puppy again?”
“Yes,” says Callum. “I think so. I looked and I got madder and madder — ” He squeezes the tube so hard Harry worries it might burst, even with the charms he’s placed on all the fidgets to reinforce them. “ — and I kept looking really hard and the paint just fell, and I know I did it! I know it was me, on purpose, like I wished it to happen. It was just like when Georgia blew up the apple.”
Georgia’s apple incident was the first case of accidental magic in the classroom, back in October — it made quite an impression on everyone, especially those, like Callum, who’d been near enough to get a face full of wet bits of apple.
“Only when I saw it, I knew it was mean to do,” Callum continues. “I knew I was a bully to do it.”
“Callum,” says Harry. After a quick glance at the rest of the class, he walks around his desk and climbs down onto his knees to kneel at Callum’s eye level. “Do you think you can listen to me and wait for me to finish until you hear all the things I’m going to say?”
Callum looks down at the squishy tube. More gently, he begins to slide it back and forth between his fists. “I’ll try,” he says.
“Okay,” says Harry. “Thank you. I don’t think it’s good to tell other people what they are. I think that’s their decision. But I know you’re not a bully. And here’s why. I’ve known you for nine months, which is a very long time, and over all that time I’ve seen you stand up for your friends when other people are being mean — ”
“Georgia,” says Callum darkly.
Harry does not confirm or deny; he just looks carefully at Callum until Callum says, “No interrupting” and shuts his lips tight in an exaggerated fashion.
“I’ve seen you do that so many times,” says Harry, “and I’ve seen you be very kind to the animals in the yard and to people who need things. Do you remember when you put the spider on the other side of the fence so nobody would stomp on it, and when you gave Eleanor your snack when she didn’t have any on the first day of school, before you even knew her?”
“Yes,” says Callum. “I remember those times.”
“You were very kind then, and I’ve seen you be kind a hundred more times than that. You’re right it was wrong to ruin Mohammed’s painting. But you knew that right away. And a bully might know it’s wrong, too, but they might not do anything to fix it. Maybe they’d even like it when they made someone cry. But someone like you, Callum, is different. Someone like you will apologize. They tell the truth about what happened, they make sure their friend is okay, and they promise not to do it again. Do you think you can do all that? I think you can.”
Callum nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I think I can.”
“I know you can,” says Harry. “And all that is enough. But sometimes, I like to do something nice for my friends, too, if I’ve been mean to them, something that I know will make them happy. Sometimes that helps to make us both feel better.”
Callum’s eyes go wide. “You’re mean to your friends, Mr. Harry?” he says, and Harry is, not for the first time, humbled by the vision of him these children have.
“Sometimes,” says Harry. “I think sometimes everybody is a little mean. Sometimes we get really mad or sad and we try to make someone else feel it, too. Sometimes we’re so upset, we aren’t careful about how the way we’re acting might make someone feel. But we can always fix it.”
Harry’s not sure everything can be fixed, not really. But he never wants a child to feel as helpless as he felt when he made mistakes in the Dursleys’ care, as helpless as he felt when he couldn’t fix everything Dumbledore wanted him to fix. He wants them to feel so much more capable than he ever felt — than he ever was.
There’s nothing wrong with believing in fixing things.
Callum nods solemnly.
“Do you need some more break time?” says Harry, standing up. “Or would you like to go paint? There are — ” He checks his watch. “ — ten minutes left until clean up, and I bet you could make something nice in ten minutes.”
“I know what I’ll do,” says Callum, lighting up. He tosses the squishy tube back in the basket and climbs off the chair. Running back to his friends, he calls, “Mohammed, can I help you finish your puppy?”
Harry smiles and settles back into his desk chair, surveying the room as he rocks the chair gently left and right. Mohammed responds with enthusiasm, assigning Callum the bright red collar the puppy’s meant to wear. Georgia, though she looks rather hard-done-by in the process, hands Saoirse a pair of sparkly wings from the costume bin. The children at the legos are all building a tower together.
The harmony in the room is not an everyday occurrence. But it’s nice for now. And they’re still learning.
It isn’t until the end of the day circle time is finishing up that he revisits this thought.
It seems he’s still learning, too, isn’t he?
He didn’t know until Sunday he might be…whatever he is. Not straight. He’s twenty years older than his students, and he’s still learning very big things about the world and himself.
He’s still learning.
And that means he’s still capable, too — capable of change.
Of fixing things.
“Would anyone,” Harry says when they finish sharing stories, “Like to help me with something?”
He writes, I hope you’ll come home tonight. I’ve got dinner.
He doesn’t stay to clean up the classroom and remain available for parents like he usually does. He dashes out the door, a big rolled up paper under his arm, and apparates to where he can acquire the guilty pleasure Draco does not always allow himself — the silly thing he saves for after successes.
Draco hasn’t actually ever told Harry he does this. Harry is just very good at observing Draco Malfoy.
It turns out there’s a reason for that.
So he gets an enormous portion of cheese on chips and a diet coke and then, because Harry’s never done things by halves, he also stops for a chocolate cake, the kind with thick, rich frosting not only on top but in the middle.
He gets home before Draco, like he hoped, and lays it all out on the kitchen table. And then he pins up the paper across the kitchen cabinets.
Scrawled across it in Harry’s hand, not really much better than the children’s, is, “I’M SORRY.” The children have drawn sad faces and little suns and Harrys of various quality and, embarrassingly, hearts all over it. Mohammed has drawn his puppy. Louise has drawn a unicorn; she doesn’t really draw anything else. They’ve used a lot of glitter, which mostly means Harry has glitter on his arms and in his hair and on his clothes.
He only did this part because he wanted to talk to all the children together about still learning and making mistakes and fixing things even when you’re grown up. Looking at it now in his own kitchen, it seems very stupid, and perhaps even manipulative — asking small children to vouch for him or something. He debates taking it down. Making it with the children is enough for them to understand what he wanted to show them.
Draco is standing in the kitchen doorway. His sweater is striped today, different shades of green, and one side of his collar is half tucked underneath it. His bag is still over his shoulder, and he looks uncertain.
“Hermione said I should give you a chance,” says Draco stiffly. He puts his bag down on the ground, next to the counter. “But I don’t know if I should — ” Harry’s heart sinks. “ — now that you’ve been so embarrassing about it.” Draco looks pointedly at the banner.
“Ah,” says Harry. He rubs the back of his neck and tries for a sheepish smile. “Yeah.”
“Did you — ” Draco’s eyes have landed on the food and widened. “Are those — is that cheese on chips?”
“Yep,” says Harry. “Gross fake cheese and all.”
Draco takes a tentative step towards the table. He takes the diet coke in his hands, turning the bottle over like he’s reading the label on a fine wine. To Harry’s confusion, he closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath.
“All right?” says Harry.
Draco pulls out a chair and sits. “You’re infuriating,” he says quietly.
“I’ve heard that,” Harry says. He pulls out the other chair and sits, cautiously, hoping he is not crowding Draco, that he’s allowed to be here. He can’t just present food and children’s art work and call it a night.
Draco swallows. “Thank you,” he says. “I don’t understand how you knew these are my — but thank you.”
“I know I was a dick to you,” says Harry.
“Yes,” says Draco. “You were.” He pops open the container of food and picks up a cheese drenched chip — then, suddenly, he closes his eyes again and drops the chip back in with the rest. “You can’t just come in here with food and that’s all — ”
“I wasn’t going to,” says Harry. “I was — ”
“I don’t know if we should live together anymore,” says Draco, tearing his eyes open. “I don’t know if it’s a good fit.” He puts his hands in his lap, as though forcing himself not to devour the chips.
Harry’s mouth slams shut.
“I’ve been asking around,” says Draco. “There’s a girl doing medieval studies looking for — ”
“So, what, you were just going to disappear one day?” says Harry. His heart is pounding, his mouth dry. “You were already looking for another place and you weren’t going to tell me?”
“I’m telling you right now,” says Draco. “I know you can afford the rent, it isn’t — ”
“That’s not — you can’t move out!”
Harry sounds like a whining child, and he hates himself for it instantly.
“I can do whatever I like,” says Draco, and Harry can feel Draco’s glare right in his chest. “You’re not my mum. This was supposed to be temporary anyway. It was just supposed to be until I found somewhere else.”
“But you don’t have to,” says Harry. “You don’t have to find somewhere else.”
He disregards the part of himself that knows this is probably a good thing, a sensible thing. It can’t be sustainable to live here with Draco forever, loving him, while he probably ends up sleeping with some intelligent, handsome researcher. Harry imagines living with Draco is bad for his heart, in the long run, but his heart doesn’t care — it hates the thought of being away from Draco more.
“I do, actually,” says Draco. “I do have to.”
“Because I want to. It’s not really any of your business. We made a deal, and — ”
“I thought we were friends,” says Harry.
“Yes, well,” says Draco. He does not meet Harry’s eyes. “I know you did.”
“Oh,” says Harry. He swallows hard, his throat burning.
They sit in silence for a long while; Harry doesn’t think either of them know what to say next.
“Draco,” Harry starts.
At the same moment, Draco says, “Harry, I — ”
They both stop.
“We are friends,” Draco admits, quiet. “But I…need some space.” He’s still looking determinedly at the chips, which are definitely getting cold.
“I didn’t mean to be such a freak,” says Harry quickly. “I don’t — I’m not — it’s all my fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t have to worry that I’m — it’s not any of my business who you sleep with and I might hate it but — ”
“What?” says Draco, the ‘T’ sharp.
“No,” says Harry. “No, no, I meant — ”
Draco stands up, his chair screeching backwards. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he hisses.
“No, I — I didn’t mean it like — it’s because I’m jealous!”
It feels like Harry’s words are reverberating through the silence of the kitchen.
Much quieter this time, Draco repeats, “What?”
“Fuck,” says Harry. Now he’s really scared Draco off. But it’s too late now. He’d much rather Draco know the truth than believe Harry is disgusted by him.
“What do you mean, you’re jealous?” Draco insists. He sounds a little out of breath, as though standing up was somehow too much for him, which Harry knows isn’t true.
“What do you think?” Harry says miserably. “I’m jealous. I…I hate that you’re sleeping with people again because I’m jealous of them! I don’t want them to sleep with you. I hate them. And it isn’t their fault, and it isn’t your fault, and I know I need to be better about it, about the way I act when I’m jealous, only I didn’t know. I thought…I didn’t understand, because…because nobody ever…I don’t have any parents! And Sirius and Remus died before they could tell me anything, before I could ask them! I don’t know anything! I don’t know how to be…to be gay, or bisexual, or queer. I don’t know how to do that.”
Draco is very pale. He looks like Harry hit him with a stunner. “You…” he says, but he doesn’t finish the thought.
“I’m sorry,” says Harry. “I didn’t mean to, I’m not expecting anything. I wasn’t going to tell you. I know you don’t have feelings for me like that. And you probably will want to move out now, and that’s…that’s just what it is, you don’t need my permission. But I didn’t want you to think I was…homophobic. I thought I was, at first, but I’m not, I’m just. Er. Well actually very gay for you, or whatever, I’m pretty sure I don’t only like men. I don’t know. I don’t know anything, and I’m sorry I’m so fucking stupid and repressed, even after all this time, and I’m sorry I made it weird by — by — getting feelings for you.”
Draco sits back down in his chair with a thud. He looks like he might pass out.
“Are you…okay?” Harry says.
“Fucking hell,” says Draco.
Harry doesn’t know what else to say.
“You thought you were homophobic,” Draco says faintly.
“I didn’t know why I was so upset,” says Harry, feeling his cheeks heat up.
“Fuck. Merlin.” Draco’s hands flutter across the table, as though he wants to grab Harry, but he pulls them back quickly, before they touch any part of him. “Harry.”
“Sorry,” Harry whispers. “You don’t have to, like — to feel bad for me, I — ”
“No!” says Draco. “No.” He slides his chair right next to Harry’s with a quick, awful scrape against the tile floor. “Harry,” he says again, and his hands are still fluttering around like they don’t know where to go.
“What?” Harry’s heart is hammering against his chest like it’s going to burst. Draco is staring at him so intensely, his body so close now.
“Harry,” says Draco, and he says the last thing Harry expects him to say: “Can I kiss you?”
Harry starts. “C-can — what?”
“Sorry,” says Draco, snatching his hands back into his lap. “I — I just really want to kiss you. We don’t have to. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to — Harry. I don’t not have feelings for you. I have, uh, in fact. A lot of them.”
“A lot of them,” Harry says faintly.
“That was stupid,” says Draco. “That wasn’t articulate. I’m sorry. I’m a little bit in shock.”
“You’re not the only one,” says Harry.
He just…looks at Draco. His face is very pale and his ears are very pink. He’s…handsome. Harry thinks he’s so handsome. He loves Draco’s cheekbones, his pointy nose, the eyebrows he’s so good at wiggling about.
Slowly, carefully, Harry reaches out and fixes Draco’s collar, pulling it out from underneath his sweater. Draco inhales sharply. He doesn’t move to put his hands anywhere near Harry. With equal caution, Harry reaches up to Draco’s eyebrow and runs his thumb along it. It’s a weird thing to do, probably, but Draco shivers, and that shiver sends a hot pulse of something that isn’t jealousy through Harry, something — excited, something joyful.
“You have feelings for me?” says Harry.
“Yes,” Draco whispers, like he can’t say it too loudly for fear of breaking the moment. “Yes, I — for ages, really, a bit, but living together made it — made it quite a bit worse. I can’t imagine why you would…”
“Oh,” says Harry. He swallows. He removes his thumb from Draco’s face. Hardly believing he’s saying it, Harry says, “Yeah. Alright.”
“Alright?” says Draco.
“You can kiss me. If you want.”
“Oh,” says Draco. “Yeah?”
Draco scoots closer to him. “Okay,” he whispers.
“Okay,” says Harry, and Draco leans forward, so slowly, and kisses him on the mouth.
Harry is dizzy.
“What the fuck,” Draco says under his breath when their lips part, and Harry laughs, feeling a bit hysterical, actually, and he slides trembling hands up to Draco’s cheekbones and presses his lips hard against Draco’s again.
Draco makes a small, shaky noise, and he places his hands on Harry’s waist, so gentle it’s like they’re barely there, and Harry moves his hands to Draco’s hair and pulls him a little closer, a little deeper.
“I thought you were straight,” Draco whispers. He, like Harry, is trembling all over.
“Me, too,” says Harry. “Only now I think I’m definitely not.”
“I’m definitely not,” says Draco, as though this is somehow new, too, and then Draco’s tongue is in his mouth and everything gets a bit fuzzy.
They kiss forever. They kiss for hours, maybe. Harry doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what time it is or even possibly what year it is, or where he is. There’s just this quiet, luminous ball of joy in his chest, a warm, pulsing thing, and Draco’s mouth, and Draco’s sharp cheekbones, and Draco’s neck, and Draco’s hair.
“This is okay?” Draco says, dazed, at one moment in which Harry is pressing his lips to the pale expanse of his neck, his neck that smells so like him. “This is…okay?”
“Yeah,” says Harry. He kisses underneath Draco’s chin, which is a bit stubbly, in a way you can’t see from afar, not with his light hair, and then kisses back to his lips. “You too? You’re okay?”
“I’m a little — I think maybe I’m dreaming,” says Draco, slipping his fingers into Harry’s hair, pulling a few strands from his bun, pulling him close, hooking his feet around the legs of Harry’s chair, “But I’m okay,” and they kiss until Harry’s mouth feels funny and chapped and Draco’s pulse has finally stopped hammering relentlessly in his neck, in his wrists, in his chest, as Harry touches him.
The kitchen gets dark, and the food gets cold, and Harry starts to notice his butt is numb, and he’s been holding his ankle weird against Draco’s chair.
“I have to move,” Harry says, his voice hoarse.
For a second, Draco doesn’t seem to hear him, keeps pressing soft kisses against Harry’s unmoving lips like he can’t stop, and then he murmurs, “Huh?,” a muddled kind of sound Harry doesn’t think he’s ever heard from Draco before.
“I have to move,” Harry says, another wave of warm joy shooting through his veins. “I think half my body’s asleep.”
“Oh,” Draco whispers. He backs away, blinking, pupils larger than normal. He clears his throat. “Oh. Huh.” He shifts and winces. “Oh, my feet are asleep.”
“It’s dark,” says Harry pointlessly.
“Yes,” says Draco. He’s staring, dazed. “Did I just make out with you?”
“Yeah,” says Harry. “As far as I know. But I’m not actually a hundred percent sure this is real life.”
Draco’s hair is all mussed, and so is one of his eyebrows, which is weird, and his lips are wet and red. He inches away from Harry just enough to spread out his legs, wincing. “Oh, all the blood’s coming back.”
Harry shakes out his own tingling foot. “Yeah,” he says. “Your food’s all cold.”
“Oh…fuck.” Draco looks sadly at the chips. “They’re going to be gross now. How dare you distract me from my cheesy chips?”
“Didn’t mean to,” says Harry.
“Right, sure,” says Draco. He turns his eyes back to Harry; they travel from his mouth to the top of his head. “I messed your hair all up.” He inches forward again, reaches a hand out, and slides it up to where the hair tie has become all loose. Harry doesn’t dare move a centimeter. He thinks Draco’s going to take his bun all the way out, but Draco leaves his hand up there and says, “Do you know…there’s glitter in it?”
“Yeah,” says Harry. “There’s glitter on you now, too.”
“On your nose. And in your eyebrow.”
Draco crosses his eyes as if expecting to be able to see it, and Harry bursts out laughing.
“Shut up,” says Draco, but he’s clearly fighting a smile. His legs are still sticking out and presumably regaining blood flow, but he leans his upper body even closer and presses his face into Harry’s hair, one hand bracing himself on his chair, the other still tight at the base of Harry’s bun. “Shut up. That’s not actually what I was going to say. I got nervous.”
“What were you going to say?” says Harry, moving his hands again to Draco’s waist, steadying him further.
“Do you know how good you look with your hair up?” His fingers scratch at the back of Harry’s head, sending shivers down Harry’s spine.
“Er,” says Harry; he was already feeling a bit lightheaded from all that kissing, and this doesn’t help. Neither does the intense look on Draco’s face when he backs away from Harry’s hair to look at him properly.
“Um, I know you don’t believe it, but I do try to look at least decent,” Harry manages.
Draco laughs. It’s a wonderful sound, one Harry didn’t know he’s been missing. “I do believe it,” says Draco. “I’m just…” He does pull the hair tie out now, and Harry’s hair flops everywhere, probably denting all funny from being up for so long. “I get angry at how hot you are. Without even trying.” He smooths Harry’s hair back from his face. “And…I’m a mean flirt. But that only ever really works with arsehole tops. And it turns out you’re…maybe not actually an arsehole.”
There’s a lot to take in there, but Harry decides to focus on the most interesting part and says, “You think I’m hot?”
“I just snogged you for ages,” says Draco, but he’s all pink again.
“Yeah,” says Harry. “I’m starting to think you really did. Draco, I…”
Draco takes his hand out of Harry’s hair. “Yes?” he says, his face going solemn.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” says Harry. “I’ve never…it literally hasn’t been a week since I realized it was even possible for me to…not be straight.” He shakes his hair out of his eyes, and Draco passes him back his hair tie and slides firmly back to his own chair.
Harry misses the warmth of him right away, but he takes the opportunity to pull his hair back again.
“Mm,” says Draco, his eyes following the motions of Harry’s hands. “I meant it when I said we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” His eyes snap back to Harry’s. “Really.”
“It isn’t not wanting to,” says Harry, dropping his hands from his hair, “so much as…I don’t know anything.”
“Anything?” says Draco, leaning his elbow on the table and resting his chin in his hand. He fixes Harry with a look of lazy amusement, like maybe he’s still a bit fuzzy from all the kissing.
“You know what I mean,” says Harry.
“Not exactly,” says Draco. “You snogged me pretty well. I don’t think you need to know much more than you do in that department.”
“Well,” says Harry, torn between pleasure and embarrassment. “I’ve snogged before. I’ve never — I just mean, before this week I never thought about this. I don’t know how to be…this.”
Draco frowns. “I think you do,” he says.
“I don’t,” says Harry. “You’ve had at least one boyfriend, and you’ve slept with men, and I’ve never done that. I don’t know how.”
“You do,” Draco insists. “If you know how to be Harry Potter, you know how to be gay — or bisexual, or whatever you decide. That’s all you need to know. And — you need to know me, if I’m the one you want to…and I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but…” He looks at the cold food on the table. “I think you…know me.”
“But,” says Harry. “I — I mean, I don’t really know anything about — sex.”
Harry’s pretty sure it takes Draco a great amount of effort to keep from pretending Harry means he’s never heard of sex at all. “Well,” he says, face too composed, “I think there’s always a fair amount of learning with sex. Every partner likes different things. We can work up to sex. If you want to. I know you think I’m a slut now, but — ”
“Stop, I don’t think that,” says Harry. “I told you, I — I’m just an idiot, and I don’t think ‘slut’ is, like, a real thing anyway. You shouldn’t say it.”
“Well, in that case,” says Draco. “Don’t call yourself an idiot.”
“It’s not really the same,” says Harry. “There actually are idiots out there.”
Draco snorts. “Point taken,” he says. “All I’m trying to say is you’re not stupid, however much I might pretend you are because I’m a mean flirt, and we don’t need to have sex, not any specific way and not at all.”
“I want to,” says Harry. “It’s not that, it’s just…the not knowing.”
“I’m a very good teacher,” says Draco with a smirk. “I just had my meeting with the professor I’ve been TAing for and she’s been very impressed with me.”
“I hope you weren’t showing her how you teach anything like this.”
“No,” Draco laughs. “She’s not really my type.”
“To be clear,” says Harry. “I don’t only want to sleep with you. I…” He thinks ‘I love you’ might be a bit much at this point, though it’s battering at the front of his brain. “I really…I’m really, really…”
“Me, too,” Draco says quietly.
“Okay,” says Harry. “Good. I…I really didn’t think you would.”
“I don’t understand how you couldn’t realize,” says Draco. “I’ve been so embarrassing. Forever.”
“Forever?” says Harry.
“Ugh,” says Draco. “Not forever, just…”
Draco groans, and to Harry’s surprise he climbs right into his lap.
His long legs straddle Harry’s lap — not some other man’s lap, some muscled and beardy stranger. Harry’s.
Harry takes in an embarrassingly sharp breath and grabs Draco’s hips.
Draco makes a small pleased humming noise and buries his face in Harry’s hair again. Harry realizes he’s still shaking a little and moves his arms up to hug him tightly. He still can’t quite believe he’s doing it.
“It’s none of your business,” Draco mumbles.
Harry’s forgotten what they were talking about. “Hmm?”
“I’ve been embarrassing and you’ve been embarrassing by not noticing, that’s all you need to know.”
“Oh,” Harry says. He slides his hands back to Draco’s hips and says into Draco’s neck, “No, I feel like maybe I need to know more.”
“Some people,” Draco says, “Came back to Hogwarts sixth year looking well fit, and some people’s hormones went totally out of whack over it, and maybe they blamed it on stress and maybe they didn’t, but that’s all you’re going to get out of me. I’m not naming any names.”
“Oh,” Harry says again, bewildered.
At the loosening of his grip on Draco’s hips, Draco lifts his head to look at Harry’s face. “Don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not like I’ve been pining away for years. I wasn’t pretending with Azi.”
Harry wrinkles his nose, and in return he gets one of Draco’s raise eyebrows.
“What?” says Draco.
“He’s a curse breaker,” says Draco. “He has a motorbike. And tattoos.”
Harry shrugs. “I always thought he was boring, and now I think he’s a dick, too.”
Draco examines Harry’s face, and Harry thinks he might get angry or annoyed that they’re talking about his recent ex while he’s in Harry’s lap, but instead he bursts out laughing.
“What?” Harry says.
Draco picks up a hand and strokes Harry’s face, tentative, like he still thinks maybe Harry’s just a vision or a ghost. “And you’re so much more interesting, is that it?” he says, and he sounds so…fond.
“What? No, I — ”
It dawns on Harry that perhaps Draco is on the right track.
“Oh,” says Harry. “Oh. Well. I think I’ve fancied you for longer than I thought.”
Draco puts his other hand on Harry’s face, too, and kisses him again, a long, close-mouthed kiss. “I cannot actually believe that,” he murmurs against Harry’s mouth.
“I think our past selves would die,” says Harry.
“Yes,” says Draco.
“Maybe not your sixteen-year-old self,” Harry says, quirking a smile.
“My sixteen-year-old self,” says Draco, pressing another kiss to Harry’s lips, one hand sliding to grip at Harry’s hair again. “Would mostly be very horny,” he whispers, and then, quickly, “Sorry.” He lets go of Harry’s hair. A few strands have been pulled out of the bun again. “Sorry, I’m joking. Though I should probably get off your lap if I want to stay joking.”
Just at this moment, Draco’s stomach lets out a loud, long growl.
This time they both start laughing, and neither of them seems able to stop.
“Well, that ruined the mood, anyway,” says Draco once he regains his breath, sliding off Harry’s lap. Harry’s body wants to stop him, to pull him closer, but he thinks it’s probably a good idea, growling stomachs or no. “I suppose the chips are a lost cause.”
“I got a cake,” says Harry, still trying to stop the last bits of his laughter. “It’s on the counter.”
“You got a cake?” Draco stands up, and Harry can’t help but feel gratified by how wobbly he looks. He walks over to look at it. “A chocolate cake.” He stares at it for a long moment, then says, “See, you know how to do this.”
“Do I?” says Harry, standing, too. More strands of hair fall out of his bun, and he just pulls the hair tie out again.
“Yes,” says Draco. He turns up his nose in an exaggerated sort of way. “You know I can be bought.”
They cut themselves enormous slices of thick chocolate cake and decide to watch the X-Files after all, and it is in doing this that Harry allows what Draco told him to sink in — he does know how to do this, because he knows how to be him, and he knows how to be with Draco. If he didn’t know how to be with Draco, he would never have started feeling this way in the first place. They talk about ghosts and muggle beliefs about ghosts and the relative merits of Mulder and Scully, and when they’re no longer eating cake, Draco slides his feet under Harry’s thigh like he tried last week, and Harry lets him, and in a moment of bravery places his hand on Draco’s bare ankle and keeps it there.
He can’t really pay much attention to the rest of the episode after that.
It’s only an ankle, he tells himself, really. Is he one of those people from Draco’s research who think an ankle’s too scandalous for public?
When the episode is over, they just stare at each other for a long while, and then at the same time, Harry says, “Maybe — ” and Draco says “Well — ,” and then they both stare some more.
“I guess we should go to bed,” says Harry.
“Yes,” says Draco. “We both have an early morning.”
“Yeah,” says Harry. He scoots himself closer to Draco on the couch. Suddenly, the snogging in the kitchen seems a long time ago, like something from a dream he’s not sure he can repeat in real life. “Er.”
“Yes?” Draco says, amused.
“Can I kiss you again?”
“Please,” says Draco, and they exchange a few long, slow kisses before Draco says, “Okay. Okay, we should stop.”
“Okay,” says Harry. He’s disappointed, but he knows the importance of “stop,” so he does.
They manage to stay in their separate rooms for ten minutes at the most before Harry slips into Draco’s room. “This is stupid,” he says.
“Yes,” says Draco, sitting up on his elbows, and Harry crawls on top of him and kisses him hard.
He didn’t actually mean to start snogging again. He just wanted to be with him, to maybe share one more kiss, to prove to himself again that he didn’t make any of this up. But Draco makes a noise that despite its smallness reverberates through Harry’s bones, and they just…don’t stop.
Draco’s underneath the blankets, and Harry’s on top of them, neither daring to change that. Draco’s hands are all in Harry’s hair. Harry relishes every tiny sound he makes. He remembers again the sounds Draco made in here with that other man, and a hot streak of possessiveness rushes through him. I’m kissing him, he thinks, I’m doing this, making this happen, and it makes him feel like Draco’s long body is quicksand, pulling him in, making him feel thick and stupid.
“Harry,” Draco croaks eventually, when Harry’s gotten to kissing at his neck, sucking hard underneath his chin. He doesn’t care if they aren’t sixteen. He wants to leave something there. He wants to leave a mark on Draco Malfoy. “We should stop.”
“Mm,” Harry says disapprovingly.
“I know,” says Draco. “But I, uh — snogging really turns me on, I’m, I’m too hard. You’ve got to stop if you don’t want me to, uh.”
“Oh.” Harry lifts himself off Draco, holding himself up on his arms and looking down at Draco’s flushed face. Draco’s pupils are blown wide, his hair’s a mess, and he looks totally dazed. Harry doesn’t realize until he stops that he’s been rolling his hips into Draco’s, and it’s been getting him hard, too. Draco’s face makes it worse. “Are you…”
“Give me a minute,” Draco says, voice hoarse.
“I don’t mind,” says Harry. “I don’t mind if you…”
Draco swallows hard. “I don’t have to — we don’t have to.”
“I think I can figure out dry humping,” says Harry.
“Fuck,” says Draco, a little whine in his voice. “I’m not usually so fucking easy, I — it’s just — it’s you.” His face flushes even further. “I’ve, I’ve wanted…”
It’s you. Harry feels like his heart explodes, and like his dick is probably not too far behind. “I wanna make you come,” he murmurs, and he means it. His body’s thrumming with want, past the point of embarrassment.
“Shit,” says Draco.
“Let’s come,” says Harry, rolling his hips again experimentally. “Do you want to come?”
“I don’t think this is actually happening,” says Draco, his hips rolling up to meet Harry’s, possibly not entirely of his own volition. “Oh, God, I think I’ve just finally cracked.”
“I know,” Harry says, and holy fuck, why did it never occur to him how good it might feel to put your dick up against someone else’s?
It’s easy. It’s nothing. Harry knows how to do this. He can rut against Draco while Draco bucks up desperately to meet him, he can keep giving Draco wet, open-mouthed kisses, pulling away too soon every time because the anticipation, the almost of it, is so good. Draco only wears pants and a t-shirt to bed, and his dick is so hard through his thin underwear and the blankets, and Harry can’t see it but it feels so fucking good against his, and just the idea is making him so dizzy he can barely focus on Draco’s face. It’s sweaty, and too hot, and Harry’s legs are chafing against the quilt, and he keeps rubbing up against Draco without any desire to stop to move the blankets.
“I can’t believe I — I’m, fuck, oh,” says Draco, and his head smacks against his pillow and Harry feels the wet blossoming of his come across his underwear, and Harry thrusts hard one, two, three times and comes, too, shuddering, his hands digging into Draco’s shoulders, his ears ringing with Draco’s oh.
Harry rolls over and lies with his shoulder pressed against Draco’s, breathing hard. The room is spinning a little. He closes his eyes for a moment.
He just came with Draco. Made him come.
“This really is my sixteen-year-old self’s fever dream,” Draco says, dazed. He sits up quickly. “I — Harry, was that okay? I didn’t want to make you — ”
“You didn’t make me do anything,” says Harry. “I wanted to.”
“I know it’s…I mean it’s weird, it’s hard, to realize — ”
Harry grabs onto his hand, gripping it hard. Draco stops talking. “It felt good,” says Harry. “I want you. I know I do, that isn’t a question.”
“Okay,” says Draco. “I…me, too.” He says this very quietly, like it doesn’t count if he doesn’t say it too loud. “Not just as…I keep joking but you’re not, like, my teenage fantasy. You’re…”
Harry looks to the side at Draco’s face, and he looks so hopelessly earnest it’s weird.
“I get it,” says Harry. “I know.”
“Good,” says Draco. “I don’t like to get too mushy. Now clean up this mess, and then get under the covers and let me be the big spoon.”
Harry lets Draco believe, for the moment, he’s willing to follow orders, when in fact he’s always preferred little spoon. Head still reeling, he falls asleep with Draco Malfoy pressed along his back.
He wants to go back twenty years and tell the child he was that one day, all the people who love him won’t be able to fit in one house, let alone one cupboard. But it’s the next best thing, he supposes, to appreciate it now, and to fill up other children’s lives, too.
The entire Weasley family has made it, even Charlie, who’s still traveling all the time, and every member of the ANEWT crew. Teddy is following Charlie everywhere to ask questions about dragons, and Andromeda is letting Charlie worry about it and chatting to Katie and Molly about knitting projects. Luna is there, and Dean and Seamus and Neville and Justin and other Hogwarts friends. There’s treacle tart and stacks of sandwiches and Wheezes candies that only Benjamin, Jonas, and Luna will touch; Benjamin is delighted by his new temporarily magenta hair, glitter keeps coming out of Jonas’ nose, and Luna doesn’t even appear to notice her nose is purple. George is loving it.
And of course, there’s Draco.
It’s been over two months now, but Harry’s only just told Molly and Arthur that he’s seeing him. Thanks to Hermione, they got comfortable with the idea of Draco being Draco a while ago, but Harry worried about adding another child to their “not straight” pile. He thinks they’re doing a pretty good job with it, though; Arthur’s never cared either way, anyway, and Molly’s Molly, but she gives Harry a very big hug and tells him she loves him very much and she’s glad he was born today exactly as he is, and if that makes him cry a little, nobody else has to know.
As for everyone else’s reactions — Hermione was so happy she cried, and Benjamin cried, too, and hugged Harry for a very long time, which was a little bit alarming but not bad. Ginny keeps giving him noogies whenever she sees he and Draco together. Luna told Harry she’s so glad he’s happy, and kissed him on the forehead. Blaise seems very long-suffering, but Harry knows she’s happy for them really. Ravi and Nisha and Kambili keep making jokes and innuendos if Katie’s not there to yell at them about it.
Ron came to see him a couple weeks after Harry and Draco kissed for the first time. “I think I might have to quit the aurors,” he said, and Harry knew that even though he was trying to joke, he was in the throes of guilt.
“It’s okay,” Harry said. “You can’t know everything. You’re not Hermione.”
“Hermione and Ginny both told me I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore if there aren’t any women in the room to supervise.”
“Breaking that rule pretty fast.”
Ron shrugged. “It’s what we do. Believe me, though, I learned my lesson about opening my big mouth about things I don’t know shit about.”
Draco, like he’s always been, is a very big surprise.
And not a surprise at all, at the same time.
He still whispers furiously aloud while he reads, only now he does it in bed with Harry, too, driving him nuts. Now Harry’s bedroom, once the last refuge against Draco’s exploding collection of stuff, is also overtaken by books and quills, and also pairs of Draco’s pants and mateless socks and shoes that don’t belong to him.
They’re still watching the X-Files every Wednesday. But now, sometimes, Harry goes to the university to pick Draco up after work, and they pick up food together. Harry doesn’t know if Draco ever really had a crush on one of his colleagues, or slept with him — he doesn’t think he should ask, doesn’t want to allow it to matter, when it doesn’t really — but he can’t help but feel extraordinarily pleased with himself when he picks Draco up and kisses him on campus and throws an arm over his shoulders.
Harry’s not used to the idea that it might not be safe to kiss in public, or to hold hands. There’s a lot of things he’s learning. But mostly, he keeps Draco’s words in his head — If you know how to be Harry Potter, you know how to be gay or bisexual or whatever you decide.
He thinks maybe he likes what Cho calls herself — queer. But he also thinks it’s okay to not have any words but “in love with Draco Malfoy.” That’s what matters right now.
“Are we going to sing?” Kambili calls out when they’ve all started talking about dessert.
“Yes!” says Teddy. “Let’s sing!”
“Don’t sing,” says Harry half-heartedly.
“You heard the man!” says Ravi, gesturing at Teddy. “He wants to sing. I thought you were all about making the children happy, Harry.”
“Yeah, Harry, isn’t that we’ve vowed to do?” Dean asks.
Harry groans. He turns to Draco, and naturally he is only laughing at him. “You’re not going to save me, are you?”
“Absolutely not,” says Draco. “In fact, I’d love nothing more than to sing to you, and I’m not going to work against my best interests.”
“A man after my own heart,” says Nisha.
Draco joins easily in on the drum roll Nisha, Ravi, and Kambili start. Jonas shoots Harry a look of sympathy and a little eye roll, which Harry returns with a self deprecating smile, and everyone launches into a very off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Ron tries to conjure a candle to stick briefly in the treacle tart and somehow sets part of the tablecloth on fire.
“What are you, twelve?” Ginny shouts as Arthur, Charlie, and Hermione all jump to put out the fire, at the same time Hermione yells, “Oh, Ron!”
“Did you do that, Teddy?” George calls down the table. “Because that looked like the accidental magic of a seven year old to me.”
“I didn’t do anything!” says Teddy.
"What did I ever see in you?" Lavender asks, and Parvati, next to her, snorts.
“Weasley, must you ruin Harry’s life at every turn?” says Draco.
“Look who’s talking,” says Ron darkly, touching his eyebrows gingerly like he’s afraid they might have burned off.
“No, I was going to commend you, actually,” says Draco. “We need someone doing it, if I’m going to be otherwise occupied.”
“‘Otherwise occupied,’” Ginny snorts.
“Indeed,” says Draco.
Harry feels a bit hot about the face. In terms of the otherwise occupied Ginny’s talking about, they’ve been going very slow. Draco’s been…sweet, in ways Harry didn’t know it was possible for him to be.
Mostly, Harry really likes kissing him.
Draco smiles at him, that real, warm smile — no smirk, no sneer. He glances around and, once satisfied, it seems, that enough people are occupied harassing Ron, kisses Harry softly on the mouth.
When he pulls away, Benjamin is beaming at them. Harry clears his throat awkwardly, but he shoots the man a smile.
“I had nothing to do with that,” Teddy is still insisting.
“Oh, we know that, don’t worry,” says Katie.
“I’m just falling apart in my old age,” says Ron.
“Oh, don’t even!” says Molly.
“Watch out, Harry, twenty-six’ll get you,” says George.
“I don’t want to hear any of you talking about being old,” says Molly.
“Hear, hear,” says Katie and Andromeda.
Harry leaves the party stuffed with Molly’s food and the enormous weight of all this — love, love bigger than a house on Privet Drive or even a sprawling old castle. He side-alongs Draco, because Draco’s a bit tipsy, into their flat, and the moment they get there, Draco throws his arms around Harry’s neck and says, “Important question.”
“Yes?” says Harry, hands settling on Draco’s waist.
“If Weasley had not burned down your dessert — ”
“He didn’t. We ate the dessert.”
“In a world where Weasley did not burn down your dessert, and we got to eat it,” Draco continues loudly, “And you got to— ”
“For a historian you’ve really got a habit of embellishing.”
“I will knee you in the balls,” Draco says sweetly, leaning to kiss Harry’s forehead. “Now, if you’d gotten to make a wish on the candle, what would you have wished for?”
Overwhelmed with fondness, Harry says, “Is this fishing?”
“Fishing?” says Draco. “I would never.”
“You’re not really supposed to tell anyone your wishes,” says Harry.
“I’m special,” says Draco.
“Clearly.” Harry kisses his mouth. “Do you want to…?”
“What?” Draco asks quietly.
“I don’t know,” says Harry, honestly. “Do something new?”
“If you tell me what you’d wish for,” says Draco.
“For you…” Harry whispers in his ear, and after a drawn out pause, he adds, “To shut the fuck up.”
“Oh — you’ll pay for that,” says Draco, pushing him down onto the couch.
“Okay,” Harry says, and he lets Draco crawl on top of him and bite him on the nose, because he is in love with someone very weird, and he’s happy about it.
He’s in love with a man, and the world didn’t crash down around his ears.
He has a feeling twenty-six is going to be a good year.