“Did you hear, Arthur? The Malfoy boy has taken back the Manor.”
Molly’s voice floats down to his spot in the grass from somewhere not far above, likely the window to Arthur’s study. Harry is lying on his back in the lukewarm sunshine, letting his good snitch hover over his face for a few moments before snatching it out of the air with a lazy hand, again and again.
He’d flooed over to the Burrow from Grimmauld an hour or so before. He’d had intentions to ask Ginny if she’d like to have a quick Seeker on Seeker game before sunset, but she’d pushed him off, muttering something about getting ready for the Lovegood’s solstice fete and calling after him to ‘Have Neville run a comb through that mop, Harry! For goodness and all our sakes.’
Harry has no intention of listening, of course, but it’s just as likely she'd known that before she’d said it.
“Arthur, are you listening?” Molly’s high voice reaches him again. “Stop playing with that muggle death stick and listen to me.”
Then, Arthur’s deeper one - “It’s called a rifle, dear.”
“As if I have any care for what it is called. Regardless, it cannot be as important as what I am attempting to talk to you about. Were you listening, just now?”
“You were speaking of the Malfoy boy and his return.”
“Yes I was. And so ,” she adds, expectantly.
A short silence follows before Arthur’s distracted reply. “So?”
“So, what have you learned of him?” Molly huffs impatiently. “Is he attached?”
“Attached to what? I think if he was unable to move about freely it would have been very difficult for him to travel here from France.”
“Don’t be insufferable, Arthur. You know precisely what I mean. Does he intend to find a partner here, in England, now that he’s come to reestablish himself? Or is he already matched with one of the party he’s brought with him?”
“How should I know, dear - and what should it matter? We’ve been married close to five and forty years, I think the ship has quite sailed on your opportunity to make advances for his hand.”
“You aren’t funny, you horrible man. You know very well I intend the thought for Ginny or Harry. Or Percy, even! He’s bound to do for one of them.”
“Yes, well. I have heard nothing of the man’s current state of attachment, or lack thereof. I also cannot speak to his designs on future engagements, nor can I attest to his compatibility with any of the aforementioned persons, however -”
“That settles it then!” Molly cuts him off abruptly. “For surely one of us would have heard something of the matter by now if the man wasn’t fair game. So - a rich, single wizard with a nice education, attempting to restore his family’s blighted name - you cannot deny the prospect has definite potential, Arthur."
“Only as any romance has potential, my dear. And you speak of the poor lad as if you had designs to truss him up like a chicken, rather than matchmake him to whatever of our offspring you find closest at hand.”
“Romance? Who is talking of romance? I’m talking about suitability,” Molly offers in her no-nonsense tone, ignoring the comment about the chicken. “We have three children desperate to be partnered and upon us comes a genuine opportunity. Surely they must meet, at the very least. Do you know if he and his companions are to come to tonight’s ball?”
Arthur hums. “As I was not even aware that we were scheduled to attend, how should I know of some other fellow’s invitation status?”
“Of course we’re going!” Molly exclaims. “One does not get children married by staying comfortably at home! I sincerely hope Mister Malfoy and his companions will be attending. Perhaps I will owl Xenophilius - chances are he will prove to be a sight more helpful than you in ascertaining an answer.”
“Doubtless he shall, as I have none to speak of.”
“Stop speaking, then.”
“You first, my darling.”
Harry snorts at the dryness of Arthur’s reply and Molly’s responding huff of reluctant laughter.
Their voices drift off as they move deeper into the house and Harry’s boredom returns. He props himself up on his elbows with a sigh, mourning the loss of direct sunlight on his skin as dusk starts to settle in the treeline.
He rises from his patch of grass with a groan, resigned now to head back home and ready himself to attend the Lovegood’s party. He has no personal desire to go - or indeed to meet this Malfoy fellow, whoever he is - but knowing of Molly’s enthusiasm spurs him to act in accordance.
In these types of situations one often finds it best to show up of their own volition, thus saving everyone the trouble of Molly’s inevitable running to ground.
She’s very fond of the indiscriminate Howler, Molly is. And her tracking charms are uncanny.
Harry pulls his shrunken broom out of his pocket and spells it to size, deciding to fly back to London as a way to soak up the last sliver of peace in his day. He also suspects it would be prudent to avoid going back into the Burrow to use the floo and risk running into Molly.
Or Ginny, for that matter.
Or, worse, both of them together. His hair would never escape unscathed.
He grimaces - remembering last time, and the ribbons - before kicking off from the ground and rising swiftly into the slowly-darkening sky.
Harry arrives by floo to the Lovegoods, Neville close on his heels, relieved to find the party already in full swing. Chances are they’ve managed to miss some of the inane chatter and pomp, at the very least.
They step out of the house onto the Lovegood’s shabby grounds, which have been festooned with tables of food and drink and the odd hovering chair for the older wizards and witches. Everlasting Lumos lamps float above the tables, and hoards of fairies twinkle their lights in the hedges and trees.
Harry’s ears catch the trill of instruments being tuned from the direction of the barn, which has doubtless been cleared out and enlarged for the dancing.
Neville makes an immediate beeline for Luna, for whom he likely has an inquiry of a botanical sort.
At least, that’s what Harry supposes it to be about. Neville had expressed his thoughts about the subject to Harry over the dinner table in the hour before, but Harry had been too distracted in trying to get Kreacher to desist attempting to de-mud his boots under the table to pay all that much attention to the full content of Neville’s speech.
The Lovegood’s annual event typically attracts a good crowd of British wizarding society, and it appears that this year is no different.
It takes Harry a good half hour to make it fifteen paces from the house, waylaid as ever with persistent inquiries, fawning compliments, and the general natterings on of the ‘Would you please, Mister Potter’s and the ‘Is it true, Mister Potter’s - not to mention the ‘I say , Mister Potter’s.
It’s enough to make Harry loathe any social gathering larger than a Burrow family dinner.
Ginny pulls up at Harry’s elbow as he finally escapes to a drinks table, where he’d intended to refresh himself with a bowl of butterbeer. Or perhaps something stronger, he thinks, as the elderly witch he’d been trapped by for the past quarter hour follows at his elbow, apparently hellbent on continuing their ‘conversation’ despite the fact that Harry has ceased responding entirely.
He turns to Ginny in greeting, passing her a goblet of Firewhiskey as he does, the twin to his own.
“Cheers,” she toasts him, clinking her cup against his and taking a large swallow.
Harry mirrors her, downing a substantial portion of his drink in one gulp as he scans her attire head to toe.
Ginny has clearly made an effort with her appearance this evening; her breeches are freshly pressed and her jacket brushed; her long, flowing locks dropping in a blazing glory around her shoulders and perfumed lightly with bergamot. It makes Harry want to lean into her and take a deep whiff, but surely that would be indecorous in public assembly, not to mention would add the risk of passing on his own chronic dishevelment like an ague.
He doesn’t want to risk her definite and likely painful retribution if he flaws any inch of her careful dressing. Harry doubts a bat bogey to the face would improve his own appearance any.
Though truthfully, Harry’s as unsure as ever as to what the state of his own dress matters. No level of personal fastidiousness is going to stop people from bothering about him, in any case.
Apparently it matters in some regard, as the first thing Hermione does upon appearing is tut ‘Oh, Harry ’ and begin removing burrs and twigs from his hair with studious concentration.
Once groomed to a threshold that forestalls her fretting, she pulls back and lets him join the conversation around their newly-gathered circle, the current topic of which seems to be Ron and George’s ongoing argument about the expansion of their magical curio business.
“We aren’t ready,” Ron is saying, mouth pulled into a frown as he addresses his brother. “It isn’t feasible at the moment and it’s unlikely to become more so at any time soon, given that both our wives are expecting -”
“If we are to wait for Weasleys to stop being abundantly fertile we’ll be waiting forever,” George counters, earning him a rebuking slap to the arm from Molly and her lacy fan.
He carries on, undeterred, “And we must develop a London presence if we are ever to become competitive in the market! Really, Ronald, it’s an obvious step - we must take it. Harry already said he’d loan us the portion we’d need to get started. We might as well let him help - after all, it’s not as if he himself has a profession to fill his idyll hours.”
Harry pauses in the act of retying back his hair with the bit of twine to grouse ‘Hey!’ at him, mildly offended, even though he can’t really blame George for taking a swing at so easy a mark.
The trajectory of Harry’s adult life is the subject of curiosity to everyone, it seems - possibly with the exception of himself. After all the faff with Voldemort had come to an end, Harry had found it difficult to focus on any one passion for any length of time.
He hadn’t even lasted a full year with the Auror regiment, deciding swiftly that he’d much rather observe the actual good of his varying charitable trusts than align himself with the Ministry’s mercurial relationship with the concept of justice.
Unfortunately the amount of time the oversight ends up actually occupying is rather nil, and Harry can’t really bring himself to be bothered busying himself with much else.
All in all, he can’t say George is altogether incorrect.
The group moves together into the barn, where the gathering is localizing in anticipation of music and dancing. The timbered eaves are alight with floating candles, and in the improved light Harry can see that Ron’s face has taken on a hint of pink.
“Harry needn’t assist us with something so unnecessary,” Ron continues emphatically, scowling still at his brother.
“It is necessary!” George exclaims. And if it eases you to involve him more substantially, let’s just make him a partner and install him in town to assist with the initial set up of the shop. He already lives there, and it will be good for him to have an occupation in between answering fan owls.”
George meets Harry’s eye and winks, forcing Harry to grin reluctantly back at him. The tosser.
Ron does look slightly warmed up to the idea at this point, the color receding slightly from his cheeks and a considering look lifting his eyes.
Which perhaps prompts Molly to say, “Yes, why don’t you involve Harry a bit more, dear. It’s not as if he currently has a spouse of his own to occupy his days,” she adds, with a calculating edge to her tone on the word ‘currently’ that Harry notes with chagrin.
With four of her children happily married, Molly has recently turned her special, and singularly avid, attention to the remaining singletons of her flock: Percy, Ginny, and - though not officially her offspring by blood - Harry.
Harry knows she would employ her machinations in Neville’s best interest as well, if there were any hope of Neville displaying even the smallest indication of interest in - well, anyone. So far as Harry can tell, Neville has not yet intimated to fancying anyone in his life, nor does he seem at all bothered to begin presently.
Oddly, Molly seems to understand this and thus far has let him be.
Harry himself isn’t exactly resigned to bachelorhood these days, per say. But his reticence concerning the prospect of courting is entirely justified, so far as he’s concerned.
Being who he is earns him an excessive amount of attention, it’s true, but very little of it proves to be the kind Harry actually wants to be the recipient of. Harry often finds it difficult to trust the motivations of new acquaintances, the sincerity of their interest in him; that their affections could apply to himself specifically, and not to some idolized vision they have of the ‘Boy Who Lived.’
As for his established connections - well, they’re family, aren’t they? Harry couldn’t possibly attempt to court any of them.
Harry isn’t too keen on a repeat performance of his failure with Ginny, especially given how keen Ginny is on reminding him of the first one.
All told, Harry isn’t sure why Molly cannot apply the same leniency of expectation to his situation as she has to Neville’s. Unfortunately, expressing this annoyance only ever leads to both Ginny and Molly informing him repeatedly that ‘bitterness and indifference aren’t the same thing.’
They have privately - and publicly - assured themselves that Harry is lonely.
Harry has assured them both that they should mind their own business.
At this point their conversation is interrupted by a general pleased outcry at the arrival of fresh faces in the entrance of the barn. Harry turns toward the hubbub, eyes landing on the small, unfamiliar party as the three of them enter the fray.
He surveys the newcomers in turn.
There’s a dark and handsome man whose beautiful countenance and graceful bearing almost force Harry to roll his eyes. Surely it’s ridiculous that someone should be so appealing? Excessive, in Harry’s opinion.
Next, a tiny woman with her hair cut in a dramatic bob in a manner that is leagues beyond the current fashions of England, a style echoed by the severe cut of her expensive robes.
And between those two persons, the third: a tall, severe looking gentleman with a shock of carefully set, white-blond hair.
The hair in itself is striking, as are the eyes - ice grey and intelligent - but paired as they are with the ugly, self-important sneer the mouth is wearing, Harry cannot say that his initial impression of the man is at all favorable.
He leans over to Luna and whispers, “Which one is the priggish beanpole who looks like he’s got the better part of a broomstick up his arse?”
Luna smiles her soft, cheerful smile and says in her slow, tempered way, “That’s not a very kind observation, Harry.”
She pauses to consider the man, her large, clear eyes unblinking. “But neither does it ring untrue. That is Mister Draco Malfoy, heir to the Malfoy and Black fortunes and recently arrived back from France. His parents had a spot of bother with the British Ministry during the first war, I’m afraid - they’ve been exiled to France for almost the entirety of the man’s life.”
Harry snorts despite himself. Only Luna could describe someone enthusiastically aligning themselves with an evil regime to such a degree that they were forcibly banished from British society as ‘a spot of bother.’
Luna ignores him, continuing, “But it looks as if he’s returned to have a go at distinguishing himself from his family’s follies. Rather brave of him, do you not think?”
“Mhmm,” Harry grunts, noncommittally.
He regards the man again from head to toe. He’s suspiciously well set up - not a single seam or hair out of place.
Harry’s heard of the Malfoys before, of course; their involvement in Voldemort’s initial rise to power and their subsequent trial and exile; the general, mundane surprise that they hadn’t broken legality to return to assist with Voldemort’s second coming.
Such knowledge does advocate in favor of the man’s possible character, Harry supposes. Obviously something in the family sentiment had changed enough in the intervening years to keep them from repeating their initial mistakes when the opportunity presented itself, and it would be unfair of Harry to automatically assume that the son shares in his parent’s past or present bigotry.
Likely a completely accurate assumption, he assures himself privately - but unfair, true.
Though judging by his current look of haughty disdain, said son doesn’t appear to be much more pleasant of his own accord.
Harry turns his attentions back to the other newcomers. The woman’s bearing is just as pompous as the Mister Malfoy’s, but the other man’s beautiful face remains pleasantly genial as he looks around the gathering, greeting the first bustling round of persons rushing forward to make introductions.
“The others are Mister Blaise Zabini and Miss Pansy Parkinson,” Luna adds to Harry, noticing his shifted gaze. “Their families were tangentially connected to the first Voldemort regime as well, but were sensible enough to remove themselves from damning entanglements - and the country - before meeting the Malfoys’ fate.”
Harry grunts in understanding. Aha . “So what you’re telling me is that we have now have three Slytherins in our midst? No wonder they all look so unpleasant.”
“Don’t be silly, Harry,” Luna replies good-naturedly. “They didn’t go to Hogwarts and therefore can’t have been Slytherins, of course. They likely all went to Beauxbatons - that’s probably where the three of them became acquainted.”
“Yes, well. Based on what you’ve just said, they would have been Slytherins - it’s obvious. Not to mention all the scowling. Who scowls that much upon first meeting a bunch of strangers? Who scowls that much at all? Slytherins, that’s who.”
“You’re an awful Gryffindor snob, Harry, and you always have been. Besides, you scowl quite frequently.”
Harry scowls. “I do not. And my house preferences are entirely objective - everyone knows Slytherins are a bunch of horrible, incorrigible sods.”
“But they aren’t Slytherins. And you haven’t even spoken to them yet.”
Harry shakes his head, confident. “They surely would have been, I’m positive.”
Luna rolls her eyes and turns to talk to Ginny. “Did you hear? Harry is the new Sorting Hat.”
“He is looking similarly manky around the brim,” Ginny responds distractedly, though she still manages to adeptly sidestep Harry’s retaliating punch to her arm. “C’mon, Luna. Let’s dance.”
She pulls Luna off into the crowd, Luna’s skirted robes swishing in their wake.
Harry turns back to his family, eyes landing on Molly and stomach dropping as he takes in the calculating look on her face as she carefully observes the newest arrivals.
Merlin, she’s going to want to introduce them all.
Harry suddenly connects the appearance of the new party with Molly’s animated prodding at Arthur earlier. He likely should have deduced this immediately - ‘Malfoy’ being as singular a name as it is - but sometimes Harry has trouble bothering to think much on things he cares little about.
He certainly isn’t any keener to be introduced to this Malfoy person now that he knows Molly's objectives for matchmaking.
He struggles with the very idea; surely she can’t think that that gangly arsehole is a good candidate for courting? With his family past? With the current evidence of his sour disposition? Harry cannot see a situation in which he will be at all compatible with anyone in their circle.
Though, Harry thinks to himself, the fellow’s hair is rather unique.
And he is very - tall .
And he has returned to England, knowing that his reception will be tempered with the expectation that he prove himself different from his family before him.
Perhaps he is different. Perhaps Harry’s being too hasty to judge.
Still, it’s with no true enthusiasm that Harry allows himself to be towed along toward the visiting party by Molly’s sudden death-grip on his arm.
Harry makes a grab at Neville’s elbow as he walks fortuitously past, eager for company during the pending ordeal, and causing Neville to slosh some of the lurid blue punch - Luna’s creation, no doubt - from his bowl.
“Oh dear,” Neville mumbles, wiping ineffectually at the front of his splattered waistcoat and allowing himself to be dragged sideways in Harry’s grip.
“Mister Malfoy, welcome back to England! Mister Zabini, Miss Parkinson - welcome, welcome!” Molly cheerfully exclaims as they pull up in front of the newcomers, beaming at them warmly.
“May I present Mrs. Arthur Weasley, Mister Neville Longbottom, and Mister Harry Potter,” Xenophilius introduces them with a familiar bow.
Harry, watching the Mister Malfoy’s face closely through the introduction, does not fail to notice the stern mouth tighten unpleasantly at hearing the name ‘Weasley.’ Harry bristles, and has already given in to his own frown by the time the grey eyes swivel in his direction.
Their gazes meet and Harry feels a strong shock of - recognition? familiarity? - something register in his mind like the far off tolling of a bell.
He isn’t sure what shows on his face, besides the initial frown, but Malfoy simply stares coldly back at him, his expression unchanging aside from a minute narrowing of the eyes.
“Er,” Harry mumbles, realizing that the rest of the group have begun staring at him as well, likely due his lack of appropriate response. “Ah, how do you do?” he asks, weakly.
“So wonderful to meet you all,” Mister Zabini addresses them warmly, deftly saving Harry from the attention. Harry favors him instantly.
“Charmed,” Miss Parkinson offers, voice as dry as powdered Bicorn horn as her dark eyes flick over them in disinterest.
Mister Malfoy inclines his head in a stiff nod, saying nothing.
“Yes, lovely to make your acquaintances, to be sure,” Molly replies brightly. “I have several other children, but they’re already dancing,” she tells them happily, waving a hand toward the milling crowd.
It isn’t hard to tell who she means - the bright, telltale heads of red hair shining in the candlelight as they shift through the press of bodies around them.
Ron and Hermione make an attractive pair, grinning and close, made all the more appealing by their obvious absorption in one another. The deep purple hue of Hermione’s dress compliments her dark complexion beautifully, even as it contrasts the flame of Ron’s hair.
Luna and Ginny twirl past. Ginny lifts Luna easily into a turn, both of them flushed and pretty, standing out bright as Patronuses in the crowded room.
Ginny throws a wink to Harry as she catches his eye before sending a pointed, sharp grin in Miss Parkinson’s direction. Harry glances toward the woman to catch her reaction, noting a subtle pinkening of her cheeks, even as her mouth retains its stern line.
Unsurprising, that. Ginny does always stray toward brunettes.
Reminded of this, Harry reaches up to scratch a hand along his jaw, itching at the two-day stubble there. He likely should have shaved again before he left Grimmauld.
He catches Malfoy watching him then, eyes narrowed slightly as they follow the path of Harry’s hand over his prickly face, his mouth pulled tight in what Harry assumes is disapproval at this display of dishevelment.
Dropping his hand, Harry attempts a polite smile at the man.
If anything this just makes the grey eyes go even more stony.
Unfortunately at this point Harry notices that Neville and Molly are wrapped up in a discussion with Zabini about family lineages, and Xenophilius has pulled Miss Parkinson into an exchange - if Mister Lovegood chattering exuberantly in her direction while she stares boredly over the rim of her glass can be called an exchange.
Which means it falls to Harry to engage with the robotic blond. Wonderful.
“Do you dance, Mister Malfoy?” Harry hears himself ask politely. Never let it be said that he doesn’t have manners.
Malfoy scrutinizes him for a second before replying in a deep, crisp voice, “Under normal circumstances, yes.”
Harry waits in vain for an addition to this. When it becomes clear that none is forthcoming, Harry is unable to help lifting an incredulous eyebrow and teasing, “And is there something abnormal about the current situation, Mister Malfoy?”
Malfoy’s lips compress briefly, but still he makes no reply - the boring sod.
Harry barely refrains from laughing as he gives a perfunctory bow and turns hastily away. Can the snob not even bring himself to attempt conversation?
Not even a pace away, Harry finds himself quickly folded into the center of a ring of chattering older witches, all insisting that he must meet this or that niece or nephew, praising him effusively for his deeply heroic, capable demeanor, and imploring him to please tell them what hair potions he uses, so effortlessly stylish . Harry would be deeply annoyed if he wasn’t in their debt for helping him escape Malfoy’s many charms.
He bears with the ladies for as long as possible before excusing himself, ducking out the back entrance of the barn and into the cool night beyond.
He walks quickly around the side of the building, pulling out the invisibility cloak from a pocket and swinging it over his shoulders as he goes. He leans against wall of the barn and closes his eyes, sighing with relief for the moment of semi-quiet, without the press of bodies and demand for palaver.
The muffled laughter and music from inside wafts happily around him, mingling pleasantly with the night noises from the surrounding fields. He breathes in time to the rushing sounds of breezes through the tall grasses and the chittering of early-season insects.
After a moment the cloak rustles around him and Ginny pops up inside, pressing up against his shoulder with a whispered, “There you are. What are you doing in here?”
Harry sighs, eyes still closed. “Hiding out from general splendor.”
Ginny snorts. “You antisocial ogre.”
“Yes, well I would be - and rather comfortable in the role - if you hadn’t barged in and foiled my plan.”
“Are you calling me general splendor?”
“Oh, I think we both know your splendor has a great deal of specificity to it.”
“I’m choosing to receive that remark as a compliment,” she replies archly. “And anyway, I’m family. I’m not supposed to count in terms of society you’d occasionally like to avoid. You’re supposed to suffer my presence continuously, regardless of your ever-changing disposition.”
Harry takes his turn to snort, pivoting his head to look at her.
Ginny performs a complicated little eyebrow shrug that Harry can only just make out in the moonlight.
“Although if that were true maybe we’d still be engaged,” she quips.
He grins at her. “Yes, perhaps. Though I was under the impression that had less to do with us being perennially annoyed with one another and more to do with you turning out gayer than a Christmas ribbon.”
She grins back. “I think we both can agree that you are far more annoying and far gayer than I could ever hope to be.”
“Since I’m the one with a preference to partners of either sex, technically that can’t be true.”
“Your exclusive and embarrassingly fixated ogling of the male members of our newest party tells a different story.”
“I wasn’t ogling, I was scrutinizing,” Harry objects, maturely refraining from pointing out her own obvious interest in Miss Parkinson. “And I don’t think too much of the haughty bunch thus far, let me tell you.”
“So you weren’t thinking of asking the blond to dance?” she asks with a knowing smirk.
“That boring prat?” he scoffs. “He’s about as animated as a tree, if of a height. Absolutely no-”
Harry is cut off by the arrival of the blond in question around the corner of the building, Mister Zabini following a pace behind. The moonlight bounces off Malfoy’s bright head, catching Harry’s eye with the movement.
Apparently Malfoy’s reserve does not apply with those he is intimately acquainted with - the man is talking so fast Harry can barely keep up with the content of his speech.
“I’m only saying, after decades of hearing the gushy praise and avid fawning over the ‘godly’ Chosen One from everyone and their bloody aunt, I’d expected to find him exceedingly more impressive - formidable, perhaps - or at least handsome. And here he is, failing on all counts,” Malfoy hisses, coming rigidly to a stop only a few yards from Harry and Ginny’s place.
Harry’s cheeks burn at Malfoy’s words. He resolutely does not meet Ginny’s eye.
“Oh, I don't know,” Zabini pipes in in an amiable tone. Harry notes that his accent, though just as posh, is more watered-down than Malfoy's. “Personally, I find him quite well set up - and I’m very intrigued by his coiffure. Rather wild and dashing, I think.”
“That birdsnest? Coiffure barely warrants the name,” Malfoy scoffs. “And you’d be keen on a Dementor if it had nice enough teeth, Blaise - you are the least discerning individual I’ve ever met. Speaking of which, I’m honestly surprised you managed a spare second to develop any opinion of Potter, let alone a favorable one, given your obvious fixation on the Longbottom creature. Of all people,” he finishes, the sneer in his voice so obvious it sets Harry’s teeth on edge and makes Ginny stiffen beside him.
Zabini sighs beatifically, seeming unphased by his friend’s unpleasant tone. “I’m quite overcome. Really, Draco, do you mind checking me for hexes? I feel positively enchanted.”
Malfoy laughs without humor. “I think you’ve had positively too much wine. Though I don’t know how you’ve managed to stomach it - this vintage is abysmal.”
“Don’t get all techy on me just because I’ve had the luck of becoming besotted while you remain obstinately intractable, even in a room filled with quite a number of intriguing persons,” Zabini chides him. “Remember, my friend, you’ve come here to make a go of it, but you’re by no means starting with a clean slate. Given the depth you’ll have to dig out from the hole your parents left you here, I think it may be wise to lower your own lofty expectations to a more reasonable height. I am quite amazed and flattered they have received us all with such good humor - don’t ruin the favorable beginning by being so hard to please yourself.”
Malfoy’s outline stiffens even more severely as he replies, “I’m not going to lower my standards of polite society just because my family legacy in these parts is - troubled.”
Blaise snorts at his choice of word, increasing Harry’s opinion of his nature tenfold.
Malfoy continues, voice gone so soft and intense that Harry almost misses it, “I’m not my father.”
Zabini clearly doesn’t miss the change in tone, reaching out to place a hand on Malfoy’s elbow.
“No - you aren’t,” he replies with quiet confidence. “But they don’t know that yet, and they’re still giving you the benefit of the doubt. Let them have a chance to see that you deserve it on your own merits, before you lift your nose so high they cannot meet your eyes.”
Malfoy shifts on his feet. “You’re calling me a snob again.”
“Yes, and it won’t be the last time,” Zabini says, a smile clear in his voice. “C’mon, you grumpy thing. Give these people a chance - they seem a kindly sort. I know it isn’t France, but you’re the one that’s dragged us here in the first place.”
“Don’t remind me,” Malfoy grouses bitterly before throwing back the rest of the wine in his glass in one swallow.
“But surely, Blaise, you must admit that Potter himself is a disappointment,” he continues emphatically. “Did you see the state of his pantalon ? He’d brought in half the countryside on them like some common oaf.”
“I thought him charming, if slightly more informally clad than the standards you and I are accustomed to,” Zabini says brightly. “Though I can’t say I have much previously rendered opinion on which to compare him to - I never did share your obsession with his story, in school.”
“I did not obsess ,” Malfoy objects in clipped tones. “If you’d spent your childhood hearing your own father tearing on about him, and the rest of your life in a wizarding world so obsessed they teach about him in the bloody school curriculum, you’d have developed a bit of interest as well. It was enough to make me want to escape to the colonies, just to find peace from the mention. And now that I know how little he warrants the awe I’m revisiting the inclination again.”
“So you’re saying you aren’t going to ask him to dance?” Zabini says, and Harry catches the flash of his smile in the dim light.
Malfoy’s silence is pointed.
Zabini laughs. “Well, I think I shall, if you don’t mind.”
“As you would,” Malfoy sighs as the pair of them rounds the corner of the barn. “We’ve already discussed just how dismally easy you are to impress.”
The quiet of the countryside rings in their wake.
“Ginny,” Harry cuts her off tersely, trying not to meet her eye.
Ginny is looking at him askance, the coloring to her cheeks so visible even in the darkness that Harry can tell she’s struggling between humor and pity.
“Well,” she says quickly, breaking the tense silence again. “He didn’t say you were ugly or tragically disfigured or anything, he just said you weren’t -”
“ Ginny. ”
Harry swallows loudly, trying to tamp down his embarrassment with healthy dose of irritation.
What does Harry need to care for such an opinion, anyway? Harry doesn’t need to be handsome. What good does being handsome do?
And it’s not as if little lord Malfoy is exactly a prize in his own merits - all pointy and horribly pale, like some sort of albino stick insect.
Not to mention the clearly detestable personality.
Yes, what good would it do for Harry to have someone like that find him handsome, even if such a thing did matter? Harry would rather be generally unappealing than of any special interest to that absolute prick.
“I agree entirely,” Ginny says, patting him firmly on the shoulder. “An absolute cad of the first order.”
Harry startles a bit at her touch - he hadn’t realized he’d been speaking aloud.
“Yes, quite,” Harry offers lamely. He clears his throat and tries again, with more confidence, “Indeed. Well, let’s not let that insufferable arse cast a pall over the evening. Not that he could, even if he did find me remotely appealing.” He snorts derisively at the notion.
“There’s the spirit.” Ginny grins at him. “I’d see it as a blessing, actually - if he did fancy you you’d be burdened with his attentions.”
Harry grins back, doing his best to shrug the last ten minutes from his mind. “True - can’t say I mourn the loss of the prospect.”
“C’mon,” Ginny pulls at him, dislodging the cloak in a swift movement. “Let’s get you a whiskey.”
They return to the crowded interior of the barn, Harry’s thoughts instantly and pleasantly drowned in the onslaught of stimulation and company. Luna takes one look at his face and quickly pulls him onto the floor as the next song begins, whirling him around with her usual manic enthusiasm and making him laugh, despite himself.
Harry knows himself to be a rather poor dancer, but he enjoys it anyway. Besides, when one is dancing with Luna ‘skill’ fails to be the chief concern of the moment.
Harry does his best to keep pace as she takes turn giving up the lead at random, making silly faces at him at every pass and leaning so hard into her exuberance that Harry is forced into his own.
They’re still giggling as he tows her off the floor for a rest, grabbing bowls of sparkling punch off a disembodied tray as they find a clear space to recover themselves.
“Oh hello, Draco,” Luna says as she finishes a panting sip of the drink, her bright eyes directed somewhere just over Harry’s shoulder.
Harry steels himself to maintain a pleasantly placid face as he turns toward the man.
Malfoy looks a little startled at being informally addressed by her, but not nearly as surprised as Harry would have expected from his horrible, prissy demeanor.
“We’re cousins,” Luna adds to Harry, as if that somehow explains a multitude of unasked questions. “Did you know?”
Harry is careful to smile genially at the both of them. He downs the remainder of his punch and clears his throat.
“No, I did not,” he responds smoothly, proud of the lack of waver in his voice. “Malfoy failed to include that detail during our extensive conversation earlier,” he adds in mock innocence. “He was too busy regaling me with his excessive fondness for dancing. Positively loquacious, he was.”
Malfoy’s permanent frown deepens at this, though Harry could swear he catches a corner of the man’s mouth twitch. Doubtless he is mistaken.
“Is that true?” Luna inquires of Malfoy, not waiting for an answer before continuing, “How delightful, Draco - a passion we have in common! Must be a family trait. I cannot wait to discover how much more we share, now you are returned to England.”
Harry snorts openly at this; he cannot imagine a person more dissimilar to Luna than the priggish ascetic before him. Pale hair notwithstanding.
Malfoy nods his head slightly toward her in agreement, but says nothing.
Luna, undeterred by his woodenness, goes on, “I would absolutely insist upon you accompanying me in the next round, cousin, but I have promised myself to Ginerva for a few reels. I was supposed to take the next with Neville, but it looks as if he’s found another partner for present.”
Harry turns his head to follow her gaze, startled - Neville never dances with anyone but Luna.
But there he is a few paces from them, a look of studious concentration on his face as he turns in the arms of Mister Zabini.
Zabini, smiling hugely, leads him through it, as graceful in his movements as Neville is bumbling.
Fascinated by the sight of them, Harry almost misses Luna saying, “So, Draco, are you going to ask Harry or not?”
Harry whips back around, just barely stopping himself from barking out a refusal. No way in Godric’s fancy drawers is he going to agree to that .
He finds Malfoy and Luna staring at him, the latter with a too-innocent smile hiding behind her cup, and the former with a scowl that must mirror Harry’s own.
At this point Mister Malfoy’s good manners - the few dregs he can possibly own - take hold. Harry can see the resignation in his eyes as he decides to acquiesce.
Harry doesn’t give him the chance.
“Oh, no - I’m sure Mister Malfoy can find a much more suitable partner than myself, at present,” Harry says hastily, his voice coming out much more pleasant and measured than he feels. “I’m sure there’s a candidate more graceful - or at least handsome,” he adds with mean satisfaction, watching Malfoy’s pointy face shift as the words register. “After all, I’m just a common oaf. Excuse me.”
He stiffly bows and turns quickly away, noting as he does - and with no little pleasure - the slightly slack-jawed quality Malfoy’s frown has taken on, as well as Luna’s corresponding confused expression.
No bother - Harry will explain himself to her later.
As for now, he slips quickly out of the barn before anyone can stop him and heads across the lawn toward the house, intending to floo home. He finds himself quite suddenly exhausted.
He pulls his wand out to conjure a patronus, sending it off toward the barn to tell his goodbyes to Luna and the Weasleys. He briefly considers going back to ask Neville if he’d like to accompany him back to London, but drops the notion as he catches sight of Neville himself, now standing in the soft light under the trees, still in the company of Mister Zabini.
Harry stops, watching them for a moment; the dark and fair heads bent toward one another, the gentle smile shared by both faces through their animated conversation.
He continues on, smiling to himself now as he steps into the fireplace and reaches for the bowl of green powder. Zabini does seem a good sort, and Neville has always been a good judge of character; perhaps their newest acquaintances aren’t a total loss.
As for the others, well - Harry can’t say he’s at all eager to deepen his association.
“Grimmauld Place,” Harry announces, steeling his stomach against the spin as the floo ushers him home.
A nauseating moment later he steps out into the darkened kitchen of number twelve, eager for the quiet comfort of his bed and for sleep to settle him from the events of the day.
As he climbs the stairs to the second floor the winking reflection of his lumosed wand in the landing’s mirror stops him in his tracks. He leans toward its blotted surface, scrutinizing himself closely for the first time in as long as he can remember.
He looks himself over; the dark brown skin marred by the stark, jagged line of the curse scar; the unnaturally-green eyes behind the rounded, wire spectacles and their perpetually-smudged lenses.
And then there’s the hair - a right bird's nest, even at the best of times.
He sighs, watching as his nostrils flare.
Harry has never been a vain man, and he isn’t inclined to start now. He’s had to deal with worse in himself than the odd cowlick and debilitating nearsightedness - he’d had to share this body with a mad megalomaniac’s soul for goodness sake. Anything about his mere appearance just fails to bother him in comparison. And why should it?
The opinions of poncy, semi-translucent, quasi-French arseholes notwithstanding.
“That hair needs combing, love,” the mirror interrupts his survey in a tinny voice.
“Oh, sod off,” Harry tells it, moving off toward his bedroom door without a backwards glance.
“I say,” he hears the mirror say in a scandalized tone before he slams the door shut behind him.
The posh accent of the mirror has his mind alighting on fair, polished hair, shining under the moon’s glow - on cold eyes and colder words - but he pushes the thought away resolutely. The deep quiet of his bedchamber is soothing after the over-stimulation of the evening.
It’s just as well Malfoy harbors no interest in him, Harry tells himself, as he has no wish to lay eyes on the fellow ever again.
He pulls off his tight stock with relief and unbinds his hair, throwing himself down on the bed as soon as he shimmies the breeches off.
No, Harry is absolutely better off without that horrible man’s regard, to be sure.
He couldn’t have wished for it to be any other way, quite honestly.
He turns over, gazing up at the familiar bed curtains above his head. The sheets feel cold and lifeless around him.
Harry sighs into the dark.