One of the most difficult things about having adventures, as Harry discovered over the years, was the fact that life went on immediately after. Mundane things like work and chores could only wait for so long.
With Malfoy safely on his way home, McGonagall had congratulated Harry and Parvati on their daring idea, and then gone back to her duties as Headmistress. Parvati was involved in several time-sensitive projects at the Department of Mysteries, and wasn’t able to stick around and celebrate. So it was that only a week after the breathtaking rush of speaking to Malfoy again, Harry found himself alone again at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, staring at his neglected mountain of paperwork.
Working with Hermione couldn’t exactly be called exciting, but it was important. It was something Harry had fallen into rather than chosen; he’d been so indecisive about a career, and Hermione tended to take on more work than she could possibly handle, so when he’d offered to help her sort memos one night during her first few harried months at the Ministry, it only made sense. Two years later, and Harry was still her valued assistant.
He was just going over line edits that had been added to a bill on Centaur employment rights (not that Harry could ever imagine a Centaur applying for a job, Firenze aside) when a tap-tap-tap at his window drew his attention.
Sitting on the windowsill was the largest, most terrifying owl Harry had ever laid eyes on. It glared at him and scratched at the glass, emitting one baleful hoot.
Harry carefully opened the window, his wand hand at the ready, wondering who would be sending a strange owl to his secret address. When he reached for the parchment, the owl pecked his hand sharply and pushed into the room. Harry yelped and watched it perch on the back of his chair.
If an owl could roll its eyes, Harry would have sworn that was exactly what it did. It made no more violent moves, though, so Harry opened the parchment after casting a number of detection spells revealed nothing malicious.
Your house seems to be under a Fidelius Charm, but given that you were my cousin’s heir, I can only assume you are at the Black residence. This is my mother’s owl, and (through spells I am not privy to) I am told it can find any Black property in existence. If you would be so kind as to give me your address, I won’t be forced to send this beastly creature again.
As if it sensed Draco’s insult, the owl gave another threatening hoot. Harry, no longer worried, shushed it and continued reading.
I am writing to let you know that I have arrived safely at the Manor. It is rather — and here were several scratch marks, as if Malfoy had changed his mind about what word to use — strange to be back here. It is very quiet. Mother is of course beside herself with happiness at my return. I was faced with one of the most peculiar encounters of my life when I presented myself at the Ministry records department to have my death certificate cancelled, although the ancient witch at the desk seemed to have done this sort of thing before.
I have been informed that I will not be charged with any crimes by the Ministry. They have, as you predicted, moved on, and can’t be bothered with someone who was a minor for a portion of the war. It is not possible to describe my relief.
Harry was relieved, too. He’d spent the last week nervously speculating what reaction Malfoy would face at the Ministry. Not that he deserved no repercussions at all, but Harry didn’t want to see him in prison.
I cannot help but feel I have got off lightly. As I indicated in our previous conversation, I am aware that I must answer for certain things. In the meantime, Mother thinks it best if I lay low for a while. She’s still terrified that the Aurors are going to show up and drag me away.
One consequence of my actions is that I am definitely expelled from Hogwarts. I will be allowed to sit my NEWTS privately, but given that the last year of school wasn’t conducive to studying, I will be starting from scratch. There are things from the sixth year curriculum I have to revisit as well. As I can no longer depend on my name or connections (and I know you must find that hilarious), I will have to be diligent with my marks to ensure I have employment opportunities.
Thus my immediate future appears to be a quiet one, and I must admit that I am thankful. My apparent death is still like a nightmare, one that will take me some time to come to terms with. Still, I owed you a letter to set your mind at ease. And if I may be so bold, I promise I will not make you regret saving me, whether our paths cross again or not.
You do not owe me a reply, Potter.
“You do not owe me a reply,” Harry snorted. Malfoy had as good as asked for one, when he requested Harry’s address. Well, if Malfoy was going to reach out, then Harry was definitely going to write him back. Maybe not right away — that was desperate — but eventually, and not in nearly as formal a tone.
In fact, even if he waited to send it, he could start composing his reply straight away. He tossed an owl treat out the open window, slammed it shut as soon as the aggressive owl flew after it, and searched for a blank piece of parchment.
Malfoy, Harry began.
The owl found me just fine. Please don’t send it again. My address will be on the envelope.
I’m glad you’re not going to Azkaban. You’ll have to figure out what atonement means on your own, but it sounds like you’re already thinking about it.
As far as studying goes, I took some catch-up courses for my NEWTS and I did fine, so a swot like you should be aces. I studied more after Hogwarts, too; it’s a long story but if you ever want to hear it let me know.
I’m not sure if you’re being literal about nightmares, but I have a few suggestions about dealing with them. Even after five years it can be hard to believe it’s all over. Just don’t go too hard on the Dreamless Sleep, even if you’re tempted.
You don’t “owe” me a reply either, but feel free to write me back.
There Harry paused, unsure how to sign off. In formal letters he used ‘sincerely,’ and with his friends he said ‘love.’ What could be in between? ‘Yours?’ That made Harry blush furiously. In the end he decided to just leave his name.
After that first letter, Harry found himself corresponding with Malfoy. It was infrequent; Harry didn’t want to seem too eager to talk, and Malfoy was likely busy catching up over a whole year’s worth of courses. But he kept Harry updated with briefs on what he was cramming for, and peppered his letters with scathing humour aimed at everything from the tutors his mother hired to the last few peacocks who were roaming wild on the Manor grounds.
It wasn’t as if Malfoy was a secret that Harry was keeping. Paperwork had been filed at the Ministry, and Hogwarts hadn’t been entirely empty for the summer, so there had been an inevitable article in the Prophet, breathlessly detailing his rescue and return to the living. “He wasn’t really dead,” Harry had muttered, suspecting that Narcissa was the unnamed source in an attempt to drum up sympathy for her son. It had worked: Rita Skeeter thought he was a poor, tragic figure who would forever be displaced in time.
In fact, as Malfoy had disappeared on May 2nd, and returned in the first week of July, he had missed his birthday of June 5th entirely. Short of moving his birthday forward, however, there wasn't much to be done to reconcile his true chronological age. (Harry had mentioned this to Parvati, who laughed and said, “Malfoy as a Leo? Ha! Can you imagine?” Harry could not imagine. He didn't even know what that meant, even being a Leo himself.)
Harry himself had firmly refused any interviews, as he always did these days, and returned to his very important but very much un-newsworthy work of assisting Hermione. Today they were gathered around a pile of proposals from the Department of International Magical Cooperation. It wasn’t boring, necessarily, especially when they worked together, but McGonagall’s offer simmered in the background of Harry’s thoughts. A rapid scratching sound caused him to look up from the papers.
“Is that another letter from Malfoy?” Hermione pointed at the large eagle owl perched on her windowsill, an envelope clasped in its beak. It didn’t scratch at the glass more than once, choosing to sit and wait calmly for Harry to let it inside.
“Hey, Perseus.” Harry opened the window, and the owl blinked at him placidly and held out its leg.
“Rather dignified, isn’t he?” Hermione remarked. Harry stroked Perseus along his beak, earning a soft hoot. “He likes you, it seems. Rather like his owner.”
Harry scoffed, and Hermione hid a small laugh behind her hand. “It’s true, isn’t it? That’s certainly not the first letter you’ve received from Malfoy.”
“It’s nothing special, we’re just catching up. He thinks he owes me.”
“I’d say he’s right.” Harry turned an incredulous look towards her, but Hermione continued. “I know you would never hold it over him. That’s not the way you are. But going from speaking to Parvati about children’s stories to pulling him from the jaws of death, well, that’s something, even for you.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. He’d told both Ron and Hermione that a casual conversation with Parvati about the soulmate threads had led to further discussion about her work in general; eventually her research into the Room of Requirement came up, and after comparing notes they’d decided Malfoy might still be alive. Even if he trusted his two closest friends with his own secrets, he didn’t feel it was his business to reveal anything about the threads, not now that Malfoy was alive and involved as the other party.
Not that Malfoy was aware Harry knew anything about that.
He couldn’t help but wonder if the threads were why Malfoy was making an effort to stay in contact. Near-death experiences aside, there was never any love lost between them, and their past antagonistic relationship was much closer for Malfoy than Harry, who’d had years to get over childhood rivalries. Was Malfoy trying to be friendly because he believed Harry was his soulmate? Or was it his way of making amends, of being a better person? Did he even like Harry?
With every sporadic letter they exchanged, Harry grew more curious. Somewhere beneath jokes and platitudes were deeper conversations waiting to be had, and Harry didn’t know how to start them. He was also worried about pushing Malfoy too far, of scaring him off.
And so here he sat, seven months later, back to his old routines as if he didn’t have a looming metaphysical question hanging over his head. When he left Hogwarts, he’d been resigned to never knowing the answer, and told himself he didn’t care. But then Malfoy had reached out, and Harry couldn’t help himself.
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice broke through the fog of his thoughts. “You’re a million miles away. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing. Sorry, where were we?”
She eyed him skeptically. “You’ve had something on your mind for a while. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me?”
Harry laughed nervously. “What could I possibly have to tell you?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I asked.” She shuffled a few papers while pointedly not looking Harry in the eye. “I thought perhaps you’d met someone, except you don’t find time to go out and meet new people.”
“I go out!” Harry protested.
Hermione waved him off. “I’m not saying you don’t, only that it’s with the same crowd. There’s nothing wrong with that. Goodness knows I’m the same.”
“Eh, you meet new people all the time.”
“Yes, for my job. Otherwise I’ve a close-knit group of friends, and I’m perfectly happy for it.”
“Well, I am too.”
“Again, that’s fine. I was only saying that if you had met someone, I can’t imagine where.” Hermione glanced up at Harry slyly. “You know, for a moment there, Ron and I thought you were dating Parvati.”
Harry sputtered, his huff of indignation so strong that several papers went skittering across the floor. “Why did you think that?”
“You were being so mysterious about meeting up with her.”
“That’s because she works in the Department of Mysteries. Anyway, I told you what we were up to eventually.” Mostly.
“No matter, we knew it couldn’t be true once she blazed across the society pages with Oliver Wood.”
“Too right.” Harry nodded decisively. He respected Parvati and enjoyed her company, but he wasn’t attracted to her. In any case, she believed he was destined to end up with Malfoy.
Malfoy, whom Harry couldn’t stop thinking about.
In his experience, Hermione would eventually figure everything out. Maybe it was best to get ahead of her. Harry gathered his scattered pages and tried to act nonchalant.
“I suppose I have met someone new,” he threw out casually. Hermione whipped her head around, her curls following a moment later.
Harry tried to keep a straight face, but her surprised expression was too funny. “Malfoy,” he laughed.
She rolled her eyes. “Malfoy isn’t new, you’ve known him forever.”
“He is, though,” Harry said, realising how true it was. “The way he writes in his letters, he’s so different. The shock of being basically thrown forward in time, thinking he was dead… he’s still kind of a git, but he’s not mean anymore, you know?”
“I imagine that would be distressing,” Hermione agreed. “And to be quite frank, he already seemed traumatised during the war.” She frowned. “Still, Harry, it’s one thing to exchange letters, and quite another to truly become friends. He may feel that he owes you his life, but as a child he was cruel and violent to you, to all of us. Do you really think he’s changed?” There was no judgement in Hermione’s voice, which Harry appreciated.
“I guess it’s hard to tell from just letters,” he admitted. “He could just be acting sorry.” It hurt Harry to consider that Malfoy may have been leading him on, but for what purpose? Because Harry was famous and respected?
“You have a big heart, and you like to believe the best of people. Just keep that in mind. But I’m sure whatever his intentions, that Malfoy must appreciate writing to you. It must feel very lonely, being displaced like that.”
Harry nodded in agreement; Malfoy did sound lonely, even if he tried to hide it with snark. He left Hermione to the paperwork and took a short break to read the latest letter. True to form, Malfoy and he were still on a last-name basis, regardless of how Harry signed his own replies.
I trust the new year is finding you well. Our holiday celebrations were subdued, but lovely. Thank you for the dragonhide journal — I did tell you not to get me anything, but as usual you never listen to reason. I refuse to feel guilty for abiding by the no-gifts agreement.
Harry smiled to himself. He’d spotted the little journal at Flourish and Botts, and thought it might be perfect for Malfoy to take notes in while studying. He suspected that Malfoy had suggested the ‘no-gifts’ rule because his family vaults had been well-depleted by reparations and he was low on funds, but Harry had more money than he knew what to do with, and expected nothing in return.
Mother has stopped looking at me with panic in her eyes, as if I might disappear at any instant, which is quite a relief. Her house arrest term is coming to a close soon. She keeps talking about moving elsewhere, perhaps France or Switzerland, when she is free, and I can tell she expects me to follow.
That made Harry frown. He had become used to having Malfoy back in his life — not that owls couldn’t be sent across the Channel, but it seemed so far away. He realised with a start that he’d been expecting to see Malfoy in person eventually, now that they were civil. Harry felt a slight tug of want and dismissed it, reading on.
I don’t think I want to leave Britain, though. I should be ready to sit my NEWTS in June, and my tutor in Potions believes he can connect me with an apprenticeship somewhere. (You would hate this man, Potter — he’s like a cross between Binns and Snape, very boring yet very exacting. I appreciate the rigorous curriculum, myself.) I doubt Mother wants me to work, and if I follow her I wouldn’t have to, since there are definitely vaults hidden in Switzerland. (I shouldn’t tell you that, but somehow I trust you. Look at me, I’ve become sentimental.) Yet I find myself with the desire to make my own way. I’m sure you find that admirable. I find it practical — I’ll never be accepted back in society by resting on the privileges that were afforded to me in the past.
Harry did find it admirable, and suspected that Malfoy had reasons that weren’t only practical: his pride, and wanting to distance himself from the unpleasant things that relying on power and money had drawn him into, before he realised he wasn’t cut out for it.
Of course, no plans can be made until I actually pass my exams. I am confident but I prefer not to get ahead of myself. So I will try to appreciate this last bit of time I have, a simple student living with his mother, before real life rushes back at me. It has been immensely helpful to have the months of relative quiet. When you told me that you went back to Hogwarts to sit for your own NEWTS, I admit I have wondered how you dealt with the memories. Even in a peaceful setting they often threaten to swallow me whole.
Enough with the morbidness. It’s a whole new year, after all. If you feel like writing, tell me what gifts you received for Christmas.
Malfoy still wrote letters like an old man, even though he was a teenager. It made Harry chuckle every time. He’d been formal and stilted with Harry when they spoke the morning after his rescue, as well, and Harry thought it might be a defence mechanism of some kind. Would Malfoy would still speak that way in person, or would some part of his old snarky self shine through? Every time Harry thought about asking him to meet up, his Gryffindor bravery faltered. What was he hoping to gain from that? Just some witty banter? And what excuse would he give?
The answer was staring him in the face Malfoy would take his NEWTS in June, just after his birthday. Harry could ask him out for a celebratory drink. Should he? Folding the letter carefully, Harry worried his lip, trying to determine if that was a good idea or not. When he looked up, he saw Hermione staring at him knowingly; he set the letter aside with a flush and got back to work.
He had time to decide.
What a difference a year made. The Malfoy who showed up in the park, a stone’s throw from the Leaky, was healthier looking than the one Harry had spoken so haltingly with in the Hospital Wing. He was still pale, of course, but his eyes were bright, and his cheeks were flushed with life. Harry was still a bit awed at seeing him so alive, after thinking of him as dead for five years.
In deference to the Muggle park, Malfoy had eschewed robes, but he was still overdressed for the weather in dark grey trousers and a crisply pressed black shirt. Interestingly, his hair was growing out, and he nervously pushed a lock of it behind one ear as he sat on the far end of the bench that Harry had chosen.
“I’d say I was surprised to receive your summons, but doing the unexpected is honestly what you live for.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s not a summons. I invited you. Here, it’s hot out, thought you might like a cold drink.” He produced two bottles of Fanta that he’d picked up at a corner shop and surreptitiously placed under a Cooling Charm.
Malfoy raised a curious eyebrow at the Muggle drink, but accepted it with a short nod of thanks.
“So to what do I owe this ‘invitation,’ then?”
“Eh, you know. Thought you might like to celebrate passing your exams with someone other than your mum.”
“Rather bold of you to assume I passed.” Malfoy took a long swallow of the orange drink, glancing at Harry from the corner of his eyes.
“You did pass, right?” Harry sputtered.
“Relax, Potter. Don’t get your broomstick twisted. I passed with flying colours. No excuse not to, with how hard I’ve studied.”
Harry relaxed. “That’s good, then. And how was your birthday?”
“Our last house elf made me tarte tatin, and my mother gave me a number of small, tasteful presents. Certainly nothing like the spread I would have received in my youth. Also I've no idea what my real age is, anymore. Am I really nineteen?” Malfoy pouted.
“A Leo,” Harry snorted.
“Nothing. Sorry you didn’t get an armful of presents.”
“Don’t apologise. It’s better than not being here at all.” Malfoy ran his finger along the rim of the bottle. “Which I have you to thank for.”
“You don’t have to,” Harry protested. “You’ve said as much in your letters.”
“I didn’t really expect you to write me back, you know,” Malfoy admitted after a minute of silence. “I knew I owed you an update, after what you went through to save me, but that was it.”
“Just like I didn’t owe you a reply,” Harry teased.
“So why did you??” Malfoy asked, confusion evident in his slightly shaking voice. “We weren't exactly friends. Far from it. Why act like we are now?”
Harry already struggled with his reasons for being interested in Malfoy's well-being; he certainly couldn't begin to explain it Malfoy himself. Part of him almost wished Malfoy would admit to having seen something that tied them together on that fateful night, so it would be out in the open. But if Malfoy didn't want to address it — whatever his reasons were — Harry wasn't going to bring it up.
“You don’t think we’re friends?” Harry asked instead. Malfoy wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Because we’ve been writing to each other for a while now. A whole year, in fact. It’s not the same as hanging out, but still.”
Malfoy gazed out over the trees. “I suppose it’s time we talked for real,” he said quietly. “I did pull a runner at Hogwarts, right after.”
Harry shifted on the bench, crossing his legs at the ankles. “Well, you’d just been through a traumatic experience. Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there.”
“Is that what you did after the battle? Pulled a runner?”
“Not as such. I slept for like a week, though.” If Malfoy had tried to talk to Harry about this years earlier, he’d have met a stone wall, as Hermione liked to say. But it had been long enough that Harry felt okay opening up at least a little, even to Malfoy. “It was hard to be around people, even the people who had been there for me through it all. It was over, but it didn't feel over.”
“I understand that,” Malfoy murmured in agreement. “Even after everything, seeing that years had passed since the war, it took time to accept.”
“I let everyone just pull me along for a while,” Harry continued. “I am glad I didn’t try to return to Hogwarts in the fall, because it was still under repair and I think that would have been awful. Like I wrote to you, I studied at home before going back to sit the exams.”
“I didn’t have fancy expensive tutors,” Harry teased. “Just Hermione.”
“I’m sure Granger was more than competent,” Malfoy said, then blinked as if surprised at himself.
Harry grinned. “I’ll tell her you said that.” Malfoy reddened, and looked away. “Anyway, it was her idea to go to Muggle university for a two year course after that. Ron didn't come along, he went to help George at the shop.”
“Yes, you briefly mentioned that in one of your letters. Was it strange? Living in the Muggle world?”
“You forget I grew up as a Muggle. And we didn’t live there, just went to classes. I never even declared a course of study.” That was simply a lack of filing; he’d mostly taken classes in Education, feeling drawn to that department.
Malfoy cocked his head. “Why go then?”
“I couldn’t decide what else to do,” Harry confessed. “I didn’t want to be an Auror after all, even though that’s where I focused my NEWTS. I didn't want to play Quidditch professionally, either, even though I was asked. I might have done nothing if I hadn't gone with Hermione. “
“And Granger? Why did she return to the Muggle world?”
“She studied political theory, which isn’t exactly offered in NEWT courses.”
“Ah. Hence her position in the Ministry. Which I’m still rather vague on.”
“She created it,” Harry smiled proudly. “Interdepartmental Liaison to the Minister. Basically she takes everyone’s good ideas and tries to make them a reality.”
“Nosey as ever. I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Malfoy rushed to clarify. “Seems as if she’s found a way to do everything, rather than decide on just one career.”
“That’s why I help her. There’s just… so much.”
“It surprised me to hear that you were doing paperwork,” Malfoy admitted. “You never seemed like a diligent student. But I suppose you had other things on your mind back at school.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“And what will you do when you get tired of being Granger’s secretary?” Malfoy asked with a sniff.
Harry only laughed. “I’m not ashamed to be helping Hermione out. She’s done a lot of good.”
“Of course. But you’re not a follower, Potter. You’re a leader.”
“I…” It was true that Harry knew he was doing good, working for Hermione. But he was also bored more often than not. Strange, that Malfoy seems to know me so well. “I’ve been avoiding a decision,” he admitted. “The DADA position at Hogwarts was offered to me.”
Malfoy leaned back and crossed his arms smugly. “See! That seems much more your speed.”
“You said you received an O in your NEWT, right?”
“Right.” And McGonagall knew he’d studied teaching. “It’s just… a lot of responsibility.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you aren’t teaching now. It would have been odd to have you administer the exam to me last week.”
“What’d you get?” Harry asked curiously.
“An E,” Malfoy admitted. “I can’t cast a Patronus. All that studying, and foiled by a charm that no amount of book smarts can produce.”
Teaching his friends how to cast a Patronus had been a bright spot in Harry’s otherwise dismal fifth year, and he remembered it fondly. Maybe there was something to McGonagall’s offer after all.
Maybe I could even teach Malfoy.
He could picture it: standing side by side, guiding Malfoy’s wand movements. What would his Patronus be? Harry caught Malfoy regarding him strangely, and quickly came back to the conversation, deflecting from himself.
“Is that all you’ve were doing since coming back, then? Studying? It’s mostly what you wrote about.”
“What else could I do?,” Malfoy sighed. “There are only so many cups of tea I can drink with my mother.”
“I dunno. Go out with your friends? You’re allowed to leave the house.”
“I leave,” Malfoy said testily. “I’ve begun a catalogue of the wildflower species in the woodlands around the manor. It may serve me well as a thesis option should I go into Potions.”
“You sound like Neville,” Harry laughed.
“You still see Longbottom around?”
“We’ve a regular pub night at the end of every month, the whole lot of us.”
“That sounds nice,” Draco said wistfully.
It occurred to Harry that he never saw any of the other Slytherins from their year out and about, in Diagon or elsewhere. “Have you not heard from anyone?” he asked, not unkindly.
“Blaise wrote me to say he’s glad I’m not dead. Otherwise, no. Let’s be honest, Potter. I wasn’t exactly cultivating close friendships those last couple of years at school.”
“Well, maybe you could go visit Blaise, then.” Harry had the sudden reckless notion of inviting Draco to pub night, but set the idea aside for later.
“Perhaps.” Malfoy tapped on the bottle in his hands with one nail, a distant expression falling over his face. Harry understood all too well the temptation to isolate himself rather than open up.
“It’s good to have someone to talk to.”
Malfoy shrugged dismissively. “Are we not talking now?”
“About things that are bothering you, I mean.”
“Who says anything is bothering me?”
“Malfoy.” Harry’s tone was insistent, and Malfoy met his eyes begrudgingly. “You don’t have to hide from me, you know. I get it. I’ve been there, I’ve stared death in the eye.”
“It’s like the whole world was a rug pulled out from under me,” Malfoy admitted. “One moment, there was no hope, and then…”
“And then the rest of your life is before you again. And you’re happy about it, you are, but there’s still a feeling in the pit of your stomach, like the other shoe is going to drop.”
Malfoy nodded in agreement, then furrowed his brow. “I’ve been wondering. You said you had to die. Why didn’t you? I know you tricked him somehow, Mother saw you were alive. What happened?”
“I didn’t... I didn’t trick him,” Harry said thickly.
“Potter, are you telling me…” Malfoy’s wide eyes seemed translucent, as they had on their long walk to the end.
Only Ron and Hermione knew the truth. And Harry had told them very soon after the battle, when things were still foggy and surreal. Speaking of it in a brightly lit park six years after was sharper somehow. But Harry remembered the tired resignation on Malfoy’s ghostly face, and the way he walked with Harry to offer a slight bit of comfort, and felt as if it was right to tell the whole story.
It still sounded absurd, saying it out loud.
“He killed you,” Malfoy said in a trembling voice, almost to himself, and Harry figured he must still be afraid of Voldemort, even after all this time.
“He killed a piece of himself,” Harry clarified, “one he’d left behind years ago, and sent me along with it. That’s how I came back. And he’s gone for real, Malfoy. I promise. I saw that piece on the other side.”
Letting the now empty bottle fall to the ground, Malfoy wrapped his arms around himself. “It feels like I shouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Malfoy. You weren’t even dead, only stuck, and that’s because the Room of Requirement broke. I’m the one that shouldn’t be here.” Harry said the last part lightly; he’d mostly processed his survivor’s guilt and was grateful to be alive.
Malfoy smiled wryly. “You deserve your second chance, though.”
“And you don’t?”
“I don’t know.” He sighed and raked a hand through his hair, letting it fall in his face. “You know, I expected hate mail, or an angry mob, especially after the Prophet published that I was back. But they were more concerned with your heroics, and I suppose even that’s worn stale, while I’m too pathetic for people to bother with. No one spat on me in the Leaky when I came through today.”
“It’s been six years. I told you people wanted to move on.”
Malfoy scratched absently at his left arm. Harry’s eyes flickered to the motion briefly, then back up to his face. He couldn't catch Malfoy's eyes.
“Do you want to be hated?” Harry asked gently. “To be punished?”
“No one wants to be hated,” Malfoy answered. He paused, then took a deep shuddering breath.
“Do you know what I thought, at that one moment of bright, searing pain from the surrounding heat, before the Room — froze, I suppose?” Harry shook his head no. “I thought, this is what you get, Draco.” Malfoy screwed his eyes shut, but continued talking. “And then in the Forest, when I thought I was a ghost, it was even more apparent that I was being punished. And I couldn’t find it in me to disagree.”
Harry was struck with the urge to take Malfoy’s hand, but didn’t think it would be appreciated. “I think maybe you expect people to hate you because you hate yourself, in a way.”
“When did you become a Mind Healer?” Malfoy asked bitterly.
“I could tell you regretted it, even in the Forest.”
“How could I not, faced with your righteousness?” Malfoy turned to face Harry with a fervent look. “There you were, so brave. You were a martyr at seventeen, caught between life and death as we spoke. I was terrified, but I was also… in awe of you, a little bit. Ashamed, of my own actions. And just… so sad, that it had come to that.”
Harry suspected that Malfoy was sad for another reason as well, one that had come to light when they tried to shake hands. He pushed that aside as a conversation they might never have.
“I’m not that righteous, you know. I was doing what had to be done. We were both sacrifices, in a way. On different sides.”
Malfoy scoffed. “It’s true,” Harry insisted. “You were set on a path just like I was.”
“And I could have left it at any time.”
“Really? I know how much you love your parents.”
Malfoy kicked at the bottle that lay at his feet, sending it toppling over with a clank. “Stop trying to defend me.”
“I’m not! Believe me, I’m not.” Harry thought back to fifth year, to Malfoy smirking as he led Umbridge to the DA. “You’ve actively made some very bad choices. You want to talk about hate? I hated a lot of things about you, Malfoy.”
“Yet you write me letters like we’re the best of friends.”
“Self-pity isn’t attractive, you know.” Harry blushed at his own choice of words, and rushed past them. “Stop trying to push me away, its not working. I know you’re attempting to move on.”
Malfoy blinked, but let Harry’s remark slide. “Moving on is easier said than done. I say I should make amends, but I don’t know where to start. I’m hiding like a coward.”
“Why study for your NEWTS, then? Why stay in Britain? You told me it was because you wanted to make your own way in the world, on your own merits.”
Malfoy couldn’t argue with his own words being quoted back at him. “Why are you so insufferable?” he grumbled. “Is this what I came back for? Harry Potter, my own personal cheerleader? I should have stayed dead.”
“There’s the drama queen,” Harry laughed. “I knew you still had it in you.”
“Oh, hush. You can’t tell me you miss the spoiled little boy I was.”
“I don’t miss you being a nasty little shit, no, but it seems weird for you to be so self-deprecating.”
“Big word there, Potter. Do I have Granger or the Muggles to thank for the expansion of your vocabulary?” The smile tugging at the corner of Malfoy’s lips indicated that he was teasing, and Harry couldn’t help smiling as well.
“I’m smarter than you think, Malfoy.”
“I know,” Malfoy said softly. For a long moment, he and Harry simply stared at one another.
“So… what’s next?” Harry said at last.
“My potions tutor believes he can get me an apprenticeship with the Ministry distribution department. It’s not glamorous,” Malfoy qualified. “They provide Wolfsbane and Blood Substitute for werewolves and vampires who are unable to purchase their own. But it’s a start.”
“I know about the program. It was one of the first things Hermione sent up to Kingsley for approval.”
“I was meaning to write her a letter,” Malfoy said hesitantly. “Her, and a number of others. I’m just not sure where to start.”
“Hermione loves to read, but I think it’s best you do this in person.” Malfoy blanched, and Harry, ever a risk-taker, put a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”
“If you insist, Potter.” He held himself stiffly, but didn’t flinch away from Harry’s touch.
“I don’t think I have to. I think you’ll do the right thing all on your own.” Malfoy’s pleased smile made him more handsome than he had any right to be, and Harry pulled back. He had to have imagined Malfoy’s eyes following his hand — no, his wrist — as it went.
“You know what I do insist, though? Stop calling me Potter.”
Malfoy scrunched his nose up indignantly. “But then you’ll call me Draco,” he complained, “and that would be weird!”
Merlin, he was right. “Yeah, maybe I didn’t think that through!” Harry laughed, and earned himself a shove that spilled the last of his soda.
Harry wasn’t stupid; it would be difficult and awkward for both his friends and Malfoy to make peace with each other. It was also getting harder to ignore the little swoop of nervousness that made Harry’s stomach jump every time Malfoy smiled. He had to ignore it though — Harry wasn’t going to be led around by destiny any longer, and anyway, it would just complicate things… right?
But thread or not, they were tied together by circumstance, and Harry couldn’t imagine life without Malfoy, now that he was back among the living.