“You’re hopeless,” Parvati said, digging into her second pudding. “Brushing his hair back? I thought you wanted him.”
Harry slouched down in his chair, arms crossed defensively. “I wasn’t sure what he meant by it, alright?” He glanced around furtively; he had faith in his privacy spells, but it wouldn’t do for the rest of the Ministry canteen to hear about his problems.
“I am actually surprised he kissed you, even a kiss with room left for interpretation.”
“Why’s that? I thought you could tell he was interested.” Harry slowly inched his hand toward Parvati’s tray — he wanted to hear her theories about Draco and his possible attraction to Harry, of course, but he also wanted the third pudding she was hoarding. He’d arrived to lunch late, not being bound to a Ministry schedule, and all the dessert had been taken — which was especially tragic, since they were serving sticky toffee that week.
“He is interested,” she answered confidently. “He’s just been more reserved these days.” She reached for something beneath the table, but Harry paid it no mind. “You have to admit he’s quite different than the boy we knew in school. He’s had just about as close a brush with death a person can have. That must have had a profound effect on him. Living in London, keeping his head down, hosting mixed company at parties — I would have never believed Draco Malfoy could be such a pleasant person if I hadn’t seen it for myself.”
“I know what you mean. He still has a sharp edge, but he’s…”
“Not a sneering little bigot?”
“Not that I can tell. I mean, we haven’t discussed everything he did or said, but…” Harry recalled Draco saying, on that first meeting in the park, how he had assumed his death was a just punishment. “I know he regrets a lot of things. He told me he wasn’t sure he deserved a second chance.”
“I assumed you must have discussed the past somewhat. Soulmates or not, you would have never been able to get close enough to fall for him if he hadn’t changed for the better. I mean, you nearly killed each other in school, Harry.” He squirmed in his seat, aware of just how close he’d come to actually killing Draco. That was yet another conversation they needed to have.
“It’s true,” he admitted. “I’ve been able to see parts of him I never knew existed. I mean, he’s not soft, he wouldn’t be Malfoy without some snark in him. But I like it.”
“Well, he seems to be settling into life nicely,” Parvati said with a nod. “And here he is, kissing you! I think you have the all-clear.”
“I just…” Harry sighed, leaning back in his seat. “I’m not sure how to go about it. I’ve never been very good at relationships, especially not starting them,” he admitted.
“I think you’re going to have to be the pursuer this time. He may have found his footing, but it’s evident that he’s still a bit wary.“
“I told him to send me an owl. And it’s been almost a week.”
“Did you consider that he’s having the same thoughts as you, the same doubts? Even if he has any ideas regarding the threads, that doesn’t make you a sure thing.”
“And we come back to that, again. What ideas does he have about them?”
She pointed her fork at him. “You’re never going to know if you don’t ask.”
That was not a conversation Harry was looking forward to. “I almost don’t want to know, at this point,” he admitted. “I never gave him his wand back —”
“I thought I might want to use it to check! But I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want that to be my motivation for being with him.”
“And how do you know he doesn’t feel the same? Tell me, if he really thought you were destined, would he be so unsure of himself?
Harry shrugged. “Maybe? We’re still Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Maybe he can’t get past that.”
“And yet he kissed you?” Parvati rolled her eyes. “Please, Harry, you’re just talking yourself in circles at this point. You like him, you’re attracted to him, he likes you back, he’s given you all the signals. Ask him out to dinner and kiss him proper at the end.”
“Just that like that, huh?” Harry laughed. “You’re really something, Parvati.”
“Well, I’m tired of having the same conversation with you over and over. Have it with him, for once.”
“I will. I promise.” Harry sighed ruefully. “It isn’t any easier dealing with men than women, turns out.”
“Welcome to the bisexual drama club,” Parvati laughed. A moment later, her arm twitched slightly; Harry’s hand, reaching again for the pudding, suddenly stung. He pulled it back with a yelp, and she leaned forward to claim the dessert, revealing her wand from under the table with a grin.
“Next time, get here early.”
Still settling into your new place? Let’s get lunch this week, you can catch me up. Or dinner?
There. Short, to the point, nothing embarrassing or overly sentimental about how Harry wondered what it would have felt like if Draco’s lips had been an inch further to the left. After sending the message off, Harry paced in front of the window for longer than his carpet likely appreciated, wondering if he should have waited for Draco to write first like he’d asked.
The reply he received the next morning was heartening.
Dinner is good. This evening, at six? That new Muggle-style place on Horizont?
Harry grinned, then forced himself to take a deep breath. Six was early enough for a post-work meet-up between friends; it wasn’t necessarily a date. And that new restaurant was fairly casual, with a lot of their business through takeaway due to limited seating space.
Sure enough, the few tables on the patio were already occupied when he arrived to find Draco there, standing at the entrance. “Harry. There you are. I was just asking if there was any room, but it looks like —”
The hostess went owl-eyed at the sight of Harry. “I, er, I’m sure can find you a place!”
Harry cringed internally, but put on a smile. “Takeaway is fine. We can wait at the counter for our order.”
Draco watched him curiously after they had ordered sandwiches and chips. “You really don’t like special treatment, do you?”
“More trouble than it’s worth, I’ve found.” The food smelled delicious when it arrived. Harry looked down the street and immediately knew where to go. “Come on,” he beckoned to Draco, who followed just behind. “That park we met at before is actually only about a ten minute walk.”
On the way there, they caught up with each other about their respective work weeks, and a bit of Quidditch gossip. As luck would have it, the very bench they had sat on during that fateful conversation was free. Harry sprawled on it a bit inelegantly and began unpacking their food. “Bit of a picnic, yeah?”
“No blankets, but I suppose,” Draco said, shaking his head fondly at Harry’s easy posture and sitting rather more primly beside him. “Did you get vinegar on the chips?”
“Course, I’m not a monster.” Harry passed him the food and for several minutes they ate in silence. Some Muggle children were shouting and running around the play equipment at the far side of the park. Harry watched them, contemplating.
“September always feels special,” he remarked. “Even though we aren’t in school anymore, there’s still a bit of excitement in the air, for me at least. I always looked forward to it so much.” Hogwarts had, after all, been an escape for Harry — for the most part.
Draco picked at his chips, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I looked forward to it in a way, I suppose. Hogwarts never felt like home to me, though, not the way it seemed to for you.” He went quiet. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the full experience.”
Harry shrugged “Neither of us did, in the end. I bet the graduation feasts are really boring though, eh? I can’t imagine McGonagall manages to put any humour in her speeches.”
Draco laughed despite himself. “She’s certainly nothing like —” His face fell. “Like Dumbledore,” he finished at last.
Harry looked out past the tree line. He thought over what Draco had said in this park earlier that summer, before they had truly become friends, before whatever this was between them had started to bloom. “I hope you still don’t question whether you deserve a second chance. You’ve been doing alright with yours, I think.”
“I’m serious. You’re not still —”
“Guilty? Ashamed? I don’t think those feelings will ever go away.” Draco’s gaze followed Harry’s out across the park. “And they shouldn’t, not really. I fucked up back then. But I’m not still punishing myself for it, if that’s what you mean. I’m trying to live every day as it comes, and try my best to earn it.”
Harry had wanted to take Draco’s hand back then but didn’t; now they were closer, and the low humming current between them had grown to a loud buzz. He inched his hand over and clasped Draco’s in his own. Draco started a bit, but didn’t pull away.
“So… you don’t feel like you shouldn’t be here?”
Draco turned to look at Harry, who tentatively met his gaze. There was heat in his eyes, and Harry found himself drawn in. “I find now I’m enjoying being alive.”
“Yeah?” Harry asked, low. “What’s your favourite part?”
Draco bit his lip, suddenly shy. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“I tell you what I really liked.” Harry leaned in. “This part.” He gently kissed the corner of Draco’s lips, just as Draco had done to him. He lingered for a moment, giving Draco the chance to pull away, while silently willing him to guess what Harry meant.
Come on, you must know how I feel, I’m not the type for silly little play kisses.
Draco trembled and turned, just a bit, but enough for Harry to take it as a yes. He tilted his own face and nudged in a little more —
And they were kissing.
A thrill shot up Harry’s spine as their lips connected, and he pressed in a little further. Draco’s lips were soft underneath his, even softer than his cheek had been. Draco didn’t pull away, but he didn’t open his mouth either, and after a moment they both pulled back. It had been an achingly sweet kiss, one like Harry couldn’t recall ever having, and he longed for more right away. But Draco looked out toward the park again, and Harry didn’t dare press his luck. From the pink tinge of Draco’s cheeks and tiny smile still on his lips, Harry counted this as a success.
It became a habit, after that — meeting up for lunch, or an early dinner, and ending with a kiss. They lingered longer, but never deepened. It felt like Draco was holding back, and Harry would have questioned how eager he was, except for the fact that Draco always looked quite pleased afterwards.
The weather turned, and with the chill came scarves and hats and gloves, but still Harry and Draco went to the park. Today there was hot chocolate, and as they made their way to their customary bench, Harry took Draco’s hand in his, soft leather gloves meeting up with fingerless, worn mittens.
They took a seat, and Harry heard Draco laugh. “What’s funny?”
“You have…” Draco mimed wiping at his face. Harry brushed a hand across his cheek, and Draco shook his head fondly. “Not there.” He leaned forward, bringing his own hand up, then seemed to think better of it. Quick as lighting, he came in close and kissed Harry on the nose, swiping him quickly with just a hint of tongue.
‘Whipped cream,” he explained, licking his lips to catch the bit that had transferred.
Harry stared at him, suddenly overwhelmed with affection. He set his hot chocolate down on the bench beside him, then reached over and took Draco’s from his hand as well.
“Hey, what are you —”
Chocolates secure, Harry took both of Draco’s hands and pulled him in, planting a firm kiss right on his lips. Slowly, Harry teased his tongue along Draco’s bottom lip, until he opened his mouth on a gasp. Harry wasn’t sure which one of them pressed in first, but in a flash the kiss turned passionate, surpassing all other kisses they had exchanged before. Draco tasted like chocolate, and Harry bit back a moan, not wanting to seem too overeager. It felt so good to have Draco in his arms at last, responding with equal fervour.
It was nothing like their previous tentative goodbyes — and there would be no denying what was going on between them after this. It was almost terrifying, but as Harry lost himself more in the warmth of Draco’s mouth, he silently cheered. Finally!
The sound of a throat clearing cut through Harry’s blissful thoughts, and they pulled apart quickly. An older Muggle woman apparently disapproved of their public display of affection, and had made a displeased noise as she walked past. Harry watched her move away, then let out an embarrassed laugh. He noticed Draco nervously glancing up and down the path beside the bench and hastened to reassure him.
“It’s OK, you know? People snog in parks. I bet she’s just jealous.” Draco nodded, but was obviously discomfited.
What had him worried? Was it being in public? Was it being spotted by anyone they knew? Or was it maybe even that Draco was ashamed about being seen with another man? Harry dismissed that; Draco had never shown any hint that gender mattered to him, and held Harry’s hand eagerly enough. He seemed to notice Harry’s furrowed brow, and answered.
“No, it’s alright. I just… I’m still unsure what people think of me. Any sort of judgement... I tend to take it quite personally.”
“Right.” Draco was sitting stiffly now, and made no move to return to their intimate position. Harry tried to hide his disappointment — he was determined not to push, but he couldn’t deny the pace was frustrating to him. It had taken him some time to decide how he felt about Draco, but once his mind was made up, there was no more hesitation on his part.
As Draco watched him, several expressions seemed to flit over his face, before his jaw set stubbornly and he reached over to touch Harry’s cheek. “Let’s not let the Muggles interrupt us, shall we?” Then he was leaning in, and his lips were firm on Harry’s, and it was even better than before.
There was something about being thoroughly snogged, Harry thought. He was in a good mood all week. Draco had been quite busy at work, even over the weekend, but Harry managed to convince him to eat lunch in the Ministry canteen on Monday.
Knowing that Draco was the punctual sort, Harry actually arrived in time to collect two puddings — sticky toffee yet again, he was in luck. He navigated his way to the table that Draco had chosen (in the back, Harry noted) and took a seat.
“You know, I come here to eat with Hermione sometimes, or Parvati, but I never see you here.” Harry didn’t admit how he’d looked around for Draco hopefully in those days before they’d finally made a tentative step towards — well, towards something.
“I pack a lunch. I would have thought Granger would be equally discerning about nutrition.” He eyed Harry’s pasty, jacket potato, and puddings dubiously.
“Oh, she doesn’t really eat much, just corners other people while they can’t escape and talks them into things they might not agree to in their office.”
Draco laughed at that, and Harry found the scrunch of his nose so adorable that he wanted to kiss it. He settled for taking his hand. Draco tensed and looked around at the other Ministry employees in the room.
“I — Harry, what are you doing?”
“I hold your hand in the park, yeah?” Harry said, unable to keep the injured tone out of his voice.
“Yes, but… the Muggle park.”
“I don’t care if anyone knows I fancy you.” A deep blush rose all the way up Draco’s neck to his ears, and it occurred to Harry that he hadn’t actually said it yet. All the kissing in the world was no substitute for words, it seemed, and the reality of the situation — Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, a relationship — suddenly came into sharp focus under the bright lights in the canteen. They weren’t in their own little world anymore, safe in an anonymous park.
Draco was still holding Harry’s hand, though, even if he was trembling a bit, and Harry took this as a good sign. “Things are better than you thought they’d be, yeah? You’re getting along. Can you trust me on this, that it’s alright? I mean… if it’s something you want, too…” He trailed off, aware now that Draco had never said anything, either. They had so far communicated solely through actions.
Draco threw him an exasperated look. “Potter, I don’t just kiss anyone.”
“Back to Potter, eh?” Harry asked nervously.
“When you’re being obtuse, yes.” Draco squeezed Harry’s hand reassuringly, before dropping it to reach for his teacup. “I am at work, you know. Just because you can’t be fired for anything doesn’t mean I enjoy the same largess. I have no doubt you could be caught with your trousers down in the lift and get away with it.” There was a smirk on his lips, and Harry laughed, happy to see the old Draco back, the one who teased Harry with impunity.
“There might be a limit to even my star power. Especially since I don’t wear pants.” Draco dropped the teacup with a clatter, even redder than before.
“Potter!” His eyes narrowed at Harry, who shook his head mirthfully. “Is that — stop trying to get a rise out of me!”
“But it’s so easy!” Harry took a satisfied bite of pudding. This was turning out to be a lovely day. Maybe they could stop being so awkward around each other.
But Draco went serious, and stared at him for a long moment, then with no small amount of wonder in his voice, said: “I never expected this.”
Harry swallowed, unsure how to answer. But aren’t I your soulmate? Surely Draco had to have considered this at some point, as unlikely a couple as they had seemed. Did Draco not believe in the threads at all?
Did he somehow not remember?
Harry had seen no reason to broach the frankly terrifying subject of destiny when things were moving along on their own with no push from fate. That didn’t mean he’d forgotten about it; that broken thread on his wrist was always somewhere in the back of his mind, no matter how he tried to avoid it. Parvati’s warning that Harry would never know if he didn’t ask rang in his ears.
He ignored it.
“Right,” he instead answered slowly. “Who would have ever guessed?”
Draco cocked his head, seemingly trying to parse Harry’s tone, to discern what he was trying to hide — he’d never been good at lying, and it had to be there somewhere in his voice. Draco opened his mouth, and Harry braced himself for whatever difficult question was about to come out, when —
“Well, well, well. Look what the Crup dragged in.”
Speak of the devil on his shoulder.
Parvati stood behind Draco, smiling like a cat who’d got the cream. “Come for a visit, Harry? I see Draco’s made a special trip out of the office for you. We never see him down here with the rest of the commoners.”
“Some of us have taste,” Draco drawled, and Harry let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He was grateful for Parvati’s sudden appearance, as it bought him some time. With luck, the strange moment between him and Draco could be forgotten and he could continue to resolutely bury his head in the sand.
“Certainly not Harry. How many puddings has he had today?”
“Only two.” She and Draco shared an amused look.
“Oi, you’re bad as I am! Leave my sweet tooth out of this.”
“You think you’re sweet?” Draco said, eyes sparkling. “That’s cute.” His eyes caught somewhere behind Harry, and he let out a put-upon sigh. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. There’s Drover from Accounting, I’ve been trying to track him down by memo for a week. I should have known to look in here.”
“Soon you’ll be harassing people with Hermione.” Harry watched him go, then turned back to see Parvati’s expectant face.
“Are you on a date?” she asked gleefully.
“I — no! He’s at work!”
“So? Tell that to Anise and Moira.” She pointed at two witches in the corner, one in Junior Auror robes, who were feeding each other pudding. Harry hoped he never got quite that bad.
“He’s not a big fan of public affection.”
“I’d love to know how you found that out.” She leaned in, her eyes gleaming.
Harry squirmed under her gaze. “Snogging at the park,” he admitted at last. She crowed in triumph, and Harry quickly shushed her.
Mercifully, she lowered the volume of her voice. “Finally! How’s it going, then?”
“It’s going pretty slow, actually,” Harry said, then hastily added, “but that’s fine! I’m not rushing him.”
“You know,” Parvati mused, “I thought when you two idiots figured it out, everything would boil over all at once. You were so intense with each other back in the day.”
“Rivalry is different than dating,” Harry pointed out. “And anyway, he’s been through a lot.”
“I suppose.” She fixed him with a hard stare. “You haven’t talked about the threads yet.”
Harry cringed under her accusing gaze. “No. I didn’t want to spook him! He still seems doubtful.”
“Even after snogging?” Parvati looked across the room at Draco, who was leaning over Drover and talking animatedly while the other man nodded.
“Draco is different now, yes,” she mused, almost to herself, “but...” Her brow furrowed, and Harry got the impression that her mind was working out several problems at once. It was times like these he had a better understanding of how she’d become an Unspeakable. She seemed about to continue, but then Draco made his way back over to the table.
“I think I made some progress with extra funding for a study.” He took a seat beside Harry again, beaming. “I should come down here more often. Not to eat, mind you.”
“Maybe you can bring me some pudding, then.”
“Never,” Draco said with a snort. “Get your own assistant. Wouldn’t that be something, an assistant to the assistant to the Interdepartmental Liaison to the Minister.”
“Bollocks!” Harry exclaimed, and many of the nearby witches and wizards turned to look at him in shock; they were used to having him in their midst by now, but he was still The Boy Who Lived, and some undoubtedly held him on a pedestal. “Sorry,” he said in a quieter voice, to Draco and Parvati’s surprised faces. “Just, that reminds me, Hermione is out for the week and I told her I’d pick up a few things. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll entertain Draco,” Parvati said, taking Harry’s seat.
He could have grabbed the files on the way out, but Hermione’s offices were just upstairs from the canteen, while Draco’s were all the way across the Ministry, and he’d wanted to walk him back to his office when he left. It took Harry all of five minutes, but when he returned he saw that Draco was standing up and fetching his robes from the back of his chair.
“Oh, is lunch over?” A quick look at the permanent Tempus charm over the door of the canteen told him there were fifteen minutes left.
“I should… get back to work.” Draco pulled his robes on slowly. “Potions to stir. Brewing waits for no lunch break, you know.”
“I’ll see you off, then.”
Parvati looked between the two of them, biting her lip. “Draco, if you still want that report on the Room, you can come by anytime.”
Draco froze, then adjusted his tie and shrugged. “Eventually. It was good to see you, Parvati.” He turned to Harry, paused, then then started for the door, forcing Harry to wave at Parvati over his shoulder as he followed.
They made their way to the next hallway over, where the lift was located. It was empty while everyone else finished their meal; Draco stepped in just across the threshold, then turned to face Harry. “Thanks for lunch.”
“Thank yourself, you packed it,” Harry laughed. Draco smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Want me to go up with you?”
“That’s not necessary.” Draco leaned forward a bit, his hand on the door to the lift preventing it from closing. “Harry, I…” he trailed off, then cast his eyes out into the empty hallway. Harry presumed he was looking for any co-workers. A quick glance of his own told him the coast was clear, so he closed the distance and kissed Draco goodbye. It was a bit stiff, but Harry figured that was just Draco worried about being seen. Draco was the one to break the kiss, and he stepped back further into the lift to select his floor.
Harry kept his own hand on the door another moment. “What are your plans for this weekend?”
Blinking in the strange glowing lights of the lift — Harry had always hated them, they made him squint — Draco took a moment to answer. “I might be working,” he said at last.
“Well, let me know, OK? There’s a new bakery I want to try out, though we could get some biscuits and go look at the skating rink in the park.” Draco only nodded.
“Bye, then,” Harry waved, and watched as the lift door closed. Somehow, he felt like he’d missed something.
It was only later that Harry remembered — Draco usually tried to avoid the lift.