“Are—are you sure?” Harry grimaced as he stuttered. He hated sounding uncertain, and he hated it worse with Draco, who had made an incredible gesture by inviting him in the first place.
But still, he had to ask. He was still afraid that he would wake up one day and find that his life since the war had been a dream. It seemed to be going better than it had any right to. Harry wasn’t sure if he had earned it, or if he deserved it.
“Why would I ask you if I’m not sure?” Draco folded his arms and leaned against the wall beside the Fat Lady’s portrait, ignoring her skeptical look. “Do you think I go around randomly issuing invitations to visit over the holidays to just anyone?”
“No. Not that. Just that Christmas is a time for family, and this is the first Christmas that you’ve had as a family in a long time. I don’t want to intrude.”
Draco’s face softened the way it did a lot now—although, Harry had come to notice, Draco did it almost exclusively with him. He reached out, acting as if he would cup Harry’s cheek, and then dropped his hand to Harry’s shoulder instead. Harry swallowed, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed.
“My parents were the ones who suggested I should invite you,” Draco said quietly. “I’ve been writing to them, and my mother said that anyone who got mentioned in my letters that much and made me so happy should come.”
Harry felt his cheeks flush so hot that he probably looked like Draco when he’d apologized on the train. He looked down, but Draco moved around in front of him, so that Harry was mostly looking at him, and murmured, “Say yes.”
“Yes, then. For Boxing Day and the day after?”
“Yes,” Draco repeated, his eyes shining so fervently that Harry let go of some of his own reserve and smiled. “My mother understood that you’d want to have Christmas Day with the Weasleys, and my father wants that day by ourselves, too.”
Harry understood perfectly. “Um, there’s one thing, though,” he said, and continued when Draco raised his eyebrows, despite how awkward it made him feel to ask. “I don’t know your parents well at all. So how am I supposed to buy gifts for them?”
“You don’t have to, of course,” Draco said, blinking a little, as if he didn’t understand why Harry would even think that. “But they’ll have gifts for you. They’ll be your hosts. That’s the way it’s done.”
“Think of it like this, if you want,” Draco cut in impatiently, fingers beating a tattoo on Harry’s chest for a second the way they might once have on his own knee. “You already gave us gifts that we can’t repay, our lives and our freedom. Whatever trinkets my parents might decide to buy for you can never compare to that.”
Harry hesitated. Yes, he could think of it like that if he wanted. He just wasn’t used to doing it. After all, most of the people of the wizarding world hadn’t thanked him except for some hysterical cheering now and then; they assumed that he owed them something, either the details of his private life or a faster finish to the war.
But this would let everyone escape with dignity intact, and without having debts.
“Yes, all right,” he said, and got to watch Draco’s eyes brighten again the way they did so often.
The way they do so often around me.
“Then it’s settled, and I’ll tell Mother. I’m looking forward to having you there, Harry.”
Harry only nodded, because that was all he could do right now. Draco smiled with half his mouth, the way he often did when he’d stunned Harry silent like that, and then walked back down towards the dungeons.
“So you’re going to visit him for Christmas, mate?”
Ron was standing behind him in the common room when Harry turned around. Harry shrugged and moved out of the way so the Fat Lady could swing shut. “If you were there the whole time, you heard me. The day after Christmas, and the one after that.”
“Do I represent the only sane person in the world?” Ron asked the ceiling of the common room. “Malfoy might have apologized, but that’s different from gallivanting off for Christmas with the git!”
“He’s not a git anymore,” Harry said. “And do you really want to act worse than Draco is now when we spend time together?”
“What?” Ron looked more than slightly horrified. “I don’t act worse than him!”
“Not than he used to. But now, you do. I saw some Ravenclaws who passed us in the library yesterday when Draco was trying to talk to you about Transfiguration and you just kept ignoring him. They looked like they thought you were the rude one.”
In truth, only one of the Ravenclaw students had frowned, and Harry didn’t really think she would have stopped and said anything to Ron. And he had no idea how the Ravenclaws in general thought about Slytherins; maybe they would have distrusted Draco no matter what he said. But the slight lie was working. Ron’s face drained of color.
“I can’t believe anyone would forget what he did and blame me,” he finally muttered, but it was weak.
Harry shrugged. “You know how much people want a quiet life now. It would be different if Draco had never apologized, but he has, and that means everyone wants to get along with him and forget about the way he used to be. By refusing him when he tries to be polite to you, you look like you’re the one who can’t let the past go.”
“He let Death Eaters into the school, mate! He’s the reason Bill has those scars!”
“And have you talked to Bill about that lately? Because Draco told me he owled him an apology the first week of school. It’s Bill’s business if he doesn’t want to accept it, but you can’t keep the war going if he doesn’t want to.”
Ron stared at him. Then he said, “No. It never even occurred to me that he might have apologized to Bill.”
Harry shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me either until I asked him. But ask Bill. Like I said, I don’t know exactly what he said to Draco. He might not even have owled him back yet. He might need more time.”
“But you don’t. You’re really going to his house over the holidays.”
Ron exhaled in a defeated way. “Okay. I’m not going to be friends with him the way you are.” He gave Harry a look that said no one was friends with Draco the way Harry was, and Harry had to flush, because it was true. “But I can see that maybe things have really changed. And it would be nice not to go around hating as many people.”
“That was one of the main reasons I accepted his apology when he offered it,” Harry said quietly. “Because I want the war to be over, not in the sense of ignoring it, but in the sense of constantly carrying grudges all the time.”
Ron nodded in silence and then went off to sit in front of the fire. Harry picked up his Potions book, and caught a look from Hermione that seemed to be directed more at the book itself than a smile about Draco.
Harry shrugged and smiled at her in return. He would tell his friends about his budding interest in a Potions career later. For right now, it felt—good, in a strange way—to have a secret that he shared only with Draco.
“Hello, Mr. Malfoy, Mrs. Malfoy. Thank you for having me.”
Draco wanted to sigh at the contained way that Harry spoke the words, and the stiff hand that he held out to shake. Mother was the one who did it. Father was the one who sighed soundlessly and hung back. At least he got a glare from Mother for doing so.
But Harry wasn’t appearing at his best, either. Draco had never realized until now how much of Harry’s intense glow of being alive came through his eyes and his careless gestures. When he held himself as upright as this, and moved slowly, and watched everything with the expression of a Crup who expected to be scolded for getting on the furniture, he looked like a shadow of himself.
And it was obvious that Mother both sensed the visit going wrong and didn’t know why. She glanced sharply at Draco, and Draco nodded and leaned over to speak in Harry’s ear as Harry sat down on a delicate couch facing Draco’s parents.
“No one is going to poison you when we give you tea. That’s not until dinner.”
Harry laughed, and Draco saw the transformation in Mother’s eyes as Harry himself changed, leaning back on the couch and reaching up to grasp Draco’s hand for a second. “Thanks, mate. I can always count on you to make me laugh.”
Father was looking at Draco, his eyebrows slightly elevated. It was as close to a gape as Draco would ever get out of him.
Draco cleared his throat a little and turned to look at Mother. “I think Harry would probably like some treacle tart. Could you have the house-elves serve some?”
“Of course,” Mother said.
“Tell him not to steal them the way he did the last one,” Father muttered.
Draco opened his mouth to say something, and then bit back the words. His parents had made their decision. They supported him—as was clear from their inviting Harry here for a few days—but they wouldn’t be as open with their emotions as he was with Harry, and they wouldn’t be so quick to let go of the grudges of the past, either.
“It’s all right,” Harry said under his breath as Draco took a seat on the couch beside him. “I know those wounds aren’t going to heal overnight.”
“That was so rude. It’s not like he’s a Weasley.”
“But I am a Potter, and I’m right here now, and he doesn’t have a wand for the rest of his life.” Harry gently squeezed Draco’s arm, letting his hand rest fearlessly above the Dark Mark Draco always kept concealed. “It’s all right.” He raised his voice. “Thank you for inviting me to your home, Mrs. Malfoy. I wondered about the peacocks outside. How long have you had them? Are they albinos, or do they naturally breed that color?”
Mother smiled at Harry and clasped her hands in her lap. “Ah, yes. They are in fact naturally that color, but we had to search for a long time to find a population of birds big enough to breed without deformities…”
It was an inane subject, but it was one that Mother was comfortable with, and Draco was grateful that Harry, at least, knew how to make small talk. He let his eyes flick over to his father and his eyebrows rise in clear disapproval. Father blinked and then came to take the delicate chair next to Mother’s.
When the conversation on the subject of peacocks had run its logical course, Father cleared his throat and said, awkwardly, “So you are—less involved with the Ministry than I would have thought, Mr. Potter.”
“Yes,” Harry said, and Draco was the only one, he thought, who could have told that his muscles tensed for a second and then the tension flowed away. Harry would never be as subtle with his emotions as a Malfoy, and had no reason to be, but he was better than he gave himself credit for.
And it made a tender ache open in the middle of Draco’s chest, that Harry was willing to meet Mother and Father on even ground and be a little less demonstrative so that they would feel comfortable.
Draco reached over, keeping one eye on both parents, and rested his hand on Harry’s arm.
Harry only gave him an absent smile, since this was the kind of thing Draco did every day, and continued talking about his doubts that the Ministry was going to change all that much. But Mother and Father had noticed, and Mother had turned her head so that she could look at them more closely. Father had shut his eyes for a second, but now he opened them after a long, slow blink.
Well, Draco had made his choices clear.
From the slight frown Father sported, he didn’t like it much, but that also didn’t matter. This was Draco’s life, and he was no longer going to live it to suit anyone but himself.
“Happy Christmas, Harry. Slightly belated, I must admit.”
Harry smiled in a bit of bewilderment as Mrs. Malfoy held out the gift to him. He’d brought the kind of small, polite gifts that Draco, after some coaxing, had admitted would be appropriate: a packet of rose seeds for the hope of new life and growth, and a bottle of good wine. Gifts for the house more than for the people in it. Harry had assumed they would give him food, maybe chocolates, or gifts that were similar.
This huge package sitting in his hands now was a surprise, especially wrapped as it was in extremely crimson and gold paper.
Harry gave the barest glance at Draco, who looked on the verge of gaping at his parents. But then he turned and glared at Harry instead.
Open the present, stupid. Harry nodded at Mrs. Malfoy, murmured, “Thank you,” and then opened the gift. Inside the paper was a hinged wooden box, which killed his hope that it might be a lot of paper wrapping something small.
Merlin, I hope that Draco’s right and I’m not going to look like an ungrateful guest with what I brought them.
“Do open it, dear.” Mrs. Malfoy was leaning a little forwards on her chair, and her eyes were bright enough to make them look like Draco’s. Harry hoped that meant she was starting to relax around him, and didn’t resent him being Draco’s friend.
The way it seemed Mr. Malfoy so clearly did.
The inside of the box took Harry’s breath away. It was lined with soft red cloth, not velvet but maybe silk. Still, the object that rested on the lining was by far the more precious. Harry lifted it out of the box with shaking fingers.
It was a pocket watch, like the one Mrs. Weasley had given him, but the case was hinged open, and he could see that, on the opposite side of the glittering crystalline face with numbers that were probably real gold, was a picture of his parents he had never seen before. They were both in Hogwarts robes, probably in their seventh year, and leaning against each other under a huge tree. His mum was waving madly at the camera, while his father alternated between waving and watching his mum with an adoring gaze.
“How in the world did you get this?” Harry whispered. He reached out and let one finger brush against the side of the watch. That made his father turn and grin up at him, too.
“It was taken from the house at Godric’s Hollow—after.” Mrs. Malfoy shifted her robes for a moment, but she looked admirably calm. “By a souvenir-seeker. Eventually, it was sold on the less legal side of the market. I used some spells to track it down.”
From the sound of her voice, she’s waiting for him to challenge her on what those spells were and whether they were legal. Harry has no intention of doing so. He just grinned at her and clasped the watch shut, taking it out of the box.
“Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy. Really, thank you.”
“I have a gift for you, too,” Draco said, which made Harry glare at him. He’d got Draco a book of Charms, but he’d owled it to him. Draco said nothing about them exchanging gifts while Harry was at the Manor.
Draco just ignored his glare, and brought out an odd-shaped package, although the thing it looked the most like was a locket. Harry swallowed, and not just because he was afraid that the present was probably expensive, which his book to Draco hadn’t been. He’d been beyond grateful that the watch wasn’t a locket, and he didn’t know if he could wear Draco’s gift if it was.
“Open it,” said Draco, with a slightly menacing tone in his voice, and Harry nodded and ripped the silver paper.
Inside was something Harry had never seen before, and something that was meant to go around his neck, but luckily wasn’t a locket. Harry blinked and turned it around, actually not sure what it was. Some combination of a diadem and a necklace?
“It’s called a torque,” Draco said, sounding gently amused. Harry glanced at him and saw that Draco’s eyes were shining in a familiar way, so he relaxed. “It goes around your neck and some of it falls down your chest. Here.” He stood up and moved behind Harry, taking the delicate silver thing away from him.
That left Harry to meet the stares of the elder Malfoys. Well, at least until Mr. Malfoy glanced away and sniffed. But he didn’t say anything. And Mrs. Malfoy smiled gently, so Harry supposed she must approve of this.
Draco’s fingers brushed the back of his neck as he aligned the torque, and the little hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end as Draco murmured into his ear, “It’s enchanted to give you a sense of peace and tranquility when you get upset. No protective enchantments, but I reckon you can defend yourself well enough. This is a different kind of gift.”
Harry leaned his head back and stared up at Draco. For a second, there was only the intense connection of their eyes, and then Draco smiled. Harry smiled back.
It pushed him through the last step he’d been hesitating to take. He knew what he wanted to do next.
“I’m still angry that you didn’t tell me we were exchanging gifts here.”
“I didn’t want you to enter some silly competition with me over expensive presents, or be worried about my parents judging your taste,” Draco said loftily. “And I especially didn’t want you to suggest that I should owl my gift to you. I wanted to see your face when you opened that torque.”
The torque was in place now as they walked through the softly snowy gardens surrounding Malfoy Manor. It rested around Harry’s throat in shining silver filigree and descended to a three-sided pendant in the front where a small black gem shone. Draco didn’t know if the gem was onyx or black sapphire or something else entirely; his parents hadn’t been able to tell him, either, when they gave him the torque as part of his inheritance.
He knew his father, at least, would be angry about Draco giving it away to a friend, but Father also supported him enough not to make a scene in front of Harry. That was the only thing Draco could ask for.
“Fine,” Harry said, and his smile was deep and reluctant. “I accept it. It’s a handsome gift. But there is something I wanted to do to say thanks.”
“What?” Draco’s voice had gone husky without his permission, and Harry turned around and faced him. His eyes shone the same way.
“This,” Harry said softly. “I’m ready now.” And he leaned in and kissed Draco, his fingers skimming over Draco’s cheek and then down his chin and collarbone as though tracing the presence of an invisible torque of his own.
Draco let his eyes flutter shut and savored the moment for a long, long time before he kissed Harry back. Then his tongue touched Harry’s, and he groaned and let his hands rise and come down on Harry’s shoulders. If he moved his fingers just a little, he could touch the sides of Harry’s torque.
Then he lost that realization in the rush of pure sensation when Harry deepened the kiss and backed him up against a snowy wall.
He didn’t come back to himself until the kiss ended. And he opened his eyes to see something he had once tried not to picture, because picturing it and not getting it hurt more than never having it at all.
Harry Potter, smiling at him with adoration shining from his eyes.
This is the best Christmas gift, Draco decided, and let his mouth widen and the taste of Harry—dressed in his torque, accepting Draco’s claim and asserting his own—sweep him away again as the soft snowflakes fell on their faces.