“Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.” W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter.”
Harry blinked when the door of his train compartment slid open and Malfoy stepped through it. It wasn’t only the fact that he didn’t have Goyle with him, or his wand drawn, or the word “Mudblood” on his tongue.
It was that he had a slight flush on his cheeks, and he shoved his hands into his robe pockets and stared at the floor a second later.
“Yes, Malfoy?” Harry asked after a second. He fought to keep his tone neutral. He’d testified that Narcissa had saved his life and Draco hadn’t identified him at the Manor when the Snatchers captured him, and he’d also testified that he hadn’t seen Lucius cast a single spell in the Battle of Hogwarts. He’d received stiff thanks afterwards. As far as he was concerned, he and the Malfoys were even.
So there should be no reason for Draco to seek him out.
Malfoy cleared his throat and said, “I just wanted to apologize for being so stupid.”
Harry fully laid down the Potions book he’d been half-reading and studied Malfoy. “Okay, this is new.”
Malfoy grimaced. “I should have been intelligent from the beginning. I never thought—I wasn’t raised to think that Muggleborns were my social equals.”
“Yes, I know that very well.”
The flush on Malfoy’s cheeks deepened. “But I was raised to think for myself and have critical thought processes, or so I believed.” He glanced around the compartment, meeting Crookshanks’s curious eyes. Harry was sort of glad that Ron and Hermione were busy with prefect duties right now. “A person who thought critically would have abandoned the Dark Lord the moment he rose again.”
Harry had to shake his head. “I know why you thought you couldn’t.”
“Listen, shut up, okay? I’m trying to apologize, and this is hard enough to do without you interrupting.”
Harry raised his eyebrows, and felt a smile pulling at his lips in spite of himself. He’d had too much of fawning since the war, and it was driving him mental. At least this was different. “All right. Say what you came to say, Malfoy.”
Malfoy faced Harry and said, in a low, impassioned rush that didn’t sound at all as though he’d memorized it, “I thought the virtues of bravery and intelligence and culture and all the rest were to be found exclusively among pure-bloods. And Slytherins. But now I know that’s not true. I feel stupid that it took me so long to learn. And I don’t want excuses. I don’t want people to say that I was just a child in the war and my father was a Death Eater. That’s not the way my father portrayed himself. That’s not the way my parents raised me. I want—I want to say I’m sorry for not acknowledging a long time ago that you were right, and also that you were just as strong as a pure-blood.”
Harry studied him in silence. But Malfoy didn’t back out or laugh or declare that it was just a joke, even though the flush in his cheeks looked bad enough to burn him. Harry nodded. “Apology accepted.”
“Just—like that?” Malfoy stared at him with wide eyes now, the first time he’d looked directly at Harry since he came into the compartment.
Harry shrugged. “Maybe you don’t feel being a kid from a Death Eater family was an excuse. I do. I would have ignored you if you’d never said this, but now that you have, I accept it. You’ll have to make separate apologies to Hermione and Ron if you want them to forgive you, though.”
“I know that.” Malfoy seemed a little dazed, and blinked for a moment, putting his hand on the wall as the train swayed around a bend in the tracks.
Then he smiled.
Harry caught his breath. He knew he had never seen such a smile from Malfoy before. Sure, he had laughed when he taunted Harry, or smirked when he thought a plan was going right, or twisted his mouth around when he wasn’t really amused, but this—
“What are you doing here, Malfoy?”
Ron and Hermione had come back. Malfoy turned around and nodded to them. “I came to apologize to Potter. And I’ll apologize to you if you’ll accept it.”
Ron snorted and pushed past. Hermione was the one who narrowed her eyes and said, “Maybe in a few weeks, Malfoy, when I can see if the change is going to last.”
“Fair enough.” Malfoy looked over his shoulder and caught Harry’s eye. Harry smiled back, still wondering what the hell had brought this on. The apology, he understood well enough, but not the choice to go around being so open.
Malfoy seemed to understand the question without Harry asking it, and murmured, “I’ve always been encouraged by my parents to keep genuine emotion for the family circle only. But I don’t want to do that anymore. And another thing the war taught me is that if you wait to do something you want, you might never get to do it at all.”
“Oh, honestly, Malfoy, get out of here,” Ron muttered as he flopped down on the bench under Crookshanks.
Hermione said nothing, but she turned to Harry when Malfoy had slipped out of the compartment and asked, “And was his apology sincere?”
“As far as I can tell. He said he should have realized a long time ago that pure-bloods weren’t the only sort of people in Britain who were smart or brave.”
Hermione blinked. “Then maybe he’ll make a sincere apology to me after all.” She stared thoughtfully at the door. “I assumed that he’d been stripped of his badge when I didn’t see him among the prefects, but maybe he gave it up out of a sense of shame.”
“Can we discuss something other than Malfoy?” Ron asked loudly. “For example, how many Chocolate Frogs are we going to buy when the trolley comes by?”
“Do you think you might accept that apology now, Granger?”
Harry turned around, shifting his books in his arms. They’d been back at Hogwarts for three weeks, and this was the second time Malfoy had approached them asking if Hermione wanted to hear the apology. She’d sent him away last week, saying she needed more time.
Now, when they were outside the Potions classroom, she turned and regarded Malfoy thoughtfully. Malfoy didn’t have a smile on his face this time, but he looked grave and respectful, attentive.
Open, in a way Harry had never seen him before the war.
Harry studied Malfoy’s face, trying to understand the difference for himself. Was it just that he showed more emotion in general? Or was there some wall down behind those grey eyes, making them more likely to echo the smiles?
Malfoy caught Harry’s gaze and flushed the way he had on the train, but didn’t look down or away. He even gave a defiant tilt of his head. Harry smiled back, which made Malfoy’s jaw drop a little, but Hermione spoke and interrupted whatever either of them might have said.
“Yes, all right, Malfoy. Bear in mind that I retain the right to reject it if you’re the least bit sarcastic.”
“I’m sorry for calling you a Mudblood, Granger,” Malfoy said at once. A Ravenclaw passing them ducked his shoulders and hissed, but Malfoy paid no attention to him. “The reason I did it is the same thing I said in my apology to Potter, that I never thought anyone could be smarter or better than me. And then you said things that infuriated me, and I lashed out. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to succumb to fury if I was really as superior as I thought. And you shouldn’t have been as intelligent as you were if my beliefs were true. By that point, I’d known they weren’t true for a year, but I still couldn’t admit it.”
Hermione blinked and shifted her books to her other arm. Harry could tell she was taken aback by how thorough the apology was, if nothing else.
“I—see,” she murmured after a long moment. “Thanks for telling me that, Malfoy.” She glanced between him and Harry, and for some reason, smiled at Harry before she said, “I accept.”
Malfoy sighed out a little. “Thanks. Do you think you could talk to Weasley—”
“Ron will make the decision on his own, and it probably won’t be soon,” Hermione interrupted him. “In the meantime, Harry has something he wants to say to you.”
And she slipped down the corridor, while Harry glared at her back and Malfoy frowned as though he thought this might be a joke. “What did she mean?”
Traitor, Harry thought after Hermione. He faced Malfoy. “Only that I’m glad you’ve changed so much.”
There was a long pause. Harry recalled that he did need to get to Charms, and began to walk down the corridor. Malfoy easily kept pace, while eyeing him. “Because you wanted the apology.”
“More than that. You act as though you have a sense of humor now.”
“I did before, too.”
Harry let his eyebrows go all the way up, and didn’t bother concealing the amusement in his voice. “Really? ‘Potter Stinks’ and all that?”
Malfoy blushed the way he tended to do lately. “Yes, well, the charm was complex. I couldn’t make them flash more than two words before they would turn back to talking about Diggory.”
He frowned and looked away again suddenly, although Harry didn’t know why until he heard the soft words. “I’m sorry, again. Hearing about Diggory can’t be easy.”
Harry didn’t want to say that the losses of the past three years had buried Cedric pretty thoroughly. He shook his head. “If I stopped talking every time someone reminded me of a death, I wouldn’t be able to talk at all,” he said, and won a reluctant smile from Malfoy. “And it’s other things, besides the sense of humor. I mean that I can actually see you laugh, now, and almost see into your soul through your eyes. What changed?”
“I already told you, Potter. The war. Yes, I can keep other people out if I want, but I saw where that led to.”
“Where?” Without thinking about it, Harry matched the volume of his tone to Malfoy’s as they walked down the corridor.
Malfoy didn’t reply for long moments, but when he did, his voice shook slightly. “With no friends to help me. With no one other than Mother and Father to care if I lived or died.”
“I would have cared.”
Malfoy didn’t look at him. “You say that now, because you’re thinking that you know me now, but before—”
“I would have cared then, too.” Harry reached out and put a hand on Malfoy’s arm, stopping him just as they were about to exit the stairs from the dungeons. “You weren’t a great person, but you were still an innocent compared to a lot of other people. And you never would have had the chance to change your mind or be better if you’d died in the war.”
Malfoy looked at him in round-eyed wonder. Harry smiled a little. He’d seen that look before. He supposed it only seemed unusual now because he was getting it from Malfoy, instead of a first-year Gryffindor or the like.
“So is this,” Malfoy said, and glanced back and forth from Harry’s hand on his arm to his face, “an offer of friendship?”
“Yes, if you want it to be.” Harry scratched the back of his neck. “If you don’t feel too pressured to accept it.”
“You’re worried about me feeling pressured?”
“I know what my reputation is.” Harry grimaced. The Daily Prophet had actually had a contest to come up with a new epithet for him after “Boy-Who-Lived” seemed inappropriate because of how old he was now, and then had liked so many of the results that they’d been using a different one every week. Currently it was “Green Eyes of Death.” “There are a lot of people who would think they should accept just because of who I am. I don’t want you to do that.”
Malfoy blinked some more. Then he sent Harry yet another new expression: a smile that made him look as if he was plotting pranks. Harry felt a tug at his heart. It resembled Sirius’s grin more than he’d thought.
“I do accept,” Malfoy said. “I was the one who thought you’d want nothing to do with me after the apology. But yeah, I think so.” He stuck out his hand.
It took Harry only a second to realize what he wanted, and he was glad he knew before Malfoy could decide that it was unwelcome and pull back. He shook his hand happily enough, and then they went on their way to Charms.
“Hermione told me the git actually apologized to her.”
“What git would that be, Ron?”
Ron rolled his eyes and sat down next to Harry on the overstuffed red couch that Harry had unofficially claimed when he wanted to study. “Fine, Malfoy. I never thought he’d do that.”
“Why not? He apologized to me.”
“Right, but you had that reputation since the war. I thought he was doing it to get in your good graces, or just because it’s not politically smart to be your enemy anymore. But Hermione isn’t widely-known yet. Why did he apologize to her?”
“Because he meant it. Because he really has changed.”
Ron was quiet for a few seconds, which meant Harry could go back to his book. NEWT Potions was unexpectedly fascinating even when he didn’t have the Prince’s book, but Harry had to agree with the Prince. There were way too many fussy directions in this book, and surely lots of ways they could be improved.
Maybe Slughorn would even let him experiment if Harry asked him nicely. The man still thought of Harry as a Potions genius.
“Do you think I ought to take his apology?”
Harry peered over the top of the book. “You’re the only one who can decide that. Your dad hated his dad for some reason, so I reckon it’s been going on a lot longer for you.”
“He hated his dad because Mr. Malfoy was a Death Eater.”
Harry shrugged. “And now he’s paying the fines and he can’t have a wand again. I suppose you could say he’s still a Death Eater, but he can’t really do anything about it.” He turned another page and frowned at the drawing of a cauldron. It looked wrong. He turned the book around to peer at it.
“And you think—Malfoy’s really changed his mind?”
“The one in the school who’s going around offering apologies.”
Harry grinned at the page, making sure to hide it from Ron, and nodded. “Yeah. He’s said that he wants to be my friend, and I can’t imagine him saying that until he had changed his mind.”
“Does that mean that he’s going to want to spend time with us?”
Harry gave in to the pressure in the back of his throat, and laughed.
“I’m sorry for talking about your family’s poverty, Weasley. If I’d thought about it, I would have realized that that prejudice wasn’t rational. Why would it matter if you were poor or not? My father taught me that we should judge people by their virtues and how useful they could be to us—”
Ron wrinkled his nose. Malfoy paused for a second and then continued. His voice was a little more clipped than it had been when he spoke to Harry and Hermione. Harry watched in interest. He had thought the apology to Hermione would be the hardest, because Malfoy had seen her as inferior for so long, but what he’d thought about Ron was pretty repellent.
“And then I realized that my father spoke differently of your family and your father.” Malfoy sighed and looked at the wall. “It would have been one thing if he’d had some different reason for that, but he never did. He was just wrong.”
Ron blinked, and his ears turned red. “Never thought I’d hear the day when you admitted your father was wrong, Malfoy.”
“Yes, well.” Malfoy turned back, and he wasn’t smiling, but his face had that attentive look it seemed to have most of the time. “I can do that now.”
“Yeah, I suppose you can.” Ron was watching Malfoy the way he might have watched a chess piece that was making a wrong move, and Harry tensed instinctively. But Ron only waved his hand a minute later and said, “Fine. Apology accepted. Can we get on to the Great Hall for breakfast now?”
Harry grinned at Ron’s back as he walked on. Once again, Hermione glanced over her shoulder and then hurried to catch up with Ron.
“Thanks for doing that,” Harry told Malfoy softly. “I—are you all right? That seemed harder for you.”
“It was wrong of me to make fun of him and his family for being poor, but I still don’t like him.”
“Because he has all the freedom that I never did,” Malfoy whispered. “And he’s had good friends for years, and his family encouraged him to be as free with his emotions as possible, and…he treats it like it’s nothing.”
“I think he values it more than he used to,” Harry said. Malfoy shot him a skeptical glance, and Harry abandoned the attempt to convince him that Ron had changed. It didn’t matter much, as long as they could interact peacefully. “But I’ll tell you something that I haven’t told anyone else, if you won’t tell Ron.”
“I’m still good at keeping secrets.” Malfoy’s eyes were deepening in that way Harry liked again, as if they had light rising in the back of them. “What is it?”
“There have been times when I envied Ron, too. Because he had a huge family I would have given anything to have, and sometimes he acted like he would have pushed them all away to have more money.”
Malfoy hesitated for the first time. “But you had a family. I mean, your parents are famous. More famous, now,” he added.
Harry nodded impatiently. It was true that he’d been giving interviews to the papers since the war that emphasized the role his mother’s love had played in defeating Voldemort, and how she always should have been honored for it. “Yes, but my Muggle relatives and I didn’t get along. Family is the thing I want most. Ron’s always had an overabundance of siblings, so all he wanted was to stand free of their shadow. It’s—kind of stupid, really, all of us being so sure that the other ones had everything we’d want.”
Malfoy paused for a long time. Harry wondered if he simply didn’t have anything to say, or if he was feeling embarrassed about the depth of the revelation Harry had dumped on him.
That’s probably it. Harry cleared his throat in his own embarrassment and started to move away.
Malfoy put a hand on his shoulder, and Harry paused and waited. Malfoy’s voice was slow and thoughtful as he said, “Friends tell each other secrets, right?”
“Yeah, but we’ve already exchanged them. You don’t have to tell me something else just because I told you something you didn’t count on, Malfoy.”
Malfoy gave him a troubled smile, eyes as bright as the sea. “I didn’t mean that. I mean that—I’ve said I want to be your friend, we’re sort of acting like them, and yet we’re still calling each other by our last names.”
Harry blinked. He would have assumed Malfoy still wanted the distance of last names, to keep one link to the past now that everything else was different.
But no, he saw as Malfoy looked at him, and stood there, and Harry felt a fine tremor racing up Malfoy’s arm. Maybe everything really was changing.
The way everything had changed for him when Harry woke in the middle of the night and realized that Voldemort was dead, gone, forever, and no one could make Harry into a hero again.
“Yes, all right,” Harry said, unable to keep the smile from his face. “Draco.” He clapped Draco’s shoulder in return. “And my name is Harry.”
“I know,” Draco muttered, with a trace of the old tone, but the expression on his face made up for it. He was staring as intently at Harry as if they’d just been introduced, and with far more insight than the eleven-year-old on the train had ever had.
Harry nodded to him, and they walked into the Great Hall side-by-side.
The way that Draco’s heartbeat quickened when Potter spoke his name was sodding inconvenient.
Harry, Draco reminded himself as he walked a little faster towards the entrance hall, where Harry and his (other) friends waited. Granger gave Draco a slight smile and a nod. Weasley had a martyred expression on his face.
Because he’s rude. As open as Draco was allowing himself to be with his feelings right now, he still wouldn’t express all of them honestly around Weasley. Because it was rude.
Something someone should really tell him.
But he already knew that he would get in more of an argument than it was worth, so he stopped next to Harry and nodded. “I suppose you don’t have a schedule for the Hogsmeade visit and are simply going to wander around the village as the mood takes you.”
“Schedule?” Weasley snorted. “I suppose you do?”
“I had a schedule in the past, but that was when I went to Hogsmeade with people who aren’t here anymore,” Draco said as lightly as he could. He didn’t miss the way Harry’s hand twitched as if he wanted to reach out and touch Draco on the shoulder. Harry certainly was more inclined to touch you when you were his friend, was all Draco could say on the matter. “Since I’m going with you at Harry’s explicit invitation, I’m happy to do what you want to do.”
Weasley might have said something else, but Granger nudged him, and he sighed and turned away. Then they walked out together. Draco could feel more than one pair of incredulous eyes on his back.
Let them stare. He’d known people would stare when he chose this path of being more open. In fact, it had been the main consequence his mother had worried about, as if staring was more to be feared than attacks by a Dark Lord.
Draco sneaked a glance at Harry. He was walking next to the man who had made sure he would never have to fear a Dark Lord again.
It seemed strange to Draco that more people weren’t clamoring to take his place at Harry’s side. Then again, they probably didn’t want to do the work of sincere apologies, or assumed Harry’s supposed reputation as an avowed hater of Slytherins was the truth. He grimaced.
“Are you all right, Draco?”
“Fine.” Another thing Draco wasn’t used to—someone noticing the shade of an expression on his face and responding like that, instead of looking for weaknesses. “Just thinking that I’m surprised a whole bunch of people haven’t come up to flatter you and try to get into your good graces since the war.”
Harry snorted. The wind from Hogsmeade tugged his hair back and exposed his scar. “They tried that over the summer.”
“They did?” Draco thought back, but he couldn’t remember anything about it in the papers. Then again, he’d been rather consumed with his family’s trials until they were done, and then adjusting to his own plans about the new year of school and the changes that were coming up.
“Yeah.” Harry scowled at the path, and Draco moved a little closer without meaning to. Harry’s scowl melted again as he glanced sideways at him. “After the trials and other times I visited the Ministry, if you can believe it. Then again, that was practically the only time I was out in public except for funerals. I think even the ones with the worst taste decided it wasn’t worth bothering me there.”
“Exactly,” Draco said, although until this year he couldn’t have known for certain that he wouldn’t be one of those people. He caught Weasley’s eye over Harry’s shoulder, and then they glanced carefully away from each other. “What did you tell them?”
“To shut up and leave me alone.”
Draco couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out of him, and the look Harry slewed him didn’t exactly encourage him to keep it silent from now on. “You won’t make political allies that way.”
“I already have all the political power I could want.”
“But you’ll be working closely with some of these people once you become an Auror, probably. Or are you not worried about that?”
“I’m not going to be an Auror.”
“Mate, what?” Weasley actually came to a complete halt in the middle of the path, staring at Harry in appalled—rudeness, Draco thought before he could stop himself. “You have to! We planned it! We were going to be Aurors together! You’ve wanted to be one since fifth year!”
“Yeah, but it sounded a lot more attractive when I wasn’t spending a year hunting Dark wizards and things to defeat Dark wizards.” Harry shook his head and continued walking, which meant Weasley had to hurry up to catch him. “And I realized that I have no taste for killing anyone. I don’t want to do it,” he clarified when Weasley started to open his mouth. “I know Aurors don’t always kill the wizards they go after, but sometimes they do. I don’t want to anymore.”
Draco tilted his head slowly. That was something he hadn’t known about Harry until this moment. He supposed that it made sense, though, with the fact that his Housemates still whined about Harry being the model Gryffindor and the model hero. Harry didn’t use a mask the way Draco had in the past, but in a way, his name was almost as good. People looked at him and saw what they wanted to see.
I want to know more than that.
At least it sounded as if Harry wanted to tell him. He shook his head now as Granger asked, “What do you want to do instead?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Draco narrowed his eyes a little. He wasn’t a full Leglimens and couldn’t sense lies as well as they could, but he knew Occlumency, thanks to his dear aunt, and that at least let him sense shadings of the truth when they were especially powerful. He subtly maneuvered so that he and Harry fell behind Weasley and Granger. He had the impression that Granger gave him an amused smile, but Draco could ignore that as long as she helped him.
“That’s not true, is it? You know what you want to do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Harry.” Draco lowered his voice and was pleased to see the way it made Harry lean towards him. It always seemed to have that effect, one reason Draco took care to use it as often as possible. “You must know by now I’m not going to spread your secrets around.”
Harry was quiet for a second as the houses of Hogsmeade reared up before them. “I don’t want to keep it secret because I’m afraid of gossip. I’m afraid of laughter.”
“From Weasley and Granger?” Draco was truly astonished. Weasley might be a rude arse to him, but he was a true friend to Harry—one reason for Draco’s jealousy in the past. “Why?”
“If I told you that, I might as well tell you what it is.” Harry quickened his pace to catch up with his friends, and Draco followed, studying Harry’s back.
So Harry wasn’t as open as Draco had thought, while still being incredibly open compared to the Slytherins that Draco had spent time around since first year. Maybe he kept his secrets most of the time by simply not letting people realize they existed.
But he had stumbled this time. Draco had always promised himself, if he had a true friendship, that he would help that friend do anything in his power, whether or not they wanted to confess it at first. And he thought Harry was underestimating his other friends, too.
Besides, Draco felt the plucking of the curiosity that had always driven him to try and find out other people’s goals and motivations. It only increased when someone who spoke so freely most of the time wouldn’t tell him anything.
It would be good for Harry, too, to know that he can speak the truth to his friends and be fully accepted, Draco rationalized to himself, and smiled politely when he got a suspicious look from Weasley.
“Off with Potty and his little friends, then?”
“Yes,” Draco said calmly, ignoring the way that the Slytherin common room fell silent to listen. It was a smaller silence than it had been five months ago. Many Slytherins had either left permanently, fallen in the war, or, Draco thought privately, begged the Hat to keep them out of the House they should have been in last year and this year. With their reputation, Draco could hardly blame the firsties, especially the Muggleborns.
“All right, Draco, this has gone on long enough.” Pansy got up and stood in front of him, hands balled on her hips. Draco just watched her. “Fine, you wanted to learn Scarhead’s secrets and make sure he didn’t harbor a grudge against your family, but you know that now! Why are you still chasing after him?”
The small rustles that had been starting up again in the corners of the common room immediately died. Draco looked at Pansy and went on looking until a flush had started to creep up her cheeks.
“I’m doing this because I’ve changed. I told you that before. Life’s too short to pretend to a neutrality I don’t feel.” And Draco got up and strode over to the entrance of the common room. He had a study session with Harry planned, and he’d already lingered long enough.
“Easy for you to say.”
Draco nodded over his shoulder without letting his eyes go to Theo. “We all make our own choices.” Theo had had a Death Eater father, too, and Draco had admired Theo for his coolness and his refusal to let people get to him. But now Theo’s father was in prison—no Harry Potter to testify for him—and Theo was a ghost of himself.
If indifference turned out to be only a paper mask, if detached coolness wasn’t real, why should Draco practice it?
“You’re making a mistake!” Pansy again.
“That’s what you think,” Draco said, and let the door slide shut firmly behind him. It was hard for him to blame his fellow Slytherins, and yet, he was sick of them, too. They wanted things to be different, or so they said, but what they really wanted was to somehow flip a giant Time-Turner and have things be exactly as they were in the years before the war. They weren’t willing to make the effort to change.
Shaking his head, Draco eased his way up shifting staircases and around portions of corridors where whispering portraits watched him to the seventh floor. As Harry had promised, there was already a sleek black door waiting there, one with a circle of blue stones around the handle.
Draco still touched it gingerly. He knew this was where the Defense group in fifth year had met, and a fear kept thrumming in the back of his mind that someday the other Slytherins would get what they wanted, those days would suddenly rush back into life, and he would be shut out again.
Pushed away from the one person whose friendship he’d most wanted.
But the handle turned easily, and Draco found himself in a large room with warm red tiles on the floor and walls, a fireplace already burning, and a circle of golden and red couches. They were empty except for Harry, sprawled out on his belly and studying with his nose in his Potions book.
“Weasley and Granger didn’t want to come tonight?” Draco asked cautiously as he took the couch across from Harry. He’d made sure not to push for time alone with Harry, as much as having it now made him feel like champagne was fizzing in his mouth.
“Oh, they had an argument about one of Ron’s essays, and now Hermione is watching him to make sure he writes it.”
Draco nodded and began working on his own homework, which seemed both boring and infinitely precious compared to trying to learn the same things last year. He finished the last paragraph of a Transfiguration essay that he’d mostly been waiting to write so he would have an excuse for an even longer study time with Harry, and as he flicked through his Charms book in search of good examples in the chapters they’d recently read, he observed Harry.
Harry had been lying on his stomach at first, but now he was twisted on his back, holding up the Potions book over his head. It was just their ordinary Potions textbook as far as Draco could tell, not the special one that Harry had been using in sixth year. The firelight seemed to bring out glints of new color from everywhere, including the depths of Harry’s hair that Draco would have said was pure black and the blue Muggle shirt he wore.
Draco glanced back at Harry’s face and found that Harry had noticed his looking. Draco licked his lips, because he certainly couldn’t tell Harry where some of his thoughts were going, and said the first thing that popped into his head. “Your career that you won’t tell anyone about has something to do with Potions, doesn’t it?”
Harry actually dropped the Potions book on his head as his hands spasmed open in shock. He yelped, and Draco crossed the distance between their couches without really remembering that he’d done so and held out his wand.
“Let me heal it,” he murmured, studying the slight gash on Harry’s scalp above his eye.
Harry studied him with wide eyes, and for a moment, Draco’s stomach tightened. After all, Harry had never had any reason to trust Draco near him with a wand in his hand before. But then Harry shook his head a little as if reminding himself how much had changed, and said simply, “Okay.”
Draco murmured the soft spell, and watched as his magic swept Harry’s face, seized the blood and whipped it away, and then knitted the skin back together. It was a powerful healing spell, one Father had taught him to use with allies who really needed it, and Draco had never used it on anyone but himself before.
“Wow, that’s amazing.” Harry reached up and felt around, then smiled at him. “Thanks! I don’t even feel the pain from the book hitting me anymore.”
“The least I could do, when I made you injure yourself in the first place.”
“Um. You didn’t—”
“I was right, wasn’t I?” Draco sat down on the couch next to Harry, not feeling like going back to his books or essays right now. “Your career has something to do with Potions. Why would your friends make fun of you for that, though?”
Harry’s neck turned violently red as he glanced away. “It’s not that.”
“You said they would laugh. Well?” Draco leaned towards him.
Harry said nothing.
“I’m here,” Draco said, his voice as coaxing as he could make it. And he was still good at that. Even better, really, now that he wasn’t trying to talk a professor into overlooking a fight or trying to persuade his parents to do something other than protect him. “I didn’t tell your other secrets so far. Can’t you trust me?”
Harry tapped his fingers on the cover of the Potions book as if debating with himself. Then he glanced sideways at Draco, and Draco put up one hand in spite of himself. Harry didn’t have to spell out consequences for what would happen if Draco decided that he should tell someone anyway. The hardness in his eyes did it for him.
Merlin, he’s going to be formidable. In whatever career he chooses.
“Fine,” Harry said, although his voice was still close to inaudible. “I want to design experimental potions. Brew for a living.”
Draco sat absolutely still, so that the wave of incredulity could pass over him and then diminish. Harry had been—not right to fear mocking laughter, he thought, but right to fear a reaction. After the way that Professor Snape had acted towards Harry, the miracle was that he still had a functional ability in Potions at all.
“What made you decide that?” Draco finally asked.
Harry watched him, eyes narrowed, and his words were curt, as if he still expected laughter to explode out of Draco’s mouth any second. “After I found the book I used in our sixth year, Potions suddenly worked to me. It was like someone had been speaking this foreign language around me, and I was finally starting to understand. And the way that Slughorn and the books teaching Potions isn’t actually very good. They could be improved. A lot,” he added darkly.
“I am surprised,” Draco said, and reached out without thinking as he saw Harry’s eyes narrow and his neck arch backwards. “Not because I think you can’t do it! Just that you have any fondness for it after the way Professor Snape taught you.”
Harry sighed and turned away, watching the fire. Draco had the impression that he would have stood up and paced, but Draco’s hand was resting on his shoulder, and it seemed Harry was reluctant to dislodge it. “Yes, well,” Harry murmured when long minutes had crackled past in flame. “I know now why Professor Snape was the way he was. I still don’t approve of the way he handled me or Neville in class, but Potions is separate from that.”
Draco had the feeling that Harry was still hiding something, but he could wait to find out what it was. The important thing was that Harry had trusted Draco with his secrets. Draco reached up and combed back the black fringe from his scar, and Harry turned to him.
They were closer than Draco had realized, so close that Draco gasped. Harry raised an eyebrow and leaned away slowly, but Draco shook his head. Harry stopped his retreat, still watching him as if Draco was the one who had intriguing secrets.
“I think it’s wonderful that you want to do something so creative and innovative,” Draco murmured to him. “And I understand why you wanted to keep it secret for now. And—I don’t think I could have had the strength to go on with a subject if the professor was terrible to me.” It was one reason he wasn’t taking Defense this year. The way Amycus Carrow had handled it last year, turning it into a Dark Arts class, made his throat turn sour.
“You keep going on about how strong I am. Did it occur to you that you are, too?”
Draco blinked. He was discovering that just as being close to Harry let him see all the shadows and lights he wanted in Harry’s eyes, it also permitted Harry to see the same thing in his. He tried to pull away in turn, but Harry’s hands held him.
“I didn’t mean that I was weak,” Draco finally muttered. “I just meant that you’re strong.”
“So are you. To survive through the war and make the decision to come into the open after that. To torture people, which I know horrified you, and not be broken by it.”
Draco hissed in pain as all his muscles tightened at once. The throbbing panic in the center of his chest made it hard to speak. He finally cleared his throat and whispered, “How the hell did you know that?”
“The connection I had to Voldemort meant I got visions of what he was doing.” Harry’s eyes were as direct as though he hadn’t just said something utterly horrifying. Draco swallowed. “I could see him forcing you into torturing Death Eaters who had failed, sometimes. I know that you didn’t want to cause pain.”
“How could you see that?”
“I was there the night that Dumbledore died on the Astronomy Tower,” Harry answered quietly. “I know you didn’t want to kill him.”
Draco shook his head in slow wonder. He’d thought that he was going around baring his face and his throat to the world, and part of him had recoiled in intense fear at the thought of that even when he made his decision this summer. It was part of the reason it had taken him so long to make the decision in the first place.
And Harry had known and never told anyone. (Draco was at least sure that Weasley would have mocked him before this year). He’d kept Draco’s secrets long before they were friends, long before he had any reason to.
There were no words for this. Draco ran his hand slowly over Harry’s cheekbone, and watched his brow twitch a little in confusion, wrinkling the lightning bolt scar. Harry blinked and frowned at him, and Draco sighed and backed off. He was starting to glimpse what he wanted, but it seemed Harry hadn’t considered it at all yet.
“That’s amazing that you survived that and got through it with your sanity intact. Both the connection to Voldemort and watching Professor Dumbledore—” Draco still had to pause before he said the word, but at least he knew now that Harry wouldn’t think he was a coward. “Die.”
“Yes, we’re both strong, and amazing, and it’s a mutual admiration society,” Harry said. Draco laughed before he thought about it, and caught a glimpse of the way Harry paused, even though he was still shifting away to sit upright on the couch. For a moment, his gaze was fixed, this time on Draco’s lips.
Oh, Draco thought, and the delight tumbled through him before he thought about it. Maybe there’s another thing here that’s mutual.
“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.