“I'm not sure this is a good idea.” Only four sentences on a parchment and yet the fireplace looked so tempting. If I reached out, I probably wouldn't even need to get up from my comfortable position on the couch. Well placed furniture if I said so myself.
“Oh dear God, don't start again.” Hermione snatched the incriminating letter from my hands and unfolded it on the coffee table, digging a quill from her purse. If owls could roll their eyes, Pedro would no doubt be rolling his right now, but one of the better biscuits was enough of a bribe for him to stay and wait on the backrest for a while longer. I sighed in relief. The last thing I needed on my morning off was having to soothe ruffled feathers after one of Pedro's hissy fits.
No, scratch that. The last thing I needed was Hermione's help in sending a letter to a dating agency.
“You don't need to-- why are you crossing that out?” She ignored me to dig through her purse again, and that wasn't a good sign. “Why are you getting more parchment?”
“You need to write more. This,” she jabbed the letter with her quill, “is pathetic.”
“Thanks so much,” I said. She responded with a glare, which made me shut my eyes and let my head fall back. Pedro nudged my forehead a few times to make me raise my hand to pet him, and I could still practically hear Hermione's glare. “Fine, I admit, it's pathetic. I just don't know what to write to a bloody dating service.”
“You agreed that you will never find anybody through conventional means,” she said, and her quill started scribbling.
“Still, it's embarrassing.”
“What is so embarrassing about wanting somebody to love?” There was no pause to the writing. “Somebody who shares a life with you, wants same things?”
“Somebody to take care of you when you're ill or feeling down?” And crap, she was using her Gentle Voice now. “Somebody to come home to at the end of the day?”
“I don't need a boyfriend.” Looking at her revealed that the letter was now at least three paragraphs. I reached my fingers towards it. “I'm perfectly happy on my own.”
“Fine, then.” Hermione held the parchment to me and yeah, that was just too easy. I was about to take it when she said, “But you want one, don't you?”
Damn it. She'd always been much too perceptive. With a groan, I relented and sank back into the couch. Hermione took this for enthusiastic agreement and her quill started scratching once more. My fingers tapped unrest, and I summoned another cup of coffee for myself just for something to do. And because, well, coffee.
“Some day that'll kill you,” Hermione said without raising her head from the letter.
“So you keep telling me.”
“And yet you keep drinking ten cups a day.”
“Yesterday I only had time for six.”
“Oh, poor thing.” She held out her cup. “Get me more tea.”
The tea pot came flying from the kitchen. When she accepted it, I confiscated the letter and rolled it up. “That's enough.”
“But the instructions said--”
“--that the first letter is only for the service to match me. Even if they have somebody suitable, none of this information is shared with the other person. Luna knows me already, you don't need to write a novel.”
“Lovegood's Good Loving,” I told Pedro, feeling my face heat. He accepted the horrifying letter, spread his black wings, and took off with a hoot. “It's not a good day when even your owl is laughing at you. I definitely need more coffee.”
“Oh, chin up,” Hermione said way too cheerfully considering it was only 9 am. I hated that even without caffeine she managed to be this chipper. “This time tomorrow you could be receiving a letter from Mr. Right.”
“It'll be way longer than that, Luna's got her own system. Very scientific. Ten percent information, thirty percent magic, and sixty percent intuition.” One of the main features of Lovegood's Good Loving was that no match was guaranteed – that's why there was no charge either, the whole business ran on donations from satisfied customers.
“Don't complain, it works,” Hermione said. “Sure, she is picky with who she matches up, but most of the people Luna has found a match for have ended up in loving, happy relationships or becoming friends in the least.”
“Mm-hm.” To my annoyance, there was a part of me that was excited by the prospect, stupidly hopeful. Damn it.
Hermione stood up and adjusted her grey robes hastily before pointing at me. “Call me when you get a letter.”
“Don't hold your breath.”
“Fine, I'll just pop in the check on you myself,” she grinned. “Thanks for adding me to your wards after you moved, that was so nice of you.”
“I hate you.”
“Love you too, Harry.” She kissed my forehead before apparating to the ministry.
Dragging the blanket over myself, I burrowed into the couch and clicked play on the remote. The Return of the King started up from the point at which I had fallen asleep last night.
Coffee, comfy couch, and the Lord of the Rings was pretty much all I needed for a perfect day off, but it might still be nice to have somebody to curl up to. Not that I was planning on mentioning that to Hermione. It was stupid to get my hopes up anyway. For all I knew, it would take months to find me a match, if one could be found at all.
To my shock, I was proven wrong the same evening when Luna's tiny brown owl arrived just after I'd finished eating a late supper.
“No fighting with her,” I told Pedro, who had flown to the kitchen and was levelling a yellow-eyed stare at the smaller bird. The brown owl jumped towards Pedro, tilting her head to the side. He responded by stretching his wings. “And no flirting either.” I handed her a biscuit, which she accepted happily and started to crumble it onto my table. Pedro ignored me and bounced closer, making me chuckle. “Mate, she's way out of your league.”
He responded with an offended hoot and stretched his wings again. The brown owl made a shrill sound, no doubt laughing at him, before flying out the window. She apparently liked playing with biscuits much more than eating them. Only after spelling the crumbs away did I look at the letter well enough to notice it wasn't from Luna.
Dear Mystery Man,
Somehow, I am unsurprised that the dubious honour of writing the first letter fell to me. What is one meant to begin with? There is a ridiculous assumption that a person can be summarised in a handful of facts, as if what they do and the turns that their life has taken so far were enough to reveal something relevant about them. Often it seems to me that the more interesting part is in the details: how they live their life, yes, but also in what they think about it and how they feel about it, what is important to them.
Therefore, I take the liberty to skip the expected introductory list at this point. Those factual things about me will no doubt present themselves, should you wish to respond to my letter and continue correspondence. In any case, I shall tell you about my day, and hope you find something of interest in it.
Unsurprisingly, I was woken at six o'clock in the morning by Nathan – his real name, for as much as I appreciate the anonymity, I refuse to believe that hiding my dog's name would be necessary, unless the dating service has matched me with my next door neighbour. If that is the case, the reputation of Lovegood's Good Loving is highly exaggerated, as my neighbour is a witch forty years my senior who collects houseplants.
Although I only got Nathan once my schedule required no more early mornings, he seems to have other ideas. When he was a puppy I had such visions about training him, but it soon became apparent that for us to cohabitate peacefully, compromises would be necessary. As it stands, in exchange for a morning run at an inhumane hour, he will allow me to have the bed to myself during the night. This is helpful, as so far I have not found a spell that could keep him out of the room for more than a few hours if he's so inclined, and sleeping whilst a Great Dane is sprawled across one's bed results in very sore muscles. For the human, not the dog.
Nathan didn't much mind that it was pouring down, but as the owners of his dog friends – three pugs and a whippet – are muggles, I could not employ charms. However, Ted, Albert, and I did manage to huddle under one of those huge oaks that grow in London parks, and we exchanged less than cheerful grumbles until coffee kicked in. Starbucks cappuccinos are life savers; had I known of them as a youngster, I never would have believed half of what father told me about muggles. Achieving unnecessarily good grades in my NEWTs would not have been half as painful, either.
The other gentlemen departed when all of our dogs were sufficiently muddy, and I wish I had been as smart as Albert and gotten a small dog. A whippet would be much easier to clean. Not that the pugs aren't small, as well, but Ted has three; that is its own brand of insanity. Fortunately, I have magic. It never fails to cheer me up to imagine father's face if he saw that I don't even have a house elf for cleaning a filthy muggle-bred dog. There may be a childish amount of glee, I admit, but when one's youth didn't include enough rebellion apparently even sixty-six is not too old to enjoy it. Perhaps if father hadn't passed away long since I could get it out of my system as my own son did during rather a tumultuous few years, but such an opportunity is unavailable for me. That might be for the best. There are so many things I could have done better as a parent, but I doubt my father would ever have found it in him to admit where he was wrong, as my son pushed me to do. Had I ever found the strength to openly defy his wishes while he was alive, there would likely have been no reconciliation for us.
Having Nathan fed and happy for the morning gave me peace to do the things secondary in importance, such as feeding myself. Afterwards, I spent a few hours writing. Today was a pleasant day, as the exciting part of the book is about to happen – the extent to which there is excitement when one is a writer of children's books, which I would argue is much more than in most adult literature.
My afternoon was spent in a less thankful task of routine correspondence with acquaintances – something I sincerely despise, but which must be done at least once a month unless I wish to give an opening for more personal harassment. This way, cursory greetings are enough if one has the bad luck to run into, say, ex-minister Fudge on a trip to Diagon Alley. When my wife and I divorced, three years ago, I hoped that at least some of the people in the pureblood circles I am unfortunately still a part of would see it as shameful enough to stop inviting me to their deathly boring parties. Alas, no such luck. So far the reasons for my divorce are not public knowledge, but should I ever have a male partner to introduce to them, we shall see if that is enough to scatter the vultures. I doubt it, though. In my experience, the weight of name and money goes a long way for a certain type of people. It is possible that not even flaunting of what most of them consider sexual deviance would be enough to be rid of them altogether.
Then again, that might provide its own source of amusement.
After sending away most of the owls that came to collect mail, I had what was thankfully a less muddy outing with Nathan. And now I am sharing the couch with him while finally writing this letter, something I have been almost embarrassingly eager to do ever since I got the owl informing me that Lovegood's Good Loving has matched somebody to me.
Perhaps there is too much optimism on my part – it is after all merely a dating service – but I have only heard promising things about their magically aided matching process, despite the atrocious name. More traditional means of finding a partner do not serve me well, as my orientation is not public knowledge. As I wish to date a wizard – I find many muggle men attractive, but there would be difficulties with a deeper relationship due to the Statute of Secrecy – my options are limited. And the few occasions I have managed to find somebody discreet and similarly inclined, getting to know them properly has been a problem, for people tend to have inaccurate assumptions about who I am. Anonymity, I find, helps with such issues, and facilitates more openness.
As content as I am with my life, it would be a pleasant change to cuddle with somebody other than Nathan. So, please assuage my curiosity and tell me something about yourself.
(Not my real name, which probably does not need saying. Not only would using it be somewhat counterproductive to anonymity, I would wish that whomever I am matched with has seen Reservoir Dogs. Otherwise, there is something wrong with the universe.)
Wow. Okay, so, this guy was my match then. Not complaining. Really not complaining.
Except for one thing.
“It would be my luck, wouldn't it, that I'll be writing letters trying to impress a goddamn writer?”
Pedro hooted in response, clearly laughing at me. With something resembling giddiness I carried the dishes to the sink and retired to bed, the letter carefully tucked into my jeans pocket.
My fingers were itching to reply Mr. White the whole evening, but the knowledge of an early morning made me restrain myself. The Auror rota hardly ever gave me two consecutive days off, and my hours were irregular, but I was used to it. The ministry didn't seem overly concerned with following its own regulations about employee rights, considering how often they tried to get us back on case even in non-emergencies, but I'd put a stop to it after a few years and mostly managed to stick to a forty-hour work week.
The next morning, having dragged myself out of bed and to the office, I was thankful for the mature decision of forcing myself to bed at a reasonable hour. My Auror partner Diane came in ten minutes later, by which time I was leaning back in my chair, enjoying the feel of hot coffee pouring down my throat, and desperately attempting to ignore the piles of papers littering our desk.
“So,” she said, “gotten letters from any fetching wizards lately?”
The question, presented oh so innocently, made me choke on the coffee that Diane had waited me to take a sip of. Of course she'd already heard I'd written to the agency. “Remind me,” I said once I could breathe again, “why can't you and Hermione still hate each other?” They'd had a rough start, with Hermione mistaking Diane for shallow and unintelligent, and Diane playing into it because she considered it useful when people underestimated her. It had been three months before Diane had agreed to join me for dinner at Hermione and Ron's, the women had started talking about Judith Butler (whoever that was), and nowadays they were inseparable.
“Because I realised how awesome she is,” Diane said. A wave of her wand over our desk gathered up papers that were relevant to our current case, suspected sale of lethal potions. She deposited the pile into her leather briefcase, which she snapped shut and dumped on my lap in order to check the mirror and adjust her already impeccable brown curls. “Really, it's too bad she's already taken, otherwise I'd totally hit that.”
“Thank god for small mercies.” Hermione and Diane were truly scary even as friends, I shuddered to think what would happen if they were dating. “If only I'd learned Divination, I would've never argued with you when you were still convinced she was the most irritating paper-pusher in the ministry.”
Diane took a sip of her coffee and then glanced at me, lifting an eyebrow and giving me a flirtatious smile. Had I had any doubts about my sexual orientation by the time she became my Auror partner, they would've been destroyed then. Not only was she an awesome person, with her smooth olive skin and large dark eyes she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever met – and yet, unlike many other wizards in the Auror forces, I wasn't the least bit attracted to her. “You'd really be ready to give up the one time you won an argument with me?” she asked.
“Hey, I've been right plenty of times!”
“Sure you have. All the times we've agreed.” She gave me a pat on the head, and I tried to bite her perfectly-manicured fingers in revenge. She flicked me on the forehead. “Stop it, Harry, you're being childish.”
“No, you are.” Diane stuck her tongue out at me before smirking like the evil Slytherin that she still was, despite her school years being seven years behind her. “And don't change the subject. The way you're smiling, I can tell there's a man.”
“And what way would that be?” One letter, and already Mr. White was getting me in trouble.
“Like a kneazle who got the cream. And the canary. And the mouse.”
“That makes no sense.” Except for early-morning Diane it was almost coherent. “Besides, we have work to do.”
“No work before morning coffee. Don't you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?”
“Even when it consists of nothing but illegal amounts of caffeine?”
“Pot, kettle.” Which was fair enough. The cup in my hand was my third one, which she knew perfectly well. “So?”
“There's just been one letter,” I said. Getting up and leaving our office was never a good tactic to escape Diane – being partners was inconvenient like that, since we had the same cases – but I tried anyway. Diane fell in step beside me, her shoulder brushing mine as we weaved our way through incoming morning employees. By the time we reached the coffee stand, I was resigned to my fate. “He seems clever, and funny. A bit older... well, twenty-six years.”
“The usual,” Diane said to the cashier, then to me, “That's not really all that much for wizards, though, especially since you're so old.” The kid making the coffee chuckled.
“You are an evil witch and I regret ever getting to know you.” Forty was not old, thank you very much. “What did I ever do to get paired up with a kid barely out of Hogwarts?”
We accepted the coffee, and Diane took a large gulp of hers. “Twenty-six is hardly a kid. And you really want to go there?”
“No.” Diane was my third Auror partner in the last year, and that was mostly my own damn fault. “Anyway, the guy,” I continued once we'd walked further from the coffee stand. “He's interesting, I've never encountered a pureblood like him before. He's seems pretty down to earth. He has a dog, a great dane – I had to google it, but apparently they're really big. And he likes coffee.”
Diane looked at my cup down her nose. “Please tell me he doesn't drink that swill you mistakenly call coffee.”
“Hey,” I protested, “I tell you and I'll tell him, black coffee is the only proper way to start the morning.”
“Cappuccinos, then.” She grinned, emptying her cup just before we reached the apparating hall. “He sounds great. Lucky for you I'm so rarely into guys or you'd have competition.”
“You're forgetting he's older than me,” I said. “Plus, you lack his preferred equipment anyway.”
Diane was still laughing as she apparated us to Knockturn Alley.
Pedro hooted in response to my greeting. He waited on the coat rack while I shucked off the Auror robes and threw on the worn blue hoodie I almost always wore at home regardless of the way Molly had used to eye it every time she'd visited Grimmauld Place – like she'd wanted to sneak it out and burn it in Fiendfyre. The memory made something wistful curl up in my chest for a moment, but Pedro didn't appreciate my lack of attention and jumped down to sit on my shoulder, one of his wings hitting me in the face and startling a laughter out of me.
“I know, I know, it's so inconsiderate of me, going to work and earning a living instead of staying in and serving you all day.” My fingers brushed through Pedro's soft chest feathers as I made my way into the kitchen and took out the rest of the lasagne from yesterday. He hopped onto the counter while I set the dish into the oven to heat, but remained there to keep me company as I made a salad, chatting to him about a young witch we'd been following today. She was supposedly a daughter of a Knockturn Alley shop owner but seemed to visit her “mother” at the strangest hours. “Something fishy is definitely going on there-- sorry, not fish, fishy, you know, suspicious-- but it's Knockturn Alley, it's all too possible it's not connected to the potions at all.”
My owl glared at me, making me laugh. “Yeah, yeah, I know you like fish, but there's lasagne soon,” I told him, which made him perk up, looking more satisfied. After Jamie had taken his owl Godric with him to Hogwarts, I'd considered getting Pedro a friend, with how much he seemed to crave my attention. However, he seemed more annoyed than anything on holidays when he had to share his space with Godric again, so I'd figured maybe not. They would circle each other for minutes each time Godric brought a letter from the school – usually from Al talking about Scorpius Malfoy and the other Slytherins in his year – but somehow Godric always managed to get on Pedro's good side after the initial posturing.
After a quickly eaten dinner, I finally had time for letter writing. Reading through Mr. White's letter once more, a pleasant anticipation was warming me. Armed with quill, parchment, and the coffee pot, I began writing.
Dear Mr. White,
You mentioned being almost embarrassingly eager to write to me – after getting your letter, I can definitely relate. Thanks for writing so openly about your life, I'd rather just jump right to the deep end, that's way more interesting than listing random facts anyway. I was buzzing to write to you the whole day at work. Couldn't set the bar any higher, though, Mr. Author?
One of my best friends had to twist my arm to get me to contact Lovegood's Good Loving (btw, I'm so glad you agree that the name is horrifying, otherwise I'd doubt your sanity). It's not that I don't want a relationship, but the method made me a bit uneasy despite the fact that I'd have difficulties similar to yours if I tried to meet somebody in person. Particularly the prior assumptions about who I am; I guess it's ironic that the only way somebody would want to know the real me is if I don't tell them my name. Anyway, sounds like you know what I'm talking about. Let me say that now I'm really happy I decided to give it a shot.
It never even occurred to me that dating a muggle would be an option – I grew up around muggles, but I've become so immersed into the wizarding world that in adult life I've had next to no contact to muggles except sometimes on the job. I take it for you it's the other way around? How do you find that? It's probably a bit of a culture shock – I know Hogwarts was for me, but I had the benefit of school environment, and also, being a kid, it was easier to take things like magic and ghosts in stride. I guess muggle world doesn't take as much suspension of disbelief.
Nathan sounds great, I can't wait to meet him. My job doesn't give me an opportunity to have a dog, my hours are too irregular, so I don't know much about dog breeds – I do like dogs a lot though. The only pet I have is Pedro (totally agree with you about pet names, and no, I don't have any strong affinity to houseplants, thank Merlin). He's got a really big personality for an owl, so I know all about compromises with pets, too. Maybe this is a good sign for us dating, you think?
Technically I work for the ministry, but please don't read too much political agreement into that – I've clashed with many of the Ministers (Fudge was definitely one of the worst) and I've even considered quitting my job at some point, but thankfully Kingsley Shacklebolt made some really great changes when he was chosen for the post. And Minister Masih has surprised me the past few years by mostly sticking to the more neutral, forward-looking approach he promised during his campaign. My friend keeps me well informed of politics, she does that for a living, but I try to keep out of it all as much as I can. Thankfully my job isn't so directly connected, I do more active work of helping people.
I wonder if I've read any of your books to my kids when they were smaller. Depends on how long you've been writing? Couldn't tell me your pen name (assuming you have one)? I have two sons and a daughter, all of them at Hogwarts now. I used to read both muggle and magical books to them, especially my daughter who really liked it until she learned to do it herself. She reads a lot still, more than I've got time for myself, and honestly I'm more of a film person ever since my coworker introduced me to muggle cinema. My favourite films are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Hobbit trilogy comes a close second. I could spend days and days watching Legolas fighting. In fact, I have probably spent days doing that – even my coworker, who's a huge fan herself, won't watch them with me anymore after our second Peter Jackson marathon. We still get together to watch other stuff. There are so many great muggle films I still haven't seen and it's driving me crazy. Why didn't anybody bother telling me about them before?
I've become surprisingly close with her in only eight months, but I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that she became my friend right around the same time I got divorced. So much has happened since then, it feels a lot longer. My ex and I still see each other from time to time because of the kids, but it's pretty strained. The kids stayed at my new flat part of the Summer. They're surprisingly okay with the whole thing, except possibly my oldest. He's acting out a lot, but he won't talk to me, so I have no idea if it's the divorce or me being gay or something else altogether. Makes me wonder if I was that moody at 15...
You wrote that you got divorced three years ago. How did you handle it, if it's OK to ask? Sorry if that's too personal, it's just that I don't know anybody else who's been divorced, especially not a pureblood. My ex wasn't exactly raised in a traditional pureblood way, but I still feel there's something making the divorce more difficult for her and her whole family that I'm just not getting because I grew up with muggles.
Anyway, really hope I'll hear from you again.
(Because hell yes I've seen Reservoir Dogs – though at first I thought you were making a Breaking Bad reference. I'm only halfway through the second season but I'm totally hooked. Regarding Reservoir Dogs, I'm on the fence about whether Mr. White would've told his real name to Mr. Orange before the whole thing went to hell. He didn't seem all that fuzzed about keeping his identity secret, and clearly they were fucking. What do you think?)
P.s. Oh, I almost forgot – cappuccinos? Regular black is the only proper way to drink coffee. This makes me worry about our compatibility... Then again, maybe it's good there's something, otherwise I might think you're too good to be true.
I put down my quill. The last bit made me feel slightly embarrassed and awkward, and I almost crossed it out but then stopped myself. Seriously, that was barely flirting, and wasn't that part of the point here anyway? Not that I was doing a very good job of it.
“Fuck it.” Before I could give into the temptation to overanalyse more of the letter, I rolled it up and handed it to Pedro. By this rate it would never get sent. “It's for Mr. White, but you'll probably need to take it to Luna's dating service and they'll deliver it.” My owl cocked his head as if to say he knew I was avoiding saying the name of the service. Smug bird. “If you're lucky, Luna's owl will be there. You remember her, the brown one you were flirting with yesterday. Maybe she'll be more impressed this time.”
Pedro raised his beak in offence, but then stretched his wings and took off. “Yeah, not interested at all, are you?” I said as closed the window after him and made my way into the bedroom. Come tomorrow, I'd regret having stayed up with the letter until eleven, but right now I couldn't care less.
Contrary to my expectations, I wasn't sorry the following morning for having stayed up late. Or I was for the five minutes I struggled to get myself vertical, but the pain vanished as if by magic when a tap at the window showed Pedro with a letter.
“Damn, he's fast.” I let the owl in, quickly closed the window before any more of cold air came in with him, and sprawled onto the bed to unscroll the parchment, too impatient to even use the loo first.
Dear Mr. Orange,
Thank you for your letter, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please give my sincerest gratitude to the friend of yours who encouraged you to contact the dating service.
It is interesting to hear that you were only introduced to the magical world at Hogwarts, I can only imagine the excitement you must have felt. Is anybody in your family magical? And did you have any prior knowledge of magic?
Nowadays I am fairly integrated in both wizarding and muggle societies, but when I first ventured into muggle world ten years ago, it was with reluctance and a large amount of suspicion. I doubt I would have ever felt the need to do so on my own, but there were family relations at stake. My son and I were not on great terms, and he would not allow me to meet my three-year-old grandson. Having spent all my life comfortably enclosed in the wizarding world, I considered muggles inferior to us in every way, which was not a belief my son wanted pass onto the next generation. To me this critique was unacceptable, but his obstinacy matched my own. In the end I set out with the intention of proving him wrong.
Although I would never have admitted as much, there was fear involved. Partially it was due to my very limited knowledge of muggles and their culture, but an equal part came from the risk involved in questioning a belief system I had leaned on all my life. If muggles turned out to be different from what I assumed, what else might I have to reconsider?
Those fears were not completely unfounded; the effects turned out to be far-reaching in my life. However, it also turned out that not all change is for the worse.
The most striking feature of muggle society was its sheer volume: there are such large numbers of muggles, and they tend to live in such a concentrated manner, especially in cities like London and Paris. Even more than the amount of people about, the infrastructure was overwhelming. There were several times I apparated away simply to escape the traffic and noise.
At first I avoided interacting with anybody, and the stores and restaurants I visited left me unimpressed. The turning point was when I ventured into the British Library, and was confronted with the amplitude of knowledge muggles have about the world around us. While I had been able to dismiss the muggles I had encountered as unintelligent and crude, my recurring visits to the library challenged this perception. Some muggle science was of course misguided because of their ignorance of magic, but their technological advancement made us look nearly primitive. Wizarding technology is still nowhere near what muggles had already achieved a decade ago. Moreover, endeavouring into philosophy, which is a realm I have always been interested in, I encountered a level of sophistication I had not anticipated.
After that I was forced to approach my interactions with muggles with a more open mind. Even so, it was many months before I met any muggles whom I actually liked – they are few and far between. However, the same is generally true in wizarding world. Thus I must conclude that it is less a matter of differences between muggles and wizards and more a matter of having standards.
One thing that makes me feel at home in the muggle world is how much more relaxed a view they take of homosexuality. There is some prejudice, certainly, but it is still much more publicly accepted. The first few times I came across two men or two women walking hand in hand in the street startled me, but nowadays I almost forget that there is anything unusual about it. In comparison, the silence that surrounds these issues in wizarding culture is nearly deafening. So far I have not acted on any urges to disturb it, but I am increasingly tempted to do so the longer I live around muggles.
May I ask why you keep out of politics? I must admit the notion has me puzzled. To me, politics is like a game – it is one I have played since I was old enough to attend my father's dinner parties, something I excel at and take immense satisfaction in. The extent of my direct involvement has varied depending on the political environment of the day, but I have always considered the most important parts to happen behind the scenes. When one knows the people inclined to advance their own interests, one is merely required to ensure these interests align with one's own.
I have been writing children's books for the past eight years, and the first of them was published six years ago. They are relatively popular amongst both muggle and wizarding children. I do indeed use a pseudonym, but few people know it and thus I am reluctant to share it at this point, despite the anonymity. However, I will tell you that I received inspiration from fiction written for muggle children. When they read books about dragons, for instance, the children believe them to be non-existent. To me the concept is fascinating: it must be a different kind of a thrill, to read something where their imagination may roam free. There used to be no such literature for wizarding children, and I have taken much joy in creating it.
By the sound of it, your divorce has been much more difficult than my own was. May I ask if you married for love? And did your sexuality play a part in the relationship breakdown?
It is unsurprising that the family of your former wife are facing difficulties. Traditionally wizarding culture views marriage as unbreakable. It was not uncommon for spouses to be bound for life with contracts that were enforced by magic. While such contracts are no longer strictly legal, some pureblood traditionalists will still insist on them for their heirs as a condition for inheritance. Marriage welcomes the new spouse to the family as equal to a blood relation, which is seen as the greatest honour a wizarding family can grant another. The possibility of divorce makes this a tremendous risk, which is why it is still so widely condemned, particularly amongst purebloods. Even if your former in-laws are not pureblood traditionalists, divorce is most likely something they have no experience of.
One of the better choices of my youth was that I married a very level-headed, pragmatic woman. Even though I was the one to suggest divorcing, she was equally inclined to make the process as uncomplicated as possible and had no interest in going to court. The divorce legislation being what it is, this made everything much simpler. Ours was primarily a marriage of bloodlines, and we never had a sexual relationship, something we both agreed on from the start (although never in so many words). Our son was conceived with magical aid.
We had been separated for over a decade, therefore not much concretely changed in the divorce as our everyday lives and finances had been mostly separate for years. Neither did filing official paperwork impact our relationship. She and I exchanged Kinship Vows at Hogwarts before we were even betrothed, and as the mother of my child she will always remain family. Divorcing her I did not aim to change that, but simply to facilitate building a relationship with someone else from a clean slate.
Your interest in The Lord of the Rings is intriguing. I have only read the books but hope you shall not hold this against me; I would be delighted to share the experience of watching them with you at some point. I must confess that most of my film knowledge is rather outdated. Watching muggle films was a guilty pleasure I shared with a friend at a certain time in my life. Later I came to dismiss it as frivolous, and though I no longer consider it so, I have never fully restored the habit.
My dearest Mr. Orange, you present too much of a temptation. It is now three o'clock in the morning and although it is not unprecedented for me to lose myself in writing for the night, I always pay for it the following day. Then again, I hardly wish to complain, being introduced to such an interesting man. I am looking forward to hearing from you again.
(I can certainly see why you would suggest the relationship in Reservoir Dogs was a sexual one, for Mr. White's desire for Mr. Orange is painstakingly obvious. However, in my mind it is more complicated than that as I do not believe his professional pride would have allowed him to act on the attraction. The name, however... That I doubt he could have kept to himself, had Mr. Orange asked whilst bleeding out. That must have shaken him to the core, the boy getting shot on his watch; somebody he cares for, no matter how inappropriate in their situation. At that point his professionalism would likely have been overridden by his emotions.)
After a busy day at work, I only went home to feed Pedro and change before flooing to Ron and Hermione's. Familiar clanking from the kitchen welcomed me as I stepped out of their fireplace into the cosy living room. At home I liked to have the more modern décor I'd picked out after moving into the flat, but there was something undeniably homey about coming to my friends' house with the worn, comfortable furniture that somehow worked together even though barely any of it matched.
“Hey, mate!” Ron greeted me with a grin from the kitchen door. “I see you still remember your oldest buddy even when he's no longer working with you.”
I walked over to him and held him at arm's length. “I've met you before, haven't I?” My hand patted from his arm to his shoulder and face. “Hmm... Something about that hair seems vaguely familiar.”
“Bugger off,” Ron laughed, swatting my hand off. He turned back to the large dinner table, which was a mess of groceries, pots and pans. “You can take over here, right? Iris is still sleeping. For some reason it took really long for her to quiet down for her afternoon nap, but I need to wake her or she'll be up all night.”
“Sure.” I said, taking in the assorted ingredients. “Soy burgers and Greek salad? Ambitious. You planned for this convenient timing all along, didn't you?”
“You'll never prove it,” Ron quipped, before taking the stairs to their bedroom two at a time. He hated cooking when Diane visited, complaining about having to learn vegetarian dishes right after he'd started to figure out how to make “normal food”. For me, it had been a pleasant challenge, and nowadays I rarely used meat at home either, having noticed that I didn't miss it a bit.
By the time Ron returned downstairs holding Iris, the dinner was coming along, and the large wooden table was looking much tidier. “Say hi to uncle Harry.”
“Hello, little girl.” I ruffled her red hair and received a sleepy smile in return. She was squishing a furry lion twice her size to her chest. “Didn't Mr. Teddy use to be a bear?”
Ron grinned as he settled Iris into her sitter and spelled the lion to fly in circles. “C'mon, mate, where's your house solidarity? Five kids between us at Hogwarts, and only Hugo and Jamie are Gryffindors. It's like a curse in the family.” Ron plopped onto a kitchen chair, and I turned back to the stove.
“You married Hermione, you can't exactly be surprised that you'd end up with at least one in Ravenclaw.” Rose had been claimed by the house within seconds of the Sorting Hat landing on her head.
“I still blame Al,” Ron said, and then dodged the ladle I threw at his head, laughing. Al had been sorted only a handful of kids before Rose. Inspired by meeting Scorpius Malfoy on the train, he'd asked to be put in Slytherin and, thus, become the first non-Gryffindor in generations of either Potters or Weasleys. Ron claimed that Al had given the Hat ideas, only gaining more evidence when Lily had followed Rose into Ravenclaw two years later. He'd started a campaign for Gryffindor as soon as Iris had been born. The new feline form of Mr. Teddy was just the latest attempt. “You will salvage the Weasley name, won't you Iris dear?”
Little hands tried to grab the lion as Ron's wand movements made it swoop over her tummy, but at that point I had to stop watching to save the soy burgers from burning. “Better not let Hermione see that.” She was firmly in the Inter-House Unity camp, and observed Ron's campaign with amused exasperation.
“Hey, I'm the stay-at-home parent this time, my rules will be followed,” Ron said with flourish. He managed to keep a straight face for five seconds before both of us started laughing. Anybody who knew them knew that Hermione was the control freak of the household. Ron's easy-going personality was one reason they worked so well together.
“What's so funny?” Diane asked from the kitchen doorway, startling both of us.
“Merlin,” Ron said. “See, Harry, this is what I mean! Sneaky Slytherins, they're nothing but trouble.”
“You look great,” I said, ignoring Ron and giving Diane a hug. The stunning blue dress she wore would've been more appropriate for a high-class restaurant than for the homey kitchen, but that was Diane for you. She refused to wear anything less extravagant off duty, claiming that being forced into Auror robes eight hours a day was bad enough.
“Thank you, Harry.” Diane sat across Ron at the table as I started assembling the burgers, casting a charm on the plates to keep them warm. “And it's nice to see you too, Weasley.”
“Davies,” Ron responded. Why they still insisted on surnames was a mystery to me. Well, insisted unless they'd had a few drinks, then it was Ron and Diane all the way through, all bickering forgotten. “How do you even do that?” Ron asked. “The floo is supposed to chime when somebody comes through.”
Diane gave him a pitying look, speaking slowly as if to a child. “There's this new, exciting thing I learned at school, apparation. Perhaps you've heard of it?”
Ron rolled his eyes. “We have wards.”
“Yes,” Diane smiled dazzlingly again. “And your wife added me to them. Such an intelligent woman, don't you agree?”
“Not always,” Ron grumbled.
“What was that?” Hermione asked from the doorway, making me laugh when Ron jumped again. I'd managed to hear the pop of apparation this time. Ron got up to embrace his wife. “Sorry I'm late,” Hermione said. “The meeting with Minister Masih and the goblin representatives went long.”
“It's okay, honey.” Ron gave her a brief kiss. Seeing the love in my friends' marriage even after all these years never failed to make me feel warm inside.
“Iris, love, how are you?” Hermione crouched to give her daughter a kiss on the forehead. Mr. Teddy was nowhere in sight.
“Ma ma,” she said, clapping her hands together.
“Dear God that's adorable,” Diane said in that way of hers that made it sound like sarcasm even though she was dead serious. And I had to agree, even though I was thankful that my own kids weren't that small anymore.
Hermione went to change out of the ministry robes, joining the table a moment later in her sweats. Ron dug in with relish, and made pleased noises until he remembered that he was eating vegetarian food which he wasn't supposed to support. Diane smirking at him started the two quibbling again, and Hermione took the opportunity to transfigure Mr. Teddy into a Ravenclaw Eagle, making me bite back a laughter. Ron didn't notice until he took over feeding Iris ten minutes later. A quelling look from his wife made him shut up in mid-protest.
After dinner Hermione and Ron took the chance to go for a walk while I looked after Iris. Diane used spells to clear the table. She was unfairly good at that, making the plates pile up and wash themselves in mere moments. Then she made us a batch of coffee from the proper kind I'd stashed in the back of the corner cupboard, which Hermione pretended not to know about. The three of us settled on the bigger living room couch. Iris giggled when Diane transfigured Mr. Teddy into a four-foot green snake which started slithering around the floor.
“Subtle,” I said sarcastically, but lowered Iris to let her crawl after the snake anyway. “Ron is going to have a fit.”
“That's simply an added bonus.” Diane sipped her coffee elegantly, as if she wasn't at the same time manoeuvring a soft toy around furniture. She leaned into me on the couch, dropping the high heels on the floor to raise her feet onto the armrest, and I wrapped an arm around her waist as I sank into the cushions. Iris seemed happy enough to chase they toy but finally Mr. Teddy climbed up the couch leg. I complied with her silent request by grabbing her under the armpits and settling her on my lap.
“You're too young for that.” I held my coffee cup out of her reach. She tried to stand with wobbly feet, bracing her hands on our shoulders. I quickly emptied the cup before handing it over. Her lower lip stuck out in a pout, making me chuckle. “You know, little girl, for some things your mummy will actually kill me.”
The low lighting and the deceptively soft couch were probably to blame, but that's where my friends found us some time later, with Iris and Diane both dozing on me and a giant green snake curled on top of them. “Kids,” I explained, when Hermione giggled quietly. Ron eyed the snake darkly, but couldn't keep from grinning as he picked up Iris. He went to put her to bed, while Hermione curled up on the opposite couch with a somewhat tired smile on her lips. “How are you doing, Harry?”
“Alright. We've got tomorrow off work, going to meet up with Sleeping Beauty here for a film night, then it's late shift until Tuesday. How about you? You don't need to work on the weekend, right?”
“Well, there's a ton of reports I should get done from today's meeting. You know that Gringotts doesn't really close on the weekend at all. The goblins are still not covered by the Ministry's work time regulations but nobody cares because they feel wizards and witches should be able to go to bank whenever they want. I should really--”
“No, she doesn't need to work on the weekend,” Ron interrupted, coming in and handing her a teacup. Hermione bit her lip, but then conceded with a small smile. “No, I don't.”
“Good job, Weasley,” Diane murmured. She opened her eyes lazily but stayed laying half on top of me, which was just perfect as far as I was concerned.
“Thanks, Davies, your approval means so much to me,” Ron said. “Mead?”
“Red wine, please,” she replied.
“Me too. Actually, just sit down.” Ron did, and I summoned us drinks from the kitchen.
“Ohh, impressive Auror Magic,” Ron teased, grinning as he caught the bottle of mead.
“You're still an Auror even if you're not working right now,” I said. Diane held out her coffee cup until I'd poured enough wine to fill it to the brim. Half a cup was enough for me.
“Don't even remind me.” Ron slung his arm around Hermione. “I'm way too happy to be a kept man, I don't think I'll ever want to come back to work. It's still years and years before Iris goes to Hogwarts,” he said with a dreamy expression. “And we could have at least one more. Want to practice tonight, love?”
“Ron! You're awful,” Hermione blushed furiously, but then seemed to melt under Ron's smile. Her embarrassment was way too amusing, but it was true that her career in the Ministry had taken off like a wildfire. Ron staying home with Iris had made way more sense. The papers had tried to drag Hermione through the mud for “abandoning her child”, but that had stopped when the Minister had spoken up in defence of one of his most trusted employees. Much to Hermione's surprised pleasure, the whole thing had eventually led to increasing public discussion over status of mothers in wizarding Britain.
“My life is awesome.” Ron took a drag of his bottle, then frowned. “Except there is this.” He gestured towards us. “What's with all the snakes on my couch, mate?”
“With Mr. Teddy and Iris, we only need one more Slytherin to outnumber you Gryffindors,” Diane said, and Ron glared at her. “Then again, Harry should take care of that soon enough.”
“Thanks so much.”
“You're welcome,” Diane said, way too pleased with herself. I groaned when I saw it click in Hermione's head.
“Mr. White? He's a Slytherin? How do you know?” she asked enthusiastically.
“Who?” Ron asked.
“It's not for sure, but there's been a speculation. The way he talks about politics as a game made me think so,” I said.
“Plus, he's a rich pureblood, it's not a huge stretch,” Diane added.
“Hmm, maybe,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “It would fit, somehow, you with a Slytherin.”
“From Diane that would be a compliment, from Ron an insult, but from you I'm not sure how to take that.”
Diane piped up. “Just means you have good tastes.”
Ron crossed his arms and raised his voice, “Will somebody bloody tell me who we're talking about already?”
The women burst into laughter, but I took pity of Ron and explained. “Luna matched me with somebody.”
Ron's eyebrows shot up. “Really? You mean you contacted--”
“Don't say it!”
“--Lovegood's Good Loving?” he said with a huge grin. The pity was rapidly fading, and of course Diane joined in on the fun, the tipsy little turncoat.
“He's been practically glowing the past few days.”
“I do not glow--”
“Sitting at the office and walking the Ministry corridors with hearts in his eyes and a sappy look and tiny little birds following him around--”
Diane's voice broke into a squeal when I tackled her onto the couch and stared tickling her. I was winning, until her wandless stinging hex hit my shoulder, making me fall off the couch. Diane dropped on me, but for some reason didn't retaliate, staring up.
The reason soon became apparent when I followed her gaze and saw Hermione pointing her wand at us, one eyebrow raised. “You better not wake up Iris.”
“Yes, mom. Sorry, mom,” we said in a chorus, and Hermione's lips twitched. We clambered back onto the couch and settled comfortably, this time my head in Diane's lap. “Friends again?” I asked.
She brushed through my hair, smiling down at me. “Of course.”
When I looked back at my other friends, they were exchanging a glance. “What?”
“You don't think he'd mind that?” Hermione gestured at us.
“Your guy. Mr. White, who else?”
“Why on earth would he mind?” I said in honest puzzlement.
Ron chimed in. “You're being kind of, I don't know, intimate.”
“You're serious, both of you?”
“I wouldn't really like Ron getting that close with anybody else.” Apparently they were serious. Hermione's tone made me clamber into a sitting position. Diane's unsubtle cough sounded a lot like “Gryffindors”.
“First of all, I've never even met the guy. It's not like we're in a relationship--”
“Yet,” Diane muttered.
“Shut up, you,” I said, though I couldn't help feeling tingly at the thought. “Second of all, I'm gay. And Diane is practically gay. Third of all, even if all that wasn't the case... he wouldn't really be a good match for me if he was bothered by me being close to my friends, don't you think?”
Hermione frowned. “We meant physical closeness, though. I mean, it's not like Ron or I cuddle you like that.”
Whoa, weird mental images. “Well, no, but our friendships are different. Plus, I appreciate that the relationship between the two of you has certain types of boundaries. But that doesn't mean I want those kind of limits in my life. I never had with Gin--”
“I'm gonna get another mead,” Ron said, getting up.
Shit, I shouldn't have brought up Ginny, the divorce was still a sore subject. Ron was the only one of the family who had remained close to me, and that was through his strict policy of non-involvement. “Sorry, I just meant I never had that kind of thing, and I never want to.” Ron gave a curt nod and went into the kitchen.
“You used to be jealous of Ginny though, remember? Before you knew how she felt about you?”
“You mean at school? That was a long time ago.” After the childhood I'd had it had been difficult to believe anybody could love me, but I'd long since put all that behind me, largely thanks to Ginny. “Besides, I was never bothered by her and Neville being friends.”
Hermione dragged a throw blanket on her and fiddled with it. “I never really understood how you were so okay with how close they were after the war.”
I lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I guess it was just enough that I knew she wanted to be with me.”
“Okay, that may be how you feel but not everybody is the same,” Hermione said. “You should check how Mr. White feels, too, that's all I'm saying.”
“If he is a pureblood Slytherin, I doubt he'll think in those terms,” Diane said.
Hermione shot her a glance. “Well, it's only fair to make sure,” she argued.
“Yeah, maybe I should,” I conceded. Not that I would ever give up my friends for somebody I was dating, but if Mr. White was going to have a problem, better to know now.
When Ron came back from the kitchen, we moved to different topics. He and Diane drank enough to forget about the Weasley-Davies business, and spent twenty minutes reminiscing about last year's quidditch world cup. Hermione and I stayed more sober. She told me that she and Ron had really been talking about having more kids when Iris grew up a little. With Rose and Hugo she'd almost burnt herself out trying to do it all. That was why they'd waited so long despite both of them wanting more kids. But she felt it was better this time around because Ron was at home and she could focus on work. I was really happy for them.
It was almost two in the morning when I got home. Diane was still heading to Soho, and I wished her luck. Not that she needed it – unlike my own, her sex life was alive and well.
On a whim, I scrawled a note and gave it to Pedro.
Dear Mr. White,
Sorry I can't answer your letter yet, but I'm curious – what are your thoughts about jealousy?
Finally an update! Sorry for taking so long, but I hope you enjoy this. :)
When Jamie was born, the first thing becoming a dad had taught me was never to make plans. Ginny and I had used to joke – sometimes amused, other times frustrated – that having a well-organised life was incompatible with parenthood.
After fifteen years of experience, one would think I'd learned my lesson. But, being an idiot, I'd planned a nice, slow morning. Sleep in, have a proper wank followed by a shower and a good breakfast with loads of coffee, take my Firebolt Prime out for a spin on the nearby pitch, and write back to Mr. White.
Instead I'd been woken at quarter to ten by a firecall, and was now at Headmistress McGonagall's office, seated in an uncomfortable wooden chair next to my ex wife and drinking tea in what had to be the tensest silence in the history of wizardkind.
Ginny was staring straight ahead with a blank expression that I was gradually beginning to hate, though that in turn made me feel guilty. The way she held herself, back rigid and her dark robes flawlessly arranged, was a far cry from how she always used to be around me before, relaxed and familiar. It made me self-conscious each time I shifted in my seat.
The office that had in Dumbledore's time been packed with assorted knick-knacks had for years been in strict order, almost minimalistic in the absence of anything unnecessary. Dumbledore's portrait was twinkling at us merrily, apparently as oblivious to the atmosphere as he'd often been when alive. Snape, thankfully, had only glowered at me and then stalked out of his frame. Even so, I felt a headache coming on.
Finally McGonagall stepped back from the privacy charm that surrounded her fireplace, and I barely resisted sighing in relief.
The feeling didn't last long.
“Thank you for coming Ms. Weasley, Mr. Potter.” Somehow McGonagall calling me that still made me feel like a schoolboy. “My apologies for the wait, but I needed to contact Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, as well. Now, I suppose it is not a difficult guess as to why I have asked you to come.”
“Jamie was in a fight with Al?” Ginny asked.
“And Scorpius Malfoy?” I added. That wasn't usually the case, but since she'd mentioned the Malfoys, I figured it wasn't far-fetched.
“Only with Scorpius this time. Albus was serving his detention in the potions classroom this morning and therefore was not in the Great Hall at the time, otherwise you would undoubtedly be correct on all counts.” McGonagall sighed, looking nearly as weary as I was feeling. This was the fourth fight Jamie had gotten into this fall. “Now, please do not be alarmed – there was no serious harm, but both boys are in the Hospital Wing.” My heart skipped a beat despite McGonagall's assurance – no fight had needed Madam Pomfrey before.
“What happened?” Ginny's voice sounded as distressed as I was feeling.
“Jamie and Scorpius started a fist fight at breakfast. Unfortunately, Scorpius was carrying a Screechsnap for homework assigned by Professor Longbottom. Screechsnaps are not normally aggressive, they most often only yell in response to pain, but it seems the plant was jostled too much, and it exploded. By the time Professor Longbottom realised what had happened, there had been significant skin contact with the extract. The paste that is used to heal the rash needs a full twelve hours to take effect. Meanwhile, the boys need to be restrained to stop the compulsive scratching. There is no pain, merely discomfort.”
“Now, I also wished to discuss Jamie's punishment with you. As you are aware, the last time he was in a fight, he was banned from Hogsmeade. He has also received numerous detentions not only for fighting, but also for homework he has turned in late or not at all.” McGonagall went on to explain the problem, which was that Jamie didn't seem to care about the punishments his Professors were employing to keep him in line. It had been bad enough last year, ever since he'd quit the Gryffindor quidditch team, but he was becoming more and more withdrawn this year. “If the fighting continues as it has been, we may need to consider suspension,” McGonagall said. “I would hate for it to come to that, and hope that you will be able to talk sense into him.”
So did I.
An hour and a half later I stepped out of Jamie’s room, just about ready to bang my head against one of the bland, beige walls of the Hospital Wing’s entrance hall.
Ginny and I had walked over in a heavy silence and had been directed to Jamie by Madam Pomfrey. When we'd first entered the room and seen Jamie lying on the cot, looking so small despite his tall frame, my heart had ached. And the concern hadn't really vanished, but it had gradually been taken over by frustration with each one of Jamie's mono-syllabic answers to our questions. A drawled 'whatever' had been his only reaction to the extended Hogsmeade ban and the lost House points, which McGonagall had decided to assign as a punishment, making it clear that he couldn't care less.
Ginny and I always used to have an united front when dealing with the kids, but ever since the divorce that had been gone. Jamie had been uncommunicative, his eyes darting between us and becoming more and more shuttered each time Ginny cut me off in the middle of a sentence or I snapped back at her despite having sworn to hold my temper. Finally Ginny had headed off, stating that Saturdays were the busiest days for the joke shop – it was true, I knew, but the both of us were probably equally relieved for the reason get out of being in the same room.
Jamie'd been a bit more forthcoming with information once Ginny had left and it was only the two of us. This wasn't unusual, but I didn't know whether that was also the case when they were alone together. When I'd asked him if he really didn't care about the lost House points, Jamie had muttered that everybody in Gryffindor hated him anyway, but he'd once again shut down when I'd tried to ask about his friends. Unlike previous years, the Finnigan twins hadn't visited us last summer. Jamie had claimed that they'd been taken to Canada by their parents, but now I wondered if they’d had a falling out.
I wished more than anything that I knew what to do to help Jamie, but getting even a glimpse of what was going on in his head was like pulling teeth.
“Hi dad!” Al's greeting dragged me out of my thoughts. He grinned at me from the bench he was sitting on. It was so good to see him, though the whole goth thing he had going on nowadays had only gotten worse since I'd last seen him. His open school robes showed ripped black jeans, which his professors probably didn't appreciate, and I was pretty sure the black on his fingers was muggle nail polish. I failed to see the point of it all, though it amused me to imagine of what Malfoy must think of his son's similar style.
“Hi, Al.” I rufflled his hair. He rolled his eyes and then peered at his reflection in the window, brushing his hand through the black locks a few times. Merlin knew why, to me it looked exactly as messy as it had before, same way as my own did when I couldn't be arsed to battle it into submission with straightening charms, except Al's hair was longer, falling down on his shoulders. “Visiting Scorpius?”
“I was but his mum and dad showed up. They started lecturing him so I reckoned I'd clear out. Mr. Malfoy isn't that bad but Stori is pretty stern.”
“Stori? Mrs. Malfoy, you mean?”
“She told me to call her Stori!” Al protested, making me chuckle.
“Okay, okay. Walk with me to the Headmistress' office?” Malfoy might be civil enough whenever we came across each other at the Ministry, and his wife had been almost pleasant to talk to the few times I'd met her, but if I could avoid an encounter with them I was more than happy to do so. “Did you see your mum? She left just twenty minutes ago.”
“No, I was in there still.” Al grabbed his bag and peered at his image in the window once more before following me out of the Hospital Wing and immediately starting to rant, “Scorp got a ban on quidditch! It wasn't his fault, Jamie started calling him names out of nowhere! If Slytherin didn't need me on the team even more now, I'd go in and hex the prat.”
“Al,” I said sternly. “Your mother and I have talked to Jamie, and he's received a punishment. I don't want you fighting with him again, that won't solve anything.”
“Just said I wouldn't, didn't I?”
“Got something for you.” My son handed me something from his bag – a black thermos. Thank Godric for the soft spot the Hogwarts house elves still had for me.
“Thanks.” The day was immediately looking brighter with the simple inclusion of caffeine in the equation, despite the fact that my son was a Slytherin and it hardly took a genius to tell from the flat-out bribery that there was something Al wanted. I took a large gulp, and bit back a groan. The manipulation wasn't very subtle, but that didn't mean it wasn't working. “Something on your mind?”
Al fiddled with his wand, not even pretending he didn't have an agenda. He waited for me to drink some more and then gave me his most charming smile, which promised trouble. “Could I go to Scorp's for Christmas?”
And there it was. “To Malfoy Manor?”
“That’s where he lives, yes.” At my glare he added, “Sorry.”
“You're expected at your grandparents'.”
“But you’re not there.” That was true. My chest felt tight, but I didn't let it show. This was not the time to focus on my feelings on the matter.
“No, but your mum will be, and Jamie and Lily--”
“Jamie’s not going either.”
That was news to me. “Really? He said that?”
“Could you be any more behind, dad?” Al said, then looked sheepish when I gave him another stern face, seeming to remember that he was supposed to be playing up to me. That part he'd never been very good at, but I hid my amusement. “Jamie and mum have been fighting about it since the Summer.”
“Why doesn't he want to go?”
“Dunno.” Al said with a lazy shrug.
“Pretty sure you know more than me, since this is the first I hear of it.”
“Ehh. Whenever we visited the Burrow in the summer he'd always sulk for days afterwards. He won't let grandma hug him anymore, and he yelled at her once.”
“Really?” The thought made my heart sink. “I assume your mum made him apologise.”
“She tried to, but he wouldn't. It's not all Jamie's fault, though,” Al added, to my surprise. He rarely took his brother's side in anything. “Grandma keeps calling him James, and I he really hates that.”
“That's no excuse.”
“I guess,” Al said, shrugging again. “Can we get back to Christmas?”
Even the thought of the row that would likely ensue with Ginny at the suggestion made anxiety twist in my gut. “I still think it would be best if you spent the holidays as a family.”
Al scowled. “That's what you keep saying, you and mum both, but I think that's crap.”
Al rolled his eyes. “Fine, I think you're wrong. Happy?”
“Overjoyed,” I said, unable to keep the sarcasm at bay. “Care to enlighten me as to why?”
“You're both acting as if we all should just ignore the fact that you guys got divorced, but it's not the same. And that is not helping by the way-- you looking like that. You're both acting like it's all your fault and that's why everybody should do what mum thinks.”
“It was my fault.” The kids only knew part of the story, and even that was bad enough.
“I really don't care. You and mum can't get along but it's still not the whole family together if you're not there. And it's not fair if I have to go and Jamie doesn't.”
He had a point about our family, one that I wasn't inclined to think more about right at this moment. “And what does your sister think? Is she still going?”
“You know Lily, it's all the same to her where she is as long as she's got her books with her,” Al said, making me chuckle. That was certainly true. “I'd just really like to spend Christmas with Scorp. And it's not like he can come to the Burrow.”
“No, probably not.” Although the youngest generation had crossed the bridge, the feud between the Weasleys and the Malfoys was far from forgotten by some of the older ones. I doubted Scorpius would be welcome, but I wasn't exactly thrilled at the thought of Al spending the Christmas at Malfoy Manor. I doubted Al would be in any kind of danger, but the place stirred up less than happy memories. And there were Malfoy's parents to take into account as well. Life debt of not, my feelings towards Narcissa Malfoy were apprehensive, and not the least because of her husband. “I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to go over to Scorpius' place.”
Al narrowed his eyes. “He's my best friend. There's nothing wrong with Scorp, you said that yourself when Jamie was being a prat--”
“Al, that's enough. I didn't say there was anything wrong with Scorpius, and I know he's your best friend. But you see him every day, you share a dorm. Is it so bad to spend the holidays apart? He's going to be with his family, I'm sure he understands that you'll be with your own.”
“But why does mum automatically get the holidays with us?”
“The Weasleys are still your family, and they'll be disappointed if you don't come. And don't you want to see Victoire and Teddy?”
Al shrugged. “I guess. It's just, Scorp is always saying how Christmas is so boring for him, it's just adults and him, you know? It's so unfair.”
I could only imagine. My mind conjured an image of the Malfoys seated regally around a huge dining room table, served a perfectly presented Christmas dinner by house-elves, lamenting the current state of Wizarding Britain. Merlin, what an environment for a kid to grow up in.
“I’ll talk to your mother later.” At Al’s expression, I held my palm up haltingly. “I'm not promising anything, okay? In fact, I'm not sure this is a good idea. But it'll be a conversation.”
“Thanks, dad!” Al beamed. His hug made me feel warm, but at the same time a weight settled into my stomach just thinking about Ginny's reaction.
Well, Christmas was still over two months away. At least we'd have plenty of time to argue about it.
“Finally you're here!” Diane said dramatically as I stepped out of the floo. She was lounging on my couch with her feet up, the black miniskirt showing off her legs in a way that was somewhat distracting even for somebody at the opposite end of the Kinsey scale. Take-away boxes and muggle fashion magazines littered the glass table next to her.
“Make yourself at home, why don't you?” She was too slow to pull her feet out of the way of my robes, and I laughed at her expression of disdain as she spelled the dust off herself. Finally I'd found an upside to floo travel.
“Now that you're home, would you do something about that?” She gestured at Pedro, who was sitting on the backrest of the armchair opposite the couch, his chest puffed up trying to look bigger. “He's been giving me the evil eye ever since I got here. As if I'd try to steal your letter. It's way more fun to just watch your sappy expression when you read it.”
“I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about.” Pedro handed me the parchment, looking proud with himself and his protective duties. “Okay, well done, very impressive.” I gave him a pat on the head and summoned a biscuit. “Though I'm pretty sure Luna's spells wouldn't let her read it anyway.”
I settled cross-legged on the armchair and opened the note, absently reaching for an egg roll and ignoring the smirk Diane was no doubt directing towards me.
Dear Mr. Orange,
It is intriguing that you would feel the inclination to ask about jealousy in the middle of the night. Something you wish to share?
Generally, I have never expected exclusivity from partners. Jealousy has never been a common emotion for me, nor is it something I ever wish to act upon. Granted, I am now looking for a relationship somewhat different from my previous ones: my marriage was platonic, and the few romantic liaisons I have had with men have most often been short-lived. However, I see no reason why attitude towards jealousy should be any different in a long-term relationship that is both romantic and sexual in nature.
Therefore, if you are having sex with somebody, please feel free to tell me. In detail.
“Wow,” I said, stunned. “That's so not what I meant."
“Ohh, you're blushing! This is even better than your sappy face.” Diane said. “Something dirty?”
“Wouldn't you like to know?”
She gaped at the wide grin I gave her, then muttered, “I should have stolen it.” Pedro gave an unamused hoot.
“Nah, he just put Hermione's worries to rest. Pretty sure he doesn't mind us cuddling when apparently he wouldn't mind even if I was shagging somebody else.”
“And this shocks your Gryffindor sensibilities?”
“I'm just surprised, not shocked.” Well, maybe a little bit.
“I told you both he wouldn't be jealous. Hah, I need to have lunch with Hermione tomorrow to gloat, it's so rare to get one over on her.”
“Have fun,” I said, munching on another egg roll.
“Alright, now that you're done with family crisis and romantic entanglements, get your arse over here so I can put on the first Matrix. You'll love the films. Hugo Wieving is in them, and he's way hotter as Agent Smith than he is as Elrond.”
And that's how we ended up spending the next seven hours gradually sinking into the couch, while eating way too much Chinese food and contemplating why nobody in wizarding world had thought to make robes out of black leather.
Dear Mr. White,
Thank you for your letter. I'd apologise for keeping you up all night writing it, but I'm just too flattered to feel very regretful. I'm really enjoying writing to you as well. Originally I had plans to respond quicker, but life intervened. Believe me, I would've much preferred to spend my day off writing to you rather than sorting out kid trouble with my ex. Oh, the joys of fatherhood... I love my children more than anything, but sometimes I’d like nothing better than a long vacation in Bahamas.
It's really interesting how different our backgrounds are when it comes to magic. The relatives I grew up with are muggles, though technically I’m half-blood. They hated and feared magic, and the first I knew about our world was when Hagrid showed up on my eleventh birthday. He was the groundskeeper in your time as well, I assume? You can probably imagine that my relatives didn't take that very well. Hagrid doesn’t exactly blend in with muggles, being three times the size of an average man.
Hogwarts itself was amazing. I was already over the moon for not having to live with my family anymore (my childhood wasn't what you’d call pleasant), but the school blew me away. At first I was nervous as hell, but the school became my home as soon as I started to trust that I was there to stay.
As a kid I used to love books about dragons, before I knew about our world, but I guess it would take some of the magic out of it (hah), reading stories about creatures you know. I've never thought about it like that. It boggles my mind that to little witches and wizards books about dragons could be something like books about polar bears are for muggle kids. It’s exotic, sure, but it's hardly as cool.
I really appreciate you writing so openly about how you came to live in the muggle world. That’s not something just anybody would admit to, having held anti-muggle sentiments. So many wizards and witches think themselves superior to muggles, and it's not just purebloods either. They won't say it out loud of course, but for all their superficially progressive opinions they'd not be caught dead having an actual conversation with a muggle. That you'd do that, and allow it to challenge the beliefs you grew up with for the sake of your grandson – I'm impressed.
Let me get this straight, though: you considered muggles worthless and yet you secretly watched muggle films with a friend of yours? That’s priceless. (And it's downright criminal that you haven't seen the Lord of the Rings, but I'm looking forwards to sharing them with you.)
It’s interesting to read about how you came to familiarise yourself to the muggle world. I don’t often realise just how much of my knowledge about muggles I take for granted. Many things don’t feel all that weird to me, even though it's been a long time since I lived amongst muggles. You're probably much better informed than I am nowadays. There must be so much technology that I'd be hopeless with, I barely know how to use the DVD player my coworker set up for me. She tells me I should get a proper muggle computer, but I'm happy as long as I can get on muggle Internet with my wizarding model. WizNet is so not the same thing, no matter how much they try to advertise it: muggles have so much more available on their Internet... I mean, gay porn - enough said?
What you write about muggles being more tolerant towards homosexuality, my coworker says the same. That hasn't been my experience. There used to be a guy living on our street when I was a kid, unmarried, and my aunt was always gossiping about men leaving his place. Then again, she hated anything even slightly different from normal, so it's no surprise really that her views wouldn't be the most representative. It must be freeing to be surrounded with people who don’t think being gay is something to be ashamed of. I’m lucky to have that acceptance from my friends. My kids don’t seem to care one way or the other either. Maybe it’s different for the younger generation, I hope so. I remember when I was in school, everybody knew that Dumbledore was gay but nobody ever talked openly about it.
The friend of mine who’s in politics says that things won’t change for sexual minorities in wizarding world until some of us are out. She probably has a point, but the whole idea seems pretty damn overwhelming. I hate the idea of having my orientation as something for everybody to offer their unwanted opinions on, but a big part of me also hates the hiding. In that sense I can relate to your desire to disturb the silence. I particularly hate the idea of being in a relationship with a wizard and having to treat him like some dirty little secret. Realistically, I probably couldn't keep it from the public for very long even if I tried. How do you feel about the prospect?
You asked me about why I don't want to be in politics – sounds like the things that attract you to it are pretty much what I hate about it. If it's a game, I never learned the rules. The Ministry has often tried to get me as their puppet, to support whatever agenda they have at a given time. S ometimes I've been tempted to offer an opinion when it's been something I really care about. But there wouldn't be an end to it if I gave in. And really, there's no reason why my opinion should be any more important than anybody else's - it's not like I'm an expert on much besides my work.
I found what you wrote about cultural views on marriage really helpful, thank you. Some I’ve gathered, about how divorce is viewed, but I didn't know the historical background. If Binns covered that in History of Magic I must've been asleep at the time. Not uncommon in his classes, really. Also I appreciate you writing so openly about your divorce. Sounds like you both handled it really maturely. I would love to be able to say the same about me and my ex, but we’re barely speaking nowadays, let alone friends. Most of that is on me, but my marriage was also pretty different from yours. We did marry for love, and my sexual orientation was the primary reason for our divorce.
It wasn’t pretty, I'm not proud of how it all went down. It starts with my best mate, whom I used to work with, going on parental leave roughly a year ago, and a new guy replacing him. This was a little after my youngest started Hogwarts, so it was just me and my wife living together. We'd talked about it during the previous summer – about what it would mean when it was just us again and no more kids at home. Basically, both of us were expecting our sex life to pick up. It had been quiet for a long time, I hadn't really been interested in sex but I'd chalked it up to the stress of work and raising kids.
But there was no change to my libido even after it was just the two of us, and that put a strain on our marriage. My ex felt unattractive, and I couldn't do anything. She was as beautiful as she'd always been, and I loved her – I just didn't want sex and had no idea why.
So things became harder at home and I started working more, and hanging out with my new coworker, who was a really nice guy. It all seems so clear in hindsight, but at the time I was oblivious: I honestly didn't think there was anything besides the excitement of making a new friend to how much I was thinking about him, how happy I was always to see him. Not until one time our after-work drinks had turned into several, he was laughing at something I'd said, and the next thing I know I'm leaning closer and kissing him and he's kissing me back and his body is hard against mine and it all just feels so fucking right.
I never would've thought of myself as somebody who cheats but at the time I didn't care I was married. I would've gone with him anywhere and let him do anything he wanted to me. He, however, turned out to be much straighter than me, because his next thoughts were more along the lines of 'oh fuck' and less along the lines of 'oh fuck me'. Which I guess is for the best, all things considered. Anyway, he asked for a transfer to another division after a couple of awkward days at work, and that's how I ended up with my current coworker.
I told my wife that same night, after I'd used a sobering charm. You can probably imagine how well that went over. The worst part is that she would've still wanted to try, even after that. Almost everybody in her family has gotten married young, and nobody's divorced. To me, there was no putting the lid back on, no way I'd stay married to her after realising I'm gay, that would never have made me happy. Nor would it have worked for her, no matter what she said, that just wasn't what either of us signed up for. We almost ended up in court fighting it, but in the end she signed the papers voluntarily because she didn't want the publicity.
So, that was the end of the only relationship I've had so far – not really a great track record. But I genuinely had no idea that I could be gay. It seemed like such a distant and foreign thing, and I guess I had this idea of how it must feel like – that I'd just somehow know. There were some men I was really fascinated with ever since I was a kid, but I never realised it was anything sexual, and I was happy enough to have sex with a woman all throughout my twenties and early thirties. But I guess it's not always that straightforward.
Can I ask how you figured out your sexuality? Since you wrote that your relationship with your wife wasn’t sexual, I'm guessing you already knew when you got together with her?
I felt rather embarrassed in the morning after I sent you that note about jealousy – not really something I needed to know immediately... What can I say, there was some slightly drunken and more than slightly tired judgement at play. Your answer surprised me a bit. I was mostly wanting to make sure you're not one of those people who has trouble with physical or emotional closeness with friends – I guess you put my mind to rest about that. Regarding me having sex with somebody, don't I wish. Not really a practical option for me unless I want everybody to find out about my orientation.
Seriously, though, I'd like to know if I've understood correctly. If I was having sex with somebody else, you'd find it a turn on to hear about it? I don't really know how to take that. I haven't really ever thought of being in a serious relationship with somebody who didn't care about who I slept with, that feels kind of weird to me. Also, I don't know if I'd be okay with that the other way around. Hope you don't take that the wrong way, right now we haven't even met and I don't think it's any of my business what you do, just, I'm not sure how I'd feel about getting into a relationship with somebody who'll still do whatever he wants with other people. Maybe that's hypocritical considering how my marriage ended, but that's how I feel, that I'd like to come first for somebody I'm with. Don't you?
(Your interpretation of Reservoir Dogs is interesting. Sad, too - if they weren't involved as you suggest, that would mean they never got their chance. Now I want to see it again, but I think I'll save it to watch with you, if I get the chance. Feels appropriate.
Can I ask... I'm getting the feeling that there's a more personal significance to you choosing to use the name Mr. White? The film is great, I agree, but somehow I just get the sense that it's maybe hitting home a bit harder for you than it does to me.)
Dear Mr. Orange,
I must say I have never met somebody quite like you. Many of your views are rather different from what I am used to; it is refreshing.
It must have been difficult to only discover your sexual orientation so late in life and in the manner you did (although, as an aside, I doubt your conclusion regarding your former co-worker: if he were secure in his heterosexuality, he would hardly have overreacted as badly to mere kissing). Not to say that coming to terms with my queerness was easy, despite the fact that it was clear to me from childhood. I acknowledged early on my lack of sexual attraction towards girls and planned never to act on my same-sex desires. It never was an option for me, not with the values I had adopted from my father and my peers alike. Yet it built anger in me, the extent of which I've only come to grasp at a later age. Letting go of most of those views has often been a challenge, but it has lifted a weight I was hardly aware of.
You asked after my thoughts about the potential of our relationship becoming known to the wizarding public at some point. In spite of what I may have written earlier about wishing to shock particular acquaintances of mine, in truth I am somewhat hesitant because of the adverse consequences it would likely have on my position in the Ministry. The press is not an issue, for I have connections that ensure that should a reporter find out, nothing would be printed unless we wished otherwise. That said, I am willing to consider coming out, especially if you feel strongly about the matter.
What comes to family I absolutely agree with you about openness, and would not wish to keep our relationship secret. In fact, my former wife is already aware that I am in correspondence with you. That is in part because she is too intuitive for me to keep much from her, and in part because I had little wish to hide the connection I feel with you.
You need not feel embarrassed about the late hour you sent the note about jealousy: Ms. Lovegood's owl knows not to disturb me unless I am already awake, so please feel free to write to me whenever you desire. I regret if my response came across as flippant. It was written quickly, but I feel I could have given more consideration to the cultural differences between our respective relationship paradigms, especially since I had gathered an idea about those differences already. Please allow me to elaborate.
From what you wrote about the dissolution of your marriage, I take it that exclusivity was a given to the both of you. Perhaps I am correct that this is generally the standard amongst the people close to you?
While I know that monogamy has become a common enough arrangement, I am more familiar with a relationship model that has no such expectation. You may be unaware that in pureblood marriage contracts there are two ways in which fidelity is traditionally approached. Either there is no expectation of exclusivity, as long as bloodlines are not mixed, or restrictions are only placed on the wife but not the husband. The latter is a practice I have always found distasteful. Most old families would nowadays agree with my view, but in my youth it was more common.
While I do not consider myself a particularly jealous person, I am no stranger to possessive urges. However, perhaps due to my aversion to the gendered double-standards amongst purebloods, I have always seen acting on those urges as a weakness I have no desire to indulge in. To me personally the idea of having such control over my lover's body is repellent.
Non-exclusivity is also the norm amongst the majority of my muggle friends and acquaintances: I know several couples in open relationships – although I am given to understand that in most muggle relationships, especially heterosexual ones, that is not the case.
Perhaps this helps to shed light on why I do not expect fidelity. I have no wish to restrict you, particularly since it sounds like you have had few opportunities to explore so far.
While that is the case, I consider the other side of the equation to be a separate issue entirely, since it is based on what you are comfortable with. While non-exclusivity would be my preferable arrangement, it is not necessarily something I insist upon.
You asked me if I do not wish to come first to my partner. I have no concerns on that front. From what I've come to know of your character, you hardly seem like a man who would prioritise casual sexual partners over somebody you are in a committed relationship with. I would certainly never do so, and will always put family first.
(There is indeed much that comes painfully close in Reservoir Dogs. You are perceptive to notice, for I doubt my personal investment has been obvious from what I've written. I should not be too surprised; it seems that I have an unfortunate type. I do not truly mind, however – I must admit I find intuition rather attractive.
Reservoir Dogs reminds me of a friend I have mentioned in passing. I saw the film with him during a comparatively carefree period in our lives. And then, several years later going through his possessions after his death, I watched it once more crying tears of pain and loss and anger.
I loved him, a part of me likely always will. I was always very protective of him, yet in the end I failed to keep him safe. In part it was due to secrets he kept from me, which makes it no better. He walked into his death knowingly, which is a choice I have never forgiven him, no matter the reasons.)
The dark-violet spell forced me to crouch low and then roll out of the way as it shattered two wooden chairs that had been behind me. My stunner hit the opposite wall with a force that made plaster crumble onto the floor as the grey-robed witch ducked. Her hood was down, revealing short white hair and lined features, but her speed showed no signs of age and her power was palpable in the air, way too much. If I hadn't already taken a curse that had almost managed to cut through my shield, I might have doubted my senses. As it was, I gathered all my raw power against her rising tide. It felt like two storms coming together.
“Need help?” Diane yelled at me, still duelling one of the younger wizards that had sprung on us as soon as we'd tripped the wards.
“What tipped you off?” If there'd been any indication of the grey witch's power in advance, we would've called backup for the job, but we'd had no time for that after realising what we were up against.
I ducked once more to avoid her next attack, unwilling to spend any more strength than necessary. My heart was pumping fast, but the adrenaline only made me more clear-headed. Sometimes on days filled with paperwork and departmental meetings I wondered why I'd become an Auror, but this part of my job always reminded me. The fight made me feel alive like nothing else.
The grey witch had backed up to the wall, where she pulled some sort of a manual lever to disappear in a sudden breach. I swore, too occupied with keeping my power held against hers to prevent it. However, Diane laughed breathlessly as her opponent was finally encased in ropes, and she twirled towards me.
“Backup first,” I said, and she sent her patronus before reaching her magic towards mine. Her eyes widened to feel the weight of the witch's power, relentless even against our combined strength.
“That can't be all hers,” she said. “Nobody in Britain can match you and my power isn't off the charts but I can hold my own.”
“Yeah.” She was only confirming my suspicions. The only questions was whether the grey witch was being fed the power willingly or was taking it by force. Diane's eyes met mine, determined. The Auror Protocol told us to wait for backup, but the witch's power was still increasing, and whoever the people she was getting it from, there would soon be nothing but empty shells left of them.
The breach in the wall was tight enough that we had to squeeze through one by one, and I recognised my mistake immediately as an inhumanely strong body fell on me.
“Fuck.” Not the most professional or informative, but if something was worth cursing, it was wrestling a vampire to the ground while trying to preserve magic, and there was no way Diane could miss it anyway, given that there were at least four more of them actively feeding. That at least explained the power.
The vampire's claws sent pain searing through my arm and the grip was too strong to shake off, but a wooden desk had broken my fall, and I twisted for the blade in my boot with my other hand. The angle was awkward as hell, but I managed a shallow cut on the vampire's leg. He screeched, likely more in surprise than pain, but the momentary distraction was enough to sink the blade deep into his wrist. The wound was hardly enough to kill him, especially with the blood-strength thrumming under his skin, but as soon as he released me I shot up and towards Diane. She grabbed my wrist, disregarding the blood that had dripped from the cuts on my forearm. Normally the skin contact wouldn't have been necessary for combining power, not with the amount of practice that each Auror pair put into working together seamlessly, but it was safer and we couldn't take any chances here.
Two of the feeding vampires had dropped their victims – or lovers, whichever the humans were: right now the only important thing was that they were high enough to present no threat – and had lunged forwards at their brother's screech, but they were too late. I let the power blast outwards. It was inelegant and draining but effective, knocking them backwards despite the extra strength. The grey witch screamed as her vampires fell, but she had not been idle. She remained standing, surrounded by indigo runes that clearly absorbed the blast.
Diane backed up for the breach, and I followed her reluctantly. We were both dangerously weakened, and the grey witch would be a serious threat even with the drained power having escaped her grasp with the vampires out of the picture.
However, the expected attack never came. Instead, the vampires were enveloped with the same indigo glow, as were the three chests along the back wall. The lurching sensation of the apparation wards disappearing was the only warning before they disappeared with a crack, leaving behind only the humans the vampires had been feeding on.
“Well, that's just perfect,” Diane said.
There was another crack as four Aurors apparated straight into the room, battle-ready and looking slightly disappointed with the underwhelming scene.
“Perfect, indeed,” I answered, sending my patronus for medical backup. From the way they'd been left behind, it was more likely the humans hadn't been there voluntarily, but even if they had been, they'd need to be checked out.
The other Aurors would really have been more helpful earlier, but at least they were taking care of the clean up, allowing the battle-fatigue to settle in. I crouched down, hands on my knees, while Diane leaned against the wall catching her breath.
“So,” she said after a while, her voice wry. “Should we watch Twilight tonight?”
I laughed as I used the robes to wipe the blood off my arm.
Dear Mr. White,
From what you write, it sounds like there isn't a very good way to find out you're gay. Some things probably were easier for you without the surprise factor, but I can't imagine having to consciously repress what you want for decades. I'm glad to hear you've felt that things have gotten lighter, though.
Oh, and maybe you're right about my ex-colleague. Makes my ego feel better for some strange reason.
No offence to whatever media connections you have, but you really wouldn't be able to keep it quiet if a reporter got wind that I was dating a man. Just, trust me. Unless of course you're the editor of Daily Prophet or something. Dear Merlin, please tell me you're not the editor of Daily Prophet...
You're right that coming out probably wouldn't be good if you're in politics. My own job shouldn't be much of a problem if it comes to that: they need me too much, and my boss is a pragmatic man above all else. It's likely that I'll be outed at some point whether I want that or not, but right now I'd like to avoid it. I'm not eager for the publicity.
As I mentioned before, I've never thought about having an open relationship before. I've got to say though, a lot of what you say really makes sense to me.
When I was married, I didn't feel the need for jealousy because I trusted my ex and felt secure that she wanted to be with me. There were a few times she had a crush on somebody else, but she always told me about it, and it was clear to both of us she'd never act on it. The only time I felt a little apprehensive was when she became attracted to a close friend of hers, but even then I didn't want her to act any differently with him. She felt it would have been understandable if I wanted them to see each other less for a while, but it would have felt wrong to me – like I was overstepping, getting involved in something hers that had nothing to do with me. So I think I know where you're coming from when you say you wouldn't want to restrict or control me, even though I wouldn't think that way about monogamy.
It's silly, really, but a part of me even feels a little relieved. It's not like I'm even doing much anything with my freedom now, so it wouldn't be a loss. But maybe that's a part of it... I don't really feel at all ready to, I don't know, go out to muggle bars and hit on men, but that doesn't mean I would exactly be uninterested if the option presented itself. I mean, there's not a lot of good looking men around – something I can't seem to stop noticing now that I've properly started to. Anyway, I guess it's nice to know that commitment doesn't have to mean closing that door for good.
That said, I'm not sure how I'd feel about you doing the same. Right now thinking about it doesn't make me jealous, more just curious really, but I still think it might be different later or if it felt more concrete. And I wouldn't feel right doing something without giving you the same freedom.
In any case, I guess I'd like to try and see.
Work has kept me crazy busy the last couple of days, good but tiring, I'm glad to finally be able to send this. Not only am I looking forward to hearing from you, but the silent treatment I'm getting at home is getting pretty ridiculous. I think my owl is becoming rather infatuated with the bird from the dating service – the tiny brown one, maybe you've met her? Normally Pedro is territorial and honestly pretty rude to any other owls that come around, but when she showed up with your last letter he was practically cooing. Ironically enough, the interest doesn't seem to be reciprocated – Lovegood's Good Loving must not consider the possibility of negative emotional side-effects of the service for owls... I almost feel guilty, except that my sympathy is limited after spending the last few days with a sulking bird. So I'm hoping he'll have better luck flirting this time and we'll have peace in the family again.
So far you're worth it, regardless.
(Sorry to hear about your friend. I'm a bit mortified that I managed to poke into something that personal – but thank you for telling me. Sounds like he was important to you.
I've lost people, too. In some ways I feel it is more difficult not being able to protect whom you love, to be the one left behind. Maybe that's a selfish thought, too, I don't know. All I know is that I never want to go through that again.)
In which we'll finally earn the rating.
“Stop laughing at me. As if you have a leg to stand on.”
Pedro hooted gleefully from the back of the armchair he was perched on, seemingly unbothered by my point about his fumbling romance with Luna's owl. I decided to ignore him. My fingers, altogether without my consent, fiddled with the new mobile in my pocket.
Forty more minutes.
I'd already changed from my Auror robes and eaten dinner, and time seemed to crawl. Technically, I could have phoned Mr. White myself. The mobile had arrived in a package early this morning with his number saved on it, and a note that promised a call at 9pm. It also warned me not to apparate with it – apparently Mr. White had managed to break several muggle mobiles that way.
The idea of calling each other had come up recently, because it had been difficult to find time for letters in the last couple of weeks. The infrequent contact had turned out to be a surprisingly difficult adjustment after an injury that had forced me into bedrest for eight days, during which we'd gotten into a habit of sending several letters and smaller notes each day. I'd greatly enjoyed the contact, the comfortable ease of it. But afterwards work had been hectic and more emotionally draining than usual: there had been a pyromaniac targeting werewolves and their families, something that always got to me because of the prejudice Teddy had faced growing up simply for being Lupin's son. I'd put in long hours, and while Mr. White had assured me that he didn't mind, I had minded. There hadn't been anything I could do about it, but it had bothered me that I couldn't mention being an Auror or talk about Teddy for anonymity's sake, and therefore couldn't go into why I was having a hard time.
There wasn't any way to make firecalls anonymously, so I'd given up the idea. But now there was the mobile. It made me nervous and excited in equal measures.
Just about to glance at the clock again, I was distracted by a crack of apparation in the hallway, followed by fast-paced footsteps towards the kitchen.
“In here.” There was no answer, only sounds of cupboard doors being opened and closed. I exchanged a puzzled look with Pedro and headed to the kitchen, where I found Diane looking through my fridge. “Too hungry to say hello?”
“How is it possible that you have no booze in this house?” Her voice was muffled, but my grin faltered when she closed the fridge door and turned towards me. Her eyes were red like she had been crying.
“Hey, what's going on? You okay?”
She shrugged. “Alcohol?”
“Yeah, I've got some Firewhiskey and Brandy and stuff in the living room minibar-- wait, hold on.” Diane had made her way to the bookcase that held the bottles, but I managed to take her hand when she was reaching for one. “Talk to me?”
“I-- I can't-- I'm just so tired of this shit, so fucking exhausted.”
“Give me an hour? Afterwards you can have at least half of the Firewhiskey, and when you're hungover at work tomorrow I'll tell them I made you do it. Under Imperius.”
That made her huff a laugh. “I bet some of the idiots-in-training would even believe that when the rumour spread.”
“Making headlines, uncovered evidence that Harry Potter is Secretly Dark.” Gently I pulled towards the couch. “Please?”
“Yeah, okay,” Diane relented and followed me to sit down. She fiddled with her scarf, staring at her hands. Pedro flew over and sat next to her, pecking her softly on the thigh, and Diane pet him on the head absently. Smart owl. “I don't know if I ever should have moved back to Britain.”
My heart lurched. “My life would be a lot more empty if you'd stayed in Amsterdam.”
“Oh I know,” she said. “You know it is your fault I'm stuck here. Don't know how you got on before me.”
“Thanks,” I said, sarcastically. I knew as well as she did that we'd both be way worse off without each other.
There had only been a couple of times that I'd seen Diane like this. On the first time we'd only been working together for a month, were still getting to know each other. I'd gone over to her place when she hadn't showed up for a pub outing, and found her drunk out of her mind, sobbing incoherently. She hadn't made much sense that night, but had thanked me the next morning and told me that she sometimes had problems with her drinking when things got hard. We'd talked about it and I'd made her promise to come to my place instead when she felt the urge to drink.
The second time had been a few months later when I'd had a breakdown, telling her about my homosexuality. At the time, I hadn't known much about her background, but seeing as she'd grown up in a pureblood household, I'd been afraid that she might not want to work with me anymore. She'd called me an idiot, affectionately, and then come out herself about being transgender – having been born and raised as a boy – as well as a bisexual-leaning-towards-lesbian. We'd ended up talking late into the night, both of us crying at some point or another, but afterwards there hadn't really been any need for secrets between us.
Diane was being quiet and I decided to prod carefully. “You were going to go shopping today?”
“Yeah. Should've just gone straight to Oxford Street, or Westfield, somewhere muggle, but I wanted new robes for that stupid Christmas Party we've got coming up at work even though the holidays are still over a month away, so I went to Diagon Alley. I ran into my parents.”
“I should've never gone to visit them after I moved back here, they wouldn't even recognise me if I hadn't, I look so different after the hormones and facial operations-- I mean, it's not like they didn't know, all my childhood-- they caught me wearing my sister's clothes after she'd gone to Hogwarts and all-- Father was never so bad, I mean Kurt, my technically-stepdad, but Mother--”
“I just thought, stupidly, if I went-- if she saw me, when I had my life together like she wanted--” Diane laughed humourlessly. “As if it would ever be what she wanted, not if I wasn't acting suitably manly with a nice little trophy wife and a kid they could pass as a pureblood like they tried to do with me even though everybody and their dog knew that she cheated on Father with a muggle--”
“It's like there's these rules for her and different ones for everybody else. If she saw somebody yelling in the street like she did to me today, she'd get it published in the fucking Daily Prophet...”
A ringing sound startled us both, possibly at a good moment since I was just about to describe Diane's mother with some pretty damn uncomplimentary terms. Right, Mr. White.
“Wow, somebody's finally joined the modern age,” Diane said as I dug the mobile out of my pocket. I was glad to see her smile with some genuine amusement. “I'm so proud. Need some help? It's that large green button on the screen that has a picture of a phone.”
“Fuck off, I know that.” I pointed a finger at her. “I'll just be two minutes. Don't start drinking.”
“Fine, but that two minutes is coming out of your hour.”
“You're really determined to get alcohol poisoning,” I said over my shoulder before answering the call, leaning against the kitchen counter. “Hello?”
“Good evening. Mr. Orange, I presume?”
“Hi, yeah, that's me. And you're Mr. White? I mean, obviously. Otherwise this might be pretty awkward.” Merlin, Mr. White had a nice voice. Really nice. And I was babbling like a giddy schoolboy. Why did I feel so nervous?
“Thankfully, I am.”
“Listen, I'm really sorry about this, but I need to call you back... It might be late, or maybe tomorrow's better.”
There was a beat of silence. “Is everything alright? You sound concerned.”
“It's that obvious? Yeah, I'm a bit worried for my friend, I don't think she'd doing too well. Nothing too bad, just family stuff.”
“Ah. Say no more.”
“I really am sorry about this. I've been waiting to hear your voice all day. And that was before I knew how hot it is.”
Mr. White chuckled, low and soft, and that was even worse. Or better. Merlin. “I shall let you get back to it. And I was planning to keep writing until late into the night, so please feel free to phone me whenever you are ready to do so. Unless you would prefer tomorrow.”
“No! No, tonight's good, I definitely prefer tonight. Thanks.”
“It's my very great pleasure.”
“...Um, right.” I was feeling suddenly unaccountably flustered. “Talk to you later, then. Bye.”
I hung up and headed back to the living room, where Diane was sitting on the couch, next to a disgruntled looking Pedro, hugging her knees. Her heels were lying on the floor, abandoned, and she looked like she'd cried some more, but she still raised a teasing eyebrow at me. “So, how's boyfriend? Sending you gifts, I see, not like you'd even know where to buy an iPhone. Kind, altruistic gifts.”
“He's fine. How are you?”
“Could do with a distraction, to be honest.”
“Right, okay. But that's not coming out of my hour.”
Diane sighed, leaning her head back against the couch. “Make a deal? If I let you pour, can I start drinking now?”
“You sure?” I asked but walked to the bottles and looked through them assessingly. After all, it was for her benefit that I was doing this, and I trusted her judgement. And she had come over instead of drinking on her own, which she'd said was the worst for her. “Maybe wine?”
“Yeah, red.” She waited with eyes closed until I handed her a glass, then took a large gulp. “Okay, distract me.”
“Fine.” I settled on the couch next to her, my feet tangled with hers. Pedro flew over to sit between us and glared at me until I petted him on the head. He was sometimes more like a cat than a bird, but I was just glad he wasn't glaring at Diane. “Not much new to tell you. I haven't had a lot of time to write to him lately.”
“When did you start talking? Also, iPhone 10 is the newest model on the market, and you suck with muggle technology. You sure you'll know how to use it, old man?"
“I think I can just about manage.” I decided not to mention that the mobile had come with a instructions leaflet Mr. White had printed off the Internet, and with several apps already installed. “He sent it to me this morning, this would've been our first call.”
“Didn't have to cancel on my account.”
“Don't be an idiot,” I said, nudging her feet. She smiled just a little bit. “He has a really nice voice.”
“Mmhm. Just how nice?” Diane asked suggestively.
“That nice,” I said, just to make her laugh. It was almost true, except that at forty it took a bit more than a nice voice for those kind of reactions.
“Well played, Mr. White, well played.”
I topped off her glass, then nudged her with my toes again. “Your turn.”
“I did get the robes at least,” Diane shrugged. “I was just coming out of Madam Malkin's when Mother spotted me from across the street. She started calling me by my old name, I didn't even realise somebody was talking to me before she grabbed my arm, it's been so long since anybody's called me Daniel. I-- I just kind of froze, seeing her there. She went on and on, Father was behind her, he was trying to calm her down, saying that people were looking, which is usually what works on her, but-- and I just stood there, God I hate that.”
Diane gestured angrily while talking. “How does she even do that? It's not like I freeze in any other situation, even at work, but I didn't even say anything. It was only when Father pried her fingers off me that I-- he's sorry for me, I think, he doesn't understand the way I live and he misgenders me, but at least he still cares about me. It's not like that makes any difference, though, he's still not in my life anymore, and why would he be, it's not like I'm even his, not really--”
Diane was hugging her knees again, having finished her glass. There were tears on her face, she was biting her lip. I moved closer carefully, looked at her questioningly and waited for her nod before wrapping my arm around her shoulders. She didn't always want to be touched, not when she was feeling bad, same as Lily and Jamie. Al was more like me, seeking out that physical comfort more easily. Diane leaned into the contact, continued in a calmer voice, less angry and more resigned.
“Mother was threatening to disown me, said she couldn't live with having the shame in the family anymore. I don't know if she will, all the pureblood families whose family tree links with ours would notice it on their tapestries and people would talk. Right now nobody knows, the tree still shows Daniel Rowle, and as far as my parents' social circles are concerned, their son is living abroad.”
“I think Father will talk her out of it. He wants me to stay in the family, even if it's all kind of a sham. And my sister would probably cut ties with them if Mother did that. She was really angry at them when I moved away, she knew we'd fought about something even though not the details. I miss her so much... I wish I had the courage to see her but if she's-- if she's disgusted by me like they are-- I couldn't take it.”
My chest ached. I wanted to reassure her that it wouldn't happen, but the truth was that I had no idea how Diane's sister would react, I didn't even know her. A part of me wanted to believe that if she really loved Diane, she'd accept her for who she was, but it wasn't like I was all that willing to test that belief myself. None of the Weasleys knew about my sexuality, except for Ron and Ginny, and Ginny's reluctance to tell them was only half the reason. After all, they were my family, too, or had been.
“Yes, please.” Diane held out her glass. “Can we watch something?”
“Yeah, of course. Any wishes?”
“Anything but Lord of the Rings.”
“Excellent. Hobbit it is.”
“Hi, it's Mr. Orange. I didn't wake you, did I?”
“Not at all. But it wouldn't matter, I did invite you to call, after all.”
“Yeah. Sorry it's so late.” Almost two in the morning. I'd migrated to the bed, sleep was kind of tempting, but not as tempting as Mr. White.
“No need to apologise. I hope your friend is well.”
“Yeah, she's better. A bit drunk, though, as am I, we had almost two bottles of wine.”
“Hm. Perhaps I should have a glass, now that I am no longer working.”
“Maybe, to catch up. Hold on-- yeah, I'll let you out. No, I don't have a letter for you today. I know, I'm a terrible person... Sorry, Mr. White. Pedro's not so happy with our phone plan, but he's a grumpy bastard so it's not unusual.”
Mr. White chuckled, a warm sound that definitely did travel somewhere near my gut. “So I have gathered. He is always very well behaved towards me when delivering a letter, but Nathan is too enthusiastic to his liking. It is fortunate that Pedro can take solace on higher surfaces.”
“Couldn't Nathan reach him almost anywhere, though, if he wanted to?”
“Most likely, but he knows not to attempt climbing furniture in my presence.”
The mental image of a huge dog standing on a dining table made me laugh. “That's probably for the best. Anyway, how was your day?”
“Mostly writing. My editor sends me emails nearly every day now. She wants this draft by Sunday so that we'll have time for final adjustments and will be able to publish by Christmas. Thankfully my part will be done in a few weeks, so I shall have time to find gifts and prepare.”
“Oh, don't even talk about Christmas. I did finally have that discussion with my ex yesterday. And by discussion I mean argument... She did agree, though, that the kids can stay with me from Boxing Day onwards if they want to.”
“I'm pleased to hear that. I know you weren't looking forward to negotiating the holidays.”
“Yeah, it's like we can't even talk like real people anymore. She's not even angry, more just closed off completely. But she does want to be fair to the kids at least. I guess that's still the hardest part of Christmas preparations out of the way. I still need to make sure I can get time off work, and see if I can arrange my son's friend to visit us. Sorry, don't mean to dump my stress on you. Will you be spending Christmas with your family?”
“Yes. I am rather fortunate, ever since my son married, the women of the family have expressly forbidden men from participating in arrangements. My son still meddles, but I am more than happy to leave it in their capable hands. In return I make sure to bring the best liqueurs and adhere to the wish lists.”
“Oh, yes. Not from my former wife, she trusts my tastes by this point, but my son's family seemingly do not. They always list their wishes, in excruciating and rather expensive detail.” Mr. White chuckled. “Not that that would be necessary, I am rather aware of my son's expensive tastes seeing as I am at fault for them, having spoiled him rotten. I would take offence for the lack of trust in my gift-giving abilities, but I must admit it makes holiday preparations significantly easier.”
“Fair enough,” I said, grinning. “My daughter always has a list of books she wants, but that isn't very different from any other time of the year. My sons are more likely to change their minds about a hundred times before the holiday actually rolls around, so it's no good buying anything until right before. Or well, usually it's been like that. It's a bit different this year.”
“Because of the divorce?”
“Yeah, that too, but, I don't know. It's more than that with my oldest, I think. I mentioned I was asked to visit Hogwarts again earlier this week, didn't I?”
“Yes, I recall. More problems?”
“Nothing really bad. They did kind of threaten suspension last time, and that seems to have made him behave himself. But the headmistress is worried, and so is his Head of House. They think he's isolated, and I can see that, he's not talking to the kids who used to be his friends. But he seemed mostly alright when I visited, I even got some full sentences out of him while we walked on the grounds. Anything personal, though, and he'll clam right up. I guess that's how it is with teenagers... Any words of wisdom?”
“Dear Lord, no,” Mr. White said vehemently, making me laugh. “Although I offer my condolences.”
“You sound rather tired.”
“What tipped you off, the yawning? Sorry. We can hang up if you want to go to bed. I know Nathan will wake you in what, four hours from now? I'm starting work at nine, so it's not that bad.”
“No need on my account. I can always take him for a walk before going to bed. And I must admit that I would greatly enjoy talking some more.”
Mr. White's voice was doing things to me. Not helped by the wine. It would be for the best to try to sleep, I knew that much. Diane was already crashed on my couch, with my luck I'd have a worse hangover than she did tomorrow, she really was offensively young. Also, in all honesty I did kind of need my eight hours a night, and it was already too late for that.
Still. “Just a little bit longer.” And didn't that come out flirtatious.
“Good,” Mr. White practically purred.
“Um.” Yeah, wine didn't make me any less of an idiot with Mr. White and his too-sexy voice. “So, what would you like to talk about?”
“How about muggle technology?”
That was a bit... disappointing. “Er, okay.”
“I really quite enjoy it.”
“Yeah, I do too, I guess.”
“However, I suspect I have neglected to take full advantage of it.”
“For instance, I have never thought to have phone sex.”
“...right.” My voice came out absolutely embarrassingly strained, but once my brain recovered from the surprise, it was enthusiastically on board. As were other parts of me. “Maybe we should do something about that?”
“What a brilliant suggestion.”
There was a smile in Mr. White's voice, I could hear it, and it made me smile, too. The thought of phone sex was a bit intimidating, but I was reminded that while we'd never met, I was talking to a man I'd been writing to for the past month. We'd talked and flirted and shared stuff about our lives. And I liked him.
Besides, Gryffindor honour needed defending. “You know, there is this man I've thought about a lot recently, when I've been lying on my bed, just like I am right now. Usually it's led to me touching myself.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Mr. White, which made me feel pretty fucking good about myself. His voice dropped lower. “How intriguing. Why don't you tell me more?”
“Well. He's intelligent and mature, and gives these really sincere compliments that I really don't know how to receive. He's strong, and cares about things, cares about his family. I find that attractive. I like to imagine him touching me, taking care of me.”
It was a bit mortifying how vulnerable it felt to say these things, but at the same time it was all true. I wasn't as good at expressing myself in writing as Mr. White was, didn't know how to say it in letters like he seemed to be able to. And I did want him to know.
Mr. White was silent for a beat before responding. “Thank you. And please, do go on.”
Yeah okay. “It's kind of a shame that I don't know what he looks like. But it's maybe more of a shame that I didn't know what he sounded like. Could've gotten me off like that. Low, a bit raspy... masculine. Even though it's kind of posh, it's seriously hot.”
Mr. White laughed. “Kind of posh, you don't say?”
“Okay, very posh. But that laugh as well. I can't wait to see that laugh in person. I bet it looks fucking gorgeous.”
“Hmm. And what would you like him to do to you, when he's touching you and taking care of you?”
There were so many answers to that question, but really only one of them was the full truth. My cock had been half hard ever since Mr. White had mentioned phone sex, but I could feel it harden, feel myself flushing at the thought. “Anything he wants.”
“Fuck,” Mr. White growled. “Yes. There's so much I want to do to you, my dear, you cannot imagine. I want to touch you everywhere, give you every sensation. I want to hear how pleasure sounds on your lips. I want to hear how you sound in pain, I want to cause that pain, and then hold you and kiss you and soothe it away.”
“Oh yes. Beg for it.”
“Please. I want you to hurt me. I haven't told you that, have I? But I think about it, a lot. Please, give me, anything you've got.”
“That is good to hear. I was hoping... Well. Ms. Lovegood's matching system seems to work well, and I do have rather strong inclinations to that direction.”
Mr. White sounded relieved. I was just happy he'd brought it up. “Sounds like that's something we'll definitely be compatible in, believe me.”
“Oh, I like hearing that. I want to hurt you. I want to see you in pain. I want to make you bleed. I want to make you scream and cry and beg for more. I want to use your body, hold you down, be inside you and fuck you until you pass out.”
“Oh God.” Mr. White's words painted my exact fantasies – not even so much the content, though that was good, but that... that thing, that complete submission, giving my body for him to use, Merlin. “Please.”
“Do it now. Touch yourself. I want to hear you. I want to make you come.”
“Yes.” My hands didn't hesitate for a second, pulling my pants out of the way. My fingers wrapped around my cock and I tugged, moving my hand with tight pressure, the way I liked it when I was this aroused. It made me moan, not even embarrassed, far from embarrassment in fact, especially since I could hear similar arousal in Mr. White's voice.
“Oh, good boy. I can hear you touching yourself. Make noise for me, do not hold back.”
“Ohh, I'm not, I swear, fuck feels so good--”
“Put the mobile on the bed next to you. I want you to use your other hand on your balls, rub them. Do it gently at first and then rougher, too rough.”
“Oh fuck, that feels weird.”
“Good. Do it harder. You had better practice. When I have you, you will be lying on the floor with your legs spread and I'll press my boot against your groin. Not too hard, of course, nothing that will permanently damage you,” Mr. White said, low and delicious. “It will simply be very, very painful.”
Oh, I could imagine. Even my own rough touch felt uncomfortable, but in a really good way – not something I would do on my own, but it was definitely working for me when I had Mr. White on the phone, ordering me. In that voice. Hell yeah, it was working. “Can I come? Please?”
“Oh yes, you may come. Let me hear it.”
I screwed my eyes shut and pumped my hand faster, focused on the pleasure gathering in my groin. And then I let go, allowed it to erupt, yelling out like I rarely did when I was on my own.
My breathing was kind of laboured, I'd probably be embarrassed but I was feeling way too good. “Thanks for that.”
“It was very much my pleasure.”
“Um, you mean..?”
Mr. White chuckled. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. This was not exactly planned; had I known, I would have abstained earlier in the shower.”
“I suppose I could use magic, but I assure you that I did enjoy myself immensely regardless.”
“Oh no, I mean, that's nice to hear but I wasn't doubting it anyway. Kink is like that, for me too, the enjoyment goes deeper than just physical reactions.”
“Yes. Although it is not merely that, but also the fact that I could share this with you.”
“...oh.” I could feel myself blushing. “Yeah, same for me. It's really nice to hear your voice. Letters are good and all, but I'd love to actually talk to you now that we can. Um. Would it be alright if I called you tomorrow evening? I'm going to the pub with my coworkers first, but it shouldn't be this late, and I don't usually drink more than one or two on pub nights, so I'll be more sober too.”
“I would like that very much. Not that I haven't also enjoyed inebriated Mr. Orange immensely.”
I laughed. “As you should. Okay, well, I should probably go. But I'll talk to you tomorrow?”
“I look forward to it. Goodnight, my dear.”
“Oh. That's... nice. Goodnight.”
I could hear Mr. White chuckle at my flustered reply before he rang off. Maybe it was ridiculous, but I already couldn't wait for tomorrow evening.
Sorry that updating took forever! I am shamelessly begging for forgiveness by bringing you porn. Is it working?
“How may I help Sir?”
“Whoa-- ah, hi, I mean, good afternoon,” I stammered, startled by the sudden appearance of an old, wrinkly house-elf in front of my face. “Could I speak with Astoria Malfoy, please?”
The house-elf looked supremely inconvenienced by my request. “And who may I say is calling?”
Okay, that was a first. “Sorry. It's Harry Potter.”
“One moment, Mr. Potter, Sir.” The elf apparated away, and I was left to stare at a portrait of an old, wrinkly witch, which was hanging right across the elevated fireplace. She looked down her nose at me, reminding me uncomfortably of Snape's portrait at Hogwarts. We waited in silence for something like five minutes, which gave me plenty of time to question my life choices. The things one did for one's children... But I'd put this off long enough as it was.
Finally there was a noise of door opening, and I felt a surge of relief. That relief was soon squished. “Potter.”
“Malfoy. Uh, I was trying to reach your wife? Al told me to call on the weekend.”
“Yes, I was informed by the myriad letters Scorpius sent us this week. However, my wife is otherwise occupied at the moment and seems to feel that as two mature adults, we should be able to hold a conversation long enough to make the arrangements.”
“Right,” I said, thrown. Malfoy and I occasionally ran into each other at the Ministry, but so far we'd expertly avoided any actual interaction with each other. I'd always talked the kids with his wife, but maybe dealing with Malfoy was inevitable, with Al and Scorpius such close friends. Well, I could keep it civil if he could. “Yeah, that's fine. I'm sure Scorpius has been asking about Christmas, as well. Al would definitely like to spend it with him.”
“I am aware. Mother agrees that Albus is welcome to join us at the Manor on Christmas Day. We shall adjust the wards to allow him access through the floo. If he would like to arrive on the Christmas Eve, he may of course have a guest room for his use.”
It finally clicked, that weird feeling of familiarity that had been bugging me as Malfoy talked. For a brief moment I had an irrational flash of panic that Mr. White was Malfoy, then I almost laughed out loud at my own paranoia. Malfoy was married, way too young, and way too uptight. He did have a really similar voice, although in the last couple of weeks I'd noticed that Mr. White had these incongruous turns of phrase mixed in his speech I suspected came from his interactions with muggles. Also, I couldn't in a million years imagine Malfoy laughing in that open, unrestrained way Mr. White had. Must have been all that inbreeding, making pureblood wizards sound exactly the same.
Malfoy was looking at me expectantly, like he thought I was a bit slow, and I forced my brain back into gear. “I don't think that's gonna work, my... uh, Al's mother wants him at the Burrow for Christmas Day, with the Weasley family.”
“How about Boxing Day? And would it be alright if I joined him with my other children, Jamie and Lily?” Because if there was something Ginny and I could agree upon, it was that we were not letting Al into Malfoy Manor unsupervised.
Malfoy's expression soured, as if he could tell what I was thinking. Maybe he could, but I didn't much care. “I am afraid I cannot make promises about that. We are due to spend Boxing Day at Aunt Andromeda's place.”
Oh, thank God. “That sounds good, we could join you there. I'll ask her about it, to make sure, but it should be fine.”
“I could have Mother ask her. It would be rather more polite than inviting yourself, you might agree?”
Malfoy's condescending tone made me bristle. “Andromeda is family, we used to visit them all the time when my godson still lived with her. I'll be fine asking her myself.”
“Whatever you say, Potter. Now, if that is all...”
“Yeah, fine. Talk to you later, Malfoy.”
“Undoubtedly. Good day.”
“Oh, hello Zula!” I greeted Luna's tiny owl, whose name I had finally found out last week when I'd thought to ask Mr. White. Apparently they had been introduced when he'd first contacted Lovegood's Good Loving – he'd had an actual interview with Luna, something that made me laugh when I imagined it. I'd never realised how thorough Luna's process was. I hadn't even needed to visit her office, but that had probably been because she already knew me. I felt some guilty relief about the preferential treatment: her and Rolf's latest obsession was raising invisible baby Nifflers and as much as I loved her, there was only so long I could pretend to be interested in staring at empty air.
Zula hooted softly and held out her leg, allowing me to untie the ribbon which was attached to an envelope instead of a roll of parchment this time. I had a suspicion I knew why. I tried to ignore the excited fluttering in my gut as I dug out a biscuit from a kitchen cupboard and handed it to Zula. She broke it in half and approached Pedro, who inched closer hesitantly, all shy glances and adoration. I left them to it and moved onto the living room couch with my letter.
To my delight, the envelope did indeed contain photographs, as Mr. White had hinted at earlier – wizarding ones. The first one was... weird. At first I could only see dark blue fabric, which was gradually pulled back to reveal a tiny sliver of lightly tanned skin, then a bit more skin, and just when I realised I was looking at Mr. White's ankle, the fabric was pulled back over it in a swift gesture. The picture made me laugh out loud – it was like the hems of a demure Victorian woman, or something.
“Whoa--” The first picture had not prepared me for the second one, at all. Technically, it wasn't showing anything too risky, but I was hit with a sudden surge of arousal anyway. Mr. White had a silvery-grey muggle shirt on, but it was unbuttoned, and one of his hands was trailing slowly across his chest and stomach, before disappearing lower, out of the frame. Which was one hell of a tease, but also left me staring at his half-bare torso, which... yeah, no complaints. He was in a really good shape, not quite as muscled as I was with the training I had to do for work, but on the other hand he had none of my belly either. He was lightly tanned all over his chest, where I could see, and had a thin spattering of dark chest hair and a dark trail leading down to... yeah. I was kind of hoping the last picture would be one taken from lower, but I suspected Mr. White had a bit too much style to send me a dick pic.
My suspicion was confirmed when I looked at the last photo, but I couldn't exactly feel disappointed. It wasn't a great picture quality-wise, badly framed and too dark to make out much of detail, only lit by a bonfire. Probably from a Beltane celebration, bonfires were a part of the Summer Solstice traditions. Mr. White was silhouetted against the fire which allowed me to make out some of his profile, a strong, angular jaw and a handsome if rather prominent nose. But the most striking thing was when he turned a bit more towards whoever was taking the picture and smiled – or more like grinned really, like he was either laughing or saying something, and wow. The other picture had been sexy, obviously, but this was... attractive, in a different way that made me feel tingly all over, and was honestly even more of a tease.
I stared at the photo for an embarrassingly long time, before setting it down. There was no letter with the pictures, only a small note.
Quid pro quo, my dear.
Well. I could do that.
“Is it just me or are your mum and dad practically buzzing?”
Iris reached for my face in response, letting out contagious peals of laughter when her tiny hands met stubble. She seemed to like the texture the most when I'd gone a few days without shaving, almost as much as she liked Ron's beard which was just long enough for her to pull.
“They're definitely acting weird,” Diane confirmed next to me. She grinned when Ron and Hermione got into yet another argument about whether he could keep on his Gryffindor apron to dinner. As if either one of us cared what Ron was wearing, and normally Hermione didn't care, either. Besides, she was the one who was wearing bunny slippers with her nicer robes.
“Okay, come eat, will you?” Ron said. “That smaller salad is for you, Davies, it's got no chicken in it.”
“Thanks,” Diane said. I sat next to her, after settling Iris into her chair. Iris frowned until I gave her a piece of soft pear from the salad, which she promptly threw at Ron.
“See, 'Mione? I told you I should wear the apron.”
Hermione raised a hand to her mouth to hide her laughter – she didn't believe in encouraging Iris, and normally was pretty good at the stern face. But she'd been giggly since I'd got here. And Ron had been all distracted, one minute telling a funny anecdote and the next hastening to the kitchen to get wine or juice or 'to check if the salad was boiling'.
I pointed my fork at them. “Okay, what's with you guys?”
Ron gave a theatrical sigh. “This is what we get for being friends with Aurors.”
“You're an Auror, genius.”
“Not anymore, mate.”
“Yeah, yeah, I've heard the bragging, three more years before you're even going to think about returning to work--”
“Actually, I'm not coming back.”
My fork stopped mid-way to my mouth. “Wha--”
“Wow!” Diane said. She was getting up and rounding the table, and then she and Hermione were hugging and making half-coherent noise, and finally it clicked for me.
Ron grinned wider. I didn't even make a conscious decision but I was up and moving and hugging him, then Hermione, then Diane who'd teared up a bit, and lastly Iris whom I lifted in my arms when she made a disgruntled noise at all the adults acting weird around her.
It took a while for the excitement to die down a bit, but finally we sat down to continue the dinner. Hermione and Ron had firecalled Hugo and Rose earlier, who had taken the news with enthusiasm but also gotten into an argument first about whether the baby would be a girl or a boy and then whether it would be a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. In the end Hermione had told them to knock it off, and they'd run off to tell Al and Lily that they'd have a cousin. It stung a bit to hear they hadn't said anything about Jamie, but he was oldest of the kids and had always been a bit more distant from his cousins than Al was, or even Lily despite her tendency to get lost in her daydreams. I'd never worried about it before, but nowadays I couldn't help that Jamie was on my mind a lot. I didn't want to dwell on it right now, though, so I refocused on Hermione.
“--and neither of us expected it so quickly. The Healer was surprised as well, she said it usually takes a lot more effort and sometimes medical help for most witches, but then when she realised I'm muggleborn she seemed to think that's the reason. I'm not sure, that seems like one of those superstitions about how different we are.”
“Oh no, it's true,” Diane said. “Most purebloods never succeed in having more than one child. Two is very rare, and is considered a blessing. Four, like you, is almost unheard of, even with magical help. That's why all the blood purists hate the Weasleys so much. The pickings is slim enough for them, and the one family whose bloodlines seem to be a bit healthier are blood traitors.”
Ron pulled Hermione closer and raised his glass. “And proud of it!”
We all clinked to that, including Iris. She held out a spoon instead of a glass, but it worked just as well to make a noise.
“Hold on, mate.” I had a sudden realisation. “You said you're not coming back to work. You mean, not at all?”
“Yeah,” Ron grinned. “I actually officially resigned yesterday.”
“Merlin. Um. Congratulations?”
“Thanks. It's good news, I'm happy.”
“Okay, I'm glad then.”
“How come you don't want to come back?” Diane asked. “Not that I'm not glad to keep Harry as a partner since he doesn't hit on me, and is generally not as dumb than most of the other Aurors.”
“Well, I'd probably get one of those dumb ones as my new partner, because you two are working even better together than me and Harry were,” Ron said. It wasn't quite true with how well Ron and I knew each other, but I could see the potential if I could keep working with Diane for years like I had with Ron. “Don't let it go to your head, Davies, I could still kick your ass. But I was getting more and more tired of the job, and it was starting to show. Plus, I want to be here for the kids as much as possible.”
“Have I told you that I think you're a really great dad?” Diane asked out of the blue.
Ron stared at her with wide eyes, his cheeks reddening. “Oh god, stop being nice Davies, we're not nearly drunk enough for that. It's throwing me off.”
“Deal with it, Weasley,” Diane retorted. “You can't just drop a bomb and tell me you're having a baby with your wonderful wife and then expect me not to get sappy.”
Hermione smiled at her fondly, while Ron cleared his throat. “Anyway. Yeah, I felt it was time to leave. And we don't really need the money, 'Mione makes enough for us to live on.”
“Also, being an Auror is a really risky job,” Hermione added. “We want to make sure our kids grow up with both parents.” She narrowed her eyes at me, seeming to sense my pang of guilt. Ginny had sometimes expressed a similar sentiment, especially after Lily had been born and she'd felt stretched thin. But I'd never felt like I could give up being an Auror, it was a part of me that I'd resent losing. “It's different for you, Harry. It's still risky for you to be an Auror, to put yourself in dangerous situations, but there are always going to be people after you because of who you are. At least you'll be prepared. And you need the constant training anyway, with your powers.”
“Right. Yeah, you're right. Sorry,” I said, a bit embarrassed. She was right. I couldn't afford to live like a civilian, not with who I was, but also because I did have to keep my magical power in check, and work helped with that in many ways.
Hermione was convinced that I was the most powerful wizard in Britain, and she was probably right. She usually was. The change hadn't been immediately noticeable after the Final Battle, which was fortunate because there would've been no way to keep it hidden. Of course there was still speculation, but it was only that – the public didn't know how powerful I was, and I avoided flaunting it.
Hermione's theory was that in killing Voldemort, I had not only gained a part of his power but also some from the marked Death Eaters who had begun to die afterwards, one by one. Healers had never found out the specific cause, not that they'd tried all that hard, but it was clear that the deaths had been caused by some kind of curse emanating from the Dark Mark. I'd seen one case myself after I'd finished my Auror training, one of the Death Eaters who'd been able to resist the curse the longest. His arm had reminded me of what Dumbledore's hand had looked like before his death, black and charred all over. As far as anybody knew, Lucius Malfoy was the only Death Eater who'd survived the curse – nobody knew how, but it had resulted in rumours that he hadn't had a Mark in the first place, which in turn had helped the Malfoy family regain much of the influence they'd had before the War. It was bullshit, of course, but trying to make the wizarding public see sense was a headache I wasn't interested in inflicting upon myself.
I'd decided long ago that the best way to keep my loved ones safe was to work as an Auror, and I'd kept to that decision even when I'd clashed with the Ministry or felt drained by the job. Because even though I enjoyed it, Ron was right – it was tiring, both emotionally and physically. I still felt that it was the best choice for me, but I was happy that Ron was able to leave it behind.
“Hey! Good timing, I was just gonna call you.”
“My self-control is to be applauded, then. You are inordinately distracting, my dear.”
Mr. White was a lot more comfortable and natural with using endearments than me, but there were still stupid butterflies in my stomach anytime he called me that. “You liked the photos, I take it?”
“No need to fish for compliments,” Mr. White teased.
“I wasn't!” I protested, making him laugh.
“Ah. My mistake. I was going to say that you are gorgeous and incredibly sexy.”
My cheeks were heating up. “Oh.”
“You do also have an exquisite backside.”
“Right, thanks.” I was going for sarcasm but my voice came out kind of breathless. That dirty, flirtatious tone of Mr. White's could be used in commercials to great success. It made me want. “I'm glad you liked the photos.”
“Oh, I certainly appreciated them. Thoroughly and repeatedly.”
The response surprised a laugh out of me. “Well, in that case it's quid pro quo indeed,” I admitted, and this time it was Mr. White who laughed.
“As I have nearly three decades on you, I am rather flattered to hear that.”
“Are you kidding? I'm definitely looking forwards to being in a lot more closer contact to that chest of yours.” Mr. White chuckled at that, but his response had gotten me thinking. “Is that something you think about? You know, that I'm younger than you?”
He was silent for a bit before answering. “Not excessively. I suppose I have wondered on occasion, but I have assumed that if the age difference bothered you, you would have already told me as much.”
“Yeah, no, it really doesn't.” It hadn't even occurred to me that Mr. White might think that, because I'd had the opposite insecurity. “Most of the time I don't really even remember it, but I actually really like that you're older than me. I'm more worried that you might find me too immature.”
“Absolutely not,” Mr. White said. “I, too, hardly think of it. When your younger age comes across, I always find it refreshing more than anything else. Never once have I thought you immature, quite the contrary. I often admire your maturity, particularly in how you are raising your children, but also your empathy and understanding for other people.”
“Oh. That's... thanks.” I said, a bit flustered. “You know, when I got your first letter, somehow I wasn't at all surprised that you were a bit older. I don't think I could really see myself with somebody younger, romantically that is. I mean, my ex was younger than me, but that was only a year, and we were both kids when we got together. But anybody younger than that – they can be mature enough, but... It was a long time ago, sure, but I guess I couldn't be with somebody who didn't live through the War. Or both of the wars, as it is in your case.”
“I see,” Mr. White said. “I would like to hear more of why you feel that way. However, I cannot help but notice that we are treading on territory we have both quite expertly avoided so far.”
“Yeah.” This was one thing that made Mr. White easy to talk to – he cut straight to the chase and wasn't afraid to mention the elephant in the room. “I don't enjoy talking about the War, obviously, but it's also to do with anonymity. There's not much I can mention without compromising that. And you... I'm guessing it has to do with which side you were on?”
“Yes. Dark side,” Mr. White confirmed.
“Right. I figured.” It hadn't really been a stretch, considering what he had told me about his background and past feelings about muggles. He might have been uninvolved, of course – many purebloods had been, even ones that held anti-muggle sentiments – but I'd suspected for a while. It had become clear, on a few occasions, that he was as reluctant to touch the topic of war as I was, and that was the simplest explanation. It still rattled me a surprising amount, having it confirmed, but I took a deep breath. I had thought a lot about this. “There's stuff I did in war that I'm not proud of. So I'm not about to throw any stones.”
Mr. White was quiet for a beat, before he let out a broken laugh. “I suppose we shall see, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
“Do you think... would it help if you talked about some of it?” It made me feel uneasy, but it would be better to know than to guess at how he might have been involved. He had probably already had political power when Voldemort had taken over the Ministry. Maybe Mr. White had helped with the coup, or supported the anti-muggle policies that had been put in place. He might have even been personally involved in implementing them, which didn't feel good, but it wasn't as if he would've had much choice. Maybe he'd been influential in Voldemort's control over the Prophet, if he'd had strong media connections even then. It must have been bad, but if I knew what it was, I'd probably be able to reassure him. A lot of people had gotten tangled up in Voldemort's plans after all, and it didn't mean they were all bad people.
“It wouldn't. And I cannot, in any case. Like you, I would also compromise anonymity too much, going into any detail,” Mr. White said to my disappointment.
“Oh. Right, that makes sense. Okay, look. It might not be the easiest stuff for me to know, whatever it is, but I hope you're not too worried about how I'll react.”
“That is inevitable for now, I fear,” Mr. White said. “However, it is something I expected from the start. With how I live now, I doubted I would be matched with somebody who holds values like I used to hold, before. And I was well aware that anybody else would have their reservations. Anonymity has, in the least, allowed us to form an authentic connection that is not coloured by those reservations from the start, and for that I am grateful.”
“Yeah. Me too. I mean, different reasons but similar results.” And might as well address the other elephant in the room while we were at it. “Do you think about it at all... meeting?”
“Oh, my dear. Constantly.”
“Oh good. It's not just me then,” I said, feeling warm and pleased and a little bit wistful. “I don't know if I'm ready yet.”
“Even a week ago, I would have agreed. But I am finding myself more and more eager to meet in person as of late, and it is beginning to overcome my concerns. I am not someone to trust easily, but I find myself trusting the value you clearly place on our connection, and that you would not simply run away from potential problems.”
“Really?” That was kind of... brilliant and terrifying. “I wouldn't. And I'm not really worried about that, either, that you'd just vanish somewhere finding out who I am. It's just... I've never really been able to do things this way, who I am has affected almost all of my relationships, whether it's friends or colleagues. I guess I'm just scared that you'll see me differently, too.”
“There is no need to explain. I wish to respect your pace, and there is certainly no rush.”
“Yeah, maybe, but also I want to meet you, like, yesterday.”
Mr. White laughed. “It sounds to me like you are feeling rather conflicted. How about you let me know when you feel ready?”
“I think...” I started, swallowing my hesitation. “It's only a couple of weeks until Christmas, and we're both busy. And yeah, I guess I'd like a bit more time, just talking and letters like we've been doing. But. I've got the kids for part of the holidays, but I'd be free on New Year's Eve. If you wanted to, I don't know, have dinner or something.”
“I would love to,” Mr. White answered. The soft way he said it was enough to convince me that it was the right decision.
Wow, this came together so quickly I shocked myself! Thank you for all the lovely feedback, you wonderful people.
“Dad! Tell Jamie to hurry up!” Al stumbled into my bedroom, practically vibrating impatience. He was already wearing his black formal robes, his hair tied back. I was fighting a losing battle with mine – maybe I should have also considered growing it.
“He's still got fifteen minutes, I told him we'd leave ten to two.”
“He's still in bed,” Al grumbled. “I bet we'll be late.”
“What about your sister?”
“She's ready. Well, eating, but she's changed and all.”
“Good. Wait, why is she eating?”
“Ask her. And stop doing that, you know it's not helping,” Al said, snatching the hairbrush out of my hand before he hurried back out the door and upstairs. Sighing, I cast a silencing charm on my ceiling before I'd be forced to listen to the boys argue upstairs. Jamie probably would have been ready sooner if Al had stopped harassing him for two seconds.
My son was right about the hair, so I left it alone and pulled the maroon robes over my black muggle shirt and trousers. They were my most formal robes – I didn't need to wear them often, but I liked it when I got the chance. The cut was less practical than my work uniform, but combined with the lighter fabric they were more form-fitting and hung better. I holstered my wand up my right sleeve, not that I needed it for most spells, but I did try to keep a low profile about my power so I made an attempt to remember to use it anytime outside home.
When I headed to the kitchen, I found Lily picking at leftovers of the Chinese food that Diane and I had celebrated Christmas with. It was Diane's choice, which meant it had enough chilli to make my eyes water, but Lily didn't even seem to notice. She had a book open on her right side, something muggle with space ships, and Pedro begging for scraps on her left.
“I'm sure aunt Andromeda has cooked tons of Christmas food, love, you don't need to eat beforehand.”
“I know, dad.” Lily looked at me from under her bangs and gave me one of her quick smiles, then shoved more food into her mouth. Her hair was a lighter red than her mother's, tied back in a hasty ponytail, and the black formal robes made her look a bit pale. Still beautiful, though, my girl – not that I would express it in so many words. Growing up with two brothers, she was twitchy about being called pretty or cute or anything along those lines. Also, she tended to get annoyed if her reading was interrupted too many times, so I simply squeezed her shoulder lightly before raising my palm to the ceiling.
“Finite,” I cancelled the charm, but there was still an eerie quiet. “Do you figure they've killed each other?”
“If they have, I want Godric,” Lily replied. Pedro gave her an offended glare and refused the next piece of pepper she offered him, but Lily was too focused on her book to notice his pouting.
Just when I was about to make my way upstairs to check on the boys, there were two sets of steps making their way down, one hurriedly and the other much more slowly. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah!” Al rushed into the living room. “Come on!”
Jamie rolled his eyes, but didn't complain. My suspicion was that Al had bribed him with something to make him get ready, but I'd long since realised that on the rare occasions my sons were getting along, ignorance was bliss. Lily picked up her book and stood up, her eyes scanning the page as she followed Al to the living room.
“You'll need new robes soon again.” Jamie was two inches taller than me already, and he'd probably keep growing for the next year at least.
Jamie scowled. “You sound like mum.”
“It's nice we can still agree on something, then,” I said cheerfully. “You okay to come with today? I know you don't really like big family things, but Teddy and Victoire will be there, and you haven't seen Aunt Andromeda in a while either.”
“Love the enthusiasm.” I was pleased to glimpse a twitch of a smile on Jamie's face.
“DAD!” Al hollerred from the living room. “Come on! We're gonna be late!”
Jamie watched amused as I took a bracing breath. “Alright, let's do this thing.”
I stumbled out of the floo less than gracefully, just in time to see Al and Scorpius vanish down the corridor towards the garden. Scorpius' hair was even wilder than Al's, dyed black and going every which way. It made me kind of glad to know there was at least one thing less for Malfoy to sneer at me for.
“I thought it was you guys.” Teddy grinned from the doorway. Lily gave him an one-armed hug, before I gently closed her book.
“Two hours of family time, we agreed,” I reminded her.
“Do you have to?” Jamie complained as he was lifted into a bear-hug, an amusing sight for Jamie had grown half a foot since they'd last seen each other and was now taller of the two.
Teddy laughed. “Seeing my cousin Jamie? Yeah I do. Don't try to pretend you're too old, that'll never happen.”
Jamie grumbled under his breath all the way to the living room, but it was clear he didn't really mind.
“Everybody's in the kitchen. I wouldn't go in, though. Draco keeps doing that and they keep kicking him out, I've given up. Aunt Andy isn't this bad on her own, but when Narcissa and Stori are with her... Sit down, I'll make some space.”
“Nah, leave it.” The living room was dominated by a massive Christmas tree and the dining room table that had been extended. The couches were crowded onto one side, by the windows, and they were littered with wrapping papers. “Makes it look like Christmas when it's not too neat.”
“I take it you've been working up 'til now?” Teddy asked. His hair was shifting from light brown towards darker redish one like Jamie's. He watched Lily make her way towards the kitchen. “Don't say I didn't warn you!”
Lily waved him away. Jamie curled up in an armchair, while Teddy and I took over one of the couches. I talked a bit about my work, which had been thankfully pretty slow in the past week or so, but then switched the topic to Teddy's work. I was interested to hear what he'd been up to, but I also knew Jamie was always fascinated to hear about the dragons. Victoire joined us after a while, coming from Teddy's room, and playfully interjected that she'd had to do a lot more work on keeping the creatures happy, because Teddy had been too busy drawing and photographing them.
“With a muggle camera, as well – they don't even move!”
“Hey, you're the one who wants me to hold an art presentation.”
“Really?” I asked. “Can I see some of this art at some point?”
“And I'm right,” Victoire said. “With the famous Harry Potter as a patron, people will flock in.” She winked at me, then when Teddy shoved her, she pushed back hard enough that he fell off the couch, laughing.
“What are you doing?” Malfoy asked, as he emerged from the kitchen. He still gave his hand to pull Teddy up. “Hello, Potter. Jamie, how are you?”
“Malfoy,” I greeted him with a nod. If he could be civil, so could I.
“I'm alright, Mr. Malfoy.”
Teddy crammed himself back on the sofa, where Victoire had taken his seat. I stood up, relinquishing the space to them. “I'd better go say hello to Andromeda.”
“At your own risk,” Malfoy said with a delicate eyebrow raise.
Victoire grinned. “They kick you out again?”
Malfoy's denial carried to the kitchen. I only got a few steps in before almost being clobbered by a floating casserole.
“Sorry, dad.” Lily made the dish descend on the counter.
“Smells so good I almost wouldn't mind.”
Andromeda crossed the kitchen and pulled me into a hug. “Harry, so good to see you. Thank you for coming, and bringing the children. It never quite feels like Christmas when it is only adults.”
“Don't I know it.” I hugged her back, then extended a hand to Narcissa. “Mrs. Malfoy, I hope you are having a pleasant Yuletide.”
“Lovely, thank you. And please, Harry, there is no need for formality, I believe I have requested before for you to call me Narcissa,” she said shaking my hand.
“And don't even try to Mrs. Malfoy me,” Astoria commented over her shoulder, stirring something at the stove.
“I wouldn't dare, Stori.”
“We'll be finished with the cooking soon, please make yourself comfortable in the living room.” Andromeda ushered me out with an arm around my waist.
“You really won't let me help?”
“Absolutely not,” she said, and I chuckled at her forbidding tone.
“You realise we have this same argument every Easter, too?”
Andromeda smiled and turned back to the kitchen. “That is why I am surprised you still haven't learned.”
“Kick you out, too?” Teddy asked from the couch.
“Obviously. Where is everybody?”
“Victoire is showing Jamie dragon photos on my computer. Draco went to get his arse handed to him at quidditch by Scorp and Al.”
“Excellent. If it wasn't so cold outside, I'd go watch. Sounds entertaining.”
“Sit down instead, I've got something to tell you.”
Teddy was a bit fidgety as I took the armchair opposite him, curious. “Sure, what's up? You and Victoire finally getting married?”
That startled a laughter out of him. “No, Merlin, and don't you start as well. I get enough of that from Molly and Andy.”
I raised my palms up. “Hey, no pressure from this end. I think it's great you're taking your time, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Teddy glanced around and cast a muffliato. Clearly he didn't want to be overheard. “So, Charlie told me to wish you Merry Christmas.”
“Uh, really? That's... unexpected. I mean, great, but yeah, kind of a surprise. We haven't seen each other in years, and I though he'd hate me like the rest of the Weasleys for breaking Ginny's heart. Can you tell me why--”
“They don't hate you, they just don't know how to react to the divorce. And I told him you're gay,” Teddy interrupted my rambling. It felt a bit like somebody had pulled the rug from under my feet. Teddy must have seen something in my expression, because he laid a hand on my arm and continued hastily. “You never asked me to keep it a secret from anybody, but I haven't told people, other than Victoire. But I was sure he'd understand – Harry, he's gay, too.”
“Oh,” I said numbly. Maybe it was stupid of me, but I'd never thought Charlie might be gay. He was the only one of Ginny's brothers who'd never gotten married, never brought a girlfriend home. Still, he just seemed too... masculine? Normal? Which were obviously dumb reasons, because that's exactly what most people would think of me, and yet.
“He said I could tell you, but you have to keep it to yourself. Arthur and Bill are the only ones in the family that know and have accepted it. Molly knows as well, but she took it badly, still refuses to acknowledge it. And it's been years, he's known since he was a teenager.”
“That-- really sucks. Wait, is that why he hasn't been to the Burrow for holidays in years?”
Teddy sighed. “Yeah. He hadn't really had a serious partner before, but since he and Marius got together, he's refused to spend Christmas without him. He'll see his family if they're around, or sometimes when his work takes him in the country, but he won't meet them at the reserve.”
“Does his partner-- Marius? Does he also live there?”
“Yeah, they have a small house together,” Teddy said. I wasn't proud of the small pang of envy. It wasn't as if I necessarily wanted to live with somebody – hell, it was way too early to even think about it with Mr. White – but it ate at me that I'd probably never be able to do that again.
“And other people are okay with that? I mean, I've gathered that the reserve has more liberal norms, but I didn't realise it was to that extent.”
“Nobody cares, really. And it's not like Charlie and Marius are the only ones there, anyway. A lot of gay and bi wizards and witches are drawn by the atmosphere.”
“That sounds really nice. Anyway, thank Charlie for me, will you?” It felt surprisingly good to have the support, just to know that somebody from my old life was gay felt like a strange relief. Not that I was happy to hear that this was the reason for the distance there'd always been between Charlie and his family. But Molly's reaction didn't really surprise me, she was a very traditional person when it came to family and gender norms. I was more surprised to hear that Arthur and Bill were accepting.
“You could call him and tell him yourself.”
“You don't think he'd mind?”
Teddy punched me on the arm. “Don't be an idiot.”
“Ow,” I complained, grinning.
“Charlie and Marius don't have their own floo, but just call the reserve's and ask for him.”
“He doesn't have a mobile?”
Teddy raised an eyebrow, uncomfortably reminiscent of Malfoy even with the red-brown hair. “Since when do you have one? The end must be near, I thought I'd never get the Potters to welcome modern technology.”
“You're hilarious. I've had it for a few months, sorry, I forgot to mention. I haven't really been using it for that many calls, I didn't think to give you the number.”
“That's fine. Bet Jamie would love one, too, he wouldn't have to sneak in to use Flitwick's floo to call me.”
“He does that?”
Teddy laughed. “Yeah, but you didn't hear it from me.”
I sent a quick prayer to heavens that McGonagall never found out. “Well, I guess it wouldn't be Hogwarts without somebody in the family getting into trouble. Also... I'm really glad to hear you guys talk. He's been pretty lonely at school.”
“Yeah. But I enjoy talking to him.”
“Teddy Lupin. It is rude to exclude people from conversation. I am certain my sister has taught you better.” Narcissa's voice from the kitchen door made Teddy flinch and quickly dispel the muffliato.
“Sorry, Aunt Cissa.” Watching Teddy squirm was rather entertaining. He seemed so mature a lot of the time, but sometimes he still acted like a kid. He gave a quick excuse of washing his hands and fled.
“My apologies, Narcissa,” I offered, surprised when she gave a soft laughter.
“No need for that. You are an adult and an Auror, I understand perfectly well the need for privacy. But Teddy taught that spell to Scorpius, who will never listen to me about it if I allow his cousin to use it, adult or not.”
“Ah, I see,” I said with a grin. “Very Slytherin of you.”
Narcissa tilted her head and scrutinised me for a rather uncomfortable moment, though I refused to show any discomfort. “Thank you, Harry,” she said then. “I believe that was a sincere compliment.”
“Um. Yeah, it was.”
“I was about to ask you to get the boys for dinner.”
“Yeah, I'll fetch them.” The conversation was giving me whiplash, so I was happy for a reason to leave it. Making my way towards the garden, I could already hear whooping. When I opened the door, it was to a sight of displeased Scorpius and Al gathered around Malfoy, who had the snitch clutched in his hand, smiling brilliantly.
“You got lucky,” Al was saying, backed by Scorpius.
Malfoy laughed. “Nobody likes a sore loser.”
“Pot calling the kettle black, much?”
All three of them turned at my question. Malfoy's grin didn't fade. “Case in point. Nobody liked me much at school.” Apparently Malfoy was able to take himself less seriously nowadays. Good for him.
“You should play with us, dad,” Al said. “We'd kick their butts. Potters versus Malfoys.”
Scorpius clutched his chest theatrically. “Stabbed in the heart. You would be so quick to abandon me?”
Al smirked. “Absolutely.”
“Well. If it is family against family, we'll have grandpa, too.”
“We'll have Victoire,” Al countered.
“Hey, he's my cousin, too!”
“Further removed,” Malfoy interjected.
Al huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Fine. We'll have Jamie.”
Scorpius snorted. “Good luck with that.”
Privately I agreed, but knew better than to say so, especially with that expression on Al's face. Instead, I cleared my throat. “Dinner is ready.”
“After dinner then?” Al asked without missing a beat.
“Too scared, Potter?”
It was my turn to snort. “What are we, fifteen?”
Malfoy's grin widened. “Clearly not. Apparently you've become too old and boring for quidditch.”
I found myself grinning back. “You know what? Fine. If Jamie and everybody else is in, I'm in too.”
“Excellent.” Malfoy clapped his hands together. “All right, boys, wash up quick and come eat. No dallying.”
“Race you!” Scorpius took off, Al close behind. Malfoy gave me a curt nod and followed them inside. I closed my eyes for a moment and breathed in the crisp Winter air. So far, this wasn't too bad.
“All right, sit down everybody,” Narcissa said, and apparently nobody dared to disobey. “Draco, did you floo call your father?”
“And what did he say? Oh, do not tell me he was still writing. If he fails to arrive by the time food is on the table, I promise I'll floo over and he will not be happy.”
“Uh-oh.” Astoria shared a look with Malfoy. “Should you call him again?”
“There shall be no need.” Lucius Malfoy's entrance was nearly as dramatic as Snape's had been. His robes weren't quite black, dark blue instead, and he had better hair, but there was definitely the same air of superiority. He set a bottle of red wine on the table, one of those expensive French ones that were only available through Veela connections and only served when showing off. He then leaned to kiss his wife on the cheek, and did the same with Andromeda, who greeted him warmly.
“Thank you for coming, Lucius.” She sounded genuine, apparently she had really mended bridges not just with her sister but with her whole family. It was a little surprising, and I couldn't help a pang of worry. However, I knew Andromeda wouldn't have appreciated the sentiment, so I pushed it down and stood up, offering my hand.
“Auror Potter,” he answered with a firm handshake. He was wearing silk gloves, as was fashionable amongst pretentious pureblood wizards.
“No. I will not have that in my home.” Andromeda had her arms crossed over her chest. “We are amongst family. Now, try again.”
There didn't seem to be much support coming my way. Teddy's expression told me that if I dared to go against her, I'd be on my own. Astoria and Malfoy were just emerging from the kitchen, but stopped in the doorway to stare at the scene.
“Harry.” There was a smirk playing on Lucius' lips, reminiscent of his son's. They even sounded alike, not that Malfoy and I had ever used first names for each other, except at his trial. Better not to think about that now, though – I was happy that my testimony had helped Malfoy and his mother, but the house arrest his father had gotten away with still pissed me off.
“Lucius,” I returned the greeting, trying not to grit my teeth. We didn't shake hands again, but Andromeda seemed satisfied.
“Better,” she said. “Now sit down, both of you, and we'll eat.”
“Yes, Madam.” Andormeda's lips twitched at my reply, but I still hastened to comply. Teddy smirked at me, but I sent a pastry flying at him across the table when both of the Black sisters were in the kitchen. From the corner of my eye I caught an intrigued look on Lucius' face, and cursed myself. Casting a small spell wandlessly wasn't all that uncommon skill, but there was a reason I tried to avoid even that.
Considering that Lucius sat right across from me, the dinner didn't go too badly. The Malfoys and Andromeda exchanged political gossip, which I was happy to not partake in. Thankfully Victoire was to my other side, telling the kids about a Hungarian Horntail that they'd taken in after she'd broken free from a Russian reserve and flown right over Moscow. Victoire seemed to have fallen in love with the creature, a sentiment not shared by the Russian Auror and Obliviation teams, nor by most of the other dragon handlers, Teddy included.
“She's a vicious beast, but I'd never come between a witch and her dragon,” he said. “I'm just glad I want to say at the reserve, in a competition over Victoire's affection I'm pretty sure she'd win.”
“Men come and go, but dragons are forever,” Victoire said, making us all laugh.
“Harry.” Andromeda caught my attention from the other side of the table.
“We were talking about Madame Malkin's Spring line. You'll come and model for us again, I presume?” She'd been working at the shop for several years now.
“Even if you call it that. It's for a good cause.”
“Ah, Astoria and I saw the pictures last year, I believe,” Narcissa said. “You looked very dashing, we both thought so.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow at his wife. “Did you now?”
“Be quiet, darling,” Astoria said, then turned to Andromeda. “The Spring fundraiser is for war orphans, is it not?”
“Yes, and Autumn is for St. Mungo's. We always have Professor Longbottom, which is very good of him. People still want to see the heroes of war, especially since Ms. Granger-Weasley is the only one frequently in the public eye.”
“Oh, to me it seems Potter is in the Prophet nearly daily. Usually with that girlfriend of his,” Malfoy said.
“Harry,” Narcissa corrected, to which Malfoy only responded with an eyeroll. Fair enough. He, too, was way too strongly Malfoy in my head for me to imagine calling him Draco.
“Not by choice,” I said. “And Diane is hardly my girlfriend.”
“So there is no special lady in your life then?” Andromeda asked. She could sometimes be as bad with the mothering as Molly used to be, but I was well used to it and normally didn't mind. It was just awkward with the topic in question.
“There might be somebody, but I'd rather not talk about it.” While I wasn't out to Andromeda yet, and I definitely wasn't going to talk about my orientation with the Malfoys around, I also didn't want to lie to her. “It's still early days. Also, I'd appreciate it if that bit of information didn't end up in papers,” I added to Malfoy, who waved his hand dismissively.
“As if you need my help in the publicity department, Potter.”
Narcissa laid a hand on Malfoy's forearm. “My son wouldn't do that. As has been said, we are with family here in my sister's house. We value that.”
From Narcissa I actually believed the sentiment to be genuine. We'd only ever had a handful of interactions, but after she'd saved my life in the war, our conversations had been almost brutally direct. We had both expressed gratitude to each other after their trials, and some years later once Jamie had been born she'd sought me out to relieve me of the Life-Debt.
“Thank you,” I responded, and she nodded, changing the topic to gardening, which was an interest Astoria and Andromeda seemed to share. My flat didn't even have a garden, which in my eyes was honestly an improvement, so I focused on my food.
Teddy was asking Lucius something work-related, and I was expecting the answer to do with Ministry politics, in which he and his son were both heavily involved. Hermione complained frequently about Lucius, who often upheld some of the most traditionalist views. Draco had often joined her from a more centralist position, and the two had pushed through some good, practical changes opposed by the traditionalist wing. The Malfoy-Malfoy Debates, as papers liked to call them, always received a lot of attention.
After a moment, though, I realised that Lucius' answer wasn't politics-related but he was instead talking about writing. My attention was caught despite myself, especially when they begun discussing the possibility of Teddy doing some drawings for a book Lucius was apparently planning to write.
“If you are serious about making creating art into a career, illustration might be a viable option,” Lucius said. “A gallery opening is another approach, and I have no doubt it would be well received. However, most artist choose to wait until they are somewhat better known. It is also considered proper.”
“Right, yeah, I can see that,” Teddy said, and I couldn't stop myself from interjecting into the conversation.
“You should do what feels right for you, Teddy. It doesn't matter what people think is proper, we'll all support you.” My tone came out a bit more confrontational than I'd intended, but Lucius simply nodded.
“I agree. The best thing to do is what you feel the most comfortable with. It is, however, useful to know how others are likely to react, not merely patrons of art but also artists who are more established. The community here is, after all, rather small.”
Teddy shoved me gently. “You don't need to go all mama bear, I'm actually interested in this stuff, and Lucius knows about it.”
“Sorry,” I said, somewhat embarrassed. Sometimes I was overprotective, but it had been a while since Teddy had needed to call me on that. “Carry on. What do you think you'd like to do?”
“I'm not sure. Victoire is encouraging me to hold a show.” Teddy gave her a caress on the shoulder, and she patted hi hand absently, deep in conversation with Jamie. Lily had pulled out her book, which I'd have to talk to her about, but for now I focused on Teddy. “I'd maybe rather do it later. Not so much because of social norms – I've got plenty of example from both of you on how to defy those.” I couldn't imagine how somebody like Lucius Malfoy would defy social norms, but then again it wasn't as if I knew him. Teddy continued. “I don't mind if people see what I've made, but I'd like to get more practised at drawing and painting. I've only really scratched the surface.”
“From what you have shown me, your technique seems more than adequate,” Lucius said.
“Maybe, but there's still too much time when I can't really express the feeling I'm trying to get across.”
“Grandpa,” Scorpius interrupted. “Would you play quidditch with us later?”
“With you and Albus?”
“Father, too, and the Potters. And Victoire and Teddy.”
“So I'm playing too, huh?” Teddy asked, grinning.
Al sneaked next to Teddy and gave him the puppy dog eyes. “Potters versus Malfoys. You'll be with us, right?”
“Hold up, I haven't said I'm even playing. Aunt Andy won't have brooms for all of us. And isn't it freezing cold outside?”
“That wouldn't scare you, though?”
“Al,” I said warningly, and Teddy laughed.
“Not going to work on me, kid. Victoire and I had to chase down two dragons just before our portkey, I've had enough of flying for a while.”
“How about some ice hockey instead?” Lucius asked to my surprise.
Scorpius frowned. “That's a muggle sport, right? With sticks and stuff?”
“Yes, you use a puck score goals against the other team.”
“But you have to skate.”
“Too scared?” Al was smirking. He had never played ice hockey, but I'd taken the kids skating plenty of times. It was one of the few sports I'd actually liked when I was still in my muggle school. Didn't hurt that Dudley had always sucked at it.
“Piss off,” Scorpius said, earning a scolding look from Astoria. Teddy was grinning and even Lucius looked amused.
I turned towards Andromeda. “Would you mind if I made an ice rink in your garden?”
She smiled. “Go, play, we'll enjoy the wine while the children are outside.”
“Thank you for the meal,” I said with a meaningful glance at my kids.
“Thanks, Aunt Andromeda,” they chorused, even Lily with her head still in the book.
Teddy and Lucius got up as I did, and I levitated our dishes to the kitchen despite Andromeda's protests. Teddy took Al and Scorpius to help him find his skates, but Lucius followed me outside. He cast a warming charm on himself, but the cool air felt refreshing for now.
Making sure to use my wand this time, I cast an Auror spell used to close off an area, creating a physical boundary that could be crossed by all of us.
“Wouldn't have expected you to be familiar with ice hockey,” I commented to break the awkward silence.
“There is an ice rink near my flat. May I help?”
It seemed impolite to refuse, so I nodded. He cast an aguamenti into the ring I'd made, and I did the same, waiting for it to spread out. Lucius' magic felt light against mine, softly inquisitive. He probably wasn't even aware of the tentative brush of power that I couldn't really avoid when casting simultaneously with somebody. It wasn't pleasant, but at least I didn't sense any hostility in his magic.
“Thank you for doing this,” Lucius said, making me glance at him warily.
“Doing what, exactly?”
“Treating my family with respect,” he said. “Allowing your son to spend Christmas with my grandson. Scorpius has few friends at Hogwarts, and none as close as Albus. It is apparent that he is much happier with the company.”
I shrugged. “Scorpius is clearly important to Al. He's a good kid, I'm glad they're friends. And your family is fine, Malfoy isn't so bad nowadays and I actually like your wife. She's lovely.”
“My former wife. And yes, she is.”
“Wait.” Lucius' answer was so matter-of-fact I was taken aback. It wasn't any of my business, really, but he was the one who'd brought it up. “You and Narcissa are divorced?”
“Three years ago,” he confirmed. “Surely you knew that? Granted, we have worked to keep it quiet, but I would have thought that everyone in the Ministry knew by this point.”
Three years divorced. There was a buzzing feeling in my gut, and I barely noticed I'd lowered my wand and stopped casting. Older. Pureblood. A son, a grandson. That voice, that familiarity. My voice came out weak. “Did you say you were a writer?”
Lucius stopped casting, too, turning to me with a searching look. “Yes. Why?”
A Death Eater. On the wrong side in the war, indeed. My breath caught in my throat, I felt like laughing but I tamped it down, pretty sure it would've come out hysterical. I wasn't sure, not yet, but the puzzle pieces were falling into a much too neat a picture.
“Can I ask you something?” I holstered my wand, watched him do the same. “Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs?”
Lucius' expression morphed into surprise, I could see the realisation on his face, and with that my suspicion were confirmed. Oh yes, I had been writing with Lucius fucking Malfoy. He huffed a laugh and offered a hand. “Mr. Orange. Harry. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Mr. White. Lucius. I'm a bit too surprised to say the same just now.”
He didn't seem in a hurry to let go of my hand, and I found myself unable to do so, staring up into grey eyes and finally seeing that smile I'd been curious about for so long.
“May I kiss you, Mr. Orange?” That voice... It sent shivers down my spine, even now. Like a fucking Pavlovian dog.
“Yeah,” I breathed out. Stupid or not, that was what I wanted. It had been too long, we'd waited too long.
If I'd been worried about whether there would be attraction between Mr. White and me when we met, the flash of desire in Lucius' eyes alleviated those fears. An answering spark of want travelled through my spine, and when he stepped closer, my hands found his shoulders and pulled him in a kiss.
The first touch of his lips was soft but firm, curious and inquisitive like his magic, but with more intent. His arms came around me, his body felt solid against mine, the closeness intimate. He was warm, I'd forgotten about the warming charm, but right now that was a good thing. Mr. White's... Lucius' mouth parting against mine, the warm brush of his tongue on my lips made me feel like I was burning up, feel light-headed with desire. I hadn't made out like this in a long, long time.
“Yeah, okay.” I finally pulled back from the kiss, though not quite ready to let go yet. Instead I mouthed along his neck and breathed in his scent, and yeah, apparently I did really want him. “I feel like I've been here before. Not married this time, but absolutely ready to do something really stupid without thinking it through.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Lucius, then a murmur in my ear. “Like you would go with me anywhere and let me do anything I want to you?”
“...Fuck. Yeah, pretty much.”
“That is what you wrote about your former coworker.”
“Right. Wait, you remember that?”
“Word for word, my dear. I found the idea of that kind of desire from you appealing. There are so many things I would like to do to you.”
“Yeah.” That damn voice was trouble. “So not helping.”
“My apologies.” Lucius drew back, stepping away from me. There was a secretive, pleased smile on his face, which I found even more attractive. But without the closeness, it was also much easier to remember who he was.
“Thanks. Your self control is better than mine.”
“Yes.” Lucius looked me up and down, desire clear in his gaze. “Unfortunate, that.”
A startled laughter escaped me, and I didn't bother to be any more subtle in checking him out than he'd been. His robes and tied-back hair were as immaculate as before, but there was a flush on his cheeks and a bit of beard burn around his lips, which were not the best things to focus on if I wanted to cool off.
“Kind of,” I admitted. “Then again, I doubt Andromeda would appreciate being left with my kids if I pulled a disappearing act with you.”
As if summoned, Al barged through the door, followed closely by Scorpius and what looked like a trunk full of skates. He ran to the rink and stuck his fingers into the water. “You're not done yet?”
Lucius had moved subtly away from me when we'd heard the door, and I took the excuse to walk closer to the water. I didn't miss the dart of Scorpius' eyes between me and Lucius. It was its own kind of relief that he and Al would be more likely to assume us to have been arguing than kissing.
“Step back, will you?” Al complied, and I pointed my wand at the water, making it flow smoothly to cover the grass everywhere and then harden into ice.
“Cool!” Al pulled his skates on quickly and jumped onto the ice. Scorpius vanished inside, muttering something about getting the others.
“Impressive use of magic, Harry.” Hearing Lucius, Mr. White, say my name was definitely weird. Not all in a bad way, though.
“That would be a thing for you, wouldn't it? Power.” Piling out the skates first, I closed the trunk and sat on it to switch into one of the larger pairs.
“That is hardly a secret,” Lucius said, seemingly unashamed. “However, it is not what has drawn me to you, as you very well know. Couldn't be, even, since I did not know about you.”
“And now you do?” I asked challengingly, watching Al skate around the rink.
“I know you could have done that wandlessly. How much power you have, I can merely speculate, but I could feel it. Hardly a surprise, however, since I know more about the Dark Lord's curse than anybody alive.”
“I bet you do. There's a few medical researchers I know who'd give an arm and a leg to know how you survived it.” Hell, Hermione was curious, and it wasn't even her field.
“And I would share that information, were there any practical use for it. But since all other bearers of the Mark are long gone, and the curse was some of the Dark Lord's ugliest work, I see no benefit in educating other people about it.”
“Got to say, that makes sense. The more that dies out and is forgotten about Voldemort and his work, the better.”
Lucius offered me a hand up, and held it for a beat longer than necessary, looking me straight in the eye. “I entirely agree.”
If it wasn't for Al, I might have gotten lost in the moment. But I reminded myself of our curious audience and made my way to the ice. Al was doing better than me, but I was relieved I could still keep upright. It had been a couple of years since we'd last gone skating.
One by one other people joined us on the ice. Scorpius only pulled on his skates once Victoire had stepped into the rink and promptly fallen onto her bum, laughing as Teddy helped her up. Scorpius was as bad as she was, but Al offered him a shoulder and soon they were making slow laps around the rink. Lily had stayed inside, but to my surprise Jamie had joined us and seemed to be enjoying himself. We all made an incongruous sight skating in our good dress robes, but one I enjoyed. My gaze was often drawn to Lucius, though, who seemed to have taken advantage of that ice rink he lived near, because he looked effortlessly graceful.
“Anybody in for ice hockey?” I called out. Al cheered, but his voice was drowned by Scorpius' loud grumble. Teddy laughed.
“I think the Malfoy team might have a slight disadvantage, even if Victoire is with us.”
“Be glad you're the only thing holding me up or I'd push you over for that,” Victoire said with a grin.
“At least Malfoy – Draco – isn't playing. I'm pretty sure he's never seen skates in his life.”
“Oh, he has,” Lucius said. He came to a stop beside Victoire and offered her an arm.
“Thank you,” she said. Teddy smartly hastened to back away from them before she could make true of her promise.
“Draco's been skating, then?” Teddy asked.
“He has seen skates. Before vehemently refusing to put his feet into such muggle inventions,” Lucius corrected.
“Right,” Teddy grinned. “Not the most experimental, my dear cousin. Harry, race you a lap?”
Teddy took off and I followed him hot in pursuit, both of us laughing. Jamie caught us at some point, smirking as he skated past us, but we continued several rounds neck to neck before my legs started to complain.
“Okay, young man, I'm out. Try to catch my son if you can.”
“No passing the puck to the next generation.”
“That's why people have children in the first place,” I informed him, stepping out of the rink and making my way to the trunk. Victoire and Lucius were sitting on it, removing their skates. “You both done, as well?”
“Definitely,” Victoire said. “We were planning to see if there's any of the good wine left.”
“We have left it with my son and daughter-in-law, so I am doubtful.” Lucius was lacing his boots in an unfairly distracting way. “However, I also brought a cream liqueur, which you should be able to find on top of the fireplace.”
“Brilliant. See you guys inside!”
Sitting next to Lucius, I was very conscious of the warmth and solidity of his body. I may have sat closer than strictly necessary. “So. I'll need to do some thinking about this. Us.”
“I would expect as much,” Lucius said in a level voice. “Might I make a request, however?”
“Sure.” Our shoulders brushed as I leaned to pull on my boots. He waited for me to look at him again before continuing.
“Would you still meet me for dinner on New Year's Eve?”
“Of course.” It was out before I'd even thought about it. “I mean, we've got a date. I wouldn't cancel on you.”
He smiled slowly. “Good. Thank you, Harry.”
Lucius stood up and brushed my arm in a way that would look casual to an outside observer. His smile turned mischievous. “If you'd like, it will be.”
I forced my eyes not to follow him inside.
Mr. White. Lucius fucking Malfoy. I was pretty sure this hadn't been Hermione's plan when she encouraged me to find someone. Well. This was definitely not going to be boring.
To be continued, probably at a similar glacial speed.
“How's the Transfiguration paper going?”
“It always turns up green!” Al shook the sock at me irritably, and I wasn't quick enough to school my expression. He glared at me and pulled the book closer to look over the instructions again. “Go away.”
“You remember Hermione's coming over in an hour?” My fingers fiddled with the note from Luna, folded so that Hermione would be the only person to read it. “I'll need the kitchen to make lunch.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Al waved me away. I left him to his homework and climbed up the stairs to knock on Jamie's door.
“Yeah?” came the muffled reply.
“You up? It's half eleven.”
“Can I come in?”
There was a pause and some shuffling, before Jamie answered. “Sure.”
I stepped in and gestured at the chair. Jamie shrugged, which I took as the warmest welcome I was going to get and sat down. He was on his bed still in his nightrobes, slouching against the wall. “You feeling any better?”
“Did you eat anything last night?” Jamie had skipped dinner and stayed in his room for the evening, claiming a headache. Since it was the third time since they'd been out of school, I suspected it was an excuse. It made me worry, but I doubted pushing it too much would help.
“I wasn't hungry.”
“Okay. We'll have lunch in a little bit with Hermione. You don't have to eat with all of us if you prefer, but come and get some food at least, yeah?”
Jamie shrugged again. “Alright.”
“Good. I'll see you down.”
Back downstairs I busied myself with clearing up the living room. Al wouldn't mind the noise of hoovering. Lily was reading in her room, apparently already finished with homework. She always rolled her eyes at me for not using magic, but I found muggle cleaning soothing.
Lily had given me her History of Magic paper to read, about the War. Her writing was mature beyond her years, and it was strange to read about it from another perspective, as part her history lessons. I struggled to think it had been two decades. In a way the War felt like a part of another life, just like the Dursleys did, and even my time at Hogwarts. And yet it wasn't that simple. It was only rarely, nowadays, that I woke up to a nightmare, my heart pounding and irrationally afraid for my life, but whenever I let myself think of the war, the memories came back as if no time had passed, terror and pain and anger so strong it made my chest tighten for long moments, made me restless and anxious for hours afterwards.
That, in part, was what was making it so hard to know what to think of Mr. White.
Lucius Malfoy had been such a presence in the War. First as a supporter of the man who'd murdered my parents, an unpredictable and threatening parent of somebody I went to school with. And later a beaten down shell of a man, but still dangerous like a cornered predator.
He belonged to that other world, that other life.
Except that he was Mr. White, who I'd gotten to know in the past months, had my feelings for him grow gradually from infatuation to deep affection. Mr. White was in my life, rooted in my daily thoughts and routines in a way that was became only more obvious when faced with the possibility of losing that connection. As much as I'd worried over Mr. White finding out who I was, I'd not seriously feared that revealing our identities would actually drive us apart, not for a long time now. And I hadn't given much weight to his concerns about me finding out who he was.
And now I didn't know.
Hermione wrapped the winter robe around herself and cast a warming charm on both of us. I smiled at her in thanks and cast a muffliato before heading towards the small park not far from where I lived, still on the magical residential area. It was deserted with the cold, and my kids hadn't seemed like they'd need me in the next half an hour, Al and Lily occupied with reading, and Jamie still holed up in his room. I'd need to have a chat with him, again.
Right now, though, it wasn't time for that.
Hermione was already looking at me expectantly, and I handed her the note. “Here.”
She stopped walking as she unfolded it, and gasped in surprise when the paper caught fire on her hand. “Luna put fidelius on your identities? No, wait,” she shook her head and changed tracks, “Mr. White is Lucius Malfoy?”
“Right on both.” I sat on a park bench, thankful for 'Mione's warming charm. She stayed up, pacing.
“Wha-- why on earth would she match you with him? Wait, how do you know, you weren't on a date yet, right? Did he tell you?”
“No. You remember we spent Boxing day with Andromeda's?”
Hermione's eyes widened in realisation. “Yes, with the Malfoys! You met there? Did he also realise it was you?”
“Yeah, he said some things that sounded pretty fucking familiar, and I confirmed with him, which obviously entailed letting him know.”
Hermione looked thoughtful as she sat down next to me. The quiet was making me fidget, but I tried to give her processing time. Unfortunately, patience had never been my strong suit. “Okay, out with it. What are you thinking?”
'Mione turned to look at me, her eyes sharp. “The more important question is, what are you thinking?”
“Ha. To be honest, too many things. I've never been good at that whole internal processing thing.”
“Oh, don't I know that.” Hermione patted my arm with an exaggeratedly sympathetic expression, making a grin tug at my lips. “Wait, you haven't talked to anybody? It's been, what, three days?”
“Like who? Diane's in Amsterdam until tomorrow. And Ron would take the news so well, I'm sure.”
“You could've Skyped?”
“First of all, fidelius. Second of all...” There was an unexplicable lump in my throat. “It's not the same, you know? She wasn't in the War, she was just a kid back then, her parents were purebloods but they weren't actively involved, so she was mostly sheltered from all of it. And I'm fucking glad she was. But. It's Lucius Malfoy. We were locked up in his Manor, waiting for Voldemort to show up. You were there, and Ron, and nobody else, not in the same way. I could talk about all that to Diane, but it's not the same. She knows the Malfoys, of course, everybody does, and it's not as if she believes that idiocy about Lucius not really having been all that involved that some of the Prophet readers like to uphold, but she doesn't know what it was like.”
“Harry. I know you don't like to talk about the War, but you know you can. Right? I'm sure she'd be willing to listen, she'd want to know.”
“I just, I don't want to dredge it all up, you know? Why shouldn't we be allowed to just fucking move on?”
“Don't you think we have?”
I buried my head in my hands, trying to breathe through the dark feelings in my chest. “I don't know. I mean, we've got lives we've built, despite all of it. And I'm happy with what I have, with who I am, now. But it's there.”
Hermione's arm came around my shoulders, warm and comfortable. Familiar. “I don't think it's ever going to not be there. Acknowledging that doesn't mean you haven't moved on. You should talk to her about it.”
“You know I'm always right, don't you?”
I chuckled. “Of course you are.”
“There you go.” 'Mione's voice was warm. “So, is this how well you took it when you found out?”
“Uh.” I sneaked a peek at her, embarrassment flooding my face. “Not exactly.”
Hermione tilted her head. “Yes?”
“I kind of may have... kissed him?”
Hermione leaned back, a startled laugh escaping her. “What? You kissed him? And then what, stormed out like you're in a TV drama?”
“No. We ice skated with my children and his grandchild. I promised him we were still on for our date, then had a bunch of mulled wine with his ex-wife and Andromeda, and then I took my kids home and started to question my life choices.”
“So what you're saying is you've been brooding ever since.”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“So. How are you feeling?”
A sigh escaped me as I looked at Hermione. She didn't look like she was judging, which I didn't really feel I deserved, but it was a relief anyway. “I don't know. How would you feel if you found out you'd fallen for Lucius Malfoy?”
“Kind of creeped out. I mean, his son is our age.”
I laughed. “And that's your objection?”
“Alright, in all seriousness – I'd need to talk to him. Really talk, properly, to find out what he's like nowadays. From what you've told me, he no longer holds contempt for muggles. And yet he frequently supports anti-muggleborn and anti-creature legislation.”
“Oh. Right.” Politics was something I deliberately avoided getting involved in, so that wasn't something I'd really come to think about.
“Although...” Hermione looked contemplative. “It doesn't add up. You remember when there was the official overhaul of the regulations barring homosexuals from positions of authority or guardianship over children? About four years ago?”
“Yeah. Pretty ironic that it was still in place, considering how long Dumbledore was the Headmaster. What about it?”
“Yes, Dumbledore was rather the elephant in the room when the overhaul was debated in the Ministry. My point is, though, Lucius Malfoy opposed the overhaul vehemently, despite the fact that even some of the traditionalists agreed it was outdated and unnecessary.”
“Really?” My heart felt heavy. If Lucius – Mr. White – was backing anti-gay legislation, I couldn't see a relationship with him. But Hermione was shaking her head with a frown, as if she could hear my thoughts.
“Which means, either he has some massive issues with internalised homophobia or the political opinions he presents publicly have little to do with his actual views.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Why do you think? It's politics. He's got position and standing. Why would he risk that?”
“How about to openly support the things he actually believes in?”
Hermione snorted. “He's a Slytherin.”
Hermiones tone turned gentle. “If you really want to understand, you need to talk to him. If... if you think you can trust him.”
I was quiet for a moment, staring at the trees standing in the park, stripped of leaves by the cold of winter. “I do. Trust him. Is that stupid?”
Hermione's hand was warm on my shoulder. “Whether it is or isn't-- there really wouldn't be much to fight for if you didn't.”
“Yeah, I guess you're right.”
Dear Mr. White,
Is it silly if I still call you that? My mind has some difficulties with connecting the two of you (see?)...
Thank you for giving me space after Boxing Day happened, I appreciate it. Also thanks for giving permission to share your identity with some other people, I know Luna asked you. So far I've only told one friend, who is 100% trustworthy. Oh hell, might as well use names now. You have a right to know besides. Hermione Granger-Weasley knows now, she's still one of my closest friends. I know you two see each other at the Ministry every so often, but she's discrete and it was good to talk to her because she's a very understanding person.
This feels like dragging up old things, and I hate talking about the War, but I feel like maybe we should?
It seems only fair that I would extend you the same offer of sharing my identity with others, but honestly I don't feel ready for that. Sorry. You haven't asked, buy I wanted to acknowledge it at least.
“Do you still find this stupid?”
Jamie slouched on the sofa, facing the TV. He scowled, but his eyes remained locked on the car chase. “Muggle films are weird,” he muttered. Yet his face lit up when one of the black SUVs doing the chasing crashed into a wall.
“You're the one who chose James Bond.”
“I have to stare at the bloke's face every morning, Dylan won't get rid of the posters in our dorm.” Jamie gestured at the screen. “I don't really get what's so cool about him.”
Probably something to do with the pretty girl and the fast car, but that was kind of lost on me, too. “Fair enough.”
Jamie finished off the bag of crisps during the rest of the film, which kept us entertained enough despite both of our claims to the contrary. When the credits rolled, I got up and headed to the kitchen. “You want a butterbeer?”
“Shouldn't you be sending me to bed? It's, like, half one. Not that I'm complaining.”
Jamie's lips twisted into a half-smile as he reached for the bottle I set on the table. “Nah.”
The armchair welcomed me and my own drink, and we sat in a silence for a bit. For me it was comfortable having Jamie with me, in the quiet of the night. Al and Lily were both fast asleep, but I knew they were both well and looking forward to the morning and going back to their mum's for the rest of the holidays. Ginny and I had agreed about the scheduling relatively easily in the end. The kids would be helping her with Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes for the New Years' rush, which Al was buzzed about – he'd been getting jittery, rattling around at my place.
Jamie, however, I knew he wasn't enthusiastic to go, more resigned. He seemed anxious, too, fiddling with the label of the bottle. I kept my body language relaxed, not wanting to put him on the spot, but asked carefully, “Do you want to talk about it? Whatever it is that's on your mind?”
Jamie glanced at me quickly, brushing his hair back self-consciously. He seemed hesitant, but after a few moments of fidgeting blurted out, “How did you know for sure that you were meant to be in Hogwarts?”
Still unsure what this was about, I took a moment to think about it. “Well, I'd always felt like I didn't quite fit in the muggle world. And Hagrid was nice, and pretty convincing, you know, just meeting him... He didn't look like any muggle I'd seen before. So I went with it. But in some way, I didn't feel sure for a long time, didn't feel like I really belonged there either. Especially when I had to go back to Dursleys', I was always scared I wouldn't get to return to Hogwarts.”
Jamie looked away and was quiet for a long while, so I decided to ask directly. “Is that something you're worried about? That you're not supposed to be at Hogwarts?”
“I dunno, maybe I shouldn't have magic at all.” Jamie was biting his lip, clearly distressed. “It could've been a mistake.”
“It's something you're either born with or without,” I said gently. “You clearly have magical abilities, a gift for it.”
“Yeah, one hell of a gift,” Jamie muttered.
“Do you feel like you'd rather not have magic?”
“Maybe. No. I don't know, that's not the point.”
“Okay,” I said as Jamie glared at me. “I'm just trying to understand. You know, why you feel like that.”
“No wizards are like me. Some muggles-- they do, they can just. They can do something about it. But when you're a-- when you've got magic, you're just born what you're supposed to be.” Jamie was clutching the bottle between his hands, but he met my eyes solembly, looking like the words hurt him. “You're born either a wizard of a witch. There's no transgender magical people.”
“Oh,” I said, finally grasping what he was getting at. Jamie was already continuing, angry now, words seeming to come in a rush now that he'd begun.
“It's like, muggles can sometimes-- they know, some boys know when they're four or five they were supposed to be a girl, and they-- they get stuff for it and they're in school still but everybody knows they're a girl and it's okay...”
Jamie's voice broke, and I stopped myself from reaching out, knowing he wanted his space. Or she wanted..? It wasn't time for that right now, though. “Some wizards know, too. And some witches. They feel like that when they're kids, or sometimes when they're older, it's not just muggles. And it's okay.”
“Hey.” Jamie had muttered his words to the carpet, but he glanced up at the firmness of my voice. “I wouldn't say that if it wasn't true. I know a witch, an adult witch who went through that. I mean, she went to school as a boy, but she got treatments afterwards, in her twenties.”
“It's not well known about her, I'll need to ask her that it's okay for me to tell you, but I'm pretty sure she'll be okay with that and would talk to you about it if you wanted to. But also-- you can do anything you want, what you feel is right, I'll support you all the way and I'm sure you'll find your mum will too.”
Jamie was shaking his head, looking frantic. “No, I don't want mum to know! You won't tell her, will you dad?”
“I won't, I promise, not unless you want me to talk to her at some point,” I said with a sigh. Ginny would be so angry if she ever found out I'd hidden something this big about our kid. To be honest, I wasn't even sure it was the right decision – was it part of co-parenting to handle things together? Not that we'd been so good at that lately, anyway. Mostly, however, I didn't feel like it was my place to out anybody else. “Though I think you should, when you feel ready. But it's okay if you don't want to right now though, just think about it, yeah?”
“Maybe,” Jamie said, which I chose to take as an encouraging sign.
“Just, also, you have options. You know, if...” I floundered a little in my words, not quite sure how to talk about this, with the limited knowledge I had. “If you wanted to become a girl..? There's muggle medicine that you can get just like any muggle kid, and there's also some magical options – I can find out more for you. It's not that it doesn't exist, it's just that our world doesn't talk about how gender isn't always what your body is. It's hard, but you can figure this out, what you want, we can figure this out. And you don't need to decide anything right now, it's okay. But you can if you want. Go to school and get treatments, or take some time out and go back to finish later – at Hogwarts, or Beauxbatons, or Durmstrang if you preferred.”
Jamie had been looking at me sort of frozen in place, but he huffed a weak laugh at that. “Definitely not Durmstrang.”
I rose up and walked over to Jamie's couch, sitting down when he made space for me. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, leaving it there when the tension left his frame. “That's the spirit.”
“You need to ask? You've forgotten me so completely?” I said melodramatically.
“Totally.” Diane dropped both take-away cups on our desk before rounding it and throwing herself into my hug.
“I missed you.” I squeezed her tight.
“It's been five days.”
“So? I missed you.”
“I meant it's been five days. Too long.” Diane dropped a kiss on the top of my head. I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Much too long,” I agreed.
“Next time I go to Amsterdam, you're coming with me.” Diane extracted herself from the hug with a reluctance I shared. But we did have work to do, case notes to familiarise ourselves with, messages to answer. Joy.
“I'm sure the friend whose couch you're crashing on – Sophie? - will be thrilled.”
Diane waved that away. “She had her girlfriend over all the damn time. Only fair if I bring my gay best friend.”
“I'm truly touched.” I dragged my chair to the side so Diane had space to sit next to me. “Here. Boss wants us to take over the theft at Museum of Muggle History. It was just a handful of cars from 70s and 80s that got stolen, not worth a whole lot, but we don't want wizards taking on the roads.”
“No.” Diane leafed through the folder and made a disapproving noise. “Especially not in Talbots and Ladas. Even muggles shouldn't drive those.”
“Ugh, crime against style. You're so woefully ignorant of muggle culture.”
“Whatever you say,” I said, taking a sip from my cup. The coffee was heavenly but it wasn't helping with the restless feeling I had. “Listen. I can't go into all the things now, but there's been stuff going on. You know, life stuff.”
Diane shifted her attention from the work memo immediately. “Five days. Way too long. Hit me.”
“Since when has work ever kept us from talking?”
“Since we're behind already for taking time off. Crime doesn't stop, you know.”
“And, I'd rather not talk about it here.”
Diane raised a curious eyebrow. “O-kay. Well, for you I'll get up early tomorrow and come over before work. You don't still have mini-humans around, do you?"
“They don't bite, you know. But no, I packed them on the floo in the morning.”
“I know, I've met them. Too old and civilised to bite. Still, I assume it'll be easier to talk without tiny ears everywhere.”
“You know I will expect a brunch.”
“Ugh, cooking at 9am.”
“Egg-white omelette with tomato and cheddar, please.”
It was nearly midnight when I apparated home, exhausted. We'd hardly gotten anything done besides endless paperwork. Being on the field always made me feel like I was doing something useful, making a difference, but paperwork was soul-numbing. Thankfully, we'd start tomorrow with pair training, which involved hitting the gym and then lots of spellwork.
Home was quiet again. A part of me missed the kids, but it was also a relief to have some solitude.
As soon as I'd swapped my Auror robes for a sweater and walked to the kitchen for something to eat, Pedro was scratching at the window. For most of the day, it had been relatively easy to shove thoughts of Mr. White, of Lucius, to the back of my head, but I couldn't deny that seeing the letter Pedro was carrying made my heart leap.
With the kids here, I'd felt like the radio silence had been a necessity, like it wouldn't have been right to be all wrapped up in trying to figure out the whole mess with Lucius. But. The kids would be at Ginny's and then school until the Summer, which I supposed gave me roughly six months to make any kind of potentially stupid romantic or sexual decisions.
Pedro pushed his head against my palm like a cat as I opened the window, in a generous show of affection, and then held out his leg.
“I take it Zula was happy to see you then?” I accepted the letter and Pedro ruffled his chest feathers, then turned around and took flight back out the window, the conversation clearly over.
Still contemplating my options, I set the unopened scroll on the kitchen table while I made some toast and confirmed that there was plenty of breakfast food still in my kitchen for tomorrow. Then I grabbed my plate and iPhone and headed up to my room, stripping down to my pants before crawling under the blankets and making myself comfortable.
Lucius answered on the second ring, surprise in his voice. “Mr. Orange?”
“Uh, let's go with Harry, yeah?”
“Alright. Harry.” Yeah, I definitely felt warm, hearing his voice say my name.
“Is this a bad time?”
“Not at all. Did you wish to talk about my letter? I didn't quite know what to write, I realise you may have some questions, perhaps I should have gone into more detail but I find it difficult to--”
“No,” I interrupted, realising that Lucius sounded guarded, almost... nervous. “I didn't read it.”
Suddenly feeling self-conscious, I wondered once more if this was a bad idea. But no, I could feel the resolve inside me. “Look. I don't want you to feel like you're in a court of law or something. When I sent you that short letter – the premise still stands, I do think we need to talk about what happened in the War, and about what our past interactions have been like, but. I was panicking. And I'm sorry about that.”
“You need not feel--” Lucius started, but I cut him off again.
“No, I am. Because, the thing is, I trust you. We've connected, and I know you, I know what you're like now, and I lost sight of that. All the shit you did in the War, it doesn't change how I feel about you now. I mean, hell, I wouldn't want to be judged by who I was back then, that's pretty much the reason I wanted to get to know somebody anonymously in the first place,” I said. Then let out a huff of amusement. “Sorry. You talk now, I'm gonna shut up and stop interrupting you.”
Lucius was quiet for a moment, then spoke. “I find you incredible, Harry.”
Somehow he had a way of making the most over-the-top compliments sound genuine. My cheeks felt hot, but I could hear a smile in his voice, and it made my chest feel warm. “Thanks.”
“It sounds as though you have done extensive thinking on this, so please, go on. If you wish. How would you like to handle this?”
“Yeah, I guess it just fell into place with a bit of time. But I'm not gonna read that letter, not yet anyway. If other people get to start from a clean slate, why couldn't we? Don't get me wrong, I really want to read it, I want to know you and that includes your past, who you used to be – and the same goes the other way around. But there will be a time and a place where that will come up naturally, instead of me demanding explanations, and you feeling like you have to spill your guts or I'll take off. Because I'm not going to do that. I want to know but only when you wish to share, and not out of a sense of obligation or owing it to me. Does that make sense?”
“Yes. Thank you. That is... relieving to hear. In case I haven't been clear about it, I have become rather fond of you.”
“No, you have. But it's nice to hear. And me too, I like you. And I like having you in my life. It's been hard not talking this week.”
“Yes, it has. However, it is New Year's Eve tomorrow.”
“Yeah, it is. Any plans?”
Lucius chuckled. “Plenty. And before you ask, no, I shall not give you any more hints.”
“I know I agreed before Christmas that you could plan our date, but you were taking advantage of my impaired judgement at the time, so giving me a hint is the least you could do.”
“If you are referring to the post-orgasmic state you were experiencing at the time, may I remind you that said state was entirely your own doing.” At my protesting noise, Lucius went on, and I could practically hear him smirking. “Talking hardly counts as a contribution, when it was your hand around your cock and your fingers inside your--”
“Okay okay!” I cut in, feeling a blush heat my face, a jolt of arousal in my gut. “Never should argue with a Slytherin.”
Lucius' unrestrained laughter made a smile work it's way on my lips, and I closed my eyes as I leaned back on the bed. “I'm looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. Well, tonight, technically, since it's probably almost two in the morning.”
“Half one, now. And I look forward to seeing you, as well. You hadn't been to Cote Brasserie before, is that right? It is near London Bridge, right at the Thames.”
“I haven't, but I googled it, I'll find my way there.”
“Good. In case you arrive before me, the reservations are under Mr. Harvey Keitel.”
“Harvey Keitel... Wait, are you serious?”
“Why not? Seemed as appropriate as any alias.”
“Is that how you managed a reservation on New Year's Eve? By pretending to be a famous actor?”
“Oh no, simply a coincidental namesake with the funds for excessive bribing.”
“Of course.” I rolled my eyes but couldn't help but feel a little bit pleased. It wasn't as though throwing money around was something that would impress me, the Malfoys being richer than gods besides. But even though I'd come a long way from the poverty I'd experienced when I was younger, to the point that the Potter wealth almost rivalled some of the old pureblood families, I was unused to spending money on myself, and even less used to anybody else doing so. It didn't feel half bad. “Okay, I'll see you there.”
“See you tonight, my darling.”
The riverside restaurant I was meeting Lucius at welcomed me in with a burst of warm air, and with decorations declaring Happy New Year 2021 in massive silver and purple letters that bordered on tacky. It was a relief, perhaps this place wasn't as fancy as I'd feared. I'd picked up a regular black muggle suit in a bit of a haste, non-tailored but well-fitting, and it would do just fine here.
The waiters were busy, bustling from one packed table to another, but as I made my way further in I spotted a glimpse of unmistakeably Malfoy hair. With that returned the butterflies I'd been just about keeping at bay throughout the day. I made my way through to where Lucius was seated by the tall front windows that looked out to the Thames, Tower Bridge lit up bright in the background and casting light on the water.
“Hi. Hope you didn't have to wait for long.”
“Ah, hello darling.” Lucius stood to greet me. He too was wearing a black suit, though by the way it hugged his body I suspected his was professionally tailored. With it he wore the kind of silk gloves you'd expect with wizarding formal wear, them too black, but also a form-fitting shirt in a shade of dark pink you'd never see on a man in wizarding spaces. He was clean shaven, his hair pulled gently to the side, and he looked unfairly good. “Not at all, I arrived only a few minutes ago.”
One of the many waiters who had been too busy earlier miraculously appeared at our table to take my coat. As soon as she walked away, I was pulled into a warm hug.
“Lovely to see you, Harry,” Lucius murmured in my ear. He was solid against me, and so clearly unbothered by the people around us that it made me relax into the embrace.
“Mm, you too. I've rarely had a day pass slower, and we didn't even have paperwork.”
“I'm terribly sorry to hear about your boredom.”
Lucius' gaze followed as I sat down, making no secret of checking me out. Not like I minded. “How was your day, Harry?”
“A bit of a long one, I've been looking forwards to getting to sit down with you and relax,” I said. “Diane came over before work – my auror partner – we had a quick catch up. It's been a busy few days, actually, but Merlin it's good to have some more adult interaction. I mean, it was great to have some time off and have my kids staying with me for some of the holidays, but I can't say I mind the peace and quiet now that they've gone to stay with their mother.”
“How long did you have them again?”
“Until yesterday morning – so, what, four days? It's not like it's that long, they stayed for a month last summer, but it's the holidays, Christmas and all that is always more stressful.”
“Yes, I can see that. Certainly there is more pressure towards family time,” Lucius said. Our waiter appeared with a bottle of red and poured us both some. “Hope you don't mind, I took the liberty of ordering for the both of us,”
“This being your date to plan, I guess I can let it slide, but you better not complain when it's my turn.”
Lucius tilted his head with an amused smile, and raised his wine glass for me to clink mine against. “I suppose we'll see.”
“Stubborn,” I complained, but as I sipped my wine I had to admit it was probably a lot better than anything I would've known to pick out. Not really my area of expertise. “Well, holidays over, now it's just me and my bird again. Pedro's acting all smug now that he's got his own space back, but I know he secretly adores the kids. How have you been, anyway, you recovered from family Christmas?”
“Quite. I am taking a few more weeks off from writing, I usually do after finishing a book,” Lucius said. “For some reason it never feels right to start a new one right away, even if it means my pace needs to be faster when I am working.”
“Oh right, you had something come out before Christmas. It do alright?”
Lucius chuckled. “Well enough, for a children's book. We were actually surprised, the wizarding edition was more popular than expected – still nowhere near muggle sales, of course, but the market is so much smaller it's hardly surprising.”
“You do realise it probably wouldn't be too hard for me to go eye up the children's section at Flourish and Blotts and figure out which one's yours.”
“But surely you would never use your Auror skills in such a nefarious way?”
“Fine, I'll wear you down sooner or later.”
“I'm sure you will, Harry.”
“What have you been up to since we were at Andromeda's? You've been in London?”
“Yes. Scorpius came to visit me for a few days. Draco and Stori joined us for a stroll in Hyde Park, but Scorpius is much more comfortable venturing into muggle London than his parents. He particularly seemed to enjoy Camden.”
“Oh great. At least I know who to blame for Al's upcoming wardrobe choices when I'm next called in by McGonagall.”
“Wardrobe, hair dye, make up... Who can say.”
“Fantastic,” I told Lucius dryly, but couldn't keep a smile off my face, he seemed so pleased with himself.
“You sound like my son did when he came to pick Scorpius up,” Lucius remarked, then laughed at my resulting glare. Not that I really minded whatever way Al chose to express himself anyway, as long as fighting wasn't included.
Our waiter appeared once more to top up our wine glasses, and another one followed her, quickly spreading out an arrangement of small round plates before us. The both of them finished with a flourish of spices, and disappeared as quickly as they'd shown up.
“Enjoy,” Lucius said.
“I'm sure I will.” Everything looked delicious, including the man opposite me. “I didn't realise they serve tapas here.”
“Of course they do,” Lucius said with a quick flash of a smile that would make you doubt your own grandmother.
“In a French restaurant.” Lucius said nothing. I narrowed my eyes at him. “You didn't actually make them serve Spanish food just because I like it. Right?”
Instead of answering, Lucius made a show of cutting into the tortilla and offering it on his fork. There was something absurdly daring and filthy in the simple action of leaning in to accept the piece.
It tasted as good as I could've expected, but that wasn't really what I was focused on. There was a pleasant warmth in my chest, excitement and affection, and an impulse made me get up and step around the table to press a soft kiss on Lucius' lips. He was so damn smooth all the time, it was somehow intensely pleasing to see his eyes widen in surprise and then flutter closed as he leaned in. I could feel the hint of a stubble under my palm, and a part of me wanted to deepen the kiss, but I reminded myself I was forty, not fourteen. We weren't in any rush. I kept it chaste, lingering for another moment before returning to my seat.
Lucius looked a little bit flustered, colour high on his cheeks, and his gloved fingers played with his utensils. “What was that for? Not that I am complaining, mind.”
If there had been any nerves left over from earlier, they were well and gone now. I stilled his fingers with my own. “You don't have to impress me, you know? I'm already plenty gone on you. This is all lovely,” I gestured at the tiny tapas dishes, at the candles beside them, at the fantastic view. “But I like you for you, not for your ability to procure Spanish food for me.”
Lucius stared at me, then huffed a laughter. “On of the first things that drew me to you, yet I keep forgetting.”
“So damn perceptive.”
I laughed at that, giving his hand a squeeze before starting on the food. “I have my moments.”
There was paella after the tapas, followed by a decadent chocolate mousse that Lucius only threatened to feed me Hollywood-film style.
We were both laughing as we stepped out of the restaurant, Lucius helping me into my coat despite my protests. The night was more chilly than a few hours ago, but I was dressed warm enough, and with Lucius holding out his hand to me I gladly followed him to walk alongside Thames and up a narrow staircase to the bridge. There were even more muggles on the bridge, groups and couples who we navigated through. It was hardly a surprise though on New Years Eve, it being past eleven and getting closer to the fireworks. Partly, I expected us to find a spot amongst the crowds, but Lucius took me the other way instead, past a tube station and turning once more to a smaller street.
“You're still not going to tell me where you're taking me?”
Lucius hummed, his voice teasing. “Actually, as much as I'd love to keep up the mystery, it will soon be obvious. I'm afraid you may think me ostentatious, and perhaps had I known the futility of attempting to impress you, I would have planned for us to drink Carlsberg and watch films in our pants instead. Alas, it is too late now.”
“Fuck you,” I said, laughing. “I'm a classy lady, I'll put out for nothing less than mediocre craft beer.”
“And here I was hoping there was still a chance for us.”
“Ehh, what is the point of dating an older man if he doesn't keep you the way you deserve?” I said, making Lucius burst out laughing. I, on the other hand, finally clocked onto where we were walking, and stopped short. “Oh. Um, wow. Okay then.”
“Not objecting, I hope?”
A small laughter escaped me. “Yeah no, this is awesome. Do your worst.”
The Shard rose before us, the glass panels rising up and gleaming in seemingly endless rows. Lucius caught the attention of a harassed looking bouncer, who stepped aside to let us in, much to the annoyance of groups of muggles congregated near the doors.
The inside was all smooth marble and modern angles, and we crammed ourselves into a lift with a bunch of expensively dressed people, the women in heels which made them all about half a foot taller than me. Lucius' palm was resting on the small of my back, giving me a thrill as though I'd had much more than the few glasses of wine. None of the other people paid us much mind, there was one guy glancing at how close we stood and giving us an absent smile, and then he was laughing at his girlfriend's struggle to extract something from her handbag and trying to offer clearly unappreciated help to her. It didn't seem anybody cared. I pressed myself against Lucius, enjoying the swoop in my stomach as the lift ascended, enjoying the strange sense of safety and comfort in being close to him with a sense that I didn't need to worry about it.
There was a ding, and the metal doors opened to loud, bass-heavy muggle music. The group stumbled out in front of us, and we followed them onto a packed floor, surrounded by windows that made you feel like there was very little between you and a 300 metre drop to the ground. The city lights spread outwards in all directions. A smartly dressed greeter offered us champagne flutes and politely ushered us into the fray. Lucius gave me a smile and took me by the hand, and we shifted through the dancing and drinking and chatting people until we found a slightly less occupied gap.
Lucius leaned closer to me to make himself heard. “All good?”
“It's breathtaking.” On occasion that I'd had cause to use my auror broom on a job, I'd seen London from above, but never from these kinds of heights. “Thanks for planning this – it must've been hard to get tickets. Wait – you didn't Confund anybody, did you?”
Lucius huffed a laughter. “No. I have had a strict policy against using magic on muggles for years now. Perhaps, had a significant donation not sufficed, I would have had to reconsider.”
“You are hilarious.” In all honesty, the topic raised some conflicting feelings. I kind of liked him making light of it, and I definitely liked that the notion seemed absurd to him now. The reminder of his past wasn't entirely comfortable, but it wasn't really something I wanted to think about right now. Surrounded by people, by strangers and their noise, we still had this surreal bubble for just the two of us, and it felt easy to pull Lucius to me, my hands on his hips as our lips met. Lucius' mouth was at first gentle against mine, and then hotter, his hands moving down my back as I opened up to him and got lost in his kisses.
We only broke apart as someone stumbled into us, and I laughed off their apologies, still surrounded by Lucius' arms. On the rooftop patio we were basically outdoors, but I felt hot in my jacket, and hotter from his touch. I reached from the glass I'd set down on a nearby counter - not like anybody could touch it with the charms I routinely put on any of food and drink - and took a sip. But Lucius' intense gaze on my mouth made me abandon it once more in favour of kissing him more, although this time he was the one to break it off, stepping back slightly, looking flustered and incredibly sexy.
“It is nearly midnight. You are terribly distracting, my dear.”
A giddy laugh escaped me, as I forcibly restrained myself from following him and replastering myself to him. “Look who's talking.”
Lucius grinned, joyful and bright, before extending his hand as if asking me to dance at a ministry ball – or at least how one would ask an appropriate female partner. But when I took it, he simply led me to turn half a step so that I was fully facing the windows, and the fantastic view on the city. Lucius stepped behind me, his arms gently settling around my waist. I could feel a bit of roughness where his face brushed my neck, and I couldn't help tilting my head slightly to give him space. His lips were hot on my skin for a beat before he chuckled darkly. “As I said, terribly distracting.”
My voice came out pretty breathless, but regardless I had to point out, “Yes, your life must be real hard.”
“Hmm, quite hard indeed,” Lucius drawled.
It took a moment for it to click, and I groaned, half-laughing. “Oh my god, you are the worst.” My face felt hot, but that didn't stop me from grinding slightly against him, because yeah, I'd felt him, enough to suspect, and it wasn't like he was the only one. Lucius' body pressed behind me wasn't helping. But then again... nobody cared. It didn't matter, and there was a heady sense of freedom to that.
We settled into each other, swaying slightly to the music and reclaiming our slightly less bubbly drinks. It wasn't long before the fireworks started, shot up near the London Eye and lighting up the sky in bright rainbow colours to the cheering of beautiful muggle strangers. And I cheered with them, explosions in the sky, so close, making me feel higher, like the only thing grounding me was the man holding me.
And then the last fireworks were fading into darkness, and the music blasted back on, and the dancing resumed around us, and I could barely make out Lucius' words, but they made me feel hot everywhere. “You want to take this somewhere more private?”
Finally we got these guys on a date! It's about time..... :D Thanks for sticking with us <3