Ginny is puking, and Harry doesn't want to hold back her hair.
He's lying on her bed, listening to her retches, and wonders if he needs to go into the bathroom and, what? He can't really help, can he?
Just what they need—acute sickness on top of all the grief, funerals, and post-war weirdness. He wonders if his immune system will be able to fight off whatever she has. It can't be particularly robust right now. He's only just started to feel well-fed again.
He's not technically supposed to be in Ginny's room at all, so it doesn't seem smart to go hang out in the hallway outside the bathroom.
He stares up at Ginny's ceiling. The plaster is cracked in places, and younger Ginny had used shimmering gold paint on the cracks. There are charmed stars up there too, but the spell is fading. The stars perpetually look like that moment right before sunrise, when you know the stars will be gone any minute, lost to the new day.
Harry's spent a lot of time in this bed in the past couple months, and he knows the ceiling quite well. He knows it from studying the fading stars while trying to stave off a too-soon orgasm. He knows it from insomnia. He knows it from looking away, unsure why he isn't happier, why he isn't looking at Ginny's beautiful face as she sleeps peacefully next to him.
The door opens and Ginny walks in, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "Ugh. Did we eat something off?"
Harry's face crumples in sympathy. "I don't think so. You alright?"
She flops onto the bed, still looking a bit green. It clashes with her hair. "I feel like shit."
Harry hums his agreement. He's felt like shit for months. "Want me to get you a potion or something?"
She doesn't answer, and Harry eventually tears his eyes away from trying to find non-existent constellations on the ceiling. He wrinkles his nose in confusion; Ginny is poking one of her tits. "Um, Gin?"
"My boob feels weird."
Harry reaches out and pokes the other one. Seems normal to him. "Seems normal to me."
"Ow," she says, pressing the palm of her hand against where he had poked, then her eyes fly open in a panic.
"What?" Harry asks, sitting up and grabbing his wand, war reflexes springing into action. "I'm sorry—did I hurt you?—are you alright?"
"Shit, shit, shit, shit, fucking shit," Ginny whispers, her cheeks red. She hops up from the bed and peers at a calendar on the wall above her desk. "Shit!"
Harry thinks he is supposed to have realised something here. "What?!"
"Day 42. Puking. Sore boobs."
Oh. Harry's eyes widen. "What?! No way."
"Don't just say no way," Ginny scolds, sticking a finger out towards him. "You know as well as I do that there is a way, so don't say no way unless we actually figure out that I'm wrong. Oh my god. We cannot tell my mum."
"Okay," Harry says, wanting to jump into action but having no idea what to do. "So we, um—Muggles get these sticks you pee on, to see if they're...if that's true. Do wizards have a better solution?"
Ginny wrinkles her nose. "Pee sticks?! What are you talking about? We use a charm. I've never done it before, though—if I really wanted to be sure I'd call Hermione in to do it, but I don't really want to."
"No way," Harry says, panicking. "Don't call Hermione. We can figure out a charm. Tell it to me; I'll do it."
Ginny fixes him with a look. "I'm better at charms than you, just give me a second." She rummages through a bunch of books piled on her floor, pulls one out, and starts flipping through. "If I'm pregnant, it'll turn blue." Her face takes on the concentrated look that Harry remembers from battle, and she waves her wand towards her stomach. A moment later, her midsection is engulfed in a shining blue haze.
Harry's stomach drops to the vicinity of his feet.
Ginny collapses into her desk chair, her head dropping to the desk as she softly bangs her forehead against the wood. "This cannot be happening."
"You didn't tell me you were late," Harry says, wincing when he realises it sounds like he's blaming her.
Her head whips up, her eyes narrow. "Harry, when have you ever—even a single time—been willing to talk to me about my period? You clam up and turn beet red if I so much as mention it in passing." She pauses, runs a hand through her hair. "My periods have been weird for months, probably because of stress. It didn't seem notable. We did the charms, didn't we? I think we did."
Harry doesn't even know. The past few months have been a blur of sadness, and his times with Ginny have been comforting for both of them, but he's not sure how smart the two of them have been. Sex with Ginny has been an escape, and if sex is an escape, it's easy to forget that it has consequences in the real world you're escaping. It's hard to remember that sex can have a downside, especially when the pleasure stands in stark contrast with all the hate and war and death of the past year. He shrugs. "I don't know. I think we did."
"Well apparently we didn't." Ginny sighs. She doesn't look mad at him, but Harry feels her words like a knife to the gut.
"What can we—" Harry doesn't know how to finish his question.
Ginny stands up, tugging her pyjama top off and rummaging, topless, in her drawers for a bra and t-shirt. "Nothing. Right now, there's nothing we can do. You have to go to the Wizengamot, and I have to go make sure George is okay. We'll talk about it later. Unfortunately, it'll keep."
Harry blinks. He can't believe she's going to, to—compartmentalise this. "I can cancel with the—"
She turns around, still topless, her breasts looking, Harry thinks, bigger than usual. But that's probably in his head. "No, Harry, you can't. They need you there. We can figure this out later." She tugs a red sports bra over her head and uses her hands to stuff her boobs into it, frowning when one spills over the top. Maybe not in his head.
"Fine," Harry says, feeling helpless for about the millionth time in his life. "We'll talk after dinner?"
She nods and pulls a Gryffindor Quidditch t-shirt on. "Just pray my mom doesn't see me feeling queasy." She flashes him a smile that seems much too carefree, given the situation.
Harry has always known that Ginny is stronger than him, but if he'd had any doubt before, this would prove it.
She leaves without a hug or kiss.
Harry's brain doesn't want to be back in the Manor at the end of the war, or up on the Astronomy Tower. His mind is fixated on the fact of a tiny, growing bundle of cells in Ginny's belly. A growing bundle of cells, half of which came from Harry. It is too much for his mind to comprehend, really, and he thinks he's doing pretty well when he makes it to his seat only slamming his shin into an armrest once.
He's been to so many trials that it feels like his full-time job. He supposes it is his full-time job. He completely checks out during the bureaucratic nonsense that he's heard over and over, his mind wandering, wondering what the fuck he and Ginny are going to do.
They'd both just had birthdays, but still, Harry is eighteen and Ginny is seventeen. All of the Weasleys are deep in their grief over the loss of Fred and the others who died. And Harry is, quite frankly, a mess. He isn't sure what words to use to define the mess, but he is sure that he is some type of mess. Depressed? Traumatised? Who knows.
It is definitely an unideal time for a baby.
Harry doesn't have a job or and he doesn't know what he wants to do. He has no idea what to do with himself; he only knows he can't go back to Hogwarts. It's like the final year of the war was a turning point in his life—he's not a kid anymore. He can't go back.
But he's not an adult, either, so he's not sure where that leaves him.
The Wizengamot calls Malfoy out, but Harry is barely paying attention. How does anyone who's expecting a baby get on with their regular life? How does anyone just pretend like things are normal?
Maybe Harry can get a job at one of the shops in Diagon, earn some money, get a flat. Ginny can go back to school after the baby is born. Harry has all that money from his parents' and Sirius's vaults; they'd be okay, moneywise.
Of course, Molly Weasley might kill him. Harry remembers, vividly, how scary Molly was when she killed Bellatrix. He can only too easily imagine that wrath turned on him, even though Ginny was a willing participant in the activities that led to this situation.
“The charges against the accused are as follows,” a man in plum-coloured robes says, “treason, in that he did knowingly and willingly enter into Tom Riddle’s service.”
Harry doesn't know much about babies, but he does know that the most important thing babies need is a simple one: love. He thinks of Teddy, a tiny bundle of hair, spit-up, and crying. He's still not comfortable holding Teddy, if he's honest, but he's getting there. It's not like he'd be a bad dad. He would try, he would be there, and that's all it requires, isn't it?
“Accomplice to murder, in that he provided safe passage for those known as Death Eaters into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Attempted murder, in that he willfully and with premeditation planned to kill Albus Dumbledore. Assault, in that he harmed both Ronald Weasley and Katie Bell in the course of his attempted murder.”
Except he has no idea, really. He can't help but wonder how his dad reacted when they'd found out about Harry. His parents had been only nineteen when they got pregnant, and Harry's long assumed it hadn't been intentional. What did they think? Had they freaked out?
What Harry wouldn't give to be able to ask them. Or to ask Sirius or Remus. But they're all dead.
“Harry James Potter, to testify on behalf of the accused.”
Automatically, Harry stands and walks to the witness stand. Malfoy looks like shit. Why does he look like such shit? Is the Ministry doing a bad job of caring for people awaiting trial? Harry feels awkward as he takes his seat. He feels like Malfoy is somehow going to hold this testimony against him. Malfoy will probably blame Harry if Harry's testimony isn't enough to keep him out of Azkaban.
"Mr Potter," Malfoy's solicitor says, "please inform the Court of your whereabouts at the time of Albus Dumbledore's death."
Harry takes a breath and begins the process of answering questions slowly and deliberately, making sure to include every single thing that had ever happened in the last few years that made Harry think maybe, just maybe, Draco Malfoy wasn't a complete prick.
"Okay, what's going on?" Molly says, hand flying to her hip. "Is something wrong with my chicken? It seems fine to me, but Ginny and Harry are acting like it's undercooked."
"No!" Harry says, hurriedly forking a large bite into his mouth. "The chicken is delicious!"
Molly's face turns from confused to concerned. "Was it a bad trial today, dear? Who was it—the young Malfoy, right?"
"It was—fine," he responds. "They let him off."
Molly hums, and Harry can't tell whether it's an approving hmmm or a disappointed hmmm.
Harry glances at Ginny. She seems to be making a renewed effort to eat. Harry hopes she doesn't end up vomiting at the table.
They somehow make it through the rest of dinner, Hermione and Ron carrying the conversation, and when everyone's finished, Harry quickly clears his place and runs upstairs to Ginny's room, closing the door behind him. He sits on the bed and waits.
Ginny enters a few minutes later, and she gives him a weary smile.
"How do you feel?" Harry asks in a rush.
"Like shit," Ginny says, sitting next to Harry on the bed and flopping backward to lie there, legs dangling off the side of the bed. "But it's all taken care of. I went to St Mungo's."
Harry turns to get a better look at her. "What do you mean? You had a prenatal appointment? Why didn't you wait so I could go with you?"
She pushes herself up on her elbows, looking at him with a curious intensity. "It's done. I had an abortion."
Harry stares. The words make no sense. "You—what?"
She blinks, confused. "I mean, we said we would talk about it, but themore I thought about it the more I realised I needed to do it as soon as possible. You can't honestly think there was any other choice?"
It's like Harry's brain is short-circuiting—he can't connect any words or concepts into coherent thoughts. She did what? "We didn't even talk about it!"
"What was there to talk about?"
She's so calm—weary but calm—and Harry doesn't understand. How can she be acting so...so...logical? "What was there to talk about!?" Harry's voice sounds unhinged. "How about the fact that we made a baby!" He's scream-whispering.
"I'm seventeen! We can't have a baby! It makes sense to take care of it as soon as possible!"
Harry thinks of everything he knows about abortion, which is mostly from Muggle media: movies where characters debate endlessly about what to do, almost get an abortion, and then, at the last second, decide that they can't go through with it, and end up a happy, loving family. That's what's supposed to happen. That's the script.
He doesn't know what to say. "I'm not—I'm not saying I didn't want to discuss...that. I'm saying it feels like shit that you did it without consulting me."
"I don't need to consult you. It's not up to you, Harry." Her eyes blaze. "I'm only seventeen. I need to send an owl to the Harpies to accept a spot on their reserve team. You're a mess. We cannot be parents."
"My parents were only nineteen when—"
Ginny jumps up. "I am not your mother, Harry Potter. We are not your parents."
Harry feels like he's been slapped. Apparently they're not. "I know that. I don't think we're my parents. I just thought—I thought you'd want to talk to me. I thought you wanted me. I thought you wanted us to be—to be a team!"
Ginny tips her head towards him, as if trying to figure him out. "This isn't about whether you're wanted, Harry." Harry's stomach drops. "And you need to realise that you can't rely on other people to make you feel wanted. This isn't about any of that."
Harry, stoutly, ignores her. "I just—I thought we talked about things. I thought we trusted each other. Why wouldn't you even discuss it with me? It's not any old decision. It's a baby."
Her face is completely red now. "It wasn't a baby. It was like, six cells in a trench coat."
His jaw drops. "You're acting like a callous bitch."
She turns deadly still. "Get out of my room."
"You can't just kick me out!" Harry stands, and he's hot with anger. "That's not what families do!"
"Well, one, we're not a family. And two, you know what families don't do? Force each other to give birth."
"I don't want to force you to give birth!" Harry throws his hand up in frustration. She's not listening at all. "I want to force you to take one tiny millisecond to consider how I'm feeling!"
She takes two long strides towards him. "Get. Out."
For a moment, Harry considers resisting. He can't leave. You can't leave your partner in a fight like this. But there's a noise on the landing—sounds like Ron and Hermione bickering—and it snaps Harry out of it. He has to leave. "Fine."
He turns, flees, and slams the door behind him.
And he knows he could work at WWW with George, if he wanted.
Hell, he could move into drafty old Grimmauld Place, live off his vault, and do nothing but chat with an ancient elf and cursed paintings.
No. At the very least, he has a sense of which options would be a terrible idea. What he knows most of all is that he can't stay at the Burrow. He doesn't belong here. He doesn't belong anywhere.
He and Ginny had tried to talk again, and it had been hopeless—disastrous. The kind of talk that doesn't so much open up a rift, but shines a light on rifts already there.
He just needs to make a decision, to find a place. Everything can fall into place once he decides on a thing to do. If he picks something, he can throw himself into that life; he can become a person who belongs there, wherever that is.
He Vanishes all but two letters.
Ice cream, or uni?
"I can't believe you're leaving," Ron says for the twentieth time. "You don't have to leave just because you and Ginny had a fight."
"I know," Harry says, and he's grateful for Ron's support, he really is. But he still needs to get out of here.
"I'm the one who should be living with Hermione." Ron sounds a bit petulant now.
Turns out that Hermione had somehow applied to the London School of Economics law programme while they were on the run last year. Harry still hasn't got a clear answer from her about how she managed to do this. The idea that he might have applied to school in that fucking tent is so preposterous that Harry can't wrap his head around the fact that she did it. But then, he can. Hermione's going to change the world.
Hermione's going to change the world in London, where Harry will be. So they've rented a flat. Harry can't wait. Hermione is best suited to be his roommate out of all his friends, including Ron. Harry and Hermione are the friend equivalent of a power couple.
Harry shrugs. "I'm sure you'll be there a lot." What Harry will do once Hermione and Ron decide to move in together, he has no idea.
Ron's going to work at WWW with George and do home study to sit his N.E.W.T.s next summer. He had wanted to sign the lease with Harry and Hermione, but Hermione had point blank refused. She says their relationship is still too fragile after "last year"—which they all know is a euphemism for "Ron leaving them alone in the tent"—and she wants her own space. Ron pointed out that she is willing to share her space with Harry, but Hermione hadn't even dignified that with an answer.
Ron will be living with George once George moves out of his old flat. No one's willing to move into Fred's old room.
Harry's happy to be moving in with Hermione, but it doesn't change the fact that he feels like a lost puppy. He's supposed to be with Ginny. For a few hours there the other day, he'd assumed they'd be like, picking out baby names.
He keeps asking himself why he hadn't even considered the possibility of an abortion. He should've immediately realised that's what Ginny would want. He should've immediately realised that's what he should want.
It hadn't even occurred to him.
He just wants a normal life. He was never able to have it before, and now the war is over. It's his first chance ever to be normal. He wanted to fuck his girlfriend and figure out what to do next and get a house and a crup. Ginny was wrong—he doesn't want to be like his parents. He wants to be like—well, like everyone else. He wants a family. He wants a family who actually talk to him and don't kick him out when they argue.
And he can't even apologise to Ginny, because he's so convinced he wasn't wrong. She should've talked to him.
Maybe he shouldn't have called her a bitch.
Harry sighs, looking over his shoulder. "Are you coming?"
"Nah, mate." Ron crosses his arms over his chest. "Hermione told me we're not 'playing house' and she will invite me over when she's ready to invite me over."
Harry can't help it—he laughs. "Alright. I'll see you soon, then."
"Maybe you could drop some hints that you'd like to see me," Ron says. "Otherwise who knows how long it'll be."
"I keep telling both of you," Harry says, "I'm not getting in the middle of it." He's happy his friends are finally together, he really is, but honestly. He can't deal with all that.
Harry wraps Ron in a hug and squeezes. "See you soon, mate." Ron pats his back.
Harry looks behind him, at this house that has felt like almost-a-home for so long. He tries to see into Ginny's window—see if she's watching him go; see if she's not watching. He can't see inside; there's only a reflection of the blowing trees and cloudy sky.
He takes a breath and Disapparates.
He blinks, stumbling a bit, and then he has an armful of Hermione and a mouthful of her hair.
"Hey, Mi," he says, amused.
"Wait until you see how I've organised the kitchen cupboard. I'm so glad you're here. I need some help setting up an area for owls. Where do you think makes sense? I think we should have a perch and a water bowl, and maybe some treats? What do you think? You're more practised as an owl owner. Also, do you want to get yourself a mobile, or do you want me to go with you? You need to get one."
Harry takes a deep breath and smiles. He feels sad, but it's okay. They're off to the races, even if it's not what he'd imagined.
"So are you going to tell me what happened with Ginny?" she asks, never looking up from her puzzle. "Also, 'body part prone to profanity,' ten letters?"
"Arse...mouths?" Harry flips the page. He doesn't want to think about Ginny. "And you already know. We fought."
"Oh, good shout, Harry—it's potty mouth." She looks up. "Yes, but why did you fight."
"I don't want to talk about it."
It's too hard to even think about, much less talk about it with Hermione. If Harry talks about it with Hermione, they'll both end up sobbing on the floor. If he's ever in the mood for sobbing on the floor, he'll tell her. He thinks she'd be a receptive audience for parents-don't-want-me angst, ever since she returned from Australia.
But Harry knows Hermione won't rest until he gives her some answer.
"To be honest," Harry says, "I think the fight just proved that we weren't...in good shape anyway. So it's okay."
"Well, it's not okay," she says definitively. "Because you're moping around and you clearly miss her."
Does he? He's not sure. And maybe being unsure means he doesn't.
He keeps thinking about what the world would be like if his parents had decided not to have him. He obviously believes in the right to have an abortion! He may have even come to the conclusion that it was the right choice, in this case. But it's hard—knowing that you yourself might not have been wanted. It's like Ginny's uterus is the cupboard under the stairs, and the baby was small Harry.
That's probably not a healthy way to think about it.
"It's possible," Harry says, choosing his words carefully, "that I was putting a little too much pressure on Ginny. In terms of what I was expecting."
Hermione looks at him in that way she has where he's 99% sure she's not performing Legilimency, but he's sure she's seeing his soul. After a moment, she nods.
"Want to fuck some shit up?" she asks. "Take some Polyjuice and mess with people? Get drunk? Watch the original Star Wars trilogy with themed snacks?"
If Harry's going to have no family, at least he has no family with Hermione. "Let's go out and get drunk?"
She nods, her game face on, as if mentally calculating how many drinks they'll each need, where to go, whether they have Hangover Potions.
They change their clothes, Hermione putting on a pair of low-rise jeans and a shirt that shows her navel, and Harry puts on a black dress shirt. He feels a little like a tool, but whatever.
"Where should we go?"
"Well," Hermione says, looking up from her computer, "we're really close to RAMag, so any of the clubs right around here are probably filled with other students. Classes start tomorrow, after all."
Harry's still not used to the way the Royal Academy of Magic people call it "rah-mag", but he nods all the same.
Harry lets Hermione lead them to the nearest club, and he's glad for his anonymity in Muggle London. Because RAMag is located in the Muggle world, not inside Diagon or near the Ministry, it's much more removed—magical people aren't milling about unless they're students, and no one points at him. He's sure he'll have his share of that when he's actually in class, but at least the general vicinity's not terrible like in Diagon.
He follows her into the club, blinking at the loud music and flashing lights as they head to the bar. "Should we have invited Ron?" Harry asks, yelling over the music.
Hermione looks over her shoulder and shrugs. "I'm not here to hook up with anyone, so what does it matter?"
Harry thinks maybe he and Ron didn't know what they were up against, partnering with Ginny and Hermione.
Hermione buys them shots and Harry isn't sure what's in them, because he is drunk very quickly. He and Hermione take to the dance floor and start dancing like idiots to Madonna's "Ray of Light." Harry normally isn't much for dancing, but he doesn't know anyone here, and he's got all this pent up anger and emotion to get out, and Hermione is doing some terrible disco moves, so Harry lets loose, laughing hysterically as Hermione spins him, his head continuing to spiral long after his body is stationary.
Panting and red-cheeked, Harry turns to Hermione. "I need a break! I'm going to go get another drink. You coming?"
But Hermione is in the flow of dancing and waves him off. Harry, who realises exactly how drunk he is as he unsteadily makes his way to the bar, knocking into people as he goes, freezes.
Draco Malfoy is sitting at the end of the bar.
It's a bizarre sight: Draco Malfoy wearing jeans and a loose, maroon-coloured, collared bowling shirt, surrounded by Muggles, asking the bartender for a G&T. Last time Harry saw him, he'd been in shackles. Harry stands there, frozen, for a minute, until someone knocks into his back and pushes him forward a few inches. Harry is drunk enough to decide it's a good idea to walk over. "Malfoy."
Malfoy looks up, his face falling into a scowl when he recognises Harry. "Potter? Why are you here?"
"Why are you here?"
Malfoy shrugs. "Alcohol."
Harry sits on the next stool, wobbling a bit. "Yeah. Same. Congrats on, erm, not going to Azkaban."
Malfoy stares at him like he's trying to catch Harry taking the piss. Eventually he raises his glass. "Thanks for that, incidentally."
Harry shrugs. "You're still an arsehole."
"So are you." Malfoy sips his drink and fixes Harry with an assessing look. "Why are you even here? Shouldn't you be off with your adoring public, or with your perfect little girlfriend? Why are you here, alone, getting drunk and listening to terrible music?"
And I feel like I just got home, And I feel
"I'm not alone," Harry says, though he's not sure that's the point it makes most sense to defend. "Hermione's here somewhere. And trust me, my life is plenty shit enough to be out drinking alone." He frowns. "And anyway, shouldn't you be off celebrating with people? You just won your trial."
"Perhaps this is how I like to celelbrate."
Harry starts laughing, gently at first and then louder. "You're so drunk."
"You're drunk." Malfoy's mouth creases in a small smile.
For a minute, Harry doesn't say anything. He sips his drink, then looks indistinctly into the distance, his eyes unfocused on the colourful array of bottles behind the bar. This isn't what he thought life would be like, if he ever made it past the war. "I thought it would be better now."
Malfoy turns, his grey eyes looking straight at Harry. "It is better now. It's just that better than actual hell can still be total shit."
Harry snorts. Malfoy's right, obviously, and isn't that just the cherry on top of the shit sundae of his life. He doesn't know why he can't stop himself from keeping on talking. It's like the alcohol has put him in oversharing mode. With Malfoy. "I know, but I just like, I thought it would be way better." He takes another sip. "Instead I'm broken up with my girlfriend, still have no family, still can't go out without people annoying me." He catches Malfoy's eye. "Even at this Muggle bar."
"Oh, piss off." Harry realises that Malfoy's trying to hide a smile. "The Weaselette broke up with you?" He starts to laugh. "That is the funniest fucking thing I've heard in a long time."
"How do you know I didn't break up with her?" Harry asks indignantly.
"Because then you wouldn't be moping about it with me at a bar!" Malfoy responds, throwing one hand out for emphasis, still laughing.
Harry's head swims, sloshes. A man walks by and catches his eye. He's tall, thin, wearing some kind of shirt made of leather straps. Harry can't help but stare, and then he turns back to Malfoy and says, "Have you ever kissed a bloke?"
Malfoy promptly inhales his drink and splutters all over the bar, spraying liquid in a wide radius. "Have I what?!"
Harry frowns. Maybe he shouldn't have said that. Maybe this is a thing that sober Harry will not be happy about. "I said, have you ever kissed a boy?" Malfoy gapes like a fish for a moment, so Harry sighs and keeps talking. "I haven't. I think I want to. No, I mean, I definitely want to. But I've been pretending that's irrelevant for a couple years because I was fixated on Ginny. And Voldemort. Not that I wanted to kiss Voldemort! I mean, on not kissing him. On not getting killed by him, I mean. You know what I mean. It's just, now I have to deal with that too, on top of everything else." Why is he saying this to Malfoy?
Malfoy is still trying to stop coughing, his face all blotchy and his eyes watering. "I have. Not Voldemort. And not like, a particularly satisfying kiss, mind you. Better than kissing Pansy, though."
That's interesting. Harry's about to ask him about it, but his brain veers off. "Are people being shitty to you?"
Malfoy looks at him like he's a moron. "When? What people? I haven't seen anyone but my mother. If I went to Diagon, I'm sure I'd be hit with stones, but I'm smart enough not to do that, so."
"I just want people to be shitty to you for only the right reasons," Harry says, as if this makes sense, as if it's very important. "Like, because you're a knob, not because Voldemort made you do things in the war."
Malfoy sighs with some drama. "I just want people to be shitty to you, too."
"Cheers." Harry signals the bartender for another round. "Come dance with me and Hermione. The only requirement is that you have to dance poorly, and you can't act weird around us because the Prophet keeps calling us 'heroes'."
Malfoy stands up unsteadily. "Well then I'll be certain to break your rules, because I always move with grace and dignity, and I always treat you like shit."
They down their shots and Harry leads Malfoy back to the general vicinity where he left Hermione. He finds her leading a small conga line around the back corner of the room while the speakers blast Brandy and Monica's "The Boy is Mine."
Harry turns to Malfoy, a wide smile on his face. "She's a born leader, isn't she?"
Malfoy raises an eyebrow. "She's something."
Harry considers interpreting this as an insult, but Malfoy doesn't look like he's harbouring any rude thoughts about Hermione. He looks like he is trying to figure out how to keep away from the conga.
The song changes to something with a dance beat and lyrics saying, "Move to the groove, move to the groove, dance!" Harry hops into the circle of people who have stopped congaing and grabs Hermione's hand. It's too loud to say anything; she catches Malfoy's eye and sends him a drunk, sceptical eye, but continues to dance.
The minutes fade in a haze of dancing; "Tubthumping" comes on, and Hermione starts punching the air while screaming, "I get knocked down, but I get up again!" Harry laughs, happy to lose his worries to this sight, wishing Ron were here. Someone bumps up against Malfoy and suddenly Malfoy is pressed up against Harry's back while Harry sings, "Pissing the night awayyyyyy!" That's weird, and Harry isn't sure if maybe he should turn around, but then their faces would be very close together, so maybe this is better.
It's a writhing mass of bodies, and Harry overhears at least four people lament how they hate this song, but Harry can't bring himself to hate a song. A few months ago he thought he'd be dead by now. And life might be sucking of late. But not because of a band called Chumbawamba.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry watches a girl with emo hair grab Malfoy's arm and start dancing with him, which Harry finds intensely amusing. Hermione and Harry twirl each other around, jumping around the crowded dance floor like a pair of buffoons, while Malfoy slightly awkwardly dances with the Muggle girl in a Ramones t-shirt. At one point, Harry thinks he might fall over if it weren't for Hermione's hand on his hip. But then Hermione is pulling out her Nokia and walking away, frowning at the screen, taking Harry's hand off her shoulder and placing it on Malfoy's.
Malfoy turns around, looking imperiously at Harry's hand like it's a Blast-Ended Skrewt, but Harry can tell even through the drunken haze that Malfoy isn't actually being shitty, he's just being a shit. The emo girl in the Ramones shirt starts grinding against Malfoy's back, pushing him against Harry's front.
"Er, hello," Harry says, blinking to focus on Malfoy's face now that he's so close. Malfoy's hair is sweaty, completely messed up and sticking to his red-splotched forehead. His grey eyes flit to Harry's mouth and then up again.
Harry's booze-saturated brain wonders if it's normal to want to kiss Draco Malfoy. He can't remember. He can't think of any reason why he shouldn't—the war is over; he's not with Ginny anymore. He's not going to be a father. He can't think about that.
"Potter—" Malfoy starts, looking hungrily at Harry's lips, and Harry decides he doesn't want to hear what Malfoy's going to say. He lunges forward, grabbing Malfoy's bony shoulders and pressing their lips together. He pulls back almost immediately, wanting to look at Malfoy's face, to see his reaction—but Malfoy, bringing their lips together again, doesn't give him a chance. They're properly snogging now, on the dance floor, and the girl in the Ramones t-shirt seems to be cheering them on, but Harry can barely register anything except the heat of Malfoy's mouth, the way the prat's pointy fucking fingers are digging into his hips, a maddening slide of posh tongue.
Malfoy wrenches away from Harry's lips, and Harry chases it, not wanting to hear some bullshit excuse about why they should stop. The war is over. They should totally not stop. But Malfoy only raises a challenging eyebrow and says, "Now you've kissed a boy. Thoughts, Potter?"
Harry is both too drunk and too impatient to answer with words, so he surges forward to tangle their tongues together, and then Malfoy is squeezing his arse, holy shit!—but when Harry opens his eyes he realises those hands belong to Ramones girl, and Harry kinda wants to get away from all these people. He leans in close to Malfoy's ear and shouts, "Wanna get out of here?"
The speakers blare "Be My Lover," and Malfoy's head tilts as the crowd around them sings, "La da da dee da da da da."
This absurd sight causes Harry to wonder why he's standing here, attracted to Draco Malfoy. It's not like Malfoy is even that good-looking. He's skinny, and his chin is too pointy, and his complexion is so pale you can see his veins. But, frustratingly, Malfoy somehow makes this work, and Harry finds himself very turned on. Or maybe it's the booze. Or maybe it's the thrill of it being Malfoy. Or maybe Harry's just broken.
"We shouldn't," Malfoy drawls into Harry's ear. "Let's."
Heart hammering in his chest, Harry turns and heads towards the exit, knowing that Malfoy is behind him. He wobbles to the left and wonders if his arse looks good. And where is Hermione? He can't leave without saying something to her.
There she is—heading back into the crowd, a few feet to their right. "HERMIONE!" She doesn't hear. "HERMIONE!"
At his back, Malfoy starts laughing. "Potter, honestly. Block me for a second."
Harry holds his arm up awkwardly, wondering what Malfoy is doing, when Malfoy pulls his wand and sends a spell at Hermione. Harry has a moment of panic, but the spell seems just to tap her shoulder and she looks their way. She walks towards them, and Harry says, "I'll meet you at home, okay? I need to—Malfoy and I need to—talk."
Hermione narrows her eyes like she's figuring out a tricky Potions conundrum, her eyes flitting back and forth between him and Malfoy. "Er, alright. Call me if you need?"
Harry nods. "You'll be okay?" he asks her. He feels like he's doing something rebellious and wonders how badly Hermione is judging him right now for going home with Malfoy, but he also can't be arsed because he really wants Malfoy's tongue in his mouth again. She nods, and once outside, Harry turns around, his ears fuzzy as they adjust from the loud noise of the club. "Erm."
He's not sure what to say. It's not like this is some stranger he just picked up. What is he meant to say?! He stands there, gaping.
Malfoy's face shutters. "We don't have to, Potter. Don't worry about it." He makes to go back inside.
"No!" Harry's eagerness actually makes him jump, heels coming clear off the pavement. "I didn't mean that. I mean, I want to. I just. Where should we go?" Harry grabs onto a nearby lamp post for stability.
Harry nods, and as soon as he does, Malfoy grabs his wrist and Apparates. Harry's eyes don't have time to adjust to Malfoy's bedroom—he has no idea where they are, the Manor? The room seems small— but Malfoy's hands are on his face and they're kissing again.
Harry's addled brain thinks maybe he shouldn't be comparing this kiss to past kisses with Ginny, but he can't help it. He and Ginny used to kiss like this, more or less. Back in sixth year, when they were each other's bright spots in a bad year. Their recent kisses weren't like this. After the war, they'd been kissing like desperation, but not like desperation of lust, like desperation of...something else. Like if they poured enough effort into their kisses, they might kindle lust. Or normalcy. Like if they kissed with enough intensity, they might forget.
Kissing Malfoy isn't like that. Kissing Malfoy is easy. Harry's not trying to do anything, he's just...doing. Maybe it's the alcohol, but he's nothing but a bundle of sensations. He's hot face and cold hands and sweaty shirt, he's hands on bony shoulders, he's stubble on chin, he's the deep pull of heat in his gut, he's the feeling of shirt peeling off damp skin, he's the sound of it hitting the floor, he's the ziiiiip and the thump of a shoe hitting the wall. He's the bounce of the bed as they fall. He's the squeeze of strong, untentative fingers around his cock.
And that's fucking good. It's not that Ginny is hesitant while having sex. She's not. She knows what she wants. But Harry's always suspected that the tiny bit of their relationship that started off like siblings made them...solicitous. It made them careful.
Harry isn't being careful with Malfoy.
Maybe it's because they don't give a shit about each other. Maybe that frees Draco to grab too tight, to use his teeth. Maybe the fact that they're doing this at all is a huge fuck you to everyone, and to each other.
Or maybe not, Harry thinks, as Malfoy rolls off Harry and onto his back, tugging Harry on top. Harry might not understand why, but he does know it feels different. Not because there's another cock. Harry doesn't know.
Malfoy's fingers tighten, and Harry's head drops in pleasure to his shoulder. Maybe it's that there're no expectations. He doesn't expect anything from Malfoy, and Malfoy doesn't expect anything from him. There's no pressure to become a perfect family, to be good role models for the entire wizarding world. There's only orgasms. Or at least, presumably there will be orgasms. Not yet. Not right this minute, please.
Harry doesn't think; he only does what his instinct tells him to, which is apparently to rise up and back on his knees and lower his mouth to Draco Malfoy's penis, opening his mouth to fit around it, feeling a little awkward-sloppy, but not caring at all because his mouth is there and it feels like a revolution, like the biggest fuck you to anyone who ever told him what to do with his life and/or with his mouth. And he doesn't care because Malfoy chokes out a moan, which does things to Harry. Malfoy's stupid prat fingers are in his hair, twisting, and Harry fucking likes it.
Harry's just getting into the rhythm of it, he thinks, when Malfoy moans "Stop!" like Harry's imagination imagines a porn star would. It's a mixed signal to say the least, so Harry pauses, but doesn't remove his mouth. "Stop!" Malfoy repeats, more in control of himself this time.
Harry pulls his mouth off, and it sounds filthy. "What?"
"I'm not letting you get me off first," Malfoy sneers, but he has half a smile on his face—like this is all a big joke, like all their past taunts hadn't actually been full of enmity—which they had.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Harry asks, half laughing, half aghast that Malfoy is treating this as a competition.
Malfoy leans up to grab Harry's hips and yanks, falling back and pulling Harry up and over towards his face. What is he doing? What is sexy about kneeling over someone? Harry wonders, confused about what he's supposed to be doing, when Malfoy scoots down and swallows Harry's cock from underneath.
"Oh my fucking, fucking fuck," Harry mumbles, trying to keep himself under control, but his arms are shaking and he's trying so hard not to drop his weight and choke Malfoy, but Malfoy yanks and Harry isn't even sure what's happening anymore because his eyes are closed and his head is spinning and he just feels like yes yes yes yes yes. Harry's lost in it, his hips rolling forward, pushing farther, chasing that feeling in Malfoy's mouth, when suddenly Malfoy splutters, gagging and coughing, and pushes Harry's penis out of his mouth so he can catch his breath.
"I'm sorry!" Harry says, still idly thrusting into the air even as he does feel bad about choking Malfoy.
"Don't apologise," Malfoy rasps, tugging him back down. "Do it again."
"Not today, Satan," Harry says despite all his instincts screaming at him to comply. He scoots down until his face is even with Malfoy's and flops onto the bed next to him. "You'll like, go tell the papers that Harry Potter likes to choke people with his cock."
Malfoy raises one thin eyebrow. "Don't you?"
"No!" Harry says, unsure whether to be offended or to laugh. Maybe that's the key to Draco Malfoy that he's been missing all these years—he's supposed to laugh instead of getting offended. "I mean, it felt good. But it's not like I sit around fantasising about choking people."
"Suuure," Malfoy drawls.
"You're an arsehole." Harry lets his head fall drunk-swimmingly to the side to look at him.
"Indeed." Malfoy doesn't make a move to bring their bodies back together, but his gaze falls imploringly to Harry's lips. That lazy fucker always expects other people to do his bidding, doesn't he? And for some reason, Harry complies, leaning forward to instigate the kiss.
Harry's never wanted to have sex with Malfoy, but now that he's doing it—wet tongues, grasping fingers, cocks pressed tightly together in the circle of Malfoy's fingers—he keeps thinking of the old Muggle saying, "Make Love Not War." Maybe this is how they move on, how they start the rest of their lives. Maybe this is like a commencement ceremony, a ritual to symbolise the break, the start of the rest of their lives, lives not dictated by war and hate and the whims of a man named Tom. The rest of their lives—all their lives, everyone's lives—can be a swirl of contentment, and pleasure, and life—vivid, vital life, like the blood pumping through Harry's body, the sweat prickling against their skin, the feeling of skin against skin.
"That feels amazing," Harry chokes as Malfoy starts wanking him again, his head lolling to the side, falling away from Malfoy's mouth.
"Mmmh." Malfoy's hand moves faster.
Harry wants to be closer to this maddening person, and hooks his foot around Malfoy's knee, tugging to tangle their legs together. Malfoy lets out a moan, and Harry reaches down to take over the wanking—Malfoy's body presses deeply into Harry's—chest, groin, knees—and within a moment, he's pulsing his release, hot and sticky, over Harry's hand, and Harry follows, mind lost in a haze.
For a few seconds, neither of them moves. The silence of the room echoes, a stark contrast to the lurid music of the club and the blood-thumping-kissing-haze of the sex. When Harry finally pulls his hand away, looking idly for his wand so he can clean up the mess, Malfoy murmurs in a voice that sounds—but can't really be?—reverent, "We're not dead."
Harry stands, wobbles (still drunk, he notes), his sticky hand held aloft, kicking at the clothes littering the floor in the hope of uncovering one of their wands. "We are definitely alive."
"Miraculous," Malfoy drawls, and all the wonder in his voice is gone, replaced with the usual arrogance. As if it's not a miracle. Which it is.
Harry finds his wand and crouches down to retrieve it, casting to clean his hand, then his body, then Malfoy's.
"Thanks," Malfoy says, rubbing his hand on his stomach. "And thanks for the fuck, Potter. I needed that."
Harry almost laughs. Thanks for the fuck? What kind of thing is that to say? But when he meets Malfoy's eye—wanting to take the piss—he sees clear dismissal. Malfoy is telling him to get lost.
Harry blinks. It's not that he wants to stay—he had no intention of staying—but something in Malfoy's demeanour makes him feel like crap. Like it's yet another addition to a long line of casual dismissals in Harry's life.
"Right," Harry says, distractedly pulling on his pants and trousers. He finishes dressing quickly, despite his continued drunkenness. Before he leaves, he turns and looks at Malfoy. "You're right—you're not dead. Try not to massively fuck it up this time, Malfoy."
Harry rushes out of Malfoy's flat without seeing anything, wishing he were sober enough to Apparate. Disappearing seems like just the thing.
"You need to be at class in one hour," Hermione says, frowning, hand on her hip. "And you can't rely on me to wake you up!"
Harry groans, wanting nothing more than to shove his head back under the pillow. He doesn't want to deal with waking reality, in which he had sex with Draco Malfoy. And all the other stuff too, obviously—war, et cetera.
He somehow manages to down a vial of Hangover Potion, get dressed, and survive breakfast with Hermione—she's giving him this look like she knows he had sex with Malfoy, but she refuses to ask, and Harry's sure his face is saying that he had sex with Malfoy, but he refuses to tell. So they sit there in a stalemate, talking idly about marmalade.
Harry's not sure where his class is, and he isn't eager to continue sitting loudly not saying things with Hermione, so he leaves as soon as he can. He grabs his bag and makes his way downstairs. He walks the few blocks to the building where he's supposed to locate a class called Intro to Magimanities.
Harry's learned that there are lots of international students at RAMag. People come from all over Europe, and other continents as well. Because so many magical people go into the workplace or apprenticeships straight out of school, the number seeking magical higher education is substantially lower than it is in the Muggle world—so it makes sense that there are fewer programmes that each draw students from a wider geographical area. The faculty is international too, for all the same reasons.
To be honest, Harry thinks, looking around, he's not sure why he's here. Does he want to be an academic? Not really? It's more like, a thing to do. He can't sit around. So here he is.
He finds room 107, opens the door, and freezes.
Draco Malfoy is sitting in the leftmost seat in the second row.
Harry blinks. He's tempted to look at the ceiling and shake his fist at the universe. What the fuck? How can this be his life? What is he supposed to do—go sit there next to his erstwhile enemy whom he'd fucked just last night? And, oh god, he can see half a hickey on Malfoy's ridiculously white neck.
Malfoy's eyes flit to the doorway and widen slightly. Harry stares at him. Fuck it all to hell.
Well, at least he's had lots of practice walking into impossible situations. He takes a deep breath and chooses the seat directly behind Malfoy's annoying blond head.
Malfoy half turns in his seat. "You're in this class?"
Harry shrugs. "Looks that way."
"Fuck me." Malfoy turns back around.
"I already did," Harry whispers under his breath, as annoyed as Malfoy is. He watches with satisfaction as Malfoy's shoulders stiffen.
It's not that Harry wasn't expecting to know anyone here—he figured there'd be people from Hogwarts. He knew none of his closest friends were coming, but he expected to see plenty of people he knew by sight or by name. He expected to see, like, Terry Boot, or Stephen Cornfoot, or that girl from Ravenclaw whose name he always forgets. But Malfoy?! Malfoy doesn't need to work; he has like, family coffers and investitures. Is that the word? What's Malfoy doing here?
Oh, fuck it. Harry reaches for his notebook and asks, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm waiting for class to begin."
"I mean, what are you doing here? At the Royal Academy of Magic?"
Malfoy deigns to turn slightly in his seat. "I imagine I'm here for the same reason you are: to continue my magical education."
Harry almost asks something inane like, Aren't you worried people will stone you? or Did you apply while Voldemort was living with you? or Did your family or your money get you in? But he manages to keep his thoughts to himself. Trying for diplomacy, he says, "You didn't take N.E.W.T.s last year, did you?"
Malfoy turns to look at him fully with a scathing glare. "No, Potter, I didn't take N.E.W.T.s in the middle of a war in between sessions of torturing and being tortured."
"Well," Harry says, "I didn't either. McGonagall got me in."
Malfoy rolls his eyes like Harry is really stupid. "She got me in, too. I think she tried to help everyone in our year. What, did you think she only helped you? You have such a saviour complex."
"No," Harry sneers, although that had kind of been his assumption. He thought McGonagall had helped him because he'd been on the run from a madman and literally dying, not because people consider him a saviour. "What the fuck is 'magimanities,' anyway?"
"I don't know," Malfoy says dismissively, "some kind of bullshit course they make all first-year students take."
Turns out, according to Professor Malakooti, magimanities are "academic disciplines that study aspects of magical society and culture, including the relationship of magical societies to non-magical societies."
Harry tries not to stare at Malfoy's hickey. Malfoy takes copious notes.
The Healer says, "Your parents died young, did they not? They only had one child?"
Harry blinks. "Yes," he says, "but they didn't die of natural causes. There wasn't anything wrong with them—"
"Ahhh," the faceless Healer interrupts, "yes, yes. But it's not about genetics, Mr Potter. It's about fate. Don't you see?"
Harry wakes in a cold sweat, his heart racing. He's alone in bed in his new room. No Gryffindor roommates, no Ron in a Chudley-Cannons-coloured attic, no Hermione on the next bunk in a musty tent, no Ginny. He hadn't realised how much, in the wake of a nightmare, he relies on watching the rise and fall of another person's breath.
He closes his eyes and forces a deep breath in—two, three, four—and out—two, three, four. Maybe he should get a dog.
Hermione would tell him he definitely shouldn't get a dog.
It's 5:26am, and he's exhausted—and it's only the second week of classes. His heart is still beating quickly and he knows there's no chance of falling back asleep. He stumbles out of bed to splash cold water on his face. Maybe there's a café open somewhere.
He throws on a pair of jeans and a hoodie and wanders out to the street. The air is damp from recent rain and smells like morning; the streets are filled with shopkeepers putting out placards and bags of trash from last night's store closings. Harry tries two doors that are still locked, despite the hubbub inside, before he finds a café that's open.
He just wants a cup of tea. Tea will fix this. Tea can't fix everything, but it can at least fix the jitters from a nightmare. He orders the tea and a plate of toast from a tired-looking waitress and rests his elbows on the art-deco table, letting his head rest on his fist and his eyes flutter half-closed.
The bell on the door chimes as another early riser comes in. Harry glances up, expecting to see an old person, or a businessperson or someone like that. But it's Draco fucking Malfoy.
Harry groans, letting his head flop onto the laminated table. "You're stalking me," he deadpans.
Malfoy gapes at him, seeming as shocked as Harry is. "Funny. I'll remind you that this is the first time I've run into you somewhere, so it's not very logical to say that I'm stalking you."
Harry sighs. "I know. Want to sit?" He gestures at the other side of the booth. "Somehow seems less awkward than each sitting alone at different tables, pretending not to realise the other is there."
Malfoy lets loose a gusty sigh and slides into the seat across from Harry. "Couldn't sleep?"
Harry nods. "Nightmare. You?" Harry has no embarrassment about suffering from nightmares, after what they all went through last year. Malfoy doesn't need to know that Harry's most recent dream was more like the dream of a thirtysomething struggling with infertility than a dream of a war veteran.
Malfoy nods. "This is weird. You and me." He has that look on his face where it looks like he's disgusted by everything around him, but for some reason Harry can tell that face means discomfort, rather than disgust.
"You don't say."
The waitress arrives with Harry's tea and Malfoy orders tea and a muffin. After she leaves, Malfoy grabs a sugar sachet and starts fidgeting with it, flicking it back and forth between his fingers.
"I keep dreaming that I'm back in the Manor with the Dark Lord, with classmates imprisoned in my basement and no hope that things will get any better."
Harry doesn't know what to say to that. Dreams that they're back in the war are the worst. But also, Malfoy was on the very obviously wrong side and should've made different choices, so. "Sorry you're dreaming that."
Malfoy sighs. "I'm sure you're deeply sorry for me."
Somehow, Harry is, though. He doesn't envy any of it. "You know the saying: wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."
"Am I your worst enemy, then?" Malfoy asks, amused, his lip curling up as he slouches poshly and tiredly on the bench.
"Well, Voldemort's dead now, so…"
Malfoy laughs, shaking his head. "I'm unclear what one is meant to do in this situation."
"What situation, exactly?" Harry asks, sipping his tea. "Sitting with me in a café? Or finding yourself stuck in uni with me?" He puts the mug down. "Or having a years-long enmity with a boy who you end up almost killing and kind-of saving, who then ends up beating you in a war, who testifies for you in a Wizengamot trial, who you have sex with, and then keep running into around London?"
Malfoy's face is unreadable. "Let's say all of the above."
"I don't think there's a chapter on this in Debrett's."
The waitress brings their food and Malfoy's tea, and Harry busies himself buttering his toast.
"Is Debrett's a Muggle etiquette guide?" Malfoy asks. "Like Fynderne's Essential Wizarding Etiquette?"
"Er, yeah. I guess."
"Well, I think either guide would tell us we shouldn't have had sex right before starting a university programme together."
Harry raises an eyebrow. "Do you regret it?"
Malfoy's shoulder hitches up. "I suppose not. I didn't know I was about to be seeing your annoying face constantly. Seemed like we'd fuck, and then the next time we saw each other again would be years later at the Ministry and it'd be awkward in the lift or something. So it didn't seem like much of an issue. Do you regret it?"
Harry looks into his tea. "I don't know. Nothing makes sense."
"You can say that again."
Harry looks up. "Nothing makes sense."
"Hah, hah." Malfoy breaks off a piece of muffin. "So why did Weasley break up with you?"
Harry's throat clenches; he's still shocked by reminders of it—of Ginny not talking to him, not treating him like a partner, of a tiny bundle of cells, unwanted. He can't tell Malfoy any of that. He shrugs, trying to look nonchalant. "Grew apart, I guess. Had a fight. I kinda yelled at her...she didn't like that."
Malfoy starts laughing, shaking his head as if this is hilarious. "You look so sad and guilty about it. Let me ask you something: whatever you were yelling at her about, did she deserve it?"
Harry stares at him.
"Because I know that every time you've yelled at me, I've deserved it." Malfoy holds his finger up to quell the possibility of interruption. "Which isn't to say that I was in the wrong! You always deserved it, too."
Harry rolls his eyes, but can't keep a smile off his face.
Did Ginny deserve to be called a bitch? No. Did she deserve to be taken to task for not discussing the situation with Harry? Yes. It wasn't about her choice; it was about the fact that people in healthy relationships should communicate.
"She maybe deserved part of it," Harry says, wrapping his hands around his nondescript white mug. "I could've been nicer. But she deserved it."
Malfoy nods as if he knew this all along. "Exactly. See? So be grateful, Potter. You can find someone better."
Harry snorts so hard it makes ripples in his tea. "Oh yeah? It'll be excellent dating for me, with all the news coverage and everything. And I am so fucked up these days. Pretty sure despite being called Witch Weekly's Most Eligible Wizard, I am one of the worst catches in England."
Malfoy suddenly looks like his father—supremely unimpressed. He looks down his nose and says, "Don't be preposterous; faux humility is unbecoming."
"I'm serious!" Harry insists, wondering why he's so vehemently arguing for his own ill fate. "I am undateable!"
Malfoy rips off a piece of muffin and chucks it at Harry's face. It hits him square in the centre of his forehead. "Don't be an arsehole. All you need is someone who won't run away when you yell at them."
Harry gapes, torn between shock at being pelted with baked goods and a double-take at Malfoy's assessment of Harry's dateability. "Well if that's all I need, you must think I should be dating you."
Harry's tone is pure sarcasm, but Malfoy just smirks and says, "If the options are me or Ginny Weasley?" He holds his hand out to the side, as if he's just solved a complicated mathematical proof. "Q.E.D."
"You're such a piece of work," Harry sighs.
Malfoy takes an ostentatious bow. "Did you do the reading for magimanities? I have a question about Muggles relating to the text on page 37."
Harry lets his cheek drop to his hand and, amused, motions for Malfoy to ask away. This is his life now: Muggle consultant to Draco Malfoy.
"It's about firearms."
Harry raises an eyebrow.
Malfoy, apparently serious, asks, "Have you ever shot anyone?"
"What?" Incredulous, Harry picks up his head.
"It says that Muggles like to recreate by shooting each other, only I thought that shooting was rather dangerous."
Harry sighs and gestures for the book. "Give me the book. It's got to be about hunting or video games. Or gang violence, maybe."
Hermione is on the sofa behind an intimidating stack of case law textbooks, and Ron is sitting next to her watching telly and trying to get her to take a break whenever she emerges from a book. She'd instructed him earlier to make sure she takes at least two breaks before dinner, and Harry thinks Ron is doing an admirable job. He finds their relationship a bit strange, but he supposes that's not bad.
Harry's main school-related problem is that Hermione isn't in any of his classes, so he can't ask her questions about the reading. Not that she ever really liked it when he did that, mind. Harry talks to think, and Hermione thinks to talk. Or maybe she just thinks, then talks. Or who knows what Hermione does, anyway, but she doesn't require talking in order to understand her thoughts on what she's read, like Harry does.
Harry looks down at his page. He's meant to be reading something called "The Philosophy of Alchemical Science," but he keeps getting stuck on the word heuristic.
"I need a cup of tea," Hermione announces, standing. Her stack of books wobbles—it would've come crashing down if it weren't for Ron's quick stabilisation spell. "Harry, can you take a break? I need to talk to you about something."
"Uh oh," Harry says, smiling. "That sounds ominous."
He's only joking around, but Hermione's face is serious and apologetic.
"It's about the party we talked about having in a few weeks. You know, the party to celebrate our new flat?"
Hermione winces. "I want to talk to you about inviting Ginny. It's okay, right? I mean, we've got to invite her. If you'd just tell us what you argued about, we could—"
Harry's face flushes with heat. Fuck. He'd been doing a fairly good job of forgetting for the past couple days, and now. "Erm. Yes, of course. Invite her. Ginny is family."
"Maybe the party will be just what you need," Ron says, putting his feet up on the sofa. "You and Ginny can get past your row, get back together."
There's a buzzing in Harry's ears that reminds him of third year, when he used to be so affected by Dementors that he'd hear his mother's death scream. Only this time he's feeling all that, but also remembering that he and Ginny had created the beginning of a life, that they'd yelled and that now—he's alone again. He blinks. Being an orphan never stops being a flaming pile of shit. "Ginny and I aren't going to get back together. But it's fine that she'll be here."
Harry's not sure it's actually fine, but it's not like he has a choice, so it'll be fine.
"Okay, great," Hermione says, pulling out a parchment and scribbling. "And all the Hogwarts people at RAMag, of course, and everyone who works at George's, and—"
"Wait, everyone at RAMag who went to Hogwarts?" Harry asks, suddenly realising that means Hermione wants to invite Malfoy to their flat.
She lowers the parchment and looks pointedly at him. "Yes. That's no problem, is it? Unless there's a reason you're not telling me why we need to exclude someone."
Harry wants to slam his head against something. "Erm, no. That's fine."
Ron starts talking about inviting people from their old Quidditch team—apparently Angelina lives nearby—but Harry's not listening. What a nightmare. If they invite Cho, all the people Harry's ever had an awkward sexual encounter with will be in the same room together.
Except—it wasn't awkward with Malfoy, was it? Ugh. Harry doesn't want to think about that.
"Hermione, where's the remoot?" Ron's rifling around under books on the coffee table. "I want to watch that music channel Harry paid for."
"Ron, you're not watching MTV while I'm studying."
"Too right," Ron grumbles, "you're taking a break."
The flat fills with the sounds of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Harry smiles.
What the fuck does this mean, from the red book page 14:
"There are, therefore, two substantive principles following from the principle of sufficient (or rather, following Crusius, determining) reason, namely the principles of succession and coexistence."
I'm driving myself crazy trying to understand this.
Why do you assume that I have any idea what this means? Just because I had a governess when I was young? This book is impenetrable. My best guess is that it's talking about the nature of substances, like the relationship between two objects. E.g. one body cannot move closer to another without the other body moving closer to it. An even better question would be why the fuck we're reading this in the first place, as I can't see any practical application, can you?
Now I have a question for you. You explained 'video games', but I'm confused. How does a Pac Man relate to a Mario?
Where is he? Harry has Malfoy's new mobile number in his phone, but he doesn't really want to call him.
Harry scans the crowd, flinching when a woman walks by with a large, pregnant belly and he thinks of Ginny. Stop, he scolds himself, you don't even want a baby. But it still makes his insides feel as twisted as Devil's Snare.
He's helpfully distracted by the appearance of an unreasonably blond head. Malfoy's coming around Piccadilly Circus wearing, of all things, a Tommy Hilfiger jumper.
"What are you wearing?"
Malfoy looks down at his white jumper with its enormous red and navy logo, reading Tommy Jeans. "What? The shopkeeper told me this is what Muggles wear. Stop gaping like a fish; it's unbecoming."
Harry decides he can't cope with processing Malfoy's outfit, so they might as well go up the rocket escalator into SegaWorld. He stops, a thought occurring to him. "Have you ever ridden an escalator?"
Malfoy glances at the moving staircase, and Harry watches horror wash over his pointy features.
"Alright look," Harry says, "it's fairly simple: you step onto one step and then stand still and it brings you up." At the terrified look on Malfoy's face, Harry continues, "Are you going to be able—"
"Yes, Potter," Malfoy announces, arranging his face into stoic determination. "Good grief. Let's go."
Harry rolls his eyes and motions for Malfoy to go first, if he's going to be so insufferably smug about it. Malfoy steps deliberately onto the moving stairs, and Harry has to hand it to him—he only flinches slightly as he begins to rise. Harry follows. "Good work."
"Nothing to it," Malfoy replies, tone dripping with smugness.
"Now just don't get your shoe stuck in it at the top."
Malfoy laughs, and it's laced with a touch of nerves. "Good one, Potter."
"No, really," Harry insists. "Make sure you step off. You can't like...just slide off."
As they near the top of the rocket escalator, Malfoy turns, his face a rictus of horror. Harry springs into action, pushing past Malfoy so he's a few steps ahead just as it reaches the top, and he models how to step off. Merlin, the last thing Harry needs is someone to hit the emergency stop on the escalator because a posh wizard has no Muggle skills!
Malfoy manages to step safely off, copying Harry.
Harry breathes a sigh of relief. "Well, that was exciting."
"Shut up, Potter."
Harry buys tokens with a bunch of notes Malfoy hands him ("Will one hundred pounds suffice? I exchanged too much when I bought these clothes") and Harry lets Malfoy lead them around the arcade, looking at different games.
It's strange—Harry has never really been in an arcade, either. He remembers being made to stand outside one while the Dursleys went inside. He'd seen Dudley playing games at home on a series of consoles before he inevitably broke them, but Harry'd only been able to play Dudley's games the rare times he was alone.
The crowds are insane—long queues of people waiting for almost every game.
"Which of these games allows one to shoot?" Malfoy asks, looking as overwhelmed as Harry feels.
"I have no idea."
Malfoy squirms and adjusts his Tommy Hilfiger jumper. "But didn't you grow up with Muggles? Aren't these your people? I need help, Potter, don't throw me in front of the wand like this."
Harry sighs and holds up his hands. "I'm not! I really don't know. The Muggles I lived with didn't let me do anything, and I spent most of the last decade at Hogwarts being chased by Voldemort. Sorry if I can't tell you exactly which video game to play, fucking hell."
Harry doesn't belong here any more than Malfoy does.
Malfoy doesn't even blink at Harry's outburst, he merely looks around, assessing. "The problem is, one doesn't want to wait in these queues without being certain it's a good game."
"One doesn't want that, no."
Malfoy narrows his eyes. "You're making fun of me."
"A bit, yeah."
Malfoy sighs with some drama. "I suppose we can queue for Mortal Kombat."
They make their way over and stand behind two blokes with frosted tips.
"Potter," Malfoy whispers, leaning closer, "do Muggles actually come to places like this to recreate? I understand that these machines are an enjoyable pastime, but the atmosphere is…" He pauses, looking around. "Just the Two of Us" vies with game noises and the din of hundreds of voices for auditory primacy. "...Frenetic?"
"Well, most people play at home." Harry leans against a claw machine. "You can buy video game consoles for the home—they're smaller than these, though, and often have different games."
Malfoy's jaw drops. "We could be doing this in the privacy of our own homes, and instead you brought me here?"
Harry rolls his eyes. "I don't own a video game console, and I'm sure there's no electricity at the Manor."
"I'm not living at the Manor, keep up. You were at my flat. I'm living near RAMag, and it does have electricity, I'll have you know."
Harry pushes off the claw machine and turns to face Malfoy. "It does? Have you figured out how to use it?"
Harry's face breaks into a wide smile. "I disagree. It's very important."
"I didn't have the electricity turned on," Malfoy says, chin high. "That would be wasteful, when I've got magic."
Harry bursts out laughing, imagining Draco Malfoy trying to retrofit a Muggle flat to run entirely on magic.
"Oh, shut it." Malfoy rises onto his tiptoes and looks around. "Your flat has electricity. I want to play video games without the queues. Let's go."
Harry huffs a surprised laugh. "But we already paid for these tokens."
Malfoy reaches into his pocket and withdraws his handful of tokens. He taps the bloke in front of them, the one with the spikier frosted tips, and says, "Excuse me."
The bloke turns around, looking skeptical.
"Would you like these tokens? We find ourselves needing to go."
The guy looks around, like he's being pranked. "What's the catch, mate?"
"Nothing. Only, if you had to choose the best gun game for home video gaming, what would it be?"
Harry has to turn around to cover his laugh.
"I am going to be excellent at this, Potter," Malfoy says as Harry struggles with the Muggle lock they use in addition to their wards. "I am a country gentlewizard; excelling at shooting fowl is in my nature."
"Do wizards even do that?" Harry huffs, adjusting his grip on the NES. Somehow he can't imagine Lucius Malfoy with a shotgun. He shudders at the thought.
"Well, not with guns, of course, but there's a Ministry-approved variant on Avada Kedavra that's meant for shooting game. My mother is particularly fond of shooting, as she enjoys roast pheasant."
Harry manages to unlock the door and pushes inside, turning to gape at Malfoy. "Let me get this straight. You and your mum go out into the fields and cast Unforgivables at birds? For fun?"
Malfoy rolls his eyes as he drops the bag from the thrift shop onto the sofa. "I never said I did it," as if he hasn't just used this as proof he'll excel at Duck Hunt. "I don't particularly enjoy the outdoors, and I fear I'd be as hopeless at killing fowl as I was at killing Dumbledore."
They both stop at the mention of sixth year; Harry blinks, and Malfoy looks away, cheeks pink. In a quieter voice, "Sorry, I shouldn't joke about it."
But Malfoy's right—he didn't kill Dumbledore, and the war is over. Harry wants Malfoy to go back to joking. "Yeah, if you tried to shoot birds, you'd just be standing in the field, mud up to your ankles, having a staring contest with a quail, trying to convince yourself to AK it."
Malfoy's shoulders relax when he realises Harry's joking. "Yes," he says seriously, "and the quail would try to convince me I'm not evil." He pauses. "It's like an advertisement for WETB."
"What is wetbuh?" Harry asks, setting the NES down next to the telly.
"Wizards for the Ethical Treatment of Beings," Hermione says, and Harry jumps out of his skin, spinning around to face her.
"Hey, Hermione. Er, Malfoy is here."
"I see that." She walks into the room and stares at Malfoy. "Welcome to our home." Her voice isn't rude, but it certainly isn't warm.
Malfoy looks like he wants to run. Harry can't decide if he wants to help him, or if he wants to watch him crash and burn.
"Granger," Malfoy says finally, walking forward and extending his hand. "I am so sorry." His face crumples with regret as he speaks. It's like watching as a mask that lets Malfoy move on from the war is pulled away. Harry knows what that feels like.
She blinks, staring at his hand.
"Would you like me to keep talking?" Malfoy exhales shakily. "I'm sorry for calling you a—an m-word. I should've intervened when Bellatrix tortured you. I didn't know how, but I should've done something. I kept having nightmares after, and I keep wondering what I could've—"
Hermione leans forward and grasps his hand. "It's okay. Well, it's not. But you're certainly not responsible for her actions. Or Voldemort's." Hermione's eyes flit to Harry's. "I think we all just want to move on, yeah?"
Malfoy nods, returning his hands awkwardly to his sides. "We're going to shoot electric fowl."
Hermione's brows furrow.
"Not electric," Harry corrects. "Digital. We're going to play Duck Hunt. Wanna play? Malfoy's learning about Muggle pastimes for Magimanities."
"Yes, please join us," Malfoy urges—stiff but genuine.
"This wanker thinks he's going to win because he's a country gentlewizard and shooting is in his blood." Harry laughs.
Hermione raises an eyebrow. "Is that so?" She rolls up her sleeves. "Let's get this thing hooked up."
She kicks both their arses.
A few hours later, Hermione turns from where she's sitting on the sofa and says in a too-casual voice, "So, Malfoy. You're learning about video games for a class? Let me ask you something. A lot of games include women as damsels in distress, or as rewards, or as sexualised non-playable characters. Or they include women whose sexuality is dangerous, like a trap. Or they include women of ethnic minorities and use them in storylines with racist stereotypes." She crosses her legs. "What do you make of that?"
Oh, shit. That's a test if Harry's ever heard one. He tries to meet Malfoy's eye, to warn him that this is a trap. Malfoy should pretend he needs to go to the loo, or—
Malfoy scoffs; Harry winces.
"Typical," Malfoy says. "Just like wizarding personal fiction. I had to give up on those novels when they kept shoving me in scenarios where I needed to rescue a witch. It's absolutely degrading treatment of women, and heteronormative too! I don't know how anyone can stand it. I told my mother she needed to get rid of those books, but she's quite devoted to the Rafe Waldegrave cycle."
Watching Hermione's face as she takes in Malfoy's response, Harry relaxes; he wants to cheer. Once he's convinced Malfoy is passing Hermione's test, he realises he's not sure what Malfoy's talking about. "Wait," Harry says, "what's personal fiction?"
"Oh," Malfoy says. "You know, like it asks you questions as you read and depending on your reaction, on how you read it, the plot changes. No one can read the book the same way twice, supposedly. And yet, it kept giving me women to rescue. So I can tell you that it wasn't looking too deeply into my mind."
Hermione lights up. "Like choose-your-own-adventure!"
"But why would video games include women as non-playable characters?" Malfoy asks Hermione, and the two of them are off—launching into deep discussion about stereotypes in media.
When I was young I knew everything, and she a punk who rarely ever took advice. Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor. Stopping baby's breath and a shoe full of rice, no.
Harry drops a spoon with a clatter, his heart pounding. The man stares at him from the screen.
"Oh, morning Harry," Hermione says, looking over her shoulder as her arms punch the air. "When do you—"
I won't be held responsible, She fell in love in the first place.
He has a vision of Ginny, the way she looked at the beginning of the battle, how happy she was to see Harry. And how, after, he let himself use her as a way to feel normal despite feeling dead inside, how easy it had been to let the momentum carry them along. But then, a baby—the man on the TV stares at Harry (I won't be held responsible). Really, it's Harry's fault, isn’t it? If anyone's to blame here. But how can he feel responsible when he wasn't even there with her? He—
"I have to go," Harry says. "I need to—" He points at the door, reaches for his phone and keys, and tucks his wand into his jeans. "I'll see you later, okay?"
Hermione's giving him a strange look, but he runs down the stairs of the building, only stopping when he's outside. He leans against the building. Fuck.
He gets his breathing under control, which takes a good few minutes.
He feels like such a loser. He has a mental image of Dudley taunting him, putting his fingers on his forehead in the shape of an L.
He keeps seeing the angsty face from the music video, he keeps thinking that singer is judging him for how he treated Ginny, that singer thinks Harry should be filled with shame. And maybe Harry should be filled with shame, but is it really a music video that's going to make him feel that way? Come on!
Life on the street bustles on. People hurry past, glancing at their watches, presumably late for work.
He needs to distract himself, but how? It's 9am. He could go to WWW, see Ron and George—but, then what? Hey mates, I had a bit of a panic because I heard a song that reminded me of how I impregnated your baby sister and she aborted it! He needs to avoid the situation, not talk to Ginny's brothers.
He pulls out his mobile. He opens the contacts, presses the down button until he gets to Draco Malfoy, presses call.
"Hey, Malfoy? You busy? I thought we could look at this Charms article."
A man walks by, pushing a pram.
"Yeah," Harry says, looking at the sleeping baby, "can we do it at yours, though?"
Harry crosses his arms over his chest, feeling inept. "It was a last-minute thought." What? Is Malfoy going to kick him out now—because he showed up without his bag? He thought they'd gotten past their enmity, especially given all the remedial video game lessons Harry's been providing.
Malfoy leads Harry into the flat. It's nice—on the modern side, but nothing super fancy. He doesn't seem to have much stuff.
"Level with me, Potter." Malfoy leans a hand on the kitchen counter. "Are you really here to study? Because we can do that. I just—"
Harry frowns. "Why else would I be here?"
Malfoy stares at him for a moment, but when Harry doesn't show any sign of understanding, he raises one pale eyebrow and lets his eyes fall to Harry's feet, dragging them back up slowly. Harry can feel the blush rise on his body along with Malfoy's gaze.
Somehow, Harry had almost forgotten they'd done that. Not that he'd actually forgotten. But he hasn't been thinking about it. He's been trying to figure out how to simply be in the same room as Malfoy without it feeling awkward. He's been busy coping with life. And he hasn't been drunk and/or on a dancefloor, and, well.
"Oh," Harry says, eye wide. "I didn't—I wasn't trying to—I really just—"
Malfoy's face loses the lecherous look. "Oh, okay," he says, unconcerned. "I just wanted to be on the same page. Should I make some tea?"
Harry's caught between relief that Malfoy's face lost that sex look and offence that Malfoy was able to lose that look so easily. What the hell is going on here? Does Malfoy think Harry is fit or not? Does he only think so when he's three sheets to the wind?
Malfoy wanders into the kitchen, pulling a glass jar with loose tea off a shelf in the cupboard. He's wearing a style of wizarding loungewear that Harry's only ever seen on Arthur Weasley. They're loose trousers and a matching knee-length tunic. Arthur wears them around the house when he doesn't need to go into work.
As such, Harry hasn't really had cause to consider whether the garments are attractive. Turns out they kind of are? And why has Harry been able to completely ignore the fact that he and Malfoy had slept together?! How has he not been an awkward mess around Malfoy every time they've seen each other? Because right now he feels extremely awkward. He supposes he has lots of reasons to be awkward around Malfoy; maybe that's the explanation: like, he's been focused on all the other reasons their relationship—not relationship, you know, just relationship—was awkward, like the whole trying-to-kill-each-other thing, not the fact that Harry had actually choked Malfoy by face-fucking him!
There's a clatter of the kettle, and Malfoy turns around. "Is Earl Grey—What's the matter with you, Potter?" Harry doesn't answer. "Oh good grief, I wasn't trying to proposition you or anything. I thought you were propositing me. No need to look so violated."
"We had sex," Harry blurts.
Malfoy squints. After a long moment, "Indeed we did."
"We could have sex again." Harry stares at him.
Malfoy opens his mouth, then closes it. "This is literally true of any two or more people who are in the same place at the same time. This has been true every time we've seen each other for the past few weeks."
"Yeah, I guess." Harry runs a hand through his hair. "I kinda forgot we had sex."
Malfoy's eyebrows shoot up under the hair that flops over his forehead. "Excuse you?"
Harry's face gets even hotter. "I didn't mean—oh, fuck." He sits at the kitchen table. "I didn't mean I forgot it. I obviously didn't forget it; it was amazing sex. I just—I don't know. I think I compartmentalised it. Like, we did that before we were classmates, and that was something else. Now we're learning how to, you know, coexist."
Malfoy gestures wildly at Harry, a tea cosy in his hand. "You are not allowed to get weird about this now. Not after we've been doing so well at the whole not-being-nemeses thing. I simply won't allow it. Had you been weird about it that first day of class, that would've been one thing. But now? No!"
Harry lets his head drop to the table.
"We discussed it that day at the café," Malfoy continues, well geared up for a rant now. "We both said we wouldn't have slept together if we'd known we were to be classmates. So I assumed, like any sane person would, that we were going to pretend it had never happened and get on with our lives. Which, you'll notice, we've both been doing very well."
"Yeah! We were!" Harry says, lifting his head. "But then you just eye-fucked me in your kitchen!"
Malfoy grabs a dish rag and chucks it at Harry. Harry ducks, narrowly missing it.
"I only had to leer at you because you were too foolish to understand my perfectly legible insinuation. It was fair of me to ask, given you showing up here like that."
"Like what?" Harry asks, looking down at himself, still confused.
"You say you want to study, but you don't have any books. You're wearing flimsy bottoms. You could've been engaging in some sort of ham-handed attempt to woo me."
"Malfoy," Harry sighs, "I will promise you one thing: if I am ever trying to woo you, you will know." Malfoy's cheeks go pink. "Gryffindor, and all."
"Right," Malfoy says, and if Harry isn't wrong, he seems flustered. Isn't that interesting. Malfoy goes back to preparing the tea.
"Erm," Harry says, because once the awkward conversation is happening, you might as well see it through, "we never really talked about whether it was something we wanted to happen again."
Malfoy looks up, his hair flopping in his eye. "We said we wouldn't have done it if we knew we'd be in class together. Isn't that discussing it?"
Harry takes a deep breath. "Saying you would've done something differently is about the past. I'm suggesting it might be smart to discuss future wanting. Or future not-wanting, as it were."
Malfoy blinks. "It seems somewhat risky to engage in that sort of activity with someone who will be a classmate for the next few years. Because we'll need to continue to be cordial, no matter what happens."
"Which is hard enough for us, anyway," Harry adds.
Harry forces himself to meet Malfoy's eye. "I also, erm, don't think that casual sex with a friend is on the cards for me. Like, a drunken one-night-stand when you think you won't see each other again is different than having sex with a friend. I wouldn't want—" Oh fuck it, he might as well forge ahead. "I wouldn't want to do that with a friend unless we were, you know, properly together."
A moment passes, then a devious smile crosses Malfoy's face. "Potter, I'm going to need a rain check for the tea. I need to go write an urgent message to the Prophet. They may need to run a special issue: Boy-Who-Lived Friend to Draco Malfoy. No, no, I should write to a random Hufflepuff from our year and just say something like, 'Oh my goodness, Harry Potter wants to be my friend!'" During this little speech, Malfoy bats his eyes a lot, like he's imitating a young girl with a crush.
"Will you shut up?"
"How can I shut up?" Malfoy squeals, spinning a lovestruck pirouette. "Harry Potter wants to be my frieeeeeeend!"
"What do you call what we've been doing for the past few weeks, if not friends?" Harry asks. "What would you call it?"
Malfoy pretends to faint in slow-motion, veering over sideways with his hand on his forehead until he's crumpled into a pointy blond pile on the floor.
Harry bangs his head on the table again. "I hate you."
Neither acknowledges that neither one of them has answered the question.
When he gets home from class, he's not sure how to feel. Nervous? But he knows most of the people who are coming. The only people he doesn't know are Hermione's new law classmates, and whoever comes along as a guest.
But the Weasleys are coming—all of them, including Ginny, and he hasn't seen her since he left the Burrow. He's seen Ron a bunch, of course, and Ron has continued to talk to him about how Ginny's doing. It's strange. Ron tells him as if he'd asked, as if he were a boyfriend or fancied her. But he doesn't. The information makes him feel antsy—because he's sure Ginny doesn't want him hearing about her through Ron, and because he's not sure he wants to hear about her, either. Not in that way, anyway.
And Malfoy will be here. Harry doesn't know what to think about that, so he tries not to. He just has to hope against all hope that Ginny won't find out that Harry sucked Draco Malfoy's cock just a few days after she aborted their baby.
"Hermione?" he calls, peeking his head into the empty kitchen and then into her open bedroom door.
She's tossing a balled-up jumper into her wardrobe. When it lands, it levitates off the shelf, folds itself neatly, then inserts itself into a stack of jumpers organised by colour. "Hi Haz."
Harry smiles. "Need me to do anything to help get ready?"
She walks over and surprises him by wrapping him in a hug. "Nope. Just promise me that if you get overwhelmed by the party, you'll go outside or something. I know it can be a lot, with people trying to talk to you about the war. Want me to charm your shirt to say DON'T ASK ME ABOUT THE WAR?"
Harry laughs, clinging to her. When was the last time he touched someone? "No thanks, but I appreciate the thought." A moment passes. "What would I do without you?"
Her arms tighten. "What would we do without each other," she corrects. She pulls away and looks around, worrying her lip between her teeth. "Our flat—it's not like when we were living in the tent, is it?"
Harry frowns. "What? Not at all. Our flat is fantastic."
"Sometimes I wonder." She sighs. "I don't know. I worry about how we can move on. But I don't want us to hide here, like this is the tent and the rest of the world is Snatchers."
"We're not," Harry says, leaning on the door frame. "We're having a party."
Hermione nods. "Right. And we have scatter cushions."
Seeing Ginny is more awkward, but it's improved by the fact that they're staying far away from each other. Right now, Ginny's in the kitchen—Ron seems to be running interference—and Harry has only thought about the fact that she could be nearing her second trimester once. It's a good thing she's not, he tells himself.
He's talking to Neville when Malfoy walks in carrying an ancient-looking bottle. Malfoy scans the room until his eyes meet Harry's, and he strides over, brandishing the bottle. "Potter! I figured it out. It's aged in a troll stomach! Here you are, may it bring blessings on your home."
Harry bursts out laughing. "Aged in a troll stomach? Like, is the troll dead or alive?"
"I haven't the foggiest. Hullo, Longbottom."
Neville raises his hand in a small wave. "Hi."
Malfoy is wearing the Muggle shirt he had on at that club, the loose maroon collared bowling shirt. Harry blinks. It seems wrong that he knows how that shirt felt under his hands. Malfoy looks good—his eyes sparkle with the mirth of having gifted Harry something truly horrible.
"Nice shirt," Harry says innocently.
"Likewise, Potter," Malfoy says, raising an eyebrow.
Harry looks down. Oh, shit. He's wearing the black shirt he wore to the club that night too. It's not his fault; he doesn't have that many niceish clothes!
Or had he subconsciously wanted Malfoy to be thinking about that night?
"Well," Neville says, clapping his hands together, "I'm just going to go—er, somewhere else." He points vaguely in an otherly direction and flees.
"You're not actually going to drink troll tipple, are you?" Harry asks, looking at the faded label on the bottle in his hands.
"No way in hell." Malfoy leans on the wall next to Harry, in the spot Neville vacated. "But I'm not going to judge if you want to try it. It's very highly valued."
Harry laughs. "Nah, I'm not drinking tonight."
Malfoy nods superciliously. "Don't want to lose your inhibitions around me. Quite right."
Harry nudges Malfoy with his shoulder. "No, you git. I just need to keep it together with all these people here. No one needs to see a patented Harry panic spiral."
Malfoy heaves a dramatic sigh. "Well, there go my plans for the evening. How can I stay entertained without a Harry panic spiral?"
Harry laughs again. Why is he always laughing when he's around Malfoy? "You look good."
Malfoy turns his head to meet Harry's gaze. "So do you."
Lavender and Parvati spin past, knocking into Harry's shoulder. They're doing some kind of involved dance, laughing and spinning. "Sorry Harry! Sorry Draco!"
"It's okay!" Harry calls jovially.
They're alive. It's so strange. And not everyone is, not everyone survived—but this is a lot of people, and they're here, and alive, and maybe broken, but they're here.
Harry is buoyed by a feeling of possibility—that nothing is certain, that all sorts of amazing things can happen to everyone in this room. Voldemort is dead, and they have a chance to live.
Songs pass. Various people join them to talk, with varying degrees of wariness towards Malfoy, though no one is outright hostile. They laugh while Ron hops onto a table and performs a jig. There's a contest to throw popcorn into people's mouths. Terry Boot accuses Malfoy good-naturedly of cheating in a Chess Club match in year four (Harry wonders what he was doing when they were in a Chess Club?!). Malfoy rants for over five straight minutes about escalators, drawing an amused crowd of onlookers ("It was some type of Dark Magic metal articulation, I tell you!").
Harry keeps sneaking glances at Malfoy, remembering that first night when they were at the club. The atmosphere is similar in some ways—music, lots of people—but that's where the similarities end. They're not drunk, and they're not hiding, and they've spent the last few weeks figuring out how to be friends. It's so strange, but it doesn't really feel strange. Harry finds himself thinking, fuck it, why not? He's put everything off for his whole life, but there's no reason to do that anymore. Fuck it.
"I'm glad you came," Harry says, picking his hand up to touch the silky fabric of Malfoy's shirt. He drags his fingers down the sleeve, past the elbow, until his hand gently circles Malfoy's wrist.
"Potter," Malfoy drawls, eyebrow rising and mouth curling up. "Is this you wooing me? Because you told me I would know, and I have to say, I'm not yet certain. I have an inkling, but there remains a shadow of a doubt."
Harry leans closer, not breaking eye contact. "Do you want to see my bedroom?"
Malfoy, cheeks pink, sets down his butterbeer. "Lead the way."
Harry makes his way through the crowd, smiling at people, trying to look casual, trying not to give off a vibe that he's taking Malfoy into his bedroom. Malfoy rests his hand on Harry's elbow, and even that doesn't feel strange; it just feels like a friend touching his elbow because they're trying to stay together in a crowd—because that's what they are, friends. Except—Harry looks over his shoulder—not friends.
He opens his door, saying loudly for the benefit of any onlookers, "Yeah, I think that book you loaned me is right over here."
When they get inside, Malfoy bursts out laughing. "Oh my goodness. What was that? Was that you trying to be subtle? Merlin help us. Merlin save us from Harry Potter's attempts at subtlety."
"Shut up," Harry grumbles through laughter. He turns to the door and casts wards he learned to protect their tent in the war, and tries not to think about that.
"It's the shirt, isn't it?" Malfoy asks. Harry turns around to find Malfoy looking down appraisingly at himself. "You can't keep your hands off me in this shirt."
Harry grabs Malfoy's shoulders, pulling him away from his antics.
"Hullo," Malfoy says, and Harry kisses him.
There's an exhale, shoulders relaxing, hot mouths. There's a body under Harry's hands and it's this ridiculous, dramatic prat, and fucking hell, Harry is hot for him—and how did that happen!?
Malfoy pulls away. "I want to note that you said you didn't want casual sex with me."
Harry doesn't answer.
"I'm therefore checking that you actually want to do this. Because you did say that. And we still have to see each other in class or whatever. And we're not drunk. This isn't like last time. This is rather, well, premeditated. Yes?"
Harry nods, hating talking about it but ploughing ahead anyway. "I want to. I don't particularly want to like, define anything. Do we have to? It seems—premature." What he doesn't say is he doesn't think he can manage that discussion. He doesn't want to talk about if they're a couple. If they're boyfriends. If he needs to define his sexuality and come out in the newspapers. Fucking hell. No.
Draco frowns. "Ah, I suppose we could just agree that—it's not casual?"
That's doable. Nothing has ever been casual with Malfoy, has it? "It's not casual," Harry echoes, nodding.
"Oh thank fuck," Draco says, tugging Harry closer, pressing their mouths together and rucking up Harry's shirt, snaking his hands around Harry's back.
"You're such a ridiculous human," Harry whispers, grinning, as he pulls away to wrangle with Malfoy's belt. "It makes me happy to see that—I mean, you weren't a ridiculous human for awhile there, in the war. You were all serious murder-face with dark circles around your eyes."
Draco steps out of Harry's reach. "If you try to talk about the war, you're not allowed to touch my cock."
"I'm not! I'm just saying you're a ridiculous human."
"You love it."
For some reason, Harry does. He hated seeing Draco with sad eyes and too-pale-even-for-him skin, with shuddering agony on the Astronomy Tower, with horrified fear while being made to torture. Harry hated it, even then. Draco isn't supposed to be like that. He's supposed to be holding court about making Harry's life a living hell, or about escalators, as the case may be.
Harry gets his hand into Draco's trousers and grabs his penis, tugging him closer ("It isn't a handle, Potter, honestly"), and Draco manages to get Harry's out too and it's a hot mess of limbs and mouths. It's glasses and jeans being tugged off and laughing against kisses. It's stumbling to the bed and rummaging in the drawer for lube. It's playful snark whilst getting situated on the bed so that they can get both their cocks in one hand. It's heads thrown back in ecstasy and then in laughter as the music in the other room changes to fucking Tubthumping again. It's closer, faster. It's mouths wherever they can reach, sucking an earlobe or a shoulder. It's the sensation of another body, of skin, of heat, of life. It's a bizarre desire to crawl inside another person, to not be alone in separate sacks of bones anymore, to be with someone else, to be done with this preposterous experiment in separate consciousnesses. It's a hot pool of warmth gathering in bellies. It's sweat-glistening forehead pressed against nose. It's "I'm close" / "Not yet, this isn't a Snitch race, I'm not there yet". It's the bristly scape of chin and the feeling of soft-fuzzy hair on tangled legs. It's a grasping of fingers and a gasping of breath as they each come.
For a moment, they say nothing, holding onto each other as their breathing slows.
Harry smacks Draco's arm. "I can't believe that when we had sex the first time, you said, 'Thanks for the fuck, Potter' afterward."
Draco snorts. "I didn't think I was going to see you again. What was I supposed to say?"
Harry pushes himself up on an elbow and looks down at Draco. "I think I've finally figured you out, Malfoy. Whenever you feel wrong-footed or awkward, you fall back on saying really dismissive and arrogant shite."
Draco raises an eyebrow. "You know what they say: people fall back on their upbringings. That's why you become an inarticulate boor."
Harry bursts out laughing and shoves Draco's shoulder. "You are insufferable. And don't say that. I'm nothing like my upbringing."
They clean themselves up and gather and arrange their clothes, while the revellers outside the door sing along to "Virtual Insanity."
"Here, take this," Harry says, grabbing a Charms journal he'd been consulting for homework and shoving it into Draco's hands. "In case anyone believed my oh-so-subtle tactic earlier."
"Ah, yes. We couldn't possibly jeopardise that brilliant ruse." Draco smiles and gestures at the door. "After you."
Jamiroquai has ended by the time Harry opens the door, and a piano melody starts up as he walks into the hallway.
6am, day after Christmas. I throw some clothes on in the dark.
A few feet away, Ginny is standing talking to Seamus, laughing about something—her hair shining purplish in the light of the blue flames Hermione has Charmed to float above them. Harry pauses, unsure whether he should say hello or leave her to enjoy herself, unsure what they're meant to do around each other now.
Up the stairs to her apartment, She is balled up on the couch.
"Oi, did you know this song is about abortion?" Seamus asks Ginny, leaning casually against the wall, like it's all a big joke, like it's something you read in the papers and not something you live, and Ginny's eyes snap up and lock with Harry's.
I'm feeling more alone than I ever have before.
Harry freezes, an icy chill falling over him like one of Mad-Eye's Disillusionments. He can't move. He can't breathe.
She's a brick and I'm drownin' slowly.
"Potter," Draco whispers. "What—"
They call her name at seven-thirty, I pace around the parking lot.
Harry leans back against the wall, trying to will the fuzziness in his vision to disappear.
"Harry," Ginny says, full of concern, stepping forward, but Draco steps between them. Ginny, voice like the war, barks, "Get out of the way, Malfoy."
"It's okay," Draco says calmly. "Ask Granger. I have a certification in handling panic attacks," as if that's even a thing.
She broke down and I broke down, Cause I was tired of lying.
Draco grabs Harry by the elbows and steers him back into the bedroom, closing the door behind them and casting his own wards—wards he probably learned in the war too.
Harry gasps for air—Draco grabs his shoulders. "Focus on me, Harry. Look at my face that you hate so much."
Harry meets Draco's eyes. Silver. Silver-gray eyes. Who has silver eyes?
Draco rubs his hands up and down Harry's upper arms. "You're okay. What do you see?"
"Who even has silver eyes?"
Draco's brow furrows. "You think my eyes are silver? I always thought they were boring ol' grey, but silver sounds much more dashing."
"You're such a git."
"What do you see?"
Harry tries to focus on Malfoy's face. The rest of the room feels a little blurry, but he can focus on the face. "Your hair is longer."
"Longer than when?"
"Than the war, than school."
He shrugs. "I got tired of it looking like armour."
Harry, focusing on breathing, doesn't answer.
"Oh come on, that deserved a laugh." Draco sighs. "We don't need armour anymore, right Harry?"
Harry nods and lets himself crumple forward onto Draco's shoulder. Draco's hands wrap around him in a hug, and Harry thinks incongruously of Hermione hugging him before the party. Two hugs in one day.
"I used to get panic attacks last year," Draco says, voice quiet. "If anyone but my mother saw…" He trails off.
Harry tightens his grip.
"Apparently there's a notion in some pure-blood circles that a Crucio is an appropriate treatment for a panic attack."
"Are you fucking with me?"
"Would I fuck with you about this?"
"I don't know, you might. You're a right dramatic git."
Draco whispers, "I wouldn't. Are you okay?"
Harry pulls away, his face hot, feeling like the human manifestation of embarrassment. He scrubs a hand over his face and groans. "How many people saw that?"
Draco shrugs and sits on Harry's bed. "I think only Weasley and Finnigan." Harry sits next to him and flops onto his back. "Are you going to tell me what triggered it? Was it just seeing Weasley? You knew she'd be here, right?"
The truth bubbles up like a balloon being inflated in the vicinity of Harry's sternum. He can't not say it. He can't breathe until he says it.
Draco looks over his shoulder to look at Harry reclined on the bed, and Harry shakes his head. "It's not Ginny. It's—Ginny had an abortion. A couple months ago."
As Draco blinks, clearly not having expected that, Harry's chest relaxes.
"Shit," Draco says.
Draco flops onto his back next to Harry, but he doesn't say anything.
"She didn't talk to me about it."
There's a silence for a moment before Draco says, "You realise there's nothing we can say about this without getting yelled at by feminists."
Harry sighs. "Yes, I know. She didn't do anything wrong. Obviously I'm glad she had the choice. It's just—I thought we had a different kind of relationship, where we'd talk to each other."
"Did you talk to her about stuff?"
Harry turns his head to look at Draco. "I don't know." He knows he didn't.
Music echoes in from the other room, no longer a horrible trigger, just NSYNC.
"You can't really have wanted a baby?" Draco asks carefully, still staring at the ceiling.
"No, of course not, but also—it was a baby. Half me, you know?"
"Well, Potter, you have like, infinite sperm, so that alone doesn't seem like a huge problem to me."
Harry snorts a laugh.
"Seriously though," Draco says, "is it really about the baby? Or about losing Weasley, or what?"
"My parents—" Harry looks pointedly at the ceiling, refusing to look anywhere near Draco. "—they got pregnant with me at nineteen. They could've...got rid of me."
"I grew up with my aunt and uncle. They locked me under the stairs. They told me every day how much they wished I wasn't there. They literally said to me, every day, that they wished I didn't exist. I just—it's a big deal, to make the decision not to want another human."
Harry hears and feels the bed squeak as Draco rolls onto his side towards Harry. "That's exactly why it's important that people only have babies they want, yeah? Because then they won't lock them under the stairs? Because then they'll all be wanted." Draco rests his hand on Harry's stomach.
"I don't want to be like them."
"My aunt and uncle. I don't want to make other people feel unwanted."
"Harry," Draco says, and his voice has lost all its usual irreverence. "Trust me when I say, and I would know, you do not make people feel unwanted. You give everyone a chance. You give people chances who don't even begin to deserve them."
Harry, looking away, tries to hide how affected he is. Maybe he needs to stop blaming himself for all this shit and concentrate on the things he has control over, rather than worrying about how all the things other people do are his fault: the Dursleys, his parents, all the bullshit of a very traumatic lifetime. Maybe he needs to focus on the fact that he can't change other people, but he can focus on himself and love the people he loves.
"Someday, if you have a kid," Draco continues, "that kid will be the luckiest in the world. They'll be surrounded by so much love and wanting that they'll have to rebel against it. They'll tell their friends, 'Ugh, my dad loves me so much, how am I supposed to even relate to other people when they all have so much trauma and I have this beautiful loving family who showers me with love and affection and being wanted and never expects me to be anything other than who I am?'"
A tear rolls down Harry's cheek. Draco has the courtesy to look away.
Harry pours himself a cup of tea from the blue teapot they'd bought for £5 from a street vendor in Brick Lane and sits next to Hermione, who's curled up on the sofa with a book the size of a CPU tower.
"Did you have fun last night?" she asks, looking up. "I didn't see you at the end of the party. Did you take my advice and go outside for a breather?"
He could tell her the truth. But he can't. She's too close—too close to Ginny, to the Weasleys. It feels like it's not his secret to tell. If Harry and Ginny'd had that baby, Hermione would've been its aunt, if not officially, at least in practice.
But he doesn't want to lie to her, either. "I had sex with Draco."
Hermione opens her mouth, closes it, then closes her book and drops it to the floor with a loud thud. She turns towards him, crossing her legs. "Go on."
Harry smiles, letting his head fall back. "Go ahead, I know you want to say something. You can say whatever you're thinking."
"No, not at all. I have zero things I want to say. I only want to listen to what you have to say."
The morning light shines through the window; Harry can see a swirl of dust. "I can't explain it!"
"Well, did you enjoy it?" Hermione's adopted her logical tone.
"Er, yes? What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know! People can have sex and not enjoy it. That's how you learn what you want to do next time." She nudges his arm with her elbow.
Harry slumps towards her until his head rests against her shoulder. "I liked it. I like him. I don't know why, though. I went from thinking that maybe there was a possibility that I was hypothetically into blokes, like, if Ginny didn't exist, to Draco Malfoy. That's like, quite a jump, isn't it? Is there something wrong with me?"
"Nah," she says, resting her cheek atop Harry's head. He's enveloped in the smell of her hair. "It makes a bit of sense, actually."
"It does? You're going to have to explain that to me, Mi. I'm not smart enough to make that connection."
"Don't say you're not smart. I just mean, it's hard for us to find intimacy with people, after the war. How can people know what we went through? Sometimes I feel it with Ron, even though he was there for the vast majority of it. But the fact that he wasn't there, those months in the tent—he can't fully understand, you know?"
"So it makes sense you'd connect with someone who understands the horror of the war. I mean granted, slightly different experience of the horrors. But he's probably one of the only people in the world who doesn't need you to explain why the war was so awful."
The dust continues to swirl in the sunlight as Harry raises his mug to his lips. "That's like, only part of it, I think."
Hermione snorts, her hand flying up to cover her mouth. "Sorry, I'm just imagining year four Harry reacting to the statement 'Malfoy's funny'."
"He is, though! He's funny! And ridiculous! And...intense."
Harry tries to figure out how to put it into words. "He makes other people look wishy-washy."
"Are you sure you're not just talking about your reaction to him? You've always had a strong reaction to him."
Harry shrugs. "Does it matter?"
"No." Hermione brushes her hair up and away from Harry's face. "You should tell him he can come over whenever. I don't mind."
"Are you sure?" Harry looks at his tea. "I mean, it's fine if you're not comfortable with it. He was a right arse to you for like an entire decade, and then there was the whole getting-tortured-at-his-house thing. You don't need to be okay about him, just for me."
"You're sweet." Hermione sighs. "The truth is, I don't have the energy to hate him anymore. How could I care about Draco Malfoy? Is that weird?"
"Nah. I barely have the energy to hate Voldemort anymore, and Malfoy never did anything half so evil. The way he acted in the war doesn't seem evil. It just seems...kinda sad and pathetic. Like, bad choices, sure."
"It's kinda the whole point of the war, isn't it?" Hermione reaches her arm around Harry, squeezing his shoulder and pulling him close. "The reason it happened is because we allowed ourselves to think that type of evil is Other, that it's impossible for normal people to fall prey to ideas like that. Because the truth is, it's not Other. Everyone's got a little of that in them, and ignoring that isn't the solution. I can't hate Malfoy."
Harry knows this is true. "I don't think...that most people understand that."
"Of course they don't. Most people are mindless sheep. But we understand that, and surely Malfoy does, too." After a minute, she sighs. "But I guess this means I actually have to try to like, be friendly with him."
"You definitely do not have to be friendly with him."
"Be quiet—you're with him. You're my best friend. Ergo, I have to be friendly with him." She wrinkles her nose. "I don't know how to go about that. How did you end up friends with him?"
"I picked him up at a bar."
Hermione heaves a dramatic sigh. "Alright, I'm going to have to pick Malfoy up at a bar for a one-night stand." She cuddles closer to Harry. "Don't tell Ron."
Harry snorts. "Deal."
For a few minutes they sit like that, Harry sipping his tea, taking comfort in his friend's embrace, in the comfort of shared understanding. He has the sudden premonition that he's been a terrible friend to her lately—making everything about him, even though she's going through just as much.
"Mi, can I ask you a question? How are you feeling about your parents? Do you want to talk about it?"
She exhales shakily. "I found a therapist."
"A magical therapist?" Harry knows that the problem is that Muggle therapists can't be told the details of what happened to Hermione's parents, while the magical world is behind, where psychotherapy is concerned.
"A Squib. She has a practice that sees both Muggles and magical people. I don't know how much I like her, yet, but I have an appointment."
"That seems promising. You know—you can talk to me about it, right? I know it's different, but I lost my parents, too."
She squeezes. "I know. I just—I barely know what to say." She's quiet for a moment. "It doesn't get any easier, does it?"
Harry considers. "No. Yes. No."
"It feels like there's no place for us, doesn't it?" he asks.
That's what Ron and Ginny could never understand—they have a place. They have a big, boisterous family and a stable home they can always count on. They have ramshackle heirlooms and an attic full of old stuff they can take when they move to their own places.
"Shut up," she says, settling closer to him. "Look around. This flat is ours. This is a place."
He wakes to tears on his cheeks. He sits up, trying to calm his racing heart, trying to convince himself that the flames weren't real—that hadn't happened—his parents had died in a different, equally horrifying way. He rubs the heels of his hands over his eyes, takes a drink of water. Fuck.
But it feels natural. It all feels natural with Draco. Harry's not embarrassed to be naked with him. He's not awkward about sex (well, maybe he's a little awkward, but like, a normal amount). He doesn't feel strange about being naked with Draco after orgasms. He doesn't worry about making fun of Draco and whether Draco will take it the wrong way. He doesn't worry about his jokes being too dark. He doesn't worry about any of it. It's the most natural thing in the world to walk into the classroom and plop into the seat next to Draco, their knees accidentally-on-purpose knocking together.
Harry's trying not to question it. Easy is good. He deserves easy.
In his darker moments—after waking from nightmares, or when thinking of the people he's lost—Harry thinks he should be bracing himself for the inevitable end of this thing with Draco. He should keep his distance, so it won't hurt so badly. He shouldn't laugh at Draco's antics and let all his guards down when they're in bed. He shouldn't open up about his closely guarded secrets—his worries that he's not good enough, that there's too much darkness in him, that Voldemort ruined him.
But when he's with Draco, he always ends up forgetting any resolutions to be circumspect. Because he doesn't really think about the things he does with Draco; he just does them.
When he's gathering up his notebook and pen, it's the most natural thing in the world to ask Draco if he wants to come back to Harry's for dinner. And it seems natural, too, for Draco to barely even answer in the affirmative as he follows Harry out, because he's launching into a rant about how the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s don't prepare students for the real world.
"I don't really have any food," Harry says, interrupting Draco's analysis of the worthlessness of Runes translation without also teaching Runes implementation ("Because really, Potter, what good is understanding an old textbook if you can't cast a Rune yourself?").
"You invited me for dinner but you don't have any food?" Draco asks drolly, raising one teasing eyebrow.
Harry ducks into a Tesco Express. "I'm getting food right now, shut up. What should we cook?"
"I only know how to make chocolate mousse," Draco says.
Harry squints at him. "That is the most random thing I've ever heard. How can that be true?"
"It's not important."
"Like fuck, it's not important." Harry grins. "I say it's important."
Draco sighs. "At one point my mother instructed the elves to stop making it for me, because she was concerned about my caffeine levels. I was, apparently, having trouble sleeping, and she decided chocolate was the culprit. But I really love chocolate mousse—the good French kind, you understand—so I stormed the kitchen and instructed one of the elves to teach me how to make it."
Harry pauses next to the packaged yoghurts and stares at Draco.
"The elf was terrified, because she thought she was breaking the spirit of my mother's instruction. In any case, she taught me. But now that I live on my own, I've been thinking perhaps I should've asked for instruction in cooking something a bit more practical."
Harry bursts out laughing. "Alright, then—you're in charge of pudding. Do you know what you need?"
"Butter, heavy cream, eggs, semisweet chocolate…" Draco starts grabbing the dairy items off the shelf to the left of the yoghurts. "What do you know how to cook?"
Harry sighs. "Pretty much everything. But only because my aunt forced me to cook, so I don't particularly enjoy cooking for other people. It makes me feel like a slave. I like cooking for myself okay, I guess. It's just practical. Do you fancy a meat pie?"
"Sure," Draco says, scanning the shelf of chocolates. "Now Potter, your first lesson in mousse making: anything less than 60% cacao will not do."
They somehow spend over £100 on ingredients for dinner. Harry pays with his credit card; Draco finds a £50 note in his bag and stuffs it into Harry's back pocket.
"What did your mum do?" Harry asks as he pushes the door open and continues the walk home, laden with bags of groceries. "When she found you making contraband mousse?"
Draco smiles. "She out-witted the caffeine. Started hitting me with Charms to put me to sleep. At about eight-thirty in the evening, too. I eventually quit the chocolate of my own volition so I could stop falling asleep so early."
Harry laughs, bewildered. "Is that what it's like to have a family of Slytherins?"
Draco shrugs. "I suppose so."
They walk up the stairs to Harry's flat, and Draco subtly Levitates the bags Harry's carrying while Harry fumbles with the key.
They drop the bags on the counter and soon the kitchen is merry and chaotic, ingredients everywhere. They're missing at least five necessary pieces of cookware, so they keep having to transfigure items into spatulas and casserole dishes. The glass that they keep Transfiguring into a spatula keeps popping back into glass form as they're using it, so eventually Harry and Draco have to give it the ol' "one-two-three cast!" and combine their efforts.
Draco continues to lecture Harry about proper mousse preparation even as he asks Harry if garlic should be chopped like sopophorous beans or like shrivelfigs, which Harry finds surprisingly amusing. When Harry tells him that cooking is not the same as potion-making, Draco says, "Well, you would tell yourself that, since you're terrible at potion-making." Harry chucks a piece of carrot at him.
"What does a whisk even look like?" Draco asks, frowning at a fork. "I mean, I've used whisks, but I'm having trouble conjuring its image in my brain. I'm not sure I can Transfigure it, if I can't imagine it."
"Erm," Harry considers. "Like nesting wire loops?"
"Thanks, Potter. Very helpful." Draco closes his eyes and casts, and Harry watches with interest as the fork transfigures.
"Well," Harry says, covering a snicker, "it's whisk-esque. I've never seen one where the loops are all disorganised like that, but I'm sure it will work just fine." He pats Draco's shoulder in a comfort-in-your-time-of-need sort of way.
"Hah hah," Draco says, trying to roll his eyes even as he inspects the whisk. "It's fine."
"Isn't your wrist going to get sore?" Harry asks, wishing he had one of those handheld electric mixers like Aunt Petunia's, which was avocado green.
Draco turns, confused. "My wrist? What are you talking about?"
"I don't have an electric mixer, so you need to whisk those egg whites by hand."
Draco, not breaking eye contact, sticks the whisk in the bowl of egg whites and waves his wand. The whisk spins in a neat little circle, and there even seems to be some sort of splatter shield preventing the egg from splashing out.
"Oh," Harry says, feeling incompetent. "I usually cook like a Muggle—I hadn't thought of that."
"Usually no one asks me if my wrist is going to get sore unless it was one of my dormmates making a vulgar joke about self-love," Draco says, trying not to smile. "I couldn't understand why you were suddenly talking about that."
Harry snorts a laugh. "Muggles have this machine thing with beaters that can...do that. Sort of."
Draco's face falls into faux shock; he raises his hand to dramatically cover his mouth. "Muggles have a thing with beaters that can assist in matters of masturbation?"
"Oh for the love of," Harry mutters, trying not to find it funny, trying not to be a person who is charmed by Draco's antics. He fails miserably, and ends up pushing Draco out of the way as he goes back to chopping vegetables.
Draco finishes the mousse before Harry finishes the pie, which doesn't seem fair, since Harry's dish is practical and Draco's is decidedly impractical. Draco then decides that the best use of his time is hovering over Harry's shoulder, asking dozens of questions about root vegetables and knife technique.
"Honestly," Harry says, getting annoyed, "I wouldn't mind teaching you how to cook, but right this second I would really like to just finish this and get it in the oven, so can you give me like, a tiny bit of space?"
"But what if my new favourite pastime is distracting you?" Draco asks, crowding against Harry's back and sticking his pointy nose into Harry's neck. "You get so adorable when you're annoyed."
Harry grabs his wand off the counter and casts a shield charm around himself that pushes Draco back about two feet.
"Hey!" Draco cries in tones of deepest resentment.
"I'm almost done," Harry says, grinning. "And don't fucking call me 'adorable'."
Harry can feel Draco working to dismantle the shield, but Harry didn't spend a year on the run for nothing—he's essentially warded himself. Draco's magic is making a dent, but it's slow-going. "I bet I can finish the pie before you break through."
"Oh, you're on, Potter."
Harry increases the rate of his stirring and layering of ingredients. Draco drops to the floor with a triumphant "Aha!" and manages to get his hand inside at floor level, grabbing Harry's ankle. He can't move his hand up or get any more of his body in, but he has a death grip on Harry's ankle.
"You're such a fucking cheater," Harry laughs through gritted teeth, reaching for the pepper as he tries not to fall over. The pie is assembled, he just needs to—
Harry's feet slide sideways, out from under him, and he lands with a crash on his front, his hands just catching him.
"AH!" Draco crows from somewhere beneath Harry's feet. "Ahahaha! I won!"
"I was done!" Harry pushes himself up to his knees.
"You were not! I distinctly saw you reaching for the pepper."
Harry grabs Draco's ankle and tugs it forward. "How do you like it?"
"Oh, Potter," Draco joke-leers, "you can manhandle me any time you like."
Harry growls, a combination of frustrated and amused that seems to define the majority of his interactions with Draco. He turns over and finds Draco, beet red, trying not to laugh. "I don't know if I should knee you in the balls or snog you."
Draco reaches for Harry's face and tugs him down, as if in answer to the question, so Harry takes that as his cue to gently knee him in the balls.
Draco makes a pained oomph and declares, "Potter! You need to ask before you introduce that type of element into our sexual repertoire."
"That wasn't a sexual move; it was me fighting you because you're a fucking git." Harry was going to continue arguing, but somehow they're snogging again. Some minutes pass; Draco tastes like chocolate.
Harry thinks he hears something, but it doesn't continue and he decides he's hearing things. A moment later, louder, he hears, "Ahem."
Harry springs off of Draco. "Hermione! Er, hello!"
Draco's still on the floor, propped up on his elbows, hair a mess, chocolate on his shirt, and his face slowly turns red. "Granger." He scrambles to his feet. "Ah. Hullo."
Hermione leans on the counter, and Harry can tell she's profoundly amused. "Hello, lads. Watcha doing?"
"Cooking," Harry offers weakly, gesturing to the absolutely trashed kitchen. Every surface is covered with tools and ingredients and splatters. There's a half-spatula-half-spoon that seems to be slowly morphing back into its original form.
He's panicking a bit. He knows Hermione's being a big person about this whole Draco thing, but it's one thing to be okay with it hypothetically and quite another to witness them snogging on the kitchen floor.
"I'm not helping clean up," Hermione says, giving them a little salute and grinning as she walks into her bedroom. "Call me when dinner's ready!"
Draco exhales when she closes her door. "Is it just me, or is she terrifying?"
Harry turns and looks at him. "She didn't do anything! But yeah, she is, isn't she?" He grins. "I love her."
Andromeda looks tired, though she smiles at Harry as she tells him to come in. She's got Teddy strapped to her chest with some sort of wrap, which she starts untying so she can hand Teddy to Harry.
He has no idea how she's managing to juggle infant care with her grief.
Harry sits in an armchair and nestles Teddy snugly against his chest, cradling him with this left arm and using his other hand to stroke his downy hair. "Hey there, Ted-o."
Teddy's old enough to smile now, which does funny things to Harry's heart.
Andromeda clatters around in the kitchen, looking through cupboards and jotting things down on a sheet of parchment. "I was hoping you'd be willing to sit with him for a bit while I run to the market?"
Harry winces. He's never been alone with Teddy before. "Er, sure. If you think I'm not going to screw it up?"
Andromeda laughs like that was a joke. "He doesn't need anything—I just changed and fed him. You can just sit there like that till I get back."
Harry nods. "Sure." And the next minute, he's alone with a baby.
"You're so cute." Harry smiles weakly, watching Teddy's neon pink hair. The hair reminds him of Tonks, so he refuses to think about that, because thinking about that would mean breaking down crying.
"You're lucky to have a grandmother who loves you so much," Harry says. "And me, I love you so much. Have I told you that? I love you, Tedmonster."
Teddy grins, all gums, and Harry tickles his cheek. Teddy chomps Harry's finger, which makes Harry laugh. "If you bite like that when you get teeth, you'll be quite the menace."
Teddy masticates Harry's finger. It feels strange—wet, concentrated pressure. He tries not to compare the sensation to anything he may have once experienced in the Great Lake.
"Your parents were so excited for you to be born." Harry doesn't know what to say, he just knows that he wants Teddy to know how wanted he is. "Your dad was nervous." Harry laughs, choking a bit. "He was so nervous. But he came around. I've never seen him as proud as he was the day you were born."
Teddy looks at him intently.
"I wish you weren't a member of the Orphan Club. It's a shitty club. But I promise I'll always be here to understand, okay? You're going to have it so much better than me. I promise."
Teddy's eyelids start to droop, and he blinks them back open, not wanting to fall asleep.
"You're loved, you're loved, you're loved," Harry whispers. Teddy falls asleep, and Harry lets the tears come.
"Is she asleep?"
"Yeah," Harry says, walking out into the kitchen. Not that Hermione's never seen lads in pants before; it's just that he'd rather she didn't see him and Draco that way.
"I'm starving," Draco says, opening the fridge.
"Worked up quite an appetite in there, eh?" Harry grins as he leans against the sink.
"Oh, shut it. And yes, didn't you?"
Harry shrugs. He could obviously eat.
"Is this leftover curry?" Draco asks, sniffing a takeaway carton. He's got this haughty look on his face, like the curry will be dismissed if it makes one mis-step; in an odd contrast, he's also got red marks on his bare torso from Harry grabbing him.
Harry bursts out laughing.
"What?" Draco asks imperiously.
"It's just—you're standing here in your boxers, sniffing takeaway. It's so...unMalfoyish."
Draco rolls his eyes. "Get some forks." He carries the takeaway into the sitting room. "Let's play Duck Hunt."
Harry carries the forks in and gives Draco what he intends to be a stern look. "It's one o'clock in the morning. You want to play Duck Hunt?"
"Is it going to wake Granger?" Draco's folded himself into a seat on the floor behind the coffee table, one long leg bent up in front of him, carton in his hand. His stomach is all bunched up from his strange position, and there's a purple hickey on his chest near his collarbone.
Harry nods his head in agreement, but sighs a bit, like Draco's twisting his arm. "No, she sleeps through anything." He gets the zapper guns and sits next to Draco, their shoulders pressing together.
Harry sticks his fork in the carton and chews on a piece of cold lamb. "This is disgusting."
"Is it lamb?" Draco wrinkles his nose. "The house-elves once taught me a spell for reheating lamb, but I can't remember what it is."
"Lambicus warmicus?" Harry ventures, which earns him an elbow to the stomach.
They settle on a workaday warming charm, which only slightly improves the leftover lamb, and start up the NES. Harry selects "GAME B: TWO DUCKS," the dog sniffs, and they start shooting.
"We definitely need to ask your elves what that spell is," Harry says through a mouthful of tough lamb.
Draco makes a pained noise as he tries to shoot ducks with his left hand. "Incidentally, that won't be possible. My parents got rid of all our elves after Dobby got you out of the Manor. They decided it was a 'security risk'."
Harry's chest clenches, and he turns, horrified, to look at Draco. He can't bring himself to ask what, exactly, "got rid of" means in this context.
Draco sighs, his eyes sad and determined. "Don't let me put you off your shooting, there, Potter. You're missing whole flocks."
"Did you know he died?" Harry asks, putting down his light zapper. "Dobby, I mean. Bellatrix got him; he died rescuing us." He swallows, not wanting to cry again, not now. "I dug him a grave and buried him."
Draco looks at him steadily, then forks a bite of curry and holds it out for Harry. Harry bites the lamb off the fork and chews.
"I'm sorry," Draco says after a long moment. "You made him happy."
Harry shrugs, chewing. "I made him dead."
Draco looks straight at him, his face revealing all his understanding and pain. "It happens." He aims at the telly and shoots a duck.
Harry snorts. For a few minutes there's no sound but the music from the game, the sounds that accompany the dog retrieving the downed birds. Harry says, "Do you think we'll ever be able to move on?"
"Don't you think this counts as 'moving on'?" Draco asks, gesturing around the room. He's got curry on his leg. "But if you mean to ask if we'll ever forget about it...I don't think so."
"I don't know how to fit in anywhere," Harry says, concentrating on the ducks so he doesn't have to look at Draco.
"You've never fit in, Potter," Draco drawls, "so that must feel like coming home."
"Oh shut up."
"You fit in here," Draco says more seriously, then whacks him gently with the light zapper, as if a friendly smack will really drive the point home.
"I don't mean here," Harry says, waving his fork around. "I mean, out there."
"Who cares about out there?" Draco downs two ducks in short order. "People out there don't understand. Duck Hunt, on the other hand, will never judge you."
Harry turns back to the screen and shoots, missing.
"I, however," Draco says smugly, "will judge you—what the fuck was that shot, Potter?"
Harry laughs, and shoves Draco hard enough to knock him over.
"Everyone leaves you, Harry Potter," Voldemort hisses, snakelike.
Harry wakes, shaking, and tries to breathe. He's in bed alone, and he doesn't know if he should tell his dream to fuck off or treat it like a prophecy. It's true, in some ways—isn't it? People leave. It's life. And in his life, everyone leaves. Everyone except Hermione. He considers going into her room, crawling into her bed—but no. No. He's okay.
The Draco thing is easy during the day, when they're together. It all slots together so easily, leaving Harry wondering why it'd always seemed so awkward with Cho and sometimes with Ginny. But at night, when his subconscious takes the reins, Harry can only brace himself and wonder whether it wouldn't be easier not to care about anyone.
"Haz, who is your favourite Backstreet Boy?"
Hermione and Draco. Watching MTV. Harry wrinkles his nose in confusion, setting the bags on the kitchen counter. "Pardon?"
"Your favourite Backstreet Boy, Potter, come on." Draco's laughing, too. "Granger here had the audacity to suggest that Howie is better looking than Kevin."
"I—" Harry has to stop to gather himself; the situation is just too bizarre. "I don't have a favourite Backstreet Boy."
"Well then come over here and pick one," Hermione says. "We recorded this, so we can rewind."
"What is going on? Draco, why are you here? Watching Backstreet Boys with Hermione?"
Draco cranes his neck to look at Harry. "I was waiting for you, you nitwit. Get over here."
"I was showing Draco Grand Theft Auto," Hermione says. "I wanted to show him how they give you money in the game for killing sex-workers."
Draco nods. "It's horrific. It's like, Dark Lord-level fucked."
"So then we had to watch MTV Select to cleanse our palates." Hermione gestures him over.
Harry groans. "Ugh, I hate Richard Blackwood. What a chump." He waves his wand to send the cold items into the fridge, then walks over and sits on the armrest of the sofa by Draco.
Oh my God we're back again, Brothers, sisters, everybody sing, We're gonna bring the flavour show you how
"This has to be the most inane song ever written." Harry squints, trying to tell the difference between the two smaller brown-haired Backstreet Boys.
"Oh, definitely," Hermione says. "But the dance! It's mesmerising. Do you think we could learn it?"
Harry watches the boys in question as they raise their arms up, flick their wrists, and slide their arms to the side. "Erm, yes, I venture we could learn this dance."
Draco stands, shucking his robes. "I didn't take lessons with Madam Thistlewaite for five years to be bested by a boy band dance. Rewind it, Granger."
"You two are serious about this?" Harry asks in bewilderment, as Hermione Levitates the coffee table to the side of the room.
Turns out Hermione has figured out a Charm to rewind a VHS tape to the exact second she wants, which she does as Harry stands to Draco's left.
"They call that ballroom dance?" Draco asks, grabbing Harry's hand with his right and putting his left hand on Harry's lower back. "All they're doing is rocking back and forth." Draco tips their hands to the right and Harry finds himself swept into a pitiful ballroom dance, just like the video.
Hermione, unconcerned to be partnerless, imitates the swaying motion by herself.
"Brush your shoulders off!" Hermione commands.
Within a couple minutes, Harry is sweating and laughing more than he has in ages. Turns out that he has no sense of direction and keeps accidentally going the wrong way and knocking into Draco. Hermione is fantastic at arm motions and shoulder shimmying but awful at footwork. Draco is so focused on what he calls "the fluidity of the movements" that he keeps getting behind.
"Why is that werewolf wearing fur robes?" Draco asks, panting, as he touches the floor, sticking one leg out to the side.
"Muggles have a very limited understanding of what werewolves are," Hermione explains, out of breath, jumping to the right at least three beats too late. "They think it's mythical and treat it rather like a costume?"
Harry decides that he's only going to sing along to the line "Am I sexual?", which he takes to doing with exuberance only to find himself the target of a Stinging Hex from Draco.
Hermione pauses it. "No, no! We're doing it all wrong. We need to practice the arms of this part. We're not together with the swinging of the forearms. First you swing left, see?"
As they stand there attempting mass market Muggle dance moves, Harry feels the strangest sense of camaraderie. Harry might be a misfit, but he's not the only one. There's a glimmer of hope that they can find a way to belong in their unbelonging, that their messed up family situations and their war scars can serve as a source of togetherness, not just while coordinating their forearms, but like, going forward.
They practice the arms until Hermione deems them passable and unpauses the video. "Alright, try to keep it together this time."
Draco seems to have resigned himself to Harry singing "Am I sexual?" and starts singing the "Am I original?" while Hermione boisterously answers with "Yeah"s.
Just as they're throwing their hands up in the air and waving them around like they just don't care, the Floo, which is right in the corner near the telly, roars, and Ron steps out.
Draco is farthest from the Floo and, not having seen the new arrival, shouts, "If you wanna party let me hear you yell!"
Ron stands, gaping, and Hermione stops, waving her wand to pause the video.
"Hey Ron!" Hermione says, out of breath and pink-cheeked.
"What—what the bloody hell?" Ron asks, looking between the three.
Draco's face—just a moment ago carefree and joyful—has taken on its old mask of supercilious indifference. "Have you never seen people dance before, Weasley?"
"What the fuck is he doing here?"
Harry deflates as the world comes crashing back in. He slumps onto the arm of the sofa. "Ron—" Harry starts, his voice tired, but Hermione interrupts.
"I mean," Ron says, "it's one thing at the party, with everyone from RAMag there, but this?!"
"What of it, Ron?" she says, moving in front of him to block Harry and Draco. "Are Harry and I not allowed to invite guests to our home that you do not live in?"
Ron splutters, looking around as if he's being pranked, as if someone's going to stick their head out and tell him he's right. "Have you forgotten—are you two crazy?! Don't you remember what he's done?!"
"How dare you suggest that we—Harry and I!—forget!" She's poking her finger at him now, and Harry's a little worried about accidental magic. "Harry and I, who never ran away from the war! Let me ask you a question, Ronald Weasley! Did you ever run away from the war?"
"That has nothing to do with this!" Ron cries, one long arm flying up in a wild gesture. "He was on the wrong side!"
Hermione lets loose a manic cackle. "So what you're saying is that Malfoy made some bad decisions in the war, decisions he couldn't easily take back, even though when the time came he did what he could to save Harry?"
Ron stares at her, his face beetroot red.
Harry glances over his shoulder at Draco, who is looking at the floor, his jaw set.
"But what you're suggesting is that those actions are, perhaps, beyond forgiveness? That's very interesting, Ronald."
"It's not the same!"
"Of course it's not the same." Hermione's hair sparkles with magic. "We all had different things to deal with last year. But you cannot second-guess me. You cannot second-guess me."
"What would want me to do?" Ron asks, exasperated. "I come in here and—"
"I want you to leave."
"Send me an owl when you've calmed down, if you're willing to apologise."
She crosses her arms over her chest.
Ron sighs, as if he's the victim of an enormous injustice, but turns and Floos home.
When the whoosh of the fire quiets, she turns around, her eyes filled with tears.
If there were any way to prevent the shit of the outside world from crashing in on his life, Harry would do it. He would do all sorts of inadvisable things, if he could get that.
Harry stands, stepping forward. "Mi—"
She shakes her head, reaching a hand up to wipe one eye and walking determinedly towards her bedroom. "It's okay, Harry. I just need to be alone for a minute."
"Are you sure—"
She nods and flees.
Harry stares at her closed door, feeling useless. Much like he felt during their time alone in the tent.
"I should go," Draco murmurs.
Harry spins around—the telly is paused on a picture of Nick as a mummy. He waves his hand to turn off the screen. "No, you don't have to go. Ron's being a git."
"I think you could tell that wasn't all about you," Harry says, huffing a small laugh. "They're still...trying to work some things out about last year."
Draco stands, picks up his robes from the chair, and slips them on. "It's okay. It was perhaps presumptuous of me to think I could hang out here with you two."
"But you can. We want—"
"It was nice to forget about it for a few minutes," Draco says. "But Weasley's right—we were forgetting. I don't think Granger has had a chance to really forgive me. Not yet."
"I have," Harry says, emphasising it in the hopes that Draco will hear.
Draco smiles. "But you're Harry Potter. Forgiveness comes easy to you. I'll owl you later, okay? Want to come over and work on that Magimanities assignment?"
Harry nods, Draco leaves, and Harry's alone again.
Sirius looks around the room. "This place is fine, I guess. Needs a disco ball. Who are you going to be now, Harry? Get a disco ball."
And Harry, confused, sits down on the coffee table.
"Tonks says you don't love yourself," Remus adds.
"I love myself," Harry insists, defensive.
Sirius snorts, then looks for a long second at Harry. "Hmm." He looks at Remus. "Moony, I want a baby. How come you had a baby without me? Everyone but me is going around accidentally making babies. You know how I hate missing out."
Remus turns to him and deadpans, "You're dead. And generally, accidental pregnancy requires having sex with a person who has a uterus."
Sirius waves his hand like that's only a small consideration, then looks at Harry and sighs. "Harry, you're my surrogate accidental baby, okay? I didn't miss out."
Harry starts to panic, because he realises they might leave. "Don't go," he says. "You're my family, don't go."
"Can't stay," Sirius says, standing as if to leave. "You can't find your new family if you stay wrapped up in the old one. Take it from me, tiny Prongs: once you leave your bigoted parents behind in Grimmauld Place, you can never go back. You find your new family. We'll catch you on the flip side."
"I don't have bigoted parents!" Harry shouts, sinking through the coffee table, sinking into a pit that's somehow opened up in the floor. "I don't have a new family! Everyone just keeps leaving! If you wanted me, you wouldn't leave!"
"Get a disco ball!" Sirius shouts, and Harry sees Sirius tug Remus off the sofa and lead him in an attempt at the Backstreet Boys dance as Harry falls, screaming, out of sight, and wakes.
It doesn't seem to have worked. He fumbles with his keys, wishing for the comfort of his bed even though it's three o'clock in the afternoon. A reasonable time for a nap, really. He gets the door open, then stops short.
Hermione is sitting at the kitchen counter with an older woman Harry doesn't recognise. They're having tea, and the teapot next to them isn't the one they bought on Brick Lane, but a fancy-looking one.
"Harry!" Hermione says, all smiles, as she jumps up. "This is my Aunt Peggy. Aunt Peggy, this is my best friend, Harry."
An invisible clamp tightens around Harry's neck, bringing to mind the fucking Horcrux in the lake. Hermione has an aunt?!
Aunt Peggy is middle-aged, a mess of salt and pepper hair, wearing a floral jumper and tapered leg jeans with loafers. She looks like a mum, like the kind of person who gives good hugs. She smiles widely. "Harry! I've heard so much about you."
Harry looks between them, trying to figure out what's going on. Does Hermione's aunt know what she did to her parents? For that matter, does she know Hermione is a witch? Does she know about the war? Does she know Hermione had camped in a tent eating tinned beans for a year because of Harry?
Harry's spiraling, he can feel it, but he doesn't know how to stop it.
The woman named Peggy hands him a tea cup. They don't even have tea cups, they have cheap, comic-adorned mugs. "Have a cup of tea, love. I brought Hermione this old tea set that belonged to my parents, her grandparents. It was sitting in the cupboard, unused, so I figured I should bring it, let it serve the next generation, right? No sense having things if you don't use them, I say."
Harry smiles, though he suspects it looks like a grimace. "Thanks."
"Peggy is my mum's sister," Hermione explains. "She lives out in Cornwall."
Harry says nothing. Hermione has a look on her face like she is going to explain it all later.
"Hermione tells me you're going to uni?" Peggy asks, sitting back down on one of the stools.
Harry had no idea Hermione had any family left. He thought she has parents who don't remember she exists, who live in Australia. He thought the two of them were in it together—orphans, familyless, together against the world.
"Yes," Harry says, looking at the tea cup in his hands. The cup shakes in the saucer, and he places it down on the counter. "Actually, I've just realised I've forgotten something I needed to do for my...class. I need to go back out. I'll see you later, Hermione, yeah?"
She frowns, and Harry knows she can tell he's upset, but there's not much either one of them can say with her Muggle aunt there.
"It was nice to meet you," Harry says, trying to smile as he walks backward, out of the flat.
"You too, Harry! I hope to see you again soon?"
But Harry's out the door, heart racing, jogging down the steps and out into the October air. He needs to go somewhere, but he has nowhere to go. There's an aunt in his flat, and the Burrow doesn't belong to him anymore. He walks into the nearest alley and realises with an uncomfortable feeling that there's only one place other than his flat where he feels understood. He Apparates to Draco's.
Harry rings the bell, and Draco buzzes him up. Harry jogs up the stairs and knocks on the door.
He knows he's being awful, that he's getting worked up over nothing. He knows that the fact that Hermione has an aunt doesn't mean anything—it doesn't mean she'll leave Harry. But you can't reason with anxiety, and Harry needs to distract himself. He needs to listen to Draco blather on about something boring. No, scratch that, he needs to pull Draco's clothes off and suck his dick.
Draco opens the door. "Hello there, Harry, what brings—"
Harry shoves his way inside, dropping his bag next to the door and pushing Draco against the wall, kissing his neck, capturing Draco's lips—yes, perfect, Draco always distracts him—
Draco kisses back, mmphing, but then pushes Harry away by the shoulders. "What's wrong?"
"Don't wanna talk about it." Harry crowds into Draco's space, making to kiss him again, but Draco shoves him off.
"You can't come in here, looking like that, like angry Harry who killed the Dark Lord, and try to use me to forget about whatever's bothering you." Draco leans forward, eyes challenging. "Talk to me."
"I don't want to talk about it!" Harry sounds petulant even to himself.
Draco crosses his arms across his chest. "Well, fucking tough. I never want to talk about any of it, but it's not like we have any choice, is it? That's what our lives are like, full of all sorts of bullshit trauma and feelings and having to talk about it."
Harry whirls around, wishing he could at least punch something if Draco isn't going to let him channel his anger into fucking. Instead, he drops to sit on Draco's sofa, leaning forward until his head rests in his hands atop his knees.
"You have to talk about it," Draco repeats, his voice sounding maddeningly calm to Harry's worked-up brain. "You can't keep doing this. Do you think I can't handle it, whatever it is? Look at me."
Harry looks up, his body tight with hot rage, and he sees Draco standing there looking like an unshakeable force. Draco's eyes are steel, not silver, and he looks like he could take a dozen Sectumsempras without falling over.
"Whatever's bothering you, just fucking tell me."
Harry takes a deep breath. "I keep dreaming about my parents, and about Remus and Sirius, who were like surrogate parents. And the dreams are nightmares, and they keep like, blowing up in flames or being snatched away, and it's so fucking cruel. I have no one. The Weasleys tried to be there for me, but now that Ginny and I are split, and Ron's being a bit of a wanker, I feel like I don't have them. And it's not like they ever really got it, either, you know? And then I've got this baby godson, and he's so small and perfect and the world is going to ruin him, because that's what the world does, right? And I feel like, there's no way I can protect him. How can I make him feel wanted, when he has no parents? When his parents left him home to fight in a war? And then I think, forget Teddy—how do I keep living if I feel like I don't belong anywhere? How can I live, knowing that a baby that I made was so unwanted that it doesn't exist anymore—the like, intensity of the unwanting made it vanish from existence. And how many times in my life have I felt like that could've been me? If the Dursleys were magic, they probably would've found a way to Vanish me. And then I have Hermione, who is also alone, but then it turns out that she's not, because I just went home and Aunt Peggy was there drinking tea out of a fancy teapot that we didn't buy, and I just freaked the fuck out!"
After a moment of silence, Harry adds, "And why is every Muggle song these days about abortion?!"
Draco listens intently, then sits down in the chair next to the sofa. He exhales, slumping to the side a bit. "I'm not sure where to start in responding to that."
Harry groans. "I know! It's a pile of shit."
"Mostly it's a bunch of bullshit," Draco says, raising an eyebrow.
Harry's head snaps up. "Excuse me?"
"You're so caught up in this narrative of being unwanted that you don't even realise that you've been doing it. You're doing it—you're moving on. What do you think these last few months have been?"
"What are you—"
"Every time you manage to have fun, you start doubting yourself, feeling guilty. I get it; I feel the same way. But that's different than being unwanted. You're not unwanted. The Weasleys love you, any fool can see that. And Hermione is your family, and I want you. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too. I'd wager that Andromeda and Teddy love you already. And that's not even counting any of the Gryffindor brigade."
Harry gapes, can't believe that Draco is being a bastard about this.
"You know what belonging looks like, Harry?" Draco rants. "Duck Hunt in the middle of the night, and a ridiculous best friend who will stop studying to learn a Backstreet Boys dance. Stop acting so entitled, for fuck's sake."
"Entitled?! You're acting like a huge prick!" Harry spits. "I'm trying to tell you that I'm having trouble dealing with this whole lack-of-family thing, and you're dismissing my feelings! Like the old days where you took every chance to give me crap for being an orphan."
Draco throws one hand wildly to the side. "Maybe because I was wanted, I am wanted, and life is still crap! Do you think that life is automatically fantastic, peachy keen, for people whose parents wanted them? Look at me, you fucking tit! All my problems are caused by belonging, belonging to the wrong place! I don't want to belong there any more—why do you think I live in this Muggle flat? I don't belong here, but I don't want to belong where I do belong, so here I am. Faking it until I make it."
"Oh, fuck you," Harry sneers. "You want me to feel sorry for you, for all that horrible privilege you have?"
"No, of course not!" Draco stands and starts pacing. "That's why you'll notice that I never sit around whinging about this. You're the one who comes in here all hot under the collar and pretending like you don't need to talk about it. But if you're so desperate for parents, I'd be happy to let you figure out how to deal with mine. I've got a mother who is close to psychosis in the wake of the war and a father in Azkaban who keeps writing me unhinged missives about how to win back the family name. So be my guest if you'd like to figure out how to deal with the privilege of parents who love you."
Harry groans, letting his head fall dramatically between his knees.
"You can't really be upset that Hermione has an aunt," Draco continues, never satisfied to leave well enough alone. "What's actually bothering you?"
"I keep thinking about the baby," Harry says. "I don't know why I can't force myself to stop."
"To be clear," Draco says, "we're discussing the embryo Ginny aborted before it became a baby, and not the actual human baby Teddy, who is your godson?"
"Fuck you!" Harry burns with anger. "Yes! I'm allowed to have feelings."
Draco leans forward. "Listen, the baby is not you. You are not the baby. You're being ridiculous. I don't care about the baby."
Harry makes a sound of offended disbelief.
"No, listen, Potter. I don't care about the baby. That baby was never a person, was never going to be a person. I care about you. You, Potter. You have a second chance at life. So fucking live."
Of all the things—
Harry gapes. He is living! He's doing his best, isn't he? He's allowed to care about the thing with Ginny and the baby. He's allowed to care about having lost nearly everyone in the world he ever cared about.
Draco claps his hands once, as if satisfied with how they left the conversation, like it's all settled. "Now, who wants to try a drink I got at the market? It's called Surge and it looks utterly appalling."
Harry whirls around, watching in disbelief as Draco walks to the kitchen and takes out glasses and soda cans. "What? No! I can't—fuck. I have to go."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Draco asks, sighing. "I told you how to solve everything, and now you're going to leave? As far as I'm concerned, now that we've talked about it, you can fuck me to forget your problems. I don't mind the whole angry-man thing—"
But Harry's already up, grabbing his bag, striding out the door, trying to find someplace he can breathe.
He's not sure how long he lies there, wallowing. He has a vague sense that he's being pathetic, and that he should feel bad for running out on Draco, and on Hermione, but he doesn't have enough energy to fully admit any of that to himself right now.
Awhile later, while the stereo's blasting "Bulletproof...I Wish I Was", Hermione comes in and sits on the bed without saying anything. When he doesn't send her away, she crawls into bed next to him, wrapping an arm around him, and squeezes.
"Are you hungry?" she asks eventually.
He shakes his head. "Can I tell you something?"
"Do you really have to ask?"
"Well, I need to ask you not to tell Ron. So, yeah, I have to ask."
She leans up on an elbow behind him. "Alright. What is it?"
Harry rolls onto his back towards her. "The thing that Ginny and I fought about—she got pregnant."
Hermione's eyes widen. "Oh."
"I don't know how it happened; we used charms."
Hermione shrugs. "Nothing's foolproof."
Harry sighs. "She went to St Mungo's and got an abortion while I was testifying at the Wizengamot. We didn't even talk about it. She just went and did it."
"As is her right." Hermione's voice is gentle, but insistent.
"Yes, clearly, and I don't resent that," Harry sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I just—it's brought up a lot of feelings about—being wanted."
Hermione brushes his hair off his forehead. "About being wanted, or about being unwanted?"
Harry gives her a small smile.
"We—I don't know. I'm not upset we broke up. Maybe I should be, but I think it was mostly just...over. I'm not even upset that she had an abortion; Merlin knows I'm too young to be a parent."
"I just—it made me feel like I've never been wanted, not for the right reasons, you know? And how am I supposed to figure out what to do now, when I don't belong anywhere?"
"I don't know," she says. "I have no idea what any of us are supposed to do now. But you belong here, with me."
Harry gives her a yeah-okay sort of smile, and she nudges him. "I'm serious. I don't sit in a tent half-starving and half-freezing for months on end with just anyone. I love you, Harry."
His eyes widen; it's not something he's used to hearing.
"Don't think you have to say it back, but you need to hear it, my friend." She smiles. "You know what Aunt Peggy said?"
Despite himself, Harry stiffens.
"Wait. What is your problem with my aunt? You ran out earlier and I thought maybe you were upset about something else, but now you just acted weird when I mentioned her!"
Harry groans. "Ugh, it's not her! She was lovely! It's—I thought you and I were in this together, this whole after-the-war, no-parents, going-it-alone thing. And then you have an aunt, and I didn't know that, and she shows up with a family tea set. But that's not my family." He meets Hermione's eye. "It made me feel lonely. I'm sorry. I'm pathetic."
Hermione covers her face with her hand and flops next to Harry. "Oh, Haz, I'm so sorry. I should've told you about her. It's so awkward, having Muggle family—because it's hard to visit them and you can't tell them about your life or anything, and now that my parents aren't around, I can't just visit my relatives with them like I used to, and I honestly didn't know if I'd ever see any of them again."
"So what happened?"
"My new therapist told me about this program they have at the Muggle Liaison Office that works with Muggle-borns to help them connect with their Muggle family. It's not perfect, but they have a gentle spell, similar to a Confundus, that adjusts their thinking about anything magical. Like, if I showed them a moving picture, they'd see it as still. They also told me that, if I have no parents and no siblings, I can consider making my aunt my next of kin, in order to make it permissible by the Statute to tell her about the magical world."
"Oh, Mi." Harry smiles sadly. "That's great."
"It doesn't mean we're not in it together," Hermione says, frowning. "It doesn't mean we're not, what did you say? Going it alone, together?"
"I know, I'm just being pathetic. Anyway, what did Aunt Peggy say? You said she said something."
"Oh, right. She said we should 'follow our joy'."
Harry's face morphs into skepticism. "What does that mean? Is she some kind of new-age fanatic?"
Hermione rolls her eyes. "It just means that, if we feel like we don't know what to do, what path to take, what choice to make—we should, you know, trust that the things that bring us joy are what we should pursue."
Harry wrinkles his nose. "That doesn't help. I don't know what brings me joy. Kebab?"
She stares at him, unimpressed.
"What?" He sighs. "You think you know what brings me joy?"
Hermione raises an eyebrow. "Are you really going to make me say it?"
"Ugh, don't say it."
"Malfoy!" she says, sticking out her tongue. "I can't believe it, but there you go. Well, I can believe it. I've been having fun with him too. We really need to work on our 'Everybody' dance some more. We were getting really close. But Harry, you laugh with him."
Harry groans, not wanting to think about what any of this means. "I went over to Draco's before. He yelled at me."
She props herself up on an elbow. "You had a fight?"
Harry frowns. "I don't—I don't think so? Kind of? I told him to fuck off, but at the end he tried to give me soda and said we could have sex."
"I don't know!" Harry groans. "How do you tell if you're having a fight with Malfoy? He's always...like that. With me."
Hermione sits up. "Start over. What happened?"
Harry tries to remember what had started their loud discussion. "He forced me to talk about my feelings."
Hermione presses her lips together like she's quelling a smile.
"Shut up. And then he said that being wanted isn't some magic formula for a perfect life."
Hermione nods in concession. "He'd certainly know all about that."
What exactly had Draco done? He'd told Harry that he is moving on, that he is wanted—only maybe not in the ways Harry had anticipated. He'd said that he wanted Harry, and that Harry isn't the only person who has issues with their parents.
Harry throws an arm over his head. "I think he told me to get over myself, basically."
Hermione starts to laugh, just a giggle at first and then harder and harder until she's heaving for breath.
Harry stares at her. "Oi! I can't believe this! You're supposed to be my best friend."
"I'm—I'm sorry, Hazza—I just—I can't—oh my god."
Harry tries to glare her into silence.
"I'm sorry. It's just, I finally realised why he's good for you." She starts laughing again.
"Oh, thanks. This is just perfect."
"I'm serious!" she says, getting herself under control and bringing her feet up on the bed, legs bent. "I think there are exactly two people in the world who would tell you to get over yourself, and I'm one of them. Well, and Ginny. Three people."
Harry rolls his eyes. "Yes, thanks for reminding me."
"But isn't that what you want?" she asks. "Someone who will treat you like Harry, rather than the Saviour or whatever they're calling you these days? Part of that is being willing to be called out on your shit, Harry."
Harry groans. "But what if I don't want to be called out on my shit. What if I want to stay miserable? What if I want people who will treat me like Harry, like the miserable git I am, without ever expecting more of me?"
Hermione smacks him.
Harry leans closer to her, content in the knowledge that she knows he knows he's being an arse and they don't have to discuss it.
He's been a bad friend lately—too focused on his own shit. He looks up at Hermione. "Are you and Ron...going to be okay?"
Hermione's face turns sombre. "Honestly? I don't know. Is that horrible?"
Harry shrugs. "I don't think it's horrible. I want you to be happy. If that's not Ron, well…"
"Thanks," she whispers. "Sometimes I think he will grow and it'll be perfect. Other times...not so much."
"Okay," Harry says, pushing up to a seat and leaning next to Hermione. There's not really anything else to say about that. "We need to get a disco ball."
"Sirius came to me in a dream and told me to get a disco ball."
"Wait, do you actually think he contacted you from Beyond?"
Harry shrugs. "Your guess is as good as mine."
"Well, we can do that tomorrow, after lunch, if you want. I think they'd have a disco ball at that market we went to last weekend, remember?"
"Perfect." He has no idea if that dream was a bizarre manifestation of his subconscious or a supernatural visitation from the Beyond, but he's not taking any chances.
He turns to look at her, cocking his head to show he's listening.
"Have you figured out what you need to do now?"
Has he? Does he know how to move on from all this nonsense? From the war, from his complicated, history-laden relationship with Ginny, from an aborted pregnancy? Not really. But does he know what to do next?
"Alright, good. Are you going to do it now, or do you want to come play Duck Hunt?"
"I'm going to do it now."
She gives him a commiserating grimace. "Can I do anything to help? Shall I try to find you the Resurrection Stone for you to carry with you, or….?"
Harry laughs. "I'm fine, get out of here."
She smiles and heads for the door.
"I love you too."
She smiles and closes the door.
Harry stands and walks over to his desk. He takes out a sheet of parchment and starts writing.
It's cold. Harry takes a deep breath, pulling the sleeves of his jumper down to his wrists. He can do this. It's just the Burrow. It's just Ginny.
George answers in the middle of talking to someone in the sitting room. He briefly pauses, smiles, says, "Hey Haz. Why did you knock, mate?" and disappears, talking about Shrivelfigs. There's an unidentifiable whirring noise. He steps inside with the odd feeling that this is what home used to feel like.
"Who is it?" Molly pokes her head out of the kitchen. "Harry, darling! I haven't seen you in ages. Are you hungry?"
"Hi." He smiles as she wraps him in a hug. "No thanks. I was hoping to talk to Ginny." He winces, hearing what she'll hear—the hope of a reconciliation—the hope of a son-in-law. But he's not responsible for Molly's assumptions, is he?
"Oh! Oh, of course. Let me just—do you want me to call her down, dear?"
A minute later, Ginny jogs down the stairs, slowing when she sees Harry. "Oh. Hi."
"You cut your hair." It surprises him; it looks cute.
Her glare pierces. "Should I have consulted you first?"
Harry closes his eyes. He deserves that. He can let it go. "No, it looks good. Can we talk? Want to go for a walk?"
She grabs a sweater off of a hook—it looks like one of Arthur's cardigans, it comes down to her knees—and leads the way outside.
She says nothing, which is unlike her. She just walks, apparently content to let Harry have the full brunt of the awkwardness.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
She looks up, surprised yet unimpressed.
"I realise that my reaction made it seem like I was judging you. I never wanted you to feel that way. I'm sorry."
She tucks her shorter hair behind her ear. "Erm, okay."
"I was making it about me," Harry says. "Which, I'm not sure if you've noticed—I tend to do that sometimes."
She huffs a small laugh, and Harry feels the ice between them thaw a bit.
"It—it brought up a lot of feelings for me. I was worried about the baby not being wanted and what that meant about me not being wanted, and when you didn't talk to me that made it feel like you didn't want me, either. But that wasn't your problem. It was mine, and I handled it poorly. I'm sorry."
"Right. Imagine this," she says, spinning towards him and putting one hand on her hip. "You're seventeen. You keep bouncing between complete numbness and uncontrollable crying over your dead brother. You haven't slept a full night in over a year. You find out you're pregnant."
"Ugh, I know, Gin, I—"
Her index finger flies up. "No, Harry. No. You need to listen to this. So you find out you're pregnant. You can't tell anyone, obviously. You feel physically ill because, pregnant. You tell your partner, who incidentally has debilitative war trauma, and he is supremely unhelpful. You manage to get your shit together and go meet your brother, whom you find on the floor in a pile of vomit and who doesn't remember how he got there. So you clean him up, because you can't tell your parents about that because they're already barely keeping it together, and you aren't sure which other brother you should get to help because they're all dealing with shit, but you end up going to Bill and explaining what's going on, getting him to help George. And incidentally—have you ever tried Apparating pregnant? Do not recommend. So then you're like, okay. I totally have time for this whole baby thing...Not! So you go to St Mungo's even though you're already tired and feel like complete arse, you have a bunch of Healers acting like condescending tossers and asking you like five million times Are you sure? and whether they can call your parents, even though you're of age. And then they finally perform the spell that causes the pregnancy to fail, at which point you have immediate cramping and they give you some pamphlets and tell you to get some sleep."
Every word she says makes Harry feel like a bigger piece of arse lint. He'd been so caught up in his own shit that day—he'd never really stopped to think about that day from Ginny's perspective. What is wrong with him?
And Ginny's not done.
"So you go home and have to sit at dinner with your parents, who can never know, and your siblings, and your partner, and you can't eat because you're having the worst cramps ever. So you make it through dinner and you go upstairs, finally done with this absolute shitpile of a day, and you tell your supposed partner about it and he goes." She stops, leaning forward, her eyes blazing. "He goes, 'You didn't ask me first'."
Harry wants to cry. He could, easily. It would require letting down the approximately one mental barrier he's keeping up. But he can't. He can't make it about him again. Instead, he sits down on a bench they'd once snogged on. "Gin. I am so, so sorry."
She flops down next to him. For a long time, neither of them say anything.
"Are you feeling okay now?"
"Yep." She pulls the cardigan tighter around herself. "No lasting harm, just a few days of cramps." She looks up at him, and her eyes glisten with tears in the moonlight. "It would've been a fantastic baby, Harry. But we can't...we don't…"
Harry leans forward, wrapping her in a hug, and they're both crying. "In another life," he says, "it would've been a fantastic person. We would've been an incredible family."
"We don't live in that life," she says, face crumpled against Harry's jumper. "We're broken. We're broken, and it broke our relationship."
"That wasn't the baby," Harry whispers. "For me, it wasn't the baby. We never really clicked again, after the war. For me, anyway."
She nods. "I was worried when you showed up tonight that you were going to try to get back together. I'm not sure I know enough curse words to have handled that." She laughs, sniffling. "No, it wasn't the baby. But we're broken."
Harry clings to her, thinking of the cracks in the ceiling of her bedroom. "We're not broken, Gin. We're under construction."
"We're in the cocoon," she whispers, and pulls out of the hug, looking red and tear-streaked and beautiful. She takes a deep breath, wiping her cheeks with her hand. "How have you been?"
"Good? Good-ish." Harry slumps against the back of the bench.
She laughs. "I'm good-ish, too."
"Alright. He's joking more, which is good, but sometimes I worry that he's forcing it so that we'll worry about him less. But he's, you know, eating and sleeping. I don't think anyone's found him passed out in vomit lately."
Harry sighs in relief. "Oh, good. Hermione mentioned a therapist who is a Squib—you know, trained the Muggle way, but knows all about the magical world. Think we could get him to go?"
"Maybe," she says, looking up at the sky. "It's hard to say. Might help if we all sat him down and suggested it together, a bit of an intervention, you know?"
"So you're in, if I send you an owl?" She looks at him hopefully.
"Well, yeah. You know George thinks of you like a brother. And you're a bit nearer than Charlie, who probably can't get here just for a therapy intervention. At least, unless it were really important. But we can probably do this without Charlie, if we're all there."
"Yeah," Harry says, smiling. "I'm in."
He's sitting there, having done what he came to do—talk to Ginny about the abortion and their split, figure out where he fits in this family—but he realises with sudden clarity that he has to tell her.
"Gin," he starts, then coughs. "I have to tell you something, and I'm really hoping that it won't make you angry at me again."
"What makes you think I'm not angry at you already? I mean, still? I'll always be angry at you for that, you know, Harry. I may forgive you." She's acting like she's teasing, but they both know she's telling the truth. She leans forward to scrutinise him. "Merlin, you're terrified. What? What is it?"
"I'm seeing someone. It started after we split. But, for the past couple months, really." He takes a deep breath. "And I'm bisexual, I think. I mean, I like blokes. I can say that definitively."
Ginny's eyes widen until he can see her entire iris. "You're seeing a bloke." She takes a shaky breath. "I mean, as long as it's not Ron. I guess...that's cool?"
Harry winces. He needs to just say it. "It's Malfoy."
Ginny sits up tall, her mouth falling open. "Excuse me? You're going to need to repeat that."
"I'm seeing Draco."
She starts to laugh, but not like she thinks it's funny. She laughs like her entire life is unhinged, which, to be sure, it kind of is.
"I'm sorry?" Harry says, completely at a loss of what to say in this situation.
"Did you tell him?" she asks, her voice like ice. "Did you tell Draco Malfoy that I had an abortion."
Harry stares, but when her face increases in intensity, he nods.
"Who else did you tell?"
"Only Hermione!" Harry says, defensive. "And she promised not to tell Ron."
Ginny laughs harder, hand coming up to her mouth, and she stands. "I'm—I'm sorry, Harry. I—" She's still laughing, with tears in her eyes that are clearly not mirthful. "I'll be okay. It's totally fine that you are hooking up with blokes after splitting with me. Totally fine. I'll be okay. You can just—you can go fuck Malfoy. Have at it. I certainly don't want him. You hereby have my permission to fuck any Death Eater who catches your fancy. I'm just going to—" She points vaguely at the house. "I'm sorry. I am not reacting properly to this. Maybe now we're even for you acting like a shithead when you found out about the abortion." She stops, thinks, bursts into a cackle again. "Actually no, definitely not even. Perhaps you're even more indebted to me now, in the cosmic balance. I'm just going to go. Inside. We can talk again soon. I'm sure it won't be at all awkward."
Shit. Harry's face falls as she starts to walk away. He feels like he's been hit with a Stunner.
He looks up and finds Ginny looking at him sadly, eyes glistening, hands shoved in the pockets of her cardigan.
"I hate you," she says, her face sad and soft. "See you Sunday." She turns and walks briskly into the house.
Harry's heard her say that dozens of times over the years, to various brothers who've pissed her off. To Ron after he told Molly she was dating Dean. To Fred after he turned her favourite jumper into a rat and couldn't change it back. To Percy, after the war. I hate you. Her eyes usually sparkle with indignant fury when she says it. See you Sunday.
She's never said it to Harry before. Harry drops his head into his hands, and lets the tears come.
"How did it go?"
Harry sets his wand on the counter. "I have never felt more like a piece of shit in my entire life."
"No, don't—don't say anything that will make me feel better about it. I need to feel like a cock trumpet. My karma requires it."
Hermione puts her tea down and strides over, arms out, and wraps him in a hug. "No one acts perfectly all the time. Especially if they have lots of trauma."
"Doesn't make it okay."
"Never said it did." She rocks side to side a little. "Doesn't make you any less deserving of love or happiness or whatever, you know?"
Harry nods, his nose rubbing against Hermione's hair.
"What can I do?" she asks.
"I just want to be sad. Sad that I wasn't a good partner to Ginny and that I was selfish. Sad that we accidentally made a pregnancy only to stop it. Sad that I've lost so many people."
She hums. "Let's watch a sad film?"
Harry pulls away. "Like what?"
"Love Story? Beaches? Romeo and Juliet, the Leo and Claire Danes version?" She pauses. "Wait, so, I haven't even asked, because it's obviously not important. Do you consider yourself bisexual now? Because Leo and Claire Danes, Harry."
Harry laughs. He can feel that his eyes are still red from crying before. But he's got Hermione. Hermione will let him be sad. Hermione will be sad with him. And they have Leo and Claire Danes.
"Draco, it's me. Can I come up?"
A couple of minutes later, Harry's knocking on the door, and Draco answers. He's wearing some of his new Muggle clothes, a pair of jeans and a loose striped t-shirt. As the door opens, music turns off.
"Was that Backstreet Boys?" Harry asks, momentarily distracted and trying to place which song it was so he can torture Draco about it forever. "You know what, nevermind." He needs to focus.
Draco opens his mouth, ready to speak, but Harry reaches forward to cover Draco's mouth with his hand.
"Sorry," Harry says, "just, you really like to talk, and if you start talking, you're going to distract me, and I really want to tell you what I have to say."
Draco motions for Harry to come in, and when Harry removes his hand, he mimes casting Silencio at his lips.
"I'm sorry I ran out yesterday; I had my head up my arse, as you well know. As you told me."
Harry throws the paper bag onto Draco's table and turns, hands on his hips, to face Draco. "I'm not used to this whole...people-sticking-around thing. I'm not great at it. I'm going to do better."
Draco leans against the counter, crossing his feet, listening with what looks like rapt amusement.
Harry looks into the bag, pulls out a little modern clock and Levitates it to Draco's mantel. "I got you this because you're always needing to cast Tempus to see whether you should stop studying and go to bed. Anyway, I talked to Ginny. I apologised for acting like an arse about the abortion. We...I think we'll be okay. I mean, she's never going to forget about how I acted, but we at least, like, communicated."
He pulls a large wooden bowl out of the bag and walks to place it on the counter. "For crisps or popcorn. I also talked to Hermione, and she basically thinks you're totally right. She couldn't stop laughing at me. Apparently I have a long history of avoiding my feelings."
Draco, to his credit, manages to let Harry continue talking without commentary.
Harry reaches into the bag and pulls out shrink-wrapped condoms and lube. "Because I really don't trust using charms for protection after all that. Bathroom or bedroom?"
Draco raises his eyebrows and says haltingly, "Ah, bedroom?"
Harry jogs into the bedroom, returning empty-handed a moment later. "And I went to see Teddy the other day, and I was thinking you could come with me next time, if you want? Because you're right, he's my family now, he and Andromeda, and they're your family too, kind of. It's weird, and I'm totally not okay with it, but I will be."
Harry looks into the bag, pulling out two small boxes. "Oh! This is for my flat, I guess, not yours. Two more games for the NES: Mario Brothers and Tetris."
"Potter," Draco says, "are you moving in?"
"No!" Harry laughs. "I noticed your flat was kind of bare. And you said that you felt like you didn't belong here, but you wanted to belong here, so I bought you some things. Because one thing about places where you belong is that they've got lots of reminders of people who care about you. I have one more thing." Harry grins deviously, sticking his arm way into the bag, revealing that it's been magically extended.
He pulls out an enormous canvas and, grinning, instructs, "Close your eyes."
Draco, smiling exasperatedly, closes his eyes.
Harry almost doesn't want to show Draco this ugly preposterous thing he made. It's embarrassing, even if it's funny. But he's done hiding his feelings. Well, no, he'll probably always struggle not to hide his feelings. Not hiding from his feelings will be a lifelong quest, and he's starting now.
Harry flips the canvas around. "Alright, open."
Draco opens his eyes and bursts out laughing.
Harry's painted the canvas with the words TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: HARRY POTTER HEREBY DECLARES HIMSELF TO BE FRIEND AND LOVER OF DRACO L. MALFOY in giant block letters.
Draco covers his eyes with a hand as he shakes with silent laughter.
"If you're going to be ridiculous," Harry says, leaning forward, "I'm going to be ridiculous too."
"Do you expect me to hang that—that eyesore in my home?"
Harry's eyes twinkle with a challenge. They both know he'll hang it.
"I'm going to rest it on the mantel for now," Harry says. "Pride of place. You can hang it somewhere else, if you like." Harry perches the outlandish "art" on the mantel, and steps back to admire it.
"Perhaps," Draco says, "you ought to drop out of RAMag and enroll in art school."
Harry laughs and walks over to Draco, then shoves his hands into his pockets. "Are we okay? I'm sorry I ran out yesterday. I was overwhelmed."
"We're okay," Draco says quietly. "I wasn't cross." Then, louder, "Though, I'm not sure whether you can really buy my allegiance with gifts. Not that I'm turning them down, mind you. But I'm not sure physical gifts are really enough."
"Oh yeah?" Harry asks. "What else do you require?"
"Oaths of fealty," the wanker says. "Kissing of shoes. An ode composed on the topic of 'Draco was right'."
Harry laughs, elbowing Draco in the side.
"Seriously though, are you alright?" Draco asks. Their eyes meet, and Harry doesn't see any joking in those silver eyes. "Buying a bunch of admittedly lovely and thoughtful gifts doesn't do much to convince me that you're okay. Which was really what this was about. You realise that, right? I wasn't cross with you; I was worried."
"I'm getting there." Harry shrugs. "To be honest, I cried a lot."
Draco winces sympathetically. "Did Ginny forgive you for acting like—that—about the baby?"
"Uhhh. More or less. She understands, anyway."
"So that's all," Draco pauses, choosing his words, and waving a hand, "settled?"
"Yeah," Harry says, tilting his head assessingly. "Did you think I was going to like, get back with her, or something?"
Draco's face has that Malfoy-mask quality. With a measured tone, he says, "I wouldn't have blamed you, if you did."
And even though Draco doesn't say it, Harry can see written on his pointy face that part of Draco thinks he's not good enough for Harry. Thinks Harry will leave, because Harry is Good and Draco is Bad. He doesn't realise that Harry doesn't want Good. Harry wants Real, and Harry wants people who stick around. He wants to stick around.
"That's interesting, and we can unpack that some other time, but turns out there's only one person I'm interested in these days." Harry grins, leaning his head to press a kiss to Draco's neck. "I told her about us."
"Is that so?" Draco asks, his voice sounding posher than ever as he tries not to reveal his emotions.
Harry hums into Draco's neck. "She was pretty pissed off, but."
He feels Draco stiffen. "Does that bother you?"
"Everything bothers me," Harry says. Then, "No. It doesn't bother me." Harry's hands find Draco's face, and he kisses him. He's kissed Draco dozens of times by now, but this is the first time it's felt free, unburdened.
Draco pulls away. "Can we be one hundred percent clear with each other, here, Potter, since we're apparently doing this whole honesty thing?"
Harry nods, eyes locked on Draco's lips.
Draco snaps his fingers up by his eyes. "Up here, neanderthal. I just want to be on the same page. You want to—to be with me, right? I don't care if we tell the public or whatever, but just, you want to be—a couple? There are no good words. But you, me—together. Exclusively. Friends, partners, boyfriends, lovers, et cetera?"
Harry's face splits into a wide grin. Draco is almost never this inarticulate. "Did you just say 'et cetera' while asking me to define the relationship?"
"Do not make fun of me right now, Potter."
Harry turns around, pointing at the canvas on the mantel. "I already told you, didn't I?" He meets Draco's eye, trying to project all his inarticulate feelings of hope and commitment and maybe-we-can-actually-do-it onto his face.
Draco's expression slowly settles into smugness. "In that case, let's try out those condoms. I have no idea how they work. Are they electric?"
Harry snorts. "No. They're rubber." He grabs Draco's shoulders and steers him out of the kitchen.
"Harry," Draco says, grinning, eyes closed as Harry walks him backward into the bedroom. "I keep wanting to ask you something. When you saw me that night in the club, and we started snogging on the dancefloor with that Muggle girl, what did you think about me? I still can't believe we hooked up at a club."
Harry stops walking when they reach the bed, and Draco opens his eyes. "Honestly?" Harry asks. "I thought, well, you were there. So, might as well."
Draco's mouth drops open. He shoves Harry back onto the bed, and Harry erupts into laughter. "I don't think that now!" Harry insists. "You asked me what I thought then!"
"How dare you," Draco says, in full outrage, dropping on top of Harry but holding himself up on his arms, out of Harry's reach.
It's kind of true—if you'd asked Harry at the club what he was thinking, his answer would've been a shrug. But he wonders, now, if maybe on that night the parts of his brain he's not in excellent contact with had known more than his thinking brain. Maybe those synapses had seen a lonely, broken boy who needed a new way to belong and said, follow that.
Harry tries to tug him down, but Draco resists. "And what, exactly, Potter, would you say now?"
Harry smiles, reaching up to brush Draco's hair off his forehead. "I'd say, yes, you were there. But you were there, like, for a reason."
"Oh," Draco preens. "I quite like that. Like, I was an angel sent by a higher power? Quite right."
Harry snorts. "Fat chance. But we needed each other, don't you think?"
Draco lets himself fall heavily on top of Harry, pushing the air out of Harry's lungs and then, before Harry realises what's happening, rolling their hips together. "Maybe we did," Draco whispers, his head tucking into the crook of Harry's neck as Harry moans.
"You're going to love Tetris," Harry says out of the blue, smiling, and Draco kisses him, smiles giving way to insistent lips and roaming, undressing fingers.
When the results of their first experiment with a condom are in the bin, and their bodies are cleaned, lying unhurried in bed, Draco says, "You know Hermione's your family, right? It may not be...traditional, but that doesn't make it any less real."
"Yeah," Harry says, smiling. "And Teddy."
"Yes. And you have me."
He hears what Draco's saying—that they're not family, exactly. Not yet. But they're together, and they support each other. They're family adjacent. They're a provisional family. They're if-this-works-we-could-be.
"And I have you, too," Harry agrees, rolling towards Draco and throwing an arm over him.
"And Harry, you are wanted," Draco says. "I want you. You've realised that, yes? You don't have to think that you're doomed to always being unwanted. Unseen."
Harry grins, hoping Draco can't see his goofy smile. "Mmhmm. I want you too."
"Quite right. And Teddy and Hermione want you too, Merlin knows why. They must have an inexplicable affinity for wild mops of hair. And who knows how this bizarre little family of yours will expand over the years. Hermione's Aunt Peggy, for one. She'll be cooking you hot-pot and you'll be cat sitting for her before you know it. And Andromeda, of course. We'll have to reconcile her with my mother. Oh, and my mother. Goodness, Potter, just wait until my mother decides you fall under the category of 'family.' You'll be trying to dodge her owls before you know it."
I miss you.
Sometimes I wonder how I can continue to live, with all of you gone. How can I belong here when so many people who tie me to this life are gone?
I never really prepared for what I'd do if I survived. I didn't think it was possible. I didn't dare hope. Then the war ended, and here I am. Still here. That was my choice, of course. I chose to come back. I didn't belong with you, but then I got back, and it felt like I didn't belong here either.
I spent so much of my life looking for love, looking for family. (Snape, shut up.) It felt like this gaping absence constantly tugging at me. Like a black hole. I thought, if I could just fill that space, if I could just find someone—Sirius, the Weasleys, Ginny—to make me feel loved, then everything would be okay.
Turns out that's maybe too much to ask of someone? (Fred, stop laughing, I'm laughing at myself enough for both of us.) I certainly couldn't ask that of Ginny, or of any baby, Teddy or otherwise. (Yes, I'm being vague; sorry, you're still my parents or whatever.) It's too much to ask of Hermione or Draco too. (I don't want to go into it, leave me alone, Tonks.)
No one can replace the love I lost from all of you, but I think I've realised a few things. I have your love. It didn't disappear. The events of the war certainly proved that, didn't they? (Hi Mum, love you.) But also, I don't need to replace that love. No one else needs to fill it.
I can love myself. (Sirius, mind out of the gutter.) No, really—this is a revelation! I can love myself. I can love my life and my ridiculous motley crew of friends. I can love that I'm able to be there for Teddy and can love him fiercely. I love that I'm moving on, learning, bit by bit. I love my dry sense of humour (hat tip to Remus for teaching me well on that one), I love my Quidditch skill, I love that I'm good at Defense. I love that I can learn to be better at dealing with my emotions. I love that I can forgive. I love that I love all different kinds of people and creatures. I love that I love dogs. I love that I can make tea for Hermione when she's reading a book the size of a piece of furniture. I love making Draco laugh, and I love that he makes me laugh. I love that I can somehow gain an honorary aunt who tells me to follow my joy. I love my taste in music (Tonks, I wish you could hear this song Tubthumping that's playing everywhere, I feel like we'd have a dance party). I love that I somehow love dancing? I love that I can still love. I love myself. I love all of you, and loving you is part of loving myself.
I belong to whatever I choose to belong to. I belong to the memory of each of you. I belong to late nights in the flat playing Duck Hunt (Sirius, I would give my right arm to play this with you). I belong to getting shitty marks at RAMag (sorry Mum). I belong to Hermione and Draco and Teddy and whoever else and whatever else my life grows to include.
This letter is the wettest, most sappy thing I've ever written in my life, and there's no way I would write it to any of you if you were still alive. But you're not, so here you go. A wet look into your wet son/godson/student/friend's wet soul.
I'm going to be okay. Thank you.
All my love,
PS: Sirius, I got the disco ball. It's fantastic.
"Excellent," Hermione says, clapping her hands. "And happy Samhain."
"Happy Samhain," Draco echoes, dropping a cardboard box of moss onto the counter.
"Happy Samhain!" Harry says, turning back to the spellbook in front of him. "We have the moss, the lavender, the pewter cauldron…"
Hermione pushes Harry out of the way. "Let me do this. Sorry, control freak, I know."
"Be my guest." Harry spins around and whispers, "I love it when she does all the work" to Draco.
"I heard that," Hermione says, running her finger down the page. "Alright, it's after five o'clock on Samhain, the veil is thin, we conjure the flames according to these instructions, we send the letter to the Beyond."
"Like an intergalactic Floo!" Harry enthuses, wrapping an arm around Draco's waist and wiggling his fingers into Draco's pocket.
"No," Draco says, raising an eyebrow. "Like an interdimensional Floo."
Hermione stands. "How do you know, Malfoy? Maybe Harry's parents didn't die in the normal dimension. Maybe they travelled to another galaxy and are stuck there."
"Yes, Granger, that seems likely."
"I'm only saying you can't rule it out."
Harry hadn't really considered the amount of hypothetical debate that happens when Hermione and Draco are together, the arguments conducted in which each of them are arguing a position they don't believe in. It can be a bit exhausting, actually.
"Harry, do you have the letter?"
Harry runs into his bedroom and grabs the letter from his desk, folding it so they won't see any of his message. "Got it," he says, coming back out.
"Let me have that for a second," Draco says, beckoning for the letter.
"No!" Harry says, holding it to his chest. "It's private."
Draco rolls his eyes. "I don't want to read it. I want to write a little note of my own."
"To my dead parents?"
Draco stares at him. "Yes. Is that a problem?"
"Er, no. Just write it on the back of this and we can fold it again."
Draco pulls a quill from his jeans pocket and starts scribbling on the outside of Harry's folded letter.
Harry grimaces at Hermione, wondering what the fuck Draco wants to say to his dead parents and assorted other parent figures, but Hermione just laughs.
"Give it to me when you're done, Draco," Hermione says, "I want to write something too."
Harry throws his hand up as if in exasperation, but he's actually touched. And he knows that Draco and Hermione know he's touched, too, though they won't call him on it.
After the addenda have been added to the letter, Hermione adds the peat moss and lavender to the cauldron and conjures the flames according to the instructions. The flames turn a bright, brilliant blue and shoot into the air with a roaring whoosh.
Draco quickly leans over the book. "It says put the letter in the flames. Nothing special."
Harry picks up the parchment and looks at it for a moment, then touches it to the flames. Instead of bursting into flame, the letter disappears, the roar of the fire increasing for a moment as it pops out of existence. Or out of this dimension, rather.
"Whoa," Hermione says.
"Wicked," Draco whispers.
Harry's not sure how he should feel. He maybe just sent a message to his parents. Or maybe not. Hermione'd told him it was simply the act of putting the words down on paper that was meaningful, and she's probably right. But Harry, looking at Hermione's and Draco's faces in the shadow of the blue flames, thinks this is nice too.
The job is done, but the flames are still shooting skyward, dangerously close to the ceiling. Harry wonders idly if enchanted flames set off Muggle smoke detectors.
"Does anyone else have any letters to send to the dead?" Harry asks, watching the flames. "Or was that only me?"
Draco reaches around to pull Harry into a one-armed hug as Hermione consults the book to figure out how to stop the flames. She whispers an incantation and the flames stop, leaving the cauldron still and empty on the counter. It's shockingly dull and quiet in its wake.
"Well," Hermione says, waving her wand to send all the supplies tidily back to their spots, "that was fun."
Harry walks over to the sofa and flops onto his back. He's not expecting Draco to flop on top of him, his pointy nose pressing into Harry's collarbone.
"Oof. My stomach. Watch it, Draco."
"I will not watch it." He pulls out his wand and waves it, and the room fills with the sounds of the Backstreet Boys. Not "Everybody", the dance to which they still haven't mastered, but "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)".
"You know," Harry says, "at some point, if you keep putting Backstreet Boys on ironically, it stops being ironic. At some point, you just like them."
Deep within my soul I feel, Nothing's like it used to be.
Harry looks up at the ceiling. "Andromeda's tomorrow. Are you coming?"
"Yes, I already told you," Draco mumbles. "I can't wait to get vomited on by a tiny metamorphmagus."
Harry has a new toy for Teddy—it's a little dragon that makes puffs of coloured smoke. The dragon's been sitting on Harry's bureau forlornly. It senses that everyone in the flat is too old to play with it, so it sits there, bored, inspecting its scales. Harry's tried to play with it, but it gave him this look like, Do I look gullible enough to believe you're in my intended age range? He's dying to see what it does when it meets Teddy.
"Is Ron coming over?" Harry calls, bringing his hand up to run through Draco's hair, watching the light from Hermione's conjured blue lights reflect off the new sitting room disco ball.
"He said he'd come when they close the shop," Hermione replies, rummaging through drawers. "What do you two feel like for takeaway? I could eat kebab. Or pizza."
Neither Harry nor Draco answer.
"Boys!" Hermione hollers. "What do you want?"
"Mmmff," Draco mumbles. "For Harry never to move because he makes a good pillow."
Despite not being able to see Hermione, Harry knows she's rolled her eyes. "Haz, what do you want?"
Harry laughs, closing his eyes as Draco buries his fingers under Harry's back. Harry can't think of anything.
"Maybe I'll want something later, Mi," he calls. "I'm good for now."