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The Moon Looks Lovely Tonight

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The Moon Looks Lovely Tonight

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’

Robert Frost

 

September

When Harry opened the door, a waft of cold, damp air greeted him.

“Are you sure, Harry?” Molly said. “You do know that you can stay with us for as long as you want.”

Harry looked between Molly, the sun turning her hair a deep gold, and the dark interior beyond the door. “I know. And... thank you, for letting me stay—”

“You’re one of the family, it’s not letting you stay. It’s your home.”

“You’ve been so kind.” Harry smiled. “Thank you for welcoming me into your family. But I’m nineteen now, and I need to – I want to – live on my own.”

“But not here! It’s so miserable.”

“It’s mine. And… I always thought I might end up here, with Sirius. I want to make it my home.”

Molly’s eyes creased and softened with a hint of tears. “Oh, Harry—”

“I’ll be fine.” Harry held out his arms to hug Molly before she could express any kind of pity. He longed for peace and quiet. She embraced him tightly, all cinnamon and vanilla, then thrust an overflowing basket of food into his hands.

“Can’t have you going hungry,” she said with a sniff. Molly stepped back and smiled. “I’ve done this enough times that it shouldn’t be so hard. You all grow up, in the end. I know that you’ll be fine, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to hug you one more time.”

She did exactly that, squeezing the air out of Harry. No one else ever hugged him like Molly did, and for one brief moment he wanted to tell her that he was wrong, and go back with her to the warm kitchen at the Burrow.

When she let go Harry took in a long, cool breath. He set his shoulders back and spoke as firmly as he could. “I better get in, thank you for the food. And I’ll see you on Sunday, anyway.”

“Yes, you will.” Her voice wavered slightly, but she kept on smiling. “I’m proud of you, Harry. And you are always welcome, you really are.”

“I know.”

When Harry shut the door – quietly, so as not to disturb Walburga Black’s portrait – the hallway felt more empty than ever before.

*

A strip of wallpaper had become unstuck behind the front door. Each time Harry opened the door, it would flutter down. For some reason – probably the damp – Sticking Charms didn’t work, but at least it wasn’t mouldy. The same couldn’t be said about the front of the dining room, or the back of the wardrobe in Harry’s bedroom.

For the first few days, Harry stuck to his room, the bathroom on the same floor, and the kitchen in the basement. He considered sending for Kreacher – long since settled at Hogwarts – but couldn’t bear the idea of disturbing the quiet of the house. For all it was dark and a little musty, it was also wonderfully peaceful. Harry had been half-expecting to find Sirius haunting the halls; he still wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed to find the house so empty.

“I better do some shopping,” Harry muttered while rooting around in the bottom of Molly’s basket. He tried not to linger on the thought that it had only taken him three days to start talking to himself.

The nearby Muggle shops were enough to provide for his simple needs, and Harry took pleasure in picking out chocolate hobnobs and other treats he’d not been allowed in childhood. On the way back, the bags of shopping dug painfully into his hands until Harry remembered that he could cast a lightening charm.

The leaves were beginning to yellow, here and there. Harry sighed. The long march to winter had begun. The summer had been warm but also wet and thundery, and he’d not enjoyed it as much as he had hoped.

He stopped outside numbers eleven and thirteen Grimmauld Place, waiting for his own house to spring up, and wondered if anyone ever saw him disappear as he walked up the steps. Even if they did they probably blinked and moved on. It was the Muggle way of dealing with the out-of-the-ordinary, after all.

The wallpaper flapped as Harry shut the front door, and he cast a wasted Sticking Charm in its direction. “Always the optimist, hey Harry,” he muttered to himself.

He paused, aware of a rattling sound coming from somewhere above him. Carefully Harry lowered the shopping bags, and waited for the plastic to cease rustling so that he could listen properly.

Crash crash bang HOOT!

There it was again. Leaving his shopping by the front door, Harry made his way up the stairs. Several of them creaked, so he kept having to stop to hear where the sounds were coming from. Not the first floor sitting room or his own bedroom. Not the second floor bedrooms, either. But as he kept climbing higher, the sounds grew louder. The attic rooms, then: Sirius and Regulus’s old rooms. Maybe… Harry sprinted up the last few steps.

The door to Siruis’s room stood open, and the room was empty. Harry stood in front of the other door, his heart tight and painful in his chest. Slowly, he turned the handle, and pushed the door open.

Crash CRASH hoot!

A small owl swooped past his head and landed unsteadily on the desk beside the door. It turned its head and fixed Harry with a dignified look.

Harry huffed out a surprised laugh. His heart was still pounding, though. “I thought owls were supposed to swoop, soft and silent. There’s no way you can catch a mouse if you’re making that much noise.”

The owl kept staring at Harry, its yellow eyes unblinking.

“Fine.”

Harry tried glaring back, but then the owl hooted mournfully and flapped up from the desk. It flew in a straight line towards the window, but then veered away at the last moment and came curving back around to the desk again. Harry walked over to the window; a pane was broken.

“Did you get in through this window?” Harry struggled to loosen the clasp on the window. It was stiff, and his fingers slipped off without it moving at all. His wand produced better results, and he was able to pull the sash up. The window framed creaked as he dragged it up. It began to slide down again as soon as Harry let go, and he caught it with his hand. He considered using a Sticking Charm to keep it open, but remembered the wallpaper downstairs and decided against it.

In the end, Harry propped the window open with a broken chess board. The owl, however, didn’t fly off. Harry left it to exit in its own time, closing the door carefully behind him.

*

The incident with the owl – or rather, the state of the window in the attic room – spurred Harry on to try out all the windows in the house. Some opened and shut fine, some were stuck with age and paint, and others opened but slammed back down again, their sashes broken.

Feeling rather industrious, Harry borrowed a book from a Muggle library and set to the task of repairing all the windows in the house. Replacing the sashes, repairing wood, reglazing where necessary: he enjoyed the whole process. Of course, once he’d repaired the windows he had to paint the frames, too.

Harry focused on the rooms he actually used first, then moved onto the rooms people might see if they visited. Finally he made his way up to the top of the house to see what kind of state the owl had left Regulus’s old bedroom.

A soft hoot greeted him as he opened the door. The small owl with the mournful hoot was perched on top of the wardrobe. Another owl, this one not big but… long and tall-looking, with ears pointing up, blinked at him from the back of a chair.

“You’re still here,” Harry addressed the small owl.

The tall owl blinked.

“And you’ve brought a friend.”

Harry set about repairing the window, aware all the time of two sets of eyes focused on his every move. He wondered, idly, if an owl animagus could speak to owls the way he had been able to speak to snakes before. As with all things Voldemort, his Parseltongue abilities had faded away and when he’d last seen a snake, he’d stared dumbly. Life without being a Horcrux was better than life as one, of course, but he did miss the strange world of snakes.

The rope bearing the weight that balanced the windows had rotted away, but it didn’t take that long to replace it. Harry gave the window and experimental tug, and it slid up and down with ease, resting open wherever he left it.

“Perfect.” Harry was aware that he was talking to himself, or rather, to his feathered audience. He twirled his wand in his hand a few times, the familiar weight of it a comfort amid the owl pellets and chill mustiness of the room. He looked back down at the pellets littering the floor. “You obviously do get out to hunt, but come back here.”

The owl on the wardrobe hooted.

“You’ve made yourself at home here, haven’t you?”

The owl hooted again.

Harry Vanished the pellets. “I’m going to leave the window open, so you can leave any time you want to. But if… if you want to stay here, you can. Just don’t make too much of a mess.”

*

“It does look better,” Hermione said, running her hand along the window frame. Despite the rain pounding against the glass, none was coming in. Harry considered that a victory. Hermione didn’t seem quite so impressed. “But what about the damp?” She glanced over at the corner of the kitchen where black mould was creeping up the wall.

Harry didn’t turn to follow her gaze; he knew what it looked like already. That wall was cold and slimy to the touch, and Harry wasn’t entirely sure if it was due to damp, the rain, or a curse.

“I think the house was empty for too long, but now I’m here...” He shrugged. Heat and life: it had to have an effect, surely? Either way, he wanted to make a home out of number twelve. Unbidden, an image of Sirius rose to his mind, looking miserable in this very room. Harry shook his head and headed over to the range to put a kettle on to boil.

Hermione settled into a chair, looking small alongside the huge table. “It is a big house.”

“Doing it up…” Harry put two mugs down on the side. He looked around the kitchen, at the damp and the cobwebs. He imagined how the room might look, full of light. “I think this could keep me busy for a while.”

“Doesn’t it get lonely?”

“It… it’s different now.” Harry remembered dancing with Hermione, the two of them alone in the world. “I need the space. To think.”

A small frown hovered on Hermione’s face, but the smile she gave Harry was warm. “As long as you’re okay.”

“I am,” Harry said. “I’m fine.” He made the tea, and they sat in companionable silence until Harry set his cup down with a sigh. “I’m not completely alone, as it happens,” he said.

Hermione looked puzzled. “There’s no one else here, is there?” Bewilderment turned to horror. “Unless— You don’t mean someone’s… come back, have they, Harry? It’s not Siri—”

“It’s not a ghost,” Harry said. He didn’t want to talk about Sirius. There might not have been a ghost wandering the house, but memories of Sirius still haunted it in many ways. “I’ve got some owls.”

“I thought you weren’t going to replace Hedwig?”

“Oh, I didn’t choose them. They chose me.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I’m not sure what you mean, but I think you better show me.”

The stairs creaked as they made their way up to the attic rooms. Harry wondered if there was something he could do about that. After Hermione left he’d have to look it up in his new DIY book. The door to Sirius’s was still standing open, but the room exuded a shabby melancholy that had Harry turn away, glad to have the excuse to go into the other room instead.

The small owl and the tall owl both turned and hooted when Harry and Hermione walked in. Another owl, small brown and fluffy, sat on the top of the open window. Rain had marked a wet area on the floor, and the room was freezing.

“I leave the window open for them, so they can go, but they always come back.”

“Have you tried closing it after they leave?” Hermione asked.

“There’s always one of them here.” Harry walked over to the window, trying to avoid the driving rain but getting wet anyway. “Actually, this one’s new.” He checked it for messages, but it bore none. Its feathers were very ruffled, as though it had flown through a storm. It hopped onto Harry’s finger when he held his hand out, the sharp talons making Harry wince. But then it looked up at him with its big black eyes. “Hello, lovely,” he said.

Hermione came to look at it, too. “They seem used to wizards. Maybe you should put an ad in the Prophet, see if anyone’s missing their owl.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. A twinge of guilt passed through him at the thought that someone out there might be missing their owl as much as he missed Hedw— He put the owl back down on the top part of the window frame and ran a hand through his hair.

Hermione wrinkled her nose. “Harry,” she said. “Who knows where that owl has been.”

“What? Oh.” Harry looked down at his hand. “It seems fairly clean to me. Rain-washed, if anything.” He looked around the room, as though seeing it for the first time. “I guess I better set up a proper perch or two. Cast a waterproofing charm on the floor.” He frowned at the old bed opposite him. “And I don’t think they really need a bed in here. Maybe some more space…”

“I thought you were going to see if anyone’s owl is missing.”

“Oh yes, I’ll do that, too. But I want them to be comfortable while they’re here.”

“Comfortable?” Hermione said, and then she muttered something that sounded like, “They’ll never want to leave,” which Harry elected to ignore.

“Do you fancy another cup of tea?” he asked. “I promise I’ll wash my hands first.”

Hermione shook her head, sending her new, sleek bob swinging. “I better get back,” she said. “I’ve got a lecture to get to.”

“Oh.” As Harry’s heart sank a little, he realised that he’d hoped she’d stay longer. For dinner, maybe. It was nice to have the company. He focused instead on the prospect of looking up what to do about squeaky floorboards. Or perhaps looking into ways to make more space for the owls. He could take the wall out between the two rooms and—

“I’ll be off then,” Hermione said.

“Oh yes.” Harry was already wondering whether a Diffindo or a sledgehammer would work best for taking the wall down. “Are you okay to see yourself out?”

She gave him a bit of glare through narrowed eyes. But then she always had something to glare about, and Harry had a wall to knock down.

*

Once the rooms were knocked through, Harry transfigured most of the furniture into a set of interesting perches and tree-like stands. The posters in Sirius’s room had either come down with the wall, or could be papered over. Harry did pause, mid-wallpapering, amused by the fact that he was decorating a room for the benefit of a couple of owls who would just shit all over it. But once he’d finished it did look a lot more welcoming, and he was rewarded a few days later when alongside the other three owls was a fourth, with orange eyes bracketed by two white semi-circles. The owl fixed him with the snootiest expression he’d seen since Malfoy.

“Hello Mr Owl,” he said. “Unless you’re a Mrs Owl.”

Hermione was patient with his Firecall asking if she knew any spells to sex an owl. It might have had something to do with the fact that Hermione was staying at the Burrow, and Molly was insisting that she and Ron had separate rooms. Hermione’s face went a strange shade of red whenever Harry said the word ‘sex’, so he tried to fit it into the conversation as many times as he could. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what colour Ron would turn.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Harry was busy stripping the wallpaper from the hallway – a mixture of steam and magic seemed to do the trick – when there was a loud knock at the door.

“Harry, are you in?” Ron’s voice called out, muffled slightly by the thick wood.

Harry climbed down the step ladder with a sigh. Curls and torn strips of paper littered the floor around him, and a steamy dampness filled the air. “Coming!”

Ron was standing on the doorstep, a long red scarf wrapped about five times around his neck – clashing terribly with his hair – and with a huge cake tin under his arm. “Can I come in?”

“It looks like you’re here to stay.”

Ron’s face flashed crimson, but he nodded and followed Harry in.

“Blimey, mate. What are you doing in here? It feels like a sauna.” Ron began to unwrap his scarf.

“I thought it was about time I did something about this house.”

“Hermione did say something about the windows.”

Harry vanished the mess on the floor and set aside his steamer with a little reluctance, then led Ron down the stairs to the kitchen.

“If someone had asked me a couple of year ago what you’d be doing with your time, I’m not sure I would have said renovating a house.”

“Seeing as I wasn’t sure I’d survive the year at that time”—Harry pushed away the memory of the earth and twigs pressed up against his face, and the image of a white platform—“I’m not sure that counts.”

“You have a point.”

“Tea?”

Ron nodded. “Mum said, ‘Harry must be wasting away by now’ so she sent cake.” He opened the tin to reveal a towering carrot cake, the frosting dotted with walnuts.

“She does make a good cake.”

Ron sighed. “She does, but she’s also doing my head in.”

Harry laughed. “She’s only trying to look after you.”

“I know. But I can get by on my own. And as for her and Hermione…” He took his tea from Harry and stared forlornly into the mug. “Hermione is just so…capable, and Mum doesn’t know what to do with it. She keeps trying to teach her to cook, and Hermione lectures her on the ideal temperatures for roasting different types of meat, or on the theory behind why potatoes have to be parboiled before you roast them. Mum doesn’t know whether it’s a compliment or not.”

“And Hermione?”

“She tried cooking the other day. She said it was an ‘experiment’.” Ron shuddered. “I do love her, but I don’t think she should cook. I’d like to cook, but Mum never talks to me about it. Hermione wants to have the chance to try it out, but in… well in a scientific way. She wants to know what a cake is like with eggs, without eggs, eggs whipped and all sorts. Mum snatched a whisk out of her hands the other day.”

Harry paused in cutting a slice of carrot cake. “Hermione didn’t make this one, did she?”

“Oh no, this one’s all Mum’s work.”

Harry carried on, cutting a slice for both he and Ron. He wondered about the whole separate-rooms thing, but had no idea how to bring it up.

“It sounds stressful.”

“It is. I want Mum to be happy, and Hermione, too.”

“And you?”

Ron nodded. “Me too. Of course.”

Everyone wanted to be happy, Harry knew that. But who actually managed it?

*

Harry spent the next few weeks stripping wallpaper, charming walls dry, removing curses, replastering, painting and papering. Each room began to feel blank, as though it could be anything. Harry had kept the huge four poster bed in his room – the hangings reminded him of his bed at Hogwarts – but there was plenty else he got rid of, or moved around.

He shrank the polished dining table, the scene of so many Order meetings, down to the size of a matchbox and placed it on a dish on the mantelpiece, along with all the heavy and dark chairs. The long room was more suited to a being a large sitting room, he felt, and he brought the furniture down from the room above. Harry ran through different colour options, from Gryffindor red to muted greys, before he settled on a palette of blues. The paper on the walls was a soft blue, like the sky early on a summer’s day, while the squashy old sofa and comfy armchairs were upholstered in a range of blues and designs. A geometric design reminded Harry of the patterns on the gates at his old primary school, while a pattern of shells made him think of the merpeople in the lake at Hogwarts.

Harry found a big mirror to go over one of the fireplaces, and a roiling seascape to go above the other. The whites of the sails swelled and flapped in some invisible wind, just as the curtains at either end of the room fluttered at the open windows. Harry ignored the fact that there were three pieces of furniture in a room far too big for them, and focused instead on the… airy qualities of the room. Actually, the curtains were billowing even when the windows were shut; it was possible that Harry’s window-fixing venture hadn’t been quite as successful as he’d hoped.

*

A wide blue sky framed the narrow buildings on Diagon Alley. Harry removed his woolly hat; the day was a lot warmer than he’d thought. After the quiet of Grimmauld Place, Diagon Alley seemed too busy. Harry wore his fringe long, but people still recognised him. He walked past the shops to the sound of whispers, catching snatches of his own name as he went. His breath came in short bursts, and it was with relief that Harry spotted the purple front of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

“You look like you’ve just done ten rounds with a troll,” George said by way of greeting.

“Cheers.” Harry grinned. He’d missed George’s sense of humour.

George dealt with a customer while Harry browsed the shelves. When he rang up the sale, he called Harry over. “Ron’s not here, you know. Probably trying to placate Mum after another row with Hermione.”

“It’s that bad?”

“Not really. But I think the year that Hermione was at school finishing her NEWTs Mum got used to having Ron around and she hasn’t quite adjusted to how… caught up he is with Hermione.”

“They’re great together, aren’t they?”

“Young love,” George said. “At least they don’t do the gross form of it. Remember Won-Won?”

“I’ve been trying to forget. Anyway, it was you I came to see.”

George bowed. “I’m honoured. But what brings you here?”

Harry shrugged, and rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’ve been holed up at home for a while. I needed to see someone else.”

“I close up soon, do you fancy coming upstairs for a drink? I could fix us up something to eat, too, if you want?”

Harry nodded, grateful that George understood his need for easy company.

The sound of sizzling filled the small kitchen. “I hope eggs and chips are okay,” George said. “It’s all I’ve got in.”

“That’s fine,” Harry said. “As long as it comes with a cup of tea—”

“Strong enough to stand your teaspoon up in, I know,” said George. “Some things just go together perfectly don’t they?”

Harry smiled and relaxed into his chair. He enjoyed spending time with George. He didn’t have to be happy all the time, but George could make him smile a little, too. And it wasn’t quite as… intense as it could be with Molly.

George dished up and sat down opposite Harry. “Do you really have an owlery in your house?”

“They came to live with me. I needed somewhere for them to stay.” Harry shrugged. “It wasn’t particularly thought out.”

“And how many do you have now?”

“Four— no, actually. Five.”

“You’ve got five owls?”

“Er, yes. But none of them are mine exactly. They’re more like housemates. Ones that don’t cook or clean and shit on the floor that is.”

George put his fork down and sat back in his chair. “Do you know what you’re becoming, Harry?” he asked.

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

“You’re like a crazy cat lady. Except you’re a man. And you’ve got owls. You’re the crazy-owl-man.” He nodded sagely. “I bet those jellied mice you bought downstairs were for the owls, weren’t they?”

Harry blushed, because his first thought when he’d seen them was that the little owls would love chasing them around the attic before eating them. “It’s important that animals have a stimulating environment,” he said. “And owls are very intelligent birds.”

“Oh, Harry,” George said. “I bet you’ve given them all names, haven’t you?”

“I might have,” Harry said. “It seemed a bit heartless to refer to them as ‘the clumsy one’, or ‘the tall one’.”

George shook his head in mock pity. “You really need to develop other interests.” He gave Harry a calculating look. “Do you hear from Ginny much?”

“She sends me the odd postcard. To be honest I think that she’s too busy to spare me much of a thought. Besides, we did break up nearly a year ago.”

“I know.” George sighed. “Sometimes, though, it’s simply nice not to be lonely.” He stared down at his plate, then glanced over at the empty chair next to him.

“We all miss him,” Harry said quietly. “Although I know it’s not the same for me.”

“Thanks,” George said, with a sad smile. “He’d have enjoyed seeing you strike out on your own.”

The rest of the evening passed in gentle chat, and Harry returned to his quiet house happy in the knowledge that he’d always have the Weasleys, whether or not he actually lived with them.

*

“You don’t think I’m a crazy-owl-man, do you?” Harry asked Bertie, the long-eared owl. Bertie raised his ear tufts in horror at the suggestion, then hooted and sidled over to the Eddie on the floor, who was playing with the jellied mice. He snatched one up, then flew up to the top of the wardrobe, looking pleased with himself. Beside him Maureen slept on, her heart-shaped face looking peaceful. Her arrival had brought the number of owls in Harry’s attic rooms up to five.

At the window, Little Lady was preening her messy brown feathers. She was, Harry had learned, a tawny owl. “I’m not sure that makes much difference,” he said with a chuckle. Harry secretly liked her best of all, but didn’t want to be too obvious about it. “And Gladys, you’re looking most regal today.”

Gladys turned her head towards Harry, and fixed him with one of her intense looks.

Eddie hopped over Harry’s feet. “Careful, I don’t want to step on you.”

Eddie rolled out a little call – not quite a hoot – and up on her perch, Gladys ruffled her feathers, and Harry laughed. “I’ll take that to mean you don’t want me to step on Eddie, either,” he said. “Whatever you actually meant.”

Little Lady dug her head into Harry’s hand, and he stroked her feathers, marvelling as he always did that she let him. Her eyes closed with what Harry assumed was pleasure.

“You are lovely,” he said. “But you know that, don’t you?”

He pulled out the owl treats he’d brought out, and enjoyed another half hour with the birds. On his way back down the stairs afterwards, he reflected that owls were at least as loveable as cats. The old pang of Hedwig’s loss added a melancholy edge to his thoughts; none of the birds upstairs, not even Little Lady, would ever take her place. That’s why Harry always left the window open, and never asked them to carry letters; as far as he was concerned, they were merely visiting. Passing through. They could leave whenever they wanted.

*
October

“Your place is looking really good, Harry.” Hermione sat next to Ron on the sofa, both of them sinking into the shell pattern.

“Yeah, about that,” Ron said, shifting slightly. His eyes wouldn’t quite meet Harry’s. “You’ve got a lot of space here now, haven’t you?”

“Ye-es,” Harry said, looking between the two of them. Hermione was picking at a worn patch on the sofa’s arm.

“And we all get along pretty well, don’t we?”

Harry wondered how long Ron could talk around the question he was obviously working towards. Luckily, Hermione wasn’t as patient.

“What Ronald here is trying to ask, is do you think there’s room for us, here?”

Ron nodded. “We’ve been looking at flats, but they’re all so expensive and we don’t have enough money—”

“And then we thought maybe we could share with someone, but the only person we’d want to share with is—”

“You, Harry.”

They both smiled at him, their eyes wide and hopeful. Harry noticed that their hands were clutched tightly together.

“Please?” Hermione said. “Molly’s a wonderful woman, but I… I can’t…” Her eyes began to brim with tears. Ron wrapped an arm around her and gave Harry another look of entreaty.

“I suppose you can.” Harry smiled. “I mean, of course, yes, it would be wonderful to have you here! I’ve got more rooms than I know what to do with.”

“You seem to have a fairly good idea,” Hermione said. She gave a little sniff and dabbed at her eyes. “You’ve done a great job already.”

“Thanks. And I’d love to have you both here with me. I mean… this place is a bit big for me. I… like having other people around. I like having you around.” Harry wasn’t sure whether he was saying the words solely to reassure his friends, or not. He had enjoyed having some peace and quiet, but somehow, his days felt… empty. No matter how many rooms he redecorated.

*

Harry gave them the choice of the two rooms on the floor above his. They chose the one facing the garden. “I’m sorry it’s not much,” he said. “I’ve fixed the windows, but the bed’s a bit old and—”

“It’ll be fine.” Ron blushed red, and all of a sudden Harry was quite keen to not be standing in a bedroom with his two best friends.

“Er, the bathroom’s out here. It’s nothing fancy, and the shower in here doesn’t work but the water is fairly hot…” Harry trailed off, and Hermione nodded and smiled.

“It’s perfect, Harry. And it’s not shared with a hundred other Weasleys. I can have lovely long baths in the evening.” She beamed at the cracked tiles and the peeling paint on the walls. “A few candles and this place will be transformed.”

Harry wasn’t sure that a few candles would do the trick; Hermione was probably trying to spare his feelings. A bud of warmth grew from somewhere deep within Harry regardless at the thought he could offer this, a home for Ron and Hermione.

As he made his way back down the stairs, Harry was struck by the thought that although he might have offered this old house as a home to his friends, was it really his home? The varnish on the handrail was thick and sticky with age, and it felt cold under Harry’s hand. He sighed. The house was still a little empty, like a shell. In many ways it was merely a husk of a home. Maybe given time and a few coats of paint, it would feel warmer and fuller. Having his friends around would help, too.

*

Sanding down all the handrails and banisters left Harry with a sore arm, and wood that glowed. Yet when he stood back, all he saw was neatly sanded wood, perhaps in need of a good oiling or layer of varnish. He didn’t see… home, whatever that was. The nearest he’d ever felt to home had been at school, but even then he’d known it wouldn’t be forever. Seeing the older students leave each year had made that clear.

Harry sighed. Whatever it was that he needed to truly feel at home, he hadn’t found it yet.

*

A loud clanging signalled that someone had rung the bell at the front door, followed by a strange, rhythmic knocking. It sounded like a secret code of some kind, but Harry had no idea what it meant. As Ron and Hermione were sitting on the sofa, both reading, he didn’t know who it could be. Putting down his Quidditch magazine, Harry shuffled over to see who it was. The evenings were drawing in, and it was nearly dark although it was barely 5 o’clock. He opened the door to a gust of wind and a low moon hanging in the purpling sky. Shivering, Harry wrapped his arms around himself. Luna stood on his doorstep, her face turned as she watched a flurry of leaves blow past.

She turned to face him and smiled. “Harry, so good to see you. Did you know you’ve got a Moke? In your door? I tried to knock it out, but I’m not sure if I got it.”

“Er, thank you. And it’s good to see you, too.” Harry noticed that a collection of bags and a trunk sat at Luna’s feet. “Are you going somewhere?”

She nodded. “And here I am.”

“Here?”

“Yes. I bumped into Hermione the other day, and she mentioned that she was staying here with Ron. Bet his mother’s scandalized, isn’t she? She’s a bit old fashioned, but then she’s had so many children already you’d think she would be used to it. Wasn’t Ron’s older brother—”

“Luna.”

“Oh, right. Where was I? Oh yes, she said that you’ve got loads of rooms. And, er, I need somewhere to stay.” The smile faded from her eyes. “Dad’s at St Mungo’s, and our house… it’s…” She didn’t finish her sentence. Luna took a deep breath. “We’d only just finished rebuilding Rook House and now… it isn’t there anymore. We had a small problem with some walking Whomping Willows, and I don’t know if it was them or the shock, but Dad’s not in a good way.” She gave Harry a piercing look. “So can I come in, now? It’s freezing out here.”

“I guess—” Harry stopped himself. He could imagine his Aunt Petunia standing on her doorstep, all prim and disapproving. “Come in, and of course you can stay. The more the merrier.”

“Thank you!” Luna flung herself at Harry, and hugged him tightly. He staggered back, but then wrapped his arms around her and returned her hug. She smelled of peppermint and honey. The hallway felt too small to contain her, not because she took up a huge amount of space, but more because she flitted from one thing to another. She commented on the serpent-shaped doorknobs, and had pulled back the curtain covering the portrait at the end of the corridor before Harry had a chance to stop her.

Filth! Intruders!”

Harry shot a Stunner at Walburga Black and whipped the curtain closed again. “Best not to disturb her,” he said.

Luna stood perfectly still, her face pale and her eyes wide. She gave Harry a sideward glance and a nervous smile. “I can see that.”

“Peppermint tea?” Harry asked. “With a spoonful of honey?”

“How did you know!”

Harry wondered that no one had ever told her how lovely she was to smell, before. And then he moved onto whether perhaps he was a bit odd to have noticed at all. He led her down to the kitchen, enjoying the way her renewed chatter chased away the shadows of the basement.

After the tea, Harry took Luna up to her rooms, next to Hermione and Ron’s. Harry left her to get settled, in, and when he went up to see if she wanted some dinner he did a double take. The room was unrecognisable; Luna had hung gauzy strips of brightly-coloured fabric on the walls, and light glinted from the hundreds of strands of gold and silver thread woven through them. Harry felt as though he’d walked into a dream and as he moved his head to look around he moved a set of bells hanging near the door. The sweet sound of their chimes filled the air.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Luna said. “But they keep the Wrackspurts away. This house is rife with them.”

“It’s beautiful,” Harry said. “And I don’t think I need to tell you to make yourself at home.” He smiled. “You’ve already done it.”

“Did you come up here to tell me about whatever it is that I can smell coming from downstairs?”

“Yes, I did,” said Harry. “I made dinner. We have a bit of a rota—”

“Oh wonderful!” Luna clapped her hands. “I’d love a chance to cook. It’s the least I can do if I’m going to be staying here. Wait until you try my cauliflower surprise.”

Harry ignored the small spark of misgiving at the idea of anything involving cauliflower as a surprise, opting instead to accompany her down to dinner with a smile.

*

They settled into a rhythm, of sorts. Hermione went to lectures or the library, while Ron helped George out at the shop. Although both Harry and Ron had been accepted onto the Auror course, the terms were quite ridiculous (or perfectly normal, according to Ron). They had a long break over the autumn, “because when the leaves change is the best time to get jobs done.”

Harry had given up trying to understand wizarding logic, and he was enjoying using the time to do up his house.

 

*

When the leaves had all turned to copper and gold, and had begun to flutter down from the trees, Luna came back from her shift at the café she’d found work at with a friend in tow, although Harry would never have described him as such.

“Hello,” Greg Goyle said. He stared down at his feet, his bulk seeming to fill the hallway so there was no space for anyone else. “Luna said I could come here.” His clothes, Harry noticed, were filthy and a little torn. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Behind Greg, Luna gave Harry a pleading look. “I found Greg in Diagon Alley. I couldn’t just leave him there.”

“My landlady kicked me out when she found out who I was.” Greg looked miserable. “But I don’t expect you’ll want me here, either.” He looked up and met Harry’s eyes. “I’m not welcome anywhere.”

It only took Harry the space of a breath to make his mind up. “You can stay here,” he said. He thought of the owls currently swooping through the attic rooms. “We’ve run out of bedrooms, though.”

“I can?” Greg’s face broke into a smile. “I don’t need a bed; a space on the floor will do.” He took his bag down from his back. “I’ve got a sleeping bag.”

The bag looked as tattered as Greg’s clothes, and Harry wondered how long ago the landlady kicked him out. Greg looked as though he hadn’t seen the inside of a house in a while, let alone a bed. A tightness that Harry hadn’t quite acknowledged, one that had gripped his heart like a vice when he’d seen Greg standing beside Luna, loosened. “I’ve got a sofa you can sleep on. And lots of blankets.” Harry didn’t think of the looming Goyle who’d stood behind Malfoy for all those years at school; he thought of Goyle on the back of Ron’s broom, pale-faced and disappearing into a billowing cloud of black smoke.

*

As the temperatures finally dropped, the trees began to look a little forlorn as they lost their leaves, and Harry slowly became accustomed to his new housemate. Greg’s presence brought a sense of solidity to the house that nicely balanced with Luna’s flightiness. He didn’t often talk, preferring to sit back and watch and listen while Harry, Ron, Hermione and Luna exchanged stories and drank wine late into the evening.

“What’s in that room?” Greg asked one day, bumping into Harry outside his room. Harry suspected that Greg, and maybe the others, too, were sneaking upstairs to give the owls extra treats. Gladys was getting fat, but Harry would never dare say it to her face.

“My bed?”

“No, the other room.” Greg nodded at the closed door next to Harry’s. “I’ve never been in there.”

“It’s the old sitting room. I don’t use it anymore. You can have a look if you want though; there’s nothing interesting in there.”

Greg followed Harry in. He immediately went to the Black family tree. “My family have got one of these,” Greg said. “Doesn’t have any burnt patches on it, though.”

Harry looked at the tapestry, feeling his usual twinge of unease at seeing the name Draco Malfoy amongst the rest. He reached out to touch it, without meaning to. “Do you ever see him?”

“Draco?” Greg shook his head. “Not since I, er, left my landlady’s.”

Harry could just imagine Malfoy turning his nose up at a friend living rough. “Still the same snob as he ever was, then.” In the cold room he could hear the disappointment in his own voice.

“No, it’s not that. His family don’t see anyone, and as far as I know he sort of disappeared around the same time, I, er, did.”

“Sort of disappeared?”

Greg stepped away from the tapestry and faced Harry properly. “You know how you get hassled, out on the street?”

Harry nodded.

“Well imagine that they all hated you instead of loving you. Enough students brought tales of him – and me – running around with the Carrows, with Death Eaters. And with that hair… he gets recognised everywhere.”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that before,” Harry said. “So he stays out of the public eye?”

“He stays out of everyone’s eye. Sometimes Pansy and Blaise would arrange a meal or something – you know, in a Muggle place – but he never returned their owls. Of course, they stopped asking me, too, when… well, when I left my last place.”

A thick silence filled the room as Harry struggled with how he should respond. In the end, changing the subject seemed the easiest option. “So, as no one is using this room – that family tree gives me the creeps – I was thinking that maybe we could get the portrait downstairs in here. She might like being able to see her handiwork.” Harry glanced over at the tapestry again.

Greg smiled, whether because he was pleased to be asked for help or out of relief, Harry didn’t know. “I have been wondering why you keep it there.”

Harry thought of Walburga, pouring forth her foul insults. “I did think that if I ever got her down I’d shove her down in the cellar, but I don’t think I could do it.”

“No?”

“Sadly not.” Harry sighed. “She’s got a face.”

Greg stared at him. “Er, Right.” He probably thought Harry was mad. “So why haven’t you moved her here already?”

“Permanent Sticking Charm.”

“So, it’s stuck to the wall?”

“Yep. I think that everyone’s had a crack at getting it down over the years.”

“What about if we take some of the wall down, too?”

A broad grin spread across Harry’s face. “I knew you’d be the right person to ask.”

“There are some tools in the kitchen. I’m sure I saw a sledgehammer…”

*

The routine of meals – ranging from traditional from Harry and Ron, through to inventive from Luna, experimental from Hermione and lumpy from Greg - continued, the days turned colder and they woke most mornings to frost patterns on the windows. Harry began to think that this was how his life would always be from now on: running a strange sort of hostel for owls and assorted former school-mates, and eating a bizarre combination of foods.

Luna arrived home with a huge sack of pumpkins at the end of October.

“I thought it would be fun to carve some pumpkins for Halloween,” she said. “I used to do this every year with my dad.”

She settled down to show them how. Harry had to hand it to her: her Snape pumpkin was indeed rather frightening.

“I keep expecting him to take points off me,” he said.

“Perfect,” said Luna with a little grin.

Harry grinned back at her. Snape had frightened Harry when he was at school. And then Harry had hated him for a while, but now… he smiled almost fondly at Snape’s frowning face. The man would have hated this, and Harry could imagine him spying the pumpkin, snarling, then sweeping off with a dramatic billow of his robes.

*

On Halloween itself, Ron had somehow managed to wangle an invite to the Weasley’s party for everyone, including Greg. Ron, Hermione, Luna – even Greg – had all dressed up, but Harry didn’t really see the point. “They’re like family.”

“And it’s Halloween!” Hermione was flushed from rushing around, getting the pumpkins ready to transport and, Harry suspected, a little anxious about how her pumpkin pie would go down with Molly. “What better reason to get dressed up?”

“When I was little, children dressed up as witches. There doesn’t seem much point as we already are witches and wizards.”

“Spoilsport,” said Greg. He was wearing a fine set of pale blue dress robes; he looked rather like a portion of sky that had floated down to earth.

“I’m sure they don’t care whether I’m wearing velvet or jeans,” said Harry. “And if anyone asks, I can just say that I’ve dressed up as a Muggle.”

“Oh yes, how horrifying,” said Hermione. “And very original.”

Harry was about to stick his tongue out at her, when there was a rattle at the window. It wasn’t one of the attic owls, and Harry let it in. His heart sank before he’d even unfolded the parchment it carried; he recognised the Ministry seal. Opening it he saw that Kingsley wanted him to come in for a ‘little chat’.

“I’m going to have to deal with this,” he said, waving the parchment in the air. “It shouldn’t take long.”

“Are you sure you didn’t send yourself that owl?” Ron said. He frowned. “Bloody strange time to be running off.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing important. I’ll come to the Burrow as soon as I’m done.”

A pile of gilt-edged invites were currently gathering dust on his mantelpiece. Was there a Ministry event coming up that he’d forgotten about? It wouldn’t surprise him if Kingsley wanted to make sure Harry would turn up. A quiet word on a busy night would be typical of Kingsley’s style. Harry sighed. Although he was much in demand for such events, he usually only responded from invites from people who he knew – and respected. If he found dressing up for family Halloween party pointless… well, a ball was not his idea of fun.

As Harry stepped into the Floo, he crossed his fingers that this wouldn’t be anything to do with having to turn up and make nice with a bunch of nosy old wizards.

A tired-looking wizard let Harry into Kingsley’s office. Harry had the impression that no one was actually supposed to be at work – pumpkins decorated the office, and the wizard had been wearing purple dress robes.

“Harry, so good to see you.” Kingsley, as usual, stood by the fireplace rather than sit in the chair at his impressive desk. Kingsley gestured for Harry to sit in the big armchair beside him. The leather squeaked as Harry sat down.

“Everyone says that,” Harry said.

“Well it’s true.” Kingsley smiled, flashing white teeth but not quite putting Harry at ease. He tended to feel… itchy, almost, when in this office. The feedback from his first year of training had been: Shows promise but tends to challenge authority. Harry had met too many Scrimgeours, Fudges and Umbridges to trust someone just because they out-ranked him.

Harry smiled back, albeit a little uneasily, because Kingsley might be the Minister for Magic but he was also a friend. “So what can I do for you?” he asked, cringing internally that he hadn’t yet learned not to ask that question. He comforted himself with the thought that he still had time to refuse any request, though.

“A good question, Harry, a good question.” Kingsley clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace. It was lucky, really, that he had such a big office. “As you know a lot has changed over the past year. All the Death Eaters are in Azkaban, Hogwarts is rebuilt, and your generation seems to be settling into a life without war.”

Harry had heard many variations of this speech; he’d even given it a few times himself. He nodded.

“There are some individuals, however, who are still… struggling to find a place in today’s world.” Like Ollivander, who had been left shaken and scarred by his experiences. All wand fittings were now by appointment as he couldn’t cope with being around large numbers of people. “I understand from Hermione that you’ve take in young Goyle?”

This turn towards Harry’s living arrangements did surprise him. He sat up a little straighter, earning another squeak from the armchair. “That’s right. Although it was Luna really who brought him to—”

“It’s good to know that the old house divides are fading. Very good.”

“Er, yes. All I need is a Hufflepuff and I’ll have a full house.” Perhaps a bingo allusion was too much, but either way, Kingsley didn’t crack a smile.

“I need to ask you a favour, Harry.” Kingsley stopped pacing. “We’ve currently got a young man sitting in a room not too far from here. He’s helped us a tremendous amount, but we’re finding it hard to guarantee his safety.”

With a sinking feeling, Harry could see where this was headed.

“This all has to be rather hushed up, but there was an incident last week at the safe house he was sequestered in. I need to place him somewhere I know he will be safe.”

“And you want me to take him in?” Harry wondered who it could be. A memory of frightened grey eyes slid before him, then faded before he could register it properly. “I know I’ve got a big house, but I’ve already got quite a few houseguests—”

“I wouldn’t be asking if the need wasn’t great. And I know the old Black house; you still have room.”

Harry didn’t think that he could explain about the owls. “I do have a study I might be able to turn over…”

Kingsley stepped forward and thrust a hand out. Without thinking, Harry rose to shake it. “We have a deal, then,” Kingsley said. “I am very grateful to you, Harry. I knew I could depend on you.”

Two minutes later, Kingsley’s assistant ushered in a pale yet defiant-looking Draco Malfoy, whose eyes widened in horror when he saw who was waiting for him. Harry didn’t know how he hadn’t guessed immediately who Kingsley had meant. Malfoy recovered, sticking his pointy chin up again and holding himself aloft with what Harry assumed was meant to be dignity.

“Potter.”

“Malfoy.”

“I understand that you can offer me somewhere to stay.”

Heat rushed to Harry’s cheeks; he hadn’t quite worked out the details of where Malfoy could sleep, but it felt too late to bring this up in front of Kingsley. And for all Malfoy’s haughty manner, he looked awful. Harry looked at the two of them, and knew he had to offer Malfoy a place. No matter how strange that might be.

“I’m sure I can work something out.”

Malfoy nodded once, and stayed tight-lipped. Harry wondered that Malfoy hadn’t marched out as soon as he saw who was offering him shelter. Whatever had happened to Malfoy must have been very bad indeed.

*

When Harry arrived back at the house, Malfoy in tow, the house was unnaturally quiet, except for the odd faint hoot from above. Malfoy paused in front of the big door.

“Thank you for agreeing to take me in, Potter,” he said. Under the harsh streetlight, his face seemed even paler than it had in Kingsley’s office.

Harry opened the door, the gas lights springing to life as soon as the house sensed his presence. The quiet whoosh filled the air as Malfoy looked around him.

“Minister Shacklebolt said that this was the old Black residence?”

“Yes.” A weariness lay heavily on Harry at the thought of explaining how Grimmauld Place had come into his possession. He glanced up at the blank patch of wall, now neatly re-plastered, where Walburga Black’s portrait had once sat. “Let me give you a tour. You can leave your trunk here, if you want.”

Malfoy nodded, and lowered the floating trunk to the ground.

Their first port of call was the new sitting room. Without the others around, the room seemed lifeless.

“You don’t have much furniture,” Malfoy said. Harry tried to work out if he could hear a frown or a sneer in Malfoy’s words – his face gave away nothing, resting in a pinched look that could have been tiredness or caution – but all the words sounded flat. They contained no nuance that might cause offence, and Harry realised that maybe he shouldn’t be looking for it. Malfoy, after all, was his guest now.

“This used to be the dining room, but it made more sense like this. I’ll show you the old sitting room when we go upstairs. I—” Harry didn’t really want to have to go in there again. “It’s the only room free, for you that is. But… you might not want to sleep in there. You can decide for yourself.”

Malfoy nodded politely at the kitchen, his eyes tight and his mouth clamped into a thin line. As they mounted the creaking stairs together, Harry glanced over and tried to swallow down his unease. Malfoy seemed so quiet, yet Harry suspected that the Malfoy he knew of old was still in there. Somewhere.

“This house belonged to your mother’s cousins. They were vigilant in their desire to maintain the good reputation of the family.”

Malfoy stopped still. “I know what they did to my mother’s sister, Andromeda.”

“Yes,” Harry nodded. Andromeda had never mentioned Malfoy, and seeing as she’d been disowned by her family, he’d not really considered that Malfoy might know of her. “This room has a family tree on the wall. And… well, you’re on it. But Andromeda isn’t anymore.”

Malfoy’s shoulders dropped a little, but then he pulled them straight again. “I’ve seen worse.” He reached out for the door handle.

Harry stopped him, his fingers resting on Malfoy’s as the touched the knob. Malfoy’s fingers were icy to the touch. “There’s more. Walburga Black saw herself as the guardian of the family. Her portrait used to reside downstairs, but I moved her up here. I…” Harry trailed off, and sighed. “I should probably have hidden her away in a cupboard or down in the cellar. But I can’t imagine she’d go quietly.” He kept his thoughts about her having a face to himself. The others might think he was mad for insisting she had her own room, but it was his house, and he could do what he wanted in it.

Malfoy turned and gave Harry a steely look. “Like I said, I’ve seen worse.” He looked down at the doorknob, and Harry realised that he was still holding onto Malfoy’s. He stepped back, his fingers sliding away.

The old sitting room was bare of all furniture, but Walburga’s portrait – complete with the plaster and some of the bricks of the wall it had been hung on – was leant up against the far wall. The curtain only covered half of her face. As soon as the door opened, she woke from her slumber and began to shriek.

“Thieves! Blood-traitors! Stealing me away in the dark of the night and hiding me like a shameful secr—”

She stopped short when she saw Malfoy.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re a Black. With that hair… you’re Narcissa’s boy, aren’t you? Step closer so I can get a better look.”

Malfoy knocked into Harry in his haste to back out of the room. He slammed the door shut, his cheeks hot with colour as he struggled to get his breath back. “I’m not sleeping in there,” he said in a shaky voice.

“I don’t blame you,” said Harry. That portrait represented everything about this house that Sirius had hated, that Harry wanted to forget. “But all the other rooms are taken. That’s my room,” he nodded at the other door, “and Ron, Hermione and Luna have the rooms upstairs. And, er, the owls are in the attic.”

“The owls?”

“It’s a long story.”

“What about the sitting room downstairs?”

“Greg’s on the sofa in there. You could make up some kind of a bed on the floor.”

Malfoy grimaced, and for the first time Harry saw a glimmer of the old Malfoy on his face. “First of all, Malfoys do not sleep on floors. And secondly, Greg snores. I lived through seven years of it at school, and I’d rather not go through it again.” He looked at Harry. “So where am I supposed to sleep, then?”

Instead of answering, Harry opened the door to his room. Malfoy gave him what could only be described as a glare, but followed him in.

“Er, this is the biggest bed in the house,” Harry said. The four posts of the bed rose in spiral columns, and the silver thread in the brocade curtains shone dully in the gaslight. “You could always share with me.”

“With you…”

“I know it’s probably not what you imagined when you were offered a safe house—”

“At least I know I’ll be safe at all hours of the day and night.” Malfoy raised his eyebrows. “Unless I’ve got you to worry about. It’s not like we’ve had the smoothest of histories.”

“You don’t need to worry about me.” Harry felt it was important to reassure Malfoy on this point. “I’m not going to try to do anything to you in the middle of the night.”

Malfoy’s eyebrows rose higher, and Harry blushed as he realised how that had sounded.

“I mean, I’m not going to attack you.” Crumbs, that didn’t sound much better. “I, er, you’ll be safe.”

Malfoy looked at the bed, then back over to Harry. “I suppose I don’t really have much choice,” he said. “I sleep on the left,” he added.

Harry smiled in relief. “I don’t particularly have a preference which side I sleep on, so that’s fine.”

“Not used to sharing a bed are you? I hope you’re not a fidgeter.”

Was Malfoy in the habit of sharing a bed, then? Pale limbs and white sheets… Harry pushed the image away and cleared his throat. “I don’t think so. I guess you’ll find out, one way or another, tonight.”

“Quite,” said Malfoy. He sat on the edge of the bed, and gave the mattress an experimental bounce. Harry battled to keep the nearly naked-Malfoy image away again. “Although as long as you don’t snore like Greg, I’ll be fine.”

“I, er, I don’t.”

“Everyone always says that. Greg says that.”

Harry had heard the odd rumbling noise coming from the sitting room at night, but had never put too much thought into what it might be. Strange noises came from most of the rooms at night, and Harry was determined not to think what they might be. He usually blamed them on the owls.

Thinking about such things, Harry realised that the house was strangely quiet without the others. Or perhaps it was more that Harry felt as though he were moving through a strange dream? None of this quite felt real.

Malfoy brought his trunk up, and put it under the window. Harry remembered seeing his own in the same spot; it seemed to belong there.

“We’ve got sole use of the bathroom on this floor,” Harry said. “Although having said that, sometimes one of the others will come down here if the one upstairs is busy—”

“I’m sure I’ll manage,” Malfoy said. “I have shared a bathroom before.”

Harry flushed. “Of course. Yes.”

Malfoy folded his arms and sighed, and Harry realised he wanted to unpack or freshen up or whatever it was that snobby blond wizards did when they arrived somewhere.

“I’ll just clear you some space in the wardrobe, then I’ll let you settle in.”

“Thank you.” Malfoy looked so brittle and thin, that Harry could imagine that if he turned in the wrong direction, he would disappear entirely.

Harry didn’t own many robes, so it didn’t take long to push them to one side. Emptying a drawer didn’t take much longer. He paused at the door. “Can I get you anything?”

Malfoy shook his head, his lips sealed tight.

Harry left him, pale and pinched, in his bedroom.

*

When he got back upstairs, having done all the washing up, dried, and put everything away, he found Malfoy coming out of the bathroom wearing green pyjamas and carrying a bundle of clothes under his arm. The silk of the pyjamas shone slickly in the gaslight, but against the dark material Malfoy looked whiter than ever.

“You don’t have to get changed in the bathroom.”

“It seemed safer, somehow. I’m sure you’re not in the habit of knocking before you enter your own bedroom.”

“Oh, yes. I see.” Harry’s face erupted into yet another blush. It would have been mortifying to walk in on Malfoy stripping. Or Malfoy naked…

Malfoy put his folded clothes into his trunk, and took out a book before closing it. “You don’t mind if I read for a while?”

“That’s fine.” Harry realised that he, too, would need to find some pyjamas and get changed. Get naked. But not in front of Malfoy. He snatched up a set of pyjamas from his chest of drawers, then headed off to the bathroom.

When he got back, Malfoy was sitting up in bed, reading. He didn’t look up when Harry came in, and Harry put his clothes down, then slid into bed. Malfoy turned a page, and didn’t look up. Harry lay back and thought again how strange it was that he and Malfoy were in bed together. In all his years at Hogwarts, he’d never imagined this a possibility.

“Do you want to turn the light off now?” Malfoy asked, putting down his book.

“Yeah, okay.” This felt nothing like bedtime at Hogwarts, or when Harry had shared with Ron at the Burrow. It felt like sitting in bed next to a large tiger; Harry kept wanting to flee. He wondered if Malfoy could feel him trembling through the mattress.

With a word, Harry made the room go dark.

“Was that wandless?” Malfoy asked.

“Er, yes.” Harry felt he needed to explain further; Malfoy’s silence was oppressive. “Some spells, if I’ve done them enough times…”

“If it turns out that you live up to all the hype…” Malfoy trailed off, and sighed. “I guess you already have, though, haven’t you?”

Harry didn’t know what to say.

Malfoy moved beside him; plumping up his pillow, Harry realised. “These pillows are a disgrace, Potter.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting to be sharing my bed tonight.”

“No, I don’t suppose you were.”

Harry’s cheeks heated. “You know what I mean. I’m sure this won’t be for too long. I know it’s a little awkward—”

“Merlin, Potter, it’s fine. Someone set fire to my bed at the last safe house, and as for my attempt at returning to Hogwarts… believe it or not, this is probably the safest I’ve felt in a while.”

“Oh.” Harry hadn’t thought much about what had happened to people like Greg or Malfoy after the war. His main concern had been with the people around him; he was tired of worrying about everyone else, too.

A twisting, churning inside kept Harry awake. Beside him, could just make out the shine of Malfoy’s eyes as he stared up at the ceiling. He didn’t say anything more, though, instead lying still until his eyelids fell shut of their own accord.

*

November

Low light slanted through the room, bright yet cool. Harry though, felt warmer than normal. When he stretched out and encountered a thin leg, he remembered why, and wakefulness rushed upon him like a wave crashing onto shore. Suddenly aware of every part of his body, Harry made an effort not to move. He foot though, was still touching Malfoy’s. As slowly as he could, Harry pulled his leg away.

Beside him, Malfoy slept on. Malfoy still looked pale, but asleep lost his pinched, wary mask. The git was still pointy, mind, but at least he didn’t look scared anymore. Worry, like an ache in the heart, gnawed away at Harry. He had an odd collection of people living under his roof, and they’d been through all sorts of things, but Malfoy was the only one who looked this… wounded. The ache hardened though, as Harry remembered Death Eaters roaming Hogwarts, or Malfoy standing behind Umbridge. Malfoy was right to look so troubled; he had done much to feel guilty about.

Did Malfoy feel guilt? Harry didn’t know. Maybe he was merely scared of being hexed. It was possible that he’d already been hexed plenty, by strangers on the street. Or perhaps Death Eaters enjoyed practising their Unforgivables on any young person who happened to be around.

Harry rolled away, uncomfortable at the line his thoughts were taking. The familiar itch across his skin, the tightness between his shoulders was returning; the sensations he associated with waking from his nightmares.

The movement was enough to wake Malfoy. Harry forced his breath to slow, and lay as still as he could, in an attempt to feign sleep.

Malfoy yawned, then sighed. The two of them lay side by side, not speaking, as the rain fell outside. Harry was beginning to get sleepy again, lulled by the soft tattoo, when Malfoy sat up, and swung his legs out of bed and padded off to the bathroom.

Harry stayed where he was, enjoying the gentle and dreamy sensation of being half asleep, half awake, when a knock at the door roused him. He sat up, ready to greet Malfoy as civilly as possible when they were both in their pyjamas. The door opened.

“Harry.” Hermione had a tartan dressing gown belted tightly around her. With the frown currently pulling her face tight she looked as though she was channelling McGonagall. “Is it my imagination, or did I just see Draco Malfoy come out of your bedroom and go into your bathroom?” She stared at him. “You pulled out of our Halloween plans to see Malfoy?”

“Er, yes, about that…”

The sound of a toilet flushing filled the air, and then water running; within seconds Malfoy was behind Hermione, asking to get past.

“Thank goodness you’re not a fidgeter or a snorer, Potter,” he said as he climbed back into bed. “I think this could work out.”

Hermione took a breath as though about to speak, but seemed to think better of it. She turned sharply on her heel and rushed off up the stairs. Before the bedroom door above clicked shut, Harry heard a rather urgent, “Ron, wake up!”

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Harry said, turning to Malfoy.

“Did what?” Malfoy said, affecting innocence. His hands behind his head, he stretched into a lengthy yawn. The green silk of his pyjamas slid down his arms a little, revealing the edge of a faded Dark Mark. Harry’s throat went dry at the sight of it, and he made an effort to wrench his eyes back up to Malfoy’s face. “I’ve just woken up, and I can assure you that I’m not doing anything on purpose just yet.”

“She’s up there, telling Ron that I— that we—” Harry couldn’t say the words.

“What, that we’ve been shagging?” Malfoy laughed. “They’d really believe that: you and me…” he dissolved into laughter again, and Harry began to feel a little aggrieved that the thought of him shagging anyone would be so funny.

“It’s not that funny.”

Malfoy wiped a tear away from the corner of his eye. “Oh come on, it is a little bit.”

The end of Malfoy’s nose had turned a little pink with the laughter, and his mouth was still curled up in a smile. He looked younger… looser, somehow, when he smiled. Harry, despite the years of suspicion and the slight panic he felt at the prospect of clearing this all up with his friends, smiled back. “Yeah, I suppose it is.”

Which is how Harry and Malfoy ended walking down the stairs to breakfast, both still smiling. Harry’s smile faded fast though, when he saw the line-up of curious faces at the kitchen table.

“Toast, Harry? Draco?” Luna held a large bread knife aloft. Harry nodded silently, not looking over to see what Malfoy did. Luna cut some thick slabs of white bread, then put them on the hotplate of the range. “I’ll try not to burn this round,” she said.

Harry nodded again, then sat on the bench opposite his friends. It shook slightly as Malfoy slid in next to him.

Ron’s eyes kept darting between the two of them, but rather than say anything he chomped down on his own toast as though his life depended on it. He looked rather grey, but Harry assumed that was down to the after-effects of the Halloween party the night before. Hermione’s face showed no sign of a hangover, though; it was alive with curiosity, her eyes sparkling as she leant forward and rested her chin on her hands.

Surprisingly, it was Greg who spoke up first. “Draco, are you and Harry—”

“No!” Harry said as quickly as he could. He couldn’t believe how ready his friends were to believe that he and Malfoy could have… he couldn’t even complete the thought. “Dra– Malfoy is staying here for a while. At the request of the Ministry.”

“Just like we all are,” Luna said, nodding sagely. “Not at the request of the Ministry, though.” Her nose twitched as the smell of well-done toast filled the air. “Oh, the toast!” Luna flipped the bread over, and Harry was relieved to see that it wasn’t burned.

“Yes, and there weren’t any other beds available,” Malfoy offered, stretching like a cat and rubbing his hand across the back of his neck. “Not quite up to the Manor standards.”

“It is a big bed,” Harry said. And then he scowled. “Well, I think it’s perfectly comfortable.” He looked at his assembled housemates. “Are you okay with Malfoy staying here? Kingsley put me in a bit of a bind, yesterday.”

“You’re making me feel very welcome, Potter. I’m glad to know I’m here thanks to the Minister twisting your arm.”

Harry ignored Malfoy. Greg nodded, and Hermione did, too. Ron was drinking his tea, but put his mug down and sighed. He glared over at Malfoy, but nodded. Harry suspected that under the table, Hermione was holding his hand. They all turned to face Luna, who was filling the toast rack with bread.

“Oh, I’m fine with it. Draco wasn’t the one who locked me up in his cellar. Well, not personally. And he used to sneak me apples when he could.”

For the first time since they’d walked into the kitchen, Harry turned to see how Malfoy was faring. The smile had gone, and Malfoy’s face had that closed, tight look again. His eyes though looked a little haunted, and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he blinked at Luna.

“It was all I could do…” Malfoy’s voice sounded strained.

“I was grateful for it. And as you brought me apples, have some toast.” She plonked two slices onto each of their plates and sat down with her own toast. “You should try the marmalade, it’s really good.”

Malfoy kept staring at her, but then Harry realised that he was staring at Malfoy in turn and hunted out the butter from beside Ron instead.

“I thought I’d have a go at the pipes today,” Greg said. “If you don’t mind, Harry.”

“Er.” Harry had noticed that they did tend to clang sometimes. “As long as there’s still hot water.”

“Oh yes,” Hermione said. “I’ve got to have hot water. I do enjoy baths, but there’s nothing like a shower to get me ready in the morning.” She drank up the last of her tea. “Talking of which, I have a lecture to get to. Try not to kill each other today, boys.”

“Does that make you one of the boys, Luna? “ Greg asked as Hermione walked out.

“I guess so.” Luna sat back, unperturbed. “So, does your messing around with the pipes involve any more hitting walls with great big hammers? Because that looked like fun.”

“It could do.” Greg grinned. Harry began to worry about how wise it had been to agree to the whole having-a-go-at-the-pipes idea. “What about you, Ron? Fancy swinging a sledge hammer around?”

“Nah, mate. Thanks though. I’ve got to get to the shop. George wants me to get the Christmas stock ready, can you believe it. Christmas! It’s only just been Halloween.”

Before long, Malfoy and Harry were left in the kitchen alone.

“Is it always like this?”

“Hmm?” The marmalade really was good – Molly sent a jar down every now and then – and Harry was enjoying a thick helping of it on his last piece of toast.

“So—” The sound of a loud banging from above their heads somewhere interrupted him. “So noisy?”

“There are six of us living here, now.”

“There were more people in Slytherin, but it didn’t mean we lived like this.”

A spark flared up in Harry’s chest. “Yeah, like you were all paragons of virtue.”

Malfoy snorted. “I bet you don’t even know what that means!”

“You know what I mean.” Harry’s breathing was becoming fast and shallow. He piled up the plates on the table in an angry clatter. And then he glanced over at Malfoy, and saw how pained he looked. Harry took a deep breath, willing himself calm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be insulting you.”

Malfoy looked up in surprise. “I—” He sighed. “This is going to take some time to get used to, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I reckon it is.” Harry collected up the plates, far more gently this time, and put them in the sink.

“You don’t have a house-elf?”

“I do, but he’s at Hogwarts now.”

Malfoy’s eyes widened. “As a student?”

“What?” Harry laughed. “No, he’s in the kitchens.” He grinned at the image of Kreacher in a Hogwarts gown. “Although the idea of a house-elf studying alongside everyone else would probably be Hermione’s idea of… well, of the most wonderful thing ever.”

“Oh, right.” Malfoy was blushing now.

Harry laughed as he turned on the tap, only to find a thin trickle of water coming out. He sighed. “I better see what Greg’s done.” He left the kitchen feeling as though he’d been through a couple of rounds, emotionally speaking. Having Malfoy around was certainly going to be… interesting.

*

The owl section in the Muggle library down the road felt as though it was becoming a second home. First of all, Harry had wanted to identify all the types of owls he was currently housing. And then Eddie had started limping (he was constantly injuring himself), and Gladys began to tremble whenever Harry came near (she was, it turned out, both highly strung and not very bright). Harry had quite a pile of owl books by his bed, but he always seemed to need one more.

When he returned home with his latest book under his arm, it was to a scene of chaos. Water was gushing down the stairs, like a carpeted waterfall. Harry was rather tempted to close the front door and come back again later, but unfortunately Greg saw him before he had a chance to actually do it.

“Er, hi, Harry,” Greg said. He was sopping wet, from head to toe. He held his wand in front of him, directing all the water into the old troll’s foot umbrella stand. Harry didn’t want to know where the water went after that.

Luna peeked around the top of the stairs. “Hello!” she added cheerily. “We’re almost done. Hermione should be able to have a shower tomorrow.”

“Oh yes, these two have everything under control.” Malfoy stepped out from the sitting room. He, unlike Luna and Greg, wore immaculate clothes. Close-fitting robes that would look more in place in the Manor, Harry thought. In Harry’s happy perusal of library shelves, he’d almost forgotten that Malfoy was staying, too.

Harry glanced back at the water flowing down the stairs, then nodded towards the kitchen. “Cup of tea?”

Malfoy’s mouth opened slightly, in surprise Harry presumed, revealing a neat line of white teeth and the promise of tongue beyond. “Good idea,” he said, then carefully stepped around Greg.

“This’ll be sorted in a mo,” Greg said. “Go have a cuppa and don’t worry about it.”

Harry followed Malfoy’s path around the edge of the hallway, and went down to the kitchen.

Malfoy was sitting at the table, arms folded. Harry looked over at the kettle, but it was still on the side. “I don’t know how to make tea,” Malfoy said. “And besides, my mother always told me that it wasn’t polite to help yourself to drinks at other people’s houses.”

Had Malfoy not had anything to drink all day? Harry wouldn’t put it past him to stubbornly stick to a rule like that. “I’m sure you’ll learn fast.” Harry turned the tap and was grateful to see a normal gush of water come out. He filled the kettle and put it on. Although he’d suggested tea as a way to escape the flood upstairs, he wasn’t sure what he could actually say to Malfoy now the two of them were alone again.

“You seem remarkably calm, considering that Loony Lovegood and Gregory dimwit Goyle are destroying your house.”

“Don’t call them that.”

“Sorry.” Malfoy began to fiddle with the edge of the table.

Harry silently cursed the old range: the kettle took forever to boil on it, and he would have been grateful for the distraction of making tea. He fetched a pot down, and two mugs while he waited. “I trust them, you know. Greg’s done loads to the house already and it’s all been fine.”

“You are a strange man, Harry Potter.”

“Coming from you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” Harry’s heart was beating fast again, like it had when they’d had their little argument that morning. How was he going to be able to sleep next to Malfoy, night after night? He had no idea; just being around him was hard enough. He was saved from having to make any further conversation with Malfoy by the arrival of Greg and Luna, both gently steaming but otherwise dry.

“It’s all fixed up now,” Greg said. “No more clanking.”

“I was right,” Luna said. “That was fun.” She rubbed some plaster dust from her face and grinned.

*

Luna cooked dinner that night. Everyone smiled politely at the honeyed courgettes and curried peas. Everyone, that was, except for Malfoy. To his credit, he did appear to try, but his face refused to make anything other than a slightly horrified expression throughout the meal. Luna didn’t seem to mind, and Malfoy cleared his plate, so Harry decided not to worry about it too much.

Harry fancied lighting a fire when they all retired to the sitting room, leaving Ron and Hermione to wash up. Soon, merry flames danced in the fireplace. It was possibly too mild an evening for it, but after all the water Harry thought a fire was needed to balance things out, somehow. It felt to him as though the house itself relaxed in an outward sigh of relief once the fire got going.

“Blimey, mate, it’s boiling in here,” Ron said when he and Hermione came back upstairs. He took off his jumper and sat on the floor next to Harry.

The heat seemed to be getting to Malfoy; his cheeks were quite definitely rosy, and sweat beaded across his forehead. He sat on the armchair looking out of place in his dark robes amongst the jeans and t-shirts in the room.

Harry and Ron soon launched into their usual Quidditch chat. They picked up where they’d left off the day before.

“But you’ve got to admit that Walker is a better Keeper than Asher.” Ron’s face was flushed with more than the heat of the room; when he talked about the Cannons he always got like this.

“Walker is okay, I guess,” said Harry. “But he did let through an awful lot of Quaffles in that match against the Tornadoes.”

A snort came from the armchair. “Weasley here has a point, though. At least it wasn’t all the Quaffles like Asher,” Malfoy said. He sounded so like his younger self, Harry got goosebumps.

Ron stared at Malfoy, his face wavering between a glare at the interruption, and a nod at the validation. “You see!” Ron turned to Harry, having settled on triumph. “Even Malfoy agrees.”

Malfoy’s mouth curled up in a small smile, although Harry could still see strain around his eyes.

Harry wasn’t sure what to make of this turn of events. “I still say that unless he proves himself otherwise, Walker is pretty pants as a Keeper.”

“We are talking about the Cannons, here,” Malfoy said.

Ron shot him a look of annoyance. Any illusion of comradery between the two faded away. “The team I support.”

Malfoy bowed his head, and said nothing more. Harry sighed. It wasn’t going to be easy having Malfoy living with them. For a moment there, he’d dared hope that Malfoy would fit in. Somehow. Harry returned to his conversation with Ron, but the way Malfoy had shut up so quickly left Harry unsettled. It didn’t feel… right.

Ron didn’t seem to notice or mind; he didn’t even look over at Malfoy again. Harry, however, kept glancing over to see what Malfoy was doing. At first he stared into the fire, lost in his own thoughts, apparently. The heat must have got too much, because out of the corner of his eye Harry noticed Malfoy undo first one, then another button on his robes. His neck was, Harry knew from the night before, as pale as the rest of him, but in the heat of the fire it was tinged pink.

A giggle from the other side of the room drew Harry’s attention away from Malfoy. Hermione and Luna were sitting together. Their chats were usually fairly quiet, so it made Harry smile to see them a little merry. The excitement of the flood, perhaps, had Luna in such a good mood.

“Are you listening to a word I’ve said?” Ron asked.

“Er.” Harry grinned sheepishly. “They were being noisy.”

“I was saying, what do you think we’ll do first when we go back to training?”

Harry sighed. “Go through the Auror manual again?” It was all they’d done at the beginning of their first year.

“I hope not.” Ron groaned. “I mean, I know that we need to know all the rules, but…”

Greg came to sit with Malfoy, and the two of them talked quietly. Reassured that Malfoy wasn’t being ignored any more, Harry was able to turn his full attention back to Ron. “Yeah. I hope we get more field work this year.”

“We’ll have to, we qualify in May.”

Ron and Harry settled into another of their circular conversations about Auror training. Harry, as ever, was glad to have a friend to share it with.

When Harry next looked over, the fire had died down and Malfoy was sitting by himself again, staring into the red embers. Greg was sitting with Luna and Hermione, massaging Luna’s feet.

Malfoy glanced up. “I’m fairly tired now,” he said. “I’ll think I’ll go to bed.”

Harry yawned, suddenly feeling rather sleepy himself. “It’s later than I thought; bed sounds like a good idea.” As soon as he said the words, though, he blushed. It sounded like… well, like he wanted to go to bed with Malfoy. All he wanted to do was go to sleep. And maybe Malfoy would rather be alone for a while. But Harry really was tired.

They left the room together, four pairs of eyes following them as they went. Harry cursed himself for his terrible timing.

“I’ll change in the bathroom again,” Malfoy said. He looked tired: red-eyed and pale. Almost as though he’d been crying.

Harry had changed by the time Malfoy returned, and by the time Harry had finished brushing his teeth Malfoy was already in bed, his back to the door.

Neither spoke. Harry got into bed, acutely aware of Malfoy next to him. Harry had the impression that Malfoy was holding himself stiffly, that he was very close to holding his breath. With a sigh, Harry tried to get comfortable.

“Goodnight, Malfoy.”

“Night.”

“Are you—?”

“I don’t want to talk, Potter. I want to sleep.”

Harry didn’t reply, stung. Instead he closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He was still awake though, when he heard Ron, Hermione and Luna traipse up to bed. He listened to their doors opening and closing, to water running down pipes, and then to the faint hoots from the attic rooms.

In the end he fell asleep to Maureen and Gladys hooting and chatting above.

*

After breakfast the next day, Malfoy stopped Harry outside the kitchen to rather formally request an opportunity to discuss a personal matter. Harry’s breakfast felt too much, all of a sudden, as his stomach turned at Malfoy’s words. Malfoy’s face was still so quiet and pinched-looking, Harry was certain that he must be hating living at number twelve.

“Um. Sure. Do you want to come with me to check on the owls?” It didn’t sound like something Malfoy was happy discussing in front of the others, although Harry wasn’t sure why he hadn’t brought it up when they were still alone in the bedroom that morning. Although given how awkward the moment had been, maybe Malfoy hadn’t felt ready to discuss any matter of importance.

“How many owls do you have?” Malfoy’s mouth twisted with curiosity. “The others talk as though there’s half a dozen upstairs!”

“Er… almost that, actually.”

Harry ushered Malfoy up the stairs. Going up side by side seemed strange; it almost felt as though they were going to head back to the bedroom again. Instead, they wound their way up to the top of the house.

As soon as Harry opened the door, he shivered. With the windows open all night, the attic was bloody freezing. But then Little Lady swooped down and landed on his shoulder.

Malfoy laughed, the sound echoing around the room, then he clapped his hand over his mouth as though he’d committed some terrible wrong. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But you look like a pirate.”

“What did you want to talk about?” asked Harry. He held out his arm, and Little Lady hopped down from his shoulder.

Malfoy’s face moved back into serious lines. “It’s very generous of you to invite me into your home like this, whatever the sleeping arrangements—”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“I’m safe. That… that counts as a lot.” Malfoy looked around him. “You do have a lot of owls.”

“They’re not mine,” Harry said quickly. “They just live here.”

Malfoy had walked around now, to face Bertie. They both raised their eyebrows at each other. “Do you think… would it be possible for me to borrow one, to send a letter to my mother?”

Harry stroked Little Lady. She wriggled in pleasure. “Like I said, they’re not mine. But you can ask one if they’ll carry a letter for you.” Harry glanced over at Eddie. “Maybe not that one. He’s the clumsiest bird I’ve ever met,” he added in a whisper.

“Are we whispering to avoid hurting a bird’s feelings?” Malfoy whispered back.

Harry nodded.

“You really are… unique, Potter,” Malfoy said.

“Is that what you wanted to ask? About the owls and letters?”

“No, it isn’t that actually. What I wanted to say was… well, I had planned originally to pursue a career in potions.”

“Potions?”

Malfoy smiled, his facing warming slightly as he did so. “I enjoy the feeling of… order when making a potion.” He looked around him. “Control.” Bertie mirrored his movements.

“And…?”

“I was wondering if there was a small space somewhere I could use to practise my skills? A bathroom that’s not being used, or I could work in the garden – I presume that it’s hidden from Muggles – or even up here with your owls, or in the cellar if you prefer.”

Harry frowned. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“I see.” Malfoy’s face fell.

“No, I mean, yes. I think it sounds like a good idea, but I’m not sure where will be best. I’ll have a think, and then we can talk again about it. Okay?”

Malfoy nodded, but his smile had gone.

*

When they got back downstairs, there were a few curious looks from Ron and Hermione, but then Greg announced he was going to take up all the floorboards on the stairs to see if he could fix the creaking, and Luna brought out a large bag of Muggle games.

“I thought we could play together,” she said. “In the evenings.”

“Oh thank goodness!” Hermione said. “I don’t think I could sit through another of those Quidditch talks.”

Harry peered over Luna’s shoulder, curious about what she had bought. He smiled when he saw the boxes. “These are all really good,” he said.

“I think we should play one now,” Luna said, pulling a brightly-coloured box from the bag. “How about this one?”

Hermione groaned when she saw it. “Monopoly?”

“Do you know it?” Luna asked brightly.

“I used to play it with my parents.”

Hermione picked up the box and read out the instructions. Everyone interrupted at least once to ask a question, and by the time Hermione had finished she looked as though she wouldn’t mind throwing the box across the room.

“So the point is to make as much money as possible?” Greg asked.

“Yes.”

“I thought the aim was to have fun,” Luna said.

“That too,” Hermione said. “But mostly it’s about making lots of money.

Malfoy sat in the corner, watching them unpack the game but not coming forwards to play.

Harry made sure that everyone chose a piece to play with, including Malfoy. “You might even enjoy it,” he said. Malfoy scowled, but chose the small dog.

*

Two hours later, they all agreed that Malfoy wasn’t allowed to play Monopoly again.

“No wonder your family were rich,” Ron said. “You’re scary once you get going.”

Malfoy looked down at the collection of plastic hotels on the floor, the result of Luna upending the board. “I may have got a little carried away.”

Greg was looking at Luna with awe. “I can’t believe you threw them all on the floor like that.”

“It’s not written as a rule, but it almost always happens,” said Hermione with a sigh.

“I bet a wizarding version would sell well,” said Ron. “I should talk to George about that.”

*

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Harry said in bed that night.

Malfoy groaned. “Thinking about what? I’m tired and I want to go to sleep.”

“You needing a space to use for potions.”

“Yes?” Malfoy sounded more alert.

“I don’t think we can really spare a bathroom, and I don’t think it would be safe to use the kitchen. The cellar…” Harry shivered, “well, I’m not sure what’s down there and I don’t think I’d really like to find out. As for the garden, I’d quite like to use it when the weather warms up, so I’d like to keep that space free.”

“So there’s nowhere I can use?” Disappointment twisted through Malfoy’s words.

“I didn’t say that, exactly. How about the old sitting room?”

“The room with that horrible portrait in it?”

“Walburga doesn’t shout at you, and if you keep her hidden behind her curtain she probably won’t bother you too much.”

Malfoy stayed silent.

“The room will never be used, otherwise,” Harry said. “I quite fancy the idea of you blowing things up in there.”

“I don’t blow things up! I’m not some five-year old experimenting with their first potions kit, you know.”

Harry turned to face Malfoy’s dimly-lit profile. “I bet you had one, didn’t you? Your father bought you the most expensive one in the shop, and then you made potions to turn his ears orange.”

“Potter, you’ve got an over-active imagination.”

“But you did have one, right?”

“I had a kit, yes. But so did every wizarding child. How do you think Ron’s brothers developed their taste for such things?”

“Did you behave like them?” Harry stifled a laugh at the image of Lucius Malfoy, hopping around his bedroom and swearing because Malfoy had put itching powder in his undercrackers.

“I’m not answering any more of these puerile questions.” Malfoy pulled the blankets up to his chin, and Harry saw his nose point up. Even in the dark Malfoy still pulled haughty faces.

“Fine,” Harry said. “But tell me that you will use the room?”

“I’ll use the room if it means you’ll shut up and let me go to sleep.”

“Great!” said Harry.

“I thought you were going to shut up?”

“Yes, yes.” Harry lay back. “I do wonder what you were like as a child, though.”

“Humph,” said Malfoy, but he was beginning to sound sleepy and it ended as a soft, squishy grumble as he turned away from Harry.

Harry stared at the silhouette Malfoy’s back. He noted the precise moment Malfoy fell asleep, he rise and fall of his breath sinking into a steady, slow rhythm.

“Goodnight,” Harry whispered, before succumbing to sleep himself.

*

Harry, Greg and Malfoy set the new laboratory up together.

“How many of these bloody vials do you need?” Harry said as he unpacked yet another case of glass bottles of all shapes and sizes.

“It wouldn’t do to be unprepared,” Malfoy said. “Careful with those, Greg!”

Greg paused from where he was hanging different bunches of herbs on the wall. “They’re only dead plants,” he said.

“They mustn’t touch,” Malfoy said. He pushed Greg out of the way and rearranged them all. Greg stood back, his hands hanging at his sides.

“Well, what can I do, then?”

Harry admired Greg’s thick skin when it came to dealing with Malfoy’s more… petulant moments. But then again, Greg had a good seven years over on Harry when it came to letting them wash over his head.

“You can stock the shelves over there. Just make sure that the jars are positioned alphabetically, with all their labels facing forwards.”

Harry continued placing the jars and bottles on the trolley he’d found for the room. He glanced over at Greg who was quite happily following all of Malfoy’s instructions.

Malfoy himself was busy adapting the fireplace to take a cauldron. Much to Malfoy’s evident disgust, Harry had offered his old school cauldron. Malfoy had disappeared to the top of the house to send an owl to his mother – although Harry never used the owls for messages, his friends didn’t seem to feel the same sense of compunction – and had been most smug when Bertie (whom Harry suggested Malfoy was beginning to favour) had returned with a shiny cauldron.

Behind her curtain, Walburga could be heard grumbling. Although a Silencing charm wasn’t fully effective on the portrait, when aimed at the velvet curtain it did serve to muffle her somewhat.

…racket. Never in my life…”

They all ignored her. The only part of the room to remain untouched was the tapestry bearing the family tree. Compared to all the new equipment, it looked old and dingy. Harry was happy to leave it that way.

*

Malfoy spooned out the grey goop. No one could quite meet his eyes.

“It’s leek and potato soup,” he said.

Harry looked down at his bowl. A slimy lump bubbled to the surface, then sank back down in the bowl. “It looks… lovely.”

Greg picked up his spoon, and scooped some up. He touched it to his lips. “Yes,” he said through clenched teeth. “Delicious.”

A chorus of strained-but-pleased sounds and nods rang down the table.

Malfoy put his head in his hands. “Don’t lie; I know it’s awful.”

Harry hadn’t tasted anything that bad in a long time, and that was including Hermione’s efforts. But Malfoy had trembled in a way Hermione didn’t, and for some reason Harry didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “Was it the first time you’d ever cooked?”

“Yes! But I’m good at potions, and I followed the recipe. I thought they were supposed to be the same.”

“If that were true, Harry would have been a lot better at Potions at school,” Ron said. “His cooking is great.”

“It’s not always about the recipe,” Harry said. “Sometimes it’s more about what works together. It might look awful on paper, but the most unexpected sets of ingredients might go to together.”

“You need to taste as you go along,” said Ron. “Start with the basics, and work it out for yourself.”

“I… We could try some things out together,” Hermione said. “I’m trying to approach it in a bit more of a logical way, though. I want to see what happens when I make the same recipe in five different ways.”

Malfoy looked surprised. “You mean, with me?” Hermione nodded. “You want to… learn to cook, with me?”

“I have to repay you for ousting me from my position as the worst cook in the house,” Hermione said. “It’s been a heavy burden to carry.” A smile quirked on her lips.

“It really is inedible, isn’t it?” Malfoy asked.

“Merlin; yes,” Greg said. He lowered his spoon with a clang. “Please say I can go out to get fish and chips for us all?”

Five other spoons clattered down, and Malfoy was the first to push his bowl away. “Yes, please.”

*

Within a week, Malfoy had managed to turn his own hair green. He came down to dinner, bearing the most dignified look Harry had ever seen on anyone’s face, but with lime-green hair.

“Draco,” Luna said. “Your ha—”

“It really isn’t considered polite to point out any small malfunctions in one’s attire,” Malfoy said before she could finish.

Luna’s mouth snapped shut, but then she burst into laughter. “We’re not talking about a button that’s come undone!”

She was still giggling when Hermione spoke up. “Goodness me.” Hermione frowned, and pulled her lips to one side in the way she always did when considering a tricky problem. “However did you manage that?”

“Have none of you ever even heard of manners? Etiquette?”

“Frequently,” Ron said. “From you.” He cut into his baked potato. “But I think that you should have noticed by now that we don’t give a Clabberts about old, fussy rules.”

“You would say that,” Hermione said. “You’ve got the manners of a pig, sometimes, Ronald.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen the rules wizards are expected to follow. There’s a whole book of them; Aunt Mildred had it. The Hestia.

Hestia’s Rules and Etiquette for the Propere Wizard,” Malfoy supplied. “It’s essential reading for all wizards.”

“Essential my arse – it was written about three hundred years ago. It’s all full of ‘Seeke not the kitchenes of the hoste,’ and ‘House-elves are a necessarie evile’,” Ron said. “It’s horrible.”

“I think it provides the backbone of wizarding society,” Malfoy said stiffly. “Where would we be otherwise?”

“I don’t remember the Death Eaters being particularly polite, Malfoy.”

The rain outside was the only sound to be heard in the room. Malfoy’s shoulders dropped, and he looked down at his plate.

“Did you mix borage and ginger?” Hermione asked. “Or was it essence of asphodel? That would turn your hair green, if you stepped into the fumes.”

Judging by the way the tips of Malfoy’s ears went pink, Hermione had guessed correctly.

“You could try a combination of garlic and nasturtium. That should counteract the aspohdel,” Hermione said. “Accio ‘One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi’.

Ron groaned. “Not at the table,” he said, as a large tome floated down the stairs and landed on the table next to Hermione.

“Exactly,” Draco said. “There’s a time and a place for everything. That’s all etiquette is.”

*

Two days later, Malfoy came down to dinner accompanied by a large grey cat.

“Have we got any fish?”

“Where did you get a cat?” Luna asked, coming around the table to stroke the cat.

“It’s Greg.”

“Where did he get a cat from? You great big softie,” Luna said, rubbing the cat’s belly.

“It is Greg,” Draco said.

“Oh! Well, he makes a lovely cat.”

“Another experiment gone wrong?” Ron asked.

“No.” Malfoy broke out in a most un-Malfoy-like smile. “I’d been reading about potions that could work in place of transfiguration charms. Greg volunteered.”

“How long does it last?”

Malfoy’s smile became a little strained. “It’ supposed to last a few hours. But, er, Greg’s been like this since breakfast.”

“Miaow,” said the Greg-cat.

“He can stay with me,” Luna said. Greg was now on his back, purring with his legs in the air as Luna continued rubbing his belly.

*

By the end of November, the household seemed to have settled into a new set of rhythms. Greg seemed to have gravitated towards Luna – a result, perhaps, of the week he’d spent living as a cat and curled up in her lap. Harry and Ron were back at training, while Malfoy spent most of his time with his potions. He came to bed smelling different every night.

“It’s like going to bed with Snape,” Harry said, sniffing at Malfoy. Tonight wasn’t too bad; he smelled of tea and lovage.

Malfoy laughed. “Can you imagine? His hair would make your pillows greasy.”

“He’d be terribly bossy. Or maybe you’d like that?”

“Oh, Merlin.” The bed shook with Malfoy’s laughter. “I think I value a sense of humour more.” As his laughter died down, an awkward silence took its place. Or at least Harry thought it awkward; he had, after all, just made Malfoy laugh uncontrollably. In bed.

“I, er, I’ll bear that in mind.” Now the silence definitely was awkward, and Harry wished the bed would swallow him up. Instead, he rolled away.

“I might be a little whiffy tomorrow. I’m going to be experimenting with nettles and I’ve had some rotting for a week now to see if it makes any difference.” Malfoy yawned. “What is it with you and talking at night? We should go to sleep. Haven’t you got to be in extra early tomorrow?”

Harry murmured that he was. He didn’t want to say that he’d been tired a while ago, but that Malfoy had been all pink, sitting by the fire and deep in discussion with Hermione. Harry had come to bed but waited, because he found it easier to go to sleep when Malfoy was there, odd smells or not. Maybe it was thanks to all those years at Hogwarts, or even to the ones before under the stairs, but Harry enjoyed having someone to talk to when he went to bed.

His waiting for Malfoy certainly had nothing to do with pink skin under a long linen nightshirt. Nothing at all.

*

Harry got to the bathroom on the upper ground floor, and set down his bucket of cleaning supplies. Although he’d hated the drudgery of cleaning at the Dursleys, somehow the fact that this was his house made a difference. He enjoyed seeing the shine of newly-cleaned mirror, or the order of a freshly-tidied room. It felt… more like home.

Every week Harry cleaned his house. He started from the top, clearing away any droppings and pellets in the attic, and worked his way down the stairs. He swept, mopped and wiped. Often, he regretted that electricity didn’t work in the house; a vacuum cleaner would make the task of cleaning much easier. There were spells, of course, but Harry never trusted them entirely.

Malfoy came out of the sitting room, and stopped when he saw Harry. “What are you doing?”

“Cleaning,” Harry said. “Right now I’m wiping fingerprints off this door.”

Malfoy looked horrified. “Without magic?”

Harry shrugged. “It’s what I’m used to. And besides, I find it quite satisfying.”

“I don’t understand why you won’t call your house-elf back. No wizard should have to demean himself like this.”

“I don’t find it demeaning,” said Harry quietly. “Most people in the world clean their own homes, you know, Malfoy.”

“But you’re not ‘most people’. You’re Harry Potter, the hero of the wizarding world. You’re a wizard. You can use magic.”

“This is who I am,” said Harry. “A man who is about to clean a toilet.”

Malfoy looked green. “I can’t believe you even said that word aloud.”

“I’m not having a house-elf working here. For one, Hermione wouldn’t like it. And I happen to agree with her. One of the bravest creatures I’ve ever met was a house-elf. He’d come from your home, actually.”

“Dobby,” Malfoy said slowly.

“He died freeing us from your house.”

This was one of those moments when Harry wondered what he was doing, having Malfoy in his home. It was an impossible situation. Malfoy seemed to think so, too. He gave Harry a stiff half-bow, then walked away.

*

Harry had thought that would be the last time Malfoy would talk to him about cleaning, but he was wrong. That evening he walked into the sitting room to a heated discussion. He stopped in the doorway, unnoticed.

Malfoy was standing by the fireplace, gesticulating at the room. His ears were pink. “I don’t see why Potter is cleaning the whole house. He’s the only one tidying up, too. This afternoon I found a pile of Greg’s socks behind the sofa.”

“Sorry about that,” Greg said. “But unlike you all I don’t actually have a room of my own.”

“Nor do I,” Malfoy said. “At least you don’t have to share a bed. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that Potter isn’t a house-elf, and as he won’t have one, I think we could share the cleaning. Like we do the cooking.”

“Hermione did try to make a cleaning rota,” Greg said. “It didn’t work out.”

“Well I’m going to try again,” said Malfoy. “We can’t keep living in this… chaos of stinking socks and Harry Potter slaving away like a house-elf.” Greg looked over at the pile of his clothes in the corner.

“It’s worked fine up to now.” Ron didn’t even look up from his and Greg’s game of wizarding chess.

Luna was sat next to the fire, sorting through a pile of acorns. “Let’s give Draco a chance.”

“You’re only saying that because you fancy him.” Greg said from his armchair.

Luna stuck her tongue out. “Don’t.”

“Do.”

“I am still here, you know.” Malfoy didn’t seem as bothered by the banter as he had been a few weeks before. “Look, I can’t see why you can all stick to a cooking rota, but a cleaning one is so hard to follow.”

“No one likes to mop, Draco.”

“If we divide it amongst ourselves it will be much fairer.”

“I suppose.”

“I like to mop,” Luna said. “I make the mop dance.”

“I never use magic when I’m cleaning,” Harry said from the doorway. They all turned to stare at him. “It’s how I learned to clean!” he protested.

“Nutter,” Ron said.

“It’s quite satisfying, actually,” Hermione said. “Although it takes so much longer.”

Malfoy stood with his hands on his hips. “Whatever foolhardy cleaning methods you all have, can we at least try?”

Harry was amazed to see everyone nodding, one by one.

*

Later that night, in bed, Harry thanked Malfoy.

“No one else has commented on the cleaning before.”

“I thought Hermione had brought it up?”

“She talked a lot about rotas after Greg moved in, but the cooking one was such a hassle at the start that we never really got any further than that.”

Malfoy turned towards Harry. A thin strip of light from around the closed door was reflected in his eyes. “You’re more than a house-elf, you know. You… I’ve never said this to you, but you saved us all. If you hadn’t killed Voldemort…” He closed his eyes, shutting out the light.

“I think… I think that maybe you’re more than a Death Eater’s son,” Harry said softly. “Cleaning is probably new to you – I imagine that you’ve had a legion of house-elves tidying up after you all your life – but you still wanted it to be fair, didn’t you?”

“I…” Malfoy’s voice was shaky. “I don’t know who I am.”

“You’re you,” Harry said. “I feel as though… I’m getting to know that person for the first time. And… maybe you are, too?”

“Maybe,” said Malfoy. “I don’t know.” He sighed. “It’s far too late for this kind of talk.”

Harry didn’t know if he agreed with that sentiment. Malfoy always seemed different in bed. More real, somehow, less concerned about what it said in the bloody Hestia. Perhaps that was why Malfoy had so much to work out. Harry snuggled down into his pillow, and let his mind wander to the merits of silk pyjamas versus linen nightshirts. He still hadn’t worked out which suited Malfoy better. But maybe that was part of the problem? Malfoy had so many sides to him.

Of course, so did they all. Harry knew that too. He stared up into the darkness, listening to the sound of Malfoy breathing. Nothing seemed quite as simple as it had before Malfoy came to stay.

*

Luna did indeed make the mop dance; she danced from room to room, her skirts swinging out as she spun around. Greg watched her with admiration writ large across his face. Harry suspected it wasn’t entirely for her cleaning skills, but said nothing.

Harry was walking down the stairs later that week when he heard Hermione and Malfoy talking in the bathroom. Their being together in the bathroom was unusual enough that Harry stopped to listen. “I never thought I’d see you doing this,” said Hermione. Through the half-open door Harry caught a glimpse of Malfoy on his knees, scrubbing the toilets. The sight was enough to make Harry inhale sharply. He wondered if his shock was anything like how Malfoy had felt when he’d spied Harry doing the same, the week before.

“I didn’t quite picture this in my future, true,” said Malfoy. “But I’d rather this than living in Potter’s house and having him clean up after me. Somehow I think this is more dignified.”

“You surprise me, sometimes, Draco,” Hermione said. “I’m glad that you do.” Harry heard a smile in her voice, and one in Malfoy’s when he thanked her in return. Quietly, Harry slipped away.

*

The sound of raised voices came from above. Harry lay still, frozen by the sound of his two best friends arguing.

“I wish they’d cast a Silencing Charm.” Malfoy huffed into the darkness.

“I wish they weren’t arguing.”

A heavy sigh came from the pillow beside him. “I know. It seems… wrong, somehow.”

“They used to argue a lot at school, too.”

“I thought that was because they were so busy being oblivious to the fact that they should have spent those years snogging.”

“By that measure, we—” Harry broke off at the sudden, vivid image of him pushing Malfoy up against a stone wall, and snogging the breath out of him. Even the thought of it stole all the air from Harry’s lungs, and he was sure that Malfoy would be able to hear the way his heart had started pounding. Luckily, at that moment, a particularly loud shout rang out from above. Harry panicked though, when he heard Ron’s words.

Bloody Draco this, Draco that!”

“You shouldn’t have to hear that,” Harry said. He could hear Malfoy’s breathing beside him, shaky and shallow.

“I– I have been spending a lot of time with Hermione.”

“That doesn’t matter. It… it shouldn’t matter.”

“…wanker!”

“I’m getting my wand.” Harry got out of bed and felt his way to the dresser where he’d left his wand when he’d got ready for bed. He cast a Silencing Charm and the muffled sounds of shouting ceased.

“Thank you,” Malfoy said in an almost-whisper when Harry climbed back into bed. “I don’t want to be causing arguments here. And Ron doesn’t have anything to worry about; I like Hermione but I’m not… I don’t have any untoward intentions.”

As Harry fell asleep, the question that lingered was: not… what? His last thoughts, though, were of the remembered glimpse of a vision, of rough stone walls under his hand and a hot mouth on his.

*

Hermione wore a blue-striped apron, and she had flour down her front. There was also a considerable amount in her hair, but she looked happy.

“Did you know that the amount of time you knead dough for makes a difference to how the bread turns out?” she asked Harry as he stood in the doorway. “I’ve been experimenting,” she added.

“Er, I’ll leave you to it,” Harry said. “I wouldn’t want to mess anything up. Although would you like a cup of tea? I was about to make one.”

Hermione smiled, crinkling the flour smudge next to her eye. “I’d love one.” She brushed at her apron. “And I’m sure Draco would like one, too.”

“I had wondered if he was around,” Harry said. He hadn’t come down to the kitchen hoping to bump into him; no, not at all. “And where is he, anyway? He hasn’t left you to the cleaning, has he?” Harry surveyed the kitchen. A collection of spoons and bowls filled the sink, with spills of flour covering the table. A smear of butter ran down the side of the scales, and a huge glob of sticky dough was slowly detaching from the ceiling.

“Draco got a bit annoyed about that,” Hermione said, nodding up at the ceiling. “He went for a walk to calm down. Or so he said. Personally I think he went to clean some of the dough out of his hair; he looked quite comical.”

Harry chuckled, and stuck the kettle on, and took a deep breath of the yeasty bready smell already filling the air. “Smells good.”

“We made six different loaves,” Hermione said. “I’m determined to hit on the perfect formula.”

“You made Polyjuice when you were twelve, I’m sure you can master a loaf of bread.”

“I hope so.” Hermione frowned. “I don’t know why, but I find potions easier than this.”

Harry shrugged. “Malfoy says the same, doesn’t he? But they’re very different things.”

“Actually, it was Draco who came up with the idea for this experiment. He said we might as well use our knowledge of potions to apply a more rigorous approach to determining which factors are most important in making bread.”

Harry groaned. “Not you, too.”

“What?”

“You sound like Malfoy.”

“And you sound exactly like Ron, you know.” She frowned, and Harry knew that wasn’t a good thing.

“I can understand why Ron is finding it difficult. There’s just so much…” Harry hesitated. So much… gut-churning frustration, and blond-topped sneering, and competition and the suspicion that something was going very wrong in the Sixth Year, and it was, wasn’t it? He remembered Malfoy bleeding on the bathroom floor. “So much history,” he said.

“He’s not like he was back then.”

“No, he isn’t.” Malfoy’s eyes had lost their dark circles, and the sneer had softened, too. His shoulder blades drew lines down his back when he lay facing away from Harry in bed at night. His fingers seemed impossibly long and thin. He wore both green silk pyjamas and white linen nightshirts like nobody else possibly could.

Harry snapped back into the moment. Hermione was watching him, a look of gentle understanding in her eyes that seemed out of place. Harry sighed. “He can still be fairly insufferable, ‘Mione. This morning he told me that I dressed like I didn’t care and then he said that I didn’t have the first clue how to deal with the wizarding world. Just because I haven’t answered a few owls! I think Ron’s being a bit unreasonable but I can see where it’s coming from.”

Hermione hesitated before she answered, but she kept her eyes trained on Harry. “Well, Draco’s still himself, obviously, but he’s not so much of a raving bigot now. He actually apologised for calling me a Mudblood before.”

“I still don’t know him.” Because how could he? Malfoy was a mystery to Harry. The longer he knew him, the longer he didn’t seem to know him at all.

“You trust him enough to sleep next to him every night.”

“That’s different,” Harry said. “Trusting and knowing aren’t the same, anyway.” When they were both lying there, in the dark, the only sound in the room that of their breathing, that wasn’t the same as Malfoy telling him he was laying the table wrong or that his robes were helplessly unfashionable. It almost felt as though there were two Malfoys: the public one, quiet but prone to snapping at things being out of place, and the private one who made indecipherable decisions regarding his nightwear and who was far too thin.

“Actually, I think it’s far more friendly than talking to him.”

Harry’s cheeks heated at the suggestion in her words. He saw again cold stone and a hot mouth, but pushed the image away. “I can’t believe I have to say this, but you do know that nothing’s happening, right?”

Hermione piled up the selection of bowls on the table with a particularly energetic clatter. “So you say, Harry.”

“There isn’t!”

“Isn’t what?” Malfoy was leant against the doorway, his robes immaculate. Only his slightly damp hair gave away the fact that he must have recently washed. Otherwise Harry might assume he had nothing to with the mess in the kitchen; Malfoy looked like the properly reared wizard of standards he always liked to make himself out to be.

“Did you shower?”

“Maybe,” Malfoy said. “What of it?”

Hermione sighed. “I was wrong, Harry; he hasn’t changed at all.”

“I had flour in my hair.” Malfoy’s hand went to his head and he patted his hair gently. “Just because I don’t want to walk around looking a mess all the time like your bespectacled friend.”

“I’m fairly certain that ‘insulting your host’ isn’t in your precious Hestia,” Harry said.

Malfoy broke into a grin. All of a sudden he looked nothing like his father, but reminded Harry instead of Sirius. He supposed they were cousins of some sort, after all. “It isn’t, but I enjoy winding you up. You go a little beetroot-y about the ears.”

“You’re one to talk; your ears are always going pink.”

A timer pinged. “Fascinating as both your ears are,” Hermione said. “I think the first loaf is ready.”

Her smile faded as she pulled out the tin and saw the flat, brick-like loaf within.

“We’re not going to get the first one perfect, are we?” Malfoy said. “And there are still five more to come out.”

Hermione nodded, and smiled. Harry poured out their tea and left them to the flour and the loaves. The door hadn’t quite closed when he heard a loud splatting sound, and a most improper “fuck!” from inside the kitchen. The dough on the ceiling, then, had come down.

As he walked back up the stairs he wondered about Malfoy and the Blacks. Malfoy hadn’t looked like Sirius, exactly, but there had been something in the spark in his eyes that had for one brief moment reminded of Harry of his godfather in a way that ached. He’d been thinking about Sirius as sad for so long that he’d forgotten the rebellion in his eyes and the fierceness with which he lived.

Harry kept on up the stairs, not stopping until he was at the door of Malfoy’s potions lab. He turned the doorknob, worried he might be disturbing some experiment. If at all possible, he would rather not have his hair turned green. But no fires were lit, and all bottles and vials were neatly stoppered.

The Black family tree seemed grubby compared to the neatness of the rest of the room. Harry came to pause in front of the spot that had marked where Sirius’s name had once been.

“I wish you were around,” Harry said. “I think… I’d like to think that you’d like what I’ve done with this house.” He glanced over at the curtained-portrait, but it remained silent. “It’s changed. I’m changing.” He rubbed his hands together. “I wish you were here,” he whispered again.

*

Harry continued to puzzle on who Malfoy was. Sometimes a quiet voice in the back of his mind would add: to him. What was it that Hermione had seen that made her look at Harry with that mix of curiosity and pity? Sometimes Harry wondered if she was practising a bit of Legilimency on the sly. But of course Hermione would never do that; she was far too principled.

Once Harry had begun to be more aware of Malfoy beside him at night, he couldn’t switch it off. For one, Malfoy always curled up to sleep, and the position seemed so… vulnerable. Some nights, Harry and Malfoy would end up with some part of themselves touching, pressing up against each other, even. Which was fine if it was an ankle, or an elbow. But, Harry realised shortly after his chat with Hermione, completely different if it was someone’s whole front pressed against your back.

*

December

The weather changed, seemingly overnight. One day it had been all blue skies and golden leaves, the next a sharp wind had blown in from the northeast, and the air smelled like frost in the morning. It had been, Harry realised, a month since Malfoy had first arrived.

Auror training had begun to build in intensity with what appeared to be a review of every legal document in the department, and Harry was busier than he had been for months. Some days he didn’t get to see his housemates at all, but every night, without fail, he climbed into bed next to Malfoy.

At breakfast, Malfoy tutted at Harry’s scruffy coat, slung over the back of the chair. “It’s going to be freezing today. You better wrap up properly. As Hestia says: ‘In the monthe of December, ‘tis better a wizard wear two hats than catch a colde’.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Harry said through a mouthful of toast. Malfoy looked away in disgust. “I’m going to be sat in a nice warm Ministry building all day, aren’t I? Probably review the Statute of Secrecy again, or something equally interesting.”

Except that when they got in, Proudfoot sprang a surprise trip to Dartmoor for their Concealment and Disguise class. Within minutes of arriving they had all grabbed a Portkey and been spun away to a windswept vista where moors rolled as far as the eye could see. Harry sighed, then shivered. Finding a way to hide was going to be a challenge indeed.

“You don’t always get notice in the field,” Proudfoot said. “You’ve got half an hour, and then I’m coming to find you.” He Apparated away with a crack, as he always did after one of his dramatic little speeches.

“Do you reckon we’ll get classes in that?” Ron asked.

“Apparating noisily?”

“Being overly dramatic. Like Moody.”

“Maybe you develop it over the years.” Harry noticed that Ron, unlike him, wore woolly gloves, a hat and a scarf. “You look warm.”

“Hermione insisted. You should have listened to your other half, too.”

“He’s not my other half.”

Harry’s voice had got louder, and Seamus turned to see what they were talking about. “Something you want to tell us, Harry?”

Harry shook his head then stuck his hands into his pockets. He scanned the horizon while he decided what to do. “I’m going this way. See you later—”

“Better hope Proudfoot doesn’t!” Ron called after him.

Harry found an old tree, bent and gnarled with age, in a dip in the moors. Carefully, he climbed it, layering a Disillusionment with a few others he’d learnt on the run with Ron and Hermione. He leant into the crook of a branch and attempted to make himself comfortable.

“Bloody hide and seek,” he muttered to himself. The breeze was bracing, and filled Harry with a feeling of being fresh and clean. As well as freezing cold. He wedged his elbows into the tree and rubbed his hands together, before casting a small Warming Charm.

As a gentle heat spread along his skin, Harry thought on how much warmer he was at night now that he shared his bed with someone. With Malfoy.

The increasingly familiar churning sense of confusion built in Harry’s gut. He still didn’t get Malfoy. Or… or maybe he did. Harry sighed. The man was such a bundle of contradictions, Harry never knew what to make of him. He decided to pass the time making a list of what he did know about Malfoy.

The moors were a vivid green, but faded into the grey-white of the sky. Harry tried stretching one leg to ease what promised to be pins and needles.

He knew what Malfoy looked like when he was asleep; he knew the sounds he made when he was dreaming. Harry couldn’t help but stare, some mornings, at the softness of Malfoy’s face in the moments before he woke up each morning. In those quiet times Harry thought of him as Draco.

But it was more than seeing him in bed. He also saw that Malfoy would spend an evening writing to his mother but Harry had yet to see him writing to his father. He saw his passion with his potions, and the way he clung to traditions because everything else he’d known in life was gone.

Despite all of that, though, Harry still felt that he didn’t know Malfoy. Not really. The confusion Harry felt coiled up through him, adding to the discomfort of hiding in the tree. Stupid Malfoy, always following rules and making up rotas, and always lost.

Not even the thought of Malfoy’s feet, hot when they poked into Harry in bed, was enough make up for the Warming Charm wearing off. He cast another without thinking, and almost immediately felt the tree shake beneath him.

“Found you!” Proudfoot gave the tree another shake. “I can’t see you, Potter, but you just gave off a blast of heat and magic. I know you’re there.”

Harry unfolded himself and climbed down, cancelling his concealment spells as he did so. “How did you know it was me, Sir?”

“Last one left,” Proudfoot said. “Well done. But next time remember to bring a woolly hat and some gloves; a Warming Charm could cost you your life if it revealed your position to the wrong person.”

Harry gritted his teeth against his frustration that he should have listened to Malfoy, and nodded. It was good advice.

*

“I see you’ve made the most of the morning already,” Hermione said. Harry looked up to see Malfoy walk into the room. Harry’s hand froze, his spoonful of porridge halfway to his mouth. Malfoy’s hair was a pale purple colour. Lilac, Harry thought. And it was… sparkling.

“It wasn’t the asphodel root this time,” Malfoy said. He went to get himself a bowl of porridge from the pot on the stove.

“Lilac?” Hermione pursed her lips. “Or violets?”

“Nothing as obvious as that.”

“What does it say in the Hestia about hair colour?” Ron picked the book off the shelf by the sink and leafed through it. “Oh yes, here it is.” He paused to clear his throat. “A propere wizard takes care with his appearance. Whether the fashione is for locks long and flowing or close-cropped, they will be well-kept and cleane. Unnatural colours are never becoming on a wizard of note.”

“It also says not to bring to people’s notice trifling details of their dress!” Malfoy snapped.

“You do look like a twirling fairy bush, though.” Ron sat back and smiled

Malfoy’s ears went bright red at the ends, and Harry decided he should intervene before hexes got fired. Luna spoke up before Harry had a chance. “I’ve noticed you quote the Hestia a lot but rarely follow the advice yourself.”

“Well, Potter merits special treatment,” Malfoy said. “Someone’s got to keep him grounded, you know.”

“Do you have to be so rude—”

“You love it really,” Malfoy said, calmly sitting down and sighing as he always did at each and every meal. “Still no napkins?” He pulled one from his pocket, and shook it out before placing it across his lap.

Ron put the Hestia down with a heavy clap. “You’ve got purple hair; I can’t believe you’re fussing about a napkin to eat a bowl of Greg’s lumpy porridge!”

“Hey!” said Greg.

“I like Greg’s porridge,” said Harry. “It’s… very healthy.” And slightly crunchy, but it didn’t seem the right moment to mention that.

Malfoy put his spoon down. “When life was unbearable at the Manor, the only thing that kept things in any way bearable was that we had three hot meals a day, and the table was always laid properly.”

“Did Voldemort use the right spoon to eat soup?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. “Because I hardly think that was the most relevant fact about him.”

“I didn’t say I managed to actually eat any of the meals,” Malfoy said stiffly. “But the routines were reassuring.”

Harry knew that this was, at some level, a serious conversation about Malfoy’s experiences during the war, but suddenly he wanted to laugh. He was very keenly aware of the fact that the sparkles in Malfoy’s hair were now throwing light reflections onto the walls of the kitchen. A small snort of laughter escaped his lips.

“You—” He stopped as soon as he realised everyone was staring at him, not Malfoy. Even though his own hair was its normal messy black affair and not in any way sparkling. Maybe laughing in the middle of this conversation hadn’t been a good idea, after all. “I’m going out for a walk.” He got up, thrust his bowl in the sink (happily, Luna was on washing-up duty) and left Malfoy and the others to their breakfast.

It was a grim, drizzly day, the light a thin grey. Harry marched down the pavements, all the way to Diagon Alley. He used a quick Glamour to change his appearance – that aspect of Auror training had proved very useful indeed – and slipped into the Owl Emporium for some more owl treats. At least his owls never called him names or insisted on bloody napkins at breakfast.

*

On Malfoy’s next cooking day, he made a point of laying the table with what looked like every plate, knife and spoon in Harry’s possession. As Harry was on washing-up duty himself, it didn’t go down well. After a marathon session at the sink, Harry stomped off upstairs.

“He’s infuriating!” Harry paced up and down. “He asked me where my fish knives were. Hasn’t he seen Greg eat? Why lay the table with hundreds of knives and forks when it’s all going to get shovelled in the same way, regardless?”

Bertie hooted. In understanding, Harry thought. Gladys hopped closer and nudged Harry’s hand in a rare show of affection.

“I love having my friends around, but it’s good to be able to come up here sometimes,” Harry said. He rather thought that Hermione would have sighed and told him to grow up, or Ron would have taken his Malfoy-bashing just a little too far. His lovely owls always got it right.

Above him, Eddie hopped up and down in agreement.

“I notice that he didn’t put ‘Vanish owl shit’ onto his precious rota,” Harry said. He zapped another owl pellet and watched it disappear in satisfaction. “Although that was more a regurgitated mouse skeleton, wasn’t it?” He shuddered, then spotted another one that had rolled into one of the fireplaces, and Vanished it, too.

“Do you go hunting every night, I wonder?” Harry stopped to stroke the Little Lady’s soft feathers. “I bet you’re absolutely silent, aren’t you?” He reached into his pocket for a treat and dropped it onto the desk; he valued his fingers too much to offer it directly.

The door opened, and Malfoy walked in.

“What are you doing here?” both Harry and Malfoy said at once.

“I was here first,” Harry said.

“I needed to get away from your dreadful clanging and sulking. And I had to rewash some of those dishes; you did a terrible job.”

“I had no idea that you were such an expert on ‘house-elf’ tasks,” Harry said. “I think you’ll find that I’ve got far more experience than you.”

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, Potter.” Malfoy turned sharply on his heel and marched over to the window where Bertie was perched. He sighed, and his somewhat haughty demeanour dissolved. Malfoy was left looking thin and a little defeated. “I’m trying to learn all of this… it’s hard.”

“Some of us haven’t had much choice about learning to clean.”

“And you think my life is full of choices right now?”

Harry felt stung. Malfoy might not ever leave the house, but he did whatever he wanted within its four walls. “You have your potions. You steal all the blankets at night—”

“I do not! How many times have I woken up to find you cocooned in a nest of blankets? Or curled up right up against—”

“Well, you’re always hot. I get cold, as you well know.”

“Oh yes, I’ve felt your toesicles more than once.”

Malfoy felt his testicles at night?

“Oh don’t look so horrified, it’s only a portmanteau word. Toes, icicles. Toes-icles. What did you think I said?”

“N- nothing.” Harry felt his cheeks burning.

“Sometimes I think that Hercules here is the only sane person in this house.”

“Who’s Hercules?”

Malfoy petted Bertie, who gave his odd little squawking hoot and raised his ear tufts at Harry.

“That’s Bertie.”

“Bertie? What a ridiculous name. You only have to look at Hercules’s noble posture to know his name.”

“That’s nonsense. Anyway, these are my owls—”

“You always say that they are merely your guests, that they don’t belong to you.”

“Yes, but…” Harry did always say that. But Malfoy wasn’t allowed to change their names. “What have you called the rest of them?”

Malfoy pointed at Maureen, then Eddie, and finally Gladys. “Musidora, Elias, and Gunhilda.” He turned and nodded at Little Lady. “And that little ball of feathers is Altheda.”

“What kind of a names are they?”

“Good wizarding ones.” Malfoy seemed to pull himself up, and regained some of his former aplomb. “I spent ages choosing them. Didn’t I, Hercules?”

Bertie squawk-hooted again.

“What dreary names did you come up with, then?”

“Bertie, Maureen, Eddie, Gladys and, er, Little Lady.”

Little Lady?”

“She’s all… little.”

“I think you’ll find that Altheda is a much more dignified name.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t ask me what they were called before you went on your naming spree.”

“Who knows what they actually call themselves. Does it matter what we name them?”

Harry looked around at his owls— at his, but not-his owls. “No, I guess it doesn’t.”

Little Lady hopped off the edge of the desk and flew up to Harry’s shoulder. She nibbled – quite painfully, actually – on the edge of his ear.

“Maybe they are yours, after all.”

“No.” Harry reached out for Malfoy, and touched his arm. “You were right. They’re free to stay, and free to go. So are you.” He felt Malfoy stiffen under his hand. “For what it’s worth, you’re welcome here, though. I might complain a bit, but… it’s good having you around.”

Malfoy’s eyes were wide when they met Harry’s. “It is?”

“You… you’re interesting. You liven things up.”

“You’ve already got Luna for that.”

“You keep my bed nice and warm.”

Malfoy stared at him, then stepped back and burst into laughter. Althe— Little lady hooted in surprise and flapped away. Harry’s arm fell to his side; his fingers could still feel Malfoy’s arm, thin and wiry, beneath his robes.

“I’ve been reduced to being the Chosen One’s bed-warmer.” Malfoy wiped at his eyes. “If only my father could see me now.” An edge of bitterness had crept into his voice, souring the laughter slightly. Harry wished that it hadn’t.

“I… I want this to be a house where people are welcome, where they don’t have to be any one way or another. If they want to have purple hair, or dance with mops, they can.”

“You really mean that,” Malfoy said softly.

“And you’ve been going on about rules and the Hestia and—”

“It’s not what you want.”

“No. But also yes. Because, well, because it’s who you are.”

Malfoy gave him a strange look, and then took a deep breath and another step away. “You have terrible taste in owl names, Harry Potter, and you lack even a basic awareness of wizarding etiquette. But you’re a good host.” He nodded once – half a bow, almost – and left the room.

Harry stared at the door as it swung shut behind Malfoy. He turned back to the owls, and shook his head. “Gunhilda?” he said. “Was he serious?”

Gladys gave him a snooty hoot.

“I guess he was.” And perhaps, Harry reflected, Malfoy was about the rest of what he’d said, too.

*

Harry’s mother stood over him, so close he could see the way her eyes widened and the tremble betrayed by the quiver of the lock of loose hair by her face.

“Shhh,” she whispered. “My darling boy.”

And then the cold familiarity of the burst of green that lit the room, casting odd shadows across a forgotten landscape. In the same heartbeat, her scream cut through the air; it cut through the years, and through Harry’s sleep. As he woke with a scream of his own, his final dream-image was of the life draining from her eyes with the silent speed of Sirius’s passing through the veil.

Harry’s heart thudded in the darkness, his chest tight with a pain that wasn’t physical at all. He dragged in a breath, trying to remember where he was, trying to remember his mother as she’d been in the forest instead. A heavy sense of loss weighed him down.

“Shhh.” This time it wasn’t his mother, it was Malfoy— Draco. Harry felt a hand stroke his hair; the soft touch of Draco’s breath warmed his neck.

“I—” Harry couldn’t say how he was feeling. Instead, he sobbed.

“I know,” said Draco. And then he snaked his arm around Harry, and pulled him close. “I know,” he whispered again into Harry’s ear.

Harry sobbed into Draco’s shoulder, unable to do anything else as the sadness filled him.

“It’s okay,” Draco said, his hand running up and down Harry’s back. “It’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to miss people.” He squeezed Harry closer, then said nothing more as he held him. Harry, in turn, burrowed deeper into Draco’s embrace, letting the tears run their course until all that were left were hiccoughs.

He wanted to say something, then, to thank Draco or explain away the tears. Instead, Harry drifted into a deep slumber.

When he woke in the morning, Draco’s side of the bed was empty. He wondered if he’d dreamt Draco comforting him, too, but the way Malfoy had become Draco persuaded Harry that something had changed in the night.

*

Icy rain turned the leafless trees into dark brown lines against the low sky outside the windows. At least Harry got to see them though on this dreary Saturday afternoon. When he got back from training during the week, it was already dark.

Luna was at work and Greg was visiting his mother, so Harry, Draco, Ron and Hermione were playing Pictionary together. Hermione and Draco made an effective team, but then so did Harry and Ron. Harry was in the middle of drawing a set of fangs for ‘Vampire’, when an owl tapped at the window, flapping its wings furiously to keep up despite the weight of the parcel it carried.

Hermione tutted. “Harry, I can’t believe that you’re letting those owls of yours cart around such heavy things!”

“It’s not one of mine,” Harry said. “Not that any of them are mine, exactly. The window’s permanently open upstairs; they’re always free to go.”

He got up to let it in, and it flew in as soon as the window was open, swooping down to drop the parcel into Draco’s hand. It then sat on the back of Draco’s chair, as though protecting him.

Hermione’s frown turned into a lip-bite of curiosity when she recognised the shape of a book. “That’s not your mother’s owl, is it?” Draco received letters every week or so from a slim barn owl, but this one had been quite portly.

Draco shook his head, and turned the parcel over in his hands. He was so absorbed in his task, he seemed to have forgotten about the owl. The owl hooted softly and Draco seemed to remember where he was. He whispered something to the owl, then he watched it fly off.

“I half-wanted to tell it that it could pop in upstairs for a snack,” Harry muttered.

Ron snorted from the sofa. “No wonder you keep getting more.”

“I don’t actually invite them in.” Harry was beginning to think that no one would ever believe him about this. “It’s more force of habit than anything else. Besides, it wouldn’t need to go upstairs; I’ve got some owl treats in my pocket.”

“You’re not doing anything to help your mad-owl-man image.”

“I—” Harry cast around for a reason to change the subject. “Did you order something?” He nodded at the parcel in Draco’s hands.

Draco glanced up at Harry, then back down at the parcel. He slid one of his long, thin fingers under the string, and pulled it off. Harry’s mouth went dry, for some reason, as the finger then disappeared under the paper, breaking the seal on it and peeling it back to reveal a thick, musty-looking book.

“It wasn’t her owl, but it is from my mother,” Draco said. He held the book up. A golden cauldron was stamped on the front cover, with stylised steam rising to form a curling skull. “She must have borrowed it to carry the book.”

Moste Potente Potions… I know that book,” Hermione said, her brow furrowed. “I used it when I made Polyjuice Potion.”

“When did you make Polyju—?” Draco appeared to think better of asking, and shook his head. He turned back to Harry. “I… I’ve been thinking about them recently.”

“Your parents?” Harry asked.

Draco gave him a, No, stupid, look. “I– I’ve been thinking about applying to do a Potions Mastery. I mentioned it to my mother in my last letter.”

“That’s a wonderful idea.” Hermione said.

Draco looked at his feet. “I’m a little rusty; to be honest, I don’t think I’d even get an interview.”

“You’re always up in your room, and you’ve not turned your hair any interesting colours for… well, for days now.”

“And you did well in your NEWTs, didn’t you?” Hermione said. “You’ve got the grades.”

“They want more than grades, though. I’ve got to be up-to-date with all the latest research, and I’ve got to show some original ideas of my own.”

The memory of Draco turning Greg into a cat was still fresh in Harry’s mind. “Are you sure that you’re ready?” he asked. “Your recent experiments have been rather… inventive.”

“I’m being creative!”

Hermione still looked troubled. “There are some powerful potions in that book, not just Polyjuice. It’s kept in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts for a good reason.” She paused. “Oh, Draco, you’re not going to do anything—”

Draco pulled the book up to his chest. “This comes from the Malfoy Library. And I didn’t ask for it; my mother sent it to me. I had hoped that you - that all of you – didn’t think of me like that.” He sniffed, and stalked out of the room.

“We don’t.” Hermione called out. “I’m sorry!”

I do, a little bit,” said Ron. “And you do too, don’t you, Harry?”

“I—” Harry didn’t know what he thought. Then he remembered Draco comforting him in the night. “Draco’s my guest here and I wouldn’t have him here if I didn’t trust him.”

Ron’s face fell a little. “Draco?”

“Draco.” Harry nodded, but he felt a pang of guilt. He knew that this had been what Ron and Hermione had been arguing about. By saying that he trusted Draco, he’d sided with Hermione, not Ron. “Sorry, mate, but that’s how it is.”

Ron was quiet for a moment, but then he sighed. “I’m being a bit of an idiot about this, aren’t I?”

Harry shook his head. “It takes some getting used to, that’s all. It’s a strange thought that Draco is… okay, actually.”

“I’ll try,” said Ron. “I do trust you both.” He stroked the back of Hermione’s hand.

Hermione smiled at Ron. “Thank you.”

All of a sudden Harry felt as though he were intruding on something personal. He made his excuses, and went upstairs to find Draco. The room to the old sitting room was locked shut, and the faint sound of explosions could be heard through the door. Draco didn’t respond when Harry knocked, so Harry left him to get it all out of this system.

“Didn’t blow things up as a child, my arse,” Harry said as he walked away from the door.

*

“Right foot, red.”

Harry groaned, and tried to twist his leg over Draco’s arm. He’d only half managed to transfer his weight when the door opened, and Ron walked in. He froze at the sight of Harry, Draco, Greg and Luna entangled on Twister mat.

“Hi, Ron,” Harry squeaked out. He wobbled, but managed to right himself with his one free arm.

“I think you’ll enjoy playing, Ron,” Hermione said.

“Hermione just likes it because she’s in charge of the spinner,” Luna said from underneath Greg. Harry could just see her face between Greg’s ankles. She squealed and giggled. “Ooh, Greg, do that again. It felt lovely.”

Ron looked horrified. “What kind of a game is this, anyway?”

“It’s a children’s game,” Harry said, the last word coming out a little strained. It was taking a considerable amount of energy not to collapse on top of Draco. As it was, he could feel the hard twist of Draco’s back against his leg. Where they touched, his skin was growing hot, and he could feel the occasional tremor coming from Draco. Harry himself tried to balance his weight from his right hand and back to his left leg, aware that Draco must be able to feel each shift.

“Everyone takes turns to spin, and they have to put their hand or foot on the correct colour. It’s very simple, really,” Hermione said.

Ron peered at the spinner. “There’s no picture for arse. So why is Luna sticking hers into—”

“I don’t mind,” said Greg. “Er, that is—”

Hermione giggled.

“This is not a children’s game!” Ron came to sit next to Hermione. “But it does look like fun. Can I spin the spinner next?” He gave it a flick with his finger. “Er, ‘Mione, whose go is it next?”

“Draco’s,” she whispered back.

“Left hand, green.”

Draco took a deep breath, then attempted to thread his arm through Harry’s legs to land it on the green circle. The movement was enough to topple Harry, and the two them landed in a sprawled mess of arms, legs, and in Draco’s case, robes. Draco had tried to catch Harry, grabbing his hand as they both went down.

Their hands were still joined together.

Harry was having trouble breathing. He was used to Draco lying next to him in bed, but this felt so much more… public. One of Draco’s legs had come free of his robes, and was lying, naked and hairy, next to Harry’s head.

A loud, rumbling laugh echoed around the room. “Nice pants, Malfoy,” Ron said. Harry let go of Draco’s hand to get a better look. By leaning up on his elbow and twisting around he was able to see dozens of broomsticks circling Draco’s crotch only a moment before Draco whipped his robes back down again.

To Harry’s surprise, rather than snap at Ron, Draco, too, began to laugh. Luna and Greg untangled themselves.

“Thanks,” Draco said. “And now you’ve seen my underwear, do you think you could call me Draco, too?”

Ron smiled as he held out a hand to help Harry, and then Draco up. “I think I could.” His smile spread wider. “I recognise the pants. I’ve got them, too. Have you got the ones with the Quaffles and the hoops?”

“That would be telling,” Draco said.

“I… You’re not quite as stuck-up as I thought. And those pants are from George’s shop. He’ll be well chuffed when I tell them they are to be found on your Malfoy posterior.”

Harry was currently quite distracted by the Malfoy posterior, as Draco helped Luna and Greg up. Such a nice bum, Draco had. No one else seemed to have noticed, so Harry gave it one more glance, then joined in the argument about who had actually won that round.

*

In the run-up to Christmas, George needed all the help he could get so Ron had squeezed in a few shifts at the weekend. Harry arrived at the shop to find Ron behind the till with George, and Greg wearing a pointed green cap and a gold tinsel belt.

“Are you working here, too?”

Greg nodded. “I need the money.”

As he always did when money was mentioned, Harry resisted the urge to sidle away. He didn’t ask anyone for rent, and although some of them contributed a little for food, he didn’t mind if they didn’t. “You know you can stay as long as you wa—”

“Oh. It’s not that.” Greg blushed. “I want to get a little present, for Luna.”

“Ah, yes.” Luna and Greg spent so much time together, of course Greg wanted to get her something for Christmas. “Does she know you’re working here?”

Greg shook his head. “I want it to be a surprise.”

“I won’t say anything.”

“Thanks.” Greg’s face opened into a wide smile.

“Mister?” A small child tugged on Greg’s sleeve. “Mister, can you get those Whizzing Worms down for me?”

“No problem. Bye, Harry,” Greg said, turning away.

Ron looked far too busy to stop and talk, so Harry busied himself with searching out the perfect toy for Teddy. Andromeda’s smile always became slightly strained when she saw the purple Wheezes wrapping, but it was worth it to see the look of joy on Teddy’s face. Finding a toy for a toddler was a lot more challenging than Harry had ever known it could be, and he spent a long time perusing the shelves.

“Harry, how are you? Out Christmas shopping?”

Harry turned to see Kingsley standing beside him. “Do none of my disguises work?” No one was supposed to be able to recognise him when he was out shopping, but first Greg and now Kingsley appeared to have had no trouble in spotting him.

“It’s the scarf. I gave it to you for Christmas last year.” Kingsley laughed, a deep rumble that Harry always found reassuring.

“I’m trying to find something for Teddy,” Harry said.

Kingsley nodded. “And I’m looking for a present for my grandchildren. Not that my daughter will thank me, but what’s the point if I can’t spoil them a bit?”

“Exactly.”

“How are you Harry? How are things with your… houseguest?”

Harry was about to ask ‘which one?’ when he realised Kingsley must mean Draco. “Oh, ah. Fine, actually.”

“Good, good.” Kingsley beamed. “I knew you’d be the one person who could find a way to move on from the past.”

“He’s going to try for a Potions mastery.”

Kingsley looked surprised. “He didn’t seem ready to make any decisions the last time we spoke.”

Harry shrugged. “I think he’s always wanted to do this, and now he’s got a bit more of a safe home he can do it.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

The bells at the door chimed, and a fresh gust of cold air blew in as a large family group left the shop.

“I should get on,” Harry said.

“Oh, yes. But before you go, did I get your reply about the Ministry Yule Ball?”

Harry pictured the invite crammed behind a candlestick on his mantelpiece. “Er…”

“Because I think it would do the wizarding world a lot of good to see you, Harry. It’s a good time of year to be reminded of hope.”

“I—”

“Good. We’ll see you on the twenty-third.” Kingsley clapped Harry on the shoulder, and walked off.

“You can’t get out of it, now.”

Harry spun around. George was watching him from the corner of the shelving. “You heard all that?”

“You’re going to have to go to the ball. Wait until I tell Ron!” George shook his head. “The minister is so good at this. You didn’t stand a chance.”

“You think the bumping-into thing was on purpose?”

“Definitely.” George stepped closer. “I know for a fact that he bought his grandchildren’s presents last week.”

Harry groaned.

George reached past him, to a wooden painted Seeker on the shelf. “Christmas shopping for Teddy? How about one of these? It flies around but you can set it to go slowly and not too high.”

“Thanks.”

Finding a present for Teddy was a small consolation prize for having to go the ball, but Harry would take what he could.

*

“Harry!” Hermione seemed shocked. “We replied weeks ago; I thought you had, too. You’ve got your own owlery, for Merlin’s sake!”

“I— I don’t use them, you know that.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

“I just… I hate turning up and everyone staring at me, and then using the wrong fork and accidentally insulting them. I always leave with the feeling that people only put up with me because of who I am.”

“Who you are is a bit of an idiot, in traditional terms,” Draco said. “Of course, you always mean well, I’m sure, but that means nothing to some of those old biddies. They can be vicious.” He shuddered. “I once asked a dowager to dance and no one would speak to me for the rest of the evening.”

“You’re not doing much to reassure me, here.”

“You’re going to have to go now, you know that, right?” Hermione said.

“I know.” An idea slowly formed in Harry’s mind. “Draco, you’re always talking about that book of rules, aren’t you? And you already think I’m a bit of an idiot.”

“What are you asking?”

“Will you teach me how to behave around a load of wizarding snobs? Just enough to get me through the evening? It would help if I knew there’d be no tutting this time.”

“I—” Draco hesitated. “I don’t think I want to know about last time. But… I suppose so.” He looked up. “I’ll help you.”

“Great!” Harry said. And then he realised what he’d asked for. “But maybe we can start tomorrow.” He yawned. “I’m tired.”

Judging by Draco’s face, he didn’t believe Harry at all. Harry, however, didn’t want to have to think about stupid traditions and rules, not quite yet. He put another log on the fire, and sank back into the sofa instead.

*

Lying side by side and shivering, Harry gave in first. “Do you think we could lie… a bit closer? I’m freezing.”

Draco sighed, but turned towards Harry and put his arm around him. “If you’d asked me five years ago where I’d end up, I wouldn’t have said, ‘In bed with Harry Potter, trying to keep him warm’.”

Heat rushed to Harry’s cheeks. “Nor would I,” he said. “Is this messed up?”

“No. The only thing ‘messed up’, as you describe it, is your utter uselessness at regulating the heating charms in this place.”

“It’s a big house!”

“We managed at the Manor.”

“Yeah. You and all the house-elves.”

Harry felt Draco’s huff of breath at that. “Maybe,” Draco said. “But it doesn’t take away from the fact that this place gets arctic at night.”

“I’m surprised you even notice. For a skinny man you give off more heat than a radiator.”

“A radiator?”

“What Muggles use to heat their home. Cats like to lie on or near them.”

“What do you know of cats? I thought owls were more your thing. And actually, no wonder this house gets so cold with the windows wide open upstairs. And all because of your owls.”

As though on cue, a muted hoot came from above. Maureen, Harry guessed; she was the noisiest at night.

“Do you really want to learn the proper way to behave?” Draco asked quietly after they’d both listened to a series of her hoots.

“Just for the ball.”

“You said that it was because you don’t like all the attention.”

“Yes.”

“But I think there’s more to it.”

When had Draco got so insightful? “Maybe.”

“Go on, you can tell me. I am, after all, currently keeping you from freezing to death.”

Harry snorted softly. “You always exaggerate.”

“But I’m right, aren’t I?”

If Draco weren’t so wonderfully warm, Harry would have been tempted to roll away to avoid answering the question. Somehow, though, the movement of Draco’s hand on his arm was soothing. The knot of anxiety in Harry’s chest loosened a little.

“Yes; you’re right. I— When I’m with all those people, I’m always out of step with them. And… I’m tired of feeling that I don’t belong.”

“You belonged at Hogwarts.”

“Mostly. I did break a lot of rules.”

“Exactly. Everyone loves that stuff. It used to irritate me more than I can say, though.”

“Maybe that’s why I did it,” Harry said with a grin into the darkness. “You’re magnificent when you’re pissed off.” Draco’s hand stopped moving, and Harry’s breath caught as he realised what he’d just said. “Er, I mean, you were always fun to annoy.”

Draco began to rub his arm again. “You think I’m magnificent?”

“Did you ever meet Nev’s gran? You’re as good as her when in full flow.”

Draco’s hand stopped again, and he gave Harry a gentle push. He didn’t resume rubbing, but left his hand resting on lightly on Harry’s arm. Harry was still having trouble with his breathing for some reason.

“You don’t want to feel out of place?”

“No.”

“I can help you fit in, if you want to.” Draco gave a short, bitter laugh, and rolled away from Harry. “It is, after all, what I do best.”

Harry felt cold without Draco pressed up against him. Not just his arm: he felt it inside his body, too, somehow.

“I–” What could he say? “Thanks.”

“You’ll be fine, Potter. Now stop talking and let me sleep.”

*

“We’ve only got a few weeks to cover a lot of ground.” Draco looked far too much like he was enjoying this. “I thought we’d break it down into three basic areas: talking to people, food and drink, and dancing.”

Harry groaned. “All of those sound horrible.”

“The food bit sounds okay,” Ron said.

“It’s not the food; it’s all the rules around how you’re supposed to eat it!”

“I know that such things have never troubled you, Ron, but some of us do like to maintain certain standards.”

“So where do we start?”

Draco nodded over at Greg, who put a record on the gramophone. “Dancing, I thought. And maybe the charming Miss Granger could help?”

“Are you going to be like this the whole time?” Harry asked. Not that he minded; this was the most sociable Harry had seen Draco so far.

“I could throw in a few insults if that makes you more comfortable, Scarhead.”

Harry laughed. “That does help, actually.”

“I can’t dance,” Hermione said.

“You can dance a whole lot better than Potty, here,” Draco said. “Besides, he needs to learn how to lead, and leading someone who can’t dance is such a courteous thing to do. If you can do that,” Draco said, reaching his hand out to Harry, “You can fit in just about anywhere.”

He pulled Harry towards him, and Harry could feel the heat of Draco’s ever-furnace-like body pressed up against his own. It was like… it was like being in bed with him, except here they were in the drawing room in front of everyone else. “I…”

“Let me show you.”

Draco’s right hand was firm on Harry’s waist. The fingers of his left curled around Harry’s almost possessively, and held his arm aloft. He closed his eyes and nodded along to the music, then opened them and met Harry’s gaze.

With a subtle push of his hand and a step forward, Draco began to dance. He swept Harry into a rolling rhythm, spinning him around the room. Harry’s feet moved where Draco led them, but even as they moved Harry could still feel Draco’s thigh and body up against his own. Hot, close. Intimate. And then there was the way Draco was looking at him, as though Harry was the centre of his universe. After a minute or two, Harry began to feel dizzy, but whether from the movement or that intense gaze, he had no idea.

Draco brought the dance to a close, then stepped back from Harry and bowed.

“I… thank you,” Harry said, stumbling over the words. Draco smiled, then broke their eye contact, and Harry became aware of the others sitting around the room, watching and smiling. “I danced!” Harry said. “I actually felt like I could dance.”

“And that is the gift of a good lead,” Draco said. He looked calm, but his chest was rising and falling quicker than normal. “All you have to learn is how to do that by next week.”

Dancing with Hermione, under Draco’s instruction, was nothing like being swirled around by Draco himself. For one, Harry trod on Hermione’s toes, and for another, holding his friend close didn’t make his heart race the way that Draco’s lean body did. By the end of an hour Harry was sick of counting in threes and sweating.

“With a bit more practice you dancing might just be acceptable,” Draco said. “Although you really shouldn’t get all damp like that,” Draco said. “It’s most unbecoming.” He grinned as he said it, and Harry suspected that Draco was only trying to wind him up.

“We can’t all go through life looking like we’ve just stepped out of Madam Primpernelle’s.”

“You would say that, you’re not exactly concerned about your appearance, are you? Which reminds me: you do have proper dress robes for this ball, don’t you?”

Harry thought to the set that he’d owned since he left school. Suddenly he was certain that they wouldn’t pass muster with Draco; he would have to get some new ones before the ball. “Of course,” he said. “I have been to events like this before.”

“And acted like a total idiot,” Draco said. He looked Harry up and down, seeming to linger on his hair and, rather bizarrely, his legs. “I’ll guess you’ll do if your dress robes are decent enough.”

Twilfitt and Tattings, Harry thought, not Madam Malkin’s. He’d never hear the end of it, otherwise.

*

The knives and forks didn’t take too long to learn. Draco had, after all, been rather pointedly laying the table with the entirety of the Black family silverware collection for weeks now. After the argument about Greg and the fish knives, Harry at least knew what those were.

“So all I have to do is remember to work my way from outside to inside?”

“Yes. And if you are served a buffet, use a fork if provided, don’t put too much food in your mouth at once, and try not to spill anything down your robes.”

Harry wondered why he’d been so resistant to learning any of this before. He also, in the quiet of the night while Draco slept beside him, wondered how clumsy he’d looked, insisting on using the same fork through umpteen courses. And then Draco would murmur in his sleep, and Harry would return to their dance around the drawing room.

*

The hardest part of Harry’s etiquette lessons turned out to be the ‘how to talk to people’ section.

“So, if they’re a member of the Wizengamot, I need to bow first, then shake hands. ”

Draco took a deep breath, as though counting to ten. “No shaking hands.”

“No? Well who do I shake hands with, then?”

“You shake hands with Ministry officials. Unless they’re from Sports and Games; in that case you use a hand clasp.”

Harry’s head was beginning to spin. “And what’s the difference between a handshake and a hand clasp?”

“Usually about three squashed fingers,” Draco said. “And more potential for bruising.”

And then there were the rules of society. Courtship – Draco blushed and mumbled slightly when talking about this – welcoming a new baby, even the selection of schools seemed to be built on a set of rules that had previously been completely hidden from Harry.

“So did your mum and dad really have to dance naked around a Beltane bonfire?” Harry asked Ron.

“I dunno. I guess they did; we’ve got all these photo albums of them before they had kids, out in the fields with their friends.”

“Given how many siblings you have, I should think they danced around quite a few times,” Draco said pointedly.

Ron shook his head. “They didn’t really hold with a lot of the old traditions,” he said. “I don’t know if it actually matters, the dancing and the moonlight.”

“I wonder how many wizarding traditions are based on fact, and how many are based on habit?” Hermione said, frowning.

Ron paled. “I’m not dancing around in the altogether just to test some theory.”

“Oh, don’t worry; I’m not interested in having babies.”

Ron sat back in his chair. “Babies?”

“Not yet, anyway.”

Seeing the look of panic on Ron’s face, Harry thought it best to get back to the topic at hand. “But it’s nowhere near Beltane, and I’m not going to ask some old codger if he danced by the light of the moon before bang—”

“I should hope not.” Draco steepled his fingers, and leant his pointy chin on them. “I’m merely trying to provide some context. For example, say a witch, wearing a flower in her hair, begins to talk to you about moonlight?”

“Run a mile? Because… the flower represents availability, and the moonlight the desire to do some of that late-night dancing. And I don’t mean the waltz, either.”

Draco nodded. “Near enough.”

Harry frowned. “I don’t remember Ginny doing any of this.”

“It’s usually reserved for after one comes of age. She was rather… forward.”

“That’s my sister!”

“I know.” Draco gave Ron an apologetic smile. “I’d actually say she’s been admirable in her drive to get on with her life.” Harry nodded, thinking back to the conversation he’d had with her a few months after the war had ended. It hadn’t been until she’d pointed it out that he’d seen how settled they had become together. Their relationship had got the point it was straying back into friendship territory, which hadn’t been how Harry had imagined things at all. He sighed. She would go, indeed, go far; she was already travelling the world playing Quidditch.

“Are there different rules for men and women?” Hermione asked. She had taken out a parchment and quill – Harry suspected she carried a supply with her at all times – and had begun to take notes.

“There used to be, but things are changing. For example, it would be more complicated if it were a young man approaching Harry.”

“That happens?” Harry’s mind was racing. He’d not really considered it before, but the thought of a long lean body, of a mouth, hot and hard, held a certain appeal. “I, er—”

“The point is, a young man might adapt the traditions, but they’d still be recognisable. A symbol of availability, a conversation about moonlight, and so on.”

“How am I ever going to learn all this?”

“I have no idea, Potter. But then I also have no idea how you managed to win a war and destroy a monster. But you did it.”

“This is far worse,” Harry said, his head in his hands. “There’s a reason I usually avoid these events.”

“You underestimate how grateful people are. You could act like a total oaf and people would still follow you around fawning.”

“I—” Harry looked up. Draco was looking at him with warmth in his eyes. “Thank you, that’s actually quite a nice thing to say. If wrapped up in a tiny bit of insult.”

“I am capable of being nice, too, you know.”

“I know.” Harry smiled back at him. “You just hide it well.”

Draco grinned. “Work of a lifetime.”

Hermione had stopped taking notes, and was instead looking between Harry and Draco. Harry cleared his throat. “So, if we’re talking about gifts, one made of stone represents solidity—”

“Permanence.”

“And one of wood, dependability.”

“Yes, but of the moment. Not quite as forever-and-a-day as stone.”

Hermione’s quill resumed its scribbling, and Harry returned to the headache-inspiring topic of wizarding rituals. Headache or no, it seemed a safer topic than warm eyes and nice Malfoys.

*

The fire crackled merrily in the grate. Harry had returned from a long day of Christmas shopping with many mysterious parcels, now hidden away in his side of the wardrobe, as well as sore feet. The prospect of a Monday morning hovered over everyone, but they seemed to be making the most of the long dark afternoon and evening ahead of them.

Ron was rifling through their collection of Muggle games. “Monopoly?” he asked, as he began to pull out the box.

“Draco’s banned from playing Monopoly, remember?” Harry said from the sofa.

Ron pushed the box back in, and skipped the next one. “I’m not playing Twister. My back hurt for a week after last time. How about Pictionary?”

“I like that one,” Luna said. “I like drawing the pictures.”

“I’ll partner up with you,” Greg said. “Your pictures always make me laugh.”

“Oh, Greggy, you are sweet.”

“Draco?” Harry asked. Draco smiled in response.

“I should warn you,” Ron said, “Hermione and I make a pretty fearsome team. We were playing with Mum and Dad the other day, and Dad actually stopped the game to make sure we weren’t using Legilimency.” He grinned with pride. Hermione gave a little smile that Harry thought bordered on the smug.

The first picture that Harry had to draw for Draco was “scar”. He laughed when he saw it.

He drew a zig-zag.

“Scar!”

“Oh, that’s not fair! That’s too easy!”

“We’re following the rules, Greg, don’t fuss,” Draco said. He preened as he rolled the die again. The next square was green for ‘difficult’. Draco took a card from the box and frowned. He slid the card towards Ron and Hermione. “It’s an all play.”

Once Hermione and Greg had seen the card, Draco turned the time over, then began to draw. The one line across, two at either end like a turned-over ‘H’.

“Bed,” Harry said.

Draco drew a stick man with a flick of long hair, and pointed at the feet.

“Hot? No, wait. Warm.”

“Yes!” Draco snatched the timer up. “Harry’s got it!”

“Warm,” said Harry again.

Hermione looked up from her picture of a fireplace, and Greg from his of a circle.

“What is yours supposed to be?” Luna asked, prodding Greg’s picture.

“What, mine?” Greg looked down, and drew a spoon. “Porridge. It’s warm.”

“Oh yes; of course.” She nodded.

“How did you get that so fast, Harry?” Ron asked.

“Er, Draco’s got hot feet.” Harry avoided Hermione’s gaze.

“Well I call it beginner’s luck,” Ron said. “We’re still going to wipe the floor with you.”

“Dream on, Weasley,” Draco said.

Ron gave a mock shiver. “Ooh, I love it when you go all Malfoy on me.” He gave Draco a poke. “You’re really just as much of a pussy cat as Harry here.”

“Greggy’s the only pussy cat, here,” said Luna. She gave him a fond pat on the leg. “He purrs so beautifully.”

Harry was unclear if this was a common occurrence, Greg purring, or one limited to his time as a cat. Either way, he suspected that the only person he purred for was Luna.

*

Hermione turned the invitation over in her hand. “Have you asked anyone?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, Harry. You haven’t, have you?” She held the invitation up. “And guest.”

“I have to bring a guest?” Harry said. “There’s nothing about this ball that isn’t a total nightmare.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t suppose that you’re free?”

“I’m already going with Ron.”

“Oh, of course.” Harry had been so busy with his wizarding tradition lessons with Draco that he’d forgotten that Ron and Hermione were going, too. “What about you, Luna?”

Greg coughed from the other side of the room.

“I’ve got plans, sorry,” Luna said.

“This feels like Fourth Year all over again,” Harry muttered.

“Oh for—” Hermoine said. “I suppose at least one of you has grown up.” She put the invitation back. “ The answer is simple, or so it seems to me.”

“It is?”

“But it’s also one of those things you’ll have to work out for yourself.”

“Great.”

She patted his arm. “You’ll be fine, Harry. You will.”

Harry wasn’t so sure. But he could see Draco sitting behind Hermione, and he didn’t want to face questions about who Harry would go with, or even disappointment at Harry not having managed to sort this out, either. Rather than sit down to review coming of age traditions once more as he’d originally planned, Harry went upstairs to see his owls instead.

*

Altheda didn’t fly up to his shoulder as she usually did, so Harry was forced to stand on his tip toes to pet her where she was perched, on top of the wardrobe. He’d ignored the rest of Draco’s owl names, but this one had stuck.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You’re very quiet today.”

Altheda ruffled her feathers, and gave him a mournful look.

“You’re not happy, are you?” He sighed. “I know the feeling; my head’s all full of things and I don’t know what to do with any of it.”

Harry turned around at the sound of the door opening.

Luna stepped in. “Hello, Harry.”

“What do you think, Luna: does Altheda look unhappy to you?”

Luna stood by the door, and gave Altheda a critical look. “She does seem a bit sad.”

“She’s not happy, and I don’t know what to do.”

“I didn’t come up here to talk to you about owls.”

Luna shut the door behind her, and Harry carried on stroking Altheda’s feathers. His fingers trembled though: he had no idea what Luna wanted to talk about, but he got the impression that it whatever it was, he was in trouble. “What is it?”

“I wanted to talk to you about who you’re going to take to the ball.”

“I thought you said that you’re busy?”

“I am. But that’s not what I’m talking about.” She gave Harry a small smile. “You like him, don’t you?”

Harry took a breath, the “No” ready on his lips. But then he remembered Draco that morning, his eyes full of light as he looked at Harry. “It’s complicated,” Harry said. “He’d never—”

“He would.” Luna took a nibble of the owl treat in her hand. “I’ve seen what he’s like around you.”

“This is just some… strange dream…” Harry said. “All of us, living here like this. It can’t last.”

“Is that how you see it, Harry?” Luna tilted her head to one side. “Because to me, it doesn’t look like that at all. I haven’t felt this at home since I was a child.”

“My childhood wasn’t exactly rosy.”

“Harry, you gave us all a home. And somehow, we’ve all made a family together.”

“This isn’t a family!”

“It is. Just like these owls are each other’s family, now.”

“I—”

“And as it happens, I know what’s wrong with Altheda.”

“You do?”

“She’s a tawny owl, Harry. They mate for life, and she’s here without one, isn’t she?”

Altheda hooted.

Harry turned to her. “If I ask Draco to the ball, will you go out and try to find a mate?”

She hooted twice at that, and finally flew down to his shoulder. Altheda nuzzled her head in Harry’s neck.

“It’s up to you, Harry. And you, too, Altheda. But I think both of you could do with… doing something rather than moping.”

Luna’s words stung a little, but he knew that she was right.

*

Draco didn’t make it easy to ask him, though. When Harry came back down stairs, Draco was reading in a corner. Harry’s heart dropped when he saw that the book propped open on Draco’s lap was the Hestia.

“I. Er…”

“You look like a goldfish. What is it?”

“I was wondering…” Harry couldn’t do it. Not while Draco was looking at him as though he were something scraped off the bottom of his cauldron. “Er, would you go over the coming of age traditions with me again?”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “I think you know as much as you’re ever going to be able to take in.” He picked up his Hestia and made a great show of reading it, turning the pages noisily and running his finger under certain parts of the text.

“But—”

“Go away, Potter. I’m busy.”

Harry looked up to see Luna and Hermione whispering in the corner. Hermione nodded encouragingly.

“Well, the thing is, I—”

Draco sighed and spoke without looking up from the book. “I’m sorry, Harry, but I do mean it. Not now. I need a bit of space.”

Harry swallowed down his disappointment and the feeling that this was why he shouldn’t have even bothered, and he stumbled off to sulk in the kitchen. Neither Luna nor Hermione followed him.

In bed that night, Harry waited until the room was dark before speaking. “I know you’re not happy with me. But I’ve been thinking, and I want to ask you…” Yet again, his courage seemed to fail him.

“Be a Gryffindor and dive in like you usually do,” Draco said.

“I want to you to come to the ball with me. Will you be my guest?”

Silence greeted Harry’s question. He closed his eyes in the darkness, hoping that Draco wasn’t going to be strangely offended and say no.

“You want me to come with you,” Draco said slowly. “To the ball.”

“Yes.”

“As your last choice? I heard you ask Hermione and Luna today.”

“Not as my last choice. I… I didn’t know I could bring a man.”

“So you’re bending the rules rather than go alone.”

“No, I’m asking my friend who hasn’t left this house for two months. I… I’d like to dance with you. If I’d known I could invite a man, I think I might have asked you first.”

Harry heard Draco’s head move on the pillow. “Really?”

“Really,” he whispered.

Draco’s hand came out to touch his arm. “Okay then.”

“You’ll come with me?”

“Yes. And… do you want to move a little closer. I bet you’ve been worrying away there and shivering at the same time, haven’t you?”

Harry shuffled towards Draco, until Draco’s heat flooded his skin. Usually, lying in the warmth of their shared bed, sleep came quickly for Harry. On this night, however, Harry’s skin almost prickled all over sensation.

Luna had been right; Harry did, indeed, like Draco. His fingers itched to reach out, to feel what he’d previously only accidentally bumped into: smooth skin, a smattering of hair, and a landscape of bumps and ridges. Harry wanted to map the heat of Draco’s body. If his feet were hot, what then were his thighs like? What, Harry thought with a barely contained whimper, about the space at the top of his thighs and all that lay there?

After he and Ginny had broken up, Harry hadn’t really thought much about who he fancied, or not. But the past few weeks… Harry had realised that a man’s body was just as appealing to him as a woman’s body. Or rather, the wrapping a person came in was a bonus. It was the person inside who drove him crazy.

Draco as a sherbet lemon, wrapped in a twist of paper. The thought made Harry smile, and he was finally able to drift off to sleep.

*

Harry woke the next morning to find clear grey eyes fixed on him.

“Are you sure you want me to come with you to the ball?”

“Good morning.” Harry yawned and stretched. “And yes, I am sure.” He smiled, and was rewarded with a fluttering smile back.

Draco reached out and patted his hand. Harry squeezed back.

“Will you be okay? You’ve hidden away since you got here—”

“When I got here I was scared. Nowhere had been safe for me: not Hogwarts, never again the Manor, nor even the supposed ‘safe’ house the Ministry sent me to.” Draco pulled his hand away from Harry’s and scrubbed at his face. “I think I should start going out again—”

“Safely, I hope.”

“Yes.” Draco smiled. “I’d say it’s in my interests to stay safe. And what could be safer than being with you?”

“You’re putting a lot of faith in my abilities.” Harry frowned as a new thought occurred to him. “You didn’t just say yes because it was a chance to go out with your own personal bodyguard, did you?”

Draco threw back his head and laughed. “I didn’t exactly mean that by saying I felt safe. I don’t expect you to be throwing hexes at anyone who looks at me funny.” He hauled himself out of bed. “I better get up. I’m more worried about Christmas day than I am about the ball.”

Harry had invited all the Weasleys over for Christmas, and Hermione and Draco had offered to do all the cooking. After their experiments, their cooking had improved enough that Harry was mostly sure agreeing to this had been a good idea.

Draco must have gone straight to shower; Harry could hear the water running. Harry began thinking again about Draco coming with him to the ball. If Draco hadn’t meant that Harry could protect him when they got there, what had he meant by feeling safe?

*

Ron and Harry got dressed for the ball together. Or rather, Draco and Hermione had disappeared together upstairs to talk about hair and skin cream, and Harry and Ron had left them too it.

“Even Draco can’t complain about your dress robes,” Ron said. “They’re new, aren’t they?”

Harry nodded. “I thought I’d try Twilfitts and Tattings. They’re not a bit… much, are they?” He smoothed out the dark blue velvet, conscious of the tiny stars embroidered at the hems. Ron’s were a brown brocade, and a million miles from his too-short and over frilly robes from the Fourth Year.

“You look fine. And Harry…” Ron paused. “I know I was a bit of an arse about Draco when he first moved in. But I couldn’t forget him calling Hermione a Mudblood at school, and if he hadn’t let those Death Eaters in, maybe Bill wouldn’t need to eat his steaks quite so raw.”

“I know. And I think that’s a fairly reasonable response, considering.”

“Yes, but what I want to say is that I’ve changed my mind about him. He’s not as uptight as I thought, and he’s done so much for Hermione’s confidence about cooking. I can’t believe she’s making the Christmas meal this year.”

“Those biscuits they made last week were really good. Or at least version 4.2 of them.”

“Her notebook looks like a potions book. It’s all ‘ten stirs to clockwise’ and ‘four drops of…’,” Ron said. “It makes my head ache just looking at it.” He looked down at his feet. “The thing is, I quite like Draco now. He’s funny, and he’s willing to say sorry for what he’s done in the past.” Ron looked up. “He apologised for all of it, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“And Hermione said he had a really rough time of it when he tried to go back to Hogwarts. He had to take his NEWTs privately in the end.”

Harry nodded; Kingsley had hinted at all of this, but Draco hadn’t spoken much about it.

“He… if he were to stay around, I wouldn’t mind. I think you could do a lot worse.”

“There’s nothing going on. I—”

“Whatever you say, Harry.” Ron grinned. “Whatever you say.”

Luna came up to see him next. Harry was pacing the room, waiting for Draco to get ready. He wondered if Draco and Hermione had got dressed separately in the interests of making a dramatic entrance, later. They were certainly taking long enough.

Harry had wondered what he needed to feel at home, but when he had looked over at Draco earlier that evening, at the way his hair glinted in the candlelight, and at the slight twitch of his nose when he thought that Greg was cheating at a game, a warmth had filled him and he knew that he’d found it. Except… well, Draco had said he’d go to the ball with Harry, and even held his hand that morning, but nothing else had happened.

“Maybe he wants to be wooed,” Luna said. “You know, all that wizarding gubbins the two of you have been talking about.”

“He wouldn’t—” Harry had assumed that Draco had given up on all those old traditions, but maybe he hadn’t. “I have no idea what to do.”

“Go to the ball and have fun,” Luna said. “And don’t worry about the rest. I’m sure it will work out.”

Harry sighed. “I’ll have to get the ball over with, and then I’ll worry about Draco.”

Luna smiled, as though she knew something Harry didn’t. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

*

When Draco came down the stairs, in long fitted black silk robes over a buttoned grey tunic, Harry thought that perhaps the drama had been worth it. Hermione twirled in her sea-green robes, before Ron swung her into an energetic hug.

Draco, in turn, looked Harry up and down. “Don’t you look the peacock,” he said.

“Is that a bad thing?” Harry panicked that maybe he’d chosen badly after all. “I went along with what they suggested at Twilfitts. Should I have—”

“Far from it,” Draco murmured. He took Harry’s arm. “Come on then, let’s go show those old battle axes a bit of style.”

“Good luck!” Greg said from the sofa.

“Have fun,” Luna added. She already looked rather comfortable, tucked into Greg’s side. “That’s the main thing to remember.”

Harry was too busy thinking about forks and who he should shake hands with – mingled with the awareness of Draco, close and warm, next to him – to worry about fun. “I’ll try,” he said tightly.

“Come along, we don’t want to be late,” Hermione said. Ron rolled his eyes, but followed her into the Floo.

Harry and Draco stepped into the Floo one after the other, Harry arriving at the other end with his customary stumble.

Draco held onto Harry’s arm again, and stiffened as soon as they saw where they were. “It’s the old Nott House,” he whispered. “Repossessed after the war.”

Harry nodded at the assorted witches and wizards who had gathered as he and his friends arrived. “Must be strange seeing it again,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.

High ceilings, gilt frames and chandeliers gave every room a grandeur that made the Manor – or what Harry could remember of it – seem a little rustic.

“I much prefer this crowd,” Draco said. “Even if most of them probably want to kill me.”

“Not much change there, then.”

Draco gave him a small shove.

Harry shook hands with every Ministry official to come his way. He soon learned that those from Sports and Games did indeed bruise with their hand clasps. Some people, he noticed, pretended Draco didn’t exist at all. Others seemed to note the fact that he and Draco stayed together the whole time, and made a show of greeting Draco, too.

After a particularly portly witch in a burgundy robe had complimented Draco on his ‘re-entry into acceptable society,’ Harry steered Draco to a quiet corner.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Draco answered. But his eyes had the tight, pinched look at the edges that he’d had when he first arrived at Grimmauld Place. Harry wanted to see them as they’d been that morning, bright with light. He wanted, he realised, for Draco to look at him, and forget about the rest of the people there.

Maybe…. Harry thought back to Luna’s advice about Draco needing wooing. He nodded over at the window. “Beautiful moon tonight, don’t you think?”

Draco coughed and stared at Harry before turning to admire the view. As quickly as he could, Harry undid the top button of his robe. It wasn’t exactly a flower in his hair, but it would have to do.

They strolled along the windows, with Draco’s face going through a range of shades of pink as they talked. Harry decided this was a good thing. From over Draco’s shoulders he saw Robards and Proudfoot approach, and decided that a chat with the Auror team would break the charm of the moment. Instead, he nodded in the direction of the small orchestra playing.

Harry bowed and held out his hand. “Draco, would you like to dance with me?”

Draco immediately stared down at Harry’s feet, and shuffled his own back.

“I’m a lot better now,” Harry said. “I’ve practised with Luna and Hermione, and I’ve not trodden on their feet once.”

“Today.”

Harry might have made Luna yelp with pain when having a quick waltz around the sitting room the day before; he had hoped that Draco hadn’t noticed. “Yesterday was an accident.”

Draco smiled and took Harry’s hand. “Very well, O clumsy one. Do your worst.” Harry remembered his first dance with Draco, and pulled him in tight. Just as Draco had done, he closed his eyes and listened to the rhythm of the music. One, two, three— He began to dance.

His thigh pressed up against Draco’s, and his fingers clutched on tight. Although Harry focused on the counting and the steps, he was also aware of just how close they were.

“You need to relax,” Draco said. “You’re doing well; now follow Luna’s advice and enjoy it.”

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to talk as well as move them around the ballroom. Draco stroked the back of Harry’s hand with his thumb, and instantly Harry’s legs began to wobble.

“I’m not sure that’s helping,” he managed to say.

Draco smiled, and finally Harry saw his eyes light up the way he knew they could: the way they did every morning when they woke up and saw each other. “I noticed your top button is undone,” Draco said.

Harry swallowed.

“Almost as though to suggest that you are… available.”

They swirled around the ballroom, although Harry was no longer aware of the people around them, and only heard the music as a faint one-two-three that guided their movements. “I—”

“And the moon does look rather fine tonight, doesn’t it?”

“You noticed, then?”

“I did.” Draco leaned in close, until Harry could feel his breath on his cheek. “We should go for a walk to get a better look.”

“Oh. Oh right.” Harry wasn’t thinking straight, not with the hot breath and the look Draco was giving him. All there was in the room in that moment was his hand on Draco’s waist – firm and supple with a hint of bone at the hip that made Harry wobble all over again – and Draco’s eyes, full of invitation.

He waltzed them to the edge of the room. As the music ended, they bowed at each other, then Harry grabbed Draco’s hand – which trembled a little, he noticed – and pulled him out of the room. The corridor had gazed doors that opened onto a balcony, and Harry and Draco stepped out into the freezing night air.

“The m-m-moon looks so big,” Harry said, “like a curve of light in the sky.”

“I don’t want to look at the moon,” Draco said. Harry shivered, his teeth chattering a little. “You’re freezing.”

“I’ve got you to warm me up,” Harry said, stepping closer and sliding his arms under Draco’s robes. Draco was indeed hot, and Harry closed his eyes as he slid his hands around to Draco’s back. Long arms encircled him, just as they did at night.

“I didn’t believe this could happen,” Draco whispered, and then, in the light of the moon, they kissed. Who kissed whom first, they could never agree on, but all Harry knew in that moment was that Draco’s heat was not limited to his back or his feet; his mouth was like a fire that Harry wanted to dive into.

Harry’s heart thudded in his chest and his fingers tingled and he rocked against Draco, wanting to pull him closer yet. When they parted, their breath made silver clouds. Harry, despite the kissing and the rather tight situation in his pants, shivered again.

“We should get out of this cold,” Draco said. Harry nodded, and after only a brief moment’s thought Apparated them straight to their bedroom at Grimmauld Place. He tripped, and Draco caught him, holding on tight.

“Presumptive, much?” Draco said.

“Two months,” Harry said. Then he pushed Draco back onto the bed. “Two months of lying next to you in bed every night, with your hot feet and—”

Draco pulled Harry down on top of him. “Your never shutting up and need for hugs.”

“Did you really…?”

“Wank in the shower?” Draco kissed Harry on the neck as Harry laughed. “A gentlewizard never tells.”

Harry nearly choked at Draco’s words. He saw, in his mind’s eye, slim fingers and an arm moving frantically and Draco’s face pulled into an O under the hot water; Draco’s long showers in the morning suddenly took on a whole new meaning. Harry groaned and sat up.

Draco smiled, a little sadly. “You were always so unattainable. And suddenly, there you were, with your scruffy hair and Snitch-covered pyjamas. In bed, with me.”

“You were a bit uptight at the beginning.”

“I… I was. Or scared, maybe. But then… I’d never been allowed to experiment like I have been here.”

“Turning your hair green meant you could fancy me?”

“Something like that. I couldn’t – I didn’t – believe that you might want to be with me, though.”

“No? What changed?”

The moon does look rather fine tonight.

“Oh. Right.” Harry ducked and blushed, but Draco sat up and put his hand on Harry’s chin, bringing his head up. Instead of saying anything, he leant forward and kissed Harry.

Away from the frigid December air, the kiss felt different. There was passion, yes, but there was also something else. It felt shaky and new; it was, Harry realised, hope.

Draco’s fingers began to fumble at Harry’s buttons, and soon he was doing the same along Draco’s slim tunic. It felt important to get past clothes; to feel skin under his fingers. The expensive robes were soon discarded on the floor, and Harry and Draco sat opposite each other, still kissing, but nearly naked. Harry broke off and looked down to see two sets of tented pants.

“I… I’ve never…” he started.

“Me neither,” Draco said. “Although there was this boy in the year below—” He stopped when he saw Harry’s face. “Probably better not to mention it now.”

“So you’ve always known? That you liked boys?”

Draco shrugged. “Yes, much good it did me.”

Harry thought to his old longing for Ginny, and how different and yet the same this felt. “I… I think you’re a lemon sherbet, and all of this is just the wrapping,” he said, touching Draco’s arm.

Draco looked bemused, but ran a hand up Harry’s leg. “I have no idea what that means,” he said. “But I suggest that you better unwrap me.”

*

Harry woke up to heat, a skinny arm flung over him, and a load of pale blond hair tickling his nose. He blew it away from his face, and Draco stretched out beside him.

“Morning.”

“Is it really Christmas Eve?”

“It is.”

“And did we really…?”

Draco kissed him. “We did.”

“Mmm.” Harry sat up. In the light of the morning it seemed a lot less strange to be naked in bed with Draco. In fact, it felt… right.

“I need a shower,” Draco said. Harry had hoped to stay in bed a little longer. He was looking forward to a bit of a snuggle, and maybe a bit more of what they’d been up to the night before. “Oh, don’t look so disappointed!” Draco smiled, suddenly looking coy. “I was rather hoping that you could join me.”

“Join you? Oh!” Harry’s eyes widened at the suggestion.

Hot water ran over sensitive skin, and mingled with the warmth of Harry and Draco’s kisses. Never had Harry been more grateful to Greg for sorting out the house’s plumbing. Draco then kissed down Harry’s body, and he stopped thinking about water pressure or pipes.

“Brilliant,” whispered Harry.

Harry closed his eyes and let the water run over his face. He hadn’t been sure how he’d feel, presented with such clear evidence of his not-entirely straightness, but it had been fine the night before, and it was even better now. At least this time he was less surprised. The night before he’d let out a yelp, flung his arms out, and sent his glasses flying off the bedside table.

After, Harry helped Draco get off to a good start, too. Hands and heat mingled with water and kisses. It was, Harry decided, the best shower he’d ever had. They leant against each other, and shivered when Draco turned off the water.

“That was… you…” Draco stopped talking, and smiled at Harry instead.

Harry looked at Draco, naked in so many ways, and wanted to kiss him. “I like the sherbet lemon,” Harry said. “And I like the wrapping, too.”

Draco snorted. “You’re such an idiot sometimes,” he said, but he was smiling as he pulled Harry in for another kiss.

They got dressed in the chilly bedroom, Draco grumbling about Harry’s lousy Warming Charms again. Looking at Draco, his hair water-darkened and slick against his head, Harry wondered at how everything was the same and yet different.

“You’re not going to get all sentimental on me, are you?” Draco asked.

“I have no idea,” Harry said. “Is this better?” He gave Draco a joking push, which quickly turned into a kiss. The smell of Draco’s soap was sharp and Harry could see and feel again the water on his skin, and Draco’s mouth on his— He sighed. The day was going to be torture, because each time he caught scent of Draco he’d be in that moment again.

A smile spread across Draco’s face. “This is going to be interesting, isn’t it?”

Harry chuckled. “And I haven’t even thought about what others are going to say.”

“I don’t care,” Draco said. “I… used to care. About what everyone else said or thought. And now… it’s not so important.”

They came down to breakfast holding hands. Harry’s skin still tingled in every place that Draco had touched him the night before and that morning. He wondered how much was written on his face.

“I knew you’d enjoy yourselves,” Luna said. “And I’ve been up to see the owls: Altheda’s brought someone home, too.”

Greg though, looked disappointed. “I was going to offer you the sofa, Draco,” he said. “I’ve found somewhere else to sleep.”

“You’re not leaving, are you?” Harry asked. Greg was part of the family, now.

“Er, no,” he said. Luna came to stand beside him, and he put his thick arm around her.

“He’s staying in my room. I believe that sleeping might be the wrong words for what we do in there, though.” Luna grinned, and Greg gave her a besotted look.

“Oh. Oh! I see,” Harry said. He’d known the two of them had grown close, but he hadn't thought that his vague suspicions would amount to anything quite yet. Or maybe it was more that he'd been so caught up in thinking about Draco he'd stopped noticing. The way Greg looked at Luna, there was no doubt at all about how he felt about her. Harry wondered whether he looked at Draco like that, then decided he didn’t care.

“Finally,” said Hermione. “Ron and I weren’t sure whether it would be Luna and Greg, or Harry and Draco who’d crack first. The anticipation has been no good for my nerves.”

“Were we that obvious?” Harry asked.

“Does Draco like me? Ooh, Greggy, come and sit with me,” Ron said in a sing song voice. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, now that’s all been decided, you do realise what we’ve got in store for the rest of the day, don’t you?”

They all shook their heads.

“We’re going to be slaves to every command Hermione and Draco give us. Operation Christmas is upon us!”

Harry groaned. He had rather hoped that he and Draco could sneak off for a bit more… exploration. Draco though, leaned into him and whispered into his ear. “We can go to bed early and give Santa plenty of time to deliver all of his… presents.”

Harry was glad the table stood between him and the others when Draco’s heated words had an instant effect on him.

*

Percy arrived early, but Harry had been expecting that. He unwrapped his scarf and peered along the hallway. Harry and Luna had hung garlands of holly and ivy along the walls and stairs. “It looks nice, Harry,” he said.

Molly and Arthur came next, then George. They all sat around in the sitting room, with drinks. “Hestia says guests must always be offered a drink on arrival,” Ron had told them all the day before. “What?” he said at everyone’s stunned expressions. “It was quite an interesting read, actually.” Last to arrive was Ginny, tanned and smiling.

“I wish Charlie could be here,” Molly said. “But they’ve a dragon about to hatch and he can’t get away. And Bill and Fleur are with her parents; I want all my children around me at Christmas. That includes, you, too, Harry.” She added. “You’re family, too.”

“I’m sure they’re still having all managing to have a good Christmas, Mum,” Percy said.

“Thanks, Molly.” Harry smiled up at her, remembering the basket of food that had got him through his first few days in his empty house. Everything had changed since then, but her kindness would always be there, he knew that.

Hermione offered Molly and the others a mince pie, still hot from the oven.

“This is delicious,” Molly said. “Did you make it, Harry?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t do any of the cooking today.” Harry smiled. “It was all Hermione and Draco.”

“Hermione?” Molly paused, her mince pie halfway to her mouth.

“And Draco.” Hermione said. “We surveyed the top ten recipe books for variations between ingredients, then conducted a series of experiments to determine the role of each of the core ingredients in both the filling, and the pastry.” Hermione smiled. “It’s fascinating, really. Eggs are versatile, and often necessary, but sugar is less so. Unless one considers sweetness, of course.”

Molly took a bite “Whatever you did, it worked,” Molly said through crumbs. As she chewed and hummed in appreciation, her resemblance to Ron was quite startling.

“The almonds were my idea,” Draco said. “I thought they added a nutty layer that complemented the richness of the dried fruit.”

“So you made the entire Christmas meal?” Molly paused, a polite expression fixed on her face. “I’m intrigued, now.”

“Everything’s changing, Mum,” George said. “Don’t you see that look of bliss on Harry’s face? He’s been getting—”

“George!” Ginny said. “If anyone is going to tease Harry, it should be me.” She turned to face Harry, and crossed her arms. He recognised the look on her face though: one of pure mischief. “So who is she?”

“I know,” said Percy, looking smug. “I was at the Yule Ball the other day, and I saw Harry dancing with a tall blonde.”

Harry choked on his mince pie, and Greg gave him a rather enthusiastic wallop on the back. “Thanks,” he muttered. Then he glared at Percy who gave him a smile in return.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “Blonde? That’s a new one for you, isn’t it?”

Harry looked over at Ron. He had hoped this wouldn’t come up, but it had, and now he had no idea what to do.

“Draco’s been really helpful with more than just the cooking,” Ron said. “He helps clean the loo, too.”

“And he’s made some really interesting discoveries with his potions experimenting,” Luna said. “Did you know that there’s a potion you can take to turn into an animal, like a limited-time Animagus?”

Greg made a sound suspiciously like a purr.

“What has Draco Malfoy got to do with—” Ginny broke off, looking at Harry and then Draco. “Oh, I see.”

“I don’t see, though!” Molly said. “I was a bit surprised to learn that you were living here, too, Draco, but you seem to have settled in well.”

“We appreciated the letter you wrote us,” Arthur said. “Not many people have apologised. And I think you and Greg being here is a sign that things can move on.” He glanced over at George – or rather at the empty space beside him. “We’ve been through two wars, and we’ve lost—” His words became choked, and he stopped speaking.

“We’ve lost people,” George said. His hand went to his ear. “Including Harry. But we’re still here.” He sat back and smiled a little wistfully. “I didn’t see this one coming, not at all, but I’m happy for you both.”

“The Minister spoke highly of you, Draco,” Percy said. “It caused quite a stir when you were seen looking at the moon. And then left for the evening.”

“At the moon? Oh, I say,” Arthur said. He stared at Draco, then at Harry. “And whose idea was that?”

“It was mine,” Harry said. “And yes, I do know what it means. I think, anyway.”

“You want to marry Draco Malfoy?” Molly said.

“Marry?” Harry said. “Er, maybe it doesn’t mean what I thought.”

“I would be insulted by that,” Draco said, “but I do know what you meant by it.” He reached out and took Harry’s hand. “And that’s enough to make me happy.”

“You and Draco, Harry? But I thought you liked—” She looked over at Ginny.

“It’s fine, Mum. Harry can do what he likes. Although…”

“I can like both,” Harry said. He put his head in his hands. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation on Christmas day.”

“Another drink, maybe?” Percy said. He refilled all their glasses. “A toast to happiness,” he said. “Where ever we may find it.”

“To happiness!”

“And presents!” said Luna. “Hurry up, I want to watch everyone open theirs.”

The mood in the room relaxed, and Harry passed around the first of the parcels under the tree.

*

In the evening, they sat around with drinks and sore bellies from all the food they’d consumed. Molly had loved the perfume Draco had made for her, and he in turn was wearing his very own ‘D’ jumper. Arthur and Greg were deep in conversation about plumbing, while Harry was a little alarmed by the fact that Draco was in a corner with a very giggly Luna and Ginny.

“I have to say, the food today has been excellent.” Molly smiled at Hermione. “It’s such a relief to know that my little Ron will have someone to cook for him.”

Harry could almost see Hermione bristling in response to the assumption, but she replied in perfectly cool tones. “Actually, Molly, now I’ve perfected the art, I don’t think I’ll bother again.” Hermione said. “It was the challenge I enjoyed the most; actual cooking bores me.“ Inwardly Harry winced at Hermione’s words, but he knew that cooking had been a bit of a sore point between Hermione and Molly in the past.

“I–” Molly’s mouth opened and closed a few times. She looked over at Ron, who hadn’t said anything yet. Harry didn’t envy him, stuck as he was between his mum and his girlfriend.

Ron gave Molly a smile that seemed half apology, half determination. “We’re fine, Mum,” he said. “I’m fine.” Ron turned to Hermione, his face lighting up in a way that had warmth twist through Harry.

Molly looked at the two of them, Ron holding Hermione’s hand and Hermione biting her lip slightly, and sighed. “I can see that,” she said quietly. She leant forward, and took Hermione’s hand. “Keep an open mind about the cooking, dear,” she said. “After all, I do believe that the two of you will want to share all things equally, no?“ Hermione looked surprised, as though she’d not considered cooking in those terms. Before she could say anything, though, Molly spoke again. “Whatever I say about cooking, I do know that Ron is lucky to have a clever and brave witch like you in his life.” Molly patted Hermione’s hand, and sat back looking pleased with herself.

Hermione cleared her throat. “I… Maybe I was a little abrupt just now. I’ll think about what you said.” She dipped her head then offered Molly a shy smile. “And thank you. I’m glad you’re Ron’s mum.”

Relief flooded Harry. The last thing he wanted was some huge Weasley row, and he realised that maybe he only thought of Molly in terms of her cooking: there was a lot more to her. Including, of course, her desire for her children to be happy.

The jokes, drinks. hugs and the slightly teary eyes continued for a few hours more. Eventually, though, the Weasleys left and Harry was left alone with Draco, Ron, Hermione, Greg and Luna.

Luna stood up and took a deep breath. “It’s been a day of food and family—”

“And presents!” Ron shouted out, waving the flashing hat Luna had made him in the air.

“Yes, and presents,” Luna said, smiling. “I want to thank Harry for having us all here, today, and well, every day.” She laughed, and so did everyone else. A chorus of thank you’s ran around the room, and Harry bowed. Draco slipped his fingers in Harry’s, and Harry squeezed them back. “What I wanted to say, though, was that Greg’s going to help me rebuild Rook House, again: my dad should be able to come home in a few months.” Luna hesitated and turned to Harry. “But… we were wondering… do you think we could stay here?” she asked in a much quieter voice. “I… I know I should help dad get back on his feet, but I can Floo in every day, and I like living here.”

“And us too?” Hermione said. “I— We’re not quite ready to set up on our own. I’m thinking that I’d like to finish my studies first.”

“Yes, of course you can all stay, for as long as you want. This is your home, too,” Harry said. “It wouldn’t be the same without you.” And, looking around at all his friends, Harry knew it to be true.

He had finally found his home, and it wasn’t the four walls of Grimmauld Place or even Draco sitting beside him. It was this new family that had grown up around him; it was all his friends, together.

Fin