Well, we all write our own endings
And we all have our own scars,
But tonight I think I see what it's all about.
The whispers started in September.
It wasn't the first time, and Harry knew it almost certainly wouldn't be the last. Even nearly a quarter-century after the (final) fall of Voldemort, he knew all too well that British wizarding society still looked to him as something of a hero—and, worse, a celebrity. He declined requests for interviews or comments unless they were directly related to his work as Head Auror. And once photographers from Witch Weekly and other rags got a taste of Ginny's still world-class Bat Bogey Hexes, they'd stopped following his family around.
That didn't stop tongues from wagging, though.
Harry had noticed the pattern long ago: For a few days, low voices would come to a halt as soon as he entered a room, and those at fault would either grow red-faced in embarrassment at nearly being caught, or else look smug to be the possessors of secret, no doubt salacious, knowledge about the great Harry Potter. Within a week or two, the awkward silences and heightened awareness of his presence would taper off, and things would return to normal—until the next rumor caught fire.
Harry really didn't give a damn anymore. He'd long since got past allowing others to see him bothered by the stories idle wizards and witches dreamed up to entertain themselves about his supposed life outside of the spotlight. And certainly Kingsley and his superiors in the Auror Office hadn't let the rumor mill color their judgment of his performance, or prevent their eventual recommendation of his promotion to head up the entire Auror Office. It was precisely because he'd earned his colleagues' and most of the public's respect that the whispers remained just that.
This wasn't to say they weren't an annoyance—or that there wasn't occasionally a spark of truth to them. A rumor that Harry liked to dress up in women's clothing had kept Ginny in stitches for weeks (that one had started after a leaked report of a large-sized witch's robe having been delivered to the Potter home—it had been a birthday gift for Ginny's mother). Stories about how Ginny was a hermaphrodite or Harry kept a pleasure dungeon in the basement were shrugged off easily enough (although the insinuation that Auror Potter enjoyed the art of inflicting punishment just a bit too much had made for a handful of very interesting arrests in the weeks before that one finally died a merciful death). But when Lily came home from her first term at Hogwarts and asked what a "concubine" was and whether her mother really had been one to Voldemort when she was Lily's age, Ginny nearly had to physically restrain Harry from storming the gates at Hogwarts and demanding to know which children's wretched parents were filling their minds with such filth.
"I knew what I was getting into when I married you," she'd said that night in bed, her head tucked against his chest, her voice carrying a touch of weariness that made him wrap his arm more snugly around her, pull her closer. "It's no worse, really, than what people used to say when we were dating."
That she was a gold digger, a starfucker, a whore. Harry remembered. And he remembered the few stupid, supposedly well-meaning people who'd presented the lies to his face as fact—people whom he'd subsequently made a point of cutting from his social and professional circles.
So when he caught his name in the buzz of low voices hopping from cubicle to cubicle, he sighed and wondered how long it would take for this new story to fade. The current record-holder was the Potters' imminent divorce proceedings, which had resurfaced with frustrating regularity almost since the moment they'd exchanged vows at the Burrow.
Harry met Ron for lunch in Diagon Alley a few days after the rumor mill had erupted again, complete with the usual uncomfortable silences as he passed through the hallways at the Ministry and the averted gazes and stilted conversations in the lifts. He'd grown used to the cycle, yes, but it was no more enjoyable for all that.
"You'll have heard the latest, no doubt?" Ron said between bites.
"Not the particulars, no," Harry admitted, sipping his coffee. "I'm not sure if they're being cannier this time, or if I just can't be arsed to be quite stealthy enough to catch them in the act."
"'Nother gay rumor," Ron said. "Something about you and a bloke snogging in Diagon Alley."
Harry rolled his eyes. "They must be running out of ideas if they're recycling that one."
"Oh, no, this is a new one," Ron replied, a gleam in his eye. It never ceased to amaze Harry how people gossiped openly about him in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, even knowing the proprietors were his brothers-in-law. "A passionate clinch with some tall, blond bloke in the alley next to Flourish and Blotts. Somebody's claiming they actually saw you wank the guy off—and quite a capable, familiar job you made of it, too."
"I'm always thrilled to learn of my own hidden talents," Harry said dryly.
"You?" Ron said. "Think of me. I want to know who it was you were tossing off back in school to develop that skill. It certainly wasn't your poor, neglected best mate."
Harry flicked a chip at him as Ron ducked, laughing, and that was the end of it.
Except that by November, the rumor still hadn't died.
Rather than fading, in fact, the thing seemed only to have strengthened. Harry found himself on the receiving end of a number of speculative looks from Ministry employees, including a couple of uncomfortably appreciative glances from colleagues he knew to be of a homosexual persuasion. And Ginny admitted to Harry that the pitying expressions on some of her colleagues' faces were driving her mad, but she couldn't lash out at them due to the formal warning she'd received from her editor the last time she hexed someone (not that they hadn't richly deserved it, Harry had agreed at the time).
"It'll fade away," Harry said. "It always does."
But Ginny looked skeptical.
She was increasingly short-tempered and unhappy in the weeks leading into Christmas, as the story still didn't die. Worse, she refused to discuss the matter any further, making their evenings strained affairs and leaving Harry feeling awkward when he tried to touch her, to soothe away the tension.
Two days before the children were to return to Hogwarts following the Christmas holidays, the fragile strength holding Ginny together seemed to snap, and she broke down in tears and told him she wanted a divorce.
Harry felt all the breath leave his body, as though he'd just taken a Bludger to the chest.
"I can't do this anymore," Ginny said through her tears. "It's been twenty years of lies and rumors and speculation and I can't do this anymore."
"But it's—Gin, you know they aren't true. We have to ignore it—we—"
"Don't you think I have ignored it, Harry? Twenty years—more, really—of ignoring it, laughing it off, pretending I don't hear the whispers and don't see people watching me and wondering."
The pain in his chest began slowly to coil into anger. "You said—you said you knew going into this what to expect. You said you were prepared for it."
"I thought I was. I thought I could handle it. Don't you see what this has done to me, Harry, to us?" She swiped at her cheeks, smearing the tear tracks. "We're always on guard in public; people are always staring at us, no matter where we go. We hardly go out together anymore—"
"We're both so busy," he said. "That's not—"
"I miss you, Harry," she whispered, and the pain in his chest was back. "I miss what we had."
"Then we can try harder," he said. "I can—I don't know, I can delegate more, and maybe you can scale back on your travel for work—"
But she was shaking her head. "It won't change anything. We're not the same people we were before."
"But I still love you," he said.
She closed her eyes, and her mouth trembled. "I don't think it's enough anymore."
Harry's one comfort, such as it was, as he and Ginny began divorce proceedings was that at least the wanking-a-man-in-an-alley rumor would be supplanted soon enough by the final—vindicated—resurgence of that old classic, the impending Potter divorce.
A great comfort, indeed, as he downed an entire bottle of firewhisky and woke up hours later on the sofa in the dusty and too-quiet parlor of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, feeling sick and alone, the memory of the shock and hurt in his children's eyes roiling his stomach more, even, than the bloody firewhisky.
Within a month after he and Ginny filed for divorce, Harry almost began to miss the rumors. The silence around the office was a brittle one, and the other Aurors moved carefully and averted their eyes, as though each was afraid he or she would be the one to make Harry crack. Over the years he'd developed a reputation for being short-tempered even in the best of times, and for that he was grateful now.
At least no one dared look at him with pity.
But outside of the Auror Office was another matter entirely. He steered clear of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in an effort to avoid his godson, who had actually hugged Harry in the middle of a busy Ministry corridor when he'd first heard the news of the divorce, his expression alive with compassion in a way that reminded Harry vividly of Teddy's father. He took to ducking invitations from most of his friends, but particularly Ron and Hermione. He couldn't stand the worried frown that creased Hermione's forehead in his presence, or the way Ron's easy, joking manner had become something more cautious, his words more measured. Concern increasingly darkened Ginny's eyes during their meetings with the solicitors, and when she tried to draw him aside and speak to him privately after one such meeting, he pulled away sharply and Apparated without a word.
As winter melted into spring, Harry closed his Floo connection to all but himself and began to burn unsolicited Owls without replying, and frequently without even opening them. When he was forced to venture into public outside of the Ministry, he found himself snapping at shop clerks and other strangers. A young woman serving him at the apothecary actually dissolved into tears one day. He thought perhaps he ought to feel ashamed, but he didn't. He didn't feel anything in particular, really.
And when, a week later, Kingsley summoned Harry to his office and suggested—in a tone that was far removed from anything resembling mere suggestion—that Harry take a leave of absence for the next month or two, all he felt was a dull sense of inevitability, and he stopped leaving the house at all.
The clang of the doorbell at Grimmauld Place was such an unfamiliar noise that Harry didn't identify it at first. It was only after the second such sound was followed by the insistent thud of the serpent door knocker that he realized someone was demanding entrance. Only narrowly resisting the urge to send a hex straight through the heavy door, he grabbed his wand, slammed open the locks, and flung the door wide, intending to make sorry whoever had dared to approach.
Neville Longbottom stood blinking at him on the top step and—in the heartbeat in which Harry's wand wavered at the unexpected sight—disarmed him wordlessly.
Harry's jaw fell open, and he was the one left blinking in surprise.
Giving him a rueful smile, Neville pocketed Harry's wand and stepped across the threshold. "Sorry about that. Ginny said to be prepared for anything."
The casual mention of her name struck Harry like a lash, but he gritted his teeth against the pain and forced something he hoped resembled a smile. "Your reflexes have definitely improved since D.A. days."
"There's no better training for that than working with teenagers all day," Neville replied. "I suspect I would have seen my greenhouses destroyed a dozen times over in the last few years if I hadn't caught some bit of mischief and nipped it in the bud." He eyed Harry with amusement. "And at least two of those times I could have blamed on certain Potter progeny, I'll have you know."
Harry sighed and closed the door behind Neville, then slumped against the wall. "Let me guess: James?"
"Al, actually. Mostly in concert with the Malfoy boy."
Harry blinked. "Al never mentioned they were friends."
Neville snorted. "They aren't. Those two are nearly as bad as you and Draco were back in school. No, the destruction of the greenhouses would have been mere collateral damage in the ongoing war between them, unfortunately."
Harry pushed up his glasses and rubbed irritably at the bridge of his nose. "Surely you didn't come all this way just to tell me one of my children has been misbehaving."
"No," Neville agreed, "I didn't. Actually, I'm here to make you an offer of sorts."
"What do you mean, an offer?"
Neville retained his mild expression even in the face of Harry's glower and let his gaze roam the hallway, which, Harry noted absently, was only a bit less cobwebby than when he had moved back in here the evening after the children had returned to Hogwarts at the end of the Christmas hols. Sometimes he regretted not burning this place to the ground after the war. But Hermione had talked him out of it, told him he might someday mourn the loss of this last connection to Sirius. The three of them had repaired the damage inflicted by the Death Eaters after Yaxley's discovery of their hiding place, and Hermione, after some intensive research, had finally determined a way to remove Mrs. Black's portrait. The old-fashioned gas lamps remained, though, as did the pervasive sense of gloom and the row of house-elf heads (its number regrettably increased by one only a couple of years after the war) moving eerily in and out of shadow with the flickering light. The house made him think of many things other than Sirius now, and many too were the reasons he'd allowed the house to sit empty again for more than two decades.
"Well?" Harry demanded when Neville let more than a minute lapse without answering.
Neville turned to face Harry again, as if just remembering that he was there. "What does a man have to do to get a cuppa 'round here?"
Over tea, Neville explained.
With the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts approaching, the headmistress, Professor Iphigenia Aimsworthy, wished to commemorate the occasion in a way that would be educational for the students, making them more aware of the recent strife in the wizarding world—events that seemed like dusty history (or, worse, mere stories) to them, but which had shaped their parents' generation in untold ways. As he was arguably the most prominent figure of the war generation, Professor Aimsworthy hoped that Harry would consider returning to Hogwarts for two weeks in May to serve as a guest lecturer in History of Magic and Defense Against the Dark Arts, teaching both the events of the Second Voldemort War as he experienced them and the means that had allowed him and his allies finally to triumph over the Dark Lord Voldemort.
"She tried several times to send you a written invitation explaining all this," Neville noted dryly, "but her owls always returned without a response and looking a little…sooty."
Harry felt his face flushing.
"Think about what an opportunity this could be, Harry," he said. "You know Binns will never cover that period in his lessons, and Leo, our Defense professor, wasn't even in England during the war. You'd have a unique perspective."
Harry fidgeted. Professor McGonagall had tried on a couple of occasions before her retirement to convince him to take the Defense position, but he'd always turned her down because the academic life held no appeal for him. He'd become an Auror because he wanted to use his skills in the field—and because he needed to prove that he was relevant as more than just the prophesied defeater of Voldemort. He hadn't wanted to become someone who traded on a single event to define the rest of his life, which he feared he would have done if he'd become Defense professor.
But a lecturer for two weeks…
"You could stay at the school, of course," Neville continued. "There are plenty of spaces to accommodate guests, obviously. I don't think you've been back since the rebuilding was completed, have you?"
"Not inside the castle, no," Harry said. He'd attended Quidditch matches and visited Professor Dumbledore's tomb, but there'd been no reason for him to enter Hogwarts itself, and he hadn't sought one.
"You could get away from all this for a little while," Neville said, his gesture seeming to encompass the bare stone walls of the kitchen as well as everything beyond them. "And it'll give you a chance to see James, Al, and Lily."
Harry took a sip of tea to mask the lump in his throat he had to swallow at Neville's words. A large part of his anger at Ginny, once he'd got past the initial shock of her request, had been rooted in his fears of how the divorce would affect their children and his relationship with them. The upcoming Easter holidays would be the first time the children would return home to parents who were maintaining separate households. And Grimmauld Place, as Harry knew, was no place for teenagers. They would, it went without saying, be staying at home with Ginny over Easter, although he'd been invited to join the entire family at the Burrow for Easter dinner (one of the few Owls he'd read rather than burning outright). That he was slowly preparing himself to handle. But summer yawned before him, and every school holiday after that for Al and Lily. More than his job and more, even, than Ginny (though the realization had come as something of a shock to him early in their marriage), his children were the defining force in his life. The thought that he might lose them along with his marriage was his single greatest fear.
He lowered his teacup and watched the dregs swirl in the bottom, forming patterns that danced with his movements. "Wouldn't that be strange for the kids, though?" he asked. "Their father teaching at their school?"
"Scorpius Malfoy seems to handle it well enough," Neville said. "I got a sense that it was a little strange for him the first year Draco came on staff, but everything seems to be working out all right now."
"Oh," Harry said. "Right." He'd almost forgotten that Malfoy had taken over the Potions professorship several years back; the first he'd heard of it had been a mention in one of Al's letters home that "Professor Malfoy" had been mean enough to pair all the Gryffindors up with Slytherins in their first lesson with him. Harry had found the whole notion rather amusing, to be honest—both the enforced inter-house cooperation and Malfoy as a teacher—but even Neville seemed to respect the man as a colleague, so Harry had merely shaken his head in wonder at the unexpected paths some people's lives took and written back to tell Al to bear it like the brave Gryffindor Harry knew he was.
"Maybe it'd be worth talking to Draco about how he handles it?" Neville asked.
"Maybe," Harry said, not intending to do anything of the sort even if he did accept the invitation.
"And then we can all talk about it together, since it's something I'm going to be dealing with myself in a couple of years." Neville frowned at his biscuit.
Harry felt a smile emerge in spite of himself. "I can't believe Augusta's nearly old enough for Hogwarts already."
"Ten years old next week," Neville said with a sigh. "Doesn't seem possible."
"I know," Harry agreed, his thoughts turning melancholy again.
Appearing to sense this, Neville turned the conversation back to Hogwarts and its many charms (both literal and figurative), and Harry let him talk his way through his entire pitch without promising anything other than to consider the offer.
It was an absurd idea, really. His teaching experience, such as it was, was limited to those long-ago D.A. meetings and occasional training sessions for his Auror teams. His children would probably hate the very notion of his encroaching on their turf. And it wasn't like he had any particular wish to relive the events of the war, no matter what the purpose.
And yet when a tawny owl arrived a week later with a letter bearing the Hogwarts crest, he found himself not only not casting an immediate Incendio, but actually composing a response.
"Mr. Potter, truly, I'm so very glad you decided to accept my invitation."
Headmistress Iphigenia Aimsworthy was a witch comfortably into her late middle years, with a well-lined face, a shrewd gaze, and a warm smile as she welcomed Harry with a firm handshake. He recalled that she had started her Hogwarts career as professor of Transfiguration when Professor McGonagall had been elevated to headmistress after the war, then served as deputy headmistress for nearly a dozen years under Sylvia Sinistra. He'd met Professor Aimsworthy only a handful of times at various events over the years, but he'd liked her well enough based on those few interactions and was impressed by her reputation as a progressive. Most important as far as he was concerned, though, his children shared a high opinion of her.
"I'm pleased to have been invited," he told her truthfully as he seated himself.
She took her own seat behind the well-remembered desk and gestured broadly. "And, as you can see, I am not the only person in this room who is glad to see you return to Hogwarts."
Harry let his gaze roam the rounded walls of the headmistress's office. The faces of former headmasters and headmistresses beamed down at him, some even waving and calling their hellos. It had been almost twenty-five years to the day since he'd last set foot in this office. Professor Dumbledore, just where he'd been so long ago, twinkled at him from his portrait and inclined his head in greeting. Harry found himself smiling back in spite of the pang of grief he felt even now at the sight of his former mentor. There were new faces on the walls as well: Professor McGonagall, looking stern but proud; Professor Sinistra, her smile warm and her robes bedecked with stars; and Professor Snape, as much an enigma in paint as he'd been in life, his expression revealing nothing other than mild disdain for the proceedings.
It had taken Harry three years to convince the Ministry to honor Severus Snape's memory with a portrait in the office where he'd served so briefly as headmaster—three years of sending Owls and arranging meetings with hostile bureaucrats and allowing interviews on the sole condition that the article mention Harry's drive to install Snape's portrait at Hogwarts. On the day the Ministry had finally relented, Harry had poured himself a glass of scotch and toasted the wily old bastard's memory. But he'd never come to see the portrait.
He inclined his head now. "Headmaster Snape," he said.
The glossy black eyes of the painting narrowed, as if searching for hidden mockery in Harry's greeting. Then he, too, nodded slightly, the barest indication of acknowledgment.
Harry turned back to face Professor Aimsworthy, who was watching with a fond smile. "On to business, then?" she said, and Harry nodded.
He'd corresponded these last several weeks with Professor Aimsworthy, as well as both Professor Binns and Leo Fenester, the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, to coordinate his plans with all of them and devise lessons appropriate to the students' various ability levels. The first week, he would be speaking to Binns's classes (Harry sometimes wondered how Professor Aimsworthy had convinced the ghost to agree, given that even now Binns couldn't seem to remember Harry's name, let alone that he'd helped save the wizarding world) and presenting a history of the Voldemort Wars that he'd worked on with Hermione's help (given all too readily once she'd stopped crying at the sight of him in her Floo connection for the first time in months). The second week, he would be taking over Fenester's lessons, giving both theoretical and practical instruction in some of the magic he and the rest of the Order and D.A. had relied on to defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters. In spite of his initial reservations, he found himself not merely grateful for the distraction the offer provided, but actually looking forward to the challenges of teaching and excited about playing a role in the students' instruction.
I think it's very important for our students to realize that their lessons apply across the various disciplines, Professor Aimsworthy had written in one of her Owls. Learning cannot occur in a vacuum. Lectures about goblin rebellions are all well and good, but students are more likely to retain that knowledge when it is given in context and tied in with other instruction, such as mastering the now-standard charms that were developed as a result of events that occurred in Hogsmeade during the 1612 goblin rebellion. Our instructors work together to plan curricula, and we've found that our students' performances in OWL and NEWT examinations have improved measurably as a result.
His second week would conclude with a memorial ceremony for all who had been lost during the Battle of Hogwarts. Invitations had been sent to all remaining family members of the more than fifty students, faculty, and Order members who had perished that night. Hundreds were expected to attend, including, Harry knew, the Weasley family.
Harry and the headmistress discussed his quarters, which were to be near Gryffindor Tower, but not so near as to make his children feel as though he'd come to Hogwarts to spy on them, and she told him he would be accorded all the privileges of a faculty member.
"I've also arranged for a member of our faculty to serve as a guide for you during your two weeks here," the headmistress said.
Harry frowned. "A guide?"
"In part to serve as a liaison of sorts in the event I'm not available to answer any questions you have," she said. "But also to help you find your way around should you need assistance."
At this, Harry laughed. "I was a student here too, you know. I do know my way around."
Professor Aimsworthy's tone was kind but implacable. "I know all of us Hogwarts alumni tend to think of this place as eternal and unchanging, but the truth is, a great many things have changed at Hogwarts since you were a student here, and not merely due to the post-war reconstruction. I do think this will be a help to you."
Harry began to wish he still had the Marauders' Map in his possession, rather than having discovered its mysterious absence from his desk several years prior. He still suspected James, although he hadn't been quite hypocrite enough to search for the map and confiscate it.
"All right," he sighed.
She smiled. "Fortunately, we even have a professor in residence from your own Hogwarts cohort, which should help you feel even more at home over the next two weeks."
Harry brightened. "Neville Longbottom," he said.
"Well," the headmistress said with a slight frown, "no. Unfortunately, although Professor Longbottom remains a member of our faculty, since his marriage, he no longer resides here at Hogwarts."
Right, of course Harry knew that. Neville and Hannah had been living in London for nearly a dozen years now. He and Neville had even talked at Grimmauld Place about how the twice-daily Floo trips between Hogwarts and the Leaky Cauldron had helped Neville get over the vertigo he'd suffered since childhood every time he traveled by Floo.
But if the headmistress wasn't referring to Neville, that could only mean—
"Professor Malfoy has graciously agreed to serve as your faculty guide."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw the portrait of Severus Snape become truly animated for the first time that day as an expression of unholy delight stole over the man's sallow face.
Harry just barely resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands and groan.
A pale, pointed figure stood at the base of the spiral staircase when Harry and the headmistress emerged, torchlight flickering over sharp features and a forehead that was just a little higher than it had been the last time Harry had seen him at King's Cross nearly six years ago.
"Potter," he said, his voice as cool as his expression.
Draco Malfoy's career as a Death Eater had been remarkable mostly for things he hadn't done: failing to kill Dumbledore, not identifying Harry at Malfoy Manor, not attempting to kill Harry in the Room of Requirement. There was no evidence he'd had a part in any of the Death Eaters' murderous activities other than as a horrified spectator. Even so, the Mark on his arm had demanded punishment.
To Harry's own surprise, he had volunteered to testify at Malfoy's trial, as well as that of his mother, who had not borne the Mark herself but was brought up on charges of collusion. In part thanks to Harry's testimony, their sentences had been mild compared to some of the other Death Eaters': six months of house arrest, followed by five years of probation. Even Lucius Malfoy, for whom nobody had even entertained the thought of asking Harry to testify, managed to avoid being sent back to Azkaban because of Draco and Narcissa's association with Harry. Although perhaps it would have been safer for him if he had returned to prison; within six months after the conclusion of his two years' house arrest, he'd been murdered by an apparent vigilante who'd never been apprehended, in spite of what Harry knew had been an exhaustive investigation by the Aurors.
After that, the Malfoys had kept pretty much to themselves. Harry knew only as much as the rest of the general public did about Malfoy's life after Hogwarts—running an Owl-order specialty potions business under a false name until his ownership had been exposed by the Prophet (but by then he'd built such a loyal customer base, many had continued to do business with him anyway), marriage to one of the Greengrass sisters, one child, and now a position as Hogwarts's Potions master. It was an indication of Aimsworthy's progressive tendencies that she'd been willing to hire a former Death Eater at all; most of those who bore the Dark Mark, Harry knew, had not been so lucky.
The gray eyes that met Harry's now were direct and maddeningly blank, containing neither hostility nor welcome, nor even idle curiosity. Harry held his gaze in silence for a moment. "Malfoy," he returned finally, and held out his hand.
Something indefinable flickered across Malfoy's pale features, but then, with only the slightest tightening of his lips, he accepted Harry's hand and shook briefly, his palm dry and surprisingly warm against Harry's.
Professor Aimsworthy stood beaming at them both. "I knew this would work out splendidly," she said. "Now, Draco, if you'll show Harry to his quarters?"
Malfoy inclined his head. "Of course, Headmistress." His gaze, when it glanced across Harry, was considerably less deferential. "Come on, then, Potter." He set off down the corridor without even checking to be sure Harry followed.
With no small amount of resentment, Harry did so.
Having traveled by Floo directly into the headmistress's office, this was his first time seeing these halls in nearly a quarter-century. Here and there, he glimpsed differences from his own time as a student—new portraits, or portraits that had been moved; patches of stonework that were colored or weathered slightly differently from the stone around them, clearly remnants of the post-war rebuilding effort; even certain staircases now stood at different angles.
Most poignant, though, were the windows. Many of the castle's windows had been smashed during the battle, he remembered. He hadn't known, though, how many of them had been replaced by portraits in stained glass: Nymphadora Tonks. Remus Lupin. Colin Creevey. Fred Weasley. All the victims of that terrible night, framed in iron and glass. The windows didn't move like painted portraits did, but the late afternoon sunlight filtered through the tinted panes and made the figures glow with a sort of life no paint could emulate.
Encountering a window depicting Vincent Crabbe, Harry abruptly stopped walking. Malfoy, who must have been listening for Harry's footfalls after all, halted as well and turned slightly, his face expressionless.
"Even Death Eaters?" Harry found himself saying.
A muscle twitched at the corner of Malfoy's mouth, the only hint of emotion on his face. "No," he said quietly. "Students."
He pivoted and began walking again, and this time Harry jogged to catch up with him and walked beside him, matching the other man's stride. "Why not put him in the dungeons, near Slytherin?" Harry couldn't help asking.
"Not enough light," Malfoy said, not looking at him. "It would be a waste of stained glass."
"Oh." They walked in silence for another minute, then something struck Harry. "Oh, wait—right. Aren't we near—"
"Yes," Malfoy cut him off.
"Is it still—"
"No. It was completely destroyed."
"But—I mean, that was only one facet of the room, right? It wasn't always the—" What had Malfoy called it that night? "—the Room of Hidden Things."
"No," Malfoy said, in a tone that clearly implied you moron. "But it was just a single room."
"So it's gone now."
"And that's why the window—"
"Right." This time, the tone implied something closer to you jackass.
Malfoy's snort was eloquent with disdain.
Harry began to wonder if all Slytherins learned to convey insult in as few words as possible, so as to conserve energy for attempts at world domination. Now that he was a faculty member of sorts, perhaps he could look into that.
Sighing in resignation, he lapsed into silence for the rest of the journey.
Harry's guest quarters were located on the west side of the castle, about halfway between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Towers. In place of a door was a painting of a golden harp.
"The password right now is the first two lines of the school song," Malfoy said, expression again blank—carefully so, Harry suspected—although his tone suggested amusement. "You can change it after I leave, of course."
"Oh." Frowning a bit in bemusement at the harp, Harry spoke carefully: "Er…Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts, teach us something please."
Nothing happened. Harry turned to find that Malfoy's face had actually turned pink with suppressed hilarity.
"Oh, no," Malfoy said, laughter poorly concealed just beneath his words. "You have to sing it."
Harry gave him his best narrow-eyed, Head Auror don't fuck with me glare, but Malfoy's smirk just widened as he gestured broadly at the painting. Go on, I dare you, his eyes said.
Setting his jaw, Harry sang the lines to the song from behind clenched teeth in something approximating the tune of "God Save the Queen," and somehow managed to be not quite entirely off-key.
Apparently the harp was not meant to sit in judgment of his musical talents or lack thereof, for its strings trilled softly in response, as though plucked by invisible fingers, and the painting swung open.
Malfoy stood next to him, snickering to himself and looking very well pleased. At Harry's glare, he shrugged, still smirking. "I guess there's no truth to that old rumor about your getting ready to quit the Auror racket and go on the Muggle karaoke circuit, then?"
Harry sighed, letting his pointless anger dissipate, and rolled his eyes. "I'll have you know, I do a mean 'Hotel California.'"
Malfoy's eyes grew even brighter with amusement. "Why, Potter, I'm impressed. That was almost funny."
Harry shook his head. "Get out of here, Malfoy. I've things to do."
It was only after Malfoy had disappeared down the hallway, still snickering softly, that Harry realized he'd forgotten to ask the man how to change the bloody password.
He began to suspect this might be a very long two weeks.
Harry had received a warm welcome from the staff and students—including particularly loud cheers from the Gryffindor table, where all three of his children shouted and whistled—in the Great Hall on Friday night, and his Saturday was spent setting up his temporary office space while most of the students and staff were enjoying the final Hogsmeade weekend of the school year. The office was near his guest quarters, along the same side of the corridor, so the afternoon sun slanted through the high windows, painting patterns of light across the room.
As he unpacked the handful of defense theory books he'd brought with him for reference, he heard a soft sound from behind him, and turned to find Draco Malfoy lounging in the doorway, looking bored. "Settling in?" he asked, his gaze sweeping over the sparse furnishings and not seeming to touch on Harry at all.
"Yes," Harry said, not bothering to add thank you as he might have with anyone else.
"Good," Malfoy said, and looked at Harry directly for the first time. The sunlight caught his hair in a flash of silver, and Harry found himself wondering, incongruously, if Malfoy could tell whether his hair was turning gray or not, it was so pale to begin with. At least the receding hairline was impossible to hide.
Harry frowned when he realized silence had fallen between them, and yet Malfoy had made no move to leave. "You're, ah, not in Hogsmeade today?" he asked.
One of Malfoy's shoulders lifted in a shrug. "Couldn't. I've a potion I'm brewing today that can't be left alone for more than an hour at a time."
"Oh," Harry said. "So you…decided to spend your hour up here?"
Malfoy's smirk was more genuine amusement than mockery. "Yes, Potter, because Merlin knows I can't bear to be parted from you."
"Well, then, what are you doing here?"
That lazy shrug again. "I had some time to kill, and you're one of the few people left in the castle. Besides, I'm your faculty guide." He drew out the words, as if savoring the ridiculousness of the situation. "I'm supposed to check up on you."
"Yes, well, consider me checked on," Harry said. Malfoy's eyes hadn't left Harry's during this entire exchange, which Harry was beginning to find a bit disconcerting. He remembered a young Malfoy's gaze being smug, or challenging, or enraged. But never this strange sense of—calm, almost. Harry had known back in school that Malfoy always measured himself against Harry, no matter what he might say to the contrary. But Harry no longer got the sense that Malfoy was using every moment in Harry's presence to search for chinks in his armor. That underlying hum of competitive awareness had disappeared, and been replaced by just—awareness.
In a way, it was more unnerving than outright hostility.
When Malfoy still didn't leave, Harry shook his head and turned back to his books. "Look, I've got work to finish, so—"
"All right," Malfoy said, that infuriating calm still evident in his voice. "But I wanted to let you know you're welcome to come down to the dungeons if you need a break."
Harry laughed. "Right, because potions were always my idea of relaxation."
"I meant for tea, or perhaps a glass or two of something stronger, but if you'd prefer potions, I hate to disappoint…"
Harry turned to face Malfoy again. The man appeared to be making a genuine offer. At the very least, his expression bore no hint of malice or ridicule. "Why?" Harry asked before he could stop the question.
"Unless you'd prefer Trelawney?" Malfoy pushed himself upright from where he'd been leaning against the doorway. "Hardly any of the faculty now were here when we were students, and your friend Longbottom doesn't stay in the castle most nights. I know how lonely this place can get, so against my better judgment, I'm making a friendly offer." When Harry didn't reply—taken aback as he was—Malfoy's expression tightened. "Right, then. Clearly I needn't have bothered."
"No, wait—I. Wait." Somehow the world had turned topsy-turvy. Ginny had filed for divorce, he was teaching at Hogwarts, and Draco Malfoy was inviting him for tea. He began to wonder if he'd been struck by a stray curse in the line of duty and was actually lying in hospital somewhere, this whole strange life just some figment of his fevered imagination. "I—I'll think about it. All right?"
Malfoy nodded stiffly and left, and Harry stood rooted in a patch of sunlight, book forgotten in his hands for long minutes afterward.
He didn't take Malfoy up on his offer that day.
On Sunday his children came down from Gryffindor Tower to spend part of the afternoon with him, poking their noses into everything in his office, teasing him about being a dull old professor and each other about NEWTs (James) and girls (Al) and boys (Lily), and very, very carefully avoiding any mention whatsoever of their mother or the impending divorce. Even so, it had been hard to miss the stricken look on Lily's face when she caught sight of the photo on his desk of the five of them on holiday a few years back. When they left for Quidditch practice and the library, they all hugged him, even James and Al, and told him they were glad he'd come—even if it was going to be weird having their dad for a professor.
That night found him wandering the halls of Hogwarts. It was strange to find himself back in these corridors as an adult. He'd spent six years here as a student (his seventh, NEWT year had been spent in temporary facilities in London while Hogwarts underwent repairs), and even with all the cosmetic changes to the castle, there truly was something fundamentally unalterable about Hogwarts—his memories of the place.
Here was the statue of the one-eyed, humpbacked witch (still, perhaps, guarding her secret these many years later, although Harry didn't make the attempt), here was an alcove where he and Ginny had spent the better part of an afternoon that sunlit spring of his sixth year (the recollection brought a wave of sadness even as it made him blush), here was the corridor where he, Ron, and Hermione had barreled, invisible, into a mass of dueling students and Death Eaters.
He had dreaded entering the Great Hall for the first time on Friday night, recalling too well his last glimpse of it, rows of the dead laid out under the blazing light of a May sunrise. But filled with students at long tables under the purpling glow of evening, it had brought more quickly to mind so many meals shared with people he loved—and so it was again, he'd thought as he caught sight of his children's beaming faces.
Around every corner he seemed to run into ghosts of his past, and the minor differences in the castle now—angles, colors, decorations—served only to reinforce the impression that his memories were of another world, like a transparency laid over a picture, the differences subtle but distinct. He walked through an entrance hall that once had lain strewn with emeralds and wood and glass, and paused to listen to the silence of a castle not shocked by grief, but peaceful in study and slumber. The House hourglasses stood guard over the entrance hall once again, gems winking in the torchlight (and Gryffindor in a distant fourth place, Harry noted with amusement).
He made his way back through the deserted corridors to his quarters to finish preparing for tomorrow's lessons and didn't take Malfoy up on his offer that night, either.
Standing for the first time as a professor at the front of one of the classrooms where he himself had been a student was a bit like going through the looking glass.
The mere act of appropriating a professor's desk for his own use felt like a small mutiny. But actually standing up before a sea of children who were looking to him for their education—the way he had his own teachers so many years before—well, it was a revelation, and a humbling one.
"Good morning," he said. "I'm Professor Potter."
His first History of Magic class, third-year Ravenclaws and Slytherins, kept him on his toes, peppering him with questions about the roots of the conflict and the opposing sides. Interestingly, most of the questions about the Death Eaters came from Ravenclaws, while the Slytherins in general seemed more curious about how and why people chose sides, including the propaganda war that had raged through the rest of wizarding society. It came as something of a revelation to him that all of the students—even the Slytherins, several of whom had last names he remembered counting among the members of Slytherin House during his own time at Hogwarts—seemed to take it for granted that Voldemort and the Death Eaters had been in the wrong. But it was a storybook sort of wrong, with Voldemort playing the role of the dastardly villain in the parable of Harry Potter and His Forces of Good—the history was no more real to most of them than The Tales of Beedle the Bard. As he spoke, he tried to bring to life those long years under the shadow of Voldemort, and by the end of the lesson he thought he saw at least a few students' eyes begin to gleam with new understanding.
After that, it was first-year Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, followed by fourth-year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs, and after lunch he faced the sixth-year class, combining the handful of students from all Houses who were hoping to take a NEWT in History of Magic. Neither of his boys had chosen to continue with the subject after OWLs, which hadn't come as a surprise since neither he nor Ginny had felt the urge to face Binns after fifth year themselves. But Harry was startled to find the name "Malfoy" on his class roster, and sure enough toward the front of the classroom sat a lanky blond boy so similar his father at the same age that it made Harry blink at the rush of memories. But this Malfoy lacked the gray, slightly sickly look that his father had sported at the same age—and, Harry realized as the lesson progressed, he also lacked the smug, simpering self-assuredness. This Malfoy paid attention, brow creased in thought, and asked intelligent questions about the steps taken by Fudge's government and the measures undertaken at Hogwarts to protect students. Harry found himself hesitating to answer the latter, wondering how much Scorpius Malfoy knew about his father's role in breaching Hogwarts's defenses, but when he caught the boy's eyes, the sad but defiant light in them led Harry to believe he knew exactly what he was asking Harry to address.
The image of Scorpius Malfoy stayed in Harry's head through dinner, and between fielding questions from other faculty about his first day on the job, he found himself stealing glances toward where Draco Malfoy sat near the opposite end of the staff table. The other man conversed easily with his neighboring faculty members, but never once looked in Harry's direction, not even to Summon the saltshaker.
As night fell around the castle, Harry's mind was increasingly drawn away from his lesson plans to Malfoy's invitation the other day. After the third time he caught himself staring into space over his notes, he finally set his work aside and, shaking his head at his own foolishness, left his quarters in search of Malfoy.
The students still scurrying through the halls in the last half-hour before curfew greeted him with varying degrees of deference and enthusiasm as he made his way toward the dungeons. The many stained-glass windows he passed stared like blind eyes into the moonless night, and he picked up his pace.
The door to the office where Harry had faced an angry Snape a few too many times for comfort was closed, and Harry hovered outside of it, hesitating to knock. He didn't know if Malfoy would be in his office this late at night, but he was even less comfortable with the idea of seeking him out in the Potions master's private quarters—though he knew precisely where to find them, the Marauders' Map having long ago given up such secrets.
A thin band of light stretching across the floor farther down the corridor attracted Harry's attention, and he made his way slowly down the hall. The door to the Potions classroom stood slightly ajar and Harry could hear quiet sounds indicative of potions work coming from within. Curious, Harry nudged the door open a bit farther, taking care not to startle whoever was inside, and peeked into the classroom.
Behind one of the worktables, Draco Malfoy stood limned in torchlight, carefully pouring a liquid from one bottle into another. His face was so intent on his task that it startled Harry when he spoke. "If you're coming in, Potter, do so already," he said, not lifting his eyes from the potion.
Embarrassed, Harry eased into the classroom, letting his gaze trail across the walls and shelves, still crowded with jars wherein ghoulish-looking creatures hung suspended in liquid. He knew this part of the castle hadn't seen any fighting during the battle and wondered if the jars and pickled animals were the same ones that had graced these walls in his childhood.
A voice snapped him from his reverie. "Something I can help you with, Potter?"
Malfoy scowled at him from across the classroom, palms spread to either side against the worktable in a gesture that couldn't have said You're interrupting, you cretin any more clearly if he'd actually spoken the words.
Maybe Harry had imagined that invitation to tea after all.
"I was hoping to take you up on your offer," Harry said, and waited to see the other man's reaction.
Malfoy's posture shifted slightly, some of the antagonism fading from his stance, and a smirk teased at his mouth. "For potions?" he asked.
Harry grinned. "I was thinking something more along the lines of tea, but if I'm interrupting…"
"You are, actually," Malfoy said, glancing at the array of bottles laid out on the table in front of him. "But if you don't mind waiting a few minutes for me to finish?"
"No, not at all," Harry said, unwillingly fascinated by the idea of watching Malfoy work. "Mind if I—" He gestured at the desk.
Malfoy waved a hand at him in dismissal. "No, no, sit. I won't be much longer."
Harry seated himself behind Malfoy's desk and watched as, with precise movements, Malfoy picked up individual bottles in turn and poured into each a careful measure of liquid from another bottle.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked after the third such action.
"Diluting the potion I brewed over the weekend," Malfoy explained, still focused on his bottles. "It's a restorative draught for the hospital wing, but at full strength it could do a child more harm than good. By adding a small amount of another potion with complementary effects, I can temper its strength."
Harry hmmed in acknowledgment, remembering this from his own Potions lessons.
"As in life," Malfoy continued, gaze intent on the flow of liquid from one vessel to another, his voice that of a professor to a student, "it's a matter of finding balance and moderation."
"That's…" Harry searched for the right words, distracted by the deft movements of Malfoy's hands. "…weirdly zen of you, Malfoy."
Malfoy looked up from his work at that, his mouth curving again into his trademark smirk, though this one flirted with the edges of becoming an actual smile. "There are a great many life lessons that can be learned from the subtle science and exact art of potion making, Mr. Potter," he said.
Harry found himself smiling in return and propped his chin on his hand as he watched Malfoy stopper the bottles and clean up. His smile faded, though, as he thought about Malfoy's words in relation to his own life, recalling the seesaw of emotions he'd been on over the last five months. "Pity balance and moderation aren't as simple to achieve in real life as they are in potion making."
"Who ever said potion making was simple?" Malfoy said, eyes narrowing.
Harry rose from his chair as Malfoy made his way back to the front of the classroom. "I didn't mean that and you know it," he said. "Just—there's no straightforward way to calculate how to achieve a happy, balanced life, the way there is to dilute a potion."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Malfoy said, sweeping out of the classroom ahead of Harry. "These days I do pretty well by just thinking about what my father would have done in the same situation—and doing the exact opposite."
A fire burned in the grate in Malfoy's quarters, casting warm light across throw rugs, plush furniture, and the many rows of books that lined the walls. Malfoy hung his work robes on a hook behind the door and gestured for Harry to take a seat while he called to the kitchens for tea and biscuits, which arrived in short order. Curling his fingers around a steaming, fragrant cup of Earl Grey, Harry watched Malfoy settle himself into a chair opposite him, ankle propped on one knee, sleeves rolled up to reveal the mottled scar that once had been the Dark Mark.
Malfoy caught him staring and turned his arm so that the scar was hidden from view. Harry hurriedly took a sip of the tea, which burned his tongue.
"So you survived your first day," Malfoy said, turning a biscuit over and over in his fingers and frowning at it in a distracted way.
"I did," Harry said. "Surprised?"
"Nothing surprises me about the great Harry Potter," Malfoy said, still eyeing the biscuit, although the frown had eased into something resembling a smile. "It wouldn't have surprised me even if they'd decided to rename the school in your honor after gracing our hallowed hallways for a single day."
Harry snorted and shook his head. "I'd be less surprised if they'd decided to throw me out on my arse after one day. As much as I prepared, I still felt like I was winging it most of the time."
Malfoy's amused eyes met his over the rim of his teacup. "Isn't that what you do best, though?"
"Second only to my incredible musical talents," Harry replied.
Malfoy laughed and leaned back in his chair, finally taking a bite of the biscuit and observing Harry with something in his eyes that Harry couldn't quite gauge. "My son stopped by my office before dinner."
Here it comes, Harry thought. "He seems like a good kid."
"He is a good kid, in spite of his parentage," Malfoy replied with a wry twist to his lips. "He's developed a peculiar fondness for History of Magic that I still can't fathom, seeing as how I spent most of Binns's lectures catching naps to make up for whatever sleep I'd lost to mischief-making the night before."
Harry made a noncommittal sound and took another sip of tea.
Malfoy only raised an eyebrow at him. "But no, my son is fascinated by the subject and determined to earn a NEWT in it. Took a keen interest in family history as a child, even—or rather, especially—the unpleasant parts, and eventually broadened that to wizarding history as a whole."
He fell silent, and Harry concentrated very intently on his tea.
When Malfoy's voice resumed again, there was a weary edge to it. "I just want to make sure you know it's perfectly all right to be blunt with him about my family's role in the war. I don't know that there's anything more you could tell him that Mother and Astoria and I haven't already." He took a sip of his own tea, his knuckles white around the teacup. "Scorpius mentioned that he asked you about me in a roundabout fashion today, and you hesitated."
His gaze met Harry's then, and Harry felt the need to speak up. "I answered it, though."
Malfoy inclined his head. "I know you did. And I'm glad. That you hesitated, though, was—" He frowned into his tea. "—a surprise."
Harry scowled at the implication. "Because I'm the sort of person who'd enjoy ruining a kid's illusions about his parents, right? Jesus, Malfoy."
"No," Malfoy replied, with a healthy dose of you complete arse implied, "because I seem to recall gleefully pointing you toward some unpleasant family history of your own when we were kids, and I wouldn't have blamed you for enjoying the opportunity to return the favor."
Harry blinked at him for a moment, not understanding, and then a quiet, sneering voice arose from the depths of his memory: Don't you know, Potter?...If it was me, I'd want revenge. I'd hunt him down myself.
"Sirius," Harry said, and Malfoy avoided his gaze.
"We were kids, Malfoy, for god's sake. You couldn't give me a little credit for being older and wiser now?"
"Yes, well," Malfoy said, glaring at his tea, "I guess this just proves that you're the better man after all."
Harry huffed out a disgusted sigh. "Do you have to make everything a competition, even now?"
Malfoy scowled. "Maybe." Then he rolled his eyes and shoved another biscuit in his mouth, chewing sullenly. He swallowed. "I didn't say I was proud of it."
Harry shook his head and set his teacup down, preparing to leave.
"Scorpius liked you. Quite a lot."
Harry's eyes rose to meet Malfoy's again, and the hint of contrition he found in them made him sigh and settle back into his chair again. "That's good," he said. "I liked him,"
"He couldn't stop talking about the incredible Professor Potter." Malfoy smirked. "If I didn't know better, I'd think he was developing a crush."
"Oh." Harry wasn't quite sure what to say to this.
"Mm-hm." Malfoy nibbled on the edge of a biscuit. "If he weren't so completely opposed to all things Gryffindor, I'd be worried about the boy."
"Ah," Harry said, at sea. Then, "Well…he's a good kid."
Malfoy laughed and sipped his tea. "He is that. I confess, though, it's a bit grating to hear him sing your praises, when he wouldn't even speak to me for a week after my first day as his Potions instructor."
"You were that bad, were you?" Harry asked with a smirk of his own.
"Oh, no, Potter, I assure you I am astonishingly talented at many things, of which teaching is only one of them." Malfoy returned the smirk in spades. "It's just that I assigned them in pairs according to House—tempering the mixture, you see," he said with a gleam in his eye, "and Scorpius was rather less than pleased with his new partner."
Harry remembered Al's irate Owl that first week of his second year at Hogwarts. "Stuck him with a Gryffindor, did you?"
"Your son, in fact."
That startled a laugh out of Harry. "Al never mentioned he was paired with Scorpius."
Malfoy's eyes crinkled in amusement. "You should have seen the two of them, practically hissing and spitting like cats. They very nearly did justice to the epic hatred you and I shared at their age." He laughed at Harry's rude gesture. "But their potions were among the best in the class, every time. Neither wanted to let the other one-up him in ability."
Harry shook his head, amused in spite of himself. "Very Slytherin of you, Malfoy."
Malfoy grinned. "Indeed. And they stayed partners right up through last year—glaring at each other every minute, but hating their way right into O's on their OWLs."
Harry refilled his teacup, then toyed with it a bit before asking something he'd been wondering about. "How is it you came to be teaching here anyway? I remember hearing you had a pretty popular Owl-order business going."
"I did," Malfoy said. "But…my circumstances changed."
Harry waited, idly twirling his cup around on the coffee table, but Malfoy didn't say anything further. "Oh," Harry said. "I don't mean to—if it's something private—"
"Well," Malfoy said slowly, frowning, "it's not so much that it's private as that it isn't very public knowledge." At Harry's perplexed look, he sighed. "Astoria and I divorced about five years ago."
Harry flinched. "Oh," he said. "I'm sorry, I hadn't heard—"
Malfoy waved a hand, as if brushing away Harry's apology. "I paid off a lot of people to keep it out of the papers. It's a matter of public record, of course, but that doesn't mean I wanted to see it splashed across the society page of the Prophet."
"Right," Harry said dully. No amount of bribery would have kept his and Ginny's divorce out of the papers, he knew, but it was hard not to envy Malfoy the privacy of his own split with his wife.
They sat in awkward silence for a few moments more before Malfoy raised an eyebrow at him. "Aren't you going to ask what happened? That's the first thing people always want to know."
Harry shook his head. "It's none of my business."
Malfoy blinked in apparent surprise and opened his mouth, then closed it again. "No one ever says that," he said. "I should have known you'd be different."
"Well," Harry said, his bitterness clear in his voice, "it's what I wish people would say to me."
Malfoy nodded and sat back, expression thoughtful, his hands curled around his teacup. "Just for that," he said at last, "I will tell you what happened. It's only fair, since your personal life has been splashed all over the tabloids."
Harry gritted his teeth at the reminder, but nodded.
"We had—well, not exactly an arranged marriage, but something close to it. We got along well enough, we'd known each other since childhood, my mother wanted grandchildren, especially after my father—" He stopped and took a gulp of tea. "Anyway, I needed to marry, and, well, Astoria had always had a bit of a crush on me and—it seemed convenient."
It was so far from Harry's own experience of marriage that he actually gaped at Malfoy. "You weren't in love with her? Not at all?"
Malfoy shook his head. "Far from it. Although I suspect Astoria fancied herself a bit in love with me at the time, which I rather regret. I thought she knew, you see."
"That you didn't love her?"
"Well, that too. But, no, I thought she knew that I was gay."
Harry blinked and sat back in the chair. "Oh," he said.
Malfoy's gaze was sharp. "You didn't know either, did you?"
Harry lifted a shoulder. "How would I have known? It's not like we were friends in school. Besides, you dated Pansy. Why would I assume anything different?"
Inexplicable spots of color appeared high against Malfoy's cheekbones. "Ah," he said, eyes returning to his teacup. "I'd wondered if you—" He stopped, shook his head. "No matter. It isn't widely known, except among my friends and family. Pansy knew from the time we were fourteen. Even my mother knew, but she also knew I understood my duty to our family. I thought Astoria's sister Daphne would have told her, so I never mentioned it, assuming it was understood. But it turned out Daphne hadn't."
Malfoy set down his teacup and reached for a biscuit, snapping it in two and crumbling the halves between his fingers. "It came as kind of a nasty shock to Astoria during our honeymoon—I made a couple of remarks that set off alarm bells for her, and she confronted me. Naturally, I didn't hide anything—I thought she'd known—and she was so upset, she demanded we return to England at once and annul the marriage." He spread his hands—dusted with biscuit crumbs—in a gesture of helplessness. "Which I would have been happy to do, very quietly, except it turned out she was already pregnant."
He laughed, humorlessly. "We'd had sex exactly once, on our wedding night. Who would have guessed? It took my parents nearly five years to conceive me, even with magical intervention." He sighed, his expression pinched and weary. "Naturally there was no question of annulment after that. We stayed married and tried to get along for Scorpius's sake. But we've always had separate bedrooms and she, well—" He cleared his throat. "—looked the other way on certain matters. But once Scorpius left for Hogwarts, she decided she'd had enough, so we divorced. By sheer luck, I heard through my professional connections that this position was about to become vacant, so I Owled Professor Aimsworthy. I've never regretted coming back to Hogwarts," he said, eyes on Harry's. "It was an adjustment at first, yes. But I love my job. And I'm grateful to see Scorpius so often."
Harry nodded, trying to absorb all this. He'd never heard a whisper of anything awry in Malfoy's marriage, which implied that not only were the Malfoy vaults deep, but Malfoy's friends were loyal enough to keep confidence.
Malfoy's eyes were intent and his mouth set, as if waiting for Harry to use this information as a weapon somehow. Even six months ago, he very well might have. But now all he felt was a strange empathy with Malfoy. "Your—Astoria," Harry said. "What happened to her?"
"She still lives at Malfoy Manor, actually," he said with a fleeting look of sadness. "Scorpius spends his summers there with her and my mother. I couldn't take away his home." He sighed. "Once Scorpius leaves school, she'll find a home of her own, and then people can talk all they want. But—for now, this is all right."
Harry rubbed his thumb along the rim of his teacup and gazed down into the dregs of his tea to avoid looking at Malfoy, who was still staring at Harry in a way that disconcerted him. "Wow, that’s—I had no idea. I'm sorry, I guess—I mean, about the divorce and all that. I'm glad you're—you know, happy with your job and all. That it's worked out OK, and everything."
A soft laugh. "Right." Malfoy brushed off his hands and refilled his teacup, then sat back again, angling his shoulders just so against the chair back. "And here you are. Must say I was surprised to hear about your split from Weasley."
Harry frowned and waited for Malfoy to offer some kind of empty condolences, but he didn't. Instead, his voice turned quiet, even as his gaze remained unnervingly intent.
"Any truth to what they're saying is behind it?" he asked.
Harry froze, then slowly raised his eyes to meet Malfoy's, knowing what was coming. "What, exactly, are they saying?"
Malfoy's gaze dropped to Harry's mouth, then to his hands, before lifting to meet his eyes again. He licked his lips, in what almost looked like a nervous gesture. "That—there was another man."
Harry set his jaw and deliberately played dumb. "That Ginny cheated, you mean?"
"No," Malfoy said. That faint blush had appeared on his cheeks again. "That you did."
Very carefully, Harry set his teacup back on the coffee table and rose to his feet. Malfoy stood too, his shoulders squared, but his hands trembling slightly.
"That," Harry said, "is none of your business."
He moved toward the door, but Malfoy caught his arm. "Potter, wait—"
"Fuck you, Malfoy," Harry spat, pulling his arm loose. He was shaking with anger, half a breath away from whaling into Malfoy the way he had on the Quidditch pitch in fifth year. "How dare you accuse me—"
Harry lunged for the door, and Malfoy grabbed at him again, spinning Harry back around to face him. "I'm sorry, I didn't—"
Harry punched him in the stomach.
Malfoy doubled over, gasping, yet somehow managed to retain his grip on Harry's arm, so that when Harry tried to pivot again, he only pulled Malfoy with him.
Malfoy sucked in a breath and slammed Harry back against the wall.
Harry fumbled for his wand, but before he managed to curl his fingers around it, Malfoy gasped, "Fuck it," grabbing Harry's chin with one hand and kissing him, hard.
Harry went very, very still. He'd never been kissed by a man before, felt the press of a weight greater than his own against his body, the scratch of whiskers against his chin. Malfoy tasted like tea and sugar and shortbread, and he smelled faintly of the potions classroom, which wasn't as off-putting as it should have been. Malfoy's hand slid from Harry's chin to curl around the back of his neck, holding him close, and Harry was astonished to realize he was kissing Malfoy back.
He pushed a hand against Malfoy's chest and shoved him away, gasping in shock at his own actions. Malfoy didn't try to grab at him this time, just stood before him, bent slightly at the waist as one arm curled around his abused midsection, breathing hard, mouth open and wet. He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to—accuse you of anything, just—I wanted to know if…if…"
"If I cheated on my wife with a man," Harry bit out.
"If you were gay," Malfoy said, opening his eyes again. "If there was any chance you'd—"
"That I'd take pity on a horny professor?" Harry mocked.
Malfoy took a step back at that, his face falling into familiar lines of contempt. "I thought it might be a distraction for you, given all I've heard about your broken heart," he sneered. "Poor, lonely Harry Potter, hiding away from the entire world—"
"Watch what you say, Malfoy," Harry said, fingering his wand, and oh so very tempted to use it.
Malfoy just scowled and turned away. "Get the hell out, then," he said. "Go back to your fucking hiding place. Crawl into a hole and die for all I care."
Harry's fingers twitched on his wand as he looked at the stiff set of Malfoy's shoulders. Exhaling hard and cursing himself for even entertaining the thought that Malfoy might have grown up into a half-decent human being, he pushed open the portrait guarding the entrance and let himself out.
Over the next several days, Harry focused on his teaching and tried very hard to convince himself that Draco Malfoy didn't exist. He ignored Malfoy at mealtimes, though he was careful not to let it become apparent that he was doing so. When the headmistress asked how he was faring, he told her everything was fine.
"And Professor Malfoy—has he been helpful?" she asked.
"Ah—we had tea the other night," Harry said, forcing a smile. "It was…educational."
But teaching was why he'd come to Hogwarts in the first place (he fought back a small, insistent voice that whispered of the divorce), and there was plenty to keep his mind occupied. On Tuesday he had the experience of teaching one of his own children for the first time. Lily sat near the back of the classroom among the fourth-year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, surrounded by friends and beaming at Harry throughout his lecture. The sunlight glinted off her hair, more auburn than her mother's, but her face was very much a Weasley legacy—not so much a carbon copy of Ginny's as a combination of some of the best features of that side of the family. Her smile always made him think of Ron.
After the lesson ended, she hung back as the rest of the students filed out and brought that bright smile to where Harry stood behind Binns's desk, gathering his notes. "Well done, Professor," she said.
"You have to say that," he said, giving her a grin in return. "You know I'd take points if you didn't."
She laughed. "Yeah, but it helps that I actually mean it. You're the talk of the common room."
"I hope that's a good thing," he said, raising an eyebrow. Well did he remember lounging with friends and dissecting their professors while ensconced in the Gryffindor common room's comfortable old armchairs.
"Oh, it is," she said. "I heard some of the NEWT students want to take up a petition for you to replace Binns permanently."
"Merlin save us all," he replied, shoving his papers into a portfolio. "If they saw my OWL result in History of Magic, they'd put an end to that notion quickly enough."
Lily laughed again and leaned across the desk to kiss him on the cheek.
All of his lessons seemed to go reasonably well, although he wondered how much of it was due to the novelty of his being their first flesh-and-blood History of Magic professor. By midweek, he'd even had a couple of students come visit his office to ask further questions, which at least seemed encouraging.
On Friday morning, the sixth-year NEWT-level students returned to his classroom, including Scorpius Malfoy. Harry forced himself not to think about the boy's resemblance to his father, or about the information he'd unwillingly learned about Scorpius's home life, and made note only of the boy's intelligence and clear interest in the subject matter. Harry led the class in a discussion about the impact of the war on wizarding society, and Scorpius surprised Harry by being candid about his own family's struggles in the aftermath of the war, based on discussions with his parents and his grandmother.
Malfoy and his son obviously had a very close relationship; it had been implied strongly enough by Malfoy's revelations the other night, but it became an unavoidable conclusion after the third time Scorpius eagerly chimed into the class discussion with some quote or fact he attributed to his father. It brought Harry unwelcome recollections of Malfoy back in school—always "my father" this and "my father" that, stubborn and worshipful and misguided.
But the Malfoy he'd known would not have spoken in praise of legislation Hermione had championed after the war, as Scorpius did. Nor would he have waited in the hallway for Harry after the end of the lesson to ask if he could walk with him to the Great Hall so they could continue their discussion on the way to lunch.
Harry felt a moment of blind panic, remembering Malfoy's words the other night—If I didn't know better, I'd think he was developing a crush—but there was nothing in Scorpius's manner beyond the engagement of a bright student in a subject he clearly loved, enjoying a conversation with a professor whom, by whatever graces, the boy genuinely seemed to like. Harry enjoyed their conversation as well, although he frankly felt Scorpius would have been better served having the discussion with someone like Hermione, who relished this sort of intellectual give-and-take much more than Harry ever had. He was half-tempted to arrange a meeting between the two of them, despite knowing it would likely cause Scorpius's father to have an apoplexy. Perhaps because of that.
As they parted inside the entrance to the Great Hall, Scorpius waved to someone over Harry's shoulder and, even knowing he shouldn't, Harry turned to see. Malfoy, who was just about to take his seat at the staff table, lifted a hand in response to his son's gesture, and his eyes were unguarded for only a moment before he realized Harry was looking in his direction. In a heartbeat, Malfoy's face had assumed a blank expression, and he turned away, making a production of seating himself.
There'd been something uncomfortably warm in Malfoy's gaze as it brushed over Harry in that instant before he noticed Harry looking back, and Harry felt color climb up his cheeks at the unwelcome memory of what had transpired in Malfoy's quarters the other night.
For all that he'd tried during his waking hours to repress the thought of Malfoy, the memory had demanded his attention in other ways. It had been a few years now since Harry had welcomed each new day with regular morning erections, so it had come as both a surprise and something of an annoyance over the last several days to find that one part of his body was wide awake every morning long before he opened his eyes. It was as though Hogwarts awakened the dormant adolescent within him in more ways than just stirring up memories of his schooldays.
He'd gritted his teeth and thought of Ginny as he took care of his problem in the shower—her long red hair; her pale, soft skin; the exquisite humid welcome of her body. But each morning he found his thoughts veering against his will to a wet, insistent mouth, a broad, strong hand, and sharp gray eyes—the same eyes that lingered in his thoughts when he first awakened, the same touches that came like phantoms in his dreams. And in his dreams, he didn't push that hand or that mouth away.
Ignoring Malfoy hadn't made the thoughts go away. If anything, the previous night's dreams had been more graphic in nature than the ones before. Granted, it had been close to six months now since he'd had sex, but he hadn't thought he was so hard up for it that anyone's touch would set him craving more with this sort of mindlessness.
For the first time since before his visit to the dungeons, Harry let his gaze wander down to the opposite end of the staff table as he ate. Throughout the meal, Malfoy never once even turned his head in the direction where Harry sat. It was maddening, in a way, to think that now Malfoy was ignoring him. But Harry took the opportunity to observe the other man—the way his long, capable fingers gripped his utensils; the twist of his mouth as he spoke to Helena Apogee, the Astronomy professor; the still-arrogant tilt of his nose and thrust of his chin as he surveyed the students seated at the House tables.
The desire that curled in Harry's stomach shouldn't have been as much of a surprise to him as it was, given the last few mornings. But he'd never been particularly attracted to men before, in spite of rumors to that effect that had circulated off and on since before his marriage to Ginny ("Somebody's wishful thinking," she used to tell him with a laugh and a kiss). He knew he shouldn't, knew it was a bad idea for a hundred reasons he could articulate and probably another hundred that he couldn't. But, damn it, it had been nearly six months, and he'd been so desperately unhappy for so long that it would almost be a relief just to feel something different, no matter how ill-advised. At the very least it might, as Malfoy had said, offer a distraction from his "broken heart." Teaching only took his mind off the coming divorce for so many hours a day. Perhaps Malfoy might be willing to distract him for a few hours more.
Harry watched Malfoy take a drink from his goblet, throat bobbing as he swallowed.
Yes, Harry thought, this might do nicely.
The rest of the day seemed to last an eternity.
After his final History of Magic students filed out of the classroom, he wandered down to the greenhouses to visit Neville before he left for the weekend. Then he had a progress meeting with the headmistress. Then he spent some time in his office, going through the notes he'd made for his Defense lessons next week. James popped his head in to say hello on the way back to Gryffindor Tower from the library, then Al wandered in, looking a bit sullen but not willing to talk about whatever was bothering him—which, Harry had discovered to his dismay, had become pretty much par for the course around the time each of his children had turned fourteen. James was just starting to show evidence of growing out of it. But on the cusp of seventeen, Al was still prone to epic adolescent sulks that his parents had for the most part learned to ignore until the storm passed.
Harry made small changes to his notes as Al prowled the small room in silence, idly examining books and photographs, frowning a little at one of Ginny that Harry hadn't been able to convince himself to leave at home. But Al didn't say anything, and Harry didn't volunteer anything.
They walked together to the Great Hall for dinner, and Harry was humbled to realize he and Al were almost exactly the same height now; it was entirely possible that Al would surpass him as James had nearly a year ago, a thought that made Harry feel hopelessly old. Al's hands were shoved into the pockets of his robes, his eyes on the floor, and his contribution to the conversation consisted of responding monosyllabically here and there to Harry's bland chatter about his day. He showed no reaction other than an abrupt darkening of his frown when Harry mentioned talking to Scorpius Malfoy earlier. Harry remembered both Neville and Malfoy mentioning a rivalry between Al and Scorpius—not that Al had ever mentioned it himself, but it wasn't like Harry had spent more time than absolutely necessary talking about Draco Malfoy back in his own schooldays—and wondered if he'd committed some sort of parental faux pas by making nice with the enemy.
They parted inside the entrance to the Great Hall, just as he and Scorpius had earlier, and as he watched his son make his way toward the Gryffindor table, he saw Al pause to glower in the direction of a silvery blond head among the Slytherins. Scorpius Malfoy, he noticed, glowered right back. Harry shook his head in reluctant amusement, and when he turned toward the staff table he saw Draco Malfoy too had caught the display, one arched eyebrow expressing his disdain. Then he caught Harry looking at him and his expression shifted to pure loathing, making Harry want to laugh at the realization that perhaps the two of them weren't that far removed from adolescence after all.
Malfoy's eloquent look of undying hatred almost made Harry rethink his plans for the evening, but not quite. Perhaps it was something sick and wrong inside of him, but that naked fury in Malfoy's eyes had shot straight to his cock, and he took his seat quickly and kept his mind off his hopes for the coming night by talking dueling strategies with Fenester, the Defense professor.
As the hour began to grow late, he made his way down to the dungeons. Malfoy wasn't present in either his office or the Potions classroom, so Harry continued toward the Potions master's quarters—which, Harry had been annoyed to notice the other night, were guarded by a perfectly normal portrait of a man in Renaissance-era garb who answered to the name of Sir Thomas Sinistra-Leigh and made no absurd demands for song in exchange for passage.
At Harry's request, Sir Thomas informed him that Professor Malfoy was at home but that he refused to see Harry.
"Tell him I have a question for him," Harry insisted.
Sir Thomas vacated his painting, but returned almost instantly. "The professor refuses and requests that you kindly remove yourself from the dungeons at once."
Harry glared at the painting. "Tell him if he doesn't let me in, I'll go to the headmistress and tell her that he's refusing to do his job as my damned faculty guide."
Sir Thomas disappeared for slightly longer this time, and returned looking put out. "I'm to let you in," he informed Harry with a condescending look, "but with a warning that he will hex you at the first sign of trouble. And furthermore, I will have you know that I do not appreciate whatever it is you did to provoke such profanity on his part."
"Just part of my charm," Harry said, and the portrait sneered at him but swung open to allow him entrance.
Malfoy stood with his arms crossed, one hip leaning against the back of the chesterfield. "What do you want, Potter?"
Harry looked him up and down, making note of the wand grasped threateningly in one of Malfoy's hands, tapping against his upper arm. He felt his heart rate start to increase and tension coil throughout his body, as it always did on the job at the first sign of a coming fight.
He took a deep breath. "I have a question for my faculty guide. Something I'm not comfortable asking the headmistress about."
"Right," Malfoy said.
"You see," Harry said, "I've been having certain…improper thoughts."
"About killing the students? All teachers have those. Only a select few actually attempt to follow through, and seeing how most of those attempts were aimed at you, I can only commend them for their ambitions."
Harry scowled. "No, I have not been thinking about killing students."
"Funny," Malfoy said, dipping his thumb into the collar of his shirt with a sort of ostentatious nonchalance and running it along a thin white scar that snaked up from his chest toward the hollow of his throat, "I thought attempting to kill students was something you'd plenty of experience with."
"Actually," Harry replied coldly, suppressing the pang of guilt that came with the sight of that scar, "I think you've more experience with that than I do, if memory serves."
Malfoy's eyes turned glacial. "Get out."
"I haven't asked you my question."
"I don't give a good goddamn about your question, Potter. Get out."
"These thoughts I've been having—well, I think impure is a better word."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed at Harry warily. "If you're thinking about fucking a student, Potter…"
"A professor, actually."
Malfoy stilled. "I doubt that Binns would have you. Even ghosts have standards."
"Stop being obtuse, you stupid son of a bitch. I came to see if your offer was still on the table."
"For potions? Certainly, I have some choice poisons in my storeroom. Let me just go look."
"Get the fuck out of my quarters, Potter."
"It isn't easy for me, you know, coming down here and asking like this."
Malfoy's cheeks had flushed a splotchy, angry red. "Oh, and it was easy for me to ask you in the first place? Given my history with you, I should have known you'd never accept anything I offered."
"I've been thinking about you, Malfoy." Harry took a step forward, and in an instant the point of Malfoy's wand was under his chin.
"Yeah, well," Malfoy said, "I haven't been thinking about you. So bugger off."
Harry stared straight into Malfoy's cold, gray eyes, an arm's length away. "Liar."
Malfoy sucked in a breath, no doubt to hurl some curse at him, and in that moment Harry concentrated fiercely and disarmed him without a word, Malfoy's wand smacking solidly into his palm.
He pointed the wand at Malfoy's chest and smiled. "You were saying?"
Malfoy looked shocked and furious and defeated. "I hate you so much, Potter."
Harry sighed. "Look, I didn't come here to fight with you."
"Right," Malfoy said, clearly disbelieving. "You came here to see if my offer was still on the table."
"I did," Harry said.
Malfoy snorted. "If this is your idea of seduction, Potter, it's no wonder Weasley is divorcing you."
Anger burned through him, but he held himself still, keeping his eyes on Malfoy's. "You're the one who pulled your wand."
Malfoy's eyes flashed with mockery. "But I thought 'pulling my wand' was the reason you were here in the first place, Potter."
Harry narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing Malfoy. If they'd still been teenagers, Harry would have hexed him without a second thought—exactly the sort of reaction that had put that scar on Malfoy's chest. As an adult, he knew he should walk away; Malfoy's goading clearly was designed to drive him off. And yet Malfoy held his gaze, and behind the mockery Harry recognized something defiant, something challenging—something strangely hopeful. He expected Harry to walk away. But somehow Harry didn't think Malfoy really wanted him to.
Words had never really been Harry's forte anyway. He dropped the wand, grabbed Malfoy's shirtfront with both hands, and yanked him forward into a kiss.
After an instant's frozen shock, Malfoy made a small, choked sound and his mouth opened against Harry's, his hand fisting into the back of Harry's robe to pull him closer.
Malfoy's mouth was just as hot, just as wet as Harry remembered it, and he kissed eagerly, almost violently, as though attempting to devour him whole. He tasted of wine, dark and warm and complicated, and Harry pressed closer, straining into the kiss, until Malfoy stumbled backward, shoved hard against the back of the chesterfield.
Malfoy broke away, panting. "Ow," he muttered, and kissed Harry again, his hands seizing Harry's arse and pulling their bodies flush against one another, their groins in contact.
Harry groaned at the pressure of Malfoy's erection rubbing against his—incredible, so fucking incredible, even through both their clothes—and began to thrust erratically.
"Wait," Malfoy whispered between kisses. "Wait, here." He fisted a hand in the front of Harry's robes to pull him around to the opposite side of the chesterfield, his mouth barely parting from Harry's, then sank back onto the cushions and tugged Harry down with him, so that Harry practically fell between his splayed thighs.
Malfoy groaned and his body arched upward, pressing their groins even more tightly together. Harry gasped against his neck and thrust his hips hard, harder, harder, until Malfoy's voice was one long, obscene moan in Harry's ear, its pitch rising and falling with the movement of Harry's hips against Malfoy's.
Malfoy was all angles, sharp and unforgiving from chin to elbows to hips, and Harry felt every one of them as his body jerked against Malfoy's over and over. He buried his face in Malfoy's neck and thought of nothing but the coil and thrust of his lower body, the electric thrill that was the ridge of Malfoy's erection rubbing against his, the desperate tension mounting in his balls as the end came closer and closer and closer.
All at once, Malfoy's body jerked upward, his neck arching into one long, hard curve of straining muscle against Harry's cheek. Malfoy gasped and jerked again, his legs coiling more tightly around Harry's hips, his body shaking with the force of his release. Harry's own orgasm tore through him, and he shouted with the blissful shock of it, burying his face in Malfoy's hair and shuddering through the aftershocks.
The crackle of the fire seemed very loud in the suddenly quiet room.
Harry could feel Malfoy's breath, warm and humid and strangely comforting, against his sweat-damp neck, and hands roving tentatively over his back.
It had been at least twenty years since Harry had come in his pants like this, and he could feel telltale heat in his cheeks that he knew meant for a spectacular blush—all the more so when he remembered the way he'd practically screamed at the end. "Please tell me you have Silencing Charms on your quarters," he mumbled into Malfoy's shoulder, too embarrassed to lift his head.
Unbelievably, Malfoy chuckled, the rumble of it vibrating pleasantly into Harry's chest. "An entire House full of students, including my son, lives down the hall. Of course I do." His tone added you idiot, but it seemed almost fond, considering.
They lay together, breathing. Harry knew he should get up, clean up, get rid of the sticky wetness in his trousers, but he felt too boneless to move, and unaccountably nervous about what would happen when he had to look Malfoy in the eye.
He asked, though, "Am I too heavy? Should I—"
"No," Malfoy said quickly, and Harry could feel the flex of muscles as Malfoy's arms tightened around him, holding him down. "You're OK."
"OK," Harry echoed, not knowing what else to say. Malfoy's hair smelled good, like something green and fresh and growing. He wondered idly if Malfoy brewed his own shampoo. Ginny had told him long ago that she'd tried to do so once, and it had turned her hair green.
Thinking about Ginny made his head hurt, though, so he buried his nose in Malfoy's hair and tried to think of anything else. "You do this sort of thing a lot?" he asked.
He felt Malfoy stiffen underneath him, and not in a good way.
"No, I just meant—" He sighed and curved a hand around Malfoy's shoulder soothingly. "The Silencing Charms. Are they just general purpose?"
Malfoy relaxed under him, his hands resuming their careful exploration of Harry's back, but Harry could still feel a slight tension in his neck and shoulders as he pondered his response. "I used to have nightmares," he said at last. "I set up the charms after the first night I woke up screaming."
"Oh," Harry said. They still weren't looking at each other, which Harry imagined was the only reason Malfoy would be willing to make such an admission to him. "The war?" he asked.
Malfoy made a noise of assent. "The battle, specifically. Coming back here sort of—woke everything up." His hands were trailing up and down Harry's back now, in long, soothing strokes. Harry wondered if Malfoy was even aware of it. "I think that's the real reason the headmistress assigned me to be your 'guide.'"
"Because you were the only other person here that night, besides Neville and Trelawney," Harry said, turning his face now so that he could see Malfoy's profile.
"Yeah," Malfoy said. His eyes were closed, and he was frowning.
Harry lifted a hand to touch Malfoy's jaw, just running the backs of his fingers along it, feeling the smooth line of bone, the faint scratch of whiskers under damp, flushed skin. This close, he could see every fine blond eyelash, every pore, every tiny crease that spoke of a face that had known joy. "I used to have nightmares too, for a long time," he said. "It was—" He swallowed. "It was a terrible night."
Malfoy opened his eyes and turned his face so that his eyes met Harry's. There was pain there, and long-buried fear, and regret. "Well," he said, turning away again and gazing up at the ceiling, "not everything about that night was terrible." He wriggled just a little under Harry, shifting his position so that he could loop his arms around Harry's waist, clasping tightly, and Harry had an unwilling flashback to that night, hurtling through smoke at breakneck speed, a voice screaming in his hear, and arms wrapped so tightly around his waist they hurt.
To Harry's surprise, they fell asleep that way, curled around and on top of one another, and neither fell prey to any nightmares.
When Harry woke several hours later, muscles stiff and sore from his uncomfortable position on the chesterfield, he extricated himself carefully from Malfoy's still-clinging arms and silently let himself out into the corridor, ignoring Sir Thomas's disapproving sniff as he hurried away.
Harry awoke to sunlight beaming directly into his face, which told him that it was already past noon. Strangely, he didn't care, because he felt better than he had in weeks. Possibly months.
He stretched his arms over his head and arched his back, relishing the flex and pull of muscles all over his body, even as some of them—too many of them, to be honest—protested being used the night before in a manner to which they were no longer accustomed. He took a deep breath of sun-warmed air and slid a lazy hand under the covers to where his cock was already awake. So much for the idea of deprivation-inspired morning glory, he thought with a grin.
The lunch hour was long past by the time he made his way downstairs, but he made a quick trip to the kitchens, where the house-elves (all salaried now, thanks to Hermione's reforms) were only too happy to fix Harry a sandwich.
After that, he set out to wander the grounds for a while, enjoying the fine weather. The lake glittered in the sunshine, and the Whomping Willow still stood sentinel as it had for generations. The gamekeeper's cottage looked cheery and inviting, but stood empty for the moment, the current gamekeeper—Hagrid had retired nearly ten years before and died not long thereafter—away at an international conference on magical creatures in Vienna. Harry sat for a while on the front stoop and imagined he could almost hear Hagrid and Fang banging about inside, could almost taste the tea and feel the stubborn texture of rock cakes against his tongue.
As he made his way back toward the castle, sounds from the Quidditch pitch drew his attention and he wandered that way next to find the Slytherin Quidditch team holding practice. He secured permission from the team captain to watch, swearing on his life not to reveal any of their tactics to the Gryffindor team or any other, and sprawled on his back in the grass off to the sidelines, propped up on his elbows watching the players bob and weave in the air high above him. He'd seen most of them in action before, as both James and Al played for Gryffindor (and Lily was determined to replace James as a Chaser in next year's tryouts) and he'd attended several games over the last few years, a couple of which had been against Slytherin. The team moved like music through the air, like any good Quidditch team should, and it gave Harry a thrill just to watch them—although the longer he did, the more he itched to be up there with them, the solid strength of a broomstick under his hands, the wind screaming in his ears as he dived for the Snitch.
"Pretty spectacular, aren't they?" a voice to his left said, and Harry turned his head to find Malfoy standing next to and just behind him, a hand shading the sun from his eyes as he gazed skyward at the drilling team.
"That they are," Harry agreed. He didn't know how to play this, didn't know how Malfoy intended to either. They hadn't agreed on any ground rules, after all. He didn't know if Malfoy would even want to continue whatever the hell they'd started last night, particularly after Harry had practically bullied him into it.
"I hope you're not planning to reveal any secrets to the junior Potters," Malfoy drawled, still not looking at Harry.
"Pucey already offered the standard threats of grievous bodily harm should such an unthinkable event occur," Harry affirmed solemnly.
"Standard? You mean Harry Potter doesn't merit extraordinary threats of grievous bodily harm?"
"I think that was pretty much your specialty, Malfoy," Harry replied, and was oddly warmed when Malfoy glanced down and smirked at him, looking pleased.
They watched in silence for a few minutes more, then Malfoy surprised him. "Fancy a game of one-on-one afterward, Potter? Just you, me, and the Snitch."
Harry blinked up at him. "Are you serious?"
That smirk appeared again. "Scared, Potter?"
Slowly, Harry grinned. "You wish."
Malfoy turned his attention back to the team, but the pleased little smirk remained. "We can borrow a couple of the school brooms. No one will care." He paused. "Unless you brought your own?"
"No, I wasn't even thinking I'd have time to play any Quidditch," said Harry. "Besides, my days of high-speed racing brooms are long past. I leave those to my children now."
"Mmm," Malfoy replied. "They should be finishing up soon." As if on cue, the Slytherins began descending to earth moments later, hoisting their brooms over their shoulders and heading en masse toward the broom shed, then back to the castle. One of the players peeled away from the group and trotted in their direction instead, and Harry saw with no real surprise that it was Malfoy's son, looking wind-tousled and happy after a fairly impressive practice session as Seeker.
"Hi, Dad," he said. "Hey, Professor Potter. Not looking to give the Gryffindors ideas, are you?"
"Your captain already covered that issue quite thoroughly, I assure you," Harry replied dryly.
"Wouldn't want the Asp stealing Slytherin Seeker moves, you know," Scorpius said with a grin.
Harry blinked. "Asp?" Then he got it: Albus Severus Potter.
"Oh," Scorpius said, flushing a little. "Sorry. Slytherin nickname. Too confusing having two Potters on the same team."
"Ah," Harry said. Then, "Does he know—"
"Yeah," Scorpius admitted, color still in his cheeks, "and he doesn't like it, which is, er, kind of why we call him that."
Malfoy snickered, and Harry shot him a withering look, which only made him snicker more. "Potty," he murmured, smirking.
To Harry's gratification, at least Scorpius was giving his father the patented teenage Oh my god, I am so embarrassed to be related to you right now look.
Harry left them to their father-son business and made his way toward the broom shed, which smelled of wood and straw and polish and dust and—irresistibly, evocatively—of childhood. The school brooms were stored toward the back and he picked through them, seeking two that looked evenly matched and not too worn or shabby. When he emerged, Malfoy was just approaching; he examined the two brooms with narrowed eyes, then selected one with a decisive nod.
They procured the school set of Quidditch balls, and once Malfoy set the Snitch free in the middle of the pitch, they both launched themselves into the air.
It had been probably five years since Harry had played Quidditch at all, and he hadn't played regularly since the Saturday league he and Ron had joined when they were both young and newly married. Ginny had still been playing with the Harpies at the time, and attending her matches had made Harry miss the game something fierce. But Ginny had left professional Quidditch before the children arrived, and Harry had advanced through the ranks of the Auror corps, and as he grew older there'd been so little time for games anymore.
The warmth of the sun on his skin and the fragrant spring air made him throw his head back and laugh in sheer delight as he soared through the sky. Hovering on the opposite side of the pitch, Malfoy grinned at him—not a smirk this time, but a real, honest grin—as the breeze off the lake teased his hair into silvery disarray.
In the end, they both spotted the Snitch at about the same time and hurtled themselves after it with the same single-minded intensity that had made them such formidable rivals in their schooldays. Harry just barely managed to close his fingers around it before Malfoy—although he admitted to himself that it might not have been quite as close if he hadn't been distracted by the heat of Malfoy's thigh pressed against his as they barreled neck-and-neck through the sky in pursuit.
They both were panting with exertion when they landed, and Harry felt his shoulder twinge and reflected ruefully that he'd likely be paying for that game over the next several days. But it was worth it.
"Good game, Potter," Malfoy said, looking only a little sullen.
"Good game, Malfoy," Harry said, meaning it.
Harry returned the two borrowed broomsticks to the back of the broom shed while Malfoy stowed the crate of Quidditch balls. He was caught off-guard, though, when Malfoy latched the door of the shed and turned toward Harry with a predatory light in his eyes.
"Malfoy?" Harry asked, taking a step back.
Malfoy's smile was slow and dangerous. "Potter," he said, "do you have any idea how hot you look on a broomstick?"
"I—what? Oh," he said when he found himself backed up against the wall of the broom shed. "Oh," he said when Malfoy dragged his tongue along Harry's jaw and set a deft hand to the task of unfastening Harry's trousers. "Oh, my god," he said when Malfoy's warm, strong hand closed snugly around his erection and began to stroke in a slow, relentless rhythm.
Malfoy's other hand got to work unfastening his own trousers while his mouth sealed itself against Harry's straining neck, sucking at his pulse point. As he felt his knees start to give way, Malfoy pressed his body forward, all but holding Harry upright with a firm hand on his arse as he aligned their naked cocks and began stroking them together with his other hand.
The smell of sweat and broom polish and Malfoy was making Harry dizzy, and all he could feel was the hot, heady, desperate friction of Malfoy's hand stroking, stroking, stroking and Malfoy's cock jostling against his own, damp and contoured and different, so different to feel another cock hot and eager against his own, but so fucking good.
Harry gasped and just barely managed to swallow the keening cry that wanted to burst forth when he came, spilling messily all over Malfoy's squeezing fingers, all over Malfoy's cock, which stiffened further and quivered against Harry's before releasing its own burden. Their combined semen oozed over Malfoy's hand and between his fingers as he continued stroking each of them more slowly now, panting against Harry's neck. At last, he drew away, his hand a slick mess, and Harry's knees finally did buckle at the filthy, incredible sight of Malfoy drawing his tongue slowly up his palm, licking their come off his fingers.
"Christ," Harry whispered, half-sprawled on the floor, and Malfoy laughed and extended his hand—the one still damp with come.
Harry's gaze lifted from Malfoy's hand to Malfoy's eyes, which held both challenge and something more elemental.
"Scared, Potter?" Malfoy whispered, and there was no smirk this time.
Harry looked back at the hand, then grasped it at the wrist, feeling Malfoy's jerk of surprise before he parted his lips and sucked Malfoy's index finger into his mouth. Malfoy actually groaned as Harry drew his lips down Malfoy's finger before releasing it. The taste that lingered in his mouth was salty and unpleasant, and he didn't know if it was Malfoy's spunk he was tasting, his own, or some combination of the two. He swallowed, trying to get rid of the taste. Malfoy sucked in a ragged breath at the sound, then fell to his knees in front of Harry and kissed him hard.
"Merlin," was all Malfoy said against his lips, sounding reverent.
Afterward, Malfoy murmured a spell to clean them both up and they put themselves back in order. Harry hoped no one had noticed they'd been in the broom shed this long—not that it had been long, no more than ten minutes probably, but certainly longer than it took to put away a couple of broomsticks and a Quidditch set. As he reached for the door handle to head back out into the spring sunshine, Malfoy grasped his arm lightly. Harry turned his head to meet Malfoy's eyes.
"Just so we're on the same page," Malfoy said quietly, "this is…just for this week, right? No strings, no commitments. I mean, I know you're straight, and…" His voice trailed off and his gaze slid away.
"Yeah," Harry said, feeling his post-orgasm euphoria begin to fizzle. "No strings, just for the week. Right. I can do that." He opened the door, stepping out of Malfoy's hold, and strode toward the castle without looking back.
Harry had known since childhood that Draco Malfoy was a dirty little cheat, but what he hadn't realized until now was that Draco Malfoy was just plain dirty.
Over the next week, Malfoy took great delight in catching Harry unaware, pulling him abruptly into unused classrooms and darkened corners to touch and taste and make Harry come with hands and mouth and delicious, delirious friction. It was like being a student again, sneaking around under the watchful eyes of authority figures, hiding in alcoves as giggling students passed by, keeping his groans quiet as Malfoy sucked with surprising talent and eagerness at his neck.
"God, you've no idea how I used to imagine—" Malfoy gasped once, then bit Harry's ear.
They used some of the same hidden corners where he and Ginny had explored each other that long-ago spring of his sixth year, before the war brought their youth to an end. At first, that knowledge made him shrug off Malfoy's touches, made him prickly with unease, as though violating the sanctity of a holy place. But when Malfoy dragged him into a long-disused storage room on the third floor and darted a hand into Harry's trousers before Harry could even form a protest on his tongue, the feel of that large, strong hand curled around his cock made his breathing stop and was phenomenally successful at distracting him from the memory of the last time he'd been in this room, his trembling hands peeling open Ginny's robes, his mouth on her breasts for the first time.
When he came, hard, gasping a name that wasn't Ginny's into a mouth that sucked and teased and panted into his own with a roughness that Ginny's could never hope to approximate, it was as good as an exorcism.
He found it strangely easier to talk to Malfoy now that they were doing so much more than talking. Most evenings found Harry sunk into one of Malfoy's comfortable armchairs with a cup of tea or a glass of wine or a tumbler of scotch, talking about his day in Defense Against the Dark Arts—the joy of watching a first-year master Expelliarmus for the first time; discovering that James's Patronus was a stag, just like his own; learning the hard way not to pair up Al and Scorpius as dueling partners.
"I'm sure Al's nose will be good as new once he's out of the hospital wing," Malfoy snickered into his tea.
"Yes, well," Harry returned with a scowl, "I do hope those leeks have stopped sprouting from Scorpius's ears."
Harry found himself sharing other, more personal things as well, like his worries that Kingsley wouldn't let him come back to his position with the Auror Office, and his fears about how the divorce would affect his relationship with his children and the Weasley family, and even about the gay rumor that had finally broken up his marriage. Malfoy, too, spoke during these evenings together, sometimes about his ex-wife, or about how much working at Hogwarts meant to him, but more often about his father—about those last few years of his life and how the war had changed him, about how his mother still tried to cope with his loss.
Inevitably, though, at some point the conversation would trail off as Malfoy stopped talking and started looking, eyes filled with heat and intent. First, it was all hands and frotting and desperate, sloppy kisses, until one night Malfoy set aside his wineglass and lowered himself to the floor, making his way across the room to Harry on hands and knees. Harry's eyes widened when Malfoy placed his hands on Harry's knees and spread them wide, insinuating his torso between Harry's thighs and unfastening Harry's trousers. All it seemed to take these days to get Harry hard was a purposeful glance from Malfoy, and when Malfoy fished his cock out of Harry's fly, then sat back on his haunches and just looked at it, as though memorizing its every ridge, Harry felt himself swell impossibly more and thought he'd never been harder in his entire life.
Malfoy trailed his fingers along the shaft, and Harry squirmed in his chair. Malfoy glanced up at him through his eyelashes, a smirk curving his mouth as he curled his fingers underneath Harry's balls, then lowered his head, dragging his tongue up the underside of Harry's cock, teasing at the extraordinarily sensitive spot just below the head, probing delicately beneath his foreskin. Harry whimpered, then cried out as Malfoy lowered his head over Harry's cock, sliding his mouth over it in a slow, deliberate motion, the stroke of his wet, agile tongue against the head making Harry dig his fingers into the arms of the chair to keep from grabbing Malfoy by the hair. He threw his head back and closed his eyes, conscious of nothing but Malfoy's strong hand gripping the base of his cock, Malfoy's lips sliding purposefully along the shaft, and the glorious, unbelievable wet heat of Malfoy's mouth around the head of his cock, sucking firmly while Malfoy's tongue never stopped its movements.
Harry panted wordlessly, straining toward orgasm, his ears filled with white noise as the end approached.
"Com—" he gasped. "Coming."
Malfoy didn't lift his head, and Harry screamed as he came directly into that hot, sucking mouth. Malfoy kept the suction gentle as Harry completed his orgasm and, when Harry collapsed bonelessly into the chair, his entire body trembling, Malfoy finally drew his mouth off Harry's shaft, giving the head one last, farewell lick before sitting back and licking his reddened lips. Harry's eyes trailed down Malfoy's body, and he realized at some point during the proceedings Malfoy had got his own cock out and pulled himself off. His wilting erection poked out of his trousers, flushed and still dripping.
He gave Harry a smug smile, and if Harry had had the energy to move, he would have kissed that expression right off the man's face. As it was, he struggled just to catch his breath.
"Jesus, Malfoy," he said finally.
"Liked that, did you?" Malfoy said, tucking his own cock away carefully before lifting a gentle hand to Harry's.
"That was—" He shook his head. "Yeah."
Malfoy didn't meet his eyes as he refastened Harry's trousers. "I take it Weasley wasn't one for blowjobs?"
The mention of Ginny made Harry's stomach lurch in a sick way. He hadn't thought of her once the entire time he'd been in Malfoy's rooms tonight, even before Malfoy had sucked Harry's cock into his mouth. "She—well, she did them," he admitted, "but—" She hadn't enjoyed them. Not the way Malfoy obviously had.
"Hmm," Malfoy said noncommittally, standing up and walking back to the other side of the room to pick up his wineglass.
Harry never stayed the night. His spending the evening with Malfoy could be attributed easily enough to two professors and former schoolmates talking pedagogy and House rivalries into the wee hours. His leaving Malfoy's quarters at dawn would have been another matter entirely.
Even so, Harry hadn't had this much sex in years, if ever. The only time that came close was the week after he and Ginny were married, when they'd been in a frenzy to christen every room in the house. But by last year their sex life had tapered off to once or twice a week if he was lucky, especially since she was out of town so often covering Quidditch teams for the Prophet, and it hadn't helped that sometimes he'd been too worn out by his job to perform at all. He hadn't thought himself still able to get it up this often, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth—particularly when that mouth was as talented as Malfoy's.
By Wednesday, Harry's mood had improved so noticeably that not only did his children comment on it, other staff did as well. "Teaching really agrees with you," Fenester observed at dinner, taking in the aura of contentment that Harry could see even on himself in the mirror, but which he was helpless to tamp down on. Luckily, no one seemed to have cottoned to the real cause, although he'd noticed Neville giving him peculiar looks.
"It does," Harry replied, smiling at Fenester. "But I think it's more just…being here at Hogwarts, you know?"
Fenester nodded knowingly. "No matter how long you've been away, returning here is a bit like coming home, isn't it?"
"It is," Harry agreed. "I don't think I was quite expecting that."
"Catches a man off guard," Fenester laughed. "When I returned here to teach after the war, I found I relished even the things I'd hated as a student, like the damp and the chill of the castle. I was even happy to see Peeves again!"
Harry laughed, but found his gaze straying toward a pale, pointed profile at the opposite end of the staff table. "I suppose even the things we used to hate are part of what ties us to this place, in the end," he said thoughtfully.
Harry's good mood lasted only until lunchtime on Thursday, when an owl swooped into the Great Hall to deliver a letter from his solicitor, informing him that the divorce papers were ready to sign and would be waiting for him in London upon his return from Hogwarts.
Everything he'd been trying to repress over the last week and a half came slamming back with the force of a Bludger. When he left here, he had no real home to return to, no wife who loved him, and—at the moment anyway—still no job, as Kingsley wasn't going to let him come back to the Ministry until Harry had met with him personally and, Kingsley had hinted, made an appointment to start visiting a counselor. This was just a stopgap, two weeks away from the real world. But the threats still lurked beyond Hogwarts's gates.
He knew he was less animated in his afternoon Defense lessons than he had been previously, but he couldn't seem to help it. James shot him a worried look and hung back behind the rest of the exiting seventh-year NEWT students, but Harry shook his head and waved him on with his friends. Then he walked down to the greenhouses.
Over tea in his office, Neville was sympathetic but implacable. "You've known this was coming, Harry."
Harry leaned his forehead into his hand, weary of the whole situation. "I don't understand, though. I've never understood. Everything was fine, and one day—bam!—she wanted a divorce. I guess—" He sighed. "I guess I hoped that she'd change her mind, that whatever had made her decide to do this would just—" He shrugged and flicked a hand. "Disappear."
Neville shook his head. "I know you would have preferred it otherwise, Harry, but you had to know there was next to no chance Ginny would change her mind. She's more stubborn even than you are."
Harry didn't reply, just scowled at his teacup.
"She asked after you recently, you know," Neville said.
Harry swallowed. "You've seen her?"
"She stopped by the Leaky last weekend. We had a bit of a chat."
"Oh," Harry said. He hesitated. "She's doing all right?"
"Yeah," Neville said, his tone gentle. "She's OK, but it's been hard on her too. And she's been worried about you. A lot of people have."
"What did you tell her, then?"
Neville took a sip of tea. "I told her you're much improved since you came here. That you seem happier. It's true, isn't it? Or—" He set his cup down with a sigh. "It was."
"It seemed like it," Harry said dully.
Neville frowned and tapped his finger along the rim of the teacup. After a few moments' silence, he said, "You know, I talk to Draco Malfoy pretty regularly. He consults with me every week about plants he needs as potions ingredients."
Harry looked up at him warily, but Neville's eyes were on his teacup. "That's…nice?"
"Mmm," Neville said. "Last week all he could do was complain about your being here. I finally had to tell him to shut up about it or I'd hex him."
Harry couldn't help laughing a little. "I would have liked to see that."
"Yeah, well," Neville continued, "I was afraid this week's meeting would be a repeat of last week. But—funny thing—it wasn't."
Neville looked at him then, and Harry made an interrogative sound.
"He didn't say a word about you, actually," Neville said. "Not a single word. I thought maybe my threats carried more weight than I'd thought. And then I realized he had that same sort of blissed-out look you've had the last several days."
Harry felt his heart start to pound.
Neville shrugged, one finger idly turning his teacup in its saucer. "To be honest, at first I thought maybe he'd got in the way of a mood-altering potion. And then I made the connection."
Harry sat very, very still.
"Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy," Neville mused. "I never would have imagined. But it makes sense in a weird way, I suppose."
Harry forced himself to laugh. "Malfoy? I don't know where you'd get an idea like that."
Neville gave him a withering look. "Right, and you're going to tell me that Trelawney gave you that love bite I saw on your neck the other morning?" Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Neville shook his head. "Look, I'm not stupid, Harry, and I'm not judging you, either. I think it's great."
Harry shut his mouth.
"Honestly, I haven't seen you look this happy in years," Neville said.
"It's just sex," Harry blurted, then cursed himself, because there were some things Neville really didn't need to know.
But Neville just shrugged. "If you say so. I think Draco really likes you, though. He wouldn't have complained about you so much otherwise."
Harry blinked at him. "Neville, that's the most fucked-up reasoning I've ever heard."
Neville laughed. "Then you obviously don't know Draco well enough yet. He only gets that upset when something's really got under his skin."
"Neville," Harry explained patiently, "that's because he's hated me for practically our entire lives."
"And I'm sure he always spends his free time giving love bites to people he hates. Very devious, that Draco Malfoy."
But Neville held up a hand. "Harry, I'm sorry, but I've got stuff to do before I go home tonight. Can we talk about this some other time? I just wanted to let you know I think it's a good thing. I'm sure you'll figure that out for yourself eventually."
Harry rose slowly from his chair, wondering if he really had gone through the looking glass when he'd come to Hogwarts, if Neville Longbottom was telling him he had no problem with Harry getting involved with someone who'd lived to torment Neville when they were children. Shaking his head, he opened the door to leave.
"Oh, and Harry?" Neville said. Harry turned around. "I don't think anyone else noticed that hickey, but if you're really trying to keep this thing with Draco a secret, you might want to be more careful about charming those away." Neville touched his own neck and winked. "Believe me, I know all about it—Hannah's always been a bit of a biter."
Harry closed the door behind him and stood still for a moment, trying to rid himself of that image. Clearly there were some things Harry really didn't need to know either.
A hand grabbed his arm as he strode down a second-floor corridor en route to his quarters. Before Harry realized it, he'd been pulled into an alcove not far from the headmistress's office and Malfoy's mouth was on his.
Harry shoved him away. "No," he said. "I can't."
Malfoy's hand closed around his arm again as Harry turned to leave. "Wait—no, come on," he whispered, his breath hot on Harry's ear. "You don't have anything until dinner, right?"
"Malfoy," Harry hissed, "I cannot do this right now."
"Why?" Malfoy demanded, his face just inches from Harry's, gray eyes stormy.
"I just can't, all right? I don't feel like it."
Malfoy took a step forward and closed the gap between them, crowding Harry back against the wall. His thigh pressed against Harry's half-hard cock. God, it was embarrassing; just the sight of Malfoy, just the smell of him… "That," Malfoy whispered, "doesn't feel like you don't feel like it."
All Harry wanted at that moment was to forget everything that was waiting for him after this week, forget everything that had come before this. Growling low in his throat, he plunged his fingers into Malfoy's hair and dragged him into a violent kiss.
Malfoy groaned, his hands sliding up Harry's torso and his thigh rubbing in a steady rhythm against Harry's groin. Harry bucked his hips and pressed his own thigh against the ridge of Malfoy's hard cock.
Harry couldn't stop whimpering, and their frantic, ragged breaths sounded as loud as the Hogwarts Express in his ear, but he didn't care, didn't care, because he was about to—
"Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter! I have warned you that if I caught you like this one more time—"
Both Harry and Malfoy froze and turned their faces slowly toward their accuser. Harry was certain he looked as horrified as Malfoy did.
"—I would alert your paren—" When the light fell across their features, the headmistress's voice stopped abruptly and her mouth fell open in shock. "Professors!" she gasped.
Harry and Malfoy drew away from each other as best they could in the small space, as Professor Aimsworthy seemed rooted to the spot.
Harry's brain began to function again after the first few shocked moments during which they all stood staring at one another. Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter, she'd said the first time. Not Professor.
"Well," the headmistress said at last, her voice faint, "this is certainly awkward."
"We're not even supposed to know about it," Harry had tried reasoning with Malfoy.
"Fuck that," Malfoy had replied. "I want to know how it is that my son is being caught in compromising positions all over Hogwarts with your son, when as far as I know their principal relationship consists of cursing each other with pig snouts and ears that sprout leeks!"
"If they wanted us to know, they'd tell us about it!" Harry protested. Although it hurt, yes, just a little, that Al had hidden something like this from him. Last he'd heard, Al had a girlfriend. Possibly several of them. At once.
But Malfoy had been unmovable, and so here Harry stood in the Potions master's office, waiting for their sons to arrive from dinner in response to Malfoy's summons. Malfoy sat behind the desk and glowered in a disturbingly Snape-like way. Harry wondered if he'd inherited the ability along with the office.
Al knocked and poked his head in the doorway first. "Sir, you wanted to see me?" Then he saw Harry standing behind Malfoy, one shoulder propped against the wall. "Dad?" He glanced back and forth between them. "What's going on?"
"Have a seat," Malfoy said. "We're waiting for one more."
Al's worried eyes flicked to Harry's, and Harry tried to keep his face neutral.
Just then Scorpius appeared as well. "Dad?" he asked, giving the door a cursory knock before breezing through, then stopping dead at the sight of Harry and Al. "Professor—"
"Close the door and sit down," Malfoy said.
Al's eyes were wide and a little alarmed.
Scorpius took a seat and glanced at Harry, then back at his father. "Sir," he said, "if this is about that incident in Potions the other day—"
"It is not," Malfoy said. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you two have anything you'd like to say to us?"
Al's eyes were fixed on his lap, his face vaguely green. But Scorpius just sat up straighter and looked his father dead in the eye. "The both of you are splendid fathers, professors, and, if I may say so, gentlemen."
Harry stifled a laugh, and Malfoy turned around and glared at him, so Harry schooled his face to neutrality again.
Malfoy's stony expression turned back to his son. "Want to try that again?"
Scorpius opened his mouth, but Al interrupted him. "Oh, shut up already, Scorp, they obviously know." He looked straight at Harry, pale but determined. "Did Professor Aimsworthy tell you?"
"It was…an accidental discovery," Harry said.
Scorpius looked highly suspicious, but Al just sighed and shook his head at Scorpius. "Scorp, my dad's Head Auror. He probably knows more about us than we do."
Harry straightened, surprised and not a little pleased by this rather enormous overestimation of his investigative skills.
Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"Tell us what happened," Harry said.
Al took a deep breath. "It started last year," he began in a small and miserable voice, "just before OWLs. It wasn't—we never meant for it to be anything. It was just—letting off steam. We didn't plan it. We didn't expect it. It was only the once."
"And then it wasn't," Scorpius murmured.
"It wasn't going to happen this year," Al said, his eyes pleading with Harry's. "And then we—we ran into each other over the summer and it was—" His voice trailed off, his fist clenching against his knee.
A horrible sort of realization began to creep into Harry's mind. "You ran into each other over the summer? When?"
"In Diagon Alley," Scorpius said. "Just before school started again. I was there with Mum, buying supplies, and Asp spotted me in Flourish and Blotts—"
"You spotted me," Al said, glaring.
Scorpius made a face at him. "We spotted each other."
"And we—" Al swallowed. "I think someone saw us. In the alley by the bookshop, I mean. And after that we swore never again, but…"
The rest was all static in Harry's ears, because all he could hear was Ron's voice back in September: A passionate clinch with some tall, blond bloke in the alley next to Flourish and Blotts. Somebody's claiming they actually saw you wank the guy off—and quite a capable, familiar job you made of it, too…
His eyes met Malfoy's, and he could tell the other man had made the connection as well. Harry felt sick with the realization.
This was how the rumor that had broken up his marriage started.
Al obviously didn't know, or if he'd heard the rumor he hadn't connected it to his parents' impending divorce. When Harry and Ginny had broken the news to the children—well, Ginny had broken the news; Harry had been unable to force himself to do anything but stand there and try to look brave—Ginny had glossed over the reasons with phrases like "grown apart" and "different goals." There'd been no reason for Al to suspect, and no reason for him to attempt to set the record straight.
Harry felt very, very tired all of a sudden.
The boys' words flowed right over him; he didn't even attempt to listen. Instead, he watched the two of them—the shy glances Al swept at Scorpius when Scorpius's attention was on Malfoy; the small, helpless smile that tugged at the corner of Scorpius's mouth whenever he looked at Al.
"We'll end it if you want us to," Al was saying when Harry tuned back in, pleading green eyes darting between Harry and Malfoy. Next to him, Scorpius looked stricken.
"No," Harry said before Malfoy could even open his mouth. "We're fine with it."
Malfoy turned and lifted an eyebrow at Harry.
Harry faced the boys and said again, decisively, "We're both fine with it. We just—didn't want you to think you had to hide it from us."
Al and Scorpius glanced at each other from the corners of their eyes, then Al looked back at Harry. "Thanks, Dad. That's—wow."
"It isn't you, though," Scorpius said. "Not really. It's, well—"
"Everyone else here," Al said.
Malfoy's brows drew together. "Because you think they'd disapprove of your being gay?" he asked, his tone threatening harm to anyone who dared express displeasure with his son.
Scorpius smiled at his father. Obviously implications of violence were a token of affection in the Malfoy household. "No, Dad, not that. It's just—everyone thinks Asp and I hate each other. It'd be kind of weird if they suddenly found out we were…" He trailed off—probably, Harry thought, to avoid saying the word shagging in front of his father.
But Malfoy surprised him. "In love," he murmured, eyes on his son, who smiled ruefully and shrugged before his gaze drifted tellingly to Al, who was beaming at him in return.
Afterward, Harry walked Al back to Gryffindor Tower on his way to his own quarters. They trailed through the hallways in silence for several minutes, Harry's mind spinning, until Al quietly ventured, "Are you angry with me, Dad?"
Harry shook himself out of his reverie. "What? No. I'm just thinking. It's—" He sighed. "It's a lot to take in. But I'm not angry, no. Just surprised."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you before," Al said in a small voice.
"It's all right," Harry said. "It's not really any of my business anyway." He paused, then forced himself to ask the question. "Does your mother know?"
"Oh, no," Al said. "Nobody knows. Not even James and Lily."
Harry swallowed against the lump in his throat at the thought of Ginny. "You know your mother wouldn't be upset, right? I mean, with your Uncle Charlie and all—"
"She doesn't like the Malfoys, though," Al replied. "Scorp's grandfather tried to kill her. I know that."
"Scorpius isn't his grandfather," Harry said. And neither is his father.
Al nodded and was quiet.
"So," Harry said after a moment, a grin spreading. "Asp."
Al colored a little. "It's just a nickname."
"Scorpius told me you hated it."
"I used to," Al admitted. "He started calling me that two years ago when I made the Quidditch team. It was like—you know, like I was a snake, a dirty Slytherin like him. It made me really angry. But now that we're—" He ducked his head a little. "—you know—it's not so bad."
They parted at the Fat Lady's portrait, and Harry couldn't help asking before he left, "That snit you were in last week, when you stopped by my office. Was that Scorpius-related too?"
"Oh," Al said, blushing a brilliant red. "That. Yeah, sort of."
"Just—" He shrugged. "He said something that made me jealous."
"Ah," Harry said.
"Yeah," Al said, and laughed. "Over you."
Al grinned at him. "Scorp thinks you're terribly attractive, you know. Definitely has a bit of a crush."
A pause. "Ah," Harry said again. When had his life turned so surreal?
When he got back to his quarters, he took out the letter from his solicitor and read it over again with a sigh, then set it aside, thinking.
He didn't go to Malfoy's quarters that night.
The headmistress had planned a small cocktail party for the staff in honor of Harry's last day as a professor, and nearly all the staff stopped in on Friday night. Even Trelawney ventured downstairs for the occasion, claiming to have foreseen there would be shrimp (surprisingly, there were).
Neville lingered at Hogwarts specifically to knock back a couple of firewhiskies with Harry at the party, though he cut himself off before he became too inebriated to Floo home, and told Harry in no uncertain terms that he expected to see him in the Leaky Cauldron sometime in the near future, drinks on the house. Harry summoned a smile and told Neville he'd be there.
The one staff member who didn't show was Draco Malfoy.
After his third firewhisky, Harry worked up the nerve to ask the headmistress after him. She didn't quite meet his eyes—she hadn't done so once since the scene the previous evening—as she told him Malfoy had begged off, saying he had a potion he urgently needed to brew.
After his fifth firewhisky, as the party was winding down, Harry set off in search of the errant Potions master.
The door to the Potions classroom was wide open, light spilling into the hallway as Harry approached. Like the first time Harry had come down here last week, Malfoy stood behind one of the worktables. He frowned intently at a flask of greenish liquid as he held it up to the light.
"You missed an excellent party," Harry said, propping a shoulder against the doorframe.
Malfoy started at the sound of his voice, the potion sloshing against the sides of the flask, but thankfully not spilling. He swept a cold glance at Harry, then turned back to his task. "Go away," he said. "I'm busy."
"More potions for the hospital wing?" Harry asked.
"Actually," Malfoy said, glaring, "it's the poison I'm planning to drop into the pumpkin juice at the reception tomorrow. Imagine—I'll finally be the most successful Death Eater of them all."
Harry stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. "Jesus, Malfoy, don't even joke about that."
Malfoy snorted and proceeded to ignore him.
Harry, in turn, ignored the fact that he was being ignored and seated himself on the edge of Malfoy's desk, leaning back with his palms braced against the surface. The only sign that Malfoy noticed at all was a faint scowl.
Harry let several minutes go by as he just watched Malfoy work in silence. There was a deft, assured quality to Malfoy's movements as he pinched and stirred and swirled that was strangely attractive, even arousing—all the more so because Harry knew just how capable those hands were at other tasks as well. He got so caught up watching the flex and curl of Malfoy's talented hands that he didn't even notice Malfoy was glaring at him again until the hands stopped.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" Malfoy demanded.
Harry shrugged. "Not really, no."
"Trunk to pack? Asinine speech to practice?"
"I'm not speaking tomorrow."
That seemed to catch Malfoy by surprise. "You're not?"
Harry shook his head. "The headmistress asked me to, but I told her no. I didn't want the focus to be on me rather than on the victims of the battle."
"Hmph," Malfoy said. "Always did fancy yourself the center of the universe, didn't you?" But Harry could hear the underlying approval in his tone, so he didn't take the bait.
"What are you working on?" he asked.
Malfoy scowled, but answered the question. "New formulation for the restorative draught I was working on when you were here last week. The mixture didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped."
"Oh," Harry said. He tried to remember what Malfoy had been doing last week—combining one potion with another, something about tempering its strength. "Wrong combination?"
"Maybe." Malfoy glared at his cauldron. "Sometimes, even though the combination of ingredients makes perfect sense in theory, it turns out to be disastrous. Or sometimes a certain combination will appear to work perfectly at first, but after a while it just—stops working."
"How is that possible?" Harry asked. Potions had never been one of his favorite subjects at the best of times, and the firewhisky fuzzing his brain was making it even harder to concentrate.
"Nothing is static, Potter," Malfoy said. "Ingredients lose their potency. Species change in subtle ways through successive generations, so the flobberworm my great-great-grandfather used to develop a potion might not be the same as the one I use today. Nothing works one hundred percent of the time, and nothing lasts forever."
"That's…" Harry frowned. "Really depressing, actually."
"It just means we need to adjust, Potter. If nothing changed, life would be very boring." He frowned at the potion again. "Although it might make my job a lot easier."
"So you're working on a new combination?"
"Something that balances the potion's strengths," Malfoy said, stirring the potion with quick, angry strokes. "With the right combination, the potion transcends its component parts, becomes something new and better." He stopped stirring and examined the potion further, his expression turning dark. "Of course, sometimes no matter how hard you want a certain combination to work, it just fucking doesn't." Malfoy flung the cauldron against the wall, green liquid hissing as it trickled down the wall to the floor. He buried his face in his hands.
Harry went still with shock.
Malfoy didn't look up for several long moments, and when he did, his eyes were wild with fury. "What the fuck are you still doing here? Surely you have something you need to do."
"Not really, no," Harry said.
"Fucking pathetic," Malfoy said. "You always were."
Harry frowned. "I'm leaving tomorrow, you know."
"Thank Merlin for small favors."
"This is my last night here."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Oh, well spotted, Potter. That keen grasp of the obvious is so clearly why Hogwarts hired you to teach the next generation."
"I want to suck your cock," Harry said, and Malfoy gaped.
"Are you—are you completely insane?" Malfoy demanded. "After what we found out last night, you want to—are you drunk?"
"A little," Harry admitted, "yeah."
Malfoy shook his head, his expression caught somewhere between rage and mortification. "Get out, now."
"But not so drunk," Harry continued, speaking over Malfoy, "that I don't remember that I wanted to do that even before I got drunk tonight."
"Right," Malfoy said bitterly, "and that's why you didn't come back downstairs last night. Because you want so badly to suck my cock."
"I had a lot to think about last night."
"I'm sure you did," Malfoy sneered.
"I don't want to spend tonight thinking."
"Potter, you spend most of your life not thinking."
Harry determinedly held his gaze. "I want to spend tonight not thinking with you."
"Well, that should be simple enough," Malfoy muttered, almost too low for Harry to hear, "since I obviously don't think at all where you're involved." He bent his head over the ruins of his worktable and took a deep breath. When he lifted his head again, his eyes were cool. "Fine," he said. "Let's go back to my quarters, and I will allow you to suck my cock."
Harry swallowed, wondering if it had been a stupid idea to come down here after all. But he'd woken up thinking of Malfoy that morning and had found himself looking forward to seeing him—not just to get off in a dusty alcove or two, but to talk for maybe the last time, about their sons and about the end of Harry's time at Hogwarts. Then Malfoy didn't show up in the Great Hall for meals, and he didn't pounce on Harry in any unexpected corners, and he didn't even come to Harry's farewell party. Harry had felt surprisingly hurt by the last, which was stupid because of course Malfoy hated him, had always hated him, and probably really would be glad to see the last of him tomorrow.
But the sex had been so good. And Harry had been thinking of sucking Malfoy's cock, had dreamed about it last night. And, damn it, even knowing Malfoy hated him, Harry still wanted the twitchy bastard.
He knew he should leave, knew he should say, Sorry to have bothered you. I'll just be going now. Thank you for your time, and go back to his rooms and forget this whole thing had ever happened.
Instead he said, "Fine."
Malfoy Vanished the spilled potion and cleaned up his worktable while Harry fidgeted on the edge of Malfoy's desk, nervous and excited and unhappy all at once. When Malfoy beckoned, Harry followed him back to Malfoy's quarters, where Sir Thomas gave Harry a distrustful glare as the portrait swung open to admit them.
As soon as the portal closed behind them, Harry slid his hand around Malfoy's neck and kissed him. It was like kissing a statue—Malfoy held himself perfectly still, tense and angry. Harry drew away, frowning.
"I said you could blow me," Malfoy said. "Not kiss me."
Rage made Harry's heart pound in his ears, and he was half a breath away from telling Malfoy he could blow himself for all Harry cared—but he refused to let Malfoy goad him into giving up.
"All right," Harry said, placing a hand square in the middle of Malfoy's chest and shoving him back against the wall.
Malfoy grunted as his body collided with the wall, but Harry didn't care. He pulled open Malfoy's work robes and, kneeling, made quick work of the fastenings on his trousers, yanking them and his pants down to Malfoy's ankles and revealing that Malfoy was not nearly as indifferent to the situation as he'd pretended. Harry curled a hand around Malfoy's reddened cock, nearly at full erection already, and stroked it twice, slowly, letting himself enjoy the heat of it against his palm, gliding his thumb across the sensitive head, mapping the terrain of its every ridge in a way he hadn't been at leisure to do before now. Malfoy gasped, then clamped his mouth shut, as though to prevent any further such shows of weakness.
It was strange looking at a cock from this angle, Harry thought—the smooth shape and lift of it, conjoined curves and harnessed power; the intriguing sac below, heavy with potential.
Harry fanned his hands against Malfoy's hips, feeling the jut of bone against his palms as he held Malfoy in place. Still on his knees, he looked up at Malfoy's face, the other man's cheeks already flushed pink, his eyes bright. "I've never done this before," Harry said, and Malfoy's cock jerked at the words. Malfoy drew in a ragged breath, but didn't say anything.
Figuring that whatever Malfoy had done to him would probably work just as well on Malfoy, Harry began by licking a stripe up the underside of Malfoy's cock and tickling just below the head. Malfoy made a strangled noise, cock jerking against Harry's tongue, hips struggling to move against the anchor of Harry's palms. He used his tongue to explore as he had his hands earlier, seeking out the differences between Malfoy's cock and his own—the enticing geography of veins, the delicate wrinkle of foreskin—learning the many ways he could make Malfoy squirm.
When he took the damp head into his mouth, letting it glide over his tongue, Malfoy actually moaned and knocked his head back against the wall. Encouraged, Harry slid his mouth farther down over the shaft, taking care to cover his teeth with his lips, and sucked, stroking up and down, slowly at first, then faster, as Malfoy made unintelligible sounds above him and his cock quivered ever more eagerly against Harry's caressing tongue.
A gasp of, "Potter—coming—" was all the warning he got before Malfoy groaned and bucked hard against Harry's anchoring hands. Harry kept his mouth on Malfoy's jerking cock as he came, letting the bitter fluid spurt against his tongue. Then Malfoy's knees abruptly gave way and he fell straight to the floor. Caught by surprise, Harry choked a little, coughing.
"Ow," Malfoy said.
Harry coughed again.
"God, Potter," Malfoy said, still panting.
Harry cleared his throat, and coughed again for good measure.
Something like concern shaded Malfoy's eyes then, through the post-orgasmic haze. "Are you all right?"
Harry nodded and sucked in a breath. When he didn't cough again immediately, he figured he was safe.
Malfoy curled a fist into the front of Harry's robes and dragged him into a very wet, very sloppy, very lazy kiss, Malfoy's tongue stroking against his and seeming to seek out every corner of Harry's mouth. When he drew back, his face was still flushed, his eyes bright. "I love that you taste like me," Malfoy whispered.
Harry groaned and kissed him again, dragging Malfoy's pants and trousers off as Malfoy reclined onto the carpet, then crawling between Malfoy's spread thighs. Harry was hard and aching now, and he fumbled desperately with his own belt buckle as he plundered Malfoy's mouth. When he finally had his cock in his hand, he moaned into Malfoy's mouth and began pulling himself off with quick, purposeful strokes.
"No," Malfoy protested, his hands on Harry's face, drawing him away. "No, wait, don't do that."
Harry couldn't speak, could only make a noise that he hoped indicated, Jesus Christ, Malfoy, I am going to DIE if I don't come in the next two minutes.
"Fuck me," Malfoy whispered, kissing Harry again roughly, then whispered it again into Harry's mouth. "Fuck me."
Shocked, Harry propped himself up on one elbow above Malfoy. "What?"
Malfoy's eyes were wide and certain. "Fuck me. I want you to."
"I—" Harry was shaking at the very thought, and he wasn't sure if it was excitement or terror, or some combination of the two. "You—you're sure?"
"God, Potter, I've been dying for it all week," Malfoy said. "Yes, I'm sure."
Somehow—Harry was never sure quite how—they found themselves in Malfoy's bedroom, which Harry had never seen before now, their previous explorations having been limited to the living area in the outer room. The bed was large and luxurious, the hangings and bed linens Slytherin green, and Malfoy looked like a pale, golden fantasy spread out naked against the sheets, his hands touching Harry everywhere.
Harry had never been fully naked with Malfoy before—they'd shoved clothes aside, raised or lowered them, sometimes failed to remove clothes altogether. He felt nervous and self-conscious at first, knowing that although he wore his years well, he wasn't as fit as he'd been at seventeen. But Malfoy seemed fascinated by the entirety of him, trailing his fingers through dark hair, tracing the contour of bone, touching a finger to the curved scar the locket had burned into his chest. Harry, for his part, nearly lost his erection at the sight of the crisscrossing white scars on Malfoy's chest, just one more legacy of all the hatred and foolishness of a lifetime between them. He pressed his lips to each scar in turn, feeling Malfoy's breathing grow strained, his chest hitching under Harry's apologetic mouth. Then Harry lifted Malfoy's left arm and pressed his mouth to the puckered, still angry-looking scar that once had been the Dark Mark. At the tentative touch of Harry's tongue, Malfoy shuddered and dragged Harry back down to seal their mouths together.
"Please," Malfoy said. "Now."
He'd tried this once with Ginny, early in their marriage, but she'd found it unsatisfying and strange and a little painful, and he'd never asked again. But Malfoy wanted it—Malfoy moaned just at the touch of Harry's fingers against his arsehole, gasped his instructions for Harry to press his fingers right there, yes, there, oh god, stroked his own slick hands thoroughly over Harry's cock to prepare him for entrance.
"You're sure?" Harry asked one last time. "This way—I mean, wouldn't it be easier—"
"I want to see your face," Malfoy said and kissed him, and Harry began to press inside. Quickly, too quickly, he was lost in a whirl of heat and pressure and Malfoy, whispering dirty things in his ear, urging him on, gasping yes and harder and so good and fuck me, fuck me and god and—in the last, frenzied instant when Harry shuddered and cried out and came—Harry.
It seemed only natural to curl together with Malfoy afterward, spooning in the center of the lush, canopied bed. Malfoy linked his fingers with Harry's and held their joined hands over his heart, beating a strong and soothing rhythm within his chest.
"Stay," Malfoy murmured, and Harry did.
It was after six already by the time Harry woke up, still entangled with Malfoy in a sea of green. When Harry made a move to slide out of the bed, a sleeping Malfoy made a small noise of protest and flung an arm over Harry's chest. Harry smiled at the sight of him—face scrunched in sleep, hair a silvery blond tangle—then his smile faded at the realization that this was the end. In about twelve hours, he'd be back in London.
He touched a hand to Malfoy's possessive arm, relaxed and sleep-warm under his fingers, and, unable to resist, he turned slightly and pressed his lips against Malfoy's forehead. Malfoy hmmmed softly, a small, contented sound, but didn't wake, and didn't make any more protesting moves when Harry eased himself out of the bed.
He picked up his clothes from where they'd lain on the floor all night and hastily dressed in the early-morning dungeon dimness before easing out of the portrait hole in hopes of making it back to his quarters before anyone else was up and about.
That hope was dashed, however, when he heard a quiet gasp from farther down the corridor, in the direction where he knew the Slytherin dormitories lay. Turning his head with a sense of dread, he saw Scorpius Malfoy about twenty feet away, looking shocked down to his toes. Harry felt his face heat with mortification.
Then, slowly, Scorpius began to grin. He cast Harry an approving glance and waggled a single lascivious eyebrow. When Harry, startled, responded with a questioning look, Scorpius nodded and flashed him a thumbs-up sign before giving him a little wave that told him to get going.
Blushing even more furiously, Harry did so.
The memorial ceremony took place under gray skies.
Harry had asked permission to be seated with the Hogwarts delegation during the outdoor ceremony so he wouldn't be placed in the awkward position of sitting next to Ginny before he got a chance to speak with her properly, and Professor Aimsworthy had agreed. Instead, by virtue of alphabetical order, he sat to the left of Draco Malfoy, who had looked at him only once today, as they'd lined up inside the entrance hall, with a sort of carefully blank expression that made Harry flinch.
Ministry officials spoke, as did relatives of the battle dead: George Weasley and Teddy Lupin and Dennis Creevey and a score of others. Names were read; bells were rung. Harry listened to the speeches with only half an ear, lost in memories of that terrible night. To his right, he could see Malfoy's right hand rubbing at his left forearm in a way that likely was unconscious. On the far side of Malfoy, Neville's hands were clasped so tightly on his lap that his knuckles had gone white.
A somber reception followed in the Great Hall for students, staff, and guests, and Harry slowly made his way toward the cluster of redheads comprising the Weasley delegation. Ginny was there, as were her parents and all her brothers and their spouses, including Ron and Hermione, who greeted him with, respectively, a back thump and a fervent hug. Ginny looked pale and beautiful, as always, and Harry's throat tightened at the sight of her. When greetings had been exchanged with the rest of the family, Ginny drew him aside to speak more privately.
"Harry, I've been so worried about you," she said, hugging him.
"I—" Harry swallowed. It had been so long since he'd touched her, even innocently like this. "Yeah, Neville mentioned."
"Are you all right?" Her brown eyes were warm with concern. "Neville seemed to think you were, but after you left the Ministry and then wouldn't talk to anyone…"
"I'm—" This was the time. This was when he should say, No, Ginny, actually, I'm completely miserable. You broke my heart, and all over a rumor that I can prove wasn't even true. Come back to me, please come back to me, and help me pick up the pieces. He'd thought about it for a long time on Thursday night. She'd loved him since they were children; she obviously still cared. He could talk her into giving them another chance. They could start fresh.
But what came out of his mouth was, "Yeah. I think I am all right. I wasn't for a while. But—I am now. Or at least," he paused, spying a head of white blond hair slipping out of the Great Hall, "I'm pretty sure I will be."
It was another two hours before he could escape the reception—there were too many old friends and acquaintances present that he couldn't ignore, and too many other guests who wanted to shake his hand and thank him for his actions in this very room twenty-five years before. When the crowd started to thin out, he seized the first opportunity to flee and made his way down to the dungeons one last time.
From down the corridor he could hear the tinkle of shattering glass, and he picked up his pace. The door to Malfoy's office was closed, but a beam of light shone from underneath. Harry hesitated, but when he heard the sound of shattering glass repeated, he pushed open the door.
Malfoy stood before the desk with an empty potions bottle in his hand, and the floor of the dark fireplace glittered with glass shards. He started at Harry's entrance, then glared and hurled the bottle at the fireplace, where it exploded in a rain of glass. "Come to say goodbye, have you?"
Harry closed the door behind him and leaned against it, wary. "Yeah," he said.
"Well, good riddance." He turned his back on Harry, rooting around in a box next to his desk and emerging with another empty potions bottle, which he balanced on his palm. "Still here?" he said, his tone one of supreme indifference.
"I want to talk to you," Harry said.
A muscle twitched at the corner of Malfoy's eye, and he scowled. "No, I won't tell your wife about our little—whatever it was this past week. In fact, consider it forgotten entirely." The bottle shattered in the fireplace.
Harry frowned. "Ginny and I are getting divorced. We're signing the papers on Monday."
"She didn't believe you about that whole Harry-Potter-is-gay rumor being a terrible misunderstanding?" He smirked, but it looked half-hearted. "Or so it seemed, anyway."
"I didn't tell her about Al and Scorpius."
The smirk disappeared. "You didn't? Potter, don't be stupid. Half the wizarding world thinks that scene in an alley broke up your marriage. Al would understand your breaking his confidence over something like this."
Harry crossed his arms over his chest. "I didn't tell her because I didn't want to tell her. I don't want to get back together with her, not anymore."
Malfoy moved restlessly around the desk. "You're either a complete idiot or a liar," he accused, "because up until very recently you gave an extremely good impression of a man who'd all but lost his will to live along with his wife."
"Yeah, well, that was before."
Malfoy snorted. "Right. Pull the other one, why don't you?"
"I'm not kidding, Malfoy."
"The hell you aren't." Malfoy's fists were clenched at his sides, knuckles white with rage. "You have never felt anything for me but contempt. Even this last week, you were only using me to forget your fucking wife and your fucking divorce, and I let you." He grabbed another bottle and flung toward the fireplace; he missed, and it smashed against the wall instead.
"Malfoy," Harry said. "Draco. It might have started out that way, but it's not anymore—"
But Malfoy didn't even appear to be listening to him. "I wanted you for years," he said, hurling another bottle, "fucking years, and now you—you—" Shaking, he sank down into his chair behind the desk and covered his face with his hands. "My god, I've been so stupid," he said.
"You haven't," Harry insisted, sitting down across from him. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. If you're—I mean, if you were willing to consider it, I'd—well, I'd really like to see you again."
Malfoy went very, very still.
Deciding to take this as an encouraging sign, Harry rambled on. "I know it's inconvenient and all, seeing as I live in London and you're here, and I'm at the Ministry—I am going back, I talked to Kingsley at the reception—but, you know, I could visit, or you could. I mean, Neville doesn't even live here, although I'm not saying you should leave, because I know you like it here. But it's—it's doable. And Leo mentioned the other night that he's thinking of retiring in a few years, so maybe that's an option too, down the road. And I know it's only been a week, and I'm just getting to know you, but there's—there's something about you, and I want to know more—"
Malfoy's face, pale and wide-eyed, had lifted slowly during Harry's nonsensical monologue. "Merlin," he breathed. "You do mean it."
"I told you I did," Harry replied, annoyed.
"Yeah, but—you're Harry Potter," Malfoy said, as if that explained everything.
Harry waited a few beats, then said, "Yeah, and so?"
"So, Harry Potter doesn't just chuck his beautiful wife and take up with a gay former Death Eater. It's just not done."
"How many Harry Potters have you known, hm?"
A small smile threatened at the corner of Malfoy's mouth. "Thankfully, just the one."
"Exactly," Harry said. "And this Harry Potter says it's precisely the sort of thing that's done. I mean—" He fumbled for the right way to put it. "—it's like potions, right? You combine two very different but complementary things to achieve balance, and it makes the resulting potion even better, right?"
"Right," Malfoy said, something warm and promising in his eyes.
"So," Harry said, his heart pounding, "is that a yes, then?"
"To seeing you again?" Malfoy smiled slowly. "It's definitely a yes."
Harry grinned and laughed and lunged inelegantly across the desk to kiss Malfoy, who returned the kiss with interest even as he laughed against Harry's mouth.
When they drew apart, Malfoy shook his head, still smiling. "It's going to be very strange trying to explain this to Scorpius, though."
Harry coughed. "Er, about that. Ah…did you know your son's an early riser?"
When Malfoy's eyes narrowed, Harry distracted him with a kiss, and then another. By the third, he was feeling pretty distracted himself.
"I'll get the full story out of you later," Malfoy said between kisses.
"We've plenty of time for it," Harry said, and then proceeded to let himself become very thoroughly distracted indeed.