Letters Through Time
It had been a very long, very tiring couple of years. Harry felt his feet dragging as he ascended the steps to Number 12 Grimmauld Place, sore eyes taking in the same old door that seemed odd to him now, out of place.
He touched the brass numbering screwed against the wood, the metal cold in the autumn evening air. He had no baggage on him save the bottomless satchel the Ministry had given him before shipping him off around the smallest corners of the globe, which he now swung behind him as he slowly twisted his key and let himself back into the dark building he had called home for so many years.
How many months since he’d set foot here – since anyone had set foot here? He’d tried to count it up on his long boat ride back from Peru, but he’d got some dates turned around and he realised it could have been anywhere between twenty eight and thirty one. Two and a half years.
It was his own fault, he knew. Nobody had been forced into hunting down the IDEA, but with all his past experience he’d been ideally suited to the task and had been one of the first to put his name on the list.
Voldemort’s last supporters; the so-called International Death Eaters Affiliation. Harry had been prepared for a few months out in the field, that’s why he’d agreed to pack up his life and vanish overnight, but really, he had been a fool. As the months had stretched on and on, he’d forgotten what it was like to talk to people as friends, to have a place to call home, even to look in the mirror and to recognise his own reflection.
He stood there now, in the dim light of the hall, and stared into the tall looking glass he’d been able to finally replace the ghastly portrait of old Mrs Black with. He’d run through so many glamours over the course of his mission, he took a moment just to appreciate what exactly was staring back at him. Strong jaw, darker skin, familiar scar peeking out behind long and tousled hair that curled around his ears and his neck. He ran his fingers up and down his face, feeling its makeup and trying to find reassurance in it.
It was hard not to seem like a stranger in his own skin though, and he turned away, feeling hollow.
The place was just as he’d left it, having had time to set several maintenance charms in place before his departure. There was no dust and the plants were well watered and had grown, despite perhaps looking a little grey from lack of contact. The photos on the walls of his friends waved eagerly at him as he drifted from room to room, opening windows to let in some cool air and turning on lamps to make the place feel more life-like.
He guessed the numbness was natural after such a long time detached from his regular life. He’d taken the time in his early twenties to carve out a happy little groove for himself after the war, only to have to leave it all and return, now in his late twenties, and wonder how he’d made it all work before.
He had been so focused on surviving whilst he’d moved from target to target, he wasn’t sure he knew how to live anymore. He had promised himself over and over again on the countless lonely nights that the first thing he would do once he’d made it back to London was to go see Ron and Hermione, meet the child that they had been expecting when he’d left, hear everything that had happened to them in his absence, no matter how mundane. And yet…he had simply returned home. No one was even aware that he was still alive apart from Kingsley, who he had reported directly to.
All he could think about was curling up in his bed, his real, proper bed, and not moving until he was forcibly coerced to. He didn’t want to have to talk or explain, he wanted to unwind the clock and realise how badly taking on this task would unravel his life. What exactly did he have to come back to? People would have moved on, they might even be angry at him for taking off with no explanation. No one could know any information about his mission until it was all over, so it was highly plausible they’d given up on him for dead, and the thought made his stomach curdle.
He’d been forced to play dead during the Battle of Hogwarts whilst Voldemort had believed his victory to be complete, and he had heard his friends cry out, witnessed their anger, and their anguish. He was utterly selfish to put them through that again.
He realised he was stood in the kitchen, and without ceremony he shucked his bag from his shoulders and let it clatter to the ground, glad to be done with it. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten, but the thought of trying to organise any kind of food made him shudder, so he turned instead to simply head upstairs and collapse.
But that was when he saw the mail.
He’d forgotten he’d set up automatic filters as part of the house’s upkeep management, and there on the large oak table before him were several neatly stacked and rather large piles of various letters. The junk was automatically incinerated, leaving a work pile and then a very large friends pile, all stacked by person or family in organised towers, with the oldest letters balancing on the top so Harry could pick them up and start reading them in order.
Almost immediately, he felt his heart warm for the first time in Merlin knew how many months. He knew he hadn’t forgotten about the people he’d left behind, but on the other hand it had been easy to let them pale in his mind, let them fade away into hazy memories.
Suddenly feeling quite awake, he pulled up a chair and flicked his wand to fill up the kettle whilst he tried to decide which of the dozens and dozens of messages he wanted to read first. Luckily, he’d had the foresight to pick up milk from the corner shop on his way back, so whilst he procrastinated he fished that out, then flicked his wand several more times so a pot of tea started to make it itself and the fire in the grate roared into being.
His life was right here, it was waiting for him, eager for him to come back and pick up where he’d left it almost three years ago. His heart began to race as he snatched at the pile he presumed from the handwriting to be Ron and Hermione’s, thinking of all the people he couldn’t wait to see again, to tell that he was alive and well, and although his work had been successful, he mostly couldn’t wait to assure them that he would never, ever abandon them like that again, no matter how noble the cause.
The tea set landed piece by piece in front of him with excitable clatters, like it was happy to be being used again after such a long time of negation, and Harry used one hand to pluck out some sugar cubes to stir in, then the other to attack the biscuit tin. Once he was reasonably settled, he began the mammoth but happy task of ploughing through all his correspondence.
Hermione and Ron had had a little girl named Rose, and he cried at the letter with the photo inside, telling him he had a goddaughter waiting for him upon his return. Over the next ten to fifteen minutes, he managed to walk his way through little Rose’s first couple of years, ending with a picture of a waving, walking toddler that he couldn’t believe was actually real.
Then there was Teddy, who had started at Hogwarts that year and been sorted into Hufflepuff – “Just like mum!” his childish handwriting had proclaimed. Bill and Fleur had had a second daughter named Dominique, Charlie had been promoted to head of his own wildlife reserve, and Molly, bless her soul, had never missed a single birthday or Christmas, making him several new jumpers, a scarf, at least a dozen socks and a woolly hat to add to his wardrobe. Luna had gotten married to a chap named Rolf, and Harry had cried again when she’d assured him that a place had been laid for him at their wedding, and a candle lit when he had been unable to attend.
He had so much so make up for, and the numbness he hadn’t even realised had been weighing down his heart so badly was starting to melt away again, joy and excitement taking its place and lifting him up once more as he started on his third cup of tea.
He decided he’d got through most of the people he’d been expecting to hear from, so penned a letter simply saying he was home, that he was fine but exhausted and would make time to see people tomorrow. He then copied it several times, and hastily wrote addresses on them all to send to everyone who had written to him so far. He didn’t have an owl anymore, but he felt up to apparating to the nearest post office once he had finally got through the whole of his mail mountain.
He got rid of all the discarded envelopes and stacked the letters and presents back into the same piles but on the counter behind him, so he had room to see the wood for the trees, so to speak. And that was when he noticed the relatively small stack of black envelopes, all the same size, with silver handwriting on the outside that Harry only half recognised.
Intrigued, he plucked up the top letter from the pile and slid his wand under the flap as he had been doing the past hour to save himself from any further paper cuts. He shook the single sheet of parchment open, eyes glancing downwards immediately to identify the sender.
And his insides dropped straight into his boots.
“Yours,” the final line read. “Draco.”
Harry suddenly felt dizzy, and tried to blink his vision straight again in his haste to see what the letter said, his heart in his mouth.
“Dear Harry,” it began in his elegant scrawl.
“It’s been several weeks. Granger was kind enough to inform me of the situation, and I just wanted to let you know that although I understand, the loss has not been easy to bear. However it is so like you that we should finally insert each other into our tangled lives in a way that, as you put it, ‘actually makes sense’, only for you to abandon me for far off adventures. Once a Gryffindor, always a Gryffindor I suppose.
“I think of you daily, I miss our lunch time debates, our Sunday afternoon rituals. My friends are all too polite to insult my latest updates to the flat, claiming I have ‘suburb taste’. What little they know, hey?
“I’m not sure how long you intend on being away, I get the feeling nobody does. So I shall keep vigil for you, my friend. I fear there is no one else in the world who at least tries to understand me the way you do, and there’s certainly no one else in my life with the courage to make me laugh the way you do.
“I guess, what I’m trying to say is, to me, you’re irreplaceable, but I think maybe you’d figured that out on your own before now. Your friends have been kind, and I hope they continue to do so. I’m not sure what I would do if I lost you totally from my life.
Harry swallowed around the lump in his throat, allowing himself to dwell on Draco in a way he hadn’t allowed himself to in years. It was one of the more remarkable aspects of his life before the IDEA that he should have found a friend he never knew he’d been missing in Draco Malfoy. Their petty childhood rivalry long put to bed, he’d finally been able to see how well they worked together, as their paths crossed at work, yes, but more and more in the simple solidarity of their friendship.
Harry had hit a low point after he’d completed his training, drifting without a strong enough sense of purpose in just being. With only the day-to-day to keep him going, and no great battles to fight, and he fallen in on himself, threatening to disappear underneath the weight and expectation of his past.
It had been Draco, of all people, who had identified the keenest with the swirl of emotions threatening to drown him, and for the second time in their lives offered Harry his hand in friendship. This time he had taken it.
He reached for the next letter, encouraged by the fact there was more than one, that Draco had apparently not given up on him like Harry had almost given up of the rest of the world. Of all his friends, Harry was fully aware he had pushed Draco back the furthest during his time away, unwilling to contemplate that maybe, he might never see him again.
“Christmas is coming near, and there’s still no word of you. I’m starting to realise that there might not ever be any word of you again, and I have to say that’s a little tough to manage at this time of year. Mind you, I can’t imagine I’ll be okay with the idea of it if you’re still not back when summer’s rolled around and the sun is here to chase the darkness away. But now, when people all around me are celebrating with loved ones, it makes me realise all too well what I may, in my cautiousness, have let slip through my fingers.
“I’ve bought you a present, because I know you’ll only pout if you show up on my door and I’ve not anticipated your miraculous return with a gift. I hope I’ll be able to give it to you soon.
“Until that day,
That was a little under two years ago, and Harry felt the guilt and sorrow winding through his chest. He glanced down at his bag, where dozens and dozens of missed birthday and Christmas presents were packed carefully away, waiting to be given to their intended recipients. He thought of the silk tie he’d gotten Draco from Nagasaki, the first edition of his favourite book of poetry from Budapest, the silver-tipped quill from Argentina, not to mention all the rare potion ingredients that he’d picked up and pocketed along the way, a certain Slytherin potions expert in mind for when he returned.
“I’ve started keeping a log of the little things I spot that remind me of you, otherwise I’d be tempted to write to you every other day, and I don’t believe my nerves could take that many lack of replies. The book has a rather cross looking hippogriff on the cover that scowls at me every time I open it up. I thought you’d approve.
“I’ve moved to a new research facility down near Torquay. The weather is fresher here and I feel like my mind is lighter. It was hard to walk the same old halls and know you weren’t going to come haring around the corner and hurl tea down my front any time soon. I haven’t had to have anything laundered in ages, but I’ve taken to dropping a Galleon in a jar every time I feel like your clumsiness would have cost me something, and I’ve got quite a fund going so far. I was tempted to buy something ghastly with it for that already ghastly house of yours and ship it over to surprise you on your return, but that poor place doesn’t deserve any more ugly plonked on top of it. I think I’ll give the money to St Mungo’s when the jar is full, I figured you’d like that.
“I tell myself that you’re safe. Finnigan has informed me all about a fictional Muggle hero, a spy who travels the world in luxury saving it from people who, for some reason, wish to blow it up. He assures me this hero of his has a splendid time of it, and always comes out the other side intact. Even though it’s frivolous, it has given me some comfort on the nights it’s been hard to sleep.
“I wish you could write just one word, just one to put my mind at ease. In the meantime I have found comfort in my new work, I’ve got quite a team who keep me otherwise occupied. They like to talk about you. I’m sure they’re just humouring me, but it’s nice to tell old stories to fresh ears. It makes me feel like you’re not so far away after all.
After that Harry barely paused between letters, once he had drank in the previous one’s content enough he would place it carefully down before hurriedly grasping for the next.
“I have this thing now where I make two cups of tea – a spare whenever I make one for myself, with two sugars. I honestly don’t know when it started, but now I’ve noticed I can’t seem to stop, and always end up with a cold, overly-sweet mug of tea loitering somewhere around my flat that I don’t remember making.
“I promised I would keep these letters upbeat, but I can’t today. Please come home and drink your blasted tea. I can’t bear it any longer.
That was the one that got him crying. It was like the floodgates had ultimately lost their fight, and as they came crashing down Harry was able to understand that some of that numbness in his soul over the past two years hadn’t been just been emptiness. Some of it was an ache so bad it was threatening to tear his chest apart.
“Happy birthday. I’ve lit you a candle and I’m not ashamed to say I made a wish on your behalf. I little presumptuous I know, but I think you can guess what it was. My work friends took me out for dinner and we all raised a glass in your honour. I think you’d like them, they try and make me laugh as much as you did, and sometimes they even succeed.
“Torquay is beautiful. The facility is near the coast and sometimes I walk along the beach in my lunch breaks with a bundle of fish and chips. Aren’t you proud of me, branching out to Muggle food? If you’d told me how good it was in the first place I probably would have tried it a long time ago, pillock.
“Harry, I’m sure you know but it’s been over a year now. That means I have two presents waiting for you, and the one from Christmas. I know you, you’ll probably have been stocking up on gifts left, right and centre, feeling guilty about everything you’ve missed, but…just in case you see this soon, please know this. I don’t want anything. Not a thing.
“I just want you home.
“I’m worried you’ve broken me in a way that only you can repair, and the sad thing is I had no idea until you were gone. So, please. Come back safe, come back whole, and…come make me whole again.
And that was it, that was what Harry had been hiding from. As much as he had missed the friends so dear to him he considered them family, he had not allowed himself to miss Draco, convincing himself that he had a happy and full life before Harry that he had just slotted back into.
But now he had the evidence in his hands, in Draco’s own words, that being apart had caused them both damage that they feared maybe only the other could fix.
“It was Pansy’s wedding today, Blaise asked me to be best man which was a good thing as it kept me busy. People asked me about you, as much as Ron and Hermione, which, I think was quite nice. Somewhere between the speeches and making sure none of the littlest guests knocked the cake over, I had a moment where I wished with frightening depth that you’d been there too to laugh with me. So I had a great deal of champagne and danced the rest of the night with Luna, who never fails to delight with her oddities and high spirits.
“I’m glad we’ve made it to a point where our friends are each other’s friends too. I’m glad our past didn’t poison our future, it made me happy to really see that first hand.
“Right, I’m rather sloshed, I’m sure my handwriting is evident enough of that.
“I’m going to send this owl before I commit to something in ink that I can’t take back. But, there’s so much I have to say to you Harry, I carry you around in my heart and I wear that heavy weight gladly. Because it means I haven’t forgotten you, I just hope you haven’t forgotten me either, I hope that when you come back we can move on like we were before, even better than before. I hope…I have a lot of hopes, Harry.
“Be safe, be well, be merry,
The next one, thankfully, just made Harry laugh out loud.
“Molly Weasley has made me the most unsightly Christmas jumper and I am expected to wear it ALL DAY. It’s a good job her cooking is exceptional, otherwise I might have staged a mini revolt.”
And that was it for that one. But Harry just grinned like a loon, unbelievably content in the knowledge that Draco had been invited to the Weasleys for Christmas in his absence. That he had been treated like family, that, by the tone of his letter, he had enjoyed every minute of it, but would never dare admit it. Yes, everyone had moved on in the time he had been away from them, but they had moved in tandem, towards a time where he would return and slot back in with all of them.
“I heard that stupid song on the radio for the first time today, that one you always used to drag me up and make me dance to. It was the first time I was able to leave it on. Not only that, to laugh at you and enjoy it.
“I know I’m not the only one, but I try not to admit I fear the worst. Teddy likes talking about you, he’s taken Seamus’ spy story to heart and just thinks you’re going to pop up one day with a sack load of thrilling tales and some excellent presents for him. I like having those chats with Teds, he makes it easier to believe.
“But writing these now, I can’t help but feel they’re more for me than they are for you. It’s becoming easier to think that you’ll never see them, that I’ll never get the chance to tell you how hard it’s been without you, how I wake in the night and for a split second forget that you’ve been gone so long. I catch myself talking to ‘you’ when I’m alone, slipping into voicing giving you a good telling off for making me worry so much that I’m halfway through before I realise what I’m really doing and stop.
“There’s so much I need you to know though Harry. Please, if there’s any justice in the world, please don’t be gone, please come back to me. Please.
There was only one more letter after that, and Harry opened it carefully despite shaking hands.
“Happy birthday Harry.
“I love you. I hope wherever you are you know that.
Harry scraped the kitchen seat back violently in his haste to get to his feet. He blinked and tried to swallow and spun around in a fluster. What was he doing sitting here! He needed to go – now!
He made sure the last letter was carefully placed on top of the rest before snatching up the replies he had already written to everyone else. He bolted upstairs to see if he had any clean clothes, and was relieved to see his maintenance spells had held up here too. He hurriedly yanked off the travel worn robes he’d been living in for so many months, and found a whole new outfit from his drawers that was a fresh as the day he had washed it. He brushed his teeth and had a long drink of water, then ran back down to the front door, taking the steps two at a time.
His favourite three quarter length coat was still hanging on the peg where he’d left it, and he jammed his letters into the pocket as well as his keys, wallet and wand, slamming the door behind him as he tore down onto the street.
One turn later and he was at the public post office, a glamour up before he’d even thought about it. It was no bad thing though, he didn’t want anyone to tell his friends he was back before he did himself.
In a few minutes he was out on the street once more and apparating again, this time to the front door of Draco’s flat in Diagon Ally, banging on it with determination as his heart did a tap dance on his chest.
Draco loved him.
Draco loved him.
He had no doubt he loved Draco back, that was part of the ugly truth that he’d had to keep buried so long for fear it would tear him apart. Draco loved him and now he was home and he could tell him he loved him too and oh Merlin what was he going to say, what was he going to do, what if-
“He’s not in!”
He stopped pounding and whirled around to see an old lady poking her head out of the flat opposite.
“I’m sorry?” Harry asked, aware that he no longer had his glamour, but the lady didn’t seem to care either way.
“He’s still at work, always working late that boy,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh,” said Harry through his heavy breathing – he hadn’t realised how short of breath he’d got himself. “Oh, okay, thank you – any idea when he’ll be home?”
She shook he head. “Sorry love,” she said. “Don’t think he’s got much to come home to I’m afraid.”
Harry swallowed, refusing to let his guilt overwhelm him. “Thank you,” he said again, and the old lady nodded as she shut her door once more.
What should he do, should he wait? He didn’t want to wait though, he had made Draco wait far too long as it was. She had said he was at work, that would be in Torquay, yes? Harry dredged through his memories as to why that had rang a bell earlier, when Draco had mentioned it in his letters. Now he was concentrating, he was pretty sure he’d been to the Devonshire institute during his Auror training for a tour. He was even quite certain now he could remember what it looked like, and that in theory was good enough for him to attempt an apparition.
It was risky without an exact destination in mind, but Harry didn’t have the time to hang around and check, he needed to be there now, he needed to have been there three hours ago, the very moment he had returned to the country. He had been an idiot, and he fully intended on remedying that immediately.
So he’d nodded at the lady’s door as a final thanks, and turned again, spiriting himself away.
The first thing that hit him as he appeared in the yellowy street light was the salty air, and then the faint sound of waves crashing against the shore. With a thrill of hope he spun on the spot to look up at the old pale pink building standing before him, and allowed himself a little laugh in relief.
This was the place alright, and he bounded up the steps to where he could see through the glass front that a light was still on in the lobby, giving him hope that Draco was here, like his neighbour had suggested. But after giving it a firm yank Harry realised the door was locked, so he stepped back wondering if he could justify using an Alohomora out in the open, when he spotted the doorbell. He figured he might as well see who was in first before breaking the law, what with him being an Auror and all, so he jabbed his finger on the button and waited as patiently as he could.
After twenty or so seconds (that he could have sworn lasted about twenty minutes) a girl about his age came jogging around the corner and gave him a wave to show she’d heard him. She was a little shorter than him with auburn curls and freckles, and she smiled as she fished some keys off a hook on the wall and came over to unlock the door.
“Hi!” she said brightly. “You alright there?”
Harry licked his lips, suddenly nervous. “Actually I was wondering if Draco was-”
He didn’t get any further though. The girl – ‘Rachel’ by the Ministry i.d. hanging from her neck – suddenly gasped and took a step back, hands flying to cover her mouth as tears sprung in her eyes. “Erm,” said Harry, taken aback. “Are you alright?”
The girl Rachel didn’t say anything, she just stared for another few moments, before apparently coming to her senses. Suddenly, she shot out a shaking hand and snatched up Harry’s wrist, tugging him inside the building with an excited squeal that contradicted the tears spilling down her face.
She didn’t bother to lock the door again, she just broke into a sprint down the hall, dragging Harry along with her before he even had time to process what she was doing. Through doors and down more corridors they crashed, and Harry would have demanded an explanation, expect he had an inkling of where they might be headed, so just let the nervous anticipation blossom in him as they ran.
Finally, they slammed through a double set of wooden doors and came abruptly to a halt. They were in a potions lab, that much was clear, and there were half a dozen or so more people stood gathered around what looked like an experiment on a table across the room, laughing with beers in their hands. They were all probably in their twenties and thirties, but Harry honestly didn’t see a single one of them, not once he’d spotted the slightly taller head of pale blond hair in the middle of the group.
“Draco!” the girl Rachel cried to get his attention, her voice cracking as the group turned around to look at them both still holding hands by the doorway gently swinging back and forth behind them.
All the air seemed to vanish from the room as Harry’s eyes met with Draco’s wide grey ones, his face suddenly slack with shock. The bottle he’d been holding slipped from his fingers and smashed down to the ground, making his friends jump back and cry out, but Draco didn’t even seem to notice. Fragile hope blossomed on his features as his resolve crumbled, eyes pooling with tears. “Harry?” he whispered in complete disbelief, a smile breaking on his trembling lips.
Harry was vaguely aware of other people in the room letting out small gasps of realisation, but his whole focus was solely on the man before him, the man he’d not dared to hope he might see again, that would even want to see him again after abandoning him like he did.
He could feel the tears in his eyes as they stared at one another. He was more beautiful than he remembered, his face had such a brilliant sharpness to his, countered by the softness of his hair. He had cut it a little shorter, so Harry’s own mop was the longer of them both for the first time ever, and for some reason that made him smile.
He wanted Draco to be different, he wanted him to have gown because he needed to know the new feelings he had spoken to Harry of were real and here and in this very room with them. He couldn’t be the same Draco as before, because he wasn’t the same Harry as before.
Before they had been friends, and now…now? “I got your letters,” Harry managed to rasp, feeling a tear of pure happiness slip down his cheek.
He wasn’t sure who moved first, but suddenly they were two blurs, hurtling across the room and slamming into each other with the force of a hurricane.
Harry was half laughing, half sobbing as he buried his face in Draco’s neck, gripping him to him as if his life depended on in. And in some ways, it really did.
He’d wasted enough time, so he drew back and slid his hands into Draco’s silky hair, vaguely aware of the delight on his friends’ faces as he pulled the two of them closer and pressed their lips together in the kiss he felt he’d waited an eternity for. He’d been gone so long, he’d almost forgotten who he was. But there in Draco’s arms he was home and he was whole again, in a way he’d never known was possible.
The kiss deepened, tongues reaching out to find their other halves as the other people in the room unabashedly cheered and cried and hugged themselves in happiness.
Finally, Harry had to break away to catch his breath, and his eyes searched the tear stained face of the man he’d not even allowed himself to believe he would ever see again until that moment. “I love you too,” he whispered as they gazed into each other’s eyes and Draco clung to him, crying through his joy. “And I promise, I will never, ever, leave you again.”