Harry doesn’t know how long he stands there, frozen to the spot, but a blast of cold air from the open—dear god, why open?—window behind him brings him to his senses. Shivering, he turns and slams the window shut with unnecessary force. He gazes through the glass, sore eyes blinking slowly as the familiar scene outside slides into almost-focus. Hurriedly he grabs a pair of glasses that don’t feel quite right but seem to do the job, and stares out at a frost-covered Grimmauld Place.
Of course it is. The hedges and flowerbeds are neater than he remembers, the outfits of the scuttling residents brighter and more modern, but then it has been... Harry frowns and fishes about in his tangled mind for the memory... a good eighteen years since he sold this house and bought the cottage with Ginny. At least, he thought he did. Whatever he has or has not done fully appears to be up for grabs right now.
Taking a deep breath, he turns back to regard the rumpled bed. The bed which belongs to him and Draco Malfoy. Harry’s heart hammers and he looks away quickly, deciding that thinking about that right now might just make his head implode. Instead, he picks up his wand and stalks out into the hallway. He makes slow, cautious progress, wand held out before him; even though he knows that he’s unlikely to be assaulted by anything disturbing in what appears to be his own house, this morning is just proving beyond all doubt that anything can happen.
Somewhere outside, a gate creaks on its hinges and the faint sound in Harry’s ears stirs his sleeping memory until his head feels as though it’s full of swirling, sparkling feathers and he has to close his eyes against it and lean back on the cold wall.
“You’re a good boy.”
“I’m going to do you a favour... but there are rules... rules... tell no one!”
“Send up red sparks if you need me.”
Harry groans and slides to the floor, perching precariously in a crouch against the wall.
“That rotten old bugger,” he mutters to the empty hallway.
Sighing deeply, he opens one eye and focuses on the small brown spider which is making a valiant effort to scale a nearby banister. Distracted temporarily from his current problem, he keeps very still and watches the apparent battle between determined arachnid and polished wood.
“You can do it,” he murmurs, both eyes open now, willing on the little spider as it conquers another few inches of the slippery surface. He leans closer, weight on his hands on the cold floor, startled by a chunk of too-long hair that falls into his eyes and shaking it away. “Come on, then,” he urges.
As though spurred on by his encouragement, the spider attacks the final third of his vertical climb with erratic vigour, legs flailing with impressive speed.
“That’s it... oh, no,” Harry sighs, watching the spider lose its footing and slide untidily down the banister and onto the landing. It crouches there, defeated, and Harry can’t help but feel that the spider is blaming him. Habit of a lifetime, he supposes. He’s always been an easy person to blame because he doesn’t seem to mind as much as anyone else.
Finally, the spider scuttles closer and appears to inspect the next banister along. Harry smiles, and then startles at the characteristic whooshing sound issuing from downstairs.
Someone’s here. Someone has just walked out of the fireplace and into the kitchen, if his ears and his memory can be trusted. Pulse racing, Harry takes a firmer grip of his wand and levers himself to his feet. On impulse, he carefully scoops up the spider and sets it atop the balustrade. As he sets off down the stairs to (well, quite possibly, anyway) meet his doom, the spider flings itself into empty air on a long string of silk. Harry’s eyes follow its dizzying progress and his stomach drops in empathy.
“Draco?” comes a loud, refined male voice from the kitchen, and Harry misses a step, just about avoiding a headlong trip down the stairs.
“Fuck it,” he mutters, certain that he used to have some balance. Then again, he supposes he used to have a lot of things and there’s just no telling what fresh hell is waiting around the next corner—or, more specifically, what fresh hell is waiting for him in the kitchen.
Finally, he finds himself outside the kitchen, listening as two voices—one male and one female—engage in a somewhat barbed exchange. He holds his breath.
“I told you it was a bad idea to turn up unannounced,” murmurs the woman. “I imagine he is at work.”
“You think everything is a bad idea,” the man snaps. “I have no idea why I married you.”
The woman laughs. “Be quiet, Lucius. No one wants to hear what you think.”
Harry’s eyes widen. Lucius Malfoy? Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Instinctively, he flattens himself against the wall, gasping at the temperature and suddenly very aware that he’s wearing boxers and nothing else. If there’s going to be a fight here, he’s going into it extremely underdressed.
As his fingers close around his wand, the words of that bearded old trickster swim once more in front of his eyes:
Send up red sparks if you need me.
Harry focuses as much as possible, tries to pretend there aren’t any Malfoys in his kitchen, and sends up a shower of red sparks.
Frowning, Harry tries again. And again. And again, until both stubbornness and patience are utterly worn out, and he realises he’s been had. It’s a dirty trick.
“Red sparks my arse,” he mutters.
“I don’t think you should touch that,” Narcissa Malfoy says darkly to her husband.
Harry sighs and rubs his face. This isn’t going away, that much is abundantly clear. He could try to Apparate out, but if the place is warded, it will be messy, and even if it isn’t, he’s practically naked. Best to face these things head on.
“Right then,” he tells the hallway, taking a breath and walking through the door.
And there he is. Lucius Malfoy, cane and all, is standing in the middle of a kitchen Harry hasn’t seen for almost twenty years. His eyes meet Harry’s and suddenly it’s as though the room is full of haughty, imposing aristocrat. Bastard, Death Eater, and Draco Malfoy’s father. And he’s singing.
“You’re the dragon, you’re to blame, you singed my heart with your wicked flame,” he rumbles, gesturing with arm and cane like some kind of demented torch singer.
“Fuck me,” Harry whispers, unable to hold the words in.
“I think Draco has that covered, don’t you?” Lucius says, reverting to his previous stiff posture and raising an eyebrow. “And I suspect ‘hello’ is the word you’re scrabbling for.”
“Is it?” Harry says faintly, feeling the heat of embarrassment prickling his skin.
Lucius says nothing and his refined face remains inscrutable, but Narcissa’s mouth flickers at one corner and she folds her hands neatly in front of her before she speaks. “I think you may have forgotten your clothes.”
Harry groans inwardly and his toes curl against the tiles with the effort of staying still, brazening it out, and trying not to think about the fact that Lucius Malfoy can see his nipples. His hard nipples, at that. It’s fucking freezing in this kitchen.
“Erm, yes, sorry about that,” he says, mind racing. “I... er... do get a bit forgetful sometimes. Is there something I can help you with?”
“You don’t look well, Mr Potter,” Narcissa says. Her delicate brow wrinkles and Harry bites the inside of his mouth, exercising a self control he never knew he possessed. He’s only been here five minutes and he’s already sick of being told how awful he looks. It’s not that he’s a vain person, but really, he does have limits.
“I’m fine, thank you,” he lies, just as Lucius affects a bored sigh and chips in:
“Have you been drinking?”
A well-timed wave of nausea makes itself known in the pit of Harry’s stomach and he swallows repeatedly, beginning a silent mantra of I will not vomit on Lucius Malfoy... I will not vomit... I will not... that cloak looks expensive... I will not vomit...
“Not this morning,” Harry says weakly, and even in this delicate condition, some mischievous part of him wants to add ‘yet’.
“Terribly common thing, drinking to excess,” Lucius drawls, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes.
Beside him, Narcissa makes a soft sound of amusement. “Only the pot would know quite how to call out the kettle on his...” She pauses. “Unfortunate hue.”
Lucius scowls. Harry, delighted in spite of himself, seizes upon the opportunity to change the subject.
“So!” he says loudly, and both Malfoys turn back to him. “Would anyone like a cup of tea?”
Two blue eyes and two grey blink back at him and Harry’s own words reverberate mockingly inside his head.
Would anyone like a cup of tea?
A cup of tea?!
He’s standing here, practically naked, in the middle of godknowswhatthefuckisgoingon and when faced with two disturbingly blond interlopers, he offers them tea. Tea.
And, he muses, absently scratching at his hair, are these disturbing blond interlopers his in-laws? Of some description? Harry’s stomach flops over again and he makes the executive decision to stop thinking about that.
“He can’t hear you, Narcissa, he’s intoxicated,” Lucius is saying, and Harry snaps back to the situation at hand.
“I’m really not,” Harry promises, and on impulse coughs into his hand. “But perhaps I’d better get back to bed.”
“Hm.” Narcissa purses her lips, apparently assessing Harry’s performance. “Well, we only thought we would talk with Draco about the plans for next week.”
“Christmas Day,” Lucius supplies drily. “The twenty-fifth of December. Yuletide. The festive season,” he continues, and Harry thinks—hopes—that he doesn’t imagine the jab of Narcissa’s elbow into her husband’s ribs.
“Ah. That,” Harry says, comforted to know—if nothing else—when he is. “I’m afraid Draco’s not here right now.”
“Is he still asleep?” Lucius demands. “It’s after nine, you know.”
Narcissa looks at the floor and makes an odd little noise.
“No,” Harry says triumphantly, feeling bizarrely pleased with himself. “He’s in a meeting!”
“A meeting,” Narcissa repeats, as though it’s an exotic new word. Lucius merely sighs.
“Yes, that’s right, and I shall ask him to call when he gets home,” Harry says hurriedly, feeling another cold wave of sickness rolling over him and deciding to shove them back into the fire from whence they came before something regrettable and messy happens. It’s definitely best not to focus on the fact that he’s essentially taking messages for Malfoy. “Good to see you both—Mr Malfoy, Mrs Malfoy.”
Harry steps back as the flames turn green.
“He smells like gin,” Lucius tells his wife a split-second before they disappear.
Rolling his eyes, Harry lifts his hand and attempts to check the smell of his breath. Five seconds later, he’s throwing up into the sink.
A very hot, very satisfying shower works like magic at separating Harry from his hangover, leaving behind only a mild headache and a raging thirst. He wanders, dripping, into the bedroom in search of clothing—he certainly doesn’t plan on exposing himself to anyone else today.
Making a conscious effort to suppress the sense of panic twisting in his chest, he throws himself into his task and throws open every one of the numerous wardrobe doors.
“Who the hell needs this many clothes?” he asks of the room. Reassuringly, there’s no response.
He sighs and starts rifling through shirts, sweaters, robes and trousers in a bewildering array of colours. The fabrics feel expensive and luxurious under his fingers, but there doesn’t seem to be anything here that’s obviously his. Everything is neatly arranged by colour, and one closet seems to contain nothing but stripy garments. One thing’s for sure, his wardrobe at home looks nothing like this. In fact, he’s more of a ‘sling it over the back of a chair and hope for the best’ kind of man.
Overwhelmed, Harry takes a deep breath and launches himself—head and shoulders—into the nearest closet and rummages for his life. Heavy fabric closes in around him, and though the clean, spicy scent is comforting, there’s a very real part of him that is afraid of suffocating. Fortunately, his fingers close around soft, warm denim and, with a cry of triumph, he withdraws, hair ruffled and breathing hard.
“Normal person jeans,” he sighs happily, eyeing the neat rows of scary fitted trousers and fashionable... things with deep suspicion. These jeans are worn thin, frayed, with holes in the knees and they look as though they’ll be...
... oh, god, yes, so comfortable.
Very aware of the temperature outside, Harry plunges back into the wardrobe until he finds a soft red sweater and a long wool coat. It takes him a moment or two to close everything back up again, especially as two or three recalcitrant jackets keep making a determined effort to push their way into the act.
“Be good!” he remonstrates, eventually pulling his wand and locking the doors by magic.
As he walks past the full length mirror on the way of out the bedroom he stops and, for the first time, takes a moment to regard his reflection. The person staring back at him makes him catch his breath. It’s still him, there’s no doubt about that, but he looks better than he ever remembers looking in his life. This Harry has no dark circles or bags under his eyes and the crow’s feet he remembers are barely there—just enough to add a warm crinkle when he tries an experimental smile.
He was right, these glasses are different; they’re lighter and more stylish, and his hair is far longer than he remembers it, falling into his eyes at the front and messily grazing his collar at the back. Narcissa Malfoy was right, too—he does look a bit pale—and his chin is prickly with stubble, but he looks good.
Fascinated now, he turns to the side and inspects his profile. It seems that everything is where it should be, which is a relief, but he hadn’t imagined it in the shower—his comfortable little desk-job-belly is nowhere to be seen. Harry chews on his lip and admires the flat stomach he hasn’t seen for a good ten years. It’s not as though he’s ever been truly out of shape, but this is impressive.
“Like what you see?” says the mirror teasingly, and Harry makes a face.
“You shush,” he mumbles, letting his coat and sweater fall back into place.
Taking a deep, calming breath, he looks his mirror image in the eye. Time to figure out exactly where he is, why he is, and whether or not it’s permanent. Slowly, like a man walking to his own horrible death, he walks down the stairs, carefully avoiding the huge spider’s web in progress. Opting for caution, he walks a good few yards out into Grimmauld Place before attempting to Disapparate.
First of all, he has to get home. Hopefully, the rest will follow.
Seconds later, Harry creeps out from the small, empty courtyard behind the village pub and attempts to blend inconspicuously into the early morning shoppers; he threads his way through knots of gossiping old ladies, pink-cheeked children with their mothers in tow, and several others wearing a slightly manic expression that Harry knows well—that of the last-minute Christmas shopper.
He recognises a number of them by sight, but something stops him, keeps his hands in his coat pockets and his eyes focused only on his target, just over the hill. Number forty-two, Willoughby Drive. Home, he thinks, quickening his pace and gulping down the wonderfully familiar-tasting cold air. It’s somehow softer here than in London, and he wishes he knew whether or not that was a good thing.
The driveway is iridescent with frost that makes Harry stumble more than once before he reaches the cottage. Scowling, he raises his hand to knock at the door and pauses, fingers inches from the wood. Wood that has been painted red, and not recently, either, Harry realises with a double-thump of his heart as he skates his fingers down the door and dislodges flakes of weathered red paint.
Swallowing hard, he steps back and tries to look into the window, searching in vain for something, anything, familiar, but the curtains are drawn. Something is very wrong, and though his wand hand twitches in its pocket, he fights to keep it still.
Well, you’re not going to achieve anything standing on the doorstep all morning, are you? his subconscious prods.
Harry sighs, trying to tuck his nose into his collar against the cold and shifting on the spot. He’s almost certain that he used to be more decisive than this. In fact, he suspects that Voldemort would have seized control of half the universe by now had the only person standing in his way been this Harry Potter. This ‘I’ll do it in a minute’, ‘no arguments in my office, please’, ‘I think I’m getting old’ Harry Potter.
“Voldemort can bite me,” he mutters darkly, and raps at the door. Hard.
There’s a scuffle and what sounds like the protesting cry of a small child, and then the door flies open.
“Can I help you?” asks a tired-looking woman with long dark hair and a struggling toddler on her hip.
“Erm... who are you?” Harry blurts before he can stop himself.
The woman frowns and when she speaks again, her tone is cool. “I live here. Are you selling something?”
“No, of course not, but this house—”
“Are you from the council again?” the woman interrupts, holding her child more tightly. “Have you got any ID?”
“No,” Harry says, and the woman sighs and goes to close the door in his face. “No!” he shouts, shooting out a hand to stop her and immediately regretting it when her dark eyes grow wide with fear. “I mean, no, I’m not from the council. This is going to sound crazy, but this is my house.”
Startled, she lets go of the door and stares at him. “I don’t think so. We’ve lived here for ten years... I mean, we haven’t paid off the mortgage yet but it’s definitely our house. I don’t even know who you are.”
Harry blinks. Even through the madness swirling in his head, the surprise of someone not knowing who he is still strikes him—and it would be pleasant if it weren’t so terrifying.
“Believe me, this is just as confusing for me,” Harry sighs, craning his neck to see past the woman and into the hallway, which is full of unfamiliar coats and boots and photographs of a dark-haired couple with their baby. Where are Lily’s drawings and Frank’s muddy pawprints? James’ hats and Al’s messages and Ginny’s weird little sets of tables? “Could I come in for a moment?”
The woman shakes her head fiercely. “No. I’d like you to leave now.”
Her voice is shaky but vehement and desperation twists in Harry’s gut. “Please,” he croaks. “Can you... can you tell me who lived here before you?”
The baby fusses and seems to stare accusingly at Harry. “An old lady,” the woman says at last. “We bought the house when she had to go into a home.”
“Oh,” Harry whispers. He believes her. He believes that this is her house and that she has no idea who he is, and he feels sick. “Oh,” he repeats.
“Listen... is there someone I can call for you?” the woman says after a moment, and her voice has changed again. Soft, careful, light, she continues: “Let me get you some help.”
Harry’s eyes snap to hers and there’s no mistaking the twist of pity there. He bristles.
“No thank you,” he says, hands clenching into fists in his pockets. “I’m not going mad, you know.”
And even though he’s not entirely convinced of that himself, he turns and stomps down the drive without waiting for a response. He’s so focused on not looking back at the house that he doesn’t notice the person in the lane until he’s almost tripped over him.
“Bugger, sorry!” Harry yelps, instinctively grabbing at the unfortunate soul’s velvet sleeves to shorten his slide on the icy ground. Purple velvet? Harry looks up. “Grady!”
“Good heavens!” the man cries, pale blue eyes wide with astonishment. “Harry Potter!”
“Er, yeah,” Harry admits, frowning and absently patting the dog that is nosing at his coat. “Listen, do you know where—?”
“Harry Potter himself, I can barely believe it!” Grady interrupts, beaming. “What an honour, sir, what a bloody honour it is!”
“Grady, what’re you on about?” Harry asks wearily, already wondering why he’s bothering.
“And he knows my name! Jumping jingleberries, Watson, what do you think of that?” he cries, looking away from Harry momentarily to address the Labrador, who barks lustily and then continues trying to push his wet nose into Harry’s pocket.
“You really don’t know me, do you?” Harry sighs.
Grady frowns as a particularly vicious blast of wind blows his greying hair out around his face like a silver mane. “Of course I know you, Mr Potter. Everybody knows you. You’re a hero! But I’ve never been lucky enough to see you in the village before—I suppose you’ve come to visit your good friends over at Hollybrush?” Grady pauses and leans in conspiratorially. “Forgive me for prying, but I do sometimes happen across Mrs Granger-Weasley and she’s always ever so kind to me.”
“Hermione,” Harry says softly and mostly to himself. Hermione and Ron. Hope sparks at the thought of his friends and he manages a smile for Grady. “Yes, that’s right, in fact I’m on my way over there now... probably late, too, so... better get going!”
“Leave Mr Potter alone now, Watson,” Grady advises and waves at Harry, beaming. “An absolute delight to meet you!”
Harry looks at the eager, oddly-dressed man and his dog and waves back, mind already at Ron and Hermione’s front door. “You too,” he manages. “Both of you.”
Grady is still waving furiously and, by the looks of it, talking to his dog, when Harry turns the corner, leaving the house that is not his behind and heading for a place where, he hopes, there will be answers.
This time the door flies open straight away and Harry finds himself face to face with Ginny, looking beautiful in a long, emerald green cardigan and jeans. One hand rests on the doorknob and the other holds an apple, over which she regards Harry and takes a huge, crunchy bite.
“Hlo,” she mumbles, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
Confused, Harry scrubs at his hair. “Ginny... you don’t live here.”
“Yeah, I know,” she says slowly, swallowing her bite of apple. “Neither do you.”
“I live in London,” Harry mumbles, trying to figure out what is so different about his wife but struggling to put his finger on it. “Apparently.”
“Yeah, I know,” she repeats, lifting an eyebrow and flashing a puzzled smile. “So do I. What are we playing exactly?”
Taking another bite, she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and that’s it. The hair through which her aubergine-coloured nails are flicking is drastically shorter than usual. Ginny’s hair is, for want of a better word, trendy, somehow, and falls in choppy layers around her face. It’s startling, and the question escapes Harry’s mouth entirely without his permission.
“What happened to your hair?”
She pulls a face. “Charming. You said you liked it last week.”
“No, well, I mean—”
“Gin?” comes a familiar bellow from inside the house just before Hermione—a wonderfully normal-looking Hermione—appears in the hallway. “Are you flirting with the postman again? Oh... hello, Harry.”
Before he has time to respond, she is hustling him into the warm cottage, leaving Ginny to kick the door shut behind them. The kitchen smells, as it always does, like the cinnamon toast that Ron loves and the fresh coffee that keeps Hermione awake through long meetings at the Ministry and various duties for the ten thousand different PTA groups she belongs to. There’s a half-made glittery tomato costume draped over the nearest chair and Harry sighs gently, allowing himself to relax just a fraction.
“Harry’s being weird,” Ginny advises.
Hermione pokes him into a chair with frightening ease and rakes her eyes over him for several seconds. “You do look a bit odd. Have you been using that funny glue again?”
Harry blinks, unsure whether or not he should be offended. “What? No! Well... I don’t think so...”
“Maybe he’s having a mid-life crisis,” Ginny suggests helpfully. She sits down, carefully avoiding the tomato costume, and Hermione leans against the counter.
“He’s not that old, Gin,” Hermione says, flicking her wand in the general direction of the kettle.
“Yes, thank you, I’m only thirty-seven... aren’t I?” Harry quells the rising panic when both women shoot him an odd look. “And you’re older than me, Hermione, so if I’m going senile, there’s not much hope for you.”
Hermione snorts and hands him a steaming cup; he accepts it gratefully and wraps his cold-numbed hands around it.
“Alright,” she says delicately, “I’m putting an embargo on all age-related discussions in the kitchen. This is one area of life where I’d really prefer just not to think about it.”
“Can we talk about it in the living room, then?” Ginny begins, poking Harry with her foot, and then: “Oh, wow... did Draco let you out of the house in those jeans?”
Harry frowns, glancing down at the offending garment. “What’s wrong with them?”
Ginny shrugs. “Nothing, but as far as I’m aware you’re only allowed to wear them in your workshop. Feeling rebellious?”
Harry sighs and sits back in his chair. There isn’t one part of that sentence that he understands.
“Not especially,” he mumbles. His head is starting to hurt again.
“Sometimes I’m not sure how you put up with that man,” Hermione says, and Ginny gives her a look. “You know what I mean. I know you love him, but if Ron started making rules about my clothes, I’d hex him in the, erm, dangling parts.”
Ginny makes an odd sound that’s half giggle and half choking on a piece of apple. “I’d like to say good for you, ’Mione, but can we possibly not talk about my brother’s bits?”
“Seconded,” Harry says quickly, gulping down coffee.
“So,” Ginny says, still gasping a little, “not only are you wearing the forbidden jeans—” She wiggles her fingers dramatically, “—but you’re also here instead of in the ’shop. What’s going on?”
“Did you have an argument?” Hermione asks, eyebrows knitted in concern.
“Not as far as I know,” Harry mutters, scuffing his shoes on the floor and squirming inwardly as the memory of that unexpected goodbye kiss creeps, unbidden, into his mind. He’s painfully aware, too, that this Ginny isn’t his Ginny. Isn’t his wife. She’s more relaxed and more playful, and even though that should be a good thing, it hurts like a corkscrew to the chest. Harry breathes.
And then, from nowhere at all, several pieces that he’s deliberately been keeping in the air fall neatly into place and his mouth drops open a little.
“Oh, fuck, I’m gay!” he blurts out, cutting off Ginny midsentence.
She laughs. “Please tell me this hasn’t just occurred to you. Wait, of course it hasn’t... I vividly remember an extremely awkward conversation with you about it... let’s see, eighteen years ago?”
“Yes, we had one of those, too!” Hermione offers, eyes bright with amusement, and it becomes painfully apparent that they’re teasing him. Ganging up on him, in fact, for some past awkwardness that he doesn’t even remember. “Hermione, I think I like Draco... you know, in a liking sort of way,” she says, affecting a deeper voice and a puzzled expression.
Harry flushes horribly and scrubs at his face with one hand. His stomach is doing cartwheels and his mouth is so dry that he thinks he may never unstick his tongue from the roof of it. He’s gay. Surely he shouldn’t only be finding this out now, at his apparently advanced age. He’s gay, and he’s gay with Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, who apparently has some bizarre leverage over his fashion choices.
And Ginny’s... well, she’s here, but he has no idea beyond that. And as that thought reaches its natural conclusion, Harry stops breathing temporarily.
“What about Lily and James and Albus?” he manages at last.
Hermione slides into the chair next to him, and her dark eyes seem to flood his vision. “Your parents and Dumbledore are dead, Harry, you know that,” she says, voice rough with concern.
“No... I mean... the children. My children,” he whispers, as Ginny turns away and exchanges a glance with Hermione.
Instinctively, he slips a hand into his pocket for Al’s note and of course it’s not there... not just because these aren’t the right jeans, but because here there is no Al. There never was. Draco Malfoy has had seventeen years practise of watching him sleep. He’s never been married to Ginny at all. Feeling as though he’s been hit with something heavy, he closes his eyes. His insides turn to ice and he grips the edge of his chair hard.
“Harry?” someone is saying. “Do you want me to call Draco? What do you think will help, Gin?”
Tell no one, the man said. Tell no one. What the fuck am I going to do?
“Sleep and some industrial strength hangover potion, probably. I’m going to have Blaise killed,” Ginny is saying beside him, and he forces his eyes open. “No, you know what? I’m going to do it myself.”
“Has he been making his own wine again?” Hermione asks with a light shudder.
“No. He’s been making gin. In the bath.” Ginny rolls her eyes.
Hermione snorts. “Well, for all I say about Ron, he’s never done that... it’d be too close to cleaning it, I imagine.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harry offers truthfully. With some effort, he pulls on a face that he hopes looks more reassuring.
“Poor Harry,” Ginny says, resting her head on his shoulder. Her hair tickles his nose and she smells nice, sweet, like some kind of flower, but not right. Not right at all.
By the time he leaves the cottage his head is in a spin. Hermione and Ginny, in a confusing blend of clucking and teasing, have sent him home, but he has no intention of returning to Grimmauld Place. Barely thinking, he ducks behind a hedge and Apparates, almost at random, into an alley in Muggle London.
Here, the streets are rain-slicked and the frost is almost nowhere to be seen, though determined patches can be seen here and there, clinging to kerbs and window ledges. Harry wanders through the crowds, allowing himself to be buffeted by people with far more purpose. At last, feeling as though he’s starting to bruise, he ducks into the nearest cafe. It’s warm, steam-filled and smells like fried food and wet coats. The chairs are made of bright orange plastic and are bolted to the floor, and Harry knows that nothing good is going to come out of that serving hatch, but it doesn’t matter.
“Hot chocolate, please,” he says at the counter without looking up. Perhaps the sugar will help.
“D’ya want whipped cream on that, young man?”
Harry’s head jerks up painfully. Blinks just to make sure.
The bearded old man grins, revealing his glinting gold teeth. “Me. ’Ow about chocolate sprinkles?”
“What are you doing here?” Harry demands, eyeing his tabard and the nametag that reads ‘Boris’.
“Playin’ ’opscotch with a dragon, what does it look like?” Boris wriggles bushy eyebrows.
“No, I mean... never mind that, anyway, what the hell have you done to me?” Harry hisses. He leans across the counter, both hands pressed to the sticky metal surface, and stares the meddlesome old bugger in the eyes.
“Don’t be like that, lad.” The milky eyes blink slowly. “Just givin’ you a little glimpse.”
“A glimpse. Now, do you want this hot chocolate or not?”
Startled, Harry allows his fingers to slide back across the counter and stands upright. “I do, actually. I don’t think the whipped cream would be a very good idea, though,” he says, feeling his stomach turn at the thought.
“Right you are.” Boris taps haphazardly at the buttons on the till. “Five Sickles twenty.”
“Isn’t this a Muggle cafe?” Harry whispers, looking around.
“It is. That’s for me,” he says, holding out a wrinkled hand. “You don’t really think I work here, do you?”
Harry makes a small sound of disbelief. “I’m not paying you if you don’t work here! And anyway, I want an explanation.”
Boris smiles slowly. “For five Sickles twenty you can ’ave hot chocolate and one of those. At least, up to a point.”
For a moment, he and Harry stare at one another. The only sounds are the clinking of cutlery and the muffled shouts of the cooks behind the hatch, but the pressure inside Harry’s head soon ratchets up to breaking point.
“Fine.” He hands over the coins and stalks over to a corner table, feeling almost certain that he’s just been outmanoeuvred, but feeling equally certain that his only real option is to go with it.
Harry sits in an uncomfortable chair and silently accepts the huge mug of hot chocolate that Boris places in front of him. He has discarded his tabard and now sits opposite Harry in his oilskin coat, a vast cup of tea clasped under his chin.
“It’s nice to see you again, young man,” he says, and there’s something like genuine affection in his tone that utterly confuses Harry.
“Well... good... I think. I need to know what you did.”
“I told you—it’s just a glimpse. You said you wanted to know what would ’appen if you did somethin’ different.” Boris sips his drink calmly, allowing rivulets of tea to flow down his beard unchecked. “An’ this is it.”
Harry’s heart hammers. “But... what did I do differently?”
Boris shrugs. “Only you know that, lad. Don’t tell me you didn’t see it?”
“See it?” Harry whispers, and then he remembers the dream. The bathroom, and then the light at the top of the staircase. Eyes and sheets and words... so many words that he couldn’t make out. Still can’t. “What happened in my dream really happened?”
Boris nods. “How’d you like it?”
“Like it?” Harry demands, stiffening in his seat. “How do I like it? My wife isn’t my wife, my children...” He swallows hard. “My children don’t exist and I’m gay with Draco Malfoy!”
It’s only when two old ladies turn around from their table at the other side of the cafe and tut at Harry that he realises how loud and indignant he has become. He smiles weakly at them.
“Well, you were right, then,” Boris says mildly. “Things are completely different.”
Harry drops his head into his hands and groans his exasperation into them. “I liked you a lot better when I was drunk,” he mumbles.
Boris’ laughter is loud and rumbly in the hush and Harry opens one eye and regards him through his fingers. “Shh. My head hurts.”
“So, what did you do, lad? Kill someone? Confess undyin’ love? See the world?”
Harry emerges from behind his hands and stares at the scratched formica table. “I saved him,” he whispers, and the realisation squeezes his heart in a raw, new place.
“So it would seem,” Boris agrees, creaking around in his chair.
“Is that all you’re going to say? Aren’t you going to help me... you know, fill in the blanks?” Harry appeals, feeling helpless.
“It’s all there if you only look, you know.” Boris inclines his head sagely.
“Great, that’s really enlightening.”
“How long is this going to last?” Harry asks, gulping at his overly-sweet hot chocolate and trying not to feel defeated.
“Oh, as long as it takes,” Boris says matter-of-factly, inspecting the inside of his teacup as though Harry isn’t even there.
Leaning back in his chair and allowing his arms to dangle, Harry sighs heavily. Frowns as a thought occurs to him. “Anyway, what the hell are you doing in...” He glances at the writing on the windows, “Fontayne’s Diner if you’re so good at messing with people’s lives?”
The milky eyes are impassive. “Just checkin’ up on you, that’s all.”
Harry doesn’t have an answer to that.
By the time he forces himself to head back, it’s completely dark outside.
The walk back to Grimmauld Place is long, cold and just what Harry needs. Somehow, the icy wind that swipes through his hair, numbs his nostrils and sets his teeth on edge also manages to smooth down his panic until it no longer feels as though it might burst out of his ribcage and tear him apart. In fact, by the time number twelve looms into view, a detached sort of calm has settled over him. There’s no telling how long it will last this time, but just for now, the knowledge that his children are safe somewhere—that they are at all—will do.
This other part, though... this Malfoy part... well. Harry swallows hard, holds onto his courage and lets himself into the house. He can deal with that, he’s a... alright, he doesn’t know exactly what he’s supposed to be yet, but he’s a man and he’s a Gryffindor and he’s perfectly capable of coping with anything.
“I think I’ve got Fitzwilliam,” comes a shout from the kitchen—a shout that definitely belongs to a Malfoy, and Harry can only hope it’s not Lucius again.
Only one way to find out, he supposes, pleased at least that he’s properly covered up this time.
He steps into the kitchen. It’s just Malfoy. His Malfoy, or at least, Draco Malfoy. Harry frowns. “What?”
Malfoy looks up from where he’s writing furiously at the table, which is scattered with bits of parchment, quills, an empty stripy coffee mug and a strange little carved box.
“Fitzwilliam. I caught sight of him after my meeting and by some stroke of luck had a spare flask on me, so I did red-haired legitimate businessman,” Malfoy says, drawing down his eyebrows and affecting a strange accent, “and managed to get him to insinuate that he was definitely in the business of turning a blind eye or two for the right amount of Galleons.”
Harry stares for a moment, silenced by the odd little half-smile on Malfoy’s lips. He looks genuinely pleased, and Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything so strange. Suddenly, though, recognition yanks at him, and not pleasantly.
“Fitzwilliam? Head of Magical Law Enforcement Fitzwilliam?” he demands. It can’t be.
Malfoy nods slowly, smile fading into exasperation. “How many other Fitzwilliams have I been chasing for the last six months?”
I have no idea, Harry wants to say, but he searches frantically for more helpful words. “Yeah, sorry... it’s just sometimes hard to believe that someone like Franz... erm, someone like Fitzwilliam could be corrupt,” he says, voice rough with very real disbelief.
As Head of the Auror Office, he’s had many meetings with the Head of MLE, and even though the rational part of him knows that this him has probably never done any such thing, it still comes as a blow.
Unexpectedly, Malfoy smiles again. “Thanks.”
Harry blinks. “Er... you’re welcome?”
“Aren’t you in a strange little mood this evening?” Malfoy says, setting down his quill and folding his arms across his chest. He sighs. “I do take a special pride in exposing the unlikeliest of villains, you know that... oh, good grief. What on earth are you wearing?”
Redundantly, Harry glances down at his outfit. He remembers Ginny’s astonishment all too well, but opts to ignore it. “Clothes?” he attempts.
Malfoy snorts. “If you say so. I thought I threw those horrendous jeans out weeks ago,” he says, refined face a picture of disdain.
Something about that expression releases Harry from his stupor and he’s filled with maddening, prickly warmth as his brain helpfully reminds him that fucking hell, he really doesn’t like Malfoy very much. The fact that this Harry, this one here, seems to be existing in some kind of domestic bliss with the stuck-up twat is more than a little bit confusing.
“Well, you didn’t,” he offers, feeling petulant. “They were at the back of the wardrobe. And I wore them out. I went all the way to visit Hermione in them.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows shoot up. “Visiting Hermione? Did you even go to work today?”
“No.” Harry folds his arms too and meets flashing grey eyes in a surprisingly intense stare-off. He has the strangest feeling he’s about to be told off, and it’s been so long since anyone told him off that there’s an odd little part of him that’s looking forward to it.
“Lazy bastard Gryffindor,” Malfoy sighs. “If only we could all take a day off whenever we felt the slightest bit delicate.”
Harry resents the use of the word ‘slightest’, but doesn’t think there’s any use arguing the point. “Well, if your friends force-feed me cocktails...” he begins.
“Blaise is your friend, too,” Malfoy cuts in, looking almost wounded.
“When he makes gin in the bathtub, he’s all yours,” Harry mutters, momentarily terrified at how easy this is.
“Did he really?” Malfoy’s face is a curious mixture of horror and delight.
Harry nods. In the amused silence that follows, he shrugs off his coat and slumps into a chair at the table, idly trying to read Malfoy’s notes upside down. This Malfoy definitely isn’t a financial advisor, and whatever sort of investigator-type-character he is, it obviously agrees with him.
“That man is a horror,” Malfoy is mumbling, but Harry isn’t really listening. He’s noticing the way Malfoy’s hair falls into his eyes as he leans forward across the table on his elbows and laughs softly. He’s noticing the way that the fall of blond hair and the genuine smile soften his features to the point where he’s almost unrecognisable as the man on the platform in September. That Malfoy had looked stiff and stretched beyond his years, closed-faced and black-clad with hair slicked back so severely it had looked almost invisible.
That man had been, Harry supposes, a natural extension of the Malfoy he’d always known, but this man is a completely unknown quantity. His eyes are warm as he looks up and runs his bare foot up Harry’s calf under the table. Harry inhales sharply.
“It’s your turn to make dinner,” he says in such a low, rough tone that Harry feels as though he’s just been propositioned.
“Well, that’ll be interesting,” Harry mumbles, glancing around at the vaguely familiar kitchen and wondering how long it’s going to take him to find something edible amongst all those cupboards. “And what are you going to do, exactly?”
“Watch,” Malfoy says, gathering his parchments together in an odd order that Harry hasn’t a hope of understanding. He smirks. “Now take off those ghastly jeans. They’re upsetting me.”
Harry makes it to the end of the evening with his sanity intact, which is more than he had hoped for. After dinner, he barely sees anything of Malfoy but the top of his head as he scribbles page after page of notes and chews on his bottom lip. From time to time, he looks up from his spot, curled in the armchair nearest the fire, and his eyes dart around the room as though he’s searching for something that isn’t there.
Conscious of trying to act as ‘normal’ as possible, Harry sprawls on the wonderfully comfortable worn leather sofa (the kind Ginny hates, he notes with interest) and pretends to read the newspaper. At least, he does until Malfoy’s eyes linger on him for a second longer than usual and he says:
“You do know that’s yesterday’s, don’t you? And you’ve already read it?”
Harry glances down at the paper, dismayed. “Are you sure?” he manages, trying to sound convincing.
Malfoy sighs and smiles at him indulgently as he resumes his writing. “Yes,” he says mildly. “Mostly because you spent a good ten minutes ranting about the restaurant reviews.”
“Oh.” Harry stares into the fire and attempts to recall a time when he has even bothered to read a restaurant review, never mind rant about one. “Yeah, that’s right, bloody restaurant reviewers,” he says, hoping his frown looks more contemptuous than confused. “Just thought I’d... er... read it again. Just to make sure.”
Malfoy makes an odd little sound but doesn’t bother to look up. “Sometimes I can’t help wondering if your leg wasn’t the only thing you injured during the war,” he murmurs drily.
Harry freezes. His fingers clench around the newspaper and his heart slams against his ribcage as he stares down at his legs. Legs that are now encased in expensive black fabric and that look absolutely fine to him. Something cold rakes over him and he has to fight hard against the desire to fuck Boris’ rules, grab Malfoy and demand to know what he’s talking about.
He wriggles his toes experimentally and rotates each knee and ankle in turn. Everything seems to be in working order, but the race of his pulse and the dryness of his throat tell him that Malfoy isn’t messing around and not only that, his careless words suggest that this is something they’ve been dealing with for a long time.
What’s wrong with me? he wonders silently, knowing, even in his horror, not to voice the question. Malfoy will certainly have an answer for him, and he doubts it will be one he’ll like.
“I think I’ll head to bed,” Malfoy says after what feels like a long time, startling Harry out of his reverie.
He looks up. “Hm?”
“I’m going to bed,” Malfoy repeats, unfolding himself from his chair and nudging Harry with his foot. “Are you coming? You really should if you’re to have any chance of making it into work tomorrow.”
Harry stares up at the raised eyebrow, the rumpled shirt, the quill balanced behind Malfoy’s ear. He opens his mouth to protest but the only thing that comes out is a huge, stretchy yawn, and Malfoy smirks. “I thought so.”
He turns and heads for the stairs, leaving Harry to slump back into the sofa and listen to his creaky footsteps tracking across the ceiling.
“Shut up, Malfoy,” he whispers to the empty room, suddenly very aware that he’s alone. He’s unaccustomed to such a quiet, civilised bedtime and it makes him ache. Summoning the last of his energy, he douses the flames in the grate with a flick of his wand and drags himself to his feet. There doesn’t seem to be any getting away from this sharing-a-bed thing, so he supposes he might as well get it over with.
He just wishes he felt as philosophical as he’s telling himself to be.
Malfoy is already sitting on the edge of the bed and undoing his cuffs when Harry braves the bedroom. With some effort, Harry does his best impression of ‘this is perfectly ordinary’ and lowers himself onto what seems to be his side of the bed. Unsure what to do now, as though the mundane routine of bedtime has been stolen from him by unseen hands, he listens to Malfoy’s soft, tuneless humming and examines the clock on his bedside. It’s strange—copper coloured with so many visible cogs and springs that he has to admit he’s confused. Still, the hands informing him that it’s twenty to midnight are shiny and wave gently back and forth as though to grab his attention.
“Your parents were here,” Harry says suddenly, and the humming stops. “This morning,” he adds.
“Oh, really? Did they have anything interesting to say for themselves?”
“They wanted to talk about Christmas,” Harry says, poking the clock and watching a puff of smoke emerge from the top. Surprised, he smiles.
Malfoy sighs heavily and shifts on the bed. “I have no idea why they bother, do you? Everyone knows we will be doing exactly the same buggering thing we do every fucking year, Merlin give me strength.”
“Should I expect more singing? Harry asks, turning around to regard Malfoy. He doesn’t really expect a response and he’s startled to hear Malfoy laugh and shake his head.
“More than likely. I never could figure out why the pair of you did that,” he admits.
Harry frowns. “Hm?”
“The Celestina Warbeck thing.” Malfoy stretches and starts to unbutton his shirt. Alarmed, Harry bites his tongue, but he doesn’t turn away. “Still, I certainly know better than to interfere with anything that suggests a civil relationship between the two of you. Don’t you remember what he did the first time I took you home to the Manor?”
Harry really doesn't. “Mm,” he says absently, watching the crisp, white fabric slide from Malfoy's shoulders and then dropping his eyes, suddenly uncomfortable. Even more so, which is saying something, he supposes.
There is silence for several minutes as Harry stares at his socks and listens to the swish and rustle of fabric as Malfoy undresses, wondering about injured legs and Christmas and Celestina Warbeck—the latter especially, for reasons passing understanding. He’s never really been a fan, and he can’t imagine Lucius Malfoy owns her greatest hits either.
“Something wrong?” Malfoy asks carefully, and there’s a hand brushing Harry’s shoulder.
You could say that, Harry thinks. “No, just tired,” he mumbles, and tries not to think about just how many times he has told that particular lie in the last few years.
With a sense of inevitability, he pulls his sweater over his head and kicks off his trousers and socks. He slides under the duvet and stares straight up at the ceiling, tightening his muscles against the shock of cold sheets against bare skin.
And there it is. He’s in bed with Draco Malfoy. Life certainly has a twisted sense of humour.
“Why is it so cold in here?” Malfoy grumbles very close to Harry’s ear, making all the hairs on his neck stand up and wave around in protest. Within seconds there is also a cold hand spread out on his belly, an icy foot pressed to his calf and the smell of clean man everywhere.
“The window is open,” Harry manages. “It’s December. It’s night time.” He pauses. “Those are enough reasons.”
“Reasons won’t make me warm.”
“Shut up,” Harry mumbles, forcing himself to relax, which is somewhat of a challenge with a sudden mouthful of blond hair.
“I’ll shut you up in a minute,” Malfoy says threateningly into Harry’s neck.
Inhaling deeply, Harry turns out the lights. He wonders if the pounding in his chest is as loud as it feels. Malfoy’s breathing is warm and regular against his skin, and, against all odds, is not entirely unpleasant. Harry turns his head carefully, gazing at the glowing hands of his clock and then out of the window at a clear sky full of stars, just like the one at home. Everything he’s always known himself to be is telling him to fight this, but something new—something interesting and vulnerable—is whispering to him, telling him that the sooner he does whatever it is Boris wants him to do, or learns whatever it is he wants him to learn, the sooner he will be able to go home.
“Clothes on the floor,” Malfoy murmurs.
There’s no response.
That light at the top of the stairs is becoming very familiar.
Harry moves toward it with purpose now, wanting, needing to find out more. Knowing he is there.
Pushing the door, heavy, carved wood, and then a wave of potion-spicy air.
Rustling sheets and caught breath. He knows, even though Harry is invisible.
“Malfoy?” Harry whispers, drawing close. “Draco?”
“Who’s there?” Grey eyes bright in the darkness. “Potter, is that you? Get away from me right this second!”
Look around. Heart tight with fear. Look around. His wand is on the bedside. Out of reach.
Creeping closer, tight, short breaths, and: “I just want to talk to you.”
“I don’t want to talk to you.” Pale in the moonlight, fingers clenched in the sheets, sitting upright in ill-fitting striped pyjamas. Small, pretending to be big.
“I gathered that much.” Drawing closer and allowing the cloak to slide down to his shoulders. “When you started throwing Unforgiveables at me.”
“I’ll start again if you don’t leave.” Almost a hiss. Lips twisted into a snarl.
“No, you won’t.” Summoning the wand from the bedside and hanging onto it tight. Cool, hard wood and shaking fingers. Bravery blown away into the darkness. “I’m sorry for what I did. But now you’re going to listen to me.”
“Fuck you, Potter.”
Burning eyes. Desperation. A step closer. “Listen.”
“I’ve got to go,” murmurs a low voice next to Harry’s ear. His eyes snap open.
“Malfoy again, eh?” The grey eyes are now inches from Harry’s as he leans over him, one hand either side of Harry’s head on the pillow. “I really wish I could stay and find out exactly what’s going on in your kinky little mind... believe me.” He sighs and runs a hand down Harry’s bare chest, skating fingertips over his abdomen and pressing a firm hand to Harry’s half-hard cock, which reacts with morning enthusiasm and quite without his permission, twitching into the caress and flooding his belly with inappropriate warmth.
“Oh,” he gasps, startled, and Malfoy presses harder, eyes intense.
“Now that’s just cruel... Potter,” he adds, quirking an eyebrow. “I’ve recently discovered that Mr Fitzwilliam likes to run in the park at some ridiculous hour of the morning, so...” he sighs regretfully and slides his fingers once more over Harry’s now-straining erection, making him grit his teeth. “I realise one must make sacrifices in the pursuit of truth, but really.”
Harry suppresses a whimper, torn evenly between the desire to pull away, leap off the bed and insist that Malfoy keeps his hands to himself, and the more primitive part of him that just wants, that demands attention and doesn’t really give a fuck about anything else.
“Yeah,” Harry manages, somewhat breathlessly. “So, will it be red-haired legitimate businessman again?”
Malfoy snorts. “Don’t you think he’d be a touch conspicuous in the park?”
“I’m not thinking much of anything with you doing that,” Harry says, feeling brave, distracted, and then suddenly horrified at his own words, at Malfoy’s smirk, and at the flush creeping over his chest and neck.
“Good to know I haven’t completely lost my touch.” Malfoy sighs and reclaims his hand. “I really do have to go now.”
Frustrated and confused, Harry squirms in place and nods. Malfoy leans down, slides his fingers into Harry’s hair and kisses him deeply, flicking his toothpaste-and-tea flavoured tongue into Harry’s mouth and making him gasp involuntarily. Somewhere in the midst of the madness and bewilderment swirling in his head, he’s conscious of the fact that he’s lying here, still and submissive, and allowing himself to be kissed.
That just won’t do. Screwing up his courage, he kisses back, grabbing a handful of Malfoy’s sweater and hoping for the best. He’s never kissed a man before in his life and it’s simultaneously terrifying and terrifyingly normal. Either way, his heart is hammering in his chest almost hard enough to distract him from the slash of hot guilt that lays him open as, from nowhere, Ginny leaps into his head. Both Ginnys, in fact: his wife—oh, god, his wife—and the brighter, happier one he met yesterday.
Sobered, he pulls away and avoids Malfoy’s eyes.
Breathing hard, Malfoy throws Harry an interesting half-smile and sits up reluctantly. “I really have to go. Don’t forget to go to work today.”
When the door closes behind him, Harry flops messily on the bed, arms and legs splayed. He stares at the ceiling.
“I just kissed Malfoy,” he whispers, licking his bottom lip and tasting mint.
“You certainly did,” the mirror offers, sounding amused.
Harry coves his eyes and groans. “I’m not afraid of damaging you. I’ve had plenty of bad luck already... I’m desensitised.”
He listens, but there’s nothing but an unimpressed ‘hmph!’ from the mirror, leaving Harry feeling alone once more, sprawled out across the wrinkled sheets with an aching erection that he’s half-scared to touch. As his eyes drift around the room, idly searching for a distraction, they fall upon a framed photograph on Malfoy’s chest of drawers.
Draco’s chest of drawers, he corrects himself resolutely. He really is going to have to get used to that before he inadvertently gets himself into some kinky sex game that he can’t get out of. As that thought slowly crystallises in his mind, he shivers and his neglected cock twitches. Horrified, Harry presses a quelling palm against it and reaches for the photograph.
He hates Malfoy, after all. Perhaps all of this is just a hallucination—his body’s way of telling him that it has been far too long since he last had sex.
Stretching onto his side, he looks at the silver-framed photograph, mouth turning dry.
It’s a photograph of him, a much younger him, standing almost silhouetted against a backdrop of mountains and a vivid multi-coloured sunset. He’s wearing a fine green cardigan-type-garment, fitted jeans and a beaming, slightly sheepish, smile. It seems to be a windy day, and every now and then photo-Harry lifts a hand to swipe his hair out of his face. He looks happy, healthy, carefree, and Harry doesn’t remember anything about it.
He glances at a neat annotation in the corner of the photograph: Edinburgh, August 2002.
Harry chews his lip. He can’t recall exactly what he was doing in August 2002, but he knows he has never been to Edinburgh. Well, not in the life he remembers.
It’s all there if you only look, you know. That’s what Boris had said.
Suddenly suffused with a sense of purpose, Harry drops the photograph to the bed and jumps to his feet. Somewhere in this house, there has to be something that will help him to make sense of all this. Harry pulls open every drawer in the room in turn, rifling through the contents of each and moving onto the next. By the time he’s finished, breathless and disappointed, the room looks as though it has been ransacked by an enthusiastic burglar or a team of wayward pixies. And he’s found nothing.
He throws on some clothes and turns to leave the room. Hesitates. There’s a strange nagging sensation in his gut, one that doesn’t seem content to let him blithely abandon the mess he has made. Frowning, he hangs back in the doorway, drumming his fingers on the frame. The room really was very neat before he started... Harry sighs deeply, shakes his head and draws his wand, returning all of the spilled items to their proper places.
Then, pulling his sleeves down over his fingers against the cold, he jogs down the stairs. The spider’s web is looking quite imposing now, and Harry barely ducks in time as he hurries into the hallway and tries each room in turn, desperation turning to adrenaline in his veins.
In the living room he finds more photographs—several of himself and Malfoy... Draco... at various formal occasions, and Harry is relieved to see that his photo-self looks almost as uncomfortable in dress robes as he’s always been. Draco, however, is poised and elegant enough for both of them. There are also several snapshots of himself, Draco, Ginny, and... that handsome, dark-skinned man must be Blaise. Harry’s stomach flips over. He finds pictures of the four of them at the beach, at a party, and what looks like the kitchen in this very house.
Blaise Zabini, he thinks, attempting to dredge up some information—anything at all, really—on Ginny’s husband.
Fuck, that sounds weird.
Harry swallows hard, lowering himself into an armchair and rubbing at his face. Okay, so that line of thinking isn’t going to help this situation one little bit. Instead, he casts his mind back.
He’s... a Slytherin. He might have been one of Draco’s friends at school. He and his family left the country some time during the war, perhaps moved to France? Harry isn’t sure, but then he supposes it doesn’t matter either way. Nothing he knows seems to be applicable in this place, anyway.
Harry pulls himself out of the chair and tries to catch hold of his motivation once more. It’s maddeningly elusive still, but he manages to make it to the study, and it’s here that he strikes gold. Lined up on the bottom shelf nearest the fireplace are a series of leather-bound albums with dates stamped on them in gold.
With a shiver, Harry lights the fire in the grate and takes the first volume, dated 1998-1999. He settles himself on the hearthrug and breathes in the scent of wood polish and musty pages; it’s comforting, and after a few seconds he opens the album in his lap.
It’s a scrapbook, not a photograph album. Harry smiles, surprised, and skates his fingers over the newspaper article pasted onto the first page—finally, something he remembers. It’s that terrible picture of himself, Hermione and Ron, taken some time in the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts and plastered across the papers for weeks afterwards. Dirty, bleeding and exhausted, they lean against one another and stare off into the distance under the unimaginative headline: ‘Trio of Heroes—a well-earned rest for Potter, Granger and Weasley’.
Harry sighs gently, staring down at the relieved, distressed faces of his friends. Unexpectedly, his eyes sting with hot tears and he blinks them away, even though there’s no one here to chastise him for his display of weakness. As he does, he notices a comment written in spiky black script at the bottom of the page:
Your first day of freedom, Harry Potter. How does it feel?
And, next to the admittedly awful article:
The first, and definitely not the last, time I realised with some certainty that I could be a superior reporter with my eyes shut and one hand tied to a Blast-ended Skrewt.
Harry lifts an eyebrow. So, he’s a journalist. It isn’t quite the career one would imagine for a Malfoy, but perhaps it makes sense. Harry supposes that the disguises and persuasion and wheedling of information appeal tremendously to the Slytherin in Draco... and he strongly suspects that there is more than the average amount of Slytherin in Draco.
Turning the page, Harry finds an article about Draco, and another and another. Shifting position on the rug, Harry allows the flames to warm his back and devours every word.
... at great personal risk, this teenage Death Eater turned his back on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and found forgiveness in the form of the late Albus Dumbledore and redemption in his unexpected friendship with Harry Potter himself...
... in exchange for protection for his family, Malfoy supplied invaluable information about the activities of his former master to the group of skilled fighters known as the Order of the Phoenix...
... tremendous acts of bravery and atonement from one so young, proving, perhaps, that what once was, is not irreparable...
... Lucius Malfoy was today sentenced to five years in Azkaban for his role in the rise of You-Know-Who. Sources close to the Wizengamot suggest that Harry Potter’s testimony was instrumental in negotiating such a light sentence for the former Death Eater. Draco Malfoy, Potter’s former enemy and current close friend, was also in attendance but was unavailable for comment...
Harry turns the pages faster and faster, barely breathing. He finds serious articles about each of them as well as silly, pointless snapshots and items consisting of nothing but speculation about what they are doing or where they are going. Next to each and every one, he finds Draco’s running commentary.
Halfway through the book, he finds newspaper pictures of himself, Ron, Hermione and Draco accepting their honours after the war, and close-up shots of Harry’s Order of Merlin, first class, and Draco’s second.
And: So, you best me once again, Potter. It’s a good job you’re great in bed or else I mightn’t keep you around.
Harry flushes and chews at his nail awkwardly. He quickly turns the page, but the next one is even worse:
‘It’s official—Potter and Malfoy are an item! Exclusive pictures inside!’
Harry’s stomach flips as though this is the first time he is being confronted with this information; perhaps it’s seeing it in black and white in a national newspaper that makes it that little bit more shocking. Perhaps it’s finding out that he’s been outed by the Daily sodding Prophet nearly two decades ago and he’s only finding out about it now.
Oddly indignant, Harry snorts and flips faux-casually to the ‘exclusive photographs’—there’s no way they can be as bad as he’s imagining.
Somehow, they’re worse. Head full of salacious, caught-in-the-act style images, he’s braced even for partial nudity, but instead finds himself staring at an array of sweet, almost innocent photographs of a young couple spending a sunny afternoon together in the tiny square of garden at the back of number twelve. Someone has obviously poked a camera through the bushes and captured playful arguments, languid kisses and one particularly good shot of Harry, flat on his back on the grass, t-shirt riding up as he stretches out in the sun while Draco rests his head on his stomach and appears to be reading aloud from a tattered old book. They look happy together, there’s no escaping that.
The Dark Mark is starkly visible against his pale forearm, and so are several other small shapes that Harry cannot make out, just near the inside of the elbow. Draco makes no attempt to hide his scars with long sleeves and, in spite of himself, Harry’s respect for him rises a couple of notches. Everyone has scars, he supposes, and they often make good reminders. Reminders of what not to do.
A strange noise from down the hall makes Harry turn and lean over on one hand, trying pointlessly to see around corners, and ten seconds later his fire whooshes and Ginny’s head pops into view. Startled, Harry drops the heavy scrapbook on his foot and hisses in pain.
“Hi... Gin,” he manages, groaning and rubbing his injured toes.
She sighs. “You’ve forgotten about Maura, haven’t you?”
“Hmm... yes?” Harry replies honestly, hoping he can figure out who or what Maura is before Ginny decides to cart him off to St Mungo’s.
“Come on, Harry, you promised you’d take her this morning, I’ve got a full team meeting in ten minutes—we’ve got to discuss that horrible performance against Chudley last week and the head coach isn’t going to be there, so it’s all on me and I’m just a tiny bit stressed.” She stares beseechingly from the flames, making Harry feel rather remorseful, even though he can’t possibly be held responsible for something his other self has agreed to do.
“Where’s Blaise?” he ventures, pretty certain by now that Maura is either a child or an animal, and being all too aware that sometimes there is little difference between the two.
“At work.” Ginny gives him an odd look.
“Of course he is,” Harry says faintly. “I have to work, too, you know. Draco is insisting on it.”
Ginny snorts. “After yesterday, I’ll bet. Take her with you; you know she loves going to work with her Uncle Harry.”
Uncle Harry. The words swim around inside Harry’s head. Ginny and Blaise Zabini have a daughter, and she calls him Uncle Harry. He coughs, trying to loosen the tightness in his chest.
“Alright, well, send her through, then,” he says, trying to smile, and the relief on Ginny’s face is immense.
“Great. I’ll see you later, then. Maura, give Mummy a kiss.”
Harry watches anxiously as Ginny’s face disappears, the flames whoosh green, and then there is a small child hopping out of the fire and onto the hearthrug. Hurriedly, he closes the scrapbook and returns it to its shelf, out of the way of the small cloud of ash that the little girl seems to have brought in with her.
“What’re you doing in here, Uncle Harry?” she asks, and Harry just stares at her.
Maura Weasley—or perhaps Zabini—looks to be six or seven years old and strikingly resembles both of her parents. Her coffee-coloured skin and tightly curly dark hair obviously come from her father, but the bright brown eyes and dusting of freckles across her nose are all Ginny.
Harry blinks and tries with everything he has to focus. Answer the question.
“Where were you expecting to find me?” he wonders aloud, which isn’t really answering the question, but at least he’s saying something instead of doing a fish impression at the poor child.
“You’re always in the kitchen,” she says, tilting her head on side as if to add, “silly.”
“Of course I am. Well, I was just doing some reading and trying to get warm,” he offers, frowning as he takes in her short red pinafore, long-sleeved t-shirt and spotted tights. He’s flooded with a confusing mixture of natural protectiveness toward the child and dull pain that she exists at all, and it’s a good few seconds before his paternal instinct kicks in and he continues: “We’re going out soon, don’t you have a coat?”
She nods, making her curly pigtails bob up and down. “I’ll get it.”
Harry watches, baffled, as Maura scuttles out of the room, footsteps ringing on the polished wood. A door opens and closes—he thinks the hallway closet—and then she’s back, clutching a red coat and struggling her way into it as she walks. Harry wonders what else of hers lives in his house.
“Is everything you own red?” he asks, amused.
She wrinkles her freckled nose and buttons up her coat. “It’s my favourite colour.”
“Mine too. What does your dad think of that?”
“Daddy doesn’t like colours,” she says with a weariness beyond her years.
Harry lifts an eyebrow but chooses not to comment.
“Are we going to work now?” she asks excitedly, and her smile is all Ginny’s, too.
Harry chews the inside of his mouth and considers his options. Or perhaps just his option, singular. He has to get to this mythical place of work one way or another, and right now, he doesn’t have a better idea than this:
“Maura, where does Uncle Harry work?”
Ten minutes later, Harry is being led—or quite possibly dragged—through a bustling Diagon Alley by a surprisingly strong Maura. It has been several years since a child has demanded to hold his hand and while it’s rather nice to feel needed, he only wishes he was the one leading.
“Hello, Mr Potter,” says a middle-aged woman as she passes, smiling indulgently at Maura and struggling with a dog, an owl in a cage, and a bulging string bag full of groceries.
Harry has no idea who she is but manages to return her greeting before Maura’s warm little hand tightens around his and he has to turn away and fight down his urge to flag down the lady and ask her if she’d like some help.
“Come on, Uncle Harry! If we stop to talk to everyone, we’ll never get there,” Maura complains, barely making herself audible above the chatter and rumble of the crowds.
Puzzled, Harry quickens his step, but he has barely crossed another three feet of cobbles before a little boy in a bobble hat points at him and cries, “Look!” to his father, who is wearing a matching bobble hat.
“Don’t point, Isaac,” the man says, but he smiles broadly at Harry. “Good to see you, Mr Potter. And young Maura.”
At that point, young Maura halts in her relentless stride and turns, still hanging onto Harry’s hand. “Hello,” she says brightly.
“My wife loved it,” the man offers, beaming and rubbing his hands together against the cold. “It was exactly what she wanted... I don’t know how you do it!”
Thrown, Harry takes a deep breath of cold, fresh-tasting air and attempts to sound as gracious as possible. “That’s great, I’m really pleased to hear that.”
The man sighs regretfully. “I wish I could come to you for her Christmas present, too. Maybe next year!”
“Maybe next year,” Harry echoes, throwing the man a sympathetic—he hopes—smile.
When the man and his son say goodbye and set off on their way, so do Harry and Maura, threading through the shoppers and setting their feet down firmly against the slippery cobbles. By the time she slows and turns into a small courtyard, no less than ten people have called out to him, smiled and waved, or wanted to stop for a chat, and Harry is astonished.
It’s rare these days that anyone approaches him in public, and though he can’t remember the last time he shopped in Diagon Alley, he knows deep down that his tried and tested ‘leave me and my family the fuck alone’ face is the real reason that no one comes near. It hasn’t always been that way, but after a few too many intrusive articles and impolite interruptions, the defence mechanism has become second nature.
Or at least it had. Just five minutes in public has already demonstrated that, yet again, things are very different here. Sure, everyone knows him and everyone wants to say hello, but their questions and greetings are invariably polite—“Good morning, Mr Potter” and “Nice to see you, Mr Potter” and “Are you heading for the workshop, Mr Potter? I’d like to drop in later on and talk to you about an order”—and not only that, Harry finds that he doesn’t mind them at all. He doesn’t know what a lot of them are talking about, but he doesn’t mind.
Sadness falls over him like a veil, and he sighs into the frozen air, trudging along behind Maura but barely noticing where she’s taking him until they come to a stop in front of a wooden door set into an attractive, low-slung stone building.
So this is it.
“Please open the door, Uncle Harry,” Maura pleads, shivering dramatically. “I’m going to freeze to death!”
Her expression pulls a soft snort of laughter from Harry. Surprised at the sound, he looks up at the grey sky and forces a hand through his windblown hair, shaking away his unhelpful regret until it falls away around him.
“Right,” he mutters, examining the door with its heavy iron rivets and knocker. When he reaches out and skims the rough wood with his fingertips, a flare of protective magic shoots out and wraps tightly around his hand, weaving shimmering green tendrils through his fingers; a slightly uncomfortable tingle flies down his arm and then retreats before, seemingly-satisfied, the door clicks and swings open on creaky hinges.
Maura races past him into the building. Harry follows at a slower pace, turning in circles and taking in this large, open, sawdust-scented space that is apparently his place of work. The walls are rough, whitewashed and cool under Harry’s fingers, and the flagged floor is littered with wood shavings and intriguing-looking tools. In the middle of the room stand two huge workbenches and immediately above are a series of skylights which on a good day, Harry imagines, would flood the space with light; today, though, they reveal only the heavy clouds through a delicate sheen of frost.
Around the edges of the room, he finds wardrobes, bureaus, chests and dressers. Several unusual chairs sit haphazardly in a corner, and a half-finished glass-fronted bookcase sits next to the door. As he examines each piece, he’s consumed by a creeping fascination.
He made these?
He can’t have... they’re beautiful. They’re unusual and skilfully made and quirky. Harry looks down at his ordinary, bony, artless hands. It makes no sense; his brain is completely unable to reconcile his inept, graceless self with the craftsman to whom this workshop belongs. Boris must be having him on.
“I know you’re not my Uncle Harry,” Maura says suddenly. Harry spins around, heart pounding. She is sitting on the nearest workbench, legs dangling, and fixing him with an odd little smile.
“You’re not my Uncle Harry,” she repeats calmly. “You look like him, but you’re not. It’s okay, though. I won’t tell anyone.”
Rooted to the spot, Harry searches in vain for an appropriate response. He doesn’t understand. Ginny hasn’t noticed, Hermione hasn’t noticed... even Draco, who is apparently his... well, who knows him very well, hasn’t noticed. And yet this child, this bright, dark-skinned miniature Ginny, has seen right through him.
“Of course I’m your Uncle Harry,” he says, barely in a whisper.
Maura draws her feet up onto the work surface and crosses her legs so she can pick at her spotted tights. “It’s alright. I don’t know where you’ve come from but I know you’re only visiting.”
“Visiting,” he repeats. “Something like that.”
Maura nods sagely, and Harry takes a cautious step toward her, and then another, and then, for no reason that he can see, he finds himself in a heap on the cold stone, hands grazed and blood racing with adrenaline.
“That happens sometimes,” Maura advises, and there’s a clatter as she jumps back down to the floor and comes to crouch beside Harry. “You have a bad leg. I bet you didn’t know that.”
Harry laughs bitterly and pulls himself into a sitting position, examining the scratches on his palms. Bizarrely, his leg feels absolutely fine, as though it hasn’t done any such thing as completely give way underneath him and cause him to crash his full weight into the floor.
“I’ve heard about it, but that was my first time... experiencing it,” he admits, giving up on the idea of trying to lie to Maura.
“You’ll be alright in a minute.” Kicking away some sawdust, Maura lowers herself to the floor next to him and wrinkles her nose. “It just makes you fall over sometimes. You usually swear more than that.”
Harry manages a smile. “I’ll remember that,” he says, and then swallows his next question. Even if she does know exactly what happened to him, he doesn’t really want to start interrogating a seven-year-old about a war she doesn’t ever remember. He doesn’t suppose it really matters anyway. Knowing why isn’t going to make it go away.
“Did I really make all these things?” he asks instead, glancing once more around the room.
“Yes.” Maura nods. “You make lots of lovely things.”
“I don’t know how to make things,” Harry says, slightly panicked. “The last bit of furniture I had anything to do with was a flat-pack dressing table when I was eight. And if I remember, I ars—erm, I didn’t do a very good job.”
“You say arse all the time,” Maura tells him with a small giggle. “I don’t know what flat-pack is but you always say you like wood ’cause it doesn’t answer back.”
Harry lifts an eyebrow. “I said that?”
Maura nods, pigtails swinging. Harry flexes his knee carefully. It’s fine. He sighs and pulls up his knees to his chest.
“Do I make them with magic?” he asks hopefully.
The freckled nose scrunches up as Maura thinks, and, as Harry watches, a weak ray of sunlight penetrates the cloud and picks out dark red strands in her hair.
“Mostly you hit the wood with those things,” she says, pointing at a wall rack full of tools, “and make this face.” She pauses and screws up her features, pressing her lips together in a hard line. “And you put them together, and then you use your wand for the fancy bits.”
Harry allows his lips to be tugged into a smile. “Do you mean things like that?” he asks, pointing to an oak dresser with gently moving fish carved into it.
“Mmhm. I like the fish,” Maura says, immediately and painfully reminding Harry of Lily. “Sometimes people come in and ask you for things and sometimes you just make what you want.” She points at something over his shoulder. “That one is for Uncle Draco, for Christmas. I think it’s nearly finished.”
Harry looks, trying to ignore his sudden bellyful of spiky anxiety, but it only intensifies when his eyes fall upon a striking standard lamp made of mahogany and stained glass. The stalk has been carved, seemingly from a single piece of wood, into a smooth, curved shape that appears both strange and natural all at once, like something from the Forbidden Forest. He has to touch it.
He hauls himself to his feet and after a moment, Maura follows him and stands at the opposite side of the lamp, watching him with interest. Feeling as though he’s doing something he shouldn’t and doing it anyway, Harry slides his hand lightly over the curves that feel like silk and fit perfectly to his touch; then, growing bolder, he allows his palm to press tightly to the wood, sensing the grain now, until he reaches the glass shade.
“Should I?” he wonders, fingers closing around his wand.
Maura shrugs. “It’s your lamp.” She pauses. “I think you should.”
Something makes Harry glance down at her and she’s grinning up at him, eyes alight with eagerness. He’s unsure of whether or not he should be taking encouragement from a child who’s at least half Slytherin, but... fuck it, he’s going to do it anyway. He returns her smile and mumbles a spell to light the flame inside the lamp.
“Wow,” Maura whispers, and Harry can’t help but agree with her. Wow indeed.
The workshop is all at once filled with gently undulating light in every shade of green imaginable as the flames dance and illuminate the thin, stained-glass panels. At first glance, he had thought they were simply stripes, but now he sees that the myriad shards of coloured glass are more than that; they shift and fade and merge into one another over and over again.
A green-tinged Maura smiles delightedly up at the strange, nebulous shapes chasing one another across the ceiling. “You’re clever, see? Well, Uncle Harry is, but you know what I mean.” She drags her eyes away from the ceiling and looks around the lamp at Harry. “Do you want to know anything else?”
Harry sighs. Wonders how long she’s got. “What does Ginny... what do your parents do?”
“Daddy has a company that sells plants,” she says, “and Mummy’s a coach. You know, in Quilditch.”
Maura scowls and nods. “Quidditch. I always say it wrong. And Uncle Draco writes stories about bad people to tell everyone that they’re bad.”
“Yeah,” Harry mumbles, gazing at the lamp that his other self made and scrubbing distractedly at his hair. “And I’m a gay carpenter. Cheers, Boris.”
“Who’s Boris?” Maura demands.