“Fuck me, Harry’s got a tattoo,” are the first words Harry hears as he stirs into consciousness.
Without opening his eyes, he shifts slightly under his sheets and realises that, yep, they’ve apparently slipped down around his hips along with his pyjama pants during the night, allowing the cool morning air from the nearest open window to rake across his exposed hipbones—both the bare one and the one that has grabbed Seamus’ attention: the one with—
—inked across it in a delicate black script.
He’s about to open his eyes and tell Seamus to bugger off and close the window when there’s a sudden shuffling and creaking and two more voices join the conversation. Harry freezes.
“It’s just numbers,” Nev says, sounding intrigued and far too chirpy for this hour of the morning. Whatever hour it is, Harry’s not sure yet. Opening his eyes would probably help.
“Nah, it’ll mean something, won’t it,” Dean suggests from somewhere near Harry’s feet, and it occurs to him that if he opens his eyes now, they’ll all be staring at him, and it’ll be all kinds of weird. With an inward sigh, he elects to feign sleep until they lose interest.
“It looks a bit like a snake if you tilt your head and squint your eyes,” advises Seamus.
“Why would you get a tattoo that you had to tilt your head and squint your eyes to understand?” Neville asks, not unreasonably. “And anyway, it looks nothing like a snake. I don’t know what kind of snakes you’ve been looking at, Seamus.”
Seamus snorts, and Harry grins inside for his once-diffident friend.
“Why would you get one at all?” Dean wants to know. “It’s like self mutilation.”
That man, Harry thinks, is worryingly obsessive over his—admittedly perfect—skin. Harry should know; he has to share a bathroom with him.
“What are you lot mumbling about?” Ron demands, voice rough from sleep, and Harry is rather impressed they’ve managed to wake him with their speculations. Ron sleeps like the dead.
“That,” Nev says, dropping his voice. Like there’s any point anyway, but still, Harry continues to pretend he’s asleep, which is turning out to be more difficult than he’d imagined. His mouth wants to twitch and show his amusement, his fingers are itching to grab the sheets and pull them up over his cold skin, and there’s a bit of hair hanging into his eyes that’s driving him insane.
Not only that, but he knows what curiosity did to the cat, but he suspects there’s enough curiosity on both sides of this equation for each to cancel the other out. If, indeed, it works like that; it’s not as though he’s an expert.
Ron yawns, stumbles closer to Harry’s bed and emits a small ‘mleh’ sound. “Oh, that. Dunno, mate. He had it when he came to stay with us this summer. Wouldn’t tell me what it means. You know what he’s like.”
Harry’s eyebrow twitches before he can control it, but no one seems to notice.
“That I do. Maybe it’s like... how many girls he’s shagged,” Seamus says, managing to sound envious.
Dean snorts. “Not being funny mate, but I doubt even Harry’s had time to shag fifteen hundred girls.”
“Fifteen hundred and fifty,” Seamus points out. “If you add it all up.”
“And anyway, Harry doesn’t...” Ron trails off and it takes every bit of Harry’s admittedly paper-thin self-control to stay still and not open his eyes to gaze around at his dorm-mates, who, from the sound of it, are now gathered around his bed in some sort of disturbing discussion-circle.
“He doesn’t, er, you know. He’s not like that,” Ron says valiantly. “He doesn’t just go around shagging...”
Closed eyes or not, Harry can hear his best friend’s attempt at a casual shrug and he bites the inside of his mouth hard to keep from smiling. It’s not as though he cares if anyone knows he’s not interested in girls, not any more.
His dorm-mates would’ve had to have found out soon anyway. There’s only so many times he can sneak into the Slytherin dorms without getting himself hexed to buggery. Not that Ron knows anything about Slytherins or dorm-sneaking. Or what he’s been doing with one particular Slytherin once the dorm-sneaking has been accomplished. He suspects it’ll be best to spare Ron the details, anyway.
“What?” Dean prods after a long few seconds’ silence, and there’s a note of something in his voice that snags Harry’s brain.
“He doesn’t go around shagging,” Ron says stoutly.
“Girls,” Seamus puts in gleefully. “That’s what you were going to say! He doesn’t go around shagging girls. I knew it. KNEW it.”
Dean sucks in a breath and nudges Harry’s mattress with his knee. Way to not wake me up while you’re talking about me, Harry thinks.
“Is he, Ron?” Neville asks softly. “You know... gay?”
Harry holds his breath. He has to admit that Ron’s been spectacularly understanding about the whole thing this summer, bordering on blasé, in fact, but Harry has no idea what he’ll do with basically being forced into outing his best friend while he’s asleep. Supposedly.
Ron coughs. “Erm, well. You should probably ask him that.” Harry snorts inside and holds very still.
Seamus laughs with pure delight. “He fucking is! Thank you, Harry,” he murmurs, and then: “I hope Snape’s ready for you, Mr Thomas!”
“Eh?” says Ron after a moment. Harry couldn’t agree more.
“I wouldn’t have made you do it, Seam,” Dean protests.
“Yeah, you would’ve,” Seamus says, and he still sounds like he’s enjoying this far too much. On the plus side, Harry thinks, they all seem to have forgotten about his tattoo. “We’ve a running bet on Harry’s, ah, preferences, had it since end of last year. Loser has to ask Snape out in front of an audience. Oh, it’s going to be a good day.”
“Oh, don’t do it in Potions!” Nev says suddenly, anguished.
“Why not?” comes from near Harry’s feet.
“Because I’ll miss it, won’t I?”
“God forbid you aren’t there to witness my humiliation, Nev,” Dean says drily.
“No, he’s got a point,” Ron says. “I don’t want to miss it, either.”
“Seriously, guys, thanks for your support. What if he hexes me?”
“He’s not going to hex you, he’s a teacher,” Neville says, but he doesn’t sound convinced. If Harry’s honest, he doesn’t blame him. “He’s been spitting mad at me on a daily basis over the years and he’s never actually hexed me.”
“Yeah, but you were just blowing up cauldrons, not asking him if he’d like to hold your hand in the Three Broomsticks,” Dean points out, and Harry bites his tongue hard.
“That’s a bit tame,” Seamus muses. “I was thinking more like asking him if he wants a quick hand-job in the Hog’s Head.”
“Urgh,” Ron says with feeling.
Harry examines the insides of his eyelids and grits his teeth against the urge to join in with the wave of amused-slash-horrified snorting and snickering around his bed that accompanies those unwanted images.
“Do you think Snape likes cock?” Seamus says suddenly, and Harry almost implodes with the effort of containing the bubble of horrified amusement that’s filling his chest until it hurts.
This sodding conversation isn’t even about him any more, and he wants to join in.
“Maybe we should ask Harry,” Neville puts in amid renewed gales of laughter, and Harry reconsiders his previous statement, unable to stop his toes curling in horror beneath the sheets.
“Oh, come on, Nev, that’s disgusting. Harry wouldn’t shag that.”
“He might... you know, for... practice, or something,” Dean suggests.
“That’s my best mate you’re talking about,” Ron groans. “Bloody hell, I’m going to have nightmares about that.”
You and me both, Harry thinks. Just then, the breeze from the window picks up and fuck, he’s cold. Somehow, he’s going to find a way to blame this whole thing on Draco. Just as soon as he can move. It’s his fault about the tattoo, for sure, and Snape? Well, it’s a Slytherin thing. All Slytherins are deviants, and Draco is a Slytherin, therefore Snape is a deviant. Or something. He can come back to the theorizing later.
He’s getting rather good at this staying still lark, he reflects, and is just feeling a little bit proud of himself for overcoming his natural urge to squirm and fidget, when Nev says:
“You should at least let him try, Seamus,” and Harry realises that he’s missed something; he can apparently do Outstanding Lying Still or listening, but not both at once. He wonders if Hermione will teach him how to multi-task.
“Go on,” Dean wheedles.
Seamus sighs. “Fine. If you can get the meaning of the tattoo of mystery out of Harry before anyone else does, then you don’t have to ask Snape out. But let me be the first to say that I sincerely hope you fail.”
“Oh, I won’t. Not a chance. How hard can it be?”
Very, Harry thinks, which is, admittedly, unfortunate for Dean. Because honestly, as though he’s going to give in when there’s Snape squirmage at stake.
As his dorm-mates resume their discussion, Harry can’t help wondering how any of them even think he’s still asleep when they’re all standing around his bed bellowing about shagging and Snape and his sexuality.
Perhaps Draco’s not that far off the mark with his assertion that ‘All Gryffindors are intellectually subnormal. That means a bit daft, Harry.’ Still, that won’t stop Harry from swatting him with the nearest object, usually a pillow, the next time he says it. As for what follows, well, that’s not Harry’s responsibility.
Fortunately, his dorm-mates start to drift from his bed, continuing their friendly sniping as they go about their morning routines, and Harry is filled with relief that he doesn’t have to fight down the inevitable flush to his skin that accompanies his wayward thoughts of Draco. Instead, he gives himself a moment to enjoy them, and then feigns waking up, rising and stretching luxuriously without bothering to pull his pyjama pants up over the tattoo.
“Hey, Harry, when’d you get that?” Seamus says, all innocence, as though he’s not spent the last fifteen minutes staring at it and speculating.
Harry glances down at his hip, equally innocent. “Beginning of the summer.” He draws a finger lightly over the inked numbers and smiles. “I’m going for a shower.”
“What does it mean?” Dean attempts, apparently thinking it’s just that easy.
“That’d be telling, wouldn’t it?” Harry calls over his shoulder and heads into the bathroom.
He flicks on the hot water and pokes around for something approaching shower gel. Eventually, frowning, he extracts one of Dean’s scary Manly-Stuff-from the-Ocean type salt-scrub things, sniffs at it for a moment or two and then shrugs, sticking his hand into the jar.
Shagging Snape for practice, indeed.
It seems that pretending to be asleep is hard work, because Harry is starving by the time he makes it down to breakfast. He opts to load his plate with one of everything that he can see, despite Hermione’s impressive eye-roll. Unlike him, she doesn’t know what’s coming, and he suspects that a balanced breakfast is the only sensible option.
As he slices into his sausage and conveys the pieces to his mouth, he gazes over at the Slytherin table until he catches Draco’s gaze. The grey eyes warm immediately, and the resulting leap in Harry’s chest and the prickling on his skin can only be partly attributed to residual Manly Salt Crystals. Harry flashes him a quick smile, which Draco returns once he’s sure that no one’s looking.
The thing is, with Draco’s father behind bars and Voldemort dead for definite this time, they’ve no real need to hide how much they’ve come to mean to one another over recent months, but neither are they daft enough to believe that it won’t be a huge scandal to some people—to most people—when they learn just how far Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy have taken the concept of ‘overcoming their differences’.
‘Stop staring, Potter,’ Draco mouths over the top of his coffee cup when Pansy turns away from him to pour herself a glass of juice. He smirks, and Harry smirks back. If he’s honest, he has no idea how no one has noticed yet; they haven’t been trying all that hard to hide it this year.
He doesn’t suppose it’ll be long, anyway, and is completely unsurprised when Dean slides onto the bench beside him with an odd little expression on his usually-relaxed face and a bit of parchment clutched in his hand.
“So, you know this tattoo of yours? The numbers?”
Harry glances at him briefly before returning to where he’s arranging his baked beans into a pattern on his plate. “Mm?”
“Are they map co-ordinates?”
“What, like a pirate? No.” Amused, Harry spears a fried tomato half on his fork. “Arrr,” he adds.
Dean makes an odd sound at his side but presses on. “Is it an Arithmancy... type-thing?”
“Technical,” Harry approves.
“I don’t do Arithmancy,” Dean grumbles.
“Me neither. Nope.”
“The combination for your Gringotts vault?”
Harry snorts. “If it was, do you think I’d tell you? It’s not, as it happens, but honestly.”
“It’s not...” Dean drops his voice, “...how many blokes you’ve shagged is it? Because you should know that everyone’s alright about that... thing.”
“Right, thanks.” Harry shoots him a sidelong glance. “And I don’t know what I’ve done to make you think I’m such a complete tart, but no. It is not.”
“Sorry. No offence.”
“None taken.” Harry sets down his knife and fork with a metallic clatter and licks a bit of stray red sauce from his finger. He glances at Draco not-very-covertly from under his messy fringe and Dean stares at his list, utterly oblivious.
“Is it to remind you of something?”
“Like a shopping list?” Harry muses. “That’s kind of vague.”
“I know,” Dean laments, dropping his chin onto his folded arms on the table top. Harry looks at the top of his head and suppresses the urge to pat him on the shoulder. Snape’s not going to know what’s hit him.
Or Ginny, for that matter, he thinks as she wanders into the Hall, prods Dean into an upright position and perches casually on his lap. His eyes light up at the appearance of his girlfriend, and he allows her to help herself to his toast.
“Here, Gin, help me out. Harry usually listens to you. What’s with the tattoo?”
“Mm, alright, what’s it worth?”
Dean leans forward and whispers in her ear until she grins and her eyes sparkle. Harry looks across the table just in time to see Ron turn slightly green and stuff several rashers of bacon into his mouth in rapid succession.
“Spill it, Harry,” she instructs, applying a no-nonsense stern face that she seems to have borrowed from Hermione.
Harry folds his arms on the table and shakes his head. “No chance. It doesn’t count if you help him. And anyway, I want to see him try it on with Snape.”
“You were listening... oh... bollocks.” Dean rubs his face, horrified.
Harry grins, filled with a wonderful, childish delight. “Did you really think I’d stay asleep with you lot yelling and giggling over my bed?”
“We weren’t giggling,” Seamus puts in from Dean’s other side, leaning around his co-conspirator in order to see Harry. “We were expressing amusement... in a very manly fashion.”
Harry just lifts an eyebrow, casting a glance further down the table where Neville at least has the good grace to blush and cringe apologetically.
Ron coughs, eyes anxious, and Harry shrugs and smiles at him until he visibly relaxes and stops to actually chew his food. ‘S’Alright,’ Harry mouths, and Ron grins at him, relief written all over his face.
“You’re going to try it on with Snape?!” Ginny demands suddenly from her spot in Dean’s lap, just a bit too loud, and several conversations grind to a halt around the table. When he twists around to have a look, Harry is thrilled to see that Snape is wearing an expression that could curdle Bubotuber pus.
Harry sighs happily and enjoys the lull in his interrogation. He consumes a couple of extra slices of toast with slow relish, watching as Draco whispers to Pansy and laughs. It’s still definitely Draco’s fault. The Slytherin bastard wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he’s endlessly fascinated with Harry’s decidedly Muggle body art; he certainly seems to enjoy licking it, at any rate.
“It’ll be a person, or a big event,” Ginny says after a while, once she’s been talked down from her initial suspicion that her boyfriend is harbouring a secret crush on his Potions professor. “That’s why people get tattoos. And,” she adds, momentarily solemn as she glances at the faded scar that Harry tries to cover with his recalcitrant mop, “Harry’s got enough reminders of big events, hasn’t he? So, a person.”
Dean glares at his list and folds it into two with a sigh. “Why are girls so smart?” he asks of the table in general, and Ginny kicks him in the shin.
“What does it look like?” Hermione says, speaking for the first time in several minutes and attracting the gazes of all the seventh-year Gryffindor boys, plus Ginny.
“Ooh, yeah, let’s have a look!” Ginny enthuses.
“Come on, whip it out!” Ginny pokes him and, mildly alarmed, he slides away from her on the bench as far as he can, until he’s all but sitting in Hermione’s lap.
“Sod off,” he mutters, trying to fight down the rising suspicion that all of his Housemates are now observing this little farce with interest.
“Looks like this, Hermione,” Dean says helpfully, reproducing the neat script with near-perfect accuracy on the back of his piece of parchment and sliding it toward her.
She examines the mysterious numbers for a minute or two, frowning and turning the parchment through 360 degrees—as though that’s going to make a difference, but then again this is Hermione, and it should come as no surprise that she likes to examine a problem, quite literally, from all angles.
Eventually, her face clears and she smiles. Visibly amused, she glances at Harry, glances over at the Slytherin table, and then back at the parchment.
“You’re all idiots,” she announces, and hands the parchment back to Dean, who accepts it, frowns, and immediately begins turning it in a circle just as she had.
“’Mione!” Ron complains, but she shakes her head and leans back on the bench to meet Harry’s eyes.
“Good to you?” she whispers, dark eyes wide.
Harry nods and bites his lip.
“Better be,” she adds darkly, and he grins at her.
“What. The hell. Are you two on about?” Ron demands, cutting across the low-level muttering that’s coming from the Dean-Ginny-Seamus huddle beside Harry as they pore over the parchment.
Harry sighs and just for a brief second allows himself to drop his forehead against the table, relishing the cool, hard press against his skin and wondering if, actually, tackling Draco to the floor in the middle of the Hall and letting nature take its course would have been easier than this.
“They’re fucking letters,” Dean cries suddenly, emerging from the little knot and staring at Harry with his mouth open. “They’re not numbers at all, they’re letters!”
“Er, yeah,” Harry says intelligently, already feeling his face heating, which is ridiculous, but it’s not as though he can do a lot about it.
“Argh,” expels Ron, scrubbing at his hair in frustrated incomprehension.
“Here,” says Ginny, looking rather amused as she slides off Dean’s lap and onto the bench beside Harry. She takes Dean’s pencil, scribbles something on the parchment and passes it to her brother.
Harry holds his breath as Ron scans the parchment. Three, two, one...
If there’s one thing Ron really excels at, it’s bellowing, and Harry is overjoyed to note that this occasion is no exception. This time, the entire Great Hall falls silent as every single conversation grinds to a halt.
“You’ve got Malfoy tattooed on your hip? Malfoy?!” Ron adds, just to really hammer the point home.
“Erm,” says Harry, already feeling the weight of many, many silent stares pinning him to his bench.
Swallowing hard, Harry forces himself to look over at the Slytherin table once more, finding yet more stares and a disturbingly open-mouthed Pansy Parkinson. He shoots Draco an appealing look and he sighs heavily. Picks up his plate and napkin with a long suffering expression and, with every eye in the room following him, gets up and approaches the Gryffindor table.
With Ginny now on the bench beside Dean, there’s no room for another, and Draco stands behind Harry, looking down at him with one eyebrow raised and his plate held well clear of his immaculate white shirt. Feeling resigned and warm and rather exposed, Harry tips his head back against Draco’s chest and smiles. Inhales the comforting scent of soap and citrusy cologne and the not-so comforting scent of kippers.
“They cracked your impossible code, did they?” Draco says.
“Mm, some Gryffindors are clever, see?”
Draco snorts. “Right, well, I’m not eating my kippers standing up, so...” He waves an expectant hand at the stunned occupants of the Gryffindor table. “Shift, or something.”
“To where, Malfoy, there’s no room?” Dean says, clearly indignant at being ordered around. Ordered around by Draco Malfoy, at that.
Ron opens and closes his mouth like a fish, and distractedly, Harry contemplates throwing a leftover bit of fried tomato into it, just to see if he can. Probably better not, though. Especially when Draco’s resting his free hand on Harry’s shoulder like that, and the little vein in Ron’s left temple is pulsing disturbingly. Harry suspects, hopes, that as long as he doesn’t faint, he’ll be fine in a minute or two.
“There will be in a moment,” Seamus puts in, recovering his dark, mischievous glee with creditable alacrity in the face of an unexpected Slytherin. “I think Dean has something to ask Professor Snape.”
“No, Hermione did. You were merely riding on her coat-tails. Now go, before you disgrace the good name of Gryffindor,” Seamus pronounces, flinging out a dramatic hand in the direction of the eerily silent staff table.
Dean’s eyes widen. “Now?! Are you insane?” he hisses, dropping his voice. Harry’s not sure why he’s bothering, because everyone’s looking at them anyway.
Draco sighs impatiently. “Certainly, Thomas, now move.”
“Nice big smile, Dean,” Seamus advises, grinning as he kicks his friend and shoves him to his feet. “Have a seat, Malfoy,” he adds solicitously, patting the vacated section of bench.
“Thank you, Finnigan.”
Ron rubs his eyes and blinks repeatedly. “Malfoy... you’re here at our table. With Harry, and kippers.”
Settling himself on the bench, Draco stares at him for a long time before turning bewildered grey eyes to Harry.
“I think there’s something the matter with your Weasel,” he informs Harry in a stage-whisper.
Harry snorts and kicks him under the table, leaving his leg pressed full length against the warmth of Draco’s—solid and real but where no one can see it, just like his silent, not-so-secret numerical tribute. Draco’s mouth flickers at the corner in an odd little smile as he calmly resumes his breakfast. Harry picks up his teacup and watches him without pretending he’s not, and slowly, very slowly, the hum of conversation in the Hall picks up around them once more.
“Look,” Neville says suddenly, eyes wide, making everyone on Harry’s side of the table twist around to see what he’s pointing at. At Harry’s side, Draco turns, too, and tries to pretend he’s not interested.
Dean approaches the staff table as though he’s walking to his own doom, and as he stops directly in front of a table-gripping, death-glaring, vibrating-with-pre-emptive-rage Snape, the awed hush once more falls over the Hall, allowing his question to be heard by all:
“So, Sir, I was wondering...”
Just in case you weren’t with me, because I’m aware my mind is a strange place:
...so, yeah. I think when one starts to dream cracky Roman Numeral Scenarios, that’s the time to worry. Am I right?