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Carnival Games

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***

 

On Christmas morning, I walk into the drawing room to find my father already settled into his chair with a snifter of brandy in one hand and the other hand stroking his tawny-blond beard. The sight is jarring. I’ve grown used to the brandy, that lasso that pulls him out of bed each morning, but the beard is a constant reminder of how hard the war hit him, how far his spirit has fallen, and how unlikely it is he’ll try to pick it back up. I drop into my chair beside him, staring at the tree. It’s a wonder I can see it at all. A green hat of bristles pokes out of the top of a gargantuan pile of beautifully wrapped boxes. Store-wrapped, for sure. They probably weren’t even done by hand. That was one of the things Mum liked to do, wrap with her own hands. She said it made the gift more personal, and I think, looking at my father’s mountain of cold, consumable love, she was right.

“So, you bought Diagon Alley,” I say.

Dad grimaces over the snifter. “I didn’t know what you wanted.”

“Thank you. I would rather have had Hogsmeade, though.”

He laughs raspily. Must be his second or third drink. He doesn’t react if he’s sober.

A house-elf unwraps my gifts: the latest Nimbus model broom, athletic robes, night vision Quidditch goggles, a super sensitive Sneakoscope, a gold-plated cage for my owl, a self-filling flask with my initials engraved, a fortune in leather goods (boots, belts, jackets, and gloves), and two baby kneazles. I’m not a cat person, so I put them in the kitchen with some kippers and consider giving them to Pansy.

I got Dad a Dunhill pipe, some tobacco, and a pocket watch that contains an old photo I found in my bedroom. It’s of him, Mum, and me. In the photo, I’m blotchy red, sweating, and hugging them both after my championship game in the junior Quidditch league in Wiltshire. Nowadays, I’m sure I won because I had the most expensive broom, but I don’t know it in the picture. I wave and hold up the Snitch and Mum kisses me and Dad looks smug.

He closes the pocket watch, presses his fingertips into his eyes, and stays that way for a long time.

There’s a dribbling sound, like marbles falling onto a pillow. I look up. The brandy is spilling out of the snifter as his hand goes limp.

“Dad,” I say, jumping up and grabbing it.

He chokes. I realize he’s sobbing.

This has never happened before.

I step away.

“I’m sorry,” I say, looking at the bare tree. No one bothered with fairy lights. Mum and I, we liked to...

I close my eyes. He’s still sobbing.

“Dad, I’m sorry. I’ll throw it away.”

I reach for the watch, but his grip tightens. He grabs my wrist. It’s painful. He’s trying to get up, climbing me. My hands go under his armpits to heave him up. He smells so potently of spirits that I must turn my head; I’ve had my share of alcohol these past months, and I want no part of it. He’s leaning on me. I’m not a small man, but Dad is still larger and heavier. We sway there, my arms trembling, until he sniffles and I think his eyes are dry.

His voice is quiet, but it’s like shouting to my ears in this bleak, silent room. “I’m sorry. I killed your mother, Draco. I deserve to die.”

If I weren’t holding him, I would have lurched back. “No.”

“You were right to side with Dumbledore. There is no good here. In this house. Where I let that monster reside. And...I’m a monster, too.”

“Dad, no—”

“I was prideful. I put my pride before your safety. Her safety. I told her when we married that the blood politics would never touch our family, and I let it. Twice I let it. She paid the price. It should have been me. It...should have been....”

He is staring past my shoulder at the tree, eyes pink, mouth slowly opening, the beard touching his chest. It’s as if he has fallen asleep with his eyes open.

“There was nothing you could have done,” I say firmly.

He’s still distant. “No, I could have—”

“You were in jail when they killed her. If anyone could have done something, it was me.”

“It wasn’t your resp—”

“I know it wasn’t my responsibility. But I blamed myself. No, not anymore—don’t look at me like that. I’ve forgiven myself. I have. And I forgive you.”

He pulls back, putting his hands on my shoulders, looking at me directly, and it’s as though I’m looking into my own eyes. I know we have similar eyes, large and blue-grey and often angrier-looking than is really the case, but I’m referring to the soul behind them, a soul that longs for recognition and glory and to be acknowledged as good and true. I think, now, that I am good and true. And this is the man I am made from.

“I know you were scared,” I say, still perturbed to be comforting my own father, but I push on because I need him to be okay. “When you asked me to come into Voldemort’s fold, I mean. I was angry with you at first, thinking you should have tried harder to keep me out. But now I understand what it’s like to feel trapped. To feel like you don’t have a choice. Dumbledore did that to me. Voldemort did that to you. I understand. And I forgive you. Mum would, too. I know it.”

He lifts his chin. He swallows.

“I’m sorry, son.”

“I know.”

He hugs me. It’s the first time he’s done so deliberately since all of this happened. It’s the first time he’s apologized.

Fuck Christmas gifts. This year, I got my father back.

 

 

***

 

“You’re down,” Dad says at breakfast a few days later. He’s clean-shaven, his hair is cut short, and he smells like soap instead of brandy. Although his voice is still quiet, the spirit behind it is sounding less dead everyday.

I push aside the newspaper. “Must be tired.”

“Not just this morning. You’ve been like this for a long time. Ever since we came home.”

“I’m surprised you noticed me at all.”

He quirks a sad cheek. “Hard not to notice all those parties you had this summer. All those teenagers in my gardens and the spare rooms.”

I wave a hand, but cannot help blushing. “Just needed the distraction.”

“Which rather proves my point. Whatever’s the matter, you can talk to me.”

We don’t talk. We eat, though I mostly stab my slab of ham and let it fall off the fork. Dad must have requested this. The elves know I prefer bacon. But I’m glad he’s eating at all. I flip up the corner of the newspaper, sigh, and flip it back down.

He lifts an eyebrow, chewing. When he opens the paper, he snorts.

“Who decided this prattle was news? ‘Harry Potter: the Hero, the Hunk.’ What is a hunk?”

“I don’t know,” I say, staring bitterly out the window. What I really don’t know is how my father manages to be so old-fashioned.

He clicks his tongue at the photograph in the Prophet. Harry Potter smiles back at him, handsome, broad-shouldered, bright-eyed, leaning far too casually against a tree for it not to have been posed.

“They act as though it’s a feat to go through puberty,” Dad mutters. He flicks his wand. The paper vanishes, presumably into the servants’ rubbish bin. “Don’t trouble yourself with it, Draco. You’re a saint for putting up with that arrogant boy and his lot for as long as you did. Now it’s time for you to reap your just rewards.”

“I don’t want rewards. I just want...to forget.”

He eyeballs me for the rest of breakfast, clearly bothered with how cryptic I’m being, but not pushing. I’m thankful. Even if I could talk to him about what I want, there’s no way I could get it. It doesn’t exist anymore. I made sure of that when I killed Albus Dumbledore.

Later, I have a house-elf sneak me the paper out of the bin. I lay on my bed, staring at the photo.

The longer I go without Potter, the stupider I feel for walking away. At the time, the proper choice was clear. I thought, He has a penis. What am I supposed to do with that? There was nothing to do with that. I was a man, after all. I loved women, and Potter no longer fit the description. l cut the cord fast, spared us both the agony of a drawn-out breakup, and got on with life. Except I didn’t. I wallowed. Imagine me! Draco Malfoy! Wallowing! Parties helped—at least, the drinking numbed the ache in my gut, but after the ache turned out to be alcohol poisoning, I spent several nights stooped over the loo realizing I’d made a terrible mistake.

I missed Potter.

I miss Potter.

My words to him in sixth year were true. I like you. Just you. And whatever incarnation “you” came in, I wanted it if “you” was Harry James Potter.

In the photograph, he blinks at me, those eyes as sweet and doltish as can be. I understand now that his eyes are no different than before, and perhaps with the sharper bone structure and the hollowing cheeks that come with his newfound manhood, they are even more striking in greenness. And his smile is no different, nor his laughter, nor his hands, nor the dimple of his cheek. And those are things I value more than sex in the end, are they not? Those wholesome, genderless things.

But the sex itself? With him? With a penis on him? Let’s just say I haven’t managed to think directly about that.

Despite my regrets, I couldn’t bear returning to school in September: I had scorned him. I had made my choice and there was no way I could crawl back now, humiliate myself, probably get laughed off the grounds by “hunky” Harry Potter and his stylishly war-ravaged friends. Ha ha ha Draco Malfoy’s gay! Well, not with me! Be gone! He’d be right to say that to me after what I did to him, recoiling from his touch like his hands were blotted with poison, like his cock was a blade, like his gentle words were hexes. I hadn’t even tried to accept him.

I look at his photo, memorize his gaze, and then ball up the paper and chuck it across the room.

Snow has been falling hard this winter. I watch it, deep in thought.

Dad is right. I’ve got to reap my just rewards.

 

 

***

 

When I open my eyes, Harry is above me. I know this is a dream because he wouldn’t be called “Harry” otherwise.

He’s stroking my cheek, seems to be listening to the way the hair bristles across his thumb. If I move, surely he will disappear. His smooth, pale face breaks into a smile. He leans close and whispers, “How can I please you?”

Simple question. No simple answer. “What?”

“You can tell me.”

“I can’t even tell myself.”

The mattress sinks with his weight. He slides a leg over my body. That’s when I notice the skirt. It’s grey wool, a standard school uniform, short enough to reveal the fullest part of his thigh and the lower swell of his arse. It takes all my will not to push it up those creamy legs, those legs that have parted for me so many times but now seem foreign; they look no different, but I don’t know what’s in between them.

“Harry,” I whimper.

His hands are braced on my chest, reminding me of days when he’d fuck himself in my lap. Back then, his lips would part, his head would fall back, and his hips would roll forcefully, almost as if he were using me for pleasure.

Harry looks concerned. He leans forward, so his hands slide up my chest towards my throat, and for a moment I worry this will be the sort of dream where his face will warp into Voldemort’s and I will be jostled awake with his flame-coloured eyes and cackling, but Harry’s hands slide over my throat to cup my cheeks. He smiles again. He rolls his pelvis forward. My mouth opens. It’s still there. His soft, hot little area. I know it’s not there in real life, but this is real life for now and I believe in every sensation consuming me. His knickers are steamy hot, the fabric rubbing against the length of my prick, the crease resting on top of my bulge, as if his pussy lips would swallow me if there were no barrier. His narrow hips are rolling, the skirt swaying like a fabric bell, his inner thighs blushing pink where they rub against my trousers; the image is so captivating that I can’t contain myself. I grab him by the hips. He gasps, eyes closing. He wants it, too, but doesn’t want to say so. Naughty thing. Naughty little Harry. I’m bucking now, my forearms flexing with exertion, and his pussy is parting in the knickers and swallowing the backside of my cock, and it’s just so—so—I’m going to come, baby, I’m going to come—

No, not yet!

I sit up, locking my arms around his waist. Such a tiny waist. His legs are bent so his thighs run along my ribs and his pussy is pressed against my stomach. I hike up his skirt, shoving my hands down the back of his knickers, rocking him by the flesh of his arse, as I look up at him.

“Let me get in you. Yeah? Let me come inside you.”

“You can,” he whispers. “But it would be different.”

I shake my head, work my hand to the front of his knickers. “Nothing’s different. It’s okay, all right? Just let me….”

Where I expect to feel hair and wetness, there is something else. Really, nothing else. It’s just skin, smooth and flat. Doll-like. Where his arse closes into a perineum, it simply never reopens into any kind of genitals. It makes me want to vomit. I remove my hand.

“It’s okay.” Harry cups my cheeks again. “It’s okay, you know. I’m the same.”

He’s so tender, but something prevents me from enjoying his affection. “I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll help you.”

“Harry,” I whisper, shaking my head. My eyes are stinging. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Will you fuck me like you used to? Call me dirty names? Bend me over and fill me up? God, it turns me on, Draco. Don’t you still think about me—even without my pussy?”

“I can’t. Not now. I can’t let myself.”

“You can’t let yourself? It’s strange you should have to hold back so actively.” He doesn’t sound turned on now. His voice is low and steady and he’s glowering at me. “Was it ever a secret I had the face of a boy? The voice? The bloody name?”

“No,” I choke out.

“And you still wanted me then. Didn’t you? Draco, just kiss me. You might like it.”

I do. I kiss him. It’s familiar, comforting. I missed his lips so. His arms are around my head like gentle wings. When I wrap my arms around him, I feel nothing but my erection between the crease of his thigh and the nothingness between his legs, and the petal-soft skin of his back, and his heart fluttering against my hands.

 

 

***

 

It’s Sunday. Apparently, that’s the day to brunch.

I loosen my cravat, sweating despite the snowfall outside, and give my father the evil-eye from across the ballroom. He doesn’t notice. He’s mingling with Ministry officials, trying to get us “back in the game” and succeeding, I think, watching the Undersecretary of Communications throw back his fat head and laugh at one of Dad’s stale jokes. I know he wants me mingling, too. He wants me doing something besides sitting around the manor pruning my Quidditch broom and sending things flying around my bedroom with my index finger, but we seem to have switched roles: he’s moving on with life and I’m staring out the window, thinking of the past.

A house-elf pops up with champagne in orange juice. I snatch a glass, turn green at the smell of alcohol, and place it back on the tray.

“Rude,” someone says, touching the small of my back. It’s Pansy, smirking. She waves the elf away.

“I didn’t drink it.”

“You touched it.”

“Touch this,” I say, making a lewd gesture.

“Tried. You wouldn’t let me.”

“Well—”

I look away, toward a balding red-haired man piling fruit onto a saucer at the buffet. I think it’s Arthur Weasley, and I’m embarrassed I don’t know for certain even though I spent a week at the man’s house the summer before the war.

“Oh,” she says, amused. “Not talking to me still?”

“I never stopped talking to you. You just went home after that party. Like everyone else. Merlin.”

“Well, I’m sorry for being confused. I just didn’t expect to get rejected so unceremoniously by my ex-boyfriend—who’s supposed to be the horniest person I know, mind you. Terribly humiliating for me.”

An old witch shuffles by, putting her hand to her chest and muttering something about ladylike language or lack thereof. Pansy scowls. I snicker, without much humor, and wander to the balcony and stare out at the lower floor of the Ministry. The gathering is huge. There’s another couple hundred officials, guests, press persons, and walking pocketbooks like my father meandering around the atrium near the fountain, drinking champagne, eating pastries, and patting themselves on the back for not having died in the war or something.

“You have nothing to say to me?” Pansy asks, leaning over the railing so her breasts push up.

“Are you still talking about this?” I ask, annoyed as Hell but trying not to show it. “Look, I’m sorry. But I didn’t think you really wanted me. I think you wanted a boyfriend who wasn’t in Azkaban—a safety net to catch you now that your family has fallen down the social ladder. Well, I’ve got news for you. We may not be in prison, but that doesn’t make me your automatic fall-back.”

She’s hurt. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Nott. Or, well, any of that. And, Merlin, do I hate that chin-trembling thing, so I put my hand on her arm and squeeze. She leans into the touch. I stiffen, and she pulls back, looking even more hurt than before.

“Pansy, come on, what did I do?”

“Nothing, clearly nothing!” She tromps away, dress robes flapping.

I really don’t understand women. This makes me regret giving up Potter more than ever, and isn’t that ironic, now that I think of it?

Someone clears his throat. Dad has shown up with a full champagne flute. He stands beside me, looking over the balcony, not drinking it. I guess it’s just for show. Speaking of shows, “Mission accomplished?” I ask.

“Close. I may get a spot on the board that regulates international trade of magical creatures.”

“Great.”

My hand goes to my cravat again. He lifts an eyebrow at me, and I stop. I don’t want to look foolish, I guess. It means a lot to Dad to get a position somewhere in the Ministry, so he can go about diminishing the unfavourable effects that living with a Dark Lord for a year can have on one’s family's reputation.

“Is that what’s been bothering you?” he murmurs, inclining his head towards Pansy and her parents. They’re speaking with Minister Shacklebolt, erupting with forced laughter, and his shiny brown head is wrinkled with discomfort.

“Her? No.”

“No? You looked...intimate just now.”

“Fluke. We’ve been over for a long time.”

“Hm.” He swirls his champagne until he realizes I don’t plan to elaborate. “Pardon me,” he says, stepping back, “it seems I’ve lost my knack for speaking with you about such matters.”

I sigh. I know he’s trying to help, not just to fix my menial problems but to mend our bond and, essentially, our whole family's bond, since we’re all the family either has got left.

“Dad,” I say quickly. I look over my shoulder, finding there is no one in listening distance. “The truth is...what’s bothering me...is at Hogwarts.”

He is not patronizing. He never has been with this subject. He looks out at the sea of heads again and says, “So it is a girl.”

I tilt my head awkwardly and say, “Sure.”

“And if she’s at Hogwarts, then why aren’t you?”

“Er. I guess I can’t face her. I did something cruel. Probably unforgivable.”

“Such as?”

“I can’t even say.”

“That bad?”

I don’t answer. I look at his drink. He hands it to me, and I throw it back, eyes watering. A house-elf appears. I place the empty glass on his tray and swipe another. My stomach is already churning.

Dad smirks. “A girl who can make a man drink like that must be special.”

I am chugging. I close my eyes, wipe my mouth, groan in confirmation, and drop the second glass onto the tray—which turns out to be gone, but the glass disappears before it shatters.

“That’s enough, Draco.”

“I was an idiot,” I say roughly.

“Oh, I believe you. But you told me the other day that your mother would have forgiven me for the things I put her through. You don’t think that’s the case for you?”

“That’s different. It was Mum. And you were—”

“I was afraid. Just like you said.” He looks me up and down. I must look like a prat, swaying over two champagnes. “And why did you do...whatever it is you did?”

“Because I was afraid,” I admit.

My eyes go wide. I stare at him. He’s very calm.

He says, “If she loves you, I imagine she’ll forgive you.”

“Loves me?” I laugh callously. “We weren’t together long enough for that. The damn—war—got in the way. Fucking Dark Lord kept trying to kill her, and everything, and God it was a mess.”

Dad has the strangest look on his face. I realize I’ve gone past being cryptic. I’m just glad I didn’t mention my girlfriend’s lovely lightening bolt scar.

“Not the funny blonde girl who was locked in our cellar?” he asks abruptly.

“No.”

“Not—that—Granger person—”

“No!”

Dad seems to slump in relief. He looks over his shoulder at some pompous official in black robes, who seems to be leaning in our direction.

“Son,” he says softly, eyeing this man like he’s made of mud.

“Dad, I’ll be fine. It’s just something I have to get over.”

“I’m worried about you,” he says, almost too quietly to hear, for the man in black has walked over with his hands spread wide. I realize he’s a former Death Eater, whose name I don’t recall, who never laid an Unforgivable on anyone but who Dad probably doesn’t want to associate with if he wants to be accepted into proper society again. Still, he’s gracious as the man leads him away, only looking uncomfortable because I’m left behind leaning on the railing, trying very hard to keep my mouth closed and my insides contained.

 

 

***

 

Early in January, I’m startled awake. My father is in my bedroom, making a ruckus: pulling open drawers, throwing balled-up socks, rattling the stationary on the desk, tossing my broomstick across the bed, and generally wreaking havoc on my belongings. It’s strange because I don’t think he’s been in my bedroom since I was 14 and he caught me trying to sneak Pansy in for the night.

“Wha’s goin’ on?” I stammer.

He drops a piece of parchment into my lap, and says, “Congratulations, you’re cured.”

Still half asleep, the words take a moment to form on the page.

 

 

Dear Mr Malfoy,

We are pleased to hear your long bout of owl flu has finally cleared up. It is fortunate you have been keeping up with your studies privately in the meantime. We are pleased to offer you late admission into the Eighth Year Programme at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You will find your list of required texts and materials enclosed.

Sincerely,

Deputy Headmaster
Severus Snape

 

“No,” I say, my eyes opening wide. My father throws some clean trousers onto my head, and I say, muffled, “What! Dad, I can’t!”

“You will.”

“But—” I pull the trousers off. “What are you thinking? I don’t even know what I’d say—”

“Draco,” he says, standing up straight with a fistful of my underwear, “you’re forbidden to live in this house until June, so you’ll want to get out of bed and make it to King’s Cross within the hour, if you don’t want to find yourself homeless.”

I look at the clock. 9:55 AM. I look back at Dad. He’s chucking clothes at random into my open school trunk.

“Well, shit.” I scramble out of bed, pull on my trousers and the first shirt I see, eyeing the wadded up Daily Prophet still lying in the corner of the room. I can see the frames of Potter’s glasses and a smudge of green. Would those eyes be there on the platform to greet me? To smile at me? To hate me? “Merlin, but I need a—”

A house-elf appears with scissors and a comb.

Dad points me to my desk chair. The elf stands on a pile of books, snipping, while I shake my leg and think of what to say when I see Potter again. So, how’s it hanging?

No! Anythingbut that!

Before long, Dad realizes what he’s doing and summons another elf to finish packing. He’s thought of everything, it seems, because even my schoolbooks are shoved into the bottom of my trunk by the time we set out. He’s had a portkey arranged. We walk to the edge of the grounds, past the white peacocks, past the self-swinging gates, to a lone horseshoe that’s sunken into the snow-packed road. I put it in my pocket and hold my hand there while we wait.

Dad frowns, suddenly intense. “Shall we call this Operation Mrs Malfoy?”

My mouth falls open. I shake my head, unable to speak.

“Not as dire as that?” he asks, the frown softening. “Can’t say I’m not relieved. I’m not doing this to force a wife on you. Even a girlfriend. I’m doing it because I can’t stand to see you doing nothing when there’s still something that can be done. You’re a fine young man, and after all you did for the war effort...and for me...you deserve happiness more than anyone. I’m proud of you, Draco.”

We embrace. The phrase “Operation Mrs Malfoy” has me thinking of my mother. I haven’t felt this close to my father in a long time, and I dearly wish she were here to see it. Moments before the portkey snatches me away, Dad still has a hand on the back of my neck.

“No matter what happens, she’d be lucky to have you.”

I smile at him. He means well. What he doesn’t know is that statement would be more accurate in reverse.

 

 

***

 

Potter doesn’t usually leave Hogwarts for the Christmas holidays. Still, I can’t help searching for him on Platform 9 ¾. It’s no use. Not even Weasley and Granger present themselves. I’m so busy gawking at non-existent people that I don’t notice Pansy flying at me.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?” she cries. I think she’s going to hug me. I put my arms out, but she begins smacking me in the chest with something brown and furry.

I shield my head. “Pansy, stop—I didn’t know—until this morning—”

She hits me one last time, but there is no passion in it.

“I’m glad you didn’t fight on the battlefield,” I say, brushing hair off my robes, “if your weapon of choice is a baby otter.”

Pansy looks at the fur. “It’s a mink muff.”

She won’t look me in the eye now, simply hiding behind a sheet of dark glossy hair, so I imagine the ball is in my court.

“Pansy. Are we okay?”

She raises her eyes slowly. The coy act doesn’t suit her, so I’m relieved when she purses her lips and hits me with the muff again. I suppose that’s a yes, for now.

We start through the crowd and towards the train.

“Well, since you like to wear the carcasses of adorable animals, I probably shouldn’t give you these,” I say.

Pansy looks behind me. There are two cages on top of my floating trunk, the golden one that houses my owl and a smaller one that houses the two baby kneazles. She makes a noise that may well have deafened me up close. She puts both kneazles in her lap the moment we find a compartment. I suppose I’ve starved them for attention, because they purr and rub their puffy yellow heads on her bosom and narrow their eyes at me the whole ride to Hogwarts.

“What are you going to name them, then?” I ask, putting my feet up next to Pansy. The closest kneazle hisses and bats me away. “Fuck!”

“I don’t know,” she says, rewarding the mangy thing with an ear-scratch. “I only need one name, though. What do you think about Gershwin?”

“You’re not keeping both?” I ask, slumping.

“No. Kneazles are more work than a normal cat.”

“But I don’t want another pet. Diablo is needy enough as it is.” There is a hoot. I glance up and find my owl looking as sinister as his namesake. “Crabbe? Do you want one?”

Crabbe has crammed himself against the door. His head is poking out into the train corridor. He pops back in, red and watery in the eyes, and says, “Can’t, allergic,” and pops back out again.

“Goyle?”

He grunts, examines a kneazle, and shakes his head. He’d probably forget he had it and sit on it, anyway.

In the moonlight, Hogwarts is taller and whiter than I’ve ever seen it. They must have added new towers since the war, certainly a new Astronomy Tower, which I remember watching crumble in a battle that took the lives of several Order members and Death Eaters. I take the sight as a good omen, a symbol of starting anew.

Pansy and Crabbe are chattering beside me as we emerge from the carriages. Smaller students are skipping by, pushing the doors open. I have no idea why they’re excited to be back at school. But I know why I am. Potter’s somewhere in here. I’m searching around as soon as I walk into the entrance hall. My friends are trudging into the dungeons, but I linger, pretending to check my trunk for one thing or another while students shout greetings to their friends who are filing down to the Great Hall for supper. I know it’s stupid. He’s probably in Gryffindor Tower warm by the fire, too busy slouching over a Quidditch magazine to bother with eating, like he used to do, way back when we spent our days together in my dormitory....

No. He’s at the top of the stairs.

He’s looking right at me.

Christ. I don’t have a speech prepared.

His eyes are wide, at first concerned and then narrowing in suppressed joy. His mouth strains up in a closed smile. His teeth begin to show, his chest swells, and then he’s hurtling down the stairs.

I’m frozen. He’s beautiful. His eyes, his nose, his mouth, the joy emanating from his very skin. All of that’s for me. Fuck, what do I say?

I simply smile.

And he leaps past me and into another man’s arms.

I stagger back, tripping over my trunk, catching myself on Diablo’s cage.

“Are you all right?” Potter is saying, touching the man’s cheeks. “I thought half your face would be hanging off!”

“I told you he barely scraped me. Longhorns are fickle like that. Look, barely a scar.” The man touches his cheek, trails the finger down his neck, and I’m left with the impression he is smugly showing off the scar, not trying to comfort Potter. It seems to do the trick. Potter bites his lip and leans in to give the man a lingering kiss.

Struck silent, barely able to breathe, confused and deeply humbled, I make for the dungeons.

A low voice stops me.

“All right, Malfoy?”

I stop.

It’s Ron Weasley. He’s come down the stairs with Granger in tow. For some reason, she looks tense. For some reason, he looks cordial. He sticks out a freckled hand. We shake, but I can’t look him in the eye. I see only Potter over his shoulder shifting awkwardly, looking at his shoes, with both arms still clutching the other bloke’s chest. He seems to have noticed his surroundings after Weasley said my name.

“Welcome back,” Weasley is saying. “Read about what you did in the paper—defending your dad on the battlefield, working with Dumbledore, feeding Shacklebolt information. I didn’t believe it at first—you know, the spy thing—but I’m glad you proved me wrong. Well done, mate.”

How very odd. His eyes are shining with genuine affection. I straighten up, force myself to nod politely, and try to slink away.

That’s when I notice the man Potter is hugging has the same eyes as Weasley. Same freckled nose, too. And, of course, there’s that hair. It’s Ron Weasley’s older brother—Chucky, or whatever. He’s not looking at me the way Ron is. He’s looking with unabashed suspicion. His burly arm is tight, almost possessive, around Potter’s shoulders. But why is he at Hogwarts to begin with? He’s like 30 or 40 years old. He leans down, whispers something into Potter’s ear, which goes pink, along with his cheeks. Potter tries not to smile. He fails.

I want blood.

“You all right?” the younger Weasley is asking.

My eyes snap towards him. I realize I need an excuse for having lingered so long. There is a mewl behind me. I spin around, grabbing the kneazle cage. “Er, wanted to ask Granger if she wanted this. Got it for Christmas, but don’t care for the things.” I thrust it at her. “I know you like them.”

“Oh,” she says, her tenseness melting. She sticks her finger between the slats of the cage to tickle the kneazle’s chin. “He’s a really cute, Malfoy. I love golden kneazles, but I already have Crookshanks. He’d get jealous.”

“Ah. Right.”

“Thanks, anyway,” Weasley says, slapping me on the shoulder.

I practically run to the dungeons. My luggage beats the floor and scrapes the walls. I’m painfully aware that my magic hasn’t been this wild since my mother died.