August

Monday, August 3rd

“Isn’t that Draco Malfoy? He keeps looking at you, Harry.”

Harry turned and looked in the direction Luna was indicating. The room was crowded with familiar and vaguely recognizable faces, but after a moment he saw him. Malfoy, staring hard in a different direction, cheeks a bit pink. Harry honestly hadn’t spared a thought for Malfoy in these last months.

“That ferret,” Ron said with disgust. “How many NEWTs do you suppose he needs for his career as ex-Death Eater scum? Remind me again why he’s not in Azkaban?”

“Well, even his father is only on house arrest,” Hermione pointed out.

“Right, because he doesn’t belong in Azkaban, I’m sure. They shouldn’t have even let him keep that place,” said Ron. Neville’s arm tightened around Luna at the mention of Malfoy Manor.

“Malfoy—Draco Malfoy—is a nasty prat, no one will argue with you there,” said Hermione. “But that’s not generally considered grounds for incarceration. He was acting under duress in sixth year.”

“Yes, well, he tried to kill us in the Room of Requirement this year, didn’t he?” Ron said hotly.

“Did he?” asked Luna. “That wasn’t very nice of him.”

“That was Crabbe and Goyle, actually,” said Hermione.

“Oh, you’re right, Hermione,” said Ron. “Malfoy wanted to hand us over to You Know Who alive and kicking. That’s much better, really it is. He’s a saint.”

Harry finally spoke up, with just a bit of irritation: “You can say ‘Voldemort.’ He’s dead now.”

There was a temporary lull in the conversations around them.

“Is he really, Harry?” Neville said with a grin. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Hermione turned to Luna. "I was surprised to see you here, Luna. Are they letting you take the NEWTs too?"

“Yes,” said Luna. “They’re letting anyone of age sit the exam, and I don’t want to go back to Hogwarts this year. I think I can pass, but I don’t really need them for what I want to do.”

“Are you three ready?” Neville asked. “I’m sure you are, Hermione. You could have passed in third year, without a doubt.”

“I don’t know.” Hermione bit her lip. “We didn’t study nearly enough yesterday. I had it all planned out, and then it just…didn’t happen.”

“You worry too much, Hermione,” Ron said fondly.

“So what are your plans for after the exams?” asked Neville.

Harry was amused to see Ron puff out his chest just a bit. “Harry and I have been accepted into Auror training. Pending the exam results, of course.” A bit of concern did show on his face at this, but he perked up quickly. “That’s all right, though. They’ve lowered the requirements for the training program quite a bit, now that they need new Aurors so badly, and once we get into training, we’ll do fine.”

“Yes, well, they haven’t lowered the requirements for the other departments at the Ministry, have they?” said Hermione, sounding as if she held Harry and Ron personally responsible for the discrepancy.

“You’ll do fine too,” said Ron, patting her on the shoulder.

“What about Ginny’s plans, Harry?” asked Neville. “I know she’s going back to Hogwarts this year, but what are her plans for after?”

Harry fumbled for an answer, as he realized he had no idea what Ginny’s plans were, but Hermione beat him to it.

"Harry hasn't been seeing much of Ginny these days. Why is that again, Harry?"

"I've been busy," Harry muttered.

+++

Tuesday, August 4th

The fire was all around him, and Harry couldn't see the diadem anywhere. Damn it, it was taking too long! The heat was unbearable, and the entire room seemed about to collapse at any moment.

"Harry! I've got it here, come on!"

Whipping his head to the side, Harry saw Ginny, perched on her own broom, near the door. Smiling hugely, she held the diadem aloft. It was the crown he’d been looking for, but squinting, he could see it had fluttering golden wings, beating against Ginny’s fist. He attempted to maneuver closer to her but couldn't see a clear path in the shifting flame. Snapping creatures with horns and wings formed a seething mass between them. One headed straight for Ginny, and, horrified, Harry screamed out in warning, but it seemed to pass right through her.

"What are you doing in here?!" Harry shouted. "I told you to wait outside!"

Smile slipping off her face, Ginny placed one hand on her hip. "Did you think I would wait forever, Harry?"

Confused, Harry shook his head. "Of course not. I just needed. I just."

Ginny looked angry now, though it was hard to see clearly; the smoke was rising thickly between them, and Harry's vision was blurring in the heat. "I've got it right here, Harry. Do you want it, or not?"

He tried to reply, but he could only choke and retch. The smoke was filling his lungs, burning him from the inside out. His skin was stretched taught and painful, and his broom was so hot that his hands were blistering.

Shuddering and groaning, Harry jerked awake. Still feeling the vestiges of horror thrumming through him, he slowly sat up and ran a hand through his rumpled hair. It had been another dream. He'd been having them far too often--moments from the war, better left forgotten, but instead twisted, made more disturbing, and replayed for him every night. He was sick of it. He glanced at the door, half-expecting Ron or Hermione to pop a concerned head into the room, and was relieved when neither of them did. He'd had enough talking over his dreams to last a lifetime.

This dream, though--this one had been different. Most of his dreams were an ugly combination of horrific and pointless, but the interpretation of this one seemed obvious.

He knew he'd been avoiding Ginny, and he knew she was angry about it. He owed her an explanation. And he had one--he just didn't think it would go over very well.

I want to make out with you, really, I do, but despite the fact that I used to wank myself raw thinking about you, these days you do nothing for me. In fact, no one does. I apparently couldn’t get an erection if my life depended on it.

If there was a good way to say that, Harry hadn’t figured it out.

But he had to say something. Every day that went by with no word from him was making things worse, he knew.

Fumbling in his desk drawer for a sheet of parchment, he found himself pulling out a wand—the hawthorn wand—instead. He’d forgotten he had it. After taking a brief moment to wonder what wand Malfoy was using these days, he tossed it back in the drawer and pulled out the parchment he had been looking for.

Placing it on the desk, he smoothed it out and wrote:

Dear Ginny,

NEWTs went well.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

What’s wrong with me?

And then he crumpled it up in frustration. Finally, he took out another sheet and tried again:

Ginny,

I’m sorry. I just need a little time.

Harry

It would have to do.

+++

Tuesday, August 18th

“Harry! Harry! The NEWTs are in! Oh my God, I can’t look!”

Harry grinned in amusement. Some things never changed. Hermione held out three envelopes in trembling hands. Harry moved to take his, but she snatched them back before he could. “No, wait, we should open them with Ron. He’s at George’s shop! Come on!”

Grasping hands, they Apparated together. Ron, George, and Ginny, who were visiting at the counter, looked up in surprise.

“Ron! The NEWTs are in!” shouted Hermione.

“Already? Brilliant!”

Ron and Harry tore into their envelopes; George, taking pity on Hermione, opened hers. Thrilled with his results, Harry turned to his friends, hoping they would be just as pleased with theirs. The matching grins on their faces told him all he needed to know, and he congratulated them both.

When Ron and Hermione began congratulating each other a little too enthusiastically, Harry looked over and saw Ginny, watching him with veiled hurt in her eyes.

“So I take it you and Ron are going to be Aurors. Congratulations. Lucky I was here. Who knows when I would have found out otherwise.”

Damn it. He’d made things worse, again, and they needed to talk. But he had no desire to have this conversation right next to his snogging best friends. They were making him look bad.

“Ginny. Would you like to go for a walk?”

She took too long to respond, and he was afraid she wouldn’t agree, that things were worse between them than he’d realized. But then she nodded her head and walked briskly toward the door.

They walked together silently for a few moments. Harry remembered that first walk they’d taken together, after the Quidditch game. It had been easy, so easy to kiss, to talk, to focus on her and forget everything else—the detention he’d just served, the blood on the bathroom floor, the Dementor attacks and the Horcruxes, all of it. Now, it seemed, instead of chasing away his problems, Ginny brought them all painfully to mind.

How had things changed so much? While Harry appreciated the public setting, which removed any possible obligation for him to perform sexually, he realized that he had no idea what to say.

Finally, Ginny spoke. “Harry? Why were you and Hermione holding hands?”

Harry blinked at her in amazement. That, at least, was something he could defend himself against. “Ginny. You’ve got to know there’s nothing between us.”

This just seemed to irritate her. “I know that you and Hermione aren’t involved. Not like that. But why were you holding hands?”

He’d thought it was plainly obvious why they’d been holding hands. “We were Apparating. We had to Apparate together so many times last year. We just did it without thinking.”

Ginny’s mouth tightened. “You just did it without thinking. It was second nature to take her hand and Apparate together with her. When was the last time you held my hand, Harry?”

Quite a long while, he realized. Harry took her hand, and they walked together in silence.

“I’ve put up with a lot, Harry. I’ve tried to be understanding. When you put us on hold last year and left me out of everything, I went along with it, because you had enough to deal with, and I didn’t want to make things worse. But the war is over. I know you’ve been kept busy dealing with the Ministry and the reporters and preparing for your NEWTs, but it's been almost three months now. And you’re still shutting me out of your life."

“I’m sorry, Ginny. I’m sorry I haven’t been by lately, and I’m sorry I haven’t held your hand, and I’m sorry I didn’t write more. I tried to, and I didn’t know what to say.”

“I have to admit, I thought you’d come up with a bit more than ten words in two weeks,” she said bitterly.

“It’s not because of you, you know,” Harry said, feeling both guilty and frustrated. “It’s. Well, like I said. I have some things to figure out.”

Ginny stopped and crossed her arms over her chest. “Do you realize what you just said to me?”

Harry looked at her, confused.

“‘It’s not you, it’s me’?”

“I. That’s not how I meant it,” Harry protested. “We’re going to be fine. I just need a little time. Look, Gin. You leave for Hogwarts soon. I start Auror training. Can we just…have a bit of a break?”

“I thought that’s what we were having.”

“You know what I mean. A friendly break. Like we had before. I’m sure I’ll have myself sorted out before you’re finished with school.”

Ginny didn’t answer for a moment. “It’s hard to be friendly when you don’t even write,” she finally said.

“I’ll write. I promise.” And he would. It would be easier to write regularly once she was at Hogwarts. There would be no possibility that she would reply with an invitation to spend the evening with her, no expectation that he should extend an invitation of his own.

“You know, Harry, if we’re on a break, that means I’ll be free to see other people.”

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm.

“Oh, forget it,” she said, with an exasperated smile. “I didn’t really mean it. I waited this long for you, I suppose I can wait a bit longer.”

She kissed him on the cheek, and he squeezed her hand.

September

Tuesday, September 1st

“I knew they’d relaxed the requirements for Auror training, but I didn’t know they’d relaxed them that much. What the bloody hell is he doing here? Oy! Malfoy! What the hell are you doing here?”

Harry looked in the direction Ron had indicated and saw Malfoy, seated toward the back, looking more nervous and out of place than Harry had ever seen him. The sneer he shot back at Ron was half-hearted, at best, and he wouldn’t meet Harry’s gaze at all.

Harry turned toward Ron, about to comment on the bizarreness of Malfoy’s presence and to ask if Ron had recognized anyone else, but Kingsley Shacklebolt entered the room, and everyone fell silent. His familiar face was a welcome sight.

“Good morning,” he greeted the class. “I am Senior Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt. I won’t be your instructor for the entire three years of your training, and, in fact, many of you will not remain in this program for the full three years, either. Depending on your performance, some of you may come to the conclusion that you are better suited to another career. Others of you may not need to train for three years before being promoted to full Aurors.” At this, he caught Harry’s eye, and Harry was certain Kingsley would have winked if only the entire class hadn’t been watching him so closely.

“But for the moment,” Kingsley continued, “you are all still students, and I am your instructor. The first thing you need to know is that you’re going to be spending a very small amount of time in this room and a very large amount of time in the one adjoining. If you’ll all follow me?”

The room was filled with the sounds of shuffling paper and screeching chairs as the class rose from their desks. Kingsley led them through a door at the side of the room and into a much larger room. It was empty of any furniture, and the floors and even the walls appeared padded. Glancing up, Harry saw scorch-marks on the ceiling. “This is our practice room,” Kingsley said. “We’ll be calling roll in a manner slightly different than you’re accustomed to. Posted by the door is a list of all students enrolled in this class. Please refer to it to find your dueling partner for today.”

As Ron and Harry approached the list, Harry heard his own name mentioned in excited conversation, along with a more puzzling exchange:

“Someone has a twisted sense of humor.”

“Don’t be stupid. It’s alphabetical.”

When Harry found his own name on the list and identified his dueling partner, he understood why.

“Hey, Malfoy!” Ron shouted. “Think you can do better than Voldemort?”

The room erupted in shocked whispers, but Malfoy didn’t even respond. He was staring at Harry, his face pale.

“Mr. Weasley, that will be enough,” said Kingsley. “Every student here has been accepted into training. If any of you finds yourself incapable of treating your fellow trainees with even a bare amount of civility, I will be reconsidering your suitability for this program.”

Abashed, Ron nodded, and Kingsley turned to the rest of the class. “In the future this will not be the case, but for our duels today, I don’t want to see any spells you wouldn’t find in your Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook back at Hogwarts. Are there any questions before we begin?”

No one replied, but something suddenly occurred to Harry. “Do we need to worry about our wands changing allegiance if we’re disarmed during the duels?”

“Mr. Potter raises an interesting question. And the answer is, not unless the duels get very out of hand. For a wand to actually switch allegiances, it must be taken forcefully under life-or-death circumstances. We will be discussing this in more detail later in the year, but for now, don’t worry about it.”

As the duels progressed, Harry kept glancing at Malfoy, who appeared positively ill. What was he doing here, anyway? Harry had given little or no thought to Malfoy's possible career goals when he saw him last month at the NEWTs, but this would have come as a surprise no matter what. There had been a time, Harry reflected, when Malfoy's plans and the need to discover them had dominated Harry's every waking thought. But at some point, Malfoy had stopped seeming very important in the larger scheme of things. Even in the Room of Requirement, holding Harry at wandpoint, he just hadn’t seemed very intimidating. Harry couldn’t get himself that worked up about his presence now, but he had to admit he was curious to see what Malfoy would do.

"Malfoy, Potter--you're up next."

They both stepped forward, and as they bowed, Harry couldn't help but be reminded of their first duel together in second year. There was no sneer on Malfoy's face now, though. Malfoy's bow was stiff, and when he straightened, he didn't do anything but stare at Harry, his face tight and his eyes wide. Harry intended to wait, see what spell Malfoy would attempt to cast, but then he noticed that Malfoy’s wand hand was trembling a bit. It reminded him of how Malfoy had looked when facing Dumbledore, and suddenly Harry was filled with a hot anger.

Expelliarmus!

“Protego!” shouted Malfoy. He maintained a firm grip on his wand but was obviously struggling against the force of Harry’s spell.

Harry cast several spells in rapid succession—“Stupefy! Impedimenta!” “Confundus!”—but Malfoy, infuriatingly, was casting almost entirely defensive spells.

“Is that the best you can do?” called Harry, when Malfoy cast the Shield Charm yet again, and Malfoy’s face twisted in fury.

“Serpensortia!” shouted Malfoy. A snake shot from his wand, and Malfoy looked as shocked as Harry felt to see it. It was identical to the one from second year, and for a moment Harry felt certain that if he looked to the side he would see Snape, an approving smirk on his face.

The snake began hissing, and Harry was fascinated, as he had never heard a snake hiss before; it had always sounded like English to him. But then, with a sick horror, he realized that he understood what some of those hisses meant.

Sectumsempra!” he cried, and the snake was sliced violently in half. The room was entirely silent, and Malfoy, looking more ill than ever, cast no more spells.

“Mr. Potter,” said Kingsley, “I’m reasonably certain that spell would not be found in any Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook that I’m aware of. Please speak with me after class. Preston, Rusbridge, you’re up.”

+++

Harry stared hard at his own face, the black marble floor gleaming darkly around him.

“Harry! Why aren't you at training?” Hermione asked.

Harry turned from the mirror to see her standing in the doorway.

“My scar—does it look any different?”

“What?” She rushed across the room and turned his face toward the light. Leaning forward, she studied his scar closely, ran a tentative finger over it, and finally looked at him in confusion.

“No…no, it looks just the same. Harry? What’s going on?”

“I’m not supposed to…he’s supposed to be gone!”

Hermione, looking even more concerned, took a small step back. “Harry, what are you—“

“Harry! Are you here?” called Ron, and he entered the room a moment later.

“You all right, mate? I know we’re terribly famous and all, but I think even we’re supposed to stay the whole day through.”

Harry leaned forward to peer at his scar in the mirror again, and Hermione turned to Ron. “Can you please tell me what’s going on here?”

“I don’t know, Hermione. He sliced open Malfoy’s snake, and then he just—“

“He did what?”

“I understood it,” Harry said, and they both turned to face him again. “I understood what it was saying. Some of it, anyway.”

“You understood…Malfoy’s snake?” Hermione asked in puzzlement.

“I thought we sorted this out the last time you and Malfoy had a public duel,” said Ron. “You’re a Parselmouth, Harry, remember?”

“No, I’m not!” shouted Harry, and they both flinched away from him. “Voldemort was a Parselmouth, and he’s…he’s supposed to be dead.” Harry's eyes lit on the silver serpent tails supporting the bathtub, and he felt like flinching away from himself.

“Harry, I’m pretty sure I remember you talking to snakes,” Ron said cautiously. “On more than one occasion.”

“Dumbledore…” Harry said. “He said that it was Voldemort’s soul—the part that attached to me—that gave me that ability. When it died, the ability to speak Parseltongue should have gone too. Shouldn’t it?”

Hermione frowned in concentration. “So you can still speak to snakes just like you could before?”

“Well…not just like before. It never sounded like hissing before, and this time it did. And I didn’t understand everything, just bits and pieces. I don’t know if I could speak it myself at all, actually.”

“Oh, well that makes more sense,” said Hermione, looking relieved.

“I don’t see how,” muttered Ron.

Harry didn’t either. “Dumbledore said my soul was completely my own!”

“I’m sure it is, Harry,” said Hermione.

“Then how do you explain…”

“Look, the Parseltongue was filtered through Voldemort’s soul, right? Voldemort's soul translated it; that’s why it sounded like English to you. But that doesn’t mean your mind wasn’t processing it at some level. You obviously remembered a bit of it, just like Ron.”

Harry was about to protest--it seemed far-fetched that he could learn words he had no memory of hearing, and if Voldemort's soul had filtered it, those sounds should never have made it to his mind in the first place. But he suddenly remembered a conversation between Snape and Dumbledore that he’d seen in Snape’s Pensieve memories:

Souls? We are talking of minds!

In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other.

“I suppose…” he said slowly. “I suppose that might explain it.”

“Great!” said Ron. “I’m glad we’ve got that sorted. Now do we have to keep standing in the bathroom? It’s a bit crowded in here.”

Harry took one last glance at the mirror, then nodded. He looked down at the floor where he'd lain last summer, writhing in agony during one of his visions. He really needed to stop coming to this room for all his Voldemort-induced crises.

“Can you imagine, Draco Malfoy wanting to catch dark wizards?” Ron said, as they made their way back to the drawing room. “What a fucking joke.”

Hermione raised a disapproving eyebrow at Ron’s choice of words. “He didn’t seem to be enjoying himself very much last year. Perhaps he’s had a change of heart. Really, though, I wouldn’t think he’d be very good at it. He was always terrible at defense.”

“He wasn’t any good,” said Ron. “He was absolutely terrible. You should have seen him! What was he thinking, using that spell, anyway?”

Harry, his immediate panic fading, was beginning to wonder the same thing.

+++

The room was becoming unbearably hot, and he couldn’t find the Horcrux anywhere.

Wait, didn’t Ginny have it? He scanned the room frantically, but it appeared empty of all save Harry and the surrounding inferno. “Ginny! Ginny!!”

He searched for the door, but the walls were burning—everything was covered in fire. As he watched, the flames began to seethe and writhe, forming into a large mass of fiery snakes.

Suddenly, Harry felt someone behind him, arms gripping him so tightly it hurt, and he turned to see the sneering face of Draco Malfoy.

“Scared, Potter?” Malfoy asked, in the voice of Tom Riddle.

He woke up horrified, reflexively grabbing at his scar, but of course it was fine—it didn’t hurt. He traced it with his finger as he thought over this newest in a series of disturbing dreams.

For a moment there, upon waking, he had thought that Voldemort was still inside him somehow, still a part of him, just as he’d felt after the duel with Malfoy. Ginny would have told him how stupid he was being. He snorted. Of course she would have. She’d been doing a lot of that, these days. He should write to her about it anyway, though. This was exactly the sort of thing she had been upset at him for not sharing.

He began to rise from his bed, intent on writing the letter now—he’d owed her one for days, and surely she was expecting one now that she’d arrived at Hogwarts—but then he stopped. If he told her about this dream, she would ask about his other ones. And he did not want to open a dialogue that would lead to probing questions, forcing him to either lie or to describe what the flames felt like as they melted his skin, what Snape looked like vomiting black liquid, congealed memories oozing from his accusatory eyes, what the leaves sounded like underneath his feet as he walked to his death, Tonks, Remus, and Fred walking in bloody rags, beside him.

He’d come up with something else to write about, something better. Later.

+++

Wednesday, September 2nd

It was five minutes before class was scheduled to start, and groups of students were gathered inside the training room, talking. Malfoy hadn’t gone in yet—he was standing alone, beside the door. He looked as if he were waiting for someone, which was odd, as he had very clearly been friendless the day before.

Seeing him again, Harry was filled with renewed anger and strode toward him. “What are you doing here?”

Malfoy’s eyes had widened in alarm at Harry’s rapid approach, but he did a fair job of sounding only mildly bored when he responded. “I’m waiting for class to start. What are you doing?”

“You know what I mean,” Harry said in irritation.

And now Malfoy sounded defensive: “I have as much right to be here as anyone else.”

“That’s debatable,” said Harry. “Why did you use that stupid spell yesterday?”

“I used dozens of spells yesterday. I can hardly be expected to know which one you failed to appreciate.” Harry crossed his arms and gave him a look of thorough disgust.

“Look, Potter, you’re one to talk. Sectumsempra, what is that, your spell for all occasions? Or do you break it out just for me?”

Malfoy had struggled a bit, saying the name of the spell, just like Ron and Hermione had when forcing themselves to say Voldemort. It made Harry feel guilty and then unreasonably infuriated. “At least I’ve learned something since second year.”

Malfoy flushed. “I know other spells. I just. Most of them wouldn’t have gone over with Shacklebolt very well, and I couldn’t think of anything else, all right? It’s a little intimidating, facing the great Harry Potter.” He had the mocking sneer down pat, but he couldn’t seem to meet Harry’s eyes.

“Just don’t do it again.”

“Why not?” Malfoy sounded belligerent but actually looked curious.

Harry glared at him. “Just. Don’t.”

“Right, Potter. Well the same goes for you. You use that spell on me ever again, and I won’t worry about what Shacklebolt thinks.”

Malfoy didn’t sound nearly as threatening as he was probably attempting to, and Harry felt another pang of guilt. “I didn’t--I didn’t use it on you. I used it on the snake.”

“Whatever, Potter.”

+++

“Well, today went well, don’t you think?” Ron said cheerfully, as they stepped outside the classroom. “We made it the whole day through, this time, and we had to stay late, but we’re caught up from yesterday. I think I’m a natural at Stealth and Tracking.”

Harry grinned, but his smile faded as he saw Malfoy approaching them.

“What’s he still doing here?” Ron muttered. Ron raised his wand a bit, warningly, and Malfoy gave him a muted sneer before turning to Harry.

“Look. Potter.” Malfoy cleared his throat and stared in furious concentration at the wall two feet to the left of Harry’s head.

Harry and Ron shared a look of bewilderment. “Spit it out, Malfoy. We don’t have all day,” said Ron.

Malfoy flushed, and a muscle in his jaw twitched, but he otherwise ignored Ron’s presence. “Potter,” he said again, as though reminding himself and everyone else whom he was addressing. “I was wondering.” He stopped again, seeming to struggle with whatever he wanted to say next, but was then forgivably distracted by a house elf Apparating nearly between his legs.

“Kreacher!” Harry said. “What are you doing here?”

“Master Harry told Kreacher to stay with the bad-tempered pureblood,” croaked Kreacher, “but if Kreacher doesn't bring help, he is going to be badly injured.”

“George?” cried Ron in alarm. “He’s in danger? Where is he—at the shop?”

Kreacher nodded. With a quick glance at each other, Harry and Ron both Apparated. Kreacher immediately followed, and also, bewilderingly enough, Draco Malfoy, who stood nervously brandishing his wand.

There was no time to consider that, though. Not with the crashing and swearing coming from the back of the shop.

They quickly followed the noises into what was obviously the product development room. It was in terrible shape, with bottles smashed and shelves upended. George, a streak of blood on his forehead, was in the process of upending another when he turned and saw them approaching.

“What the hell are you doing here?” George slurred, staring over Harry’s shoulder, and Harry could tell that George was very drunk. Harry and Ron approached George, but Malfoy lingered near the wall, just a few feet into the room. His wand was only halfway raised, as if he wasn’t certain at whom to point it.

“Ron, what the bloody fuck were you thinking, bringing a Malfoy here?” George continued, glaring sullenly. “That’s the little Malfoy, isn’t it? The one that used our Darkness Powder to get the werewolf into Hogwarts.”

Malfoy blanched.

The expression on George’s face became truly ugly as he took a step toward Malfoy. “Proud of yourself, are you, you little shit? Are you proud you got Fenrir Greyback in to eat my brother’s face?” Harry felt horrified—he’d never seen George so angry, so vicious. Malfoy stared at George, wide-eyed, wand forgotten in his hand.

“It’s because of you, you know—you, and your father, and all the other worthless Death Eaters. Your fault that my ear is gone, that Fred is…” And then, suddenly, George had buried his face in his hands. He made a terrible noise, and his shoulders shook with racking sobs. Ron, looking near tears himself, approached George, but at the first soft touch of Ron’s hand on his shoulder, George whipped his head up furiously.

“Don’t touch me!” he screamed, and he turned to glare at Malfoy again. “It’s not right, you know. It’s not right that he’s gone, that he’s dead, while some useless, good-for-nothing piece of shit like you is alive and well.” He grabbed one of the few cauldrons not already upended and hurled it at Malfoy’s head.

Fortunately for Malfoy, George’s aim was poor, but Malfoy was still doused in the cauldron’s contents. His expression changed from shock to unnatural terror, and his wand slipped from his fingers as the blue liquid dripped from his face.

“George!” Ron shouted. “I know it’s a Malfoy and all, but you really need to settle down here.”

Harry was equally alarmed. “Kreacher! Get a sobering potion and get him to take it. Please!”

“Yes, Master,” croaked Kreacher, who quickly retrieved a small bottle and approached George.

“Back off, you little bat!” George slurred. He grabbed another bottle and waved it threateningly at Kreacher but then seemed to change his mind and hurled it at Malfoy instead. The bottle shattered, drenching Malfoy in yellow liquid this time, and Malfoy immediately turned into a large canary. He looked bizarrely out of place. The yellow potion had mixed with the blue, and Malfoy’s pale feathers were streaked with green.

“Aw, now you’ve done it, George,” complained Ron. “You’ve hit him with enough of that to keep him a bird for a week.”

George did not reply; Kreacher, apparently now authorized to use whatever force necessary by Harry’s order, was in the process of force-feeding him the sobering potion.

As soon as George had swallowed the potion, he stopped struggling. His eyes cleared and focused. “Oh, God,” he groaned, and he buried his face in his hands.

Harry took a step toward George, not certain what he intended to say or do, but Ron grabbed Harry by the arm and shook his head. “He’s going to want a minute to himself,” Ron said quietly. “Let’s deal with Malfoy first.”

A quick Evanesco removed the spilled potions, and then Harry and Ron both stood contemplating the large, still terrified-looking canary.

“What was that potion for anyway, the Canary Creams?” asked Harry.

“Yeah,” Ron said absently, as he looked around the demolished room. “It’s too bad, too. That was probably the last bottle. George said they were running low.” He moved to a corner of the room that was largely still intact and began inspecting the contents of the shelves. “I know they kept an antidote around here somewhere, in case of overdoses…” He glanced at George, who still hadn’t looked up, and then continued searching on his own. “Ah. Here it is.”

“Do we have to get it in his…er…beak?” Harry asked.

“I guess not,” said Ron. “The other one worked just fine, didn’t it?”

A moment later, Malfoy was no longer bird-shaped but was still uncharacteristically silent and wide-eyed.

“He still doesn’t look quite right, does he? You all right, Malfoy?” Ron snapped his fingers in front of Malfoy’s face, and Malfoy cringed against the wall.

Harry searched for the cauldron that had first spilled on Malfoy. “He got hit with this too. What does it do?”

“What color was it?” George muttered into his hands.

Harry, reassured that George was speaking again, inspected the remnants in the container and answered quickly. “Blue.”

“Confidence remover,” replied George.

“What’s that for?” asked Harry.

“It’s for…you know, removing the competition,” said Ron. “Doesn’t look very different, does he?”

Draco shot Ron a brief, poisonous glare, but Ron raised an eyebrow at him, causing Draco to flinch and stare back down at his feet.

“Well, we can’t just leave him like that,” said Harry. And then, in response to Ron’s look, “It had to have made some difference, surely.”

“I suppose…” said Ron and began rummaging on the shelf for another antidote. “Here we go.”

“No, not that one!” shouted George and then clutched at his head in pain. Sobering potions didn’t do much for hangovers, Harry remembered.

“Why not?” asked Ron.

“It’s a love potion. God, can you imagine?” And George began to chuckle weakly. “The one you need should be labeled ‘Confidence Catapulter.’ You’ll want to give him a fairly large dose, since he got most of a cauldron.”

“Do all your potions work like that?” Harry asked. “I thought most of them you had to eat.”

“Most of them you do,” said George tiredly. “Malfoy just got lucky, I guess. Oh, you’d better spoon-feed him that one, Ron. I’m not sure if it’ll work otherwise, and I’d rather not waste the whole bottle finding out.”

Ron looked disgusted at the very idea, and Malfoy flinched away as soon as he approached. “Right then. Kreacher can do it.”

“Of course Kreacher can,” said Kreacher, snatching the bottle and spoon from Ron’s hands and hurrying to Malfoy’s side. Kreacher muttered to Malfoy in his low, bull-frog’s voice. Harry couldn’t catch any words aside from “Miss Cissy” and “medicine,” but whatever Kreacher said, it was sufficiently soothing. Malfoy closed his eyes and swallowed the dose.

The transformation was immediate and alarming. Malfoy’s back straightened, his shoulders loosened, and the fear dissolved from his face. He leaned over, retrieved his dropped wand, and was moving to do something—perhaps wipe it clean on his robes—when a thought seemed to occur to him. His gaze snapped to Harry. “Potter,” he said, in a firm, direct voice, and Harry remembered that Malfoy had been trying to ask him something before Kreacher had interrupted them.

“I know you saved the world and all that, but you can’t possibly have a need to hang onto my wand. It’s probably rattling around in a drawer or something.”

“Er…” said Harry, feeling rather bewildered.

Malfoy’s expression darkened. “It has been, hasn’t it? God.”

Harry turned to George. “How long is he going to be like this?”

George, looking faintly amused and therefore much more like himself, said, “Just a few minutes and he’ll be back to normal.”

“Normal for a normal person, or normal for him?” Ron asked.

George’s brow furrowed, and then he sighed, the corners of his mouth turning down. “You know, I’m not sure. Fred always was better at potions.”

“I’m brilliant at potions,” said Malfoy.

George snorted.

“I could help you.”

“Get him out of here, would you?” said George.

“Get me my wand, you mean,” said Malfoy. “Come along, Potter.”

Malfoy left the room without a backward glance, and Harry stared after him, perplexed. He looked over, intending to catch Ron’s eye, but Ron was kneeling by George, speaking quietly. George’s head was bowed, and his hands were trembling.

Harry turned quickly and followed Malfoy out the door.

Malfoy was leaning against the counter, arms crossed carelessly in front of him. “Took you long enough.”

And how was Harry supposed to handle this Malfoy, who wasn’t hostile and wasn’t frightened, who just stood there appraising him coolly, with every expectation that Harry would just give him back his wand? Although…there really wasn’t any reason not to give it to him. Harry wasn’t using it for anything.

“You’ll need to side-along,” Harry finally said.

“I will not,” said Malfoy, in the tones of the outrageously offended.

“Look, you haven’t been there before…”

“What does that matter? I can Apparate anywhere. I’m brilliant at it.”

Harry laughed. “Right, and you’re brilliant at Potions too.”

Malfoy uncrossed his arms and leaned toward Harry. “I’m brilliant at lots of things,” he said, gazing at Harry intently.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Whatever. But…actually, maybe you have been there before…”

Malfoy straightened. “Fine. Fantastic. Where do you live?”

And did Harry really want Malfoy knowing that? The protection provided by the Fidelius Charm had been diluted, certainly, but it was still somewhat reassuring. Then again, the location had already been given away to far more dangerous people than Malfoy, thanks to Hermione’s accidental side-along with the Death Eater from the Ministry. And did Harry actually consider Malfoy a threat at this point?

“I live at 12 Grimmauld Place.”

Malfoy’s eyebrows rose. “Grimmauld Place…that’s…”

“The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, yes, I know. But it’s the Noble and Most Ancient House of Harry Potter, now.”

“It ought to have gone to my mother,” said Malfoy. “Not that we need it.”

“Whatever, Malfoy. Do you remember it well enough to Apparate there?”

“Of course I do.” With a pop, Malfoy Disapparated.

Harry blinked.

+++

He found Malfoy in the drawing room, staring at the tapestry. Harry stepped beside him, eyes drawn, as always, to the burned patch where Sirus’ name had once been.

“I knew I remembered this,” said Malfoy, and he reached out to touch the name of Phineas Nigellus. He then brushed his hand along names from recent generations—Lucretia, Wallburga, Druella.

“But they’re all dead now,” he said quietly. “Or almost all.”

Malfoy traced the gold thread up from his own name at the bottom right to his mother’s, and then to the burned patch beside it. His finger lingered there, above the obliterated name of Andromeda, and then his arm fell to his side.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what I was thinking to have followed you and that house elf in the first place.”

“What were you thinking?” Harry asked curiously.

Malfoy turned away stiffly and raised his wand to Apparate.

“Wait, hold up,” Harry said. “Come with me. I’ll give you your wand.”

Malfoy was silent as they made their way up the stairs, but he stared intently at all the portraits they passed. When they entered Harry's room, he scanned the walls. His eyes lit on Sirius' posters of the bikini-clad girls. His lip curled in distaste, and then his gaze shot to Harry.

"I didn't put them there," Harry said defensively. Although why he should care what Malfoy thought, he didn't know.

Malfoy sneered. "Yes, and you didn't take them down either, did you?"

"Permanent Sticking Charm. No one's been able to take them down in twenty years. Though I suppose you could do it. You're brilliant at all sorts of things, isn't that what you said?"

Malfoy flushed bright red. Harry had no idea what was so embarrassing to him. Malfoy had been bragging since the day they'd met.

"Fuck you, Potter," Malfoy said, voice tight and furious. "I didn't come up here for this."

"That's right, you came up here for your wand. But if you can't handle looking at a couple posters, you must not want it very badly. You are such a hypocrite, Malfoy. You'd like the girls in those posters just fine if they were witches instead of Muggles."

Malfoy froze at the door and then turned around slowly, an odd expression on his face.

"Look," said Harry in exasperation, "do you want your wand, or not?"

Malfoy nodded.

Harry pulled the hawthorn wand from his desk drawer. He wished he’d left it anywhere else just so Malfoy could have been wrong.

Malfoy still had his current wand clutched in his hand.

“Whose wand is that, anyway?" asked Harry. "Still using your mother’s?”

Malfoy's fading flush returned—in anger this time or again in embarrassment, Harry couldn’t tell. “Of course not! It’s my wand. It’s just. It’s not an Ollivander. It’s not very good.” Malfoy tucked the substandard wand into a pocket of his robes.

“Ollivander’s opened his shop back up,” Harry said. “Couldn’t you get a new one?”

“He wouldn’t sell me one,” said Malfoy tightly. "Can't imagine why. He had the best cell in the Manor."

“Right,” Harry said. He supposed he should have thought of that.

Malfoy stared at the wand in Harry's hand. “Why did you use my wand, anyway? You grabbed three of them away from me.”

“I don’t know,” said Harry, and he shrugged. “Yours felt friendliest.”

He'd never seen Malfoy's pale face flush this red this many times in the same day.

"You're delusional, Potter. My wand's never felt the slightest bit friendly toward you."

“Well,” said Harry in amusement, “lots of things could be responsible for a wand feeling friendly. Some wands feel friendly because the people are so compatible, or because they care about each other. That’s how it was with Hermione’s. But in this case, I assume the wand was just sick of being stuck with a complete prat like you and was grateful for the change.”

Malfoy, looking as if he was severely biting his tongue, glared pointedly at the wand Harry still held.

Shrugging, Harry handed it over.

Malfoy accepted it almost reverently and spent several moments running his fingers along the wood, inspecting it for damage. He looked different, Harry realized, now that he held it. Calmer, more composed. Harry expected him to leave immediately, as many times as he'd already tried to rush off, but Malfoy just stood there, looking at him.

“Why did you do it?” he finally asked.

“Do what?” Harry responded in confusion.

“Why did you come back for me?” Malfoy asked quietly.

“Why didn’t I leave you to die in there? Even you didn’t deserve that.”

Malfoy’s mouth formed itself into a bitter downward twist, and he didn’t reply.

“Why did you do it?” Harry asked. “Why follow me in there? Were you really going to take me to Voldemort? You didn’t want to at your house.”

Malfoy stared back down at the wand in his hand, and his grip on it tightened. “I…I don’t know. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wanted to find out what you were looking for. I might. I might have taken you to him.” Malfoy’s eyes flicked up to Harry’s in a nervous yet defiant expression. “I mean. You were going to have to face him anyway, right? But I. I hoped you would win. I didn’t think you could. But I was glad when you did.”

“How very noble of you,” said Harry, “supporting the madman because the odds were in his favor, not sparing a thought for all the people tortured and killed as long as your skin was safe.”

Malfoy flinched at the word ‘tortured.’ Harry belatedly remembered Voldemort forcing Malfoy to perform the Cruciatus curse, but continued anyway. “Here’s the thing I don’t get—if you were just out for yourself, why hold onto Goyle like that? I’d never have gotten you both on my broom. If Ron and Hermione hadn’t come back, you’d both have died.”

Malfoy gave Harry a scathing look. “He was my friend.”

“Some friend.”

“He didn’t think he had any choices either,” Malfoy said tightly.

“He had the choice not to be tossing around Unforgivables, didn’t he?”

“Like you’ve never used an Unforgivable curse,” Malfoy said in disgust. “Don’t try to tell me you’re too pure for dark spells—I know better.” Harry suddenly had a vivid recollection of Amycus writhing under Cruciatus after spitting in Professor McGonagall’s face.

“You both had choices,” Harry finally said. “You should have fought with us.”

“You want to talk about choices, Potter?” Malfoy said angrily. “I spent all last year looking for a choice that wouldn’t get everyone I care about killed. I’m sure you could explain how that renders me a worthless human being who’d be better off dead, but your friend Weasley has handled that quite nicely already, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I choose not to discuss it with you any further.”

With a sharp pop, Malfoy Disapparated. Harry stared blankly at the spot where Malfoy had stood. Only two things, he realized, were clear to him at that moment. One, Malfoy might have had a rough time during the war, but it obviously had not robbed him of his flair for the dramatic. Two, there was no way Harry was going to manage a letter to Ginny before bed.

+++

Thursday, September 3rd

“What do you think, Harry?” came Ron’s bodiless voice. “I think I’m as good at this Concealment and Disguise as I am at the Stealth and Tracking.”

“Well, the concealment, maybe,” said Harry. “We haven’t tried any disguises yet.”

“Malfoy could have done with a concealment charm or a disguise last night,” said Ron, with a laugh. “Although it doesn’t look like he could have managed it anyway, could he?”

Harry turned to see—Malfoy was indeed one of the few students still visible. That was odd.

Ron reappeared. “Well, I’ve got the charm down. I’m going to do the obstacle course,” he said, pointing to where Kingsley stood on a raised platform, disqualifying students when they gave their location away by brushing against the walls of the narrow maze. “You coming?”

“In a minute.” Harry said. “You go ahead.” He made his way toward Malfoy, watching the soft floor as he went, looking for the telltale indentations that would indicate another invisible classmate in his path.

“Damn it,” he heard Malfoy mutter as he drew nearer. The spell, hilariously, appeared to have only half worked. Most of Malfoy’s head and large, blotchy portions of his body were invisible, but the rest of him was very much not.

Harry stepped close behind Malfoy and spoke near his ear. “That wand giving you problems, Malfoy?”

Harry watched in amusement as the portions of Malfoy that were still visible jerked in surprise.

“I just need more practice,” Malfoy said stiffly.

“You managed that charm perfectly well with your mother’s wand, back at Hogwarts,” Harry pointed out.

Malfoy didn’t respond, at least as far as Harry could see. He shouldn't have been visible at all. It was funny, but...Malfoy was never going to pass Auror training if the wand was working this badly for him.

A thought occurred to Harry. “You could always give the wand to me, and try to win it back.”

Malfoy’s fingers, which were still visible, tightened around the hawthorn wand. “It’s my wand,” he said angrily. “It’s fine.

It obviously wasn't, but if Malfoy wanted to be stupid about it...

“Suit yourself,” said Harry, and headed toward the obstacle course. He could hear Malfoy cursing under his breath behind him.

When he reached the obstacle course, he stood for a moment, watching the other students...or, not watching them, actually. It seemed that Ron was doing well. He couldn't see him, of course, but he hadn't been disqualified.

It didn't look that difficult, really, though he supposed some people might have trouble with it. Tonks would have--

But then, what the hell was he doing just standing around like this?

Jaw tight, he entered the maze.

+++

“Wait, so you invited Malfoy to disarm you under life threatening circumstances?" Ron asked when they spoke after class. "And what does this have to do with keeping me waiting twenty minutes after class got out?”

“Well, that’s what I went to talk to Kingsley about. To find out if wand allegiance might change under other circumstances.”

Ron shook his head. “Mate, you don’t want that wand’s allegiance changing under any circumstances. If you let him win it back, he’d end up master of the Elder Wand—again.”

And why the hell hadn’t Harry thought of that? “You’re right, it would. That wand’s never going to work well for him, is it?”

“My heart is breaking,” said Ron. “What did Kingsley say, anyway?”

“He didn’t really say anything I hadn’t already learned from Ollivander. Except that if you’re disarmed in a life or death battle, and you get your wand back without winning it back, you’d better stick to simple spells if you can, because the more complicated ones might not work well.”

“Good to know, I guess,” said Ron, “but I plan on hanging on to my wand a bit better than Malfoy did.”

“He did say that he’d heard it was possible for wands to share allegiances rather than change them, but that it wasn’t anything I needed to worry about happening during a duel.”

Ron laughed. “I don’t think it’s anything you need to worry about happening with Malfoy, either. The only thing you two have ever succeeded in sharing was detention.”

“Actually,” said Harry, “we didn’t even share that. When Voldemort showed up, he ran off.”

“Well, come on, let’s get going. I wanted to be over to check on George twenty minutes ago.”

They Apparated to George’s shop.

“Hi, Verity,” said Ron to the witch behind the counter. “Is George in?”

She nodded and seemed about to say something else, but a customer entered the store, and she turned to greet him.

“Is she new?” Harry asked Ron.

Ron rolled his eyes. “She’s only been here since the summer before sixth year, Harry. Honestly.”

“You know…” Harry mused. “Sometimes I think you sound more like Hermione than she does.”

Ron smacked him on the shoulder before heading toward the back of the shop. “Come on, Harry. He’s probably still working on those potions that got ru—”

Ron’s voice cut off in a strangled choke as they neared the workroom. George and Malfoy were seated at the workbench, speaking quietly together as Malfoy gestured at a bubbling cauldron. When Malfoy looked up and saw them, he stiffened. He said a few more words to George, raised his wand as if to Apparate, and then glanced at the wand and seemed to reconsider. Expression tight, he looked at neither Harry nor Ron as he walked from the room.

George shifted uncomfortably as Ron and Harry approached.

“All right, George,” said Ron. “I know you have a hangover, so I’ll say this quietly. What. The. Fuck.”

George sighed. “He showed up here this afternoon, said he had something to say. I don’t know why I listened to him. Fred probably wouldn’t have. But he said…that he hadn’t known Greyback would get into the castle. That he wished he hadn’t done it. That he isn’t worthless and that he is brilliant at potions. You said he came to help last night when he thought I was in danger. I thought I’d just…give him a chance. We’ll see how it goes.”

Harry found the whole situation as bizarre as Ron did, but listening to George, he was suddenly struck by the odd pauses and abrupt ends to some of George’s sentences. It gave a broken quality to his speech that hadn’t been there before, and Harry felt a lurch in his chest at the thought that George was still waiting for Fred to complete his sentences.

Ron, however, still looked outraged and unforgiving.

“He already gave me an idea for how to improve this one,” George said, gesturing at the cauldron. “Fred would have thought it was brilliant…if it hadn’t been suggested by a Malfoy.”

Ron shook his head despairingly. “I can’t believe you just used ‘brilliant’ and ‘Malfoy’ in the same sentence.”

Malfoy did it often enough, Harry thought.

“Look, if he’s a prat…” said George, “we’ll toss him out on his arse. Now how about making yourself useful, Ron, since you chased him off before we could finish with this potion.”

+++

Sunday, September 20

Dear Ginny,

No, I hadn’t realized that I’d only written to you twice in nearly three weeks, but then this letter makes three, doesn’t it? I’m sorry. Auror training has kept me really busy. I’ll do my best to write more often.

Yes, training is going well. We’ve been working on Concealment and Disguise and Stealth and Tracking. They tend to go together, because after we conceal or disguise ourselves, we practice tracking each other stealthily. Ron’s a lot better at the stealth and tracking than he would have been a year or so ago. I think

You should have seen the disguise Ron came up with on Friday. He dressed himself in Muggle clothes—that was part of the assignment—but the clothes he picked were a little outlandish. A little too dressy, a little too old. And he gave himself the longest mustache I’d ever seen. I don’t think he meant to make it quite that long. And he made his hair so black it looked almost blue. His nose was rather large as well. He got full points for rendering himself unrecognizable but then lost some for looking a bit too conspicuous.

Hermione’s doing well at the Ministry, but then I guess you know that, since you mentioned that she’s written you twice already, too.

I wasn’t trying to keep the Parseltongue thing a secret from you. I just didn’t think it was a big deal. It surprised me that day, but Hermione’s explanation made sense. And I really can’t even speak it. I just understood a few hisses.

Yes, Hermione was serious when she said that Draco Malfoy is training to become an Auror and that he’s been helping out at George’s shop. I honestly don’t know what he’s doing in Auror training, but I think he’s helping George with potions because he actually feels bad for letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Or maybe because he couldn’t stand for someone to think he’s not brilliant at potions. Honestly, I don’t know. None of us understands it any better than you do. You don’t need to worry, though. He leaves us alone in training—well, he leaves everyone alone in training, really. And he’s usually pretty quiet in George’s shop. We mostly get along all right, except for one time when Ron said Malfoy’s idea for a product was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.

No, I haven't been to see Teddy. Like I said, I've been busy.

Well, if I were to go by your letter, I would think that Quidditch is all they do at Hogwarts these days. That’s all right, though. I know that captaining the team is a big responsibility. I didn’t put as much time and energy into it as I would have liked back in sixth year. We’re lucky the team did as well as it did, as distracted as I was. I’m sure you’ll do great this year, especially with the lineup you described. Your chasers especially sound phenomenal.

I miss you too.

Love,

Harry

October

Saturday, October 3rd

“Hi, Harry,” said George. “I was just testing our newest product—it’s not quite ready yet, but it should be a big hit. I think we’ll be able to have it on the shelves before the holidays.”

Harry approached the counter and looked with interest at the tray of innocent-seeming biscuits George was indicating.

“Now that the war’s over, our more lighthearted products are selling much better,” George said. “But people still seem to want something that reassures them too. These are sort of a cross between a Sneakoscope and our old Canary Creams. You can give them to someone as a prank, but what the person turns into indicates how trustworthy they are.”

“That’s brilliant,” said Harry with a smile.

“Want to try one?” asked George.

“No thanks.” Harry edged a little further away from the biscuits. “I think I’ll wait until you’ve got all the kinks worked out.”

“Malfoy won’t help me test them either,” said George, looking a bit disappointed.

Harry snorted. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Well, this product was Malfoy’s idea, actually.” George placed the biscuits on a shelf, then grabbed a box, stepped out from behind the counter, and gestured for Harry to follow. “He suggested it that first day, when I was restocking potions. Said the Canary Creams were stupid but that it wouldn’t be too hard to adjust the potion to do something more useful. Of course, since then, he’s had some great ideas for what else we can turn people into. I think he was just still feeling sore about being turned into a canary himself.”

George moved over to a display of Pygmy Puffs near the window, nodding at a group of customers as they entered the store. Harry hadn't seen a Pygmy Puff in a while, but he supposed now that the war was over, they were probably more popular, too.

"You haven't gotten the Pygmy Puffs to act as Sneakoscopes too, have you?"

George paused in his efforts to capture a purple puffskein, larger than the others. "No..." he said thoughtfully. "But now that you mention it, it's not a bad idea. Sounds like something Malfoy would have thought of."

George began placing Pygmy Puffs in the box. He was sorting them by color, Harry realized.

“I’m surprised that he’s any good at this sort of thing, honestly. I mean, I guess the Potions part isn't so surprising. I knew he was decent at them, though I always thought that was half Snape’s favoritism. But it’s weird to hear you always talking about good ideas he’s come up with.”

“I don’t know why." George picked up the last two purple Pygmy Puffs and placed them in the box. “Wasn’t he always coming up with tricks to play on you back at school?”

“Like dressing up as a Dementor during the Quidditch game? I thought that idea was rather stupid, myself. Really, I can’t remember Malfoy coming up with a single good idea in all the time I’ve known him.”

Harry spotted another purple puffskein in the corner underneath two pink ones, picked it up, and handed it to George.

“Well,” said George, accepting the Pygmy Puff and gesturing with it a bit as he spoke. “I blame his lackluster performance in earlier years on the complete absence of worthy partners in crime. It would have been hard to plan anything decent with just those two clods he was always hanging about with.”

“Don’t talk about Crabbe and Goyle,” said Malfoy, who had emerged from the workroom at some point. He looked angry, and Harry wondered how much he had overheard.

George fumbled the Pygmy Puff, nearly dropping it on the floor. “Right. Sorry."

There was an uncomfortable pause. George cleared his throat.

"So, Harry. Hermione told me you still hadn’t been to see young Theodore Lupin."

“Well, no,” said Harry, wishing Hermione would keep her mouth shut once in a while.

“What’s that, Potter?” Malfoy said, a malicious glint in his eyes. “Can’t be bothered to visit your own godson?”

Yes, Malfoy had obviously overheard them.

Harry flushed. “Look, I’ve been busy. And he’s still a baby. He’s too young to get to know me, and he won’t remember later whether I visited or not. I figure I can do things with him when he’s older and knows how to…to talk and stuff.”

“I’d have thought you, of all people, would have a bit of sympathy for an orphaned child,” said Malfoy coldly.

“And I’d have thought you of all people would know better than to open your fucking mouth," said Harry.

"Language, Harry," said George, with a glance at the customers nearest them. "You'll offend the Pygmy Puffs."

Malfoy sneered. “Know better than to criticize heroes like you, you mean? From saving the world to neglecting your infant godson in five short months. That’s pathetic, Potter.”

Harry could not believe that Malfoy of all people was lecturing him. “I don’t see you doing anything so great. Why are you here all the time anyway? Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“No, not really.” Malfoy crossed his arms. “And I’m sure Weasley here really appreciates the insinuation that he and his business are a complete waste of time.”

“That’s not what I—damn, I’m sorry, George, I didn’t mean that.”

George raised an eyebrow. “Knock it off, both of you.”

“Excellent idea,” said Malfoy. “Wish I’d thought of it.”

“Right,” Harry said. “I’m leaving.”

+++

Half an hour after Apparating home, he was still just as angry. He wasn’t…he wasn’t neglecting his Godson. He would never do that. He’d just thought he could have a little time. It wasn’t as if the baby was missing him, or wondering where he was. No, the baby was probably missing Tonks, missing Remus. Or had he forgotten his parents entirely? Harry felt sick at either possibility.

Harry walked over to the bookshelf beside his bed and took down his photo album. Flipping through, he looked at the pictures. His parents, sitting together on a couch in the Gryffindor common room. His parents on their wedding day, smiling at each other. His parents, laughing with Sirius, then turning to wave at Harry.

It just seemed so stupid, so meaningless, for a baby to have lost his parents right as the war ended. Just when life was supposed to become normal, become safe, another family had been destroyed. Harry felt a fresh surge of anger at Tonks for having left her baby and then guilt that he hadn’t attempted to talk her out of it as he’d done with Remus. He could have tried, but he hadn’t; he hadn’t said anything, and now Teddy Lupin’s family was that much smaller, that much greyer, that much more empty.

And where was Harry’s place in that family? Harry imagined visiting, holding the baby awkwardly in his lap. Andromeda would look at him in grief and anger, and the baby—well, the baby wouldn’t know him at all, would he?

And suddenly the reasons, the excuses he’d given for not visiting seemed thin and inadequate and as pathetic as Malfoy had claimed they were. How could he have gone this many months without taking his own place in Teddy Lupin’s life?

He flipped to the back of the photo album and found the picture he had placed there--the photo of himself, at age one year old, riding his first broomstick. Sirius had given him that broom.

Placing the picture in his pocket, he resolved firmly that Teddy Lupin would find Harry’s face a familiar one before he learned to walk or say his first word. Taking a deep breath, he Apparated to the Tonks’ home.

+++

“Harry Potter,” said Andromeda Tonks when she answered the door. “I was wondering when we would see you.”

“I’m sorry,” said Harry, feeling the crushing weight of his guilt all over again. He hadn’t just cost Teddy a mother. He had cost this woman her daughter, as well. Her face held none of the accusation he’d feared seeing, though.

“Today is quite the day for visitors,” said Andromeda as she led him into the sitting room.

And there, incredibly, was Malfoy, sitting stiffly on a chair with the baby in his lap. But then...Harry remembered Malfoy, hand lingering over the blackened name on the tapestry. Maybe it wasn't that incredible.

When Malfoy looked up and saw Harry, his cheeks flushed pink. The baby grabbed at Malfoy’s face, and Harry burst out laughing when he saw that the baby was mimicking Malfoy’s blush. Teddy’s entire face had turned a bright magenta. “Would you like to hold the baby, Harry?” asked Andromeda, politely ignoring Malfoy’s acute embarrassment.

She took the baby from Malfoy and handed him to Harry, who accepted him awkwardly. Teddy looked at him solemnly for a moment, but when Harry smiled at him, Teddy laughed; Harry saw that he had two small teeth. He searched the baby’s face for a resemblance to Remus and couldn’t find one. The resemblance to Tonks, on the other hand, was rather hard to miss. Also hard to miss was the sudden dampness of the baby’s clothing.

“I think Teddy needs a change,” Harry said.

“It’s about that time,” said Andromeda, reaching down to take him.

Teddy reached into Harry's pocket and grabbed out the photograph. Crowing in delight, he waved the picture around, arms flapping in a burst of uncoordinated enthusiasm.

Andromeda picked up Teddy and pried the picture from his chubby fist. “If you’ll excuse us?”

She handed the picture back to Harry and carried Teddy from the room.

Harry smoothed out his photograph, and he and Malfoy sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment. Finally, Malfoy spoke. “He is my cousin, you know. Once removed.”

“I never knew you were very involved with this branch of the family,” said Harry.

Malfoy didn’t reply.

“Do your parents know you’re here?” Harry asked curiously.

“No,” said Malfoy shortly.

They probably didn’t know about the time he spent in George's shop, either, Harry reflected. And this was the person he'd just accused earlier of never having had a good idea in his life. Suddenly he felt guilty for his careless words. Malfoy had obviously overheard them, and as strange as it was to admit it to himself, they had been undeserved. Malfoy had made some good choices, difficult choices, in recent months.

“I should have come sooner,” said Harry. “That was a good idea you had. To come and visit.”

Malfoy’s eyes widened.

“Did you know Tonks at all?”

“No,” said Malfoy, and then he paused. ‘“I found out about her as a child,” he continued grudgingly. “Thought it was terribly unfair that I had a Metamorphmagus for a cousin and that she should be stuck with parents so awful I wasn’t allowed to play with her. Always thought she would be great fun.”

“She was fun,” Harry said. “She was fantastic.”

They were both silent again.

“The Dark Lord taunted me about her,” Malfoy suddenly said. “About her baby. Asked if I would babysit.” He laughed bitterly. “Maybe I will. That’ll show him.”

Harry had to laugh at the thought of babysitting in defiance of Voldemort.

“I wish I could have known her.” Malfoy grimaced. “Even if she did have the terrible taste to have a werewolf for a husband.”

“Lupin was great too,” Harry said warningly.

“Yes. Well. Whatever. He taught a decent DADA class, I’ll give him that.”

A thought occurred to Harry. “Hey, what was your Boggart?”

“I didn’t have one,” said Malfoy.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Mine was a Dementor.”

“Your only fear is fear itself?” said Malfoy mockingly.

Harry blinked. “Lupin said the same thing. Only he made it sound a lot more complimentary.”

Malfoy didn’t reply, and Harry glanced at the clock, wondering how long it took to change a baby.

“A Muggle,” said Malfoy.

“What?”

“My Boggart,” said Malfoy, in tones of great irritation. “It was a Muggle.”

Harry stared at him wonderingly. “That makes so much sense.”

Malfoy glared downward, and his eyes lit on the photograph in Harry's hand.

"What's that picture of, anyway? Let me see it."

Harry jerked the it back, away from Malfoy, but then he paused and reconsidered. Malfoy had just told him his Boggart. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to show him the photograph.

He wasn't sure what he expected--scorn, perhaps, or amused condescension? But he was not prepared for the look of outraged indignation that crossed Malfoy's face.

"This is you, isn't it? I knew it! I knew that couldn't possibly have been your first time on a broom!"

"What?"

"Don't be stupid, Potter. That first day of flying lessons. I knew you couldn't have been that--" And then Malfoy cut himself off with a grimace.

"Been that what?" Harry asked in amusement.

"Been that much of a showoff without years of practice."

Harry laughed.

+++

Friday, October 16th

Harry watched with interest as Ron’s Jack Russel Terrier Patronus bounded toward him, opened its mouth, and spoke in Ron’s voice: “Seriously, Harry. What is he even doing here?”

Harry glanced across the room at Malfoy, who was struggling ineffectually to cast his own Patronus.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Ron’s terrier continued. “He’s not so bad these days, I suppose. But what is he doing here? He’s just not very good. At any of it.”

Harry turned to watch Malfoy for a moment. Malfoy was managing nothing more than a wisp of silvery mist. There was no telling what form his Patronus might take if he managed to successfully cast the spell. Malfoy glanced over and stiffened when he saw Harry observing.

Harry sent his stag across the room with his reply to Ron: “Well, part of it’s the wand, I think. And to be fair, we’ve had more practice.”

Ron listened to Harry’s message, looking thoughtful, and then sent his terrier to Malfoy, who had returned, scowling, to his efforts. Looking greatly startled, Malfoy listened to Ron’s Patronus.

“What did you say?” Harry directed his Patronus to ask. Ron's terrier returned from across the room.

“I told him he was using the wrong memory,” it replied.

When class was over, Malfoy kept trying, but producing nothing more corporeal than the earlier wisps of mist. But he hurriedly shoved his wand in his pocket and began packing his things when he saw Harry approaching.

“How’s your wand, Malfoy? Still misses me, does it?” said Harry.

“Fuck off, Potter,” Malfoy replied. And inexplicably blushed.

“I knew someone else who had the same problem."

“What problem?” said Malfoy defensively.

“Your wand problem,” said Harry. He’d thought it was obvious what they were talking about.

“Oh. That. Well, I don’t have a wand problem,” Malfoy belatedly added.

“Right,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Well Neville Longbottom did. A big part of his poor performance was due to using a wand that wasn’t suited to him. He did much better when he got a different one.”

“My wand is fine,” Malfoy snapped. “And so is my performance. I mean.” And his blush, which had begun to fade, returned again. “I mean that I’m doing just fine. Ask Weasley.” Harry flicked a glance at Ron, who was approaching, and Malfoy blinked in annoyance. “George Weasley.”

“What about George?” asked Ron.

“Nothing,” said Harry. “Are we going over to the shop?”

“Yes, I told him we would. He’s got a big order that needs to be ready before Halloween.”

As they headed toward the door, Ron huffed in exasperation and gestured back at Malfoy. “Is he coming?”

Harry stopped and glanced back, to see Malfoy standing there, looking a bit lost in the emptying room.

“You coming?”

“What?” Malfoy asked, in evident surprise. “Oh. All right, sure.”

He smiled a little as he approached them--an uncomfortable, half-way sort of smile, as if he was trying it on for size.

Even in its half-formed state, it wasn't an unattractive look on him.

"What are you staring at?" asked Ron curiously.

"Malfoy. I don't think I've ever seen him smile properly before. Not at me, anyway."

"Oh, sure you have," said Ron. "Don't you remember when you saved him from the Death Eaters?"

Harry did, now that Ron mentioned it. Malfoy's smile of gratitude could have lit up the room.

"Though he didn't know it was you," Ron continued. "Maybe that shouldn't count..."

"What are you talking about?" Malfoy asked, smile less certain.

"That time you grinned like a lunatic after Harry and I saved you. Again."

"Only until you punched him in the stomach," Harry pointed out.

Any traces of a smile slipped off Malfoy's face.

"That was you?" he said, glaring at Ron.

"Oh, come on, Malfoy. You deserved it, you know you did. You were kissing up to the Death Eaters not twenty minutes after we'd saved your skin. Not to mention you'd just tried to kill us."

Malfoy's jaw was tight. "I wasn't kissing up, I was trying not to get killed. And I didn't try to kill any of you. Crabbe and Goyle did that, and they've more than paid for it, both of them."

"Goyle deserved the sentence he got," said Ron. "I heard what sorts of things he did during the war. He made his choices."

"Goyle couldn't have made a choice for himself if his life depended on it."

Draco paused then, looking sorrowful, and Harry wondered if he was thinking of Crabbe, whose life had depended on it. Harry had understood, sort of, that Malfoy had considered Crabbe and Goyle to be friends, and not just thugs or minions. But for some reason it hadn't occurred to Harry until now that Draco might actually miss them. He'd hardly noticed at the time, but he remembered now, Malfoy choking and sobbing in the corridor outside the Room of Requirement.

"Look, I'm sorry about Crabbe," Harry said. "I'm sorry we couldn't save him, too. I would have, you know. If I could."

Draco looked up at him with surprised eyes, and some of the tightness seemed to drain from his face.

"Well, you did save me twice. I appreciate that, Potter." And he tried on that half-smile again.

"Hey!" Ron protested. "I'll have you know I risked my neck too."

Malfoy looked over at him. "You're right. You did. Thanks, Weasley. You have my undying gratitude."

Ron looked a little pleased and a little bit suspicious that he was being mocked.

"Shall we get going now?" said Malfoy, as he moved toward the door. He bumped heavily into Ron's midsection as he passed by.

"Oof!" grunted Ron. "Oy! Watch it!"

+++

“Honestly, Weasley,” said Malfoy. “I know you’re quite taken with the Apothecary, but were you so overcome by her charms that you couldn’t give her the complete order? We’re missing three ingredients.”

“I gave the complete order,” said George, laughing, as he looked over the list. “She must have been distracted by my handsome good looks.”

“Do you have a girlfriend, George?” Ron asked with interest. “You’ll have to take me to meet her.”

“Sure,” said George. “You can meet her now. Malfoy, we don’t need these ingredients right off the bat. Can you get started without me?”

“I suppose,” said Malfoy. “If Potter stays to help. He can chop the daisy roots.” Malfoy smirked a bit at this, and Ron scowled.

“I suppose he’d better,” said Ron. “I don’t think you got enough practice chopping daisy roots at Hogwarts to know how to do it properly.”

"I'll chop the daisy roots," Harry conceded. "But if you want help with shrivelfigs or caterpillars, you're out of luck."

"That's all right, Potter. You mutilated them in third year. I wouldn't trust you with them now, even if--"

"Even if your arm was in a sling for a legitimate reason?" Ron asked, with raised eyebrows.

Malfoy's lip quirked. "Even then."

Harry really had mutilated that caterpillar. He'd been unable to focus, too angry at Malfoy's prat-like behavior. The same prat-like behavior that they were now treating as an in-joke. It was a startling realization.

“Come on, Ron,” said George. “You’re about to meet the most lovely Apothecary that ever put hand to pestle.”

“Has she ever put hand to your pestle?” Ron asked with a smirk as they left the room.

“Weasley humor,” said Malfoy. “So delightfully highbrow.”

“Where are the…” began Harry.

“The daisy roots are over there,” said Malfoy, gesturing at a pile of ingredients. “Be sure to chop them evenly.”

Harry gathered the roots, grabbed a knife, and then stopped to watch Malfoy. He was selecting and measuring ingredients with competent hands. He looked more content than Harry had ever seen him.

“Seriously, Malfoy,” said Harry. “What are you doing in Auror training?”

“You’ve asked me that before,” Malfoy said, not looking up from his task.

“And I don’t think you actually answered me. You just spouted off about your right to be there.”

“I wanted to protect the innocent and triumph over evil." Malfoy glanced up at Harry with raised eyebrows. "Why else does one become an Auror?”

“You could have just said you didn’t want to talk about it.”

After a long moment of silence, Harry tried a different approach. “Look, would you like some help with your Patronus?”

Malfoy looked up in surprise. “I...”

“I think Ron was right,” continued Harry. “What memory were you using?”

Malfoy stared at him.

“I can’t help if you won’t tell me,” said Harry.

“My…my father. Teaching me how to fly.”

Harry tried to wrap his brain around anyone’s happiest memory involving Lucius Malfoy and finally gave it up for a lost cause.

“Right. Well…I think you’d better try a different one. Do you have anything a bit more recent?”

“My father’s been a bit preoccupied in recent years,” Malfoy said tightly. “Hasn’t had much time for Quidditch.”

Harry supposed that was true enough. “Well, something else. Something from school.”

Malfoy gave him a look that suggested very negative things about Harry’s intelligence.

“It doesn’t have to be that recent,” Harry quickly temporized. “Well, I don’t know,” said Malfoy, “there are so many to choose from. How about the time Slytherin won the House Cup? We didn’t get to keep it, of course, but that minute or two the banners were up was quite the jubilant occasion. Or…oh, I know! That time I got to ride a Hippogriff! That was fun!”

"You didn’t get to ride the Hippogriff, Malfoy."

"No shit."

Harry paused as something occurred to him. “Wait…did you want to ride the Hippogriff?"

Malfoy pointedly didn't respond.

Harry picked up a daisy root and began chopping. “Well, how about the time you had half the school wearing ‘Potter Stinks’ badges? You seemed to be enjoying yourself then.”

“That was a nice one,” Malfoy said thoughtfully.

Harry looked up to glare at Malfoy and then swore in pain as his knife slipped.

“You are such an incompetent, Potter” said Malfoy, sounding pleased, as Harry inspected his cut finger. “How did you ever convince Slughorn that you were a Potions genius? Snape knew what a dunce you were at it.”

“Snape was…” Harry began heatedly, and then trailed off. “Never mind.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead?” Malfoy asked curiously.

“Something like that,” said Harry, as he grabbed a cloth and applied pressure to the cut. Once again, he wished he had bothered to study healing spells at some point. There was the one Tonks had used on him…but he’d only used it once, that time Ron accidentally punched Demelza during Quidditch practice in 6th year. What was it again?

“Really, though, Potter, you were terrible at Potions. Admit it.”

Harry looked up from his finger in anger. “I was not.”

“Then why,” Malfoy asked, with evident enjoyment, “did you have to take remedial Potions?”

“I didn’t, you pillock,” said Harry, feeling deeply vindicated. “Those were Occlumency lessons.”

“Oh.” Malfoy looked disappointed. “That’s a shame. I was going to try that one for my Patronus.” Then, after a moment, he perked up. “Well, you’re still terrible at potions, and I’ll bet you were terrible at Occlumency too.”

Harry gritted his teeth and then turned his attention back to his finger.

“Look, you’re bleeding all over the place. Let me fix that for you.”

“That’s okay, Malfoy,” said Harry in mild alarm. “I’m fine, really.”

“I’m good at healing charms.”

Harry raised an eyebrow.

“You can wipe that expression off your face,” said Malfoy. “I’m fucking brilliant at them.”

“Right. I think I’ll pass.”

“Fine, whatever, Potter. Go bleed somewhere else.”

Harry stepped aside as Malfoy disposed of the bloodied daisy root and began on a new one. His shoulders were stiff, and he was chopping with a bit more force than necessary, but Harry couldn’t help noticing that the pieces were still coming out more evenly proportioned than the ones Harry had been producing.

Harry rewrapped his finger in the cloth and pulled himself up onto a clear spot on the workbench. Malfoy cast an unpleasant look in his direction but otherwise ignored him.

“So when did you learn about healing spells, anyway?” asked Harry.

“Healing spells?” said Malfoy, in a deceptively light voice. “I studied up on them in sixth year.”

“Sixth year? Why…oh.” Harry was silent for a long moment.

“Look, is it too late to change my mind about this finger?”

“Don’t do me any favors, Potter,” said Malfoy.

“Well, that’s too bad, because it’s really starting to bother me. And if it doesn’t stop bleeding, I think it’s going to need—“

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Shut up and hold still.”

Malfoy stepped close, grabbing Harry’s injured hand, and Harry blinked in surprise. Malfoy leaned forward, hair falling into his eyes as he removed the cloth and inspected the cut. He was wearing cologne of some sort. It smelled nice.

A moment later, Malfoy raised his wand and pointed it with a look of concentration. Harry held his breath and put all thoughts of Gilderoy Lockhart and Skele-Gro firmly out of his mind.

Episkey,” said Malfoy, and Harry laughed incredulously.

“What?” asked Malfoy, looking irritated.

“Nothing. I’m just finding this whole situation a bit surreal, that’s all.”

Harry flexed his hand. The pain was entirely gone, and the cut had sealed neatly.

“That’s actually not bad,” said Harry with a smile. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

Malfoy stared at him, a bit too long.

“Did I get blood on my face, or what?” asked Harry.

Malfoy blinked. “What? No.” He took a step back and wiped his hands on his robes. “You’re fine. Get back to work, will you? We need those daisy roots before this starts to boil.”

+++

Monday, October 19th

The padded floor inside the maze was charmed stiff, so watching for footsteps wouldn’t help. Unless his fellow students were clumsy enough to brush against the wall and advertise their location with the resulting sparks, Harry didn’t know how he was going to find them short of walking right into them.

There were several spells that might have helped him reveal the others, of course, but those spells weren’t allowed. The Stunning Spell was the only one they were authorized to cast, and they only got one shot at it. If he missed, that would be a fail.

He was hesitating at a sharp right-hand turn, wishing the three other students in the maze would breathe louder or something, when he smelled it. Malfoy’s cologne.

“Stupefy!" Harry shouted, aiming his wand around the corner, and the resulting thump told him he’d been successful.

“Congratulations, Mr. Potter,” called Kingsley. “Please revive your opponent and accompany him outside the maze.” Harry wondered if his voice had truly been that recognizable in those three syllables or if Kingsley had another method of observation that the students weren’t aware of.

Either way, he’d better revive the still-invisible but presumably Stupefied Malfoy. “Rennervate!”

He was worried he might have aimed his wand in the wrong direction, but then he heard a faint groan from the direction of the floor.

“Sorry, Malfoy,” said Harry as he spelled himself visible, “but you really shouldn’t have worn such heavy cologne to class.”

Harry heard another groan and then a voice muttering the same spell he had just used, but no one reappeared.

“Damn it,” came Malfoy’s voice. “Potter, take off this Disillusionment Charm. My head’s killing me. You only needed to Stun me, not cause my brains to leak out my ears.”

Harry suspected Malfoy’s failed spell had far more to do with his wand than his headache, but refrained from pointing it out. Whatever Malfoy’s problem was, the Stunner surely hadn’t helped.

“All right, where’s your head?” Harry asked, kneeling down. He extended his arm, feeling about for Malfoy. After a moment, he encountered something warm and solid—Malfoy’s shoulder. Another hand grasped his and roughly placed it higher, on a head of soft hair.

“Right here,” said Malfoy sourly.

Harry smoothed the hair down a couple times, feeling for where to place his wand, and then tapped Malfoy once, lightly.

Malfoy returned to visibility. Rubbing his head, he looked a bit disgruntled but mostly perplexed.

Harry extended his hand, and Malfoy blinked at it for a moment before grasping it and pulling himself up. He was silent as he accompanied Harry outside the maze.

Ron was waiting at the exit. He glanced between Harry and Malfoy before clapping Harry on the shoulder. “Good one, mate. How’d you find him? I didn’t see any sparks.”

“I smelled his cologne,” said Harry, laughing.

He glanced over and was surprised at Malfoy’s expression. He’d expected to see a scowl on Malfoy’s face, but instead Malfoy just looked odd. Incredulous, maybe, and even a bit pleased.

“What?” Harry asked him.

“You didn’t just smell cologne,” said Malfoy, now sounding amused. “You said my name. You knew it was me.”

It was only at that point that Harry realized he had just admitted to identifying Malfoy by his scent, and a wave of mortification washed through him. Malfoy looked fully prepared to fulfill Harry’s every expectation and begin mocking him immediately, but Kingsley interrupted them with an announcement.

“We’re out of time for the day. We’ll finish this exercise tomorrow. Malfoy, Saterlee, please stay behind to demonstrate your Patronus. The rest of you may go.”

Harry turned a questioning glance on Malfoy, who had, after all, just failed to remove a Disillusionment spell, but Malfoy just huffed in annoyance. “What, you think I can’t do it? I'll have you know I managed a Patronus just fine over the weekend.”

Harry spread his hands in a who, me? sort of gesture, and Malfoy rolled his eyes and headed toward Kingsley.

“So…” said Ron. Harry turned to face him and winced at Ron’s raised eyebrow. “You…recognized Malfoy by his cologne, did you?”

Harry felt his face flushing but raised an eyebrow in return. “We’re training to be Aurors, Ron. We have to be vigilant. Constantly.”

Ron looked taken aback. “So you think I should have been paying attention? To, er, things like that?”

“Absolutely,” said Harry, with what he hoped was a confident expression.

They both turned back to observe Malfoy, who was about to cast his Patronus. He did look tense, perhaps at having Kingsley observing him so closely, but when he closed his eyes, a small smile appeared on his face. Harry wondered what he was thinking of.

Expecto Patronum!

The spell was successful, Harry could tell immediately, but at first he couldn’t identify the small, silvery animal that had leapt from Malfoy’s wand. “What is it?”

Ron squinted. “It looks like a…like a fox, doesn’t it? But its tail is so bushy, and the ears are a bit rounded, aren’t they?”

Ron was right. It did look like a fox, even with the rounded ears. It was a little fox, though. He’d never admit it, but Harry thought it looked sort of cute. He glanced at Malfoy, wondering if he might be ashamed that his Patronus wasn’t larger and more threatening, but Malfoy mainly looked relieved. He’d had the opportunity to get used to it over the weekend, Harry supposed.

Kingsley was nodding approvingly and then directing Malfoy to do something else. A moment later, Malfoy flicked his wand, and the Patronus flew to Harry and Ron. “Told you I could do it,” the fox said in Malfoy’s voice. “Now give us a wave so Kingsley knows that you can hear me.”

Ron and Harry waved dutifully, and Malfoy smirked. Harry should have been annoyed, but he was happy for Malfoy, he realized, and proud for having helped him. That was something else he wasn’t going to be admitting to.

“You found a memory,” Harry said when Malfoy returned. “What was it?”

Malfoy flushed.

“You hadn’t thought of one on Friday,” Harry prompted. “Did you remember a different one?"

Malfoy remained silent.

“Right, I see how it is. I take the time to give you some pointers, and you can’t be bothered to answer my questions.”

Harry had meant it in jest, but surprisingly, that got a response out of Malfoy.

“No, I didn’t remember an old one,” he said, sounding irritated. “It’s something new. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you what it was.”

“Must have had a good weekend,” observed Ron.

Malfoy’s expression darkened, and Harry wondered why. “I didn’t, actually.”

“All right,” said Ron, “so a good time on Friday. You must really enjoy making potions then, because you spent all Friday evening—”

“Yes, well, we could talk about that,” said Malfoy hurriedly, before pausing and allowing a wicked expression to appear on his face. “But I’d rather discuss how Potter here recognized me by the way I smell.”

“Oh, shut it,” said Harry, fighting the flush that was trying to return. “I about choked to death on that cologne of yours when you were fixing my finger. Anyone would have recognized it.”

Malfoy’s lip quirked, but then he suddenly turned on Ron, who was standing suspiciously close.

“Did you just sniff me, Weasley?”

+++

“Malfoy cast a Patronus today, Hermione,” Ron said over dinner, piling an impressive array of food on his plate. “A fluffy little fox.”

She looked intrigued. “A fluffy fox? And little? Was it white? Oh, well, of course it was silver. But did it look pale?”

“It did, mostly, yeah,” said Harry. “But its face and legs looked darker.”

“And its ears were sort of round,” added Ron through a mouthful of food, perhaps concerned that Harry would steal this observation if he didn’t report it quickly enough.

“It sounds like an arctic fox,” said Hermione. “That’s fitting.”

“Fitting why?” asked Harry. “Because it’s so smart?”

Hermione blinked.

“No…because the arctic fox is a very opportunistic animal. It does whatever it needs to in order to survive the winter."

“Like what?” asked Harry.

“Well, it prefers to find food for itself, but in the winter it will follow the polar bear, its natural predator, and scavenge.”

“Ha!” Ron interrupted. “It eats dead animals. Death Eater. Get it?”

Hermione and Harry both glared at him.

“And when nothing else is available,” Hermione continued, “they’ve even been known to eat…polar bear dung.”

“Oh, nasty,” said Ron.

“Well you might eat all sorts of things if you were starving to death,” said Harry. He had no idea why, but he felt insulted on behalf of Malfoy’s Patronus.

“Ronald eats all sorts of things already,” said Hermione, eyeing Ron’s plate with disapproval. “But it doesn’t sound as if Malfoy’s fox would be need to be eating anything very distasteful at the moment. With the dark face and legs you described, it must be getting its summer coat. Its situation would probably not be quite so desperate.”

Harry thought of Tonks, and how her Patronus had changed with her emotional state. He wondered if Malfoy's Patronus, had he been able to cast it, would have had its summer coat last year. He didn't think it would have. And yes, for some reason, he was ridiculously pleased that it was getting one now.

Hermione looked at him quizzically. “Speaking of desperate situations…how is Ginny? Have you heard from her lately?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Harry in irritation. “Ginny’s fine. We’re doing fine.”

+++

Friday, October 30th

Dear Ginny,

I got your letter.

Can we please talk about this in person?

Saturday, October 31st

Harry sat in the corner of George's flat, miserable. He wouldn’t have been able to get out of going to George’s Halloween party without letting on that something was wrong, so he’d gone along with Ron and Hermione, but he was hoping to spend the evening interacting with the others as little as possible. It was a small group--just George's friends, mostly. So far they'd allowed him to sit undisturbed, content to stand around the table, laughing and joking with each other as they listened to wizarding music that Harry didn't recognize.

He had the excuse of an exam to study for. They rarely had written exams in Auror training, but one was scheduled for Monday. Harry held his book in front of himself like a shield. He’d been staring at the same page for fifteen minutes, and all he could think about was the fact that Ginny wanted to see other people.

Suddenly the book was snatched out of his hands. Malfoy stood in front of him, waving it just out of reach.

“You are such a bastard,” said Harry.

“You’re at a party, Potter. You can study tomorrow.”

“I don’t feel so much like celebrating,” Harry muttered.

“Right. Right, well. I suppose not.” He seated himself beside Harry, looking slightly abashed. Malfoy, Harry suddenly realized, must be attributing Harry’s somber mood entirely to the fact that it was the anniversary of his parents’ death. It was so weird for someone who had taunted him repeatedly about his status as an orphan to be so solicitous now, but Harry felt oddly touched.

“I saw them, you know,” said Harry. “That night at Hogwarts.”

Malfoy looked taken aback. “You saw…who?”

“My parents. Never mind.” Harry didn’t know why he had even brought it up.

“All right,” Malfoy finally said. After a long pause, he spoke again.

"Do you have any...any other family? Did your Muggle relations make it through the war all right?"

Harry blinked in surprise. But then, he supposed Malfoy would have had plenty of opportunity to hear about the Dursleys, with Voldemort ensconced at Malfoy Manor last summer.

"They made it through all right. Not that I have any interest in seeing them again."

But then Harry stopped, thought for a moment.

"Well...actually, I wouldn't mind seeing my cousin again. I always hated him as a kid, but...he's not so bad."

Malfoy didn't seem to have anything to say in response to this. Another song began, and Harry thought he actually recognized this one. It sounded like the Weird Sisters. He thought he remembered it from the Yule Ball and suspected he was correct when he saw Hermione pulling Ron away from the table to dance.

"Not much of a party, is it?" said Malfoy.

"I think George's party is just fine," said Harry, frowning.

"No, I didn't mean--" Malfoy looked pained. "I just meant it's a small one. Weasley and Granger are the only ones dancing."

"Oh. Right."

“We used to have fantastic Halloween parties at the Manor when I was younger,” said Malfoy after a moment.

“Not having one this year?”

“Well, it’s not really the done thing. To host parties while under house arrest.”

“I suppose not.” Harry reflected that Malfoy’s parents didn’t make for any better conversation than his own.

They sat watching George, showing off one of his new Halloween-themed trick wands. Rather than turning into a rubber chicken or pair of briefs, it had turned into a rubber snake. Harry thought a bat would have been a better choice. Which reminded him of the Great Hall, which had always been decorated in bats for Halloween. Which reminded him of Ginny, who was probably sitting in the Great Hall right now, celebrating Halloween with whichever "someone else" had prompted her letter. Harry scowled.

“Potter.”

“What?” Harry asked in irritation. There was no way he was going to be discussing this problem with Malfoy.

But Malfoy wasn't looking at him--he was looking at George, playfully draping the rubber snake around the shoulders of his Apothecary girlfriend.

Malfoy turned to Harry, a curious expression on his face. “Can you still speak Parseltongue?”

Harry blinked.

“No,” he said firmly.

“Because I was thinking,” said Malfoy, “it certainly looked like you understood what that snake was saying, that first day of training.”

“Drop it, Malfoy.”

Malfoy's curious expression had turned speculative. “You know, if I could talk to snakes, I would figure out something useful to do with it.”

“Like what?” asked Harry in irritation. “Ask them if they’ve seen your contact lens? I can’t talk to snakes.”

Malfoy tilted his head. “What’s a contact lens?”

“Never mind.”

They both sat in silence for a moment.

“So what did that snake say, anyway?”

“It said to back off,” said Harry, “which would be good advice for you right now.”

“I knew you could still talk to snakes,” said Malfoy, triumphant. “Trust you to have a fantastic, rare ability like that and completely waste it.”

Harry thought that was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. “Just because I can understand a few random hisses doesn’t mean I can speak it anymore. And it’s not a fantastic ability. It’s a form of brain damage.”

“You’ve been brain damaged since birth, Potter. You can’t blame everything on the Dark Lord.”

Harry glared at him.

“Come on. Even Weasley managed to open the Chamber of Secrets. He was bragging about it not ten minutes ago. What did you say to get in?”

“How should I know?” protested Harry. “It just sounded like English to me.”

“You have Parseltongue brain damage,” Malfoy said in amusement. “You can do it.”

Harry looked at him suspiciously. “If I try, will you drop the fucking subject?”

“Of course.”

“And never bring it up again?”

“Never is a long time.”`

Harry reached for his book.

“All right, all right,” said Malfoy. “I won’t bring it up.”

Harry closed his eyes. Looking at a snake wouldn’t make any difference now, and he felt too ridiculous to keep them open. He couldn’t believe that he had just agreed to hiss for Draco Malfoy.

Open, he thought, but nothing came to him. This was stupid; he wasn’t going to remember anything. Well, Ron had repeated the phrase before, when recounting his trip to retrieve the basilisk fangs. He supposed he could try to remember that.

Swallowing self-consciously, he thought about the sounds Ron had made. It had sounded like… He gave a tentative hiss. No, that wasn’t right. Frowning in concentration, he tried again, and it sounded familiar somehow, but still off. Open, he thought, but he wasn’t thinking of the word, he was thinking of the sounds, and the sibilants rolled off his tongue.

He’d done it, he realized, feeling both horrified and unexpectedly triumphant. His eyes shot open, and he saw Malfoy’s face, a bit closer than he’d expected it to be. Malfoy was staring at him, and he looked strange. His cheeks were flushed, his lips were parted, and he was staring intently at Harry's mouth.

Without thinking, Harry looked down to Malfoy’s lap. Malfoy was shockingly erect, and his robes were doing nothing to hide it.

Malfoy, too late, saw the direction of Harry’s gaze and shoved the book into his lap, but of course that didn’t help anything. Looking humiliated to the point of physical pain, Malfoy lurched to his feet and Disapparated with a loud pop.

Harry, shocked and bewildered, stared at the empty spot where Malfoy had just been standing.

What had just happened?

+++

The fire was all around them, but there was no sense of urgency. Sitting on the broom, Harry and Malfoy watched the shift and flicker of the flames.

Slowly, Malfoy leaned forward. “That’s my wand you’re holding, Potter.”

Harry looked down to see that he had the hawthorn wand held loosely in one hand. “Oh. Sorry,” he said, as he handed it back. “But where’s mine?”

Malfoy shrugged. “How should I know what you’ve done with it?”

Confused, Harry scanned the room, but he could see nothing but dim light and dancing shadows. “I need to find…I need to find something.”

Malfoy’s arms wrapped around him firmly. “The door. Get to the door, the door,” Malfoy whispered.

Harry shivered. He tried to look for a door, but he was too distracted by the sensation of Malfoy's arms around his waist. He gripped Malfoy's hands, and Malfoy tightened his hold.

The flames faded further into the background, and all Harry could feel was the tightness of Malfoy’s arms and the rhythmic pulse of their heartbeats.

Harry woke up moaning, achingly aroused. He was so close; he had to come. Reaching down, he grasped his erection firmly and pulled himself off in three strokes. As he came, he could still feel the sensation of Malfoy’s arms gripping his waist.

Panting, he fumbled briefly for his wand and then gave up, falling weak-limbed back onto his pillow. As his breathing slowed, and the come cooled on his belly, it slowly began to sink in—he had just wanked off to Draco Malfoy.

But that was…that was normal. Sort of. After what had just happened earlier at the party. That dream had been...weird, but it was surely better than the nightmares he'd been having over the summer. And on the bright side, he’d succeeded in wanking off.

He’d messed things up with Ginny, but things were going to be better now. He’d talk to her, they’d sort things out. Everything would be okay.

November

Sunday, November 1st

Harry lay on his bed, trying to think what might be best to say in a second letter to Ginny. His last had been on the short side. She hadn't replied or given any other indication that she was willing to meet in person and talk things over. He wondered how well it would go over if he just showed up at Hogwarts demanding to speak with her.

If he did, he'd better have something more convincing to say than You shouldn't break up with me because I don't want you to.

He supposed it might help to make a list of reasons they worked well together as a couple.

He hadn't gotten any further than "both like Quidditch" when there was a knock on his bedroom door.

“Come in,” called Harry, setting the parchment aside and half-rising on the bed.

The door opened, and when Harry looked up, it was to the unexpected sight of Malfoy, looking more uncomfortable than Harry had ever seen him. Aside from the night before, of course, when he’d been flushed and trembling, and—

Malfoy cleared his throat and took a couple of cautious steps into the room. “Granger let me in. I tried to give her this,” he said, holding up Harry’s book, “but she told me to come on up and give it to you myself. I'd have sent it by owl. But I didn't know if it would be able to get around the Fidelius.”

Malfoy’s voice was quiet, subdued, and it reminded Harry of the Malfoy in his dream, holding him tightly and whispering in his ear. The memory was incredibly vivid.

“I thought you might need it,” Malfoy said. “For the test…” And his voice trailed off.

“Right,” said Harry stiffly. He rose from the bed and took a step toward Malfoy but then changed his mind and gestured for Malfoy to place the book on the desk. “Thanks.”

“Last night,” said Malfoy. “It didn’t. I just.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Right.”

This was so painfully awkward, and Harry knew he should say something, anything, to change the subject and set Malfoy at ease. After all, it was a perfectly normal thing. Happened to everyone. Just like it had happened to Harry that morning, and oh God, had Malfoy had to wank after he left the party last night? Harry felt himself blushing as he suddenly saw, with painful clarity, a vision of Malfoy, eyes closed, face tense, hand down his pants, breathing fast, and fuck, now Harry was getting hard, and his pyjama pants weren’t going to hide anything.

His eyes flew to Malfoy’s, and they were too wide, too surprised—Malfoy knew. It was just like last night, except it was Harry with the inappropriate erection, and he didn’t have robes or a book to hide behind, and he couldn’t Apparate away because he was in his own fucking bedroom. Fucking hell.

Harry put his back to Malfoy; it was the only thing he could do, and how was it possible to be this humiliated and this hard at the same time? He’d spent the last few months doing anything he could to try to get an erection, and now he’d do anything to get rid of it, and it wouldn’t fucking go away.

He heard Malfoy approaching and tensed further. He half expected...something, he didn't know what, but he jerked with shock when Malfoy's hand made contact with his back. The first tentative touches set his skin to prickling and tingling, and when Malfoy’s hands settled more firmly on Harry’s shoulders, he could feel that they were trembling. The room was incredibly quiet, but Harry could hear his own pulse hammering in his ears.

Slowly, Malfoy slid his hands down Harry’s back, placed his arms around Harry’s waist, and God, it was like his dream. He should stop this, he should hit Malfoy for touching him. Why wasn’t he stopping this?

And then Malfoy’s hand moved lower, Malfoy was touching him through his clothes, and Harry was harder than he’d ever been in his life.

Harry drew in a gasping, shuddering breath and grabbed Malfoy’s hand but couldn’t bring himself to move it away. He’d never been this turned on before. Never. God, what was wrong with him?

Malfoy leaned forward and kissed Harry’s neck. “Potter,” he said, in a tentative, strained voice. And Malfoy was hard too. Harry could feel Malfoy’s erection, pressed against him. Malfoy stroked him more firmly, and Harry moaned, then felt Malfoy press forward in response.

Suddenly, Malfoy’s whole body stiffened. Harry’s eyes flew open to see Ginny, standing in the doorway, staring at them.

“Ginny! What are you doing here?” Harry blurted and then immediately wished he could rip out his own tongue.

“What do you mean what am I doing here?” asked Ginny, bewildered. “You said you wanted to talk in person.” And only at this point did Ginny really seem to register what she was seeing. Words appeared to fail her as she stared at Harry in horrified accusation.

“You said you wanted to see other people,” said Harry, and oh God, wait, no, this was not the time to remind Ginny of the proposed topic for discussion. She probably thought he meant—

“You’re right, Harry, I did,” Ginny said coldly. “Glad we got that sorted out.”

“Ginny! Ginny, wait!” Harry shouted as Ginny stormed down the stairs. He caught up to her in the drawing room. “Ginny, stop!” Ron and Hermione, seated on the sofa together, looked up in alarm.

“I’m so stupid,” said Ginny angrily. “I’ve been waiting all this time, and you…” She seemed again too infuriated for speech. “I can’t believe I snuck out of Hogwarts for this.”

“Ginny, it’s not like that,” protested Harry. “I didn’t know he was going to do that. I haven’t done anything like that before. With anyone!”

Ginny looked so far from convinced it was frightening. God, he hadn’t wanted to explain this to anyone, and now he had no choice but to discuss it in front of an audience.

“I didn’t know how to tell you, but ever since…ever since the end of the war, I couldn’t have…I couldn’t get…” Harry gestured rather feebly, hoping to somehow get the point across to her but to no one else in the room.

She looked with pointed disgust at the erection that for some ridiculous reason hasn’t quite wilted all the way, and he found new levels of embarrassment. “It looks like you’ve got that problem taken care of now, haven’t you?”

“What?” cried Harry. “No. No!”

“Look, Harry,” said Ginny. “Let’s just…let’s just put the fact that you were allowing Draco Malfoy to give you a handjob aside for a moment, shall we?”

Harry yelped in protest, not missing Ron and Hermione’s matching looks of shock, but Ginny ignored him.

“What you’re saying is, you couldn't get it up, and because of that, you cut off virtually all contact with me?”

Harry blinked.

“God, Harry, that’s just. I don’t even know what to say. Why didn’t you tell me? Did you think that’s all I wanted from you? Or…” Ginny narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Was that all you wanted from me?”

“No!” Harry shouted in alarm. “That’s not it at all. I just had some things to work through, like I said. I didn’t expect it to take so long.”

“Well, apparently you’ve got it all worked out,” Ginny said bitterly.

“No, Ginny, I don’t have anything worked out, believe me!”

“Spare me,” said Ginny.

“Look, Gin.” Harry glanced again at Ron and Hermione’s flabbergasted faces. “Can we just…can we just finish this conversation with a little more privacy? Please?”

Ginny nodded tightly. They stepped into the entrance hall, shutting the door behind them. Harry glanced at the portrait of Sirius' mother, grateful that Hermione had finally managed a permanent silencing charm on its curtains.

For a moment, they both stared at each other, neither knowing what to say. But suddenly, Harry knew exactly what he wanted to ask.

“Who is it?”

“He’s on the Quidditch team.” Although she seemed much calmer, there was still a hint of accusation in her voice.

Harry must have looked as clueless as he felt.

“The new Chaser?” she continued.

“Oh. Right.” All those letters about Quidditch were beginning to take on a dark new meaning in Harry’s mind.

“We’ve been getting to know each other,” said Ginny. “He’s made it clear that he’d like to be more than friends.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell…” Ginny looked at him sharply, and Harry trailed off.

“I told him no,” Ginny said. “Every time. But it was getting harder to remember why. I needed to be honest with you.”

“Ginny, I can fix this,” Harry said, struggling to keep his rising desperation out of his voice.

“No, Harry, you can’t.”

He didn’t know how to process that, what to say or do next. You can't leave me, Ginny, because we both like Quidditch was obviously not going to cut it.

He suddenly realized that if the right words didn’t come to him, within minutes or maybe seconds, she would leave, go back to this Chaser. Who was obviously so brilliant at chasing because of all the practice he got chasing other blokes' girlfriends.

“What’s his name?”

Those were not the right words, Ginny’s expression said very clearly. “I’ve said in my letters. Not that it matters. This isn’t his fault.”

“I suppose it’s all my fault, is it?” Harry said angrily.

Ginny paused. “Maybe it’s no one’s fault,” she finally said. “But it’s over. You go sort yourself out. I’m doing fine without you.”

When he reentered the room, it was to see Ron and Hermione stepping back from the door, Ron shoving an extendable ear into his pocket.

Hermione especially looked guilty. “I’m sorry, Harry. We just…”

“I just had to figure out if I needed to beat up the ferret for molesting my best friend or my best friend for cheating on my sister," said Ron. “I haven’t quite figured that one out.”

“Don’t beat up anyone, Ron, violence won’t solve anything,” Hermione said absently.

“Well, let me know when you have that sorted out,” Harry said tightly. “I really don’t feel like talking it over right at the moment.”

He went back to his room. Malfoy, incredibly, was still there.

He was standing by Harry’s desk, looking entirely at a loss for what to do with his hands. When Harry stepped into the room, Malfoy snapped his head up.

“What are you still doing here?” Harry asked, voice tight, too numb to sound as outraged and incredulous as he felt.

“You said…” Malfoy licked his lips nervously. “I heard you say that you were free to see other people.”

“That was her idea,” said Harry angrily. “I’d been hoping to talk her out of it. So much for that.”

“I’m sorry!” Malfoy blurted, and Harry barked out a bitter laugh that this—this, of all things, was what finally got a prompt, sincere apology out of Malfoy.

“You’re sorry? Sorry isn’t good enough.”

“Well, you liked it!” Malfoy shouted defensively. “It’s not like you were trying to stop me.”

It was true, so very true, and that only infuriated Harry further.

“Shut the fuck up! You think I wanted you? Nobody wants you! You and your defective wand. Trying to be an Auror. You’re going to get someone killed someday.”

Malfoy’s face went white.

Harry turned abruptly and walked out the door, returned to the drawing room where Ron and Hermione were having a hushed discussion. They looked up in surprise when Harry sat on a chair near them.

"I thought you didn't want to talk about it...?" said Ron.

“I changed my mind,” Harry muttered.

They both stared at him silently.

“I didn’t cheat on Ginny,” Harry finally said. “Not technically. She sent me a letter on Friday saying that she wanted to see other people.”

“Well, you didn’t waste much time, did you?” Ron said hotly.

Harry looked at Ron, and the distress he was feeling must have been evident in his eyes, because Ron flushed and muttered something that might have been an apology.

“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Harry said quietly.

“What…what did just happen, Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Not that we need details!” Ron added with alarm.

“Malfoy…Malfoy touched me. And I let him,” Harry admitted.

“Blimey, Harry. You don’t…you don’t like blokes, do you?” asked Ron.

“No!” protested Harry. “Not…not much, I don’t think. I definitely like girls. I’ve always liked girls.”

“Not much?” asked Hermione quizzically.

“Well,” said Harry, “it’s normal to have thoughts…from time to time…isn’t it?”

Ron blinked.

“I like girls.” Harry repeated.

There didn’t seem much to say after that.

When he returned to his room, he found it empty. Harry saw his book on the desk where Malfoy had placed it, and he felt a weird twisting sensation in his chest. But then he saw his most recent letter from Ginny sticking out from underneath it, and any thought of Malfoy’s arms, and his kiss, and his shocked, pale face was chased away by Harry’s anger.

+++

Monday, November 2nd

The next morning, he felt a little better. Until he saw it. A lock of white-blond hair on the floor by his desk, where Malfoy had last been standing. Malfoy had almost splinched himself Apparating away from Harry's room last night.

He was still thinking about it at Auror training, an hour later.

“Look, Harry, are you all right?”

Ron was whispering, although class hadn’t started yet.

Harry nodded tightly, not looking at him.

“You don’t look like you slept at all last night,” continued Ron.

“I’m fine,” said Harry shortly, and then he did look at Ron. “But…are we fine? You’re haven’t decided to beat me up, have you?”

“No, I reckon you’ve suffered enough. Anyway, the breakup with Ginny, that wasn’t such a shock. It would have been kind of hard not to see that coming.”

“Well, I didn’t,” said Harry stiffly. “We were having a…a rough patch, but if Malfoy had kept his hands to himself, Ginny and I would have been able to work things out.”

“You think so?” asked Ron, sounding surprised. “She sounded like she had her mind made up, didn’t she?”

At that, Harry gave Ron a look of irritation, silently vowing to feed Ron’s extendable ears to Crookshanks at the earliest opportunity.

“Well, either way,” continued Ron, “it didn’t surprise me. The bit with Malfoy? Now that I did not see coming. I didn’t even know he was…you know. Not that,” he added, glancing at Harry, “there’s anything wrong with that!”

“I didn’t see that coming either,” Harry said quietly.

“I can still beat him up for you, if you’d like,” said Ron. “If he ever shows up. He’s going to miss the test, if he’s not careful. I wonder where he is?”

Harry had been wondering the same thing.

When Shacklebolt arrived and began passing out tests, Malfoy had still not arrived. Harry kept glancing back at the door, expecting to see Malfoy walk through it. Everyone knew this test was a large percentage of their grade.

“Is there a problem, Harry?” asked Kingsley, who was standing in front of Harry’s desk, and Harry jerked in surprise. “I don’t need to remind you to keep your eyes on your paper, do I?”

“What? Oh, I’m sorry. I was just…do you know why Malfoy isn’t here?”

“Mr. Malfoy spoke with me this morning,” said Kingsley. “He has withdrawn from the program.”

“What?” Harry asked, feeling a sick lurch in his stomach. “Why—”

“He didn’t say. But I’d suggest,” said Kinsley, with a meaningful look, “you stop worrying about that and start worrying about your exam.”

“Don’t feel bad, mate,” said Ron, after the test was over. “If he gives up that easily, he’d never have made a good Auror anyway.”

“Right,” said Harry, thinking of the excellent Patronus Malfoy had succeeded in casting two weeks ago. “He was hopeless.”

+++

Tuesday, November 3

Malfoy was behind him on the broom, arms wrapped around him tightly. “The door, get to the door,” he whispered. Harry shivered at the touch of Malfoy’s breath on his neck and moaned as Malfoy began placing tender, open-mouthed kisses along the side of his throat.

But then he saw it, a crown, balanced precariously on a fragile tower of desks, and he leaned forward in a steep dive. Alarmed, Malfoy clutched at him tighter and cried out sharply: “What are you doing, what are you doing, the door’s that way!” Harry was horrified to see that the diadem was blackened with soot and beginning to leak bright red blood. He leaned forward to grasp it but couldn’t quite reach.

“Let go!” Harry shouted. He ripped Malfoy’s arms from around his waist, and Malfoy slipped, was falling. As Malfoy clung to the broom, one of his feet kicked the teetering structure, and Harry cried out in grief and loss as it collapsed entirely into the fire.

Malfoy’s eyes were wide with fear. “I’m sorry!”

“Sorry isn’t good enough,” Harry said coldly, as he began to pry Malfoy’s fingers from the broom handle.

+++

Less than twenty minutes after waking, Harry was standing on the grounds of Malfoy Manor. As he walked down the gravel path, he saw no sign of a peacock anywhere. Harry wondered if there were still peacocks behind the tall hedges or if the Malfoy family didn’t bother with them now that Lucius was no longer allowed to leave the house.

When Narcissa appeared at the door, she did not invite him in.

“What do you want?” she asked coldly.

“I need to talk to Malfoy,” Harry said. “Er…Draco, I mean.”

“Why would you possibly want to do that?”

This was a question Harry had been asking himself ever since his first glimpse into the hallway behind Narcissa. He could see the door to the drawing room, the room where Hermione had been tortured, where Dobby had been killed. Beneath that room, Harry, Ron, and Luna had all been held prisoners. And Draco had stood there and let it all happen. But Harry remembered the fear and reluctance on Draco’s face, which had stood in such contrast to Lucius’ manic excitement. Draco had been as much a prisoner in that house as Harry had been. As much as Lucius was now. What must it be like to live here still? No wonder Draco spent so much time at George’s shop.

“I need to talk to him,” Harry repeated. “Where is he?”

Narcissa’s mouth pinched into a tight line, and at first Harry thought she would not answer.

“St. Mungo’s,” she finally said.

Harry felt a surge of panic. “What? Why?”

“He’s there training,” said Narcissa. “He’s not injured. Don’t tell me you cared.”

+++

He found Malfoy on the fifth floor, in the near-empty visitor's tearoom. He was seated at a table, alone, beverage ignored in favor of a large book. Several other books and a set of blue robes were on the chair beside him. Harry couldn't help searching Malfoy's hair for the spot from which the lock had been shorn, but of course he couldn't find it.

“You missed our test yesterday, Malfoy,” said Harry.

Malfoy started. He closed his book and stood from his chair before even looking at Harry. When he did, his mouth was pinched into as tight a line as his mother’s had been.

“I did not miss my test,” said Malfoy. “I was interviewing for a position as a Healer trainee, which you obviously already know, or you wouldn’t be here. Now get out of here, Potter, unless you’d like me to give you a reason to be in St. Mungo’s.”

“So, what,” said Harry in frustration, “you just decide out of the blue that you want to be a Healer? Give up on your career as an Auror just because of…because of something someone said when they were angry? You can’t possibly have been in Auror training for the right reasons.”

And suddenly, Malfoy’s cold expression turned furious. “You’re right. I wasn’t there for the right reasons. I was there for several reasons, none of them right, and one of them incredibly stupid."

"And the stupid reason was..."

"I thought it might provide me with a good opportunity to clear my life debt with you.”

Harry blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him that there was a life debt in the first place. He thought for a moment. “Is that why you followed me to George’s shop that day?”

“The house-elf said there was an emergency,” said Malfoy. “I didn’t know the emergency was a Weasley getting drunk off his arse. But as you’ve so helpfully pointed out, my becoming an Auror is likely to get someone killed, so I decided it was time for a change in career.”

Guilt and anger twisted in Harry’s stomach.

“Look,” said Harry, “so you don’t want to be an Auror. Fine. That doesn’t explain what you’re doing here. It’s not like you need the money.”

“Maybe I’d like to think I’m still capable of doing more than just destroying things. Maybe I’d like to think that some things can still be fixed.” Malfoy closed his eyes for a moment, as if in pain, before continuing in a calmer tone. “Or maybe I’d just like to do something I’m actually good at. Are we through here? I can’t imagine we have anything more to discuss.”

“Malfoy. Look. The things I said.”

“Potter, I’m sure you’ll land yourself in here sooner or later, and when you do, I’ll take extra special care of you. But until I have an opportunity to clear up the life debt, I’d rather not have to look at your face, if it’s all the same to you. “

+++

Saturday, November 21st

"A little early for Christmas decorations, isn't it, Hermione?" asked Harry.

She set another Christmas bauble on the neat stack she was making and picked up another button to transfigure. "It is not," she said primly. "It will be December soon enough, and I'd rather do this now while I have the chance. And besides..." She smiled, and her prim expression melted away into one of bright-eyed enthusiasm. "It's exciting, isn't it? Our first Christmas out on our own? I mean..." Her smile was fading, Harry knew, at memories of last year.

"That's all right, Hermione. I know what you mean." He didn't really want to talk about it.

She didn't seem to take the hint. "It was just...so terrible, wasn't it? Not Christmas, so much, but the night before. Out in the cold and the snow, that night, seeing the homes lit up, but not belonging anywhere? Christmas Eve is the one night that makes you feel like you really need to be indoors. With your loved ones."

Harry didn't understand why she had to bring this up anyway. It wasn't as if there was any point in reliving it.

"We'll be at the Burrow on Christmas Eve, this year, of course, and Ron and I'll be with my parents Christmas Day. But I'd still like to decorate here. We could get a tree. Maybe some mistletoe."

Harry gave her a half-hearted smile. He thought the mistletoe was overkill--Ron and Hermione really didn't need another excuse to go around snogging in front of him.

“Speaking of Christmas at the Burrow... Did you hear? That Ginny will be bringing her new boyfriend?”

For some reason, that didn't hurt nearly as much as it should have.

“No, I hadn’t,” said Harry. “Although I guess it’s not a huge surprise, is it?”

Hermione had been looking at him in concentration, as if gauging the impact of her words. She seemed satisfied with whatever she’d found.

“Molly wants me to make sure you know you’re still invited, Harry,” she said. “You’re part of the family. You always will be.”

“Tell her thanks, if you see her before I do,” said Harry. “Of course I’ll go. I don’t know where else I would spend Christmas.”

“I thought…” said Hermione cautiously, “that you might want to spend it with a new girlfriend. Or boyfriend. If you had one.”

Harry blinked. “You thought I might have a boyfriend? That I wanted to spend Christmas with?”

“Well, I didn’t know, Harry,” said Hermione. “That’s why I asked.”

“No,” Harry said shortly. “I don’t have a boyfriend. And I don’t have a girlfriend either. Which would be a far more likely thing for me to have,” he added, just in case she'd forgotten the part about him liking girls. Any recent dreams he may have been having didn't change the fact that he had a steady track record of not dating boys.

“I just thought that Malfoy…” said Hermione.

And that was taking things too far. She could bring up all her strange ideas about dating boys and snogging them breathless under the mistletoe, but she had no business bringing Malfoy into it.

“He’s not even speaking to me, Hermione,” Harry said shortly. “You don’t need to worry about Malfoy.”

Ron walked into the room. “Were you talking about Malfoy? Did you hear that he’s a nurse now?”

“Healer trainee,” Harry muttered.

“Whatever. He’s still doing scut work at St. Mungos. Personally, I think that’s hilarious.”

“How did you find that out?” asked Hermione.

“George told me,” said Ron. “He’s still helping out there too. Brews his medical potions at the same time, I guess.”

“Do we have to keep talking about Malfoy?” Harry asked in irritation. “He became an Auror for stupid reasons, and then he quit for stupid reasons, and now he spends his spare time brewing stupid medical potions. By next month he’ll have dropped out of St. Mungo’s and taken up a career as a Curse Breaker for Gringotts. Or maybe an Unspeakable. That would be great, wouldn’t it? Because we could stop talking about him.”

Ron looked at him for a moment. “No offense, mate, but are you sure it’s Ginny you broke up with? Because if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was Malfoy.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that.

December

Saturday, December 5th

“Harry. Haven’t seen you around here in a while.” George was setting up for what looked to be a large potions project.

“Sorry, I’ve been busy,” said Harry. He should have perhaps come up with a better explanation for his month-long absence from George’s shop, but he was too busy not feeling disappointed that Malfoy wasn’t there. Because Harry hadn’t been hoping to see him. Because that would be stupid.

“Do we have enough?” asked George.

“What?” Harry asked in confusion, before realizing that George was speaking to someone behind him. He turned to see Malfoy, standing in the doorway, staring at him.

“No,” said Malfoy stiffly, turning to George. “Especially if I’m going to make my potion at the same time.” He moved to assist George in setting up the cauldrons and ingredients.

“Testing went well, so we’re going to be making a large batch of the potion for those improved Canary Creams I was telling you about,” said George.

“I’ll bet those will be a big hit,” said Harry, with a sideways glance at Malfoy, who was now ignoring Harry’s presence entirely.

“Yeah, I think we’ll have them on shelves soon. We had a little setback last month,” said George, with a look of amused exasperation at Malfoy. “But things have been going much better now that Malfoy’s switched wands.”

So Malfoy had given up on the hawthorn wand. And why did it hurt to hear that?

“It’s just temporary,” Malfoy muttered and began chopping potions ingredients.

“No offense, Malfoy,” said George, “but if you switch back, I’d rather you not try it here at the shop. Besides, I don’t know why you’d want to. Your wand performance has been much better.”

Mine has too! thought Harry, and then hated his brain.

“Well, you both know how much I hate having to make a visit to the Apothecary,” said George with a grin, “but duty calls. Harry, would you like to join me, or do you want to wait here?”

“I…” said Harry. “I’ll wait here.” Malfoy tensed.

“Right,” said George. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

George left the room, and Malfoy continued with his task. Aside from his still too-rigid posture and expression, Malfoy gave no indication that he was even aware of Harry’s presence.

Harry didn’t know why he’d decided to stay. They weren’t friends. They never had been, not even in October, when they’d told each other off without any real anger, and practiced together in Auror training sometimes, and once in a while made each other smile.

And even if they had been friends, they weren’t now.

There was no smile on Malfoy’s face now, either. His lips were as tight as they had been when Harry saw him a month ago at St. Mungo’s. It was hard to believe that was the same mouth that had pressed so softly against his neck and then whispered his name as if it were a question and Malfoy had been afraid to hear the answer.

Harry didn’t even know what Malfoy had been asking him with that kiss, with that whisper, and he didn’t know what Malfoy had wanted from Harry when he’d waited for him in his room after. Whatever he’d wanted, he obviously didn’t want it anymore. And Harry didn’t want anything from Malfoy, either.

He didn’t want Malfoy to look at him, to smile at him, to lean in and whisper anything else in his ear. He didn’t want Malfoy to wrap those arms around him again, touch him with those hands. He didn’t want to feel Malfoy hard and pressed against him. He didn’t want to see what Malfoy’s face looked like when he came.

“I don’t think so, Potter,” said Malfoy stiffly, as Harry’s hand closed on Malfoy’s shoulder.

Harry pulled, hard, to make Malfoy turn and face him, and when Malfoy did, his face was full of anger.

“What the fuck do you—” said Malfoy, and Harry kissed him.

Harry had just one moment to feel those lips pressed against his, one moment to pull Malfoy’s body close and realize that Malfoy was as hard as he was, and then Malfoy shoved him back, violently, against the workbench. Potions ingredients scattered, and a cauldron clanged onto the floor.

They were staring at each other, breathing heavily, when George’s assistant ran into the room. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Everything’s fine, Verity,” said Malfoy. “Potter just tried an experiment that didn’t work out. But he’ll know better than to try it again. Won’t you, Potter?”

+++

Thursday, December 24

Harry glanced around the room. It was a riot of red, between the holiday decorations and all the Weasley hair.

The few heads of hair that weren't bright red stood out in sharp contrast. There was George's girlfriend with her dark hair, Fleur with her white-silver.

With a grimace, he identified Ginny's Chaser. He was standing very close to her. He had blond hair.

For some stupid reason, this made him think of the lock of Malfoy's hair hidden away in his desk drawer.

"What took you so long, Harry?"

That was Ron. Harry turned to see him approaching, Hermione beside him.

"I stopped by to visit baby Teddy on my way here. I wanted to give him his Christmas present."

Hermione beamed. "Oh, what did you get him?"

"His first broom," said Harry.

"That's brilliant, mate," said Ron. "Going to give him lessons?"

"As soon as Andromeda will let me," said Harry, nodding at Arthur as he saw him approach. "He might have to wait a while, because she says not until he's two. But I'll bet I can talk her around before then."

“I’m glad you made it here tonight, Harry,” said Arthur, with a meaningful look and a pat on the shoulder. “Molly is too.”

“Thank you,” said Harry, looking over at Molly. She was fussing over Percy, but that was to be expected.

“We don’t need anyone else missing this Christmas,” Arthur added quietly.

Harry didn’t know what to say.

“It’s been a big help having Kreacher here this evening, too,” Arthur eventually continued. “I know Molly appreciates the extra time with the family.”

Kreacher was happily passing out eggnog to anyone who would accept it. It must have been a long time since Kreacher spent the holidays with a family, Harry realized. George, who was standing next to Kreacher, waved Harry over.

“Watch this, Harry,” whispered George. “I had Kreacher slip a little something extra into Percy’s nog.”

Harry watched as Kreacher offered Percy a drink. Percy nodded his thanks, took a sip, and then turned back to Bill and Fleur, whom he’d been conversing with. But when he opened his mouth, he got the strangest expression on his face, visibly struggled for a moment, and then burst into song. It was a Celestina Warbeck song, Harry realized with a laugh—he recognized it from the Christmas concert Mrs. Weasley had made them all sit through a couple years before.

When Percy had finished his red-faced rendition of “A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love,” the whole family applauded enthusiastically.

“I think we all know who to blame for that one,” said Charlie, laughing. “What exactly was that, George?”

“It’s our newest holiday product,” said George, smiling. “A variation on a Babbling Beverage. It’s a great seller.”

“That would be a difficult potion to modify,” said Hermione. “I’m impressed.”

“Where did you get the idea for that?” asked Bill.

“It was…” said George, suddenly uncomfortable. “It was Draco's idea, actually. He helped me with it.”

The room was silent for a moment.

“It sounds like ze Malfoy boy ‘as been putting his time to better use these days,” Fleur said. “Make sure ‘e keeps it zat way.”

“Well, it’s a brilliant product,” said Bill firmly, with a smile at George. “I’m glad the business is going so well. How’s the dragon business going, Charlie?”

Harry, gut already twisting at the mention of Malfoy, looked at Ginny. She had a sour expression on her face, but her boyfriend whispered something in her ear, and she giggled and kissed him on the cheek.

George caught the direction of Harry’s gaze and looked at him sympathetically. “Kreacher!” he called.

When Kreacher approached, George kneeled down and whispered, “I think Harry here could use some of the other 'special' nog.”

“Would Master Harry like some nog?” asked Kreacher.

“Er…” said Harry, and glanced nervously at George.

“Yes, he would,” said George.

A moment later, Harry was sipping tentatively at a cup of warm nog. He didn’t burst into song, but it definitely tasted off.

“Ogden’s best,” said George, patting Harry on the back, before leaving, with an apologetic shrug, to join his girlfriend on the couch.

Harry glanced around for Ron and Hermione, but they were kissing under the mistletoe. And near them was Arthur, arm around Ginny, shaking her boyfriend’s hand.

Harry wasn’t enjoying the party very much.

+++

“It’s cold out here,” said Ginny. “Did you even cast a warming charm?”

Harry shrugged. “The nog is keeping me warm.” Nog was actually a very euphemistic term. He suspected there was more Firewhisky than eggnog in his mug.

“What are you doing out here, Harry?” Ginny asked.

“I just…I needed a little time to myself.”

“Now where have I heard that before?” asked Ginny.

Harry was silent for a moment. “I always thought it would be me in there, you know,” he finally said.

“I knew seeing him with the family would be hard for you,” said Ginny. “Harder than seeing him with me. That’s part of why we didn’t work out.”

Harry clutched his steaming mug a little tighter. “I don’t understand how this happened, Ginny. I always thought we would get married. Have lots of kids. A little James, a Lily, an Albus Severus…”

“An Albus what?” Ginny laughed incredulously. “James and Lily, okay, I get that. But you hated Snape.”

“I did, but I've had time to rethink things since the war." Harry paused. "I guess we never talked about it,” he added quietly, almost to himself.

“No, we never did,” Ginny said with resignation.

“I’m sorry.”

“Look, Harry. You can still have a family. You can still have children. Or…if you find…” she paused and made a bit of a face, before continuing, “find someone, and children don’t seem to be part of the picture, well. You do already have a godson. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. As much as I respected the headmaster, I’ve always hated the name Albus. And I don’t want to have a big family. I want to play professional Quidditch.”

Harry blinked.

“You didn’t know that, did you?” She laughed. “Harry, you’ll always be my hero. But you were the worst boyfriend ever.”

What could he say to that? It was only true.

“It really is cold out here,” said Ginny. “Are you coming inside?”

“I think…” Harry paused and then shrugged ruefully. “I need a little time to myself. I might be back later.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ll be fine. And Gin?”

“Yes?” She looked like an angel with the snowflakes in her hair.

“I’m glad you’re happy. With what’s-his-name.”

+++

It really was cold out here, Harry thought as he walked away from the house, but he did still feel warmed by the nog. Or by the Firewhisky, more likely. Anyway, he didn’t want to feel comfortable right at the moment.

He stumbled, almost fell, as he walked through the garden. He’d tripped on a gnome hole. Maybe he’d had a little too much of that nog.

As he walked further from the Burrow, and the lights and sounds of the Weasleys’ celebration faded, his mood became increasingly somber.

And where was he walking to? He had no interest in walking through the streets of Ottery St. Catchpole tonight.

Clutching his wand, he closed his eyes, not even certain what destination he would choose until he had already chosen it.

He spun, and the compression felt more uneven and almost painful. He blinked, belatedly realizing he could have splinched himself, Apparating so soon after drinking that nog. But everything seemed to be intact, and he turned to look at the village before him. It was one year ago that he had stood here last.

This was where he would likely have spent this Christmas Eve, all his Christmas Eves for the past eighteen years, if his parents hadn't died.

Whenever he'd really considered his future life with Ginny, it was this place that he'd thought of. The home he'd shared with his parents, that he'd been torn away from.

His home, his family had been destroyed, but he'd thought she could help him build a new one.

He'd spent so much of last year, so much of his life, really, wanting to come back to this place. And when he finally had, it had been the most terrible night of his life. Or one of them.

He thought for a moment of the horrific events that had occurred here last year.

He thought of his parents, whom he'd already said goodbye to.

He didn't want to be at the Burrow tonight, but he didn't want to be here either. Turning, he walked away from the lights, away from Godric's Hollow.

He felt like he was walking away from everything he’d ever known, everything he’d ever thought he wanted. He’d never felt so alone.

Even when he’d walked to his death in the Forbidden Forest, he’d had his parents, Sirius, and Remus to accompany him. And last Christmas Eve, here in Godric’s Hollow, there had been Hermione.

Here there was nothing but his frosty breath puffing from between his lips, the icy road, and an empty, open future stretching out before him. And his thoughts.

Right now he was thinking about what Hermione had said, about boyfriends, and spending Christmas together. And he was thinking about Malfoy. He really had drunk too much of that nog.

But it might have been…nice. To sit together, someplace warm, with Malfoy. To kiss. To do more than kiss. It might have been really nice.

Malfoy might have thought it would be nice too. Back before Harry told him he was worthless and going to get someone killed.

That was a really stupid thing to have said, Harry thought, looking up at the stars.

And then his foot slipped out from under him as he stepped on a patch of ice. He landed painfully on his back, knocking the wind from his lungs, and his head hit the pavement with a sharp crack. He lay there for a moment, gasping for breath, and dazed from the force of the blow. That could have been really bad, he thought, hitting his head out here, with no one else around and not even a warming charm on him. He ought to get home. He struggled to sit up, but the world tilted woozily, and he found himself on his back again, blinking up at the stars. They blurred, came back into focus, and then blurred again; the cold from the icy pavement felt like it was seeping into his bones.

Harry was on a broom, Malfoy behind him, one arm placed loosely around Harry’s waist. The Quidditch pitch below them was empty and silent, and the wind was cold .

“Were you looking for this?” Malfoy asked, and placed a snitch in Harry’s hand. Harry looked at it in wonder. Of course he’d been looking for this. How had he forgotten? He raised it toward his lips, but Malfoy’s hand closed over his. “You’re so stupid, Potter,” Malfoy whispered gently. “So fucking stupid.”

He stroked Harry’s head once, twice, and Harry closed his eyes, relaxing into the warmth behind him. Lost in the sensation of Malfoy’s fingers running gently through his hair, he let go of the broom and had the strangest sensation of floating. He’d never felt so at peace.

+++

Friday, December 25

When he opened his eyes, Malfoy was sitting on a chair at the foot of his bed, writing on a chart. A glance around the room showed Harry to be, yes, at St. Mungo's. He looked back at Malfoy. He was in his uniform, Harry saw--Healer trainee robes in blue rather than the lime green that the Healers wore. His forehead was creased, in worry or concentration. Harry wondered what he was writing.

Malfoy glanced over and started when he saw Harry looking back at him. An expression of tremendous relief crossed his face, but it was gone a moment later. He rose from the chair, straightened his robes, and walked around the bed to stand beside Harry.

“I knew you’d end up in here sooner or later, Potter, but somehow I thought the circumstances would be a bit more dramatic. Happy Christmas, by the way.”

“Happy Christmas.” Harry sat up and felt the back of his head, gingerly, wincing when his hand came into contact with the bandages there.

“Clumsy of you, slipping like that. You’d think the youngest Seeker in a century and the savior of the wizarding world would be capable of walking, at least. You’d have frozen out there if your house-elf hadn’t found you. It would have looked very silly in the history books.”

“I was distracted,” said Harry. “I was thinking about something.”

“Thinking about what?” Malfoy took Harry's wrist and held it firmly, checking his pulse. Harry, heart pounding in his chest, wondered just how alarming...or revealing...his heart rate would prove to be.

“You.”

Malfoy froze for a moment, then took out his wand, performed a spell, and wrote something else on the chart. Harry didn’t recognize the spell, but he recognized the wand.

“I’ve noticed something funny,” said Malfoy, still looking at the chart. “I thought to try my wand, and it’s working perfectly well. Why do you suppose that is? I haven’t had the chance to win it back from you.”

“Maybe you’ve won something else,” said Harry.

Malfoy’s eyes widened as he looked up.

“Or maybe,” Harry continued, “it respects you a little bit more now that you’re using it for something you’re not completely bollocks at.”

“I liked the first explanation better,” said Malfoy slowly.

“I did too.” They stared at each other, and Harry felt flustered. He looked down.

“So, I’m in St. Mungo’s, under your care,” he finally said. “Should I take this to mean the life debt is clear?”

There was a long pause before Malfoy responded. “Sadly, no. I’m just a trainee, after all. Mostly still observing.”

“That’s a shame,” said Harry. “It was a great oppor-“

And then he drew in a sharp breath as he felt Malfoy grab his hand. Malfoy’s fingers tightened around his, and Malfoy’s other hand traced his jawline and drew his head up.

When Malfoy kissed him, it wasn’t gentle. It wasn’t rough either, but it felt like it would have been, if Malfoy’s fingers hadn’t trailed over the bandage on Harry’s head. The kiss felt tight, controlled, intense. It felt amazing.

When they broke apart, they were both gasping.

Malfoy was staring at him, cheeks flushed and lips parted.

“Didn’t you say…” panted Harry, “that you’d take extra special care of me…next time I was here?”

If Harry hadn’t already been hard underneath the sheet, Malfoy’s smile would have done it.

"I did say that, didn’t I?”

Malfoy slid a hand underneath the sheet, grasped Harry firmly; when Harry felt the shock of skin on skin, he realized he wasn’t wearing much under his hospital gown.

The sensation was overwhelming. He was beginning to feel lightheaded, and even remaining upright was difficult. Whether this was due to Harry's head injury or simply to Malfoy's proximity and the swift, sure movements of his hand, Harry didn't know. But Malfoy seemed to realize that he was having difficulty and slipped an arm behind Harry, supporting him. And then Malfoy was kissing his throat again, and Harry moaned, relaxing against Malfoy’s arm and chest.

Harry really didn’t register the sounds in the hallway at all, but Malfoy responded quickly, managing to retrieve his wand and cast Colloportus seconds before the doorknob rattled.

“I’m changing Mr. Potter’s bandages,” he said smoothly. “Just one moment.”

Harry heard several voices, talking all at once, and then someone else, presumably a nurse. “I’m very sorry, but there can only be a maximum of two visitors at a time. The rest of you will need to go to the waiting area.” The voices and footsteps grew quieter as the majority of the group proceeded down the hall.

“You saved me, Malfoy,” Harry eventually said, heart still pounding. “If the entire Weasley family had walked in on me getting a hand job, I’d have died of embarrassment.”

Malfoy laughed. “Somehow, Potter, I don’t think that counts.”

+++

Thursday, December 31

Harry sat on the sofa, staring blankly at the tapestry on the wall. He'd given up on his book fifteen minutes ago. He ought to just go to bed--he had nothing better to do--but it seemed too pathetic to go to sleep before midnight on New Year's Eve.

Ron and Hermione had looked incredibly shame-faced to be leaving him by himself the same day he'd been released from St. Mungo's, but everyone knew it was ridiculous how long he'd been kept there; he should have gone home days before. And this was going to be a special night for them. He didn't want to spoil it.

He just wished he had someone to spend it with too. Despite his and Malfoy's...whatever it was they had now, he was spending another holiday alone.

He wondered what Malfoy was doing right now, whether he would rather have spent the evening here. Harry had been trying to work up the nerve to invite him when Malfoy had let slip he was scheduled to work on New Year's Eve. So Harry hadn't bothered asking.

He was just standing to go fix himself a snack, and maybe something to drink--nothing alcoholic, he'd quite learned his lesson on that score--when the knocker at the front door sounded.

All thoughts of tea and toast forgotten, Harry hurried to the door. It was probably Molly, come to check on him, or maybe George, stopping by to visit for a bit, or...

Malfoy.

Standing on his doorstep, a bit tense, but otherwise looking pleased to see him.

Harry wanted to reach out, grab him, pull him close. But he wasn't sure how well that would go over. Malfoy had done a lot of touching of him in the hospital, but he'd slapped Harry's hands away whenever Harry had attempted to do the same. Harry thought...hoped...it was because they had been at Malfoy's place of employment, but he didn't really know. This was the first time they'd even seen each other since Harry's release from St. Mungo's.

"Do you want to...er...come in?" Harry finally asked.

Malfoy glanced at the shabby houses on either side of them. "Well, I don't know, Potter. I've been enjoying the view."

Harry rolled his eyes and stepped back so Malfoy could enter.

"I didn't know if you'd be here," said Malfoy, as he glanced around the entrance hall. "Is that umbrella stand actually made from a troll leg? I don't remember that."

Harry nodded distractedly. "Where did you think I would be?"

"Oh, I don't know," Malfoy said, not meeting his eyes. "Ministry party. Something like that."

"I hate those things. I was glad to have the excuse of my injury. Come on, let's go sit down."

They were silent as they entered the drawing room. Harry sat down on the sofa and looked up at Malfoy, hoping he would take the hint. He had a sudden flash of memory--Ginny, the one time she'd visited over the summer, seating herself here, looking at him reproachfully when he didn't move to sit nearer to her. Himself, grateful for the distance between them, and wishing Ginny hadn't come to visit at all.

Malfoy sat down next to him.

“I thought you had to be at St. Mungo’s tonight. I see you're dressed for it.”

“I um, thought I had to be too,” said Malfoy, adjusting the sleeve of his blue robes. “But it turns out I’ve already put in too many hours this week. They sent me home.”

“You know, I thought it was suspicious how often you were there during my stay,” said Harry, amused.

Malfoy flushed.

And that really hadn’t been a very tactful thing to say, Harry realized. “No, Malfoy. I was meaning to say. You’re really good at what you do. I was lucky to have you there.”

Malfoy’s flush had not faded considerably, and Harry decided it would be a good time to change the subject.

“To be honest, though, I couldn’t tell if you were there to ensure my health and well-being or to defend my virtue.”

Malfoy scowled. “You mean the nurse with the wandering hands? Her behavior was appalling. I’m going to have a word with her supervisor.”

“That’s hardly fair,” said Harry. “I seem to recall your hands doing a bit of wandering as well. On more than one occasion.”

And that got a smile. “You’d developed hypothermia, Potter. I was just ensuring that blood flow had returned to all your extremities.”

“If anyone could ensure that, Malfoy, it would be you.”

That had been the right thing to say, he could tell.

“Really, though,” Harry continued, “you certainly were thorough. I admire your work ethic. Not sure that Ron could say the same…”

“His face was as red as his hair, wasn’t it?” mused Malfoy.

“That was embarrassing for all of us, I think,” said Harry. “But aside from that…and the bit with the concussion…I never imagined a stay at St. Mungo’s could prove so enjoyable. I do wish you could have convinced them to let me go a little sooner, though.”

“Right, Potter,” said Malfoy, with a laugh. “Like that was going to happen. Can you imagine if they’d sent Harry Potter home to die of a missed brain hemorrhage?”

“Yeah, well, I suppose,” said Harry. And then he paused.

"So...are you enjoying it? Working as a Healer?"

"I was certainly enjoying it this week," Malfoy said with a slight leer. Which was an odd thing to say, really, considering Malfoy hadn't let Harry touch him at all.

"I meant...well, you said you had several reasons for becoming an Auror." Harry glanced at Malfoy, feeling a bit nervous about broaching this subject. It hadn't gone well the last time they'd discussed it. "Could you tell me...what the other ones were?"

Malfoy crossed his arms and looked down. He was silent for a moment before looking up, straight into Harry's eyes. "My father wanted me to. Thought it would help improve the family name."

"Okay..." said Harry, prompting Malfoy to continue.

"And...I suppose...I wanted to prove myself," he admitted quietly. "That I'm not worthless, not a coward." He said this last with an exaggerated tone, as if to take the sting out of the word.

"Wanted to prove what a Gryffindor you could be?"

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. "Watch it, Potter."

"Well, you're not."

"Not what? Not a Gryffindor? Potter, honestly. We've known that since first year."

"No...not worthless."

Harry watched in amusement as Malfoy struggled not to appear gratified. But suddenly something occurred to him.

"Malfoy--you're still living with your parents, right?"

"I am for the moment, yes," said Malfoy, looking uncertain. "I'm not sure where you're going with this, Potter."

"I thought your father wanted--"

Malfoy pulled back slightly, frowning in irritation.

“Yes, well my father wants me to have a son and name him after a constellation, too. But he’s used to disappointment,” he said bitterly.

“What do you have against constellations?” asked Harry.

Malfoy gave him a scathing look. "The point, Potter, is that they're not going to kick me out. You needn't fear on my account."

"I wasn't--I wasn't afraid, I just wanted to make sure..."

"Make sure that...?"

"That you're happy as a Healer. That you don't regret quitting Auror training. Because wand problems aside--you would have been a good Auror."

Some of the tightness left Malfoy's shoulders, and he settled himself a little more comfortably on the couch. "Thanks, Potter. But I do enjoy it. I mean..." and he grimaced slightly. "I don't enjoy it all the time, obviously. But once I finish with training, I can specialize if I want. If I go into something like Potions, I'll probably get more holidays off than I do now. Can't always count on them to send me home," he added with a smile.

"If they sent you home, what are you doing here?”

He'd meant to be playful, but the smile slipped off Malfoy's face.

“Well, if you’d rather I leave,” he said, standing up.

Harry grabbed Malfoy by his St. Mungo’s uniform, pulled him back to the couch, and captured his mouth.

Malfoy made a small sound, slid his hands along Harry’s back and into his hair, and returned Harry’s kiss with the force that had been hinted at during Harry’s stay at St. Mungo’s.

Harry pulled back. "I would not. Rather. You leave."

Malfoy grabbed him and pulled him into another rough kiss. But Harry wasn’t weak and he wasn’t dizzy this time, and he wasn’t nearly so content to lean back and allow Malfoy to take charge so completely. Pushing Malfoy back, Harry climbed on top of him. But when he leaned forward to kiss Malfoy again, Malfoy turned his head to the side.

“I really think we’d better continue this in another room,” Malfoy said, a bit stiffly, “or Weasley will never forgive us.”

Harry stole one quick kiss but stood up, grabbed Malfoy's hand, and pulled him up from the couch. Malfoy stared at all the portraits again as they made their way up the stairs. It really was strangely reminiscent of the last trip they'd made up these stairs together.

Except for the fact that they hadn't been holding hands that time. And his mouth hadn't been quite so swollen. And his body hadn't been tingling all over in anticipation of feeling Malfoy pressed against him.

When they entered the room, Harry shut the door and turned to Malfoy, who was looking at the posters again. He was positively glowering at them.

Something occurred to Harry. "It wasn't the fact that they were Muggles that bothered you, was it?"

"No," said Malfoy shortly.

"I don't...er...look at them, you know. Not like that. I don't even notice they're there."

Malfoy's gaze dropped from the posters and met his own. "I'd really rather you found a way to take them down."

"Well, you're welcome to try," Harry said playfully. "Since you're so brilliant at everything."

Malfoy flushed, not as brightly as he had that night back in September, but redder than Harry had ever seen him otherwise.

"I'm not that brilliant. At everything," he muttered.

"Hermione hasn't even found a way to get them down. But I expect if anyone can figure out how to do it, you can," said Harry generously.

“Where are Weasley and Granger, anyway?” asked Malfoy, looking grateful for the opportunity to change the subject.

Harry checked the time—it was getting close to midnight.

“I don’t expect them back for at least a couple hours,” said Harry, pulling Malfoy onto the bed next to him. “Ron took her out. He’s finally going to propose. And she’s going to say yes.”

“Finally?” asked Malfoy incredulously. “They’re only eighteen years old. Are they in that big a rush to overwhelm the wizarding world with their offspring?”

“Shut up,” said Harry. “They’re happy together. And there’s nothing wrong with getting married young. My parents did.”

Malfoy was silent for a moment, and his voice was tight when he spoke. “I suppose you’d have preferred to do the same. Terribly sorry I ruined that for you.”

And this was important. Harry knew he needed to say something now if this was ever going to work between them.

“Look, I’ve done a lot of thinking this month. And of all the things about this that are still confusing to me, there’s one thing I’m sure on. Malfoy. Draco. You’re not second best.”

Malfoy stared at him but otherwise gave no indication what effect Harry’s words might be having.

“I sincerely hope to never be walked in on by a Weasley again,” said Harry, “but if Ginny showed up here tonight. If she told me she’d broken up with her new Quidditch player, that she wanted me back, that she loved the name Albus Severus, I’d tell her no.”

“Wait,” said Malfoy. “Potter. I’m touched, I really am. But Albus Severus?”

“I think you’re missing the point here,” said Harry.

“Which is what?”

Harry leaned closer and whispered in Malfoy’s ear. “I want you.”

Malfoy closed his eyes and shivered, and then turned his face toward Harry. His lips dragged over Harry’s cheek to the corner of Harry’s mouth.

They breathed together for a moment, and then Malfoy slowly took Harry’s lip into his mouth. Harry moaned and deepened the kiss. When he attempted to push Malfoy back this time, Malfoy let him.

They leaned together against the headboard, kissing, exploring each other's mouths. Malfoy sighed against Harry's face, and Harry's chest felt strangely tight. He didn't have a great deal of experience with kissing, so maybe he'd have figured this out eventually. But he'd never realized how intimate it could feel, as if it were their souls and not just their tongues that were touching. Maybe it was because he'd kissed girls before, and girls just couldn't make him feel this much. Maybe he'd never taken the time to slow down and do it properly. Or maybe it was because this was Malfoy, opening himself up, letting Harry in, breathing into Harry's mouth. That was probably it.

Malfoy's fingers crept under Harry's t-shirt, brushed against his sides. Harry broke the kiss, gasping and shivering at the sensation of Malfoy's hands against his skin. He rested his head on Malfoy's shoulder, trembling, as Malfoy's hands traveled over his back, his stomach, his sides again. But when they moved lower, began to undo Harry's trousers, Harry realized that wasn't what he wanted. Malfoy was always the one touching him. It was time for that to change.

Harry grabbed Malfoy's hands, pulled them up, and Malfoy looked up, frowning. Harry leaned in, kissed the frown away. Then he dropped his head lower, not to rest it on Malfoy's shoulder as he had before, but to kiss his throat and neck. And, oh, God, he could smell Malfoy's cologne. It was faint--he must not be wearing as much of it these days, or maybe he'd put it on early that morning and it had just worn off.

"Love the way you smell," he muttered, pressing his face into Malfoy's neck and breathing in deeply.

"Do you?" asked Malfoy, sounding pleased. "Not choking on it?"

"Not choking on it. Never was." He placed a kiss near Malfoy's jaw, and then another behind his ear. This was another thing Malfoy was always doing for him, that he had never done for Malfoy. He knew how amazing it felt when Malfoy...

Opening his mouth, he licked and sucked at Malfoy's neck, and Malfoy gasped. Then Harry let his teeth scrape along Malfoy's skin, bit gently at the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Malfoy made nothing more than small noises in his throat, but his hands clenched in Harry's tightly.

"Lie down," Harry whispered, and Malfoy pulled back, looked at him sharply. But when Harry tugged at his hands, he lowered himself on the bed.

Harry settled himself next to Malfoy, leaned in to kiss him again, but this time with the delicious sensation of their bodies pressed firmly together. Letting go of Malfoy's hands, Harry threaded his fingers through Malfoy's hair. Aside from that shorn lock, he hadn't touched it since that day in the maze. It was just as soft as he remembered. He tightened his grip, clenching Malfoy's hair in both fists, and Malfoy moaned against his mouth.

He could feel Malfoy, hard against his hip, and he shifted so they were pressed more firmly against each other. Malfoy moaned again and rocked against him, small thrusts, that sent bursts of arousal coursing through Harry. He needed more, needed to be closer. He wrapped his leg around Malfoy's, his arms around Malfoy's torso, but it still wasn't enough, and he pulled at Malfoy's robes in frustration.

“Potter,” said Malfoy, pulling away, panting. “When you said that you wanted me. How exactly did you mean that?”

“I meant…I meant that I want you,” said Harry in confusion. “What do you mean what did I mean?”

“I meant do you want to…” and face flushed, Malfoy looked off to the side. “Because if you do, you can.”

Oh.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “I—yeah, I want to.”

Harry fumbled for the lubricant he kept by his bed, his hands trembling. He'd never done this before, but he'd thought about it. In the last few weeks, he'd thought about it a lot. Even when he'd been trying not to think of Malfoy at all, he hadn't been able to help wondering what it would have been like if he'd made a better choice, had kissed Malfoy instead of cutting him down in anger. What it would have been like if they'd ended up on this bed, right here, as they were now.

When he turned back to Malfoy, he saw that he had removed his robes. He was sitting against the headboard, arms wrapped around his knees, and Harry realized this was the first time he’d seen Malfoy naked.

There was no scar on Malfoy’s chest, no Dark Mark on his arm. Setting the lubricant down, Harry brushed a hand over one of Malfoy’s pink nipples and felt it harden under his fingertips. Moving to the other nipple, he watched curiously as it hardened as well.

“Are you going to play with my nipples all night, Potter?” asked Malfoy in an unsteady voice.

“No.”

Harry placed his hands on Malfoy's knees and looked into his face. He looked tense, and Harry wondered if Malfoy really wanted to do this at all. Malfoy glanced down, seemed to realize the awkwardness of his position, and resettled himself, reclining on the pillows behind him.

"Are there any...any spells that we need to do?" asked Harry.

"No. I did them before I came over. Just in case." He said this last quietly, and he wasn't meeting Harry's eyes.

Harry's eyes widened, and a shock of arousal surged through him. Knowing that Malfoy had been thinking about it, preparing for the possibility of Harry touching him like this...

Grabbing the lubricant back up, he slicked his fingers and reached for Malfoy.

"Do you know what you're doing?" asked Malfoy, and Harry paused.

"I think so...here. Let me just..." And Harry pressed in with one finger.

Malfoy's eyes fell closed, but he gave no indication if they were closed in pain, or pleasure, or embarrassment.

Harry pressed in further, tentatively. The angle was different, but he thought if he moved his finger like...

Malfoy sucked in a ragged breath, and his eyes flew open.

"Have you done this before?"

Harry blinked in surprise. "Not exactly."

Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I've done it on myself before." This response didn't seem to please Malfoy any better than the previous one had.

"You let someone fuck you?"

"No! I just. I used to do it sometimes. When I was--you know, wanking."

Malfoy looked taken aback.

"Don't all blokes do that?" It figured there would be yet one more way in which Harry was abnormal.

"I wouldn't know," said Malfoy, and he closed his eyes again.

Harry continued, stretching Malfoy and pressing against that spot, the one that told him Malfoy's slight responses were favorable. Malfoy stayed quiet, even at the second finger, but he bit his lip when Harry pressed upward again.

Harry wanted to see more of a reaction, wanted to make Malfoy cry out, and he wrapped his other hand around Malfoy’s cock.

Malfoy hissed a startled breath inward, and his face became incredibly tense. “Potter,” he said, from between gritted teeth, and then he was coming.

Harry watched, fascinated and aroused, as Malfoy writhed and thrust into Harry’s hand, and then collapsed bonelessly, eyes still closed.

When Malfoy finally opened his eyes, his flush of arousal had darkened to one of embarrassment, but his features soon hardened to an expression of determination.

“Lie back, Potter.”

“What?” asked Harry in surprise. “Why…”

“You were just released from St. Mungo’s less than 24 hours ago,” said Malfoy. “We can’t have you overexerting yourself, can we?”

Malfoy grabbed up the lubricant as Harry slid his trousers down over his hips. Harry leaned back, slowly, and hissed as Malfoy reached forward and slicked his cock. Malfoy stroked him once, twice, and Harry couldn't stop himself from moaning. Malfoy had touched him before, but never with lube like this, and it felt so good.

"I don't know if I can last very..." Harry began, but cut himself short at the unpleasant look Malfoy gave him. Right. That probably wasn't going to be an issue.

“Have you done this before?” Harry asked, voice rough, as Malfoy settled himself on Harry’s erection.

“No,” Malfoy said shortly, eyes still closed.

“Are you sure you—”

Malfoy’s eyes came open to glare down at Harry. “Shut up, Potter.”

Malfoy sank down on him, slowly. Harry didn't know if Malfoy closed his eyes again or not, because he couldn't keep his own open. They remained together like that, still, for a long while. When he finally managed to look up again, Malfoy was staring at him, intently.

Malfoy moved, and oh fuck, he really wasn't going to last long.

"Feel good, Potter?" Malfoy asked with a slight smirk.

"God, yeah."

Malfoy began moving again, not really rising up and down, as Harry had expected him to, but making small rocking motions with his hips, still watching Harry all the while.

Harry bit his lip, gave a slight thrust upward, and groaned. "Oh, god."

Malfoy froze, and again, Harry couldn't tell if it felt good, or...

"Are you okay? Can I move?"

Malfoy gave a tight nod.

Harry gripped Malfoy's hips tightly and thrust upward, harder. Malfoy grunted, and Harry looked up in concern. Malfoy wasn't looking at him anymore, and he was breathing heavily.

"Did I hurt..."

But then he saw it--Malfoy was hard again, already.

Reaching up, Harry grasped Malfoy's renewed erection, and Malfoy jerked, startled.

His gaze shot to Harry's. His eyes were wide, and his face--the face Harry had always thought of as so pale and pointy--was again flushed with arousal. It was the sexiest thing Harry had ever seen.

"God, Draco."

Harry began moving again, faster, stroking Malfoy with every thrust. He thought he should wait for Malfoy, but he couldn't, he was going to...

Gripping Malfoy's hip tightly with one hand, still attempting to stroke him with the other, Harry came, groaning.

When he opened his eyes, Malfoy was staring at him, panting. A muscle by his eye twitched as he thrust erratically into Harry's too-loose hand. Harry tightened his grip, and Malfoy's hand joined his. In a few sharp strokes, they brought him to completion.

Malfoy pulsed wetly between their fingers, and his shoulders slumped.

"Come here," Harry whispered.

Leaning forward, Malfoy collapsed on top of him.

+++

When Harry had recovered enough to think about the time, he realized it had to be midnight, or close to it.

“Last year at this time,” he said slowly, “I was hiding in a tent with Ron and Hermione.”

“I’d really rather not think about what I was doing last year, if it’s all the same to you,” said Malfoy, his voice muffled in Harry’s shoulder.

“I have to say, I prefer this,” said Harry.

“I do too,” said Malfoy quietly.

Harry wrapped his arm more firmly around Malfoy and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

“Happy New Year, Draco.”

“Potter…” said Malfoy, looking up. “You’re not one of those sentimental types who thinks whatever you’re doing at the end of the year is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the next, are you?”

Harry thought about it. “I’m not particularly sentimental, no.”

And suddenly Malfoy felt more rigid against his body. “Right,” Malfoy said, tucking his head back down. “Well, good.”

“I wouldn’t mind, though,” said Harry, after a moment. “If it turned out to be true, in our case.”

Malfoy’s body slowly relaxed back against his, and a bit later, Harry felt a small kiss on his shoulder.

“Happy New Year, Potter,” said Malfoy.

REVIEW