Chapter 1: The Rebirth of Draco Malfoy
Draco decided to come out after the war for several reasons. First, nearly dying without ever having been properly herself had snapped something inside her, and the violence ending hadn't set it back to how it had been before. Second, it wasn't as though wizarding Britain could hate her any more, or think she and her family were any madder than they did already. Third, with her father properly disgraced and her mother cowed by the wrongness of the family's chosen wartime allegiance, the opinions of Draco's parents were no longer gospel to her, and she no longer cared that they thought she ought to be their son.
She was, dutifully, their son for eighteen years and look where it got her.
When they marched her out of Azkaban and stationed her before the whole glaring Wizengamot she stifled a laugh, because oh, they thought they could scare her with a few cold looks? Nothing could scare her more than the Dark Lord as a house guest, or a stint being babysat by Dementors, choking down shuddering breaths of freezing salty air and feeling her lungs and mind cloud, harden, fracture, barely sleeping with the press of her bones against the stone floor and the sick stir of desperate, guilty nausea in her gut. Draco held the laugh in because she remembered her Aunt, and knew they all did too. Only a madwoman could sit and laugh while being tried as a Death Eater—and Draco wasn't mad.
A woman, though. That she was.
There was something of a liquidity problem with the Malfoy assets once the various post-war confiscations and reparations had been orchestrated. The Manor had not been sold off, but that was mainly because nobody much wanted to buy it. Nevertheless, Draco paid for a large announcement in the births, deaths and marriages section of the Prophet and introduced the wizarding world to her more honest identity in print that could not be described as fine, and, she hoped, could therefore not be overlooked. The idea was, in Draco's opinion, both ostentatious and clichéd but there was something very satisfying about not caring. About letting herself indulge in something so innocently undignified, about preemptively letting every person who would ever laugh about it know that she didn't give a grindylow's slimy arse what they thought of her. Not anymore.
When, some time later, Draco received a Hogwarts-sealed letter addressed in green to a Miss Draco Malfoy, she let herself cry just the tiniest bit. She felt eleven again. Hogwarts was taking her back. Taking her.
Most people accepted the information with far less grace than the school, but then those people hadn't liked or respected her to begin with, and Draco had hardly expected this to help with that. Vitriol about her Death Eater status now merged with cruel scepticism about her gender in most of the abuse she received. The only things that became easier to take were the accusations of cowardice: she'd been cowardly growing up, and she'd been cowardly when she'd joined with the Dark Lord, but she hadn't been cowardly when she showed the card closest to her chest with her head held high. Now when they told her she was a worthless fucking coward she didn't believe them.
There wasn't money enough for a proper wardrobe overhaul, but Draco had a few sets of more feminine clothes made. She focused on everyday robes, although the Hogwarts letter had stipulated that dress robes were also required for the eighth year. She'd make a decision about those once she understood what she needed them for.
Draco experimented with her hair, letting it grow long like she'd always wanted to. She didn't wear it the way her father always had, though, mid-chest and painfully straight. Instead, she left the natural, soft curls around her ears and the waves just below her collar as they were.
Glamours became strenuous when one tried to maintain them for long periods, so while Draco played around with plenty of options, altering her looks every day was not a possibility. Permanent transfiguration of the human body was something only to be undertaken by experts—unless one wanted to end up with a face that looked like the Dark Lord's—and an appointment with a sufficiently reputable transfigurationist was something Draco would have to save up for awhile longer.
Overall, though, she didn't want to change all that much. Her chest was flat underneath her robes, but then Potter's and both the Greengrass sisters' breasts were almost as nonexistent (and she couldn't imagine hauling around the kind of rack Pansy did all day every day. She'd be constantly losing her balance.) Her face was angular, but her jaw had never been square and her chin had never hosted anything in the way of facial hair. She was relatively narrow at the shoulders and slim all over, lips thin but lashes long, hands and nails fine and smooth. Lucius had always been disappointed with the natural femininity of his son, but Draco's body had never felt wrong to her—just the assumptions people drew from it, and the clothes they deemed appropriate for it. She was more interested in correcting them than herself.
Draco was mildly surprised when her mother, who had barely left the house since the war's end, came to see her off at King's Cross station. Narcissa brushed nonexistent lint off the shoulder of Draco's coat, and gave her a look up and down, taking in the girls' uniform, the fine stockings, the two-inch heels on her well-shone leather shoes.
"You are really doing this, aren't you, Draco?" Mother asked softly, the words barely audible as the Hogwarts Express gave its horn a testing blast. A little nervous chill ran through Draco. It was the first time Mother had even mentioned her new self-presentation.
"I am," Draco tilted her chin up. She was taller than her mother now, but still felt small under her gaze; there was something odd in it today. Something tender that made her feel like a child again.
"And it really is what you want."
"It's what I've always wanted."
Narcissa sighed, and, in an uncharacteristically public gesture of affection, reached out to place a cool hand on Draco's cheek. She kept it there until Draco met her eyes.
"Then I won't stand in your way," she said finally.
The hand fell away and reached into the pocket of Narcissa's robes to draw out a small, black velvet pouch, drawn in at the top with a silver ribbon. Narcissa passed it to Draco, who knew it would be politer to wait until later to look inside, but couldn't help herself. She didn't want to have to discuss whatever gesture this was with her mother by owl for months before being able to face her again.
Inside the pouch was a small golden pot, which Draco recognised instantly. It was filled with a black gel she had often watched her mother apply to her lips, then spell to match whatever outfit and accessories she was wearing. When she was younger, the outfits had been brighter, and Mother's lip shades had ranged from classic pale glossy pinks and bright matte reds to navies with shifting glimmers that matched the charmed constellations embroidered on her dress robes. Only the finest makeup products would do for Narcissa Black Malfoy, and Draco knew for a fact that this one was an expensive import; she had never been permitted to touch it as a child.
"Volkov's formula?" Draco's eyebrows rose high. "But this is—"
"I always did wonder what it might be like to have a daughter," Narcissa said, a tiny smile on her face, cautious and wistful. "I would still like to find out, if it isn't too late."
The Express honked again, and by then the last of the students were hurrying through its doors. Draco leapt forward and wrapped her arms around her mother before she could think better of it. Narcissa was stiff, but when Draco pulled back her smile looked stronger.
"I'd better go," Draco nodded toward the train.
"So you had."
"I'll write to you as soon as I arrive," Draco promised.
"I shall await your owl."
Draco hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express wearing her new school skirt and the widest grin she could remember feeling on her face since unwrapping her first ever broomstick at Christmas. She sat alone and grinned all the way to Scotland, grinned even at the witch bringing the trolley around, grinned until her cheeks cramped and she felt like her face might never fully revert to its resting scowl. She didn't care if it didn't.
Harry decided to come out after the war for no real reason at all; there was just nothing to distract her from it anymore. Nothing huge and pressing to make it feel like it wasn't worth her time to stop and say yeah, I definitely want to kiss girls, and nothing to compel her silence about the fact once she was sure of it. She'd died in the Forbidden Forest without ever actually figuring herself out—herself, as distinct from the piece in the prophecy, the horcrux, the girl who lived, the orphan—and it hadn't felt like it mattered, because her life hadn't really been about her anyway. Now it could be, and the opportunity to shed all the labels that others had stuck on her and pick her own was heady.
A little too heady, at times, if you asked her friends.
"Harry," said Hermione, as they sat watching the Scottish countryside race by through the windows of the Express. "I just worry you're getting a little... carried away."
Harry looked down at the pair of snakes snoozing in her lap and crossed her arms, carefully so as not to disturb them. "I don't know what you're on about," she replied.
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose.
Harry stroked Fraxinus' brown scales with light fingertips, tracing his body to where it met Pearl's white coils. She hadn't gone to the Menagerie to buy snakes, but she'd heard them on her way through to the cats.
That one, is it a tree? the snake she now knew as Frax had been asking. It is tall and brown with branches, and black leaves on top.
No, you log! Another human; trees do not wear extra skins on their bodies. You digest so much with your stomach yet so little with your brain.
It's not my fault your descriptions make it hard to tell the difference. Maybe if I could meet a tree for myself...
Harry hadn't known she could still speak parseltongue; Hermione had been convinced the ability would leave her when the last horcrux was destroyed. And it did feel different now—less like an instinct beyond her control. She had to seek the language out, concentrate on it in a way she hadn't before, but knowing it was there she could always find it within herself. It made her wonder how many other witches and wizards might have the capacity buried somewhere deep, but never figure out how to exercise it.
She had stopped by the snakes' glass tank and looked in on them. The larger, brown one had lifted his head to look at her with interest.
Hello, Harry had said, and the smaller, white snake had shot up, tongue flicking out in her direction.
This one can speak? Has it been eavesdropping?
Not on purpose, Harry had answered.
Have you seen trees today? Frax interrupted urgently. What were they like?
Harry was reminded of the boa constrictor who'd never been to Brazil, and the strange kinship the girl from under the stairs had found with it at the zoo that day long ago. Harry Potter wasn't supposed to consider keeping a pet snake, of all things—and yet that impossible conversation was one of her rare positive memories before she learned that snakes meant Slytherin and Voldemort and evil.
Yeah, loads of trees, Harry had answered Frax, and he'd hissed so excitedly she couldn't possibly let him down. Want to go out and meet some with me?
The little white snake all but pounced at the glass that separated them.
He will not! she'd said, frantic. He will not leave!
Harry had felt a rush of sympathy for the haughty little snake, and had thought for a bare moment before giving in. Would it be okay for him to leave if you came too? she'd asked.
And that was how Harry had ended up with not one, but two snakes.
"Sorry, mate, but I still think they're creepy," Ron look at Harry's animal companions from his seat next to Hermione, opposite Harry in the carriage.
"They're just animals," Harry sighed. "They aren't automatically bad just because they aren't fluffy. It's not as if I'm carrying around one of Voldemort's cronies in my pocket."
Ron's shudder was only partly put on. "Don't," he whined. "You know I'm scarred for bloody life. But fine, I won't insult your creepy pet choices anymore. Until they turn out to be conspiring against us or something, that is."
"So who else do you reckon is coming back for eighth year?" Harry changed the subject.
"Well," Ron began counting on his fingers, "I know there's us, Neville and Dean from Gryffindor. Parvati's coming back although apparently Padma's not; got offered a gig at the Ministry she can't talk to anybody about, so... Department of Mysteries."
"What about the Slytherins?" Harry asked, and received the look for her trouble. She huffed, irritated. It wasn't like she'd directly asked about Malfoy, even if she'd wanted to.
"Honestly, Harry. You're as transparent as a baby glassfish," Hermione sighed.
"Yeah, looks like some things never change after all," Ron added.
"And neither of you are curious?" Harry asked, voice a little harsh to her own ears. Frax and Pearl stirred in her lap, and she dialled the volume down again, whispering them a quick apology.
"Can't say I've ever been as curious about Malfoy as you, Harry," said Ron. "That said, I am curious what it'd be like to have school without him. I hope he doesn't come back, the git."
"She," Hermione corrected.
"You hope she doesn't come back. You've read the papers, Ron. Malfoy's made it clear she's to be referred to with female pronouns."
"I don't see why you're defending him, though, 'Mione. It's not like he's even here. I'll call him a girl to his face if it'll make you happy, but I don't see why he deserves it. He's called all of us worse things than genders we don't want to be. Especially you."
Hermione fixed Ron with a steely look—the kind Harry would expect if Ron had just suggested that maybe some house elves did deserve to have their ears ironed.
"Her pronouns have nothing to do with the horrible things she's done to us, and besides—think of the message it sends. You never know if someone else nearby—someone you might actually like—is struggling to find the courage to come out. They'll hear you talking like that, Ronald, and they'll be crushed."
By the time Hermione finished, telltale red undertones had crept into her dark cheeks, and Ron's face was practically ablaze.
Harry could feel both their eyes on her at the mention of coming out. She'd only done it recently, and only privately so far, and there was still a certain fragility between them when the subject came up. Harry had thought, for some reason, that telling Hermione would be worse than telling Ron. After all, telling Ron she liked girls couldn't possibly be construed as a come-on. Harry had been wrong, and in hindsight she should have known.
Ron had been having a bad day, for starters, and the first words out of his mouth after Harry's confession had been Well, that explains what you and Hermione were doing in that tent all last year.
A rush of hot, sick panic had pooled in Harry's gut.
"No—of- of course not," she'd protested, but she'd already known what Ron was thinking about. Despite all the progress they'd made since, it was still a sore point that he'd kissed Hermione during the war only to have her push him lightly away and say she cared very much for him but could he please never do that again.
Harry had needed a little time before having such draining a conversation with anyone else, and that was how Ron had managed to spill the beans to Hermione before Harry had readied herself to tell her other best friend. Hermione had shown up with chocolate frogs, tea and books with titles that Harry thought just about equated to Accepting Your Sexuality For Dummies.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you first," Harry had sniffled embarrassingly once Hermione'd said her piece. It had been much more reassuring than Ron's.
"Don't apologise. Besides, I did suspect it—so I knew first anyway really."
A tissue was pressed into Harry's hand, along with the chocolate frog she'd asked her friend to pass her.
"I don't know why this is so difficult," Harry confessed. "It shouldn't be—not after everything else we've been through."
"Ron will come back full of contrition soon enough," Hermione said with confidence. "He's just not always very good at processing things like this."
"I know. I don't think I am either, really."
"Oh Harry. You're already doing better at it than you know."
Despite her surreptitious (she hoped) efforts to locate Malfoy on the ride up to the castle, Harry didn't catch a glimpse until they were shuffling into their seats in the Great Hall. Malfoy was sitting with first Zabini and then Parkinson, both on h- her left.
When she'd first read the announcement (big and attention-seeking in classic Malfoy style) Harry had been convinced she'd never manage to think of Malfoy as a girl. The moment she saw the Slytherin sitting at the far table, though, Harry wondered why she'd thought that at all. Malfoy's hair fell down as far as the fur collar of her coat, looking impossibly pale, light and soft as cotton wool. Harry thought she might have been wearing makeup, too, given how large and dark her eyes looked. Her pointy chin and high cheekbones looked somehow more natural. Malfoy was pretty. Malfoy had, Harry would admit only under the influence of a large dose of Veritaserum, always been pretty—but it was different now. Like pieces had started to fall into place. And, Merlin help, Harry felt her old Malfoy-related intrigue rising from its hibernation, pressing and consuming as ever.
Ron's elbow landed among her ribs.
"Oi, quit gawking. I know it's weird, but Hermione's getting all righteous about it."
"Not gawking," Harry tried weakly.
She was saved from her friends' responses by McGonagall, who had stepped forward, cast a Sonorous charm and cleared her throat so that the sound bounced off the high stone walls.
"Welcome," she began, in a tone that silenced all whispers and might, Harry thought, even have been responsible for the sudden heaviness of the grey clouds passing over the hall's starry ceiling. "To all those who have returned to make this place a home once more—and welcome to those joining us for the first time this year. Before we begin the celebrations or the sorting ceremony, however I feel it is important to impart a few rather solemn thoughts.
"While we may like to give this school a more flattering history, there is no denying that Hogwarts has, since the days of its founders, been a school divided. It therefore surprises me that so few serious attempts at reconciliation between the houses have been made in all those years." The Headmistress punctuated her speech with meaningful glances to the tables at either edge of the room.
"The mission of this institution has always been one of learning—theoretical and practical. Given our most recent history, I feel it is no less than my duty to see that every student of Hogwarts leaves its halls with an understanding not only of the fact that such conflict should never be allowed to happen again, but also of what it means to prevent it. It is not enough for us personally to refrain from starting wars. We are obliged to look to the root cause of unrest and stamp it out wherever we find it—even if we find it goes against our logic, our pride, or our upbringings."
At this, murmurs did begin to break out across the hall.
"D'you think she's getting rid of the houses?" Ron whispered, a horrified look on his face. Hermione shushed him, never taking her eyes off McGonagall.
"You may all be assured that I am not abolishing the house system," McGonagall herself answered the question a moment later, "if for no other reason than that it is imperative Hogwarts students understand the difference between healthy competition and inappropriate rivalry. House divides are not so profound as they may seem; they are intended to provide a starting point to your school friendships and connections, not to mark where they should end. They are not and cannot possibly be holistic or immutable judgments of character.
"And so as the year begins I issue each and every one of you with a compulsory task: look to your housemates and see beyond your commonalities to your many differences. Look to those in other houses and see the many things you share. And above all, upon finding difference, seek to understand it."
Hermione was the first to clap, palms cracking together with such force that Harry watched her after the applause had died down to see whether she would perform a healing spell on them.
Harry let her attention stray back to Malfoy, and this time found the other girl's eyes fixed on her. She looked away reflexively, like she was snatching away a hand touched to a hot surface, but she looked back a few seconds afterward. By then Malfoy had turned back to the front of the room, watching as the Sorting Hat began its song. For all that she was glad to be back at Hogwarts—her favourite place, her home—Harry couldn't make herself listen to it.
Draco read the room assignments and knew better than to be surprised. She'd expected this, or something like this. There wasn't room in the ordinary house dormitories for eighth years, and McGonagall's spiel about inter-house reconciliation had made it rather obvious what the solution would be. Still, Draco hadn't thought they'd actually put her in such close quarters with Potter. 'Stamping out the root cause of conflict' her arse.
It was enough to take the shine off being placed in the girls' dorms.
"Bugger," Pansy whined. "I've got Granger." She slid a hand slowly over Draco's lower back. Too low. "First year I actually have a chance of sleeping next to you, Draco, and they won't room Slytherins together. It's just cruel."
Draco rolled her eyes at her. "For the last time, I am not the boyfriend you're so desperate for."
Pansy shrugged. "I'm not bothered by all this, Draco," she gestured, flippantly, to the whole of Draco's person. "I mean, it's kind of fun if you ask me. Kinky. And you've still got a cock under there, haven't you?"
Draco had never been so pleased to see Potter scowling her way across the room towards her.
"Got to go, Pans," she snapped, letting her fists clench at her sides until nail bit into palm.
Potter didn't say anything as they climbed the stairs and looked for the quarters where the Hogwarts house elves would already have placed their luggage. Double rooms this year, instead of cramming them all in together like sardines. Any other year Draco would have been pleased by the relatively civilised arrangement, but now she realised how much worse it actually was to be stuck alone with one person who despised you than to be stuck with an insufferable crowd. At least the members of the crowd could distract one another while you made an escape.
Potter dumped her ratty trunk on the bed to the right of the room.
Draco, needing to break the ice somehow, spoke up: "I always sleep on that side."
To her dismay, Potter picked her things up and shifted them to the other bed without a word.
"What's your problem, then?" Draco needled. "Has Granger's hideous cat chewed off your tongue? Or are you just so afraid of the boy who thinks he's a girl you're pretending I'm not here?" The words came up like bile—bitter, involuntary, and once they had gathered in her mouth there was nothing to do but spit them out.
It worked, at least. Potter whirled around and gave Draco one of her fierce, impenetrable looks—the ones that strained her face with all their meaning but the meaning of which nobody could actually decipher.
"It's not that, Malfoy," she said, and then looked away and flopped down face first onto the bed on the room's left.
"Well, good," Malfoy replied. "Because that would make you a colossal bitch."
"Takes one to know one," she heard Potter mutter into the mattress, sounding half asleep already.
That was more like it.
Draco carefully removed her makeup with spells and warm water, then took a hot, lavender- scented bath in the tub in the en suite. It was unfortunately cramped, but Draco was grateful not to have to argue her way into communal girls' bathrooms unless she was at the other end of the castle and it was urgent. By the time she stepped out of the steamy little room, Potter was already dead to the world. There was a slight snuffle in her deep, even inhalations—but it was nothing compared to how Blaise, of all people, had used to snore. Draco was asleep almost before she could register the lumpiness of the pillow beneath her head.
When Draco's alarm sounded the next morning, she opened her eyes to a very angry-looking and extremely bedheaded Harry Potter. Draco's sleepy mind was honestly unable to decide whether it was frightening or adorable. She shook herself awake and remembered that neither option was acceptable.
"It's not even light out," Potter positively growled. "And there's over an hour until breakfast. Do you go for morning swims in the Great Lake, or something?"
"You've been into that lake, so the suggestion is especially ridiculous coming out of your mouth," snapped Draco in reply. "For your information, I rise early to prepare myself for the day. Those of us who prefer not to look like hippogriffs mid-moult put time and effort into our appearances. I can see how this may surprise you, given the company you keep."
"Fuck you." The response somehow managed to be equally angry and sleepy. And muffled, pressed as it was into Potter's pillow. "If you have to be a prat then be quiet about it."
"Naturally," Draco said loudly.
Potter was apparently too tired to raise her face and confront Draco, but she did raise a hand, and two fingers in particular.
Draco gathered her clothes and unpacked her cosmetics, taking them into the bathroom. She washed her face and then applied all her usual skin and hair care potions in their usual order. Each step in the process made her feel a little more awake, a little more ready to face the day. Once her hair was combed smooth and set in place, Draco contemplated makeup. She had invested in some mid-range products to emphasise her lashes and add natural-looking shadow to her eyelids, which she had taken to wearing daily—but she was distracted from those by the small pot of colour Mother had given her as she left for school.
She removed it from its drawstring purse and admired the packaging for a long moment: the bright metallic lid, the glass bottom through which the black gel was visible. The four raised letters V that decorated the cap, their points angled together at the centre so the tops fanned out in a floral arrangement. The gilt lettering on the glass spelling out Volkov's Versatile Vitamin Varnish - Original Formula.
Draco unscrewed the lid and looked at the perfectly smooth surface of the product inside. It seemed a travesty to disturb it, but she knew it had been purchased for use and she wanted to see it on herself too badly to resist. She dipped a fingertip in and smeared an even layer of black colour over her lips.
It looked odd, of course. With her colouring, black lipstick was an option only to be exercised in special circumstances. Reaching into the little bag, she found the tiny, tightly furled scroll that accompanied the varnish. The first set of spells were for natural colours, which seemed the best place to begin. She tested the incantation for a very ashy nude on her tongue twice before adding the wand movement and casting.
The black disappeared, seeming to melt into her lips. The shade it left behind wasn't perfect—it was too pale and dull, and managed to make Draco look washed out and a touch too pink at the same time—but the part of her that remembered wanting desperately to play around with the product as a child was so giddy she almost let out a burble of laughter in the silent bathroom. She tried the second nude variant, which was glossier and allowed the naturally pale pink skin of her lips to show through. She tried the third, and the fourth, until she'd spent nearly all her spare time before breakfast changing her lipstick. The novelty hadn't faded at all, and though she settled on the second variant to wear, she couldn't stop thinking about what she could create once she'd mastered all the base leaflet spells and begun to adapt her own.
Harry was woken the second time by a shout of Fuck! followed by a loud clatter. She bolted upright, heart racing, whipping her wand out from under her pillow and holding it ready to meet whatever intruder had found their way in while her other hand grabbed her glasses from her bedside table—
Glasses on, Harry blinked. There was no intruder. Instead, there was Malfoy in her skirt, socks and bra, standing atop her bed and looking down in utter horror at something on the floor. Malfoy's owl's (thankfully empty) cage rolled across the floor. Harry surmised that this had been the source of the crashing noise.
"Fuck," Malfoy repeated, voice high and strained. As Harry's sleepy eyes gained focus she noted the pink flush across Malfoy's chest, from her throat to the fine, cornflower blue lacy triangles that did remarkably little to obscure her nipples. Harry forced herself to look elsewhere and saw that the colour bloomed high in Malfoy's cheeks as well.
"What the hell is wrong?" Harry asked.
—to where Pearl was nestled lazily in a Hogwarts blouse on the floor, a curious Frax looking up at Malfoy from beside her.
"My wand is on the fucking floor with them," Malfoy explained. "So you'll have to do it."
"Get rid of the bloody things, obviously!" Malfoy's eyes were wild when they flickered away from the snakes to meet Harry's.
"Why would I do that?" Harry asked calmly, fighting down the urge to laugh. She'd never have guessed that a benefit to pet snakes would be scaring the pants (or the shirt, as it were) off a certain Slytherin, and it was a wonderful perk to discover.
"Because there are fucking snakes in our room. I don't know what arsehole thought it would be funny to put them in here, but I—"
"Relax," Harry held up a hand when it looked like Malfoy was ready to attempt a wandless reductor curse. "They're mine."
"You're fucking joking, right?"
"Nope." Harry looked to Frax and Pearl and said, Come here, please. You're scaring Malfoy.
What is Malfoy? Frax asked.
Malfoy is the name for the pale one, obviously, Pearl told her companion, ever-patient while sounding as impatient as possible.
It is the colour of light and Pearl, Frax observed Malfoy. I like it better than a tree.
Harry snorted. Higher praise than she deserves, Fraxinus. But if you want her to like you, you'd better let her have her shirt back.
Frax obediently slithered off Malfoy's shirt, and Pearl followed him as she usually did.
Malfoy stepped down off her bed and snatched up her shirt and wand as quickly as possible.
"I don't know what you're playing at, Potter, but it isn't funny."
"I'm not playing at anything. These are my pets; their names are Fraxinus and Pearl," Harry pointed to each of the snakes in turn. "Frax likes you, you know—Merlin help him. Says he likes you better than trees, and he's obsessed with them."
Malfoy looked oddly choked for a second, like she was torn between revulsion and pride, unable to shake the feeling that a serpent's good opinion should be flattering to her. Rather than decide, she finished dressing and left without another word.
Harry, realising she was going to be late for breakfast, hurried out of her pyjamas and into her clothes. Her hair was everywhere, but brushing it was a job requiring more time than she had, so she wrestled it up into a messy knot high at the back of her head, fixing it there with the stretched brown elastic band she otherwise kept around her wrist. Pieces slipped loose here and there, but once she wrapped her scarf around her neck most of them were obscured anyway. The frames of her glasses weren't enough to hide the darkness under her eyes, but there was nothing to be done about that.
It'd been a gripe of the media's for many years, how the Chosen One had the nerve to look so unphotogenic all the time. Nobody wanted to know about Harry's nightmares, but concern abounded over the unsightliness of the puffy black bags they left on her face. Her scar was a symbol of victory over perhaps the darkest wizard in British history, but it was nonetheless such a shame that it marred her face like that. It was a face always credited with potential, and such pretty eyes. They were her mother's eyes, Harry had been reliably informed; she wouldn't have cared if they hadn't been 'pretty'.
Sometimes Harry even messed her hair up a little extra, intentionally did her buttons up wrongly or mismatched her socks just as an added fuck you to anybody who thought they knew better than she did how she ought to look.
"Oh Harry," Hermione shot her a sympathetic look when she joined the Gryffindor table, "is it that bad?"
"What?" Harry asked, piling sausages and eggs onto her plate.
"Rooming with Malfoy, obviously," Ron put in, through a mouthful. "'Mione's been worrying the git had murdered you or something, from the moment breakfast started and you weren't here."
"Just slept in," Harry explained. "Slept quite well, actually."
"So you look like hell because you slept too much, not because you couldn't sleep?" Ron asked, the surprise in his voice matched on Hermione's face.
"Well I'm glad to hear it," Hermione said, cutting into a slice of toast with scrambled egg. "It's always best to be well-rested for the first day of class, otherwise you risk spending the whole term on the back foot, trying to catch up on foundational concepts."
Ron groaned. Harry would usually have joined him, but she wasn't so sure she felt the usual way about classes this year. She'd actually been kind of looking forward to going back to them after having to give them up the previous year. Harry liked doing more than studying, and always had, but the only thing she had practical skills in already was defense against the dark arts. Practical DADA was a fight for one's life, and now that Voldemort was gone Harry didn't think she wanted to do that anymore. It was one thing to fight when a dark wizard wanted you and all your friends dead; it was another to go out looking for dark wizards to take on. Harry had always thought she'd want to be an Auror—it was what she was good at, after all—but with Voldemort gone suddenly that mission didn't seem like a logical progression anymore. The career hadn't chosen her the way Voldemort had; Harry would have to choose it, and the prospect left her suddenly curious about all the other choices she could make instead. She'd never put her all into any of her other classes, never found out whether she could excel in them the way she'd had to excel in defense just to survive.
"Right," Harry agreed. "Double potions first, isn't it?"
Ron and Hermione both gave her looks of surprise.
"How're you so chipper about it?" Ron asked. "Who even are you right now?"
Harry just shrugged. "I'll let you know when I find out."
Harry meant to focus in potions, she really did. She was trying, but found herself unable to stop thinking about Malfoy's sheer blue bralette and the realisation that she and Malfoy weren't any less different now that they were both known as girls. Harry had only worn makeup on the rare occasions she'd consented to being styled for some inescapable event or photoshoot, and she wouldn't have a clue what to do with it if she suddenly decided she was interested. Malfoy, on the other hand, seemed to handle a lipstick like an extension of herself. She's been a girl all of five minutes and she's better at it than me, a small, bitter part of Harry that she wasn't proud of thought whenever Malfoy tossed her hair back where she sat, poring over her book in the front row of the classroom.
Harry knew theoretically that however she decided to be was a perfectly fine way to go about being a girl—she'd heard enough about the performativity of gender from Hermione over the years, and she trusted Hermione's logic more than she trusted Witch Weekly's worst dressed section. But at the same time, Harry wondered what cornflower mesh would feel like against her skin in place of the plain tan and black t-shirt bras she wore when she bothered with a bra at all; imagined running her fingers over it and feeling something like net or feathers. Her curiosity was cause for curiosity in itself, because she'd never been tempted by any of this before.
Before Harry knew it, two hours had passed and she had no idea what the class had even been about. She'd tried to tune in every so often, but something about the subject matter made it difficult to listen. Potions, Harry reasoned, had never been for her anyway.
Harry's first night of easy sleep was a fluke; she knew it as soon as she climbed into bed on the second night and felt instantly restless instead of relaxed. It did allow her to experience Malfoy's light snoring for the first time, which was bizarre, and she spent the first forty minutes or so lying awake contemplating how the nasty, jagged, spiteful person that ran in a ribbon of white and green all through her memories of school could also be the person in bed a few feet away from her, breathing peacefully just like any other roommate. It made their history feel much more ancient that it was, made Harry feel like she was dealing with a different person now. She wondered whether Malfoy actually felt like a different person, or actually was one. Harry wondered whether, for some unknown reason, she wanted her to be.
It was impossible to be a heavy sleeper when the Dark Lord and all his most fervent admirers roamed your house day and night, man-eating serpent included. Draco was roused by what seemed like grunting, panting sounds coming from across the small room. She cracked her eyes open but did not move. Pretending not to be awake was among Draco's more practiced skills, along with pretending not to be afraid and pretending not to be a hair away from vomiting, crying or both at once.
The first thing she observed, once her eyes had adjusted in the darkness, was that Potter was not in her bed. The covers were pulled halfway off and tangled in a state of disorder that made Draco cringe. The sounds issued from somewhere around the foot of Potter's bed, rhythmic and increasingly strained. They were what Draco might associate with fighting or fucking, if there was any chance someone had joined Potter in the room. Draco would have heard the door, though, if that were the case. She had spent too many days and nights alike hiding and listening to doors' hinges and footsteps, trying to keep track of various horrors and their proximity to her.
Or, it occurred to Draco, the sounds could be associated with wanking; she didn't know first-hand what it sounded like when other girls did that (the noises Pansy'd used to make when they got off together had been for an audience), or why they would choose to do it on the floor, but it wasn't like Draco knew what Potter was into. Her face felt suddenly hot.
And then Potter got up off the ground and Draco saw her, with her pyjama pants low on her hips and a loose white singlet on top. She stretched her arms like she would before and after quidditch practice and Draco realised with some relief and a flicker of embarrassment that she had only been doing exercises.
Potter stepped through the open bathroom door and the sink ran for a few seconds. She whispered something Draco couldn't make out, but assumed was a spell of some sort. Then Potter's silhouette held something long and straight against the top of the doorframe and mumbled what Draco knew to be sticking charms. Not permanent ones, thankfully, because Draco refused to put up with Potter's idea of interior decoration, if indeed she had any.
Potter reached up for the bar with both hands, gripped it and pulled herself up with another quiet laboured breath. She lowered herself most of the way, and then repeated the pull-up. Draco didn't breathe. She didn't fully understand what she was witnessing, but she knew she ought not to interrupt it. She kept watching, curiously, as Potter did several consecutive pull-ups and then dropped back down to take a rest and stretch her muscles out again.
And Potter did have muscles, now. Gone were her days as a scrawny child or a half-starved young adult on the run. During the height of their quidditch rivalry Potter had managed to put on a little more bulk, but to achieve what Draco had just witnessed she must have been in even better form than back then. If these night-time workouts were a regular occurrence, Draco could see why. She almost wished Potter would put on a light, let her see exactly how all the muscles in her bare arms and shoulders flexed as they dragged her weight upward, but as Potter began a second set she did so in darkness, keeping her breaths politely soft despite the exertion. Any other roommate, Draco suspected, would never even have stirred.
Any roommate would have heard the sound that rang out a minute later when Potter's sticking charms failed, one a split second before the other so that the drop was uneven. Potter landed on her feet, but staggered and lost her grip on the bar, which clanged down onto the tiles just inside the bathroom.
It was the kind of awkward moment Draco would once have barged into and relished, loudly announcing the fact that yes, she had seen the whole thing and yes, Potter had looked like a fool. It wasn't that she didn't still want to mock Potter—it had been a favourite pastime of hers for good reason, and Merlin knew nobody else these days was willing to do their part in knocking the so-called saviour down a peg—but something about the way the close quarters, the privacy and the darkness wrapped around the scene took the urge out of Draco.
"What on earth?" she asked instead.
"Sorry," whispered Potter, like it helped to be quiet now. "Sorry, sorry."
"That's not actually an explanation," Draco pointed out mildly.
Potter seemed to mop sweat from her brow with the back of her wrist.
"And put a light on, would you."
Potter did, and the initial flash of pain as the room lit up was worth it. Potter's shirt was damp with sweat, the warm brown of her bare skin shining with it too. Her nipples stood out under the thin white fabric, and there was a strip of muscled lower belly and hipbone between its hem and the top of her drawstring pants. Her face was flushed, and Draco wondered what looked odd about it until it occurred to her that Potter wasn't wearing her glasses. If she was feeling around in the dark, why would she?
Potter reached for the sweater she slept in and pulled it on. Draco found herself disappointed, and promised to have a stern conversation with herself about how inappropriate that sentiment was once morning came.
"I like to exercise when I can't sleep," said Potter. "I have nightmares, so that's pretty often." The words were frank, and were delivered without resignation or suspicion, like she was speaking to someone who hadn't for years been nigh-professionally unkind to her and all those she'd named as friends. The strange cocoon around them hadn't vanished with the dark, and Draco suspected Potter felt it too.
"That hardly makes you special," Draco replied, voice coming out too soft and too kind.
Potter climbed back into bed and put out the light.
"Do you ever dream about the fire?" she said after a minute in the fresh darkness.
Draco wasn't entirely certain the conversation wasn't a dream, so she answered: "Not as much as you'd think."
It was the truth. More often than not, Draco dreamed of the opposite of those blistering, furious flames. She dreamed of thin ice under her feet, mouldering corner walls in an endless labyrinth filled with shadowy things that snarled and slithered and cackled so coldly the air all around fogged with their stinking breath. She dreamt of live burial and Azkaban, chairs covered in straps and chains and tall, straight-backed seats at long dining tables. In her dreams even Draco's own blood was cool as it pooled around her on tiled floors.
"Do you ever dream about the bathroom?"
Draco stilled. She knew what Potter meant, despite the loose description, and from the tense silence it was clear Potter knew no elaboration was needed.
Potter had never mentioned the night she almost killed Draco, and Draco had never mentioned it either. She wanted to forget it and every event on either side of it. Unfortunately, not talking about it hadn't proven as conducive to forgetting as Draco had hoped.
"Yes," Draco answered, so quietly she wasn't sure if she'd be heard. She wasn't at all sure whether she wanted to be or not.
"I do too," Potter confessed. "About as much as I dream about Voldemort these days. It's one of the worse nightmares, I think, because it was me in the wrong."
"Traumatised by a single blot on your conscience. How do you think I feel, then, hm?"
"I wasn't always sure you had a conscience."
Draco paused to think over how she should answer that. If she should answer it at all. Sleep was tugging quite persuasively at her again; she could just drift off and leave this difficult conversation behind... except that she thought, maybe, it was the start of something like an apology from Harry Potter. She couldn't sleep through something as ludicrous as that: Potter, of all people, apologising to her, of all people.
Draco settled on, "What changed your mind?"
"You did," Potter said, just when Draco thought she might finally get a straight answer on why Potter was having some sort of civil conversation with her.
"Could you be any less vague?"
Draco had just about given in to sleep when she heard Potter add:
"I'm sorry, for what it's worth."
Draco answered half into her pillow: "Hardly makes you unique, Potter."
Morning came and nothing seemed different. Harry was woken far too early for her liking by Malfoy's alarm, and she grumbled briefly before turning over and going back to sleep. By the time Harry deemed it time to rise, Malfoy was made up and dressed, just fastening the buckles on the fine straps of her shiny shoes. She tossed her hair in that irritating way and left without a word.
Harry assessed herself in the mirror and decided she couldn't get away with not brushing her hair for the fourth day in a row. She dragged the brush through roughly, watching as the frizz unfolded and the unkempt mass around her head tripled in volume. She tied it up as usual, then pulled her beanie on over the chaotic knot for good measure. It was cold enough to justify a hat.
Not for the first time, Harry thought about what it would be like to cut her hair shorter. Hermione'd chopped it off around the chin while they were horcrux-hunting, though it hadn't ended up much more tameable than the longer style. If she went shorter still, though—if she had it shaven up the back of the neck and clipped close at the sides—then maybe it would be a different story. If only the top was long enough to stick out wildly it might look like it was designed to be that way.
After pulling her clothes on Harry fed Frax and Pearl, taking them out from behind the glass wall Malfoy had insisted Harry put up as an enclosure for them. She'd felt bad penning them in like they were in a zoo, but the two of them seemed remarkably happy with the amount of space. Harry recalled their glass tanks at the Menagerie and supposed their new space was generous by comparison. The space got the best sun from the window, and there was a low-mounted set of shelves which Pearl liked, climbing up a ramp of books Harry had built to reach the first one and curl up there. For Frax, she'd brought in a bundle of small tree branches which he happily coiled around. They had discovered on their first day together that for all that Frax dreamed of climbing trees, he was terrible at it. After a few falls from ambitious heights, he had turned his attention to shrubbery instead. He loved grass and ground cover more than anything, pushing himself against the different textures admiringly.
Where do you go? Pearl asked, curling around the back of Harry's neck while she leaned down to tie her shoelaces.
Why do you not bring us?
You've had your breakfast. This is breakfast for humans.
I want to meet the other humans! Frax said, getting in the way of Harry's working fingers.
Do you not want the other humans to admire us? asked Pearl. Is that why you leave us alone all day?
Harry narrowed her eyes at the conniving pale snake. Don't think I don't know when I'm being manipulated, she told her. I'm good at recognising it by now.
All the same, Harry hooked Pearl more steadily around her like a scaly scarf, then put Frax into the largest pocket of her robes where he would be nice and warm.
You have to promise you won't cause trouble when I'm trying to eat, she told Pearl in particular. Harry's stomach was already starting to ache with hunger, as was usually the case after a night of insomnia-fuelled push-ups and pull-ups.
We make no promises, the little snake hissed, sliding smooth and cool along the back of Harry's neck to flick her tongue at their surroundings from her right shoulder.
Neville, of all people, took kindly to the snakes as soon as he'd wiped the initial shock of seeing them off his face. He leaned across the table to listen as Harry explained how she'd come to have them, and how Frax loved plants of all kinds despite not getting to see any for much of his life. Nev, who had come to breakfast in his gardening clothes as he did most days, was moved.
"You know, I could always, uh, take him to one of the greenhouses with me sometime?" he suggested. "I mean, if you think he'd like that, and if it's okay with you, and everything."
Harry grinned at him, and then quickly shut her lips back over her teeth when she realised just how much of her chewed breakfast must be on display.
Frax, who was now perched on the opposite shoulder to Pearl, seemed to know they were talking about him.
Neville's offered to take you to look at all his plants, Harry explained as quietly as she could, conscious that everyone around her was listening—some trying to hide it, but most not bothering.
That one has many plants?
He's as obsessed with them as you are.
Neville was watching Frax's excited swaying and hissing with interest, so Harry obligingly translated. "He'd love that, Nev," she assured him. "Thanks."
"Great," Neville said, almost as excited as Frax. Harry wondered whether he had anyone to really share his passion for Herbology with. She hoped so. Neville was now vastly more popular than he'd ever been before, but that didn't mean the people wanting to spend time with him really cared about what he cared about. Harry knew that all too well.
He cleared his throat as though to add something, but then seemed to second-guess himself.
"What is it?" Harry prodded, reassuring. Neville, for all that he had grown, was still Neville.
"Well, just..." Nev directed a meaningful look at Frax; "Could I maybe hold him a bit, or something? I've never really held a snake before."
Harry felt the whispers around them surge, like a particularly large wave breaking against the shore.
"If you like," she agreed, handing Frax over the top of the breakfast dishes as casually as she could.
It wasn't a casual moment, however—it was one she'd have to thank Nev sincerely for later, once they weren't more or less performing for a crowd. If Neville Longbottom, formerly afraid of more than anyone, and more recently famed slayer of Nagini, liked Harry Potter's pet snakes then a solid half of Hogwarts would follow without further questions.
He's coming right back, Harry told a restless Pearl while all eyes were on Neville and Fraxinus.
He had better, she replied, in a tone that Harry couldn't help but think would be accompanied by a Malfoy-like sniff of superiority if Pearl had human features.
Harry glanced across the hall to see if she could catch a glimpse of the human Pearl currently reminded her of, but Malfoy was obscured by a crowd of second-year Hufflepuffs who had gathered to look over one of their Ravenclaw friends' shoulders at something Harry couldn't make out. She hoped Malfoy could see Nev calmly handling the snake, though; she was sure Malfoy would give herself no option but to overcome her fear of anything that Neville Longbottom wasn't bothered by.
Draco penned a letter to her mother as soon as the flurry of start-of-term activity provided her with a spare moment and enough new thoughts to impart.
Dear Mother, she began.
I hope you are well.
Thank you for what you said on the platform. I have been experimenting with the Volkov's and found the quality as high as I ever imagined. I believe I have nearly perfected the range of set spells by now and look forward to trying my own in anticipation of the year's formal event (though the nature of said event remains a mystery at this stage).
The school has assigned us eighth years double rooms, and I'll give you a single guess as to with whom I have been placed. How they expect either of us to sleep at night I don't know...
Draco paused. Something in her wanted to tug a but from the fingers with which she held her quill. Wanted to try and explain to Mother the dissonant collection of things she had started to feel towards Potter in place of her former easily quantified envy and hatred, since Merlin knew she couldn't talk about it with anyone at school.
She settled on a half-measure.
Potter has, at least, accommodated my wishes and not referred to me either incorrectly or unpleasantly. As far as I have observed, her complaints about rooming with me—though I am sure they are both numerous and venomous when she relays them to her Gryffindor friends—seem mostly to turn on the hour at which I wake to begin my daily routine. She herself enjoys nothing more than turning up to the morning meal looking like one of the Knockturn Alley homeless.
My complaints about rooming with her are far more justified: would you believe that the Gryffindor poster-child is now a keeper of pet snakes? I have insisted they be confined to an enclosure, but the creatures prey on my peace of mind nonetheless—as does the infernal language I am forced to hear her speaking to them. I'm sure she isn't giving the kinds of instructions he used to give his pet, but all the hissing and sputtering sounds the same to me.
In other news, eighth years are all still waiting to find out whether or not we will be allowed to play on the house quidditch teams this year. I believe that the younger students trying out will be consulted on whether or not they believe it is fair, and I must cling to hope that their desire for a chance to share a pitch with famous Harry Potter will overcome their desire to cut out the extra competition. Potter says Weasley intends to start an unofficial league if they don't let us play properly, but I suspect prejudice may overcome the fact that no-one else in the year has a hope of beating Potter to a snitch, and they may choose to keep the games exclusive.
How is life back at the Manor? Did you spend some time in London after leaving Kings Cross, as I suggested?
She fixed the letter to her owl's leg and threw it a treat for good measure. She only had morning classes on Thursdays, and with sheets of rain blowing around outdoors it was an awful afternoon for a walk or fly. Draco decided that she might as well get ahead on her reading, at least until she thought of anything better to do. She headed for the library, rather than the eighth year common room. The common room was rather too common, and at least in the library Madam Pince would pounce on anyone who tried to yell at her.
Chapter 2: The Reanimation of Harry Potter
Here's another chapter much earlier than expected, just because it bums me out that the chapter titles don't show up until you've posted two. Thanks to those on board so far. A kissy face emoji for each of you and bonus sparkly love hearts for the commenters.
Eighth years had been allowed back in the House Cup quidditch teams, and it was almost enough to make up for the announcement of what McGonagall said was to be a new Hogwarts tradition: the Unity Ball. Harry would get to do her favourite thing again, but she was also going to have to do her least favourite—at least as far as peacetime activities went.
She had suspected, of course. The list of things to bring for eighth year had specifically included dress robes, and Harry had remembered the last time she'd been told to bring the same. She had hoped, however, that whatever the Headmistress had in mind would be more like the Ministry functions Harry had had to attend to commemorate the war—which involved too much mingling with officials for Harry's liking, but were survivable—and less like the dreaded Yule Ball.
She was disappointed.
Malfoy, whom Harry had been watching at the time of the announcement, had seemed positively gleeful at the chance to dress up and parade around. It was when McGonagall informed them that while bringing a date was not compulsory all single attendees would be matched with dance partners on the night that Harry saw her face fall and seal over with a stiff mask. It occurred to Harry that maybe Malfoy didn't like her chances at getting a date or a decent dance partner—not one worthy of her opinion of herself, Harry was sure.
The realisation that followed was that Harry would herself have to start thinking about going through the horrendous process of asking someone to go with her. Ron, who had managed to procure some dress robes he actually liked and was considerably more confident now he was regarded as a war hero, seemed set on scoring a real date. Hermione had refused to go as mates, too, probably because Harry's dancing was just that bad.
Now that the war was over and not even death by dangerous games loomed over Harry, she was really just waiting for a way to come out without having to make a speech about it, or anything like that. Finding a real date for the ball could be a good way to do that.
One thing she knew for sure was that no amount of fame would make up for maiming a person on the dancefloor, so in addition to figuring out who she might fancy, she'd have to actually put some effort into the inevitable dance classes to come.
Harry couldn't sleep, but the afternoon's Care of Magical Creatures class had been spent chasing what may once have been an adorable litter of fluffy mutant Crups but had since grown into a ferocious pack, and she ached too much already to go through her usual nighttime routine. Instead, she lay in bed, adjusted her position every five minutes, and thought about who she could possibly ask to the dance. She hadn't expected it to be easy, but it was proving to be even harder than she'd thought; it wasn't helpful that half of her year weren't at school anymore, or that Harry hadn't interacted very deeply with all that many of her fellow students over the years. It had always been Ron and Hermione and a select few Gryffindors, plus Luna in the later years. There had always been something bigger at stake than her social life, which, to be fair, had never exactly flourished whether she'd paid attention to it or not.
Harry had definitely noticed Ginny, and they got along well, but she was seeing Dean on-again and off-again, and for all that she'd fawned over Harry when they were kids it had always been about wanting to be best friends.
There was Luna, whom Harry loved dearly and thought she might fancy, if she gave it a shot. Luna, being herself, was not constrained by a little thing like heterosexuality; she'd told Harry so once as a complete non-sequitur in a very strange conversation about the special wandless spell techniques of a particular tribe from... somewhere in the world Harry hadn't quite caught. Luna always made Harry feel carefree, accepted, seen for something other than her reputation—and Harry had always been a little entranced by the way her hair bounced and shone wildly, a perfect match for the rest of her. But, she remembered, Luna and Neville had been dancing around each other lately, and she had no desire to interfere with what could be a really good match.
Harry tried to think of any other girls who'd ever gone out with girls. There'd been rumours, but having been the subject of far too many ridiculous rumours Harry took each with a handful of salt. There had been talk of Lavender and Parvati making out in the girls' dormitories in fourth year which had interested Ron (and, Harry had to admit, her too) a great deal at the time, but Harry was fairly sure that, if true at all, it had been part of a game and nothing more. She didn't think she and Parvati would make a very good couple anyway, and thanks to the war Harry couldn't have dated Lavender if she'd wanted to.
Harry had heard Pansy Parkinson claiming that she didn't mind if Malfoy was a girl now, but that didn't bear thinking about. They'd definitely been together in the past, though, which meant Malfoy liked girls. Unless she'd been pretending, or trying really hard to convince herself she liked them. It was interesting to think that she and Malfoy might actually have this in common—
Harry shook herself. Malfoy belonged on her list of candidates even less than Parkinson did, whether or not Harry thought she was pretty, or had begun to find her presence in their private room less than intolerable. Harry should be thinking about asking out someone as unlike Malfoy as possible. Someone like...
At ten past four, Harry remembered something an extremely inebriated Ron had said about Susan Bones, having heard it from an extremely inebriated Neville, who'd heard it from Hannah Abbott, who may or may not have been a little high on cheering charms at the time.
Susan had always been nice, Harry thought. And she'd been part of the DA, fought for the right side in the war, and her hair reminded Harry a bit of Ginny's. She'd never known her well, but she was sure she could summon the courage to suggest they get to know each other a little better. There was a Hogsmeade weekend coming up; they could go for hot chocolate, or whatever else people who refused to set foot in Madam Puddifoot's did on dates in Hogsmeade.
Harry had spent her whole life doing things that were, objectively, harder than this. Unfortunately, perspective hadn't always been her strongest suit, and neither had romance. Or social interactions that weren't weird and awkward. Merlin, why had she decided this was a good idea?
Harry turned abruptly, aborting her journey towards the table where Susan and her Hufflepuff friends were laughing over their lunch.
She slammed into someone, who made a nasal squawk of displeasure which made Harry groan even before she could step back and observe Draco Malfoy, who now had spilt hot chocolate down her front.
"For Merlin's sake, Potter," she said through gritted teeth. "Do you ever watch where you're going, or do you just expect the crowds to part for you?"
"Sorry," Harry said, dumbly. Malfoy's scarf was dripping at the end. It was the one made of fine silky material which shone silver or pale gold depending on how the light hit it. It was a good match for Malfoy's hair, and the shimmer on her eyelids.
"This fabric requires hand washing," Draco sniffed, untying the careful knot that held the scarf at her throat. "No cleaning spells; it's far too delicate and you certainly do not possess the finesse of a house elf. You'll have to rinse it out in the bathroom sink as soon as you can make it back to our room. Warm water, not too hot. And you can carry it in the meantime, since you've rendered it useless to me."
Malfoy shoved the chocolaty scarf against Harry's chest and she managed to catch it before it fell to the floor.
"And now I'm cold," Malfoy sighed, exasperated. She eyed Harry in a way Harry wasn't sure she'd ever been eyed before, and then Malfoy was grabbing the end of Harry's scarf and reeling her in. Astonished, Harry stepped forward.
Malfoy's hand caught her shoulder and shoved her back.
"I'm stealing your scarf, Potter; I don't want you along with it. Now pull it off and hand it over."
Since Harry had ruined Malfoy's scarf, and was feeling distinctly overwarm anyway, she complied.
"Are you really willing to wear something of mine?" Harry asked, brows high on her forehead.
"It's black, not some ridiculous Gryffindor red, and it's not like I have any better options," she answered primly, and began the process of coiling Harry's scarf around her neck in a fashion too complicated for Harry to follow. It looked fancy on her, despite always looking kind of lumpy and heavy on its actual owner.
Without another word, Malfoy turned and exited the hall. A chill swept through the opening in the doors, and Harry suddenly felt the loss of her scarf. She looked at the shimmery thing in her hands and shrugged, wrapping it roughly around her neck with the damp patches facing away from the skin.
Wherever she went, Harry smelled the sweetness of chocolate, the growing sourness of the milk, and a scent she'd begun to associate with home because of the way it permeated her room. It was musky, a little floral, a lot human.
Harry kept Malfoy's scarf on throughout the day, despite returning to their room between Charms and dinner.
Harry asked Neville about Susan while Frax slithered happily through a garden bed full of sage, tongue tasting the air quite manically, even for him.
"I've just been thinking about how there are so many people I never really got to know, while I was too worried about Voldemort and all that," she explained. "You're close with Hannah Abbott, aren't you? And Susan Bones?"
Neville was already smiling quite blindingly at Fraxinus, but he turned the smile on Harry for a moment. Neville had grown up to be a surprisingly good looking individual. It still caught Harry off-guard every so often, especially since she hadn't seen Nev's heroic evolution in the last year he spent at school. A part of her still thought of him as the terrified boy he'd been when they first met.
"Yeah, we all meet up a few mornings a week to work with the Tentacula, amongst other things. Hannah's got triple Arithmancy this afternoon (mental—can you even imagine?) but Susan and I have free time after Defence, if you'd like to join us. We're just repotting a few mandrakes for Professor Sprout. If we get done quickly we might have time for tea and cake, too."
Harry didn't love the idea of spending her break repotting mandrakes, but it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Neville's beaming made her glad to be doing it, anyway.
"Should I bring the snakes along?" Harry asked.
"Better not, with the mandrakes. Sometime when we're doing herbs or Gurdyroots, maybe. Or planting seeds! I'm sure Frax would like the see how they start out! He could keep track of them growing right from scratch."
Frax was getting restless, hearing Nev talking but not knowing what about, so Harry dutifully translated the offer and before she knew it she was locked in to regular greenhouse visits. She found she actually didn't mind; it was nice, seeing Neville so excited about the thing he really loved. He was a lucky man, to have figured his passion out and turned it into something that was useful and rewarding, peaceful and vigorous, social and solitary all at once.
Susan was surprised to see Harry at the greenhouse, fidgeting with the blue fluffy earmuffs she'd picked out of Professor Sprout's collection.
"Harry," she said, and flashed a smile that was friendly but a touch hesitant. "Are you helping with the mandrakes, then? I didn't know you were interested in herbology."
Harry nodded, and tried to give her a natural-looking smile in return. Something had gone wrong with her facial muscles, though, and suddenly every expression she tried felt off.
"Trying to broaden my horizons this year," she said, looking at her feet. "Trying things I never really found time for before. Hanging out with more people."
"I think that's great."
Susan was friendly, and she and Nev both gave Harry a lot of help when it turned out she'd forgotten almost everything about the repotting process from second year. The two herbologists worked perfectly without having to talk about their tasks, which was good since they couldn't have heard one another. They weren't done particularly early, probably because Harry was more of a liability than a help, but they still found time to grab hot chocolate from the kitchens.
"It's strange for things to be back to normal like this," said Susan. "After everything that went on at Hogwarts last year. Sometimes I think it was all a bad dream and I'm the only one who remembers it, until I hear Parvati having a nightmare, or Hannah starts crying all of a sudden and can't stop, or Justin goes pale and has to leave the room without saying why. And then I spend an afternoon in the greenhouse with Harry Potter," she looked shyly at Harry sipping her drink before continuing, "and for the first time I'm conscious that things have changed without having to be reminded by something horrible, some empty seat or battle scar."
"It's strange for me too," Harry admitted, feeling her ears warm and hoping their redness could be passed off as an effect of the tight earwear they'd just taken off. "It's like... my whole life was leading up to the war. Now I have to figure out what school is like when you're not trying to stop Voldemort all the time."
Susan flinched, but tried valiantly to hide it. Harry felt guiltier now that the people she said the name to were being reminded of their own experiences of Voldemort—but that didn't mean she'd ever treat the name with fear. One day it'd just stop being relevant, and then she wouldn't say it at all. It was very strange to think about the name that had chased her from childhood, defined her by opposition, no longer mattering. It left Harry bereft in a way it shouldn't have. Only one half of the prophecy remained now; there was no more of that story to be told.
"And how's the figuring out going?" Susan asked. "You're playing quidditch again, yeah? Ever thought of going pro?"
Harry grinned. "I'm definitely playing, and I can't say I didn't picture what it'd be like to play in the World Cup back in fourth year—but I haven't thought too seriously about it. I haven't thought too seriously about anything. It seemed a bit pointless if I wasn't going to—" Harry paused before the word survive could tumble out of her mouth, and finished with, "graduate" instead. It made less sense, but this wasn't the place to talk about death. This was for hot drinks and friendly conversation.
"Like you need your NEWTs to find a job Harry!" Neville slapped her in the shoulder. "You could join the Aurors tomorrow and nobody'd blink an eye."
Harry knew this was true, because Kingsley had suggested that special entry for certain war heroes would be a possibility, should they wish to enlist. Harry hadn't spoken with Neville about this, but it was possible he'd been offered the same opportunity.
"Maybe, but that's because I've had practice at Defence Against the Dark Arts. Any other field and I've got no experience and no particularly good marks either. I don't want to get into something because of my name and then be total rubbish at it. That doesn't help anyone."
Susan looked thoughtful. She listened deeply; Harry could feel her attention as she spoke. It was an admirable talent in a person, making someone feel important by listening. Harry had used to feel it with Dumbledore, sometimes, although she had some reservations now about just how much he heard her. With Susan, there didn't seem to be any agenda.
"What do you want to learn about?" she asked. "If it's herbology then you're more than welcome to keep helping us in the greenhouse. We can give you plenty of tips, and it's a better way to get practice than just reading about plants."
"Not that there's anything wrong with reading about plants," Neville said quickly, as though Harry might tell Hermione what had been said.
"I'm better with things that are hands-on. I'm bloody glad Arithmancy was never compulsory."
"Speaking of Arithmancy—" Susan cast a quick tempus and then tipped back the last of her hot chocolate, "—I told Hannah I'd meet her outside the classroom and it's nearly time. I'd better get going."
"Hermione's in that class," Harry remembered suddenly, and seized the opportunity for some one-on-one time. "I'll come with you."
"The more the merrier," Susan agreed easily. "I still sort of hate walking around some parts of the castle alone. Hannah likes it even less. 's why I'm always meeting her—not that I don't enjoy spending the time together too."
"That's kind of you."
"Friends, you know?" Susan smiled. "You do whatever you can to help."
Harry knew without a doubt that it would be lovely to be Susan's friend, and that she wanted that opportunity for herself.
"I've really enjoyed this afternoon," she said honestly. "And not because of the mandrakes—though those weren't so bad either, I guess."
Susan laughed, soft but bright. "I've had fun too. I feel like I know you better after just talking today than after watching from a distance for seven years."
"You were watching me?" Harry blurted out, and cringed.
"It was kind of hard to avoid watching. The fame, the gossip, the media. The Triwizard Tournament; DA; Potterwatch; the war..."
"Oh, right." Of course.
"But like I said," Susan soothed the frustration Harry hadn't thought was particularly obvious, "I feel like I know you better from today than from all of that. It's nice, talking as just two people."
Harry's frustration didn't disappear. Instead, it fashioned itself into something else—something equally restless but less irritable. Her stomach stirred with nerves, and Harry wanted... well, she wanted. She liked Susan, and she knew that now was the perfect time to suggest—
"Would you like to go to Hogsmeade with me?"
Susan's face was full of gentle surprise. "Are you asking me as a friend, or as a date?"
Harry could feel the blood thrumming through her. She was really doing this; really asking another girl out.
"A date," she clarified, nodding her confirmation for extra emphasis.
They rounded a corner and the dim corridor gave way to a brighter one. In a shaft of yellowed late-afternoon sunlight, Harry could see new hints of pink in Susan's cheeks.
"This is unexpected," Susan replied, flustered. "I wasn't aware you were interested in girls."
"Most people aren't. Ron and Hermione know—and now you too."
"Harry, I'm honoured. Thank you for telling me, and for asking me. It's just that... well, I love someone else. Not another Hogwarts girl, so don't get carried away wondering. She went to Durmstrang, actually. Her name is Nysse—we write to each other a lot, pay visits in the holidays. I'm going to ask her to be my girlfriend at Christmas."
Harry watched Susan's flush grow as the low but animated words fell from her lips. Harry expected herself to feel more disappointment than she did; this was rejection, after all. Instead her excitement remained. It was the first time she'd come out to someone without any sort of anger or sadness. It was the first time she'd talked about it with someone who understood—who could shyly share their own crushes on girls with her.
Harry grinned. "I'm sure it'll go great, Susan. I'm happy for you."
"I hope so."
"She's a lucky woman."
"I'll definitely tell her you said that. It's sure to strengthen my allure that Harry Potter would ask me out." Susan paused. "Was the Hogsmeade date supposed to be a way for you to go public? Because I'll still help you come out, if you want."
She was right; since Harry was bound to be captured by at least one camera on any trip outside Hogwarts, she'd known it could be a shortcut. Harry didn't want to hold a press conference or make a statement, but she also didn't want to be snapped snogging someone in a dark alcove as though ashamed of it. This way she could pick her moment.
Harry thought about it. Hogsmeade was approaching fast, and it wasn't as though there was anyone else she wanted to ask. Whether it was a real date or not, going out with Susan would be fun.
"If I buy lunch, will you tell me more about this Durmstrang girl of yours?" Harry asked. She really was curious; she wanted to know more about other gay girls, what their lives and relationships were really like day to day, and how everything from flirting to sex worked. She didn't expect Susan to offer her all of this information, but every puzzle piece made the picture clearer, and each was a drastic improvement given how little Harry had filled in so far.
"Throw in a few Butterbeers and I'll tell you about our travel plans for after I graduate," said Susan with another carefree chuckle.
Draco went straight back to her room after Arithmancy and did not find Potter there. Her scarf was also conspicuously absent, despite the fact that Potter had clearly been back after her own classes; her books, quill, ink and parchment were all strewn recklessly across her bedspread. Her robes had also been left behind, and the hideous hand-knitted jumper she wore when lounging around did not catch and burn Draco's eyes no matter where in the room they looked. Draco wondered what it meant that Potter had kept the scarf on, despite returning and even changing her clothes—besides, of course, meaning that the stains would probably never come out since they'd been given all day to soak in. Then she had to wonder why she was wondering; whether it had to mean anything or whether there was simply something she wanted it to mean.
This internal investigation was not a comfortable one. Draco flicked through one of her Transfiguration textbooks rather than see it through to its conclusion.
When Potter did return, it was with actual soil on her clothing and an odd expression on her face.
"Merlin, Potter," Draco said boredly, "did someone bury you and leave you to dig yourself out of the earth?"
Potter let out a small laugh—a laugh. She laughed at Draco's lazy joke—and shook her head.
"I was repotting mandrakes."
"That makes less sense than your live burial."
"With Neville and Susan Bones. They're nice and we were hanging out."
"Hanging out. With Longbottom and Bones. Repotting mandrakes."
Potter seemed to recognise how out of character the actions were, because she stopped trying to treat Draco's incredulity as unwarranted and flopped down on the edge of her bed.
Draco made a noise of disgust, which caused Potter to stop unlacing her filthy shoes and look up at her.
"Take a shower before touching anything. You ought to have showered before even setting foot in this room."
"I'm not that dirty," Potter frowned.
"I beg to differ." Draco pointed commandingly toward the en suite, and Potter got up and went without further complaint.
It snagged on something in Draco's mind. There had to be something else up with Potter, if she wasn't even putting up a fight, wasn't letting her usual poorly restrained anger out.
"What's gotten into you since breakfast?" Draco called through the shut bathroom door. It seemed impatient, but it was actually easier to ask questions without those bloody green eyes boring into her.
"What makes you think anything's gotten into me since breakfast?" Potter replied, and Draco rolls her eyes.
"You're too... too happy, or something like it," Draco struggled to explain. She hoped her derisive tone clarified her opinion on Potter's strange behaviour.
Potter laughed, and switched on the shower spray, which began to drown the sound out. Draco tried hard not to think about the fact she was definitely conversing with a naked Potter. A naked Potter standing under the steamy spray of the shower, letting it flatten her rowdy hair (at least, Draco hoped she was washing the hair. It needed washing). There was something too... domestic, about speaking to someone while they showered. Something too casually intimate for comfort when it was Potter on the other side of the door.
"It's probably because I have a date," said Potter, and the frankness of it magnified Draco's discomfort a thousandfold. Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter didn't talk about dates in their private room while calmly meeting the demands of personal hygiene. Except that now they were.
"A date?" was all the response Draco could manage. It was possible she'd heard wrongly, the words distorted by gushing water and tile echo and wooden door.
"A date," Potter repeated, and this time Draco was certain she'd heard correctly. "I'm going to Hogsmeade with Susan this weekend."
Draco froze, more grateful than before to be having this conversation while she and Potter were hidden from each other's view. She could barely imagine what her face was doing, but the expression was tense and her muscles felt something like melting cheese. Potter was... Potter was...
Potter seemed to read something into her silence, and went on, in a tone that promised no compromises: "I hope for your sake you won't make a problem out of it, Malfoy."
"You shouldn't jump to conclusions so quickly, Potter," Draco said, struggling to muster the volume required to reach Potter's ears. "I've no problem with your newfound lesbianism. It's presumptuous of you to assume I care at all."
A pause. "Well, good," Potter replied at last. "Because who I fancy doesn't concern you at all. If you'd a problem with it that'd make you a colossal bitch."
Her own words thrown back at her reminded Draco that now each of them had accepted something queer about the other. Was Potter implying that it was supposed to be a fair trade, then? That each of them would be respected so long as the other remained respectful? Draco bit her tongue before she could tell Potter about how ludicrously hypocritical it would be to fuss over her roommate liking girls. That would put two cards into Potter's hands while Draco held only one.
The revelation changed things. Not in a negative way—although, Draco would argue, this might actually be worse. Things changed because knowing Potter liked girls opened up what felt like possibilities in Draco's mind. She fought hard to remind herself that they weren't; that girlness alone didn't make up for the fact that she was Draco Malfoy and Potter was Potter. Or, she reprimanded herself in cold tones passed down by her father, that Potter would be interested in a girl like her. There was an ocean of difference between not treating someone like a freak and being attracted to them. What Draco needed to do was adjust her expectations. She'd been doing it a lot in the last few years. She'd worked up a certain level of skill.
It was just hard not to think about it while she lay awake listening to the little snores that meant Potter was enjoying a rare night's sleep, or when Potter asked her about her day like she'd forgotten Draco wasn't actually a friend, or when Potter groaned and issued what Draco now understood were completely empty threats to hex her at the sound of her early morning alarm. It was hard when Potter rinsed and soaked Draco's milky scarf and returned it. A shadow of the stain remained, and Draco knew she would never choose to wear it again when she had other, pristine options.
"It's a lost cause," she told Potter, turning her nose up. "Might as well be thrown away, or donated to a house elf or a Weasley."
Potter scowled, as Draco knew she would; Weasley jabs were never well received, never laughed off. These insults were second nature, and yet Draco had almost begun to feel bad about them. There was something unpleasant about saying things she knew would put that expression on Potter's face—the one that said she should have known better than to think Draco was any more worth speaking to now than she'd ever been.
Potter turned up to breakfast the following morning with Draco's former scarf knotted inelegantly around her neck. The fine fabric clashed so profoundly with the thick blue and orange wool of her beanie-of-the-day that she appeared to be pioneering a new style; one founded upon the deliberate combination of absolute opposites. Anyone else would have looked ridiculous—at least, much more ridiculous—but there was power in the careless way Potter wore her terrible outfits. Something that said, I can wear anything and I'll still be Harry fucking Potter. It didn't come across in the uncomfortable photographs of her Witch Weekly printed in columns tearing her non-attempts at style apart, but in person the Potter charisma did what it had always done and made objectively poor choices look desirable.
Draco thought about that as she spent her hour in the bathroom assembling the person she needed everyone to see her as.
Potter didn't ask for her scarf back, either, even when Draco wound it around her own neck right in front of her roommate. It was chunky and slightly ragged but exceedingly comfortable. It did not give off the kind of impression Draco tried to maintain with her clothing choices, but when she paired it with particularly fine, feminine items she could make it work.
Harry had to admit she was somewhat surprised that no twisted rumours about her sexuality had flown around the school (or at least made their way through Slytherin house) now that Malfoy knew. Harry had come out of her shower and Malfoy hadn't mentioned the conversation at all—to the point where Harry started to wonder if it had been a strange hallucination, if the sound of the shower had distorted a discussion that had actually been about something else entirely, or she'd started hearing voices again.
Harry wondered whether this was Malfoy trying to prove she could be trusted—trying to convince Harry to confide in her. She had to have an angle, a motive. It was Malfoy.
And yet the most suspicious thing Malfoy ever seemed to do was wear Harry's scarf around as if she actually liked the thing. Harry had no idea what she meant by it. She had little enough idea of why she continued to wear Malfoy's scarf; it was nothing like the rest of her clothes, too obviously expensive, delicate, flashy. It probably came from the same shop as Malfoy's blue bralette. It made Harry feel different—like she couldn't predict herself so nobody else could either.
Maybe that was all it was; another unexpected thing, another impulse indulged. But that didn't explain the way she half-hoped Malfoy would comment on it each time she saw her. To acknowledge, whether she was pleased or displeased by it, that this little thing connected them.
Harry went back to the greenhouse with Nev and Susan two days after the first time, and they were also joined by Hannah Abbott and Luna. Luna didn't seem to help with the plants so much as admire and sometimes speak to them, but nobody suggested she do anything other than whatever she felt like. Her company was enough. Harry hoped that her own was, too, because it turned out she was even worse at planting seeds properly than repotting mandrakes. Susan laughed at her failure to follow Neville's careful instructions, and Harry secretly blamed the Hufflepuff's proximity to her for her lack of focus on the task.
Harry also brought Frax and Pearl with her, both of whom Luna took to instantly. Pearl, Harry found, liked her especially well. Frax was constantly distracted, always wanting to watch Neville and urging Harry to translate for him—but Pearl practically preened under Luna's careful admiration, and was endeared by her repetition of parseltongue words Harry spoke.
"So Harry," Hannah started up after a lull in the conversation, "I hear you and Sue are going to be hanging out at Hogsmeade."
Harry, unsure of whether Susan had explained the nature of the outing to the others present, simply nodded.
"Good of you to notice us Hufflepuffs at last," Hannah went on, and though the words lacked actual venom and were accompanied by a placid look, Harry couldn't help but hear a hard edge underneath.
"I've been a bit distracted," she said cautiously. "My whole life until now. I missed a lot of things. The normal, good, fun things."
Hannah seemed satisfied. "We can show you some other things we do for fun, if you'd like. How are you at cooking?"
"Er," Harry was caught off-guard. "I used to do it as a kid, the Muggle way. And Mrs Weasley taught me a couple of spells. But with the exception of campfire cooking I'm out of practice, to put it kindly."
"Well, how are you at eating, then? Favourite dessert?"
Harry had this answer, at least: "Treacle tart."
"Good choice," Hannah nodded approvingly. "I can show you how to whip up a top notch one if you fancy an afternoon in the kitchens sometime."
"You definitely want to take her up on that, mate," Neville put in.
Harry glanced around at the others; Nev was still looking down at the garden bed, testing to make sure all the nutrient potions were at the right levels to kickstart the seeds' growth. Luna and Susan were both looking at her, mouths curled into encouraging smiles.
"Sure," Harry told Hannah. "That sounds great."
So few students elected to take NEWT-level History of Magic that seventh and eighth years from all houses had been combined. This was how Draco found herself sitting next to Luna Lovegood several times a week. Ordinarily, Luna acted like Draco was just any other person; she asked questions if she'd missed something, or asked politely whether Draco had finished the homework yet, but didn't really try to talk to her. Draco was grateful for this, both because it was hard enough to stay focused on Professor Binns' lecturing, and because she didn't know what she'd say to a girl whose imprisonment she had been responsible for. Draco hadn't a clue what was going on in Luna's head when she decided to take the seat next to Draco's—it wasn't as if there weren't enough whole desks for each of them—and yet it happened every week. Draco contemplated arriving after Luna so she could pick her own seat away from her, but Luna was always later than Draco could afford to be.
Two days after the revelation of Potter's Hogsmeade date with the Hufflepuff girl, Luna turned to Draco and asked, "Are you going to Hogsmeade this weekend?"
Draco had been planning to make as unobtrusive a stop at Gladrags as possible, to pick up a new scarf. She had even lied to Pansy when asked if she was going, and she'd lied to Blaise too because he was pants at keeping what he considered 'trivial' secrets from Pansy. It was true that keeping things from Pansy required a certain amount of tenacity, and if one was not sufficiently committed to the task it was easy to give in.
Draco gave Luna a muddled explanation of these facts.
"Want to come with me?" Luna asked blithely.
Draco blanched. "Why?"
"Well, because Harry's going with Susan, and Hannah and Neville have a day's worth of botanical errands to run, Ginny's going with Dean, and Hermione's staying back to help Ron with his Transfiguration essay. I always enjoy Hogsmeade more with friends, so I thought of you."
"Friends... so you thought of me," Draco repeated faintly.
"Yes, friends. At least, I hope that's what we can be. I like your eyeshadow by the way—it reminds me of unicorn tears."
Draco would have to be an idiot to reject Lovegood's hand in friendship—any hand that wasn't going to drag her down, for that matter—and she was frankly too baffled to formulate more of a response than, "Alright."
"Wonderful. I'll meet you outside the eighth year common room."
Luna beamed, and then went right back to scribbling her notes in the bizarre, coded shorthand she always used.
Hogsmeade with Luna was an entirely different experience, as Draco expected any experience she led would be. They browsed leisurely through a procession of little businesses Draco had never noticed before: an apothecary with premises about the size of a cupboard, run by a man who was at least part dwarf and whom Luna knew by name; a shop filled with carved and beaded jewellery items that Draco couldn't guess where on her person to put; a stall that sold the best toffee strawberries Draco had ever eaten; a seedy little alcove which seemed to be a devoted gambling spot but where, Luna insisted, the camomile was just delightful. By the time they were done, Draco had forgotten all about her plans to visit Gladrags, and as the afternoon began to fade she found herself too tired to go through with them. She'd also forgotten to watch for Potter and her date, purely out of curiosity. (She would only have to read the papers to find out about anything she'd missed on that front, so it hardly mattered.)
"Thank you," Draco told Luna, who was wearing a garland of carved roses and amethyst that Draco bought her in the second shop. "I've had a pleasant day."
"So have I," Luna replied, and sprang forward to wrap Draco in a hug, like it really was as simple as that. "Time to get back up to the castle for dinner, though. I hope they've made pancakes."
Draco didn't point out that the Hogwarts house elves had never made pancakes for dinner before. Too many stranger things had happened to her already.
The next day's Prophet did include photographs of Potter's date. The headline was not, however, any variant of POTTER A MUFF DIVER. Instead, whichever of Rita Skeeter's poor interns was assigned the task had labelled the pictures as 'Harry Potter spending the first Hogsmeade weekend of the term with new pal, Hufflepuff student Susan Bones'. Never mind that the photographs showed Potter holding Bones' hand as they walked, hips touching, down the street, Potter sipping from a cocktail glass with Bones' lipstick on the rim and making a face at the taste, and Bones leaning in to place a kiss on Harry's cheek right at the corner of her mouth, after which Harry's skin visibly darkened with blushing even in the black and white grainy newspaper print.
Only the Quibbler had it right, reporting that Bones and Potter had shared a day out, marking the Saviour's first public foray into same-sex romance. It was good to know that queer girls were on par with nonexistent magical creatures and outrageous conspiracy theories in the eyes of the media. Draco wondered what they would have written about her, had she not taken out an advertisement so obvious the message could hardly be misconstrued. Perhaps Potter needed to do the same; buy a page and plaster HARRY POTTER IS ATTRACTED TO WOMEN across it in an easy-to-read typeface.
Draco suggested this to her as they prepared for bed that evening.
"I can see why you did it, now," Potter said, sounding like the admission was painful for her to make.
"Tell your own story," Draco said, voicing the thought to herself as much as Potter. "They only thing you can trust them to do is get it wrong."
Potter made a noise that conveyed total, emphatic agreement. Draco replayed in her head as she drifted off.
To describe Hannah Abbott as 'a good cook' would be to totally misunderstand what she was.
Harry met her outside the entrance to the kitchens, where Hannah tickled the pear to admit them. The Hogwarts house elves were pleased to see Harry as they usually were, but what she wasn't expecting was the way they flocked to Hannah even more admiringly.
"What is Miss Abbott wishing to make today?" they asked her.
"Just some treacle tart to start with," she told them. Her tone of voice was authoritative but not at all condescending. Harry thought she treated the elves more like equals than anyone she'd met before. Even to Hermione, they were projects; creatures to be pitied until wizarding society at large learned to treat them differently. "We're going to show Harry what we do here."
"Of course, treacle tart is Harry Potter's favourite!" exclaimed one of the elves, who Harry was ashamed to say she did not recall the name of.
"We'll work with whoever's in charge of dessert tonight, and you can have a few extra hands for dinner. There might even be time to make an extra dish."
The elves nodded excitedly at the prospect. Hannah seemed to know just how they worked, and what instructions would appeal to them.
"Do you come and help them often?" Harry asked.
"Help them?" Hannah looked at her incredulously. "Hardly. They help me. But yes, all the time."
As Hannah guided Harry through a set of completely unfamiliar steps for the construction of treacle tarts, Harry learned that since discovering the kitchen entrance in second year Hannah had been something of an apprentice to the Hogwarts house elves.
"Mum and Dad taught me the usual ways of cooking as a kid—both sides of the family have always taken pride in our skills with food—but there are so many things house elves can do that have no equivalents in any kitchen spellbook. Mum was great at custom spells, and I picked up a lot from her. When I started coming here, I wanted to learn the magic that the elves did.
"I didn't manage it properly for years, because obviously the elves don't use wands or incantations like we do. Their magic just sort of happens. It was once we started studying Merlin's formulas for translating wandless magic into language in Arithmancy that I finally cracked it. Since then I've been designing new spells based on what the elves have shown me. They've been very patient."
Harry watched Hannah work with wide eyes. Her wonder was tempered only by her shame at never having noticed how brilliant the other witch was. Hannah talked as she worked, occasional spells punctuating her sentences seamlessly. She told Harry about the cooking spellbook she had been compiling since fifth year, and the handful of publishers vying for the rights to it. Hannah was confident she'd have it completed by the time she graduated, and then she'd be able to step right out of schooling and into her book's editing and promotion.
"You're amazing, truly," Harry told her honestly, when she couldn't think of any subtler way to express what she was feeling.
"Thanks," Hannah accepted the compliment as her due.
Harry was suddenly conscious of the enormous scope of this practical skill she'd always dismissed. She could test meals for poison and curses, but without Muggle equipment she could barely make them. And if she kept going like she had between the war's end and the start of term, she'd end up married to her microwave. This was exactly the kind of life skill the new Harry Potter needed, she decided.
"Could you teach me more?" she asked. "Or will you be too busy finishing your book?"
Hannah eyed her calculatingly. "Tell you what: I'll teach you whatever you want to know if you let me quote a glowing review from Harry Potter on my cover."
Harry thought that sounded more than fair.
Despite having a genuinely nice day out with Susan, Harry hadn't managed to achieve either of her goals: successfully coming out, or acquiring a date to the dance. She thought about asking Susan, but she still held out hope of finding someone she could actually have a chance with. Harry liked Susan very much, but after hearing all about Nysse it was clear that Susan's feelings for the girl were deep and well-established. Harry wanted something that resembled what they had, not something that would replace it.
Meanwhile, Harry was actually entertaining Draco's mocking suggestion that she come out in an ad in the paper. The pictures of her and Susan had been remarkably intimate, and Harry couldn't see how their misinterpretation could be accidental. It wasn't like the Prophet ever had a problem with sensationalising the smallest and most innocuous incidents, or feared the consequences of spreading lies. The last time the media had been so in denial, it was about the return of Voldemort. Harry's sexuality was obviously not on par with that... except that perhaps in Rita Skeeter's unfathomable mind it could be.
The affection caught in the pictures had been too subtle, Harry assured herself. That was all. They hadn't actually been trying to romance each other, after all. They had put on a few intimate moments for witnesses—and Harry had enjoyed those moments, too—but Susan hadn't kissed her on the lips. If Harry was seen actually snogging another girl then it would have to be acknowledged.
Harry tried to focus on her Transfiguration essay to take her mind off it; even Ron had finished his, with Hermione's help while Harry was at Hogsmeade. As a result, Ron had cleared a few afternoons to practice before the upcoming quidditch try-outs.
Harry got to her room only to find that Malfoy had had the same thought as her. Except that Malfoy was working on what was either a second or third draft of the essay Harry was yet to start. She sat on her bed shuffling various annotated sheets of parchment, copying down paragraphs she'd circled in green ink and crossing out others in red as she decided what to copy into her final version. It was much like the process Hermione always went through. Harry always pictured herself trying it when they were assigned new tasks, but she never ended up actually doing it. This time, like every other, she'd left it too late.
She took out her textbook, her quill, and then stared at her blank parchment listening to the scratching sounds of Malfoy writing.
"When are the Slytherin quidditch try-outs?" Harry asked.
Malfoy made an irritated noise. "Can't you see that I'm working, Potter? But if you must know, they're on Thursday."
"Gryffindor's are on Friday."
"Do I look like I care?"
"An astute observation."
"You're going for seeker though, yeah?"
Malfoy slammed her quill down with as much force as one could slam down a feather, and looked at Harry with exasperation.
"Yes. I look forward to besting you in sports as well as academics this year."
"You wish, Malfoy."
Malfoy raised one of her blonde brows. "I don't think it's particularly wishful thinking to assume I'll get the better mark in Transfiguration, given your efforts so far."
"It's hard, alright. I was never great at essays to begin with, and now it just feels like there's this barrier between me and the page. Anything I try to say comes out completely wrong."
"Have you gathered enough sources to form an argument?"
"Er." Harry had cast her eyes over a few chapters of the text, but none of it had sunk in. She'd barely been able to remember what each sentence had said the moment she was done reading it, let alone days afterward.
"Merlin, Potter, have you done anything at all?"
Harry might as well not have, for all the progress she'd made, so she just shook her head.
"Come here," Malfoy ordered, and started neatly stacking up her own essaywriting equipment, shifting it along the bed so that there was room for another person to sit. Harry just stared. "I said come here, Potter. If you're going to waste my time I won't bother trying to help you again."
"Why are you trying to help me in the first place?"
"Because it physically pains me to see how useless you are. And there's less satisfaction in winning a fight so blatantly unfair."
Harry didn't point out that this notion probably wasn't very Slytherin, because she suspected Malfoy would rescind the offer if she did, and she needed the help too much. Besides, she thought as she settled on top of Malfoy's bed and found herself surrounded by the same scent the shiny scarf carried in its threads, it couldn't hurt to find out what Malfoy helping looked like.
The Witch Weekly spread was out on Wednesday, and it was awful. Harry's clothing choices had been dissected so many times before she'd thought she was immune, but the framing this time it was different. POTTER VS MALFOY the headline read, and underneath it: Potter may have defeated Malfoy's side in the Battle of Hogwarts, but in the battle for Hogwarts' best dressed the results are very different.
On opposing pages were pictures of herself and Malfoy, taken at Hogsmeade. Their companions were both cropped unceremoniously out of the frames, and they were positioned as though eyeing one another off in a duel. Harry was surprised to find that, after so many years spent glaring at and duelling with Malfoy on purpose, she didn't like the insinuation. She was being civil, and so, against the odds, was Malfoy. Resurrecting the full extent of their past animosity would only make life harder now that they had to live with each other.
Not to mention it was disrespectful to dredge up the war for use in a vapid fashion column, but Harry had been forced to develop a tolerance for that sort of thing after spending too much of her time off wanting to punch walls and yell at people. Or punch people. All she'd actually managed to do was yell at walls, though. The press tied everything they possibly could to Harry and the war victory. It sold papers, moved magazines. Harry could bleed herself dry trying to fight it but she'd never win.
She skipped the paragraphs disparaging her fashion choices, but read more closely once Malfoy's name was mentioned. Malfoy looked good in the photo. Really good. The sun illuminated her unblemished, pale skin; her hair drifted backward with the breeze, and her face was softened by a private smile. Her outfit was smart, particularly when compared with Harry's. Nevertheless, Harry expected they'd find negative things to say purely because it was Malfoy.
Draco Malfoy may be one of Britain's most controversial people, but the one thing that isn't questionable about her is her sense of style! Malfoy's Hogsmeade outfit combined the timeless with the up-to-the-minute, the understated with the bold. Wearing a pair of black trousers in the current Muggle-influenced fashion, Malfoy proved herself open to nontraditional fashion trends—and perhaps hoped to signal that she's changed since the war. Dark Marks may not fade, but few can deny the recent outward changes in the ex-Death Eater! Tucked neatly into the trousers, Malfoy wore one of Gladrags' spider-silk shirts in silver: a simple but quality choice, and undeniably flattering on Malfoy, who even dared to bare a hint of blue lace above the low-cut neckline! Malfoy finished her look with a heavy charcoal cloak boasting an exciting cobalt lining, and accessorised with a classic witch's hat and a coat of what could only be Volkov's lip varnish. The artistic navy lip look swirled and sparkled with impressive custom spellwork—if this year's NEWTs involve cosmetic charms, we say Miss Malfoy will be getting an O for sure!
Harry flipped the magazine shut in confusion, shoving it back across the breakfast table towards Parvati, who'd leant it to her. She couldn't pin down what she was feeling. There was annoyance in the mix for sure: annoyance that even after everything she had done people would always be disappointed with her because of looks, and even after everything Malfoy had done she could get praise just because of them. But there was relief there, too. She hadn't wanted to see scathing drivel about Malfoy in print, and she hadn't had to.
As the article made its way around the Gryffindor table, an awareness of Hermione's absence broke through Harry's contemplation. Usually she would have interrupted with something dismissive about cheap fashion magazines by the time Ron got his hands on whatever the publication of the day was.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked Ron.
Ron shrugged as he swallowed a mouthful, then said, "Dunno. She got a letter and disappeared. Looked pretty happy about it, though. Maybe she's already writing to those universities she's always on about."
Harry was satisfied with the probability of this.
Malfoy, naturally, glowed throughout the day. She had bought up a stack of Witch Weekly copies, and loudly offered to gift Harry and her friends autographed copies.
"Oh sod off," Ron told her.
"Jealous," Malfoy tutted.
It was the kind of interaction that would once have hooked right under Harry's skin and made her want to knock Malfoy's straight white teeth out. Now that she was privy to the casual, private version of Malfoy, however, Harry had begun to recognise the difference between deadpan playfulness and actual insults.
By the time it was just the two of them getting into bed for the night, Malfoy had shed her layers and picked up one of the magazine copies to drink in the article with naked reverence in her eyes.
"I can hardly believe it, you know," she breathed. "I thought for sure..."
"Yeah. So did I."
"I never thought I'd read a complimentary word about myself again—or I thought that if I did, it'd be decades from now when most of the population was too young to remember what the Malfoy name currently means. But here it is. And all I had to do was dress the right way."
"Easy for you," Harry muttered. "Clearly not all of us can speak the language of fashion journalists."
"All of us can speak whatever languages we like," Malfoy said, "if we're willing to spend the time learning them."
Chapter 3: Craftiness of Various Kinds
In which this story briefly entertains the idea of actually having a plot.
On Thursday morning, Harry heard Malfoy yelp after catching her elbow on the bathroom doorframe well before her alarm was due to go off.
"Might as well put a light on," she mumbled.
Malfoy emerged in her quidditch uniform, and Harry realised how long it'd been since she'd seen her in it. The clothes weren't new; they bore the stains of hard practices in previous years, just as Harry's own did. They fit Malfoy just as well as they always had, and Harry's eyes lingered on the strong thighs that proved Malfoy hadn't taken the break from flying that Harry had.
Malfoy didn't look as self-satisfied in her gear as Harry always remembered her looking, though. She slipped back into the bathroom and when she came back her hair was smoothed into a low ponytail that reminded Harry of Malfoy's father. Her lips were coated in a dark Slytherin green shade that shouldn't have worked on her, but somehow did.
It was excessive for sporting trials, though.
"Is the makeup really necessary?"
"Yes," Malfoy snapped as she gathered her broom and unemptying water bottle. Harry saw that her hands were shaking. "Yes, or everyone will forget."
Harry's sleepy mind processed the information for a minute. "That you're a girl?" she asked at last, frowning altogether too deeply for someone wrapped snugly in warm blankets.
"But the girls' quidditch uniform is exactly the same as the boys'. That's what everyone wears, and it doesn't stop any of the other girls from being girls."
"None of the other girls need to dress to convince."
Something in Harry's chest shifted, but Malfoy was already out the door before she could figure out what to say about it.
It wasn't long before Ron came knocking and he, Ginny and Harry were all standing at the window in their pyjamas spying on the Slytherin candidates through omnioculars.
"Malfoy looks good," Ron said, very grudgingly.
Harry agreed. Malfoy was faster than the others by far, a blur of green-and-pale with her blonde ponytail streaming out behind her. When she chased the snitch above or below the main height of play she looked like a creature of infinitely more grace than the rest of the players. Most of the first round of chasers to take the pitch seemed as interested in throwing one another around as they did the quaffle. It could have been a bloodbath if all four of the starting beaters weren't useless. On the few occasions when their bats actually made contact, it was clear they had no control over which direction the bludgers shot off in.
Those four beaters were quickly replaced by two more hopeless cases and a couple with more talent. One, a hulking boy who reminded Harry of the first Slytherin team she'd ever faced as a tiny first year, kept casting his eyes around. Harry soon realised what he was searching for. A bludger screamed off the edge of his bat in Malfoy's direction. She dodged it nicely, but wasted a few seconds looking around in confusion. When a second bludger whipped through the end of her hair, Malfoy identified the culprit and stopped her broom, hovering stiffly in the air and scanning the pitch more anxiously: the beater who'd sent the bludger her way wasn't on the opposing side. Harry's stomach sank as she realised the move hadn't been intended as a demonstration of how well the beater could pulverise the competition. It was personal.
Judging by the way Malfoy's flying grew erratic, she knew it too. Harry remembered what it was like to have a rogue bludger after you, and she supposed a rogue beater wasn't any better. Fred and George had been the only real line of defence between Harry and the bludger coming after her, and the other beater on Malfoy's side wasn't any help. The other players either hadn't noticed, or weren't interested in jeopardising their own chances by intervening.
Harry noticed a hint of gold flash in the direction of the goalposts, and Malfoy saw it a split second later. Harry watched as Malfoy visibly fought the urge to look around for danger, keeping her eyes glued to the snitch. She was closer to it than the other team's seeker, and faster at any rate. The other seeker didn't even notice Malfoy very obviously giving chase until she was halfway there. Malfoy flew with the purpose that Harry remembered so well, and she could imagine the look on her face—a combination of intense focus and glee, with at least a tinge of smugness. Harry wanted to be down there, giving Malfoy a run for her money. The last time Harry had flown at full pelt she'd been flying for her life, Malfoy clinging to her with sweaty hands as fiendfyre scorched the Room.
Harry was so absorbed watching Malfoy stretch her arm out towards the snitch that Ginny's sharp intake of breath and Ron's hushed Blimey were the first she knew of the next bludger hurtling towards Malfoy.
Harry saw the keeper, who was the nearest player, yell a warning, but Malfoy was going too fast and leaning too far forward on her broom to react as she needed to. She pulled sharply to the right, but the broom skidded sideways in the air, sending her straight in the direction of one of the goalposts. Malfoy wrestled with the broom, rolling it over and cleverly positioning herself so that she'd fly through the ring instead of into its edge. She was slowing, though, and Harry started to think she'd stop in time after all—
—and then that beater, who'd been chasing his own bludger in case it didn't find its target, slammed into Malfoy's side, bat first. Blimey, Ron said again, as Ginny made an uncomfortable noise in the back of her throat. Harry could almost hear the sick crunch of Malfoy's body hitting the post, forced hard against it by all the weight of the beater who couldn't have curbed his momentum as swiftly as Malfoy if he'd tried. Which Harry was not convinced he had. Malfoy fell like a shot bird, and Harry almost forgot she didn't have her broom and launched her body out the window. Ron, seeming to sense the urge, laid a hand on her arm.
Before Malfoy had even hit the ground, Harry was running.
First, she thought she was running down to the pitch, but as she flew down staircase after staircase she realised it wouldn't help for her to be there, adding confusion to the moment as Malfoy's teammates tried to deal with it. Harry was closer to the hospital wing than they were; she could make sure Madam Pomfrey was ready.
Despite the potions Madam Pomfrey gave her, Draco hardly got any sleep. This was mostly because certain staff mistakenly believed that allowing Pansy to stay would provide her poor injured self with comfort.
The reality was all kinds of nattering Draco didn't want to hear. Not with the truly outstanding headache that was positively dicing her skull.
"You can cut your hair short again," Pansy had said helpfully, running long fingernails over the delicate, bald skin of the side of Draco's head. It had had to be done, apparently, because the potions to reduce swelling in her brain were best applied topically. The hair could be magically removed, but it couldn't be grown back permanently by magic. Draco hadn't seen herself in a mirror yet. She didn't want to; she might die yet, in which case there was no point subjecting herself to the horror. Pomfrey had assured her that she would recover from her injuries, but Draco might die of frustration with Pansy refusing to leave. She might even hurl herself out the window.
"I don't want my hair short," Draco gritted out. Merlin, talking hurt her jaw—the bone recently reformed. "That's why I grew it."
Pansy shrugged. "Well, not much choice now."
"Don't you have better things to do?"
Pansy gave a false wounded look. "Really, Draco, it's like you don't even appreciate me giving up my precious time to be here."
"Anyway, I was telling you before how Granger is a nightmare to live with—you really can't even imagine. She's bad enough in class but she's even worse the second you leave anything out of place, or go to bed late, or take too long in the shower, or make a sound while she's studying—which, obviously, is always..."
Pansy finally got sick of talking and left for dinner. Draco was heartened when an hour, then two, passed without her return. Finally, she fell asleep.
Time was somewhat static in the hospital wing, where the scenery barely changed. It was so removed from all the real goings on outside it that Draco had always conceived of it as purgatory on earth. She asked for the nearest window to be kept open so that she could at least keep track of whether it was light or dark.
The sunlight was still fresh and shy when the first casualty of the Gryffindor try-outs was rushed in. It was a second-year boy who'd fallen off his broom without any help from a bludger or savage teammate. He reminded Draco very strongly indeed of a young Neville Longbottom.
Of course, Neville Longbottom's standing nowadays was nothing someone like Draco had any right to sneer at. Funny how much a person could gain from a war started for someone else's benefit.
The second and final injury was a mere bloody nose, suffered by Weasley who'd decided a heroic save was worth copping a bludger to the face. It was a sure way to make the team, Draco thought. Especially the Gryffindor team. Despite the fact that Weasley could walk and talk fine on his own, Potter escorted him. Draco stayed quiet and pretended not to exist. It was one thing for Potter to see her with messy morning hair and unconcealed eyebags; it was another to be seen with chunks missing and still-fading black eyes.
Nevertheless, Potter appeared at her bedside.
"How are you?" she asked, stupidly.
"How does it look like I am?"
Potter paused. "Bit rough."
A jolt of pain crushed the laughter bubbling in her chest.
"A bit," said Draco. "And I suppose you've made your house team."
Potter nodded. She barely looked pleased at all.
"And I suppose they've named Driscoll as Slytherin seeker."
Potter nodded again.
Draco had expected it, but the knowledge was bitter all the same. "You won't have to worry too much about the competition, then."
"I'm not so sure," Potter said, quietly as though she didn't want Weasley to overhear. That was interesting. "I'm in terrible shape. I didn't even catch the snitch—nobody else did either, but... well. Every time I started to get lost in it, in the flying, I'd remember the fire."
Draco stared. Why would Potter level the playing field when Draco was no longer in the game at all? Why should Potter trade her own hidden weaknesses when Draco's were written on her body for all to see?
"Practice makes perfect, Potter. Get off your arse and perhaps then you'll convince yourself you earned your spot."
Potter still seemed unsure. Her eyes kept focusing on Draco and then darting away again, like she didn't know where to look or whether she was allowed to, but couldn't stop herself from doing it. She was taking in the lopsided hair, and the bruises which were probably an attractive mottled yellow-green shade by now. The potions for brain trauma included a maximum dose of eye of newt—also an ingredient in fast-working contusion medicines. Thus Draco was stuck with the slow treatment until Pomfrey took her off the other potions.
Then a strangely resolute, dark look came over Potter's features, like she'd just remembered she was supposed to be pleased Draco was lying in the hospital, out of her way. Draco waited.
At last, Potter opened her mouth and said: "Garret's on the team."
Garret. Fucking Garret, who'd ruined Draco's last chance to play quidditch for her house. Who, according to Blaise, blamed Draco for singlehandedly ruining the reputation of Slytherin house and obstructing Garret's own political ambitions. With all the subtlety the boy possessed, he'd have done it on his own even if there never was a Dark Lord, a war, or a Draco Malfoy.
"Of course Garret's on the team. They're hoping he'll do to you exactly what he did to me."
Potter's jaw clenched. Her eyes were dark, and so was her hair, and her skin. Against the sterile white backdrop she looked like a gathering thundercloud. "Our beaters are pretty good," she said. "Maybe it'll be him who gets what's coming to him."
Draco felt suddenly very frail and tired. She knew how to deal with Potter's anger when it was directed at her, but she'd need her faculties in perfect order if she was going to come to terms with the wrath of Harry Potter surging up in her defence. Yes, Potter had spoken in Draco's favour at her trial, but she'd exhibited next to no emotion standing there in front of the Wizengamot and the press gallery. She'd looked so little like herself that Draco hadn't really reconciled that testimony with the girl she now roomed with. The girl who always seemed to be wearing her feelings openly on her face, expressive even if all she felt was tired or bored.
"Tell me about your team," Draco requested. "Promise I won't tell."
The tension broke, like the first raindrops after a heavy summer day. "Good try, Malfoy," Potter laughed. "I know you're still in the reserves. You won't get a damn thing out of me."
Pansy hadn't said anything about that. Neither had Blaise.
"You didn't know?" Potter frowned, but pressed on quickly: "Congratulations then. They must be hoping you'll get well enough to take over from Driscoll soon enough."
Draco's heart was pounding, and she could feel the last of her energy burning up. She was on the team. She was on the team despite Garret's best efforts, and he wouldn't be able to make it look like an accident twice; imbecile though he was, any Slytherin had to know better than that. She fell asleep and dreamed about clipping Garret's broom as she raced for the snitch, watching him cry out on his way to the ground as she held the little flapping ball up and the crowd chanted her name.
Harry had slept alone in the old Black house since the end of the war. Granted, she hadn't slept very well, but that wasn't down to solitude or even location so much as it was stress, grief, nightmares, and nightmarish memories. It wasn't because of the absence of another person's breathing, or the oversmooth silence where the rustling of sheets ought to have been.
She'd been sleeping across from Draco Malfoy for a few weeks, that was all, and already it was strange to try and sleep without her. Harry had never had such silence at Hogwarts before, when all the Gryffindor girls in the year were packed into a dorm together. Grimmauld Place always seemed like it was meant to be eerily silent, Harry supposed. At Hogwarts, quiet was unsettling because it was unusual, unexpected.
Or perhaps Harry was over-thinking it. She climbed out of bed and tried to do a few pushups but her arms trembled and gave way under her weight. For all that her performance had been rubbish at quidditch try-outs that morning, she'd played as hard as she could and would undoubtedly have the aches and pains to prove it by morning.
If Ginny had wanted to play seeker then Harry would have been out of a position; Ginny was every bit as fast, but she was also cunning in a way that still caught Harry off guard now and then. She had a very effective seeker's poker face, and reflexes so fast Harry sometimes needed the omnioculars' replay function to properly understand what manoeuvres she'd executed. Harry had always had a talent for putting her body on the line, but her killer instinct waxed and waned depending on the match, the opponent. When Malfoy was playing, Harry would live or die by the result—but Ginny conjured that drive all by herself, even in practice.
Fortunately for Harry, one of the Holyhead Harpies' chasers was likely to retire soon, and Ginny wanted to show the scouts how perfect she'd be as a replacement. That, and she loved the teamwork of chasing. Harry didn't. Compared to how she was as a seeker Harry was downright awful at chasing. She could coast along while the others played, always keeping her attention on her one crucial task—but she wasn't so good at keeping track of everyone's positioning on the field, remembering plays, figuring out where best to pass a ball once she'd caught it, or even getting the quaffle through the rings accurately. She was alright at it, but she'd only ever been brilliant as a seeker. Ginny was brilliant anywhere.
Ginny was captain, too, and she deserved it. Ron was keeper again, which was lucky since McLaggen had been the only other option. (Also present had been Reece Lowe, the tiny second-year who'd fallen clean off his broom two minutes after mounting it and could not properly be considered an option.) Demelza Robbins and Dean Thomas joined Ginny in the chasers' ranks, and the new beaters were Alaric and Erica Chen: a pair of second-year twins whose grandfather had only recently retired as coach of the Wimbourne Wasps. They were hard workers as well as natural talents, and their effortless coordination made Harry ache for the days when they'd had Fred and George. She'd seen the same pain in Ron's and Ginny's eyes as they watched the new twins nod to one another with satisfaction after an expertly placed bludger had knocked the quaffle off course just before it entered the goal.
Harry got up again, putting on a scarf and throwing her invisibility cloak over herself before she really knew what she was doing. A midnight walk to nowhere in particular, to ease her sore muscles and hopefully empty her mind. Yet her feet took her in a definite direction. She avoided a couple of sleepy-looking prefects on patrol with the help of a silencing charm on her feet, and slipped into the hospital wing.
Malfoy was asleep. She didn't look completely peaceful—more... blank. The kind of blank unconsciousness delivered by a steady stream of healing and soothing potions over a number of days. Harry supposed it was better than insomnia, better than conscious discomfort.
She sat down in a chair by the window nearest Malfoy. The hospital wing was fairly empty; the other overnight patients were contagious cases, housed behind a warded screen at the opposite end of the vast room. Harry could hear them both emitting phlegmy snores, one loudly and the other very loudly. Malfoy's gentle ones, more deep breaths than real snores, were much more soothing.
"How pathetic is it that I'm here?" Harry whispered, looking at Malfoy but addressing herself given she knew the other girl was asleep. "How pathetic is it that I feel more like drifting off in this stiff old chair than in my bed?"
This was the truth. Maybe the walk had done her good, Harry mused as a fuzzy blanket of sleep fell over her. Maybe that was all it was.
Something collided with Harry's nose and jolted her awake. It came again: a hand, none too gentle. This time it grabbed and pulled at the fabric of her cloak, until Madam Pomfrey stood before her, holding the cloak and looking distinctly displeased.
"This," Madam Pomfrey waved the cloak, "cannot prevent you from muttering in your sleep, Miss Potter."
Harry kicked herself for not thinking to put a silencing charm over her utterances as well as her footsteps. It might've worn off by morning anyway, but there was always a better chance if she tried.
For a moment, Harry thought Malfoy's breathing grew quieter, paused like she was suddenly awake and aware of it, but then the steady rhythm returned.
"Sorry," Harry said. It seemed the right thing to say. She was still groggy, and between her back's revenge for her sleeping position and her limbs' revenge for yesterday's quidditch, very sore as well. Despite it all she knew she'd had a better night's sleep in the hospital wing than she would have elsewhere, so she couldn't bring herself to truly regret it.
"Sorry for what, exactly? Compromising the security of this place of healing? Stalking the school corridors at night? Using one of the deathly hallows to visit a friend who I know for a fact has not been awake since half past ten last night?"
Harry shrugged, hazarding a guess: "All of the above?"
"If you'd like to keep her company," Pomfrey went on in a softer voice, to Harry's surprise, "it can be arranged for you to do so without breaking school rules and jeopardising the safety of Hogwarts' students—one of whom you still are, despite your wider reputation."
Harry grinned so widely that Pomfrey's odd softness dissolved into scolding again as she shooed Harry out the door, but Harry couldn't stop the edges of her mouth pulling up, her cheeks tight, teeth bared. She could even feel the smile in her eyes. It was nice to be told off for sneaking about, for being a mischievous student, for using her cloak to do little things like sleep in the wrong place. It made her feel a bit like a first year again. It made her feel at home.
"You had a visitor overnight," Madam Pomfrey informed Draco when she'd come to. "Now be sure to drink this for your strength—and these are vitamins. Very necessary, especially with all the Dittany your scalp's soaked up."
A visitor? Draco couldn't imagine who'd come to her at night, except...
"Did she take anything? Or leave anything here? Did she touch me?" Her voice crackled, but the panic was still clear.
"No, dear," Madam Pomfrey assured her. "She just sat right on that chair and fell asleep under that invisibility cloak of hers. Got quite a fright when I heard her mumbling about treacle tarts but couldn't see anybody there."
Draco took her next potion, followed it with a swig of innocuously warm tea and gave it a moment to cut through the fog in her brain.
"Not Pansy?" she asked.
"Miss Potter, not Miss Parkinson. She never could seem to stay away from this wing. Always nearly getting herself killed. I used to say to Albus her bed should be moved down here but he always—"
Madam Pomfrey noticed the twist of distress that had come over Draco's features and stopped. She knew about Dumbledore, and Draco's part in it all. She'd been remarkably forgiving given what she knew. Healers swore to treat all the patients that came to them, whether they liked them or not, but in Draco's experience the fulfilment of that obligation did not compel any level of compassion. It took a strong person to be truly impartial. Stronger than almost anyone actually was.
"Thank you for your kindness," she said, impulsively. The words were stilted, but she actually felt better for having said them, not humiliated as she grew up expecting to feel after giving genuine thanks or apologies. "I recognise that it is... not a requirement."
Madam Pomfrey took the seat in which she claimed Potter had spent the night. It was the first time Draco had seen her sit while on the job, and it threw her more than it ought to have done.
"You have a few scars, Miss Malfoy," said Pomfrey. It was not a question; she had seen some of them when they were wounds.
"A few," Draco agreed.
Cold tiles and blood and shock. Cold fear and a cold scaly hand and a black brand that carved itself a place beneath her skin with a burning that transcended temperature.
"There is something special about scar tissue, I have always thought. It makes us whole again, but it does not make us the same whole as we were. When I was just an intern at St. Mungo's we had a patient—a young Auror, only a few years older than yourself—who had been burned from head to toe by cursed fire."
Draco flinched. Pomfrey noticed the jerking movement, but clearly thought her story was significant enough to press on regardless.
"Every magical treatment we tried just seemed to aggravate the curse residue. Every time, she'd start burning again, screaming again. If I close my eyes I can still hear the sound of it clear as day. Eventually we ran out of options; the best we could do was remove all traces of magic from around her and wait for the skin to heal itself. We consulted with Muggle doctors. It took months.
"Once she was able to handle it, a few of her colleagues started bringing papers in to keep her abreast and get her input on investigative work. She was a very bright woman, that much was clear—but she'd quit the Auror division by the time she was discharged. After what she'd been through, all of it was too much.
"When the bandages came off nearly every inch of her was scar tissue, all pink and silvery, tight-stretched and delicate. Her face looked nothing like it had before, and after so long spent lying there, muscles wasting, none of the rest of her did either. But she'd had no skin left when she came to us, and when she left she had skin again. Not the same skin, but then that's not what healing is.
"The last I knew of her was from a newspaper article some years later; she'd won some skiing championship and was photographed with her husband and their four young children."
"Touching," Draco said, somewhat shakily. The image of herself consumed by fiendfyre raged on the backs of her eyelids, demanding to be seen. "Why exactly have you told me this story?"
"What we have all been through, Miss Malfoy..." Pomfrey began, trailing off. "My points are these: I urge you to be patient, for some recoveries cannot be rushed. And when the bandages come off do not be afraid if you have healed in a new shape. You are still allowed to have a future, even if it is not the one you anticipated."
Draco asked Blaise to fetch her a quill to which she could dictate. She asked him this favour on her first day in the hospital wing, anticipating that it would take him the day and a half that it did. He eventually brought one, along with a roll of parchment and some envelopes. She wrote first to her mother:
Had a small scrape during quidditch trials and have consequently only made reserve, though I am confident I'll be called on to play before long.
Unrelatedly, what do you know of the Garret family's financial situation? Last I heard Jacob Garret was being investigated for embezzlement and neck deep in gambling debts. Has Agatha given you any idea how the investigation is progressing? Are they still residing at their manor house? Garret Jr. is a new quidditch teammate of mine and as always it is wise to know both friends and enemies as well as possible.
Next, she wrote to Goyle.
It's been three months since you pissed off to America and I haven't heard a word. I suppose that's my fault as much as it is yours, as you haven't heard from me either until now, and it took me getting stuck in the hospital wing to get me writing. I suppose I resented you for a while, but I do understand why you left.
How is Ilvermorny? I doubt it could be any more foreign a place than Hogwarts has become lately. If you have been in contact with Blaise or Pansy they may have told you that I am sharing my living space with Harry Potter. If you pass this on to anyone I'll portkey over there and hex off your balls myself, but it's actually not as bad as it sounds. Since everything's topsy turvy now, it's Slytherins who've given me the most grief. They feel that we gambled and lost their fortunes without consulting them. I suppose we might have.
Do they recognise the Dark Mark in Massachusetts? Or have you kept it as carefully concealed as I have, so as not to test the point? Tell me about what it's like far away from here.
Surprisingly, Blaise stayed by her bedside throughout, writing a letter of his own. It was considerably lengthier than both of Draco's combined, and he scratched cursive across the parchment with a speed that spoke of practice.
"Who are you writing to with such enthusiasm?" Draco asked him, honestly curious. Blaise had always been flighty by nature. Something must have changed, if anyone could hold his attention for long enough to voluntarily pen such an essay.
"Tell me a secret of your own first," Blaise said, not lifting his eyes or his quill from the page.
Draco sighed. A high price for the alleviation of boredom, but worth it. Blaise's presence was better than long stretches of loneliness by a mile, and better than Pansy's presence by two.
"I don't hate Potter anymore," she said. It was the only thing she could think of that Blaise didn't already know but might want to.
Blaise looked up from his page and gazed at Draco flatly. "You've been wearing her scarf non-stop for days."
Draco spluttered and the spines of her headache burrowed in deeper. "Because she ruined mine," she pointed out. "And because it's actually quite warm."
"I'm sure those things are true," Blaise said mildly. "But neither of them would matter if you hated her. Couldn't have paid you a thousand galleons to wear Potter's scarf in sixth year."
"A thousand galleons was nothing to me in sixth year."
"The amount wasn't my point."
Draco groaned. What else did she have to offer? She needed Blaise's secret, whatever it was. She needed entertainment, and now that she knew there was something to know, she couldn't stand being in the dark.
"Alright, here's one," she said. "I hope... I hope my father stays in Azkaban forever."
A shadow of surprise crossed Blaise's face and Draco knew she'd satisfied him with that one. Good. Nothing short of success would have made thinking about Father worthwhile.
"When's the sentencing?" Blaise asked.
"A week from now," Draco said. In saying it aloud, it occurred to her just how soon that was. Much more real than it had before. In talking about it, she'd been distracted from distracting herself from it.
"Fair enough, Malfoy. You've earned my tale of lust and heartache then."
"It had better be good, Zabini."
It was good. Merlin, Draco should have mined Blaise for secrets more often. She knew he'd spent time in Italy after the war, and he'd regaled everyone with stories of brilliant coffee and afternoon aperitifs, but very little else. It turned out there had been rather a lot else.
"Their names are Viviana and Matthieu. They met at Beauxbatons—graduated four years ago. Now they live in Milan, near Viv's family. She's a quidditch journalist, and Matthieu is working towards a doctorate in alchemy. I met them in a bar; we drank and danced and drank some more; we went back to their place and made love very creatively for several hours. I thought it was going to be a one-night thing but they never actually kicked me out. And I didn't want to go. Not with Viv practicing piano in the other room and Matt filling the house with the smell of coffee every waking hour and both of them giving out affection so damned easily. It was just the opposite of war. I nearly didn't come back, but I need that blasted Astronomy NEWT. Thus we have been keeping up an... intimate... correspondence."
"And this couple have inspired twelve inches of your microscopic cursive. They must be everything you say they are."
Blaise's black eyes sparkled. "And more. The first ten inches are just what I'm going to do to Viviana when I see her next."
"I can't tell if that was a dirty joke or not," Draco squinted at him.
"Dirty, but no joke, I assure you."
That night, Draco lay with her tired eyes shut but couldn't sleep. Suddenly every thought she'd shelved inside her brain was bouncing around, demanding her attention. She was trying to decide whether it would be worse to see her father's face if he came home, or her mother's face if he didn't when she heard something. A soft swish of fabric, it sounded like. No footsteps accompanied it, and no audible breathing either, but Draco had silenced her own sounds often enough around the Manor to know that the absence of them guaranteed nothing. She opened her eyes just enough to observe, blurrily, anything that could be made out in the dim light—though the absence of a sight also meant nothing when she knew about Potter's cloak.
"Potter?" she asked the air, and tried not to feel stupid about it.
There was a louder rustling sound and the shadowy figure of Potter materialised.
"How'd you know?" she asked.
"You're not as sneaky as you think, and I am not gullible." Anymore, Draco thought, but kept her mouth pressed shut. "Why are you here?" she asked when Potter didn't seem to know what to say. "Why not come during the day, like a civilised visitor? But silly me, expecting anything civilised of you."
Potter frowned. She stepped closer to Draco and the moonlight from the window shifted over her face. Shadows gathered under her cheekbone and behind her nose. Light glinted off her glasses and her lips, which were damp like she'd been licking them. Her eyes looked veiny and puffy.
"Couldn't sleep," she said, which Draco thought might be something of an understatement.
Draco relented. "Well, neither can I. You may as well sit down and make yourself useful. Tell me something interesting or it'll be a long night."
"I don't know what interesting stories I could tell," Potter said, but sat, in the same chair as Madam Pomfrey had said she'd spent the previous night in. She tipped her head back to rest against the windowsill with a clunk. Draco eyed the way pale light fell across her dark, smooth throat, illuminating a few freckles Draco had never noticed before. Under the invisibility cloak Potter was only wearing her usual pyjamas. Draco shuddered when she imagined her being caught out of bed by the likes of Filch, the small swells of her breasts and the dots of her nipples so visible under the clingy top that they straddled a strange line between obscene and so casual and innocent there couldn't possibly be anything inappropriate about them.
Draco still felt strongly about Filch getting to see what she saw of Potter, dressed down for the night. She felt similarly about anyone else getting to see it.
"Aren't you cold?" Draco asked. She was, and she had a blanket thrown over her.
"Not really," Potter shrugged. "I mean, it doesn't bother me anymore. I learned how to disconnect from it."
"Yeah. Learned a lot of things last year."
"Like what?" Something in Potter's tone pushed Draco to ask; there was a bitter undertone there, and a sense of simultaneous push and pull. Like Potter didn't want to speak about whatever it was, while also wanting to speak about it very much. It was how Draco felt about her experience of last year too.
"How it feels to murder someone, I guess," Potter said, and though it was an answer, Draco didn't believe it was the answer.
"It wasn't murder," Draco pointed out. "It was war."
"Killing, then. I don't see the difference."
"There is a great deal of difference, Potter. Can you really say that killing someone on purpose—wanting and plotting it, even enjoying it and never being sorry—is on par with killing someone by accident, or because they're casting their own unforgivables at you?"
"No, I don't mean that," Potter replied quietly. "But I did kill Voldemort on purpose. I chased horcruxes for ages to make sure I killed every piece of him. That took a lot of planning, and a lot of wanting it. And by the time I met him at Hogwarts, I did want it. I'd spent my whole life under this shadow, and I'd lost my family because of it, and I'd died and still not been able to just let it go and be at peace. I'd seen him hurt so many people I cared about. When he cast that last curse I saw him realise it was going to be his last, and I was glad."
Draco stared, and then she groaned. "That's the biggest load of bollocks I've ever heard, and I can't believe you actually think that, except that you obviously do. Even if you did murder him, nobody's complaining. Nobody's going to put you in Azkaban, or even on trial. They gave you the bloody Order of Merlin First Class!"
Potter let a thoughtful silence stretch between them, and Draco didn't puncture it. They had all night, after all.
"Even so," Potter spoke again after a few minutes, "I learned what it feels like to make someone die. Doing that changes you. Knowing you're capable of something that extreme. And then at the same time... you walk around making cups of tea and reading textbooks and playing quidditch. You just keep on living like everyone else around you, except now you know what you could do to any of them."
"Is this what you lie awake agonising about?" Draco asked. She genuinely wondered; she had certainly not imagined Potter worrying for any reason about having defeated the Dark Lord.
Potter shrugged, which Draco thought meant yes. "Other stuff too," she said. "But I think about the future now too. It's this great open space, and I'm free, and I've no idea what to do. Suddenly every option is available to me, and I'm realising I've never made a life choice that wasn't dictated by necessity."
"And I never made one that wasn't dictated by pride, or some variant of it. Now that I'm hardly allowed any I have to find some other thing by which to define myself. But you're supposed to be entertaining me, here—what did you really learn last year? What is it that's really bothering you?"
Potter fidgeted. "Maybe I need entertaining too," she said uncertainly. "Maybe we should trade."
Draco huffed out an irritable sigh. "Getting me curious and then charging me for it. You'd make a half-decent Slytherin if you didn't look so bloody regretful about it."
Potter's expression changed abruptly; she smirked. "You know, I've never told anybody, but the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. Might well've done it, if I hadn't asked it not to."
Draco rolled her eyes. "Potter, I'm sure you intend this tale of yours to make me realise we aren't so different after all, but I find the idea of asking not to be placed in Slytherin so inconceivable I've revised my opinion of you in the opposite way."
"I wonder how things might've turned out differently if I hadn't asked it not to. If I hadn't heard that Slytherin was the house for dark wizards and decided in that moment that it wasn't an option."
"We'd still have hated each other," Draco said flippantly. "We would still have been who we were. We'd just have waged a Slytherin civil war instead of an interhouse one. And the quidditch wouldn't have been half as much fun."
"You're probably right."
"I'm certainly right."
"You're certainly confident."
"You're certainly avoiding my question."
Potter was silent again for so long that Draco began to wonder if she'd left the pensive pause too long and Potter had fallen asleep.
"I know I said that I wanted to kill Voldemort," Potter spoke again and roused Draco from a half-sleep, unconsciousness lapping so gently at her that she hadn't have noticed herself slipping under until she started fully awake again. "But for a bit, in the Forbidden Forest, I didn't want to. I died and I didn't want to have to come back and do it. I knew I had to, but I wanted... I wanted to stay."
The words sent a cool prickling over Draco's skin, down her spine.
"You want to be dead," she said.
"I wanted to be. I was, at the time, and it was such a relief. My family was all there, and I wanted to stay with them. To leave all the problems that had followed me through life where they couldn't reach me."
"But you don't want to go back now?"
Potter sighed. "I'm not going to kill myself, Malfoy, no. I had to come back, and I did, and now I get to choose what to do with myself for the first time ever. I'm going to bloody well do it. But one day I'll go back, and I won't be upset."
"Merlin," Draco groaned, playing her relief off as annoyance alone. "You are disgustingly optimistic."
"You should try it sometime," Potter shot back.
"Yes, well, not all of us can find win-win situations in our circumstances just by trying."
Draco thought about her father. There were six days left until he went on trial, and she had no idea what to expect. Some of the trials had been extraordinarily short—though none more brief than Aunt Bellatrix's record-short trial after the Dark Lord's first rise to power. Others had dragged on for weeks and months. Draco's and Mother's had been relatively short—but the real victory had been in being heard early on. Even if acquitted, Lucius would come back different, worse. Draco had noticed how his first stint there had made him more rash, more paranoid, more cruel. She did not want to meet the man he was now. She did not want the man he was now to meet her.
"Then change your circumstances."
"If someone had told you that last year, what kind of brain injury would you have supposed they needed treatment for, Potter? Whatever the answer is, go and speak to Madam Pomfrey about it right now. You're ill and from the sound of it, it may be too late to save you."
Potter laughed despite the protracted insult. Then her face went serious. "You're already doing it, though, Malfoy. You made your announcement in the paper and never looked back. I admit I thought it was kind of silly at the time, but increasingly I respect you for it."
"It was kind of silly, Potter," Draco said dryly. "That was the best thing about it: it was silly and I knew it and I did it anyway. There's something very liberating about that. My next best option was making and distributing a run of badges reading DRACO MALFOY IS A WITCH, but the cost of production and distribution for all of Britain would have been too high."
"You know, Malfoy, I don't know what's more stunning: the ways you've changed, or the ways you haven't." Potter paused, then flashed a sly smile. "Think I could get one of those badges?"
"What, for yourself? POTTER IS SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO WOMEN?"
"I meant the 'Draco's a witch' ones, but you could be on to something: at this point maybe that's what it'll take to get the message through some of the thicker skulls out there," Potter sounded amused.
Draco remembered creating the first lot of Potter-related badges: POTTER STINKS. She thought of the musky-scented scarf she wore so frequently and mused that she could always release a sequel. With a slogan along the lines of POTTER ACTUALLY SMELLS SURPRISINGLY NICE UPON CLOSER INSPECTION.
"Pomfrey insists on cooping me up in here for three more days, and I'm bored out of my mind. Don't tempt me or I really will make you enough coming out badges for everyone in the school to wear."
By the time she realised issuing literally any sort of challenge to Potter was a recipe for disaster, the offer had been accepted gamely. Potter's expression dared her to go as far as making the ridiculous items a reality. As though Draco wasn't capable of designing the best coming out badges anyone had ever seen, or daring enough to pin one to her own collar. Potter shouldn't underestimate her given their history.
"What do you need? I can order it for you."
Draco shook her head. "There's a box in my trunk." She brought it to Hogwarts with her every year, just in case, and it was perhaps the one way in which eighth year was not an exception.
Hermione arrived at breakfast in a huff. She piled toast onto her plate, downed a glass of orange juice without taking a breath, and poured another before speaking, during which time Ron and Harry exchanged very worried glances.
"What's up, Hermione?" Harry asked, light and cheerful so as not to be interpreted as accusatory.
"I cannot believe Pansy Parkinson," Hermione practically shouted, livid.
"Neither, but... what's she done now?" asked Ron.
"My Arithmancy assignment was sitting on my desk when I went to bed last night, but when I woke up it was gone, and so was she. Obviously she's stolen it! I'd finished the problems a week early so that I could spend more time on my Muggle Studies essay and preparation for the Transfiguration practical but if I have to write out the whole thing again—"
Harry put what she hoped would be a calming hand on Hermione's arm, much less fearlessly than someone who'd slain the most evil wizard of her time should have done. She silently thanked Merlin when it worked, and some of the wild rage left her friend.
"Does Pansy even do Arithmancy?" Ron asked. "I can't imagine her doing it."
"No, she doesn't," Hermione answered. "But that doesn't mean she couldn't be selling my papers to other Slytherins who do."
"What was her excuse?" Harry asked.
"I haven't seen her this morning. She's not at the Slytherin table right now and we won't have a class together until Potions in the afternoon."
"Wait until you talk to her before you panic about it, 'Mione," Harry suggested. "Maybe she just scooped it up with her own things for the day and didn't notice, or something. And if not, whatever reason she gives you might help you figure out what's really happened to it. You know, see if she looks guilty. That kind of thing."
"Harry's right," Ron put in. "And it's lucky you made the effort to do it early. This is the sort of thing you're always warning us could happen if we leave it too late to do our work. Maybe I'll start doing my assignments a week early too."
Promising to heed Hermione's advice about schoolwork was always was good way to cheer her up. Harry gave Ron a look that thanked him for taking this one for the team.
"What did McGonagall say we were doing in Transfiguration first lesson today, again?" Harry changed the subject. "I've completely forgotten."
"That's because you were distracted by the quidditch team list being announced right after the last class," Hermione scolded her. "Honestly. We're continuing with what we started last lesson."
"Er," Harry racked her brains but couldn't remember the focus of the class at all. "Which was... um."
As soon as they got to Potions, Hermione planted herself in the seat beside Parkinson, left open by Malfoy's absence.
"I almost pity her," Ron said.
Hermione proceeded to stiffly go about her note-taking, throwing dark, accusatory looks at Parkinson between paragraphs, and managing to flip textbook pages in the horrifyingly passive-aggressive manner she'd honed over her years in school with Harry and Ron. It was nice, Harry thought, to know that it looked just as intimidating from the outside as it did when it was aimed at you.
At the end of the class, Hermione found Harry and Ron again.
"She said she didn't know what I was talking about," she reported. "I don't believe her."
Harry and Ron both braced themselves for what would turn out to be a saga for the ages if nobody solved the mystery of the disappearing Arithmancy papers both swiftly and satisfactorily.
Harry almost wanted to smile; she'd been expecting this of herself and Malfoy more than any of the other interhouse roommates. Seeing Hermione's rage reminded her just how far from what she'd expected their reality was turning out to be. She reminded herself to dig out Malfoy's badge-making box, and found that the thought was tinged with the kind of anticipation she'd felt orchestrating a prank with the Weasleys, or going into a quidditch match—one that wasn't bound to be a bloodbath. There was something warm there too; something almost fond.
Harry delivered the box to Malfoy after dinner that evening. She'd spent the afternoon in the kitchens with Hannah, and had just about mastered the spell that distributed muffin mixture into pans. Some of the blobs flying around still missed their marks, but far fewer than when she'd first practiced. While she could leave the batter and trays to their own devices once the spell was cast, a huge amount of focus and precision was needed to set them on the right path. Harry was gaining a whole new appreciation for Mrs Weasley's cooking—so effortless and nearly absentminded that she'd underestimated the difficulty of what the woman was doing.
"You have my equipment," Malfoy observed when Harry arrived. She was clearly pleased. "And... what else have you brought?"
"Muffins," said Harry. "I made them myself."
Malfoy narrowed her eyes. "What, in Transfiguration?"
"No! In the kitchens. I've been learning some kitchen spells and recipes. I knew next to nothing about magical cooking before Hannah started teaching me."
"Well then, let's have one. If they were made under her supervision they can't be too bad."
Harry was surprised, but handed one over.
"Don't look so shocked, Potter," Malfoy said, then stopped to take a dainty bite. "Oh, yes, that is good. Even your input hasn't managed to spoil it. Anyway, I'm well aware of Abbott's culinary prowess; anyone who knows anything is. Her spellbook is going to make millions. And I'm not exaggerating—my father knew one of the publishers who was bidding for it back when we were in fifth year. A well-to-do man with a flourishing business and yet he was still unable to make a sufficiently competitive offer. In fact, Potter, when future generations read the history of your Hogwarts years the first thing they'll learn about is how you had the good fortune of going to school with Hannah Abbott, who revolutionised domestic magic while in her teens. Then, in the footnotes, there will be mention of how you once defeated a dark wizard."
"That would be quite nice," Harry reflected.
Draco looked at her for a long moment. "You really don't like the fame," she concluded. "I can't believe I didn't understand it earlier. I saw all that preposterous modesty and credited you with much better acting than you deserved."
"I never asked for any of it. And back before the war, if they weren't calling me hysterical or a pathological liar they were insulting my appearance. Now they track my every move and still insult my appearance. I don't really know what I get out of this situation that anyone could envy."
"That's because you don't understand how to use your fame, Potter. How to properly wield the influence you have. It's wasted on you."
Harry agreed, and abruptly changed the subject: "Let's see those badge-making skills then, Malfoy."
Malfoy opened her box with a flourish and started pulling out items, laying them in an orderly fashion across the blanket around her legs, which stretched out straight in front of her as she lounged against the bed's headboard. There were backs with pins, pieces of glossy plastic, rounds of cut parchment, and a spellbook. Malfoy threw a few bits at Harry.
"Watch and learn," she said, drawing her wand and flipping through the spellbook. To herself, she murmured, "now where's the spell for a purple metallic background..."
"Do you never use actual paint?" Harry asked.
"This is specially charmed parchment, Potter," said Malfoy dismissively, flipping another page. "Why would I waste my time with paint when I can do this?"
Malfoy uttered the spell softly and a swirl of colour welled up from the centre of the parchment round. It kept moving gently around even once the surface was covered. Harry did have to admit it was more impressive than anything she could have done with a paintbrush. She did not, however, tell Malfoy so. It was a low bar anyhow.
"It always surprises me that you like stuff like this," she said honestly. "You know, arts and crafts."
Malfoy raised a brow. "Everyone knows Slytherins are crafty," she replied, impressively deadpan.
"Diabolical crafty, not decorative crafty."
"I just so happen to be both, Potter. Some of us have more than one talent. Next in the process: lettering," announced Malfoy, and went to the end section of the spellbook. "Let's find something that suits your particular announcement... aha."
Gold, glittering lines appeared, and slowly shifted into letters. POTTER'S QUEER, Harry read.
She stifled a particularly inelegant snort. "Well, it's to the point."
Malfoy said nothing, but looked pleased with herself. She waved her wand again, and the letters split apart. The words POTTER'S GAY flashed into existence, so bright they seemed to emit actual neon light and sear into Harry's retinas. She blinked, and in the next instant the badge read AND SMELLS OKAY.
Harry lost it. "Alright, give me that," she snatched the obnoxiously purple badge out of Malfoy's grasp as the other girl doubled over laughing at her own genius. She looked young again, laughing like that—like the shadows of sixth year and the war had slipped off her for a second and she was just the annoying git Harry had so loved to hate. After everything, Harry had thought that old Malfoy probably didn't exist anymore, not anywhere underneath the layers of blood and dirt, fear and guilt. Seeing her again made Harry feel like maybe there was hope for everyone. Maybe the war wouldn't define them—define her—forever.
"Oi, give it back! I'll have you know that is my intellectual property."
"What it is is evidence. Evidence that Draco Malfoy can admit she was wrong."
Malfoy sobered, scowled. She picked up a new badge and set about colouring it with stiff motions.
"There's plenty of evidence of that in existence already, Potter," she bit out. "Check the Wizengamot records, if you failed to listen during the actual proceedings—at which you were most notably present."
Harry was beginning to learn when to cut her losses with Malfoy. It was clear that she was overtired, and Harry didn't have the energy to go toe to toe with her. It was an exercise of restraint she wouldn't have understood how to be proud of in years gone by. She raised her hands in surrender, and settled back in the seat she'd come to think of as her own of recent nights. Her hand was still closed around the badge. She slipped it into her robe pocket and Malfoy either didn't think to demand it back, or didn't truly mind.
Harry awoke after Malfoy that morning, despite the limit the hospital chair always placed on the duration of her nights' sleep. Malfoy was looking a lot better: the perpetual hint of darkness under her eyes remained, but the bruising from Garret's attack had faded completely.
"Pomfrey says I can leave early because I've behaved well," Malfoy announced, pleased with herself. "Apparently 'good behaviour' means napping and eating my meals. I'm to report to her if anything feels off over the next week, but otherwise I am free."
"Out on parole," said Harry. She'd certainly felt on a few occasions that the hospital wing was a prison. Now she wondered whether, in private, Madam Pomfrey referred to her patients as inmates.
"Better terms than the Wizengamot's," Malfoy said, and Harry worried they'd end up where they had the night before, but the weight under the words didn't seem to strain Malfoy this time. She supposed she understood; sometimes Harry could laugh about what it meant to be The Girl Who Lived, and other times she had no patience for it whatsoever. Sometimes, she could laugh with the brighter memories of Fred, Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, Creevy, Dumbledore, Snape, Lavender, Cedric and all the others. Other times the undercurrent of grief swept her away.
Harry and Ron had almost sworn an unbreakable vow never to drink again the morning after Fred's funeral. Ginny had caught them and alternately kneed and mocked them into submission. Ginny didn't get hangovers. Neither did Harry now that she was back at school and hadn't really found a time or place for misery-driven binge drinking.
"Do you drink, Malfoy?" she asked, suddenly wondering whether the girl across from her had coped in any of the same ways she had.
Malfoy raised a blonde brow. "Quite the non sequitur, Potter. And it's a little early in the morning, don't you think?"
Harry looked out the window at the way the trees still harboured dark shadows, the fresh yellow light not yet coming from high enough to drown them out. She'd started earlier than this on many mornings, but then it was different if you hadn't slept at all.
Harry just waited, and eventually Malfoy answered, primly: "I am partial to a fine wine."
"I'm partial to a bit of Ogden's," Harry offered. "Are you a firewhisky drinker?"
Malfoy scrunched her nose, and Harry took it to mean she wasn't a lover even if she was a drinker. "It's tolerable when mixed with ghost cider."
"Ghost?" Harry had heard of ghost, but never tried it. According to George, you could feel the fruity-minty, milky-white concoction trickling the whole way through your body, cold and shivery as the sensation of stepping through a ghost—hence, of course, the name. At one family dinner George had found a particular source of glee in describing to Ron what it was like to use the loo after imbibing the stuff. Ron had not appreciated this. Hermione, weirdly enough, had been fascinated.
"How does that work?" Harry asked. "You go hot and cold at the same time? Or by turns?"
Malfoy lowered her gaze to her hands as if embarrassed. "They cancel each other out," she said.
"What, no hot or cold? What's the point then?"
Malfoy scowled. "I told you, I far prefer wine. A good Malbec or Shiraz. Even Goblin wine has its merits despite the distinct metallic notes in under the fruit and pepper." She recited the words like a pretentious young wine connoisseur. She was one, Harry registered, and was unsurprised by her own lack of surprise. Malfoy had probably been raised on wine and wine-related grandstanding from birth.
"Well, I'll check with you if I ever need to impress a date, or something," Harry chose not to prod at the insecurity she'd just caught sight of. She wasn't sure when it had become more rewarding to keep Malfoy on-side than to piss her off, but apparently somewhere along the line it had.
"Certainly, Potter," replied Malfoy, most magnanimously. "Merlin knows you need all the help you can get."
Draco could hear Granger whining from across the hall. Granted, it wasn't very full at that moment—they were early to breakfast, because there was a supposed 'friendly' quidditch match taking place between the eighth years. Weasley had organised it despite being allowed back on the house team, and Potter had invited Draco to join in rather loudly in the eighth year common room, with as many witnesses as possible. Weasley had looked put out, but Pansy had flounced in clutching her soaked robes and wearing only a drenched undershirt which revealed every curve of her chest in excruciating detail, and he'd been distracted. Draco might had read something into it, but all eyes had gone the way of Pansy's tits including her own. It was like seeing a mutant two-headed flobberworm: you couldn't look away no matter how disgusted you were personally.
Granger's complaints were much the same; Draco could not tune them out, no matter how irritating and inane they were. It was too odd to see Granger making a scene while Potter and Weasley attempted to talk sense into her. Rooming with Pansy seemed not to be doing her composure any favours.
"I'm certain that she's taken them!" Granger was insisting. She shot daggers at Pansy periodically. Draco caught the edge of some which missed their mark, since she occupied the seat next to their target.
Pansy sipped her peppermint tea and played around with the fruit salad plate she always tried to eat for breakfast after a big night on the chocolate frogs.
"Honestly, Pans," Draco rolled her eyes. "Whatever you've stolen from Granger had better be worth several thousand galleons for all this trouble."
"I haven't stolen anything," Pansy huffed. Draco decided it must be the truth, because Pansy would certainly boast about any stunt she managed to get over on her roommate.
"Whatever you've done, fix it before she sets us both on fire with her mind. Or at least move to the other end of the table. I'm quite warm enough without fiendfyre on my tail."
"Take your fucking hat off then," Pansy snipped.
It was an unseasonably warm morning, but baring her disfigured hair to the school was a worse fate than a little extra heat in her cheeks. Draco knew she looked odd with long strands poking out from under the beret on one side of her face and a much thinner layer on the opposite side, but she hadn't yet figured out how to solve the problem. She did not want to cut her hair herself, though she would if she grew truly desperate. She would rather die than hand Pansy that sort of responsibility. Greg, whose hands had always been remarkably steady and surprisingly nimble, had deserted Europe, Draco included. Draco had no way of getting Mother to do it for her, though she knew she could if Draco were in Wiltshire with her. There was no use in asking Potter, obviously, and Blaise would get distracted and abandon the task two minutes after starting it. Draco did not want to go out and show her mangled scalp to any professional hair stylist only for some paparazzo's picture to end up in the paper and undo all the good work her Witch Weekly victory had done for her reputation.
"No," Draco told Pansy, and put her fork down in case she needed to grab an invading hand before it could pull the beret off her.
"Get a wig or something," suggested Blaise.
"Malfoys do not wear wigs," Draco dismissed the idea. Malfoys prided themselves on, amongst other things, the quality and endurance of their natural hair. Draco's father had not even allowed her to play with costume wigs as a child—although, she thought now, it may have been as much to do with his uncompromising need to shape a son out of a daughter as with distaste for wigs. The privilege of long hair, according to Lucius Malfoy, was reserved for men who were steadfast enough in their own masculinity not to be confused by it.
"Anyway, we aren't talking about my hair. We're talking about whatever Pansy has done to incense Granger. That rage could spell death for us all, you know."
"Glad to see you've got your head around the concept of actions having consequences for others at last, Malfoy," someone said further down the table. Draco leaned forward to find the speaker. It was a fifth year girl so exceedingly average that Draco had forgotten her name not long after learning it and never bothered to check what it was. What she did remember was that this girl had lost Slytherin dozens of points by failing assessments and not bothering to lift her game. "That knock to the head did you good, it seems," the girl went on. "I'll be sure to thank Garret when I see him."
Draco stiffened, but masked the discomfort with a languid roll of her eyes. "As if you or he were ever going to amount to anything anyway," she said. "Nothing I've done has made a lick of difference for your prospects because you never had any to begin with."
"Draco," Pansy said on a low breath, taking the opportunity to lean too close to her ear, "her father owns the—"
"I don't care who her father is or what he owns," Draco cut her off, loud enough that those around her could hear. She was genuinely surprised to hear the truth in her own words. "Let her sit around squandering her inheritance for the rest of her life. Being rich doesn't mean she's achieved anything, or could if she were to try."
Draco decided she wasn't hungry anymore. She threw back the last mouthful of tea and left first the table and then the great hall behind. She planned to return to her room in the time before class, but her legs took her to the castle exit instead, and she stepped out into sunny morning. There was a cool breeze outside and Draco turned her face into it gratefully. She longed to feel the sun on her scalp, the wind combing gently through her remaining hair, but there were windows all along the wall, and there were students practising their flying not far away. Any one of them could snap a photograph, sell an account or a pensieve memory of what they saw. Draco had put too much into the careful cultivation of her new image to endanger it just to ease temporary discomfort.
She found a spot in the shade and sat on a rock in the grass so as not to stain her robes. She shut her eyes for a second, but the shouting voices of the quidditch players seemed suddenly like threats. She didn't know who they were, whether they were Slytherins who believed in what Garret said about her, or students from other houses to whom the notion that Malfoy was scum was nothing new. Draco opted to keep her eyes open, squinting in the brightness.
She thought about the long wig she'd tried to make as a child, from strips of white parchment. She'd ruined one of her berets at the time by stitching the pieces into it one by one. She'd based the design on her mother's hair and her father's, as at that time they had more or less matched: long and straight and platinum. She wondered whether Mother would still forbid the wearing of wigs now that Father was out of the picture, and Mother had gone so far as to accept Draco as a daughter. Draco wondered whether it was worth caring even if she did.
She scratched around her ears and forehead where the edges of the hat pressed tightly. No, she thought. A wig wouldn't be any more comfortable for constant wear. It would just show that she thought false hair was more desirable than her own. What Draco had to do was find a way to fix her natural hair.
Dancing lessons had commenced during Draco's stay in the hospital wing, and though she hardly needed to learn anything new about how to dance, her absence in the first session made it more difficult to slot in to the second. Students arranged themselves into the order most conducive to their pairing with the partners they wanted for the lesson's duration, and Draco found herself excluded from most people's desirable list.
Pansy stuck close to Draco, and so she ended up with Pansy's hand stroking her shoulder as they went through the steps.
"Can we switch yet?" Draco asked, when she'd been dancing the male part for twenty minutes.
"Come on, Draco, you're better at it than I am. Than all the girls are. It makes you a draw for the ladies; you should stick to it."
Draco agreed in theory. If she wanted to go to the ball with another girl, then they couldn't both dance the female part, and since Draco was highly practiced at the lead it only made sense that she would take it. That wasn't what was so objectionable about the class with Pansy, though. She didn't mind dancing the lead, but she wanted a chance, just a chance, to experience the reverse. To have a hand tucked against her waist guiding her gently across the floor. To feel swept away, to curl into the movements without having to make each step a subtle instruction tailored to her partner's particular ability. There were many things Pansy was not—subtle being one of them—but she was a good enough dancer to manage whichever part of a bloody waltz she set her mind to.
After stewing in these thoughts for the duration of the dancing lesson, Draco was actually gratified to see Granger waiting on the other side of the entrance to the eighth year common room when she and Pansy arrived.
"Parkinson," Granger said, voice stiff as a brick wall. "I hope you realise that trying to hide from me will only make it worse for you when we finally talk about it. And we will talk about it."
The eyes of several other Gryffindor and Ravenclaw students were turned in their direction. Draco sidestepped Granger, and she let her pass. Draco took a seat in the empty chair farthest from where Potter and Weasley lounged side by side and joined the rest of the audience in watching from afar. Pansy and Granger both looked fit to break, their veneers of cool anger and dislike cracking, ominously, like dam walls.
"For fuck's sake, Granger!" Pansy's temper broke through at last, and the high-pitched tirade Draco was expecting rushed out: "I haven't stolen your fucking Arithmancy charts! Like I'd want them, for starters! And I'm also not an idiot, you know. Why would I deliberately give you a reason to make my life even harder? Merlin knows you've been doing your best at that anyway!" Pansy paused only to brush the strands of her dark bob that had whipped around and stuck in her thick, wet lip gloss. Draco winced. "And I can't stand that you're so high and mighty about your missing schoolwork when what's really bothering you is the letter from your little boyfriend that was under it in the endless pile of crap you leave on the desk—which, might I remind you, we're supposed to share."
Pansy's face was flushed by the time she was done, but it was nothing compared to Granger's. Pansy's paler complexion made the flushing seem brighter, but the deep redness in Granger's nose and ears stood out more, if only because it was so unusual to see Granger quite so flustered.
"You don't know what you're talking about, Parkinson," Weasley interjected, which Draco felt was quite uncalled for. "Hermione doesn't have a boyfriend."
Granger herself, however, said nothing to deny Pansy's accusation. Instead she turned to look at Weasley with a series of expressions which Draco read as either stern or imploring, but which Weasley understood with enough clarity for his jaw to hang open in shock and betrayal. Potter, for her part, was trying to quash a look of wide-eyed confusion and appear supporting, but was doing a poor job of it.
"So you admit you stole the papers then," Hermione turned back to Pansy.
"No. Stealing requires the intent never to return them. I can give them to you right bloody now."
"Well then why haven't you done it already? And what did you want with them?"
Pansy seemed to grow either bored or tired, and began an examination of her manicure rather than looking at Granger any longer. "I didn't want anything with them. One of my bloody hair potions leaked all over the pile of parchment and I've been researching handwriting spells so I could redo them in the original cursive and slip them back into your stupid pile without you noticing and flaying me for it. I've heard enough about how my cosmetic potions are a waste of time and money and make me a vain, vapid slave to the patriarchy and whatever the hell else. The spell took a bit longer to master than I'd hoped, but I cracked it this morning."
Granger blanched. "A handwriting spell," she repeated, and Draco could practically hear her mind working. Either that or wasps had nested in the dense thicket of her hair. "You mean a forgery spell?"
"No, Granger, I mean a handwriting spell, just like I said. They can be used for forgery, but given that that isn't what I've used it for, I don't see why that fact matters."
"Because it's an illegal spell!"
"It's an illegal spell if it's used on contracts, identification and other legal or Ministry documents, or to forge a signature," Pansy countered. Draco was almost impressed; she clearly had been researching. "Your homework and letters don't fall into any of those categories. Now, if you've had enough of ripping into me for one afternoon I'll go and get you the damn things and you can try to leave me the fuck alone for five minutes, if that's not too much for you to manage."
Pansy stomped off up the stairs, the thin heels of her shoes all but stabbing through the carpet. Everyone in the common room looked after her in awe. Everyone except for Granger, that was, who looked thoughtful.
Draco kept her seat in the common room and eavesdropped as Granger told Weasley and Potter about her mystery boyfriend. She didn't muffle the conversation or relocate it to a private room—Weasley's, perhaps, since his roommate wasn't a Slytherin—so Draco assumed that now everyone had heard the cat escaping the bag she didn't mind everyone hearing her version of the story either.
"His name is Martin, and he's not my boyfriend," she began. "I met him when I was with my parents in Australia. His family's been there for the past year for his mother's work. She's a neurosurgeon—a pureblood squib, actually, and she's quite brilliant with magical theory and its relationship with Muggle medicine, even if she can't do magic herself. I wrote to her when I was trying to retrieve my parents' memories, and that was how I met Martin. He's going to be a librarian, you see. He thinks he can revolutionise wizarding information organisation by drawing inspiration from Muggle systems, which I think is—"
"Alright, Hermione," Weasley interrupted. "Stick to the story, please."
Granger huffed in irritation but did not continue on her tangent about libraries, to Draco's (and everyone else in the room's) relief.
"Well, the family travel a lot because Judith's always going for conferences and fellowships and consulting at hospitals all around the world. Martin's father is a magical astronomer, so he moves around quite happily. He's muggleborn, which makes him and Judith a rather amazing pair. Martin grew up in Canada, mainly, then did his first year at Durmstrang—so he was interested to hear that I knew Victor. He spent second through fifth years at Ilvermorny, which sounds fascinating from what he's told me about it. Then his sixth year was back at Durmstrang, and he almost came to Hogwarts for seventh, but, well. The whole family decided it was smarter to stay out of Britain, so he finished at Beauxbatons instead.
"We've been writing back and forth since I left Australia, and he's been telling me all about his work. He sometimes includes drafts of Judith's papers, which are very confidential of course, but which I've helped her with on the magical side of her research."
"Hermione, why didn't you tell us?" Potter asked. "It's not like we mind. We're happy for you, aren't we Ron?"
Draco could see the force with which Potter elbowed her friend before he squawked, "Yeah, 'course we are."
"I suppose I just wanted to keep it to myself until I understood what existed between him and me. We're not together, but I..." she trailed off, the last words said with more girlishness than Draco was used to hearing from her.
"But you'd like to be," Weasley surmised.
"It's a possibility, that's all," Granger replied.
It was at this point that she seemed to become conscious of their surroundings, including Draco's presence in them.
"Can we just go to your room, Harry, if you're going to ask me anything more about this," she asked, in a voice that made it clear the only acceptable answer was yes.
Potter, to her credit, threw a questioning glance at Draco, asking permission.
Draco merely rolled her eyes. As though she could really refuse. She got comfortable in her chair and thought about quidditch strategies until Weasley at last descended the staircase that led to the girls' rooms and made his way towards his own.
Harry was so tired when the morning came that she thought a lie-in might be worth skipping breakfast. Malfoy gave her a mockingly derisive snort as she left, perfectly coiffed as always with the exception of her hair, which was tucked up underneath her regulation Hogwarts hat that day. Harry was drifting happily in and out of a dream about baking treacle tarts with Hannah when the door opened so violently it slammed back into the wall.
"You need to get out."
Harry looked up and saw Malfoy standing in the room, not facing her.
"Potter. Leave. Now."
Her voice wavered in a way that made Harry anxious. She couldn't tell whether Malfoy was teetering on the edge of tears, wrath, or both, but neither was good news for anyone within a hundred yards of her. Without knowing why exactly, Harry got out of bed and stumbled out of the room. The door slammed behind her, and it was then that she realised she'd gone to bed wearing only her singlet and underpants. Harry might not give a damn about her appearance, but even she knew she couldn't go to breakfast like this. She was about to wander to Hermione's room and beg for something of hers to wear when the door opened a crack and several items fell out: a bra, pyjama bottoms—which were actually Malfoy's, not Harry's—and her dragonhide boots.
She manoeuvred the bra into place underneath her shirt, pulled on the pants and rolled the bottoms up several times as they were much too long. These items she was grateful for. She pulled on the heavy boots and set off for the great hall before she could think about how absurd she had to look. It was better than going barefoot when the floors were freezing cold and she didn't have her wand for a warming charm. She was shivering in her thin clothes anyway but the time she reached the hall, and the live prickling of her skin had woken her up properly. Draco's behaviour still didn't make any sense to her.
This changed when she sat down next to a grim-looking Hermione, who passed her a copy of the Daily Prophet.
LAST KISS FOR MALFOY, the front page read. A picture of a shadowy-eyed Lucius Malfoy glared out from the large photograph. He was dressed in prison clothing, manacled, and his hair looked matted and dirty. His sneer was ugly, but Harry thought there was something tired and resigned in it underneath the hateful bitterness.
In its speediest verdict yet, the Wizengamot today found Lucius Malfoy guilty of twelve of the sixteen separate war crimes and Death Eater offences he was charged with, and sentenced him to the Dementor's Kiss. Malfoy's sentencing comes just days before the recently passed Wizarding Justice (Dementors) Amendment Act comes into force, making him the last person to be issued the severe and controversial punishment.
In its judgment, the Wizengamot noted that Malfoy Sr. had escaped punishment in the first war against He Who Must Not Be Named by way of perjury and bribery, deceptions which spoke poorly of his character and the credibility of his new claims of duress. The Wizengamot acknowledged that Malfoy, like the rest of his family, had indeed suffered personally towards the end of their involvement with He Who Must Not Be Named. However, unlike Narcissa and Draco Malfoy, who were awarded non-custodial sentences thanks to the testimonies of Harry Potter and Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, the Wizengamot placed minimal weight on this excuse in relation to Mr. Malfoy. Chief Warlock Amelia Bones stated on the full court's behalf that "lying in one's bed does not mitigate the wrongs done in making it".
"Shit," Harry said, with particular eloquence.
"I know," said Hermione. "Not that Lucius Malfoy doesn't deserve to rot in Azkaban, but it's outrageous that they fast-tracked the trial so much just so that they could mete out that barbaric punishment before it's officially outlawed. It's got to be a violation of procedural justice, and no matter the culpability of Malfoy himself it's a damning indictment of the system overall—"
Harry put the newspaper down and got to her feet again without touching any of the breakfast food.
"Got to go," she told Hermione absentmindedly. She didn't know what exactly she planned to do. All she knew was that she needed to get back to Malfoy.
Chapter 4: The Reconsideration of Several Established Things
Today, on 'Harry Potter makes up for lost time by kind of dating everyone a little bit'...
It took an obscure hinge-unbolting spell Hermione had read about for Harry to get back into her room. Malfoy had otherwise warded the door comprehensively, and moved Harry's bed across to block it from opening in the direction permitted by the hinges when they were in place. Hermione put the door back up again as soon as Harry made it inside, for which Harry thanked her, though she supposed it may also have been a pragmatic move for the protection of all those Malfoy did not want to witness her reaction.
The first thing Harry noticed was that Pearl and Frax were hissing loudly, asking what was wrong with the pale one. Why was her speech malfunctioning? Why had her eyes been dribbling? Why had she locked Harry out when it was time for their breakfast?
She's upset, Harry told them. She'll be okay. It's nothing you need to worry about.
Your words are unconvincing, said Pearl. Do not tell us not to worry when you clearly do.
Harry took the snakes out of their enclosure and let them wind around her arms. She didn't dare approach Malfoy, who was situated on her bed behind a deliberately erected screen of blankets. She could only imagine how raw the other girl must be feeling, how certain she was to lash out if Harry tried to talk to her about it. But Harry remembered what it was to grieve all too well—especially what it was like to lose a parental figure. Harry mightn't feel sorry for Lucius Malfoy, but that didn't mean his daughter's loss wasn't real. Harry's memories of grief were always of loneliness. Even when her friends were mourning the same person, nobody could penetrate the cold, wet desolation that held her stranglingly tight.
Harry didn't move the bed back into place, just settled silently on the mattress, arranged her pets for their comfort and cracked open a book. She wouldn't go to class unless Malfoy did, which seemed unlikely, so she decided to read the next chapter for Transfiguration. She didn't anticipate getting all the way through it before losing her focus, but the best she could do was try.
And no matter what she did or didn't read, she wasn't leaving Malfoy alone.
Potter was trying to martyr herself again. Draco just wanted to lie in her wretched, stale nest of a bed for the foreseeable future without human contact or food, bothering to make herself presentable or even palatable to smell, or scrubbing off the itchy salt dried on her cheeks. She just wanted to wither away, to float off and leave it all behind, and she couldn't fucking do it when Potter was there, skipping every meal and shower than Draco skipped like she meant to demonstrate Draco's own piteousness by performing it for her to watch in mirror image. Potter's white singlet had developed stains under the arms, her hair was greasy and lank, and her lips were chapped nearly to bleeding. She didn't even fucking say anything. At least, not to Draco—she did hold low, sussurant conversations with her snakes every so often. Draco had begun to find these murmurings comforting next to the silence that otherwise congealed in the room. Parseltongue reminded her more of Potter now than it did of the Dark Lord.
"Would you stop it?" Draco asked on the fifth day, when the frustration thrumming through her had built to the point of explosion.
"Stop what?" Potter asked, as if she was honestly surprised that Draco found any of her actions unusual enough to warrant comment.
"All of it! Don't play dumber than you already are."
"I'm not doing anything," Potter said, infuriatingly calm while Draco seethed. "That's kind of the point. I'm doing a whole lot of nothing. And so are you."
"Why can't you leave me alone? Why bore yourself half to death just bloody watching me for days?"
Potter gave an awkward, one-shouldered shrug. "There are times when it's not good to be left alone." On the surface, the words were simple and matter-of-fact; underneath that, though, was something plaintive. Something that made Draco think Potter had been left alone with grief one too many times.
As the anger receded, Draco found herself exhausted. It was astonishing how much lying in bed for five days could take out of you. The less you moved, the less you felt able to. The longer you cut yourself off from everything outside your door, the less you remembered why any of it had ever seemed worth stepping out for. It wasn't the same as the trouble she'd had talking herself out of bed in sixth year, when everything in her life was too horrible to face. That year had been doused in fear and set alight, riddled with panic attacks and soaked in night sweats. It had been ominous and electric. What she felt now was muddier, blunter, duller.
"I'm going back to sleep," Draco informed Potter, and shifted onto her side so she faced the wall. She didn't actually manage to drift off, but she shut her eyes and stayed awhile in the dark behind their lids.
When Draco next awoke, she could hear the soft breaths of a sleeping Potter behind her. The long part of her hair was getting in her face, and she went to brush it away when her hand met something foreign. Smooth, cool, moving.
She let out a strangled yelp, bolting upright to get away from the serpent invading her bed and personal space. She looked over at Potter, who hadn't been roused by the noise.
Next to Draco, Potter's little white snake—the one named Pearl—was coiled. She raised her head and looked at Draco. Draco looked back. This was not the snake Potter had said admired Draco, or the one that was always happy to be passed around to Longbottom and whomever else. This was not the friendly one. And yet it didn't seem to mean Draco any harm. If it did, it would have attacked while Draco slept.
"What are you doing over here?" Draco asked. She knew that unlike her owl, the snake couldn't understand human languages, but it felt helpful to voice her thoughts to it regardless. Pearl seemed to feel the same way, because she hissed and dipped her head around in response.
It was a rather pretty animal, Draco thought, now that fearing it was redundant. Snakes were creatures with class, after all, and this little snake held itself with dignity.
Draco reached a hand down to touch it, running tentative fingertips over the coils of its body. The texture was remarkable—not at all like snakeskin products she owned. There was give beneath the scales, something unmistakeably alive.
"I suppose we can keep one another company," she said, and lifted the little snake up with cupped hands.
Pearl set about reorganising herself, slithering along Draco's skin and coiling around her wrist to hold on. The snake kept going up Draco's arm towards where her hair hung over her shoulder. It said something Draco couldn't understand, but she understood well enough when Pearl draped herself over Draco's shoulder and proceeded to investigate the hair in detail.
"It is very nice hair, isn't it," Draco murmured. "It's good to know someone still appreciates that, despite the current state of it."
Draco picked up the fashion magazine she'd taken to flipping through when she was too tired to read anything proper, and leant back against the headboard of her bed, taking care not to crush Pearl as she arranged herself more comfortably. There was something to be said, she mused, for the touch of something living. Something sentient that kept her company without asking her for any real action or conversation. Perhaps Potter wasn't entirely wrong about that. Perhaps, deep down, Draco did appreciate that the idiot Gryffindor had wasted all this time to stay with her. She hadn't had a single dream about Azkaban in the past week, and it wasn't for lack of a reminder.
On the seventh day, Draco woke up and was overwhelmed by the knowledge that she'd wasted a week of her life. She couldn't have asked for or engineered the shift in perspective, but once it came over her she was out of bed and into the shower more quickly than she'd managed anything in her recent sloth-like half-life. Draco turned the water on scaldingly hot and scrubbed until her skin was pink and her lungs were cloudy with fragrant rosy steam. She dried herself off and moved straight into her makeup routine. By the time she was done she felt like herself again.
The bare patches on her head had sprouted new hair quite quickly, and there was now at least enough to cover the skin underneath, though she still badly needed to sort out the styling. She pulled out a white beret she hadn't worn in ages and didn't remember packing, and put it on.
"Rise and shine, Potter," she called, voice deliberately loud and sharp.
Potter awoke, and looked at her with a strange naked expression she couldn't place before shaking off the last corner of sleep's veil and grumbling about Draco's status as a morning person just as she had done since the school year commenced. She didn't comment on the sudden change, didn't require any sort of justification for it, and Draco might even have expressed her thankfulness if it wouldn't have meant bringing up the very subject she was so pleased to be avoiding.
She still didn't know how she felt about what was happening to Father. She'd never have to see him again if she didn't want to. The system had been twisted so that the war's victors could inflict this last thing on the Malfoy family, and Draco's fury mixed with relief like she was a potion to which a disastrous and inexplicable combination of ingredients had been added. There were fond memories she couldn't forget, of looking up at her father from his knee-height while the warmth of summer and nostalgia made everything soft and golden. But then there were all the things that had come after, and she couldn't forget those either. It was so very possible to love and hate the same person, to both want and fear them, miss them even while wishing their absence never ended.
She still hadn't figured out these feelings, but she'd marinated in them for as long as she could. She'd been given the chance her father hadn't, and she had to do her best to deserve it.
"You'll need to move your bed," Draco said, like she hadn't put it across the door in the first place. "How on earth am I supposed to get to breakfast with you blocking my way like this?"
What Harry hadn't thought to expect were the rumours.
Malfoy cursed Potter with a plague of boils and they had to be quarantined, she heard one person say.
I heard Malfoy tried to kill herself after the news about her father, and when Potter found her she tried to take them both down, whispered another.
She should never have assumed she could disappear for a week without people noticing and beginning to speculate, but she'd been so absorbed in her liminal existence with Malfoy in their room that she'd forgotten the gossip networks that existed outside it. It'd been almost nice, in that regard.
She was used to ignoring rumours as they applied to her, but she felt uncomfortable knowing that across the hall Malfoy was probably hearing them too. Stranger things had happened than Harry worrying about Malfoy's feelings, but not very many. The strangest part of it all was how strange it didn't feel. By sequestering herself with Malfoy for a week, Harry had inadvertently created a sort of intimacy that couldn't be undone. She'd seen Malfoy with her uncombed hair, her face bare so that her eyelashes nearly disappeared and her lips paled and her forehead glistened with the accumulation of natural oils. She'd seen Malfoy wear the same shirt for days on end, the same pair of thick socks, the same absence of trousers. She'd heard Malfoy cry even if she hadn't been allowed to see it, and she'd heard the snuffling snores that followed when she fell asleep without blowing her nose.
It was different than any experience of Malfoy that Harry had had previously. There was no pretence or performance in it. What she'd seen was Malfoy the human; not the heiress, the schoolyard rival or the Death Eater. It was honesty, and now that she'd seen what was underneath it all Harry had come to the alarming conclusion that she actually sort of liked this Malfoy, might want not only to put their past behind them but to actually become her friend.
Stranger things had happened—but not very many.
Malfoy's outfit the following day involved a sheer ice blue scarf, and a white badge with blue writing that swirled like a snowstorm before forming the words, POTTER DATES WITCHES. She stood expectantly over Harry, who was still lying in bed contemplating the relative values of breakfast and sleep.
"Well?" she said.
Harry had put her glasses on, but it still took her gluey eyes a second to focus on the badge's text. Once she'd read it, though, she let out a cackle that left Malfoy looking startled.
"Brilliant," Harry said, and Malfoy relaxed. "Are you really going to wear that?"
"Unless you want to try and stop me," Malfoy said, moving towards the door. "And there's one for you on the desk, along with ten which you should feel free to distribute amongst your friends, admirers, or members of the press. They are only prototypes, but they're my prototypes, so they're as good as anyone else's finished products."
Harry laughed again. Malfoy's smirking, self-satisfied amusement was welcome after seeing her so numb. It was just Malfoy's way of being happy, she'd realised. While it could still be irritating at times, Harry didn't resent it any longer.
"Can I make them red and gold?" Harry asked.
"No," Malfoy glared. "I will not have you sully my reputation by adulterating my design work in such a tasteless, clichéd manner."
Harry didn't honestly mind the blue and white, so she shrugged. "Well, at least you didn't make them in the Slytherin colours."
"My eye for colour extends beyond the obvious."
Once Malfoy was gone, Harry hauled herself up, did a few morning stretches and dressed, pinning the badge to the scarf that had once been Malfoy's. She felt a sharp edge of nervousness at the thought of marching out into the presence of everybody with the declaration literally written on her for all of them to see, and her palms prickled with the start of a sweat. In the end, Malfoy was already out there, so it wasn't like the statement could be taken back anyway, even if Harry had wanted to try.
"What are you wearing?" Ron asked as soon as Harry reached the Gryffindor table.
Harry decided to be difficult. "Er, my robes, socks, shoes, a scarf, underwear of course—"
Ron rolled his eyes. "That barmy badge is what I'm talking about and you know it."
"Oh, this?" Harry said innocently, pulling the collar of her robe up so that the badge was on even clearer display. "Malfoy made it for me. She made a whole bunch, actually. She's wearing one herself."
Ron gaped. When he regained control over his mouth, he said, "Makes sense Malfoy wearing a stupid badge—it's what Malfoy's always done! But why would you? You never walked around with one of those POTTER STINKS ones!"
"The difference is that Harry's sexuality isn't offensive," Hermione cut in. "And the spellwork is really good, actually. I'll have to talk to her about producing a new run of badges for SPEW. Do you think she'd be willing?"
Ron looked at the girls sitting on either side of him and seemed to despair. "Everyone here's gone mad," he said. "Can nobody see that Harry and Malfoy doing craft projects together is weird? And Harry, mate, I think there are about a million subtler ways to tell people you're queer than this."
"I tried subtler ways, and they didn't—" Harry began, but was interrupted by Hermione, who said,
"Working past juvenile grudges is only as weird as you choose to make it, Ronald. Now I've got to go and meet Pansy, but I'll see you in Potions."
Ron plunked his head down straight into his plate of toast crumbs and made a dying sort of noise.
"Well, that's different," Harry said faintly, more than a little thrown. She gulped down some pumpkin juice, barely tasting it. It was not that she wasn't grateful for Hermione's acceptance—it was just that, for all she wanted change this year, there was only so much of it she could comprehend at once before her head started to ache. The plates of the earth's crust were all shifting so dramatically underneath her feet that she was losing track of where she stood.
A letter came for Harry from George Weasley, saying that he was going to be in Hogsmeade looking at premises there—top secret WWW information, which, he wrote, he felt he should inform his primary investor of.
Harry liked to be kept in the loop even though with the size of George's business these days, her start-up contribution was knuts on the galleon. She reckoned George liked to keep her in the loop because it was lonelier for him now. He could hire new staff to help with running the shop but it wasn't the same as having someone who'd been there from the start, who remembered how things had been when making Weasley's Wizard Wheezes happen was a rebellious chase after a wild dream. In the absence of Fred, his main long-term supporters were Ron, Lee Jordan and Harry herself. Ron wanted to join the Auror program, and Lee was running a very niche, very late-night radio show that oscillated wildly between enthusiastic debate about quidditch, comedy segments, and jazz music. He headlined at nearly every standup night that WWW hosted, but didn't otherwise have much time to spend in Diagon.
George's visit would coincide with the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend for students, and Harry had no other plans so she immediately sent off a reply saying she'd love to grab a butterbeer with him. She'd been too distracted with Malfoy to make any more attempts at finding someone to ask out.
She dressed nicely for the day in Hogsmeade. Malfoy gave her a disapproving once-over when she was about to leave in ratty jeans, belted so as not to gape at the waist, and a Chudley Cannons t-shirt that Ron had outgrown. The orange had faded into a pale peachy colour, and the well-loved material was unbelievably comfortable.
Harry didn't care, didn't want to care, but she still pulled off the shirt when Malfoy chucked a different one at her—a plain black button-down that Harry did not recognise from her own wardrobe. It wasn't stiff the way she always thought of collared shirts being, and it was one of the Muggle styles that had infiltrated wizarding society since the war, so Harry didn't feel like it was too far out of her comfort zone.
Malfoy was upon her the moment she had the shirt on, fastening one of her custom badges to the collar and wrapping her own fine blue scarf around Harry's neck in what seemed like a complicated way to Harry. It ended up tucked in under the shirt like some kind of cravat, but it was light and breathable, tied in with the blue of her jeans, and Harry had to admit that it added a touch of something to the outfit. It was interesting to try on Malfoy's clothes, to feel what it was like to be Malfoy levels of well-dressed. When Malfoy approached with a beret, however, Harry drew a line.
"It's not cold enough for that," she said, holding up a hand when Malfoy attempted to wrestle the thing onto her head anyway. "Really, Malfoy, don't."
Reluctantly, Malfoy acquiesced. "Fine. If you insist on going out with that mess of hair bared for all to see, then on your head be it."
Harry chuckled at that, and Malfoy looked quietly pleased.
"Thanks for the fashion advice," she called after her as she left.
Harry met George in the Three Broomsticks and they started off their meeting with a butterbeer. George's tour of available shopfronts had been gruelling, apparently, and Harry was all too happy to sit with him and take a break.
"Look at you, Harry!" George exclaimed when she approached his table. "Looking good! Been taking that competition with Malfoy seriously, then, eh?"
"Er, not exactly. And thanks for being so surprised that I don't look like shit," Harry fought off a teasing grin.
"Oh come off it. You know I think you're devastatingly good-looking even in muddy quidditch gear, but this is something else. Have you hired a stylist?"
Harry laughed. "Not hired," she said, "but I might've accidentally acquired one along the way."
George's eyes fell to the whirling message on Harry's badge, then.
"I knew the Quibbler had it right," he said easily. "You and Susan Bones, then?"
"Just friends," said Harry. "She'd got someone else. But the rest is true."
"Fancy that. I always did think you were a bit obsessed with Cho Chang."
Harry felt her cheeks heat, because Cho had been the closest she'd come to pursuing her interest in girls pre-war. It had been too messy and complicated after Cedric, of course, and Cho had come to her for comfort and nothing more, but that didn't mean she wouldn't have tried it if she'd thought she had a shot. It would without question have gone horribly, so she's not too disappointed that she didn't.
"Not that I can really blame you," George continued. Harry liked the way he knew how to ease into an awkward discussion and then back out the other side. "We all thought Cho was gorgeous. And a nice flier to boot."
"She definitely was," Harry agreed.
"So if you're not seeing Bones, is there some other lady in your life?"
Harry shook her head. "I'm pretty awful at finding people. I've realised that even though I was at Hogwarts for six years I barely knew anyone besides our close-knit group. I'm trying to fix that now."
George nodded seriously.
"Harry," he said, "I just want to make sure you know you can talk to me about anything. Stupid stuff, serious stuff, whatever. 'Specially if ickle Ron's being dense."
"I appreciate it," Harry said fervently. "And you do know that the same goes for you, right?"
George nodded. "Cheers, Harry. You're a good mate."
Harry's first butterbeer and George's second arrived at the table. They busied themselves with drinking for a minute, after which George spoke up:
"Is it just girls, then?" he asked, with a soft smile that meant comfort rather than amusement. It didn't sound to Harry like it was meant to be a joke.
"Well I'm definitely not straight; I like girls more than I've ever liked boys, so... yeah," Harry frowned. "What do even you mean just girls? There's nothing just about us."
George looked at her a little strangely. "That's not— what I mean is, you can like both, you know."
"Yeah, oh. It's called bisexuality."
"How do you know about this stuff?" Harry asked, deflecting weakly as her mind began to race with questions. Hindsight was supposedly twenty-twenty, but decoding her past feelings and experiences didn't feel like that easy a task.
"Isn't a man allowed to just know a thing?"
Harry looked at him.
"Percy's bi, alright," George confided. "He won't be mad that you know, or anything, but he doesn't exactly parade it around either. Worries it'll interfere with his career somehow if it's common knowledge. But the rest of the family all know, so it's only right you do." He smiled then. "I'd suggest you talk to him about it, but I like you too much for that, Harry."
"I thought it was going to be Charlie," Harry laughed.
George laughed too, and it was such a free, happy sound that Harry's heart settled warm and contented in her chest.
"Charlie's the gayest man I know," George shook his head. "The most beautiful woman on earth could be trying to get in his pants and it'd be like he didn't even notice. It's very cut and dry for him—and maybe it is for you, too. But if it's not, that's alright."
"It's a lot to think about," Harry admitted. "I don't know the answer yet."
Harry searched for some humour to lighten the mood. "You're not just asking this because you want to know if we'll ever work out?" she asked.
George raised his hands. "You got me," he said. "I've been ever so in love with you since that one time on the quidditch pitch. I've dreamt of your lips ever since."
Harry nearly snorted butterbeer out her nose. Her eyes watered at the burn of liquid too high in the back of her throat.
"I mightn't dream about it, but I do think on those times fondly," Harry said. "I'm glad we got to have them." The thought of Fred hung in the air between them, an inevitable part of any reminiscence.
"So 'm I. Grateful for every second."
George Weasley had been Harry's first kiss. She had kissed George one time after they'd won the quidditch and Harry, the twins, Ron, Lee, Angelina and Seamus had all got themselves tipsy with a sneaky bottle of firewhisky. In those days, one bottle between them was all it took. The kiss was quick, and the memory had been hazy since the moment it was formed, but Harry remembered the taste of whisky smoke, the brushing of George's cold-pink nose against hers, the feel of fresh snowflakes between her hand and the woolly hat on his head.
And then two weeks later she'd kissed Fred, too, because he'd found it mightily unfair that George had had a kiss from Harry Potter and he hadn't. A hilarious campaign of seduction had ensued, and it had been public and embarrassing but Fred had understood how to bear the embarrassment himself instead of putting it on Harry. To Harry's surprise, it'd been kind of nice to have someone publicly declare their admiration for her, especially when almost everyone else was choosing between spitting in her face and whispering behind her back.
When she'd let him, Fred had kissed her with over-the-top humour to match the build-up, sweeping her theatrically back into his arms. His mouth had been warm and she'd felt his smile against her lips before she found them pressed gently open. Harry had liked it fine, and she would certainly never regret it. She thought back on Fred's short life and George's short time as part of the whole they made, and she was nothing but intensely thankful to have shared the laughs and the kisses and all the rest of it with them both.
"Honestly, Harry, are you going to snog all my brothers?" Ron had asked exasperatedly after the conclusion to the whole episode with Fred. Harry had chuckled along, and not told him how beautiful she was starting to think Ginny was.
Harry's picture ended up in the Witch Weekly fashion pages again, this time with a slightly less disparaging analysis attached. It was all Malfoy's handiwork, Harry knew, but she was still a tiny bit proud. Her badge caused a suitable stir, but the only thing that truly bothered her about it was the fact that every front page read POTTER GAY! just when she'd started to think she wasn't entirely. Bisexual was the word George had used, and she'd asked Hermione about it too, because Hermione knew about everything.
"...it can also mean that someone is attracted to people of the same and different genders," Hermione explained. Before Harry could ask what exactly that distinction meant, she was being informed that it was "a more inclusive definition, to factor in people who don't identify with any gender, or whose genders aren't static."
Harry was distracted from Hermione's educating at that point by the photographs of Malfoy at Hogsmeade. According to Luna, they'd gone together a second time, and the picture had been captured with a backdrop of flowers at the florist's shop on the main street. Malfoy's face was half in shadow this time, and her lips were dark. She'd worn the beret that Harry refused, and tied her hair back underneath it so that a low ponytail came out from underneath, thinner than it ought to have been, but no obvious reason to suspect that Malfoy had lost large chunks of hair. She wore a silvery skirt, flowing and metallic and sheer enough towards the bottom that the silhouettes of her calves could be seen, slimmed by the tall heeled boots on her feet. She wore a long black coat that cinched in at the waist, and both her turtleneck sweater and lipstick were a shade of red that put any and all Gryffindor associations well out of mind. The way she held herself was graceful, and the way she reached out to examine a bouquet showcased the length and slenderness of her fingers.
If Harry had never seen her puffy-eyed and dressed in unwashed pyjamas, she'd think that Malfoy was just a different creature—some cousin species to the Veela, probably. But having seen exactly how much assembly went into the Malfoy that Witch Weekly praised once again for her taste, Harry knew she was a different kind of beautiful.
And she was, Harry admitted when she comprehended her own train of thought. Malfoy was beautiful.
And Harry was flirting with disaster just thinking it.
Draco tried to be civil to Longbottom, who had rescued her from dancing the male part for Pansy yet again. His dancing was so appalling, however, that Draco's patience didn't last long.
"If you have a date to the ball," she suggested acidly after he left another scuff mark on the toe of her shoe, "And you would like this date still to like you at the end of it, I suggest you both sit out the dancing portion."
"Would if I could, Malfoy," said Longbottom apologetically, as he kept shuffling his feet around in something that nobody would ever be fooled into believing was a box step. "But she knows I'm rubbish at this. She says strict dance moves just hinder creativity anyway, so she likes that my dancing is... outside the box, so to speak."
Draco couldn't help but snort. "Never go into comedy," she advised Longbottom sagely, conspiratorial humour replacing the cruelty she'd once have spoken to him with. "Or do; you could perform a dance. Everyone would laugh."
"You might be on to something."
"Who is the unlucky lady, anyway?"
"It's Luna. She says you're quite good friends these days," Longbottom's face broke into a pleasant smile at the mention of Lovegood. He was obviously quite smitten. Draco was glad someone appreciated Luna as much as she deserved.
"Ah, yes. How tightly entangled I've become in your social circle," she lamented. "I'm surrounded by heathens."
Longbottom trod on Draco's toe again, and this time she wasn't convinced it was by accident.
The first quidditch match of the season was finally upon them, and it was Gryffindor against Ravenclaw. Draco wore her blue scarf for the occasion, even though it was very thin and a biting Scottish wind had arisen, just to remind them all that winter approached. Draco sat in the stands with Pansy and Blaise, neither of whom wore a scrap of red either, but both of whom had decided it would be nice to sit with Hermione Granger. Pansy's sudden friendship with Granger was even more shocking than their fast-burning feud had been. Draco didn't think she'd ever heard Granger giggle before. Not like she was now, at least.
"You're crap at explaining these things," Pansy said, sipping a hot chocolate. "You'll just have to show me what he wrote when we're back at our room. And I can help you reply."
"No!" Granger did the giggling thing again. "What you tried to have me write last time was obscene."
"That's entirely the point," Blaise's rumbling voice joined in the chatter, but he might as well have been giggling himself. "I can provide you with several quality examples if you'd like to look at my correspondence."
Hermione wrinkled her nose, while Pansy made grabby hands at Blaise, who tutted at her good-naturedly.
By the time the Gryffindor team flew out onto the pitch, Draco was actually pleased to see them, because the whooping of the crowd drowned out the conversation happening beside her.
Potter brought up the rear as the team did a lap of the pitch, red uniforms flowing out behind them and, in Potter's case, a mass of dark hair. She flew well, of course; miles better than her teammates in Draco's opinion. Seated on a broom was the only time when Potter came across as graceful, and Draco had had to admire her even when she hated her. In every other way, Potter had been overrated, but on the quidditch pitch she actually deserved the praise she got.
Draco deserved praise too, of course, and wouldn't get it this season until she could replace Driscoll on the Slytherin side. She wondered, very briefly, whether perhaps she could anonymously commission Garret to do to Driscoll what he'd done to her in try-outs.
The Ravenclaw side was rather good, actually. It seemed that when actual danger had threatened, even the most bookish of students had worked up their practical skills—and Ravenclaws, once they decided something was worth learning about, just had to master whatever thing it was. There were several older players on the side that Draco had never known to take any interest in flying or sports before. The Ravenclaw team's strategies were also complex and impeccably executed, and went toe to toe with the Gryffindor tactics Potter attributed to the two Weasley players.
For the first half-hour the scoreboard remained blank, but Ginevra Weasley ultimately proved too agile for the Ravenclaw keeper and Gryffindor took the lead. Potter and the Ravenclaw seeker had been circling the play, looking but not seeming to catch sight of the snitch at any point. Draco kept track of Potter the way she always had, at times missing key achievements by beaters or chasers. She couldn't help it; the snitch was the real prize, especially in low-scoring school quidditch matches, and she was a seeker by both gift and talent.
Draco saw the flash of gold before Potter did, and spent a satisfying few seconds gloating to herself before she watched Potter dive. Potter didn't pay any mind to the network of frantic quaffle passes going on around her, until one of the Ravenclaw chasers flew in front of her, throwing her off course. The move was nearly Slytherin; had the boy actually made contact with Potter Draco might have believed he'd been placed in the wrong house.
Potter swerved to miss the Ravenclaw, but when she went to recover she seemed to realise all at once how much was going on around her. She struggled to steady her broom, ducked a bludger, and was flustered by players racing past her as Ravenclaw's chasers moved the quaffle down towards their goals. Her head whipped around in a way that Draco associated with assessing threats on the battlefield, not surveying a quidditch pitch.
"Is she alright?" Draco asked Granger.
"I don't know. She said she was fine," Granger replied, biting her lip, never taking her eyes off Potter.
Potter shook herself and got flying once again, by which time the Ravenclaw seeker was chasing after the snitch. She wasn't doing a very good job of it, if you asked Draco; her reflexes were glacial, for one thing. For another, every time she took her hand off the broom to reach out, she slowed down dramatically. She was the weak point of the Ravenclaw team, and the chasers played so aggressively because they knew it.
Potter was on the young Ravenclaw's tail in no time, and had overtaken her almost before she noticed her there. The snitch climbed higher and higher, and Draco shivered at the thought of how blustery and cold it had to be up there, as Potter's bare hand finally closed around the elusive golden ball. Cheers went up all around her—even from Pansy and Blaise—and it was so infectious Draco almost joined in. She allowed herself a few sedate claps. The better team had won, and there was no harm in appreciating that.
Draco had been freed from Pansy's clutches by Weasley, of all people. He and Pansy were dancing together that lesson, and Draco didn't know who was actually to blame. The pair of them had just seemed to gravitate towards one another.
Pansy's hand couldn't seem to stay still on Weasley's shoulder, instead rubbing back and forth between shoulder blade and collarbone, sometimes dipping lower. She was talking to Weasley—too low for Draco to overhear anything, thank Merlin—and periodically she'd tip her head back to let out a loud, coarse laugh. Judging by the way Weasley's face glowed red each time, she was playing with him, whispering the dirtiest and most shocking things she could think of in his ear.
Pansy was nearly all talk when it came to sex, Draco knew, but Salazar's snake could she talk. Her sexual vocabulary was larger than her ordinary one, and as far as Draco knew she got more pleasure out of taunting people with it than she did out of actual participation in the acts she so luridly described. Draco had grudgingly to admit that Weasley was actually holding up fairly well under the onslaught.
"Ow," Granger whined, when Draco accidentally stepped on her foot. She'd be embarrassed at the mistake if not for her partner's identity.
Granger danced like someone who'd tried to learn it from a book, and Draco wouldn't actually be surprised if she'd done exactly that. She was wooden and overly methodical, and she firmly refused to engage in any of the forms of improvisation that could make the simple, boring dance in any way entertaining. Granger might not have been stepping on Draco's feet, but even the challenge of evading clumsy feet would have been more interesting.
Granger, for her part, spent nearly as much time looking over at Pansy and Weasley as Draco did.
"What on earth is going on there?" she asked Draco, as if Draco had any idea.
"Believe me when I say I haven't the foggiest. It's disgusting, frankly."
"It's certainly... weird."
"So is that," Draco pointed when Potter and Blaise came into view across the other side of the room. Blaise was helping Potter dance the lead part, and though they'd been doing it all lesson it wasn't getting any less peculiar to watch.
"I think it's sweet of him," said Granger, wincing when Potter nearly sent Blaise sprawling. The height difference between them only added to the comedy of it all; Draco was shorter than Blaise by almost a foot, and she had a few inches on Potter.
"It most assuredly is sweet," Draco replied. "It's complete charity, is what it is."
Granger frowned. "No, look, they're having fun." She pointed, and sure enough Blaise and Potter were laughing together.
"At what point did you three Gryffindors decide to co-opt all of my friends?"
Granger raised an eyebrow at Draco like she knew something she didn't. Draco didn't like it.
"You started it," Granger said.
"I've no idea what you mean." By the time she'd finished speaking the words, she didn't believe them anymore.
Harry was in the greenhouse again, soaking up the sun with Luna while Neville sung a soft, off-key tune to some of the needier plants. Luna was conjuring flowers and weaving them into Harry's hair.
"It's good your hair's so thick and knotty," Luna said cheerily. "It's excellent for holding all sorts of vegetation."
"Thanks," Harry said, too lazily content to dispute the usefulness of this trait when her friend had issued such an honest review of it. "Would it still do that if I cut it?"
Luna's hands didn't falter. "Depending on how short, of course it would. It's wonderful you're thinking about trying something new with it."
Harry had known Luna was the right person to tell.
"I reckon short hair'd suit you, Harry," Neville said. Harry had been too busy lying on her front doing nothing to notice that he'd stopped singing. Presumably, the plants had fallen asleep.
"Cheers, Nev," she said. "Also, do the plants wake up if we talk too loudly?"
"They can do," Neville explained, "but they're pretty heavy sleepers. Just don't scream, or touch them or, I don't know, set off any Weasley products nearby and it'll be fine."
"Try my best." Harry attempted to raise a hand and give a salute, but her hand fell back down before the motion was complete. She thought she might fall asleep herself.
"You could ask Parvati to do your hair, if you decide to change it," Luna suggested, her voice such a dreamy murmur in Harry's ear, her hands so light on her head that the conversation wasn't doing anything to keep Harry conscious. "She wants to be an Auror now, but before that she wanted to learn beautiful things."
"Beauty school," Neville elaborated. "It's still her backup in case she can't manage an O in Defence."
Harry wondered how she'd not known about this, before remembering it must've been the same way she'd managed to miss that Hannah Abbott was a culinary genius, and Susan Bones liked girls, and Malfoy had known she was meant to be a girl, and Pansy Parkinson was good at tracking down obscure information as well as gossip, and Blaise Zabini cared more about sex and fine food than any of the things Harry had assumed Slytherins cared about.
"Maybe I'll ask her," Harry sighed, and let her eyes drift closed.
When Harry woke, Luna was still there but Neville had gone.
"He's with Hannah in the kitchens," Luna explained without being asked. "She doesn't really like me helping with all that. Says I have no sense of what combinations of ingredients are appropriate for human consumption."
Harry wanted to ask what exactly Luna had tried to cook, but wasn't sure she was ready for the answer so soon after surfacing from a nap. She was stiff after lying on the hard bench, and had a textured mark pressed into her cheek from where her head had been resting. Her hair was everywhere, and when she flicked it out of the way several flowers fluttered down to the ground. Harry felt a faint flare loss as they fell, knowing how much effort Luna had put into selecting and arranging them for her.
"I'm glad you're being true to yourself," Luna said.
"What?" Harry asked, still running her fingers over the side of her face.
"Taking pride in liking who you like," Luna gestured to the badge Malfoy had made, which was still attached to Harry's jumper where she'd pinned it the day before.
"Oh. Right, thanks. You helped, you know. You're always true to yourself."
"Not always," Luna's eyes flickered down before meeting Harry's again. "Not just like that. It's never something to be taken for granted."
Harry thought about Draco living as her parents expected, both as their son and as a follower of Voldemort; the Dursleys and their reluctance to let Harry be anything at all; Sirius and all the time he'd spent imprisoned or on the run; Snape and his decades of double agency, neither here nor there, not really liked by anyone; Cedric, Fred, Colin, Harry's own parents and the many others who'd all died so young, before they'd had the chance to be everything they should've been.
"No, it's definitely not," she agreed. "And just so you know, I've always thought you were really brave for pursuing it so wholeheartedly."
Luna's smile was sunny, although the light of the day had faded during Harry's dip into sleep.
"I've always thought you were lovely, Harry," she said, putting her hands back in Harry's hair. Harry leaned into the light, affectionate touch. When Luna's hand slid down to cup her cheek, Harry let out a murmur of appreciation.
"You're lovely too, Luna," she said.
Luna's other hand balanced out the first, and she lifted both sides of Harry's face up so that it was very close to her own. She dipped her head and pressed her mouth first to Harry's cheek, then to her lips. She stayed there, warm and soft, before taking her hands away and wrapping some of Harry's hair around the fingers of one, resting the other on Harry's hip so that her whole body was pulled close, not just her face.
It was nice. That was all Harry registered until Luna drew back and looked at her with a gaze that was sharper and more typically Ravenclaw than Luna usually let herself seem. She was waiting for Harry to speak.
And then it dawned on Harry what had actually happened.
"But— Nev?" she asked.
"He knows I've wanted to do that for a long time," Luna smiled. "He likes you too, you know. You could join us and we'd all be happy."
Harry's head spun. "Join you? I'm not sure I'm, er, ready for a threesome, if that's what you mean."
"Not just a threesome," Luna said, skipping lightly through the word like she didn't find it awkward at all, after Harry'd stuttered so heavily that it had barely been recognisable on her tongue. "A relationship. If you want."
"A relationship," Harry repeated dumbly. "With you?"
"With me and Neville," Luna clarified. "He wouldn't want to be left out."
Harry had thought about Luna before, and she'd quite liked the kiss they'd just shared. She'd do it again given the chance. She'd never seriously thought about Nev that way before, though. He'd always been there, like Ron. She knew that Nev had thought of her like that, had had some sort of a crush on her since she rescued his remembrall from Malfoy—but the last time she'd been aware of it was in fourth year. She'd asked him to the Yule Ball because she'd needed a date and knew he'd be unlikely to say no. She'd then proceeded to be the worst date in the history of dates, and had sort of assumed that Nev had seen the light after that.
She stopped to do the thinking that she hadn't done back then, when she'd been preoccupied with the Triwizard Tournament and also pining after Cho. Neville had grown into himself very well in the last couple of years, was definitely fit, had those kind eyes and was probably a better person than Harry by far—a hero who made himself a hero instead of someone who was just chosen and then never let off the hook. Harry had no idea whether she'd like it or find it irrevocably wrong if she tried out what Luna was suggesting, but she was curious.
"You don't have to answer right away, of course," Luna went on, as though she hadn't just propositioned Harry on behalf of both herself and her boyfriend.
"How does it even work with three people?" Harry asked.
"Er, no, just... all of it," Harry waved a hand inarticulately.
"It works however you make it work. There's no reason two people can love each other but three can't."
Harry's stomach growled, and she was actually kind of relieved when Luna noticed and declared that it was time for dinner and they should be off.
She ended up sitting across from Neville at the dining table, and couldn't help but steal glances at him every few minutes, just in case she had any sudden epiphanies about her feelings for him. Nev, for his part, just buttered his bread, ate his soup politely, laughed at Ron's jokes and smiled genuinely at Harry whenever he caught her eye.
"Have you ever heard of more than two people being in a relationship with each other?" Harry asked Malfoy as they were both getting ready to sleep.
"Yes," Malfoy answered, without stopping to ponder the answer for even a second.
"Oh." Harry had thought that maybe her roommate would find it as unusual as she did. But no, it seemed that everyone Harry spoke to about it today would be perfectly at peace with what Hermione had termed polyamory and described at length as it applied to several ancient civilisations. Harry hadn't mentioned it to Ron, and she thought it likely he'd react less calmly to the idea.
"Why do you ask, Potter? Too many adoring fans to date at once? Can't bear to bind yourself with the shackles of monogamy?"
Harry, who had spent so much time thinking longingly about what her parents had had, had never thought of finding the one as an impediment.
"No," she snapped. "I'm just curious. I heard something about it today, and before that I didn't know it was something people did."
"If you want information, your new pal Blaise is the person to talk to."
"Blaise?" Harry asked.
Blaise hadn't said anything about polyamory when they'd danced together, and that had been the only time they'd spoken at any length. Blaise had proposed a game wherein each time Harry got through a dance without fucking up, Blaise would offer up an embarrassing anecdote about Malfoy from their younger years. Harry had paid the return price far more often than she'd got to hear anything from Blaise, giving up harmless details about herself, Hermione and Ron—but it had been worth it to hear about the time someone had anonymously given Malfoy a pair of Harry Potter pyjamas for Christmas (Harry was worried that someone had actually manufactured these without her knowing, until it became clear the designs were custom), or the time Malfoy had bought a pet fish and named it Draco Jr.
"Yes, Blaise," Malfoy replied, as if talking to a child. "Very tall man, very short hair, skin just a bit darker than yours."
"I know who Blaise is."
"Well, then, you're doing better than you were six months ago, aren't you."
Harry was getting the distinct impression that Malfoy was upset about something. These bites of sourness didn't seem like something related to her father's sentencing. It only seemed to come up in conversations about their friends, Harry realised. Like Malfoy was angry that Blaise and Ron and Pansy and Hermione weren't all scowling at each other all the time anymore. Harry thought that was a bit rich, given that she and Malfoy had been the first to try civility—but then hypocrisy had never been something Harry would put past Malfoy. Some old pureblood habits were destined to die hard.
Because she couldn't make up her mind either way, Harry did what she liked to believe was the Gryffindor thing and said yes. She discussed this in strictest confidence with Hermione, who supported her decision to gather more information before making a final choice.
"Just make sure you let them know that's what you're doing," she stressed, as though Harry couldn't possibly communicate her intentions. Which wasn't entirely unreasonable of her, Harry thought, but that didn't stop her being ticked off about it.
"Brilliant," said Neville with a grin, when Harry shyly explained herself.
Luna squealed and threw her arms around Harry. She smelled like flowers, but Harry couldn't identify which ones. Neville probably could, she thought, and then told herself it didn't matter that she couldn't do everything Neville could. If she was exactly like Nev, then there'd be no reason for Luna to want her in addition to him, or for Nev to want her at all.
It was just... Harry wasn't sure what different things she had to offer them. She could make decent cupcakes with Hannah's help, or create badges with Malfoy's. She could kill Dark Lords, but doubted that would ever come up again, and hoped it wouldn't. She had quidditch skills, but neither of the others played, and Neville had never been comfortable on a broom. She could talk to snakes, which both Nev and Luna seemed to like?
Harry resolved to bring Frax and Pearl with her the next time the three of them met up. It wasn't at all that she was bringing her pets to shield her from whatever interactions she'd otherwise have to figure out.
Luna didn't often come to the eighth year common room, but when she did decide she'd like to visit nobody tried to stop her.
"Hello, Draco!" she said brightly as she followed Harry and Neville through the door.
Malfoy, who'd been curled in a big chair by the fire, surfaced from her book at the sound of her name. She looked bewildered, like someone suddenly roused from sleep. She was wearing a grey v-necked jumper and the scarf she'd stolen from Harry. Harry grinned at her and received a scowl, though not a fully real one, in return.
"Hello Lovegood," Malfoy said amiably, then went back to pretending none of the people around her existed.
She looked warm in the firelight, comfortable on the overstuffed seat. Her hunched posture wasn't calculated, and it softened her usually angular frame. Harry, whose hands and feet had pins and needles inside her socks and pockets, was overcome by the idea that inserting herself in the gaps Malfoy's limbs left on the chair would be a good way to heat herself back up.
Playing gobstones with a handful of others wasn't really Harry's idea of a date. In fact, she had had great difficulty figuring out what time she spent with Neville and Luna was date time, and what was just normal hanging out time. Just when she was sure it was one of these, it would transition into the other, leaving her confused. What was more, they had so many friends in common that someone almost always joined them when they went off to undertake any activity.
When they said they were going to study in the library, Hermione wanted to come too. When they gardened, either Hannah or Susan was more likely to be there than not. When they went walking around the grounds Ron or Ginny would almost invariably tag along, citing the need for fresh air and an escape from Hermione's enthusiastic tutelage.
It wasn't that Harry didn't enjoy being around her friends—it wasn't that at all—but she didn't feel like she'd experienced enough of what romance with Nev and Luna would be like, as opposed to the friendship they'd always had.
"I want to see what the eighth year rooms are like," Luna declared, after winning her third round of gobstones. It wasn't a game where skill alone determined the winner, and yet Luna was consistently the top scorer.
"Yes, go," said Ron, shooing Luna off. "Let the rest of us have a chance."
"We can play chess next time," Nev rested a consoling hand on Ron's shoulder as he stood to follow Luna.
"Harry," Luna beckoned, "show us what your room is like! Draco won't mind, will you Draco?"
Malfoy was either too ensconced in her reading to hear or care about the question, or she'd actually fallen asleep; Harry couldn't tell from her position in the room as most of Malfoy was hidden by the chair.
"Sure," Harry said, and led the way.
It didn't even occur to her what Luna had in mind for her private quarters until arms were wrapped around her waist and lips were pressed to hers. Luna had asked about the rooms in that voice of hers, airy and deceptively free of any connotation, and Harry had no doubt the others had fallen for it just as hard as she had. That, at least, was a relief.
Neville joined them after making sure the door was shut. Luna stopped kissing Harry so that she could stand on tip-toe and give Neville a deep snog. She'd been holding back with Harry; that much was clear.
Watching Neville and Luna kissing was... Harry didn't quite know what it made her feel. It should be hot, shouldn't it, seeing two people she thought were good-looking wrapped passionately in each other? And it was hot. A slippery sort of shiver raced down Harry's spine as she watched. Even so, she couldn't help but feel the loss of Luna's arms around her, the cold absence of Luna's mouth.
"Which bed's yours, Harry?" Neville asked, a bit breathless. His mouth was red and shiny, and Luna had turned her attention to his neck while he used his mouth for speaking.
Harry gestured to the messier of the two beds. She didn't see how they'd all fit on the thing, unless they lined up on it long-ways and crossed their legs.
"Are you comfortable with this, Harry?" Luna asked, making her way over to Harry again and laying a kiss on her mouth that was much deeper than her earlier ones. Harry hadn't been kissed with such feeling by anyone, and it was difficult to think while it was happening. Luna was everywhere, that unidentifiable floral perfume rushing into Harry's nose more intensely than she'd smelled it before. She didn't pull away, and tried to kiss Luna back. Luna welcomed her efforts, but kept a firm hold of the reins.
"I think so," Harry panted when Luna relinquished her mouth at last.
Harry glanced over at Nev, who was lounging on her bed—not in an overtly sexual way, just as though he was waiting for them. His eyes were dark as he watched them, though. Nev clearly didn't feel any of the confusion that Harry did about watching while the two others in the room snogged.
"How can we help you be sure?" he asked.
"I... I don't think..." Harry steeled herself and refused to stammer again. "I don't think I want to have sex right away," she said. "I mean, I might change my mind but—"
"Okay," Nev said easily. His manner was very calming, and a good foil for Luna's. "I'm a bit tired for that tonight myself. But I'd quite like to kiss you, Harry, if you want to try that."
Harry nodded and stepped over to meet him. He sat with his legs over the side of her bed, and tilted his chin up as she leant down.
Harry needn't have feared that kissing Nev would be close to what she imagined kissing Ron to be like. It wasn't like kissing George or Fred had been either. Nev's kissing was slow and serious, purposeful and clearly designed to put her at ease. His hands were large on the slight curve of Harry's waist, and though the heat of them burned through her shirt they also felt steadying, grounding. They just rested there as Nev encouraged Harry to explore his mouth with hers, at no point trying to creep up or down to anywhere less innocent.
"You're good at that," Harry told him when that kiss ended.
"He's good at lots of things," Luna said. She'd climbed up onto the bed beside Neville and was facing Harry as well.
"Slowly, Luna," Neville reminded her with a familiar hand on her thigh. He slid it up and down, playing with the hem of her skirt. Luna's skin was pale and dotted with the occasional freckle, and Harry wanted to touch it too. She reached out and mimicked the patterns traced by Nev's hand with her own, further down, stroking down over Luna's knee and back up.
"Mm," Luna sighed contentedly. "I want to take off my shirt. Can I take off my shirt, Harry?"
"Sure," Harry said, because No! Dear Merlin, do not remove that shirt! seemed a bit drastic. She'd seen girls without shirts on before. She'd seen Malfoy with no shirt on just that morning.
Luna was wearing a simple bra much like the ones Harry usually wore, except that it was yellow with daisies and contained two much lusher breasts than Harry was accustomed to seeing up close.
The hand touching Luna's leg itched to try out the smooth-looking skin across her chest, the soft cleavage in the centre, the little rolls at her stomach.
"Can I...?" she asked.
"I'd like that," Luna smiled, and sat patiently as Harry worked up the nerve to actually touch, first with fingertips and then, slowly, with more confident presses of her palms. When Harry skimmed the roundness of one breast Luna let out a shaky little sigh that set something inside Harry alight. Her reservations grew faint as she thought more and more about how to urge those sounds from Luna, and less and less about everything else.
Harry's hand encountered Neville's on its way, and the feel of his rough hands, hard knuckles and the hair on his fingers was alien after the feel of Luna. Harry lifted Nev's hand in her own and examined it by touch. She didn't know how just touching someone's hand could be so intimate, but when she looked up and saw Nev's rapt attention she kissed him again. This time he kissed back harder, and this time his hand rubbed up and down her side as he did.
"Can we touch you like that, Harry?" Luna's voice appeared in Harry's ear, and then her lips were grazing over the shell of it, featherlight and damp.
In answer, Harry stepped back from the bed and reached for the hem of her top, dragging it up and over her head roughly. Her ponytail was left wonky, so she pulled the elastic out of it and let it fall everywhere. Luna looked particularly pleased.
Nev was looking at Harry's face intermittently, but it was easy to see that he was really staring at her tits. She only hoped it was because he liked what he saw, not because he was shocked by the size of them after exposure to Luna's.
"They're not much," Harry said, resisting the sudden urge to pull her arms in over them. They almost didn't exist at all, and it was just luck that Harry had bothered putting on a bra that morning. It was black and plain, and gaped a little at the top where the cups' contents hadn't managed to fill them the whole way.
Then Luna pressed a reverent pale hand against Harry's firm brown stomach and said, "You're so beautiful, Harry," and it was impossible not to believe her.
Draco was fucking livid. She had been sexiled from her own room by Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom at the same time. She wasn't as mad at Luna, because Luna had forgiven her much worse things without really making them pay for them at all. Even so, Draco couldn't promise that she wouldn't throttle the first person out of the damned bedroom door, even if it was her friend.
It was, unfortunately, Potter who answered the door after a solid minute of knocking, some of which had been done by Draco's boot. She looked so rumpled and pleased that Draco promptly forgot the appeal of physical violence.
She had so many questions—the foremost of which was Why does it bother me this much? but that one wasn't for Potter to answer.
"Thought you were gay now, Potter," she taunted instead.
"I never said that," Potter said, her happiness turning defensive.
"You didn't correct me when I made that badge, or the papers when they printed it, though."
"It's not my fault you assumed—and also, I'm entitled change my mind about how I think of myself! I do like girls. So what if I sometimes like boys too? What difference does it make?"
Draco couldn't actually think of a good reason why it did make a difference, so she settled on performing a grumpy pout.
"We didn't— we were only snogging," said Longbottom, evidently hoping to make Draco feel better about the whole bloody situation. As though the image of Longbottom snogging anyone at all didn't make things a thousand times more scarring. "And we didn't touch your bed."
"I should hope not! Don't think you any win house points for not violating my property with your- your sexcapades!"
"Oh Draco, that's such a nice word," Luna said. To Draco's horror, Luna’s garish floral bra was on full display and she was absently holding her shirt in one hand like she simply hadn't thought to put it back on.
"Clothe yourself, Lovegood," Draco reminded her. "And never, ever say another word about whatever atrocities have been committed in this room tonight."
"Atrocities is a bit harsh," Potter put in.
"That is your perspective on the matter."
"Yeah, and I don't understand yours at all, Malfoy."
"We'll leave you two to, erm, hash this out," Longbottom said, reaching for Luna's hand and tugging her through the doorway past Draco. Luna kept looking at Draco like she'd done something fascinating, and Draco couldn't think of anything she'd said that might warrant that look. An extra twist of unease coiled in her belly.
She stormed inside, pulling the door loudly shut behind her. Potter, unexpectedly, did not try to explain herself any further. Draco couldn't think of how to break the silence, so she got into bed and put the light out despite the fact that Potter was still only halfway into her pyjama trousers. Even then, Potter did not complain.
Draco dreamt of Potter, Longbottom and Luna doing a three-person ballroom dance, outfitted in effervescent finery while the rest of Hogwarts' students crowded around them oohing and ahing. Next, Pansy, Weasley and Blaise took the floor, moving with the same triangular steps. Draco had never learned whatever dance it was, and knew instinctively that she would fail at it if she tried.
"It's a shame you couldn't find any partners, Draco," said Granger, Mr Ollivander and Jacob fucking Garret in freakish unison as they walked past Draco to take the floor. "Not surprising though."
It was far from the worst of the nightmares—it wasn't gruesome, nor was it a flashback to true events—but Draco was still relieved when her alarm broke her out of it, and she slowly figured out that none of it had been real.
Well, Potter shagging Longbottom and Lovegood had been a disturbing reality, and Draco's continuing partnerlessness as the ball drew nearer was real too—but there was still time, and she could still outshine them all in the fashion stakes even if forced to attend alone. She wouldn't have to coordinate her outfit with anyone else's that way.
Chapter 5: Hot and Cold
This week: Drinking games. Quidditch games. Mind games?
The arrival of the Daily Prophet let Draco and everyone else in the wizarding world know exactly what day and time her father would be executed. Worse than executed, actually, but she was trying to think of it in the simpler terms of death. After the dementor's kiss Lucius Malfoy would be dead for all intents and purposes.
She'd thought that after the initial news she had come to terms with what was going to happen—not agreeable terms, but terms of acceptance that allowed her to go on with her life. The fixing of a date made it real, though, even though it had hardly felt abstract before. Draco abandoned her breakfast and retreated to her room, passing a groggy Potter just up the hall from their common room.
Potter gave her an uncomprehending look, in response to which Draco thrust the newspaper she was still carrying into Potter's hand. She didn't wait for Potter to comment, and didn't turn around when she called, "Malfoy, wait—" right as the common room door swung shut behind Draco.
Draco didn't cry this time. The tears were conspicuously absent. She felt dry instead—her eyes stung as if whipped by wind, her mouth was parched, and her skin felt tight. Breaths scraped down her throat as she inhaled them. Every little sound that filtered in through the window seemed magnified, and made her want to scream until the birds and faraway students on the grounds let her have silence.
Potter must have been hungry, because she didn't come back and hole herself up with Draco like she'd done the first time. Draco didn't want to be seen like this, struggling for breath and feeling like her grip on sanity was slipping, rapidly and inexorably—but part of her still wondered why the hell not. What had made Potter care less about her this time than last?
It must have been her new tryst with Luna and Longbottom, Draco concluded. She was so bitter about whatever arrangement the three of them had that it took her by surprise, snuck up on her before she was able to reason out a way to deny that she was bitter at all. It made little sense; Draco liked Luna, she didn't hate Longbottom as much as she'd once done, and she wasn't disgusted by Potter either. It wasn't that she couldn't handle the idea of polyamorous relations, though she had no desire to attempt them herself. It wasn't that she believed there was anything wrong with Potter's bisexuality, either. If anything, it gave Draco more hope that she might—
That Potter might, what, like her? She'd shot down the idea of wanting Potter to like her immediately after she found out Potter was queer. Now it seemed the stupid idea hadn't stayed dead. This should not have been unexpected: the desire for Potter to like her had never stayed dead. It had haunted her in one form or another since that first rejected childhood handshake, no matter what they put each other through.
Draco sank down onto her bed with a groan. She'd figured out the cause of her bitterness, and just because she'd deny it to anyone else didn't mean she could deny it to herself. She was jealous.
This was distressing information indeed, and Draco was grateful that Potter didn't return to the room until late in the afternoon because she couldn't have faced her any earlier. When she did come, she came bearing freshly baked biscuits, and Draco couldn't refuse that offering when the spicy aroma of cinnamon was filling the room and reminding her stomach that she hadn't put anything in it since her half-bowl of porridge in the early morning.
"Sorry I made you uncomfortable last night," Potter said sheepishly. "I didn't mean it to happen like that."
Draco bit into a second biscuit. It was really very good. She decided that an apology as tasty as this was eminently acceptable, and deserving of positive reinforcement.
"It's possible I overreacted a little," she conceded, taking a third biscuit and stealing a fourth as well just to make sure Potter didn't get her hands on it first.
Potter let her have it, too surprised by Draco's admission to object.
"It didn't occur to me that when you asked me about several people being together at once, you intended to try it yourself so soon."
"They'd already asked me if I wanted to join them, and I hadn't even heard about it until then. When you acted like it was commonplace too, it seemed like I was the only one who hadn't."
"It's hardly commonplace among witches and wizards in this day and age," Draco said—not too harshly because it seemed like Potter genuinely wanted reassurance from Draco, and Potter wanting reassurance was better than Potter wanting nothing at all from her. "And it isn't exactly something I was raised to accept. For purebloods, marriage is of the utmost importance. Any extramarital relations are up to the respective parties to negotiate, but such relations will never be held in the same regard as the marriage bond."
"What about Blaise, then?" Potter asked. "He's a pureblood, isn't he?"
Draco nodded. "But there are purebloods and purebloods. Blaise's position is very different from my own. For a start, the Zabini family's history in Britain is less than half as long as the Malfoys'. Blaise also has his mother's name, which is highly unconventional and complicates his place in the family a great deal. His uncle's sons have primary responsibility for the line. And then there's the fact that his mother has been married so many times that I'm sure to Blaise it seems like one partner can't possibly be enough for a lifetime. Lack of a steady father figure is the reason he's stuck with his mother's name."
"That seems a little harsh."
"It is harsh. But that was how it was explained to me. Harshness can be required when maintaining a bloodline as significant as my family's. Failure is not an option for those of us charged with such duties."
Potter didn't feel the need to point out just how many times the present Malfoy generations had failed, which was good because Draco was too fucking tired to think about it, about how now her job was not only to continue her name, but to find a way to make it respectable again. It wasn't out of respect for her father, or the other dusty, sneering Malfoys of history—but she was Malfoy, too, and it wasn't like the world would forget that, or permit her to walk away from it. She had to make being Malfoy a good thing again for her own sake.
"So is that your future then—marry some other pureblood witch or wizard, agree on who else you're allowed to sleep with in secret?"
Yes, was on the tip of Draco's tongue, but it wouldn't come off it. Just to make sure she hadn't been hit with some modified tongue-tying curse, she tried a different answer:
"I don't know." These words worked fine. "There are things to sort out before I even think about finding a witch who'll take me."
"So it is witches you like, then?" Potter asked, seeming too interested. It must have been the novelty of talking to another woman sharing her attraction to the same gender.
"Yes," Draco confirmed. "It's always been witches I've liked. It was one of the things that tripped me up in coming to understand my lack of interest in being a boy; if I liked girls, then a boy was what it made the best sense to be."
"Making sense is overrated."
Draco snorted so hard the back of her nose actually hurt. "Merlin knows you think so, Potter."
"Shut up. What I meant to say was that making sense to other people is overrated. If it means not making sense to yourself."
Draco, who had come to a similar conclusion just before she'd revealed herself in the paper, didn't dispute this unusually wise statement of Potter's.
"And are you making better sense to yourself with multiple lovers?" she asked instead.
"Er, not as yet. It's probably too early to say though, right?" Potter seemed uncertain. Potter seemed uncertain about a number of things when it came to her identity nowadays. She'd been infuriatingly sure of herself before, even when she was spouting wild conspiracies about the Dark Lord that nobody wanted to hear.
"Some of us are slower than others," replied Draco, not as patronising as she could easily have been.
"I guess that's true," Potter said, ruffling her own hair with a restless hand, and smiling self-deprecatingly. "Took me all these years to even try figuring out who I wanted me to be."
Instead of fumbling for words with which to explain how well she understood that sentiment herself, Draco waited patiently for Potter to climb into bed, and only put the lights out when Potter signalled that she was ready.
It was only after taking a second look at the scheduled execution time—eleven o'clock in the evening of February eleventh—that Draco realised her father was due to have his soul sucked out on the same night as the Unity Ball was taking place.
Draco had received a letter from Mother which painstakingly circumnavigated the subject while expressing the availability of any support Draco might need. Within our means, was implied. Draco hadn't tried to discuss how she felt with Mother, because she knew that Mother's grief was different to her own. Draco had idolised her father, and the revelation of his many flaws had shaken the foundation of their relationship—but Mother had always loved Father in the knowledge of his flaws, and Draco knew that at least part of her loved him still, and forgave him sins that Draco could not.
Mother was spending the Christmas holidays in Spain drinking sangria and making nice with a number of socialite 'friends'. She had invited Draco, but Draco thought the idea of joining them was on par with enduring two weeks under the Cruciatus curse. It would be easier for Draco not to spend the break being probed with questions of gender, suitors, marriage, children, opinions on her father and so on. It would be easier for Mother to reinstate herself with the harpies if she did not have to justify her support for Draco's answers or non-answers—or worse, decide that supporting her daughter in their presence was simply too much of a handicap to her mission.
Since there was no way in hell Draco was returning to the manor alone, it left her with only one real option.
It wouldn't be so bad, she thought, staying at Hogwarts for the winter hols. She wouldn't have to rattle around in a big empty dormitory, but would instead have a nice private room all of her own. With no classes or newly issued homework tasks to deal with, she'd have plenty of time to get ahead on her NEWT study and to enjoy the snow which always fell so beautifully on the castle. She knew for a fact that Garret was going home for Christmas, which was an immense relief. Blaise was visiting Viviana and Matthieu, and Pansy's family had booked a string of portkeys to the Maldives some months earlier. Draco hoped she came back sunburnt and keylagged, the lucky bint. She knew Luna was spending time with her father, and she'd told Draco that Longbottom was going with her. Potter and Granger, Draco assumed, would be popping off with the Weasels as they were wont to do.
Draco's reasoning was sound, but that could not protect her from the unreasonableness of certain realities.
When Draco sought to confirm Potter's Weasley-related plans, she shook her head and said, "It's my last year here," not even realising she was crushing Draco's dreams of peaceful solitude. "My first Christmas here was better than any Christmas I'd had before. I don't want to miss my last one."
"I really cannot avoid you, can I?" Draco lamented.
"Guess not," said Potter. "I'm tired. Put the light out, would you."
Harry had turned down Luna's invitation to stay for Christmas while Neville hadn't. It was only Harry's fault, therefore, that she was being left out, but that reasoning wasn't connecting properly with how she felt. It festered a bit like she remembered the absence of any correspondence from Ron or Hermione festering while she stayed at the Dursleys' after first year, and knowing how immature the feeling was only made it worse.
It was better when they messed around; all three of them were present, not leaving anyone on the side to observe unless they asked for it. Harry hadn't felt ready to do some of the things the others had, but she'd felt impossibly turned on just looking, listening to the sounds they coaxed out of one another. At these times they were all in the moment together. It was when Luna and Nev started laughing about a joke Harry wasn't in on that she felt like a guest, a late and unnecessary addition, side-alonged in a relationship the others insisted belonged to all of them equally.
"Does Blaise ever get jealous when his, er, partners are together without him?"
Malfoy didn't put her book down, but sent an irritated look Harry's way. They were the only ones in the common room, and she'd been unhappy with Harry's decision to sit right next to her on the long couch. It wasn't Harry's fault that was the comfiest spot.
"Though he may try, I don't actually allow Blaise to give me every sordid detail of his love life."
Harry must have looked particularly pathetic, because Malfoy relented eventually: "Blaise's lovers are almost always together without him. They were engaged before he even met them. As I see it, the whole thing would fall apart if Blaise were jealous, so he can't be too bothered by it. He's quite confident in his knowledge of what he is to them. And it helps that they recount their every fuck to him in their letters."
Harry pondered this. It didn't seem like the kind of relationship she was trying to have with Nev and Luna. Harry couldn't imagine putting her intimate desires into words like that, and she didn't think Nev would do well at it either. While Luna liked talking about sex, she did it out of frankness. Extended erotic compositions weren't really the domain of any of them, and Harry didn't think she'd get off on reading the same way she did on touch and presence. For her, the reality of a mundane touch was better than the fantasy of a spectacular one.
"I don't think I'm cut out for this," she confessed to Malfoy, the words more a breath than a whisper. "What I wanted this year was to start something new for myself, but here I am trying to slot myself into someone else's plan. I think I've entered on the third floor and I'll never stop envying the ones who laid the foundations."
"Poetic," was all Malfoy said for a while. Harry thought she'd returned to reading and was about to dive back into her Charms book when Malfoy spoke again. "Cliché though it may be, the advice that only you can tell what's right for you is sound in this instance. I have always seen you as a very single-minded person; you focus on one thing above all else and invest yourself in it completely. It's what makes you a good seeker."
Harry was startled. "Was there supposed to be an insult in there somewhere?" she asked. "Or did you just say something really perceptive and, well, helpful to me?"
"I am always perceptive and helpful," Malfoy lied. Harry wanted to take it as a promise that in future, this could be how things always were between them, but didn't want to put the cart before the thestral.
"So you think I should end it, then?" Harry asked.
"I'm not going to tell you what to do about this, Potter, but I think you may have come to a conclusion yourself already."
"So... yes, then?"
"Don't ask me what you're going to do, tell me."
"Yes," Harry said. "Yes, I should end it. Get back to normal before I make it bad somehow and can't repair it."
Slytherin had lost to Hufflepuff because Driscoll was rubbish. Draco, dressed for action but still only the team's second reserve, could only sit on the bench and watch.
The rest of the team had been on fire, and had built a one hundred point lead after seventy minutes of play thanks to a lineup of chasers who handled things with just the right balance of tact and dirt. The Hufflepuff side was fatigued and thoroughly discouraged, and the Slytherin team was only widening their lead when Driscoll saw the snitch, went for it so unsubtly that the Hufflepuff seeker was right on his tail, and then executed an inexplicable move Draco guessed might have been intended as a feint. It was too unnatural a movement to throw the opposition off, but had the disastrous effect of batting the snitch with the brush of Driscoll's broom and sending it right towards the Hufflepuff who, since it had been served up on a fucking silver platter, got his hand around it.
As they changed out of their uniforms, Draco swore she saw even Garret scowling at Driscoll like he regretted taking their one capable seeker out of the running.
When Draco made it back to the common room she was summoned to the far corner by Pansy. Pansy, it turned out, had procured some ghost cider and a bag of fresh, dangerously red chillies. Blaise, Granger and Weasley were there too, though Potter was absent.
"Think we all need a drink after that mess," Weasley said with unusual civility. It seemed that being forced to witness such a woeful quidditch performance upset him even more than Malfoy's Malfoyness did.
"I'll say," Blaise rubbed his hands together. "Hand it over, Pans."
"Patience," Pansy snapped. "And do say please; I went to rather a lot of trouble to get this given the dumb Hogsmeade weekend restrictions on the bottle shops."
"So you flashed your tits at the old man at the Hogsmeade cellar counter," Draco drawled.
"As I said, a lot of trouble. You're lucky I'm generous enough to share."
"You want to get us all drunk and find out our secrets," Granger translated, so aptly that Draco was actually impressed.
"Yes," Pansy said baldly. "Now, let's make it interesting, shall we? Drinking games are the best games, and game drinking is the best drinking, don't you agree Draco?"
"No," Draco firmly disagreed, having been dragged into Pansy's drinking games before.
"I agree," Weasley volunteered, and Pansy beamed at him.
"Good man, Ronald, good man. For that, I will award you the privilege of setting our benchmark." Pansy passed Weasley the ghost bottle and a chilli. "Bite first, hold it as long as you can and then drink."
Weasley bit into the chilli. "Blimey," he wheezed after a few seconds. "Are these things cursed? It's like fiendfyre in my mouth." He lasted fifteen seconds in total, and swigged the cooling cider, wiping his eyes and sighing with relief. Draco was secretly pleased that Weasley hadn't lasted long; she knew that at his best Zabini was capable of chowing down even these fiery chillies as though they were common capsicum.
"So now that everyone knows what they're in for, are there any cowards among us who want to scamper off to their rooms?" Pansy asked the group. She looked at Draco for the longest, which Draco resented. "No? Good. In that case, let's begin. Drink or dare. If you choose to drink and can't hold the chilli past the benchmark fifteen seconds—thank you Ronald—then you have to do the dare as well."
"What about truth?" Granger piped up, "is there no truth option?"
Pansy smirked. "This is a Slytherin game," she said. "But if it makes you feel better, you can try daring us to tell the truth about something." Pansy held a galleon out to Granger, and dropped it in her hand. "Wizard means you drink, dragon means you can choose drink or dare."
Granger tossed the coin. "Dragon," she said. "I'll take a dare then, shall I?"
"I dare you..." Pansy took a moment of exaggerated consideration, resting her chin on her hand and looking up as if trying to find the answer on the ceiling, "...to take your top off."
"Original," Draco rolled her eyes. Pansy almost always started by trying to get people naked, in the hope that they would ask the same of her in return. People who hadn't played with Pansy before usually fell for this, especially when they were the targets of her dares. Draco, who knew her better than that, saw the ploy for what it was; a way of fending off dares she was less comfortable with than stripping.
"Ronald," Pansy said, and Granger passed the galleon to Weasley before starting on her shirt buttons.
"I just went!" Weasley protested.
"Now now, don't be a baby about it. We'll all end up sloshed one way or another. Just toss the damn coin."
Weasley did. "Wizard," he said glumly, and took another chilli out of the bag in the centre of their circle. He managed to wait seventeen seconds before drinking, and so the galleon was passed on to Blaise.
He chose drink over dare, holding his chilli for a full minute and maintaining eye contact with an increasingly embarrassed Weasley the entire time. Draco enjoyed the show even if Blaise's display was about to make her look bad as well.
Draco flicked the coin up into the air, caught it and pressed it to the back of her hand. "Dragon. I'll choose a dare, then."
"Okay. I dare you to kiss someone in this circle," Blaise said easily. "On the mouth, of course." It was one of his usual arsenal as well, one that would irritate Draco visibly but wouldn't put her so far off-side that she would seek revenge. There was about a fifty-fifty chance that he was trying to lull her into a false sense of security, so Draco kept herself alert.
She leant over and planted a quick, rough kiss on Blaise's mouth, drawing back before he could try anything with his tongue. He let out a pornographic moan as she pulled away, and she flicked his ear.
"Oh, hey Harry."
Draco spun around to see Potter standing in the common room entrance. Her hair was loose, and her robes were crinkled. She looked like she'd been thoroughly snogged, but also like she was tired and not very happy.
"We're playing a drinking game," said Weasley, waving a hand in a clumsy beckoning gesture that made Draco wonder if two drinks was enough to get him tipsy. "Join us!"
"Oh come on Harry, it'll be fun," Granger pled. "And it's the last chance we'll get before our half-yearly exams."
"Speak for yourself, Hermione," said Pansy. "I plan to have lots of fun before then."
"Fine," Potter acquiesced, and took a seat in the nearest opening, which was between Draco and Pansy. "What's the game?"
"Drink or dare," Draco explained, and then felt the need to add, "what you just witnessed was a dare."
"And the drink is ghost cider and chilli," Weasley finished. "You have to see how long you can go before washing the chilli down with the ghost."
"Since we've all had a go, Harry should take her turn now," Hermione reasoned, and Potter shot a glance at her that didn't look particularly grateful.
"She's up next anyway, if she's sitting next to Malfoy," said Weasley.
"Fine," Potter said again. Draco wondered whether it was the only word she planned to say for the rest of the day.
She passed the galleon to Potter, whose hand was warm and a touch sweaty when it made contact with Draco's.
"Wizard," Potter reported the result of her toss. "What's that mean I have to do?"
"Drink," everyone replied, pushing the bottle and chilli bag in Potter's direction.
Potter held the chilli in her mouth for an admirable minute and a half before apparently growing bored and drinking the cup of ghost Pansy had measured out for her. She shuddered as she swallowed it, and again as it went down.
"Nasty stuff," she said.
"Better than the chilli," said Weasley.
"Got to disagree with you there, mate."
"I'll drink your ghost if you eat my chillies," Weasley proposed, but the making of such trades was promptly outlawed by Pansy. She sometimes let deals through, but only where there was potential for increased entertainment. Nobody ever got out of their chillies or their alcohol—except Blaise on one occasion when he'd been desperate not to drink any more cider and offered to perform sexual favours instead. Draco had retreated behind the curtains around her four-poster early on that particular night, as had a few others.
Pansy's turn followed. "Dare," she said, looking at Weasley, even though it was Harry who would dare her. She knew that Harry was likely to listen to the advice of her friends, especially since she was new to the game.
Sure enough, Weasley stage-whispered that Harry should tell Pansy to take her top off, and Harry didn't seem to have any better ideas, so she did.
Pansy made a show of unbuttoning her blouse, not that that many of the buttons had been done up to begin with. Underneath it she wore a bra that spoke of how very premeditated this game was. It was black and had a texture like dragonhide, though it couldn't be the real thing. It was padded, and Pansy didn't need padding in a bra. Her tits were round and huge, and were displayed for viewing rather than practicality. If she tried to walk briskly, Draco thought, the things would surely bounce out.
Still, Draco couldn't deny that Pansy's manipulation techniques were tried and true, and she worked well with her assets. Weasley had fallen for her trick and had now apparently lost the ability to comprehend anything that wasn't Pansy's chest. Draco shifted further away so he couldn't drool on her from across the circle.
They were up to Granger again, and when she tossed another dragon she looked defiantly at Pansy and said, "dare."
"Trousers. Off with them," Pansy ordered.
Granger reached for the bottle of ghost, took an extra, fortifying swig, then stood and stepped out of her trousers. She was wearing full briefs in an opaque walnut brown that disappeared against her skin, so nobody was getting the eyeful they would've from Pansy, but there was still very little of her left to the imagination. Draco allowed herself to take Granger's form in; she wasn't hard on the eyes—rather she was soft around the hips and thighs, with bronze-toned stretch marks that reminded Draco of patterns on a cat. She hadn't bothered shaving above her knees, and there was scarred skin over the kneecaps that probably came from growing up without healing magic. Draco really had no idea how muggles survived.
Granger sat down again with her legs folded carefully to the side.
"Ron," she said, and passed the coin.
Weasley tossed a dragon, also selecting dare. This was probably wise as he was a few ahead of the rest of them, and the ghost cider seemed to have a lot of power over him.
"Say, Hermione," Pansy said, as Granger contemplated her dare for Weasley. "What would you say to trading me this dare for the choice of who takes my next turn?"
"Sure," Granger agreed, keen not to have to remove any other items of clothing.
"Hey Weasley," Pansy said, and her face settled into a predatory expression Draco knew meant trouble. "I dare you to touch my tits right now."
Weasley coughed loudly. His ears were the colour of the chillies they'd been eating. He did crawl over to kneel in front of Pansy, though, and he did slowly raise his hands to touch.
Draco wondered what Pansy was trying to do; whether it was just another way of making Weasley uncomfortable or whether there was something more to it. Words were one thing, when it came to Pansy's games; physical contact was another.
"Hmm," Pansy sighed when Weasley decided it was time to stop fondling her and get back to his place in the circle. "Needs work, if you ask me. I like a man with more confidence in his movements."
Weasley stared at his own hands as though unable to believe quite where they'd just been, sliding over Pansy's skin and the cups of her bra. Everyone else looked like they were having a hard time believing it too, except for Blaise and Pansy herself.
Blaise took a dare, and was ordered to retrieve the dirtiest of his letters to Matt and Viv and dramatically read a paragraph. This led to Blaise's booming voice reciting a detailed passage about rimming, and the rest of them trying to hush him before someone else heard and came investigating.
Draco threw a wizard, and held the chilli for the minimum time before taking the chaser—which was worse to taste, but at least not as painful.
Then it was Potter's turn for a dare, and Draco found herself struggling for appropriate ideas.
"I dare you to tell us where you just came back from, and what you were doing," she said at last, because she was curious what had put that incongruously unhappy look on Potter's kissed-looking face.
Potter swivelled her head and glared at Draco, which made Pansy look considerably more interested in the dare Draco had just issued.
"I was in Ravenclaw with Luna and Neville," said Potter.
She tried to leave it at that, but Pansy insisted that she had to tell the full story or drink like a coward. Draco was pretty sure that, had Pansy not included that last part, Potter would have chosen to drink rather than complete the dare.
"I was in Ravenclaw with Luna and Neville," she repeated. "We fooled around a bit. Then I told them I had to break it off."
"Oh Harry," Granger cried, "you didn't tell me things weren't working out with them!"
"What were you and Nev messing around with?" Weasley asked, too out of it for anyone to bother paying attention to him.
Blaise leant in closer with a look of undisguised fascination on his face.
Draco felt sort of bad. She hadn't asked Potter to grope or be groped by anyone, which she'd thought was a kindness, but now she saw that perhaps this... this emotional groping was worse. She didn't apologise, because that was a sign of weakness that would do her no good whatsoever in this game, but she did tell herself she'd apologise later when it was just the two of them.
Harry foisted the galleon off onto Pansy, who was so keen to take her turn she didn't even bother grilling Potter any more on her unsuccessful three-way.
"A dare!" Pansy crowed. "Do your worst, saviour girl."
"Parkinson, I dare you to snog the person in this circle that you'd most like to shag."
Pansy gave Potter a look of rare admiration. "A truth and a dare rolled into one, Potter. Devious—I like it."
Draco, on the other hand, did not like it. She did not like it because for several years Pansy had made it clear to her that she was the person she'd most like to shag, and Draco had already snogged Pansy more than enough times in this life.
It was to her great shock and even greater relief, then, that Pansy carried out the dare by latching her face onto Weasley's. Draco looked around the circle, and exchanged a look of surprise with Blaise. Potter wasn't even watching, and was instead staring at the ghost bottle. Granger looked slightly disgusted but not altogether surprised.
Pansy snogged Weasley until Draco and Granger both cried out for them to stop. Weasley, for his part, was kissing Pansy back with fervour, moving his hands over her back with rough movements that were no doubt intended to communicate that he was indeed a man of confidence.
The next few rounds consisted of a lot more drinking, as the dares became more inspired and the players felt they needed more liquid courage in their systems to undertake them without feeling mortified. Notable turns included: the loss of Draco's trousers; the protracted strip tease that a gleeful Blaise performed for an affronted Weasley; the passage imagining a secret library rendezvous which Granger read from one of her letters, which was not nearly as intimate as Blaise's but seemed to embarrass her a lot more; the recounting of a sex dream Pansy had allegedly had about Professor McGonagall, which disturbed everyone deeply; the time Potter downed five times as much ghost as was required without stopping for breath and then passed the galleon on as if nothing unusual had occurred, and Pansy dressing Blaise up in a selection from her own wardrobe.
By the time Draco heard Blaise daring her to kiss Potter, she was almost too focused on the hot-and-cold rush of the cider through her to understand the significance of what was being said. It was only when she looked up at Potter and saw the other girl frozen and wide-eyed that the distracting alcoholic haze lifted at the edges.
Draco moved toward Potter, but stopped before pressing right up into her personal space. She waited for Potter to meet her eyes.
"Is it alright if I...?" she asked, unable to go through with it without permission. One did not simply kiss the saviour of the world, the Chosen One, the Girl Who Lived, if that saviour did not want to be kissed. Especially when one was Draco Malfoy. Not even booze could make Draco that absolutely reckless.
Potter's nod was only very slight, but it was definitely there. When Draco didn't move, couldn't move, Potter gave a more defined nod, obviously thinking Draco hadn't caught the first.
"Get on with it, Draco!" Pansy shouted, despite being mere feet away. She was louder drunk than she was sober.
"Have they done it yet?" Weasley slurred. "I don't want to see. 'Mione, tell me when they've done it so I don't have to."
"It's alright, Malfoy," Potter gave a shaky little laugh, which didn't reassure Draco very much.
The fact that this kiss was different from the others Draco had given or received as the game progressed was beginning to show, and even the slowest of the drunks crowded around them would see it if she didn't act soon. So Draco dove in.
Potter's lips were cold like she'd been out in a snowstorm, and Draco's were probably not much better after the ghost she'd consumed. Most of her lower face felt fuzzy and prickled under the skin, and Draco was probably flushed quite pink from the alcohol, which she hoped could also take the blame for the flush of nervous excitement at her current task.
The kiss went on longer than the unceremonious smack Draco had laid on Blaise in the first round, but it wasn't the sort of snogging that Pansy and Weasley had dared each other to do several times, either. It was clumsy because Draco's tongue was as cold as her lips and Potter seemed to have difficulty directing hers with any sort of grace as well. Draco brought a hand up to Potter's cheek, because she'd always wanted to know what Potter's face felt like to touch. She'd noticed the dark hair that crept in next to Potter's ear and continued down to her jaw, and now she could feel it, soft and fuzzy. Draco knew it had been a point of contention for the Prophet several times since Potter hit puberty, but she was glad Potter hadn't removed the hair. It made Draco feel better about the blonde hairs dusting her upper lip, lower cheeks and chin—not enough to grow into a real beard or moustache, but still enough that she felt a sick twist of wrongness when they shone golden and unmistakeable in certain lighting. Draco didn't hate the rest of her body, but she needed her face and hair to be just right, otherwise she couldn't look in the mirror and see herself as she wanted others to.
When Potter made a needy little noise in her throat, Draco pulled away sharply; if she didn't withdraw then, she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to.
"I'm tired," Weasley was carrying on. "'Mione, which way is my room again?"
Everyone looked at Pansy, who shrugged. "We're out of chillies anyway, and the cider's nearly gone. Might as well call it a night."
"It's five thirty in the afternoon," said Draco. "It's not night. We haven't even had dinner yet."
"And I'm not gonna," Pansy yawned. "I'm gonna go pass out on my bed and hope the breakfast tomorrow is greasy."
"I'm not hungry," said Blaise. "And I've got letters to write."
"Are you telling Viv and Matt about this afternoon?" Granger asked.
"I most certainly am; I tell them about everything."
"Maybe I'll write to Martin about it too. Not the bit where I kissed you, though, Pansy."
"Whyever not?" asked Blaise. "Make him jealous, Granger! Make him picture you with your hands all over another woman's tits, loving it but still wishing he was there—"
"But I never touched Pansy's tits!"
"Martin doesn't know that."
"Draco," said Potter, and it took Draco a second to figure out what was so odd about the simple utterance of her name.
Her first name.
"Draco," Potter said again, head starting to loll to one side. "Can we go?"
"Yes, we can and we should," Draco replied, and went to steady Potter as she got to her feet. "You are quite sloshed, Ms saviour of the world."
"Not that shloshed," Potter objected. "Tired."
"Certainly. Come on, up those stairs. I won't carry more of your dead weight than I have to, Potter, so get your hands on the bannister and pull if you have to."
Several minutes of hard labour later, Draco found herself in the extraordinary position of tucking a barely-sensate Harry Potter into bed.
"Goodnight Potter," she said, because it seemed like she should say something.
"Harry," said Potter.
"That is your name, yes. Very well done."
"'s my name, so call me it."
"Goodnight, Harry," said Draco. It felt almost like speaking another language, so different did it feel on her tongue. Another language, but one that everyone else had been allowed to speak all along.
But Harry didn't let sleep take her just yet. "'m I a bad person?" she asked.
"You of all people needn't ask that question," Draco replied.
"But I was so jealous even though I knew I shouldn't be. And now I've hurt them, even though I love them and they're my friends and I never wanted to hurt them. Couldn't stop myself from doing it though."
"Harry, loving people isn't necessarily enough to make things work. You have to agree on the nature of your relationship, and to want some of the same key things. I'm sure you'll find them very forgiving; things will only go to shit if you can't forgive yourself and move past it with them."
"You're smart, Draco," Harry said, definitely starting to sound like sleep was getting the better of her.
"I am," Draco agreed, pulling out her Arithmancy book. She wasn't drunk enough to pass out at so early an hour, but she didn't fancy taking on the dining hall in such a state either. Surprisingly, a goodly portion of the Arithmancy material was easier to understand with several helpings of booze in one's system, so she revised the first of the topics that would be assessed in the half-yearlies and sincerely hoped she'd remember it all come morning.
"Do you want a haircut?" Harry asked, as Draco was doing her hair in the bathroom mirror.
"Not from you, if that's what you mean."
"No, not from me, idiot. I've been thinking about getting one; Parvati's good with cutting hair, apparently. I'm going to ask her about it today, and if you want I can ask for you too."
Draco paused to look at herself. If her hair was a curtain, then it was one that had half fallen off its railing. It grew quickly, mercifully, and there were a few inches now where total baldness had been after her hospital stay. And she was getting very tired of wearing hats all the time. There was no way to make it look right except trimming it all back to match the shortest part.
"I make no commitments, but enquiries on my behalf would be appreciated," she gave Harry a nod. Harry's own hair was coiled in wonky twists and clearly hadn't been washed or brushed in some time. There was so much of it. Draco wondered how much Harry wanted to get rid of.
Draco found Parvati Patil sitting with Harry in their room when she returned from History of Magic. She was combing Harry's hair, scrutinising it intently. There were several combs and pairs of scissors resting on the desk and Draco immediately felt nervous.
"Hey Draco," Harry said cheerfully. "You can watch the chop!"
"How much chopping is going to happen here, exactly?" Draco asked cautiously, setting her things down on her bed and taking a seat opposite Harry.
"Oh, loads. Don't look so worried, it'll be fine. It's only hair, anyway."
"Only hair," Draco repeated faintly. She didn't think she'd ever considered hair to be a simple, disposable thing. It had always meant something—identifying her as a member of her family, as a particular gender, as a well-groomed and respectable person generally.
"Grows back," Harry shrugged. "You about ready to start, Parvati?"
"Don't rush me," the other Gryffindor said, but stopped her combing and reached for the largest pair of scissors a moment later. "Do you want to bring a mirror over so you can watch?"
"Nah," Harry replied. "I'll see it when you're done."
"Exactly what hair-cutting qualifications do you have, Patil?" Draco asked as the first loud snip sounded and a huge chunk of hair—as much as Draco had lost in her accident—fell to the floor.
"Nothing formal," Patil replied, detaching another equally massive portion of Harry's hair from her head. "But I'm good at it. You'll see. Harry said you might want yours done as well?"
"Might being the operative word," Draco impressed upon her. "I'm not as trusting as the reckless idiot currently under your blade."
Patil didn't answer, just kept her focus on cutting the hair away closer and closer to Harry's scalp. She sculpted it at the back of her neck in the way Draco had used to keep hers, when she'd had to have it short and boyish, and the sides were only slightly longer. On top, at least, a mass of thick curls remained, still wild and dense, but now framed sharply by the close-cropped sections. Patil spent a long time perfecting the fall of it, making sure the layers looked natural. Harry requested that the section falling over her eyes be taken shorter, and Patil whittled it away in tiny increments until announcing that she wouldn't take any more off, because her reputation was on the line with this style too.
The final result was... right. Harry looked different, but she still looked exactly like Harry, possibly more so. The wildness of her hair served a purpose now, giving necessary height and volume to the style, and there was no doubt it would be easier to pull a brush through than it had been.
"How do I look?" asked Harry, who hadn't even seen herself yet.
"Good," Draco said, because she couldn't lie when Harry asked so openly for her opinion. "You look good."
"Yeah she does," Patil said proudly, patting Harry on the shoulder. "Go see for yourself."
"Brilliant," Harry breathed when she arrived in front of the mirror. "Thanks Parvati. I know you said you didn't need payment, but—"
"Shut up, Harry," Patil insisted. "If anyone asks you who did your hair, tell them it was me. That'll be more than payment enough."
"I'll tell everyone," Harry promised earnestly.
"Only if they ask," Patil insisted. "Otherwise it'll look like unsubtle promotion on my part."
"Tactful," Draco said appraisingly.
"And what about you, Malfoy—want yours done or are you too afraid?"
Draco affected immunity to the challenge. "It's only prudent not to trust a Gryffindor with sharp objects standing right behind me."
"S'pose it is," Patil agreed. "But are you going to do it or not?"
Draco looked at Harry's hair once again, thought of how she felt every time her hat itched in public but she couldn't take it off, and knew what her answer was going to be.
"Yes," she said. "But if you try anything I'll make sure you regret it."
"I'm so scared," Patil deadpanned. She'd grown especially fearless since the war. It had cost her a lot, including a best friend, and the fact that she was back at Hogwarts at all was a testament to the steel in her. Rumour had it that she wanted to be an Auror now, so much had the war helped her come into her own. Draco could see her in the role in a way she'd never have imagined the girl she'd met in first year could grow up to do.
"I'll make sure of it too," Harry added.
"I don't need your protection, Potter," Draco snapped, but it was playful, and secretly she appreciated the backup. Draco Malfoy might not have been a terribly powerful name anymore, but Harry Potter had never been stronger, even amongst those who knew her personally as an awkward young woman who wore her pyjama pants in public at least once a week.
"Right then, Patil. What can you do for me?" Draco pulled her beret off, and ran her fingers through the lightly tangled hair underneath.
Patil didn't point out that she could hardly mangle Draco's hair any more than it was already mangled, or laugh, or anything like that. She moved around Draco thoughtfully, taking it in.
"Are you willing to go short?" she asked at length.
"I'll have to, won't I?"
"It's definitely the best option, yes."
"Then I suppose I'll have to live with it. I'd like a style that's as feminine as possible."
"With your hair I don't think that'll be too difficult, really," Patil said, and Draco liked how sure her words were. "I'd like to do something similar to Harry's but with less contrast in length between the top and the sides. I'll keep it wispier around the nape, ears and fringe. Real pixie cut material. It'll make your eyes look huge."
Draco shut said eyes and submitted herself to Patil's ministrations. She twined her fingers together in her lap, but otherwise managed not to exhibit her anxiety. The worst that could happen was she'd have to keep wearing hats, she reminded herself over and over. Or swallow her pride and investigate wigs, or something. But if there was any chance of a solution here, it was worth a try.
Harry loved her new hair. She got up in the morning and even if it was sticking up at ridiculous angles, she could tamp it down with a bit of water and then get on with her life.
Harry loved Draco's new hair, too. It looked so soft, like downy feathers, and the way the fringe ends fell nearly into her eyes made the grey of irises look huge and dark just as Parvati had promised. Draco herself still acted like she was uncertain, but she hadn't worn her beret out once since the cut, which meant she found it to be an improvement at the very least.
What Harry didn't really understand was why Draco had to style her hair for a quidditch match. Harry certainly wasn't going to, now that she didn't have to tie it back for practicality's sake.
"It'll only blow around everywhere," said Harry, exasperated.
"Yours will," Draco countered. "Mine will stay in place while I sit on the bench and watch you take on the subpar opponent that is Driscoll."
"You might see some play," Harry suggested optimistically. It was possible that it hadn't fully occurred to her yet that she wouldn't be seeking against Draco again this year. It was such a disappointing prospect that she preferred to keep hoping. She didn't tell Ron or Ginny about this hope, however, because she knew they'd be mad that she wanted Slytherin to be more difficult to beat.
"Face it, Potter, I'll only see play if it's a bloodbath out there, and you can't be hoping for that."
"Of course I'm not hoping for a bloodbath," Harry said uncertainly. "But maybe Driscoll will, uh... get tired?"
"Do you hear yourself right now?"
"Whatever. Get your boots on and we can walk to the pitch together."
"You're just trying to throw Ron off his game," Harry accused.
Draco shrugged. "Weasley is—literally—bosom buddies with my best friend now. If he's put off by his best friend acting friendly with me then that's a problem born of his own hypocrisy."
"Whatever. Don't forget your gloves—and hurry or we'll be late to warm up."
"How do you know it's not all a part of my diabolical plan to make Gryffindor's star player late?"
Harry rolled her eyes. "You're right. Get your gloves now or I'm leaving without you. And I'm hardly the star player."
"The seeker is almost always a quidditch team's star player."
"Sounds like something a seeker would say," Harry laughed. "But does that mean Driscoll's your star?"
"I said almost for a reason, Potter."
"I'm coming, hold the bloody door."
Half an hour into the match, Harry was starting to feel bad about not entirely dismissing the idea that a bloodbath might be worth it if it meant Draco got to play. Ron had taken a nasty quaffle blow to the face and had blood streaming from his nose, though he assured Harry it didn't feel broken. Ginny was favouring one side, and Harry herself had had a few unsettlingly near misses. One of the Slytherin chasers had fallen off his broom and onto his head from about twenty feet, and had to be levitated off to one side by Madams Hooch and Pomfrey. The Slytherin team's first reserve player was a small girl whose agility was great, but she was nearly knocked off to the ground by every hard pass the others sent her way, and she was clearly terrified of the Gryffindor beaters.
To be fair, the Gryffindor beaters were terrifying. In the previous ten minutes alone, Harry had witnessed one of them hit both bludgers with her bat at the same time, and the other one knock the quaffle right out of a Slytherin's protective grasp and into the waiting arms of Dean, who'd been flying along underneath.
The Slytherin beaters were terrifying in a different way, and Harry couldn't help but flinch whenever she saw Garret coming towards her, twirling his bat.
She was searching for the snitch along the far edge of the field when she heard the collective wincing of the crowd and knew someone else had been hurt. The snitch was nowhere to be seen, so she didn't resist the urge to look over. The little Slytherin chaser was clutching her arm and wailing. When Harry saw the angle of her elbow she didn't blame her.
And then she saw the flash of white blonde that meant Draco was in the air.
When play resumed, Harry was presented with the new challenge of competing against someone else as seeker while Draco was on the field. She couldn't help but watch as Draco ducked and dived, holding the quaffle close and at one point giving it a fast kick past Ron and into the goal. Driscoll wasn't doing anything besides following Harry around anyway, so it wasn't like she was in danger of him finding the snitch unbeknownst to her.
There were several more points exchanged; both the Gryffindor and Slytherin teams were strong, and Draco was surprisingly good as a chaser. It was clear that she'd paid plenty of attention to the plays in practice, even if she hadn't been expecting to be part of them herself. Harry thought about how lost she'd probably be if she was thrown in as a chaser all of a sudden, and was thoroughly impressed.
When Draco flew past her at one point, she skimmed close by Harry and gave her a friendly elbow in the arm. Harry wondered if everyone watching them knew the intent behind the action, or whether they assumed it was an attempt at some kind of dirty contact—or even an accident. No matter what they thought, Harry thought it was the best thing in the world to be urging her broom on in competition with Draco. It made it even better that she could look across at the other girl and grin while she did it.
Slytherin had a slight—though hardly irreparable—lead when things went very abruptly wrong.
The first thing that happened was that Harry saw the snitch. It was hovering low to the ground, and she flew sedately towards it, looking around so that her Driscoll-shaped shadow would believe she was still searching and not focus too hard on the spot where it actually was. Harry was almost there, almost ready to put on a finishing burst of speed and scoop the tricky little ball out of the air, when one of her feinted glances caught Garret barrelling towards Draco. Harry tried to yell, but the wind ripped the words away before they reached their intended recipient—and there wasn't time anyway, there wasn't time, because Garret was gaining on her and Draco wasn't looking, was too focused on the Gryffindor beater firing a bludger at her from the opposite direction.
Harry sensed Driscoll moving up to fly beside her, and when she saw how flat he'd pressed himself against the handle of his broom she knew he'd seen the snitch, so Harry kicked up her own speed and went for it—
—and then heard the crowd cry out in horror and knew what had happened. Harry looked up to see Malfoy hanging off her broom by one hand, the broom bucking and twisting with the uneven weight distribution and lack of instruction from its owner.
In Harry's ears, the crowd's mutterings became the rumble of fire crunching through stacks of hidden things. Her pulse hammered in her throat, and the flush of exertion in her face seemed suddenly overwhelming. She reacted without fully comprehending it, pulling out of the race for the snitch—what snitch? Harry didn't remember what objective she could possibly have besides not watching another person die, not watching Draco die.
Draco had kept her grip on her broom, but the broom itself was caught in a nosedive. Harry knocked her sideways a bit with the momentum of having pelted over to her, but successfully wrapped an arm around Draco's waist to steady her. When she didn't have to hold herself up, Draco could get both hands on her broom and with a small press of her foot against Harry's thigh she levered herself back up into the saddle.
Harry breathed hard, barely thinking about the fact she was still on her broom, noticing herself teetering to one side, overcorrecting and eventually deciding simply to land. Slowly, she peeled away the memory stuck over her surroundings, remembering herself. She saw the other quidditch players, looking tired but hardly flying for their lives. She saw the grass beneath her and the sky above, cloudy but not with smoke. She saw that Driscoll already had the snitch in his hand, pinching its little wings between his fingers like it was a bird he meant to pinion.
Harry landed next to Draco, who also seemed to find the ground preferable.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
Draco didn't answer. She looked very pale, a little green in Harry's opinion.
"Malfoy!" Medusa Jackson, the Slytherin captain, landed heavily beside them both. "Are you going to do this every time you play?"
"No," said Draco.
"Well, there's not much point in asking you, is there, since you don't seem to be able to help it. I remember when you were invincible on a broomstick, but I suppose Potter saving your arse once has got you hooked."
Draco bristled, and so did Harry.
"It was Garret that—" Harry began, but Draco physically pushed her away from Jackson and Harry realised that perhaps her arguing with the Slytherin captain wouldn't do anyone any real good—especially not Draco, when she'd just been accused of being Harry's damsel in distress.
"I won us the match, didn't I?" Draco said. She'd found her composure somewhere, and was looking coolly at Jackson, standing straighter, speaking in that greased tone Harry hadn't heard from her in a while except in jest. "I distracted Potter, and Driscoll caught the snitch. Merlin knows he wouldn't have got to it first if not for my clever diversion."
Harry felt cold and heavy, like all her limbs had been frozen into differently sized blocks of ice. She moved backwards, nearly tripping. The adrenaline's recession had left her with an almighty headache and an involuntary shake in her knees which she noticed whenever she stood still. She needed to be somewhere else before she said or did something she regretted. She almost couldn't believe Draco—the idea that she and Garret had been planning together was patently ridiculous. ...Except that maybe it was all exactly the kind of desperate, underhanded long game that the Malfoy she'd always known would play to finally get back at Harry Potter.
Chapter 6: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
I wouldn't have thought that proofreading one chapter would take a week and a half, but that was before I met the past week and a half. I just want to take this opportunity to give a shoutout to the universe: you got me. I surrender. Just let me post my fic in peace.
"Of course she didn't do it on purpose!" Hermione exclaimed. "She nearly died! Even if Malfoy did want to trick you she'd never risk her life like that to do it. That's just not Malfoy."
Hermione was right, as usual, and somewhere not too far beneath the surface Harry had known all along that Draco clinging perilously to her wild broom was not a situation she'd ever have engineered for herself. This wasn't really what was bothering Harry; it was just a simpler way to be mad about it.
Harry shifted on the bed, resisting the urge to bury her face in her pillow. Draco was out with the rest of the Slytherin team, celebrating, and even if she came back early she'd find the door locked. Harry didn't know what she'd say to her when she actually did come back, whether something would explode between them as soon as they tried to share space or whether the current feeling of slippery doubt and hurt, something like betrayal and something else rather like longing, would intensify. It made it hard to think properly, and even harder to talk herself into doing anything. Harry just wanted to lie down. At least she was clean now, having been forced to shower by Hermione.
"She was embarrassed, and she was trying to hide it," Hermione said, very reasonably.
"It doesn't matter why she said what she said. The fact that she still said it means..." Harry actually did flop forward into her pillow face-first this time. She groaned.
"You're so articulate, Harry," Hermione said, a little laugh in her voice. But she patted Harry slowly and gently on the back in that way that was one of the most comforting things in the world. Hermione didn't do this meaninglessly, so Harry knew exactly what it meant when she did do it. It was the opposite of Draco, whom Harry had been so wrong to start believing she understood.
Harry gathered her thoughts, lifted herself out of the soft but slightly suffocating pillow and tried again. "The fact she said it means that when push comes to shove, she's still not up to honesty, and she still just wants to make herself look good. She'll do it at my expense whether she thinks of me as an enemy or a friend."
Hermione just kept patting, which Harry took to mean that she couldn't argue with her reasoning. Oddly enough, she wasn't happy about this. She wanted Hermione to point out something obvious that Harry had missed, some way in which Draco had actually not acted wrongly at all.
Draco had finally gotten one over on Harry Potter, and she'd done it by not fucking doing it at all.
Most of her fellow Slytherins—especially those on the quidditch team—had decided to go with her version of the story because it suited them better, made their win look highly strategic rather than hopelessly accidental. Draco went with her side of the story because it was too hard to take it back. What was she going to do—stand up at the breakfast table and shout for all to hear that no, she really hadn't meant to do that, she'd just been such a prat that one of her teammates held a rather serious grudge, and she owed her life to Harry Potter yet a-fucking-gain, because now she was better friends with Gryffindors than with her own lot.
No, it was far better to say that she'd taken advantage of that famous Potter messiah complex than become even more deeply indebted to it. Who knew, Draco thought; if she let the story be told enough it might even start to sound like the truth.
Draco had stayed with the other Slytherins celebrating the victory for as long as she could, before retreating to the bathroom to shake in one of the cubicles with her knees pressed to her chest. The feeling of knowing you were about to die was one she hoped she'd never have to feel again—ever, if possible. She wanted to die old and in her sleep without ever seeing it coming. The war was over, and the stakes weren't supposed to be this high anymore. She was supposed to be able to get through the day without hypervigilance.
By the time she got back to her room Harry was asleep, and Draco breathed a wet sigh of relief, tripping through the pitch darkness and lying in her own bed until the sky began to lighten.
Harry pretended not to wake up when Draco's alarm charm started jangling, and Draco was quite relieved about that too. She wasn't ready to try and talk about it yet. She wasn't ready to hear what Harry thought of her now. She wasn't ready to say aloud what she thought of herself.
She put on a wine-coloured lipstick even though it was wildly unnecessary for the day ahead. It made her feel more put together, more intimidating and less intimidated. She combed her hair and fixed each strand in place, put on plain school robes and a thick white scarf she'd bought because it felt like Harry's black one but wasn't.
Blaise and Pansy sat across from her, and they eyed her as she picked gingerly at a twice-bitten slice of white toast, now cold and soggy with butter.
"Are you fighting with Potter again, then?" Pansy asked eventually.
Draco gave a reluctant shrug, not raising her eyes.
"Because I just have to say, it's very inconvenient timing," Blaise put in. "We've just decided we rather like the strange old Gryffindors. They're sort of fascinating."
"And Ronald gives my tits the adoration they so richly deserve. I'm not cancelling that just because you've gone on a sulk again. Sorry," Pansy apologised, with not a single note of remorse in her voice.
"If you talk about Weasley and your tits in the same sentence in my presence ever again I'll go on a sulk about you too."
"So you're allowed to do it but not me? Because you just talked about him and my tits—"
"So long as we've an understanding," Blaise bit into a bread crust, somehow making the act look graceful. Draco had resented him a great deal for his grace, at first, before it became evident that it was the only thing in life he was truly exceptional at. After that, she'd resented him slightly less.
"What understanding?" Draco drank some more juice in the hope that the sugar would stop the words from exiting her ears a split second after they'd made it in. Merlin, she'd needed a good night's sleep after yesterday—but that had never been likely, had it?
"The understanding," Blaise explained with the patience of a man who hadn't really anything to do with his life, "that we're not disrupting our budding friendships with Granger and Weasley—and any other non-Slytherins we see fit to befriend or otherwise interact civilly with—just because your relationship with Potter is a series of horrific and tragically avoidable train wrecks."
"That was very lyrical, Blaise," Pansy opined.
"No it wasn't," said Draco. "And fine, whatever. I don't care. Obviously. Why would you even think that I'd care? Because I wouldn't and don't."
Blaise raised an eyebrow in accusation.
"Well why didn't you say so before, Draco? If you'd just said fuck you to me five minutes ago it would all have been so much clearer."
Since Draco couldn't very well tell him fuck you again, and go fuck yourself tended to provoke distressingly literal responses from Blaise, Draco simply gave him the finger. It wasn't very dignified, but she wasn't feeling very dignified this morning, so there.
Of course, this was the day she was paired with Harry for dancing. Granger was with Blaise, and while there seemed to be a touch of trepidation between them at first, they were getting along like normal after the first thirty seconds. Pansy was with some Ravenclaw boy, and was, interestingly, not torturing him in the same way she'd done Weasley. If she was saving it for Weasley then perhaps she liked him more than Draco had expected.
Harry and Draco hadn't actually touched yet. It was stupid, since everyone else in the room had assumed their positions without thinking twice about it, having practiced day in and day out for the past couple of weeks. The longer Harry and Draco stood apart, though, the more significant any movement to bridge the divide became; the less Draco could stand the thought of giving in first.
"Look, let's be adults about this," she said through gritted teeth.
Harry only folded her arms across her chest. "Why would I bother when I'm not sure you're capable of it?"
"I am," Draco protested, even though she knew what Harry was getting at.
Harry let out a mirthless little laugh. It was a hard sound, cold, like she was coughing up something jagged. "I've got more than seven years' evidence to the contrary."
It wounded Draco more than it had any right to do. Trying to be different and, for a while, succeeding, had made it seem like she could start fresh in Harry's eyes. She wanted it to be that those first seven years of bitterness and mistakes couldn't be bundled together with this eighth year. But of course they could. Of course nobody else was obliged to act as if those years hadn't happened just because she now wished they hadn't.
"I'm sorry, Potter," Draco hissed, very quietly as other couples moved around them—some smooth, many more in broken series of painfully staccato steps. "I never meant to say that I'd fooled you, and I certainly never meant to pull some suicidal move just on the off chance you'd leave the snitch for me. I panicked, alright! Fuck. I just- I was terrified and humiliated and I panicked. When you panic, of course, you instinctively save people's lives. When I panic, apparently I'm still a defensive git and a liar, no matter how hard I try to be better than that."
"Yes, apparently," said Harry. She looked conflicted, though, and that was all Draco could hope for the moment. "Let's just dance, alright? Before McGonagall loses patience with us."
Draco nodded, and held out her hands. Harry raised her own, then paused with them midair.
"Which part do you want to do?" she asked. "I've been trying to practice both, though I'm not very good at either."
"Fuck it, you take the lead," Draco offered. She'd have her feet stepped on either way, and at least this might make Harry happy.
"Thanks," Harry gave her a weak smile as she held Draco's hand and waist.
Draco begged the palm pressed against Harry's not to sweat. She looked Harry in the face and, close enough to make out the individual hairs shadowing her jaw and the fine cracks at the edges of her dry lips, the memory of what it was to kiss Harry caught her in a flash flood. She thanked Merlin that her right hand had Harry's keeping it in place, and fought to ensure that the hand resting on Harry's shoulder stayed put.
She barely even noticed when Harry started moving her backwards, sidewards, forwards. In the seconds before Harry's steps faltered and they both had to skip awkwardly to keep in time, Draco almost felt like she was being carried, Harry's arms strong enough to guide her so that all she had to do was melt into it.
It was difficult being around Neville and Luna because it was so easy. Harry brought a book to the greenhouse because she'd remembered she had charms homework at the last second, but didn't want to skip a chance at soaking up some fresh air and sunlight. Besides, Draco was in their room, so she wanted to study as far away from there as possible. Things were still too complicated to be comfortable.
"Hey, Harry," Neville greeted her when she arrived. He was already up to his elbows in soil, and looked as happy as ever. Luna was weaving a precarious path through the flowerbeds watering things with a watering can so oddly shaped Harry was sure she must have transfigured it herself.
"Nev, Luna," Harry greeted each of them in turn.
Luna skipped up and pressed a firm kiss to her cheek. She had done this many times, before they tried out any kind of romantic intimacy, but now that Harry had all that sense memory stored up in her skin it was hard not to think about what Luna's mouth felt like a little further over on her lips, further down at the sensitive spot where her neck turned to jaw, or across on her ear. Luna didn't exhibit any sign of sharing this concern, and Harry would have thought this should make it easier, but it actually just made her think that maybe her feelings were wrong. Maybe she was making something out of nothing.
"Want to help me with the watering?" Luna asked, already holding out the strange implement for Harry to take. She picked up a perfectly normal-looking empty flowerpot and, sure enough, changed it into another unusual watering can. "This shape is best for filtering out Curnellas," she informed Harry. "It's the extra roses, you see. They disorient the little creatures, like a water slide with too many turns. Curnellas aren't bad—they're quite sweet actually—but they're really not good for growing plants."
"Clever," Harry said, because she was sure she would find it clever if she understood what Luna was saying at all. She turned her watering can to shower its contents on some bright blue flowers she knew she was supposed to be able to identify by this point in her education.
"So, Harry, did you need any help with that Charms work?" Luna asked. "I'm really quite good with charms. They're very natural things."
Harry had always felt that charms were some of the least natural things there were—possibly they came second in that race to potions—but she didn't question Luna's view on it. Harry knew plenty of people felt that shooting through the sky on a broomstick was the most unnatural thing a person could possibly do, and obviously she didn't share that feeling either.
"It's actually just a matter of going through the reading and writing out the notes," Harry said. "Not so much about getting new concepts right. But thanks."
"Luna," Neville called from across the little greenhouse, "do you still fancy those sage and caramel cakes you were talking about before?"
"Oh yes! Now would be a perfect time to go and ask if the house elves can help us," Luna beamed. "I'll run along now, if that's okay with you both."
Harry nodded, and Luna scampered away.
"So," said Neville, once she was gone. "Am I the only one who's still feeling a bit odd here?"
"No," Harry admitted. It felt good to be able to say it. "I'm feeling it too."
"Thank Merlin. I mean, not thankful that it's weird. But that I'm not the only one. I was starting to wonder if I'd gotten something—"
"—wrong," Harry finished.
"Yeah," Neville laughed, and Harry could hear his relief. It sounded like hers felt.
"I'm sorry for making it weird," said Harry. "I'm sorry for not knowing what was going to be a good idea and what wasn't."
"We all made it weird," Neville shrugged. "Not on purpose. Not by doing anything wrong, either. Sometimes weirdness just happens. I'm sorry, though. Sorry we pushed you into something that wasn't right for you."
Harry stood by Nev as he knelt by the garden bed he was working on. He looked up at her with earnestness and guilt in his face, and Harry knelt next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder.
"You didn't do that," she insisted. "I didn't know what I wanted, but if I hadn't thought that maybe this could be it, then I wouldn't have tried it. I still wish it'd been able to work. I can hardly think of two people I'd rather be with than you and Luna. You're some of my best friends and I do love you."
"If you're sure," Nev said, sounding only partially convinced.
"It's the one thing in all this that I'm very sure of."
"Good, because you've always been one of my best mates, Harry. So how do we get on with this? You know, moving past it. Being how we were before it."
Harry thought about it. Thought about how it'd been with Nev before he'd ever kissed her, before she knew how his hands cradled a bare body, how his fingers felt when they took their time tickling over her scalp. All these things that now she had to want and not want, because they came packaged with things she just couldn't handle.
"Maybe we can't," she mused. "Not in a bad way, just... you know. We can only ever move forward."
"You're getting a bit philosophical there, Harry," Nev warned. "Better tell me what you mean by it or I'll misunderstand gravely and that'll help everything a whole lot."
Harry laughed. "We can't undo things, right?" she said. She'd thought about this fact in particular an awful lot in her lifetime. "So we can't ever really go back. But we can move forward to a situation that's more like what things were like before."
Nev gave some of his attention back to his plants. "No offence, but I think that difference is academic," he said.
"Maybe," Harry allowed. "Let's test that theory out, yeah?"
"For what it's worth, there was a lot about it that I liked. A lot about you that I could've loved like that, if it was different. This is so hard because there's so much of all that."
Nev gave her a tired smile. "Well that makes it better then."
It did, and it didn't.
It occurred to Harry one night that maybe the ball was in her court regarding Draco. After what Draco had said during dance lessons, it was Harry's turn to either accept or deny the apology.
She wasn't sure which to do. She wanted for it not to matter, to be able to say oh, it's okay and have that be the truth. But as long as everyone else in the school thought Draco had meant to trick her, Harry just had a hard time believing she really was sorry. The stunt had definitely improved Draco's standing within Slytherin house, and Harry almost felt bad requiring her to undo that to prove her apology—but if pride was always going to be worth more to Draco than friendship, it was better that Harry heed this warning, wasn't it?
"You can sleep in my room over Christmas if you'd like," Hermione offered without preamble, without Harry having to explain how awkward it was going to be being stuck with Draco when the rest of the school was nearly deserted.
"Thanks," Harry gave her the sort of side-hug one gave to people one was sitting next to at a crowded dining table.
The mail arrived then, and Hermione got a fat letter that was certainly from Martin, and if there was anything else she'd planned to say to Harry she promptly forgot about it.
Harry received a letter, too—another one from George. He'd signed a lease on a shopfront in Hogsmeade, he said—but could Harry please not tell Ron yet? It was going to be surprise news at the Weasley Christmas celebration. George wrote that it was a shame Harry couldn't be there, though Harry believed that the moment he turned up and was bombarded with other relatives, gifts, food and drinks, he'd forget that she was missing from the margins of that picture.
Harry penned a letter back that afternoon saying she'd come and see George in Hogsmeade again before the hols began, which meant it would be that Saturday.
Not many students actually bothered visiting Hogsmeade so close to departing Hogwarts for two weeks; it was more of a last chance to buy presents they'd need as soon as they arrived home, or a chance for those students staying at school to get out and about as usual. There were increased Hogsmeade privileges over Christmas, which was nice. It would have been nicer if Harry had actual friends to go with, but the little village was always jolly and the way the snow and the decorations made it sparkle was enough to put some lightness in Harry's heart.
Harry met George outside Honeydukes, and they went in there first to collect various sweets as small gifts. George passed Harry a box of chocolate frogs as soon as he'd paid for them.
"Cheers," said Harry, and passed George a large bag of fizzing whizbees.
After that they walked to the next street, which was quieter but seemed to be filling with more and more lively businesses again since the war took its toll on everything, local economy included.
"Here she is," George said, spreading his arms wide in front of a darkened shop. Through the huge glass window Harry could see the total emptiness of the rectangular room, but from the look on George's face she knew he was seeing something different. George had a vision for this place, and the longer Harry looked at him, the more she started to see it herself.
"It's brilliant, George," she said. "You'll get so much business from Hogwarts you'll have to get a bigger shop after the very first Hogsmeade weekend."
"Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves," George said seriously, then belied his statement with a mischievous wink. "What do you say we christen it with a bit of firewhisky?" he suggested, and pulled a bottle out of his bag, which had obviously had its undetectable extension charm done by Hermione because Harry hadn't seen this coming.
"It's eleven in the morning," Harry pointed out.
"It's eleven thirty," said George, looking hilariously offended by Harry's implication. "Which means it's basically lunch time, and it's acceptable to drink with lunch, especially near Christmas."
"Do we actually have lunch to drink this with, though?" Harry asked. "I didn't bring anything."
George frowned. "I suppose to make the lunch excuse work we should find something to eat. They sell sandwiches at the weird little pub across the road."
"There's a pub over there?" Harry had never noticed one before.
"It's just opened up. I think the bar is actually just the bloke's living room, but he keeps good beer."
"We don't need beer, we need food."
"His sandwiches are edible."
"With that rave review, I'll have to try them for myself," said Harry, and they set off across the street, returning fifteen minutes later with a bag of turkey sandwiches.
They sat cross-legged on the bare floor of the empty shop with the bottle between them, eating their sandwiches with the wrapping papers spread over their laps.
"Ron told me what happened with the quidditch," said George. "And I've just got to ask, Harry... did you have to save Malfoy?"
Harry laughed at the joke, then frowned. "She's not like she was," she said.
"Doesn't exactly seem like it from that low stunt."
"She didn't do it on purpose. One of her own beaters is holding a grudge after the war. He almost killed her at the Slytherin try-outs and decided to have another go during the match. Draco just told everybody that she'd done it on purpose."
George made a face. "Still a prat," he said.
"Hard to make Draco Malfoy entirely not a prat," Harry grinned. "Yeah, we're still having some trouble over it. She apologised to me, but she hasn't set the story straight with everyone else."
"Malfoy apologised. To you." George repeated. He sounded kind of floored.
"Yeah, what about it?"
"Well, it's just. There really is a first time for everything."
Harry nodded, licking mayonnaise off her thumb and swallowing a mouthful of sandwich. "Alright," she declared, "I'm ready for that drink now."
George grabbed the bottle, but struggled with the cap. "Hands're too cold," he muttered.
Harry reached over and took it, spending a minute wincing as the pressure made the pins and needles in her own palm worse. Eventually she got it open, though. George cheered, and Harry took a swig quickly so she could give him his turn.
"So who's going to run this shop?" Harry asked. "Have you got someone in mind? Or do you want a break from the Diagon Alley life?"
"I'm not moving to Hogsmeade," George said emphatically. "But I might be here temporarily while it's all being set up. And I haven't settled on anybody to run it just yet, but I think Sara could do it if she's willing to move. It'd be a fair promotion for her, and she's been talking about raising Millie somewhere quieter than London."
Harry had met Sara a few times before; she was the assistant manager at the Diagon Alley shop and the single mother of a six year old who was exactly how Harry imagined a Hermione raised on magic would have been at that age.
"Sara'd be great," Harry says. "And she'd love all the Hogwarts kids coming in. And she'd get to see Millie once she starts there, too!"
"Reckon Millie will be mortified if that happens, but yeah, I hope she goes for it."
"If she doesn't, then what?"
George sighed loudly. "Then I'll have to interview," he lamented, and washed the words out of his mouth with another gulp of whisky.
"Get Sara to interview," Harry suggested. "You know, delegate. That's what bosses do, right?"
"Not a bad idea, my friend," George appeared to take his next drink as a toast to Harry's advice.
Harry laughed. The whisky she'd had already had her feeling a little wobbly, and it was odd to feel that way in the hours of broad daylight.
"Any new developments in your life, then, Harry?" George asked. "I've given you all my gossip, and fair's fair."
Harry's tongue had loosened enough that it wasn't impossible to get the words out, but she still had to brace herself as she said, "I tried dating Neville and Luna."
George looked on with wide eyes. "Look at you and your string of fourth-year-length relationships," he said, but Harry could tell he wasn't really paying attention to his own words, too busy was he with processing.
"Er, not so much a string," Harry said.
"Three, if you count Susan Bones," said George, counting on his fingers.
"Two, if you count Susan. Nev and Luna were a package deal, sort of thing..."
"Merlin, Harry—when I encouraged you to date both men and women if you wanted, I didn't mean you had to date both at the same time. I just want to make sure you're clear on the fact that wasn't what I meant."
"Oh, if you'd only been a bit clearer before," Harry said flatly. "Of course I fucking knew what you meant. It just happened that they asked me to join them, and I thought for a while that it could work out."
"It couldn't, though?"
"Obviously, given that I'm not still dating them."
George rolled his eyes. "I was trying to subtly ask you why, git. Suppose it's my own fault. Suppose I should know better than to be subtle with you by now."
"You're an arse."
"I firmly believe you can be both."
"Touché. So what the hell happened with you, Luna and Neville then?"
Harry paused. "Pass me that," she made grabby hands at the firewhisky. She felt more secure just cradling the rapidly emptying bottle in her hands. "I just didn't feel like what we had was mine as much as it was theirs," she said. "Does that make sense? They were already together, and I always felt a bit left out."
"Did you talk to them about this? I'm pretty sure step one of polyamorous relationships is communication. I'm pretty sure that's also step two."
"How do you know about everything?" Harry asked. Why did everyone seem to know about everything, except for her? "Don't tell my Percy's polyamorous too? I'm not sure my tipsy brain could handle that, let alone my sober brain."
"It's not Percy," George said, with no small measure of relief present in his voice. "It was, er. Well, there were sometimes girls who couldn't choose between Fred and me."
"We'd just both date them, never all of us at the same time," George rushed to reassure her. "Merlin, imagine—no, fuck, do not imagine—"
"George?" Harry interrupted cautiously. "Are you okay?" He seemed to be sort of... violently malfunctioning.
"Clearly not. Anyway, we were close, you know, so we didn't mind. We liked so many of the same things, same people. We had the same dreams and everything. It would've been easy for us to do, I think. 'Course, it's less of an option now."
Harry didn't sober completely at the words—there was too much whisky washing around in her with only a pretty barren sandwich for insulation—but she definitely felt less warm and relaxed. The haunted look in George's eyes was hardly unfamiliar, but it never got much easier to take.
She held out the bottle of firewhisky, which it occurred to her might have been a tactless gesture only after George had wrapped his fist around its neck.
"I didn't mean it like drown your sorrows forever," she explained, attempting the metaphysically challenging task of gesturing to a gesture which she had previously made.
"I know," said George, and drank deeply.
When the sunlight outside started to look too tempting, they locked up George's new shop and went to soak some of it up.
"Are you really sure you won't come to the Burrow for Christmas?" George asked, his arm slung around Harry's shoulder, Harry's arm slung around his waist. They were walking perfectly straight, thank you very much; weren't slurring, and weren't attracting many more eyes than Harry could expect to at the best of times.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Harry said. "It's my last one at school. You'll be stuck hosting me at the Burrow for the rest of my life, don't worry."
"It's been forever since I had a Christmas at school." George sounded wistful. "Maybe I should join you."
McGonagall had given quite a long overview of all the updated security measures built into the repaired Hogwarts castle early in the term, and entry by persons neither staff nor student hadn't been allowed to start with.
"Pretty sure that'd be super illegal," Harry reminded him gently.
"Pfft. I'm an alumnus."
"So was Voldemort." Harry hadn't really meant to say it, but it'd just slipped out.
"I think I've found the perfect career for you, Harry. Professional party pooper. People could hire you to show up to other people's parties and ruin the mood. Not destroy the whole place so everyone leaves, just make sure nobody actually has a good time. Much subtler revenge. Appeal to the Slytherin market."
Harry rolled her eyes, but was glad George had responded with humour instead of haunted silence. "Sorry," she said. "It's weird, the idea of him not being relevant anymore. Like one of the landmarks I've been orienting myself by all this time's gone."
"I reckon," said George, "that people who are gone are still relevant as long as they're still making a difference in the lives of those of us left. I mean, the idea that Fred's not relevant anymore is ludicrous. He'll be with me my whole life, and with everyone in the family and everyone he knew. You Know Who will be relevant to everyone who ever had to fear him because it made an impact. Not a good impact like Fred did, but people like him will always be relevant. To remind us of what we came through and what it took, and why we can never get lazy about being better."
Harry felt suddenly very inarticulate. Even more inarticulate than normal. In lieu of speech, she pressed a big kiss to George's cheek.
"Look what you've done now, Harry," said George, and he sounded more cheerful again even if there was a reedy thread of something through it that was still struggling to iron itself out. "The headlines of tomorrow's paper will say: GAY POTTER A LIE! SAVIOUR LIKES RIDING BROOMSTICKS AFTER ALL."
"Ugh," Harry protested with feeling if not eloquence. "You're worse than the Prophet."
"You wound me. Actually, though, it'd be a brilliant prank to pull. I could write outrageously sarcastic articles under a pen name—about the stupidest, pettiest shit I could think of, and always dropping your name somehow even if I was just talking about a new sort of beer, or something—and the Prophet would eat them up thinking they were real, I'd become their newest star writer, because there are some things in this life that you can't even parody."
Harry thought about this. "I don't see how you've pranked them. Seems more like you've pranked yourself."
George thought about this too, then answered in an exaggeratedly serene, wise tone: "Perhaps I have. Perhaps that is all life really is."
Harry snorted. Then she spied a little nook of a bakery, and was wholly distracted by how great an idea eating fresh mince pie was.
By the time Ron and Hermione were bundled off towards the Hogwarts Express, Harry was actually glad not to be going with them.
"He's always been a git, don't let it get to you," Ron had said about Draco, sympathising with Harry's plight over the break.
Ron had perhaps mistaken the fact that Hermione was staunchly refusing to talk to Draco, until either Harry said things had been repaired or Hermione felt Draco had sufficiently atoned, as a sign that she wouldn't blow up at him for misgendering her.
"Pansy says it too," he'd tried.
"Well, not when she's talking to me she doesn't," Hermione all but yelled despite the fact they were all huddled on a lounge in the common room, mere inches separating their faces. "Or I'd have said the same things to her as I'm saying to you."
"Honestly, 'Mione, don't you see that you're putting too much effort into defending Malfoy? After everything? Besides, Pansy deserves a break—she's known the git her whole life, and it's hard to suddenly change how you refer to someone."
"Harry and I have known Malfoy for a long time too, and we've managed," Hermione huffed.
"Sorry we're not all as shining and golden as you two, then. Besides, it's hypocritical of you—you're always talking about how it is hard for witches to get respect just because they were born witches—and now you're happy for some bloke to come along and say he's one of you when nobody ever looked down on him for how he was born, other than the fact he was born a right prat."
Hermione had stiffened and looked like she was either going to fracture apart and spew rage everywhere, or stay frozen forever. Harry had hoped for the latter in the moment, but as Hermione's stony silence dragged on she'd started to wonder whether maybe it would have been better to get it out of the way like a howler.
After the rush of students departing, stillness settled over the castle. It made Harry think of night time, when the corridors were empty, but it was disconcerting to feel that emptiness during the day. And, somehow, she could feel that the dormitories weren't full of sleeping bodies. Just knowing they were nearly empty had always changed things.
All of nineteen students sat up one end of the dinner table, with the remaining staff arranged around the opposite end. McGonagall was there, as was Slughorn who apparently had to keep a close eye on a potion he was brewing, Madam Pomfrey who took her duties to those remaining behind very seriously, and Madam Hooch who, if the rumours Draco had passed to Harry were anything more than rumours, was going through a nasty split with her long-term girlfriend and had therefore elected not to go back to Holyhead where the two of them had lived together. Hooch's ex-partner was a nutritionist for the Harpies, according to Draco. Harry had no idea how she came by this information—especially when to Harry's knowledge not many of the Slytherins spoke to her anymore, preferring not to tarnish what remained of their individual reputations. The only thing that gave Harry pause when she started to believe Draco had simply concocted the whole tale was the fact that, if she had, it would surely be a more creatively scandalous yarn than it was.
Given the nature of Draco, Harry shouldn't have been surprised to find her sitting at the desk in their room absolutely surrounded by button-making materials. There were cut-up bits of coloured parchment everywhere—raucous yellows, oranges and reds that were completely incompatible with Draco's usual colour palette. There were at least four open wells of ink, and Harry spied something she thought looked like crayons before decided her eyes were deceiving her, because they couldn't be.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked.
"Creating art," Draco said.
"I do see that, but why is it so, er, everywhere? You do most of it with spellwork."
"Can't an artist experiment with new media?" Draco asked, carefully avoiding the obvious point of Harry's questions but passing it off as being engrossed in her task.
"How often do you experiment with new media, Draco?"
Draco pushed her fringe back off her forehead with ink-streaked fingers and ended up with a stripe of shimmering bronze through it. Harry laughed, at the same time as wondering how it was that Draco could make looking a mess look... kind of good, even though it was Harry who'd practiced the art of being a mess her whole life.
"I'm doing it right now," Draco pointed out, in that tone of hers that clearly added imbecile to every statement.
Harry looked at the spread of art supplies again, stepped closer and examined what definitely were crayons.
"Why, though? Why now? What's your plan here?"
Draco narrowed her eyes, in a way Harry now knew meant she was too close to the asking the right questions, and Draco didn't like it. "Why must you assume my engagement with my creative hobbies stems from some nefarious intention?"
"Because," Harry pointed out, "statistically, it often does."
"You'll have to wait and see, then," Draco said, and then returned to completely ignoring Harry.
It was the most civil conversation they'd had in a while, Harry realised. And it was better than not talking, better than being angry with Draco. Harry did still deserve things to be set right, deserved more of an apology than she'd received, but maybe, she thought, it was in her best interest to cut her losses anyway.
Draco laid out her outfit for the day on her bed while she took a morning shower and prepared herself in the en suite. When she came back out, Harry was not only out of bed but was looking at her things, one hand hovering above them as if she wanted to touch.
The bright flashing of the badge Draco had pinned to her jacket collar was a fair justification for this. She had kind of hoped Harry would notice it, after all.
Harry looked up at her, looking caught like a deer in the flare of a lumos maxima. When she recovered herself, she asked, "Potter's damsel in distress?"
Draco shrugged. "It seemed suitably humiliating."
Harry regarded her in silence for so long it became disconcerting. She wasn't one of the people Draco most associated with sustained, critical thought.
"Is this to say sorry?" Harry asked at last. Draco mentally took back her assessment of Harry's pause as thoughtful.
"If you haven't figured that much out, I despair for your NEWT results."
"I mean, is- is what you think I want from you just... as much humiliation as possible?" Harry frowned.
"Is that not what you've always wanted from me?"
"No!" Harry insisted. "And what I want from you isn't maximum humiliation. I just want things made right. Wanted," Harry seemed to correct herself. "I don't think I even care for it anymore. I think by this point inflicting the punishment is worse than the memory of suffering the crime."
Every so often, Harry surprised Draco with her articulateness. Especially when she'd surprised her with her total lack of it just moments earlier. This was typical Potter behaviour. Consistent only in the total lack of order she kept her life in.
"What are you saying?" Draco pressed, cautiously, as though testing a tender bruise.
Harry flopped back onto her own bed with a sigh. "I'm saying I don't care anymore," she said, vaguely, and Draco simply waited to see if she'd go on to make any sense or not. "I'd rather just forget about what you said, because I do believe you're sorry. I'd rather go back to being friends, you know? Everyone else will either catch on to the truth eventually or forget about it."
"Are you seriously swallowing your pride? There's a first time for everything, I just didn't expect that time to be now."
Harry looked pointedly at the badge and said, "There is a first time for everything."
Draco turned her nose up and huffed in a manner she hoped communicated touché, without her actually having to say it.
"So, what, you forgive me?" Draco asked, trying to play it off as though she thought the idea was stupid, as though she hadn't discovered in their horrible period of frostiness that she needed it to happen.
Harry grinned—a slow grin that Draco saw more often on the faces of Slytherins than Gryffindors—and said, "on one condition." She held her hand out for the badge.
Draco, wary but still glad she hadn't had to go out wearing the thing as planned, handed it over.
The winter holiday wasn't so bad once the two of them were on decent terms again. They passed long hours in the common room, lounging across whole five-seaters and emptying a bottle of passable red goblin wine Draco had procured, apparently from a little-known cellar in Hogsmeade. They were of age, so it wasn't difficult to come by alcohol when it wasn't an official term-time Hogsmeade weekend. The main problem with drinking in the eighth year common room was usually that they'd have to share with everyone—sometimes including Hannah Abbott, who could really drink.
Harry liked the wine, even though she spent a lot of time going on about how strange the flavour of it was.
"It's like... if someone dropped a lot of coins, ginger and maybe... potatoes?— into a vat of grape juice and added a dash of pepper-up."
Draco scoffed and told her she was dreadfully uncultured, though secretly she found the description quite perceptive.
"I'm not saying it's bad." Harry proved her statement when she tipped the large bottle back and gulped down several mouthfuls of it. Draco watched her throat work.
"Of course it's not bad. I do not select bad wines."
"That said, hideously uncultured as I am, maybe me liking your wine isn't a good sign for it?" Harry suggested. Draco could hear the drink starting to thicken her voice, and her own mouth felt the same—clumsier, not that it bothered her. It was all part of the pleasant, heavy buzz of the red. Drinking goblin wine felt a lot like daydreaming, only the world was pleasantly tangible and real.
"That is not how wine works," Draco disagreed.
They spent days in companionable silence, poring over textbooks or, most often in Harry's case, snoozing with textbooks lying open on one part of the body or another; face, chest, hand. Once, Draco had built a small fortress of textbooks on Harry's belly while she slept, to prove to her that she had indeed been sleeping after she'd denied it the time before.
A few afternoons of study melted into evenings, and they missed dinner, instead sneaking into the kitchens and making something with the help of the elves. Harry wasn't very good at cooking actual meals; Abbott had mostly taught her to bake. When Draco made this observation, Harry glared, and asked her what her favourite dessert was. Draco recognised the challenge for what it was, and asked for soufflé. She ended up eating one made by the house elves leaving Harry to eat her own attempt so dejectedly that Draco actually offered to share hers. Harry stubbornly refused, and from then on put a good deal more effort into looking like she was enjoying her own collapsed failure of a dish.
One evening Harry fell asleep on Draco's shoulder while she was trying, for her own amusement, to follow Draco's explanation of the arithmantic charts she was studying. Draco let her stay like that, thinking she'd move her off later—then kept reading until she fell asleep too.
When the sun glaring through the common room window woke them the following morning, Draco suffered the brief indignity of an arm entirely floppy with numbness, and Harry the more lasting one of being unable to hold her neck straight without experiencing sharp, commanding pains. Both of them were grumpy and sore for the whole rest of the day, limping around and trying awkwardly to stretch out their bad backs. It was for this reason that Draco didn't feel any sort of rejection when Harry suggested, head leant on Draco's shoulder once again, this time with conscious intent, that they migrate to their respective beds.
One day they wandered leisurely down to Hogsmeade together because the sun was out, illuminating the remnants of a heavy snowfall days before. Harry brought her snakes with her, and Draco took Pearl when she showed an interest in seeing things from atop Draco's shoulder.
It was surprising the way they found things to talk about, Draco thought—things that didn't feel like small talk (on which Draco had been raised as an expert) but which weren't life or death either. They talked in depth about professional quidditch teams, places they'd never travelled but would like to (Harry's list was longer than Draco's; she hadn't even been to France before), Muggle technology (which Harry knew considerably more about than Draco) and Muggle fashion (which Draco knew more about than Harry, having studied the designers who'd influenced the latest season of wizarding fashion meticulously). When they talked about the weather it wasn't a shitty excuse.
"One of the first times I used magic was during a snowball fight," Draco told Harry, reminiscing as she breathed in that familiar wintery scent. "My father threw a snowball at me and I was so desperate to dodge it that my magic turned it away. It curved a perfect ninety degrees and hit my mother instead. She was both extremely pleased and displeased with my display."
"I don't know, exactly, what the first time I did magic was," Harry said. "I mean, I never had anyone to explain to me that magic was what was happening. I just had lots of people explaining to me that I was a weird child, for all sorts of reasons, and magic was only one of those."
"What was the best one, then, if not the first?" Draco asked. "Mine was when my hair had grown to my chin, and I expressed an interest in tying it in pretty pigtails like Pansy wore hers in. Father had one of the house elves cut it short, and every night I cried into my pillow only to wake up the next morning with hair to my chin again, sometimes even a few inches longer than it had been to begin with."
Harry grinned and exclaimed, "Something like that happened to me too!" with a joy that almost made Draco feel like that child again, waking up and finding her dream had come true despite the odds. "It's nice to know it's a normal thing for kids with magic. Or at least that it happens to a few of us. It seemed incredibly abnormal at the time."
"Oh, magical growth of hair is quite normal. I think it happens to about fifty percent of children at some point before they start to learn to control their magic—though it's possible it happens to more, and they simply don't notice the changes because they're less dramatic. It's interesting, actually, how children's accidental magic can achieve things spells and potions can't. There's so much of magic that hasn't been translated, I suppose."
Harry hummed. "I wonder whether Ron or Hermione ever had the hair thing. Never talked about it with them."
Sometimes seemingly insignificant subjects took on grand levels of meaning with Harry; that was how it was, Draco supposed, when she'd missed mundane levels of intimacy in favour of life-and-death bonds in constantly dire circumstances. Fighting for one's life was old hat, and had been done alongside nearly everyone; nicking toast from the kitchens so they could go walking instead of taking their breakfast with the rest of Hogwarts' diminished population was extraordinary.
When Harry said, "I think my favourite bit of accidental magic was one time at the zoo..." Draco knew it was going to be good.
"So you spoke to the snake," Draco said once Harry had finished the story, "but you still didn't realise you were a Parselmouth until second year?"
Harry shrugged. "Well I didn't know it was a thing! How was I supposed to assume, oh, I must be a person who's able to talk to snakes, when as far as I knew it definitely wasn't possible?"
Draco copied her shrug. "Maybe the fact that it happened could have been a giveaway."
"And I suppose you've never rationalised anything away before, never been in denial even a little bit," Harry accused, but lightly, without enough weight in her voice to make Draco really think about how much she'd done those things.
"Never," she replied instead, and Harry's laugh carried across the wide street as they reached the edge of the village.
Draco showed Harry the way to the little cellar, down a side alley and a set of twisted stairs so steep they were almost better thought of as a ladder.
For the best part of an hour they perused the cramped shelves stacking dusty bottles all the way up to the place's rough stony ceiling. Harry pulled out every exciting-looking bottle she noticed, and Draco helped read the labels that were written in French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese or Romanian. The amount of help she actually was differed from language to language; she was perfectly fluent in French, but had cobbled too much of her Portuguese together from Spanish. She pretended she could read all of them, though, because Harry didn't know any better anyway, and Draco was rapidly forming an addiction to the impressed looks her efforts as translator earned her.
Draco, for her part, searched the shelves for items of quality. She found a few and noted them down for the future, but decided she was most in the mood for more of the goblin wine she and Harry had finished earlier that week. It had been a good find, considering the price was far below the bottom of the range Draco would once have set for her purchases.
Harry came away with a bottle of ghost cider—for the next game, she explained—wrapped in a paper bag and tucked under her arm, as well as a six pack of limited Christmas edition Bertie Bott's vodka mixers the existence of which Draco was infinitely happier not acknowledging—a present for George Weasley, Harry said. For herself, Harry'd selected a strange Spanish brew that washed around in its rounded glass bottle with a distinct viscosity that made Draco think of it more as a potion than a beverage, but which promised 'pleasant lemony sweetness' on its label.
At the last minute, Harry had grabbed the bottle of goblin wine from Draco and put it with her own purchases on the counter, handing over the gold to the cashier before she could even snatch it back.
"I don't need charity, Potter," Draco growled. It may have been true that Draco could only afford so much on her present budget, but she maintained her dignity by making sure nobody knew it, and she hated the thought that Harry did.
The shocked quirk of Harry's brow reassured her. "What charity?" Harry asked, sounding genuinely confused. "It's Christmas Eve. I'm trying to buy you a Christmas present, you git. Now take it," she thrust the tall thin brown-wrapped bottle in Draco's direction. "Happy Christmas, Draco."
"You're not supposed to give people their Christmas presents at noon on Christmas Eve," Draco pointed out, in the hope that pedantry would hide obscure the smile growing on her face. The expression felt sunny and genuine and downright embarrassing.
"Well, you're also not supposed to growl at people when they try to give you presents, but it looks like we've both made mistakes."
These were the kinds of mistakes, Draco reflected as they cast lightening and shrinking charms on the drinks and strolled back up to the castle, that she'd be content to keep making forever.
That night, they sat on Harry's bed, side by side with their backs against the wall and thighs close enough that they pressed together when one of them shifted. They passed the lemon potion Harry had bought back and forth; it turned out that the stuff was delicious—it was tart, well-balanced and the honeylike consistency made it sit rich and warming in Draco's stomach.
"Have you asked anyone to the dance yet?" said Harry, out of the blue.
Draco stole another drink before shaking her head. "Have you?"
"Well, have you actually tried to find someone? One would think it'd be easy for you out of everyone. You're Harry Potter, for one thing—everyone's darling saviour, fit to boot if you like a rough diamond—and for another, you've your pick of partners from whichever gender."
Harry made a frustrated little noise, which, to her immense discomfort, it hurt Draco to hear. "When you put it like that," Harry said, "it does sound like it should be easy. But it's just... not."
"I suppose your woeful dancing skills put most people off," Draco remarked, before she too could be sucked into the drain of self-doubt that Harry seemed to be circling. "That must account for at least eighty-five percent of the problem."
Harry laughed, weakly, but it was enough for Draco to relax.
"You're good at dancing," Harry said after a while.
"Indeed," Draco prompted when she didn't continue. "Were you going to tell me something or did you simply feel like stating the obvious?"
"No, I-" Harry looked up at Draco, and there was something so asking in her eyes that Draco was overcome by the horrible realisation that she would do her level best to give Harry whatever it was she was about to ask for.
And so it was that Draco ended up waltzing around the deserted eighth year common room with Harry, both of them tipsy and caught in a vicious cycle of giggling and hiccupping. Harry should get whoever she danced with at the ball drunk first, Draco concluded, because it wasn't half bad dancing with her like that. Draco would even volunteer to do it again.
Draco was the worse for wear on Christmas morning, and Harry certainly seemed it too judging by the heightened vehemence of her protests against Draco's morning alarm. Draco's own head throbbed when it went off, so she kind of understood. She swore she would stick to pumpkin juice that night, even if Harry wanted to get lost in the last of the lemon spirit.
"How have I not gone a day without drinking in this long?" Harry asked, as they trudged down to the great hall, both desperate to put something good in their stomachs. "By this point our drinking patterns must qualify us as alcoholics."
"It's Christmas; it doesn't count," Draco waved a hand, though privately she, her liver, her parched mouth and her aching head agreed.
It was unfortunately the case that hangover cures were a great deal harder to come by than hangover causes. The one apothecary in Hogsmeade that actually stocked them wouldn't sell more than three to anyone at a time—a bit puritanical, Draco thought, since she knew there wasn't any such restriction in the law governing the sale of hangover potions and their ingredients—and had been closed the entire week leading up to Christmas Day anyhow. Hogsmeade's other, much smaller, apothecaries were considerably less mainstream and focused more on potions to create specific hallucinatory experiences in the user, or attract and repel magical creatures Draco wasn't sure existed.
Brewing their own hangover potion was also not an option, because fresh Alihotsy seeds didn't keep well and were therefore not kept in student potion kits or school ingredient cupboards, and could only be purchased if ordered three weeks prior. Draco had put an order in, but it hadn't arrived yet thanks to all the Christmas wind-down and public holidays. Once she had them, she'd start brewing the potion, but that would take another week at least. In short, nothing could save them now.
After shoving bacon, eggs and sausages down their gullets, Harry and Draco retreated to bed once more. Draco lay with her eyes closed and didn't move, which kept the edge of nausea she'd started to feel to a minimum.
"Do you know where I haven't been this year?" Harry asked, like she'd been thinking about whatever it was for the last half hour, while Draco had been lying in blessed silence.
"France, Germany, Spain... the entirety of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia..." Draco listed. "It would be far quicker to list where you have been, you know."
Harry gave the little huff that always signalled her mild annoyance with Draco. The sound was almost cute, and Draco was becoming quite accustomed to it.
"I meant within Hogwarts," Harry said.
"Well, you should have mentioned that instead of asking me a ridiculously open-ended question. Where within Hogwarts have you not been this year?"
"The Room of Requirement."
Draco stiffened against the inevitable cold panic that leaked through her. "Why would you want to, Potter?" she asked gritted out.
"It's it's not just a place with bad memories for me," Harry sighed. "I have a whole lot of memories from that room. Some of the important moments in my life happened there, as well as the- well, the fire."
A thought struck Draco. "Do you think it even exists anymore? Or, if it does, that it's still a magical room? Fiendfyre can destroy all kinds of things, including strong magic."
"I know," said Harry. "It destroyed one of Voldemort's horcruxes."
Draco was about to open her mouth and ask for more information when she realised she didn't yet know what she wanted to ask, and she didn't want to have to deal with it while also dealing with a headache and an uneasy stomach.
"What if it's still burning?" she suggested instead. "What if it's for the best that you don't go back and let that fire out?"
The conversation lapsed back into thoughtful silence, and eventually shallow sleep.
Chapter 7: The Eleventh Hour
Finally! Thank you for your patience waiting for this last chapter; it's been madness at my end.
Special thanks to those who have commented (and any who do after I'm writing this too). It means so much to hear from you. I hope you enjoy this last part!
Harry redeemed herself at the first quidditch match back after Christmas by taking the snitch the second before Hufflepuff's first goal passed through the ring, thereby ending the match before the goal had actually been scored. The large margin of Gryffindor's win put them ahead of Slytherin in points despite having lost to them in the last match, and from then on everyone was happy enough to forget the unfortunate incident, or to tease her about it rather than trying to make her feel any real guilt.
Ron and Hermione had settled things over the break, and Harry was grateful not to have had to go through it with them, though she did feel a bit guilty about feeling grateful. Apparently George had vouched for Draco, which had surprised Ron even more than it surprised Harry. Most of the Weasleys still found it hard to argue with George on matters relating to the war in any way, so if George could accept that a former Death Eater had changed then it cut their remaining wariness down significantly. Ginny had also reported that Luna thought Draco was sweet, and Luna had been one of the ones suffering most directly at the hands of the Malfoys. Harry was also secretly relieved not to have been part of the Weasley Christmas if it meant not having to participate in this conversation about Draco. She didn't have a tight enough handle on her own feelings to try channelling them into a coherent argument in front of the entire family.
January was, for the seventh and eighth years, a month of unrelenting examination, and Harry barely kept track of it as it passed. She ate, studied, slept, studied, asked Hermione or Draco for help, studied some more. Harry's hands were covered in ink the way they'd been covered in blood during previous battles. And the NEWTs were a battle, she was beginning to understand. They were a battle against exhaustion and uncertainty, hand cramps, memory blockages and tension headaches. A battle against days without enough hours in them, endless lists of spells, potions and essay topics for possible testing, and the surprising amount of bodily strain that came from sitting down too long.
Night after night Harry flopped into bed across from Draco, well after midnight, and they went to sleep without another word because they both knew they'd have to rise again in four hours' time. Dancing lessons were put on hold—which Harry thought was okay since she'd practiced a fair amount with Draco during the break, and wasn't nearly as bad as she'd been before, though she was still no master of dance and never expected to be. Quidditch training was not put on hold, but matches were, so the sessions were less urgent and intense.
By the time they emerged from the purgatory of exam time, the eleventh of February was close enough to feel threatening. The second she'd caught up on sleep, Draco flew into an immediate panic about it, sending off letters to clothing suppliers left and right. Harry suspected that underneath the concern over her dress was concern about her father's date with the dementors, and perhaps Draco's lack of date to accompany her to the dance.
Harry, who didn't really want to have to put any effort into finding the right thing to wear, focused her worrying on the fact she didn't have a date either.
"What are you going to wear?" Draco kept asking her, though Harry wasn't sure why the answer mattered.
She always shrugged, and said, "My formal robes, I guess."
In answer, Draco would scrunch her nose and say that she was sure they were horrible, plain and ill-fitting. Harry didn't want to tell her that she was right, but she was. She got by without Draco knowing she was right until one afternoon when Draco was particularly frantic, rifling through her own trunk, breathing hard and quick, lying down on her bed only to get back up the next instant and pace the short length of the room.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, a bit desperate because nobody could be so tense without snapping, and she really wanted to reduce the madness to come if at all possible.
"Nothing," Draco snapped. "What are you wearing to the Unity Ball, Harry? Distract me with your hideous clothing choices, please."
Harry weighed her options, and eventually broke as the word please replayed itself in her head, in Draco's slightly cracked voice.
"You're not going to like it," she warned, and went to get her robes out.
"I'd be shocked if I did."
Draco made Harry change into the robes so that she could see the fit of them. Harry stood awkwardly under her scrutinising gaze and watched Draco's unhappiness channel itself into a deep loathing of the particular clothes on Harry's body.
"This absolutely won't do," she said. "Take them off. I can't look at them any longer."
Draco spent the rest of the evening rambling about how Harry would lower the classiness of the entire occasion if she wore that, and how Draco would be embarrassed to be her known associate, and how she should invest in a stylist since she still had mountains of gold at her disposal—but all of it was better than listening to Draco cry as quietly as she could or scream herself bright pink inside a muffling spell, or watching her grab her broom and march furiously out into a gale not knowing if she'd even make it back in one piece.
When Draco was called to the Headmistress' office, her stomach sank. She reminded herself over and over as she walked numb-footed through the halls that McGonagall had issued her an invitation back to Hogwarts; McGonagall had addressed her as Miss Malfoy without Draco ever having to personally ask her to do so; McGonagall had given her another chance, and Draco hadn't done anything to make her revoke it.
"I understand that this is a difficult time for your family, Draco," McGonagall said, when Draco had finally made it all the way to her office. "Please, have a seat. Would you like a cup of tea? Perhaps a biscuit?"
Draco declined both offers politely; any teacup she tried to hold would rattle, and any biscuit would be liable to crumble between her white-knuckled fingers. She breathed a sigh of relief at the fact she didn't seem to be being expelled, but quickly tensed up again at the realisation she was here to talk about her father's death.
"I would like you to know," McGonagall went on, looking Draco steadily in the eye in a way that pinned her right there, impressing upon her the fact that the words being said were not mere pleasantries but were supported in full by an intention to follow through, "that I am here should you need any support. If you need to leave the school on the eleventh of this month, then you will be excused, even if it means you are unable to attend our otherwise very compulsory Unity Ball."
"Oh," said Draco, when McGonagall seemed to be waiting for her to react. "Uh, thank you, Professor. I appreciate your concern."
Draco felt herself being regarded. McGonagall's hard stare had always been intimidating, but it was even more so after seeing her take command in wartime.
"If you need more time to consider what I have said today, then that is very well. But I do urge you to ask for anything that would help you, rather than suffering in silence. To do so would achieve nothing productive."
"Thank you, Professor," Draco said again, and left her office in a hurry when McGonagall raised a hand to indicate she could leave.
Draco had sent inquiries to all her favourite dressmakers, and had heard back from several. What she realised when she opened each one was that the reply she was really waiting for was from Madam Malkin. Though much of her trade was in pedestrian garments for school and work, Malkin had always had a flair for classic custom pieces. She was also not exorbitantly expensive like most of the tailors Draco's family customarily commissioned for their wardrobes, and whom Draco could not justify patronising with so much of her previous fortune no longer in her possession.
Draco had no idea what feelings Malkin harboured towards her after the war, however. She had sold Draco her school things, but the creation of a custom gown was a project requiring significant investment and consultation, and it was possible she did not want to privilege Draco with that much of her attention.
It was for this reason that Draco let out a little squeak of excitement when she received a missive from Madam Malkin as the owls showered Hogwarts' breakfasters with letters. Blaise looked at her with his brows high, creases in his smooth forehead that didn't mar his general attractiveness at all.
"Have you found yourself a paramour by correspondence as well, Draco?" Blaise asked, amused.
"Hardly. I've secured myself a fitting for what is sure to be a superior outfit for this ball we're being forced to attend."
"Ooh," Pansy leaned closer. Draco shifted the letter away from her defensively.
"You're still going to the ball?" Blaise asked. "I thought you'd have been let out of it thanks to, you know."
Draco scowled when it occurred to her that she really hadn't made a decision yet. "My plans for that particular evening haven't been finalised," she told him haughtily. "But it would be negligent of me not to prepare, and it never hurts to have a fabulous dress in one's closet."
"For sure," Pansy agreed, while Blaise tilted his head quickly to the side in a movement that said, true enough.
Draco realised at that moment that she didn't want to talk to them about the dilemma that lay before her; didn't want to disclose all the messy feelings she had about Father, and the punishment the Wizengamot had imposed, and the way that stunning at the ball could feel like owning herself, like debuting the way she'd been unable to do at sixteen as Pansy's escort. The way that that was complicated too because as it stood she'd have to go alone, a clear exhibition of her undesirable status as far as onlookers would be concerned.
Draco wanted to talk about those things, wanted to vent before they choked her like a buildup of noxious fumes in a potion lab she'd shut herself in for too long, obsessing. She wanted to talk, but it was Harry she was waiting to talk to.
"It's like... I'll never have another chance at seeing him. Talking to a man who's actually him. Not after the Kiss."
Harry looked thoroughly uncomfortable with the conversation Draco had initiated, but she was weathering it like the stubborn war hero she was, a look of resolute concentration on her face.
"You won't have another chance at going to the ball, though, either," Harry pointed out.
"True. But there'll be other balls, won't there?"
Harry looked at her. "Will there?"
"Aren't there always?"
"Er, not in my experience? Functions and galas and ceremonies, but not balls as such. And not balls where you could do that thing you described. The debenture thing."
"Debutante," Draco corrected absentmindedly.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "That. Look, I know this is oversimplifying it—"
"Things must be oversimplified in order for you to understand them," Draco jabbed, but there was not weight behind it, no sharp edge to the words, and they glanced off Harry harmlessly.
"—but one way of thinking about this is: you've got to choose between the past and the future."
"You're absolutely right, Harry," Draco said, "that was indeed a gross oversimplification."
"Think about it, though," Harry insisted. She'd found herself on a roll, Draco could tell, and it was hard to stop her when she believed she had something she could teach someone, something that would help them. It didn't happen all that often, thankfully, or she'd be as bad as Granger. "Either way you're putting your past behind you, but going to er, see your father, would be like bidding it farewell once and for all. And going to the ball instead would be like putting the past out of your mind and putting your energy into saying hello to the future instead."
"Saying hello to the future," Draco repeated faintly, because the wording was a tad ridiculous. Unfortunately, the sentiment was not. Draco was still thinking about it long after Harry had put the light out and nodded off.
There were only eight days left, and Draco couldn't expect to commission a gown at any later notice without paying too large an amount for the speedy delivery. It was a sunny day, and the grass was dry enough that Draco walked down to the lake and sat in it, grass stains be damned.
The last person she expected to approach her was Ginevra Weasley, and yet that was what happened.
"Hey Malfoy," Ginevra called out from about tens steps behind Draco.
Draco swivelled around, preparing to defend herself; the girl Weasley's bat bogey hexes were a force to be reckoned with, and her insults could be at least as cruel. She'd been visibly furious after the unfortunate quidditch match, and although Harry insisted the team had let it go, Draco wasn't so sure it was true when it came to their view of her part in the fuck-up.
"Weasley," Draco greeted her cautiously, beginning to pick herself up out of the grass and brush herself off.
"Oh, don't get up on my account—I'd hoped I could sit with you, actually. And it's Ginny, please."
Draco lowered herself back down and looked at Ginev- Ginny in surprise. She didn't bother trying to stop her from sitting, and Ginny didn't ask any further permission before plopping down on the ground so close to Draco that their elbows brushed. Draco fought the urge to shy away, lest it be interpreted badly.
"So, what brings you here?" she asked, cautious but going for casual.
"It's a nice day," Ginny replied. She was a better liar than the other Gryffindors Draco encountered with any regularity.
"And?" she raised her brows to broadcast her doubt in the simple explanation.
"And, well, I wanted to get to know you a bit. Harry's my friend, and you two are... close. Thought it might be nice."
Whatever nice had come to mean in the context of the conversation was, Draco was certain, far removed from its actual meaning. It was almost like talking to a Slytherin. Draco was less intimidated than she might've been if she were a Hufflepuff, or one of Ginny's fellow Gryffindors. As it was, however, Draco was well versed in this kind of competitive conversation.
"Luna likes you," Ginny said matter-of-factly.
"So she tells me."
"And I like Luna."
"I've no doubt you do—but what are you getting at, Weasley?"
"What I'm getting at is that whether you like it or not, you're in now. People like you—people whose opinions matter. My brother stood up for you at Christmas dinner, you know."
Draco was taken aback. "Ronald?" she asked.
"Oh, no, not Ron," said Ginny, who couldn't blame Draco for assuming the most obvious of her brothers was the one she meant. "He still thinks you're a right git. It was George."
"The twin? Who Harry sees sometimes in Hogsmeade?"
Ginny nodded. "They really confide in each other, especially since Fred... and apparently they've talked about you enough that George's willing to give you the benefit of the doubt."
There was no more elegant word for it: Draco gawked. The Weasley twins had been inseparable, entirely of one mind, and George Weasley had lost that in the war thanks to the same people Draco had fought with.
"I know, right," Ginny interpreted her expression. "You should maybe send him a thankyou card or something."
Draco thought she just might.
"So you see why I thought I'd suss you out a bit," Ginny went on. "That, and let you know that I know you'll be more careful in future when it comes to Harry. You won't fuck up like that again."
Well, there it was: the threat Draco had been expecting. Ginny delivered it quite beautifully; much more subtly than Harry ever could have done, and even well enough to rival Pansy. Draco decided she liked this Weasley more than the other one, and actually lamented the fact she'd devoted so much more time to dealing with Ronald over the years. Ginny was much more fun, and more comprehensible.
"I'll do my best," Draco assured her.
"Your best had better be good enough."
"My best is very good indeed," Draco smiled.
Ginny smiled back, like she'd enjoyed the exchange as much as Draco had.
"Want to feed the ducks some Wheezes sweets?" she asked suddenly, pulling a small bag of brightly coloured chewy sweets out of her robe pocket.
"Weasley, you are cruel," Draco told her, and held out a hand for Ginny to drop a few pieces of sugary menace into.
"I've thought of something you can help me with," Draco told McGonagall, trying to banish all sheepishness from her voice.
"And what is that, Miss Malfoy?" the headmistress eyed her from across her desk. Draco sat on her hands to stop them from fidgeting.
"As I'm sure you know, my apparition license was revoked as a condition of my suspended sentence."
"And I need to travel to Diagon Alley to pick up my dress for the ball. Which I have decided to attend. Because I want to say hello to the future, instead of saying goodbye to the past."
"And interesting way of putting it, Miss Malfoy."
Draco's face prickled with anxiety. She couldn't tell whether McGonagall meant what she'd said or was picking holes in the statement, so she said honestly: "Potter's words, actually," and let whatever the reaction was be on Harry's head as well.
"That is perhaps even more interesting," McGonagall folded her hands in front of her on the polished wood of her desk. "I must say, shopping trips were not what I had in mind when I offered support."
"The best support can come in unusual forms," Draco suggests to her, hoping that the statement sounds wise instead of reaching.
"This is not a privilege extended to other students, Miss Malfoy. Therefore I hope you can understand the concession I am making when I offer you permission to use my floo for this purpose on a conditional basis. You may reject my offer with its condition should you find it unfeasible—but you may not negotiate it."
"I understand," said Draco. She was having trouble conceiving of any conditions that would be more difficult to endure than the many things she'd already been through. "So long as you don't ask me to make a donation."
The statement turned McGonagall instantly severe. "Miss Malfoy, I assure you that I would never ask—nor would I permit—a student of Hogwarts to exchange money for special treatment."
And great, Draco realised—she'd mortally offended the Headmistress. She'd have paid dearly for the ability to simply disappear in that moment.
"I'm not- I didn't mean," Draco stammered, not having fully decided what she was going to say, but knowing it was imperative that she get the words out as soon as possible, to undo the damage before it had sunk in too deep. "I only meant to say that money is the one thing I can't offer—and won't," she added hastily, and hoped she hadn't imagined the small flicker of approval in McGonagall's eyes as she did. "Anything else and I'll give it a shot."
"Right then," the Headmistress seemed to have been placated. "In that case, what I would ask of you is this: you do not currently have a partner for the dance, is that correct?"
"Yes," Draco answered, unsure of what relevance the answer could have to anything.
"And Miss Potter has also not chosen a partner to accompany her?"
Draco almost slammed her face down into the edge of McGonagall's desk and groaned. As it was, she postponed the action until she left the office.
"Not that I know of," she answered, trying not to sound completely constipated. She wasn't sure she succeeded.
"The purpose of the Unity Ball, as I am sure you are aware by now, is to put our old rivalries to rest and start afresh with different priorities. It is my belief that there could hardly be a stronger demonstration of these aims than for you and Miss Potter to attend the ball together—especially after the misunderstanding during the Gryffindor-Slytherin quidditch match. It would be a powerful thing for the other students to see, given the past you and Miss Potter share."
"I..." Draco began, but found herself incapable of continuing.
"You may use the floo on Tuesday, should you decide that my terms are agreeable."
"What if Potter says no?" Draco asked. "I can't be held responsible for her answer!"
"If you have any trouble, you may tell her I would like to speak with her. However, I understand that the two of you are friends now. I have faith in your ability to work it out between yourselves."
On the way back down the spiral staircase, Draco muttered under her breath about how of course she would trust them to sort it out on their own, because it meant McGonagall herself didn't have to do anything about it.
"Potter," Draco said, the name coming out harsh in her attempt to hide the shakiness in her voice. "Harry. We're going to the dance together."
Harry looked up from where she was lying on her stomach in bed, a book that looked to Draco more like a cookbook than a textbook spread open on her pillow. "Er, what?" she asked gormlessly, as was her custom.
"We. Are going. To the dance. Together," Draco repeated, slowly as though to a child—and a particularly dim one at that.
"Er," Harry said again. "Since when?"
"And why? I'd've thought asking someone to a dance came before knowing that you were going together. You know, in the usual process."
Draco rolled her eyes, but it occurred to her that Harry hadn't actually refused to go with her yet. Her confusion at Draco's initial pronouncement had begun to wear off, and she still hadn't said anything along the lines of, I'd rather die than go to a ball with you Draco Malfoy, or, You'd have to put me under the Imperius curse, or Why would someone like me go with someone like you?
"Well, the process is altered when the result is predetermined by the headmistress."
Harry frowned, utterly confused again. "McGonagall?" she asked.
"Yes, that is the name of the headmistress. Very well done."
"But what does she have to do with you asking me to the dance?"
Draco sat down heavily on her bed and ran a hand through her hair. It'd been ruined by the wind anyway, and the action of further wrecking the careful styling was therapeutic at a moment like this. A sort of what the hell gesture.
"McGonagall has offered me the use of her floo to pick up clothes from Madam Malkin's, on the condition that I attend the Unity Ball with you. She is of the opinion that the two of us acting as each other's dates would be a powerful show of reconciliation."
Harry sat up. "So it's about clothes," she said.
"And reconciliation," Draco added helpfully. Taking in the look on Harry's face, though, it was clear only one thing would convince her. Draco steeled herself for a display of earnestness. "Listen, Harry. It's actually not the worst idea I've ever heard. I understand if you'd rather go alone than go with me, but for my part, I would find you a tolerable date."
"Oh," said Harry. "Oh, okay."
"Okay as in I have heard your statement, or okay as in I consent to going with you to the ball?"
"Okay as in... can I think about it for a bit?"
"I understand that it takes your brain some extra time to grasp things," Draco waved a hand. "So it's only fair that I allow you that time. But I do need to visit Diagon in the next few days or the price of express dressmaking will be too—uh. Too high."
Harry nodded, and mercifully didn't say anything about how Draco now had the finances of an average person rather than the heir to a centuries-old pureblood estate. She still had more money than Weasley, Draco figured, so it wasn't as though Harry would really pity her. This realisation was a comfort. The Draco of old would certainly have pitied the Draco of the present day. More than likely, she'd have been nasty about it.
When Harry spoke again, what came out of her mouth was not what Draco expected. What she said was: "If I come to Madam Malkin's with you, can you help me pick something better to wear?"
"Harry," Draco said, a relieved little smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. "I couldn't pick you anything worse if I tried."
The private little panic attack Harry had been having ever since Draco barged into their room announcing her intention to take Harry to the ball intensified as Harry watched Madam Malkin pinning fabrics together around Draco's hips, discussing design features Harry didn't understand at a million miles an hour. Draco was pretty, and she was a very good dancer, and she knew about clothes. The ball was as much her domain as it wasn't Harry's, and there was no way Harry wouldn't disappoint her in some way.
Which she didn't want to do. Because, she'd realised, Draco was sort of the perfect Unity Ball date.
"And what are your preferences, Harry dear?" Madam Malkin asked when she'd finished with Draco.
"Don't ask her," Draco leapt in before Harry could form an answer. "She has no idea."
"Actually, I was thinking maybe a bit of a... Muggle suit design," Harry suggested. She'd liked the Muggle-styled trousers Draco sometimes wore, and she knew that if they were in fashion then full Muggle suits couldn't be far behind. The idea of trousers and a jacket appealed to her more than heavy robes or a gown.
Draco and Madam Malkin both hummed thoughtfully, which Harry thought was promising. They exchanged a look and then whirled away without another word, retrieving fabric samples and arguing heatedly over them while Harry went back to twiddling her thumbs.
"Green," Draco announced finally. "Iridescent mint green. It'll tie in with the cape of my dress, and your eyes, and it'll look good against your skin."
"Sounds... a bit unusual," Harry said cautiously.
"It's a statement look."
"What if I don't really want to make a statement?"
Draco looked at her, assessing. "I think you do," she said at last. "I think you secretly enjoy it when everyone's not picking apart your outfit choices. I think it's a welcome reprieve. You just don't want to have to put time into making the choices yourself."
These things were, Harry had to admit, true. It had been nice to see herself looking put together when Draco had adjusted her outfit. It had been nice to look at the fashion pages and see herself without a huge flashing DON'Ts label superimposed on the photograph—but it wasn't so nice that she'd obsess over her wardrobe just to keep the papers happy, because she didn't want to, didn't like it.
"But this time, you have me," Draco went on, apparently satisfied that she'd convinced Harry. "And luckily for you, I do enjoy this particular art, and will donate my good taste to you in your hour of need."
"Fine," Harry replied, resigned to her iridescent green fate. "What shirt do you even wear with a green suit?"
Harry and Draco's clothes only arrived the day before the ball. Harry was relieved, more because it meant Draco would stop fretting than because it meant she had something nice to wear. She'd seen Ron's dress robes already, because he'd shown her proudly as soon as he'd purchased them. So much better than the ones from the Yule Ball, yeah? he'd said, to which the only possible answer was, Yeah, mate. So much better. Hermione had shown Harry her dress, too, though she hadn't wanted to change into it so that Harry could see how the strange tangle of fabric actually came together on the human body. Parkinson and Zabini had both been secretive about their outfits; they wanted to make an entrance, Draco said, and this explanation was in line with what Harry had come to know of them both.
Classes had been cancelled for the day as the seventh year prefects and a small army of student volunteers set up the hall, and the rest of the students prepared themselves leisurely. Harry couldn't understand, at first, how anyone could need to spend a whole day getting dressed, but as she watched Draco go through the most extensive face and hair cleansing routine she'd ever witnessed, followed by exchanging manicures with Parkinson, followed by an appointment for hair styling she'd apparently taken the liberty of making with Parvati (Harry was strangely proud, but also a little afraid), she began to understand it better.
Hermione joined in Draco and Parkinson's nail-painting time, and Draco insisted that creative control over Harry's look for the night extended to all primping and accessories.
"Primping," Harry had repeated dumbly as she was steered towards the table strewn with nail potions and polishes. The colour Draco chose was a subtle pearly shade, strong enough to make her nails look smooth, but not so thick it looked like she'd dipped her fingertips in glue, the way it had looked the one time she'd experimented with nail polish before.
Draco also smeared some of her prized black gel onto Harry's eyelids and lips, reciting incantations that turned the lid colour to swirling silver and the lip shade a smooth matte brown just a few shades darker than Harry's skin was. Draco's own eyes were carefully lined and shadowed with glittering greens, her brows had been darkened just enough that the sharp, neatly defined shapes of them were noticeable against the whiteness of her face, and her lips were dark, a burgundy shade that reminded Harry a bit of how Draco's mouth looked after she'd had a lot of goblin wine. Her hair was slick, but not combed back in the way it had once regularly been; Parvati had spent rather a long time sticking perfect round curls of it to her forehead where her fringe would ordinarily sit, and shirring the rest on either side of Draco's neat side part. She looked like an old movie star, Harry thought. It was ridiculous that this person—who had proven that she belonged on the pages of style magazines already—would be standing beside Harry all night.
Draco let Harry get away without doing much to her hair. She trimmed the back and sides so that they were perfectly neat, and gelled a few flyaway ringlets into submission, but it was really just a neater version of the hairstyle Harry wore every day. She was thankful that Draco hadn't seen fit to sculpt her whole head down with paste like she'd done with her own; even if it looked amazing, Harry didn't think she'd find it comfortable.
The last step in the lengthy preparation process was to actually don their outfits, and by the time she got to this stage, Harry was almost so tired she wanted to call off going to the event at all.
She put on the underpants Draco had chosen for her—which had felt like a bit of a violation at the time, but apparently even undergarments had to be strategically selected for wear beneath formal attire—followed by the suit trousers Madam Malkin had constructed from a heavy fabric which was, as promised, mint green and shimmered silver when the light hit it from one angle, pale blue when it came from another. The waist was high and there was a slim belt with an intricate buckle—snakes, Harry noticed for the first time, and thought about how she'd have to have words with Malfoy. Once the trousers were done up, they hugged her waist just loosely enough to be comfortable, and fit her arse and thighs snugly.
It was then, of course, that Harry realised she wouldn't be able to tuck the shirt in unless she undid the pants again, and had to backtrack. The shirt had a scoop neck and cap sleeves and was plain white, in a sheer floaty material that necessitated the wearing of a camisole underneath—also plain and white. Draco had decreed that this was sufficient without the addition of a bra, and Harry had just been happy not to have to talk any more about underwear with her by that point.
The cut of the jacket that went over the top was the most flattering part of all, and convincingly suggested an hourglass figure that Harry had never really had. Standing in front of the mirror, she took herself in: she looked... feminine, but not so much so that it seemed disingenuous. It was simple enough that she didn't feel trapped in her own outfit like it was a body-bind curse or a straitjacket, but the choice of colour and texture provided plenty of interest.
Draco had also agreed to Harry wearing her good dragonhide boots, as long as she shined them well beforehand and swore she wouldn't complain about how much taller than her Draco was, because Draco had every intention of wearing heels of at least three inches. Harry pulled the boots on and was pleased to know that for everything uncomfortable about the night ahead, her feet wouldn't be subjected to anything cruel and unusual.
In her dress and strappy silver shoes, Draco looked like something else. The body of her dress was white, and had a shallow boat neck that Draco referred to as a Sabrina. It was sleeveless, leaving Draco's shoulders under only the translucent fabric of her cape. It was mostly colourless but shone blue and green in a way that reminded Harry of a bubble catching the light, and was veined all through with tiny segments like a dragonfly's wings. Around Draco's waist was a belt of black ribbon which emphasised the narrowness of her middle and encouraged the fabric to flare out over her hips and legs.
"Are you sure you want to go to the ball with me?" Harry asked, because she was fairly certain that in that dress Draco could walk into the hall and have her pick of everyone there.
"Scared, Potter?" Draco arched a perfect brow.
Harry didn't feel scared, but she did feel... something.
"It's too late to back out," Draco continued. "Just try not to trip over my hem, won't you?" she gestured for Harry to follow as she made her way out of the room.
Harry trailed after her, watching the flutter of her impossible cape and the sway of her hips as she made stilettos look far easier than Harry would ever find them.
Draco had spent all day forgetting and then remembering again. Each time it washed over her cold and shocking like she'd turned her back on a volatile sea. It was the strangest thing, being engrossed in a manicure only to recall, all of a sudden, what it felt like to be so desperate and trapped you split your nails apart raking them across dirty, uneven stone floors.
It was once the wizarding tradition to pass wands down through families, but the practice of burying a witch or wizard's wand with them had come about after a number of bodies were exhumed and found to have scratched the ceilings of their coffins, scratched their eyes out and torn at their hair, suffocated with contortions of terror etched forever into their faces. Accidental live burials had happened with alarming frequency before modern diagnostic spells were developed; Draco had read avidly on this subject when she was ten years old and was excited by how grotesque it all seemed. It hadn't scared her much because she'd felt so safe in the knowledge that it would never happen to her.
And it hadn't, not actually. But in the time between the war and her trial, the memory of those childhood readings had surfaced regularly as she searched her mind deeper and deeper for ways to conceptualise what was happening to her. All the horrendous things that came with being buried alive—they was what being in Azkaban had felt like.
Draco put her dress on, her perfect dress, and enjoyed the whisper of the fabrics over her skin, the faint flutter of the wing-fine cape at her back. She felt as beautiful as she'd always known she could be, if given the latitude to really try.
Her father was going to die tonight. Was going to die in that awful place where he'd been buried already for so many months. It was surreal to think that he was going to die, because in many ways Father had already been dead for a while.
Harry needed to be dragged to the Great Hall, despite the fact she was better dressed than anyone there would be, excepting Draco herself. Her brown skin made the green, silver and white Draco had fitted her out in look luminescent, and her green eyes looked dark and intense. Even her scar looked beautifully in tune with the ensemble, the spidery fingers of the lightning bolt lighter and shinier than her otherwise smooth forehead, chipping into the edge of one otherwise bushy black eyebrow. Draco liked all of it, liked it so much she wanted to take Harry by the elbow and keep their sides pressed close for the duration of the event and maybe a while after it had finished too.
Draco also envied that Harry had the potential to look this stunning and yet was comfortable in clothes so lacking in shape and personality that they may as well have been paper bags or hessian sacks.
It was approaching nine o'clock and most of the students had arrived some time earlier, hunger getting the better of them. Draco hadn't been hungry, and Harry had brought back enough snack food from the kitchens to feed them both regardless, but even so they settled in next to a table laden with rich-looking finger food. Draco scooped punch out of an enormous and ornate glass bowl with an equally impressive ladle, handing the first cup to Harry and keeping the second for herself.
Harry sipped at hers and made a face which Draco couldn't interpret until she tasted her own and the familiar slimy chill of ghost cider tricked down her throat. She made what must have been an identical face back at Harry, because Harry laughed.
"Is your money on Ginny or Pansy as the punch-spiker?" Harry asked.
"Could be either, or both," Draco replied, thinking of her encounter with the girl Weasley, the razor edge to her smile that went beyond mischief towards genuine mayhem. Draco wondered, very briefly, how it was that Dean Thomas attracted all the most dangerous Gryffindors—from Ginny to his long-time best friend Seamus "boom" Finnigan. "Oh Merlin," she looked at Harry with exaggerated dismay. "What if they're in cahoots? We'll all be dead by the time the night's through."
Draco didn't even realise what she'd said until the smile slipped off Harry's face. The cold washed in around her again, like the freezing ocean whose tide she'd neglected to watch. She took a large, ungraceful mouthful of the polluted punch, refilled her cup to the brim and said, "Potter, don't just stand there. Show me off to your friends."
Harry's friends commented more on the perfect coordination of their outfits than they did on the quality, which should have irked Draco more than it did. Instead, each time it was remarked that they made a lovely set, that they matched so very well—even when a few of them had the gall to suggest they'd seen this coming, somehow—Draco felt a little bit warmer, a little bit more accepted. She couldn't really deny that a factor in how she'd defined herself since the age of eleven had been her proximity to Harry Potter, and she'd wondered before just how many of the things she'd done over the years she might never have done if it weren't for the need to outdo, anger or get back at Potter. What she'd wanted all along—had still wanted deep down even when she'd lost sight of it—was what she had right now. Harry Potter, smiling at her and brushing off compliments on her styling, crediting the whole thing to Draco in the same way she'd say, "Oh, Hermione did all the research to figure this problem out," or, "That quidditch result really all comes down to Ron and Ginny's planning". From the magnificent gown on Draco's body to the smiling faces around her, it was everything she'd wanted at eleven.
At eighteen, it was... it was almost everything she wanted. Because, Draco knew as clearly as ever, she wanted to kiss Potter's smooth brown-painted lips until they were a little bit burgundy. Which was, Draco had to remind herself, just a bit too much to ask.
They were forced to dance soon after that, and Harry managed to hold her own through almost the whole set. Her waltzing, at least, went off without a hitch; Draco relaxed into Harry's grip and was swept along as if weightless despite the height difference in her favour. The music was loud, and there was a constant level of chatter as other couples conversed around them, but it felt private, the way they murmured about all those ordinary-but-extraordinary subjects as they danced.
They—Draco especially—commented on the other students and their attire. Blaise and Granger were dancing together, probably gabbing about their distant lovers and the letters they'd write to them about how the ball had gone. They had both dressed in severe but classic black and white; Blaise in highly fashionable robes and Hermione in a knee-length, half-black-half-white sheath that seemed rather boring until Draco glimpsed the network of straps woven over her otherwise bare back. Her sensible black heels left her quite a bit shorter than Blaise, whose pointed dress shoes had an inch or so in the heel themselves.
Granger's hair was pulled back, but hadn't been straightened or relaxed like Draco remembered it being at the Yule Ball. Draco didn't know whether this was something Granger herself had insisted upon, or a suggestion of Blaise's; before all his stories turned to his sexual exploits, Draco had spent a lot of time listening to Blaise talk about how some of the other children at his sister's pre-Hogwarts school had convinced her that her natural hair needed to be fixed, and how he was going to practice every hex they were learning about on them when he got back home.
Ronald Weasley and Pansy danced together too, Weasley in dark red dress robes that Draco didn't find entirely objectionable, and Pansy in a very tight, scandalously short black dress she'd snapped up from a runway show when the first of the Muggle trends began to filter into wizarding fashion. It was bold and inappropriate and suited her very well. Draco couldn't bear to watch the two of them together too long; Pansy was as well-trained a dancer as Draco, but she had evidently decided it would be more fun to stand as close as humanly possible to Weasley and... grind their pelvises together. It was a dance move she'd tried to show Draco at one point, something she'd picked up at a Muggle nightclub after the war. Draco carefully avoided looking at Weasley's face because she did not want to see the expression on it.
"Are they even allowed to dance like that?" Harry asked as they rotated. Her eyes were wide and Draco didn't need to ask what it was they'd seen.
"I certainly don't think it's in any of the rules that they can," said Draco, loving the way her skirt spun out when Harry unfolded her arm to let Draco spin away and then reeled her back in, held her in both hands again. "But it all comes down to whether anyone is game to stop them, I suppose."
"Do you think Professor McGonagall would?" Harry asked. "Merlin—maybe I should go and talk to Ron myself. He's been drinking the punch; he'll probably be mortified in the morning."
Draco smiled reassuringly, not wanting the dance to stop, not wanting to lose Harry to some scene playing out across the room. The Dark Lord could be rising again over there and she still wouldn't let Harry's hand slide off her waist.
As Draco thought this to herself, she realised it was the first time she'd made light of anything to do with the Dark Lord since the war broke out. It was inappropriate, she knew, and not many of the people currently surrounding her were likely to appreciate it if she voiced such a thought—but in the privacy of her own head, it felt... good. It felt good to think something about Voldemort that wasn't just a toxic jumble of fear, revulsion, regret. It felt good that the Dark Lord could be reduced to a joking afterthought for even a moment. It felt like progress, like she'd broken out of the coffin and started to wash off the soil too.
There was more dancing, a break filled with drinking and chatter, then another several songs before McGonagall finally let them off the hook and everyone started loading plates up with food and either milling around or spilling out onto the pavement and lawn outside the hall.
"Let's go outside," Harry urged, and her fingers still grasping Draco's were convincing enough; Draco was willing to go where Harry led simply because she didn't want that warm, callused hand to detach itself from hers.
Blaise and Granger were already out there, leaning side by side up against a wall and both nibbling daintily on miniature tarts. Draco watched as Blaise produced a slim silver flask from the inside pocket of his robe jacket, unscrewed the cap and tipped some of its contents into his mouth. He passed the flask to Granger, who accepted it (though she did cast a surreptitious look around, no doubt checking for staff) and took a drink from it too.
"Was it you who spiked the punch?" Harry asked Blaise as they approached, though Draco could have told her the answer to that.
"Definitely not," Blaise shook his head. "The stuff they put in those poor, innocent juice bowls was cheap and nasty. Can I interest you in a taste of the real stuff?" Blaise held out the flask. Harry shrugged, took it and drank.
Draco watched her mull over the experience of what, knowing Blaise, was most likely a thousand-galleon whisky.
"Not bad, I guess," was Harry's assessment.
"Not bad," Blaise laughed, then held the flask out for Draco.
"Why the hell not," Draco muttered and drank just as the rest of them had. She was quite fond of whisky when it wasn't firewhisky, and she could actually taste the subtle flavours in under the exaggerated smoke and burn. She'd sampled enough to know that this was not thousand-galleon stuff at all. It probably sat, she'd guess, at about twenty galleons for a large bottle. "You cheap bastard!" she crowed, pointing a finger at him.
Blaise grinned, wide and smooth the way he always did when he'd had a few. "Ah, Draco," he sighed. "You don't know how much of a relief it is to be caught out. This is awful stuff, really, and I've grown tired of pretending it isn't. Still better than the ghastly ghost punch, however, so I persist with it."
Ronald Weasley and Pansy stumbled through the doors a few minutes later, tripping over their own and one another's feet. Pansy's heels, in particular, looked made for breaking ankles. There were marks on Weasley's neck redder than his hair, robes and flaming ears combined, and small hints of Pansy's black lipstick that made it clear how they came about. The lipstick was, Draco knew, highly smudge-proof, which only made the evidence more damning.
"For what it's worth," Granger said, laying a tentative hand on Draco's forearm to get her attention, "I think they really do like each other. Pansy's asked me so many questions about Ron it's actually driven me a little bit insane—and Ron's always talking about her too, though he tries to pretend he isn't. It's a lot like how Harry used to try and pretend she wasn't talking about you, actually. And look where you are now."
Draco opened her mouth to explain to Granger that where they were now wasn't, apparently, where Granger thought, but a gentle nudge from Harry and a tightening of the grip on Draco's hand stopped her.
"So long as I don't have to watch them at it," Draco said instead, to which everyone agreed heartily.
Blaise and Granger retired relatively early, citing the desire to start penning their respective letters. Both were fairly inebriated, so Draco was happy enough to let them go in anticipation of the entertaining evidence they would produce for her to enjoy at a later time. Pansy and Weasley showed up every so often, both well and truly sloshed. Most of their movements appeared to be dictated by the desire to evade staff members, many of whom were on the prowl now for students who were engaged in illicit drinking, overly enthusiastic public displays of affection, or both.
During one of their brief stops by, Pansy showed Draco the flask she had brought along, somehow having secreted it away in the section of her little dress that was already overflowing with breast. Draco wasn't sure why Weasley didn't carry it for her, but they both seemed to find it entertaining when he reached in to try and fish it out, and since Draco didn't want to discuss that, she elected not to question it.
Pansy's flask was filled with a berry liquor Draco didn't recognise, and which was clearly not the substance in the punch.
"Nope, wasn't even me!" Pansy told her when she asked if she'd brought some ghost along as well. "A few people are saying it was Alex- Alexopus? Some sixth year from Hufflepuff."
"Alexopoulos," Weasley supplied, getting his tongue around the syllables slowly but steadily.
"That guy," Pansy agreed.
"Like your dress, Malfoy," Ron added, as Pansy steered him away, probably to another dark corner. "Reckon you make an alright girl. Loads better than guy-Malfoy. Sorry for not thinking so before."
"Alright, Weasley," Draco replied, and only hoped he remembered the conversation in the morning.
They heard the same story regarding the punch from Ginny, when they paid a call of their own on a gathering which included Ginny and Dean Thomas, Luna, Longbottom, Abbott, Finch-Fletchley and Bones. Ginny was sloshed, though on the surface she held her liquor impressively well. She was terribly handsy, however, and more openly affectionate than usual.
"You look so lovely, Draco. So lovely, really. And you too Harry. You look so good together. My new favourite couple. Dean, aren't they your new favourite couple?"
Thomas, who looked very sober compared to the rest of them, gave an uncomfortable nod. "Sure, Gin," he said.
We're not a couple, Draco didn't say, because Harry wasn't saying it either.
"Aren't their clothes so nice?" Ginny went on, rubbing Harry's sleeve in a way that Draco would never admit made her want to slap the offending hand away and replace it with her own.
"Draco picked them out," Harry said, as she'd been saying to everyone. "She's as good at clothes as I am rubbish at them."
Ginny agreed enthusiastically with both aspects of Harry's statement and Draco preened, almost but not quite missing the wink Susan Bones threw Harry across the little circle of gathered seventh and eighth years.
Draco lost track of time until the clock in the hall chimed eleven. She'd turned her back on the sea again, and the wave crashed into her with crushing downward force. She gasped for breath, squeezed Harry's hand very tightly and dragged her away from the group without trying to explain why. They all probably read the Prophet anyway, and would figure it out if they cared.
Harry had heard the clock too, and she came without resistance.
Draco walked, quickly, out across the grass until the sounds of the party were muted. The hills were difficult to navigate when her heels kept sinking into the grass, and it was dark, and she was tipsy and nearly doubled over with panic. She stopped when she reached the outer limits of the warming charm that had been cast over the hall and grounds for the night, because she didn't need to add freezing half to death to her list of problems.
Her eyes watered, and after she tried to blink the water away she could see the lashes clumping together in the upper periphery of her vision. It was like crying, and it wasn't. It was closest, Draco thought, to the reflexive tears that followed a hard knock to the elbow or a nasty stinging hex.
Eleven o'clock meant the kiss was being performed. Possibly it had already been completed. Either way, she hadn't had any time to prepare herself, to ponder the moment. She'd been so distracted that she'd almost missed it altogether.
Draco dropped down into the grass because standing was one thing too many to concentrate on. Even the prospect of green stains on the back of her white dress seemed like such a trivial concern at that moment, so easily ignored. Perhaps this was how Harry had always done it: she'd just always, always had bigger things on her mind.
Draco's face had begun to itch, tacky with drying saltwater. Her eyes hurt. She rubbed at them with the back of her knuckle and realised her mistake when her hand came away smudged with black and green.
"Fuck. What a mess," she tried to laugh, though it sounded more like she was choking. "Don't even look at me."
Harry was characteristically disobedient, and looked Draco right in the face intently. "Just use one of your makeup removal spells," she suggested. "I've seen you do them in the bathroom."
"Just use- Harry, it's not that simple."
"Why not?" Harry asked. "You'll still look good."
"Let me guess," Draco sniffed. "You like girls better without makeup."
"No, you look really good with makeup on. I don't know how you do it all the time, but I can see why you like to. I just mean that not having it on won't... there's nothing you can wear or not wear that'll make me forget. That's all."
Draco's breath caught. She pulled her wand out of the purse she carried with her, which was very small but the internal capacity of which had been extended with a well-performed charm. She also drew out the mirror she'd brought for the purpose of reapplying her lipstick in the unlikely event that the Volkov's smudged or faded. She was conscious of the alcohol and the panic and the bad cocktail they made in her veins, but the spell was simple enough, and she'd performed it a thousand times, often half asleep and a few times drunker than she was now. It took a couple of repetitions to get everything off, but she managed it. The slight sheen of her natural skin showed in the moonlight, and her lashes were blonde enough to nearly disappear. Her cheeks were pink, not with an attractively applied blush but with large rosy blotches, especially around her sore eyes.
Harry didn't say anything for a while, just held Draco's hand and rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. The sensation of Harry touching her bare skin was a surprisingly effective distraction, and eventually Draco calmed down enough to remember why she'd run off onto the law in the first place and say:
"It's done, then. Father's gone."
"Seems so," Harry said, though Draco thought the comment was more about breathing slow, soothing words into her ear than it was about delivering any actual message. Draco shivered at the hot cloud of breath that ghosted over her cheek, and the tickle of a curl that had fallen over Harry's forehead.
"It just... feels wrong, knowing what's just happened somewhere out there," Draco gestured towards the blackened sky, its pinpoint stars reflected shimmering in the dark lake. "I'm trying to picture it, to make it real in my mind... I keep remembering that place, and my father... but the image never comes together quite right. And I don't feel as much as I think I ought to feel. There's not enough... not enough grief. I'm sad, but not sad enough considering he's died. Considering death is a kind way to put it. He's had his soul consumed, actually been put into a never-ending psychosis of despair. I'm just... freaking out, but no more than I did when I almost forgot to write my potions essay the other week! I'll be mostly fine by morning. The hangover from the punch will probably be the worst part of waking up."
Harry shifted a bit closer. She wrapped an arm around Draco's back and encouraged her to lean into her side—an opportunity which Draco took readily, placing her head in the crook of Harry's neck.
"I don't know what it's like to stay in Azkaban," Harry said, in that voice that sounded like her mind was wandering somewhere far off, into some profound memory. It made Draco want to be quiet and listen, which was not an easy feat. "But I think I do know a lot of what you're feeling. I've felt the same, every time someone in my life has died. Which has been... often. I never really knew my parents, so it was hard to grieve for them—I always felt like I wasn't doing it properly because I didn't have enough of them to feel like I'd any right to miss them. Not like the people who actually knew them, went to school with them and fought beside them for years. I felt like that after Sirius died, and with him all the dreams I'd had of living with a godfather, someone who actually gave a shit about what happened to me. And then after the war... there were so many. And it was like I couldn't possibly be doing them all the justice they deserved. Not unless I kept crying my whole life, kept digging deeper into that feeling of loss until I found the bottom. What I reckon now is that grief never can match a person's life, so there's no point looking at it that way. What's important is to... honour them, I guess. Honour what they would have wanted, which is often the opposite of keeping the wounds open forever."
"You're forgetting one key fact," Draco whispered, and felt a little thrill when Harry leaned even closer to hear her, so close that Draco's lips brushed skin at the underside of Harry's chin.
"My father was a bastard," said Draco.
Harry let out a little laugh and cut herself off abruptly, guilt radiating off her. Draco gave a laugh of her own which, while hollow and cracked, seemed to achieve its purpose of letting Harry know that she hadn't fucked up.
"So," Draco continued, "living out what he would have wanted for me isn't an option. I've done that for most of my life already and it was a catastrophically bad idea. What do you do when you know you don't want to honour someone's memory that way, don't even really miss who they were in the end? How do you do that and not feel like the shittiest daughter alive?"
"My aunt and uncle were my family, but they didn't want what was best for me. If anything, they wanted the exact opposite. The time I spent with them was the worst of my life. Worse even than fighting Voldemort, arguably, because for eleven years I thought I didn't even have a purpose in life except to be hated by them. All my dreams were about escaping from that house, so I never really even got to imagine what could become of me after that. Certainly never got to lay down any real plans for myself.
"I was their family but they didn't love me, and I guarantee they don't miss me now that I've not been back in a while. And because they were responsible for so many bad times in my life I didn't love them either, and I don't miss them. What I mean is, just because someone is family doesn't mean you're obligated to feel a certain way about them regardless of how they treat you."
"It's not as black and white as that," Draco sighed. "I'll always miss parts of him. When I was growing up, I honestly thought he was the best father in the world. I thought he'd hung the bloody moon—and as far as I could tell, he loved me then without reservation. And I do miss that; feeling so watched over, because my father was one of the most powerful men in the world, and I was his priority, his sole heir. It was only later that those waters were muddied—that he started to love parts of me while resenting others, and then ultimately resented the whole of me because I just couldn't do what he asked. It took me longer than it should have to see the whole picture of who he was, without the rose-coloured glasses I'd always worn to look at him. And what made it so hard to see him like that was the fact there were—and still are—so many things I can only look fondly upon in the early years. Those things were as real as the hurtful ones."
"Remember those times with him, then," Harry said softly. "Honour that version of him by caring for people, making them feel important like he made you feel. But learn from the other parts. Be better than those parts, because in the end it's more important that you live for you than for him. The price of that isn't that you've neglected a duty to him; the price is that, in living for yourself, you can't expect anyone to live for you either."
Draco was having a hard time with words, which was highly irregular for her. All the words she could think of to express the rush of affection she felt for Harry—who'd either sobered up a bit during Draco's near-meltdown, or was a better philosopher when drunk—were dreadful clichés, worn down by constant use until saying them meant almost nothing even if they'd been carefully selected and genuinely meant.
Instead of speaking, she shifted just slightly to press her lips against the smooth brown skin of Harry's neck. The resulting intake of breath was encouraging, so she moved a little higher and kissed Harry again.
"Draco," said Harry, and Draco couldn't for the life of her figure out what her inflection meant so she pulled back to get a look at Harry's face.
Before she could read the look in Harry's eyes, though, Harry had moved in to meet Draco's mouth with her own. It was like the perfect opposite of a dementor's kiss: it was warm and soft and it poured hope and delight into Draco until she felt fit to burst with it all. For a split second she felt that cold tide lap at her ankles, trying to remind her of what she was supposed to feel—but when Harry wrapped one of her arms, small but strong, around Draco's waist and pulled her in even closer, all she could think was that this was how she was meant to feel. That maybe it had been all along.