Chapter 1: One
There were so many reasons not to do this.
Stood in the gusting London wind, staring up at the townhouses curving around the park in an elongated crescent, Tom could not accurately explain what compelled him to possible think this was a good idea. November had, predictably, turned to December and it was a wonder the snow wasn't out yet. Christmas would be soon. The festive season had already infected the masses. Perhaps he had not escaped as unscathed from the premature inanity as he had thought.
For one, what the fuck was he doing standing on the street? He, Tom Riddle, was not the sort to suffer such human trivialities. At least, that's what he told himself. Standing on the street, gripping his coat tighter about his frame, tucking his chin into his scarf, basically screamed insecurity. He was not insecure. He was a stronghold fortification of security thank you very much.
For two, and thinking about this a little deeper, Tom really ought just return to his flat because, frankly, from the way he saw it — and if past experience was anything to go by — Tom had more chance of sweet-talking his way of his rent, extortionist as it was, than he did of being let in. And his rent was controlled by a Knockturn pimp Tom highly suspected was on the run from the Ministry. That's to say, he's lucky as it is to have the kitchenette — crappy though it was — and a functioning lavatory with a separating door without going broke for it.
Unfortunately, he was in a tight position. The kind of position that slowly squeezes around your midsection until your blood is pooling in your fingers and toes, pumped to the extremities, and your face is blue. He hated it.
And he hated how much it felt like being sixteen again, shoved up against the wall of a dusty, abandoned classroom, while another boy, eye's burning like captured boric-acid-touched-fire behind round spectacles, is sneering, snarling and yelling, thin, pale hands clenched in his robes, yanking his collar.
'What kind of idiot are you, Tom? Describe it for me, please, because all I'm thinking is Astronomical. Fucking. Moron!'
In fact, it is exactly like being sixteen again. Less the... significance and more the... situation, in general.
Specifically because this person he is a tad anxious to meet (he is not afraid) is someone he has not spoken to since he was sixteen. Indeed, that encounter in that abandoned classroom marked the last time this boy looked at him, came near him, sat by him.
He could still recall the disappointment in those familiar eyes. The same eye's that had imprinted themselves into his mind over all those mornings of waking up to them on the nights where hypothermia was almost guaranteed in the orphanage and sharing double blankets and body heat was simply logical. Could still recall how bitterly he held onto his righteousness and indignation, immersing himself in his pure-blood circle of acquaintances out of spite. Could still recall the sheer fury that ripped through him when he was denied entry to the Hufflepuff common-rooms because he, Tom, had broken loyalty to a member of the House of Friendship; how he had exhausted himself in that same abandoned classroom, throwing curses at walls, collapsing in a corner, tear-tracks on his face and his robes all a mess and waking up with a conjured pillow beneath his head and a steaming cup of tea waiting beside him, made just the way he liked it — the way only one other person knew how to make it — and still pushing him away because he could not admit that he was wrong.
But he needed help. Desperately. And he had no other option.
There was no friend to cover his back. Not like there once was.
Nobody else he could ask. He was surrounded by acquaintances at best and useful fools at most. Making such a request of any of them was like prancing through the Great Hall naked with a sign saying 'Screw Me Over' during the evening meal.
Tom sighed despondently. Just contemplating the idea had him thinking like him for Salazar's sake.
The problem was... the problem was that he had fucked up. Truly. Undeniably. In ways that Tom would deem unforgivable. Not that he was the forgiving type, but the sentiment remained. And admitting to his many fuck ups had him physically gritting his teeth and clenching his fists. And that was without an audience. He could charm the keenest of them but with this... with this, he would have to convince with honesty.
If it were anybody else, the idea would have him swallowing and rushing for the nearest loo.
Unfortunately, it wasn't just anybody else.
Thus his rather miserable predicament. Standing on the street in December, eking warmth from a thin, second-hand coat. Hands buried in pockets. Dwarfed by Number 12 Grimmauld Place and its neighbours. In the evening.
Maybe he should have taken something for luck...
No. No. Salazar damn him but he was going through with this.
Nodding his head determinedly, Tom crossed the street, feeling the cold seeping in through the soles of his shoes.
He knocked on the door, foregoing the gilded knocker. Knowing - well, knowing him, he wouldn't be surprised if it was cursed to discourage 'pompous pureblood elitists getting it into their pointy little heads that they were welcome to bother him at all times'. He closed his eyes, rueful; after all this time he could still hear him.
Given the stillness of the world at that moment, Tom could hear a faint, familiar voice calling out to wait and suddenly what he was doing became a lot more real.
He was backing down the steps, hand gripping the chilled balustrade even as footsteps sounded behind the door and locks scraped in their holdings.
And then the door was opening and Tom was standing frozen, one foot on the step behind him, half-twisted to keep his balance and quite obviously in the middle of a tactical retreat because there was Harry.
Harry, who he hadn't spoken to since he was sixteen and the boy a year younger. Harry who he curled around on cold nights when they were children. Harry who he hadn't seen since they graduated Hogwarts; who he hadn't seen since Abraxus invited him to his manor that summer before sixth year and Tom left Harry behind in the orphanage with barely a backward's glance.
Harry, who was standing in the light of the hallway, thick jumper falling off his shoulder, hair falling down in curls around his face where they escaped a messy bun. Thickly socked feet peeking out from his bizarrely pink-and-green checkered pyjama pants and a teal-haired baby on his hip.
Harry, whose expression flashed from mildly annoyed and curious at 'impetuous interloping knockers' to confused to his patent expression of what-the-absolute-fuck? and finally settled on a lost sort of frown.
Mordred, he had forgotten quite how heart-tugging that kittenish disgruntlement was.
"Tom Riddle?" Harry asked, puzzled and confused and god it hurt because Tom knew he wasn't puzzled or confused over who he was but what the fuck he was doing standing on his doorstep in December after nine, almost ten, years of no contact.
Grasping the rapidly fading threads of dignity, Tom cleared his throat and released the balustrade, tucking hands into pockets as he stepped forward. "Hello Harry."
An indescribable emotion flashed in those arsenic eyes.
"What - what are you..." Lost for words, Harry trailed off, adjusting his grip on the baby, never once looking away from Tom.
"I -" I missed you, "Do you have a minute? I - I need to talk to you," said Tom, glancing away from Harry as he did so. Shame... shame was an uncommon - nay, it was a near foreign emotion and it was swelling up inside him as though frantic to corrupt every available space.
Harry blinked, and abruptly appeared to realise the season, and the chilled wind gusting outside, all the colder for the moonlight and street-lamps.
Hesitance crossed his face and Tom could see the way he bit his lip — the same way he had whenever the boy was worrying over a decision — and he readied himself for rejection.
"Okay," said Harry slowly and Tom honest to god started. Harry shuffled back a bit, clearing the doorway, and gave him a weak, wry, half-smile. "Wanna come in, then? Only, it's cold out and m'not above letting your stubborn arse freeze just 'cause you deserve it."
Chapter 2: Two
Trying not to appear too desperate, Tom gratefully slipped past Harry, out of the cold. The warmth hit him immediately, so much so that he stalled for a moment in that awkward space, where it's not quite the entryway and not quite out of reach of the door. He started when Harry prodded him forward, shuffling forward hurriedly with that wry mixture of embarrassment and quick movements.
The door closed with a heavy, final thump. And, judging by the way Harry just turned and stared at him, brow furrowed slightly, Tom supposed that the sound was rather reminiscently symbolic of the final nail on the coffin of his pride. This was going to be a long conversation.
And he was going to have to beg.
Harry made to speak, but was interrupted by the baby seemingly deciding enough was enough and choosing that moment to begin gurgling happily, a pudgy hand latching onto a stray curl and blubbering all over it. Rolling his eyes, fondness on his lips, Harry gently set about disentangling the grabby hand from his hair.
Tom quickly looked away because... because he was selfish and cruel and seeing Harry that happy and relaxed around somebody that wasn't him physically hurt.
"I - I, um. This one needs to go to bed, so," Harry said, shifting, glancing down the hall. "Will this take long?"
Tom swallowed, hiding a grimace. "Quite possibly." But judging by the quirk of Harry's brow, he still caught it.
"Right," said Harry. "Right, okay. Take your coat off then. The kitchen's just down the hall, largest door, can't miss it. We'll talk in there."
Oh. "Have you - do you have company? I can come back another time if you like."
But Harry was already shaking his head, moving passed Tom. "Just you and me here Tom," the baby babbled, somehow sounding affronted. "Ooh, and Teddy," Harry cooed, completely directed at the infant. "How could I forget you baby, huh? Oops." And now the baby - Teddy, was giggling.
It was so... domestic.
Harry was already on the stairs, not even glancing back as he told Tom, "Just wait in there. I won't be long." Then he was gone, and Tom was left watching socked feet and pink-and-green checkered pants disappearing up a narrow flight of stairs.
Shrugging out of his coat, Tom hung it on the hook and took in his surroundings. He had found himself in a handful of pureblood residences over the years, and it was because of that that he could spot little things that stood out from the renovations he imagined Harry had eagerly wrought upon the residence. Despite being rather narrow, the entryway felt not-so-crowded. Dark wood stretched across the floors, and the walls were painted a calming créme, yet the design of the mouldings were old, ancestral. Frames of stained glass hung at different heights along the side wall, catching the light in his periphery as he passed.
He paused at the first door, far too tempted to stop himself from peeking. A quick glance to the stairs, to make sure Harry wasn't coming back down already, and then he eased open the door, revealing a sitting area. Given the size, Tom was leaning towards thinking it the main living room. The modernly sleek and light decor continued in there, it's minimalism offset by the squashy armchairs in a light mint green and long sofa's distanced by a low coffee table, buried beneath glossy magazines and old textbooks. Seemingly every available surface was covered in bright pops of colour, cushions of all sizes squashed together, vibrant throw blankets in violet and sunburnt orange folded on the backs of the sofa's. The internal wall had been chosen as the feature, it's face covered in a warm, Etruscan shade of milk chocolate.
For any other, Tom would find the mix of such bright colours and styles disrupting but... it suited Harry to a T, and was near smothering in the obvious warmth and invitation.
Tom understood though. Understood the colours. Salazar, even he did it himself, going out of his way to cover his dismal flat in bronzes and warm mocha paint. Anything to get rid of the taint of the grey grey grey of the Orphanage.
The room was overwhelmingly muggle in appearance, however. Really, the only thing giving away the fact that a wizard was in inhabitance was the blurry motion of photographs on the mantel and hung on walls, the bottled fairy lights slowly twirling though the air and the basket of laundry folding itself.
But... Harry had done well for himself, it seemed.
Acknowledging that had him grimacing all over again, and he hurriedly retreated from he room, continuing onwards to the kitchen. The kitchen, Tom saw, wore it's age well, with dark tabletops sitting apart from a long, worn table and scrubbed clean copper pot's hung above the work area. There was another door, rather slim in size, that Tom ignored, assuming that it, like many other houses he had frequented, led to the boiler room.
He took a seat, sitting stiffly, and waited.
And waited. Slumping slightly and drumming fingers on the table.
Harry was gone for half of the hour.
Tom wouldn't be surprised if this was the beginning of a passive assault on Harry's part.
Finally, when Tom had rolled up his sleeves to the elbows, and loosened his tie, he heard steps on the stair's. They were quiet, but his hearing always head been particularly keen. He had just enough time to sit up straighter before Harry was pushing open the door, shooting him barley a glance and bee-lining for the kettle.
"Tea, Tom?" Harry interrupted, back turned.
Tom bit his tongue. He wasn't going to kid himself and think Harry was actually happy to see him. "Yes. Thank you."
The whistling of the kettle undercut the silence of the room, and soon the clinking of mugs added to it as Harry busied himself.
Sensing that starting conversation at this particular moment was futile, Tom contented himself with properly looking at Harry. The
boy- man, was taller than he recalled, hair longer. From memory, Harry always had been a rather scrawny thing, although neither of them had been able to decide if that was genetic or a result of poor childhood diets. Now though... well, his clothes were too loose to draw a definite conclusion, but Tom would have needed to be blind to miss the obvious fact that Harry looked good.
"You've done well for yourself, then?" Tom was saying before he could stop himself. Wanting to ask something else but not particularly wanting to end up on the receiving end of Harry's wand so soon in the evening.
It was noncommittal. Elusive. It gave Tom nothing. Dear Salazar help him.
Tea was poured, milk added, and sugar. Harry set one mug on the table, cradling his own, and took a seat. For a moment, Harry preoccupied himself with steadily blowing away the steam and Tom took the opportunity to slowly pull his own cup closer.
And then Harry sighed. "Well, I s'pose we should start."
Tom blinked. That was quite an opening. "Alright. I-"
"Starting, preferably," Harry continued, as though he hadn't heard Tom, "with how the bloody hell you knew where I lived."
Tom wanted to brush him off, to revert back to the facade he has carefully cultivated over countless years and get straight to the heart of his visit but Harry is more stubborn than he is. Avoiding answering will get him nowhere. So he clears his throats, hoping he is not reddening because yes, Harry had, once before, in detail, described the constraints of social acceptance and invasion.
"I paid off the clerk for access to the census chambers."
Harry sits still and then he exhales, almost like he expected that, almost like he finds it funny. Tom's not entirely certain it was an exhale, actually. It might have been a snort.
"So you work for the ministry then?"
And he hums again. Takes a sip of tea. Tom mimics him, not wanting to be rude — and there's so much irony behind the notion that it aches — and is askance when the tea is exactly right: two dashes of milk, tea leaves strong and tangy, a quarter tea-spoon of sugar.
He stares into the teacup and the enormity of his fuck ups slaps him in the face.
"You remembered," he hears himself distantly say and Harry just gives him this look. It's heavy. And sad. And irritated.
"'Course I did," said Harry shortly. Their eye's meet across the table and arsenic is burning, simmering, waiting. "Unlike you, I don't forget much."
Fighting a flinch, Tom acknowledges him with a slow dip of the head. It's given grudgingly, the acknowledgment. Just because Harry is correct does not mean he has to like it.
"I never forgot you - could never forget you," said Tom, tapping a finger against the ceramic, and it's true.
Harry silence weigh's heavily, but there's a doubtful, nearly imperceptible shake of the head.
"It's true," Tom asserts, a bit more steadily. It feels right to say it after all these years. "I tried to, don't get me wrong, but you, Harry Potter, leave a remarkable imprint on a person."
Now Harry scoffs, fingers tightening around the mug. Theres's outlines of bright red lipstick kisses on there, Tom notices.
"And that's supposed to make me feel better, is it?" demands Harry. "Supposed to make everything right then? Make it so I'll just roll over, do what you want, no question's asked?"
Mute, Tom said nothing, finding it oh so difficult to meet Harry's eyes.
"God Tom! Nine years! It's been nine years! Do you have any idea what it was like? I-I've been happy without you. I've made something of myself. I didn't - I didn't need you anymore, I've done perfectly well on my own and now you just - you just come back into my life just like that? Just... what gives, Tom?"
So angry in the beginning, magic bristling dangerously in the air about him, Harry's voice was breaking towards the end.
Tom swallowed heavily, so many words stuck, unmoving. "I... apologise."
Harry's eyes widened incredulously, glasses flashing from the light of the range and the floating candles, charmed to give off more light. "You apologise? That's... that's it?" he queried, incredulity sharpening. "You - you left me behind, Tom! You left me alone in that fucking Orphanage — alone — and all you can do is fucking apologise? What do you think they did, hm? Think they all got together and celebrated and were happy to see me, huh? No. I'll tell you what they did. They kicked me out. That afternoon. Wouldn't hear a word about it. The minute they saw you weren't there, that was it."
Magic snapped. The glass panels on the cabinets shattered and Harry shut his eyes, breathing heavily. "I slept on the street for weeks," he hissed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You arsehole. Apology my arse."
Just when Tom thought he could not feel any worse... He made to speak, not knowing what to say when —
"Where were you, anyway? That summer?"
"... Malfoy Manor."
"Let me get this straight. I was sleeping in alley's and youth centres and doing my best to not get raped by some sicko at fifteen and you're living it up in Malfoy Manor?"
"Well," said Harry and it was final. "Fuck you," and he gulped down the rest of the tea. "I s'pose they invited you?"
"Okay." With that, Harry hurled the mug at Tom. Ducking hurriedly, the mug narrowly missed his ear and shattered against the wall. His heart pounded and his head snapped up, to make sure there were no more projectiles awaiting him but it was only Harry; only Harry sitting there with his fingers laced and mouth twisted thoughtfully.
"Tell me, Tom, did you think I had no other friends or something apart from you?"
Tom hesitates on his answer, slowly shifting on the chair. Flashes of a younger Harry sitting at the Hufflepuff table across the hall crop up in his mind; of Harry at fourteen, robes open, laughing with a group of girls in Charms; of Harry at twelve, launching himself at an older Gryffindor that was picking on a fellow Puff, the two landing in the infirmary with bruises and shared laughter.
Tom isn't sure how to answer this because, while Harry certainly interacted with others, he never pegged him for the friends-in-a-moment sort. So he scowls. "What do you want me to say Harry? Yes, you were social. You always got those - those social cues easier than I."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Whatever. My point, Riddle, was that I had other friends. I had other offers," and here Tom stills, "every summer. For four years. For four years, friends invited to me to their place. Did I ever take them?"
"... no. You didn't."
"That's right. Because the invitation was only for me and I wasn't about to leave you behind in that hellhole. And, obviously, the reason for that is that I'm not a complete and utter cunt, like you, but hey, that's just what best friends do right?"
His voice is cutting, sarcastic and bitter and million other horrible things.
Harry watches him, waits, and when Tom does nothing, says nothing, he scoffs, drawing his wand from his pyjamas and fixing his mug, then the cabinet doors.
The silence is stifling. It's a physical entity, creeping heavily around shoulders, paws closing around throats and making it difficult to breath.
This is it, Tom realises. He is sitting on the precipice, watching his only chance getting further away, all the while knowing there is only one thing he can do to stop it.
So, one hand slips off the table and he digs his nails deeply into his thigh, breathing through the pain.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, and it's not as hard as he thought. "I am - I'm so sorry." But his throats is burning with it all. "Harry, there is - god, no. I'm just - I'm sorry for it all. All of it. I fucked up, I did and - fuck, sorry. I'm so sorry for the way I treated you. I was bitter and I was wrong, like you said, and I was so angry at the time and then - and then I was so ashamed for the way I was to you. You're right - you're always fucking right and I just - I didn't know how to fix things Harry so I - I didn't. I didn't try and that is the biggest bloody mistake of my life," rushed Tom, voice low and raw and wrecked.
His eyes stung, and his jaw clenched, teeth grinding. Both hands were off the table now, finger's twisted in the fabric of his trousers.
Swallowing dusted glass would be easier in that moment so he sipped the last of the tea. It was cold and fitting.
Eventually, he managed to look up, look at Harry, and he didn't know how to describe what he saw.
There was just... there were only scraps of emotion on his face, lips pressed together in a thin line, arms crossed and coldness in his eyes.
Arsenic eyes studied him closely, before cutting away. "I grew up with you," Harry says quietly. "I grew up, watching you learn how to sweet-talk and manipulate," he continues.
And, well... fuck. He hadn't been sure were Harry was leading with that but it's not sounding like anything in his favour right now.
"And because of that, I know your tells. I know when you're lying, or sweet-talking, or just saying what you think I want to hear." He sighs heavily. "So I know that was true. Most of it, anyway."
"I - all of it, all of it was true."
"I know. And that's why it hurts, see?" argued Harry, "because you're sorry — that's great — but you wouldn't be here, telling me this, unless you needed something, because never once, since we met, have you ever told me 'sorry'. So," he shrugged, the oversized jumper slipping further down his shoulder, and he drew his legs up onto the chair, hooking an arm around them. "You're still an arsehole. You still fucked up and - and I'm not inclined to forgive you, actually. Not right now, at least."
"Okay. That's... okay," muttered Tom, staring at his hands.
The fire in the grate cracked, emphasising the complete lack of conversation.
"The child?" Tom finally asked, remembering that he was here for a reason. "The, erm. Is it yours?"
Harry's lips twitched; whether out of amusement at the awkward phrasing or something else. "Technically," he drawled, "Teddy is my godson. I'm babysitting."
But no affirmation or denial of a partner.
"His parent's then?" He asked.
"Ah, that would be Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks."
"Remus Lupin? Our defence professor?" Tom blinked, confused. "I didn't know he was married."
Harry shrugged. "Their anniversary is coming up, and Teddy's only a couple months. It was pretty recent, to be honest."
"Right," said Tom, but he was still a bit lost. "How do you know them outside of school?"
Idly, Tom noticed the way Harry's fingers pulled at his pyjama pants as Harry stared at him, eye's half-lidded. "He took me in summer after sixth year. Turns out he'd known my parents a bit."
Offers, Harry had said. He hadn't said only from the students. Lupin had been teaching at Hogwarts since they started. Harry could have had a home since he was eleven and he had refused it for Tom. He felt like shit.
Dragging a hand through his hair, anxious, Tom peered at his empty tea-cup. "Do you have something stronger?"
A flat look was Harry's reaction, before he leans forward, grabbing the cup and rising from the table, moving over the kettle. "No alcohol in the house," he said firmly, flicking on the kettle. He alway had preferred Muggle methods, Tom noted.
Then Harry braced himself against the counter, ankles crossed and arms folded. It once again struck Tom how good Harry looked. And... it wasn't just happy good but... Harry had always been aesthetically pleasing — Salazar knew how many times Tom had cursed his dorm mates for their midnight talks of how much they wanted to fuck the boy — but it had never hit Tom quite as much as it was now.
"So, you gonna tell me what you're doing here or not?"
He had intended to. Problem was that he had intended to do so confidently and, well. That had been shot to hell.
Not that he had much choice.
He waited for as long it took for Harry to place a fresh mug of tea down before him and raise his eyebrow, casting about for where to start. Then he cleared his throat.
"A group will be put together in the next few months in preparation for the upcoming electoral campaigns," he began slowly. "Member Kingsley Shacklebolt has been chosen to spearhead the Democratic Party and oppose in-term conservative Cornelius Fudge. Currently, the issue is the composition of his senior team. I have - I have been approached for the position of Deputy Communications Director."
"That's a big deal," Harry offered, voice quiet.
"Yes. It is. It's - just." Tom struggled for the words. "I've met Shacklebolt. He has potential. With the right people, he can win this campaign but - but he's pureblood and - he's received other resumés for the position and he's seeing them. Then there's Dolores Umbridge — she's the Undersecratary — and she - she is against anything less than pure. She's been pushing traditionalism for over two decades, and Shacklebolt's listening to it. They - I need this position, Harry. If I lose it, it's another four years before this opportunity comes around again, but," drawing in a deep gulp of air, Tom rushed forwards, "I won't make the senior team unless I'm married."
Harry, who had, at that moment, taken a sip of tea, choked; sputtering and coughing.
"Married?" He gasped, summoning a towel and cleaning up the mess.
"And you came to me?!"
"I... have nobody else, Harry."
"This is - oh god. Fuck this is hilarious," laughed Harry, slightly hysterically.
"There is no hilarity," Tom snapped, scowling. "This is my career on the line!"
"It's funny. You Utter. Dick," Harry enunciated slowly, "because you are a victim of the very same purebloodisms that, I imagine, you've spent the last several years supporting. Helga knows you weren't anywhere close to shutting up about it when you were eighteen," he muttered the last part under his breath, lifting the mug to his mouth.
"How long do you have?" he asked, after swallowing.
"Three months. That's when the team will be finalised. After that, it's a month of orientation then straight on to the trail."
"Three - Merlin, Tom. Have you any idea what you're asking here? I mean, d'you even want to get married? Have you even thought this out?"
Tom flinched at the last apart. From the way Harry winced minutely, then firmed his expression, Tom knew he remembered too.
'Have you even thought this out?! Go on tell me, have you? They're gonna close the school! Moron! What the fuck made you think this would work? There's been attacks on muggleborns and half-bloods, Tom! On people like us! You're attacking us! The board isn't gonna let this go! They'll close the school and that's it. Say goodbye to magic Tom because it's the orphanage for us and that's it! No more escaping.'
"I have thought this out," Tom said after a moment. "And the consequences are negligible. Twelve months, and we can procure a divorce. We can both go our own way's after that."
He could tell Harry was hesitating, the way his eyes flickered behind his glasses were a give away. "Harry, please. You are the only person I trust to ask this of."
"... and if I say no?"
"Then," he exhaled, trying to hide the way his fingers clenched. "Then you say no and my career is fucked and Fudge remains Minister."
"You are very confident of yourself," murmured Harry. "See some things never change."
"Well, you know me."
"... no, I don't," Harry frowned, folding his hands atop the table. "And that's the problem. I can understand you asking this of me years ago but... I mean, you're twenty six in less than a month. I-I've just gone twenty four. I don't know you anymore. And you had to find out where I lived from my file. Do - do you even know what I do? No. Don't answer that. I doubt you do..." Harry trailed off, heaving a sigh.
"I'll think about it, okay? It's late, m'tired, you're complicated and I'm fly- busy, tomorrow. I have meetings."
"Yes. That is - yes," Tom hurriedly told him. "How long do you need?"
"Give me... a week? I'm free next Saturday. We can have lunch or something." Harry rose form the table. "I'll owl you the details. Now c'mon, I'll show you out."
Tom followed him down the hall, grabbing his coat from the hook. He caught Harry briefly frowning at the state of the garment, but the expression was gone quickly. Harry held the door open, breath stuttering and eye's shuttering against the cold, but he stuck it out. Tom paused on the doorstep, turning as he wrapped the scarf around his neck.
"I am sorry," he declared, "again for - for everything."
Harry rolled his eyes, but there was a small smile and Tom hoped. "I haven't agreed yet, you know," he retorted.
"I know, just - for what it's worth. It took me a long time - too long, really - to realise, but I have missed you."
"I missed you too," admitted Harry, "but then I got over it."
And fuck, Tom did not expect that and it hurt. More than he thought it would.
Then Harry smiled sweetly, the kind of sweet that turns poisonous after ingestion. "So don't expect this to be easy."
And then the door was firmly shut, so close to his face that Tom could see the faint webbing of frost on the constellation-adorned knocker.
... well then.
Clutching the coat tighter, Tom hurried down, across the street — after blinking, nonplussed at the door for several freezing moments — and then he apparated home.
There he stood, in the middle of the tiny living area of his shitty apartment, practically standing atop the coffee table, thinking. Thinking that that could have gone a lot worse.
And thinking... if Harry agreed, he was going to need a ring.
Chapter 3: Three
You guys are all so incredible! Thank you for all the comments and kudo's!
Also - Disclaimer: this is nothing more than a work of fiction written by myself, the person standing miserably in a corner holding a cardboard sign declaring that I own nothing of this apart from Original Characters and the course language. Additionally, any likeness to real life events, circumstances, or peoples, are purely circumstantial and are not done with the intent to depict an accurate portrayal of said events, circumstances or people's.
... yep, think that covers it.
Shutting the door behind Tom, Harry stepped away, moved numbly into the living room, snatched up a pillow and screamed into it.
Really, it was this or chasing Tom down the street with an umbrella. Screaming into a pillow in the safety of his own house, however, did not run the risk of making a complete tit of himself in public, so it was fine. Really.
Only, it wasn't fine. Who the bloody hell did that dick think he was? Just - just waltzing back into his life and apologising and wanting to get married. Who the fuck did that?!
He screamed once more for good measure, and then dropped the cushion, tossing it back onto the sofa.
Chest heaving, face flushed, Harry stood. He needed to get ahold of himself. This... this wasn't professional. He needed to treat it professional. If - he would need a contract. Yes. Make it legal. That bastard! No. No. Calm down. You can do this and not kill him.
He unwound the hair-tie, to give his hands something to do apart from itching to wring his goddamn neck — honestly, he was fine, he was calm — ran his hands through his hair, fingers catching on the dark curls, and tied it up a bit better.
Yoga. Yoga was good. Or boxing. Boxing was also good. He also really wanted to hit something, so... there was that.
Okay, he'd do that tomorrow. Sleep. He needed sleep. And Teddy. Needed Teddy.
Climbing the stairs quickly, Harry was soon pushing open the door to the nursery, grinning a little at the moonlit-meadow theme Luna had gone wild with. Silver's and warm greys and pale creamy-browns sketched out tall grass and blooming nocturnal flowers, while the large face of the painted moon on the wall opposite the crib watched on wisely. Even Remus had gotten in on the design, animating the paint so that the grass fluttered softly in a non-existent breeze. Harry loved this room. Almost as much as he loved it's inhabitant.
An inhabitant that was currently wailing shrilly, awful ear-piercing shrieks, and blubbering saliva all over itself.
... such is the way with babies.
Reaching in to the crib, Harry scooped up the squalling baby, trying to hush him. They'd found, early on, that Teddy liked familiar noises, so Harry was quick to begin talking, even as he began running inventory. "Oh, Teddy luv, what's wrong baby? Hm? You not happy?"
The diaper did feel a bit heavy. Harry carried Teddy over to the changing table, going through the motions of diaper changing and wet-wipes and baby powder. Soon enough, he was in possession of a baby that was moderately happy. That was good enough in his books.
Seeing that Teddy had worked himself himself up too much to settle again easily, Harry scooped him up, arranged him so the little head was pressing against his heart, and headed for the kitchen. The evidence of their encounter made his teeth ache. Exhaling strictly, Harry flicked his wand sharply, sending the sugar and tea back to their places, washing the mugs, and set about making up a bottle.
Teddy suckled like champ, cute little thing, and let Harry burp him without argument while Harry slowly paced along the table. Spells took care of the bottle and towel — because there was no way he was doing that in the morning — and Harry continued humming until Teddy nodded off once more, before deeming it safe to move to bed.
When he made it to the third floor landing, however, he ignored the nursery and instead eased open the door to his own room, careful not to jostle Teddy too much.
Unlike Teddy's, Harry's room wasn't a huge contrast to the rest of the house. Créme was on the walls, keeping it calm and mostly neutral, with rosey cherry wood for the bed suite, buttercream sheer curtains and gold-leaf accented the intricate ocular design of the ceiling medallion. Black framing outlined the picture box windows that overlooked the street, and a deep, charcoal black throw blanket covered most of the bed while fluffy black cushions practically buried the squashy armchair.
Hufflepuff pride and all that.
Harry crawled into bed, cradling Teddy close all the while — this particular situation was quite common when Harry watched Teddy — and wiggled beneath the covers, pulling them to his chin as he settled the sleeping baby in the cradle of his arm.
Fishing his phone from his pocket, Harry clicked it open, squinting at the touch-screen. 1 Missed Call popped up, along with the icon for Messages and notices for various social media updates. He ignored the others and tapped the call, holding it to his ear as he tilted his head away from Teddy.
Intoxicated giggling filled the other side, bubbling over the sound of traffic, and then Remus' voice came in.
"Harry - just letting you know we're heading home now. Hope Teddy hasn't been a fuss. We'll see you in the morning - nice and early, I remember, haven't forgotten you need to leave early. Call us if there's a problem."
The voice message ended. He pulled up messages and typed out, "No problems, no fuss. See you tomorrow," (using proper grammar and forgoing abbreviations like an adult because Remus was a professor and there was no damn way Harry was going to try that on the guy that graded his papers for seven years) and pressed send then set the phone down on the side table.
He kept his focus on the infant as his mind swirled through the clusterfuck this evening had become. It was almost meditative, watching tiny breaths and pouty lips, and Harry was nearly asleep — thank god — when Teddy's hair morphed out of the teal and into his natural mousy brown.
The following morning found them in the kitchen, where Harry was in the process of interesting Teddy in a delightful spoon of creamy pumpkin puree — if he did so say himself — and that was the scene that greeted Remus and Tonks when they arrived.
Harry's head snapped up, smiling, when the two let themselves in, bustling around and, for two people, bringing a whole lot of noise and Teddy took that opportunity to snatch a fistful of the mash off the spoon and shovel it in his mouth.
"Oh my god," Harry moaned. "You were so clean before, you're gonna give me a bad rep, luv."
Tonks, hair in chin length, bubblegum pink waves, snorted as she enveloped Harry in a hug, pressing a slobbery kiss to his forehead before skipping over and smothering her son in affection.
"Aw, look at you sweetums, Haz has gone and ruined you," she cooed, blowing raspberries onto pudgy little fists, "isn't that right? Oh yes it is!"
Harry huffed. "Yeah, nice to see you too, Nymphadora."
Tonk's grimaced. "Touché - wotcha Harry."
"Hm." Harry stood from the chair, gathering the remains of breakfast. "Hi Remus."
The man shot him a tired smile, hands in the pockets of his worn-down tweed jacket. "Harry."
"How was date night? Either of you get - lucky?"
Remus flushed, forever astounding Harry that a grown man with a son could still be embarrassed about sex, and Tonks cackled, flicking her eyebrows suggestively. "Mummy sure did," she purred.
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Ew," he said simply. "I'm still in the room - in case you forgot."
"It's the circle of life little Harry. Gotta get your delicate sensibilities used to the world."
"Excuse me?!" Harry squawked. "I am not delicate!" He gestured towards Remus. "That's your husband there blushing like a pubescent school boy! Not me! Delicate my a - apple!"
"Yes, thank you for that," muttered Remus , looking desperately like he wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
"You do have a very nice apple," Tonks interjected seriously.
"And that naughty school boy idea has merit, don't you think so pooky?"
"Okay that's it, I'm outta here. You guys can - can -" Harry flapped his hand, flustered. "Do whatever. Teddy's bag is by the door - it's all packed, promise and - god, ick. You two are so sweetly disgusting. St Mungo's does dental, don't they?"
"They do," Remus said, unquestioning of the segue. "But the bill isn't worth it. I go to Squire Jo's, myself. He's just off Portobello. I can get you a card, if you like - actually, I think I might have one somewhere around here," and the man began searching through his pockets.
Harry blinked at him, mouth opening and closing a little. Tonks smothered a snort in Teddy's hair, cheeks colouring. "Remus honey, Harry was being ironic."
Remus stopped his searching, slightly hunched over. Bashfully, he scratched at the stubble growing along his jaw. "Oh."
"Sorry," said Harry, looking at the man anew. "You feeling alright?"
"Yes. Yes. Fine. Quite - fine. Sorry." Remus frowned briefly. "Yes sorry, there's - the scents - there's a lot of anger. It's rather... disorientating." He focused on Harry and inwardly, Harry sighed. He'd hoped to not think about yesterday evening and Mr Fuckwit until he hit the ring. "You said everything was fine, last night. Did something happen?"
"Everything was fine with Teddy, just... um. Tom - Riddle, that is - came by last night, and... well... yeah."
Miens of confusion met him and oh, shit, had he even told these two people about Tom?
"Tom Riddle?" Tonks questioned, eye's sliding to the wall in thought, brows scrunched.
"He was in your year, was he not? A... Slytherin, I believe," puzzled Remus. "Wasn't he—"
"Helga's whoring hyppogriffs!" Tonks exclaimed. Harry started, looking at her wildly. "That wan—"
"Dora!" Remus yelped, aghast.
"That watermelon!" Tonks fumed, hair spiking. She turned to Remus. "Riddle is the boy that ditched Harry. He's the watermelon that broke Harry's heart!"
"Ah," Remus breathed, at the same time as Harry scowled and snapped, "He did not break my heart!"
"Still, Dora," continued Remus, "I wish you wouldn't use that kind of language."
"Remus, it's fine. I've called him worse in my head. And last night. Definitely called him worse last night," Harry muttered mulishly. He liked swearing, thank you very much. He screwed his mouth up, arms crossed. "And he didn't break my heart," he told them. "He broke my trust. There's a difference. Now, I have to go. Tonks, you still up for yoga?"
Tonks looked at him incredulously. "Are you kidding me? I'm the fittest in the department! There is no way I'm missing that." And then she shot a coy look at Remus. "Besides, pooky over there can't get enough of my flexibility."
Harry laughed to keep from crying, and face palmed. "You guys are like - like family and - I don't need to know this! I mean - Tonks c'mon, you're like my sister and Remus you're like - my Uncle and - you were my professor! Just - just keep in your pants, you horny bas - berries!"
He darted out of the kitchen before any more of their couple-ness could rub off on him. "I just need to get changed! Give me two minutes!" He called down, running up the stairs.
Of course, they had followed him into the hall. "Take your time, Harry," Remus called up, pleasantly.
But it was Tonks who yelled, "Sure you don't wanna talk about it?"
"No," Harry hollered — he had to, they were two floors below him, after all. "I most certainly do not want to talk about it."
"Wanna talk about it now?"
Exhaling as he slid one hand past his ear, cupping the back of his head and bracing his weight on his forearm, Harry side-eyed Tonks incredulously. Doing the same with his other arm and interlacing his fingers behind his head, Harry paused before moving onto the next stage.
"You're not gonna drop this till I do," he grumbled quietly, aware of the instructors up at the front of the room.
The yoga studio was in Soho, hidden behind faux rice-paper walls, bamboo flooring and word of mouth. Harry had, of course, been recommended it by a friend. Before that had been Library books and rented, grainy videos with shit sound and self-study.
Oh, how far he had come.
"That's how it is," Tonks whispered unrepentantly, starting on the next part.
And, well, true. "Okay," he started, but quietened to transition with the rest of the class.
Exhaling steadily, he pressed down through the inner elbows and wrists, then lifted his chest up, raising his head off the floor. Now officially seeing the world upside down, Harry pressed down through his heels to centre the movement and blinked, calmly accepting the disorientation with the ease of experience, before tilting his head back until he was looking at the mat, forearms braced on either side of him.
Also, his glasses were in a little plastic box just off the mat — ergo not on his face — so the indefinite blur was pretty much standard whatever position his head was in.
He walked his feet away from his hands until his legs were nearly straight, set them firmly against the mat and, once again exhaling as he stretched down through the calves, pushed his legs completely straight and... mm, enjoyed the stretch of muscles curving alongside his back, shoulders and legs.
Upward facing two-foot staff pose. Absolute favourite.
"So," he hummed. "He wants to get married."
Even blind as he was, the collective snapping of heads were near palpable in the previously quiet room. Harry sighed and tried to ignore the warning gazes of the two instructors. Admittedly, they weren't aimed quite at him, and more at the squawking pink mess beside him, so... it wasn't so difficult.
"That is - that is - just outta nowhere?" Tonks questioned, seemingly oblivious to the hell-fire fury of pissed yoga instructors. "Who even does that?!"
"He does," Harry muttered, perhaps a tad more bitterly than he intended. Not that he was bitter or anything. Not at all. Nah uh. That's just - whew, feeling the burn, there we go.
"That - that watermelon!" hissed Tonks, and without even looking at her, Harry knew her hair was standing up like an enraged cat, escaping the bobby pin's.
Some of the women, mother's themselves, laughed, giggles and snorts breaking out and Harry tried desperately to bite back his smile, struggling to hide his silent laughter.
Another venomous look from the instructor. Oops.
Inhaling, Harry began walking back his feet back until they were under his knees, then returned his palms to the floor beside his ears, going through the motions of coming out of the asana. Pushing up through his hands, he tucked in his chin and tail bone, spine rolling smoothly back down to the floor. His tail bone was the last to connect with mat and when it did, Harry drew in a long, concentrated breath, feeling the endorphins flood through his body, and set up about slowing his breathing until he again resumed a resting state.
Perhaps yoga wasn't the best idea. He was so... relaxed and... happy. Dammit. He warned to be angry and upset and fuming for a day so he could think about Tom and his proposition irrationally. A day! Just a day! But nooo, he had to go and get all relaxed and satisfied and he couldn't even be angry about it.
Stupid Tom. Ruining his yoga sessions. That dick.
Groaning happily, Harry sat up, pulling his legs in and shifting around until he was facing the front of the room and began folding himself into the lotus position, back upright and shoulder's relaxed.
"So, what?" Tonks asked him under her breath. "He just asked you to marry him? Just like that?"
"Well, no," said Harry. "I asked how he knew where I lived, first."
The woman to his right wheezed an aborted snort. Harry nodded to her. "Yeah, exactly."
"How did he know where you lived?"
"Paid of the clerk at the registry or something - I don't know."
"That's - that's kinda creepy. Like, really creepy."
"Don't I know it."
"... I can have him arrested if you like."
The instructor up front cleared her throat pointedly, shifting into the Janu Shirsansa. Tonks rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
Stretching forward, Harry reached out and grabbed his foot, lowering his face to his knee while the other foot tucked up against his inner thigh. "While that is tempting - truly tempting, I'd feel like," he hesitated, then huffed. "I don't know. I'd feel like I was sinking to his level - or something. You know what I mean? Like - like, I want him to hurt, but hurt above board. Arresting him just... feels like such a cheap shot."
"Eh, yeah. You're right. No fun then, anyway. I arrest people all the time."
"That's also true."
"Then what happened?"
Harry hummed, easing up, then switching legs and bending over again. "I got upset. Obviously. Like - almost ten years radio silence and suddenly he's there on my doorstep? Hell no was I taking that lying down."
Tonks tilted her head, bubble-gum pinks strands sticking to her forehead. "Why'd you let him in anyway?"
"Stupidity?" Harry grimaced. "Shock. Misplaced desire to yell at him in private. I dunno. Pick one."
"Hey, just asking. So you got upset - completely justified, by the way. What he'd do?"
"Tried apologising," muttered Harry mulishly, coming out of the bent position, controlling his breathing. "The dicktionary."
Tonks scrunched up her nose, stretching both legs out straight before her and leaning to touch her toes. "Was it any good?"
"The apology? No. He tried twice. Figured he thought saying it once would work. I think he's pretty desperate though - he actually said the word 'sorry' five times. In one night. I think the apocalypse is starting early."
Tonks turned wide eyes onto him. "You counted?"
"Are you kidding me? 'Course I counted. That was a bloody rarity - like hell am I gonna just let that kinda thing go."
"... you saved it on your calendar, didn't you?"
"... I think I almost pity him."
"Ten years. Radio silence. Absolute arsehole."
"No, yeah you're right. I don't pity him."
"Then nothing, really. He told me what he wanted and - that was it. Oh, wait. I also threw a mug at his head."
"And you missed?" she hissed, askance.
"I did not miss," muttered Harry, shooting her a dirty look. "He ducked."
"Like the coward he is," Harry continued. "He should've just taken it but nooo, he's proud and he's stubborn and he always has to be right all the time."
"... are we still talking about you throwing cups?"
"What? No. Yes - were we?"
"You were," the lady behind him piped in.
"Thanks Janice," Harry murmured, flashing a quick smile
"No problem," she said, and then she sighed. "You're life is so interesting."
Harry startled. "Sorry, what?"
"It's interesting. Your life. Like - marriage proposals, heart break, betrayal. 'Will you say yes, will you say no?'. There's so much drama," she dragged the word, emphasising it. "I read your interview in InStyle. My son thinks you're really inspirational. And my daughter has posters of you."
"Um. Thank you. Really. That's - that's great to hear."
The woman, Janice, smiled brightly. "Is it true you're dating the American model, Darcy Williams?"
"What?" Harry squawked. "No - I," he looked around, realising for the first time that they had drawn the attention of the entire class. Including the instructors. "Oh for god's sake. Alright, who here thought there was anything between me and Darcy?"
All the hands raised.
Harry groaned miserably. "No. There's nothing between us - never has been never will be. We are just friends."
It was Carl, a large, rough looking, over-worked CEO of a banking company, who said: "But you two always look awful close on Instagram."
And Harry thought he just might die. So, instead he said, firmly, "I promise you, we are just friends. Not friends with benefits, not off again on again lovers - just friends. In fact, if - and this is a massive if - I ever publicly announce that we are dating, this lady, right here —" he gestured to Tonks and she waved "— has been encouraged to shoot me because there will then be evidence that I have, in fact, been replaced with an imposter."
There was tentative laughter, probably rather mellow because everybody knew Tonks worked as a cop.
"Okay, we all good here?"
Apparently so, as everybody returned their attention to the instructor whom called out for everybody to get into the Ashtanga Vinyasa finishing position.
Tonks grabbed his attention once they were lying down flat, reaching out and tapping his arm. He turned his head, eyebrow raised.
"Did he say something that bothered you though? You've been a bit off all morning."
Harry sighed, turning to ceiling. "Not - not really? I mean," he paused, licking his lips. And then he said quietly. "He told me he missed me."
"Ah. That's kinda - sweet?"
"I told him I got over it."
"I don't think you got over it."
They're at the gym now, Harry has tape around his knuckles, sweat sticking his shirt to his back, and Tonks is draped over the ropes, calmly sipping a smoothie as she watches him go at it with his trainer.
Harry looks at her, breathing heavily. "And what makes you say that?"
"Aside from you practically growling at me?"
For good measure, he even bares his teeth. She rolls her eyes and he counts it a victory.
"All I'm saying," she defended, "is that poor Marcus here has been on the receiving end of your angst and he's got no clue why. He's feeling left out."
Harry immediately dropped his ready stance and gave up circling Flint. "That true Marc?"
Marcus Flint, former Slytherin turned professional Quidditch played (beater for the Wimbourne Wasps had earned him quite the reputation) turned personal trainer with specialisations in professional duellers, released his stance, panting, and wiped the sweat off his brow. "You're brutal when your angry," he said simply, brows furrowed as he rubbed his shoulder and, well, Harry felt horrible.
"I'm so sorry," he gushed, running over to inspect the damage. "I didn't mean to! Are you okay? Does it hurt much? Can I do - mnf!"
A large, sweaty palm clamped down over his mouth. Eye's swivelling down in alarm — so, so disgusted — Harry made a series of indignant noises, all of which went unheard.
"And pathetic in your concern. You are like a kitten. Much too much energy," Marcus grumbled.
Narrowing his eyes, Harry momentarily ignored the gross gross gross sweaty palm on my mouth, and bit him. Marcus reared back, swearing because yes, Harry does have sharp teeth and Tonks doubled over in laughter, guffawing loudly, smoothie sloshing out of her foam cup.
Wiping his mouth hurriedly with some tissues, Harry scowled at the hulking trainer. "While I thank you for that backhanded compliment - I was being nice, you jerk. There was no need t'go rubbing your germs all over my face!"
"Harry, honey," called Tonks, clutching her sides, and breathing deeply to contain her giggles, "he didn't mean to. You insulted his masculinity, is all - he couldn't go having his clients thinking he's so easily bruised now, could he?"
Harry wiped his mouth one last time. "I s'pose not," he grudgingly allowed. He eyed Flint. "You're okay, though?"
"I train with Krum," he grunted, thick eyebrows furrowed together. "This damage is nothing."
"... well I can't argue with that. Why'd we stop again?"
Flint shrugged, looking at Tonks.
"I was saying that it's not fair to chuck all your anger on Marcus without him knowing why," said Tonks. Setting aside the smoothie, Tonks jumped over the ropes and jogged towards them. "See, I'm thinking this could be meditative - like, take Marcus here, picture him as Tom - call him Tom, let him be Tom and then, then you take your anger out on Tom, and you will be happy."
Harry frowned. "I'm not angry at Tom."
Tonks quirked her eyebrow, doubtful, hanging off Flint's shoulder while the confused man stood still.
Harry deflated. "Okay. I'm angry at Tom."
Tonks nodded sagely. "The first stage is always acceptance."
"... what's the second stage?"
"Full, unbridled violence."
"You, lady, are an Auror! What kinda advice is this? Advocating violence?"
"Tch," Tonks dropped away from Flint. "I'm off duty. 'n besides, this is smart violence. We're in a controlled setting, nobody's gonna get seriously hurt, just - you're bottling it up Harry and sooner or later, you're gonna explode and you really cannot afford to do that in a public setting." Her hands landed on his shoulders, hazel eyes flickering between his. "I'm just looking out for you, honey," she said lowly.
"I know," Harry said quietly. "I know," he said again, stronger. He breathed deeply. "Okay, how do I do this?"
"First, what do you really, truly, deep, deep down, want to say to Tom?"
"I wanna tell him what a wanker he is?"
Tonks looked at him. "Honey, you've already done a fair bit more than that. Think deep."
"Fine, I - I want to - I want to tell you - urgh! I don't know?" Harry groaned.
"Just picture it Harry. Picture every time you've ever hurt and it's been his fault."
Harry stared at her helplessly, eye's stinging as sweat trickled down his temple, and he shut his eyes. Thinking.
It... wasn't as hard as he thought it would be.
Tom's standing in front of him, several feet away. Harry's finger's ache from where they were clenched in Tom's robes, and his throat is burning. He wonder's if he's crying, wonder's if Tom would care, even if he was. He just - he just doesn't understand why Tom is risking everything to show off to his friends. Harry is his best-friend. Doesn't he count? Does he just... not matter, anymore? The silence is ringing between them, and they're both breathing hard, and Harry thinks Tom might actually say something. God, is it too much to think he might say sorry? But... no, Tom smooths down his robes and - and he's sneering at him and it feels like he's been slapped and then Tom's walking away. And all Harry wants is to run after him and have his friend back.
Harry blinks rapidly because he knows he's crying, muted aching sounds in his throat.
He's walking, dragging his trunk behind him. It's summer, Hogwarts is out for break, and all Harry want to do is rest. Just for a moment. He's walked all the way from King's Cross to Wool's in the heat. Doesn't know where Tom is, doesn't know if he has the energy to care anymore. Usually, though, Tom can sweet-talk the lady that drives the bus, but... well, he's not here, so no bus. Wool's Orphanage comes into view and despite himself, Harry speeds up a little. Fantasising about the tiny box room and grey walls and broken mattress isn't much but it's something. Then there's Mrs Cole standing at the gate, hands on hips and mouth sour — his heart freezes, like it's forgotten how to beat, lungs forgotten how to breath, when she tell's him he's no longer welcome, that Tom's not coming back so there's no reason to keep him on. The rusty gate slams in his face and the turning of the lock is breaking. He's... got no home - god what is he - what is he gonna do?
There's a horrible sound in his ears, it's wet and terrible and it's - it's him. He's crying. Sobbing, really, and fuck. What the fuck is he doing?
He hastily scrubs his eyes but... that just makes it worse. He was so sure he was over this. It's been so long and he was happy. He moved on. He did. So why is he still crying, goddammit.
Arms wrap around him and tug him in and he fold's into the embrace, smelling citrus and caramel as he buries his face in Tonks' neck, feeling her hand rubbing his back, hearing her hysterical voice in his ear.
"Oh, no, Merlin Harry, I didn't mean to make you cry!" she's saying, voice high, anxious.
He rides it out — something he has discovered is the best thing to do with tears. That, and alway's be in a safe place when you lose it.
It doesn't take all that long. There aren't - it's unintelligible; the messy tangle of emotions fighting for dominance that take forever to settle. Eventually they do, and he pushes away from Tonks reluctantly, face feeling blotchy and gross but overall... yeah, he feels better.
"Okay," he says, voice hoarse. "I needed that. Thanks."
"I wasn't tryin' to make you cry!" Tonks exclaimed, eyes bright with concern.
Harry shrugged then looked at Marcus. The bulky trainer was, well, disturbed?
"What?" demanded Harry.
Flint's eyes widened in fright, and he made a show of backing away, hands raised. "Nothing - nothing. I am not embarrassed on your behalf. Not at all," he laughed nervously. "Oh, is that the time? I really must get going, appointments to meet and so on."
"Keep your arse in this ring Flint," Harry snapped warningly. "I've got another twenty minutes with you! You aren't going anywhere."
"Okay," Flint squeaked.
"Good." Psyching himself up, Harry swung his arms out, cracked his neck and inhaled steadily. "Now, this is how it's gonna work: you are going to pretended that you are a vain, egotistical son of a bitch that can never admit when he is wrong - can you do that?"
Flint swallowed, eye twitching. "Yes?"
"No, that was terrible. Try again."
He was going to die. It was official.
Well, might as well die a man.
"What are you on about?" he sneered. "It was perfect the first time!"
And then, with a war-cry, Harry was launching himself at him. Flint had never been so freaked out in his life.
Shoving his shoes into his bag, Harry looked at Tonks where she was in the middle of tugging on a cleaner pair of jeans. Flint's gym, Iron Kingdom (proudly named after the majority ranking of his personally trained duellers) had two change rooms, each fitted with cubicles, showers, lockers and benches, and strict policies but on quiet days, Tonk's took particular joy in morphing into a masculine physique simply to smugly slip into the men's room. Harry had long since given up trying to stop her and besides, the room was empty anyway.
"Thank you," he said, zipping up his gym bag. "For what you did. I - I didn't realise it was... what it was."
"Hey, it's no problem," she replied, shooting him a smile. "That is what I'm here for, isn't it?"
"I thought you were only here to advance your wild sexual adventures and beat down all the fledgling Aurors?" He challenged, laughing.
"Mm, Pooky does like my abs," Tonks sighed dreamily, lifting up her shirt to stare at them herself. "I like my abs. Moody get's moody over my abs. My abs are abulous."
Harry snorted, leading the way out of the changing rooms. "And what about the fledgling?"
"Oh, them," Tonks muttered darkly. "One of the watermelons got it into their mind that they could chill on my maternity leave and infected the rest with their idiocy. I'm still sorting them out."
"Oh yeah. There is not a day I don't send them home crying for their mummy's."
They quieten as they cross the studio. Rapid-fire spell-work flashes to their side in the duelling ring, followed by a dull thump, a short silence, and then rather unimaginative cussing as the defendant clambers to his feet and stomps towards P.T Argen T. Kettleburn.
"McLaggen's in a bit of a tizz," commented Harry, unable to look away.
"That was a standard trip-hit spell-chain. It was literally text book," Tonks scoffed. "He has no chance placing at the Webly."
"Reckon Flint regrets signing him on?"
"Undoubtedly. Honestly, the only thing stopping Marcus from kicking him out is daddy's money."
Harry hums, pausing to look at said daddy's boy a moment longer. "Ya'know, if it was between him and Tom, I think I'd choose Tom."
"But it's not between them, is it?"
"No," sighed Harry. "Sadly. It'd make this a lot easier if it was."
"Well," Tonks began thoughtfully, taking Harry by the elbow. "Not really. I mean - think about it. You marry McLaggen. The dipshit get's himself killed in competition and bam, you inherit everything."
"That does sound pretty good."
"But I thinks McLaggen's brand of stupid exceeds reality. If anything, he'd kill somebody else before he kicked it - so then I'm stuck with him and murder charges."
Harry pulled open the door, letting Tonks through first.
"Seriously though," said Tonks, voice lowered now that they were in a technically public area. "What are you gonna do?"
"I don't know. I... think I might accept, actually."
"... Huh. Now, honey, I'm not judging but... why?"
"Because," Harry started, then he hesitated, thinking how best to word this. "Because he once meant everything to me - everything. It's - it's not a real marriage, not really, but... Look, I'm angry, I'm pissed, I wanna make him work for it but - Tonks, I just -" he sighed. "I say no, that's it. I'll never see him again. But... if I say yes, then it's a fake relationship for a year, we part amicably on paper, and I maybe get my friend back."
"Okay," said Tonks, and there was no judgment in her voice. "But that's also twelve months of hot celebrities draping themselves all over you and you saying no when they invite you back to their room."
"Now, see - I would take offence to that, 'coz that sounds slutty, and I am not a slut but... yeah, that sucks."
"... it might be nice to be in a serious relationship for once?"
"What about that - that - what was he again?"
Harry lifted an eyebrow. Really, he didn't have that many partners to his name. "Christopher. He was an actor and he was muggle."
"Yeah him. What happened to him?"
"He said, and I quote, 'babe, totes sorry I missed our ani but I'll make it up to you', at which point, he pulled out his phone, pressed speed dial, and rung up the local strip agency."
Tonks winced. "This is kinda ringing a bell."
"And out breaks Pandora's box," Harry continued, "I found out he's been cheating on me for months - both men and woman - and all those accusations in the magazines about him having STD's turned out to be true, 'coz he was too cheap to use a proper agency, and I had to go to Mungo's to get checked and go on prescription just in case. I had never been so embarrassed in my life. Thank god the only people who knew we were together could be threatened so well."
Tonks cleared her throat, raking a hand through her hair and sending the curls into pink disarray. "Okay. What about the one you met at that snazzy party?"
Harry stared at her blankly, prompting her to elucidate as she realised he meets most of them at parties. "The muggle in the boy band?"
"Jack? Oh, no he was just fun. Plus, we only met up when he was in town, so there wasn't actually much of a relationship happening there, really. Also, his management didn't want him out yet, so to speak, and he was in love with a band mate so..."
"Merlin, your love life is shit."
"It's entertaining though," Harry tried. "Kinda. On the good days."
"I'm beginning to see why you're actually considering Tom's proposal."
"Look at this way, then. Twelve months, nice, steady relationship with somebody who's not constantly dragging me out to parties and hook ups, I get to settle down for a bit, and when we're over, I'm back on the market and said market has had twelve months to freshen up their act."
Tonks thought this over. Seriously. As she would a crime-scene. And realised there was only one answer.
"Nah, fuck it. Go for it, honey. I'll be cheering you on all the way!"
"Of course. Now, when's your flight?"
"In two hours so - I really need to get going."
"Tch, lucky duck," Tonk's mumbled, pouting at Harry. "I wanna go to New York," she whined, shuffling close and dramatically clinging to his shirt.
"And leave your dear pooky all alone? I think not."
"He'll have the baby! He won't even notice I'm gone!"
"Teddy's first word is coming up any day now. I'm sure he'll notice his suspiciously absent wife when he goes shouting through the house, wanting to share it with you."
"Ack, your right. I can't miss something like that."
They left it at that, exchanging a brief hug before they both apparated. The cold was a shock to the system after the arguable warmth of the gym that he suffered through while trying to fit the key in the lock. The house was, unsurprisingly, silent when he pushed open the door but Harry decided not to get too introspective about that. Instead, he darted up the stairs and jumped in the shower. Feeling better once he had, Harry dressed, grabbed his suitcase, ran around making sure everything was off, then dashed back outside, locking up after himself.
Customs was a bitch to get through and Harry hated rushing around at the last minute.
Stifling a sigh, Harry once again glanced up at the boarding sign, scanning the attendants slipping around the waiting passengers of Heathrow terminal. The plane didn't board for another twenty minutes. It couldn't happen sooner, in his opinion.
Slumping a little further into the hard plastic seat, legs crossed beneath him and carry-on on the seat beside him, Harry tapped his phone against his leg. There was an eight hour flight ahead of him. Eight hours of no phone calls, no emails, no messages.
He looked up through his curls, seeing there was fifteen minutes till boarding.
Fuck, the waiting almost made him wish he was taking one of the international portkey's and he hated I.P's. It left him woozy for days but at least it worked fast.
Blowing out a breath, Harry eyed his phone.
It wouldn't hurt to be prepared... right?
Before he could think better of it, he was opening the screen and pulling up Contacts, flicking through them for his lawyer and calling.
Phone pressed against his ear, Harry impatiently waited through the dial-up.
The call was answered on the second ring.
"Percy Weasley here," came the slightly distorted voice.
"Hey Percy, it's Harry."
"Harry? How are you?"
Harry bit back a laugh; even when swamped, Percy had been a stickler for introductory pleasantries. "Utterly grand, Percy. And you?"
"Quite alright, thank you. What can I do for you?"
This was it. Taking a deep breath, Harry glanced around once to make sure nobody was paying him any attention, and then he shut his eyes. "Percy, I need you to draw me up a pre-nup."
Tapping his quill irritably against the desk, Tom scowled at the stacks of documents scattered around him. There had to be a faster way than just straight up writing it himself. But, as no solutions were presenting themselves, he was stuck. And tired.
And... so highly strung.
He hadn't been able to rest properly after seeing Harry. The adrenaline that automatically flooded his body after any flight or fight instinct had left him twitchy for hours, pacing and cleaning the entirety of the flat to just do something, and the anxiety was still bleeding through to his work.
It was unacceptable.
He needed to do something about it.
Pushing away from the desk, Tom rounded it and left the office. It had been a shared arrangement, once upon a time — back when Tom was fresh from Cambridge Laurum (one of a total of four institutions of higher education in wizardry Britain) and looking for a job to pay off tertiary fees and found one in Jugger's Atorney's — but his co-worker, Quirrel or some such, had since been 'let go' for unseemly conduct with a represented minor.
That clusterfuck had been so neatly swept under the rug, it had become something of office legend, rather than a giant smear of ignominy on the law firm.
Outside, the hallways were a bustling hive of loud chatter, scratching quills, buzzing paper note-planes zipping around head and underfoot and assistants darting about. Not that it was exactly quiet inside the office, but the noise was discomfiting. He ignored it, however, and weaved through the chaos, until he reached his destination.
He knocked once before pushing the door open.
Rabastan LeStrange looked up from where he was standing in front of the fireplace (a neat little alcove outlined in black stone sitting at chest level on the wall) and gestured for him to wait. Tom did so, having only limited interest in the conversation unfolding over floo, and entertained himself with assessing the assortment of glass objects Rabastan was fond of displaying.
There was one such that caught his eye today; a delicate tea set, tea-pot, saucer and all. Idly, Tom wondered how last night would have gone if he had allowed Harry's thrown cup to hit him. Undoubtedly, there would have been blood. But, would Harry have healed him? Perhaps been less sharp-tempered and dismissal? Would they have reminisced about the reversal in positions, where Tom had typically been in Harry's place?
Rabastan closed the conversation, clearing his throat as he returned to his desk, and Tom turned away from the displays.
"What can I do for you Tom?"
Tom pressed his lips together in a line, perturbed that he had been reduced to this but really, when was he ever supposed to have the inclination to look into jewellery?
"You are... familiar with reputable jewellers, yes?"
"I can be," said Rabastan slowly, confused as hell.
"Who would you - if I were in the market, who would you recommend?"
"It would depend on what you were looking for."
Damn. Stepping closer to the desk, Tom tapped his finger against the floating cat's cradle. "I spoke to Harry last night."
"Oh for buggering's shit sake," Rabastan groaned.
"Yes," Tom uttered, frowning. "Quite."
"I thought you said that in jest! How are you even still standing here?"
"He's really not that bad."
"Are you kidding me?!" Rabastan exclaimed. "I saw him putting his reputation to good use in school. The poor bastard - Cartwright or some such - needed surgery afterwards! The kid didn't have balls for a month and when he got them back," his voice dropped, "I heard tell they were never the same again."
"Okay, correction. He can be that bad when somebody get's.. handsy, without his permission."
Rabastan looked at him doubtfully. "Uh huh. Whatever you say. I'll be steering well clear, if it's all the same."
"I cannot care less where you are steering to. I need an engagement ring. Can you help me or not?"
"Wait - he actually agreed?"
"Not as such."
"Then he - what?"
"He said he needed to think about it."
"And now you're looking for a ring?"
"Yes, obviously. Why else would I be standing in your office in the middle of the day?"
"But he said no," calmly responded Rabastan, dubious and easily ignoring Tom's snippiness.
"I need the ring because, on the off chance that he does agree, I know him well enough to know he's going to make me work for it. I would like to be prepared."
"Okay." Rabastan still didn't look convinced. "If it's engagement in mind then, you're best off visiting Olli Vander and Co."
"Olivander?" Tom repeated flatly. "The wandsmith?"
"No, no. Olli Vander. The store is in Dublin's Topic Alley and is run by Olivia Olivander - Garrick's daughter."
"Garrick's - I didn't know he had children."
"Well, he does. Honestly, Tom. You'd know all this if picked up something other than The Oracle or Galleons with Goblins."
"Like the Daily Prophet?" challenged Tom. "I am not going to murder my brain just to keep up with Skeeter's drivel. Paper's like that have no integrity and do little more than feed the imaginations of gullible fools."
Rabastan blinked at him, then shook his head. "If Potter accepts - and I don't see why he will - you'll be dead in a month tops."
Tom frowned, pausing. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, I can't imagine he enjoys you talking about entertainment magazines like that, can you?"
"Why would it matter to him how I talk about magazines?" Tom questioned, perplexed.
"Why would it matter?" Rabastan repeated faintly. Then, he fixed Tom with another inscrutable, searching look. And then, his dark eyes widened. "Oh," he breathed, lighting up, as though he had just been given private access to every Slytherin's Secret Dairy. "Oh by Merlin, you have no idea, do you?"
Hackles raised, Tom narrowed his eyes. "No idea of what?"
Rabastan doubled over, laughing so hard tears glistened at the corner of his eyes. "You poor bastard," he gasped out. "Oh, Salazar, this is too good."
"Rabastan," Tom bit out warningly.
"No no, you're on your own. I've done my part."
Tom glared at him, then rolled his eyes when that proved ineffective. "I appreciate the recommendation," he snapped, knowing how ridiculous he sounded, and spun around, heading for the door. His fingers were on the handle when Rabastan's voice halted him.
"Just a word of advice, Tom," cautioned the man. "Potter's moved up in the world. Don't expect him to hang on to your every word like he used to back in school."
Swallowing, Tom looked back, unsure how to take that, but Rabastan had already returned to his paperwork. Tom exited, making the trek back to his office, all the while wondering what the hell Harry had done with his life.
Chapter 4: Four
So here we are, chapter four.
I just wanted to say thank you to all of you absolutely extraordinary people that left comments and kudo's - regarding the former, I'm not ignoring you, promise, I've just been slammed with life and haven't gotten around to it yet. I will. Soon.
As for what's been happening with me: a couple days back, we had to put the family cat down. He was fifteen years old. Being the runt of the litter, and given as more of a gag gift that anything when he was a kitten, he wasn't expected to last fifteen days. Amazing what the underkitty (and a whole lot of palative care) can do, innit?
As expected, that just kind of ruined whatever good mood I had going, so the pace slowed down a bit.
And we are one week away from Christmas! Can you believe it!
I certainly can't - but I must, for the people.
To celebrate, I will be releasing a Christmas Special chapter for each of my works.
That will be:
• Chapter 16 for Stranger Things Did Happen (it will be a flash-forward).
• Chapter 5 for Tied To You (it will be a flashback).
• Chapter 2 for We'll Play In Shadows (it will be a flash-forward) (and I swear to god I am busy with the next actual chapter).
Each Christmas Special should be no longer than 2,000 words though I'll cap it at 4,000, serve no other purpose than celebrating the season, and are not chronologically appropriate ( as in it has literally nothing to do with whatever Timeline is occurring).
Sipping her coffee, hardly even noticing the fact that it was cold and barely real coffee and — wait, shit, there was a pen in her coffee — Hermione read through the fifth draft of the document she had spent two days working on. She nodded distractedly at particularly good bits, humming thoughtfully at brilliantly executed arguments and then, quite casually dragged the mouse over to the corner of the screen, clicked a few times, and deleted it all.
Yup. Nine pages. Roughly 4,500 words, 12 font Times New Roman of her thesis. All gone.
"Right," she muttered, lowering the mug and opening up a fresh page. "This one'll be serious."
Finger's hovering over the keys, a white, blank page glowing enticingly before her, Hermione deeply debated making a fresh pot of coffee. Proper coffee, this time. Not that half-arsed watered down stuff she'd made last time. The cafe down the street made good coffee — there was no harm stretching her legs, a walk actually sounded pretty good right now...
Trumpets blared. She started, eyes drifting from the screen, where they had gained a semi-glazed quality.
[Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?]
What. The. Hell?
[The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Take over the world.]
What the hell?!
[They're Pinky and The Brain. Yes, Pinky and The Brain. One is a genius, the other's insane.]
Even though her phone wasn't strenuously hidden or anything, Hermione wanted to believe it was sheer incredulity that made her upend several stacks of paper in her frantic rush to get to the goddamn phone and... she was going to kill him.
[They're laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced. They're dinky. They're Pinky and The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brian, Brain, Brain.]
The phone fumbled in her hands, before she managed to get ahold of it and answered the call. She didn't even need to see the Caller I.D.
"I will kill you."
There was a momentary silence, and then barked laughter. "Hello to you too, Hermione."
"I also hate you."
"I love you too."
"You changed my ringtone. Again, might I had," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Ha. Finally realised, did you? Wait-" there was a dramatic gasp. "Are you somewhere public? You weren't in a lecture, were you?"
Hermione's nose scrunched in remembrance of the Infamous Lecture. "It happened once, you loser. Like I would ever forget to turn my phone off after Cartoon Heroes blared through the hall during my lecture on Basic Prenatal Care and Identifying Pregnancy."
"To be fair, I had already told you the airplane mode would save your life."
"When you said that, I thought you were being, oh, I don't know, annoyingly socialistic."
"Well, now you know."
"Yes." Despite herself, she was laughing. Reluctantly, mind - but laughing nonetheless. "What do you want, Harry?"
"Aside from you?"
Hermione hummed, saving her - saving the blank page, and pushed the chair out far enough to cross her legs. "I've told you before, Harry: I'm a look don't touch kinda girl."
"Aaand that is why you scored all them cute little shy boys while all the creepy little fuckers went for me."
Fighting back a blush, Hermione snorted, hurriedly covering her mouth as though to hide the sound. "You are not going to distract me," she laughed. She made to continue, then paused, listening, as the dizzying wave of metropolitan rush sounded over the phone, the frightful blare of an AP announcer droning in the background and Harry's distant, "shit, sorry mate."
"Where are you?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Trying to catch a cab, at the moment."
"Hm." She tilted back in the chair, pushing it out a bit more and wished she had a swivel chair. Why didn't she have a swivel chair? "What can I do for you, Harry?"
"... Has Percy told you what's up yet?"
Hermione bit her lip, eye's flicking away, which was stupid because it was her tell and nobody was even there to see it. "Is it a legal matter?" She asked instead, trying to sound calm.
"Yeah," Harry said slowly. "And I spoke to him a bit over eight hours ago - don't tell me he didn't spill already."
"Good, he did."
Hermione lost the fight. It was a futile effort. "I'M GOING TO BE A BRIDESMAID!"
"Jesus fuck!" Harry swore, yanking the phone away from his ear. Wincing at the affronted look an elderly woman shot him, Harry scowled at his phone, before slowly returning it to his ear. "You squeal like a helium balloon."
"I'M GOING TO BE A BRIDESMAID!"
Harry sighed, continuing down through the terminal and yanking the small suitcase along behind him. For all the cabs - no wait. America. It's taxi's here. For all the taxi's lined up, there was always a queue.
"So you've heard then?"
She coughed, and Harry's lips curled in amusement. "I mean, technically it's client confidentiality and all that, so..."
"There's no way you can save this."
"No, there really isn't, is there?"
"None at all."
"Although... I could have been with Percy when you called him."
"Doing what, exactly?"
"Just - um. Standing there. Nope, I tried. Yes, Percy told me. You're lucky he did, you know."
"And why is that?"
"Percy is an early bird - there is no such thing as starting too early. You'll have your pre-nup in a week."
"That is what I'm paying him for."
"... well, that too."
"Returning to why I'm calling —"
"Will you give it a rest?!"
"I'm sorry! I'm excited is all. I have -" Hermione paused, physically counting all female friends on her hand. "I have literally five female friends - only two of which I'm actually close enough too to make the list of bridal retinue and Tonk's is already married. That leaves Luna —"
"Yeah, she and George aren't anywhere close to settling down."
"— so excuse me for being excited my best male friend is getting married!"
Harry frowned, tightening the scarf around his neck as the wind picked up. "What about Gabriel?"
Hermione made a sound, and Harry could just see the way she pursued her lips. "She recommended me to a dentist," she said shortly. "Apparently," she continued, voice tight and controlled, "buck teeth were never in fashion."
"I never liked her."
"You introduced us."
"Fleur is much nicer."
"She is a sweetheart," Hermione agreed, bright and lighter. "She's also married to Bill, so no wedding for me."
"For shame," he teased, then realised he was at the front of the line. "Oh, hang on," he muttered, and quickly hopped into the yellow taxi, suitcase in hand, flashing a polite smile at the driver as he gave over his destination.
He leant against the seat, tuning out the low sound of the radio, and made sure the seatbelt clicked in properly. "Okay, I'm back."
"I decided I'm not happy being bridesmaid. I want to be maid of honour."
"Do you now?"
"Don't deny me this Harry. You know I can do it - I thrive under pressure!"
"I'll email you my resume. I've got a list of referrals - they're brilliant, trust me - and an opinion piece on why you won't want to trust arguably one of the most important days of your life to an unknown - I made a graph charting the variable's of that, actually, and —"
Lowering the phone, Harry stared out the window for a couple dozen seconds before he sighed, pressing the phone to his ear. "Hermione," he began firmly, "you do know nothing is officially happening yet, right?"
"Clearly," she replied, rolling her eyes. "Never hurt's to be prepared though," she added, a tad mulishly.
"That is very true," he nodded. "And also the point of this call."
"Right. You want me to do something."
"Before I do, how busy are you?"
Hermione glanced at the still blank Word Document, then at the stacks of note books and loose sheets littering the floor, and shrugged. "I have time."
"I need a ream of totally useless information casually sprinkled with snippets of obscure, personal information - the latter of which will then be used in a needlessly complicated and time-taxing pop quiz at an incredibly unfortunate opportunity."
"You are not taking this away from me!"
Harry bit back the smile. "Okay."
"Can I write it in Old English? Please? Ooh, maybe Sanskrit. I love Sanskrit. Wait, what about a really rare Native American dialect with —"
"Hermione," interrupted Harry, laughing quietly. "Surprise me. Have at. Go wild. It's all yours."
Leaning back in the chair, Hermione closed her eyes, silently mouthed 'yes', and victoriously dragged her fist inwards. "You will not be disappointed," she breathed.
"Have I ever told you exactly how much I love you?"
"You have. Not nearly enough, but you have. I believe it was my gift last year, actually."
"So you know then. Good - for a moment there, I thought I might have to say it again."
"That mean I can't give you the same this year?"
"I should hope not! Last year, you gave me a pie chart you had printed out on glossy paper and framed. It was all coloured in. You literally gave me a giant pink dot on a page."
"Yeah, 'cause I love you one hundred percent." Harry pouted. "I thought it was clever."
"And I think you're adorable when you try to be creative."
"Tch, you think I'm adorable all the time."
"I've seen you hungover. I've seen you with spunk in your hair. I've seen you naked and stupid," Hermione deadpanned. "I really don't."
Flushing, and so, so grateful this call was not on loud speaker, Harry shot a paranoid glance at the driver, just in case, then hissed, "That happened once, and all at the same time."
"I will hold it against you forever."
Harry groaned miserably. "I know.
Hermione hummed, drumming her fingers along her thigh, when her eyes caught on a bright sticky-note. "Are you free right now?"
"Free? I think not, but I'm willing to offer a discount, for you."
"Oh." Harry sat up straighter, checking the time and the road sign out the window. "I'll be at the hotel in thirty minutes, then I've got final fittings lined up for the rest of the day. I don't know when I'll be free next."
"She wanted to talk about the Charity Ball."
Harry swallowed a groan. "I thought everything was done?"
"Well, it was..."
"Catering came down with the flu."
"So find a different caterer."
"In December at such short notice? Uh huh, I think not."
"Can you just - I don't even handle things like that! I fund, I schmooze, I go home! Can you just tell her I think she is very capable and more than independent enough to sort this out herself?"
"She said you might say that."
"Then what's the problem?"
"She would like to point out that this is primarily your fault because you insisted on two different catering companies respective to each version of the Ball, and that if you had let her disguise a team of house-elves and use a friend as a beard for a make-believe company, none of this would have happened."
Harry sighed, pressing his palm against his forehead in lieu of hitting it with his phone. "She does this every year. How 'bout - no, never mind, I'll call her. Are there any other problems I should know about?"
"Nope. Everything else is fine."
"What about seating arrangements?"
"Percy made a diorama."
"Why is Percy making a diorama? We outsourced to Parkinson for that stuff."
"He was bored."
"To each his own, I guess." The taxi pulled to a halt at a traffic junction. "I have to go."
"Kay. Speak later?"
"Yeah, of course. I'll text when I'm free."
"Say hi to Darcy for me."
"Will do. Bye." Hermione's reply came over the phone, before Harry disconnected the call, thumbed through Contacts, and called Parkinson.
It picked up on the second tone. "Pansy Parkinson here."
There was a pause, and then a disgruntled, "Potter."
"What's this about catering?"
Hermione stood from the table, leaving the phone behind as she cleared all the empty mugs to the kitchen, fishing a blue biro out of a half-filled cup.
She heard the front door open, familiar noises throwing up a racket, and she smiled into the sink, lifting out a cup from the suds and scrubbing it. "That you, dear?" she called.
The sound of the door closing and the locks clicking preceded the declared, "I'm home!"
Footsteps echoed down the hallway, and then Percy entered the doorframe, rectangular, horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose as he loosened his tie. "I need everything you have on the lavatory layout of the Bulgarian Ministry," Hermione told him frankly, setting the rinsed mug on the rack.
"My day was quite pleasant as well," Percy replied, rolling up his sleeves. "And you?"
Hiding her smile, Hermione pushed on. "And your reports on the faulty bottoms of cauldrons. Do you still have it, you think? Or will you need to go to the archives for it? The sooner the better —"
A hand wrapped around her waist, tugging her and she squeaked before a mouth pressed against her's. She laughed into the kiss, arms angled awkwardly to keep from splashing soapy water all over the place, and pulled back. "Hello my love, I've missed you my love, how was your day my love?"
Percy pecked her on the lips once more, then released her. "Your sarcasm is noted - for your information, I hate my job and I'm resigning."
Hermione rolled her eyes, knocking her foot against his leg. "Liar. You love your job."
"True," admitted Percy. He toed off his shoes, sliding off the tie. "I do love my job. It's the people I hate."
"Now that I can believe."
"Mum called," he offered, moving out the kitchen to their bedroom, flicking on lights as he went. "She wanted to confirm what we're doing for Christmas."
Drying off her hands on a dish-towel, Hermione approached the table, going down on her knees and crawling around for all the falling papers and books. "I thought we'd already done that?"
Percy returned, dressed in a comfortable pair of lounge pant's and a ghastly sweater Hermione had gifted him the year before as a joke that he not-so-secretly adored. "We did. Last year." He caught her look, and chuckled. "Oh how time flies."
Dropping the pile of research on the table, Hermione blushed, and closed the laptop. "Still," she said, "I thought it went without saying to expect us."
"It's mum, love. All the kids are flying the nest - she's not happy until she's got promises in writing."
"Well, you can tell her we'll be there for brunch, then we'll be going to Harry's for dinner."
"I did. Just like I did last year. She wanted to know if Harry would be joining us all for brunch, actually."
"That's -" Hermione frowned. "Of course he will. Why? Has he told you he differently?"
Percy shifted, busying himself with putting on the kettle. "She's, erm, she's worried there might be a conflict of interest."
"Conflict of what interest?"
"Well, the paper's got pictures of his date with that Ivanov fellow, didn't they? The keeper for Russia's International Quidditch Team - the one that beat out England in the semi-final and-"
"And beat out Ginny," Hermione finished, sounding as though grand understanding had just assaulted her. "Is that really a problem?"
Percy shrugged helplessly. "It's Quidditch," he said, and it explained everything. "How am I to know?"
Mouth pursed, Hermione scowled. "I already told Ginny that those pictures were taken before World's even began."
"Mum's just a bit... worried."
Looking at him, Hermione sighed, trudging over to drop her head on his shoulder. "Fine. I'll talk to Ginny again."
Percy pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Thank you," he said quietly. "How was your day?"
"I made calls, I answered calls. The coffee ran out. Harry's sabotaged my ringtone. I need you to hide my laptop."
"I have to ask why?"
"Because I'm hungry and cranky and if I have to see it for another minute I honestly think I'm going to throw it out the window."
From experience, Percy knew this was no empty threat. "Okay," he gulped, and very soon, the laptop was safely hidden underneath their mattress.
Reentering the kitchen, he found his girlfriend sitting atop the counter calmly stirring a cup of tea, while another sat steaming behind her.
"Did I say Harry called?"
"You did, yes." He came to a stop between her legs, one hand on her thigh as he reached for the teacup. "Will he go through with it, do you think?"
She looked up, a wild lock of curls falling into her eyes. He brushed it back absently, tucking it behind her ear. "He's Harry," she said, fond and familiar and helpless. "He only ever doesn't do something when there's nothing in it for him. Don't get me wrong - he's my best friend and the closest thing to a brother I'll ever have but... but he and Riddle in school were like," she cast around for the word, pulling an annoyed expression when nothing quite fit. "There was no separating them. If I had to, I'd call it a co-dependent relationship. Harry brought out the best in Riddle - the boy was always so aloof, not in a superior way but, like, really antisocial - and... and Riddle," she hesitated, sipping her tea. "He made Harry happy. They'd fight, often, but there'd never be a winner - ever - because they were just so together.
"Were they together?" Percy asked, frowning slightly as he tried to recall the few years he'd seen them at Hogwarts. "In a relationship, I mean? Was it ever anything more than friendship?"
Hermione said nothing for a moment, staring at the liquid cooling in the cup. "For Harry it was," she said, after awhile. "He like's to forget that now - so it hurt's less, I guess, but I'm sure he did. As for how Riddle felt: it's anybodies guess. I, for one, thought he was asexual, or at the very least aromantic. I don't know. Harry might've known, but I always figured Harry never said anything because the muggle view on homosexuality bothered Riddle a lot more than it did him."
"Well," said Percy, taking it in. "I for one do not fancy being on the receiving end of Harry's wand. I'd rather watch on from a safe distance."
She smiled, looping one arm around his shoulders. "All the better to analyse it from, hm?"
"I see I can hide nothing from you," he teased, leaning closer. "How does take-out sound?"
Hermione groaned wantonly. "Like the way to my heart you clever, clever man."
"Mum would have a fit if she heard how often we eat out."
"Your mum's not here," she pointed out, stretching back to grab the Book of Menu's. "Now go, my Dragon Knight and fetch me the platter of Butter Chicken from the corner yonder!"
Percy snorted, already dialling. "Indian it is, my lady," he declared, quickly placing the order. He patted her knee, then stepped away and headed for the door. "I shall see you shortly."
Hermione remained on the counter, kicking her heels against the cabinet and grinning, silly. "Return soon lover, there are episodes awaiting us!"
For the second time that week, Tom found himself standing out on the street. Only, this time, it's late morning, rather than night-has-fallen evening and it's a crowded street rather than an empty, well-to-do neighbourhood and he looks more like a hopelessly-out-of-his-depth man rather than a fucking creeper.
It's an improvement, he thinks, and there's no little voice inside his head to call him out on it.
While he's at it, it's been four day's since he spoke to Harry and he hasn't been able to sleep at all, so it's quite possible the little voice has finally surrendered to the exhaustive battle against his complete refusal to admit, out loud, that he is in over his head. Ever since he spoke to Rabastan, he has been privy to disbelieving glances and amused smirks, taunted with the proverbial carrot of knowledge the prat refuses to hand over despite numerous threats.
And it's not like he's had any time to actually hunt down the information himself. For all that he wants to use them, the favours he has spent the better part of fifteen years collecting can be - will be put to much better use than discovering Harry's chosen occupation. If he were to work solely with Rabastan's unintentional hint, he would assume Harry had found a position writing for one of the few magazines proliferating magical society. A bit bland, perhaps, but it was Harry's life. He could do whatever he liked with it.
Right now, however, he had bigger things to worry about — things like how as a child, Harry had always had this strange fixation like how things had to be done properly —
’No, Tom,' he laughs, snatching the whisk out of his hand. They're in the kitchen, one of the rare days they've been assigned duty and they're alone. 'I swear to god, we have to beat the sugar and butter together first, it's not just all lumped together.'
— and endeavoured, many a time, to outline precisely why things were done in such a way.
'What're you doing here, Harry?' He asked, barely looking up from the potions book open in front of him as Harry's weight and warmth drops down into the seat beside him.
'Have you see what Eleanor's wearing?' questions Harry, by way of answer, and helps himself to his toast.
'The Gryffindor? No. I also don't care.'
'It's her transfiguration project.'
'See, I told her that she had to base the foundation step in transforming the item first, and then layering the remaining steps in transfiguring that, but she ignored me - said McGonagall assured her it was fine or something - and now she's walking around in a quilted bedsheet that's sheer in the back. Tried telling her about that as well, but she just walked off in a huff.'
'Why are you telling me this?'
'Because she also vanished her knickers in the process and nobody's bothered telling her that.'
'Why do I care?'
'Oh, no, you don't - I'm just here 'cause last time I pointed out proper layering procedure, McLaggen knocked himself out trying to tamper with his broom, then blamed me for throwing him off his game, and thought it fun to teach me a lesson.'
Tom stilled, slowly, so very slowly, lifting his eyes from the page and zeroing in on Cormac. 'Did he now?'
Harry punched him the shoulder. 'Relax. Honestly, like I'd let him. My point - about Eleanor - was that I know how these things work and she wouldn't dare curse me while I'm sitting with you - don't know why, but people seem to think your scary - so anyway, here I am. Pass me the butter?'
Tom handed over the glass dish, unwilling to let this go. 'You're just going to let her get away with it?'
'What? God no. She'll cool it in a couple days and if - if she does curse me - I'll get her back in a couple weeks. Should be able to get away with it then - in my opinion, the best revenge is when people've gotten complacent.'
'Why don't you just do it now? You'll look weak if you just let her target you.'
'Tom, darling, this isn't the Wool's. In a couple of weeks, she won't be the only one that'll have forgotten she was angry at me - there's nobody here we have to put down. What's the use in alienating seven families with important contacts over such petty things, hm? Nah, 's'not worth it.'
Of course, Tom and later found out that that kind of thinking had literally been beat into the boy before he was left abandoned on Wool's doorstep mere days before his fifth birthday. Some things bled into the psyche, Tom had read somewhere, and never truly left.
So. A ring. It had to be perfect, and speak of some indescribable emotion that essentially encapsulated his love and uniqueness - or something - and if Tom didn't do at least this right, this agreement was going to start on a really bad note.
Like, even worse than it already was.
Sighing, Tom strode across the street and pushed open the door. A little bell tinkled above his head, and it distracted him briefly from the calm exterior. An elegant sort of hush befell the store, customer's milling around and discussing in low tones as they stood before gleaming lengths of polished glass and crushed velvet display shelves.
He is so out of his depth.
And then an attendant looked up, catching sight of him, and began making her way over while he was left frantically scrambling together the bits of his poise. It was a valiant effort — one he had complete faith in failing as all the pages of information he read last night swarmed his brain in overwhelming turbulence.
"Welcome to Vander's Jewellers," the attendant greeted politely, smile chirpy, and Tom wanted to scream. "How may I help you today?"
It took a moment, for Tom to realise that this precipice upon which he stood was fucking it, and there was no coming back from it. And then he hauled himself together, and hid his shaking hands in his pockets. "I'm looking for an-" his voice broke, hitching over the word. He cleared his throat. "An engagement ring."
"Oh, how lovely. Well, I can certainly help you there." The attendant smiled a bit wider, red-painted lips curling, and then turned. "Follow me."
Tom did so, trailing behind her. He did his best to not become distracted by the precious metals and jewels glinting behind glass, but still felt it was much too soon when they came to a stop.
Swallowing down his nerves at the sight of rows upon rows of rings, some tagged as being foreignly imported, Tom missed the question directed at him.
"He or she, sir?" The woman repeated, and he blinked.
"He," he said. "Harry is a - he, definitely he."
"Okay, so -" tapping her wand on a label of each tray, she pulled the male selections to the front, and looked up at him expectantly. "Are any of these to your liking?"
It occurred to Tom then — rather belatedly, and at a god-awful moment when his mind utterly blanked and the only word ringing around his head was a continuous "fuck fuck fuck" — that he knew nothing about jewellery. And now he was staring blindly at the expansive selection.
"Sir?" The attendant prompted, when Tom suspected he had stood there too long.
He tapped his finger against the counter, pressing his mouth into a thin, thoughtful line. "I am unsure," he said, doing what he does best and faking it. "You see, I've never done this before—" There. A strategic admittance of inexperience. It was all tactics. "And my partner has never been one for - adornment. If it's no trouble, could you walk me though the process? I want it to be precisely right."
The attendant bloody well beamed, and flicked out a little notebook. "It's no problem at all, sir. We'll start with the easy questions - helps to narrow down the selection, you know - so... how much are you willing to spend; what kind of lifestyle does your partner lead, do they prefer casual or polished; what are your thoughts on cut, colour, clarity and carat and, finally, what is your partner's ring size?"
Tom blinked at her. This was going to take longer than his lunch break.
Collapsing into the squashy armchair provided in the staff room, Tom propped an elbow on his knee, covered his face with a hand, and groaned miserably.
"Goddammit," he muttered, voice muffled by his palm and afflicted by sheer exhaustion.
Reigning in his emotions, Tom looked up, and couldn't find it in himself to be surprised when he found Bellatrix curled up on the sleek leather sofa, catlike, head hanging over the side and violet-grey eyes staring at him in wonder.
"Bellatrix," he sighed, leaning his head against the back of the armchair and staring at the ceiling.
"Tom," she said, as though too taken aback to say anything else.
Rolling his head, Tom observed her from an altered angle. And then an idea hit him. Harry had been inexplicably fond of Bellatrix throughout Hogwart's — the same could be said for Bellatrix as well, though she preferred to show her love by showering the recipient in hexes and curses (yet Tom knew his eyes had not deceived him when he spied her sneaking out of Hufflepuff with braids in her hair and her face done up) — but he digressed. Bellatrix knew Harry. Bellatrix was a woman. Bellatrix could help him.
"You're a woman," said Tom, and, wow, way to go moron.
Bellatrix blinked slowly, languidly, and twisted her mouth thoughtfully. "You know, I've often thought the exact same thing myself. Was it the breasts, do you think? Or the absence of a dick?"
"Well," coughed Tom, very much aware that this was his workplace and professionalism was the default modus operandi. "It certainly wasn't the lack of balls."
"Huh," was her response, and it sounded like it explained everything.
Tom watched her for a moment longer, but she didn't appear to have anything else to say. "You also know Harry."
Bellatrix stared at him unblinkingly. "Pardon me, can you repeat that? I thought I heard you say Harry."
"Harry who?" She questioned, bewildered, but Tom knew her well enough to catch the warning glint in her eyes.
"Harry Potter," he gritted out, jaw clenching faintly.
"Oh, him. Yes, that's true. I do know him - got a lovely little godson now, hasn't he - cute little thing." She hummed, shifting slightly. "I don't like babies."
"That's nice," replied Tom, having had this conversation before. "But not the poi—"
"I think I want one though," Bellatrix interrupted. "Imagine, I'd make such a good mummy - much better than Narcissa at any rate. Have you seen her son? All squabbly and sickly. My baby wouldn't be like that. Rudo's all big and manlike - not like Lucius. What do you think?"
"About Lucius?" sneered Tom, fingers unconsciously curling into the upholstery at the mention of a Malfoy. "I really couldn't say."
"No no, not Lucius. The baby - Draco or some such - the sickly one."
"I believe the correct term is pale."
Bellatrix pulled a disgruntled expression. "Psh," she said. "It is - how do they say... plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."
"The more it changes, the more it is the same thing?"
"Yes. They fool no-one, you know. The more they spread rumours of perfect health, the less people believe them."
"Right," said Tom slowly, not questioning it. "Well, that's all very nice, but I fear we've gone slightly off topic."
"I spoke to Rabastan," she told him, smile slow and knowing. "Dear brother-in-law thinks you a fool."
"Not something I haven't heard before," he sighed.
"And yet you will go though with this." She simply looked at him, and he didn't know how to respond because he would go through with this, regardless. And then she sighed, eyes cutting away, and he felt like he could breath again. "Foolish wittle Tommy," she cooed, teeth sharp. "He'll cut you down, make you drown - make you pay."
Chills erupted across his flesh and he forcefully bit his tongue.
"I do so hope you know what you're doing, Tom," she continued, rolling over onto her back and propping her boots up on the opposite armrest, black-lace skirts falling all about her. "I warned you years ago that you were making a mistake."
And then she looked at him, violet-grey eyes sharp and cold and self-recriminating.
He swallowed, sitting up, running his hand's against his trousers, near the knee. "I know you did," he muttered, hating that it was true.
"And all for a Malfoy," she continued callously, wanting to watch him squirm. "We Slytherin's like to talk in deal's and debts, but you threw him away—"
"Enough," Tom pleaded. "Enough," he begged. "I do not need to hear this again."
She scowled at him, then turned away. "Perhaps it is enough you are hearing this at all. Salazar know's you'd have none of it years ago."
Tom said nothing, jaw clenched, eyes - eyes, for all that he refused to submit, downturned.
Bellatrix huffed, finally, and easily swept aside the tension, shifting moods rapidly. "You were gone the entire lunch hour. We grew quite concerned, you know - almost started a witch hunt." And she grinned, like it was the funniest thing, and Tom allowed the mood to wash over him, mouth lifting slightly in the corner. Bellatrix always had been terribly amused by the Witch Burning's.
"I paid a visit to Vander's Jeweller's."
"Ooh. I do like their stuff. Rudo bought my ring from there - I'd never seen something so lovely before." She held up her hand, showing off the elegant silver band with a glinting obsidian diamond nestled in an amethyst cluster. "See?"
Tom looked, of course he did - he had, mere hours before, been dragged through a most painfully befuddling initiation, it was hard not to. "Yes, yes that is quite lovely," and it was, "but not helpful."
"Ah - ask away, then."
"I require your - I need." He broke off, exhaling gustily, and dragged a hand through his hair. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out several pages copied from a catalogued, and tossed them on the table. "I need you to look at those ones, tell me which ones you like, and then tell me which one's Harry will like."
Bellatrix leaned forward, shuffling the strewn pages closer to her and then fanned them out in the air above her head, keeping them there with a tap of her wand. "Why do you care what I would like?" She asked, eyebrows raise, as she pulled one image closer, inspecting it.
"Because," began Tom, the word weighted and pointed. "Harry liked pretty things and he was so damn good at being so bloody contrary about everything that he may just decided he would rather have a feminine engagement ring and I can't fuck this up!"
"Anymore than you already have," supplied Bellatrix unhelpfully.
"Anymore than I already have," echoed Tom.
"I think you're trying too hard."
Tom glared. Bellatrix returned his glare head-on and hummed unrepentantly, idly discarding several options, letting them flutter down to rest against her stomach. "And what," drawled Tom, "makes you say that?"
"Well," said Bellatrix. "If you dragged your head far enough out of your ass and stopped thinking about your career being on the line for a moment, I'd imagine you'd have a damn good idea which of these Harry would like." Her eye's flicked over to him, unreadable. "The two of you were near inseparable - don't give me that look, everybody knew it. It was all anybody could talk about for awhile, a Hufflepuff being friendly with a Slytherin? It was the most ridiculous thing - and then to find out it was true... well, it really shone a light on House Unity, if you know what I mean. Of course, nobody could quite figure out what the relationship was between the two of you - what with his sneaking down into your bed every other night in the first few years."
Tom interrupted, indignant. "How did you know about that?"
"Oh please," she sighed. "The whole House knew about that. Abraxus was so jealous of the two of you - it's why he did what he did, you know. The first sign of rife between you and Harry and he latched on like a Salazar-damned lethifold and you let him."
"We are getting off topic—"
"Why won't you talk about it?"
"BECAUSE I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT A BASTARD HE WAS, OKAY!" Tom exploded, chest heaving, eye's wild as his head whipped around to the door, making sure it was still closed. His finger's were clenched in his trousers, violently wrinkling the fabric. "I-" he swallowed, mouth dry, and tried again. "I didn't know, alright? He - he was - he supported me, at first. I had no fucking idea he would - would do that and then set about ruining my life because the wanker couldn't fucking control it!"
"Support was enough?" She demanded incredulously, voice lowering to a hiss. "Harry Potter was head over fucking ass in love with you - and you him - and a token display of support was all it took?"
"Why must you continue with this?"
"Because you need to understand precisely what it is you are doing here! You two aren't strangers! There is history - history that is going to barge in at the worst possible moments and make you choke on it. This isn't going to be easy and you need to realise that!"
"You think I don't?" Tom demanded, leaning forward, eye's dark.
"No," she sneered, "I don't think you do. You're doing this because you saw it as your only option. I know you well, Tom - what do you think is going to happen? The two of you pretend happy couples in public, make sure everything is done properly to appease Umbridge and her cronies, and then that's it? Twelve months later you separate? Umbridge will find a reason to fire you faster than you can say 'I quit' - then it's all been for nothing and Abraxus pin's the joke on you after all."
"What do you suggest then?" Tom near snarls, cursing himself for ever turning into the staff room.
"I suggest you figure out how you fucking feel, Tom! This is a marriage and it has to be convincing, I get that, you get that, but you know what? Sooner or later, it's going to stop feeling like pretend and you need to know what to do if that ever happens!"
"I care about Harry," defended Tom. "Of course I do."
"Then why did it take you ten years to man up and apologise?!"
"Because I was afraid!" he yelled, clamping a hand over his mouth as though he could physically force the words the back in and violet-grey eyes gleamed in triumph. Dammit. "I was terrified he would take one look at me and turn away, you incorrigible, overbearing hag of a feminista!
She quirked an eyebrow at him. Tom heaved in a breath.
"Well, that went way too far."
"No no, I think it went just far enough, you elitist Cambridge fascist of a jackass." They stared at each other. "Feel better?"
"Yes, actually - somewhat." He paused, heart rapidly returning to a familiar pulse. "What do I do now?"
Catalogue pages were thrown in his face, falling down into his lap where he gathered them up. "Pick one," she said simply. "And then be quiet."
Rolling his eyes, Tom flicked though the pages, already knowing which one had caught his eye. He brought it to the front of the pile, showing it to Bellatrix with a sigh. Her eyes zeroed in one it, considering and appraising, and then she smiled, and he knew he'd got it right. Folding the papers and returning them to his pocket, Tom stood and made for the side-table of beverages and pastry - making himself a watery coffee and grabbing a bagel.
When he returned to the armchair, he found Bellatrix had pulled herself upright, and was now fiddling with the little radio.
"What are you doing here anyway?" He asked. "Last I checked, you don't work here."
"The radio in my office is broken," she replied distractedly, fiddling with a few dials, before tapping several places with her wand.
Tom frowned, tearing off a piece of bagel. "Is there a special news broadcast?"
"What?" she laughed. "No, nothing like that. The pre-fall fashion shows are on in New York."
"... Fashion Shows?" he deadpanned.
"If there is one thing muggle's have going for them," Bellatrix intoned, wise and worldly, "it is their fashion."
"You're listening to a muggle fashion show?" He asked shrewdly, not even trying to withhold the judgemental tone.
She frowned at him. "Don't be stupid, Tom. It's a two part show - it just so happen's the wixen runways take place during the same week. Now shush, it's starting."
With the radio turned up nice and loud, and not willing to return to his office just yet, Tom was left with little choice but to sit and listen.
[Hello and welcome to Couturing with Tina. I'm your host, Celestina Warbeck, and joining me today is radio personality Lee Jordan.]
[I'd hoped I was a bit that just a personality to you by now, luv - thank you for having me, ladies and gentlemen, and might I just say, you are all dressed spectacularly this evening.]
[Such a charmer.]
[I save it all for you, Tina.]
[Don't I know it. Now, for all you folk's listening in, a quick recap: this week we're talking about the pre-fall fashion show's currently taking place in New York - that's right people, we are live to you from the Big Apple. This will be the last major shows of the calendar year, and then we'll be picking back up in January for the onset of the big four autumn/winter reveals.]
[While we're at it, I just wanted to give a quick reminder - tickets are available to the twenty best most embarrassing fashion stories so, all you fashionista's out there: don't forget to send your entry to Dodo Radio station. The competition closes January 1st.]
[Thank you for that, Lee.]
[Just doing my job, Tina - it would be a travesty to deprive anybody the chance to see Harleigh Black live in action.]
[Well, there is no denying that - and while we're here, we might as well go on to what's trending. I'm sure it's no surprise to see Harleigh Black once again at the top of that list—]
"What does she mean by 'trending'?" Tom asked lowly.
"Most fashionable or most talked about socially," Bellatrix shot back, crawling closer to the radio.
[—anybody just tuning in, Harleigh, just gone twenty-four, has officially been the most requested model for both muggle and wixen brands since he first, officially, appeared on the catwalk for German label, Heiligt at eighteen.]
[You know, I've met him in real life.]
[Yea, he's a friend of a friend - as things go - and, as they say, long story short we now follow each other on Instagram. Absolutely lovely bloke. Dedicated, too.]
[Now that, I know - not many out there that could have created the Gemini Homes Foundation with nothing but a friend, after all. I heard through the pixie vine, Lee, that you've earned yourself an invite to the illustrious Charity Ball - any truth to that rumour?]
[As a matter of fact, it's spot on, for once. As we all know, the Gemini Foundation holds a Charity Ball every year on December 17 and 18 - it's a bi-social event, where no-maj's gather on the 17th and wixen on the 18th and are encouraged to donate to the Foundation.]
[It's quite inspiring to see one man make so much headway into crossing that divide between two societies.]
[It really is - think about it Tina - and sorry to all you viewers out there that don't really give a shit - sorry, snapdragon - about this, but let me get political for a second: it's because of this man, and his anonymous friend, and a relatively small group of entrepreneurial individuals that were willing to give the big F.O. to stuffy traditionalists, that us wixen's are now able to live in a world that is radically redeveloping and advancing itself everyday.]
[You're talking about Black Industrial Technologies, aren't you?]
[I am Tina, yes. But I won't say another word about it except to point out that I will be speaking to the CEO of B.I.T this coming Monday in anticipation of the Ball.]
[You heard it hear, folks - I for one, will certainly be marking the calendar. Now, moving on to what we've just seen on the catwalk - is it fair to say that the wave of neutral tones is here to stay?]
Bellatrix reached out, turning the volume down a bit. When she looked at him, it was with a secretive smile and humour in her eyes. "Want to know something, Tom?"
He raised an eyebrow. "You'll tell me regardless."
"Harleigh Black also has a godson now."
The moment he was behind the curtains, Harry let the calm expression drop from his face and rushed towards his dressing section, rapidly undoing buttons as he went and shrugging out of the blazer. Chaos thrived backstage — everybody talking in loud voices as beauty products overwhelmed the air and camera flashes went off. The stylists flittered around him, making noises of concern as the white button up came off next, the tie looped around his neck and thrust into the hands of whoever was closest as he carefully toed off the shoes, almost tripping as his sock got caught on the overfly elaborate buckle. He clutched at the chair for support, pulling off the belt and dropping it on the high-chair, before shimmying out of the trousers.
For all he cared, the world no longer fucking existed because he was late and there was very little he could do about it.
Tugging on his sweats, Harry pulled a t-shirt on over his head, snatched his bag up from under the table, stuffed on apple into his mouth, grabbed his phone and took off running without so much as a 'see you later'.
Barefoot, he weaved his way through milling crowds at a truly ridiculous speed, tearing his way through corridors and out into the plaza. It was five in the afternoon, during December. The pavement was cold, the air burning his lungs as he feet fucking froze and there were so many goddamn people! Couldn't they see he was in a hurry? Was it really so hard to move the fuck out of the way—
Oh, thank god, a taxi.
Harry careened towards the yellow car, slamming into the door a little in his rush to get it open. He threw his bag in first, ignoring the disgruntled groan as it hit the other passenger, and climbed in after it.
Panting for breath, Harry slumped down in the seat, pulling the door shut and closing his eyes in relief as the taxi immediately moved out into the traffic.
"I sit here for thirty minutes and the thank you I get is the bag to the face?"
"Next time," he gasped, "next time you close Marc Jacobs and open for de la Renta and your schedule is fucked, you are more than welcome to throw your bag at my face."
"Arsehole," Harry grinned, breathing deeply.
"Uh uh, you have no leg to stand on, mister I've-been-in-New-York-for-three-days-and-didn't-bother-meeting-up-with-his-best-mate."
"I haven't slept for more than a couple of hours since the flight over," Harry muttered, digging through his bag. "And to think I actually missed you."
"I can see the headlines now," the man exclaimed, hand's thrown up like a billboard sign, the sleeves of his thick winter coat sliding up, revealing long fingers and sinfully attractive cords of muscle beneath dark-chocolate skin. "Mr Darcy Left At The Altar of Mateship - The Truth Behind The Lies."
"Shut up," Harry said fondly. "And it would be William's, you twit."
Darcy fixed him with a look that spoke deeply of irritation, before he broke down, grinning, and yanked Harry into a side-hug. "It's been much too long."
"You slept over in my house two weeks ago," Harry mumbled into his shoulder, squirming his way free.
"In vain have I struggled," Darcy proclaimed. "It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
"You sap!" Laughed Harry, shoving a few items into Darcy's hands. "Exactly how many girls have you picked up with that?"
"Not many," Darcy admitted. "Just when I think I'm getting somewhere, I wind up at a Jane Austen book club. You'd think I'd have learnt after the fourth time that happened."
"You'd think." Harry drinks from a water bottle, and then crawls over the back seats to position his head in the air above Darcy's lap. "Now get this shit out of my hair, we're pulling up in five minutes."
Darcy's deep chuckles fill the taxi as he brandished the squirty bottle and hand-towel, and sets about cleaning the styling product out of Harry's hair while Harry munches on the apple.
Chapter 5: Five Christmas Special
Merry Christmas Everybody!
This marks my first offical year working in the fandom, and to celebrate, I am gifiting a Christmas Special Chapter of each of my works.
This one is an extended flashback of sorts. Please keep in mind that it is outside chronological order, and is simply an insightful treat.
Waiting for the stone wall to slide open, Harry shivered in the morning-dark corridor, his spectacles fogging up from the steam of the tea-tray in his hands. He slipped inside the common room, lighting up at the sight of silver tinsel hung around the window's, framing the eery view of the Black Lake in festivity.
Padding across the sprawl of forest-green chairs and a smouldering fire that, in truth, did very little to warm up the damp cold of the dungeons, Harry headed up the staircase to the Second Year boy's dorm, moving extra slow to avoid tripping over the narrow steps — particularly since he could barely see and the too-long pyjama pants were pooling around his feet, idly humming under his breath. Bracing his back agains the door, he carefully pushed inside, his entire being focused on the tea-tray that was beginning to weigh him down.
The dorm was empty, apart from one, occupied bed, the curtains hanging open and tied neatly to the posts. Harry headed towards it, bending down to lower the laden tray onto the bedside table, and take off his spectacles, then unceremoniously clambered atop the bed, burrowing into the warm spot he'd vacated twenty minutes previously.
Grumbling arose as he squirmed under the covers and he grinned.
"Tom," he stage whispered, making motions to unbury his friend of the pillow fort. "Tom, Tom, Tom."
A pillow slammed into his face and he spluttered.
"Tom, wake up!"
Arms sleepily shot out, wrapping around him and dragging him down, pinning his own arms down by his side
"You," came Tom's sleep-rasped voice, "are a menace."
Giggling, as it was that or a variation of it every time this happened, Harry wriggled around, trying to get out of the hold, leg's tangled under the blankets. Tom groaned when Harry's knee connected with his stomach (probably) and Harry stilled, propping himself up on his elbows. "Oops."
"You're so bony," complained Tom, rolling over and tossing Harry into the mattress.
Harry scoffed, scrambling up and yanking down the cover's before Tom could hide himself away. "Like you're any better," he shot back, poking him in the arm. "Get up!"
"What do you want?" grunted the Slytherin, burying his face into the pillow so his voice was muffled.
"It's Christmas!" Harry exclaimed, rolling his eyes. "And I want to celebrate! So - get your arse out of bed and celebrate with me!"
Letting out a sound that Harry liked to think was Tom signifying inevitable defeat, Tom rolled over, eyeing Harry blearily. Harry wondered what he looked like for Tom to look at him so fondly — probably all big-eyed and messy-haired in too-big pyjamas (because it was a waste of money to buy proper sizes when he was still growing, and besides, they lasted long enough anyway) — but it made him feel warm inside, much like snuggling up under blankets in front of the fireplace him feel.
"What?" he asked quietly, much more shyly than he liked. This was Tom, for crying out loud — there was no shame between them.
"Nothing," said Tom. "Just thinking."
"About?" he prompted.
"Mostly why you endeavour to wake me at such ungodly hours."
Rolling his eyes, Harry huffed, sitting up on his knees and crawling up the top of the bed, gathering pillows as he went until he had an impressive wall built up against the headboard. "It's Christmas. I want to celebrate."
"You said that already," Tom groaned.
Kicking him, Harry set himself up against the pillow wall, practically sinking into them, and flicked his wand. It was a spell he had spent weeks practicing: appearing like a rope strung between each bedpost; adorned with tiny little silver snowflakes and little buds of effervescent light in warm shades of green, red and gold.
He caught Tom's eye, smiling when the other boy tore his eyes away from the beautiful sight and looked at him with such pride. There was nobody else to look at him like that, so Harry soaked it up every chance he could, and he knew Tom did the same with him.
"It's our second Christmas," Harry told him, shaking out of his thoughts. "I have hot-chocolate and cookies and a plan and it start's now! So up!"
Tom sighed, and hauled himself upright, scrubbing a hand through his hair. Clutching the blankets, Tom settled beside Harry, pulling the thick duvet up over their knees and letting it fall around their waists as he yawned.
"So, I was thinking we could do exchanging gifts for an hour - most of everybody else should be up by then - and then we'll go to breakfast. The elves were telling me that Professor Dumbledore is planning to take all us student's down to Hogsmeade, to see the carollers, so the Christmas feast will be a tiny bit later than normal, 'cos it's doubtful many people are gonna be up for a big dinner. I've deduced from that that our morning block is free, but the afternoon is touch and go - we can take a chess-board up to the Great Hall or something," Harry paused, sucking in a great gulp of air. "It's gonna be brilliant, seeing Hogsmeade - it's so nice of the professor to do this."
Tom wrinkled his nose, patiently waiting out Harry's exuberant chatter. "You want me to spend Christmas with Dumbledore?"
"Well, no," Harry said, looking at him strangely, lower lip peeking out, hinting at a pout. "I'd've hoped you'd spend it with me."
"Grumpy," chided Harry, knocking him on the shoulder as he leant over. "Scaring you with water-birds is not ground enough to dislike the man. He could've done something else - like set the wardrobe on fire. Now if he'd done that, I could understand."
"Must you prevent my sulking?"
"Yes," Harry sighed grandly. "I must. As your bestest best friend, the responsibility is mine."
"That is grammatically incorrect."
"And then you go and do that and I rethink my life decisions."
Unbidden, Tom felt the hint of a smile on his face, holding the pillows back as Harry settled back down, tea-tray in his hands. "Regardless," he persevered. "The man just - rubs me the wrong way."
"What a strange world you must live in," stated Harry in wonder, "where people rub each other on meeting.
Flushing slightly, Tom cursed the day he learned of innuendo and the innocent way Harry managed to say the most outlandish of things. "Give me the cookie," he said instead, in hopes of distracting the Hufflepuff from the subject.
"Get it yourself," Harry shot back, focusing almost entirely on lifting the tall silver pot and pouring out two cups of hot chocolate. Tom held the cups still for him, familiar with the way Harry's hands shook at certain angles. He took the pot from Harry when he made to put it down, and plucked a marshmallow from the small bowl, dropping it in Harry's mug while the Hufflepuff spooned out cream.
"Anyway, as I was saying, we have a free slot between breakfast and lunch - it might be nice to go outside. It snowed last night - it'll be lovely out."
"Do I have any choice in what we do today?"
"Not much, no," Harry beamed. "But - if you want to - you can drop the stupid attitude, 'cos none of your pureblood mates are here, and actually enjoy this with me like I know you want to deep, deep down inside."
Tom would have bristled, but... Harry was right, and it was too early for this. "Fine," he grumbled, and pulled Harry into his side, feeling somewhat mollified when Harry squeaked, then laid his head against his shoulder. "You mentioned gifts?"
"So predictable," Harry mumbled, but summoned the package anyway, and handed it to Tom, slipping on his spectacles in the process.
Tom looked it over - taking in the plump red bow and silver paper. Although the lighting wasn't so great, Tom thought that, if he squinted, he could see a constellation flickering across it.
"What is it?"
Harry, who had just bitten into a large, caramel-crusted marshmallow cookie, made a fond, unintelligible sound, rolled his eyes skyward, and shoved the gift closer to Tom.
Getting the message, Tom chuckled and systematically unwrapped it, starting with Harry's overzealous taping. He tucked the bow into the top draw of the side table and lifted the... book, it was a book. And for a moment, he couldn't breathe.
"Dissecting Defence: Dark, Light and the In-between by Andrew Gould," he breathed, astounded.
"Yeah. You wanted right?"
"But - but how did you...?" He trailed off, unable to finish because he knew their financial situation — he's on an orphan's fund, and all Harry has of his parents right now is a Trust fund that pay's the tuition with enough left over for the basics.
And Harry, the little shit, just shrugged, smiling and sipped his hot-coco, licking the cream off his lips before saying, "Some of the Gryffindor's paid me for study sessions."
"Thank you," Tom said earnestly and wraps Harry in a hug, the book stuck between them, before leaning over the bed and producing his own gift. For all his attention to precision, his wrapping is nowhere near as good as Harry's — there's something about his casting that makes the sticky-tape far too sticky, and the paper tissue-thin, so it's looks ever so slightly butchered (no matter how long he spent practicing), but the bow has a nice glow to it, the satin smooth, and Tom congratulates himself when Harry takes the parcel and coos over the ribbon.
"It's purple!" He exclaimed, untying it, then looping it around his neck like a tie.
"Yes," Tom smirked, recalling Harry's passing comment the month prior about the colour. "And you say I never listen to you."
"Not never," Harry muttered mulishly. "Just not when it doesn't suit you."
"Shut up and open your present," grumbled Tom, poking his side.
Smiling, Harry did so, carefully tearing through the paper with childish eagerness. The insides of the parcel fell out onto his lap, soft and malleable, and he stilled, staring at in what Tom hoped was surprise, before he held it aloft, seemingly unable to take his eyes off it.
"It's beautiful," Harry breathed, gently touching the rows of gleaming buttons lined up neatly, and it was. The brass of the buttons contrasted sweetly with the bright, popping turquoise wool of the peacoat, the collar lapels big and thick and looking as though they could withstand the sturdiest of winds. "How did - where - you..."
"I bought it," murmured Tom, alight with pride that Harry likes his gift. "From that store you like, on Piccadilly."
"But it looks so new," Harry presses, in wonderment, and knowing full well that his favourite store on Piccadilly is a dreary little thrift shop they'd found when exploring London. It would, however, explain Tom's obliviousness in gifting him a girl's coat — the store was a hazard on it's best day anyway, organisation carelessly flung out the window. It took a Herculean effort to find anything as simple as trousers, so Harry wasn't going to hold it against him, but... but it was so pretty and soft and lovely, that Harry didn't shave the heart to tell him, regardless.
"I fixed it," Tom told him, before hiding behind drinking hot-cocoa. "I know you don't particularly like wearing ill-fitting clothing," he elaborated when Harry looked at him expectantly. "So it's got warming charms, resizing charms, anti-tear charms and —" he coughed, flushing as little as he realised it might not be the best idea to inform Harry of the tracking charm, "and it's water-proof, as well."
Harry looked at the coat again, a hint of amusement in his eye's that made Tom wonder if he knew what went unsaid — but it was gone so quickly, Tom thought he might have imagined it, and then Harry leaned over and kissed his cheek.
It was soft, warm, sending tingles through Tom, and over so quickly.
"Thank you," whispered Harry, large, arsenic-green eyes meeting his, before he turned around again, snuggling into Tom's side and sipping his still-hot beverage.
Stunned, Tom could only... well, he couldn't do much of anything, knowing only that his cheek felt like it was burning and that, for the reminder of their morning, Harry never once let go of the coat.
Shivering, Tom shifted from foot to foot, wondering, for the umpteenth time, why Harry insisted on playing in the snow after breakfast. Despite the few inhabitant's of the castle, it was clear pack-knowledge had prevailed and decided it was a very bad idea to go outside.
"Leave it to Harry to be contrary," Tom muttered darkly, feverishly rubbing his hands together for warmth before jamming them under his armpits, wishing that he could be inside where it was warm, rather than stood out on the steps, watching Harry roll around in the snow. Already, the boy had made snow-angles, a wobbly snow-penguin, and a truly horrific attempt at an igloo. At this point, Tom wasn't sure there was much more that he could do, and so was anticipating an approaching retire.
"Are you quite done?" He asked as Harry trudged his way back. Snorting when the Hufflepuff flicked his hand up in a rude gesture, lost his focus, and tripped into a snow-flurry. Tom started down the steps, laughing, gathering from the frantic wriggling that Harry was rather stuck.
He paused at the foot of the flurry, swallowing down his humour and feeling the cold seep into the legs of his trousers. "Need a hand?"
Laid out on his back, arms and legs sprawled haphazardly and covered in powdery white, Harry scowled. "No," he pouted, and wriggled around a bit more for emphasis, managing to only burrow in deeper. He stopped his efforts with a sigh and flopped backwards. "Yeah."
Smirking, Tom extended a hand out, finger's curling around Harry's wrist, and hauled him up.
Later, he decided it was the distraction of on-setting frostbite that prevented him from catching the anticipatory glint in Harry's eye's. At that moment however, when Harry suddenly tugged on his hand and he lost his balance to Harry's wicked laughter and tumbled face-first into the snow drift, Tom was seized by surprise and couldn't decide much of anything. Flailing about, Tom pushed himself up and sucked in a breath, adrenaline pumping through his blood and temporarily blocking out the shock-wave cold, and gaped at Harry.
Catching his eye, Harry erupted in cackling giggles, gasping for breath as he cried with laughter — and promptly shut up when Tom grabbed a handful of snow and smushed it into his face.
Spluttering, Harry wiped his face clear, spitting out the snow in his mouth, and then he grinned and Tom shivered for a reason entirely separate from the cold.
"Oh," Harry breathed, fingers slowly inching down. "This means war."
Eyes widening, Tom was unprepared for the handful of snow Harry dumped onto his hair, and was too slow as the tiny Hufflepuff scrambled up — without trouble — and took off running clumsily across the snow-covered grounds.
Nonetheless, Tom had never been all that slow on the uptake, and was soon free from the drift and chasing after him, tripping over his robes and patches of ice. For all that his superior height offered him, Harry was still faster, and he was no nearer to catching up. Particularly once the wands came out.
For the next hour, delighted laughter rose from the grounds, infectious in it's excitement, as shoddily formed snowman lifted from the blanketing white, lumbering towards the Hufflepuff with hulking, outstretched limbs, intent on creating a puppy pile of snow, while a mild storm of snowballs and snowflakes besieged the Slytherin.
Sighing happily, Harry leant his head on Tom's shoulder, swaying a little to the music.
"This is nice," he said quietly, voice almost lost to the approaching night, and Tom had to agree with him.
They were in Hogsmeade — the small town completely done up for the season, with garlands of mistletoe wreaths and shiny baubles hung above every door, strings of captured fairy light strung criss-cross above the walkway from the eaves, and the cobblestones fashionably revealed, mounds of snow pushed up against walls. Every window boasted a festive display, and the door to the Three Broomsticks was propped open, releasing the scent of roasted chestnuts and mint sauce.
Some of the better-off kids, the one's that stayed in the castle while family was out of the country, or just because, and enjoyed fortnightly packages containing their allowances, had snuck into the tavern while Professor Dumbledore pretended to turn a blind eye, and tottered back outside, warm mugs of butterbeer clutched in their hands as everybody gathered around the carollers outside Scrivener's. Tom and Harry had found a place nearer to the back, out of the way of the other's, where they could pretend they were in their own little winter-struck world. Tom had fought down a chagrined sigh when the carollers started up again as Harry, having caught his brief glance to the other kids, had pressed a flask of peppermint tea (that he must have swiped from the table during lunch) into his hand, then quietly returned to humming along, hand's stuffed into the pockets of the peacoat he had so happily put on.
So there they were, listening to Silent Night echo beautifully, hauntingly in the still night and wrapped up in each other — Tom's arm slung around Harry's shoulder, chin propped up on the messy head of curls, and Harry nestled into his side, his arm hooked around Tom's waist — drinking peppermint tea as star's blinked on, soft spots of light in a darkening sky.
"I want to do this every year," Harry said then, voice hushed.
Tom blinked, carefully moving away a candle that floated too close. "Do what? Carols in Hogsmeade?"
"No," whispered Harry. He licked his lips and made a somnolent gesture with his hand. "Not necessarily. Just, like - just something that feel's like home. I want Christmas to be home. Every year."
Swallowing around the lump in his throat proved difficult, but Tom managed, and ignored the way his eyes stung. "Yeah," he agreed, voice hitching, nodding. "Okay. Whatever you want."
Harry fell silent, letting the music wash over them. In the corner of his eye, Tom could see the other students growing restless, soft chatter shared between them as a few made motions of continuing on, but Tom remained resolutely still. Harry was happy and that was all that mattered.
But then Harry shivered and all bets were off.
"Cold?" Tom murmured into his ear, tightening his hold around his shoulder as though that would magically warm him up — it wouldn't, he knew, and neither would a spell because it was so bloody cold a charm only lasted a handful of minutes and truly wasn't worth the energy of constantly applying, but it was the thought that counted.
Harry huffed, mouth pressing into a stubborn line, obstinately staring at the carollers. "No," he pouted.
Brows lifting, Tom rolled his eyes. "Five minutes," he told him, "and not a minute more."
Beaming, Harry's hand squeezed Tom's waist in thanks as the Hufflepuff began humming along to O Holy Night.
It was ten minutes before they left. By then, Harry's nose had coloured an alarmingly festive shade of red, and if not for the beanie Harry had shoved over his head, Tom suspected his ears would have long-since frozen. Professor Dumbledore had organised a carriage up to the castle to avoid the frozen trudge back after sunset; garish strands of tinsel bedecked the fringes and each thestral had been accosted by a charmed pair of antlers and bells-on-reigns, and not a single person blinked at the seemingly floating accessories — familiar with the eccentricities of the ageing Transfiguration Professor.
They lingered at the back of the group, not particularly keen on jostling others for a seat look schoolyard ruffians.
Tom was content to wait in silence, but Harry had other ideas, shifting around in his hold.
"Hi professor!" Harry chirped, beaming and Tom fought against the instinct to stiffen.
"Hello boys," smiled Dumbledore. "Enjoying yourselves, I see."
"Very much, sir - thank you for organising it."
Tom nodded, then bit back a groan when Harry elbowed him in the stomach. "Yes, thank you sir."
In the candlelight and street-lamp glow, Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, amused. "It was my pleasure - the Clandestine Caroller's are a favourite of mine, truthfully. It was just as much a treat for myself as the students," he confided, air one of grand conspiracy, and Harry glowed with silent laughter.
"Still," Harry said. "It was very kind of you, especially on Christmas - it can't have been the most glamorous thing to be doing."
"You underestimate my enjoyment, dear boy - I've found there to be nothing quite so entertaining as wrestling antler's onto ghostly steads." Even Tom smirked at that, glancing over to where said steads were tossing their heads.
"I wanted to thank the two of you, by the way," hummed Dumbledore, "The lemon-aroma on the card was inspired, if I do say, and the white-chocolate macadamia cookies a spot of genius - my husband is sure to love them. Nutty confections are a favourite of his."
Tom blinked, brain twitching over the semantics of that statement, but Harry was already talking, cheeks tinting warmly as the boy blushed. "Your welcome. We don't really... have a lot of people to - to give to, so, yeah. Tom did the spellwork - whenever I tried, actual lemon's would fall out."
"How extraordinary," Dumbledore mused, sounding truly baffled. "Perhaps in the new year you might show me - I've never heard of a scenting spell physically materialising."
Harry agreed, and they shuffled forward in the line.
"If you do not mind me asking, professor," began Tom, "but you said 'husband'? Are you married?"
"Oh yes," grinned Dumbledore. "Going on thirty five years now. It only took me ten years to get him to agree."
Harry smiled, looking up at him. "What's his name?" he asked.
"Gellert," Dumbledore replied, warm and fond. "Gellert Grindlewald."
"Shouldn't," Harry paused, licking his lip as his smile faded and a worried frown took its place. "Shouldn't you be with him, though? Did - did you not see him because you had to look after us?"
"Not at all," Dumbledore assured the two, reaching out and patting the Hufflepuff on the shoulder. "It is kind of you to worry, but Gellert was unfortunately occupied today. I will be taking a portkey to see him tomorrow. Now, in you get."
Navigating his way up the staircase, across his dorm and into the adjoining bathroom with a sleepy Hufflepuff was as logistically ambitious as it sounded, but Tom somehow managed it. He had been wholly unsurprised when Harry started drifting off during dinner — he was twelve, there really was only so much excitement he could handle in one day — but had forgotten how long the trek from the Great Hall to the Slytherin common room was.
He didn't mind, though. All he cared about was the fact that Harry felt safe enough to actually be drowsy, and trusted him to make sure nothing happened. Wool's had never afforded them that luxury and, as Tom carefully situated Harry atop the toilet seat and thrust a toothbrush into his hand, he was once again overcome by the indomitable sense of rightness he felt.
Completing bathroom ablutions seemed to wake Harry up a bit, enough to shuffle his way to Tom's bed, change into pyjama's, and then clumsily crawl under the cover's. Tom soon followed, turning off the lights so that all was left was the faint glow from the Christmas decoration Harry had spelled up that morning. The rest of the room was dark, and quiet.
"I had a really nice day," Harry whispered, finding his hand beneath the blanket and tangling their finger's together.
Tom turned his head, watching Harry stare up at the canopy. "Me too," Tom told him, just as quietly. "You looked nice in your coat."
A slow, delighted smile spread across Harry's face. "Yeah?"
Silence followed for a moment, neither needing to say anything. Tom could hear Harry's breathing slowing, hitching sporadically the way it did. And then the Hufflepuff sighed, rolling over and burying his face in Tom's chest, body relaxing against the Slytherin's.
"Merry Christmas, Tom," he mumbled, half-asleep.
Shifting a bit, Tom carded a hand through the dark hair, curls catching on his fingers, and drew the blankets up higher. "Merry Christmas, Harry."