Tuesday begins in its usual fashion, which is to say: Harry wakes up late. Everyone else in the house is long gone by the time he staggers into and out of the shower and then stumbles down the stairs to the kitchen. A cup of coffee has been left for him, steaming in a judgemental kind of way. He unwraps the napkin next to it on the table and finds three pieces of crisp bacon sandwiched between two slices of toast, the whole thing dripping butter and grease. “Thank you, Remus,” Harry calls to the empty house as he downs the coffee, faintly burnt-tasting, in five hurried gulps. He takes the bacon sandwich with him into the fireplace and then almost drops it when he stumbles out into the frenetic chaos of the Ministry Atrium and nearly is decapitated by a memo crane.
“Morning, Potter,” Ernie Macmillan says as he passes in a flurry of cranes and cronies. He’s wearing his hair short these days, in some sort of pompous quiff. “Late start?”
Harry lifts a hand in acknowledgement and calls, “Morning,” rather than telling Macmillan where he can shove it. He eats the bacon sandwich in the lift under the disdainful eye of half of the IMC and is wiping lingering smears of butter off of his hands when the lift shudders to a halt on level nine. By the time he’s made it into the Department of Mysteries offices, the gigantic clock in the middle of the floor declares that it’s nearly 9.30AM.
A few people glance over when Harry barrels through the doors; Harry can’t help noticing that Theo Nott, hunched over a cup of tea and an enormous, ancient-looking scroll, does not. Rather than embarrass himself by trying to strike up a conversation, Harry slings his satchel onto his desk and heads for the lab space he shares with two other junior researchers. Both of them look up at his entrance with twin scowls.
“Malfoys,” he says, jerking his chin up in greeting.
“You’re late,” Darling Malfoy says.
“If I had a sickle for every time you told me that instead of something like good morning ,” Harry mutters and she scoffs before bending back over her cauldron.
Her husband says nothing but he does narrow his eyes in Harry’s general direction. They’ve never been great friends or anything but they have to share lab space and they’ve managed a few civil conversations about the fucking disgrace of the English national team over tea in the office canteen. Darling Malfoy, who despises Quidditch and disdains the office canteen, does not seem invested in being civil.
The morning passes mostly in silence. Harry is testing the Veil fragment that he’d gotten permission to remove a few months ago; whatever the Malfoys are doing, it’s making their cauldron smell like overripe pineapple. As irritating as they are, they at least understand the concept of inside voices, which Harry had found to be surprisingly pleasant after his adolescence in the ragingly loud Gryffindor Tower. The only noises they make are the occasional incoherent grunt of frustration and exchanges like: “Boomslang skin, do you think, darling?” and “Crushed, I think.”
Harry’s occupied trying to separate individual threads from the Veil fragment for the rest of the morning; he doesn’t notice that much time has passed until Dear Malfoy says, “Something from the canteen, Potter?” as he passes Harry’s workbench.
Harry looks up, blinks a few times, and then looks to the clock hanging above the door. The situational hand is pointing to Time for lunch!
“Ah, thanks, I’m fine,” Harry says. Almost immediately, his stomach loudly protests.
One of Dear Malfoy’s eyebrows lifts but he doesn’t say anything as he sweeps out of the lab. He’s left Darling Malfoy behind, so focused on her cauldron that her nose is almost touching the surface of the liquid inside of it. She’s muttering to herself as a quill takes hurried notes on a piece of parchment hovering at her shoulder. Her perfectly coiffed hair, always sleekly pulled back into an elegant knot, is beginning to curl at her temples from the steam.
Now that he’s been distracted by his stomach, Harry puts down his silver forceps and scissors and returns to his desk to see. He can’t remember if he’d thought to put lunch into his satchel last night. It would be embarrassing to have to follow Dear Malfoy to the canteen after turning down what had been a rather polite invitation--or Harry could Floo to the Leaky and get a sandwich there to take away--
He’s too preoccupied by lunch-adjacent thoughts to notice Theo Nott until they’ve already bumped shoulders. “All right there?” Harry asks absently, and then he notices who it is and straightens up. His hand goes up automatically to rake through his hair; Ginny calls that move Harry’s an Idiot on the Pull . “Oh, er, sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” Nott answers. He lifts a long-fingered hand and flicks a lock of hair out of his eyes. Harry can’t help staring, because he’s a raging idiot. Like most of the Pureblood swots of Harry’s generation, Nott wears a signet on his pinky finger. Harry’s always finding himself distracted by the glint of it. “All right yourself, Potter?” Nott asks.
“Fine,” Harry replies. It takes him a full three seconds to gather his courage and ask, “You going to Pansy and Parvati’s thing tomorrow?”
Nott makes a face and says, “Only if I haven’t found a way to off myself before then,” and disappears into the Brain Room. Harry can’t help deflating in the wake of that.
It lifts his mood a little to find a wrapped sandwich and an apple inside his satchel, nestled in amongst various detritus along with a glass bottle of pumpkin juice. He eats as he reads through the various cranes that have roosted on his desk since he arrived this morning. The only one that’s really urgent is a note from Croaker asking that Harry meet with him in the afternoon. Harry scribbles back an affirmative response and folds it into a lopsided crane before sending it on its way.
The Malfoys are back at it when Harry’s finished with his lunch. Dear Malfoy is trying to convince his wife to take a few minutes to drink a cup of tea and have a pasty and she’s speaking over him in an excited rush about whatever she’s discovered in the last hour.
“Darling, just half of it,” Dear Malfoy is saying, looming over her.
“Aren’t you listening to me?” she says. “I don’t have time to eat, I think I’ve figured it out! We’ll need some kind of dessication agent--I think it ought to be silica-based, although perhaps we could try using just heat for now--and we’ll need a seed for the crystal to form--dear, stop trying to feed me that --” as Dear Malfoy grabs the back of her neck and frog-marches her away from her cauldron, wife in one hand and pasty in the other.
“If you keel over, I’m going to claim all the credit for your discovery,” Dear Malfoy threatens as he pushes his wife through the door of the lab. “Or worse, I’ll let Potter take it.”
Darling Malfoy’s screech of frustration--something about manhandling , some else about intellectual property --is cut off as the door swings shut behind them. Harry is finally left in peace. He Transfigures a button into a cockroach and begins to attempt to send his button-cockroach into the Land of the Dead. It does not go well.
Harry’s gone through about half of the tests on his short list and is stuck on trying to finagle ingestion --how does one force a cockroach to eat something?--when the button-cockroach finally takes umbrage to its treatment at Harry’s hands and suddenly launches itself into the air. “Fuck,” Harry says. He hadn’t meant to add the additional flick that would give the cockroach wings. “Get back here you fucking--” and he swipes at it. One would think a Seeker that had won his house four consecutive Quidditch Cups would be able to catch one measly cockroach-button, but one would be mistaken.
Instead of catching the cockroach, Harry clips it with the tips of his fingers and sends it soaring away--directly into Darling Malfoy’s cauldron of liquified pineapple. The cockroach-button sinks into it with a plop and then a hissing noise. A second later, the surface of the potion contracts and spits out a button, which bounces to the floor in a loud rattle.
Harry immediately casts a stasis charm on the potion and then erects a quick shield around himself. The Malfoys work on a half-dozen projects at the same time, unlike most of the other junior researchers, because Croaker is in love with Darling Malfoy and will let her do whatever she wants. She hadn’t been with the Department for more than six months before she’d figured out how to make Time-safe glass and from that moment on she’d been allowed nearly complete free reign over her projects, not that Harry is bitter about that or anything.
After a few buzzy adrenaline-spiked minutes, Harry lowers his shield and summons his button, letting it hover in the air in front of him while he considers it. Whatever happened to her potion, it seems like it’s not on the verge of exploding and that’s good enough for Harry. He’s not looking forward to having to explain to her that her brew has been contaminated by a flying cockroach-button, but he already knows exactly how she’ll respond: For once in your life could you be a little less self-absorbed and a little more considerate?
When Harry flicks a glance at the clock above the door, he notices two things instantaneously. The first is that it’s twenty-eight minutes past three, so he’s probably going to be late for his meeting with Croaker. The second is that the situational hand is swerving wildly between You’re late! and You’re fucked, mate! which isn’t even a real situation the clock should be able to point to; Luna had added it to the clock at Ron’s request, as a joke.
You’re always getting into stupid scrapes , Ron had said when Harry had unwrapped the clock. Without my good sense, how’ll you know when you’re in shit again? Everyone had had a good laugh at Ron’s expense at the idea of his displaying good sense, including Ron himself, and Harry had promised to hang the clock in his new lab. The Malfoys had sniffed but otherwise said nothing to dispute its placement. He got the impression they found it rather juvenile; that was what Darling Malfoy usually was thinking when she sniffed at something.
The situational hand finally drags itself to a jerking stop, pointing directly at You’re fucked, mate! The door to the lab opens and Croaker stomps through, shouting, “Potter! You’re late!”
“Sorry, sir,” Harry says, scrambling up from his chair. The button bobs after him. “Had a bit of an accident with the Malfoys’ potion.”
“Deal with it later,” Croaker barks, and then he pauses and says, “Unless it’s urgent?” with the cautious good sense of a career Unspeakable.
“I don’t think so,” Harry says. “I put a Stasis Charm on it.”
“Fine,” Croaker says. And then, when Harry makes no move to follow him out into the corridor, “Do you need a fucking invitation, Potter?”
“Sorry, sir,” Harry says again. As he strides around his workbench, he reaches out and absently plucks the button out of the air. He means to then toss it onto his workbench. Things do not go precisely to plan.
“Harry?” someone is saying. “Harry? Harry!”
“Whazzit?” Harry mumbles. He feels rather like a tube of toothpaste that has been squished starting in the middle. His mouth tastes like rotting pineapple.
“Oh thank Merlin, he’s awake,” someone says with a huge gasp. “Harry, can you open your eyes?”
He tries but everything is very blurry and bright; he has to close them immediately. “Potter,” someone else says, gruffly, and Harry recognizes Croaker’s voice.
“Sir,” Harry croaks.
“Do you remember what happened?” Croaker asks.
Harry tries to inhale but his nose feels weird--plugged, but also painful. He has to breathe through his mouth. Fucking pineapple.
“A button,” Harry says. “Must’ve been the button.”
“What button?” someone screeches and Croaker says, “Calm down,” quietly, and then more loudly, “What’s this button, Potter?”
“The Malfoys’ potion,” Harry says. When he tries to crack open an eyelid, it feels like he’s being stabbed directly in his brain. But if he squints, it’s incrementally less painful. “Button got into the potion, then I touched the button.”
“ Malfoy ?” someone says.
“What were the Malfoys working on, sir?” Harry asks. His vision is starting to come back. It’s not just brilliant white light anymore; he can make out individual ceiling tiles. Croaker is leaning over him, his face blurry. Harry must’ve lost his glasses when he fell. “What the fuck was in that cauldron?”
“I’m not sure,” Croaker says.
“Darling thought she had a break-through,” Harry says groggily. “Dear made her go eat a pasty.”
“This sounds like neurological trauma, Croaker,” someone says fretfully. “We have to get him to a Healer.”
Croaker’s face swims into focus; he’s come inside the range of Harry’s myopia. “Don’t call your coworkers rude names,” he says, slowly, with a strange expression on his face.
“Sorry, sir,” Harry says. Everybody in the Department calls them Dear and Darling behind their back, but Croaker’s never been one to stand for that sort of thing. How much of that is innate stuffiness as opposed to his massive hard-on for Darling Malfoy is difficult to say. “Madam Malfoy thought she figured something out this morning. Didn’t say what.”
Croaker’s eyes narrow. It’s becoming easier and easier for Harry to make out colors; the bleaching effect of his recent stint of unconsciousness appears to be wearing off. “You didn’t ask?” Croaker says.
“She’d hex my bollocks off,” Harry mumbles. He’s feeling well enough to close his adjusted eye and start the same process over with the other one. “Those two don’t share well. Entitled swots.”
“Potter,” Croaker says, and Harry says, “ Sorry , sir.”
“Can you sit up?” Croaker asks.
Harry closes his eyes, groans, and then pushes himself upright with palms flat against the floor. His nose feels worse, somehow. The pineapple taste is fading, at least. He puts a hand over his eyes and squeezes, trying to sort out if he has a headache or it’s just eye strain.
“Here,” someone says softly. He lowers his hand and opens his eyes and a blurry figure with a nimbus of hair is offering him something, their hand outstretched. His glasses. They’re cracked down the left lens. “Oh, wait,” the someone says, and they tap their wand against his glasses with a muttered, “ Reparo .”
“Thanks,” Harry says, hooking them over the backs of his ears. Now that he can see again, he looks down to see if there’s any sign of his erstwhile cockroach-button. It’s not in the folds of his robes, nor is it on the floor nearby.
The someone--the only someone other than Croaker in the lab, Harry has realized--says, “Harry, you really ought to see a Healer. Immediately . Can we use the Floo in your office, Saul?”
“Unspeakable Granger, I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” Croaker says, and Harry’s head snaps up. With his glasses, he can see her perfectly clearly: a familiar pair of dark brown eyes, with furrowed brows folded over them, paired with a long, straight nose and a serious, unsmiling mouth. She’s not wearing lipstick anymore; probably it rubbed off on the pasty. Harry can’t remember the last time he saw her hair in its natural, unbound state; second year, maybe? It’s very curly.
“What the fuck was in that cauldron, Malfoy?” he asks her.
She rears back. “ Excuse me ?” she says.
Harry glares at her. “You’re supposed to notify me when you’re working on something dangerous,” he says. “You could’ve at least put a lid on the blasted thing!”
Her eyes narrow. “Don’t you take that tone with me, Harry Potter,” she says. “I know you’ve had a scare, but that’s hardly a reason to be rude.”
Harry rolls his eyes and immediately regrets it as pain daggers through his eye sockets directly into his brain. “Ugh,” he moans, putting both hands to his temples and pushing, hard, the way he uses to crush incipient migraines. “Can we just--skip the Mistress Manners routine today, Malfoy? If I’m going to die horribly because of your stupid experiment, at least have the decency to give it to me straight.”
“Oh,” she says. “Oh, fuck .”
Harry’s never heard her swear before.
“Indeed,” Croaker says. “Thus my concern regarding Healers.”
“It could be--a traumatic brain injury?” she says weakly. And then, more briskly, “No, of course not, the hair alone--oh, Michaelis is going to be insufferable .”
“We’ll need someone trustworthy,” Croaker says. “Who is able to come to us. For the time being he can’t leave the Department.”
“Sorry, what’s going on?” Harry interrupts.
“I’ll call Luna,” she says, apparently ignoring Harry. When he opens his eyes and looks at her, she’s come out of her crouch by his knees and is now standing, hands fisted on her hips, looking determined. She’s not wearing her usual uniform of navy robes and sensible heels, nor are the Malfoy diamonds winking from her ears. There’s a sinking feeling in Harry’s stomach that’s been there since Croaker called her Granger ; he always refers to Darling as Unspeakable Malfoy .
“What’s wrong with my hair?” Harry asks quietly.
She looks at him and frowns, in a way that is somehow gentle. “It’s too long,” she says. “I cut it last weekend.”
While obviously the idea of letting Darling Malfoy anywhere near his head with a pair of sharp shears is, in a word, terrifying, Harry can’t let himself be distracted. “What’s the year?” he says. “Count of three.”
They say 2009 in discordant unison.
After a long pause, Harry says, “What the fuck was she brewing? Merlin’s fucking tits.” His head still hurts; he closes his eyes and rests his head on his knees. His arse is beginning to go numb on the cold tile floor but he doesn’t feel up for dragging himself onto a stool. Maybe if he just wishes very hard, he’ll open his eyes and Darling Malfoy will be back to her usual disdainful self, dripping with tasteful heirloom jewelry and mean things to say about Harry’s quality of work.
“I’ll Floo Luna straight away,” she says quietly. “Then I’ll sign out the Department’s Pensieve. Saul, can you--?”
“Yes,” Croaker says. “You should--”
“Of course,” she says, “I’ll do it right after I fetch the Pensieve. Do you suppose we ought to--?”
“Not yet,” Croaker says. “It depends on how much we can glean on our own. The Department anyway can’t afford his consultation fees.”
“I’m sure we could apply for one of Harry’s grants,” she says. “Which is to say-- our Harry. Sorry, ah, Not Our Harry.”
“S’fine,” Harry mumbles into his knees. “Call me Potter. Weird to hear you say my name, anyway.”
She sounds a little hurt as she says, “Oh. Very well. You should lay down, Potter.”
One of them Conjures a pillow and a blanket for him, and Harry, feeling docile for probably the first time in his entire life--he blames what he strongly suspects was an interdimensional Portkey--lays down, shuts his eyes, and falls asleep.
When he wakes up again, his headache is gone and he’s been moved onto a sofa whose shiny silver fabric suggests it began the day as a file cabinet. Luna is sitting cross-legged on the floor next to his head, scribbling on a roll of parchment with a bright orange quill. She’s wearing pale blue Healer’s robes and she’s braided her hair in a loop around her head with sprigs of rosemary and tiny blue flowers. “Luna,” Harry croaks, “I just had a bizarre dream.”
“It wasn’t a dream, Harry,” Luna replies in her calm, wispy voice. She’s still scribbling. “You’ve had a bit of a journey, haven’t you?”
“Seems that way,” Harry allows. “Can I have some water?”
“Oh, yes,” she says, putting down her roll of parchment and tucking her quill behind her ear. She Transfigures one of the rosemary sprigs in her hair into a glass and fills it with a flask she pulls from the pocket of her robes. When he drinks it down, the water tastes faintly herbal and sweet.
“You’re taking this well,” Harry tells her once he’s finished his water. “Guess I’m not that surprised, though.”
“Strange things are not so very strange as people might think,” Luna says, and then she smiles at him brightly. “I have one more friend now than I had this morning. I’ve had worse Tuesdays.”
“Yeah, haven’t we all,” Harry allows wearily. “Where’ve they all gone off to? Croaker, I mean. And--Granger.” He hasn’t called her that in years.
“I’m not quite sure,” Luna says. “I suspect they have gone to cancel meetings and other such business. Hermione is very meeting-oriented, so that’s always as good a guess as any. And she wanted to find a Pensieve.”
Harry can’t help making a face; he doesn’t fancy the idea of reliving his idiocy in front of his boss and Darling Malfoy. Of course, he’ll endure a bollocking if it’ll get him home, but that doesn’t mean he’ll enjoy it.
To get his mind off of whether or not he’s going to be unemployed thanks to a fucking flying button, Harry says, “How’s St. Mungo’s?”
“In the past, as I have been loaned to the Department for the foreseeable future,” Luna says. “But if you are asking after the Longbottoms in particular, they are doing well. Alice asked me to bring a piece of gum to Neville.”
“That’s nice, then,” Harry says. “Are you going to pop up to Hogwarts, then?”
“Oh, no,” Luna says. “It’s far too treacherous a journey when I believe I am needed here. Before I leave the Ministry today I will give Alice’s gift to Ernie. Considering how often he and Neville meet in Hogsmeade to have sex, I believe they will see each other by the end of the week.”
Harry chokes on a mouthful of his third glass of water. “Sorry, what?” he gasps.
Luna’s mouth turns down in the corners. “Ought I not to have said that?” she says. “I was under the impression that they were quite open about their relationship.”
“I didn’t think it was serious,” Harry admits. “But I don’t really--notice that sort of thing.”
“Perhaps I will refrain from mentioning it,” Luna says thoughtfully. “Although we are all good friends, I always have trouble remembering that people feel strongly about privacy in their romantic relationships. I don’t know why. I suppose it is because very few people can see wrackspurts as well as I can.”
“You do have a rare gift for that,” Harry says.
Luna smiles at him shyly. There’s a thin line of ink running down her neck from the quill tucked behind her ear, snaking over her shoulder and disappearing into the neckline of her robes. “You’re a very kind man, Harry Potter,” she says.
A little desperate for a way out of this conversation, Harry says, “No, I’m not. I’ve got tattoos and everything to prove it.”
The door to the corridor bursts open and Croaker barrels through in the middle of a furious argument with Granger, who is levitating a gigantic stone bowl in their wake. The sight of them is a sudden and, frankly, unwelcome reminder that Harry has been having a conversation this entire time with someone who looks and smells and makes vague but uncomfortably accurate comments like his Luna, without actually being his Luna .
“You’re not unfamiliar to me,” Luna says quietly to him. “Nor am I to you. So I wouldn’t worry about it.” And with that, she pats him on the knee and gets to her feet.
“How is he?” Granger asks in a sudden rush, abandoning her argument with Croaker.
“I detect nothing harmful in his aura,” Luna says. When Granger shoots her a withering glare, Luna beams at her and adds, “Nor do St. Mungo’s standard diagnostic spells detect anything wrong with his physical self.”
“Thank you, Healer Lovegood,” Croaker says. Harry has only ever heard him sound this nice when speaking to Darling Malfoy; maybe he has a thing for Ravenclaws. “Potter,” he continues, voice immediately more gruff and impatient, “give us everything you have from earlier today. We’ll do a dry run without you so there aren’t any distractions.”
“If your head still hurts, we can do this tomorrow,” Granger says, slightly shrilly. “Obviously it’s important to get you home but not to the detriment of your health--no matter what the standard Ministry operating procedure is when it comes to their golden boy --” she hisses this last bit through her teeth up towards the ceiling, presumably sending the murderous intent in that sentence all the way up to Kingsley’s office.
This is a woman who cut my hair last weekend , Harry thinks, trying the idea on for size. She’d wanted to send him to St. Mungo’s. She’d instinctively called him by his first name. She’s threatening the Minister--Kinglsey?--for some perceived mistreatment.
“Granger,” Harry says, slowly, extremely scared of the answer, “we’re not--?”
“What?” she says crisply. Her hands are on her hips again. “ Dating ?” She rolls her eyes. “No, we’re not, so there’s no need for you to look so scandalized. We do live together, though. We’ve shared a house since we left Hogwarts.”
So: friends. Close friends.
“How did--that happen?” Harry asks.
She blinks at him a few times. “We’ve been best friends since we were eleven. I suppose the fault for that can rest squarely at the feet of a mountain troll.”
Harry opens his mouth to inquire why, exactly, she had encountered a mountain troll at age eleven --surely no version of Hagrid would be careless enough to procure one for his Care of Magical Creatures students--but he’s cut off by Croaker, who says, “Until we know what’s going on, let’s keep information-sharing to a minimum.” He glares at Harry and then throws a softer, more concerned look towards Granger. “No meddling.”
“Right, sir,” Harry says.
“Oh, very well,” Granger says with a sigh.
With a little bit of deep breathing and concentration, Harry is able to collect the memory of this morning to his satisfaction and plucks it out of his hairline before dropping it into the empty vial that Granger has brought for him. It takes a little longer to get the bit from after lunch. Granger and Croaker are in the Pensieve for over an hour, most of which Harry spends getting increasingly restless. Luna wanders off about five minutes in and returns fifteen minutes later with an almond croissant and a bottle of fizzy lemonade that she offers to Harry with the gentle recommendation that he increase his blood sugar for his own protection; against what is left unspecified. Something more deadly than your bog standard nargle, presumably.
When Croaker and Granger return to themselves, Granger is already speaking. “It’s code, obviously,” she announces. “Runic-based--Hälsinge, I think, with those shortened staves--which should make it easy enough to break, although I’ll need a few days.” She pauses and looks a little uneasy. “It’s presumably a shared invention; there were two sets of handwriting on the parchment.”
Harry, who has been occupied in trying to Transfigure the metal cap of his fizzy lemonade bottle into a Snitch, looks up at this. “Are you talking about the Malfoys’ notes?” he asks.
“Yes,” Granger says. “I was able to see the contents of her parchment--you know, Harry, you have a surprisingly high level of subconscious observation--but it was written in some kind of code. Are you familiar with it?”
Harry makes a face. “I know of its existence,” he says. “The Malfoys made it up ages ago, when we were in school. I think Dear said it was for an Ancient Runes project. No one else can translate it, though. I think that’s why they use it for their notes; Darling is rabid about privacy.”
Granger’s face contorts between frustration, irritation, and disgust. She seems unable to settle anywhere and eventually reverts back to what Harry has always thought of as Darling Malfoy’s default expression: nose stuck firmly in the air, mouth pulled into a tight line. “If I invented it, I can decode it,” she says haughtily. Then she wrinkles her nose and scowls. “Besides, I wiped the floor with Malfoy in Ancient Runes. If he contributed anything, it was an impediment.”
Harry can’t help but find this hilarious. Dear and Darling had been inseparable at Hogwarts. Harry had sometimes caught a glimpse of them in the library or the Great Hall, huddled together amongst piles of textbooks with their noses buried in moldy scrolls. He’d asked Luna once what it was like to share a house with them, and Luna had thought about it for a few minutes before saying, Strange , and when that was coming from Luna you knew it was serious.
“What?” Granger demands as Harry keels over laughing. “I did! He got an EE on the O.W.L. and Professor Babbling told me I was the finest student she’d had in thirty years of teaching. He didn’t even sit for the N.E.W.T.!”
“I’m sure you’ll do a grand job sorting it out, Granger,” Harry assures her, still chortling a little, and she scowls at him. It’s surprisingly playful. Harry is finding it much easier than he’d expected to remember that Granger and Darling Malfoy are separate people. It helps that Granger carries herself differently, but she’s also so much warmer and friendlier, even when she huffs and scowls and makes swotty pronouncements.
“It’s getting late,” Croaker says. “Unspeakable Granger, please get started on decoding those notes-- after you eat something and sleep for at least five hours. Healer Lovegood, thank you for your assistance today. If you don’t mind, I am going to ask you to continue to monitor Potter until further notice.”
“That’s fine,” Luna says. “Will you come and stay with me, Harry? I have a house to myself, so there’s no need for anyone to run the risk of meeting themselves. Although I suppose it might be quite interesting. Would you prefer staying with yourself, Harry?”
“No,” Harry says. Then, to Croaker, “Am I being allowed to leave?”
Croaker predictably scowls. “I don’t like it,” he says.
“He can’t live here, Saul,” Granger says quietly. “We don’t know how long this will take, and there is minimal privacy to be found in the Department.” When Croaker looks unlikely to relent, she continues, “At the very least he’ll be at risk for hypovitaminosis--”
Croaker cuts her off with a long sigh, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “Unspeakable Granger, your tender-hearted nature, while undoubtedly part of your charms, will one day get you into a lot of trouble.”
Granger beams at him. “Thank you,” she says. “Luna, you ought to Disillusion him. Can we use the Floo in your office, Saul?”
“Go,” Croaker says wearily. “All of you. Potter, if you’re seen, you’re not going to have to worry about making it home, because I’ll kill you myself.”
“Thanks, sir,” Harry says. “Have a good evening, sir.”
Croaker sighs in reply.
The Floo address Luna gives him is for something she calls The Re-Rookery; when Harry arrives, he is spat out into a perfectly circular kitchen that is lit to a cheery turquoise color by little jars of bluebell flames mounted in sconces on the walls. The walls, cabinets, and ceiling are covered in paintings of plants and birds. Harry casts a quick Scourgify on himself to get rid of the soot and by the time he’s finished, Luna has already shed her robes and is making a beeline towards the stove. “Soup for supper, soup for supper,” she sings to herself, “delicious soup for a delicious supper.”
“Can I do anything?” Harry asks her.
“If you would like to have something to do, you can cut radishes,” she says. “But if you were asking because you felt that you ought to, I think you’d like the garden.”
Harry takes that statement at face value, since there’s not really much else one can do with Luna, and wanders out of the only door he can find with the assumption that it will take him to the garden. This proves to be the case. It’s late evening and the moon has only just risen. The garden is a proper wizarding plot, the likes of which Harry hasn’t seen since he was a child. Most of his friends live in flats in wizarding London and extension charms can only go so far in a place so strapped for real estate. The flat that Luna shares with Ginny and Padma has a lovely balcony that she’d filled with dozens of pots of strange plants but it’s clear, as he looks out over the garden of the Re-Rookery, that this place had been her template. This must be Luna’s childhood home. Harry has never seen it before.
Half an hour finds Harry on a bench underneath an arbor of trellised Rambunctious Roses, which keep trying to steal his glasses when they think he’s not paying attention. The moon is a fat crescent overhead, bright enough that the bed of sage surrounding the bench has turned silvery, almost luminescent. Harry feels something approaching actual calm for the first time in ages.
“The roses seem quite fond of you,” Luna observes as she picks her way through the sage. “They are a little temperamental, generally.” There are two bowls bobbing along behind her and Luna has two spoons and a bright green glass bottle clutched in her left hand. “They loved my mother, you know.”
“Your home is really lovely, Luna,” Harry tells her. He stands up and catches a bowl in each hand. The contents smell sharp and herbally.
“That’s kind of you to say,” Luna replies as they settle onto the bench. “I can’t take credit, as I had to hire someone to rebuild it, but I appreciate the sentiment. Well, I suppose I did paint the cabinets. Did you perhaps mean the cabinets, specifically?”
“Your paintings are very nice,” Harry tells her. His first taste of soup is a familiar surprise. “Radish pesto,” he says, pleased. “You make this all the time.”
“Do I?” Luna says. “I know that I do. I like how my nose feels when I eat it. My father always said that radishes must be treated gently and kindly, because they are so very defensive.”
Harry hums in the back of his throat and eats more of his cool, sharp-tasting soup. There are sliced radishes and bits of soft cheese floating in the broth. “What’s in the bottle?” he asks her when his soup is mostly finished. He has to bat away a rose when it tries to engulf the side of his face.
Luna says, “I always like a bit of elf wine after a long journey.”
They’ve drunk about half of the bottle in companionable silence before Harry has enough nerve to say, “You’re taking this really well. I mean, you are, certainly, and that doesn’t surprise me, but Darling rolled with the realization that I was from somewhere else without even blinking too hard.” After a moment he says, “Sorry. Granger .”
“Hermione used to be a more rigid person, but she’s become quite flexible,” Luna observes. “I think working as an Unspeakable has exposed her to the ways in which magic does not obey its perceived rules. The Hogwarts curriculum is rather rule-focused, I think to students’ detriment. And Hermione has been friends with you far too long not to be fond of those that break the rules.”
“It’s strange,” Harry finds himself admitting. “I can’t imagine being friends with her.”
Luna takes a delicate sip of elf wine and offers him the bottle. “I think the one skill every Harry Potter shares is the ability to find a friend inside of anyone.”
Harry coughs on his swig of elf wine. “That’s-- not true,” he manages.
“I am by all accounts quite strange, but you’re my friend,” she points out. “Twice over, in fact.”
“But you’re Luna,” Harry says. “Of course you’re my friend.”
She beams at him. “I imagine you once thought me a very difficult person,” Luna says. “It’s all right, you don’t have to protest, I know it’s true. But you were able to see past that, which is why we were able to become such good friends and now I make my radish pesto soup for you. I think you will find that if you look past her more prickly parts, you’ll find a good friend inside of Hermione as well. She almost died for you many times, you know. And you did die for her. For all of us, really.”
“I died ?” Harry says. He feels dizzy enough that it seems a good idea to put down the bottle of elf wine.
“Oh, yes,” Luna says. “Not for very long, though. Only about twenty minutes. Maybe half an hour.”
“And now I’m fine?” Harry hazards.
“Quite well!” Luna assures him.
“Oh,” Harry says. “Well, uh, that’s good, then.”
They sit in Luna’s lovely, quiet garden for another hour and then Luna makes up a bed for him out of a squishy sofa on the third floor of the Re-Rookery, complete with a pile of soft pillows and a large down comforter. Harry is tired enough that the lack of privacy implied by the gigantic wrought-iron spiral staircase that ascends through the middle of every floor does not discomfit him. It’s actually a little pleasant to hear Luna humming as she settles into bed on the floor above. “Sleep, sleep, wonderful sleep,” he hears her singing to herself, and he only just has time to take off his glasses and set them on the side table before he falls into a deep sleep.
Harry’s first full day in an alternate universe is actually quite relaxing. After Luna gives him a pile of clothes to Transfigure into something that fits, they have breakfast--she makes porridge and chicory coffee and lets him read last week’s Quibbler after she apologetically informs him that she does not get The Daily Prophet delivered--and then spend the morning de-gnoming the garden. Unlike the rather brutish method that Sirius prefers, Luna has a meeting with her gnome occupants wherein they air any grievances from the past month and attempt to compromise on how they might be managed moving forward. Luna’s only real grievance is that the gnomes have been digging holes underneath the pond and are in danger of drowning themselves. The gnomes don’t like that she’s planted Lady’s Mantle and want to remove it. An agreement is reached by lunchtime that Luna will move the Lady’s Mantle to pots if the gnomes fill in the holes under the pond.
Harry makes them both sandwiches for lunch and they spend the afternoon on the second floor of the Re-Rookery, which is half impressively esoteric library, half print shop. Harry does an intensive survey of the library to see if there’s anything about transdimensional travel--it seems like exactly the sort of theory that Luna or her father would be interested in--and Luna goes through The Quibbler archives to see if there’s anything that might be of use.
After supper, they sit down and compare notes. Luna has found a number of stories in previous issues of The Quibbler about time travel, but nothing to indicate that the travel in question might have occurred between universes. Harry has found what appears to be someone’s Thesis of Mastery on the Arithmantic underpinnings of a multiverse and the name of the author, Maude Michaelis, strikes him as familiar although he cannot quite recall why.
He has also found three books on the Veil that are totally unfamiliar to him. “Can I borrow these?” Harry asks Luna. “For as long as I’m here, I mean. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about the Veil and I’ve never even heard of these. They might not exist, where I’m from.”
“Of course,” Luna says. If she’s surprised by or curious about his interest in the Veil, she doesn’t betray it in any way. Harry has not gotten the impression that his counterpart is also an Unspeakable; the lab that he’d shared with the Malfoys had been easy to identify as Granger’s sole dominion in this universe. Perhaps this Harry Potter, having traveled there himself, has had his questions about the Land of the Dead answered to his satisfaction.
There is little Harry can say to her that would not be in violation of his Unspeakable’s Oath. And so, although it makes the back of his neck prickle guiltily, Harry says nothing to explain his interest and instead takes his little pile of books up to the third floor and his squishy bed, where he reads until his eyes go blurry some time after midnight. Eventually, Luna’s quiet humming lulls him to sleep.
Granger joins them for breakfast the next morning. “Luna!” she yells from the kitchen, waking Harry from his fuzzy early morning doze. “Potter! I’ve brought pastries!” There’s a bunch of clanging and then, “And real coffee !”
The Re-Rookery’s spiral staircase is a deathtrap for the recently awakened, but Harry manages it without quite killing himself. When he stumbles down to the ground floor, Granger has levitated the gigantic kettle out of the fireplace and is pouring its boiling contents into a large French press. The kitchen smells of ground coffee and buttered bread. “Morning!” Granger says brightly when she looks over her shoulder.
“G’morning,” Harry mumbles as he staggers over and takes a seat at the table.
“I know Luna only drinks chicory, so I thought you might like actual coffee this morning,” Granger says. “I can only handle about two days of her root before I’m ripping my hair out-- Luna, I brought apricot tarts but I’ll let Harry eat all of them! --oh, but maybe you drink tea?” She peers at him worriedly.
“No,” Harry says. “I drink coffee. I’m allergic to apricots, though.”
“Really?” Granger says. “How fascinating! Oh, don’t worry, I’ve brought some danishes, too. I can’t stand apricots.” She sends the kettle back into the fireplace and begins busily pulling pastries out of various paper bags and Summoning plates out of the cabinets. “Are raspberries all right?”
“Yes,” Harry says. “Just stone fruits. Is your-- Your --Harry not--?”
“Oh, no, he eats everything,” Granger says. “I think if you put a single apricot tart on the table between him and Luna they’d actually duel for it.”
Floating down the staircase, Luna says, “Good morning, Hermione.” Despite being wrapped in a floor-length dressing gown, she does not trip.
“How was yesterday?” Granger asks. “Black with sugar?” she asks Harry.
“Er,” he says. “Yes, actually.”
“We had the monthly conference with the gnomes and evaluated my library,” Luna says. “I only have goat’s milk, I’m afraid.”
Granger, depressing the filter of the French press, says, “That’s all right, Luna, I thought that might be the case and brought cow’s milk with me.” Luna carries over three mismatched mugs and a little bowl with a lid shaped like a Devil’s Snare that proves to be full of big crystals of brown sugar. “How did it go with the gnomes?”
“Oh, very well,” Luna says, handing Harry the sugar bowl and a tiny spoon. “Two more months and I believe I will be able to publish my preliminary findings.”
Granger grins down at the French press. “I can’t wait to see the look on the face of that idiot at the Ministry once your research is published. Vermin , indeed.” She decants the coffee into the three mismatched mugs with an elegant wrist. It is an incongruous reminder of Darling. “Anything in the library?”
“Maude Michaelis’ Arithmancy Mastery,” Harry says.
Granger stops smiling and makes a face. “No need for that,” she says. “We had the real thing at the Department until she retired a few years ago and a more insufferable creature I could not imagine. She’s a genius, of course--absolutely unparalleled when it comes to Theoretical Arithmancy--but she’s fairly useless in the practical sense. I’d rather we not speak to her if we can help it. She’s a wretched blood purist.”
Harry says, surprised, “And she’s with the Department?”
“She’s rather less open about it than others--she’s never actually called me a Mudblood to my face--but she always Scourgified the chair in her office after I sat in it.” Granger says this slur with absolutely zero self-consciousness; Harry can’t help shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Oh,” she says, noticing instantly. “Is it--do people not say that where you’re from?”
“Generally, no,” Harry says. Granger’s lips part and for a second Harry is worried that she’s going to do something like cry , but instead she clears her throat brusquely and pushes one of the mugs across the table to Harry. She has a small bag slung across the back of her own chair and as she sits down she pulls a bottle out of it that she enlarges and then pours into her cup. Cow’s milk, presumably. “How’s, ah, the code going?”
Granger rips into a danish with her fingertips. “Fine!” she says shrilly.
“Going to have to go to Malfoy after all?” Harry asks her and she scowls at him before stuffing a piece of danish between her lips. “He did help invent it.”
“He’s a prat,” Granger says flatly. “A prat I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw him. And if you have trouble with me saying ‘Mudblood’ then you’re going to have a wretched time of it with him.” She even drinks her coffee angrily.
“What, really?” Harry says.
“Yes,” Granger says. “He’s the one who introduced me to the word, after all.”
“But he--” Harry says, and then he cuts himself off.
“Your Malfoy might not be a blood purist,” Granger says, “but ours certainly is.” When Luna hums thoughtfully, Granger amends, “All right, he was . I suppose he hasn’t called me any slurs in a few years, so maybe he’s turned a corner.” Her incredulous expression clearly indicates that she doesn’t believe this to be the case. “He and Luna are friendly,” she says to Harry in an undertone, widening her eyes at him dramatically. “Despite the fact that his parents kept her locked in their dungeon for a few months when we were seventeen.”
Harry chokes on his coffee.
“He was very kind to me,” Luna says. “He brought me a slice of cake on my birthday.”
Granger rolls her eyes as she pushes the bag full of apricot tarts towards Luna. “Luna’s affections are easily purchased by assiduous application of sweets. Malfoy clearly figured that out and used it to his advantage. Just what one would expect from a Slytherin.” She says this last bit almost teasingly in Luna’s direction.
“A Slytherin?” Harry says.
Granger lifts an eyebrow. “Really?” she says.
“You were all in Ravenclaw,” Harry says. “Which I think probably doesn’t matter, although--what happened to limiting information-sharing?”
Granger says, “It’d be nearly impossible to enforce, not when we need all hands on deck to sort this out, so Croaker and I have decided not to worry for the time being. Anyway, this is obviously not a timeline issue. If an interdimensional connection was sufficient to cause problems, they would have happened immediately.”
“Not upon my return?” Harry says. “Like Mimtumble?”
Granger says, “It’s all theoretical but universes presumably correct upon connection, not separation, because they’re constantly being formed by separation. So a correction upon separation would just--” and she rips another piece off of her pastry, “--propagate separation. An endless cascade. Do you mind if I ask why you became an Unspeakable?”
Harry can think of any number of rude, flippant things to say, but Granger is looking at him with bright, friendly eyes.
“I don’t know,” he finally says. “I wanted to understand death, I suppose.”
Granger’s eyes soften. “Of course,” she says. “I’m really quite interested in your work. I watched a bit of what you were doing yesterday, when Saul and I had another go through the Pensieve. Do you think the Veil works because it’s both a physical and metaphysical object? Is that why you’re trying to break down its physical parts?”
“Yes,” Harry says, surprised and a little pleased by her interest, “sort of. I think it’s a physical object that was made through metaphysical means--sort of like the Sword of Gryffindor, which I studied for my mastery. You know, I suppose, that I inherited something from Ignotus Peverell?”
“Oh!” Granger says. She sits up so straight that she actually seems to be vibrating in place. “One hides from Death and one hides from the Living?”
“And one is way more permanent than the other,” Harry says. “But, basically, yes. Of course, thinking it and proving it are two totally separate things.”
“Harry, that’s brilliant!” Granger says.
Harry has literally never had a compliment from Darling in his life, unless one counts, I suppose you’re not always a prat , when he’d cast a Stasis Charm on Seamus’ cauldron in third year to keep it from ejecting its contents onto her, which had been followed by a polite thank you . He’s surprised by how pleased he feels at her glowing regard.
“Thanks,” Harry finally coughs out. “Uh, got another pastry in there?”
She hands him another danish. “How would you say your Arithmancy is?” she asks.
“Fine?” he hazards. “Got an A on my N.E.W.T. but I haven’t kept up with it much. My mastery was almost entirely Charms.”
“Perfect,” Granger says. “You ought to handle investigating your button, then. Saul found it yesterday after turning my entire lab upside down. It looks now a bit like a former Portkey, but there’s some unusual magic in its signature--perhaps because it was a cockroach at the time it became a Portkey? Since you can’t normally make them out of living things.”
“Sure,” Harry says.
“Are you all right to spend the day in the Department?” Granger asks Luna. “Just because we’re fairly certain nothing is going to happen to him doesn’t mean we know for sure. And you are technically on staff, after Croaker had you take the contractor’s oath.”
“I’m very intrigued by this project,” Luna says. “Thank you for inviting me to assist with your puzzle. I accept.”
After Luna has gone back up the staircase to dress, Granger drops her voice and leans across the table towards Harry. “You’re doing all right?” she asks. “Staying here with Luna, I mean. And--the rest of this. It’s not too much of an adjustment?”
Harry says, “Am I really that different from him?”
Granger’s eyes drag from Harry’s face up to his hair--which is undoubtedly going berserk, since he hadn’t bothered to tie it back--and then down to his chest and arms. His tattoos are exposed by the short sleeves of the shirt that Luna had given him to sleep in. The birds on his arms are restless under her scrutiny and they wing their way up to his shoulders, trying to escape. His already fairly dark skin has been further burnished by the many long weekend hours he has recently spent playing Quidditch with Sirius and the Weasleys.
“Yes,” Granger finally says. “And yet, in other ways, not at all.”
It takes three days for Granger to admit she might need assistance with deciphering Dear and Darling’s notes. Harry hasn’t gotten very far with his button beyond the obvious--yes, it was once a Portkey; no, it’s not one anymore--and he’d eventually gotten bored enough to help her with the code, which she had indeed broken after two days of long hours and nearly-continual muttering. The problem arises after the runes have been translated.
“They just don’t make sense,” Granger says. “Take this whole middle bit. The references are, I’m fairly certain, page numbers, but in what book I have no idea. I’ve cross-referenced it with every volume on their shelves in your memory but none of them match.”
Harry is laying on the file cabinet couch in her lab, flat on his back, watching her pace back and forth. Granger is much more frantic than Darling Malfoy and her hair gets bigger the more frustrated she is, as though the curls are inflated by nervous magical energy. It’s not exactly the look of the elegant Madam Malfoy that he’s worked with for the last decade, so he understands why she’s defaulted to a straightened chignon for work, but makes her seem much more approachable. Darling had gone through a number of different hairstyles on her way to becoming Madam Malfoy--box braids, silk scarves--until she’d settled on her trademark updo. Harry hasn’t seen her hair down since they were twelve.
“You should owl him,” Harry says, shifting his gaze to the ceiling.
“Pardon?” Granger says.
“Malfoy,” Harry says. “You know, the other person who wrote those notes.”
“Ugh!” Granger exclaims, but she does not follow this up with something like, I don’t need the likes of Draco! Malfoy! which probably means she’s very close to admitting the truth to herself.
“Surely he’s not that bad,” Harry coaxes, thinking of all the times he and Dear have come across each other in the canteen and ended up discussing the abominable waste that is Oliver Wood keeping for the Chudley Cannons.
Granger says, “I’m reserving the right to say I told you so .”
“As long as it gets me home, I don’t care,” Harry tells her.
The Draco Malfoy that alights from Croaker’s fireplace the next morning is the picture of a Pureblood scion, from his pointed nose to his firm sneer. He looks disturbingly like Sirius, something Harry’s never noticed before. “Unspeakable Croaker,” he says, and then, “Granger, Potter,” with a lazy flick of his eyes. He rather lingers on Granger before he seems to realize that something is notable about Harry and returns his stare to him.
“Finally gone through puberty, Potter?” Malfoy drawls after a second.
“Astutely observed, Malfoy,” Granger says shortly. “Saul, if you’ll just administer the contractor’s oath, we can move this into my office--?”
The Department’s standard contractor’s oath is administered with clasped forearms, skin-to-skin. When Malfoy removes his cufflinks and rolls up his sleeve--slowly, like his time is so precious that it has to be savored; Merlin, he is a prat--there’s a dark tattoo on his pale forearm. It takes Harry a while to recognize it. He’s never seen one in person, only in a textbook.
He flicks a startled glance at Granger, whose raised eyebrow and pursed lips clearly say, I told you so . In Harry’s defense, she’d called him a prat, not a fucking Death Eater.
The implications of someone their age--someone they went to school with --being a Death Eater are so wildly horrifying that Harry does not really pay attention to the oath, or the walk back to Granger’s lab, or Granger’s pedantic and long-winded explanation of how Harry had found himself in their world.
He only really starts paying attention when Granger says, “Apparently, our counterparts are--research partners,” and Malfoy says, “Over, I assume, my father’s dead body?”
“I didn’t think to ask,” Granger replies.
“I’m sorry, can I--?” Harry interrupts, and Granger says immediately, “No.” When Harry turns to glare at her, she says, “We haven’t time to get into all that. It can be addressed later, when I can waste an afternoon at St. Mungo’s waiting for Healers to stick limbs back onto you both.”
“No, I want to know what Potter’s so keen to ask me,” Malfoy says.
Granger says, “We don’t have time , all right? You two always have these ludicrously protracted spats.”
“We can make time,” Harry says tightly.
Granger whirls on him, advances two extremely threatening steps, and whispers, “ We do not have time ,” in such a way that makes not only her hair stand on end--which it does, with little sparks dancing inside the nimbus like lightning--but also the hair on the nape on Harry’s neck. She’s a head shorter than him but Harry still takes one extremely swift step away from her.
Behind her, Malfoy is staring at the back of her head with an expression walking the line between covetous and ravenous. He catches Harry’s eye and it disappears immediately, as though a hand has wiped it away.
“They’re married,” Granger says abruptly, turning back to Malfoy. “Our counterparts.” His face undergoes a series of hilarious expressions, the last of which is slack-jawed shock. “You ought to be prepared, if you want to observe his memories of their work.”
It takes obvious effort for Malfoy to recover his equilibrium. Eventually he says, “I want to see them.”
Granger makes a face. “Trust me,” she says, “you really don’t.”
The first memory is of the morning, beginning with Harry banging his way into their shared lab at a little after 9.30AM. Harry’s memory self says, “Malfoys,” brusquely and they both look up at him and Darling says something snotty.
Next to Harry, Malfoy makes a faint noise. When Harry flicks a glance at him, Malfoy is staring at Darling. Dear is hovering over her, scowling at Harry’s memory self, and then he leans down and says, “Ignore him, you know how he gets,” which is an aside that Harry had missed when he’d actually lived through this day.
“That insufferable prat!” Darling huffs in an undertone. “Standard working hours are for other people, I suppose,” and she vigorously stabs her wand at her cauldron and gestures with a flick of her wrist to keep the stirring rod going counterclockwise. Harry can’t help making a face at her. He and Darling have never seen eye-to-eye on anything; she’d been a know-it-all swot with a penchant for correcting people and inability to mind her own business from the moment she’d clambered onto the Hogwarts Express. Harry knows that he in turn had been rude and unfriendly, but it had been hard to like someone who only interacted with you to tell you that you were pronouncing leviosa incorrectly.
Granger has circled the workbench so she can peer into the cauldron. She’s clearly making a mental catalogue of the Potions ingredients that have been laid out on their work surface. Next to Harry, Malfoy is not moving. He looks like he’s been Stunned. “All right?” Harry asks under his breath, and Malfoy inhales sharply and says nothing before striding off to join Granger in her inspection of the workbench.
The differences between Malfoy and Dear are subtle but easier to spot when they’re standing next to each other. Malfoy’s default expression is clearly a sneer, while Dear’s is an imperturbable look of faint superiority. Malfoy’s hair is long and slicked back into a tail; Dear’s is cut short and dressed in a sort of swoop over his eyes. Malfoy has the posture and general approachability of a hippogriff; Dear has his weight sunk onto one leg so it’s not quite so obvious that he dwarfs his tiny wife and he’s bent over her, wand-bearing left hand flicking notes at his parchment while his right hand curves around her waist. Both men are, however, wearing the same set of black robes trimmed with silver embroidery and obsidian buttons.
“Not very professional, are they?” Granger observes sourly. She’s standing on Darling’s other side, arms crossed over her chest.
“Croaker loves her,” Harry says. “She could push somebody through the Veil and he wouldn’t bat an eye.”
“You always were a teacher’s pet,” Malfoy says. His voice is thin, almost reedy. He seems unable to look away from Darling. A piece of her chignon falls out of place and Malfoy’s fingers twitch at his side. At the exact same instant, Dear turns his wand on her and gestures with it and the lock of hair slides neatly back into place. A diamond-topped hairpin wiggles to secure it.
Granger ignores him.
“Boomslang skin, do you think, darling?” Dear asks.
“Crushed, I think,” Darling answers absently. She continues, “I don’t like what the pulverized taipan skin did last week--and the less said about the sliced, the better.” Harry hadn’t realized that their discussion had continued; when he turns to look at his memory self, he’s frowning down at the Veil fragment on his workbench and trying to separate off a fiber with a pair of silver forceps.
“Crushed it is,” Dear agrees. “Although, for the sake of argument--”
“It only changes the potency, dear, not the properties,” Darling says. She looks up at him directly for the first time since the memory began and her cold, focused expression softens along the edges. Harry fights the urge to audibly gag. “Which you very well know.”
“One likes to be thorough,” Dear says lightly. The corner of his mouth curls upwards.
“If you would like to slice boomslang skin and feed it to the potion, you are welcome to do so-- after I’ve vacated the premises. I smelled of pineapple for days.” Her nose wrinkles.
There is no further conversation after that. Dear lets go of his wife’s waist to focus on crushing boomslang skin in a marble mortar while Darling adjusts the heat underneath the cauldron. She uses a ladle to skim some of the potion out and she deposits it into a glass vial that she then subjects to a range of diagnostic spells. Granger is watching, unblinking, clearly cataloguing every step; Malfoy has wandered off to investigate the shelves of books and ingredients on the wall behind their workbench. His shoulders look very tight under his bespoke robes.
On the other side of the lab, Harry’s memory self takes a moment to tie back his hair and roll up his sleeves. Harry has never had the chance to observe himself while concentrating very hard on something and he finds it a little disconcerting how intent he looks, his brows furrowed and his eyes glittering. The tattoos on his forearms, which are basically always moving, actually still as he’s distracted by his work. Harry hadn’t realized that they did that. Sirius’ never stop moving and Harry has always assumed that his acted the same.
“Granger,” Malfoy says abruptly and Harry jerks his attention back towards Dear and Darling’s workbench. “There’s a copy of The Nornish Compendium here.”
“What?” Granger says. She frowns at him. “No there isn’t, I checked over all the titles when Saul and I were--”
“It’s the Malfoy copy. It’s spelled to mimic a 1631 edition of the Compendium Compendendum .”
“There isn’t a 1631 edition,” Granger says.
“Yes,” Malfoy says with exaggerated patience, “ obviously . That’s why I know what this is. Why it’s here and not at the Manor I have no idea, but I recognize the binding.”
“You have--!” Granger squeaks. “I’ve never even--and you spelled it to look like the Compendium Compendendum ?! ”
“Not personally,” Malfoy drawls. “Some charming scamp of a Malfoy ancestor did, presumably. And one can hardly blame him, as all of the other copies have since been destroyed.”
Granger strides over to the bookshelf, hands already on fisted against her hips. Malfoy taps a finger against, or at least very close to, the spine of a book; Granger is facing away from Harry so he can only imagine the horrible scowl that’s currently crossing her face. “ The Nornish Compendium ,” she says. “That rather clears up what’s going on here, doesn’t it?”
Dear finishes a note with a flourish of his quill and stretches up to his full height. “You have twenty minutes,” he says to Darling, “before I return here with lunch, which you are going to eat.”
Darling flaps a hand at him dismissively. Dear captures it out of the air and kisses the back of it. Malfoy and Granger had turned at the sound of voices and the look on their faces at the sight of this is, frankly, priceless. Granger looks like she’s been squirted in the face with a lemon. Malfoy’s eyes are huge and he’s staring at Darling’s hand, which bears the enormous ring that Dear had stuffed onto her finger literally the second that he’d turned of age. Harry had not been invited to the wedding, although Ginny had gone with Padma and Luna and reported back that it had actually been quite charming, not that Harry had cared one way or the other.
“I know,” Harry says to Granger and Malfoy. “And I have to work with them, every day.”
“This is nauseating,” Granger says as Dear stops by Harry’s workbench and asks if he wants anything from the canteen.
“And I thought my parents were embarrassing,” Malfoy says as Harry’s memory self politely turns down the invitation. “I absolutely refuse to believe that--”
But what, exactly, he refuses to believe is left a mystery as the memory dissolves and the three of them are spat back out into Granger’s lab. Malfoy actually staggers back a few steps, as though physically distancing himself from the Pensieve will somehow free him from what he just experienced.
“I need your copy of The Nornish Compendium ,” Granger announces briskly. The squirted-lemon look on her face has vanished and been replaced by intense focus. “I’d thought it would have to be something in the tradition of a Heimarmenian trance, but that didn’t seem right--that sort of magic is not very concerned with personal destiny, as it is, and the transportation of a single individual is arguably as personal as it gets. But the Norns! That’s quite another kettle of fish. It has to be the missing reference book.”
Malfoy, halfway across the lab, clears his throat. He is clearly trying to look bored and not managing it. “It cannot leave the grounds,” he says.
“Well, I’m not going to the Manor, so you ought to commit yourself to solving that problem,” Granger says dismissively.
“Granger,” Malfoy says, “it absolutely cannot leave the grounds.”
“You can’t insist I return to a place where I was brutally tortured,” Granger says. Because she does not put any sort of actual emotion into this sentence--she sounds irritated but in an intellectual way--it takes Harry a second to really understand what she’s said. Brutally tortured? Maybe she means it in an abstract sense.
Malfoy says, “You don’t have to come into the house,” and although he is firm there is a surprisingly palpable note underneath it, something that could almost be tenderness. The look on his face is remote and cold, but Harry has spent almost every day of the last twenty years of his life with Draco Malfoy and he is well able to recognize that brittle look in his eyes.
For fuck’s sake , Harry thinks crossly, I can’t escape their stupid romance even when I’ve been flung into a different universe .
“All right,” Granger finally says. She very obviously has no idea what’s going on beneath Malfoy’s reserved Pureblood surface. “I’m going to bring someone with me.”
“Fine,” Malfoy says quickly. “Bring Potter.” He flicks a glance at Harry. “This one, not the other. I’d rather not have him blasting holes in my hedge maze.”
“And Luna,” Granger says.
“Why not fetch Ollivander while you’re at it?” Malfoy says irritably. “We can just recreate the entire sordid scene.”
“Were you actually tortured?” Harry finds himself asking. Granger turns to him like she’s surprised that he’s still there.
“Yes,” she says shortly.
“Mother of Merlin’s sagging ball--” Harry mutters. “What the fuck is this place?”
“We were at war,” Granger says stiffly. “It was over ten years ago. I don’t--the scar is fine, now. I just don’t want to see that room again.” She’s clearly uncomfortable with mentioning any kind of weakness in front of Malfoy.
“My mother redecorated,” Malfoy says, equally stiff.
“Redecorated what, exactly?” Harry asks with prurient curiosity.
“The drawing room,” Malfoy says. “All of the public rooms, actually, but--very much so the drawing room.” Almost as if he can’t help himself, Malfoy’s gaze--which had been quite firmly affixed to a spot just above and to the left of Granger’s head--travels down the line of her body to somewhere by her left hip. “I’ll expect you at half past nine tomorrow morning,” he says abruptly and then he whirls around and strides out of the lab.
As the door shuts behind him, Granger lets out a loud, aggravated sigh and presses her hands to her face.
“So what’s this about a war?” Harry asks after a long minute of oppressive silence. “Does it have anything to do with why Dear was apparently a fucking Death Eater?”
Granger does not answer.
An owl comes for Harry that evening, after he and Luna have finished their supper of scallop butties and are reading--Harry, one of the books on the Veil that he’d found; Luna, proofs of next week’s issue of The Quibbler , orange quill in hand--sprawled out on a pile of cushions on the kitchen floor. Luna had opened the door to the garden when they’d arrived in the afternoon, suggesting that the air circulation might prove beneficial to Harry’s extremely perturbed wrackspurt infestation.
Sometimes Harry wishes Luna would just outright tell him when he’s being an idiot oblivious to his own feelings, but that’s more of Ginny’s bag. She’d been the one to irritably inform him in sixth year that if he was going to spend their dates in Hogsmeade staring at other students then they’d better just give up dating as a bum deal. She’d been snogging Padma within a week and Harry had been left to ask Ron who exactly it was that he was supposed to have been staring at--not that Ron had proven to be very helpful. Dunno, mate , he’d said. Reckon you’re lucky she just dumped you and didn’t hex your bits off.
Remembering this bit of characteristic Ron Weasley wisdom, Harry is struck by a sudden spurt of homesickness. He’s been battling it off thus far by spending most of his time with Luna--who is, in most ways, completely indistinguishable from her doppelgänger--but he still misses his friends and family. No one has mentioned any Weasleys, or Sirius, or Remus. Perhaps they all died in this horrible war that Granger had been too furious and wretched to explain to him.
“Luna,” Harry says, “have you spoken with--” but he’s interrupted before he can finish by a loud clattering against the kitchen window. Luna waves her hand at it and the latch pops open, allowing an extremely large and impressive-looking owl to muscle its way inside.
“Good evening,” Luna says to the owl from the floor. “How can I help you?”
The owl perches on the back of one of the chairs at the kitchen table with an officious rustling of feathers. After a moment, it turns its head in an imperious jerk and sticks its foot out towards Harry. “For me?” Harry says. “Er, thanks,” and he fumbles at the strap around the owl’s leg to remove the letter attached there. “Have you got anything?” he asks Luna.
“Yes!” Luna says brightly. “Vegan bacon!”
The owl whips its head around to stare at her and makes an offended hooting noise.
“It’s really quite indistinguishable,” Luna assures the owl as Harry cracks the seal on the letter. He recognizes it immediately; Dear has a signet ring that he uses on anything more formal than a departmental crane.
Potter, the letter says. You obviously had questions. Come to the Manor at nine tomorrow and I’ll answer them. DLM.
“Malfoy wants us to come early tomorrow,” Harry says, offering the letter to Luna so she can read it herself. “What do you reckon he’s going to be doing most of the interrogating?”
“He’s very intellectually curious,” Luna says.
“He’s tits over teakettle for Granger and wants to know how he convinced her to marry him,” Harry says flatly.
“That too,” Luna agrees readily. “Draco is a little too fond of tilting at windmills.”
“How’re his wrackspurts?” Harry asks as he rips off the bottom of the letter and leans over to snag Luna’s quill from her unresisting figures. As long as there’s coffee , he writes. This close, he can see that Luna’s ink has tiny flecks of glitter in it.
Luna smiles up at the owl and lifts her hand, fingers crooked, in silent inquiry. After a moment, the owl lowers its head a measly inch, as though it is willing to suffer her affection as a fate only slightly better than death. Luna immediately begins to stroke its chest feathers. “Quite irreparable at this point, I suspect,” she says. “I have asked him before if I could perhaps write a little academic paper about his situation, but he refused. Are you sure you don’t want to try any of my bacon?” she asks the owl. “I think you’d be very surprised.”
The owl, unsurprisingly, refuses. It sits still just long enough for Harry to tie his reply to its leg and then it flies out the open window, as though Luna might try and force-feed it vegan delicacies if it remains on the premises for even a second longer.
Luna has Floo access to Malfoy Manor, as it transpires, so they’re able to stumble out of bed almost directly into the fireplace the next morning. They’re spat out into a truly ridiculous foyer done in black marble and dark wood that is saved from gloominess by its absurdly high ceilings. Harry had grown up in the sanctum sanctorum of an Ancient and Most Noble house and therefore had considered himself until now somewhat immune to the ridiculous trappings of Pureblood wealth, but this is really a cut above. Darling’s daily uniform of diamond-tipped hairpins, diamond earrings, and enormous diamond engagement ring suddenly seem almost austere in the context of this house.
“Potter,” Malfoy says shortly, standing in front of a pair of enormous doors, one of which is half-open. “Luna, good morning.”
“Good morning, Draco,” Luna says. “Thank you for inviting us for breakfast.”
From a distance, Malfoy looks like he couldn’t care less about his hosting duties, but when Harry and Luna come to join him in what proves to be the doorway to the breakfast room, Harry can see a bright, almost feverish gleam to his eyes. He’s wearing dark green robes today that seem familiar to Harry; perhaps he’s seen Dear wear them.
The breakfast room is almost twice as tall as it is wide and one entire wall is windows, floor to ceiling, with hexagonal panes of glass and a pair of doors that open onto a stone terrace. The morning light pulls color out of the dark wooden floors and papered walls, which are also green. There are moody landscapes hung everywhere and a full breakfast service set out on a sideboard. “Merlin’s beard, Malfoy, this is absurd,” Harry says.
Malfoy performs an elegant shrug and then picks up a plate and asks Luna politely what she might be interested in sampling. Luna asks the provenance of the chickens that produced the eggs; Malfoy is able to answer, which is what actually tips Harry over into fully believing that they’re friends. Luna had once asked Sirius the same question and he’d said, I think Remus shat them out the last time I took Harry up on my motorbike , and Remus had hexed his nose hairs to grow until they were long enough to strangle him.
Harry pours himself a cup of coffee and makes up a plate of eggs and toast before Malfoy’s finished with Luna, just in case Malfoy has any ideas about repeating this farcical service with Harry as his victim. “All right, then,” Harry says when they’ve settled with plates at the table and Malfoy is pouring himself a cup of tea from the pot on the table. “What’s this about a war?”
Malfoy flicks his wand and a wafer-thin slice of lemon rises out of its little porcelain bowl, contorts itself above his cup, and then descends to sit on the saucer. “Just as direct as ever, I see,” Malfoy drawls. He taps his forefinger against the lip of his cup; the porcelain makes a faint ringing noise. “She really didn’t tell you?”
“I didn’t know to ask,” Harry says. “It’s not like there was war where I’m from. Who’d think of it?”
Malfoy’s mouth twists very briefly. “How lovely for you,” he says lightly. “No Dark Lord to upset your schooling or murder your friends.”
“Was this Dark Lord the only one doing the murdering?” Harry asks, flicking a glance at Malfoy’s left arm. It feels like an absurd question; he and Dear had been cordial Quidditch rivals for six years and even at their most competitive hadn’t gotten beyond mocking banter. Harry had been hexed more times at school by Cho .
It’s Luna who says, “Draco was not very accomplished at murder, you know. He never once succeeded at it.” She bites a corner off of her toast and makes a soft, enthusiastic noise. “What lovely butter you have, Draco.”
“Thank you,” Malfoy says. “Both for your endorsement of my ineptitude and your compliments to my breakfast spread.”
Some of the stiff tension goes out of Harry at this. It’s been hard for him to reconcile Dear Malfoy--with his ludicrous quiff, soft hands, and fanatical devotion to the Wimbourne Wasps--with Harry’s own mental image of a Death Eater, which he’s assembled out of the photographs of various Lestranges in the upper year History of Magic textbooks from school. Sirius and Remus don’t like to talk about their experiences with Tom Riddle and his erstwhile compatriots; they vastly prefer embarrassing stories about Harry’s parents.
“Did it just not stop here?” Harry finds himself asking.
Malfoy’s upper lip, which had been in danger of going soft, stiffens immediately. “By which you mean, I suppose, that it stopped for your universe.” He appraises Harry with a swift head-to-toe glance, as though he can see through the polished mahogany surface of the table. Harry feels himself flush and is deeply grateful that he’s too brown to show it. “You were clearly raised by wizards. Your parents?”
“My godfathers,” Harry says. His throat feels strange; he just barely manages to croak, “My mum and dad, are they--?”
“No,” Luna says softly. She puts down her toast and touches Harry’s wrist with cool, dry fingertips. “You were very young.”
For all that his mother is the most famous person in the wizarding world and Harry is constantly reminded of her--he has to walk past the huge statue of her in the lobby of the Ministry every morning--Harry doesn’t often think of himself as an orphan. He has two parents, after all, for all that one of them never matured past his teenage years and the other one is a werewolf with persistent mood swings. He misses Lily Evans and James Potter in a way that’s more abstract than acute.
He’s a grown man , for Merlin’s sake; but his eyes do prickle a little at the comforting press of Luna’s hand.
“Right,” he manages. “Same, then.”
“It stopped here, for a while,” Luna says. “But I think we all must’ve known that he wasn’t really gone.”
“Yes,” Malfoy says. “Our generation was rather primed to take up the mantle again, weren’t we? He’d barely crawled his way out of Quirrell’s head before everyone was picking sides and then picking each other off--”
Quirrell’s head ? Harry thinks, dazed, but there’s no time to ask for clarification, as Malfoy is now steaming full ahead with an incensed rant about something that sounds, to Harry, like intergenerational trauma, although Malfoy clearly doesn’t know the terminology for it. There is a sharpness to these people--Malfoy, Granger, even Luna, occasionally, for all that she mostly seems just as woolly as ever--that Harry has only ever encountered before in Remus, who had spent nearly five years undercover as a feral werewolf in Albania at the height of Riddle’s megalomania.
Will Harry be able to return home and have tea at the canteen with Dear, knowing that there’s a universe where he’d been enough of a blood purist to stand around and watch his wife be tortured? Will he be able to face Darling’s sharp derision after having been subjected to her compassionate friendship?
Harry feels very tired, suddenly. He drains the dregs of his coffee and pushes his plate away. “If you’ve got questions, I’ll answer them,” he says. “Don’t know how helpful it’ll be, though. We weren’t friends at school.”
Malfoy lifts an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you mean,” he says.
“Just ask,” Harry says wearily. “I know you’re dying to; you look at her the same way, like she’s the last chocolate frog on the Express trolley.”
Malfoy’s sharp features rearrange themselves into an offended scowl, like a cat threatened with a bath. “I most certainly do not!” he says. “How absolutely puerile --”
“I think it’s rather nice,” Luna says in a quiet voice. Malfoy immediately snaps his mouth shut and turns to Luna with a polite expression of attentive interest. “To know that there is somewhere free from war, where we were able to have real childhoods, without any murder at all, and we all still became friends.”
“Again,” Harry says, “Darling and I are not friends; we really, really dislike each other. Zero feelings of friendship are shared between us.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” Luna tells him, patting Harry’s hand consolingly. “It must have been strange to fancy the same person all through school. Teenagers can be quite insensitive about that sort of thing. Draco had a bit of a crush on our Harry, you know, when we were at Hogwarts--”
Harry chokes on what he assumes is a stray coffee ground. Malfoy says, coldly, “Lovegood, I think your room in the dungeons is still open, if you want to pay it an extended visit.”
“--although he never said anything and was quite long-sufferingly noble about it when our Harry got married. Which, now that I think of it, makes your situations perhaps even more similar. Did your friends marry right out of Hogwarts? Our Harry did.”
“Sorry,” Harry says. There’s too much happening right now for him to deal with. “Married? Married to whom ?” His head is beginning to hurt. He can’t help but think that they’d all been quite eager to disregard Croaker’s mandate on interdimensional secrecy the moment that they found an iota of an excuse to do so. Perhaps they are mangling the threads of the multiverse with all this discussion of pasts and feelings and that’s why Harry’s head is throbbing. Maybe he’s going to go back home and find himself long since hitched to Justin Finch-Fletchley.
A very large clock in the corner behind Malfoy chimes half-nine with a cascade of bells. “We ought to go out and meet Granger before she decides to burn my house down for the spite of it,” Malfoy announces, rising to his feet. It’s clear that he wants an out from this conversation and, frankly, Harry can’t blame him.
“I’m married?” Harry asks Luna, bewildered.
She stands and drops her napkin onto her chair. “Yes,” she says. “You have three children.”
“Luna,” Malfoy says, warningly.
“I’ve reproduced ?” Harry says, aghast.
“Outside!” Malfoy barks. “Now!” When Luna opens her mouth, he says, “No more questions, and most certainly no more answers. If you say another word, Potter’s going to lose his breakfast.”
They trudge outside in silence: Harry feeling wretched, Luna looking unperturbed, Malfoy’s face tight and cold as he summons a book that comes zooming down the staircase after them. The front of the house has a long drive that extends off over gently rolling hills. There are terraced gardens flanking the drive that are neatly planted with various blooms in shades of ivory and cream. In the distance, some kind of enormous white bird making a threatening advance on a topiary shaped like a scorpion.
Granger is waiting for them halfway down the drive, arms folded across her chest. It’s still strange to see her dressed in Muggle clothing, although her linen trousers and cotton button-down suit her practical nature. Harry can hear her foot tapping when they’ve gotten close.
“Morning, Luna, Potter!” she calls. And then, tightly: “Malfoy.”
“Good morning, Hermione,” Luna answers. “I hope your breakfast was pleasant.”
“Yes, it was, thank you,” Granger replies impatiently. “And yours?”
“We discussed the war,” Luna says.
“Without supervision?” Granger demands on an inhaled gasp of outrage, storming over to Harry and beginning a physical inspection that starts with his forehead and then moves down his arms and legs, like he’s a toddler prone to falling down staircases. “You ought to have waited!”
“This one’s got a much better leash on his temper,” Malfoy says. “No wonder we’ve managed to become friends.”
“I didn’t say that,” Harry mumbles, caught between wanting to swat away Granger’s hands and finding her fussiness somewhat endearing. His head hurts badly enough that he feels in real need of comforting.
“I don’t invite just anyone to lunch, you know,” Malfoy says.
“I’m married?” Harry finds himself asking her, somewhat helplessly. She’s close enough that he can whisper it; she appears to be checking if his pupils are dilated.
“Oh, Harry,” she says softly.
“Who is it?” he asks her. “It’s not Finch-Fletchley, is it? I can’t stand him.”
Granger puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes, either checking for a dislocated joint or giving him a point of stability. “Do not think about it,” she tells him. “He’s not you.”
“You said we were the same,” Harry points out.
“I said you were similar,” she says, “which is not the same thing as identical. And even if you were identical, it wouldn’t matter--for Merlin’s sake, Padma and Parvati are genetically the same person and they’re married to different people.”
“Right,” Harry says. “Of course. We’re just--twins. Ish.”
“All right?” she asks, squeezing his shoulder again. “You look like your head is hurting.”
“It is,” he says, a little pathetically. It feels like all of the revelations of breakfast are billiard balls rattling around inside of his skull.
“Here, I’ve got some paracetamol,” she says, digging into the small bag slung across her torso. It’s the same one she’d pulled cow’s milk out of yesterday; Harry is beginning to wonder how many Extension charms she’s cast on it. “Take two,” she tells him, handing him a small plastic bottle, and then, a second later, a flask that turns out to be full of water. “You might be dehydrated. You always get so caught up in an adventure and then you never remember to drink enough water.”
“Thanks,” he says, swallowing the pills and then chasing them with a glug of water.
Granger watches him polish off the flask and then nods briskly to herself. “All right,” she announces, turning to Malfoy and Luna. “Have you got it?” she asks Malfoy.
“No concern for my welfare?” Malfoy asks silkily.
“It’s true,” Granger says, “that you often end up being the worse off when you and Harry get into a tiff. Any mortal injuries to report, then? Perhaps a particularly devastating paper cut?”
Malfoy scowls at her. “Here,” he says, pulling the book out from where it’s been tucked under his arm. “ The Nornish Compendium . It’s been warded to within an inch of its life and if you try to take it off the grounds it’ll just vanish and reappear in the Manor. So perhaps you’d like to come inside to take some notes?”
“Here’s fine,” Granger says distractedly, already opening the book and scanning the frontispiece.
Malfoy looks briefly pained. “For the love of Merlin, Granger, don’t--”
“I’m just copying the pages,” she says as she pulls a Muggle spiral-bound notebook out of her purse. She taps on the front cover with her wand, muttering under her breath. Harry can’t help finding her dedication to not stepping foot inside Malfoy’s stupid gigantic house, not even for creature comforts, a little bit admirable.
Malfoy stares at her the whole time she performs the copying spell, of course. It’s clear that he can’t help himself. This is like watching someone fly into a head-on collision with a Bludger.
“Won’t that fade?” Harry asks her.
“Yes,” she says. “But twenty-four hours should be enough time for me to find the relevant page numbers and copy them by hand. Malfoy, I don’t suppose you’ve made much progress looking into the boomslang skin?”
One of Malfoy’s eyebrows lifts. “No,” he says slowly, “no, not yet.” And then, as he looks at the top of her head, the eyebrow lowers and his face opens up into an expression that Harry has never seen him wear and yet instantly recognizes. Dear had started looking at Darling like that some time near the end of fifth year and then had just never stopped. “I’d thought, perhaps, Juan Maria Ruiz Ortega--”
Granger says, “He only ever documented New World reptiles, really.”
“--so I tried the journals of Hendrik van der Berg,” Malfoy continues, “but his naming schema is too controversial; no one can agree on the modern species he intended to reference. I’ve written to Flourish and Blotts for Nkosi’s Animal Flesh in Potions Brewing but I suspect it will be a tad too Dark for them to have in stock.”
“Minerva has it,” Granger remarks, distracted enough to look up from her copying. “It was in Snape’s private collection and she put everything that wasn’t outright bound in human skin into the Headmasters’ Library.” And then, irritably, “Nkosi isn’t Dark , he just isn’t European.”
“I’m afraid the headmistress is not taking my owls at the moment,” Malfoy says.
“I’ll write to her,” Granger tells him. She’s begun to relax; her posture is not quite so stiff. There’s a spark of actual humor in her eyes when she asks, “What horrible thing did you do to earn her wrath? This time , at least.”
Malfoy’s mouth twists in the corner. “I may have said something unkind regarding the current Keeper of the Pride of Portree.”
Granger’s lip curls. “ Quidditch ,” she mutters, returning to her copying. The pages of her spiral-bound notebook are visibly filling in waves of tiny black letters.
“Meaghan McCormick?” Harry says. His head doesn’t ache quite so badly. Either Granger’s Muggle paracetamol is beginning to take effect or Harry has managed to acclimatize himself to the realities of this universe, Death Eaters and progeny alike.
“Unfortunately for McGonagall, yes,” Malfoy replies. “I merely remarked that if they Confounded a house elf and tied it to a broom I think they’d have a better record and then she sent me a Howler informing me that my library privileges were temporarily revoked.” He has not quite managed to suppress a smirk at the end of this recitation.
“You deserved that, probably,” Harry tells him.
“But was I wrong?” Malfoy replies swiftly.
“No,” Harry allows. “But only an idiot would tell McGonagall that to her face. Isn’t she Catriona McCormick’s godmother?”
“Merlin, I’d forgotten,” Malfoy says, smirk dying. “Well, it’s not as though I said anything about her playing--she’s the only reason Scotland’s ever made it to the Cup Finals.”
“You really have a knack for being right in the most prattish way possible,” Harry observes.
“As if Malfoy is ever regularly correct about anything,” Granger says in a huffy undertone.
It occurs to Harry as Malfoy playfully scowls at Granger’s bent head that Luna hasn’t said anything in a few minutes. He swivels around like an idiot until he sees her off in the distance, approaching the giant white bird that he thinks is probably a peacock. “Er,” Harry says. “Is that bird--dangerous?”
“Luna and the peahen are ‘friends,’” Granger says, lifting one hand to hook her index and middle fingers into scare quotes.
“It’s a peacock, Granger,” Malfoy says.
“It’s white,” Granger says flatly. “Ergo, it’s a peahen.”
“They’re albino ,” Malfoy says.
“A trait apparently shared by numerous denizens of this property,” Granger says, not looking up as she flips The Nornish Compendium open to the middle and inspects her copy for, presumably, any errors on the matching page.
Harry has never been witness to Darling turning her sharp tongue on her husband and it’s just as hilarious as he might have imagined. Malfoy’s whole face collapses into a petulant scowl, like he’s just had someone take away his chocolate frog card collection. “What does that say about you , then?” he asks Granger. “Clearly some sort of latent attraction to albinism is buried inside of you.”
“If so, it’s very deep,” Granger says, palpably dubious. She snaps The Nornish Compendium closed with one hand and holds it out to Malfoy. “Your contribution to this investigation is appreciated, Malfoy. I’ll write to Minerva and have her send you Animal Flesh in Potions Brewing .”
“My gratitude is boundless,” Malfoy drawls. “You ought to send me an owl when you have the notes fully translated, Granger. You’re paying me a fortune to consult so you might as well get your money’s worth.”
“It’s hardly my money,” Granger says. She lifts her eyebrows at him and pointedly waggles the book, which he has made no move to take. “Harry, can you go fetch Luna?” she asks.
“Leave her be,” Malfoy says, finally reaching out and taking the book. “Those two can occupy each other for hours.”
Granger takes Harry with him when she leaves. Rather than going back into the manor to use the Floo network, they hike down the drive until the front gate and then Apparate to the garden at the Re-Rookery. Luna has set up a little spot for visitors, with a patch of multi-colored grass, a bench, and a sign that says All Curious Minds Are Welcome at the Re-Rookery . “Why is it the Re-Rookery?” Harry thinks to ask.
“Death Eaters demolished the original house,” Granger says. “It was our fault, really. Mine and Harry and Ron’s. So we helped her rebuild it and then didn’t say anything when she decided she wanted to rename it to acknowledge that it was the second iteration.” Granger’s little grimace of distaste makes it clear how she feels about that.
“Ron?” Harry says, pathetically grateful that someone has finally said his name. “Oh thank Merlin, I was worried he’d kicked it and Luna was being--you know, sensitive about it.”
“Oh,” Granger says, startled. She’s clutching the cross-body strap of her bag with both hands. “You ought to have said something, I didn’t--well, I suppose I’m not terribly surprised that you and Ron are friends in your universe as well as ours.” But as she says this, Harry can tell that he’s hurt her feelings.
“Well, we grew up together,” Harry says awkwardly.
“Right,” Granger says, clearly pretending to be unconcerned. “Well, you needn’t worry. Ron is alive and well.”
“I’d ask if he’s also married but I think I don’t want to know,” Harry says. “What if he’s the one shacking up with Finch-Fletchley? I’d rather die in ignorance.”
“No one is married to Justin Finch-Fletchley,” Granger says. Her death grip on her bag has relaxed and she no longer sounds quite so shrilly determined to pretend to be at ease. “You’re bizarrely obsessed with this possibility.”
“It’s literally my worst nightmare,” Harry tells her.
She squints at him for about two seconds and then says, “How long were you two going out, then?”
“Four dates,” Harry says grimly. And then, at her incredulous look, “He’s very fit.”
“Well you’re hardly a troll, are you?” Granger points out. “You seem so surprised that you’re married here. Does that mean--there’s not anyone?”
Harry’s last serious dabble with dating had been the disaster with Finch-Fletchley, which had crashed and burned last September in a horrible enough fashion that Harry hadn’t even thought about dating, not until Croaker had sent him to consult on a Brain Room project a few weeks ago and Harry had found himself having long, interesting conversations with Theo Nott. Harry has been too much of a coward since the consultation ended to follow up; he’s started to feel old and awkward about dating, now that most of his friends are married or shacked up. Besides, he has no idea if Nott’s even single, let alone interested.
“I, uh,” Harry says. “Well. That is.” He shoves his glasses up his nose with his forefinger.
“So you’re pining,” Granger says. When Harry winces she smiles at him a little condescendingly. “We’ve been best friends for twenty years, Harry,” she says, patting him on the arm. “Which isn’t to say that you’re not extremely transparent, it’s just particularly obvious to me. Who is it? Do I know them?”
“I have no idea,” Harry admits. “I don’t want to say. I don’t want to know if it turns out he’s also a blood purist, or--Merlin, a Death Eater or a serial killer or-- dead , or something.”
Granger says, “Of course. So it’s, ah, the casual sort of pining, then.”
“I’m going inside,” Harry tells her. “You can leave now.”
She pats him on the arm again and then Disapparates with a loud crack. Harry trudges through the garden, stops to say hello to a couple of the gnomes sunbathing in the pumpkin patch, and then makes himself some tea and settles down for a few hours of reading on the floor of the kitchen.
It doesn’t occur to him until supper that night, while Luna makes a Spanish tortilla with pink and blue potatoes from her garden, that Granger might actually be his friend now. Not just a transferable friend, comfortable with him because she’d grown up with a strangely domestic alternative version of him with short hair, but a real friend. Since he’s not sure how to feel about it, he eats his half of the tortilla in a silent daze and then helps Luna go over the last of the proofs for next week’s Quibbler .
Harry wakes up the next morning to an extremely loud clang that he knows from regrettable personal experience is the result of Flooing into a fireplace where somebody has forgotten to move the kettle out of the way. “ Fuck! ” someone yells downstairs. “Luna!”
Harry fumbles for his glasses and hooks them over his ears just in time to see Luna descend the spiral staircase from the third floor, languorously wrapping her dressing gown around herself and apparently completely unconcerned that she might trip on the hem of it and plummet to her death. “Good morning,” she says to Harry, smiling at him, and then she disappears into the floor as she makes her way into the kitchen.
Harry’s just awake enough now to realize that he recognizes the particular voice swearing furiously downstairs. He’s not surprised that it’s Ginny; she’s always coming through the fireplace at odd hours, as having six brothers clearly results in a person who thinks boundaries are for other people. “Luna, you absolute menace,” Ginny is saying, “if you don’t want people Flooing in here you ought to just block off the connection or something--I could’ve lost a knee to that thing!”
“I usually do,” Luna says. “I simply forgot, I suppose.”
“Morgana’s sagging tits that hurt,” Ginny mumbles. “If my knees go, it’s game over, you know. Children can smell weakness, like grindylows.”
Harry feels an instinctual spike of horror at the idea of Ginny with children. It sends his heart racing for a few seconds until he remembers that Padma is probably a steadying influence on the lot of them.
“I have this issue’s proofs for you,” Luna says. “Unless you came by for breakfast? But I’m afraid I can’t join you today.”
“No, it’s fine,” Ginny says. “I can’t stay long, the kids are all already up.”
There’s some rustling of parchment, a murmured thanks , and then Ginny says, “Do you know what’s up with Hermione?” rather abruptly.
Luna says, “Do you mean a specific behavior?”
“I mean, she’s always a bit like this when a relationship ends--you know, not sleeping, insisting that she’s fine, the inevitable discussion about whether or not she ought to move out so we can have our own space and privacy, as if it’s not a fucking blessing to have another set of hands around the house to corral our feral offspring--but--I don’t know.” There’s a long pause, minus the rustling, and then Ginny says, “She’s not--totally cut up about Penelope, is she? I didn’t think they were serious.”
“Hermione feels very seriously about most things,” Luna tells her.
“All right, fair enough,” Ginny says with a laugh. “I just mean, I didn’t think she was sitting there fantasizing about them being the Unspeakables Clearwater, you know? But if it’s not Penelope, then I don’t know why she’s being so strange. We’ve barely seen her for the last week. Yesterday she borrowed the house owl to send something to Malfoy , of all people.”
“Did you ask her about it?” Luna says.
“When I saw that he’d sent her a note back, yeah. I was ragingly curious, obviously, and kind of worried it’d be full of bubotuber pus or something. But it just said something posh and ridiculous like ‘you have my everlasting gratitude, Miss Granger.’”
Sounding like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, Luna says, “They must be working together on a research project.”
“All right,” Ginny says immediately, as if she’s been waiting for this opening, “ that may be the case --but it’s always really obvious when she’s forced to work with him. She comes storming home at all hours and bangs around the kitchen huffing about insufferable ferrets and Potions nonsense until I’ve got to remind her that the Silencing charms on the house are shit and she’ll teach the children bad words.”
“Perhaps she can’t say anything,” Luna says.
“Or,” Ginny says.
“Or,” Luna says.
“ Or ,” Ginny says, “he’s finally done it.”
“Hmm,” Luna says.
“I know Ron always insists it’ll take an Imperious but I really do think he’ll get to her eventually. She obviously can’t stand idiots and she’s already gone through everyone with half a brain in Wizarding Britain. Her choices are to either start in on some Delacour cousins or give Malfoy a go. And he’s raring for it.”
“I thought you thought he still fancies Harry,” Luna says very clearly, demonstrably not worried that Harry is trapped upstairs, forced to listen to every word of this conversation.
“I’m not worried about that,” Ginny says with a strange inflection. “Or, I’m not any more . The time for my husband to be seduced away by a handsome, emotionally devastated war criminal has passed, I think. But it would be awfully convenient if Hermione took him on--you know, a bit of a fixer-upper project. She’s always talking about how blood purists have to be rehabilitated or else they’ll try to murder all of us again in a few years.”
Harry stares unblinking at the ceiling as the last bit of Ginny and Luna’s exchange rings in his head like giant bells.
It’s not that Harry is opposed to being romantically involved with Ginny, necessarily. They’d gone out for most of Harry’s sixth year and he’d had fun but when Ginny had eventually gotten impatient with what she’d called Harry’s Idiot Tendencies and dumped him for Padma he hadn’t really been upset about it. Harry and Ginny make good friends and he likes going over and having supper with her and Padma and Luna at their flat. He literally can’t imagine marrying her, though. It’d be like marrying Ron .
“You’ll let me know, won’t you?” Ginny is saying when Harry has finally managed to stop his descent into a depressed downward spiral by repeatedly reminding himself that he’s lucky it’s not Finch-Fletchley.
“Maybe,” Luna says. “It has recently come to my attention that I might be violating people’s privacy by sharing information concerning their wrackspurts. I need to think on the subject for a while.”
Ginny says, audibly startled, “Oh! Well, that’s nice of you.”
“Thank you,” Luna says. “Here, I’ll move the kettle out of the way for you.”
“Thanks,” Ginny says. “I’ll get the copy edits to you tomorrow. Have you heard back about the paper order yet?”
“No,” Luna says.
“I’ll follow up, then; you’re too nice to the distributor.” And then the roaring sound of the Floo network activating and the creaking groan of the kettle arm being moved back into the fireplace.
A few seconds later, Luna’s head pops up through the hole in the floor. “Would you like some coffee?” she asks Harry.
“Yes,” he says. His voice comes out in a horrible croak and he has to cough a few times to clear his throat enough to speak. “Ah, Luna,” he says when she makes to disappear again. “Was that--that is, are Ginny and I--?”
Luna pauses and thinks for a second. “Would it be better if I didn’t say anything?” she offers.
Harry honestly thinks about that. “Yes,” he finally says. “Maybe that’s for the best.”
“Okay,” she says, ducking back down the stairs. “Is porridge all right? We have a lot of mulberries, unless the gnomes ate all of them again.”
After staring at the ceiling for about twelve seconds, Harry says, “Yeah, porridge sounds great,” and then he clambers out of bed and bolts up the stairs to the bathroom on the top floor, where he dunks his entire head under the faucet until it feels like his ears are going to freeze off.
Harry spends the day being useless, wandering from task to task like he’s been made the Re-Rookery house ghost. He helps Luna pick mulberries, as it turns out that the gnomes had in fact eaten most of the ones Luna had picked the night before, and then he helps her make jam. They eat lunch out in the garden under the gimlet eye of the mulberry-snatching gnomes, which transitions into weeding for most of the afternoon. “How do you manage this on a Healer’s schedule?” Harry asks her when they’ve settled onto the back stoop at four for tea.
“There’s always time, though, isn’t there?” Luna asks him, propping her elbows on her knees and lifting her mug to her lips. “Somewhere, anyway.”
“You ought to give advice in The Quibbler ,” Harry suggests, hiding his smile in the rim of his mug.
“Daddy tried,” Luna says. “We got a lot of letters, at first, but once they found out that I was nine, they weren’t interested in what I had to say.”
Harry hesitates and then asks, careful to look away so she doesn’t feel cornered, “Was it after?”
“After my mother died? Yes,” Luna says. “You know, right afterwards, I felt like I actually understood a lot of things better. Professor Trelawney told me that she thought witnessing death at a tender age improved the range of one’s third eye.”
Harry has no idea who Professor Trelawney is, but she sounds like someone who ought not to be in charge of educating impressionable children. “I don’t know,” he says slowly.
“No,” Luna agrees, “I don’t either. But I’m not nine anymore. Perhaps people will be more willing to write for advice from someone who is twenty-eight years old. That seems like a stable and responsible sort of age, doesn’t it?”
“I can’t say I feel particularly stable or responsible,” Harry says. He snags a ginger and lemon cream biscuit from the plate between them on the stoop and shoves the whole thing into his mouth.
“Well, it’s not you, is it?” Luna says. “It’s the age.”
“Right,” Harry says, garbled by crumbs and lemon cream. He swallows before continuing. “Yeah, I think you should give it a try. I bet Ginny gives good advice, too. She’s working with you, isn’t she? That’s why she came by this morning?”
“She’s my copy editor,” Luna says brightly. “She writes our Quidditch column as well. I wrote it originally but I think our readers like that Ginny has an insider’s perspective. I used to have a bit of trouble getting interviews, but she’s still friends with the people she played with on the national team.”
Harry picks up another biscuit and says, “Hard to imagine Ginny as a mum with a desk job, I’ve got to be honest.”
Luna hums and says nothing. It’s not quite the pointed silence that Harry would expect from someone like Granger, bristling with self-righteousness, but it gets the job done. A few minutes later, Harry takes an awkward bite of his biscuit and says, “I suppose I haven’t known that many mums, have I? Just Mrs. Weasley, really.”
“None of us have children?” Luna asks, sounding as if she’s almost disappointed.
“Not a single one,” Harry says. He squints out over the Re-Rookery garden, trying to imagine it full of children. Probably someone like Luna--dreamy and strange--would thrive here. “Ron’d rather cut off his foot. You and Gin and Pad say you’ll get it sorted when you want it sorted. I expect Nev’ll find the time eventually--although I hope he’s not still seeing Macmillan when he does--last thing anybody needs is mini-me of that ponce--” He trails off as his thoughts turn to Dear and Darling. Maybe he’s a little surprised that they haven’t brewed up some wretched little brat to serve as heir to the vast Malfoy estate. It seems in abstract like the sort of thing they ought to do.
“I like children,” Luna says contemplatively. “Yours are quite lovely. I wouldn’t mind having more of them around.”
Harry can’t help making a face. “I can’t get in his head,” he tells Luna.
“Whose?” Luna asks. “Yours?”
“Yeah,” Harry says. When he takes another sip from his mug, the contents have gone cold and slightly bitter.
“Ginny’s very lovely,” Luna says. “I believe the two of you are a quite normal amount of happy. Although, I don’t always understand what level people have decided is ideal. It seems to vary a lot.” She frowns over the lip of her tea cup into the middle distance, as though the zucchini patch will inform her as to the ideal amount of human happiness. “After the second baby Ginny cried a lot and quit Quidditch and I think she was well below the happiness average, but she spoke with somebody at St. Mungo’s and decided to become a journalist. She didn’t cry quite so much after the third baby.”
“Oh,” Harry says hollowly. Even though this seems like further evidence supporting his belief that his own children ought to remain purely hypothetical, he’d feel rotten saying as much.
“If you’re really curious, you can just ask, you know,” Luna says, eyes drifting over to meet Harry’s.
“I thought I am?” Harry says.
“Yourself,” Luna clarifies.
“Oh,” Harry says. He coughs awkwardly. “Er, no, I don’t think so.”
“You’re the only one with answers,” Luna says. “I’m afraid I can only offer speculation. You keep everything rather close to the chest, you know.”
“Yeah,” Harry says. “Well, people tend to think you actually know what you’re doing, that way.”
“Oh!” Luna says. “Really? How intriguing.”
Granger comes in through the garden door at quarter to eight that night toting a six-pack of Muggle lager, startling Harry where he’s busy at the counter chopping vast quantities of chard and squash under Luna’s somewhat ambivalent supervision. "Heya Luna, Harry. I hope everything went well today?"
Luna looks contemplative at this, as though she is considering answering truthfully, so Harry cuts her off with a quick, "Yep, great, cheers," and offers to put the lager in Luna's icebox.
"We made an awful lot of progress today," Granger says later, once Luna has served them all plates of risotto and curried squash and they’ve gathered around the kitchen table. "We did a quick test of the potion and it smells like cantaloupe, unfortunately--oh, yes, thank you," she says to Luna, accepting the pepper grinder, "Luna, this is gorgeous, by the way. Did you grow the chard?" And then, to Harry, "but I think we're close."
"Thank you," Luna says, glowing like she’s swallowed her own jar of bluebell flames. "I did. Harry helped me weed this afternoon."
"Oh?" Granger says politely.
"Yeah," Harry says around his forkful of risotto. "Sirius and Remus never did have much use for Herbology but I reckon I've absorbed something after all these years of being mates with Neville."
Granger says, only slightly shrilly, "Oh? Neville?" and takes a long pull from her lager.
"Yeah," Harry says.
"Grew up together?" Granger asks.
"Er, yeah?" Harry says, cautiously, because he knows that there is a wrong answer to this.
"Right," Granger says. She exhales loudly and takes a long time to blink on the subsequent inhale. "Of course."
There's a slightly tense silence for a few minutes as they all chase grains of rice around their plates. Luna doesn't look that bothered, humming to herself quietly, but Granger has a rather stormy brow. She opens her mouth twice to say something and both times she almost immediately shuts it and shakes her head.
"All right," Harry finally says, when it's too tense for him to even pretend to eat. "Out with it."
"Pardon?" Luna says, and then she looks between Harry and Granger and says, "Ah, not me."
Granger's mouth thins until it all but disappears between her teeth. She glares down at her plate for a few seconds and then she says, abruptly, "Am I really that wretched? I know I was an incurable swot when I was eleven, but--people did like me, eventually."
Harry says, "Of course you have friends," although the of course comes out a little weak.
Granger stabs at her little mound of curried squash. "I suppose Pansy Parkinson and I are bosom companions having all sorts of enjoyably intellectually rigorous conversations--"
Harry can't help a bark of laughter at that. "You and Pansy ? As if Parvati'd let you talk to her without scratching your eyes out. She's still offended that you said Divination was the last bastion of cretins and criminals fifteen years ago." He sobers when Granger's face is still twisted tightly. "But, you know, you've got--well, you're friends with Luna and Padma. You invited Ginny to your wedding. And you'll get lunch with Theo Nott sometimes."
Because he's an idiot, Harry cannot manage this last sentence with any equanimity whatsoever.
"Theo Nott?" Granger demands, freezing in place. "Harry! And you're ashamed of having gone on four dates with Justin Finch-Fletchley?"
"Nott's fit!" Harry says. He can feel his ears getting warm and awkwardly rakes his hair forward to cover them.
"Has he even got a personality?" Granger says.
"Of course he does!" Harry replies, offended in the only way that he can be: which is to say, by having had his taste so thoroughly maligned. "He's running the Brain Room, he's not an idiot."
"I didn't say he was stupid," Granger says. “I’ve never really spoken with him. I suppose there could be some kind of wit buried inside of that bland Pureblood exterior.” She sounds very skeptical.
Harry says, “Right, so: this is why we weren’t friends, if you were still wondering.”
“Because I don’t know if Theo Nott has a personality?” Granger cries, her voice getting jagged and sharp. “His father tried to cut my head off when I was sixteen--of course I haven’t spoken with him!”
“You’re married to his best friend!” Harry half-shouts at her.
Granger’s mouth tightens. “No, Potter, I’m not.”
“Well, you might as well be,” Harry says. He can hear that he’s gone sulky, the way he does when he knows he’s lost a stupid argument. Unfortunately, recognizing that and remedying it are two totally separate skills and Harry’s never mastered the latter. “He’s mad for you.”
Granger drops her fork as little sparks begin to dance through her hair. She leans forward in her seat and hisses, “What is wrong with you?”
“Oh, you mean other than having been forcibly kidnapped by a fucking interdimensional Porkey ?” Harry says heatedly.
Granger ignores that, narrowed-eyed and focused. “You’ve been so strange about this whole thing,” and then, more loudly, as Harry mutters, I wonder why , “Why does it matter so much to you whether or not I’ve married Malfoy? For Merlin’s sake, I’m my own person--even if I did get married, it would be completely irrelevant to my being able to help you get home.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Harry tells her. “It’s just--bizarre. He’s always been so pathetically obsessed with you. It’s bizarre to see you two like this. Why won’t you give him the time of day?”
Luna is watching Harry from across the table. For once, she appears totally absorbed by an activity; in this case, worrying about Harry. He can feel the edges of himself unraveling under her concerned stare.
“I’m not obligated to date someone just because they think they fancy me,” Granger says. And then, with a more vicious bite, “He’s never said anything.”
Harry scoffs. “Oh, really, that’s the only reason?”
“Well, he hasn’t !”
“He doesn’t need to say anything! He stares at you all the time! It’s like fucking fifth year all over again. We were partners in Arithmancy and all he did was stare at the back of your head. Something about you just--he gets totally over his head and can’t do anything else.”
Granger says, “He only ever stared at you while we were at school.”
It takes between half a second and ten years for the other shoe to drop on that one. Whatever Harry’s face does must be really embarrassing because Granger’s completely crumples. They’ve clearly both been walloped upside the head by the same realization. Harry says, “Fuck,” heartily and softly, as the sparks go out in Granger’s hair.
“I didn’t realize,” Granger says, stricken.
“Me neither,” Harry mumbles. He coughs to clear his throat and tries, “It’s nothing.” He stares at the scarred wooden surface of Luna’s kitchen table rather than meet Granger’s eyes, which are brimming with horrible sentiments like sympathy and pity. It’s not like Harry’s in love with Dear now , even if he was, apparently, at school and had no clue. Zero pity is required from that quarter. “It’s really nothing,” he repeats, more loudly.
“Is it?” Granger asks softly.
“It’s been ten years,” Harry reminds her. “So even though I’m clearly a fucking idiot, it is most definitely nothing by now.” He groans, loudly, when another wave of embarrassment crests over him. Ginny had even told him , fuck. He drops his head into his hands. “I’m not hung up, okay?”
“Okay,” Granger agrees, too quickly.
“Seriously,” Harry says. “I’m not. It’s just--I’m just having to reevaluate everything that happened my last two years at Hogwarts and I’m not happy about it.”
After a few seconds of silence, Luna says, “I suppose it would be strange,” thoughtfully.
“I want to go home,” Harry hears himself tell them. It’s the first time he’s let himself really think about it and he feels the anxious homesickness dagger through his chest. “Just in case I’m stuck, I didn’t want to think about it. But I really, really want to go home.”
“Harry,” Granger murmurs, “we’ll get you home, all right? We’re very close to figuring it out.”
“Right,” Harry says tiredly, dropping his hands and opening his eyes. Granger is curled forward in her seat, hand stretched across the table as though she’d reached out to give him a comforting touch and had decided against it at the last moment. Luna is standing by the sink and she returns now with a tall glass full of cold water that she silently offers to Harry. “Thanks, Luna.”
Harry gulps down the water and feels better with each swallow, as though Luna’s spiked it with Calming Drought. He’s only just polishing off the last of it when Granger says, contemplatively, “You know, I was absolutely head over heels for Ron at school,” and Harry promptly chokes on the last mouthful.
What , he tries to say, but he’s too busy coughing.
“Yes,” Granger knows to say anyway. “I know.”
“Ronald Weasley ?” Harry wheezes.
“You know how sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re actually sexually attracted to someone or it’s just because they’re tall?” Granger says.
“Is that why you were dating Penelope Clearwater?” Harry asks her and she shoots him an irritated look. “Sorry, too soon?”
“It’s so obvious that you were raised by men,” Granger says, putting an inflection on men that would be better suited to Blast-Ended Skrewts . “Listen, Harry, I know this whole thing must be nightmarish for you--I imagine we’re similar enough that you forget that we’re not the people you know until we say something that’s very jarring--and I don’t want you to feel that you have to pretend to be okay. Maybe it would be best if we all kept our distance for a little while, so you can adjust.”
“I’m not pretending,” Harry croaks.
Luna says, “Aren’t you?” a little wispily.
Harry and Luna stay at the Re-Rookery for the rest of the week with almost no intrusions on their solitude. Granger comes by for breakfast every morning with coffee and pastries and she speaks to Harry in a brisk, professional manner that he suspects is her way of giving him some space. It reminds him of Darling, although Granger gives it an unfamiliar, soft edge. Harry finishes reading the books on the Veil from the Re-Rookery library and takes extensive notes on their contents. As he spends the afternoons helping Luna in her garden--weeding, mediating disputes with the gnomes, pruning the fruit trees--he thinks gloomily on whether or not he ought to send a job application to Croaker and try to build some semblance of a life in this universe.
Perhaps sensing the direction of his thoughts, Luna organizes their days so he can fully contemplate them. She’s hardly ever an intrusive person but she becomes even more reserved as the week spools out. She drags a wireless set out into the garden so they can listen to music while they work, removing the impetus for conversation. Although he opens his mouth around questions a dozen times a day-- where are Remus and Sirius? How’s Ron? --he never asks them.
On Friday morning Granger comes by at half-eight with her French press and white paper bag of danishes and says, abruptly, before Luna has the chance to regale her with their marmalade-making escapades of the previous afternoon, “We’ve probably gotten it.”
“Really?” Harry asks. She’s assured him a few times that she felt close to a solution, but he’d been thinking more in terms of weeks than days. “But--Dear and Darling have been working on this for years.”
“Well, I have some of their notes, don’t I?” Granger says. She rips the edge off of a croissant and then fails to eat it. “Would you be willing to come by the Department and take a look at what we have? Your memories have been useful, of course, but--well, as far as we know you’re the only person to have actually experienced transdimensional travel.”
“Yeah, of course,” Harry says. She gives him a small smile and further shreds her croissant.
The reason for her nervousness becomes clear when they all Floo in through Croaker’s office and make their way to her lab, Harry Disillusioned and bringing up the rear of their strange procession, and Malfoy is waiting for them. He’s wearing the familiar black robes with obsidian buttons; his fingertips are ink-stained at the tips. Although his hair is pulled back into a queue, it looks a little softer. Perhaps he’s taken notes from Dear’s usual toilette.
Harry has listened to Granger parcel out updates the last few mornings, always we tried and we thought , and he’s assumed she meant Croaker. He feels a bit stupid about that now.
“Good morning,” Malfoy says.
“Morning,” Harry replies. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his trousers and tries not to notice the twin looks he’s getting from Luna and Granger. “Heard you might actually have figured out how to send me home?”
He’s not hung up on Malfoy, no matter what the two witches might think. It’s just bizarre to think that while he was apparently fancying Dear and in deep denial about it, there was a universe where the exact opposite was true. It feels like he’s been forced against his will to participate in some kind of Shakespearean farce.
“Well, if it goes wrong, we’re hardly going to know,” Malfoy drawls.
Harry can’t help wincing. “Cheers,” he says.
“We are of course building in some failsafes--” Granger amends shrilly, glaring at Malfoy, who interrupts her to add, “--but they’re difficult to test when we can’t pop over into another universe to make sure any of the mice made it.”
“I feel like one of those firsties the twins tricked into testing the Canary Creams,” Harry says to Luna.
“I quite like them,” Luna replies. “I’m not an Animagus; I’d never have the opportunity to fly, otherwise.”
Harry has always considered the WWW Canary Creams primarily hilarious and then, after he’d been made prefect, an annoyance. “Guess I never thought of them that way,” he tells Luna, who smiles at him. When he turns his attention back to Malfoy and Granger, they’re bickering over something and standing about four inches apart, although the height difference keeps them from really getting into each other’s faces.
If it weren’t for their hair and Granger’s robes, which are some kind of serviceable olive-colored sack far too hideous for the likes of Madam Malfoy, Harry could be back at work, watching Dear and Darling have it out over their latest experimental mishap. That now-familiar ache settles into his chest. He just wants so badly to be home.
“--we obviously can’t just ignore the astrological implications,” Granger is saying, hands fisted at her hips, glaring up at Malfoy.
“Did I say ignore ?” Malfoy replies lazily. “I don’t believe I did.”
“You implied, you--” Granger says, and whatever insult she’s about to slap in Malfoy’s face is cut off by the door to her lab bursting open and someone announcing, “I hate doing this, but Ginny sent me to have an intervention.”
And then: “What the fuck ?”
Harry obviously recognizes himself immediately, but it’s tempered by the shock of how very different his doppelgänger looks--short, very lean, with a messy pile of hair short enough to stick out in all directions and a pair of extremely ugly round glasses slipping down his nose. He’s not quite as dark as Harry, but that’s probably because he hasn’t recently spent most of his time gardening out under the hot sun. He’s wearing Muggle trainers and a lumpy striped jumper that looks hand-knitted.
“Harry!” Granger shrieks. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I--what are you doing, Hermione?” Harry’s doppelgänger yells back. “Who the fuck is this?”
“You can’t just barge in here whenever you feel like it,” Granger insists. “I work on highly dangerous projects! Some of them even the Minister doesn’t have clearance to see!”
“Oh, you mean like cloning?” Harry’s doppelgänger says sarcastically.
“He’s not a clone --oh!” Granger huffs. “Come on, come on, I can explain, although I shouldn’t have to because you ought to send me an owl when you want to visit--you aren’t even supposed to be down here, you know; you can’t complain about getting special treatment and then abuse it so robustly.” She grabs Harry’s doppelgänger around the upper arm and proceeds to drag him backwards through the door. “Merlin alone knows if you just created a paradox--Harry Potter, pick up your feet and walk --” and the two of them disappear out into the corridor.
The door shuts behind them with a soft click.
“Am I really that short?” Harry asks into the resultant silence.
“Yes,” says Malfoy, of course.
“You might be a little taller,” Luna says thoughtfully.
They stand there in awkward silence for a little while longer before Harry thinks to ask, “We didn’t actually cause a paradox, did we?”
“Probably not,” Malfoy says. “Nornish weaving doesn’t tend towards that sort of thing.” Harry shoots him a dirty look and is treated to an elegant shrug. “It’s the best explanation I have, Potter. If you’d like a response with footnotes, you’ll have to ask Granger.”
Malfoy, Luna, and Harry end up sitting down on the stools arrayed around Granger’s workbench and having a strangely companionable discussion about snake skin usage in Potions while they wait for Granger to return. Luna and Malfoy are surprised to hear that Harry isn’t a Parselmouth. “Is that even in question?” Harry asks them, bewildered, and instead of answering Malfoy turns their discussion towards the use of cat-eyed snake scales in Doxycide.
Granger returns thirty minutes later with three bottles of fizzy lemonade and a grim expression. “Here,” she says, shoving one of them at Harry. “I think the sugar will keep you from fainting this time.”
“Oh,” Harry says, fumbling to take the bottle. “We’re, ah, doing this now?”
“We’ve run all the tests we can,” Granger says. “Further delays are cowardice, not rationality.”
As jarring as it is for Harry to hear this coming from someone he could’ve sworn bled blue and bronze, it’s visibly worse for Malfoy, who pretends to gag. “ Gryffindors ,” he mutters. Granger hands him a bottle of lemonade and he scowls down at it. “What am I meant to do with this?”
“I thought you might appreciate a cold beverage,” Granger says curtly. “Do you want it or not, Malfoy?”
He gingerly accepts the bottle, as though it might be charmed to explode.
While everyone else drinks their fizzy lemonade Granger bustles around her lab, taking the lid off of a cauldron in the corner, stirring its contents--rotting pineapple; Harry recognizes it immediately and takes a large swig of fizzy lemonade to keep from gagging--and digging through her various jars of Potions ingredients in search of something. She gives a triumphant huff when she finds what she’s looking for, which turns out to be two buttons.
“Are you ready?” she asks Harry. When he shrugs and puts the cap back onto his half-finished lemonade, she waves her wand over the buttons she’s deposited on her workbench, one after the other, until there are two cockroaches scuttling around. “Give them a moment, I want to make sure they’re winged,” she says.
Harry awkwardly gets to his feet and says, “Er, well, guess I ought to--uh--” and then the air squeezes out of his lungs when Luna launches herself off of her stool at him, locking her arms around his chest in a ferocious hug. “It was nice to meet you,” he wheezes at her.
“You’ll always have a friend in me, Harry Potter,” Luna tells him. “It was lovely to spend so much time together. Thank you for helping with all of the jam.”
She relaxes her grip enough that Harry can wriggle an arm free and he loops it over her shoulders, patting her on the back. After a second, he tightens his grip in return and then they’re properly embracing. She smells like rosemary and sugar, with an herbally undertone that feels like the very essence of the Re-Rookery garden. “I’m glad you never change,” Harry mumbles into her shoulder and she laughs softly.
“Why would I?” she says. “I am exactly as I ought to be.”
Harry’s feeling alarmingly emotional and he coughs as he steps out of Luna’s hug. “Er, cheers, mate,” he says to Malfoy, lifting a hand in farewell.
“Yes, yes, the same to you,” Malfoy says with a half-hearted sneer.
Harry’s not quite sure what to say to Granger; he turns towards her and opens his mouth and then closes it. Thanks for not being a terror seems like the wrong way to end this fledgling friendship. He coughs awkwardly and watches her carefully lower the cockroaches into the cauldron and then freeze the buttons with a sharp snap of her wand when they come flying back out again.
“Er,” he finally says once she’s finished. “Thanks for--doing this.”
“Don’t strain something,” she tells him with a small smile. “We’re not saying goodbye just yet.”
“Oh?” Harry says.
“Granger, you can’t be serious,” Malfoy squawks. Harry turns to see him glaring at her from across the workbench. “We’re not even sure if it’ll work!”
“Yes, exactly,” Granger says.
Harry looks from Malfoy’s furious expression to Granger’s placid smile to the two buttons levitating mid-bounce above the cauldron with its rotting pineapple-scenting contents. “ Oh ,” he says, finally catching up. “Yeah, I think I’m with Malfoy on this one.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Granger says. “If you get sent somewhere new you’ll have no idea how to get home.”
“Can’t you just--write the recipe down, or something?” Harry suggests, scratching the back of his neck.
“Yes,” Malfoy agrees quickly. “For once, a brilliant suggestion.”
“Hey!” Harry protests as Granger says, with exaggerated patience she must have learned from living with multiple small children, “It is cowardly and irresponsible to let someone else test this. If it works, I will come straight home. If it doesn’t work, I will have two data points and will be able to begin constructing an Arithmantic matrix for predicting the directionality of interdimensional transfer.”
Harry points out, “There’s no guarantee that Arithmantic principles are consistent across universes. We haven’t done any investigation of astronomical phenomena--your planetary system could look totally different from mine--” and before he can finish she’s hotly insisting, “All the more reason for you not to test this on your own!”
“Granger, I can’t let you do this,” Harry tells her. “C’mon, you know it’s stupid.”
“It may very well be,” Granger insists shrilly, “but it’s also the right thing to do.” Her eyes are very wet when she turns them on Harry. “I’ve already stranded you once, I can’t be responsible for doing it again.”
“Granger,” Harry repeats, helplessly. This is a side of her he’s never seen before and therefore has no idea how to interact with.
“Don’t argue,” she orders. “Malfoy, give me an hour before you go to Saul. Luna, you’ll watch him, won’t you?”
“What do you think I’m going to do?” Malfoy sneers. “Follow you?”
“I don’t understand you at all,” Granger says, exasperated. “Who could possibly predict what you’ll do?”
This seems to be the breaking point for Malfoy, who circles the workbench between them in about half a second and then crushes Granger into his arms like they’re starring in the kind of torrid wireless drama that Sirius has always loved. “Don’t pretend to be thick,” Malfoy snarls, and then he’s kissing her with one hand pressed to the small of her back and another fisted in her hair. Granger makes a grumbling harrumph of a noise but eventually relents enough to throw her arms around his neck.
“Wow,” Harry observes to Luna, after what he’s judged to be a sufficiently long first snog, “it’s like I’m back home already.”
“Shut up, Potter,” Granger and Malfoy say in unison, peeling their mouths apart with an audible noise. Granger is too dark to flush but Malfoy’s whole face is pink.
“That’s not exactly convincing me otherwise,” Harry says.
Malfoy pulls a handkerchief out of the breast pocket of his robes and carefully wraps up the spare button. He tucks it into the left pocket of Granger’s robes, taking the opportunity to whisper something in her ear. She hisses something back and smacks him in the arm. “All right,” she says more loudly. “On three, then?”
“Sure,” Harry agrees, raking a hand through his hair. His nonchalance is about seventy percent fake and, probably sensing this, Granger reaches out and snatches his hand. Her grip is cool and dry, her hand very small in his. He’s now standing close enough to her that some of her hair brushes his cheek.
“One,” Granger says, “two,” and then as she says, “three,” both of them reach out and simultaneously touch a finger to the side of the remaining button.
Although Harry falls upon landing, he’s not unconscious and he manages to keep his glasses on his face. “I think that wasn’t as bad,” he observes, tongue a little thick. He has to close his eyes but a few blinks clear his vision until he’s not just besieged by white spots. There’s no sign of Malfoy or Luna in the empty lab, just two workbenches, a bookcase full of tomes, and a familiar sweater draped over the chair at the nearest workbench. Molly had made it for Remus last Christmas and Harry had repossessed it almost immediately. In his defense, the labs at the Department get monstrously chilly.
Granger’s hand is still clutched in his own. “Did we make it?” she asks him worriedly, trying to prop herself up into a seated position with her other hand. “Does this look right?” And then she groans and says, “Merlin, my mouth tastes horrible.”
“Pineapple,” Harry says knowledgeably. His eyes dart automatically to the spot above the door. The clock there has a situational hand already swinging from You’re fucked, mate! to Time to go home! “Yeah, er, I think this is right? That’s my clock.”
Granger eyes it suspiciously. “That’s probably not enough,” she says. “Some universes could more closely align than others--what we need is confirmation from a third party--” and, as if Merlin himself has heard this, the door underneath the clock opens and in walk Dear and Darling, the former biting off a piece of pasty, the latter shoving a hairpin back into place. They both freeze when they see him.
“ Potter ?” Dear says, almost dropping his pasty.
“Heya,” Harry says, lifting a hand. “Er, how long have I been gone?”
“Two weeks,” Dear says.
“What happened ?” Darling demands.
“Oh, Harry, we did it,” Granger whispers, squeezing his hand tightly. After a second she releases his hand and then leans forward and throws her arms around his neck, knocking them both to the ground. “And, you know, I’ve been thinking about the Veil and I really think it might be worthwhile for you to consider it not so much as a physical object made by metaphysical means but a metaphysical object Transfigured into a physical one. There’s a number of recent publications from a group in Singapore concerning Embodiment--in the alchemical sense--that I think you should look into. Write to Minerva, she’ll know.” She pulls back a little and says, more seriously, “You ought to tell Nott you’re interested in him. If you’re serious.”
Harry says, “Oh, yeah, thanks, yell that a little louder, if you don’t mind. He might actually not be able to hear you-- oof ,” as she hugs him again. “You better get going before Malfoy tries to follow you here.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” she says, settling back on her heels. “You ought to take better care of yourself, Harry.”
“I’m fine,” Harry says. “Who are you, my mum? Get out of here.”
Granger smiles at him as she fishes the crumpled handkerchief out of her pocket. “You need one, sometimes,” she says. “Be well, Harry.”
“You too, Hermione,” he says, and then she winks away, leaving behind a faint scent of rotting pineapple. Although, that could just be the lingering taste in the back of Harry’s throat.
From the doorway Darling says, “That was me,” a little dazed. “Merlin and Morgana, it works.” Dear picks her up and twirls them around, laughing, as she shrieks, “It works! We’ve done it!” Although she’s wearing her usual set of diamonds and pristine navy robes and has her hair tamed into an elegant chignon, she looks completely indistinguishable from Granger when she’s laughing. “Draco, it works!” And then they’re kissing, just like Granger and Malfoy had been mere minutes ago, although this one is an embrace that’s more joyful and less palpably desperate.
A second later she’s peeled herself out of Dear’s arms and is clattering across the floor towards Harry. “Potter, I want to know everything ,” she says. “Do you need a Healer? I’ll get--dear, have Croaker ring St. Mungo’s and have them Floo Luna over. What was it like? I suppose you don’t have to answer that if you’re going to faint.”
“I’m not going to faint,” Harry tells her.
“Well, we ought to be sure,” she says. She stops about two feet away from him, puts her hands on her hips, and turns to her husband. “Go,” she tells him. “I won’t ask too many questions before you get back.”
“That’s a lie,” Dear says. “Potter, tell her nothing while I’m gone.”
“ Go ,” Darling says. When she turns back to Harry she’s already lost in thought, her prominent front teeth nibbling on her lower lip. “Getting between two moving points is one thing,” she says to herself. “But backtracking is quite another.”
“Unless they were linked,” Harry says unthinkingly.
Darling’s gaze sharpens. “What was that, Potter?” she says.
Harry says, slowly, feeling a little self-conscious under her stare, “Well, what if they’re two points at a fixed distance?”
Darling says, “You mean, the Portkey can travel a certain distance and our two universes are always that distance apart?”
“Sure,” Harry agrees cautiously. “I suppose. It’s just--a guess.” But the look on Darling’s face isn’t one of condescension; she lifts her left hand and taps her front tooth with her forefinger. It’s a strange gesture and Harry doesn’t realize until she does it that it’s one she hadn’t shared with Granger.
“Michaelis’ multiverse theory posits that all universes have relative distances in constant flux,” Darling murmurs.
“Well, she’s an idiot blood purist,” Harry points out.
“Well, I know that,” Darling scoffs. And then, suspiciously, “How do you know that?”
Rather than tell her that it’s advice from her other self, Harry elides and says, “My mom was a Muggleborn, you know that. Everybody knows that.”
“You hardly act like it,” Darling says stiffly.
“Well, neither do you,” Harry says.
“I had to convince my father-in-law not to disown Draco,” she snaps. “What’s your excuse?”
Granger had been so unhappy to learn that Harry had been friends with Neville and Ron but not her. Am I really that wretched , she had asked, her face pulled into a familiar kind of sad resignation.
Slowly, like he’s feeling his way for the Snitch through a blinding downpour, Harry says, “I guess I didn’t really know many Muggles growing up.”
She frowns at him for a few seconds, like he’s the result of an experiment that doesn’t quite match her hypothesis. “You were going out with Finch-Fletchley for a while, weren’t you? Why’d you break up?”
“Well,” Harry says gamely, because he’s apparently going all in on this, “he’s a fucking prat. I suspect it has nothing to do with blood status. All of his stories are about meeting the queen or going to weird, expensive spas in Lapland.”
Darling hums thoughtfully at this. This is by far the longest and strangest conversation the two of them have ever had. Perhaps she’s also having to do some mental adjusting. “Do you really like Theo?” she asks abruptly, her stare sharpening.
Harry chokes on air and hacks out a quick, “Uh, sorry, what?”
“Oh, yes, I see,” she says. “Why didn’t you say anything? Draco would have helped you. He’s been trying to get Theo to date for ages.”
Harry’s face feels like it’s been set on fire. “Why would I have said anything?” he demands; it comes out in an embarrassing squeak. “You hate me!”
“You hate me ,” Darling says. “But you don’t hate Draco, do you?”
The way she says this makes it very, very clear to Harry that he’d been the only one not to notice his raging crush on Dear at school. Harry manages, “I thought we just sort of agreed to dislike each other?”
“Well, you’re capable of being an enormous prat, that’s certainly true,” she says. “But I generally don’t make a habit out of disliking people, not unless they make it clear that they dislike me. And you made it--very clear that you disliked me.” When Harry stares at her, bewildered, she says, “First year? I tried to help you and Ronald Weasley Levitate something and then the two of you told everyone I was horrible and no one would be my friends for four months. Draco only really started to speak to me because we shared a table in Potions.”
Harry says, “We were eleven .”
“Yes, well, you’re Lily Evans’ son, aren’t you?” she says, a little sourly. “And I was just a Muggleborn who didn’t know her place.”
Harry stares at Darling for what feels like a long time. She’s standing next to her workbench, arms folded protectively across her stomach, her left hand with its ludicrous diamond ring propped under her chin. She’s wearing cosmetics: her lashes long and sooty, her mouth painted a neutral dark purple. She’s not quite as bony as Granger, who’d further exacerbated that impression by wearing loose shirts and robes. But the expression on her face--sharp intelligence, wounded pride--is very familiar to Harry. Each time he’d put it on Granger’s face, he’d felt worse and worse.
“I’m sorry,” Harry finally says. “I didn’t realize that we’d hurt your feelings.”
As if suddenly realizing that they’re talking about her deep-seated emotional vulnerabilities, Darling drops her hands to her sides and straightens her spine, her chin lifting into the air. “Thank you for your apology, although it is unnecessary,” she says.
“Right,” Harry sighs. “Well, I’m--I’d--look, by the end of all of this, I was friends with--that is, I’d really like to-- fuck --” and he’s mercifully cut off by the door to the corridor bursting open. Dear and Croaker come through, Luna floating after them in her pale blue Healer’s robes.
“Harry!” Luna says brightly. “How was your vacation?”
“Er, illuminating,” Harry says rather than protest her use of the word vacation . “How’s it going, then?”
“Oh, this and that,” Luna says. “Or are you asking after the Longbottoms in particular? They are doing well. Alice asked me to bring a piece of gum to Neville.”
“Dropping by Macmillan’s office, then?” Harry says.
“Yes,” Luna replies cheerfully. “I thought it to be more convenient than journeying all the way to Hogwarts.” She turns to Harry’s coworkers and says, “I believe most people prefer privacy when being examined by a Healer. Unless Harry would like you to stay, I think you should leave.”
“Potter?” Croaker says gruffly. “Good to see you and all.”
“Thanks, sir. I’m fine, sir,” Harry says.
Croaker grunts, “I’ll be in my office, then,” and disappears. Dear goes after him and then stops in the doorway when he realizes that his wife hasn’t moved.
“We’re having dinner with Theo tonight,” Darling says, with slow deliberation, in Harry’s general direction. “You ought to join us. We’re going to try a new Ethiopian restaurant in Muggle London.”
She sounds both fierce and gentle, as though this is both a peace offering and a test. It should feel strange to be receiving an overture of friendship from someone that Harry has known for close to twenty years. Luna had said, I think the one skill every Harry Potter shares is the ability to find a friend inside of anyone , which is both demonstrably not true and also something that Harry desperately wishes was.
“Yeah,” Harry hears himself say. “You know what? Sounds great.”