Harry stood, studying the row of receipts lined up atop his dresser. Amazing, how much these tiny sheets of thermal paper had impacted his life.
He pushed his hair away from his forehead; he probably ought to have listened to wiser voices and gotten it cut. But it was too late now. On this hot summer day, every cycle from the rotating fan in the corner of his room blew a breeze through his persistently messy hair.
One of the receipts fluttered in the artificial wind, sliding sideways across walnut wood grain. Harry reached out with a jerky, almost panicked movement. These four receipts were among the most precious things in Harry’s possession. Right up there with his godfather’s old motorbike.
It was baffling, honestly, how he ended up here. How they’d ended up here. Sometimes, on Harry’s more exasperated days, he couldn’t really fathom it. On other days, it made perfect sense.
He returned the runaway paper to the neat little line in front of him: a concise chronology telling his—their—story. With a soft, memory-laden smile, he picked up the first receipt.
Crinkles sullied the paper, stains, too. The messiest of his saved receipts, this one wore a pink, bleeding salsa stain like a badge of honour. The first several lines had been inexplicably double printed—extra emphasis on the establishment in question, Harry sometimes liked to think. He didn’t need clear legibility to know it came from the tacky taco Tuesday night he’d been dragged to by his wildly outgoing classmate, a novel and interesting stranger to him at the time.
Harry was sweating. Profusely. Uncomfortably. Summer term at Hogwarts University meant heavy, historic stone walls and subpar air flow. Air conditioning was out of the question, not in such a prestigious, historically significant castle-turned-bastion of higher education. Plus, Harry imagined that loud, unsettlingly off-white AC units hanging out of windows probably offended some bloody, buggering decision-making Earl’s sense of aesthetic.
As such, Harry was hot and grumpy and irritated.
He’d done this to himself, annoyingly.
He shouldn’t have let his grades drop so much during the spring term. If he’d gotten them up by just a couple more points, he might have avoided having to retake this painfully boring history class so he could keep his spot on the football team.
He leaned back, stretching his legs out in front of him, trying to roll out his stiff achilles when someone sat down in the seat directly next to him.
Harry nearly startled. His late-in-the-afternoon summer term class didn’t exactly have an abundant roster, barely enough bodies to fill a quarter of the seats in a disproportionately large lecture hall.
Harry had positioned himself in the very last row, not even pretending that he cared about paying attention. Hermione probably had colour coded and painfully thorough notes from having taken a similar course at some point in her jam packed schedule. Harry was fairly certain she had all her notes from every class she’d ever taken alphabetized and filed away on a special shelf. If Harry was extra nice to her and let her roam the bookstore as long as she wanted the next time they spent an afternoon together, he suspected he could get her to part with her notes. At least temporarily. It wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest if she had a library system with fines and borrowing limits he’d have to abide by.
The humanities sucked; Hermione wouldn’t let him fail.
So why a stranger—with perfectly groomed chestnut hair and a too-wide, gleaming smile—sat down in the seat directly next to Harry when there were fifteen other options available, Harry did not know.
The stranger winked at him, slumped his bag on the floor, and relaxed into his seat with the casual confidence of someone who didn’t have a single care in all the world.
At the front of the class, Professor Binns, a portly, lifeless sort of fellow, launched into the class with neither a welcome nor an introduction, just a monotonous review of the abbreviated term’s syllabus.
The stranger beside Harry shifted his posture, leaning closer.
“Hi,” he said in a low voice. “I’m Theo.”
“Uh. Hi?” Harry half expected the professor to put a stop to their hushed conversation immediately; the class had barely even started. But Binns didn’t appear to notice.
“Summer school, am I right?” Theo weaponised a waggling sort of smile.
“You’re Harry Potter, yeah?”
“What—how do you...?”
Theo lifted up the strap to his satchel; a shiny enamel Slytherin pin stared up at Harry. He furrowed his brows. Every person he’d ever met claiming to be in the Slytherin Brotherhood had been an enormous prick.
“You’re a Slytherin, then? Isn’t your secret society supposed to be more secret? You’ve got”—he gave a small, dumb sort of gesture—“merchandise?”
Theo just shrugged, sinking even deeper into his casual, comfortable posture.
Harry pressed, voice a whisper. “So how is it you know my name?”
“Oh. Draco Malfoy. We’ve been friends since before we could walk. He’s been dating that girl…with the hair…and the name. Hermione, right? Draco has had some—choice words about her best friends. The destitute ginger wanker and the bespectacled black haired menace.” He gave a much more graceful wave of his hand and wrist towards Harry. Then Theo snorted. “Also, it was a shot in the dark. Worked though.”
“Uh huh,” was all Harry could conjure, realising he hadn’t heard a single word about his class. The professor kept droning on. Perhaps Harry ought to have sat a little bit closer to the front of this unnecessarily large hall.
“Hot in here, isn’t it?”
“There’s a heat wave going on,” Harry responded out of the side of his mouth while engaged in a halfhearted attempt at learning the exam schedule.
“Mmhmm. Sure is. Sucks, that. Great for tequila though.”
“It’s tequila weather.”
“Tacos, too. You know, since it’s a Tuesday.”
Harry wasn’t sure Theo had looked at the front of the class a single time since the lesson had begun. His entire focus, and a substantial amount of his quite overwhelming charm, seemed centered exclusively on Harry.
Was this what the word bamboozled meant? Harry felt distinctly bamboozled by the questions and the commentary and the charm so thick it might choke them all out of their already sweltering lecture hall.
“...yes?” Harry ventured.
“What are you doing after this?”
“I was probably going to do some exercises—”
“Oh, that’s no fun. You’re coming out with me instead. I know this tiny little place that does great tacos every Tuesday. Plus cheap tequila.”
“Cheap tequila? I thought you Slytherin types had more money than god?”
Theo smiled: straight teeth, dimples, and more confidence than he’d probably earned.
“We do. But if I’m buying, I should try to be economical, don’t you think?”
The tiny thrill, a rush of potential attraction, was entirely unwelcome in hot classrooms with overwhelming strangers smiling at Harry like tacos and tequila on a Tuesday was the most reasonable second step after “hi my name is…”
And he did.
Harry read the receipt in his hand. They’d had several tequilas and then gorged themselves on chips and salsa while sitting outside under technicolour string lights. They’d danced around the idea of flirting while watching a rerun of the day’s match on an enormous flatscreen TV hanging over the bar. They’d argued over football’s finer points, which Harry quickly learned Theo knew absolutely nothing about, nor did it seem like he especially cared. Theo just seemed to enjoy a lively debate for the sake of a lively debate.
He flipped the receipt over in his hand. On the back, Theo’s phone number was scribbled in a messy, tequila-tilted scrawl.
With a smile, Harry returned it to the dresser with the others. He picked up the next receipt, dated a few weeks later.
After a surprisingly casual and fun night involving more salsa than tacos, but definitely the promised quantities of tequila, Harry threw himself into actually focusing on his work. Distractions like Theodore Nott threatened that Harry lose his position on the team. Worryingly, he’d had enough fun that he almost didn’t care.
But Theo was clearly the overwhelming, all-consuming type, and Harry needed to establish a sound grade before he could let himself be consumed. The next few times Theo suggested they hang out after class, Harry found a pathetic excuse about his busy schedule and academic commitments.
Theo didn’t seem to mind. After each rejection he just kept chattering away and would casually inquire again the next day.
Then, a few weeks after tequila Tuesday, as Theo had started fondly referring to it, he changed tactics.
“I have an extra spot on my reservation at a wine bar opening,” he whispered, leaning towards Harry with a conspiratorial smirk. Harry’s plans to potentially move closer to the front of the hall hadn’t gone well, not when Theo insisted on hushed conversations no matter how plainly in view of the professor they were. “And it is Wednesday after all.”
Harry struggled to string those two ideas together.
“Wednesday,” Theo repeated. “A wine bar. Wine Wednesday. It’s meant to be, obviously. So I’ll meet you at eight.”
“Was that meant to be a question?”
“You’re clearly not in danger of failing this course. It’s been almost a month. So live a little, yeah? It’s a new wine bar opening in town. They’ve got some special contract with several french vineyards, apparently. Exclusive estate tastings.”
Theo’s rushed pitch sounded almost nervous, perhaps a touch desperate. It struck as a peculiar sensation, a feeling of being wanted. Harry thought probably romantically, but even if just platonically; it felt nice that someone wanted to spend time with him.
With Ron taking a year off school to work and Hermione constantly overburdened by her fierce study routine and fledgling relationship, Harry didn’t have a long list of people wanting his time or attention.
And certainly none this charming, persistent, or capable of packing away his own body weight in salsa.
Perhaps one more night out wouldn’t hurt. Not too much.
“I—I’m not really a wine person?” Harry said, hedging himself halfway into acceptance. He smiled, voice dropped low, head tilted in Theo’s direction. “Don’t you want to take someone who’ll appreciate it more?”
For once, Theo didn’t chatter. He just gave Harry one long, appraising sort of look, the two of them leaning close to each other over the gap between their seats.
Then finally: “I’d rather take someone I’ll appreciate.”
Harry had no idea how to respond to that.
Which was how he ended up at a posh wine bar on a Wednesday evening.
Harry couldn’t really tell the difference between the Pinot Noir, the Syrah, and the Cabernet Sauvignon. But he shared a cheese and olive platter with Theo. He munched on buttery, rosemary crackers while sitting on painfully uncomfortable barstools in the corner of that dimly lit wine bar.
Cozy, he might have called it with a sober mind. But his red wine soaked brain matter kept circling around to the word romantic.
Harry smiled at the lengthy receipt detailing the extra food and several bottles of wine Theo purchased after tasting and loving literally everything he’d tried that night. This receipt was in much better condition than the first. Pristine, save for a single spot of bleeding red wine at the top from where Theo had taken it straight from the bartender, flipped it over, and scribbled on the back.
Harry flipped it over, too.
This was definitely a date, by the way.
Just like the first time he’d read it, Harry’s heart clenched.
He returned it to the dresser and picked up the next one.
“What’s a bloke got to do to get you to buy him a drink around here?”
Harry couldn’t help but smile as Theo slid into the seat next to him. Only a week remained in their class together and Harry had been swamped with pre-season practices and ensuring that he definitely didn’t have to retake this course again.
“Probably bamboozle your way into two dates with me.”
“Check and check. Although, two rather nice dates and a lot of radio silence since. Makes a man a touch self-conscious.”
“Some of us aren’t taking summer classes for fun, you know. I’m busy.”
“I resent that. I’m not taking this class for fun. I’m taking it for you.”
Somewhere in the foreground, Binns started lecturing.
“How else was I supposed to finally meet you? Every time Hermione tried inviting you out with her and Draco—and me, by the way—you declined.”
Harry blinked. “That—should I be creeped out?”
“I mean, maybe a little bit. But they really sold you quite well, convinced me we’re predestined. What was I supposed to do? Accept that you’re an antisocial shut in at heart? No, no. It’s fine, of course, if that’s who you are; I like everything I’ve seen so far. But it does make you difficult to meet.” He lobbed another megawatt smile at Harry. “You can be my anti-social shut in, though. There’s lots of fun we can have in private.”
What should have been alarm felt a lot more like a thrill zipping across the surface of Harry’s skin. Strangely, Harry found himself disarmed by the sheer honesty in how Theo admitted to his scheming. Theo had nothing to hide, never had.
“It’s Friday,” Theo said in a hush.
“There’s a bar I like. Called Fire Whisky. And don’t tell me you have a practice tonight: I cross referenced with Draco who double checked with Hermione who texted you like an hour ago.”
Theo lifted his brows as if he expected an excuse anyway.
“You’re sure I shouldn’t be concerned?” Harry asked, letting his smile show.
“No. Let’s call it tenacity. You should be flattered. You don’t put nearly enough effort into your hair care routine to merit this much pursuit, honestly.”
“Does my hair bother you?”
“Your incredibly interesting black and white opinions about good and evil more than make up for it. You’re ever-so-fascinating, Harry Potter. Especially to a grey little thing like me.”
“I won’t even make you buy. This one’s still on me. You can buy for me when you mean it.”
At this point, if Harry was really honest with himself, he didn’t even want to pretend he had another commitment that evening.
“You’re not just interested in me because I’m a bit of a sports star, are you?”
Theo laughed, loud enough that several students looked back at them. Professor Binns, evidently, hadn’t noticed the interruption.
“Determined not to trust me, are you? Full of yourself, too. While I admit, I’m exceedingly interested in the state of what I suspect is an impressive six pack hiding beneath your poorly fitting wardrobe choices, I’m also inexplicably interested in the way you frown just a little bit when you’re drunk and you’re trying to think of what to say to fill a lull in conversation.”
“Lulls in conversation aren’t generally a good thing.”
“I don’t mind silence.”
“I don’t think you’ve stopped talking since we met.”
“Only because I’m dreadfully nervous.”
“Oh.” A pause. Candour shot straight to the top of personality traits Harry found wildly attractive. “So just those two things, then? My six pack and my considerate conversation skills?”
“Among other things. I’ll tell you about them tonight.”
On the back of Fire Whisky’s receipt:
Best kiss of my life, Harry Potter. How dare you.
He supposed whirlwinds were called whirlwinds for a reason. The summer term ended. Autumn term began. He and Theo kept seeing each other, and in alliterative date opportunities whenever possible. Taco-slash-tequila Tuesday became a staple. Margarita Mondays made an appearance. Snogging Saturdays ended up as a fan favourite.
And they kept seeing each other.
Spending weekdays and weekends, alliterative and unalliterative alike, curled up with each other.
Into another summer where, instead of taking class together, they lounged by pools and celebrated Hermione and Draco’s engagement. Harry barely knew what to think when he started wondering about similar life decisions for himself.
Suddenly, they’d been together for a year. And in all that time, Theo always bought Harry’s drinks. It had become their thing, a quirk in their dynamic, an ever present inside joke. Harry buying for Theo when he was ready had become an unspoken goalpost, Harry realised. One he rapidly approached.
One year became two in a sort of melting suddenness that is inexplicable to behold: one second there was ice, next, only water.
On a Saturday in July, just days shy of Harry’s birthday, he treated Theo to Scotch Saturday. He booked them a trip north, a quaint stay in a little bed and breakfast, tours of local distilleries.
Theo laughed and smiled and charmed his way through train rides and tastings, chattering so that Harry didn’t have to fill in the gaps, carrying the conversational burden in a way that told Harry how much Theo loved him.
“What are you doing?” Theo asked, a spark of genuine concern stalling him mid-grin.
Theo looked stunned to stillness, watching as Harry set his credit card atop the receipt and let the bartender know it was ready. Theo’s posture shifted, a full body tilt of disbelief.
Harry only smiled, signed, and took his copy of the receipt. As Theo watched, he flipped it over and scribbled something on the back. Then he stood, offered Theo his hand, and walked them out of the distillery.
Acting as if everything was perfectly normal apparently didn’t work for Theo, who stopped them nearly as soon as they emerged into a warm summer breeze.
“You bought my drinks,” he said. Something like insecurity tip-toed through the spaces between words. Indignation. Disbelief. Hope?
With a small reel, Theo nearly staggered back. “And?” he finally asked.
Harry leaned forward, pressed his mouth to Theo’s, and indulged in one slow, sweet kiss before he changed everything.
He pulled back and handed Theo the receipt.
Harry flipped it over, the only one in his nostalgic collection with his own handwriting on the back. He smiled with a fullness inside his chest cavity: lungs and heart, love and commitment. Bones and muscle and hope for a lifetime together.
He hadn’t had many words that night, but he had intentions.
Today, he will.