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Thameslink, the 07:29 from Luton

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He gets on at Harpenden, you think, although it might have been earlier. For you, though, he slides into existence between blinks, so that one second your gaze rests distantly on the worn grey carpet, and Morrissey’s crooning no, mama, let me go into your AirPods, and the next your vision blurs, and there’s a pair of battered Converse breaking your line of sight, and the song’s transformed now to synth-pop beats and I need you to love me more, love me more, and his eyes are boring into the side of your face, heating your cheeks.

At first he tries to be subtle, and you wonder if it’s your scars he’s interested in. Perhaps he’s a watcher too; perhaps he’s inventing some sword-fight or daring rescue to explain the fine lines scored haphazard across your skin. You’re side-on to him, of course, giving him the perfect view as he slouches back, the weight of his body resting against the scratched-up concave glass of the train door. You watch him in turn – or rather his reflection in the window, the edges of his face blurred and distorted, so you can’t tell if the features are a tiny bit familiar or if that’s just your overtired imagination. He’s not a regular commuter – you know all the regulars by now. Five days a week, an hour each way – you spend more time with these people than with your own mother. You know their faces, know the way they move, know their smells. You’ve invented names for them to pass the long, uncomfortable hours. No. This man – this probably-a-stranger – is new. Of course, if he was a regular, he wouldn’t be leaning against that door, not right now, because –

His eyes are still fixed on the side of your head when the train shudders to a halt, and he’s caught offguard as with a hiss the door opens behind him, and it’s only a combination of his lightning-fast reflexes and the inexorable, automaton forward-press of bodies cramming into the carriage that prevent him from toppling out backwards.

You turn around then – you can’t help it – and your eyes meet just as the doors begin their warning beeps. He doesn’t look away, his gaze openly appraising, and of course this should make you deeply uncomfortable – the usual objective of any commute being to avoid accidental eye contact at any point – but for some reason it doesn’t. Weirder, still, is the way you can’t stop looking back at him either: this maybe-perhaps-not-a-stranger. A patch of sun has fallen across his face, and the glare from his thick-rimmed glasses conceals the colour of his eyes, but your mind’s eye fills in the gap anyway with a deep, verdant green, and your fingers are moving over your backpack, tracing the outline of the scar that branches down his forehead, and his lips are full and shiny but cracked, and as your tongue slips out to wet your own, you swear you can feel the slide of chapstick.

The train’s building up speed now, and he’s staring and staring, but it’s not with curiosity, like you. No, his expression sits closer to an endless, unquenchable thirst. There’s fondness, too, joy, relief. He’s a kind man – you know that, somehow, and god, it’s heavenly comfort just to be around him. To be looked at, consumed, by him. It’s such a departure, a world away from your dull, grimy-block-of-flats-by-the-station, ready-meal-for-one, crosswords-and-Coronation Street-and-bed-by-ten-thirty existence. He’s standing there, bathed in light, the warmest, brightest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s eight in the morning and you feel giddy with it. It must be magic, you think, bizarrely, wondering vaguely what’s happening to you.

His lips move, and hang on – is he mouthing something to you? You crane your neck to see, but even more people got on at Hendon, filling space that never existed, and so by now he’s shoved up against an advert for Specsavers, and there’s Polyester Phil in front of him sorting through his papers, and Lipstick Leila holding up her phone to Facetime – an entire sea of them separating the two of you. You consider taking out your AirPods, but there are bodies everywhere, damp and close, and you can’t risk dropping them here, so in the end you just roll your eyes minutely and shrug one shoulder, which feels like the right thing to do, and carry on staring, while, oblivious, the world carries on around you as though it’s any other day.

The crowd thins out as usual as the train stops at St Pancras, and you wonder whether he’ll get off too, whether you’ll say something or watch him walk away. He doesn’t, though, just widens his stance and rolls his shoulders as the air becomes light again. There are free seats now, and you take the nearest one, shuffle up close to the window, put your AirPods away. Feeling bold, you raise your eyebrows at him, and you think he chuckles at that. Your view’s unobstructed now, and he’s not holding a bag – you can’t even see a phone – but there’s a piece of fabric sticking out of his front pocket which shimmers and catches the light as he moves. He’s holding something else too, a thin rod, perhaps, his hand flexed back as if to conceal it in his palm. The tip is just visible between his fingers, and when he slides in beside you, he takes your hand. He presses the wood into your own palm, a hundred different questions dying on your lips as the carriage jolts forwards, and your world tilts on its axis and you –

– you remember.

“Draco,” he says – this not-a-stranger, this never-a-stranger, this beloved man – and when you open your mouth you mean to protest, to tell him you don’t know that name, but somehow what comes out instead is “Harry?”

He smiles, and his eyes – green, of course – are wet with tears.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”