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Stopping by the Messiah on a Snowy Evening

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It’s a Thursday evening in early December, and the charmed windows of the Ministry show a gentle snowfall which Harry knows is intended to promote a feeling of seasonal festiveness. The actual London streets above are dark, and rainy, and cold.

But inside, it’s warm, and Harry’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his fellow baritones and tenors. Touching shoulders with Draco Malfoy, in fact, and if you had told past Harry that this would happen, he absolutely would not have believed you.

Every Thursday evening, Hermione’s Muggle-Wizarding Choir meets for an hour to rehearse.

The Ministry Muggle-Wizarding Choir was one of Hermione’s ideas — one of Hermione’s many ideas. Harry has watched Hermione’s committee work and frequently wondered how she can participate in so many committees and make and execute so many plans without the help of a Time-Turner.

Hermione is, at best, an indifferent mezzo-soprano, but she organizes all the rehearsals and talks other Ministry employees into joining. Harry’s been persuaded to lend his baritone. Ron refuses to sing, but he covers at the shop for George, who isn’t a Ministry employee but has a lovely deep bass voice that their ensemble desperately needs. Hermione also tracked down Miss Treskellian, their accompanist, an elderly witch who has been working in an obscure Floo permitting office since before the time of Grindlewald.

The choir has a performance in the Ministry atrium in a few week’s time, and the rehearsal feels pressured as Hermione and Miss Treskellian pull their ragged group through Wharton’s Phoenix Song and on to the Thompson Alleluia.

“I wish we could only do Muggle pieces,” Miss Treskellian confides to Harry as she packs her music away into a bag after the rehearsal. “They’re so lovely. I don’t know what the Wizarding pieces are missing.”

“There are some lovely Wizarding pieces,” Hermione says, overhearing them. “Lovely.”

She glances at Harry, but Harry remembers some of the comments Hermione has made in the past about trying to find Wizarding repertoire for the group. The truth is, there are far fewer Wizards than Muggles, and Wizards have had so many other interests through the years, so many other things to work on than music and the glorification of the Muggle gods.

It wasn’t until Harry left Hogwarts that he realized how much was left out of the Wizarding curriculum. Music was the least of it. After Harry split from Ginny, he briefly dated a Muggle university student, David, who was reading philosophy and quoted poetry and expected Harry to recognize it. ”Really, Harry? Not even Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening? I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud? Kubla Khan? What else don’t you know? Bloody Shakespeare?”

And Harry had known none of it.

Harry had told David he was an engineering major, to explain his extreme ignorance of music and arts and poetry. But the truth is, Harry knows nothing about Muggle maths or sciences either. He knows he’s tops in practical knowledge, he knows how to catch Dark wizards, and really, nobody is better at it; he’s very experienced in his field and he knows this.

But sometimes Harry feels like he’s spent the past decade in a vocational school. He gets these glimpses of something more — Muggle or Wizarding — and wonders how so much of the world managed to pass him by.

* * *

Harry decides to walk home to Grimmauld Place, which is cold and grim and living up to its name and history this festive season, in spite of Kreachur’s best efforts.

As he pushes through the icy raindrops, Harry finds himself thinking about the expression on Malfoy’s face during the rehearsal. Malfoy hates Phoenix Song — Harry heard him muttering about it, but even if he hadn’t, the slight narrowing of Malfoy’s eyes would have been a clue to how he feels.

But Alleluia — it’s one of Hermione’s finds, a Muggle piece by an American composer. Malfoy spends every moment of Alleluia spellbound, his eyes shut, his voice perfect.

Harry wonders about Malfoy.

Malfoy, who has been given a job in the Ministry’s Wizarding Relations department in what Harry can only assume was a move on the part of the Ministry to demonstrate their belief in the importance of forgiveness and moving on.

Harry wondered why Hermione had forgiven Malfoy, why she asked him to join her choir, right up until the moment he opened his mouth in the first rehearsal and began singing. Because Malfoy’s tenor is lovely — not strong enough to sing professionally, at least according to Hermione, but it’s light and true to pitch.

And he seems to love to sing.

* * *

Next Thursday, the windows in the meeting room are still showing snow, although Harry knows the weather outside is clear and cold.

Harry finds himself glancing over at Malfoy, whose face is aimed towards Hermione, and whose voice is lovely and sure on the music.

After the rehearsal, Miss Treskellian shakes herself, a movement that reminds Harry of a sparrow ruffling its feathers. “Do you think Muggles write piano music?” she asks Harry, her voice wistful.

“I’m pretty sure they do,” Harry says, although he knows less about piano music than he does about poetry. “They have shops, you know, for sheet music.”

Miss Treskellian looks enthralled. “An entire shop!”

“We could go,” Harry says. “If you like?”

Miss Treskellian looks transported, and Hermione looks over in approval. “At the weekend?” Hermione asks.

“Sure,” Harry says. He could just give Miss Treskellian the address, but she’s a Pureblood, and he’s pretty sure she’d show up in garden boots and old night robes if he didn’t join her. “Saturday afternoon.” By then, he’ll have managed to find a Muggle sheet music store… or Hermione must know of one.

Harry hears someone clear their throat, and turns to see Malfoy. “I’d like to come along,” Malfoy says.

Harry turns to Hermione — she’s grinning. Clearly this was what she had in mind when she formed the Ministry Muggle-Wizarding Choir.

“The more the merrier,” Harry tells Malfoy. “Er — let’s meet outside the Ministry, yeah?” He wants to inspect Miss Treskellian before she’s let loose on Muggle London. “Two o’clock?”

Malfoy nods. “I’ll be there.”

Hermione smiles again. “I’ll join you too — I need to look for music for next year. And maybe Rhyss and Sonja would like to come… I’ll send them a memo tomorrow.”

After rehearsals, some of the singers slope off to the pub, usually led by George. Sometimes Harry joins them. But today, he’s joining Hermione to go meet Ron for a curry.

Hermione wastes no time in telling Ron all about Saturday afternoon’s excursion. Ron looks resigned — Harry knows he tries to get Hermione to slow down, but he’s fighting a losing battle.

“Malfoy’s coming?” Ron asks. “Bloody hell, Hermione, it was bad enough asking him to join your choir.”

“It’s about the spirit of Wizarding Cooperation,” Hermione says, and Harry knows Ron’s heard this quite a few times before.

“What does he do?” Harry asks, suddenly. “Malfoy. I never see him working.”

“He’s actually quite good at his job,” Hermione says, taking a spoonful of Ron’s curry. “He’s a spokeswizard… he figures out approaches to talking with the press, positions Ministry statements for the Prophet, that sort of thing. He works with Kingsley a lot, actually.”

Harry never works with Kingsley, now that Kingsley’s the Minister.

“He’s good,” Hermione says again. “They definitely hired him because they were trying to look balanced to the Purebloods, but he wouldn’t have the job he does now if he weren’t good at it.”

“You know he’s gay,” Ron says, through a mouthful of naan.

“Why would that matter?” Hermione snaps. “Harry’s bi. It has nothing to do with how either of them do their jobs.”

Harry feels himself flushing and busies himself with his chicken tikka to cover it up. He does know Malfoy’s gay. And he’s pretty sure Ron didn’t mention that because he thought it made Malfoy bad at his job.

* * *

On Saturday, Harry goes in to the Ministry in the morning to wrap up some outstanding paperwork. He gets lunch at the Ministry cafe — a cheese toastie and a cup of tea, and bugger Hermione’s insistence that Harry eat roughage. It’s not even wholemeal.

Outside the Ministry’s charmed windows, the snow is still falling gently. Upstairs, it’s a cool, cloudy December day, not a flake in sight.

Miss Treskellian shows up with a kilt and a long wool coat over diamond-patterned tights and a pair of warm boots. Harry shrugs, and has her take off her hat, which features a stuffed stoat and looks like it belongs in the Augusta Longbottom collection. The rest of her outfit isn’t right, exactly, but surely a Muggle sheet music store is used to their customers looking a bit scatty.

Malfoy is wearing Muggle trousers — dark jeans, actually — and a soft sweater in a shade of emerald green. He’s also wearing Muggle hiking boots.

“Do I pass inspection, Potter?” Malfoy asks, and Harry realizes he’s been looking a bit too long.

“Yes,” Harry says, shortly, and turns to see Hermione approaching them. She’s got Rhyss with her — he’s one of the basses, and a Muggle-born, so like Hermione, he knows how to dress.

Sonja joins them just as they’re about to leave, and Harry’s relieved when Hermione is the one to tactfully explain why a Muggle graduation gown and cap wouldn’t be expected wear for a music store. Hermione helps Sonja transfigure her gown to a warm sweater dress, and her cap to a wool beanie.

The music shop has a storefront that could belong on Diagon Alley. Inside, Miss Treskellian draws her breath at the sight of the open racks of brightly-colored books, the densely packed bookcases. “I don’t know where to start,” she says to Harry, looking overwhelmed. “I don’t think I brought enough Muggle money.”

Hermione drags Rhyss and Sonja to the choir music section, and Malfoy wanders over with them. Harry stays with Miss Treskellian.

Once they find the piano music, Harry finds himself being peppered with endless questions he has no idea how to answer. He’s heard of Bach and Mozart, but not most of the other composers Miss Treskellian pulls from the shelves and stacks into his arms.

Malfoy shows up behind them, holding his own stack. “Looking for anything in particular?”

“I’m looking for everything!” Miss Treskellian says. Her eyes are gleaming. “Draco, do you have any suggestions?”

“I know as little about this as you do,” Malfoy says. “But I believe they have a few books on the history of Muggle — on the history of music.” His mouth twitches. “Perfectly ordinary music which is the only sort of music there is.”

“You’re right,” Harry says, and he follows Malfoy and Miss Treskellian over to the history shelves. Draco’s already got a dense-looking Muggle paperback from the history section, Harry realizes.

With Rhyss and Sonja’s assistance, Hermione tracks down two pieces for the choir’s next project. “If only Wizarding music was as easy to find,” she mutters to Harry.

Harry buys a book on the history of choir music, and then stands next to the till while Malfoy and Miss Treskellian have their enormous stacks of music rung up, hoping Miss Treskellian especially won’t run out of Muggle money or make any comments about it.

Malfoy acts as if he shops in Muggle shops all the time.

Perhaps he does, Harry thinks, realizing how little he knows about this version of Malfoy.

* * *

Another Thursday, and their concert in the Atrium is getting close. The windows in the Ministry are still showing snow, although the Magical Maintenance staff have changed it up, added gentle gusts of wind to the swirling flakes. But Harry knows it’s unseasonably warm for December in the real outdoors. The Ministry’s heating charms haven’t gotten the memo, and it’s stuffy in the practice room.

Miss Treskellian calls Harry over before rehearsal starts. “I can’t thank you enough for last Saturday, Mr. Potter,” she says. “I’ve been playing those pieces every evening after work. Delightful.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Harry says.

“It’s such lovely, lovely music,” Miss Treskellian says. “You must know it all, of course. I think my favorite is the Grieg — Morning Song? You’re a Muggle, you must know it.”

Harry shrugs, and decides not to try to educate Miss Treskellian on the finer points of being a Muggle versus Muggle-born versus being raised by Muggles.

“I’m sure you know it,” Miss Treskellian says. She plays the opening bars, and suddenly Harry does — he spent the first eleven years of his life listening to it in adverts and Dudley’s cartoons.

“It’s a nice piece,” he tells her. Somehow he can’t bring himself to tell Miss Treskellian that her beloved Grieg is used by Muggles to sell breakfast sandwiches and underscore the adventures of animated rabbits.

“I wish someone had told me,” Miss Treskellian says, sniffing. “All these years… someone should have informed me.”

Harry tries to think of an office charged with informing Purebloods about Muggle culture. Perhaps Hermione is already working on this. “At least you’ve heard it now?”

Miss Treskellian’s face softens. “Yes. And thank you again for the music store, dear boy. I’ve gotten a couple of their owl-order forms, so I’ll be able to order new things without your help.”

Harry makes a mental note to ask Hermione to educate Miss Treskellian on the finer points of Muggle post and payments, and smiles.

After rehearsal, Miss Treskellian thanks Harry again.

“It’s nothing, really,” Harry says. “I’m glad I could help.”

He thinks about Muggle music, and then remembers Gemma — one of his colleagues in the Auror department, a Muggle-born. She loves Muggle music but declined an invitation to join Hermione’s choir. ”Voice like a frog, Harry. But you should join Lisa and me at the Messiah this weekend — it’s a Scratch Messiah, the audience is expected to sing along — you’re a singer, you’d love it.”

Harry’s not much of a singer, but he knows someone who is. Someone with blond hair and a pointy face who’s standing right behind them. “There’s a sing-along Messiah this weekend,” he tells Miss Treskellian.

“Oh dear,” Miss Treskellian says, searching through her suddenly expanded repertoire. “I don’t think I have that one.”

“I read about that,” Malfoy says from behind Harry.

“Well.” Harry shrugs. “Would you like to go? Er — either of you?”

“I don’t think I can,” Miss Treskellian says. “Dear Father… he just wouldn’t understand, being around Muggles at night. But oh dear, I’m not supposed to say that. And they do have such lovely music… but I need to get his warm milk for him, he can’t go without that. No, Harry, I don’t think I can.”

Malfoy studies Harry carefully.

 Harry stares back.

“Yes,” Malfoy says, finally. “Fine. If you think I can pass among the Muggles.”

“You can pass,” Harry says, and then realizes that he has no idea what’s appropriate wear for a Muggle scratch Messiah. “I’ll — er, I’ll owl you the details?” He can get them from Gemma tomorrow.

Malfoy nods.

* * *

They meet outside the Ministry. It’s a nasty evening — rain turning to sleet.

“Did you need to inspect me, Potter? If you need to confiscate my hat, you should do it now.”

Harry meets Malfoy’s eyes. “Coat like that, who can tell?”

Malfoy opens his thick wool overcoat and holds it open. He’s wearing Muggle trousers, and another soft wool sweater, this one in a shade of deep blue that almost fades into his overcoat.

Harry feels his face flushing. “You’re fine, Malfoy.”

Malfoy is also holding a bright orange-backed book under his arm. “You said the audience sang at these things,” he says when he notices Harry’s interest. “I assume one has to bring one’s own music.”

Harry shrugs. Gemma had explained the basic dress expectations (”Oh, be casual, Harry, it’s a community choir, it isn’t the fancy one at Royal Albert Hall”), and explained that he’d be expected to stand during the Hallelujah (”You’ll know when, trust me”), but she hadn’t said anything about bringing music.

Moreover, Harry hadn’t seen Malfoy buying anything orange the week before. He must have gone back to the music shop. A Malfoy alone, in Muggle London.

Harry shrugs and they start walking to an Apparition point. He’s not sure what to make of this Malfoy, who goes to Muggle shops and wears Muggle trousers and goes out of his way to sing Muggle music.

“What’s the difference between an Alleluia and a Hallelujah?” Malfoy asks.

“No idea,” Harry says.

Malfoy raises an eyebrow. “Thought you were Muggle-born, Potter.”

“I was raised by Muggles,” Harry says. “I’m not Muggle-born… not that it makes any difference. At all.”

“So why don’t you know?”

“The Dursleys were not interested in culture,” Harry says. “Oh, look, the Apparition point.”

The concert hall is stuffy and smells like wet wool. Harry wonders if Malfoy will just leave — the press of Muggles and the absence of a coat check have made this an uncomfortably warm experience. But Malfoy sits down next to him without mentioning it.

“What were the Dursleys interested in?” he asks, pronouncing Dursley like it’s a foreign word.

Harry stares for a moment, and then thinks. “Impressing other Muggles, mostly, I think. They didn’t like me much.”

Malfoy nods, and Harry wonders, for an uncomfortable moment, if he’s read any of the biographies. Harry tries not to, but Hermione insists on buying them all — ”It’s your life, Harry, you have a right to know what they’re saying about you and anyway you could sue them for some of this tripe.” Harry’s never had any interest in lawsuits. He mostly just doesn’t want to know. Let them play whatever little fantasies they want to about the Boy Who Lived, and he’ll just get on with catching Dark Wizards, thank you very much.

Malfoy lifts his coat, apparently trying to find a more comfortable place to put it. “So the cupboard, under the stairs?”

“True,” Harry says.

Malfoy grimaces.

“It’s not because they were Muggles,” Harry says. “It’s because they were terrible people. Well, my cousin turned out okay — we still send each other letters sometimes. But — well, Muggles can be terrible people just like — “ He stops short of saying wizards, remembering suddenly that they are surrounded by Muggles. “Like our sort.”

“True enough,” Malfoy says. “I know — something about that.”

They sit in an uncomfortable silence, listening to the chatter of the people around them.

Finally, at twenty minutes past the starting time, the music begins.

Harry knows the highlights — because who could grow up among Muggles and not know the Hallelujah Chorus — but he doesn’t recognize the initial pieces, the solos and the choir bits which have Malfoy rummaging through the book frantically. The organizers appear to have chosen a different order from the publishers of the music book.

As the music unwinds, Harry finds himself glancing at Malfoy — first to see if he’s okay with Harry looking over at the music. And then because Malfoy’s face is transcendent. That same look that Harry sees on his face during the Alleluia, like he’s been taken to another place, a place he never expected to see.

The chorus and orchestra are both far better than Hermione’s choir, even with the contributions from the audience. Harry gives up on trying to muddle his way along with Malfoy’s music after the third chorus bit, and just listens to Malfoy’s voice, uncertain but beautiful.

The soloists are good — the tenor is a bit weak on the high parts, but the soprano is lovely and the alto has a powerful voice that fills the hall.

Harry looks over at Malfoy during the alto solo — He was despised and rejected of man, she sings, her voice alone without the orchestra.

Malfoy’s eyes are glistening.

He turns to look at Harry. “Don’t you dare say anything, Potter,” he breathes.

Harry nods, turns back to the soloist, the orchestra.

And then, impulsively, he finds himself gripping Malfoy’s hand. No, Draco’s hand — surely handholding in a scratch Messiah entitles one to first names.

Harry keeps his eyes on the soloist, feeling like a prat as Draco’s hand sits passively under his.

And then he feels Draco grip his hand back.

Harry feels something in his gut unclench, but keeps his eyes strictly forward, as if the soloists and the orchestra are the most interesting thing he’s ever seen, far more interesting than the warmth of Draco sitting next to him.

Harry and Draco hold hands until the next choir bit, when Draco holds up the book in his other hand and Harry hastily allows him to reclaim his hand and flip through the book frantically for the next bit.

The organizers have left the best of the group singing for the end. Harry knows the Hallelujah, but he hasn’t heard it like this before — from the heart of a room of singers and musicians. The more insecure audience members all know this one, and rise in one body to their feet, carrying Harry and Draco with them.

Harry looks down at Draco’s music with unseeing eyes, and tries to follow along with Draco’s voice as the music rises and builds, the trumpets joining in and the chorus splitting into the complexity of the center of the piece, the parts in turn in a rising canon, followed by the call and response of the King of Kings.

Harry turns to look at Draco at the final pause, but Draco is looking forward, his eyes on the conductor, waiting for the final notes, the final drawn-out Hallelujah.

Once the music is over, the audience-choir bursts into thunderous applause, and the soloists begin taking bows.

When the applause ends, Harry turns to Draco, feeling his face heat up again. “So?”

“The music was tremendous,” Draco says, crisply. “Do Wizarding recording companies ever put these things out?”

“I don’t think so,” Harry says. “Hermione’s charmed a CD player.”

Draco raises an eyebrow. “CD?”

They collect their coats and join the stream of Muggles leaving the hall. Harry tries to explain compact discs, but he’s not entirely certain of how they work himself, and he’s distracted by Draco at his elbow.

Outside, the sleet has turned to snow, and the pavements are treacherous as Harry and Draco make their way to a secluded alleyway to Apparate.

Say something, Harry says to himself. Something.

“What other Muggle things am I missing?” Draco asks, suddenly. “What else do I not know about?”

“They have most of the things we do,” Harry says, not sure how to answer. “Art, and buildings… and writing. I mean books and poetry, not just… being able to write things down.”

“How do they learn all this? When?”

“I think they do it instead of magic,” Harry says. “In school. They have tons of topics Hogwarts doesn’t cover.”

“I assume you’re not talking about the Dark Arts,” Malfoy says, slipping a bit on the pavement. “Seriously, how does one learn these things?”

“The Grangers take tours,” Harry says, vaguely. He’s listened to Hermione talking about her parents’ learning tours, but never really paid attention. “Of Muggle museums, and things.”

Draco sighs. “I can’t see myself fitting in with a group of Muggles.”

“Maybe if someone went along,” Harry says, feeling his heart in his chest.

“Maybe.” Draco looks over at him, and then back at the icy pavement. “Are you offering, Potter?”

“It’s Harry.”

Draco looks over at him. “Harry.”

Harry’s mouth is dry. “Yeah?”

“I’m probably going to regret this,” Draco mutters, and steps closer.

Harry can see a snowflake in Draco’s eyelashes. “I don’t think so,” he breathes, looking from Draco’s eyes to his lips.

Draco breathes out, and Harry can see the steam from his breath under the streetlight. “Don’t tell me what I’m going to regret, Potter.”

But Harry’s already closing the gap, sliding his hand into Draco’s hair and letting his lips find Draco’s, slightly chapped and chilled from the cold. Draco’s breath catches, and his arms are around Harry.

* * *

Harry gets into work ten minutes late on Monday morning, and Gemma’s already sitting on his desk.

“Lisa and I saw you at the Messiah,” she says, cheerily.

Harry takes a sip from his coffee. “Yeah? I, uh, sorry I didn’t see you.” Gemma’s almost as tall as Harry, and she wears her hair in a natural kinky cloud, and outside of work hours she wears florescent-bright robes, and if Harry didn’t see her… his reputation as an observant Auror may be on the line here.

“We waved to you,” Gemma says, delighted. “You were too busy looking at Dishy Draco, weren’t you? You didn’t tell me you were bringing a date!”

“It’s not —“ Harry can’t think what to say, because actually, it was exactly like that. “Sorry?”

“You should have seen the way he looked at you,” Gemma says, sliding off Harry’s desk. “So?”

Harry groans and sinks into his desk chair. “I’m not telling you anything.”

Gemma laughs. “You don’t need to.”

Harry groans again and takes another sip of his coffee.

“So when’s the performance?” Gemma asks. “Lisa and I are both coming.”

* * *

The snow falls silently outside the Ministry’s charmed windows.

It’s mid-afternoon, and they’re setting up for the first performance of the Ministry Muggle-Wizarding Choir. The rehearsal the night before went — mostly not well, actually, Harry thinks, but Hermione’s pressing on nonetheless.

Miss Treskellian looks nervous and keeps shuffling her music on the piano bench. The piano has been moved upstairs from their practice room, and Hermione has organized a set of bleachers, which the choir members carefully climb in their matching black robes.

The audience is packed. Harry sees Gemma and Lisa — Gemma giving him a double thumbs-up — and Minister Shaklebolt, and most of the rest of the Auror corps. Hermione’s invited all of her committee members.

Ron’s in the audience too, looking proud of Hermione. His eyes find Harry’s, and then flick to Draco and back to Harry.

Harry smiles, and Ron raises his eyebrows before shaking his head and smiling back.

“Why’s Weasley staring at us?” Draco says under his breath.

“Ron,” Harry says, and smiles at Draco. “You have to call him Ron now.”

“You told him?”

“I didn’t need to,” Harry says. Sometimes Ron is disturbingly perceptive.

Hermione pats Miss Treskellian’s shoulder, and then steps up to the front of the choir. The audience quiets, waiting.

Harry turns to face forward. He’s holding Draco Malfoy’s hand, under the cover of their robes, and and if you had told past Harry that this would happen, he absolutely would not have believed you.

Draco bumps his shoulder against Harry’s, and drops his hand so he can hold his music. He’s got a lovely tenor voice, and Harry follows along, relaxing into the sound of the rest of the choir around them.

Alleluia.