It’s nice to know that the Japanese think enough of the act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking to give it a name.[1,288 words]
Harry walks into the common room and makes quickly for the stairs to his dormitory. Not only is he eager to grab his invisibility cloak and head out into the grounds with Draco, but he has left him standing outside the Gryffindor common room, and he knows from experience that odd things have a habit of happening when Draco gets bored. The last time Harry had left him waiting a little bit too long, Draco had given the Fat Lady several extra eyes. It had taken Lupin hours to remove them, and the Gryffindors had had to deal with Sir Cadogan for almost a week afterwards.
Not today, he thinks, striding across the room with purpose. In and out, that’s it, and he’ll be...
He stops. In front of the fire, a small crowd has assembled. Harry hesitates, glancing toward the dormitory and back at the door, behind which Draco is, no doubt, growing steadily more mischievous.
“I think he’s drooling,” someone says, and the little group breaks out into giggles and shudders.
“He’s not asleep, though!” says someone else, and Harry is intrigued.
Temporarily abandoning Draco to his ennui, he approaches the little group and easily nudges his way to the front, where he finds Ron, sitting in an armchair and staring vacantly into the middle distance. He isn’t quite drooling, but his mouth is slack and slightly open as though he has given up all attempts at controlling it, and his eyes are glazed and misty.
“What’s the matter with him?” whispers a tiny first-year from somewhere near Harry’s knees.
For a moment, Harry wonders if he should be worried, if his friend is suffering the effects of some sort of unfriendly spell or potion, but then Ron blinks and his mouth twitches into a split-second smile that Harry has seen many, many times before. When Ron returns to his silent staring, Harry turns to the group.
“He’s okay,” he assures. “He’s just... having a moment.”
“What sort of a moment?” asks one of the girls while darting anxious little glances at Ron.
Harry scans the group, searching for his other three dorm-mates, all of whom are quite used to Ron’s little moments and are much better at explaining them. Unfortunately, the common room seems to be occupied by nothing but younger students, and they are all looking to him to shed some light on his best friend’s interesting habit of switching off for no reason at all.
“Well,” he says eventually, laying a hand on Ron’s shoulder. He doesn’t stir. “He’s just sort of hibernating... his brain.”
“Do you mean he’s not thinking about anything?” asks a girl with long plaits and bright blue eyes.
“Probably not,” Harry says, and the little group breaks out into whispers.
For long moments, they gaze as one at Ron as though he is some sort of curiosity, some kind of exhibit in a museum or zoo. Staring Man, est. 1980, Harry thinks, perching on the arm of Ron’s chair.
“I don’t know how you can not think about anything,” says the tiny boy, standing on his tiptoes to get a better look at Ron.
“Maybe he’s thinking about his Potions homework,” suggests a girl with a cat on her lap. “Maybe he’s just paralysed with terror.”
The others laugh softly and Harry smiles at her theatrical tone. “Maybe,” he concedes.
“Maybe he’s trying to remember something he’s forgotten,” someone else offers. “My mum looks a bit like that when she’s looking for her car keys.”
“For her what?” asks the tiny first-year, puzzled.
“Maybe he’s just asleep with his eyes open,” suggests one student, quickly earning himself an eyeroll from the girl with the cat.
“His eyes would be moving if he was asleep, Digby.”
“I don’t think I want his eyes to move.”
“Don’t be mean, he might hear you!”
“Can he hear us?” asks a nervous-looking second-year.
“I don’t know,” Harry admits. He’s rather enjoying himself now, and he supposes he can just try not to think about what Draco is getting up to in the corridor in his absence. “I doubt it. He’s in a world of his own.”
“How can you wake him up, then? I mean... well... get him to come back?” asks the cat girl.
Harry grins. “As far as I know, there are only two ways.” He pauses, and the younger students lean in, eyes wide. “It has to be either food or chess.”
“I’m not playing chess against him, he’s some kind of champion, isn’t he?”
“You know that story about the giant—”
“That was him?”
Harry watches, amused, as a little ripple travels through the group. At last, the tiny first-year steps forward and produces something from his pocket.
“I’ve got a Liquorice Wand,” he says grandly. “Should I push it into his mouth?”
Harry bites his lip, amused. “I don’t think he’ll like that. Why don’t you just ask him if he wants it—that is, if you really want to give it away?”
The boy nods, and the others watch as, grim-faced with determination, he creeps up to Ron’s chair and presents the Liquorice Wand as though offering fine gifts to a visiting dignitary.
“Would you like this?” he asks loudly and clearly. “It’s a nice one—Honeydukes—my brother got it in Hogsmeade this weekend. It’s got some aniseed bobbles on it, and some...”
“Wha...?” Ron mumbles, stirring and blinking repeatedly as though startled to find himself surrounded by small observers.
The small boy continues to hold out the Liquorice Wand, and, after a moment, Ron smiles.
“I’ve got one of those, too,” he says, reaching into his pocket and retrieving an identical, if slightly squashed, Liquorice Wand. “Best ones, aren’t they? You keep that.”
The boy steps back, nodding, and the others all turn to look at Harry.
“Go on, then, bugger off,” he says gently, and they do. Within seconds, the area is empty but for Ron, Harry and a very large toad which is snoozing loudly on the nearby sofa.
“Go anywhere interesting, did you?” Harry asks.
Ron stretches and smiles lazily. “I was just thinking about sandwiches.”
“And... you know... Hermione.”
“Did you share your sandwich with her?” Harry teases, knowing that Ron has probably never willingly shared a sandwich in his life.
“Yeah,” Ron says, brow furrowed.
“She’s the one,” Harry says, grinning.
“Yeah,” Ron repeats, staring up at Harry with the expression of a person who has just been struck by lightning.
From the other side of the room comes a scrabbling sound, and they both turn just in time to see Hermione, partially hidden in the window seat, disappearing back behind the heavy book she seems to have almost dropped.
“I’d better go,” Harry says, getting to his feet and heading for the portrait hole. They can do without the cloak tonight, he thinks.
“Harry!” Ron calls out, voice scratchy with panic, but Harry ignores him.
“Bye, Ron! Bye, Hermione!” he adds, pulling himself into the corridor and leaving Ron to his fate.
“What the hell were you doing in there?” Draco demands, rising from a stone bench and shoving his wand hastily into his waistband.
“Never mind that, what were you doing out here?” Harry asks, turning around slowly to take in the altered corridor.
The Fat Lady has escaped this time, but every single Gryffindor hanging has been swapped for a Slytherin one, and all four suits of armour have been carefully disassembled and laid out neatly, piece by piece on the stone floor.
Draco scowls. “I was bored.”
Harry sighs. “I forgot the cloak.”
Hooking his fingers into Harry’s belt-loops, Draco tugs him into a dark corner. “Call it even?”
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.[1,045 words]
“Where have you been, Nurse Midgen?” Cecile mocks as loudly as she dares, which is a damn sight louder than Eloise herself would ever venture.
Eloise follows her around the corner and onto the spiral staircase. “If I have to wait around for you every time you toddle off to powder your extraordinarily large nose, patients will begin to perish,” she adds, lowering her voice into her best approximation of Tremellen’s as she repeats his last words to them.
Cecile had quite brilliantly grabbed her arm and declared an emergency on the third floor, but Eloise still can’t quite get Tremellen’s nasty smirk out of her head, and the words sting, even though she knows all too well not to take them personally.
She sighs, picking up her robes as she climbs the stairs, eyes fixed resolutely on the back of Cecile’s head. Cecile turns at the sound and stops short, causing Eloise to walk straight into her.
“El, are you—fuck, what’s the matter?” she asks, muddy green eyes widening in concern.
“Nothing,” Eloise says firmly.
Cecile peers down at her, eyebrows knitted. “You lie,” she declares.
Eloise can’t help but smile for a moment, so intent is her friend’s expression, but then she sags and sighs.
“Well, I have got a big nose, haven’t I? He’s right.”
Cecile folds her arms and shakes her head slowly. “Don’t you even think about listening to a word that man has to say,” she hisses. “He’s a bully and a coward, El, and besides, last time I checked, he wasn’t exactly a basket of fruit himself.”
Eloise wrinkles her nose, suddenly much more aware of it than she would like to be.
“You’re thinking about your nose!” Cecile cries.
“No, I’m not,” Eloise attempts, hand coming up automatically to cover the offending protrusion.
“Stop that, right fucking now,” Cecile demands, grabbing Eloise’s wrist in cool fingers and tugging it away from her face. “Your nose is lovely.”
Eloise flushes and then laughs, lifted by the fierce expression on Cecile’s face. She’s still pretty sure that she does have a big nose, but it’s the only one she’s got.
“I suppose Tremellen’s isn’t exactly petite,” she admits.
Cecile grins. “That’s the spirit. And you’re right—he’s probably just projecting. It’s not your fault that he has deep-seated issues with the vast magnitude of his greasy schnozz.”
Eloise snorts and resumes her journey up the stairs, prodding Cecile with her elbow until she, too, starts moving again. There may not really be an emergency on the third floor, but she’s buggered if she’s going to let Tremellen come striding around that corner and catch the two of them in a lie.
And an insult, even if he deserves it.
“We should have said something,” Cecile muses, and Eloise raises her eyebrows at her friend’s lime green back.
“Oh? Like what?”
“I don’t know,” Cecile admits, drumming her fingers on the hand rail as she climbs. “Otherwise I would probably have said it.”
Eloise doesn’t doubt it. “He’s thinning at the front, have you noticed?” she says, feeling suddenly suffused with wickedness. “Perhaps we should have asked him if he wanted us to fetch a vial of hair-thickening potion.”
“Or forehead-shrinking potion,” Cecile suggests.
Eloise laughs. “I’ve always wanted to offer him a mint. You know when he hovers over you when you’re trying to do something... his breath smells like death.”
Cecile shudders but keeps climbing. “Terry once ate nothing but pickled onions for a whole day, just trying to keep him at a distance. That’s dedication.”
Eloise smiles. It’s a shame that Terry is never around to hear her compliments, however bizarre they might be. One day, she supposes.
“I’d like to ask him if he knows that his moustache makes him look like an angry walrus,” offers a raspy male voice, and Eloise jumps.
Making his way towards them down the spiral staircase is a heavyset bearded man, carrying a stack of charts and dressed in lime green robes with the distinctive white flashes that mark him out as a department head.
“Healer Li,” Eloise says faintly, quite unable to decide whether her senior colleague is on her side or about to whisk both her and Cecile off into a disciplinary meeting. “Erm... I... just...”
“Every time he’s been rude to me, I’ve wanted to ask him how a Healer of his experience still can’t pronounce ‘Amortentia’ properly,” says Healer Carmichael, descending the steps to stand behind Healer Li.
“I’ve been working here for three years and he still gets my name wrong,” says someone else, and Eloise turns to see a dark-haired man in nurse’s robes coming up the stairs behind them. “Just once, I’d like to call him Healer Trotter or Healer Toothbrush and see how he likes it.”
“I called him Healer Trollmellen once,” Cecile puts in, apparently unfazed by the hijacking of their private grousing session. “I’m not sure he heard me, though.”
“That was you?” Healer Li laughs. “Oh, he heard you. He went on about it for weeks.”
“Fantastic,” Cecile murmurs, turning to flash a smile of genuine delight at Eloise.
The staircase is quiet for long seconds as department heads, trainee Healers and nurses alike gaze around at each other, exchanging delighted, conspiratorial smiles and basking in the unexpected connection that despising Augustus Tremellen has given them. At last, Eloise feels herself begin to relax. She leans against the handrail, grins at Cecile and allows the spiteful words to float away until they are spiralling upwards on the lavender-scented air, wafting through the nearest open window and out of sight.
Her nose is fine. It’s absolutely fine.
“I won’t tell you again, Nurse Anderson, it’s—what’s going on here? Why are you people causing a blockage on the stairs?”
Eloise jumps as all eyes swivel to fix on Tremellen, who is now standing at the bottom of the staircase with his hands on his hips and a fed-up-looking nurse at his side. For a moment, no one moves, and then, just as quickly as it had assembled, the little group dissipates. Healers Li and Carmichael hurry downwards, while Cecile, Eloise and the other nurse scramble for the next floor up.
Not a word is spoken. At least, not out loud.
The packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.[1,053 words]
It starts the moment Harry and his little group step into Kettleworth’s World of Creatures.
“Look, Frank—giraffes!” Lily cries, spotting the long necks looming over a nearby fence and almost yanking the cat up off the ground in her excitement. “Dad, please will you hold my bag?” she asks, pushing her bright purple backpack into Harry’s hands and taking off towards the giraffe enclosure without waiting for a response.
Harry examines the bag for a moment and then loops it over one arm, shrugging. He can carry a little purple bag for a while, he supposes. Lily and Frank soon reach the giraffes and he watches them, allowing his daughter’s laughter to brush away Draco’s unhelpful little snort.
“Behave yourself,” he says, elbowing Draco in the ribs as they begin to walk. Ahead of them, Al, Rose, and Scorpius take off at speed, and James walks several paces behind, no doubt pretending that he has nothing to do with any of them.
“I thought this was supposed to be a fun sort of outing,” Draco says darkly, and Harry can’t help smiling.
He is still smiling when James spots a group of oddly-dressed teenagers and decides to spend the rest of the afternoon draping himself moodily over a pile of rocks with them. If he’s honest, he’s surprised and heartened that James has agreed to come at all, and it’s not really a problem if he ends up carrying James’s battered leather record bag along with Lily’s purple backpack, even if it is obscenely heavy for what is essentially a day at the zoo.
“What the hell is he carrying in here, rocks?” he mutters, joining Draco at the Puffskein enclosure and adjusting the bag on his shoulder with a grimace.
“Rocks, human skulls, a doomsday device?” Draco suggests, poking his finger through the fence and stroking the head of a particularly bouncy Puffskein. “It’s probably best not to know.”
Deciding he may well be right, Harry resists the urge to look inside James’s bag and instead wanders off in search of Al, Rose and Scorpius. Predictably, he finds them hanging around the dragon area, clustered together in deep discussion. Al spots him first.
“Dad!” he cries dramatically, flinging himself at Harry. “Dad, you’ve got to help us!”
“Such a theatrical child,” Draco murmurs, and Harry shoots him a ‘Really? Coming from you?’ look.
“What’s the matter, Al?”
“They’re going to be feeding the dragons in ten minutes!” Rose jumps in, practically vibrating with excitement.
“The lady said that they’ll choose someone from the audience to help feed them!” Scorpius adds, large grey eyes gleaming.
“Can we, Dad?” Al beseeches, staring up at Harry as though he alone holds the power of life and death. “Can we?”
Harry and Draco exchange glances. Then they exchange a few more, swapping tiny smiles of secret amusement as their children tie themselves into excitable knots. There had never been any possibility of denying the little buggers their dragon experience, but every now and then, there is a wonderful sort of sadistic pleasure to be found in torturing them a little bit.
Harry sighs and scrubs at his hair, thwapping his face with Lily’s backpack as he does so.
“Well... alright,” he says at last, to cheers from Rose and Scorpius and what can only be described as a victory dance from Al.
Seconds later, all three children have disappeared into the dragon house and Harry finds himself holding a smart wool coat, a sparkly shoulder bag, and a somewhat questionable satchel that smells slightly like wet dogs.
“What just happened?” he asks, but Draco is already on his way over to the lake, where Lily and Frank are peering into the depths and wearing oddly similar expressions of intensity.
Struggling slightly, Harry joins them, fighting off stubbornly tangling straps and trying to synchronise his steps with the thunk-thunk-thunk of James’s doom bag against his thigh.
“Hi, Dad,” Lily says brightly, holding back her hair as the wind attempts to whip it into her face. “You should see some of the fish in here—they’ve mixed koi carp in with some of the magical fish and some of them are glowing! It’s so beautiful,” she sighs, and her voice is so wistful that Harry is suddenly rather pleased to be holding her bag. He thinks it might help her to fight the temptation to catch one of those beautiful fish and attempt to bring it home with her.
“I can see them, Lil, they’re...”
“Frank, don’t!” she cries, catching hold of the cat just in time before he swipes at a very large carp with his paw. “You’re so naughty! Dad, can you just hold him for a minute?”
Harry sighs, knowing there’s no point. “Go on, then, hand him over.”
As he takes possession of the cat’s lead, Lily smiles gratefully and crouches at the edge of the lake, dipping her fingers into the rippling water and drawing the fish to her with effortless skill. Harry watches her, lit up with pride, and for a minute or two, he forgets all about being the family mule. When he catches sight of his reflection in the surface of the water, though, he can’t decide whether to smile or groan.
On one shoulder, he has Al’s satchel and James’s leather bag, on the other, Rose’s sparkly thing and Lily’s purple backpack. Scorpius’s coat is draped carefully over one arm, and Frank the cat is pulling him rather optimistically over to the edge of the lake by his right hand. On his back, he carries a sturdy rucksack containing everyone’s picnic lunch. His hair is everywhere, his glasses are askew, and he is started to look somewhat frazzled.
Next to him, Draco is completely unencumbered, standing elegant and refined in his pristine grey coat and matching scarf. He looks wonderful, as always, but... just... really.
“Why am I carrying all the bags?” Harry asks, attempting to cross his arms until he is scuppered by multiple straps.
Draco glances at him, eyes bright with amusement. After a moment, he shrugs. “Because none of them match my outfit.”
Harry has no response. After a moment’s thought, he sidles over awkwardly and kicks Draco in the ankle. He still has all the sodding bags, but, on balance, he thinks he’ll cope.
Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.[1,551 words]
“Draco, if you don’t come and unlock this door in the next five seconds, I swear I will blast it off its hinges myself,” Hermione says, drawing her wand and pointing it ominously at the entrance to Draco’s rooms.
“Alright, I’m coming,” he mutters, hurrying up the corridor to join Hermione, Harry and Ron. “Good grief, can’t a man stop to tie his shoelace?”
“Not when his friends are freezing to death and some of them need a wee,” Hermione says, shivering and hopping from one foot to the other.
“It’s not that cold,” Ron says under his breath, but Draco has to agree with Hermione.
After three hours in a draughty Quidditch stand during the coldest February in—according to Poppy—fifty-two years, Draco can no longer feel his face, fingers, feet or backside. The hailstones hadn’t helped matters, nor had the savage wind that had whipped them sideways into the stands every few minutes. All he wants to do now is take off his wet coat, get the fire going, and curl up in his favourite chair with a cup of tea. Unfortunately, there is something right on the other side of the door that seems to be far too excited to let him open it all the way.
“Stanley, if you don’t move, none of us can get in and pay attention to you,” Draco sighs, but the beetle merely tack-tacks and flings himself against the door with a thump.
“Stanley,” Hermione wheedles, attempting to pat the infernal beetle through the small gap in the door. “Come on... yes, yes, you’re very impressive... yes... I know...”
Miraculously, after a moment, Stanley scuttles away from the door and the shivering group pour into the room. Hermione darts into the bathroom and slams the door behind her, while Harry starts the fire, Draco puts the kettle on, and Ron hunts around for the biscuit jar. Soon, the room is filled with the glow of firelight and the crackling of burning wood. Draco sheds his sodden outer garments and leans against the sideboard, soaking up the warmth and smiling lazily at Harry as he steps back into Stanley and almost loses his balance completely.
“What’s the matter with you, hmm?” he asks, poking Stanley gently with his foot.
“He’s probably still sulking because I wouldn’t take him to the game,” Draco says.
“A Quidditch match is no place for a beetle,” Ron says sagely. “He’d have been squished.”
“You tell him that,” Draco says, pouring the tea and allowing the fragrant steam to gently thaw his face and fingers.
“I will,” Ron says through a mouthful of biscuit, and then there’s a knock at the door.
Surprised, Draco doesn’t move for a moment, and a familiar female voice soon seeps under the door.
“Draco? Harry? It’s just me. Peeves won’t come out of my fireplace—I can’t light it and it’s getting a bit bracing up there. I brought some marshmallows... I thought we could...”
Draco doesn’t hear the rest of the sentence because the bathroom door is flying open and Hermione is racing across the room and flinging open the door.
“Marshmallows, did you say?” she asks breathlessly, and then smiles. “Oh, hello.”
Poppy steps into the room, scrutinising Hermione for long seconds before she turns her attention to the rest of the group.
“It’s very cosy in here,” she says enviously, pulling her heavy cloak more tightly around herself.
Tack-tack-tack-tack, Stanley offers, shooting out from under the coffee table and scuttling around her feet. Unfazed, Poppy passes the bag of marshmallows to Harry and smiles hopefully at Draco, who doesn’t think he has ever seen such an expression on her face. It’s quite startling.
“Come in,” he says, and when he turns to find Ron already sitting in his second best chair, he directs Poppy over to his favourite with only a small pang of regret.
“I can’t remember the last time I toasted marshmallows,” Harry says, rummaging in Draco’s kitchen drawers and then turning to him, exasperated. “Haven’t you got any skewers?”
Draco blinks. “What would I do with them?”
“Toast marshmallows,” Hermione says, as though the answer is obvious.
When Draco says nothing, she joins Harry’s search and eventually turns up an ancient pair of chopsticks, which she duplicates and enlarges to form makeshift toasting forks.
“How very resourceful,” Poppy says, taking her weapon and impaling a large pink marshmallow.
Hermione smiles and flushes, sitting down on the hearthrug and being immediately set upon by Stanley, who is tacking insistently and trying to climb onto her lap.
“Are you sure he’s alright?” Ron says, as Stanley tries to knock his marshmallow off the end of his elongated chopstick.
“He probably just wants his dinner,” Draco says, leaning down to scratch Stanley’s shell before lowering his marshmallow into the flames.
“I don’t think he’d like one of these very much,” Harry says, leaning against Draco’s shoulder.
Draco nods, just enjoying the warm weight at his side, the flickering of the fire and the feeling of contentment one only experiences when surrounded by very good friends and very few words. After the yelling and clapping and stamping of the Quidditch game, this silence is beautiful, almost soporific, and all he need think about is pulling his skewer out of the fire just in time to achieve the perfect sweet-sticky-charred marshmallow.
Tack! Tack! Tack-tack-tack! clicks Stanley, running in and out of the bathroom, antennae waving.
Draco jumps and turns to look at the little bugger. “There really is something wrong with that beetle.”
“Nothing a few mint leaves won’t fix,” Harry says, but he doesn’t move from Draco’s side.
Draco and Poppy exchange a significant look. They both know that if Harry doesn’t want to move, his legs must be feeling stiff. It doesn’t happen too often these days, but Draco knows better than to push him. He also knows better than to draw attention to it, so he passes control of his marshmallow to Ron and heaves himself to his feet.
“Dinnertime,” he calls, heading for the tea cupboard, but Stanley doesn’t come running. Instead, he scuttles back into the bathroom, tacks several times, and then hops about in the doorway.
Frowning, Draco follows him, swearing under his breath as he steps into the bathroom and finds himself with icy cold wet socks. The tiled floor is completely flooded, and it doesn’t take him long to work out why. Someone has put the plug in the sink and then left the water running. For a moment, Draco stares at the cascade running from sink to floor, at his wet feet, and then at Stanley, who is splashing around in the water and tacking triumphantly.
All of a sudden, Draco can’t help smiling. “Oh, well done,” he says, picking up Stanley and stuffing him under one arm so that he can turn off the tap, draw his wand and siphon the water from the floor. When everything is dry once more, he pulls the plug from the sink and holds Stanley up to the mirror. “What a terribly clever beetle you are, Stanley. I’m sorry for not listening to you.”
“Everything alright?” Harry calls from the living room.
Draco emerges, arms wrapped around Stanley. “So, Hermione,” he says, trying vainly not to smile, “Is there any particular reason why you decided to flood my bathroom?”
Hermione’s eyes widen and she immediately drops the marshmallow she has been eating.
“Oh, Draco, I’m so sorry,” she whispers, hands flying to her mouth. “I was trying to get the water to run warm, and then Poppy came to the door with the marshmallows and I... I don’t even know why I put the plug in!” she wails, and Draco freezes, unsure what to do. He hadn’t expected her to be upset about it, and now she genuinely looks as though she may cry.
“Well, I’m happy to take a little bit of the blame, then,” Poppy tries, but Hermione’s bottom lip wobbles dangerously.
Ron leans over and strokes her hair, eyes wide with concern, and Harry just stares at Draco, apparently just as puzzled as the rest of them.
“It really doesn’t matter, Hermione, I was only teasing,” Draco says quietly. “It’s all fixed now, thanks to Stanley the wonder beetle.”
Hermione sniffs and grants him a watery smile. “That’s good. It’s just... oh, I’m being so silly about it, but I hate it when my memory goes like this. It happened last time, too.”
“Last time?” Poppy says, a rather shrewd expression settling over her face.
Hermione smiles, and it’s a real smile this time. “I’m pregnant,” she whispers, and Ron clasps her hand tightly, beaming with pride.
“Brilliant!” Harry declares, flinging himself at Hermione and hugging her enthusiastically.
“That’s...wmph,” Draco manages as both he and Stanley are swept into Ron’s rib-crushing embrace.
“I knew!” Poppy declares, and when Draco looks at her over Ron’s shoulder he is amused to see that she is now holding all five makeshift toasting forks. “I knew from the moment you opened the door. You’re just glowing.”
This time, Hermione does burst into tears, and while the others search for a handkerchief, Draco heads for the tea cupboard and fishes out a large handful of mint leaves for Stanley.
This wonder-beetle has definitely earned his dinner.
Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing dream. Not just a "good" dream; the opposite of a nightmare. [1,052 words]
“It’s Filch—run!” Harry hisses, throwing himself to the floor of the greenhouse and dragging Draco with him, just in time to avoid being caught in the light from the caretaker’s lantern.
“And how exactly do you expect me to do that when you’re practically on top of me?” Draco whispers, but he’s trying not to smile and all Harry can do is stare down at him.
He’s shirtless, pale skin and hair luminous in the darkness, ruffled and flushed and breathing hard, trousers unbuttoned and arousal painfully obvious. Harry leans down over him, fingers digging into the fragrant soil beneath them as he recklessly ignores the yowls of a prowling Mrs Norris and kisses Draco desperately, heart leaping as strong hands come up to grip at his bare back.
“Is there someone in there, my sweet?” Filch croaks, but Harry no longer cares.
Surrounded by the darkness, the heavy, mingled scents of summer, and the one person he has been obsessing over since the year began, he is in perfect bliss. Filch could smash through the glass right now and he wouldn’t stop kissing Draco Malfoy. Not a chance.
Of course, he could borrow a pair of socks...
Puzzled, Harry pauses. What?
A pair of socks?
That voice doesn’t belong to Draco or Filch, he realises, and his world begins to tilt and blur.
He blinks. The velvety darkness has been replaced by bright light, and Ron is looming over him, eyebrows knitted as he slowly repeats the words, “Can I borrow a pair of socks, mate?”
“Socks?” Harry mumbles, raising himself up on his elbows and peering down at his friend’s bare feet. “Yeah... yeah, of course.”
As Ron makes his way to the sock drawer, Harry flops back on his pillows, allowing a slow but wide smile to creep across his face. He sighs contentedly, pushing away the twinge of regret that always accompanies the shift from dream to reality and simply allowing himself to enjoy the feeling of warmth and good humour that is left behind.
“You look happy,” Ron says, hopping from one foot to the other as he puts on a pair of red socks.
Harry grins and heaves himself out of bed. “Yep,” he says simply.
Ron groans. “You had one of your dreams, didn’t you? And you can just say yes or no without telling me the details—I don’t think my sanity will stand hearing about what you and Malfoy got up to on Dumbledore’s desk again.”
“That was one time,” Harry says, collecting his things for the shower. “Anyway, what makes you think—?”
“I know,” Ron interrupts, shaking his head and staring wearily at Harry. “I always know. What d’you see in him, anyway?”
Harry just laughs and heads for the bathroom. At the door, he turns. “For what it’s worth, it was Greenhouse Three.”
The first lesson after breakfast is Herbology, and Ron makes sure to elbow Harry in the ribs all the way down to the greenhouses. The other Gryffindor boys are quick to join in with gleeful whoops and slaps to the back and more terrible double entendres than Harry can count. Ron has obviously wasted no time in telling them all about his latest dream, and, as always, Seamus, Dean, and Neville seem to think that what they refer to as ‘Harry’s Malfoy Thing’ is absolutely hilarious.
Harry is used to this by now, but he can’t help the sudden flush of heat to his skin as he walks into Greenhouse Three and takes his first breath of that rich, fragrant air. The dream had become hazy and diaphanous with time but now the whole thing is flooding back in violent colour, sending Harry’s pulse racing and his fingers clenching into his palms.
“You alright, Harry?” Neville asks, grabbing his elbow and steering him away from the door and over to their usual work-station.
Harry blinks. “I’m fine,” he lies, shaking himself. “Thanks, Nev.”
“Ah, leave him be,” Seamus puts in loudly. “He’s just reliving his dream! Where were you and Malfoy shagging, then, Harry? On the table here, or over by the Puffapods, or...”
“Shut up,” Harry mutters, flushing hard now and giving Seamus the finger.
Several other students have turned to look at the sound of Seamus’s foghorn voice, and Harry just sighs. Fortunately, Draco is not in this class, and so...
“No, no, Potter, I want to know exactly where it was,” someone says on Harry’s other side and he freezes.
Very, very slowly, he meets Ron’s eyes and the pure horror there does not reassure him one bit.
“Ah...” Seamus says, coughs, and becomes very interested in putting on his gloves.
Doom-laden, Harry turns and finds himself staring straight into amused grey eyes. He hadn’t been expecting amused, he has to admit, and now he’s not quite sure what to do with it.
“What are you doing here?” he snaps, wanting the words back as soon as they are out.
“Just running an errand for Professor Snape,” Draco says, holding up a conical flask containing what looks like some kind of sap. Harry stares at it idiotically, watching the sparkle of the yellowy-green liquid in the sunlight.
Finally, he pulls himself together. “Great, well... okay. Don’t mind them, they’re just... being a shower of bastards, really,” he says, glancing at Ron, Dean, Seamus and Neville, and, to their credit, they all nod enthusiastically. “I mean... it’s not true. Obviously.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow. He allows the flask to drop to his side and gazes at Harry, posture languid and dangerously appealing.
“That’s a real shame,” he says softly. “I have so many ideas. Let me know if you change your mind.”
He doesn’t wait for a response, merely granting Harry a tiny half-smile and walking out of the greenhouse, leaving all five Gryffindors staring after him.
“Alright, chaps, let’s plan our love lives later, shall we?” Sprout suggests, clapping her hands. “These Fimbling Ficuses aren’t going to prune themselves!”
Dean and Seamus immediately burst into snorts of laughter. Neville dashes off in search of his Ficus. Ron stands absolutely still, opening and closing his mouth like a fish. Harry looks over at the wooden bench in the corner, the patch of earth, imagining the flicker of Filch’s lantern, and he smiles.