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A Wealth of Objections
"George said that you said Malfoy was a better friend than we are. So I wanted to come over and prove that he isn't."
Harry blinked and sat up in his bed. Of course Ron was welcome to come into his house any time he wanted, and no wards would keep him out. But he still usually firecalled. He knew that Harry didn't react to the sound of a Floo chime the way he reacted sometimes, still, to the sound of a voice when he'd been deeply asleep.
"I didn't say that, so I doubt George said exactly that," said Harry dryly, and put his wand away. The scorch mark in the doorframe next to Ron's cheek could be repaired later. And the spell hadn't actually hit Ron, so apologies weren't necessary. He was a bit pale. He'd get over that. "I did say that I accept and respect the problems George has had in healing from Fred's loss. But Draco has managed to get the healing. So I'm more interested in a kind of friendship that's about exploring new things with him."
Ron edged his way into the room and sat down on the foot of Harry's bed, carefully. Harry did some more watching. He didn't reach for his wand, because that wasn't necessary now that he knew who it was. But he found both Ron's announcement and the way he had decided to barge into Harry's room bizarre, which meant he was going to leave most of the conversation up to Ron.
"You don't need to explore new things with him," Ron muttered, and shook his head. "You have plenty of friends right here who you could—I don't know, take up knitting with or something."
Harry had to grin. "Knitting sounds more like Molly's idea than yours."
"Well, she seems to think that Hermione or me ought to make Rose some baby clothes on our own, and Hermione doesn't listen to her, so it's me." Ron squinted at Harry. "And stop trying to change the subject. You don't need Malfoy."
"What made George angry was this," Harry said, and turned his hand so Ron could see the ring.
Ron gaped at the ring for a long second, then shook his head. "And Malfoy gave that to you? It sounds more like a marriage proposal than a proposal of friendship."
"Andromeda said it wasn't," said Harry. "And I reckon she ought to know. Her parents probably drummed the knowledge of all that kind of thing into her head."
"What thing? Rings?"
Harry snorted a little. He appreciated the reminder that people who hadn't been talking with Draco for the past few weeks still lived in a world where pure-blood customs were the strange and exceptional thing, instead of just usual.
I suppose that's the charm about being around Draco, though. He can start convincing you that the most unusual things are real. He draws me into his world.
Ron interrupted before Harry could think any more about that. "What things?"
"Pure-blood customs," said Harry. "Draco asked me to call him by his first name, and he gave me a bunch of gifts and invited me to the Manor. I told you that already. Well, I accepted the ring, but I wanted to make sure that it wasn't a marriage proposal of any kind. Andromeda was the one who really set my mind at rest on that point."
Ron closed his eyes and massaged his forehead. "I just don't understand why you would accept it at all."
"What I told George is the truth, as far as it went. It sounds like he exaggerated a little when he was talking to you about it. Or he was upset and angry," Harry added, thinking of that conversation with George. He'd been back to the shop since then, but George had kept his face averted and spoken in monosyllables. Harry had finally given up on coaxing him back into full conversations. George would speak when he was ready, and trying to force him into it would probably be as great a mistake as the Healers trying to force him to talk about his connection with Fred had been.
"You want new friends."
"I want new kinds of friendships," said Harry, and raised his voice a little. "The same thing I told George. I don't want to abandon any of you for Draco, any more than I want to abandon him for you."
"But we can do everything you want."
Harry winced, but said, "No. You can't. I accept that you can't. It would be pretty heartless of me not to," he added, as Ron opened his mouth. "If I said that Hermione should just forget about her nightmares, and you should be perfectly okay with me talking to Draco, and George should stop missing Fred. If I said that Molly should be less overprotective of you, when she lost one of her children. But—I've moved on, Ron. I can't be exactly the same, and I don't want all of my friendships to be exactly the same, either."
Ron looked expressively at the scorch mark on the doorway. "That's exceptional," said Harry. "If I was going around blasting people all the time, then I would want to get help, or I would expect the Healers or the Aurors to put me away."
"You don't expect them to put us away."
Harry reached out and gripped Ron's shoulder roughly, feeling a hard pull at his heart. "No, but your pain is pretty harmless to other people," he said. "To you, it's strong and all-encompassing. I can help you with it as best as I can. I can't heal you, though. I think—I think I also want friendships with people who won't need my help as much."
Ron stared at his hands. Then he said, "I wish we could be better."
"Just to keep me from inappropriate friendships?" Harry put his other hand on Ron's free shoulder, and kept it there until Ron looked up at him. "There are a lot of reasons I wish you were better, but that's not one of them."
Ron gave him a wavering smile. "I know. But just think if we were. It would make your life a lot easier."
"I would love you the way you were. That's what I do." Harry shoved at Ron's shoulders, gently, until Ron got the hint and stood up. "Do you want to come over and have dinner with me tonight? You and Hermione and Rose, of course."
"Rose is in the stage where she wants to drop all her food on the floor." Ron watched him from the corner of one eye. "Are you sure that you can put up with that?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Because cleaning spells are so difficult."
"She really mashes them in, I think she has accidental magic helping her," Ron muttered, but he was smiling when he departed. Harry leaned on the door and watched him out of sight. Ron Apparated with less noise than usual. Harry knew that sometimes the level of noise that an Auror created was due to self-confidence.
Good. I can't stand it if they think that I'm casting them aside for Draco. I never would.
"There are more toys here than in the whole rest of the world."
Teddy whispered those words to Harry as he ran through the dining room where Harry and Draco were still seated after lunch. Scorpius followed him, Golden in one hand and a complex shape made of several crystals in the other. Harry actually wasn't sure what it was, unless it was like a Muggle toy he'd heard of that was meant as a puzzle to solve. Maybe you just matched shapes instead of colors.
"Have fun!" Harry called after them, but he was pretty sure they were already out of earshot. He snorted and turned back to Draco. "You were saying?"
Draco had seemed reserved all through lunch, touching his food and then retreating from it, as if his stomach was revolting. Harry had asked if he was sick, but Draco had only shaken his head briefly and refused to comment further. Admittedly, with Scorpius and Teddy interjecting constant little bundles of conversation, there was no reason for him to talk much, or time and room to be heard if he did.
Draco put down his cup down and leaned forwards to look into Harry's eyes, as though he assumed that would cause Harry to retreat. Harry only went on smiling and sipping his pumpkin juice, and finally said, "I know a thing or two about intimidation. You're not going to make me regret coming here, no matter how hard you try."
Draco jumped, shook his head, and finally muttered, "I'm not trying to—do that. I'm just trying to understand how you could have faced death a few days ago, and yet you're sitting here today and eating and drinking as if everything was normal."
"Hey." Harry pointed his spoon at Draco. They were eating what Draco said was "pudding soup," a concoction of clear soup with bits of chocolate and candied rose petals floating in it that Harry had to admit was delicious. "That little bastard took away my ice cream. It would be a bit much if I let him take away my appetite, too."
Draco blinked, maybe at the language, but said only, "It really is an everyday thing for you, isn't it?"
"Is that what you were watching me for, trying to see scars wrought by the battle?" Harry sighed. "No. I'm sorry you were worried, Draco. But he never touched me."
"How can you know the next one won't? Or the one after that?" Draco's hands closed hard enough on his bowl that Harry thought they might dent the silver.
Harry reached over and gently loosened Draco's fingers. If he bent the bowl, he would regret it later, although probably not now. Harry thought Draco would regret damaging or losing any of the beautiful things that filled the Manor. "I can't know. And I don't think they'll leave me alone, either. The time passed since the war hasn't persuaded them. I haven't. The punishments that they receive all the time haven't. These Risen Cobras go around calling themselves the heirs of the Death Eaters. People stupid enough to do that aren't going to listen to ordinary persuasion."
His teeth grinding audibly, Draco stared at Harry. "But why doesn't it affect you?"
"It does," said Harry quietly. "Be careful how you wake me up, if you ever come over to visit my house and come through the wards when I'm not awake. Ron nearly paid for it with a part of his ear this morning."
Draco said nothing, but he did ease back in his chair, which Harry was glad to see. "Then you go on—living your life like normal?"
"That's the choice I made," said Harry. "It's not as normal as you would think, beneath the surface. You've seen that already." He grinned a little, thinking of the things that Draco had seen. "But I think that it's normal enough to merit the word. I work and eat and sleep and live and fight when I have to. I take care of people. I enjoy being alive."
"Maybe that's what I think is strange. The enjoyment instead of the fear."
Harry looked straight into his eyes. "Really? Because ever since I saw you in Diagon Alley that day, I've been thinking that you look like someone who's learned to put the past behind him and pay his debts. And keep on living."
Draco's mouth flattened in an odd way, and he shook his head. "I paid my debts. I didn't enjoy doing it. Nothing—nothing pleased me about it."
"It was Azkaban, so I didn't think so," said Harry. "But aren't you happy now? You seem happy to me whenever you look at Scorpius." And whenever you look at me, but that was the kind of thing that he didn't know if Draco would appreciate hearing.
Draco looked off into the distance with an odd expression. Harry felt his heart stir a little, with pity. What a terrible thing, not to know if you were happy or not. Harry might have people who thought his happiness was strange after the life he had lived, but at least he knew it existed. He reached out and tightened his hold on Draco's hand.
That brought Draco back to him, or so it seemed. Draco did stir and blink and turn to him. "I'm happy when I look at Scorpius," he said quietly. "I'm happy when I think that my prison sentence is done and I'll never have to serve it again. I'm happy that some decisions that could have turned out horribly, like approaching you or divorcing Astoria, were the right things to do."
He paused. Harry found himself waiting, listening, more passionately than he could remember doing in years.
"But I'm not happy most of the time." Draco was talking almost to himself, and in the slow tones of a revelation. "Even though I don't worry about money or survival. I wonder why not?"
"It takes more than that," said Harry. "And of course you can't be happy all the time." He paused for a second, then continued. "Do you think part of it is not having many people to share your life with? You can't be with Scorpius all the time."
Draco drew himself up with his nostrils quivering, and tore his hand out of Harry's. "I'll have you know that plenty of people have wanted to spend time with me since the war."
"But mostly with Scorpius, right?" Harry asked, remembering what Draco had said to him once about some people only treating him nicely because of his son. "And you don't visit them often or talk about them often. What, Draco? What can I offer you that they can't?"
Draco lowered his eyes to his hands again. Harry waited. He had learned patience after long nights of sitting by beds and reading patient, boring books to Hermione. And he still felt the same quiver running through him, the same longing to know.
"Not as many as you have," Draco said, finally, but Harry didn't know what the start of the sentence meant and only looked at him. "But I do have friends."
"Maybe spend more time with them," Harry said at once. "You're not happy as you are, and I have to say, there's nothing like friends for making you happy and changing your life."
"What do you think I'm doing?"
The way Draco jerked his head away told Harry what kind of misconception he was harboring. He reached out at once, laying his hand on Draco's shoulder and ignoring it when he gave a pettish jerk. "Of course I'm a friend. I just don't think I should be your only one."
"You're the one I want to spend time with the most. And I told you, I do have more than one."
Harry raised a hand in a placating gesture. "Okay. Sorry for not believing you." He grinned. "Then spending some more time with you…that's something you'd be okay with?"
Draco peered at him. "What made you think it wasn't?"
"Because I don't know the pure-blood customs for this," Harry pointed out. "And even this visit had to be arranged through getting Teddy and Scorpius together to play. And the last ones had to be obligations of hospitality or to return a gift. I didn't know if you would take it well if I just asked you to come over."
Draco's face turned a little red. "I would…accept it," he said, with immense dignity that he undermined a second later by adding, "And how long have you thought the pure-blood customs were a load of bollocks?"
"They're obviously not to you, and I'm willing to go along with them. It's not like they've hurt me so far. If they had, if you'd tried to trick me into doing something I didn't want to do, then I would object."
Draco leaned back in his seat. "That's why you were so obsessed with the ring possibly being a symbol of marriage. Because it would have meant you'd object, and you were worried about making me uncomfortable." He sounded smug.
"Yes," said Harry, and rolled his eyes. "I don't mind going along with these customs if you like them and they don't hurt me. The minute they do hurt me, I'll get rid of them or refuse to obey them."
Draco shrugged. He still sounded smug, and he was looking Harry directly in the face in a way that had been unusual throughout this conversation. "But I was that important to you. To put yourself out of the way to look up customs in books and give me gifts and do other things that didn't matter to you, just because I mattered to you."
"Yes." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to go get the dictionary and look up synonyms for 'important' so that you can continue repeating that?"
Draco showed no sign of moving. His eyes had taken on a soft look, and he said, "You can ask me to come over. I can ask you to come over. And it doesn't have to rely on gifts or traditions."
"Or traditions that you just made up out of thin air, either," Harry added helpfully, and grinned at Draco's look of outrage. "Yes, Draco. I'm your friend. With everything that means."
Draco bowed his head. Harry watched him in concern, especially as his shoulders shuddered. He might have done something to hurt him after all.
But Draco looked back up, and his expression was indescribable as he said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Harry returned automatically, and the conversation moved on into other, less fraught areas.
But the way Draco had looked at him stayed with him.
Indescribable…except that I want to see it again.