Harry linked his fingers with Malfoy's, marching along the paved street. Tiny shops were scattered here and there, their rustic structures appealing to Harry.
"You don't mind being seen holding hands with a guy?" Harry asked. Malfoy shrugged.
"I would like everyone on the planet to know I'm in love with you. Everyone should know that you're mine and nobody will take you from me." Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. "Theoretically speaking of course, as you're engaged to be married with the Weaslette," Malfoy added. Harry swung their arm back and forth while they walked.
"I'm sorry, Malfoy. I don't know how to tell her. I'm not even sure if I really want to lose her. It's just that, I don't know how she would take it. She'd be devastated, Malfoy." The couple had stopped walking, leaning against the barrier of the bridge, crossing a small river.
"So you're going to stay with her your entire life because she'd be devastated if you left her?" Malfoy stated. He looked out over the small current of rippling water, a frown screwing up his face.
"That's not what I meant," Harry retorted. Something in the air changed, and Harry knew the romantic moment had gone.
"Then what did you mean? You're going to cheat on her some more and keep me as your sweet escape each time you feel like it?" The words stung hard, especially since Harry knew deep down the man had a point. He was cheating on both of them.
"No! You haven't left Cormac either, you know!" Harry knew he was making no point, knew that this kept resurfacing – like George had predicted, and knew he had to make a decision… soon.
"I haven't left him because I'm not sure that you'll choose me! And if you pick her, I don't want to end up alone. In fact, if you chose me right this instant, I would leave him as soon as we get home tonight." Harry was lost for words for a couple of heartbeats.
"I'm scared, Malfoy! Scared of what consequences the decision I make will have. I don't want to lose either of you!" The thought of leaving Malfoy made his heart contract – waves of anguish and pain searing through his body. But the thought of leaving Ginny left him guilty – empty – without a purpose.
"You can't keep having your cake and eating it too, Potter. I'm not sure if I can keep this up for much longer." People were giving them a wide berth – as they were shouting more loudly, but neither of the men seemed to notice.
"Can't we talk about this some other time? We're supposed to have fun. I don't want us to fight!"
"Then maybe you should make up your mind," Malfoy sneered, shaking his head and starting to walk away. Harry sighed, knowing that Malfoy was right. He should have seen this coming - this was what George had predicted. He couldn't go on like this, thriving on the love of two people. He had to make a decision. Harry started running.
"Malfoy, wait up!" he called out, catching up to the blonde a little further down the street.
"What?" Malfoy asked unfriendly. He glared at the Survivor, but Harry could see the sadness behind the anger.
"Just give me one more week. After I spend the weekend with Ginny, I'll have my decision ready. I promise." Malfoy cocked his head, considering Harry's proposition. "Let's just enjoy today while we can. I really looked forward to this." And that was true. Before the conversation with Hermione, Harry had really been looking forward to going outside London for a change. He didn't want the moment ruined. Not because he couldn't make up his mind. Malfoy deserved better. The best.
"Okay," Malfoy agreed. Harry leaned into the man's chest, drinking in his scent and closing his eyes.
"I wish it was easier. I wish it wasn't this messed up." Malfoy wrapped a comforting arm around him, still ignoring the tourists passing by around them. Harry's eyes were burning. The gentle motion of Malfoy's hand on his back The gentle motion of Malfoy's hand on his back made Harry break down. He wanted to scream, he wanted to kick himself. But all he did was force back his tears, his eyes stinging, his throat burning.
"You shouldn't say that, Potter. You're amazing. I understand that you're confused. It's just that… You need to understand that we can't do this forever. I want you for me alone. You're too precious to share." Harry understood very well. He tried to compose himself again, and looked up with a smile on his face.
"You want to go grab a drink somewhere?" Harry asked, trying to change the subject. The decision would be made next week. There was no use in wasting the only day he had with Malfoy pondering over what to do. He could fall apart when he was alone.
They were sitting on a terrace in a Muggle café, both having a coke standing in front of them. Malfoy had a displeased expression on his face. Harry had to stop himself from giggling.
"You're not going to tell me that you've never been to a Muggle café." Harry repeated, shaking his head in disbelief.
"I tend to stick to the Wizard places." Malfoy replied stiffly. "They don't even have Firewhisky here. It's just plain."
"That's why it's called a Muggle café, dummy. Besides, it's only two in the afternoon. You're not going to drink this early." Harry tried to sound reprimanding, but underneath his tone you could distinguish a chuckle.
"With these weirdo's around, I think I just might," Malfoy muttered darkly, looking from side to side at the tables near him.
"They're not aliens, Malfoy," Harry exclaimed, his face lighting up in a smile. "You're unbelievable," he breathed.
"You can't get enough of me, Potter. Just admit it." Harry felt a warm stir in his stomach.
"You'd wish," he growled, spinning his glass of coke in his hand. Harry observed the blonde, his thoughts swirling. Malfoy's hand slipped underneath the table, reaching for Harry's knee. "Hey!" Harry exclaimed, pushing Malfoy's hand away. "Don't you try to pull that trick on me again."
"It worked once, didn't it," Malfoy teased, wriggling his eyebrows. Harry felt as if he'd been pushed in a giant bowl of hot water, warmth streaming from his neck down his entire body.
"Yeah right. I still have to get my revenge on you for that."
"I'd like to see you try." Harry kicked Malfoy under the table, biting his lips while looking into his beautiful silver eyes. Harry caught himself thinking that it might be one of the last times he saw them from this close. Harry leaned in and kissed Malfoy relishing the taste of his lips.
"Don't look at me like that, Potter." Malfoy whispered, when they broke apart.
"Like what?" Harry asked silently, his lips brushing Malfoys.
"Like you're doing everything for the last time." Harry looked down at his hands – which were linked with Malfoys. His long slender fingers wrapped delicately around Harry's. He didn't dare to look Malfoy in the eye. Malfoy took a big gulp of air before saying: "I won't have to wait another week to hear your decision, will I?"
When Harry did not respond, Malfoy withdrew his hands. Malfoy stood up, ready to leave.
"I'll miss you, Malfoy." He looked up at the blonde's back. He had his shoulders hunched, as if he was trying to fend himself off from a series of big punches. Harry's voice got stuck in his throat.
"I bet you will, Potter," Malfoy brought out, his voice cracking. Harry wanted to get up and hug the man. He wanted to kiss him and tell him everything was going to be okay. But it wasn't. It would never be okay.
The two cokes sat there on the table, left alone. Malfoy disappeared – probably Apparating back home around the corner. Harry still didn't get how the conversation had evolved the way it had. It was as if someone else had spoken through his mouth. He couldn't understand why he had said the things he had said. But the damage was done. Malfoy knew Harry had chosen to stay with Ginny. Gradually, he began to realise the extent of what he had done.
He had left the blonde for the second time. Somehow, it hurt even more than the last. All this time, he had wanted to have the decision made, stop being confused, to get it over with. But now that it was done, he felt empty.
Was this how it felt to make the right decision?
Harry wasn't himself for the next couple of days. He had nearly forgotten that he still had to do the surprise thingy for Ginny, as he kept thinking about Malfoy. On lonely moments, Harry could feel Malfoys lips on his while the blonde wasn't there. At night in bed, he could feel his long slender fingers make their way down his back, hugging him from behind. When the doorbell rang at the shop, his heart always skipped a beat, hoping that it might be Malfoy. And when it wasn't the disappointment latched itself to his body for the rest of the day.
So all in all, his mind wasn't exactly with Ginny. And she could tell too. She kept reaching out for him, asking what was wrong, but he would turn away, saying he was just tired of working. He had this constant numb feeling in his chest, that regularly made room for an overwhelming contraction of pain. His whole body would stiffen, as if it was shutting down and all he could do was sit there and hug himself – forcing his tears back. He kept longing to wake up beside the blonde, to see his silver eyes looking down on him, to see his pink lips form a smile, knowing that it would make everything better.
But Malfoy didn't come back. Harry understood of course, he had broken his heart. Shattered it into a thousand pieces and then pulverized all those pieces individually. Harry couldn't help but wonder: would he feel the same way if he had left Ginny? Would he be as lost in this world?
In the past week, Harry had seen Ron once. He had avoided meeting Hermione at all cost, as she would instantly know what he had done. He was not sure how she would take it, but he imagined her calling him stupid for letting Malfoy go. A coward. Scared of taking the hard pick.
Was he a coward? Or was he just loyal to Ginny? Loyal to the one he had spent the most time with. He shouldn't leave the girl he had sworn to love. He shouldn't hurt the girl he was going to marry. Right? In fact, Harry was scared of meeting Hermione, just because she would say the things he was already thinking. She would notice how he regretted his choice from the split second he had made it. How he had forced himself to push Malfoy away. Even Ron noticed he was falling apart. During their short conversation he kept asking if he was okay, and Harry kept nodding and shrugging. Inside, he was unravelling. He felt like falling into a deep, never-ending darkness.
However, the worst part about it, was that he still had Ginny. He should be grateful that she was on his side. She should be the light at the end of his dark tunnel. She should be easing his pain – should be filling up the emptiness. But she wasn't enough. He had hoped that she would be, once Malfoy was out of the picture, but she couldn't change the way he felt. She couldn't even begin to grasp the agony he was in.
Harry felt like smashing things. He felt like screaming out his lungs, ripping out his own hair and crying himself to sleep. Why couldn't he just stop feeling this way? Why couldn't Ginny just pull him out of this state, sweep him off of his feet like Malfoy had done. Malfoy. The one who'd been the fantasy. Could it have worked out? Would it have worked out? Harry didn't know – even after making the decision he'd had to make for so long, he still didn't know. What if he had picked Malfoy? Would his world be tumbling down on him too?
One evening, Harry was lost in his thoughts during dinner – or rather, just after having eaten. Ginny was washing up, but Harry didn't have the strength to get up and help her. She hadn't said anything about it, so he just remained seated, replaying one of the many perfect moments he'd had with Malfoy – before he had shattered it to pieces.
"Do you really think I didn't know you were fooling around with Malfoy?" Ginny asked. Harry looked up, startled. He hadn't seen that tears had started pooling in her dark orbs. He was shocked that she mentioned Malfoy.
"But why-" Harry started, but was cut off when Ginny shook her head. Why was she bringing this up? He had chosen her! She should be happy. They both should be happy! She wasn't supposed to find out what had happened! He had dumped Malfoy especially so she wouldn't find out. So it wouldn't be too late. But it looked like it really was. Too late.
Ginny threw the dishcloth on the sink and started talking. "I've known for a long time. I saw you kissing him back in Hogwarts at the anniversary. Ever since that moment, you acted more distant. You disappeared for longer periods of time with no explanation, assuming I wouldn't think anything of it, while I've known you for ten years and you never went out just like that. I knew something was up. You kept finding excuses, like that surprise for example?" Ginny looked up, her smile partly mocking, partly hurt. "Planning a weekend was very unlike you, Harry."
"Why didn't you say?" Harry breathed, tears appearing in his own eyes. He couldn't apologize. It was too late for that and besides, he wasn't sorry – just sorry that she found out, maybe. But he would do it all again in a heartbeat. Everything, except leaving Malfoy.
"I didn't want you to leave him because you felt guilty and part of me was scared. Scared that you would lie or deny it. Scared that you wouldn't regret it. Scared that you'd say I never was enough for you." Harry could feel the waves of guilt and shame wash over him. The only thing he had left was slipping through his fingers. Like trying to hold water in the cup of his hand.
"Ginny, that's not-"
"Don't tell me that it is not true. It is! I knew you had something with Draco when we were younger. I knew because I was in love with you and I constantly looked out for you, for a way to make eye contact. But you were always looking over to the Slytherin table. To that sneaky boy, whom you hated for so long. It wasn't very hard to put two and two together. I once followed you, to maybe accidentally bump into you and have a reason to talk to you, apart from being your best friend's sister. You met up with him at the Quidditch Pitch." Ginny looked away, facing the ground. The only part of Harry's world that hadn't been wrenched was slowly starting to show cracks and tears.
"I knew I should've left. I had no right to be there, but part of me wanted to know for sure. And when you were done playing, which was already suspicious as you were arch rivals, but when you two touched ground, and dropped your broomsticks, I could no longer deny my fears. You two started making out. I couldn't believe what I saw and at the same time it all made sense. The reason you were so awkward around me. The reason why you never dated a girl before or showed even the slightest interest in girls. And so I knew. You and him had something romantic." Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Ginny gestured him to wait and continued:
"When you came up to me and asked me out, I knew that something was up. But I adored you, Harry and I couldn't say no when you finally took the initiative to ask me out on a date. It were ten amazing years, I don't regret it for a moment. We had all these great moments, where I enjoyed everything about you." She quickly wiped away her tears, and caught her breath. A sparkle of hope lit up in Harry's stomach. Maybe she wouldn't give up on him. Maybe he had done at least one thing right in his life… But his heart was beating too fast. His mind already knew the outcome of this conversation.
"But still, your homosexuality hung in the air like an unspoken threat. Our friends got married, and we didn't because you felt you weren't ready. We didn't have kids. We just stayed the way we were and I was prepared to live with that for the rest of my life. I was prepared to sacrifice my wish to have children. But then Draco Malfoy showed up again and swept you off your feet like our ten years together hadn't even happened. I instantly knew I had lost and it would only be a matter of time before he snatched you away for good. I knew I had lost. But I didn't say anything, because I wanted you to find out for yourself. What it was that you really wanted. I always knew it was him."
Harry had never heard Ginny say so much at once before and didn't know what to say when she fell silent. He had hoped that she would still love him, but honestly, Harry wouldn't love himself if he had to switch places. He despised himself for what he had done. There was nothing left now. Harry was merely an empty shell, walking around with no purpose. He had managed to push away the only people that cared about him.
"I don't hate you, Harry. I don't blame you either. Thank you for all the wonderful moments we had together. Thank you for sticking with me for so long, while you knew Draco could love you better than me. You made a mistake by choosing me, Harry. You should've left me and chosen him. But I know why you didn't. You picked me because you won't lose yourself into our love. You love him so much it scares you so that you'd rather hurt him so bad he stays away, than you just get together and enjoy the extraordinary chemistry you have." Harry was stunned. He couldn't move in his chair. Hermione had said something similar. Malfoy was the more difficult choice, and it would be natural to go for the easy way. He had chosen Ginny because he knew she would stay with him – out of loyalty. They had been together like this for ten years – which was proof enough that Ginny wasn't leaving him for something better.
But now – she knew. She knew everything. Had Hermione told her? No, she wouldn't do that. Harry felt the life run out of him. "I'm sorry, Ginny," was all he could say. It was devastating to know that he'd hurt Ginny all along. It hurt to know that he had lost them both. But he couldn't blame her. He couldn't blame Malfoy either. He was the only one to blame for this mess. The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. Look where he was now. What would his admirers say? The Hero, smashing his lover's heart ruthlessly to pieces. Harry couldn't stand himself.
In fact, they were both better off without him. Ginny would find someone who truly cherished her. same for Malfoy. They could do better than him. He had only made their lives worse and didn't deserve any of the love he'd gotten from them. "I think I better leave," Harry whispered.
"No. No, I'll go. You stay here with your shop. Mum doesn't mind taking me in again." Harry nodded, avoiding eye contact. Molly would be put out by this news. He had always seen her as some kind of mother, and she had always been so good to him. And now, he'd broken her only daughter's heart. She would hate him for it. He should be ashamed of himself. He was ashamed of himself. He could never show his face to them anymore.
After locking himself up for a considerable amount of time, in which Ron and Hermione kept banging on his door and kept inquiring to talk to him, Harry finally scraped enough courage to face the world. Ginny had taken her stuff on that doomed day and he hadn't seen her since. Harry felt dreadful. He felt sick and was constantly in his bed. He couldn't eat. Couldn't sleep.
But enough time had passed and he had to pull himself together. He had brought this on himself and he was dramatizing. It was time to pick up his life again. And there was only one way he could do that. By stopping by at George's place. He needed to talk to him – confess what a mess he'd made. Then he would move on.
"Hi George," Harry greeted. George froze in mid-air, and turned around on the spot, eyes as big as saucers.
"Harry! I thought you had died and were decaying in you little appartment up there," George exclaimed patting him on the back, smiling from ear to ear. Somehow, the numbness eased a little and Harry returned the smile.
"No, I'm still alive. Barely, but still."
"I heard what happened. How come thing are this messed up?" He gestured for Harry to take a seat on the counter and looked at him expectantly – waiting for a reply.
"I don't know, George. I think there was no right decision to make. Leaving them both was the only option, and luckily for them, it turned out that way." Harry looked down at his feet, avoiding George's eyes.
"But where does that leave you? Why did Ginny leave? Did she find out?"
"Yeah, she did. And she said I should've picked Malfoy, which I didn't, which then leaves me in this very situation."
"It's not as bad as it seemed, Harry. You'll be alright in the end. People will turn around. They'll come to terms with what happened, understand that you and Ginny were never meant to be, that you and Malfoy weren't ready for one another and that's that. You shouldn't blame yourself so much."
"How is it that you always make things look so easy?" Harry exclaimed in frustration.
"Because they are. You'll crawl back on your feet, just you wait, pal!" George leaned against the counter, crossing his arms in front of his chest, a smile on his face.
"So, you're not angry with me?" This was one of the things Harry was scared off. That he had not only chased away his lovers, but his friends as well.
"Angry? Why would I be? You didn't cheat on me did you? No, no Harry, I'm just kidding. Nobody should be angry with you. Love is a strange thing, you see. You can never predict what's going to happen. You fell in love with the Malfoy kid, but you were already in love – or at least some kind of love – with Ginny. I gotta admit, these things usually don't work out."
"Yeah, got that one right. I wish I had picked Malfoy." Harry fumbled with his fingers, a sad veil falling over his face. Thinking about the blonde always had this effect on him – ever since he ruined everything they'd had.
"But you didn't. And if you had, your guilt would have eaten you away inside. It would have consumed all the purity of your relationship with him. And then you would have ended up here as well. Why don't we hook up, Har? We seem to get along well." Harry punched George in the shoulder, but couldn't help but smiling. Maybe George was right. Maybe it wouldn't have worked out with Malfoy either way.
"Have you talked to Ron or Hermione yet?" Harry asked, another burning question for which he feared the answer.
"Yeah, yeah, change the subject will you? If I'm not handsome enough, then just say it. No, I'm fooling around with you, Harry. They're pretty pissed because you're not talking, though. You should go talk to them. They're your friends."
"I know. I will. I just needed some time to progress everything. I've been a mess, George. A real mess. But I'm getting better each day. How's Molly holding up?"
"You know her, thinks she knows the answer to everything. Initially she thought you two would get back together, but now she's saying that you're both better off. She doesn't hate you, if that's what you wanted to know. At first she was ready to cook you, but she's laid off now." George smiled brightly.
"Good. And Malfoy?"
"Haven't seen him around. I'm sorry, Harry. I really wish it could have turned out with a happy ending, you know. But at least you've got time to think now, without distractions." Harry shook his head. He would give everything to have those distractions back again, but Malfoy seemed gone for good.
"Yeah, you're probably right. Thanks for everything George. I mean it. I owe you so much."
"You don't owe me anything. Perhaps a visit from time to time, but I know your time is precious. Being the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen one and the Survivor and all."
"I'm going to stop by more often. No distractions anymore, remember?" Harry chuckled. He enjoyed spending time with George, and he really intended on stopping by more often. George deserved nothing less.
"Sounds great. You'll turn out okay, Harry. Just you wait. You know what they say: 'All good to those who wait'."
"Well, I haven't got much choice, nor anything else to do, have I? I think I'm off to Ron and Hermione. They deserve an explanation, and I'm ready."
"That's my boy." Harry leaned forward and hugged George tightly. George patted him on the back jovially.
"Thanks a million. You really are a good friend." George made a little bow, and Harry chuckled, waving before leaving the shop. He needed to put things right. Then, he really could move on.
It had been almost a year since Harry and Ginny broke up, and since he'd last seen Malfoy. Harry was slowly getting back on his feet, but with Ron, Hermione and George by his side, he was doing great. The shop was blooming, Harry felt a lot more happy than he'd done a couple of months ago.
He was making his way through the busy streets of Diagon Alley, to go get an ice-cream. Florean Fortesque IceCream Parlour had been reopened by a new owner and Harry was very fond of the way they had kept all the good stuff Florean had done for the place.
He was just walking on the sunny street, when his eye caught a flash of silver. Harry looked up, eyes locking on silver ones.
Harry's heart skipped a beat. Both men had stopped walking, were just staring at each other. Harry slowly raised his arm, waving at the blonde. The former Slytherin frowned, his blonde eyebrows knitting together. He then walked up to him.
"Potter." Harry had forgotten how beautiful Malfoy's voice sounded. The way he pronounced his last name had something delicate about it.
"Malfoy. Long-time no see. How are you holding up?" Malfoy's face seemed to light up a little, and Harry could feel a tug behind his navel, as if he'd just touched a portkey – but in a good way.
Both men started to make their way to the IceCream Parlour, walking just a little too close to one another. Only a few metres away, George was standing in the doorway of his Joke shop, eyeing the two men with a knowing smile. Hermione came standing behind him.
"Nice timing, Hermione," George complimented, giving her a playful wink.
"Did they see each other? Hermione asked curiously staring over the many heads in the street to find Harry and Malfoy.
"You bet they did. They didn't have eyes for anything else the moment their paths crossed." Hermione gave George a high five and both went back inside.