Disclaimer: HP and friends aren't mine. Alas.
So this is my 100th fic AND my longest oneshot ever. It boggles my mind. There ought to be a celebration – cake, presents, REVIEWS. Ahem.
In other news, apparently my titles for BlaiseSlash fics are going to all have candy themes – Sugar Quills being my NevilleBlaise fic. Slash: it's my anti-drug (here's to you, Hekate101).
Maybe it was a little cynical and jaded of him – maybe he should have held out hope – but Harry wasn't all that surprised when nothing much changed after he defeated Voldemort. Pureblood traditionalists still ran the Ministry and Wizengamot; Draco Malfoy had bought his way out of a conviction and was now renowned as a philanthropist; Hogwarts was still split down the middle between Gryffindor and Slytherin.
The only real difference that Harry could see was that he was suddenly being treated like a rock star or, or like Albus Dumbledore. His chocolate frog card was everywhere, the words widely believed to be the most powerful wizard of our time printed on them in all seriousness. Shopkeepers gazed at him in awe when he visited Diagon Alley, and crowds parted before him as he made his way down the cobbled street.
Harry hated it. He wasn't Dumbledore; he couldn't deal with his sudden surge in popularity with any degree of equanimity. Dumbledore had already been an old man, one widely reputed to be astonishingly powerful, when he defeated Grindelwald. Harry was an eighteen year old Hogwarts dropout who'd spent over half his life in a cupboard under the stairs.
He thought about sticking it out. He thought about waiting until some of the furor surrounding him died down; he even considered using his reputation in an attempt to reshape the Ministry a bit, maybe weed out the worst of the corruption and incompetence. But he couldn't intimidate or bluster properly, and no one – especially not a Ministry official – was about to respond to a tentative, "Er, the werewolf registration acts…they aren't quite fair, are they?"
So, a month after he destroyed Voldemort, a month after his world changed forever but the rest of earth went on turning like normal, he left.
He went to Italy first – he hadn't had much time for sightseeing before, when he'd been hunting down Ravenclaw's inkwell, and he wanted to get a better look at the Vatican (as well as, he guiltily admitted to himself, a better taste of the gelato). He used a glamour charm to cover up his slowly fading scar and a truly disgusting amount of gel to make his hair lie flat, and he was recognized within minutes anyway.
After that, he got a little better at hiding himself. He'd grown out of the habit since he'd gone to Hogwarts, but it wasn't a skill he'd ever lose entirely.
He never thought about home. He especially didn't think about Ginny, who'd probably expected him to go straight to her and sweep her off her feet the moment he killed Voldemort. He'd thought about doing it, he really had – he'd been halfway to the Burrow when he realized he just couldn't.
Ron had understood, though Hermione had frowned and eyed him like she wanted to break him apart into little pieces and put him back together in a way that would finally make sense to her.
The thing was, Ginny was lazy sun-lit afternoons and blazing fires and warmth, and that wasn't Harry's life anymore, if it had ever really been his life in the first place. The sun hurt his eyes these days, and he'd rather have a few shadows to rest them in.
America was loud and bustling and bright, and Harry lost himself there easily. Nearly a month passed before he realized he'd actually started to build a life for himself, a life with new tentative-almost-friends and an apartment and a part-time job in a bar. He left the next day.
Harry never spent so long in one place again. A week here, two there, and always moving, always blending – before long, he was so good at disguising himself that he didn't even realize it when his scar disappeared entirely. It came as something of a shock to him, when he stepped out of the cheap motel shower and cancelled his glamour spells for the first time in three months, to find his forehead unblemished.
But the bigger shock was the rest of him. He stared at himself in the grimy, yellowed mirror for a long time, until the steam curling around him and misting up the glass finally started to dissipate, until the cool air prickling his skin became more uncomfortable than refreshing.
He'd grown – not much, just an inch or so – and he was bigger. His shoulders were a little broader, his muscles a little more defined, and he didn't look half-starved anymore. His eyes looked a little darker, but not haunted or anything – tired, maybe, but relaxed. And there was a curious little curl to his lips, as if a smile was their default expression now, and that was the biggest shock of all.
Harry hadn't been deluding himself. He knew he was running, taking the coward's way out. He just hadn't expected it to be so good for him.
A year and a half after he'd left, he found himself in Italy again. He didn't bother with any sightseeing this time, just walked the streets and poked around dusty little shops at his leisure. Harry found that the definition of contentment was just walking along, listening to tourists trying to haggle and cars screeching as they ignored every traffic law ever written, letting the heavy scent of Rome wash over him. He tried a different pub each night, never quite getting drunk but never leaving entirely sober, either.
One night, he tried a wizarding pub. It was a daring move on his part – he'd kept far from all signs of magic for the last year and a half, after all, and he'd stopped trying to disguise himself. His hair had grown out enough that it was no longer quite so recognizable, and he'd gotten a different pair of glasses.
The pub was dark and a bit dusty on the inside, the light burnt orange when it showed up at all. It was warm, almost uncomfortably so, but a cooling charm took care of that easily. Harry was careful not too look anyone in the eye, not even the burly barkeeper.
There weren't many people present, but Harry had long since stopped underestimating the obsession his celebrity could induce in others. He slid quietly onto a rickety stool near the lacquered bar and ordered a beer. He didn't drink it right away, paranoia making him check to be absolutely sure that no one was paying him too much interest.
He glanced sideways at his nearest neighbor, a tall, thin man with dark skin and a look of utter disinterest in life. He blended well into the darkness of the pub, only the whites of his eyes and a flash of teeth betraying him.
Harry half expected recognition. He just hadn't expected being the one doing the recognizing.
Before he could stop himself, before he even had first thoughts, much less second ones, he blurted out a startled, "Zabini? Blaise Zabini?"
The man froze and turned slowly, swaying a bit on the stool as he moved. He blinked, his eyes intent but unfocused. "Who," he demanded, with the exaggerated dignity Harry had seen in a few drunks over the past several months, "are you?"
Harry almost replied, but thought better of it and managed to keep his mouth shut this time. He shrugged, turning away, but it was too late.
"Potter," Zabini rasped, sounding startled and more than slightly amused. "Well, fuck me sideways. If it isn't the Boy Who Bailed."
Harry bristled, but had the presence of mind to glance around quickly to make sure no one had heard before he hissed at Zabini, "Shut up. What are you even doing here?"
He'd never gotten to know Zabini – in fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn't really ever interacted with any of the Slytherins at school except Malfoy and Snape. He did know, however, that Zabini was one of his few Slytherin classmates who hadn't been at all involved in the Second War.
"I," Zabini proclaimed gravely, "am getting drunk. As are you, I presume. And if I may, I suggest we both get on with it and ignore each other for the rest of the night."
Harry was a lot of things, but curious pretty much topped the list, though determined came in a close second. So, although Zabini's slightly slurred suggestion sounded rather appealing, he couldn't quite bring himself to follow through on it. He held out as long as he could, even managed to finish his beer and start another before breaking down and asking, "How long have you been here?"
Zabini sighed and set down his shot glass on the counter rather loudly. He didn't face Harry, but didn't ignore him either, which Harry supposed was a good sign. "Look, Potter, I'm not a member of your fan club, nor do I feel any particular ill-will towards you. I even left England until all that unpleasantness a few years ago died down. We mean absolutely nothing to one another; we never even spoke at Hogwarts. So why are you bothering me?"
Harry had never heard the Second War referred to as a bit of unpleasantness before, and while he thought he ought to be indignant, he found that it was almost…reassuring. Zabini didn't care about him and he didn't care about Zabini, and he didn't have to bother hiding.
He thought about trying to express this to his former schoolmate, but had a feeling it'd earn him nothing but a raised eyebrow and a boatload of contempt. Instead, he shrugged and said, "Why not?"
To his surprise, Zabini actually cracked a smile, though it looked more like a smirk. "Ever the Gryffindor," he said with lazy disdain.
Harry grinned. "You were expecting something else?"
"I wasn't expecting anything at all. I rarely do," Zabini drawled, with all the arrogant self-assurance of a born aristocrat. Somehow, though, it wasn't as grating a drawl as Malfoy's, and Harry rather liked how shadows softened the sharp angles of the other man's face when he smirked.
The next morning, Harry couldn't really remember with any clarity what had happened the previous night. He remembered that he and Zabini had, against all logic and probability, spent most of the night chatting rather congenially, though neither resisted voicing an occasional insult. Harry also remembered spending an inordinate amount of time studying Zabini's chocolate-colored, long-fingered hand as it curled around his shot glass.
But everything else was a blur. He had vague impressions of a stumbling, leaning, four-legged walk back to the hotel, but after that everything went black.
Harry might've tried harder to remember, but frankly, his head felt like Malfoy'd stomped on it again and his ears were ringing oddly, and it was all he could do to crack one bleary eye open without whimpering.
And then he did whimper, because a dark, male, naked form was sprawled next to him on the bed.
"Potter," Zabini croaked in a whisper that shot through Harry's head like a shout. "This is…unexpected."
Harry grunted. He wondered if he should say anything else, if he should try to reassure his bedmate and himself that this was a one-off thing, that obviously they'd had far too much to drink and of course neither of them were gay or anything, but in the end it wasn't worth the effort. He closed his eye and let himself fall back to blissful, painless sleep, and figured they'd straighten things out later. Literally and figuratively.
Zabini was still there when Harry woke again, at half past one in the afternoon. He was clothed now, though his shirt hung open and revealed a chest that Harry spent entirely too much time pretending not to stare at. He sat propped up against the headboard with a casual ease that made Harry all the more nervous.
"Er," he said.
Zabini, apparently unmoved at having been caught watching Harry sleep, raised both eyebrows and let his lips curl up. "If he had known how much more tolerable you are when drunk," he said dryly, "I'm sure Draco would have made it his life's mission to never see you sober."
"Last night was surprisingly pleasurable," Zabini observed, and something about the way his voice caressed the syllables of the last word made Harry's heart jump – as well as other certain areas of his anatomy. "Do you have plans for today?"
And even though neither of them had brushed their teeth and both of them had breath as stale as month-old bread, Harry decided he quite liked kissing Blaise Zabini.
He supposed this wasn't going to get straightened out anytime soon, but then again, Harry had always been more suited to angles and bends.
They didn't leave the hotel until that evening, when the city was more shadow than sunlight. Zabini led him to a different pub, this one muggle – and Harry supposed he really ought to start calling the other man by his first name, but it didn't seem to fit, somehow. Zabini was Zabini and he was Potter and that was…comfortable. Easy.
Harry didn't expect conversation to flow quite as smoothly as it did for the second night in a row, especially now that they'd, er, had relations – but he was getting used to his expectations not being met. Zabini was simply above awkwardness, somehow, and something about the mocking arch of his brow whenever Harry stuttered felt an awful lot like a challenge.
Harry had never been good at ignoring challenges.
He wasn't at all surprised when he woke up beside Zabini a second morning in a row, and found that he wasn't all that worried, either. It was hard to treat their whatever-it-was like a big deal when Zabini's only response to Harry's tentative, "Er…so are we…together?" was a bored, "Does it matter?"
So they talked and they fucked and Harry managed to make Zabini smile genuinely twice and laugh – a real laugh – once. And Harry felt…comfortable with Zabini. He felt like he was himself for the first time in forever – not a hero, not the Chosen One Who Killed Voldemort, but a man who'd spent most of his life in a cupboard and was finally starting to leave it.
He almost thought they were becoming – well, friends.
They went out again the third night, stayed in the fourth night, visited a restaurant the fifth. Harry saw Zabini's flat for the first time on the sixth night, though mostly he just saw the bed.
The seventh night, they found themselves in a different wizarding bar, and this time Harry was recognized.
Harry stared at the chocolate frog card and proffered quill as warily as he'd stared at a poisonous snake in Australia a few months ago.
There was a line of wizards and witches holding quills and parchment. A bloody goddamn line. And Zabini, the utter arse, was laughing.
The card had changed in the last year. The Missing Man-Who-Saved was too good a story not to chronicle everywhere possible.
One line hadn't changed, though. Widely believed to be the most powerful wizard of our time.
Zabini leaned over and murmured in his ear, "Do people actually believe any of this rubbish? 'Modest savior?' 'Most powerful wizard?' 'Enjoys volunteering at orphanages?' 'Vanished until needed again?'"
Harry's brain was divided on the matter. Half of it was shouting at him to lean back into Zabini and fully enjoy the man's nearness; the other half was debating whether to sign the card or rip it to shreds.
Instead, he smiled a little nervously at the expectant crowd and said, "Sorry, but I'm on vacation. I'm not…I'm not signing autographs today."
His voice wavered a little on the last statement, mostly because Harry had a sudden, astonishingly vivid vision of himself in twenty years, worn away to a sliver by the world's constant demands, signing autographs until his hand cramped and hiding away until the next dark lord popped up and needed defeating.
Swallowing, he added, "In fact, I'm not signing autographs at all. I'm not – I'm just…sorry."
Shoulders hunched, head ducked down, he hurried away and out onto the street, letting himself drown in the noise of the city, desperately wanting to lose himself once again.
Only this time, Zabini followed him.
Harry tensed, waiting for the man to say something sarcastic or snide, but Zabini just walked beside him silently. He snuck a glance sideways, and was surprised to see the Slytherin holding one of the chocolate frog cards up, reading it by the light of the streetlamps.
Cars whizzed by them through the night, miraculously managing to not hit each other, though a cacophony of loud horns and skidding tires rang out constantly. The air tasted dirty and felt thick, and Harry suddenly felt a bone-deep weariness take hold of him, wrapping around him like a suffocating blanket of disappointed expectations and bitterness.
"You're right," Harry said quietly. "It is all a bunch of, of nonsense."
"Not all of it," Zabini replied neutrally.
"What do you mean?" Harry demanded, a little angry – he'd thought Zabini saw him better than that. He thought Zabini – well, while they weren't exactly indifferent to each other anymore, he'd thought Zabini had grown to…tolerate…Harry for himself and not his reputation.
Zabini sighed. "Like it or not, Potter, you did defeat Voldemort. You may be more stupid and blindly stubborn than powerful, and you may not have much to be modest about in the first place, but in your own way…"
He trailed off, looking almost…discomfited. It was the most human moment Harry'd ever seen him have, and it really shouldn't have made his heart flutter like that, not when he'd just been roundly insulted.
"In my own way what?" Harry prompted, curling his hands into fists to stop them from trembling.
Zabini grimaced. "In your own way, you're a great wizard." The admission sounded like it truly pained him.
"Oh," Harry said, because he wasn't sure what else he could say to that.
"This conversation is finished."
"Oh," Harry repeated numbly, flushing with angry hurt, feeling like – like someone had announced Christmas just in time to cancel it. He trained his eyes on his feet, folding in on himself, and quickened his pace. He wanted to get back to his bed, collapse on it and forget tonight happened.
"Oh, for – Potter, slow down," Zabini commanded exasperatedly, and Harry blinked and glanced back just in time to see Zabini roll his eyes. Harry thought his eyes were rather interesting – the color was warm and the expression anything but.
Except right now, Zabini's expression had left cold, bypassed warm and shot straight towards hot. "Potter," he said, agitated, and Harry again marveled at the display of emotion, "I just…I…I suppose we are together."
It had been hard to worry when Zabini's only response to Harry's, "Er…so are we…together?" was, "Does it matter?" But not worrying about it doesn't mean you don't care, and Harry found himself grinning widely.
"I'm going to regret this," Zabini muttered, but he was smirking when he said it.
Harry's grin grew until his face ached, but it was a good ache and he didn't mind it in the least. "But this means you're with the most powerful wizard of our age," he pointed out as innocently as possible, which wasn't very.
"Most powerfully irritating, perhaps."
"I wouldn't say that," Harry protested, biting back a snicker.
"Of course you wouldn't. After all, you're far too modest."
Harry laughed, and suddenly the future didn't seem so very bleak.
Harry returned home a few months later, smiling and tanned – the sun, he'd found, had its place.
Zabini came home with him, smirking and sarcastic, and managed to alienate every one of Harry's friends within days. Harry didn't really mind, though. His friends were used to sunlight and fire and warmth, and Zabini wasn't any of those things and never would be.
The sun had its place, but Harry found he still preferred the shadows.