Harry sat in the cupboard under the stairs and reflected that life had not gone exactly the way he'd planned.
Of course, this probably had something to do with the fact that he hadn't planned. His focus had been entirely on Voldemort's defeat. The inevitable joy, widespread celebration and happy ending to come afterwards, he hadn't planned: they had merely been a dream of the golden haze of his summer days with Ginny. Harry would have won, and he'd be happy, and free of the looming battle with Voldemort that had defined him for so long. He'd be different.
Only he wasn't. He was right back where he started: hiding in the gloom of the cupboard under the stairs, feeling alone. Harry glanced down at the Order of Merlin, First Class medal he was holding, and wryly admitted to himself that some things were different.
He wished he hadn't come to this party. Hermione and Ron had insisted, though, and he couldn't handle another night at the Burrow trying to ignore Mrs Weasley's red eyes and avoid Ginny's flirtations. The Ministry celebration was the official victory party, and Harry had to come.
It had begun with a terrifyingly pompous ceremony in which Kingsley had made a serious speech, and the war heroes had been given their Orders of Merlin. Every member of the DA had got one; all the Weasleys had one, though Percy's was Third Class; every member of the Order of the Phoenix got one, too. The posthumously awarded ones had been difficult. Harry had dropped his eyes when Andromeda Tonks stood to collect the medals awarded to her daughter and son-in-law.
She'd sat next to her sister. Harry had noticed the Malfoys – he didn't think he'd ever lose the habit of scanning a room for white-blond hair – but had assumed that their status as one of the leading magical families had wangled them an invitation, however much their stock had dropped.
Then Kingsley announced, "and an Order of Merlin, Second Class, awarded to Narcissa Malfoy for lying to Lord Voldemort to save Harry Potter's life."
Ron's voice rang out, outraged. Hermione hushed him, but the room was still rippling with shock. Faces that had been stiff with boredom and reverence turned towards bright, blond Mrs Malfoy as she ascended to the stage and accepted the Order of Merlin. She was still thin, and paler even than she had been; but Harry was practised at deciphering Malfoy expressions, and he was sure he caught the hint of a smirk as she shook out her expensive robes and returned to her seat. Certainly Draco, on her other side, was grinning.
After the ceremony was over, came the party. The invited guests – eminent members of the magical world – all headed into the ballroom. It was bright and golden; the champagne shone; there was dancing to lovely music, and everyone thanking him and Ginny wanting to dance.
He'd hated it. He wasn't sure what he found so awful – that things seemed to have changed, or how much they'd remained the same.
So, pleading a need for air, he'd gone out into the corridor. And now he was sitting on his own in a big cupboard under the stairs. It was full of cleaning supplies; Harry was sitting on a bucket with his champagne, staring at the wall.
The yell exploded into Harry's silent, dark space. He turned in disbelief to see Draco Malfoy half-falling into the cupboard, a bottle of champagne clamped in one pale hand while the other used the doorknob to hold him up. Malfoy stumbled a little further into the gloomy cupboard, swearing to himself.
"Stupid snide little comments, snicker all you want, bastard, I know you're just too chicken to hex me. I'm so sick of all of you – " He was kicking the door now – "Small-minded little – Potter?"
Harry smiled weakly, now wishing he'd made himself known before. "Hi."
"What do you want?" Malfoy snarled. "I thought stalking me was last year's thing. Going to hex me, since everyone else is too scared?"
"No." There was a pause, while Harry wondered why not and Malfoy looked startled at the lack of nasty invective, before Harry said, "Can I have some champagne?"
Malfoy grabbed a bucket and sat next to him. They passed the bottle back and forth between them. There was silence. Odd silence. Comfortable and yet not, like sweat prickling on your skin under comfortable clothes. Harry had known this boy for years, and he wasn't afraid of him, wasn't even sure he hated him any more. But their hateful history hadn't gone away. He could feel Malfoy not saying things, not provoking Harry or causing a despising look; and the idea of Malfoy showing self-restraint was so bizarre Harry was tempted to check him for the Imperius curse.
"It's been seven hours and sixteen days since the war ended," Malfoy said suddenly. His voice was oddly monotone. "More than two weeks since Voldemort was killed and we were all set free." At the hint of mockery there, Harry actually found himself relaxing. "And still, nothing's changed. Everything's like it was during the war – or just before it, anyway. How people feel about my family is complicated, but it always was before. The people who hate us still do because we were collaborators, and the people who wanted to like us still do because of what Mother did. And you – you still don't want attention."
"And you still want all the attention in the world." Malfoy looked at him sharply, then relaxed at Harry's dry smile.
"Can't help my star quality, Potter."
"I wish I could. I'm sick of being stared at."
"Me too," Malfoy agreed with surprising vehemence. "I'm thinking I might do something incredibly old-fashioned and head off on a Grand Tour. Just wonder round the world and indulge myself and explore."
Harry felt the first excitement he had since before Voldemort's death. "That sounds brilliant! What's stopping you?"
Malfoy looked surprised, then pleased at his enthusiasm. "Dunno. My mother still wants me around."
Harry snorted at this. "You're scared."
"You wish!" There was a tiny, embarrassed silence, and then the boys came to a mutual if silent agreement to ignore this backslide into adolescence. "Why don't you go off travelling then?"
"I – well I never thought of it before. I might though. I'm bored, and everything seems... blah. No challenge since I won."
Malfoy rolled his eyes, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips. "Well God forbid the killing of a murderous tyrant leave you bored."
"Hey!" Harry protested, snickering. "You don't know what it's like, being needed and then not. Anyway, I don't see you heading off into the sunset."
"Well maybe I will."
Dear Draco - Malfoy - Draco,
How are you? I did it after all you know, ha! I'm in Prague right now. It's brilliant. Full of magic and bizarre things. Like Hogwarts, really.
Did you go anywhere or are you still sitting in your empty Manor with your mum?
For your information I'm currently in Washington DC, America. I briefly stopped in a few places on the Continent, but having spent much of my childhood in western Europe it grew dull. I'm not in the mood for anywhere east of Poland, either – too chilly. It's sweltering here, and I'm going through eight Sunshield charms a day, and I think I have a freckle. It's glorious. They all revere me, as well they should, and everyone wants me to talk all the time.
Clearly much more cosmopolitan than you,
Much too busy and cool to write much. Tell me, why do they want you to talk? Make-the-Muggles-crazy spells are bad.
Now in Italy yet not showing off,
They want me to talk because they like my accent. It's the same here in Georgia where I am now. I like their accents too. They're broad, and peculiar, and I find them hard to understand sometimes – but I'm the type who always mixes French and Flemish, and at least this lot speak the Queen's - well, some peculiar cowboy type's English.
They feed me odd things too. I like it so far, even if it's all very different from home. Tonight, however, the 'motel' people have threatened to give me 'grits' to eat. Since I still don't have a proper wand (yes, that was a pointed comment) I don't want to offend them, but I also don't want to eat building materials.
Expecting your blood vengeance should I die,
If you're reading this, you survived the grits. I'm in Warsaw now and I see what you mean about the cold. I like it though. There are lots of Muggle clubs, and no one can tell I can't dance because they can't either – they just jump and up and down to the beat.
Are you still in America?
Not particularly bothered if you die,
I knew you couldn't dance! Pansy said you were keeping up with Parvati Patil at the Yule Ball and I told her you couldn't dance and she was obviously controlling you! I shall write to her at once and claim my bet!
And of course they can tell you can't dance. They're just too polite to say so. I, on the other hand, believe in telling the truth. Stop jumping, or dancing, or what ever the hell you're trying. It makes you look ridiculous.
I survived the grits. They turned out to be food – of a sort, anyway. I want proper food now – delicacies. The siren song of sushi calls to me.
Glad I have natural Malfoy grace and six years of dancing lessons behind me,
So you've heard from Pansy Parkinson, then? Great. I'm sure you've been missing having someone stroke your hair and hang on your every word.
I'm now in Moscow, but it's freezing and I now feel awkward dancing. Thanks for making it clear what you think. God knows what I'd do without your virulent hatred.
Off to China soon,
If you let anyone know Pansy is in contact with me I'll kill you. Neither of us can afford the bad publicity. Just fucking leave us alone, and don't insult her again.
Why are you angry with me - I mean,
I miss you guys. I don't know when I'll be back. Don't stop writing to me, OK?
I'm in Beijing right now. It's cool. Everything's very electronic even among the wizards, and everything's the colour of cheap sweets, and the food is amazing.
Sorry about -
Is Pansy with yo -
I won't tell, don't worry. How's Japan?
Hoping you'll write back,
To Harry Potter, Heaven's Neediest Hero,
I love Japan. They all stare here, too – it's the hair. I'm wondering if I can use being blond to become His Blondness, the God-King of the Four Islands. Isn't that a great name? Today, Japan. Tomorrow, the world!
I got a new wand too.
I'm in Osaka and it's absolutely gorgeous, and the food is wonderful, and everything feels ancient. I like places that feel old. It matters, when you come from a bloodline like mine. Or maybe it's just habit, I don't know. But this is perfect – it's new, and modern and I can explore. America was like that but it wasn't comfortable. It's too new. To them a house that's been around fifty years is an old house, and their magical communities felt a little awkward, like wearing stiff new shoes. This is different.
Do you think flying over Mount Fuji would lead to a terrible poisonous-gas-related-death?
Considering giving you Belgium when I become ruler of the world,
Draco Malfoy, Hell's Letter-Writing Lord
You're funny when you're happy. I should have got that, seeing you do impressions for people you actually liked. I'd love to see you when you're drunk.
Don't try to take over the world just when I'm starting to like you. Don't you remember what happened to the last guy?
Wondering where to go next,
I'm happy. I miss you, and Father. I'm happy, and I think I could be happier. I don't know. This is all silly. It's only happening because I'm far away from everything that's logical and home. God knows I can't change, and neither can anyone else.
I love you.
Don't let something happen only because you're far away. But don't stop it happening because it wouldn't happen if you were at home. Remember I only want you to be happy, and you can't disappoint me.
Teddy can turn his hair blond now. He did it for your father yesterday. I think the antipathy between he and Andromeda is beginning to wear off now they both having something new to concentrate on. Babies are lovely, aren't they?
I love you too, darling.
I'm in Togo.
West Africa is very hot. Supposedly this is the rainy season, but it's rained once in four days.
How are you?
Promising not to take over the world,
How's Japan? I'm so jealous – it must be fascinating to be around all that history! But I love the work I'm doing at the moment, too. Rights for magical creatures are so important, and I want people to see that in the wake of all this prejudice and pain. The Lupin Foundation is all set up now, and the Wizengamot's going to vote on the right of werewolf children to a Hogwarts education next week. I think it'll get through.
Ron says hello, and he'll write next week. He's busy himself. Some of it's busywork, I'm afraid, but if it helps him cope with Fred's death I'll support him. He and George don't talk about Fred much.
Did you know Draco Malfoy's gone missing? He wrote to his parents from Togo three weeks ago and hasn't been heard from since. I'm concerned, but I don't really see what I can do. So for the moment I'm just agreeing with Ron that saving his life twice is already enough from Gryffindor House!
We miss you.
The last place he was heard from was Nigeria, two weeks ago. Please find out if he's OK. I'm going to west Africa myself, as it happens, so I'll have a look.
Dear Mother and Father,
I'm fine. I didn't mean to worry you, I'm so sorry. Nigeria is a fun place, but as it turns out I was rather noticeable and the people have rather an aversion to wizards. Bastards.
Potter saved me. Deja vu, eh?
I'm fine. Really. They didn't – well, Potter had some supplies with him. Granger's influence, undoubtedly.
I'm not coming home yet.
Thank God you taught me those locator spells. The Muggles caught him, the stupid idiot, and he lost his wand – they beat him half to death! You should have seen his face when he saw me – relieved, then furious. He's kind of stuck on furious now. He says he's been wandering west Africa for a fortnight and this is an anomaly. I think he's being an idiot. He's still sore too, even though I used some of the potions on him – thanks for those as well.
He says he's perfectly safe. I think I'd like to see Ghana. We're heading for Kumasi now, then down to Accra. He says Greyhound buses on Ghanian roads are murder, and he's too sore for potholes. I say that's his problem and we're staying Muggle for now. We'll see what happens.
I hope the note on the bedside table isn't too much of a cliche. That was an amazing night. I have a flight booked to Sao Paulo, I have to go.
Write to me some more?
To my best girl,
Pansy, I did something stupid. The something stupid involves sex. Not sex with a girl. Or my hand. (Your jibes are getting predictable.) So, um, obviously I can't tell Mother.
I had sex with Harry Potter
Even writing makes me feel shaky and surreal, and ridiculous – and also like screaming with triumph. Me and Harry Potter, we fucked.
I blame this entirely on tequila. I made Harry come out with me – we were in Accra by then – and dance. He is a terrible dancer. But it's OK. We danced anyway, and we drank tequila. Then we danced, and had rum and more tequila. By this point his eyes were glittering and my heart was beating to the beat of the music and those elecktronick lights were everywhere, and his skin is so brown now, and mine is still fish-white. He licked salt off the inside of my wrist and –
Well. We drank, and we licked, and everything was sticky and blurry and bright and the music was loud. We laughed a lot. Even a bit while we were -
Anyway due to very specific circumstances I've had sex with someone I don't even like. I'm still sticky, and sore in entirely new places (so is he though so it's all right) and I rather liked our correspondence and now he'll never write to me again. God, I'm so embarrassed.
I slept with Draco Malfoy, and he was gone the next morning. He hasn't written to me since.
Dear Idiotic of Wiltshire,
You're an idiot and it's a good thing I love am used to you. If you don't like him, why on earth did you drag him out dancing? Why did you fuck someone who can't dance?
I say keep travelling, and keep writing to him, and maybe have sex with him again.
...Well. Your last came as something of a shock. I haven't told Ron – you didn't say, but I guessed you'd rather he didn't know.
I'm sorry he hasn't written, Harry. But he's always been manipulative. It was probably a one-night-stand, in which case he's a bastard and you should forget him. If he just left without saying anything, he's awful.
All my love,
So I -
I'm in Brazil -
How are -
I'm sorry I ran out on you. Did you get my note?
I – well. I'm loving being alone and independent. I think maybe this one's best left at sex.
Really great sex.
Are you angry with me?
Hoping we can still write,
You're a coward, doing all of this in writing. Pathetic. I deserve better than letters.
So... how's Sao Paulo? I'm in Sydney. G'day, mate! I went round the outback for two days – Ayers Rock is amazing, the magic gave me goosebumps – but now I'm back for sea and sand. I'm going to learn to surf.
I'm having lots of fun without you here.
Discovering I can't break the habit,
Am I the habit, or do you mean the letters?
I've left Brazil now. I'm in Darkest Peru, where Paddington Bear comes from. No sea or sand, but I like it. I have some freckles with all this heat. You may remember.
I'm not crossing that last bit out. Not a coward.
Discovering I'm addicted too,
Easter, and it's getting cold round here. Seems wrong, but I sort of like it. Fuck, it's hot around here! You'd like it. And it'd be cool to see you around this tanned bunch. You looked so odd in Ghana. Everyone else so dark. I've never seen anyone as pale as you.
Does Peru have good food? Is there marmalade?
Starting to be sick of the alone-type travelling,
I'm hot. And I want cold now. I'm off to Oslo.
Oslo will be dark a lot of the time, you know. It's getting towards summer now. I'm not sure I'll have much to do.
Want to come give me something to do?
That was a gap to help you recover from the shock of me asking you to come.
Planning to murder you and hide your body if you mock me for this,
Ex-Death Eater Who Knows All The Curses
Dear Ex-Death Eater Who Knows All The Curses,
I've always wanted to go to Norway.
On my way,
Harry Fucking Potter. Ooh, scary Death Eater! Oh no!
All right, you've made your point. Stop mocking my threats now.
I'm in the hotel bar. Come see me when you wake up, you lazy bastard.
Ron's been injured. He and George were testing a product and it went off. Please come back. He'll want you here when he wakes up, and I need you.
Ron's been injured. Everything you said – about moving on – it doesn't have to be true. I know you want to keep travelling on now but we should talk. I don't have time to write everything down, I'm panicking. Hermione said she needs me. I know it's because I'm her other friend, but Hermione doesn't panic, and she didn't say exactly what's happened to Ron. It's a shame we couldn't talk some more. I hope you don't drink ALL the alcohol you went to buy when you find I've Flooed.
Fair enough, I suppose. You'll be back soon, I hope. I'll be travelling on soon, and I'd like to talk some more. You and me could go to some interesting places. I wanted to talk and – you know, I wasn't even slightly bored by you. Which is unusual. If it weren't I wouldn't have been moving on all year. Maybe you were right, about the not needing to move on.
Best wishes to the Weasel, and if he faints from shock he has only himself to blame.
Thanks. Sorry I didn't write back for a couple of weeks – I'm so sorry if you worried, but with everything – Ron and Hermione and catching up and breaking up with Ginny for real, finally – well, I've been busy. Ron's ok now, but he was burnt badly in the explosion.
Where are you now? I bet it's fun. I think I need to stay here now. No more travelling, at least not for a few more years. I'm needed now.
I see. Glad to hear it.
I'm still travelling. I wasn't only doing it because nobody needed me to be a hero, unlike some people. I should have guessed, really. We fucked after you had to save me from something.
Weasley isn't the only one who needs -
I'm not ready to come back to England yet. I still want to travel. When you're travelling, you get to do fun things that turn out to be stupid mistakes.
To Harry Potter,
Draco's coming home for the first anniversary Victory Party. He'll be Flooing home on the day. He'll get in the International Portkey Station at around six pm.
This makes us even, all right?
Harry was sitting in the corner of a gloomy space again – a waiting room, this time. The sound of swearing exploded into the room, as Draco dropped his bag on his foot coming out of the Floo. Draco was vibrant as ever, stumbling forward in Muggle jeans and a kenti-cloth scarf and an Australian bushman's hat Harry had given him. He was bright and beautiful, and Harry ached at the sight of this exotic creature back in England.
He ached even more when Draco pulled off the hat and he could see bruised-purple shadows under vulnerable eyes.
He turned. "Harry?"
"Yeah." Harry stood up, and winced at the defensive jerk backwards. "Look, I wanted to talk to you."
"I'm busy," Draco sneered, not meeting his eyes. "I have a party to get to."
"Forget the party, let's stay home tonight."
Draco turned his gaze on him suddenly; Harry felt pinned by the direct, quicksilver eyes, but he met them. He'd seen those eyes glazed, and shut in sleep or release, and hurt even if Draco would never admit it. He wasn't afraid.
"Home?" Draco said softly. "You want us to talk and – you know – at home?"
"Yes, I want to 'you know' at home," Harry said, delighted at Draco's blush. "I've loved the travelling, you know that. But I wanted an adventure and a challenge, and I think I can find one here, too."
"I told you people don't change," Draco whispered. He stood stock-still as Harry came closer, even as he murmured his denials. "While we were exploring – it was experimentation, it was natural." Harry got closer. "Meeting and having fun, then moving on. We can't – not at home – "
Harry reached him.
When he kissed him, Draco stayed still.