Author Note: This story was written for hdinspired's Back to School fest. Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters belong to JKR and Warner Bros - I'm just allowed bring them out to play now and again!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters belong to JKR and Warner Bros - I'm just allowed bring them out to play now and again!
"Is Master Harry wanting Kreacher for anything else?"
Harry reached out and plucked the bottle from his elf's wizened fingers. "No, thank you," he replied. He
looked from the bundle in his arms back to the elf. "Are you sure it's not too hot?"
"Kreacher is serving the Black family for many years," the elf replied shortly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
Kreacher gave a none-too-subtle roll of his eyes. "If there is nothing else, then Kreacher has somewhere to be?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. That's fine." Harry turned his attention back to the squirming bundle in his arms and barely noticed the crack as his house-elf disappeared.
Teddy Lupin was an adorable baby, and spending time with his godson was a welcome relief from the interminable round of funerals, memorial services and Ministry functions. Andromeda Tonks was still struggling to come to terms with the loss of both her husband and daughter, and though her small grandson was doubtless a great comfort to her, there were still times when it all became too much. At times like that, Harry was only too happy to step in and share the load.
Harry lowered the bottle and watched as Teddy's rosy lips latched on eagerly to the rubber teat. No matter what memories haunted him, his troubled mind was always soothed by Teddy's presence. There was something about the pure innocence of his godson that helped, if only for a short time, to erase the bitter experiences of the past year.
After the Final Battle, Harry had been overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness; Voldemort was dead and Harry had fulfilled his destiny. But he was only seventeen and he couldn't help but wonder what on earth he was supposed to do now.
He no longer wondered that. The first time that he had felt Teddy's warm, soft body squirming in his arms, Harry had been filled, once again, with a sense of purpose. He was going to be the best godfather ever to this little boy. The kind of godfather that he himself had been desperately in need of, but that Sirius had never had the chance to be.
He knew that he could never replace Remus, and nor would he try. But Harry understood, in a way that most people couldn't, the sense of emptiness that growing up without parents could create. And he was determined that, if he had any say in it, Teddy would never know the aching loneliness that had characterised his own early life.
Harry pulled himself away from his own musings and realised that Teddy had fallen asleep. He leant forward and placed the bottle on the small table at the side of his chair. He toyed with the idea of placing Teddy in his cradle, but there was something so comforting about the warmth radiating from his small body.
Harry cuddled Teddy closer to him and settled himself further back in his chair, allowing his eyelids to drift closed. Barely had his lashes fanned out against his cheeks, before his fireplace burst into life and a dishevelled-looking Hermione tumbled through the green flames, a large bag clutched in her hand.
"Hermione!" Harry exclaimed, starting forward in his surprise.
Hermione dropped her bag and began a futile attempt to smooth her wayward locks. "Oh, Harry," she gasped breathlessly, her eyes coming to rest on the small bundle in his arms. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise that you had Teddy today. I hope you don't mind me dropping in unannounced?"
"Don't be silly. You know you're always welcome here." Harry paused here and gazed speculatively at his friend's baggage.
"This isn't a flying visit, is it?"
Hermione sank down into the nearest chair with a heavy sigh. "No," she replied softly, shaking her head.
Harry got to his feet and crossed the room to place his sleeping godson in his cradle. He then turned back to his friend, crouching in front of her. "Your parents?" he asked, fairly certain that he already knew the answer.
Hermione nodded mutely, her chocolate-brown eyes full of hurt. Harry reached out and tentatively took one of her hands. "You can stay as long as you want. I'll be glad of the company, to be honest. Teddy's not much for conversation yet, and Kreacher…Well, he's just Kreacher."
"It was horrible," Hermione whispered, her eyes full of unshed tears. "Things have been awkward for a while, ever since they got back from Australia. I knew that they were mad, but…"
Harry squeezed her hand sympathetically. He knew that neither Mr nor Mrs Granger had taken kindly to their daughter altering their memories and sending them halfway across the world.
"They'd obviously been holding their feelings in, all this time. I've never seen Mum so angry. She said that I was arrogant and thoughtless, and that…that…" Her voice broke at this point and she struggled for a moment to regain her composure. She raised her head and gave Harry a weak smile.
"I'm sorry to keep off-loading all of this onto you. I know everyone's got their own problems right now, but I just don't know who else I can talk to."
"I don't mind, Hermione. It probably does me good to hear about other peoples' problems. It kind of puts my own into perspective. Besides, it's not like you could go talk to Ron at the moment."
The two friends fell silent for a moment at the mention of the final member of their trio. Since the Final Battle, neither of them had seen much of Ron. Mrs Weasley hadn't taken the death of Fred all that well, and once the adrenalin of the Battle had faded, she had had some kind of emotional breakdown.
"Have you heard from him recently?" Hermione asked quietly.
"I got an Owl last week," Harry replied. "He didn't say much. Just that his mum didn't seem to be getting any better. He tried to get George interested in opening the shop again, but he won't have any of it; Ron's going to open it back up himself. I think he just wants to get out of the house."
Hermione nodded. "I had a letter from Ginny," she said, giving Harry a sideways look. "She said Mrs. Weasley isn't getting any better. Mr Weasley tried to persuade her to go to St Mungo's, but she won't listen. She just sits in her room all day looking at pictures of Fred."
Harry shook his head sadly. He hadn't seen Mrs. Weasley in over a month, since Fred's funeral, in fact. The whole family had made it perfectly clear that he was welcome to stay at the Burrow for as long as he wanted, but Harry felt like he was intruding on their private grief. However much they might have considered him to be part of their family, he wasn't. And however much Harry mourned the death of Fred, he would never feel it on the same level as those who were grieving for their son, or their brother.
Plus, if he was honest, he wanted to avoid Ginny as much as possible. Every time he saw her, she would drop subtle hints about them resuming their relationship. Harry had had a lot of time on his hands recently, with nothing to do other than think, and he had come to the conclusion that he did not want Ginny, not like that.
He did care about her, but when he examined those feelings, he found that he felt about her much the same as he did about Hermione. It was platonic - pure and simple.
With the threat of Voldemort hanging over him, Harry had never expected to live to much of an age. When Ginny had offered him the chance of a relationship, he had grasped at it eagerly, wanting to experience everything he possibly could. But now that his future was a possibility, he had been forced to admit that he did not see Ginny as part of it.
He wanted to tell her the truth. Really, he did. But she looked at him with such hope in her sad eyes, as if he was going to rescue her from the misery that currently filled her family home. Harry didn't have the heart to hurt her anymore, but he couldn't bring himself to lie to her either. So he had moved himself into Grimmauld Place, with only Kreacher for company.
"How is Ginny?" he forced himself to ask.
"If you'd write to her, Harry, you would know," Hermione replied smartly.
Harry didn't bother to dignify that comment with a reply. Instead, he just glared meaningfully at his friend until she relented.
"She's fine, I guess," Hermione replied eventually. "As well as can be expected, anyway."
Harry just nodded and then swiftly changed the subject. "Are you hungry? Kreacher has disappeared off somewhere again, but I could whip us up something."
Hermione nodded, and Harry was grateful that she didn't pursue the topic of him and Ginny any further.
"I can't believe you're even thinking of not going back!"
Harry winced as Hermione's shrill tones shattered the silence of their usually peaceful breakfast. It had been almost three weeks since she had come to stay at Grimmauld Place, and they had quickly settled into a comfortable routine, with no mention of her leaving.
Things were still rocky with Hermione's parents, and Harry, who had never really liked the old Black house anyway, was grateful for the company. They had been getting along just fine, until Harry had been stupid enough to suggest that he might not return to Hogwarts to complete his education.
"It was just a thought," he replied defensively. "Besides, you don't even know that it will be ready in time for school to open in September. You know how much damage was done during…during the Final Battle."
As she heard Harry stumble over his words, Hermione felt some of her outrage die away. If she was honest, it was perfectly understandable that Harry didn't want to return to Hogwarts. The last time he had been there, he had died. He'd had to walk into the Forbidden Forest and allow Voldemort to kill him. She still couldn't get her head around that, couldn't understand how Dumbledore could ask something like that of him.
"Harry," she began softly. "I know that Hogwarts holds some really bad memories for you now, it does for all of us, but you can't not go back. It would be like letting Voldemort still have control over your life, even after he's dead."
Harry shrugged sullenly. "It was just a thought," he muttered.
"Well, as long as that's all it was. Honestly, Harry, you can't just throw away six years of study. You won't be able to be an Auror without your NEWTs, have you thought about that?"
"Actually, Kingsley already said that I could join the training programme this year if I wanted to. It seems that the Ministry is rather keen to have the Boy Who Lived on their payroll. So much so, that they aren't awfully bothered about whether I'm qualified for it or not."
Hermione didn't miss the bitterness that had crept into his tone as he finished speaking. "Well," she said. "That's…Um; I'm not sure what it is. What did you say?"
"I told them to get stuffed," Harry replied succinctly. "I'm not even sure I want to be an Auror anymore. But if I do, I want to do it on my own merit, and not because I'm being used as a Ministry poster boy again."
"I wouldn't mention that to Ron just yet, if I were you," Hermione advised. "He's still struggling with the fact that you testified for Malfoy."
"I know." Harry sighed. "I know you guys don't understand, but I had to do it."
"I do understand, Harry. I think that even Ron does, on some level. Malfoy's a git, a nasty git even. But that doesn't mean he deserves to go to Azkaban. If you repeat this, I'll deny it, but hearing some of those stories at his trial, I actually felt sorry for him."
"Do you think he'll go back to Hogwarts next term? I mean, I can't imagine that anyone learned very much with the Carrows in charge."
Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. "I don't know. I think it would depend on if he had the courage to show his face there again. After everything that happened there, I can't think that he has any fonder memories of the place than you do."
Harry nodded in agreement but didn't pursue the conversation further. He turned his attention back to his breakfast, buttering another slice of toast. He was just reaching for the coffee when Hermione let out a loud cry.
"I don't believe it!" she shrieked from behind her copy of the Daily Prophet.
Harry swore silently as he cleaned the spilt coffee off the table. "What on earth's the matter now?"
Hermione thrust the paper under his nose and jabbed forcefully at the page in front of him.
"Look," she commanded. "You were right about Hogwarts not being ready. It says here that the Ministry doesn't think it will be open next year."
"Oh," was all Harry said, though he was secretly relieved that it wasn't something more serious.
"Oh? Is that all you've got to say, Harry Potter?" Hermione was up on her feet and rifling through one of the kitchen drawers.
"What do you want me to say?"
Hermione ignored that comment in favour of yelling for Kreacher. The elf appeared instantly and gave a low bow to Harry.
"Master Harry is wanting Kreacher?"
"It was me that called you, Kreacher," Hermione interrupted. "I need you to get me some parchment, and a quill too, please."
The elf nodded and instantly disappeared. Hermione sat back in her chair and busied herself with re-reading the article that had her so agitated. It was moments before she realised that Harry was grinning madly at her.
"Nothing," Harry replied through a mouthful of toast. "I was just wondering when you decided to give up S.P.E.W. in favour of ordering around house-elves.
Hermione flushed a little at this. "It was an emergency," she replied defensively.
"Of course it was," Harry agreed soothingly.
"And anyway, I wouldn't have to if it wasn't so hard to find anything in this house. So, if you think about it, it's really your fault."
"Of course it is," Harry agreed again. "Who are you writing to, anyway?" he enquired, before taking a welcome gulp of his coffee.
"Professor McGonagall," she replied, in a tone that said 'duh'. "I'm offering her our help with the rebuild."
The mouthful of coffee that Harry had been in the middle of swallowing, now decided to reverse its direction, and sprayed out of his mouth at an alarming speed.
"What?" he yelled. "What do you mean our help?"
"Shush, Harry. There's no need to yell, I'm only here." Hermione's tone held that gentle, chastising quality that he was so used to hearing from Mrs. Weasley. "And anyway," she continued. "Why wouldn't you want to help?"
"Say that again, after you've swallowed that mouthful of food please."
"I said, I'm too busy," Harry repeated, hearing how weak an excuse it was as soon as it left his mouth.
"Don't be ridiculous," Hermione replied briskly. "You have absolutely nothing to do except sit round here and dwell on things that are best forgotten."
Harry wanted to protest further. He wanted to tell her that the last place on earth he wanted to go was Hogwarts. That he was terrified of returning to the place that had seen the death of so many people he cared about, including his own. But Hermione had that look in her eye. The look that said there was no point arguing, because she would win in the end - so Harry gave in.
The letter was written and swiftly dispatched, via Harry's new owl, Orion.
The reply came the next morning as Harry was lazing on his sofa, thumbing through the latest edition of Quidditch Focus. Hermione descended upon him like a woman possessed, waving parchment in his face.
"Get up," she instructed.
Harry reluctantly sat up and looked at her questioningly.
She reached out and tugged on his arm. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" Harry asked in confusion; he had been in the middle of a very interesting article.
"Hogwarts, of course. I've had a reply from Professor McGonagall, who has eagerly accepted our offer of help." Hermione ignored Harry's mutinous mutterings about how he had made no such offer. She dragged him forcibly up the stairs and pushed him in the direction of his bedroom.
"Pack," she instructed in a tone that brooked no argument.
Harry, however, was a brave Gryffindor who took no notice of such warning signs. "Pack?" he repeated. "Why do we need to pack? Can't we just Apparate?"
"We could," Hermione considered. "But Professor McGonagall has offered us lodgings, and I think it would be rude to refuse. Besides, I was rather hoping to make use of the library in the evenings, to catch up on all that work we missed last year."
Harry just let out a groan. He knew the moment that Hermione got her study-head on, that he stood no chance of winning. He shuffled into his bedroom and reluctantly began stuffing clothes into his trunk.
They Apparated to the outskirts of Hogsmeade and walked up to the castle. This had been Hermione's idea and, as he felt the curious stares of various witches and wizards burning into the back of his head, Harry felt he would rather like to hex his best friend.
"We couldn't have just taken that Portkey?" he muttered bitterly.
"Oh, Harry, come on. You know how you hate travelling by Portkey. Besides, this way we get a good chance to look around."
"I hate Apparating too," Harry grumbled. "And Hogsmeade isn't exactly much of a sightseeing destination at the moment."
The two friends looked around at the various buildings that ran alongside the main street. Despite the clean up attempts that the locals had made, evidence of the recent battle was still glaringly obvious.
The Shrieking Shack was little more than a charred ruin, and the Three Broomsticks still had part of one wall missing, leaving the bar open to the elements. But worst of all was the Hog's Head. Used as an evacuation route for students making their way out of the castle, the building had been targeted in a revenge action by retreating Death Eaters. Harry made a private decision to call in and offer his help to Aberforth as soon as he was settled.
As they approached the castle, Harry could feel his insides tying themselves in knots. There was such a dichotomy when it came to his feelings for this place now. On the one hand, it was the first real home he had ever known, the one place he had felt truly secure and safe. On the other hand, people he cared about had died here. Dumbledore, Remus, Tonks, Fred, the list went on. And Harry was afraid that that was all he would ever see now. Afraid that when he entered the Great Hall, all he would see were bodies laid out on the flagstones, their eyes lifeless and unseeing.
As if sensing his emotions, Hermione reached over and slid her hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze. "It'll be okay," she said with a certainty that Harry wished he could feel.
Harry smiled weakly in return. "I know. It will just take a while to get used to it."
Hermione nodded sagely. "There's a lot happened since then. Since Dumbledore…"
She didn't have to finish that sentence; Harry already knew perfectly well what she meant. They walked the rest of the way to the castle in silence, their hearts and minds too full of memories for mere words to do them justice.
Hogwarts bore the scars of battle even more so that Hogsmeade did. The effects of the giants' rampage were clearly visible, as were the numerous gouges in the masonry all around the building.
They walked up to the main doors, where Professor McGonagall was waiting to meet them. She greeted them warmly and then promptly ushered them up to her office.
It was the first time that Harry had seen anyone other than Dumbledore seated behind the desk in that office. Although he knew that his old Headmaster was dead, it was as though he was waiting for him to appear, to offer him a lemon drop and smile at him with those twinkling blue eyes.
His eyes raised, instinctively, to the spot on the wall where he knew Dumbledore's portrait hung. When the frame was found to be empty, Harry couldn't quite decide if he was disappointed or relieved.
"That will be fine, won't it, Harry?"
"Huh?" Harry turned to find Hermione looking at him expectantly. "Sorry, Professor, I didn't hear what you said," he admitted sheepishly.
Professor McGonagall noticed as his eyes flicked, once again, to the empty frame behind her desk, and she smiled indulgently. "That's alright, Mr Potter. I understand that it must be quite overwhelming for you to come back here. I was just explaining to Miss Granger about your accommodation."
Harry looked at her in confusion. "I just assumed we'd go in our usual rooms."
"Gryffindor tower is quite out of the question, I'm afraid. I know it looks undamaged, but it is structurally unsound and I daren't risk it."
"Where then?" Harry wanted to know. He noticed Hermione and the Headmistress shooting meaningful looks at each other, and he grew uneasy.
"The most obvious place for you to reside, would be down in the dungeons."
"Harry, don't shout," Hermione chided.
"It is the least damaged part of the school, Mr. Potter."
"Yeah, and we all know why that is," Harry muttered darkly.
"It's nice to see that you haven't grown up at all, Mr Potter," a familiar, silky voice interjected.
Harry spun round in shock and found himself face to face with the dark scowl of Professor Snape. "W-W-What…?"
"How very articulate, Mr. Potter. It's good to see that you have lost none of your verbal skills since last we met."
There was just one thought that kept going round in Harry's head, and before he knew it, it came out of his mouth. "You're dead," he blurted out.
"Why, thank you for pointing that out. Your powers of observation astound me, Potter."
A smile spread across Harry's face as he listened to his old professor insult him freely. Hearing Snape recite a litany of his faults made Harry feel more at ease and more relaxed than anything, or anyone, had managed to do in weeks.
"What are you grinning at, idiot boy?"
"Nothing, Sir," Harry replied, a broad smile threatening to split his face. He inclined his head in a respectful nod and then turned to face Professor McGonagall again. "The dungeons will be fine," he acquiesced. "What's the password?"
"I don't see why we can't just cast Reparo a bunch of times," Harry complained.
Hermione grimaced at him. "Honestly, Harry. Don't you think if it was that easy, Professor McGonagall would have done that by now?"
"But I still don't see why not?" Harry whined, as they made their way out of the Great Hall.
"I've already explained this to you dozens of times. Do you think that if I do it again, you might actually listen this time?"
"I did listen," Harry protested. "It's something to do with wards and old magic."
Hermione rolled her eyes and repressed the overwhelming urge to beat her friend over the head with a thick book. "I'll make it simple for you. Casting Reparo would interfere with the ancient protective wards that were woven into the fabric of the building by the founders. Besides which, the layers of protective magic in the walls would simply refuse to be regenerated in this way."
"Oh, I see." Harry was still not entirely sure, but he felt it wisest to agree. The last thing he wanted to do was to set Hermione into full lecture mode. If he wasn't careful, she would start going on about…
"Of course, if you'd actually ever read Hogwarts: A History, then you would know all of this already."
Too late, Harry thought, she's off. He tried his best to look interested while Hermione extolled the virtues of her favourite book. He really ought to read it one day, he supposed. But really, when Hermione could virtually recite it word for word, was there any actual need? Quidditch through the Ages was about as close to a book as he would come to reading for pleasure.
Hermione's hand gripping his arm stilled Harry's movements. He looked at her questioningly and followed her gaze toward the main staircase. There, making his way upwards, somewhat reluctantly, was Draco Malfoy.
"What's he doing here, do you think?" she murmured.
"I don't know," Harry replied, pulling away from her grasp. "But I'm going to find out."
Hermione's hand reclaimed its position on his arm, only this time the grip was a lot tighter. "Oh, no, you're not going to start stalking Malfoy again, Harry. This isn't sixth year."
Harry tensed a little at that reminder. "Well, I was right that time, wasn't I? He was up to something."
Hermione blanched a little at this but remained undeterred. "That was a long time ago. Things have changed since then."
"How do you know that Malfoy is one of those things?" Harry could hear the petulance in his voice, but for the life of him, he couldn't stop it.
"Because you would never had spoken up at his trial, if you didn't believe that he'd changed."
Harry's mouth snapped shut; there really was no arguing with that. Sometimes there were definite disadvantages to having such a clever friend; if only he had made friends with someone like Lavender or Parvati instead.
"So why is he here then?"
"I don't know." The exasperation was clear in Hermione's tone. "If it bothers you that much, you can ask Professor McGonagall at lunchtime. I'm sure she'll be only too happy to tell you all about it."
Harry scowled at his friend, who knew, as well as he did, exactly what kind of short shrift he would get from the Headmistress if he was stupid enough to make such enquiries.
Hermione gave him a shove in the direction of the main doors. "Go and get some work done. Professor Sprout is expecting you down at the greenhouses." She paused here and looked at her watch. "And we're both late," she said in horrified tones. "I have to go. See you at lunch."
Harry smiled in amusement as he watched his friend scurry up the grand staircase as though she had a hoard of Filibuster's Fireworks after her.
Harry supposed he really shouldn't have been surprised when, later that morning, he entered his room, only to find Draco Malfoy already in it. And he wouldn't have been, not really, had it not been for the utterly forlorn look on the Slytherin boy's face as he sat slumped on one of the empty beds, gazing at the equally empty bed opposite.
Sensing, for once, that he was interrupting a somewhat private moment, Harry made to leave the room before he was spotted. However, with his usual grace, he managed to trip over his own feet, and knocked the door against the wall in his effort to steady himself.
Malfoy was on his feet, long fingers smoothing down his robes and his familiar mask sliding into place on his pointed features. Although, now that Harry came to look a little closer, he could see that the other boy wasn't really that pointy at all, he was more angular, and really, it rather suited him.
"Malfoy," he acknowledged warily.
"Professor Snape told me you and Granger were staying. I take it that's you're stuff, then?" Draco indicated the clearly occupied bed with a nod of his head.
"Um, yes. It was Professor McGonagall's idea for us to stay down here," he explained.
"I would imagine you weren't quite so keen on the idea," Draco replied wryly.
Harry coloured a little at this. He silently cursed Malfoy; something about the other boy always managed to get under his skin. Suddenly, a thought struck him. "Is this your room?"
"Was," Malfoy corrected. "That used to be my bed, over there. That was Zabini's that you're sleeping in." His eyes returned once again to the bed opposite, and Harry knew, without the need for any further words, that that had been Crabbe's bed.
He wanted to say something, anything to break the awkward moment. But really, what do you say to someone who is mourning the loss of a friend who died trying to kill you? Just as the silence was becoming unbearable, salvation arrived in the form of Hermione.
"Harry? Are you down here? Professor Sprout said…" Hermione's words died in her mouth at the sight of the other boy. "Hello, Malfoy."
Harry was impressed by the almost-friendly tone that she used, and judging by the quirk of his eyebrow, Malfoy was also.
"Granger," Malfoy replied, inclining his head in her direction.
The silence returned after that and all three of them stood looking from the floor to each others' faces uncomfortably.
"Well, this has been pleasant, but I really must go."
As Harry watched Malfoy turn towards the door, he really wanted to say something, to tell the other boy to stay. He hadn't seen Malfoy since his trial and there were still so many questions that he wanted to ask, things he needed to know for his own peace of mind. Unfortunately, his Gryffindor courage appeared to have deserted him.
"Harry and I are just about to go and have lunch in the Great Hall, Malfoy. Why don't you join us?"
It was difficult to tell who was more shocked by this surprising offer. Malfoy, who momentarily allowed his trademark mask to slip, or Harry, who had never been any good at hiding his feelings, and was currently looking appalled by the suggestion.
"Honestly," Hermione huffed as she turned on her heel and headed towards the door. "It's like dealing with children. Great Hall. Now. Both of you." With that, she left the room with a flourish that was eerily reminiscent of Professor Snape.
Harry turned to Malfoy and gave a helpless shrug. "It's really much easier to just do what she says when she gets like this."
Without waiting to see what the other boy did, Harry headed for the door and made his way across the common room. He was shocked then, to see that Malfoy had opted to follow. He waited a moment and held the door open for the other boy, before they made their way, silently, out of the dungeons, up towards the Great Hall.
Hermione was waiting for them by the entrance, impatiently. She motioned to Harry to enter the room, but when Draco hesitated on the threshold, nervously eyeing the room's occupants, she rolled her eyes and gave his sleeve an impatient tug.
Draco couldn't help but notice how different the Great Hall looked from his new vantage point at the Gryffindor table. Of course, the fact that there were only about thirty or so people in there made a difference also. He noted that the Hall bore virtually no scars from the battle that had been fought such a short time ago. The only difference, he noted upon looking upwards, was that the ceiling was no longer representative of the sky; the wooden struts and rafters were now clearly visible.
He sat there in silence, wondering whether he had been hit by a Confundus Charm lately. The idea of Draco Malfoy sitting at the Gryffindor table with Granger and Potter, well, it was just too preposterous for words. He looked discreetly at his companions; Potter was busy loading his plate with an inhuman amount of food and busily trying to ignore the rather bizarre situation he found himself in. Granger…Well, Draco could practically hear the cogs whirring in that bushy head. She was eyeing him speculatively and he just knew the silence was about to come to an end.
"How's your summer been so far, Malfoy?"
Draco marvelled at the utter inanity of the question and was forced to bite back a sharp retort. Granger had clearly spent the last few minutes struggling to come up with an opening gambit, and this was the best she could do? However, Draco noticed how Potter's arm stilled in the action of lumping mashed potato onto his plate, and the incredulous look that he shot his friend. Potter was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation, so, although Draco had no real desire to make small talk with Gryffindors, he decided to indulge Granger, if only to aggravate his nemesis further.
"Oh, you know, as well as can be expected," he drawled lazily. "Of course, visiting your father in prison and watching your mother drown herself daily in a vat of Laurent Perrier does make for a rather interesting time."
If he had been hoping to discomfort Granger, then Draco was sadly disappointed. She merely nodded thoughtfully. Potter, on the other hand, was glaring at him most satisfactorily.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?"
He arched one brow. "It's called eating, Potter. I realise that you were raised by Muggles, but surely you have seen it done before."
"That's not what I meant and you know it!"
Granger was watching them with an almost amused expression, Draco noted. But he could see the familiar glint of anger in Potter's vivid green eyes and immediately discarded his original planned response. As much fun as it was baiting Gryffindors, this was the closest he had come to an actual conversation with someone, who wasn't a house-elf, in weeks. Anything was better than returning to that mausoleum he called home.
"Granger invited me, Potter. You were there, you heard her. And honestly, I didn't have anything better to do." With even the best of intentions, Draco couldn't keep a hint of a snark out of his tone.
"I think what Harry was trying to say, Malfoy, is what brings you to Hogwarts?"
Draco looked thoughtfully at Granger whilst formulating his reply. He abandoned every instinct he had when it came to dealing with Gryffindors, and decided to go with the truth.
"Professor Snape, or rather, his portrait, wanted to see me. Even one-dimensional, he's still not someone you say no to."
Harry snorted at this, having already had several brushes with the Potions master's likeness. "That must have been a cosy Slytherin reunion for you?"
"Harry," Hermione said warningly.
"It's okay, Granger," Draco replied calmly. "You're right, Potter. It was pleasant to catch up, even if it isn't the same as having him here for real. He and I were not on the best of terms when…when he died."
Harry couldn't help but notice how Malfoy's jaw tensed and the brief flash of something resembling pain, which flitted across the Slytherin's expression briefly. He was struck suddenly by the ridiculousness of the situation; the war was over, both of them had endured losses and suffered beyond their years, and yet they had instantly fallen into the familiar pattern of sniping and backbiting, as if that was important anymore.
"How was it?" Harry asked, with as much civility as he could muster.
"Much the same as always. He berated and I listened. He still speaks highly of you, Potter. In case you're interested."
Both Hermione and Harry cracked wry smiles at that. "Somehow, I doubt that," Harry replied. "Not even death seems to have mellowed the narky git."
"No, so I discovered. He can be rather forthright in his opinions."
"Like you were ever on the receiving end of his temper, Malfoy. He let you Slytherins get away with mur…" Harry tailed off here, realising suddenly what he was about to say, and how inappropriate it would be, given who he was talking to.
Draco chose to ignore this. "What, you think we didn't ever get the sharp end of his tongue? He may not have done it in front of the rest of the school, but don't think for a minute that we got away with anything. He was probably harder on us in some ways, than he was on you Gryffindors."
Harry made a disbelieving sort of noise and Draco seemed ready to argue the point further. Deciding to derail the argument before it even got started, Hermione intervened.
"Will you be coming back in September, Malfoy?"
"It would appear so," Draco replied smoothly. "I had intended not to, but it was pointed out to me, rather forcefully, that I needed to finish my education."
"Snape," Hermione said smiling.
"Yes." Draco nodded. "Professor McGonagall set him onto me. I don't know if you remember, but he's not exactly easy to say no to. Even in oils."
"Maybe I should set him on you, Harry," Hermione teased.
"I didn't say I wasn't coming back," Harry protested, not at all happy to be discussing this in front of Malfoy. "I just said I was thinking about it."
"Of course," Hermione continued, "that's assuming that the school is ready to open in September."
Malfoy craned his neck round the Hall. "It doesn't look too bad to me. Is there still that much left to do?"
"Appearances are deceptive. Gryffindor Tower is still unsafe, parts of the fourth floor need completely rebuilding and the library is a complete disaster zone."
Harry had to smile to himself at this. It was quite clear from the tone of his friend's voice that she ranked the state of the library as by far the worst fate to have befallen Hogwarts. The smile was wiped off swiftly by Hermione's next words.
"Why don't you stop and help, Malfoy? It would get you out of the house, and probably get Professor Snape off your back."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Draco hedged. "I've got lots of things on; the Manor doesn't run itself."
"No," Hermione agreed. "That's what your legions of house-elves do."
"What's the matter, Malfoy? Scared of a bit of hard work?" Harry wanted to kick himself as soon as the words were out of his mouth; the last thing he wanted was to spend the next month or so living and working with Malfoy.
"Not at all, Potter," Draco replied smoothly. "All right, Granger, you're on. I'll talk to Mother when I get home and see how she feels about it. Not that she notices whether I'm there or not."
When Hermione had suggested that Malfoy join them, Harry had originally been horrified. But over the days that followed, he found that, not only had he become resigned to it, but that he no longer viewed the prospect with horror.
Malfoy was going to be coming back to Hogwarts in September, regardless, and the last thing Harry wanted was a resumption of their usual hostilities. Voldemort was dead, his destiny was fulfilled, and if he had to spend another year of his life in school, then Harry was damn well going to have fun. Fighting with Malfoy had no place in his plans.
Hermione had pointed out, and Harry had reluctantly agreed, that it would be much easier to get to know Malfoy in their current environment. What she meant, and Harry understood, was that it would be much easier to achieve without a certain volatile redhead around. Not that either of them voiced this opinion, out of loyalty to Ron.
By the time a week had passed and there was no sign of Malfoy's return, Harry was shocked to find that he felt a little disappointed. He wouldn't go so far as to say he was looking forward to the other boy's arrival, but, wonderful though Hermione was, Harry did think that it might be nice to have some male company - even if it was that snarky, blond git.
However, Malfoy proved, for once in his life, to be a man of his word.
Harry returned to his bedroom one evening after dinner, to find that it looked as though a hurricane had blown through it. If hurricanes blew in trunks full of designer clothes, that is, Harry thought wryly.
He was so busy eyeing the expensive-looking clothing, that he didn't even notice the heavy trunk at his feet until his toe stubbed against it.
"Shit!" Harry scowled and glared at the offending article. It was a large, highly-polished trunk, with the Malfoy crest proudly displayed on the top.
"Fucking Malfoy," he muttered. "I might've bloody known." But there was no real malice to Harry's words.
Noticing that the bathroom was lit up inside, Harry opened the door and entered. He was once again greeted with tangible evidence of his new roommate's arrival. Virtually every spare surface was littered with some kind of bottle or other. So much so, that it looked less like a teenage boy's bathroom, and a lot more like an apothecary.
"Bloody poser," Harry muttered again.
That was when the sound of running water reached his ears. Without thinking, he looked up and his eyes promptly locked onto the sight of Malfoy, naked.
Harry was transfixed by the sight. He had seen other boys naked before. Sharing a dorm with four other boys, it was inevitable. But Malfoy was something else entirely.
His head was angled backwards under the flow of water, his eyes closed, long fingers raking through the soaking strands of his hair. His body was slender, certainly, but it was lean, rather than skinny, and whilst not particularly muscular, he was certainly well-toned.
Harry's eyes ran the full length of the other boy's body. Starting with his water-darkened hair, down to his broad shoulders; watching the play of muscles across his back with every movement. His eyes then trailed down to Malfoy's narrow waist, the taut flesh of his buttocks, and then his long, lean legs. The skin was flawless, and looked so smooth that Harry itched to reach out and touch.
Realising with a start, exactly what he was doing, Harry blushed furiously. But before he could tear his gaze away, Malfoy turned around, and Harry found his eyes inexplicably drawn to the blond's semi-erect penis.
The sound of water shutting off brought Harry, once again, to the realisation of his actions. Half expecting to be hexed at any moment, he looked up slowly and found himself greeted by the sight of a smirking Malfoy.
The blond exited the shower in one graceful movement. He picked up a towel and loosely wrapped the white, fluffy fabric around his waist, allowing it to rest just about his hip bones.
"See something you like, Potter?"
Harry doubted whether it was possible for his face to burn any redder. His brain seemed very reluctant to supply words to his mouth and he just gaped at the other boy for a moment.
"You came," he said eventually.
"Sadly, I didn't. Though had I not been interrupted, I certainly had plans to."
Mumbling apologies, uncertain that the words leaving his mouth made any real sense, Harry exited the bathroom quickly. He swiftly crossed the dormitory and flopped back on his bed; the heat still flaring in his cheeks.
As his eyelids fluttered closed, he was horrified to find that the image of Malfoy's naked flesh was burned, indelibly in his mind. And the worst, most sickening thing about the whole incident, was the undeniable tightening in his trousers. He let out a heartfelt groan and rolled over, burying his face in the soft pillows that littered his bed.
By the time that Malfoy emerged from the bathroom, Harry had pulled the hangings of his bed closed. He just lay there willing the mattress to swallow him up, to rescue him from the unending humiliation of his current situation.
Harry was straight, he knew that. He'd been in a relationship with Ginny, a girl, for Merlin's sake. Not that they had gone much further than some over-the-clothes fumbling, but he had definitely felt stirrings in his groin at the feel of Ginny's breasts through her thin sweaters.
The same stirrings, Harry realised with a lurch, that he had felt course through him upon beholding a naked Draco Malfoy.
"Come on, Potter. You can't hide in there all night."
Harry wanted to dispute this; he had every intention of remaining cocooned in the privacy of his bed. He tugged a pillow over his head with a groan and ignored the other boy.
"Are you wanking in there?"
That did it for Harry. It was one thing to be caught in the act of eyeing up Malfoy, but there was no way he was going to let the arrogant git think that he was wanking over him. With a flick of his wand, the hangings flew back to reveal Malfoy, thankfully now fully clothed, grinning at him smugly.
"You're too easy, Potter."
"Fuck off," Harry snarled in reply.
"Come on, Potter. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. So I caught you perving on me in the shower, who cares? You're not the first. Don't be so hard on yourself, you're only human."
Harry gave a derisive snort. "You've certainly got tickets on yourself."
The familiar smug grin took its usual place on Malfoy's face, and Harry longed to do nothing more than wipe it off with a swing of his fist. Instead, he lay back and watched silently as the other boy attempted to put away the vast quantities of clothing that he had brought with him.
It amused Harry to see the Slytherin struggle with what was such a simple task.
After watching Malfoy make several unsuccessful attempts to negotiate the trouser hangers in his wardrobe, Harry pushed off the bed and crossed the room.
"Give that here," he instructed. "You put that pile in those drawers and I'll do these."
"You're helping me?" Malfoy's tone was genuinely incredulous.
"Well, it's either that or trip over your belongings at every turn for the next month."
"I've never had to do this before. The house-elves always did it," Malfoy explained.
"Yeah, I figured. But they're a bit busy at the moment, so you'll have to make do with me."
"Thank you." It was said so softly that Harry had to strain to hear it.
He shrugged in reply. "'S okay. I'm used to it." When he looked up from the mound of clothing, Harry was surprised to see a pink tinge colour Malfoy's usually pale face.
"Not just for that," he began uncertainly. "I never really got the chance to say it after…after my trial. But thank you, for what you did, for me and my mother."
"How is your mother?" Harry wasn't sure why he was asking, but all he knew was that he didn't want this tentative truce to end.
Malfoy paused and seemed to be considering his answer carefully.
"Not good," he admitted. "Father's in Azkaban for the foreseeable future, and after what she did for you, Mother has been pretty much shunned by both sides now. The wife of a Death Eater, who betrayed Voldemort, is not exactly high on anyone's Christmas card list."
Draco sank down onto the bed before continuing. "It's not really safe for her to go out, not while there are still some Death Eaters out there. But then, she rarely wants to stray further than the Manor's wine cellar anyway."
"I'm sorry," Harry said, uncertain of what else to say under the circumstances. He was glad that Narcissa Malfoy had betrayed her Lord and, in turn, saved his life – he would never wish it otherwise. But he couldn't help feeling responsible, in part, for her current predicament, and by default, Draco's.
Draco looked at him in surprise. "For what? My father? Voldemort? Of course you're not sorry. You'd be mad if you were. We both know that they got what they deserved."
"But your father…" Harry trailed off; Lucius Malfoy had always been a contentious issue between them.
"Don't sound so surprised. Just because I don't like the fact that my father is in Azkaban, doesn't mean that I don't understand why he is there."
This all came as something of a surprise to Harry. When Lucius Malfoy had been arrested after the debacle with the prophecy at the Ministry, Malfoy had held him completely responsible for his father's incarceration, and had refused to accept that Lucius was in anyway responsible. So to hear him now, admitting his father's culpability, was something of a revelation to Harry, and only served to show him just how much the other boy had changed.
"What made you come back?" Harry asked, rather hoping that in this surprising mood of openness, he might actually get an answer.
Malfoy looked at him meditatively for a moment, but just when it looked as though he was going to answer, Hermione came bundling into the room, bushy hair surrounding her head like a frizzy halo.
"Harry! I just saw Professor McGonagall and she said…" Hermione trailed off as she spotted that her friend was not alone.
"It's okay, Hermione. I already kind of figured that Malfoy is here."
"Malfoy," Hermione acknowledged. "We'd given up on you coming back.
Malfoy shrugged. "I had a few things to take care of first."
Hermione switched her direction back to Harry, noticing the large bundle of clothing in his arms. "You're doing his unpacking?" she asked incredulously.
"It's just easier this way. I'd still be tripping over his clothes this time next week if I had left him to do it himself."
Malfoy lay back on the bed, supporting himself on his elbows, whilst he watched Harry put away the remainder of his belongings.
"It's brilliant," he enthused. "It's like having my own house-elf, without any of that annoying groveling and self-flagellation." He paused here and gazed at Harry speculatively. "Unless you're into that sort of thing, Potter?"
The sound of a smothered giggle came from Hermione's direction. Harry chose to ignore it and turned, instead, to the supine blond in front of him.
"If you're done putting that stuff away, you can get your lazy arse in that bathroom and sort out all the crap you've left in there."
"It's not crap, Potter. I use every one of those products, so don't even think about moving any of them."
"But there's hundreds of them," Harry protested before turning to Hermione. "You should see it. There are bottles, pots and tubes everywhere; it's like sharing with Lavender."
Malfoy huffed. "It's called grooming, Potter. You might want to try it sometime."
Harry rolled his eyes and turned, once again, to Hermione for support. His friend was busy eyeing him critically. "You know, Harry, Malfoy may have a point."
"I thought you were my friend?" Harry asked with a look of mock betrayal on his face.
"I am. But being your friend doesn't mean I can't tell you that you would look better if you did something with your hair."
Harry merely gazed meaningfully at Hermione's own frizzy tresses and slowly arched one brow. "I need to do something with my hair?"
Only the sound of Malfoy's chuckles reminded the two friends that they were not alone. They turned and shot twin glares at the Slytherin boy.
"What?" Malfoy asked. "Don't blame me because you two have got appalling hair. What with you two, and Weasley's scarlet monstrosity, I just assumed it was a Gryffindor trait. You know? Like, Slytherins are cunning masterminds, Ravenclaws are bookish nerds, Hufflepuffs are weepy, overemotional imbeciles and Gryffindors just have offensive hair." He paused here and ran his eyes the length of Harry's body. "Oh, and some of them have very questionable dress sense also."
The following days passed more peaceably than Harry could have ever dreamt possible. As it turned out, when he wasn't being an unmitigated arse, Malfoy was actually good company.
He had a keen sense of humour and kept Harry entertained with endless tales of Slytherin house, to the point where the Gryffindor boy began to wish that he hadn't interfered with the Sorting Hat's decision back in the first year.
Malfoy also provided the intelligent conversation that Hermione craved, but always found lacking in her friendships with Harry and Ron. In fact, the two of them were now getting on so well together, that Harry privately wondered whether he needed to remind his friend that she already had a boyfriend.
With Malfoy's help as well, the progress made on the castle was increasing daily. The three of them were able to take on the smaller, more menial tasks, which, in turn, freed up the professors to deal with the more complex, structural problems.
Between them, Harry and Malfoy had now completely finished the rebuild of the greenhouses. Harry couldn't surpass the feeling of satisfaction that started within him when he saw the look of pure joy on Professor Sprout's face as she beheld her new domain.
Harry found that he was waiting for the acid remark that the old Malfoy would have made. But the other boy merely accepted the professor's enthusiastic hug with a good grace and a benign smile.
Harry supposed he shouldn't be surprised by the changes in the other boy any longer. But he found that with every day that passed, another new facet of Malfoy's character was revealed and he was increasingly, and unavoidably, drawn to the Slytherin.
Malfoy had ceased to be Malfoy to Harry, in his mind at least. But on the few occasions when he had tried it out in private, the name Draco just felt so foreign on his tongue, and he wasn't sure what reaction he would encounter should he suddenly start using it publically.
In the end it was Hermione who started it. She simply came up to breakfast one day and began calling him Draco. If this surprised Draco at all, then he hid it extremely well. He simply slid effortlessly into calling Hermione by her given name, rather than the previous, and preferred, use of her surname. Harry mentally hugged his friend for doing what he had been unable to summon the courage to do himself.
If the name Draco had seemed strange coming from his own mouth, it was nothing compared to the peculiar sensation that Harry felt upon hearing his own name fall from the blond boy's lips. It should have felt abnormal, yet every time he heard 'Harry' spoken in that familiar drawl, it caused an inexplicable warmth to fill him.
Harry's birthday came and went virtually unmarked. Harry had been aware that it was approaching that date, but he thought it was hardly something to celebrate. Hermione had broached the subject bravely and suggested some sort of small celebration at Hogwarts, just inviting Ron and Ginny, and a few other friends. But even that idea was vetoed with a ferocity which forced her to put all thoughts of birthday parties from her mind.
"I don't know why you're so set against celebrating your birthday, Harry." Draco had said one evening. "It's not every day you turn eighteen and we could use a bit of a celebration to liven things up round here."
Harry sat up in his bed and glared across at Draco. "What's to celebrate? The fact that there are even more gaps now where the people I love should be? Or am I just supposed to be grateful that I lived to see it?"
"Is that such a bad thing?" Draco asked softly. "Not the dead people, obviously," he amended quickly as Harry's glare intensified. "I mean celebrating that you're still alive. Surely that's something we should all be celebrating, now more than ever?"
Harry's anger faded with these words. Somehow, Draco had a way of saying things that made it hard to be mad at him. Which was ironic, really, considering the fact that their earlier years were marked by the fact that Draco had been able to get so deep under his skin.
Harry let out a sigh. "It's just that usually I celebrate my birthday at the Burrow," he said. Then, seeing Draco's confused expression, he explained. "Ron's house. Mrs. Weasley normally makes a huge fuss, but there won't be any of that this year. Ron can't even get away from the shop and his mum long enough to come up here for the day." Harry hated that he sounded self-pitying, but he just couldn't help it.
Draco crossed the room and perched on the edge of the bed. He was secretly glad that the Weasel wasn't coming up to visit. He doubted very much whether this new spirit of goodwill between him, Harry and Hermione, would extend as far as the volatile redhead.
"Did you celebrate your birthday? It's in June isn't it?"
Draco was sure it wasn't healthy to be as happy as he was, upon realising that Harry knew when his birthday was. But he went with it, all the same.
"No, I didn't," he admitted quietly.
"So how come you're telling me that I should?"
"I didn't have anyone to celebrate with," Draco admitted without a touch of self-pity.
Harry looked up startled by this revelation. "But there must have been someone? I know your dad couldn't, and your mum's…But what about your friends?"
Draco gave a bitter laugh at this. "Which ones? Crabbe's dead, Goyle's busy drooling in St Mungo's, Zabini is currently working his way through the adult male population of Europe and Pansy's parents have banned her from having anything further to do with me. Apparently ex Death Eater connections are not good for your social standing."
"What about Nott?" Harry asked after a moment
"Bad break up," Draco said shortly.
Draco looked warily at Harry for a moment and seemed to be debating whether or not to answer the question. "Me," he replied eventually.