Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny, Draco/Astoria
Word Count: ~12,000
Warnings: DH spoilers, including full epilogue compliancy. Profanity, brief violence, flirting, some angst.
Summary: Harry knew he was attracted to Draco Malfoy. But he also knew that he needed a simple life after the war. So he ignored the complication. For as long as he could.
Challenge for: themarisa
Keywords: red, scissors, straw
Dialogue: "I'm laughing on the inside."
Author's Notes: themarisa, I hope you like this! I'm not sure why the idea for an epilogue-compliant story came to me when I've written so few of them, but there it was, and here we are. (Sorry for the enormous length as well, and the somewhat obscure title).
Harry stood with his arms folded, leaning against one of the walls of the Great Hall, and stared out over the weeping, shivering, rejoicing, embracing madness. He found his eyes turning wearily from side to side, as if he were too tired to look at any single person or family for too long. He might see tears, and he didn't think he could deal with that right now.
His gaze fell on the Malfoys, and stopped.
Lucius was sitting on a bench at a table, his eyes shut and his hand stretched across the table to rest in Draco's. Narcissa was leaning with her arms dangling into her lap and her head on Draco's shoulder. Draco sat bolt upright in the middle of them, face strained and dry.
Harry paused. Draco looked rather the way he did right now—as if he had seen everything in the world there was to be frightened of and so he couldn't imagine giving way to fear again.
Harry knew that emotion wasn't something that would last, for either of them. But for the moment, they were close, and so he drew the hawthorn wand out of his robe pocket and marched forwards.
Draco turned swiftly to look up at him as he approached, hunching his shoulders. Neither Lucius nor Narcissa moved. They seemed to trust their son to defend them.
Harry swallowed. He felt a moment of bitter, scorching envy. He would have given anything to have a family like that, and it seemed unfair that Malfoy, of all people, had it instead.
But then he thought of Draco being forced to torture people, and the helpless way Lucius had asked Voldemort about his son, and the way that Narcissa's nails had dug into his skin when she asked if Draco was still alive.
No, he earned it.
"What do you want, Potter?" Draco hissed under his breath. His mother stirred at the name, but still didn't lift her head. Draco placed his free arm around her as if to make sure she wouldn't, his eyes never leaving Harry's. "If you've come to scold me, it can wait. If you've come to taunt me, have your fun and go away." He smiled, a smile that seemed to come from a long way off, and which had the shadows of Fiendfyre dancing around it, at least to Harry's eyes. "At least I know you can't arrest me, because you're not an Auror yet."
"I wanted to return your wand," Harry said. There were all sorts of words he would have liked to say, but each of them would have revealed to Malfoy that he knew about some of his weaknesses. Harry didn't want to do anything to make Malfoy feel less strong right now. He held out the wand and waited until Malfoy took it, his eyes darting back and forth between it and Harry's face.
"You'd trust me with a wand," Malfoy said. "Now."
"There's no Voldemort to make you do things you don't want to," Harry said simply.
Malfoy's wide eyes caught and held his. Harry gave him a single deep glance, hoping to use it to tell him that matters were over and done with between them, as far as he was concerned, and they never needed to bother each other again.
Malfoy's gaze softened for the merest instant. Harry saw a fleeting fondness there, as if Malfoy were grateful for the end of their rivalry.
The fondness made Harry's cheeks flush, and something stirred within his belly that he didn't understand and didn't want to acknowledge. He hastily cleared his throat, nodded briskly to the Malfoy family, and turned away.
He caught sight of the cluster of red hair across the Great Hall and made a beeline for it. He wanted to find Ginny and Mrs. Weasley. Around them, he could just feel. He didn't have to think.
Harry smiled and lifted his glass in a toast to clink against Hermione's. Then he leaned back in the booth at the Three Broomsticks and turned his head to nuzzle into Ginny's hair. She beamed up at him with shining eyes and flushed cheeks, and drew his head down to touch his lips with a delicate tongue.
Harry felt his heart pound, but it wasn't the notion of having sex with her eventually—inevitably, now that they'd just announced their engagement to his friends—that made him feel so excited. It was the thought of a normal life, without some of the complications that had tried to snare him in the wake of Voldemort's defeat.
People had tried to interview him. They'd tried to get him to apply for jobs, to patronize certain shops, to lend his name and face to their products, and to give "inspirational talks" about his "experiences." They demanded his opinion on issues that Harry had never even heard of, and certainly had no opinion about. They wanted to know if he was interested in marrying their daughters, or themselves.
The Weasleys and his other friends were the only people who understood. Harry wanted simplicity and normality, and they were the ones who could give it to him. He leaned back in the seat for a moment, and reveled in the feelings that swept through him. He was a normal boy at the moment, with his girlfriend—his fiancée—and no one would expect him to be anything else.
"Yes, congratulations, Potter."
Harry's eyes snapped open. He should have suspected something before now, he realized dimly. Not only had his friends' chatter dimmed into silence, but the whole atmosphere of the Three Broomsticks had changed. A place usually did, when an exonerated Death Eater walked into it.
Draco Malfoy stood next to Harry's table, looking down at him with a faint, contemptuous smile. His eyes weren't scornful, though, just amused. And condescending. Harry reckoned such simple pleasures weren't for him. He would wait for a few years and then probably marry some pure-blood witch of impeccable family.
But at the moment, one hand braced on his hip, the other casually on his wand—only sensible when he was among so many Gryffindors—his blond hair falling slightly across his face, he looked like what he was, a survivor of a war and someone committed to fighting for the freedom and acquittal of the rest of his family.
Harry swallowed through a dry throat. "Thanks, Malfoy."
One of Malfoy's eyebrows crept upwards, as though he were surprised by the polite response. Then he held out his hand, casually. Harry found himself reaching up and clasping it without even thinking.
"Well," Malfoy said under his breath, eyes glittering at Harry, full of a radiance sharper than sunlight, "this is different."
Harry's own breath caught. For the moment, he couldn't hear the voices of his friends, or even the dead silence that might have replaced it. He and Malfoy were caught in the middle of a distinctly private moment, the remembrance coiling about them of the time when he had rejected Malfoy's first attempt to claim his hand.
Then the moment was past, and he could smile meaninglessly and say, "Yeah, it is," and Malfoy could step back from him, the light in his eyes receding and a faint frown marring his forehead, as if again he had expected Harry to say something else.
Then he turned away, and Harry returned to the party, and the speculations of his friends about whether Malfoy had managed to slip poison into his drink somehow. (Hermione insisted on casting several detection charms, even though, next to Harry, she was the least suspicious of all of them). Harry kept his arm curled around Ginny and answered the jokes effortlessly. This was the sort of rejoicing he knew how to do.
Once, just once, he turned his head enough to see Malfoy on the other side of the room, talking quietly but earnestly to a witch who had the look of a solicitor. The firelight fell on his skin as he stood in profile to Harry, and made him shine like a statue made of gold, rather than silver or frost or all the other pale words that Harry had once associated with him. He looked alive. Warm and human.
A twist of feeling whipped through Harry's belly, and he felt a sharp hunger in his mouth, the way he did when he looked at fresh apples. It was a hunger to be over there, where the witch sat, and the recipient of Malfoy's prying attention. The witch couldn't possibly deserve it.
And following that came the fear that he had once thought he would never feel again.
Harry turned away from Malfoy, and temptation, and strangeness, and complexity. He kissed Ginny hard enough to make her flush with embarrassment and pretend to slap him, and seized his mug. He'd drown the memory of his attraction to Malfoy under a tide of butterbeer and Firewhisky.
He didn't need this. He needed the life that everyone thought he would have, the marriage and the Auror career and the children. Ginny had already spoken of wanting three children, specifically two boys and one girl.
He had to have the reality. Not the ideal, which, if he ever got it, would probably be just as tarnished and spotted as he had always suspected Malfoy to be.
"Isn't he beautiful, Harry?"
And, smiling into his son's face, Harry had to agree that he was.
They were on their way out of St. Mungo's, he and Ginny and James. James. Harry had chosen the name months before, he had watched Ginny's rounding belly for what felt like years, he had dreamed of dying in his Auror work before he could see his dreams come true, and yet here he was.
James was small and crumpled, folded in on himself, his legs twitching with restless energy that Harry thought made his middle name, Sirius, entirely appropriate. It would be a long time before he was handsome. But he was beautiful.
"It seems I'm always meeting up with you when you deserve congratulations, Potter."
Harry jerked his head up, and swallowed, and stood still. In front of him was Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, his eyes and his lips narrow, but his smile wide.
The seven years that had passed since Harry had last seen him—in person, anyway; seeing him in newspaper photographs didn't really count—had been more than kind to him. He seemed to have grown more imposing in every way that mattered, from the angle of his features to the light of his eyes. Harry knew that he himself was the taller one, from the slight way Malfoy canted his head to look up at him, but that didn't matter, not with the way his face shone.
He found his tongue when Ginny's elbow crashed into his ribs and reminded him that they were both standing there. "Yes," he said. "Thanks." He hesitated, then added the news that Malfoy was sure to read in the papers, anyway. "His name is James."
"Oh?" The edge of a deep, warm smile touched Malfoy's mouth, as if the real smile were happening elsewhere and he could only afford to show Harry its shadow. Even that shadow made Harry feel as if he were being sliced in half with a pair of scissors. "I should have expected that, I suppose." And Malfoy stepped dutifully forwards to peer down into James's face.
Harry experienced a dizzy surge, as though the hospital corridor in which they stood had become a giant's tooth on the edge of a long string, loose and about to fall. There was his dream, the odd stray fancy that galloped through his mind at night, peering at his other dream, the child Harry had hoped might anchor him to reality. It was unreal. It was a contradiction he couldn't take, and for a moment, he thought he would throw up or—
Or fly into Malfoy's arms.
Malfoy started to look up. "I'm sure he'll grow into a fine man," he was saying, and then his eyes met Harry's.
"Thank you," Ginny said, but Harry barely heard her. He was too busy watching Malfoy watching him. He saw the way the other man's breath had caught, and his eyes had widened, just a touch. A strand of hair fluttered in his breath. He made no move to knock it away from the corner of his mouth, instead gazing raptly into Harry's face.
And then Harry knew what he must be seeing there, and reality hit him like a tsunami.
He immediately stared at the floor, said, "Thank you," again through numb lips, and then barged past Malfoy, dragging Ginny and James along with him.
"Harry, really," Ginny said sharply as they all but fled through the hospital doors. "You didn't need to be so rude. I'm sure he's changed since the war."
Harry didn't respond. When he could feel Malfoy's eyes on his back, it took everything he had simply to keep running.
DRACO MALFOY EXPECTING AN HEIR!
Harry spilled his coffee when he saw the headline. Still, it was an easy matter to spell away the liquid and then read the article with a semblance of interest, and even to pass the Prophet to Ron when he asked for it.
He spent more time looking at the photograph, though, which showed Malfoy and a lovely woman with long blonde hair, her hand resting on her stomach and her face wearing a faint, proud smile. Malfoy had an arm wrapped around her shoulder and was ignoring the photographer entirely, leaning forwards to stare at his wife with an expression that would have been hard enough to bear in a Muggle photograph. In a wizarding one, it was enough to make Harry want to hurt something.
But, in a way, it was good. Harry envisioned a straw sucking the poison out of him and leaving only loyalty to his wife.
He'll never look at you that way. Never. Even if he divorced his wife for some reason, and you know that pure-blood marriages are sometimes arranged so he might, he's straight.
Harry absorbed the words in a flare of white pain. He closed his eyes and panted for a moment, clinging to his desk.
"Mate, are you all right?"
Harry opened his eyes and met Ron's concerned glance. He managed to nod, because the pain had been a necessary prelude to the joy that flooded him now, when he envisioned hair exactly the shade of Ron's bouncing as Ginny ran to meet him. She was pregnant, too, and she was comfortably sure they were expecting another boy. Harry would have a second son, born around the same time as Malfoy's first.
What I have is wonderful. It makes me happy. It's simple and uncomplicated, and that's what I need.
"Just fine," he said, and the smile he gave must have reassured Ron, because he immediately began talking about something else.
"The Cannons are set to beat the Harpies this weekend. No, really, I mean it. And anyway, they'd better, because otherwise I have to promise to fetch Hermione these strange stinky fruits she craves for the rest of her pregnancy…"
"What sound does a rooster make, Al?"
Al stuck out his tongue for a moment in an effort to remember, then chortled, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" and bounced up and down. Harry seized him in his arms and spun around, laughing. He didn't care that they were in the middle of the Ministry. It was a Saturday, and he'd only come to work to catch up on writing reports.
Not that he was getting much writing done with a three-year-old around.
Harry buried his face in Al's hair and held him like that, rocking blissfully. Al was his favorite of his children—guiltily, because he had never wanted to have favorites in the first place. But as brave and funny as James was, as charming as Lily was when she wanted another sweet before dinner, Harry was touched by the way Al regarded the world with shadowed eyes and yet never, ever backed down.
His life had been very simple in the past few years. Caring for children and working as an Auror was hard, but simple. Once he learned the rules, he could let his heart and body run by them, and the dangerous thoughts that had once filled his mind were tamed without effort.
He deposited Al on the floor and began to lead him back towards the office. They'd only come out to get a cup of tea from the room that remained open even on the weekends for Ministry staff. Now Al stuck his finger in his mouth and stared hard at the blank walls of the stone corridor.
"Not pretty, Daddy," he commented with a small shake of his head.
"I know," Harry said, his hand resting on Al's shoulder. "But beauty isn't something that has a high priority in decorating the Ministry." He knew Al couldn't understand all the words he used, but he loved to see his son tilt his head and wrinkle his forehead—his beautiful, unscarred forehead—as much as he loved to see comprehension in his eyes.
"Neither is making it easy to find certain places," said a voice behind him that Harry would always, always recognize. "I don't suppose you know where Auror Periwinkle's office is, do you, Potter?"
With a sense of fate spinning around him, much the same way he'd experienced it when they met just after the birth of James, Harry turned to find Malfoy behind him. And of course he had his own son at his side, a perfect miniature of himself at least as much as Al was a miniature of Harry, gazing with wide eyes at them both.
Harry forced himself to smile at the boy instead of meeting Malfoy's eyes straight on, and said, "Lucy Periwinkle? Yes, she mentioned that you were one of her friends once." No need to mention that Harry had spilled his coffee that day, too, and entertained wild visions for a time of asking Auror Periwinkle to invite Malfoy to the Ministry. "Are you here to pick up the paperwork she needs and take it to her? I think I heard that she'd been sick most of this week."
There. Easy, normal, casual talk. He could do this.
"Yes." Malfoy shook his head ruefully as he came up to walk alongside Harry, drawing his son with him, and squinted along the line of Harry's pointing finger at one of the doors along the corridor. "Poor Lucy. They think they've eradicated dragonpox again, and she gets it two days after the announcement."
"I hope she's all right," Harry said automatically, and offered another smile mostly to the boy. Scorpius, the papers had said his name was. He could use all the smiles he'd get. "I'll see you around." And he stepped determinedly back into his office, pulling Al with him, and started to shut the door behind him.
Malfoy put a foot in the door and prevented him from closing it all the way. Harry carefully arranged his face in an expression of polite impatience and turned around. "Yes?"
"You know," Malfoy said, his voice too intense and his eyes too keen for the simple question, "we never did get a chance to talk after the war."
"Should we have?" Harry filled his voice with innocent merriment, because his heart was beating too fast, oh, too fast, and the world was spinning around him again. "I didn't know there was anything to talk about."
Malfoy drew a deep, shaky breath, and looked at Scorpius out of the corner of his eye. He was exchanging stares and shy pokes with Al, though, and Malfoy didn't seem to think either that the poking would escalate to bullying or that his precious child was in danger from Al. He looked back at Harry again, and reached out a hand that he seemed to intend to place on his shoulder. "The Fiendfyre," he said. "Why my wand worked so well for you. Why you looked at me the way you did when we met four years ago."
The world was dizzy and throbbing like a migraine headache. And Harry knew what would happen, what he would inevitably betray, if he went and talked with Malfoy. What he had already betrayed, if he had given Malfoy enough material to make that last statement.
Fear whipped him and made his eyes and skin dry. There was no way he could choose this path, not when it would mean forsaking the simple road he had walked so easily, so successfully, for the last few years.
He turned away as if he hadn't seen the hand reaching for him or the implicit plea in the bright gray eyes, and said, "I'm afraid I do have a lot of paperwork this morning, or I wouldn't have ventured into the Ministry at all on a Saturday. Perhaps some other time?" And he'd had time to gather easy ignorance into his face again, so he could look back at Malfoy as if he were conscious of nothing at all passing between them.
Malfoy stared at him incredulously. Harry stiffened and returned the gaze with more meaning than he intended before he could think better of it. I might feel about you in a disgraceful and distressing way, but that doesn't mean I'm your slave and you can command me to jump with a flick of your fingers.
Malfoy curled his lip and flicked his eyes away from Harry. "I thought," he said, "that you had more courage than that."
Harry relaxed. He wasn't going to press it. And though he did feel a distant urge to cry as he had when he was a child and curled up in his cupboard, he had a stronger one to say, "I didn't need so much of it, after the war. Mostly, I'm reserving it for the future, when James goes to Hogwarts and I have to read the notes I'm sure his professors will send home."
He had thought Malfoy would turn then, put off by the easy banter, and walk away with Scorpius. But instead, his words brought Malfoy's head around, and his eyes bored into Harry's for long moments. Surprised, confused, Harry returned the stare honestly before he realized what he was doing and could busy himself with attending to Al's shoelaces instead.
"So that's it," Malfoy breathed. "Well. I do feel sorry for you. You can't ignore certain things forever, you know."
"And others you can." Harry looked up at him with a cool smile. It was better now. He was reminding himself that the man he longed for was a glimpse, a figment, a few expressions on Malfoy's face and nothing more. He didn't know the real man at all. "I had a lot of practice in ignoring unpleasant things and working past them when I was a child, Malfoy. I'm sure I'll manage this, too."
Malfoy looked at him without expression, or with expression, but that was only in his eyes and Harry could ignore it. He could turn his back, serenely, and gather Al up in his arms, and murmur inaudible responses to Al's questions about when he could see his new friend Scorpius again.
And when the door closed, he could set Al on the desk and collapse into his chair, hands folded around his face, trembling.
Malfoy nodded to him at King's Cross when they went by. Ron made some remark about it.
Not the kind of remark he would have made, Harry knew, if he could have seen the real reason behind that nod. If he could have seen the contempt visible in Malfoy's grinding teeth, in the corners of his glinting eyes, which seemed to have turned to metal in the brief time that Harry met them.
Malfoy despised him.
Harry accepted the pain the same way he had accepted the pain that he knew would be here this day, when Al was going to school for the first time. It was inevitable. It had to happen. He would live with it because the soft, lulling life in which he was carried from day to day by his love for his children and the routines of his job and his duty towards his wife was worth too much to give up.
What would I give it up, for, anyway? he thought in bemusement as he waved at Al on the train. A wild dream that I don't think Malfoy would want, anyway? I knew the truth a long time ago. He's straight. He could leave his wife, and he would still be straight. That day eight years ago, he probably just wanted to explain to me how impossible it was for him to return my feelings. And because he's become a good man, somehow, he wanted to do it gently. But it shouldn't be done at all.
Draco Malfoy has nothing to do with me.
When he turned away, there was a flash of blond hair in the corner of his eye, and Harry knew he had another chance to see Malfoy, to take a glimpse and store it up like water against long years in a desert. He didn't take it, because that would have been dishonest to what he had decided to want.
He had to be this way, and he hoped that Malfoy, who had become a good man, would understand, and forgive him.
Of all the people he had expected to receive an owl from, Draco Malfoy was the last.
Harry blinked stupidly at the bird for a long moment, then shook his head, reached out, and took the letter from it. The envelope bore a heavy-looking capital M on the seal, with the legs of the letter studded with peacock feathers. Harry smiled briefly. It was a symbol of steadiness and normality. The Malfoys had stood immovable, after all, when the thunder of the war faded, and they probably always would.
Potter, the letter began abruptly, and Harry exhaled. He had anticipated a "Dear," or perhaps his first name.
Your son James is tormenting my son Scorpius, because Scorpius had the bad fortune to be Sorted into Gryffindor whilst your son Albus was Sorted into Slytherin, and somehow James appears to feel both that Scorpius was an imposter and that he had something to do with the destination of Albus's soul.
Harry savored that last phrase a moment. He didn't know anyone else who wrote like that, or at least no one who would do it and mean it seriously.
It escalated this week to an attack on Scorpius's post-owl, who almost died. I won't tolerate my son's school life being made a misery. I'm going to ask you to meet me at Hogwarts this weekend, and to meet with all three of our children, so that we can discuss the matter.
Harry smiled a little. It seemed that he wouldn't have to wait so long to see Malfoy again, after all.
He turned the parchment over, out of habit, because Ron often wrote on the backs of his letters, and saw a postscript in strong, slashing letters near the bottom.
Have you found your courage yet?
Then he rolled his eyes and started to write a letter that would ask Malfoy for the day and time. Married, remember? Straight, remember? And you don't know him.
He fell asleep at his desk after he owled Malfoy; it had been a long week and he was tired. And the face that filled his dreams, and the name he awoke crying, did not belong to his wife.
"Thank you for coming."
Harry nodded, but said nothing. He was pacing at Malfoy's side across the Quidditch pitch, heading for the greenhouses, where the Headmaster had agreed to let them meet Scorpius, James, and Al. There were advantages to having known the Headmaster when he was a boy who cut a snake's head off.
The day was brilliant, blowy September, streaked with blue and white, clouds chasing each other furiously down the wind. Harry paused to look up for a moment and draw in a thick breath of air. It kept him away from the temptation to look at the man beside him and memorize his face.
Harry looked around out of habit, thinking that Ginny must have Apparated in with something unusual to tell him, or that one of his friends had appeared to visit their own children, before he realized that it was Malfoy who had spoken. Who had stopped and was gazing at him thoughtfully, one fist braced on his hip and with his head cocked.
He managed to grunt a noncommittal response, and tried to walk on. As it turned out, that was worse, because Malfoy's hand reached out and fell on his arm, and then Harry couldn't have moved if a volcano was about to explode beneath his feet.
"Have you ever heard of an intaglio?" Malfoy asked calmly.
Harry reckoned his wide eyes and half-dropped jaw answered that question. At least, he hoped they were testifying to something besides his own unutterable stupidity.
"It's a carving," Malfoy said, looking past Harry and across the Quidditch pitch with that thoughtful, wise expression Harry had first noticed when he was talking to the solicitor in the Three Broomsticks. "But unlike other carvings, you could call it one that carves up negative space instead of positive. It's incised on a jewel, rather than raised." His eyes came back to Harry and focused on him intently. "It has to be created in a different way. It has to be seen and formed out of what's not there as much as out of what is."
"Er," Harry said, when some time had passed and it had become clear that Malfoy wasn't going to say anything else. "I'm not sure I understand."
Malfoy sighed windily and pulled his hand away from Harry's arm. "No, of course you don't," he said. "I should have been aware that you wouldn't, when you don't have the courage to grasp what's right in front of you."
Harry lost his temper. It wasn't anywhere near as spectacular now as it used to be, but he could still snap when he wanted to. "Excuse me for trying to live a normal life after the war and not wanting to risk everything for something—" He stopped. Naming what lay between him and Malfoy would mean admitting it existed.
"Something what?" Malfoy tilted his head, and his eyes were warm.
"Never mind," said Harry, and walked on.
"Living a normal life doesn't have to mean giving up everything that made it worth living in the first place," Malfoy said, trailing behind him.
Harry ignored him. He was getting good at that.
Harry sighed and cast a Body-Bind on James. It seemed to be the only way to really keep him from attacking Scorpius again, which he had tried to do the moment Harry and Malfoy turned their backs for a moment to discuss what should be done about their unruly sons.
"Mum won't like this," said Al, whose eyes were wide and who looked back and forth between both James and Scorpius—who was currently in the midst of a complicated warding spell which stung him whenever he tried to move—as if he hadn't expected them to ever be disciplined.
"Mum doesn't have to know," Harry snapped, and then turned and stared at James. "I'm disappointed in you."
James wriggled his spell-locked jaw. Harry tapped him on the head with the wand, and the spell eased enough that he could talk. After years of arresting criminals who had to make confessions, Harry was adept at that particular modification of the Body-Bind.
"He always starts it!" James said angrily. "He says that he wishes he'd never been Sorted into Gryffindor, and he gets us in trouble just so he'll get points taken away from the House, and—"
"That's not true!" Scorpius was struggling madly in the midst of Malfoy's spell, his red-and-gold tie flying. "I've said a few incredulous things, and he takes them the wrong way. And why should I waste time praising the House or trying to serve it when everyone in it hates me?"
"I'm sure that's an exaggeration," Malfoy said, with a frown of his own. Scorpius flinched in front of it and dropped his eyes. Harry swallowed. He somehow had the feeling that Malfoy was a better father than he was.
"It's not," Al unexpectedly broke in. "James stirs them up to hate him. And there are some people who are the children of your friends, Dad, and their parents have taught them never to trust a Malfoy. It's disgusting, the way they treat him. I try to stop it, but I'm in a different House and I can't be with him all the time."
"Why should you want to?" James lunged forwards, or tried, but he had forgotten that he was in a Body-Bind. All he succeeded in doing was falling over. Harry sighed and levitated him back to his feet. "He's evil, Al! His father was evil, and his grandfather was evil. You know what he did to Mum!"
Harry blinked. He and Ginny had kept most of the stories about the war from their children by common consent until they were old enough to bear the thought of such things happening to members of the family; they all seemed to have inherited the strong Weasley loyalty to blood family. They knew Fred and Teddy Lupin's parents had died in the war and that Harry had defeated Voldemort, but not much else. It seemed as though Ginny, or perhaps Ron, had broken that agreement without Harry's knowledge.
"But Scorpius isn't his father or his grandfather." Al tilted his head to the side and considered James with the puzzlement in his eyes that he'd once used when his father used three-syllable words. "And he hasn't grown up promised to Voldemort like they were." Malfoy flinched at the name, and then looked at Al with something like wonder. Harry felt a small spasm of warmth around his heart. Maybe he wasn't that big a failure as a father. "You know that. I mean, it's obvious. He's young and he's here. You have to know that."
"But a family's a family!" James would have stamped his foot if he could have, Harry thought. "The Weasleys are good and the Malfoys are evil and the Potters are heroes. That's how it always was."
Al lowered his head as if he were thinking. "But I'm a Potter and I'm in Slytherin," he muttered. "And Potters are heroes and Slytherins are evil. So that's two truths that contradict each other."
"Dad." James rolled his eyes to look up at him. "Slytherins are evil. You always said that, right? It's just a mistake Al was Sorted there, and he needs to go tell the Hat to Sort him again."
The world spun again, but for different reasons. Harry could see the shocked disgust in Malfoy's wide eyes and Scorpius's dropped jaw, and he could see the desperate appeal in both Al's and James's faces.
And he understood, then, some reasons that simplicity might be wrong as much as it was right.
He'd never said Slytherins were evil, but he had encouraged his children to believe in uncomplicated things. He'd thought it would be better for them. They could have the childhood he'd never had. There was no reason to hurry them into adulthood too early, when they could be protected as befit the children of a hero.
The way that Scorpius never was protected, from his face.
Harry drew a deep breath. He hadn't believed Slytherins were evil. He'd told Al that. On the other hand, he'd kept the reassurance private, so that James wouldn't hear it, and he'd only written congratulations to Al, without telling James in letters not to tease his brother. And he'd listened without saying anything when Ginny lamented the Sorting and encouraged Lily to end up in Gryffindor when she went to Hogwarts two years from now.
For the first time in nineteen years, Harry chose complexity, because it was the right thing to do.
"No," he said quietly. "Slytherins aren't evil, James. Some of them did evil things during the war. But Severus Snape was a Slytherin, and the bravest man I ever knew." Al's face shone. Harry saw Malfoy make a convulsive gesture from the corner of his eye, but he ignored him for the moment—and possibly forever. This was about his children, who had been the centers of his simple, rules-bound life for so long. "And Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor, and he betrayed my parents and caused the deaths of thirteen Muggles." He hesitated, then decided that it was time. If James knew about Lucius Malfoy dropping Riddle's diary on Ginny, then he could know about this. Harry drew back the right sleeve of his robe and showed James the old scar on his arm. "And he gave me this, when he cut me and used my blood to bring Voldemort back from the dead."
James looked at it for a moment, then turned his eyes away. "I didn't know that," he said, his voice muffled and accusatory. "Why didn't I know that?"
Harry sighed. "Because I'm an idiot, and I thought it would be best to protect you from what you weren't old enough to understand."
James stared at him now, and Harry could feel Malfoy's gaze practically burning the back of his neck. "When adults lying to you was one reason you kept almost dying?" James demanded. "Dad, that was stupid."
"Yeah, it was," Harry said, "but at the time, it seemed easier than making decisions about what you were and weren't ready to understand yet."
He crouched in front of his son and narrowed his focus so that he was thinking just of James. He would widen it again later, but for right now, James needed the attention. He looked lost, as the beliefs he had been carrying around without fully articulating them for years were overturned and violently replaced with something else.
"You've got to understand," Harry said softly, "that none of us want to see the war come back. We just have different ideas about how best to prevent it from doing that. Your Uncle Ron thinks that he should teach you to distrust all Slytherins, because he thinks Slytherins were responsible for the war in the first place. Your Aunt Hermione wants better understanding between human wizards and magical creatures, because she's uncovered evidence that the werewolves wouldn't have served Voldemort so willingly if they'd been treated better. Your mum wants—" And Harry suffered a brief moment of panic, because he didn't, actually, know what Ginny wanted. He managed to recover before James's stare could grow very questioning. "Your mum wants to edit the stories you receive, I think. And I thought telling you nothing at all was the best thing to do."
"You told us some things," said Al, crowding close to his side. Glancing at his second son, Harry saw jealousy on his face. He blinked. It seemed this was his day for noticing things he'd never noticed before. "About Uncle Fred and the way you killed Voldemort."
"I know," said Harry. "Which only proves I wasn't living by my own rules in the first place." He put one hand on James's shoulder and one on Al's. "I don't want to see you refight the war because you were bitter and nasty to other children," he told James. "I don't want Scorpius Malfoy to hate you. His father and I hated each other in school—"
"Call it intense dislike," Malfoy interrupted. "That's what it was. I've felt hatred since, and it was entirely different."
Harry nodded without looking at him. Malfoy had a minor part to play right now, if any part at all. "And it doesn't have to happen again," he said simply to James. "If you have questions, write to me, all right?" And then, because James's eyes were wide with disbelief and he didn't think philosophy would make as much impact as immediate punishment would, "If I hear that you've been fighting with Scorpius again, then I'm going to take your broom away."
"Dad!" James protested at once. He'd only made Chaser a few days before, and Harry knew he wanted to remain on the team more than he wanted to keep breathing. "That's not fair."
"You almost killed his owl," Harry snapped. "Remind me to tell you what my owl Hedwig meant to me when I was living with Muggles, and she was the only friend I could actually see and depend on."
James looked down, as much because of the genuine anger in his voice as anything else, Harry thought. "All right," he whispered. "I'm—sorry."
Harry thought of asking that he look at Scorpius and repeat that, but perhaps it was just as well not to demand miracles right away. He nodded, squeezed James's shoulder, and released him from the Body-Bind. When he turned around, it was to see that Malfoy had already released Scorpius.
"Well," said Malfoy, his voice gentle and amused, for some reason. Harry didn't think there was much to be amused about in this situation, but then, he wasn't a Malfoy, or a pure-blood, or a Slytherin—
Or someone as changed and advanced in his own peculiar direction as he now thought Malfoy was.
"That wasn't so difficult," Malfoy said, and looked hard at his son. "And you're not to prank him back, Scorpius, you hear me?"
"I—" Scorpius shook his head as though he had a fly stinging his face, and then blurted out, "Dad, are you upset with me for being Sorted into Gryffindor?"
Malfoy's face immediately became drawn. He placed his hands on his son's shoulders and gazed at him in the middle of a charged silence. Harry did have one hand of his own ready to slap James upside the head if he tried to say something sarcastic and interrupt the moment.
Malfoy shook Scorpius gently by the shoulders, then whispered, "How could you ever think that?"
Scorpius leaned forwards and wrapped his arms around his father's waist, sighing aloud.
Al beamed. James rolled his eyes. And Harry realized that at one time he would have found the emotions Scorpius and Malfoy were expressing too intense to bear, and would have turned away.
Malfoy looked up and caught his eye, and there was wonder and speculation written in his gaze, rather than contempt.
Many things have changed, Harry thought, holding his gaze and not flinching. Now, if only I can hold on to the courage.
He did. Somehow, he managed.
When he went home, he spent long moments contemplating something he'd always worked to keep from facing: his feelings towards Ginny. She was away playing for the Harpies so much of the time that he'd been able to avoid thinking about her, and when she was home, the very rarity of her presence made her someone to be treasured.
He had never once thought of owling Ginny and telling her about James and Scorpius's spats. He'd never thought of correcting her when she got irritated about Al's being Sorted into Slytherin. He'd never thought of asking that she Floo him more often when she was traveling, although he knew she often stayed in villages that had Floo connections.
He didn't really miss her. He'd didn't really love her. He was fond of her, and he found her convenient.
And that was all.
Harry shivered and scratched the back of his neck, feeling as though he were covered in grime and would be the better for a thorough, scouring shower. He was sitting on his couch in the middle of their drawing room, staring out the window. He had nothing to do for the next twelve hours, at least; Lily was spending the night at Ron and Hermione's house with Hugo, and there was no one else in Harry's life who depended on him so intensely.
I don't depend on them, either, when I should, like with Ginny. Or I depend on them in the wrong ways, to make me normal, and that's a burden too heavy for anyone to bear.
He didn't like himself very much at that moment.
Did he have the courage to do something about it?
Harry took a deep breath and went to consult the copy of the Harpies' schedule that Ginny had left for him when she began this particular tour. He knew roughly where she was staying each night, in the villages that scattered the Pyrenees. And even though the actual schedule sometimes varied from the printed one and he might not catch her, he wouldn't use that as an excuse to back away from what he needed to do.
A great change, Malfoy's voice murmured in his head.
Shut up, Harry answered him as he looked at the first Floo address and then reached for the green powder in a bowl on his own mantle. I'm doing this more for myself than you.
Malfoy laughed, as though to say he knew better, and Harry focused his attention more firmly on the impending Floo calls. There were some complexities that he still wasn't ready to face.
"This is—unexpected." Ginny sat back on the couch in the posh inn room where she was staying, blinking and twirling a curl of red hair around her finger.
Harry found a genuine smile for her, the first in years. "I know," he said gently. "But I don't think I've been happy for a long time—or else I was relying on you and the kids to make me happy. And that's not fair. I think you should have the chance to be with someone who can make you happy the way you deserve to be."
"Nice words," said Ginny, her eyes narrowing. "But you're still divorcing me."
"I'm asking for a divorce," Harry corrected her quietly. "A mutual parting of the ways. I think it'll be better than what we have now, don't you?"
"I don't know." Ginny tilted her head and regarded him. "You seemed satisfied. And I was happy playing some of the time, and then being home and seeing the kids the way I did."
Harry waited a minute, but she didn't seem to realize what she'd said, so he asked, "And what about seeing me?"
Ginny opened her mouth to respond, then shut it and swallowed. "Oh," she whispered then.
"Oh." Harry sighed and folded his arms behind his head. "I wish this could have ended differently, Gin. I should have made up my mind years ago to tell the kids the truth, to tell you the truth, to wake myself up and start thinking about the world again. But I whimpered that it hurt too much after the war, and I just needed peace and quiet for a while. How did a while turn into nineteen years? I don't know, but it did."
"It can go on." Ginny's voice was pleading. She leaned towards him, one hand extended as if she would reach through the flames and touch him. "What we have might not be the best we each could have, but what marriage is ideal? It's comfortable, that's what it is, and I want it to continue. Why can't it?"
Harry felt the desultory, clinging tug of temptation. Eyes fastened on Ginny's, he knew that she would be willing to forget this if he was. She might be extra attentive for a time when she came home, but in the end she and he would fall back into the routine.
He was tired of living his life by that word.
He shook his head, and turned away from the temptation, more gently than he had thought himself able to. "No," he said quietly. "It's not enough for me anymore. I'm sorry."
Ginny's face hardened, and she looked to the side. "Is it someone else?" she asked through clenched teeth. "Tell me that, Harry."
Harry thought of denying it, because the divorce would get nastier than it had to if he admitted the truth. But if he pursued Draco, as he fully intended to if he could, and even if he just declared his feelings to him, which was all he would do as long as Draco was married, Ginny was certain to learn of it sooner or later. And initial nastiness was better to deal with and get over with than long-lingering nastiness.
"Yeah," he said. "There is."
Ginny's hands clenched. "And how long have you been cheating on me?"
"Never," Harry said, and the shocked sound of his voice seemed to convince Ginny, because she relaxed slightly. "This is—someone I want the chance to be with, but I might not even get that chance."
Ginny turned back to him, eyes wide now, as if curiosity compelled her to ask the question in spite of the fact that she'd probably rather not know. "I can't imagine many people resisting Harry Potter," she murmured. "Who is she?"
"He," Harry corrected quietly.
He braced himself for a nasty comment on that, too, but Ginny's mouth simply hung open slightly. Shock seemed to have taken away all her words. After a moment, she did swallow, wrap her arms around herself as if she were cold, and say, "All right. I can't compete with that, obviously. I'll agree to the divorce."
"Gin—" Harry wanted to tell her that he wasn't attracted to other men, that it had only ever been Malfoy, that she didn't have to feel inadequate, but Ginny looked past him and spoke as rapidly as a Muggle secretary typing on a keyboard.
"Lily will have to stay with you whilst I'm touring. And James and Al will be all right at Hogwarts, for now. I want to see them at holidays and on their birthdays if no time else."
"Of course. I'd never keep you from your children, Gin." Harry tried to catch her eye, but she shook her head and turned away, dashing at tears.
"Good, then. Good night, Harry." She started to say something else, let it die on a breath, and shut the Floo connection with the flick of her wand.
Harry bowed his head as he knelt before the empty fireplace. He could feel a coil of guilt twisting in his stomach, the kind he'd felt during the first year after the war, when he went to funeral after funeral and grew heartsick from grief and wanted a way to make the grief stop. He'd never meant to cause Ginny pain, and he'd hoped for a friendly parting where neither of them wept.
But it was still an ending. The ending of a marriage, the ending of a life together.
And yet, he still wanted to go on.
Harry gazed down helplessly into his daughter's eyes. His sons had both been easier than this. Al had accepted the news of the divorce with a little shrug, as if he had expected Harry to leave Ginny for a long time, and Harry had thought there was actually a small gleam of relief in his face. James had stormed and contacted Ginny by owl and then calmed down as soon as he figured out that it wouldn't really change much between them, especially now that he would be at Hogwarts most of the year.
But Lily had been far more invested in the ideal of a happy family than Harry ever knew, and she had asked again and again, sometimes subtly and sometimes baldly, like this, why he and Ginny couldn't get back together.
"Maybe you could date at first," she said earnestly, attracting his attention again. "And then kiss slowly, and then get married again. A second honeymoon does lots for people, Witch Weekly says—"
"I know," Harry said, crouching down in front of her and putting his hands on her shoulders. He had only discovered since the confrontation with James and Scorpius how much that gesture seemed to soothe his children. "But that doesn't mean your mother and I can get back together."
"Why not?" Lily stamped her foot on the floor and then folded her arms and glared out the window. "I know that you and Mum are different from most other people, but not that different. What works for most other couples should work for you."
Harry blinked. Those few sentences told him more about his nine-year-old than a whole succession of years beforehand had.
"It won't work because I'm half in love with someone else," he said.
Lily's mouth dropped open, and her face suddenly flamed with—something. Harry didn't know what to call it. Romance, maybe. He didn't know. He was already too old for things like that at her age, and the few months of what he'd felt for Ginny during his sixth year didn't really count. "But that's wonderful, Daddy," she said, and hugged him around the shoulders, since he was at her height. "It's wonderful to be in love with someone. Who is it?"
"Not yet," Harry said, and blew in her ear, making her jerk away and giggle. "I don't think I should tell one of my children before I tell the person I'm in love with."
Lily stamped her foot again. "You mean you haven't told her?"
"Not yet," Harry said, letting the pronoun pass unnoticed for now. "And I need you to keep quiet about it, too. Your mum knows that I'm in love with someone, but not who it is, and Al and James don't know even that much."
Lily put her finger to her lips, her brown eyes sparkling.
And just like that, one of the potential breaches his divorce might have caused was cured. Harry had no illusions that everything would be so easy—for one thing, Mrs. Weasley had already contacted him, crying, and Ron wouldn't like it when he found out who Harry had divorced Ginny for—but at least Lily was skipping around the house and shooting him conspiratorial glances now.
A red-tailed hawk came winging through the window to deliver Malfoy's message the morning the announcement about Harry's and Ginny's divorce appeared in the papers. Harry raised an eyebrow and unsealed the envelope gingerly. He thought almost anything might be in the letter, from mockery about Harry's decision to About time, but he didn't cast the spells that his Auror training told him to, just in case the letter had Dark hexes on it. He thought he and Malfoy were past that point in their relationship.
The letter was longer than he had expected, but still only a paragraph. It had no salutation or signature, but Harry had no doubt about who it was from. Apart from anything else, he still had Malfoy's letter suggesting a meeting at Hogwarts to compare the handwriting of this one to.
You gave up your marriage with your wife even though you had no guarantee that I'm going to give up my marriage with Astoria. Why? What in the world would prompt you to do something like this? When I said you should grasp your courage, this wasn't really what I meant.
Harry took a deep breath and put the letter on the desk in front of him. Then he surreptitiously locked the door. Ron was out on a mission with a trainee Auror and wouldn't be back for hours.
Behind the locked door, and breaking a lot of quills, and smudging a lot of pieces of parchment, and starting over completely four times, Harry wrote his first love letter.
He explained, awkwardly, about how he'd seen Malfoy the day of the battle in the Great Hall, and how he'd admired his devotion to his family and a fearlessness in his expression that made them alike for a brief moment.
He explained that he admired how hard Malfoy had fought for his parents to walk free of Azkaban.
He said that he liked Scorpius, and respected the way Malfoy was raising him.
And then he wrote, finally, the hardest words of all.
I don't really know you. This attraction may come to nothing. I can't ask you to leave your wife for me. I have no idea if you like men. I don't know what liking men means, myself. I'm thirty-seven years old and the only person I've ever slept with was Ginny, and not even her for the last six months or so.
God, this is hard.
But I'm willing to fight for what I want, and start thinking in terms of greater complexity. And I wanted you to know that I do want you, and I'm willing to fight for you. But you need to tell me what the fight means. I won't interrupt your marriage with Astoria. I have no idea how you feel about her, and no right to tell you how you should feel about her.
Harry paused, sweating, his hand shaking, and then managed to copy down one more line before his nerve failed him.
If you wanted an act of courage in return for your act of courage in reaching out to me and trying to be pleasant to me since the war, here it is.
He hardly had time to fold it into an envelope before the red-tailed hawk snatched it from him and soared out the window. Harry leaned back in the chair, shut his eyes, and drifted until Ron's knock interrupted him.
Harry rose to his feet, and then wondered why he'd done that. It was just Malfoy, walking into his office at the Ministry. Harry shouldn't have to show respect or fight him, especially since Ron was watching from his desk right next to Harry's with a face like a gathering storm.
But Harry had already done it, and though he was willing to grant himself more complex motivations than he used to have, he wasn't willing to spend all his time investigating them and doing nothing else. He nodded and kept his eyes on Malfoy's face. "Did you need something?"
"I came to speak to you on the matter you owled me about," Malfoy said, too rapidly, and his cheeks were a brilliant pink. Harry raised his eyebrows. He had never seen Malfoy look so flustered.
It was a good expression on him, but Harry thought, with a sort of amused tolerance for himself, that he would probably find every expression that Malfoy cared to wear good-looking, so he wasn't exactly a reliable authority.
"Of course," Harry said. "Forgive me my surprise." He nodded to Ron, who was staring at him with devouring curiosity and dawning suspicion, and then moved past Malfoy out the door of the office. He cast a privacy ward once he'd shut the door. He didn't want anyone who passed by hearing every word they spoke. The news of his divorce had sparked enough interest in him again that even his colleagues might be tempted to report what they heard to the Prophet. They could disguise it as worry about a friend to themselves, if they wanted. "What about it?" he added, turning back to Malfoy when the ward was finished. "Was anything in the letter unclear?"
"Just why you wrote it at all." Malfoy stepped towards him, body leashed and quivering with—what, Harry didn't know. He could name it intensity, but that wasn't enough to catch all of it.
He met Malfoy's eyes and felt himself spinning and falling through a brand new universe. There were so many emotions there he had ignored for years. Anger, curiosity, fear, awe, longing. He could feel himself responding, and his smile sharpened and he moved a few steps closer. Malfoy lifted a hand as if to ward him away. Harry promptly caught it and laced his fingers through Malfoy's, recklessly; the ward only prevented people from hearing, not seeing, them.
"I want you," he said. "I respect you. I admire you. I like you, a lot more than I ever did in school." He laughed, quietly. Malfoy waited like a horse with pricked ears for some sort of signal, his eyes so intent on Harry that it looked as if the gaze hurt him. "I don't know if that will lead to love, but I'm willing to try."
"I know that. So I'll only ask as much of you as you're willing to give." He bowed to Malfoy. It was a stupid and extravagant gesture, but Harry felt like doing it. "If you want me to go away after this and stop bothering you, then I will. If you want me to write to your wife and take on the unpleasant duty of telling her that we're running off to Majorca together, then I will."
"I'm not running away from Astoria." Malfoy's spine had stiffened as if someone had shoved a blade up his arse.
"That's not the same thing as not divorcing her, I notice," Harry observed blandly.
"I don't know that I want to," Malfoy said bluntly. "She's Scorpius's mother, and she's been a good wife to me. And this—I haven't spent as much time on this as you have."
"Actually," Harry corrected him, "you were alert enough to see a certain look in my eyes and remember it for years. And I was trying to bury my memories of you as much as possible, because I didn't think they were compatible with a normal life. So you've probably spent more time in the past decade thinking about me than I've spent thinking about you."
Malfoy made a small frustrated sound and tugged at Harry's hand, which Harry didn't remove. "You have no idea if this would work."
"I don't," Harry agreed cheerfully.
"Then why risk it?" Malfoy eyed him. "From what you've described as your emotional state in this past decade, you're not someone who would take a chance like this."
"I'm learning to carve up the negative space, maybe," Harry murmured. "Create my own intaglio."
Malfoy stared at him, not blinking, barely breathing.
"Dream," Harry said, stepping close and letting his breath rake over Malfoy's lips without closing them in a kiss, "about what's not there. Draco."
Malfoy might not run from his wife, but he ran from Harry then, pulling his hand free and whirling around. Harry watched him go, not pursuing. Draco was the one who did have to make his own decisions about what he wanted to accept, and Harry would be disappointed—all right, devastated—if he didn't make the same one, but he would survive.
He walked back into the office and into an ambush. Ron glared at him and said, "I'm not blind, I just take a long time to see things. Talk."
Harry smiled slightly and started doing so.
The next time he saw Draco, it was on a jog that the Ministry had insisted he take around the edge of a large Muggle park, because supposedly most of the older Aurors were more out of shape than they should have been. Harry slowed and bent over, panting. His breath whistled in and out of what felt like torn lungs. Yes, he was out of shape, but perhaps this program hadn't been the best way to cure it.
His name was spoken sharply, hostilely. Harry glanced up and nodded at Draco, who leaned against a tree with his arms folded. He grinned, because his happiness outweighed his surprise. "Hullo."
"You say you want me," Draco said abruptly. "Prove it."
Harry cocked his head and advanced a few steps, his confidence increasing when Draco lifted his chin and gave a single shiver.
"I don't want to do too much," Harry whispered, "not when you're still married. But there's no harm in touching your hand, the way I did the other day. That's not cheating. Or there's this."
He reached out and traced his finger in the air above the bridge of Draco's nose and the line of his cheekbones. He made sure to keep an inch of space between his and Draco's skin at first, but then he moved closer and closer until Draco's eyes were fluttering shut, his breath creating crisp puffs of smoke in the cold air. Harry moved, carefully, nearer still, and his fingertip brushed the fine hairs that coated Draco's chin.
"And I'd speak like this," Harry said, finding a flowing and sensuous tone in his voice he'd never known was there. He simply reached for it, commanded it to exist, and it did. His confidence soared. He could do this. He could flirt with someone. He had simply never made a point of doing so with Ginny, because she had fallen right into his hand like an overripe plum. Only now was Harry beginning to understand how much of a disservice he had done both her and himself when that happened. "Because this tone is the best for whispering certain truths in. Truths like: You're beautiful, Draco. Or: I think I would have been happier if I'd stayed to talk to you in the Great Hall, the day I returned your wand. Or: If you were free of Astoria, I'd run my palm, slowly, over every inch of your skin, followed by my tongue."
Draco's breath was coming in unsteady bursts. He still managed to whisper, "If I weren't married to Astoria."
"If you weren't," Harry agreed, also in a whisper. He traced his finger in a slight circle that scraped his nail, just the very edge of it, against Draco's throat. Draco's back arched as if the touch had been much heavier. "Too bad you are."
Draco caught his hand, his fingers closing around Harry's wrist, digging into skin, and pressing tendons to bone until Harry made a noise of discomfort. Then Draco's eyes flared open and he jumped backwards as if his wife had been standing in the middle of the park and glaring.
"I can't make a choice yet," he said, and disappeared, which made Harry hope that the Obliviators weren't watching.
Harry licked his own palm, since the one he really wanted to lick—that would have been his next step—wasn't there. Then he shook his head, took a deep breath, and started jogging.
He reminded himself that Draco might make the decision to stay with Astoria after all. It was a slim chance Harry was asking him to embrace, no guarantee of happiness.
He was still grinning.
Harry started receiving letters after that, from Draco, usually at least one a day. They tried to explain, in disjointed sentences, the relationship that he and Astoria had together, and they taught Harry more than he had ever known of the other man.
We've always been friends. From the first day I saw her, I knew we'd get along. But now you've made me question whether it was ever more than that…
I said Scorpius adores her in my last letter, but that's not true. He likes her, just as I do. But no more. I had to think of that today when he spent the entire visit I made to Hogwarts, in honor of the Slytherin-Gryffindor Quidditch match—and why weren't you there, to see your James play?—following me around and staring up at me with shining eyes. He never once asked where she was…
My parents are indifferent to Astoria. It was Scorpius they wanted, the continuation of blood. No one could have been kinder to her when she was pregnant, but after that, it was as if she ceased to exist…
Damn it, why did you make me ask questions like this? Otherwise, I would have lived with her to the end of my days, and never questioned whether I was happy with her when it was just the two of us alone. I know that I'm happy with Scorpius, and that's what I've never questioned…
And now you even have me wondering whether it's fair to her, to keep her in a marriage like this. And then I'm laughing on the inside when I think about it some more, because this is not the sort of thing I ever expected to be thinking, this rubbish about fairness and justice. Damn you, Harry Potter, damn you.
Harry answered cautiously, not wanting to press Draco further than he was comfortable with. He thought they did their best communicating face-to-face, and preferably skin-to-skin. But no, he wouldn't suggest that yet, lest Draco thought he was trying to speed up a seduction that was by no means certain.
So he talked about different things instead, like the way Ron and Hermione had reacted to the news that it was Draco he was interested in.
Ron said, "I can't believe it," about a hundred million times in one day. It got to the point where I was going to murder him if I heard it one more time.
Hermione's been great. Really great. She's nodded thoughtfully when I explained, and she hasn't blamed me for abandoning Ginny. Of course, I do wish she would stop proposing psychological explanations for why my marriage was always destined to fail.
Divorce isn't pleasant, but Ginny kept it from being hell. She stayed away from me until we could speak civilly, and now she does seem happy, since there's evidently been a player on the Falmouth Falcons' team that's she wanted to date for a while.
The Weasleys are plain bewildered. But they aren't unaccepting.
He showed himself and responded very gently to Draco's revelations, trying not to think that it might all be for nothing. At the very least, the sharing of self-knowledge with another human being could never be "nothing."
Someone knocked on the door of his house early one morning, so early that Harry was still blinking winter stars away when he stumbled to the door. He thought it was an urgent case at first. They usually tried owls or Floo first, but when an answer really couldn't wait, sometimes the Minister himself came to summon Harry to the job.
But it was Draco, leaning against the doorframe and looking up at those same stars Harry's vision had spun with a moment ago. The look on his face was as calm and as resolute as the one Harry had seen when he was talking to the solicitor long ago.
And he turned around, and his smile was warm, and he put something rustling and papery into Harry's hand. Harry fumbled for his glasses and lit his wand with a muttered Lumos. His thoughts were still scattered, whirling between dreams and surprise, and he didn't anticipate what he was reading until he was actually reading it.
By agreement of both, Draco Lucius Malfoy will separate from Astoria Heloise Malfoy…
Harry looked up, knowing his jaw had dropped, knowing his eyes were bulging, and not caring. Draco met him with a smug smile, but there was still a faint uncertainty about his lips and eyes that stung Harry into action.
He dropped the divorce papers, seized Draco, and kissed him.
Draco answered with stunning force, his hands clasping Harry's shoulders and then rising up to his neck, as if he wanted to choke him with the sheer passion of the kiss. Harry slid one hand down to Draco's arse and dragged him closer. They could have been convicted of public indecency had any Muggle cops been nearby, Harry thought hazily.
"Everything you hoped for?" Draco whispered at last, when he could draw his lips away.
"You're everything I hoped for," Harry answered honestly, and without thinking.
Draco's eyes widened and flashed.
In the moment before he leaned in for another kiss, Harry thought that he saw a shimmering image behind the surface of Draco's eyes, a reversed carving of crystal and dreams, their own intaglio, summoned shining into reality.