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Villa Sweet Villa
"'...Harry and Draco deserve their newfound happiness, and we wish them the very best!'"
For some time after this ringing blessing, no one spoke but the sound of their feet treading the pathway of earth that wound towards their destination. Moving away from the sea and hence its salty signature in the air, and approaching more greenery of the vineyard, a new, wonderful, earthly smell was beginning to entice Harry's nose.
"What else is in there?" asked Dean idly, as he walked.
"Lots!" answered Seamus, rifling through The Hogwarts Howler. "You have ghosts speculating about life – no, it's longevity, sorry – er, study schedules-"
"Study schedules, really?" asked Hermione, with sudden and very surprised interest.
"Yeah," replied Seamus, still looking through. "You got, er, wait, I think I saw – oh, yes. 'FISHY FLITWICK – What You Don't Know about Your Charming Charms Teacher.' I have a feeling it's something we don't want to know."
"Ha! They caught him!" laughed Ron. "Do they have a picture of Flitwick with his 'gelf-friend'? Let me see that!"
But Seamus moved faster than Ron did to avoid The Hogwarts Howler being ripped from his hands.
"Flitwick's shagging an elf?" asked Seamus.
"Parvati told us way back," said Ron quickly. "Let me see, you sod!"
Seamus retreated to the other side of Dean to read the tabloid safely from there. "'The Aggrieved Girls Speak Out: What Does Pansy Parkinson Plan to Do to Move on, and What Does Cho Chang Think about Harry Ditching Her for Another Boy?'"
"Pfft, what can they do?" scoffed Ron boisterously. "Let them drown in their sorrows, or hook up together!"
"Ron!" exclaimed Hermione, clearly scandalized by the suggestion of two girls together in such a way, even as she was ironically in full support of the case of opposite sex, which was Harry and Draco.
"What?" asked Ron mutinously, and then continued in the slightest of whispers, "It's a sight better than the other way around."
"'The Ramming on the Ramparts' – that will be interesting," continued Seamus loudly, while he rustled the tabloid with equal volume.
"Ooh, let me see!" said Ron, with a resurgence of excitement, but Seamus scurried around Dean and yet again evaded Ron's grasp.
"How well can you see without them?" Draco asked Harry, who was squinting at the ground as he walked carefully as though it were something to be done with concentration, but at Draco's voice he looked up at him and shrugged his shoulders.
"Not too bad, I guess," Harry replied. He wasn't comfortable with telling Draco the truth that he really was at his wit's end here – that the world was as well as one hazy blur of confusion. Apart from feeling understandably uncomfortable and disorientated, he also felt castrated – a feeling heightened when he felt Draco squeeze his hand in a supportive gesture, though Draco didn't speak any further of the issue but looked ahead of them.
"So," said Harry, wishing to move away from his eyesight and resenting the supportive gesture quite sharply, "what were you been doing in there for the whole afternoon yesterday?"
"Nothing," replied Draco, "just looking around – memories. Read a couple of books from the Reading Room-"
"The 'Reading Room'?" said Harry, with an odd and rather cute little giggle that left Harry a little embarrassed.
While a silver-blond lock sparkled in the morning sunshine, Draco smiled as he glanced at Harry's lips as though appreciating the origin of that giggle.
"Yeah," Draco said softly, immersing himself in reminiscence. "Father usually insisted I start calling it by its proper name – the library, but Mother didn't have a problem with my name for it. The place hasn't changed at all. We sometimes used to spend our holidays for a while here when I was younger, more than in the other villas. It's quite nice, you'll see it." He then looked indicatively at the grey-stone villa looming closer and closer, just a few yards away.
"Uhm, Harry," began Hermione, without exactly looking at Harry, who promptly turned to her. "I've—we've been meaning to ask you..."
Ron turned to Hermione with an expression that said he couldn't believe she dared raise the issue, while Dean and Seamus looked on with cautious curiosity.
"Yeah?" said Harry, as Draco watched Hermione closely over him.
"That—that thing," stuttered Hermione, "I mean, I—we haven't had a chance to ask you this, because, well, the situation didn't call for it and we were still recovering and the deaths as well and the lessons and then-"
"Hermione, what's up?" asked Harry.
"Well," hedged Hermione, as though she hadn't sought Harry's attention in the first place and as she plainly fought with herself from wringing Ron's hand in her own, "we all saw it..." She looked around at the others, her eyes seeking support and confirmation. "That green dragon in the sky – three of them – was—was that you? But it must be," breathed Hermione nervously, "but I—we don't know for sure, but since that night on the Quidditch pitch and you doing that flamethrower thing and we know how you can get out of control sometimes and-"
"Yeah, it was me, you were right," said Harry to more to save Hermione from her incoherent babbling, and he said it quite unabashedly, which was quite contrary to Hermione's demeanour.
"Oh!" said Hermione shortly, and she subsided thereafter, but even as that was, Harry could feel something lingering in the air at the end of her voice.
"Wow," said Seamus, shaking his head in awe as he stared at Harry. "Just another page in the book of adventures of the ever-popular and now all-powerful Harry Potter!"
Harry was glad Seamus found it amusing, because he certainly didn't; that night brought too many feelings back, and not good feelings at all. He hoped he would be able to sleep tonight. A year-round Quidditch ban wasn't nearly severe a punishment, he thought, not nearly, not for the deaths...
"I can say the same for whoever cast that Biner-Lumous Charm," Harry remarked. "Lit up the bloody sky."
"That was me!" said Ron, with a proud grin and punching his fist in the air.
"After you tried it ten times before, you mean," quipped Seamus, with a smirk.
"And that werewolf was this close to swiping off my backside," said Dean, to the accompaniment of laughter from everyone. "It really was in the nick of time. Literally saved my arse, Ron did."
Everybody laughed at a grimacing Ron, who, Harry suspected, would have loved to have saved any other body part of Dean's besides his arse, a physical focal point of homosexuality, which Ron must want no part of after that stunning revelation that he had apparently been attracted to Harry, though it was revealed later he had been confused.
Just a few metres later, a humming sensation rippled through Harry's body, but his and the other visitor's incomprehension didn't last long, for Draco then explained, "We have breached the wards. Welcome home."
The first thing Harry became aware of when they entered the villa was a very curious and very thick but pleasant aroma much like that of vanilla essence, which he would smell whenever Aunt Petunia baked something to impress – that is to say, claim for herself – the new neighbours; it was a soft and sweet scent, seductively easy to get used to. The first thing he realized visually was that the villa seemed – with his poor vision – little more than an ordinary, if slightly more tasteful house, though it was true the only thing his impaired vision could register was the foyer in which they stood. Draco took his hand and went to the right, where it darkened slightly. He heard the rest following them, perhaps deeming it discourteous to tour the house without the owner.
"What's with the smell?" Harry heard Ron ask, a question to which he would like the answer as well, together with Hermione, Dean, and Seamus, he believed.
Harry didn't hear Draco give an answer.
Wordlessly, Draco directed them through several rooms, the sight of which Harry couldn't enjoy because of his lack of glasses and because Draco had been moving swiftly, but that which his friends apparently were, if Hermione's pleased exclamations and Dean's and Seamus' noises of appreciation were anything to go by. It decidedly irked Harry much, but all this was forgiven when Draco approached a large, mahogany door, to which Harry saw a pale hand extend.
"And out here you have..." said Draco in an aloof, almost exhausted voice which Harry knew he employed whenever he downplayed things that didn't deserve it, such as the apparent beauty of the sight he revealed, judging by Hermione's long gasp on his left.
Even with his abysmal vision, it looked as though a mini Garden of Eden had just sprung into life right in front of his face. On either sides of his vision as he looked ahead at a spot where there blinked white sparks which suggested that a large pond or the like resided there, partially bordered by big brown structures he assumed to be large boulders and over which some insects buzzed, as his ears were working quite satisfactorily, were long, winding, lush, cleanly cut hedges over which a few white animals of avian form frolicked – perhaps peacocks. The grass, he could faintly see, funnily enough, stretched out in front of them in alternating shades of green rather resembling the Quidditch pitch. Far from them, close to the barely discernible end of the garden, there pranced a few blobs resembling four-legged animals the likes of which Harry had never seen before, but then at that moment he remembered Draco telling him something about weird creatures in some garden of his family's, and he opened his mouth to suggest this, but Draco softly cut across him in a tone which suggested that he knew that Harry was aboard the same train of thought.
"Phiggles," said Draco, with a smile that also bore that casualness as had his voice when opening the door. Then he pointed to some similar looking, though less attractive animals just after the small herd of 'phiggles'. "And those are the giffies I told you about too."
Harry indeed remembered Draco telling him about these sort of animals when he had Sacrificed Professor Strolm's lesson for a steamy tryst with him.
"Whatsa—phigami—wha...?" asked Seamus, his face twisted in confusion as he peered at the gambolling animals.
"A giffy," said Draco, "a cross between a hippogriff and a phiggle."
"'Giffies'? 'Phiggles'?" said Ron, looking between said creatures and Draco as he shook his head as though appalled that such animals existed or unfortunately assigned such names.
"Ah, those phiggles look so cute!" squeaked Hermione, to the accompaniment of Ron's and Seamus' nostrils flaring in contempt. "Can we ride on-?"
"Absolutely not, Granger!" said Draco strictly, and after his eyes darted to Harry, he said in less outraged tones, "They're delicate creatures, not built for human transportation, mark you."
"They're basically ponies, just prettier-looking," retorted Hermione, and before Draco could answer to this, she swept off back into the house, leaving the boys to attempt to appreciate whatever else the garden stored besides the contentious creatures by the names of phiggles and giffies, and there was no doubt in Harry's mind where Hermione was headed, remembering one of Draco's favourite places which he had shared upon approaching the villa.
The garden was littered with trees here and there of varying types and sizes. The largest one stood high and proud close to the middle of the vast garden, not far from the pond. Unlike its smaller companions, which appeared professionally cut and styled, this tree was left to grow naturally for a very long time, as the countless rings on its bark indicated.
Very vaguely, Harry could spy various other creatures closer to them, such as brown, white-spotted bunnies which hopped about, a few birds of some kind flying and squawking overhead with grey plumages and blue undersides – they merely looked grey to Harry. Overall, the garden, as he 'saw' it, had both a kempt and natural look to it, which felt nicely appealing to Harry.
"Sweet!" said Dean, nodding his head and smiling as he gazed at the garden.
Harry stood there, not bothering to move his head sideways and around as though looking at and appreciating the garden as Dean was capable of doing. He felt robbed; he couldn't enjoy the sight as much as anyone else could. It heightened his sense of castration, of impairment. Never in his life had he had to confront such impairment. True, he relied on man-made objects to go about – his glasses – but he had still been functional, still able to experience, able to appreciate what his sight presented him, even if it largely left much to be desired. Oddly enough, Harry found himself missing his too-large glasses; they had been, it felt, an intrinsic part of him.
Harry felt Draco squeeze his hand, and the accompanying sense of indignation at it pulled him out of his self-pity. He didn't want Draco to think of him as handicapped, or more terribly an invalid, but here he was, barely able to see the beautiful garden stretched out in front of him readily for his eyes to savour.
The seconds stretched, and each one was as tangible as their robes. Perhaps feeling a little uncomfortable or bored, Dean and Seamus eventually sloughed off them while he and Draco stood there hand in hand, and they didn't move when Dean and Seamus' footsteps faded into the house, though after about a minute of studying the blurred fauna and flora in front of him, Harry felt Draco give him another squeeze, and he rather felt Draco staring at him than saw it. Harry, however, was concentrating on the farthest parts of the garden he could not see.
We've been through the storm,
We've been through it all
Draco gave another, more urgent squeeze. Harry felt his stare for another spell before he finally said, in a quiet voice, "We deserve this, Harry. Finally, we're here."
We had some close calls but never would fall.
We climbed all the mountains,
Walked through all the valleys,
But you never left me behind...
"We do?" asked Harry. "Do we deserve to rest now that we had survived and others haven't?"
"I didn't mean it like that," said Draco, after a pause and in a tone that wasn't absolutely convincing.
"I suppose you slept well, didn't you?" asked Harry, as he remained staring at the hazy distance. "You weren't replaying those sounds in your head, weren't you, that twig that snapped and sent Colin... And Parvati..." Suddenly, Harry couldn't stop swallowing against the lump in his throat. It was burning, scorching, leaving his eyes red and tearful.
Draco kept looking at him closely from his side.
"You really cared about them, didn't you?"
"That surprises you?"
Draco didn't speak for a moment, and then he said, "It's not as if I'm not haunted by it too, you know."
"Sure don't look—no, it sure doesn't sound like it, at least," said Harry. "You sound as if we have finally made it to this wonderful paradise without having it at a cost."
"Argh, pissing Pixies, don't bloody do this now, please, Potter..."
Harry slipped his hand from Draco's, and he finally turned to him. He just looked at the pale, handsome face, the locks of hair hanging softly on his shoulders, looking at heartless beauty. "Don't bloody do what?"
How could you be so heartless?
"This whole guilt tripping yourself thing you keep doing to yourself," said Draco exasperatedly. "It's almost pathetic, really. It wasn't your fault, Harry," he insisted sternly.
How could you be so... cold?
As the winter wind when it breeze yo
"Wasn't it me who told him he could come?"
Draco seemed short of an answer for several seconds. "Sure, I was surprised he was there in the first place, but that was probably after he went on his knees and begged you to no end, right?"
Harry didn't answer.
Draco sighed. "They knew what they were getting themselves into – bottom line."
"It's that simple..." said Harry faintly, not knowing whether he was asking or stating it.
"Yeah, it is," said Draco ruthlessly. "You have nothing to feel guilty of. They knew the dangers, just as I did-"
"But you weren't taken down by a-"
"Yes, I wasn't, but I knew what I was getting myself into from the beginning and I would never blame you if it happened to me – if could, that is... Harry, for Merlin's sake, please don't do this to yourself!"
Harry looked at Draco, his head slightly tilted to the side, his arms itching to cross themselves. He then looked ahead of him at the blurry garden; did he deserve this, this survival with Draco, while some of his friends were wiped away from the earth, did he have licence to celebrate his and Draco's and his friends' lives on this earth?
Draco leant on the door frame, facing Harry, and took him by the hips, squinting into his eyes in a serious manner. This gave Harry a worse emotion – emasculation. He felt it should have been him to hold Draco like this, not him being done so.
Draco exhaled tensely. "Harry, you..." The open, sincere expression on his face faltered, and he looked down at the ground. "You..." Again, after these words, Draco looked down at the ground, his cheeks beginning to glow pink. To Harry, this rather looked like a new instrument that squeaked on first try and then gradually smoothened out until it played wonderfully. It was a new, unprecedented demeanour he was witnessing from Draco that Draco wasn't used to. Draco did look cute when he was trying to be sincere, and the side of Harry's lips reluctantly twitched in amusement. "You... you're the most... Argh, fuck it. Come, let's just go inside, can't we?" Draco took Harry by the hand and with bashful swiftness again, swept them off, while Harry silently giggled at him.
When they returned to the middle of the house, they were greeted by Hermione's noises of excitement.
"This place is so amazing!" squealed Hermione with fervour, her eyes illuminated as they bounced about the house. Seeing Hermione so excited about the interior design of the villa was the closest to girly Harry had ever seen her, as Hermione wasn't one to fawn over decor or the latest trend in manicures. Hermione hissed and smacked her lips almost lustfully while her arms flailed at the air, attempting to at least brush every surface they could as she capered through the various rooms. This, together with Draco's failed attempts at open sincerity, managed to put a smile on Harry's face and gently brush away the rehashed memories of the werewolf assault to the back of his mind.
There were three beige suede couches: the longest, three-seater settee facing the door and the other two identical two-seaters facing each other, all of which surrounded an antique mahogany desk which, Harry noticed with a breathtaking jolt to his stomach, was intricately chiselled, bearing the stunningly wrought double 'M' and on top of which lay two books. Harry shook off the spurt of disturbing images that raced through his head. Dean and Seamus were sitting on one two-seater, while Ron sat on the other, possibly waiting for Hermione to join him once her joyful voice came near. This left the three-seater empty, onto which Draco now lowered them and sat.
"This is a sweet pozzy you got here, Malfoy—Draco," observed Seamus, with a sudden blush. "But what's that smell?" he asked for the second time. "Smells like when me mom's baking for the church again..."
"It bothers you?" drawled Draco, raising an eyebrow lazily.
"Er, no!" said Seamus in alarm. "No, it doesn't! Not at all! Smells... nice! Like home!"
"Thank you," said Draco, with no emotion in his voice.
Seamus cleared his throat, his face a brilliant pink. Plainly trying to redeem himself, "So when is the wine served, anyway, Jeanie Mac?" he asked, as he rubbed his stomach as though wine were a staple food.
"Saturday and Sunday afternoon," answered Draco dispassionately.
Seamus looked at Draco with surprise, as did everyone, including Harry, who hadn't expected such an exact answer.
"So no wine till Saturday?" asked Seamus with longing in his voice, seemingly forgetting for a moment his attempts at appeasing himself to Draco.
"No wine till Saturday, Seamus," said Draco, in confirmation. "Only Father sometimes used to open a bottle as he wished."
"Paradise... Eye of the beholder, innit...?" muttered a disillusioned Seamus to Dean, who chuckled at him.
Hermione whirled into the room from nowhere in a storm of robes and limbs, and hair. "Ha! Can't believe we'll be staying here! So when are we discussing the sleeping arrangements?" she asked Draco.
"I would have thought that was obvious," drawled Draco, without looking at her.
Hermione's eyes darted to Harry as though asking him, 'What's with him?'
"No, it isn't, actually," she said tartly, as she placed a hand on her hip.
"Harry and I get the master bedroom. You can figure things out amongst yourself between the three other rooms."
"Fine," said Hermione, shrugging her shoulders carelessly before she went to sit down with Ron, who gladly welcomed her. "But this... aroma, it got thicker when I went past that door with the two diagonal lines. What is in there?"
This question rang alone without an answer for several heartbeats before Ron's stomach gave a vociferous growl.
Draco's eyes found Ron's slightly apologetic ones, whereupon Draco sighed and snapped his fingers. "Tibby?"
There was instant reaction: Harry flew from the couch and his wand was out in a matter of split seconds, as were Ron's, Seamus' and Dean's. Even Hermione was on her feet, hair vibrating in alarm.
"Bloody hell..." muttered Draco, shaking his head.
The elf, looking rather exceptionally classy and impeccably kept for an elf and wearing an emerald teacloth which shone iridescently with the Malfoy emblem, trembled as its big, wide eyes stared fearfully from each wand pointing at it.
"Wands away, if you please," drawled Draco. "You'll scare her off and then your stomach shouldn't be complaining." It couldn't be plainer particularly to whom he was referring.
A round of clearing throats ensued – the loudest of which was Ron's – as he, Harry, Dean and Seamus stowed their wands back into their robes.
"Mates, please be nice to the elf, won't you?" Ron suggested, as though he too hadn't reacted as they had, but then again hunger could make one do the strangest things.
"Tibby," said Draco, drawing the frightened elf's attention to him.
Tibby's knees shook visibly and her hands were fisted. Harry, half-blind as he was, could just about see Draco's silver-blond hair reflected in her bulging eyes.
"Yes, Master Draco!" Tibby squeaked.
"Could you get us lunch, please?"
"At once, Master Draco!" And she disappeared with a swift POP! as though her departure couldn't have come sooner.
"Oi!" yelled Ron in outraged tones. "She didn't get our orders!"
"You're a beggar, Weasley, not a chooser here."
Ron's mouth fell open. He turned to Harry, who didn't console him in any way, and a horrified look slipped on Ron's face as he lowered himself to his seat, gulping.
"Breakfast is served at nine, lunch at one, and dinner at seven."
No-one responded to this; they all seemed frightened as though they had now officially deemed themselves at Draco's mercy.
It was a wait of several, very long minutes before Tibby returned with a loud POP! and squeaked, levitating the six trays, "Lunch is served, Master Draco!"
All expressions of fear, resignation, and horrified realizations melted away as Ron, Seamus, Dean, and Hermione realized that they each had their own plates, which were quite elaborate and very laden with food.
"Thank you," said Draco very quickly and very quietly, which suggested he thought – at least in front of them – it was contemptible to be kind to a house-elf.
After this, all was forgiven and the slate was being cleaned as the sounds of sipping and swallowing and voracious hissing could be heard while they all tucked in.
About ten minutes later, they were all gaping and looking at each other blankly.
"What does a person do here all day?" asked Dean neutrally, or in what he hoped was a neutral tone, lest Draco find offense in it, as he had become a little testy after the vanilla aroma was mentioned by Seamus and then Hermione a while back.
No answer was offered.
"Yes, Master Draco!"
No-one jumped this time.
"Please clean up, will you?"
"At once, Master Draco!"
The elf clicked her fingers, and the cutlery disappeared, but just before snapping her fingers again, perhaps to make herself disappear this time, her eyes ran from Hermione, around to Ron, Seamus, Dean, Draco and then finally Harry, whom had been obscured to the house-elf by Draco before. She seemed to shiver from the inside as she stared at Harry, but her eyes definitely grew wider and became imbued with perhaps a higher fear.
"Tibby," said Draco a little urgently.
And she was gone.
"Your name'll be going around the Manor, I expect," said Draco in an exasperated tone.
"What, she stays at Malfoy Manor?" asked Harry. "Isn't it... didn't those Death Eaters...?"
"Some of it, but it's mostly intact," said Draco. "They've probably repaired all of the damage if you know them."
"So you do have house-elves at your house!" said Seamus, as he jumped to his feet. "Or manor!"
"An army of them," said Draco, sounding quite unimpressed, contrary to Seamus.
"Wow...!" said Seamus, and actually had the audacity and temerity to say, "Tibby!"
But there was no loud POP! to announce the elf's return. Draco looked at Seamus with surprise and indignation as though Seamus had been rude.
Contritely, Seamus cleared his throat and lowered himself back into his seat.
No-one moved for several moments, and Draco didn't look inclined to offer any suggestions of anything they could do even as the host.
Hermione spontaneously stretched across Ron – whose eyes scanned her lustfully from left to right – to reach for the two books which lay on the desk.
Harry felt Draco stiffen next to him.
Hermione dropped back on her seat with a huff, shuffled the two books, and decided to open the one with the pale-blue cover first, which was open to a page.
"Multiple-Time-Set Portkeys?" said Hermione, frowning at Draco, who then took the other book and placed it on his lap. Just before he had closed the book, Harry had spied the bold and elegantly penned words, '...I had never been prouder of you than I was on that night of 21st August...'
"Portkeys that activate at multiple times," said Draco flatly. "I made it and used it to return to Hogwarts just before we went to Hogsmeade."
"Oh," said Hermione, rifling through the book while her frown remained.
"What's that?" Harry asked Draco, as he pointed to the brown-leather-covered, diary-sized book which lay on Draco's lap.
"Nothing, just a legacy from Father," said Draco, as he folded his arms and put his weight on it as though wary that Harry would snatch it from him.
Harry had a great suspicion that a legacy from Draco's father wasn't just 'nothing'.
"This book should be made illegal..." breathed Hermione, in a voice filled with awe rather than contempt. "It's like getting the answer books for your O. W. L.s... How not to Leave a Magical Signature – asterisk – as if that makes it any better, How to Make Your Own Floo Powder – I just know that's certifiably illegal; the only body allowed to produce Floo powder is the Department of Magical Transportation in the Ministry of Magic – How to Disguise Your True Intentions-"
"There're more interesting things to read," said Seamus, sticking his nose in the air and placing The Hogwarts Howler on the table with a flourish.
"Ooh!" said Ron, with resurging excitement without the slightest consideration for Hermione. "Go to that ramming ramparts section thing you were talking about, Seamus!" He went to his knees and shifted the tabloid so that he could see as well.
Harry admittedly did feel a little curious about what Parvati and Lavender had put together, so with an apologetic look at a clearly offended Hermione, he dropped to his knees before the table, crossed his arms, and then stared down at... the blurry tabloid... He couldn't read it. As surreptitiously as he could, he looked around Dean, Seamus, and Ron through his fringe, wondering if they would have the courtesy to read the tabloid aloud. His sense of castration heightened yet again. But just then, he heard and then saw Draco getting onto his knees and making himself interested in The Hogwarts Howler, and Harry was of the opinion he really wasn't.
"I want the ramming!" growled Ron, as he fought with Dean and Seamus for The Hogwarts Howler.
"I wanna see the interview!" yelled Seamus angrily, pulling on the tabloid in the opposite direction.
"I wanna see the Shout Box!" shouted Dean, pulling triangularly at the tabloid.
"I want the Shout Box too!" amended Ron, with another heave for the paper.
"Oi! Can we just read it from the beginning to the end, or is that simply beneath you?" asked Draco, but his words were lost in the yells and grunts and growls from the other boys.
It took Hermione blasting the three boys apart to restore calm.
"Thank you, Granger," said Draco, as he exhaled and smoothed out the nearly tattered tabloid. "Would you like to do the honours?" he asked her.
"Er, sorry?" said Hermione in a distracted way, as she was glaring reprovingly at the boys and with her wand still in her hand threateningly.
"Would you like to read it?" asked Draco again.
"Would I—read it...?" Hermione's confused expression remained until her eyes darted to Harry and then she said, "Oh! Oh, okay, yes, I—I will read, uhm..." She went to her knees, shot a final, deadly glare at the other three boys, who had returned to the table sporting brilliant blue shiners, and then started to read The Hogwarts Howler:
01 October 1995
Parvati Patil & Lavender Brown
Your Weekly Source of Only the Most Spell-Binding Titbits in Hogwarts!
TODAY IN THE HOWLER!
HARRY & DRACO, THE HOLY & THE DAMNED – The story of two boys who were never meant to be...Page 2
GALEFORCE GAYS GALORE – Harry and Draco's Relationship Inspires Other Gay Couples to Spring out of the Closet! Anonymous interview inside: "I Kissed a Boy and I Liked It!"...Page 3
PEEK-A-BOO – I SEE YOU! – What in Merlin's Name Was Cormack Doing to Wendy in That Classroom? ...Page 4
MALFUNCTIONING GLAMOURS – Jenny Weaver Is Not Who We Think She Is! ...Page 5
FISHY FLITWICK – What You Don't Know about Your Charming Charms Teacher...Page 6
The Aggrieved Girls Speak out: What Does Pansy Parkinson Plan to Do to Move on, and What Does Cho Chang Think about Harry Ditching Her for Another Boy?...Page 7
Third-Year Hufflepuff Boy Eludes Certain Death after Falling into the Great Lake... Page 7
Are You Ready for Your OWLs or NEWTs? Recommended study schedule inside...Page 7
Apparitions Air Words of Wisdom – Advice from Our Friendly Ghosts...Page 8
The Fat Lady's Couch – What Does the Painted Grapevine Have in Store?...Page 8
Academic Assistance – Ask the Ravenclaws...Page 9 [Hermione's eyebrow rose.]
Helping Hands – Let the Hufflepuffs Heal You...Page 9 ["How fitting," observed Draco.]
The Ramming on the Ramparts – Who Fancies Who & Who's Ramming Who...Page 10 ["Ooooh! Turn the page!" said Ron excitedly.]
Hogwarts Hunk & Damsel of the Week (Vote now! Winners receive gifts!)...Page 10 ["Three guesses who," said Ron knowingly.]
Fashion Feats & Fashion Flops...Page 10 ["They should think about revising the price of this thing," remarked Hermione down her nose.]
Current Competitive Standings...Back Cover
!Shout Box! ["I have a feeling that's gonna be interesting," remarked Seamus.]
[Ron flipped the whole of page seven over.
"What? I don't wanna read about Parkinson moaning and Cho snivelling."
Apparitions Air Words of Wisdom
Advice from Our Friendly Ghosts
Nearly Headless Nick – On the Subject of Longevity
["What's he gonna tell us?" scoffed Ron in amusement, as he skimmed Nearly Headless Nick's paragraph. "How to axe our heads off properly if we don't get it right the first time?"
"But wouldn't that not fall under 'longevity'?" asked Dean.]
The Fat Friar – How to Stay Cheery No Matter What!
["Yeah, aren't they just the cheery bunch?" said Ron. "I'm dying to see what kind of fluff they're spouting in the Shout Box."]
The Gray Lady – Words of Life and Caution
["Hm," said Hermione, her lips pursing as she stared down at the Gray Lady's discourse. "Don't those Ravenclaws just think they know everything? Ask the apt, all-knowing Ravenclaws." She then made a scathing noise and temporarily turned away from the paper, hence Seamus took over the reading.]
The Bloody Baron – unfit to comment
[Ron snorted. "You think?"]
Professor Binns – declined to comment
[They all laughed out loudly – even Hermione.]
The Fat Lady's Couch
What Does the Painted Grapevine Have in Store?
["Uh-oh," said Harry, smiling.]
"Calling all portraits! Violet and I will be hosting a massive Portraits' Party! It'll be in Veronica's living room on the sixth floor, the twelfth portrait from the left stairs! All are welcome! We will keep you posted with the details via the painted grapevine!
"I beseech any Hogwarts student to remove Sir Cadogan's portrait from the wall, if he's in there at some point. He actually thinks he's amusing these days.
"And that Deblois banshee is such a [expurgated]! Merlin forbid! Violet and I refuse to speak to her now! She's so stingy with her chinwag! And that's why she's jolly well not invited to the Portraits' Party, by the way!"
[Hermione turned the page and took over the reading. "Sadly, I agree with her, Ron, don't you?"
"Much so," replied Ron, undoubtedly remembering the staunch woman in Dumbledore's office who had proved disagreeable in helping them figure out Harry's whereabouts.]
Ask the Ravenclaws
Here is where common problem areas in subjects are dealt with. Post any question/s you would like answered. Remember to include the subject, name of the topic, and most importantly, your year of study. Below are the forthcoming sections of Academic Assistance:
Aiming for 'A' in Astrology
Attacking Ancient Runes Rigorously
Cheating the Charms
Coping with Care of Magical Creatures
Dealing with Defence Against the Dark Arts
Mastering Muggle Studies
Making History of Magic Headaches History
All questions should be referred to Padma Patil or Professor Flitwick of Ravenclaw.
Let the Hufflepuffs Heal You...
This is the Agony Aunt equivalent...
[Harry and Hermione chortled at this.]
...For The Hogwarts Howler. Lay your soul bare with the Hufflepuffs and allow them to heal you from the inside out, from questions of spirituality to those about your body (keep it clean, please).
As the religions and their possible denominations of Hogwarts students are unknown and most probably vast, it has been decided that only Merlinytes (Merlin-reverent fans, not worshippers) may practice on Hogwarts grounds.
We wish to start a Merlin study group. If you would like to join, please jot down or tear off the following particulars:
Date: Sunday, 5th October
Venue: 4th floor, 3rd classroom on right from left
Time: 09:30 – 12:00
First book on the agenda will be Merlin the Mighty and then we will discuss The Era of Excalibur by Pariah Abrahams. If Madam Pince doesn't have a copy for you, we will make one for you.
What potions Professor Slughorn recommends for good all-round physical health.
["Physical health?" spluttered Ron, lips trembling, while everyone else laughed. "What's Slughorn gonna tell us about physical health? His belly's the first thing we see round the corner! I know it better than I know his face!]
Professor Sprout's herbal concoction can give you a better attention span and mental alertness! Just toss one back in History of Magic and you may have an actual chance of passing that O. W. L.! Just ask a Hufflepuff prefect or go to Professor Sprout directly for more info!
["I'll stick to Hermione's notes, thanks," said Ron. "After knock-out mandrakes, what's next?"]
All questions may be referred to Shelly Haffock or Professor Sprout of Hufflepuff.
[Hermione turned the page. "Hermione might not always feel too generous with her notes, you know."]
The Ramming on the Ramparts
Who Fancies Whom and Who's Ramming Whom
Harry and Draco are an item (needless to say!).
Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan are doing it (Finnigan usually has a limp on every other day. But can you imagine getting that chocolate hose all the way up your [expurgated]? It must be huge!).
[Seamus' mouth dropped open, while Dean wore an amused, if flattered smirk.]
Cormack's ramming Wendy (obviously, because we covered them in THE TITBITS! section – they were doing the nasty in the Astronomy Tower – Peeves caught them).
[Ron hissed sympathetically. "Imagine that. Anyone but Peeves while you're at it, bloody hell."
"How about Filch, then?" suggested Harry maliciously.
"Ah! Harry, you murder me!" said Ron dramatically, screwing his eyes shut. "Eurgh!"
"What if he starts beating off while he's watching?" said Seamus with a wicked grin.
There was swift uproar at the table and disgusted calls of, "No, Seamus, man!"]
Neville Longbottom and Fatima Swinehouse are starting things up (euuwww!).
["Quite right," agreed Draco, looking more disturbed by this than by Seamus.]
Cho Chang and Michael Corner soon to be, we think (we promise to keep you up to date! Beautiful couple, aren't they?).
[Everyone's eye went to Harry, including Draco's, most importantly. Harry tried with all his might not to show any reaction.]
The Hogwarts Hunk of the Week
58% Draco Malfoy (S)
27% Blaise Zabini (S)
14% Michael Corner (G)
01% Dean Thomas (G)
["At least you're here, Deanie," said Seamus, who looked at Dean with pride, even though Dean could only boast a single percentage point.
"Yeah, it's probably only because of my 'chocolate hose,'" said Dean. "Girls are so..." He stopped here, and Harry felt relief on his behalf for not finishing the sentence.]
"It's that hair of his, I'm telling you. I've never seen hair like that in my life, on any girl, no less... No wonder Harry is so, so crazy about him!" – Angelina Johnson (G)
"It's the way he walks, and the way he looks at you, you know? I swear to Merlin those eyes touch my soul every time they pass me." – Daphne Greengrass (S)
"I sort of liked him before but not anymore, really. He's kinda skin and bones now, isn't he? And he's always been too short for my liking, but one thing I can say for him absolutely is his skin – it's amazing. See, Michael Corner is someone I would go for now (not that I'm saying), and besides, Malfoy's done an about turn, eh? Popping boy-cherries now, or his is getting popped... Oh my god, I so nearly fainted – I just pictured Malfoy bending over and Harry..." – Sharon Hops (R)
[Ron cleared his throat and pulled at his collar to relieve some steam.]
"Absolutely love him! Top to bottom! I would dip his whole body in chocolate and lick him all the way! I LOVE YOU, DRACO! EVEN IF YOU DO SWING THE OTHER WAY!" – Euforica Forbes (H)
["Argh! Spare us the smut, Huffie," said Ron, with a grimace, turning away from the words as though they smelled foul.
"When the bloody hell did Parvati and Lavender work on this?" Harry asked, in confused wonderment as to when did Parvati and Lavender found time to create even a poll and take down student comments.
Hermione made a disapproving noise. "I don't even want to answer that. Now I know why all those owls in the girl's dormitory yesterday afternoon..."]
The Hogwarts Damsel of the Week
44% Giselle Preston (R)
["Who is she?" asked Ron. "I've never seen her if she's so fetching half the school thinks so."
Harry had nearly asked this precise question, but he caught himself before he could embarrass himself. He could imagine just how much it would highlight his homosexuality if he had asked it. A straight boy surely must know who was the hottest girl in the school, right? He looked to Dean and Seamus, who looked back at him. They shared twitches of their lips that were nonetheless done away with quickly.
"This other tall girl with the short chestnut hair and olive eyes," supplied Hermione, looking down at the tabloid paper with a precariously balanced stare. "She is rather beautiful, I guess, though I think that fake beauty spot of hers helps."
"You couldn't let it go, I just knew it!" said Ron, in a profoundly knowing tone as he shook his head.
"I'm only stating fact, Ron!" said Hermione indignantly.
"Sure you are," said Ron, his lips clearly pursed, something which Harry still found amazing to witness on Ron's face. Ron had never before been in any advantageous position in intelligence, finance, or performance to justify the pursing of his lips at someone. It was something Harry thought Ron was rather enjoying to great extent.
As though she had judged that she couldn't win this argument verbally, Hermione plunged her elbow into Ron's side, thereby prompting Ron's coughing fit. This was an unfortunate propensity of Hermione's.]
38% Cho Chang (R)
["Hm," said Ron, in an impressed, if hoarse voice after recovering from Hermione's assault. "Not bad, Harry. I mean, to know that you-you almost-before this..." He gestured extremely vaguely between Harry and Draco and looked back at The Hogwarts Howler, soundly flushed.]
14% Katie Bell (G)
["Mmnngh, she's all right, I guess," said Ron, looking aside to consult Harry, who nodded in modest agreement, followed by Dean. Harry thought Draco didn't react because he didn't know what Katie Bell looked like, and Seamus – well, Harry couldn't think up of any other reason for his lack of reaction other than that Seamus was so positively, thoroughly, certifiably gay that if Aishwarya Rai walked past him he wouldn't bat an eyelid.]
04% Ginny Weasley (G)
[Upon seeing this name, Ron recoiled with a slight frown, just as Dean found yet another loose thread on his school robe.
"Hm," said Hermione, looking between Ginny's name and Ron's frowning face with vicious triumph. "Ginny made the cut. I wonder just who voted for-"
"Perverted tossers, that's who they are," said Ron quietly, making a dismissive noise and moving onto the next section. He still looked a little dazed and violated.]
Fashion Feats & Fashion Flops
Giselle Preston (R) – Her diamond earrings and bangles – beautiful, darling – not too loud at all. Where did you buy them?
Cho Chang (R) – Her natural beauty. We salute you for wearing your natural self and not resorting to any make up like some people we know! Go, Cho! Is it a traditional thing, btw?
Beverly Rodman (H) – Bringing back the Wrigley's Wand Wrapper/Struben & Stylus' Stick Strapper – A cute fashion flashback! I love the one you wrapped around your wand! I'm thinking of getting the same one for mine! It's sad the store near my home is so far away, though.
["What's this now?" asked Harry.
"A Stylus Strapper?" said Draco. "It's – er – sort of like a sticky wrapper you wrap around your wand. Comes in many different colours and many designs and patterns – teddy bears, flowers, Quidditch team names, Snitches, brooms, and so on, for personal expression. And," continued Draco after a pause, and a certain amount of satisfaction entered his voice, "they don't sell these in the shops in Hogsmeade, otherwise the first-years would have flocked for them, no doubt."
"So they're like tattoo stickers you stick around your whole wand?" asked Harry, forgetting himself.
Draco blinked twice as he stared at Harry and then looked away as though the question wasn't worthy of any of his efforts, be it consideration or even derision, though he subsequently snorted derisively under his breath, "Making something that's supposed to be permanent impermanent. It could only be them." This confirmed Harry's thought that Draco suspected that tattoo stickers were Muggle-made, and he was quite right.]
Ginny Weasley (G) – She's got that fiery flaming hair thing going on like no-one's Howler! You're hot stuff, girl! Keep working it!
Draco Malfoy (S) – Hair – there're no words for it! The shine, the length, that almost silver-ish glow of it! It's speech-taking! Silk silver shirt, watch, and tie clasp – brings out his silver eyes; dragon-hide boots and book bag – which girl doesn't like a bloke who has some mula?
Harry Potter (G) – Patented the whole just-woke-up/just-got-shagged hair look, together with that awkward-ish gait of his – I personally find him adorable, there's no other word for it too!
["Gait?" said Harry. "Do I walk funny or something?" he asked his fellow readers, who promptly broke into a fever of movement, which suggested they were not keen to answer his question.
"There's the Fashion Flops as well," proposed Hermione, overtly pointing to this while her other hand scratched the back of her wild hair."
"Hm, that's probably more interesting," agreed Ron promptly, sliding the tabloid upwards.
"Draco, do I walk funny?" Harry asked, rounding on Draco. In one hand, he couldn't believe he was asking this question to Draco because naturally he wanted to look good in front of his boyfriend, but on the other hand, he relished this opportunity to find out what Draco thought about him, even physique-wise.
"Don't worry, it's nothing serious – it's actually – what did they call it? – adorable."
"I don't want it to be adorable," said Harry, sounding offended that the way he walked was described as adorable. "But how do I...? Is it awkward, or weird, or funny or what...?" He also turned to Seamus for an answer, but Seamus was staring resolutely at The Hogwarts Howler, unwilling to commit himself.
"No," answered Draco, smiling tremulously, "It's nothing to worry about, honest. You don't walk funny at all."
"Then it wouldn't be in a paper circulating the whole of bloody Hogwarts if I didn't," said Harry sharply, as he tapped the tabloid a little testily.
Ron said, "Seamus walks with a limp on every other day, Harry, you should take comfort from that. Let's move on now."
Seamus punched Ron in the shoulder, to the accompaniment of Ron's surprised expression rather than any sounds of pain.]
Daphne Greengrass (S) – We quite agree with Pansy Parkinson on this one – please lose the heavy eyeliner – you look like an albino Chinese! No offence, Cho!
Hermione Granger (G) (sorry to do this to you, but the truth must prevail) – You have to do something about that hair. You should see yourself after Potions. Just saying it like it is.
Ernie Macmillian (H) – Rather dye your hair brunet or black, ʼcause blond ain't working out for you, mate.
Maria Edgecombe (H), Fatima Swinehouse (G) – LOSE WEIGHT! ASK SLUGHORN TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING, BUT DO SOMETHING, FOR MERLIN'S SAKE!
Justin Finch-Fletchley (H) – Lose the silver Bob Marley belt buckle.
Harry Potter (G) – So many girlfriends of mine have told me this, I can't even count them. They think you should seriously think about throwing away those 'windscreens' of yours and try other things. I happen to agree, darling...
["Well, we don't have to worry about that anymore, now do we?" said Harry wryly, referring to the fact that he couldn't wear his 'windscreens' even if he wanted to, as they no longer existed.]
...And your wardrobe needs more than an overhaul. Please review it for both our sake and yours – our imagination can only take us so far fantasizing you in black tights and muscle huggers while you go around in what you currently do.
["Wow," said Ron a little vaguely. It couldn't have been clearer that he was referring to Harry's fantastical attire.
Harry cared as little for this comment as he did the previous one about his then glasses – he didn't care what others thought of him except for Draco and his friends.
Hermione turned to the back cover with a sniff. "Because how a person looks is so important in the bigger scheme of things."]
Current Competitive Standings
Gryffindor – 150
Hufflepuff – 175
Ravenclaw – 235
Slytherin – 80
Gryffindor – N/A
Hufflepuff – N/A
Ravenclaw – N/A
Slytherin – N/A
Quidditch season commences 7th October.
[An odd ripple ran along the boys.]
4 October – Hogsmeade Trip
[Perhaps except for Draco, this time the ripple ran along all of them; it might have been rue.]
12 October – Funeral of the late Professor Dumbledore
[Harry's heart skipped a beat. It was final.]
31 October – Halloween
5 November – Guy Fawkes
["Wait, what's that?" asked Ron.
"Bonfire Night," answered Hermione.
"And that's supposed to clear it up?" asked Ron, who clearly wasn't the wiser.
"Yes, what exactly is 'Bonfire Night', Granger?'" asked Draco briskly, in a light, patronizing tone that suggested he was holding back a piece of higher knowledge that they didn't.
"Well," said Hermione, her confidence suddenly plummeting visibly in the face of Draco's attention. "It's when people commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks, and by burning an effigy of Guywhere."
"Hm, quite wrong, Granger," said Draco, still in that patronizing tone. "Try again, unless you're speaking of rural-people Guy Fawkes, then I'll understand-" Harry missed Draco's eyes darting speedily to Ron and then to him. "-or perhaps even Muggle Guy Fawkes."
"Just tell us what it is then," said Hermione stiffly, who looked clearly shocked to be challenged like this apart from being beaten as well.
"I'm rather tired of having to explain these things," said Draco dismissively, which seemed to fill Hermione with hot steam. "You can probably find it in some of the books in the Reading Room."
"Well, we're not exactly dying of curiosity to know, are we now?" said Hermione in a dismissive tone, clearly attempting to avoid embarrassment, and she glared all around her for them to show that they were indeed uninterested, but when these words failed to make headway, she turned to Ron and demanded unreasonably, "Ron, tell us what is Wizarding Guy Fawkes."
"Er, I'm the one supposed to be asking that question, Hermione," said Ron.
Draco made a derisive, amused noise.]
29 January – The Bloodbaths of Bath & Bristol
["And this?" asked Seamus.
Hermione took a moment to answer, and Harry caught her eye dart to Draco and back. "Well," she started in a confident voice, nevertheless, "it was the week that the bloodiest massacre happened in all of Wizarding history."
Harry, Dean, and Seamus continued to look at her, waiting for her to carry on. This time it appeared Ron was the wiser.
"Happened in the 1960s not far from here. It was when the Dark Lord nearly wiped out about a quarter of Britain in less than a week," said Draco quietly. "Murdered witches and wizards in untold ways in untold numbers in Bath and Bristol. It was when he was at the height of his power."
Harry's, Ron's, and Hermione's eyes met. Harry remembered Ron telling him about Voldemort wiping out nearly a quarter of Britain. He had thought that had been an exaggeration somewhat made in the heat of their argument that Wednesday, but today he has just found out it was fact and even declared a Wizarding holiday.]
2 Feb – Hogsmeade Trip
25 March – Sun of Merlin
[A blip flared in Harry's mind. "Hang on. Sun of Merlin, Sun of Merlin... Oh yeah, you told me about it!" he said to Draco.
"The day of Merlin's death," said Draco, nodding at Harry in acknowledgement.]
1 April – April Fool's Day
["You know," said Harry, thinking prominently of Fred and George, "somehow I knew of all the Muggle holidays, they would have this one in this calendar."]
27 April – Hogsmeade Trip
26 June – O. W. L. and N. E. W. T. examinations. There are 32 weeks (225 days) left!
[Hermione gasped in disbelief.]
28 June – Hogwarts Senior Students Graduation Day
25 August – King Arthur's Day
["King Arthur's birthday," said Draco. "It was also the day when the Changing of the Guard took place: the drawbridge was lowered, the guards would parade forward and backward on it. The villagers living near the castle would always come and watch." Whatever hostility that had sprouted between them momentarily, Hermione was now enraptured by Draco. "And also, three older crocodiles in the moat would be released – called the King's Pardon – and one young one would be slaughtered to be eaten at the Grand Ball that would take place that same day."
"Where did you read that?" asked Hermione quietly, as though her voice were stolen.
"Reading Room, third shelf, er, I think L-section – there's a book called Medieval Moments of Magical Marvels: A Magical Calendar of the Marvellous Middle Ages – I think it's in there. Oh, and to the right there's also The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse: A New Version of an Old Story Arranged as a Play for Mummers, in One Act, Requiring No Theatre or Scenery. You won't find Guy Fawkes in that L-section, by the way – he was after the Middle Ages."
Although Hermione nodded calmly and looked back down at The Hogwarts Howler with reserve, Harry could almost feel her excitement to get her hands on that book.
"That's not a real book," said Ron, frowning at Draco, evidently challenging the existence of a book of such a ridiculously long name.
Draco neither responded nor reacted to this.]
18 September – St. Macbeth's Day
["Wait, let me guess," said Harry, as he raised his hand to stop any potentially forthcoming explanation. "This has to do with Shakespeare's character Macbeth?"
"How do you know Shakespeare?" asked Draco, with a deep frown as though the suggestion that Shakespeare's literature existed in the Muggle world were deeply offending.
"How do you know him?" asked Harry in amazement, looking to Hermione, who now also appeared lightning-struck by Draco.
"Shakespeare is a very famous wizard writer; he wrote many sonnets and stories and even collaborated with Beedle on a bit of children folklore."
"Well, Shakespeare's also very famous in the Muggle world," said Harry, at which point Draco's frown deepened.
"But that's impossible, Potter!"
"Er, hello, The Hogwarts Howler here please," said Ron. "Or can I skip to the Shout Box, then?"
"No, don't," said Hermione distractedly, blinking rapidly as she looked back to the paper. Practically everyone could hear her brain working furiously.]
19 September – St. Hedwig's Day
["Oi, Hedwig has a day named after her," laughed Ron, while Harry smiled ruefully. It was probably the name of the person after which Harry had named Hedwig in one of his first-year books.]
The annual Sexiest School Sprigs list for this year has been published! Hogwarts sits pretty at #4 with – of course, who else could it be? – Draco Malfoy! Cutest bloke on the planet! But he's practically number two – those Veelas shouldn't count at all! Ladies, go get your copy NOW! Some of those blokes in there look absolutely edible!
[Harry caught Seamus' eyes darting to Draco, while Ron caught Hermione's. The faint, rosy colour of Seamus' cheeks now turned a solid red, as did Hermione's. Harry and Ron exchanged glances but quickly looked away. After a moment of staring pointlessly at the hazy tabloid, Harry then looked to Draco, and pride suddenly burst from within him, not to mention the arousal. And he's mine. Harry quickly looked away from him, his penis and his brain in a furious competition for blood.]
Nimbus GK2 Concept Broom will be showcased at Quasimodo's Quidditch Centre from the 11th to the 25th October. Sorry, boys! Maybe it will come down to Quality Quidditch Supplies after two years or so...
["Yeah, what's new?" snarled Ron, his face glowing red with apparent fury, and he let rip the most violent, bi-syllabic cluck of his tongue that Harry had ever heard from him and that would have prompted double takes from even African adults, who were the highest experts in doing this and who could do three-part clucks with relative ease. Draco seemed amused by this, while Harry's ears reared.
"A concept broom?" Harry asked in hinged amazement, very interested indeed. It was quite refreshing to be this interested in something light-hearted and to lose focus, even if temporarily, from the things he felt he had to accomplish that, with indecent simplicity, meant life and death.
"Like a concept car?" asked Dean swiftly, also wearing a similar expression of hinged wonderment.
"Mates, please don't right now," begged Ron, as he prohibitively raised a hand and as he closed his eyes as though he were deeply distressed. He then said in a low voice, "Happens every bloody time..."
"What do these brooms look like?" asked Seamus in one breath, frowning at Ron's peculiar reaction with awe, possibly imagining, as Harry surely was, how magnificent this Nimbus GK2 Concept Broom could look if it could have Ron of all people acting so emotionally.
Ron massaged the spot between his eyes with his raised hand as he shook his head, apparently refusing to answer any questions. "One day, I keep telling myself... one day..."
At this, Draco twitched his eyebrow roof-wards in derisive exasperation as he looked aside.]
Shout Your Say!
Ignoraymus Simpleton (G) – "The ppl [who] wrote this thing didn't say how that butter-lip chic and that short camera-crazy tyke die... how did they die? And [what's this] DA thing?"
Marilyn Merry (H) – "Hello to all you Hogwarts Howlies! I just wanted to say how great this is that we students are finally getting what we want – our own platform to express ourselves! Many hugs and thanks to the late Parvati Patil for dreaming up The Hogwarts Howler! Oh and not forgetting Lavender Brown and the late Colin Creevey of course! I hope this publication will have a very satisfying impact on the students and that it will have a very long life! Lots of love to all and a special Shout out to all the Huffies in the House! Cedric, rest in please, handsome."
Pansy Parkinson (S) – "Daphne, please lose the eyeliner and grow your natural eyebrows back. I don't know who you're trying to fool."
Daphne Greengrass (S) – "Pansy, you should be the last person to be Shouting! You just got dumped by a poof! Hellooooo? I would've thought you would've had enough sense to make yourself scarce and hide that puggy face of yours! What-bloody-ever Draco saw in you, I don't know! Then again, we all know how you made him go to the Yule Ball with you!"
Robby Longhead (R) [The Wizard Chess Club] – "We are looking for new members for The Wizard Chess Club, as we are only four in number. If you want to join, please find your way to the fourteenth class on the right side of the hallway from the left on the fourth floor. Thank you in advance!"
Anonymous (?) – "Can the students of Hogwarts please deal with Bode and Malinga? Since they have recently found out that I have been secretly seeing another boy, they won't get off my back – no pun intended. Please, please help. Contemplating suicide."
[Hermione gasped before she made a furious noise. "This is ridiculous!" she said angrily, tearing shining in her eyes already, rather impressing Harry, who, together with the other boys, was reacting in sympathetic and discomforted ways. "Wanting to kill yourself just because you love someone the world says you shouldn't!" Hermione sniffed. "It's downright ridiculous!" Ron rubbed her back. "If—when we go back to Hogwarts, oh, these..." She glared down through her tears at The Hogwarts Howler to find the relevant names. "...Bode and Malinga – stupid names, they won't know what hit them! There must be a spell to make someone think they're gay for a day or something – ooh, that'll be the perfect just desserts for them." She sniffed in conclusion, lips resolutely pressed so thinly upon each other that they had disappeared altogether.
Harry, while feeling slightly sorry for Bode and Malinga, for Hermione was on a warpath leading straight to them, scratched himself in various places, quite unsettled. It was a horrible thing to read. Another layer of naivety wore away as he learnt vaguely of the extent to which someone could be driven by harassment just for being different. Harry didn't think he could ever grasp the world and its ways; just when he thought he had finally managed to wrap his mind around it, a far bigger horror sprung into being.]
Jody Sprice (G) – "GO, GO, GRYFFINDOR, FOR THE QUIDDITCH CUP! GOOD LUCK FOR NEXTWEEK TUESDAY VS RAVENCLAW!"
Colin Davies (G) – "Selling stuff: Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Gll3, Sk10, Kt5 each – they are all in great shape – not a single doggy flap; Loma Nisus' Self-Replenishing Colour Quill Set – Gll3, Sk11 – it's only the purple-ink quill that spits – it's rather feisty, otherwise all the others are still in good nick; The Quidditching Times – Sk2, Kt20 – it might be seriously outdated but if you'd like to think of yourself as a bona fide Quidditch fan, you'll want to have one of these – be a fan, not just a supporter. I also got some special collector's edition Snitch discs of the Hollyhead Harpies and Tobago Tornados; Comet 62 broomstick – Gll12 – all it needs is just a few tweaks with a broom kit and it will be almost as good as new. Thanks."
Quinton Soiler (S) – "This place is going to the dogs... [Expurgated] popping up everywhere... [Expurgated] Potter and that Draco of his... Hogwarts is dead..."
Yolanda Sparks (G) [Gobstones Club] – "Hello, Hogwarts. We're also looking for new members for our Gobstones club. Meetings on Saturdays and Sundays two o'clock in seventh class on the left side from the left on the fourth floor. Thanks."
Bilius O'Reily (R) – "Are you Hogwartans taking this Howler thing seriously? A school-wide tabloid newspaper designed to derail our attention from the all-important academics and rather fill our mind with frivolous tripe? I thought Hogwarts was better than that, but clearly I was wrong."
Kathleen Spinster (H) – "Hey, the beautiful people of hoggie Hogwarts! I just wanted to see my name in print and say Hufflepuff is hip!"
Stanley Rickman (G) – "Hi. I'm in year three and I'm looking for a tutor for Ancient Runes and Transfiguration – both are pains in the [expurgated] at the mo'. Willing to pay up to Gll3/hour. Thanks."
Anonymous (?) – "Someone should seriously tell McGonagall to stick her glasses up her [expurgated] and jump off the Astronomy Tower! Three bloody essays in one week?"
Anonymous (?) – "Hey, everyone! I and few friends and acquaintances of mine are thinking of starting a club for homosexual students. It can be something we can draw comfort, counselling, and support from. If we get enough people to join, we will make it official and name the social club after our heroes Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy as Drarry's Homosexuals Anonymous, or DHA for short. Of course we cannot reveal where we might hold the preliminary meeting or tell you the time, so we have proposed a means of making you aware of ourselves. If you would like join, then please be very attentive wherever you tread, you might catch our eye! Or maybe that should be, we will catch your eye!"
"They're naming gay social clubs after us?" asked Draco, in a tone of great indignation and astonishment.
"Apparently," said Hermione, her lips twitching.
Harry noted that The Hogwarts Howler entirely ignored the war issue. It was good, he thought. At least one thing remained untainted.
"Are you finished?" asked Seamus, "I would like to read Harry & Draco again."
Harry and Draco blushed.
Incidentally, Harry remembered the words in the very article to which Seamus was referring: "...Doing that staring thing at Draco like he always does."
"Do I—Do I stare at you a lot?" he subsequently asked Draco, fumbling slightly with his fingers, uncertain about himself.
Seamus went still as Draco turned to Harry.
Ron turned to them, as did Hermione and Dean while they pretended to be busy doing something.
"Er, not too much," said Draco, as his lips trembled.
Harry, unconvinced, looked around tentatively to the others, who promptly returned to The Hogwarts Howler even though they had all finished reading it at the same time.
Draco then came close and whispered in Harry's ear, "You can hardly be blamed, and besides, I like it when you do it."
Harry didn't meet Draco's eyes for several minutes to follow. He strongly wished he had enough courage to perform hara-kiri.
Hermione stood up in a whirl of girly scent and frizzy hair. "I will be in the Reading Room," she announced, before sweeping off, her hair disappearing behind a corner, leaving a disgruntled Ron behind.
"I wanna see it," said Harry, as he stood, and Draco followed suit.
"Me too," said Seamus, beside whom Dean stood up, wearing a grumpy expression, which was mirrored by Ron, who perhaps saw that if he didn't go as well he would be alone in the living room and who thus stood up and brought the rear of the convoy towards the library.
They entered past the threshold above which hung the words, Libraria de Malfoy.
It was a library the size of which nearly rivalled that of the Hogwarts library, or at least its front section.
Harry couldn't help feeling a sense of awed belittlement akin to that which he felt when he passed into Diagon Alley for the first time – that immeasurable feeling of amazement and feeling small in comparison to the establishments erected long before he was born, driven by an army of personnel. It was a feeling he felt when he experienced something big and new.
Harry wasn't too surprised that something bigger could be contained in something smaller than its size in the magical world, as he remembered the tent they had set up for the Quidditch World Cup.
Harry stood hand in hand with Draco in the middle of the circular library with his mouth slightly agape.
There were six sections, each denoted by the six letters in Malfoy. The northern section had books arranged such that together they formed by their spines a very large, golden 'M', the height of which was easily more than twice that of Harry. This was the case as well for section A, L, F, O, and Y. It was decidedly impressive.
Hermione, looking quite at home, was rifling through a green-leather book in the O-section, her eyes whizzing left and right, hair vibrating left and right. "Malfoy! Draco! You said that medieval book was in the L-section, yeah?"
Hermione nearly tripped as she practically ran to the L-section, reaching it with an almost orgiastic huff, looking for Medieval Moments of Magical Marvels: A Magical Calendar of the Marvellous Middle Ages.
Meanwhile, Harry had gone over to the M-section, passing his hand over the spines.
Their childhoods were so different...
He picked out a book at random, turned it over, and looked at the unclear title that might have been The Dominance of the Dark Arts: A Prelude. Harry squinted, a sharp pang kicking at his chest. He almost wanted to cry. He looked around and put it down, thinking that Hermione wouldn't be too impressed with that particular book.
"But how do you...?" said Hermione, hopping for a book a little out of her reach from above. "How do you get to the ones at the top?"
This was a valid question, Harry thought, as he peered up the library, seeing how far the books stretched to the dome ceiling.
But before Draco could answer, something whipped into sight, there was a shrill scream of fright, and the next thing Harry saw was Hermione hanging on for dear life on a flat flying object that was perhaps supposed to lift her up towards the higher parts of the library.
"Well, there you go," finished Draco, under his breath.
"Are there Quidditch books in here?" asked Seamus, in a tone that bore little hope and over Hermione's grunts of effort as she tried to heave herself onto the flat flying object while she whizzed around the library above them, legs dangling. Ron clapped Dean on the head when he found his eyes fixed somewhere above them.
Draco wordlessly pointed at the F-section as he perused a book he was holding at the Y-section at the other end of the domed room. "It's wand-activated, Granger."
When Ron, Dean, and Seamus immediately scuttled over there, Harry cursed under his breath as he left the M-section for the F-section, angry with himself and feeling as though he had wasted valuable time.
"I warn you, though," said Draco, as he shot a glance at them, "it might get a little too technical and take the fun out of it. You see, it's rather more academic in here."
These words were proven true in a matter of seconds.
"So there aren't any books in here like QC?" asked Dean, pushing a book back on the shelf and frowning around the library as though it were offending him by its mere existence.
"It's Quidditch of the Connoisseur, Thomas, and no, you order special books like those."
Thereafter, there was a considerably less male presence in the Malfoy Library.
After Draco left the library – the last boy to do so – leaving Hermione to whizz through the books on her own and to fly from section to section on that flat flying 'hoover', as Draco had called it, much to Harry's amusement, he met with Harry and the others as they toured the house and tentatively – or at least for Harry – explored the garden, which Harry didn't really want to properly explore as yet – he thought it would spoil it for when he would get back his vision, for which he was still hoping, because he thought it impossible for him to live half-blind for the rest of his life. Draco lured him away from the others by taking him around the villa, through the vines, and they now approached the cliff close to where they had appeared with the Portkey a while ago.
"Do you like it?"
"It's brilliant," answered Harry with a slightly sad smile.
Draco's eyes held Harry's face for a while. He then looked ahead, his lips stretched, he looked back at Harry, and then said, "We'll get your sight back, Harry, I promise. We'll go to Winox Lane. We'll go to Shepstones' Special Services and get you new glasses or something."
"What's all this?" Harry asked, with the faintest ounce of fear and hence defensive disdain in his voice.
"Winox Lane, I guess it's the high-class version of Diagon Alley. There's a shop there called Shepstones' Special Services. Those witches are bloody brilliant – they'll make anything you request, hence the slogan, 'Your Reliable Source of Request-Based Services'. Not to mention they're easy on the eye also. Twins – double whammy, eh? Mother never liked the shop for some reason."
When Harry didn't respond but rather continued to watch the birds hopping and taking off on the rocks near the cliff face, Draco looked at them and said, "Jaegers – easy on the eye too but vicious. Nearly lost one of mine when I got too close when I was younger. Well, I couldn't blame it – I was trying to play with its chick, and mother hen just came out of nowhere and nearly gouged my eye out!"
Harry imagined a young Draco running away in fright, his white-blond hair shining golden in the dusky sunset which he could easily envisage as he now stared at the horizon, to where the midday sun was due.
"For Merlin's sake, say something, will you?"
"What do you want me to say?"
Draco promptly opened his mouth to answer this, but he apparently thought better of it, as he closed it and glared mildly at Harry. "What are you thinking?"
For some reason Draco hesitated. "Yeah," he said, nonetheless.
Harry squinted into the distant horizon, his arms now folded. "I just want all of this over with, okay? I just want to be free – truly free – and that can't happen until there don't exist a thing called Voldemort anymore." Draco shuddered at the name, at which point Harry turned to him. "Until that doesn't happen anymore."
"You're thinking too far into the future, Harry. Just shove that away for now. Let's stick it in for a while and then we can start... trying to kill... him." There was a discernible and abject absence of hope in his tone, the very precise thing Harry was talking about, that which he yearned to get rid of.
"But that's the thing, I can't wait to just have a holiday and then decide I want to start working. This is a matter of life and death, in case you didn't know – thousands of lives. Bloodbaths of Bath and Bristol? What makes you so sure history won't repeat itself?"
"I'm just saying you don't have to deal with everything at once and in one day. Take things one step at a time, is all. Bloody hell, Potter, you don't have to do things once and for all and all alone."
"Who said I was trying to?"
"I won't answer that for you," said Draco tartly, very much irking Harry.
They stood there for several more minutes to follow before they returned to the villa. It was quite a walk. Perhaps this fact was more apparent since it wasn't a morning sun anymore but rather the sun was shining directly over their heads in the scorching afternoon.
Although the villa and surrounding areas were very beautiful, Harry couldn't find a time when he yearned for a television set as strongly as he did now, and only then did the full picture of what he had done hit him. He had a whole year free, stretched out openly in front of him. It was bereft of a complexion – he didn't know what would follow except for what he had planned, but anything could happen. It was perhaps too much freedom, too much time, yet on the other hand the time seemed too little, at times, and the freedom non-existent, considering the bigger picture.
As the afternoon waned, Harry found himself returning to the door at which, when open, he could treat his eyes to the splendour of the villa's garden. It was something to be said for the garden to look so magnificent even if it looked hazy and unclear to Harry, who, now that he knew there was a possible answer out there – precisely at Shepstones' Special Services – couldn't wait to see it properly.
Hermione spent most of her time in the library, while her eyes grew more bloodshot and her hair even frizzier.
In the sitting room, Ron, Dean, and Seamus were looking over Quidditch of the Connoisseur for the thousandth time and over some of the new but more academic Quidditch-related books they found in the library, and they treated these with particular caution as though fearing the academics would rub off on them and turn them turn into Hermiones, which was the last thing the world needed – more than one, barely bearable Hermione.
Draco contented himself in reading that diary-like book with the brown leather cover which was apparently a legacy from his father, as well as, it was revealed later when they entered the master bedroom to call it a night, a thick brown tome which rested on the bedside drawer and the subject of which Draco was distinctly reluctant to discuss.
Although the two people who once slept in this room were deceased, particularly the male person, Harry couldn't help but feel intimidated, still; the room was mercilessly simple, with spartan silver finishes and minimum expletives. A massive antique escritoire stood adjacent to a huge dark-wood armoire facing the king-sized, pale-gold-quilted bed whose enormity seemed strangely uninviting and baleful rather than the contrary.
So with his hackles oddly half-raised, Harry proceeded into the room, bearing half a mind to walk straight out. He leaned his bulging rucksack against the bedside drawer, at which point, seeing this, Draco called tiredly from the other side of the large room, "Take your stuff out and pack, will you, please?"
Harry did as he was told, but only as much as it pacified Draco, who in the meantime changed into his black silk pyjamas. Minutes later, Harry was changing into his own admittedly less tasteful sleepwear.
"We have seriously got to get you some decent nightwear," remarked Draco, with his arms crossed, giving an appalled once-over at Harry as he lay there under the covers, tinkering with his wand. "Those slipshod woven pieces of fabric just won't do."
"At Winox Lane too, I presume?" said Harry, taking sudden and rather feeble and defensive pride in dressing himself.
"You stole the words right out of my mouth!" whispered Draco, with a bright smile.
"When are we going there?"
"Don't know... We'll have to see. I daresay that calendar's got some pretty important dates we'd like to keep track of."
Harry didn't speak, prominently thinking of the twelfth of October, and perhaps knowing this, Draco went quiet.
Harry buttoned up his Snitch nightshirt and slipped into the covers – a distinctly awkward thing to do as Draco watched him, but then Draco mercifully dispensed with his attention on him by slipping his wand under his pillow and that contraption which resembled a cross between a pocket watch, a very small radio, and a compass into the drawer. While he did this, Harry took this opportunity to quickly unclasp the silver watch on his hand and place it on the top of his own bedside drawer.
"What is that thing?" then asked Harry, looking at the object through Draco's solid drawer with a mixture of irritation and nostalgia as he lay next to Draco in the covers, which, he noted, felt refreshingly cool on his skin, which strangely added to that baleful and dispassionate feel of the room.
"That? It's a Chassio – got it for my sixth birthday, amongst other things."
"Yeah, calling it an alarm would have been too ordinary for Malfoys, I would have thought."
"And you're quite right, but no, it's not just an alarm, for your information."
Harry stared at him, waiting for Draco to elaborate, which he didn't, whereupon Harry pretended he didn't care, but wishing to oblige the silent expectation of courteous curiosity, he asked, "And what else does it do?"
"All in due course, Harry, all in due course."
Harry sincerely regretted trying to be anything positive towards Draco, courteously curious included.
Today hadn't been a particularly active day, yet Harry almost at once drifted off to dreamland as soon as his head hit his pillow.
"One hell of a day, it was today, wasn't it?" asked Harry sleepily, staring at Draco, who also had his head on his pillow, looking back at him.
He barely heard Draco's reply as he wonderfully floated away from the cold room with a whiff of faint, sweet vanilla essence, and the last thing he felt was Draco's soft fingers on his face.
1. The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse: A New Version of an Old Story Arranged as a Play for Mummers, in One Act, Requiring No Theatre or Scenery is in fact a real book written by a Muggle named Thomas Hardy in 1923.
2. The first set of lyrics is of the song Stronger, by Mary J. Blige from the album Stronger with each Tear.
3. The second set of lyrics is of the song Heartless, by Kanye West from the album Heartbreak.