A\N: Hey guys! Here's the doozy of an epilogue you were promised! I know that parts of this story now don't coincide with the sequel, but no worries, I am also starting a revamp of that! That being said, would anyone be interested in being my beta for the Confessions revamp? I actually also need a beta for Heartbeats (I will be finishing it! Promise!) :). PM me if you're interested!
P.S. You guys are seriously the best ever. Thank you for being so supportive of me redoing this story!
He said let's get out of this town
Drive out of the city
Away from the crowds
I thought heaven can't help me now
Nothing lasts forever
But this is gonna take me down
He's so tall, and handsome as hell
He's so bad but he does it so well
I can see the end as it begins, my one condition is
Say you'll remember me
Standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe
Red lips and rosy cheeks
Say you'll see me again even if it's just in your wildest dreams
The first day back at Hogwarts in over a year had finally arrived. Harry felt that he should have been overwhelmingly excited, but instead found himself feeling incontrovertibly nauseous. Stepping into the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione at his side was like stepping into a dream. It looked the same as it had the first day he'd set foot inside Hogwarts, as if dark curses had never shattered the walls—as if the blood of his friends had never stained the floors. Tall, creamy candles hung suspended in the bright morning canopy, illuminating the four tables that lay below. The house banners that had once hung over each table were notably absent, as were the house point hourglasses along the far wall. Harry glanced at Hermione, the question in his eyes blatant.
"McGonagall decided to disband the sorting this year," Hermione explained. "Everyone's going to be randomly divided up between the houses instead—to discourage the stereotypes that have been fostered over the years."
Harry's brows shot up. "You're joking."
"You shouldn't sound so disdainful, Harry," Hermione chastised him, her eyes bright with feeling. "It's really a rather brilliant idea. It will teach everyone here the importance of social diversity."
While Hermione probably had a very valid point, Harry didn't like the idea of not being sorted into a house. He was proud of being a Gryffindor, just like he was sure other students were proud of being Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs and—Harry's eyes darted to the far left table—Slytherins…
Malfoy was seated between Pansy and Goyle at the head of the Slytherin table, discussing something in low, hushed tones. Suddenly Malfoy's eyes snapped up, and Harry felt his breath hitch as their gazes met. The world around them seemed to go very still, and Harry felt his blood growing warmer with each millisecond that passed. He felt suspended between fractures of reality—caught between the heavy weight in his limbs and the effervescent tingling in his brain that kept him from looking away. Finally, Malfoy's gaze dropped and Harry felt a shudder rip through him as the spell dropped.
"Harry?" Ron questioned, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. "You alright?"
Harry shook himself and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Let's sit." He made for the Ravenclaw table, which happened to sit right next to the Slytherin table. Hermione beamed at him, probably because she thought he was making some grandiose political statement about house factions, when in reality he just really didn't want to sit anywhere he wouldn't be able to keep a good eye on Malfoy. Why McGonagall had invited any of the Slytherins back for these seminars was beyond him.
As the three took their seats, Harry's eyes moved to the head table, where most of the staff was currently seated. It was a little odd to see McGonagall sitting in Dumbledore's spot, but she was smiling warmly and looked as proud as he'd ever seen her. He wished that he could remember setting this all up with her—Ron had told him that he'd done quite a bit of work pulling everything together. It would have been nice to share in the accomplishment.
Hermione set the stack of books she'd been carrying down on the table with a loud thump, her eyes fixed on the head table as well. "I'm going to go talk to McGonagall for a minute. I'll be right back." Without waiting for a reply, she scurried off.
Harry stared after her, before his gaze was pulled back to the Slytherin table by a loud, high-pitched giggle. He turned his head to see Pansy, red-faced and laughing, her hand perched on Malfoy's shoulder. Something about it made Harry's blood curdle.
"What are you looking at—oh," Ron leaned in front of him, effectively blocking Harry's view. "You do realize that you look a bit murderous right now, right?"
"I don't get why they're here."
"Well, I've heard that even Slytherins have to take the NEWTs."
Harry's temper simmered. "Not if they're going to Azkaban."
Shifting in his seat, Ron smiled awkwardly. He seemed almost pained by something. "The war is over now, Harry. You shouldn't be so harsh on them."
Harry gawked at him.
"What?" Ron asked incredulously.
"I'm sorry—I must be hallucinating—did you just say that I shouldn't be too harsh on them?"
Ron just stared at him for a long moment, his blue eyes wide. "Erm…I think so. Why?"
"Go sit down Miss Granger!" McGonagall's sharp voice carried across the hall.
Harry and Ron turned, seeing the Headmistress up out of her seat, towering over a red-faced Hermione. The soft hum of chatter in the room died like a puff of wind blowing out a candle, and the harsh clarity of silence fell over the tables. Hermione seemed to waver in it, her hands clenching her skirt so tightly her knuckles had gone white.
"Sorry, Professor," she said timidly before turning to walk back down the aisle, her eyes glued to the floor.
McGonagall's gaze flashed over Harry before falling on the Slytherin table. "Mr. Malfoy," she snapped, "see me in my office after breakfast."
Harry looked back over at Malfoy, and was surprised to see him looking at Hermione, his face tight with a barely contained fury. "Yes, Professor."
McGonagall took her seat once more, and with a wave of her wand, breakfast appeared on the tables. Hermione plopped down next to Ron, her hair sticking out like a lion's mane. She looked positively mortified. Ron rubbed her arm sympathetically.
"Hermione?" Harry questioned. "Everything alright?"
Hermione nodded absently, her eyes fixed on her empty plate.
"What were you talking to her about that got her so upset?"
"I—" Hermione shook her head, and with an abrupt jerk of her chin the distress on her face hardened into a cool shell. She began piling food onto her plate as well as Ron's, decisively ignoring Harry's stare. "It's nothing. I was just informing her of a flaw in their scheduling system. Three hour-and-a-half long classes twice a week is not going to amount to nearly the quantity of hours we'll need to do well on our NEWTs. Obviously, she disagreed."
Harry could tell she was lying. He'd known her long enough to be able to see the signs without even looking for them. A question rolled to the tip of his tongue, but he bit it back just before it escaped. If Hermione didn't want to tell him why McGonagall was upset then there was nothing he could say to change her mind about it. He just wished he understood why she felt like she needed to lie to him in the first place.
Beyond Hermione's odd mood, breakfast continued with little to mark it. More and more students began filing in, all looking excited and surprisingly chipper. Though, Harry supposed, the summer had been longer for all of them than it had been for him. They'd all had time to heal. For him…the war had only ended a couple of weeks ago.
Once the meal was nearly done, McGonagall stood and made her way to the podium. Silence fell over the room as she raised her hands, drawing their gazes like a moth to a flame. She smiled broadly. "Welcome, students. You cannot begin to fathom how wonderful it is to see so many familiar faces filling this hall once more." McGonagall gazed around at them, warmth lighting her features. "We have all been through a great deal over the course of this past year, but it speaks to each and every one of your characters that you are here today. Together we are strong, and together we have overcome. I am happy to announce that we have several wonderful instructors volunteering their time to prepare you for your NEWTs, thanks in large part to Mr. Potter and—" Hermione straightened in her seat, and Harry saw McGonagall purse her lips. The headmistress cleared her throat. "Excuse me. As well as many others. I know you will show them the same respect as you have shown all the other Professors here at Hogwarts. Also, I'm sure many of you have also noticed that Hogwarts is no longer sorting their students into houses. I hope you all will respect this change, and be an example to all the new students about how we can embrace each other's differences. I know you all will make me proud. Best of luck, and I look forward to a wonderful year."
Advanced Potions was the last class of Harry's Saturday schedule, and inarguably, the most frustrating. He had been partnered with Terry Boot for the entire year. The kid was nice and all, but he smiled way too much, and his hands kept shaking as he tried to crack cicada shells. To make matters worse, their table was situated right next to Malfoy's and Padma's.
Padma had been giggling nearly the entire class.
After Terry had fumbled his tenth cicada shell, and Padma had giggled twice as many times, Harry felt his temper snap.
"Keep it down over there will you?" he hissed. A small thrill ran through him when he saw Malfoy go stiff. The line of his shoulders straightened, and the tips of his ears grew pink.
But to Harry's surprise Malfoy didn't turn to face him. He didn't even acknowledge the fact that Harry had spoken. But for the entire remainder of the class, he didn't hear another peep out of Padma.
"Hey, Harry," Ginny said as she took a seat next to Harry, fully decked out in her Quidditch gear. Her smile was bright and a gentle light filled her eyes as she looked at him. "Are you going to go out for a Quidditch team this year?"
Taking a large bite of pancakes, Harry shrugged. "I haven't really decided."
"Oh." Harry could't help but notice that Ginny looked vaguely disappointed. "Well…tryouts are today…if you didn't already know."
Harry swallowed his food and set his fork down on the table. "Yeah I know. Madam Hooch made an announcement last week."
Ginny nodded, her smile faltering. "Right."
Hermione, who had been watching the conversation between them like a hawk, nudged Ron with her elbow. He started, a bit of pumpkin juice dripping down his chin. "Oh come on, Harry. Ron's trying out, aren't you Ron?"
Ron looked at his girlfriend, to Harry, and back again, his blue eyes wide. "Er…yes. I am definitely…doing that."
"Oh yeah?" Harry cocked his head. "Which team are you going out for?"
Ron's face went abruptly white.
"The Griffons," Hermione answered. "That's the one you were talking about, wasn't it, Ron?"
Nodding vigorously, Ron replied with a steady, "Yes. The Griffons. Right. Blanked out there for a sec. Thanks, Hermione."
"I'm hoping for the Kelpies I think," Ginny said, her enthusiasm flickering to life once more. "Rumor has it that Madam Hooch is going to make them an all girls team."
"Come on, Harry," Hermione urged. "You haven't gotten to play in ages. It will be fun."
Part of what had made Quidditch fun was that he'd gotten to play with his fellow Gryffindors. Now that the teams were all mixed, he wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. "Who else is trying out?" Harry asked. He wanted to add 'from Slytherin' onto the question, but he managed to bite it down. He doubted Hermione would approve.
"Oh the usual folks." Eyes flicking up, Ginny poised her hand to start counting. "Carol Tethers, Marcus Simmons, Krickten Merryweather, S—"
"What people from our year?" Harry interrupted, his patience wearing thin. A strange sense of frustration was filling his chest, making it hard to breathe.
Ginny blinked at him, and Harry wondered if his tone had given something away. "Oh—um—well I suppose there's Ron, Dean, Demelza…um…Chambers, I think, Smith, Malfoy, Cadw—"
Ginny's mouth snapped shut. "Alright what?"
Harry took another bite of pancakes, smiling around his fork. He chewed and swallowed. "Alright I'll try out."
Tryouts had gone well. Spectacularly well actually. Flying had come back to Harry like a dream, and he'd been able to catch the snitch nearly double the amount of times as anyone else trying out. Surprisingly enough, Malfoy hadn't been among the pack trying out for seeker. Instead Harry had spotted him amongst the keepers with Ron.
Harry wasn't sure why, but for some reason the fact that Malfoy hadn't tried out for one of the seeker positions disappointed him. He'd grown so used to flying alongside Malfoy's taunts that the idea of playing Quidditch without them seemed out of place, like trying to force a puzzle piece that didn't fit.
Once tryouts were over, Madam Hooch gathered all the perspective players to announce the new teams.
Ginny made first string chaser for the Kelpies, just as she'd hoped.
Ron had been made the second string keeper of the Manticores.
"Harry Potter," the sound of Harry's name caused him to perk up. "First string seeker for the Dragons."
Ron, who was standing at his side, frowned. "Darn. We're not on the same team. Rotten luck."
Harry nodded. "Yeah."
"Draco Malfoy," Madam Hooch continued, and Harry felt his attention jerk like a fish catching on a hook. "First string keeper for the Dragons."
Unexpectedly, Harry's heart flew up into his throat. His eyes immediately found Malfoy's blonde head on the far side of the crowd, obviously ostracized from the general mass. Harry stared at him, watching several muscles in his jaw work, and he felt the overwhelming need for their eyes to meet.
"No thanks, Madam Hooch," Malfoy called back with a smirk. With an annoyingly graceful ease, he threw his broom over his shoulder. "I've changed my mind."
Madam Hooch's golden eyes blazed in the sunlight. "Mr. Malfoy? You're turning down a first string position?"
"That's the general idea. I'll just enjoy Quidditch from the stands this year. Great team names, though. I'll certainly have trouble figuring out who to root for this year."
Flashing a bright smile, Malfoy turned on his heel and began walking back towards the locker rooms.
It was a moment before Harry noticed that he wasn't the only one watching him go. Ron too, followed his movement off of the pitch, a peculiar grimace pulling at the edges of his mouth.
"What is it, Ron?"
"I—" Ron shook his head. "Nothing. It's nothing."
Harry looked back across the field, watching as Malfoy's figure became smaller and smaller. Then, as if by instinct, Harry found his legs moving, maneuvering him through the crowd and after Malfoy. It felt like barely a moment had passed before Harry was yelling after him.
Malfoy came to a stop so suddenly that he seemed to nearly trip over himself. When he turned back towards Harry, his face had gone ashen, his lips had drawn into a tight, thin line. He didn't say anything—he merely stared at Harry with piercing silver eyes.
Harry froze, something sharp shooting straight down his spine.
"What is it, Potter?" Malfoy asked, his voice markedly less acidic than Harry remembered it being.
"I—" Harry rubbed his dry tongue against the roof of his mouth, finding his temper tighten around his floundering words. "Why did you turn down the position?"
A tense silence filled the space between them. Malfoy's eyes narrowed as he shifted his weight. "It's none of your business."
The answer wasn't what Harry had expected. Normally, Malfoy took every opportunity he could to throw scathing remarks at Harry, yet here he was, brushing Harry aside like a pesky insect. The idea of it—being so easily ignored—had Harry's face burning. He wanted to draw Malfoy's sharp tongue out like poison from a wound, and then he wanted to cut it off. "You really couldn't stomach the idea of being on the same team as me, could you?" Harry seethed. "The idea really repulses you so much that you'd give up Quidditch?"
"Those are your words, Potter, not mine. Don't act like they came from my mouth."
"But that's why, isn't it?" Harry stepped forward, his fists balling at his sides. He wanted to reach out and grab Malfoy's robes and shake him. He wanted Malfoy to give him a reason to do it. The emotion he craved felt so close, like something placed just out of reach. If Malfoy would only allow him to reach forward and grasp it…
Malfoy's eyes snapped down to Harry's fists, and the smallest of frowns pulled at the corners of his mouth. "If you want me to be specific, then I will," Malfoy said, sounding almost tired. "You're right. I don't want to be on the same team as you."
Harry waited, practically quaking with the want to spring forward, but the snarling insult didn't come. The daggers poised on the end of Malfoy's tongue fell flat, leaving the air between them stagnant and unbreathable.
"Now, if your curiosity is sated," Malfoy turned on his heel, "I have a date to get ready for."
Harry watched him go, silently wondering why it felt like his heart had just cracked in half.
Going home after a day of classes still felt odd. Even after two months had passed, Harry still wasn't used to it, and he certainly didn't like it. There was a certain oppressive emptiness in entering a vacant house after being surrounded by people all day long. The silence seemed to fill his ears, and press into the hollow black space inside his skull. It wasn't quite loneliness that he felt, but it was certainly something akin to it.
Sighing, Harry swirled his glass of Firewhiskey as he stared into the bright, full flames in the drawing room hearth. Curled up in Sirius' old chair, Harry shivered, a deep cold rattling in his bones that no fire has been able to breach. It was odd, and chokingly unsettling that this feeling had clung to him for so long. There was something lecherous about it, claiming every inch of his body with an insatiable hunger.
All he knew was that something fundamental was missing, as if he was a machine and one of his gears has been removed. The fall that had taken his memories had taken something else from him as well. Nothing moved anymore. Every day felt so still and overbearingly void of whatever vibrance had once filled him. And it was always quiet…so damn quiet that he felt as if it would drive him mad.
At first he thought it was the anger that he missed, but it wasn't that. He was angry now. More angry than he remembered ever being in his entire life.
No…it was the war that he missed. It was the fight.
Why was there nothing left to fight?
Maybe he could ask McGonagall if he could stay in the castle over the weekends. Maybe that would make things better…
Terry Boot was an annoying prat.
This wasn't a fact that was new to Harry's brain, however, the thought was never as overpowering as it was right now. Harry stared across the library at Terry and Malfoy, who were both so preoccupied with talking to each other that neither of them had turned a page in their textbooks in the last ten minutes.
Terry Boot with his stupid black curls, and his stupid bright blue eyes, and his stupid straight teeth. Harry wanted to punch him in the mouth and wipe that grin off of his face. He glanced over at Hermione, wondering why she hadn't shushed them yet. Of all the times to tolerate rule breaking…
Seeming to feel his eyes on her, Hermione peeked up at him from her book. "What?"
"Since when are Malfoy and Boot so cozy?"
Hermione's brows knitted, a deep grove growing between them. She glanced across the library to where Malfoy and Terry were seated, her lips working with a thought. "I don't believe they've ever exactly been enemies. Didn't they date for a while fifth year?"
Like a knee-jerk reaction, Harry's stomach flipped. "Date?"
Hermione gave him an odd look. "I'm pretty sure they did."
"How do you know?"
"He told me during one of the DA meetings," Hermione replied, her voice even and clinical.
"I…" Harry's eyes returned to Malfoy, and his heart beat just a little bit faster. "I didn't know that Malfoy was gay."
"He's actually bi I think—or at least he's dated girls before. Terry is definitely gay though. I've caught him ogling Dean Thomas' backside more than once."
Harry remembered Malfoy mentioning getting ready for a date a couple of months ago on the Quidditch pitch, and like tumblers falling, the realization clicked. "So then…do you think they're…er…?"
Silence stretched between them for a long time, and when Harry finally glanced over at Hermione to see if she had heard him, he was surprised to her staring back at him intently. Her brown eyes scanned his face, dissecting his expression. "Why do you care?"
"I don't," Harry defended, a bit too quickly.
"Then why did you ask?"
"I—" Harry floundered, grasping for words that felt like the truth. Somehow, none of them did. "I was just curious. It's just…he's been weird, you know?"
Hermione's only response was to stare at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted a third ear on his forehead.
"What?" Harry couldn't help but fidget under the microscope of her gaze. "You can't tell me you haven't noticed."
"Can't say that I knew that there was something I should be noticing in the first place."
"Hermione," He stressed the vowels of her name, "he hasn't said anything nasty to me all year! He hasn't tried to pick a single fight! Not one!"
After a calculating pause, Hermione shrugged. "I really don't see why that's anything worth noticing. You should be happy that he isn't bothering you anymore."
"I suppose." The worst part was, Harry knew she was right—he knew it, and yet there was still this restless stirring in his chest that couldn't seem to settle. Not fighting with Malfoy felt wrong. It felt…unnatural.
Harry shook himself, as if he could fling his unease from his body like droplets of water. "Let's just…keep studying."
Hermione hummed, but didn't need further prompting to return to her favorite past time.
Huffing, Harry returned to his book, trying to ignore the way the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end every time he heard Malfoy laugh.
Harry decided that needed a girlfriend.
Or, more accurately, Hermione decided for him, and rather suddenly Ginny began showing up all the places they went. It was hard to get used to at first, but Harry had always enjoyed her company, and she was certainly pretty enough that he noticed several heads turn as they walked by. And she loved him. Of that he was undeniably certain. He didn't know how or why she could still love him after all they'd been through in the war, but she did. It shone through in her blue eyes like a beacon.
Harry wondered why they hadn't gotten together sooner…before the fall. But perhaps the timing just hadn't been right.
So when Harry found out during Potions that Terry and Malfoy were going to the Halloween Ball together, he came to the rather sudden conclusion that Hermione was right. He needed a girlfriend. So he asked Ginny to go to the Halloween Ball with him.
She readily agreed.
Sometimes Harry wondered if Quidditch was the only thing that kept him sane. In the air, high above the pitch, was the only place where he felt like he could really breathe. Everywhere else was like a thick cloth pulled tight over his face, slowly suffocating him. Today was no different.
The November air was bright and crisp, and the roar from the crowd was deafening. He'd just caught the snitch, barely earning the Dragons the points they needed to defeat the Kelpies.
As he lowered himself back to the pitch, he caught sight of Ginny beaming at him, joining in with the audience's applause. If she hadn't scored so many points against them, Harry was quite sure her teammates would've overthrown her as captain.
"That was amazing, Harry!" Ginny said, grinning at him through layers of sweat and freckles. "If the scouts don't talk to you after that catch, then they're idiots."
Sure enough, later that evening at a victory party, a young man with slicked back hair approached them, Puddlemere United's blue and gold emblem boldly emblazoned on the breast of his robes. He held out a hand to Harry. "Mr. Potter, am I correct?"
Harry took his hand and shook it, an odd nervousness bubbling in his stomach. "That's right."
"Very good! Very good! Say, I liked what I saw! Quite the talent! With some professional training you could be a real force to be reckoned with on the pitch! Rival Victor Krum even!" The man spoke with a quick lipped enthusiasm, and over-enunciated his consonants. "Puddlemere is having open tryouts next week, and we'd be honored if you'd attend! What do you say, kid?"
For some reason, Harry's tongue chose that particular moment to freeze up. He'd never thought about being anything other than an Auror. Playing professional Quidditch seemed like something that could only happen in his dreams.
"He'd love to!" Ginny answered for him.
"Wonderful!" the man exclaimed. "Simply wonderful! We'll owl you with the details!"
"I—brilliant," Harry huffed out.
The man left and Ginny hugged him tight. She pulled him into a wet kiss, and several of his teammates whooped.
Finals hit Harry hard and fast.
With all the orientation training he had to do for Puddlemere to prepare for the spring season, he hardly had a spare second to study. But Hermione helped him keep up with his studies as best she could, and Ginny and Ron kept the press well occupied every time they tried to bombard Grimmauld Place.
After his last final in Charms, Harry shuffled through the east corridors, feeling optimistically certain that he hadn't botched his grades and that the winter break was going to be a welcome breather from all the chaos. He was practically upon the crowd of students before his thoughts were jolted back to the present.
"I hope you get what you deserve!" he heard someone yell, their Irish accent stinting the vowels. Harry pushed through the dense pack to the open space in its center. Seamus and Malfoy stood in the innermost ring of the circle, glaring at each other with their fists balled tight. "I hope they send you straight to Azkaban!"
"Well your wish may very well come true, Finnigan," Malfoy hissed. "But don't get your knickers in a twist if it doesn't. I've hired lawyers who could probably convince you that you were a toad, though now that I look at you, the resemblance is so close that even Goyle could probably do that much." At his side, Goyle smirked proudly.
"They shouldn't even allow Death Eaters to have lawyers! That mark on your arm should be enough to put you away for life! Dead parents or no!"
Malfoy literally snarled, baring his teeth as if they were fangs. "Don't you dare s—Goyle, back!" Goyle, who had been about to pounce, reigned himself back to Malfoy's side, though Harry could the white ache in his knuckles to hit something. Malfoy's attention never left Seamus. "Insult me however you like, Finnigan, but don't you dare bring my parents up ever again! If you do, I'm more than happy to go to Azkaban with your murder on my list of transgressions!"
Seamus' smile was a cruel, rancid thing. "Did your mother kill herself before or after she found out about the trial? It was before, wasn't it."
Harry saw the moment Malfoy's eyes changed. It triggered something in the very fabric of his nerves, springing him forward before he'd even thought to move. The next thing Harry knew he was standing in front of Malfoy, Malfoy's upraised wrist clutched firmly in his hand. Malfoy's glare was like water boiling over.
"Let go of me, Potter!" Malfoy snarled. "Goyle, back off!"
Again Goyle stepped back, but the air around them was starting to vibrate with magic and anger.
"Everyone get out of here!" Harry yelled. "Now!"
Seamus moved somewhere in his peripheral. "Hey, Harry, thanks for—"
"Get the hell out of here, Seamus!" Harry snapped, an unbridled rage making his grip on Malfoy's wrist painfully tight. "And I better not see you anywhere near Malfoy again, is that clear?"
Seamus went white, looking as if Harry had just knocked all the air out of his lungs. "But—"
"GO!" Harry thundered, and the surrounding students scattered like birds taking flight.
Malfoy pulled against him. "Let go of me! If you think I won't hex you into the other side of oblivion then you—"
Their gazes meeting was enough to cut him off.
Harry held him tightly, barely aware that Pansy and Goyle were still standing right behind him. They stared at each other for what seemed like ages, and Harry felt something warm settle itself in his stomach. After the silence between them had grown restless, Harry broke it. "He shouldn't have said those things to you."
A muscle in Malfoy's jaw twitched. "No…he shouldn't have."
"And you shouldn't have baited him."
"I didn't—!" Malfoy's entire body went taut for a moment before he visibly forced himself to relax. Several thoughts flickered across his gaze before he finally seemed to settle on one. "Fine. Whatever. Are we done here?"
Harry let him go. "Yes."
Malfoy rubbed the skin on his wrist, looking unbearably wretched. He seemed much thinner than Harry ever remembered him being, and Harry couldn't help but notice that the skin beneath his eyes was ringed with a faint blue. For the first time since he'd heard them, Harry thought about Seamus' words, and the realization seemed to hit him like the crack of a whip.
He'd said that Malfoy's parents were dead.
Harry and Malfoy's heads whipped to the side to see Terry Boot running down the corridor, his robes billowing behind him. He ran up to Malfoy, taking his face in his hands. "Merlin, are you alright?" He placed a light kiss on Malfoy's cheek. "Are you hurt?"
Malfoy took Terry's hands in his own and lowered them. "I'm fine."
Blood pumping through Harry's ears like a drum, he turned on his heel and left. While he walked, his thoughts were like scattered static—moving through thoughts and images so quickly that he couldn't seem to make sense of any of them. The moment he got back to Gryffindor tower, he shoved Ginny against the nearest wall and snogged her as hard as he could.
Ron glanced up from their game of chess. "What is it?"
Harry ran his nail along the back of his rook, finding it suddenly difficult to meet his friend's gaze. He knew he shouldn't be breaching the subject…but… "Did Malfoy's mother really kill herself?"
For a moment, Ron looked unsettled by the question. He rocked back and forth in his chair before answering, "Yeah…yeah she did."
"There wasn't an article in the Profit about it."
"I'm sure Malfoy paid a lot to keep it out of the papers. What with the trial against him coming up, he has probably had a lot on his plate. It's…it's really tragic. I mean he's not my favorite bloke, for sure, but what's happened to him isn't the kind of justice that feels right, you know?"
Harry nodded somberly. "His dad died too, right? Earlier this year?"
"Yeah," Ron replied.
"Maybe I could write the Ministry a letter—try to convince them to—to drop the trial or something." Harry didn't know why he'd even said it. The words sounded stupid and pathetic once they hit open air. It wasn't any of his business what the Ministry decided to do with ex Death Eaters, much less Malfoy.
"Forget it. Never mind." Harry ordered his queen to take Ron's knight.
The Christmas Ball should've been something he was looking forward to, but all things considered, Harry was rather dreading it. The idea of having to dress up in uncomfortable robes and dance all night wasn't exactly his ideal way of spending Christmas Day. But Ginny had really wanted to go, and they'd had a big fight earlier that week so he was keen on getting back on her good side. The Weasleys were not easy people to fight with.
Christmas morning came with more pomp and circumstance than Harry had ever seen. Gifts tumbled over the edge of Harry's bed as he sat up. Many of them were letters and cards from different wizarding families, thanking him for the part he'd played in defeating Voldemort. Harry, who had never been very good at being on the receiving end of gratitude, piled the letters up so that he could reply to them later. After that, he started on his other gifts.
His pile ended up with another Weasley sweater, more sweets than he could ever hope to eat, a new watch, and a book on repairing glasses. His Puddlemere teammates sent him an engraved snitch reading: Harry Potter: The Great Savior!. Even though he didn't really like the nickname, it made Harry feel kind of bad that he had only sent each of them a box from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
He'd given Ron season tickets to all the Puddlemere spring games, Hermione a renewed membership to the wizarding library, and Ginny a bracelet he'd seen some girls fawning over in Hogsmeade. Everyone had been ecstatic about their gifts, and it made Harry feel good to see them all smiling. Better than he'd felt in months. But as evening loomed upon him, Harry felt his bright mood mood wane.
As he stood in front of the mirror, dressed in robes that seemed to be tailored to inhibit natural movement, Harry couldn't help but grimace. Ginny, of course, told him that he looked very handsome, but girlfriends were supposed to say things like that. He was sure she believed he would be put off if she told him he looked like a half-choked troll. Harry found himself sniggering at the thought.
"Ready to go?" Ginny asked, holding out her hand.
Harry took it, intertwining her small fingers between his own. "As ready as I'll ever be."
With a radiant smile, Ginny lead him out of Gryffindor Tower and down to the Great Hall.
The party was already in full swing. Twelve foot tall Christmas Trees lined the edges of the great hall, lined with garland and shimmering with white lights. Snow fell, soft and white, from overhead, dusting the room in layers of ice though the air held nothing of winter's chill. A dance floor had been fashioned at the far end of the hall with a raised stage at its head. Charmed instruments strummed an upbeat song that Harry vaguely recognized, and Ginny pulled him towards the dance floor.
They somehow managed to find Ron, Hermione, Neville and Luna amongst the densely packed crowd. Hermione squealed excitedly when she saw them, throwing her arms around Ginny and pulling her into a dance. Ron waggled his eyebrows at Harry and mouthed, "Someone spiked the punch." Harry grinned and watched the girls dance, wishing he could feel half as free as they looked.
After a while he broke off from the group under the guise of getting food. He made his way towards one of the round tables in the back and plopped down in a chair, sighing. He pressed his eyes shut and tipped his head back, trying to push out the noise pounding in his skull. Everyone was laughing, but he couldn't seem to feel it. Their voices were just broken fragments of a life that didn't exist for him.
Harry jolted as the legs of the chair next to him scraped against stone.
He turned his head, and felt his heart leap up into his throat. Draco Malfoy was staring back at him, his eyes large and his lips stretched with a wide smile.
"Hello," Malfoy said.
Harry blinked at him and shifted in his chair. "Um…hello." He glanced around, looking for Goyle or Pansy, but they were nowhere in sight.
"I'm surprised to see you here. I would've thought you hated these kinds of things."
"I—well—" Harry looked around once more, feeling oddly unsettled by Malfoy's pointedly non-hostile body language. He slipped his hand into his pocket, making sure he had a firm grip on his wand. "I came with Ginny."
Malfoy glanced down at Harry's pocked, and Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. "I'm not going to attack you, you know."
"Too public?" Harry was surprised that he didn't quite sound serious when he said it.
Mirth danced across Malfoy's grey eyes like lightning in a stormy sky. "Indeed. I'm sure we could renegotiate if you happen to find yourself in any dark, abandoned corridors later."
Harry's grip on his wand loosened. "I think I'll pass. I'd hate to humiliate you in a fight without anyone around to see it."
Malfoy chuckled under his breath, but didn't respond, and Harry felt a small pang of disappointment as he noticed the pounding creeping back into his skull. He hadn't even noticed that it was gone. Harry stared at Malfoy, wondering. There was a part of him that knew he should keep his guard up—that Malfoy was untrustworthy at the best of times and downright cruel at the worst. The fact that he was talking to Harry with any amount of civility should've been sending up dozens of red flags, but something seemed different about him tonight. He looked almost hazed around the edges. The smile still hadn't fallen from his lips, and his grey eyes looked inordinately glazed as he turned his gaze to the dance floor.
"Malfoy," Harry said slowly as a thought broke over him, "you didn't…er…have any of the punch did you?"
Malfoy took in a deep breath and let it back out. "No. Why do you ask?"
"I heard someone spiked it."
"Oh," Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Someone figured that out already, did they? Usually takes them a bit. Guess the joke's on me for thinking I could trust Goyle to do something with any manner of subtlety."
Oddly, Harry felt the urge to laugh. He supposed that he really shouldn't be surprised that Malfoy was behind a prank like that. "You had Goyle spike the punch?"
Malfoy turned back towards Harry, looking positively gleeful. It somewhat amazed Harry how much Malfoy's face changed when he wasn't sneering. "You make it sound as if we're lucky to be alive."
Malfoy laughed, and Harry felt the sound of it like a bright burst of life in his chest. Abruptly, Harry looked away, biting his lip and stomped down on the feeling as if it had just stung him.
"I suppose I should come clean, though," Malfoy said, drawing Harry's attention back. "I did have something else besides the punch."
Malfoy hummed. "Yeah. Some kind of opiate from Turkey. It's sort of spectacular. Gives you that sort of numb, floaty feeling. Very expensive, of course."
"Of course," Harry replied, feeling uneasy all over again.
"My trial is coming up next week," Malfoy continued, taking a sudden interest in his nails. Apparently seeing a flaw, he bit at one of his cuticles. "And I figured that if this is potentially my last week amongst civilization then I might as well spend it enjoying myself whilst high as a bloody kite."
It wasn't something that Harry knew how to respond to. He didn't want to admit that Malfoy's trial had been on his mind more than it ought to have. Ever since that day he'd broken up the fight between Malfoy and Seamus, the idea of it had plagued him. Something about it felt…fundamentally wrong.
"I heard you made seeker for Puddlemere United."
Harry's gaze, which had dropped, flicked back up again. "Yeah, I did."
Malfoy nodded, his teeth working at his bottom lip. Harry found it strangely hard not to stare at. "What made you give up on the Auror thing?"
"I—wait, how did you know I wanted to be an Auror?"
Harry hadn't noticed until now just how large Malfoy's pupils were. They were blown wide, his irises a bright halo that glowed around the edges like an eclipsed moon. "You're joking, right? You might as well have had 'Future Auror' tattooed on your forehead. You pretty much tracked down and defeated something evil every year in school, and what more, you enjoyed it. Don't try to act like you didn't—it was painfully obvious that you got off on it. If that doesn't scream, 'I want to be an Auror', then I don't know what does."
Dumbfounded, Harry stared at him. He hadn't realized he'd been so completely obvious about it. "Well, I…I guess I thought that playing professional Quidditch wouldn't be quite so…depressing?"
"Is that a question?"
Harry huffed. It was hard to regurgitate those empty words over and over again. The truth of the matter was, "Ginny thought that me being a professional Quidditch player would be better for my image. Apparently a lot of people think I have a death wish." He found the words spilling out, unbidden, coating his tongue like a cool splash of water. Somehow, he felt a little lighter after saying them.
There was an extended beat of silence. "Do you care what people think?" Malfoy asked.
"No," Harry answered truthfully.
Malfoy frowned at him, his lip slipping under his teeth once more.
"You know, you're surprisingly articulate for someone who's high."
"And you're surprisingly unintelligent for someone who knows the word 'articulate'," Malfoy quipped without skipping a beat.
It was something that Harry felt would have set him off one year ago, but right now all he could seem to notice was how little malice had filled the words. More than anything, he sounded tired—frayed at the ends like cloth dragged over too much ground. And in that moment, Harry felt as if he could've been looking into a mirror, because he knew that feeling. He knew what it was like to feel broken down and tired and so worn that there didn't seem to be anything left to take.
"Draco, there you are!" Terry Boot came running up to them, his cheeks red and his eyes bright. "I've been looking for you everywhere! Did you have some of the punch yet? It's fantastic! Come and dance with me!" Terry bent down and scooped up Malfoy's hand from his lap, pulling him up out of his seat. It wasn't until he had Malfoy standing that he even noticed Harry was there. "Oh, hello, Harry. I—Draco, I didn't know that you and Harry were friends now."
"We're not," Malfoy replied, and Harry had to bite down on his tongue to keep his reaction off his face.
"Oh," Terry's brows drew together. "Sorry. I didn't—"
Malfoy waved him off. "Come on. Let's go dance." He lead Terry off without so much as a glance back.
Harry shivered, the snow sending a sudden chill through his bones.
Ginny found him a few minutes later, still shivering. "Harry," she took a seat next to him and covered his hands with her own. "Are you alright? You're freezing."
Harry looked at her and waited. He wanted to feel stirred by her—to feel something other than this hollow blankness that threatened to consume him. He'd just felt it a few minutes ago, hadn't he? At least, he'd felt…something. "Do you want to get out of here?"
One of her eyebrows flicked up minutely and her grip on his hands tightened. "Sure. Where would you like to go?"
Maybe if…maybe if they were closer he would be able to feel it again. Maybe that was all they needed. Because it didn't make sense that whatever had come alive inside him when he talked to Malfoy couldn't exist here with Ginny. "I don't know. Maybe…the astronomy tower?"
Red bloomed across Ginny's cheeks. Harry saw her swallow. "Yeah, sure. Okay."
They made their way out of the Great Hall and up the stairs in silence, the space between their joined hands growing wet and sticky. Their footsteps sounded overly loud as they made their way up the final flight. They were just about to round the corner into the observatory when Harry heard something that made him stop. A soft moan shook the air, skittering across Harry's nerves like the tip of a feather. His hand fell from Ginny's as he peered around the corner.
Malfoy stood, pinned against the wall by Terry, his head tipped back and his eyes pressed shut. The column of his neck was a pearly white in the glow of the moon, the skin stretched taut as Terry's lips moved over his jawline. Full lips parted breathlessly, his breath coming out in small puffs of condensated air. Heat shot through Harry like a bullet as Malfoy brought his hands up into Terry's hair, digging his fingers into the dark curls and pulling hard.
"Harry," Ginny breathed behind him, causing Harry to jump. She grabbed his hand and pulled him back. "Come on."
Throat feeling too dry to speak, Harry nodded, and allowed Ginny to lead him back down the stairs.
When they got back to Gryffindor tower, all Harry could think about was pulling Ginny into his room and burning through the heat that had coiled in his stomach. He kissed Ginny hungrily, pulling at her dress and wondering why women's clothing had to be so damn complicated. She helped him along with the zippers and clasps, and finally her bare skin was against his own.
The gentle swell of her breasts pushed against his chest, and Harry wound his arm around her back, trying to pull her in closer—trying to make her body somehow harder against his. He pushed his other hand into her hair, gripping the warm tendrils at the base of her skull and pulling her head back.
Ginny yelped as Harry exposed her neck and sank his teeth into it. "Ah—Harry! Not so—ngh—hard!"
Harry released his hold on her throat, breathing headily against the reddened flesh. His mind felt fogged, stifled by the urge for more, harder, now. With a barely contained urgency he pushed Ginny back towards the bed, lowering her down over the comforter as soon as their knees hit the edge.
She was all soft breaths and dark tousled hair beneath him, her blue eyes large and trusting as she stared up at him. "Harry," she whispered, running the tips of her fingers along the line of his shoulder. "I love you."
Harry closed his eyes, and kissed her again.
Harry entered the new year with a sense of hopeful optimism.
The tides in his life were finally starting to turn. His grades from the last semester had been good enough to garner Hermione's seal of approval, the spring Quidditch season was starting soon, and his relationship with Ginny seemed to be better than ever. He was finally learning how to feel settled in this new, still world. The war was starting to feel farther away now—the craving for the lurch of reaction dulling to a bearable simmer in his blood.
And what more, the letter he'd written to Shacklebolt about Malfoy seemed to have helped, or at least, Malfoy had shown up back at Hogwarts without an escort of Dementors, which Harry took as a good sign. The Slytherin had looked particularly pissed all through breakfast, however, but Harry refused to let his mood be deterred.
Even Terry Boot botching their potion on the first day back in class wasn't enough to dampen Harry's spirits.
However, when he ruined their potion for the third week in a row, Harry couldn't help but feel the first kindlings of his temper ignite.
"Uh…Terry?" Harry ventured, as he watched Terry throw an entire slug into their potion without dicing it like he was supposed to.
"What?" Terry snapped, glaring down at his potions textbook.
Harry took the knife that had been sitting in the middle of the table and moved it to his side. He didn't think Terry was a particularly violent person, but there was no sense in not being careful. After all, he'd also once believed that Quirrel hadn't seemed like a particularly violent person. "Um, is everything alright?"
"Yes." Terry replied, his voice pointedly clipped. "Why?"
"You seem a bit—er—" Another slug was tossed unceremoniously into the potion, turning the color to a thick, unseemly brown, "distracted."
"You know what, Harry?" Terry tore his eyes away from the textbook to glare up at Harry. "If you two want to keep pretending, that's fine, but I don't want to be dragged in the middle of it, alright? It's sick. What you're doing with him is—"
"Terry!" Malfoy's voice sliced through the air like a knife.
Harry watched Terry's body go stiff, his blue eyes watering. He whirled on Malfoy, who looked as still and cold as if he were carved out of marble.
"Boys?" The Professor glanced up front he stack of papers he was grading. "If there's a problem, please take it out of my classroom."
Without a word, Malfoy stalked out of the classroom, with Terry following closely behind. Harry watched them leave, looked back down at his ruined potion, and then moved towards the exit as well.
By the time he was out in the hall, Terry was already yelling.
"—t have to lie to me about it, Draco! You could have just told me! Merlin, instead you've made me look like a bloody idiot! Do you know what it's like to go through what I'm going through now? To be with someone and think that they're with you to only to find out—"
"That's enough!" Draco hissed, his voice so sharp that Harry felt himself flinch and go still. "Whatever you think you're going to get from me out of this little tirade, it's not going to happen. I told you that first night what this was. If you let yourself think it was more then that's nobody's fault but your own."
"God, Draco! Fuck you! How can you be so damn cruel?"
Malfoy's eyes flicked to the side, connecting with Harry's with a startling jolt. Terry followed his gaze, seeing Harry for the first time. Fresh tears spilled over his cheeks, and before Harry could even think to move, Terry took off in a run down the hallway.
Malfoy didn't even turn to look after him. "You shouldn't have followed us out here. It was between me and him."
Harry stared down the hallway, feeling as if he couldn't quite breathe in deeply enough. "You…you guys broke up?"
"It's not any of your business, Potter." Malfoy hissed coldly. "Go back inside."
Like the crack of a whip, Harry's eyes were back on Malfoy. Fire sparked in his chest, and a familiar warmth radiated out into his limbs. "He was going off on me about it—I say that makes it my business."
Harry had never seen Malfoy look so livid. Every line in his face seemed to quiver with a barely contained tension. The muscles in his jaw worked as he ground his teeth together, his lips tight and barely moving as he responded, "He was stupid and got himself hurt. That's all."
"Then why was he acting like it was my fault?"
"Leave it alone, Potter!"
"Did he find out that you did drugs? Is that it? Did he find out that I knew about it or—"
Malfoy's fist slammed into his nose.
Harry reeled back, his vision going black as his face exploded with pain. Hands grabbed his shoulders and shoved him to the ground, another blow landing in his stomach as Malfoy fell with him. Harry scrambled as Malfoy's fists pummeled him, and adrenaline screeched through his veins, causing his heart to slam against his ribcage.
He realized, with a jarring clarity, that this was what he'd been waiting for. This was what he'd been wanting. All those months of stagnation and crippling niceties—still waters that he'd never learned how to swim in. This was the violent, raging ocean. This was the fight, the power, the movement he'd wanted.
All Harry could think was, Finally.
Harry's hands tore through him, the strength he'd gained from all the Quidditch training quickly turning the tides. But Malfoy was like fury incarnate. Every hit Harry landed only seemed to spur him on, until it was no longer fists connecting with flesh, but nails and teeth.
Harry gasped as teeth sank into his collar bone, and suddenly both boys went still.
Malfoy's breath was hot and wet against his skin, and Harry felt his nerves bunch, as if they could reach through is pores and pull Malfoy's mouth back to him. "I hate you, Potter," Malfoy seethed, his hand wrapping around Harry's throat and squeezing tight. "I hate you so much that I can't stand it. Why can't you just leave me alone?"
Harry couldn't do anything but hold his breath, feeling so hot that he might evaporate into the air at any second.
"Merlin…you can't even fathom how much I hate you." Malfoy exhaled forcefully against the tender expanse of flesh, and Harry felt a small sound travel up his throat and escape through his lips. And then there was a rush of bitter cold, and the next thing Harry knew Malfoy's body was gone.
By the time Harry was able to open his eyes again, the hallway was empty.
After that day, Malfoy refused to speak to him. He refused to even acknowledge Harry's existence.
It had been like turning off the lights in a room Harry had already thought was dark, and now he was wandering alone in the deep, deep black with nothing to cling to. He didn't know why, but he had thought that somehow they had bridged something between them—that a shred good had been able to emerge from the cocoon of hate that had surrounded them all of their lives. And maybe…maybe he'd thought, just for a moment, that there had been something else between them as well.
But he'd been wrong. So very wrong. And the shattered illusion had left him back in the cold, still place where time dripped around him and nothing changed.
Nothing ever changed.
"You're going to ask her to marry you?" Hermione asked, her dark eyes growing wide.
Harry sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets and rocking back and forth on his feet. "I think so. Don't you think I should?"
Hermione frowned, the midmorning looking sun oddly bright on her face. They were having lunch in the stands of the pitch, enjoying one of the first warm afternoons of spring while Ron ran keeper drills out on the field with a couple of his teammates. "I mean," she looked down, searching for the words, "don't you think you should be sure? Marriage…that's a big step, Harry."
"I know." And Harry did know. "It just feels like it's what I should do. It could make her happy, don't you think? And my PR rep for Puddlemere said it could be good publicity for the team."
"Harry, that's not a real reason to—"
"She deserves it doesn't she? She deserves to be happy after everything she's been through. It's how this whole thing is supposed to go, right? And this…this is what we fought for for all those years, isn't it? This is what Sirius and Dumbledore and Snape and Lupin and everyone else died for—for us to have a chance at being happy? I mean what was the point if—if things don't end up like they're supposed to end up?"
Hermione swallowed thickly, setting her sandwich aside. "Harry…you can't look at their deaths like a debt that you need to repay. You need to do what makes you happy."
"What makes me happy? Hermione…don't you think I've tried? It's nearly been a year since I've defeated Voldemort and nothing's changed. I still don't feel…anything. And the times that I do, it's not with—" Harry cut himself off, unwilling to let the words escape. "Maybe happy just…isn't something that can exist for me anymore." Turning away from her, Harry stared out at the pitch, the sun warming his skin and sinking into his pores. Once, this might have been a beautiful day—filled with cool breezes and blue, cloudless skies—but there was nothing left in Harry that could feel it anymore. He'd saved the world, but somehow he'd gotten lost along the way. There had been more for him than this once. He remembered it vaguely, like a distant memory. Before the war ended, he'd had hope. He'd felt alive. He'd tried so hard to find that memory again—to chase it down and grasp it in his hand like a snitch—but no matter how hard he'd fought, that memory had evaded him at every turn. So he was done with it. He was done with everything.
Taking a deep breath he turned back to Hermione, training his lips into a smile. "Maybe this is all that's left. Maybe this is just…how my story is supposed to end."
To be continued…