Turn – epilogue – by Sara's Girl
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry, Draco, or most of their friends. I do, however, have a Lego Snape keyring. He sits in my bag, disapproving sternly of the way that I hoard pens and forget to throw away my bus tickets. He has a little cape, too. I don't know about you, but I always think everything is better with a little cape.
AN – so, at last, here is the final part of 'Turn'. Those of you who remember that this story started life as a 'short' Christmas story for Marie [Christmas 2010, that is] will no doubt agree that I failed HARD in my original mission. Still, I hope that, scattered amongst the fail, there have been the crunchy bits that make life and stories all the more satisfying. I have loved, hated, and lived this story. Thank you for all your beautiful comments, messages, tales of inspiration and more – I know that there are at least a couple of TURN tattoos out there, and by the weekend there will be one more – my reward for finishing this story at long last!
I hope you enjoy this catch-up with all our old friends. There is no drama here, just warm fluffies.
For Marie, for all the reasons.
31st December 2018
The midday sun is warm on Harry's face as he leans against the kitchen counter, relishing the perfect drinking temperature of his cup of tea and forgetting about all the things he is supposed to be doing.
Basking in a little pool of contentment, he closes his eyes and inhales the fragrant steam, the scent of the beeswax Draco uses to polish the long oak table and the faint aroma of long-gone bacon sandwiches. Above him, the old floorboards creak as Draco wanders around upstairs doing things that Harry will never truly understand—checking, ordering, mumbling to himself. Harry smiles.
It doesn't seem to matter that Draco doesn't officially live here. The inevitable combination of Lucius Malfoy's ruined health and Draco's fierce family loyalty means that things are a little complicated to say the least, but they manage, all of them, and it's good. It's fine. He frequently recalls Neville's sheepish description of 'that funny stage' of a relationship and is torn between empathy and laughter, because really, there was never going to be anything straightforward about any of this. In truth, he hasn't any more of an idea of what he's doing than Neville, but he doesn't mind. Things haven't been nearly as awkward as he had feared; he and Draco are managing—tentatively and circuitously at times—to talk, something that he and Ginny never really got the hang of.
Harry gulps at his tea and sighs, opening his eyes and gazing at the tiled floor, where Misu is snoozing in a patch of sunlight. He has learned, one way or another, that keeping one's feelings to oneself rarely makes anything easier in the long run, and Draco... well, Draco is still Draco, still a Malfoy, and he's never going to be an open book, but he's also thirty-eight, divorced, a father, and, as he puts it, 'too bloody old for playing idiotic games'. He is, too, Harry thinks. They both are.
Draco stays most nights, travelling to work from Harry's still-not-quite-fully-renovated townhouse and Flooing over to the Manor at regular intervals to relieve his mother and catch up with her over tea and little sandwiches, a years-old ritual of which Harry remains quietly envious. Narcissa herself has remained stoic and utterly graceful, seemingly delighted by the continued presence of Harry in her son's life.
Perhaps more hopeful still has been the arrival of a friendly, curly-haired young man named Hamish, who has become a fixture in Lucius' wing of the Manor over the last few months. Narcissa, hesitant at first, has at last begun to enjoy some freedom, safe in the knowledge that her husband's secret will not be shared with the world. Hamish, a living advertisement for Hufflepuff house, if Harry has ever seen one, deals with Lucius' needy moments, confusion, pain and hissy fits with laid-back equanimity.
"He is coming," Misu advises, glass tail clinking against the tile as she stirs.
Harry listens for a moment, seeking out the creaking of the stairs. "So he is."
A second or two later, Draco steps into the kitchen, takes one look at Harry and raises his eyes to the ceiling.
"You're still here."
Harry blinks, puzzled by his exasperation, but only for the second or two it takes him to remember that he promised to leave for Diagon Alley some time ago, to pick up the supplies for their New Year's Eve party. It's not his fault. Tea and sunshine are very distracting.
"Sorry," he mumbles.
"I'll just go myself, shall I?" Draco says airily, tapping his fingers lightly on the counter.
"No, I'll go, I'm going now," Harry protests, setting down his cup and shaking himself out of his comfortable little reverie. "I promised I'd take the kids."
"I doubt your children want to be dragged around the shops with you," Draco says, opening the cupboard and poking around for his favourite tea mug.
Harry lifts an eyebrow. "There won't be any dragging, what kind of parent do you think I am? Anyway, Lily wants to come to Borteg's."
"Isn't it a bit early for her to have developed a taste for quality whisky?"
Harry sighs. "It's never too early for that," he mumbles, scooping up Misu from the floor and brushing a few crumbs from her scales. "He thinks he's funny."
"So do you," Misu says, looping around his neck. "You are both funny to me."
Harry smiles. He has the feeling that she doesn't mean the words as a compliment. "Lily... is drawn to unusual people."
"There's something wrong with that girl," Draco continues, ignoring him and examining a sugar cube for imperfections. "She must get it from you."
"Shut up," Harry murmurs, grinning warmly now. "It's not just Lily, anyway. Al wants to go to George's shop to look at some sort of exploding gunge and James wants to look at the racing brooms on sale..." he breaks off and goes to fish another money bag from the designated drawer. Racing brooms don't come cheap, even when they are on sale. James has earned a treat, though, his marks have improved dramatically over the last couple of terms, and he hasn't tried to curse Alana Smith in months. Which is almost a shame, Harry thinks secretly, but then she hasn't had many friends since the news broke and it turned out that no one was particularly upset about the Potter-Malfoy relationship, much less interested in her spiteful words or offensive opinions.
Seven bags, all neatly tied; he doesn't need to look to know that each contains precisely the same number of shining gold Galleons. Harry tucks the bag into his pocket and heads immediately for the 'overflow' cupboard, where many more identical bags are kept in stacks of larger, more acceptable numbers. He takes one and tucks it into the drawer, restoring the stock to the approved Draco-friendly level and, he thinks with an affectionate smile, restoring balance to the world in his own minute, nonsensical way.
The drawers and cupboards in the kitchen are not, of course, the limit of Draco's impact on Harry's house. His wardrobe has been organised according to colour, style, and purpose, and the items in his bathroom cabinets are arranged to within an inch of their lives via an inexplicable system that Harry stopped trying to understand some months ago. Even Misu's frozen mice are bagged and stacked in neat piles of sevens beside Harry's peas and ice cubes in the cold cabinet. There is a rule and a place for almost everything, and though it's a stark contrast to any way Harry has ever lived before, he doesn't mind at all.
"Doesn't it drive you mad?" Ron asks frequently, watching Draco from under knitted brows as he tap-tap-tap-tap-taps on the counters with his fingers or pokes at the jars in the cupboards.
Harry's response is always the same.
"No. It's just the way it has to be for him. It doesn't make any difference to me."
"I wonder if I ordered enough drinks," Draco muses, wrapping his hands around his stripy cup and leaning on the counter in the light-drenched spot Harry has just vacated.
"I think you ordered enough to seriously incapacitate everyone on our guest list if you really wanted to," Harry advises, closing the drawer and crossing the tiles to kiss the tiny curve at the corner of Draco's lips, persisting until it flickers into a genuine smile.
"Maybe that's my plan," he whispers, voice soft and eyes warm.
Harry leans against him, breathing in the familiar citrus smell of his hair. He sighs. "This isn't helping me get the shopping done."
Draco stares at him for a moment, expression torn, then pushes him away with a forefinger. "Think of it as an incentive, then. To improve your efficiency."
Harry snorts. "I'll incentive you in a minute," he mutters, any attempt at logic scuppered by the promise in Draco's eyes.
"That makes absolutely no..." Draco begins, but Harry has already Disapparated.
"Dad, you're late."
Harry smiles at his son, who is currently wearing his hair in a very nineteen-fifties quiff with very un-nineteen-fifties lime green stripes. He looks like some kind of exotic insect, but Harry knows better than to say so.
"I'm sorry. I got held up," he says instead.
"It's alright, Dad, we haven't been waiting long," Lily says, casting a reproachful glance at her brother.
Harry nods, turning up his coat collar against the deceptive chill in the air. "Good. Where's Al?"
"In there with Rose and Scorpius." James gestures negligently toward the window of Flourish and Blotts, where Harry can just make out Rose's wavy hair and Scorpius' shocking blond among the crowds of bargain-seeking customers.
"Why do I even bother to ask?" Harry mumbles, mostly to himself. If he's honest, he hasn't stopped to question the whereabouts of Rose and Scorpius this afternoon, but it's not the first time he has lost track of his extended brood, and it certainly won't be the last. "Alright, come on, you lot," he calls to Al and his two best friends as they emerge from the shop, giggling over some secret joke.
"Dad!" Al exclaims, bounding over and hugging Harry as though he hasn't seen him for weeks, rather than not-quite-two-days. Harry returns the hug, determined to enjoy his son's affection before he becomes an awkward teenager who would rather die than hug his dad in front of his friends. "You should see the book we got. Me and Rose and Scorp put our Christmas money together to get it."
"Al, you are a very sad individual," James pronounces, tone so heavy with disdain that Harry barely manages to conceal his laughter.
"There's nothing sad about books," Lily says stoutly, and Rose, who is hugging the shiny bag close to her chest, smiles at her cousin. "Please can I see it?"
Al, Rose and Scorpius exchange glances and then Rose nods, producing a vast hardcover volume with silver-edged pages and imposing punched letters proclaiming, 'Galthropp's Guide to Gobstones: Theory, Strategy, and History' – all you will EVER need to know'.
"Looks impressive," Harry says.
Scorpius beams. "It has a foreword written by Esther Carver-Guppick. She won the World Gobstones Championship five times," he adds anxiously, eyes urging Harry to agree that this is a very impressive thing indeed.
"Looks like you'll be top of the league in no time," Harry says gravely, and the three excited faces brighten impossibly.
"Between this and the new sets you made us for Christmas, I think we have a decent chance," Rose agrees, watching Lily carefully as she traces the embossed cover with her fingers.
Harry smiles, warmed by their enthusiasm. As far as he knows, all three of them still belong to the Chess Club, the Astronomy Club and the Charms Club, but it is Gobstones that has become the obsession. It had been Al who had convinced him to have a go at making his own sets.
"They're just like marbles, Dad," he'd pointed out. "I bet it wouldn't be that hard to put the spells and the liquid inside them."
As it had turned out, Al had—as usual—been a little optimistic, but after a good couple of weeks of research, testing, and mishaps that had left Harry smelling like death and sleeping alone for several days until Draco had found an effective deodorising charm, Harry had cracked it. Despite a difficult start, he has come to enjoy turning out unusual marbles and Gobstones in between creating bigger pieces, and the little sets have rapidly become a popular item at Purple Fish. For their trouble, the three little buggers are now the proud owners of their own unique sets—clear green glass for Al, smoky pink for Rose, and marbled grey for Scorpius.
Now they are ready to take on the Hogwarts Gobstones Club in earnest. Harry can't help but believe that world domination cannot be far away.
"Just think," Lily says, tucking her arm through Harry's and tugging him down the street after the others, "one more day and I'll be able to say I'm going to Hogwarts this year."
"It's not as good as you think, Lil," Al says, turning around to look at his sister. "They give you so much homework."
"Really?" Lily asks, stricken. She stops dead, causing Harry to stumble slightly. He directs an exasperated glance at Al, who grins.
"No. It's brilliant. You're going to love it."
Lily's eyes widen with relief and she kicks her brother in the ankle, smile firmly back in place.
"Al, you're rotten," Rose murmurs, hiding a smile in her windblown hair.
"It's true about the homework, though," James puts in, dragging his eyes away from his reflection in the window of Eeylops Owl Emporium.
"I don't care," Lily declares, fingers tightening around Harry's arm. "I want to learn everything!"
"Everything?" Harry repeats, amused.
"Yes. I haven't decided what I want to be when I grow up yet, so it's best to learn everything just in case."
James snorts and Al throws up his arms, weaving around Lily with his teeth bared. "I'm going to work with dragons like Uncle Charlie," he says, and Lily giggles. "Rar!" he adds, pretending to blow smoke from his nostrils.
"I think you'll probably unsettle the dragons if you go around like that," Scorpius offers, pale eyes alight with amusement as he watches his friend. Al sticks out his tongue. "I haven't decided either, Lily," he adds, just for a moment sounding so like his father that Harry's heart stutters with helpless love for them both.
"Neither have I," Rose says, hugging the big book tightly. "Mum says it's best to think carefully about big decisions, though."
"Rar!" Al growls, catching up to her and dropping his dragon impression to add the oft-repeated phrase, "Uncle Charlie's so cool, though."
"I'm sure Uncle Charlie will be very proud," Harry says faintly, not altogether surprised about any of it. "What about you, James? You'll be choosing your NEWTs before you know it."
James shrugs. "I dunno. I might not do my NEWTs. I might join a band instead."
Harry bites his lip for a moment, determined not to react to that first statement. "Oh, really?" he says at last. "I didn't know you could play a musical instrument."
"I can't yet," James admits moodily, kicking at a stray Knut with the tip of his shoe. "But Leoli can play the guitar and she said she'd teach me after the holidays."
"Who's Leoli?" Harry asks.
"His girlfriend," Al informs him before James even has chance to open his mouth.
"Oooo!" cry Rose, Scorpius and Al as one, dancing around James and picking up the dragon impression with relish. Lily watches them for a moment and then abandons Harry's arm to join in. James scowls.
"The Slytherin?" Harry asks carefully.
"Yes," James huffs. "But don't you start, it's taken me all this time to convince her that I'm... you know... cool. I don't want to mess it up."
Harry laughs. "What do you think I'm going to do, come up to Hogwarts and start telling her embarrassing stories about you?" He pauses, contemplative. "I suppose I could..."
James whips around to stare at him, eyes full of horror. "Dad, don't you dare!"
"No, don't worry," Harry assures, stepping around a slightly giddy Scorpius. "I wouldn't do that."
James visibly relaxes. "Rarrrr!" says Rose, banging into Lily and almost dropping her book. Harry shakes his head and lets them get on with it. It's usually the best way; they're not hurting anyone, and the more energy they expend now, the less trouble Molly and Arthur will have tonight.
"Anyway," he continues, glancing at James. "Those things are far better saved for the first time she comes to dinner with the family."
James groans and Al cackles delightedly, wiggling his fingers atop his head. There's something in his expression that makes Harry wonder if he has forgotten that he is still pretending to be a dragon.
"Leoli is a pretty name," Lily says, slowing down to walk beside her brother. "Is she pretty?"
James flushes. "Yeah, I suppose," he mutters.
"She's very pretty," Scorpius offers, catching his balance on Al's shoulder. "She looks like a painting."
James nods stiffly at this assessment, but Al scowls, moving out from under Scorpius' arm to take the heavy book from Rose. "Let me carry that for a bit."
"Are you alright?" Harry asks quietly, leaving James alone and dropping back to walk beside Al.
Al hesitates and then looks up at him, eyes theatrically wide. "I'm starving."
Harry ruffles the messy hair, deciding not to push the subject. "I know exactly the place."
After a visit to Borteg's, where Lily only further convinces Harry that her secret ambition is to sign on as the old man's apprentice, the group heads to the Dragondale for a late lunch.
"It's so beautiful and sparkly in there, Dad," she enthuses, skipping along the frosty cobbles beside him. "I bet Mr Borteg gets lonely sometimes, though. It's a shame... he has so many stories. All those places he's been to—I bet he could write a book."
"Maybe he will if you pester him about it for long enough," Harry says, mouth tugging into a smile.
He can't argue with her; he, too, always enjoys Mr Borteg's tales of distant lands and strange rituals; the old man has a way of making the dark shop disappear, weaving words with his low, melancholy voice until the rows of gleaming bottles become the waterfalls of Venezuela or the shining palaces of Thailand. Today's yarn has left Harry thoughtful and with an intense craving for Italian food, which will have to wait, he supposes, because where they're going, it's Greek all the way.
"Hello," Kari says as they tumble into the deli, Scorpius and Al managing to shut the door on the wind with a massive combined effort. "I didn't expect to see you this afternoon—I was going to bring these with me." She indicates the trays of snacks and desserts stacked neatly on the table behind her, all shiny and golden and ready for tonight's party, for which Kari will be abandoning her father to his wireless and his grumbling, and Darius to his own noisy, drunken celebration.
Harry's stomach rumbles as he inhales the delicious jumble of sweet, savoury and spicy scents on the air."I know... we were just passing and I think Al's going to starve to death if he doesn't get a sandwich in him soon."
Amused, Kari looks down at Al, who stops gazing hungrily at the pastries on display and looks back at her with the saddest, most theatrical impression of malnutrition that he can muster.
"Oh dear," she murmurs, dark eyebrows drawn down in mock-concern. "Looks serious."
"You wouldn't say that if you saw what he ate for breakfast," James says darkly.
Harry doubts he'll be surprised, whatever it is. He fully believes that Al could devour a baby elephant if it were placed between two slices of bread, and the others aren't much better, even Scorpius, whose refined appearance Harry now knows is deceiving. He certainly hasn't inherited his father's pickiness when it comes to food.
"You did have five sausages, Al," Rose points out, giggling.
"I'm a growing boy," Al insists, eyes wide and innocent.
"How is anyone else supposed to grow if you eat all the sausages?" Lily grouses good-naturedly. "Please can I have a chicken gyro, Dad?"
Harry gazes around at his collection of chattering, arguing, face-pulling children and sighs. He reaches into his pocket, hands several coins to Kari, and stands back. "One at a time—tell the nice lady what you want... at least one vegetable, okay? Contrary to popular belief, they won't kill you."
Kari snorts and begins to assemble their orders, while Harry leans on the counter and hopes that this will fill up the ravenous little buggers for at least an hour or so.
"Here you are," Kari says at last, pushing a wrapped sandwich in Harry's direction. He doesn't remember ordering anything for himself.
"Your usual, as if you need to ask," Kari sighs, regarding Harry as she often does, as though he's an object of some amusement. "And," she adds, reaching for the trays, "enough Greek snacks and desserts to sink the proverbial battleship."
"You are wonderful," Harry says, taking the trays with a grateful smile and renewed appreciation for a good friend he would never have found without the glimpse.
Kari grins. "Spread the word," she implores. "Maybe then I'll find a nice man before my father decides that I'm hopeless, and/or a lesbian."
"Are you?" Harry asks before he can stop himself.
Kari laughs. "No. Perhaps I should give it a go, what do you think?"
Harry says nothing, just grins at his friend and follows the children out into the street, bringing up the rear of a little sandwich-munching crocodile. He doesn't think he's in any position to be giving out relationship advice. Instead, he stuffs his mouth with marinated beef, feta, and salad and follows his children back into the crowds, chewing slowly and reflecting that, all things considered, it's still nice to be asked.
"I'm back," he calls, misjudging the jump slightly and losing his balance on the living room rug, necessitating an odd little dance to secure Kari's trays, the box from Borteg's and the many string-handled bags that are flapping and swinging from his arms.
"Where have you been?" Draco demands, appearing in the doorway, hands on hips and a pheasant quill behind one ear. Harry's stomach twists pleasurably and he bites down on a smile.
"You know where I've been," he says pointlessly, indicating the bags, trays and boxes.
"Yes, well. You've been a long time," Draco says, voice oddly strained.
Suspicion prickling, Harry frowns. He's becoming somewhat skilled at reading the minute flickers of expressions that Draco often still tries to conceal, and all his instincts are now telling him that Draco has done something... a bit weird.
With a few contortions, Harry manages to safely stow his burden on the sofa; he gently presses his way past a barely-resisting Draco and heads, after a moment's consideration, down to the kitchen, following the warm, delicious smell that is drifting up the stairs.
When he steps onto the tiles and sees the proliferation of silver trays and miniature snacks, he wants to laugh. He knows exactly what Draco has done, and though he's somewhat irritated by the obvious lack of faith in his manly food-obtaining ability, the resounding echo of Draco's glimpse self assaults him from all sides and it's such a thrilling, stomach-wrenching, wonderful feeling that any trace of ire is vaporised before it has a chance to take hold.
"Draco..." he murmurs, hearing guilty footsteps behind him. Still fighting a smile, he doesn't turn to face him, instead continuing to gaze at the platters containing miniscule pork pies, pumpkin pasties, cupcakes and croissants and Yorkshire puddings.
From behind him comes a small sound of exasperation. "Well, you were taking so long that I thought it might be best to firecall the Manor and just ask Bilby to prepare a few bits and pieces."
Harry does laugh now; he can't help it. "A few bits and pieces? Draco, there's enough here for about fifty people! And that's not including all the stuff I brought home. What are we going to do with it all?"
"I don't know," Draco sighs. In the darkened windows, Harry watches him lift a pale hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. After a moment, his expression brightens. "Blaise is coming," he says simply.
Harry looks at the profusion of minute snacks and grins. "Alright," he concedes, all too aware of the vast amount of food Blaise can put away, seemingly without effort. "At least he won't go hungry now."
"I have the distinct impression that you are mocking me," Draco says, managing to look slightly put out despite the wry note in his voice that tells Harry he is fully conscious of the absurdity of his actions.
"I promise I'm not," Harry lies, granting Draco a smile and crossing the kitchen as he turns away and folds his arms, embarrassed and haughty and just a little bit uncertain of himself. Harry's heart clenches with a now-familiar blend of love and exasperation.
"Yes, well... I... I haven't ever thrown a party by myself before," Draco mutters. "My mother always did them, until... we didn't have them any more."
"You're not by yourself," Harry says, resting his head on Draco's shoulder and wrapping his arms around his waist, pulling him close until he begins to relax. The tip of the quill brushes against his nose and he sneezes. "You've got me," he manages after a moment.
"Hmm," Draco murmurs noncommittally, hands lifting to tap against Harry's.
"And anyway, this isn't some fancy high society do—it's just a few of our friends coming over to celebrate the fact that we've all somehow survived another year."
Draco snorts. "I can't deny it's been an interesting one."
Warmed, Harry buries his smile in the back of Draco's neck, pressing his lips against soft hair and clean, warm skin. We've come a long way, Boris, he thinks, tightening his grip on Draco's hips and wondering if they have enough time to...
"Don't even think about it," Draco sighs, sounding gratifyingly regretful. "We both have to shower and get changed and you know Hermione is always early."
"Bah," Harry complains, but he knows that Draco is right. Draco is always bloody right.
Upstairs, Harry flops onto the bed as the hiss of hot water and the clatter of bottles starts up in the bathroom. Stretching, he regards his cluttered bedside table. Draco has made numerous attempts to persuade him to tidy it, to bring it into line with the neat, clean aspect of the rest of the room, but Harry holds firm; everything on the table is there for a reason and there it will stay, a little island of chaos in a sea of order.
Misu's tank, much larger than her first home, takes up more than half of the available space, surrounded by a growing collection of multicoloured glass tail ends, arranged pointily in rows like an army of surreal little hats. On the top of the tank, the napkin flag flies proudly, flapping in the breeze from the open window and the draught that seeps in from the landing. The tomato clock sits on the edge of the table, flanked by a recent gift from Lily, a beautiful pencil drawing of Frank and Misu, and his now rather well-thumbed copy of 'The Glassblower's Guide'. Strewn in between are various pencils and notebooks containing scores of the last-thing-at-night ideas that have lead to some of Harry's most unusual and successful pieces, and, right on the edge, next to an unusual pebble found by Draco on the beach at Edinburgh that summer, is Harry's Christmas card from Narcissa.
Reaching out, he picks it up and smiles to himself as he examines the inevitable picture of azaleas, somehow surviving a glittering winter frost. Thanks to Hamish, she has been able to visit the house several times over recent months; she has sipped tea at the wrought iron table, inspected Harry's roof garden, and delighted in passing on her secret little tips for keeping flowers bright and thriving in the harshest of conditions.
"It is more important than ever to have colour in one's life during the winter months, Harry," she says often, and he has to agree with her. Fortunately, his house is full of colour, and not just because Lily and Jeanette have managed to persuade him to paint each of the bathrooms in a different vibrant shade because "otherwise, bathrooms are just boring, aren't they?" Harry can't say he has any strong opinions about bathrooms either way, but he has come to enjoy the frequent visits of Lily's strident friend. It helps that Jeanette has taken quite a shine to Draco, who is clearly unaccustomed to such brazen admiration, providing both Harry and Lily with endless opportunities for giggles and conspiratorial glances.
Warm thoughts of Lily drift, as they often do, into the memories of Maura that Harry keeps carefully locked away in a safe place inside his head. Setting down the card, he scrambles onto the edge of the bed, reaches for the bottom drawer in the chest and lets them out, bittersweet and aching, as he pushes aside a pile of soft woollen sweaters and slides open the secret compartment that contains the only possession, the only secret, that he cannot share with Draco. The shower is still pounding away in the next room as he takes out his photograph of Maura, torn from the pages of a newspaper that never existed in this reality.
"Hey, Maura Fedora," he whispers, smiling at the brightly-coloured photograph. "I miss you. Hope you're keeping your real Uncle Harry in line." The little girl grins back at him from the picture and smoothes out the skirt of the snail-patterned dress illicitly bought for her by her father.
Harry has often considered allowing Blaise to see the photograph of his daughter but always seems to come to the same conclusion—surely it would be too painful for his friend to see Maura, for her to become more than just a fuzzy picture in his imagination, for him to look at her bright smile and clever eyes, to see himself looking back and to be left with nothing but a photograph to prove she ever existed. He can't do it. He won't do it.
He glances at his own photograph album, full of pictures of his parents, and, as always, his conscience prickles and his resolve wavers, fingers tightening against smudged newsprint as the figures in the photograph continue to smile and wave to the camera, oblivious to the struggle in the room beyond. It's not the same, though; he knows that, and, glimpses aside, it's better not to dwell on what might have been. Besides, he thinks, hearing the water stop and replacing the photograph in its hiding place, if things keep going the way they have been, the idea of Blaise and Ginny having a child together isn't a completely outlandish one.
Harry smiles and closes the drawer. As the bathroom door swings open, filling the bedroom with fresh, lemony steam, he gazes down at the inside of his wrist, where four newly-inked letters serve as a permanent reminder of the importance of risk, change, growth, and courage.
T U R N.
Draco walks into the room, one towel slung around his waist while he uses another to rub at his wet hair. He stops, fixing Harry with a stern expression.
"Are you picking that?"
Harry, who had certainly been thinking about it, pulls his hand away from the tattoo as though he's been hit with a stinging hex. "Absolutely not," he says, trying to look offended.
"I hope not," Draco says darkly, resuming his hair-rubbing. "It'll get infected, and then what?"
"Then I'll use a healing spell to—"
"Then," Draco interrupts, "all those people who said you were going mad or having a midlife crisis will really have something to talk about, won't they?"
Harry flops back onto the bed, closing his eyes and smiling lazily. "Draco, why do you worry about such ridiculous things?"
"I don't know. So that you don't have to?" Draco suggests, crossing the room and starting up the characteristic tapping on the wardrobe doors that signals the beginning of his dressing ritual. "So, was your shopping expedition successful? Did James get his new broomstick?"
Harry stretches. "Mm. That new Nimbus Silver-Blue."
"You are such a pushover," Draco laughs above the rattle of coat hangers.
Opening one eye, Harry regards him "Oh, really? And what broom did you get for Scorpius this year?"
Draco mumbles unintelligibly and concentrates a little too hard on selecting and buttoning up a midnight blue shirt.
"Did you see this?" he says eventually, picking up this morning's Prophet from the dresser and flinging it over to Harry. "I thought it might amuse you for two minutes. Page sixteen."
Far too comfortable to move, Harry flicks to page sixteen and holds the newspaper above his face so that he can scan the article whilst continuing to sprawl on his back.
"Ah, I see it's more hard-hitting journalism from the Prophet," he observes, glancing at the full-page article which consists of photographs and little quotes from various public figures, explaining how they are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve. It's an interesting selection, he has to admit; everyone from the new head of MLE to Celestina herself is represented, and there, between the singer from the Weird Sisters and the captain of the Holyhead Harpies, is Harry.
"I remember them taking my picture for this," he says, recalling a bitterly cold morning just after Christmas when a spiky-haired young girl with a camera had bounced into the workshop and asked him a lot of strange questions about what 'people his age' did for fun in the holidays.
"You do look a bit startled," Draco says, holding a silver tie and an almost identical grey one against his shirt and frowning at his reflection in the mirror.
"I was," Harry admits, gazing critically at the blinking eyes and dishevelled hair of his photo-self. "I think she'd just asked me if I was planning on going to a rave."
"I don't think I even want to know what that is," Draco says faintly, doing up the silver tie and replacing the grey one carefully in its proper position.
'It's a quiet one for me,' reads the little bubble next to his photograph. 'Good food, good whisky, and good friends.'
Harry grins. "I think I make a good case."
"You'll make a show of yourself if you don't go and get ready before everyone arrives," Draco says, standing at the foot of the bed and folding his arms. "You have... what I can only assume is your lunch all down your jumper."
Harry sniffs at the stain near his collar. It smells spicy. And Greek.
He looks up cheerfully at Draco. "So I have."
The elegant nose wrinkles and Draco walks out of the bedroom, shaking his head.
Harry laughs and heads for the shower.
Hermione is, naturally, first to arrive. She steps out of the living room fireplace a good twenty minutes before the appointed hour, dressed in jeans and a pretty embroidered shirt, closely followed by Ron, who is muttering and flicking soot out of his hair. Ginny isn't far behind them, and when Harry returns from the kitchen with a tray of glasses, Blaise is making himself comfortable in a leather armchair and beaming at Hermione as she rather self-consciously turns around to show him the back of her shirt.
"Splendid," Blaise declares. "Ah, there you are, Harry—I fear it was only a matter of time before we all perished from dehydration." He turns his obscenely white smile on Harry and eyes the tray hopefully.
"Are you sure you want to stay, Blaise?" Draco offers from his spot, leaning against the fireplace.
Blaise frowns. "Of course. Why do you ask?"
Draco lifts one shoulder in an elegant, almost uninterested shrug. "I thought you might feel more at home in the theatre, that's all."
Blaise releases a loud bark of laughter. "Hell's teeth, Draco! I rather think it takes one to know one, don't you?"
Harry snorts and glances at Ron, who is grinning and shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
"Men," Hermione declares, taking a glass from Harry's tray and looking around. "Let's have a drink, shall we?"
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Kari says, stepping out of the fireplace at a slightly ungainly angle and pushing her long dark hair out of her face. "Am I late?"
Harry smiles and hands her a glass. "Nope."
"This lot are all appallingly early," Draco puts in, resting a hand on Harry's shoulder. It's warm, steady, anchoring, and Harry feels more than ever that he is, at last, in exactly the right place at the right time.
"There is nothing appalling about enthusiasm, old bean," Blaise booms from his chair.
Draco says nothing but his expression is glorious; a struggle between cool derision for the sentiment and deep affection for his old friend. Harry kisses him. He can't help it.
"Put him down, you don't know where he's been," Kari calls, accompanied by an impressive wolf whistle that seems to come from Hermione.
As the first round of whisky is poured out—Flanagan's Flame, at Harry's insistence—Neville and Anthony join the party. Anthony solicitously helps Nev off with his coat and then gazes at him, exasperation and anxiety flowing from him in waves. The source of his concern, Harry quickly notices, is the latest in a series of work-related injuries. He doesn't quite dare to ask what happened this time, but Neville's entire left forearm is swathed in odd-smelling bandages. Instinctively, Harry curls his two damaged fingers against his palm, drawing a peculiar comfort from the sensation of the smooth, healed skin. No, he's not going to ask.
"What on earth have you done?" Ginny demands, apparently having no such qualms.
"And what is that smell?" Ron asks, freckled nose wrinkling.
Neville sighs. "I'm breeding a giant variety of Venus flytrap. It... er... seems to have taken exception to me."
"You're growing a plant that bites people... on purpose?" Kari asks, appearing beside Harry and regarding Neville with curiosity over the top of her smoking glass. Just in time, Harry remembers that she, Neville and Anthony haven't met before.
"Kari, this is my friend Neville—he works with Blaise at Zabology. This is Anthony, he's Nev's... er..." Harry falters, searching for the right word.
"Partner, nurse, disaster management," Anthony says smoothly, grasping Kari's hand and shaking it firmly. "Nice to meet you."
Kari grins. "You too."
Grateful for the rescue, Harry exhales slowly and attempts to resume his introduction. He has the sneaking feeling that Draco is watching him and despairing of his clumsy manners, but that's alright. That's just what Draco does.
"Kari runs the Dragondale Deli," he says. "And makes sure that I'm fed."
"Of course," Anthony exclaims, snapping his fingers. "I knew I recognised you. You make the most wonderful cake I've ever tasted."
Kari's dark eyes glow, and Harry almost thinks he sees her blush. "Thanks very much."
"What about the cake I made for you the other day?" Nev demands, pretending offence.
Anthony's delicate features crease anxiously. "Ah... well... what I meant was..."
"Seriously," Ron interrupts, saving Anthony from finishing his doomed sentence. "What is that smell?"
"It's me," Neville says apologetically, indicating his arm. "Sorry."
"It's a mixture of orris root and dragon's blood," Anthony says, removing his coat and exchanging it, and Neville's duffel, for heavy glasses of Flanagan's. "It promotes healing."
"It smells really weird," Ron opines. When Anthony turns away to resume his cake discussion with Kari, Nev catches Ron's eye and nods wearily.
"Is everyone here?" Blaise asks, creaking around in his chair. "I'm ravenous."
Hermione gets up from her perch on the arm of the sofa and inspects the vast array of little snacks, lips pursed in contemplation. She turns to Harry. "I think you may have gone a little mad with the food."
"Hey!" Kari cries, noticing Draco's extra platters. "You got a back-up caterer? Don't you trust me?"
Harry sighs. When the knock at the door comes, he abandons Draco without a shred of guilt.
"I'm going to let you deal with this," he announces, taking his drink and heading for the door to let in the last of his guests.
Jenny and George are huddled together on the doorstep, wrapped in heavy coats, scarves and gloves. Jenny's blonde hair is covered by a vivid emerald green hat and George's ginger mop is dotted with snowflakes. Both are grinning and expelling white plumes of breath into the night air.
"Good evening," Harry says, taking a moment to bask in the warm corona of affection that surrounds the two of them before stepping back and letting them into the house. "Cold out, is it?" he asks innocently as George shakes his head like a wet dog, lightly spraying Harry with bits of ice.
"Just a smidge, mate," George grins. "Nothing a good firewhisky won't fix."
"That I can do." Harry gathers their many layers of outdoor clothing and follows them into the living room, where they receive a chorus of greetings from the guests within.
"Alright, George... Jen," Ron says, eyes narrowing as he looks at his brother. "No one's seen you since Boxing Day—what've you been up to?"
"Ron, for crying out loud," Ginny reproves, just as George grins and says,
"Well, seeing as you asked, little bro..."
"I don't think I've had enough to drink to hear this," Draco mumbles, sinking into a chair and running a hand through his wayward fringe.
"Actually, we do have some news," Jenny says, and suddenly all eyes are on her.
"Well, do go on... some of us aren't built for suspense," Blaise demands. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry catches Ginny gazing at Blaise with irritable, stretched-out longing. It's only a matter of time, Harry repeats to himself. That's what everyone says.
"Don't rush me, Blaise," she says sternly. Blaise just beams. "Okay. Well, George and I are engaged," she says proudly, holding out her hand to display a ring on her third finger that gleams in the soft light.
Ginny's eyes widen. "Oh my goodness... George, I can't believe it!" she cries, leaping up from her seat and flinging herself at her brother. "I can't... congratulations!"
"That's fantastic news," Hermione says, hugging Jenny and George in turn. Blaise sets down his glass and levers himself out of his chair to congratulate the grinning couple, and by the time he has finished, the room has exploded into a mass of hugs, laughter, and excitement.
When he is pulled into a rib-crunching embrace by George, Harry doesn't know whether to celebrate or grieve—two people he cares a great deal about are happy, but another is painfully, starkly missing. Harry's eyes sting, so he closes them and allows his smile to ache against his friend's shirt fabric. He has no doubt that Fred, wherever he is, would want his brother to be happy.
"I'm really pleased for you," he mumbles, responding to George's resounding back slap with one of his own.
"Wouldn't have happened without you, Harry," George admits, releasing him.
Harry shrugs, suddenly feeling awkward. "No problem."
"Marriage," Draco says darkly, shaking George's hand with mischief in his eyes. "You must be mad."
George laughs. "Forty years of being called mad... I've pretty much made my peace with it."
"It's beautiful," Hermione says, admiring Jenny's sparkling ring. "Did you choose it yourself?"
"Give me some credit, Hermione," George complains before Jenny can answer.
"There's no way you chose that on your own," Ginny says, crossing her arms and fixing her brother with a dubious stare.
George holds out against it for an impressive few seconds before caving in. "Fine, I had a bit of help from Allie."
"Aha!" Ginny declares, looking pleased with herself. Beside her, Anthony's dark eyes flit between Jenny and George, taking in the exchange with a warm interest that just reinforces Harry's growing belief that Neville is onto a good thing.
"Apparently, Mummy wanted something glittery that wouldn't get in her way at work," George says, smile turning from sheepish to affectionate as he talks about the little girl who looks up to him so completely.
"The man did well, then," Draco says, warm at Harry's back.
"Yeah," he agrees. Jenny's ring is certainly glittery, made up of multiple small stones instead of a single large one, graduating in colour from shimmering turquoise to deepest green. He can't pretend to be any kind of expert on engagement rings, but his ever-strengthening artist's sense flickers with approval.
"It's lovely," Kari sighs, gently taking Jenny's hand to better examine the ring. "I'm far too careless to have anything as nice as this. I'd probably lose those tiny little stones in the first batch of bread dough I made."
"So would I if I had to make bread," Jenny laughs.
"I don't see the problem," George puts in, wrapping an arm around Jenny's shoulders. "You could still sell the bread—pretend it's a promotion—people love getting free stuff."
"Do these people also enjoy breaking their teeth on unexpected precious stones?" Draco wonders, and something in his tone makes Harry think he is actually looking for a response.
"Better than an expected precious stone in your sandwich," Anthony says, exhaling a thoughtful wisp of smoke as he settles himself back on the sofa next to an amused-looking Neville. "If you know it's there and still break your teeth on it, you have bigger problems than a trip to St Mungo's."
"This is a very strange conversation," Ron says to no one in particular.
"It would suggest a certain... instability of mind," Hermione says faintly, smiling into her glass.
"I don't know," Blaise muses, drawing all the eyes in the room back to him effortlessly. "I like a bit of crunch in my sandwiches."
For a moment, there are no words. Then Harry feels Draco's intake of breath against the back of his neck as he prepares to make some mocking remark, but Ginny beats him to it.
"That's alright, Blaise," she says, patting him on the shoulder. "No one's accusing you of having a stable mind."
"Ginny, you wound me!" Blaise intones. "Do you have no kind words for an old man?"
Harry snorts softly. He knows, as well as everyone else in the room, that Ginny would have plenty of kind words for Blaise if she would only be honest. Perhaps it should be weird, but, as Blaise has advised him many times before, 'things are only weird if you make them weird, old bean'. And, shoulds aside, it's really... fine, actually. He's happy now, happier than he ever thought possible, and he wants the same for Ginny. She and Blaise have been dancing around each other for months now, skirting maddeningly along the line between friendship and everything—they all know it's going to happen, but there's nothing to be done.
Draco, hardly the paragon of patience himself, has driven Harry to the edge of reason with his calm pronouncements about 'not rushing these things', to the point that he has mostly stopped listening, even though he knows that Draco is right, and even though he wouldn't dare interfere in Ginny's love life, however much he might want to. Apart from anything else, she'd kill him.
Harry blinks, realising that he has managed to tune out of the conversation for several seconds. Hermione and Ron are grinning at each other; Jenny, Kari and Neville seem to have come down with a fit of the giggles, and Draco appears to be exchanging arch glances with Anthony.
"Kindly bugger off, Blaise," Ginny snaps, flushing lightly. She sits down heavily on the creaking arm of his chair and concentrates a little too hard on her drink.
Blaise beams, catching Harry's eye for a telling moment. "I'll do nothing of the sort. And I've no idea what you're laughing at," he says mildly, turning to the gigglers with massive dignity.
For some reason, this only makes them laugh even harder.
"I don't know, either," Kari admits, glancing at her co-conspirators.
Neville emits an odd squawking sound and begins to choke on his whisky. Jenny cackles and slaps him on the back with a Weasley-esque level of force.
"Thanks," he croaks, eyes watering. Inevitably, Anthony is soon leaning forward and checking him over, spelling a stream of clear water into his empty glass and pushing it into Nev's hands.
Neville sips the water obediently and grins up at Harry. Harry grins back.
"If you'd like to put the insanity on hold for a moment or two, we have an awful lot of food to get through," Draco says, tapping his fingers almost imperceptibly at Harry's belt and indicating the table in the corner, crammed with Kari's snacks and Bilby's illicit offerings.
"Oh, I think we can manage both at once," Blaise assures, heaving himself out of his chair and stretching. As he does, Ginny loses her balance on the arm and slithers to the floor in a heap.
"Thanks," she mumbles, holding out her glass carefully. She hasn't spilled a drop.
Jenny snorts. George grabs the Flanagan's bottle and tops up his sister's glass. She takes a gulp, blows out an impressive cloud of smoke and laughs, making herself comfortable on the hearthrug. Harry, who had been making his way over to help her up, heads instead in the direction of the food, flushed with warmth and wellbeing.
A strange sort of carnival atmosphere seems to have fallen over the room, snaring the occupants and pulling them together, turning a disparate group of friends, colleagues, and people Harry has collected along the course of his curious journey, into a bright, connected little family, just for tonight. In high spirits, Harry refills glasses, samples both Kari's and Bilby's food—just to be fair—and retrieves Misu from the table before she attempts to swallow an entire chicken leg in one go.
"Not a good idea," he tells her, setting her on the floor with a little chunk of honey-glazed ham. "Too big."
"Am surely big enough now to consume the entire bird, not just one part," she insists, wrapping around the ham anyway. Harry strokes her shiny head and she opens her mouth wide. Her sparkly red tail hat, made specially for the festive season, clinks joyfully against the polished floorboards as she drags the ham cube under the table to devour it.
Harry watches her for a moment, then fills a plate for Ginny and drops to the floor beside her.
"Thanks." She balances the plate on her lap and picks up a glistening piece of baklava.
"These pork pies are so small!" Ron marvels from a nearby sofa. Harry grins.
"So easily impressed, my brother," Ginny laughs. Her eyes are clear and bright as she looks up at Harry. "I wonder how Mum and Dad are getting on with the kids."
"All of them," Harry agrees, though he's not really worried. The children are high-spirited but not badly-behaved; he can't see them giving Molly and Arthur any trouble beside a temporary headache.
Ginny frowns. "Yes. About that. Why is it that I now seem to have five children?"
"Hey, I had them all afternoon while I was out shopping," Harry points out, mock wounded, and fills her glass.
"My son is a delight," Draco says drily, reaching down to swipe the bottle from Harry as he passes. He heads for the record player, which has just begun blaring out a selection of Celestina Warbeck's greatest hits. "Unlike this music. I'm sure we have something better."
"Ah, leave her alone, Draco," Harry calls, leaning back on his hands and allowing the opening bars of 'Curse-breakin' Man' to wash over him.
"Turn it up!" Neville cries, somewhat unsteadily. "Let the woman sing!"
Harry twists around to see him raising his glass, expression vehement, thick hair flopping over one eye. From his side, Anthony watches him with a characteristic blend of anxiety and affection.
"Hear, hear!" bellows Blaise, making Ginny jump. She reaches up and flicks him in the arm. Draco sighs and holds his hands up in defeat, allowing Celestina to warble on.
The party, it seems, is now underway.
Somewhere around eleven-thirty, the group decamps to the roof terrace. It's a little cramped and bitterly cold, but Hermione soon takes charge of festooning the place with her fantastic warming charms, and no one seems to mind having to squash up close in order to stake out a good position for the end-of-year fireworks.
Harry tucks his cold-numbed nose into the soft folds of his scarf and watches his friends chatter and laugh and wave their arms about with the abandon and enthusiasm borne of pleasant intoxication. Neville, who has strayed beyond pleasant intoxication into slurring, giggling drunk, is sitting at the wrought iron table with Kari and Anthony, who are talking animatedly about restaurants they have visited while Nev titters to himself and chases an ice cube around his empty glass. Harry watches him, chewing on an affectionate smile for his old friend. He hadn't been nearly as sozzled at Harry's last—or other—New Year's Eve party, but then again, Harry supposes, he had been far too wracked with guilt over the Goldstein incident to really let himself go.
"Goldstein," Harry mumbles to himself, gazing at Anthony, the polite, handsome, friendly man he has come to know. His obnoxious glimpse counterpart now seems like nothing more than a bad dream.
At the railings, Blaise and Ginny stand, elbows touching, as they look out over the city in silence. They don't seem to notice the alcohol-fuelled intensity of Ron's gaze, or Hermione's footsteps as she pokes around in Harry's plant pots and makes adjustments that only she understands to the soil in the azalea tub.
Huddled together, Jenny and George are discussing their wedding plans with Draco, who is warm and solid at Harry's side; he glances at Harry every now and then, as though to include him in the conversation, even though he lapsed into contented silence several minutes ago. The wind whips up, buffeting Hermione's protective charms and whisking the familiar scent of sharp citrus into Harry's nostrils.
"I had a thought," Jenny says cautiously.
Draco lifts an eyebrow, apparently resisting the urge to make a smart remark. "Oh?"
"I wondered if your mother would be interested in helping with the flowers. She seems to know a lot about what goes with what, from what I've heard."
Draco blinks, startled. His mouth curves slowly into a small smile. "I shall certainly ask her."
Jenny beams, clutching tightly onto her glass as she reaches up impulsively to kiss Draco on the cheek. "Thank you so much! You're lovely, aren't you?"
"I assure you I am not," Draco says, turning to Harry in mute appeal.
He's ruffled, embarrassed, and unbalanced in more ways than one. Quickly, Harry presses a kiss to his other cheek, grinning against his cool skin. "I'm afraid she's right," he murmurs, "you're disgustingly, irreparably lovely."
"Hang on a minute!" Neville interrupts, hanging over the back of his chair, expression wounded. Draco, Harry, Jenny and George turn to him. "You mean you aren't going to ask me and Blaise to do the flowers? We're repressionals, you know! I mean... parishioners... erm... professors...regurgitators. No..." he sighs. "I don't know what we are."
"Professionals?" Hermione suggests, tearing herself away from Harry's plants to pat Neville absently on the head.
"Yeah. That. Thanks 'Mione," Neville says smiling up at her beatifically.
Jenny disentangles herself from George and perches on the spare chair beside Neville, eyes anxious. "I'm sorry," she says quietly. "It's not that we don't think you're excellent at what you do, but... for the wedding we're going to need something pretty that will... you know, stay put... and be quiet."
Neville nods mournfully. "You don't like my hissing cactuses. I understand."
"Hissing cacti, surely?" Draco mumbles. Harry elbows him in the ribs.
"Come on, Nev, don't be like that," George weighs in, clapping Neville on the shoulder. "We love our hissing cactus. And our carnivorous fern."
"And our spiny dragon roses," Jenny adds.
Neville brightens. "Really? Have you got some?"
"You gave them to us last week, mate," George says, laughter creeping into his voice.
"Did I really?" Neville blinks owlishly. "Well, that's nice."
"Any chance of another drink, Harry?" Blaise booms, turning at the rail. "Not long to go now, I shouldn't think."
"Help yourself, I think there's another bottle of Goose we haven't opened yet," Harry offers, drawing his wand and casting a large, glowing Tempus. Blaise is right—only ten minutes of the old year remain.
He knows what he has to do.
"Grab your glasses and come over here," he calls, sketching out a circle of light with his wand. "Come on, let's do this properly. Everyone get up."
"Harry, I can't," Neville says flatly, squinting up at him.
"Of course you can." Harry grabs his arm and Blaise grabs the other. Together, they pull him to his feet and he leans against Anthony, giggly but determined.
"What are we doing?" Ginny asks, hovering on the edge of the circle.
"Oh, some sort of weird, dark magic, knowing Harry," George grins, taking up his place between Jenny and Ron without argument.
Draco glances at Harry, puzzled, but says nothing.
"The year is almost over," Harry says, indicating the glowing digits of the Tempus Charm. "Time to make a promise. Something you're going to do differently."
"Gosh, I haven't made a New Year's resolution in forever," Jenny says, pale brows knitted. "I'll have to think..."
"Don't think too hard," Harry advises. "It could be the first thing that comes into your head. It can be anything, as long as you mean it."
From the other side of the circle, Ginny smiles at him. It's a fragile, hopeful kind of smile and it tugs at Harry's heart, leaving just enough pain there to remind him how far they have come and the trials they have endured to be in this place now, on Harry's roof at midnight, separate but together.
He takes a deep breath. "I'll go first. This year, I will be more organised, and I will not lower my prices when Draco isn't looking," he declares, to a ripple of laughter around the circle.
"I am always looking," Draco advises.
At Harry's other side, Kari speaks up. "I will be nicer to Darius. It's not his fault he's a disgusting teenage boy."
"I will worry less." Anthony smiles ruefully and amends, "I will try to worry less."
Nev grabs his hand and squeezes it. "I will be careful," he says grandly. "The carefullest."
"I will teach Allie to fly," George says decisively. "I've been promising her for weeks."
Jenny chews on her lip, clearly apprehensive about allowing her daughter to shoot off into the air on a broomstick for the first time. Astonishingly, it's Draco who speaks up to comfort her.
"He's an excellent flyer. Allie will have a wonderful time."
Startled, Jenny smiles. Harry catches the smile and turns to Draco, heart racing, who says nothing, simply lacing his fingers through Harry's and gazing ahead expectantly for the next promise.
It's Hermione's. "I will... learn a new skill this year." She shoots Harry a crooked smile. "Maybe glassblowing."
He grins and mouths, 'you're on'.
Jenny gazes across the circle at Hermione, expression pensive. Finally, she nods, as though coming to a decision. "Learning something new is a great idea. I think... I will learn to fly, too," she says stridently, pale hair flapping around her face in the high wind as though she has decided to start her resolution early. "I never really got the hang of it at school."
"That's my girl," George says, hugging her to his side.
Ron casts a sly look at Draco. "I will continue my campaign to persuade Draco that consulting for my department will be interesting and rewarding and not... what is it, Draco? Working for the enemy?"
Draco says nothing, merely granting Ron a withering look. Harry rolls his eyes heavenward. This argument has been going on for months now, with no sign of a resolution. Draco never says 'no', he never says 'don't ask me again'; he just snipes and throws out scathing remarks and generally ignores Ron's offers and pleas, despite the fact that he clearly finds his job in the world of finance extremely fucking dull. Perhaps it's just one of those frustrating things that cannot be rushed.
There is silence on the rooftop for several seconds as Draco appears to weigh up his response.
"Make of this what you will, Ron," he says carefully. "This year, I will truly consider my options when it comes to my career."
"Consider?" Ron complains. "Is that all?"
"I will consider," Draco continues, "the example I want to set for my son... in terms of taking chances and whether what is safe is also what is best. Will that do?"
Ron nods, pleased, and Harry's stomach flips over. He looks down at his wrist and smiles.
"You know what, Draco? I think you're right," Ginny says, gesturing with her glass. "To taking risks! This year, I will be strong and assertive and woe betide any goblin who gets in my way."
Amused, Harry lifts his glass to match hers and takes a sip of the warming liquid. No further resolutions are forthcoming as the last two minutes of the year slip away. "Are we all done?"
Harry turns, as does everyone, to stare at Blaise. He has somehow gone unnoticed for the last few minutes, and it's only now that Harry really thinks about it that he realises that Blaise has been completely silent since he joined the circle. He scrutinises Blaise anxiously, hoping that he's feeling alright. He seems fine, if a little more... serious than usual. When he speaks, his voice is low and a little rough.
"I gave a good friend a piece of advice some months ago," he begins, and when his eyes flick to Harry's for the briefest of moments, Harry suddenly knows exactly which piece of advice he is talking about. "It was a good piece of advice, so... as soon as this year begins, I will endeavour to follow it myself."
In the intrigued silence that follows, Ginny fiddles with her glass, Blaise gazes up at the sky, and Harry just watches them both.
Tell her how you feel, old bean, he thinks. Maybe that would be a start.
"Ten seconds!" Kari calls, pointing at the shimmering numbers.
"Ready for another interesting year?" Harry asks, turning to Draco.
Draco's eyes gleam. His smile crinkles one corner of his mouth as he murmurs, "Absolutely."
"... five... four... three... two... one... Happy New Year!" the group cries as one, and then everything seems to be happening at once. All around them, the bangs and whirrs and crackles of fireworks, the showers of colour and glitter on every side, the sharp smells of winter and gunpowder and spilt firewhisky as everyone swaps hugs and kisses and joyful, jumbled words.
Draco is whisked away from him by an enthusiastic Neville but he doesn't mind; he has all the time in the world for that. Instead, he looks up at the sky, watching a majestic shower of golden sparks making their way over his little part of London. When he lowers his eyes to his friends once more, Ginny is leaning up on her tiptoes to kiss Blaise, and he is leaning down, huge dark hands cupping her face.
Harry watches them for a moment, quite unable to look away. Perhaps it should hurt, but all he feels is relief.
"I can't offer you an engagement ring—at least... not right now," Blaise says, as quietly as he knows how, "but..."
He breaks off, uncertain for once, and Ginny's warm laughter fills the space. "I don't need a ring, you idiot," she says, and kisses him again.
Harry smiles and turns away, leaning on the cold railings and thinking of those who are missing. Fred. Maura. Boris. "To absent friends," he murmurs, lifting his glass and hoping that, one way or another, they know that they aren't forgotten.
"Well, that took long enough, didn't it?" Ron says, coming to lean next to him.
Harry blinks. "What?"
"Ginny and Blaise," Ron says, and he doesn't need to vocalise the 'obviously' that's written all over his face.
Harry shrugs and looks away, hiding his smile. "Can't rush these things, mate."
He has no idea what time it is when he and Draco are alone in the house once more, but he is tired, cold, and slightly unsteady. Draco's weary expression and slightly weaving stance tell a similar story, but the sight of him, warm-eyed and dishevelled, still sends the heat pouring into the pit of Harry's stomach.
"Come here," he mumbles, pulling Draco close to him, breathing him in deeply, and Apparating them both upstairs.
"You are very late to bed," Misu says brightly, poking her head up out of her tank. "Have your friends gone away? They were so very exciting."
"Go to sleep, you naughty snake," Draco mumbles, focusing all his attention on unbuttoning his shirt.
Harry snorts and pets Misu, stumbling slightly over his own feet as he does so. "Yes, everyone has gone home. It's time to go to sleep now."
Misu laughs. "You are unsteady. Will there be food tomorrow?" she asks, curling neatly into a coil and gazing up at Harry.
Harry grins. If only everyone were so easy to please. "There'll be food, Mi. Goodnight."
When he crawls into bed and turns out the lights, Draco immediately drags him close, pressing their cold skin together.
"Freezing," Harry complains half-heartedly, running a hand down Draco's back anyway.
"Shh," Draco whispers, brushing his lips against Harry's.
Contented, Harry kisses back, threading his fingers through Draco's windblown hair and tangling their cold limbs together. Draco's mouth is hot and his fingers slippery and perfect; the blankets are heavy and warm, and Harry is aching and needy and indolent. Together, they slide and stroke and kiss, whispering and breathing and gasping until everything is fuzzy and delicious and over too soon.
Warm and sated, Draco stretches out and presses himself against Harry's back, draping one arm over his waist and breathing slowly against the back of his neck.
"I think my first party was rather successful," he mumbles.
"Our first party," Harry corrects, pressing his cold toes against Draco's shins.
"Mm," Draco concedes. "Harry?"
"If that godforsaken tomato wakes me up in the morning, I will have you killed."
Harry sighs, eyes falling closed. "I'll look forward to that."
"Why are you so... hmm, something," Draco mumbles, yawning.
Drifting now, Harry makes a noncommittal sound. "I love you."
"That's not really what I meant," Draco says crossly—as crossly as he can manage, anyway. "Go to sleep. I love you, too."
Seconds later, Harry is unconscious.
There's a light at the top of the stairs.
He heads toward it, reaching for the carved door and the spicy air.
"Who's there? Potter, is that you?"
In his sleep, Harry smiles.