Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: So this has undergone a slight re-write. I wrote this four years ago in 2 days for a friend's birthday and it was so obvious that it was written by a 16 year old in 48 hours that I couldn't stand it. I was going to leave it well alone and ignore that it even existed, but then people were still reading it and reviewing so I decided to update it a little bit. Firstly, it's now a multi-chapter fic. Secondly, the word count has increased slightly as I've been adding and refining. Thirdly, the sex scene is hopefully a lot less horrific, whilst also trying to keep the sort of language that the people who enjoyed it in the original liked. Fourthly, it's still pretty obvious that the main body of the story was written by a 16 year old, so please don't judge me too harshly.
The days drag along painfully slowly when you couldn't see anything of the world other than the inside of your dreary old room. There's only so much you can do magically before you get bored. You can wave your wand at things and envision the change, but really the most you can do is lumos otherwise you'll be done for doing magic in a Muggle's presence. You can read your schoolbooks and do your homework, but once you've written your essays and thesis' and read every book you have from cover to cover at least thrice, well, you tend to want to do something Muggle.
Obviously not every wizard would feel that way - not every wizard should be forced into a situation to feel that way - but then Harry Potter was not every wizard. On the contrary, he was The Chosen One, the Golden Boy, the Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter. But never just Harry, no. And even now, he was set apart from the rest; spending his holidays with Muggles. Unlike most Muggleborns however, he was forced to stay crammed in Dudley's old room, locked up with no access to the outside world, Muggle or no. He hadn't bought a new owl yet. With Hedwig's death came an obvious hollowness to his already small room. He still couldn't decide if it was sadder not having empty cage perched on a shelf, or having a gaping hole of cleared surface in between all of Dudley's dusty old toys. Until he could look at the space and not want to cry or punch something, violently, he refused to buy a new owl. It felt too much like a replacement and he knew he would never be able to stop himself from drawing all sorts of comparisons between the two. This left him with no form of contact with his friends, however, and of course, the Dursley's would never allow Harry to watch the telly, read the newspaper, or go on the computer. He would contaminate it. Obviously.
So no, nothing exciting had happened to Harry Potter all summer long. Well, apart from when he bemusedly met a snake in the toilet that had been travelling in the sewers until it fell the pull of a 'master'. That had been amusing. Harry didn't think he'd ever forget the look on Dudley's face as he left the bog with a (newly cleaned in the bathtub) snake wrapped round his shoulders. Harry had kept the snake; he threw it out the window every once in a while for it to feed and then it would somehow slither back in through the house, through the cat flap in his bedroom door that the Dursley's used to feed Harry through. Harry had called the snake Barnaby, or Barney for short, after remembering a TV show that Dudley used to watch with a man in a large purple dinosaur suit. Barney (the snake) had a slight purple sheen to his black scales when the light caught them right, which was why he thought of Barney (the dinosaur). Barney didn't really understand the concept of names, but he understood enough that when his master said it, it was what he was supposed to respond to. Harry figured that was good enough.
Currently, Harry was in his room, lying on his bed, levitating small inconspicuous objects up and down in the air. His window was cracked open as far as it could be with reinstalled bars limiting it, and the inch or so of fresh air did little to cool him down on this peculiarly hot August day. Barney had been gone for most of the day, hunting, so Harry's life was much the same as it was before he ever found the snake. It was a mere two days before Harry was due to return to Hogwart's for his eighth year of school. Only two days, but when two minutes felt like two hours, two hours felt like two days and two days felt like two weeks, it almost accumulated to feeling as if he wouldn't be back for months.
Harry had been shocked when he had heard that they were all to return to Hogwarts for another year, if they so pleased. It made sense, of course; none of the seventh years had any form of qualification higher than O.W.L.s, but for some reason it caught Harry blindsided. His mind had been on one-track during the period since the end of the war. Whose wouldn't be, after seeing the corpses of their friends? After realising that there would be another generation of babies that grew up without their parents, just like he and Neville had? After dying and coming back to life? No, his reaction had been fully well justified at the time, but now, after going through week upon week, month upon month, of bored agitation, Harry was finally about to return to his real home again, for the last time.
Well, that dampened his already damp mood. The last time. After this year Harry wouldn't be going back to Hogwarts, and he really didn't have a clue what he would be doing after graduating. Before coming back to the Dursley's, after the last funeral of the deceased had concluded at the beginning of the summer months, Harry had found himself walking a path through the forest that would forever be ingrained into his memory. It had been reckless and stupid and all kinds of other Snape-inspired Gryffindor descriptions, but he had paid no heed to the threat of still-at-large Death Eaters and had found himself sitting in the clearing where he had died. Here was where everything changed. Here was where he had thought the world was ending and then realised that he could still save it, and he had been so tired when he woke up and found Narcissa Malfoy checking his life status. He had been so tired to realise that it wasn't over, that he still had to stand up and continue. It was necessary and he would never had picked the option of staying dead, but it had made him realise that he was done with that life. He was done with chasing the bad-guys and he was done with risking his life. The war had put a new spin on the value of life; one which had been forgotten as the younger generation grew up and those that had survived Voldemort's first reign of terror relaxed as they thought him vanquished. Now, it was more precious than ever and he would be damned if he put anyone through what they had felt when they saw Hagrid carrying his 'lifeless' body out of the forest. He was tired and weary of danger and the last thing he wanted to do was to graduate and have his Hogwarts' robes swapped for Auror's ones.
Thinking on it, Harry wouldn't mind at all becoming a teacher at Hogwarts. The most obvious choice would be to go for Defence, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to deal so closely to the Dark Arts anymore either. And if he became a teacher he would have to put up with years and years of children ogling him and asking awkward questions. Still, it was a possibility; Harry wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to leave Hogwarts for good, it had always been his safe haven; his sanctuary. You can't give something like that up easily, but equally he wanted to pick his career with a clear head and not out his unwillingness to leave his schooldays behind and grow up.
Harry sighed. It was getting dark outside and Barney still wasn't back. He was sure he would be soon, but Harry was in desperate need of a conversational partner. He had spent much too long being left alone with his own thoughts. There were only so many great realisations he could achieve from self-psycho-analysing before he started over thinking and over analysing and generally making more of a mess of his psyche than the war had itself. Harry sighed again. This summer he had already nitpicked every single thing that led up to the war and the aftermath of it as well and he was in desperate need of new thinking material. It had all started at the beginning, he concluded. The Slytherins. His life had always been a swirling pool of Slytherin-affected interactions; first Voldemort killing his parents, then the Sorting Hat wanting to put him in Slytherin, followed shortly by Snape and Malfoy, then regular clashes with reincarnations of Voldemort and his followers until it all came to a head that summer. Harry wondered how different things would have been if he had joined Slytherin in his first year. How contrasting his views on the war would have been if he had been brought up being taught that family ties were important and came before all else, rather than his weak opinions on familial love that the Dursley's had educated him with. He found that he couldn't do it. He couldn't even begin to imagine what it would have been like, how he could have felt. All he remembered was how underneath it all, Harry had been scared. And if Harry, who had had a lot of help behind him and many encounters with Voldemort himself, had been scared, how in the hell would other, normal teenagers have felt when faced with the threat of the Dark Lord? Many of them were younger than he was, and Harry forgot that most other 17 year olds weren't used to life-threatening situations. How then, could he possibly hold a grudge against those who hadn't fought or had fought on the other side of the war? If his parents had been Dark, would he too not have followed in their footsteps? He had no way of knowing, and could only assume that what the Slytherin children felt was something unimaginable to him.
The war was over and this period after it was a time for change, a time for equality, and he wasn't going to balls up something he had literally died for over petty rivalry between the Houses at Hogwarts.
It also signalled a time when he could slow down. He could be a teenager; go to school, sit exams, fall in love, get drunk, experience the feeling of adulthood when he buys his first piece of furniture, rather than when he vanquishes his first Dark Lord. It was a clean slate that he could enjoy with his surrogate family in peace. He felt warm inside when he thought of the swarm of redheads, all of whom had miraculously survived the war. He and Ginny had held hands at the funeral of Remus and Tonks, but it had inspired only platonic love within him, and he had a suspicion it was the same for her. It was a messy situation only because Harry was awkward with relationships and he didn't know how to bring it up, but he felt like he knew in his heart of hearts that Ginny knew just as well as he did that they weren't going to grow old together, or at least not as a couple. Harry wasn't sure if his turnaround in his feelings for Ginny signalled something as small as him wanting to surround himself in friends and family and uncomplicated situations, or something much larger as him having focussed his amorous attentions on the wrong gender all his life, but he refused to think too deeply on it. Too long had he spent his life worrying over problems like Dudley used to worry at the skin on his fingertips until they were cracked and bleeding. He was determined to be easy-going and flow-following from now on.
These conclusions had already altered his view on the world and he saw it in a way he'd never really appreciated before. Perhaps it was childish of him, perhaps most other people around him saw it the same and he really wasn't very special or wise at all, perhaps he had just finally caught up to the normal level of philosophy most 18 year olds contained, but Harry enjoyed the feeling of enlightenment he experienced now. He enjoyed the way he could judge with an unclouded mind; the way he could accept people for what and who they were. The lack of anger was soothing and he felt like he could give so much more to those he had taken from. He could be a true friend to them all, at last, now that associating with him wasn't as likely to get them killed, now that he had left the dark times behind him. That meant forgiving, as much as he could, forgetting and moving on in life. It also meant talking to Ginny, the Slytherins and more specifically, though this one was still hard for him to come to terms with, Malfoy.
"Master." Harry heard a hiss then a clink as Barney slithered back in through the cat flap, "I feasted tonight, a whole family of mice and a vole as well." Harry shivered involuntarily, suddenly glad that whilst he had had Hedwig, he hadn't been able to verbally communicate with her.
"I'm glad to see that you made it back safely Barnaby." He hissed back, "But please refrain from telling me of your meals. Some of us still see mice as pets rather than food."
"As you wish, master." Harry smiled, amused. That reply had been far more agreeable than he was used to from his usually sarcastic snake.
"You really are in a good mood tonight, aren't you? I'm surprised. Pleasantly so."
"When your stomach is full it is hard to be angry, master." Harry's thoughts immediately went to two days in the future, imagining the treacle tarts laid out in abundance on the Gryffindor table. He would eat twenty, he promised himself.
"I'll be able to agree with you, Barney, when we're both safe and tucked up in Hogwarts. At least then I'll have had a proper meal." At that Barney shook his head in a way which could only be translated as a shake of disgust.
"The Muggles who entrap you here are of foul taste and idiotic logic."
"What logic?" Harry replied snidely. The two of them snickered and Harry sat up from his supine position, allowing Barnaby to slither into his lap and let his shade-cooled scales soothe the burning of Harry's skin as they talked.
Good things come to those who wait and it was finally the day the Hogwarts Express left Kings Cross. Harry's entire journey there had been spent in tense silence as Barney hissed menacingly anytime Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon tried to speak. Upon arrival Harry was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor along with his trunk and broomstick, before being left coughing in the fumes of the Dursley family car as they sped away as quickly as possible. Brushing himself off, making sure Barney was alright around his neck, and picking up his things Harry grinned to himself as he made his way to the barrier. Not even the odd looks he got from the Muggles could snuff out his good mood. He was going back. He was going back to Hogwarts!
Harry ran gleefully through the brick barrier (his mood dipped only momentarily when he remembered his second year when the barrier had refused to let him and Ron through, thanks to Dobby) and almost immediately noticed the flock of redheads gathered around near the centre of the train. Well, a small flock seeing as it was only Ron, Ginny and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, but still, it was more redheads seen together than normal. Amongst the ginger was a bushy brown head belonging to none other than Hermione, whose hand was clasped tightly in Ron's as they both scanned the crowd with worried looks on their faces. Harry grinned even wider as he made his way over to them, the crowds parting before him like the red sea as children and parents alike stared at him in wide-eyed awe. Even those who recovered and started to crowd around him again didn't faze him. He pushed his way through, not caring how rude he seemed, and practically leapt at the couple standing within his reach.
"Harry!" They both cried in unison as he tackled them, causing them to fall backwards against the side of the train in order to support him. When he pulled away he was beaming still.
"Oh, Harry, I'm so glad to see that you're alright! We didn't hear anything from or about you for the whole of the summer! We thought something might have happened, but there were no rumours flying around at all. We had no idea what to do." Hermione exclaimed.
"You have a purple snake around your neck, mate." Ron said, eying Barnaby cautiously. "Just thought you should know."
"He's with me, Ron. He's called Barney." Harry smiled at his redheaded friend as he seemed to visibly relax at Harry's knowledge of the snake, before tensing again as the fact that it was a snake sunk in. Harry wondered how much damage Voldemort had done to the public's opinion on the scaly reptiles and turned to Hermione to a less depressing train of thought. "I'm sorry, 'Mione. I haven't got an owl and Barney isn't exactly equipped for letter delivering."
"I resent that!" Barney hissed as he heard the last bit.
"Oh shut up you grumpy old sod, you'd abandon the letter the moment you found a mouse and you know it." Harry snapped back in Parseltongue, Ron and Hermione casting nervous glances between each other as they watched the exchange.
"Harry, do you have to hiss at him? Isn't it, I don't know, drawing more attention to yourself?" Hermione asked, tentatively.
"It's easier for both of us if I speak in Parseltongue, Hermione. Barney can understand me in English, but it's sort of like speaking to a foreigner in English when you're fluent in their language. It's kinder." Hermione nodded, but still looked anxious. Harry could understand why, sadly. Not even Hermione was immune to the effect Parseltongue had on people. She may not be as judgemental over snakes due to her Muggle upbringing, but seeing as the only other known person who could speak Parseltongue was Voldemort himself, the sibilant noises can't have been pleasant. Even his two best friends couldn't quite get over the ancient dark magic that was associated with the language, but Harry refused to censor it around them. Things had to change and pandering to everyone's needs wasn't going to help that. A little bit of hissing never hurt anyone.
'Well…' He winced internally as he remembered the Chamber of Secrets, and the scar on his arm from the Basilisk fang ached with a phantom pain. Remembering who else was in the Chamber with him, Harry turned from Ron and Hermione to pay attention to the other three Weasley's, waiting patiently for him. Mrs. Weasley was looking at him with tears in her eyes, Ginny was beaming and Mr. Weasley looked like he could tear up any second as well. Mrs. Weasley rugby tackled him into a hug, ignoring Barney completely, then pulled away to stare at him at arms' length, fussing over him, clucking disapprovingly.
"Harry! Look at you! So thin! Do those relatives of yours not feed you at all?" Harry grimaced and decided on diplomacy.
"They feed me enough to get by for the summer." He replied carefully.
"That's a lie and you know it." Barney hissed, then moved to look at Mrs. Weasley. "I tried offering, I told him I could bring him some mice back, but he refused and chucked me out the window." Mrs. Weasley ogled the snake.
"Did he just…talk to me?" She asked faintly. Harry smiled.
"He said that he offered to bring some mice back for me but I said no." He translated.
"And chucked me out a window." Barney hissed, opening his jaws and letting his venom drip out of his fangs threateningly. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Yes, yes, and I chucked him out a window," Harry told Mrs. Weasley who was looking at Barnaby with wide eyes, "because that was the only way out of my bedroom." He added emphatically, pinching the jaw of his snake shut, putting his fangs away.
"Harry." Harry looked up to see Ginny elbowing her mother out of the way in annoyance.
"Ginny." Harry smiled at her, giving her a quick hug. He lingered only momentarily on the smell of her shampoo and the washing detergent Mrs. Weasley used. For some reason his throat felt clogged and he angrily reminded himself that he and Ginny would always be friends, and that this was not the last time he'd ever get to hug her. He coughed slightly. "I need to talk to you when we get on the train, by the way." He added before turning to Mr. Weasley, shaking his hand and bemusedly answering all his questions on the Muggle world that he had managed to accumulate over the summer. Harry often admired the patience the older man must have, being stuck in a firmly wizarding household with minimal access to the Muggle world despite being so passionately interested in it. Harry knew how it felt the other way around; knew how much of a struggle it was to get through months on end with no outlet.
The train blew its whistle, signalling its near departure, and the teenagers all leapt onto it and quickly. Battling down narrow corridors and hoards of younger students, the group found an empty compartment, opening the windows to lean out and wave at the redheaded parents as the train started to move. When it had pulled out from the platform enough for the station to no longer be visible, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all sat down and tugged the windows shut, shoving their trunks onto the overhead shelves. Ron and Hermione sat down next to each other, holding hands on Ron's lap, leaving Harry to sit next to Ginny.
"What did you want to talk about, Harry?" She asked, not quite holding his hand, but rather playing with his fingers absently. Harry allowed her this comfort as he stood up, catching her fingers in his to help her up and subtly dropping it the second she was on her feet.
"Um, can I tell you in private?" He asked. Hermione sent him a slightly hurt but calculating look and Ron's eyes narrowed at his girlfriend's reaction, turning a low glare at Harry. He winced and hurried to assure, "I'll tell you two later, just – let me tell Ginny first, okay?" Hermione nodded and Ron's eyes went back to their usual proportions. Harry led Ginny out of the compartment into the now mainly empty corridor. The only other people still out were a few new first years who were wandering around looking for somewhere to sit, nervously asking people if they could join them in their compartment.
"What is it, Harry? Why couldn't you say whatever it is in front of Ron and Hermione?" Ginny asked, looking very much like her mother when she put her hands on her hips and looked at him accusingly. 'Shit, now I'm here, how am I going to tell her?' he thought to himself. Her pose softened as she noticed the blind panic in his eyes, and she became more like Ginny as she dropped her arms and moved closer to him. He could smell her shampoo again and for a split second he couldn't do it; he remembered how good they were together, how comfortable he was around her and how simple things would be with her. Then he felt a flick against his ear and a hiss,
"Just come out with it. Be blunt." Barney spoke quietly, flicking his tongue against Harry's ear again. "It's quicker and less painful that way." Harry nodded to Barney and to himself, reminding himself of why it was kinder to him and Ginny if he didn't lead her on, just because he was too attached to the idea of her to let go.
"Right, well, I've been thinking a lot this summer - I didn't really have much else to do - and I realised some stuff." He paused to take in a deep breath. "I – I know I said we could get back together after the war and all the Voldemort crap, but – I'm sorry, I don't think I can." Ginny stared at him for a while, then narrowed her eyes, then looked to ceiling in deep thought. Harry shifted from foot to foot, rubbing his hands up and down his jeans anxiously.
"Okay." She said finally, nodding in confirmation. "To be honest, you separated yourself from me so much, I can't say I expected anything less." Harry stared at her with huge eyes, even more magnified by his glasses. "Don't look at me like that, you look like a Kreacher! I can be mature about these things if I think the person is worth it. Can I ask why though?" She asked the last bit in a softer and quieter voice.
"Oh Gods, yes of course, it's not you Ginny, don't you ever think that." He rushed out, gripping her arms in his hands and looking into her eyes, "You didn't do anything, it's me; I changed over the summer. I realised that I just need my family around me right now and that includes you." He hoped she wasn't offended by that, but her face was carefully schooled as she listened to him and he couldn't read her expression. "And I, um. Well I don't know if this is a thing or not, it might be nothing or it might be an actual, y'know, thing but I don't want to discount it entirely either and -" He cut himself off and glanced at the floor, biting his lip nervously, "…I might not be as attracted to women as I always assumed I was."
"You're gay?" She hissed and even though the volume was low, Harry winced and looked around nervously. There was no one else in the corridor, thankfully.
"No, not exactly, or at least I don't think so. I'm still attracted to girls just…not as much as I am to blokes."
"So you're bi?" She asked, her voice lower this time.
"Well yeah, maybe. I don't know. It's confusing." Harry mumbled, looking at his feet.
"Harry." She said. "Harry." She repeated when he didn't look up. Harry slowly lifted his head to meet her gaze. "Look, it's okay. I'm disappointed, of course I am, but I didn't love you or anything. It was just a strong crush, alright? And I felt it too, at the end of last year. I think war intensifies feelings because you're never really sure when you're next going to see the people around you, and no one wants to die alone." She reddened slightly at talking about her own feelings, "I mean, I'm sad that it can't work out between us, but look, there's no helping it, is there? If you're not attracted to me anymore, then you're not attracted to me anymore. Simple as." Harry smiled at her softly.
"Yeah. You're amazing, you know that Gin?" She blushed and shook her head, "You are. And you'll find someone else, what about Dean? You were…close to him a few years ago weren't you? He's a good guy, still completely hung up on you."
"How do you know?" Harry winced internally at the memory of hearing his dorm-mate cry out Ginny's name in sync with the creaking of his bed and his heavy panting.
"You…probably don't want to know." He said, smirking as she flushed when she caught on to his train of thought.
"Right, right." She muttered to herself. "What're you going to tell Ron and Hermione? They're expecting something big, now that you said you couldn't say it in front of them."
"Um, probably that I'm not getting back together with you. I don't know if I'll tell them all my reasons or not. I might alter the truth a bit." Ginny grinned.
"Well if you need any help with that idiot of a brother of mine, then let me know, I'll vouch for you." Harry smiled and slung his arm around her shoulders as they started to walk back to their compartment.
"We're good together Gin, I'm sorry we can't be anything more than friends."
"Siblings." She corrected. "You always were the ideal brother to me. You'd think I'd be satisfied with the 6 I have, but they're all pigs really." She scrunched her nose up and Harry laughed, feeling light and giddy from their conversation. "None of them were ever as gentlemanly as you." Ginny continued, "I guess I just wanted something to tie you into the family with."
"Believe me, there's no way I'm ever leaving the Weasley clan. I don't think your mum would let me even if I tried to." She giggled at that and Harry reached forward to slide the door open to the compartment. Ron and Hermione looked up and sent inquisitive looks towards Harry after seeing his arm around Ginny. They sat down and looked at the couple opposite them.
"We have something to tell you." Harry said.
"You've got back together?!" Hermione exclaimed, beaming.
"No! No, quite the opposite, we've decided not to." Harry corrected quickly before they were caught in a lie they couldn't get out of. Ron frowned.
"Why not? What's wrong with my sister?" He demanded of Harry, then turned his gaze to Ginny, "What's wrong with my best mate?" Ginny rolled her eyes.
"I decided that I see Harry as more of a brother than a boyfriend." She answered smoothly. Harry caught on and quickly added,
"And I decided that I see Ginny as more of a sister than a girlfriend. We're better as mates, y'know?" He asked, praying that Ron would agree.
"Yeah…yeah, alright then. You've got no beef with me." Ron nodded. Harry sighed in relief.
"Beef?" Ginny asked.
"It's a Muggle saying Harry taught me." Ron smiled, proudly, leaning over to knuckle bump Harry. Ginny sighed and rolled her eyes again.
"Boys." Hermione laughed and agreed as Ron squawked indignantly and Harry stroked Barney's head and smiled out the window. He was really very lucky in life, all things considered.
The train journey was nearing its end, with only a half hour left. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny decided to get changed into their robes in shifts so they wouldn't lose their compartment. Once the other three had come back, Harry grabbed his bundle of uniform and left to the toilets. On his way back he was intercepted by Malfoy, Zabini and Goyle. 'Oh, here we go.' He thought. 'Just when I thought I could talk to them civilly, they appear looking like they want to hex me before I even open my mouth.'
"Malfoy." Harry nodded towards the blonde, "Zabini, Goyle." He greeted, civilly. Malfoy nodded back, but said nothing. Harry stared at him with narrow eyes, confusion whirling behind them. 'He's not insulting me?'
"What's wrong, Potter? Mrs. Norris got your tongue?" Zabini smirked with Goyle grunting at his side. Harry turned his head from Malfoy to Zabini, his gaze turning cold.
"I try not to waste my words unnecessarily. They're worth a lot these days." He sneered. To hell with civility. Zabini was a bit of a cock anyway. "Have you got something to say?" He asked, trying to channel his inner Slytherin to allow his voice to come out rather bored and flat. Zabini's smirk fell off his face and his eyes blazed with anger.
"'Something to say'? Of course I have something to fucking say." He moved up close to Harry, grabbing his robes and staring angrily into his face. "Something to say to you, the person who's the cause of all our misery!"
"Excuse me?" Harry replied coolly.
"You just wouldn't roll over and die like your parents, would you? Had to 'come back from the dead', lock away our families, turn the world against us. If you'd just died like the wolf and the old coot we'd all be rolling in -" Harry punched him. He couldn't help it, the anger flared so brightly across his mind that even hexing him wouldn't have brought around the same satisfaction that smashing his face in with his fist did.
"Don't you ever insult any of those who died because of Voldemort. They were all warriors who died for us. It's because of them that you're even here. You think Voldemort would've kept you and your family, of all people around? A family that didn't fight for him? In his eyes neutrality was as bad as high treason and you would have been killed along with all the Muggleborns you so dearly love." And with those parting words Harry stalked away from Zabini who was rolling on the floor, moaning in pain as his nose bled.
When he reached the compartment, Hermione had disappeared to the Prefects and Head Girl and Boy's compartment. Ron looked up took stock of his heavy breathing and thunderous expression and knew that something had happened.
"What's wrong Harry?" Ginny asked, seeing her brother tense as he saw Harry.
"Where's Barnaby?" Harry asked, his eyes searching around the compartment. Ginny picked up her coat (bundled and glowing slightly from a warming charm), to reveal a very sleepy snake who was grumpy at being woken up.
"What is it master?" He hissed, angrily. "I do not appreciate the rude awakening." Harry scooped the snake up and shoved it around his neck.
"I really, really need your company." He hissed, leaning his head against the snake's warm scales.
"What has happened?" Barney asked, butting his head against Harry's face like a cat would.
"Some prick was insulting my parents, Lupin and Dumbledore. I punched him. Probably going to get a detention for that the moment we walk through the gates. Bugger." He thumped his head against the headrest of his seat and shut his eyes against the bewildered looks he was getting from his Weasley friends. "It seems like while Malfoy's lost his balls Zabini's have doubled. He's acting like the new prince of Slytherin. Why can't any year just be normal for once?"
"Nothing is ever normal for you, it would be wrong to expect so." Barney hissed flicking his tongue over Harry's scar as if to prove his point.
"Thanks, your wise words always cheer me up so much." Harry laughed harshly, bringing a hand up to scratch lightly at the scales coiled around his neck.
"You woke me, master; you were the one who chose to speak to me."
"You're the one who understands me the most." It went unsaid that the snake was the only one Harry had truly opened up to about how the deaths of his friends had affected him. "Hermione'll just tell me off for hitting him, Ron will laugh and tell me I'm brilliant and Ginny will get that thin-lip look and give me disapproving stares. At least you won't judge me." He sighed, "You're probably the only person who wouldn't," Harry paused, "though calling you a person is a stretch." He added, smirking as Barney hissed indignantly, then laughing as the snake scratched his chin playfully with his fangs (withholding the venom and not puncturing the skin, thankfully).
"Um, Harry, did your snake just kiss you?" Ginny asked, staring at him in horror.
"I guess now we know why you and Harry didn't get back together." Ron grumbled, obviously miffed at being left in the dark for so long. "Now, you going to tell us what just happened or not?" Harry sighed and flopped back in his seat, resisting the urge to rub his eyes with his hand.
"I punched Zabini in the face."
"Nice one, mate!" Ron guffawed, leaning over to clap a hand on Harry's back.
Ginny just gave him a look with an arched brow and folded arms.
"I know, I know, I was an idiot, but he was insulting my parents, Gin! And Dumbledore and Lupin!"
The redhead sighed. "Harry, you can't just let your anger get to you like that. Those people are gone now, they're not going to hear the insults, sometimes you just have to let it go." Ginny soothed, placing her hand on Harry's tense shoulder. Harry whipped his head round and glared at her, suddenly seething. She looked bewildered and hurt and jumped half a mile as he started spitting vitriol at her.
"Those 'people' are our friends, and my family! And I won't allow their memory to be tainted by some scum who can't bite his tongue for once and try to accept that his side lost!" Harry yelled, feeling only the tiniest bit of guilt when he saw Ginny shrink back into the seat, "And to think, I was willing to forgive and forget and accept that it wasn't they themselves who partook, but their parents who forced them. Well, Zabini proved me wrong. I swear to God, if Zabini even tries to get me a detention I'll demand that they use my memories to prove that he started it by provoking –"
"Potter." Harry snapped his head up to the door so quickly that he might have got whiplash if Barney hadn't been resting round his neck, providing it some support.
"Malfoy?" Ron asked, incredulous as Harry gaped at the boy in the doorway. "What the bloody fuck are you doing here?" then Ron seemed to remember who Malfoy was acquainted with and sneered, "Come to add insult to what Zabini said, or have you come snivelling to our Saviour to ask for forgiveness?"
"Ron." Harry said sharply, giving him a glare that said both 'shut the fuck up' and 'don't you ever call me that again'. "Malfoy did nothing, it was all Zabini, leave him be." Ron huffed but nodded stiffly, and turned his back on the ex-prince of Slytherin. Harry rolled his eyes at his friend, but felt a small flicker of relief and appreciation for his doggedly-loyal friend letting it go. He turned back to Malfoy who was also staring at Ron, his lips quirking into the beginnings of a smirk. "Malfoy? Why are you here?" The almost-smirk vanished instantly as Malfoy re-focused on Harry. Then he did something Harry would never have expected in a million years. He bowed.
"I came to apologise for Blaise's incompetence. He had no right to say what he did, especially when you showed us no hostility when you saw us. It was very big of you to stop at just one punch. I also wanted to thank you for not hexing me the moment you saw me. I know that you have every reason to hate me and hold less than civil feelings for me, and now that the war is over and my parents are in Azkaban, I want to thank you for killing the Dark Lord. I didn't realise how much I would enjoy being free." He bowed again and then turned on his heel and left. Ron and Ginny spluttered for a bit until Harry found his voice, brain and reasoning and sped from the compartment to look for Malfoy.
"Master, why are you running?" Barney asked unhappily as he was jolted from side to side as Harry sprinted down the train turning his head every which way looking for a shock of blonde hair.
"Because, Barney, that was about as close to a friendship invitation that Malfoy will ever give." He paused, "Scratch that, the first time he was a lot more direct, but it's probably the closest I'll get now that we have all this history between us."
"You want to be friends with the Slytherin? If I remember correctly, you disliked them all to a great extent." Barney hissed, wrinkling his nose, as much as a snake could, in disgust.
"That was when I first found you. If you 'remember correctly', I changed my mind near the end of the holidays and decided it would be better to move on. Zabini is obviously opposed to that, and I don't think Goyle has enough brain cells to even start formulating his own opinion, so Malfoy's as good as we'll get."
"Yes, we, because, my slinky friend, now that you're with me, you'll be going through everything I do while it happens. We're joined at the hip, we are." Harry grinned wildly down at his snake while still running and rushing around.
"I don't have a hip."
"Grow some balls, Barney, and accept that you've found a master who's not going to be letting you leave at your discretion. The moment we get back I'll ask Hagrid how and you'll be made my familiar; then we're in it for life." Harry beamed, "You've proved yourself to be good enough company." Barney's eyes widened.
"Your familiar, oh master, it is every snakes dream to be claimed as a familiar by a true speaker of our langua –"
"Yes, yes." Harry waved his thanks away, "You can give me your moving speech later, for now, keep a look out for a white blonde head." He paused, "And stop calling me Master, you're a friend, not a house elf."
The two searched for the remainder of the journey, but Malfoy was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, as the train shuddered to a halt beneath their feet, Harry made his way back to his compartment with his head hung.
"Where did he manage to hide for 20 minutes?" Harry grumbled as he pulled his trunk down from the shelf. "The train is not that big." He trudged out onto the platform, moving away from the crowds of children so he could watch them and see if Malfoy was among them.
"Probably cast a disillusionment charm or something." Ginny answered airily as she lugged her trunk over next to his. "I don't know and, frankly I don't care."
"Yeah, why do you care, anyway?" Ron asked as he joined the other two as well, Hermione having already rushed off to the first thestral carriage as Head Girl.
"Because I want to move on from the war and Malfoy seems to be the only one willing to do it." Harry explained, exasperated. "I don't see any other Slytherin's and Gryffindor's trying to make an effort, do you?" The crowd had thinned down to the last person who scuttled past them and jumped on the carriage waiting for them.
"I'm going to get on that one, Harry. You must have missed him and I don't see why he's worth the effort if I'm being honest." Ginny said huffily as she made her way over to the carriage and took the last empty space. "Join us in the Hall if you deem us worthy." He winced at her tone, only realising now that he hadn't stopped to apologise to her before chasing off after Malfoy. The carriage pulled away and another took its place, the thestral pawing the ground and eying Harry moodily, obviously upset at being kept waiting.
"Look mate, I won't stop you from doing what you want to do, but maybe this could wait till after dinner? He has to be there for the sorting, so why don't you catch up to him afterwards, yeah?" Ron tried, coughing at his stomach growled and revealed the real reason that he wanted to leave in a hurry. Harry sighed. From feeling so lucky earlier to now, it seemed like the whole world was against him.
"Yeah, alright then, let's g – wait!" Harry stopped as he saw a blonde head peek around the edge of the train door nearest to them. "Malfoy!" He ran over to the Slytherin who had ducked back inside as he heard his name. Harry grabbed his arm and dragged him off the train and pulled him and his trunk combined over to Ron.
"- and I certainly don't appreciate you manhandling me in such a foul and beastly manner, I am a Malfoy for goodness sake! What on Earth – Weasley." Malfoy stopped his ranting as he saw Ron.
"Malfoy." Ron nodded, not bothering to hide the look of revulsion on his face as he looked at the blonde.
"Right then, now that we're all here, shall we go?" Harry asked cheerily, still tugging Malfoy by his arm as he walked over to the annoyed thestral. The three of them clambered in and the thestral ran down the path until it was lined up behind the carriage in front of them. Harry was grinning from ear to ear, and didn't even notice the weird looks he was receiving from both of his carriage-mates. His hard work had finally paid off and they wouldn't be late for dinner.
"He's bloody mental he is." Ron murmured to, though it pained him that it was Malfoy, the only other sane person in the carriage.
"I concur." Malfoy replied. "Is there any particular reason that you have kidnapped me, Potter?" he asked, leaning forward and clicking his fingers in front of Harry's face, demanding his attention. The likeness to a petulant child ('Dudley' his mind supplied) was striking, and he had to swallow down a laugh at the face Malfoy would pull if he knew that Harry was mentally comparing him to his overweight, Muggle cousin.
"Well, you practically asked to be friends, didn't you?" Harry smiled warmly, causing Malfoy to shiver.
"I did no such thing and please, for the love of Merlin, control your facial muscles." He glared, "The sight of you smiling is positively disturbing."
"It takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown." Harry replied in a sing-song voice, wagging his finger in Malfoy's face. For a split second, rage so strong flashed across Malfoy's face that Harry thought he might bite his finger off.
"Mas-Harry, you are much too happy. You're frightening them." Barney hissed in Harry's ear as he coiled himself into a more comfortable position.
"I'm not allowed to be happy?" Harry asked, pulling his finger out of danger's way. "I'm back at Hogwarts, I have the opportunity to tell the rest of the Wizarding world to stuff it by becoming friends with a Slytherin, and Malfoy no less, and I'm about to eat my first proper meal in months."
"Of course. He talks to his snake as well." Malfoy groaned and dropped his head into his hands as Ron watched, bemused.
"So, Malfoy." Harry said in English, "Want to start over?" He asked, holding out his hand to the boy opposite him.
"Why?" Malfoy asked, eying Harry's hand suspiciously as if he was about to wandlessly hex him. "I fought against you. I have the Dark Mark. The man I served is the reason your friends and family died. What could possess you to want to become friends with me?"
"Because," Harry said. "I want to move on and forget the past. Remembering it has never done me any good. Besides, don't you want to show the world that just because they expect us to hate each other, doesn't mean we have to?" Harry smirked at his last point. If there was anything he was sure the other boy wouldn't turn down it was a chance to tell the world to fuck themselves.
"We can't." Malfoy replied shortly as the carriage pulled to a halt.
"Why not?" Harry asked, genuinely surprised, leaving his trunk in the carriage where it would be taken to his dorm by the house elves, and standing up.
"Because," Malfoy imitated Harry as he climbed out the carriage and landed on the ground, "We're both playing parts. We're actors, you have your role, I have mine. Maybe our paths cross in the script. Maybe we share some words, some friendly exchanges. But the play tells a story and ours is one of tragedy." Harry heard Ron snort at that a mutter comment about 'dramatic posh gits' under his breath. Malfoy glared at him then turned back to Harry. "It doesn't matter if our paths cross now, later, never. The ending is still the same. We can't Potter, simple as." With his face carefully blank, he spun on his heel and stalked into the Entrance Hall, his cloak billowing behind him in a manner that would have made Snape green with envy.