Draco Malfoy, Gregory Goyle and Pansy Parkinson were coming down the other side of the staircase. Malfoy continued snidely, "What are you taking the back staircase for? Shouldn't you be seated on your throne, flashing about your Order of Merlin?"
Harry sighed. He'd begged McGonagall not to allow the Ministry to put the statue, part of a local art project, on the front steps of Hogwarts. Artists had come together in Wizarding London to decorate chair statues with different themes. One artist had created the Harry Potter chair - a golden throne covered with lightning bolts, the Hogwarts castle, a large photo of Harry with a crown painted on his head and a series of shellacked spectacles that bordered the chair's edges and gleamed in the sunlight.
It was absolutely humiliating, particularly as Harry had returned to Hogwarts for his eighth year, and Draco Malfoy seemed to make a point of mentioning it at least once a day.
"I saw some bird dung on there, earlier," Malfoy added with a smirk. "Well, you know, after I hexed a bird to take a shite on it. Pity, he missed your photo. You might want to let Filch know so he can shine it up for you."
"Fuck off, Malfoy," Harry muttered.
"Ooh, language, Potter. You're in the presence of two school prefects, you know."
"I'm fairly certain that title doesn't hold for life. Check the Prefect Clause - murdering the Headmaster is sure to be in the fine print, somewhere."
Malfoy's jaw tightened and his eyes widened. He began to make a movement, but Parkinson grabbed his arm and whispered something fiercely in his ear. She shot Harry a sneer, then she, Malfoy and Goyle continued on their way.
Harry sighed again. He hadn't meant to bring up that part of Malfoy's past, but once again, Malfoy had provoked him and before he knew it, he'd said something biting in return. It was only the second week of the term and already the freedom of graduation seemed like ages away.
Two weeks earlier, when Hermione saw Ron, Harry and Ginny off at Platform 9 ¾, she'd given each of them a hug and said briskly to the boys, "Study hard and behave yourselves!" Hermione had signed up for a NEWTS summer course and, due to all the additional coursework she'd taken throughout her schooling, she met Hogwarts requirements for graduation and passed all of her NEWTS with Os. Initially, she said she was going to return to Hogwarts anyway, but when she was accepted into a study abroad internship program at a local Wizards' University, she couldn't turn it down.
Ginny was returning for her seventh year at Hogwarts. Early in the summer, she and Harry had agreed that, while they still cared very much about each other, they worked better as friends. Still, it helped that the other returning eighth year students would have their own House in the West Tower, so Harry wouldn't constantly be running into Ginny in Gryffindor. But it also meant he'd be surrounded by Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and, of course, Slytherins.
Before Hermione went off to snog Ron goodbye in earnest, she pulled Harry aside and said, "Harry, one last piece of advice. Please try to ignore Malfoy, okay?"
"What do you mean?" Harry had asked, defensively. "I don't care what Malfoy does."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Harry. He's had a hard time of it, you know, and you've always had a bit of an -" she paused, "antagonistic relationship."
Harry opened his mouth to protest that he and Malfoy were both adults now when Hermione cut him off.
"It's just better to leave the past in the past, right?" She gave him a careful look.
She was right, Harry knew - and it was good advice. He sighed, nodded in agreement and waved goodbye.
On the train ride there, as he awkwardly avoided Ginny in the train car, he'd had full intentions of following it. But once he arrived at Hogwarts, it was a different story. Right off the bat, Malfoy had started in on him as if they were first years again. And it was hard to leave the past in the past when Malfoy was always sniping things in class like:
"Your potion looks excellent, Potter - but I thought we were supposed to be making De-Allergens. Yours looks like more of the vomit-inducing type."
"Get stuffed, Malfoy."
"Well, I would, Potter, but I'd rather watch you poison yourself first. I think we could all use a good laugh."
Or in the Great Hall:
"Nice robes, Potter. I didn't know Madame Malkin outfitted adults. But then - you aren't an adult yet, are you? In fact," Malfoy squinted, "isn't that the fourth year design? You're still wearing your fourth year robes?" he asked in glee.
"Leave me alone," Harry muttered, fighting back the urge to shout that he ruddy well was an adult.
"Merlin, they still fit you, too. Sad." Malfoy shook his head and walked away, laughing.
After days of Malfoy's constant snickering in the back of classrooms and his passing jibes in the halls, Harry was fed up. He didn't know what made him do it, but he was so tired of the fighting and the teasing from Malfoy, and -
"Hey, Potter!" Malfoy was strolling directly up to him. It seemed this meeting was not even going to fall under the pretense of a casual encounter. "You ought to ask one of the house-elves to pack you up a picnic basket. These simple wooden benches aren't fit for a man of your caliber."
Harry stared at him. Malfoy was rocking back and forth on the soles of his feet, obviously anticipating Harry's disparaging remark.
But this time, it never came.
"You know," said Harry, carefully controlling his tongue from lashing back, "your hair looks nice like that." He nodded up toward Malfoy's gleaming blond locks. Malfoy had lost the slick gel of his formative years and let loose the severe side-part that he'd sported during the war. Instead, his hair tumbled loosely, there was a surprising wave to it, and it fell just below his ears.
"I never noticed it was sort of wavy," said Harry, gesturing at it. "It curls a bit when it's longer, does it?"
Malfoy reached up and touched his hair, giving Harry a wary look. "Yeah . . . so?"
"Hmm." Harry gave a nod. "I'll be seeing you."
And Harry strolled away smirking to himself, leaving Malfoy standing baffled and alone.
Harry savored the look on Malfoy's face all through his last class and that night's dinner. As he listened to Ron and Seamus argue about the bust size of Celestina Warbeck in the eighth year Common Room, he recalled Malfoy's surprised expression. The reaction Harry had got out of Malfoy was so much more amusing than their usual back and forth. Harry had been growing tired of it anyway - Malfoy's predictable sneer, Harry's typical come-back. But this time, the look on Malfoy's face-wide-eyed and caught off-guard - it was different and sort of exciting, almost like the ultimate prank.
And if it helped Malfoy lay off of Harry for a while . . . well, all the better.
Overall, being back at Hogwarts felt like the next normal, natural step for Harry to take. Despite the fact that he was in a different Common Room and Hermione was nowhere to be found, Hogwarts was the only relatively sane, structured life that Harry had known. In fact, while he could have taken a position as an Auror directly after the war, the main reason he returned to Hogwarts was because Hogwarts was his home.
What he hadn't expected, for some stupid reason, was for the castle to still show evidence of the battle. As he'd walk the corridors to class, or late into the night, he'd look at a window or a door and think, 'Molly killed Bellatrix there,' or 'This hall is a slightly different color since the explosion,' or 'I remember stepping over a body right here.'
The first week, everyone walked around Hogwarts as if they were still at the scene of the battle - wide-eyed, remorseful, and breaking into bouts of tears. But the really scary part came after the second week. Caught up again in the busy Hogwarts life, it was as if the war had never happened. Children shuffled carelessly over grave sites while laughing about friends and classes, hurrying over the sacred spot where Fred was killed, or jabbering about Flitwick's unfair grading curve past where Tonks and Remus's bodies had lain, lifeless. And it wasn't that Harry thought they were doing anything wrong. In fact, he'd caught himself doing the same thing. He supposed it was a testament to the importance of the battle that they had fought - they were able to live their lives freely and without the constant threat of fear.
Still, it bothered Harry that people seemed to forget so quickly. He wished there was a way to continue living at Hogwarts while still honoring those whose lives were so tragically lost.
Though, if he was honest with himself, the shadows that he kept seeing out of the corner of his eye when he was all alone and the strange shapes that seemed to dart across the ends of empty corridors, were probably more than just a figment of Harry's overactive imagination.
Either that, or he really had lost his mind.
"Hey, Potter," sneered Malfoy in the corridor the next morning, when he encountered Harry skulking in the Charms corridor; Harry had taken to arriving early to class to avoid the giggling fifth and sixth years who seemed to appear everywhere he went. "What happened to your little fan club? Lose interest in their hero, did they?" He gave a dramatic sigh. "It's a shame how fickle some people can be. But, I suppose, when the object of their interest is as boring as you are, then - "
"Is that Norwegian Ridgeback?" Harry pointed at Malfoy's bag.
Malfoy glanced down at his bag, tightening his grasp on it, ever so slightly, then looked back up at Harry. "M-my bag?"
Harry nodded. "I hear those are supposed to be the best," he said. "I don't know much about animal-hide, obviously, but a friend of mine told me that they're really strong."
Malfoy gave a careful nod. "They're fireproof," he added, then looked away quickly. Harry didn't have to be a genius to figure out why that particular feature interested Malfoy.
"Cool," said Harry. "Wish I had one."
"Yeah, you do. I have another, you know," said Malfoy, standing a bit straighter. "I have it in red, too."
"Why would you own two indestructible bags?" Harry mused. "I mean, the point of an indestructible bag is that one would last you forever, right?"
Malfoy scoffed, clearly unimpressed with Harry's reasoning. "Ugh. Don't you know anything?" Then, without bothering to explain what it was that Harry didn't know, he turned on his heel and stalked off.
The next day in Potions, Harry found himself seated beside Neville at the table in front of Malfoy. Ron had flat-out refused to take Potions again, but Neville was hopeful for a career working with medicinal plants and Harry didn't know what he wanted to do, so both had signed up for another year of Potions. It was just lucky for Neville that Slughorn agreed to let him in, despite his pitiful OWL score.
"Hey, Potter. Hand that over." When Harry spun around, Malfoy pointed to a bin of rat-tails. "If it's not too much trouble for your highness, that is."
"Here." Harry passed him the bin and peered into Malfoy's cauldron. "Hey - yours looks just like the picture. What did you do?"
"Um. I followed the directions, Potter. You should try it."
"Thanks. I will."
As Harry turned back to his cauldron and started re-checking the directions, Malfoy wrinkled up his forehead and Harry detected a slight shake to his head. For the third day, Harry had refused to respond to Malfoy's taunts, and his offered flattery had Malfoy thoroughly off-balance. Harry grinned to himself as he added three drops of Essence of Murtlap to his and Neville's cauldron.
After another two days of the same, Harry saw Malfoy less than usual; when before Malfoy had seemed to be around every corner, insult at the ready, now he seemed to be avoiding Harry. When he did see him, he sounded more wary than ever.
"Hey, Potter." This time, Malfoy was walking away from the Quidditch pitch with Goyle, still wearing his sports gear. His hair was windblown and tangled and his cheeks were refreshingly red from flying. Goyle's face was a bit more tomato-red and he had long drippy sweat lines falling around his ears.
It was so odd to see Malfoy with only Goyle beside him. Malfoy alone, or Malfoy with both of his lackeys was how Harry was used to seeing him. He wondered if Malfoy and Goyle felt as unbalanced as Harry did without Crabbe's silent, looming presence.
Malfoy also paused for a moment, his face twisting and untwisting out of a sneer, as though he was trying to think up something really scathing to say. He settled on, "I hope you fall off your broom."
Harry just looked at him. Goyle laughed dutifully and Malfoy crossed his arms.
When Harry didn't say anything, the smug look on Malfoy's face faded into confusion and then acceptance.
But, for some reason, acceptance was not a suitable response from Malfoy. Harry needed more. He needed to really shock him - throw him off-balance. Malfoy turned to leave.
"You looked good out there today, Malfoy."
Malfoy froze. "What?"
Harry smirked. "I said you looked good."
Malfoy's eyebrows escalated satisfyingly and Harry, pleased with the reaction, continued toward the pitch.
As he left Malfoy and Goyle in similar states of shock, Harry could hear Goyle's guttural voice behind him. "Malfoy? What the hell was that?"
Harry snickered to himself as he heard Malfoy sputter out a response. "Shut up, Goyle. Let's - let's just get out of here." Then after another second. "Come on, you great lug."
Unable to resist, Harry glanced back over his shoulder at the retreating pair. When he did, Malfoy turned back at the same moment. He looked at Harry, his face suitably puzzled. With a shake of his head, Malfoy turned back toward the castle.
Aside from his interactions with Malfoy, Harry's days were rather quiet. Classes were fine, but in the off hours, with Ron fire-calling Hermione and most public areas of Hogwarts filled with younger year students eager to corner Harry and ask for an autograph, a date, or both, Harry spent most of his time finding hidden passageways in Hogwarts and wandering the castle alone. So far he'd found a strange alarm clock on wheels that smoked instead of ringing - Harry dubbed this the Fire-Alarm Clock - and a Ravenclaw yearbook from 1989. Tonight, Harry was roaming the corridors in the East Tower when a startlingly familiar voice caught his attention.
Harry spun around, his heart in his throat. It was . . . "Tonks?" he gasped.
Tonks's hair was a shimmering shade of yellow and she was dressed in the same Auror robes she'd worn during the battle - the ones Harry had grown rather familiar with seeing her in. But, since Tonks was dead now and had been for months, there was absolutely nothing familiar about this encounter at all.
Tonks gave a sheepish shrug and stumbled on her invisible robes, sending her into a clumsy crouch on a nearby stair. "Whoops," she said, tugging on her robes and seating herself more appropriately.
"Tonks," Harry said again, something clenching painfully in his chest. "You're a ghost?"
She frowned, her face sad. "I'm afraid so, Harry."
"Merlin." Harry was afraid to approach her even though he knew her and had been around ghosts loads of times. Heck, he'd attended Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday Party and was surrounded by ghosts there and he'd only been twelve.
But this was different. He knew Tonks. He'd mourned Tonks. Fuck, he'd seen Tonks's body right where she was standing.
Harry could feel a lump rising in his throat and he swallowed hard. "I can't believe it's you," he said, wishing he could give her a hug - wishing she was actually alive.
"How's Teddy?" Tonks asked. Pain flashed across her face for a moment but then faded as quickly as it had come.
"Good," Harry stuttered. "H- . . . he's doing really good. Teddy's with - your mum. And I see him sometimes, whenever I can, but not while I'm at school." Feeling like this wasn't enough, Harry added, "I wish I had a picture."
Tonks gave Harry a tight smile. "You'll keep a close eye on him for me and Remus, won't you, Harry?"
"Of course." Harry's voice felt like it was stuck in his chest.
"Thank you, Harry." She gave him a smile and wink, though her heart didn't seem to be in it. "You're a good friend."
"Tonks - "
But before Harry could ask her how she was doing, what she was doing and why she was a ghost, Tonks had drifted away through a nearby wall and Harry was left with a cold, empty feeling of loss and a bitter anger at the unfairness of it all.
The next evening, Harry and Ron were playing a game of wizarding chess. Ron was in the Common Room, for once, the shoulders of his robes littered with owl feathers. For the sake of animal welfare, Harry hoped Ron wasn't sending all of his post with Pigwidgeon.
"So, I saw Tonks." Harry moved his rook and looked up at Ron out of the corner of his eye.
Ron's forehead wrinkled up and he set down his chess piece. "What did you just say?"
"I said I saw Tonks."
"What are you playing at, Harry?" Ron said slowly.
"A ghost, Ron," Harry replied, glumly. "Tonks is a Hogwarts ghost now."
Ron's eyes widened. "You're not serious?"
"Remember how I kept seeing those shadows?"
"Tonks?" he choked.
Harry nodded. "She asked me about Teddy."
"Blimey, Harry." Ron pressed his lips together. "A ghost? But that's - "
"She's stuck here," Harry replied, bitterly.
Ron shook his head. "The thought of Tonks being stuck anywhere . . . are you sure it was her?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Harry and Ron continued to play in silence. Ron took Harry's rook, queen and king without the usual fanfare that accompanied his inevitable win. After that, Ron turned back to his Charms homework with a groan and Harry said goodnight and headed up to bed.
He was glad Ron had been around that night to talk. They might not hang out all the time like they used to, but Harry knew things would never really change between them.
After breakfast the next morning, Harry was heading toward Potions class when he saw Malfoy coming from the other direction. He approached him with his practiced line for the day. "Hey, Malfoy. Would you mind if I compared my Potions answers with you?"
Malfoy scowled as Harry fell into step beside him. "Yes, Potter," he snapped. "Actually, I would mind."
Harry shrugged. He'd lost a bit of energy after witnessing Tonks and just didn't quite have it in him to keep up the facade at the moment. "Fine. Your choice."
All of a sudden, Malfoy grabbed Harry by the collar of his robes and yanked him around the corner, pinning him up against the wall. "Just what do you think you're playing at, scarhead?" he growled.
"Nothing," Harry muttered, flatly. "And let go of my robes."
Malfoy glanced down at his hands and narrowed his eyes, then, seeming to reason that Harry made sense, he loosened his grip and took a step back. "I'm not an idiot, you know."
"No," Harry agreed, "you're not," instead of saying the predictable, 'Could have fooled me' or 'Well, you're doing a great impression of one,' which were both still itching about on the tip of his tongue.
"No. No." Malfoy took a step back and began angrily pacing the hallway. "This is all wrong." He pointed an accusing finger at Harry. "You're supposed to say that Yes, I am an idiot! And then, I don't know, punch me in the face or something!" Pale hands ran distressedly through his hair, messing it up.
"You want me to punch you in the face?" Harry asked, doubtfully.
Malfoy sighed and rubbed his eyes. "No." Then he looked to the side. "No, that's not what I - " He let out a frustrated growl. "Just - never mind!"
Just then, Slughorn popped his head into the hallway. "Boys, boys," he said with a chuckle, beaming cluelessly at Harry and Malfoy and beckoning them in with his great sausage fingers. "Class is about to start!"
Malfoy gave Harry one last sneer and stalked by him in a huff, hair still sticking up in all directions.
A few days later, Harry found he couldn't sleep. It was about two in the morning and he'd been tossing and turning all night. He'd looked for Tonks again, but hadn't found her, and none of the other Hogwarts ghosts seemed to know anything about her. Quietly sneaking out of the room he shared with Ron in the eighth year Dormitory, Harry thought that maybe his lack of preparation for tomorrow's Charms exam was keeping him up. A few extra hours of studying seemed like it would be more useful than tangling himself in his covers at this point.
The eighth year Common Room, located halfway up the West Tower, was cool, comfortable and mercifully empty. A window to Harry's right was open just slightly, letting in a chilly late-night October breeze. Harry wrapped his Weasley jumper more tightly around him and curled up on the couch.
He had just begun to sink into the meditative lull of studying when the portrait hole swung open. Harry's gaze jerked up in time to see someone climb unsteadily over the edge of the frame and land gracelessly, clutching the back of a chair for balance.
From Harry's vantage point on the couch, he could see the person, but the person probably wouldn't notice him. So, Harry peeked over the back of the couch and watched.
Whoever it was, they were finding it extraordinarily difficult to navigate the Common Room in a straight line. Furniture kept being slammed into and scraped across the floor to a myriad of grumbled curses.
The person paused for a moment and drew himself to his full height. Harry's breath caught in his throat.
Draco Malfoy was swaying with the stupid look of the very drunk. His hands were held out slightly to either side, as if he were balancing on a tightrope rather than solid floor. His blond hair was a bit disheveled and Harry could see the alcohol-tinged redness in his normally pale cheeks from across the room.
Harry assumed he would head straight up to his dorm to try and sleep off the booze, but Malfoy apparently had different ideas. He approached the fireplace near Harry, steadying himself along with the backs of the furniture, and dropped down into a nearby armchair with a grunt.
Now that Malfoy was closer, Harry could see that he was breathing heavily and his eyelids were drooping. He wondered how long Malfoy would actually be able to stay awake in his condition.
Malfoy's eyes sagged further and his chin dropped to his chest, jerking him back awake. Harry knew it was only a matter of time before Malfoy fell asleep completely. If that happened, everyone would see him out here tomorrow morning and know something was up.
For some reason, Harry didn't want that to happen.
"Malfoy," Harry hissed.
"Hmm," he grunted.
"Malfoy," Harry said, this time much louder.
The blond's head jerked up. He gaped at Harry, squinting blearily as if he were trying to get him into focus and make sense of his current situation. "Oh, fuck," he concluded. Then, with deep concentration and trying not slur, he said, "What are you doing down here so late?" This was followed by a rather delayed eye-brow raise.
"I couldn't sleep," said Harry, struggling to keep the smirk off his face. "You?"
"Yeah. I couldn' not sleep," he paused and swallowed, "either."
"Everything okay?" Harry felt obligated to ask.
Malfoy glared. "Fine."
"So, why don't you go to bed?" Harry suggested. "I'm sure you don't want to stay down here with me."
Malfoy exhaled and braced his hands on the arms of the chair. "Fine," he said again. He pushed himself to stand, but evidently he wasn't careful enough, because his feet took him three lurching steps to the left where he caught himself on the stone wall. He stood there for a moment, leaning heavily and trying to get his bearings. Then he took another determined step forward and veered off-course again, banging his shin into the side of a table. "God dammit."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Harry was actually beginning to grow concerned.
"I'm fine!" he snapped, breathing heavily at the table, his back to Harry.
"Well, what's the matter then?"
"Jus' a bit dizzy, is all," he slurred, waving a dismissive arm in the air. "Un'ner the weather. Have been all day."
"Malfoy, cut the crap," said Harry. Malfoy turned around to face him, one highly-affronted eye squinting to keep him in focus. "You're clearly drunk."
Malfoy scoffed. Then a gurgly belch rose up and Malfoy covered his mouth, his skin taking on a slightly greenish tinge. He closed his eyes, taking several deep, controlling breaths under his hand.
At long last, he opened his eyes and looked up at Harry. "Okay, fine," he breathed. "I am drunk. I am way too drunk." He closed his eyes again and then opened one, grimacing.
"Are you going to be sick?" Harry asked.
"No," he answered with a frown. "I don' think so." Then, "Merlin, I hope not." Malfoy released his grip on the table and made his uneasy way back to his chair. He dropped back into it, this time slightly misjudging his aim. He plopped his bum onto the wooden armrest and cried out in pain before tumbling sideways onto the cushions and burying his head in the crook of the backrest. Eventually, he adjusted himself, turning his body over into a more normal semblance of sitting.
After a while, Malfoy started snickering out of his nose, eyes still shut.
Harry watched him giggle to himself for a bit before asking, "What?"
A wide grin stretched over his face. "Aren' you gonna com'mliment me, Potter?" Malfoy snorted inelegantly, shoulders shaking and eyes closed. "You haven' said anything nice to me yet."
"What?" Malfoy opened his eyes and fixed his bleary stare on Harry. "Nothin' to say to me now? You don' like my robes or my bag or my hair?" He laughed again out his nose.
"Er," Harry began. "Well, you did a nice job getting yourself pissed on a school night."
"Didn't I?" Malfoy replied with a grand gesture. This was followed by a sort of hiccuping burp. "The best job." He swallowed thickly. "An' who- who says thad Malfoy's aren' hard workers?"
"The Ministry, that's who!" Malfoy snapped, his eyes suddenly angry. "Those bloody wankers who'd arrest me right now just for calling 'em bloody wankers cause they've just got to have it all. Can't even express my own damn opinions without being hauled off to Az- " he hiccuped, "-kaban." Malfoy brought a fist up and scrubbed at his eyes, then blinked hard, several times, as if trying and failing to clear his vision. "'s all fucking bullshite, Potter, that's what it is."
"You don't think you deserve any punishment?"
"Of course I do!" He waved a loose arm through the air. "But either sen' me there and be done with it or don't. Now they're just watching me, waiting for me to mess up so they can send me back." He laughed, unamused.
Harry was honestly surprised that - even drunk - Malfoy had mentioned his short stint in Azkaban. He'd only been there for two weeks, awaiting trial, but in the papers the look on his face upon release had been that of a traumatized child. In the end he'd been allowed to return to Hogwarts for a final school year. However, the Ministry still hadn't made a decision as to where he would go upon graduation - if he would have to return to Azkaban due to an inability to meet release criteria, if he'd have to live in a Ministry halfway house for rehabilitated Death Eaters or if he'd gain freedom with community service.
Malfoy continued, "It's a joke. They'll catch me at something - in a matter of time. It's all just a fucking waiting game." He looked up at Harry and scowled. "And, tha's what it is, too, Potter. A fucking game. They enjoy it. Having power over a fallen Malfoy."
"Um," Harry began, "This will probably sound judgemental, but do you really think you should be drinking on school grounds, then?"
"Difference does it make?" Malfoy spat. "I'm fucked." He drew out the F for an exceptionally long time. Malfoy dropped his head into his hand and stared miserably at the fire.
Harry didn't say anything.
"And tomorrow I'll be too fucking sick to go to class." He let out a frustrated sigh and rubbed his forehead, laughing softly. "God."
"Maybe you should go to bed then," Harry suggested.
"Maybe you should." Malfoy closed his eyes and leaned back. "I can't move."
"Well, you can't stay here, either." Harry let out a disbelieving laugh. "Don't give the Ministry extra fuel for their fire."
"The fuck are you on about?" Malfoy muttered. "Fuel," he drew out the obviously foreign Muggle word. He punctuated this with a snort. "Moron."
Harry climbed to his feet. "You know what I mean. Come on. Get up, you're not sleeping out here."
Harry reached forward and grasped one of Malfoy's hands and tugged. The movement caused the other hand, which was supporting his head, to slip. His head jerked forward and for a moment he looked like he might be sick. Then he scowled up at Harry. "L'ggo of me, you - you idiot."
"Up you go, come on." Pulling again, Harry managed to lift Malfoy partially off the chair with a whiny, protesting groan. One more heave brought him to his stumbling feet and he braced himself with his arms against Harry's chest, head hanging down.
Malfoy turned his body away from Harry in the direction of his dorm and tried to take one step forward. His foot failed to support his weight, however, and his torso fell back against Harry's chest with a frustrated grunt. Harry caught him, grasping Malfoy's upper arms to steady him.
Bleary grey eyes blinked up at Harry. "This's so un'dg'nigifed," he moaned. Harry couldn't help grinning down at the rat-arsed Slytherin. Then he gave him a little push and Malfoy shuffled his feet obediently as Harry guided him to his dorm from behind.
When Harry finally dropped Malfoy off at the room he shared with Goyle, identified by the terrifyingly loud snores coming from one side of the room, Malfoy grasped the doorframe and spun around to face Harry.
"Lissen, Po-" he hiccuped, his head dropping down before bobbing back up, "Potter." He tried to hold Harry's gaze, giving him a very pathetic version of a serious look. "Gotta promise me two things."
"What?" Harry asked, both amused and wary.
"Ca-" he swallowed thickly and sniffed. "Cas' a Sliencing Spell on Goyle. An' two." Malfoy released the doorframe in an attempt to flash Harry two fingers, but he quickly replaced them when he began to tilt. "Kill me in the morning?"
"Kill you," Harry repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"Either you do it," Malfoy prodded Harry in the chest with one finger, then turned the finger back to himself, "or I do it." He twirled the finger in a circle. "But someone's got to it."
"Can I ask why?"
"Cause." Malfoy let his hand fall to his side, swinging loosely back and forth. "'M gonna die of 'mbarassment as i' is."
Harry gave him a solemn hum and nod and cast a Lumos to help Malfoy navigate his way. Malfoy gave Harry a sloppy wave and carefully guided himself toward his bed. When he reached it, he collapsed on it, fully-clothed, and his breathing began to steady off almost immediately.
Harry cast a Silencing Spell on Goyle and shut the door.
"Morning, Malfoy," Harry greeted brightly at the start of their ten a.m. Double Transfigurations class. Malfoy had already skived off eight a.m. Charms, likely because he knew Flitwick would never do anything about it, but McGonagall was a different story.
Malfoy's robes had the starched-tight press of a Cleaning Spell and Harry suspected that they were the same robes he'd had on the night before. His face was drawn and sickly and his eyes were squinted up in puffy slits.
"How refreshed you look today." Harry couldn't help it. He just couldn't.
"You're hilarious, Potter." Malfoy's voice was weak and scratchy.
"I have to admit," said Harry, taking the seat beside Malfoy as McGonagall strode into the room and lowering his voice, "I didn't expect to see you here."
Malfoy bit his pinky nail and stared at McGonagall. "I think I'm dying," he hissed between clenched teeth. Harry grinned and Malfoy, sensing it, narrowed his eyes further. "Why are you sitting here?"
"Convenience. Also, - " Harry dug in his pocket and produced a vial of Hangover potion that he got from one of the house-elves that morning. "I thought you could use this."
Malfoy frowned at the bottle, then gave Harry a suspicious look. "Is that what I think it is?"
Harry passed him the viscous black liquid. "Just take it quick, before McGonagall notices."
"And if it's poison?"
Harry shrugged. "Then I reckon you'll be feeling a bit worse, won't you?"
Malfoy narrowed his eyes and unstoppered the bottle. He raised it to his mouth and then hesitated.
"Hurry up, will you?" Harry whispered.
Apparently, Malfoy decided that Harry wasn't stupid enough to poison him in the middle of class, and he threw back the vial in one go. He had an immediate gag reflex and made a coughing sound like he was going to vomit.
McGonagall spun around. "Everything alright, Mr. Malfoy?" she raised an eyebrow.
Malfoy nodded weakly and passed the empty vial back to Harry under the table. "Yes, ma'am," he managed.
Harry tucked the empty vial back into his robe pocket. He was about to ask Malfoy if the potion had begun to kick in, when Malfoy sighed heavily and dropped his head into the palm of his hand. "Look, Potter, that was really decent of you and all, but could you please sit somewhere else?" he asked. "The last thing I need is for you to keep - to keep doing whatever it is that you're doing to me."
"What am I doing to you?" Harry whispered, amused.
"You keep trying to get a rise out of me." Malfoy said out of the side of his mouth. "Don't deny it."
Harry shrugged innocently. "I'm just being cordial." He gestured at a sparkling, chrome-colored ring on Malfoy's index finger. "Say, that's an interesting ring."
Malfoy gave a little groan and shook his head. He opened his mouth as if he were about to say something nasty, then, glancing at his ring, he muttered, "It's from my mother."
"What's it say?" Harry inched closer and tried to peer at the inscription around the band.
Malfoy covered his ring with his other hand.
Harry tried to engage Malfoy in further conversation, but the hungover Slytherin pointedly ignored him for the rest of class.
For some reason, this bothered Harry.
That night, Harry was exploring a secret passageway that led from near the kitchens to the floor below Harry's dorm in the West Tower. It was on the Marauder's Map, and Harry had seen it before, but he'd never really had a reason to use it. Now, though, living in the West Tower and all, Harry thought it would be useful. He wished Ron was still around to explore Hogwarts with him, but he was so rarely in the Common Room these days, spending most of his time in the Owlery, writing to Hermione or talking to Seamus about girls. It wasn't that Harry didn't want to join Ron and Seamus - he just found he didn't have much to contribute. He didn't have the experience they had and, well, talking about girls was just sort of boring, in Harry's opinion.
The passage began on the 5th floor of the West Tower behind a statue of Helga Hufflepuff. There was a red curtain that appeared to hang over solid wall, but if one lifted the curtain, tapped the wall and said "Dissendium," the wall vanished, revealing a series of staircases and stone tunnels that let out behind a painting of dancing vegetables near the kitchens.
Harry was returning through the passage with his arms stuffed full of homemade elf pastries when he saw a shadowy figure up ahead of him. Without thinking, he broke into a run, trying to chase the figure down.
"Tonks?" he yelled, dropping a few pastries in his haste to cast a Lumos. But by the time he had properly lit the stone passageway, Tonks, or whoever it had been, was gone.
Malfoy was sitting in the Common Room when Harry returned, legs tucked underneath him and a large text book open in his lap. He was absentmindedly sucking the tip of his quill and Harry wondered if one could get ink poisoning by doing that.
"Hey, Malfoy," Harry greeted. He had fully intended to walk past Malfoy and go up to bed, but the blond looked up at Harry, his expression expectant.
"Er. . .," Harry stuttered. "Good study habits," he pointed at Malfoy's books and nodded. "That's- that's good."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. He looked at Harry for a moment and then, when Harry hadn't managed anything else, he turned back to his books and flipped a page.
"Wait-" Harry said. A bored stare was not the reaction he was trying to get. Malfoy looked up again, rested his chin on his fist and waited. "Um. . ."Harry blundered. Malfoy's eyes were wide and he blinked slowly. "Your shoes are shiny."
Malfoy looked back down at his textbook. It was hard to tell with his head down, but Harry thought he was smiling.
Harry shook his head. "Yeah."
As Malfoy returned to his reading and Harry began to climb up to his dorm, he realized that this time it hadn't worked. This time, Malfoy was expecting a compliment! And instead of Malfoy being confused, Harry was.
That wanker was getting used to it. He thought he knew Harry's game.
Harry resolved to up the ante tomorrow.
Harry was sitting with the Gryffindors in the Great Hall when Malfoy and Goyle came in for breakfast. Malfoy's hair was looking especially blond that day and his eyes were rather gray and his robes were - well - they were certainly the Hogwarts uniform, there was no doubt about that.
Thinking hard throughout breakfast and coming up with nothing, Harry approached Malfoy at the end of the meal and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Hey."
Malfoy stared at him, expressionless. "What?"
"You look nice in your robes."
Malfoy's eyelashes fluttered and he drew his head back in shock.
Harry felt a blush creeping onto his cheeks but steadfastly ignored it. "They look nice on you." He gestured to Malfoy and shrugged. "Your robes."
Malfoy glanced down at his robes, then back at Harry. He frowned. "Really?"
Adrenaline spiked through Harry all of a sudden, and without meaning to, a smile worked its way onto his face and wouldn't leave. He nodded.
And then Malfoy did do something shocking. He smiled back. And it wasn't a smug smile or a sneer - his eyes were bright and his face held a genuine, perhaps even shy - smile. Lifting his chin just slightly, he said, "Thanks."
When Harry turned to walk away, nothing could lessen the winning feeling of glee that accompanied getting a reaction out of Malfoy. Not even Ron's sputtering or Seamus's eyebrows, which looked ready to float off of his face.
"Harry," said Ron in the Transfiguration corridor, later that day. "What's up with you and Malfoy?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you keep, you know, telling him he looks good and stuff?" Ron wrinkled his face and scratched his ear.
Harry laughed. "The look on his face, Ron, it's hilarious. You should try it."
"Yeah," Ron said doubtfully, "no thanks."
"Every time he says something nasty, I say something nice. It really messes with him."
Ron frowned. "But Malfoy didn't say anything nasty to you this morning," he pointed out.
Harry felt heat creeping up his neck for some reason. "Oh, well, you know what I mean," he stuttered. Then, "He was definitely about to. I could tell."
Ron just shook his head. "Whatever you say, Harry."
That night, Harry kept picturing Malfoy's reaction in the Great Hall. That smile. It was like an image burned in his brain. What could Harry say to Malfoy next? How could he get that reaction out of him again?
Skirting the edges of his consciousness were Ron's words and the lingering idea that it wasn't exactly normal to want to get that kind of reaction out of another bloke.
Harry quickly dismissed this ridiculous thought. When it came to Malfoy, the normal rules didn't apply.
The next evening, Harry was starving. He had just finished a treacle tart and was climbing out of the secret passageway from the kitchens to the West Tower when he heard voices. Finding it unusual that anyone else was roaming the West Tower at that hour, Harry followed the sound to a small, rather hidden room at the end of a hallway which, he assumed, had once been used as a sort of lounge in the past, though now was just a dusty and abandoned alcove.
"Not in Chinese Gobstones," came a child's voice. Harry frowned, wondering how a first or second year had snuck out of their dorm this late. "In Chinese Gobstones you can hop as many times as you like, as long as you've got the spaces."
"Well, this isn't Chinese Gobstones, you little pest," replied a snooty voice. "So hopping is the same as cheating."
The child huffed and Harry crept closer. The second voice had sounded suspiciously familiar. "Well, you're the Slytherin," said the child.
"And?" asked the voice. "You're the cheater. Plus," he drawled, "you're a child. So you have to do what I say."
"You're not that much older than me," the child's voice grumbled.
Harry peeked around the corner and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. The second voice was Malfoy, alright. But the child was no first or second year. At least, not anymore. The boy, who looked to be around eleven or twelve, was shimmering with the same translucence as Tonks.
But Harry had never seen him before. Which could only mean that he had died in the Battle of Hogwarts.
If Tonks was a ghost, and this boy was ghost, how many others were there? There had to be loads. The entire castle must have been full of them, Harry thought, uneasily. Good ghosts, bad ghosts, children, Order members and Death Eaters.
Harry suddenly realized that the shapes he kept seeing in the hallway probably hadn't been just Tonks, after all. They could have been this boy. Hell, they could have been anybody . . .
Was Remus here? No, Harry thought, probably not, or he would have been with Tonks. Fred? Bellatrix?
Harry cast a glance over his shoulder. If Bellatrix had become a Hogwarts ghost, then there was nothing to be feared from Peeves. Peeves was positively friendly in comparison.
"I'm old enough that you have to do as I say," Malfoy replied. "So stop trying to hop my Gobstones or I won't play with you anymore."
"Fine," huffed the boy.
Then Harry's thoughts changed. Why was Malfoy hanging out with this ghost-child, anyway? Couldn't he play Gobstones with Goyle if he was bored?
A small part of Harry felt like he was being decidedly intrusive, but a larger part of him had a curiosity to satisfy. He stayed.
Mostly, the child, whose name was Callum, chatted about the rules of Gobstones and about his friend "Terrence," whoever that was. Malfoy tolerated the chatter in that sarcastic way of his, but Harry could tell that he was amused.
What was really surprising, though, was when Harry realized that Callum knew about Malfoy's past. One of the Gobstones popped into the air and smacked Malfoy on the arm. When Malfoy hissed in pain, the boy's eyes widened and he asked, "Did I hit . . . it?"
Malfoy sighed, rubbing his arm. "Yeah."
The boy looked uneasy. "Sorry, Draco, I - "
"It's fine." He waved him off. "Just go again."
Callum reached for a Gobstone and then hesitated. "Does it hurt a lot?"
Malfoy shook his head, his shoulders tight. "No. Hardly ever."
"Why didn't it go away when Potter killed him?"
Malfoy let out a frustrated huff. "I don't know, do I? Shut your yap and go."
The boy took his turn and Harry stepped back. Feeling guilty for intruding, he began walking back toward his dorm, his chest feeling curiously heavy.
The next day, Harry couldn't get the thought of Malfoy and Callum off his mind. He wanted to know more. Had they known each other before Callum's death? Why didn't it bother Callum that Malfoy had been a Death Eater? How did Callum die?
And even though he knew it wasn't something he should bring up, Harry couldn't stop himself. So, on his way to Charms the next morning, he caught up with Malfoy and softened him with a compliment first.
"I like your . . . tie today."
"It's the same one I wear every day."
"You don't wash it?" Harry asked, smirking.
"Grow up, Potter," said Malfoy, with an eye-roll. "What do you want?"
"Who was that boy I heard you talking to?" Harry asked, casually looking down at his feet. "The ghost?"
Malfoy paused and shook his head. "Excuse me," he snapped. "What?"
"Last night, I - "
"You were spying on me?" Malfoy asked, his voice rising in anger. "You watched us?"
"It was an accident - " Harry sputtered. "I saw you for a second and then I left. I swear."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes as if he didn't believe Harry's lie. "Right. I'm sure you didn't stay and listen. You've always been so good at respecting my privacy."
"Well, you were right out in the open," Harry pointed out.
"That doesn't make any difference," said Malfoy, his eyes darkening. "Stop trying to bend rules to fit your actions."
Harry just looked at him. "I just wondered, is all." Harry shrugged. "I've seen others, so . . ."
"Ghosts," Harry said.
Malfoy ran a tired hand over his face. "Callum McGrady."
"That's who it was," Malfoy snapped. "He's a Hufflepuff - was a," he cleared his throat, "was a Hufflepuff."
"Oh," said Harry. "Did you know him?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Not really. I caught him in the corridors after hours once and gave him detention."
"Oh," said Harry again. "So, last night you were -?"
"Playing Gobstones, you nosy fuck!" Malfoy shot him a glare. "We weren't plotting anything, if that's what you think. He's twelve, for fuck's sake."
"Okay, okay." Harry held his hands up. "I was just wondering, is all. I didn't think you were up to anything."
"Yeah, well, that's a first," said Malfoy bitterly. He walked into the Charms classroom, shrugged his bag off his shoulder and took a seat in the back. He went to set his bag on the chair beside him, but Harry quickly slid into it. Malfoy seemed to realize that it was inevitable and dropped his bag on the floor by his feet with an obvious eye-roll. "Make yourself comfortable."
Harry pulled out a notebook and began to copy the date. "Why were you playing Gobstones with him?"
"Because," said Malfoy, also copying the date and setting his feather quill neatly beside his parchment, "he asked me to."
"So . . . do you want to play Gobstones with me later?"
Malfoy actually laughed. "Not on your life, Potter."
"Why not? I asked you to," Harry pointed out.
At that Malfoy set his hands on the desk and turned to Harry. "He's lonely and he's dead. Okay? And he's twelve."
Harry raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "Okay." There was definitely more that Malfoy wasn't telling him, but Flitwick came in at that moment and started writing something on the blackboard. "I think that's really decent of you, Malfoy."
Malfoy groaned and buried his head in his hands.
By the time Halloween approached and the temperature sank, the castle was abuzz with excitement for the first Hogsmeade weekend. Even older students were looking forward to getting away from the castle for a bit. Hermione had promised Ron that she would Portkey into the village to see him. Ron insisted that Harry should come, too, but, he didn't want to intrude on their reunion, so he told Ron that he had to stay and study.
He did study a bit, too, but had moved on to a book about the Chudley Cannons when Malfoy, Goyle and Zabini entered the Common Room making a lot of noise.
Harry looked up from his book.
"Come on, you idiots," said Zabini, who was walking in the lead.
Goyle and Malfoy had their arms wrapped around one another, supporting each other's weight - though Harry suspected Goyle was doing most of the work. Malfoy looked like he'd been drinking again. Well, it looked like all the Slytherins had.
"Goyle," said Malfoy, pointing at the door. "You need to go back there. You need to go - and hex him. And her."
Zabini rolled his eyes. "You're fucking lucky Goyle stopped you when he did, you imbecile."
"Hey," Malfoy said with a frown. "You heard what they said about my mother?" He dropped down into an armchair.
"Yes, Draco," said Zabini, feigning patience, as he and Goyle tried to tug a resistant Malfoy back up to standing. "And your mother doesn't want you going back to - " Zabini's head popped up and he noticed Harry. "Oh. Potter," he growled with a nod, sending Goyle a meaningful look.
"Potter!" Malfoy yelped, both arms in the air. Harry could see that he was grinning. "Hello, Potter! Stayed here all day by yourself, did you?"
Harry didn't answer.
"Aww." Malfoy tsked and tilted his head to the side. "Poor Potter."
"That's it," said Zabini, dropping Malfoy's arm in exasperation. "I'm going." He and Goyle exchanged a look. "'Poor Potter,' Zabini repeated, shaking his head. He gestured at Malfoy with a thumb. "And he said he wanted another Firewhisky."
Goyle grunted in agreement and dropped Malfoy's other arm. It fell against his chest with a thwump, then rolled off to the side. As Zabini and Goyle climbed the stairs to their dorms, Malfoy pulled himself to his feet and weaved over to Harry's couch, dropping down heavily onto the cushion beside him.
Malfoy was close enough now that Harry could smell the alcohol on his breath, thick in the air around him, mixed with the cold scent of snow and sweat and a slight lingering odor of cigarette smoke.
"Do you smoke?" Harry asked in surprise.
Malfoy shut his eyes and leaned back on the couch, letting his head fall toward Harry. "Oh yeah, I forgot," he murmured. "Goldstein gave me a fag." He grinned broader. "Made me dizzy."
Malfoy opened his eyes, and the glassiness seemed to double the grey in color.
"You know," Harry couldn't help saying. "You have really - " he wanted to say pretty, but instead said, "different-looking eyes."
"I know," Malfoy whispered. He moved closer. "Do you like that?"
"Y-yeah, sure," said Harry, his heart racing at Malfoy's sudden proximity.
Malfoy reached up suddenly and touched Harry's jaw, his ice cold fingers brushing along warm stubble. "Green eyes," he murmured.
Harry stiffened, his eyes watching Malfoy's hand on his face. "What are you doing?"
Malfoy shook his head and dropped his hand. "I don't know." He frowned at his hand for a moment as though it had done something offensive. Finally, he stood up, swaying only slightly and started to leave.
"Wait - " said Harry, closing his book. "You don't have to leave."
Malfoy raised one eyebrow.
Harry patted the cushion next to him. "Yeah, sit. Common Room's for everybody, right?"
Malfoy laughed, a little too loudly, then plopped back down on the cushion. "Right. Right. Though I won't be held responsible for anything I do or say."
"Fair enough." Harry grinned.
Malfoy had produced a flask from his pocket and was sharing it with Harry, passing it back and forth. They chatted for awhile and eventually got back onto the subject of ghosts.
"So, why do you talk to that boy?" Harry asked, feeling pleasantly tipsy, enjoying this barrier-free conversation with Malfoy.
"Callum?" Malfoy asked, waving an arm in the air. "I don't know. I know you think I'm a heartless monster, and maybe I am, but for some reason the bugger's taken a liking to me."
"Fancy that . . . "
Malfoy gave him a hard look, squinting just a bit. "He's twelve and he's dead and he doesn't have anyone to talk to."
The thought of it made Harry feel very, very sad. "Well, he has you, hasn't he?" Harry asked.
Malfoy snorted. "For what? I'll play fucking Gobstones with him 'til June and then I'm gone. He's stuck here forever."
"What about the other students?" Harry said. "Surely there are Hufflepuffs who know him."
Malfoy scowled. "Yeah. Fucking Terrence." He spread his hands and wiggled his fingers before snatching the flask from Harry. "Fucking Terrence never even fucking came back."
"Other ghosts, then?"
"Who?" Malfoy smacked a pillow. "The Bloody fucking Baron? Nearly Headless Nick? Great friends for a twelve year old, you idiot. One's a murderer and the other one's brain's hanging on by a tendon."
Harry decided to not mention the fact that he had been friends with Nearly Headless Nick when he was twelve. But he also had had Ron and Hermione.
Then he had an idea. Tonks. Tonks could look out for Callum. Harry would let her know about him as soon as he found her.
"How did he die?" Harry asked.
Malfoy ran a hand through his hair. "He doesn't know. Probably the reason he's still here." He let out a disgusted laugh. "He was one of those stupid, brave kids who thought they'd sneak back in and be heroes." Malfoy swallowed hard. "Half the time he doesn't even know he's dead - he thinks we're still in the middle of a war." His voice rose in pitch and broke off with a sob. Then he began to laugh and ran a hand over his face. "Fuck," he said, handing the flask back to Harry. "Here. I've had enough."
Harry took the flask and set it to the side. "And he knows you're a Death Eater?"
The smile quickly dropped off Malfoy's face. "Was," he growled. "And yeah, he knows."
"And he doesn't care?"
"That's the funny thing about dying, I guess," Malfoy said, harshly. "Things like that don't seem to matter. At least not when we're playing Gobstones." Then he dropped his head into his hands. "It just doesn't seem fair, does it?" his voice was muffled. "I'm here. We're all here and soon we'll all forget." Malfoy's voice shook slightly. "But he can't forget. Stuck in an eternity of hell, reliving his worst day, forever. All because he thought he was doing the right thing."
When Malfoy looked up his eyes were wet and bleary and he quickly wiped at them with his hands, blinking hard and sniffing. "But, to answer your question, no. He doesn't care. Unlike everyone else, he doesn't hold my past against me."
"Well," said Harry, "For what it's worth, I don't either."
Malfoy just stared at the table in front of them, a frown on his face. Then, "I'm pissed. I'm going to bed."
The next morning, Harry felt Malfoy's eyes on him during breakfast, but every time Harry looked at him, he turned quickly away. He almost seemed like he was embarrassed, and perhaps he was.
Harry swore he could still feel Malfoy's fingers where they'd brushed across his cheek.
What was happening? Why had Malfoy done that? Did he think that when Harry said his eyes were different, that he was trying to make a move?
Malfoy had to know that Harry didn't mean it like that. And, surely, if he thought Harry meant it like that, he would have laughed him into next Tuesday. Not grabbed hold of his face and . . .
He had been drunk, Harry decided. That was all.
Later that day, Harry saw a shadowy figure gliding ahead of him in the hallway. But this time, he wasn't sure who it was. So, instead of yelling out and frightening the ghost off, Harry decided to take slow, careful steps and follow it.
The figure turned a corner, heading toward the alcove where Harry had seen Malfoy and Callum playing Gobstones. Then the figure stopped, hovering in front of a window that faced the grounds. Harry carefully approached. "Pardon me," he said softly.
The figure turned around. It was Tonks.
"Tonks," he murmured.
"Harry?" She gave him a grim smile and a nod. Harry couldn't help but be reminded of Tonks's sadness during his sixth year, when she couldn't be with Remus. And now, she was separated from him all over again. It must be terrible. It broke Harry's heart.
"How are you?" he asked, knowing the words just weren't enough.
She shook her head. "Not good, Harry. I thought it would get easier, maybe, with time, but it hasn't."
Harry gave a quiet nod, fighting back tears. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I couldn't do more - "
"Harry!" Tonks shook her head. "Don't think like that. You did everything you could do - for all of us. I even heard you sacrificed your life."
Harry sat down on the dusty red couch and nodded. Tonks sat beside him, as though she were comforting him.
"How many others are there?" Harry asked her. "New ghosts, I mean."
Tonks frowned and shook her head. "I'm not sure," she said, slowly. "It hadn't occurred to me that there were others. . . have you seen any?"
"One," said Harry. "A boy. He's only twelve, his name is Callum."
"Twelve." Tonks put a hand in the area of her heart. "He fought?"
Harry nodded. "He talks to Malfoy sometimes. Malfoy says he's lonely."
Tonks gave Harry a funny look. "Draco Malfoy, you mean?"
"Oh," Harry shook his head. "That's right. You're cousins."
"He's a Death Eater."
"Was - " Harry shook his head. "I don't know. He's not like he used to be."
"Well, he is, but. . . See, I sort of started trying to be nice to him and, I guess he's not so bad."
Tonks hummed. She was smirking. "I know. I've seen you."
This admission made Harry feel inexplicably embarrassed. "What do you mean?"
She threw her pink hair to the side and it morphed to brown. An illusion of glasses appeared on her face and she began to imitate Harry. "'Nice shoes today, Malfoy. You're really smart, Malfoy'." She raised her eyebrows and lowered her voice. "'Your robes look good on you, Malfoy'."
Harry could feel his face heating. "Oh, come on, Tonks. It's just for a laugh. I don't really mean it."
"So, you're lying to him?"
"Well," Harry shifted, uncomfortably. "No, not lying exactly. I just - I mean, he does look sort of okay and all - but I don't mean it like that."
"Harry," she said slowly, a grin spreading across her Harry-like face. "Do you fancy Malfoy?"
Harry began to sputter in protest. "What? Fancy? No! No. I - I know this looks bad but - No. No way."
The glasses faded and her hair changed back to pink. She put an ice-cold hand on top of Harry's. "Harry," she said with a knowing smirk, "you know, sometimes when people say someone looks nice in their robes, what they're really saying is that They. Think. They. Look. Nice. In. Their. Robes." She raised an eyebrow.
Despite Tonks's frozen hands on his, Harry could feel his cheeks and ears burning.
"Hmm?" She prodded.
"Tonks . . . "
"Alright," she lifted her hands and held them up. "I'll stop." She still had that knowing smirk on her face and Harry would have found it annoying if he wasn't so glad to see her. "But think about it, Harry. Malfoy's not a bad-looker. Comes from his mother's side, I'm sure," she said with a wink.
Harry groaned, burying his face in his hands.
"Look, Harry," she said, her voice serious. "Sometimes two people just fit. It doesn't always make sense, but you have to trust your heart." She stood up and glided toward the window. "I wish I'd done it sooner. We could have had another year together." She turned back around. "Don't waste your time, Harry."
Harry just looked at her, his chest tight.
"And besides," she said with a cheeky grin. "I've seen the way he looks at you when your back is turned."
"What?" Harry asked, startled. "What do you mean? How?"
"Oh, suddenly interested, are you?" She raised her eyebrows and then laughed.
"Well," she whispered conspiratorially, "in my opinion, he thinks you look nice in your robes, too, Harry." Harry's cheeks flushed even redder. Tonks gave him another wink and then vanished.
By the end of that week, Harry was certain that Malfoy was avoiding him. Every time Harry showed up at one of their usual path-crossings with his compliment-of-the-day at the ready, Malfoy was nowhere to be found.
In fact, it seemed that the prat rearranged his entire schedule to avoid Harry completely. Sure, perhaps it was a coincidence that Malfoy showed up to Herbology - his least favorite class - twenty minutes early, but Harry doubted it. Harry only knew this because he had taken to arriving thirty minutes early to ensure a meeting.
To Harry's disappointment, he was ignored. Malfoy didn't even try to insult Harry, which Harry supposed should have been a relief, but, for some reason, it wasn't.
And every class they had together - which was all of Malfoy's classes, minus Arithmancy and Muggle Studies - Malfoy snuck out a minute or two early with some flimsy excuse or another and went bolting through the door.
What 'looks' was Tonks talking about?
Harry had somehow managed to receive a Poor on his most recent Defense Against the Dark Arts essay. He couldn't believe it. The topic was to discuss, in detail, a defensive spell one could use in battle. So, Harry wrote from recent experience. Professor Grubbly-Plank, who was covering the class until a permanent hire was made, said the use of Expelliarmus against Avada Kedavra was "far-fetched."
Ron told Harry that if he didn't go and argue for a better grade, he deserved the P, which, as far as Harry was concerned, served as further proof that Hermione was rubbing off on him. Convinced that Grubbly-Plank was nothing but a by-the-book old bat and educational fraud, Harry took the paper back and demanded a higher score.
Grubbly-Plank wouldn't budge.
Harry argued that he had numerous eyewitness accounts, including Grubbly-Plank, herself, to back up the validity of his claim. She said she was looking for a more practical application and that it was clear Harry did not do sufficient research for the assignment.
"Writing a diary entry is not the same as a well-researched paper, Mister Potter," she'd barked, with a flare of her nostrils. "The grade stands, as is." She punctuated the conversation with a solid nod and a "Good day" and shooed Harry out of her borrowed office.
Grumbling about the unfairness of it all, Harry sulked back to the West Tower. While he was walking, his curiosity grew and he thought he'd peek in on the little alcove lounge for a bit - just to make sure everything was in order.
To Harry's not-so-immense surprise, Malfoy was there with Callum. Littered Gobstones rolled loosely about the floor. Malfoy stared at the Gobstones, running distressed hands through his hair, while Callum, trembling, pointed his useless wand at him.
"Back away!" Callum shouted, backing up himself. "I said back away from me, you dirty Death Eater!" He winced after he said the words, as if expecting to be cursed. When Malfoy merely sighed and took a seat on the couch, Callum frowned, whipping his head around in confusion.
"Callum," Malfoy said, his voice calm and resigned, as if he'd been through this before. "The war is over. You-Know-Who is dead."
"You mean," Callum's eyes lit up, "Potter won?"
Malfoy nodded. "Yes."
Then, "You're lying!"
"Come on, Callum." Malfoy gestured to the Gobstones rolling across the stone floor. "Pick up this mess."
Callum looked down at the Gobstones on the floor as if noticing them for the first time. He wrinkled his head in confusion. "Gobstones?"
"We were in the middle of a game," Malfoy reminded him gently. "Fix them, please."
"But you're - "
"Draco Malfoy," he said. "And the war has been over for several months."
Callum's eyes widened and his face looked sick as realization dawned on him. "Then I'm -?"
Malfoy gave a slow nod. "I'm afraid so."
"But -" he sputtered, his voice shaking, "but -" He looked down at himself and made a choking sound. Lowering his wand, Callum took two wobbly steps backward, then noticed his feet weren't touching the ground. Horror and fear were etched on the little boy's face and he looked tremendously close to tears.
"Hey," said Malfoy, standing up and walking closer to him. "Callum. It's okay."
"No - it's -!"
"Callum," Malfoy gave an awkward pat on the boy's shoulder, pulling his hand back before it went right through. "It's okay."
"I'm dead? I'm dead." He gazed wildly about the room. "What happened?"
"Callum, look at me." The boy looked at Malfoy, wide-eyed. "Pick up the Gobstones. Then we can play."
Nodding jerkily, Callum swallowed, then began trying to sweep the Gobstones into a pile with his hands. "I can't pick them up," his voice was rising into hysteria.
"Yes, you can." Malfoy sat back down. "Give yourself a minute."
Callum nodded again and slunk down onto the floor. He stared, dejected, as his fingers went through the Gobstones over and over again.
Callum frowned, and with a look of determination, he was able to make contact with the Gobstones. He began scooping up the Gobstones, letting out a shaky sigh.
Malfoy, too, looked relieved. After a moment he asked, "All right, Callum?"
Callum shrugged, depositing the Gobstones into a tin box. They tumbled in with a series of rattling clacks.
"Do you want to play anymore?"
Callum shook his head, his lower lip jutting out just a bit, and, without another word, he turned from Malfoy and floated away down the corridor.
Malfoy let out a long sigh. "Jesus," he muttered when he was certain Callum was gone. He picked up the tin of Gobstones, shrunk them and placed them in the pocket of his robes. Harry went to duck back behind the stone wall when he heard another voice.
Malfoy let out a surprised yelp and spun around. Tonks was standing in the alcove now, a hand on her hip. Her hair was long and orange today. "Who the hell are you?" he asked rudely.
"Is that any way to speak to family?" Tonks raised an eyebrow and Harry swore she winked in his direction.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Malfoy had his wand out now. "Get away from me!"
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Draco," she said. "I came to talk to you."
"I don't want to talk to you," he snapped. "Leave me alone, you stupid ghost." Malfoy turned to leave and to Harry's surprise, Tonks whizzed through the air and landed on the other side of him, blocking his exit. Malfoy took two startled steps away from her, backing himself against the couch.
"You don't have time for family?"
"What are you talking about, you barmy bird? Why do you keep saying that?"
Tonks laughed. "You really don't know who I am, do you?"
Malfoy shook his head, looking suddenly unsure.
"Nymphadora," she drawled the name as though she hated it, "Tonks." When Malfoy said nothing and only stared she added, "Andromeda's daughter?"
"The one who married the werewolf?" Malfoy squeaked.
The smile fell from Tonks's face. "Don't go there, Malfoy."
"Sorry." Malfoy had the grace to look ashamed. "What do you want from me?"
"Well," Tonks wrapped an arm around Malfoy's shoulders, urging him forward. He arched his back, shivering and looking terribly uncomfortable. "I hear you've made a new friend this year. Two, actually."
Malfoy frowned. Harry could feel his own cheeks heating. He knew Tonks added that last bit in just because she knew he was watching.
"I want to meet the boy," Tonks said.
"The one that was just here?" he asked.
She looked surprised. "Oh, damn. Was he?"
Malfoy just stared.
"Well, yeah. That's the one. I want to meet him."
"Why?" asked Malfoy, suspiciously.
"Harry says he needs a friend."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Potter." And then, a bit petulantly, "He has a friend."
"And I'm sure you're a good one," she said, tussling Malfoy's hair. He grit his teeth against the cold. "But don't you think he could use a friend who knows what he's going through?"
Frowning, Malfoy shrugged. "Probably," he admitted. "But don't you dare do anything to him."
Tonks raised her hands in front of her. "I just want to help."
Malfoy looked at her for a long time. After a few seconds, he tilted his head to the side. "You look like me."
Tonks smirked. "And you look like you have company." She glanced directly at Harry then and before he had a chance to make a move, Malfoy spun around and pinned him with an icy glare.
"You spying bastard!" Malfoy's hands were in fists. Apparently Callum's freak-out, Tonks's sudden appearance and Harry's spying were too much for him to handle.
"Tonks!" Harry yelled at his betrayer.
Tonks smirked again and slipped quickly out of the room.
"I can't get one goddamn second away from you, can I, Potter?" Malfoy's eyes were wild and he was advancing on Harry with startling speed. Harry plunged his hand into his pocket, but his cufflink snagged on a tiny tear. It was only a fraction of a second delay, but it was enough time for Malfoy to slam into Harry's chest with both hands.
Harry choked, the wind knocked out of him, as he grappled blindly in his pocket for his wand. Malfoy looked angrier than Harry had seen him in a long time, though. And Harry suspected the one-sided anger would work to Malfoy's advantage.
Malfoy grabbed Harry by the collar of his robes and threw him down to the stone. Just as Harry thought his head would crack against the floor, though, he felt Malfoy's hand cup the back of his head and break his fall. Then he pushed him, flipping him onto his side.
It was a very odd moment. Malfoy had gone down with Harry, but seemed to have prevented himself from causing real injury.
At this point, Harry tried to shove Malfoy back, but the blond had gravity on his side and wasn't budging. Harry kicked and Malfoy struggled to stop him, their arms frantically wrestling as they scrabbled about on the floor. Malfoy grabbed a fistful of Harry's hair and pulled. Harry yelled out, reaching up and squeezing Malfoy's wrist until he released. Then Malfoy grabbed the flesh of Harry's upper arm between his thumb and forefinger and pinched, digging in his nails.
"Ow! Goddammit," Harry yelped, tempted to bite Malfoy but not wanting to sink to his level. "You fight like a fucking girl, Malfoy!"
"I fight better than you!"
This went on for some time - the two of them sort of rolling around and Malfoy swatting at Harry without either taking a real swing at the other. When Malfoy's knee in his stomach got to be too much, Harry choked out, "You know, you're stronger than I thought you'd be."
Malfoy froze, his fingers curling into the collar of Harry's robes again. "And I'll bet you like that, don't you?" He growled, his grey eyes gleaming. "Don't you?"
When Harry didn't say anything, just laid on the ground, inches away from Malfoy's face, breathing in and out, Malfoy gave him a sudden, sharp shake. "Answer me, dammit!"
"Maybe," Harry breathed.
Malfoy sneered. "Admit it." He sat back, one knee on Harry's stomach, the other leg splayed out awkwardly on the floor. "Admit it. You actually do."
Harry lifted his head slightly. Malfoy looked angry enough to hurt him. "N-no," he stuttered. Malfoy's face hardened. The blond released him and stood, staggering back a few steps.
"I swear, Potter, if this has all been some sort of sick game to you, then you can go fuck off." His glare was icy but Harry could see real hurt behind his eyes. Harry tried to speak when Malfoy interrupted him again. "Is it revenge?" His voice sounded smaller. "Is that what all of this shite was?" He waved a hand in the air and his voice cracked. "Well, congratulations, Potter, you got me."
"No - "
Malfoy let out a disgusted snort and brushed a hand through his hair. "Was it really that important to you to humiliate me? You couldn't just do it the old-fashioned way and set my robes on fire or something?"
"No, that wasn't what I was trying to do - "
"You make me sick. 'I like your robes, Malfoy, I like your hair'," he mocked, crossing his arms over his chest. "'I don't hold your past against you, I think you're really decent.'"
"You're a dirty fucking liar." Malfoy was breathing heavily. "Because you just fucking said you didn't."
"W-well, you're supposed to hate me!" Harry cried, climbing to his feet himself. They circled one another slowly, as if waiting for an attack. "And then you started avoiding me - "
Malfoy's voice rose nearly an octave. "I started avoiding you!" He shook his head. "Uh, yeah? You've been following me like a deranged psycho and then I pet your fucking face!"
Harry blinked. He had almost reached the point where he thought he'd imagined that. "But . . . then you still hate me?"
Malfoy pressed his hands to his temples and let out a growl of frustration. "I. Don't. Know. What. You're. Doing." He tore his hands out of his hair. "Either you meant what you said or you're fucking with me. Which is it?" Malfoy did not look amused at the grin that broke out over Harry's face. "I swear to you, Potter, I'll wipe that grin off your face so fast - "
"I meant it," Harry said, quickly, trying to force his features to calm down. "I did. I meant it."
For a second, Malfoy looked taken aback, then his scowl deepened. "You're right. I still hate you."
"Oh, come on," Harry said, daring to take a step forward. "I don't think that's true."
Malfoy was still staring at the floor. His scowl had melted into a confused sort of frown.
"Malfoy - "
"Did you really mean it all?" he asked, quietly.
"Yeah," Harry said, swallowing and taking a step forward. "I did. I mean," Harry gestured at Malfoy, certain that he was smiling like a bit of an idiot, "your robes do look pretty good on you. Better on you than on me."
Malfoy was still looking at the floor. At Harry's words his eyes darted up to Harry's robes and then went back to the floor again. He shrugged. "Yours aren't so bad," he mumbled, sounding embarrassed.
"You said they looked like fourth year robes," Harry reminded him.
Malfoy shrugged again. "Fourth years have a decent design."
The meaning behind Malfoy's words made Harry feel suddenly reckless and he took another step forward. "So . . . you think I look good in my robes?"
Malfoy's eyes fixed themselves on him, wary but intense. "Acceptable."
"What about my hair?"
"Horrible," Malfoy breathed. Harry took another step forward and Malfoy lifted his chin, arching his back slightly. "Potter . . ."
"Tacky trainers." Malfoy's voice was hoarse. He stepped back until he was flat against the couch, eyes shut tightly, almost wincing. "Potter."
"Open your eyes." Harry was way too close now. He knew this. He knew this and he just didn't care.
Malfoy squinted one eye open and Harry couldn't stop himself. He leaned forward and grabbed Malfoy's robes again and kissed him.
Malfoy's eyes squeezed shut again and he kissed him back.
After a moment they both pulled away. Harry's heart was in his throat and he could taste Malfoy's spit in his mouth.
"I can't believe that just happened," Malfoy murmured, rubbing his fingers lightly over his bottom lip. He looked like he was going into a state of shock.
"Me, neither," Harry murmured.
Malfoy was still rubbing his fingers over his lips. "This isn't happening," he whispered under his breath, "this isn't happening."
"Maybe two times will make it seem more real?" Harry suggested, hopefully. Immediately, he felt like an idiot and was about to stutter out an apology when Malfoy reached up and grabbed onto Harry's shoulders, kissing him again.
"Is it - more real - now?" Harry said into Malfoy's mouth.
"Nope," Malfoy mumbled back between sloppy kisses. "Not really." They stumbled over to the corner of the couch where Malfoy pushed Harry backwards over the side. Harry fell onto the couch in surprise, and their mouths separated as he landed on his back, legs hooked over the armrest. Malfoy stared down at him and there was something very predatory about it.
"What?" Harry asked nervously, bracing himself on his elbows.
Malfoy just stared, his eyes raking over him. "I can't believe this," he murmured.
"What?" Harry asked again, though he damn well knew what because he couldn't fucking believe it, either.
Malfoy looked like he had Harry right where he wanted him - there was excitement in his eyes, and triumph - it was a bit like the face he'd make right before he caught the Snitch. Harry only knew what that looked like because he'd zoomed in with his Omnioculars during a few Ravenclaw-Slytherin matches. And then he'd replayed it a couple of times. In slow-motion.
Come to think of it, perhaps it was a bit odd that he'd zoomed into Malfoy's face instead of watching the Snitch.
Malfoy dropped down to his knees beside the couch. His eyes were wide as he began to run his hand along Harry's chest, moving down, down, until it hovered lightly over a place where no other person's hand had gone before. Then he pressed down. Harry let out a surprised, gurgling noise as heat rose within him. "What are you -?"
Malfoy squeezed again and Harry jerked back. His brain was a jumble of senseless thoughts and - ohmygod - Malfoy was touching him.
A part of Harry's mind was telling him 'this wasn't supposed to go this far' but another part was saying something like 'ohmygod - Tonkswasright - Malfoy's hand - Oh. My. God.'
And suddenly Harry wondered why he hadn't considered it going this far to begin with. In a really weird way, it totally made sense. This was exactly where it was supposed to go and it took Malfoy's suddenly grabby self to make Harry see that.
"Move back, Potter," Malfoy growled, his grey eyes darker than Harry had ever seen them. "Now."
Harry found himself obeying without word, scooting back on the couch as Malfoy pushed one hand firmly against his chest. His other hand fumbled with the button of Harry's trousers and pulled.
"Wait -" Harry's voice shook embarrassingly. "What are you doing?"
"I don't know," Malfoy said back, his eyes glued on Harry's pants. "I really don't know."
"Then should you -?"
"Just -" Malfoy closed his eyes for a minute. "Just shut up." He paused, his fingers curled around the band of Harry's pants. "I just have to - try something." He looked at Harry, vulnerability evident behind whatever mad desire was driving his actions. "Please?"
Harry's heart rate picked up and he dug his fingers into the material of the dusty velvet couch. "O-okay." He nodded. "Sure."
Malfoy's eyes were intense, but his voice was hesitant. "Yeah?"
Harry nodded his acquiescence. Really, whatever Malfoy wanted to do right now, was fine with him. Just fine.
Malfoy tugged on his pants.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. Yup, just fine. Everything was just fine.
Something wet and warm was down there. What was that? Harry's eyes flew open and he pushed up onto his elbows, finding nothing but blond hair -
Jesus Merlin God! Was that Malfoy's mouth? Was it his tongue?
Malfoy tilted his head back and smirked at Harry. His lips were parted and he was breathing heavily. He looked absolutely exhilarated.
"Is th-that what you wanted to try?" Harry choked.
Blushing, Malfoy trailed a finger where his tongue had just been, sending sparks into Harry's brain. "Part of it," he breathed. "But I'm not done yet."
Allowing the reality of the moment to sink in, Malfoy's exhilaration seemed catching and, for a moment, Harry let himself smirk back at Malfoy. "Well, then?" he managed. "What are you waiting for?"
Malfoy grinned and lowered his head.
Malfoy had given him a blowjob.
Draco Malfoy had just given him a blowjob. At least, Harry was pretty sure that's what that was.
It was still a blowjob when it was two blokes, right?
Or did they call that a blokejob? Hmmm.
And was the other person supposed to like it that much? For his part, Malfoy looked like he'd never enjoyed anything more in his life. Harry didn't really get it - it seemed sort of, bluergh, putting that in there, but then, he'd never been face to face with one before. Maybe it was different when you were up close and personal with one like that.
Still, thinking about the unexplainable look of desire on Malfoy's face was making Harry feel . . . ready all over again.
Harry wiped the sweaty fringe from his forehead and climbed the stairs to his dorm room in a daze.
They'd been so close that Harry could still smell Malfoy on his robes and - Harry pulled up the fabric and inhaled - yup. Malfoy. A sort of cauldron-y Hogwarts-y smell that was really more memories than anything concrete.
And he'd wanted Harry. All this time, he'd been avoiding him because he was afraid he'd embarrass himself. He thought Harry was trying to humiliate him. And he was, sort of.
At least he thought he had been. Until he realized that he wasn't.
Harry should have known better. Really. How thick was he?
Head spinning too much to question himself any more, Harry went to bed, balling up his Malfoy-scented robes and bringing them with him.
"Harry," said Ron the next morning as Harry tried to find the match to his brown striped sock in the pile of clean clothes on the floor. The clean clothes pile had started to merge with the dirty clothes pile and it was making it difficult to tell which was which without giving the item an embarrassing sniff.
"Yeah?" Harry asked, smelling an inside-out brown sock. It passed the test and made it on his foot.
"We need to talk."
Harry was suddenly alert. He fixed the sock's upside-down heel as he sat on the corner of his bed.
"Look, mate," Ron shifted uncomfortably then sat on his bed, too. His ears were turning red. "I was sort of awake last night."
This could mean many things. Harry kept his face even so as not to reveal any of them. "Okay?"
"And I saw you." Ron raised his eyebrows and looked to the right and left as though someone was around to hear him. He lowered his voice. "With Malfoy."
Harry took a deep breath. Again, this could mean . . several things. Fewer possibilities than before. None that great. "When?"
"Last night!" Ron hissed, waving his arms about frantically.
Ron's eyebrows drew together. "Walking into the bloody Common Room, hands all over each other like a couple of . . . lovebirds or something."
Harry almost laughed in relief. Still. It required an explanation. Should he tell Ron flat out and risk his undoubtedly bad reaction or should he lie? If Ron told Seamus, the whole school would know by nightfall and they might actually humiliate Malfoy. Most people hadn't been as forgiving as Harry had been. After all, none of them had seen Malfoy through Voldemort's eyes.
But this was Ron. Ron was Harry's best friend. He knew he should be able to tell Ron anything, but a tiny part of him feared Ron's rejection. His best friend's opinion meant a lot to him. Sometimes it was harder to tell Ron important things because a part of Harry so deeply sought his approval.
Which, he decided, was the reason he needed to tell Ron.
"Yeah, about that," said Harry, trying to sound casual. "So . . . you know how I've been taking Hermione's advice this year?"
Ron tilted his head to the side. "What advice?"
"Being nice to Malfoy."
Ron's eyes widened. "Er, mate?" he said, carefully. "I think you may have misunderstood her. I believe she said to ignore him, not to, you know . . . " Ron gestured helplessly in the air, "shag him."
"Yeah, well . . . "
"Wait." Ron stood up. "Wait. Are you shagging Malfoy?"
Harry shook his head. "No."
"Thank God." Ron put a hand to his heart and collapsed back onto the bed. "Merlin, you had me going there for a minute Harry, I - "
"But I wouldn't mind."
Ron's face dropped. "Come again?"
"Yeah. Um. I think I like blokes."
Ron's eyes went huge. "Blokes? What, really?" Harry gave an awkward shrug and adjusted his glasses. "You're gay?" Harry shrugged again. "Merlin's arse! How did I not see this? Harry! Why didn't you tell me?" Then, "What about Ginny?" Ron's face quickly transitioned from amused to vicious to baffled.
"I didn't know," Harry mumbled. "Er. . . I sort of might have found out last night."
"With Malfoy," Ron deadpanned.
"Uh . . . yes?" Harry winced.
Ron heaved an enormously dramatic sigh. "You just never quit, do you, Harry?"
Harry frowned. "Huh?"
"You seem to be hell-bent on making your life as difficult as you possibly can."
Harry grinned sheepishly.
Ron snorted, though he still looked partially in-shock. "You couldn't take one bloody year off, could you?"
Harry felt a rush of warmth for his best friend. "What can I say? I like a challenge."
"Well, you are pretty good at them." Ron smiled at Harry then shook his head before returning to his morning routine. As Harry rifled through his drawer for a tie clip, he kept hearing Ron mutter, "Malfoy. Merlin!"
Harry was sitting on the bank of the lake, looking at the stars that were forming in the dimming twilight sky. He'd snuck out for a bit of fresh air, unable to believe that this was the last time he'd ever sit out on the Hogwarts grounds as a student. He breathed in the fresh air, the smell of pines and jasmine drifting from the Forbidden Forest, mixed with the sort of canned tuna smell that Harry assumed came from the Merfolk.
From where he was sitting, he could see Hagrid's hut in the distance and the gleam of white stone from the top of Dumbledore's tomb.
A foot gave his thigh a soft kick and something fell into the grass beside him. "Hey, what?" he asked, reaching for the item and holding it up. He tilted his head to the side with a frown, inspecting the round, clear object in wonder. "Holy shit. Is this -?"
Malfoy fell to the grass beside him and yanked the object out of Harry's hand, holding it up to the last bit of fading orange light on the horizon. "Yup. Longbottom's Remembrall."
Harry's eyes widened and he grabbed it back. "This is really Neville's?"
"Well," Malfoy said, tilting his head thoughtfully to the side. "Technically, it's mine. Finders keepers and all that . . . "
Harry let out an amused snort and shook his head. "You're unbelievable. I'll bet you stole it."
Malfoy let out a fake gasp of shock. "I'm a Slytherin, not a thief."
"What's the difference?" Harry asked, tracing the Remembrall along Malfoy's thigh.
Malfoy shimmied down shamelessly, making Harry's hand go higher. Then he simply grabbed it in his own and held it, scooting back and sitting cross-legged, his shoulder against Harry's. "The difference," he said, "is that I made Crabbe steal it for me."
Harry couldn't help laughing. Neville had been asked to speak earlier at the Commencement ceremony, but he'd lost his speech. Surprisingly, he was able to think up a few important things to say on the spot, touching on a lot of the feelings that Harry had thought were only his own.
As it turned out, a lot of people had felt like Harry had at the start of the year - like they were being forced to act like everything was back to normal when the definition of normal had very clearly changed. Neville spoke about the lives that were lost, and how the dead could still teach lessons.
Then he spoke about how the brave Auror Tonks who'd lost her husband and her life in the Battle of Hogwarts had helped him to finally make a move on Millicent Bulstrode, now his fiancé. He named several other Hogwarts couples who'd found love because of Tonks's wisdom and her sneaky meddling: Harry and Malfoy, Luna and Goyle and even Flitwick and Grubbly-Plank, though Harry tried not to think about that pair.
By the end of the year, nearly every Hogwarts student had come to know and love Tonks, who'd looked out for Callum like he was her own son.
Once Harry had owled Hermione about the ghost situation at Hogwarts, she'd begun conducting extensive research under the guise of a thesis paper. Eventually, she tracked down and called in an expert to help all of the lost souls at Hogwarts cross over to the other side, if they so chose.
The Fat Friar and The Gray Lady chose to cross over. Surprisingly, so did Professor Binns, which left an opening for the History of Magic position. As it turned out, Binns truly never knew he was dead. When someone stopped him and told him, he immediately left his post, demanding to be reunited with his children. Binns never taught another day after that.
It had been terribly hard to say goodbye to Tonks again, but knowing she was going to be with Remus and her father made the ceremony easier to bear. Tonks's final goodbye to Teddy and Andromeda, however, was positively painful to watch. Harry didn't cry too often. Well, he'd cried then. Malfoy hadn't been much better. He'd grown incredibly close to his first cousin over the year and found out that, with the exception of Tonks's Metamorphmagus ability, they were both very gifted at doing imitations of others. Harry also suspected that they'd talked about things like family and their mothers and had perhaps even schemed a bit throughout the year, because Andromeda didn't seem too surprised to see Narcissa at the crossing and Teddy appeared to be quite familiar with her, as well.
Callum's parents, brother and best friend Terrence had all come to the crossing, too. They'd wanted to thank Tonks before she left for watching over their son and then, to the surprise of all in attendance, Callum's mother gave Malfoy a hug and told him that if there was ever anything he needed, he shouldn't hesitate to owl.
After the ceremony, his parents had approached Malfoy again and handed him a small box.
"What's this?" he'd asked in confusion.
"Callum wanted you to have it," said Mrs. McGrady. "He told us to bring it."
It was a Gold-label collector's Chinese Gobstone set. A piece of parchment was Spello-taped to the lid. "Those are the rules," his mother added. "For some reason, he was adamant we Spello-tape them to the outside of the box."
Malfoy hadn't been able to say a single word. His tears spoke for themselves.
Neville had ended his Commencement speech by saying that even though things were settling down in the Wizarding World, people need not worry that the past would be forgotten. The memory of those lost in the war was alive within the walls of Hogwarts, and alive in the hearts of the people who'd learned from them.
"I want you to have to that," said Malfoy now, pointing at the Remembrall.
"Why?" Harry asked, tossing it in the air and catching it. Malfoy made a grab for it, but Harry pulled it away, smugly, still too quick. "Shouldn't you give it back to Neville?"
Malfoy waved a hand dismissively. "Eh."
Harry frowned, then. "Seriously, why? What's this for?"
Malfoy shrugged softly, Harry could feel his own shoulders shift with the movement of it. "Just so you won't forget," then in a quiet voice he added, "me."
"Malfoy," Harry said. "You're only going to be gone for three months, and I'll visit you all the time."
"You might get busy," Malfoy said, trying to come off casual, but Harry could hear the real fear in his voice.
"Look, Draco," Harry turned to look at him and grabbed his pointed chin in his hand. "I don't even start teaching Defense until your Home Sentence is over with. I'm going to visit you all the time. Plus, Teddy's going to be there, so I'll pretty much be living at the Manor." Harry tried to keep the note of distaste out of his voice at that thought. Though things were pretty good between Harry and Draco, despite their constant bickering, Harry still wasn't overly fond of his parents.
"Why don't you go off and travel?" Malfoy suggested, his tone slightly bitter. "That's what I'd do."
"We will travel. Together. Next summer."
Malfoy was quiet. "I just don't want to go back there."
"Then stay with me, you idiot," Harry said for the millionth time. "If I were you I'd never want to go back to that place again. Just co-sign the lease on the London flat."
Malfoy looked unsure.
"It won't be the same without you," Harry said. A part of him knew it was wrong to manipulate Malfoy with flattery but Harry always seemed to slip back into the habit. Not that Malfoy was complaining.
"Are you sure? Once I sign the papers, that's it. You're stuck with me."
"Yes. God." Harry threw a stone into the Lake. The Giant Squid snatched it and chucked it back.
Malfoy sighed. "Okay. Fine." He crossed his arms. "If you insist." He leaned back against Harry and pressed a kiss against his collarbone. Harry reached up and ruffled Malfoy's hair, laughing at the static-y strands that Malfoy would certainly kill him for later.
Malfoy picked up the stone that the Giant Squid had thrown them and quickly stuck it down the back of Harry's robes. Harry yelped, jumping up to shake the cold, slimy rock out of the back of the clothing.
Malfoy fell onto his side and laughed, slapping the ground.
Things had never been normal between the two of them. And Harry wasn't sure he ever wanted them to be.