Title: The Best Gift
Summary: Harry takes his Secret Santa assignment a little too seriously.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Epilogue compliant? EWE
Word Count: 7,687
Author's Notes: To sugareey, I hope you enjoy this. It’s a bit softer and more Christmassy than intended, but I hope I incorporated as many little details as you wanted. Happy Christmas!!
Harry Potter very carefully assembled a festive array of ornaments on the mini-tree on his desk. Like the rest of the Ministry, Harry’s desk was a sparkling, twinkling space of Christmas décor. Silver and gold tinsel glistened along the Ministry walls and dazzling multi-colored lights shone brightly on the ceiling. The carpets were charmed to be either red or green and alerts for office memos were charmed to sound like bells.
The Ministry was a regular Christmas wonderland during December, and Harry couldn’t help but whistle well-known Christmas carols under his breath as he worked.
Christmas was Harry’s favorite holiday, because it was more than just one day where people ripped through fancy wrapping paper, and it was more than Weasley sweaters and holiday chocolate frogs; it was an entire season. It was about getting together with family and friends who are always too busy any other time during the year. It was a time of warmth and a time of giving.
Harry smiled as he looked around the office. All of his co-workers were smiling as well. Every year, it seemed that once December rolled around, everyone seemed to be injected with a burst of spirit and energy.
However, his smile faltered as his gaze fell upon the desk in the far left corner. And his smile turned down into a frown when he realized the owner of this far left corner desk.
Like the dark, charcoal sweaters and suits Draco Malfoy wore everyday to work, Malfoy’s desk was as dreary as the man himself. Harry could count on one hand the amount of things Malfoy had on his desk: an inkpot, a quill, an inbox tray, and a light. If Malfoy just one day never came back to work, nobody would ever notice.
Harry found himself unable to stop staring at the desk. It was if Malfoy was a stupid black hole that sucked all the Christmas spirit out of the office into some deep, depressing vortex.
He wished someone could just throw a gigantic tree in front of Malfoy’s desk to hide the doom and gloom atmosphere Malfoy was giving off.
Every year, the Ministry hosts an annual cross-departmental gift exchange in an attempt to boost employee morale. It was the typical Secret Santa event most offices hold during the holiday season. However, the random assignments given out by a brutally ironic inanimate object seemed to frustrate employees more than it did cheer them.
Case in point: Harry’s assignment this year.
When Harry received his latest gift assignment, he groaned loudly and immediately scratched off a note to be sent to his best mate, Ron Weasley’s, inbox.
Why must this stupid gift exchange be mandatory?
Ron’s reply came back quickly. Who did you get?
Harry hit his head against the desk and scribbled back, Tell you later.
He dragged Ron out to the corner pub the moment the clock struck five, just so he could grumble into a tall glass of beer.
“Malfoy. Bloody Malfoy. Of course, I’d get assigned the biggest arse in the history of the world,” Harry moaned dramatically.
Ron nodded emphatically. “Just get him a big lump of coal.”
Harry sighed, “One, that would probably reflect very poorly on me to everyone else. Two, the git would probably like that.”
Ron shrugged, “Well, so just get him something everyone else gets. Chocolate.”
“I’m not giving Malfoy chocolates,” Harry hissed. “That’s a bit queer.”
Ron rolled his eyes, “Bertie Botts Beans then. The vomit-flavored ones.”
“Oh, sure. Can you imagine? Malfoy would have even more reason to be a complete arse in the office if I did something like that.”
“Then just think of him as some dotty old relative you never see and get him socks.”
“I got Dobby socks,” Harry said, irritated that Ron was no longer sounding as emphatic.
“An ugly jumper or something.”
“Your mom knits those.”
“Hey!” Ron yelped, offended.
“You know what I mean,” Harry grumbled.
Ron tapped his fingers on the bar impatiently, “Or you can waste your time and actually find out what Malfoy likes and give that to him.”
“Maybe,” Harry said somberly. “And maybe I’ll find out he likes meat pies made out of puppies.”
Ron shook his head, “Merlin, you’re morbid, mate.”
Harry swirled a finger in the foam of his beer, “You would be too if you had to get a Christmas present for Malfoy.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Ron insisted. “I would be annoyed and I’d find some moldy old fruitcake and send it to Malfoy and be done with it. I would not sit here pissing and moaning about it.”
Harry shot Ron a dirty look, “Thanks.”
Harry scoffed and hopped off his stool, “Well then. I’m going to stumble off and find Malfoy, the anti-Christmas, the Scrooge of the Ministry, a present.”
Ron didn’t even look up from his glass. “Good luck, have fun.”
Harry threw a few notes on the table. “Whatever.”
And then he stormed off into the biting, London cold in search of a gift to give his former worst enemy. Maybe he could find some novelty replica of a Trojan Horse to slip onto Malfoy’s desk just to be witty.
Harry decided that he would give Malfoy a Muggle snow globe. It was decorative, yet functional. Something Malfoy could put on his desk, so his office space didn’t suck the life out of everyone else’s…and it was something Malfoy could use as a paperweight.
The snow globe had smiling snowmen wrapped in scarves with snowflakes swirling around them. If Malfoy wanted, he could turn a gear at the bottom of the globe to play festive carols.
Harry felt proud of his gift. While it was slightly impersonal, it was still thoughtful and there was no way that Malfoy would complain. Harry would be done with this year’s stupid round of Secret Santa and could focus on more gifts to buy the important people in his life.
Oh, how he was naïve. He underestimated Malfoy. The other man could never let anything be done so easily.
“What the bloody hell is this?” He overheard Malfoy cry out in the morning, as Harry passed Malfoy’s desk on his way to get coffee.
“It looks like a snow globe,” Harry said nonchalantly.
“Merlin. It looks like something some tasteless, middle-aged spinster would buy for her blind niece. It’s kitsch.”
Affronted, Harry replied, “I think it’s rather nice of whoever gave it to you.”
Draco rolled his eyes, “I don’t need anything like this. If you like it so much, you can do me a favour and take it.”
Shocked, Harry wordlessly took the snow globe from Malfoy.
Malfoy just turned back to his paperwork, “Happy Christmas, Potter.”
Harry stomped away, wondering if it would be bad form to hurl the snow globe at Malfoy’s head and laugh maliciously as all the glass came down on Malfoy’s stupid face.
The next day, Harry decided to watch Malfoy in the hopes that he might discover anything that may hint at what Malfoy might like.
“You’re putting way too much work into this, mate,” Ron had said.
Harry had just shrugged Ron off, insisting that if he did end up getting something Malfoy liked, it would shut the git up once and for all. It would be proof that Harry Potter was above petty rivalries and also proof that Harry Potter was a bloody good Secret Santa. Malfoy would have absolutely nothing to complain about.
“And that will make my life, and everyone’s life, a lot easier,” Harry had concluded.
“Still too much work into this,” Ron had replied, shaking his head.
Yet, Harry dutifully watched Malfoy anyway. He watched Malfoy out of the corner of his eye all day at work, and trailed nonchalantly after Malfoy every time he went on breaks, hoping that he might catch snippets of conversation Malfoy had with other co-workers.
All he found out was that Malfoy took two coffee breaks - one in the morning and one in the afternoon after lunch. Malfoy talked to no one, but instead brought some of his paperwork into the break room as he sullenly sipped his coffee. Malfoy didn’t seem to take a lunch break, and instead stayed hunched over his Spartan desk while everyone else wandered off for their midday meal.
In short, Harry learned absolutely nothing that first day. When the clock struck five, Harry exhaled with exasperation and realized that trying to decipher Malfoy would be a longer, tougher chore than he anticipated.
In the following days, Harry surprised himself by just how much he could learn about someone just by watching him…even if he wasn’t doing very much.
For example, Malfoy always drank his coffee in the same white mug. He took two lumps of sugar, and an unholy amount of cream. Some days, Malfoy would eat one of the stale pastries wrapped in clear, crinkly paper out of a cabinet, and he would dip it in his coffee.
Yet, none of it was enough. He couldn’t buy a present for a man, just by knowing his coffee drinking habits.
“You could just get him his own coffee maker. That way he’ll never have to leave his desk,” Ron had suggested unhelpfully.
“Right, and I’ve spent an entire week watching Malfoy and trying to figure him out only to get him coffee. A universal, generic, thoughtless idea of a present.”
“Hmm, flashbacks of sixth year,” Ron had muttered.
“I heard that,” Harry hissed back, before clomping back to his desk to stare at Malfoy some more.
There were other things that he was beginning to notice about Malfoy as well. Such as, Malfoy’s wardrobe consisted of mixing and matching various hues and tints of black and gray sweaters and trousers. And while his wardrobe palette seemed to reflect the fact that there must be hundreds of existing shades of gray, every item of his clothing matched his eyes. Malfoy also now parted his hair to the left side and it always ended up covering half his face by the end of the day. It made Harry’s cheek tickle just thinking about it.
However, he was not going to tell Ron any of those things, as he was quite sure they would sound borderline obsessive and creepy when listed out loud.
Harry did tell himself though, that merely watching Malfoy at work would not suffice. More would have to be done. Maybe Draco Malfoy led some mysteriously exciting life outside of the Ministry. And being the curious, stealthy man he was, Harry intended to find out exactly what that life consisted of.
Of course, Harry did not tell Ron he would be following Malfoy home (or wherever he was going) after work. Ron wouldn’t understand and would just insist that Harry had weird, obsessive-compulsive tendencies when it came to Draco Malfoy.
He put on a Glamour charm to disguise himself as he weaved behind Malfoy through the slick London sidewalks. He patted his pocket where he felt the slight pressure of his invisibility cloak pressing against his hip.
Malfoy walked through the street like a man walking towards his last supper. Head bowed down, arms trying to pull the shabby coat around him just a bit closer to catch just the tiniest bit of warmth. He plowed through the streets of London until the area didn’t even look like a metropolis anymore. Harry glanced up and saw the dilapidated buildings teetering over him, ready to fall over should the wind blow any harder. The ground became dirtier, frozen garbage stuck to the sidewalk.
He followed Malfoy into the East End of London, where Malfoy stops in front of the saddest excuse for a building Harry had ever seen. The brick of the building seemed to be crumbling away by the second.
Harry hid behind a nearby building and threw his Invisibility Cloak over himself as Malfoy shakily unlocked a flimsy looking door. He darted in behind Malfoy, holding his breath the entire way.
Malfoy trudged up creaky steps and Harry had to mutter a quick muffling spell to quiet his own steps.
When he followed Malfoy into what seemed to be a flat, he just felt a sudden overwhelming sense of guilt and shame.
Malfoy’s flat looked just like Malfoy’s desk at work. Sparse and empty. So Spartan, there was not even a sign that someone actually lived there. There was nothing Malfoy about the apartment - just a moth-eaten couch in the middle of a room, and a rigid wood-backed chair next to a splintered table.
He tiptoed behind Malfoy towards a tiny bedroom. Instead of a bed, Malfoy had a few sheets and blankets spread out on the floor. He watched, uncomfortably, as Malfoy began to change out of his miserably cheap charcoal ensemble and into what appeared to be a uniform for some off-brand Muggle company of some sorts. As if he was dressing for a second job.
Shocked, Harry thought about his own salary and his own flat, and could not even fathom the sense behind Malfoy’s poverty. He felt like an awkward intruder, glimpsing through the broken window of Malfoy’s tragic life.
The saddest thing was that Malfoy was still so patrician about it all. The pathetic bedspread was still kept impeccably tidy, and Malfoy folded his clothes away neatly as if they were expensive treasures. He smoothed over his hair as he looked in the water-stained mirror and still managed to look remarkable, satisfied with the reflection he found.
In the privacy of his own home, Malfoy had the aristocratic attitude of which he’d been brought up. As if the solace provided a mask of fantasy and protection against reality.
When Harry followed Malfoy back into the blustery, freezing world of London in wintertime, he watched as Malfoy seemed to collapse and shrink in upon himself the moment his foot stepped out the front door. Malfoy didn’t even bother to Apparate anymore.
He just walked, slowly and surely to wherever he needed to go.
Harry felt ten pounds heavier when he Apparated back into his own apartment. To be perfectly honest with himself, he didn’t think Malfoy was as big of a git as he did two hours ago. Funny how stalking someone across a city to find out they live in the sinkholes of humanity can change over two decades worth of impressions.
Not that he was going to bother Ron or anyone else for that matter, but Harry still didn’t know what he was going to give Malfoy for Christmas now. Suddenly, a card and a coffee machine definitely did not seem like enough.
The next day at work, around his usual lunch break, Harry found himself loitering by Malfoy’s desk. He fidgeted with his belt loop and shirt cuffs, rocking nervously on his feet.
Malfoy finally turned his head up to squint suspiciously at him.
“Hmmm? What?” Harry teetered back and forth in an attempt to appear nonchalant.
“Why are you standing at my desk...” Malfoy trailed off and continued to squint at Harry, who had no idea what he was supposed to be doing with his hands. “And, playing with yourself?”
Harry squawked. “What? I am not. No. I’m just. Hmm.”
Malfoy sighed impatiently. “What. Do. You. Want?” He enunciated every word very slowly and clearly.
“So...I was just seeing what you were doing for lunch?”
Malfoy just spluttered.
“Want to go grab a sandwich with me or something? My treat.” Harry seemed to be talking very fast.
Malfoy only continued to stare up at Harry suspiciously. “Why?”
“Just, we’ve never really hung out and I thought…”
“We could hang out now? After all these years?” Malfoy shook his head.
“Come on,” Harry began to feel very awkward. Why couldn’t Malfoy just say yes?
“I brought my own lunch,” Malfoy muttered.
“No, you didn’t.” Harry replied. “You never do.”
“Then, I’m not really hungry, okay?” Malfoy stared down at his desk.
“Just let me take you out to lunch.”
“I don’t want your pity,” Malfoy said, quietly.
“It’s not pity,” Harry said, although deep down, maybe it was.
“Just no, Potter. Okay?”
“Okay, fine.” Harry sighed. The stubborn idiot in him didn’t let him leave it at that. As he shuffled away from Malfoy’s desk, he found himself saying, “Maybe tomorrow then.”
But Malfoy said no the next day. And again the day after that. And the day after that.
Obviously taking Malfoy out for a warm meal was out of the question. This unfortunately eliminated any gift Harry could have imagined that involved taking Malfoy somewhere nice, and also eliminated any chance Harry might have to get to know Malfoy better by simply talking to him.
So, Harry decided to try a different tactic. He could find out more about Draco Malfoy in other ways. Maybe Malfoy had one or two clues about himself tucked away in that flat of his.
“Mate, that’s just weird. Has the phrase ‘over the line’ ever meant anything to you?” Ron shook his head.
“It’s so I can do something nice for him,” Harry replied.
“That is bloody bad logic,” Ron replied. “In fact, I think you are fucked in the head. There is something very wrong with you.”
“I am not. It’s perfectly normal.”
“No, this is not. Listen to yourself. You are trying to tell me, it is perfectly normal to break into someone’s house…someone that you barely know and someone that you truly hate…in order to get them a good present for Christmas? Just because your place of employment set up some stupid gift exchange?”
“Don’t put it like that.”
“That’s how it is!” Ron exclaimed. “I think you’re just doing this, because you’ve always had some sick curiosity towards Malfoy and this is the perfect excuse for you to indulge in some unhealthy behaviors.”
“You sound like Hermione.”
“I do not,” Ron crossed his arms.
“Not.” Ron insisted.
“Fine. You don’t sound like Hermione, and I am not a raving Malfoy-obsessed psychopath.”
“Your words, not mine,” Ron shrugged.
Harry flipped Ron the finger before heading out of the Ministry. He had stayed a little later today, and chances were that Malfoy was long gone to whatever place he went after this by now.
The apartment was, thankfully, empty. Well, as empty as it always was, just emptier because Malfoy wasn’t there.
Now, alone in the apartment, Harry did feel very out of place, as if he had breached the threshold of an invisible line. What was he even doing here? He felt embarrassed by his own behavior.
Yet, it didn’t stop him from no poking around. He opened up various cabinets and drawers here and there, but found nothing of interest. Then, he peered in Malfoy’s closet and amidst the neatly lined up gradient of gray outfits, he saw a worn cardboard box.
He immediately pulled out the box and opened it. For a box tucked away in a closet, it was surprisingly dust-free. As if it was frequently perused.
The box was filled with several knickknacks from Hogwarts…a few textbooks, an old quill, a potions brewing cauldron. It reminded Harry of a personal-effects box that they allow prisoners.
There was also a folder in the box, and Harry pulled it out. And the moment he opened it, he immediately wished he hadn’t.
He stared down at news clippings of himself. Some of the clippings were so old, the paper looked yellow…and some of the clippings were so new, the ink rubbed off on his fingertips.
He felt a rolling prickle down his spine. If him flipping through Malfoy’s stuff was abnormal, how normal was it for a grown man to collect news clippings on his archenemy?
At first, Harry panicked that maybe Malfoy had the clippings for some intricate murder plot to be carried out at a later date.
Then, he noticed that there were no angry red scribbles or mustaches drawn on his face. Or better, no sketches of death plots on the photos. Instead, each clipping was cut out neatly and perfectly. They were stacked on top of each other chronologically, like the clippings were given the same love, respect, and reverence that Malfoy gave the rest of his meager belongings.
And Harry wasn’t sure if this realization unnerved him more, or less.
By the time Harry next saw Malfoy at work, he had jumped to the conclusion that Malfoy was lonely. The man must be starved for human contact. Left alone to pay off war debts, nothing to do but work with strangers and come back to an empty apartment? No wonder he was clinging on to scraps of familiarity.
Harry decided that instead of playing Secret Santa, that maybe he could play Cupid, and Malfoy wouldn’t have to spend Christmas alone.
“I know what to get Malfoy for Christmas,” Harry said as he perched himself on Ron’s desk with a cup of coffee.
“Oh good. Did the secret stalker find something good?”
“Shut up, and yes,” Harry preened.
“Do tell.” Ron didn’t even look up from his paperwork.
“I’m going to set Malfoy up with Hannah in Accounting.”
Ron looked up. “Harry?”
“That is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”
“Why?” Harry spluttered, indignant.
“Why the bloody hell would it be a good idea in the first place?”
“Malfoy’s lonely. Hannah’s single. He’s pretty fit. I’d be doing them both a favor.”
“Pretty fit? You’d describe Malfoy as pretty fit before you’d describe Hannah? Bloody hell, Harry. Hannah is bloody hot. If I weren’t married to Hermione…”
“Yeah, I know. You’ve told me a million times.” Harry rolled his eyes.
“Right. Exactly. And you’re throwing her to Malfoy? Assuming she doesn’t throw ice cold water on him the moment she lays eyes on him, did you even consider the fact that Malfoy won’t even appreciate her for the woman she is?”
“He’s not such a cold-blooded bastard prick that he…”
“Harry.” Ron waved a hand in Harry’s face. “Harry, Harry, Harry. Not that Malfoy is a cold-blooded bastard prick, but, between you, me, and everyone in the Ministry, Malfoy would be more interested in other bastard pricks than he’ll ever been interested in Hannah from Accounting.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Malfoy is not interested in women,” Ron explained very slowly. “He is gay. A poofter. A homosexual.”
“Since always!” Ron looked exasperated. “Really? You have been following Malfoy around for probably over a decade at this point and you didn’t know? How thick are you?”
Harry just blinked.
“Bloody Merlin. You are the thickest, most unobservant idiot! And to think that the entire world entrusted our lives in your hands at one point…it’s a very sobering thought.”
“Oh shut it, Ron.” Harry grumbled. “Well, I’ll just set him up with Justin in Human Resources.”
Ron just scoffed and mumbled. “Like Malfoy would even care about Justin. Like I said, you are the most unobservant idiot.”
Harry merely growled and slammed the door.
Unfortunately, Ron was right. Malfoy did not care about Justin.
“So, I have an idea,” Harry had started to say at Malfoy’s sad, little cubicle as he fiddled with the end of his tie.
“What?” Draco didn’t look up from his desk. The Ministry really needed to teach their employees better manners about proper eye contact.
“I have a friend in Human Resources…”
“Why would I want to meet any of your friends?” Malfoy scribbled onto a piece of parchment. “I hate any and all of them.”
“Look, just, this bloke Justin. In Human Resources. It might be good if I introduced you both and…”
“Good Merlin, Potter,” Malfoy threw down his quill. “What the fuck are you implying?”
“Um, that you might have fun if you both just…”
“Er…” Harry scrunched his tie in his fist. When did he ever think this was a good idea?
Malfoy just rolled his eyes, “No, Potter. No to whatever idiotic thoughts you are currently having.”
“They’re not idiotic! Why can’t you just give Justin a chance?”
“Because I don’t want to?” Malfoy crossed his arms. He looked so infuriatingly and unrightfully bossy when he did that.
Harry, brave Gryffindor as always, took an impulsive leap. “So come get a drink with me then.”
“Because you’re lonely and I’m insisting.” Harry said very quickly as he tried to figure out where the hell all this sudden brazen courage was coming from.
Malfoy just blinked several times, as if considering. “I’m busy.”
“When are you not busy?” Harry asked. Did Malfoy work two jobs every single day? No wonder he seemed lethargic at times.
Malfoy looked surprised at Harry’s persistence. “I’m free tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow then,” Harry said.
Finally, and shockingly enough, Draco nodded in reply. “Fine then. Since you’re insisting so bloody much.”
Harry was gobsmacked. He didn’t really think his persistence would really lead anywhere. “Oh. Okay. Fine. So...drinks. Tomorrow after work.” Good Merlin. What had he gotten himself into?
“Okay,” Malfoy agreed and then went back to scribbling whatever it was he was scribbling on that damn piece of parchment.
They went out at 5:00, and stayed out until 8:00, which inevitably turned drinks into a dinner affair.
Harry thought Malfoy was fascinating, especially when he had little flecks of foam from the Muggle ale Harry kept shoving at him lining his upper lip.
“This is swill,” Malfoy had said at first.
“It’s good,” Harry had prodded, and felt immensely satisfied when Malfoy drank it anyway and didn’t voice any complaints.
Harry was amazed by how little he really knew about Malfoy, and how little of what encompassed Draco Malfoy had to do with his poverty and his losses.
“What do you do when you’re not working?” Harry asked.
Malfoy just chuckled, “I’m always working.”
“What would you like to do then? If you weren’t always working?” He watched intently as Malfoy swirled rings of spilled foam on the table with his fingers.
“I don’t mind always working. People are more useful when they work. I don’t think I could spend all my time sitting around doing nothing. I would probably pick different jobs to spend my time.”
“What kind of jobs?” Harry felt like he was interviewing Malfoy, but he couldn’t help it. There was so much he just wanted to know. He felt like he finally figured out the secret to putting together a puzzle he’d never understood before.
Malfoy seemed to start blushing. Blushing! Malfoy! Harry couldn’t wrap his mind around it.
“Probably something more creative,” Malfoy finally said. “I’d love to design stuff. Any kind of stuff. To be able to put it together and make decisions about what it will be and what it will look like. Then, to be able to look at it later and say, I made that.”
Harry blinked, “Why can’t you just do that then?”
Malfoy scoffed, “People can’t just do what they want. The world would be full of chaos, people just doing what they wanted to all the time. Sometimes people just need to do what they need to be doing first before the rest falls into place.”
Harry had a quick notion that Malfoy was some sort of intellectual philosopher and had been hiding such pearls of wisdom from the world for all these years, and now Harry was the first and only one privy to such knowledge.
“What about you though? What do you do when you’re not puttering around anxiously at the Ministry?” Malfoy asked, surprisingly genuine with curiosity. Although, Harry didn’t know why Malfoy was so curious, because Harry in and of himself was normal and bland.
“Um. Sometimes I play Quidditch.”
“And grab drinks with some friends. What I’m doing now.”
Malfoy blinked, “Oh.”
It was quiet for a second after that and Harry felt a surge of panic that he had disillusioned Malfoy somehow and it was quite possible that Malfoy didn’t care a lick about Harry Potter anymore. The thought was unnerving, and Harry felt the need to impress Malfoy.
“Sometimes I travel,” Harry added. He had gone to Greece and Italy with Ron and Hermione a while ago. It counted.
“I went to Greece a while ago. It was nice.”
“Nice? That’s the only word you can think of to describe Greece?” Malfoy laughed. “Potter, you need a better vocabulary.”
Harry’s ears turned red. “I’m not a walking thesaurus.”
Malfoy just smiled, shaking his head. “Describe the Mediterranean for me then.”
“And don’t just say blue.”
“Blue-ish,” Harry mumbled. “Big.”
“Big and blue?” Malfoy just stared at Harry, and Harry’s neck felt like it was getting red too, because he was getting flustered.
“Yes. That’s what it looks like. Can you describe it any better?”
“Alright. I went there before I started Hogwarts, but I remember very clearly how calming the vastness of the ocean was. The pattern and rhythm of the waves made me feel like I was part of something more. I remember just standing with my heels in the rough sand and the cold water rushing over my feet, thinking that I could be washed away at any moment.”
“That’s very nostalgic,” Harry said, “Maybe you should take up writing. And just write a list of memoirs of your profound oceanic experiences.”
Malfoy blinked at Harry, and for a second, Harry thought Malfoy might get offended and tell him to piss off. But instead, Malfoy just grinned and nodded, “Maybe. Maybe I will.”
When they went to dinner, Harry discovered that he liked to watch Malfoy eat. Malfoy savoured each bite, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. For a starving man, Malfoy still remembered how to enjoy food and Harry was envious of that.
Harry found himself staring balefully down at his own empty plate as Malfoy continued to work on his.
“You eat ridiculously fast, Potter. You just, swallowed it all down.”
“Well, you eat ridiculously slow,” Harry defended himself.
“Here,” Malfoy leaned forward just a bit, a piece of chicken on his fork. “Eat this. But slowly. What’s the point of eating a meal if you’re not going to take the time to appreciate it?”
So Harry took the chicken into his mouth, barely aware that he was being fed by Malfoy, and chewed it. With profound thought.
“Try to separate the tastes,” Malfoy said, in a very elitist, food-critic kind of way.
But Harry tried anyway, and for a moment, he could taste lemon, garlic, and a hint of rosemary. “It’s good.”
Malfoy looked smug. “See? Things are better when you’re patient.”
Harry just rolled his eyes. “You’re insufferable.”
But, Malfoy really wasn’t insufferable at all. In fact, Harry found that he quite liked spending time with Malfoy and at the end of the night, he found himself blinking awkwardly at Malfoy, twisting his gloves in his hands.
“Well, good night, Potter,” Malfoy said so very sincerely. “Thanks for this. It was nice to get out.”
“You’re welcome. This was nice. Um,” Harry kicked at the ground. “So, when are you free again?”
Malfoy bit his lip thoughtfully, leaving a little dent in his lip where he had been chewing. “Saturday night.”
“We should do something then,” Harry mumbled to the ground, wondering if it would swallow him up. Why was he propositioning Malfoy for companionship? He should just go out with Ron, Neville, and Dean as usual. He wanted to lift his foot from the ground so he could just kick himself in the face.
But, then, surprisingly amiable, Malfoy just shrugged. “Sure. Sounds good.”
“Oh, okay then. Well, want to meet by the coffee shop outside the Ministry and then go from there?”
“Sounds good. See you around, Potter,” Malfoy gave Harry a small smile and wave before wandering off into the night.
For a brief second, Harry thought he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet.
“So how was setting Malfoy up with Justin?” Ron asked Harry on Monday.
“He didn’t want to,” Harry replied as he shoved a chocolate biscuit into his mouth.
“I told you it was a stupid idea,” Ron said, rather too gleefully.
“Yeah, I just took him out for drinks instead.”
Ron spluttered, “You did what?”
“I just invited him out for drinks with me after work instead,” Harry said, feeling a bit defensive.
“Harry. Let me get this straight. You tried to set Malfoy up with Justin. When that backfired, you decided to take Malfoy out instead. You took Malfoy out on the date that you wanted him to go on with Justin.”
“What?” Harry spluttered, spitting biscuit crumbs everywhere. “What? No. That’s not what it was. He just seemed lonely, so I thought it would be in good holiday spirit to take Malfoy out.”
“Or go out with Malfoy,” Ron said, staring at Harry as if he’d grown two heads.
“That is not what happened.”
“So was it just drinks?” Ron asked, smirking far too much for Harry’s liking.
“Well, we ended up getting dinner…”
“So a date.”
“No. Not a date. You and me get drinks and dinner all the time, and it’s not a date,” Harry hoped that it was the room that was getting excruciatingly warm and not his neck.
“So just drinks and dinner. A bit of manly bonding in the spirit of the holiday season?”
“Anything else?” Ron wheedled.
“We hung out on Saturday night,” Harry muttered.
“Date night,” Ron nodded, feigning wisdom.
“You, Neville, and Dean were all busy.”
“With our dates. As were you. On a date with Malfoy. The supposed bane of your existence. The supposed biggest arse and git in the world.” Ron scooted slightly further away from Harry.
“Not a date.”
“What did you guys do?” Ron asked. Judging by the disgusted frown on Ron’s face, Harry attributed this question to morbid curiosity.
“Just grabbed dinner and drinks. Walked around the city. I tried to show him some Christmas lights. He made mean comments about people.”
“It’s like a date with a bitchy bird,” Ron said, shaking his head.
“Again Ron. Not a date.”
“Are you hanging out with him again?”
Harry sighed and then swallowed. “We’re grabbing some drinks after work today. Want to come?”
“No. I’m not third-wheeling on your creepy non-date with Malfoy.”
Harry shrugged. “Fine, be that way.”
As he walked out, he heard Ron call after him, “So are all these dinners and drinks your plan to get Malfoy all liquored up to tell you his innermost, deepest desire for a Christmas gift? Or just getting him liquored up for something else?”
“Oh fuck off Ron. You are the worst!” Harry called back.
It was just drinks first. Sipping cider and beer on barstools. Drinking wine in secluded booths. Malfoy was so interesting, and the idea that Malfoy was interested in talking to Harry, in turn made Harry feel interesting.
They were drinking mint julep, a bizarre favorite of Malfoy’s. Harry remembered very clearly as Malfoy sucked on each ice cube, lips flushed red from the cold.
“What are you doing? Harry asked, transfixed.
“Mm. It’s like second drink, when the ice cube melts,” Malfoy replied, blissfully unaware of Harry’s discomfort.
It was just another quirky behavior and fact about Malfoy that Harry had inherited in his fount of Malfoy-knowledge. He found out that Malfoy’s favorite food really was meat pies, because he never had them as a child.
“Can you believe I had duck l’orange and filet mignon at least once a week, but never had a meat pie until I got to Hogwarts?” Malfoy shook his head then, as if amused by an inside secret.
Harry also learned that Malfoy secretly hated potions.
“Just because I was good at it, doesn’t mean I liked it,” Malfoy said. “It’s just so controlled. An exact amount here, a precise routine there. And you always have to do everything same way every time. No room to let your mind really think.”
There was so much Harry now knew about Malfoy that he felt rather ripped off not knowing any of these things when they’d spent six years at Hogwarts together.
“I’m glad things turned out the way they did in the end,” Malfoy said randomly one evening.
“What do you mean?”
“The way everything turned out. Primarily the war.”
Harry peered curiously at Malfoy. “You lost everything because of the war.”
Malfoy shook his head. “I didn’t really have a life before or during the war. And if things had turned out differently, I probably wouldn’t really have a life now or ever. But at least now, I can sometimes do things I want to do, and I know that one day I’ll be able to do anything I want to.”
“Like art. I think one day I’ll be able to do what I love. I think one day I’ll have great happiness. And its not overdue or well-deserved yet, but I think one day it will be.” Malfoy sounded so confident and certain.
“Do you think everyone achieves great happiness someday?”
“If they want it enough. If they don’t settle for average.”
And Draco Malfoy was anything but average. Harry felt like he could never learn enough about Malfoy, but he wanted to do more than just listen to his stories about his life and do more than just tell Malfoy about his own life.
He missed him on the days Malfoy had to work night shifts at the small Muggle coffee shop, and found himself building his own schedule around Malfoy’s. Harry wanted to start experiencing life with Malfoy, a true and solid friendship. He suggested they go to shopping, go to museums, go anywhere.
He even suggested that he and Malfoy go Christmas tree hunting together.
“Let’s get one for your flat,” Harry said.
“Just because,” Harry said. “And I want to come over and see your place.” He felt a quick bite of guilt at that, but realized he did want to have Malfoy show him around his flat and tell Harry about it. He wanted to be invited there.
They lugged the tree up into Malfoy’s flat, where Malfoy fumbled with the key and shyly stepped inside. Unlike the first time Harry had watched Malfoy in here, behaving like a royal king in an empty castle, Malfoy seemed to shuffle self-consciously around.
“It’s kind of empty, but I don’t really feel the need to accumulate a bunch of stuff.”
Harry hated that Malfoy had to make excuses. “It’s fine. I like it. It makes the tree the centerpiece.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Malfoy ran his fingers through his hair; something Harry now realized was a nervous gesture.
“Want to get it up and decorate it?”
“Yeah. You get to design it,” Harry grinned. “Anyway you want it to. Some fairy lights here, some candles there. I even brought some ornaments.”
Malfoy’s eyes widened and lit up, and Harry silently marveled in how unbelievably gray they were.
“You can arrange the lights however. Add whatever color you want to,” Harry said, and watched with delight as Malfoy eagerly began to set up the tree.
Malfoy, brows furrowed in concentration, charmed fairy lights here and there. He artfully and carefully placed the ornaments in strategic locations on the tree. He even arranged the strands of lights and tinsel along the tree with precision. Harry helped, happily listening to Malfoy’s directions of where he wanted things.
When the tree was done, Harry felt a surge of euphoric yet peaceful bliss.
“I bought some champagne to celebrate this moment,” Harry said. “Your very own Christmas tree.”
Malfoy smiled at Harry as they sat down on the lumpy couch together. Malfoy’s face glowed from all the lights on the tree, and the reflections from the spinning ornaments seemed to make Malfoy’s eye’s dance.
Despite the sweet champagne trickling past his lips, Harry’s mouth suddenly felt very dry and for an inexplicable reason, the vision of Malfoy’s neatly made nest of sheets and blankets inappropriately popped to the forefront of his mind.
Malfoy picked up the champagne bottle and spun it around slowly in his hands. “Have you ever just had moments in life that you wish you could bottle?” he murmured.
“Sometimes,” Harry croaked.
“I wish I could bottle this moment.” Malfoy whispered, and suddenly to Harry’s shock, Malfoy’s hand was a feather-soft touch over his.
“What, what are you doing?” Harry stuttered, mind buzzing frantically as Malfoy’s face was suddenly extremely close to his.
Malfoy hesitated, pulling backwards just a bit. “I had just thought…that you were interested in…based on the events that transpired.” Malfoy pulled away even more, face suddenly contorted in confusion.
“Oh!” Harry’s brain kept buzzing and reeling in shock. Did Malfoy want to…oh Merlin. Oh Merlin. Did he think that Harry wanted to…and the only image looming in Harry’s blank slate of a mind was Malfoy’s blanket bed.
Malfoy was as far away as possible from Harry now, face red. “I wasn’t sure if…”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just the champagne,” Harry laughed nervously. Did Malfoy even want anything with Harry other than drinks and dinner and time? Harry couldn’t stop laughing nervously. He suddenly felt very, very out of sorts.
“Yeah, just the champagne,” Malfoy nodded, but his face didn’t have that enchanted look of child-like happiness anymore.
“It would probably just complicate things. I mean, we just started being friends. Anything else is probably impossible right now…” Oh Merlin, why couldn’t he just stop talking. Why did he have to fill in perfectly okay silence with imperfectly un-okay lies?
Malfoy just smiled, but the smile didn’t extend all the way to his eyes. “It’s fine. Excuses are just polite rejections, Potter. So don’t worry about it.”
“Maybe later…” Harry stumbled.
“Like I said, its fine. I’m not going to wait around pretending I’m the exception to any rule.”
“The future…” Oh, what was he saying?
“No one can predict the future,” Malfoy said very simply. And Harry just bit his lip nervously, because Merlin. He had never imagined a future with Draco Malfoy. He wondered if that kind of prophecy would even make it in the Department of Mysteries or if the department would just implode if such a notion ever came through.
“Right, okay,” Harry said, and rubbed his legs awkwardly. “Well, I guess I ought to be going. It’s late and we both have to be up early tomorrow.”
Malfoy got up immediately. “Okay. Great. I’ll see you at work tomorrow then.”
“See you,” Harry slowly walked to the door, and willing that bloody vision of Malfoy’s bed out of his head.
“Thanks for the tree,” Malfoy said as he opened the door, ushering Harry out into the cold.
“No problem. Bye,” Harry said, and then found himself staring stupidly at Malfoy’s door.
Malfoy was busy the rest of the week. Working. Supposedly. But probably not.
Harry felt ready to tear out all his hair. Just tear each strand out, one by one, until he was a bald wreck of needy, pining mess for Malfoy.
Of course. Of course. It all made sense now. Malfoy, rightly proclaimed by Ron as a raving poofter, was interested in Harry. The news clippings. The quick agreement to go out for drinks. Malfoy’s quick smiles and light touches. Eagerness to do whatever random frivolity Harry wanted to do around the city.
And suddenly, and very clearly, Harry realized that he was interested in Malfoy, too– but not like before. Not just interested in friendship. It was not a very deep or profound realization; it was just an abrupt comprehension of something that was always there. An awareness of the obvious.
That he, Harry James Potter, really did have an obsession with Draco Malfoy. A less-complicated-than-he-thought and more-possible-than-he-thought kind of obsession.
He loved Malfoy’s complicated candidness. He loved Malfoy’s determination to arise above the muck of mediocrity to achieve something great for himself. He loved Malfoy’s eloquent speech and smooth mannerisms, even while wearing cheap Muggle hand-me-downs.
Malfoy didn’t really need anything much for Christmas. Not some frivolous snow globe. Not an expensive dinner. Not a new space heater for his icebox of a flat. Not some inane coffee maker.
Now he knew exactly what Malfoy – Draco – needed.
So, one week after Draco started avoiding Harry and stopped talking to him, Harry put Draco’s Secret Santa present on his desk.
It was after 5, and Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as Draco opened the box curiously.
He got up when he saw Draco pull out a sprig of mistletoe, dangling it precariously above his blond head, peering at it with confusion.
Harry perched himself at the end of Draco’s desk, a silly, loopy grin on his face.
“Potter, what is…”
And despite the fact that he loved whatever hell came out of Draco’s mouth and listening to him talk, Harry couldn’t help but interrupt.
He grabbed Draco by that angular chin, and kissed those lips puckered with uncertainty. He felt Draco’s mouth soften against his, and felt him finally respond with his mouth and tongue. And all Harry could think about was how good it felt, and visions of Draco’s makeshift bed of blankets sprang to the forefront of his mind yet again.
“Draco Malfoy,” he whispered, “You are the exceptional exception. Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas to you too, Potter,” Draco murmured.
Harry’s hand found Draco’s, his warm grasp enveloping pale, slightly chilled fingers, and they sat there in the empty Ministry at Draco’s very empty desk. His head was tucked against Harry’s chest as they both stared out the window, and watched as the season’s first snow began to fall.