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Happy H/D Holidays fiona_fawkes!! | Waiting for Life to Start - R

Title: Waiting for Life to Start - 2/2
Author: incapricious
Gift for: fiona_fawkes
Rating: R
Word count: 14,400

Summary: The Tri-Wizard Tournament is returning to Hogwarts to mark the ten-year anniversary of the defeat of Voldemort. Harry is asked to help ensure the safety of the students, a task he finds difficult, not only because he's not sure he can do it, but also because the tournament itself is unearthing emotions in him that he has kept suppressed for most of the last decade. When Draco walks off the Durmstrang ship, Harry is thrown by an unexpected attraction. Over the course of the next year, he will have to deal with those feelings as well as the aftermath of the war, something he has put off for far too long.

Author's notes: I'd like to thank my beta-reader who is amazing as always and my friends who encouraged me along the way in various ways. You know who you are and once the veil of anonymity is lifted, I will thank you all properly and publicly. I hope you enjoy this, Fiona!



---

There was a hint of the coming sunrise in the sky. Harry lay in his bed, listening to the absolute silence that was unique to the hour before dawn. Malfoy rolled over; by the sound of his breathing, Harry guessed he was still asleep.

Malfoy. Harry didn't quite know what to make of what had happened a few hours earlier. It had been what he had most wanted, but now he was just empty -- so empty he almost felt sick. There was a hollow void inside of him; something was supposed to be there, but he didn't know what. The void seemed new but also very familiar, as if it had always been there, only hidden.

A lone bird began to sing outside his window. The early risers of Hogwarts would be up soon.

"Malfoy. Malfoy. Malfoy," Harry said, his voice getting louder with each repetition of the word. "Draco!"

Malfoy opened his eyes and sat up. He looked disoriented. "What?"

"It's almost morning. You should probably go."

"Fuck. Did I fall asleep?"

"Yeah. I don't mind, it's just … it's probably best that you're not seen leaving my room in the morning."

"For once, Potter, you and I are in perfect agreement. That would be disastrous. Fuck, I can't believe I fell asleep."

Malfoy dressed quickly. Harry watched him pull on the clothing that they had both torn off, then leave without a word.

---

By the time the second task began that afternoon, a wall of dark clouds had rolled in, casting the grounds in shadow. Just as the Hogwarts champion had solved her second obstacle, a freezing rain had begun to trickle down from the sky. The few students who were in attendance sat huddled together in the stands; many had already retreated back to the warmth of the castle.

Harry sat in the first row of the stands, his thick woollen cloak and Warming Charm protecting him from feeling the effects of the weather. This task was not terribly dangerous, especially towards the end. This was a good thing; he was rather distracted by memories of last night and so was not paying much attention to what was going on. He had managed to get a few hours of sleep after Malfoy had left, and had woken up in an unusually cheerful mood. Apparently sex made one happy. Or maybe it was just sex with Malfoy, since he hadn't felt this way after any of his other encounters. There hadn't been many: the woman from the Ministry who'd interviewed him after the war, that Divination professor who'd left Hogwarts after only one week, and a bloke who'd crawled under a table and sucked him off one night at the Hog's Head. And there was Ginny, but Harry didn't think about her. He couldn't.

"I'd ask what you're smiling about, but I'm sure I already know." Malfoy sat down next to him, his breath puffing in front of him like smoke.

Harry felt a jolt of pleasure run through him. It was different from how he used to feel when he looked at Malfoy -- it was stronger, more real. Now, he knew what Malfoy looked like under his clothes, what he tasted like, what he sounded like when he came.

The woman seated a few feet away looked over at them.

"Of course," said Harry with a grin. "It's a beautiful day. Why wouldn’t I be smiling?"

"I was referring to the exceptional performance that your Fiona is giving. If I didn't know better, I'd think she knew something that the other two didn't."

He studied Malfoy's face. Did he really think that was why Harry was smiling?

Fiona, the Hogwarts champion, had been quite surprised earlier in the week when Harry had pulled her aside and told her about the second task. He hadn't told her much -- just the basic description that Malfoy had decoded -- but it had been more than she had expected. After she was chosen by the Goblet, Harry had explained that his involvement in the administration of the tournament meant he would have to limit his contact with her to class time. She had seemed indifferent and said she was sure she could manage without him.

"She is very resourceful," said Harry.

"Of course she is; she's a Slytherin."

---

As the small crowd walked back to the castle, Harry felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned and saw Nika, her dark hair peeking out from under a fur hat. "Professor Malfoy is looking for you," she said, then jogged ahead to catch up with a group of students. She had come in a close second in the task, scoring just two points fewer than Fiona. Madame Roux had been furious.

Harry stopped and turned in a circle. Malfoy was usually so easy to spot in a crowd, but he was still searching when Malfoy walked up to him.

"Oh, I forgot; you're wearing a hat," said Harry. "No wonder I couldn't find you."

"What are you--? Never mind. Look, I wanted to talk to you."

"I know, Nika told me."

"She-- yes, of course she did," said Malfoy. By now all but a few stragglers had made it indoors, and even they were out of earshot. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for bolting like that this morning. It wasn't anything personal. I-- why are you smiling like that?"

"I can't believe you just apologized."

"Well, don’t worry, I didn't mean it. It was purely strategic. There's a better chance of last night happening again if you aren't annoyed with me."

"But … why would I be annoyed? I asked you to leave. I would be annoyed if you hadn't left."

Malfoy paused, flushing slightly. "Right. I suppose you're not a woman, are you?" He looked embarrassed.

"No, I'm definitely not," Harry said. He wasn't sure what Malfoy meant by that. "So, you want it to happen again?"

Malfoy shrugged. "I wouldn’t mind."

"Tonight?"

"Are you offering?" asked Malfoy with a sly smile. He licked his lips.

Harry shivered. "Yes."

---

After the third night, they had settled into a routine. Draco would come to Harry's room just after midnight, and leave just before four. They hadn't discussed it or planned it, it had just happened. Harry grew so accustomed to the schedule that after a few weeks he didn't even wake up when Draco left.

They took care to avoid each other during the day. Or perhaps it was just that they no longer sought each other out at meals or in the corridors; they didn't need to.

It was one night in early March when Harry realized that things had changed between them. They were lying side by side in bed, discussing the differences between Hogwarts and Durmstrang. It was a frequent topic with them; teaching was one of the few things they had in common, other than their past, which they didn't talk about.

"You keep saying that Durmstrang students get a more thorough education," said Harry, "but you haven't explained what you mean."

"Mmm. There's a reason for that. You won't like it. You'd stop speaking to me, I'd lose my fuck buddy, and then what would I do? The sexual frustration alone would kill me."

Harry snorted. "I'm sure you'd survive," he said. "Besides, technically, I don't think that fuck buddies need to be on speaking terms with one another." He grinned, but part of him wanted to grab Draco and tell him that there was more to this thing between them than sex. It wasn't that he thought they were in some sort of committed relationship, but pretending that nothing had changed since their first night together was ludicrous. Wasn't there some state in between the two extremes? There had to be.

"Hmm. I see your point," said Draco. "We could have angry, hate-filled sex and never say a word."

Harry waited. "Draco," he said finally, "you were saying?"

"Sorry, I was … never mind. Saying about what?"

"Durmstrang education … something that would make me angry," said Harry.

"We teach the Dark Arts to our students."

"Is that all? I've known that for ages."

"… I teach the Dark Arts to my students."

Harry sat up, the blanket falling off of him and exposing his bare torso to the night air. "What? How … how can you--? You saw what it did here, even-- God, I suppose you have some rationalization for it, but--"

"Look, Potter, the Dark Arts have a long tradition in-- in the country where Durmstrang is located. Most of these children grew up learning spells that would make your hair stand on end. More than it already does, I mean. I teach them responsible uses of Dark Magic, so that--"

"There's no such thing! Dark spells are Dark precisely because their very nature violates basic human rights. Their sole purpose is for evil."

"You don’t need to know Dark Magic to do evil," said Draco. "You don't have to do evil just because you know Dark Magic."

"Oh, so what? It’s not as if you can do good with a Dark curse either."

"On the first day of class, I present the following scenario to my first-years: one wizard casts the Imperius Curse on a man who is about to murder someone and commands him to stop, saving the other man's life. Another wizard casts a Full Body Bind on a man as he is walking down the stairs, causing him to fall and break his neck. Only one of those spells is considered Dark Magic. Only one of those spells is cast with the intent to harm. Note that they are not the same spell."

"That's a special case," said Harry. "Just because you can find a positive use for one Dark spell …"

"It's not just one, I could do that with any of them."

Harry lay back down and pulled the blanket up to his chin. He rolled onto his side, facing away from Draco. "The Killing Curse," he said. "You can't do it with that one."

Draco was quiet for a moment. "You didn't have evil intent when you used it."

"Yes I did," Harry whispered.

He should have been surprised when Draco curled up behind him, wrapping his arms around his chest; but he wasn't.

---

After that night, their relationship changed. Harry could feel it. Some barrier had been broken between them, and now when they touched, when they kissed, when they fucked, the pleasure went deep into him; it surrounded and filled him. Slowly, hesitantly, they began to connect more deeply in conversation as well. They began to share their pasts.

At first Draco talked while Harry listened, feeling and remembering things that he couldn't possibly express. Draco had asked him questions about his own life, but Harry had been evasive, and eventually Draco had stopped asking.

They continued to spend each night together. During the day, especially at meals, it got harder and harder for them to pretend that they still held each other in the same disdain they once had. Whenever he forgot himself and smiled at Draco in public, Draco sneered and looked away. Even though Harry knew it was an act, it felt like a punch in the stomach. He had noticed McGonagall studying Draco after one such non-verbal exchange. She'd looked over at Harry with concern in her eyes. Thankfully she hadn't asked him about it; he didn’t think he was up to that conversation just yet. He didn't want to lie to her, but he also didn't want to tell her the truth.

The days passed, and Harry realized that Draco's story was the same as his, even though in nearly every way that could be named, they were opposites. Gryffindor versus Slytherin, Muggle-raised versus pure-blood, dark-haired versus blond, Chosen One versus Death Eater. Even their jobs where opposites: Harry taught to defend against the magic that Draco taught.

Yet they'd both lost the things that mattered most to them. Voldemort had taken their families, their friends, the lives they should have had. They both had been forced to do things that no one should ever have to do. They both had scars that no one else could see.

Harry began to find the words that he needed to tell his story. Slowly, he began to talk while Draco listened.

---

Harry walked toward the lake. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, but he couldn’t enjoy it because of the note he held clutched in his hand.

"Meet me by the lake this afternoon. I want to talk to you about something," it said. Harry couldn’t think of what Draco would need to talk to him about here and now as opposed to tonight in his room -- nothing good, anyway.

Draco was sitting under a tree, throwing small rocks into the water. The ripples spread along the surface, warping the reflection of the castle and the sky. One rock landed next to a duck. It flew away, quacking angrily. Harry considered that the duck might actually be afraid, not angry; sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

As he approached, Harry felt his stomach drop; Draco looked nervous.

Harry sat down under the tree, a few feet from Draco. He remembered spending time here as a student, with Ron and Hermione, and later with Ginny. Oddly, that thought comforted him. He pulled up a handful of grass and sprinkled it onto the ground. He would wait for Draco to talk.

"I'm going to be gone this weekend."

"Oh. That's too bad," said Harry cautiously.

"But think of all the extra hours you'll have to sleep."

"I suppose. I'd rather have you. Preferably on your stomach and naked."

Draco smiled and looked at the ground. Then he cleared his throat and said, "I'm going to see Pansy; she'll be home for Easter."

Pansy. Hearing Draco say her name came as a shock. He hadn’t mentioned her once since they'd started … whatever it was that they'd started. Before, when he'd been pining after Draco from afar, Harry had thought of Pansy often, with bitter jealousy. Now he never thought of her. In fact, he had almost forgotten that she existed. He knew he should feel bad about what he was doing with her boyfriend, but the truth was that he didn't.

Harry preferred to think that, at night in his room, they were in their own universe, where only they existed, and they made up the rules for what was right and what was wrong. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists. Draco was his.

No, he isn't.

"I'm going to tell her it's over between us," said Draco.

For a second, Harry wasn't sure which "us" Draco meant. He opened his eyes. "You're breaking up with Pansy?"

"I am. I just wanted you to know." Draco threw a pebble at him. "You look happy."

"Do I?" said Harry, grinning broadly. "I'm not. Poor Pansy."

"That would be much more believable if you didn't look like you were about to get up and dance a jig."

"A jig? Who does that? Is that what you pure-bloods do for fun?"

"Yes," said Draco, throwing another much larger rock at him, "we dance the jig and then when we're tired, we sit around planning new and inventive ways to torture Muggles."

"Ow, that one hurt," said Harry, rubbing his arm.

"So once we … once I am a free man, I … I'm not quite sure how it will work, but we could try being more … public. I suppose. Maybe not yet, but … eventually."

Harry had never heard Draco sound so hesitant. He was generally so confident, even when he was completely wrong.

"Um. Yeah, all right. Eventually," said Harry. The thought of what Draco was suggesting was both terrifying and exciting. But mostly terrifying.

"Try to contain your excitement, Harry."

"Sorry. I am excited, but … it is a little frightening. I'm not worried about the students or other teachers, but … word will get out. I've kind of gotten used to being out of the public eye."

"I'm not saying we should take out a full page advertisement in the Prophet. We just wouldn’t have to hide anymore."

"I know how these things work," said Harry. "If we stop hiding our relationship, we might as well have taken out that advert."

"You're overestimating the level of interest the wizarding world has in your private life. Fame doesn't last forever."

Harry shrugged. He knew Draco was wrong, but it really wasn't worth arguing about. He'd just have to see for himself.

---

Draco left on Friday morning. By Sunday morning, Harry was enthusiastically looking forward to his return. He'd just needed a bit of time to adjust to the idea; he was no longer afraid of what this change might bring. He'd handled worse before, hadn't he?

Harry woke up early and made his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. He had almost expected Draco to be back earlier, since he couldn't imagine that staying at the Parkinson's house after he had dumped their daughter would be very pleasant. Although, he and Pansy had known each other a long time; maybe they were planning on staying friends, and they had spent yesterday talking and sorting things out.

He was halfway through his bowl of cornflakes when an owl swooped overhead, dropping a letter that narrowly missed falling into his tea. Harry frowned when he saw the handwriting on the front. He opened it quickly, before he could think about it.

Harry --

I can't do this. Pansy's father is very influential; I may have a chance to reclaim the Malfoy estate some day.

I have to think of my future. You can't expect me to do otherwise. I'm sorry.

Draco


Harry crumpled up the letter in his fist. He stood and walked quickly out of the hall, leaving his cornflakes to turn to mush in the bowl.

---

It was a good thing that Harry had months of practice avoiding Malfoy, because if he had seen him in the days following the letter, he might have killed him. He had been furious. Malfoy was going to end it just like that, because Pansy's father had connections? What kind of calculating, cold-hearted--

Oh, right.

It made perfect sense. That was how Malfoy was, and always had been. Harry had been stupid to think otherwise -- stupid to believe Malfoy had been serious about making their relationship real. Why had he even wanted that anyway? Malfoy was a bastard. It never would have worked. He had done him a favour, really, by ending it.

He should have told Harry in person, though. Coward.

By the next week, Harry was fine. Well, maybe not fine, but better. His students had stopped walking on eggshells around him, and he no longer had the urge to punch the wall every time he thought of Malfoy. Now, when he thought of Malfoy, he just felt empty. He wondered where all of those emotions had gone; it seemed as though they had drained right out of him.

He had just finished locking up his office late one night, and when he turned around, Malfoy was standing there, leaning against the opposite wall.

"What do you want?"

"I wanted to talk."

"Talk? About what? We've got nothing to talk about." Harry walked towards the staircase. Malfoy followed him.

"Yes, we have. You've been avoiding me. Why are you upset? You didn't even seem that enthusiastic about the idea in the first place."

"I'm not upset. You said you couldn't do this, and having thought about it, I agree. Neither can I. I'm not avoiding you, you simply no longer have relevance to my life."

"Oh!" Malfoy laughed and stood in front of Harry with one hand on each banister, blocking the way up the stairs. "You thought-- no wonder you were angry. I didn’t mean I couldn't do this. I meant I couldn't end things with Pansy."

"What the fuck is the difference?"

"We were carrying on perfectly well before when I was with Pansy, I see no reason why that should change," Malfoy said, leaning towards Harry.

Harry knew that look, knew what Malfoy wanted. He put his hands out to push him away. But the moment he made contact with Malfoy's chest, something broke inside of him. Instead of pushing, he grabbed handfuls of Malfoy's shirt and pulled him forward.

"You have two seconds to get out of my way, and thirty seconds after that to get naked and in my bed," he growled. "Otherwise, I'm never touching you again." He pushed roughly at Malfoy, who stumbled backwards onto the stairs, then turned and scrambled up them. He disappeared from sight, but Harry could hear the quick pace of his steps continuing towards the sixth floor.

"I had no idea he was so obedient," said Harry.

---

As they lay in bed afterwards, panting and trembling, Malfoy said, "You were right."

"About what?" For a moment, Harry hoped that Malfoy was about to change his mind -- about Pansy, about everything. The emotions that he'd thought were gone came flowing back into his body. They'd only been hiding.

"Fuck buddies don't need to be on speaking terms with one another. That was mind-blowing."

"Get out," said Harry. He rolled over and closed his eyes. After he heard the outer door to his quarters shut, he slid out of bed and went to stand by the window. He looked out at the stars, feeling tears slide silently down his cheeks.

---

Malfoy started coming to his door almost every night after that. Most times, Harry refused to let him in, but sometimes desire made him weak. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t say no. He tried to tell himself that it wasn't weakness -- Malfoy was the one who came begging; Harry had all the power. But it didn't feel that way -- he felt like he was slowly losing control over himself.

One afternoon in the corridors, Harry passed by Malfoy as he was talking with a seventh-year Slytherin boy.

"Hello, Justin. Hello, Malfoy," Harry said, forcing a polite smile onto his face.

That night, when Harry opened his door to tell Malfoy to go away, Malfoy pushed through and came striding into the room.

"Fuck you, Potter. You pretend to be fine with our arrangement, but the moment you see me with Justin, you bloody smile at me like a simpering fool. I suppose your plan is to have Pansy find out about us? And then once she's left me, we can fly off into the sunset together? Is that what you think will happen? Because I promise you, if she finds out about this, it is over between us."

"What the hell are you talking about? What does Justin have to do with Pansy? I didn't smile like a simpering fool. I only smiled because you were with one of my students, and I thought that glaring at you might have looked odd. Believe me, I'd rather have glared."

"What does Justin have to do with-- you mean you don't know? He's her fucking cousin. Why do you think I never spend the entire night here? I'm living in the Slytherin guest quarters. If I'm not there in the morning, he'll tell her. She's not terribly clever, but she'll realize that I'm up to something."

Harry was speechless. All this time, he had thought that Malfoy was being careful out of consideration for Harry's position at Hogwarts, and perhaps also for his own reputation. But he'd been protecting Pansy from learning the truth. Protecting Pansy from getting hurt, in his own twisted way. Harry stared at Malfoy. He really did care for her. He might even love her. Oh my God, Harry thought, what am I doing?

"We're through. I mean it this time," Harry said. He opened the door, and Malfoy walked back out.

"Fine," said Malfoy as he left. "What do I care? It's just sex."

---

Harry lay in bed for hours, but sleep wouldn't come. When he heard the birds start to sing outside his window, he sat up, sighing in frustration. "Fuck it," he said, and went to take a shower.

Half an hour later, he was sitting in his office, reviewing the plan for the third and final task. He'd barely given it any thought since last summer, but he still had a month, and it wasn't one that required a lot of preparation. He began to write out a list of things he'd need, people he'd have to contact, items he'd have to procure. Halfway through the line "order 3 doz Cornish Pixies," he put down his quill, faced with an inescapable conclusion.

"Fuck. This is boring!" he said. "The committee was right. Why don't I have them solve a crossword puzzle instead? That would be more challenging than this. Ooh, maybe I can make them work it using ink instead of a pencil. That would make it even more dangerous!"

His clock yawned. "If you must be sarcastic this early in the morning, can you please be quietly sarcastic?"

"Oh, shut up," he snapped, and got out a fresh piece of parchment.

A few minutes later, he was on his way to the Owlery.

---

He'd gotten an answering owl later that afternoon. The following day, he skipped lunch in the Great Hall, heading instead into Hogsmeade. As he made his way towards the village, he thought of how excited he'd been on his first trip there. Back then, going to Hogsmeade had seemed so monumental. Leaving the castle, getting out on his own. He stopped just past the gates, looking between the castle and the village. The distance between had seemed so much greater back then.

He settled into a booth in the back of the Three Broomsticks. Ten minutes later, Charlie Weasley walked in.

It took Harry a moment to remember how to breathe normally. Charlie looked very different than Ron had, but there was enough family resemblance to give Harry a lump in his throat. As Charlie walked towards him, he could almost hear Ron's laugh somewhere else in the pub.

"Harry, it's great to see you," said Charlie, clapping him on the back before sliding into the booth across from him. "It's been years. Too many. It feels like a lifetime."

"I know," said Harry. "I'm sorry. I don't really know how to explain it. I just-- I couldn't …"

"I know. None of us could."

They were silent for a few minutes.

"How's your mother?" asked Harry.

"Better," said Charlie brightly. "They say she might even be released soon. Maybe in a few years. She's almost herself again." He shook his head. "Not that she'll ever be completely the same. She asked about you, last time I visited. She always does. She'll be so pleased when I tell her that I've seen you. You know, next time you're in London, you should visit her. She'd really like that."

Harry nodded tightly. He couldn't imagine why Mrs Weasley would want to see him. It was his fault that she was in St Mungo's, with no family left apart from Charlie and Simone.

"How's Simone?" asked Harry. Simone was Bill's daughter. Bill had died before she was born. Fleur had disappeared one day when the baby was only two weeks old. Charlie had raised her ever since.

"She's great. She's got such a wicked sense of humour." Charlie laughed. "Some of the pranks she plays … if I didn’t know better I'd swear she was somehow Fred or George's. But you'll see soon enough. If all goes well, she'll be here at Hogwarts next year."

That didn’t seem possible. Last time Harry had seen her, she hadn't even been walking yet. He had missed so much. "Wow," he said quietly. "Time flies."

"It does. Speaking of flying … your request is interesting."

Harry had almost forgotten why he'd owled Charlie in the first place. "Yeah. I know it's last minute, but … I could really use your help," he said. "Can you do it?"

"With less than a month until the task? It'll be tough. These things take time, and I've been out of the field for years now. But I think I can pull it off. I still have my connections."

They spent the next hour working out the details. As he walked back to the castle, Harry realized he hadn’t thought about Malfoy once since the previous day. There was a whole world outside of Malfoy, outside of Hogwarts, even. Seeing Charlie had reminded him of that. He looked up at the sky and breathed in deeply. There was a hint of summer in the air.

---

Harry watched his third-year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs file out of the room. The year was nearly over -- there was only one week left until exams started, and ten days until the third task. For the first time since he'd started teaching, he wasn't sure he'd made a difference in his students' lives. He'd been so distracted this year, by the tournament and by Malfoy. It was only in the last month that he'd actually learned the names of all of the first-years.

Fiona, the Hogwarts champion, knocked on the open door.

"You wanted to see me, Professor?"

Harry looked at her. He could make a difference in her life at least. "The third task is dragons."

"Wicked," she said. "What kind?"

---

The third task had gone brilliantly well. Sebastien had almost been killed by the Norwegian Ridgeback, and Nika's wand had been burnt to a crisp -- although she had gotten by her Common Welsh Green all the same. By the time Fiona got past the Peruvian Vipertooth, the crowd was on its feet, cheering wildly. Once the Mediwizards in attendance had seen to her burns, she turned and waved at the crowd, beaming.

The head of Magical Games and Sports came up to Harry and clapped him on the back. "Bloody good show," he said. "Well done."

"Thank you very much," said Harry, but the man had already walked away. In the distance, Harry saw that Charlie and Malfoy were still deep in conversation. They'd been talking since the task began.

It was driving Harry crazy. What were they talking about? They didn’t even know one another. Harry wanted to go thank Charlie for all of his help, but he couldn't -- not while that bastard was standing right next to him. Harry hadn’t seen Malfoy at all in a week. It was as though he had disappeared entirely from the castle. It had been nice. Couldn’t he go away for a little while longer? Harry watched him talk. Actually, he seemed to be mostly listening while Charlie talked. That was odd. Harry scrutinized Malfoy's face, trying to decipher his expression.

The Durmstrang students yelled in triumph. Harry looked over at the judges' station and saw that Nika had won the task; that meant she had won the tournament as well. Malfoy looked over at the judges, and then at Harry. He said something to Charlie and then began to walk towards Harry.

Harry steeled himself for the confrontation, feeling his pulse begin to pound. Malfoy was focused on him in a way that was disconcerting. Why did he look … concerned? Harry glanced at Charlie, who waved at him. Oh no, he hadn't.

"Congratulations, Malfoy," called Harry once he was within earshot, hoping Malfoy wouldn't need to come any closer.

"It wasn't my doing,” Malfoy said, stopping next to Harry. “You should congratulate Nika."

"I will." Harry didn't look at Malfoy, didn't say anything else.

Malfoy walked away.

---

Harry stood in the courtyard outside the castle. He watched the second hand on his watch sweep through its arc. It was five minutes past midnight. Two more minutes to go.

The moon was full overhead, and the balmy June air rustled the leaves in the trees. But all Harry could hear were screams, and all he could see was blood. He hadn't been able to save them. He hadn’t been able to warn them.

One minute to go. An owl hooted softly in the distance, but Harry didn't hear it.

The second hand ticked towards twelve, and Harry held his breath. At seven minutes past midnight, he exhaled, and there was silence in his head. Ten years exactly. Ten years and he was here, and they weren't. Ten years.

"It wasn't your fault."

Harry turned and saw Malfoy standing several yards away. He said nothing in response. Malfoy came closer.

"It wasn't your fault," he said again.

"You don't know what happened," said Harry, his voice barely audible. "You don't know what I did. I was trying to protect them, but instead …"

"I know."

"Charlie told you." It wasn't a question.

Malfoy didn't answer. He took Harry by the arm and led him back inside, all the way up to the sixth floor, all the way to his room. Harry got into bed and pulled the blanket up over his head. When he lowered it a few minutes later, Malfoy was gone.

---

The crowd outside of Hogwarts was large and bustling. Everyone was leaving, and their trunks were stacked haphazardly on the ground and in the courtyard. The people from Beauxbatons had just left, and the Durmstrang group was saying their good-byes. Nika was hugging Fiona tightly; they were both crying.

Harry stood off to one side, apart from the students and faculty members. When Malfoy walked up to him, Harry offered his hand and didn't know what to think when Malfoy took it and wouldn't let go.

"I went to see Pansy last week."

That was unexpected. "Oh. How is she?"

"I told her it was over. She wanted to kill me."

"I know the feeling." Harry wasn't sure how he was supposed to react to this news. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I want you, you idiot."

"So? What does that even mean? You wanted me before, too. And then you didn't. I'm supposed to believe you this time?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Come and visit me this summer and I'll try to explain. You'll enjoy yourself. I have a cottage in the mountains. And goats."

Harry found himself smiling. "You have goats?"

"Will you come?"

"I'll think about it," said Harry. Malfoy let go of his hand and walked away. Harry looked down and saw a small piece of paper.

Please was all it said, plus an address.

Travelling -- that was an idea. There was so much he hadn’t seen. So much he had missed. But he still had time.

I'll just pretend to be thinking about it, thought Harry. In a few days, I'll owl him and say yes.

---

That night, Harry walked around the empty castle, remembering his friends, remembering their lives and their deaths. He toured through every corridor of every floor, noting everything that was the same and everything that had changed in the reconstruction. The castle had adapted, in a way, healing over the damage that had been done to it, emerging as something new and different. Something stronger, perhaps.

In the morning, he handed in his resignation letter to McGonagall. She didn't seem surprised.

"You will always be welcome back here, Harry. Any time."

"Thank you," he said. "I do want to come back eventually. I just need to … you know …"

"Get out and enjoy the sunshine?"

Harry smiled. "Yes. Exactly."

---

-The End-
Tags: [fic], [long/chaptered fic], rated: r
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