Prompt: # 52
Summary: Three months in, Harry is almost certain they are friends. Truth be told they only ever speak on Saturday afternoons, when the meetings occur. It’s part of their truce, maybe. Out here, in the Muggle world, they’re not really Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, nor are they the plethora of things that attach themselves to those names. Or, Harry and Draco go to AA.
Pairing(s): Draco/Harry, brief mention of Ron/Hermione
Word Count: ~10,000
Author's Notes: Thanks so much emansil_12 for beta reading this fic for me! I hope the prompter enjoys! I tried to stick to what you asked for. (:
This, he thinks with absolute conviction, is a very bad idea.
The church, which had always appeared so tiny each time he passed it by without much notice, now looms over him like a menace, like it will suddenly become unhinged from the ground and swallow him whole. He regards it somberly, scuffing his worn out trainers against the sidewalk as he takes another pull from the cigarette dangling loosely from his fingers. It’s an old building, but it’s well kept; even standing off to the side he can see the stairs are swept clean and the windows are clear. The dingy bulletin that hangs to the right of the doors does not diminish its value. It adds character. Comfort.
Which is quite contradictory, considering this building is going to swallow him whole (or so he’s quite certain).
His resolve to enter fluctuates. He can’t help but think that this is a necessary step on the road to recovery, and that in itself has a multitude of meanings. The war had left him with a litany of scars, most invisible by sight alone, which he found rather surprising. Not that he could talk about that here – not amongst the Muggles, who’d no idea how close they had come to meeting their end – but he could talk about other things.
Loss. Guilt. The frustrations of responsibility, of others expectations of him when all he’d wanted his entire boyhood was to be, just that, a boy. He could probably even mention nightmares. He’d undoubtedly find empathetic gazes. These people wouldn’t pity him. They would understand him. It wouldn’t shock or disturb them that he, Harry Potter, too well known for his own liking, tried to smooth out the jaggedly raised boundaries of his invisible scars with the burn of Ogden’s – and when that hadn’t worked, had merely enflamed their pink edges until they were flaming-throbbing-red, he doused them.
They wouldn’t understand why. Not fully. But they’d understand that.
He reasons with himself that the strangers that enter the building aren’t gazing in his direction with that ill-suppressed admiration, clambering to shake his hand. They’re merely curious. The area is quiet, suburban, and while he watches the few scattered Muggles make their way inside, they probably recognize most of the faces here by now. He’s a newcomer. Their glances are merely curious.
Still, he turns his back away from the steps and lights another cigarette. His stomach clinches with anxiety. He feels an inherent shame in this… whatever this is. This supposed attempt for help. He shouldn’t even need help. He had won. Harry had been so certain, so so certain, that once Voldemort was dead, that would be it. He could just be. And, for several years, that had been it. He did what he wanted to do, which turned out to be just a lot of saying no to the things that others wanted for him. He said no to returning to school to finish his NEWTs despite Hermione’s disapproval. He said no to marrying Ginny – not that she’d asked, but it’s what everyone assumed he’d do, after all (and thankfully, she seemed to agree with him on that front). He said no to interviews with the paper and speaking at memorials. For a whole three months, he said no to waking before noon… until Auror training started, of course, because those weren’t the sorts of people that Harry was willing to say no to. All in all, he’d been very free, and he’d felt very good about near everything.
Then, things fell apart, as they often have a habit of doing.
When he thinks about it now he isn’t quite sure how he got here – not physically, but in this state of alcoholism. He can’t identify a trigger; there haven’t been any drastic changes since that May in ’98 until now, six years later. It must’ve been a slow process, things not dealt with piling one atop the other until they were smothering him.
Now that his Gryffindor courage has fled him for good (it must have, because he has hit all sorts of cowardly lows since the burning whiskey had become a staple), he isn’t quite sure he wants to face what he had attempted to drown. He’s leaning against the fence, decidedly facing away from the building and ignoring the soft laughter of a girl and her companion as they head towards the stairs behind him.
The sidewalk invites him to flee. It would be easier, it whispers. In your best interest, really.
He pulls from his cigarette and nearly chokes on the smoke when a hand rests on his arm. He coughs hard into the crook of his other elbow, straightening from his seemingly lax position, shoulders tense, before he glances over, bewildered.
It’s a girl (the girl, from the stairs, he recognizes once he hears her voice) – though not really a girl, because she is at the very least his age, if not a year or two older. She’s all sharp angles, nearly as tall as he is, and even her eyebrows seem a bit severe. Her eyes, though, are round and soft and tired, and she offers a smile.
“Didn’t mean to startle you,” she offers apologetically. “But the meeting will be starting in a few minutes.”
He purses his lips uncertainly. He’s not quite sure he’s going to admit his reason for lingering to a complete stranger. He’d eyed the bulletin board suspiciously earlier, and for a moment considers telling her he’s picking up a sibling from the youth group.
Coward, he chides himself.
“You’re new, no? Listen, it’s not so bad.” She can see he’s unconvinced. “You don’t even have to talk, if you don’t like.” He inclines his head in acknowledgment and reconsiders. “Come inside with us.” At the us, she gestures back towards the stairs towards her companion with whom she’d been laughing.
He glances, and wishes he hadn’t.
The recognition induces a superfluity of emotions. Harry quickly turns his back on the building once more, glancing to his cigarette. It’s halfway done, and he lifts it up as his excuse, speaking for the first time as the smoke furls from his nostrils.
“After this.” It’s short, but he hopes not anxiety ridden, and he offers her an uneasy smile.
The flash of white blond has him spooked. He reasons with himself that it’s just that – a bit of a spook, nothing to legitimately be worried about. Quite honestly he can count on one hand the number of times he has seen Draco Malfoy since the war: once at the trials, where he vouched for him and his mother in quick succession; once in Diagon Alley around Christmas of last year; and a few curt nods in the halls at the Ministry when they happened to pass one another.
He’s unnerved himself. He’s paranoid, for Merlin’s sake, though the girl disappears without saying anymore, and he lets out a low laugh.
Christ, he’s ridiculous. Even so this is still a very stupid idea, so he flicks the cigarette to the street, watching it spiral out near to the middle of the road. The fence digs into his back uncomfortably, and he’s about to push off it to head to the nearest alley to Apparate home, when another voice speaks. It takes a concentrated effort to not throw up on his own shoes.
But it isn’t well, well, well with that taunting tone and condescending sneer. It’s an indifferent drawl, neither welcoming nor discouraging, and he dares to flicker his gaze to attach a familiar face to the voice. He hopes, for his own sake, that his own momentary panic isn’t as obvious as he thinks it is. If it is, Malfoy doesn’t mention it. He seems apathetic to Harry’s unsolicited presence.
“Don’t leave on my account.”
Harry sucks in a sharp breath and thinks coward coward coward as he tries to formulate a feasible lie, but Malfoy’s back is already turned and he’s heading towards the church, as though he really has no interest in whether or not Harry actually stays.
Harry hesitates, and then follows.
- - -
“I was hoping for some – er, anonymity.” Harry’s shoes squeak against the old linoleum as he falls in step beside Malfoy in the hall, making a weak gesture with his hands as though that explains his presence in this place of all places. Undoubtedly, he realizes, this is something Malfoy understands. Harry watches his tight-lipped expression discretely, and it pulls into a wry smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
“As was I, Potter.” His voice is heavy, though whether with sarcasm or irritation, Harry isn’t quite sure.
- - -
Harry seats himself next to Malfoy, who’d slid into the seat next to the girl he’d been walking in with. The group is relatively small; several tables are shoved haphazardly together, and the rickety chairs surrounding aren’t even filled. There’s maybe fifteen people, at most, and suddenly Harry is stricken by how awful this all really is – who he’s sitting next to doesn’t help, either. Harry slouches down in his seat as though he’s going to try to sink beneath the table and melt into the floor. There’s no such luck as the older woman at the head of the table stands up to speak. She’s cheery and snaps good-naturedly for them all to shut their traps before she asks, gaze sweeping across the table, “Any newcomers today?”
He straightens when her piercing gaze settles on his, and her smile is warm as he mumbles his introduction–a quick hello and his name, to which there is a resounding chorus of hello, Harry, with varying enthusiasm. His heart is pounding but he realises quickly enough that this woman (Mary, he thinks she said her name was) is not about to put him on the spot. Instead she says, more warmly than he expects, “Well, we hope you’ll continue joining us, Harry.” She tosses something across the table, and his reflexes from Quidditch, though it’s been so long, come in handy as he catches it.
It’s a small, silver circle with the big number 24 stamped in the middle. To thine own self be true, it reads, and he’s studying it as she asks who’d like to start them off.
It’s a lot less serious than he thinks it will be. For as many moments that people are paying rapt attention to the current speaker, there are just as many times that they’re all laughing about things that normally wouldn’t be laughed about – because they empathize. Had he made any cracks about his drinking to Hermione, she would have fussed disapprovingly, worried. But the energy here is different. Positive, hopeful even. He still thinks it’s rather silly, to hear people say, “Hello, my name is so-and-so and I’m an alcoholic,” but that’s not necessary either. This is about comfort. No one’s forcing anyone to do anything.
The circle hits him three people and twenty minutes later, and though he’s relaxed much more than his initial arrival, he declines with a shrug and says, “I think I’ll just listen today.” And no one seems to mind that.
He nearly jumps from his seat when Malfoy begins speaking and he remembers who’s next to him. It startles him that it had been such an easy thing to forget – the lack of any cruel laughter or snide comments had thrown him off his guard.
But Malfoy is still there, and he hasn’t hexed any of these Muggles just yet. In fact, he’s leaning over and speaking to the girl who’d spoken to Harry, and they share a quick laugh before he launches into his own three minutes of sharing after a quick (and unnecessary, probably, since Harry’s the only new face and they’re already acquainted) introduction. As Harry expects, he does not tack on and I’m an alcoholic. Harry doesn’t think he ever will either.
But Harry’s surprised otherwise, and maybe he shouldn’t be, because Malfoy is open. And funny. And he gestures with his hands and his face is expressive, and Harry realizes they’ve never had a conversation that hasn’t been slightly scathing. Maybe he’s always like this – comfortable, confident, shaking off his indifferent drawl as he talks. About his week. And his family. And dear god, he’s sharing all of this with Muggles, but Harry guesses that that’s exactly why he’s here. No one knows Draco Malfoy, Former Death Eater. They know Draco Malfoy, recovering alcoholic with a tendency towards a high maintenance attitude and family problems.
“…and now that my father is back from an extended vacation leave, I’ve been debating dunking my head in a barrel of pinot noir and drowning myself.” He pauses, and then adds, “And I do mean drown, because if I were going to drink to deal with him that would hardly be the quickest route. Easier to just off myself, and I’d like to do it with style. Perhaps I’d make the papers.” His smile is easy but gray eyes glance to Harry, whose eyebrows are slightly raised, but he makes no comment. Draco has already made the papers with his father, fresh out of Azkaban, for being spotted in Knockturn Alley together; six years after the end of the war and still the speculation haunts the younger of the two Malfoy men, despite his attempts to try to prove himself.
Dressed in his expensive looking Muggle trousers and a jumper with the sleeves rolled up (no one glances twice at his Marked forearm, Harry notes), relaxed and easy and earnestly whispering jokes with the very Muggle girl beside him – makes Harry think that perhaps the attention Malfoy still garners from the Wizarding public at large isn’t quite fair.
- - -
Harry’s mouth goes dry when they bow their heads to pray. It isn’t like he hadn’t read this in the pamphlets Hermione had left in the drawer of his desk; this group is intertwined with religion and belief in a higher power – it doesn’t specifically say Christianity but they’re in a church, for heaven’s sake. He’s suddenly uncomfortable and uncertain as to why, but Mary delves into a prayer and suddenly he can’t be here. He feels a bit sick until Malfoy nudges him and jerks his head to the door. They push their chairs back quietly, and no heads lift as the door clicks shut behind them.
They’re quiet as they walk, slower than when they first entered; Harry keeps his eyes trained on the paintings that the children in the youth group must have put up, until Malfoy speaks.
“This is usually when I take my leave,” he explains, and his indifferent drawl is back in place. His guard is up once more, as though Malfoy’s not certain where either of them stand at this moment. Harry isn’t either, but he feels an unspoken, albeit tentative, truce forming in the empty space between them that was once occupied by animosity. Malfoy could have left, or laughed, or let Harry leave – he could have certainly urged him to do so. But instead he exposed himself, and Harry has a feeling that it’s quite a privilege to see Draco Malfoy speak candidly amongst Muggles.
“I don’t always agree with their methods,” Malfoy comments as they near the exit. He’s hesitantly conversational, but presses on regardless. “Preaching about embracing our lack of control. Putting oneself in a higher power’s hands, helpless to do anything but what He says.” Malfoy pauses once more, and his lips twitch into a shrewd smile. “You and I, we know better than that.”
There’s some relief in knowing that Malfoy is as turned away by the religiosity as Harry is. It’s a lack of control over their lives that got them there in the first place, after all. Suffering madmen and being forced to make choices that weren’t even real choices to begin with – Harry has a feeling that Malfoy desperately needs to feel as in control as Harry does. So he returns the smile and says, “Yeah, I think we do.”
Malfoy’s gaze sweeps over him contemplatively before he gives Harry a nod and pushes through the door. They go their separate ways, and when Harry returns home, with the coin clutched in the palm of his hand, he banishes the bottle of Firewhiskey he finds on the kitchen counter.
- - -
Next week, Harry talks. He mentions his job with no specifics besides his highly recommended – forced, by Robards himself, though he doesn’t mention that part – leave of absence. They had said he’d needed to take care of himself if he was going to be useful to them. If anything, it’s a wakeup call. He has had to recognize that he’s not at his best, and hasn’t been for a while. It doesn’t take long to recognize that the emotion twisting at his stomach is shame.
But he’s here, isn’t he? And that’s a start, isn’t it?
When he’s finished, he can feel Malfoy’s eyes on him, and though he finds his own shoulders tense in anticipation, the snide remark that he’s still trained to expect never arrives.
- - -
It’s three weeks later when Malfoy mentions he’s been clean a year in the midst of his go at discussion, and his words are cut off by the sudden burst of congratulations. He looks at them all, split between annoyance with no real malice and confusion, as though he can’t believe they’ve interrupted him. It’s a very Malfoy look, one that Harry would nearly recognize from school had it been a bit more derisive, as though he’s thinking that they are a very rude bunch. Malfoy sniffs, stares at them for a moment, and then presses on and continues speaking.
After they sneak out, Harry claps him on the shoulder, like he would with Ron, because even if they haven’t really held a drawn out conversation he feels like it’s something he can do now. He ignores the way Malfoy’s eyebrows shoot up, his, “We aren’t friends, Potter, whatever you may think.” It doesn’t seem like he’s as opposed to the idea as he would like to be, though.
Harry shrugs and tries to look as disdainful of Malfoy as Malfoy is attempting to look of him, saying, “I know.” He pauses, and adds, “We could be. Come on, let me buy you a congratulatory drink.” His smile is playful, maybe a bit eager.
“Oh, how clever you think you are,” Malfoy responds, quiet and amused though he’d argue otherwise.
Still, he walks with Harry, and it’s yet another start.
- - -
Three months in, Harry is almost certain they are friends. Truth be told they only ever speak on Saturday afternoons, when the meetings occur, even though Harry has returned to the Aurors and they pass each other in the halls of the Ministry on occasion. It’s part of their truce, maybe. Out here, in the Muggle world, they’re not really Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, nor are they the plethora of things that attach themselves to those names.
That is what makes all the difference. Harry doesn’t see how it could have been this way otherwise.
But this not-Malfoy, while still being very much like his Malfoy self, figures it’s all right to grant Harry some of his time. Saturday evenings after meetings usually amount to coffee several blocks away. Sometimes Harry wins out in his battle for chips or something more substantial than croissants.
They’d both been a bit guarded at first, but if Harry stops to think about it, he would probably be frightened by how easily they slipped into it.
Really, that can be explained by all the things that are kept off limits, unspoken. They don’t talk about their friends, their lives at home. They don’t talk about the war, or how the papers are saying Lucius Malfoy is mad, or that Harry’s promotion as a higher-level Auror is put on hold thanks to the mental health leave he’d taken a few months back. They don’t talk about when they started drinking, or why. It’s really something, Harry muses, that he is not burning with desire to know. He’s content to just let it be.
Most of the time Malfoy looks bored, or gives Harry looks like he can’t believe he’s agreed to come within arm’s length of him, all quirked brows and pursed lips and incredulous sighs. It’s nothing like school, though. There’s no malevolence there. Sometimes Malfoy even laughs, and Harry feels an odd twist in his chest in an entirely foreign, entirely pleasant way.
They’re on equal footing, and even if that footing seems like complete shit for both of them, it’s solid enough to work.
- - -
Dudley Dursley is still tall, still blond, and still very solid, a trait he gained in his later teens after he’d picked up boxing. Harry notices all of this when they bump – literally bump, that is, and Dudley’s not just solid, he’s like a brick wall – into one another outside the church. In contrast, Harry notices that he himself is still shorter, still scrawnier (though one can’t deny that the Auror program has helped him out), and still a lot more put off by Dudley’s presence than Dudley seems to be by his.
Dudley’s voice is deep and rumbling with surprise, and he says his “Hiya, Harry” as though this is the last place he ever expects he’d see his cousin again. Harry feels much the same.
Inexplicably, he looks over his shoulder, hoping for Malfoy and his drawling indifference, but he either hasn’t arrived yet or he’s already inside. Probably the latter, since Harry’s the one who’s always running late.
So instead, a very foreign feeling in the pit of his stomach, he echoes, “Hiya, Dudley.”
Dread, he thinks as they walk down the hall together, his jaw clenched tight as his stomach flips unpleasantly. That feeling is dread. He keeps it tamed, though, curled up and isolated in his gut while he forces himself to exchange pleasantries. He recognises the voice as his own when he answers Dudley’s inquiries, saying, “Fine, just working” and “Married, already? Congratulations, that’s great.” And Dudley laughs and the implications that it was a shotgun wedding don’t go unnoticed by Harry.
There’s no relief in his grasp even when he catches sight of the back of a white blond head at the table, because as he sinks into his claimed seat, Dudley sits next to him. Harry’s fingers wrap appreciatively around the warm paper cup of tea that Malfoy slides in front of him. Though he can feel an inquisitive gaze lingering over him and his would-be-forgotten cousin, Harry doesn’t look to Malfoy and forgets to murmur his thanks. Dudley is fishing a picture from his wallet, and though it’s crinkled and the corners are faded, the image is clear and something in his chest shudders in response.
“She’s our first, nearly a year now – Mum’s pleased, that’s for sure…” and though Dudley continues, Harry has to look away. Even unmoving, the sight of Petunia, though a bit more frail and gray than she’d been before, beaming at her granddaughter with fierce pride and adoration, leaves him feeling jarred. He hardly knows her without a pinched lip and a sneer.
He repeats his earlier sentiment, faraway and absentminded, “That’s great.”
- - -
He passes when it’s his turn to speak, gesturing to Malfoy as he takes a sip of his tea. His knee closest to Malfoy has been bouncing since they sat down, but his eyes maintain focus on the table. He wants to laugh a bit hysterically when he realizes that he’s seated between the two biggest bullies of his childhood, but nothing besides a strangled snort comes out. Malfoy’s elbow nudges between his ribs as if to say shut up, you lunatic.
But he hasn’t said anything, and that’s what’s strange, really. It’s eerie how Dudley’s mere presence has caused old habits to resurface without his consent. He doesn’t speak over Dudley, merely answers his questions and falls silent otherwise because Petunia’s voice is screeching in his ear to not talk back and to keep to himself. And it’s even stranger, Harry muses, because he hasn’t thought of them in so long, except perhaps in fleeting instances. It isn’t until Harry is confronted with something tangible that he remembers what he thought he’d forgotten, what he thought should no longer matter.
When it’s time, Malfoy stands quietly, but Harry’s chair scrapes loudly against the tile floor. He doesn’t say goodbye to Dudley, or even spare a second glance to the heads bowed at the table. He’s quick to leave the room, his pace swift down the hall, but Malfoy keeps up gracefully, easily. He doesn’t realize until he’s on the steps outside the church how stifling the air in there had been, and he takes a deep breath as he fumbles for a cigarette, patting down his pockets.
When it’s lit he looks to Malfoy, who is watching him while also pretending not to, but the twitch in his brow and the barely-there flash of curiosity in his eyes gives him away.
Harry offers nothing, so Malfoy clears his throat and says, “So. Who’s that, then?”
Harry takes a long drag and eyes him impassively, strangely guarded.
“My cousin. Dudley.”
There’s a silence then, because this is pushing itself into territory of things off-limits. It’s no secret that the Muggles who kept Harry as a child were awful; the Prophet spun it into a sob story at one point or another, and mentions it once in a while still, but this is personal. Harry can feel Malfoy’s eyes on him as though trying to determine how to proceed, suddenly conscious of his erratically twitching fingers, the way that he is suddenly shaken up in a manner that Malfoy’s never witnessed before. Harry feels the same dilemma of uncertainty, but the wounds long ignored are now reopened and fresh. The last thing he wants is to speak of their existence.
Malfoy decides on, “We should get Thai,” just as Harry, deciding on the same route of ignoring the obvious, settles on, “I have to go.”
They’re quiet again and it seems a bit strange, considering how far they’ve come, that they’re both so suddenly uncomfortable. Malfoy shifts, a shrug of his shoulders giving an air of triviality on the matter, but Harry thinks perhaps he’s steeling himself off at his instantaneous rejection. Any other time, he may have felt badly about it.
“I – can’t. Not tonight. I told Hermione I’d – that I’d come by after the meeting.”
He’s an awful liar, but Malfoy doesn’t call him out on it.
- - -
For three nights, Harry dreams of cupboards and missed dinners, of Petunia’s beaming face and her disgusted sneer. Even though the imagined hunger vanishes upon waking, and the bed he’s in is spacious enough for two, the feeling of trepidation curls in his chest. He has no family. He is very, very alone – and that isn’t something that can be chased away by opening his eyes.
It’s strange how these demons come back with a vengeance, long ignored and traded for things that were more recent – things Harry considered to be more relevant. He’s dealt with war, with loss, with the guilt of knowing his parents and friends had died so that he may succeed. Once the glory of triumph faded he had been left stumbling down and veering off the path selected for him – be with the girl he’s supposed to be with, take the job he’s supposed to take, be what people want from him. Some things worked out. Being an Auror is a perfect fit for his personality. But many things didn’t, whether it had been because he didn’t want them to, or because they wouldn’t have no matter what anyone wanted. His breakup with Ginny was amicable enough, after all, but he can’t claim to be the one who initiated it. He also can’t claim he hasn’t felt a bit lonely since.
But he’s overcome those things, or at least he’s working through them, and the Dursleys have always seemed so irrelevant in retrospect. That is, until faced with one of them unexpectedly.
On the fourth night Harry buys a bottle of whiskey from the corner store down the block and doesn’t dream at all.
- - -
This is breaking all sorts of rules, but Harry hasn’t thought of that until he’s standing at the doorstep and his knuckles make a resounding thud against the wood. For one, it’s 12:17 on a Sunday morning, and he only sees Draco Malfoy, he only speaks to Malfoy on Saturdays (but he skipped the meeting this round, so he’s making up for it, he reasons). And then there’s the fact that it’s just past midnight itself, and it’s rather late to come barging over here like this, to the flat that Malfoy moved to in his escape from Wiltshire. There’s also the point that the only reason he knows where this place is happens to be because the Aurors still occasionally enjoy sticking their noses in the Malfoys’ business, even though Harry thinks it’s really unnecessary at this point. This is especially true when one considers that Malfoy, as a Death Eater, had been a child. A child whose greatest accomplishment as a Death Eater had been fixing a couple of cabinets, at that.
Oh, and that Harry is terribly drunk, drunk enough that he skipped out on the meeting the previous afternoon, probably means he really shouldn’t be here with a half empty bottle tucked in his jacket. But he’s upset – another line being crossed, really, because he and Malfoy don’t do personal; however, Hermione would merely fuss while Ron would him on the shoulder and gives him a squeeze, and he doesn’t want people to pity. He just wants someone to listen, or something. He doesn’t even know, really, but he knows better than to expect pity from Malfoy. That’s a comforting though.
He usually makes piss poor decisions while drinking anyways, and, not wanting to break the habit, knocks once more, louder.
The door is wrenched open but Malfoy is looking over his shoulder and down the dim hallway, laughing at the woman’s voice that floats along and reaches a swaying Harry. He blinks, because for some self-centered reason, he didn’t expect Malfoy to have company. He suddenly feels very small, and even smaller when the amusement in Malfoy’s eyes is replaced by bewilderment when he looks to Harry.
“Potter,” is all he says, but the undertone implies an incredulous what are you doing here? His lips are pursed tightly and something twists in his jaw, and Harry is reminded of school. He’s such an idiot. A miserable, drunken idiot, though, and it must show because any scathing questions are thus far kept behind those pinched lips.
“I should… go,” Harry decides suddenly, faltering for a moment, and he’s nearly ready to spin off the steps and Apparate when Malfoy grabs him by the elbow and yanks him through the doorway. He pushes a hand against Harry’s chest to keep him from lurching over, the tips of his fingers digging into Harry’s jacket.
The door clicks shut behind Harry and the woman’s voice grows closer, asking, “Who is it, Drac... – oh.” And Pansy Parkinson looks as though she’s got her claws wrapped around the canary, a grin stretching her mouth beneath her little pug nose. “Hello, Harry Potter. Draco, don’t be rude, it’s Potter.”
“Hello,” Harry echoes.
“Give me a moment, Pansy,” Malfoy says, tense.
“Is this why you’re always busy on Saturdays?” Pansy asks. She sounds a bit too giddy for Harry to be comfortable, but Malfoy shoots her an exasperated look.
“Mind your own, Pansy. I said give me a moment,” he snaps, and then looks to Harry and says, “Shoes, Potter.” His hand rests on Harry’s elbow once more, tight and tense, as Harry tilts a bit while trying to remove them. When he’s upright once more Malfoy’s jaw is still clenched, but he doesn’t speak as he leads Harry to the kitchen. Flicking on the lights with his wand, he points to a chair.
“Sit. Don’t move.” Only pausing momentarily when the bottle in Harry’s jacket is removed and thunks onto the table, he strides from the room.
Malfoy’s home isn’t quite what Harry expected. Malfoy seems the type who’s more at home in dungeons and spacious, cold places like Malfoy Manor, but his place seems… comfortable. Lived in, certainly. There are pots in the sink and half-empty teacups on the counter. The table is worn and even looks second hand, though Harry thinks that it might be one of those fashionably intentional things or some rubbish like that. But he doesn’t feel like he’s just walked into a snake den (despite Pansy’s unanticipated presence), and that in itself is more disconcerting than if he actually had.
He’s too distracted by his surroundings to pay much attention to the hushed voices down the hall, though his head perks up when he hears the rush of the fireplace as Pansy Floos out. Malfoy’s footsteps are quick and light, and he shoots Harry a look before moving to the stove to put the kettle on.
“I’m sorry,” Harry offers, because it seems like the right thing to say. “I didn’t mean to… interrupt anything.” He’s reminded of the times he’s Firecalled Ron and Hermione at inopportune moments and flushes.
“You weren’t interrupting anything,” Malfoy replies shortly, turning away from the stove, watching him levelly.
Harry hiccups and picks at the label of the bottle, his head swimming. He’s embarrassed now regardless. He remembers why he came here but suddenly feels very unwelcome. He hadn’t been hoping for much, someone to talk with that’d help him forget why he’s been either drunk or hungover the entire week without pressing for too much, but perhaps surprising Malfoy isn’t the right way to go about this.
Malfoy sinks into the seat adjacent to Harry, slouching and reaching for the bottle to study the label. His fingers twitch around it uncomfortably, until he asks rather scathingly, “Celebrating a few months of sobriety by getting pissed, Potter? There’s that Gryffindor logic I was expecting all along.” He sets the bottle back down rather forcefully, the liquid sloshing a bit before settling.
Harry flinches at the tone – they don’t talk to each other like that anymore, like they’re still in school. He can see Malfoy trying to shake off the remnants of Parkinson’s presence and wonders, maybe, if things aren’t as different as he thought they were now.
“Don’t,” he says, but it’s more of a sigh as his elbow rests on the table and he puts his forehead on his hand, closing his eyes to ward off a wave of nausea. “Just – I shouldn’t have come here.”
He doesn’t move to leave, though, and Malfoy says nothing. Harry straightens suddenly and reaches out to grab the bottle on the table, twisting off the lid.
“Were you raised in a barn?” Malfoy asks as Harry brings the bottle to his lips, though the words are softer, not scornful, as he’d been bracing himself for. It’s the same tone Malfoy uses when he chastises Harry and his complete inability to use chopsticks or his refusal to place a napkin across his lap while he eats. “Let me get you a glass, lest you act like a heathen at my table.”
He stands and gives Harry a squeeze on his shoulder that is both apologetic and reassuring; it startles Harry enough that he sets the whiskey down and glances to him blearily. Draco Malfoy isn’t quite the comforting type, which is precisely why Harry is here, rather than with someone who would coddle him. But this is all right, even though just as quickly as it occurs it’s over.
Harry mumbles a thanks as the glass clinks down in front of him, pouring a bit of what’s left and studying it in front of him.
“This is so bloody stupid,” he says. “I’m an idiot.”
“Quite,” Malfoy agrees coolly after taking his seat once more, eyeing the amber liquid in Harry’s glass as though he’s rather conflicted by its presence. When he notices Harry’s caught him staring he meets his gaze, a frown settling on his face.
He looks concerned, and Harry is taken aback by it enough to knock back the glass in front of him, cherishing the burn.
“Do you need to talk?” Malfoy suddenly questions, though it looks like it pains him to do so, the words hanging awkward and stagnant in the air. They are both terribly out of their element here. “Of course, feel free to drink yourself into oblivion. That’s your prerogative. You’re certainly more than halfway there. I’m just not quite certain what I –” he pauses shortly, regains composure “– what’s to be done with Harry bloody Potter in my kitchen.” He gestures around them, and it reminds Harry of how he speaks at the meetings. Suddenly Harry knows that that’s Malfoy’s response to being nervous. How odd.
“No. Merlin, no,” Harry laughs, but it falls a bit flat and he leans back in his chair to look up at the white ceiling. “Christ. I thought I did but that was an awful idea.”
“All right.” Malfoy’s shoulders relax as if to say good, thank God.
Then Harry adds calmly, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
- - -
Malfoy’s fingers are tight around Harry’s bicep as he steers him out of the kitchen, after a sharp, “Not at my table, Potter.” Harry stumbles and stills to a halt in the hall, hands on his knees, breathing deeply through his nose. Malfoy’s fingers squeeze mercilessly as he tries to tug Harry upright, a panicked, “Not on the rug!” breaking Harry’s concentration. Harry jerks his arm away and waits half a moment before bolting ahead, to the door on the right, hoping it’s the bathroom and not a cupboard.
He sees the toilet, drops to his knees in front of it as if in prayer, and vomits theatrically.
- - -
In between the retching Harry thinks, though perhaps imagines, that he can hear the bottle being moved in the kitchen. It clinks against the countertop more than once and he can drunkenly, dully, imagine Malfoy’s hesitancy. Picking it up. Putting it down. Reaching for a glass, pulling away. He pictures a resolute face, Malfoy tipping it over the sink and allowing the liquid to glug down the drain.
- - -
When he’s finished Harry remains slumped over the toilet. His hand fumbles with the lever but fingers, looser now in their grip than before, catch his and push them away. He only leans back when the toilet flushes, and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. Malfoy is a bleary figure standing next to him, holding out the glasses that Harry must have lost in the hallway. Then he decides otherwise and sets them on the sink, probably to safeguard them from Harry.
Malfoy’s fingers are as cold as the porcelain Harry had fallen over, he discovers when Malfoy’s knuckles brush against the back of his neck. It’s a comforting gesture that makes him feel a bit sick in a completely different way, in a way that reminds him how lonely he’s been lately. He also finds that they’re softer than expected, gentle as Malfoy pushes back the unruly fringe that clings to Harry’s sweat-slicked forehead. The familiarity associated with the gesture unsettles Harry for a moment, and he nearly jerks away. But closeness is what he craves, and his traitor head leans into the touch.
Malfoy’s hand pulls away and he helps Harry to his feet, handing him a small glass of something blue. One sniff, accompanied by an exasperated look from the taller of the two, tells Harry that he’s not about to be poisoned, that it’s just mouthwash. He gargles and spits, setting the cup aside.
Cool fingers wrap around his wrist, and, drunk and upset and complacent, Harry let’s himself be led from the bathroom. They go opposite of the way he arrived, away from his shoes and the front door. Instead he finds himself in a bedroom, and from the books on the nightstand and the black of the rumpled sheets, Harry can only presume this is Malfoy’s bedroom. As much as he’d like to pass out on those unbearably soft looking pillows, Harry has a feeling that this is a bit presumptuous of him. He’s being a bit of a burden, showing up and stumbling around Malfoy’s flat, looking unhappy enough that Malfoy hasn’t the heart to kick him out. Which is very un-Malfoy like, he thinks. It isn’t even a Saturday. He’s no reason to be kind to Harry.
“I should go home,” Harry protests, but the tone in his voice insinuates that there’s no real fight in him. He doesn’t want to go home to his empty flat – he’d like those cool fingers pressed kindly (for Malfoy, at least, it’s pretty kind, all things considered) against his forehead once more. “I can Apparate. Just need my shoes.”
“Yes, because Apparating drunk is a brilliant move,” Malfoy humours him with a roll of his eyes. “Really, Potter, I don’t fancy the Aurors coming to retrieve your head from my doorstep when you splinch yourself. It would look rather suspicious on my part, considering I hate you and have a surplus of motives for killing you.”
“You don’t hate me,” Harry says, looking away from the room and to Malfoy. The blond’s brows are furrowed, a small frown on his face. He looks a bit uncertain and uncomfortable despite the confidence of his movements, urging Harry towards the bed. Harry takes a few steps into the room but waits, his eyes remaining on Malfoy’s face.
“No, I suppose I don’t,” Malfoy concedes after a few moments. “But just because I’d rather you not choke on your own sick in the middle of the night or do something rash – I’m questioning your mental stability at the moment, Potter – doesn’t make us friends.” He doesn’t mean that and Harry knows it.
“Sure it does,” Harry answers.
Malfoy sighs and shoves him towards the bed a bit unceremoniously.
“Go to sleep. Lay on your side. Try to refrain from vomiting on my pillows.” And with that Malfoy flees, leaving the room a bit too quickly to suggest that the conversation hasn’t flustered him.
- - -
Harry doesn’t sleep, though. He listens to the ticking of the clock on the nightstand and thinks about how he ended up here – not in Malfoy’s bed, although that’s certainly something to analyze as well. But here as a general state of being, drunk, blindly miserable. Seeing Dudley has resurfaced a lot of old feelings that had been lying dormant. He wants to say he hates the Dursleys as much as they hate him, and maybe he does, but he spent the first eleven years of his life longing for their affection and trying to appease them. Mostly when he thinks about them he feels unwanted. It’s an awful feeling.
Malfoy returns to snatch a book off the nightstand and must not realize that Harry’s awake, because he jumps when Harry reaches out to grab his wrist.
“Will you –” he falters, frowns, clears his throat. “Stay in here with me.” He means for it to sound like a command, but it comes out more as a tentative request. He can’t make out Malfoy’s face in the dark, but the blond slips out of the grip and Harry can hear him walk around the bed. He feels the weight settle carefully on the side opposite of him. He rolls over, cautiously maintaining the distance between the two of them. From what he can make out without his glasses on in the dark, Malfoy is perched on the bed as though at the first sign of trouble he’ll make a run for it. Then he sighs, tired and defeated, and slides down the bed until he’s lying on his back.
“If my parents could see this,” Malfoy muses with a bitter laugh. “Draco, that’s hardly appropriate…”
Harry hums his amusement but remains silent for several beats, eyes half shut as he attempts to make out the profile of the other’s head on the pillow. From the small bit of light filtering in through the hall, he can see the fuzzy shape of his pointed nose, the tightness of his lips. Harry curls his arms against his chest to keep from reaching out to him.
“I’m very jealous of you, you know,” Harry says to him finally.
“Whatever for?” Malfoy asks, taken aback. His head lifts slightly to squint at Harry in the dark.
“Your family. Your parents love you very much.”
Malfoy is quiet for a full minute, and Harry can feel him struggling for something to say. Finally, what he gets is laden with heavy sarcasm.
“Well, Potter, I assumed someone told you this little tale at least by the time you were eleven, as it is the whole basis of your entire existence, but I suppose I’ll refresh your memory. You know of the Dark Lord? He came to your house to try to off you when you were just an infant, and your parents died to save your life. It’s a very well known story. I’m surprised you haven’t heard it.” Malfoy pauses, and when he continues his voice is soft, sarcasm vanished. “Your parents loved you very much.”
“Not them,” Harry says with a sigh. “I know they did. I meant – ” he cuts himself off with an unstated never mind lingering in the air, self-conscious.
“The Muggles,” Malfoy finishes for him, sounding a bit surprised.
“Yeah. The Dursleys.” Harry takes a deep breath and then continues. “I mean, it’s not like I expected much from my uncle, I didn’t care much about him any which way, you know? But my aunt. She’s my mum’s sister. And Dudley–we could’ve been like brothers. We were raised together, but they hated me.” He frowns and blinks hard. “Most of the time they tried to pretend I didn’t exist, locking me up and ignoring me. The rest of the time was spent letting me know what a burden I was. How I ruined their family.” He’s drunkenly rambling and he knows it; word vomit is much more embarrassing than actual vomit, but it feels good to get it up just the same. “I tried for such a long time to get their approval, you know? It’s not like I asked for them to be stuck with me. I don’t know, I guess I wanted them to love me. I was just a kid – they should’ve, shouldn’t they? I don’t… I don’t understand why they didn’t. Why they don’t.” Harry is horrified to realise his voice is thick.
Malfoy is quiet, but turns on his side to face Harry. He feels pathetic and a bit miserable, which must be the reason why Malfoy’s fingers are brushing through his hair once more, hesitant but comforting nonetheless.
“Potter,” Malfoy says, sounding carefully patient. It’s as if he leaves the sarcasm behind if only because he doesn’t want to push his luck with Harry at the moment; Harry is miserable enough as it is, so it doesn’t go unappreciated. “So a couple of Muggles don’t like you. Are they that terribly important in the grand scheme of your life? It hardly seems like it.”
“You don’t understand,” Harry says, fearing he sounds petulant but not enough to change his tone. “They should have been my family, but they weren’t, and now I haven’t got any.”
He inches closer to Malfoy, trying to make out his face more clearly. He can feel the frown, feel the sharp gaze scanning across his features. He wonders if he’s said something wrong.
“I know of roughly a dozen gingers and a know-it-all who, one would assume, would be hurt to know that you don’t consider them your family,” Malfoy says finally. His fingers brush across Harry’s cheek. “Go to sleep, Potter. You’re talking nonsense.”
Harry wants to say it’s not the same. That’s true, but in a way it’s better than what he’s been wishing for all along. He wouldn’t give up the Weasleys or Hermione for anything.
“Stay,” Harry says after a moment, reaching out to curl his fingers in Malfoy’s shirt. He relaxes only when he feels Malfoy’s fingers wrap tightly around his own.
- - -
Harry kisses him hard on the mouth, and when Malfoy kisses back, it turns into something with too many teeth and not enough tongue. When Malfoy wrenches them apart, he’s panting and his hand is still tight around Harry’s. He doesn’t push him away, but when Harry leans in once more, he pulls back just out of reach.
“You’re drunk,” Malfoy says. He tries to sound stern and detached but his voice is strained, as if Harry is testing his resolve. “Let’s refrain from doing something you’ll regret when you’re not.”
Harry is quiet when his head settles back on the pillow that Malfoy is using as well. Their knees bump and he can feel the puff of the other man’s breath against his cheek. He smells the way he tastes, sweet like chamomile with milk and honey.
He closes his eyes, and for the first time in a week his dreams aren’t cruel.
- - -
Harry wakes up alone, the spot where Malfoy had once been gone cold. The blankets are tucked up tightly around him, and his head throbs in protest when he sits up. His hangover is ruthless. Nausea rolls through him, and he fumbles for his glasses, which Malfoy must have put on the nightstand for him. He feels like a zombie as he shuffles out of bed and down the hall, the piercing whistle of the kettle in the kitchen enough to make him wince.
Malfoy is just as rumpled as Harry. He stands at the counter as he fixes his tea, a piece of toast held between his teeth. Were Harry not afraid to open his mouth, quite sure if he does so they’ll have a repeat of last night’s vomiting debacle, he would make a comment about how the other half lives when no one’s looking. When Malfoy turns around and spots Harry, he quickly takes the toast from his mouth and holds his nose up, as though daring Harry to comment.
“You look terrible,” Malfoy says in lieu of a greeting, turning to fumble through the cabinets. He retrieves a small vial and tosses it to Harry before making his way back to the kitchen table.
Harry downs the contents of the vial, and within moments feels better – hangover potion is one of the miracles of the Wizarding world that Harry isn’t quite certain how Muggles manage without. He sits adjacent to Malfoy, helping himself to a corner of toast on the other’s plate. He nibbles at the edge before picking at the crust, making a mess of crumbs on the kitchen table that earns him a withering look. He shrugs it off, though, and finally meets Malfoy’s gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “For – well, for all of last night, really.”
“Stop apologizing,” Malfoy counters, still eyeing the crumbs with derision. “It’s irritating.”
Harry catches himself before he says sorry once more, taking a bite of toast to swallow it down instead.
“I’m an idiot. Fucking up all that time over something that doesn’t even matter.”
“Of course it matters. It wouldn’t upset you if it didn’t matter,” Malfoy says, exasperated. “As much as I would have enjoyed your self-loathing mere months ago, Potter, the fact that you’ve forced me into some semblance of camaraderie complicates my usual reaction. As much as it pains me to admit.” He gives Harry a look that implies that that’s entirely his fault.
“I just –”
“Do you think you’re the first person to fall off the wagon?” Malfoy cuts him off with a sharp tone and even sharper brow. “It happens. To everyone. You’re not perfect. I am, rather, and I still have to use two hands to count the times it’s happened to me.” A ghost of a smile flits across his lips before vanishing. “That’s what’s important, though. It’s no longer the usual; it’s a rarity.”
Harry’s tongue darts across his dry lips before he nods in agreement.
“Never thought the day would come where you’d be giving me a pep talk,” Harry says to him after a moment, laughing.
“Yes, well, don’t get used to it.”
- - -
Harry steps out onto the porch for a smoke, still just in his socks. He sits on the steps and the sun feels good against his skin. It’s quiet and lazy outside, Malfoy’s place far enough removed from the bustle of the city that Sunday mornings are just as they’re supposed to be. The door creaks open and Malfoy sits next to him, passing him a cup of Darjeeling.
“Very domestic of you,” Harry observes, sipping his tea innocently to hide his smile.
“Next time I’ll poison you,” Malfoy vows, his voice lacking rancour.
Harry takes another drag of his cigarette, and the smoke curls out with his words as he says, “I wouldn’t have regretted anything, you know.”
Malfoy studies the tea in the cup clasped between his hands intently and doesn’t speak. Harry wonders if he’s pushed too far until Malfoy looks up at him, a cautious and foreign half-smile quirking at his lips.
This time Malfoy kisses him, and it’s neater, softer than Harry would ever have expected from him. He holds Harry’s chin firmly between his thumb and forefinger, and Harry sinks into it, urging for more than Malfoy is willing to give him just yet. When he pulls away he straightens up, his occupied hand bringing the cup of tea to his mouth while the other drops from Harry’s chin to his knee, squeezing.
“If you ever tell anyone that I’ve been nice to you, I’ll make you wish you’d never been born,” Malfoy says casually, his gaze on the street, but he doesn’t move his hand from Harry’s knee.
- - -
They fall back into their Saturday routine but it more often than not drags into Sundays now. Sometimes Harry pops into Malfoy’s office with a paper cup of too-strong tea – look who’s domestic now, Potter – and once Malfoy sat across from Harry and Ron in the Ministry canteen for a quick chat. He argued with them over who’s going to take the Quidditch Cup this year and only insulted Ron three times in fifteen minutes, leaving him looking bewildered.
Harry doesn’t really mind that they’re breaking the rules anymore.
- - -
It’s eight weeks after what he considers his drunken incident, and he’s running late to the meeting, as usual. What is not usual, however, is that Malfoy is waiting for him on the steps and catches Harry’s wrist before he heads inside.
“Let’s skip today,” he suggests in a tone that shows he does not want to argue, not that Harry ever listens much to that.
Annoyed at being questioned, Malfoy sighs. “Because I don’t much feel like going, that’s why.”
Harry rolls his eyes and tugs free of his grip, heading inside. Malfoy is quick to follow. He walks ahead of Harry, and when he enters the room, he recognizes the back of a golden blond head and his stomach twists in surprise. Dudley hasn’t returned since Harry had seen him last. Once again Harry’s taken off guard.
Malfoy doesn’t look at Harry, merely steers them towards two open seats at the opposite end of the table from where his cousin is seated. He sits in the one that’s closer to Dudley, as though acting as a barrier between him and Harry. Harry glances at Malfoy when he feels his gaze but forces a small smile that isn’t returned. He’s trying to convey that he’s not going to go off the deep end this time, but Malfoy doesn’t seem quite so convinced. Harry isn’t one hundred percent certain either, to be quite honest, but the tension in his shoulders gradually dissipates as the meeting continues.
- - -
They depart early, as usual, and are nearly out the doors when the footfalls behind them become apparent. Dudley calls out for Harry to wait up a moment, and Malfoy shoots him a disdainful look. It’s not because he’s a Muggle, Harry knows. Malfoy probably still has his prejudices, but Harry’s seen him toss his arm around that Muggle girl’s shoulders and laugh so genuinely that it’s startling. The fact that he’s reverted back to a sneering schoolboy for Harry’s sake is simultaneously frightening and comforting, considering he’s not the one on the receiving end of it.
“I wanted to talk to you for a second,” Dudley says, glancing at Malfoy before looking to Harry imploringly.
Malfoy doesn’t budge until Harry says to give them a moment, and then he’s swiftly out the door.
“I just wanted to – you know, say I’m sorry,” Dudley says after a moment, when he realizes Harry’s waiting on him to speak. Harry’s taken aback by this, though, eyebrows raising and scrunching up his scar. “I was always kind of… er, well, really, a little shit to you. We all were.”
Harry is completely bewildered, and doesn’t know what to make of Dudley’s earnestly genuine expression.
“And then you made sure we were safe, when… when everything was happening,” he continues, frowning softly. “When you didn’t have to. I think back on it, and if I were you, I would’ve let us rot. I’ve thought about it a lot, Harry. I really am sorry.”
Harry isn’t sure what to say, because he isn’t sure he’s ready to forgive, but it feels good to hear anyways. So he shakes his hand instead, chewing at his lower lip before conceding, “That’s all right, Dudley. It wasn’t really your fault, anyways.”
Dudley doesn’t look so convinced, but he shakes Harry’s hand anyways, and says, “Well, I’m going to head back in there. Take care, Harry.”
“Yeah, you too.”
- - -
Malfoy walks close to Harry, their elbows brushing occasionally. He seems a bit suspicious but also apparently relieved that Harry doesn’t try to run off immediately.
His curiosity is thinly veiled behind apathy when he asks Harry, “So, what did he have to say?”
Malfoy looks a bit ruffled by this, and tuts indignantly on Harry’s behalf. “Bit late for that, isn’t it? He’s a big bumbling git.”
“Yeah. Well, he was,” Harry agrees. “But you were a horrid little brat, and if I can get over that…”
Malfoy glares, nose in the air, and snatches Harry’s hand in a grip that’s tight enough to hurt.
“How rude of you, Potter. I’m still a horrid brat.”
“Not nearly as bad as you used to be,” Harry muses, trying to keep the smile from his lips, eyes trained straight ahead. “I daresay you’ve gone a bit soft. You’re practically nice.”
“I really do hate you,” Malfoy insists, snappy. He puffs and let’s go of Harry’s hand, shaking his head as though in disbelief.
“I’m sure you do, Draco.”
Malfoy looks at Harry as though he’s just said something very foul, replying disdainfully, “We are not on first name basis, Potter.”
“Well, you certainly were last weekend,“ Harry points out, lips pursed tightly to keep a straight face.
“Enough. Merlin and Circe both, I really am going to kill you,” Malfoy says, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, his cheeks flushed. It isn’t often that Harry can catch him off guard and it amuses him greatly.
“I’m sure you will, Draco.”
Malfoy scowls, but his lips twitch as Harry laughs.