HP fic: The Only Final Path, part 2 [Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny, adult]
Title: The Only Final Path, part 2 Author: celandineb Fandom: HP Pairing: Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny Rating: adult, although not very Warnings: none Summary: Friendship between his son and Draco's gradually brings Harry to a realisation of what he really wants. Note: Written for ninnive for hd_holidays in December 2007. This is very slightly revised from the original posting to clean up a few typos and discontinuities. The title comes from E.M. Forster's The Longest Journey. Many thanks to thevina for beta; all remaining errors and infelicities are entirely my responsibility.
In June they fetched Albus and Lily from Kings Cross; the last time that Albus would be travelling on the Hogwarts Express. He seemed tired and out of sorts, but then, he had just been taking his N.E.W.T.s, seven of them, so a little tiredness was only to be expected. Lily's O.W.L.s seemed to have caused her less concern.
The Malfoys were a little way down the platform and Albus waved at Scorpius before turning to his parents. "I could eat a hippogriff," he said. "When's dinner, Mum?"
"Six-thirty, as always," Ginny told him, and she, Albus, and Lily began to head for the exit. Harry caught Draco's eye and received a smile. They were both seeing the end of an era, weren't they, with their sons finished with school. It warmed Harry to think they had that in common; it seemed fitting somehow.
Albus waited to hear the results of his N.E.W.T.s with ill-hidden impatience. He told his parents that regardless of what they were, and therefore what apprenticeship he might take up, he was planning to share a flat with Scorpius beginning in the fall.
"I know you'd let me live at home for a while, the way you did with James, but I'd rather be on my own."
"You won't be 'on your own,' sharing with Scorpius," Ginny pointed out, and Albus blushed.
"You know what I mean, mum. Not living with my parents any more. Uncle George moved out as soon as he'd left school, didn't he?"
Seeing Albus's red face, the old prickle of suspicion went through Harry again. Draco had seemed so certain that whatever experimenting the two boys had done together was just that, experimenting, and certainly Albus had mentioned various girls regularly in his letters, but what if it were really Scorpius to whom he was attracted? Would he feel able to tell his parents the truth?
On a Saturday when Lily had gone out to meet a friend in Diagon Alley and Ginny was having lunch with her friend Marguerite, Harry knocked at the door of Albus's bedroom.
Albus was sprawled on his bed, flipping through a copy of Which Broomstick. "What is it, Dad?"
"May I sit down?" At Albus's nod, Harry sat on the edge of the bed. Now that he was here, he wasn't sure how to find out what he wanted to know without sounding as if he were prying. Which he was, of course, but he didn't want it to be obvious. "About you and Scorpius sharing a flat," he began awkwardly.
"It's going to be great." Albus's eyes lit up. "We've worked it out, how much everything is going to cost, and you don't have to worry about that. We've been talking about doing this for a couple of years. We'll start looking for a place next month; Scorpius's dad offered to help out for the first month or two, until we both have jobs and are being paid regularly."
Harry frowned. It was generous of Draco, but...
Seeing that, Albus added hastily, "He offered, Dad. Hopefully it won't be necessary, but the Malfoys have plenty of money. If Mister Malfoy wants to help his son out, and me sort of incidentally, I'm not going to be so rude as to refuse him."
"I suppose it's your decision," said Harry. "If you're going to be independent, then your mum and I have to respect your choices. But that wasn't quite what I came up to ask about."
"What is it, then?"
"Er." Harry tried to think of a subtle way to put the question. "How large of a flat are the two of you talking about? One bedroom?"
Albus blinked. "For two people? Of course not. Why would we...?" His face flushed. "Dad, if you're asking if Scorpius is my boyfriend, why don't you just ask? Newts' noses, you're worse than Lily."
"Well, is he?"
"No." Albus shook his head. "He isn't. Neither of us is, um, that way inclined. Sure, his dad is, but that doesn't mean Scorpius is too. I can't believe you'd think that."
"I'm sorry," said Harry. "I was just concerned, that's all. Not so much worried that you might be gay," he found it much easier to say the word now that his son had assured him it didn't apply, "more that if you did happen to be, it might well make your life more difficult. As your father, of course I want everything to go smoothly for you. You understand."
"Sure, but you've heard me talking about girls for years. That ought to have been a pretty good clue."
"People can change," Harry pointed out. "Scorpius's dad did. At least, he used to be married, and I remember him dating girls when we were at Hogwarts."
"I suppose. But I'm not gay, as far as I know, and Scorpius I are just really good friends who want to be flatmates to save money and have someone around. It would be pretty lonely otherwise."
"All right, then." Harry stood up. "Thank you for telling me."
In August, Albus moved out. As they had done with James, Harry and Ginny gave him a sum of money towards buying furniture, and the whole family helped him move the rest of his things. Harry saw Ginny nodding to herself when they visited the flat after Albus and Scorpius had settled in and arranged it. He supposed that she was pleased at how their younger son had grown up. Only one more in the nest, now, and only for another short two years. Harry found that he had mixed emotions about the prospect; what would he and Ginny do when the children were all gone?
It was as they were standing on the platform a year later, waving goodbye to Lily through the train windows, as she went off for her final year at Hogwarts, that Ginny said, "We need to talk."
"All right." Harry kissed her cheek. "Tonight at dinner, if that's okay?"
"We could talk now. I've taken the whole day off work," said Ginny.
"Well, I didn't," said Harry, "so I have to go. But I shouldn't be late tonight. Sorry, but you didn't warn me, and I got an urgent owl this morning before we left; some witch accidentally turned all her socks into pixies. I don't even have time to go to the office first." He kissed her again and hurried off.
As he had promised, Harry was home shortly after five o'clock. "Ginny?"
"I'm in the kitchen."
She was sitting at the table, looking – Harry couldn't decide how to describe what he saw on her face.
"What is it, Ginny?" he asked with concern. "Is there bad news? One of the children?"
"Harry, I..." she paused and swallowed. "I'm leaving."
"I wasn't going to do this until next year, when Lily will be out of school," she said. "But Euan is moving to Canada this autumn; he's been offered a very good post in the Ministry there, and I want to go with him."
Suddenly Harry's legs didn't seem able to hold him, and he sank down onto the chair. "Euan?" His brain was spinning. "Euan McGregor, that bloke at your office?"
Ginny nodded, tears in her eyes. "I didn't intend for it to happen this way."
"What way? Telling me that you're having an affair with another man? Running off with him?" Cold pain spread through Harry's chest as he spoke the words.
"No." She shook her head violently. "We haven't... I've never been unfaithful to you. But I've fallen in love with him. I'm so sorry."
It seemed as though he ought to be angry. Even if Ginny had not – yet – had any physical relationship with Euan, the simple fact that they had become so emotionally close that she intended to leave Harry was itself a betrayal of their marriage.. Harry waited for the anger to come, but it didn't. All he felt was a vast and numbed surprise.
"Harry?" Ginny's voice was anxious.
He shook his head. "I can't... I don't know what I can say. This is a complete surprise to me; you never even hinted that you were unhappy."
"I wasn't. But I was... drifting, I suppose. Just letting everything go on as it always had done without really thinking about it, about whether I was happy or unhappy. I'm sorry," she repeated.
"Is the bed in the spare room made up?" Harry asked. It was still early evening, but he had no wish to continue this conversation.
"Good. I'll sleep there tonight."
"I'm the one who –" started Ginny.
"No, I will. You know you don't sleep well in strange beds, and it doesn't bother me."
Tears slid down Ginny's cheeks again, but Harry couldn't cope with that right now. He was unexpectedly hungry, so he made himself a sandwich and ate, washing it down with a glass of pumpkin juice as Ginny watched in silence. "We can talk about this again tomorrow," he said finally, and went upstairs where he curled up in the unfamiliar guest bed and tried to remember how to breathe. He watched the sunlight creep across the wall and finally fade altogether before he fell asleep.
For a while after that, time seemed to behave oddly, perhaps because of the feeling of detachment that continued to pervade Harry's emotions. He let Ginny decide on her schedule for leaving. He did insist that she should tell all three children in person, and that he would go with her to Hogsmeade when she told Lily, since Ginny didn't want to wait for the Christmas holiday. That choice Harry agreed with; it would ruin that Christmas and probably many in the future as well. Better by far to tell Lily well beforehand and let her get used to the idea.
They decided that if Harry was going to be there when Lily learned what was happening, he should also be there for James and Albus. They had the two boys home for Sunday dinner one week in October, for once requesting that neither bring his flatmate or any other guest along.
The boys took the news with apparent calm, but afterward Albus asked his father privately, "Was it really all Mum's idea?"
"Completely hers, yes." Harry tried to smile at his son. "Why?"
Albus shrugged. "I don't know. I just wondered. Look, you know that after Mum leaves you're going to be pretty lonesome, rattling around in this house by yourself."
"I'm sure I'll get used to it," said Harry.
"Yeah, but maybe we should do some sort of father-son thing every couple of weeks. Dinner or go to a Quidditch match or whatever you feel like." Albus looked a little uncomfortable. "The two of us and James if he's free, maybe sometimes Scorpius and his dad or someone else. So you get out of the house with someone besides Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione occasionally."
"All right," said Harry, with a touch of amusement at Albus's concern. It did seem fitting, though, that the child who was most like him would be the one to worry most about him.
By early November, Ginny was gone. The children reported that she had arrived in Canada safely and was settling in, although she missed them, of course. Harry made certain that he wrote often to Lily at Hogwarts, at least twice a week, although he told her that she didn't need to reply to each of his letters if she was too busy.
Christmas was most un-holiday-like that year. After some discussion, all four of them went to the Burrow for the day itself, as Harry had done since before even James was born. Harry felt terribly awkward about it, despite Molly and Arthur's assurances that they would always consider him a son, regardless of whether he was married to Ginny or not. But it felt strange to him to be there without her; he kept looking for her unconsciously, as he no longer did at home.
Things were a little better in the new year. Two of his colleagues had been injured in the course of their work – they had been dealing with a particularly tricky situation in which an Engorgement Charm had been placed on a doxy, rather than a Stunning Spell – and another had retired, so Harry was busy at work. He welcomed the distraction of it. He saw Albus regularly every other weekend, James a little less so, and gradually fell into a routine.
The Daily Prophet, of course, had had a field day when Ginny's separation from Harry became publicly known. Harry had to borrow a house-elf from Hogwarts to help him cope with the flood of mail he received: some was notes of condolence, but some was rather less palatable. The propositions of various natures, mostly from witches with a few wizards tossed into the mix, varied and sometimes verged on the offensive. Harry gave the elf a short list of names of people whose letters he wanted to be certain to see. The rest were to be sorted out and replied to with appropriate form letters, or ignored altogether.
Draco Malfoy was on the short list, and Harry had received a brief note from him in the autumn. Their lunches together had gradually ceased, but it had been cheering to hear from someone so unconnected to his usual life. Ron and Hermione were just too close, sometimes, especially since Ron was Ginny's brother. While Harry occasionally had a drink with Dean Thomas, they tended to talk about work since they were both in the same department at the Ministry.
Another letter from Draco arrived in late January.
I hope the holidays weren't too hard on you, and I'm sorry I haven't been in better touch. Perhaps you'd like to meet for lunch again, or else have a drink together ?
Harry had meant to answer, but somehow Draco's letter had fallen to the bottom of a whole pile of things and he didn't rediscover it for several weeks.
My apologies for not answering sooner. Chalk it up to Gryffindor carelessness. Can I buy you lunch sometime?
He had a reply the next day.
I would be delighted to permit you to buy me lunch. 12.30 Saturday at Aujourd'hui.
Harry grinned despite himself when he read the note. Aujourd'hui was perhaps the most exclusive wizarding restaurant in Britain. He would have to hope that his name would secure him a reservation at this late a date.
It did. Harry didn't especially like trading on his fame, but he did it rarely enough that he didn't feel too badly about taking advantage of it this time. When they met there at the appointed hour, Draco was suitably impressed.
"I didn't really think you'd be able to get in," he said as he handed his coat to the waiter and sat down. "I thought you'd owl me to suggest somewhere else."
Harry shrugged, a little embarrassed. "I Floo-called them, and they said that of course they could find a table for me whenever I wished." He looked around. "Do you eat here often? Anything you'd recommend?"
"The lamb with pomegranate glaze is very good. I've also been happy with every fish dish that I've had here. I don't think you'll go wrong with anything you choose." Draco glanced at the menu, nodded to himself, and put it down. "I actually suggested Aujourd'hui because of the service, not the food. They're very discreet, as I've had occasion to find out."
Harry glanced around and saw their waiter hovering just beyond earshot. A lift of the finger and he came to take their orders, then disappeared again. "I see what you mean."
"How are you, Harry? Seriously." There was an unexpected warmth in Draco's smile. "If you apologised for taking a while to answer my letter last month, I'm really the one who ought to apologise for not having been in touch sooner. I heard about your separation from Scorpius before it was in the papers, and it was remiss of me not to have made more of an effort. That I was busy is no excuse. How bad was it all?"
"It's... well, it was quite a shock," Harry admitted. "I hadn't even realised that Ginny's feelings toward me had changed."
Draco nodded sympathetically. "That must have been difficult, especially after so many years of marriage. I have to say that I've never been in any relationship that lasted nearly so long."
"How many relationships have you had?" Harry asked, genuinely curious but mostly wanting to deflect the conversation away from his own woes. Talking so freely about his emotions made him uncomfortable. It always had.
"How many?" Draco chuckled. "Well, counting only the serious ones... eleven or twelve, I suppose. Rather a lot more if you include the brief flings."
Harry blinked. "Do you enjoy that?"
"Oh, I don't know. It's just how things seemed to work out. I wouldn't say no to something that lasted longer, but I don't seem able to meet the type of bloke that I could really settle down with," Draco said. He took a sip of wine, grey eyes gazing over the rim of the glass.
"Even if you find someone like that, there's no guarantee that they'll feel the same way in return. Not forever," said Harry, his voice slightly bitter.
The waiter arrived then with their meal and they fell silent for a few minutes, eating.
"This is marvellous," said Harry with more enthusiasm than he'd felt for a long time. The combination of flavours was not quite like anything he'd ever had before.
Draco looked pleased. "I'm glad you like it."
They left the topic of relationships delicately alone after that, talking instead of their sons and Quidditch and the latest doings at the Ministry. When the meal was over, Draco smiled at Harry and held out his hand.
"I really enjoyed this, Harry. Perhaps we should start doing it regularly again? Having lunch, that is, not necessarily here."
"That sounds very pleasant," said Harry. He reached to take Draco's hand, then reconsidered. Draco had been used to hug him, a couple of years before, and a little awkwardly Harry returned the gesture. "Why don't you owl me in a week or two?"
They met for lunch several more times in February and March, with Draco generally choosing the restaurants. In the last week of March, he made Harry a somewhat unexpected proposal.
"Are you doing anything for the Easter holidays?"
Harry shook his head. "Lily is staying at Hogwarts to revise for her N.E.W.T.s. I hadn't made any plans for myself yet."
"Perhaps you'd like to have Easter dinner with me, at my parents' house? I gather that Scorpius and Albus have plans with their girlfriends, and it doesn't seem right that you should spend the holiday all alone."
"Are you sure your parents will want me there?" Harry hadn't seen either of the elder Malfoys in years. He'd thought vaguely of going to the Burrow, but if none of his children went, it would feel very strange. Easter with the Malfoys might be uncomfortable, but at least he'd be expecting the awkwardness.
"Oh yes. They'll be happy to have you, I'm sure."
"All right then, I'll come."
"Wonderful. Why don't you plan to arrive about one o'clock; you can take the Floo."
Harry had never become fond of Floo travel, but he had certainly grown accustomed to it over the years. On Easter Sunday he stepped out of the Malfoy fireplace with scarcely a wobble and brushed himself off briskly.
"Harry." Narcissa Malfoy came towards him with her hands held out. "How very nice to see you again." She was as slim and pale as ever, but her face had softened, less arrogant than it once was, in the same way that Draco too had mellowed over the years.
"Thank you so much for inviting me," said Harry, clasping her hand briefly. "Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy."
Lucius Malfoy had risen stiffly from his armchair, clearly needing the cane that he had formerly used only for affectation. He inclined his head toward Harry. "Lucius, please."
"And Narcissa," his wife added. "Would you like a glass of wine, Harry?"
Harry saw that Draco and his parents were all drinking, so he nodded. "Thank you."
Dinner was not to be served until four o'clock, it transpired. The conversation was surprisingly pleasant, however, and for a good bit of the time Narcissa and Draco showed Harry over the house and grounds, Narcissa apologising that the latter were on the barren side as it was a late spring. Lucius remained behind, his bad leg not up to the challenge of a lengthy walk.
"Your parents seem quite content together," said Harry quietly to Draco when they were back in the drawing room, seizing a moment when Lucius and Narcissa were reminiscing about an Easter they had once spent in the south of France.
"They are." Draco's expression was soft, with a hint of envy, as he looked over at his parents. "It was an arranged marriage, you know, but they've always been very happy. They feel it's too bad that it didn't work out the same way for me, but they've had to accept reality, although it did take rather a long time. At least I gave them a grandson first. That helped."
The meal was delicious – a choice of ham or roast duck, which surprised Harry for a moment until he recalled that of course house-elves must have been responsible for the lavish preparation. The wine flowed freely and by the end of the meal Harry felt more than a little lightheaded.
"Are you all right to get home, Harry?" Draco asked in an undertone. "I'm still fairly sober; I could take you via Side-Along, if you wanted."
Harry thought about it, rather muzzily. "All right."
He thanked the Malfoys for a lovely time, and then Draco's arm was around his shoulder, guiding him out of the room.
"I'm just going to see that Harry gets home safely," he heard Draco say to his parents.
Side-Along Apparition, as usual, left Harry feeling dizzy; combined with what he had drunk, it was bad enough that he nearly fell over when they arrived, pulling Draco down with him.
"Whoops!" Draco steadied them both. "I think I'd better take you up and put you to bed. Do you have any hangover potion?"
"In the bathroom," Harry mumbled as Draco helped him upstairs. He sat on the edge of the bed and let Draco pull off his shoes, then gratefully lay down. His eyes closed as soon as his head touched the pillow.
He woke in the grey light of dawn, his head splitting. As he peered at the clock to see what time it was, he saw a bottle of hangover potion and a glass sitting on the bedside table. There was a note propped up against the glass. Harry poured himself a healthy dose and drank it off, grimacing at the taste, before picking up the note to read it.
I hope you're feeling all right. You fell asleep too quickly for me to suggest that you take a dose of potion first, so I left it by your bed as you've seen. I'm glad you came over for Easter. Send me an owl sometime soon.
Harry started to smile but desisted when it increased his slowly ebbing headache. Drunk he might have been yesterday, but at least he hadn't made too big a fool of himself. It had actually been rather pleasant, Easter with the Malfoys, more so than he had expected. He would owl Draco later that week. In the meantime, he wrote a proper note of thanks to Narcissa and Lucius.
Lily took her N.E.W.T.s in June, spent a fortnight with her mother in Canada, and then came home to gloom around the house, biting her nails, until her results arrived. She had applied for a position at St. Mungo's in the ward for Creature-Induced Injuries, but needed to have at least an E in both Care of Magical Creatures and Charms, and an O in Potions, before she could join the staff.
In the meantime, she and several other girls from her year – two Hufflepuffs and a Slytherin, Harry thought they were – were looking at flats they could share. Soon Harry would be rattling around the big house alone, for good.
He found to his surprise that he didn't mind the idea as much as he'd once expected. Lily might have officially been living at home for the past year, but since she'd been away at Hogwarts, he'd become accustomed to having no one else in the house. When Lily's N.E.W.T. results arrived – Es and Os in every subject except for an A in Ancient Runes, quite good enough for St. Mungo's to take her – he saw his daughter move out with more contentment than regret.
Between them he generally saw at least one child every week or two, and had continued his lunches with Draco Malfoy. Ron and Hermione asked him over regularly, as did Dean Thomas and his wife, Evadne, a Muggle-born witch who was about ten years younger than Dean and worked at Flourish & Blotts. Altogether Harry found that he had plenty of company, and if occasionally his nights were lonely, that was better than the bed-hopping that both the Daily Prophet and some of its readers seemed to expect from him, judging from the mail that continued to arrive in large quantities. Occasionally he'd flipped through some of the letters, shaking his head, before returning them to the house-elf to deal with.
Ron and Hermione didn't try to fix up Harry with anyone new, understandably, but Dean – or rather Evadne – eventually did. In September Harry arrived one evening to find a woman whom he vaguely recognized sitting in the Thomas living room, smiling brightly at him.
"Harry, you remember Morag MacDougal, don't you? She was a Ravenclaw, our year," Dean said.
"Hello, Harry. It's been quite a long time, hasn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose it has," agreed Harry. He made game if somewhat tense conversation until Evadne disappeared into the kitchen and Morag excused herself for a moment, then leaned toward Dean and whispered fiercely, "Dean, what were you thinking? This is like a blind date with no warning!"
Dean's expression was embarrassed. "Sorry, mate. Evadne thought you seemed lonesome last time you were here, and insisted that we should do this. I couldn't convince her otherwise."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Try harder next time, will you?"
The evening passed off pleasantly enough, although Harry carefully refrained from suggesting that he take Morag home that night, or agreeing to meet her again.
When he arrived home himself, he thought about the last time that he'd come home with someone; it hadn't been with Ginny, but rather Draco, last Easter when Draco had helped him return safely. Harry had a sudden memory of Draco's arm around his shoulders, comforting without being intrusive.
The thought returned to him intermittently over the next few days. How had Draco felt about it, he wondered. It had seemed an impersonal although friendly gesture at the time, but perhaps there had been more to it? If Morag, for instance, had done the same thing, she would probably have had more than friendship in mind, and if Harry had made a similar gesture toward someone, he might have, too.
Harry felt somewhat awkward the next time that he met with Draco for lunch, and gave Draco covert glances while they ate, wondering if in fact Draco had had ulterior motives in asking him to Easter dinner and taking him home afterward. On the other hand, he certainly hadn't taken any advantage of Harry in his inebriated state, nor had he said or done anything since that suggested that his feelings towards Harry were anything more than what they had been, from all the evidence, for years: a friendship that had begun because of their sons, yet had ultimately come to stand on its own.
"What is it with you today, Harry?" Draco finally asked. "You've been as twitchy as a toad watching flies this whole time. Is there something wrong at work?"
"No," said Harry, looking down at his plate. "There's nothing wrong at work. Busy, but that's usual."
Draco gave him a somewhat sceptical glance. "You just seem bothered by something. Of course if it's personal, then tell me to mind my own business."
Blood heated Harry's cheeks. "Not exactly personal," he mumbled. "Just... Dean and Evadne Thomas tried to fix me up with someone the last time I was at their place for dinner."
"Not someone you much liked?" guessed Draco.
"No. Morag MacDougal; I don't know if you remember her. She was a Ravenclaw, our year. I suppose she's not really that bad, but we just had nothing in common." Harry chuckled. "She works at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and spent all evening talking about the nesting habits of Grindylows."
"Ah." Draco rolled his eyes. "Not exactly the sort of thing that would interest me, either. Do they often try to set you up with someone?"
"This was the first time. I suppose they felt that it's been almost a year since Ginny left, and that perhaps I might be ready to move on."
"And are you?" Draco cocked his head.
"I don't know. I still miss Ginny sometimes, although I know she won't come back... and most of the time I wouldn't even want her to."
Draco nodded thoughtfully. "That's understandable. If you were considering seeing someone new, what would you be looking for? Maybe I know someone you'd like." He folded his hands and rested his chin on them.
Harry considered. "I don't know... anything that I might say sounds rather like the personals in a Muggle newspaper. You know, or maybe you don't. 'Divorced white male, three grown kids, enjoys walks, good food, conversation. Nonsmoker, light drinker. Seeks same.'"
Draco's eyebrows shot up. "'Seeks same'?"
Belatedly Harry realised what he said. "Seeks someone who enjoys similar things," he clarified hastily.
"Ah," said Draco. Harry saw a flicker of an emotion he couldn't identify cross Draco's face. "And here I wondered if I'd mistaken you all along."
He had thought about Harry as something more than a friend, then, even if he'd never acted on it. Harry decided that he should be flattered that Draco had been – still was? – interested, though he was also somewhat relieved that Draco had made no issue of the matter up till now. He found himself flushing hotly.
"I've never actually considered it," he muttered.
"Well, if you ever do..." The sentence trailed off, and Draco gave a chuckle as if to show that he was merely joking, but Harry suspected that he wasn't, not entirely at least. The thought made him squirm a little, the more so because of the way that Harry had been remembering the feel of Draco's arms around him for the past week.
"I should be getting back to work," he said, hastily tossing some money on the table. "The next fortnight or so is probably going to be rather busy for me, in fact; how about if I owl you in several weeks?"
"Whenever you like," Draco said agreeably, although there was a hint of disappointment in his voice. "I think the boys had talked about a Quidditch match the Sunday after next, so perhaps I'll see you then."
Sure enough, Albus let his father know that he and Scorpius, James and Lily, and a number of their various friends and love interests were planning to make a day of it at the next Harpies-Tornados match, and did Harry want to come along with them? The two teams were battling to be top of the standings that season.
Harry sent a note back agreeing that he would indeed enjoy going, although he knew that the youngsters would probably be a little rowdy for his taste these days. But if Draco were there, as seemed likely, then Harry would have someone to talk with.
In fact they ended up sitting together, slightly apart from the younger crowd. There were plans for Harry to have dinner with his children afterward if the match didn't go on too long, and Scorpius and Draco were to join the Potters as well. In the meantime, though, the two older men sat together in the stands, drinking mugs of hot pumpkin juice and discussing the finer points of the game. Neither of the teams playing was one in which either man had a particular interest, so they agreed to cheer on the Harpies for the day, although the match was being held in Tutshill. When the Harpies won, with a truly spectacular catch of the Snitch by their Seeker, snatching it right out from under the opposing Seeker's nose, Draco pulled Harry into an enthusiastic embrace before looking a little embarrassed and letting go.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." he began, but Harry cut him off.
"Don't worry about it." He meant what he said; there was no reason for Draco to think that Harry might be upset by such a spontaneous hug in the excitement of winning. Then his brain registered something. He was almost certain that Draco had had an erection under those robes. He didn't say anything about it, though. It was simpler to just pretend that it hadn't happened.
Late that night in bed, however, he thought about it some more. He wasn't concerned that Draco might suddenly proposition him; past events seemed to prove that Draco was not going to make any such move, not unless Harry in some way indicated that he might be interested first. Was he interested, that was the question.
Since leaving school he'd always been so committed to Ginny had it had never occurred to him to explore other options seriously; not other women – he had an eye for a pretty witch, certainly, but that didn't mean he would ever do anything about it – and absolutely not other men, his earlier and short-lived wish to experiment with Ron long since over. He'd been concerned when he thought that Albus might possibly be gay; did he really want to try going in that direction himself? He imagined what it might be like to, for instance, kiss Draco. It seemed as if it would be odd to do that with a man, who would have the stubble of hair on his cheeks and chin instead of the smooth softness of a woman's face. On the other hand, there was a certain attractiveness in the idea of being with someone who would be as... strong as he. Not that Ginny had been in any way a frail flower, but kissing a man who might seize control... Harry felt his cock stir in a way that it hadn't in a long time.
He didn't let his imagination go much further than that, but he returned to it repeatedly over the next few days, becoming almost obsessed with the idea. Not that he actually thought he was queer, he assured himself, he just wanted to see what kissing another man might be like, and there really was no reason not to, now that he was single again and his children were grown; there was no one to be disturbed.
Curious though he was, Harry had trouble deciding whether or not to act on his curiosity. If, as he now strongly suspected, Draco fancied him, he could be leading Draco on rather, particularly if it turned out that he, Harry, didn't actually enjoy kissing another man after all. On the other hand, he was interested enough to want to try it, and there weren't exactly a lot of choices for such experimentation. Harry could feel reasonably secure that Draco wouldn't go running off to the Daily Prophet, for instance. Besides, if he did like it, and the more he thought about it the more expected that to be the result, then it might be a good plan to be with someone who had quite a bit of experience. Just in case.
In the end he decided that if he was going to make a fool of himself, it might as well be in the privacy of his own home.
Would you like to come to tea next Saturday at my house, at four o'clock? Reply only if you can't make it.
"It's been awhile since I've been here," Draco remarked as he chose a cucumber sandwich. "I think the last time must have been when you had Scorpius and me over for dinner several years ago and Charlie Weasley was visiting."
"Probably," agreed Harry. He recalled bits of their conversation that evening, and flushed slightly. "A lot has changed since then."
"Certainly for you it has." Draco chewed his bite and swallowed. "Do you know what you're doing for the holidays? With the children grown and living on their own, there's a certain lack of importance to those now, for me at any rate."
Harry shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it yet; they're still more than a month away. I think that Ginny is lobbying for at least one of the children to come and visit her and Euan in Canada, probably James. Lily said something about her mother wanting to let me be able to spend Christmas at the Weasleys' if I wanted, which is thoughtful." He took a sip of tea, frowned, and stirred in another spoonful of sugar.
"If you decide not to spend it at your ex-in-laws', you'd be welcome at the Manor again, you know," said Draco quietly. "My mother enjoyed having you there at Easter very much; she's asked after you more than once since."
"Really?" Harry felt ridiculously pleased to hear that, even though he didn't especially care about Narcissa Malfoy's opinion of him.
"Yes. But of course, if you have other plans, that's perfectly understandable." Draco settled back against the sofa cushions. He looked relaxed and comfortable, and Harry spared a moment to think how odd it was to see how far they had come in – could really be thirty-five years since he had first met the pointy-faced and insufferable young Draco at Madam Malkin's? It had only been in perhaps the last ten years that they had shifted from enmity to cool politeness to a friendship that was close enough for Harry to be seriously considering the idea of kissing Draco.
With regard to which... well, there was no time like the present, Harry supposed. If he intended to do this at all, he should get on with it.
"Draco." His voice seemed unnaturally loud and stilted.
"What is it, Harry?"
"I, er." Harry paused, swallowed a gulp of tea, and went on. "I wondered if you would kiss me?"
Draco blinked. Without shifting his eyes away from Harry's face, he leaned forward and carefully set down his plate and cup. "You want me to kiss you."
"I'm not sure," Harry confessed. "I'm... I've been thinking about it for a while. I've never, er, never kissed another man."
"So this would be in the nature of an experiment?" Draco's eyebrows went up. "Why ask me, though?"
"I don't know that many men who are, you know, gay." Harry shrugged uncomfortably. "There's Charlie, but he's in Romania and anyway he's Ginny's brother. It would be too strange."
"Is that all you want? A kiss?" Draco raked him with a sharp glance.
"Yes. For now anyway."
"All right." Patting the cushion beside him on the sofa, Draco said, "You should move here."
Harry set down his cup and changed seats. He had been this close to Draco only a few times; absentmindedly he realised that he could see a few white strands among with Draco's fair hair, and thought ruefully of his own salt-and-pepper appearance. Draco's arms coming around him brought him back to the present.
"A kiss is just a kiss, really," Draco murmured, whether to himself or to Harry, Harry wasn't sure. Then Draco's lips met his.
They were warm and surprisingly soft, for all the firm intensity of the kiss. Draco seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then his tongue swiped across Harry's upper lip, and Harry let his mouth open to it.
Apparently kissing was like flying a broom; one didn't forget how. Even though it had been over a year since Harry had last kissed anyone so intimately, it was easy and familiar and not nearly as different from kissing a woman as Harry had thought it might be. One of Draco's hands came up to cup his jaw, a thumb stroking the edge of his ear, and Harry shivered, his tongue thrusting more deeply into Draco's mouth. He heard Draco make a small noise in his throat – or had that been Harry himself?
They broke off, staring at each other, both of them breathing hard.
"Oh," said Harry.
"Oh, indeed." Draco's lips curved in what might have been intended as a smirk, but came out as more a smile of wonderment. "I didn't expect that."
"Neither did I." Harry swallowed and reached out to touch Draco's lips. "Perhaps you'd like to stay for more than tea?"
"Are you asking for more than a kiss, now?"
"Yes, I think I am. I am," Harry repeated more firmly as he accepted the pleasure he'd experienced. Years of small, half-noticed incidents began to make sense to him now. He met Draco's querying look with a nod. "Much more. If that's all right with you."
"Very much so." Draco put his arms around Harry again, dropping a kiss on each eyelid in turn and then returning to Harry's mouth.
It was as Harry had imagined, this strength he felt as Draco's lips and tongue explored him. He felt a slow heat rising, unlike anything he'd had with Ginny even in their early days, when they'd tended to tumble frantically into bed, making love as if drinking gulps of water to quench a thirst as quickly as possible, rather than savouring the experience. And later... how could he not have realised that it had all turned to habit, even indifference?
He could smell what must be the shampoo Draco used, sandalwood he thought, a warm scent that in combination with Draco's kisses left him deliciously relaxed and yet aroused. Tentatively he rested his hands on Draco's back, sliding them down to curve around his waist, and felt Draco shift to bring them closer.
"A sofa is a bit awkward, don't you think?"
Harry admitted as much. It seemed to make everything more serious, more real, to be walking with Draco toward the bedroom he'd once shared with his wife, fumbling at the fastenings of each other's clothing, but this, he decided, was exactly where he wanted to be at this time. He hadn't felt so alive in years. Decades. Every nerve in his body seemed to have been sensitised, so that as Draco tugged the shirt from his shoulders, the sheer movement of the air over his bared skin was as much stimulation as he thought he could stand.
He was wrong. Draco touched and teased, stroked and suckled him in ways that Harry had only hazily envisioned. He tried to reciprocate, but Draco shook his head.
"Not this time. I want to do this for you, Harry."
Draco's face and chest were flushed, his hair rumpled, and there was a streak of moisture across his cheek. Harry thought he'd never seen anything so sexy in his life, not even the first time he'd seen Ginny naked. He nodded acceptance, and let Draco take him to heights of passion beyond any he'd known.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asked Draco drowsily, afterward, as they lay tangled together in a nest of white sheets. Draco chuckled.
"What could I have said? I gave you hints, here and there, but it's not as if you ever picked up on any of them... and until a year ago you were married and seemed happy with your life as it was. So I decided to take what you were willing to give, your friendship, and make that enough."
"I thought I was happy," said Harry, "but now I think I just assumed that I was, because I had everything I'd told myself I wanted: career in the Ministry, marriage to Ginny, three great kids. I never stopped to question whether there could be anything different, anything more." He rested his head on Draco's chest, hearing the beat of Draco's heart. "I should have."
"Maybe." Draco tightened his embrace. "But now you can, if you want to."
"I do." Harry threaded his fingers through Draco's. "Draco."
"For the holidays... let's go to Greece together. I want to see the light there, with you."
Dear Albus and Lily,
We're having a splendid time here in Greece, seeing the ancient temples and travelling to the different islands. Albus, you might have said more about how beautiful it is. Even now in winter there is just something about this place that is truly awe-inspiring.
I hope you are enjoying Christmas with your grandparents; give them my love, and to James also when he Floo-calls next. Draco sends his greetings too.