Fic: My Old Ways, 4/6 (Harry/Draco, NC-17) for heathen_ursidae Author:derryere Recipient:heathen_ursidae Title: My Old Ways Rating: NC-17 Pairing(s): Harry/Draco Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters engaging in sexual activity are 16 years or older. Also, Nick Hornby's How To Be Good has inspired so much of this it needs to be credited/praised to a sickening degree. Summary: In trying to become a better person, Harry seeks the help of a certain professional. Warnings: *deep breath* plot-induced OOCness, AU for serious muggle lifestyle, language, boysex, hetsex, crack, feelings, flangst, canon-pairings, first-person, a lot of words, and the weird. Loads of weird. Word Count: 54K Author's Notes: Hellooo, heathen_ursidae! One of your prompts mentioned 'an awkward moment escaping an orgy gone wrong', and that's where I started. Originally. Where I ended up is—Well, the orgy somehow disappeared while the awkward and the things going wrong stayed put. Despite the lack of that main element, I hope very, very, very very very much that you might still enjoy some of it :) I'd like to thank the mods for giving me more time than anyone should get, and my beta, J, who did this at a superhuman speed. Any remaining mistakes are the product of own stoopid.
9. THESE FRIENDS OF MINE, I TELL YOU . . .
the story of how everyone sold out. But whatever. Who needs friends anyway, right?
The next couple of days mean the death of my valiant yet short-lived attempt at being a Better Person (again). If Draco Malfoy is the epitome of change for the better, then I have decided—after living with him for less than a handful of days—that change is a very, very bad thing. What's even more, I begin to resent it. The word 'better' suddenly leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth, and I find myself sneering at the mere mention of it.
And it is mentioned. Oh god is it mentioned.
Let me tell you something about how crazy Draco Malfoy is. That first day, when I come back from work, I find him upstairs in the hallway, dragging a mattress out of my room. When he sees me standing on the staircase, gaping, he nods a smile in my direction and says,
"Give me a hand, will you?"
"What," I exhale, "in the name of all that is holy, are you doing?"
"Well, I figured, since you don't need two mattresses anymore that you wouldn't mind my burrowing one of yours."
"What the bloody hell is wrong with the guestroom bed?"
"Well," he starts, dropping one end of the mattress on seeing he's going to have to explain this to me in detail. "It's a camp bed. Which means it has a bed frame attached."
I shake my head minutely at him, once, to show that I still have no idea what he's talking about. Draco, clearly finding me unnaturally slow, patiently leans back against the doorway.
"I don't believe in bed frames," he tells me.
"Right. You grew up in a house with talking portraits, which was fine, but bed frames—that you don't believe in."
"There's no need to be nasty about it. If you don't understand my reasons, Harry, all you have to do is ask. I'll be more than happy to explain."
"All right. All right. Tell me, then, Oh mighty Fixit, why the shit do you think it's okay for you to nick my girlfriend's mattress?" It takes me a second before—"Ex. Ex girlfriend."
"Language," he admonishes, then adds, "I would've taken the mattress from the bed you gave me, really, but it doesn't have a mattress. It's a camp bed. And I don't believe in elevated forms of sleeping. I just don't think it's healthy to be spending that much time so distanced from the ground."
"We're on the first floor," I remind him.
"It's a psychological thing," he assures.
"Wow," I say, and abruptly turn to walk back down the stairs. I'm sure I'll be able to deal with this much better after a drink.
"Are you choosing not to help me, Harry?" he calls after.
"Indeed," I reply without looking. "Not helping you is indeed my choice."
It doesn't end there. After sleeping on a one-mattress king-sized bed (my hand aimlessly dangling on the wooden planks where once was a neighbouring pillow), I wake up to find my refrigerator decorated with a list of rules, aptly named—"New Rules to Go With Your New Life". I won't even go through all of them, but suffice to say that 'no swearing' and 'no sarcasm' are on there. I don't know how to deal with it, so I do the only thing I can think of: I add another one to the list, telling Draco where to go, what to purchase, and where to insert it. Maybe that isn't the most mature thing to have done. I don't really care quite that much though.
I don't know where the turning point comes when I realise that taking in insane Draco Malfoy is probably the biggest mistake of my young adult life. Probably after he tries to throw away the guestroom's wireless under the pretence that electric appliances mess up his meditation. If not, then walking in on him doing said meditating on the kitchen table definitely drives the point home.
I decide to give it, the idea of goodness and all that it entails, one more try before giving up forever. On the fourth day I tell Draco that yes, maybe I'm being a bit jumpy and uncooperative, but that I really do want to learn, and if we could please go and do some good now. He barely spares me a glance before saying,
"No. You're not ready."
We're in his room. Well, the guestroom, which I suppose is now somehow his room. He's doing some of that meditation nonsense on my mattress and I'm standing in the doorway—leaning against the frame, cross-armed and irritated.
"I'm what now?"
"You're not ready to fix other people," he tells me, eyes still firmly shut, palms facing up on his knees. "You need to fix yourself first."
"What? I don't need fixing."
"Harry, I know half-dead people who are in a better spiritual shape than you. You need it so bad you don't even know it."
"Fuck you!" I tell him. "Who the fuck are—"
"—If you don't understand me, Harry, please formulate either your questions or feelings in a more forward manner. I can't respond when you blow a fuse like that."
"Oh, you want forward?" I grab one of the fogotten slippers I gave him (and he refuses to wear), and throw it at his head. It bounces off with a hollow thud, and I am so freaking pleased with my aim. To this he opens his eyes, slowly, as if he expected me to do that and is disappointed I did it anyway.
"How's that forward for you?" I ask, cocking my head at him. He just raises a single brow, and I've had enough of it. I snort dismissively, giving the impression I'm somehow above him even though I feel petty somehow—small. I stalk off moodily.
I take off after that. I try Ron's place, keeping to my promise of straightening things out—secretly hoping he's already snapped out of it, and that I won't have to own up quite so much—but there's no one home. I end up walking around town aimlessly, thinking about showing up at that girl Susan's house—Ginny's friend—because whatever it is that's messed up between the both of us, it can't be worse than what's going on in my home at this moment. And she'd know how to fix all of this, definitely. Ginny wouldn't fall for that crazy Fixit shit, too. We'd kick him out together, perhaps drop him off at some institute. Already I can't remember why I wanted change so bad. I can't remember why I thought it necessary to ask Ginny to marry me right now, I don't remember why it bothered me I wasn't the same person I was when I was seventeen, all of it is gone—all there is now is annoyance and that bitter feeling of having screwed up, and getting stuck with the consequences.
Toward the early evening I find myself in a street I recognise. Then I know why: it's where the orphanage is. It was one of my first projects, and it was absolute chaos and a small disaster. It took us months longer than expected, we didn't have the money and people didn't really get why we were doing it in the first place.
Pleased, I half-walk, half-jog down the street until the building comes into view. It's like I remember it, only dirtier now, less shiny. Smiling, I push past the front gate and start toward the entrance. At the door I ask to see Mrs Tanner, who I remember to be the one in charge. In her office, sitting across from the short, stout lady with mad-curly grey hair and small spectacles, I try to explain my cause.
"So let me get this straight," she says, tightly. "You want to help us by . . ."
"Doing good, yes."
"By doing good. But you don't want to donate in any way."
"No, it's—it's not that I don't want to. It's just that I want to do good. To, you know, take the kids out to the cinema, perhaps? Read to them? Don't you guys have like . . . programs, for that kind of stuff?"
"No," she tells me, seriously.
Uncomfortable, I feel the need to add: "I helped build this place, you know."
"The roof leaks."
"Oh," I say, swallowing. Mrs Tanner stares at me, deeply displeased, and I can feel myself blushing. "Then uhm . . . I guess I'll just. . . leave?"
Her sharp silence is all the reply I need. I push back the chair and all but flee, my face still flushed as I make my way back to the street. My embarrassment, though, slowly turns into moody anger the closer I get back home. By the time that I see my living room windows in the distance, curtains open and the lights on in all the rooms, I am close to true and honest ire.
It all hits rock bottom when I shuffle into the hallway, toeing off my shoes and throwing the keys on the small table by the door, and I hear voices coming from the living room. Voices.
I rush down the hall, turn to see who's there and what kind of bums Draco invited into my house and point fingers and shout, and scream and blow some serious steam, but am completely unprepared for the sight awaiting me:
Draco, sitting in the big chair, quietly addressing the crowd of three people: Hermione on the couch, a fascinated expression on her face as she half-leans into Ron, who looks particularly smug, and Neville—on a chair they dragged from the kitchen, leaning forward, arms supported on his knees.
"Oh, Harry," Draco calls on noticing me. "You're back, good! We were just wondering when you were going to show up."
The three heads turn to me, smilingly nodding. No one seems to think anything particularly weird is happening. It's as if I'd been coming home to find them cahooting with our childhood nemesis every day for the past ten years straight.
"Hermione," I snap to address the smartest person in the room. "A word."
Without further explanation, I set up the stairs. In my room I wait for her to follow, sitting on the edge of my half-mattress bed, feeling the twitches of a breakdown ripple under the surface. She enters moments after me, gently closing the door behind her. She seems feeble in a way, and I'm guessing maybe I've done something to alarm her. Good.
It's only when she leans back against my desk, gazing expectantly in my direction, that I realise I don't actually know what it is I want to ask her. Generally I know that I want to know what the hell happened, but I suppose I can sort of guess anyway.
"Hey," I say, suddenly deflated.
"Hey, Harry," she replies with a smile.
"I haven't seen you in ages."
"No," she says. And then, after a sighing pause, "I'm sorry about Ginny. I meant to stop by, it's just that I've been—"
"—It's okay. I know."
"Do you think you can work it out?"
"I don't know," I say. "You'll have to ask her."
She gives me a pitying look, not the one you get when your life is sad but the one that comes when you say something stupid about an important subject. I decide to change the subject to,
"So what are you doing talking to Malfoy in my living room?"
"What are you doing living with him in your house?"
"Fine," she says, exhaling through her nose. "It's just—don't shake me, all right? They said you might do that and I'd rather you didn't. All right?"
I shrug wildly, half as if I don't know what she's on about, half as if I don't care. She gives me a look, then seems to relents a little as she runs a hand through her hair.
"Listen," she says. "At first, I didn't know what to think. About any of it. In all honestly, what with Ginny randomly moving out, then you going nuts, then Ron flipping out—it sounded to me like one of those situations you boys tend to get yourself into every now and then when you're bored. I just didn't want to get involved. There's—at work right now, there's so much to do, and I just thought to myself, 'Stay out of it, Hermione.' And of course that got a bit harder when Ron up and left after that—stupid fight. So I was getting nervous, obviously, and I was just about to—I don't know. Do something, when he came back." She stops with a small, unsure smile. "What was I suppose to think, Harry? He disappears for a night and when he's back, he's like—this new person. Completely new person. Considerate, patient, witty, prepared to listen to—"
"Fuck considerate, Hermione," I interrupt, offended on Ron's behalf. "This is Ron we're talking about here. Did you marry a considerate and patient Ron? Did you fall in bloody love with a considerate and patient—"
"—Let me finish. What you don't understand, Harry, is that . . . . Damn it, I don't know either, okay? He comes home, wants to make up for everything, takes the blame and calmly explains where he felt unappreciated—felt, Harry. D'you understand this? Ron told me how he felt. I was sure he'd hurt himself somehow. Either that or a prank." She snorts quietly. "So I lose it a little, which is when he tells me about this Fixit. And I ask him, over and over again, Fixit? Who is this Fixit? And I just don't buy it. You know me and that kind of stuff."
I make a short exhaling noise to emphasise the extremity of that understatement, which earns me a knowing quirk of a brow.
"Anyway," she continues. "Then he brings me here, and it's Draco sordid Malfoy, walking around without shoes and babbling absolute nonsense to my husband—who I thought I knew—but who seems to suddenly worship the ground this crazy person walks on. And I'm terrified, because it's terrifying, and then . . . I can barely explain it, really. All I can tell you, Harry, is that the person sitting downstairs is not Draco Malfoy. At least not the one we knew. Whoever that may be, whether Fixit or whatever, I truly believe that—"
"—He did it to you too, didn't he?" I stare at her, unbelieving. "That thing with the ears, he did it to you too. That's why you're like this. He brainwashed you, just like he did with Ron."
"It's not brainwashing," he says gently. "It's . . . quite extraordinary, Harry. I can't explain it. You really have to let him—"
"Oooh, that bloke is not coming anywhere near my ears, Hermione."
"I don't understand. You took him in. You let him live in your home. How can you not see what he is?"
"Yeah, well, blame it on temporary insanity due to a traumatic breakup. And besides, I'm kicking him out again anyway." I have barely decided this, but saying out loud just makes me more certain of myself. "I mean, what was I thinking, right? It's—Draco Malfoy, for fuck's sake. God."
"You can't kick him out," she tells me seriously.
"It's my house," I say. "I'm going to kick him out."
"You're right," I agree. "Oh, wait, no you're not."
"What's he done, Harry? What has he done that makes you think he deserves to live out on the streets?"
"Let's see." I fake thoughtfulness, counting off my fingers. "Meditated on the kitchen table, stolen my girlfriend's mattress, attempted murder, actively supported racist—"
At once, Hermione pushes herself off the table. She takes a quick step forward and looks as if she'd have taken more, had something inside not stopped her. She looks bewildered, frustrated, her fists clenched at her sides. "That man downstairs," she says, "has a gift. He has something that I cannot even begin to comprehend, and I can promise you, Harry, that he is not the boy you remember from school. The one I remember, and shouldn't that say something? If I can see it, how come you can't?"
"How do you even know? Yeah, he might be a bit loony. But under all that psychobabble, all the crazy-crazy and the weirdness, is probably still that same petty little child that fucked up our lives more times than I can remember. Can't you consider it for even a second? I mean—how do you know?"
"How do I know?" she repeats. "I know because for the past three years I've been having trouble sleeping. Every time I go to bed all I can think is, Have I made the right choice today? Yesterday? Last year? Did I pick the right carrier, did I marry the right guy, am I doing the right thing here and—Harry, when Fixit fixed me, everything just clicked. For the first time in forever, I knew for absolutely sure what I needed to do. It—just, it makes so much sense."
I look at my friend then, watching her in her total conviction. I want to shout at her, to shake her as well, because I know for absolute sure that she is so, so wrong. And that I am right. Just like I knew that Ron had lost it, and that Draco is not Fixit. Fixit does not exist. It is a scam, a trick, some kind of magic or magnets or drugs—I don't know exactly, but I do know that I don't believe it. I do not believe it from the bottom of my heart, and I need everyone else too see how right I am, and how immensely wrong they are. I absolutely, entirely, totally and thoroughly need it.
It's right there and then I have a new purpose. My friends and me, we are obviously all going through some rough times, and I suppose you could say we're all a bit crazy. But I've just seen the light, I have just realised how ridiculously ridiculous we all are, and I plan to give them all that same rude awakening. And I'm going to do this by exposing Draco Malfoy for the fraud that he undoubtedly is.
I am just about to say something final and impressive when a loud wail from downstairs whips both our gazes toward the door. I am suddenly thrilled, convinced that something must've happened to back up my point—Ron punched Draco after he said something nasty to Neville? Broke the chair over his head?—and in a flash I'm out the room, thudding my way down the stairs.
I can't explain the sinking feeling I experience when I'm forced to a sudden stop midway on one of the steps. On the couch of my living room home, sits Draco. Next to him is Neville, and Neville is sobbing into Draco's shoulder.
"There, there, now," he says, patting Neville's back in comfort. "Don't you feel a whole lot better now?"
Neville nods, muttering something unintelligible in reply. Ron, sitting on Neville's other side, notices me and gives me a warm, lopsided smile and a thumb up.
I swallow, horrified. From behind Hermione's small hand lands on my shoulder as she says,
"Do you see it, Harry?" She squeezes. "Isn't it beautiful?"
10. MY COUNTER ATTACK
or basically the story of me trying to prove that I'm not being an asshole, I'm just being right
Maybe it's a bit sad to say that this is what my life revolves around the next couple of weeks, but what's the use of lying about that? Here? It's all the same, really, in the end. You'll see for yourself whether I tell you about it first or not.
So yes. Such begins my valiant yet short-lived crusade to expose Dr Fixit for the Draco Malfoy that he is. The advantage is that he lives in my guestroom, and is therefore in constant proximity in case I come up with some brilliant scheme out of the blue on a Sunday morning. The disadvantage is that he lives in my guestroom, and is therefore always the fuck around to make life a little less bearable.
Within a brief period of time I attempt various methods. I start easy enough by going out and buying a bed. I put the bed in his room and wait. Surely enough, it doesn't take long before a confused looking Draco Malfoy comes down the stairs, vaguely pointing at the area of the first floor with a thumb.
"Did you . . .?"
"You like it?" I reply brightly. "I saw it in the store and it just screamed 'you!' Also, I thought about what you said, the camp bed not being a proper bed and all, and I figured this would be a good way to thank you."
"Yes. Of course. For all the things you've done for me and my friends. You didn't have to, but still you went ahead did it anyway."
"I, uh . . ." He still appears confused, perhaps a bit sceptical even. "Harry, I was sleeping just fine on the mattress."
"Oh," I say, schooling my expression into that of unexpected hurt. "But don't you . . . want the bed? I thought you'd . . ."
"You know I don't do beds. It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, Harry, I truly do but—"
"—I bought it for you. As a thank you." My voice gets weaker, uncertain. "I thought you'd like it."
"It's a very nice bed. Really. It's just—I can't. Surely you understand."
"Can't you just try and sleep on it?"
"Harry, you're not listening."
"It would mean a lot to me."
"No, honestly, I—"
"Pretty please?" The moment I say it, I know it's too much. Draco freezes for a moment before his uncomfortable stance slowly fades into slack-shouldered resignation. I can't help the shit-eating grin that spreads across my face.
"That's not funny," he says.
"Oh, come on. Just a little funny."
"What are you trying to do, Harry?"
I shrug casually. He sighs, and I think I can see the suppressed vestiges of a smile tugging his lips.
"You'll never be ready for change if you keep on at this rate, you know."
"But at least I'm still funny," I say, and grinningly watch him roll his eyes as he saunters back up the stairs. I don't know if I'd reached quite the goal I'd set for myself with the whole bed-buying idea, but Draco seemed mildly annoyed, so I'm happy. After that follow more or less equally successful methods. Ignoring all the rules on the list, I have come to notice, makes him frown in a way he wouldn't otherwise. Swearing profusely definitely hurts him on some level or the other. All the while I keep an eye out for any discernable change, for a budding scowl or a subdued sneer. I am certain that if I keep it up long enough, he will break.
I get creative with time, too. One afternoon before his Thursday seminar I drive him to an animal shelter, and at the desk request to have a look at their puppies. We stand in a rather stinking cage, and there are a bunch of droopy-eyed looking puppies barking at our feet. I take a step back, smilingly awaiting Draco's reaction.
"What," he says, "is the point of this?"
I raise my eyebrows. "Don't tell me you don't want to kick them," I reply, crossing my arms, amused. "Go on, then. Just a little kick. No one will notice.'
"Are you insane?" he cries, whipping around to face me.
"A rhetorical question?" I stick out my bottom lip, impressed. "Why I never."
"What is wrong with you?" He flushes as one of the smaller puppies bites the hem of his trousers and starts pulling. "I demand you take me back at once."
My eyebrows shoot up, accompanying my shocked flash of a smile. Draco, taking a deep breath, runs a weary hand over his face and I think that I've finally got it, that I finally pushed the right button and any moment now he'll—
"I'm sorry," he says, smiling apologetically. "I shouldn't have let myself go like that. I would greatly appreciate it if you take me back now, though."
"Uhh . . ." is all I can muster, and all I would say for the coming few hours. As we step out of the cage and Draco gently disentangles the little animal from his pant-leg, he manages a gentle expression when looking up at me and saying,
"They are cute though, aren't they?"
Whatever I try, I don't seem capable of getting him to go any further than a blush and a hissed comment. For which he immediately apologises. And it's not like I don't take it far enough, too. One day I replace all pronouns with profanities (his reaction: "Mother-fu-whattes? I'm sorry, Harry, I do not know what you can possibly mean by that."), another day I chant mocking Slytherin songs all evening, or scatter a lot of rubber snakes around the apartment, or—on one occasion, when I wake up one weekday to find he's invited his entire Church of Bonkers into my home for some indiscernible spiritual reason—I walk around in my underwear, handing out finger-sized sausages on a platter.
"What are you doing?" Draco asks, running into me in the kitchen.
"Entertaining," I happily reply.
"That's meat," he tells me, nodding at the sausages.
"Very good," I smile. "Very perceptive."
"You know they're mostly vegetarians, right?"
"No," I say, disbelieving. "You're kidding me!"
"Ugh. I feel like such a dunce now. Walking around with those sausages all this time, eating them in front of everybody . . ."
"It's all right. Just . . . if you could put them back, that'd be great."
"I feel so stupid," I insist. "I just thought they were too shy to ask any. Oh, shit, I think I might've even slipped one into someone's tea."
He observes me, then, for a calm moment. In my boxers and morning hair, I try to seem taller and more casual than him, but he seems to have a certain ease I just can't grasp. This only helps in fuelling my anger, my smile faltering into something more menacing as I stare back at his eerily clear eyes.
"Are you upset, Harry?" he asks.
"I don't know," I say, and it's all I can do to not grind my teeth. "Are you throwing a party at my house without having asked me?"
"It's not a party." He frowns, appearing to be insulted on some level. "I did this for you. I thought it would be a good next step, meeting people who've already . . ." He trails off when I chuckle, his frown deepening. "You know, it really is about time that you start saying it when you're angry rather than taking it out on me in these childish pranks. You say you want change, but then when anyone makes an effort—" He raises his hands, reaching for my ears as if to make a point.
And yes, as to be expected, I leap out reach and swat out a defensive arm. His shoulders slump at this, and he shakes his head at me, and I lose count of how many times I've seen him do that by now.
"What are you so afraid of?" he asks me, tiredly.
"Look," I start, feeling the thrill of a confrontation building up inside. "If everyone is fine with letting you tell them how to live their life, then whatever. More power to you, Malfoy. But me, I don't buy it. I don't think you have special powers, I don't think you have a gift, and all I see is a weird little kid running around pretending and getting others to go along with him. So sorry, but no, I'm not joining your party." Angrily, I toss the sausage platter onto the counter. I grab a few, stuffing one into my mouth and muttering, "I'll be upstairs." And then, as I reach the doorway, "Get everyone out of here. We need to talk."
In my room, I work on some numbers and think about how I can most effectively tell him that I want him out of my house by tomorrow evening. It's not working, none of it is working, he's not taking the bait and this game is beginning to lose its appeal. I don't even care anymore about my being right or exposing him, as long as he's out of the house. I can't stand the constant friendliness, the politeness and composure, the people I don't know walking in and out of the place, crying on my sofa and eating my food. It's not worth it anymore, and as bored as I was less than a month ago I am now aching for my old life back.
I try to listen for people leaving, and it takes a while but eventually the house is silent again. I wait for thirty minutes or so, giving him the chance to perhaps clean up a bit, before I make my way down again. On first scanning the room I can't find him, but it's only after I walk through all the rooms—my demeanour getting more frantic with every minute—that I conclude that he is gone.
Instead of being pleased, I feel nothing but a strong nervousness settling in. I chalk it up to the fact that I don't know whether he's gone for good, or just for now. Did he really know what I was going to talk to him about? Did he try to avoid the actual conversation? Not one answer I can come up with makes me feel any more at ease.
Any attempts at enjoying the rest of the day, my first day alone in so long, are ruined by a constant urge to glance at the door. I watch TV and instinctively sit up whenever—in the show that's on—a door opens.
When evening comes and I'm still on my own, I decide quite earnestly to stop thinking about it. I could call some of my friends, I think I saw some of them shyly circle the room earlier—they would know where Draco went afterwards, surely—but I find that I really don't want to know for a fact.
It's not at all that late when I trudge my way to bed, but I'm tired and frazzled, still full of anger I wasn't able to scream out at anyone. In the hallway I pause for a moment at the open door of the guestroom. The mattress was on the bed I'd given Draco, but I knew for a fact that he dragged it to the floor every night. I felt a faint pang somewhere inside, and swallowed as I looked away, hurrying farther down the hall before I would convince myself I did something wrong.
The next day the house is still deserted. I ignore it and head off to work. The next reminder of the whole situation comes only that afternoon, a Wednesday afternoon, when I'm waiting for Ron at the fish stand as always. I wait for a long time, actually, probably barely less than an hour, before starting to seriously worry. Wrapping my scarf tight around my throat I set in a brisk walk to Ron's place, frowning all the way as I go. I can see their house before I'm even there, slowly coming to a gradual stop as I approach their street. There, out on the sidewalk outside the old building, is a small mountain of household appliances. A TV, a refrigerator, a water boiler—everything, stacked symmetrically next to the trash bins.
I know the reason behind it all before I even process what it is I'm seeing. I run to the front door and start banging on it, but there's no answer. I try the back, but it's locked and the lights are out. I'm breathing heavily now, my breath coming out in puffed clouds against the glass of their kitchen window.
"Shit," I mutter to myself, and start to run. I run all the way back home, stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. I'm sweaty and blotchy red by the time I get there, only half-surprised to see that there—in front of my house, too—are a number of fridges, coffee machines and computers. Heart thudding in my throat I try to find my own stuff in the wall of machineries. I can't spot anything on quickly scanning it. I know that the best way to find out would be to go inside and face whatever the fuck it is that is going on.
I stop before my door. I loosen my scarf and open my coat, trying to cool down a bit before taking the next step. So with that I take a shaky breath, and turn the knob. As the door opens, a collective murmuring of a crowd floats from the living room. I carefully pad down the hall, not really knowing why I'm trying to keep quiet, trying to slink into my own home. I stop at where the wall ends in favour of the room's entrance, intently looking at the wooden floor as I listen to the voice carrying above the noise of gathered people.
"You all have been very brave," the unmistakable tone of Draco Malfoy speaks up. "Incredibly brave. I just want to thank everyone for having made this possible, and remember—it'll be hard at first. No doubt it will be hard, but in the end the self-fulfilment and peace you will find pays back with interest."
This is greeted by the happy noises of agreement. Some people clap.
"Now I want you all to keep in touch, all right? Not only with me, but with each other. Support one another, the people going through the same thing—these connections are so valuable right now, my friends. So incredibly valuable."
I hear someone shout a reply that sounds distinctly like 'too right!'. Draco's gentle laugh follows this, and he continues, "And to conclude this wonderful meeting—"
"—Get out," is what I say, rounding the wall and stepping into my living room. The place is filled with people, some of which I know, some of which I'm sure live on my street but who are as good as strangers to me, and some who I've never seen in my life. Ron and Hermione are there, of course, Neville and Hannah, Seamus who I haven't spoken to in forever, and together it's a crowd of at least thirty people altogether. Draco is standing on a chair, preaching.
"Everyone," I add, voice low and dangerous, "out. Out, out, out of my house right bloody now."
They gathering turns to me, breathless, staring with big and disbelieving eyes.
"Okay," Draco says, uncomfortably. "Hi, Harry. What about if you go get yourself a glass of water, and I'll wrap things up here while—"
"—What about if you shut the hell up," I bark at him, voice trembling. "And everyone goes ahead and fucks the hell off." Then, turning to the crowd, "Are you people deaf? My. House. Get the hell out!"
Expectant eyes are all raised to Draco, waiting for his orders. I grunt angrily, immediately shouting,
"Don't look at him! This isn't his house! It's mine, and I just told you to leave—there aren't a lot of options here, people. Out!"
"Right," Draco says with a shaky smile. "I, uhm. I guess we have a problem. I'm really sorry, friends, but I think it'll be best if we continue things another—"
"—Sweet FUCK." Frustrated, I grab Seamus' girlfriend (I forget her name) by her arm and drag her toward the hall. There I let her go, shooing her toward the door. I have to go back one more time, ushering a dumbfounded Seamus out the room before everyone starts moving. I yell all the while, ("Out! Out! OUT!"), refusing to talk to a frightened looking Hermione in my trying to get everyone to leave as quickly as possible. Ron is the toughest of all, unwilling to leave before having had a real talk with me about my anger, and I end up literally pushing him out the door—locking it behind him.
Once that is done, I don't skip a beat. I turn on my heel, still red-faced and high on anger, marching back into the living room. I find Draco innocently trying to put the chair he stood on back in the kitchen. When he sees me practically jogging toward him, he drops the chair with a start. I grab him by the front of his shirt, a faded striped button-down I'd lent him, and haul him against a wall. He whimpers weakly, frightened, scrambling at my coat—trying to push me back. It's not even a challenge, though. I easily pin him with one heavy arm against his chest.
"What," I breathe out, close to his face, "the shit was that?"
Draco tries to stammer something in reply, but his voice breaks into another whimper. It only pisses me off more.
"I won't fucking hurt you, okay?" I bite out, and it doesn't come out sounding very reassuring. "Just. What the hell, Draco?"
"I know," he starts, weakly, "that you don't want me here. That you don't even want my help. But—I'm helping a lot of other people, okay? I can't just—leave—"
"Helping them?" I utter through clenched teeth. "By what? Turning off their brains? Making them </i>throw out their stuff?</i>"
"It was their choice." He tries to straighten up again the wall, trying to catch his breath. "They asked me for advice, and I gave it to them. And it's not their stuff. It's just stuff."
"They paid for it. It's their stuff."
"You don't get it," he tells me, warily, as so many have told me this past month. "It's not about giving up things. It's—about centring. On yourself, and others, and—" He huffs. "You don't want to get it."
I push my hand more roughly against his chest and he flinches, squinting close his eyes. Content, I ask, "Did you throw away my stuff, too?"
His eyes open in surprise, and there's enough gall in him to reply with a breathy laugh. "No," he says. "What do you think of me? I won't make that choice for you, Harry."
I flare up inside, and grunt out an angry—"I don't want you to call me Harry."
"Well, you still call me Draco." He shrugs, shoulders chaffing against the wall. "So."
I grumble an unintelligible curse, pushing hard against him and fisting my hand at my side. He flinches again and I am so close to hitting him. I could, too. No one would see, no one is here to stop me—I could punch him and there'll be no immediate consequences other than the utter bliss I imagine to follow such an act. Both Hermione and Ron got to have a go at the guys' face in the past, and I feel oddly robbed now.
He cringes even more when I lean in close, my breath puffing against his cheek. I can smell him, I can practically smell him and it's my soap, my shampoo, my stuff that he uses. My arm comes up of its own accord, and god almighty I'm so prepared to do this. I'm sure of it, and I know he's sure of it, so imagine both our surprise when I suddenly let go and stumble back—shallow breaths coming out as vague cousins of laughter.
I see him swallow, looking at me with bewildered eyes as the back of my knees hit the couch's armrest. I steady myself then, a bit frightened of myself as I think of how close I just was to happily hurting someone. How prepared I was to thoroughly enjoy it.
Heart still high in my throat I spread out my arms in a surrendering gesture and say,
"You want to fix me?" I give a small, tight smile. "Do your worst, doctor."
Draco doesn't reply immediately. He eyes me sceptically before letting go of a breath he's been holding, and says, "Wh—what?"
"Just—" I drop my arms, shrugging. "Fuck it. I'm tired of it." I push myself off the couch's side, taking a few lazy steps to flop onto the actual seat cushions. With my arms slung over the backrest I add, "You seem to make everyone I know quite happy. So why not me, right? So yeah. Go ahead."
"Harry," he starts carefully. "I'm not sure that that's the way to—"
"To hell with that." I chance a brief, genuine smile. "Really. Get your . . . ear magic on. Whatever it is you do. I'm ready."
"You have to want it, though. I can't if you don't . . . actually want it."
"I just told you I want it, didn't I?" I stick out my head as if to indicate the way to my ears. "Do it. I'm serious."
Draco looks hesitant for a moment, but then walks toward the couch anyway. He sits down next to me, gingerly, and begins to rub his hands together while occasionally looking up at me with wary glances.
"You sure, sure?" he asks.
"As sure-sure as I'll ever be," I say, which makes him smile nervously.
"Okay," he says, and I find myself holding my breath as he reaches up. My heart does a freaked-out little jump when he grabs on to my earlobes with finger and thumb. He closes his eyes and I watch, intently, waiting for something cathartic to happen—a click, I remember, as the others were all calling it.
Nothing particularly impressive is happening, unless you count Draco rubbing his thumb over my earlobes—which I suppose would be impressive in the right context. There's nothing big, though, no click I can discern. My confusion at the lack of grandness only increases when I notice the frown settle between Draco's brows. I raise my eyebrows when he suddenly stops the tugging on my ears, lets go and sits back with a thoughtful expression.
"Huh," he says.
"Huh?" I repeat. "What does that mean, Huh?"
"Well. Uhm. It appears that you . . . uhm, well. You don't have anything."
I make a difficult face, not understanding. "What do you mean, I don't have anything?"
"It's not that you don't have anything," he hurries to correct. "It's . . . just that I can't sense it."
"What, like, I'm dead inside?"
"I didn't say that."
"Are you implying it?"
"No, I'm not. It's just—it's odd, is all. I've never . . ."
"Wait, you mean to say that this never happened before?" I laugh, astonished by how typical this is. "Ever?"
"Once," he says. "But apart from that—"
"—Well who was this 'once'? And don't tell me it was like an animal or something, because that would be just too much to take for one day."
He huffs up a quiet laugh, leaning the side of his face against his knuckles—arm supported on the backrest. "It was me," he says.
"You?" I blink, trying to work that one out. "Wait, so—what? You didn't . . . fix yourself?"
He smiles, briefly closing his eyes as he shrugs. "I'm fixing myself by fixing others, aren't I?"
I return the smile with a slightly more ironic one. I can still feel the pressure of his fingers on my ears. They're still a bit warm. "What's this gift-thing anyway?" I ask, jutting my chin to the question. "I mean. How did you even find out?"
He gives me a quick, odd little frown of surprise. "Do you really want to know?"
"Sure," I say, somehow meaning it too.
"Oh," he says, still with a tone of surprise. "All right. Well, I don't know if you heard, but after the . . . After school, I wasn't really in a great shape. Me and some other youths in my position, we all sort of . . . oh well, is there even a way of saying this gently? We were miserable, generally hated, so we travelled and we got drunk. Horribly drunk. Anywhere we went, all the time. Spent so much money and time on that hazy period, and I barely remember half of it. Either way, one time, we were in this . . . town at the seaside, and it was summer—a good summer, too—and we were on the beach at night. It's all vague, really, I don't know what happened exactly but I remember dancing with a piece of seaweed I'd found, and then I believe I just . . . I suppose I walked into the sea. I have no idea how it went down, but someone must've noticed me in the water and got me out. I woke up in a hospital, I don't know how many days later. And, uhm . . . Well. Because of the water something in my ears sort of broke, or at least that's what I understood." He smiles a bit, as if he himself is hearing this story for the first time as well. "I actually couldn't hear anything at first. Just a vague kind of whooshing, like when you put your hands over your ears—or listen to a conch. You know?" He doesn't wait for a reply. "Like that. Only that was the only sound. I thought it was the sea at first, that I was hearing it through the window and that everyone was having me on, pretending to be talking by moving their lips, but there's only so much you can make yourself believe when even the sound of your sheets rustling isn't there.
"I was absolutely livid at first, I'll tell you that. I was also weak, and pretty much a heavy drinker who was going cold turkey, so there was no way I could go anywhere. I thought I'd be deaf forever, I'll tell you that. I mean, they communicated and all, with notes and such, telling me this or that medicine was working well and that I should start hearing soon, but I didn't buy any of it. Though I'll tell you one thing—when you're lying on a hospital bed for days upon days with only the sound of the sea in your head, there's no way you can escape your own thoughts. And I did a lot of thinking there, I did. And one day, I think it was about a month in, this nurse I'd seen before came to check in on me. She was adjusting my pillows, with her head really close to mine, which I'm sure she didn't even notice. And honestly, I don't know why I did it—I don't know what made do it, but I reached up and touched her ears. And that was it. There it was. Everything about her. Her worries, her fears, her life—I could sense it all, see how it all was jumbled up and how it could all somehow fit, like a jigsaw puzzle—that's how they call it, right? A jigsaw puzzle. Like that. She got quite scared of me, though, which is understandable. I was quite frightened myself, too. I couldn't understand anything that was going on around me as it was, and then that? I didn't need it. I didn't want it at first. Took me a long time to see the brilliance of it, certainly. Brilliance of other things, too. In the end it was about two months until I could hear again, but might as well have been two years. Nothing was the same. I mean, do you understand? What a change that was?"
A bit taken aback by the question being directed at me, I stammer for a moment before managing a feeble, "Uh, I guess."
"Yes. I suppose you would." He turns his head, idly looking up at the ceiling. "Considering your reaction on seeing me in that theatre."
I muffle a snort by running a tired hand over my face. "You have no idea," I mumble. "You scared the shit out of me that day. I thought I was hallucinating."
"I suppose you would," he says, faintly smiling. "Wasn't as bad as the scare I gave Ron though, was it?"
I laugh, still hiding my face in my hand. "Look," I start, sobering up a little. "I'm . . . sorry, about before. With the whole . . . shouting, wall, menacing thing."
"It's all right. I can't say I couldn't see it coming, really, can I? Suppose I've been anticipating that one for about ten years now." He sighs. "I was quite a cold person as a child, wasn't I?"
I don't reply, because I'm not sure if I'm actually supposed to answer this one honestly. Draco doesn't seem to notice, though, as he continues,
"You know, it's not a coincidence people associate coldness with distrust. When they say, 'oh yeah, so and so is a really cold' but actually mean the person didn't give anyone positive attention, that's not a coincidence."
I glance at him, not knowing where he's taking this. My eyebrow gives an involuntary quirk, and he smiles a bit.
"What?" he asks. "I'm serious. It has to do with being a baby. Warmth is the parent holding the child, right, so that's safety and security. And coldness is being somewhere alone, without a human body near, so that's danger and distrust. It's true." He gives me a humouring look, and I can see he's trying to lighten the mood. "They did a research and everything."
I pull an unimpressed face, shrugging minutely as I say, "And you'd know, would you?"
"I read about it," he tells me. "I can even show you if you want."
"Uhh . . ." I don't know if I want.
"Hold on." He rises to his feet, rather too quickly and happily for a guy who just told a story like his. I know that if I put my thoughts on the table in quite such an open way, I require at least a thirty minute period of awkward silence to follow it.
I wait in reflective silence as Draco shuffles into the kitchen, getting something out of the freezer. I barely pay attention to what he brings back, my mind occupied by the idea of waking up deaf one day in a foreign environment. I'm brought out of my reverie, though, when he flops back onto the couch.
"Okay," he says, holding up an old piece of meat wrapped in foil-paper in one hand. "See this hand? Cold. Now give me your neck."
I reply with a deadpan expression. Yeah, I'm going to give him neck. Right.
He chuckles airily, telling me that—"What, you think I'm going to choke you? I'm not going to choke you. It's just a test." He raises his eyebrows expectantly. "Go on, then."
I smack my lips silently, showing my wearily displeased disposition, and to add to it I also roll my eyes as I cock my head a little to the side. Draco makes a small, amused noise at my show, and tosses the meat onto the coffee table before putting an ice-cold hand on my neck. I hiss, jumping a little, suddenly reminded of Ginny's nose.
"All right," he says. "Now I'm going to tell you something, and you figure out for yourself how much you believe it."
"Uhh . . ." is my reply once more as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye.
He inches his freezing hand a bit higher up my neck so that it's almost at the nape of my hair and says, "I really like your coat."
I am a little surprised that I don't believe him at all. The comment sounds condescending and sarcastic, even though I know Draco Malfoy doesn't do sarcasm anymore and that he probably doesn't even have an opinion about my coat to begin with.
"All right," he says, taking back his hand and resettling a bit on the couch. "Now, again . . ."
For a second I think he's going to reach for my neck again, but find that I'm shellshocked into absolute stillness when his warm hand craftily creeps under my sweater and shirt and settles on my belly. He's quite close, in fact, and I am staring very hard at the pattern of my jeans at my knee.
"I really like," he says, voice low and dangerously close to my ear as he moves a finger to circle my bellybutton, "your coat."
I don't believe him. I also don't not believe him. Actually, I'm not bothered at all with truth or lie as my mind is quite preoccupied interpreting things in its own perverted way.
"Can I ask you something?" he says then, hot breath on my neck.
I don't quite trust my voice with the responsibility of response, so all I manage is a twitchy nod—which is for the best, seeing as at the same time my throat catches because the tosser actually slips that same finger into my bellybutton with ridiculous ease.
"I just wanted to know," he starts, and I can almost feel his lips move against my throat, "have you always been attracted to men?"
On a shaky breath, my mouth has enough sense to form an odd-sounding, "I'm not."
"Are you sure?" he asks, brushing his mouth to my skin for barely a second.
"Uhh . . ." I swallow, trying very hard to concentrate on what I think I know. "Yeah."
"Are you sure?" the question comes again, frustrating as shit, but this time the movement that accompanies it is a southward wandering hand. And in all honesty, it takes one fumble at my jeans band and a brush of a palm to make reality rush back with the qualities of a cold shower. At once I'm on my feet, taking big steps back as I shout,
Draco, whose hand now idly slumps on the seat where I sat seconds ago, observes me with an untouched, somewhat amused expression.
"What!" I breath out, voice high with panic. "What the fuck, Malfoy!"
"Language," he reprimands first before adding, patiently, "What?"
"Uhmm?" I gesture wildly at my nether regions, hoping the idea would speak for itself. But, as I can't take any chances with this, I say it anyway: "I'd appreciate it you'd refrain from randomly touching my crotch in the future, perhaps?"
I don't know what to think of it when Draco's reaction to this is—well, what I can best describe as proud. He smiles happily and says, "See? You ask me something like a normal person, without all the profanity and the nasty, and I hear you perfectly well. Of course I will refrain from touching your crotch, Harry."
I don't feel like this resolves the matter at all. To underline my point further, I add, "I'm not gay."
"Of course you're not," he says, sounding honest enough.
"I believe you," he assures. "It's my bad, really. Won't happen again."
"I'm not gay," I say it again. "I've had a girlfriend for ten years, all right. Would a gay person have a girlfriend for ten years?"
Draco gives me a quick frown. "Oh, so you do remember her?"
"You were together for a whole decade, you say. And you just broke up a few days before I moved in." I cringe at the way it all sounds when he says it, so awfully wrong and weird, but he continues nevertheless: "Maybe I've missed it, haven't looked at the right time or something, but I don't think I've seen any tears. Where's the heartbreak, Harry? Where's the wailing and the snot? In all honestly, you should be a sad pile of man-flesh weeping your heart out on the floor right now."
"Hey," I interject, pointing a finger. "I cried, all right?"
"Is that so?" he asks. "Did you cry because she left you, though? Or because you knew you were going to be alone?"
"Oh, shut the hell up, Malfoy. It's none of your fucking business anyway."
Draco lifts his hands in a small motion of defeat, letting them fall back down as he announces, "And we're back to the cussing."
I want to say something back, something sharp and insulting, but I'm blank and confused. So I stay quiet, growing more awkward in my standing position the more seconds tick by. Eventually, I give up a little and sit down in the armchair next to the couch. Draco watches me, unaffected but curious from a distance, and I try to hold his gaze with as much distanced coolness as I can muster. Which, actually, isn't that much at all.
"I'm not gay," I suddenly say, surprising even myself.
"Okay!" he replies laughingly.
"Yes. I got that. I am, though," he adds, and I'm almost sure he does it only to see me blush as I mutter,
"Yeah. I figured."
"Can tell you the exact moment I knew it, too," he continues. "Do you want to hear it?"
"Are you sure?"
Draco is quiet after that, and it's only after watching me stare at my knee again for a while that he says it again: "Are you sure?"
I don't reply this time, I pretend not even having heard it. This, evidently, is a sign for him to go ahead and tell it anyway.
"I was nine. Which isn't really that young, if you think about it. And besides, I didn't really know at the time, I suppose. It's just that now, looking back . . ." He tries to catch my eye, seemingly only because it's funny to him how uncomfortable this is making me. "Either way. It was summer. It was a very, very hot summer and my parents had some people over for brunch. Usually they brought their sons with them, one of which was my age, the other older. You probably—" He pauses, apparently remembering something. "Of course you knew McLaggen. Well, he has a brother, about six years older than us. There was a year our parents were fond of one another, and so I saw quite a lot of him that summer. One time, though, Cormac wasn't there—I don't remember why. Only his brother, I forget his name, came along. And it was a hot day. Very hot. I don't know exactly how it came to be, but I think at some point he must've asked our parents if it was all right for him to take a dive in the pool. Oh, we had a pool," he adds for needless clarification, and the haughty face I pull in reply is not to be helped. Draco doesn't notice, though, and happily keeps on:
"I guess I was more or less sauntering about the place, a bit aimless now that I didn't have anyone to play with, when I ended up in the pool house. I hadn't talked to the brother before. He was older, fifteen at the time, which was . . . well, it wasn't old-old, but it was the beyond my scope of imagination, for sure. He was swimming laps, and I sat down to watch him—having nothing better to do—and he just kept on swimming and swimming . . . must've been in the water for almost an hour, I think. At first it was just amusing, the arms flapping about and the legs splashing like that—but then, somehow, it was something other than just amusing to me. The long teenage limbs, with all that bare skin and muscle . . ." He grins, shaking his head at himself. "I didn't know what hit me. And when he stopped, pulled out of the water and asked me to go get him a towel, I practically wet myself with excitement. I couldn't do it fast enough, really. I must've followed him around the rest of that day without really knowing why. Probably annoyed him proper, me." Running a hand through his hair, Draco hums to himself in unexplainable agreement. "Oh well," he then says, looking up at me again. "When did you know you were straight for the first time, Harry?"
There's a long silence that meets his question. I blink at him, partly horrified, partly confused, and eventually decide to reply with getting up.
"I'm going to go to bed now," I say, perhaps a bit dryly.
"Oh." He turns on the couch to follow my path as I walk toward the stairs. "It's barely half six."
"That's okay," I tell him, blankly reassuringly. "I didn't get much sleep last night."
He gives me a funny glance. "Oh. All right. Good night, then."
I'm nearly upstairs when I mumble, "G'night," in return, inexplicably blushing as I hurry down the hall to lock myself in my room—my mind full of swimming McLaggens, drowning Dracos, fingers in bellybuttons and that one time in primary school when they took us to a ballet show and I couldn't decide whether the fair-faced person jumping around the stage in tights was a boy or a girl.