With no small amount of reluctance but a healthy dose of determination, Harry pushed aside thoughts of the Hallows and the Elder Wand and immersed himself once more in Horcrux research. Having promised Malfoy he would not seek out the all-powerful wand, the wand that he was certain was the key to their defeating Voldemort once and for all, he had no choice but to hope that after the Horcruxes had been destroyed, they would be able to defeat Voldemort the good old-fashioned way, with their ordinary wits and wands.
An urgency fired the blood in his veins now; without the Hallows complete, they had to be as prepared as possible. New avenues to victory had opened up to them now, and while Harry had acceded to his friends’ pleas and turned away from some, his will to see this task through to the end, to make Voldemort pay for all the lives he’d ruined, was undampened.
But the words of the prophecy rang in his mind like a death knell: neither can live while the other survives. Both he and Voldemort were living on borrowed time, and they could not well and truly prosper so long as the other was still out there, a threat.
There would be a battle—maybe soon, maybe far in the future. But it would come, Voldemort and his Death Eaters facing off against Harry and any who dared stand with him. And when that moment arrived, Harry wanted his friends—yes, his friends—to be able to defend themselves.
Hermione and Ron he had full faith in; they had proven themselves already on multiple occasions and were as prepared for war as Harry was, really. Malfoy, though, was another matter entirely. He’d done well enough for himself when he had stealth on his side, but how would he fare in open battle? When facing down his aunt? Voldemort?
Harry didn’t know—and he didn’t want to wait to find out.
“I’m going to teach you to cast a Patronus,” he said after having successfully convinced Malfoy to forgo their usual Sanctuary activities for target practice with Conjured plates. Malfoy’s aim left something to be desired, but when his spells did manage to connect, they reduced the plates to dust.
Malfoy drew a silk handkerchief from his pocket to rub down the shaft of his wand, scoffing. “We’ve already discussed this matter, Potter. I know I was half-blind with rage and well on my way to an agonising, uncontrolled transformation, but rest assured your dulcet tones reached deep within and brushed my very soul with inane, needling babble.” He cut Harry a sharp look. “No.”
“That’s it? Just ‘No’?”
“As I mentioned before: I doubt I could produce one, and I’m not going to chance the magic backfiring on me and eating me alive by attempting to do so.”
“Your magic’s not going to kill you, Malfoy—”
“It’s trying to kill me as we speak! You think I want to give it another foothold?”
Harry rolled his eyes and took a bracing breath; he needed Malfoy in a happy mindset for this to work, and that required Harry practise a bit of patience and control his temper. “Listen, if the likes of Umbridge can safely produce a Patronus, I’m confident you can as well. You’re…” He bit his lip, thinking how best to phrase himself. “You’ve got scruples. You may think you’ve done some bad things in the past—”
“Think I’ve done them? Please, Potter—I realise we’re on speaking terms and all now, and you might not like the idea you’ve had your tongue down the throat of a Death Eater, but you sound like an utter buffoon trying to sugarcoat it like that.”
“Fine,” Harry grit out, his ears so hot he worried they were about to start spouting steam. “You’ve probably committed a high crime or three before, enough to get yourself Kissed if the Ministry got wind of it—that about cover it?”
“Well you certainly didn’t find me locked in a dank cell in the Department of Mysteries because I’d taken a wrong turn looking for the loo,” Malfoy reminded him pointedly, and Harry had to count down from ten for that before he trusted himself to speak again. It helped, a little, that Malfoy looked marginally uncomfortable with the discussion of his sordid history.
Harry looked him dead on, though Malfoy had his gaze shunted to the side, downturned and guilty. “You’re honourable, in your own way. You have pride, and you defend yourself when threatened. You care about your family—look what you’ve gone through to try and protect them. Patronuses are all about protection, so I’d wager you could conjure a pretty wicked one, all things considered.”
Malfoy remained unconvinced, mouth twisting. “…I don’t understand why you’re so set on teaching me this stupid spell, though. It’s not as if there are Dementors roaming the countryside.”
“He’s used them in the past to terrorise Muggles—and given the breakout from Azkaban, I’m sure they’ve got a bit of spare time on their hands. Plus Patronuses have other uses besides warding off Dementors. You can use them to send messages, too—doesn’t that sound useful?”
“You can use owls to send messages too, if you weren’t aware.”
“Listen, we don’t know what we’re going to run into before everything’s over with—and I don’t want to find out the hard way. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.”
Malfoy cocked his head to the side, clocking Harry out of the corner of one eye. “You aren’t sounding very Gryffindor today.”
“And you aren’t sounding very Slytherin, not wanting to be as prepared as possible just because you don’t think you can learn a spell.”
“I never said I couldn’t learn it—I said it wouldn’t work.”
Harry shrugged. “Just sounds like an excuse to me.”
Malfoy wagged a finger at him. “You’re goading me. It won’t work.”
“Right,” Harry laughed. “Because I’ve never gotten anywhere with you by issuing a challenge.” He sighed. “All that you’ve done, the work you’ve put in and the risks you’ve taken, and you really want to chance ruining it all, when you must know you’re less of an arse-kettle than Umbridge? It’s mad, Malfoy. Especially seeing as casting a Patronus is loads easier than becoming an Animagus!”
Malfoy sucked on his teeth, digging the toe of his fancy loafers into the scree atop which they were camped and kicking up a spray of gravel. “You’re not very good at this.”
Harry’s shoulders slumped. “…Malfoy—”
“You’re supposed to tell me it’s harder than becoming an Animagus. That way I’ll feel compelled to manage it just to rub your face in my fantastic magical prowess.”
“Or I could tell you it’s easier than becoming an Animagus, so you’ll know that if you muck it up, I’ll take the piss out of you from now ‘til next Christmas.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest, one brow raised. “Most members of the DA were able to at least produce a non-corporeal one after a few weeks’ training.”
Malfoy swiped his wand through the air, sneering. “Well if the likes of Longbottom and Lovegood could manage it, I should have no problems.”
Harry tamped down the urge to defend his friends; at least they’d come to some manner of an agreement. “Right.” Harry rubbed his hands together. “First things first: you’ll need to find a happy memory.”
“A happy memory,” Malfoy deadpanned.
“A Patronus is like a big bundle of happy feelings, ones that are strong enough to drive away the dark, soul-sucking despair that Dementors embody. If you’re focused enough and have a strong enough memory, it’ll coalesce into a corporeal form, but even a non-corporeal Patronus can protect you from Dementors.” Harry tapped his temple with his wand. “The trick is being able to hold on to that memory in the face of piss-yourself fear.” It would help if they had a Boggart to practise with, as Harry had, but he supposed they’d have to manage without.
Malfoy snorted in bitter derision, pocketing his wand. “Well that’s that over.”
Harry frowned. “What? What’s what over? Where are you going?”
Malfoy was rolling his sleeves back down and buttoning the cuffs, marching for the entrance back into the tent. “I haven’t got anything like that. ‘Happy memories’. Certainly nothing strong enough to fend off a Dementor.”
Harry scrambled to block his path, arms spread wide. “Don’t say that! Everyone thinks that at first—these days it’s easier to hold on to the dark memories than the bright ones. But they’re there, somewhere.” He raised his brows hopefully. “Surely you can scrounge up something we can start with?”
“I really don’t think Dementors are going to be spooked by a memory of me getting my first regulation broom for Christmas when I was seven.”
No, that wouldn’t do it, Harry was pretty sure; memories involving presents and gifts and such tended not to be pure enough and had little staying power. He grabbed the tip of his wand, tapping the hilt rhythmically against his thigh. “What about…getting your letter of acceptance into Hogwarts?”
Malfoy gave him a bemused look. “Why would that be a happy memory? I already knew I was getting one. Every wizard or witch in Britain knows they’re going to Hogwarts.”
“I didn’t. And Hermione didn’t either.”
“Fine,” Malfoy huffed. “Every wizard or witch raised in a proper magical family. Getting your letter’s a foregone conclusion; it’s hardly anything worth celebrating.”
Harry felt a spark of pity for Malfoy, hearing that; looking back, receiving his Hogwarts letter really had been one of the happiest moments in Harry’s life, even if he hadn’t quite believed it to be true until the Dursleys had corroborated Hagrid’s story. It had meant rescue from his horrid relatives, and getting to know his real friends and family; every other happy memory he’d ever experienced had stemmed from that one moment. It wasn’t the memory he called on to produce his Patronus, but Harry thought it would still do the job if he’d chosen it.
“So right—fool’s errand,” Malfoy said. He inclined his head toward the tent entrance. “Are we done here?”
“Wha—no we aren’t done,” Harry said, irritated at Malfoy still trying to weasel out of the lesson. “I’m going to teach you how to cast this Charm if it’s the last thing I do.”
“I hope you mean that, because it’s going to be the last thing you do.”
Harry grit his teeth. “We’re not leaving here until you’ve at least found a happy memory.”
“Fantastic,” Malfoy said, raising his wand. “Shall I Conjure us some chairs? I anticipate a long wait.”
“You aren’t even trying!”
Malfoy rounded on him. “Do you think I haven’t thought about it before? Tried to do it, especially once I saw you could? Father made me practise all summer that year; he was absolutely furious!” That struck Harry as rather counterintuitive, but he kept his thoughts on Malfoy’s father to himself. “If he couldn’t scare it into me with threats and bluster, you’re certainly not going to manage it.”
Malfoy knocked his shoulder against Harry’s, brushing past him to head back into the tent.
“So—what, then?” Harry called. “You’re just giving up? Before you’ve even started?”
“It’s not giving up when it’s impossible, Potter. May as well tell me to fly.”
“But—you can fly.”
Malfoy threw him an annoyed look over one shoulder. “You know what I mean!”
Harry chased after him. “The point is that impossible things are only impossible until you manage to do them. And then you wonder why you ever doubted yourself in the first place. How am I supposed to make you believe in me when you can’t even believe in yourself?”
“Sounds like a personal problem to me, Potter.”
Harry snapped his hand out, grabbing Malfoy by the wrist and tugging meaningfully. “This is important to me.”
“Goodness, why didn’t you say so? If it’s important to the Chosen One—”
“Malfoy,” Harry said firmly, squeezing his wrist. “If it was me, not wanting to study a spell that might save my life, would you let me?”
“Would I let a grown wizard make his own choices about his life? Yes, I rather think I would.”
“Piss off! You would not. You’d shove it down my throat until I was casting in my sleep! I’d never hear the end of it. ‘I’m not going to be there to save your sorry arse every time, Potter,’ and ‘A three-year-old could cast this Charm, Potter, but clearly I’ve overestimated your abilities,’ and, ‘The Dark Lord’s going to dance atop the bones of you and all your friends but by all means, Potter, throw your strop if you must!’”
Malfoy frowned, rubbing at his cheek. “I don’t spit your name.”
“You do, honestly. It’s all I can do to not cast an Umbrella Charm any time we talk.” He shifted his grip on Malfoy’s wrist, until they were almost holding hands. Malfoy was staring down at their hands with a thoughtful expression. “…I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I thought it was a waste of time. I don’t want to have to worry about you if we get into a tight spot, and until I know you’re at least packing every spell I know in your arsenal…I’m going to. Worry about you, that is.”
Malfoy’s gaze shifted up to meet Harry’s, expression kept carefully even. “…I can handle myself. I’m hardly helpless.”
That was something of an understatement, and Harry shook his head with a small smile. “Yeah, I know. I do know that. But…this really is important to me.” Malfoy looked like he wanted to make another mocking comment, but he held his tongue, and Harry gave his hand a little shake. “Just give it a shot? An honest shot? If you can manage a noncorporeal something by nightfall, I’ll switch with Hermione for dinner shift and convince her to make her egg custard I know you like.”
Malfoy released a chuckling huff. “Bribery, Potter? The depths to which you’ll sink, honestly.”
“To get what I want? Yeah, I’m ruthless that way.”
Malfoy crossed his arms, regarding Harry warily. “…What’s your memory, then?”
Harry frowned. “…None of your business.”
“How’s that fair? You want me to tell you mine—”
“You don’t have to tell me. You just need to have one.”
“Well perhaps if you told me yours, it might jump-start the thought process.”
Harry shook his head. “No; mine’s personal, I don’t want to share it. Besides, knowing you, you’d probably just laugh, or make fun of it.”
“True,” Malfoy said, shrugging. “But who knows? Maybe that would wind up being my happy memory.”
“Ha ha,” Harry drawled. “I’m not telling you what my memory is; you’ll have to think of one all on your own. No cheating.”
“How is it cheating if it’s your memory—it’s not like I’d be able to produce a Patronus based on the thought of you…” Malfoy gauged Harry’s reaction. “Hopping on a broom for the first time?”
“Nope. Nowhere near.”
Malfoy made a face. “…Fine. You ought to at least demonstrate one for me.”
“Demonstrate—a Patronus?” Malfoy nodded. “…You’ve already seen my Patronus, though.”
“Yes, but there’s rather a difference between nearly getting run down by one and being able to appreciate it from a proper distance.”
Harry supposed he had a point, and there was no harm in showing Malfoy the charm. His Patronus was no secret, and if it encouraged Malfoy to buckle down and get serious about producing his own, then all the more reason.
Harry took a deep breath, centring himself and drawing on his happiest of memories—then cast.
The silver stag burst from the tip of his wand in brilliant glory, dazzling even in the afternoon sunlight. It cantered around them with a wide berth before prancing closer, shaking its magnificent antlers in Malfoy’s general direction. He took a reflexive step backwards, gazing in slack-jawed awe at the Patronus.
“Be nice,” Harry gently chided the stag. “He’s not going to be a prat this time.”
“…You talk to it like it’s sentient.”
“It’s an extension of me; sometimes I feel like it can understand me.” Hermione had told him innumerable times that it was only in his head, and that if his Patronus ever seemed capable of comprehension, it was simply the Charm’s innate magic, bending to his will. She was probably right, but Harry still liked to think of it as his father watching over him from beyond the veil.
Malfoy dared a nervous glance at Harry. “…Can I touch it?”
“Can you? I dunno. I don’t think they’re made of anything solid.”
Malfoy frowned in annoyance. “I meant—”
“Yeah, Malfoy. You can touch it.”
Malfoy held his hand out, palm face-down and fingers crooked, as if he meant the Patronus to sniff it like a wary stray. To Harry’s surprise, the stag extended its neck and gave a snuffling snort at Malfoy’s fingers, like it understood what he was trying to do and reacted accordingly. Maybe it had just been responding to Harry’s thoughts on the gesture.
Malfoy grinned, evidently taking this as a sign of acceptance; the expression was fetching, though it took his age down several pegs.
He reached out to rub the stag’s muzzle—but his touch passed through, his hand only disturbing the shape of the silvery magical aura briefly before it coalesced back into the stag’s long face.
Malfoy stared down at his hand, rubbing his fingers together. “…It’s like sticking your hand into a Freezing Charm.”
Harry Vanished the Patronus with a swipe of his wand, and Malfoy almost looked disappointed before quickly schooling his features. “With a strong enough memory, something you can really grab onto and hold tight until it fills you with warmth from your fingers to your toes, you’ll be able to produce a corporeal Patronus like that. It’s only a matter of finding the right memory and being able to recall it perfectly time and again.”
Malfoy stared at the place the stag had stood. “Did you get to choose what form it took?”
“No—but it’s not entirely random, either. My father’s was also a stag, though that may have had something to do with his Animagus form being a stag as well.”
Malfoy perked up at this, whirling around with wide-eyed hope. “Wait—so then, mine’ll be a dragon?”
Harry shrugged. “It doesn’t always work that way. McGonagall has a cat Patronus—but Hermione’s is an otter, even though her Animagus form is a rabbit. Plus—” Harry’s brows slanted deviously. “I already told you yours is going to be a peacock.”
“It’s not,” Malfoy bit out. “If it came out a vile, vindictive creature like that, shitting on anything that’ll stand still long enough and screeching like a banshee, I’d just as soon let myself be Kissed.”
Harry had to laugh at the thought of Malfoy welcoming a Dementor open-armed while his peacock Patronus strutted about haughtily. “Right, well, only one way to find out. It’s your turn to try now.”
Malfoy’s shoulders slumped. “Must I?”
“Yes, you must. Now come on—even a non-corporeal Patronus can protect you from Dementors. You just need to find a happy enough memory. It doesn’t have to be anything too over the top, just something that filled you with joy, something that even now brings warmth and—and excitement and happiness.”
Malfoy raised a brow. “Hm, right then, let’s see…” He pounded the palm of one hand with the fist of the other. “Ooh! I know, I’ll try remembering Slytherin winning the House Cup back in First Year—oh wait…” He cut a glare at Harry, who rolled his eyes.
“That wasn’t my fault. That was Dumbledore’s decision.”
“And humble little cherub that you are, you politely declined the thousand points he gave you.”
“…Was just sixty. And I kind of saved the school, so I reckon I earned those points.” Harry sighed. “Fine, what about making the Quidditch team? In Second Year?”
Malfoy sneered, though it seemed rather self-deprecating. “Everyone knows Father bought my way on.”
At least they weren’t pretending on that account. “Maybe,” Harry allowed, “But you can’t buy talent. You could’ve taken the position on your own merits, given the chance.”
“Yes, I could have,” Malfoy said, and though it came off snippy, he wasn’t entirely successful in hiding the flush of pleasure Harry’s flattery had incited. It hadn’t been idle, either; Malfoy was a fine flier and a brilliant Seeker. Harry was confident enough in his own skills to admit as such—in the privacy of his own mind, at least.
“First kiss?” Harry suggested, and Malfoy grimaced, shaking his head. Decidedly not a happy memory, then. “What about…finally managing your Animagus transformation?” Surely seeing his hard work had borne fruit would have been something to rejoice in.
“I might have been happy, if I could remember it at all—you’ll recall I was…indisposed for a bit afterwards.” Malfoy ran his hands through his hair, then rubbed at his face. “And even that’s not a guarantee; I only attempted it out of fear—not because I wanted to challenge myself or earn extra credit or something. If I’d been conscious at the time, I wager I’d only have felt relief followed quickly by a fresh wave of anxiety at having to put the next step of my plan to save my parents into action.”
Harry was growing frustrated as Malfoy continued to shoot down his suggestions with no proposals of his own, but he reminded himself that they’d never get anywhere if the both of them gave in to irritation and let their tempers fly free.
He sighed. “…Fine, let’s just start with any pleasant, positive memories and work from there? Even the most basic of happy memories should be enough to teach you how to hold on to the emotions that memory rouses. Your first broom, I think you said?” They needed to start somewhere, and maybe if Harry could instil in Malfoy the general idea of how to cast a Patronus, he’d be ready once he finally stumbled across a memory strong enough to defend against Dementors.
They spent the rest of the afternoon working on Malfoy’s casting, with limited success. While they did at least manage to relieve Malfoy of any fears about the spell backfiring, producing anything more than a few idle sparks that could have just been a trick of the fading light proved difficult.
When they found themselves getting too frustrated—with the casting and with each other—Harry suggested they take breaks to go flying or play Seeker’s games to boost Malfoy’s spirits. Once his mood had improved, Harry had them back at it—usually trying to time it after Malfoy had legitimately beaten Harry at some play or another, just in case.
Nothing much seemed to work, though, and once the light failed them, Harry had to beg off—not that Malfoy objected—to start on dinner preparations.
“…I thought you were going to switch with Granger?”
Harry smiled wanly. “I only told you I’d do that if you managed a noncorporeal Patronus by nightfall. Dazzling sparks don’t count; that won’t even give a Dementor a head cold.” Malfoy was the picture of pissed off at this, and Harry reminded, “You can always try again tomorrow? I think Ron’s on duty, but I can put in a word with Hermione should you surprise me.” He left the offer open, knowing well that he’d pushed Malfoy rather hard today and not wanting to press his luck.
Malfoy seemed to sense he was being tested, though, and sniffed. “…I wasn’t in the mood for egg custard tonight anyway.”
Harry sighed. Perhaps he should have given in; Malfoy being in a sour mood was not going to help him find a happy memory.
After dinner, Hermione chivvied them into the sitting room for evening research. She’d redoubled her efforts since the encounter with Xenophilius, perhaps thinking Harry might get distracted with thoughts of Hallows if they weren’t spending their every free moment trying to narrow down the location of Hufflepuff’s Cup and Ravenclaw’s Whatever.
They started making lists of places they hadn’t looked yet, ticking off potential hiding spots and discussing the likelihood of Horcruxes having been stored there. Together, the four of them raked through all the shops in Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, the Riddle House, Borgin and Burkes, even Albania—every place that they knew Tom Riddle had ever lived or worked, visited, or murdered in.
“Gringotts?” Malfoy suggested as the hour was drawing towards midnight, and Ron groaned.
“Don’t say that! I don’t even wanna consider a Horcrux being hidden in one of those high-security vaults! May as well just hand You-Know-Who the keys to the Minister for Magic’s office in that case. We’d never get our hands on it.”
“Plus we can’t exactly stroll up to the reception desk and ask to have a look-about,” Hermione said.
In Harry’s opinion, that made it the perfect place to hide a Horcrux, but he shared the others’ hopes that it wouldn’t come down to having to Imperius some poor Goblin into sneaking them a copy of the contents manifesto for every vault in the bank just to say they hadn’t left any stone unturned.
Malfoy was rubbing at his eyes, blinking blearily next to Harry. He’d worked up a sweat in the Sanctuary earlier between the casting practice and the diversions, and even Harry was starting to feel exhaustion tugging at him.
Hermione stood, stretching her arms over her head with a yawn. “Right, I think I’m going to have to accept we’re not finding the next Horcrux tonight. Malfoy, remember it’s your turn at breakfast in the morning.”
Malfoy buried his face into Harry’s shoulder with a much put-upon sigh. “First no egg custard, and now this.”
“The first one’s your own fault,” Harry reminded him. “…Or there’s always the option of, you know, asking her nicely to make it for you.”
Malfoy drew back, wrinkling his nose. “Don’t be ridiculous, Potter. That would never work.”
Harry shoved him away, easing to his feet—then froze as an ear-piercing screech rent the air, followed by the eruption of a distant boom and popping crackles.
They were all immediately on their guard, wands in hand and spells ready on their lips. Harry strained his ears—and caught another screech-boom-crackle quick on the heels of the first. It sounded like it was coming from all around them, though they were meant to be camped safe in a thicket surrounded by acres of farmland.
He whirled around, checking the Sneakoscope standing ever-present vigil on a sidetable next to one of the bookshelves—but it lay silent and unmoving, giving no indication there was anything sinister going on.
Malfoy tugged on his sleeve, pointing to the ceiling of the tent with his wand. Colour bloomed across the canvas in rainbow shades—as if the very skies above were lit up in yellows and reds and brilliant blue-greens.
Carefully, and quietly, Harry crept over to the entrance of the tent, ignoring Malfoy’s furious silent gestures to Get back here, you pillock! He ran the tip of his wand over the laces holding the entrance closed, opening them just enough to peek outside and scan the skies. Had they been found out? Or unwittingly stumbled into the midst of a battle? Or—
Another screech sounded, louder this time without the tent canvas to muffle the sound, and the boom-crackle sent dazzling sparks of pink and yellow spinning through the heavens.
Harry laughed, pulling his head back inside and fumbling with the laces to open them the rest of the way.
“Wh—what is it?!” Ron hissed. “Harry, get back in here! What’s going on?”
Harry threw a grin over his shoulder. “It’s fireworks! At least I’m pretty sure? Doesn’t look like spellwork to me.”
Hermione gasped. “It must be New Year’s Eve! I completely lost track of the days!”
Harry had too, he wasn’t ashamed to admit.
They quickly bundled up into coats and hastily cast Warming Charms to take in the sight. Hermione threw up a Tempus Charm so they could track the countdown.
The Dursleys had never been one for crowds, and Dudley had always wanted to stay up late but wound up passing out around eleven every year, but Harry had usually been able to catch snatches of the display in London on the telly if he wanted.
This was nowhere near as grand, of course—probably just a few teenagers popping off their pocket money’s haul. But still—it was nice. A moment of tradition—of something normal—in the middle of all this uncertainty. Harry would take his moments where he could find them, for however long he still got to experience them. He’d never gotten to see proper year’s-end fireworks with his friends before, so this was something he could tick off his bucket list, he supposed.
He glanced over at Hermione and Ron—and then quickly looked away, as Hermione was leaning against Ron’s shoulder, and he’d brought his arm up around her waist. They weren’t doing anything, but Harry felt like he was intruding on something very private. He thought he could hear the murmur of them speaking, and not wanting to seem like he was eavesdropping, he let his feet carry him a few paces away until he was standing next to Malfoy.
It somehow felt incredibly awkward to stand there, watching the fireworks together in silence, so Harry groped for a topic of conversation, eventually settling on, “Got a resolution?”
“A resolution?” Malfoy was staring up at the fireworks, their brilliant hues flashing across his pale features in a kaleidoscope of colour.
“Yeah, you know: something you resolve to do differently in the new year from the old one.”
Malfoy snorted softly, rolling his eyes. “I know what a resolution is. But there’s no guarantee any of us are going to live to see out the coming year, so what’s the point?”
Harry shrugged. “Well, tradition for one. I know you Purebloods are all about that.” Malfoy didn’t seem to bother suppressing the grin that twitched at his lips, perhaps too taken with the light show to make an effort. “And even if you may think you don’t have long left, there’s nothing saying you can’t make the most of the time you’ve got.”
“Hm. And what’s your resolution, then?”
Harry pursed his lips in thought, head cocked to the side as he mulled what he could conceivably accomplish in his very limited free time. “I resolve…to learn to make egg custard.”
“On top of saving the entire wizarding world? Needed more of a challenge, did you?”
“Well I wouldn’t want to make it too easy on You-Know-Who. Think of what the history books would say if I didn’t make it a fair fight.”
“Thinking ahead to the state of your legacy? Well done, Potter. Perhaps I’ve managed to instil in you some self-preservation instincts after all.” Malfoy took a step to the side, dodging the elbow Harry threw his way. “Well practice on Weasley first; I’ll not be your test subject.”
“But you’ll try it when I’ve managed it?”
“If, then perhaps.”
Harry smiled to himself, because it really was a ridiculous resolution. Ridiculous still more to be making any at all. “All right. Your turn.”
“I think not. I’m not going to participate in your patented brand of insanity. I’ve enough to occupy myself with already.”
“Oi, that’s not how this works—come on, give it.” He was insistent. “It’s tradition.”
“Fine,” Malfoy huffed, batting his lashes at Harry in feigned innocence. “I resolve to produce a corporeal Patronus.”
“That doesn’t count; a resolution is supposed to be something new, something you haven’t thought to do before. We’ve been working on your Patronus all day. Something else!” A thought came to him, then, and he grabbed the sleeve of Malfoy’s thick wool coat. “Call me ‘Harry’.”
“What?” Malfoy said, and Harry didn’t imagine the way he recoiled slightly, as if Harry had gone mad and he feared it was catching. “What kind of ridiculous, childish ‘resolution’ is that?”
“It’s not ridiculous or childish; I’d even go so far as to say it’s childish for you to keep addressing us all like we’re strangers.”
“It’s how adults address one another. Potter.”
Harry pointedly wiped his face. “I’m this close to casting an Umbrella Charm preemptively from here on out, I really am. And it’s how adults address each other when they’re strangers. Adults who aren’t friends.”
“And we’re friends?” Malfoy asked, carefully oblique. His tone said it was only a rhetorical question—because of course they weren’t—but reflected in his eyes, alongside the bursts of colour and light, was something genuine and curious.
Harry licked his lips. “…If not that, then what?”
It wasn’t the same easy, familial relationship he had with Hermione and Ron, that was for sure. It wasn’t even the firm but more distant friendships he shared with Ginny and Neville and Luna, their bonds forged by time and trials experienced together. But whatever had taken root between himself and Malfoy, Harry knew it was something real and there, if ineffable. Reassurance, he reminded himself, and let Malfoy chew on that for a while.
Malfoy grew discomfited, though, and turned back to the fireworks, swallowing. “Well, I’m afraid to disappoint you, but it’s not happening. It’s far too embarrassing.”
“Uh, I dunno if you’ve noticed,” Harry laughed roughly, taking great care to keep his voice low enough the crackles and booms covered their conversation, “but we’re doing some pretty embarrassing things already.”
“Yes, and those were things we had to do,” Malfoy bit out, jaw tense and teeth grit. “And as I hear it from this knob I’m rooming with, resolutions aren’t required.”
“I don’t get why you’re being so—”
“I don’t want to call you ‘Harry’. What more is there to get?”
“Well I do want you to, obviously! And it strikes me that I’ve been doing a lot of things you want me to do without protest—”
“Without protest?” Malfoy hissed.
“—So it wouldn’t hurt this once for you to do something without a whole song and dance.”
Malfoy glared at him, and for the first time, Harry was starting to reconsider having returned his wand. “I’ve saved your life twice, you know.”
“Yeah, and you still call me by my surname. Doesn’t that sound stupid?”
“You sound stupid.”
“Now who’s being childish?” He poked Malfoy in the side, though it was lost against down-insulated wool and a crisp button-up. “Come on. Here I am offering to learn to make your very favourite egg custard while juggling my solemn duty to defeat You-Know-Who, and you can’t muster up a Harry in return? That doesn’t seem fair to me.”
“I do hate to break it to you, but life’s not fair, Potter.”
He’d turned away again, and Harry sighed. He certainly didn’t want to close out the year with Malfoy in a mood.
The Tempus Charm Hermione had cast marked the countdown at twenty seconds now, and Harry watched it, entranced, as another round of fireworks lit up the night sky behind it. The Warming Charm was wearing off, and he blew into his hands instead, too lazy to renew it.
They still had so much work to do, an impossible task before them and an uncertain fate waiting at the end of it all.
But in this moment, this intake of breath between one year and the next, they could pause, enjoy life and its promises and think about a future that might or might not come. There was no harm in fantasy, surely, and if it got them through one more day, if these little lies they told themselves eased the burden of their duties even an ounce, it was worth it.
The Tempus Charm ticked down the final few seconds, and Harry reached out, crooking his pinky and looping it through Malfoy’s where it hung at his side. Malfoy’s throat bobbed, the only real indication he was in any way affected by the gesture. Without so much as a flicker of emotion registering on his features, Malfoy quietly curled his pinky as well, squeezing almost imperceptibly as the charm flashed 00:00 for a heartbeat—and then began its steady onward tick.
A volley of fireworks shot into the air, lighting up the snow-covered countryside for miles around. Malfoy listed to the side, craning his head close to Harry’s—and then his breath was warm against Harry’s jaw, his neck. Downy soft—not touching, but there, and Harry stiffened in place as dry, chapped lips brushed gently over the sensitive patch of skin just under his ear.
“Happy New Year, Harry,” he whispered, and it was a wonder Harry caught it at all in the crackling and booming chaos raining down from on high.
Harry fought down a shiver that had nothing to do with the chill, praying Hermione and Ron were trading their own New Year’s greetings and too distracted to glance over to see Malfoy practically necking with him.
He squeezed Malfoy’s pinky back and felt his nose and ears heat as he sank into his thick, woolen scarf to hide what he knew had to be an embarrassing grin. “…Happy New Year, Draco.”