When You Admit to Swallowing Crow
Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with Harry Potter. No money is being made. Promise.
Reference to Know: Eating crow, as I found out fairly recently, is an American idiom for displaying humility, eating your own words and overall shamefully admitting when you're wrong. It's not all that common a saying, depending on where you're from, I think; but all the same, the phrase intrigued me, and this was the result.
Also, thank you to betas Imperial Mint and Sevfan
When You Admit to Swallowing Crow
When you admit to swallowing crow, it is general principle in polite society to leave it at that and not dwell on mistakes made. Mistakes have been made, yes. Not you made some mistakes, they've just been made. But this time you know it was you. And while you're not the sole one responsible, you know you still have to own up and make it right, at least to the best of your ability.
You can't change how you feel about his family. His father is dead, lost his sanity in Azkaban and wasted away shortly after. You're not sorry. You think he deserved it after all the horrible things he did. He had his red, blood-coated hands all over several attempts on your life, and though there have been many, that is still a lofty feat, so you can hardly feel sorry he's finally gone.
You don't care all that much for his mother, though she did save your life in the final battle. But that was more for the sake of her son than any warm feelings she might have harboured towards you and your continued survival. But all the same, you know you wouldn't be alive right now if it wasn't for her. And that's enough.
He's not the same snotty little rich boy he was at school. Something not completely unnameable took place between fifth and sixth year and neither of you have been able to look back ever since. But that doesn't necessarily mean you've moved on and don't still hold prejudices. Prejudices had been lodged deep from that first day on the train, back when you were so scared with the idea of making friends for the first time in your life that you myopically latched onto the first person who accepted you and looked kindly your way. Then you freaked at the slight hint of losing that person to a bleach-blond haired bully that reminded you too strongly of Dudley. And thus began that inexplicable, yet nonetheless monumental, relationship of mutual animosity and vicious competition.
But now you're both out of school, the second war is finally over, and you're no longer a teenager. Maybe it had something to do with the Killing Curse and losing that part of Voldemort's soul attached to your own, but you feel like you've stepped out of your old skin and can finally look back on your life with clear hindsight that you never had before. Hermione says that means you've finally grown up, Mr Weasley says that means you're a man now, and you're sure Dumbledore would say in that laden, sombre voice of his that it means you've lost your innocence fully. There's no going back. And honestly, you can't say that you would want to – another product of seeing the past in hindsight, it was never as carefree as it should have been. Not that you ever really expected it to be.
No. That was a lie. A part of you always had hoped to have one year as a normal kid, a normal student, a normal friend. But it was never to be.
Now you're all grown up, as the saying goes, and are standing outside a small, fairly inconspicuous cottage on the coast of Kent, gathering up the courage to step through the wards that would announce your arrival and call the attention of the two occupants of the home.
You breathe in deeply and take in the crisp scent of fresh air, with a slight tinge of salt to its edge. You can do this.
You walk through the wards and mentally cross your fingers, hoping for the best. You are here to apologise and propose a new, different future that holds no animosity or past grudges because, most importantly, you feel he's worth it. After that night – the night you returned his wand to him under the cover of chaos and celebration mixed with mourning, where he told you that he had hoped you would win, you knew you needed to see him again. That you needed to sit down and talk, face to face, about all the things you were never able to tell each other before now.
Maybe it's just you who's thinking this way and who wants this meeting and for new bridge to be built, but you hope all the same that what you saw in his eyes that night was the same understanding and wanting. So you're putting yourself out on a limb here, admitting to your past misunderstandings, your wish to move forward with a not a completely clean, but at least a partially fresh one, and hoping for the best.
The door opens before you even reach the last flat stone step and you look up to see the face you had hoped to see, that you hadn't seen for half a year. Half a year of trials and funerals and parties and added responsibilities and recognitions of shed responsibilities and a new home and re-evaluating what you wanted to do with your life and the realisation that you're more alone than you've ever been before, even with the whole of the wizarding world turned towards your every move. You're a celebrated hero, the rightful Chosen One, the one current history books are being written about, as well as a single, apparently available and very much handsome young man –at least Hermione tells you as much.
You find you haven't noticed the Daily Prophet gossip as much anymore, or just haven't let it get your goat, and you wonder if all your past blunders and indignities and fights and confusion at being thrust into the limelight at such a young age have led to this. This feeling of being comfortable in your own skin; this assured confidence; this ability to acknowledge your past and move beyond it; or this moment of standing in front of your old school rival, waiting to be asked inside on this chilly day with darkening rain skies looming overhead, though it's only half past noon.
An inclination of one platinum blond head grants you entrance and as you walk up the steps you feel the sudden need to tell him that you were abused as a child, past reconciliation, that you don't think you'll ever really get over that; that you never wanted to be the Chosen One and even now wonder if your life could have gone in a different direction with a happier outcome if your parents hadn't died or Dumbledore hadn't put you in the Dursleys' care. That you don't think you came back from Death's door right –why are you still a Parslemouth? –that – that – that you want nothing more than a hand of friendship from him right now because you hope it'll build up into something else in the near future and you are prepared to do whatever it takes to help you both through the threshold to the next stages in your lives. That you just want to move on and be forgotten by the rest of the world and you're pretty sure that he wants the same, in some way.
And you've never wanted to tell anyone any of those things before. So why now? Why him?
You want to ask him that too and see if he has an answer, because it seems just as likely that he would, he was always the smarter one, after all.
So before you sit down and he has the chance to offer you a cup of tea, you take advantage of the slightly awkward moment between the two of you, where he's obviously unsure of why you're here, and stick out your hand with a sincere apology for what you hope is now water under the bridge between the two of you.
He looks at you oddly and tilts his head to the side in silent inquiry, boring his eyes into you for confirmation that this isn't some callus joke, and your own eyes then become drawn to the piece of fringe that falls out of place by gravity to rest just against his right eyebrow, making you wonder when the last time he had a haircut was. You like the fringe, you don't like the length in the back, but you keep your mouth shut for now and wait for the verdict, still standing awkwardly at the entrance to what you assume is the living room.
The smell of fresh wood and paint invade your senses and you realise that this house must have been renovated, and possibly been in previous disrepair, before the two remaining Malfoys relocated here. You wonder whether Draco buckled down and did some work or if they used their house-elves from the Manor or hired people to clean it up to make it inhabitable again.
Your thoughts are once again interrupted as you notice the light bags under his eyes, visible due to the pallor of his skin, but otherwise he appears healthy and whole. His hands are shaking slightly at his sides, and you notice that it's neither from rage nor nervousness, but that he barely seems to notice he's doing it – must be an after-effect of the war. You still have nightmares sometimes and the littlest of unsuspecting things still give you gruesome flashbacks every once in a while that can be momentarily paralyzing, depending on the image.
Sometimes you imagine you can still smell the scent of Voldemort's breath in the back of your throat from that first time he touched you with his bare finger in the graveyard – stale, decaying, death. You never shake or show any outward signs that the war or Voldemort's essential part in your life has affected you long term, and people who don't know you falsely praise your bravery and strength of will. But you know that the deepest scars for you are internal and though you've moved on with your life and no longer have that heavy burden weighing down your shoulders, those scars will forever be there, hidden, yet nonetheless blemishing, maiming, damaging.
Mrs Weasley's hands still shake all the time and Ron's eyes still flick down nervously to the long scar on the side of Hermione's arm from time to time. Hermione has developed the, as far as Harry can tell, unconscious habit of slowly running her fingers up and down that same scar whenever in deep thought and George seems to perpetually be glancing out of the corner of his eye as though needing the visual reminder of the gaping absence by his side.
'Alright,' you finally hear, accompanied by a terse nod and an invitation to sit down and join him for tea as he clasps your still-outstretched hand firmly with his own. Before you realise it, you've let out a deep, relieved sigh that seems to have come from the depths of your diaphragm and you find yourself sinking into the offered settee with a pleased smile on your face.
"Mother is out in town. She's taken with a group of Muggles who are part of some type of garden club. It helps her pass the time with nothing else to do and no house-elves to help her keep up gardens of her own in this little place," he offers by way of explanation for leaving the room and going to make the tea himself.
You offer to help and don't take his casual wave of 'don't worry about it' for an answer. But he doesn't stop you as you follow him into the kitchen and attempt to make small talk as he manually boils thewater for tea and you reach up into the top cupboards on his instruction, looking for the promised package of biscuits that were up there.
"So what brings you out here Potter?" There's a pause. "Really?" he adds with particular emphasis, but his voice thankfully lacks its usual sneer you've become so familiar with.
Instead of answering directly, you insist that he call you Harry.
Malfoy – Draco looks evenly ahead, then blinks and turns his attention to fetch two china cups from the grand glass cabinet that takes up the entire wall on the far side of the room.
"You didn't answer my question."
You shrug and answer in a roundabout way that you needed to get away from it all, take a break from the craze and celebration and mourning and unease, that everything had changed and no one was prepared to deal with it just yet, least of all Harry. But then again, you did want the change most of all because it ultimately meant that you would have a life of your own, not dictated by some prophecy or overseen by an ancient, wise old man representing the 'Greater Good'.
You trail off after that, your thoughts suddenly lost in how you had expected to feel different, happier, and more carefree once all this was over – mainly, once Voldemort was dead once and for all. But instead, you don't feel much of anything at all.
When your eyes and mind come back into focus, you notice the same distant look on Draco's face and wonder how he expected everything to turn out in the end. You wonder if he expected to make it out alive either. Or if once upon a time, he expected to rule the wizarding world with the grace of a pureblood, whatever that meant. Though you wouldn't dare ask him, you wonder if he sometimes misses the future his childish mind had cooked up for him or if reality of what that path really meant has sunk too deep for him to ever look upon that destiny again without sinking deeper into unnamed night terrors.
'Tea's ready," Draco announces and gestures towards the table where the sugar and milk are already out, but you like your tea black because you never knew it any other way. Whatever you got from the Dursleys from clothes to food was always plain and minimal, which is something you got used to even after years of delicious Hogwarts dining and fine wizarding robes that were all your own, no hand-me-downs from Dudley any more.
Draco puts two spoonfuls of sugar in his and douses it with milk.
As you settle back into the living room, a little awkwardly, faltering as you figure out who should go out the doorway first and who should lead and on which settee was it appropriate to sit, and since when did you worry about politeness and saying the right thing around Draco Malfoy? You dread the awkward silences that are sure to follow.
"So you decided to come here to get away from the entire wizarding world that is doing nothing but grovel at your feet? How…sensible," Draco intones, and you'd be deaf not to hear the mocking quality and sarcasm to his words. You almost wince as you do hear it, having been subconsciously waiting for it the moment he let you inside. But instead of retaliating with a snarky reply as you would have done in the past, you simply nod and shrug.
"Again, that's hardly an answer, Potter."
"Harry," you remind him gently, but firmly.
"Why are you really here?" Draco has ignored your request yet again and stares hard into your eyes unwaveringly, daring you to give a proper answer this time and not some half-arsed excuse about needing to get away from your fame and glory.
Even if he can at least empathise that you don't enjoy it, you and he both know that you can handle it and have been handling it for years. So you killed Voldemort –yes, you're being hounded by the press even more now and you can't walk down the street without a thousand stares on you, and so many people – perfect strangers – keep owling you to come to this loved one's funeral because he or she fought in the great battle, or come to bless our child so that he or she may become as powerful a wizard as you – but you do your due-diligence as always, and there are, after all, many other likely places to go, off continent for example, to take a holiday from it all.
And yet, you're in Kent visiting your ex-enemy for no other reason than to 'mend bridges' as you put it with such finesse in your head, and with even less finesse out loud. And yes, you had planned on telling him why exactly you were doing this at some point today, maybe some point in the near future if this visit went as well as you hoped and there came to be more visits later. But not now. Now had to be the most inopportune moment to bring up the fact that though you feel like you've aged several decades overnight and come out a whole new man with a sense of confidence and self-assurance that you had only ever hoped to possess–
"I can't get the war out of my head."
There, you said it. Again, lacking finesse and all around clarity, but that was the best you could come up with on such short notice.
He nods with a blank look on his face, so you're not sure what he's thinking, but you're pretty sure he's acknowledging you to continue.
"And not just the war, but my childhood with the Dursleys, and trying to figure out my relationship with Dumbledore, wondering if all he was preparing me for was to die and whether I've outlived …myself. Or something. And then the final battle and missing all the people who are gone now because of it. Part of me still expects to see Fred coming in to finish George's story, or Moony and Tonks to pop up and take Teddy from me after I've been holding him for too long, or even Sirius to start laughing and patting me on the back, saying I've done him and my dad proud."
Draco stops you with a raised hand, looking a little regretful at doing so, but shock and curiosity override good manners. He asks you to wait and repeats Sirius' name like he's not sure he heard you right.
Briefly explaining that he was your innocent godfather – and do people still not know? – you brush it off as another thing you had planned on explaining later. But now you're rambling.
"Anyway, Hermione tried to get me to see a Mind Healer but I'm not interested. And truthfully I don't feel comfortable being 'treated' by anyone in the wizarding world at the moment. But that aside, she did what she always does and found an answer in some book." You smile like you would with Ron, sharing a well-known joke about Hermione and the library before you even realise who you're talking to again. But surprisingly, Draco snorts softly through his nose in reply all the same, showing that he knows exactly what you're talking about, even though…yeah.
"So she's been trying to have me share my feelings and go on this self-help kick." You pause. "It hasn't really been working, though she claims it's because I've been less than cooperative." You shrug. "But one of her things that I decided to actually listen to was putting all my energy into repairing a relationship with someone I felt I…," you trail off. You weren't going to say, 'someone you thought you hurt the most' because that would damage both of your prides. Nor could you say, 'someone I thought I could build a real relationship with' because that sounds just cheesy and who says stuff like that?
"Someone that played a significant part in my life," you finish with, belatedly, hoping that you've managed to salvage pride all around and keep the sappiness out of the statement while still conveying the gravity of your choice. This wasn't some pick a name out of a hat deal, after all. You knew exactly who you would choose to expend your efforts on the moment Hermione offered this as a way of coming to terms with yourself with your past – all your past.
"And you chose me."
He says it as a statement, not a question, yet you nod futilely in response all the same. His face is once again blank, devoid of any hints of his true reaction to this news. You didn't want him to get the impression you were using him as some kind of anonymous group rehab session where you blurted out all the wrongs you'd done in the past and then expected a heart-warming hug in return to squeeze out all your problems with the power of love and forgiveness.
Alright, well, Ron had actually said something along those lines, sans the bit of Muggle culture and heavily smeared sarcasm, and you had guffawed easily with him at the time, when you hadn't been so sure about Hermione's theory. But now that you have really thought about it, those anonymous groups might not have been all that daft in their methods after all.
But you shake your head and refocus on Draco's face, wondering if you should continue speaking for the sake of filling the silence or wait for Draco to respond and give you a cue on how to proceed. Obsession went both ways, though, right? You weren't the only one with a problem of myopic rivalry. In fact, you remember, distinctly, several occasions when Draco was the instigator, causing you both to become incensed in name of giving Draco the enflamed attention you both so desired.
You sit back, fidgeting slightly among the down cushions that give your back kinks due to the thick, old fabric that had snooty-rich family-country-home written all over it. But despite that you still think the home is a nice contrast to the dark, imposing manor you don't ever intend to go back to, no matter how this relationship blooms or dies. All you can ever imagine when you think of that place is its dark dungeons, Dobby's death, and Hermione's tortured screams. You fidget some more. But Draco doesn't comment, his eyes gazing calculatingly on your face, which you try to keep as open as possible.
Finally, after what seems like an agonising several minutes, and what was probably only a few seconds, Draco stands abruptly and with purpose.
"Mother'll be back soon, and when she returns she'll want her nap. She can't sleep unless there's complete silence."
You smile and take the hint, placing your tea down as gracefully as you can, while commenting that it sounds like your Aunt Petunia, who would screech at you from the top of the stairs, while supposedly sleeping in on Sunday, if you even put a glass down too hard while making the breakfast that she had demanded of you the night before. Not that Narcissa Malfoy would ever screech, just the need for complete silence, you quickly explain. And while you do, you realise how natural it feels to share stories like that and you don't think about how you've only shared a select few with Ron and Hermione, upon Hermione's insistent 'care' for you that sharing would help alleviate this metaphorical burden off your shoulders. But you tell Draco Malfoy like you were sharing how you like to spend your Sunday afternoons.
He looks at you oddly for a moment and you quickly gather your wits about you and remember that you're supposed to be leaving. Now you've not only overstayed your welcome but missed the subtle, polite social cues of the rich that drive the point home as well. You're just reminding him of your ungainly past as an ignorant orphan; in a word, embarrassing. Quickly shaking your head, you push your body into motion, nodding your head in farewell and stuffing your hands into your pockets from habit. But Draco quirks an eyebrow and lifts his hand in a silent command to wait.
You freeze for a moment, trying to rack your brain on whom he's asking about. Who have you mentioned? What is he asking exactly? But your puzzled look must have given you away because he waves his hand impatiently like he's swatting a fly and clarifies, "The screeching woman."
"My Aunt Petunia." You already said that, didn't you? "My mother's sister; the Dursleys, who raised me," you finish clarifying awkwardly. Did that even make sense?
"Your own family treated you like a house-elf?"
You're sure Hermione would scoff at the derogatory emphasis, but all you can do is nod, inwardly marvelling at Malfoy's rage, seemingly on your behalf. He shakes his head disgustedly in response and quietly spits out the word 'Muggle' derisively. For once, you don't comment because where the Dursleys are concerned you can share that particular sentiment, though you're not sure being Muggle is necessarily the reason for their unpleasantness. You softly snort and shrug in tacit agreement, then pull one hand out of your pocket to offer to Draco amicably again.
He takes it perfunctorily, but you can see in his eyes that he's still broiling inside over the information of yet another instance of Muggles treating a wizard as inferior. But this time you don't hear the undertones of Voldemort and Lucius; just Draco being Draco. And it amuses you in ways you can't describe.
And as you walk out the door and towards the bed and breakfast you're staying at, stealing yourself not to look back or listen closely for the closing of the front door, you think, that's perfectly alright.
Several days later, while you're sitting on a rock, looking over a magazine you'd bought in town, and listening to the waves crashing viciously below, you receive an owl. It comes swooping in to alight on your shoulder and holds out its foot for you. With one short message, your fears that you'd come all the way out here for naught are alleviated and your hopes that the first meeting had been somewhat of a success are confirmed.
Draco has asked you to meet him at a little tea shop a ways into town that's popular among the locals, and says he'll be there this afternoon if you would like to join him.
You spot him sitting with his ankles crossed and leaning back casually on a bench outside the aforementioned café. As soon as he sees you, he lazily stands up and places his hands in his pocket.
"I'd originally planned for tea, but Mother force-fed me a huge lunch before I could get out the door, so if it's alright with you, I'd like to take a walk around town."
You shrug; you weren't that hungry anyway, so the two of you turn and begin to walk aimlessly, shoulders a good distance from touching, to show that while you are walking close enough to know each other, you're not exceptionally good friends. You still think you can change that, though.
The air is a little chilly, and though there are plenty of Muggles out, you feel you may have been remiss in shucking your robes earlier and wish you had a light jacket to protect you from the sea breeze that seems to be a constant entity. But the locals, wearing thin t-shirts and vests seem more than use to it, so you surreptitiously cast a wandless Warming Charm and find that by eliminating the discomfort of the cold, you can enjoy the scenery around you more.
There's a farmer's market down the road, selling fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, and some fresh-squeezed lemonade. As you pass a fish market, where the proprietor is outside, calling his wares, you suggest to Draco that they check out the open field-come marketplace below.
As he turns his head to look at where you're pointing, you find yourself closer to the back of his head than you'd realised and find yourself breathing in his musky shampoo, though the light cologne he used to wear while at school is missing. You miss it.
Setting off down the road, you keep him in your peripheral vision, liking to watch the way he swings his hands at his side as he walks. His shoulders aren't as tense and high as they used to be when he would walk down the halls of Hogwarts, knowing that everyone was staring at him and expecting him to act the part of a Malfoy, of Slytherin's prince. Salt air and anonymity has done wonders for him and you wonder if it could do the same for you if you stayed here a bit longer.
Somehow, you end up walking right past the market and towards the direction of a little children's playground that is currently deserted and smells strongly of seaweed that has been baking for hours in the sun. Looking past the stone wall barrier beyond the seesaw, you see that the sea is only a cliff walk away. By unspoken agreement, you both walk towards the thick wooden rail that shields the path from the sheer drop.
It's foggy, and admittedly not much to see, but the gesture of leaning on the rails to look out over the open sea is enough to set your heart at peace.
'This isn't just some one-off, come to enjoy the sideshow and have a good laugh at how the Mighty have fallen, is it?"
His stance is still relaxed, though a little standoffish, letting you know just how much of himself he is baring openly, and for a moment you're not sure you deserve it. But you know, at least, how to answer to disavow him of any such illusions. You're serious about this and you tell him as much, while not trying to deny the obvious. The Malfoy family would not be here of all places if they could help it, though you still think it's a nice enough place to be.
You say that you like it here, but won't overstay your welcome, while inanely thinking of a silly Muggle film, The Man Who Came to Dinner, as you say so. You don't share that last bit, though, as you don't think Draco would understand the reference. Maybe he'd know of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but again, you're getting off topic.
He asks how long you'd prefer to stay if you had the choice. You shrug, before remembering how he doesn't take that as an acceptable answer. But just as you turn and open your mouth to give a better reply, you find him directly in your face, and a moment later, his mouth is swiftly covering yours in a short, but sweet kiss.
Your mind is racing, questions popping up and bursting into nothing as he slowly pulls away and seems to be searching your eyes, penetrating into your mind for confirmation of some kind. But all you can do is smile softly – a reaction you have absolutely no control over – and realise that this was the 'different' you had been expecting to feel. It would figure that he figured the how of it out first.
And then he asks you, why, why now? And suddenly, you know the answer, the most important answer of all, and it was not nearly as hard to pinpoint and describe as you'd thought.
"I was angry before; now I'm not." And you find that really, that says it all and you know you can move on now. And you hope, though you suspect that it will no longer be a problem, that Draco will move on with you.
And that, you think, is much more than just alright. That's perfectly wonderful.