Chapter 1: Returning
Harry stretched as he rolled out of bed. He had slept almost six hours, he saw, when he cast the Tempus Charm, and that seemed to be what he had most needed.
He felt wonderful. His muscles were softly relaxed, he could move without wincing again, and his head was clear. If he had to, Harry knew now, he could face the stares when he stepped into the Great Hall.
But best of all, his holly wand was whole and back in his hand.
Harry smiled at it and made his way down the stairs.
It seemed that the only change that had been made in the Great Hall was covering up or removing the bodies and setting out food. Harry glanced at the place where Mrs. Weasley had defeated Bellatrix, with a morbid curiosity, but there was nothing there, not even blood. He nodded, a little relieved, and grabbed a cup of the strong tea that the house-elves must have brewed from the Ravenclaw table.
There were still plenty of people milling around, sitting in corners talking, or huddled in blankets and weeping. Some of them stared up at him, but no one made a move to approach. Harry grabbed a sandwich that had insufficient cheese on it, slapped some more on, and stared around, searching for the Weasleys.
Instead, he saw more people he would have expected to be gone by now. The Malfoys still sat in a sheltered corner near the doors, whispering to each other. Narcissa appeared to have fond a grey cloak from somewhere and was wrapping Draco’s shoulders in it. Harry shuddered for a second, then relaxed. If it was grey, then it probably hadn’t belonged to a Death Eater.
And if it had belonged to someone dead, well. They didn’t need it anymore.
Harry looked around one more time, for Weasleys. Their hair should have made them stand out, but it seemed they’d all gone to bed. Probably for the best, Harry thought, and closed his eyes for a second as the memory of Fred’s death came to him.
Then he took out the hawthorn wand he’d conquered and considered it. There was no reason to keep it, when he thought about things. He already had one wand he didn’t want. The Aurors might want this one as evidence—Harry had no doubt that all three Malfoys would go through a trial—but they could just as well take it back from Draco as not.
The Malfoys apparently noticed the instant he started walking towards them. Lucius tensed up and spread his hands flat on the table in front of him, to show they were empty. Draco ducked his head, muffling his face. Narcissa was the only one who went still and hostile and simply looked up at Harry, as if to say that she wouldn’t move an inch away from her son now she’d found him.
Harry didn’t want her to. He wanted this resolved as simply and neatly as possible. He held out the wand the instant he got in front of Draco. “This is yours.”
Draco stared at him, then at the wand again, his face as pale as glass. When he reached out a shaking hand, Harry was startled by the rush of compassion in his own heart. He held the wand firmly until Draco could grasp it, so he wouldn’t drop it and embarrass himself further. It whisked away into his cloak in a second.
“Why?” Draco whispered.
Harry wondered for a second how many questions there were that he could take that to mean. But there was no point in pretending he didn’t understand, not when his goal wasn’t to embarrass Draco. He smiled at him, shrugged, and said, “I think you aren’t going to run off and cast Dark Arts spells in the time before the Ministry comes to collect you. So you might as well be able to warm yourself or something.”
He’d started to turn away when there was an intense bout of whispering behind him. Harry turned back, and found Lucius leaning forwards and fixing him with a haggard gaze.
“Will you take care of my family?” he asked.
Harry thought about that, then gave the most honest answer he could. “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to. The Ministry doesn’t necessarily listen to me. I’ll tell the truth about what they did for me during the war, though.”
Lucius blinked, then nodded in exhaustion and sat back down. “That is the best I can hope for.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, as gently as possible. “It kind of is.” He wasn’t going to lie maliciously just because Draco and Narcissa were Slytherins, which was probably what Lucius had been afraid of, but on the other hand, he wasn’t going to lie positively for them either and pretend they had been secretly on Dumbledore’s side all along.
“As long as I can hope,” said Lucius, and turned back to talk to his wife. Draco huddled into the cloak his mother had found him and said nothing.
That was Ginny’s voice, from the other side of the Hall. Harry turned around, waved, and moved towards her. It was almost midnight, so there was no sunlight to actually shine down from the ceiling, but he didn’t care. He had enough sunlight in his heart for both of them.
And it remained when she grabbed him around the waist and held him tight, even when she began crying about Fred, and Harry could hold her through their shared mourning and murmur reassurances into her hair. They would move on together.
“Draco, dear. You’re staring.”
Draco flushed and lowered his eyes from Potter’s back. It seemed like a dream, even though it had just happened. Potter had come over and handed him back his wand. And he hadn’t said anything insulting, either, and it sounded as though he might talk about things like Mother saving his life in the Forbidden Forest.
Draco felt off-balance. The Dark Lord falling had been like a burst of fire in his heart and brain. And then, burned, he had sat back and waited for the appearance of Aurors. He had thought he would find himself in Azkaban before the next sunrise.
Instead, they had been left to sit here. Draco had seen an Auror or two, but they had paid no attention to his family except to glance at them now and then. They had seemed far more interested in removing the bodies and rounding up Death Eaters.
Other Death Eaters.
Draco closed his eyes. He had never felt like a real Death Eater. He rather doubted that the Aurors would take note of that argument, though.
“Here,” said Mother, and Draco opened his eyes and looked at her. She had extended a plate of sandwiches, most of which looked as if they were simply cheese, with here and there a glimpse of green that might be lettuce. “You need to eat something, Draco.”
Draco nodded and accepted a sandwich. He felt the crunch in his mouth and the swallow a second later as if they were happening to someone else, in another world. While his parents were occupied with the sandwiches and talking to each other, Draco sneaked another glance across the Great Hall.
Potter sat at the Hufflepuff table with the rest of the Weasleys. Littlest Weasley had an arm around his waist and her head leaning on his shoulder. The rest of them sat across from Potter, their faces all decorated with identical expressions of pain.
No, wait, not all of them, Draco discovered a second later. One of the twins that had so often plagued him was missing.
Draco sat slowly back. It wasn’t as though he had ever known the Weasley twins well, and they had got him into trouble and pranked other Slytherins to the point where he had thought he would be happy to see their dad lose his job or something. He hadn’t shed any tears when the twins defied Umbridge and left the school, either.
But it still set up a strange resonance in him to see one of them gone. He had thought—he would take it better. He had thought he was prepared for war.
Now, though, all it made him feel was hollow, and he turned away from the Weasleys and stared down at the uneaten sandwich in his hand. He had thought he was a grand, brave warrior, both when he had got Marked and when he had thought of the plan to go and capture Potter in the Room of Hidden Things. But instead, he had failed to kill Dumbledore, and he had trembled at the Dark Lord’s feet, and he had never succeeded even in the things that would have saved his family.
War was so different from what he had thought it would be, and so was life, now. He had been sure, eight hours ago, that he would die in battle. Or running away from battle. His back had itched frantically because of the curses Draco was sure would hit it while he was running, and amazingly, the itching had bothered him more than his fear.
A thought stirred to life in Draco’s mind, and sat there stirring no matter what he did, how much he tried to sit on it.
What are we going to do now?
He didn’t know. Draco toyed with the sandwich. Now, more than ever, he wanted the Aurors to come, because that would mean he’d know one way or the other.
“Eat your sandwich, dear.”
Draco obediently lifted the sandwich to his mouth and took a bite. When he shifted, he could feel the hawthorn wand at his side. When he turned, his mother pressed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and even his father gave him an exhausted smile.
No, it’s different from what I thought it was going to be.
Not least because I’m still alive.
All right, then. Draco would find out what things were going to be like now, and he would do what he could to continue living in a way that would help his family and satisfy himself. Much the same thing he had tried to do during the war, only now with fewer Dark Lords threatening him and curses flying around.
Draco did his best to hide his grin, because he knew neither Mother nor Father would understand if they saw it.
So. Much better, then.
Chapter 2: Mourning
It was hard for Harry to raise his head and focus on the grave in front of him, a hole dug so deep that he couldn’t even see the top of the coffin from where he stood. His arm was around Ginny’s shoulders, and she clung to him hard enough to make the circulation in his hand slow down. But if Harry’s grief for Fred was deep enough that he just wanted to bow his head and never look up again…
He couldn’t imagine what hers was.
The wizard in white robes who stood at the head of the grave was making a speech about death and green and growing things. Harry wasn’t really paying attention. The Weasleys had chosen to bury Fred behind the Burrow, and George had chosen the headstone, a carved marble slab that had Fred’s name, dates of birth and death, and “Beloved Brother” on it. Nothing else.
George wasn’t here, for excellent reasons.
Harry heaved a soft sigh as he thought about those reasons, and then heard loud sobs break out in front of him. Molly, who had held up all through the funeral for the sake of her other children and her husband, had finally broken down. She was falling on her knees by the grave, and her hands were wrapped around her face so strongly that Harry couldn’t even see the tears leaking through her fingers.
Harry gently detached Ginny’s clutch and moved forwards to hug Molly. Ginny trailed behind him and hugged her mother from the other side. Ron was leaning on Hermione, and Percy and Bill and Charlie and Arthur were all in various stages of breakdown. Fleur was home with her new baby, or Harry thought he would have been able to count on her help, too.
Molly whispered, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Harry didn’t know any words that would make things better. He just hugged her harder, and then Ginny moved over and hugged him from the other side. After a few minutes, Molly reached up with trembling hands and hugged them back.
Harry held her tighter. George was the worst-affected by Fred’s death, of course, but Molly was just behind. She hadn’t said anything for three days after the final battle, and then she had tried to cook a meal and nearly set the kitchen on fire. Harry wasn’t entirely sure that had been an accident, either.
Feeling Molly’s strong arms clinging to him, though, and hearing the soft, tentative sobs that were beginning to well up from her throat, Harry thought things would be all right, even as he listened to the final thump of dirt on top of Fred’s coffin.
Draco sighed and shifted on the narrow bed that the Aurors had assigned him in his holding cell. He had shared with his father for a few hours on the first day, but then someone else had come, apparently with different orders, and taken Father away. Since then, Draco had only seen the Aurors who came to feed him, give him water, Vanish his waste, and sometimes peer through the bars at him for a few seconds before departing.
At least one of them had left him a copy of Hogwarts, A History, and when he was desperate, Draco read it. Otherwise, the only things in the room were the bed, a narrow shelf and chair, and the chamber pot that Draco used to piss. He closed his eyes and opened them on the same, blank vista. Draco had noticed a blanker square on the wall where an enchanted window might once have been before it was taken out, and had driven himself mad thinking about what view the window would have shown.
And what was going to happen to him, and his mother and father.
The Aurors hadn’t questioned him. Draco supposed they were saving that for the trial. He woke and slept and ate and drank water and read and slept and woke again, and wondered how many days were passing. The lack of windows and a regular routine—sometimes they brought him food for lots of small meals, sometimes just one big meal for a long time—meant he didn’t know how many days had passed, either.
Then one “day” there was something different. Draco stirred and sat up when he heard multiple footsteps outside the cell, more than two Aurors. Maybe they had come to take him to his trial. By this point, Draco would have welcomed that.
But it wasn’t three Aurors who came to the bars of the cell. It was two Aurors and Harry Potter.
Draco bit down on his lip so he wouldn’t give a glad cry. Potter would probably misunderstand and think Draco was upset or something. Besides, Draco couldn’t have explained to Potter’s satisfaction why he was so glad to see him.
Maybe not even to his own.
“Yes, I think we need him to see what differences there are between his Dark Mark and Snape’s,” Potter was saying, in a weirdly arrogant tone that stopped Draco’s rush to the bars to welcome him. Draco hesitated. Maybe Potter wasn’t as friendly to him as Draco had thought he was.
“Right you are, sir,” said the Auror on the left, a tall blonde woman who had sometimes fed Draco, and she unlocked the cell door by resting her wand on the bars for a moment. As the flare of blue light filled the corridor, Draco met Potter’s eyes.
Potter held his gaze solemnly, and then abruptly slipped one eye shut in a wink.
Draco felt his spirits rising with the reassurance embodied in that little gesture. Maybe it was silly, but he calmed and let the Auror who accompanied the blonde woman tug him out into the corridor.
“Since Professor Snape is being buried today, we won’t get another chance to compare their Marks,” said Potter.
Draco’s eyes snapped over to him, and he managed not to gape, but it was hard. He hadn’t known that Snape had been granted the dignity of burial at all, much less that it was today.
You might lose more than just the sense of time by being here. Draco sincerely hoped that he hadn’t already missed one of his parents’ trials.
“And the light here isn’t good,” said Potter, frowning around at the dim lighting of the corridor, which, like most in the Ministry, seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. Draco had had to get used to sleeping in it, since no one had offered to dim it for him. “I insist that he come with us to the funeral, where I can do the comparison in the open.”
Draco looked at Potter before he could stop himself, blinking as if he had a tic. He knew he probably looked stupid, but that was—that wasn’t at all what he had thought Potter would do to get him out of prison. He hadn’t even anticipated Potter getting him out of prison, if he was honest. Perhaps testify at his trial and not mess everything up.
But not this.
“Yeah,” said Potter, and smiled once at him before he put on the stern mask again and turned to the Aurors. “Let’s get him out of here and to the burial site. They won’t wait on us much longer.”
Draco pondered as the Aurors pulled him along. It was clear that Potter was much more Slytherin and devious than Draco had given him credit for. Draco wondered whether that little character trait would benefit Draco again in the long run.
Harry heard Malfoy make a sort of strangled noise behind him as they marched into the graveyard Harry had chosen for Snape. Without the least idea of where Snape would want to be buried—McGonagall had searched Snape’s quarters carefully, including looking for a Pensieve will, but not found anything that would tell them—Harry had chosen what he thought was the best place.
The graveyard of Godric’s Hollow was at least quiet, and the vast majority of people who had actually wanted to attend the funeral had known where it was. Plus, it baffled the majority of curiosity seekers and reporters, who were circling around Hogwarts like sharks.
Harry brushed a hand along his parents’ headstones for a moment. He wondered what his father would have thought about Snape being buried near him, then sighed. He had known his father was a flawed man, but he thought James might have grown up and changed his mind about certain things later in life.
And he was certain his mum would have understood. At least this way, Harry also didn’t have to worry about the grave being torn up or vandalized. He was going to live in Godric’s Hollow, and he would always be nearby to keep an eye on it.
“Potter? You needed to compare our Dark Marks?”
It was Malfoy who asked it, standing at Harry’s shoulder. The Aurors had remained behind, buying the fiction of a “special connection” between Harry and Malfoy that would make him more likely to confess whether he had really been a Death Eater to Harry.
“That was an excuse to get you here and let you see Professor Snape being buried,” Harry murmured back to him. “I thought you might like to attend the funeral.”
Malfoy’s face underwent complex changes in expression and shape as Harry watched it. Sometimes he grimaced and sometimes he looked as if he would burst out ranting, but he also seemed as if he would cry.
“He was more to me than almost anyone can know,” Malfoy whispered. “You don’t—I don’t think of him as an enemy. But not exactly a friend, either.”
“I know,” Harry said simply, and Malfoy looked at him in wonder.
“You sound as though you do.”
“He saved me loads of times,” Harry said, as he came forwards and stooped over the simple oak coffin he had paid for himself. Snape’s arms were crossed on his chest, and there was at least smoothness in his face, although Harry wasn’t going to act gormless and say there was peace. “I can acknowledge that, while also acknowledging he was a pretty evil bastard a lot of the time.”
Malfoy nodded, looking overwhelmed. Harry took one more glance at the coffin, then at the group of older, black-cloaked wizards who stood some distance away. He was tempted to say they were probably Princes, but he didn’t know that. There were also some of the professors from Hogwarts, including McGonagall, who was weeping openly and touching her eyes with a handkerchief. She hadn’t even wanted to know where Snape was buried, at first, but Harry had showed her some pretty convincing Pensieve memories of what side Snape had really been on.
Harry didn’t really know what he was supposed to say, but it seemed to be up to him to say it, because there was no wizard here to pronounce the right words about death and rebirth, the way there had been at Fred’s funeral. He took a deep breath and said, “Professor Snape was a spy. He gave everything, including his life, to be part of Voldemort’s ranks and take revenge on him at the same time. He used to work for him wholeheartedly, but he turned his back on Voldemort and it was a real redemption. He even killed the only man who trusted him when that man ordered him to.” He hesitated, then added, “He was a good soldier.”
Nothing would induce Harry to say he was a good teacher, but that wasn’t the point. Snape had been at Hogwarts only because Dumbledore needed him there to be a spy. Harry could think all he wanted about what a horrible person Snape was to students like Neville, and some of it would even be true. But he had fought because Dumbledore ordered him to, and he had fought because his only friend had died at Voldemort’s hands, and…
Well, Harry still remembered the reeling moment of shock when he had discovered that Snape had been the one to tell Voldemort about the prophecy. But, still. If someone should forgive him for that, Harry thought he was the one with the right.
“And he did what he could to protect students, during his last year as Headmaster,” said Harry. “And he even did it before then, for some students.” He didn’t look at Malfoy, in case the Aurors started suspecting why he had really brought Malfoy here. “Good-bye, Professor Snape. Thanks.”
He hesitated, because he had bought a flower on the way here, and then hadn’t known if he would really feel like leaving it here. But he discovered he did, so he put the lily on top of Snape’s chest, and then closed the coffin and used his wand to Levitate it into the grave and begin piling dirt on top of it.
The Aurors came up, and the taller blonde one, Auror Peterson, asked, “Did his Dark Mark and Malfoy’s look different, sir?”
It made Harry feel somewhat weird that Aurors were calling him “sir,” but he had encouraged it, and he couldn’t complain about it now. “No,” he said. “The same.” Peterson still appeared to be wrestling with that when Harry turned to Malfoy and hissed under his breath, “I’ll testify for you.”
Malfoy didn’t have a chance to answer before Peterson and the other one—Harry thought his name was Klein—gripped his shoulders and dragged him off again. But he looked what he felt, and Harry found himself smiling, despite all the complex emotions of the day.
Chapter 3: Witnessing
“Do you think you’ll be away long?”
It was Hermione who asked as Harry finished dragging his dress robes across his shoulders and muttering at his reflection in the mirror, and her voice was so strange that he turned around at once. Hermione stood staring at the mirror, too, but she looked past him as though his reflection wasn’t there, and she certainly wasn’t looking at her own. Harry stepped up to her, concerned.
“What is it? Is it Ron?” As far as Harry knew, she and Ron were getting along great. They still looked at each other as if they didn’t believe anyone was that happy.
Hermione breathed in and shifted her eyes from the mirror to him. “I’m leaving for Australia this afternoon.”
Harry blinked. “Oh,” he said at last. “I mean, I know you were, but…” He had thought Hermione was going to leave later in the summer, after some more of the funerals and trials.
Hermione closed her eyes. “I need to find them,” she whispered. “I need a reminder that someone out there has a normal life, the way my parents and I did before—the Hogwarts letter came. I need—this is all too much.” She waved her hand at the wall, but Harry wasn’t stupid enough to think it was the Burrow she meant. “All the grief and death and war. I need to be somewhere it didn’t happen.”
Harry nodded at once. He thought he knew what she meant. He would have probably been going mad himself if he didn’t have so much to do. “All right. I reckon that I’ll say good-bye to you and Ron now, then?”
Hermione’s hands moved in the folds of her robe like she was afraid to raise them. “Ron’s not coming with me.”
She stunned him a lot harder with that than she had with the Australia announcement. Harry gaped at her.
He didn’t have to ask. Hermione answered anyway. “His mum really needs him right now, and he can’t bear to be away. We both need different things.” She turned her head, but not before Harry saw how her head was drooping, and yanked her into his arms. Hermione didn’t start crying, but he could feel the way she was shuddering, holding back those tears. “I need to be away, and he needs to be here.”
It was just that simple sometimes, Harry thought, stroking her hair. He felt glad that he had purged a lot of his fear and anger in the last moments of the war, or at least it felt that way. Some Death Eaters had run away from the Battle of Hogwarts, and he wanted them captured, but he wasn’t going to walk around every moment in either fear or rage. He was alive, and Voldemort wasn’t, and there were people who needed him.
Just that simple.
“We’ll hang on,” he whispered. “I’ll help Ron. He’ll help me and Ginny and his mum and all the rest. We’ll be here when you get back. With your parents.”
Hermione’s hands clutched at him hard enough that Harry knew he would have bruises later. But he also knew that the sleeves of his dress robes would hide them, and Hermione needed this more right now than he needed to show up at the Death Eater trials looking flawless.
“Thank you, Harry,” she breathed.
Harry held her close enough to remember the hug she’d given him all those years ago, when he was getting ready to go into the room where the Mirror of Erised and the Philosopher’s Stone were, and she had told him to be careful.
That was Auror Peterson, the blond woman who honestly seemed a little sadistic to Draco. She had thought it was great fun to grab him and simply pull him out of his cell, propelling him in front of her down the corridor.
Draco stumbled and watched as dust puffed out of his robes. He had worn the same set since they imprisoned him here; they’d explained, with apparent straight faces, that he might be concealing a weapon in an extra pair of robes from home, and if they let him have new ones, he could use the old ones to strangle himself. Draco had tried to point out that he could have used these to strange himself if he didn’t mind being naked when he died, and if he was, well, a suicidal idiot.
They hadn’t listened, of course.
Draco touched his hair and winced. He knew about the importance of appearances, and he would walk in front of the Wizengamot with his hair tousled and his breath stinking and his face dirty.
“A Freshening Charm?” he muttered at Auror Peterson, although he ought to have expected her answer.
“Not for little Death Eaters, Malfoy,” she said, bustling past him and opening a tall wooden door banded with iron. Draco swallowed, trying not to look like he was intimidated, even though he was with the blank stone walls around him and the barely flickering torches. “You go in au natural.”
The other Auror walking behind him, the silent man whose name Draco had never learned, made a faint cough. Peterson had already walked into the courtroom, and didn’t hear him. Draco glanced back.
The man flicked his wand once. Draco didn’t have time to jump before he felt a Freshening Charm overcome him.
“Thank you,” he whispered, amazed, as his hair rearranged itself, the dirt vanished from his face and robes, and his teeth felt as though someone had brushed them.
The Auror glanced off to the side and shrugged with one shoulder. “No point in denying you basic courtesies,” he said. “That’s something your side might have done. We’re supposed to be better.”
Draco blinked at him, a little startled, but then Peterson pulled him into the courtroom, and he had no more time to waste on pondering it.
It looked as though the whole Wizengamot was there, Draco thought, after a quick glance around. And Potter wasn’t.
Draco had to admit that made his heart sink, to see all those formidable wizards there in robes sparkling with gold chains and Orders of Merlin and what-not, and he was walking to the chair in the middle of the courtroom without a single friendly face. The Auror who had cast the Freshening Charm stood behind him, so Draco didn’t get to count him, either. He sat down and tried to drape his own robes around himself so they would hide how badly his hands and legs were shaking.
Kingsley Shacklebolt, the temporary Minster, rose to his feet and looked around the room. Draco wondered if he was looking for Potter, too, but it was hard to tell from his neutral expression. He finally nodded and glanced back at Draco.
“We are here to consider the case of Draco Malfoy, who stands accused of Death Eater activities, participation in torture, and several other crimes. Can someone—”
Shacklebolt gestured at the courtroom door, and Auror Peterson, who Draco thought was probably the cause of it being left open in the first place, jumped and went to shut it. Before she could, though, a figure in bright green robes skidded through the opening, panting and shaking his head. He straightened up a second later and regarded the Wizengamot with a disgusted expression Draco would have known even if he’d been wearing a glamour.
Potter. Draco had never thought his heart would grow warm at the sight of his rival, but he had never thought he would be sitting here, either. He sat back, and now the relaxation spreading through him was real.
“Interesting thing about the letter the Wizengamot sent me,” Potter said, and held up a single piece of parchment. Draco saw at least one or two people stiffen from the corner of his eye. “It listed the wrong time for the start of the Malfoy trial.” He turned his head and met Draco’s eyes. “If someone else hadn’t owled me anonymously with the real start time, I wouldn’t be here.”
More people in the gallery avoided each other’s eyes. Draco thought he heard the Auror behind him shift. He blinked. It wouldn’t surprise him if the man was the one who had owled Potter, after all, but of course he had no way to prove that.
“Well, welcome, Mr. Potter,” said Shacklebolt, and the relieved smile on his face proved that he had been waiting for Potter after all. “Sit down.”
Potter smiled and took a seat off to the side, the sort that Draco thought were usually reserved for witnesses, though his father’s lessons in court procedures seemed far away and long ago. Potter sat with his hands quietly folded and an intelligent expression on his face that Draco had never seen before. He kept stealing glances at Potter. Had he only started turning into this person since the end of the war, or was he putting on a special act for Draco’s benefit?
The trial opened with accusations hurled so fast and thick that Draco wasn’t sure where they began and ended. He didn’t recognize most of the Wizengamot members who rose to their feet to accuse him, in fact. He supposed they might be family members of people he had tortured, but that would make them family members of Death Eaters. Voldemort had almost never used him on ordinary prisoners, thinking it was more fun to increase the other Death Eaters’ resentment against Draco by making him their torturer, and the ones Draco hadtortured were Muggles who had all died later.
The list of accusations went on and on, to the point that Draco started to grow almost bored and numb. Then the largest, most central wizard who seemed to be part of the Wizengamot itself asked, “You have something to add, Mr. Potter?”
Potter rose to his feet. Draco blinked at him in wary disbelief. He didn’t know how Potter was keeping track of all these accusations. He didn’t look as though he had parchment and quill for writing them down.
“Yes,” said Potter, his voice clear and calm and strong. “I can testify that at least one crime Draco Malfoy was accused of—turning me over to Voldemort—didn’t happen.” If he noticed the way that Draco flinched in his seat at all, he didn’t turn a hair, instead regarding the men and women of the Wizengamot with calm composure and absolute attention. “When he had the chance, when the Snatchers brought me and my friends to Malfoy Manor, he looked at me and said he wasn’t sure. I knew he recognized me. I mean, if nothing else, he would have recognized Hermione and Ron, and someone who was traveling with them would almost have to be me. But he held firm to saying he wasn’t sure. Even though he could be punished for it later. So that charge, at least, should be dropped, because it isn’t true.”
There was a long rush of murmuring. Then Shacklebolt asked, “I understand that you said you had information on another accusation made by the honored Wizengamot?” He was fighting a grin, and he was focused on Potter.
Draco shifted a little, although not too much, because he didn’t want to attract the attention of his Auror guards. If Shacklebolt wasn’t fully on the Wizengamot’s side, that might be good news for Draco.
“Yes,” said Potter. He had his gaze darting from face to face, as though all of them were members of an opposing Quidditch team. “I at least have some information that might change minds. I noticed that none of the people Mr. Malfoy tortured are actually here?”
There was some exchange of glances this time. Shacklebolt said gravely, “No. It is based on information gathered from Death Eater prisoners, but the prisoners themselves were not among those tortured. Most of those seem to have died in the Battle of Hogwarts.”
Draco held back a grimace. He could have told them that. Those people the Dark Lord had encouraged to “compete” were all members of the Inner Circle, and that meant they had been first into the battle to show off their loyalty to the Dark Lord.
Like I once thought I was.
“Then I think I need to add some information,” said Potter, and Draco eyed him curiously. Was he about to be Draco’s character witness? Draco had hoped for something like that, but now, since Potter had admitted Draco was there with other Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor, he didn’t know what Potter could say to change things.
“You see,” Potter continued in an absurdly calm voice, “I had a mental connection to Voldemort, and I saw a few times that he ordered Mr. Malfoy to torture someone. I think I had better talk about those times, since it’s the only direct witness account.”
In the explosion of noise that followed, Draco didn’t think anyone paid attention as he shut his eyes in relief.
I knew I could trust him. I just didn’t know how much.
Chapter 4: Testifying
“O-of course we’ll be very interested in what you have to say, Mr. Potter,” stammered the wizard who sat near the front of the Wizengamot in the most sparkling chains, the one Harry was mentally starting to refer to as “the fat one.”
Harry held back a choke of disbelief. He nodded instead, and turned to smile at Malfoy. He still looked a little stunned.
Dazzled by me showing up to the rescue, as usual, Harry thought, and smothered a grin. Honestly, between the Fiendfyre and me showing up to get him out of the cell for Snape’s funeral, he ought to be used to this by now.
“I had a connection with Voldemort that showed him ordering Mr. Malfoy to torture people,” he said, and turned back to the Wizengamot. It was the only time he had ever enjoyed being able to make people flinch with Voldemort’s name. “Other Death Eaters. Thorfinn Rowle was one victim. He also once tortured a woman whose face I didn’t recognize, but she had this scar that ran down one side of her chin, shaped like a star—”
“Estella Biggs,” said another Wizengamot member at once. “Not a tremendously active Death Eater.”
“Still looked dangerous,” Harry said, and shrugged. “Mr. Malfoy each time begged not to have to do it. He only did it when Voldemort threatened him with killing his family. That was the motivation for all his acts, you know. Letting Death Eaters into the school and getting the Mark among them.”
He heard an agitated shuffle from off to the side, as though Malfoy had moved in his chains. Harry didn’t look at him. Maybe Malfoy didn’t like Harry reciting his weaknesses. Too bad.
We’ll make sure they don’t sentence you to the Dementor’s Kiss, and then we’ll have a discussion about “weakness” and “strength.”
“That doesn’t make them less wrong,” said the fat one.
“Of course not,” said Harry, and adopted an earnest face. “I want him punished for what he did! But what he actually did. I don’t want him getting freed later on a technicality.”
The Wizengamot started shifting and muttering again. Harry looked around with a bright smile. He wanted them to see him as helpful. He caught sight of Kingsley and one or two other people concealing grins behind their hands, so he wasn’t fooling everyone.
But those people didn’t seem like they were going to tell the truth, either. So Harry went on.
“Let me tell you about what happened when Voldemort told Mr. Malfoy that he would have to kill Dumbledore…”
Draco cringed. He didn’t think most people knew about that! Or maybe he had just missed it in the initial list of charges. Now Potter was going to make them think Draco was even worse.
But amazingly, it didn’t seem to be happening that way. Sure, some members of the Wizengamot were glaring at him, and Auror Peterson was muttering indignantly behind him about how some people deserved worse than Azkaban, but there were other people listening.
When Draco went back to listening to Potter, too, he understood why. Potter was explaining eagerly how bad Draco had been at trying to kill Dumbledore.
“…and then he poisoned the mead and sent it to Dumbledore. Without even thinking about how a powerful wizard could check for poison in it!” Potter shook his head. “And what about any other person who could have swallowed that poison? Someone who was a guest of Dumbledore’s? What really happened was that Professor Slughorn, uh, took over the mead.”
Draco blinked to see some people in the Wizengamot exchanging knowing glances, but then he told himself not to be an idiot. Of course there would be a lot of people here who would know exactly what Slughorn was like.
“And someone innocent did get poisoned,” Potter said, with such abrupt quietness that Draco’s head snapped back to him before he even thought about it. “My friend Ron. I had to save his life with a bezoar.”
Potter’s eyes were locked on him now. Draco felt his cheeks flush. He went on staring, and Potter nodded at him. There was no winking now.
Draco had to wonder if Potter had just been pretending to be on his side all along, and now he was going to show his true colors and throw Draco to the Dementors.
“If he poisoned your best friend,” said a woman with a hat that had a dead wild boar on it, “then why are you defending him?”
Potter turned and looked at her. “Because maybe you trust the Malfoys to stay down, but I don’t,” he snapped. “Lucius Malfoy got pardoned for his crimes after the first war when everyone knew well and good that he was a Death Eater. Right?”
The woman shifted. Draco watched her, forgetting his own predicament for a second. Was she one of the people his father had bribed to claim that he was under the Imperius Curse? Maybe. Draco had never asked his father for names.
“If he had stayed in prison where he belonged,” Potter continued harshly, “maybe the Mr. Malfoy in front of us would never have thought that he needed to obey his father and become a Death Eater. And maybe if you condemn this one for things he didn’t do, then his mother is going to use a lawyer to make you regret that someday. I don’t want to have to stand there and watch him walk away because the Malfoy money saved him. I want him to be punished exactly for what he did, not anything more that his mother could argue with was injustice.”
He turned around and looked at Draco. “It was an accident that the poison got Ron. Just like sending a Bludger at someone in a Quidditch game and hitting them and knocking them off their broom. You meant to hurt them, but not that badly.”
Draco swallowed. He didn’t comprehend the look in Potter’s eyes. It was understanding and accusing all at once, and Draco knew pretty well that it was impossible to look like that.
“It was still attempted murder,” said the fat wizard.
“Right,” said Potter, nodding. “But with Ron, it was an accident. And Albus Dumbledore was already dying of something else. And he knew exactly what Mr. Malfoy here was trying to do. He offered him a chance out, for protection of his family, on the Astronomy Tower. Malfoy tried to kill him and couldn’t do it.” Potter sighed, and suddenly looked older, while Draco rooted frantically through his memories for how Potter could know that. Even the Dark Lord hadn’t been there!
“Look,” Potter said quietly, “I’m not saying that he didn’t do wrong things. I’m saying that he did some things accidentally, some things without meaning to, some things under duress. I think he should be punished more for letting Death Eaters into the school than for making half-hearted attempts on Albus Dumbledore’s life or for doing things to me, just because I’m the Chosen One.”
He says that like he hates it, Draco thought in surprise. He was learning that a lot of the things he had thought about Potter were wrong, but he had been sure Potter still enjoyed the fame that came from his title.
“He also hurt my great-niece with his cursed necklace,” said another woman who wore a giant golden pendant that looked as though it could brain someone to death. Draco swallowed nervously as she glared at him. “I want him brought to justice for that.”
“Katie Bell?” Potter gave the woman a curious glance. “Then I suggest you also don’t decide on his punishment and advise the others about it. That’s another thing his mother could bring against the Wizengamot, if they listen to the desires of family members about this one case and not any others.”
“How dare you—”
“Listen,” said Potter, and his voice was harsh enough that Draco flinched. When he looked at him, Potter was leaning in with his hands on his knees and a savage look on his face that Draco remembered from some Quidditch games. “I am trying to get justice here. Not revenge. Otherwise, I would have demanded that Mr. Malfoy be kissed by Dementors because of what he did to me. But I actually care about more than revenge.”
He turned around and looked at Draco. Draco thought Potter’s words were meant more for him than for the Wizengamot, even though it was hard to see how they could be. “We want real peace and justice after the war. Not a bunch of revenge killings that will only create a new generation of people who’ll tell each other that Muggleborns and Muggle-lovers are the cause of all their trouble.”
“So did a lot of other people,” Potter said, and whipped around again. “Yes, Mr. Malfoy should be punished. But he shouldn’t be punished because he made one particular person suffer and you’re angry about that. He should be punished because what he did was wrong.”
The huffy woman opened her mouth to say something else, but the woman with the boar on her hat spoke to her in an undertone, and she calmed down. Draco hoped that they wouldn’t let her really decide on his sentence.
“So,” said Potter. “Let me tell you about a few other things I know because of my connection to Voldemort…”
Harry staggered back to his chair and sat down. His throat felt like it was made of sand, and his muscles were all made of jelly. He didn’t know what would happen next, but hopefully it could happen without him and his pounding head.
He had spoken forcefully. He didn’t think he’d got angry. He hadn’t exploded. He had used his title and power in ways he hated to use them.
But getting justice for what had really happened was more important, in the end, than how uncomfortable he felt. And he had already used his title for things like getting Malfoy to Snape’s funeral.
You have to keep going.
Harry grimaced. He was probably going to hate that in a few years. The only thing he could absolutely say was that he thought he would always use his power to help other people. Using it to help himself made him feel sick.
The Wizengamot deliberated in voices too low for Harry to hear, their seats protected by charms that made it impossible to eavesdrop. Harry didn’t think he could have cast any spells that would have let him listen in even if those charms weren’t there. He was simply worn-out. He closed his eyes and let his head flop to the side.
“All right there?”
Harry opened his eyes curiously. The voice wasn’t one he knew.
A small, dark-haired man stood in front of him, touching his short beard as if he thought he had food in it. Harry recognized him. He was the Auror who had helped Peterson bring Malfoy to Snape’s funeral the other day.
“My name is Apollo Petruvsky,” he said. “I thought someone ought to bring you water if you’re going to faint.”
Harry laughed and straightened up. “Hardly that,” he said, although his voice did rasp, and he accepted the glass of water that Auror Petruvsky handed him a second later. “I appreciate it, though.”
“Good,” said Petruvsky, and smiled a little. “Take your time to recover.”
By the time that Harry gaped at him, he had already strode away to take up his position behind Malfoy’s chair again, and left Harry blinking at air.
Then he smiled. He had never seen a sample of Auror Petruvsky’s handwriting, but if he’d had to make a wager right now, he would have bet that it matched the writing on the mysterious note that had told him the real time of the trial.
And now, all we can do is wait.
The fat wizard with all the golden chains decorating him finally stood up. Draco looked at him nervously. He was fiddling with one of the chains that held an Order of Merlin, and cleared his throat several times more than necessary.
“So. We have decided on the following punishments for Mr. Draco Malfoy.
“For letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, he may not ever return to Hogwarts, and spells on his wand will be bound not to go above the level of first-year spells for ten years.”
Draco swallowed. He knew he was going to be hard-put to do anything in normal wizarding society without his NEWTS. From the contented smiles on some of the Wizengamot members’ faces, they knew that, too.
Then he straightened his shoulders. Well, his name and his parents’ actions would already have made it difficult.
“For his attempted, if accidental, murders of Katie Bell and Ron Weasley, he is ordered to surrender to them the sum of a thousand Galleons each, from his family vaults.”
Draco just nodded. He hadn’t really assumed his family would have much money left, anyway.
“For his torture of Death Eaters during the war, he will receive six months in Azkaban.” The fat wizard’s voice sounded grudging, but Draco didn’t know if that was because he thought it should be more or he thought it should be less. “However, this will not commence immediately. He will be required to testify in the trials of his parents, as well as possibly of other Death Eaters.”
Draco shuddered. He didn’t know if he would come out of Azkaban sane.
But it was better than it could have been. He told himself that as he stood up and walked towards the door from the courtroom, with Peterson prodding him on with her wand in the middle of his back. It could have been ten years. It could have been the Dementor’s Kiss, like he thought Bell’s great-aunt had wanted.
Draco turned his head and blinked. Potter was walking beside him, his face pale but determined.
“I’ll come visit you in Azkaban,” he said, and pressed Draco’s hand once, and then turned and walked towards the Wizengamot.
“You don’t deserve that much kindness,” Peterson said, and prodded Draco again when he would have stood looking after Potter. “I suppose you know that.”
Draco said nothing. He wanted to look after Potter again, but it would do no good.
He continued walking, and tried to work out in his head how many days six months would be. How many hours. How many seconds.
He would…he would get through it. Somehow.
That determination crystallized in him the more time he spent walking. Because he might have to pay for his crimes, but they couldn’t kill him. He was going to survive, and spite them all.
He supposed he could have worse motives for survival.
Chapter 5: Visiting
Harry pulled his cloak tighter about him and thought he could do with a Warming Charm. But reaching for a wand would only make the Aurors—paranoid and suspicious in the first place about admitting him, even though he’d been visiting Malfoy for three months—protest. Instead, he leaned on the prow of the boat and stared ahead, at the isle of Azkaban slowly growing closer.
Apparating had been restricted so much on the island that the only true method of getting there was by boat. Or broom, Harry supposed, but, lifting his head, he could see the reason no one wanted to do that either.
Dementors swarmed and swayed around the sky, confined within a circle that extended perhaps a mile out from Azkaban. Harry didn’t know how the Ministry had actually gained control of them again; he hadn’t been part of the group called on to help with that.
He only hoped that it hadn’t been because the Ministry had promised the Dementors more souls.
Frowning, Harry gazed ahead at the rocky shore. The waves crashed over it and then fell back again and again like the desperately gasping hands of someone tumbling off a cliff.
He sighed through his nose a second later. Most of the time, he wouldn’t have thought in such bleak or depressing terms, but it was hard not to when the gloom of the prison was all around him.
A stealthy movement caught Harry’s eye. A Dementor was trying to sweep towards them just above the sea. It was hovering almost flat, mingling the edges of its ragged robes with the edges of the sea-foam.
Harry had no time for this, especially when he was already in a bad mood after the trial yesterday. He drew his wand and aimed it, giving the Dementor a chance. It just sneaked closer instead. One of the Aurors maintaining the enchantment that kept the boat moving was already standing, shivering, his eyes shut.
“Expecto Patronum,” Harry snapped, his mind filled with the way Ron and Hermione had hugged him yesterday.
The silvery stag charged directly through the side of the boat and across the foam, at the Dementor. It tried to rise above the water, but the stag chased it even there, and stabbed its antlers directly into the Dementor’s chest. Harry liked to imagine he could hear it screaming as it flew away, back to the circle the Ministry had confined it in.
None of the Aurors had jumped on him this time. Harry slid the wand back into his sleeve and ignored the mutter of “assaulting the Ministry’s rightful guards.” If the Ministry didn’t want people using Patronuses on Dementors when they came here, they should do a better job of keeping Dementors away from innocent victims in the first place.
And yes, Harry knew he was moody and snappish and not feeling as cheerful as he tried to be when he was here, if only for Malfoy’s sake. But yesterday had really, really soured his mood.
It was almost a relief to feel the boat bump into the shore and see the few guards permanently stationed here come hurrying out to greet them.
Draco was curled around a ball of misery.
He pictured that, constantly, the way that it would appear in front of him and cover his belly. If he curled around it, then he could hold it there and keep it from drifting away. It was the only defense he had against the Dementors, and the way they would force him to relive his happy memories and then take them.
The other defense was his memory of Potter’s visits—
No. There was movement outside his cell, and it was a drifting. That meant it was a Dementor. Draco curled up harder, and shivered. He tried to remember the dead way that his father had accepted a sentence back in Azkaban for five years, and the way his mother had closed her eyes when she heard that. Not the way his mother had been released to house arrest. That was a time when he had felt relieved and happy. He mustn’t—
Too late. The Dementor was at the door, and Draco moaned as he felt the memories being dragged out of him. It was cold. Too cold to hang onto the ball of misery, and his arms were falling open and back against the floor, and he was lying back and staring at the ceiling, and his breath drifted up in front of him—
Draco gasped aloud as the cold abruptly disappeared, and the silver stag stampeded past him and vanished through the far wall. He rolled over and sat up. His breath was normal, his muscles were relaxed and warm, and he reached a hand through the bars without hesitation. His father might despise Draco if he saw this, but his father was in some cell far away, and he would never know.
Potter took his hand and held it. “Hey,” he said quietly, his eyes on Draco’s face. Draco had no idea what he was seeing there. He was too busy drinking in the colors that Potter had, even though his cloak was dark and his robes didn’t look much better. Even his pale face was different than the grey Draco had to see all the time. And his hair…
Potter patiently bowed his head so Draco could reach up and curl his fingers through the rich dark hair. He had never asked why Draco wanted to do that. He just did it, and then he sat back and smiled worriedly at Draco.
“Hey,” he repeated. “What would you like to talk about this time?”
“You’re frowning more than you’re smiling,” said Draco instantly. “Why?” Potter had tried to avoid talking about things he thought might “upset” Draco in his first visits, but to Draco, even politics and gossip were like wine. It was human. It didn’t leave him caged in his own head.
Potter sighed. “I feel bad talking about this when you’re the one who’s in the much worse situation.”
Draco shook Potter’s hand tightly through the bars. It was the only thing he could say, now, about how much Potter’s news meant to him. If he was going to go back to apologizing for “distressing” things and only talk about things in vague terms…
“Right, you’re right,” said Potter, with a smile that made Draco think he did remember those conversations, after all. “So. There was a trial for Pansy Parkinson.” He gave Draco a single searching glance.
“I remember her wanting to surrender you to the Dark Lord,” said Draco at once. He knew what that glance was about.
Potter nodded. “Well, they were trying her on that, on charges of depressing morale in Hogwarts, even though I’d said that I wanted the charges about doing something against me dropped.” He took a deep breath. “They’d called me to testify yesterday. Why, I didn’t know. They’d made it clear they didn’t really care about anything I had to say. But I went and talked about why I thought I could forgive her and it was stress. We’d never been enemies. Not even as bad as you and I were.”
Draco shivered. He didn’t like thinking of the times he had turned against Potter or argued with him, not now. Not here.
Potter seemed to realize it, and squeezed Draco’s hand once before rapidly passing on. “Well, the Wizengamot decided to send her to Azkaban for three months.” He stared down the corridor. “For nothing. She didn’t fight in the battle, on either side. She didn’t even participate in the torture that the Carrows made some of the Slytherins do your seventh year, because she wasn’t any good at casting the torture spells. That was what all the witnesses said.”
He turned back to Draco. “Two of the Wizengamot members who are more sympathetic to me explained it afterwards. They said that the ones who voted to send her to prison did it as a message to me. Because they’re worried about my ‘growing political power,’ and they wanted to show me I couldn’t get everything I asked for.” Potter gave a snort that made him sound like an Abraxan. “Even those Wizengamot members thought I should be ‘more careful.’ Not ‘give them a reason to hate me.’”
Potter bowed his head and shut his eyes. “So Parkinson’s going to be in prison here because of me. Because of things I didn’t even think about and consequences I didn’t intend.”
Draco held steadily to Potter’s hand, unable to think of what to say. He felt sorry for Pansy, and irritated at Potter for misunderstanding some of those consequences, and sorry for himself, too. His emotions were frequently all over the place when Potter visited, though.
“Then you know what you need to do,” he said.
Potter blinked at him. “A daring midnight rescue? That’s what Ron suggested, and he doesn’t even like Pansy.”
Draco was surprised into a chuckle in spite of himself. “No. Work on understanding and countering their moves so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Potter exhaled softly, his eyes on the distance now. “You’re right. I had thought, maybe I’ll never understand enough to anticipate all their moves…but if I think that, then I’ll never do anything at all, for fear of what they’ll try.” He turned back and gave Draco a small smile. “And that will let them win the same way.”
Draco nodded, his veins flushed and filled with a mixture of sweetness and warmth. It was like drinking the kind of Yule wine that his parents only had once a year and sometimes let him sip. “Exactly. There are a few things I can suggest that might help.”
Potter cuddled closer to the bars, looking annoyed when he came up against them and realized they still formed a barrier between him and Draco. “Tell me more.”
Draco felt his imagination soaring as he outlined his plans to Potter, and Potter argued back and nodded and sometimes merely looked thoughtful. It wouldn’t get Draco out of Azkaban any sooner. But it did mean that he could play a part in useful life beyond Azkaban, and it kept him from feeling as though he had been left behind by everyone he knew here.
A small comfort to clutch against the darkness, maybe, after Potter left.
But a vital one.
Harry leaned again on the side of the boat, this time watching Azkaban grow smaller behind him. He ignored the Dementors swirling above. They were keeping a wary distance from the boat, anyway.
Malfoy was right. Giving up in despair wasn’t an option. Not only would that gratify his enemies and make sure they won, but Malfoy himself was struggling under the pressure of a despair much greater, and he hadn’t given up.
Harry tightened his hands on the side of the boat again. He knew that most of the Aurors with him—ones he didn’t know and who hadn’t been in attendance at Malfoy’s trial, ones who seemed selected to make sure they wouldn’t “favor” either Harry or Malfoy by letting him stay too long—were staring at him. He didn’t care.
Malfoy was right. And, at the moment, brave. Harry owed it to him to listen to him.
If his weekly visits played their part in keeping Malfoy alive and sane…
Well, that was something Harry was glad he could do, that was all. He sat up and gave the Dementors one more cool glance.
He couldn’t stop Parkinson from going to Azkaban either, perhaps. But he could do what was necessary to change the future.
Chapter 6: Defying
Harry marched into the Auror Department and straight to the nearest office. He had practiced the hardest on his expression. Of course, his clothes were important, too, because he had needed to make them look disheveled. Like he had woken up this morning and flung them on to come in because he just couldn’t take it anymore.
All of those had been Malfoy’s suggestions. And Malfoy was getting out this week.
Harry didn’t think he could wait any longer, or the plan would lose its effectiveness.
He stopped in front of the desk where Auror Peterson was working. She greeted him with a smile. She was one of the ones who had thought he had saved the world, and could do nothing wrong.
That was only one of the reasons Harry had chosen her as his target, but it was an important one.
“Mr. Potter, sir. What can I do for you today?” Peterson held her wand and glanced over Harry’s shoulder as though she thought Harry was only the leader of a charge that would bring in more criminals for her to catch.
“You can arrest me,” said Harry, tragically, and held his wrists out in front of him.
Peterson wrenched her head around to look at him so quickly that Harry heard something pop in her neck. “What?”
“I meant what I said,” Harry whispered. Other Aurors were drifting in now, attracted by Peterson’s shout, and so he raised his voice. “You know that I testified to using Unforgivable Curses during the war when I was talking in some of the Death Eater trials? I can’t stand the thought that other people should have justice and I shouldn’t. Just because of who I am!” It was his own idea to make those words a little wail, and he shook his hands back and forth before he reached into his pocket and took out his wand, trying to hand it to Peterson. “So arrest me and take me to Azkaban! It’s only right that I should be treated the same way as everyone else!”
Peterson was spluttering. Harry watched her carefully from beneath his lowered eyelids. Most of the other Aurors were reacting the same way, but one turned and slipped away from the crowd. He took the corridor that led to the lifts.
Harry would have smiled if not for Malfoy’s very clear instructions. He would have bet half the Galleons in his vaults that that one was a spy for the Wizengamot, running to let his masters know what had happened.
“What’s all this about?”
Kingsley had shown up and waded into the crowd of Aurors, and Peterson turned to him with what was almost a yap. “It’s Harry Potter, sir! Showed up and started babbling about how he needs to be arrested because he used Unforgivable Curses during the war.” She looked back and forth from Harry to Kingsley, a hopeful expression on her face now. “Sir, do you think someone cursed him with Imperius to come here and say these things?” she whispered.
Harry met Kingsley’s gaze calmly. He couldn’t wink or smile or do anything that would give the game away, only look and try to convey Trust me, please.
Kingsley evidently decided to, because he shook his head briskly and said, “Potter’s immune to the Imperius Curse. Well-known fact.” He drew his wand and gravely conjured manacles that he clasped around Harry’s wrists. “I’ll take charge of the arrest from here, Peterson. It needs to go straight to the top.”
Peterson and some of the others looked ready to faint with relief. Kingsley turned and marched Harry off towards his office before anyone else tried to intervene.
Harry maintained his demure look and gaze on the floor all the way there, but looked up the instant Kingsley locked the door behind him and said, “All right, what is this really about?”
Harry smiled at him. “Why, sir. I was only reacting to the fact that some of the Wizengamot members told me I was a danger. I want to remove some of the danger.”
Kingsley snorted and flung himself into his chair, which creaked in a way that suggested he did that a lot. “How can you be sure they’ll hear about this in time?”
“One of the Aurors ran away. I’m pretty sure it was to tell them, unless there was someone else he just had to spread the gossip to.”
Kingsley rolled his eyes. “Of course.” Then he leaned forwards and studied Harry intently. “You’re aware a trial might not go well, when so many Wizengamot members are mostly unfriendly to you?”
“I know, sir. I don’t think they’ll let it get to a trial—”
A sharp knock sounded on the door. Harry raised his eyebrows at Kingsley, who nodded to him in grim amusement and stood to open the door. The woman who came in was a sturdy one Harry had seen at several of the Death Eater trials, although he didn’t know her name.
“Minister Shacklebolt, we think,” she began. Then she saw Harry and checked in obviously faked surprise. “Oh, Mr. Potter! Good! We so wanted to tell you what we thought should happen before the trial began. We’re so sorry that someone misunderstood and told you that you were going to be imprisoned for the Unforgivable Curses.”
“No one told me, madam,” said Harry, and lowered his eyes, aware of Kingsley’s amused, exasperated scrutiny. “But I started thinking of all those people who had to go to Azkaban because they did something wrong. I started thinking of Katie Bell’s great-aunt. I told her that what was important was that Mr. Malfoy had done something wrong, not who he’d done it to.” He leaned forwards and whispered, “Even if I used Unforgivable Curses on Death Eaters, I still think I deserve to go to prison.”
The woman tightened her mouth in a grimace. Harry beamed back at her, innocently starry-eyed, and the woman finally nodded and said, “How much?”
“I’m sorry?” Harry kept on radiating the innocence at her. Malfoy had told him he was good at it.
“How much do you want to keep from turning this into something that will severely embarrass the Wizengamot?”
“Money?” Harry shook his head. “Oh, no. I’m not after money.”
The woman stared at him. “Then what—”
“No more trials specifically to punish people as a lesson to me,” said Harry harshly, and either he looked just that intimidating, or the way he had suddenly changed his manner was, because the woman flinched back. “No more. There was Parkinson, and I overheard some rumbles about lengthening Draco Malfoy’s sentence because I was visiting him. No.”
The woman lowered her eyes. “I’m not one of the people who thought those sentences would be a good idea,” she mumbled.
“But you were empowered to offer me the money you thought I wanted,” Harry pointed out sweetly. “So you speak for the Wizengamot. Go back and tell them my price. And in return, I’ll spread the story of how I’m not immune to the Imperius Curse if I don’t know it’s coming, and someone sneaked up on me and made me come in and say all those awful, awful things.”
The woman stood looking at him for a little while. Then she nodded and murmured, “There was no need to go to this extreme, you know. I already realized that this was a bad idea to challenge you. So did most of the other members of the Wizengamot.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me so, and that I had allies?”
The woman said something Harry literally couldn’t hear, except that it had the word “politics” in it somewhere, and then turned and walked out of the office with her step as straight as a soldier’s. Harry shook his head. It seemed to him that the members of the Wizengamot had plenty of courage and strength. They just kept using them in the wrong places.
“Did they really talk about extending Malfoy’s sentence?” Kingsley asked suddenly. “That’s a rumor I haven’t heard.”
“It was all over the Aurors,” said Harry, and then looked at Kingsley. “Sir, keep a close eye on some of those Aurors. They’re gleeful about getting to arrest anybody they don’t like, whether or not those people committed a crime. I know that some of them were happy Parkinson went to prison, not because they knew her, but because her family had done something wrong to theirs generations ago.”
“We know why she was condemned, though,” Kingsley pointed out. “The Wizengamot politics against you. Nothing to do with the Aurors.”
“But did you ask why she was arrested?” Harry sighed a little when he saw the incredulous way Kingsley stared at him. “Sir, all I ask is that you look into it. What I know is that she was at home under house arrest, because her trial was supposed to be the next month, and suddenly Aurors showed up and seized her and dragged her into the Ministry.”
Kingsley looked now as though he had become the soldier. “I will. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m not going to have the Aurors become what they were under Crouch in the first war.”
Harry nodded back, and left. His mind was ringing with the countdown of the days. Tomorrow, Parkinson would be released from Azkaban. On Saturday, Draco.
That was what Harry called him in his head these days, when there was no one around to hear.
Draco couldn’t speak.
His mother was there, and Potter, both of them holding out arms that Draco leaned on. But it seemed like a miraculous dream. There was wind around him, and it didn’t carry Dementors. It was the wind around the boat that was carrying them away from the island, further and further into the cold sea.
There was sunlight.
It was weak, coming from behind thick clouds and mixed with thick drops of rain. Draco didn’t care. He tilted his head back and tried to swallow the light, and even the rain.
His mother was talking to him about the Manor, and how she had kept his bedroom the way it had been, and when he would be able to visit Father in Azkaban. Draco knew all of those things later, so she must have said them, even though he wasn’t really listening to the words at the time. What he knew was—what he knew was that she was there, and holding him fiercely against her. The warmth and pride he had dreamed of when he was in Azkaban were real.
Potter supported him, and didn’t speak, except for a low murmur of, “Look me up when you need me,” when the boat stopped on the opposite shore. Draco staggered out on legs that already felt stronger, because he was away from the Dementors that literally made him weak at the knees.
His mother hugged him and held him close, ready to Side-Along Apparate with him. Potter turned to him, and looked at him for so intense a moment that Draco thought he was going to ask a question or tell Draco there was some part of his sentence that hadn’t been served.
And Draco would go mad if that was true.
But then Potter bowed, so quickly Draco could have thought he was imagining it if not for his desire to see things that were real even in the dream, and his mother’s soft gasp. Potter said, “You survived. I’m glad about that.”
Then he shook Draco’s hand once, and went on his way.
And Draco was left to stand there with his eyes closed, and wonder what the fuck he was supposed to think.
Well. That was later, honestly. After his mother had taken him home, and he had fallen into the soft bed that was not a dream.
Chapter 7: Laughing
“You don’t have to do this, mate.” Ron’s voice was calm, and he lay back on his bed and tossed a Galleon into the air. He had put some of the money he’d got from Draco’s fine into the joke shop; only some new resources to support new pranks and research had awoken George from his stupor over Fred. And he’d bought a new broom and robes, and taken Hermione out to dinner a few times since she got back from Australia. But he had saved enough Galleons that he could cover his bed with them in a thin layer and lie down on them.
Harry didn’t understand why, but Ron didn’t understand why Harry spent a lot of his time protesting what the Wizengamot was doing. They worked around each other the way they always had.
“No,” said Harry, and checked the hang of his robes in the mirror again. He didn’t care about it for itself, but he cared about the way that Rita Skeeter might twist things around if he met her with his robes disheveled. “And that’s why I’m doing it.”
“Because you don’t have to?” Ron sat up and stared at him alertly, gold falling out of his hair.
Harry nodded and met his eyes. “Because there’s no prophecy and no Voldemort chasing me. Because I could give it up and walk away if I wanted to.”
Ron was silent for a long moment, tapping one nail against the Galleons. Then he smiled. “Yeah. I reckon I can see that. Good for you, mate.”
Harry clasped him on the shoulder, long enough that Ron looked up at him. “If you think I’m getting too much into it,” Harry said, “just doing it for my own glory or something, then tell me to stop.”
Ron snorted hard enough that Harry was surprised he didn’t bring up some bits of breakfast. “You? Yes, you’re doing it for the glory.”
“I didn’t mean this, today.” Harry checked the watch that Molly had given him briefly. He was still on time for his interview with Skeeter, which was great. He didn’t want to go to all the trouble of arranging it and then miss it. “I mean in general.”
Ron lay back on his bed of Galleons like some lanky dragon and studied Harry for a second as though he was a chessboard. Then he nodded. “Of course I will.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, and went through the door, already rehearsing in his mind what he was going to say about the proposed new laws in front of the Wizengamot, requiring everyone who had fought in the war to register for restrictions on their wands, even if adults. The Wizengamot’s reasoning was that people who had cast violent spells in the past would be more likely to cast them in the future.
The retort to that ought to have been obvious. Not every spell cast in the war was a violent one. Not every wizard who did have to use violence was on Voldemort’s side.
But people wouldn’t speak up to say that, and the Wizengamot might get away with this transparent attempt to collect money—from bribes by people who could pay to avoid the registration, mostly—if someone of Harry’s fame and stature didn’t point out the counterarguments.
Someday, I’ll probably get tired of doing this, Harry thought, lengthening his stride through the whirring snowflakes. But not today.
“I never would have thought of doing this, dear. You’re brilliant.”
Draco closed his eyes, silently bathing in his mother’s words. Then, as she slipped out of the room, Draco opened his eyes and studied the books in front of him.
They were first-year textbooks used at Hogwarts in the last century, for everything from Charms to Astronomy. And they contained a huge number of spells, including some that hadn’t been taught at Hogwarts in the last fifty years, and others that had been taught to second-years or above later.
But it wasn’t Draco’s fault that the Wizengamot’s restriction was so loose. They had said, in the letter sent to Draco after his release, “First-year spells shall be defined as spells found in first-year textbooks used at Hogwarts.”
And these were.
Draco smiled and glanced at the first one, silently giving thanks for the magpie-like tendencies of his ancestors. If it could be useful, it went to feather their nests, no matter how long being useful might take. This book was from his grandfather’s time, and among spells Draco had learned in his first year, like the Levitation Charm, were a few more powerful ones.
Draco aimed the wand at his throat and murmured, “Voce feminae.”
When he spoke again, his voice was his mother’s. “Yes? What can I do for you?”
Draco smiled and cast the Finite, also part of the first-year textbooks in most variations. True, that particular charm that allowed a man to mimic the voice of his nearest female relative might not be the most useful, but it was a relief to Draco that he could still cast magic that was more than a few basic cleaning charms.
And he could practice with his magic, learn and grow stronger. No, he wouldn’t be able to practice some of the spells that were defined as NEWT-level or higher, but a great deal of getting good NEWTS, as his father had taught Draco, was simply the flexibility of one’s magic, and the confidence that so many people lacked.
Lack confidence, you can have all the training in the world and not be able to cast simple spells. Draco had a memory of his father standing by the window in this library, gazing out and saying that.
He doesn’t look out of any windows now.
Draco shook his head sharply. He couldn’t do much to help his father. In a way, Father’s punishment had also been part of the political campaign against Potter, who had argued strenuously that Lucius Malfoy’s crimes were more severe than his son’s. By giving Father only five years in Azkaban, the Wizengamot thought they were being clever and spiting Potter.
It had redounded to Draco’s and his parents’ benefit. This time.
Draco shivered, his vision going grey for a moment. He clutched the chair and waited until it passed. He was already learning how to deal with these—these convictions that he was back in Azkaban with a Dementor about to come around the corner any second. It was awful.
But he was in front of a fire, and he turned towards the warmth. As he did, he saw that day’s Daily Prophet lying on the table. He blinked. Mother must have come in here to read it and then forgotten to bring it back out again so Draco could get the glimpse he liked to have of it. He reached towards it and picked it up.
A second later, he was shaking with shock. There was a picture of Potter on the front page, and the headline was about him opposing a law the Wizengamot wanted to pass.
And underneath was the byline of Rita Skeeter.
Draco didn’t even think. He shouted for parchment and ink, and a house-elf popped up in front of him and bowed, frightened, already holding what he needed. Draco grabbed them and dashed off a heated letter to Potter, which he then snatched as he leaped to his feet and headed for the owlery. The elf was squeaking behind him in fear at not being allowed to take the message itself, but Draco needed to use up the energy somehow.
The letter was fairly simple. Draco could feel the words burning behind his lips as he watched the owl leap into the air and fly north.
How could you let a woman who hates you write about you? Are you engaging in the same political pandering that you always damn the Wizengamot for? I thought you were better than that.
Harry read Draco’s letter through once, then again, before he permitted himself to burst out laughing.
He had been sitting outside the Burrow with Ron and Ginny, wrapped in Warming Charms. They’d been discussing the latest improvements that George wanted to make to the joke shop, and whether they would be enough to keep him out of trouble, when Harry had spotted the owl winging towards him. He had known whose it was, and held out a confident hand. The owl still gave him a dubious look before it landed on his arm, but that was the owl’s problem.
And then there was the letter, and Harry was howling. He felt Ginny take the letter from his hand and read it, but he couldn’t stop her. He slumped sideways, one hand over his face, tears making their way from his eyes.
“What does this mean?” Ginny demanded, shaking the letter in front of his face. Harry bit his lip so he wouldn’t whimper again. “Who is it from? Why is it funny?”
Harry wiped the tears away and made some effort to sit up straight. Draco hadn’t put his signature on the letter, which Harry had recognized from his owl as much as anything. He supposed he could see why it would be hard for someone else to understand.
And Ginny sounded a little dangerous when she made demands like that. Harry knew he had to appease her.
“It’s funny because it’s from Draco Malfoy, and he was the one who taught me how to play some of the politics with the Wizengamot,” said Harry, and broke out into a helpless chuckle again. Ginny’s eyebrows came together. Harry coughed and sat up. “I suppose he disapproves when he’s not there to guide me through the politics.”
Ginny dropped the letter into Harry’s lap. “Are you going to answer it?” she asked shortly. Harry knew why. She didn’t really like him spending time on or with Draco. Given the way that Draco had tormented her family, Harry could see why.
“Sure,” Harry said, and went inside for ink and parchment. It took him no more effort to write his letter than it probably had for Draco. When he went back outside, Draco’s owl even stood up and fluttered its wings suggestively.
“There you go,” Harry said, and watched the owl jump up and fly away with the letter before he slumped back into his chair, rolling his eyes at Ron and Ginny. “The little shit.”
“Was he using some spell that would make you laugh when you touched the letter?” Ginny tilted her head back, apparently thinking the owl would circle back and make a dive-bombing run at them. “I didn’t think that was a first-year spell.”
Harry snickered, but immediately explained when Ginny glared at him. “No. Just the sheer ridiculousness of him making that demand.” He smiled and leaned back in his chair, bouncing his leg. “And that reminds me of something. Do you think we can get George to not sell Peruvian Darkness Powder, Ron?”
With a glance back and forth between Harry and Ginny that showed how much he didn’t want to come in between them, Ron finally cleared his throat and muttered, “Well, if we can replace it with something he likes as well. But it probably won’t stop him from wanting to sell other blinding things…”
Ginny crossed her arms. Harry sighed a little. Sometimes things went great between them, and sometimes they had arguments fierce enough that it seemed as if they were going to break out in huge wildfires. Harry was probably lucky this time that he’d been laughing too hard to argue back.
But he couldn’t prevent a final smile when he looked up at the disappearing dot of Draco’s owl. He had issued an invitation. It was up to Draco whether he wanted to take advantage of it.
Draco tore open the letter, and stared at it a little blankly. He had thought he would get either a long letter or a Howler in return, not a single line.
If you’re upset with me for engaging in politics that aren’t the kind you taught me, then why don’t you start teaching me more frequently?
Draco looked around at the library and the piled first-year textbooks. He had thought he would engage solely in studying magic from the books permitted to him and trying to qualify for the equivalent of NEWT exams in another country.
He hadn’t counted on…politics.
But then again, he couldn’t spend all his time in the library, either.
Inexplicably cheered, Draco wrote his response, a single word, and handed it to the harassed owl.
Chapter 8: Teaching
Hermione shook her head at Harry in fond exasperation as he ran towards the Floo in Ron and George’s shop, his robes trailing behind him. “Aren’t you ever on time?” she called after him.
“Only when someone’s trying to throw me off the scent by telling me a different time the trial starts!” Harry yelled back, as he tossed Floo powder into the fire and turned to face it. “Malfoy Manor!”
Hermione called something else behind him as he whirled away, but Harry didn’t hear what it was. He could guess, though. Hermione thought he should return to Hogwarts next year since he hadn’t done it this year. She thought that he couldn’t take his NEWTS and reallystudy for them unless he was in what she called “a productive learning environment.”
“Why are you always frowning when you show up?”
“Not always,” Harry said, standing up and swatting soot from his robes as he grinned at Draco. He had arrived in one of those large rooms the Malfoys seemed to specialize in, so cheery with fire reflecting off old ornaments and marble that it was easy to ignore the thick March rain beyond the windows. “Just, this time, I think Hermione was trying to talk me into going back to Hogwarts.”
Draco paused when he would have said something, and his mouth sealed in a thin line instead.
Damn. I should have remembered how much he’d give to do that. Harry nodded his apology—he would embarrass both of them if he referred to it—and then turned to the table spread with papers in front of him. “What is it today? Not more genealogies, I hope.”
Draco sniffed and let it go. “Admit it, knowing who was related to who helped you the last time you were in front of the Wizengamot.”
Harry nodded. He had been able to figure out both some of the tangled alliances and some of the reasons that Wizengamot members who should have been neutral had had for supporting that new law that would have required killing off any magical creature that appeared in front of Muggles. Wizengamot members might not be benefitting themselves, but they might be giving employment to a niece or nephew or cousin who was employed by the Ministry to do Walden Macnair’s old job. “You’ve helped me a lot,” he admitted. “Thanks.”
As always, Draco didn’t seem to know what to do with the thanks, and just moved across to the table and picked up a stack of papers. “Anyway. These aren’t genealogies. They’re lists of the important laws the Wizengamot passed in the last twenty years to control magical creatures.”
“All of them?” Harry gaped at the stacks of paper. He had known the Wizengamot was both busy and interfering. He had simply never thought it was this much.
“Yes.” Draco looked a little smug. “And it was a pain in the arse to gather all that information, I’ll have you know.”
Harry rolled his eyes back. “Thanks,” he said again, because that threw Draco into adorable confusion, and then he sat down and began to read through the laws. Draco’s breathing gradually steadied and blended with the noise of the rain as Harry sank deeper into concentration.
He started seeing something soon that he didn’t expect, though. And didn’t like. He leaned back and asked Draco bluntly, “Why are so many of these laws focused on creatures in the Forbidden Forest?”
“Hmmm?” Draco came back to himself, and then snorted. “Because they’re the largest groups of their kind in Britain, Potter. The largest herd of centaurs, the largest colony of Acromantulas, and so on.”
“But they didn’t enforce them that I can remember.” Harry wagged one piece of parchment. “This one that says they’re supposed to regularly cull Acromantulas that get bigger than five meters across the legs, for example. I know that some of the ones I met would be dead if they’d done that.”
“They couldn’t enforce them,” Draco said coolly. “Because Dumbledore stood in the way.”
Harry gaped at Draco. He had known Dumbledore did a lot of things the Ministry and the Board of Governors didn’t like, but this was a new one on him. “He did?”
Draco sat down on the other side of the table, looking uncomfortable and pleased at once. He wore that expression around Harry a lot of the time. Harry thought he enjoyed teaching him new political things about the wizarding world and at the same time thought Harry should have known them already.
“Of course,” Draco drawled. “You really believe that the centaurs would have lived unmolested close to humans for that long without some kind of protection? Or the merfolk? That there wouldn’t be more hunting of unicorns, no matter how illegal it is? Dumbledore was making sure no one could come near the school for over fifty years, ever since he taught there. At first he just influenced Headmaster Dippet, my father said, but after he defeated Grindelwald, he became so popular he could use his own fame.”
Harry kept silent, studying the parchment for a second. Then he said, “So now the Wizengamot is probably going to let people enforce these laws.”
Draco grimaced. “You’re so naïve, Potter. Sure, some enforcement, but there will also be bribes to allow hunting, or capture of Acromantulas instead of killing them, or pilgrimages to ask centaurs questions about the future. The Wizengamot isn’t always in charge of laws like that, anyway. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is about to get very, very rich.”
“They don’t make any distinction between the ones like the centaurs who can speak and the ones like unicorns who can’t, do they?” Harry’s voice sounded strange to his own ears. He tapped his fingers on the table. His head had filled with an ache. All the things Hermione had wanted to tell him about magical creatures, things he had sometimes listened to and sometimes ignored, suddenly seemed a lot more important.
“Between beasts and beings? Not always, although they’re supposed to in the laws.” Draco got up and came around the table. Harry started. He had thought Draco was going to go past him and pick up one of the cups of tea that a house-elf had popped in with a minute ago, but instead, he reached out and gripped Harry’s shoulder, hard.
“You can’t save them all,” Draco said.
“What? I know that.”
“No, you don’t.” Draco shook his head and looked up at an empty portrait frame on the wall—it was always empty when Harry came over—as if asking his invisible ancestor for help. “I know that look by now. Why I’ve lived to know it, I don’t know. What crime did I commit in a past life that’s being punished by this?”
Harry grinned, but it was fleeting. Draco went still, looking down on him, and repeated, “You can’t save them all. There’s going to be some unicorns killed, the same way that there always were no matter what the laws said. There’s going to be people bothering the centaurs. McGonagall can make sure there are some protections in place, because too much hunting could also endanger the students at Hogwarts. But you can’t save all of them.”
“I can do something for the centaurs, at least.” Harry pushed himself to his feet, his mind humming with plans. “Thanks, Draco—Malfoy. You’re a life-saver.”
“Why do you keep calling me by my first name and then stopping?”
Harry paused, looking over his shoulder, on his way to the fireplace. Draco stood with his hands crossed over his chest in the middle of the room, looking small and lonely.
It was the loneliness that made Harry’s voice soft when he replied. “Because I didn’t think you’d want me to call you Draco.”
“You could have asked.” Draco reached a hand up and performed a little gesture Harry supposed was meant to be one of blessing. “Please, call me by my first name. You sound ridiculous stumbling over it.”
Harry smiled at him with a little catch in his throat. Nothing he could have said would have explained or justified the catch, so he only nodded, mouthed, “Thank you,” and departed through the Floo.
He could do something for the centaurs. There was the small matter of Firenze having fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, and being awarded an Order of Merlin for it. Harry was going to start there.
Draco woke up to a faceful of feathers, and tried to repel the bird. It was probably a bird, unless house-elves had started thrusting dusters into their masters’ faces when they were trying to sleep.
The owl hopped off him after a moment and landed on the table next to the bed that usually held Draco’s breakfast, stretching its wings. Draco heard the crack of a glass cup and knew what had happened to his breakfast because of that bloody owl. He scowled at it.
The owl ducked its head and nibbled at his fingers in response. It was one of Potter’s, of course—of Harry’s. Draco had never encountered any others that were this enthusiastic so early in the morning. Blearily, he opened up the letter that it carried, which was only a single line, the way most of Harry’s letters were.
Read the paper.
Draco wanted to bang his head against the wall. Why couldn’t Harry just tell him what he would see in the paper instead of telling Draco to do something else entirely?
“No response,” he told the owl, which flew cheerfully out the window. Draco shook his head. He understood Harry’s owl had been a gift from Weasley, because something about the way Harry’s first owl had died had prevented him from getting another one. It was probably Weasley obnoxiousness infecting the bird, instead of anything Harry had done.
It was still annoying.
A call to the house-elves replaced both Draco’s breakfast and the missing paper. Draco looked at the front page, and blinked. There stood Harry next to a centaur who looked vaguely familiar, which turned to totally familiar when Draco glanced at the headline.
WAR HERO FIRENZE SPEAKS OUT ABOUT CENTAURS
Yes, that was the centaur who had been the Divination professor for a while. Draco read slowly on, learning that Harry had gone to speak to Firenze, and actually brought him to speak to the Wizengamot on behalf of his herd.
That made Draco blink. He didn’t think a centaur had ever consented to come to the Ministry. Then again, Firenze was already an outcast from normal centaur life, so maybe it didn’t matter so much to him.
Then Draco hit the paragraphs that Harry had probably wanted him to read the most, the one near the middle bottom of the front page, and which made him choke on his tea.
With the help of war hero Firenze, already the recipient of an Order of Merlin Second Class, the Wizengamot has established helpful new limits to the exploitation of the centaur herd at Hogwarts.
Firenze will continue serving as a Divination professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There will also be one day a month—to be announced a week before—when ordinary witches and wizards can come to consult a centaur about their futures. The selected centaur will appear at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
In return, the centaur herd’s territory in the Forbidden Forest will remain inviolate, and any wizard found with illegally hunted or purchased centaur potions ingredients will be punished severely.
“I think this is the best compromise for all involved,” said Harry Potter.
Draco sat slowly back in his bed. Harry had been listening, then. He had learned to compromise, something Draco told him he’d have to do, and he had found someone in the Wizengamot who would listen to him in return. Whether that was through knowing their blood connections or something else, Draco couldn’t know, because the article didn’t name the individual people who had worked with Harry.
But this was all the result of his teaching. Draco knew that.
A second later, he had to bite his lip, wondering if this meant Harry would never come to him for teaching again, because he already knew all he needed to know. He ended up sending an elf for an owl so he could respond after all, and tell Harry what he needed to know in his own letter of one line.
Congratulations. Same time next week?
It was hard to breathe until he got the owl back later that afternoon, when he was trying to concentrate on one of the more intricate incantations that had been a first-year spell fifty years ago. Draco tore it open at once, ignoring the way that the owl fluttered its wings in approval.
Of course. I have new questions to ask you.
Draco was smiling as he set the letter aside. He knew why. Harry was one of Draco’s few conduits to the world outside, and Draco would lose a source of life and vitality and news if he stopped coming. That made him more than a little pathetic.
But Harry didn’t think so. And he was the only one whose opinion mattered right now.
Contentment throbbing through him like a wound, Draco turned back to the book.
Chapter 9: Relying
“Harry, I need to talk to you,” said Ginny.
Harry opened one eye in surprise. It was a lazy day, for once, surprisingly warm for early April. He had planned to lie on the grass for most of the afternoon and listen to the sound of Ron and George whacking a Bludger back and forth.
Now, though, he sat up, because Ginny was sitting beside him with such a serious expression that he thought he owed her at least that much respect. “Sure,” Harry said, reaching out to twine his fingers through hers. “What is it?”
Ginny abruptly looked over. Harry followed her gaze, but he couldn’t see anything remarkable there, just Hermione sitting in a chair and reading a book that was supposed to help her study for the NEWTs. She was pretty good at ignoring the sounds of the Bludger and Ron’s occasional yells for help when George dived at him.
“Are you going to do this forever?”
“What?” Harry asked, turning back to her. “Lying on the grass? As long as I can get away with.”
That didn’t even raise a smile, which was unusual for Ginny. She twined their hands together harder, and tugged Harry towards her. Harry reached up and pushed a strand of her hair gently back. She still looked so—serious and lost and devastated. Harry wondered how long she’d been thinking about this conversation.
“Politics,” said Ginny. Her voice was low, but Harry could hear her words even better than George’s mock howl as Ron batted the Bludger away from him. “Throwing your name and fame around to get results.”
Harry stared with his mouth a little open. He hadn’t realized that was what Ginny was objecting to. She had sometimes looked upset when he ran away to talk to the Wizengamot or give an interview or testify at a trial, but he had thought it was because they didn’t get to spend as much time together.
“Oh,” he said. “Well. It’s been pretty effective so far.” He stopped flailing in his head and thought a second. Ginny deserved at least as much courtesy and truth as Harry would give an ally like Kingsley. “To keep people from going to prison who don’t deserve it, or at least don’t deserve it for long. And to get the Ministry to respect beings like the centaurs.”
Ginny shut her eyes. Her breathing was fast and shallow. Harry looked towards Hermione again, this time wondering if he might need someone to help him get Ginny inside the house. She really didn’t look well.
“I don’t like you doing it,” Ginny whispered, and she opened her eyes and pinned him with a stare so intense that Harry felt himself freezing like a bug on a pin. “What’s going to happen when you don’t have any causes left?”
“The last thing I’m worried about is running out of people who need me,” said Harry, a little dryly. He really didn’t.
“Not that,” said Ginny. “When you don’t have worthy causes left. Are you going to go on being political? Are you going to go on—Harry, there was a time when you didn’t want to use your fame at all.”
“Oh.” Harry stared at their hands, and turned them gently over, watching the way their fingers ran in and out of each other. It reminded him of some of the vines draped over the Burrow. “That.”
“Yes. That.” Ginny took a breath that seemed to suck in most of the air lingering around the pitch. “Harry, what happened?”
Harry wanted to say, “I grew up.” But that would be cruel, and imply Ginny hadn’t, and…oh, he didn’t know. What mattered was that she was upset, and Harry had to explain how he’d got here.
“I realized people weren’t going to treat me like an ordinary person no matter what happened,” he said. “At least, they won’t until years after the war.” He had thought of that too, that of course someday they would stop listening to him so much. “It’s either really good or really bad. I want to do what I can to make sure that it’s at least good for other people. I think that’s better than ignoring it, or pretending that Rita Skeeter and the Wizengamot are going to treat me like an ordinary person when they’re not.”
Ginny shut her eyes. “But aren’t you afraid of where it’s going to end up? That you won’t ever be able to stop? Or that you’ll do something wrong even though you mean to do something right?”
Harry studied her, but because she was sitting there with her eyes closed, she didn’t see him doing it, and didn’t respond the way Harry thought she would have most of the time. Harry was the one who had to end up asking the question. “Do you think no one can be good in politics, Gin? That they just get more and more corrupt all the time?”
He was ready to argue, to say that Ginny’s own father was in a prominent position in the Ministry now and he was doing all right, and that Kingsley was also still a good person. But Ginny opened her eyes and gave him a simple glance.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s what I think.”
Harry only held her hand tighter, not knowing what to say. He supposed he had thought the same way, once, because he had disliked all the Ministers he’d known before Kingsley. But he’d trusted Dumbledore, and that was a political position.
Even more than I knew, with what Draco told me about the way Dumbledore protected the magical creatures near the school.
He supposed what Ginny really wanted to know was when he had changed his mind.
“I think differently, now,” he told her, with a quick smile and a squeeze of her hand. “I saw people doing some great things right after the war, to make sure that criminals got fair trials even when they were Death Eaters and we got control of the Ministry back from Voldemort’s allies.”
“But they did horrible things, too,” said Ginny. “Like whoever sent you the wrong time for the start of Malfoy’s trial.”
His name is Draco. But Harry wasn’t enough of a fool to think that little correction would matter to her. He only nodded and said, “Yes, but someone else sent me the right one. Not everyone in the Ministry is good, Ginny. I’m not saying that. Just that some of them are, and some of them aren’t but will help me for their own reasons.”
“There! That!” Ginny pounced on it, pulling away and pointing the hand Harry had been holding at him. “You wouldn’t have wanted to cooperate with those people, once. You would have wanted them to believe the same things you do. What happens if they decide it’s not convenient to help you later?”
“Then I suppose they’ll fight me.” Harry swallowed, trying to come to terms with a change he hadn’t even realized was happening in himself. “I suppose that—Hermione fights one way, she crusades and she wants people to change their minds, and I want them to do things. As long as they do, I don’t suppose I care that much about what their motivations were.”
Ginny stood up, all flowing red hair and flashing eyes. Harry, looking up at her, felt his breath catch. She was magnificent, and her words were full of passionate conviction. He really wanted to believe what she was saying.
“I think people should do the right things. I wouldn’t work with someone who believed Muggleborn witches and wizards were worth less than pure-bloods, just because they might say the right things. I think you need to think really carefully, Harry Potter, about who you are and what you fought for.”
And she turned away.
Harry watched her go, blinking a little. He thought of what he could say to call her back, and nearly opened his mouth. But he shut it again without speaking.
Because it wouldn’t be sincere. Because he would only be doing what he knew he had to to get along with her, not because he agreed.
And if he understood the new Ginny at all, she would despise him for that.
Draco slowly tapped his stirring rod on the edge of the cauldron and stepped back from it. The Boil Cure Potion looked up at him, shimmering slightly.
He had done it. He had done it. He wasn’t as useless as he had feared he was. He hadn’t kept his hand in with potions in the last year the way he had with casting spells, and he had been afraid…
Draco shook his head and let his hand fall to rest on the edge of the table. Well, he had made this potion. It was a simple thing—for him—but it might sell for a good enough price in some of the apothecaries in Diagon Alley. He would have to contact them and find out who would try to cheat him and who wouldn’t.
Although I might have to accept the price they offer even if they cheat me, Draco admitted to himself. There wouldn’t be as many people willing to deal with a Malfoy as there had been before the war, and maybe fewer who would be willing to meet with a Potions brewer that had restrictions on his movements the way Draco did.
Draco turned around, staring. This wasn’t one of the days Harry was supposed to visit, and he had thought Harry would never come without sending an owl, anyway. He seemed to assume he was unwelcome in Malfoy Manor unless they had an appointment.
But Harry was there, his mouth quirking in a hesitant smile that warmed as his eyes passed from Draco to the cauldron and back. “Here,” he said, holding out a book wrapped in green paper. “I wondered if you would use something like this, but it looks like you will.”
Draco took the gift and stared at it. “It’s not my birthday,” he said, appalled at the nonsense that tumbled out of his mouth even as it tumbled. “And I already have all the first-year textbooks I can use.”
“I know that. Open it.”
Draco opened it. There was only so much resistance to gifts that he could politely offer, he thought. And he was itching to see what Harry had gone to the trouble of wrapping in Slytherin-green paper.
Harry leaned on the wall, and watched him with eyes that were honestly almost that shade of green. Draco looked down before his embarrassing thoughts could take control of his mouth again.
The book was on Potions. Draco had suspected it would be from the way Harry had looked at the cauldron. But it was one Draco had never seen before, with a bright, embossed silver beetle climbing the side of the pictured cauldron.
Gains Without Galleons, said the large title, and beneath that, Common Potions Ingredients You Don’t Need to Buy. The author was one Ares Cornstryker, a Potions master that Draco had heard of from some of Professor Snape’s comments.
Draco swallowed and looked up. Harry smiled back at him.
“I thought,” Harry said, with one wave of his hand, “that since it might be a bit difficult to buy ingredients in the shops, and your ancestors’ store has to run out sometime…”
Draco cleared his throat. “Thank you.” It was difficult to speak. But once again the stupid thoughts took over his mouth. “Would Weasley approve of you giving me something like this? Something that would let me earn my own living, I mean.”
Harry laughed, free and easy, where he had tensed up at the mention of Weasley’s name. Probably afraid Draco was going to insult his friend again or something. “No. After all, it’s not like I’m giving you money. I’m giving you the chance to earn your own money. If you don’t take it, that’s not up to me.”
Draco smiled in silence at him. Harry laughed again and crossed the room to touch Draco’s hand where it rested on the book.
“You should do that more often,” Harry murmured to him. “It improves you like you wouldn’t believe.”
And he departed, and Draco was left staring at the book in wonder.
It was only later that he thought the gift of the book might have been prompted by something else. Not that Draco was undeserving of the gift, or that Harry wouldn’t have seen it and thought of him. But perhaps…
Perhaps it was a means of helping Draco, soothing Draco, because he couldn’t help or soothe someone else.
Draco thought at the time it was a political defeat he would read about it in the paper in a few days. And then those days passed, and he didn’t, and he forgot about it, absorbed into the hum of his newly busy life.
It was only much later that he began to understand.
Chapter 10: Communicating
Harry spent a long moment snuggling back into his blankets and closing his eyes with a delicate sigh. He didn’t really want to get up and go downstairs and face the words he knew were hovering in the air, even if no one was speaking them right now.
They didn’t need to speak them. He knew everyone expected him to attend to them anyway.
And one word was dependent on the other. The first word was “wedding,” and whenever Harry heard-didn’t-hear it, it was accompanied by glances darted back and forth between Ginny and him. The second word was “out,” and it would materialize more strongly than ever if Harry didn’t say the first one.
In fact, Harry thought, sitting up idly and stretching his arms out, I might be the only one who hears that word, right now.
He faced the day, because he had to, and took a quick shower and brushed his teeth. The face staring at him in the mirror startled him. He looked—well, a lot less apprehensive than he had thought he would.
Because I know the answer to those questions, Harry thought, and leaned over the sink to spit into it. I know what words I need to speak.
That didn’t make it any easier to put on his clothes and march downstairs, into the swirling chaos of the words.
“Good morning, dear.” Molly’s smile was tender the way it always was after the main breakfast, when she had seen Arthur and George out the door and could sit down with a cup of tea. There was still plenty of food on the table, though, and Harry inhaled the delicious scent of baking bread from the next room. “Are you ready to eat?”
Harry smiled and started to respond, but he heard footsteps behind him just then, and he recognized them. The footsteps he would have to speak the words to.
It was July, and Ginny had come back from her seventh year at Hogwarts. Her last one, with her NEWTs successfully and impressively passed, and questions in her eyes whenever she looked at Harry.
Harry took a cup of tea and turned around to face her. “Good morning,” he said. “Sleep well?”
Ginny widened her eyes and shook her head a little, as though she couldn’t believe Harry was avoiding his duties with her. “Not so well as I could have,” she said. “I was dreaming about whether an important day would actually happen this summer or not.” She reached for the plate of fresh bread without taking her eyes off Harry.
Huh. Harry had thought the confrontation would happen with most of the Weasleys there, and he had been prepared for that. He hadn’t thought Ginny would force it with only her mother as witness.
It seemed even Molly didn’t want to be a witness. She stood up in a flutter of robes like a hen’s wings and said, “I’d better check on the biscuits,” then escaped to the warmth of the kitchen.
Harry and Ginny stood facing each other across the table, as if it was a battlefield. Harry saw Ginny’s hand tightening on a fork. He got ready to raise a quick Shield Charm if it was necessary, and mentally sifted, also, through the quick packing charms he knew.
“It’s time, Harry,” Ginny whispered. “While I was at Hogwarts you had a legitimate excuse, but it’s time now.”
Harry blinked. “What are you talking about?” He hadn’t realized Ginny’s family thought he should wait to propose until she wasn’t at Hogwarts. He had just thought they expected it now because Harry and Ginny were spending so much time together.
Ginny stood as tall and straight as an arrow planted in the ground. “You had a legitimate excuse to run around and play politics and concentrate on other things. But I’m a grown woman now, and you’re a grown man—more than. It’s time for us to set a date for the wedding and start planning our future.”
That broke Harry of his paralysis at last. Maybe it was because someone had finally said the word that had hovered around the table for so long. He leaned forwards and murmured, “Do you love me, Ginny?”
Ginny blinked like an insect had flown into her eye. “What? Of course I do.” She rearranged a few plates on the table while Harry stared at her. “I wouldn’t want to marry you if I didn’t. I would never want to marry without love.”
She gave her hair a defiant little toss on the last word, and Harry smiled back at her and nodded. “Neither would I. And that’s why I can’t marry you.” He forced himself to keep calm and keep talking as tears began to pour down her face. “I’m sorry, Ginny. I really am. I like you, a lot, and if we could wait and get married in five or ten years, then maybe I’d love you and it would be fine. But I know you want to get married right away, and I don’t.”
“What do you want to do?” Maybe it was just the tears choking Ginny’s voice or the tight grip she had on the table, but her tone sounded a lot like contempt.
“Politics,” Harry said, and held her gaze. “Helping people to make their way in the world and heal the ravages of war. What I’ve been doing.”
He didn’t say, My life’s work, which you disagree with. The words hung in the air between them, even more thrumming than the words before this had.
Then Ginny gripped the table and flipped it towards him. It was so heavy that it didn’t really move that well, but plates toppled to the floor and smashed, tea spilled, teacups rolled and cracked, and Molly’s voice bellowed from the kitchen, “Ginny!”
Harry didn’t think Ginny even heard her. Her face was as red as her hair, and she was yelling at him, “Then get out! Get out!”
At least someone finally spoke both of them, Harry thought, and nodded to her and murmured words she didn’t hear. He was sorry, and he wanted to apologize, but staying to make sure she heard them would only make things worse right now.
He went upstairs to cast the packing charms that had run through his mind, his heart lighter than it had been in some time. Who knew unspoken words could be so much worse than spoken ones?
Draco stepped carefully out of the Floo. It wasn’t so much the unfamiliar hearth that he thought would trip him, but the soot he could both see and smell. He tucked his sleeve around his nose right afterwards.
“What, does my house stink?”
Draco dropped his sleeve and grinned at Harry as he came into the drawing room. The drawing room of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Draco was still trying not to gape at the home of his Black ancestors, which he’d never seen.
“I was trying not to breathe in the soot and die that way,” Draco responded, holding out his hand. “I thought it would be a messy way to expire.”
“Oh, that was the fireplace Kreacher was complaining about!” Harry exclaimed, catching his hand and shaking it. “He kept mumbling there was one he hadn’t cleaned, but he’s getting so old now that I wanted him to rest. And I thought he was just having a delusion, anyway.”
Draco had to admit he almost reveled in the words, in being friends with someone who would treat a house-elf that way instead of how his father or most of his other ancestors would have. Draco had discovered that a lot of the pure-blood world had shut its doors to him because he’d had the disgrace of being arrested.
Well, he would shut his doors on them and join the other side, because it was the one that would have him. And he had to admit, it was a lot harder to treat house-elves with thoughtless cruelty now that he was no longer a child.
“I know you only invited me for my potions, not because you wanted to plan my death in an amusing way,” Draco said, and reached into his robe pocket. “I have the Doxy Bane right now.”
“No, I invited you for a surprise party.”
Draco jerked in true surprise when he looked up and found that Harry was wearing the green robes that Draco had advised him to buy a few months earlier, when he had seen a photograph of them among the wares of a new robe shop in Diagon Alley. Draco blinked, and blinked again, and went through the days in his mind.
“I didn’t think it was the thirty-first,” he said cautiously, as Harry walked up to him, clapped him on the shoulder, and steered him towards what looked like a first floor corridor.
“It isn’t,” said Harry. “But I won’t be able to celebrate with you then. The entire wizarding world will throw me a party, practically.” He grimaced. Draco had come to accept that Harry found his publicity distasteful unless he could use it to help someone else, no matter how strange such an idea was to Draco. “And, well, I didn’t get to celebrate with you on your birthday.”
Draco flushed. That had been his fault as much as Harry’s. He’d been feeling sulky and broody that day, after a spectacularly unsuccessful visit with his father in Azkaban, and so he’d taken it out on Harry when he arrived late. Harry had left the gift and gone away.
And then, well, neither of them had wanted to bring it up again. They avoided most subjects like that, Draco thought, for a good reason. It was a way to strain their fragile friendship if they tried it too much.
“I wish you wouldn’t put it so neutrally,” Draco muttered, staring down at his hands. “It was my fault.”
“Partially your fault,” Harry corrected firmly. “Anyway, don’t worry about gifts. I bought these robes and told myself they were your gift to me, because I wouldn’t have looked at them twice if you hadn’t recommended them to me.”
Draco smiled tentatively, then gasped. They’d passed through gloomy wastes of corridor and down dusky stairs without him noticing much, but now they were in the middle of a sparkling bright kitchen, and presents and sweets covered the table.
Draco’s eyes fastened immediately on the cake, which was enormous. It looked like it could crush everything else if it fell over. There was a wash of chocolate icing and sliced fruit and something colorful and glittering down the sides. Draco put out a finger, unable to help himself, and scooped up the side of the cake to taste.
Vanilla, and more chocolate, and the glittering things turned out to be sprinkles that went off with small bursts of tartness like fireworks. Draco shook his head and turned to Harry.
“You didn’t have to,” he said.
“Precisely why I did it.” Harry grinned at him again, and waved at the gifts. “Now, aren’t you going to open them? Most people I know would have attacked them the instant they came into the room.”
Draco wanted to reply that most people had no taste or sense of taste, then, but he knew Harry was still a bit sensitive about the way he’d left the Weasleys’. He nodded and started opening the gifts.
Some he could guess immediately by their shape—Harry had wrapped them with more enthusiasm than skill—but they managed to surprise him anyway. He knew Harry had got him a cauldron, but he still stared in stunned silence when he opened that package to find out it was a gold cauldron.
“I know some complicated potions need one,” Harry said, and shrugged and grinned at him on the other side of the discarded paper.
There were new vials, a year’s worth of crushed black beetles, two Potions books so new they still smelled of ink, and container after container of slightly rare magical ingredients Draco was running out of, like black rose seeds, or sea serpent’s blood, or hen’s teeth. Draco paused when he got down to the bottom of the pile, trembling a little.
The shape of this one was obvious, too, but the rest of the presents and the towering cake had somewhat obscured it. Draco laid his hand on what was obviously a broom handle and looked at Harry with eyes he knew were a little desperate.
Harry’s eyes on his were so deep and compassionate that Draco knew he would get no teasing from him. His hands did tremble as they opened the broom, but not as badly as he had thought they would.
Inside was a Firebolt. Draco couldn’t look closely enough to identify the make. He might not even have known what it was, as much time as he’d spent ignoring the Quidditch pages lately. His hands were back to trembling badly as he stroked the smooth, gleaming wood, and lifted the broom out of its wrapping of paper.
It was perfect. At least, Draco thought he could still say so, even if he hadn’t flown in—it felt like years. The wood had a honey-brown gleam that made Draco seem to see reflections falling away into its depths, and the bristles were all gently aligned in a way that would make sweeps around corners seem effortless, and Draco could already hear the wind whistling past his ears as he rose on the new broom.
Harry. Without taking his eyes from the broom, Draco reached out and took Harry’s hand.
It silenced Harry effectively, the way Draco had thought it would. There was nothing for the next few minutes but silence, Harry staring down at the hand that Draco clasped on top of his, Draco turning the broom back and forth. It moved in absolute silence in his fingers, without squeaking, even though something so polished usually would, from the pressure of a hand against the smeared oil.
“You’re welcome,” Harry said finally, from an endless distance away.
And it was the right thing to say, and the right distance. Draco nodded, and looked up. “Let’s start the cake, then,” he said. “I’m starving for a taste of something that good.”
He didn’t need to say anything else. Harry looked at him once with his lip twitching, then nodded and reached for a huge knife lying next to some of the candied orange peel.
Sometimes, Draco thought, leaning one hip against the table and managing to watch Harry, the cake, and the broom all at the same time, unspoken words are the most powerful ones.
Chapter 11: Speechifying
Harry nodded a little at Jackson, the Auror who had come to talk to him that morning. “I know it’s an honor,” he said. “I never intended to say it wasn’t. But I’m still not doing it.”
Jackson straightened his back. He was a tall man, and probably used to looming over other people, even if he was standing in the drawing room of their homes. Harry gave him a peaceful look, though. It was a little harder to intimidate Harry these days.
“You wouldn’t need to pass many requirements,” said Jackson. “Your NEWTS, which you must be confident of passing, since you haven’t studied for them.”
Harry had to grin. And because Jackson was the only Auror there and they weren’t in the Ministry, he dared to say something about it. “But you don’t really want me admitted to Auror training on the basis of that, do you? You think it’s disgusting that I didn’t study and that they might want to admit me anyway.”
Jackson ducked his head and frowned at Harry. “No one told me that you were a Legilimens. Or you that Legilimency is illegal without granted Ministry permission, I imagine.”
Harry snorted aloud. He had to admit that while most of the time he wished Snape rested in peace and didn’t feel a grudge towards him anymore, he did wish Snape could be alive to witness this moment.
“I not only have no talent in Legilimency,” he said, when Jackson was radiating offense like a cat passed over for feeding, “I failed miserably at learning Occlumency the one time someone let me try. I can only tell what you’re thinking because it’s written so visibly on your face.”
Jackson raised one hand as if he thought he was going to trace the shape of actual letters on his face, and then dropped his hand back to the side and frowned at Harry. Harry spread his arms and grinned.
“Why don’t you want to be an Auror?” Jackson finally asked a sensible question, watching Harry all the while as though he expected Harry to burst out in anger. “The papers have reported it as your only ambition from the time you were in fifteen.”
“And the papers are such a reliable guide to anything.”
Jackson finally smiled. Harry nodded at him. “I knew you could do that if you just tried!” he said, in the cheery tone that Professor McGonagall would have used with him.
Jackson flopped down in the chair across from Harry and shook his head. “I was worried that I would have to train you, or someone I knew would be pulled away from active duty to do it. But you’re really not interested?” He was scratching at his long black beard now, watching Harry with real curiosity.
“No,” said Harry, as calmly and clearly as he could. “I’ve found what I want to do instead.”
Jackson’s eyebrows twitched a little. “Run around interfering in politics.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it, how many people only call it interfering when it’s someone working for a side they don’t like? Otherwise it’s just politics.”
Jackson nodded, but not as if he was acknowledging Harry’s point. He was examining him instead, in a critical way that Harry thought he probably used on trainees a lot. “You look like a good duelist.”
“I never got much practice in formal dueling, though. Just firing around corners and running for my life, mostly.”
“That’s what an Auror does more often than formal dueling.”
“You’re trying to convince me to change my mind?” Harry put his hand on his chest. “Be still, my heart.”
At least that made Jackson snort again and shake his head. “Not so much that as trying to decide whether you would have been any good at it. The papers do report your strengths as defensive magic and quick dodging. Were they wrong about that?”
“Probably not, but I don’t actually know that many separate defensive spells. I knew a few that I used all the time, and I could do a Patronus Charm pretty young, and I had the bravery or the knowledge that Voldemort wouldn’t stop coming after me which let me walk into the Forest and ask him to kill me.”
Jackson winced. “Well. Aurors aren’t required to be suicidal, you know.”
Harry grinned at him again. “Another fact disqualifying me from becoming a trainee.”
Jackson hesitated, then said in a rush, “It’s like this. There are some Aurors like me who didn’t want you in training because we did think you would require all this babysitting, and there are some who want you there because they think you would help the Aurors’ reputation. It’s at a low point, still, with some people not happy because we got infiltrated by You-Know-Who and some people not happy because we arrested Death Eaters instead of killing them.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t mind using my reputation to benefit people, but I’m not going to spend my whole career rescuing the Aurors from trouble.” Some of which they got into on their own. But Harry hadn’t needed Draco’s advice or anyone else’s to tell him that that wouldn’t be a wise thing to say. “I could make a few speeches about how deep Voldemort’s infiltration in the Ministry went, though? If that would help?”
Jackson narrowed his eyes a little. “I haven’t done anything for you except insult you. Why would you help me that way?”
Harry wondered for a second if he could even explain how the war had changed his sense of the world. So many of the things he used to worry about—like the Quidditch Cup—seemed so petty now. He wasn’t keeping track of scores and who owed him what and using that to punish his enemies. He just wanted to live and get along with other people and help them if he could, because he could and because he didn’t have to watch over his shoulder for Voldemort all the time now.
But attempts to explain everything to people except Ron and Hermione had never gone well, so he said, “I’m not helping you. I’m helping the Aurors. And there was some real corruption, you know. Like the way you arrested Pansy Parkinson. So I want to help with that.”
Jackson nodded, his shoulders untensing. “That makes sense.”
To you, Harry thought, a little sourly. Why is it that cynicism makes more sense to so many people instead of just wanting to help each other?
It wouldn’t be fair to expect Jackson to provide that answer, though. Harry ended up shrugging lightly and saying, “All right, so what kinds of speeches would help, and when?”
Draco checked the hang of his robes again. Then he looked at his reflection in the mirror and made sure he didn’t have any leftover lunch in his teeth. Then he checked the watch that his mother had given him not long ago.
Then he told himself to stop being stupid, and he chucked the Floo powder in the fire and called out, “Pansy’s Corner!”
He managed the long step down from Pansy’s hearth to the floor easily enough, but did have to pause in silent surprise at who else he found there. Harry was sitting in the chair next to Pansy in the middle of the lavishly crowded drawing room, talking to her in a low voice and touching her hand now and then.
Draco stood for a second, fidgeting. He looked around at the books and furniture and small treasures Pansy had hauled with her from her parents’ house after the Ministry seized the property to “go through at their leisure.” There were clocks that didn’t work and broken china cups and a few disapproving, staring portraits. Draco went over to polish one bronze frame and ended up sitting down next to Pansy on the other side.
Harry gave him a gentle smile. Draco began to breathe again.
“I can do several things,” Harry told Pansy then. His voice was as quiet as the crackle of the flames in the fireplace Draco had come through. “The problem is, I can’t do them without knowing what you choose. What would you like me to do? Think about it. Not what your parents might want, or the Aurors, or your ancestors. What do you want?”
Pansy sat looking into the fire with a hopeless expression. Draco stirred again. This was the kind of thing he had come over here hoping to prevent. Pansy had been hit hard by Azkaban, almost the way Draco had been, but she didn’t have a career in Potions or free family members to help her. Her mother had fled, her father was in prison.
That could have been me, if not for Mother and Harry.
But Draco told himself he didn’t have to think about it. Could have been, but wasn’t. He had to think about Pansy, now.
Pansy finally whispered, “I want the life I always should have. Enough money to keep me happy, someone to marry who would take care of me, and some children.” She turned and cast Draco a defiant look. “But I know that you were never going to marry me. My parents told me. Something about your parents betrothing you to Astoria Greengrass.”
“They discussed it,” Draco said, because that was true. “I doubt it’ll happen now.”
“Pansy.” Harry’s voice was low. “Would you really not care who you married? I mean, you wouldn’t care if he was older, or not handsome, or not a pure-blood? Even a Muggle? You don’t care about anything else?”
“What choices do I have?” Pansy turned to him now, and Draco saw the same trapped expression in her eyes. “I’m not clever. I don’t have NEWTs. And I won’t. I don’t have a family. What can I do except persuade someone to take care of me? And do the kind of things every woman can do with my body.”
“I need to know what you really want,” Harry said. “Not what you’re panicked into wanting.”
The flash of spirit Draco had expected to see from Pansy long before this showed up in her eyes then. She sat up and folded her hands in her lap. “The one who has all the options in the world presumes to lecture to me?”
Harry smiled and leaned back in his chair as though he was used to this. Maybe he was, Draco thought, watching him in wonder. Draco’s mouth was dry, but Harry spoke easily enough. “You still have to decide what you’re going to do. Do you want to go to another country? Your reputation as a convicted criminal might matter less there. Is there someone who owes your family a favor that you could call on? Would you want to go to the Muggle world?”
Pansy hesitated once, then said, “No Muggles. I couldn’t bear to leave magic behind, even if they’ve restricted me to third-year spells only.”
Lucky, Draco thought, and then realized abruptly that he might not have told Pansy about his plan to use different generations of textbooks. He opened his mouth.
Harry gave a little shake of his head and said, “That’s one decision made. What about the others? Is there nothing you could see yourself doing? Nothing you want to do?”
Pansy’s cheeks flushed a little, and she sat up some more. When she answered this time, it was with more determination. “I could—the only thing I really enjoyed at Hogwarts was Astronomy. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.”
“Neither do I, but I have some friends at the Ministry who could help me find out.” Harry grinned at her. “And some contacts among the centaurs.”
“And there are ways around third-year spells,” Draco added helpfully. “Using different books for third year than what Hogwarts requires now, for instance.”
Pansy was already looking better. “There’s that,” she murmured, thoughtfully. “I think—you could look into it for me, Potter?”
“I will,” Harry promised, and smiled at Draco across Pansy.
Draco smiled back, and thought, Now I know why Potter enjoys helping people. It’s its own kind of rush.
Chapter 12: Dressing
Harry should have known he couldn’t even walk down the center of Diagon Alley without someone trying to shove a camera in his face. He halted and rolled his eyes, then looked patiently at the man who was trying it. He wasn’t someone Harry recognized. Eager hazel eyes fastened on him with a look of hero-worship that reminded him of Colin, though.
Harry was too busy swallowing down the painful lump in his throat to evade the question. “We all want to know who you celebrated your birthday with, Mr. Potter!”
“Oh, with the rest of Britain,” Harry said dryly. He was thinking about the fireworks exploding overhead until two in the morning, and how he’d had to rent a flat to deposit the gifts in, and the people who had sent him invitations to parties until Harry’s wrist had gone numb casting the spell that would copy his refusals.
The young man looked confused, but launched immediately into the next question. “Are you happy to be nineteen?”
A fortnight into August, and they have to keep asking me the same bloody question, Harry thought in irritation. He understood the reason, though. It was as if everyone needed to know that their hero was not only happy but grateful to have survived—as if they needed to be able to excuse themselves for not having helped him to survive enough during the war.
Because he understood, Harry made his tone softer. It was probably his second mistake, the first being not to bolt away instantly. “Of course I am. And happy to live in a world not dominated by the Dark Lord Voldemort.”
He wasn’t a saint. He got some of his own back by watching people flinch. But this one was made of sterner stuff than some of the others, and promptly bounced back. “When are you going to make your run for Minister?”
The reporter flinched this time as though Harry had done something to hurt him, not merely frightened him. And they were drawing unwanted attention. Of course. Harry rolled his eyes and cast another Lightening Charm on the basket of purchases over his arm. The first one had worn off in the time it had taken him to be ambushed again and again, and have people talk to him in awed and admiring tones as though he was the lone war hero they imagined.
“I’m never going to make a run for Minister,” he said, raising his voice so the people who’d been drifting by and pretending not to listen could hear him. “And I’m never going to ask people if they want to follow me and serve me in an army. And I’m never going to be a Dark Lord. I’m ordinary and rather boring, and I would appreciate it if you would all leave me alone.”
Of course, a moment after that Harry was wondering if he should have spoken so harshly, if he had irritated some people he would need to work with later and if he should speak soft and conciliatory words now. But he was just so finished with the constant attempts to make him into a hero, the only one who mattered. People wouldn’t help the centaurs or the merfolk or the goblins anyway if they only saw his reflection.
“Surely rumor can’t be wrong.”
That voice touched such a chord inside him that Harry began to smile before he even consciously recognized who it was. And the crowd pulled back like Muggles rushing away from a downed power cable as Draco sauntered towards him.
He had a basket over his arm, too. It was white. So was his cloak, and his hood, and his robes. Harry felt his smile change a little, although he didn’t think anyone other than Draco would realize how exasperated it was.
White didn’t suit Draco. It made him look like he was made of salt and porcelain. But he paraded around in it anyway.
“Surely not,” Draco went on, stopping in front of Harry and meeting his eyes as solemnly as though they were still enemies. Or almost. But Harry didn’t think anyone else would manage to see past the sneer to the way that Draco’s mouth twisted a little during it, or the narrowed eyes to the exact placement of the wrinkles alongside them. “Surely you’re not an ordinary man standing in the middle of Diagon Alley with your shopping. Surely you’re planning a run on the Ministry next week, and you’ll be declared Supreme Mugwump on the shoulders of the cheering crowds.”
Glares flew Draco’s way. Harry still wanted to laugh aloud. Draco was drawing all the focus of the crowd as well as the most ridiculous gossip onto himself, and now there would be some people who declared they didn’t believe it because they didn’t want to be associated with the Malfoys’ tainted name.
Well done. And it’s brave of him.
“I think it was Minister,” Harry murmured. “Not Supreme Mugwump.”
“Do excuse me,” Draco said, and bowed a little to Harry, an absurdly graceful motion with one knee tucked beneath him. “Future Minister.”
“I’m not, I tell you!” Harry yelled, but this time it was a game, and he saw the answering gleam in Draco’s eyes before he shook his head and tapped his hand thoughtfully against his chin. Harry couldn’t help thinking that gesture would have worked better if Draco had had more tastefully manicured nails than he did now, but it was still effective. Angry murmurs started to sound behind them.
“I’m not sure I believe you,” Draco said. “After all, you won the war and you probably believe that you deserve to be Minister. I can tell it by the way you strut down Diagon Alley.”
“He does not strut!” the young reporter tried to jump in, but Draco was in full flow now and Harry didn’t think much less than an avalanche could have stopped him.
“And the way you wear those robes.” Draco eyed Harry’s ordinary robes with an odd expression. Harry couldn’t tell whether it was part of the pretense or just contempt for cloth below the level of silk. “As though you think a Minister can get away without wearing satin and velvet.”
For the first time ever, someone was shouting defenses that Harry looked fine in ordinary clothes, which was certainly not the opinion of the public most of the time. Harry tried to stand there and look offended, although he knew amusement was probably creeping into his expression no matter how hard he tried to hide it.
“The way you look.” Draco reached out and flicked a finger against the side of Harry’s hair. “Your grandfather would be ashamed to be seen with you in public, and he had horrid hair…”
Harry admittedly lost track of Draco’s rant for a second. The flash of lightning that had cut through his blood when Draco touched his hair had left him breathless. But he thought he blinked and came back before anyone could notice his distraction and accuse Draco of Confounding him.
“…don’t take advantage of your eyes at all. You have these green eyes that other pure-bloods would kill for, and what do you do with them? Hide them behind ratty glasses.” Draco stomped his foot. “It’s as though you exist specifically to get all the pure-bloods who would kill for your looks angry.”
There was an undercurrent in his voice, and a strangeness in the way he kept his eyes fastened on Harry’s face, that Harry didn’t understand at all—and by now, he’d thought that he knew most of Draco’s expressions. Harry made a mental note to ask Draco about it later, even as he adopted his blandest expression and pushed his glasses up his nose.
“Maybe I don’t want to be stared at,” he said.
That exclamation was masterful, Harry had to admit. Everyone turned to yelling at Draco about how could he call Harry’s glasses ratty, and in the meantime, Harry was able to fade gently into the background. He watched, meanwhile, the way that Draco fended off accusations with sneers and little flips of his hand, all things that pressed close to the line while not provoking someone into aggression that Draco couldn’t fight off with first-year spells or Harry would have to intervene in.
But there were questions Harry would have to ask later. Oh, yes.
“You didn’t drop by just to ask how Pansy is doing in her Astronomy study.”
Draco had known that as soon as he’d received Harry’s very abrupt owl about coming over this morning, but he’d thought Harry would come around to the real purpose of his visit before this. Instead, they’d gone through lunch, tea, and an extra cake that “the house-elves” had thought Harry might like without Harry talking about anything except Pansy and politics, and Draco was tired of it.
(The house-elves, ha. It was a good thing Harry was so oblivious to some things, because Draco’s mother was not as subtle as she thought she was).
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes for a second. “No,” he admitted. And then he turned and looked at Draco, and Draco braced himself. Harry’s expression was the same one he had used to announce bad news a couple of times, like when he had told Draco that the Wizengamot was lengthening his father’s prison sentence.
Now, though, all Harry said was, “You need to start wearing different clothes when you go out in public.”
“Huh?” Draco glanced instinctively down at his robes, which weren’t the white ones he wore in public, but were made of much the same material. They were a delicate combination of blue and green that Draco liked, though. “What’s wrong with these? I mean, them?”
“These? Nothing.” Harry reached out and toyed for a second with the gold-embroidered cuff of Draco’s sleeve.
Draco didn’t gasp and huddle back in his chair with the spark that leaped through him at Harry’s touch, but only because he was half-prepared for it. It had happened before, although never with this intensity.
And he had his reward, beyond the touch itself. He saw, because he was watching Harry instead of caught up in his own reactions, the slight flush on Harry’s face and the way his eyes snapped back and forth between Draco’s face and his own fingers. The way he withdrew his hand was a little too casual to be normal.
But Harry did clear his throat and go on as though everything was normal. “These robes are fine. The other ones make you look washed-out, though. I thought you should know.”
“I wear them because white is the color of innocence,” Draco protested, dazedly, telling the truth when he would have concealed it from almost everyone else. “And I need all the help I can get in that department.”
Harry shook his head. “The way that you danced through those people yesterday? I don’t think you do. You have a talent for knowing when you’re annoying them too much.”
Draco sat there and tried to decide whether the compliment pleased or annoyed him, considering what it was conjoined with. Then he took a deep breath and said, “All the fashion advice can’t go one way, you know.”
“And here was me thinking that you only made those statements about my glasses and hair to irritate the others.”
Harry was smiling, but he had retreated somewhere behind the smile. Draco knew what that looked like even if he couldn’t tell why.
And he didn’t care why. He struck out to swim after Harry. “I did. But I meant it when I said that you have nice eyes.” His face was probably on fire. Draco willed himself not to feel the tingling blush in his cheeks and press on. “And you could wear—slightly nicer robes. Not dress robes all the time, but you don’t have to look as if you’re wearing a sack.”
Harry blinked. “I’m not wearing a sack—”
“You stand like you do,” Draco interrupted him. He was going to finish this, and then Harry would see that Draco wouldn’t allow everything to flow one way only, and condemn Harry to the duty of taking care of him without getting anything in return. “I think that’s not a matter of what you’re wearing. You just weren’t used to robes when you were a child, and it shows. It’s a way of standing and walking. I could teach you that.”
Harry cocked his head. His eyes glinted. “You think I’ll be able to learn a brand new way of standing and walking simply by watching you?”
“Not so much watching.” Draco’s nails were cutting into his palms. He uncurled them, and not just because Harry would feel bad if he saw Draco doing that. “It’s going to take showing, sure. But I might also have to—touch you sometimes to get you stand in the right way. And maybe make sure that you have more comfortable robes.”
Harry paused. The air between them was buzzing, Draco felt, as though someone had tapped his bones with a Vibration Charm.
Which was impossible, but it was still a good description of what was happening, so Draco ignored the impossibility. He was waiting for Harry to make the next move, and he hoped it was forwards.
Harry cleared his throat a little and looked down. “I suppose that wouldn’t be—objectionable.”
It was forwards. Draco smiled and reached out to take his wrist, turning it back and forth more boldly than he actually felt. “Even ways of gesturing. I could teach you that.”
Harry didn’t bother pausing this time. He simply looked Draco straight in the eye and smiled.
“Yeah,” he breathed. “I’d like that.”
Draco paused to savor the strength of feeling in his throat before he smiled back.
Chapter 13: Posturing
Draco scowled for a moment at the wardrobe, then sighed and stepped back. He didn’t need to worry about what he was going to wear in front of Harry, he reassured himself. It wasn’t like he was going out in public. And he would show Harry how to stand today, not how to dress.
Except he still wanted to model appropriate behavior in front of Harry, behavior that would get Harry thinking more about the clothes he wore and the impression he made on other people.
He thinks too much about that already.
Draco snorted and removed a shimmering blue robe from its hook. No, he wouldn’t get into arguments with himself over what he meant when he knew perfectly well what he meant. Harry cared a great deal about his words and his policies and what he supported, and what those things said about him.
He didn’t pay much attention to fashion and the way that he could influence someone with expressions and gestures. He had shrugged the one time Draco asked him about it, when they were first discussing politics, and said that Granger had told him his emotions showed themselves honestly all the time anyway. It was no use trying to manipulate people when they would know it was false.
Draco shrugged himself carefully into the robes and turned so he could look at his reflection over his shoulder. Yes, the deep blue silk shone, and it moved easily over his skin, and it was comfortable. Draco smiled. He would have to show Harry that dress robes weren’t all starchy, scratchy cloth with lace at the cuffs.
And I’ll have to show him really soon now, Draco added to himself, with a glance at the clock. He grabbed his wand and ran downstairs to the drawing room where he and Harry had taken to sitting lately.
His mother stopped him on the way, although only by glancing at him from the door of her own rooms. Draco stopped and waited obediently, concealing his smile. His mother really did think she was being subtle.
“Your Mr. Potter is coming over today?” she asked.
“I don’t know about mine,” Draco said. “When you think about it, he belongs to everyone in the wizarding world, surely.”
Mother pursed her lips, but didn’t give him the same freezing reception that that joke would have got, once upon a time. She only said, “Then I’ll have the house-elves prepare a special meal.”
Draco grinned at her, and dared to make an open remark about it. “It’s all right to admit that you like him, you know, Mother.”
“I’m sure that I don’t know what you mean,” his mother said, drawing serene dignity about her like her own robe. “I’m sure I’m thankful that he saved us all from the Dark Lord. I wouldn’t have wished him to fail.”
Draco smiled once more at her, and continued down. He wasn’t going to push it. His mother would adapt to events at her own pace.
Draco entertained the thought that danced along the surface of his mind like fizz on the surface of a drink for just a moment, and then put it reluctantly aside. He honestly couldn’t think about that now. He had to give Harry lessons in reality, not haunted by the specter of what could be.
Harry’s tongue felt dry and shriveled, clinging to the roof of his mouth as though someone had cursed him. He and Draco had talked about the politics of the moment—quiet enough right now, although Harry thought that was only because some members of the Wizengamot were trying to drum up enough support to pass their latest bill unhindered—the weather, and the goodness of the food that “the house-elves” had brought them.
Other things lay on the floor between them, deliberately ignored. Or hovered overhead on delicate lacy wings perhaps, Harry thought. He sneaked another look at Draco’s robes.
He had thought he’d find them handsomer than the dress robes he’d worn in the past, because Draco did have good taste sometimes. He hadn’t known he would be overcome by a desire to reach out and run his hands over them.
And the limbs beneath them, and the shoulders, and the curve of Draco’s neck, and—
His face stung with a worse blush than when he’d confronted Snape, sometimes. Harry coughed and met Draco’s eyes. “Yeah?” he whispered.
Draco had a peculiar smile on his face. Harry couldn’t call it smug, but it was closer to than that anything else. He stood up. “It’s time for the first of those lessons in posture that I told you you’d have,” he said.
“Yeah.” Harry stood up and said the first thing that came into his head. “I did come over here intending to have them, you know. I wasn’t trying to make you forget about them.”
“The suspicion never entered my mind,” said Draco, with another one of those sweet smiles that made it almost impossible for Harry to tell if that was the truth or not. “Now. Come here. I want to see what I have to work with.”
Harry walked towards him, trying to move slowly enough that Draco could see whatever intangible qualities he was looking for. Draco nodded and made a few considering noises, then held out his hands. “Turn your back to me,” he said.
Harry was almost glad to do it. He still had to look at a faint reflection of Draco in the face of the polished ebony clock on the mantel, but even that was easier than looking at Draco face-to-face right now.
“Yes,” Draco said. “Not as bad as I thought, honestly. A bit stiff-shouldered, but you hold yourself well.” His hands descended gently on Harry’s shoulders and began to move him into different positions.
Harry shivered. Those hands were so much firmer than he’d thought they’d be, pressing down, turning him slightly, holding him motionless while Draco clucked his tongue thoughtfully, and Harry’s skin burned under the touch. He finally bowed his head and whispered, “I think we need to start the lessons again. Or do them in a different way.”
Draco’s hands were brittle on his shoulders in an instant, although Harry didn’t know exactly how he knew that, when they hadn’t moved or fallen away. “Oh?” he asked, and his voice was definitely a puff of bitter cold.
“Yeah,” Harry whispered, and turned around to stare at Draco. “I can’t concentrate on anything you’re telling me when you touch me like that.”
Draco’s eyes widened. Then he reached out and laid one hand on the nape of Harry’s neck. “What about here?” he whispered.
“That’s—it’s not as distracting as when you were rubbing your hands all over me, but it’s pretty distracting,” Harry admitted, and let his head fall forwards as he struggled to catch his breath.
“I wasn’t putting my hands all over you for no reason, you know. I was trying to teach you something.”
If Draco had sounded honestly offended, Harry would have whirled around and apologized. But Draco’s voice was a little unsteady, and his breath puffed over the side of Harry’s face in a particular pattern again. Harry dared to turn around and try to catch his eye.
Draco gave a quick swallow and said, “Oh, hell,” as he ducked his head. Harry reached out and took his hand.
Now that the possibility was alive and hovering in the room between them, acknowledging it made Harry’s heart ache and pound all the faster. He nodded and said, “Well. It’s a distraction. The point is, what do we do about it?’
And he never doubted that Draco was the one who would know what best to do about it. He simply said that and then waited, calm and patient, eyes fixed on Draco’s.
He’s—he’s not coming up with a solution. He wants me to be the one to do it.
He really wanted Draco to do it.
Draco sat back, a little dazed. Then he reminded himself that Harry was still holding his hand, and Draco couldn’t exactly retreat into his head and wait for things to change. He breathed out quickly to give himself courage, and then said, “Well. We could ignore it, you know.”
“That hasn’t worked today.”
Harry’s eyes were deep and steady and the brightest, brightest green, and Draco would humiliate himself if he spoke like that aloud. He looked off to the side instead and murmured, “All right. We could continue the lessons today, and speak about this in the future.”
“Do you want to do that?”
“Desire might have nothing to do with it,” Draco said, and used another blast of his gathered courage to glance back at Harry. “It might be what’s best for other people. You need these lessons in posture and clothes if you’re going to charm some of your enemies who find you insufferable right now, you know.”
“I wouldn’t say desire has nothing to do with it.”
If Harry knew what he was doing with that smile, Draco wouldn’t need to give him lessons ever again. But right now, he did, and so he gave a quick shiver and said, as casually as he could, “I know. Do you think we can put it off, though? Because you came here for one set of lessons, not—another kind.”
“I think that I’m not going to expire tomorrow for lack of proper posture,” Harry murmured, and eased closer. “Besides, I haven’t felt exactly like this before, you know? I’ve only ever dated two girls, and the first one was a disaster.”
“Who?” Draco breathed. He might have known at one point. He honestly couldn’t remember now, not with the way his head whirled around when Harry was near.
“Cho Chang.” Harry ran a finger around the line of Draco’s mouth. “She was still mourning Cedric at the time.”
“Oh,” Draco said again, and closed his eyes. It felt like the only word left to him. Standing here with Harry’s finger on his mouth felt like the only action he would ever need to perform.
“Yes,” Harry whispered. “And then Ginny…well, you know that I’m not going to marry her. I thought, when I left the Burrow, that maybe we could wait, and then we could get married later. But I know that’s not going to happen now.”
As uncomfortable as he felt talking about Weasley’s sister, Draco had the feeling this was important. He eased his eyes open and peered into Harry’s. “Because you’re too different from her?” It was most of the way Harry had explained his move into Number Twelve.
“Because I found someone else I think I like more,” said Harry.
If he had said that a year ago, when Draco was still shaking daily from being in Azkaban, he never would have believed it. But this had been a year of gaining confidence and knowledge of Harry, both. He could only say, dazedly, “Oh.”
“You make the most entertaining sounds,” Harry said. “I wonder what else I could get you to make.” He leaned in.
Draco stood there with his brain turning tiny flipping circles, and he had no idea—with some parts of him—what Harry intended to do until his lips actually brushed Draco’s. Then Draco gasped, and the bottom of his brain fell out as Harry gripped the back of his neck with gentle nails, and kissed him some more.
It was a lot more chaste than Draco had exchanged with some girls in the Slytherin common room or hidden corners of the dungeons. Maybe even more chaste than what Harry had had. But it was enough to make Draco want to hide. He didn’t recognize the fierce golden feeling unfolding in his chest. He cowered.
He opened his eyes to see Harry nodding to him. “I feel some of the same way,” he said, and touched his mouth and gave a shaky laugh. “I think—we need to wait, because otherwise it’s just going to be too much for us.”
Draco nodded and shut his eyes. “Then should we go on with the lessons in posture?” Amazing. My voice is steady.
“Not—today,” Harry said, and his voice was strained and rich and low at the same time. Draco glanced back at him, then hastily away. If the kiss was much too much, the staring was even more so. “I hope you won’t think badly of me, Draco, if I say that I need to spend some time recovering.”
“So do I.”
Harry graced him with a single brilliant smile, and a touch to the top of his cheekbone, and then left. Draco leaned back on the wall and hoped, absurdly, that his mum wouldn’t be disappointed. Harry had only eaten half a piece of cake.
But considering what other gifts he’d given Draco today, Draco didn’t think he and his had come out losers in the deal.
Chapter 14: Thinking
Harry shut his eyes and sagged back against his bed, panting. It was several days since he’d last seen Draco—Harry’s functions at the Ministry and Draco’s increasing customer base he had to brew potions for had separated them—and the memory of Draco in those robes was still getting him worked up.
If Draco wasn’t an idiot, he’d noticed.
Harry sat up, shaking his head and glancing down at himself. He was an absolute mess, and he flicked his wand to clean up his groin and the sheets before he got out of bed. He didn’t think he’d live down the humiliation of Kreacher finding stains like those in his laundry.
He needed a shower before he went to the Burrow this afternoon, though. The Weasleys were having a combined late August party for both Ginny and Percy, whose birthdays were eleven days apart. Percy had been busy with some sort of internal Ministry crisis on his actual birthday, and Ginny had flung herself ferociously into Quidditch training and hadn’t wanted to come home so early in the month.
She was on the verge of being recruited into the Holyhead Harpies, from what Harry had heard.
Harry was thinking how he could congratulate her for that without sounding spiteful or like he was envious, when an owl hurtled through his window. Harry hissed a little when he recognized the white parchment, bound with gold and cream, that the owl carried.
So much for a peaceful shower, he thought, and flung open the letter as the owl tossed it at him and then landed on the perch in the corner of Harry’s room, hooting anxiously.
Dear Harry, said Kingsley’s hurried scrawl, which was so bad Harry only knew what it said because it was how Kingsley always began his letters.
We have a problem on our hands, one that concerns the goblins. Can you come to my office as soon as possible?
Harry frowned a little. He knew how the goblins felt about him breaking into Gringotts, because they’d made it perfectly clear. He had apologized formally and there’d been a formal ceremony of forgiveness, but he doubted his presence at Kingsley’s side could do much good, no matter what the crisis was.
Unless this is something the goblins have specifically asked for because they specifically want it. From me.
Harry sighed. That was more likely. But he was determined that it wouldn’t make him miss the Weasleys’ party. He wrote a quick announcement to send with the owl and then hurried to the bathroom to change his clothes and cast another Cleaning Charm.
Kingsley is going to get me at my best. But if it turns into another maze of talking and requests that people should be able to take care of by themselves, then I’m going to leave the minute I’d have to Apparate to the Burrow anyway.
Harry hadn’t visited the Burrow often since he’d moved out, and only when Ginny wasn’t there, but he still valued his friends and adoptive family, and he wasn’t about to let them down.
Harry looked around the office as he stepped inside. Kingsley stood in front of his desk, wearing a calm expression. Harry didn’t think it fooled anyone in the room, though. The goblins were standing off to one side, and although there were three of them and two were impassive, the other one smirked. They also wore white uniforms with gold buttons, of a kind Harry had never seen before.
Off to the side was a tall woman in the robes of the Wizengamot. She looked stuffy and uncomfortable, but nodded when Harry looked at her. Harry hoped that meant she would at least be polite.
He turned to Kingsley and said, “What is this about, Minister?”
Kingsley tried to smile around what seemed to be a slice of lemon pickling his tongue. “These—gentle-goblins,” he said, and waved his hand at the goblins, “claim you have stolen property that belongs to them.”
“Really,” Harry said, and turned to face the goblins. “What would that be?”
The center goblin looked back and forth between the other two, as if he hadn’t expected such a direct attack. The smirking one said, “The Sword of Gryffindor, of course.”
“Ah.” Harry nodded. “Well, I don’t have it. I don’t own it, you know. The last thing I knew, it was hanging in Headmistress McGonagall’s office in a place of honor. You should contact her and ask if you can have it back.” He turned to Kingsley. “Is that all you needed me for? Only I have a party to attend, you know.”
The goblins were all smirking now, and the woman in the Wizengamot robes shifted uneasily. Harry glanced at her. He thought, after a second, that he recognized her face from the latest ensemble picture of the Wizengamot that had appeared in the papers. She had been near the front and center, and her name, he thought, was Julia Turpin.
“What do you think of this issue, Madam Turpin?” Harry asked her. “Are you here to supervise giving the Sword of Gryffindor back to the goblins?”
Madam Turpin’s eyebrows flickered, and Harry had the impression she would rather have been anywhere else—which was probably why she was here. It was her turn to handle the disgusting or troublesome politics of the day. Still, she answered gamely. “I did hear something about a promise you made to turn the Sword over to the goblins of Gringotts, Mr. Potter. If you didn’t keep that promise and give it to them, I think that was wrong of you.”
“Oh, they had it for a while,” Harry said casually. “But then it popped out of the Sorting Hat when Neville Longbottom needed it to kill Nagini.” He turned back to the goblins. “You can interview a lot of people who were there and saw it happen. I’ll give you a list of the names if you like. Before I leave.”
All the goblins had stopped smirking now. The one in the center stepped forwards and said, “You made a promise, as Madam Turpin states. And you didn’t keep it. We do not have the Sword. That means we have the right to claim a forfeit for you.”
“What kind of forfeit?” Harry asked, cocking his head and smiling in a way that he knew was charming. Or at least a lot of people thought it was, including reporters andWitch Weekly. “I don’t remember that being mentioned in the terms of our original agreement.”
“Say, half the money in your vault?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one setting the terms of the forfeit. I wouldn’t know how much the Sword of Gryffindor is worth.”
That prompted a distinct growl from the largest goblin, standing at one end. Another one hastily cleared his throat and said, “We mean that we’ll take half the money in your vault if you don’t present us at once with the Sword of Gryffindor.”
“And I told you where it was,” Harry said. “That means I don’t have it.”
“You should have kept the terms of your original bargain,” said the goblin who hadn’t spoken so far, in a growling tone.
Harry raised his eyebrows. He’d perfected a look of disdain for people like the ones who stopped him in the middle of Diagon Alley and wanted to know all about his personal life. That had been another thing Draco had helped him with. “And you should have kept to yours. Since no one did, the bargain is utterly worthless as far as I’m concerned. Approach Professor McGonagall if you insist on having the Sword back. In the meantime, you can tell the goblin who currently handles my account that I’d like to speak with him.”
“To pay us the forfeit?” asked the goblin with the raspy voice.
“No,” Harry said. “To make arrangements for moving my money to the branch of Gringotts that operates in France.”
The goblins leaped as though someone had shocked them with lightning. Kingsley opened his mouth, but in the end said nothing. Madam Turpin was the one to speak, in a faint voice. “That is—extreme, Mr. Potter, surely?”
“I don’t see why.” Harry turned back to the goblins. “They don’t like me. They don’t want to deal with me, or they only want to do it through transparent political ploys focused on bargains that they never intended to honor in the first place.” He ignored the hoarse murmurs of denial from the goblins. “And they’re wasting my time. I don’t see why I should have to leave my money in the custody of people who feel that way. Others will be more than happy to take care of it.”
The three goblins seemed to exchange a lot of silent communication through eyebrow wriggles and ear twitching. Then the goblin in the center turned towards Harry and cleared his throat again.
“Mr. Potter, we’ve—thought about it.” Harry would have laughed at the way his voice was strangled if he hadn’t been fed up with the whole thing, and he kept quiet. The goblin went hastily on. “We have decided that we will ask the Headmistress of Hogwarts for the Sword of Gryffindor, and your forfeit can be—forgiven, considering the good you’ve managed to do for the wizarding world.”
“Good,” said Harry. “Then I’ll leave my money in the English branch of Gringotts.”
“That would be—pleasing.”
“Good,” said Harry, and turned to Kingsley and Madam Turpin, although he couldn’t imagine they would want to be here any longer than he wanted to stay. “Was there any other pressing business that needed to be taken care of?”
“No, Harry.” Kingsley sounded as though he was concealing a smile. “That was all.”
“Good,” Harry repeated, and turned and strode out of the office. He kept his pace calm all the way to the lifts, when he sneaked a glance at the watch Mrs. Weasley had given him.
Thank Merlin, he still had time to get to the party. And maybe he had taught the goblins a lesson about manipulating him. At least they wouldn’t present this as a triumph that would inspire someone else to try.
Harry grinned. I’ll have to remember to tell Draco how helpful all his lessons are.
This is ridiculous, Draco decided, from where he’d spent long minutes holding his head low while he stared at the floor, and he raised it and stared at Harry in a way that didn’t involve looking sideways or glancing at his reflection in the polished surface of the silver teacups. “I wish I could have helped you with the goblins,” he said.
Harry glanced up, and although his face turned scarlet immediately, he did clear his throat and begin something like a normal conversation. “I wasn’t aware you’d heard about what they were trying to pull. I thought it would be too minor for them to take to the papers.”
Draco snorted a little, happy when Harry smiled at him instead of turning away to nurse more embarrassment in private. “For them, maybe, but not for Madam Turpin. It was probably the most exciting thing that happened to her since Lisa’s Sorting.”
Harry chuckled. “That’s mean, but not untrue.”
“So.” Draco leaned forwards. “You handled them yourself, obviously, but I—wish I could have been there.” You can act normally, and not like a schoolgirl with a crush. And you don’t have to worry about messing this up with a single comment about him or his friends. Harry likes you now, remember?
“You were there,” Harry said. “Metaphorically.”
Draco hoped that he didn’t look as stupid with his lips forming the word “What?” as he suspected, but Harry must not have thought so. He reached out and took Draco’s arm, the first time he’d touched Draco today since shaking hands when he came in. Draco flushed all up and down his body, but at least he could listen to what Harry was saying.
“I remembered what you’d told me, and taught me,” Harry said quietly. “About politics, and the way that I do need to be firm with people, because sitting back and letting them have what they want all the time will encourage them to use me the way Dumbledore used me during the war. It might have been necessary then. It’s not now. And the goblins were only looking to take revenge, not even asking for something that might have benefited them. So. You were right there with me. I thought about you all the time.”
Draco sat up, and felt his blush diminish. He didn’t—he didn’t need to worry, he thought. He wasn’t a burden to Harry just because he hadn’t been a war hero, and he didn’t have the kind of fragile friendship they could dent with a single argument.
He might even have more than friendship.
“I’ve thought about you since you went home last time,” he confessed quietly. “Come here.”
Gratifyingly, Harry was the red one this time as he stumbled into Draco’s arms. Draco put his arms around Harry and studied him once, but Harry only looked steadily back. Draco leaned in and kissed him.
It got hotter faster than it had last time, especially when Harry seized Draco’s head and repositioned it the way he wanted it. Draco took another chance and opened his mouth, and Harry’s tongue was inside it almost before Draco knew what he wanted to do with it.
Draco closed his eyes. His hands were full of warm skin and muscle, Harry had more muscles than Draco knew what to do with, and then there was his spine, and Draco wanted to stroke it, and there was more of Harry’s own determined stroking of his tongue inside Draco’s mouth, and shit…
Draco pulled away before he could embarrass himself further. Harry closed his eyes and panted in silence for a second. When he opened them again, his cheeks looked as if they were on fire, and he nodded to Draco.
“Next time?” he asked. Said. Demanded.
Draco nodded and put out his hand, carefully shifting in the chair so he wouldn’t sit on something vital. “Of course, Harry. I—we still need to figure out how to do this.” He lowered his voice. “Maybe in a bedroom?”
Harry grinned. “I still haven’t seen yours, you know.”
“Then we need to take care of that.” Harry’s eyes immediately snapped to his groin, and Draco felt himself grow harder, even as he drew up his knees and shook his head. “I mean. You seeing my bedroom. Later.”
“Yeah.” Harry grinned at him, and picked up his cloak. At least he was limping, too, as he departed the room, Draco noted.
Then Draco went to reintroduce himself to the inside of his bedroom, and imagine Harry on top of him, grinding down on him, whispering in his ear about how much he wanted Draco, until the tension spiraled and snapped and he came down hard, panting at the ceiling.
Yes. It’s going to be so much more wonderful when we’re finally in the same place when I do that.
And Draco ignored even the thoughts that suggested it might not go well. Once again, what he and Harry had couldn’t be damaged by a simple argument or one thing going wrong.
If it doesn’t go right, we’ll try again. Draco reached for his wand and cleaned himself off with a quick swoosh. And I’m looking forward to how much we’ll have to try.
Chapter 15: Using
Don’t think of Draco! Thinking of Draco right now would be bad, Harry scolded himself as he adjusted the hang of his formal robes, again. He was going to make a speech in a few minutes about recruitment for the Aurors. There were certain things which were going to make it hard for him to walk if they showed up.
And did I really have to think the word “hard”?
He had, apparently. Harry grimaced, and then tried to swat away Hermione’s hand as it approached the side of his collar. She adjusted it anyway and studied him with a faint frown.
“Are you all right, Harry? You’re not usually this jumpy before a speech.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, and leaned back against the wall with a sigh. They were in one of the upper rooms at the Leaky Cauldron. It was the best place to be close to Diagon Alley, where he would make the speech, but out of sight of the crowds for the moment. “The feeling that I’m going to embarrass myself never goes away, you know? The sensation of looking out at those faces and feeling, Who made the mistake of thinking I’m a good speaker?”
Hermione smiled, but her eyes were troubled. “You chose this career, though,” she said. “That’s what you told Ginny.”
Other than the birthday party at the Burrow, where Harry and Ginny had been exquisitely polite and smiling to each other, and where Harry hadn’t had much chance to talk to his friends alone anyway, this was the first time Hermione had really mentioned Ginny’s name since Harry broke up with her. Harry nodded. “I did.”
“Then why so jumpy?”
“Wow,” said Harry. “I suppose I must have imagined that time you Flooed me last week ranting because no one in the entire Wizengamot has enough common sense to fill a thimble when it comes to house-elf rights.”
Hermione turned as red as Harry’s robes. Harry smiled at her, and she calmed down with a loud sniff. “Well, all right. I can see your point.”
“I’m so glad,” Harry told her earnestly.
Hermione chose to ignore this. “But you ought to be more comfortable around them by now. They really are here to see you and talk to you, and that means you can do even more good than if you were just someone like Celestina Warbeck who’s not famous for doing anything good for the wizarding world.”
“I don’t know, some of her music is very—”
Hermione adjusted his robe collar one more time and pushed him out the door. Harry chuckled all the way down the stairs.
Draco stepped into the edges of the crowd with an anticipatory wince. Surely at least one person would turn around, see him there, and decide that a “criminal” didn’t belong in the group waiting to hear Harry Potter speak.
But most of them seemed focused on the entrance of St. Mungo’s, where Harry was going to stand. Draco found that he could drift off to the side and past people who seemed to be more engaged in gossip or bets, and not attract attention. He ended up in a place that wasn’t perfect but, because it was off to the side, meant he could see. He would just have to crane his neck a little.
Harry appeared suddenly enough that Draco jumped. At least he wasn’t the only one. And Harry was moving briskly, striding towards the hospital entrance before the crack of his Apparition had worn off.
The excited screaming began a second later, of course. Harry faced them and raised an eyebrow. Draco thought the sounds had already begun to quiet, but Harry enforced that a moment later with a lazy gesture of his wand.
The Silencing Charm that washed over the crowd was so powerful Draco found himself choking a little. Then he chuckled. It was all right, because no one would hear him anyway, and he was impressed at how well Harry had chosen to deal with the cheering and applause.
He had told Draco last week that he’d lost almost an hour of time to crowds who wouldn’t shut up, and had decided to do something about it. It was just luck that Draco got to see it for himself, though, because Harry hadn’t mentioned what it was.
“Thank you.” Harry rested both hands at his sides and smiled out around the crowd, ignoring the way that a few people were trying to wave their wands and cast Finite. Draco thought they wouldn’t have much luck, anyway. Nonverbal magic was rare outside Hogwarts and some specialists. “Now. I want to speak to you about something very important. Aurors.”
Open mouths probably signaled questions. Harry looked out serenely over their heads and continued. “During the first war with Voldemort—”
This time, Draco was proud of himself for not being part of the collective flinch.
“The Aurors were empowered to use the Unforgivable Curses. Some of them used them…too enthusiastically.” Harry shook his head. “It damaged the Aurors’ reputation. And of course, during this last war, a lot of the Aurors were serving Voldemort—” people tried to jump past Draco “—without knowing it. I wouldn’t blame them for that, since they weren’t the only ones, but that undermined the trust of the community further.”
Harry paused and stared straight at someone in the front row who Draco thought was trying to interrupt the most assiduously. “And the Aurors can’t do their jobs without the trust of the community.”
They also can’t do it with corruption in their ranks and the tendency to arrest people who’ve done nothing wrong, Draco thought, but he knew Harry was at least pressuring Shacklebolt to deal with that problem. It would have to be enough for now.
“I’m here today to explain why an Auror’s job is important, and why you should try to train as one if justice matters to you.” Harry smiled. “Now, it’s true that I didn’t become an Auror myself, and according to some people, that’s a strike against them.
“But I really didn’t want to, at the end of the war. I’d chased down more Dark wizards than any three Aurors have to in a year, and younger, too! And I’d had to go into a battle I knew would be kill or get killed.” For a second, Harry’s eyes went distant, and Draco wondered why he’d never talked about Voldemort with Draco. Maybe he assumed it would hit too close to home, or that Draco would rather spend the time talking about other things.
Well, that’s pretty true.
“But just because I didn’t want to be an Auror is no reason for other people to discard it as a career, if they want to.” Harry paused and scanned the crowd, probably looking for something that wouldn’t make sense to Draco even if he saw it. But Harry’s eyes did pass over him, and he paused in surprise.
Draco grinned and waved back. Harry smiled and looked around again before anyone could track the direction of his gaze and decide that Draco shouldn’t be there. Then Harry pointed at a waving hand in the second row of spectators and canceled the Silencing Charm on him.
“Why would anyone want to be an Auror?” The voice was whiny in a way Draco thought familiar, but he couldn’t see anything about the person other than the fact that they had brown hair. “I mean, the training’s so hard, and you have to have so many NEWT’s, and they have hard jobs and get cursed all the time! Isn’t the reason you’re speaking in front of St. Mungo’s because Aurors are treated all the time in there?”
“Yes, it’s true the training is hard,” Harry said, with a judicious nod that Draco liked to think was one he had trained Harry to use. “But you don’t want someone to become an Auror if they don’t have the skills and trustworthiness to use them, do you? That’s why they make the training last three years and have certain requirements, to wash out the ones who wouldn’t make good Aurors.”
Someone else waved, and Harry ended the Silencing Charm on them, too. Draco licked his lips.
He admired Harry’s precision and control, really he did. He just couldn’t keep from thinking about where else Harry could use that precision and control.
“I think it says a lot that you won’t become an Auror.” This person was standing at an angle to Draco, and he could see her better. She had her arms stubbornly folded and a crease between her eyebrows. “We need someone in their ranks that we could trust never to have served You-Know-Who. And you won’t join them.”
“Did you ever serve You-Know-Who?” Harry fired back at her.
“What? No! Of course not.”
Harry smiled and spread his hands. Another person waved her hand, but when Harry ended the Silencing Charm and she started to spout some conspiracy theory about how the Aurors were probably part of the Dark Lord’s forces even now, Harry shook his head and replaced the spell.
He knew how to handle a crowd, Draco thought, watching him work. Some of it was Draco’s training. Well, a lot of it probably was. Harry had never been timid, but he had been impatient. Draco opening his eyes to some of the political realities of their world had made Harry realize that he couldn’t just burst through the doors of the wizarding world and reorder things to his liking. He had to work within the constraints that were already there.
But he did a wonderful job of that.
Then, suddenly, Harry’s eyes were connecting with his, and he ended the spell on Draco. Draco framed a terrified, “Me?” with his mouth. It wasn’t like he was one of the thousands that were dying to ask Harry a question.
But Harry said calmly, “Yes, the blond gentleman,” and Draco realized that he would have to come up with something or embarrass them both.
“Uh.” Draco cleared his throat, glad now that the crowd was so packed into their small space that not that many people could turn and see who he really was. “Uh—I wondered why the Aurors need so many more members. Did lots of them die or leave during the war?”
Harry smiled at him, and Draco smiled back, glad that he hadn’t utterly embarrassed either of them.
“A lot of them died,” Harry said, and his voice was solemn now. His eyes swept the crowd as if he was looking for disagreement, but considering how silent most of them were, he didn’t get it. “It took them a long time to realize they were working for a Ministry Voldemort had taken over, but when they did realize it, they turned against their masters. Some died then. Others came to help out with the End of the Battle of Hogwarts, and died. Others fought the Snatchers and protected people where they found them. They died, too.”
He leaned forwards with his hands stretched out in appeal. Draco hoped that no one else found him as profoundly attractive as Draco did at that moment, though. Otherwise, Draco might end up fighting a lot of duels he really didn’t want to.
“I don’t think everyone should become an Auror,” Harry said into the silence. “But it is a career to consider for people who want to improve the wizarding world. And who want to improve the Aurors. I’m not saying they’re all good or the Ministry is a paradise, either. But one of the major ways to make a difference in our world is to work through them.” He paused, then bowed. “Much like I’m trying.”
As he retreated into St. Mungo’s, he canceled the Silencing Charm. People began to chat among themselves, and Draco finally felt free to retreat, shaking his head in wonder.
It didn’t seem Harry had said that much. Certainly not enough to change all the minds that were behind the criticism of Aurors in the papers, or at least so Draco assumed.
But Draco still felt as though he was more sympathetic to the Aurors than he had been before, and for someone who’d been badly treated by them after the war, that was quite an accomplishment for Harry.
From the chatter around him, he might not be the only one who felt that way. Draco pursed his lips thoughtfully as he made his way to the end of the crowd and started to walk down the middle of Diagon Alley. Harry consistently made impacts bigger than the ones Draco had thought he would make.
Or than other politicians had thought he would make.
That was probably one secret of his success, honestly.
Draco walked with his head bowed and his mind on the speech more than on his surroundings, which was why someone could take him by surprise. One second Draco was just in the middle of the alley like a normal person, the next there was a hand on his collar and swinging him around into a small secluded area where Death Eater spells had utterly destroyed a shop during the war.
Draco had just opened his mouth to shout when the other person closed his mouth over Draco’s in a passionate kiss, and Draco recognized Harry’s breathing.
Draco grunted and gripped Harry’s shoulders punishingly in order to make up for that at least a little, and Harry grunted back and shifted them further away from the open air. Draco went with that, letting his head fall back. As he had thought would happen, Harry’s hand shot behind his skull and cradled it against contact with the wall. Draco smiled and closed his eyes completely, arching his neck.
This time, he thought, there would be no interruptions.
There weren’t. There was Harry, kissing and kissing him, and his hand working and working at Draco, and Draco opening his mouth to gasp encouragement and finding it full of tongue, and the swift darts of Harry’s hands up and down his sides, and then on his cock. Draco almost came from sheer excitement when he felt that.
He held it in long enough to get his own hands past cloth and ties, though, and reveled in Harry’s gasp when he heard it.
It wasn’t even a race after that. It was a dizzying, heated blur, with the heat springing up around them so intensely that Draco began to cough and pant. His head ached. His tongue ached. His lips hurt from the kiss that wouldn’t stop and his wrists throbbed with a dull pain.
It didn’t matter, not with the pleasure mounting through him and Harry jerking against him.
When Draco came, he felt as if he had fallen from a great height and landed on a cloud. It was that good, and he leaned against Harry and kept stroking until Harry joined him in bliss, slumping down until only the wall was supporting them.
In the aftermath, Draco forgot the little speech he had wanted to make about how risky that was, and how mental Harry was to be doing this at all, and simply stood there smugly with his body buzzing sweetly at him.
Yeah. That was more than worth it.
Chapter 16: Satisfying
Damn, even the memory of Draco’s hands could make him hard.
And right now, he especially couldn’t afford that, since he was waiting for an urgent summons from Kingsley’s office to be explained to him.
Harry lounged back against the wall of the interrogation room, and tried to look more relaxed than he felt. At least he had loose robes on, and even though there were other people here, standing around the table and talking to each other, no one came close. From the way they peeped and ducked away, Harry thought they might be too much in awe.
Harry sighed, and all memories of pleasure and joy left his mind. The summons had come in the middle of the night. When he got to the Ministry, Auror Peterson, the one who’d taken such great delight in prodding Draco along at his trial, had brought him straight here. Her mouth had been tight. She hadn’t answered one of his questions.
That usually meant a crisis, and probably a political one that the Ministry would try to keep from getting any bigger. Harry smothered a yawn.
This is the sort of thing you asked for, he reminded himself, and straightened up as Kingsley swept into the room and everyone turned or nodded or reached out or ducked their heads as was their wont. The job isn’t all triumphs over goblins and bigoted anti-centaur people, not if you’re really going to make a difference.
Kingsley looked around as though making sure no one was missing, but since Harry still didn’t know what this was about, he wasn’t able to tell himself. Then Kingsley sighed and took the seat at the head of the table. Other people drifted to seats. Harry remained against the wall, but made sure that he looked respectful, which he really did want to feel like.
“I’m afraid that certain—elements of our society are more dissatisfied with their treatment during the war than anyone thought,” Kingsley said, and laid a scroll of parchment down on the table in front of him. A tap of his wand, and it became copies enough for everyone. Harry took a step nearer. He had learned that when Kingsley performed wordless magic quickly and casually like that, things were really serious.
“I don’t see what can be done to keep it quiet, right now, although I’d like to.” Kingsley paused, and Harry had the impression he was counting under his breath. Counting heads, maybe, or heads that were going to roll.
Then he turned and looked at Harry, and Harry realized what the numbers meant. He was trying to put off the moment when he had to call on Harry. “Mr. Potter,” Kingsley said slowly. “I’m afraid this relies on your knowledge of the people in question.”
“Are the goblins being troublesome again?” Harry asked, and ignored the grins as if he couldn’t see them. Kingsley gave him a quick nod as he came up to take his scroll, though. Harry inclined his head a little back. He and Kingsley were learning to work together better and better. Things like lessening the tension a little were the least Harry could do.
“Would that they were,” said Kingsley. “It might be easier to handle than this.”
The tone in his voice was so grim that Harry opened the scroll expecting to see that some Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban. But when he saw the hastily-written report on the parchment, he groaned a little. A crisis in a different way.
A group had protested outside Hogwarts, apparently, saying that there should be a bigger memorial for the students who had died fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts, and money offered to the families of students who had survived but suffered under the Carrows. And one of the protestors was Ginny.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t honor them with a memorial,” said Madam Turpin. “Why not, if they want one?’
“It’s not the memorial itself,” said Kingsley, and glanced at Harry. “It’s the injuries they caused, and the injuries taken by them when the Hit Wizards arrested them.”
“Who did they cause injuries to?” Harry asked at once. He seemed to be the only one who was willing to ask the question, from the gapes all around them.
“Slytherin students,” said Kingsley, and winced. “Specifically, students they said either ran away during the Battle of Hogwarts or didn’t help them during the year the Carrows were there.”
Harry sighed. “Even though most of those students would have been—what, fifteen or younger at the time?” Most of the Slytherins who had been in his year or Ginny’s would be out of the school by now, if they’d ever returned at all.
“And what injuries did they take?” Everyone seemed to have appointed Harry spokesperson. Well, he’d had worse roles.
“One broken arm,” said Kingsley, and looked down at his scroll. “Seamus Finnegan’s right arm, apparently. Scratches, cuts, and bruises caused by resisting arrest.” He hesitated, but Harry had already seen the damning information at the very bottom of the scroll.
Ginny Weasley: cracked ribs due to being caught in a Blasting Curse, concussion due to falling when Stunned.
Harry shook his head in silent dismay. “Who was using a Blasting Curse?” he asked, looking up.
“Some of the Hogwarts professors came out to defend their students, and they used harsher magic than they should have, before realizing who it was.” Kingsley folded his hands on the table and regarded Harry evenly. “The question is, of course, what can we do about this without looking heartless in the eyes of the public?”
They were all looking at him, Harry realized. He wondered if that was only because he had been decisive, or because they knew that he was close friends with the Weasley family.
Harry sighed and turned to Kingsley. “Would you be willing to put up a memorial and dismiss this without charges?”
“The memorial, yes,” Kingsley said. “Although I would have to negotiate with the Headmistress as to whether we could really plant it where they want it. She’s ultimately the one with the last say over the Hogwarts grounds.” He hesitated. “I can dismiss this without charges as far as the resisting arrest part goes.”
“But you can’t guarantee that the Slytherin students’ families won’t press charges,” Harry finished. “Even against war heroes.”
Kingsley gave him a small, grim smile. “The fact that it was war heroes—at least in part—means this might actually gain more traction. Some people would feel that war heroes ought to have controlled themselves better.”
It was on the tip of Harry’s tongue to say, But they’re still only eighteen or nineteen, but he didn’t say it. It would only sound like he was making excuses, and he didn’t want to do that.
“Can I talk to them?” he asked.
“Of course.” Kingsley stood. “I’ll escort you down to the cells.”
Draco jerked out of sleep. For a second, he lay there, not knowing what had awakened him. It seemed like years ago, instead of only eighteen months, that a pounding on the headboard or an actual pounding with a torture curse would have brought him out of slumber, terrified because the Dark Lord or Aunt Bellatrix had an insane whim they wanted him to fulfill.
Then he realized it was the Floo, and he stood, dread warming him. He thought it must be word from Azkaban.
He decided that word from the Aurors would probably come by letter an instant before Harry’s face appeared in the fire. He looked devastated. Draco stretched out a hand automatically before remembering that it wouldn’t touch Harry.
“Can I come over?” Harry whispered.
“Of course,” Draco said, without hesitation.
Harry closed his eyes and nodded. Draco moved out of the way, a sharp tingling flooding him. This wasn’t the Floo in his bedroom. He had fallen asleep on the couch in the study, so it was only luck that Draco was the one who had answered Harry’s call at all, instead of a house-elf.
But from the way Harry looked when he came out of the Floo, staggering and catching his foot on the hearth with a soft swearing noise, Draco was glad that he had been the one to receive Harry.
“You look as though someone died,” Draco blurted out, and then tensed. He had heard some disturbing things about the living Weasley twin, some from newspaper articles and some from hints Harry had dropped. It really could be suicide or something like that, and then Draco would feel like an awful arse for having spoken out of turn.
But Harry didn’t start and glare at him in offense. “Just a difficult situation,” he muttered. “Involving politics and personal friends and—” He turned and stared at Draco desperately. “I’ll tell you all about it in the morning. I can’t do anything else about it right now, anyway. Can I—can I hold you?”
Draco studied Harry for a moment, and then grinned. If this had been the first time they would be together, he might have hesitated, but he had that memory of Harry’s pure desire in Diagon Alley. He thought he could also give Harry what he needed now.
“Is that all you want to do?” he asked.
Harry’s face lit up in a way Draco hadn’t known it could do, this late at night, and then he shoved Draco back onto the couch. Draco thought Harry would fall on top of him and tried to open his legs and arrange himself provocatively at the same time.
Harry did put a hand on his groin, but not in the way Draco had expected. Instead, he simply drew out Draco’s cock, bold as you please.
And then he dropped to his knees and grabbed Draco in his mouth so fast that Draco yelped.
Harry paused and looked up at him. Draco could feel the message there as if it had been words. Did I hurt you?
Draco pressed hastily downwards with his hands and upwards with his hips. Reassured, Harry went back to licking and slopping around his cock. Draco fell back on the couch and tried not to hope for more political crises that would make Harry want to do this, in the moments before the pleasure swept him away.
Harry hadn’t exactly thought he would be doing this when he came over to Draco’s house, but the futility and helplessness that had pounded in him like a drum most of the night disappeared as he watched Draco strain his neck backwards and then bang his head against the pillow as if he wanted to go still further.
At least I can make someone happy. At least I know that I’m not disappointing everyone.
The expression on Draco’s face removed any thoughts of interrogation rooms and holding cells after that, and Harry bent his head and attacked his task with a will. Draco tasted differently than Harry had thought he would. Less sour, more like just plain skin. Well, and heat. And maybe there was a hint of scent.
But Harry didn’t have to think about it. He just had to think about sucking, and using his tongue in long, slow laps, and making sure his teeth didn’t touch. Draco cried out and screwed a hand into his hair, but didn’t actually press down with it, the way Harry had thought would happen. He just twisted his hips and cried out again and again, soft whispery sounds that made Harry feel as though someone was jerking a hot wire through his chest and down to his groin.
He had to reach down and grip himself after a few minutes. This was so good, the sounds and the scent that was rising from Draco and—
Harry didn’t know where he got the impulse. It just, there was his mouth working Draco and his hand on his own cock and it seemed like pure common sense to slip his other hand up and into the gap of Draco’s robe, seeking his balls, then further back along the skin there, softer than even the skin on Draco’s wrist.
Draco gave what sounded like a desperate scream and came. Harry choked, fumbled, coughed, and ended up getting a lot of it on his robes. That didn’t bother him, though. All he had to do was think about what it would have been like to show up in these robes in front of disappointed Wizengamot members and he started grinning like a mad thing.
He swallowed a little, decided the taste wasn’t too bad but could be better, and sat back on his heels to watch Draco recover while he wanked himself. Draco had opened his eyes just before Harry leaned back and gave himself over to his own orgasm. Draco watched in silence, then looked at Harry’s face and licked his lips.
Harry cast several Cleaning Charms, then held out his hand. Draco rose as softly and obediently as though he was the guest and Harry was the host leading him to bed.
Harry didn’t let go of his hand as he led Draco out of the study and up to his bedroom. There were lots of candles and shadows there, and a house-elf who appeared, looked at them, squeaked, and laid out two sets of pyjamas. Harry helped Draco, bone-languid, into one and ended up using only the shirt of the other set; Draco’s clothes were too small in the legs for him.
Then they did a sort of slow-motion fall into bed together, and Draco wrapped himself indiscriminately around his pillow and Harry and went to sleep at once. Harry stayed awake a few minutes longer. He had thought he’d look in interest around Draco’s bedroom, but instead, he found it hard to glance away from Draco’s face.
I like him a lot.
Then he accepted his fate as a pillow, and went rather happily to sleep himself.
Chapter 17: Compromising
The world shouldn’t look so much better after a simple lovemaking session and sleep and breakfast, Harry thought, but it did. He lifted a spoonful of porridge to his mouth and sighed. The honey he’d added to it made it perfect.
Draco leaned back on the other side of the table, shaking his head. “It amazes me that, with all the things the house-elves offered to prepare you, you wanted porridge.”
Harry grinned at him. Draco had brushed his hair, but imperfect tufts still stuck up along the sides, and his eyes were heavy with sleep. It meant a lot to Harry that he hadn’t thought he needed to appear dressed-up in front of Harry. “You haven’t complained about me putting honey on it. Like a ‘barbarian,’ I believe Hermione’s term was.”
“I think it’s strange.” Draco shrugged his shoulder and looked up as the door to the dining room opened. “But it’s not like it harms anyone.”
He has changed, Harry thought. And I don’t think it’s all my influence, either. He turned around to nod to Mrs. Malfoy. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” Mrs. Malfoy’s eyes cut towards his porridge, and then she scrupulously looked away. She had the paper in one hand, Harry saw. He sighed a little. He suspected his idyll was almost over.
“What is it, Mother?” Draco had already swallowed his eggs and had been idly stirring a piece of bread through the remains of the yolk, but he dropped the bread and sat up.
I suppose that’s her exasperated face, Harry thought. Or her upset one. He didn’t feel that he knew enough about Draco’s mum to say.
Mrs. Malfoy held out the newspaper. While Draco was reading the second-page article, apparently directed there by some subtle signal Harry had missed, Mrs. Malfoy let her eyes flick over Harry’s pyjamas. If there was any disapproval there, Harry couldn’t see it. “I am happy to see you enjoying our hospitality, Mr. Potter.”
“So am I,” Harry murmured, provocative on purpose, and watched her eyes widen. He smiled once at her and gestured a little, releasing her from any suspense he’d generated. “No, really, I’m happy to be here.”
“Good.” Mrs. Malfoy looked for a moment as if she might have said more than that, but then turned to face Draco instead as he whistled. Harry wanted to say something about the cake he thought she’d sent by the house-elves more than once—including this morning—but he kept his mouth shut. If, for whatever reason, Mrs. Malfoy wanted to keep any “approval” of him under wraps, then Harry would oblige her.
At least for now.
“You have a situation to handle, don’t you?” Draco’s voice was a little strange, and Harry turned to look at him. “A messy one.” He held out the paper to Harry, and then pulled back his hand the minute Harry took it, lowering his head as if he wanted to hide his expression.
Harry had had enough of letting things lapse because he didn’t understand them, though. Specifically, when he was with Ginny and his friends and had avoided important conversations because one person didn’t want to have them.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “You can tell me.” Draco shot his mother a look, and she stood up at once.
“You can, Draco,” Mrs. Malfoy said to Draco, and her voice was so gentle that Harry smiled. If Mum was still alive, I’d want her to sound like that with me. “I will not let my presence be a distraction from something so important.” And she left the dining room and shut the door quietly behind her.
Harry turned and stretched his hand out to touch Draco’s. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong? Because, I warn you, I’m not great at Legilimency, and it’ll hurt if I have to try and read your thoughts.”
Draco ducked his head. He hadn’t wanted to talk about this in front of Mother because it involved sex, but then she had gone and removed that excuse. His cheeks wanted to be on fire just thinking about it.
Damn him for not letting this go. But Draco knew that a Harry who didn’t care and let the little things slip past him would have ended his friendship with Draco months ago, or just drifted away from him. At the very least, he wouldn’t have ended up in Draco’s arms last night.
That reminded Draco of what he had just thought concerning that fact, and he flushed and whispered, “You wouldn’t have come to me at all last night if not for her. With it being about her.”
Harry blinked once, twice. He was still blinking when Draco looked up at him, in fact, and added in a burst of bravado, “You’re still being more affected by her than all the rest. What am I, a substitute for her? Would you—would you have come here at all if you weren’t upset or if it was just other friends of yours instead of her?”
“I wasn’t planning on sleeping with you at all when I got here,” Harry said slowly. “That was just sort of the way it evolved.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I would have come to you if I was that upset about anything,” Harry said, and tilted his head as if Draco was the one who had behaved strangely. “More upset because it was my friends and Ginny, of course. But you’re not a substitute for her.”
“How can I be sure about that?” Draco whispered, his heart aching.
“If you won’t believe my words? You can’t.” Harry leaned forwards until Draco kept seeing him even with his own head bowed, and touched his hand. “Just take it as sure that I’m devoted to you now, and not her.”
“You don’t say—what you could have said.” When it came right up to the moment, Draco found that he wasn’t able to say those words, either.
“No,” Harry said. “Because I’m not sure whether I ought to call it love or not, yet, what I feel for you. And I’m not going to be dishonest with you, Draco. Never.”
Draco swallowed against the flutter in his chest. He could—he could sort this out. He could also turn his back on Harry and be upset about it and determined to reject Harry’s words, but he didn’t really want to do that. It was only such a horrible idea that he was being used in Weasley’s place that he had seized on it, and it was hard to let go.
“In fact,” Harry added, and drew Draco’s attention again, “now that the news is out, I don’t have to try to explain it all. And I’m hoping that you can help me think up some way to fix it.”
He held Draco’s gaze, his own silently demanding, and Draco understood what he wanted, what he was offering. Weasley was the one who had caused this particular problem. Draco was the one who could come up with the solution.
If Draco was a substitute for Weasley, it was only in the best way possible.
Draco managed a smile, and nodded. “I think so. But you do have to explain a few things. The papers only said that a group of war heroes had protested outside Hogwarts, attacked some Slytherin students, and then got attacked by the professors and arrested by the Aurors. What happened when you went to see them?”
Harry wanted to dance. Draco believed him. He sounded reasonable. The delicate situation between them, which Harry had been sure for a few seconds would simply explode, had calmed down again instead, and he had the chance to hope it would go on being reasonable.
“I did go down and speak to them last night,” Harry began. He had to shake his head now, thinking how silly and naïve he had been. “It was—a wash, honestly. The minute they saw me coming, half of them stood up and turned their backs. Others wouldn’t even come to the doors of their holding cells. But Ginny was the worst.”
“Are you going to tell me why?”
Harry nodded. He had wondered how he could tell this story in a way that wouldn’t make either Ginny or himself look horrible, but he had promised to be honest. And if Draco decided one of them was horrible, surely that was a decision he needed to make for himself, and not because Harry had already made it for him and edited what he was going to tell him.
“She said that this was her political involvement, and it was nothing like mine. It didn’t involve compromises. It involved demands.” Ginny’s face was bright in front of Harry as he recalled her words, and how strong they were. Once, he would have believed them without question. She was so passionate, so convinced that everyone else was wrong and she was right, and he had been that way himself often enough.
“They want a memorial to students who died during the Battle of Hogwarts on the Hogwarts grounds. Reasonable, really, although they could have asked McGonagall instead of just assuming she would say no.” Harry sighed and rubbed his lip for a moment. “And compensation to the families of students who were tormented by the Carrows. But it was attacking Slytherin students that was inexcusable to me.”
“Maybe they thought they were evil.”
“I’m afraid that’s it,” Harry whispered. “And I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t going to survive in politics with an attitude like that. She might get some of what she wanted by protesting and speaking her mind, but attacking people—she’ll just be tried and put into a cell.”
“Are you sure the Wizengamot would do that?” Draco looked thoughtful. “There are people on it who might be grateful to her for her activities during the war, for saving their children if she did. And some who don’t like the families of the children she cursed.”
“But she could also hurt the child of someone with connections,” Harry pointed out. “And you forget how practical the Wizengamot members are. They’ll distance themselves if she keeps up this kind of thing.”
Draco nodded. “How strong is her group? If she was imprisoned, or anyone else for a long period of time, would they try to make them martyrs?”
“This is the first time I’ve heard of them,” Harry admitted. “Maybe if I hadn’t tried so hard to avoid thinking about Ginny or talking to her, I would have heard of them before now, but I didn’t.”
“Well, I didn’t hear of them, either,” Draco pointed out briskly. “And I spend time every day reading the paper. We can assume they’re new. Young. They might gain adherents, or they might not. The best thing you can do is defuse their potential causes for action.”
Harry slowly cocked his head. “You mean me, specifically?”
“Why not?” Draco cocked his head back. “The Ministry can’t do it, lest everyone who wants a certain thing think they can get the Ministry to cooperate by attacking Hogwarts students and shrieking about the Carrows. But you—you have enough pull as a war hero to counteract theirs. You have influence that might persuade the families of the children they attacked into dropping the charges. And you have the money to put up the statue and maybe pay the compensation, if you can look into things and decide it’s warranted.”
Harry felt himself smiling. “Of course,” he said, “I would have to carefully investigate the claims they made, and make sure that the compensation was warranted and going to people it was supposed to go to. And that it was enough, but not too much. Or too little.”
“Right.” Draco smiled back at him. “A process that can take a while and be intensely involved.”
“Intensely involved by the nature of the thing,” Harry muttered. He wouldn’t try to hold up Ginny and her group on purpose. There was just too much that had to be done before he would feel comfortable handing over money to people. Putting a price on their pain was—not something he wanted to do, either.
“Which, in the meantime, deprives their group of steam on two counts,” Draco said. “Their concerns are being addressed, so they can’t just run around saying no one cares. And they have to go slowly, instead of streaming ahead.” He hesitated. “Maybe on three counts, if part of this is being driven by Weasley’s dislike of you.”
Harry shrugged a little. He wanted to say that wasn’t it, that Ginny was simply a true believer in what she was doing and it had got a little out of hand, but yeah, the more he thought about it the more he decided he couldn’t be sure it was true.
“So.” Draco smiled at him and picked up the piece of bread to begin pushing it through his egg yolk again. “Can you commit to this?”
Harry nodded. “I can. I’ll start by speaking to McGonagall and making sure that she doesn’t have some other reason to object to the memorial than just the way it was proposed.” He touched Draco’s knuckles with his fingertips. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Draco grinned at him. “Plod along in hopeless confusion with no ideas of your own, no indication of where you’re going to go next, no hope for good sex ever again—”
He deserved the glob of porridge that Harry flicked into his eye, but Harry didn’t deserve the egg yolk that he promptly got in his hair, and retaliated. The elf that appeared, squeaked, and began hurrying to clean up while they were still hurling food at each other had to dodge them constantly.
And Harry’s heart was light and bounding. It seemed to give a new bound every time he caught a glimpse of Draco’s face, even streaked with porridge and honey as it was.
Yes. I can commit to this.
Chapter 18: Complaining
“Thank you for coming to hear my proposal.”
Harry stood in front of Hogwarts, in front of Dumbledore’s tomb. He had a Sonorus Charm on his voice, and he hoped it would be enough. He’d never seen such a large crowd here, not even right after the Battle of Hogwarts.
Parents were there, and current Hogwarts students, and war heroes, and people from Ginny’s organization—released now from their cells, although Aurors were keeping a sharp eye on them—and professors, and Ministry people, and Kingsley, and reporters, and shopkeepers from Diagon Alley, and Hogsmeade villagers. There might even be a few Unspeakables. Now and then, Harry thought he could see a grey robe from the corner of his eye, ducking and hiding among the crowd.
“First of all,” said Harry, and turned as McGonagall walked up beside him, “the Headmistress of Hogwarts has agreed to place a memorial to the fallen students on Hogwarts grounds.”
McGonagall didn’t get to make her speech for a second, because the roar of approval overwhelmed her voice. At least, Harry thought, listening closely, he thought it was a roar of approval. There might have been questions and shock mixed in with it.
But that was the whole point of this exercise. They would listen to people, but they had to make their voices clear, not just scream.
“Now,” said McGonagall when some people in the crowd finally began hushing the others, “I want you to know that I was never opposed to the concept of a memorial. I only thought it could wait, given that it has been barely a year since the battle.” She sent a sharp look at someone in the crowd, although Harry couldn’t see who it was without craning his neck. “And the way it was asked for was not the most polite.”
Silence. Harry stepped forwards and took up the narrative. “But we have an idea what it might look like, don’t we, Headmistress? Taking in feedback from survivors and families of the fallen, of course.”
“Yes, we do.” McGonagall turned around and nodded at Flitwick, who was a little behind her. He beamed and cast a complex charm that made colored smoke rise from his wand.
Harry watched in pleasure. He had never known how good Flitwick was at illusions until he’d worked with him to plan this memorial. The smoke churned, solidified, and formed into a replica of how the memorial would look—at least right now, when they had spoken with several dozen people.
A white marble plinth appeared to rear from the ground, almost ten feet high. Its transparency was the only reason that anyone might not think it was the real thing, Harry decided. On top of it was a cresting, rising wave, which gradually turned into the bodies of a lion, snake, badger, and eagle. On top of them, in turn, balanced dozens of people, all rendered in skilled miniature.
Harry shook his head. Flitwick said it was really only a process of memorizing what the illusion should look like, but it was still complex magic beyond what Harry thoughthe would be capable of.
There was Colin Creevey with his camera. There was McGonagall’s herd of thundering chairs that she’d directed into battle. There was Severus Snape, standing off to the side with his arms folded and his hood shielding most of his face. There was Trelawney with a crystal ball in her hands. There were Remus and Tonks, close to a madly grinning Fred Weasley. All of them had their wands in their hands, but expressions of peace on their faces.
Around the base of the plinth was the first inscription that Harry had spent hours hammering out with the professors and survivors and representatives of various families yesterday. THIS MEMORIAL IS RAISED TO COMMEMORATE THE BATTLE OF HOGWARTS, MAY 2ND, 1998. THEY GAVE THEIR LIVES SO THAT THE WIZARDING WORLD COULD LIVE.
There was so much silence as the crowd shifted and elbowed and stared at it that Harry wondered if someone was going to object, as he and McGonagall had thought they would. And then someone did.
“Where are we going to put this memorial?” called a steady voice that Harry knew well. He turned a little, and there was Ginny, standing in front of the crowd. She gave Harry a hard smile and switched her attention to McGonagall, her head tilted so that her hair was clear of her eyes. “That was a point of contention.”
“It was,” said the Headmistress. Her voice wasn’t flexible at all. Harry found himself grateful that she was always so fair and neutral when it came to Gryffindors and former Gryffindors (except maybe in Quidditch). “But in the discussion last night, we figured out that it would stand near Headmaster Dumbledore’s tomb, or the gates.”
“There’s a difference between those two places,” said Ginny sweetly.
“There is,” said McGonagall, with a nod. “That’s why we’ll need to hold further discussions to decide which place is better.”
Ginny blinked a little and took a step backwards. Harry found himself ungraciously glad of that. He’d made sure to send an owl to Ginny telling her about the meeting where they’d discussed the memorial, but she hadn’t shown up, although Seamus and a few other people from her group had.
“And also,” Harry added, “we’ll need to hold further discussions to see about the matter of compensation for students tortured by the Carrows. I’ve decided that I’ll pay for the compensation.” There was a stunned silence, which made sure Harry was able to go on speaking before people started questioning him. “Of course I need to make sure that the payments are fair and that I haven’t left anyone out. So I’ll need people to start sending me letters describing their situations and coming to meetings with me to iron it out.”
“You can’t pay it!” Ginny shouted. “The Ministry should pay it!”
“The Carrows weren’t Ministry employees,” said Harry, quietly enough. He wished that he wasn’t on the opposite side of the issue from Ginny. It made his heart ache. But it seemed that he had to be, at least for right now. “And there’s really no one else who could pay it, since most of the Death Eaters are dead or in Azkaban.”
Ginny’s mouth shut tight enough that she looked as if she was strangling words. She turned away from him and stared down at her hands. Harry looked helplessly at her turned head. He could do things that would make the people in her group happy. He could do things that might help heal the breach between Slytherins and other students.
But he didn’t think he could do anything that would make her happy.
Someone else finally asked a question then, about how they would apply for this compensation, and Harry could turn around and respond to it. He felt McGonagall pat his shoulder for a second. Since Draco couldn’t be here, and the rest of the Weasleys had wisely chosen not to come to this meeting, Harry accepted his best support, and began to outline his plan in more detail.
Draco looked around the sitting room that he always Flooed into, frowning. Harry always met him here with smiles and, lately, a cup of tea or a glass of wine, depending on the kind of day that it had been. But he was nowhere in evidence now.
“Oh, Draco. Excuse the mess.”
Draco turned around, mouth already open to make a light remark about the dirt Harry would probably be covered with; after months and months of work, cleaning Number Twelve was still a huge task.
He didn’t expect blood, and the long strip of skin hanging from Harry’s cheek as though someone had clawed at it. Harry smiled tiredly at him.
Draco was across the room in a second, gently tilting Harry’s head to the side so he could examine his cheek. He spoke because he had to, because the words bubbled up in his throat like a hot spring and he couldn’t force them down. “Did she do this? Because she wanted some kind of revenge on you for breaking up with her?”
Harry shook with something Draco thought was suppressed tears. He prepared to comfort him, and then he realized it was silent laughter.
Draco drew away and glared, offended.
Harry straightened up with a little gasp and a shake of his head. “I needed that,” he said, then caught Draco’s eye. “Oh, don’t be angry, please. No, it has nothing to do with Ginny directly. But I did make the announcement about the memorial and the compensation today, and she challenged me, and—” He shrugged. “I was thinking too much about that and not enough about defending myself when I found another doxy nest.”
“Master Harry is not being thinking in general,” said Kreacher’s grumbling voice from the corridor.
“Yes, I heard that,” Harry muttered, then winced and touched his cheek again. Draco gently drew a vial of paste from his pocket. Harry focused on it and blinked. “You’ve taken to carrying healing potions around with you now?”
“I thought it might be useful,” Draco retorted, opening the vial, “given who I’m associating with now.”
“What a great sense of humor,” Harry said, but he stood still and even swayed a little towards Draco as he dabbed the thick unguent on his cheek. Then he added some to the shallow cuts on Harry’s hand. He couldn’t do anything about the blood on his clothes, but Kreacher undoubtedly would.
“Thanks.” Harry sat down on the couch, and called, “Kreacher, some tea, please?” Kreacher disappeared, and Harry sighed and said, “I just—I hate seeing her that way. I know she has her own kind of political involvement, but I think she’s doing this particular action just to spite me. And I don’t like that. It diminishes her.”
Draco considered saying that he thought it reflected the smallness of soul that Weasley had had all along, instead of adding to it. Then he considered the argument that would result from that, and discarded the words.
He chose to murmur sympathetically instead and lean against Harry’s shoulder. Harry wrapped an arm around him and continued. “Now that the group has what they want, I think they’ll probably disband. Ginny will find another cause. Maybe it’ll be a better one, and she’ll feel like she doesn’t have to oppose me so directly. I hope so.”
Draco grunted, kept silent as Kreacher popped in with the tea, and then disappeared, and spent a moment examining Harry’s face again. No, the scratch wasn’t dangerously close to his eye, the way Draco had thought it was. Good.
But Draco was restless, both from seeing Harry injured and from hearing Harry talk that way about Weasley. He knew Harry just wanted someone to listen to him at the moment. Draco didn’t need to offer suggestions. He did that all the time, and Harry listened to him.
He wanted to do something, though. He might not be able to protest Harry’s attitude towards Weasley—it would be a little much, Draco grumpily supposed, to tell him that he was being too generous and forgiving—but he could do something else.
He tugged at Harry’s robe. Harry broke off from his brooding and blinked at him. Draco said, “Your wearing those clothes bothers me.”
“The blood?” Harry looked down. “What, you don’t have a Cleaning Potion in your pocket?”
Draco bit his lip and tried not to flush, because he did, actually. He shook his head, though. “I know Kreacher can wash them just fine. I want to get rid of them, though. And you’ve seen more of me naked than I have of you.” He narrowed his eyes at Harry.
Harry gave him a slow smile. Then he stood. Draco found himself rooted to the couch, his tongue and hands as frozen as though he wasn’t the one who had suggested this in the first damn place.
“Come here and take them off,” Harry said softly. Then he held out his arms like he was a model at a fancy robe shop.
Draco stood up and came forwards, and while his hands moved shakily at first, soon he was taking Harry’s clothes off with increasing confidence. Harry tilted his head back and offered him a searing kiss to seal the confidence.
Yes, I can do this.
Chapter 19: Undressing
Harry tilted his head back as he felt Draco’s fingers on the nape of his neck, and brushing along his hair, and edging down his ribs.
He felt as if someone had flung him off a cliff without his broom, and then he had found out that he could fly after all.
But he couldn’t see the ground yet. He saw only the inside of his robe as Draco drew it over his head, and then Draco’s breathing stuttered and stopped. Harry glanced over his shoulder in concern.
Draco was standing with his eyes fastened on Harry’s back as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Harry decided he was just going take that as praise instead of Draco being disgusted by what he looked like, and so he stretched and bent forwards and laid his hands on the back of the chair he’d been sitting in.
“Like what you see?” he whispered, and waited patiently for the sight of him half-naked and his voice to do its work.
He looks like he’s been through a war.
But of course, Harry had. And it wasn’t even so much Harry’s scars or his extreme thinness that intrigued Draco. What he could see were the marks of a life well and hard-lived. He reached out and let his hand begin to trace the markings and the edges there as he had traced the nape of Harry’s neck before he pulled his robe over his head.
Harry shivered in a way that made Draco sure he was doing something right. And he remembered that Harry had asked a question. He managed to answer it, though it was through a swelling thickness that seemed to be lodged in the bottom of his throat and all around his words.
“Yes. You have no idea.” He reached out and pushed a little on Harry’s right shoulder, to see what would happen.
Harry swayed and a guttural noise cameo out of his mouth. Draco lost his head. He reached forwards and stripped Harry of his pants in much the same motion, and then he knelt down and laid his face against Harry’s arse.
Harry was groaning and panting in a combination of noises that made Draco mental. He still had a few pieces of clothing to go, though, so he took off Harry’s shoes and socks without removing his eyes, this time, from the firm flesh of Harry’s arse. He was licking his lips to try and restrain his tongue, and it seemed that he failed each time. He finally had to sit back and whisper, “Can you face me?”
Harry turned around, stumbling. His eyes were big and dazed, and his feet moved as if he was walking on unstable ground. Draco sat back, smiling, and let his gaze run up and down Harry’s legs in a leisurely way, before he looked at the prize.
Harry’s cock was hard enough that it might be painful. Draco considered it was on him to relieve that pain. He reached out and took Harry in his hand, rolling him delicately between his fingers, murmuring to Harry when he opened his mouth in what might have been a howl. “It’s all right. Calm down and let me hold you.”
And remarkably, Harry did. He closed his eyes and stood there with his muscles absurdly locked, as if he thought that Draco was going to support his whole weight with the hold at his groin. Draco stood up, smiling, and stroked him. Other than little shudders now and then, Harry didn’t move and made no attempt to escape.
“Yeah,” Draco whispered to him. “Yeah, I think so.”
He couldn’t even have said where the words were coming from, or what he thought so. He just knew that this was the way he wanted to stand and the way he wanted to hold Harry.
Harry opened his mouth and tried to say something. Draco shook his head. Instead, he pushed Harry gently back into his seat and knelt in front of him.
And then he didn’t take Harry into his mouth right away, either. He rolled his head back and forth, rubbing his cheeks up and down Harry’s inner thighs. Harry gasped and rutted against his face, in a way that made Draco’s eyes close with desire.
Finally, he decided that he didn’t want to put this off any longer. Harry might be able to wait, but Draco doubted that he was going to be able to.
He opened his mouth, and Harry thrust forwards with a little sob and buried himself in Draco’s tongue.
Draco carefully worked his mouth around Harry, getting used to it, hearing his own excited breath leaving his nose so fast that it felt as if he was going to faint. But there it was, the balance he’d been seeking, and his mouth was tingling, and he had his hands out and gripping Harry’s thighs before he thought about what was happening.
Harry had his eyes closed and was babbling nonsense under his breath, thrusting harder and harder. Draco didn’t mind that, really. It made it harder to balance, and his ankles were aching, and his mouth was aching, and he had to hold Harry’s legs so hard that those were probably aching, too, if Harry paid attention to them at all.
But the expression on Harry’s face.
Harry began to give sharp little jerks with his hips that Draco thought meant he was close to finishing. So he tried to relax his jaw and think about the way that Harry had sucked him, which meant his mind tumbled into the memory and his body lit up with pleasure and Harry thrust home and…
Draco came at the same time Harry did, noisily, messily, and with his jaw and tongue stinging. But Harry reached shakily down to him and pulled him up and began kissing him, and he was swaying harder. So Draco went with it, and even delighted in the way that Harry kissed him so insistently, as if he thought his own taste was delicious.
Draco hadn’t thought about it much one way or another, the taste. It was enough to know that he was in Harry’s arms and Harry was clamping him fiercely around the waist as if he had no intention of ever letting him go again.
It was the answer to problems that had been nagging Draco in the back of his mind, although they never appeared to bother Harry. What was going to happen when more people learned about them? What if Weasley kept up her campaign to get some attention from Harry and managed to worm her way back into his life? Would Harry really stay with him?
But now—not from the goodness of the sex or the soft murmurs Harry was dropping near his ear, but from the intense pressure Harry was putting on his ribs and back—Draco thought the answers were “It didn’t matter” and “Yes.”
Harry woke up to the sound of the Floo, and an ache in his neck, and a heaviness draped over his legs that he didn’t understand. He blinked and tried to sit up, and the heaviness on top of him moaned and shifted.
Then Harry understood. He had fallen asleep with Draco on the couch in the library. Draco was leaning on Harry, his head dangling towards the floor. His neck would probably hurt like hell when he woke up, Harry thought in amusement, but for now, he kept protesting only when Harry wanted to move him.
There was also the sound of the Floo opening and the fact that Harry had to deal with that, but honestly, he wasn’t worried. He leaned back and watched in interest as the fire turned brilliant green.
The person who came through was Hermine, squinting a little as though she’d been in such bright sunlight the change to the dim interior of Harry’s library was a shock. And then she saw him and Draco on the couch, and her mouth opened, and she went very still.
Harry put his finger to his lips and winked at her. He didn’t think he needed to press much, though. Hermione understood. She understood everything with that single capacious glance, and then she stood there and shook her head at him.
“I know you wanted someone different,” she murmured, never raising her voice. “But I never thought it would be him. Is there any particular reason it’s him?”
Harry was sure that Draco was awake and listening, now. He nodded and kept stroking the back of Draco’s neck. “Of course there is. I like him and I’m attracted to him and I—I think I might be in love with him. I don’t know. It’s not like I ever felt it before, for sure. And we help each other and depend on each other.”
Hermione shook her head again. “You’re going to have a hell of a time with the Weasleys when this comes out, you know.”
“It’s not like I think most of them are going to come through the Floo and surprise us,” Harry said, rolling his eyes at her. “I’m going to tell them, not just have it come out.” He looked down when Draco stirred in his lap, putting an end to any suspicions that he might still be asleep. “And I hope Draco will be with me when I tell them.”
Draco raised his head. His face had gone a slick, shiny red at the sight of Hermione, but he only nodded at her and then to Harry, before he leaned back on Harry’s lap. For all Harry knew, he was pulling Malfoy haughtiness tight around him to serve as a cloak and shield.
“I will be,” he said, and his hand found Harry’s and squeezed tightly enough to hurt a little before he let go. “I wouldn’t want my lover to face something like this without me.”
“Good,” said Harry. He smiled at Draco, leaned down, and kissed his forehead. Hermione gave a little flurried sound. Harry raised his head to study her. “You disapprove?”
“I just—didn’t expect it, is all.” Hermione shrugged at them, and moved her eyes over to study Draco for a second. Draco looked back, calm and languid and disheveled. Harry bit his lip, because the last thing he wanted to do was burst out snickering when Hermione was taking this so well. “And I think that the Weasleys might not like it.”
“They survived my breaking up with Ginny,” said Harry. “They’ll take it well or I’ll draw back from them a little.”
“Not from Ron?”
“I’m already a little more distant from him than I used to be,” Harry told her gently. “You know that. He wants to be in Auror training, and I don’t. And you’re dating. I don’t think we’ll ever let our friendship go completely, Hermione, but it’s going to stop being as intense as it was.”
Hermione nodded and closed her eyes. “I did know that. I was just trying to think of it from Ron’s point-of-view.” She sighed again. “Anyway, I didn’t come here because I thought anything like this was going on. The merfolk contacted me. Apparently there’s someone working to drain the Hogwarts lake.”
Harry snorted at that. “They can’t. It belongs to Hogwarts. As long as there’s a Headmaster or Headmistress in office, the Ministry can’t touch it.” That had been something Draco had made up read up on when they were studying Dumbledore’s influence on politics. Draco smiled at him now, cocking an eyebrow, and Harry grinned back down at him.
“It isn’t the Ministry. A private party.” Hermione licked her lips. “And he’s using the memorial that McGonagall’s planning as an excuse. He says that if one part of the ancient Hogwarts grounds can be altered, so can other parts.”
Harry groaned and shook his head. “The memorial hasn’t even been planned for a day yet, and already people are doing this,” he said, and ran a hand down Draco’s back. “Do you want to come with me and inform them how wrong they are?”
From the click in Draco’s throat, he had been far from anticipating the invitation. Harry leaned back and waited to see if he would accept it or not.
Draco’s head felt as if he’d stepped off a carousel.
Harry wants to go and toss this new—thing between us into the middle of a political situation? He trusts me that much?
From the slight inclination of Harry’s head, and the way he smiled, he did. And he didn’t mind that some people would be more concerned about Draco being with him than his stance on the lake or the merfolk. In fact, he might even have planned it that way. Distracted, angry people would argue less effectively.
That made Draco want to burst with pride, and he did lean up and kiss Harry softly on the lips.
Harry can be as much a politician as anyone else when he wants. It’s just that he doesn’t need to put any effort into getting elected.
“Yes,” Draco said, and Summoned Harry’s clothes from where they were sprawled on the floor. Really, he had acted more as clothing to shield Harry from Granger’s eyes than any scrap of cloth. As the clothes landed beside them with a soft plump, he started casting Cleaning Charms on himself as well. “Let’s go.”
“I’ll—go ahead and tell them that you’re coming,” Granger muttered, and stepped out of the Floo.
Draco was too busy to really pay her going much heed. Harry was calling Kreacher and asking him what time it was and for some quick breakfast. Draco had to help him get dressed and eat with one hand and make sure that he was impeccable all at the same time.
At least it didn’t leave him much time to be worried, either. They were going to jump off a cliff—not coming out to anyone, but letting them see Draco at Harry’s side.
But Draco was confident in Harry’s wings.
Chapter 20: Demonstrating
“Mr. Potter. Thank you for—”
Harry knew the exact moment when Professor McGonagall spotted Draco, and not only because she broke off. Her entire face had changed, to one that Harry thought she must wear more often in her cat form. She looked as if she was going to spit at him and then skitter up a tree.
But Draco was looking around her office in interest and curiosity, and didn’t show any sign of noticing her regard, other than his tight-knuckled grip on Harry’s hand. Harry doubted anyone else would really notice that. He managed to smile easily at McGonagall, his pride in Draco as well as his happiness fueling it. “Of course,” he said, and sat down in the chair in front of the desk. He drew his wand and conjured a second one for Draco.
Draco sat down in it and looked around with a beaming smile at the wizards who waited for them. Harry took the chance to study them, too. He was glad Draco had thrown their audience a little off-balance. It might give him more of a chance to see who they really were.
Both were tall men but with squat legs, as if they had goblin or dwarf blood in them somewhere. They had long black beards that Harry at once thought they must grow to look intimidating. But one had yellow eyes—goblin blood’s stronger in him, then—and the other a cold brown.
“My name is Tarsellis Mournegath,” announced the man with yellow eyes. “I object to violating the ancient grounds of Hogwarts.”
“That’s great,” said Harry, smiling at him. He could feel most people in the room gaping at him, and even some of the portraits. Draco wouldn’t be, of course, but Harry couldn’t turn and look at him right now. He had to keep his attention on this man who would probably pounce on a moment’s weakness. “That means our business here is done, right?” He started to stand, glancing over at Professor McGonagall.
She looked as though she was fighting laughter for his performance. “I’m afraid the issue isn’t that simple, Mr. Potter,” she said, and turned to Mournegath.
“No, indeed it is not,” said the other man, the one with brown eyes. His voice was deeper, and he sounded as though he tried to intimidate people for a living. When he added, “I am Harvey Jerris, Mr. Mournegath’s solicitor,” Harry wasn’t the least surprised.
“Well, but he says that he doesn’t want to violate Hogwarts’s ancient grounds,” Harry said. “That means he won’t be draining the lake.”
“It also means no memorial.” Mournegath seemed to have decided the rest of the room didn’t exist, as much effort as that took. He kept his eyes pinned on Harry.
“But I fail to see how adding a memorial would violate the grounds,” Harry said, and smiled peacefully at Mournegath. “That’s the part you’ll have to explain to me.”
“I will, if I can be told what part you have to play in this.” Mournegath leaned back and gestured with one languid hand at Professor McGonagall. “The Headmistress has an obvious stake in the situation, and an obvious authority to speak for Hogwarts. What is your authority, Mr. Potter?”
“I’m the one who’s paying the compensation for the victims hurt by the Carrows,” Harry said. “I worked with the committee that designed the memorial.” He looked at Mournegath with a winsome little smile, and let the rest hang unsaid between them. And I’m the one you have to deal with if you want your little project to get any publicity, because I’m so important to the wizarding world’s press right now. They’d print what I had for breakfast if they could find out.
From the inclination of his head, Mournegath had accepted and acknowledged the silent challenge. “That may gain you some respect, Mr. Potter. It’s not the same as saying that you, yourself, have anything to say about the draining of the Hogwarts lake.”
“I might know that better if you explained why you want to drain it.”
Mournegath leaned forwards until Harry thought his hands would actually touch the floor like an ape’s. “Can it be that you have come to oppose me and you don’t know?” he whispered.
“Yes. It can.”
Harry felt Draco give a stifled wriggle next to him, one that he hoped was of delight and not fear. Harry gave a faint smile and kept his eyes locked on Mournegath. He seemed utterly surprised at resistance. That made Harry hope this was more a political ploy than a serious one.
On the other hand, maybe Mournegath was so self-important that he assumed debate and reasonable expectations were for other people.
“Very well,” said Mournegath at last, and sat back and looked at Jerris. Jerris started explaining at once, his voice resonant. Harry wondered if he imagined he was in front of a courtroom audience.
“We wish the lake drained so as to remove a potential source of danger for the children of Hogwarts. Merfolk are capable of strangling and drowning children who venture into their domain, and the current classes of Hogwarts don’t include enough water-based magic to prepare the students for the dangers of encountering these…creatures.As well, once the lake is gone, a building can be raised there.”
“What kind of building?”
Jerris paused, as though he, too, hadn’t expected resistance, or as if maybe he had thought it would be a certain kind of resistance. Then he plunged ahead. “A building to hold classes that haven’t been taught inside Hogwarts for a long time. The magic involved in them was thought to be dangerous to the structure of the school. But a smaller building specially designed to stand up to those spells won’t have that problem.”
Harry felt his eyebrows creep a little higher. Under Draco’s tutelage, he had learned of a class of spells that had that designation. “Are you talking about Dark Arts spells?”
Jerris fussed with some papers that he’d taken from a satchel at the side of his chair. “Names are so restrictive,” he said.
“You are.” Harry shook his head a little, in wonder. He hadn’t thought that anyone would be so blatant as to bring up Dark Arts in front of either him or the Headmistress of Hogwarts.
“Names are as outdated as the magic taught in Hogwarts,” said Mournegath, booming a little as if to make up for the way that Jerris had suddenly retreated. “We will create a safe, secure environment where children can learn to study magic without being afraid of it.”
“Hogwarts is already that environment.” McGonagall sounded as though she was a few moments away from snarling.
“It is,” said Harry, interrupting what Mournegath would have said. From the ugly look the man gave Harry, he wasn’t going to forget that. But Harry wasn’t very interested in whether he remembered it or not. “Now, Mr. Mournegath, would you tell me the real reason under this? Why not build your own private school anywhere, rather than trying to change something that’s been part of Hogwarts for centuries?”
He was guessing on the “centuries” part, but neither Mournegath nor Jerris seemed inclined to correct him. “That is the real reason,” said Jerris stoutly, since he’d apparently had a minute to recover. “We want the dangerous creatures gone, and we want—”
“Legal protection to practice the Dark Arts,” Harry cut in again. He was still partially amused, partially horrified, by how blatant the man was being. But, well, there were some people in the world like that. “You’d have to change a bunch of laws in the Ministry before you could do that.”
“But Hogwarts is traditionally free of Ministry influence,” said Mournegath, in what was almost a purr, and grinned at them.
Harry saw in a flash what the man intended. If McGonagall tried to protect Hogwarts’s independence, then she would be standing up for what Mournegath wanted. If she tried to involve the Ministry, they would probably take the chance to seize as much control as they could over Hogwarts, and Mournegath most likely had allies inside.
It was marginally clever. Marginally. Harry couldn’t believe Mournegath had thought it would ever really work.
But, luckily, thanks to the tutoring of the man at his side, Harry had more than one idea of how he could counter it. He squeezed Draco’s hand to reassure him, just in case he was worrying over Harry not seeing the trap, before he launched into his speech.
Mournegath made Draco feel slimy.
He hadn’t thought that was the case, even though he didn’t recognize the man’s name. After all, his politics didn’t sound much different from the ones that Draco had followed most of his life. Magical creatures were inferior, and to be kept in their place. Individual pure-blood families should determine more of Hogwarts policy than they did now. Dark Arts, and other old spells that the Ministry had classified as dangerous, should be brought back and taught, the way they were at Durmstrang.
But now, after several months of teaching and working with Harry, it was as if Draco had taken off a mask blocking half his vision. Of course it would have bad consequences for Hogwarts in the long run if individual families could decide what the school should do. And magical creatures were fine as long as they weren’t actively hurting wizards.
And Dark Arts…
Draco shuddered a little. On the one hand, he had thought that learning them would be exciting, because then he would have been able to get back at Weasley and other people who teased him.
But Weasley and the others would have been learning them, too. And Draco had seen enough of deadly duels as it was. He didn’t really want to see more.
“I don’t see that you have any grounds to stand on,” said Harry, his eyes unblinking and large and fixed on Mournegath in a stare that Draco thought of as predatory. Not the same predatory way that Harry tended to look at Draco himself, which was good, if only for the sake of Draco’s sanity. “You have no right to influence Hogwarts. The memorial is an addition that we came together with other people to discuss. And you haven’t spoken with anyone else about what you want to do.”
Mournegath gave the smile that also made Draco feel slimy. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on a lizard, or a toad—or the Dark Lord. “I’m speaking with you and the Headmistress and your, er, companion, now.” He flicked Draco a glance that he meant to burn like a lash.
It didn’t. Draco had moved beyond needing the approval of people like this to function, he realized abruptly, even as he’d moved beyond their politics. He didn’t need Mournegath.
“But not with committees,” Harry said. He sounded so self-assured and calm that Draco had to make an effort to remember they’d been half-naked together on Harry’s couch not an hour ago. “Not with Ministry representatives. Not with the Headmistress herself.”
“Are you suggesting that Ministry representatives would be more eager to acknowledge us?” Mournegath now sounded as if he was about to descend into Parseltongue.
“I don’t know. What I’m suggesting is that you need to ask them.”
“And that you will need proof the merfolk are dangerous and Dark Arts are beneficial to the children studying them,” McGonagall added, charging in to give Harry flanking support. “There are some reports coming out of Durmstrang that state otherwise, I understand.”
Mournegath gave them the kind of stare Draco was starting to understand. Apparently, no one in the whole world but Mournegath was supposed to notice anything, or expect anything, or do anything, except perhaps to gape in awe that he had been intelligent enough to think of a concept that complex.
It was an expression Draco thought sometimes he might have seen on his father’s face, had he ever been around someone bold enough to challenge Lucius Malfoy during his childhood.
That thought hurt for a few reasons, and Draco managed to put them aside until Mournegath said, “I will be bringing my ideas to the public.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” said Harry, and managed a beam that Draco wanted to take credit for inspiring in him, just because it was so good under the circumstances, except he couldn’t remember the exact moment when he would have taught Harry something like that. “After all, no one can properly support your ideas if they don’t know you have them.”
Mournegath did some more staring. This time, Draco thought it would read, translated into words, No one but me is supposed to be that cheerful.
Draco leaned back and bit his lips to hide his grin. There would have been a time when he wanted to add his voice, but honestly, he trusted Harry and McGonagall to have it in hand now. Mournegath might be fun to tease in the future if Draco got his way, though.
“I will show myself out,” said Mournegath, standing and stalking across the floor. Draco, who had seen some expert stalkers, including his father and Professor Snape, felt rather sorry for him.
“You should consider changing your minds,” said Jerris earnestly, standing more slowly and glancing back and forth between Harry and McGonagall as though he didn’t know which one he should actually address. “After all, this is the man who has the most progressive ideas in the wizarding world right now.”
“How interesting,” said Harry blandly.
It is, for what it says about Jerris’s limited perspective, Draco agreed silently. He would have expected a solicitor to have more vision.
Still frowning as though he knew something had gone wrong but he didn’t know what it was, Jerris left. McGonagall turned around and gave Harry a soft smile, then Draco an uncertain one.
“Thank you for coming, Harry.” A pause. “You, too, Mr. Malfoy.”
“You’re welcome.” Harry stood up and inclined his head. “Let us know if Mournegath tries anything again.”
They’d almost made it to the door of her office when McGonagall cleared her throat. Draco turned around. He saw her standing as if to get a better look at them. No, not exactly at them, between them.
Draco flushed as he realized that he was still holding on to Harry’s hand.
“Are you,” said McGonagall, and she paused. She might think the pause was delicate. To Draco, it felt as if he was standing directly underneath a wave of breaking glass.
“Yes,” said Harry. “We are. All the things you can imagine, and more besides.” And he drew Draco closer to him with a protective gesture that made Draco have to bow his head and breathe a little.
“Oh.” The Headmistress sank down in her chair again and spent some more time staring. After a few moments, it became obvious that she wouldn’t say any more just then, and Draco was the one to open the door and lead them out.
As they rode down the moving staircase, Harry looped his arm over Draco’s shoulders. He said nothing. He just squeezed.
Draco leaned against him and closed his eyes, and squeezed back with his arm around Harry’s waist.
Chapter 21: Defending
“This one might actually be reasonable,” Harry muttered as he heard the Floo connection start to wake up. There was a chime that meant it was coming from the Burrow, which sounded now in gentle pulses. Harry laid aside his breakfast and hurried into the drawing room. A single wave of his wand cleared the connection to open.
Molly’s face appeared in the fire.
Harry swallowed. He hadn’t actually talked to her since the birthday party for Ginny and Percy. Or, well, there’d been minor Floo calls, but not a whole lot of chatter. Mostly, she’d wanted to talk to him about some of the owls that still got sent to the Burrow for him.
“Harry.” Molly’s smile was restrained, but it blossomed into a familiar one as she studied him. “I see Kreacher is keeping you well-fed.”
“He is.” Harry smiled, glad they could start with something simple like that. Then he waited.
“Hermione told me that I should speak to you, that you had something important to tell me.”
Of course she would put it that way. But at least Hermione had left it up to Harry to tell the Weasleys the news the way he wanted. Harry couldn’t help but love her for that. “Yes,” he said. “Not world-shatteringly important, but personal.”
“Oh.” Molly bit her lip, and it occurred to Harry that she looked a lot like Ginny when she did that.
Well, that’s not something I need to worry about, now. Harry nodded, and gently destroyed what he suspected were the hopes Molly was starting to nourish of him coming back to Ginny. “I’m dating Draco Malfoy.”
Molly stared at him as if he had said he was dating a centaur. Maybe she would believe it more, based on the connections in the news, Harry thought. He didn’t think he and Draco were in the news at all, unless Mournegath had gone to the papers.
On the other hand, I doubt Mournegath is seeing anything but the inside of his own arse right now.
“Oh, Harry,” Molly finally said. “I had no idea…is this the reason you broke up with Ginny?”
“Because I wanted to date Draco?” Harry shook his head. “I had no idea that I thought of him that way then, or that he would think of me like that.” Certain things were clearer in hindsight, but at the time, that had been his perception.
“Because you wanted to date—boys.”
A little amused, Harry wondered what other words she’d been trying to pick among. “No,” he said honestly. “Draco is the first one I’ve ever felt that way about.” He hesitated, and decided that if he could be diplomatic with people like Mournegath, he could do it with Molly, although maybe not as easily. “I would probably still be together with Ginny if we hadn’t both been stupid about what we wanted from each other.”
Molly blinked a little, and lifted a hand to swipe at her eye. “Thank you, dear,” she whispered. “It’s nice to hear someone be honest about it.”
What did she think I wouldn’t be honest about? But Harry ruthlessly squashed the temptation to ask what Ginny had told her. He might want to know, but he didn’t need to. “So. I wanted to tell you before you got shocked by the pictures in the paper.”
“Of course.” Molly closed her eyes for a second. “I’ll tell Arthur, and Charlie and Percy—I don’t imagine that they’ll care. But I’d like you to tell the others. And I think you should tell Andromeda.”
“Of course,” Harry murmured back. He had thought of how to explain to Andromeda that he was becoming closer to her nephew, but he hadn’t settled on a satisfactory way of doing it yet. Well, now he would have to. Teddy, thank Merlin, was too young for any sort of explanation yet, the same way he would have been too young to understand about Harry and Ginny.
“Well.” Molly gave herself a shake and then said, “I won’t pretend that I’m not disappointed. But I hope you enjoy yourself with him, Harry.” She eyed Harry for a minute, then added, “And he’d better take good care of you. At least do as well as Kreacher. Or I’ll have something to say to him.”
“Luckily, his house-elves are more in charge of that than he is,” Harry said, amused. He’d thought of mentioning Mrs. Malfoy, and then decided not to. Molly might take it as a kind of challenge. With Kreacher in the house, Harry already had more than enough to eat. “Thanks, Molly. I’ll tell the others.”
“You mean at the Burrow?” Harry shook his head. “I’ll stop by the shop and Andromeda’s house and Bill’s house to tell them. I’ll call Ron over here.” He hesitated, then shrugged. “I think that a letter to Ginny might be wiser than a Floo call.”
“Yes, I’m afraid you’re right.” Molly sighed, her eyes misty. Harry thought she was looking into futures that hadn’t happened yet. Then she turned back towards him, and stuck out one finger. “Make sure that you know you can always come and talk to me, young man. I’m not going to leave one of my children out in the world on his own.”
“I know that,” Harry said softly. He wished he could reach through the fire and squeeze Molly’s hand the way her words were squeezing around his heart, but he managed to dismiss them with a light smile and shake of his head. “I’ll Floo Ron right now.”
“Good,” said Molly. “I know he’ll be all right with this, Harry.”
“Maybe eventually.” Molly nodded, unruffled. “Then I’ll talk to you later.”
“Yes,” said Harry, and watched as her face disappeared from the flames. Then he took a few moments to lean back on his hands and just breathe.
It might be silly, but he needed that moment of relaxation before he tossed the Floo powder into the flames and called out the name Ron and Hermione had chosen for their flat.
Draco waited. He couldn’t do much else with the delicacy of the drop that was trembling on the bowl of the raised spoon, actually. If anything more than one drop of wintergreen essence went into the potion, then it would be ruined. He had to hold on and wait for it to fall—
Draco tossed the spoon out of the way the moment the drop fell into the potion, ignoring the sound of shattering glass. His mother or the house-elves could always fix it. He slammed the lid over the cauldron, and heard the slow, foaming, throbbing roar inside it rise and then subside it as it crashed against the lid. Then it melted back down the sides of the cauldron, sliding with thick, syrupy ribbons, Draco knew, although he couldn’t see it.
He took a long step back and shook his head, sighing. Yes, there. He had completed the first order of a healing potion that was extremely complex to brew, and which the Ministry, if they thought of it at all, would probably have assumed he couldn’t make, not with this magic restricted to first-year spells.
Draco grinned with a skull’s teeth. He had done it, and he would keep on doing it and thriving, no matter what other people thought.
He turned around when he heard a fluttering of wings against the window. He had charms up that would block owls while he was brewing most potions this complex, cast by his mother. But she had also set them to fall when the brewing was done. Draco knew she was worried about him getting injured by an explosion and finding himself locked behind a magical wall, with her unable to hear any shouts or screams for help.
The owl carried a smoking red letter in one talon. Draco felt his throat freeze for a second, and he would have backed away and hidden under a table if he could.
Well, you can’t. You’re a grown man, and you can face your own post.
Draco opened the window, and the owl soared in. It circled only once before dropping the Howler and then fleeing, as if it didn’t want to listen to the shouting any more than Draco did.
Draco turned around in resignation just as the Howler burst open and an only vaguely familiar voice filled the room.
“You think you have the RIGHT to just go and date Harry? You think this is something that’s going to last?” There was the briefest of pauses, as if even the sender of the Howler had to pause to get his breath, and then he kept going. “You’re WRONG! He’s meant to date someone who makes him happy, which you WON’T! You’re a convicted Death Eater! How can you?”
Draco licked his lips and blinked. This was a lot milder than some of the other Howlers he had received in the past short while, and it wasn’t even saying anything especially untrue. When he listened, he knew it was a male voice, not Harry’s former girlfriend’s. And he thought he would have recognized Weasley’s.
One of Weasley’s brothers, perhaps? It made the most sense, although Draco would have to ask Harry which one.
“I’m sickened by you,” the Howler ended, and then tore itself into blazing red confetti. Draco shook his head and turned around to tell the house-elves to clean up what remained of it, as well as the vial he had probably shattered earlier.
Harry stood frozen in the doorway of the lab. Draco stood frozen with surprise by the sight of him, and then moved slowly forwards.
“Sorry,” Harry whispered, staring at the remains of the Howler. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I came over earlier, and your mum said you were brewing a complicated potion and couldn’t be disturbed right now. I was going to wait…” He let his voice trail off.
Draco took Harry’s hands and sighed a little. “So which one of them was it?”
“What?” Harry’s eyes came back to him, still wide.
Draco swung his hands. “I know it wasn’t your best friend. Which one of his brothers? I don’t know all their voices.”
“It was George.” Harry shook his head slowly, seeming to wake from a dream. “It didn’t seem like he cared that much. I stopped by his shop yesterday and told him we were dating. He—well, he didn’t look pleased, but the only thing he wanted to know was whether I’d started dating you before I broke up with Ginny. Once he knew that wasn’t the case, he at least acted like he believed me and we didn’t talk about it again.”
“Maybe something changed,” Draco suggested. “Maybe she contacted him, or he thought it over and decided he wasn’t all right with it.” He hesitated. “What did Weasley say?”
“Ron?” Harry looked at him with a quirk to his mouth. “You know that you’ll probably have to start using his first name when we’re talking about a whole family with the same surname.”
Draco caught his breath and held it. Then he let it out and used it to shape his words. “Ron. Right. What did he say?”
“We talked for an hour yesterday, and he said that he wanted to meet you and me together and talk it over with you himself.” Harry’s hand tightened on Draco’s arm. “We can go and meet him right now, if you like.”
Draco looked at the place where the ashes had been—the house-elves were efficient—and thought of how he could hide in the lab for the rest of his life. Then he turned around and smiled a little. It wasn’t attractive even as a fantasy. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 22: Chatting
Ron stood up when Harry and Draco walked into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. His face was pale instead of red, which Harry thought was a good thing at first.
Then he got a close look at the expression on Ron’s face. He sighed a little and said, “I’ll tell you the same thing I did last night, Ron. I wasn’t dating Draco before I broke up with Ginny.” He squeezed Draco’s hand. Draco stood straight behind him; the slight tremor Harry had felt working its way up his arm eased.
“I believe you.” Ron’s voice was still a whisper, and he looked back and forth between Harry and Draco as though he was expecting one of them to burst into flames. Harry had to smile. That would have been an accurate fear only a few years ago.
Or at least us cursing each other would have been.
“Good,” said Harry, and smiled at Ron before he sat down in the chair next to the fireplace that he’d sat in yesterday when talking to his friend. Draco hovered for a second. Harry pulled another chair up next to his and gestured Draco there. If things had been less tense with Ron, Harry would have suggested that Draco sit in his lap, but he didn’t think it was the time for that.
Ron sat down and put his hands on his knees. “All right. Tell me why.”
“Draco and I got closer over the last year,” said Harry, watching Ron. He had got a bit more red, although that also meant a little closer to normal. “He started teaching me more about politics, and I helped him get a lesser sentence in Azkaban—”
“I know that!”
“Right.” Harry wondered what else he could say. “Well, that’s still true. That’s how we got to know each other.”
Ron nodded, but he still looked as if he was preoccupied. “Fine. Then—what’s going on? Why did you go from getting to know each other to deciding to date?” He turned to Draco. “And I’m—I want to hear your perspective.” Ron did manage those words with a straight face.
Draco looked down for a little while. Then he looked back up. Ron held still. Harry closed his eyes a little, amazingly proud of both of them.
“Harry is one of the few people who’s been kind to me. Amazingly kind, considering what we—went through.”
“I already know that.”
“I’m trying to explain, Weasley,” Draco snapped, and Harry nearly put a hand over his eyes. But Ron might have freaked out if Draco had called him by his first name right away, anyway. “He was kind. He was also smarter than I thought, and he did all these little things for me.”
“What little things?” Ron was glaring at Draco now as if he thought maybe he meant blowjobs. Harry coughed and hoped his own face wasn’t turning too red.
“Little things like bringing me gifts. Making sure I could have a career. Making me feel useful and important.” Draco suddenly gestured. “I want—I think that’s one thing that should be changed about Azkaban. They don’t do anything to make sure people can have careers when they come out. They just assume that people are going to live or die, and they don’t have to do anything to help them.”
“You were a criminal.”
“But they’ve let me go now,” Draco insisted. “They should have kept me locked up if they thought that I didn’t deserve to get my life back.”
Ron turned to Harry. “This is something you’ve talked to him about, mate?”
Harry didn’t know why that question was so important, but from the look in Ron’s eye, it was. He shrugged and answered. “A little. I was talking more to Parkinson. She was in Azkaban for a few months, too, you know, and she didn’t know what to do either. We’re helping her make up her mind.”
“Parkinson? Even her?”
“Yes. I thought it was important.”
Ron clutched the arm of his chair, then turned back to Draco. “Are you grateful to Harry?”
“Well, yes, but not only that. I think something’s gone wrong when one lover has to speak of gratitude to the other.”
Harry smiled at Draco and took his hand for that. He agreed. It wasn’t something he would have wanted with Ginny, either, despite them breaking up for appreciably different reasons.
“You wouldn’t consider letting him date someone else to show your gratitude?”
“I was only joking!”
“Well, it wasn’t a funny joke.” Harry sat back, almost unable to believe that he was the one who had objected, and Draco who had sounded so calm. Draco lightly touched his arm, then pulled his hand back. Harry nodded to him and then faced Ron again. “I don’t want to date anyone else. So if he did that, I would have to severely question his sanity.”
“Especially since people who want to date me aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to show up at my door,” Draco added.
“Don’t put yourself down that way,” Harry told Draco, and turned the glare on him until he nodded. “That wasn’t a funny joke, either.”
Ron had gone silent. Harry turned to face him and saw Ron looking gloomily at the fireplace. Harry looked with him, but couldn’t figure out what was so fascinating.
“It’s real, isn’t it?” Ron asked.
“Good of you to acknowledge that,” Draco muttered, but Harry thought Ron hadn’t heard that, so he was the one who answered. “What do you mean?”
“You never looked at Ginny the way you looked at him just now, when you told him to stop putting himself down.” Ron sighed, paused, then sighed again. “I wanted to pretend you were getting into that sort of rebound relationship Hermione talks about all the time. You aren’t.”
“I would hope he doesn’t look at me the way he did your sister.” Draco sounded more than mildly horrified.
Ron scowled. “And I wish he did. Then I could think it was just some kind of fling against his better judgment and he was going to move on.”
“Your sensitivity stuns me,” said Draco wryly. “When your best friend is sitting right here.”
“It’s not a fling,” Harry said. He had wanted to leave Draco and Ron alone and let them discuss it, but that seemed to be asking for trouble at this point. “It’s not something I’m going to regret any time soon, or decide is wrong for me. I’m sorry if you were hurt, Ron. I’m sorry if Ginny was hurt. I did some things wrong there. But I’m not going to reverse myself and say I’ll date her now out of guilt.”
“Fine,” said Ron. His face had shut down into hard, sour lines. “Then I accept that, and I accept Malfoy’s with you now, and I won’t try to talk you out of it even though Merlin knows I wish I could. Now, are we done here?”
Harry started to nod, but Draco reached over and pressed down hard on his knee. Harry glanced at him. Draco had a strange, cool expression on his face, one Harry realized with a start that he hadn’t seen since before the war.
“What a gracious acceptance you’ve made of someone who’s going to be a permanent part of your best friend’s life,” Draco said.
Permanent? Harry tried not to laugh giddily.
“You want to be more gracious?” Ron snapped. “After everything that you and your family tried to do to mine?”
Harry wondered whether Draco had even known about his father, Ginny, and the diary, but before he could say anything, Draco continued. “No. I expect you to feel about me however you want to feel, and if you want to despise me, then go ahead. But acting the way you do to Harry is unacceptable. Why should he have to coddle you and be sorry that he can’t have the feelings for your sister that you wish were there? He can make whatever apologies he wants to your sister. But what do you have to do with it?”
Draco reined himself in abruptly. He had gone as far as he could at the moment, he thought. Any more and he would just sound like the ungracious bastard he had accused Weasley of being.
Weasley’s face was red with astonishment. But it was always red, Draco thought, no matter what the emotion. Sometimes he thought that they were just born that way. He didn’t understand why Harry didn’t find them more boring to look at.
Harry’s hand tightened on his. Draco smiled at him and faced Weasley again, softening his voice.
“Listen, Weasley. I do understand some of what you’re feeling. If my best friend started dating a Gryffindor, I would probably feel the same way.”
“What best friend?”
His tone made Draco remember Vincent, dying in the Fiendfyre. He stiffened for a moment, but Harry’s hand was on his knee, pressing firmly, calmly, kindly down, and Draco softened his own impulses and inclined his head.
“You never really knew them,” he said. And that was true. His best friend had sometimes been Pansy, sometimes Blaise, even Theo, depending on the circumstances and how helpful they felt like being to him today. And Vince and Greg had always been there, to the point that it was still hard for Draco to imagine life without them. He probably would have been worse off if he hadn’t been confined in the Manor the vast majority of the time.
“That doesn’t matter.” Weasley had turned an even deeper shade of red. “I just don’t trust you to be good to Harry.”
“Then trust Harry to protect himself,” Draco said. “You might not have paid close attention to how he handled the political contests he’s been subjected to, but I did. He did magnificently.”
Weasley simply stared at him, although Draco didn’t know if it was the words or the praise that he disbelieved. Draco snorted a little and glanced at Harry. “Do you want to handle this from here?” he whispered.
Thankfully, Harry took over. “Ron, you have to admit that I didn’t hesitate to break up with Ginny when it became obvious we wouldn’t work out.”
“No,” Weasley conceded, although the words sounded thick. “But it’s still—it’s just not something I ever envisioned for you, Harry.”
Draco held back the temptation to reply, bitingly, that Weasley sure didn’t seem to have envisioned much.
“And I didn’t envision becoming a politician after the war, either.” Harry sounded as if he was shrugging even though his shoulders didn’t move. “It was something I fell into because I saw that people needed me.”
“Then why couldn’t you do what Ginny needed of you?”
“Because her need wasn’t one I wanted to respond to.”
Draco had thought Weasley would explode after that, but for some reason, apart from an odd glance at Draco, Weasley didn’t appear as though he knew how to answer. He raised one hand, let it slump back to his side, and shook his head a little.
“Fine,” he said. “I—I’m reconciled to it as much as I can be, Harry.” He stood up, nodded grudgingly to Draco, and walked towards the fireplace.
Because it was Weasley, Draco was sure there would be one confrontation more. And there was. Weasley turned around and cocked his head.
“Is it going to be permanent, Harry?”
“I think so.”
Draco didn’t grin as Weasley left. It would have felt like punching an opponent who was already down.
“Thank you, Draco,” Harry said a second later, as he lifted Draco’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “You did really well.”
Draco ducked his head and let himself watch Harry from beneath his lashes. This was—an interesting way to gain praise for his actions.
And he was starting to think that it would also be the more amusing way.
Harry would be astonished to see how polite Draco could be when they confronted Weasley’s brother.
Chapter 23: Challenging
“I need to talk to you, Harry.”
Harry was still wrapped in blankets from the bed, barely sitting up and yawning. He thought it wasn’t the best time for George to sweep into Grimmauld Place and start marching around and waving his arms.
But it was what George had done anyway, so Harry would have to put up with it. He pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “Okay. What do you need to talk to me about?”
George swung around and pointed one finger at him. “I don’t like it when you act dumb.”
“In this case, it’s not an act.” Harry rubbed his face and wished that he’d had the chance to get some tea inside him, or, even better, a Pepper-Up Potion. “I can think of a couple different things that you might want to talk about. Is this about Draco, or is the shop not doing well?”
Well, that’s a surprise. Harry settled back against the pillows, rearranged the blankets so he was a little more comfortable, and shook his head. “Then I’m sorry, but I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”
George stopped and glared at him in exasperation. Harry glared back. George finally sat down in the chair that Harry kept for looking through his post and admitted, “It’s about Ginny. So about Malfoy, but indirectly.” Then he scowled at Harry again, as if Harry was the one at fault for having forced him to say so many words.
“Ginny is fine with things, I thought,” Harry said. “I mean, I wrote to her that I was dating Draco and she didn’t reply. And I’m going to make sure I’m careful around her and don’t make the Burrow uncomfortable for her by visiting when she’s there.”
“How could you give up the chance at dating a great girl like Ginny to go out with a Death Eater?”
Harry sighed. He hoped this wouldn’t be a conversation full of rhetorical questions. No one was going to learn anything, if that was the case. “Because it wasn’t working out with Ginny. She wanted to get married right away. She resented me for leaving her behind when I went out to hunt the Horcruxes. I, in the meantime, had no idea about her wanting to get married right away, and I was letting everything drift. Not confronting her. If I really cared about her, then I would have talked to her about marriage. Oh, scratch that, I would have known that this mattered so much to her. Don’t you think?”
George didn’t seem to have thought he would get such a thorough answer. He waited. Harry waited back.
Harry’s stomach rumbled. He rolled his eyes and muttered, “Fine. If you want more detail, I never really thought about getting back together with Ginny. But I only realized that when she confronted me about it. And I do think that you ought to realize how terrible we would have been for each other, George. We both wanted things from each other we couldn’t provide.”
“Tell me one thing Ginny demanded from you that you couldn’t give her. Rich, generous fellow that you are.”
“But anyone could love Ginny.” Harry could tell George was struggling with having the wind taken out of his sails, but he also seemed to be struggling not to appear that way. “She’s the most lovable person I know!”
“She’s your sister. It’s natural you should feel that way.”
“And unnatural that you don’t.”
“If you say something that ugly again, then I’ll just ask you to leave. And yes, I remember setting things up so that you could just Floo or Apparate in however you want,” Harry added, before George could say the words he was opening his mouth to speak. “It doesn’t mean things are going to stay that way if you insist on abusing the privilege. I want you to know that I didn’t love Ginny. It’s not unnatural that I don’t love her. It’s just the way things are.”
George turned slowly more and more red, but he didn’t get up and leave. Harry was a little surprised by that. Maybe it meant George wasn’t as sure of himself as he sounded. Harry stopped counting the seconds until he would have to pick up his wand and watched George instead.
“Ginny came to see me when she got your owl,” George finally said.
Harry nodded. He had thought it was something like that. “Well, I understand why she doesn’t want to talk to me. But—”
“That was another mistake, you know,” George said, and he was talking louder than normal even while he glared at the wall. “You should have told her personally the way you did Mum.”
“If it was a mistake, then I’ll bear the consequences,” Harry said, holding up one hand. “But on the other hand, I didn’t know it was one. I thought it would be best if I told her by owl so she didn’t have to see me.”
“You were wrong. Now she thinks you don’t care about her.”
It would have been satisfying to just say that he didn’t, and get George out of here, then go and have breakfast. But Harry knew he would have ended up feeling guilty about it later. And he was really trying to avoid things he would have to feel guilty for later.
“I care about her. The way I would a sister, or a friend. Not the way a lover would. And not the way that someone on the same political side would,” Harry had to add. He was thinking of how Ginny had joined that group that wanted a memorial on Hogwarts grounds and compensation when she’d never acted interested in politics before.
Or maybe she was and I just never knew. That was another sign that he and Ginny weren’t good for each other.
“You’re saying you sympathize with Death Eaters now?”
Harry spread his hands. “Any answer I can give to that, you’re going to twist.”
“You do.” George stood up and paced around the room, ending up facing the far wall. “You do. I can’t believe it. You sympathize with the man who gave my little sister a diary that almost killed her.”
“I do not sympathize with Lucius Malfoy,” Harry interrupted, shuddering. Draco had asked him to come along to Azkaban and visit Lucius, but Harry honestly hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it. He could avoid saying anything bad about Lucius in front of Draco; that wasn’t hard. But he didn’t like Lucius himself, and he never would. “I just want to make sure that some of the ones who didn’t do things that were as bad can come out of Azkaban and get their lives back in order again.”
“You still sympathize with a Malfoy.”
Harry’s temper felt as though it was a little string someone had been pulling on, and now it snapped. “Are we going to insist that parents are the same as their children, now? Are you the same as that great-uncle of yours who murdered one of Draco’s aunts?”
“That never—I didn’t know about that—”
“And Draco didn’t know about his father’s plot to give Ginny the diary. I think it was a horrible thing to do. I’m still not going to stop dating him because his father did that. If you think I should stop dating everyone who was related to someone who did things I disliked, then I couldn’t date Ginny, either. Hell, she’s related to the Malfoys.”
George stood there with a stiff back in response, and Harry looked at him and didn’t say anything. Finally George turned around, and said, “My sister doesn’t deserve you dating him.”
It took Harry a second to work that out. Then he said, “We broke up, George. I’m not going to go around thinking about her opinion of everyone I date after that.”
“You think you’ll date someone besides Malfoy?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not a very definite answer.”
“‘I don’t know’ generally isn’t,” Harry pointed out.
George turned his head away again. Harry watched him, and wondered what was going on. Was it just because George had lost Fred to Death Eaters? Even then, it seemed like a reason for him to be upset about Harry dating Draco, not upset because Harry wasn’t dating Ginny.
Then something clicked, and Harry frowned. “Did you promise Ginny you would come here and talk to me? Because she thought you would have more success talking to me than she did, given that we’d broken up?”
George jumped. It wasn’t a big jump, but it was a guilty one.
“No,” said Harry firmly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have owled her. But she can fight her own battles. She can come and talk to me if she’s really upset about it. Go back and tell her I said so.”
George turned around and said, with a quiet dignity, “I think the two of you should sit down and work things out on your own. I won’t tell her.”
“Then you’re also sorry for showing up and harassing me like this?”
“I wish I’d just stayed out of the whole thing,” George muttered with ill grace.
Harry watched him as he left. No apology, but at least he didn’t linger and tell Harry earnestly how horrible Draco was and that he had to give Ginny a chance, either. He just left. A second later, Harry heard the Floo whoosh downstairs.
Harry sighed. At least he didn’t think this was likely to be a lasting fight with George. And if Ginny wouldn’t actually come and talk to him, then he could avoid her easily enough. She was just being obnoxious at this point. Not threatening.
Finally, he could get up and have a shower and breakfast and feel that he was facing the actual day.
“He must be afraid of me, if he insisted on talking to you when I wasn’t there.”
Draco knew that statement was a little mean, but at least it made Harry smile. And Harry needed to smile.
They’d spent three hours at the Manor today, lounging in front of the fire, eating the cake and other sweets the “house-elves” had sent up, and discussing idle plans for the future, such as whether an apothecary would succeed if Draco opened it, or if people would stay away for fear of his reputation. But Harry kept trailing off and lying there with a grey face, and Draco had finally got him to confess why.
“Sorry that we couldn’t talk to him yesterday.”
Draco shrugged. That part wasn’t Harry’s fault. They’d gone to the joke shop, but it was shuttered, and no one answered their knock. In the end, Weasley’s brother had to decide who he was going to talk to, and it was probably never going to be Draco.
Besides, Draco cared more about something else. “Are you going to talk to her in person?”
Harry tilted his head back as if he wanted to examine the top of the mantel, as if it was vital that he do so. Draco held his breath, but in the end, shook his head and ate the last slice of chocolate cake. No need to hold his breath when there were more pleasant things to be doing.
“I feel like I should,” Harry said, musingly.
Draco just waited. Harry had to make this decision the way Weasley’s brother had had to make his decision.
“But no,” Harry said. “Not unless she comes to me and requests it. I did something wrong by writing to her. Well, I couldn’t know that. If I tried to talk to her before she invited me to, that would be wrong, too. I just feel like I never know my footing when I’m with Ginny. I make too many mistakes through that ignorance. I’m going to wait until she comes to me and tells me what she wants.” He rolled over and smiled lazily at Draco. “But one thing you never have to worry about.”
“Was I supposed to worry about anything?” Draco asked, in a voice that was stiff despite his best efforts.
“I thought you might be.” Harry raised one hand and touched Draco’s chin, then his cheek, then his eyebrows, moving so slowly and carefully that it really did seem as if he just wanted to know about them, stroke them, see them. “I won’t get back together with her. Just the fact that I make so many mistakes tells me I would never have been a good boyfriend for her.”
“Well,” said Draco. “Good.”
Harry nodded to him and then curled up against his side. “Tell me whether you think opening an apothecary in Hogsmeade would work when one in Diagon Alley wouldn’t.”
And Draco had to go on and talk about it, despite wanting to know more about Weasley’s sister and what Harry had really been to her.
But as he spoke, his worries slipped away. It was hard to worry when there was a crackling fire nearby and a sleepy, smiling Harry at his side.
If he had to fight for this, he would. But right now, he didn’t have to.
And it made him happy.
Chapter 24: Upcoming
Harry looked around curiously. He’d arrived for another meeting with the people who were discussing what kind of compensations the children who had suffered under the Carrows needed. Usually, the room—one of the many empty professors’ quarters at Hogwarts, with a large round table in the middle—was so crowded he had to squirm along to get anywhere.
This time, people backed away as soon as they noticed him.
But given the way that one tall woman turned towards him and firmed her jaw, Harry wouldn’t have to wonder for very long.
“Is it true that you’re dating a Death Eater?” she demanded.
Harry blinked a little, then smiled faintly. He thought it was probably Ginny who had spread the news, but it could have been any of the Weasleys, really. He hadn’t bound them to keep it a secret.
Or Minerva could have said something, or even Mournegath and his man, if they had been more observant than Harry had thought. He shrugged a little and said, “Yes. I’m dating Draco Malfoy, who has the Dark Mark on his arm and served six months in Azkaban for his crimes.”
That made everyone press further away. Harry sat down in his usual chair at the table and pulled the lists of names towards him. A few were crossed off at the top, he saw. Either families who had the compensation they wanted, in the form of some money and apologies from the Ministry for being so weak as to get invaded by Voldemort, or ones who had decided that their need for compensation wasn’t so urgent.
Harry wanted to cross off at least three more today.
“Well, sitting down makes me more comfortable, which means that we don’t need to spend as much time here and we can all go home early,” Harry explained, with a kind smile at the witch who had asked, and carefully glanced at the fourth name.
“No, why are you dating someone who was in Azkaban.”
“Because I like him.”
“That’s not an answer,” said a man who made sure that everyone knew all about his pure-blood grandmother and what she would have done to the Carrows if she was still alive every time someone asked, and most times that they didn’t.
“Of course it is,” Harry said calmly. “It just isn’t the one you want to hear, which makes it different.”
“What do you think we want to hear?”
“I’m sorry I’m dating him!” Harry cried abruptly, and buried his head in his arms. “He enchanted me! He seduced me! It’s nothing I could resist. I’m sorry, and I’ll stopimmediately, now that you’ve opened my eyes!”
He raised his head a second later, and shrugged. “That’s what you’d prefer to hear. But it’s not true.”
There was a scathing murmur stirring among the people in back of him. Harry had known it would be scathing. He sat there, grinning, and let it build, until Professor McGonagall forced her way forwards, shaking her head.
“I don’t see that this matters,” she told the crowd, and took the seat across from Harry. “Last time, we were discussing the Claytons’ claim. Their daughter was abused by the Carrows two Septembers ago. Mrs. Clayton? Are you here?”
“No, I want to know about this!” snapped the man with the formidable grandmother. “You wouldn’t just excuse me for going off and dating the enemy, would you? That means you can’t excuse him!”
“No one would have to excuse you because no one would care, Sanding,” someone muttered from the back of the crowd.
As the man turned pale and then pink, Harry turned around and frowned at him. “Yes, and we’re wasting time that we could use getting on. I don’t know about you, but I want justice. And then I want lunch.”
“It still matters,” someone else insisted.
“It doesn’t matter here,” Harry said quietly. “Draco served his time, and paid with real money and magic as well, because of the punishments mandated by the Wizengamot. And I don’t need to consult with you before I start dating someone.”
“What? Tell me what it betrays.”
“Everything we’re struggling with here!” That was Sanding, who Harry supposed had found his voice again.
“I don’t see how,” Harry sad. “We’re struggling for fairness and justice and deciding what’s a good compensation for things like torture—things that are hard to determineany kind of compensation for. It’s imperfect. That’s why it’s taking so long. But no one would be able to tell us what kind of compensation should be offered if we didn’t talk about it. And remember that I’m paying the compensation out of my own money. So I’m part of this.”
“Then you shouldn’t date a Death Eater.”
“What do you think it’s going to do?” Harry held out his hands. “Make me sympathetic to the Carrows? Have you seen any sign of that so far? Make me less willing to help your children? Again, have you seen any sense of that?”
“You might funnel some money towards Malfoy,” said someone else.
“It’s my money,” Harry pointed out coolly. “What I do with it is my decision. And if Draco Malfoy was tortured by the Carrows and wants to ask for something because of that, he would have as much right as anyone else.”
A few people turned and walked out of the room. Harry ignored them. If they were going to be that unreasonable, there was no getting through to them anyway.
He turned to the rest of the people who were left. “You don’t all approve of each other anyway,” he said. “Some of you have relatives who were also condemned Death Eaters.” He looked pointedly at one witch near the back of the crowd who he knew was some kind of Nott cousin, here to represent a family whose son hadn’t survived the battle. “But this is the way we’re doing things.”
There was a stirring and a shuffling. One other person peeled away and left. But no one else did.
Not even Sanding.
Grunting, Harry turned back to the paper in front of him and asked, “Can someone tell me whether the Claytons are here?”
Draco breathed shallowly, so as not to get dust in his lungs. There was dust all over the place in this small room he had come to look at in Hogsmeade, the sole room on the “first floor” of a small cottage.
“Do you like it or not?” demanded the witch behind him.
She was small enough to have a lot of goblin blood, and rude enough for it, too. Draco ignored her for the moment, turning in a circle instead, his hands out as he imagined walking down the width of an aisle of Potions ingredients. The barrels of beetle eyes could go there. The sturdier shelving for Occamy livers, there. He would need to build and add and restore and rip out part of the wall that jutted in an odd angle for no reason, but that was no more than he had expected when he was thinking about opening an apothecary anyway.
“Do you like it or not?”
“I like what it could be.”
She was silent, and Draco turned around, wondering too late if the woman had decided not to rent it to him after all. But instead, she was giving him a smile that made the corners of her face and eyes look more like a fox’s than a goblin’s.
“Good answer,” she said. “You have the transforming gleam in your eyes, I can see that. Three Galleons a week.”
Draco choked. “A week?” He could probably afford the rent for a few months, but that wasn’t the point; he needed a long-term investment, not something he could buy lavishly for a little while. “No. A month.”
“This is my only chance lately to make a little money,” the woman said. “Two Galleons and three Sickles a week.”
“Then maybe you should keep the room in better condition, so that people don’t cough their lungs out when they come up here. One Galleon a week.”
“One Galleon sixteen Sickles a week.”
“That’s still almost two,” Draco pointed out, beginning to be amused. “One Galleon three.”
The woman hesitated, then shook her head. “I really can’t afford the distraction from my rituals for only that. All the people tromping on the steps and coming to see you and so on,” she added, when Draco started to open his mouth to question what she meant. “One Galleon eight.”
Draco thought about it, glancing around the room. He would have to put in a lot of work. He would have to find people willing to work for a convicted Death Eater. Or he would have to buy all the materials and then do a lot of the Transfiguring himself, and he’d never been as good at Transfiguration as he was at Charms.
But on the other hand, this was the most suitable place he had seen in some time, and he ended up nodding. “That’ll do.”
Draco turned around, surprised. The witch was holding out her left hand with a small, bloody cut across the middle of it. It was the old way of blood-swearing that not many people practiced anymore. Draco drew his wand and used one of the Cutting Curses that had been in the earlier editions of the first-year textbooks, and they touched hands, bloody cut to bloody cut.
“Good.” The woman stepped back and nodded. “My name is Elizabeth Cutting.” Draco had to smile. “And your first payment is due immediately.” This time, she put out the hand she hadn’t cut.
Draco shrugged, dragging out his money pouch. He had brought some of the money he’d earned with potions on purpose to bribe people if he couldn’t convince them to simply let him in to view the rooms. “No problem,” he said, and noted the way Cutting’s eyes shone as he dropped the Galleon and eight Sickles into her palm. Yes, goblin-descended. On the other hand, that meant she would probably fiercely protect his privacy as long as he paid her on time.
And it explains why she would let me in even though I have the Mark. Goblins don’t give a shit about things like that.
When Cutting had left, Draco began to examine the walls. He thought they were thick enough, on the whole, to withstand some of the inevitable explosions, but there were chinks he would need to repair. He could conjure rags, though.
He’d just lifted his wand to do it when an owl soared straight through the window. The shutters were standing open, but it still gave Draco a nasty shock. He turned and stared the owl in its hostile eyes as it landed on his arm.
The letter on its talon was short, and had a coin tucked in the corner of it that Draco took care not to touch. When he’d read the letter once, he had to stand back and consider what he was going to do.
Harry’s right about one thing. I should be fighting my own battles. And I’ve fought all the ones I can with him. I think we ought to talk. The coin is a Portkey that will bring you directly to me.
Draco breathed out slowly and considered it. On the one hand, he shouldn’t go. This was still a matter more between Harry and Weasley than him, and when Weasley said she should fight her own battles, she might mean an actual duel. Draco would be at a disadvantage there, with his first-year spells.
On the other hand, the reference to fighting her own battles seemed to prove this was Weasley, not someone trying to lure him into a trap. And…
Draco had learned from the war how much he hated long-term threats dangling over his head.
He touched the Sickle, and watched the world blur around him.
Chapter 25: Exchanging
Harry stepped out of the meeting, quietly satisfied with himself. He had got five family names crossed off the list, compensation arranged for four of them and with the fifth one admitting that they didn’t want his money. They would have preferred an apology from the Carrows themselves, but since they couldn’t have that, they would just concentrate on healing their son instead.
Harry looked around as he got out of the gates. He had known Draco was going to Hogsmeade today to try and arrange lodging for his apothecary business, and he’d planned to meet him for lunch.
I hope he didn’t have more trouble than he thought he would. It was the only reason Harry could think of for why Draco wouldn’t be waiting on the path outside Hogsmeade.
On the other hand, maybe he got finished early and decided to go to the Three Broomsticks already.
Harry had just begun to turn down the most direct route to the pub when he heard a flutter of wings overhead. Harry quickly shook his wand into his hand. There were a few people who had tried to assault him with owl packages in the year and a half since the war. It paid to be cautious.
But the owl only landed on his arm and offered the letter calmly. Harry hesitated again before opening it, because this time he recognized the handwriting, and checked it for hexes and jinxes.
It came back clean. Harry tore into it.
I think you know as well as I do that I have to solve problems on my own. And if I just talk to everyone who dislikes me with you there, it’ll only deteriorate into you fighting their battles for them. So I sent a Portkey to Malfoy with an invitation to meet me. We’ll talk about things ourselves. You don’t have to worry.
Harry swore, not calmed by the bright, cheerful tone to the letter. There were times in the past he had thought Ginny was perfectly calm, and then she’d broken out into hexes. He dropped it and looked around frantically, wondering if there was a way to follow the owl back to her.
But the owl had already disappeared. She had probably decided he would think of that, and also that she wasn’t going to leave him to do it.
Harry wandered further into Hogsmeade, ignoring the whispers and stares he attracted. He finally went into the Three Broomsticks, ordered a butterbeer, and sipped from it while he stared at the wall.
He and Draco had been supposed to meet here. He would wait until Draco came back, if he could.
Well, no. I’ll give it an hour. And then I’m going and contacting Mrs. Malfoy and Molly.
The Portkey deposited Draco in a wide, bright room. He caught his breath and looked around. Everything he could see was polished and gleaming, he thought. The walls looked as though a house-elf had scrubbed them. The floor shone, too, probably because there was barely any furniture to cover it. Draco noted one red rug in the center of the room, about a meter from him.
It paid to note details like that, he had realized during the war, details that didn’t fit.
Ginny Weasley was standing on the opposite side of the room, next to a door that opened on a set of stairs and an enchanted window that opened on brilliant blue sky. She regarded Draco in brooding silence for a few seconds, then said, “You’re really here.”
Draco shrugged. “You sent me the invitation.”
“Yes, but I thought you’d discard it like the coward you are.”
Draco sharply bit his lip. Then he said, “What did you want to discuss first? I assure you that I’ll just leave if you try to imply that I’ve enchanted or corrupted Harry. You’re angry that I have him and you don’t.”
“You can’t have a person, you egotistical wanker.”
“That means you wouldn’t try to brag that you had Harry if our positions were reversed?”
“I wouldn’t be bragging to you. Since I would hardly know you existed if Harry had only done what he was supposed to!”
“Supposed to?” Draco felt a long, slow, delicious stirring of pleasure in the bottom of his belly. Was he actually going to get the confirmation he’d wanted for a long time that the Weasleys had been horrible friends to Harry and been angry at him for not giving them everything they wanted after the war?
Then Draco sighed a little. No, he couldn’t even hope for that, could he? Because it would make Harry feel horrible if it was true, and his gentle edginess with the Weasleys would dissolve into true estrangement.
That’s how I know I’m in love. I can’t even hope for something to come true that would benefit me and shame people I’ve hated all my life.
“I mean that he promised himself to me in school.” Weasley’s voice was ragged. She wasn’t looking at Draco at all now, he thought. She was looking at some tormented inner vision that, at least to her, justified doing anything she had to if she could just get her place in Harry’s affections back. “He didn’t—he couldn’t have known what I would suffer if he left.”
“Did you explain it to him?” Draco wondered why she’d summoned him here, instead of Harry. He was also curious about the timeline. As far as he knew, Harry had left Weasley at the end of their sixth year. Was she still suffering, three years later? Why?
Of course, this is Weasley. And a Gryffindor. I can’t expect her to get over it to spite the person who abandoned her, the way I would have.
“He should have known. He should have known I was in love with him and wanted to get married. People compared us to his parents.” Weasley turned her head and gave Draco a fever-bright glance. “Didn’t he want the perfect love that they had?”
Draco said nothing. He didn’t know what she wanted him to say. And there was probably no response he could give and be right, anyway.
“Instead, he has you. Someone who was his enemy all through school and who his parents would have hated. A boy, even.” Weasley laughed as if there were broken nails in her throat. “He might never have children. I thought he wanted them!”
Draco had nothing to say on the subject of the war. He’d paid his price. And he hadn’t known Harry’s parents—hadn’t even known anything much about them, except that they’d gone into hiding and Harry’s mum had died to save him—so he couldn’t comment on them, either.
But he could say something about children. “Harry and I can still adopt, if he wants. I haven’t thought far enough ahead, or asked him. But he isn’t exiled from having a family forever, the way you seem to think he is.” Draco had to add that because he couldn’t believe the way Weasley sounded so wrapped up in herself.
“He isn’t even exiled from my family,” Weasley muttered, as if confessing a horrible truth. “Mum told him he can still come to the Burrow.”
Draco shrugged. He had nothing to say on the subject of internal Weasley family debates, either. He was even more sure of going wrong there than he was on the subject of the war.
Weasley had been pacing back and forth, staring out the window as if she thought she would see someone riding to rescue her through it. Now she swung back and stared at him, and it was as if Draco had newly enraged her. Her face flushed with color, and her nails flickered at him. “Do you have the slightest idea of what family means to him?”
“Given what he lost and what he grew up with? Yes.”
“He grew up with us! My brother’s his best friend! My mum was his mum!”
This time, Draco was annoyed enough that he said one of those things he probably shouldn’t have. “Wouldn’t that mean that you were his sister, then? Tsk, Weasley. Even the most decadent of the pure-blood families you despise gave up marrying siblings to each other ages ago. The Blacks only got as close as cousins.”
Weasley’s face was so red Draco worried about her having a heart attack, or at least apoplexy. He would get the blame if someone found her dead on the floor and him in the same room, he just knew it.
“You have no idea what it was like between us, Malfoy,” she whispered. “No idea how he loved me or I loved him.”
“I know what this is like, though.” Draco waved his hand between them. “Tedious. Suppose you make your point, Weasley, and then I leave? I’m supposed to meet Harry for lunch.”
Weasley’s hand twitched violently, but somewhat surprising Draco, she didn’t draw her wand. Maybe she knew it would escalate things to a point that she didn’t want to reach.
Of course, that was still surprising, because Draco hadn’t expected her to have that much good sense.
“I need you to tell me what you really intend with Harry.”
And then Draco did another thing he maybe shouldn’t have, and laughed. “Maybe I was wrong,” he said, when he managed to subdue his chuckles. “And you’re not his sister, but his mother.”
Weasley moved a step towards him. Draco immediately estimated the distance between them. He couldn’t use as many spells as she could, but he was sure he would make better use of them. For one thing, he knew exactly which ones he would use first.
“Tell me your intentions!”
Draco shook his head. “You don’t deserve an answer to that if you’re speaking as Harry’s ex-girlfriend. I don’t owe you an answer. And if you’re speaking as a member of Harry’s family, that’s still something you don’t need to know. Harry is an adult. He makes his own decisions.”
“So you suspect he might dump you and come back to me!”
“No,” Draco said slowly, baffled. He wanted to know what the hell she meant, but on the other hand, it probably wouldn’t be worth the time he’d waste to trace her thought processes. “I think that we’ll go on being with each other.” Then he pinched his lips shut, because he would be doing what she’d unreasonably demanded and giving her an answer if he didn’t watch out.
“You have to be worried about me, Malfoy. Otherwise, you wouldn’t hesitate to tell me everything that’s brewing in that head of yours.”
Draco only shook his head again. Now he was regretting coming, but not for any of the reasons he’d imagined as he stood there in the room he’d rented holding her enchanted Sickle. “No. You don’t need to know.”
“Harry is still important to me.”
“And if you’re part of his family, then he’s the one who should tell you, not me,” Draco said firmly. “You’re not his lover, or his partner. He’s the one who chose to commit to me. I don’t have to break his confidence or my own privacy to tell you anything just because you feel like demanding it.”
Weasley’s flush had faded, and she turned and stared out the window again. Draco wondered what she hoped to see. An owl from Harry, telling her everything had been a mistake and they would start dating again?
Draco knew she would never see it. Or, well, if not never, he knew she’d never see it before Harry had a serious conversation with Draco himself about why he didn’t want to continue dating him.
“I had dreams about getting married. He behaved badly. He owes it to me to conclude things and—explain things.”
“Then he’s the one you should be talking to, not me. You shouldn’t be sneaking around behind his back hoping I’ll spill secrets he chose to keep.”
Weasley turned to him, a look of loathing so clear on her face that Draco flinched before he could stop himself. “I’d never make you do that, Malfoy. I’m not a Slytherin.”
Draco said nothing, and just watched her. Weasley gathered herself, blinked away what might have been tears, and then said, “But I still deserve to know what’s going on with him.”
“No,” Draco said. “You don’t.”
She stared at him, and Draco decided to elaborate. “You seem to think everyone owes you something. We don’t. I’m nothing to you. And Harry and you broke it off before he started dating me. Why do you keep acting as though I’m the one who’s at fault, and I betrayed some loyalty I had to you? I might owe you the courtesy of not hexing you or dueling with you, but that’s because we’re both human beings, not because you were with Harry at some point. Honestly, the sooner you start thinking of yourself as someone other than the person who used to date Harry, the better off you’ll be.”
“You can’t tell me that.”
“Someone has to.” Draco shook his head. He didn’t know if he would simply go back to where he had been if he touched the Sickle again, but he wanted to. “Are we done now? I don’t think we have anything more to say to each other.”
“No.” Weasley was almost vibrating. “You must—you must realize that it’s not going to last between you and Harry—”
“I know no such thing,” Draco interrupted, quietly but firmly. He’d had enough of Weasley’s nonsense, he thought. “Weasley, honestly, if Harry and I had never started dating, you might have had a point. But that’s not this world, and you’re not going to make me think that your dreams and wishes are anything more than fantasy. Talk to Harry again if you don’t believe me.”
Draco shrugged. “Good, then.”
He wondered, for a second, as he walked towards the door, if she would let him by. But although she hesitated and looked as if she would grab his arm, in the end, she snorted bitterly and turned her head.
Draco stepped out into the corridor and looked around. A faint grin lit up his mouth. He was on the first floor of Honeydukes, a place he had seen only once before, when the owners had decided to put sweets up here instead of living there for a year. They seemed to have switched things back so that there were bedrooms here again.
God knows how Weasley convinced them to let her meet me here. Maybe her status as a war heroine was enough.
As he made his way towards the stairs and down them, he could hear what sounded like a single, solid thump, as if Weasley had leaned her forehead on the wall beside the door. Draco shrugged. Hexes hadn’t come flying after him. That was good enough for him.
As for whether he should have come to meet her…
She didn’t hurt me, and she has to know now that there’s no way she can make me back off and let her “have” Harry. That’s good enough. Anything else, she would have to discuss with Harry anyway.
Chapter 26: Clarifying
Draco stepped into the Three Broomsticks, and smiled when he saw Harry staring at him from a table near the front door. Harry stood up and reached out a hand towards him, and Draco took it.
“Miss me that much?” he teased. Normally, Harry never looked this anxious when they were separated.
“I got an owl from Ginny saying she was going to talk to you. I didn’t know what would happen.”
Draco gave a soft laugh and dropped his head forwards, knowing Harry would be there to catch and cradle it. He was. He drew Draco against him and draped his arms around Draco’s shoulders and just stood there, swaying, for a long, silent second. His huffs of relief broke like little waves around Draco’s ears.
“I’m fine. She didn’t bring me far. Just to Honeydukes, and then we talked and—well, I think she’ll need to hear the truth of you dating me and never coming back to her from your mouth before she’ll accept it.”
“Why is she having so much trouble accepting it? I never thought she was blind to reality before.”
Draco suppressed the impulse to say something nasty about Weasleys and their tendency to ignore all sorts of reality, because it would be nasty, and unlike some people, he didn’t want to give Harry added pain. He let Harry steer him over to the table and seat him and order a butterbeer and lunch for him before he answered.
“I think she really built more on this than you ever knew. The fantasy of her marriage was sustaining her or something.”
“Maybe that’s how she got through this last year at Hogwarts with the Carrows. I never asked.”
Harry’s voice was low and his eyes were fixed on the fire. Draco said nothing, only sipping from the butterbeer when it arrived. Just as he hadn’t been able to speak for Harry when it came to Weasley, this was a decision that Harry would need to make for himself.
“I can’t just—give in because she wants me to.” Harry flexed and twisted his fingers.
That surprised Draco into snorting. “Do you think I want you to? I told her that you were with me now and she kept asking me about your reasons, and I told her she’d have to ask you. But that doesn’t mean I want you to give me up and go crawling back to her.”
“I wasn’t talking about giving you up. I meant more—being the sort of person she wants me to be. Indulging her fantasies.”
“Do you have any intention of actually fulfilling them?”
“Of course not!”
“Then it would only be cruel to indulge them, anyway.” Draco took a long, satisfying pull of his butterbeer, and noticed the food already arriving. That was probably because he was with Harry Potter, and Harry didn’t even notice that sort of thing, but it was okay. Draco would take advantage of it for both of them.
Harry linked his fingers together beneath his chin and brooded at the fire. Draco decided he would allow that to go on exactly as long as his meal, and then he was going to say something about it. For now, the soup Harry had ordered was exactly the kind of lunch he wanted and too good to waste.
But Harry shook himself out of the brooding mood before too long and turned towards Draco with a faint smile. “You’ll understand if I go and talk to her?”
“Depends. Do I need to put a fidelity spell on you?”
“Of course not.”
Draco grinned. “I just really wanted to see what your face would look like if I said that.”
Harry reached across the table and shoved him in the shoulder. Draco could feel people tensing in the pub around them, waiting for the moment when they would explode into a fight. They seemed confused when Draco exploded into laughter instead.
But Harry didn’t ask again. He understood as well as Draco did.
Draco might not like it that Harry was talking to Weasley on a personal level again. He thought Harry had already done enough. But that was different from understanding why he needed to do it.
Besides. It had been his idea, and the anticipation of Harry telling Weasley that rang in his head like a giggle.
Harry met with Ginny, finally, at the Hog’s Head. It was as neutral a place as he could find. He thought the Three Broomsticks would be too public, after he’d been seen eating lunch with Draco there, and he didn’t want the Burrow or the Honeydukes room she’d Portkeyed Draco to or Grimmauld Place. He wanted to make this as equal as he could, to make it absolutely clear that they would never date again.
When he stepped into the private room that a darkly scowling Aberforth showed him to, he wondered if he might have been a little too final in his letter. Ginny turned towards him with her cheeks glittering with tears.
But on the other hand, apparently he hadn’t been final enough before, because she had thought bullying Draco would make him give up on dating Harry. Or Harry give up on dating him. Harry hadn’t been definite about what she’d wanted to accomplish by summoning Draco.
He had to be definite this time.
He swallowed air and nodded to her. “Hi, Ginny. Draco said you needed to hear some things from me.”
“There’s only one thing I need to know. Why him? Why not me?”
Harry bit his tongue against the temptation to say that was two things. He couldn’t simply joke with her and expect her to understand. That had been part—a little part—of how they had got into this mess in the first place.
He looked around and saw two chairs in the room, made of thick, heavy oak. “Do you want to sit down?” he asked her. “This might take a while.”
“All the more reason to stand.”
“All right. Fine.” Harry half-closed his eyes, hoping he could hold onto his patience and just explain things with a calm and clear head. “It’s because I’m in love with him, in the way I wasn’t in love with you.”
Silence answered him. Harry understood why when he opened his eyes. Ginny looked so stricken that it was as if someone had slapped her across the face. Her sobs were silent now. She simply stared at him.
It was going to be up to him, then. Harry fastened his eyes on the table in the center of the room, which was scarred as though people used it to practice carving on, and kept talking.
“I know—I know you wanted to be with me. I didn’t want to be with you the same way. I should have taken you with me on the Horcrux hunt. Then maybe we would have learned more about each other, and I’d have known that earlier. I’m sorry. I should have listened when you said you wanted to fight in the battle. And then I should have told you I didn’t want to get married when you got out of Hogwarts.
“Some of it was that I just didn’t want to face up to it. It seemed so easy and comfortable to be with you, and I didn’t want to upset you and your family. And I felt as if I owed you a duty from dating you in my sixth year, which I should have either admitted wasn’t that much of a duty or fulfilled. So that part was my fault.
“And some of it was that I thought I loved you. I did think that. I just didn’t realize—how far it had got.”
“You make it sound like I had some sort of disease!”
“I think we both had it. And it was called unrealistic expectations.”
Ginny turned her head away. “So, basically, I’m a stupid little girl and you wish you’d never been stupid enough to date me.”
Harry shook his head. “No. I don’t regret dating you. I regret letting you think it was going to turn into a love story for the ages. I knew it wasn’t pretty soon on—or I should have if I was thinking. I should have told you, too.”
Ginny stared at her hands, tucked up under her chin. Harry watched her and wondered why he couldn’t be happier with her. She was kind, and pretty, and his best friend’s little sister, and adored him. He couldn’t have imagined even one of those things when he was living with the Dursleys. He couldn’t imagine being in love with someone then.
He’d come a long way.
But maybe he was too scarred by the war, too. Maybe everything had been doomed the first time he could have brought Ginny with him and didn’t. He shook his head a little.
“Why did you fall in love with Malfoy?”
That question was one Harry thought he could answer. He was even happy to answer it. “He needed my help. And then he started teaching me about politics and letting me make a difference. He makes me laugh. He wants me to be happy, and I want him to be happy. And he actually managed to overcome all the horrible things that happened between us. He helped me overcome the same things.”
“It doesn’t matter that he’s a bloke?”
Harry shrugged. “Honestly, I haven’t questioned that a lot. Maybe I was always drawn to blokes and I didn’t realize.” In fact, thinking about some of the ways he had reacted to Cedric now, he was almost sure of it. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t care about you, Ginny.”
“It sure sounds like it.”
“I don’t understand why, though,” Harry had to confess. “Do you think someone can only be in love once?”
“That’s the way it was with Mum and Dad. And Bill and Fleur. They told me. And Ron told me the girls he dated before Hermione just weren’t right. He knew she was the right one the first time he kissed her.”
Harry shook his head. “That probably does work out for a lot of people, but not me. And I don’t think loving one person means I have to stay with them for the rest of my life.”
“So—if you left Malfoy, you would move onto someone else?”
“Yes.” Then Harry realized where this was going, and he had to add, although part of him hated to, “But not to you, Gin. I’m sorry. I really do think that’s at an end now.”
Ginny turned away from him and bowed her head. Harry watched her. He wanted her to feel better. He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t worth this and she would find someone else, someone who would love her the way she deserved.
But there was something else, he realized suddenly, something that would be bothering her if she thought people should only fall in love once. “Do you think you’re not going to find someone else because you fell in love with me?”
Ginny’s head jerked like a startled rabbit’s. Then she nodded slowly.
“You’ll find someone else. All the things I liked about you are still true, Ginny. You’re still smart and pretty and good at hexes and Quidditch and making people like you. You’ll find someone.”
Ginny turned to stare at him. “It would have been so much simpler if you had just fallen in love with me and stayed in love with me.”
“Maybe,” Harry said. It was all he could say to that, since his real thoughts would only come across as insulting.
“But you want me to not blame you. Or blame Malfoy.”
“You have no reason to blame Draco. I’ve already told you what I think I did wrong.”
Ginny only shook her head and turned away again. Harry watched her back, then added, “Don’t blame yourself, either. There was nothing you could have done to ‘keep’ me, or have me, or anything like that.”
Ginny’s shoulders hunched. “You just want to not blame anyone.”
“That would be best, if we can do it.”
Ginny collapsed bonelessly into one of the chairs and turned to look at him with tears standing out in her eyes. Harry bit his lip ferociously and didn’t go over to her. He only stood still with his head bowed. The biggest problem with this, he thought, was that every gesture of friendship or kindness he could make had the potential to be misunderstood.
“I wanted you so badly,” Ginny whispered. “I loved you so much.”
“I know. It wasn’t your fault for any of the things that I just said.”
“What was, then?” Ginny threw her head back.
“The same kinds of miscommunication I had. I didn’t know you wanted to get married right away, either.”
“I was clear about that!”
Harry raised his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t come to start fights. I came to put to rest every thought about having more between us.”
Ginny shrank, her chin resting in between her arms now. “You really don’t love me. Or you would care enough to argue.”
Harry thought about saying he loved her as a sister, but he thought that would be unwise at the moment. He stood still, and Ginny sniffled and wiped some of the tears from her face.
“Why couldn’t you just fall in love with me?”
“I don’t know.”
Ginny looked down and nodded. Harry spread his hands. He hoped he could at least appear friendly, even though he wouldn’t be going over to her or touching her or anything like that. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t—you don’t have the right to ask that right now.”
Harry nodded, accepting that. He knew she would probably be trying to heal any way she could, and if that involved being angry with him, he could take it. He did have to know one thing, though.
“Are you going to try and hurt Draco at all?”
Ginny hunched over further. “He’s the one you care about. He’s the one you’re asking about. He’s the only reason you’re here at all.”
Harry nodded. She wasn’t looking at him, though, and he decided he didn’t want to leave any doubt in her mind. “Yes.”
Ginny turned so she was facing the wall. “Please go.”
Harry hesitated once, then turned and left the room. He had been about to ask her if she wanted him to Floo one of her brothers, but she was a more than capable witch. He would leave her to decide what she wanted for herself.
And he hoped that had been enough.
He thought so. For one thing, even though Ginny had asked them as questions, she had been the one to bring up Draco and see that he was behind all Harry’s thoughts. And she had been the one to say that Harry didn’t really love her.
So Harry left the Hog’s Head, and Apparated to Malfoy Manor. He needed to see Draco right now, and kiss him, and hold him, and get rid of some of the desperate pity that had accumulated in his heart while he talked to Ginny.
Maybe, then, he would feel like he had the right to feel so much lighter.
Chapter 27: Making
“You’re the Draco Malfoy who’s setting up the shop here?”
Why bother asking when you already know I’m setting up the shop? Draco wanted to say, but he couldn’t afford to drive away any clients who might take the initiative to approach him. He turned around with a simple inclination of his head, and waited to see who they were and what they wanted.
The woman in the entrance of his shop stood there with a gaping mouth, as if she hadn’t expected to see the brand-new holes in the walls and the half-built shelves and the barrels of raw, just-Transfigured wood despite knowing he was only setting up now. Draco remained still until her eyes came back to him. Then he gestured her in.
She came in, walking carefully, as if she thought the wood on the floor meant there would also be holes she could fall through. She was taller than Draco himself, with black hair tucked under a concealing hat a lot more old-fashioned than most people wore. Her robes were plain black, but old enough to have faded to grey in some patches.
“I want—I want a special potion,” she whispered, when she was close enough that Draco would hear her.
“I don’t brew anything illegal,” Draco warned her.
“This one isn’t illegal!” Her voice flew up the scale, then back down. “Just—in a grey area.”
“It would still depend on what it is, and the cost of the ingredients.” Draco also wondered if she might possibly be a spy from the Ministry come to tempt him into illegal activity. It would depend a lot on the request.
“It’s a more powerful variation of the Wit-Sharpening Potion.” The woman licked her lips. “It lasts a longer time and gives you more ability to comprehend a subject instead of just remember information.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. He knew exactly what she was talking about, although he was starting to wonder if she did, given that she hadn’t told him its proper name.
And it wasn’t a more powerful version of the Wit-Sharpening Potion, either, unless you were talking purely about effect. They shared almost none of the same ingredients.
“If you want it for a child of yours to pass their Hogwarts exams, you can forget it,” Draco said firmly. He couldn’t afford to become known as a source of potions like that when he was so near the school. Children would besiege him, and they had no discretion.
“No! No, it’s for me.” The woman closed her eyes for a second, and then whispered, “Do you trust the Privacy Charms here? That no one will hear a word we say?”
Draco waved his wand once and strengthened them, courtesy of a book popular at Hogwarts thirty years ago, then pulled out the chair he’d Transfigured for himself earlier. The woman collapsed into it and fanned her hand in front of her face, although it was chill enough that Draco was wearing his heaviest robes and scarf along with a Warming Charm. She glanced back at Draco, then away.
“I work in the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry. I’m up for a promotion. I deserve it. I’ve worked hard. But I’m so nervous that whenever they send me out on a new task or ask me to interview someone, I mess up.” The woman’s head drooped. “I want to prove that I do know things when someone asks me questions.”
“The Mind-Mirror would be the wrong potion for that. You already know the subject. What you need is a potion that boosts your confidence.”
The woman blinked and focused on him. “You can tell that without me telling you anything else?”
“I can tell that from the way you describe yourself. If you’re getting some of the details wrong, then the potion will be wrong, too.”
They sat in silence long enough that Draco thought she would change her mind and get up, or that she’d already changed her mind about the potion. He couldn’t imagine why a confidence-boosting potion would concern someone when a potion that affected intelligence didn’t. But he had come to accept that most people had different perceptions than he did.
For example, lots of people would think that Harry and I didn’t belong together. And they would be wrong.
“I’ll still need to take it,” the woman said abruptly, and Draco had the answer to one of his questions when she turned abruptly towards him. “But I think—you can brew it, can’t you? I don’t have to go to someone else?”
She was probably trying to decide whether she had to go to a barely legal Death Eater after all, Draco thought, but he felt no resentment. He would rather she make a decision now than when he was halfway through the brewing process. “Of course. The brewing itself is simple, but I’m afraid the major ingredient, gold dust, is rather expensive, and I’ll need a fee to compensate me for my labor.”
“Of course you do!” The woman sounded as though she was shocked that he would even suggest she wouldn’t pay him. She reached into her robe pocket, and Draco tensed reflexively, but she brought out a large pouch and handed it to him. When Draco opened it, he smiled. There were enough Galleons in here to buy the gold dust and every other ingredient he didn’t have or that he would use up in creating the potion.
“I’ll need to know a little more about you,” he told the woman. “Starting with your name. The potion needs to be attuned to you to do its best work.”
The woman blinked. “I’ve never heard of a potion like that.”
“They aren’t common in Hogwarts or in most apothecaries.”
Draco expected her to ask again if this one was legal, but she didn’t, maybe because of what she’d already been prepared to do to get the Mind-Mirror potion. She nodded and bit her lip. “I’m Carina Simmons.” Muggleborn, then, Draco thought, which might be another reason she’d come to him; some pure-blood Potions brewers wouldn’t deal with her. “I’m twenty-seven years old. I was out of the country during the war, which is one reason that I think some of my colleagues distrust me. My wand is…”
“Just a minute,” Draco said, and went for ink and parchment, his chest feeling as though he’d swallowed a balloon. This was wonderful. His first client, and she was a Muggleborn who needed a legal potion.
And who would probably, if someone asked her where she’d got her confidence, tell them the truth, and lead more people to Draco’s shop.
“Are you humming?” Simmons asked.
Draco smiled at her over his shoulder. “I find it aids the brewing process.”
“Can I help somehow?”
Harry found it soothing, the way that Draco tossed him a quick look and nodded, then turned back to what looked like he was grinding gold dust in a huge blue eggshell. “Yes. Just clean the roses on the table and strip them of their thorns, will you? Use charms,” he added, as Harry started to reach towards them. “Any human skin dust that gets on them could affect the potion unpredictably.”
Having been around Neville enough, Harry decided that he didn’t need to see any more “unpredictable” reactions, and began casting Diffindo on the thorns. The roses floated in the air and rolled over when he wanted them to. It was a bit more magic than he would normally use for such a simple task, but Draco had asked him to.
Harry felt his gaze lingering on Draco more than the roses as he cast, except for when he had to absolutely pay attention to make sure he wasn’t cutting off the thorns instead of the petals. Draco’s face was set in concentration, but not the scowl Harry privately thought had been common for him when they were students at Hogwarts. His hands flickered and danced, and he gave a small smile when he could finally pick up the eggshell full of bright dust and scatter it across the surface of what looked like a block of ice.
“I’m ready to make the potion,” he said, and turned around to smile at Harry in turn.
“I thought you were making the potion.”
“That was the preparation. Now it begins.”
Harry indicated the large pile of cut roses to him. Draco floated them over with a single gesture of his wand and placed them, rotating in what seemed to be an invisible hand, over the cauldron. Then he began to cast spells that cut the petals off in turn. Harry watched them float down into the cauldron.
“Is that empty?” he asked. “The rose petals go in before anything else?”
Harry obediently shut up, part of his concentration on the intense look on Draco’s face. He didn’t look as enthralled by potions as Snape had, but there was something similar there, Harry thought. Maybe Draco had discovered a love for Potions when he was shut up in the house right after the war and couldn’t do much of anything else.
Draco abruptly heaved the cauldron up, and the rose petals all scattered down and into the cauldron. The stems dashed off to the side, and Draco began to plink in small scraps of dust-covered ice. He tilted his head at Harry without turning his eyes from the complicated sifting he apparently had to do with the gold dust. “Can you go get a flask of water? Make sure you don’t touch the water, again.”
“What would you have done without me here?”
“Ask the house-elves.”
There’s that, Harry admitted to himself, although he was still intrigued that Draco had apparently started the potion without having the ingredients all carefully arranged around him already. He found an empty crystal flask waiting near the shelves in the back of Draco’s lab and conjured water that he carefully directed straight into the flask. Draco was whispering something over the cauldron now, something that could have been anything from a spell to some kind of good-luck charm.
When Draco took the flask from Harry, he held three of his fingers widely out to the side so they couldn’t touch the water, and carefully poured it on. Harry supposed he should be used to potions by now, but he still blinked when a large puff of golden smoke rose from the cauldron.
“Why do you have to be so careful not to handle the ingredients?” he asked, as Draco put the flask down on the table and leaned over to study the things in the cauldron with a faint frown.
“Because this is a potion attuned to one specific person. Even the touch of someone else’s skin could ruin it.” Draco glanced at him, and Harry saw the soft shimmer of spells around his mouth and nose and hands that his mother had probably cast for him. “Now shhh.”
Harry shushed. He enjoyed it, he thought, in a way he never had when he was sitting around in Potions waiting for his partner to do something, the flight of Draco’s hands like swallows and his expression as he poured in something else that looked like melted gems and then broke off a piece of the eggshell that had contained the gold dust and added that, too.
Then there was a long time of stirring, and Draco whispering again. Harry sat back. He wondered if he could learn enough about Potions to pick it up as a relaxing hobby, at least.
Although Draco’s face wasn’t really relaxed. It was, instead, folded into an expression of such intense concentration that Harry wondered if he should leave the lab. But Draco would have told him to if it was required, so Harry sat still.
“There,” Draco said finally, and stepped back.
Harry hesitated before he approached the cauldron. Draco, though, was already using a Finite on the spells around his hands and face. That had to mean he was done. He’d never jeopardize the potion like that if it wasn’t finished.
The potion itself was one of the most attractive ones Harry had ever seen, next to Felix Felicis. It was the soft golden-peach color of dawn clouds, and there was a swirl of a crystal thread at the bottom of it. Harry leaned his elbow on the cauldron and smiled at Draco. “Is that what you wanted?”
“What she’ll need. I’m sure I did it right.”
“You don’t know from looking at it?”
“All confidence-boosting potions are unique, at least if they’re brewed correctly. This looks different from one I’d make for myself.” Draco glanced sideways at Harry. “Or for you, assuming you needed it.”
Harry laughed and grabbed Draco in his arms, nuzzling his chin against Draco’s hair. “Come on, master Potions brewer. I’m hungry, and I want to spend time with you and talk to you about Potions.”
“See?” Draco muttered as Harry almost dragged him out of the lab. “You don’t need it.”
Harry only ducked his head and said nothing. He could feel Draco muttering against him, but he didn’t pull away.
Draco was more than happy to be taken care of, and Harry was simply more than happy.
Chapter 28: Succeeding
“What is it, Kingsley?”
Harry had obviously surprised Kingsley in the middle of doing something else. He was scowling intently at two pieces of parchment in front of him. Harry could distantly make out the lines of some kind of diagram, or maybe architectural plan.
“Harry.” Kingsley picked up his jaw after a second and looked at him curiously. “Is something wrong?”
“That’s what I wondered.” Harry held the cryptic owl he’d got that morning up so Kingsley could see it through the flames. “This seemed to hint that Ginny’s group was acting up again, and I wondered why they would. I thought they’d got everything they wanted.”
“No, it’s not that.” Kingsley leaned back in his chair and pulled another piece of parchment over the two in front of him. Harry accepted that easily enough. He thought thatif it was something that really concerned him, then Kingsley would let him know. “I can see why it sounded that way, though.”
Harry nodded. The owl had said, There is a mess of the highest priority.
But now silence went by, until Harry finally raised his eyebrows and prompted, “Mind telling me what the mess is?”
“All right.” Kingsley tilted forwards a little. “There are factions in the Ministry pushing for some sort of Christmas gala to mark the defeat of You-Know-Who. I think they would have done more pushing in May, but too many of them still had children at Hogwarts then.”
“Technically, Voldemort’s defeat had nothing to do with Christmas,” Harry pointed out, just to be difficult.
“Yes, fine, it’s a silly dance and dinner. I’ve done several of those since I entered politics,” Harry reminded Kingsley. He wondered why Kingsley was acting as if he didn’t remember those. “What about it?”
“This is a formal occasion.”
Harry started to ask again what the difference was, and then groaned a little. Yes, he did know, based off some of the reading Draco had had him do. It meant he had to bring a date.
“If you wanted to know if it was Ginny, it’s not going to be.”
“I know it’s not.” Kingsley didn’t move, though, and his gaze was both mild and heavy. “Who will it be, Harry?”
“As much as I like to think the Ministry is a civilized environment, I know the truth. There’s going to be trouble if you bring him, Harry.”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t care. I’m not going to deny the man I love because it might please some of the traditionalists, or people who hate me, or people who think I should settle down with a nice woman and start having kids as soon as possible.” He paused and thought about it again. “Come to think of it, why would I want to please the people who hate me?”
“I didn’t mean trouble for you. I meant trouble for young Mr. Malfoy.”
“Really? Someone might try to hex him, that kind of thing?”
Kingsley nodded, which Harry could only conclude meant he hadn’t heard the undertone to Harry’s voice. “Yes. And I don’t want either of you to have to deal with that all evening.”
Kingsley eyed him with a faint frown. “Well, you don’t have the complete guest list. You don’t know that all the people there are ones you can intimidate or bribe to stay out of the way—and I have to admit, there are some important people at the Ministry who have more standing than the Malfoys now.”
“Do they have more standing than me?”
“What exactly are you planning?”
Harry smiled a little. It seemed Kingsley had finally paid attention to his eyes and voice. “Making sure everyone understands that Draco Malfoy is off-limits to hex.”
“What good is my status if I can’t use it?” Harry interrupted. “This is just an extension of the same things I’ve been doing since the war. Making sure that someone can’t hurt magical creatures just because they want to—and the only way I can make sure of that is because people listen to the Boy-Who-Lived. And lessening prison terms for Death Eaters who didn’t cause as much trouble. And giving the dead their due recognition. And arranging compensation for the families of those who died or got tortured. This is no different.”
“Those were larger matters, though. I don’t think people will listen to you as well if you have to make it personal.”
Harry snorted a little. “Ginny’s group was a small thing, which only made as much news as it did because some of the protesters were war heroes. And the compensation is personal. Do you really think that I’m going to back down because of a Ministry gala?”
Kingsley opened his mouth, then closed it again and smiled a little. “Now that you put it that way, I suppose a gala isn’t as big as some of the other things you’ve handled.”
“No. The safety of the centaurs matters a lot more.” Harry refrained from saying that it might not matter as much to Draco as his own personal safety. But Harry intended to guarantee both. “In the meantime, sir, maybe you could refrain from discouraging me?”
“I only wanted to warn you about some of the probable consequences, Harry.”
“Thank you for that.” Harry gentled his voice when he saw the anxious way Kingsley was staring at him. Well, it probably did seem like a bigger deal to Kingsley, especially since he was still a new Minister. “But I’m going to bring Draco with me—assuming he wants to come—and anyone who doesn’t like it can deal with it later.”
“Or there. I’ll make an announcement at the gala if I have to.”
After a stunned moment, Kingsley chuckled. “Well, that would liven things up at one of those deadly dull dances.”
Harry smiled and bowed a little to Kingsley. “Thanks, sir. For the warning and everything else. I’m going to Floo Draco now and ask if he actually wants to come with me.” There was a difference, he knew, between Draco accompanying him to a private meeting with the Headmistress of Hogwarts and dancing with Harry in front of the kinds of people who would come to a Ministry gala.
“Very well,” said Kingsley, and waved his hand at Harry a second before the Floo closed. Harry spent a moment calming himself down and looking for the right words. He really wanted to take Draco with him and dance with him in the face of everyone who might disapprove, but Draco’s comfort was the most important thing.
Then just tell him that.
Harry smiled. There was that. He probably didn’t need any right words with Draco. Draco came first, and Harry could put up with a lot that might otherwise irritate him because of that.
Besides, he thought as he reached for the Floo powder and scattered it into the fire, if Draco doesn’t want to go, I’m not going, either. And that’s going to be fodder for talk at least as interesting as showing up to dance with Draco at the gala would be.
Draco pushed his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes and turned to glare at the Floo. Of course someone would call him now, when he’d been alone in his shop most of the day and only recently made it home. He had thought he could relax with some brewing, but it had turned out he was missing most of the ingredients he would have needed for a Calming Draught—they were still at the shop, of course—and searching through dusty boxes wasn’t his idea of fun. He scowled and asked sharply as Harry’s face appeared in the fire, “What?”
Harry raised his eyebrows a little, but then nodded as though Draco had confirmed some private suspicion of his. “Would you like to go with me to the Ministry Christmas gala?”
Draco stared at him. “What, dress robes and everything?”
“And dancing.” Harry’s eyes glinted a little as he tilted his head. “Yes.”
“In front of everyone?”
Draco remained silent, because it was the only thing he could think of right now, and checked Harry’s face. Harry hummed to himself and said nothing. It really seemed to be Draco’s decision to make.
He’s not ashamed of me. He wants to be seen in public with me. Those were the only things Draco could divine for certain, and they made a certain pride bubble up in his throat. Harry Potter wasn’t ashamed of him, and that meant no one else had to be, either.
But Draco wanted to make certain of some things first. “Are there going to be political guests there?”
“It’s a formal affair, and Kingsley told me that they’re using it both to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate the end of the war with Voldemort.”
“Oh, Merlin,” said Draco, cringing a little. Then he drew himself up and asked the question he had to ask, because Harry was the sort who wouldn’t think to ask it. “Are you sure you want to take a former Death Eater with you?”
Draco paused again. Harry sounded utterly serene and certain, and as if maybe he had considered this after all. Either that, or he thought of all objections in the same way, as something he simply needed to knock down.
“What will happen if someone comes up and tries to hex me? Or you? Or spreads malicious gossip about you? Or me? Or us? What happens if your political reputation is in danger because of me? I don’t want to cause you to lose support because people are worried about who your boyfriend is.”
Draco knew he was babbling, but he couldn’t seem to help it. As it was, Harry simply drew his head back and studied Draco for a second. Then he nodded and held out a hand. Draco stared at it. Had Harry forgotten that they couldn’t clasp hands through the fire?
“Listen to me,” Harry whispered. “I am not ashamed of you. Anyone who tries to start something with you, or me, or us, is going to break the formal rules of Ministry gala etiquette. I’ll do to them exactly what I would to someone trying to interrogate me about defeating Voldemort or all the rest of it.”
Draco swallowed. He wished he had Harry’s courage, but he simply didn’t.
He had the courage to admit he didn’t, though, which might be all Harry was looking for. “Can you—it’s not going to diminish the pain of the hex to have you embarrass them, later.”
“And what do you think will happen to someone else hexing a guest in a Ministry gathering full of Aurors?” Harry grinned at him. “I can promise you that anyone doing that is going to a holding cell for an evening at the minimum. And the day after that, I’ll be smearing their name all over the papers.”
“You’d—do that? For me?”
Harry bobbed his head, his eyes taking on a challenging glint. “And I think the papers would cooperate. For an exclusive story on the Boy-Who-Lived, they’d probably do a lot worse.”
Draco breathed a little easier. He’d been focused, for the moment, on all the disadvantages of having a public lover who was high up the Ministry food chain, but now that he thought about it, he could also see the advantages.
“I’ll come, Harry. I’d love to dance with you and rub the fact that we’re together in everyone’s faces. It was only the dangers that made me hesitate.”
Harry’s eyes shone, and once again he held out a hand as though he was going to touch Draco through the fire. “Thank you, Draco. In the meantime, I think some dancing lessons might be in order. They’ve hammered a few into me, but not many. Formal dances mostly haven’t come up in the last few years as something I might want to attend.”
Draco found himself laughing. “We’ll have to remedy that.”
Draco was smiling now. The thought of practicing a dance with Harry, his arms tight around Harry’s shoulders and waist, his head on Harry’s shoulder during a slower song…
Yes. Let’s show them what it means when Harry decides to commit to someone who’s equally committed to him.
Chapter 29: Dancing
“So you do need dance lessons, Mr. Potter. I was half-convinced Draco was joking with me.”
Harry straightened the collar of his dress robes nervously. Draco had insisted he wear them today, and somehow Harry had imagined that only he and Draco would be whirling around the floor of the Malfoys’ formal ballroom (of course they had a formal ballroom) listening to the strains of some ancient wizarding song.
Instead, he’d stepped in and found Narcissa Malfoy there, in a set of powder-blue robes of her own, without Draco. She smiled at him, but Harry pulled at his collar again and asked, “Do you need to teach Draco how to dance, too, Mrs. Malfoy?”
“Do call me Narcissa. The other is such a mouthful. And no. Dearest Draco has been dancing well since he was a child.” Narcissa lowered her voice as if she was imparting a great secret to Harry. “It’s behind the graceful way he moves. Surely you’ve noticed how well he does it? You must have spent more time than anyone else looking at him.
Since Harry had no idea how to respond to that—especially since even “Narcissa” would stick in his throat—he turned with gratitude to the sound of footfalls. Draco came through the door in his own pale grey robes.
“Sorry I’m late, Harry. I couldn’t find these robes. All the way at the back of the wardrobe! I swear I don’t know why we keep the bloody house-elves—”
“Because most of the time, they do a more than tolerable job,” Narcissa interrupted. Her voice was icy, and Harry blinked at her. “What have I told you about swearing in front of guests, Draco?”
Oh. Harry opened his mouth to say that he didn’t mind, but Draco got there first. “I hardly feel Harry is a guest now,” he muttered, and gave Harry a shy, beautiful smile behind his mother’s back. It made Harry return it.
Narcissa either knew the smile was there or didn’t, but didn’t think there was any excuse for Draco’s, because her voice cooled even more. “In this room, you will follow all the conventions of the etiquette that the Ministry gala will require you to adhere to. Is that clear, Draco?”
“But Harry doesn’t know most of those conventions,” Draco responded, his eyes wide open and looking more blue than grey. “How are we supposed to follow them when half of what we do will be incomprehensible to him?”
Harry felt as though Draco had started to tickle him. He’d never got to see his partner like this, acting like a pouty child who wasn’t indulged enough.
Narcissa’s stare didn’t lessen one bit, though. She turned it on Harry instead. “How much do you know of the etiquette of galas, Mr. Potter?”
“If I can call you by your first name, then I insist you call me Harry,” Harry said, and looked her in the face, keeping his expression as friendly as he could, until Narcissa at last nodded. Then he smiled. “I know a lot, actually. It’s one of the things that Draco started me studying earlier, and I’ve kept up since. I’ve been to a few formal functions since last year.”
“And never invited me as your date to any of them?”
Harry started to answer, but Narcissa interrupted again. “Draco, one of the conventions is never to make your guest or dance partner feel less than gracious. If they begin the insults, that is one thing, but you may not.”
Draco looked down, and he really was pouting now. Harry, by contrast, couldn’t stop smiling. It felt so good to be standing here in the ballroom, with only small things of ordinary life troubling them, instead of huge political considerations or Voldemort or even drama with his adopted family. He said, “I don’t mind answering the question, Narcissa. Formal etiquette allows that, doesn’t it?”
Narcissa turned to study him. Her answering smile was small and reluctant. “If you wish to answer, Mr. Potter, then you may.”
“The last few formal occasions were all times when I went there to talk business,” Harry told Draco, apologetically. At least Draco had lifted his head and was listening. “There was no question of me bringing a partner because we wouldn’t be dancing. And we hadn’t announced we were dating then. I thought it would have made you uncomfortable.”
“It would make me a lot more uncomfortable to see you dance with someone else.” Draco put his hands on his hips and stared Harry down. “You did dance with someone else, didn’t you?”
“A few times. Visiting dignitaries that Kingsley wanted me to dance with, most of them. With Hermione once, as a favor.”
Draco snorted and turned his head. Narcissa spoke calmly into the silence. “Partners do not dance exclusively with each other at such events, you know, Mr.—Harry. They are obliged to respect what their host asks them to do, and often the families have alliances or arrangements with each other that necessitate polite dances. No one wants political allies to be offended.”
“But he didn’t dance with political allies. Granger.” Draco’s voice was withering.
Narcissa got there before Harry could, surprisingly. “Miss Granger is Harry’s longtime friend,” she said, and her voice had descended so it sounded it was coming from like the freezing depths of space. “Friends are also passable reasons to act within the rules. Which dancing with someone else is, Draco.”
Draco turned around with an almost desperate face and spoke directly to Harry. “I just want to know that I’m the most special to you.”
“You’re definitely the most special,” Harry breathed, and stepped forwards, acutely conscious of Narcissa watching them. At least she seemed to approve of what Harry was saying, so he didn’t need to worry about that. “For one thing, I didn’t study dancing before I danced with anyone else. It went horribly.
“The Ministry didn’t make you?”
Harry snorted. “The Ministry thought I could dance. You ought to have seen the look on Kingsley’s face when I tried to waltz with the German ambassador’s wife.”
Draco smiled for the first time. “And you’ll learn what you should know,” he said, holding out a hand. After a glance at Narcissa, who nodded, Harry placed his arm under Draco’s fingers. Draco curled his hand into the cloth, his glance searching out Harry’s face. “You’ll be what you always should have been.”
“Someone dancing with you?”
“No.” Draco tugged his arm a little so that Harry nearly stumbled across the floor to him. “By my side.”
“We’ll begin with a simple formal dance first,” Mother said, standing back near the corner of the ballroom that was enchanted to play music through the open mouth of a carved nightingale on the wall. “Not a waltz, or anything so complicated. We need to see what kind of expertise we’re dealing with in Mr.—Harry.”
“None,” Harry said promptly.
Draco snickered while Mother gave Harry a gentle frown. It really did hearten him to know that Harry hadn’t thought even his political reputation enough reason to take dance lessons. But he would do it for Draco.
“Surely you can think of dance as a series of regular movements,” said Mother, and flicked her wand. A gentle song that Draco had heard more times than he could count began to play from the mouth of the nightingale. “The way that you think of Quidditch as a series of regular plays.”
Harry blinked at her. “But I don’t play that way.”
“He doesn’t,” Draco had to confirm. Now that he wasn’t blinded by eagerness to defeat Harry and seething resentment when he didn’t, he saw Harry’s play as brilliant improvisation instead. Harry would do what he had to do to get the Snitch and make sure someone else didn’t manage to knock him out of the sky.
Draco had thought at one point that Harry was simply too cowardly or clumsy to cheat. Now he realized Harry didn’t think about the other Seeker when he was on the field. The Snitch was all that mattered.
Mother put her hands on her hips. “It seems to me you are determined to be difficult, Mr. Potter.”
Harry gave her a melting smile. “And so are you, since you won’t call me Harry.”
Mother chuckled at that. Draco was relieved. She turned stern a moment later, though, and added, “You can let the music guide your movements. It should give you a balance, something to brace yourself against, that you don’t have in Quidditch.”
Harry gave his feet a dubious glance. Draco carefully maneuvered Harry’s arms, touching him until Harry relaxed and his face grew brighter. “Watch my eyes,” Draco whispered. “Not my feet.”
He positioned Harry’s arms around his waist and neck, and then leaned his head on Harry’s shoulder. He hummed under his breath as he began to move. The music was such an old and familiar song that he didn’t need to really listen to it.
Instead, he watched the way Harry moved, and immediately saw part of the problem. Harry didn’t have time to be nervous on a broom. All his movements would melt into the same continuous dodge and dart, because he had a goal beyond the moment. But he was so nervous when dancing that he got tangled all up. Draco had to give him a Snitch, something to fix on that wasn’t the steps.
“It would make me happy if you would look at my face and not my feet, the way I already asked you to.”
Harry jerked his head up, his cheeks going as bright as coals. Draco nodded calmly to him and continued moving, and murmured, “It would please me if you could be a little looser in my arms, so it’s less like holding a statue.”
Harry snorted and visibly relaxed, rolling his shoulders and nearly stumbling over Draco’s right foot. “Less statue, more doll?”
“That’s right,” said Draco, and softened his voice. “You don’t need to worry about all the people watching you and what they’re going to think, Harry. Really, you don’t.”
“I don’t?” Harry sounded as though he would like to believe that.
“No.” Draco laid the back of his hand on Harry’s cheek, and stopped moving for a minute, until Harry’s intense blush started to fade. “You only need to worry about me. What I think, what I want. I want to enjoy dancing with you.”
“All right,” Harry whispered. “But I don’t really know how to give you that enjoyment.”
“Look at me, and do your best.”
Harry relaxed again, with a small laugh. “You mean it can be that easy?”
Draco nodded at Harry’s feet, which were already moving more gracefully than they had a moment ago. But he tugged on Harry’s shoulders when he tried to look down at them. “No. Only focus on me.”
“There are days when I have to spend time with so many boring people, and I always wish I could do nothing but that.”
“You’re doing fine,” Draco told him, and heard his voice get husky. It was his turn to flush. He hadn’t anticipated talking like that in front of his mother.
Maybe Harry knew why he looked that way, because he didn’t try to tease Draco about it or tempt him into talking more about intimate things. He spun Draco easily through a pattern of simple steps, but tensed and stuttered when the music got faster.
“I did tell you that I didn’t want you to think about anything else,” Draco muttered in his ear when they stood with their backs to Mother for a moment. “That includes the music.”
Harry relaxed again. Draco watched him in silent wonder for a moment. He had to try to imagine what it would be like if Harry played Quidditch the same way, but he gave it up a second later. Harry doing Quidditch that way wouldn’t be Harry.
“Thinking about you is easier than I thought,” Harry whispered, and one of his hands rose and traced along the line of Draco’s cheekbone.
Draco blinked at him again and again, and in the meantime, the world around him did cease to exist. He and Harry whirled and turned and backed each other up, he knew, and at one point he even spun under Harry’s raised arm. But he lost track of everything else, until the moment when he heard his mother applauding.
“If you dance like that at the gala, then the other guests will only be able to stare in envy,” she said, thick satisfaction in her voice. “And they will not want to interrupt such grace, so you should not be troubled by requests to honor other partners.”
Draco breathed out and turned to Harry. He was smiling, not embarrassed by Mother’s praise the way Draco had thought he would be.
“That would be acceptable,” Harry whispered, and picked up Draco’s hand to press a kiss against his knuckles.
Draco could feel himself turning a desperately bright red, but he didn’t let himself move or flinch. They had carried off a dance even his mother felt was credible. She wouldn’t embarrass them on purpose.
And from the shine in Harry’s eyes, Draco had fulfilled his purpose of making him think about one thing and one thing only.
Chapter 30: Provoking
“You’re going to do fine.”
Draco shut his eyes and leaned back into Harry’s hands. They sculpted his robes around his shoulders as though Harry was the one actually dressing him. Draco immediately put that thought away in the back of his mind for later.
He murmured, “I don’t know why I’m the nervous one. You’re going to appear in front of a bunch of important people with a former Death Eater on your arm. You’re the one who stands to lose a lot of social reputation from this. My reputation is already as stained as it can be.” He turned around and smiled at Harry, who smiled back at him, regal and slow.
Draco knew Harry was tired of hearing it, but he really did think Harry looked regal in his green robes edged with gold. Harry had only said that he’d picked them out because he liked them. Draco thought Harry did have a sense of appreciation for how he looked in dress robes, just one that he muted because otherwise it would make him feel immodest or something.
Another thought to keep to himself. “You’re not nervous at all?” he added, as Harry touched his shoulder and smoothed down a wrinkle again.
Harry tilted his head at Draco. “Not about that. That someone might curse or hex you after all despite all the safeguards they’ve set up around the ballroom, yes.”
Draco sighed as a warm flush traveled through him. “I don’t suppose we can stay home after all and spend some time alone?”
Harry’s hand fell casually on his arm and steered Draco’s hand away from where it was wandering towards Harry’s chest. “Not right now,” Harry whispered, and pulled Draco towards the entrance of Malfoy Manor. “We need to go if we’re going to make sure that we arrive at the gala on time.”
“We could be fashionably late?” Draco suggested, glancing over his shoulder and trying to make his eyes into bedroom eyes. He wasn’t sure he knew how to do it despite reading several detailed descriptions of it lately.
“Is something wrong with your face, Draco?”
Draco gave a huge, loud sigh, and faced the front again. He would have to work on seducing Harry later.
Harry became aware, after they’d been at the gala for a few minutes, that he was on high alert. It was a state of mind he hadn’t felt much since right after the war and one of the attempts by rogue Death Eaters to take him down that had happened then.
Ease off. Draco’s getting concerned.
Draco hadn’t turned his concern into an attempt to talk to him about it yet, but Harry knew that wasn’t far behind. And Draco had enough reasons to be tense about this gala. Harry wanted him to actually enjoy himself. He relaxed and smiled at Draco. “Would you like to dance?”
“They haven’t begun the music yet,” Draco muttered, looking around. They were in the huge ballroom at the Ministry, and someone had decided to decorate it in gold, maybe in rebellion against the Christmas colors Harry knew most people would have expected. Of course, being the Ministry, it was done in hilariously tacky fashion, with illusions of Galleons falling from the ceiling and vanishing before they hit the floor, enormous swags of golden tinsel draped across the doorframes, and a garish golden paint on the walls. Or maybe just an illusion. Harry hadn’t gone close enough to look at it and figure out which it was, because, frankly, the glow from it made his head hurt.
“I know,” Harry said. “But I think they’re about to.”
He’d been keeping an eye on the trio of witches over in the corner. One had a set of drums, one a harp, and one a guitar. Harry had no idea how those instruments would blend, but he also knew they probably wouldn’t clash, or Kingsley wouldn’t have invited these particular musicians. And sure enough, a lively dance tune began to spill from them a moment later.
“My lord,” Harry said, and held out his hand to Draco. “Would you honor me with this dance?”
Harry could see the subtle tremor in Draco’s hands, and knew he might be the only one in the ballroom who had any sense of the courage it took Draco to meet his eyes and nod. “Yes, I would. Will,” he added, and took Harry’s hand.
I’m the only one who knows about it, and the only one about to explode with pride, Harry thought, as he steered Draco towards the glittering dance floor with one hand on his back. But as long as the pride is intense enough, and I can show it to him enough…
Yeah. I don’t think I need to worry about anyone else right now.
So far, no one had fired hexes at them. But Draco could see the disgust in the gaping eyes and mouths that followed their progress in the dance.
Harry either didn’t see them or had learned to deliberately ignore them. He waltzed around Draco instead, or twirled him, or led him, or whatever else was appropriate to the dance, because Draco moved almost automatically in the right steps and Harry followed Draco. His smile was constant, and not strained, either.
He’s happy just to be here with me. It doesn’t matter to him what anyone else thinks.
Knowing that finally helped Draco relax, too, by focusing on Harry instead of their audience. And Harry wasn’t at all a bad dancer when he put his mind on something else other than the dancing. Instinctive, in a way, like his flying.
Draco turned Harry around so that they were beneath the one single permanent illusion of a Galleon suspended from the middle of the ceiling, and decided that they hadn’t outraged people enough. Most of them had either gone on gaping without changing their expression, or turned away. Draco was tired of stale disgust.
“Kiss me?” he whispered to Harry. It was still Harry’s reputation on the line, more than his, so Draco would let him choose.
But Harry smiled and said, “I would be delighted to,” and leaned forwards to catch Draco’s lips in a delicate kiss.
Draco didn’t think that delicacy had anything to do with the people watching. It had to do with Harry’s desire for privacy where they could do something more. From the way he eased back a second later and looked at Draco, his desire in general wasn’t in doubt.
“Well, I never!” said a loud voice from the edge of the dance floor, and when Draco glanced over, it was to find a witch who looked about his mother’s age storming away.
“Come on, Draco. Focus.” Harry’s voice was full of laughter, and he swung their hands a little to draw Draco’s attention back to him. “You know as well as I do that I falter when you start concentrating on something other than the dance.”
Draco smiled obediently and kept his eyes locked on Harry’s as they swirled into another pattern. The musicians either thought the whole thing was fascinating themselves, or didn’t care and wanted to keep doing what they were getting paid for. Either way, Draco thought, the songs were getting faster and livelier.
It made a great excuse to keep all his attention on Harry and off any gossiping Ministry flunkies who might be staring at them.
Although, when he caught a glimpse of a bright light from the corner of his eye and saw a curse flying towards his unprotected back, he decided that there might be disadvantages to even the most absorbing dances with his boyfriend.
Harry saw the curse coming. It was brilliant red and didn’t look like a Stunner. It looked like a curse that would cause someone a lot of pain.
He turned, swinging so that Draco went careening around him and almost lost his balance. He had to grab Harry’s shoulders to maintain it. Harry didn’t mind that. It meant Draco wasn’t lying on the floor at his feet bleeding out, and that was more than good enough for him.
Harry raised his wand and with it, his Shield Charm came up, blazing and shimmering between him and the curse. The curse hit the shield and simply fractured into dozens of bouncing points of red light. Harry watched them fall on the floor and fizzle out like sparks. They made what looked like burning holes in the golden glamour.
Then he lifted his head and opened his eyes wide and said simply, “Accio caster of that curse.”
The Summoning Charm yanked a tall wizard in green robes out of the crowd a second later. He came stumbling and wheeling towards Harry, and only came to a stop in front of him when Harry said, “Finite,” so they wouldn’t bang into each other.
The wizard was wheezing. Harry didn’t think that came from his Summoning Charm. That was more likely to be shock and maybe the wizard trying to run away from Harry’s insane vengeance before it could happen.
Harry held the wizard’s eyes and asked simply, “Why?”
“Because, because, because!” The man pointed at Draco. He was balding and had a huge golden beard that might be the inspiration behind the illusions they’d used in the ballroom. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen him before. “He ought to be in prison!”
“He was in prison. He paid for his crimes. The Wizengamot didn’t find them that severe.”
“Only because you testified for him!” The man turned towards him and spat at Harry’s feet. There were several gasps from around them, but Harry thought the man was too far gone to hear them. “You ought to have kept your nose out of politics and in a schoolbook, where it belongs.”
“Don’t be unrealistic,” Harry said. “That was never going to happen. And I doubt you would have had a problem with it if I had testified for someone you happen to favor.”
The wizard looked as if he was caught without words, and hated to be that way. He settled for scowling at Harry.
“You still can’t attack him at a public gathering,” Harry went on, his voice a little detached now. He knew he would remember the curse if he searched for it…right. “And you can’t cast the Fire-Flaying Curse at any time. That’s illegal.”
There was a shocked gasp from some of the people watching. Harry ignored that. Yes, they were shocked now, when they heard the name of the curse. They hadn’t been reacting before that, as if it was perfectly fine for this man to cast a curse at Draco as long as it wasn’t one of the illegal ones.
“You can’t flaunt him in front of all of us like that and not expect someone to react,” the man muttered, his gaze sullenly on the floor now.
“We talked and then danced. If that’s flaunting, then there are others here who would have something to answer for.”
And Harry could see them, when he cast his gaze around. Some of the people who had worked in the Ministry for Voldemort’s regime and had never been proven to be under Imperius. A few others who had spent some time in Azkaban. Others who might have, and rumors abounded of their having bribed the Wizengamot. Harry didn’t presume to make hay out of those rumors unless someone forced his hand.
And oh, look, Harry thought as he turned back to the golden-bearded wizard. Someone is.
“What is going on here, Harry?”
Kingsley had finally arrived. Harry chose to believe he had been over on the other side of the room talking to someone else at first, because that was the way that would leave him most sane, and turned around with a little smile. “This man tried to curse Draco with the Fire-Flaying Curse, Minister Shacklebolt.”
Kingsley’s slightly anxious smile was gone when he turned around. “Did you do that, David?”
“I had provocation!”
“Was Mr. Malfoy cursing you in any way?”
Harry grimaced a little at the pleading undertone he could hear in Kingsley’s voice. Still, he understood the reasoning. This would be simpler for Kingsley if Draco had been doing something other than simply appearing at the gala.
“What?” Then David seemed to understand where this was going as well, and flushed. “No!”
“Did he taunt you? Attack you? Approach you and make insults about your family?”
That would be far from the provocation needed to use an illegal curse, anyway, Harry thought, but he understood it, too, when he gave himself a shake from the personal road back onto the political one. Kingsley was simply establishing, ahead of time, that Draco had done nothing that might seem reasonable cause for cursing him in the eyes of those who hated Death Eaters.
“No,” David whispered. He sounded crushed now.
“You’ll need to come with me, David,” Kingsley said, and put his hand under David’s elbow. David winced a little. Harry thought he might be the only one who could see how tightly Kingsley was holding him. “We’re a civilized community. We don’t settle debates with curses. Not anymore,” he added, as if he thought David was opening his mouth to protest.
There was a long moment of silence, with some of the crowd flowing after Kingsley, before the musicians began to play again. Harry took a deep breath and turned around to face Draco.
“Thanks for keeping silent there,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I know how difficult it must have been for you, but it wouldn’t have helped at all right now for you to get angry.”
Draco was a little pale, but he smiled at Harry and put a hand on his arm. “I know that,” he said. “Which is why I continued to wait and listen. Do you want to go back to dancing?”
“That has to be your decision,” Harry said, looking into his eyes. “You were the one who got attacked.”
“If we leave the floor, they win.” Draco held Harry’s arm for a moment as tightly as Kingsley must have held David’s. “And I was enjoying dancing with you.”
“Likewise,” Harry said, and wrapped his arms around Draco’s shoulders, and pulled him into the dance again. He actually managed three whole steps this time before he stepped on Draco’s toes and Draco, with an amused smile in his direction, took over.
After a few uneasy moments, other guests began dancing as well. Harry smiled around at them, but spent the rest of the evening with his attention where it belonged, solely on Draco.
Chapter 31: Coping
Draco walked slowly into the Manor. He could feel Harry standing behind him, even though all he was doing was handing his cloak to a house-elf. Hardly a revolutionary action or one that Draco needed to be concerned about.
But Draco knew what he wanted, and he also knew that Harry sensed he wanted something and would remain there, in silent patience, until Draco actually made up his mind.
Draco turned around.
Harry cocked his head and studied him with calm eyes. “Are you all right, Draco?”
“You saved me tonight,” Draco said. He relaxed at the sound of his own voice. He sounded stronger than he’d thought he would. He had been afraid his voice would come out hollow and tinny, still scared, as if the disapproving eyes at the Ministry gala had followed them back home.
“I did,” Harry said. “But you’re the one who needs to decide how much attention you’re going to pay to that.” Harry’s own eyes were friendly but also considering, as if he thought Draco needed to sit down and eat something to get over a nasty shock.
Draco closed his own eyes for a second. He could do that. He could eat and drink and laugh and send Harry away, and Harry would accept it and never know that Draco had been considering doing…something else.
But then Draco would never know if he could have had what he wanted, either. There were disadvantages to giving in to fear, and this was one of them.
“I want you to stay,” Draco said, opening his eyes a little. “Stay and eat with me, since we didn’t get to do a lot of that at the gala. And this way, I have the energy for what I want to do later.”
“Not more dancing?”
“Only if you want to use that name for it.” Draco tried to shrug and look casual, but he also knew that had failed when Harry stared at him in concern. “Fine. I—want you to make love to me, Harry. But I really do feel that I need a meal to eat first, before we start that kind of thing.”
Harry considered him, then smiled slowly. “I’d like to do that, too, Draco. But you’re right. I think something to eat before we do is a good idea.”
Still a little shaky, surprised but smiling, Draco turned and led the way into the kitchens.
Harry sipped from the steaming cup of tea the elves had promptly placed in front of him. It had a faint orange scent to it, and an orange taste, too. It was better than most of the teas that he had had in Malfoy Manor. He wondered if that was a coincidence or not, and then dismissed it.
He didn’t think the elves’ opinion on him and Draco sleeping together, even assuming they had an opinion, really needed to matter to him.
Draco kept giving Harry anxious glances and then turning away to gulp down his own scented tea. It had a faint smell of chocolate, from what Harry could tell from this side of the table. Well, the elves would have figured out a long time ago what Draco liked.
Harry took a small slice of cheese from the plate in the center of the table and cocked his head. “Are you all right, Draco? You do want this?”
Draco turned and stared at him, then nodded fiercely. “Of course I do! That isn’t what’s making me nervous.”
“What is, then?” Harry hoped that if something was really bothering Draco, they could settle it as soon as possible.
“Still the shakiness from the gala tonight.” Draco toyed with his own piece of cheese, then ate it in two sudden bites. Harry thought that was only a means of distracting himself from the answers he was going to have to give, and sure enough, Draco remained silent for another minute before he spoke up. “And this feels so important.”
“If it doesn’t go well,” Harry whispered to him, feeling that he had to do his best to reassure Draco, “that’s okay. We can try again.”
Draco opened his mouth and then sat back with a slightly stunned expression. “We can, can’t we?” he asked. “That somehow escaped me. It—our lives don’t end, and we don’t walk away from each other, if it’s not right the first time. I kept forgetting that.”
“Don’t,” Harry said, and reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “I don’t want to make this upsetting or frightening for you, Draco. I want it to be a source of joy. Like dancing, and orange-scented tea.”
He didn’t know what made him bring the second one up, when he wasn’t thinking much about his tea anymore, but it seemed to have done the trick. Draco’s eyes crinkled, and he leaned back in his chair and stroked Harry’s thumb with his.
“Then I suppose you’ll want to get on with it as soon as possible.”
“Anticipation has its virtues, too.”
And then Draco really relaxed, and they spent the rest of their time in the kitchen talking quietly and sipping from each other’s teacups as well as their own. Harry felt as though all the muscles under his skin were melted butter by the time that Draco stood up and invited him towards the stairs with a single twitch of his head.
It was so easy between them. So slow.
Draco hadn’t expected that, really, but now that he thought about it, he didn’t know why not. He had danced easily with Harry simply by telling Harry to watch him, when it ought to have taken more effort, especially since Harry had been so bad at it before. And he had recovered from the assassination attempt at the gala enough to go on enjoying himself.
And he and Harry weren’t strangers to each other, by now. They had touched each other enough to know the places that made their bodies sigh and shiver. Draco lay down on the bed that Harry took him to, his own, with a lazy murmur of enjoyment, and then stretched his limbs out to the sides and closed his eyes.
As though they had discussed this, Harry was able to work out what Draco wanted. He drew off Draco’s clothes with gentle hands, and spent a few minutes after each limb was freed stroking and massaging them. By the time Draco’s robes were off completely, he didn’t think he’d ever felt so good.
That was only the start, too, as a quick brush of Harry’s hand over his arse promised. Draco opened his eyes and smiled lazily, dazedly, at him. Harry smiled back and then went into the bathroom attached to Draco’s suite.
He came back out with a small glass jar of lube. Draco knew he must have conjured the lube, because Draco’s bathroom had nothing like it, but he didn’t know about the jar. It seemed Harry hadn’t wanted to do either in front of Draco, because he thought it might break the mood or something.
That’s oddly sweet.
Draco didn’t tell him so. He simply rolled over and let his feet relax towards the end of the bed again. Harry sat down between his spread legs and spent a few minutes adjusting: spreading the sheets flat, sliding a pillow under Draco, and stroking his legs some more. Even when he had Draco kneel up, the mood didn’t break, though. Harry probably could have summoned toys in front of him and it wouldn’t have.
Draco didn’t think he would mind toys someday, if Harry wanted to try them, but for this first time, he wanted to feel only Harry. Nothing else.
Harry’s fingers slipped up and down his arse, the lube easing the way. Draco closed his eyes and spread his legs further, inviting. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t imagine anyone else he would have wanted to share this with.
Images of other paths briefly flickered in his head. Maybe he could have been with Pansy, or Astoria Greengrass, whom his mother had once suggested as a potential wife. Or one of his male friends from Slytherin, if he had decided that he was never going to want to sleep with a woman after all.
But the images were all soft and insubstantial, even softer than the motion of Harry’s fingers across his arse, and the way that one of them glided into his hole.
Draco spread his legs more when he thought it would help, and felt a gentling motion on his bottom in return. Draco turned his head into the pillow and yawned. Briefly, his mind offered the vision of him falling asleep like this, and he hoped he didn’t. He would be so humiliated; he didn’t know how he’d face Harry again.
But that was only a brief flicker, and there was no sign it would actually happen. Instead, Harry’s fingers penetrated him, and Draco felt himself climbing more and more back into awareness. But it wasn’t an awareness tinged with fear and fatalism, the way it had been right after David cast that curse at him during the gala. This was—still soft. Draco opened his eyes and felt as though his heartbeat was rocking him on the bed.
Then Harry whispered, “Do you think you’re ready?”
Draco didn’t need to ask what for. He nodded and leaned back with his head. Once again, Harry understood what he wanted without needing to discuss it with him. He leaned down and kissed Draco.
When he sat back, the whole bed seemed to dip beneath him. Draco had imagined holding his breath when it came to this, but the melting state of his body wouldn’t let him. He simply let his head fall forwards, onto his hands, accepting and welcoming, and his breathing was soft and steady and slow, everything it should be.
And then Harry slid in.
Harry didn’t know what he’d expected. Some kind of grunt of pain from Draco? Some sort of panic once he was actually in the position he wanted to be in? Some sign that he wasn’t welcome and he should leave now?
But he got none of those. Instead, Draco went on melting and sighing into the bed, with no sign this was paining him, and Harry went on thrusting, holding himself with a hand in the middle of Draco’s back, closing his eyes as the warmth washed through him in soothing waves.
The way they slept together, or made love, or fucked, or whatever Harry was inclined to call it at the moment—and he wanted to call it different things as the different waves traveled through him—was wonderful. Harry did find out later that he’d left bruises on Draco’s hips where he held him, and that his hands ached where they were driven into the cushions and held there. But that was a small price to pay to know that he was causing Draco so much pleasure.
And himself. The pleasure was more intense for him, dancing and spiraling, radiating up and down his spine, startling a thick grunt out of his mouth when he came. Draco had already come, Harry realized when he slid a hand under Draco to check.
He felt a bit bad for not noticing. He kissed the nape of Draco’s neck when he pulled out, and Draco grunted a little in turn and looked up at him with exhausted adoration. He made a soft smacking noise with his lips, and Harry knew what he wanted. He bent down and kissed Draco on the mouth.
“You’re wonderful at this,” Draco said in a drowsy voice. “I suppose I should have known you would be. You’re so good at everything.”
“Not dancing. I’m only good at that because you taught me.”
“You still made a lot fewer mistakes than I would have thought you would.” Draco rolled his head slowly, and Harry listened, but didn’t hear anything crack or pop in his neck, the way he usually would after a motion like that. Draco’s neck still seemed relaxed. “You’re good at this. Don’t worry, someday I’ll find something you aren’t good at, and that will be my revenge.”
Harry snorted and slid slowly out of Draco. He grimaced a little at the mess that resulted, but drew his wand. A flick, and it was gone. Then he tugged gently at Draco. “Come on, turn over and let me clean you.”
Draco did, the drowsy smile still on his face. Harry touched his chest and throat and shoulder several times before he could bring himself to actually cast the Cleaning Charm and disturb that expression. “I love you like this.”
“Just like this?”
Draco’s voice was teasing, but it was obvious what he wanted to say. Harry slowly nodded and whispered, “Always.”
Draco considered him as gravely as if there was a problem with that for a minute—maybe the way Harry had said it—before he nodded and said softly, “Good. The same.” And he reared himself up for another kiss, and Harry got lost in it, utterly and positively lost.
Chapter 32: Excluding
“I don’t want to get up,” Harry said, his voice muffled by Draco’s neck. He knew he was behaving ridiculously. But from the way Draco chuckled and stroked his hair, he minded less than he would with some other people.
“You have to,” Draco said reasonably. “If you don’t, then you’ll miss the wonderful breakfast the house-elves have prepared for us.”
“Does it have chocolate? I can’t smell chocolate.”
There was a small pop, a groan like the overloaded table beside Draco’s bed had just got another addition, and then another pop. “Now it does,” Draco said.
Harry opened the eye nearest to the table. Sure enough, an elf must have popped in to add a small mug of steaming hot chocolate, and a plate with pieces of bread that had small chocolate chips baked into the crust.
“It’s probably a bit immoral to enjoy slave labor this much,” Harry said, and sat up and reached for the hot chocolate.
“What are you—oh.” Draco shrugged. “I’m willing to keep the house-elves out of sight and fetch things myself if Granger ever comes over, you know. And I wouldn’t ask you to use Kreacher if we were both visiting you at the same time.”
“I know that,” Harry said. “At the moment, I don’t think the first one is ever likely to happen. The second one, I appreciate.” He bit into the bread and sighed as the chocolate seemed to melt in his mouth around the soft, slightly cinnamony taste of the bread itself. “But Hermione wants me to go further than that.”
“I can see why you’d want to.” Draco sat up and leaned against the pillow. There was a banana and some almost transparently thin slices of orange on the plate in front of him. He looked transcendently happy, and Harry smiled at him. “But how much of Granger being able to do without house-elves is just her growing up without them? She would probably feel the same way I do if she’d grown up in a house with elves.”
“I think she would have treated them more kindly than your family treated Dobby.”
“That was my father,” Draco said clearly, looking into Harry’s face, “not me.” Then he turned red and swallowed a piece of banana so large that he started choking. Harry had to reach over and pound him on the back.
“I know,” Harry told him quietly, by the time that Draco had managed to get his choking under control. “I’m not bringing that up to throw it in your face. Just to mention the limits of identification. Hermione would do lots of things differently if she didn’t have Muggle parents, but I think there are some things that would always be the same.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Draco didn’t sound like he was convinced, but he shook his head when Harry started to open his mouth. “I don’t really want to argue about it, either.”
“Okay,” Harry said simply. He supposed it wasn’t really worth arguing about, anyway. Either Draco would believe him, or he wouldn’t.
“I don’t think you have to feel guilty as often as you think you have to feel guilty.” Draco was peering at him, touching one finger to his temple as if he was going to play with his hair there. “Or as often as your friends think you should.”
Harry smiled and shook his head, putting aside the anger that immediately wanted to spring up the way Draco thought he should put aside the guilt. “That’s not my friends. That’s all me. I have an advanced sense of conscience.”
“But your friends haven’t been enthusiastic about us, have they?”
“Not yet,” Harry had to agree. “I think the Weasleys are still hurt over Ginny.”
“Well, how long are they going to be hurt?” Draco demanded, putting down his hot chocolate and leaning forwards. “It’s childish, if they’re really going to hold you responsible for not loving her back.”
“I don’t know if they do or not,” said Harry simply, and sipped slowly from the hot chocolate. “Because I haven’t talked to them about it.”
Draco stared at Harry with his mouth slightly open. “Avoidance?” he choked out at last. “That’s extremely mature.”
Harry rolled his eyes a little. “I’m trying to avoid hurting them more. In time, the wounds will heal. I don’t think my friends might ever understand why I’m with you, but then again, maybe they will. I don’t think they’ll ever be as enthusiastic about me dating you as they would be if I was dating Ginny. But I don’t need that from them. Just like Ron and Hermione wouldn’t need me to approve if they broke up with each other and decided that they wanted to date other people.” He reached out and ran a gentle finger down Draco’s cheek. “What’s really upsetting you about this?”
Draco lowered his head. He had to ask himself the same question. He ought to have been ecstatic that he and Harry had finally made love. Giddy about the wonderfulness of it. Intent on returning the favor as soon as possible.
Instead, he could feel the churning misery creeping up his throat, poisoning even the food he’d eaten already.
He lay back on the bed, turning his head sullenly away from Harry, and felt Harry’s arms close around him with gentle strength. Harry lay there, waiting, and finally Draco whispered, not knowing what the words would be as they came out, “I don’t know how much of your life I can share. Knowing that they’re always there, waiting to take you away from me. You say that you don’t care what they think about us, but what if you’re wrong? What if you do, and you drop me to appease them?”
Harry sighed a little and brushed Draco’s hair back from his eyes. “Draco. Listen to me. I can’t tell you just how much I love you. I can’t tell you just how much I love my friends.”
Draco winced. Harry had put his finger on the heart of it. Draco did want to hear, now, how much he was loved, and that Harry loved him more than his friends. Not that Draco hated the Weasleys and Granger, not anymore, but if Harry didn’t love him more, how was he supposed to be sure?
“It’s not about how much I love you compared to the others,” Harry whispered into his ear. “It’s about what I told you before. This is my life. And the life of anyone I choose to share it with. And the person I’m dating shares the dating part of my life and has the right to know about it. No one else.”
“Ron and Hermione wouldn’t thank me if I tried to tell them they should do something about getting married soon or break up or whatever,” Harry said softly. “Neither would Bill and Fleur. They’re welcome to dislike you as a person, but if they try to tell me that I shouldn’t date you, I’m going to just ignore them. They’re no more entitled to talk to me about my love life than I would be to talk to them about theirs.”
“How can you be sure you won’t change your mind, though?” Draco whispered back.
“Because I won’t,” Harry said, and his voice was softer and heavier, now. “This is an extension of a principle I’ve believed for a long time. Or, if you want, cursed bloody stubbornness.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Draco rolled over and stared up at him. Harry stroked Draco’s hair back still, with a soft, rhythmic motion.
“I mean,” Harry said, “that I’ve never liked people telling me what I should do with my life. Who I should date. Thinking they had some right to comment on it, when it was only me and the other person I dated who should be affected.” He looked at Draco and gave a savage grin that might have frightened Draco if he hadn’t known Harry better by then. “I hated it when you were spreading rumors to Rita Skeeter and she was writing about me dating Hermione, and I hate it now.”
“So the only way that you would stop dating me—?”
“Is if we fell out of love, or you decided that you didn’t want to date me anymore, or something like that.” Harry put his chin on top of Draco’s head and closed his eyes. His voice was deeper and lazier, now. “And even then, I wouldn’t come back and date Ginny, which is what they wanted me to do. We just want things that are too different. I realized that in time. I think we’ll both be happier now.”
Draco lay still and marveled. He wasn’t sure he would have had the strength to say what Harry did, and really not care what other people thought concerning his love life.
Well, at least if his father was out of prison. Draco thought that he might have been okay with his mother. She was going to approve of Draco’s actions no matter what happened.
“What let you become this way?” Draco asked, and touched Harry’s shoulder. “I know you’ve been different since the war, more political, but I didn’t know you were this firm.”
Draco’s heart kicked for a second, as it insisted on interpreting the words as “I’m dying,” but then he calmed down and said, “You mean when you went into the Forest?”
“Yes.” Harry rolled back and looked at him, eyes just a few centimeters from Draco’s and face absurdly soft. “It made me realize that there are some things that are more important than my life, sure, like the world being saved—but also that some things should only be important to me. And since I got a second chance at life, like hell was I going to waste it bowing to people who thought they knew better than me.”
“Even your friends?” It didn’t sound to Draco like Harry’s friends usually fit in that category, although maybe he was wrong.
Once, he would have liked to be wrong. But now…
Well, they weren’t bad people. They were just people that didn’t like Draco very much and who he felt neutral on, except for the fact that they didn’t like him very much.
“Friends can make mistakes,” Harry said calmly. “Hermione was mistaken when she thought I should go back to Hogwarts. Ron made a mistake when he told me I should marry Ginny. But most of the time, they don’t think I should live to please them. It’s just taking longer for them to get over this than it is for them to get over my not going to Hogwarts. For understandable reasons.”
“I’m the understandable reason.”
“And Ginny.” Harry’s arm tightened around him. “Honestly, I think the reaction would have been pretty strong no matter who I started dating instead. We were going to get married. That was the thought in everyone’s head, and when I decided not to, I broke more expectations than just hers.”
“Good. I don’t think you would have suited each other at all.”
Draco tried to keep his voice neutral, but Harry still started laughing. “Of course, but you also have understandable reasons of your own.”
Draco lay there for a moment, adjusting his reactions again. He could more than live with a Harry who was like this, someone who could accept people’s reactions and just go on doing what he wanted anyway. He accepted that Draco might break up with him someday. Likewise, he accepted that people were angry at him for not marrying Weasley.
More than live with him.
This was the Harry who hadn’t existed before the war, the Harry who hadn’t existed before he walked into the Forbidden Forest.
And Draco loved him.
Draco rolled over further. Harry was watching him with tender eyes.
Draco kissed him and whispered, “Let’s do something that matters more than worrying how people will react to this.”
Chapter 33: Storming
Harry stared at the owl that perched on the sill of his window. It was regal-looking, but didn’t belong to anyone he knew. And it looked as though it had had spells cast on it. As far as Harry knew, no natural owl had those white feathers with the black stripes cutting their way across them.
Unless it’s a snowy owl that just decided to roll around in soot for some reason.
Harry bit his lip and told himself not to be an idiot and let memories of Hedwig make him tear up, then went to let the owl in. Even when he did, the bird sat there, examining him, as if it had to make sure he was Harry Potter. Then it did move a single step forwards—Harry couldn’t call it a hop, not when it was so much on its dignity—and held out its leg while turning its head away in a small gesture of dismissal.
Harry snorted at the owl’s theatrics, and thought he saw it twitch. There were only a small number of people this owl could belong to, he thought, as he opened the letter. And he wasn’t surprised to see the name scowling up at him from the bottom of it.
It was from Mournegath, the man who had thought he could get away with opposing the memorial, draining Hogwarts’s lake, and building a private school for the study of the Dark Arts.
Mr. Potter, if that is the name you still go by and you haven’t taken to calling yourself Mr. Malfoy,
I thought you might like to know that I have brought my ideas to the members of the public as you suggested. Enclosed is the pamphlet I have published and am distributing around the Ministry. If you do not see the foolishness of opposing me after reading it, then you never will.
“I’m afraid that your prophecy is right,” Harry said aloud, and the owl twitched.
“It’s nothing to do with you,” Harry told him, and gave the owl a sympathetic scratch on the head. The owl actually tolerated that, although it continued to look at him as if he was somewhere between a tasty meal and a problem too small to notice.
Harry turned to write a response, politely telling Mournegath that he could do what he liked, and Harry would enjoy reading the pamphlet. Then he held the letter out to the owl. The owl took it slowly, glancing around and ruffling its feathers as if Mournegath had told it that it would be assaulted here, and it was disappointed with Harry’s efforts in that regard.
“It’s okay,” Harry told the bird. “I’m not going to hurt you, and I think your master will be pleased to hear from me.” Then he shoved the owl into the air, where the bird gave him one more unnerved snap before soaring away.
Harry chuckled and shut the window, then turned to look through the pamphlet Mournegath had sent along.
It was just as insane as he had expected.
The proposal to drain the lake at Hogwarts showed up again, this time along with a claim that merfolk were dangerous to students because they might charm them into the water and “do unnatural things” with them. Never mind that there was no record of the merfolk in Hogwarts’s lake doing anything like that. It was still something that might happen, so they should drain the lake and set up a Dark Arts building to prevent it.
That was the most mental part of the pamphlet, Harry thought. Mournegath said Dark Arts might cause insanity and sadistic students and all the other things they had been proven to cause at Durmstrang, but that was no reason to stop practicing them. Harry shook his head. Who does he think he is? Someone who has a lot of power?
But when Harry read further in the pamphlet, he did think he understood. It was like Mournegath believing Harry would want to read the bloody thing. He thought everyone was standing around waiting breathlessly for his ideas, and they would rally to him, cheering, the instant they heard him.
Dark Arts is a necessary component of the Hogwarts teaching curriculum so that we do not fall behind Durmstrang.
That was a single sentence, without any evidence or any explanation of what it would mean for Hogwarts to fall “behind” Durmstrang. The latest news Harry had heard said that it was actually easier for Hogwarts students to find a job than Durmstrang ones, because too many Durmstrang professors had been Death Eaters, and so had some of the older students.
Harry finally snorted and tossed the pamphlet away from him. He would deal with the consequences of this as he needed to, but for now, he had more pleasant things to think about.
“There’s who in the fireplace?”
The house-elf made another little bow to Draco, as if it thought its news would grow less absurd the more it bowed. “She is saying her name is Hermione Granger, Master Malfoy.”
Draco blinked and stared, and blinked and stared. Still the world didn’t change around him and let him wake up from this dream.
“But why would she be Flooing me?” he muttered. The elf held its ears in response, since of course it had no answer.
Draco finally sighed and stood up. “I’ll talk to her,” he told the elf, who once again bowed before it vanished. Draco shook his head as he walked down the stairs to the drawing room.
If something is wrong with Harry…
The thought made his breath catch for a second, but then Draco reassured himself. Granger would probably have told the elf that the minute the Floo opened, so Draco would come to her faster. This way suggested she had something Weasley-related to talk about, or maybe she wanted to berate Draco for his existence.
Draco snorted slightly as he stepped in front of the fireplace. He didn’t have to take the berating, especially since he could just cut off the Floo connection without saying anything in response. What would Granger tell Harry, that he’d been rude by not listening to her rudeness?
But the face floating in the flames didn’t look upset or impatient. Granger just studied Draco, as if taking in every detail of the robes he chose to wear in the middle of the day, and then nodded and locked eyes with him. “Do you think that Harry will ever reconcile with us?” she asked abruptly.
Draco blinked, and sat down. “I don’t know why you think he’s split apart from you.”
“He doesn’t spend much time with the Weasleys at the Burrow anymore.” Granger gave a faint smile that Draco didn’t think was real. “Or with me and Ron. And it’s worrying, and annoying. We miss our friend.”
Draco relaxed a little. It was different for her to end with those words than the ones about it being worrying and annoying. “I know he doesn’t spend a lot of time at the Burrow because he doesn’t want to make things awkward for—Ginny and her parents.” Granger didn’t explode in anger when Draco used the other woman’s first name, which Draco thought was a good sign. “With you, I don’t know. He hasn’t told me.”
“It can only be because he’s dating you, though.”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “Things have changed. I have no idea what would make him not spend as much time with you. Just me, or me plus being busy with his political career, or not wanting to encounter statements like the one you just made.”
Granger paused. Then she said, “That was pretty mild.”
“Maybe he thinks Weasley won’t be mild. I don’t know. You would have to talk to him,” Draco ended pointedly.
Granger sighed. “You know how much we’ve been through together. You know how important he is to us.”
“He hasn’t chosen to discuss it with me in detail,” Draco said, with a small shrug. “But yes, I know you are both his good friends, and he would hate to lose you.”
“Then you wouldn’t try to keep him away from us?”
Draco lifted his head. “No. Only away from Weasley’s sister, but she hasn’t made an attempt to approach him anyway.”
“You have nothing to fear from Ginny. And Ron—wouldn’t urge Harry to date Ginny, either. He finally talked with his parents and with Ginny. I think he knows now that that’s never going to happen.” Granger paused, and Draco couldn’t interpret the expression on her face. Then Granger said, “So you could tell Harry that.”
“I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t tell Harry that,” Draco pointed out. “You’re the one who wants to know his reasons for doing whatever he’s doing.”
“I—the situation might still be too volatile—”
“Merlin spare me from Gryffindors who shouldn’t have been Sorted into Gryffindor because of their lack of courage.”
That worked. Granger straightened so hard that Draco imagined he could hear the snap of her spine across the miles. “That’s a low blow, Malfoy,” she said.
Draco shrugged. “You’re the one who’s convinced Harry’s avoiding you, for whatever reason. I didn’t know he was. I haven’t talked to him about it. The only thing I know is that he’s not going to date Weasley’s sister again, and that’s enough for me. You’re the one who needs to go make peace with Harry, or talk to him and find out all your worries are delusions, or whatever the truth really is.”
Granger made a little motion with her mouth Draco didn’t understand. “And you’re saying you don’t give a damn if we make that peace or not. I thought you cared about Harry.”
“I do,” Draco said. He would have got upset at that accusation if Granger had made it a few days ago, but now he understood things he doubted Granger could understand if they bit her on the arse. He folded his hands and smiled at her. “About Harry. I want him happy. But as far as I can tell, he’s not unhappy. He might not even know that you see him as avoiding you. You’re the one who has to have the courage to talk to him and figure it out one way or another.”
“And you won’t stir yourself for us.”
“No more than you would for me.”
Granger squinted at him. “It’s not the same thing.”
“Of course not. One of those would involve you acting, and one would involve me acting. I’m naturally lazy. I know what I would prefer.”
Granger wasn’t squinting as hard. “There’s something to what you say, Malfoy.” Draco held his tongue against the impulse to agree with her, loudly and insincerely. Granger hesitated a moment, then added, “I—don’t think that Harry would mind if I talked to him.”
“Of course he wouldn’t.”
Granger nodded. “If I talk to him, and it turns out it’s nothing, expect an invitation to dinner with us. While Harry’s there, of course,” she added hastily, as if she assumed Draco would be dying to invade her kitchen without Harry at his back.
“Done,” Draco said, and waited until the Floo connection shut and he was sure Granger had gone.
Then he leaned back on his couch and laughed and laughed, because what else could he do?
Chapter 34: Baring
“…And then Malfoy said we should talk to you if we felt that you were ignoring and avoiding us.” From the way Hermione braced herself, she thought Harry was going to lash out when she finally got to her question. “Are you?”
Harry shook his head slowly. He could feel an enormous pride and warmth swelling up from the bottom of his chest, like a growing fire. “No. I didn’t know you felt that way, or I would have done something about it sooner. I only thought I was giving you enough time to calm down from me dating Draco, and Ron enough time to calm down over Ginny.”
Hermione sighed a little and seemed to droop all at once. “I think Ron’s calmed down over Ginny as much as he ever will. He seems to believe now that you’re not suited to each other. That’s good, right?”
Harry nodded. “I never wanted to stop being friends with you,” he said. “I just didn’t want to be scolded over Draco or Ginny, either.”
“Oh, Harry. We wouldn’t have done that.”
Harry held her eyes, and waited. Hermione winced. “All right, immediately after you said that you were breaking up with Ginny, we might have done that,” she admitted. “Or dating Malfoy. Yes, I can see where you got that impression.”
“So it’s just been a comedy of errors and misunderstandings all around,” said Harry, who was glad to learn it was that rather than something more serious. “Then maybe we can get together for dinner soon?”
“Yes.” Hermione looked as though she was struggling with some other revelation, and Harry waited patiently for her to spit it out. Finally, she did. “I told Malfoy we would invite him over to the dinner.”
“That’s wonderful. I’d like to see you and Draco all in the same room.” And watch both Draco and Ron struggle not to explode. Although Harry suspected Draco would have an easier time than Ron.
“Well, then.” Hermione hesitated only a few minutes more before she gave Harry a dazzling smile. “Is there some special dish Malfoy likes?”
“I think Draco will eat just about anything,” said Harry, and watched Hermione file that fact away with a determined little nod.
“Then tonight,” said Hermione. “Six-o’clock. And you can tell Malfoy yourself. I think he might want to hear from you.” She hesitated one more time before she pulled her head out of the Floo, though, and Harry got rewarded for his patience with a mumbled, “Please make him understand the invitation is sincere.”
Then she was gone, and Harry stood up, smiling slowly into the cold fireplace and the empty room where Hermione had struggled with her own worries.
“Letting people work things out on their own is better after all,” he said aloud. The first thing Hermione had told him when she Flooed him was that she’d already Flooed Draco, and what he’d said about Hermione and Ron needing to work things out with Harry on their own.
It was proof of the way Harry had tried to handle people since the war, giving them their own chances and trusting in their decisions—unless they proved that they were going to be silly about it. Then he would move in or do something different, but only then.
He stood there and let a feeling of warm sunlight bathe him in quiet rejoicing.
Then he smiled, and Flooed Draco.
Draco adjusted his robes with a muttered curse. Harry had said that wearing too-formal robes over to Granger and Weasley’s house would be a mistake, and Draco could see all the reasons why that was so. But casual clothing was also out of the question for him, and he was actually more awkward in the informal robes, which he didn’t wear often enough to practice with, then he was with dress ones.
“You look fine.”
Harry had come through the Floo and stood watching him struggle without any excess of sympathy. Draco glared at him. “You would say that,” he snapped, and tugged at his robe’s collar, which didn’t itch enough.
“Yes, I would.” Harry reached over and put a hand on Draco’s arm, catching his eye. Draco found himself calming down almost without wanting to at the faint smile on Harry’s face.
“What will really make you in their eyes isn’t the robes you wear,” Harry said. “That’s why I told you not to wear dress ones. It’s what you say and the way you behave.”
“Because those were so efficient at helping me in the past,” Draco muttered. Harry tapped him on the shoulder a little.
“We’ve all changed since the war, although I think you have most of all,” Harry disagreed, and then he smiled. “Don’t tell me you feel afraid to come to their house now.”
“Not afraid,” said Draco. He knew it was true. He had said the right things to Granger, and Harry had said the right things to her and Weasley. Draco no longer thought they would take Harry away from him. He no longer desired to take Harry away from them. “Only wary. I don’t think they really want to see me there.”
“They do,” Harry said. “I know that much. Hermione might want it more, but they take you seriously and don’t want to exile you from my life. And they know exactly how much you mean to me.”
Draco blinked. That wasn’t something he’d foreseen. “Because you explained it to them?”
“No,” said Harry. He squeezed Draco’s hand once, and then let it go, to fall gently back to Draco’s side. “Because Hermione’s a smart woman, and she’ll have seen how hard I fought for you, harder than for anyone else who wanted to date me or who I wanted to date.” He reached out and tweaked Draco’s nose this time, and Draco pulled his head back with a faint splutter of displeasure. Harry being Harry, he didn’t seem to take notice of that, only watching Draco with a faint smile.
“So you have my friends on your side as long as you don’t do something massively inappropriate,” he said. “And I can’t imagine you doing that. Want to go now?”
“Lead on,” Draco said, and Harry led the way to the Floo without even a smug smirk of the kind that would have irritated Draco.
Hermione would have a long struggle to call Draco by his first name, Harry judged, but she was doing better than he’d expected. Her smile was stiff, but he couldn’t fault her for that. She shook his hand once, and then turned and escorted Ron forwards as if she thought he would run out of the room and up the stairs if she didn’t have her hand firmly pressed in the middle of his back.
“Hello, Malfoy,” Ron said, in the tones of a child told to recite the words the right way or else at some boring ceremony. Harry had seen the same things in children whose parents led them up to him at Ministry galas. He held out a limp hand, shook for as short a time as possible, and pulled it back as soon as possible.
“Hello, Weasley,” Draco said, and his smile was polite and normal, the kind he’d given people at the Ministry ball.
“Good,” said Hermione, and clasped her hands. “Now that the introductions are out of the way, we’ll go into the kitchen and eat.”
Draco assumed a different sort of polite expression, and Harry knew he was wondering who had made the food, and if it would be as good as the kind his house-elves made. Harry pinched him a little in the middle of his back, and shook his head when he caught Draco’s eye. “It’s Ron’s turn,” he whispered.
“Does that mean it’ll be inedible, or would that be when it’s Granger’s turn?” Draco muttered, with a trick for seizing on the things Harry hadn’t said that only exasperated Harry some of the time.
“It means that it’ll be good,” said Harry firmly, and pushed Draco ahead of him.
Despite what he’d said, it was likely that Ron had got the food from the Leaky Cauldron or something, which would mean they were really eating Tom’s cooking. Harry didn’t care. The smells that wafted out of the doorway were delicious, at least to him, and even Draco had stopped complaining by the time they sat down at the table.
There were roasted potatoes, and small carrots that simply fell apart when Harry tried to cut into them, and steaming gravy to pour over all of them. There were crumbly cheese sandwiches—the cheese pushed into the bread—that made Harry’s mouth open a little wider just looking at them. And there were pieces of what Harry thought was chicken until he bit into it.
“Is this duck?” Draco sounded astonished. Harry tried to kick him under the table, but he was afraid of accidentally hitting the wrong person.
“It is.” Ron smirked at Draco as if he knew exactly what he was thinking, and took a large bite. He might, for all Harry knew. Draco wasn’t nearly as hard to read as he’d sometimes been before the war, when Harry hadn’t known what he was thinking.
After their delicious dinner, they moved into the drawing room, and Weasley brought out a plate of small, coconut-dusted chocolates, his eyes challenging. Draco sipped from his tea and met Weasley’s stare.
Here it comes, the interrogation.
“How long are you planning to date Harry?” Weasley asked, as if that was a perfectly normal question, and made sure Draco took a chocolate from the plate before he began to pass it around the little circle.
Draco’s neck twitched with the desire to look at Harry, but he didn’t. He would have to handle this on his own. And Harry, from the stolidity he used to sit by the fire and suck on his sweet, didn’t see anything wrong with it. Probably he wouldn’t as long as Weasley wasn’t outright rude.
“As long as I want to,” said Draco. “And as long as he wants to date me, too, of course.” There had been a sudden, dangerous gleam in Weasley’s eyes that made Draco add that second thing.
Weasley eased back and studied Draco for a second. “That’s sort of cheating,” he said.
“I don’t see how. Unless you would give me a different answer as to how long you’ll be together with Granger?”
Weasley turned red. “You have no right to ask that.”
“Then what right do you have to ask how long I’ll date Harry?” Draco looked Weasley in the eye and did his best to radiate sincerity which, admittedly, was something he didn’t have much practice in. “I’m trying to behave well, Weasley. I don’t want to have the same argument I did with Granger through the Floo. I think the only people who have the right to decide how long we’ll date are me and Harry.”
Weasley reached over and picked out a chocolate, but it seemed to be mainly for the sake of having something to do with his hands. He was turning it over and over in his hands, smearing his fingers with coconut. “But you want to keep us happy.”
“Because you’re his friends, and your opinion matters to him.”
“And if I tell you that we’d be happier if you’d never met?”
Draco shrugged. “You would have to go back in time to when we were eleven years old and in Madam Malkin’s shop. I don’t think they’ve invited a Time-Turner that can manage that yet.”
Weasley choked a little. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes, but I think it’s ridiculous.” Draco shook his head when Weasley started to turn even redder. “But to answer the real question, your happiness only matters to me if it matters to Harry. And he’s not going to walk away from me just for your asking. If he was going to do that, it would have happened already.”
Weasley turned to Harry, and Draco finally let himself do the same thing. Weasley was giving Harry the sort of pleading glance Draco had held back earlier. “Mate? What do you say to this?”
Harry took the chocolate from his mouth and said, “That Draco is absolutely right, and you’re being a little ridiculous, Ron.” He popped the chocolate back into his mouth and sat there smiling at Weasley.
“I like that.” Weasley’s tone made it so obvious that he didn’t like it that Draco wondered why he was trying to fool anyone. “My best mate thinks I’m being ridiculous when I try to make sure of his happiness…”
“It’s because you can’t make sure of it that way, Ron,” said Granger. Her voice was calm, and she kept her hands crossed in her lap. She smiled at Draco. “You want Harry to be happy. Malfoy is trying to make him happy. Maybe we can’t trust Malfoy completely yet, but we can make a start on it.”
She doesn’t trust me enough to use my first name, for one thing, Draco thought, but that was okay. It was about the same comfort level he had with Weasley and Granger themselves.
“If you think we can,” Weasley muttered, sinking back. Draco blinked at him, a little astonished that Weasley had that much trust in Granger.
“I do.” Granger studied Draco for a second, then turned back to Weasley and murmured something. Weasley nodded slowly.
Draco wished he could have heard what it was, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Granger took a deep breath, turned, and held out a hand to him. “Then you’re welcome over to our house whenever Harry comes, Malfoy.”
Draco shook her hand. “Thank you.” Weasley didn’t offer his hand, but that was okay. Draco also didn’t look at him and embarrass him about it.
Instead, he looked at Harry.
Who was smiling.
Chapter 35: Rising
The crowd muttered and flowed back and forth, taking up a good amount of the space in Diagon Alley, to the point that some people actually trailed into Knockturn Alley. Harry eased through them, murmuring polite excuses and sometimes showing his scar when there was no other way to get them to move.
He couldn’t help noticing that even with all the people apparently eager to hear Mournegath speak, the crowd was a lot smaller than most that had come to hear him.
Behind Harry, now and then uttering a deep sigh like he was trying to catch his breath in the middle of a forest fire, came Draco. Harry looked back at him more than once, and each time Draco nodded. Harry finally relaxed when they were in front of the hovering podium Mournegath had raised to speak at. He supposed he had to trust Draco at some point or else treat him like a child.
The floating podium looked like it was made of pure gold, although Harry was sure that was only a clever illusion. It had a huge M on it in the front, surrounded with tiny sparkling decorations that made Harry have to stifle a chuckle. He nudged Draco and pointed it out to him.
Draco frowned at it so hard Harry thought he would have to explain the joke. Then Draco caught on to what he was thinking and glared at him. “The Malfoys never did anything so pretentious,” he hissed.
A few people in the crowd turned around at the name “Malfoy.” Harry gave them a calm look, and either the calmness or the fact that he was Harry Potter made them turn back to the front.
Harry smiled at Draco. “You’re right,” he said. “You were much more pretentious when you had the chance.”
Draco scowled in outrage, but at that point Mournegath floated up on the wings of an invisible charm and landed on the little disk behind the podium, and people started chattering, clapping, or cheering on principle. Draco had to scowl and poke Harry in the side with a look that promised vengeance later.
Harry wasn’t afraid. Draco’s vengeance was always of the good kind. He turned cheerfully back to the front.
Mournegath surveyed the crowd regally, apparently waiting for people to be quiet. People chattered more loudly instead. Mournegath finally seemed to realize he wasn’t up to inspiring silence with his mere presence, so he took his wand out and shot a stream of red sparks into the air, where they exploded.
Harry snorted a little even as the crowd jumped and mostly shut up. The explosion was a good trick, but otherwise, that spell was something any first-year at Hogwarts could accomplish. Mournegath wasn’t a good walking advertisement for his own ideas about Dark Arts education being inherently superior.
“Now that I have your attention,” Mournegath said, putting away his wand with a flourish, “I want to speak about the very important cause I’ve come here to talk about.”
“The importance of always being redundant and speaking as if large crowds would have gathered around me for anything else,” Draco murmured into Harry’s ear.
Harry grinned. “Are you translating from his natural language of Pretentionery?”
Draco ignored that loftily and listened as Mournegath went on, “For too long have our people been restricted in power by the restrictions the Ministry imposes on us.”
“I want to do whatever I want when I want it,” Draco whispered. “Including repeating myself.”
“For too long we have had to hear our kind of people told that if they want their children to learn Dark Arts, they would have to send them to Durmstrang.”
“Everything I want should be right near me to spare me having to find an International Floo.”
“We have been lied to!”
“It’s the normal process of conversation, but I can make it sound more dramatic.”
Mournegath brought his fist down on the podium, which made it waver. Harry hid a snicker. It seemed Mournegath hadn’t even bothered to study the magic that was supposed to support him in the air. Harry hoped that would start to undermine people’s trust in him—assuming they had any. “We learned that Hogwarts was the greatest school of magic in Europe. How were we to know that was true?”
“If I say something and imply that it’s not true, I don’t have to actually deny it and get in trouble.”
A few people had started to pay more attention to Draco’s “translation” than Mournegath’s actual speech. Well, more than a few, Harry thought, as a ripple of laughter spread around them.
It was far enough back from Mournegath that Harry had thought some of the crowd gathered directly beneath him might notice, but not Mournegath himself. He did, though. He leaned over the podium, making it rock again, and stared at them.
“Explain why you do not have the courtesy to keep silent and let me speak!” he boomed.
“Explain why you insist on believing in the truth and not simply falling in with whatever I want when I want it,” Draco mouthed.
Harry let loose the laughter he’d been holding in, and saw the way Mournegath’s head reared back. He might actually recognize Harry’s laughter; Harry wouldn’t be surprised if Mournegath was sensitive enough to criticism to memorize his enemies’ merriment like that. And then Mournegath had his hand in motion, waving some of the people who might be bodyguards forwards.
“Bring me the person who laughs like that!” he commanded.
Harry wondered, for a second, as the dark-robed wizards came towards him, if he should encourage Draco to run. But a single glance at Draco’s face showed him the futility of that. Draco would never have left him.
In fact, he might do more than not leaving Harry. Draco was grinning, the same kind of grin Harry used to see on his face almost despite his own spirit when they were spinning around each other in a game of Quidditch. Draco might tell himself that he’d only cared about winning, but it was more than that. It was love of the game.
And this is a different kind of game, Harry realized, when Draco winked at him and moved to meet Mournegath’s guards. He stepped back. His hand was on his wand and he would intervene if Draco needed him, but he thought it only fair to let Draco have this moment of protecting him.
They were in love, after all.
Draco wondered, when he saw the scowls of those bodyguards, or whatever they were, if this was a mistake. Perhaps he should have waited for a better time to confront Mournegath, like when he didn’t have a horde of wizards staring at him and waiting for him to fail, or muttering among themselves when they saw his face.
But that would be cowardly. And the one thing Draco never wanted Harry to think him was cowardly.
“You wanted me, really,” he called up to Mournegath. “Because I was arrested for being a Dark wizard, and I can debate with you on equal ground. And I’m the one who made Harry laugh in the first place.”
Mournegath stared with such a grim set to his mouth that Draco wondered for a moment if the great fool remembered who he was. Then Mournegath made a little grimace of distaste and shook his head. “You have five seconds to explain to me why you were making Harry Potter laugh.”
This is going to be easier than I thought, Draco realized, and he relaxed as warmth spread through him. All I have to do is tell the truth.
“Because I would rather be making Harry Potter laugh than doing anything else in the world,” he said, and then he glanced over his shoulder. Maybe if he was really strong, Draco thought, he would have kept facing forwards and not looked.
But he wanted to see Harry’s face. That wasn’t a fault. That was a blessing.
And Harry’s expression was brilliant, and he looked at Draco as if he was the center of the universe. That was more than enough inspiration for Draco to turn back to Mournegath and add gently, “And I think that might have been four seconds. Even shorter than your deadline!”
That made more than one person laugh. Draco smiled and didn’t take his eyes from Mournegath. If he was ever going to be dangerous, as opposed to pompous, now was probably the moment.
Mournegath lowered his head like a bull about to charge, but he was all huff and puff and no horns. “I understand that you also oppose draining the lake at Hogwarts and building a new Dark Arts school there.”
“Yes.” Draco said simply.
Draco blinked a little, then shook his head and asked, “Isn’t it obvious?”
Draco snorted a little. “There’s no evidence that merfolk harm people. Hogwarts has been independent from control like yours for hundreds of years. It has its own Board of Governors, without the need to play the tune that people like you want it to. And if you want your own Dark Arts school so badly, you could found it anywhere.” He paused, and then added something that might not be true but was an interesting thought he’d just had. “Unless the real reason you want to build on Hogwarts grounds is to keep yourself from having to buy land and fund the school on your own.”
There was a long, low murmur of agreement from the crowd. Draco gazed up at Mournegath, and even though he couldn’t see him well because of the distance between the ground and the podium, he thought he could see the way his face flushed.
Draco nodded and asked a question that didn’t have to be true to be devastating. “Is that a guilty flush I see?”
Mournegath should have gone on. He should have sneered and said that of course it wasn’t, and then answered with some of the research that he had told people he’d gathered on the good consequences of the Dark Arts and the bad consequences of having merfolk in the lake at Hogwarts.
But he didn’t. He turned abruptly away, as if he would leave the podium, as if he would flee the podium, and then turned back and opened his mouth as if he would continue the speech.
His moment was lost, though. Draco’s moment had come. The welling laughter met Mournegath, and he didn’t try hard enough to fight it. He scowled instead, yelled something that not even the Sonorus Charm on his throat could make loud enough to counteract the crowd, and then turned and floated down from the podium. His bodyguards, or whatever they really were, closed around him at once, and then he was flitting into the crowd and gone.
Harry stepped up beside Draco. Draco gazed at him, smiling, aware of the click of cameras and that a picture of them looking like this would appear in most of the papers tomorrow. Not that he minded, or cared.
Then Harry bent and took his lips in a gentle kiss.
There were whoops and yells and more camera flashes, and Draco realized he’d been wrong, on two counts. First, this was the picture that would be on the front pages of all the papers tomorrow.
And second, he cared very much that Harry Potter was kissing him in front of all these people. He cared because he was pleased, and happy, and proud, and he knew he wouldn’t trade his place for anything in the world.
This is what my life is about.