The Deeper Symbolism Behind Gold Apples
The people milling in the room froze at the sound of Head Auror Harry Potter's voice raised in anger. Anyone who had access to this inner chamber at the Ministry For Magic knew the usually even-tempered Auror Potter rarely raised his voice, and when he did he was not happy. Several made for the exit, leaving only his closest advisors still lingering.
"Well, I've never known anyone who could clear a room quite like you, Potter," Pansy Parkinson Thomas drawled. The four of them were in the waiting room just off of Auror Potter's office, having come directly from a full meeting of the Wizengamot, and they followed him when he stalked into his office. Mrs. Thomas leaned her hip on his big mahogany desk and gave her boss a slow smile. "It was one of the things I first admired about you."
"You first admired his arse," Ronald Weasley muttered with a wry smirk, dropping into a chair in front of the desk.
"Oh, silly boy." Pansy's smile ripened. "I started admiring that arse when we were still at Hogwarts. I just didn't like the prat attached to it. I admired yours too, if I recall correctly."
"If we could, for just a moment, stop discussing Harry's arse," Hermione Granger-Weasley said pertly, crossing her arms over her chest. She gave Pansy a pointed look. "And I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't discuss my husband's, either, thanks ever so. We're supposed to be professionals here."
Pansy's musical, infectious laugh filled the room. "That'll be the day. You may feel like a "professional", Granger," she made finger quotes in front of her, "but I think it can be argued that the rest of us missed that memo."
Ron huffed. "Speak for yourself. Running a business is adult work." After the death of his twin, George Weasley left the Diagon Alley location in Ron's hands in order to open a much smaller store in Hogsmeade. As the elected representative to the Wizengamot from the Diagon Alley district, he'd been present in the meeting.
Pansy giggled. "Oh, for fuck's sakes, you sell pillows that fart when you sit on them."
"Right money spinners they are, too," Ron said with a lopsided grin. "Farts are always funny."
"Oh, Good Lord!" Hermione propped her hands on her hips, and Harry thought she looked exactly as she had when she was eleven. If you took away the sleek French twist and the black prosecutor's robes with the DMLE logo embroidered on the front, she was just Hermione Granger, still the smartest witch of her age. "Can we please, please return to the point?" She turned to Harry. "You haven't a choice, Harry. The Wizengamot voted, with only one vote dissenting." She gave Ron a pointed look, and he held up his hands.
"Don't give me the look, Hermione. I knew perfectly well how he felt about this, and Harry's friendship comes before the Wizengamot."
"Thanks for that, mate," Harry said, feeling suddenly tired.
"Anytime." Ron gave him a bolstering smile and a wink, and Harry figured his friend would get to hear more about that vote later when his wife got him home.
"Harry," Hermione went on, "that spot in the Atrium has sat empty for nearly a decade, and they want a statue of you. The tenth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts is in May."
He gave her a cross look. "Do you think you have to remind me when it is, Hermione?"
She had the grace to look embarrassed. "Sorry, obviously not. But you really haven't a choice in this."
"I always have a choice," he shot back. "If I don't cooperate, they can't do anything about it."
"Don't be a numbskull." She shook her head, obviously irritated. "Harry, like it or not, you are the obvious choice. I know you aren't happy about it, but at some point in your life you need to recognize the impact you've had on our world." Her usually warm brown eyes were cool. "And if you refuse to cooperate, you look like the world's biggest prat."
Harry ran his hands through his hair in frustration. It was much shorter than it had been when he was in school, shorter than the hatchet jobs Hermione had done while they were on the run. But when he ran his hands through it, it stuck up in sharp spikes all over his head. "Why just me?"
Hermione looked at him as if he were touched in the head. "Why just you?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "Why just me. Why not…all three of us." He gestured widely to include her and Ron, but dropped his hand when its trajectory passed Pansy. He felt a rush of discomfort on her behalf. "I'm sorry, Pans…"
She laughed brightly. "Oh, please, Potter. If I ever feel a pressing need to be immortalized in marble, I've a way to manage." She pointed one long scarlet nail at her own face. "But this visage will not find a place of permanence in the Atrium. I feel some intrepid disgruntled souls would find ways to deface it." Her mink dark eyes were sparkling. "Apparently I offended some when I was ready to offer you to the Dark Bastard."
Harry gave her a teasing glance. "I was fairly offended."
Pansy tossed some slick, shining dark brown hair over her shoulder. "Yes, but you, dear fool, don't hold a grudge." She looked at all of them. "Apparently it's in the Gryffindor code of ethics or something."
"Nah." Ron grinned at her. "We always knew you were a right bint. We just didn't realize you were a funny bint."
"Oh, let's do put that on my tombstone. She was a right bint, but a funny one."
Ron laughed but Hermione wasn't nearly as amused. "Can we please keep track of the plot, you two? The point is—"
"The point is," Harry broke in, "that whether I like it or not they are damned bloody determined to put a permanent statue of me in the goddamned Atrium."
"You at 17, not to put too fine a point on it," Ron said. "They said they want it as close to how you actually looked as possible."
"I looked like shite," Harry said. "I'd been fighting all night, my clothes were torn, I had dirt and blood all over my face. Christ, I'd even died. After all of that, I wasn't looking particularly heroic."
"But that's the point, isn't it?" Hermione said, her face suddenly soft and yet more intent. It was an odd combination. Almost like she remembered with sadness, but felt that made it more important. "You were a seventeen year old boy. And you stopped a holocaust. Like it or not, Harry, you are now and always will be a hero."
He walked around his desk and flopped down into his chair, pushing it back, leaning into the swivel rocker's padded seat. "Hermione, you know how I feel about the whole hero thing."
She nodded, finally taking a seat next to Ron in front of the desk. "I do. Unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly, yours is the last opinion they're concerned with."
"How is that okay?" All of the heat had drained from his voice, and now he just felt resigned.
Hermione delicately shrugged one shoulder. "It isn't. Unfortunately, it just doesn't matter. They're going to do this with you, or without you. And if you try to fight them…"
"I know; I look like the world's biggest prat. Fuck." Harry dropped his hands heavily onto the top of the desk. "All right, but Gods I'm going to hate walking by the fucking thing every day. Do you know how bloody… unnatural that's going to feel?"
Ron beamed. "I'm so glad I won't have to. Just another one of the benefits of not working in this ruddy building."
Harry gave him a flat look and Hermione reached over to pinch Ron's arse. He jumped with a yowl.
"Fuck, Hermione. That bloody hurt."
"Good. You aren't helping. Someday I would love it if just once, you'd engage your brain before your mouth."
"I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you, Granger." Pansy tucked some of her hair behind her ear. "I don't believe he has enough sense in the whole of his body to engage both his mouth and his brain at the same time." Hermione shook her head and Ron spent a minute looking affronted.
"Okay," Harry said finally. "How do I do this?"
"Well, I thought we'd visit an art gallery first."
"An art gallery?" Harry grimaced. "Why?"
"Because the sculptor who has been commissioned to do the statue of you happens to have a show currently installed at Witherington's."
"Installed?" Harry said, brow twitching.
"Yes. Installed," she answered with exaggerated patience. "These are life-size statues, many of them in bronze. They're large, and they're very heavy. They're also quite beautiful."
Harry leaned forward, his elbows on the messy parchment covered top of his desk. He stared at Hermione pensively. "You've seen this… installation?"
"No, not this one. But I have seen the artist's work. Trust me when I say it's remarkable."
Harry looked up and saw his executive assistance standing in the open doorway. "Yes, Hespia?"
"There's been a bit of a tussle in Wessex. Adolescent Potions trafficking. They found some Incandescence on one of the boys." She gave him a meaningful look. "First to respond were Dawlish and Fletchley."
Harry stood, quickly buttoning the top two buttons on the deep red uniform. "Get me the Apparition coordinates."
"I have them here." Hespia came to him, holding out a bit of parchment. He took it from her and checked them. He looked at Hermione. "We'll finish this discussion later, all right?"
"The show is tonight. I already have tickets for the seven of us, including Dean, Ginny and Luna."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Lovely. All right, I'll try to button up this mess as quickly as I can, but I have to go." He looked at Pansy, who was wearing the same red uniform he was. "You can manage things here?"
"You mustn't be late, Harry. I'll owl you the directions."
Harry scowled. "I know where Witherington's is. I'll meet you there." He gave her a pointed look. "At nine."
He gave them another curt nod, then followed Hespia out of the door to walk to one of the Ministry's Apparition points.
Once he was gone, and the echoing sound of his footsteps had faded completely, Pansy turned to Hermione with a sly smile.
"When exactly do you plan to tell Harry that the artist who's been hired to do his statue is Draco?"
"What?" Ron, who had been near to drowsing, straightened as if someone had poked him with a stick. "Malfoy?"
One of Pansy's dark brows cocked ironically. "There's another Draco, is there?"
"I doubt it," Ron grumbled. "Only one prat was given that ridiculous name."
Pansy's smirk widened. "So says Bilius."
Ron rolled his eyes. "That'll teach me to drink with you again, you big mouthed twat."
Pansy managed an exaggerated pretense his barb had injured her and Hermione sighed. "Could the two of you stow it, for even one day?"
Ron's grin was as unrepentant as Pansy's. "Unlikely."
"But, seriously Granger," Pansy said. "You don't plan to warn Potter what he's walking into tonight at all? I understand Draco's parents will be there."
Hermione rubbed her forehead. Finally, she squared her shoulders. "It's been a decade. They're both going to just have to behave like adults long enough for this thing to be finished."
Pansy's laugh was derisive. "Good luck with that. Well," she stood, buttoning the top on her uniform as she did. "I've a class to teach. This group of new cadets is sharp, but they're a handful. Dean and I will see you both this evening." She headed toward the door, then paused. "At the very least, this should prove to be entertaining." She arched a brow at Hermione. "I'll leave handling the fall out to you."
Hermione gave her a withering look. "Thank you so very much."
"Anytime, darling." She blew a kiss over her shoulder and left the office.
Ron turned to his wife. "Malfoy? Seriously? Have you lost your mind?"
Hermione crossed her arms. "This was not my choice, and I'm only handling any of it because they know I'm close to Harry."
"Yeah, well, we'll see how much weight that carries when he finds out it's Malfoy." Ron grunted and pursed his lips. "I didn't know Malfoy was an artist."
She paused, her brow furrowed thoughtfully. "I'd venture to say there was any number of things we didn't know about Draco."
Ron didn't look convinced. "I'll take your word for it. I know as much as I want to."
It wasn't his first show, but it was his largest. And knowing his parents were going to be in attendance just made the usual tightness across his shoulders even worse. He rolled his head slowly, trying to gently stretch some of the tension in the taut muscles. It didn't help much. Maybe a glass of champagne would. He went in search of Blaise, knowing his old friend had access to the alcohol.
He found Blaise just off of the showroom floor in the gallery's beautifully decorated main offices, having an animated conversation with Mare Witherington, the owner. She was the fifth generation who had operated the venerable institution, having just inherited it from her father. Old Witherington had been at least a hundred and sixty, and such an obvious gay man Draco was astonished he'd managed to father anyone. Mare was probably over a hundred, but she held up well. Draco was certain the red hair was spell augmented, and the surprising lack of wrinkles had to be magic. Blaise joked there was a painting somewhere that showed how she actually looked al la Dorian Grey, but Draco imagined she was just extremely gifted with glamours.
"Ah, there he is," she said expansively, holding out her heavily ringed fingers. Long, sharp black lacquered nails should have been either ridiculous or repulsive, but for some reason they were neither. Her brown eyes gleamed as she gripped Draco's hand. "Our star."
Draco grimaced. "Oh, never that." He shivered. "Gods forbid. I just want to sculpt and for everyone to leave me alone."
Mare gave him a commiserating look. "And here I am, forcing you to spend the evening mingling."
"It's part of the job." Draco shrugged. "I'll survive."
"Here." Blaise poured a glass of sparkling champagne from a bottle in an ice bucket on a nearby table. "This will no doubt help."
"You're reading my mind again." Draco took the glass gratefully.
"Have been since we were eleven." Blaise handed his employer a glass, and she nodded graciously as she took it. Then Blaise poured one for himself. He lifted it.
"To your success."
Draco gave him a slight smile as Mare echoed the sentiment.
"Thank you both," Draco murmured. "For your help and your encouragement."
"Purely self-serving, my dear. I intend to make a lovely pile of galleons in commissions tonight." She sipped her champagne.
"I will say," Blaise gave Draco a thorough once over from his shoes to his hair, "you are exceptionally well turned out. New dress robes?"
Draco shifted uncomfortably. "My mother felt the need."
"They really are quite lovely." Mare fingered the black fabric of Draco's sleeve. The robes were black with slender silver piping around the sleeves and collar, and accenting the lines from his throat to his toes. "They're very aesthetic," she went on. "You look a bit like a high end monk."
Blaise's laugh sputtered in his goblet. "There's a thought."
Mare gave him a chiding look. "Don't be crass, Blaise dear." She drained her glass and placed it back next to the bucket. "I need to go supervise the caterers. Last time they were a disaster and I want everything to be perfect." She indicated the elegant grandfather clock against the wall. "You have about ten minutes until the doors open." She gave them a fleeting smile and sailed out the door.
Blaise topped off Draco's glass. "How're you holding up. Honestly. Now that Mare has hared off in another direction."
Draco was well beyond sipping. He took a deep drink of champagne. "I'm a wreck," he admitted finally. "You know how I feel about these bloody things."
"I do," Blaise said softly. "I'm glad we have a couple of minutes before the doors open; there are some people who will be an attendance tonight that I felt it only fair to warn you about."
Draco's stomach, which hadn't felt that great to begin with, began to roil. "Who?"
Blaise took another sip of champagne. "You knew when you accepted that commission people you'd rather not see were bound to turn up."
Blaise gave him a look that stated more clearly than any words that he was an idiot. Draco sighed heavily and held out his glass for a refill. "Yes, I knew when I accepted the commission to sculpt a statue of the boy who wouldn't fucking die that Ministry types would turn up. What of it?"
Draco stared at Blaise's calm face as he topped off Draco's champagne. "They'll be turning up tonight."
Ice water seemed to fill his veins and Draco closed his eyes against a wave of vertigo. Was he ready to be under that sort of microscope?
"Who?" he asked, his voice rough.
"Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Weasley…"
"Oh, of course she'd be here. Nosy bint."
"Quite," Blaise agreed. "Mr. and Mrs. Dean Thomas."
Draco relaxed slightly. "I haven't seen Pans in an age."
Blaise's mouth curled slightly. "She's not much changed. Still snotty and entirely too convinced of her own importance."
Draco laughed slightly. "I'm delighted to know some things don't change." Draco straightened. "Who else?"
"The lovely lesbian couple, Ms. Lovegood and Ms. Weasley…"
"I could have called that one," Draco murmured with wry smirk. "Surely that can't be it."
"Noooo." Blaise looked at Draco over the rim of his glass. "There is also a reservation in the name of one – Harry Potter."
Inside Draco's heart began to pound, but he held his outer composure. "Well, I hadn't imagined the rest of them would turn up without their ring leader."
Blaise watched him carefully. "You're all right with this?"
Draco snorted softly. "I've a choice, do I?"
Blaise looked honestly regretful. "No, old man, I don't believe you do. But once the statue is done and in place, you'll be able to write your own ticket."
"So you keep saying," Draco said dryly.
"Once they see what you can do, Draco, anything that came before will be forgiven, and forgotten."
Draco wasn't sure about that, but the lure of that… absolution, the idea that he could replace in people's minds what they thought they knew of him with his skill as a sculptor was the only reason he'd agreed to take this job to begin with. And yes, he knew that in order to do the piece, he'd have to see Potter. His memories from the night of the Battle of Hogwarts were burned in his mind, and he had stored them in his pensieve, just to be safe. But he knew exact measurements were required to make it as life like as possible. He just hoped – he took another deep drink of champagne. He just hoped they could maintain their professional courtesy, and a careful distance. It didn't do to hope for anything else. Not after all this time.
The grandfather clock began to chime, and Draco and Blaise exchanged a last, long look.
"I believe that's your cue," Blaise said.
Draco nodded, set his empty glass aside, and straightened his impeccable robes. With one last solemn look at Blaise, he turned and left the room.
He'd managed to make it home long enough to have a quick shower and change into his formal uniform, but he was pants at grooming charms and had given up trying years before. His hair was short enough that he didn't have to try too hard but for the fringe, and it did whatever the hell it wanted, curling above his right eye but infuriatingly unwilling to hide his scar. The lightning bolt had lightened over the years but it was still there, a raised ridge of whitened flesh in the center of his forehead. He didn't bother trying to shave; it took too long to shave close enough that it mattered, and he just didn't bloody feel like it. He'd taken a Stunner to the back of his head during the raid, and even his hair hurt. The idea of walking in amongst all of those over-dressed, sycophantic Ministry suck-ups was enough to make him want to turn around and just go home, take a headache Potion, and go to bed. If he hadn't known he'd never hear the end of it from Hermione and Pansy, he'd be there right now, buried under a mound of pillows in the blessed dark. But oh, no… here he was in the hoity toity section of Diagon Alley just past Madam Malkin's and the new perfumery and patisserie. He didn't know why the hell they couldn't just call themselves a perfume shop and a bakery.
People recognized him as he pushed his way through the crowd, and he heard the whispers that followed in his wake. At least they moved aside when they saw him coming; it was the only benefit of being famous. Plus the formal red Auror's dress robes were pretty distinctive. They were a different design than they'd been before the war. Harry wasn't fond of full length robes; he'd only managed at Hogwarts because he never closed them. The new formal Auror's robes featured a black trouser with a red stripe down each leg and a red, double breasted cutaway with large brass buttons. The Ministry insignia was embellished on the right breast, and Harry wished they'd stopped there. Instead, his had five gold chevron stripes on the bottom of each sleeve and gold epaulettes he'd threatened to spell off more than once. The damned thing was entirely too elaborate and as he moved through the crowd he heartily wished he hadn't bothered to change. Wearing something fancy for this group implied he was one of them. And he most emphatically was not.
"There you are!"
Harry was relieved when he saw Hermione approaching him through the crush. She was wearing a shiny bronze robe that complimented her hair and her brown eyes. She studied him with annoyance.
"Why are you so late?"
"I'm not that late," he groused. "And I had a job to do, Hermione."
"Did you get them?" Pansy came up on Hermione's right, holding a champagne glass in her hand, and Harry was relieved to see she'd chosen to wear her formal Auror robes as well. Hers didn't have all the crap on the arms and shoulders, but the slacks hugged her trim hips and the jacket accentuated her curves. She looked both professional, and sexy as hell.
"Yeah, they're being processed as we speak," he answered. "Just a couple of punks on a high."
"And Dawlish and Fletchley?"
He gave her a mildly reproving glance. "We'll discuss that in a more appropriate setting."
She smiled at him, dark eyes shining. "Goodness, Chief Auror, but that sounded professional."
He reached up and rubbed the throbbing lump on the back of his head. "Oh, shut up and get me a drink, will you please?"
Pansy winked at him and disappeared into the crowd.
A pale hand wearing a full half dozen sparkling rings and long, pointed black nails reached out for Harry and he recoiled instinctively. Hermione caught his arm before he could back away and gave him a quelling look.
"Harry, this is Mare Witherington. She owns the gallery."
She was either unaware of his reaction or gifted at ignoring it, and a smile that didn't reach her eyes spread over her heavily made up face. It was impossible to tell how old she was; with her stiffly curled red hair and blue eye shadow she could have been anywhere from forty to a hundred and forty. Her makeup and hair looked a bit ridiculous, but her exquisitely tailored purple robes and her royal bearing made it impossible to dismiss her. Harry straightened and offered his hand, forcing down a shudder as the long nails brushed his palm. His stomach rolled.
"Nice to meet you," he managed. Pansy returned to his elbow with what appeared to be a tumbler of Firewhisky, and he could have kissed her. His sentiment was apparently clear because her smile ripened.
"You're welcome," she murmured near his ear and squeezed his arm.
"Auror Potter," Mare Witherington said. "It's a pleasure to meet you finally. I know you had dealings with my father…"
"Not really," Harry said, taking a bolstering sip of his drink. It was smooth and left a trail of warmth into his stomach. Just that first sip triggered a slow relaxing of tense shoulders. The pounding in his head receded slightly into the background. "I observed another Auror here once when I was a cadet."
"What was that? Five years ago? You don't look more than twenty five."
Harry knew that was an out and out lie, whatever her motivation. "You're very kind," he said with more than a touch of irony. "But it's been more than ten."
"I don't believe it," Mare said, smiling expansively. "All of you look so very young." She searched the faces of Harry and his friends, almost hungrily. It gave Harry the creeps.
Ginny stepped up to their circle, her brilliant cap of red hair gleaming in the overhead lights. She reached through with one strong, blunt fingered hand and caught onto Harry's coat.
"Come on, Harry," she said, pulling. "You really must see these pieces." He saw Luna standing behind Ginny, smiling at him benevolently while she chatted with Dean, Pansy's husband. "The work is remarkable."
"I'm glad you can appreciate it," Mare said, apparently approving of Ginny. Her smile widened, and Harry wondered if Mare appreciated Ginny's taste in art, or her slender, athletic body shown off to advantage in the trim slacks, long sleeved shirt and leather jacket she wore. Jet earrings brushed her shoulders but they were her only adornment. Her makeup was minimal, but with Ginny's vivid natural coloring she didn't really need more. She looked like what she was; a strong, long limbed, lovely woman who was an athlete; she'd been the starting chaser for the Holyhead Harpies going on five years, now. A celebrity in her own right, Harry was amused when Mare seemed to want to pretend she had no idea who Ginny was.
"Apparently I'm getting a command exhibition," he said lightly over his shoulder.
"Apparently you are. In the meantime I'm going to try to thin the crowd a bit. I'd like to get it down to people who are interested in buying something rather than people who merely want to say they were here."
"Is the artist that well known?" Harry asked, hesitating just a moment.
Mare looked between Hermione and Pansy, as if searching for something. Her smile curved into something amused. "Apparently to you, at least, Auror Potter."
Ginny pulled on him. As he let himself be led Luna fell into step on his other side. He was dimly aware of Hermione and Pansy falling into step behind them. He was basically surrounded on all sides by a quartette of his own fierce, Amazon protectors and anyone who tried to get close was brushed gently aside. Harry turned to Hermione.
"Who is this artist that's so well known to me? Pans," he looked over his shoulder with the beginning of delight. "Is it Dean?"
"Dean paints, Harry," she answered. "This artist does…" She stopped, her eyes widening on something in front of them. "That." She pointed. "This artist does that."
Harry turned, and a cold tingle of alarm raced over the surface of his skin.
There was a tree, standing alone on a stark white platform with a white wall behind, branches lifting like arthritic fingers toward a white spot light in the ceiling above. It was masterfully made, as gnarled as any of the ancient oaks in the Forbidden forest. Whatever metal it was formed from, it seemed almost alive. Even the moss around the thick knuckles of the roots looked alive. And then there were the ornaments, for lack of a better term, positioned on the branches. They were beautiful to be sure; they always had been. They were also somehow more hideous polished up and hanging from the branches of a make believe tree, for the entertainment of people so cowardly they'd probably never seen one in person before. Harry stared, transfixed. It was hideous. And also, somehow, the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
He could pick out three or four of those masks; he recognized Lucius Malfoy's, and Bellatrix Lestrange's. And he thought the mask with the delicate filigree on the right side might be Narcissa Malfoy's. As he watched, the tree began to morph into something else. From the gnarled, ugly barren tree leaves began to sprout, their finish shiny platinum as they unfurled. The masks shrank, and their finish went from silver to gleaming gold and they became beautiful, plump apples. Hermione gasped near Harry's shoulder as the apples fell soundlessly from the tree, followed by the leaves which drifted silently to the floor. They disappeared into the platform as the branches took on their original arthritic, gnarled appearance. Moments later gleaming drops of liquid oozed from the tree, sinuous and somehow frightening as they became the original masks. The whole transformation took perhaps five minutes, and Harry watched it twice, transfixed.
Hermione leaned over to study a shining plaque near the base of the platform, making a soft sound of comprehension.
"What?" Harry asked, finally tearing his eyes away to look at her.
"It's titled 'Apples of Discord'," she said, her eyes avid as she watched the apples form again.
"I don't understand." He looked back at the tree.
Hermione glanced at him, then back to the sculpture as it resolved again. "You know the story about the goddess Eris." He continued to look at her. "Harry, she started the Trojan war." He shrugged one shoulder.
Hermione huffed. "Honestly, you and Ronald both act like you'd die if you opened a book." He didn't respond, just continued to stare at her. "Clearly, the sculptor did."
"Clearly, I no longer care."
Harry turned to walk away and Hermione grabbed his sleeve. "I'm sorry. You must think me a horrid snob." He raised one brow but didn't respond. "Eris was the Goddess of discord. She was insulted when she wasn't invited to a wedding, so she tossed a golden apple inscribed 'to the fairest' to three goddesses, and Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, each believing they were the most beautiful fought over it. Paris chose Aphrodite, and Hera and Athena were so insulted they wreaked havoc on Paris's family, leading to the Trojan War."
"What has that got to do with the sculpture?"
"Well, clearly it's an analogy. This has nothing to do with that. But these golden apples certainly become apples of discord, don't they?"
"Yeah, I guess." Personally Harry thought it was one of those titles designed to make people who didn't understand feel stupid, but he didn't say that. Besides, the sculpture itself actually was pretty cool.
They moved through the gallery, stopping at piece after piece. There was a stunning depiction of the mermaid in the stained glass window in the prefect's bathroom at Hogwarts, smiling her winsome smile as she ran a comb through her hair, the tips of her tail curling and uncurling. Harry wondered when the artist had been at Hogwarts, because they had to have seen the window. There was a muscular centaur, stomping his feet and snarling. He looked so much like Bane, the centaur in the Forbidden Forest, again Harry was convinced whoever was responsible for the statues had come face to face with the massive creature. Harry admired the strong muscles flexing in the sleek torso and across the chest and abdomen, and the beautifully executed horse body. Whoever did these truly was masterful. Maybe having a statue done in his likeness by the same hands wouldn't be embarrassing.
The crowd inside the gallery had been murmuring, almost as if anything else would be disrespectful somehow, so when voices were raised they echoed and heads swiveled.
"What in the world could you have been thinking?" A man's voice demanded, and Harry stiffened, his hand instinctively going to the wand holster beneath his sleeve. He knew the voice well; he'd never forget it.
"I was thinking it was time we recognized them for what they were," a smooth, even voice responded, and the flesh across Harry's shoulders twitched. "Something evil to hide behind. Something to frighten, and to intimidate. I merely wanted to show them for what they were; something no more frightening than the leaves and apples on the trees."
"And it was necessary to include…" Lucius Malfoy's voice stopped as he seemed to realize he was garnering a lot of attention. "Can we discuss this privately?" His lips scarcely moved, and they were white with fury.
His son stood in front of him, tall and white blond and elegant to a fault. His black robes with the silver piping showed off the long legs, narrow hips and broad shoulders. They hid other things, though, Harry knew; the pale brown mole on his nape. The twin dimples at the base of his spine, just before the gentle curve of his arse. The criss-crossed hatch work of scars on his hard stomach and chest.
Draco lifted his chin. Even though he lowered his voice it was like the room waited, breath held, for what he was going to say. How fucking obnoxious these people were, Harry thought darkly, hanging on every word, waiting for wands to be drawn.
"I don't have time at the moment," Draco murmured. "I might check my schedule, see when I'm free sometime in the coming week."
An ugly red flush started up from the collar of Lucius's navy blue velvet robes, staining his neck and then his face. His lips were pinched so tight they nearly disappeared.
"You thankless, loathsome little ingrate. After all of things I've done for you…"
"Lucius, please." Narcissa Malfoy was still as lovely as ever in white robes, but her eyes darted around the room a bit frantically. "Not here…"
"After everything you've done for me?" Draco seemed to lose his composure, his voice raising and his hands clenched into white knuckled fists. "Absolutely, father. I have so much to be grateful for. A parent in prison, a monster living in my family home and a scar from the lunatic that will never heal."
Harry knew about that, too. Where the Dark Mark had been there was an ugly, never closing wound. It would begin to scab over, giving Draco hope that it might, finally, be going to heal and then the next day it would be just as grotesque as it was in the beginning, a constant reminder from his 'Master' that he never managed to please him. No one else's Mark had done it; Harry had seen dozens of them in his line of work. Only Draco's. He went through his life with plasters and gauze wrapped around his left forearm. A Healer told him once that if the wound spread, he'd lose the arm. After seeing his work, Harry couldn't imagine a greater injustice.
Lucius Malfoy, vibrating with fury, seemed to be reaching for a hidden wand in his sleeve. From the corner of his eye Harry saw a woman with tight blond curls wearing chartreuse green robes and large pink cat's eye glasses, leading a man by the arm who had a massive, old fashioned camera hanging around his neck.
"Pans," Harry murmured near her ear urgently. "Skeeter."
"Got it," she replied. "Granger, you get the cow. I'll go diffuse the family drama."
The two women moved away from their small group, Pansy making straight for the three Malfoys and Hermione walking directly into Skeeter's path. It was gratifying to see the old bitch screech to a halt so quickly. Harry was amazed they didn't smell burnt rubber. Hermione leaned forward and said something, her voice low, and Skeeter took several steps back before turning and leading her photographer away. Meanwhile, Pansy stepped smoothly between Malfoy senior and his son, linked Draco's arm and pulled him away while Narcissa whispered stiffly to her husband. After a long moment the two of them turned and swept regally away through the crowd, exiting out into the street.
"They're quite terrifying, aren't they?"
Luna's sing song voice broke through Harry's concentration. "I was actually thinking they looked pitiful," he answered, staring at the doorway where Draco's parents had disappeared.
"I didn't mean the Malfoys," Luna clarified with a smile. "I meant Pansy and Hermione. I think if they ever decide to take over the government, Kingsley should just resign in defeat."
"Truer words, Luna," Ron agreed wryly. "And on that, I need a drink. Harry?"
"No, thanks," he said absently, watching Pansy as she snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter's tray and handed it to Draco. He still looked brittle around the edges but he managed an anaemic smile. And Harry found he very much wanted to find a way to bring back the starch in his spine, the arrogant tilt of his chin. Realizing he was staring Harry turned away abruptly but caught Ginny watching him, her full lips twisted in a slight smirk.
"Oh, shut it," he muttered and Ginny's grin widened.
"Don't be a heartless twat, darling," Luna murmured in her low, musical voice, reaching out and taking Ginny's hand. "Walk me through the exhibit once more so we can look at art we can't afford and leave poor Harry alone." She went up onto her toes and pressed a kiss to Harry's cheek, and her soft, floral fragrance seemed to ease the pounding in his head a bit. He'd been able to forget about it while he studied each piece of art, but it was back now with a vengeance. Ginny squeezed his arm and left him with a soft, slightly apologetic smile.
Ron returned and held out a frosted plastic bottle of water. Harry shot him a look and Ron held up his hand in a conciliatory gesture. "Don't shoot the messenger, mate. That was the wife's doing." He fumbled in the pocket of his dress robes and removed a small vial that held a lavender liquid. "And Parkinson said for you to take this without 'whining like a little bitch'. Her words, not mine."
Harry huffed out a sigh and took the vial from Ron's hand. "We've allowed the women in our lives to run rough shod right the hell over us, Ronald. You know that."
Ron gave him a wry smile. "Harry, we started allowing that when we were eleven years old."
Harry laughed in wry commiseration even as he drank the bittersweet Potion. Almost immediately, the pounding in the back of his head began to fade and his sighed in relief.
Ron studied him with a frown. "So, care to tell me what happened during that raid?"
Harry grimaced. "Took a Stunner to the head."
"You were backing up Fletchley and Dawlish, right?" His knowing look told Harry explanations weren't really necessary. Ron shook his head. "So, was it deliberate, or another 'accident'." He didn't make the air quotes, but he might as well have.
"Everyone's wands were examined when we got back to the Ministry. We'll have results tomorrow."
"You can't keep going out on calls with those two, Harry. And honestly, accident or deliberate, they're a hazard."
"I know. I just need to know which one." He shook his head. "I hate to think it's Dawlish, but he's getting up there, you know? And Fletchley." Harry sighed. "I'll get it sorted. I just can't keep having suspects going straight to St. Mungo's."
"I'm not sure exchanging your own head for theirs is necessarily a good trade off, mate."
Harry gave him a wry look. "Right now, I tend to agree with you."
Hermione headed toward them, pausing only when Dean stopped her, apparently inquiring after his wife. She gestured toward the back of the gallery, then continued to where Harry and Ron stood.
"You took the Potion?" she asked before she'd stopped walking. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Yes, Hermione, I took the Potion." He gave her a direct look. "I'm going to assume the only one surprised to find this was a show of Malfoy's was me?"
Hermione chewed on the corner of her lips, glancing toward Ron.
"Don't look at me," he said, holding up his hands. "If you'll recall, I told you I thought it was a bad idea not to tell him."
Hermione glared at him, then turned to Harry. "Would you have come if we had told you?"
Harry couldn't hold her gaze. "Probably not."
"But now that you've seen his work, can you see why the Ministry commissioned him?"
Harry glanced around the room, noticing the crowd had thinned substantially. It made the exquisite sculptures easier to see.
"Yes," he said finally. "He's brilliant."
"So, you'll cooperate then?" she asked hopefully.
Harry pretended to think about it, but she knew she had him. She reached out and lightly patted his arm.
"Yes, Hermione," he said with a long-suffering sigh. "I'll cooperate."
Her smile was brilliant. "Good, then I can tell Mathilda to quit pestering me and I can get back to doing my job. And I don't know about you, Ron, but I'm ready to head home."
"What about you, mate?" he asked Harry.
"I think I'll walk through one more time, then maybe see if Dean and Pans would like to go for a drink." It wasn't strictly true, but he didn't want to have to explain himself.
Hermione kissed his cheek. "I know I've been a horrid nag, but you won't be sorry; you'll see."
He returned the gesture. "Hug my goddaughter for me."
"She's expecting you for dinner at the Burrow tomorrow."
Harry nodded. "I'll be there."
Hermione and Ron departed moments later, then Ginny and Luna bid him good night and left as well. He paused to study the tree again, fascinated by it, thinking it made far more sense than a statue of him in Ministry Atrium, but doubting he could sell that to the Wizengamot. After all, there were people still sitting in the body who hadn't exactly worn one of those silver masks, but hadn't put up much of a fight when Voldemort had taken over, either. He thought of Umbridge with disgust. Somehow she'd managed to maintain her position, something he'd never understand.
He felt a light touch on his arm and glanced over to find Pansy and Dean beside him.
"Harry, love, we're going to go."
"Sure, I'm going, too." He shook Dean's hand, then pressed a kiss to Pansy's cheek. "I'm just going to visit the gents, then I'll be right behind you."
Dean slipped his arm around Pansy's shoulders. "Do you want us to wait for you?"
Harry grinned at him. "I'm a big boy, Dean. I can find my own way home. You two go on."
Pansy leaned in, he thought to return his kiss, but her lips brushed his ear.
"He's in the office," she whispered very softly. "It's the door behind the statue of the mermaid."
Harry shot her a look when she leaned back, but she just wiggled her fingers and gave him a saucy grin as Dean led her toward the doors.
Someday he was going to learn to not drink anywhere near her. She had a memory like a bloody elephant, and he'd had too much Firewhisky at a moment when he was feeling particularly vulnerable. But, she wasn't wrong about his intentions.
He took another walk around the gallery floor as more and more people made for the exits, and when he passed the winsome mermaid, who gave him a flirtatious smile, he saw the door that would have been all but invisible if closed was standing open. He approached it, but paused when he heard voices.
"I swear, Draco, I'm tempted to send your bloody father a bill for the amount I know I lost because of his little outburst."
Harry recognized Mare Witheringham's voice, then Blaise Zabini.
"Oh, stow it, you greedy old cow," his old schoolmate drawled, and Harry bit back a smile. "You sold all but two of the pieces out there, which more than makes up for you ordering the calf's liver instead of the foie gras. And don't think anyone was fooled by that cheap horse piss you had the caterers serve from the Dom Pérignon bottles."
"Oh, you're hateful," Mare said wearily. "But I'm exhausted, too exhausted to argue with you. Blaise, do the final walk through and lock up, will you? I'm going up to bed."
"Of course." There were murmurs, and Harry wasn't sure what to do. Should he go and hope there'd be another chance to talk to Draco? Should he send an owl? Before he could decide what to do, Blaise strode out of the office. Seeing him standing there, he stopped in his tracks, studying him coolly.
"Potter," he said, his voice low as he approached. "Can I help you?"
Caught flatfooted, Harry wasn't certain what to say. Blaise studied him for another moment, then glanced over his shoulder toward the door. He smirked, crossing his arms over his chest. They just stared at one another for several seconds, until Blaise snorted.
"I don't believe I've ever seen you quite so quiet before. Do tell him I'm escorting the stragglers out and locking up, will you?"
"Thanks much." Zabini blinked at him and sauntered away, and Harry had the uncomfortable feeling that, if he'd got sauced with Pansy and said too much, then Draco had done the same with Blaise. He felt his face heat, then smoothed down his uniform jacket, stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, and walked to the doorway.
Draco was sitting in a white armchair, one elbow on the arm of the chair, his forehead resting on his fingers and his eyes closed. He looked amazing, Harry thought. He also looked tired, and like he might have a headache. Harry stepped into the office, his hands still in his pockets and cleared his throat.
"Don't get up," he said, and Draco noted his voice had deepened over the years. And his bone structure was more pronounced, his cheekbones sharper. His hair looked as if he'd actually seen a stylist, too, instead of cutting it with hedge shears. All in all he looked very – dignified, and Draco found he couldn't think of a thing to say. Potter gestured toward the crystal decanter and tumblers on the glass table. "Dare I hope that contains something besides champagne? I hate champagne."
Draco's lips twitched. "I know and I believe it's Firewhisky."
"That'll work." Potter crossed to the table, poured two fingers of the burnished liquid into two glasses, and held one out to Draco.
"Firewhisky isn't my first drink of choice. I'd prefer Scotch," he said, but he took the glass.
Potter leaned his hip against the white chair that sat opposite of the one where Draco sat. "I remember. I just thought after the scene with your father, something stronger than champagne would be welcome."
"Well, there is that, I suppose." He held the glass up. "Here's mud in your eye, Potter."
"Something I imagine you've hoped to see for quite a while," Potter replied, but he was smiling slightly. He sipped his drink and made a face. "Christ, this is disgusting."
Draco managed to swallow his sip before he began to chuckle. "She's such a cheap bitch for someone who has as much money as Solomon."
Potter came around the chair and sat down. "I'll take your word for it." He set the glass aside without finishing his drink. When he looked back at Draco, his green eyes were level and wide. "Zabini told me to tell you he was dealing with the malingerers and then taking off." Draco nodded, managing a second sip before he had to abandon his drink as well. It truly was dreadful. He stared at Potter for several seconds, just taking in the lines of his face. It had been a while since he'd been this close to him.
"Why are you still here?" he asked.
"I wanted to check on you," Potter answered, leaning forward and linking his fingers between his knees. "Make sure you were all right."
"Why, because of Father?" Potter nodded, and Draco snorted. "A bit late to be worrying about my safety from that quarter, don't you think?"
Potter had the grace to blush. "I suppose I deserve that."
"And a good deal more if memory serves." Draco crossed his long legs. "But you needn't worry about me, Potter. I've been managing my father for a number of years now. I don't need protection."
"No, you don't." Potter continued to stare at him, so long Draco shifted irritably.
Potter's gaze didn't waver. "You look good."
Draco wasn't about to return the sentiment, even if Potter did. Instead, he arched one brow.
"And how is it," Potter went on, "that I had no idea you could do that?" He gestured toward the door with his head.
"You knew I could sculpt," Draco responded.
"I knew you dabbled with clay, not that you could do that."
To be fair, when he and Harry had been spending time together, he actually had been mostly dabbling. His father had gone back to prison, his mother was deeply depressed, and he'd merely needed an outlet.
"You were only dabbling at being an Auror, then, too," Draco said flatly. "Clearly, things have changed. But you knew they were going to, as I recall."
Potter gestured to the uniform. "Not this much. But you agreed, as I recall."
Draco sighed, closing his eyes.
He had agreed. He'd agreed that, once the Auror department began running background checks on all of their new recruits, it wouldn't do either of them any good for the Ministry to find out they were dating. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, they hadn't been dating. They'd been fucking.
It began after Potter testified for him and his mother. There had still been people who believed the rumors that Draco was responsible for Dumbledore's death, not Snape. After the year of horror Draco survived during the war, he'd lived in terror that he'd find himself in an adjoining cell with his father. Potter's testimony, without question, had turned the tide. Then he returned Draco's wand, and Draco found he no longer had the capacity to be an arse to him. The man saved him in the Room of Requirement, and saved him from prison. When Potter held out his wand, and actually apologized for being unable to save his father from finishing his prison term, Draco was unable to contain himself. Quite sure he had simply lost his mind, he caught the front of Potter's robes and kissed him and then waited to be hexed into next month. What he hadn't been prepared for was Potter kissing him back.
For the next eight months, they met every opportunity they had. Potter had gone back to Hogwarts for his seventh year. He wasn't certain he wanted to be an Auror at that point. Draco wasn't invited back to repeat his seventh year; he passed his NEWT's but knew he wasn't in any way prepared for a profession, regardless of how his parents felt about him working. His mother was mired in self-pity, his father was in prison, and he just wanted something to do during the week while Potter was in class. He took a course of study at an art institute in Paris, and he and Harry met up at least once a month at a Wizard Inn not far from Notre Dame, where they spent most of the time rarely leaving their room. And even if they did venture out for a meal or a hand in hand walk along the Seine, people weren't as likely to recognize either of them there. And neither of them brought up the future.
During Draco's second year Harry finished at Hogwarts, aced his NEWT's, and was asked to meet with the Minister for Magic. Once Kingsley begged him to join the Auror department Harry had been unable to tell his old friend no. Then a new requirement was written into law, one that said all potential cadets entering the department had to agree to a background check. Including divulging anyone they were involved with, under Veritaserum.
Kingsley hadn't been happy about it. He even told Harry he could skip that step; after all, he was the boy who killed the monster. But Draco was the one who told him he couldn't begin his tenure at the Ministry that way, not if he expected his fellow Aurors to ever respect him. They shared one last, stolen weekend in Paris and went their separate ways. Draco would rather die than ever admit to Harry how much their casual kiss goodbye cost him. For years after, he didn't allow himself to get involved with anyone, and when he finally did he purposefully kept his relationships casual. He knew he wouldn't survive another parting like the one he'd instigated with Potter, and instead channelled all of his energies into his work.
It took a long time for the sculptures to first be noticed. He was twenty-five before his first show in a gallery, twenty eight before he was widely accepted in Wizarding artisan circles. Now, at twenty-nine, he'd been hired by the Ministry to sculpt the seminal statue of Harry Potter defeating Voldemort for the center of the Ministry Atrium, to replace the horror that stood there during the war. Of course he'd accepted the commission; how in the world was he supposed to turn it down? But he'd asked himself a hundred times, how was he supposed to work with the well-respected, all-powerful Chief Auror? Especially when he'd once been in love with him? No one knew that, not even Blaise. No one but Draco.
"I did agree," Draco admitted softly. "And you can't tell me it wouldn't have irreparably damaged your career had we been found out."
"Maybe." Potter shrugged, then ran his fingers through his hair. Draco nearly smiled; it was an old habit he hadn't broken. "It seems so long ago."
Draco did smile at that. "It has been. Twelve years to be exact."
"Eleven years, four months and six days," Potter retorted. "To be exact."
Draco stared. "You can't possibly know that."
Potter shrugged. "Maybe not. Anyway, you're all right then?"
"Yes, Potter, I'm all right. Irritated, but I've been irritated at my father for a long time. I doubt that's likely to change."
Potter's eyes stayed fixed on his face for a long moment. "Your work truly is extraordinary," he said finally. "It will be… well, I was going to say a pleasure, but you know that isn't true."
That startled a laugh from Draco's chest.
"However," Potter went on, "it will be less…intimidating, knowing how gifted you are."
"Intimidated? You?" Draco rolled his eyes. "You've never been intimidated of anything in your life."
"Not true," Potter said, but he didn't elaborate. "So, what do I need to do? To help with your work?"
Draco was surprised by how cooperative he was being. "Some actual measurements would be helpful," he said. "They wanted to make it twice life size…"
"Oh, fuck no." Potter grimaced, but Draco grinned.
"I already told them their esteemed Chief Auror wouldn't stand for that. It will be exactly lifesize. You in all of your scrawny seventeen year old glory."
"I'm taller than I was then. Heavier, too."
Draco had already been able to see that. Potter at seventeen had been woefully underfed. Potter at twenty-nine…was not.
"I have my own memories. And they're stored in my Pensieve."
Potter nodded, looking uncomfortable again. "I'm assuming you don't work here," he said, his fingers linking but his thumbs fidgeting. That was a habit of long standing, too. Draco almost felt sorry for him; he really didn't want his sculpture done, but he was doing it anyway. No doubt under pressure from either the Ministry or Granger, or both.
"I have a studio. I'll send you the direction via owl." He paused. "And I promise to make it as painless as I can."
Potter smiled weakly. "I appreciate that. And, I have an early meeting, so I should be going."
He stood up, and almost immediately took an odd little staggering step to his left, reaching out to grab the back of the chair. His eyes closed, his face suddenly losing what color had been in it, and his other hand lifted to his forehead.
"Potter, are you all right?" Draco asked, moving to the edge of his seat.
"I'm fine," Potter answered. It was clearly a lie. "I just took a Stunner to the head in a raid earlier, and it's left me a little off center."
"And of course, you didn't think you might need to go to St. Mungo's?" The green eyes were irritated when they snapped open. "Glare all you like, but you're the color of cold oatmeal."
That was as far as he got. Draco watched in horror as Potter seemed to fold up like old parchment, his knees going as his eyes rolled back. Draco shot out of the chair and slid under him just before his head connected with the floor. It came to rest in Draco's lap and he stared down at the still face, fear zinging through him.
"Potter?" he said, and touched the pasty face. "Potter? Harry?"
He didn't respond, and the longer he lay there, lifeless, the more frightened Draco became. He finally remembered there was a wand in a holster in his sleeve, and he pulled it out, levitating the ice bucket from across the room to settle gently at his side. He grabbed a large chunk of ice and pressed it against Potter's nape.
"Harry? Come on, Harry." With his free hand Draco brushed the fringe from Potter's forehead. After a moment, he stirred on the floor with a groan.
"Fucking hell," he muttered, his hand coming up to his forehead again, fingers pressing into his temple. He pushed up onto his elbows. Draco tossed the ice back into the bucket.
"Did you take a headache Potion?"
Potter tipped his head back and attempted to focus on him, then grimaced. "Ow."
"Oh, you idiot." Draco stood up. "Did you take a headache Potion?"
Potter sat up all the way, rubbing the back of his head. "Yeah, I did. What just happened?"
"You fainted," Draco stated drily.
"You fainted. Are your ears malfunctioning, too?" Draco hissed and brushed off his arse, hoping he hadn't picked up any dirt from the floor on his new robes.
"No, my ears are fine." Potter turned enough so that he could see Draco. "Why are you mad?"
"Mad? I'm not the one who's mad. For Merlin's sakes, Potter, you just fainted dead away on the floor. When you take a Stunner to the head, you need to be seen by a Healer. Isn't that what you teach your little Aurors? Why would you think you're immune?"
Harry pushed awkwardly to his feet, his fingers white knuckled where he gripped the back of the chair. "Hermione told me the show started at nine and I was already running late…" He shot his hand through his hair, but this time the strands remained on end and when his fingertips touched the back of his head, he actually hissed.
"That's it." Draco pulled his wand out again, went briskly to Potter and slipped his arm around his waist, yanking him away from the chair. His course of action was only confirmed when Potter staggered.
"What the hell, Draco?" Potter said, clearly having to make an effort to focus on him.
"Oh, just shut up."
Suddenly, abruptly furious, Draco gripped Potter even tighter and Apparated them away.
"What the devil are you on about?" Pansy demanded, wrapping her robe tighter around her and tying the belt. Dean appeared behind her, shoulders bare.
"Honestly, Draco. It's after one a.m.," he complained.
"I know what time it is," Draco hissed, his lips so tight they scarcely moved. "And I asked Pansy a question. Isn't there some sort of… protocol when your fearless leader takes a fucking hex to the head?"
"Wait," Pansy held out a hand, "is Harry okay?"
"No, he's not bloody okay. He's in the emergency department at St. Mungo's because I brought him here."
Pansy's face filled with alarm. "I'll get dressed and be right there."
She disappeared from view in the Floo, but Dean leaned closer. Draco was grateful he couldn't see him from the waist down, and was faintly afraid he was naked.
"He fainted is what happened," Draco snarled. "Dead away, in the office of the gallery."
"Holy shite." Dean ran his hand over his close cropped hair. He looked behind him. "She'll be right there. Do you want me to let Hermione know?"
"Gods, no." Draco rolled his eyes. "Like I need that aggravation."
Dean grinned. "Enough said. I'll see if I can't get a hold of Ron, but I'll wait until morning."
"Thank you," Draco said with feeling. The last thing any of them needed, particularly Potter, was Granger on a tear.
Pansy appeared, dressed in her red uniform jacket and slacks. "I'll be right there."
She was kissing her husband goodbye as Draco closed the Floo connection and exited one of the private rooms provided by the hospital. He nearly ran into her coming down the hall.
"What happened?" she asked without preamble, pushing her dark bob behind one ear.
"Fainted dead away," he responded as they walked toward the doors to the ER department. "I understand he took a Stunner to the head earlier in the day?"
She nodded. "I didn't find out until later. Protocol demands he see a Healer, but you know Harry and rules."
She paused before the large doors, touching his arm. "Thank you. For bringing him here."
Draco gave her a wry look. "It would have been extremely bad form to leave him lying on the gallery office floor."
She pulled him off to one side, biting her lower lip. Alarm bloomed in Draco's chest as she looked to make sure no one was nearby.
"I… need to tell you something if you're going to be spending much time with Harry."
"I'm not going to be 'spending time with Harry'," he countered instinctively. "I'm going to be doing a sculpture, nothing more."
Pansy gave him a wry look. "Try that moral outrage on someone who cares, and shut up, will you please? I need to tell you something."
Draco huffed and crossed his arms. When she didn't immediately speak, his arched a brow. "Well? I'm listening." She glanced around again nervously, and he frowned. "What is all this cloak and dagger shite, Pans? Seriously, I'm about to just go."
"Oh, will you stop?" There was enough entreaty in her voice that his frown deepened. "All right, but you need to understand that this is seriously classified information, and I can only tell you part of it. And understand, if anyone finds out I've told you anything, it could cost me my job. I'm not joking."
Draco stared into her dark eyes. "You know you can trust me, Pans."
She returned his stare, then nodded shortly. "I do. All right. Over the last few months, we've received several complaints about one of our Auror partnerships. Complaints about excessive force."
"So, fire them," Draco said impatiently.
"We can't just fire them," she retorted irritably. "Unfortunately, most of these complaints have come from suspects under arrest who already have records, and who have a history of being something less than truthful."
Draco snorted, but didn't speak.
"The thing is, Harry has -- reason to believe the complaints."
Now something dark and fearful slithered through Draco's chest. "What does that mean? He has reason to believe them?"
Pansy took a deep breath, almost as if she were trying to calm herself. "Personal experience."
Draco stiffened. "One of them is Finch-Fletchley."
She didn't answer, but her silence was enough.
"Goddamn it," Draco bit out, his hands curling into fists.
"You are one of exactly three people who know about what happened, and you must not say a word, Draco. Not one. Not to anyone."
He clenched his teeth, then nodded but it hurt his neck, his muscles were so tight.
"If Harry tried to merely dismiss him, you know how much trouble he can cause."
Draco nodded again, this one even more curt.
"Anyway, Harry has been closely monitoring their cases for weeks. Dawlish has been a member of the department, in good standing, for years. But there's also talk that he's slipping a bit, letting things go he never would have in the past. We're trying to gather evidence on just Finch-Fletchley, because Harry doesn't want anything to prevent Dawlish being able to retire with his full pension. We keep hoping he'll come to us – but it's almost like Finch-Fletchley has something on him, too."
"The slimy little bastard probably does," Draco bit out.
Pansy gave him a terse nod.
"So what has this to do with Potter fainting?"
Pansy lowered her voice. "The Stunner he took to his head today?" Draco nodded. "There's reason to believe that it might have been friendly fire."
Draco stared at her. "Are you telling me that the stupid bastard walked into a situation where Finch-Fletchley could get away with sending a Stunner at his bloody head?
"Harry is more concerned about the safety of others in these situations than he is in his own."
Draco exhaled explosively. "Of course he is. Christ, he hasn't changed a bit."
Pansy's grip on his arm tightened. "Actually, he's changed a great deal or he and I certainly wouldn't be friends," she said, mildly scolding. "We can't prove it was Finch-Fletchley; it may have been one of the suspects. We don't know. He goes into these situations because he's concerned about civilians. He's trying to prevent innocent people from being injured, Draco. Which is his job."
Draco leaned back against the wall behind him. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked weakly.
"Because, if you're going to be around Harry, you need to be aware…" She paused. "I need you to keep me informed."
"Of what?" He knew he sounded tart. He didn't care. "I'll be taking measurements and photos. That's it. We won't be taking any strolls down memory lane."
"I know." Her voice was nearly as tense as his. "But you're sharp, and you're watchful. And if anything seems to be off with Harry, you'll notice."
"Off like today."
"For Christ's sakes, Pansy. Today he fainted into my lap."
"But you know him, whether you want to admit it or not. If he isn't feeling right, you'll know. Can you please just… Floo me if he seems off? Or if you see anyone following him?"
"That might happen?"
Pansy shrugged. "I honestly don't know. But this isn't the first time in the last six months he's been hit. The problem is we haven't been able to trace it to a specific wand."
She nodded. Draco sighed and leaned his head against the wall, his eyes closed. "I don't want to know this," he muttered. "I don't want to care about this, Pansy."
The fingers on his arm seemed both tighter and gentler at once. "I know. And I'd never ask, not ordinarily. He'd skin me if he knew I was. But…" She bit her lower lip. "I'm scared for him, Draco. And I can't bring up charges against Finch-Fletchley without proof. Trust me, the minute we have it I'll go straight to Granger-Weasley and we'll put the bastard away. But I have to have proof, and for that I need time. And it would ease my mind to know that, at least when he's posing for this sculpture, which he fought tooth and nail by the way, until tonight when he saw your work--"
Draco didn't want to be mollified by that, but he was.
"—he'll be with someone who can at least keep me posted if something seems wrong."
His eyes narrowed even as his resistance crumbled. "If I find out you've been playing me, Parkinson, I'll hex you with horns and a tail."
Her earnest expression faded and a slight smirk pulled at her lips. "If I was playing the two of you, you'd have to get in line behind my boss. And not for anything, darling, but he's a wee bit scarier than you are."
Draco arched a sardonic brow. "Clearly, you've a short memory. He might be scarier, but I'm nastier."
"I'll give you that." She gestured with her head. "Come see him with me?"
Draco straightened and shook his head. "I'll pass, thanks. He was less than thrilled when I dropped his arse in there. Plus, I've things to do."
She gave him a look that said she saw more than he wanted her to, but she didn't try to stop him when he turned to go.
"This is quite the lump you have here," the older man said, measuring it with his fingers before stopping and writing something in Harry's chart. "And you said a suspect hit you with a Stunning spell?" He arched one bushy white brow and stared into Harry's eyes.
"That's what they were shooting off all around me."
The Healer picked up his wand and made some complicated motion Harry didn't bother to try to follow with eyes that were aching. He closed them instead. He heard the door swoosh open behind him, but assumed it was a medi-witch until the Healer spoke.
"Auror Thomas. Nice to see you again."
Harry groaned internally, then realized it was probably better that it was Pansy instead of Hermione.
"I wish I could say the same," Pansy said. "Will he live?"
"Oh, of course."
"Good. I need him healthy enough to kick his arse."
The Healer chuckled. "Might want to give it a few days. He's got himself a nasty concussion here."
Harry felt warm, relieving heat move like molasses over the back of his head. He sighed as some of the pain faded.
"That's about the best I can do with spells," the man said, and Harry forced his eyes open and looked into his face. "I'll send you home with several Potions, but you should still take it easy for a few days, let nature help with the healing. Might not be a bad idea to take some time off."
Pansy came into his line of sight at the Healer's elbow, her arms crossed over her chest. "And I was a witness to that."
Harry sighed. "You know I can't do that. Not right now."
She pursed her lips. "I don't see why not."
"Pans," he groaned.
"I mean it. Nothing that's happening at Headquarters is going anywhere."
He glared at her. "Pansy. Stop."
"You stop. And glaring at me won't help you one damned bit, so you might as well stop it."
The Healer looked between them. "I think I'll go send an order to the pharmacy. Back in a few."
He all but ran out the door, and Pansy gave Harry a wry look. "Nice. You scared off the Healer."
"Me?" Harry reached for his jacket, slipping his arms into the sleeves. "You started it."
"Has anyone ever told you that you sound suspiciously like the skinny, frightfully coiffed prat I started Hogwarts with?"
He arched a brow at her. "Coiffed? Seriously?"
"It's a perfectly reasonable word, although calling your hair anything like coiffed is probably the biggest damned lie of my life." She took two steps closer, until she was nearly against his knees. "Now, you listen to me, Auror Potter. I just heard the Healer tell you to take a few days off and take care of yourself. And if you don't do it, I'm going to request a private meeting with the Minister, and I'm going to tell him not only everything that Healer just said, but how many times you've been 'accidentally hit' in the line of duty in the last six months, because I doubt you've been completely honest in your reports."
Harry felt his irritation at her grow. "I have the authority to sack you, you know."
She huffed out a laugh. "Be my guest. Then you can find someone else to teach your little beast cadets who won't hex them all into a pile of sludge."
He grimaced as he buttoned his jacket. "That was disgusting."
She grinned at him, unrepentant. "Wasn't it? I may use it on them on Monday. And I'll get away with it, because you won't be there."
He was too tired to argue with her, and honestly, for the first time in his adult life a few days off sounded like a gift instead of a punishment. He wasn't prepared to let her win that easily however. "I suppose Malfoy took off."
"Well, I understand you were your usual charming self to him, so yes, he chose not to stay."
Harry scowled. "I wasn't that bad."
"Bollocks. You were horrid, and you know it. You always are when you're sick or hurt. You are an obnoxious child."
"Okay, okay." He held up his hands. "I'll apologize."
"Good. And while you're doing that, tell him you have the next few days off and can take care of whatever he needs for his work."
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Fine."
"And take him a present because you were an arse."
Harry looked up at her. "I will not take him a present. What the hell, Pans…"
"It's called 'making amends', Potter. You have some bridges to mend."
Harry thought about Draco, how he'd Apparated him in, holding him up when his own legs hadn't been equal to the task. How he'd stayed with him, right up until the moment a medi-witch had arrived and he'd gone to call Pansy. How his gray eyes looked, full of real concern even as he'd been snarking at him. And how he'd felt, against Harry's side, strong and lean and… He shook his head. It didn't do him any good to go down that road.
"Yeah, okay. So what do I even take as a gift for acting an arse?"
"You figure it out," she said. "But I'm encouraged you could admit being an arse. I understand the first step towards solving a problem is admitting you have one." She batted her long lashes at him.
"God, you're a bint," he grumbled.
He was saved from her comeback when the Healer returned, holding a bag in his hand.
"All right, Auror Potter. Here are several days doses of your Potions, and if you need me to send an owl to the Ministry, I'll be happy to."
"That won't be necessary," Harry said quickly, embarrassed. He didn't need a doctor's note, for Gods sake. He stood a bit too quickly, anxious to be gone, but a wave of dizziness hit him and he sat back down with a soft thud.
Pansy laughed, the vicious cow.
"Oh, he won't need a note," she said, sounding smug. "I'll handle everything. Including making sure he gets home without Splinching himself."
Harry rolled his eyes and took the bag when the Healer held it out. "Lovely."
"Oh, hush," she scolded, holding out her hand, "you big baby. I'll take you home and tuck you in, then maybe I can get back to my husband and what was so rudely interrupted an hour ago."
Harry made a face. "Please don't make me think about you and Dean like that. I beg of you."
This time when he stood, she slipped her hand under his elbow. "Jealous, Potter?"
He refused to answer, and she laughed as she led him from the exam room.
He'd started to write 'Malfoy', but finally scrawled 'Draco' at the top of the page.
"Please accept my apology for the way I behaved the other night, when you were kind enough to make sure I got the medical attention I needed. I'm told I'm a lousy patient, which I suppose is true.
I thought I'd also let you know that if you're ready to work on the sculpture, I'm available for the next few days. The Healer has suggested I take some time off, and for once in my life, I'm going to listen. Please let me know if the timing works for you. Harry Potter."
He almost expected to hear nothing, at least not right away. When the owl returned within two hours, he'd been surprised.
"Potter," Draco had written, "you mean to tell me there was a Healer fierce enough to get your attention? Clearly I must meet this paragon. At any rate, yes, I actually am ready to begin preliminary work on the sculpture. Here are the Apparition coordinates for my studio. Once you get here, you won't have any trouble finding it. Draco Malfoy."
Harry read the note several times, trying to figure out what he meant by 'once you get here, you won't have any trouble finding it,' but he finally had to admit he wouldn't know until he got there. Leaving early enough to swing by Levendorf's Pavilion of Libation, he went to Diagon Alley Apparition point and closed his eyes, ignoring the nauseating pull behind his navel. Apparating with a concussion was horrible, and when he settled, and cold air hit him in the face, he took a relieved breath even before he opened his eyes.
Once he did, he looked around, mystified. He was in the middle of the country. There was nothing to be seen for miles around but rolling pastureland, peacefully grazing sheep, and a barn that looked likely to collapse in on itself at any moment. He made another full turn, then stopped and stared at the barn. No, really?
He walked up the gravel drive toward the barn, and the closer he got the worse it looked. The wood was grayed with age, paint long gone if it had ever borne any, the roof swaying in the middle. But the closer he got, the more aware he became of the sound of classical music drifting from somewhere. It was soft, but unmistakably there. There was a door in the side of the building between two grubby windows, and Harry went to it, knocking. He stood there for several minutes and when no one answered, he tried the knob. It turned and the door opened when he pressed against it. What he saw startled him.
It was a huge, open space, clearly magically expanded. The music was loud, but not too loud. The entire inside was painted a soft, mossy green and the outside light flowed through several large sky lights. Dark, scarred wood covered the floor, and in the far corner stood several huge square hunks of pale rock. In another were upright bins holding pencil steel in various widths, and welding equipment. There was a rough armature attached to a large circle of inch thick steel plate on the floor, and standing next to it was a tall man in a heavy jumpsuit, wearing thick canvas gloves and holding a welding torch in his hand. There was a black welding helmet on his head and a mask pulled down over his face as sparks flew from the touch point on the upright metal stand. The only indication of who it might be was the white blond hair caught in the thick plastic band around the back of his head, holding the mask in place.
Harry stared, unable to wrap his head around what he was seeing. He watched Draco flex his hand, then saw the torch flare when the heated steel bent to his will. He couldn't see the muscles in his lithe arms beneath the canvas sleeves, but he could imagine them. It made his breath feel a bit short, and his pants a bit tight, and he was grateful for the knee length overcoat he wore.
He didn't want to startle him, so Harry remained near the door, waiting until Draco flipped the mask up. He glanced up and stilled, his light eyes wide.
"Potter. How long have you been here?"
"A few minutes. I didn't want to disturb you."
Draco yanked off his gloves and pulled the mask off of his head, setting both aside. He flipped off the machine, and ran his hand self-consciously over his hair. "You should have let me know you'd arrived."
"I was afraid I might startle you." As Draco neared, Harry pulled a package from his deep coat pocket and held it out. Draco looked at it, then at Harry, suspiciously. "My sad effort at an apology."
Gingerly, Draco took the slender, rectangular package and loosened the blue velvet cloth ties that secured the top. The soft bag peeled back, revealing a box with a tasteful wood grain, a stylized lower case 'h' on the front. Beneath it were the words, 'Highland Park', and beneath that it said 'Single Malt Scotch Whiskey – Aged 25 Years'. Draco looked up at him, clearly startled. "Merlin's arse, Potter. Why in the world…"
Harry felt a moment of uncertainty. "The man in the store told me it's a very fine scotch, so much better than that shite Mare Witherington had in her office." Harry fidgeted awkwardly. "It has a smoky sweetness I thought you might appreciate."
"A smoky sweetness I might appreciate?" Draco said, clearly amused. "Who are you, and what have you done with Harry Potter? And yes, I do very much appreciate the difference between this and whatever rot gut Mare had poured into that bottle. But this," he smiled slightly, "this is very fine. Thank you."
Pleased, Harry tried not to preen. "I'm glad you like it."
"If you don't drive me spare, I may share it with you. It would warm us right up. I keep resetting the Heating Charms in this place, but the actual structure is so old they won't stay for long."
"I see what you mean now, when you said I'd know it when I saw it. Although, I'll confess; for a moment I thought you'd sent me on a wild goose chase, hoping I'd get lost."
Draco's gave him an amused smirk. "If I'd thought of it, I might've."
"Well, I'll try not to give you any ideas." Harry dropped his hands into his deep pockets and looked around the space. "This is impressive."
"It fits the bill." Draco walked toward an open door behind the huge pieces of stone, and Harry followed him. When he was close enough, he noticed a faint black veining in the rough cut of a gray boulder.
"Is this marble?"
"It is." Draco glanced over his shoulder at him. "Carrera, actually. But the Ministry specifically requested bronze for your sculpture."
"You do both?" Harry continued to follow him after studying the different shades of stone. Gray, faint pink, bluish white. Even unpolished, they were beautiful.
"I actually prefer to work in bronze. I like marble, but I have more control with the bronze."
Draco walked through the door and Harry followed, stopping when he saw the large desk with several computers lined up on it. "I didn't think magic and electronics were compatible."
"That's at Hogwarts and the Ministry." Draco took a seat behind the desk. "At Hogwarts, the magic is ancient, and so ingrained in the walls, that it blocks an electrical signal. The Ministry has the problem of simply too much magic at once, and being fifteen levels beneath the ground. I don't actually use much spell work here." He moved a mouse on a pad and the large computer screen hung on the wall flared to life. Harry stared, startled. On it was a picture of himself, during the final moments of the Battle of Hogwarts, when he shot the Expelliarmus that disarmed Voldemort. Right before the bastard's Avada Kedavra backfired and killed him. His image was slightly hunched, wand extended and face contorted, dirty and bloodied. Harry stared.
"Where did that come from?"
Draco glanced at him over his shoulder. "What? The picture?" Harry nodded, still staring. God, he looked so bloody young. "From the Pensieve. I developed software to extract an image from a memory."
Harry stared, impressed. "That's pretty amazing, Draco."
A slight pink stain brushed his pale cheeks. "It's made what I do a lot easier." He typed something into the keyboard and a dark screen opened, a pale oval circle at the bottom. Draco stood then, gesturing toward an oval mat in the middle of the room. "All right, if you'll just stand there and hold very still."
"I don't need to… pose or anything?"
"Not for this," Draco said. "Besides, that would be damned uncomfortable, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah, actually. It would be."
Harry followed him, standing on the mat.
"I'll need the jacket." Draco held out his hand, and Harry stripped it off, handing it over, glad he had his body back under control. Draco hung it over the back of the chair by the desk, then turned, studying Harry with disarming intensity. Harry had worn a snug, long sleeved undershirt and jeans, and Draco angled his head to one side. "Close enough," he said finally. He went back to his chair, settling in front of the screen. He typed in a command, and Harry startled when the mat lifted from the floor and began to turn slowly. "Be still, please," Draco said, distracted as he stared at the screen.
"You might warn a bloke," Harry retorted, but he tried to stay still. It was distinctly odd, rotating in mid-air while Draco typed into his keyboard as if he'd been doing it all of his life. Finally, after what felt like several minutes, the mat settled easily back onto the floor.
"All right, that's done." Draco hit several keys emphatically, then leaned back. "You can move, now."
Harry approached him. "What did you do?"
Draco looked up at him. "You're really interested?"
"Yeah, I'm interested. Very."
Draco continued to study him, as if questioning his veracity, then turned back to the computer. He opened a new window, and Harry saw a three dimensional image of himself, rotating slowly on the screen. His hair really was awful, he thought, reaching up and trying to flatten a cowlick on the back of his head. He also noticed his shoulders were broader than he'd thought they were, his legs longer.
"This three dimensional image provides me with exact measurements. I can access this screen, here," Draco typed in another command, "and if I enter, say, 'hip to knee, left leg'," a cross section of Harry's left leg lifted away and filled the screen, "it will tell me the exact length and circumference. That way I don't have to guess; I know."
"That's amazing," Harry repeated. And distinctly odd. His thigh looked like a ghostly cut of meat.
"Some old-timers consider it cheating, feeling if you don't do the sculpture from a mere traditional reference you're somehow less of an artist." Draco shrugged awkwardly. "I prefer it be accurate."
"Well, I think it's brilliant." Harry leaned closer as the thigh section returned to the rotating image of his body, noticing that the image was so detailed he could see the rough weave of the undershirt. "Does it matter that the clothes are different?"
"Not really. The texture is different than the layers of shirt then jumper you were wearing under your zip up, but I have all of that detail from the Pensieve memory."
"I'm surprised your memory is that detailed."
Draco turned in the chair, staring at him in thinly veiled incredulity. "Are you joking?" He shook his head. "Potter, I'll never forget a moment of it. Ever. I stood in a corner and watched you save us all."
Harry stared into his eyes, feeling oddly discomfited, knowing he was blushing. Draco had never said anything like that to him before, not in all the months they'd spent time together a decade before. "Is there anything else I can do to help you?" he said, suddenly wanting to change the subject, wanting to take away the oddly vulnerable look on Draco's face. Draco blinked, looked back at the screen.
"No, I think I've got everything," he answered, closing the program.
Harry was surprised by how disappointed he was. He reached up and ran his fingers through his hair, avoiding the place on the back of his head that still ached, even with the Potions the Healer had given him.
"Listen," he said impulsively. "Have you had lunch yet?"
Draco looked surprised, then smiled faintly. "Why, are you hungry?"
Harry gave a self-conscious grin. "If I'm not working, I'm always hungry. It's why it's good I work so much, or I'd be big as a barn."
Draco scoffed. "With your metabolism?" He shook his head. "Unlikely, Potter. I think you're like a squirrel on a wheel, round and round even when you're sitting still. I doubt you'll ever be fat."
In spite of what he felt was sort of an insulting description, Harry couldn't help it; he laughed.
"Well, what about you?" he retorted.
"What about me?" Draco pulled his head back but his chin angled up defensively.
"You look… great," Harry finally finished lamely. "Better. Thin but more… muscular."
Draco turned his head away. "It's the steel," he said finally. "It's harder to bend than it looks."
"Couldn't you do that with magic?"
He shook his head, then stopped with an abbreviated shrug. "I guess I could. It just isn't how I work. I need to touch the material. It's like a conversation. I roll it, or twist it, but if I push it further than it's willing to go, it can break, or the welds don't hold or – it fights back. Even though steel is an inanimate object, there's energy in it. Each piece is different. You can try to bend an angle with one piece and it won't work at all, but if you pick up another piece, it's like…you're in sync with it." He ran his long fingers through his hair. "That probably sounds stupid to you."
Harry shook his head. "No, it doesn't sound stupid. Not at all."
They stared at each other long enough that it grew uncomfortable. Finally Harry straightened, his hands going into his pockets. "So, are you going to let me buy you lunch?"
Draco looked at him for long enough that Harry had to try not to squirm. Finally he stood, his hands going to the zipper down the front of the heavy jumpsuit. Harry's mouth went a bit dry as he lowered the zip, peeling out of it to reveal a snug off white jumper. It clung, showing that the muscles Harry had imagined were actually there. Across his chest, which had once been pretty flat, there were now sleek mounds of muscle.
Harry had developed an eight pack he worked out five days a week to maintain, and he had heavy musculature on either side of his neck and down each side. He never saw his own back, but Ron had made cracks about how much bigger he was now than he'd been before. Harry could see that Draco was as well. Not bulkier. Quite the opposite. He looked to be all lean muscle, like a swimmer, and Harry suddenly was very glad he'd lost the jumpsuit in favor or the jumper and snug jeans. He pulled Harry's jacket from the back of his chair and held it out on one hooked finger.
"Your coat," he prodded when Harry didn't automatically reach for it.
"We're going out?" Harry said hopefully. Draco rolled his eyes.
"To lunch, Potter. Besides, I've got to eat."
"Cool." Harry grinned. "Are you still terribly picky about what you eat?"
Draco laughed. "If you're asking if I'm still a vegetarian, the answer is no. I don't eat a lot of crap, but I'm not as tight arsed as I used to be about what I put in my mouth."
Harry felt as Draco was playing straight man and handing him the punch line to a dirty joke, but he resisted the easy play.
"So, what kind of not crap do you eat?"
They walked out of the office and Draco picked a gray wool pea coat from a clothes rack. He slipped it on, looking as cool as if he'd just been shopping for new robes, not welding armatures.
"The usual," he answered. "Lean meats, fish, vegetables."
"So, what about fish and chips?" Harry said, half teasing. Draco responded typically. He made a face.
"Oh, of course, Potter. Let's go get deep fried fish wrapped in newspaper and soggy chips soaked in vinegar. We might as well just invite our arteries to harden." He looked over and saw Harry trying to chew a smile into submission, and he reached out smacked his arm. "Arsehole."
"Snob. But now, I wouldn't dream of subjecting your arteries to that oil slick. Do you like sushi?"
Draco's brows arched. "Do you?"
"Depends on the sushi. But I know a good place. I should tell you though – " he paused, " – it's Muggle run."
Draco gave a small grin. "Most of them are unless you want to get a Portkey to Japan."
"Do you know about the place that opened just down the street from the exit to London from the Leaky?"
Draco nodded. "Acceptable. And authentic."
"Well, acceptable is… good." Harry was surprised and pleased he'd managed to come up with a place that both acceptable and authentic.
They were passing Madam Malkin's and Potter was laughing at a ridiculous set of bright pink, ruffled robes when Draco saw something, a shimmering anomaly in the air off to the left ahead of them. Alarm roared through him, and he had just said 'Potter' and reached for him when the mortar between the bricks in a wall to their left exploded, showering them with masonry. Potter ducked, hands shielding his head, but Draco grabbed him and shoved him between two buildings, covering him with his body, his wand in his hand. He pinned him against the bricks, his eyes on the opening, searching for whoever had fired on them. He could feel Potter's hard chest against his, rising and falling with each quick breath. He had his wand in his hand now, and he was staring at the opening, too.
"Who the hell…"
"I didn't see," Draco answered. "I just noticed a weird… "
He looked into Potter's eyes, slightly beneath his. He always had been slightly taller than Potter, even though Potter had more muscle mass.
"Yes," he answered. "Like a shimmering?"
"Advanced shielding charm. There's only so many people who know how to do it."
Draco took a step back; the hard length of Potter's body was becoming distracting.
"Let me guess; Aurors."
Potter nodded. "Level four and above."
Draco felt heat sear past his head, and bricks behind them exploded in a mass of small red chips.
"Fuck." Harry grabbed Draco's arm, yanking him deeper into the shadows before grabbing him, wrapping an arm around his waist and stepping into a sharp turn. Draco gasped when he felt the tug in his center and the rush of Apparition. Moments later, they were standing in the pasture outside of his shop.
"Goddamn it, Potter," Draco said, shoving him away. "There's a law against Apparating outside of designated points."
Potter rolled his eyes. "Not for me, Draco. They'll see who it was before they file charges."
"Oh, how fucking wonderful it must be to be you." Draco shoved him again. "You son of a bitch." He turned to stomp toward the ramshackle barn. "I don't need this shite." A hard hand curled around his elbow, jerking him back.
"Let me go," Draco ordered, trying to yank his arm free.
"No," Harry snarled back. "You stubborn bastard. You just saved my fucking life."
Draco went still. "Wow," he finally managed. "Whatever could I have been thinking?" He turned away again but Potter whirled him back.
"Will you let me thank you?"
"Thank me?" Draco knew his voice had gone high. "I'd like to get out of the open, just in case your fan club followed us."
"I can't be tracked."
Draco stared at him. "What?"
"I'm untrackable," Potter repeated. "I've known how since right after I entered the Auror program. I never wanted anyone to be able to track me, ever again."
Draco knew he was staring, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "Well," he said finally. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
"Some," Potter answered, not even attempting to demure. "Draco – you saved. My. Life."
Draco exhaled heavily. "If I let you die while you were with me, Parkinson and Granger would peel off my skin, one strip at a time. Slowly."
Potter made a face. "Descriptive. And probably accurate."
Draco didn't want to smile. He really didn't. But the man got to him in a way no other man ever had. Potter saw it, too, damn him, and the grip around his elbow slid to his hand.
"Draco – "
"No." Draco shook off his hand, not really sure what he was saying no to, knowing only that it was imperative he say it. He turned, striding to the door to his shop, doing the spell that opened the lock. He was barely through it when the grip was back and he turned, ready to punch Potter in the mouth when he was shoved hard against the wall and held there. "Let. Me. Go," Draco ground out but Potter was right there, right in front of him, staring at him with those damned wide green eyes.
"Christ, some things never change," Potter ground out, then wrapped his hand around Draco's neck and hauled him down, covering Draco's mouth with his. Draco stiffened in shock, trying to pull away but with his back against the wall there was nowhere for him to go. He shoved against Potter's chest but it was like trying to move a wall, and then Potter's hand was between them, boldly cupping Draco's cock. Draco gasped, and Potter thrust his tongue into his mouth.
It flitted through Draco's mind that he should bite his tongue. He seriously considered it, for about a second. Then Potter was rubbing him, and gentling his kiss, and Draco groaned, angling his head, accepting it, bending his knees and letting his spine slip down the wall far enough they were on the same level. After several long, languid minutes, where it felt like Potter was trying to suck his soul out through his tongue, Potter pulled back.
"Do you want this?" he asked breathlessly. Draco made an irritated noise in the back of his throat and tried to pull him back in. Potter pressed his palm against Draco's throat, his thumb stroking the side of his neck. "I need you to say it, Draco."
"Why?" Draco asked, frustrated.
"Because I fucked up before," Potter said. "Because I chose a job over us. But I think you wanted me to choose the job."
Draco couldn't deny it. It had certainly simplified his choices. He hadn't realized until it was over he'd told Harry to go how much it would hurt, how much he'd come to realize what he'd lost.
"If we start this again now, I'm not going to just go away," Potter went on. He leaned in, pressing his cheek against Draco's, his hand moving to cup his jaw. "I've missed you," Harry whispered. "Missed us."
Draco closed his eyes. He had too, so much. "Harry," he said weakly.
"Say the word and I'll stop," Harry said. "Or tell me you still want me. But I need to hear it."
Draco exhaled, the hands that should have been pushing him away lifting, fingers sinking deep into Harry's thick hair. "You are the most infuriating man."
Harry laughed raggedly. "So I've been told."
Draco angled his head, pausing when their lips were barely an inch apart. He hesitated, searching his head and his heart. Did he really want to go back a decade, pick up where they'd left off?
"Yes," he finally said. "It's insane, but I want this, I want you. I never stopped."
Harry leaned back enough so that he could look into Draco's eyes, and the fierce joy on his face went a long way toward easing the sudden terror that Draco felt threatening to close his throat. But then he stopped thinking all together when Harry began kissing him again.
They went into one another's arms, Draco wrapping his around Harry's neck, Harry encircling Draco around his rib cage, pulling him in tight against his body. When he felt the hard heat of Harry's cock pressing against him, he arched his hips forward, looking for more heat, more pressure against the part of him that wanted friction. He made a slightly startled sound when Harry wrapped his leg around Draco's knee and yanked him forward.
Draco lost his balance as Harry went down, but he turned as they went, rolling to his back with Draco sprawled atop him. Harry reached up and anchored his hands in the hair above Draco's ears, opening his mouth in an invitation to Draco's tongue. Using his deceptive strength, he rolled them so that Draco was on his back, but when Draco began to sputter a protest ground down with his hips. There was the friction Draco wanted, and he groaned into Harry's mouth, wrapping his long legs around Harry's thighs.
It didn't take long for Draco to be on the knife's edge of almost painful arousal. Harry was apparently in the same condition, because it wasn't long before his rhythm was disjointed and his breathing ragged. Abruptly he lifted up onto his stiffened arms, and Draco wanted to wail and yank him down again.
"Potter, you can't…"
"Just wait." He gasped, his head down. A crystalized drop of sweat slid down his cheek, dripped onto Draco's lips. Ordinarily the very thought would have disgusted Draco, but the salt burst on his tongue, making him want to lick Harry's throat, and his cock, making him want the salty and bitter taste of his come. He had a clear memory of the taste, and he wanted it, desperately. He was about to beg to suck him off when Harry reached between them and undid Draco's pants, then his own. He spit into his palm and dropped his hips, wrapping his fingers around both of them.
Unable to help himself, Draco gasped and thrust up, long fingers digging into Harry's shoulders. The slide of the thin, delicate skin of both cocks over their swollen, tight cores made him shudder. His foreskin slid over the sensitive head, and on every other thrust the mushroom ridge beneath Harry's caught on his, sending a shaft of raw want up his spine. He ached inside, his prostate throbbing even without being touched. It had always been sensitive, and he thought if Harry had pressed into him right then he'd have lost his mind. Just thinking about it made his balls feel tight and heavy, and the flex of his sphincter sent a shiver of lust through the tight skin behind his sack. Pre-come slid from his slit, and added to Harry's, in combination with the spit they'd begun with, the slick slide was almost as good as lube. He was so close his muscles began to lock up.
"Harry," he gasped.
"Yeah, me too," Harry muttered. "Go ahead. I'm with you."
"Oh, yeah." The last word was choked out, and Draco watched Harry's face transfix with pleasure. His head dropped back, the muscles down each side of his neck bulged, and his eyes shut, long black lashes against flushed cheeks. His mouth fell open and he cried out, and the sight and the sound sent Draco over the edge. His shoulders curled up from the floor as he added his own cries to Harry's, and his cock spurted slender strands of translucent come on his jumper and dripped over Harry's fingers, mingling with his. Draco's vision grayed around the edges, and for the first time since the last time he and Harry had sex, he thought he might actually black out.
He didn't. Instead he reached down and grabbed Harry's hand, pulling the fist from them carefully. Then even as his prick jerked, almost too sensitive to be touched, he lifted Harry's hand to his mouth and licked the blended come from his fingers.
"Shit," Harry gasped, shuddering. "You're going to make me hard again."
"How?" Draco sighed, licking up the side of Harry's hand. "I don't think I could get hard again now if I had to."
Harry gave him a slow, sexy smile, his eyes shining. "I could get hard again just watching your face." He grabbed Draco's wrist to hold it away, and gave him a lingering kiss.
Draco's breath caught. If Harry kept looking at him like that, he thought maybe he could get hard again.
Harry released his wrist and Draco let his hand drop to the floor as Harry rolled to his side, sighing deeply.
"God, that was good."
Draco looked up at the ceiling, smiling slightly. "Yeah, it really was."
Harry rolled his head and looked at him. "Why did we stop again?"
Draco snorted. "Because we were young and stupid and thought it was the right thing."
Harry rolled his head toward him, and touched his hand where it lay limp between them. "You as tired of doing the right thing as I am?"
Draco managed to give him a sleepy smile. "More, I imagine."
Harry lifted his hand and placed a tender kiss on the inside of his wrist. "Good."
Draco sighed, his heart turning over hard. "So – we're doing this then?"
Harry's smile was brilliant. "Oh, we are so doing this."
The reasons they had stopped seeing each other seemed like good ones at the time. In fact, finding out that there would be background checks had left him weak with fear. He never wanted anyone to know he was having a gay relationship with the son of Lucius Fucking Malfoy. Draco had been the one who insisted they stop seeing one another. Now it just seemed so trivial. Maybe it was because he was older, or surer of himself; he didn't know. All he knew was that he had Draco back, and he never wanted to lose him again.
When he walked into his office for the first time in a week, Hespia looked up at him with a delighted smile.
"Hey, Hespia." He gave her a bright smile in return.
"Oh, look at you!" She stood and came around her desk. "You're practically glowing. You look so much better! And you got a haircut!"
Actually, he'd got it styled by Draco's stylist. Draco told him it was nice to have the hand holds when he was fucking Harry's mouth, but the shaggy look wasn't very managerial. Harry bit back a grin even as he felt his face heat.
"Someone told me the shaggy look wasn't very upper management. And since I was a grown up, I should look like one."
"Well, whoever they are, they aren't wrong."
Harry couldn't stop the small grin. "They rarely are."
Hespia angled her head to one side. "Auror Potter, do you have a sweetheart?"
Harry's smile widened. "As a matter of fact – "
"Are you supposed to back here?"
Harry turned as Pansy entered the outer office.
"The Healer released me."
"Look at him, Auror Thomas," Hespia said effusively. "Doesn't he look wonderful?"
Pansy crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes. Nice do, boss."
Harry rolled his eyes and headed for his office door. "Bring any message you have, Hespia, if you would? And the case files for the last week?"
"Right away, sir."
Pansy followed Harry into the inner office and closed the door. One of Harry's dark brows arched.
"You need a private sit down, Pans?"
She leaned her hip on one of the chairs facing his desk. "I need you to tell me what's going on."
Harry looked down at the blotter on his desk, pretending to check his quills. "I've no idea what you mean."
"Oh, you can stow that line of bollocks any time now, dear. I've tried to get a hold of you for days and you've been conveniently absent from your residence. Care to tell me where you've been?"
Harry looked up as a soft knock sounded on the door and Hespia came in. She handed Harry several slips of paper and a small stack of files. "Dawlish and Finch-Fletchley in on any of these?"
Hespia shook her head. "No, sir. Auror Thomas had them doing training with the new recruits this week."
Harry shot Pansy a look. "Oh, I'll bet they loved that."
"Not particularly," she said with satisfaction. "But I did."
Hespia laughed softly and left the office, leaving the door ajar, and Pansy turned back to Harry. "Okay," she demanded, plopping into the chair. "Spill it. Where have you been?"
Harry sifted through his messages until Pansy reached across the desk and slapped her hand on top of them. He looked up at her in exasperation.
"We were worried about you," she said tartly, "And here you just… stroll in like nothing happened."
Harry sighed. "I'm sorry I didn't stay in touch. And I have been at home part of the time, Pansy. You just didn't Floo when I was there."
He wasn't about to tell her he'd spent far more time in the bed Draco kept in the flat above his studio.
She pursed her lips. "You've had your hair styled."
"That's not a cut, Harry. Only a stylist could fix that rat's nest you call hair. You also look very relaxed." She gasped, her eyes widening. "Oh, Merlin."
"'Oh Merlin, what?"
"You're fucking Draco again."
Harry looked toward the door, then gave her a quelling glare. "Could you keep it down? I'd just as soon not make a general announcement to the entire office."
Pansy shot to her feet and leaned over his desk, dark eyes snapping with anger. "Oh, no you don't."
"You don't go back to fucking him and then treat him like he's some sort of nasty little secret. I will not let you do that again."
"I have no intention of doing that," he growled in reply. "But my personal life really isn't the business of people who work for me."
She fumed. "If that's an attempt to get me to butt out, you can just take it and shove it up…"
"I didn't mean you," he said dryly, cutting her off. "I meant everyone else in the office. Could you just… keep it down, at least for now? We'll make an announcement when Draco is ready and not before."
That seemed to both surprise and mollify her, and she leaned back as a knock sounded on the office door. Without giving Harry a chance to answer, Hermione stuck her head around the edge of the door, grinning wide.
"And there is one of the finest minds of our generation," Pansy drawled, sitting in the chair again.
"Oh, shut it." Hermione came into the office. "You look good," she said, studying Harry. "You've done something different with your hair." She stared at his head for several moments, then her eyes narrowed. "Oh, no you are not."
Pansy laughed out loud. "And the gray matter kicks in. And oh, yes, he is."
"Harry," Hermione began. He held up his hands.
"In spite of what you two harpies seem to think, my love life actually isn't up for discussion."
"Love life?" Pansy said instantly.
"Wait, is this more than just a hook up?" Hermione asked.
Harry huffed in exasperation. "Not that it's anyone's goddamned business," he said sharply. "But yes, it's more than a hook up. Now, leave it alone."
Pansy had covered her mouth with her hand. "Really? I mean, you two are actually trying to have a grown up relationship and not act like a couple of adolescent arseholes?"
"What part of 'this isn't anyone's goddamned business' did you not understand, Parkinson?"
"Oh, dear. We've reverted to surnames." She held up her hands. "I'll shut up, now." But her grin spoke volumes.
"So, are you going to do this openly, or are you going to try to keep it quiet?"
"Gods, Hermione!" he snapped. "I just said – "
Another knock sounded on his door and it opened, Ron poking his head around the edge.
"Hail, hail, the gang's all here," Pansy said with a ringing laugh.
"Harry," Ron said with a bright grin, entering the office and closing the door. "I heard you were back."
Ron gestured toward Hermione. "Who ya think?"
Hermione shrugged. "I heard it from Seavers. He saw you in the lift."
Harry sighed, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. "So nice to know I'm a topic of conversation."
"Oh, come on, mate." Ron dropped into the chair beside Pansy, and gave her a companionable bump on the shoulder. "Not like it's a new thing. So, what're we talking about?"
Harry gave Pansy a warning look and she held up her hands, palm out.
"Harry and Malfoy are… involved again." Hermione said, and Harry looked at her with an aggravation.
She gave him a wry smile. "You think you could do it without him knowing?"
"I had no intention of doing it without him knowing," Harry countered. "It would just be nice if I had some say about when."
Ron snorted, and Harry turned his irritation on him. "What?"
"You have no poker face at all, Harry. If you're fucking Malfoy, I'd have figured it out. I did the last time, didn't I?"
"This isn't the same."
"How's it different?" Ron stared into his best friend's resolute expression for a long moment. "Ah. Like that, is it?"
"Yeah, Ron. It's exactly like that."
Ron smiled faintly. "Good on you then, mate. And can I just say it's about time you figured it out? You aren't getting any younger, you know."
Harry returned his smile.
"As lovely as this is," Hermione gave Harry an earnest smile, "and it is lovely, really, but I'm actually here for another reason." Her smile faded. "I have the results of the tests on all of the wands in the Auror division and the magical signature from the hex that hit you in the head last week." She shook her head. "There is no match. There is something else, however." She gestured to Pansy.
Harry looked at her. "What?"
"The Healers have been collecting the signature of every one of the 'stray hexes' that have hit you over the last few weeks. We can't say who it is, but it's been the same wand, every time."
"Which means you've been targeted, but we can't prove it was Finch-Fletchley. Actually, we can't prove it was anyone."
Harry stared at each of his friends. "Well, that's ducky," he said finally. "Someone is out to cause me a lot of pain at the very least, and we just don't have any way of figuring out who. At least with Voldemort, I knew who it was."
"Now, to be accurate, I think old Batty Bella wanted a piece of your arse too."
Pansy snorted. "She wasn't the only one." Harry gave her a fond smile, and she shook her head. "You truly are mad to have me in your office, you know."
He shook his head. "Nah, you've mellowed with age."
Her smile turned saucy. "My husband doesn't think so."
"Ack, over share," Ron groused. "I used to share a bedroom with your husband. I don't need to know about your bedroom antics."
"Bedroom antics?" Pansy laughed. "Well, I suppose that's one way to look at it."
"People, can we focus?" Hermione said, exasperated.
"On what, Hermione?" Ron said. "Someone is shooting hexes at Harry, and can I just say that isn't exactly a new thing? But we don't know who it is. Again, not new. Did I miss something?"
Hermione stared at him in consternation. "No, actually."
"All right then. So, you double up his guard until you figure it out."
Harry groaned. "Wonderful," he complained, then grimaced. "Oh, and there's something you should know, I guess."
They all looked at him. "Draco and I went to lunch about a week ago in Diagon Alley – "
"We knew that," they said in unison.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course you did. I'm astonished you don't know the rest." The waited with various degrees of patience. "On the way to the Apparition point, someone sent a couple of hexes at us. From an advanced Shielding Charm."
Pansy had leaned forward and she stiffened. "Well, that limits the field considerably."
"But includes both Finch-Fletchley and Dawlish."
"It isn't Dawlish," Harry said. "He's been here forever. For Christ's sakes, he trained me. Finch-Fletchley, though…"
"Yeah, he's always been a dodgy bastard." Ron's lips pursed. "Never have liked him."
"None of us much liked Justin," Hermione said. "But we can't condemn him for something we can't prove he did." She looked at Harry and held his gaze. "And there's something else that needs to be considered now."
Harry arched his brows and waited.
"There's another way to hurt you now."
Fear felt cold as it raced through Harry's bloodstream. "Draco," he murmured.
It was all Harry could do not to jump to his feet and Apparate away.
So, his personal life was brilliant, save for the lingering fear that, because of him, something might happen to Draco. Work, on the other, was an unmitigated pain in the arse. There were more raids on Potion smugglers, more Incandesence turning up on the streets, the kids caught with it younger and younger. The last raid had included the arrest of a thirteen year old, so high he couldn't even speak. When he died later at St. Mungo's, Harry felt like an utter failure. Only knowing there were more kids out there in jeopardy had him getting up the next morning, putting on his uniform, and trying again.
In the midst of all of this, it felt like the most ridiculous thing in the world to have a huge ceremony to dedicate the fucking statue. Harry knew Draco was pleased with it, which was the only reason he could be persuaded to put on the fancy formal uniform. He'd been banned from the studio for two days while the statue was transferred to the ministry. For several weeks it had already been covered by a huge box when he arrived in the evenings, and Draco wouldn't let him see it. He wanted him to be surprised along with everyone else.
Now as Harry entered the atrium, his saw that a curtain hanging from the ceiling kept the statue hidden from everyone's gaze. There was a large crowd for the unveiling, and waiters passed through the crowd bearing trays with flutes of champagne. One offered some to Harry, but he demurred with a shake of his head. People smiled at him, offering their hands and congratulations, but he just pushed through the crowd as quickly and gracefully as possible given the crush, looking for Hermione or Pansy or Ron. Draco, he knew, was backstage somewhere, waiting for the actual ceremony.
He spotted Pansy's sleek mane of hair and figured Ron and Hermione wouldn't be far from her. When he arrived at their side, Dean gave him a bright smile.
Pansy turned. "There you are. I swear to Merlin, I thought you'd decided to beg off the whole thing."
"Think I can get away with it?" Harry teased.
"Well, maybe from this lot," Dean grinned, "but I doubt Draco would be happy about it."
"He'd hex me into next month," Harry said drily, and Pansy laughed.
"Oh, thank goodness," Hermione arrived beside them, Ron just behind her. "I was afraid you'd decided to beg off, Harry."
"Conversation had, Granger," Pansy drawled. "It was already determined Draco would hex off his bits if he wasn't here."
Harry gave them a saucy grin. "Nah, he likes them too much."
Pansy laughed as Ron grimaced. "That falls right under the category of things I'd just as soon not know, Harry."
"Oh, grow up," Pansy said lightly. "They fuck. You fuck your wife, don't you?"
"Pansy!" Hermione scolded. "Really?"
"Oh, admit it," Pansy said, a wicked sparkle in her eyes. "The idea of Harry and Draco doing it gets you hot."
"I need more champagne for this conversation." Dean lifted his hand and waved to a waiter. He headed their way.
"I need a lobotomy for this conversation."
Pansy lifted her glass towards Hermione. "There's a thought."
Hermione looked ready to retort but Kingsley's voice, magnified by a Sonorous charm, filled the Atrium.
"Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon," he said, smiling broadly. "Could Chief Auror Potter join us on the dais, please?"
Harry rolled his eyes at his friends, but turned and made his way through the crowd to the front, followed by an enthusiastic round of applause. People patted him on the shoulder as he passed, smiling broadly. Harry returned their greetings, hoping his smile was less anaemic than it felt. He climbed the steps that had been erected for access to a broad, marble platform. Kingsley stood there, and several senior members of the Wizengamot. And Draco, austere and beautiful in his black and silver robes. Harry shook hands down the line of wizards, then arrived beside his lover with a sheepish smile. Draco leaned toward him as the applause faded, whispering near his ear.
"You're so fucking hot in that uniform I want to strip it off of you and fuck you right here," he murmured. "Think anyone would notice?"
Harry swallowed a grin. "Think they might. And if you keep talking like that, you're going to force me to stand here with a stiffy while they unveil your work."
"Oh, dear. That might be embarrassing."
Hidden by Draco's robes, Harry reached behind him and pinched his arse. He was rewarded when Draco jerked slightly and hissed at him. Harry grinned.
"Now that we're all assembled," Kingsley said, "we can begin. For nearly a decade, this spot in the Atrium has stood empty. The last monument in this location was an aberration, to all of us, and it was one of the happier moments in my life when I was able to assist in blowing it to bits. But now, we feel it's been empty long enough, and the Wizengamot, much to the subject's displeasure, I might add," there were scattered chuckles, "has decided what the perfect monument for this location should be. Mr. Malfoy, if you would be so kind?"
Draco stepped forward, walking to a satin rope that hung next to the curtain. There was pocket of applause from one section of the crowd, and Harry noticed with pride it was Pansy and Dean, and Hermione and Ron, and Hespia. Ron even stuck two fingers in his mouth a whistled. Slowly, the applause spread through the crowd. It wasn't a thunderous ovation, but it was polite, and Harry saw a blush spread over Draco's cheekbones.
"Ladies and gentleman, I give you," Kingsley glanced at Draco, who nodded, "And He Saved Us All."
The curtain dropped, and Harry stared as an awed hush, then gasps broke out around him.
It was clearly a statue of him, young, bloodied and battered, his shoulders hunched as he sent a spell, depicted in silver, from the tip of his wand. It was so perfectly rendered that for Harry, it was like looking in the mirror, only a mirror that showed him a decade in the past. He was depicted in bronze, it's sheen glowing softly in the overhead lighting. But it wasn't just him. Behind him stood a crowd of people, rendered in gray stone. Hermione and Ron, looking nearly as bad as he did. Mrs. Weasley was there, Ginny under her arm. Luna and Neville held hands, their eyes avid. McGonagall was there, and Flitwick and Trelawney. Finnegan looked as if his hair was singed on one side. Old Aberforth's robes were torn, but he had the same inherent dignity that his brother had. Kingsley was there, and Arthur Weasley and his twin boys, both of them. Remus Lupin, and Nymphadora Tonks stood proud, but here Draco had used artistic license, because he'd placed newborn Teddy in her arms.
Mingled with the Order of the Phoenix members were other faces. Draco's parents, even Draco's himself, thin and frightened. There were other Death Eaters there, too, cowering but present. And in the back, nearly hidden were Snape, and Dumbledore. It was stunning, all of it, and Harry felt a burst of fierce pride.
The applause began again in the corner where their friends stood, but it spread more quickly. And this time, there was nothing polite or hesitant about it. It was loud, and growing louder by the second. Kingsley turned to Draco and gave him a somber, respectful bow, and the crowd cheered.
A burst of white heat shot past the group on the stage, searing as it went by, neatly slicing off the extended arm of Harry's statue then colliding with the marble faces behind, blowing up eighteen year old Hermione's head in a burst of rock and noise. It took everyone a moment to realize what was happening, but when they did screams echoed through the Atrium and the crowd ducked, rushing for the Floos. Another spell shot toward the sculpture, turning the face of Harry into an unrecognizable, molten mass and with a cry Draco moved to step in front of the next one that destroyed more of the rendered figures. The next shot of heat slashed across Draco's arm, and he cried out but he didn't duck. Harry ran, tackling him, and rolled him beneath his body just in time to save him from another vicious hex. It exploded beside them.
Draco pushed at his chest. "The sculpture!" he yelled, tears in his eyes. "They're destroying it."
"You can fix it," Harry said, shaking him slightly. "They won't be able to fix you if another of those curses hits you in the face. Now stay down. Get behind it."
Harry slipped his wand into his hand and started to turn and roll away, and Draco grabbed him.
"You get yourself killed now, and I'll never forgive you," he hissed into Harry's face, then kissed him hard on the lips. He then pushed Harry off of him and joined members of the Wizengamot behind the statues.
Harry slipped off of the edge of the platform, throwing a shielding charm up behind him to protect Draco and the others, then hurrying to where he saw Pansy and a group of young Aurors returning fire with a shrouded figure in the back of the room. There seemed to be too many aggressive spells coming in their direction, and Harry realized the figure was firing with two wands. He also realized as the crowd cleared that Finch-Fletchley and several other Aurors were pinned down in the open, firing from the other side of the room. He also realized he didn't see Dawlish.
Acting on impulse, Harry cast a sonorous and pressed his wand tip against his throat.
"John, what are you doing?"
The hooded figure jerked, looking around frantically.
"John, stop this. This isn't you."
Slowly, cautiously, Harry stood up, showing himself clearly.
"Get down," Pansy cried, throwing up a deflector just as a spell headed for Harry's head. He ducked, but then straightened again.
"Dammit, John, what're you doing? We're your friends."
A ringing silence followed those words.
The figure yanked off his hood, and John Dawlish stood there, wiry gray hair on end, eyes wild.
"My friends?" he yelled. "My friends? You aren't my friends. You're the people who've ruined my life!"
Harry sent Pansy a subtle gesture, hoping she'd understand. In his peripheral vision he saw her pulling the cadet's around her back toward the wall.
"How, John?" Harry asked.
"Oh, don't stand there and pretend you don't understand," Dawlish replied. "I was a senior Auror when you were in diapers. The department Head should have been mine when Shacklebolt became Minister. But what did they do? They gave it to Weasley, knowing the minute you were ready he'd retire and they could give it to you. All of that work, all of that time, and they have me fucking train you, then they give you my goddamned job. And you shouldn't even have been eligible for it, having a relationship with a bloody Death Eater. You should have been denied, and Kingsley made sure the stipulation was waved!"
Harry stared at him, stunned.
"That was my fault, John," Shacklebolt said, stepping forward. "Not Harry's. If you want to blame someone, blame me."
Dawlish glared at him. "Oh, I do blame you, Kingsley. You were my friend, you knew what I was going through at home, and still you promoted him over me."
Harry frowned. He had no idea what the man was talking about.
"I did know," Kingsley said kindly. "Can't you see where I might have thought it kinder to promote a young man into a stressful position instead of you? Rosanna wouldn't have wanted that for you."
"Don't you dare pretend to know what she would have wanted! You made me feel useless. Damn you, Kingsley!" He shot a spell at him and Kingsley deflected it easily.
"John, stop now. This is over. You're going to get hurt. The only thing that remains now is how many people get hurt with you."
Dawlish laughed, and it was a raw, unstable sound. "Do you think I care?"
"I would hope my friend John Dawlish would care. He's a level five Auror, one of the most decorated men in the history of the department."
Dawlish sneered. "One of the most decorated, but not good enough to be Chief Auror. Well, you're going to have to kill me, Kingsley. Because I'm not going down peacefully."
He raised both wands, clearly ready to die, when a spell hit him square in the face. He looked startled, then slowly crumpled to the floor.
"Oh, I don't think so, arsehole." Draco said, standing off to one side and glaring, his wand in his hand. "Fuck up my sculpture."
Harry rushed to him, catching him by his good arm. Draco looked at him, then swayed slightly on his feet, his face going pasty. Harry hastily put his arm around his waist.
"Are you all right?"
"My arm fucking hurts," Draco said. "A lot."
Harry parted the singed sides of the fabric of his elegant robe on his injured arm, and saw the wound in the flesh of his bicep. There was a deep gash, but the raw flesh was also burned. Harry grimaced.
"Sweetheart, you're going to need to let me take you to St. Mungo's to have this seen to."
Pansy was bent over Dawlish. "What did you hit him with, Draco?"
"Just a Stunner," he answered. "You all seemed determined to talk the man to death, and I was bored – " Abruptly his eyes rolled up and he went limp. Harry caught him just before he hit the floor.
"Take him," Pansy said to Harry, gesturing to her cadets to secure Dawlish. "I'll follow you as soon as I can."
"We'll go with you." Hermione was at his side, Ron with her.
"Fine, but we're going now."
Without waiting to see what his friends did, Harry lifted Draco against his chest and Apparated away.
Draco had regained consciousness when they arrived at St. Mungo's, embarrassed he'd passed out at all, but they'd put him under again to do the repair on his arm. Surgery didn't happen often in a magical injury, but this one was tricky because nerves had not only been severed, but then burned. The bone in his upper arm had also been nicked, meaning the missing divot would have to be regrown. They assured Harry they'd be able to repair the damage, but that it was neither easy, nor quick, and so he was in the waiting room. Hermione had gone to get coffee for them all someplace other than the hospital cafeteria, Ron was dozing, and Pansy had just arrived.
"The arsehole was out for almost an hour. How's Draco?"
"In surgery," Harry answered, leaning forward, his hands linked between his legs, his right knee bouncing. "The bone was hit and some nerves were damaged."
"At least it's his left arm," she said, trying to be reassuring. Harry sighed.
"He needs them both to be fit, Pansy. You should see how much he uses both arms in his work."
"Did the Healer say they could put him to rights?"
Harry nodded, but he was still worried. He felt responsible for Draco's injury, even knowing he'd done nothing to cause it, and knew better than anyone how vital it was for Draco's arm to be returned to the way it had been. In truth, when the Healer discussed the surgery with Draco, he hadn't seemed as worried as Harry was.
It was so quiet they could hear the footsteps on the marble floor, and Harry glanced up to see Kingsley approaching. It was fascinating to watch the Minister go anywhere; the people in the hall behind him stopped what they were doing to stare. Kingsley was the only other person, besides himself, that Harry had ever seen that happen to.
"Harry," he said. Pansy looked up and saw who it was, and shot to her feet. For all of her sass, she was rarely that way with the Minister. "How is he?"
Harry gave an abbreviated version of the same explanation he'd given Pansy, Kingsley nodding.
"And who is his Healer?"
"He's a good man." He sat next to Harry where Pansy had been. "Mrs. Thomas, I was wondering if you and Ron might give us a few?"
"Of course, Minister," she said, then kicked Ron's foot. He came awake with a jerk.
"What? Oh, hello, Kingsley." He rubbed his eyes.
"Ron," Kingsley replied.
"Get up, you nit," Pansy said. "We're going to make ourselves scarce for a few. Let's go find your wife."
Ron blinked, then climbed to his feet. They could hear Pansy's voice as they walked down the hall. "Oh, hello, Kingsley," she muttered. "You really are just an idiot."
"What? I've known him a long time…"
Kingsley leaned back with a deep sigh. "I owe you an explanation."
"I wasn't going to ask."
"That's because you've always been respectful, but I owe you the truth." He stared at Harry, his eyes level. "You're good at what you do, Harry. Really good. When Arthur was ready to retire, there really were only two candidates, and Dawlish's age worked against him. Being Chief Auror is a rigorous job, and while John was qualified, he had just lost his wife."
"Rosanna, I'm assuming?" Harry said. Kingsley nodded.
"She was a lovely woman. French. Which is how he was able to use her wand for the last six months and we weren't able to trace the magical signature."
"Yeah. Ah. That's a loophole we need to close."
"And what he said, that you made sure the stipulation about my private life was waived; is that true?"
Kingsley sighed heavily, looking at the floor. "I won't lie to you. Yes. I made sure it was waived. I knew about Draco, I knew it could be trouble for you, and I told the Wizengamot you were clear when you weren't."
Harry stared at him, incredulous. "Why?"
"For the same reason you stopped seeing Draco," Kingsley said, surprising Harry. He didn't know anyone knew about any of what they'd decided together.
"How do you even know that?"
Kingsley shrugged. "How does our intelligence division know anything, Harry?"
"I was being followed?" Outrage filled him.
"Of course you were," Kingsley answered, unfazed. "Think about it from where you are now rather than where you were then. You were the number one potential recruit for that year, someone who was extremely high profile, who had tremendous influence he could exert on any number of people. What would you have done?"
"I wouldn't have snooped into his private life!"
"No, you probably wouldn't." Kingsley shook his head. "We aren't all as good as you are, Harry."
"No, I'm not a politician."
Kingsley took the comment with grace. "At any rate, there were still people in positions of authority who had been victims of Lucius Malfoy's strong arm tactics. Finding out you were involved with Draco would have hurt you, damaged your career. Isn't that why you stopped seeing him?"
Harry stared into the watchful, waiting dark eyes. Finally he nodded. "It was more his idea than mine, but yes."
"Even then, Harry, we knew you would eventually be Chief Auror. I'd never seen anyone take to it like you did, except for perhaps Mad-Eye Moody. And the only reason he was never Chief was that I already was, and I wouldn't resign for him."
Harry managed an anaemic smile.
"And yes, I buried the information about you and Draco. But when you stopped seeing each other, it became a moot point."
Harry hardened his gaze. "I won't be so malleable now, Kingsley. I've been in love with Draco for ten years; I won't give him up this time."
Kingsley shrugged. "Now it won't matter, Harry, and anyone who has a problem with it will probably be smart enough to keep their mouth shut."
Harry frowned. "I don't get it. Why did it matter then, but not now?"
"Because now you aren't a recruit. Now, you've been Chief for five years, and you've done an outstanding job. You came in the youngest Chief Auror ever, and you've been exceptional. There isn't a person with any credibility that could question the way you do your job. And your orientation has been well known from the beginning."
It was one thing Harry had insisted on; he wasn't going to hide who he was.
"And it won't matter that it's Draco?"
Kingsley's look was direct. "Do you care?"
"Not a damned bit."
A smile tugged at the corner of Kingsley's lips. "I didn't think so. I would advise you do a press release, rather than let the Prophet stumble across the information. Maybe that way it won't be quite the nightmare it would be otherwise."
"I'll think about it."
Kingsley patted him on the shoulder and stood up. "Time for me to head out. Give Draco my best."
"I will. Oh, Kingsley?"
He turned back, one brow arched in question. "I'll need to talk to Draco about his part in this, but I don't want any charges filed against John for his attacks on me."
Kingsley stared at him for a long moment. "That's very generous of you, Harry."
"I just feel like he's been through enough." Harry let a grin turn his lips up. "Of course after he damaged the sculpture, Draco may feel completely different."
The somber expression on Kingsley's face morphed into a slight grin. "I'm not sure I'd blame him."
Pansy, Hermione and Ron stayed long enough to hear that Draco's surgery was a complete success, ducked in to tell him to get well soon then went home for the night. Harry had let Draco's parents know about his injury, and Narcissa ducked in briefly to check on him. He'd still been groggy, but glad to see her and she had thanked Harry somewhat stiffly for notifying them. So, he supposed that was better than nothing. Not a ringing endorsement, but she hadn't hexed him, either.
He couldn't seem to get what he'd told Kingsley out of his head, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized he meant it. This time, he wasn't going to pretend he and Draco weren't together. He was in love with Draco and wanted a life with him, in spite of what anyone thought or said. Including his friends and Draco's parents. He'd let what other people think influence his decisions once, he wouldn't do it again.
Draco shifted and grunted, and Harry's eyes swung to his face. He'd wakened a time or two, but the Healer told him grogginess was to be anticipated. His arm was strapped across his chest to keep him from moving it and infringing on the healing process, and his moonlit hair looked white in the soft light. He was so pale, Harry thought, and leaned forward when he tried to move his arm, catching his fingers in a firm but gentle grip.
"Easy, love," he murmured, running his thumb over Draco's knuckles.
"My arm won't move," he said, a frown between his eyes. He blinked them open, looking confused. When he saw Harry, he gave him a bleary smile. "Hi."
Harry returned the smile. "Hi there."
Draco looked down at his arm. "Why is my arm tied down?"
"To keep you from injuring it again. Do you remember what happened?"
Draco lifted his eyes to Harry's face. "Oh, that bastard Dawlish wrecked my work and then hexed me."
Harry nodded. "Do you remember what happened after that?"
Draco looked like he had to make an effort, and he rubbed his forehead with his free hand. He dropped his hand to his lap. "Did I hex him?"
"You did. According to Pans, he was out for almost an hour."
"Good. He ruined my statue." Draco pouted, and Harry wanted to wrap him up in his arms.
"He didn't ruin it, sweetheart. He just damaged parts of it. But you can fix it."
Draco heaved a heavy sigh. "I suppose." He rolled his head to the side and looked at Harry. "Why are you still here?"
"Where else would I be?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe home in bed?"
Harry's smile was ironic. "Funny how sleeping with someone else for a few weeks makes it impossible to go back to sleeping alone, isn't it?"
Draco's answering smile was fond. "If it makes you feel any better, I miss you being next to me, too."
"It does make me feel better. As a matter of fact," Harry toed off his shoes and drawing his wand, expanded Draco's hospital bed. He pulled the covers up and slid under, slipping his arm behind Draco and pulling him in against his chest. "There, is that better?"
Draco sighed. "Infinitely."
The lay there for several minutes, harry relishing the feeling of Draco in his arms, Draco dozing. Finally Harry ran his hand down Draco's arm. "Babe, we need to talk about something."
"Are you awake enough to have a conversation with me?"
"It sounds serious."
"It is. Well, a little bit anyway."
Draco angled his head and looked up into Harry's face. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I don't think so, anyway. You know the fact that we're seeing one another isn't a secret, right?"
Draco frowned as he studied Harry's face. "Was it supposed to be?"
"No. In fact, that's the point. I don't want it to be. A secret, I mean."
"What are you trying to say?"
Harry took a deep breath, the arm around Draco's shoulders tightening. "I think it's time we came out."
Draco chuckled. "I think we've missed the train on that one, love. It's the most badly kept secret in England."
"I don't mean come out like that. I mean –" Harry hesitated, then pushed on. "I mean we need to come out as a couple. And I'd like it, very much, if we came out as a committed couple."
Silence met his words and he was terrified to look into Draco's face.
"Harry, look at me," Draco said finally. He did, relief flooding him when he saw nothing but love in the light eyes. "Tell me what that means to you."
Harry gripped his hand. "I messed up when we were younger Draco. I know I can't go back and fix that, but I want you to be mine. We can decide what form that takes, but I don't want to miss this opportunity, not again." He paused. "I love you," he said softly. "I'll always love you. Whether you're my lover or my husband, we can decide later. But whatever it looks like, I want it. With you. Forever."
Draco smiled, pressing his face against Harry's throat. "I want it with you, too. So much."
Harry held him as tight as he dared, swallowing around the lump in his throat, more grateful in that moment than he'd ever been for anything.
"Kingsley thinks we should do a press release, before Skeeter or someone hears about it. That way we can control how much is said and when."
Draco's shoulders began to quiver and Harry was afraid he'd pushed too hard until he realized he was laughing.
"What's funny?" he asked, smiling when a snort escaped Draco's nose.
"My father is going to shit himself," he finally managed.
As Draco laughed and Harry held him, he wished he could be a fly on the wall when that edition of the Prophet hit the Malfoy breakfast table.
"You are Chief Auror," Draco said. "You don't need to look like some sort of over-dressed drag version of the Duke of Wellington."
Pansy had grinned at him, murmuring, "Very tasteful. Tell your husband I approve."
"Thank Merlin," he said. "That other uniform was better than the old long one, but the frippery was ridiculous."
Now Harry stood next to Hermione and Ron, a glass of red wine in his hand. Ordinarily he didn't drink at Ministry functions, but tonight he was a little nervous. Not for himself, but for Draco, and the decision they'd made without consulting the Wizengamot. He hated talking at these bloody things, but for tonight? He'd do it. Standing next to a husband he was more than proud of.
Surprising everyone, they'd eloped to Paris within weeks of the night of the first statue reveal. "Why wait?" Harry said. "When we know what we want?"
Draco agreed. They went to Paris for the weekend, stayed in the Inn they'd stayed at all of those years before, and returned to London Mr. and Mr. Malfoy-Potter. The Wizarding World had gone mad for one news cycle, and then everyone had moved on with their lives. Harry remained Chief Auror, still battling the Potion trade, and Draco worked each day in his studio. And they decided early on he wasn't going to repair the statue back to the state it had been in before its run in with Dawlish.
They'd been in bed one night, just catching their breath from an athletic round of sex, when Harry rolled toward Draco.
"When you received that message from the Ministry, what did it say?"
Draco pushed his longish fringe from his eyes. "Just that they wanted me to repair the statue for reinstallation. Why?"
"I have an idea," Harry said. "But they might not like it. In fact, they might really hate it."
Draco rolled up onto his side, his head resting on his hand, a game grin forming. "I'm intrigued. Tell me."
Harry had, and by the time he was finished Draco's eyes had been shining.
"I think it's perfect. And you're right; some of them will no doubt hate it. But as long as the rest of them get it, I'll be happy."
They'd gone forward with their plan, and when it was finished, and time for the re-installation, Draco hadn't allowed anyone to help him except Harry.
He knew it was brilliant. But he also knew the Wizarding World could be woefully slow to change, and this was going to be like a bath of cold water to the face for some of the old guard. 'So be it,' he thought. It was past time for some of the old ways to change.
At exactly nine o'clock, Kingsley appeared on the stage where the last ceremony had begun, standing before the same floor to ceiling, shielding curtain. He began with the same speech, asking Harry to join him on the stage. But then Draco changed up the order.
"Minister, if you don't mind," he said, using his own Sonorous. "Harry would like to say a few words."
Kingsley could not have looked more shocked, but then, Harry never wanted to speak at these things. He was very graceful as he ceded the floor.
"Good evening," Harry began. "If the Minister looks gobsmacked, it's because he is. He knows how much I hate doing this, how very much I'd rather be home, or sitting in a pub with a pint. I'm not much for fancy functions, and even with the new uniforms, I'm not much for dressing up. But tonight, I think it's important."
"Some time last year, the Wizengamot decided there needed to be a new statue for the Atrium, and that it needed to be a statue – of me. Despite how I felt about it at the time, I should probably thank whoever came up with the idea. Because of it, I'm now very happily married to a very handsome sculptor." There was scattered, good natured laughter, and Harry was charmed by the pink that bloomed on Draco's cheeks. "Everyone who was here the last time we gathered in this spot knows the original statue sustained some spell damage and had to be redone. While it was being repaired, I had an idea for how the piece might be made more about all of us, and less about me. Because while I appreciate the fact the Wizengamot wanted to honor my part in the war, mine wasn't the only part that was played. Mine wasn't even the most important part. Without Ron and Hermione Weasley, I'd have never known how to defeat Voldemort. Without Albus Dumbledore, I'd have never grown into someone prepared to do it. Without Severus Snape, I wouldn't have lived long enough to try." He looked around at the faces turned toward him, at Ron and Hermione, and Ginny and Luna, and Arthur and Molly. At Dean and Pansy, and Andromeda Tonks and Teddy. And Hespia. And the new class of cadets, so bright eyed and eager. "You see, I think that's the true lesson we should take from the war; that it wasn't just one of us that ended it, but everyone who fought, and lived through it, and died during it. I never could have done it without the contributions of everyone who helped me, in whatever way they did. It was a group effort, and I think any memorial of what happened that final night of the Battle of Hogwarts needs to reflect that. And so, I suggested Draco make a change. And I think it's brilliant."
He gestured to Draco, who moved to the silk cord and pulled.
When the curtain collapsed to the floor, there was a profound hush. Harry moved to Draco and took his hand, and they moved to one side, waiting.
The bronze of Harry was completely gone. In its place was a gnarled tree; the tree from the night they found one another again, in Witherington's showroom. As it had been then, the tree bore dozens of Silver Death Eater masks hanging from the branches, still somehow hideous and beautiful all at once. Instead of being alone on the platform, the figures which had been grouped behind Harry's statue were now surrounding the tree, with one addition. Instead of a bronze statue of Harry, there was a marble one, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ron and Hermione, like they'd always been. When the masks changed to apples, and the apples to gold, instead of falling from the tree and disappearing into the ground they appeared in the hands of the dozens of pale figures ringing the tree.
"This piece was originally titled 'Apples of Discord'," Harry said. "The new title is 'Apples of Change'. I hope you appreciate it as much as I do, and I hope you'll join me in thanking the artist for this spectacular piece."
Harry took a step back and began to applaud. Almost immediately Kingsley joined in. Then their friends joined, standing near the stage, whistling and cheering. Within moments, the entire Atrium was ringing with applause and shouts, and Draco gave the crowd a slight smile, bowing deeply. When he straightened he walked directly to Harry and took him in his arms.
"I love you," he said against Harry's ear, loud enough only Harry could hear him, squeezing him tight.
"I love you, too," Harry replied, leaning back just far enough to kiss Draco gently. He looked into his eyes. "You know you're brilliant."
Draco gave him a slow, sensual grin that made Harry's toes curl. "Well, my husband certainly seems to think so."
"Lucky man," Harry teased.
"So I keep telling him," Draco teased back. Harry laughed and wrapped his arm around Draco's waist, and they stood beneath the blooming apple tree, smiling at their friends, letting the applause roll over them.
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