Author's Note: This is a sequel to my other story, The Unbearable Burden of Caring. You should really read that before this, or you lose a lot of context.
In the mornings, when the flat was still quiet and sunlight filled the room with a hazy golden-yellow glow, Harry would roll over in bed and smile at the sight of Draco. Days would beat him down and working would weary him, but in the mornings, before anything could touch him, he looked fresh and bright and beautiful.
Harry liked to lie next to him and stare at his platinum hair, admiring the way the sunlight set it on fire. He listened to the steady rhythm of his breathing, studied the elegant lines of his throat, and fell in love with him again and again and again.
Draco would wake up eventually, of course, but Harry never minded, because Harry would be the first thing he saw and he would always smile and bite his lip and arc his back in a stretch and say, "Good morning."
And Harry would tell him good morning and how lovely he looked and they would kiss and have breakfast.
Harry would go to work and put in his eight hours – no overtime, not anymore, not when he had someone to come home to – and when he came back sometimes Draco would be shut up in his office working or sometimes he would be helping Dolly make dinner.
Either way, he'd always get a long and generous kiss hello, and more often than not he'd get a fair bit more than a kiss as well. Harry would press him into his desk and fuck him long and slow on his papers until Draco was shuddering and screaming and coming around his cock, or Draco would pin him to the bedroom wall and suck him until Harry couldn't see straight and could barely stand for how how hard he was coming. They'd catch their breaths, kiss again, then have dinner and discuss their days and it was perfect.
Well, nearly perfect. There was still the rest of the world, obstinately refusing to go completely ignored, the shadow at the edge of their sunshine.
"They're saying you ensnared me," Harry said, frowning over his tea as he read the Prophet morning edition.
"You shouldn't read it," Draco answered tepidly as he buttered his toast.
"Ensnared me," he continued, "like you're some kind of siren-devil-tempress."
"Don't read it," Draco repeated.
"Where do they get off, editorializing peoples' relationships?" Harry folded the paper up and tossed it onto the nearby counter. "It's not any of their business."
"It's a hazard that comes with being in the limelight," said Draco as he added raspberry jam to his toast. "You know that better than I do."
"Doesn't mean it's not awful."
Draco smiled. "Indeed not," he said. "Terrible things become acceptable the moment good people stop being outraged."
Harry smiled back, anger momentarily abated. "You're way too smart for me," he said. "How'd I get so lucky?"
"Low standards, mostly," Draco said, grinning. "Also, you're excellent in bed."
Harry laughed. One of the better things about getting to know Draco again had been discovering that the biting, witty, sarcastic streak in him had never actually gone away. It was a good thing that they both had a sort of self-effacing sense of humor, otherwise it would have felt a lot like insults.
But Harry knew better. And frankly, the wit was what got him interested in the first place.
"I should try to get in early," Harry said reluctantly. "There are probably a few fires to put out from last night's raid."
"It's fine," Draco returned. "Eric is coming round soon anyway."
Harry was surprised. "Did you actually finish something?"
"No," he said thoughtfully. Draco had called it a mental block, and it had been going on for weeks now. His last book, Lighthouse on the Severn, had come out last month to mixed reviews, and since then he'd been trying, to little success, to start his next project. "I suppose my art is fueled by pain, and I've had a suspicious lack of it lately."
"Sorry about that," Harry said with a grin.
"No, you're not, you dirty liar."
"You're right, I'm not even a little sorry." Harry finished off his tea, stood, and bent down to kiss Draco lingeringly. "I'll see you at dinner."
"Have a good day," Draco said as he went down the hallway to grab his cloak and leave the flat to Disapparate.
When Eric arrived, the tea was already out and nearly finished steeping. Draco had known the man for eight years, and he was nothing if not a creature of habit and punctuality.
"You look good," Eric commented from the foyer as Dolly took his coat.
Draco smiled. "How are you, Eric?"
"Lovely, thanks," he said, heading through to the sitting room and taking the armchair opposite Draco. "Maria learned her first word. She's been repeating it nonstop."
"I've been told that getting them to talk is easy," Draco said. "It's getting them to shut up that's the trick."
"And how's Harry?"
"Fine. Wonderful, actually. Our relationship is astonishingly healthy, given that he's a recently recovered workaholic and I'm a social recluse."
"Yeah?" Eric took a cup of tea.
"I suppose we make up for each other's shortcomings," he mused, taking a sip from his own cup, eyeing Eric as a lapse of silence passed between them. This was all meaningless smalltalk and they both knew it. Draco decided to cut through the remaining bullshit. "So. A new edition of Gloaming over Edinburgh is to be released, is it?"
"No," Eric said, looking guilty. "Sorry, that was a lie."
"I worked that out on my own, funnily enough. You knew I wouldn't want to talk about it otherwise. You're here about the papers."
"You know I'm happy for you," he said. "You know I don't care that you… well."
"Is a lesbian, yes," Draco finished, "I remember. You've told me several times." That had always been Eric's defense. His wife's sister was a lesbian, of course it was fine. Draco would have rather liked for it to be fine because why on earth wouldn't it be fine, but perhaps that was a bit of a stretch for Eric (and society in general).
"It's just that people aren't taking it very well. Sales have dropped since the article."
"Anything but the sales," Draco said. "I suppose we'll have to cancel Christmas."
"I'd be less concerned if you were working on something," Eric reminded him waspishly.
Despite himself, Draco flinched.
"I don't have a press-here-to-make-novel button, you know," he answered, trying his best to sound angry and not doing a very good job of it. "What do you want from me? I've no ideas. My muse is on holiday."
Eric sat back with a sigh like Draco was being a petulant child about everything and Draco wanted to hit him in the head with the teapot.
"You're going to have to do a press conference," he said.
Draco did his best to look as if the idea didn't terrify him. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"Neither of you are saying anything," Eric told him emphatically. "You did that ridiculous stunt, snogging in front of the cameras, and they've been stewing in their own shit ever since. I've done what I can, Draco, but without a new project to distract them with, they're not going to just drop it."
Draco took a too-long sip of tea before saying, "It's not any of their damned business."
"No," Eric sighed, "it isn't."
"In a perfect world, that would make a difference."
"And back here on earth, we do what we have to."
Draco finished off his tea, set the cup back in its saucer on the coffee table, and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
After a moment, Draco nodded. On Fridays he met with Dr. Twine. After nearly two months of therapy with her, he trusted her to be able to help him through this.
He dreaded the idea of telling Harry.
It was always pandemonium in the auror department after a big raid like the one they'd done yesterday, but by noon things had calmed down. They'd finished their interrogations and had moved on to the paperwork. As he usually did, Harry nipped out to the nearby coffee shop for some tea and a sandwich and took them back to his office for lunch.
He stopped short when he saw—
He was standing at his desk, perusing a copy of The Daily Prophet, and when he heard Harry he looked up. Harry could tell by the expression on his face that all was not well.
"Hi," he said, heading across his office to set his lunch down on his desk. "When did you get back?"
"Two days ago," Ron answered. Now that he was closer Harry could see the thinly-veiled look of suspicion on his face, and despite himself, Harry felt nervous.
"How was it?"
"Good," he said. "Yeah, it was fine. Harry…"
He looked down at the paper in Ron's hands. The headline sneered back at him – POTTER AND MALFOY: A SORDID HISTORY. Harry flinched. It was the same article he'd read that morning.
"Ron—" he began.
"Is it true?"
"I guess that sort of depends on what you consider truthful," Harry admitted.
Ron threw the newspaper at his chest. "Oh, great," he snapped. "Perfect! I'm gone for three months and when I come back, the world has stopped making sense!"
"Ron—" Harry tried again.
"I mean it's bad enough that you're bent – and blimey, mate, really? Of all people, you?"
Harry squashed down the desire to tell him off. This wasn't the time to escalate. Harry gave his wand a flick and closed his office door.
"But Malfoy? That's even worse!"
"He's not the person he was in Hogwarts, Ron," Harry said, doing his best to keep his voice measured and calm. "None of us are."
"Not the person he—!" He set his face, crossed his arms. "Am I going to have to be the one to say it?"
Harry shut his mouth tightly. He had a feeling he knew what was coming.
"He's a Death Eater."
"He was a Death Eater," Harry said, voice taut. "The War is over, Ron; it's been over for fifteen years."
"My wife – your best friend is a Muggle-Born."
"I'm not exactly pureblood myself, Ron, and somehow he's in love with me!"
Ron stilled, stared at him with eyes full of betrayal. Harry didn't realize what he said until it was too late.
"Love?" He didn't so much say the word as snarl it.
"He's a writer now," Harry said, doing everything in his power to defuse the mounting anger he could see in Ron's face. "He's brilliant, and he's not the git you remember him as. He's – he's gentle and dynamic and, God, he's smart—"
"Love?" Ron looked like he was about to punch him. "After what his father did? After what he did? After he tried to kill Dumbledore, after—?"
"For God's sake, Ron, he's not that person anymore!"
"Malfoy doesn't even have the capacity to love, there's not a loving bone in his body! He's a bloody damn coward and a bigot and he'll never crawl out of that hole!"
Harry suddenly felt very cold. It spread out through his veins, turning his blood to a net of ice beneath his skin.
"Ron," Harry said, as calmly as he could manage, "you're my best mate and I love you, but if you keep talking about him like this, I'm going to punch your fucking teeth in."
Ron laughed callously. "So that's it? You're choosing a Death Eater over me?"
"I'm not choosing anyone, I'm telling my best friend to stop shit-talking my boyfriend before I get arrested for assault."
"He's Draco Malfoy!"
"He's also my partner now, and I'm not going to stand here and listen to you talk about him like this! You don't have to like it, but I don't have to listen to your prejudiced horseshit!"
"I'm prejudiced?" Ron sputtered. His fists were clenched, his face red with fury. "He's the one that fought for the Dark Lord!"
"He's changed, Ron! He's moved on! Clearly the same can't be said of you!"
The silence that followed was deafening. Harry thought for a few moments that Ron really was going to punch him, and for those same moments Harry would have swung right back.
Abruptly, Ron turned on a heel and stormed out of his office, slamming through the door and stalking from the department.
It was probably for the best.
Harry stood at his desk, hands braced on the edge of the polished wood, stooped his shoulders and took a few deep, centering breaths.
Stupid, thickheaded git.
Why was it so hard for people to accept this? Why couldn't one person, once, anywhere, just congratulate him on finding someone Harry loved so much, and who loved him in return?
It didn't help that everyone else in his life had reacted more or less the same way. With the exception of Hermione (bless her, and hopefully she'd be able to talk some sense into her husband) and Felicia, everyone who'd read the article revealing Draco as J. William Cross, and later as Harry's lover, had sent him owls begging him to tell them that it wasn't true. He never got responses when he wrote back and told them that it was.
He'd wanted to tell Draco, in the sense that he'd wanted to sob into his hair in impotent rage and heartbreak, but he hadn't – wouldn't. Harry couldn't bear the thought of telling him how everyone in his life was abandoning him, now even his best friend of over twenty years. He could barely even make himself think about it, let alone say it out loud.
And in any case, he had a sneaking suspicion that Draco had already worked it out, and didn't bring it up for no other reason that Harry hadn't, either.
To hell with Ron, Harry thought bitterly. And to hell with Skeeter. To hell with all of it; he didn't need it. All he needed was Draco, and no one could take him away.