After so many weeks in the rough, oversized prison uniform, caked in dust and grime, a brief shower and a change of clothes was all Draco needed to feel cleaner than he'd ever been in his life. His skin felt fresh and warm, and the smooth silk lining of his robes kissed his skin in a way he'd almost complete forgotten.
He would need more thorough attentions eventually, of course – there were still lingering bruises to tend to, and clean as he felt he was never really comfortable unless he could tend to his near-pathological need for catlike neatness – but those were things he could do once he was home.
Home. He stopped in front of the mirror in the bathroom he'd been given to use and felt warmth spread out under his skin. Despite all the weight he'd lost, despite the beatings he'd been forced to endure, despite the horrors and isolation and inhospitable temperatures and inedible food, he smiled. He was going home.
He picked up his bag and pushed his way out of the outbound wing. Guards stared as he passed and he did not make eye contact. There was nothing they could say that would touch him.
When he made it into the antechamber to sign the last of the paperwork, he was surprised to see a familiar face standing by the desk.
"Mr. Vaughn," he said.
Vincent Vaughn was peering at him over his shiny, round spectacles. "Mr. Malfoy," he returned. "I had to see it for myself to believe it."
"Are you disappointed?" Draco asked, bending over the desk to sign the piece of parchment that was waiting for him.
"Of course I am. And surprised."
"Not nearly as surprised as I am, I'm sure," Draco said. He finished his signature, tapped it with his wand to magically seal it, and straightened.
"You weren't expecting the pardon, then, I take it?" he asked.
"I'd be hard pressed to expect anything in this place. It is its own microcosm of reality, utterly cut off from anything else."
They spent a while studying each other. Draco took a moment to take in his aspect – in his neatly pressed robes, shiny shoes, and signet ring, he looked inoffensive and professorial. Draco tried his best to feel some amount of anger or resentment – after all, this was the man who'd gone out of his way to ruin Draco's life – but despite himself, he just couldn't. The hatred wasn't there.
"Do you really think you deserve this freedom?" Vincent Vaughn asked after a moment. There was no edge to his voice, just a sort of detached curiosity.
It was a very interesting question. "I don't know," Draco answered honestly. "I think if I've learned anything from this experience, it's that I can't be the judge of my own guilt or innocence. What do you think, Mr. Vaughn? Do I deserve this freedom?"
A moment of silence lapsed between them. When he didn't answer, Draco continued:
"I will say that I'm very glad for it. And in a way, I'm even glad that this happened."
"It's given me a new perspective on a great many things," he explained. "On life, on love, on the fleeting and transient nature of consciousness, on the delicate threads that hold everything in place. And perhaps more than anything, it taught me what I value. There's nothing quite like the threat of imminent death to show you your highest priorities."
"And what is your highest priority, Mr. Malfoy?" he asked.
Draco smiled. "I'm going home to him now. Have a good day, Mr. Vaughn."
He pushed open the heavy iron doors and took in a deep breath of sea air. Even the cold and unforgiving ocean seemed brighter somehow.
When he opened his eyes, he realized that he was not alone – in fact, he was surrounded by people.
Not reporters, Draco could tell – they had no cameras, no notebooks, and none of them were speaking. As he stepped out into the sunlight, they watched him in silence, their faces inscrutable, their eyes fixed on him.
Draco felt a twist of uncertainty in the pit of his stomach. He tried to see if they were armed, if their wands were out and in their hands—
One of them near him, a young woman with golden hair, raised her hand silently above her head. Draco stared at her in confusion – and then, someone behind her did the same. Soon, every one of the forty-some people huddled on the rock in the middle of the sea had their hands raised over their heads.
Then, the Wild Magic came.
Twisting, glimmering, glowing brightly, twining through their fingers, sparking blue and gold and scarlet and white and green. The Wild Magic shot into the air and exploded into silent fireworks.
A tribute – straight from the end of his book.
At once, Draco was undone.
He put his hand over his mouth as the Wild Magic sparked brighter. His eyes burned and his vision blurred with tears.
"Welcome back, Mr. Malfoy," said a man to his left, and softly, all the others echoed the sentiment.
It took everything in him to gather the strength and wherewithal for a response. What could he even say to a gesture like this?
"Thank you," he choked. "Thank you."
From the far side of the island, there was a crack – a pause – then—
His breath caught in his throat. The crowd parted, and Harry came running, scrambling toward him.
Under the showering tribute of the Wild Magic, by a tower on a rock in the middle of the sea, they ran toward each other and fell into each other's arms. Draco gripped him too tightly, kissed him too hard, just to assure himself that it was real, that it was Harry, that it wasn't some bittersweet dream. He smelled holly, felt his dark hair under his fingertips, tasted his lips, and it was real, it was real, it was Harry, he was going home.
"That was the moment you became the golden couple of Britain, wasn't it?"
Harry opened the door as quietly as he could and peered through. No one seemed to notice him.
"Not a mantle we took up entirely willingly, I admit, but I suppose that was when it started."
Under the bright lights, the silver in Draco's hair was luminously bright. The sharp lines of his face were highlighted, and even at fifty-six, he kept his back straight and his eyes focused. The interviewer opposite him was bent forward, and she had the gait of a woman who was hanging on his every word. The reporters, lined up in a semicircle around them, were taking vigorous notes and occasionally snapping pictures.
"It can be said that you've been very good sports about the whole thing. How long has it been now?"
Harry moved toward the back wall of the studio. Draco seemed to catch the movement, smiled, and winked. Harry grinned.
"We'll be celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary soon," Draco answered.
"Twenty-five years together," the interviewer sighed. "That we could all be so lucky! Twenty-five years and still going strong."
"I am as desperately in love today as I was twenty-five years ago," he said with a small, dignified smile. "Moreso."
"And who would have thought that the love between two people could have so shaped the world? It's like a plot from one of your novels, Mr. Malfoy."
"I'm happy to say that my life is no longer quite interesting enough for my novels to be semi-autobiographical," he said, and there was a low laugh from the reporters.
"But you must admit that you two helped to drive a lot of reform," the interviewer said. "You were both at the forefront of the gendered and sexual minorities rights campaign in wizarding Britain – your partner, especially, used his influence as Head Auror to help spearhead huge legal reforms."
"Yes, Harry's never been very good at tolerating injustice, no matter how socially acceptable it may be."
Harry laughed under his breath.
"And your books have tackled many issues of social justice in the years since your pardon – there are people who credit you for bringing the issues into the mainstream."
Draco shrugged elegantly. "There's not much pride to take in being the first snowflake of an avalanche. If I hadn't done it, someone else would have, surely."
"Would it be at least fair to say that you've had an incredible life?"
Draco smiled, though there was a trace of sadness in it as he considered his answer.
"Incredible? Yes, I suppose so," he said. "I've seen more than my fair share of darkness and loss, but I've also had the privilege to love an incredible man and have him return that love. I wish that I could say I don't regret anything, but that wouldn't be true. I've done plenty in my life worth regretting."
Draco paused for a moment. He looked up and across at Harry, and Harry gave him an encouraging smile. After a moment, it was returned.
"But when I was pardoned of my crimes, I told myself I would do everything within my power to make up for those regrets. There had never been any point to punishing myself. The best use of my freedom was to do my best to make things better, and try to balance out the ways I'd made them worse in my misguided youth."
The interviewer gave him a shining smile. "I think it's fair to say you've succeeded in that endeavor."
"Maybe. But just to be sure, I'll keep trying."
The interview wrapped up. The reporters packed their things. The interviewer spent a long moment shaking Draco's hand and thanking him effusively for his time and for agreeing to speak with her. By the time she was finally done, most of the room had emptied.
Finally, Draco rose from his chair and crossed the room. Harry tangled his fingers in Draco's hair and kissed him thoroughly. When they parted, they were smiling, and Draco leaned his forehead against Harry's neck.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello," Harry returned, letting his arms slip around his shoulders. "That went well, then?"
"As well as it could have gone, I suppose," Draco answered. He seemed reluctant to extricate himself from Harry's arms. "I thought you had that meeting with the Minister."
Harry hummed. "I did. I ducked out early, though."
"How rude of you," Draco teased. "What on earth could possess you to walk out on the Minister of Magic mid-meeting?"
"In my defense, he was being very boring, and I hadn't snogged you in nearly a full day."
"Goodness. That is wholly unacceptable."
Draco leaned up and kissed him again, more lingeringly, and Harry ghosted his fingertips down Draco's spine, which drew a shudder out of him. It never failed to please Harry that after twenty-five years, he could still set his lover's nerves on fire.
"Harry James Potter, don't you dare."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"We are not thirty-two anymore, Harry, we can just have sex in quasi-public spaces in unorthodox positions."
"Sex! I hadn't been thinking about sex at all until you mentioned it. What must your mind be like?"
"One of us will surely throw his back out, and then how would you explain it to the mediwizard?"
"If you're so desperate, I'm sure we could come up with something."
"I'm not having sex with you in an interview room."
"We could say that we were moving furniture, or fell down some stairs."
"I'm not having sex with you in an interview room."
Harry laughed and kissed him. Tease him though he may, Draco wasn't wrong – they really weren't thirty-two anymore, and they certainly couldn't have sex in an interview room, tempting as the idea was.
"Later," Draco whispered against Harry's mouth.
"God, I hope so."
"Besides," he continued, "we have dinner plans."
"Do we?" Harry asked, a split second before he remembered. "Oh, right. The book release party."
"It's all right that you don't remember," Draco said. "It's only my magnum opus."
"It's always your magnum opus," Harry reminded him as they started out of the building to Apparate home. Draco smiled because it was true, and because he loved that Harry knew, and because, somewhere along the line, his life had come as close to perfection as was possible to be. And for the first time in so many years, Draco no longer cared about whether or not it was more than he deserved.
Author's Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for reading! I hope you loved it. If you did, please leave a review, because reviews are like crack to me and I'm an addict.