Title: Burning Day
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione
Warnings: Angst, violence
Summary: In the lead-up to Draco's election as Minister, Dark Lord Harry Potter broods. Only he can't do that all the time, even with most of Britain terrified of him now. So he has to find something else to occupy his time. And being a Benevolently Snarky Dark Lord is it.
Author's Notes: The sequel to Easy as Falling and Black Phoenix, but still prequel to "Charming When He Needs to Be." This will be a shorter story than the others, mostly tying up the loose ends of Draco as Minister and Harry as Dark Lord, and the last story in the series.
Chapter One—Pumice Stone
"Sometimes I think Hogwarts outweighs even the Manor in luxury."
Harry snorted and lowered himself into the bath alongside Draco. The Prefects' Bath was large anyway, but it had extended itself obligingly a few more inches, so Harry didn't have to go down along the rim to get in. "You only think that because Hogwarts does whatever it can to make me happy, and your Manor is only an object."
Draco opened one eye. "And that's not a good reason for thinking so?" He sounded honestly puzzled.
Harry laughed and picked up one of the pieces of pumice stone that Hogwarts had supplied the instant it felt them came into the Bath. "Are you going to turn around so that I can scrub your feet, or not?"
"What if I like the calluses on my feet?" Draco asked, even as he thrashed his arms in the superbly warm water and drifted around so that his feet were floating near Harry's face. He couldn't hold onto his mulish expression, though, and burst out laughing at the sight of Harry's neatly raised eyebrow. Then he sighed and rested his head on the rim of the Bath, watching through half-closed eyelids as Harry scrubbed at his feet. "This is nice."
Harry nodded, but didn't say anything. It was nice, a bit of domestic privacy shared with his lover. That Harry was the Dark Lord of Hogwarts and Draco was the most probable next Minister of Magic didn't matter right now.
"She would want you to be happy."
Draco was extending one hand that couldn't quite touch Harry. Harry shifted nearer so that it could rest on his shoulder, and went on rubbing at Draco's feet with the pumice. "She wouldn't," he said. "Not if she was her real self. She would screech in my ear and litter my pillow with dead animals because I wasn't giving her my complete attention anymore."
Draco grinned and tipped his head back again. "You're right."
Harry sighed, but this time, unlike most of the times he had sighed in the past few days, it was in contentment. Yes, he could brood about Persephone, his lost dark phoenix, as much as he liked. She had been his companion, the closest one he could imagine, formed out of fire and magic when a Death Eater's spell had tried to turn his own power against him. She had held part of his soul.
But she'd had some of the same problems with holding a part of his soul that a Horcrux did, and one of them was that she couldn't last forever without affecting him. Harry had learned that she was really more like an extended piece of himself than a living, breathing soul of her own, and he had unmade her during her burning day.
He'd unmade a lot of other things that day, too, including his reputation as someone who ultimately wanted peace and Edgar Gorenson, as he'd known a man who leaped through the Ministry from Department to Department, switching identities, and had made targeting Harry his business. Harry didn't know for sure if the time that Gorenson had held him and Persephone captive had changed anything fundamental about Persephone that made Harry unable to rescue her, but he thought the Ministry attacking on her burning day was a bit too much of a coincidence.
Gorenson had paid for it. So had Harry, but with Draco here beside him, bringing reports that not all of Britain had immediately turned against Harry, it was hard, at the moment, to care.
"You'll have a few new people coming to interview at your court, soon," Draco murmured, his voice lazy. "People who told me that they wanted to vote for me, but thought it was too dangerous after Tillipop stepped down."
"After Tillipop stepped down?" Harry shook his head. It was true that one of the worst attacks on Draco had happened then, but he'd had one before it, too.
"Yes, because they're afraid of that council they have in the Ministry right now in a way they were never afraid of Tillipop." Draco popped open a stern eye to regard him. "Now, can I tell you my news? And in the meantime, you can wash my legs."
Harry smiled, dropped the pumice back onto the edge of the Bath, and conjured a cloth. When he reached out to the nearest tap, foamy, bubbling, sweet-smelling soap poured out of it. "Sorry. You were saying?"
Draco waited until Harry actually covered the cloth with the soap and began to stroke down his legs before he shut his eyes and went haughtily on. "They said that they didn't think the council would respect their votes being secret, and they want some protection. So they're coming to you."
"Coming to the Slaughter Lord for protection," Harry murmured. It was one of the many titles that the Daily Prophet had given him in the past few days, although given the number of identities that Gorenson had maintained, they often chose one of his other names to vary the headline. Harry thought "Murderer of Manfried" was his favorite so far.
"Yes," said Draco. "If they fear the Ministry, they're hardly going to believe what the Ministry says of you, are they?" He reached out and flicked a harsh finger against Harry's wet shoulder. "You need to stop thinking that everyone thinks of you the way you think of yourself."
"I don't think of myself as mad and violent," Harry protested, and moved up so he could scrub Draco's back. "That's the popular perception we're encouraging, not the truth. I know that."
"But you blame yourself for Gorenson's death anyway." Draco had turned to the side, and his eyes were half-closed in pleasure, but they were clear. "You think that you could have handled it differently. When you were magically exhausted and grieving for your phoenix. You could have done something else." He held out one hand, palm up. "If it makes the Unspeakables stop going after you, and some of the others in the Ministry at least hesitate, I count it violence well-spent."
Harry frowned some more. "I don't grieve for Persephone," he said. "I was the one who chose to unmake her."
The Bath shivered and contracted around them so that the stone could support Harry's back at the same moment as Draco snorted hard enough to make soapsuds fly off his chin. "Right," he said. "So the brooding and the moping and the sighing and looking at ceilings is all a trick of my imagination, is it?"
Harry took a deep breath. "I grieve that I didn't think about it more earlier, how a phoenix who was supposedly her own independent creature too often did exactly the opposite of what I intended her to do. That was just too perfect a coincidence. I should have thought it through. I shouldn't have made her in the first place."
"I'm not one of your Gryffindor friends," Draco said, turning around and wrapping his arms about Harry's waist. "I'll listen to you and try to make things better, but I won't listen to you condemn yourself for no reason and say nothing just because you're right according to abstract moral principles. I say that you're grieving, and you have the right to grieve. I thought you agreed with me, or you would have flung yourself back into the business of your court already."
Harry hesitated one more time, and then brought his chin down on the top of Draco's head and wrapped his arms around him. "Fine, yes, I agree," he said. "But it's hard to think that her death and making in the first place are all the result of my own mistake."
"It doesn't seem hard for you to say, considering how you were going on about it a minute ago." Draco had his eyes closed, but his voice was sharp enough for anyone who really listened to it. "What you need to do is to stop looking at it from a self-blaming perspective. That's going to be the real chore."
Harry opened his mouth to argue with that, then sighed and let his head fall back against the side of the Bath. "Yes, I suppose so."
"He agrees with me, and I barely needed to argue!" Draco sat up and smiled around at an imaginary audience, bowing and extending his hands. "I won an easy victory over his tendency to scold himself! That really shows I'm fit to be Minister!"
Harry snorted and cuffed him. He would have used a little pinch of magic before, but his magic was still recovering from how much he'd used it over the last few days. "Prat."
"Better than some of the things you could have called me." Draco leaned back in his arms and gave him what was probably supposed to be a calculating look, but it was ruined by the gleam of fun in his eyes. "Now. Your prat would like to be made love to."
"Here?" Harry glanced around at the water.
"Unless you know some other place more suitable." And Draco opened his mouth and wagged his tongue at Harry.
Harry had to lean in and kiss him then; it was absolutely a requirement. And Draco went with it, laughing in delight as Harry steered him backwards in the water and arranged a comfortable cushion of bubbles that wasn't going anywhere for them to rest on.
Sometimes Harry thought of all the many, many things he could have done better since he had become a Dark Lord, the ways he could have handled situations better. He thought someone with as much power as he possessed had to do that, or things would get dangerously out of hand.
But sometimes, he was as allowed to make love and feel joy as the next person.
Draco woke with a start what had to be several hours later, from the coldness of the water and the sinking of the cushion of bubbles under him. He shook his head slightly and gripped the side of the Bath, heaving himself out of the water. There was no way that being immersed that long in a magical bath would hurt him, but he wanted to get warm and dry off.
The door of the Prefects' Bath creaked open. Draco looked up sharply. Harry had expressly forbidden any students to come into it while they were here, and most of them ought to have obeyed. They weren't terrified of Harry, whatever Harry thought, but they did have a healthy respect for him.
But it was Briseis who stood there, Harry's adviser. She only raised an eyebrow at his nakedness, and then turned and gestured with her chin at the corridor. Draco hastened to wrap himself in a large towel and follow her out.
Briseis stood there with her back turned to him, pacing slowly back and forth, She spoke without turning around. "He needs something to distract him from his brooding. I know that. But I don't have to like this."
She turned around and held out the Daily Prophet to Draco. Draco stifled a sigh as he looked at it. Harry's reaction to the paper was never predictable. Sometimes he laughed it off like the nonsense it was, sometimes he seemed to think that it was an accurate record of what the British wizarding world wanted.
A glance at the front page told Draco that this was likely to be one of those latter times. The photograph on the front page was split in two: on one side, him, leaning on Rosenthal's arm as she escorted him, tired and burned, into Malfoy Manor after Gorenson's attack; on the other, Harry standing with his hand upraised in front of the pile of charred bones that had been Gorenson.
The headline said, POTTER'S PROPHECY: 'CHALLENGE ME AND YOU DIE'
Harry hadn't said anything like that, of course; he had promised Draco, in veiled ways, that they would have a continuing relationship, but he had couched it as threatening Draco. Skeeter and the other reporters present had understood it in their own terms.
Of course they did. That was part of the plan, to make sure that no one but them and people they could trust would ever know the exact nature of their relationship. But Draco thought Harry would probably focus on the negative side of the photographs and the way he imagined people reacting, with fear and distrust, whether or not they actually reacted that way.
"I don't have to like the way that he looks at you, either," said Briseis.
Draco looked up rapidly. This wasn't something he had thought he would have to confront. Both Briseis and Rosenthal disapproved of him and Harry being together to a certain extent, but he had thought it was because they believed he and Harry would distract each other from their work. This sounded like something else.
"What do you mean?" he asked, when he saw that Briseis, like a true Slytherin, wasn't about to explain what she meant until explicitly asked.
"I mean that he looks at you as though you're the center of his universe," Briseis replied, her voice shading with distrust. "And that should be Hogwarts."
"I don't know exactly how he looks at me," Draco murmured, although he felt a tug deep in his belly at the notion that Harry might value him as highly as Draco suspected he valued Harry. "I can't discourage him from doing it if I don't really understand what he's doing."
Briseis clucked her tongue and flung the paper at him. "You know that he values you second only to nothing," she said. "I thought that Persephone, when she still existed, would keep him focused on his task, but now she's gone, and we're left with you." Her gaze swept him up and down, and now she was no longer bothering to conceal her dislike. "I don't know what will happen if he starts focusing on you more than his court."
Draco wanted to shout at her, to tell her that it was ridiculous to think that Harry would prioritize his relationship with Draco above his court, but he paused. He couldn't make Briseis see matters from the inside, as he did, and he wouldn't want to if he could. What mattered was what he shared with Harry, and he didn't want to explain that to anyone. He would prefer to be the only one who really understood Harry and what they shared.
But she needed some kind of reassurance. She was powerful in Harry's court, and could hurt him either with her efforts to push him in a deeper direction or with her leaving, if she grew too disgusted to remain.
"I doubt that will ever happen," Draco said, and made the rapid decision to share something with her that he didn't think Harry would mind her knowing. Or he might have told her already and she hadn't paid attention. "Didn't you know what he did when he realized that Persephone couldn't exist outside him?"
Briseis frowned at him. "I know what he did. He unmade her, and took the magic and used it to come back to life. He had intended to burn with her as a phoenix, but he knew he couldn't do that after she died."
"Where did he send that magic, though?" Draco asked, and when she shook her head, told her. "Into the bond with Hogwarts. He realized that his bond with Hogwarts was the most important relationship he had in the living world. He didn't live for me, he lived for Hogwarts and the people he'd made promises to here."
That might be stretching it a little, since Draco thought he had played some part in calling Harry back to the world, but Briseis's face was slowly clearing, and that made it worth the possible lie.
"You're sure that he sent it there?" Briseis looked around as though searching for some confirmation written in the stones of the walls. "I thought he would have needed all the magic to come back to life."
"You haven't noticed the wards strengthening in the past few days?" Draco asked. "The castle cradling its children even more closely? Those walls of light appearing on top of the castle's walls?" That had been what he noticed when he first saw Hogwarts from the outside after Harry's unmaking of Persephone, the shimmering ramparts of pure magic that rose on top of all the towers.
Briseis slowly nodded. "I saw them. I felt them." She hesitated. "As long as you're sure that you won't demand more of his focus than he can give."
Draco rolled his eyes. "I intend to be independent of him, you know, a real Minister, not his little pet. And he has to be independent of me, too, if my independence is going to happen."
Briseis eyed him, then smiled sourly. "Trust a Slytherin's ambition to be the heart of them."
Draco only gave her a slightly distant nod. The heart of him, he thought, was both his ambition and his love for Harry, but that was another of those things he couldn't expect anyone outside of him or Harry to understand. And really, it was for the best if they didn't understand. He and Harry had their private, shared rituals that couldn't possibly be important to anyone else, and they had to deceive the public. If that sometimes included deceiving their advisers as well, that was what had to happen.
"Thank you for informing me of your concerns," he said, taking the paper. "I'll explain the article to Harry."
And he vanished back into the Prefects' Bath, into the private world that he and Harry shared, where his Lord yet lay asleep on bubbles. Draco spelled the water warm again and slipped in beside him.
Reality could wait.