Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of The Long Defeat. I appreciate you coming all this way with me.
Chapter Thirty—A Home Of His Own
"I wish you would reconsider this," Narcissa said. She had been sitting in Harry's bedroom when he came back through the fireplace to consider whether he wanted to take any of the pillows on the immense bed with him to his flat. "I know that Draco has accepted it, in the way he accepts some things."
Harry smiled. "With sulking?"
"Yes. And I do not like to see my son so lower his dignity." Narcissa faced him and reached out a hand. Harry came over and took it. He wouldn't put artificial distance between them when she had helped him so much.
"Would it make such a difference for you to stay here, and have another suite of private rooms to retreat to if you felt the need?" Narcissa asked softly, looking him over. Harry didn't know what she was looking for. Perhaps she didn't, either, because she didn't seem inclined to scold him. "You could have more rooms than this if you only asked. Whatever you ask, we can grant it to you."
"Including the sensation of me owning the home?" Harry asked.
Narcissa paused, and listened.
Harry had the feeling that this might be his best chance to explain the truth, perhaps even in terms that would make Draco happier, so he took it. "I love Draco," he said. "But I've never had a space of my own. My parents' home is destroyed and gone. I had a cupboard as my only space in my relatives' house until I was eleven, and then I was locked in the room they gave me." Narcissa's hand squeezed down on his. Harry waited until she let go, and then continued. "I love Hogwarts, but students can't own space there, either. And you know the circumstances I came here under, no matter how much they may have changed."
"I do not know," Narcissa said, her voice reflective now, "if this would hurt Draco so badly if it wasn't in the Muggle world."
Harry shrugged. "That's a matter of practicality and safety, as much as anything else. Even if I had a heavily warded property in the wizarding world, there would be people trying to break through my wards and bother me. There are so many wizards who don't know how to navigate the Muggle world that I'm more likely to be left alone."
"There is that," Narcissa said, with a nod. "And I have tried to explain to Draco that Floo and Apparition bring you as close to us as being in the next room would be."
Harry smiled. "Did you also tell him that I'm only going to spend a few days a month in the Muggle flat at first? I'll be here for almost every meal, and I'll sleep here as often as I do there."
"It did not seem to make a great difference," Narcissa murmured.
Harry sighed and sat down on the bed. "I want to have a place of my own," he admitted. "That's the most profound reason that I'm doing this. It's always been true, and I can tell Draco more about the Dursleys if he needs to understand, but he's not going to change my mind or convince me it's not important."
"There is another layer underneath the surface." Narcissa's eyes were reflective.
Harry nodded. "I want to know if we can be apart. I had a talk with my old girlfriend that made me wonder how much of this is convenience and just because you're the family that sheltered me." Narcissa made a quick gesture with one hand, but Harry pushed on. "I think a lot of it is that Draco and I love each other, and that's real. But if it falls apart because I'm away for a little while, then I want to know now. I want to know how real it is."
Narcissa gave him a frown that Harry didn't know how to interpret. "There are other ways to test that. Less extreme ones."
"But this isn't extreme." Harry was starting to wish that he could just project his thoughts straight into people's heads. He knew Legilimency wasn't exactly that, but he was starting to think mastering it would be worthwhile. "It's being apart for a little while, a few hours a day. I need to know."
Narcissa looked down at the bed. Harry felt his stomach tremble, but held his ground. He wanted her to approve of his plan, but he should have known she wouldn't. She didn't approve of anything that cost Draco time, or trouble, or pain.
And in the end, he wouldn't let her disapproval change his mind. This was important. He needed his own time and space, too. And it was an experiment of sorts. If he was really unhappy without Draco, that could prove his love was real, too. And he could always move back. He didn't understand why Draco was treating it like a permanent separation.
Someone moved at the door. Narcissa looked over, and Harry did, too. Draco was standing there, his face set in a frown that made him look extraordinarily like his mother.
"Can I come in?" Draco asked. "I think we have some things to talk about."
His mum rose at once, and nodded slightly to Draco as she walked past him. For a second, her hand pressed his shoulder.
Draco knew what that meant. She was wishing him luck, and at the same time, she didn't think he needed it. She had sometimes done the same thing when he was trying to persuade his father of something, and she thought Draco would win.
Harry gazed wistfully at Draco. Draco wished he wouldn't. That implied Draco had gone beyond reach, or that Harry was about to.
"I don't want to hurt you," Harry began. "But I need to know how far we can be apart, and I want—I need some space. I've never had that. I want it."
Draco nodded. That made sense to him. "I want to know why you're so sure that what we have isn't real."
"I think it is," said Harry. "So it should be able to stretch and be flexible and survive something like this."
Draco closed his hands into fists behind his back. "So, in a way, it's a compliment?"
Harry nodded, his expression sober.
If he was going to take this seriously, then Draco was, too. "Fine. But I want to come with you and see this flat." See what's so great about it that you won't stay in the Manor with me for the rest of your days. That really was what Draco had pictured them doing, although he did have to acknowledge Harry's words the other day about getting a job.
"I never planned not to show it to you," said Harry, with a funny little smile that made Draco reach out and take his hand. "Except if you didn't want to see it. I thought you might dislike the idea of me being there so much you wouldn't want to visit."
"Of course I want to see it," Draco said, and his voice softened a little. He hadn't understood what his disapproval had looked like to Harry, any more than Harry had understood what his moving out had looked like to Draco. "I would never abandon you, and that's not going to change unless it turns out—well, unless you start hating me or something." That was the only thing he could think of off the top of his head that would make him turn his back on Harry. He wouldn't stay with someone who wanted to humiliate him the way that Harry had wanted to in school.
But it wasn't his Gryffindor rival who walked beside him now, or reached out and tossed Floo powder into the fire and called, "Harry's Rest."
Draco snorted lightly as they whirled out of the fire. He was still more graceful than Harry, he noted, even though this was Harry's flat. "At least you didn't name it Hero's Rest or something of the sort."
"I'm not a hero," said Harry, and waved his hand around at the ceiling and walls before Draco could comment further. "What do you think?"
Draco tried to look at it with considering and not horrified eyes. In one way, of course it was a horrible place; it had taken Harry from him.
But he knew Harry was anxiously waiting for his judgment, and although Draco hated the beige and white colors of the walls on sight, he kept looking. He noted the small size of the bathroom, the unimaginative tile covering everything, the dust on the windowsills that meant no house-elf had ever been here.
But he noticed the little corners, too, where Harry had already wedged a tiny bookshelf and a pair of chairs that Draco's parents had said he could take from the Manor. It was like Harry was filling every corner with himself, breathing deep and shoving himself into every piece of the flat.
"It could use some changing of the colors," said Draco, turning around and seeing a small door off to the right. When he opened it, he saw the plainest and narrowest bedroom he had ever beheld. It was probably worse than the rooms that the benighted Hufflepuffs had to share in their House. But he managed a smile. "Are you going to soften the bed at all?"
"Oh, yeah." Harry put a hand on his shoulder, and Draco turned around and saw his eyes shining with what looked like a kind of shy excitement. "I know that it's not going to be as luxurious as the Manor, of course not, but I don't intend to give up all comforts."
Draco sniffed and put a hand over his heart. "You can't imagine how much it comforts me to hear you say that."
Harry grinned and stepped back. "What were you saying about the colors?"
Draco watched Harry with one cautious eye, but it did seem that Harry was inclined to let him do as he wanted, and this was a way to show that he was still an active part of Harry's life (as well as making sure Harry didn't live in such awful surroundings that he would have nightmares). "I'd like to at least change the walls to clean white," he said. "Not this awful shade. Ivory only looks good on ancient artifacts."
"What about elephant tusks?"
Draco rolled his eyes at Harry and moved forwards, lifting his wand and giving it the proper swish and flick. He hadn't performed this spell often, and he didn't want to get it wrong. "If you had any of those here, then I'd make an exception for them. But I don't think you're about to have them, are you?"
"No," muttered Harry, in what sounded like fascination, as he watched the walls of the bathroom turn to deep blue.
Draco nodded, and then turned and changed the walls of the drawing room to bright white, with green accents on the paper up near the ceiling and along a hand's span or so above the floor. "And then you could have curtains, if you wanted them," he said, looking doubtfully at the dingy windows. He was less skilled with Transfiguration than just changing the color of something, so he decided to leave that up to Harry. "And take some more furniture from the Manor, for Merlin's sake. There's no law that says you have to buy the most rickety Muggle rubbish you can find."
Harry was shaking silently, one hand clapped over his mouth. Draco turned to him and struck a deliberately haughty pose, because he saw no reason not to. "Unless you'd rather ignore my advice altogether, and just live in the middle of dirt and ugliness."
"No," said Harry, and took his hand away from his mouth to reveal a shining smile instead of the smirk or snicker Draco had expected. "It wasn't what you said. It was the way you said it."
"As if?" Draco asked. He was still willing to allow the humor, but not unless Harry shared it.
"As if you couldn't imagine anything more horrible." Harry reached out and put his arm around Draco's shoulders, guiding him back towards the fireplace. "I think I could imagine a lot more horrible things. Like what would have happened if you'd never rescued me from the goblins."
Draco shook his head, trying to think of any world where that wouldn't have happened. "I would have done that. Even if we didn't owe you any life-debts. I would have insisted on it."
Harry gave him an intense, fond look. "Did you perhaps have a little crush on me even before this started?" he half-sang, under his breath.
Draco sniffed. "I'm not about to admit the subtle nuances of my mind to someone incapable of understanding them."
That got him another fond look, and Draco blinked as he began, finally, to understand. They had a love strong enough that it could survive this sort of teasing. Draco wouldn't have said that was the case a month ago. Well, a week ago, even. Then, his only thought had been keeping Harry close to his side and not giving him the chance to go somewhere else and think about things, in case he decided he didn't love Draco after all. He'd been worried and fretful about the visit to the Burrow that Harry had made, in case Ginny Weasley managed to persuade him to get back together with her.
Now, Draco understood what Harry was driving at. If he believed in Harry, if he trusted him—if he loved him—then he shouldn't have those fears so strongly. He could be jealous and even fearful without being sure that it would only take a moment of exposure to Ginny Weasley before Harry would be dreaming about ginger babies. If their bond was as strong and secure as Draco wanted it to be, then he should trust Harry more than he did.
"I think you know, now," said Harry, pausing and looking into his eyes as they stood by the fireplace.
"Know what?" Draco supposed he could have moved away from Harry and back through the fireplace as Harry had been directing him to, but he wanted to stay here until Harry had said whatever it was he was going to say.
"Know why I wanted to do this. Know why I wanted some private space, and that we can have that and not lose our bond, either." Harry leaned forwards until his forehead was resting against Draco's. "You understand. Thank you."
It was wonderful to hold Harry's shoulders and feel the tension drain out of him, and know he had been responsible for that, the way he had been responsible for causing Harry's tension, before. And Draco reminded himself that he could come over to visit when he wanted, and Harry would still spend a lot of time with him.
"Will you eat dinner at the Manor tonight?" he murmured.
Harry smiled at him, and kissed him on the forehead, then on the lips. "Of course I will," he murmured, when they pulled back and Draco, at least, was feeling a little dazed. "And join you in your bedroom afterwards."
Draco went back through the fire grinning. He was no longer worried. There would come other times of worry, he was sure; his relationship with Harry would certainly never be perfect. But he did think that it wouldn't have this particular obstacle bouncing up and down like a piece of floating rubbish in water again.
Harry stood in his flat and looked slowly around, taking in everything, both the furniture he had chosen and the small magical touches Draco had added.
They mingled, he thought. He hadn't believed that would be the case. He had thought he would still lead largely separated lives, and go to the shops in the Muggle world when he was at the flat, and to Diagon Alley when he was at the Manor.
But seeing this, it reminded him that he was a wizard who had grown up in the Muggle world, and a wizard who had escaped goblin slavery, and someone famous who could find comfort in anonymity. Perhaps he could take Draco to the shops in London. Perhaps he could use magic to heat his flat and make life more comfortable here.
Suddenly, the world seemed to spread out in front of him like an ocean lit by the sun, shimmering with not only the ownership of his own space, but all the possibilities of freedom that slavery would have denied him.
Harry took a deep breath for nothing but the pleasure of the air, even such small and dusty air as Draco would probably say was in a Muggle flat, and then turned and began to change the color of the walls again. The accents Draco had added were the same shade of green as his eyes, which Harry reckoned made sense, but which wasn't his favorite color.
They would be all right. He was alive, and happy, and free.
With Draco's help, and Narcissa's, and his friends', and even Lucius's if you looked at it from the angle of him surrendering his vault so Harry could walk away from the bank, he had won.