Disclaimer: Characters, settings, and themes from the Harry Potter universe are the property of J.K. Rowling. I neither own, nor am making any profit from the writing or sharing of this story.
Tighter, I wrap the onyx cloak about me. Its attempts to keep out the chill are meager at best, but there's not much to do for an early winter storm down the lanes of Hogsmeade. Here and there, matrons bus their spawn about, trying to gather them in clusters and keep them in tight lines heading toward some delightful destination, I'm sure. The Hog's Head is busy tonight. Aberforth's door has opened and closed several times in the half hour I've stood here.
There's not much to say for it. The Dark Mark is a popular destination for witches and wizards of age looking for something new to show off. There is a wooden sign out front, which blazes occasionally as the needle moves in a lightning bolt pattern. Once the bolt is complete, it glows, then fades away completely, only to start over again. The display windows have heavy wooden blinds across them which are partially open, letting some light through, but not enough that I can see fully inside. No one has come or gone from the shop in some time.
The walk is brisk, but my legs are glad for it. A drunkard stumbles past me, clutching at my sleeve, but a quick glare sends him on his stuttering way. Entering the shop is like opening the door to a memory. It seems familiar, but I've not been here before. The lights are calm. There is a soft buzzing in the background while an artist works, hunched over a customer, not even acknowledging my presence. Apparently it will be up to me to entertain myself for the moment.
Lined up on the walls are several examples of the artist's work; there are portraits, drawings, pictures of recent pieces, and yet something unexpected. On the near wall, there are pictures of the owner and his friends. In one, they are gathered about a fire, smiling and holding out some sort of stick with white cubes over the fire. In another, he stands in front of a crowd while his best friends are being married. The one furthest to the right shows him on the opening day of this very shop, a small smile hiding beneath the messy black fringe he calls hair. Odd that, to see him smile in such a relaxed way. It has been years since I've seen the man at all, let alone seen him smile.
"Just a minute, yea?" The question comes out of nowhere, but I nod.
Realizing he probably isn't looking at me, I respond with a simple, "Sure," and continue looking around the shop. As I turn just enough to see the person lounging in the chair, my eyes fall to none other than Weasley. Of course he would be here. The man's grimace says more than I need to know as the needle rolls over his ribcage, placing a scattering of ruffled wind beneath a bludger. A snort escapes me before I can contain it. Weasley managed to make it on to the Chudley Cannons out of Hogwarts and is now an assistant coach. It suits him to have something representing his former status as beater, even if his body no longer resembles the fit player he used to be. Time has not graced all of us, that is for certain.
"Okay, we're done now."
"Bloody hell, mate. That one was a bit rough." The redhead chuckled, but winced as his arm fell down near his side.
"None of that now. Let me put a healing charm on it and you will be good to go." The brunette reached for his wand for the first time and instinctively, I grab for mine. It's hard to let old habits die, but I relax when the healing charm flows out and over Ron's side, soothing the man's skin. "One more and she'll be just as you want her. Hold still, now." This time, he closes his eyes, covers the entire tattoo, and begins mumbling something to himself. When his hands move away, the bludger starts zooming around Ron's side and the bat swats it playfully, sending it arching up over Ron's shoulder and back around. I can't help it if my eyes opened just a little wider and stare for a few minutes. Everyone in the room was fascinated by the magic wrought from him. "All done, mate." That smile was back—the shy one reserved for special, intimate moments. I look away. Perhaps I shouldn't have been watching.
"It's brilliant! What do I owe you?"
"You know you don't pay me for anything, Ron. Just take care of it and get me some free advertising during practices, yea?" A quick scourgify is all that's needed to clean the table, but the instruments are set to clean the muggle way. I place each piece on a tray carefully and set the trays aside for the autoclave. There are some things I just prefer not to use magic for, even if Hermione buggers me about it endlessly.
"What is he doing here?" Ron leans in close, attempting to whisper, but his Weasley genes do not allow for much less than a low, scratchy voice.
"Probably the same reason you are." I raise an eyebrow at the other man in the room, then turn back to Ron. "Let's get you home to your wife. She's ready to burst any day now and she will not be thanking me if she goes into labor while you're stuck in my shop."
Intense blue eyes stare me down and he tilts his head. "Are you sure it's okay to leave you with ferret boy over there?"
"Come on, out the door you go. I will be just fine." I gesture with both hands toward the back room with my floo, nodding toward the mantle with extra powder in it. "Send Hermione my love."
"Will do, mate. Be careful." One last meaningful glance was sent into the waiting area before Ron steps into the floo and is whirled away. With a soft sigh, I make my way back out front.
"Draco, what can I do for you?" The blonde looks startled, as if he's about to run. I can't make him that nervous, can I? I stand still, waiting for him to respond, not wanting to corner him like a frightened animal.
"You run a tattoo shop, Potter. Why do you think I'm here?" The familiar drawl sinks low, resonating deep within some set of chords that hasn't been struck for far too many years.
"Ah, yes. There's that. More specifically, then. What can I do for you?" I will have to be careful with him. Ever the quick tongue. That hasn't changed.
"You've done work… for those like me." He paused and looked down, fidgeting with the lapel of his cloak. I know what he's hinting at, but I want to be sure, so I wait. "This is more specialized work than animated tattoos." Those gray eyes could kill a man; they're so sharp. When he looks at me, I see emotions whirling around, but he is trying to remain stoic.
"Yes, that is something I've done in the past. I'm surprised you would be looking for that type of service." I hold out the last word for just a second too long, and Draco purses his lips. Perhaps he will run out on me yet. "Sit." There is a nearby chair and I point. I don't wait to see if Draco moves, but instead grab a stool and scoot it over.
By the time I am seated, Draco has walked stiffly over to the chair and planted himself down in it. Everything about him is rigid. His shoulders are tense and alert. His elbows are down at each side. His knees are locked and braced against the back of the chair. The stool beneath me squeaks a little as I roll closer. Draco jumps. It isn't until I reach for the sleeve of his cloak that he flinches away from me as if burned. I don't let him pull away entirely, though.
"Relax, Draco." My grip loosens just enough that the man's posture drops back into the chair, but he is still strung tight as a fiddle. "I need to see it." Draco nods, just the once and I flip up his cloak sleeve. There is a jumper there, which I push slowly up. He shivers beneath me and it takes nearly all of my willpower not to close my eyes, clench my teeth, and groan. Instead, I take a deep breath and look down at the mark.
After Voldemort's death, most of the dark marks faded, but each to a differing degree. "Yours is quite light, compared to some." Draco grunted, but continued to stare as my fingers began running lines up and down the skull and snake design. "Each one has been different, in its own way. Each individual has separate memories, ideals, beliefs, identities even, that the mark tied back to its creator." Another soft stroke directly up the snake's body and it wriggled, just a little. I can feel it heating up and Draco grunts. He begins to squirm in the chair. "You understand that there is no guarantee? That even though I've done this before, it might not work for you?"
"So you have removed one, then?" The words were wistful, too early yet for hope.
"I've removed many dark marks; not all of them from Voldemort."
I turn from him, pensive. I clearly remember the slash from the cursed dagger dripping down the dragon tamer's shoulder, twisting toward the other man's spine, but never quite reaching. I'd placed my hands there, gathering that innate magic I'd spent months learning to harness. There, I re-worked flesh into something different, something entirely new. When I was done, Charlie and I were both breathing shallow, panting breaths. My eyes opened to see the clean skin beneath my calloused hands, rubbing a thumb across it. I placed a tentative kiss there, a kiss that led to three and a half months of discovery between the two of us.
It wasn't long before Charlie's exclamation that he'd never leave Romania was too often heard and my listless feet were too anxious to remain still any longer. So I left. I'd left behind my first true foray into the world of men, love, and what it means to know one's self deeply enough to give wholly to another. That brief satisfaction sufficed so that I could retreat into my work again, leaving Charlie with his beloved dragons.
Harry seems to shake out of some deep thought. His fingers had been tracing my mark the entire time, that snake writhing beneath each agonizing touch. "They move sometimes, but most of the time it's for a parselmouth." He paused and looked up. "Has yours moved since…?" The question was open, but I knew what he was asking. I shook my head in response and he nodded, accepting the silent answer.
"You realize that the removal of a dark mark will involve a great deal of pain?"
"Getting the mark involved a great deal of pain, Potter. I can handle it." He has no idea the pain I would go through to be rid of this scourge on my life. It has been nothing but a dreadful reminder of everything I've done, everything my family has done and all of the loss since his fall. Potter grips my arm tightly, wrapping his fingers around the mark. It causes me to take a sharp breath and look at him.
"There is already a lot of scarring here, Draco. What is this from?"
"That is none of your concern."
"It is very much my concern if you expect me to perform magic on an existing dark mark. I need to know if there are any other spells, hexes, or lingering charms on the mark, the skin, or you."
I blush. I can feel the heat rising and creeping up my neck into my cheeks. This is not something I wanted to divulge to him. This is not something that anyone should ever know.
"I've tried to remove it… before."
"And it didn't bloody work. You can obviously see that!" The strain is getting to me. His hand wrapped around me, the closeness of his knee between mine. His soft eyes looking at me, probing for information which I am desperate to hold on to. "Damn it, Potter, must you take everything?"
"No more than you're willing to give, but if you truly want this gone, then I need to know." Everything about him was soft now. Even his aura seemed to relax, to sing a harmony that was mellow and rhythmic to my own. "Tell me, Draco."
There's no use. If I want it gone, he's the last hope. It's been thirteen years and with all of the Malfoy money, his is the only name that has come up as even a possibility. Now he sits before me confirming that he's done it before. I shake it off, letting a few strands of hair fall across my cheekbone. Perhaps it can be a bit of protection from the pity I'm sure to endure.
"I tried to cut it off. A slicing hex." A gulp of air and Potter's nod encourage me to continue. "I used every form of skin sloughing spell I could find, but it grew back." My neck is starting to ache and I rub it now with my free hand. The painful reminder of those nights is coming back and I'd rather not be holding hands with Potter when it comes rocking back with full force. A glass of firewhiskey would be a much better companion. "I had others try to change the mark, to cover it; I even went to a muggle tattooist. He got electrocuted by his own equipment. Nothing touches it. Nothing stays. It's all absorbed by the mark itself. Only the skin around it takes any damage."
"I can see that." Harry's eyes did not contain the pity I thought they would. Instead, they hold pain. That is far worse.
"If you truly want this, then tomorrow, you will arrive at half six. No earlier, no later." Draco nods just the once. He stood, gently taking his arm back from my grasp. I hadn't realized I was still holding it, but I fold my hands in my lap. In front of me, he took a moment to fold down the sleeve of his jumper and then tugs his cloak into place. When all was smoothed and ready, he strode out of the shop as if nothing had happened.
The clock above my station chimes eight when I realize that I've been staring absently out the front windows for nearly half an hour. I stand, letting the aches flee from my body in languid stretches. There are a couple of loud pops from my lower back and I rub it gently. I run my fingers through the strands of hair that cross my forehead and sigh. It's been too long. Tomorrow will be a challenge for both of us; let's hope that Draco is up for it.
Rain falls about my shoulders, sliding down my hair and trying its damnedest to get into my cloak. Even a bubble charm is rubbish at keeping all of the weather out. Perhaps I'm also a bit tetchy tonight, though I won't admit that it's anything unusual. When I reach The Dark Mark, the sign reads closed, but the lights are on. I pass the Hog's Head, which is loud and rambunctious as usual on a Friday pub night, and cross the street. The sidewalk is empty; who would want to be out in this drivel? A quick check shows the door is unlocked and I slip inside, shaking any remaining rain from my cloak. There is a silence about the place, but it's not uncomfortable.
Something is moving around, clanking and tugging in the back. Might as well follow and see if it's Potter. My wand slips from the crook of my elbow and falls into the palm of my hand. I grip its handle reassuringly, feeling the worn wood beneath my fingers. I turn quickly around the corner, wand drawn and there he is, with a throw pillow held up in the air and his wand levitating a candle to a nearby table. Rather than spook him, as he does seem to be concentrating ever so much, I cough softly.
"Draco." He turns, emerald eyes burning in the candlelight. "You came."
"Obviously." The man can be so obtuse sometimes, it astounds me that he defeated Voldemort at all. I watch as the candle settles into place and he tosses the pillow behind him. He is bare above the waist, wearing only a snug-fitting pair of denims below. I can see his bare feet poking out as he pads across the floor toward me.
"Please, come in."
"You will need to remove your cloak and jumper." There was another candle that I had sitting in here somewhere, but I don't remember where I put it. "Colloportus." A flick of my wand and two things happen at once. The door closes and locks. I look up and Draco is standing there gaping at me. "Something wrong?"
"Why do I need to remove my jumper, Potter?"
"For this ritual, I need skin to skin contact and it needs to be more than a hand. You will also feel like you're burning alive. I don't think you'll want it on, besides." He hesitated, fingers wrapped around the buttons of his cloak, but began undoing them. It took a moment for him to shimmy those slender shoulders out, but he laid the cloak over a nearby table, carefully wrapping each of the arms beneath so as not to wrinkle. When it came to his jumper, however, he was much more modest. He turned away from me and gripped the bottom of the thing, lifting it quickly and folding it neatly as well. The folding seemed more of a busy action to keep his hands occupied than anything else. This is not the confident Draco I remember.
"All right, Potter. Now that I'm half naked, what more do you need of me?" The sneer was there, as ever and it made me smile. That seemed to throw him off some. Draco steps away as I approach, eyes wide and mouth open, but when my hand slides up his arm and lands on the dark mark, he stills. It takes a little guiding, but I'm able to pull him into the center of the room. Once there, I place my right hand palm down over his mark and feel it moving beneath my touch. He braces himself against me with his hand on my hip and I pay it no mind.
There is an increase in breathing as I begin gathering my magic. I can feel the static in the room growing denser, the candles begin to waver, throwing our shadows onto the wall like languid dementors just waiting for the chance at a kiss. When I can feel the magic as a liquid thing, something I can bend and mold around the skin I'm holding, the words start to tumble forth. Most of them I don't know or haven't heard of. This is part of why removing the mark hasn't worked for anyone else. There is something linked between that bit of Voldemort that resided in me and what he imbued into each mark. They call to each other. I am merely a conduit and in doing so, I can ask the magic to bend to my will. Today, I will ask the magic to remove the mark from Draco's skin, his soul.
There is nothing more intimate than casting magic while holding another. I can feel his heartbeat, see the sweat as it glides down his chest. There is a deep musk to the man before me that calls to something bestial in this ritual. It allows the magic to take root between us and sway the both of us back and forth with its rhythm. Draco is groaning now beneath the onslaught of my magic. It's beginning to be too much. The mark is burning now. The snake is on fire and hisses threats in parseltongue. My mouth is no longer my own. I feel that I answer, but I'm not sure as the ritual continues to flow forth from me.
Five minutes into casting and Draco drops to his knees, pulling me with him. His hand braced above my hip and my initial grip on his arm are the only things keeping him from dropping to the ground. His eyes are wide, panicked. He's not seeing me anymore. The visions are not mine to see; they are never mine to see.
Liquid fire sears through my veins. It's all heading straight toward the mark, toward where Potter's hand grips me tightly and that wretched snake dances mockingly at me. I can feel the heat rising straight from the floor up into my toes, racing into my chest and out to my fingertips. It tingles at the tips of my ears, but there's not much feeling left once it's made it that far. My knees are aching as they scramble about on the floor. I occasionally land on a throw pillow and remember Potter holding one before tossing it so casually aside. A bit of laughter burbles up now, but melts down into frantic panting.
Too intense. It's too much. The heat. The burning. I can feel his magic pressing in on me, around me, wildly shocking me as it dances over every bit of exposed skin. Potter's grip tightens and I can feel him grounding me, pulling me back. He's all that's holding me to this place when I'm blasted out entirely.
All I can hear are his words. Not Potter, not my father, but him. I don't want to think of him, but that bloody bastard just won't leave me alone. I can feel the press of his magic as it sinks into my arm, the sting of the mark as if Nagini herself were poisoning me. I can hear his laughter. It's the fire, now—the burning. I'll burn forever, he said.
There's nothing to do but watch as Draco falls into his memories. The ritual pulls them, one-by-one until all ties to the mark are just beyond the surface and ready to be severed. Now I can truly begin, though he is barely hanging on. I can feel his breathing becoming shallow and his grip on me has slackened. Slowly, I ease him down on to the pillows and continue to let the magic take over.
I am starting to sweat now, but it is merely a sheen that covers my body rather than a dripping stream that falls to the floor. Draco is shivering beneath me as if cold, but I can feel his skin as it heats beneath me. I hold on, feeling for that last reserve of magic. There it is. I let it wrap around the both of us, pushing and pulling at me until it settles down further on the man below me. He shudders and lets out a whimper as it grips him. A feral cry rips forth from his mouth, his teeth gnashing at the empty air.
Leaning forward, I brace against his chest to hold him still. The magic needs more time. I can see now the ink pooling in his arm beneath my palm. It is reconfiguring. The snake has shriveled up into the skull and I watch as even that folds in on itself. The entire thing becomes one writhing mass that disappears beneath my palm. I can feel the searing heat as the magic transfers to me. It is sparking against us both, but the ink is beneath my skin now, wriggling and working its way up my arm. Will I have my own dark mark? The thought is quick, then passes. It pushes past my arm and reaches my chest, where it coalesces and gels for a moment. It does not know what shape to take, so remains amorphous. This one will not reveal itself to me just yet.
Everything is soft. My arms are like feathers at my side and my hair blows gently across my face. This bed is quite comfortable. Bed? Nothing to jolt the senses quite like waking up in an unfamiliar place. I choke on the smoke of the room, waving my arms lazily to push it away.
"Fuck, Potter. Are you trying to burn bodies back here?" A soft chuckle comes from across the room.
"No, Draco. The herbs kept you in a healing sleep."
"Well it tastes and smells bloody awful." I roll the flavor over on my tongue a few times, feeling the bitterness, the thick ash of it. Something moves—Potter perhaps. The room clears and I see him walking toward me. He hasn't changed clothing and I can see that he is tired now. His eyes droop a bit and the worry lines are more prominent as he smiles down at me.
"You complain too much. How are you feeling?" His wand waves gently over me and I hear the quick cast of a diagnostic spell.
"A bit unnerved by your looming presence, Potter." That smile again. "But otherwise intact."
"Good." I nod, wondering if he's noticed yet. "And the arm?"
That got his attention. It was almost as if he didn't want to look. His eyes grew wide and his right hand covered the left forearm before he looked down. It was no wonder then that when he finally saw the missing mark, a single tear trailed down his cheek. It would befit a Malfoy not to cry more than necessary, even when something like this has affected your entire life. I snort, bringing him out of his inspection.
He stares at me carefully, eyebrows lifting when they land just—there. I look down and notice that it has a shape now. I chuckle; it is also quite fitting that Malfoy's mark would be that.
"Potter?" The voice is high; he is unsure of himself now.
"This wasn't here before." Draco reaches out and brushes the tips of two fingers across the new mark on my skin. The emerald snake dances beneath his touch. Marks always know their owners. Draco pulls back and I reach out to grab his hand, placing it back on my chest to let him explore, feel.
"Why would you do this?" My fingers trace along the edge of the serpent now etched into Harry's skin. Can't very well be calling him Potter if I've marked him for life, now can I? I smirk, but let it fall. When the snake moves and turns its head into the pad of my thumb, I shiver.
"Do you really want to know?" I nod. "I walked into that forest knowing that I was going to die. I didn't think there was any chance I'd make it out of a duel with Voldemort alive." He looks down at my fingers as they move across his skin. He places a hand over mind, stilling my exploration. "I got my third chance at life that day. Most people struggle to get a second. Isn't it about time your got yours?" The question hangs between us, a banner between our linked appendages.
As he sits there, staring at me, I begin to understand him. I know why he feels compelled to erase the misdeeds of others. Why he feels the need to obliterate the cursed scars of everyone around him. The man before me is slowly gathering the broken pieces of others in order to make himself whole. He's never been whole—not entirely.
I grip his hand tighter and he smiles at me. For once, I tell myself that this will not be an end of something. This is not the end of a day or the end of Voldemort's reign over me. This is the beginning of something much more important: a life yet fulfilled.