She was doelike graceful and shiny like holographic foil Christmas paper curved around a present full of delight and surprise. No matter how Harry tilted his eyes or turned to catch her standing in sunshine, she always radiated beauty in some different way. But always, always it was directed toward him. She shone for him. He knew it.
Since the day he'd walked into Flourish and Bott's Book Emporium in search of an esoteric text concerning search spells (he'd sworn to find the long missing Draco Malfoy and find him he would) and had looked into her amused wide brown-black eyes, he'd been lost. He could remember every moment, from the way she'd been spitting on the ink on her fingers and trying to rub it off to the way her necklace had glinted with the light when she turned. The heavy gold setting encasing the mirror bits served to enhance her delicate bones by contrast. Such a monstrous necklace was only a weight to keep this small angel on the earth.
Harry had been enchanted by the sway of wide hips as she walked him back to the rare book room; had been mesmerized by possibility. As she'd drawn a particularly interesting scrolled manuscript out of its leather case, she'd bit her lower lip while she studiously smoothed it out against the stand meant to display such scripts. Harry had been so lost in the admiration of those pearly white teeth sinking into the pink coral lips that he'd ignored the scroll she'd selected until she'd gently nudged him with her elbow. Well, ok, it was more of a dig in his ribs.
"This is the esteemed Finder Flottenberg's study on the building and use of all types of search spells. This is what you wanted, isn't it? A general treatise on HOW the spells function?" She'd turned to look inquisitively at Harry. "From this you can build a spell to find almost anything." Her eyes took on a look of curiosity but she carefully didn't ask just what it was the Hero wanted to find. He was so rich, he could buy almost anything he wanted. It was rumoured that he'd bought both a summer and winter mansion complete with large gated properties to keep the curiosity seekers at bay.
In fact, it was downright odd of Harry to be in Flourish and Bott's at all. Normally he sent a list of what he wanted to the book proprietor. They then acquired it and owled the results to him, receiving payment through the Gringott's goblins. He had blushed to realize that it was the results of the last divination spell he'd tried. He'd carefully cast the spell, thinking all the time of what he wanted to find - the missing Draco Malfoy, or some sign, hint, or even suggestion of what might have happened to him so long ago.
The end result was that he'd dreamt of a scroll in Flourish and Bott's but annoyingly... the wretched thing had neither title nor any identifying characteristic that he could search for. All he'd seen was the outside of a rolled up scroll lying on a desk in the then closed Flourish and Bott's (it had been midnight exactly when he cast the spell, as required).
Hermione had been her usual ruthless scathing self when he'd enthusiastically described the results of his dream. She still didn't understand why it was so important to him to find Draco. Sometimes he didn't understand it himself.
Fifteen years ago, he'd defeated Voldemort and apparated the dying Draco to the infirmary at Hogwart's. For weeks, he'd hovered over Draco's bed at Madame Pomfrey's elbow, urging her constantly to find a way - any way - to save Draco. And when she had... when Draco was finally sleeping peacefully, Harry had given in to the depression in his soul and walked away. He'd desperately needed to find some peace, some quiet.
Since the day Voldemort died, the reporters and thronging public had awaited him outside the wards of Hogwart's - carefully kept at bay by the ghost of Dumbledore and the ghost of Severus Snape. Harry had stumbled from the hospital wing outside to suck in fresh air after the long days of hovering over the dying Draco's bed. He was reveling in the fact that Draco would live when he'd seen the waiting crowd encamped beyond the gates. Apparating blindly, Harry had just - gone. By the time he'd come back again to the gates of Hogwarts years later, it was Draco who'd gone. Gone completely, without a single clue or trace other than one - Draco had left his wand lying in the hallway of Malfoy Manor.
Harry was consumed by guilt. Was Draco alive or dead? Was it Harry's fault? He felt guilty because he KNEW he'd abandoned Draco to everyone else's belief that Draco had been lost to the Deatheaters. Only the fact that he'd brought Draco to the Hogwarts Infirmary to be healed, the fact that he'd hovered until he was SURE Draco would live had mitigated the way people treated the other young man. Harry felt guilty because he KNEW he should have told Draco's tale to them all... and THEN taken off.
But he hadn't.
Harry had left Draco to the sharp-clawed, bitter-fanged disapproval of the Wizarding Society At Large.
Merlin's Beard. It was no wonder to him at all that Draco had chosen to vanish.
After all, hadn't Harry done that very thing himself?
Harry went back to considering the here and now, rubbing the ring he'd taken to carrying in the pockets of his jeans. Digging his fingers deep into the secret hideaway beneath the huge woolly pullover he wore in cold weather had become something of a habit since he'd bought the thing. It had been nearly a year and the ring was no closer to leaving the cozy nest of denim at his hip than it had been when he'd bought it.
The thing was... Harry simply couldn't say the words he wanted to blurt out more than anything.
'Will you marry me, my love?'
He could imagine saying it, plan saying it, practice the words time and time again. He just couldn't get them to pass his lips when he was in her presence and looking into those infinitely deep eyes full of flecks that looked like reflections of some silvery light. When he tried, Harry found himself growing more and more silent.
He knew what the trouble was.
It was simple really.
As much as he loved her, as much as he had fallen for her smile and her charm and the easygoing sweetness of her, Harry was possessed by the idea that she had secrets that she was hiding from him. And that was keeping his heart locked in some kind of prison it couldn't break free from.
From their earliest fumbling kiss to the long passionate weekends they spent together in the halls of Harry's southern home, Harry had seen things he'd chosen to ignore. But if he was to marry her, if he was to join his life with hers, trusting her with everything he was, Harry had to know.
Why did she refuse to step foot in Malfoy Manor after the first time he took her there? She'd sneered at it all and declared it a mausoleum unfit for human occupancy. Harry had been disappointed. He'd grown to like the rambling vastness of it and spent the majority of his summer there, filling it up with his friends and the people he cared about. Ron and Hermione had married there, as had Ginny and Neville.
Once a year Harry threw a vast ball at Malfoy Manor - inviting simply everyone there was - and got his social obligations over in one go for the next twelve months. Then he could please himself by hibernating in his study or comb the farflung reaches of the world looking for Draco. And he had... until he'd met his lovely beloved.
Then he'd subsided into more scholarly searches - creating and casting spell after spell to find Draco. Only every last one hadn't worked. The spells either insisted the object he wanted found wasn't lost or didn't exist. Harry was sure, positively sure for some reason, that if Draco had ceased to be Harry would have known. He refused to believe his magic. Draco was out there. Therefore he could be found. Harry WOULD find him.
And then, the worst mystery of all about his beloved - the yearly disappearance directly after Christmas celebrations were over. His beloved would start flinging things together and muttering lists of things she absolutely HAD to take with her and then suddenly, she'd be gone for just over a month, only reappearing after the end of January. She never said where she was going nor why and never invited him to go with her.
When she reappeared, she was exhausted and curled up to sleep in his arms - keeping a grip on Harry that seemed to reassure her somehow. She'd watch him as if she was afraid he'd disappear if she took her eyes away. A few weeks would go by and then her insouciant self would surface like a bubble of air seeking to surface from beneath the water that was holding it down.
Last but not least, Harry was bothered by the way she seemed to live in the moment, never mentioning anything in the past or planning anything in the future further than the evening. If Harry wanted to go out to dinner somewhere, he couldn't make reservations because he'd show up at the appointed time only to find 'oh, I have another idea, let's go...' or she'd simply look at him blankly as if the fact they'd made plans had never occurred. He'd begun to suspect that she really did live day by day, never suspecting nor believing there was anything else.
Which made her behavior after Christmas doubly strange. After all... it was the ONLY time she seemed to realize more than RIGHT NOW existed.
And of course, there was the necklace.
Harry would find her fingering it and speaking aloud as if the thing could answer her. If he said anything, she'd just brush it off with a laugh and a gaily spoken 'just thinking out loud to myself!' But it wasn't musings or working out problems that he heard. It was one HALF of a conversation and he had no idea who was replying or how.
That blasted necklace.
She never took it off.
Even now, stretched out catlike slinky onhis bed, somnolent from sated passions, she had one hand on the thing around her neck as if it was security and reality and the most precious thing in the world to her.
Harry growled. HE wanted to be that for her.
The coloured fairy lights from the Christmas Tree they'd chosen to erect in the bedroom (since no one would be sharing it with them and it really was quite romantic to make love in front of it) reflected off the chunky blackened gold-framed links and multiplied the way the colours bounced off the wall with the help of the mirrored centers. Harry ran a frustrated hand through his long locks of hair she'd encouraged him to grow. He was DAMN jealous of a bit of jewelry!
His other hand spun the ring in his pocket.
How he WANTED to give it to her.
Harry longed to see her cradle a baby, their own child, in her arms. He wanted to be able to roll over every single morning and find her there with him. She'd refused to live with him saying it wasn't her house and she had her own home to see to.
Much as Harry liked the little cottage she'd scrimped and saved for, decorating it with offhand flair and exquisite taste, there simply wasn't room in it for him. Wasn't room in it for a cat let alone a family of three. Or more.
What was he going to do?
Harry watched his beloved tuck her curvaceous self into an overstuffed armchair in the library of his winter mansion, Kettleston Hall. It was a lovely place, all wide rooms paneled in warmly toned but light coloured woods. The upstairs rooms were of a cozy size meant to house a large family in increments throughout the halls. Harry did like the place, but it wasn't home to him.
Malfoy Manor certainly wasn't home either. Harry had the dreadful feeling the whole time he was there that he was merely an encroaching stranger making use of the place until its true owner returned. And since Lucius Malfoy was dead with his wife tucked away in Azkaban (gone mad long ago - not so much from the ill spirit of the place, but from frustrated ambition) that missing owner was Draco in Harry's mind. It didn't matter that Harry had paid for the place in an estate of the deceased auction when the last badly fortuned owner (who'd bought Malfoy Manor cheap from a drunken gambling sot of a wizard who'd himself picked it up in the forfeited properties auction held by the Ministry of Magic) had apparently committed suicide by flinging himself out of the upper sitting room's large gazing window. It wasn't his home and he never felt like the owner, merely the resident caretaker.
Harry fancied that Malfoy Manor enjoyed the company he brought to it in the summer and all the garden party games they played. It seemed happier with people inside of it. When he visited in the winter, the place seemed weary and despairing. Generally, Harry could only manage a stay of a day or two before he himself gave in to the melancholy that painted every hall, every wall, every stair.
"Perhaps we could go to Malfoy Manor for the New Year, my sweet?"
A pair of deep eyes looked at him in faint surprise. "Why, Harry, you know that I must leave in a few days, don't you? I haven't time to go traipsing about the countryside to lurk in dank old mansions."
Harry subsided. Too late, it had already begun... whatever IT was. He crossed the room and swept a long curling lock of deep brown around his finger. "I'm sorry. I had forgotten I guess." Harry bent down and traced the soft curve of her cheek, feeling the gentle downy hairs beneath his fingertips. "Are you ready then?"
"All packed, though I really need to locate that scroll I was working on the other night. It fell on the floor just after I put the lights out. I heard it, but then in the morning, it wasn't there." She pouted, a coral rose of spoilt darling.
"Dobby hasn't found it? I'm amazed. He's usually so strict about tidying up at night."
"He is a dear, Harry, isn't he? But no, it seems to have gone off on its own."
"As you will yourself, dear." Harry gave in to the temptation and tasted her mouth, all morning chocolate and toast crumbs. Kissing her was always divine. Just when you'd decided how it felt, it all changed and became something more or different. "I'll miss you."
She smiled under his kiss and leaned into it, applying enough heat and urgency to change Harry from devoted love to possessive lover. He snatched her up and whirled her around, all the while kissing her as if perhaps, this time - this minute, this... would be their very last kiss. When he set her down and she curled into his chest, he leaned his head upon hers sadly. Perhaps...
It was what he feared. Perhaps this time, this year, she would go off and never come back.
Harry let her slip from his fingers as she fussed and worried over her preparations. He watched her sit to the desk and peruse a list carelessly scrawled (some of the ink old - items added days ago - and some still wet). What if she left him and didn't come back?
Harry fingered the ring in his pocket and practiced the words in his mind.
Abruptly he turned from her, opened the library window to the chill December wind and cried out, "Accio Firebolt!" When his broom arrived he leapt upon it and swooped into the gusting winds. A brisk wave of his wand closed the window behind him and Harry wished he could put away his fear so easily.
This year would be different. Harry grimly set his face into the wind. He wasn't going to wait blindly until his beloved returned to him, nearly exhausted and seemingly shattered by whatever happened while she was away. He wasn't going to wait, never knowing if this time he'd be left waiting forever.
Harry surreptitiously stroked the faded leather of his beloved's luggage. Three years running she'd packed all this gear, called the Knight Bus and... disappeared.
The first year, Harry had been too newly in love to question where she was going. The second year, he'd questioned and she'd looked at him blankly - as if wondering why in the world he wanted to know. The third year, curiosity had eaten at him but he'd resolved to be stoic and strong while simply enduring the vanishing act. It was only this year that he realized this could go on forever and for forever would he worry, gut knotting with dread, every single day she was gone.
This year he would not endure. Perhaps it was underhanded, what he was about to do, but if they were to go on... well, he had to know. He could not sustain this life of a glass nearly full to the brim, but not quite. Harry had to find out where his darling went and the reasons why. HE wanted a future even if she was oblivious to the possibility.
Either his future would be with her or Harry would return to questing for Draco in the farflung corners of the world. He'd yet to search Australia or the islands in the Indian Ocean. America he'd combed thoroughly. Even if Draco was living as a Muggle (the left behind wand seeming suggestive of that) Harry would find him. He had newer, better search spells to try. Only his preoccupation with his darling had delayed their deployment.
The first subject he would try these spells on would be her. He'd planted a focus in her luggage. Harry wanted to absolutely sure he could locate her position.
"I'm ready to go, Harry. Come kiss me goodbye. The Knight Bus is on the way." She was biting her lip in that charming way she had, clearly concentrating on something.
Harry wondered if she was thinking of telling him where she was off to. He watched her hesitantly approach him and then cautiously fall back when he didn't offer her his hand. Tears formed in her eyes and she stroked the necklace as if to gain the strength to go on. When she gathered up her luggage with a brisk swish of her wand (soft pine wood with a core of rabbit fur) Harry relented and pounced on her to kiss her thoroughly. How he wished he didn't have to do this. He wished he could just not mind and let their life go on forever in this limbo the way she clearly wanted.
The weight of the ring in his pocket dragged at his soul. He couldn't. This had to end.
Finally, he let her go and smoothed a tear from her cheek.
Stoic, Harry watched her walk out the door... and wondered.
Was this the end for them?
Little did he know, she wondered it too as she set her dainty, determined foot on the bottom step of the Knight Bus.
Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville stared at the tabletop in confusion. Only Harry seemed oddly detached. They let go of the hands joined together in a circle that had been so necessary to the spell and more markedly, the image stayed floating just above the table in midair. The gates of Malfoy Manor in glorious technifluorescent green smoke.
Harry sighed. He wondered how he was going to dissuade them from accompanying him to his other home.
Hermione spoke up again, "I believe Harry that perhaps you'd best deal with this on your own."
"It's your house that she's breaking into and she's your... whatever." Hermione looked as sharply judgmental as Harry had ever seen her. "I told you no good would come of your relationship with her."
Harry growled, "She's the best thing that's ever EVER happened to me!"
"But, Harry, she's at your house. Without asking you." Ginny's voice was gentle and tremulous. All trace of the brashly confident witch she'd become seemed to have been doused by her confusion. "I don't understand either. I thought she hated the place?"
Harry ran his hands through his hair, mussing what was already more or less a creation of a haphazard careless tornado. What was he going to do? Harry sighed. He already knew the answer to that. She would never answer his questions. He had to go there. He had to KNOW.
"I trust you will all keep this to yourselves?"
Ron sniffed, "And who else would want to know besides you anyway? Harry, without you, she's a nobody. If she wasn't near you, no one would care what she did."
"Exactly. And there are certain people who want to know everything about my life. They want to know the colour of my socks and pants and which side of the bed I sleep on. Therefore, I don't want them to know ANYTHING about her more than they already know."
"Which isn't very bloody much, Potter. Before she started dating you, she was a clerk at Flourish and Bott's. Before that she was a clerk in Upper Tilsbury for old wizard Selmodus until he died. Before that... no one knows. Harry, she didn't even..."
Harry cut Ron off with a hand that clearly begged him to stop.
Ron huffed and subsided, seeking Hermione's hand beneath the table to reassure himself that the love of HIS life wasn't going anywhere. Harry stood up and stalked across the study. Ron watched Harry open the chest containing his PortKey to Malfoy Manor - Draco's wand. Harry drew it out and soon enough the swirling eddies of air subsided with Harry utterly vanished.
"I just wish he'd let me point out to him, Hermione, that before she started working at Flourish and Bott's, she didn't even have a wand."
Harry stood at the gate to Malfoy Manor. He'd never been able to bring himself to make a PortKey to inside of the Malfoy property. It wasn't really his in the back of his head. Draco's wand clattered to the ground beside him to emphasize that very point. Harry sighed tiredly as he stared at it. It signified so much to him. He'd failed. Repeatedly, he'd failed. No doubt he'd keep failing and this night would only be one more such failure. With a sharp gesture of his own wand, Harry levitated Draco's into the deep pocket in his robes where he could be certain he wouldn't actually touch it. It was keyed to his skin and should he accidentally finger it, it would whisk him right back to Kettleston Hall. He had much to deal with before he could let that happen.
A mere touch upon the gates caused them to part for him. Malfoy Manor sometimes had a personality of its own that he could feel and right now, it seemed to be happy to see him. The pervasive sorrow he usually felt in the winter was absent. Malfoy seemed to be welcoming him and seemed to... want something from him?
Harry strode briskly up the walk, every footfall filling him with determination and not a little bit of anger. THIS was where she got off to? Why? Why had she...? Harry ground his teeth. He was rapidly beginning to believe he'd been made a fool of. When he got to the doors, they flung themselves open in a display of his wrath startling him. Perhaps Malfoy Manor liked him better than Harry had supposed. He took a deep breath to calm himself and wondered as he stood in the central foyer which way should he go?
Malfoy Manor answered him. All the open doors closed. Every last one throughout the mansion from the sound of it. Then with a creak, one opened. Harry was not about to ignore the clear command. He went through it and down the hall behind it. Following doors that popped open on their own was a bit unnerving but then he'd seen stranger things in his life. Harry came to the last one, a sliding door with glass windows looking into the ballroom and though the door had slid open a bit to let him know that here was the place, it had stopped.
Harry stood outside the glass looking in and saw his beloved sitting in the circle inlaid in the ballroom floor, pieces of her necklace strewn about her. Barefoot, wearing her nightshift and a long cloak, she leaned on her drawn up knees and sobbed as the light from the moon crept across the floor. Harry tugged on the door but it would shift no further.
Harry tugged harder as the moonlight strobed to life a piece of that blasted necklace. Light dashed up and splintered against the walls. As more moonlight crept into the circle, more lights were being flung about and somehow coalescing into a ghostly somebody. By the time the light had totally engulfed his darling, that somebody had become fairly solid.
"A year has gone by again. Thirty days from now you must again make the choice. Do not hesitate when the time comes or I will choose for you."
His beloved sniffled and cringed as the figure vanished. All the lights began to pulsate, swirling in some obnoxious perversion that made Harry look away. When he looked back again, the necklace was whole and his beloved was slumped on the ground. It was then that the door finally gave beneath his frantically tugging fingers.
Harry flew across the distance. He didn't care what was going on. He didn't need to know anything. Just, please, please let her be unharmed, be whole. Harry bent down and shifted the cloak away from her face.
He couldn't help it.
Then he passed out.
Harry woke to the feeling of the sun upon his face. Light was edging between the curtains. Harry groaned and rolled over. Really, he didn't want to get up. One of the delights of Malfoy Manor were the beds. They tended to adjust to their occupants and he was sleeping in the same bed he always slept in when he was here.
Harry gradually became aware that someone else was in the room with him. Causing his eyelids to pry themselves open was a bit difficult and he thought he might have had a bit to drink. His mouth was a trifle furry and his head was pounding. Prying open his eyes only emphasized the fact that he was in his own room at Malfoy Manor. Therefore there shouldn't be anyone in here with him. SHE never came here.
Abruptly, the events of the night before came to him in full reality. Once again, he scrambled to the side of the bed to vomit where a pan suddenly slid beneath the spot he was spewing. When he was done, he reached for the decanter of brandy on the bedside table.
"It's empty." The voice was a cold and bored drawl as if he didn't give a damn whether or not Harry heard him.
HE. His company was a he. In point of fact, it was the very HE that Harry had been somewhat shamefacedly and desperately searching for to make amends to.
Harry believed that he didn't have a thing to balance anymore. His carelessness was utterly canceled out by what Draco had done. Merlin's beard! Harry had been... his stomach heaved again and he leaned over the edge of the bed in yet another spot where yet another pan slid into place.
Blearily he looked up at Draco who was comfortably ensconced in an armchair with his own decanter and a stack of pans.
"Are you going to lose it again? Because I'd like to spend the few days I have doing something other than tending to your delicate sensibilities. One whole day wasted because you..." Draco shook his head in amusement. He eyed his own nails admiringly, "At least she takes care of us." When he seemed certain that Harry was going to hold it together, he unfolded himself from the chair.
Harry was stunned! Pettigrew's Perfidy! Draco must have gained another five inches of height after Harry had gone! He was utterly unlike Harry's dearest... The other body Draco possessed. Harry shuddered again, suddenly cold to the bones. He'd been shagging DRACO! He bit his tongue in an attempt to still his roiling guts.
"No, you haven't." Draco waited for Harry to meet his eyes searchingly. "I know what you're thinking and I assure you that you haven't been." Draco sniffed. "I am much better than THAT. If you'd been bedding me, you would never have thought about looking for us because your brains would have been utter mush."
"You're her. She's you. Merlin." Harry grabbed a pillow and plopped it over his head. He didn't want to SEE Draco, didn't want to be reminded about the horror he'd committed.
A strong hand closed about the pillow and dragged it away. Draco dropped his hands on either side of Harry and leaned down before whispering in Harry's ear, "She's not me and I'm not her. Believe me when I say this. If you'dhad me or I you, you'd know better, Gryffindor. But you were always too much of a goody goody to see any sort of possibility that you might want to bed ME, weren't you? In fact, I bet you're not even thinking about it now, are you? You're just thinking about her and how inside of her was me."
Harry froze. Draco's breath belonged to his namesake. It was dragon hot on his neck, sizzling his ear. He closed his eyes and tried not to remember being fourteen again when he'd woken in the night dreaming of touching... dreaming dreams wet with wonder about... touching and stroking and needing to have... Harry closed it all out.
Draco was abruptly gone. The door opened and a sardonic sneer punctuated the command, "Get up. Get cleaned up. You stink."
Harry continued to lay there long after Draco had gone.
He finally shook himself and rolled off the bed.
So, Draco had no idea at all, did he?
Harry got sick again. Faintly, he hoped he could stop doing this in the near future. It was beginning to hurt.
Harry plodded into the library. By the time he'd gotten up and dressed, deflected Hermione's incipient rescue by owling her (Harry knew she'd sent him to deal with this himself but also knew she was fretting herself and Ron to the bone while waiting), and choked down some food to calm his stomach, Draco seemed to have vanished. Only the fact that the Manor seemed to be impatiently waiting on Harry to DO something alerted Harry to the fact that Draco must still be here... somewhere.
He'd been methodically searching the rooms and had left the library until last because, well because that wasn't a place Harry would EVER have caught Draco at Hogwart's. But then, SHE was a clerk. A highly respected academic as well. Perhaps SHE had rubbed off on Draco somehow? Harry shook his head. Just because Draco had said she wasn't him and he wasn't her didn't mean they were entirely separate. Even if Draco did refer to them as an US.
Draco was draped across the library floor like some Grecian art form, all pale skin clad in flowing robe and skin tight trousers propped up by a fat pillow. Harry gulped. Apparently there wasn't anything beneath that robe because Draco's smooth chest gleamed as he lifted an arm to turn a page.
Draco must have heard Harry swallow his tongue because he turned his shining silvery eyes towards Harry. He seemed caught in some thought because it was quite a long few moments that he left Harry's green eyes captured with his unblinking gaze. "Decided to come use a few Unforgivables on me, Harry?"
"No." Harry stomped across the floor and dropped into a chair, glaring at Draco's now uncaring back. Once Harry had proved to not be a threat, Draco had turned back to study the tome in his hands. Harry wondered what was so fascinating. He was here, damn it all! and shouldn't Draco be doing some explaining? Harry licked his lips and sighed. In fact, he had his own explaining to do, didn't he?
"I didn't mean to leave you like that."
"Like what? Like being there for me for weeks urging me to breathe, to live and then leaving me with no reason to do so? Like encouraging me to think that you wanted me to live? that in fact you wanted..." Draco's voice could have carved a diamond, it was so sharp and fierce. "Like leaving me to THEM?"
"I'm sorry, Draco. I'm sorry." Harry wanted so badly to soothe the pain out of Draco's shoulders. He wanted to sink to his knees and hold Draco until that high strung tenseness disappeared. Harry had actually levered himself off the chair in preparation to going to Draco when he realized... Draco wasn't his beloved. Harry's hand stole to the ring in his pocket that would never know the warmth of skin. Sadly, he shook his head and walked out of the room again.
They didn't really have anything to say to each other, did they?
A week later, Harry had come to realize Draco had barely stirred from the library. Malfoy Manor seemed to want him to change that. Every room he managed to get into only had one unlocked and open door out of it... the one that led back to Draco. Angrily, Harry growled at the dining room's table and chairs where two place settings were sitting. "I don't even KNOW what I'm still doing here! I should just go home and forget about HER! She isn't real anyway, is she? We're OVER."
Behind him, the door leading to Draco creaked open just a bit wider as if to declare that it didn't care about HER, just Draco. Harry fingered the ring in his pocket. Along his leg he could feel the solid length of Draco's wand. The table rattled, the door creaked. Harry flushed guiltily. The house knew, didn't it?
"Right. I'll go get Draco. He needs to eat, doesn't he?"
Harry practically ran down the halls to the library, in fact a few times he whooped and slid on the carpets, carelessly piling them up against the walls. He knew they'd be back in place by the time he returned with Draco. The house elves here were very efficient if somewhat elusive. They would appear if you commanded them to do so, but for the most part they preferred to work sight unseen. Unlike Dobby at home. He preferred that you NOT make a mess of the house in the first place and didn't have any difficulty with letting Harry know that. Harry kind of liked Dobby's possessive nagging. It showed how much the house elf cared for Harry's things and Harry's well-being. He was like proper family to Harry.
Harry entered the library and looked at Draco crosslegged on the table amid piles of books.
The view was beautiful. Draco's pale hair was long and glittered prettily in the sun. His limbs were also long and manage to sprawl elegantly no matter how he situated himself. Draco no longer met Harry's eyes, but Harry had a perfect memory of them - wide, slightly catlike and molten silver. Draco was a sight to behold and Harry had no trouble at all appreciating the scenery.
But it made him sad. Piercing regret twisted him as he thought of the family he'd hoped for. He'd wanted children and a doe-eyed wife at his side, with perhaps a shaggy mutt of a dog or the slithery intensity of a mousing cat, or even both. His hope was dead, vanished like so many dreams he'd had when he was young wishing for a proper family to love and to love him. No. He was stuck with dead parents, a terrible monstrous defamation of the words aunt and uncle and a bloated cousin who was terrified of him. All the people he'd grown to love over the years had been driven away or killed, sometimes both. Apparently, Harry was a curse upon everyone's head. He should have known better than to love anyone else.
"Enough." Harry's voice was authoritative, the snap of command he'd learned while fighting Voldemort coming naturally to him once again. Draco was making himself sick. No wonder he returned every year worn to the bones and exhausted to the depths of his/her/their soul. "Come eat." Harry waved his hand and every single book in the library snapped shut.
Draco's shriek was girlish, reminiscent of... Harry pushed the thought away. "... is saved. I promise all the books will open to the very place they closed AFTER you have eaten and rested a while."
Harry implacably stared back.
It took Draco a while to realize he couldn't undo the bindings on any of the library's contents. Frustrated, he stalked...glided like a great heron slithering through a pond intent on snapping up frogs for dinner, Harry thought. The thought of food must have finally sunk in. Harry followed Draco down the halls and surreptitiously evaluated his reaction to Draco in the flesh.
Yes, it was still there.
The dining room was entered and food consumed in utter silence. It was only when Draco stood to leave that Harry snapped another order out, "SIT!"
Draco seemed torn between reaching across the table to strangle Harry and obeying. Harry capitalized on the indecision he could see.
"Please, Draco? We need to talk."
Draco sat, the anger draining out of him and apprehension causing his fingers to tremble.
"What is it that you're looking for in the library?"
"A way to get her out of the mirror."
Draco shuddered visibly, turning paler than ever. "Ewww. No. A way to get the enchantress that my ancestor trapped in a mirror out. She's been in there five hundred or so years.Idiot got ticked when she told him to skive off when he propositioned her. Idiot. If he'd tried courting her properly... she kind of liked the moron... but no, he was a proud idiot and well... a clever one. He put her in the mirror and pissed her off. She refused him until the day he died and no one else knew how to get her out."
"This one." Draco held up the blasted necklace and Harry eyed it with distaste. He hated that thing.
Harry glared at it.
"Look, Harry, I know you think the necklace has something to do with keeping HER apart from you, but it was me inside of her. How could she give you her whole heart when I was in it? The enchantress, Melilla, she was the one who gave me the spell so I could disappear inside of another personality. I owe her for that. Beyond that, what my ancestor did wasn't right and I want to fix it. She won't survive being out of the mirror as she's too old but she wants to leave this realm and she can't as long as she's trapped in there."
"I'll help you look for an answer. On one condition..."
Draco's head snapped up and his silver eyes reflected some kind of fear in Harry's direction. Harry pushed down the reflexive desire to soothe that fear out of Draco's eyes.
"You don't go back to being her."
Draco looked stunned. "But... but... I thought you... don't you love her?"
"I did, Draco, I did." Harry's voice was thin with grief, tears springing to his eyes. "But she wasn't real and I find... I prefer reality to wishful thinking."
"It doesn't have to be this way."
"I make a choice every year at the end of my thirty days. Every year I choose to be her the rest of the year instead of myself. I don't really live the rest of the year when she does, just feel bits as if it were a dream. Every year I choose to make a choice again the next year. But I don't have to."
"You mean you can choose to be yourself again always?"
"I mean I can choose to be HER for always."
Harry's mouth dropped open. Draco stood up and swept from the room.
The next day Harry joined Draco in the library first thing in the morning and forced tea and toast into Draco before they began. At lunchtime, Harry snapped the books shut and demanded Draco accompany him to the dining room for a more filling repast. They went back to hit the books for another couple of hours before Harry snapped them shut again and opened the glass doors leading to the bleak winter day outdoors. Patiently he waited for Draco to join him. It took some time until Draco reluctantly realized he still couldn't undo the bindings Harry had placed.
Draco waited by his side and Harry called for his Firebolt. Then he called for Draco's. He grinned cheerfully at Draco's surprise and flung himself into the air. Draco was hot on his heels. An hour or so later Harry landed at a lake along the far edge of the property. Happily fatigued, he sprawled in the dirt and looked at the ripples in the water.
"You DO know what's in there, don't you?"
"If you mean the baby Kraken, yes, I do."
Draco's face quirked in a half-smile. "Should have known. If it's something dangerous, you've probably made friends with it. Hagrid's influence no doubt."
"I expect. I've been influenced by a lot of people. Hermione made me appreciate that knowledge is invaluable, Ron made me appreciate just DOING what you have to, Neville made me see that facing my fear was the only way to survive and Ginny made me appreciate that sometimes loving somebody who doesn't love you back won't kill you. Then, of course, there was you."
Harry didn't answer Draco's unspoken question. He had a feeling he'd get to it soon. Draco's thirty days were fast passing away and he needed to...
Harry got up and called for his Firebolt again. Taking to the air was no way to talk to Draco and he knew it. He had to do something about that soon. Not now, it was too terrible a thing to think about. Later he would deal with it. For now, they could go back to the library and search for a way to free Draco's friend.
It was after dinner one night that Harry got out the Muggle Monopoly set and introduced Draco to the joys of real estate ownership. At first, Draco had sneered at the game until Harry had begun laying out the rules. In the end, they were pleasantly squabbling over who actually won because they'd made so many bargains that it had become somewhat nebulous as to who owned what.
"How about we flip a coin to decide?"
"It seems about fair to me," Harry shrugged genially. "Tails then."
"I haven't got any coins."
Harry searched the pockets inside his cloak for a Knutt and bumped up against Draco's wand. He shivered guiltily. How many times had he coerced Draco when if Draco had possessed his proper wand...? He fetched out the coin and dropped it into Draco's hand.
"My coin, so you flip it."
"Winner gets a forfeit from the loser."
Harry frowned. If he won, he'd GIVE a forfeit to Draco... the wand was burning a hole in his pocket. Draco flipped the coin and it spun in the air before landing on the table to spin some more. When it finally thumped to a stop (the coin was quite substantial), it fell with the goblin head up. Draco smiled slowly and luxuriously.
Harry eyed Draco cautiously. Why did that sound like a threat?
Draco leaned into Harry's space, eyes caught together, silver snaring green. His breath was hot on Harry's face as he whispered huskily, "My forfeit." The pause seemed to last forever and Harry speculated wildly on whether or not Draco was going to... "You QUIT BINDINGMY BOOKS!" Draco leapt to his feet. "It's so embarrassing. Why can't you just ask me to go eat or go fly or whatever like a civilized person? I'm not a child. I can make decisions for myself."
Harry leapt to his own feet. "There's so little time left and I want you to take care of yourself. Every year you come home exhausted and ill. Every year you look so... threadbare. I don't want you to ..."
"That isn't me, Harry." Draco's voice was leaden, his eyes bleak and lifeless.
"Yes it is. You are still in there. Her, you... it's the same body, the same life force and you squander it during this month as if it doesn't hurt you and it DOES! I want you well."
"You mean you want HER well."
"NO I DO NOT! I want you, Draco! I hope you stand up and decide to stay YOU, Draco... just Draco, damn you." Harry slammed the table with a hand and watched horrified as it cracked down the middle with an abruptness that silenced them both.
Draco licked his lips apprehensively and looked at the remnants of the dining room table. "I take it you feel fairly strongly about me staying me?"
"Uh... yes?" Harry smiled weakly at Draco when silver eyes looked at him finally. "I told you I prefer reality. Stay, Draco. I'll never love HER again, you know."
"Reality, right." Draco sighed and twiddled a long strand of his silver hair between his fingers. "You know, fantasy had a lot to recommend it though." He cast a long look sideways at Harry and left.
Harry sighed. Wasn't that the problem?
Harry sat next to Draco in the library and wordlessly handed him the once PortKey wand.
"I thought this was your PortKey?"
"I dismembered the spell on it." Harry frowned. Draco had known it was in Harry's pocket all along, hadn't he? Why hadn't he demanded it back before now?
"You aren't going to go home, are you?"
"Not until you do."
Draco looked dumbfounded. Harry poked him to wake him up.
"When we've finished searching this library, we can try the one at Hogwart's and if that doesn't yield an answer then we can try Flourish and Bott's and if that doesn't work, we can try searching for the answer via a spell. After all, I am an expert on building search spells now."
"You said we."
"Yep... must be an American thing you picked up."
"I did spend two years there looking for you."
"Looking for me?"
"Yep. All that searching I was doing? It was for you, Draco. I was looking for you since the day I returned home and found you missing."
"You meant what you said last night. You want me to stay me."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Was there in any way the slightest doubt about what I said? I was perfectly clear."
Draco smirked. "Perfectly clear, eh?"
Long limbs unfolded from the depths of the chair they were hiding in and advanced stealthily on Harry. Ignoring, of course, the fact that all that stealth was unnecessary because Harry's attention was utterly riveted on Draco's intent eyes and the approach was in plain view and perfectly obvious. Draco was just afraid that one wrong move on his part might send Harry fleeing from the room. What he intended to do when he reached Harry probably definitely would.
Draco leaned down into Harry and put one hand on the back of the chair behind Harry's head. The other hand gently tipped Harry's stubborn chin up while Draco brought his lips to meet Harry's. The firm kiss that met his own tentative explorations shouldn't have surprised him but it did. Harry HAD said, 'I want YOU, Draco.' Draco just hadn't heard the stark reality of that. He'd been too consumed by the bits of memory he had of HER loving Harry and Harry loving HER right back.
He whimpered underneath the onslaught of Harry's lips and tongue. The soft warmth of Harry's silky tongue slid between his lips and pried open his teeth. The slow stroke of that tongue across the roof of his mouth melted his knees and put him into Harry's lap. Draco wound himself around Harry and found Harry as much wound about his own body. Harry's hands mysteriously made their way beneath his robes to stroke the soft sleek skin of his chest. Draco gasped into Harry's kiss which only made Harry's tongue probe deeper until Draco was nearly mindless.
Harry was breathing hard and Draco could feel a burgeoning heat beneath his arse seated squarely on top of a manhood he'd dreamed of in many ways. But then, suddenly, Harry shoved him off that comforting heat onto the cold floor and stood up to brush himself off.
"I want you, Draco. But I'm damned if I'm going to spend the rest of my life wondering if you're going to be you or someone else. When you've chosen to be yourself for always, I'll be waiting for you. But I'm going home now."
Harry laid a gentle hand on top of Draco's head. "Remember, I prefer reality. I want you, Draco. For yourself."
Draco looked up at Harry in despair, "But I remember, Harry, I remember how much you loved her."
"She isn't real and I can't continue to love something that isn't real."
Draco watched Harry leave and froze slowly as he realized - Harry had only said he WANTED Draco as himself.
Draco ground his teeth and rose to his full height off the floor.
He'd be damned if he'd go begging to Harry's feet. He had too much pride for that.
"So what happened?" Hermione's fingernails drummed impatiently on the tabletop where only a couple of months ago a phantom image of the Malfoy Manor's gates had appeared. "You've been avoiding all of us since you returned and we want to help if we can."
Harry frowned at the table. He'd have to get rid of it. It reminded him too much of...
"HARRY! Yoo hoo! Are you in there?" Hermione's face was worried now. Harry looked so very... lost.
"She won't be coming back."
"Does it matter?"
Hermione slumped. "I guess not. I was hoping that, well, that everything would work out and have a happy ending after all."
"Happily ever after is for Muggle fairytales."
The cynical tone wasn't the Harry she knew and loved. Hermione's frown deepened. She had said 'I told you so' before he'd left but Harry had been so in love with the woman that while he was gone she'd been hoping that...
"Oh, Harry, I am so sorry. I feared the worst but I hoped. I hoped you'd be happy in the end." Hermione clucked, "Well, you'll just have to get involved with something else. Best thing for a broken heart is work. How about we tackle the Draco search, huh?"
Harry growled. He GROWLED at her. Hermione just stared at him in shock.
"NO! He's not coming back! He's gone and he's NOT coming back! He's... he's gone..." Harry's face fell and for the first time since forever, Hermione watched tears fall from Harry's eyes as he vainly dashed them away.
Now wasn't that interesting? Harry was more upset over Draco than... huh. A twitch settled right between Hermione's shoulderblades and started working its way down to the base of her spine with a tingle. SHE isn't coming back? He's gone and not coming back? Hmmmm. Absently she patted Harry on his back and thought desperately of the various people she could go to for help.
She had to fix this. Before they lost Harry entirely. He seemed strung out just as he had been after the battle for... Draco's life?
"Shhh, Harry, shhh. I promise this will get better. I promise."
"Hermione, if there's one thing I know... it never gets better."
Gasps floated through the room that had been spelled and respelled and warded some more for privacy.
"You can't be serious, Hermione!"
"Yes, I am. We have to locate one or the other and return whoever it is to Harry."
Ginny gaped like a goldfish, "But what if it's...I mean... well, I suppose the alternative isn't much better but... are you CERTAIN about this, Hermione?"
"Sometimes I'm wrong but I know I'm right about this."
Padma picked up her cup of tea and smiled, "Well, then... to work. They can't hide from all of us forever."
Fleur nodded and raised her own cup of tea in agreement over her rather fat belly (yet another baby in progress).
Ginny giggled suddenly. "Serves Draco right for all the pranks he pulled on us! Imagine it - he KNOWS what THAT time of the month is like now."
The room erupted in evil laughter. Draco was doomed. The Sisterhood had him in their sights. Whatever form he was in, they would find him.
Draco leaned against the bar and pushed over yet another bill for a drink. A strong hand covered his and a deep voice murmured, "Let me get that for you."
Completely skunked by the amount of alcohol he'd already consumed and ready to lose himself in yet another bout of mindless sex, Draco nodded owlishly. While he sucked down the drink his benefactor had so kindly provided, Draco let himself meld with the big blond bear of a Muggle. Who knew it would be so much easier to get laid as a gay Muggle than a gay Wizard? He should have turned Muggle long ago instead of turning himself into a minor Witch.
At the end of the song, Draco was completely into the moment and lost inside the beat of the music still. The blond behemoth tugged him along like a child's wooden pull toy behind him. Perhaps he should be more worried about his safety. This Muggle was really large. Draco sighed. If he got hurt or killed, what did it matter? He nodded to himself. Whatever happened was OK by him. Okay. How American he was getting.
The cold air outside woke him up a bit and he looked up at the stars only to realize he couldn't see them. If Harry had been here, they would've called for their brooms and flown up and up to where they could see nothing but the sky full of sparkles above the clouds. Draco humphed. Smog probably. Los Angeles was certainly misnamed. No Angels around here, just Muggles intent on sinning thoroughly. Speaking of which, what had happened to his blond giant?
Draco looked around somewhat stupidly, searching for a handsome blond Muggle of any sort. What he laid eyes on was a very pregnant blonde French Witch who was seething with anger. Backing up, he turned around to flee only to come face to face with a very English Witch experiencing her own temperamental epiphany. Draco reached for his wand only to realize it wasn't there. There hadn't been a single spot in his new outfit where he could hide such a thing. He'd left it in his rooms. After all, leather trousers practically bonded to your skin and a skin tight silvery T-shirt left pretty much nothing to the imagination. Including the nipple ring he'd gotten on a lark the LAST time he'd gotten this bombed.
"What have you been DOING to yourself, Draco!" Hermione practically shrieked the words.
Draco shrugged. Actually he didn't think he looked that bad. He had been told by a lot of men in this lovely country that he looked like some exotic rock star complete with an accent that could make a man rise from the dead.
Fleur used her wand to smack his behind and stated, "YOU, you miscreant... you enfant terrible... you are coming home weeth us! No more of theees... theees...debauchery."
Draco shook his head. No way was he going back where every Wizard, every Witch stared at him and measured him with every look and insulted him every chance they got. NO bloody way. He opened his mouth to say as much to Hermione since obviously she was the one heading up this kidnapping when he looked around, realized what he was facing and swallowed helplessly. The parking lot was full of Witches! All ages, all sizes and all terribly angry... with him. Draco put his hands in the air and surrendered.
Harry grumbled endlessly as Ron tugged on his robes trying to straighten them into some semblance of style.
"Harry, these just aren't going to do. Look at them, they've crumpled somehow or something nibbled at them while they were in storage. You're just going to have to wear Mum's gift."
Harry sighed in defeat. "Your Mum has terrible taste. Not that I don't adore her for that, but ..."
"I know." Ron grinned broadly. "Trust me. She got a friend to help her shop this year. They picked my robes out and look! Don't I look flash for once?"
Harry gave Ron the once over and nodded. Ron didn't look too bad. In fact, he looked kind of spiffy this year. His robes suited his coloring and had some flair, some style to them. When Ron plopped the box into his hands, Harry stopped arguing and went into the bathroom to change. When he came out he went to the mirror to have a look and cocked his head in consideration, "This friend of your Mum's? Is she a Slytherin by chance?"
Ron laughed. Too near the mark, that. "I dunno. Some reason that Slytherin colours suit you by chance?"
Harry grinned and punched Ron in the arm, "I am Red and Gold to the core, mate!"
"But you look so good in Black and Green!" Ginny's voice from the door was kind of chirpy. For once she seemed her normal upbeat self. Lately, her company had been so grim and determined that even Harry, even immersed as he had been in his grief, even Harry had noticed.
"Feeling more yourself, Ginny?" Harry asked as he bent to peck her politely on the cheek.
"Oh, I am. Neville and I just found out today..."
"Here, dear, wait for me!" Neville Longbottom snugged himself to his wife as she went on blithely.
Harry shook Neville's hand heartily and swung Ginny off her feet in a circle with a whoop. "Now see THAT is a reason to have a Ball not just because I have one every year."
"I know you didn't want to have one this year, Harry, but trust me... you had to."
"So all you ladies keep saying. Don't break with a tradition and all that. Keep busy. I swear I've become a favorite Witch project."
Ginny blushed profusely. Ron and Neville choked and coughed hastily.
Harry took his place to welcome his guests and firmly put Ginny and Neville at his side saying that the Ball was for them now. They blushed frequently as the guests congratulated them on their good news. Harry seemed happy for once and laughed now and then, but when no one was speaking directly to him, his eyes were on the door and bleak for all that his look was expectant.
Hermione was the last to arrive and swept Harry out of the Hall into the Ballroom to dance. As Harry crossed the circle in the centre of the ballroom he shuddered, some creepy cold feeling numbing his feet. The rest of the evening he tried to steer clear of the thing. He crept around the ballroom and spoke to his guests, a caricature of a polite Society host. He smiled genuinely at his friends but the sadness was in his very bones. When he left their sides, his friends gazed after him and wondered if tomorrow they would find him still in the country. Or would he vanish again?
The last dance was announced and the lines made up for it when the doors to the Reception Dais at the top of the stairs opened. Draco Malfoy strode in the doors and stood looking down at the assembly. Pleased murmurs came from several women and nods were traded from one Witch to another. He took a deep breath and descended the stairs. Everyone parted the way between Draco and a dumbfounded Harry.
Draco licked his lips and bowed deeply before Harry then reached out to formally request a dance with Harry's hand in his. Harry shivered beneath the intent look and nodded jerkily before stiltingly coming to rest beneath Draco's hands. The music struck up and they began to dance... and promptly stepped all over each other's toes. They came to a complete stop on the dance floor.
Draco murmured, "I shouldn't be here. This isn't going to work."
"Don't you dare LEAVE!" Harry's voice began in a shout and ended in thunder. More quietly Harry asked, "Please don't ever leave me again."
"I didn't leave you! YOU left me! Twice!"
"I didn't mean to! Damn it, Draco! I want you in my life!"
"Want..." The word dripped bitterly from Draco's lips. He turned to walk away.
Harry snarled and reached out to drag him back. He kissed Draco fervently before declaring, "I WANT you forever. Don't leave me. I won't leave you again." He pulled Draco's hand up and reached into his pocket, pulling out a ring he'd thought he'd have to throw away soon. "With this ring, I call you mine and mine alone. Will you wear it?"
"Well, that was romantic." Hermione's voice was oozing sarcasm.
Draco grinned at her before turning to Harry. "Works for me."
Harry shoved the ring onto Draco's hand whispering a spell as he did so. "It won't come off now."
"Like I said. Works for me."
Harry waved up the music and swept Draco up into the dance. Apparently, one just had to know who was leading.
The End except for...
The Epilogue -
"Harry? Next year I'm going to choose to be HER."
"I want children."
"She's not YOU. SHE isn't even real."
"Melilla says we can fix that." Draco coughed apologetically, "I chose to have HER be separate from me because I didn't think I could handle all the dreck that goes along with being a woman. Melilla says we just do like the Muggles do and um... integrate the personalities prior to the change. I'll be me and HER together. Since apparently SHE is me still just separate from... well, it's all very complicated."
"You want to go through childbirth?"
"Well, no. But I want us to have children."
"We'll adopt then."
"We'll adopt." Harry's voice was very firm. "I'm not risking an accident. What if you got stuck as HER? What if...? There are a thousand things that could go wrong. I'm not risking YOU and that's that, Draco."
"Works for me." Draco promptly melded Harry to the mattress with a scorching kiss. "We'll adopt."
Harry wasn't able to answer that as his brain was currently turning to utter mush.
In all things, one just had to be clear on who was leading. Right now it wasn't Harry.