Title: The Fortunate Fall
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: DH SPOILERS, sex, profanity, disfigurement.
Summary: Draco's sure he suffered an irreplaceable loss at the end of the war. Harry's not.
Author's Notes:Written at the request of lj user"twistedm" for a post-DH one-shot, with Harry returning Draco's wand to him in a Muggle residential neighborhood. The title refers to a Christian doctrine, felix culpa or the Fortunate Fall, stating that the Fall from Eden was a good thing because it made way for the advent of Christ. It's since been adopted as a term for a long series of miserable events with a happy ending.
The Fortunate Fall
Draco never saw the face of the wizard who hurt him. He wasn't allowed to see the face of the wizard who hurt him.
He only knew that someone had snatched him from his seat in a Diagon Alley pub, where he rested with his head on his arms, more than half-pissed and sobbing over the unfairness of the Wizengamot decision that he wouldn't be allowed to possess a wand for two years. No one could have known his plans, when his own parents didn't know, so they must have followed him. But anyone could have done that; it didn't rule any suspects out.
Then there was a Side-Along Apparition that squeezed Draco through endless heartbeats of darkness, and came as close to a Sobering Charm as anything non-magical could. He came out shivering and crying and certain that the Apparition had been just at the legal limit of distance. And then he spun on his heel and tried to run.
A heavy hand knocked him to the ground, and then his captor crouched down in front of him. Draco lifted his head, panting dryly, but saw nothing; the other man wore a cloak with a deep hood, and a bonfire flared behind him, wherever they were, throwing his face into further shadow.
His voice was unfamiliar when he whispered a few words about vengeance that Draco didn't listen to—the threats from people disappointed at a Death Eater's survival all sounded the same after a while—and incanted a spell that slashed open a burning hole in his right cheek. Draco screamed and tried to lift a hand to touch the wound, but the pain had made him light-headed.
"There," the wizard breathed, sounding much too rational for someone who had just hurt Draco that badly. "That gives you a scar you can't hide like you can that Mark. And to make sure that you don't cover it up with a glamour, even when you get your magic back—" He swung his wand down and incanted again.
Draco passed out then, from agony and fear, and woke on the doorstep of the Manor, with a house-elf hopping around him and squeaking in worry. Draco hauled himself to his feet without speaking to the creature and stumbled towards the gardens. He had to confirm before he saw his parents, he had to—
And there it was. He hung over the shallow pool between two hedges in silence and stared at his own reflection. He only had half a presentable face left. The right cheek was marred with a long, jagged black scar that crackled outwards from a gaping center in all directions, reaching towards his eye and ear. Draco shuddered and shut his eyes, already seeing, in his mind, the pitying stares he would receive if he went out in public.
And what was that last spell his enemy had cast? A Permanence Charm? Yes, to be sure that any glamour he cast on his cheek, even if he was allowed to cast one, would simply wear away in a short time and expose the scar to public view.
One thing was certain on that gray, cold morning, as Draco stood among the ashes of his ambitions and his old self:
The life he had planned, if it would even be worth anything after two years of living like a Squib, was over.
Harry drew carefully back from the snapdragons, watching them with narrowed eyes. Two of the tall crimson flowers stood still, but the third swayed slowly after him, at least until it reached the limit of its roots. Then it thrashed in indignation, coiling its leaves up and straining as if it could yank itself out of the earth and walk by sheer willpower.
Harry laughed and extended his hand until his fingers touched the outermost petals. The snapdragon stopped moving and wrapped the edges of its flowers around his palm like a nursing baby. Harry let it taste his skin for a few more minutes, then hissed at the flower in Parseltongue. The snake-shaped flowers retracted reluctantly.
And Neville told me that I wouldn't be able to breed flowers that responded like snakes in only two years. Of course, he was right about the roses and the sunflowers. I should have started with snapdragons from the beginning.
Satisfied, Harry turned and strode down the garden pathways, between the twisting, curving beds of flowers. He tended and raised them for sale and for use in experimental potions, but he also delighted in them for their own sakes. Roses, sunflowers, snapdragons, daisies, violets, kingcups, even flowers like dandelions that other people thought of as weeds…so long as they bloomed, he wanted to keep them.
He had gone through a bad period shortly after the war, when the mere thought of being around death was enough to drive him into a deep depression. That had been the reason he gave up his ambitions to become an Auror. He wouldn't have been able to kill if he had to, or, more to the point, deal with murder victims. Being in the garden, surrounding himself with life endlessly budding and blooming and flourishing, was what he liked best.
He ducked under a hanging arch of trained hollyhocks and came to the one perch he kept for owls. To his delight, Pig, whom he was taking care of while Ron and Hermione went on a Continental training trip with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had returned. He whirred excitedly in a circle around Harry's head, making Harry wish he could use Parseltongue to coax the owl to him, but at last Harry got the letter away from him.
The letter was short enough. Harry really hadn't expected anything else, given whom he'd owled.
Your offer to return my wand is much appreciated. As I assume you know since you referred to it in your letter to me, my probation ended the twenty-seventh day of May. I am now free to possess a wand.
You may bring it to me at the following address, between the hours of nine and noon tomorrow.
Harry frowned at the address that followed, and ransacked his brains for a moment. He'd come to know the neighborhood of wizarding London fairly well in the last two years, as that was where he took a good portion of the flowers sold to apothecaries, homeowners, and shopkeepers who wanted to improve the look of their plain windows. He didn't remember any street like the one Malfoy listed near the area, though.
That left Muggle London.
The mere thought of Malfoy deigning to breathe the same air as Muggles, let alone coexist with them for however long he'd been living there, made Harry shake his head. He felt like owling Malfoy's neighbors before he arrived. Yes, excuse me, have you noticed a general chill in the air whenever a certain blond bloke walks by?
And there was the question of why Malfoy hadn't wanted to meet Harry in the exact center of Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, so that as many people as possible would see him get his wand back and know he was no longer fair prey for their hexes.
But maybe Malfoy had changed—
And maybe he didn't want his enemies to know that he would have the ability to do magic again—
That's much more likely.
And anyway, it wasn't as though it would cause Harry to go much out of his way. He was also curious to see how Malfoy might have changed in the last two years, when he had all but vanished from public sight; the last rumors Harry had heard, months old now, said that Malfoy saw no one but his parents and the Auror assigned to monitor his probation.
Indulge your curiosity, then.
One thing flowers had taught Harry was honesty with himself. It was no good pretending to be stoic when a variety he was hoping for failed to meet expectations; the flower would hardly care if he only nodded or if he threw a full-fledged tantrum. He would indulge his curiosity and Malfoy's skittishness both.
And you never know, the optimism that seemed to have become part of his life since he started gardening chirped in his head. You've changed. Maybe he did, too.
Harry knocked on the door a moment after he spoke the name, though he was sure that wards and monitoring spells must have told Malfoy who was approaching. Then he remembered that Malfoy hadn't been allowed to do magic for the past two years and rolled his eyes at himself.
That, of course, was the moment Malfoy put his head around the door. He had a politely frozen expression on his face, but he stiffened at once and tossed back his head when he caught sight of Harry. "I've done something to displease you already, Potter?" he muttered.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, and took some pleasure in the way that Malfoy's mouth fell slightly open before he could help himself. "Just thinking of a stupid mistake I've made." He waved a hand. "Can I come in?" The corridor outside Malfoy's flat seemed to have been decorated by someone who assumed that gray was the height of any and all color schemes.
"Why should you need to?" Malfoy demanded, lowering his voice. "Give me the wand and be on your way."
"Your neighbors are Muggles," Harry said. "I'd like to give you the wand in private." He glanced down the corridor, certain he'd heard a door open and seen the corner of a sharp nose appear. "Besides, I find myself curious to see where you live." He looked back at Malfoy and tried to paint the most honest expression he could on his face. He wasn't afraid that he would look dishonest; he was just afraid that Malfoy would have trouble recognizing it.
"Pull the other one, Potter."
"No, really." Harry shook his head. "Look, two years with no contact should be enough to mellow some of the bitterness, shouldn't it?"
Harry pushed ahead, ignoring the storm gathering in Malfoy's eyes. "I really am just curious. Not a spy for the Ministry, not a reporter for the Daily Prophet, not someone who wants vengeance on your family and is out to get it." Malfoy's expression changed again, displaying such pain that Harry found his voice gentling, the way it did when he spoke to young seedlings straining for the light. "I promise, I won't stay long. And I'll even invite you to come to my home in return, if you'd like to."
Malfoy stared at him in silent hostility for some moments more. Harry didn't think he could make a more eloquent appeal than he had, so he stood and waited patiently for his rival's decision.
Former rival. And that was not, Harry told himself, just because Malfoy's liveliness and latent magic shone like a beacon in the midst of all this depressing gray. Two years should have cured the bitterness.
"All right," Malfoy said at last, with a distinctly ungracious tone to his voice that Harry was sure his mother would have disapproved of. He tugged the door open and stepped out of the way. "Come and laugh, then."
Harry was very far from laughing when he moved into the flat. Doubtless Malfoy had had someone else, probably one of his parents, come in and cast spells for him since he hadn't been able to. But the overall effect was one of comfort, not overwhelming luxury as Harry had seen in the interior of Malfoy Manor. The walls were a soft, dusky yellow that pressed close to the color of lamplight. Polished dark wooden furniture, every chair leg ending in a dragon's claw or a phoenix's foot—not that a Muggle would recognize the latter—occupied every corner, and cushions occupied their seats; Harry thought he could sink into the largest armchair and never come up for air again. Beyond the drawing room was a kitchen that certainly looked big enough for heavy-duty cooking, and a narrow corridor that hid any sight of what the doors down it opened onto.
"This is nice, Malfoy," Harry said, turning around. He briefly thought it strange that Malfoy had arranged himself so that only his left profile was turned towards Harry, but he reckoned it was Malfoy's right to act strangely in his own home.
"You've seen it, Potter. Give me back my wand."
Harry took the hawthorn wand out of the waistband of his jeans and tossed it underhanded to Malfoy. Malfoy caught it and held it for long moments, staring at it, moving his fingers delicately over the wood that Harry had so often felt thrumming warmly in response to him.
And his face transformed.
Harry caught his breath. Malfoy had been attractive enough before; he was willing to admit that. But it was an attractiveness soured and baked by too much heat and pain into a clay mask. Now his features weremoving again, and suddenly the potential was brought to life. It was the difference between considering the statue of a living man and seeing the model walk into a room.
Malfoy lifted the wand in a hand that trembled and intoned a quiet spell, so much beneath his breath that Harry couldn't make it out. And then he rolled his head forwards so he was staring straight on at Harry, and his lips worked up into a smirk with sharper edges than any he'd worn at school.
"My, my, Potter," he drawled. "You're staring as if my younger and much more handsome cousin just walked into the room."
Harry grinned at him, not caring that he probably looked like an idiot. This was too new for him to be worried what Malfoy thought. So far as he was concerned, at least, things were different. And that meant he would start out on a new footing, and see if he couldn't draw Malfoy along with him. "Care to introduce me?"
The other man's face went flat.
"To your younger and more handsome cousin, I meant," Harry elaborated.
He watched, entertained, as Malfoy scrambled for knowledge as to how to deal with a Potter who could banter, and then drew himself up with a haughty sniff. "It was a simile," he said. "Surely you're familiar with them?"
"Well, I'll content myself with you, then." Harry cocked his head. "Care to have dinner?"
"In Diagon Alley?" Malfoy looked rather as though Harry had announced to him that the moon was made of green cheese. Probably because of the person doing the asking, Harry thought. Surely he's not short of dinner invitations.
"Or Hogsmeade," he said. "Or even Knockturn Alley, if you want to be adventurous. I'm not particular." He smiled.
Malfoy shook his head. "You don't invite me to dinner," he said. "That's not how it's done."
"Oh, you want to be the aggressor?"
"Potter—" Malfoy drew one hand over his face. That seemed to give him the necessary balance, because when he lowered it again, his look was cold, closed, haughty. "I meant that I would never consent to spend time with you, willingly. You must have known that I only asked you here to return my wand."
"This time, yes." Harry thought "baffled" was a good look on Malfoy. "That doesn't mean it can't be dinner next time. If you don't want to go out in public, and I suppose I can understand that, I'd like to invite you to dinner at my house. I only make a few meals well, but I'm damn good at them. At everything I do, actually," he said, and winked.
What are you doing? the more cautious part of him demanded.
Having fun, Harry answered, which was the signal for the more cautious part of him to fuck off, at least since the war. He gazed at Malfoy peaceably and awaited his answer.
Draco wanted to order Potter out of his flat. He wanted to scream at him that he had a scar on his cheek, under the glamour he'd cast the moment he had his wand back, and that it would wear through the illusion in just a few hours, which meant he couldn't go out in public. He wanted to do something that would knock that intrigued, compelling expression off Potter's face and force him to realize that Draco was a victim.
Why had Draco cast the glamour, if he didn't care what Potter thought? Why did he want Potter to leave him alone?
Like it or not, this was the most attention he'd had in two years. He had moved to a Muggle flat when the constant tears in his mother's eyes and his father's cold stares grew to be too much, and he'd insisted on a vow of secrecy when he found out an Auror had to visit and question him every month. He'd been alone for two years now. Nosy Muggle neighbors didn't count.
And Potter was gazing at him with something like admiration in those green eyes.
Only because he can't see how ugly you really are, whispered the hateful voice Draco had grown used to hearing every time he glanced into a mirror or into his assigned Auror's eyes. He imagined it was his captor's voice, sometimes.
But Potter didn't know how ugly he really was. And if Draco was half the Slytherin he'd thought he could be in school, he never would. It might be fun to string the Boy-Who-Lived along for a little while.
Even if he did have hair that went every which way but the proper one, and dirt crusted under his fingernails.
"Say that I accept this invitation, Potter," he began, and stopped when Potter gave him an excited grin. God, that makes him look about thirteen years old. "What dreadful poisons would you lace the food with?"
Potter laughed, apparently mistaking his acidic tone for flirtation. Draco was doubly glad he hadn't been put in Gryffindor, if this was the quality of brainpower one got out of six years in the House. "Nothing, Malfoy! I can't promise to cook just what you want, because I only make a few things really well—"
"You said that already," Draco felt compelled to point out.
"I know." Potter was smiling anyway. Perhaps he had hit his head on the wall in despair one day over being a half-blood, Draco speculated, and forgotten how to frown as a consequence. "But I can tell you what I make, and you can choose from among them."
"Tell me." Draco had to admit he was enjoying this; it was like being back at the Manor and having one of the house-elves attending on him.
"Poached eggs," said Potter at once. "Fish and chips. Gazpacho. And certain desserts that I'm certain you wouldn't want to hear about. Just hearing about them might cause you to put on weight, and why would you want to ruin perfection?"
Draco thought that being in the same room with a flirtatious Potter was rather like being strapped to a cart in Gringotts with no goblin to control the mechanism. He coughed and managed to sound sufficiently like himself when he spoke again. Or, at least, he hoped he sounded like the suave and reserved Draco Malfoy Harry Potter had always known. "I—the gazpacho, then." He rallied when Potter just went on smiling. Hit his head on a wall, definitely. "Where did you learn to make that, in any case?"
Potter's smile shaded into reminiscence for just a moment. "A friend."
"Please do not tell me that the Weasel decided to take a cooking class." Draco shuddered theatrically. He would refuse to eat any food the Weasel had taught Potter to make on principle, no matter how good it might be.
"A different kind of friend." Potter gave him a frank once-over, ignoring Draco's stare. Then his eyes returned to Draco's face, and he smiled like a child again. "Anyway. What night would you like to come over?"
"I—tomorrow," said Draco, deciding that he might as well get it over with, and not wanting to give Potter any extra time to impress him. "At six. And I can only stay for an hour, mind." That was the shortest limit of the glamours he had found that would conceal the scar. Possibly he could remain in company three hours before the illusion would really start to tatter, but Draco was taking no chances.
Potter laughed. "I'll see you at six, then. Nice chatting with you, Malfoy." He swept a bow that left Draco unable to tell, for the life of him, whether it was mocking or not, and then trotted out the door.
Leaving Draco to wonder exactly when and how Potter had managed to persuade him into dinner, let alone dinner in a house that was probably a rathole.
But he shook his head and told himself to cheer up. He needed to get used to being around people again, now that he would be able to make short forays into public. Potter was the perfect place to start. And if news of Draco's visit to his home just happened to find its way into the Daily Prophet…
Well, that would not be Draco's fault. It would be Potter's, for not thinking of the consequences of inviting a Slytherin over.
Harry stepped back from the bowl and considered the blending of the ingredients in the gazpacho one more time, then nodded, satisfied. He wondered for a moment what would happen if Malfoy complained that it was cold, and snickered. But no, surely Malfoy was cultured enough to know how gazpacho was supposed to be served and would like it.
Unless he complains just to complain.
Harry hummed under his breath as he waved his wand and sent cutlery flying to set the table in his small dining room for two. It was always seating either two, three, or four, depending on whether Ron and Hermione felt like cooking for themselves or not, and sometimes Ginny made the fourth. She'd become a good friend since she fell madly in love with a Muggle and Harry discovered he was gay in the same week. Occasionally she brought her boyfriend with her, but he'd shown distinct uneasiness in the presence of a gay wizard—one difference at a time seemed to be all Paul could tolerate—and so he usually stayed home.
And, of course, Raphael was sometimes a guest. But he wouldn't be tonight.
It seemed that Raphael didn't know that, though, because the wards around Harry's garden had picked up his approach. The snapdragons Harry had altered to be sensitive to the sound of Parseltongue had oriented on him, in particular, and Harry could almost feel the flowers plotting to bite him if he didn't intervene. He rolled his eyes and wondered for a moment if they would like Malfoy.
Probably. Snakes have an affinity for each other, don't they?
Harry stepped out through the large, folding panels, half-windows and half-doors, that led from the dining room into the garden, and then Apparated. He landed neatly in front of Raphael on the path that wound through a maze of sunflowers towards the house. Raphael jerked to a stop at the sight of him, startled. He had never got used to the speed of Harry's magic.
"Harry," he said a moment later. While he wasn't used to Harry's magic, he never allowed himself to be startled for long, either. His eyes traveled a slow, admiring path along Harry's shoulders where they were pressed against the robe and up over his face. "Care to have company for dinner?"
"I'm expecting company, actually," Harry said. "Just not you," he added, as Raphael opened his mouth.
Raphael laughed and shrugged. "You can't blame me for trying, can you?"
Harry stared back in silence, keeping a faint smile on his face for courtesy's sake. Raphael Morgan was one of Ron's friends at the Ministry, but several years older and already out of the Auror training program. Ron had recommended him to Harry as a gay wizard who wasn't impressed by the mystique surrounding the Savior of the Wizarding World, and he had certainly been a good boyfriend, a skilled lover, and a wonderful teacher in the matter of making gazpacho. And he was handsome enough, even resembling Malfoy in some ways, though his brilliant blond hair and blue eyes had depths of color Malfoy's would never reach. But in the end, he hadn't been what Harry wanted—just a little too ambiguous, a little too impressed by celebrity in spite of himself, a little too slow to take a hint.
And here he is again, not taking the hint I gave him the other day about enjoying my solitude while Ron and Hermione are gone. Harry folded his arms and dropped the smile altogether, because Raphael was just lingering, looking at him expectantly.
"I'm hurt, Harry," Raphael said after a moment, and placed his hand over his heart with a dramatic sigh. "I might almost think you'd broken your vow to me about spending the week alone, and that you're inviting some other young wizard around to shag behind my back."
"There is no 'behind your back,' since you and I broke up," Harry pointed out. "And it's none of your affair whom I invite over and whom I don't."
Raphael blinked. Harry felt like blinking himself. He hadn't ever spoken that coldly to Raphael, since their breakup had been nearly as amicable as his and Ginny's.
But damn it, Harry was interested in Malfoy, and he wanted to be inside adding the final touches to the dinner, such as a wine that he was sure would actually impress Malfoy, not standing outside in flower-scented twilight and arguing with an old lover who couldn't believe Harry had moved on.
Now, though, Raphael studied him with narrowed eyes and a kind of cool respect on his face, as though he hadn't appreciated Harry's ability to make a point before. Harry took a step nearer, forcing Raphael to back up or come uncomfortably close.
Raphael, being his infuriating self, chose the latter option. And his eyes had started to sparkle with laughter again. Harry rolled his own. What does it say about me, that I'm attracted by smarmy blond blokes with superiority complexes?
Except that it was more than just a superiority complex Harry had seen in Malfoy's face the other day, and more than a smarmy blond he was interested in pursuing. If Malfoy was agreeable, of course. If he would stay for more than an hour, someday.
If he didn't arrive, see Harry standing with Raphael, assume he'd been invited for some kinky sex act, and Apparate back home.
"Have I ever told you how much you turn me on?" Raphael murmured, and lifted a hand to stroke Harry's cheek.
"Constantly," Harry snapped, recalling entire conversations that consisted solely of that, and cast a nonverbal spell. The arch of hollyhocks above them promptly released a shower of water from their roots, drenching Raphael thoroughly enough to make his hair lie flat on his skull and get his fine robes all wet.
Raphael took a step away with a cry of shock and fanned ineffectually at himself with both hands. Then he drew his wand and cast a drying charm—which did nothing for the stain on his robes or just how disordered his hair was, of course. Harry just raised an eyebrow at his glare, unimpressed.
"Leave, Raphael," he told him. "You don't want to see what my marigolds can do."
Raphael just shook his head and took a step backwards, an expression somewhere between a sneer and a true smile playing on his mouth. "I told you, Harry, I'd be quite ready to accommodate you if you just decided what you wanted."
"Itold you what I wanted."
"And I told you, no real gay man wants that. For fuck's sake, Potter, you're acting like a girl." Raphael rolled his eyes and Disapparated.
Harry took several deep, calming breaths. He wouldn't feel bad that Raphael had got the last word. He was firm in his position, and what he had asked for was only reasonable, not silly and not stupid, not childish and not girlish. He wanted more than sex. That was all, and yet Raphael hadn't even been willing to talk about living together.
And he had a dinner to finish.
Five minutes later, he was back in the dining room, chewing his lip and pondering whether candlelight would be too intimate.
Draco arrived at Potter's house exactly on time, not a minute before and not a stroke after six. The most powerful glamour he had been able to find in two years of study was affixed to his right cheek, and Draco had checked in his mirror to make sure it was undetectable so many times before he left that the mirror had threatened to shatter itself. He put one hand up now, by habit, as he neared Potter's gates, and then dropped it again. The spell would be fine. It wouldn't do to draw Potter's attention to that area of his face, though.
He opened Potter's gates, and then stopped, astonished.
He had never seen such gardens, such rich and flourishing life overflowing its bounds. The late sunlight stroked red flowers whose name Draco didn't know, which were already almost closed, as though anything less than perfect noon made them hug themselves shut. A chain of white flowers he didn't recognize either danced up and down and in between stands of irises. Mingled petals strove against each other for the light—or was that only the many-colored petals of a single flower?
And there, off to the side—
Potter had black roses growing in his garden.
And there was Potter himself, probably alerted by his wards, moving easily down the scalloped path towards Draco. He was far more appealing than he'd looked in Draco's flat, though Draco didn't know how that could be; even if he wore robes instead of Muggle clothing, his hair was still unkempt, his chin hadn't seen a Shaving Charm since that morning, and his eyes were too wide and too earnest behind those ridiculous glasses.
It was a matter of environment, maybe, Draco deduced quickly, to keep himself from staring when Potter took his hand and bent over it like a courtier. Potter was out of his element in Draco's drawing room. Here he was on his own ground, proud and graceful as some ancient sacrificial king of the woods in the midst of all the life around him.
And if you don't stop thinking in absurdly poetic metaphors soon, you'll embarrass yourself, Draco thought sharply, and cast a subtle Tempus Charm as he sneered at Potter. Five minutes he'd been here. Fifty-five minutes left before he would start distrusting the glamour and need to leave.
"Did you pick up those manners from the same friend who taught you to make gazpacho?" he demanded.
Potter grinned at him. "Maybe." He stepped out of the way and gestured Draco to the house. Draco shook his head. No way he was walking in front of Potter and making a spectacle of himself if they came upon something remarkable and he just happened to gape at it.
Potter only nodded amiably, as if he had been prepared to take "no" for an answer, and then turned and led Draco up the path, telling Draco the names of the flowers they passed. Draco listened with half an ear; he had just discovered that being behind Potter lent him a nice view of the man's arse.
"I breed angels here, too."
Draco snapped back to full attention. Never mind about Potter's arse, he couldn't let a statement like that go unchallenged. "You have a lot of faith in your breeding abilities, I suppose, Potter?" he drawled.
"That's just what I call them," Potter said, with a shrug. "Their full name is this incomprehensible Latin mouthful that I'd embarrass myself trying to pronounce."
"You notice when you're embarrassing yourself, now?"
Potter just laughed, a sound that did not have permission to send thrills up and down Draco's spine, thank you very much, and then stepped out of the way to reveal a tall stand of flowers to Draco.
Draco's breath caught. His first, traitorous impulse was to say that the house-elves at the Manor couldn't have done better, but of course they could have. They were working with elf magic, which was superior to wizard magic for any menial task. Everyone knew that. And everyone knew gardening was a menial task.
But the flowers in front of him…
Well, all right, he wouldn't have turned one away if it was offered to him as a gift. Let Potter be content with that, if he were foolhardy enough to ask.
The flowers were the exact lavender color that Draco often saw in sunset clouds and had never thought he would see anywhere on earth. They were open, flaring, their petals spread to the June sky above them like praying hands. Their stems were green corkscrews, bearing their uplifted hands at the end of such a long, delicate span that Draco thought the weight must beat them down and snap them, eventually. But it didn't. They hovered at the ends of those impossible stems, like angels in flight.
Potter watched him with a faint smile. Draco cleared his throat, realizing he was waiting for some compliment on or reaction to the flowers.
"Yes, very nice," he said.
"Your eyes say more than that," Potter murmured, but not in a challenging tone, more as if he understood how hard it was for Draco to speak the necessary words aloud. He cocked his head towards the house. "Shall we?"
Draco gazed at him, more appraisingly this time, and then nodded. Potter simply looked delighted, as he did with every motion Draco cared to make.
Such delight around Draco, such careless ease and grace in his own surroundings, such pride in his eyes when he gazed at the flowers.
Draco might not object to letting a Potter like this stick around for a little while. If he was very good, of course.
Harry watched out of the corner of one eye as Draco ate. He was not sure when he had started thinking of Malfoy as Draco, but he had, so he might as well continue it. If nothing else, it made sense to differentiate the man he hoped to flirt with, and maybe seduce, from the man who had attacked Harry and his friends in the Department of Mysteries.
Draco was at least proving very different from Raphael in one respect. Raphael would have made a face if he had disliked his gazpacho, or smiled and told Harry it was good immediately. Draco sipped it slowly, his eyelids fluttering shut now and again, but he seemed more overtly interested in the wine. Harry noticed, though, that he always put down the glass of wine after just a few sips, to devote more attention to the soup than he wanted Harry to see.
That was perfectly fine. They ate in silence, and it was a comfortable silence, at least for Harry. He could sip, and gaze at Draco in the light of the lamps placed about the room—he had decided not to use candles after all, fearing it would make Draco turn tail and run—and rejoice in both Draco's presence and the fact that they were in the same room without sniping.
When Draco finally did pick up the conversation, his subject wasn't one Harry had expected, but it was one he probably should have. "Is there any particular reason why you didn't become an Auror, Potter?" he demanded, in between one flourish of his wineglass and another. His gray eyes glinted at Harry across the rim of the glass, as if he thought Harry would scramble after an answer to the question.
"Of course," Harry said, glancing at him sidelong. "Too many people I loved died during the war. I decided that was enough death for me. I didn't want to hunt anyone anymore, even Dark wizards." He closed his eyes so that he could more fully enjoy the taste of the tomato in the soup. Even gazing at Draco couldn't make that particular experience better for him.
Of course, it would help if I knew what Draco tasted like.
Harry drowned such thoughts with a little more soup.
"That's rather a sentimental reason," Draco said.
Harry shrugged. He had heard the same thing from Ron, and, far more endlessly, from Raphael. "It's my reason."
"That's another thing I wanted to ask." Draco set down his wineglass hard enough to make it ring. "When did you become so—" He paused, evidently casting about for a word.
"Handsome?" Harry offered helpfully.
"Calm," Draco said, with a freezing glare to show that he did not appreciate Harry's flirting, which made Harry leer at him. Draco glanced aside, a faint flush creeping over his cheeks. "Mellow. You're acting as though the war never happened, even though you say that you couldn't become an Auror because of it. So. What's the answer? Why the contradiction?"
"The answer's simple enough," Harry said calmly, and ate a few more spoonfuls of gazpacho, which made Draco tap his fingers impatiently on the tablecloth. "And no, it's not a contradiction. Gardening suits me. Bringing things to life suits me. That's helped me forget a lot of the trauma from the war. Not everything." He still woke up screaming from nightmares regularly enough, which Raphael had always complained about. "But enough that I'm happy from day to day, instead of mourning. Becoming an Auror would simply have depressed me."
"I'm surprised that you haven't settled down to raise little Potters, if you enjoy bringing things to life so much," Draco muttered.
"Rather hard to do that without a willing woman, and most willing women would prefer that their husbands weren't dating blokes on the side," Harry said. "And I don't care what Hermione says about experimental potions that will be properly advanced sometime within the next century or so, I don't think I could bring myself to get pregnant or ask my lovers, who should always be very male, to get pregnant."
Draco stared at him. "You're bent?"
Harry laughed outright. He would have been afraid that Draco had somehow mistaken the signals, but no, he couldn't be that dense. "Of course I am! Unless you think that I just like gazing soulfully across the dinner table at handsome wizards, and then I go off and fuck a witch."
Draco choked, but Harry wasn't sure if it was at his honesty or at his use of the word "fuck." After a long, delicate pause, he said, "I try not to assume about people. You could have been bisexual, for all I knew."
"If you're worried about that, please be assured that I am one hundred percent an arse man." Harry leaned across the table. Maybe it was just Raphael's earlier appearance, but he found himself rapidly tiring of ambiguity. Flirting was one thing; finding out that he might have flirted with a completely uninterested target was something else altogether. "And what about you, Draco?"
Oh, yes, that got him. One other useful thing Harry had learned from Raphael was that he had a sexy voice when he lowered it. Draco's sudden flush and slightly parted lips said his attention had been caught.
"I didn't give you permission to use my first name," he said, when he spoke again.
"Draco, Draco, Draco," Harry said, teasingly the first time, but with greater and huskier emphasis the other two. Draco's eyes darted to Harry's lips, and then away, as if he couldn't quite decide where to rest them.
In the silence, Harry heard a soft chime, the kind that might come from setting a Tempus Charm to go off a certain hour.
Draco's face turned completely white, and he rose to his feet. Harry rose after him, concerned. "You don't want to stay for dessert?" He tried to sound hurt. In truth, he was less worried about losing Draco's company than he was about the sudden cause of Draco's pallor.
Draco gave him a sickly smile. "It's all right," he said. "Just something I have to do. I did say that I would leave at seven on the hour, didn't I? That was my charm reminding me not to spend much time in your uncivilized company." He turned hastily for the door, one hand hovering near his face as if to cover his cheek, but he did turn back long enough to add, "Thank you for the lovely meal."
Harry narrowed his eyes. He was thinking of the odd way that Draco had stood when he first visited his flat, with his head turned in profile so that Harry couldn't see his cheek. "Is something wrong with your face?"
"Nothing!" Draco spat the word, and pain and panic were flashing through his eyes. Harry took a step backwards. "Don't—just don't ask about that, all right? I'll go on another date with you, but don't ask about that."
"You don't need to go on another date with me," Harry murmured. "I don't do blackmail. You have a right to your secrets."
Draco closed his eyes tightly, and Harry had the oddest feeling he was fighting tears. Wonder stirred through him. Had Draco really had so few people in his life who would offer to respect his privacy?
"Thank you," he said in a tiny voice, and then ran through the folding windows. Harry heard him Disapparate a moment later.
Well, that was certainly strange.
But only one thought was on Harry's mind as he turned to gather up the dinner dishes and fetch the flan to eat by himself. He wanted to do this again.
The smell slowly traveled into Draco's dreams, stirring him from uneasy contemplations of the night before. He had arrived back at his flat just in time. When he glanced in the mirror, he could already see the glamour tattering over the scar, as the Permanence Charm his attacker had put on the wound came through. He had stood there with his fingertips tracing the circumference of the hole, bitterly wondering if Potter would be quite so enthusiastic about him if he knew what Draco's face really looked like.
And then he had fallen asleep and dreamed about his own ugliness and loneliness.
What good was it to be able to do magic again, if it couldn't bring him the respect and the ability to go out into public that he desired so much?
But now there was this smell.
Draco opened his eyes slowly and rolled over. A quick glance around his bedroom revealed that nothing in here smelled like that. In the end, he rose, secured his pyjamas around himself and cast a quick glamour over his cheek, and then padded out into the drawing room.
Nothing there, either, but the scent was stronger. Draco, his fingers shaking for no good reason, opened the front door of the flat.
Sitting on his threshold was a vase of the angel flowers that Potter had shown him last night, bobbing brilliantly on their impossible stems, smelling like ripe oranges. Their petals were open, stubbornly, as though they only needed dawn to call them to their fullest extent, and a card nodded in the middle of one of them, lightened by a charm. Draco plucked it out, waited a moment for his hands to calm their stupid shaking, and opened it.
Draco, I wanted to share these flowers with you, since I knew that you admired them. And I have to admit, they remind me of you now, with everything—including gravity!—against them, and yet determined to stand up to the world.
Dinner in Diagon Alley tonight?
Draco closed his eyes and swallowed. Then he heard his neighbor open her door, and scooped up the vase hastily, retreating into his flat with it. He wouldn't share the sight of his flowers with her.
Besides, there was the chance that she might see his scar.
He stood just inside the door for a long moment, breathing in the angels' scent, and then sat down to owl Potter. Dinner in Diagon Alley was not an option, not when their meal might take an unknown length of time to arrive and his glamour could fade, but the least he could do was return the invitation.
A squirming warmth in the center of his belly announced that it was more than that, that he was looking forwards to seeing Potter again.
Ridiculous,Draco thought firmly. I'm just returning a favor, that's all.
That Potter looked good was fortunate for him, as he would never get dates otherwise, but it had nothing to do with why Draco was doing this.
"Going out again, Harry?"
Since Raphael had appeared suddenly behind him as he got ready to transport several large loads of flowers on floating wooden carts to Diagon Alley, Harry didn't spare the time to hit or hex him. He just rolled his eyes and Apparated, after making sure that all the carts were attached to him with lengths of rope.
He appeared, with all the carts and Raphael still beside him, in an alley off Diagon often used as an Apparition point. He wasn't surprised. Raphael had stayed around long enough to know his most common destination.
"There was something you wanted?" Harry set a brisk pace. It looked like rain, with the sky frowning over the shops, and there were several flowers that needed as much sun as possible but also needed to be protected from the heavier raindrops. Harry had never yet mastered the spell that would pull a cover over them the moment the rain began to fall, so he had to do it by hand.
"Always." Raphael reached out and tried to wrap his arms around Harry's waist. His breath was hot and hungry in Harry's ear.
Harry drove his foot backwards, connecting with Raphael's knee. The move was one Raphael had taught him, which meant he could mostly twist out of the way to accept the blow, but it made him curse and let go of Harry.
"I see that you still haven't advanced in your courses on the meaning of 'no,'" Harry murmured, and ducked through the door of Paley's Poisonous Potions. The name was a simple advertising mechanism, of course; the Ministry would never have allowed Paley to sell true Dark potions here. "Afternoon, Joseph."
Joseph Paley looked up with a faint smile. He was an older wizard whom some accident had deprived of both his eyes; he had magical replacements, which didn't whiz around his head but still reminded Harry painfully of Mad-Eye. "Harry! Good to see you. I said to myself, 'Just where am I going to get more pollen for that Deafness Potion I need to brew this afternoon?' and lo and behold, you appear."
"The usual?" Harry asked, turning to one of the carts that floated off his left hand. He could feel Raphael leaning against the doorway of the shop, watching him, but he knew the Auror wouldn't come further inside. He disdained Paley's as too common for him. Or maybe he was just afraid of tripping over something; the shop was, admittedly, dim, and Raphael had never had the best eyesight.
"Two dozen roses, yes indeed," said Paley, and chuckled under his breath as he took the cart from Harry. He always paid scrupulously, Harry thought, amused, and yet he had to laugh like this, as if he had got one over on the Savior of the Wizarding World.
Harry held his hand out for the Galleons, nodding as they dropped into his palm. His parents had left him a small fortune—not enough to live on forever. Keeping the garden took up a worrying amount of funds, sometimes, but selling what he produced made up for it.
Especially since I live alone most of the time and don't spend loads on my own entertainment.
Idly, Harry wondered what Malfoy—or Draco, though it felt less natural to call him that when he was out of the git's presence—did for fun. The stiff invitation he'd received to dinner that night didn't promise much. And then there was his apparent paranoia about going out in public. Harry would sound him out tonight, though, and perhaps discover that Malfoy retained his schoolboy fondness for Quidditch or enjoyed the theater.
"I don't understand why you degrade yourself like this," Raphael murmured, falling into step beside Harry as he ducked back into the sunlight.
Harry sighed openly. That had been another reason he and Raphael were no longer lovers; Raphael might not have a lot of awe for the Savior of the Wizarding World, but he thought the job of gardener infinitely too humble for Harry. Harry sometimes wished he could simply tell him to fuck off, but Raphael was Ron's friend, too, and Harry enjoyed his company when he wasn't being a prat.
"You never did understand a lot about me," he said, and had the satisfaction of seeing Raphael's mouth tighten in irritation.
As he swung into the next shop along his route, he wondered what Malfoy looked like when he was irritated. Harry had seen more anger than irritation, he thought.
And what he looks like when he's tired, and satiated, and frustrated, and happy…
Youdo have it bad.
Harry shrugged. He didn't consider having a passion for Malfoy a problem, not since he had gained the clarity of mind and strength of will necessary to go after what he wanted.
Draco was nervously conscious of the finery of his dress robes as he stood aside so Potter could enter his flat. He had spent at least three hours this afternoon arguing with himself as to whether he needed to dress up. Potter seemed perfectly happy to parade around in scruffy Muggle clothes. He probably wouldn't know good taste if it shat on his head. And since when did Draco want to look good for Potter?
Since he's the only person in a hundred-mile radius who looks happy to see you?
Draco shook his head. In the end, he'd chosen the frost-blue dress robes with silver filigree around the collar and the sleeves and hoped for the best. He steeled himself as Potter turned around to survey him by the light of the lamps.
The scar on his cheek itched under the glamour. Draco forbore from scratching it.
Potter's eyes turned so warm that Draco could feel his face yearning to follow them with a blush. "You do look wonderful," Potter said, and strode over to clasp Draco's hand and play with the edge of his sleeve in the same movement. His smile was sly, at least as much for Draco's face—
The face he thinks is perfect.
--As the robes. Draco told himself he didn't care, and since when had any interaction with Potter ever been on a fair footing? He raised an eyebrow and scanned Potter's own Muggle clothing. A clean white shirt and jeans, and that was all that could be said for them. Though, after the work he'd seen Potter do in the garden, maybe that was miracle enough in and of itself.
He said as much, and because of it, he got to hear Harry Potter laugh.
Don't prompt that again, Draco thought, as the shout of unrestrained merriment went straight to his belly, and the squirm of warmth he'd felt that morning was joined by a sharp coil of interest. You're already playing a dangerous game. Flirting is fine, dinner is pleasant, but no farther than that. You know why. The last thing you ever want to see is Potter looking at you with pity in his eyes.
Though, watching the way he took a jest against himself, Draco was tempted to say that Potter might actually understand him, or only feel sympathy, compassion—
No. That's the first step on the road to making yourself vulnerable.
He shifted the position of his hand so that he held Potter's arm, and inclined his head towards the kitchen. The house-elf he'd borrowed from his parents promptly appeared and bowed low. "Shall we dine?"
Harry sighed and pushed his plate away from him. He'd had enough duck in orange sauce and hot rice and steamed vegetables to last him for six more meals, though of course Draco murmured and urged more on him.
The meal had been delicious, the equal of any he'd ever eaten at Hogwarts, but what made it special was Draco. Less self-conscious in his own home than he'd been in Harry's, he had sharp words for Harry's table manners, Daily Prophet reporters, the latest piece of Ministry scandal—something about Shacklebolt's niece marrying a Muggle and bringing him around for a tour without properly warning him—the deplorable lack of proper cooking in households without elves, flowers, the weather, Harry's clothes, Harry's daily routine, and Quidditch.
It'll be the way I play Quidditch next, Harry thought.
And sure enough, Draco, lounging back in a chair as if he had almost forgotten his fine robes—though of course they never wrinkled—looked at him thoughtfully and murmured, "Think you could still catch a Snitch? Or will those thick gardener's calluses of yours prevent it?"
"I could catch one right now," Harry said, even as he lazily rubbed his full belly.
"Liar." Draco snorted at him.
"Not a liar," Harry countered. "Do you have one?"
Spots of color took over Draco's cheeks, and he set his wineglass down a little harder than strictly necessary. "We couldn't play Quidditch here, Potter. This is a Muggle residential area, in case you haven't noticed."
"I have noticed," Harry said, and stretched his arms over his head. He was content, far from thoughts of the war, which lately was all he needed to stimulate his courage. He cocked his head at Draco. "Care to tell me why?"
Draco's pause as he picked up his glass again was barely perceptible, but Harry saw his wrist tremble. He waited, trying not to make it obvious, in the meanwhile, how keenly he was trying to picture Draco's skin under the robes and deduce his taste from his scent.
"Tell you why what?" Draco asked, trying for an aristocratic sneer.
And failing, Harry thought. He leaned forwards. "Tell me why you're living here instead of the Manor. I saw how much your parents loved you in the final battle at Hogwarts. They would never have turned you away. So it must have been your own choice that led you here—"
"Never." Draco slammed a hand sharply on the edge of the table the house-elf had put between them and stood up, turning away in a swirl of robes.
Harry sighed, sad to ruin the mood that had settled between them, but badly needing to know the answer. He watched Draco's pacing without attempting to interfere for a few moments, then said, "Does it have anything to do with the Tempus Charms you keep casting?"
Draco froze between one stride and the next. He tried to bring his foot down calmly in the next moment, tried to show that he was unshaken, but the shock had been obvious, even for an unobservant cretin like Potter.
I thought I had done those subtly.
Draco suffered a moment's wild yearning to tell Potter the truth. Would it be so bad? Potter had a healthy distrust of the Daily Prophet and would hardly sell the story to them. He wasn't in contact with any of Draco's old school chums, either.
That you know of.He hadn't known that Potter knew how to make passable gazpacho or would be content to retire to a life of raising flowers, either.Anything could have happened in the past two years. Even if Potter didn't have a coterie of Slytherins hanging on his every word, he could still know someone whom he wouldn't be able to resist telling the story to, and who would relish the tale in turn by spreading it to everyone who "should" know. Draco lived in dread of the glamour failing in front of someone else. How much more horrible would it be to face widespread laughter?
Soft footsteps sounded behind him. Draco closed his eyes when a warm hand came to rest in the middle of his back. It should be illegal, or at least impossible by the laws of nature, for one single hand to be so warm.
"You still don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Potter murmured to him. "It won't make any difference in the amount of interest I have in you—"
Oh, how little you know, Draco thought bitterly, remembering the way Potter's eyes had rested in fascination on his falsely smooth, perfect face.
"Or how much I enjoy your company. But I hate to see you looking as if someone's about to chase you out of your own home at any minute. And I remember how confident you were in the wizarding world, how much at home there.That's where you belong." Potter's voice dropped and turned softer, to the point that Draco found himself straining to hear. "I think you look good in this flat, with your own choice of furniture surrounding you, but the thought of you in the Manor, or a flat where you could openly have moving portraits on the walls and use your wand to your heart's content…I can't even imagine what you'd look like then."
And I want to see it, were the unspoken words.
Draco swallowed several times. His hand rose to rub his cheek; he stiffened just in time and dropped it. No matter how much of a habit it might be for him to touch his scar in private, like some animal licking its wounds, he wouldn't do it in front of Potter.
But he was considering telling him.
Are you mad are you mad are you mad? his mind chattered. This is the one person in the wizarding world who could get attention from the Prophet for the way he walks, and you'd trust him with this secret?
But Draco wanted to trust someone. And God, he was so lonely, and Potter spoke so sincerely, and this was the first human contact he'd had in two years that wasn't full of awkward stares and cold, icy mutters…
And maybe he did want to know what would happen when Potter learned the truth. Better to suffer some pain now and be done with it, after two days' acquaintance, than clutch after scraps of real affection for months and lose them when Potter recoiled in horror. Draco knew how to spare himself pain.
With a quick flick of his wand, he ended the glamour on his scar and turned around.
Harry had expected something like this. When he concentrated, he could sense magic, and he had sensed the slight flicker of a glamour around Draco. He had assumed it was to make the dress robes sparkle more, though, and why should he be angry at Draco about that? He'd put up with far worse vanity from Raphael.
But then he'd seen the constant times that Draco almost touched his cheek, and his mind had leaped to the fact that his own scar wore through any glamour he tried to put on it, and he had wondered…
Now he didn't have to wonder.
He gravely examined the pitted, black scar on Draco's cheek, bearing down to a central hole that went nearly deep enough to show teeth, and writhing out from there in a shape like a starfish with extending arms. One arm extended towards Draco's right eye; two more reached for his chin. The rest sidled towards his ear. With one fingertip, Harry traced them, and found that they continued the scar onto his scalp.
Someone had burned a hole in Draco's face and then used a Permanence Charm to be sure he couldn't hide it for long. Which, given that he hadn't been able to use magic for two years, meant he couldn't hide it at all.
Anger flared inside Harry like a kindled star, but he made sure not to show it. Given the half-panicked rasp of Draco's breathing, any negative emotion right now would be interpreted as a rejection of him.
Harry let his fingers roam back over the scar—which was rough and uneven, and probably not sensitive—and looked into Draco's eyes.
Even Ron might have felt pity for him if he could see him now. There was terror there, and dread, and a fear of rejection so keen that Harry wanted to embrace him simply to take it away. But no, he couldn't rush this. He had to show Draco the absolute truth, not anything that could be misinterpreted, and give Draco no option to talk himself out of trusting Harry.
He kept his expression gentle, serious, solemn, not smiling and not looking away. He held the silence until Draco was shifting nervously from foot to foot.
Then he leaned in and kissed Draco gently on the mouth.
Draco was drowning.
There was no pity in Potter's eyes. There was no pity. There was gentleness and regret and tenderness for his fear, and there was something Draco would have called lust except that it seemed too soft for that. Desire, maybe. But the important thing was that there was no pity.
Draco had looked into the eyes of someone who knew, someone who wasn't his parents or his Ministry caseworker, and survived.
He put a hand on Potter's shoulder and was humiliated to see it was shaking. He opened his mouth to gasp out something—warning, denial, accusation, who could say?—and Potter took the chance to slide his tongue gently inside.
The sensation undid him. He hadn't had someone who cared to do this in more than two years. And, educational as wanking and certain books Draco had ordered from Flourish and Blotts were, they couldn't compare to the sensation of someone else kissing you slowly and thoroughly, pausing now and then as if he had discovered some new treasure, lingering in other places that provoked moans.
Draco shook for another reason now. He swallowed, and it still didn't help. He let his tongue twine with Potter's, the only cure he hadn't tried yet.
That increased the tremors.
He wrapped his arms around Potter's shoulders with a low groan of capitulation. Fine. That was it. Potter wanted to win? He'd won. Draco had learned to count on spite, triumph, contempt, and that insufferable hero complex which had led Potter to save lives just so he could say he'd saved lives. But understanding this powerful, this real, this deep, had never been an expectation, and if Potter struck now, he would crumble Draco completely.
It was odd how terrifying that wasn't, and how the sensation of how vulnerable he was, coupled with the knowledge that Potter would never betray that vulnerability, increased the warmth.
Potter pulled away from him and urged a hand behind Draco's head, lifting it until their eyes met. Draco swallowed a whine. He hadn't wanted to stop kissing, hadn't wanted to stop until he had Potter naked. Under or above him could come later, but naked was a good first step.
"I can understand why you're here," Potter said quietly, firmly. "And maybe that's what you needed as long as you didn't have your wand. But now that you do—will you consider joining the wizarding world again? Or walking around in public with me? Without the glamour?" His hand brushed across the scar, causing odd bursts of sensation in Draco's face as it traveled over skin that could feel it and then onto skin that couldn't.
"I—can't," Draco said. He fought the temptation to look away from Potter and bury his face in the other man's shoulder. Those steady green eyes demanded almost too much from him, but that Potter thought he could bear the demand made Draco want to bear it. "The way people wouldstare…"
He trailed off, wondering if he could explain. He was Draco Malfoy. He always needed to be Draco Malfoy. Seclusion was preferable to suffering any change in the way people thought of him.
Potter cocked his head and gave him another deep look. Draco wondered what he was thinking.
So he's not ready yet. But "not yet" is the key phrase. I want him willing and able to face the world, to show that his worth isn't tied up in the way he looks. If he's not ready yet, I won't push him. But I'll try to get him there.
"All right," Harry whispered. "I understand that."
Draco hauled his face up and kissed him again.
That surprised Harry. He had meant to continue on with his reassurances, to let Draco know that at least one person in the world who wasn't related to him by blood gave a damn what happened to him, and then to give him one more gentle kiss and take his leave. Surely what they had done was enough for tonight. Draco needed time to rest, to reflect and come to terms with it all. And Harry was in no hurry.
But from the way Draco insistently slid his hands into Harry's hair and down his back, and moved against Harry's limp arms in a signal for him to do the same, "resting and reflecting" were gifts for other people. Harry returned the kiss with interest, and shuddered when his fingers curled into sharply defined muscles beneath the robes. Draco didn't feel as thin as he had feared. "Athletically slender," Raphael might call it.
Harry threw all thoughts of Raphael from his mind and drew back to gasp, "You're sure?"
"It's been two years," said Draco, as if Harry might have missed the fact, and hauled at him again, this time nearly sending them both over backwards.
Harry was busy imagining what it would have been like for him if he hadn't been touched in two years, but he still managed to catch them with a splayed hand on the wall behind Draco's head. He held him there while he continued the kiss. Draco's clutching hands began to tremble again, and he started a low, delicious moaning in the back of his throat that sounded half-involuntary. He probably didn't want to show so much of his helplessness in front of someone who had been an enemy, Harry thought, but he had no choice.
Harry felt a sudden, intense joy take him over as he backed away from Draco a bit—keeping in contact with hands on his hips so that Draco wouldn't panic and think he was going anywhere—and dropped to his knees. He had never made anyone react like this. Ginny was always a bit wistful when they were done, and Harry had known why when she fell in love with Paul; they just weren't sexually compatible. Raphael had retained his distance even in the midst of sex, because that was what he considered manly. Letting Harry know just how much he was affected would have given him serious doubts about his masculinity.
But Draco trusted him. Completely, Harry thought, or so completely as made no difference.
And that made his breath catch and his head whirl and his resolve to be a good recipient of that trust harden like the erection he was currently facing as he folded Draco's dress robes back. Harry was giving Draco something he had probably never got from anyone else, but in the doing, Harry himself had a gift beyond price.
He lifted his head to see Draco staring at him, gray eyes so wide that it seemed as if he would faint in a moment. Harry smiled at him and splayed one hand over Draco's groin. "Second thoughts?" he whispered.
Draco's head twitched. "I just never—it's surreal to see the Boy-Who-Lived on his knees," he whispered hoarsely.
"So long as it's only that," Harry said agreeably, and then moved his head forwards.
"And you better not get any spots on my dress robes, Potter," Draco said, in the moment before Harry took his cock in his mouth.
Harry laughed, but made sure to keep his lips wrapped around his teeth. One thing he agreed with Raphael on; there was no excuse good enough for forgetting that. And the last thing Draco needed right now was a painful nip to diminish his confidence or make him think that Harry was anything less than a careful, gentle lover. Harry wanted him tovalue this, after all, and come back for more.
Harry had paid attention when Raphael taught him how to suck cock, and it was something he genuinely enjoyed doing. If nothing else, it exercised all the parts of his body. His tongue flexed and darted around Draco's erection in constant new patterns, while his brain was occupied in cataloguing the sounds he elicited by doing that and marking the spots that won particularly praiseworthy notes. His hands smoothed up and down Draco's body beneath the cloth, now bracing his hips against the wall, now finding and rolling Draco's balls. His knees ached from the cramped posture, but that was all right; Harry knew just how one should kneel when doing this so as not to get gagged by involuntary thrusts, and his knees didn't have much to do when he played Quidditch or gardened, either.
Draco moaned and sighed and rattled on with a long, breathy exhalation that sounded almost as if his teeth were chattering when Harry touched his tongue to the spot just beneath the head of his erection. His skin was so warm that Harry might have worried he had a fever if he didn't know better. His scent was intense; he had perspired out of fear recently, of course, and that increased the musk rising from his crotch. Wiry hair scraped Harry's cheeks, making him wonder if the hair on Draco's head would be as rough.
Almost too soon for him, though his jaw was getting sore, Draco said, "Coming!" in a half-sob, half-shout. Harry adjusted his hold on Draco's hips with his right hand and moved just a bit further away.
He slipped his left hand into his own jeans, wanking with several quick flicks of his wrist. He only had a few moments more of sharp scent and rough jerks to absorb before Draco's orgasm struck and he had to concentrate on swallowing, but what moments those were! And his own pleasure hit him the harder for the awkward position his body was in, the tight spirals tracing into his belly like fireworks and then exploding in showers of sparks.
Draco came down slowly, his body so limp that Harry adjusted his hold again so the other man wouldn't fall over. He looked up at him and licked his lips, then nodded at Draco's spotlessly clean dress robes—well, at least they were free of semen, anyway. There did seem to be some sweat stains on the pale blue cloth.
"Your wish is my command," he said.
None of his fantasies had ever included kneeling at Draco Malfoy's feet and grinning up at him like a fool while his own come cooled in his trousers, but then again, his fantasies hadn't included a lot of things.
Draco had never felt like—that.
Oh, he'd had orgasms before, of course. Sometimes it seemed as though the most productive activity he'd performed in the last two years was wanking. At least it didn't hurt anyone else and soothed his loneliness for a bit.
And he'd had orgasms in company, or he would have been even more worried about what might happen next when Potter knelt.
But he'd never experienced the feeling that his lover was just as happy to give him pleasure as to take it, and he'd never seen anything like the shining grin Potter directed at him now.
I suppose that I must call him "Harry." It would be the expected thing to do.
Not even his own mental sneering could diminish his wonder, though. Draco reached out and touched Harry's cheek quickly, so that there was less chance of the tremors in his fingers being noticed.
"I should—" he began.
"Already taken care of." Harry withdrew a wet hand from his jeans to prove it, but wiped it off on the floor at Draco's warning growl. He rose and leaned in for another kiss, much too light and short for Draco's mood, then wrapped an arm around him. "Come on, let's go to bed."
Draco opened his mouth to protest that he wasn't tired, but a yawn ambushed him, and from there called on its fellow yawns, and by the end of a few minutes his head was falling on Harry's shoulder and he was mumbling sleepily that lethargy normally never took him like that, but he'd been up late the night before, and did Harry mind staying near enough to—
"I'll stay," Harry whispered. Draco felt smooth cloth slide around him as Harry placed him on his bed and began to undo his robes.
And then the darkness came and brushed smoothly around him instead. He was certain he fell asleep with a sated smile on his face.
For the first time in two years, worry about the way he looked didn't pursue him into the darkness.
Harry braced himself on one elbow, gazing down at Draco. Draco had let himself be rolled to the center of the bed, talking softly and happily under his breath all the while, little half-baked nonsense fragments of words. He hadn't even awakened when Harry had to move his legs to pull off his socks. Harry had left his pants and the shirt he wore under the robes on, because he wasn't sure how comfortable Draco would be naked. Maybe he would wake, as Harry thought he might, and try to smother himself with the pillow in sheer embarrassment.
But Harry would rescue him, and show him that morning blowjobs in bed could be just as good as evening blowjobs up against the wall. He would talk Draco gently past the attempts to deny what had happened, if there were any. He would coax Draco to come to the garden with him tomorrow, and to do it without wearing a glamour.
He thought he could trust his instincts to guide him with Draco. He had tossed off while he was sucking Draco because he had known that having to give something back might cause Draco awkwardness and make him feel too obliged.
He'll be obliged in the end, if I have anything to say about it.
Raphael's mocking voice was in his head in an instant, telling Harry that if he wanted commitment, he should date a witch, because no real man would want any part of the hearts-and-flowers soppy nonsense that Harry seemed so fascinated by. Harry rolled his eyes and cast a cleaning charm on himself, then removed his shirt and took Draco in his arms.
He would take as long as Draco needed, persuading and sheltering and pulling gently on him when he hesitated. In the end, though, he fully intended for Draco to take his place beside him as an equal partner, and someone not at all ashamed of his appearance, even if nothing could be done to remove the scar.
And there probably can't be, Harry acknowledged to himself. He was forbidden a wand, but he wasn't forbidden books. I'm sure that he looked for a cure every other moment of the past two years. If he didn't find one, there isn't one.
So Harry would show Draco that neither his vanity nor his pride needed to take such a dent, and there were more than enough wizards in Britain willing to share everything they had with him.
Why? This time, the voice in his head wore Ron's disapproving face. He had taken it badly when Harry and Raphael broke up; he had been so sure they were perfect for each other, and he hadn't understood when Harry explained that Raphael wasn't what he was looking for. If my friend, an esteemed Auror, and someone who's never made fun of you in school like Malfoy did, isn't good enough, why is Malfoy good enough?
Harry shrugged and buried his face in Draco's shoulder. He had wasted enough breath defending his own choices to his friends and to former lovers. He wanted to save it to answer Draco's questions, which were surely more important.
Just before he drifted off, he noted that the hair on Draco's head was definitely softer than the hair around his cock.
"The angels?" Harry tilted his head over his shoulder in a maneuver that made Draco shudder. He was already standing on a rickety ladder—for some reason, he didn't think a Levitating Charm was good enough—that leaned against nothing more than a pitiful slat of fence, trimming a climbing rose threatening to overgrow an arch supporting several other flowers. Draco had volunteered to hold the bottom of the ladder.
Harry had blinked at him and asked, "Why would you need to do that?"
Draco had stood with his hands folded behind his back since then, making sure not to move; even a slight vibration in the earth could send Harry tumbling to his death. Harry, of course, blithely hacked away at the stubborn vines and thorns and leaves of the rose and whistled under his breath.
Except when he turned around almost completely on the ladder's rungs to ask a question that wasn't really all that relevant. Like now.
"Oh, I didn't breed them. I told you, their name is some incomprehensible Latin thing. Scholars discovered those flowers, not me." Harry gave the smile that Draco would have found irritatingly full of false modesty when they were in school, but which simply seemed justified now. If anything, Draco thought, admiring the way the dark hair curled around the flushed cheeks, Harry was undervaluing his own accomplishments. "But I'm the first gardener who managed to convince them to grow this far north."
He caught the edge of Draco's nervous gaze and hopped up and down on the rungs of the ladder, laughing. "It's sturdy, I promise!" he exclaimed, whilst Draco held his breath, certain a loud crack was about to follow the bouncing any moment. "And anyway, even if I fell off, I'm certain you'd catch me." He winked at Draco and once more turned back to the climbing rose.
Draco swallowed. Each time he started to grow uncertain about his sudden whirlwind romance with Harry or wonder what the hell he was doing here, Harry would say something like that, sweet and full of trust.
And more than trust.Faith. He thought Draco was good for something besides brooding uselessly in a Muggle flat or trying to take his social place in a wizarding world that had moved on without him since the war. And he expressed it so casually, as if he couldn't understand why Draco found it remarkable that someone would have any faith in him at all.
It was all so new, and fresh, and extravagant, and dazzling. And it made Draco's head hurt, just a little.
Harry had done the impossible. He had persuaded Draco to come to the garden not wearing a glamour. He had promised Draco that his friends wouldn't intrude, since they were on the Continent for a month, and his customers never came here. Besides, there were wards to warn him if someone did approach the garden.
Draco had forgotten how it felt to stand openly in public without protection of some kind. When he'd had to go anywhere in the Muggle neighborhood he'd chosen as his own, he'd smeared thick concealing cream over the scar, and he'd still attracted stares that made him writhe in internal agony every moment. He knew someone would turn around in an instant, point at him, and shout out, "Look at the freak, everyone!"
He'd once wanted to be noticed, and flaunted himself at Hogwarts for that purpose. Now he scurried about, paid for his purchases or completed the necessary errands as quickly as he could, and then rushed back under shelter.
Or he had.
He had his magic back. He could venture into wizarding areas again, and he could do it fairly secure in at least the first hour of his glamour.
But Harry had argued that it would be a good idea for Draco to come to the garden unshielded. Draco could only assume that Harry must have sucked a good deal of his brains out of his cock along with his come this morning, because he couldn't remember why he had agreed to this.
Something about feeling fresh, cool air against the scar.
The air in my flat is cool enough, thank you.
Draco wondered idly what would happen if Harry fell from the ladder and broke his neck. Someone would probably blame Draco for the accident, of course, and call it murder. He'd have his wand taken away again after less than two full days of possessing it, and he'd go on trial before the Wizengamot in thin, unflattering robes and with the scar on his cheek fully exposed.
He cast another anxious glance up at Harry. He didn't want the git to hurt himself and get Draco accused of murder.
That was the real reason he jumped every time the ladder gave a warning creak, of course.
He was so occupied in watching Harry extend himself dangerously off his perch and then somehow sway back to safety again that he nearly missed the movements under the rosebush beside him, swift and shadowy and stealthy. He whirled around to face them when he did notice, his wand clutched tight.
A snake slowly emerged into the light and lifted its head to look at him. Draco licked his lips in response to the forked tongue that darted out and tasted the air. The snake was a soft, rain-washed gray with a black zigzag down the middle of its back, and Draco shuddered. He recognized an adder when he saw one.
The adder glided forwards so quickly Draco yelped in surprise, and the Stinging Hex he instinctively fired went wild. The snake advanced more rapidly after that, as if it thought the fact that Draco couldn't actually hurt it meant he would make a good meal.
Harry hurtled downwards with such rapidity that Draco would have yelped again if he'd seen the full descent. He only had enough time to draw in a shocked breath, though, before Harry stood protectively between him and the snake. A long stream of hissing, savage Parseltongue emerged from Harry's mouth, and he shook his head and crouched down in front of the adder when it tried to get past him.
The adder hissed back and seemed to be arguing with some decision Harry had made. Harry reached out and gripped it just behind the head. The adder promptly began a mad thrashing, but Harry laughed—laughed, as if this was a game—and lifted it from the ground. He turned around, making Draco back up warily. One hand still held the snake behind the head; the other was tickling its belly, and Draco wondered if it was his imagination that the dark, flat eyes were glazing over with pleasure.
"Draco," Harry said wryly, "this is Philip. It seems that he hasn't kept his promise not to startle visitors to the garden. I assure you, he normally eats the pests I can't control with magic. Occasionally, he likes to imagine he can tackle a wizard."
Harry rapped the snake in the middle of the back and hissed something else. The adder hissed in a disagreeable manner and coiled itself around Harry's neck. Draco didn't think it deserved the name Harry had given it. Philip sounded like a normal, nice young wizard Draco himself might date. It didn't sound like an adder staring sullenly at Draco around a twist of its own body.
"He won't bite you," Harry added encouragingly. "Did you want to touch him?" He extended his hand.
Draco stared. "Philip?" he asked, because he couldn't quite take up Harry's invitation yet.
"Well, yeah." Harry reached behind his head, and Draco couldn't tell if he was scratching the nape of his neck, like a normal person, or if he just wanted to pet the (deadly, dangerous, deranged) snake clinging around his neck like a noose. "I saw a picture of King Philip II of Spain in one of the books I read after the war. His profile looks a little like this Philip in the right light." He flicked the adder's chin; it hissed and bared its fangs, but didn't actually bite. Yet, Draco thought mutinously. "And he likes it, of course. He likes to think he looks royal."
"I didn't know you read books like that, Harry," Draco muttered.
Harry's mouth grew tight for a moment. "Well. After the war, I was rather—out of sorts for a few months." He shrugged. Draco wondered just what indiscretions the words and gesture concealed. "Hermione introduced me to some books that had fuck all to do with magic. That was where I learned to garden. You didn't really think I'd managed to do all of this out of my lousy memories of Herbology, did you?" His eyes shone now, inviting Draco to share in the joke.
Draco smiled, reluctantly, and moved a few steps closer. Philip did not lunge and sink his fangs into Draco's throat. That was an improvement over the way Draco had thought things might go a moment past. "But you read about the history of Muggle Spain?"
"Yes. That was one of the books. Philip in the books was a bastard, but, well, so's this one." Before Draco could think about what he was doing, Harry had captured his hand, brought it closer, and smoothed his fingers down the adder's scales. Philip hissed and turned around to look at Draco with a little less blind malice in his gaze than before. "There," Harry continued softly. "Not so difficult, is it?"
Draco looked up at him. Harry's eyes had the same soft expression Draco had seen that morning when he woke up, intending to explain the experience of the night before as a bad dream. He'd realized a moment later that he'd never be able to do that, not as long Harry was next to him and watching him with that expression.
"I reckon not," he found himself answering in the same tone. He moved closer to Harry. Philip reared back, but refused to either strike Draco or abandon his perch, though Draco, at least, would have been happy with the second course.
"I had to learn how to touch him," Harry continued, his voice so low only small puffs of breath traveled over Draco's lips. "It took some time, and it took gentler handling than I'd anticipated. But everything that needs to be treated gently is worth the wait, don't you agree?"
Draco found himself kissing Harry without being quite sure how it had happened, or who had initiated it. He leaned closer in and found his chest bumping Harry's, his hand rising to tangle in the unruly hair. Philip slithered away until he was more properly coiled on Harry's shoulders than around his neck. From the small happy noises he was making in the back of his throat, Harry had no objection to this state of affairs.
Draco wondered for a moment just how soft the earth of the path underneath them was, and then realized it didn't matter, because they were about to find out.
And then Harry hissed under his breath, and not in Parseltongue, and pulled away. He kept one hand on Draco's shoulder, but his voice was tense. "It seems that someone has found us, after all," he said. "Best put on your glamour." His gaze grew searching for a moment. "Unless you'd rather meet them face-to-face?"
Shaking his head, his nervousness rushing back so quickly he wondered he'd forgotten it, Draco took up his wand and cast his glamour over his cheek. He thought a moment, then added a second illusion that dampened the aroused flush in his face. "Who is it?" he asked, when he thought he looked calm.
Harry had turned his head, staring down the path Draco had come up that morning with an unfriendly expression. His green eyes snapped and his mouth was curved in a half-snarl. Draco scolded himself for finding even that sight interesting.
"A distinctly unwelcome guest," Harry said. "Who shall be told to fuck off with extreme prejudice."
Draco found himself moving closer, pressing his hand hard into the crook of Harry's elbow. Philip hissed a warning. Draco ignored it. "So long as it's only fucking off and not fucking," he whispered into Harry's ear.
The joyful surprise in Harry's face when he craned around to look at Draco made the risk he'd taken worth it. Draco leaned his shoulder against his lover's and turned to await this unwelcome guest.
Harry could tell the exact moment when Raphael caught sight of Draco. His smooth stride wavered, becoming clipped, as though he'd suddenly stepped on a stone and needed a moment to recover himself. His head lifted like a hound scenting danger, and his nostrils flared slightly.
The signals were so small that Harry doubted someone else would have noticed them. Unless they'd slept with Raphael, of course. Or unless they were a Slytherin, maybe. Harry could feel Draco's fingers pressing into his arm when Raphael stumbled. He risked a quick sideways glance and saw Draco's eyes narrowed, as though he were trying to figure out where he knew Raphael from.
"Harry," Raphael said, halting several feet away. His hands were lightly clenched at his sides. He was staring at Draco so steadily that Harry would have checked to see if the glamour had fallen, except Draco would have been sure to make it thick. "And who's this?"
"An old school-fellow of mine," Harry said calmly. "Draco Malfoy. You've heard of him, I suppose."
"Of course." Raphael's eyes narrowed further. "How charming, Harry. A snake around your neck and one on your arm. One would think you'd taken up herpetology in preference to gardening."
Draco stiffened. Harry moved a little closer to him, subtly putting his body between his old lover and his new one. It was a precaution, just in case Draco lost his temper and launched a hex—Raphael wouldn't; he preferred lashing out with words—but it was also sheer instinctive protection. He didn't like anyone looking at Draco the way Raphael was looking at him.
"I've already heard more than enough of your opinions on my livelihood, Raph." Harry hid a smile at the way the other man's face paled. He hated any sort of nickname. "Months of denigration didn't convince me to give up gardening. You have no say over who I date, either. Go away."
"And leave you to the fangs of a serpent like this?" Raphael laughed unpleasantly. "I don't think so." He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Do you have any idea what he's done, Harry? You didn't see the reports that come across my desk in the Ministry. Of course, if you had joined the Aurors' ranks the way you should have—"
"So far as I'm concerned, Draco's paid his debts." Harry didn't raise his voice. He had hoped to get Raphael out of the garden without resorting to humiliating him, for the sake of future peace, but he had finally presumed too far. Harry glanced down at Philip and spoke in Parseltongue. "Just take care of the annoying man, if you wouldn't mind."
He didn't have to look at Raphael to know he was going still paler. Raphael was afraid of Harry's snake-speech; he always had been. And he was afraid of Philip—
Who had slid down Harry's shoulder with little hisses of glee and was now gliding straight up the path towards Raphael, his head weaving back and forth. In this case, the antipathy between man and snake was mutual.
Raphael stood his ground longer than Harry would have thought he could; Philip's head swayed about an inch away from his foot before he uttered a warbling little shout and sprang sideways. Philip whipped around to follow him, but Raphael had already raised his wand and incanted a Shield Charm. The adder halted at the sight of the spell; hard experience with it, before he and Harry had made their truce, warned him not to dash his head against the silvery barrier.
Harry snickered, and made very sure Raphael could hear him. Draco was a still statue pressed against his side, and Harry was not sure why; he wanted his old lover gone as soon as possible so that he could attend to Draco's fear, or any of his other needs.
Raphael glared at him. He was trying to hide it, but there was hurt under the anger. Harry had never mocked him like this when they were together, which had made Raphael confident enough to reveal what he didn't like about Harry.
No, mocking was your place, Harry thought, as he returned the stare. And I never realized how goddamn sick of it I was until now.
Draco was barely breathing. Harry put an arm around him, mostly for comfort and only partially for show, and leaned his head on Draco's shoulder. For a moment, there was silence, except for the slight shuffles of Philip's body in the dust as he reared up and looked for a way around the Shield Charm.
"I never thought you would do this, Harry." Raphael was using the tone that had once made Harry melt after any argument they had, because he knew it promised fabulous sex—as soon as he apologized.
I always apologized. He never did. Harry glanced at Raphael and raised an eyebrow. "Yes, well, you never thought the Savior of the Wizarding World would become a gardener, either," he said. "The power of your words to control reality appears to be severely limited."
Raphael flushed. He also opened his mouth as if he would say something else. Harry waited, patient and a little curious. Now that his heart was no longer in Raphael's grasp to be wounded, he could almost enjoy the contest of wits.
But in the end, the Auror just turned and stomped away. Philip flowed after him under the bushes, even though Raphael had cast a moving Shield Charm that surrounded him in a circular barricade. Philip was quite the optimist for an adder, Harry thought fondly.
He turned to Draco, ready to laugh with him over Raphael's ignominious retreat, and found Draco's face so white it hurt to look at. Amusement gone, Harry took his hands and chafed them gently. They felt cold, and the fingers only slowly detached from their tight curls and moved within his grasp.
Draco drew several whistling breaths, and finally forced out, "Who was that?"
Harry blinked. "My old lover," he said. "Raphael Morgan. An Auror Ron works with." He rolled his eyes. "I promise you, I have no interest in him anymore, though he continues not to get the point."
"He was more than that," Draco whispered.
"Whatever rumors he may have spread, I assure you I don't have a case of one true love—"
"His voice," Draco broke in, shutting his eyes as though to block out the sun. "I've heard that voice before. I think—" He shuddered and lifted his hand to touch his cheek, his fingers rippling the glamour as they passed through it. "I think he was the one who did this to me."
Draco had never known such hatred could exist in the world.
He had been unsure, when he first heard Raphael Morgan's voice, of more than that it was familiar. But as the git had spoken, and spoken, and spoken again, Draco had forgotten how to breathe.
That was the voice that had spoken those words of loathing and contempt two years ago, when the unknown wizard burned the scar onto Draco's face and so destroyed his life.
"That gives you a scar you can't hide like you can that Mark. And to make sure that you don't cover it up with a glamour, even when you get your wand back—"
And then pain, and fire, and darkness.
Draco clawed his way back to sanity, only to find that Harry was holding him, his arms clasped tightly around Draco's shoulders and his cheek resting in his hair. He was humming beneath his breath, a soft, soothing, wordless sound. Draco grabbed Harry's forearms and held on, shuddering. He wanted to keen, to curl up and drive everyone away, but that came from still not being used to warmth and comfort like this. He forced himself to believe that here was someone who wanted to hold him, instead.
Slowly, the shadow lifted from his mind.
"Will you tell me what happened now?" Harry whispered.
Draco did, in whispers of his own. Harry's grip grew steadily tighter as Draco recited the details of his kidnapping, scarring, and the Permanence Charm, but never unbearable. Draco thought hazily that he really should become a spokesman recommending Harry Potter's hug to every wizard or witch who had suffered similar injuries from the war.
Almost immediately, however, a flash of jealousy turned his vision yellow. No, let them suffer. Harry's hug was his.
When he finished, Harry rocked him and cradled him for a long moment. Draco swallowed back the offended pride that told him he was too old to be held like a baby. He'd already seen Harry had good control of the wards around his garden and would warn Draco if someone approached. He could live with comfort like this so long as it was private.
Finally, Harry whispered, "It seems so unlike him. Raph is stupid and thoughtless, but he's not malicious."
Draco shivered as pain went through him like a lightning stroke. "So you don't believe me, then," he said flatly, and set about trying to detach himself from Harry's arms.
Harry snarled. Draco jumped. He sounded like a wolf. Do I know that he didn't get bitten by a werewolf since I saw him last? What proof do I have?
"For God's sake, Draco."
No, not a werewolf; just ordinary anger, then. Except that it wasn't ordinary anger to Draco, not when Harry was the only person in the world who believed in him right now. He strove to keep his chin up as Harry gripped his shoulders and turned him around so they were face-to-face. It wasn't easy looking into those green eyes and watching them flash at him, though. Draco supposed he would have to concur with Harry's pronouncement of Morgan's stupidity.
"Listen to me." Harry's voice was low and very intense. "I don't disbelieve you as such. For all I know, Raphael did do that." One of his hands rose from Draco's shoulder and ghosted up to touch the scar on his right cheek, but dropped and held him again a moment later, just as strongly. "My main point is that you can't accuse him just off a memory of his voice. We'll look about, and see what evidence we can uncover. He hasn't told me much about what happened to his family during the war. Maybe he did want to take vengeance on any Death Eater who didn't die or get sent to Azkaban.
"Understand this, though. I am going to protect you. I'll protect you from Raphael, if he's your enemy. I'll protect you from anyone else who comes after you to renew the scar or the Permanence Charm. I'll protect you from the dangers of investigation into an Auror's past. You arenot doing this alone."
Harry's face grew both fiercer and more tender, like the expression of a hawk gazing at its mate. Draco swallowed. Lovely as the expression was, he didn't think he wanted to hear the words that came next.
And he was right.
"I'll also protect you from yourself," Harry whispered. "I won't let you creep back into the shell you endured for the past two years. You are not less than you were just because of your face. I happen to think that any man who jokes and eats and makes love like you do is far more than a pretty face, or a scarred one. I want you to get back into wizarding society and show everyone that Draco Malfoy cannot be brought down."
Draco shook his head so fast his neck hurt. He could feel his eyes blurring with the tears he had fought so hard not to shed. "No," he whispered. He tried to turn away, or bend down so he wouldn't have to meet Harry's gaze any longer. "No, you don't understand—"
Harry pulled him upright again, and held him there, as much with the terrible, coercive force of his eyes as with his hands. His words cut into Draco without pity, leaving him sick and shaken.
"You're the one who doesn't understand, Draco. You've let your terror of other people rule you for too long. What's the worst they can do? They can stare at you. They can whisper. They can laugh. Will you really let that, the weak weapons of weak people, ruin the rest of your life for you?"
"Call it vanity, then." Draco's voice was thin and desperate; he hated the sound of it. He lunged backwards against Harry's grasp, seeking escape, but there was nowhere to go. He was being flayed, he was being flayed alive, and Harry was too merciless to notice. "Call it whatever you like, but don't make me—"
"Don't make you what?" Harry's voice leaped as quick as scorn. "Live?"
"Fuck you!" Draco hadn't screamed like this since the night he was scarred. He surged forwards and tried to hit Harry, though with the moisture in his eyes it was even chances he'd hit anything. Harry caught his arm and held him easily, effortlessly motionless, while his words slid on like acid.
"I reckon you'll ask me what I know about it. And the answer, Draco? Is an awful lot.
"I had the choice of remaining a recluse after the war. I could have done it, too. I'd done my duty to wizarding Britain. What more did they need me for? If I went outside, the world was an endless stream of reporters and well-wishers and people who assumed they had the right to claim a share of my time and attention just because they recognized my face. Those gaping mouths… I had nightmares that they might swallow me, or just tear pieces off me until there was nothing left.
"But I realized I couldn't allow them to control my life, and I couldn't wish what I'd done undone, either. I lived. I stepped outside and cast spells that reduced their voices to buzzes in my ears. I ate where I liked and refused to budge just because there were reporters swarming around me; when it was necessary, I compensated the owners of the restaurants and the shops they crowded. I ignored their requests, even the ones that tugged at my heartstrings. I was a hero, once. That doesn't make me a hero for all time. Once I accepted that, it was a lot easier to make other people accept it from me.
"You'll go through the same process. As long as you allow others to—to brand you, you'll just be a Death Eater. The lowest of the low. The black sheep cousins even paupers won't touch. You told me this wizard—"
"Whoever he was, he wanted to give you a visible mark to replace the Dark Mark. And don't you see what he did?"
"Ruined me." Draco thought he had mastered the tears. At least a blurry image of Harry came into focus when he looked in more or less the right direction. "The cases aren't comparable, Potter. You have that scar, yes, but it never destroyed your beauty—"
"Flattered as I would be to hear you sing my praises," said Harry, in a tone that indicated he wasn't flattered at all, "you're not understanding, Draco. He branded you. He tried to ruin you. And that's exactly what you let him do."
Rage reared up in Draco. He tried not to meditate on the fact that it was the most life-giving emotion he'd felt in two years, excepting whatever he felt when Harry held him. He took a step forwards and shoved with both hands at Harry's shoulders. Harry rocked on his heels but didn't retreat, for all that he was half-a-head shorter than Draco. He was too solid.
"I didn't let him do anything! I didn't ask for this, I didn't—"
"You don't control what he did to you." Harry grabbed Draco's wrist and surged up into his face. "You only control your own reactions. So why the fuck are you doing what he wants? Why are you cringing, hiding away, as if you were a criminal, when he should be the one agonized with shame over what he's done? You are the one who should be able to walk free and look whoever you want in the eye. But you'll never do it, as long as you're cowering behind closed doors. You'll be his slave, a slave to the fear he wanted to cause, when you deserve every freedom and every shaft of sunlight he tried to deny you."
Draco stepped back. He needed room for the yell he was about to give, because he didn't want to deafen Harry, for all that the prat deserved it.
"Malfoys are not slaves!"
"Excellent." Harry leaned forwards, eyes shining again, and Draco thought he should have yelled harder after all, because Harry did not look at all put out, which had been the purpose of Draco's shout. "Then show him that. Come with me into public spaces where everyone can stare at you, and then ignore them. Make them work for your attention, instead of causing you to fear theirs. Demonstrate that you're still master of whatever part of the wizarding world you want to walk all over."
Draco was breathing fast enough to make his throat hurt. His head was spinning with fear so wild it was close to exhilaration. He lurched towards Harry, silently impressed that he didn't measure his length on the garden path, as he was dangerously near to doing.
He seized Harry's face and pulled it close to him. A moment later, they were kissing, and it was nothing like the kisses, both sensual and chaste, that Harry had given him last night. This was a messy smushing of lips, an inexpressive inarticulate tangle of tongues, the kind of kiss Draco thought they might have shared when they were eleven, if they had known what they wanted then.
Harry laughed into his mouth, laced his hands through Draco's hair, and tugged. "Yes," he said.
"I didn't even ask if you'd be part of the wizarding world I'm master of," Draco whispered.
"You didn't have to, I could see it in your eyes." Harry tugged on his hair. "But just because I'll support you and help you get over your fear doesn't mean I'll lie down and let you do whatever you like to me, you know."
Draco cupped Harry's cheek and the back of his neck, unable to calm down, but not wanting to dash around in circles, either, because that would require him to let go of Harry. He flexed his fingers back and forth in an attempt to relieve some of his excitement. Then he leaned his head into Harry's shoulder and bit the base of his collarbone. Harry accepted this with no more than a slight jump.
"I know," Draco whispered. "But we're going to show him, aren't we?"
"We certainly are," Harry murmured.
"And do research on Morgan's background at the same time?"
Harry's muscles tightened for a moment, as if to show that he still thought this was a bad idea, but his nod was firm all the same. "We are. All I really know about Raphael's past is that his family went to France during the first war with Voldemort and he attended Beauxbatons. They came back to Britain a few years before the second war started, though, and he began studying to become an Auror. There are probably records in the Ministry of Magic…"
"I know how we can get to them," Draco said, thinking, for the first time in years, of the letter he'd received from Theodore Nott the same day the Wizengamot had decreed he could not use his wand. Theo's mother had attained high rank in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, her ties to the Death Eaters never suspected, since she'd discreetly divorced Theo's father a decade earlier. Theo had childishly hinted that he could call in favors from the Ministry now which Draco could only dream of.
And it just so happened that Draco knew a few secrets about Theo Nott that the passage of time would only make him more eager to bury.
"Then we'll start this investigation as soon as you can get access to the documents," Harry promised. "And you'll go shopping in Diagon Alley with me a week from tomorrow."
Draco swallowed, the sudden flush of triumph vanishing into the prickle of fear along his spine. "Glamoured?"
"For now," Harry said.
It was only then that Draco realized he hadn't thought about his scar for nearly ten minutes. It was the longest period of time he'd concentrated on something else since he received it.
Harry looked through the records Draco had owled him. He really had retrieved them with impressive speed.
Harry shrugged. He was dating a Slytherin; he should get used to his lover acting like one. And if he played his cards right, Draco would continue to use his Slytherin prowess to benefit himself, looking more to his ambition than to his self-interest.
Draco had neatly organized the documents into several piles. Some concerned Raphael's scores during his training to become an Auror; others were medical records, covering his wounds in the field; others were transcripts of interviews and past history. Harry shook his head again. No, he didn't think he would ask why Draco had thought it important to acquire all of these, or how he had. A relationship could thrive just as much on the silences as on the sounds.
Draco had underlined and circled several phrases on a piece of parchment titled simply "Applicant's Family." Harry picked it up and scanned it.
Auror trainee Raphael Morgan was asked if he had any family members who had been involved in the Dark Arts. He took some time to answer the question, but admitted that he had a twin brother who became infatuated with Dark magic when they were both fifteen. Thanks to more relaxed laws concerning such spells in France, Gabriel Morgan was able to become a fairly accomplished Dark wizard. He also learned Defense against such spells, so his family was not overly concerned.
Auror trainee Morgan appeared somewhat emotional in speaking of his brother. He would not reveal his ultimate fate, saying only that he was "lost," and that it had been the fault of someone else and not himself. He did assure the Auror training program that his brother was no longer in a position to cause trouble, and that the French Aurors knew more, if the committee deliberating his entrance wished to contact them.
Harry frowned and leaned back in the chair. He could figure out Draco's line of reasoning from here. Voldemort had been recruiting heavily in other European countries during the first war; that had come to light during the Death Eater trials the summer after Harry defeated him. It wasn't out of the question that loyal French adherents had lain low when he vanished after his attack on Godric's Hollow and begun recruitment efforts again some years later. They could have made contact with Gabriel Morgan, enchanted him, and then led him into the Death Eater fold. And it would be like Raphael to decide that Death Eaters had been responsible for his brother's demise, or imprisonment, or whatever had happened to him, instead of Gabriel himself. The last serious argument he and Harry had had before their breakup concerned Raphael's mother Lucy, who didn't accept her son's sexual orientation. Raphael had screamed himself hoarse, claiming that that wasn't Lucy's fault, but rather the fault of his grandparents, who had made sure to raise her with as many prejudices as possible.
Raphael might have decided to target the remaining Death Eaters who had got off with light punishments—in his eyes—and could have scarred Draco out of revenge.
But that was a long chain of suppositions to hang guilt off the end of. And just because Draco and Harry could both see a possible reason Raphael might have blamed Draco and sought revenge on him didn't mean that was what had happened. Really, they could not be sure.
Harry shook his head and scribbled his own refutation in the margins of the parchment. He would need more evidence before he condemned Raphael for losing his twin brother.
Raphael had never spoken of Gabriel.
But then, there was an awful lot that Raphael had never spoken of, wasn't there? And most of the time when he spoke, Harry had wished he would shut up.
Harry rubbed a hand over his face and turned back to the Ministry records. He had a new lover now, and he had refused to change his life to the blank sketch that Raphael approved of. His ex-boyfriend should not occupy such a persistent place in his head.
So what if he laughed at you, Harry told himself brutally. So what? You told Draco that he ought to get over the laughter of others. Aren't you willing to do the same yourself?
Draco rubbed his hands together, until he realized that only increased the amount of clammy sweat between them, instead of wiping it away. He tried to look down Diagon Alley directly, but found himself turning his face away each time. His hand rose, for the seventh time in a minute, to touch the glamour that covered his scar.
Harry caught his fingers and kissed the back of his hand. "It's fine, I promise," he whispered. "Come on. We'll walk past a few of the shops and then go into Flourish and Blotts. No one I know works there. No one you know works there. It's all fine." He put his hand on Draco's shoulder and tugged him along.
With a deep breath, Draco stepped out of the alley where Harry often brought his flowers and into the center of Diagon Alley.
No one seemed to notice him at first. Then a few people noticed Harry and waved. And then a few people saw him and stared.
Draco's skin crawled and his breath came short. He had to stop himself from simply Apparating on the spot. It was not as though Harry could hold him there if Draco didn't want to stay. If he Apparated, Harry would be dragged along with him. And then Draco could pin Harry to the mattress in his flat and demand more of that talented mouth. Or he could finally see about exploring Harry's arse or offering him his own, something Harry had explained he was waiting on because "he didn't want Draco to feel that he wasn't special."
Draco felt special enough just at that moment, with more than a few people gathering in small groups to discuss him. Their gazes swung to follow him; he was their topic of conversation, no doubt about it. More than a few people pointed. Someone, an elderly witch with even less taste in clothing than Harry, giggled behind her hand.
It was instinctive. Draco drew back his head and shot her a polished sneer. She dropped her hand and gazed down at her robes for just a moment, before she seemed to figure out his game and shook a small fist at him.
He'd done it. He'd intimidated someone else. He'd embarrassed a woman who had tried to embarrass him.
And it hadn't hurt at all.
Draco was still sick and shaking, and he wasn't sure he'd want to make these shopping trips a feature of his daily life. But he was out in public, and he was still alive. The Tempus Charm chimed reassuringly in his head, telling him he still had most of an hour before the glamour wore off.
He was alive.
Draco turned sharply. Heading towards them down the middle of Diagon Alley was a figure with long limbs and red hair. Weasley, Draco knew, though from this distance he couldn't tell which one.
Then he remembered which Weasley brothers had kept a shop in Diagon Alley.
The twins. And this one will probably blame me for the death of his twin brother, as people have a habit of doing.
He lifted a hand to his cheek again, and moved closer to Harry. It was a small movement, he told himself. No one who was watching could see it, and no one would know that it signified he wanted protection.
Harry felt Draco's arm start trembling in his hand the moment he caught sight of George. He shot Draco a reassuring smile—though he wasn't sure Draco saw it, so focused was he on the approaching Weasley—and slung an arm around his shoulder. He saw George slow and stare. He might have assumed the blond man with Harry was Raphael, until he saw the arm. George, just like the rest of his family, knew that Harry and Raphael hadn't been an item for several months now.
Cautiously, George approached. Harry did his best to ignore his own consciousness of the empty space walking at George's side. Fred wasn't there and never would be again. Harry was only grateful that Hermione had made him face those realities during his own months of depression and mourning after the war, or he might have slipped into delusions, as George had for a while, that Fred was only on a journey and would soon return safe and whole.
But George had recovered, and Harry smiled at him, ignoring the way George gawked at Draco. "Good morning," he said. "I don't reckon you need another load of foxglove for the shop already, or you would have asked me, wouldn't you?" A running joke between him and George was that one day George would wake up, realize Harry's supplies weren't actually all that good, and buy from a different gardener or herbologist.
"Not foxglove, no," said George, and turned to face Draco. That was one thing that had changed about him since the war, Harry thought; George had become more direct, less playful and teasing, and he was grateful for it at the moment. "But I might need some pomegranate juice for a Strengthening Solution. Do excuse me if I faint dead in the street."
"Oh, yes," Harry said. "You would recognize Draco Malfoy, of course, and I don't think a formal introduction is necessary—"
George moved near so quickly that Harry had to fight not to take a step back. "No," he hissed under his breath, "but an explanation as to why you're walking around with that bloody snake holding your hand sure as hell is."
Harry merely raised an eyebrow, and went on standing like that until George began to look a bit abashed. Then he said, quietly, "It's my choice as to whom I date, George. Draco's probation has passed. He can use a wand again now—"
And George's wand was in his hand.
Harry's shoulders stiffened, but he reminded himself that he couldn't constantly intervene between Draco and the Weasleys without damaging the intimacy he hoped for from both of them. He flicked his wrist, catching hold of the end of the holly wand up his sleeve, but he would only interfere if matters actually came to hexes. For now, he waited, glancing from one face to the other.
Draco breathed shallowly, every muscle in his body quivering with the need to run. This had been a lesser reason for his reluctance to venture into public: even if no one saw or everyone ignored the scar, there was sure to be at least one person who would hold his past against him.
But Harry stood there, unconcerned.
The remaining Weasley twin was more terrifying to Draco than any member of his family had ever been. Armed and glaring as if Draco had personally killed his brother, he could hurt him badly, in a blink, before Draco could do anything about it. He prided himself on the quickness of his spells and how many Dark ones he knew, but he had never had any illusions about how he might measure up to the twins. They were cleverer, more malicious, and, above all, faster.
But Harry stood there, unconcerned.
Draco put his chin up and endured. Those were perhaps the hardest four heartbeats of his life, with the tension between him and the Weasley building like a fire and all his Slytherin instincts screaming at him to get the first curse in; if he hit hard enough immediately, he wouldn't have to hit again.
But he ignored his instincts, and he stood there, refusing to be the one who would bring magic into the battle.
With a loud exclamation of disgust, the Weasley brother put his wand away and turned on Harry. "Why do you want to date him?" he demanded.
"Well, you see," Harry began in a brightly condescending tone that Draco would never have used on anyone who'd been glaring at him like this man had, "when two wizards are attracted to each other, they sometimes want to go on dates. That's called—"
"Bollocks, Harry," the Weasley said, with a shake of his head, but he had actually calmed down. Draco swallowed. Apparently jokes can tame the wild Weasley. Best wait before you try that strategy, though. "Tell me the real reason."
Harry was quiet. Draco turned to add the force of his stare on his lover, rather interested in said reason himself.
"You've asked me to describe something I've never been good at describing," Harry muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. It didn't escape Draco's notice that he'd started speaking only when Draco glanced at him. It was comforting to know that there were some things Harry wouldn't do at the behest of a Weasley. "I know when I saw Draco again—when I gave him back his wand, I mean—he had a spirit in his face that I'd never seen before."
"You're right," the Weasley interrupted. "You're not very good at describing this."
Draco shot him an irritated glance. He wanted the git to be quiet so he could listen to his own praises. Good words for him had been so rare in the last few years that he wasn't willing to give up Harry's.
"Shut up, George," said Harry, which at least let Draco know which of the identical menaces had died. "I meant what I said. With his magic back, he looked as if he could take on the world, when just a few minutes earlier he was so dejected I could have passed him in the street without recognizing him." He turned around and faced Draco. There was a small, solemn smile on his face. He reached out and tugged on a lock of Draco's blond hair, which Draco couldn't even scold him for. "I wanted to know what kind of man he'd become, especially when I saw his eyes light up. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted him to look at me the same way."
Draco took a step nearer. "If I haven't yet," he whispered, "it's only because you haven't done quite enough to merit it."
"Arrogant Malfoy," George Weasley muttered.
Draco cast him a haughty glance. There was only one person on this street who had just been told he was wanted by Harry Potter, and he wasn't him.
"You know he wasn't involved in Fred's death," Harry said quietly, with a seriousness of tone Draco hadn't expected. He looked back to see Harry leaning forwards, his arms folded and his eyes keen. "I can understand if you don't want to see him. But I won't have you accusing him and attacking him for crimes that weren't his, and I won't give up dating him just to please you."
George pursed his lips and looked thoughtful. Then he nodded. "I won't take issue with your choice of boyfriends, Harry," he said. "On one condition."
"Which would be?"
"That you invite me over when you plan to introduce him to Ron." Weasley's grin was wicked. "I want a ringside seat for that explosion."
Harry grinned back. "Agreed."
And then he and the Weasley shook hands, and the Weasley wandered down the street on whatever aimless errand he'd been on in the first place, while Harry guided Draco towards Flourish and Blotts with a hand on the small of his back.
Draco let the stunned silence stretch until he realized that Harry had no intention of breaking it, and it was once more up to him to do the work in this relationship. "Why did he just—accept it?" he asked.
Harry leaned over to kiss his cheek. Someone in the small crowd following them gasped. Draco felt his skin itch with self-consciousness, but he refused to look around and try to identity the culprit. He concentrated instead on the soft, chapped feeling of Harry's lips and the warmth of the arm around him.
"Because," Harry whispered, "not everyone is like the wizard who cursed you, Draco. Some people have managed to grow up and accept their losses." He paused long enough that Draco knew the next declaration was going to be terribly significant, because Gryffindors liked the dramatic effect of silence. "Can you?"
Draco deliberately didn't lift his hand to touch his cheek, but he did cast a Tempus Charm. Half-an-hour left on the glamour.
"Maybe," he said.
Harry grinned blindingly, as though he'd just received a confirmed promise, and drew him into the bookshop.
"But that's too much of a coincidence," Draco argued, leaning over the book he'd brought to Harry's house and shaking his head. "The Morgan family never recorded the birth of a second child. Why wouldn't they? Most pure-blood lines like this would be proud of the birth of two healthy sons, because God knows they don't have wealth or strong magic to comfort them."
Harry rolled his eyes. When his lover wasn't listening to himself, he had no idea what a snob he sounded like.
"There are all sorts of reasons why not," Harry said, and put his feet up, ignoring Draco's disgusted glance. They were seated in the large front room of his house, where two sliding glass panels had taken the place of the cramped doors that had occupied that part of the cottage when Harry moved in. The glass let in a flood of sunlight and permitted Harry an unparalleled view of the garden, as well as the robins that had chosen to nest in his solitary apple tree. That Draco would rather look at parchment on a day like this than at the wonders of nature astonished him. The robins had already hatched a brood, and the parents were busy coming and going from the nest to feed their young. Harry had sternly warned Philip not to climb up that tree and investigate the nest if he knew what was good for him. "Maybe they thought Gabriel was stillborn. You told me that this book updates itself by magic at the moment of the child's birth, right?"
"Right." Draco turned the tome over. Harry glanced at the leather cover. Gilt letters spelled out some horrendously long title. Harry had never been interested in puzzling out long titles, and still less ones in Latin, which this was. He knew, though, because Draco had patiently explained it to him, that this was a book that showed the lines of pure-blood British wizarding families going back several hundred years. The Morgans were part of it, though they had never been as prominent as the Malfoys or even the Longbottoms.
"So maybe only Raphael was actually born alive," Harry temporized. "And then when they realized Gabriel was alive, it was too late to update the book."
"Ha-ha," said Draco, and set it aside. He folded his hands behind his head and stared intently at Harry. "You just don't want to admit your precious boyfriend may have cursed me."
Harry looked straight at him. He didn't find the scar difficult to look at; it was difficult not to feel some regret that it was on Draco's face, though, since Draco found living with it so difficult. "I still think it's not something Raphael would do," he said. "He's very bad about letting things go. And from what you said, this wizard hasn't approached you again in two years—"
"Maybe he will now that he realizes his vengeance hasn't worked as well as he thought it would," Draco muttered, face darkening.
Harry put a hand on Draco's knee and continued speaking, while he rubbed the knee in small, consoling circles. "I think Raphael would have hung about your flat, and crowed about it to other people. That is strange, you know. Why wouldn't your attacker have wanted to tell other people what he did?"
"Because he could be arrested?" Draco drew the words out with the dry patience he used when Harry was being particularly stupid. "This spell is Dark magic, and illegal. Even Permanence Charms, used on people instead of objects, skirt the edge of the law."
Harry flushed. "Sorry. But it just doesn't fit what I know of Raphael. Look how many times he keeps coming back to me, even though he knows it's over."
Draco shifted forwards so fast Harry had no chance to anticipate the movement before he found himself leaning deeply against the couch, Draco straddling his hips and staring down at him. "How long were you with him?" Draco asked, a small growl in his voice.
"Er," Harry said, blinking. Thoughts of Raphael had once again fled with his new lover crouched above him, and obviously turned on. "Six months, if you count the amount of time we spent together fucking. Nine months, if you count from the time we started dating."
"I'm going to make sure you forget him, what he's like, what his personality may or may not have inclined him to do, and any other comparison you're tempted to make," Draco said sharply, and bowed his head. Harry opened his mouth eagerly to the invading tongue a moment later, and wound a hand in Draco's hair to hold him in place.
This was perfection. This was what Harry had sought in his relationship with Raphael and never found: an intense focus on this moment andthis situation, instead of the cool holding back and playing of mind-games that Raphael assumed was natural to any gay relationship. Draco—
Draco was thinking of him, wanting to bring Harry pleasure, wanting to know what would happen next, and involved in making it happen. His location was the present, not some imagined future orgasm.
Harry opened his legs and shifted down further under Draco, so that he could bring their hips and their chests fully into contact. He delighted in everything: the rasp of Draco's robes over his skin, the sharp angles of his hips, the corded muscles of his arms as he strove to keep the kiss steady in their new position. And the silky hair that slid past Harry's fingers, of course, and the thick scent of arousal creeping into his nostrils, and the sight of Draco's eyes half-screwed shut, as if he didn't dare to either look at Harry when he was kissing or look away.
Harry had never known that having a lover could be so much fun.
His fingers ran over Draco's scar. Draco started and acted as if he would break the kiss for a moment. Harry paused, ready to let him go if that was what Draco needed.
Then Draco shook his head and pressed down again, openly treating the small incident as if it weren't worth his time and attention. Harry laughed aloud, and then gasped as the vibrations from the laughter joined the vibrations Draco's tongue had stirred up in him. He lifted his legs and wrapped them around Draco's waist.
They rocked together like that, the heat building between their bodies, the heat of the sunlight flooding through the windows, the heat of their exertion and arousal spiraling inwards until Harry didn't know why he hadn't come already. His glasses were fogged with his panting breaths. His skin was so slick with sweat that his hands kept slipping where they had hold of Draco's nape and shoulders.
Draco's blond hair glinted in the light that made a hazy silhouette of his face. But he arched his neck now and then, and Harry could make out a pained sublimity in his face, his eyes shut as if he were striving after some lofty goal and despaired of reaching it.
By chance or luck or the destiny that had guided him most of his life or maybe just because it was time, Harry had happened upon the one person who seemed able to give him what he wanted. And maybe there were other people out there who would have done just as well—maybe Raphael was right and one bent wizard was much like another—but Harry had no intention of searching ever again.
He licked along Draco's teeth and opened his arms and the V of his legs wider, wishing there was some way he could bond Draco's body into his, merge and blend with it, dive into the heat and keep on soaring forever towards an impossible pinnacle.
He reached the mountaintop at last, and came with a sound like a cry of pain, though in reality he had never been less hurt in his life. The sensation had simply risen to such a pitch that any touch felt like a blow; even the brush of Draco's hair swept across his face as a cold wind.
Draco shuddered in his hold. The trapped, limited jerking of his hips was more beautiful than any dance Harry had ever beheld, and the way he sprawled limply in Harry's arms a moment later made Harry have to close his eyes so he wouldn't say something Draco probably didn't want to hear right now.
He lay silent on the couch instead, stroking Draco's hair, slowly falling out of the heat.
Draco kept his eyes shut. He knew he would face too much truth, too much intensity, if he opened them.
What they had shared hadn't been so much, really. One could argue that it wasn't as intimate as the blowjobs that Harry had already given him; then, there had been actual friction of skin on skin, or mouth on skin, instead of the accidental brushes they had given each other as they moved together just now. And he didn't have to deal with the sticky, cooling mess in his pants that he could feel right now when Harry sucked him.
But this was the first time Draco had wanted to initiate it.
He had been unable to stand the shadow of Raphael Morgan hanging between them for a moment longer. He had needed some reassurance that Harry was only bringing up objections to the evidence that seemed to point to Morgan's dark past because he wanted to find the real culprit, and not because he still longed for the other wizard. Draco wanted to watch Harry's face while they got off together, and see what that might tell him.
It had told him—too much. It had made him feel desired and longed for and held for the first time in his life.
It had told him that if he screwed this up, he would never, ever forgive himself.
He held Harry tighter.
"I don't like this," Draco complained in a soft whisper to Harry as the server escorted them, with many supposedly surreptitious glances back at the great Harry Potter, across the main room of the Whimsical Mongoose and to a small private table. Their table was still open to the gazes of people around them, and Harry knew Draco's complaints were his way of dealing with his fear. The glamour still concealed his scar, and for that reason, among others, Harry had vetoed his suggestion of taking a booth with curtains that could be drawn around it. "Did you know there's a half-giant in the shadows over there? This place will obviously let anyone in."
Harry took out his wand and rapped Draco's hand where it rested on his elbow. Draco yelped and glared at him.
"One of my dearest friends is a half-giant, I'll have you remember," Harry said sharply.
Draco's flush took only a moment to appear, and it was gratifying when it did. At least Harry knew that Draco had honestly forgotten about Hagrid, and not assumed Harry shared his prejudices.
"Sorry, sorry," Draco muttered as he slid into the seat across from Harry and nodded absently to the server's offer of water and menus. "But you have to understand why I'm nervous, surely?"
"I do," Harry replied, picking up the menu and scanning it. The Whimsical Mongoose's specialty was "unusual" cuisine. From what Harry could see of the list of foods—Jarveys packed with spinach, fricasseed mongoose, delicately fried boomslang—that was certainly true. But being here was more important than what they ate. "That doesn't give you license to act like a prat."
"But you like me when I act like a prat."
Draco was—Draco was making large eyes at him, and sliding a foot up his leg under the table. Harry restrained a chuckle and reached across the table in retaliation, tracing a finger around Draco's knuckles. "Only on certain occasions. Then, the things you can do with your tongue are quite interesting."
The young woman who came up to ask them for their orders choked. Harry thought it served her right for eavesdropping. And if the stare she was giving him was any indication, she hadn't known the Savior of the Wizarding World was gay. Harry enjoyed that; it wasn't very often he got to surprise people any more.
He continued tracing the bones of Draco's hand as he gave the witch a bland smile. "The fried boomslang for me, with toast and peach marmalade." The toast was the only relatively normal food on the menu.
"Plebeian," said Draco, tilting his nose back. "Everyone knows that the swan sushi is the only dish worth eating as this establishment."
The server's wide hazel eyes were darting back and forth between them, and she seemed to have no idea how to react. Harry swallowed his laughter and nodded to her. She came to life then, seemed to remember her duties, and scuttled off.
"You may be nervous, but you're behaving as if you aren't," he told Draco.
Draco sniffed at him and sipped his water as if it were wine, then looked around and started deriding the other patrons' clothes in an undertone. Harry smiled, and not because—or not just because—some of the comments were genuinely amusing instead of snotty.
The more comfortable Draco became in public, the higher the chance that he would agree to go without that damn glamour someday, and stop checking the time constantly.
Draco laid down the old copy of the Daily Prophet that Theo had procured for him on his orders. His hand hurt from being clenched into a fist, and he forced himself to fold it in his lap and stare into his flat's useless fireplace for a long moment until his mind could clear.
When it did, of course, he returned to thinking about what he had just read. There was the damn clue, there in black-and-white. Would Harry insist now that his precious lover's personality didn't resemble the personality of the wizard who had marked Draco, who had caused him misery and degradation for the past two years? Would he dare recite Gryffindor platitudes about the value of mercy and forgiveness, as he had done the last time Draco pressed for going after Morgan immediately?
The article was small, and had been hidden in the back pages of the Daily Prophet. At the time, just eight years after the Dark Lord's defeat, no one had really wanted to hear anything about Death Eaters, and only the Aurors had cared about the recruitment efforts in other countries. The Prophet had probably only run the story at all because it concerned an expatriate British wizarding family, and because it had no juicy scandals occupying the front page.
Gabriel Morgan, sixteen at the time, had been discovered, murdered, with a Dark Mark on his arm. The French Aurors had thought the Mark was real, but his body had hastily been handed over to his grieving family, and so it was never determined whether another Death Eater had Marked him or if he'd done it himself before they buried him.
Draco grimaced and touched his left arm, thoughts whirling, even as he continued staring into the empty fireplace. He knew well enough that only the Dark Lord could give a real Mark. His supporters had made due with decidedly inferior imitations in the years he was gone.
But still, that didn't mean Gabriel Morgan's Mark hadn't been in earnest. And he had probably been murdered in a scuffle between Death Eaters, as the paper speculated. His twin brother would have gone away from that with hatred in his heart, and the deep, sincere conviction that all Death Eaters were evil and deserved whatever they got. Draco was glad he hadn't met Raphael Morgan during the war. There were rumors of vigilante squads of Mudbloods torturing anyone accused of serving the Dark Lord. Morgan would surely have been part of them, pure-blood or not.
And when he had realized that Draco's only punishment was not using his wand for a few years, not exile and not execution, he hadn't stopped to consider that not using magic, for a pure-blood wizard, was punishment enough. He had struck out like a mad thing, and Draco had suffered for it.
That had to be it.
Just because he might have to reconsider his memory of the voice that had snarled at him—
Just because he was no longer sure, as he had been in the first moments after he heard Morgan speak, that it was his voice—
That didn't mean he was wrong.
His hand closed down on his left arm and clenched there, until the Dark Mark began to throb softly. Draco heard the robes tear. He shut his eyes, and his breath came fast and angry.
Raphael Morgan was a murdering, mutilating madman, and it was practically Draco's duty to inflict vengeance on him in return, since he was an Auror and the Ministry would never try one of their own.
Draco had suffered and suffered during the war, and then afterwards, with no one to soothe him and tell him it was all right. His parents had their own affairs to tend to, and since his scarring, they couldn't look him in the face, either. Why shouldn't he get some of his own back? Except that he would be more cautious, and leave Morgan with no way to identify his attacker. He wouldn't kill him, though. Quite apart from the murder investigation that would ensue, death was too easy for someone like Morgan.
He would do it, and who was to know?
Harry. If Morgan turned up in an alley with both his arms gone, or blinded, or with his wand snapped in half and the pieces shoved up his arse, he would know exactly who had done it. And he might feel compelled to go to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and give his testimony, Gryffindor that he was.
More than that, though, he would turn his back on Draco. Draco knew he would. Harry liked him for what he was, for the spirit he showed, for the way he made love, for the snide comments he uttered on a daily basis. He liked the less dangerous aspects of Draco. If Draco showed him the real Slytherin lurking beneath the tame, sweet wrappings, he would have to turn his back.
Was it worth it, to have his vengeance?
No! screamed a voice in the back of Draco's head.
And he reeled, because he had been expecting that the answer from his own soul would be an emphatic yes.
He scanned his memories, wondering what others who had once been important in his life would say. His father would undoubtedly sneer and tell him that his honor was more important than any foolish Gryffindor notions of a relationship, and part of Malfoy honor was getting revenge on those who harmed them. His mother would tell him that going after Morgan might enable him to reverse the curse on his face, and he should concentrate on that. Theo would swear Draco knew how to hold grudges, and hold them well. Weasley would probably sneer and pronounce that he knew all along Draco couldn't be trusted.
Do you want to prove him right?
And what would Harry say?
Draco's breathing stopped. He didn't know what Harry would say, and he found himself intensely curious to know.
He had risen and grasped his wand before he thought about it. The voice of his reason was telling him this was stupid. He only had to calm down and think this through, and he would come to a rational, sane decision. Harry would never have to know how weak he had been. It was better not to say anything, surely. He would keep his weaknesses, whatever they were, private.
But at the same time, he wanted to know. He didn't know, and he wanted to know.
He had denied himself enough of what he wanted, in the past few years.
He snatched the newspaper and took it with him when he Disapparated. Surely, once Harry realized that the story was true and Raphael Morgan really had hurt Draco, he would have no choice but to hold Morgan down while Draco cursed him.
Harry started when he felt his wards part; he usually dozed in front of the fire for a good hour before dragging himself sleepily to bed, and the wards yanked him out of forming dreams in which Draco played a large part. He fumbled for his glasses a moment. Then he realized he'd fallen asleep with them on his face. He rolled his eyes, sat up, and charmed the fire to rise. From the hour and the fact that Draco hadn't owled ahead to ask if he could come tonight, something must be wrong, and he would probably want comfort when he arrived.
The door burst open, making the robins in the apple tree, settled for the night, burst into a chorus of scolding and scuffling. Harry was on his feet and moving across the room before he could quite register that Draco wasn't actually bleeding.
He still made it to Draco's side more quickly than he would have otherwise, though, and wrapped his arms around his lover. "What happened?" he whispered. Draco shook in his arms, his skin colder than it should have been, given the temperature of the air outside. Harry's worry increased, and he pulled Draco in until he could see his face clearly in the firelight.
Draco looked ghastly. His skin was pale, and his eyes stared as though he'd walked across a war zone. The scar on his cheek looked like a wound for the first time since Draco had showed it to Harry. Harry cupped a hand around that cheek, and for the first time, Draco moved into the touch instead of away.
"Read that," he said.
Harry finally realized Draco held a newspaper along with his wand. He took it and flipped down to the article Draco stabbed a finger at, while absently waving his own wand to close the door. He expected Draco to collapse onto the couch in exhaustion, but he stayed upright, leaning against Harry.
Harry read through the article and closed his eyes with a reluctant sigh. It did seem rather damning evidence that—
That Raphael had had a Death Eater brother who died in France twelve years ago. That was theonly thing it argued. Harry turned to Draco and opened his mouth.
"I wanted to kill him."
Harry slammed his mouth shut again and wrapped his arms around Draco. Together, they moved to the couch, and Harry spent some minutes fussing to be sure that Draco could get the most out of both the body warmth and the fire.
Draco just kept staring straight ahead. The biggest concession he made to their new position was to lean his head on Harry's shoulder.
"I thought he'd done this to me," Draco whispered. He didn't raise his hand to touch his cheek. By now, neither of them needed the reminder. "I thought he went mad, and decided that any Death Eater was to blame for what happened to his brother. I was a convenient target, and one the Wizengamot didn't assign to the full term of prison they could have. He went a bit mad, I thought. That had to be it. And I was on the verge of Apparating to his flat—I found the address in those Ministry records of his—waiting until I saw him, and blinding him."
Harry's arms tightened again, but he didn't answer. He didn't think he could.
"Or changing him partially into a slug," Draco whispered. "Or inflicting a disease on him that would make lycanthropy seem like jolly fun. Or scattering acid across his chest. Or casting any one of a number of Dark curses which I know, and which you probably don't even know the names of."
He laughed suddenly, the sound so raw and ugly that it made Harry jump. "Does it surprise you, Harry, this evil side to your lover?" His voice was light and mocking, but Harry knew the truth of that; those emotions were just a thin bridge over an abyss of despair and self-loathing. "You thought I was just a misguided schoolboy, forced into things that weren't my fault. That's what the Wizengamot decided, and that's why they only took my wand away. But I'm more than that. I'm the person who was pleased that a hippogriff was going to die, just because he hurt me. I'm the person who really wanted to see Umbridge cast Cruciatus on you in our fifth year. I'm the person who was going to cast an Unforgivable on you that time you sliced me up. Or did you forget that?"
"Never," Harry whispered.
Draco jerked and turned to face him. His eyes had changed again; they saw Harry, now, but they had a feverish sheen that Harry definitely disliked. "But you have to have forgotten," he insisted. "Otherwise, how could you take someone like me to your heart and your bed?"
Harry pressed his lips to Draco's temple, and held them there until he felt Draco's trembling calm a bit. That was at least as much for his own benefit as Draco's. When he locked gazes with Draco again, he had the courage to say what he needed to.
"You're not the only person in the room who's used Unforgivables," he said. "I've used them and meant them, which is more than you ever could have."
"I used them when the Dark Lord made me torture—"
"Made you torture," Harry echoed. "No one made me torture anyone, Draco, or control them with Imperius, either. I could have used something else. But I didn't." He shivered, remembering the power coursing through his body when he'd cursed the Carrows. "So if using certain spells, or knowing them, makes you Dark and evil and tainted, then I've joined you in the shadows."
Draco's breathing sped up. Whatever he had expected to hear admitted, Harry thought, this was not it. "But you regret it, don't you?" he asked.
Harry closed his eyes. It might almost be a year and a half ago, he thought; then, he had sat in this room with Hermione, and she had asked him that same question. And Harry had had to look inside himself, to understand his own fear, and his guilt, and get rid of the obstacles that otherwise would have prevented him from healing.
"I don't," he said softly. "It happened. I could have used something else. But I lived, and escaped, and I defeated Voldemort. I can't regret anything that led me to that. I regret the deaths of people I knew and loved. I regret that it took me so long to destroy Voldemort and fulfill the prophecy that everyone depended on me to fulfill. Nothing else."
Draco swallowed. Then he swallowed again, and whispered, "I couldn't regret it, either. Not if regret meant—wishing I was dead instead of them. I thought it made me cowardly, evil, unworthy of anyone's regard."
Harry took his jaw and turned his head for a kiss. Draco accepted it, looking dazed.
"Human," Harry whispered into his ear when the kiss was done. "That's all." He hesitated, and then touched the scar on Draco's cheek. "Just as this doesn't make you ugly. I don't care if you disagree with me. The people who would call you ugly are like the people who would call you evil for having used the Unforgivables. They haven't done those things, but they haven't faced them, either. Someone who could look the same terrors in the face that we did and choose differently might be morally better than we are. But without that testing, they have no idea what they're talking about. They don't know what way they'd jump. We do, and I treasure that knowledge, as well as the fact that I've done more good for the world than most of them ever will."
Draco just sat there for the longest time. Then he mumbled, "So—so the fact that I wanted to curse Morgan, but I didn't, and came to you instead—that makes me—"
"Someone who did choose the undisputed right thing, this time," Harry whispered. "Someone who could easily do more good for the world than any of the people pointing at you in the streets ever will."
And then Draco turned his face into Harry's shoulder and began to weep. Harry held him, not making an attempt to talk, just keeping his hand in constant, soothing motion down Draco's spine.
He had offered what he could: honesty and compassion and self-disclosure and the hard lessons he had already learned. And it had helped Draco—helped him, when it could so easily have hurt him and driven him away. But Harry didn't know how to be dishonest with a lover anymore.
And Draco had helped him in turn. Seeing his own difficult self-knowledge reflected and accepted in another's face made Harry feel as if he'd stepped out of a box he hadn't even known was there, and now he could see the stars.
"Harry." Raphael put his quill down carefully on his desk and steepled his fingers. "This is indeed a surprise, since the last time I saw you you chased me out of your home and humiliated me."
Harry shrugged and took a seat in the chair across from Raphael. The last time he'd been here, the day they broke up, bile had burned on his tongue and memories inside his head. Now, he couldn't feel anything but a calm acceptance of what had happened between him and Raphael. The memories were part of his life, neither more important nor less important than anything else that had happened. "This isn't a pleasure visit," he said, and Raphael's lips closed tightly. "I came because I have a question that I can't find the answer to."
He waved his wand at the door, locking it, and ensuring that no one could eavesdrop from outside the office. When he turned around again, Raphael was sitting up at attention, and holding his own wand in a guard position. "Does this have something to do with the threats against the Minister's life?" he asked.
Harry blinked at him in bemusement, then shook his head. "Of course not," he said. "Do I look like an Auror to you, Raph?"
"You look like someone who could have been an Auror to me. A damn good one. And you look like a waste of potential." Raphael gave a lazy shrug. "But I know how much you hate to hear the truth, so forget I said anything."
"I need to know about your twin brother Gabriel."
Raphael's face changed color so fast that Harry really would have been afraid he would faint if he weren't already sitting down—and if he hadn't known Raphael better than that. He might appear fragile, but Harry had known few people stronger. It was only a shame that so much of his strength relied on mastering the weaknesses of others and never letting them forget them.
Harry waited, keeping his posture lopsided, casual.
Finally, Raphael said in a low voice, "Blackmail, Harry? I never would have assumed you'd stoop to that."
Harry shook his head. "No," he said. "Two years ago, a wizard kidnapped Draco Malfoy and cursed him with an unknown spell." That was as close a description of the scar as he'd give Raphael. Draco had agreed, after some persuasion, to let Harry try this tactic, but he hadn't wanted anyone to know the specifics of his torment. Besides, if everything worked out as Harry hoped, Raphael would know what had happened to Draco soon, of Draco's own free will. "Draco believes he did it in retaliation for some crime the Death Eaters committed, because Draco is one of the few Marked wizards still free of Azkaban. And he also has reason to believe that it was you."
Raphael sat straight up, revulsion clearly visible on his face. "That's ridiculous. I despise Malfoy, but I've never hurt a suspect in my custody."
Harry kept his face straight and calm, his voice deep and steady. "He said he recognized your voice, the day you came to the garden. And when we investigated, we did find out that you had lost a brother to the Death Eaters. I wanted to make sure that you hadn't—well, done something you might have regretted later." He had come up with an explanation of his own why Raphael, if he scarred Draco, would not have publicized the fact. Drunk or crazed with grief, he could have acted, and then wished to undo the act. He was forever regretting the remarks he had made to Harry, which didn't mean he wouldn't make them again later. Or apologize for them aloud, for that mean.
The undeniable truth of that tried to hurt. Harry let the pain fall on him like frost, and melt away again. He had finally moved on from Raphael, and he no longer needed his approval, or to defend him to others so that Harry would feel like less of an arse for dating him.
Raphael stared at him searchingly. Then he sighed and sat back in his seat. "And you'll just accept my word?" he asked. "Without Veritaserum? Without calling in Aurors and putting me under arrest?"
"I'll accept your word." One reason Raphael hadn't simply pretended to like Harry's lifestyle and demands for more intimacy in their relationship was his ability as a liar. He had absolutely none.
More silence. Raphael stared at the floor. When he began to talk, it was in such a fast and soft murmur that Harry had difficulty separating the words from one another.
"Mum found out she couldn't have any more children after she had Gabriel and me. The thought of losing one of us terrified her. She always made us promise to watch out for each other. I can't tell you how many scrapes we got out of because of that. We watched each other's backs. We were friends as much as brothers, or brothers as close as friends." The thin French accent that Harry usually didn't notice at all crept into Raphael's speech as he continued.
"Then Gabriel started becoming involved in Dark magic. He just laughed at me when I wouldn't share it with him, and said that it was because I had too little talent to be a good vessel for anything Dark. And he was the more talented wizard, the stronger of us, the one who saved my life with magic while I saved his with physical strength." Raphael closed his eyes and tilted his head back until the cords in his neck stood out. "I refused to follow him into the shadows, but I always regretted it and wondered if I should have, if only to show solidarity. He took advantage of that weakness and exploited it. I didn't tell Mum and Dad until it was far too late.
"He—he went completely mad, at last. I think the Death Eaters he played around with were practicing demon-summoning."
Harry sucked in his breath through his teeth. Ron had told him about a few of the demon-summoning cases the Aurors worked on. Even a slight rumor of that Darkest of the Dark Arts sent the Department of Magical Law Enforcement into full alert mode and utterly crushed the wizards who dared to hint at it.
"A demon took my brother." Raphael's hands clenched together until Harry expected to hear the snap of breaking bone. "I didn't want to admit it. I tried to cover for him, even when he murdered a few children in the neighborhood near our house. And then he tried to kill me.
"I—I took care of him one last time. I killed him. It was the only thing that could give him peace. I was going to remove the Dark Mark from his arm, too, so he wouldn't go down in history as a Death Eater, but the spell I'd used to kill Gabriel alerted the French Aurors." Raphael laughed bitterly. "Funny how they sensed that and not the demon that ate my brother, huh?
"I Apparated out just in time. Gabriel was found dead and pronounced murdered by Death Eaters.
"It devastated my mother. And she couldn't bear that anyone think she'd raised a son who died Dark; it was better, in her eyes, that everyone in Britain think she'd only had one child. She went to a great deal of trouble to remove Gabriel's name from all the official records she could, even the magical ones."
Harry nodded, now understanding why the book Draco had shown him only recorded Raphael's birth.
"And then she found out I was bent, and realized that meant she wouldn't get any grandchildren, either. Or, at least, none of her blood. And for Mum, blood has always been all-important." Raphael forced a rusty chuckle and opened his eyes. They shone with tears. "Can you wonder at my defending her? She's lost as much as I have. And, in some ways, what she lost matters more to her than Gabriel did to me. I've overcome his loss. She'll hold it close to her heart like a stone until her dying day."
Harry swallowed. It was difficult. "Thank you for telling me," he said. "I'll tell Draco that it wasn't you who cursed him." It meant that they still didn't know who had cast the scarring spell, but for Harry, that was less important. They still stood a chance of discovering that particular truth someday. And if they never did, that didn't make Draco's life worthless. Harry gave a little nod and stood.
He paused and glanced back. Raphael was leaning across his desk with his hand extended, palm up.
"I suppose," he asked, in a level voice, "that you wouldn't consider—getting back together with me?"
Harry felt a small smile lift his lips. Raphael had finally done what Harry had always wanted, and shared more of himself than was absolutely necessary for fucking or rough jokes on a date or disapproving of the way Harry had chosen to live his life. If he had done this while they were still dating, it would have sealed Harry to him for the foreseeable future, since it would have meant that Raphael was putting his precious masculinity at risk.
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly. That was a lie, but a small one; it wouldn't cost him anything, and it might cushion reality for Raphael. "I'm together with Draco now. And I can't imagine wanting to leave him."
Raphael's hand retracted, quickly. His face became lined as he nodded, and Harry braced himself for one final taunt when the Auror muttered, "Give him a message from me, then."
"Which is?" Harry asked.
"Tell him he's a damn lucky bastard," Raphael said, and then turned away and stared ferociously down at his paperwork.
Harry let himself out quietly.
Draco carefully tied a black ribbon into his hair, and stepped back to admire the effect in the large mirror he'd recently added to the drawing room of his flat. He'd deliberately grown his hair long so that it could sweep his shoulders and look impressive when he tied it back, instead of looking, as Harry had teased him, like the tail of a rat doused with Hirsute Potion.
That was past now. His hair looked magnificent. His skin, now that he had spent some time in Harry's garden—even if he had watched more than helped—had passed the peeling stage and the sunburned stage and settled into a healthy golden-bronze-alabaster glow. (Draco didn't care if those colors seemed contradictory to fasten together; they were what he looked like). His eyes had lost more than half the wariness they'd had on the day Harry returned his wand. And his gray dress robes were, as ever, immaculately clean, carefully pressed, and complimentary to his face and form, courtesy of the Manor's house-elves.
Draco had taken to spending more time with his parents lately. They didn't always agree, but since Draco's father could no longer make him want to cringe with a look and his mother's tears didn't call up his own, Draco found the time far more pleasant than he had during the last few years. And Narcissa was pleased to have him home more often, though she couldn't understand why Draco had accepted, so quietly, that he'd have to wait to find his enemy and have the spell reversed.
A soft, sweet scent worked its way into his nostrils, announcing Harry's presence. Draco turned away from the mirror to open the door, flashing himself a smile before he completely lost sight of his reflection.
He opened the door to find Harry standing there with another vase of angel flowers and a soppy smile. Draco accepted the vase and an equally soppy kiss on the cheek, murmured thanks and exclaimed over the flowers, and set the vase carefully on an end table next to the couch. The house-elf his parents had lent him appeared instantly to sprinkle some water into the potted soil.
"Shall we?" Draco asked, and held out his arm to Harry. They had made plans to dine in Hogsmeade tonight.
Harry didn't move to take his arm. Draco glanced at him, puzzled, and found Harry blinking, as though he had just awakened from sleep.
Perhaps he fell from the ladder in the garden today and hit his head. Or perhaps he let Philip inject him with venom. Those were the kinds of things Harry was liable to get up to when Draco wasn't there. Draco had been relieved to find out that he wasn't just a helpless child for Harry to take care of; Harry needed quite a bit of care himself, since he seemed to assume that just because he was free of suspicion and resentment now, the rest of the world was agreeably free of danger.
"What's wrong?" Draco asked.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Harry whispered. His eyes moved slowly across Draco's face, no doubt noting that the only magic about him came from his wand and his robes.
Draco lifted his head. His head was beating very fast, and his vision wavered as if from hunger or dizziness when he met Harry's eyes. "No," he said. "I don't think so."
The smile that crept across Harry's lips then made Draco think he knew what an angel flower felt when it faced the sunset. Harry took Draco's hand in his own and gently kissed all the knuckles. Then he leaned in and swept his mouth across Draco's chin, lips, and cheek, ending with his scar. Draco put a hand on Harry's shoulder, holding him in place for just a moment.
"Come on, then," Harry whispered. "I can't wait to show off my boyfriend. The other people in the Three Broomsticks are going to wish they were as lucky as I am."
Draco nodded slightly, and held on to Harry as he Apparated them Side-Along to Hogsmeade. More than a few people turned to study their sudden appearance, or perhaps the aura of magical power that Harry never seemed to notice he projected about him. Draco saw the stares, the dropped jaws, the beginnings of sniggers or smiles.
He knew it would be even worse when Weasley and Granger came back from the Continent, as they were scheduled to do tomorrow.
He raised an eyebrow at the people staring at him and turned to walk into the Three Broomsticks, letting everyone in sight know that they were not Draco Malfoy, confident, powerful, self-knowing pure-blood wizard, and never would be, though if they observed closely enough, they might pick up some hints on aspiring towards his greatness.
Harry was close and warm at his side, chuckling with quiet joy; Draco knew that without even glancing at him.
Someday, he would find the wizard who had cursed him and make him remove the spell, Draco thought as he ducked through the door of the pub and then straightened to look everyone who stared at him in the eye. But it would have to be a matter of thorough investigative work and Slytherin cunning, not coincidence and seizing on the first victim who happened along.
And however long it took, however long he walked scarred or unscarred, he was perfectly confident that Harry would be at his side.
He held Madam Rosmerta's astonished gaze, and smiled slightly. "A table for two, please," he said.