Draco looked around the clearing to which the centaurs had led them. It was a distance through the Forbidden Forest from the other, and in a deep, dim hollow where branches mostly blocked the sky and leaves covered the ground. He felt a moment's slim regret. He would have enjoyed watching the centaur dwellings in the sky and trying to guess at what had held them up.
But this clearing looked much more like the site of a test, he did have to give the centaurs that.
The tree the centaurs had bound them to was ancient, somewhere on the border between living and dead, so twisted Draco could find no comfortable position in which to rest his back against the trunk. He winced and shifted again as the knots dug into his spine, but then took a deep breath and let his head fall back. He could see the stars appearing through the gaps in the boughs, and trying to recognize constellations from the odd, scattered parts of them he could see was a soothing, if simple, game.
Nothing could soothe Potter, of course.
"Why did we agree to come?" Potter muttered, and tested the slack in the chain, what little there was, for the hundredth time. "We should at least have made them show us Lydia before we gave up our wands."
"This is a trial of trust," Draco said, also for the hundredth time. "Making demands of them wouldn't have been appropriate."
Potter was chained on the other side of the tree, so he couldn't exactly kick Draco's ankle, but he made a good effort. "Doesn't anything ruffle you, Malfoy?"
Draco laughed in the back of his throat. Despite having spent nearly ten hours bound to the tree, unable to sit down, without food or water, he felt oddly happy. He had made a guess as to when the centaurs would free them, and he was sure it was correct. And he could taste the magic in the air, piercing and cool as an arrowhead on his tongue. Just by standing in the same place as centaurs, he believed, he could glean a little of their magical technique. He would return to his tower with new, unexpected skills. His previous visits with centaurs had granted them to him as well.
But he had never been in the center of their power before, and he had never endured one of their ordeals before, though he had often offered to undergo one. He didn't lack the ability to make sacrifices, whatever Potter believed. The centaurs had watched him with imperturbable eyes each time and refused.
Draco thought he knew why now. They had been waiting for Potter to come with him. Centaurs didn't exactly have prophecies, but they obeyed the directions they saw in the heavens, and if the heavens said that he and Potter had to come into the Forbidden Forest after a kidnapped child and pass through three trials, that was what the centaurs would ensure happened.
"I let some things ruffle me," he said, when he could hear Potter whinging to himself about the lack of an answer. "You, back in school. Problems that are irresolvable with the degree of knowledge I have now. Another astronomer anticipating a project I was working on and publishing the truth before me." He took another breath. The air was growing thicker and colder, and he knew it wasn't his imagination that the ambient magic it carried had increased. "But not this. I would willingly do much more than this to learn centaur secrets."
"And whilst you're after them, Lydia is probably being tortured," Potter hissed at him.
"Unlikely," Draco said cheerfully. He'd been saving this revelation, partially because his certainty on the matter had increased over several hours, but mostly just because he knew it could rattle Potter. "I think they probably escorted her back to Hogwarts the moment they had us. Centaurs aren't stupid, Potter. They know a kidnapping would set back their position with the wizards. On the other hand, they do what they have to do, and for some reason, it was important to them to get us into the Forest. I think they took a willing child, not a frightened one, and she went back when she wasn't of use to them as bait anymore."
Stunned silence from Potter's side of the tree. Draco grinned to himself and began counting the seconds until Potter cried out in indignation.
"Just when were you planning on telling me this?" Potter's voice was low and ugly.
"When you said something that would lead naturally into it." Draco paused, then employed his best imitation of his father's icy voice on the next words. "I do so hate introducing subjects unnaturally into conversation."
Harry's priorities had become very simple. First, he was going to figure out some way around the bloody tree, past the length of chain that separated them still. Then he was going to beat Draco Malfoy until no one could tell his nose from the other lumps on his face.
It was a neat, simple plan, and had the virtue of direct action, something Harry had been woefully short of in the last ten hours. It would also take his mind off his dry throat and his empty stomach.
He waited a moment, until he thought Malfoy must have relaxed his guard, and then gave a mighty yank on the chain.
Malfoy yelled. Harry didn't care. The centaurs had ignored all the sounds they made so far, though they must have sentries watching through the trees just in case they'd concealed a second wand somewhere. Harry had managed to change his position, a little. He'd also changed Malfoy's position, keeping him a constant distance away from Harry, but that would get better in just a short while.
"What are you doing?" Malfoy spluttered. Good. Harry liked spluttering.
"Working up wandless magic to shorten this chain," Harry growled. "And getting my fists ready to give you exactly what you deserve."
Malfoy went still, which was not the reaction Harry had expected. Where was the whinging, and the running full tilt around the tree in an effort to get away, and the desperate screaming for help?
Then Malfoy said, softly but urgently, "Listen, Potter. Even if you can manage enough magic to break the chain, you shouldn't do it."
"Really? From where I'm standing it's a spectacular idea," Harry said flatly, and then closed his eyes. He needed concentration to build up the power. Malfoy's voice in and of itself wasn't enough to distract him.
Malfoy's words were enough, though. "Potter, you idiot, they've left us here so we can show we trust them. What will breaking free do? Only get you feathered with arrows before you can summon your wand, that's what."
Harry frowned into the darkness. He hadn't ever realized how deep the darkness would get in the Forest away from the castle lights. Or at least he didn't remember from his various exploits against Aragog and his meeting with Voldemort when he was drinking unicorns' blood. The Forest had always seemed full of light then. If his eyes were weak, though, he doubted Malfoy's were much better.
He doesn't wear glasses. And he's an astronomer; he probably has excellent night vision.
Harry growled to himself. He hated it when he had to listen to his common sense, in defiance of his Gryffindor instincts.
"You can see the sentries, I suppose?" He knew his voice was sullen.
"No. But I know they're there."
This, Harry considered, was not a sufficient answer, especially when his muscles had begun to tremble with the effort of keeping still for so long. He had never done well bound. More than once, when he was confined during a hostage situation, his magic had simply gone wild and burned the ropes to shreds or broken the Body-Bind, leaving him free to charge at his astonished captors.
"Then," he said tightly, "distract me, Malfoy. I hate this."
"Being tied to a tree in the middle of the night?" Malfoy sounded amused, damn him. "You have many other experiences to compare this one to?"
"Not what I meant." Harry breathed through his nose and did his best to calm himself down. "I meant, I hate being tied up, unable to move. And you say I shouldn't do the one thing I could to relieve myself. I wasn't panicking before this because I thought I had the ability to use wandless magic if it got really bad. You've taken that option away. Distract me, damn it."
Silence. Harry swore under his breath. Of course Malfoy would run out of his prickling, snapping, sniping comments just when it really counted.
More silence. Harry, sweating now, closed his eyes and began to concentrate again in desperation. There was always the chance he could conjure a Shield Charm when the chain fell slack, and if Malfoy was right, then Lydia was out of the Forest and in no danger of any kind. He should—
"I want you to justify yourself to me, Potter."
Oh, thank God.Harry barely kept himself from saying it aloud. He opened his eyes and sneered, wondering idly if he was sneering at a centaur sentry, given that he and Malfoy faced opposite directions. "You want reasons for why I acted the way I did during school, I reckon? Reasons that you won't understand even if I explain them to you?"
"No." Malfoy's voice had acquired the frozen, icy surface it had had when he first spoke to Harry back in his office. "I want to know why you're always running into the middle of dangerous situations, why you actively discourage other people from helping you, why you haven't already settled down with a nice young witch." There was a pause, suggestive. "Or a nice young wizard, for that matter."
Harry snorted. "I doubt you'd understand those reasons either, Malfoy. Since you don't know what passion means."
"I know you heard passion in my voice when we first came into the centaurs' clearing," Malfoy said, calmly, clearly. "Come, Harry. Explain yourself to me. You were determined when I knew you last. Stubborn. You kept on the trail of Voldemort, or me, for that matter, during our sixth year, until you reached the end. You should be able to put up with this, as well as a regular partner. They're gnat bites next to a Dark Lord out for your blood. When did you lose your ability to simply endure?"
Harry shifted restlessly. The problem was, people had asked him these questions before. Ron and Hermione, among others, when they'd first sensed the shift in him after the war. Ginny, with vivid tears standing in her eyes, the day Harry admitted it just didn't work and broke up with her. Some of his partners, who had genuinely liked him and had been upset when Harry pushed them away.
He knew the answers, but he didn't know how to phrase them in a way that made sense to other people.
"I don't know," he said at last. "But I do know that I'm much happier working alone than with someone else. Not as many lives to worry about. Not as many restrictions on my freedom." He paused a moment to think. "I love freedom more than anything else. And that answers every question."
"Does it?" Malfoy's voice was soft, but Harry didn't trust that for a minute. It would become a darting sword, made to pierce him, any minute. "Most people would say the bonds of good friendship, of love, aren't confinements, Harry. Or they're the kind that you enter willingly, because the sacrifice of freedom is nothing next to what you gain."
"You would know a lot about friendship and love, would you?"
Malfoy drew a sudden harsh breath. Harry felt a moment's mean satisfaction. The blow had gone home.
And then he remembered that Malfoy might be the only one who could persuade the centaurs to let them go, and he remembered his admiration of Malfoy earlier in the day as they walked through the Forest, and he shifted again. Damn it, he hated when his satisfaction turned to guilt.
"Sorry," he muttered. The word tangled up in his throat, but he managed to force it out.
Harry heard a rustle that was probably Malfoy's hair traveling against the tree as he nodded. "I think I begin to see a partial answer," he murmured, voice dry as midwinter ice. "You don't find the gain worth the sacrifice. What are your requirements for a relationship, Harry? What would someone have to give you, to make you listen to him, pay attention to him, consider his needs as important as your own?"
Wonder burned in the middle of Harry's chest. No one had ever asked this. No one. They had assumed, with the best of intentions, that he was abnormal, what with his quick boredom and his low sex drive.
Careful, Harry, he reminded himself. He may have uncovered your feelings awfully fast, but he's still a stuck-up poncy git.
"A challenge," he said. "I need someone who can wrestle with me, someone who can make me stretch to my limits, someone who requires an equal of me. I've only met people who want me to become wrapped around their little fingers or people who want to fawn on and worship me because I'm a hero. With Ron and Hermione, it's different, but even so, I couldn't have either of them for a partner. And I could hardly have you for a partner, either," he added, wondering if Draco had that in mind. "You're not an Auror."
Draco chuckled, so softly that Harry turned his head, straining his ears to hear better. "There's more than one kind of partner, Harry," he said. "And I maintain that we will have much to talk about when we leave the Forest."
Harry opened his mouth to retort—so Malfoy thought he was capable of challenging Harry, did he? More, he wanted to?—but there was a movement in front of him that almost made him swallow his tongue. A centaur had appeared, one whose coat glimmered dark red in the faint moonlight, and reached out to unclasp the chain that traveled across his waist and wrists.
"Right on time," Malfoy said, his voice faintly pleased. "I can see Orion through that gap in the leaves."
Harry opened his mouth to ask what the fuck that meant.
"You have passed the first test," said Magus, who was apparently in on the conspiracy not to let Harry finish a complete sentence, from behind the chestnut centaur.
Harry rolled his eyes, massaged his wrists, took a deep breath, and pushed away thoughts of hunger and thirst. "You said that you had a test of courage for me?" he asked. At least, this one, he knew he ought to be good at.
"Not directly for you," Magus corrected softly.
Harry hated feeling out of his depth. He was happier when he just had someone to curse.
Draco felt a slight tremor. Centaurs did not twist their words, ever. They considered truth a duty of any species who lived by the dictates of the stars. But the words they spoke might not be the ones their listeners expected to hear.
He chafed his wrists, then strode away from the tree and stood before Magus. The centaur loomed over him. Draco wondered for a moment whether he would be content to go back to Hogwarts as the Astronomy Professor when this was done; he seemed so powerful and content here. But then, centaurs didn't judge matters of precedence as wizards did, either. The one sent among humans would not have a lowly job.
"The tests of courage and moderation are for both of us?" he asked, his voice quiet enough to be respectful, but loud enough so Potter could hear. He saw Potter twitch around in his direction, head lifted and eyes glinting quick and thoughtful. Free, he seemed more in possession of that boundless energy than Draco would have expected. He wasn't shouting for his wand back, at least.
"Yes. Both at once." Magus inclined his head in what could have been simple acknowledgment of Draco's statement or actual approval. "Your test will be first, because you are better known to us."
I bet that's a novel situation for Potter, Draco thought.
Magus glanced past Draco's shoulder at Potter for a moment, then said, "You must not interfere." Draco didn't turn away, but he assumed Potter must have made a sign of assent, because Magus looked at him again. "It is said that you are a seeker after knowledge," he said. "When you come among our kindred, you do not simply enjoy the experience. Nor do you seek an advantage for wizards over us. You understand. You analyze. You work out patterns, and then you would use them in your own magic."
Draco had no idea what the right answer in this case would be. He was beyond his depth, floating in darkness as fathomless as that which lay between the well-known constellations above his head. He wondered for one frantic moment if there was a ritual greeting needed and unknown to him, if they wanted him to discourse on the uses of wizarding astronomy, if he should present a dignified and unbroken silence—
And then he remembered what he'd thought just a few minutes ago. When in doubt around centaurs, speak the truth.
"Yes," he said. "That is what I want."
"Then take the knowledge, Draco Malfoy," Magus said, and his voice was like cold water flowing directly over Draco's nerves. "If you can."
His eyes, dark and just barely reflecting moonlight, widened, and in them Draco could see the stars.
But they were not the stars as he had learned to know them. They were grouped into odd, wild clumps, animals that ran only in the Forbidden Forest and named stones and trees with histories, and Draco felt a moment's irritation. That was a very simple reason why no wizards had been able to learn centaur magic, and one he should have figured out long since. Much of wizarding astronomy was built on the constellations, but the constellations were not something intrinsic to the sky. At least, their shapes as drawn by wizarding eyes weren't. Different human cultures had looked at the night sky and seen very different things.
Centaurs saw them differently, as well.
The lines of silvery light used to draw the centaur constellations leaped and flickered and flashed in Draco's eyes. He despaired of remembering them, except by the silent osmosis he'd used to gain his other new skills when he came back from centaur encampments. He was falling further, delving deeper, diving faster. He was passing into the maze of Magus's eyes.
The centaurs' secrets could not be tortured from them, could not be written down and discovered by enterprising astronomers, could not be whispered by a traitor into human ears. The centaurs' secrets werewithin them. It was no wonder, Draco thought, enthralled, that they moved to the patterns of the heavens. When those patterns guided their very muscles and veins and made up the flow of their blood, what else were they supposed to do?
Down and inwards and across he fell, while suns flew past him like rain.
Harry shivered. It was not just the increased cold of the air that made him do so, or the centaurs that had emerged from the trees and stood without a twitch of their tails or a shudder of their flanks, staring at Draco. It was the way Draco had shuddered and dropped to his knees, his face held obscenely close to Magus's still, as if chained. The tendons in his neck stood out. An eager whine emerged from his throat.
Harry did not understand exactly what was happening, but he knew well enough that this "test" could consume Draco if he did not pull back from it.
And there was nothing he could do to interfere.
Now he knew what the centaurs had meant by a trial of courage. It took an entirely different kind of courage to stand here, biting his lips and opening and closing his eyes, and not lunge forwards to become the hero. He had to trust that the centaurs had good reasons for doing this and that Magus would not have offered the knowledge if Draco had no chance to recover from it. He had to trust in Draco's own strength and skill to return unharmed from the edge of mystery.
He had to trust in his own fortitude and ability not to go mad.
Questions began to dance up and down in his head as he stood there, his hands digging into his armpits and his fingers creasing the flesh above his ribs, his breath drifting up in front of his eyes, his stomach nagging him despite everything. Had he been not just reckless and disdainful of the rules in the past nine years since he'd become an Auror, but mistrustful as well? Had he had so little faith in the ability of Ron and others to handle themselves? Sure, he could work faster and better alone, but what did it say, that he wasn't willing to slow down and accommodate himself to someone else's way of working? Maybe he could have stayed partners with Ron, if he had just explained a few things and not snapped when Ron got something wrong.
Harry stirred anxiously, then remembered that putting one foot forwards, for all he knew, would violate the terms of the test. He held himself hard enough to constrict his breathing, and hoped.
There had come a point when the flight of comets, the breathing power of nebulae, the collision of galaxies, ceased to be separate phenomena to Draco. All he could understand, and more, was contained within Magus's eyes. He could have constructed floating wooden ramps of his own now, or models of the planets to live in. He could have drawn the centaur constellations from memory. He could have—
He could have foretold the future.
Centaur astronomers had the power that wizards had never wielded. At least, not reliably. Draco didn't want to think about Divination and the grand claims that Seers sometimes made. For every true Seer, there were a thousand charlatans.
But centaurs could do it. They looked ahead because they could feel the stars within them, like so much else, and knew what influences the stars were and were not capable of laying down, based on their present positions. It was like knowing the ability of one's body to step or stride. Instinctive knowledge, hard to describe, even harder to possess.
And then Draco met the limit, and knew, in body, that he screamed.
It was a scream of understanding, not pain. To have this knowledge, to know what Marsmeant and exactly how the birth of a star would foretell the birth of a child—
One had to surrender to it. Completely. It was not a matter of using it. It was a matter of dwelling within it and allowing it to use you.
Thus the centaurs' odd contrivance to fulfill a prophecy that had little personally to do with them and could have backfired on them by making wizards more frightened and suspicious of their kind. That was the price they paid. To know fate, to be fate, was to surrender the free will that allowed humans to make other decisions and oppose themselves to destiny.
And as much as he loved knowledge, Draco loved his freedom more.
He had made his decisions after the war. He had found a profession that intrigued him and would still allow him to act within the strict restrictions that the Ministry had laid down on his use of his wand.He had built his tower and argued with his parents and moved out of Malfoy Manor.
He had stood up to the Dark Lord, in the end—not to the monster himself, but to the shadow the monster had left lying over his life. He would not give up what he had won, not if he could know everything Magus did.
Rising like a raven, Draco flung himself back from the edge of the abyss. He did not know how much his mind would retain, and he did not try to find out. He ran shamelessly back down the long, sun-dotted trail, and emerged gasping into darkness that was like light beside the endless reaches of spaces in Magus's eyes. He dropped his head into his hands and knelt, breathing harshly.
The knowledge fell like stardust through his mental fingers. Draco did not try to tighten his grip. He knew he would give in to temptation and stare upwards again if he did. Those eyes were still waiting for him.
A test of moderation for me, indeed, he thought, and wiped a hand across his mouth. He turned to find that Potter had not moved from the place where he'd been when Draco began his strange journey, though his eyes were enormous and he twitched like a startled rabbit when he realized Draco was staring at him with sanity intact. His eyes closed then, and he took an immense, silent breath.
Draco's resolve to talk to Potter when this all ended solidified. He scrambled to his feet and moved back from Magus, to sling an arm around Potter's shoulders. Potter leaned against him with a smaller sigh than the one he'd just given. Draco took a moment to revel in that closeness—the closeness of an inadequate, flawed human being who made mistakes, and who would never know the future.
"It is the time of the third test," said Magus, and the darkness of the clearing tore.
Harry opened his eyes.
On the ground in front of the centaurs, widening gradually but inexorably as they moved back, a pool of light was opening. It turned and swirled slowly, a viscous maelstrom. Harry had never seen anything like it. The pool was pure gold in color, and leaping flares broke the surface of it, as Hermione had told him fire did on the surface of the sun. How far down it went, he didn't know. How wide it might spread in the end, he didn't know.
What would happen if he stepped into it, he didn't know.
The urge to do so hooked into his stomach like a wire. He had already stumbled forwards several steps before he realized he didn't know what to do. He halted, gaze darting over to Magus, who nodded imperceptibly.
"You must step into it," he said. "And remain there as long as you think you need to. It is different beneath the surface." There was a grave undertone to those last words, where Harry thought a human might have smirked.
Harry had no objections. He had no wand, and the magic of the pool was utterly unknown. This was the greatest threat, the greatest challenge, he had ever faced in his life.
"Draco Malfoy may not interfere," Magus said, but the words sounded thin and unimportant to Harry. Why in the world would Malfoy want to interfere? Lydia was safe, and he had, probably, at least some of the knowledge he had come for. This was Harry's fate, no one else's. If he died now, at least his friends would know he had died doing something he loved.
And he left behind no lover who would be hurt.
He waded forwards and plunged into the pool.
Heat washed around him for a moment, heat that made him scream in ecstasy at the pain. He had stepped into the sun, he was standing in a wash of dragonfire, a hundred tons of melting iron were falling on him all at once—
And then he vanished into darkness and stillness.
Draco closed his eyes.
Potter, you idiot.
He understood exactly what this pool represented, even though he had never seen it before, nor found mention of it among the few scraps of knowledge he had coaxed out of centaurs. It represented Potter's greatest temptation, as the endless understanding in Magus's eyes had been Draco's.
And Draco knew what that would be, given what Potter had told him when they were both chained to the tree.
What would lure the man who lived to charge into impossible situations and conquer them with a mixture of fighting skill and blind luck?
Harry found himself drifting in perfect darkness. No night could compare to it. In every direction around him was stillness, a lack of sight, a lack of sound. He tried to shout, and his voice did not even rise before it died. His skin touched nothing. He might have been falling, or standing, or drifting sideways. There was no way to be sure. He was rapidly losing track of the sensations of his own body.
Insanity pressed close to the verges of his brain. Harry laughed wildly, knowing that his heart beat faster even if he couldn't feel it. He had never faced madness so directly before, and he was looking forwards to it.
He had only a moment of that, however, before shafts of misty starlight pierced the pool, beaming down from above. At the same moment, colored sparks began to whirl and drift in the distance. Harry knew what they were, even before they came close enough that he could distinguish individual features. They were his beloved dead, his parents and Remus and Sirius, the four figures he had walked with in the Forbidden Forest when he believed that he went to his death on Voldemort's wand.
He had come to the country where they waited for him, and this time there was no reason to hold back. He could swim over to join them if he wished. Harry understood what he had in that moment: choice unbounded. No one was waiting for him to sacrifice his life and save the world. He was a good Auror, but others could work on and solve even the most difficult cases. Ron and Hermione would mourn, but he would never know of it. His aloofness from other human ties in the past decade was proven spectacularly wise now. He had always held lightly to life. He could let go.
No one to stop him. He was the one who would make this decision, if it were made at all.
Harry imagined his life as a golden ball held in his hands. He tossed it into the air, caught it again, rolled it from palm to palm, and nearly dropped it into the inky blackness beneath him. But he snatched it back up at the last instant. No, if he died, he was going to die by choice, not accident.
This was the freedom beyond all freedoms. This was the challenge beyond all challenges, the patient fate he could no more escape than could anyone else. He had looked into the face of death many times before, spit, and walked away, but someday he knew he would not be able to walk away. And now it waited for him, ready to engage him in the riskiest of contests, the one he knew he could not win.
It was seduction like nothing he had ever known.
And it was clarity, it was awakening. Just as he had been forced to wonder if he were mistrusting everyone who tried to partner with him instead of pushing past them to claim his rightful place, Harry had to think, now, of what he'd been chasing. Freedom, as he'd told Draco? Independence, which he had a right to after so much of his life had been controlled and manipulated and shaped by others' expectations? Excitement, so he wouldn't get bored?
Harry gave a little shiver, and shook his head. Then he looked down at the quivering ball of intensely concentrated golden life and warmth between his hands. Such a small thing, and so easily quenched by the well of blackness around him. The dead outnumbered the living, and in the deeps of time, everything would end. Someday, he would face his last battle.
But he need not make a contribution to that ending before that fight.
He tossed the ball upwards, and willed it to rise. Then Harry rose, chasing his life like a Snitch back into the imperfect darkness of the Forbidden Forest.
Draco felt as if he'd never known what it was like to breathe by the time Harry finally tore through the golden surface of the pool.
He had suffered enough in those endless, unclocked minutes to know that this was his own test of courage. He had to face the temptation to summon his wand and cast a spell that might dissipate the pool and fetch Harry back, or at least force the centaurs to do so. He had to face the biting, blinding fear about what would happen if the pool simply settled and stayed the same, unbroken by anything but its own flares, until sunrise and beyond.
He had to face the fact that he really, really didn't want Harry to die.
He fell to his knees as he watched the other wizard wade out of the pool, scrubbing at his own red and irritated flesh. Harry stood over him a moment later, gazing down. Draco stared up, and through the flickering shadows the golden pool cast, he made out gentleness on that face—the first time he'd ever seen his former schoolboy rival wear that expression.
Then Harry extended his hand.
Draco clenched his fingers around Harry's wrist, and let Harry pull him out of fear and a million memories.
Harry had listened just enough to Magus to record what the centaur was talking about on the "Auror part" of his brain. The Auror part would always have a clear recollection of the important facts later. Their wands had been returned. Lydia Siddons really had changed, more than her parents thought she had, beginning with her need to get over her fear of her Astronomy teacher. She had willingly come to the Forest with Magus, when he told her it was part of something important to have her along. She was already back in Hogwarts, or probably in the loving arms of her parents by now. Harry and Draco had done their part by coming after her and fulfilling the prophecy. Magus would return to his post as Astronomy teacher, empowered in a new way to deal with humans, now that he had shown his people wizards could learn the lessons of courage and moderation and wouldn't necessarily tear the Forbidden Forest apart immediately because they believed one of their children was in danger.
Harry knew all that. He'd be able to reproduce it for Beauchamp later, via Pensieve if he had to.
Right now, though, his attention was much more firmly fixed on Draco's hair and scent and the solid warmth of his body as he leaned against Harry in the circle of his arm.
They didn't wait for the trip back to his office, or even a quick Apparition to Draco's tower, which he suggested between his gasps for breath; Harry had dragged him through the Forest at a rapid pace. Harry leaned Draco back against a tree on the outskirts of the Forest, in shadows that hid them from Hogwarts, and fastened his mouth on the other man's.
And, for the first time, he was involved in what was happening.
Draco was a living challenge under his hands, his tongue dueling and darting back against Harry's, his skin hot as the pool had been, his hands fumbling frantically for a way beneath Harry's clothes. He let out a triumphant snarl when he found it, and then tossed his head back with a hoarse little breath when Harry located his cock first. Harry squeezed, and saw, by the light of stars and moon, Draco Malfoy the Unruffled Astronomer writhing with his eyes shut and his mouth slack and open, his throat strained back as it had been when he knelt before Magus.
Need that he had only ever associated with fighting and rescuing took hold of Harry. He had the need to make Draco look like that again, and again, and again.
Sex had never been like this. Nothing had ever been like this.
He would have fallen to his knees and tried something he'd only ever been mildly interested in before, but Draco pushed back against him then, and muttered a charm that loosened Harry's robes enough for him to find his target. And Harry had the satisfaction of feeling a pair of hands that obviously weren't only talented at wielding telescopes and star charts curve around him.
He didn't throw his head back, because that wasn't what he did. He ground his mouth into Draco's, and his erection into Draco's hands, and Draco into the tree. Their panting breaths traveled back and forth between them. Harry found himself caught in a spiral of emotions and sensations that twined around each other and only grew sharper and quicker and more insistent the more he felt them, luring him into feeling more and more of them.
And he wanted to make Draco feel them, too, and every sign that he was only made him want to do it more.
There was never enough of this in the world, he thought, as Draco made the tree sway with the force of his sudden buck, as he cried out in something like pain, as he came with force enough to nearly tear Harry's hands from his cock. Never, there would never be enough, not enough touching or enough of that sound or enough skin to lean forwards and cover with kisses and swipes of his tongue—
And there would never be enough of the force that lifted him like a tsunami and dropped him abruptly into pleasure. Harry keened, and shook himself apart, and at the last slumped with his head on Draco's shoulder, his breaths slowing, subsiding gently into silence.
Draco would have lifted a hand to stroke Harry's hair, but they were rather occupied with holding the cooling, sticky mess between their bodies right now. He rolled his head to the side instead, brushing Harry's cheek with his. He received a fever-bright look from green eyes, and then another kiss, so greedy that he wondered if Harry wouldn't be ready for a second round quite soon.
"You should know," he whispered, "that I won't tolerate you going madly into danger again, not if we're going to be lovers."
Harry smiled, the deep, self-satisfied smile of a man who had faced an important flaw in his character and not let it break him. "Don't worry," he said. "I rather think you're challenge enough for me."
Draco smiled back, hesitantly. He could hear the voices of doubt beginning in his head. Harry was—well, he was Harry. He was an Auror, working in the midst of a Ministry that still sneered doubtfully at Draco's family. Harry seemed never to have had a lover who would stay with him; Draco had never had one who wanted to put up with his moods for long. And there was all the history between them, lying largely untouched save for the insults they'd flung earlier that day.
After what they'd faced in the Forest, Draco thought they would be dishonoring themselves if they didn't at least try.
He moved at last, a little uncomfortable with his enforced stillness, and Harry used his wand to banish the mess from between them. They still didn't go immediately back to the Ministry, however. Draco lifted his arms and wrapped them around Harry, drawing him close, so that he could both embrace him and see the stars over his shoulder.
We can try. Because no one human knows the future.