This is the last chapter of Harry's Project. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and especially to those who liked this small story enough to review.
Chapter Eight—Harry Changing, Draco Shining
It wasn't easy to get along at first—to convince himself that Draco wouldn't really frantically owl him the next day and ask Harry to come rescue him from loneliness, boredom, the trials of fitting back into pure-blood society, or himself. At the same time, Harry knew he would have replied to such a message by asking Draco not to tempt him like that, and encouraging him to act on his own.
So longing for a message was useless, anyway.
Harry contented himself with observing the Malfoy family's progress from a distance. Pansy's solicitor did indeed surrender the vaults and the houses that the Malfoys had once owned, and the amount missing from the Malfoys' accumulated Galleons matched the amount Pansy had used to take care of Edgar in the past few years. Pansy assiduously sent him copies of all the paperwork, or her solicitor did. Harry spent a few painful nights working out the math and swearing to learn the counting spell that wizards used in place of a Muggle calculator.
All the numbers checked out.
Two months later, Harry stared at the photograph on the front of the Prophet and saw Draco, with his mother on his arm and his father striding behind him, openly entering a shop in Diagon Alley. The people in the back of the photo stared at them with hostile expressions, but no one attacked them. And though Harry followed the papers carefully thereafter, he never heard of an open assault.
There were pictures of Draco, of course, because the tale of an old, disgraced family clawing its way back into power was too interesting for the papers to leave alone. Harry collected them, then destroyed the collection, then built it up again, then destroyed it again.
Hermione told him he was being morbid. Harry agreed, and made himself get more involved in his friends' lives, in Auror cases that involved working with more people than Ron, in applying the information he'd acquired in the Ministry archives for the better.
He only wished Draco did not look so happy without him.
Would you prefer that he looked miserable?
At the moment he had the thought, Harry really would have. And he understood then why Draco had said the flaw was in both of them.
He threw himself further and further into the activities that had so far filled his time, and told himself that it didn't hurt, it didn't, when the Prophet showed a photograph of Draco kissing an attractive blond wizard at the six-month mark.
He's moving on. You're just going to have to do the same.
That night, Harry conjured many small breakable items, locked the door of his flat securely, and threw an incredible temper tantrum. Then he got drunk and maudlin. When he woke up the next morning, he had to spend quite a bit of time drinking hangover potions and quite a bit more cleaning up the remains of his fit, but he did feel better.
"I don't see why you need more than this." Reynard Mallister, the wizard Harry had tried dating for the last month, backed away from him, shaking his head. "I mean, we've shagged a few times, but it's not like we'll move in together, you know? I think you're trying to make this into something it's not."
Harry leaned a shoulder against the door of the pub and stared at Reynard wearily. Reynard was black-haired, belying his name, with a single white streak down the middle of his scalp that followed an old scar. He had brilliant brown eyes, and he was nearly as intelligent as Hermione, though stocky and well-muscled from his work as a professional Quidditch Beater.
Harry had chosen him in part because he fucked very well, and in part because he resembled Draco as little as possible.
But Reynard was still interested in the casual, fun sex that Harry had participated in before he found Draco. And Harry had wanted—well, something else.
He just wished he could stop feeling like a failure all the time.
"Yes, you're right," he said. "I am. Sorry."
Reynard's face brightened, and he ruffled Harry's hair. "Not that much of a problem. I don't mind shagging you in a few days or weeks, you know? Next time you're in this part of London, look me up." He kissed Harry on the cheek and then ducked away, vanishing into the crowd clustered near the bar. Harry thought he was probably pursuing a wizard with unusual eyes, one green and one brown, whom he'd been staring at earlier that night. Reynard did love the unusual.
At least, Harry thought, he didn't feel a lot of bitterness as he Apparated home. How could he? Reynard wasn't Draco. He'd always known that.
And anyway, the solution when he saw yet another photograph of Draco on the front page of the paper the next morning locked in a clinch with yet another man was just not to read that article.
"You didn't hear yet, then."
Harry started badly. He'd thought he was alone when he stepped into his flat, and hadn't seen Hermione, sitting on a couch in the dark. He wiped mud out of his hair and raised an eyebrow at her. He'd just returned from a tough case in Scotland, chasing a thief who had escalated in fairly short order to murder, thanks to the urgings of a possessed artifact he'd stolen.
"Hear what?" he asked. "If something had happened to Ron, then I think you'd be at St. Mungo's, not here. Unless it happened a while ago." He'd been in Scotland for a week, moving so rapidly he usually outdistanced owls. He frowned worriedly at Hermione and lit the fire so he could see her expression better.
"It's not Ron," Hermione said, rising to her feet. And it wasn't. Her face was compassionate, but for him, Harry thought, not worried the way it would have been if Ron were injured. "It's Malfoy."
Harry took a deep breath and felt himself waver. He caught his balance with a hand on the couch and wondered if Hermione had noticed his weakness, then told himself that of course she had; this was Hermione. He looked her in the eye and smiled. "I can stand it," he said, answering her unspoken question. "What happened?"
The details trickled into his ears slowly, important, and yet difficult to focus on. Draco had been investigating Zonko's in Hogsmeade; it was slowly going out of business due to competition from the Weasleys' joke shop, and Draco was thinking of buying the building and turning it into a central shop from which to sell supplies useful to Hogwarts students, including potions ingredients. Someone had ambushed him there, and cursed him with a disease that made him progressively unable to breathe. Draco had recognized the curse, luckily, and managed to Apparate to St. Mungo's and seek treatment in time. The Daily Prophet had carried the details thanks to a witch from Hogsmeade who also recognized the curse. The Aurors were investigating, but still hadn't caught the person who cursed Draco.
Harry controlled the immediate impulse to go flying to St. Mungo's, and closed his eyes. Draco might not want to see him. And if his parents were at his bedside, they would be deeply upset over Harry's intrusion.
Yet Harry knew he wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if he didn't look in on Draco at least once.
"Yes," Hermione said.
Startled, Harry opened his eyes and looked at her. "What?"
"I said," Hermione murmured, smiling slightly, "yes. I'll help you sneak into St. Mungo's and visit him." She shrugged a little when Harry's jaw dropped open. "You would have asked me anyway, or taken risks that you shouldn't have in order to reach him. At least this way I know where you are and what you're doing."
Harry smiled wanly, and then let Hermione change his appearance until he resembled a thin, gawky teenager, whilst she aged herself to appear as his mother. Together, they Flooed to St. Mungo's and Hermione managed to attract the attention of several people who weren't actually Healers by pretending to have a mysteriously appearing and disappearing ailment. Harry slipped away in the confusion and aimed for the Spell Damage ward.
He caught a glimpse of himself in a reflective window along the way and nodded, reassured. His hair was the color of straw and stuck out from his head in every direction; his eyes were brown like Hermione's. And his vision was blurring, in fact, he realized. He removed his glasses and stuck them in his pocket.
A few Healers caught his eye, but each time he ducked his head and muttered, "Visiting," and they let him go, though with kindly reminders that visitors would have to leave in another half-hour.
Harry was lucky; he caught a glimpse of the dense cloak that Narcissa had worn to her interview with him in the Forest thrown carelessly over a chair. He crept softly to the door of the room behind the chair and peered in.
Lucius was asleep in one corner, his mouth open in so ridiculous and helpless a posture that Harry thought he could have liked him if he'd been meeting him for the first time. Narcissa hovered over Draco, her face strained but otherwise calm. Harry relaxed a little. Nothing terrible could be wrong with Draco, or Narcissa would have looked worse.
Draco himself lay propped up on several pillows, with an apparatus of several joined vials hovering at his lips, now and then giving a little whistle that stirred the blue liquid inside the glass. Harry squinted at it, and vaguely recalled seeing the same thing when he'd been brought to St. Mungo's with a punctured lung. It helped a severely wounded patient to breathe.
The blue liquid cycled regularly, and the whistling was soft. Loud whistling was a sign of distress to alert the Healers, Harry remembered. Draco was all right, or they wouldn't have trusted him to just the supervision of the apparatus and some visitors. He sagged against the doorway in relief.
The sag made his robe scuff against the doorway and caused Narcissa to glance up sharply. In moments she was between Harry and the end of the bed, her wand drawn. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. "Go look at something else!"
"I'm sorry," Harry babbled, stumbling away. "My aunt has a cloak like that." He pointed at Narcissa's cloak, telling the first lie that came into his head. "I thought this was her room."
Narcissa relaxed, but only enough to become frozen, rather than allowing herself to dismiss Harry as a threat. "You had best go now," she said. Lucius stirred in the corner and snorted into the slight beard he was growing.
Harry nodded and fled, picking up Hermione in the welcoming area. She had already decided that nothing was really wrong with her and was trading gossipy anecdotes with another old woman, presumably a real one. Harry clasped Hermione's hand and stood with his eyes shut for a moment.
He's all right. I'll just—I'll have to trust his parents to take care of him and the other Aurors to catch his assailant.
And Harry did. He forbade himself from visiting St. Mungo's again, even though he caught himself with Floo powder in his hand several times. He didn't ask to work on the case, though he burned to. He held his distance and let Draco stand on his own two feet, waited for the moment when Draco said it was all right to approach him again.
He never will, whispered the voice of doubt in the back of his head. He's forgotten about you.
Harry shut his ears to the voice as best he could, and endured. He slept better at night after they'd caught the attacker, a man with a grudge against Lucius, and imprisoned him.
And from then on, somehow, things were easier.
Harry could get through the day, sometimes, without thinking of Draco. He never quite stopped thinking of jokes he'd like to tell him or looking at the sky in hopes of an owl, but they became occurrences that slowly decreased in number. He started going out with other wizards, flirting for long periods of time, not sleeping around as much. The time he spent with his friends became valuable in and of itself, rather than just a desperate attempt to fill what he felt as a void.
Probably, he thought one evening as he leaned back on the table in Percy's kitchen and watched Victoire attempt to explain how Lucy and Molly had wound up with mud smeared over every inch of their bodies whilst she was clean, he owed Draco himself, for teaching Harry to stand on his own two feet.
"And that was almost the moment when I punched him." Christopher winked and threw back the Firewhiskey he was holding, a skill that made Harry wince even as he admired it. "But not quite!"
Harry laughed. Christopher had been telling the incredibly convoluted story of what had led up to his punching his boss in the mouth and being sacked from his latest job for an hour now, and still he hadn't reached the moment. Harry was willing to wait for the climax a while longer. No one could say Christopher wasn't an entertaining talker.
He wasn't a lot of things. Draco, for instance. But Harry had come to accept that Draco wasn't ever going to contact him again. It had been a year and a month now since the Malfoys got their property back. Draco had either moved on with his life and realized he didn't really want Harry, or he'd simply been unable to stand on his own feet yet. And maybe he never would be ready for close contact with Harry.
Meanwhile, Christopher was the longest-lasting boyfriend Harry had ever had: a skilled and thoughtful lover, interested in other things than sex, an eternally cheerful optimist despite all the mistakes he made and the jobs he kept losing. Harry liked him a lot. If the like hadn't approached love yet, well, they'd only been together three months. They had time.
Christopher had opened his mouth to continue the story when someone cleared his throat and tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me," said a voice Harry had resigned himself to only hearing in dreams. "I think this seat is mine."
Harry stared up at Draco. Draco cocked an eyebrow at him, and then at Christopher, as if to say that the merits of his claim to that particular chair should be obvious.
Christopher turned and blinked at him. "Hey, I know you," he said. "You're Draco Malfoy."
"Obviously." Draco narrowed his eyes. "And, as I said, this seat is mine."
Harry exhaled hard. His heart was beating so fast in his ears that he heard only a faint ringing. He struggled to concentrate on Draco's voice, not to make too much of that intense gaze traveling to him now and then, and to swallow his Firewhiskey.
Christopher shook his head. "You must be confused," he said, ever ready to be helpful. "I've been sitting here for an hour. I haven't even left to go to the loo." He turned and beamed at Harry. "So, as I was saying,then the pink elephant stepped backwards—"
"I was hoping to avoid rudeness," Draco interrupted. "I've had enough rudeness to last a lifetime. But since you won't listen—" He raised his wand.
"That's quite enough of that," Harry said hastily, staggering to his feet. He didn't know whether to laugh or shout or lunge at Draco. Conflicting impulses to do all three struggled in him like a disturbed nest of hornets. "I—Christopher, I'm sorry, but it would be best if you went away."
Christopher blinked up at him, eyes dim with incomprehension.
"Oh, for God's sake, there are some people who won't listen," Draco snapped, and took one long stride around the table. His hands came up to clutch Harry's face, and he yanked him into a kiss with a growl.
At least, Harry thought it was supposed to be a kiss. Since their teeth clicked together and Draco's actually cut Harry's bottom lip, that was a good guess. But Harry reached out in the next moment and put a steadying hand on Draco's shoulder, and then he readjusted the position of their heads, and then it was quite a good kiss.
It no longer filled a gaping hollow at the center of Harry's life, as it would have done if he'd retained a lot of hope about Draco's coming to him. Itadded to the richness of the life he had already, and that made it so much better. Harry sighed into the kiss, and then used his tongue in a little swirling motion he'd learned from Christopher, because Draco was being far too silent for his taste. Draco snarled and bit his tongue, then sucked it soothingly.
Harry pulled away at last, dazed and aroused and aware of the angry, incredulous, frightened, amused stares coming at them from every direction. The only thing he actually felt bad about was the hurt on Christopher's face.
"You've never kissed me like that," Christopher whispered.
"I know," was the only thing Harry could think of to say, ludicrous as that was. He could feel Draco's hands tightening on his shoulders, his body vibrating with the urge to speak, and Harry knew he only had a few moments to get rid of Christopher politely. "I'm sorry. I'm—with him."
Christopher stood, eyes darting back and forth between Harry and Draco. "You've been cheating on him with me?"
"Until now, we weren't together," Draco said, and stepped closer to Harry. Harry couldn't quite figure out whether he meant to protect Harry or stake his claim. Well, either was fine with him, really, Harry thought, and licked at the bleeding cut on his tongue again.
"That doesn't make sense," Christopher said.
"It would take too long to explain," Harry said quietly. "I just—I was waiting for him, but I didn't know if he'd come." He cast a glance at Draco, and felt a thrill of pride down his spine. Draco stood in the middle of this very public setting as if he had every right to be there. He held his head high as he would not have dared to do the last time Harry had seen him. Well, seen him awake, anyway. His eyes were cold and deigned to notice no one except Christopher, whom they did not want to notice.
"Fine," Christopher said, in a mutter that told Harry, too late, that Christopher might have liked him more than he knew. "If that's the way things are, then that's the way they are." He cast a few Galleons in the middle of the table and stalked off. Harry blinked at his back for a moment.
Then Draco turned Harry to face him with one palm on the back of his skull. "I came," he said, as if he expected praise for the fact.
Harry grinned. He felt as though he were made of air. "In one way, yes, you did," he said. He slid his right hand down Draco's body until he was touching the edge of his groin. "In another, you didn't. Shall we cure that?"
"I don't mind at all," Draco whispered, and pulled him close, and Apparated. Harry closed his eyes, finding the Apparition as exhilarating as broom flight, his heartbeat like a song in his ears.
It went very fast, that first time.
There were hands and teeth and lips and arms, tongues and feet and cocks and hips. Harry never knew how he got Draco out of his clothes. Draco claimed to remember that, but had to admit that he didn't know why there was a long slash down the middle of his favorite robe. He made Harry pay for it.
There was a moment in the middle of it where they rolled over twice, and then Harry was kneeling above Draco, staring down at him. Draco was extremely red, his pale skin flushed, his lips bitten and covered with blood—or maybe that was Harry's blood—his cock engorged to the point where it looked painful. Harry reached down, and Draco flung his head back with a sigh that quickly became a scream as Harry's fingers twisted. Then they rolled, and Draco arched and wriggled in a delightfully obscene way. Then they twisted again, and Draco was coming in his palm. Harry would have teased him about his endurance if Draco weren't already rolling him over to return the favor.
There was a search for lost lubricant, which Draco claimed to have left in the bedside table but which Harry couldn't find when he wanted to use it. They looked through three drawers, under the bed, inside the closet, and under the bed again, keeping the mood alive with nips on each other's ears and busy, wandering hands. They finally found it wedged into a corner of the room between dresser and bed. Draco grunted with satisfaction as he pulled it out and tossed it to Harry, nodding with approval as he caught it in a neat Seeker's catch.
There was the moment when Harry paused, half-in and half-out of Draco, deliciously unsure whether he wanted to continue or just linger here until he came. Draco panted beneath him, so soaked with sweat he looked on the verge of collapse. The sight made Harry's decision for him, and he pushed forwards, purely for the pleasure of seeing Draco's eyes fly open and more sweat roll down his forehead.
There was the long, torturous slowness with which Draco seemed intent on making love, pushing so slowly into Harry that half the time Harry felt the teasing strokes of his hands up and down Harry's ribs more than he felt his cock. The final push that settled Draco fully inside Harry for the first time was as satisfying as arriving home after a tough case, and Harry's hands scrabbled frantically across the sheets as he tried to lift himself and push back.
There was the moment when Draco mouthed words against Harry's cheek, and Harry mouthed the same words back, before they fell asleep tangled with each other, sheets, pillows, and the half-open jar of lubricant, which had added to the sticky mess on the bed by the time they woke.
When Harry did wake, he found Draco watching him with his hands folded behind his head and his elbows resting on the too-large pillow he used. Draco smiled, very slowly, when he saw Harry looking.
"There were times when I thought I wouldn't come back," he said, softly.
Because he obviously had come back, Harry did nothing but curl a hand around his shoulder and listen. Both he and Draco bore scratches and bites from the frenzy of their lovemaking, he noted distantly. And one didn't make love like that with a lover one intended to abandon.
Draco nodded as though the gesture had been an answer to a question. "I kept taking other partners, looking for someone who would complement me the way you might," he said. "I didn't know you would, remember. I thought you could, but that could have been my own hopeful delusion. That was another thing I had to do during the past year. Destroy all my delusions." He looked away for a moment. "I would have been back for you long since if there hadn't been so damn many of them."
"It's all right," Harry whispered.
"Oh, you didn't take that for an apology, did you?" Draco demanded, one eyebrow rising so that he briefly looked the way he had when confronting Christopher last night. "I won't apologize for taking as long as I needed over something I needed to do."
"I know," Harry said. "But I just want you to know that I do agree with your taking as long as you did. I didn't at first."
"You had no say in it." Draco's eyes flashed.
Harry met his gaze and permitted himself a half-smile, certain that Draco could understand now. "I got used to that, yes."
Draco relaxed and moved back towards him, draping himself half over Harry's flanks. "But none of those wizards quite answered the need," he mused. "None of them were strong enough to stand up to me. Or they were too weak to hold themselves in check the way you did, once they saw my weakness, and they tried to dominate and overwhelm me. I couldn'tstand it." He gave a little shudder. "You gave me more pleasure in the few weeks of our closer acquaintance, even as exasperating as you were, than they did. And finally I'd finished facing my delusions, and going through partners in the futile hope of finding someone suitable if I just changed them often enough, and I went for you. And then I saw you sitting there with that insipid little—"
"Christopher wasn't insipid," Harry interjected, because he didn't want to hear his own choices disparaged.
"Next to me?" Draco turned the full force of his attention on Harry.
Harry shivered. The dignity and the strength that Draco had shown under the pressure of the Wizengamot's decision were fused, now, with a confidence in himself that made him shine like a tempered sword. He'd fought his own battles and won. He never would have done that or known he could if Harry had stayed with him.
"Next to you," Harry said faintly, "yes, he is."
Draco relaxed. "And so I realize what I want," he said. "And you've realized what you want, I hope?" Again the challenging glance.
Harry reached out and took his hand. "I have," he said. "I have to admit, I'm looking forwards to this just because it's so new. You're not a villain and I'm not a hero, and I'm not bored and you're not pathetic, anymore." Draco squeezed down hard. Harry bore the grip without a murmur, but he did grin at him. "Do we even know how to relate to each other outside those things?"
"I," Draco said, "am damn well going to try, because I think I'm in love with you, Harry, and I damn well fight for the people I love."
He had been the first to say it aloud. Harry could not say how much that meant to him.
He could not say how much it meant to him to lie in bed here next to the man he loved and wanted, with that man shining like the sun.
He leaned in and kissed Draco until Draco was tugging impatiently at his hair. "So do I," he said. "So am I."