Thank you again for all the reviews!
This is the very last chapter of The Same Species as Shakespeare. Thank you to anyone who accompanied me through a story that was often long and painful.
Chapter 34—What's Past Is Prologue
"And they still don't know who he is?" Harry raised an eyebrow and blew across the steaming cup of tea that Ron had offered him.
Ron shook his head and leaned an elbow on the table behind him. "Amazing, isn't it? That someone could so thoroughly erase himself…they've looked at reports of people missing from all over Britain in the past few years. None of them resemble him. No one has reported a relative or a friend with a sudden obsession with Draco Malfoy. They can't even clearly define his age, because his age is Malfoy's." He paused a moment, and tossed Harry a glance. "Auror Gilder says that, if he'd managed to swallow those memories or that soul or whatever it was that he was trying to steal from Malfoy, he would have become him. Even you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between them."
Harry knew, from the brief contortion of Ron's face as he spoke the words, what that admission that Harry was an expert in things Malfoy had cost him. He smiled and put a hand on his friend's arm in thanks. "Actually," he said, "I'm not that anxious to know his name. I know who he is."
Ron blinked at him. "Who?"
"Someone obsessed beyond the point of reason," Harry said, stepping away and walking towards the door. "The way I could have been."
Severus studied the potion in front of him with a light frown on his face. The Curse Potion had not worked the way he expected. It had brought the imposter back to face his own fate, but that fate had been the loss of his magic at the crucial moment and the inability to assume Draco's place—a shrinking into insignificance. Severus had intended death instead, the most bitter death possible, the imposter's dying at Draco's hands.
Why did my potion twist? Severus was accustomed to emotions and people betraying him, but never his own skills.
The liquid in the cauldron offered no answers, and at last he turned away and picked up the book from which he had drawn the ingredients and recipe of the Curse Potion. He turned the pages until he reached the initial description and looked silently through the words.
When he found the sentence, it practically sprang out at him.
The Curse Potion creates a fate of equal bitterness to the hatred that the brewer may invest in it.
Severus lowered the book to the table and did not swear under his breath only because he was calmer than that. Of course. The fate would be bitter, but the book said nothing about the fate being the one the brewer wanted. It only said that it would be bitter in proportion to the emotion invested in the brewing.
So this was the most bitter fate to the imposter.
Severus thought, for a moment, of the young man the imposter had sought to replace: angry, impatient, obsessive, and flawed; strong, resilient, stubborn, and clever.
Yes. To aim for that, and not to achieve it, and to spend the rest of his life in Auror custody or in a St. Mungo's ward for the insane, would be to condemn himself to insignificance.
(Can you say that you have escaped the same desire? his memory of Lily asked him, bright grief in her eyes. You were so jealous of my son's heroics, because you were convinced that you needed to be acknowledged in the same way for your part in the war. Are you jealous now? Don't you wish to reduce him to a bone powder for some rat poison, to a scrim on the surface of history that no one else will ever look at or remember?)
Severus shook his head, a thin smile taking over his lips. Do you remember what I thought of you the other day?
(There are too many memories shared for me to isolate just one, Lily answered, and the rising breeze lifted her red hair. She pushed a lock of it behind one ear and stared at him).
You are dead, Severus responded, and then Vanished the Curse Potion from the cauldron with a flick of his wand, before he closed the book and set it back on the shelf.
"So you are here at last."
Lucius paused one moment as he stepped into his bedroom. Then he shut the door behind him and moved forwards, never taking his eyes from the woman who awaited him in the center of the portrait frame that had always been empty until now.
"I could more profitably speak the same words to you," he said.
Narcissa regarded him with brilliant, cold eyes narrowed as if against the light of an arctic sun. Her hands were folded at her waist, and she wore sleek, shining robes that flattered her. Lucius could not remember ever seeing her in clothes that did not flatter her. "I was not the one who sank myself in useless grief and refused to be consoled by anything else in the world," she said.
Lucius opened his mouth to snap back, and then shook his head, realizing that angry words were as useless as his grief had been. This Narcissa was the shadow of the one who had written the diaries and believed so completely in her present that she had destroyed her future. His words must be a shadow of the words he would desire to speak, also.
"You are right," he said. "I have learned that it is useless to pine for someone who hated me long before her death."
Narcissa twined a hanging plait of blonde hair around her hand, eyes never leaving him. "Do not say she hated you," she murmured.
"And why not?" Lucius sat down and leaned forwards, his legs crossed, his own hands folded calmly atop one knee.
"Because it is not true."
"And you are so sensitive to a lie now?"
Narcissa's words caught on an indrawn breath, and then she smiled. The smile was colder than her eyes. "Because I would see the memory of the woman she was preserved," she said. "The truth in the diaries is one kind. Her memories, in which I partially share, are another. And I say that she did not hate you, Lucius. She was impatient with you, she pitied you, and she felt at times a deep scorn because you did not sense her true emotions towards you and you were more concerned with her alone than with Draco."
"I think she," Lucius said, laying less stress on the word than he wanted to permit himself, "is the one who did not understand my emotions."
"That may be the case." Narcissa held his gaze without effort. "I am only telling you what I know and remember. What she felt for you was less hatred than a magnificent indifference."
Lucius received and absorbed those words in silence. They told him nothing more than what he already knew: that he had wasted the last years of his life, that he had spent his time holding and caressing and kneeling to a mystery that was, after all, not a mystery. The "secret" had been revealed all along in the diaries he read.
He had wanted to know why Narcissa did not care for him. And now he knew. She had not understood him any more than he understood her, and, unlike Lucius, who could still see some value in the people who were different from him, she had cared only for those whose devotion to protecting Draco was total.
And in all the world, she was the only one like that.
A great wave of white pity suddenly drowned Lucius. He still mourned that his wife had not made common cause with him, had not shared her feelings with him, but now he mourned more for her sake than for his. She was the one who had lived the more isolated life, chained to a goal that Lucius would have shared if she had only told him that she wanted it shared.
"Where are you going?" the Narcissa in the portrait asked.
"Back to my life," Lucius said quietly. "You are welcome to come and go as you please," he added, and he walked to the door and shut it behind him.
Narcissa watched him go with a face which control had wiped clean of all expression.
Draco was an expert in reading Harry's face by now, a few weeks after the arrest of the imposter. He saw the glad smile with which Harry met him when he stepped out of the fireplace into Malfoy Manor, and the shadows in his eyes that made the smile worth less than it could have been.
However, Draco was surely no stranger to self-possession, and though he was hurt by the lack of trust those shadows implied, he knew where it had come from in the first place. So he stood easily, and held out a hand to shake, since Harry seemed restrained enough to want that.
Instead, Harry took him in his arms and kissed him roughly. Draco gasped for a moment, but then gave in eagerly and returned the kiss pressure for pressure. He began shoving Harry backwards almost unconsciously towards the couch in this receiving room, but Harry thought better of it a moment later. He shook his head, gasped himself, and stepped backwards, his eyes brilliant and his face flushed.
"I—I just wanted to touch you," he said.
"Understandable, when we haven't seen each other all day," Draco said. "What did they discover about the imposter?" He knew it was the last day of strict investigation the Aurors had allowed themselves before they gave up on interrogating a man who had no name or identity and handed the imposer over to St. Mungo's.
"Nothing more." Harry laid a hand on his cheek and gazed into his eyes for a moment, as if he were evaluating Draco's response to that statement. Draco looked back calmly, and sincerely. He no longer had much interest in the imposter. The lesson he had learned from the man was of more importance than the man himself. Harry gave a soft smile a moment later, as if he had taken from Draco's eyes what Draco wanted him to. "What did Keller say about the house?"
Draco smirked. "It's beautiful, of course." He had finally had time in the past few weeks to attend to the last commission he had undertaken before his life went mad. Keller had been unwontedly cool; he had his ideas of an architect's proper place, and it wasn't in the newspapers. But Draco had brought him around again by sheer talent, and the persuasion of beauty. "I've been authorized to start construction next week."
Harry let out a swift, glad breath and squeezed his waist. "Good," he said. Draco resisted the impulse to preen, but barely; one of the traits he liked most about Harry was the fact that Harry admired Draco's talent and liked hearing about his career. "Are you ready for tonight?"
Draco was not ready for the change of subject, but he had known it was coming, and not for the world would he show his fear. He gave a minute nod.
Harry seemed to see the fear anyway. "We don't have to go out," he said. "Not tonight."
"I want to," Draco murmured. "For—many reasons. But mostly because I won't run away from them anymore, or pretend that I don't care what they think. Both responses are the responses of a coward."
"Draco," Harry whispered, and raised a hand to cup his cheek again, bringing his face close enough that Draco thought he'd receive another kiss. But Harry simply stared at him from a few inches away, his eyes fierce as a heartbeat. Draco felt himself flush. He wasn't one to put much stock into such simple gestures ordinarily, but Harry's eyes were so intense.
"I never knew bravery was that important to you," Harry murmured at last.
"It's important to me because it's important to you," Draco said, and felt as if he should flinch from the brilliance of the smile that followed.
"I love you," Harry said, in the same tone he'd used to speak Draco's name a moment ago, and then stepped away from him and extended his hand. "Let's go, then."
"Let's," Draco said, through dry lips, and took Harry's wrist. He trusted no one would notice if he squeezed it a bit hard.
Harry saw all the eyes that turned towards them when he and Draco swept into the large ballroom where the Ministry function was being held. He was familiar with most of the emotions in them: startlement, hero-worship, envy, admiration, and a certain kind of longing that only appeared in the eyes of people who had never slept with him and were convinced that sleeping with a hero must be different from sleeping with anyone else.
But there was a new feeling this time, one he had never noticed before, perhaps because the emotions about him had always been too extreme. Contempt.
Harry put up his head and forged forwards like someone pushing against a hard sea. There were some people for whom that emotion would always be there now, he knew. They would want to say that he had lowered himself by dating Draco Malfoy. Others would think that he must be a masochist because he had gone back to a lover who betrayed him, which he had never done for anyone else. Others would say with a knowing smirk that the Savior of the Wizarding World was only human after all; he preferred a beautiful body in his bed and a clever tongue to a sincere relationship with a loving person.
Those conclusions would come about, and others like them, or different from them but just as hurtful, when some people who had faith in him now began to realize that he would never abandon Draco.
Harry didn't care. Or, rather, he cared, especially because Hermione met them with carefully hidden disapproval in her eyes, but he was willing to risk that kind of thing because Draco mattered more to him.
It was like the dark side of their mutual obsessions. He had to live with the knowledge because of the good things those obsessions had brought them.
"Hermione," Harry said, and kissed her cheek. Then he tightened his hold on Draco's hand as Draco stepped up beside him. Harry had half-thought he might need to drag him in, but Draco reached for Hermione's hand without flinching and shook it like a practiced politician.
"Granger," he said calmly, and without attempting to add anything else—imitating Harry's own greeting to her, Harry was certain.
Hermione shifted her glance back and forth from one to the other of them, her lips pursed and her breath coming in quiet huffs. Then she nodded once and said, "Malfoy, Harry. Be welcome." From the direction of her gaze, it might have included one or both of them.
When she turned away, it was her own head held high and two delicate spots of color plastered on her cheeks, and Harry knew there were people who would take certain messages from that, too, and avoid or court Draco according to what they thought it meant.
Harry took a breath. Perhaps it wasn't the beginning of the greatest friendship in the world, but it was a beginning.
Draco had thought that he would be endlessly bored in the company of the Ministry people—mostly Aurors and workers from the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures—who made up Harry's friends and colleagues. He had expected to encounter mindless chatter or people who would try to use him to get close to Harry.
He had not expected hostile silence, or conversations dying whenever he passed near a clump of guests, as if his presence were poison to intellectual exchange.
But just because he had not expected it did not mean that he allowed it to take him by surprise. He fetched himself and Harry wine and sandwiches and the small slices of tomato that, lately, all the wizards at all the receptions and parties he intended seemed to think were necessary to serve to their guests. He smiled and nodded at the people he recognized, and offered grave bows to the people he didn't, or whom he didn't think he could be on such familiar terms with, including the Head Auror, Kingsley Shacklebolt. He stayed near Harry when he could, but didn't monopolize his time.
And slowly, as the evening went on, the tenor of some of the conversations around him changed. Draco encountered more slow, thoughtful looks, and fewer people who acted as though he had hydrophobia. A few engaged him in sudden exchanges, or turned from their own groups to involve him as he walked by. Draco would respond with calm graciousness at each time, apparently thankful for the attentions but not panting after them.
This is the environment that my parents trained me to thrive in, he wanted to say, each time he saw the eyes widening with ill-concealed surprise and respect. Charm and tact is largely a matter of saying the right thing at the right time. You shouldn't find yourself startled when you're manipulated by someone with the name of Malfoy.
Of course, perhaps they had thought he would be rude just to be rude, even though he possessed the power of charming them if he wanted. Draco concealed a snort behind his wineglass. Lucius's erratic behavior in the past seven years, which included refusing invitations even from those he knew well, wouldn't have helped correct that impression.
But maybe he could.
Draco paused over a small bite of cheese and looked at the far wall with unseeing eyes. He hadn't considered that before, because his own obsession with Harry had blinded him to anything but the personal benefits that would come from making love to Harry, or destroying him, or winning his forgiveness. But there could be some benefits for the family as well, wouldn't there? They hadn't been acknowledged by as many people as they should have been since the war, but how much of that was their own fault? How much had they tried to win acceptance?
Not much, Draco thought, his pulse racing in his throat. But that will have to change now anyway, since I'm with Harry. I might as well use what I can for my own advantage—something that Harry is unlikely to notice, on the one hand, or disapprove of, on the other, since it will also involve me making nice to his friends.
Draco began to smile. This was a world he understood, the kind of environment he had indeed been trained to navigate. He would triumph in it, and he would establish his own name, connected to but separate from Harry's.
For the first time in years, some of the strands of the obsession that had shut him away from the world cracked, and he began to breathe again.
"Harry, what is wrong with Malfoy?"
"What do you mean?" Harry turned, expecting to find Draco enchanting Kingsley's arse to do a lap-dance. Ron had that kind of tone.
Instead, he found him talking to an older witch whom Harry recognized as Wilhelmina Gibbons, an unearthly bore most of the department went out of their way in order to avoid. She was speaking with an expression of shining amusement that made her look almost companionable. Draco endured the roar of her words, which Harry knew to be considerable, with a faint smile, almost as if he weren't enduring them at all.
"He's talking to her," Harry said.
Harry smiled a little. A constriction he hadn't known was tightening around his chest relaxed.
"Because," he said, "he apparently wants to be on his best behavior."
He left Ron giving Gibbons a dubious glance, as if she might turn out to have ties to evil pure-blood wizards he had never considered, and went to the table of food. Draco had fetched him a few sandwiches this evening, but Harry was still hungry. Besides, he thought he could return the gesture.
Harry turned around curiously. He didn't recognize the pleasant-looking man who stood beside him, but his smile wasn't nastily sharp, so Harry returned his nod.
"Robert Tasher, with the Golden Gleam," said the man, and held out his hand to be shaken. Harry responded with the gesture he'd perfected when dealing with the twins: a clasp that barely put his fingers into contact with someone's skin but appeared hearty enough from a distance.
"I'm afraid I don't know what the Gleam is," he said.
"A paper, of course!" Tasher smiled a moment later and shook his head. "We are new, though. Sometimes I forget how new. Anyway, I wanted to interview you about your conduct with Draco Malfoy. You aren't actually planning to stay with him, are you?" His voice was rising, and Harry could see other people turning to look. "Someone like that, who was a Death Eater, and hounded you all through school, and betrayed your sexual secrets to the Prophet, and is probably intending to use you to gain back his lost wealth and prestige?"
Heads had turned all over the room now. Harry saw the flare of nostrils, the widening of interested eyes, and felt a moment of sick frustration.
Of course someone would bring this up. There's never going to be a lack of people without either manners or tact to try and make our lives miserable.
But precisely because he knew that, Harry was not unprepared.
He gave a smile to Tasher that caused him to edge backwards a bit, and then said, "I am planning to stay with him, for as long as we both wish to keep this up." He turned around and strode to Draco, who had left off speaking with Gibbons.
When he got close, Harry was able to make out the extreme pallor of Draco's face and the insecurity in his eyes. Harry wouldn't make promises to last forever, and Draco would have mocked them if he did, but he also felt more vulnerable because of that.
Harry didn't give him a chance to feel that way for long. He seized Draco's face in his hands and kissed him, long and deep, adding plenty of tongue for the onlookers, and plenty of tenderness for Draco.
Draco kissed back, winding a hand in Harry's hair. From the tensing of his shoulders a moment later, he hadn't planned that gesture and was half-wishing he could take it back.
But he didn't. He used the hold to guide Harry's head closer as they kissed, instead.
Harry felt a swell of warm contentment in his belly. The real Draco he saw wasn't always pretty, but at least Harry had him.
He drew back and smiled at Draco a moment later. "We're still ready for tonight, after this is done?" he asked, his voice husky and meant to carry. Let them see how he affects me. And let them see, too, that this isn't only based on sex.
Draco blinked twice, then recovered. "We could be ready right now," he whispered, and shifted closer.
The warm swell of contentment became a shining star. He would never render himself this vulnerable for anyone he didn't love.
Or wasn't obsessed by, said the corner of his brain that had adopted Hermione's voice, as if in compensation for the ring he no longer wore.
Harry smiled and laid a hand on Draco's shoulder. "Not right now," he said. "Enjoy yourself first." He nodded to Gibbons, letting anyone who cared to see what full confidence he had in Draco to speak normally to guests and not be plotting something nefarious, and stepped away.
Draco nodded to him and struck the conversation with Gibbons up again. She responded hesitantly, eyes darting back and forth from Draco to Harry. The rest of the chatter slowly started back to life again as well.
Harry walked back to Tasher, making his stride deliberately cool and casual. "If you have any real questions," he told the man, "I'm happy to answer them."
It'll be a battle, both against them and against ourselves. But it's one I want to fight.
Lucius stood in his drawing room, gazing thoughtfully at the invitation in his hand. It was one he had received every year, from Lady Tillie Wentworth, one of the few pure-bloods who wielded enough influence in the Muggle world to have a title there. She always had four select parties a year, one a season, and lesser people would have died for an invitation from her.
Lucius had never answered.
But then, he had never thought he had a right to answer before, as long as he had not solved the mystery of why his wife didn't love him.
He smoothed the paper with his palm and gazed out the window a moment. The sun was setting. Loose ribbons of gold and silver wrapped the sky. The highest clouds were blue and red. The middle was a lovely nameless color that Lucius had seen before and yearned after, sometimes in Draco's company but never in Narcissa's.
There are fewer mysteries than we think, and more problems.
Lucius snatched up his cloak decisively and walked to the door, invitation held firmly before him. He paused on the threshold and wondered for a moment what Draco would think when he arrived home to find his father gone, for once.
Lucius drew in a deep, delighted breath. The mental question and the physical anticipation made him feel like an eagle perched in the open door of a cage, ready to try his wings for the first time in years.
I am ready to solve those problems.
And then he spread his wings, and flew.