Title: To Touch a Unicorn
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Profanity, references to sex, heavy angst. DH Spoilers, but ignores epilogue. Possible rape referenced in the background, though it didn't happen. Hurt/comfort.
Summary: Teaching at Hogwarts is more than Draco ever expected to aspire to after the war. He would be content if not for two things: Harry Potter visiting to give lectures on Defense Against the Dark Arts, and those bloody unicorns.
Author's Notes: Written for lisbet for her birthday! She asked for Harry/Draco interaction that avoided the big squicks. Here you are, m'dear, and happy birthday!
To Touch a Unicorn
Draco clapped his hands twice. The Crup ran towards him and did a neat somersault in midair before landing on his shoulder, all four paws splayed out and forked tail wagging furiously. Half his class gasped and applauded. The Crup puppy, Taylor, barked cheerfully and let his tongue loll from his mouth. Draco scratched him behind his ears, which made him wriggle so ecstatically Draco picked him up and placed him carefully on the ground. The last thing he wanted was his robes ruined because Taylor became too excited.
"And that's how you train a Crup to obey gestured commands," he said.
His students bent over their scrolls, industriously writing. Draco took a moment to study those crouched at the very back, to be sure they were writing and not giggling to one another about Quidditch. But no, they were taking notes just like anyone else. Since Draco had made the final exam in his Care of Magical Creatures class interacting with and training one of the animals they'd studied, most people did pay attention. Draco suspected embarrassment was as much a part of that as fear of pain. A Crup couldn't inflict lasting damage with a bite the way a young dragon could, but who wanted to listen to people laugh at him whilst he tried frantically to make a puppy obey?
Draco took a step forwards, making his robes swirl and catching his students' attention. Like Hagrid had, he held classes outdoors; it was the easiest means of access to some of the creatures they studied and the best place to clean up messes from the animals' feed and feces. Most of the time, Draco enjoyed the sensation of air traveling across his face and sunlight or rain on the back of his neck. Several months in an Azkaban cell had given him an entire new appreciation for the outdoors.
But there were disadvantages to teaching outside Hogwarts' safe walls, and Draco saw one of them out of the corner of his eye a moment before two students gasped and whispered loudly, "Professor!"
"Yes, I see it," Draco snapped, and turned around. The unicorn moving towards him over the field, drifting like mist from the edges of the Forbidden Forest, paused with an uplifted hoof. It was so white it hurt Draco's eyes from the contrast against the green earth, and its golden hooves flashed like tossed suns. But Draco had long ago lost his fascination with the creatures' beauty, given the problems they brought. They seemed to be irresistibly attracted to him over the last several weeks, enough that his students and the rest of the staff were beginning to speculate.
Draco did not want them to speculate about why a twenty-five-year-old man would be drawing unicorns like honey drawing flies.
"Go away," he said in as commanding a tone as he could. Unicorns were skittish things, easily offended. Draco had had several of them gallop back into the forest like dreams on waking simply because he raised his voice or lowered it in threat. But lately they had been getting bolder, and this one was determined to be as inconvenient as possible. Its nostrils fluttered back, showing the pale silvery flesh inside them, and it gave a long, low, fluting call.
Draco stooped and picked up a rock. The unicorn only looked at him with shining eyes for a long moment, as if sure he wouldn't throw it. But when he drew back his arm, it reared, the light from the horn and mane dazzling his eyes, and streamed away. Several of the female students in his class sighed. He had third-year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs at the moment, Draco thought in disgust as he dropped the stone. Of course they would.
"Unicorns are allergic to the threat of violence," he explained, ignoring the disappointed looks on the faces of half the class. "If you ever meet one alone at night in the Forbidden Forest and want it to leave you alone, simply threaten to strike it."
"But why would we want it to leave us alone?" A tall girl with straw-colored hair and her mouth screwed up in a pout raised her hand, but she'd spoken before Draco could call on her. "I'd love it if a unicorn came up to me."
"You might think you would," Draco said tightly. "But unicorns are dangerous even if they are beautiful, Miss Solange. If you came between a mare and her foal, she might stab you even if you didn't intend harm."
"I don't think so." Miss Solange's nose pointed straight up in the air. Draco found himself despising her for her resemblance to the way he had looked during second year. "Unicorns are drawn to maidens, to the beautiful and the innocent. Everyone knows that."
"I'm your professor," Draco said, twitching his long cloak to remind her, "and I think I know more than you." The last thing he needed was for someone to start whispering about his innocence. He turned back to the hopeful Crup on the ground. "Who would like to show me how much you've learned about training Crups in the past week?"
Someone rapped on the door of his house close to midnight. Draco stood up with a frown and wound his way out of the back room where he usually sat when he marked essays to the entrance hall. Only an emergency would cause someone to summon him at this hour. Perhaps a werewolf had attacked a student; it was a full moon tonight, and there were always some idiots who thought they'd have an adventure by venturing into the Forbidden Forest and trying to find a pack.
His house had replaced the broken-down hovel in which Hagrid had lived, after the gamekeeper had finally been persuaded to retire and go look after dragons in Romania with Charlie Weasley. Draco was fiercely proud of the way the wooden boards joined together to make sturdy walls, how the floors—smoothed and polished stone—always stayed warm thanks to an embedded charm, and how the furniture retained comfort whilst looking old enough to match the other materials of the house. After all, he had done most of the work in building this place himself.
He opened the door, and found Harry Potter leaning against the frame with one arm arched up so that he was showing off the lines of his throat and shoulder.
"Hullo, Malfoy," Potter said cheerfully. The light from Draco's study revealed the sharp edge to his smile. "Please tell me you're not marking. It's Friday night, after all." He peered over Draco's shoulder into the house and then gave his head a tragic shake. "Alas, you are." He turned back, and the smile grew even sharper. "You don't have to, you know."
Draco hissed under his breath. Potter was the bane of his life when the unicorns weren't fulfilling that role, and for much the same reasons. At the behest of Headmistress McGonagall, the git had come back to Hogwarts to deliver weekly lectures on various aspects of Defense Against the Dark Arts to eager students. The curse that prevented any Defense teacher from remaining for more than a year was still in force, but McGonagall had thought she could get around that by having someone whose main job was in the Ministry attending from outside.
Draco fervently hoped she hadn't really managed it. His life would be so much easier if Potter didn't survive the end of this year.
"Of course I have to," Draco said. "It's one of the duties of a full-time Professor, though I can see why you wouldn't know that." Potter refused to assign any essays, instead basing his classes solely on "practical demonstrations." Students failed if they didn't know how to defend themselves from sudden hexes and sneak attacks. Supposedly the information on how to manage the defense was in Potter's rambling lectures, but who could be expected to take notes when the Savior of the Wizarding World was talking about Gryffindor pranks or hiding out in the woods during the last year of the war or the other ridiculous examples Draco had heard he used to illustrate his points?
Of course, all the students adored him anyway. That was Potter's lot in life, Draco knew: to absorb the adoration that should have gone to other people instead.
"But on Friday night?" Potter turned so that his profile would once again show to best advantage and dropped his voice into a low, coaxing range. "You can't really imagine that you need to do it right now." He reached behind his back and pulled out a bottle of Firewhiskey like one of those pathetic Muggle magicians trying to imitate a wizard. "I have some liquor that's begging to be shared."
Draco clenched his teeth and clenched his fingers into his palms, though that last he did behind his back, where Potter couldn't see it happen. This was the problem Potter caused him. He acted as though it were perfectly normal for him to want to fuck Draco, or date him, or some insipid Gryffindor combination of the two. He didn't remember that they'd been enemies not even seven years ago, that Draco had spent several months in Azkaban because it was near impossible to convince the Wizengamot of his innocence, or that Draco had participated in calling his friends names and trying to interfere with his life. He acted as though that could all be forgotten if someone refused to think about it. Well, Draco had lost interest in ignoring reality.
"I'm selective about the company I have hangovers in," Draco said, and started to shut his door.
Potter, of course, had already positioned his foot so that was impossible. "Come on, Draco," he said, lowering his tone further. Draco felt a prickling shiver run along his skin. If Potter wasn't Potter and therefore forever out of reach, and if other things weren't also true, Draco might have been interested. He was certainly good with his voice. "What is it, really, that keeps you away from me? I've asked you out on all sorts of dates as nicely as I know how, and you refuse to even walk around the lake with me. I haven't insulted you, you don't have a partner, and you haven't told me to sod off because you're straight. What's the real reason you keep demanding I leave you alone?"
Draco laughed sharply. He meant to stop after a few moments, but instead he went on laughing until he sagged against the doorframe himself. Potter didn't look displeased at this, and it took Draco a moment to realize he'd brought their faces much closer together than Potter had ever attempted to do. He hissed and pulled himself back with a jerk, cured of his laughter.
"I was a Death Eater," Draco said. "I'm now the Care of Magical Creatures professor at Hogwarts. You're what you always were, the Savior. Does that sound reasonable to you?"
"Frankly, no." Potter pushed his glasses up his nose. Draco didn't know why he wouldn't just buy another pair that fit. "It doesn't sound reasonable that you speak of yourself as a Death Eater when I know that you never willingly served Voldemort."
"Tell that to the Wizengamot," Draco said, when he'd caught his breath from hearing the name. Why does Potter want to be with someone who flinches at what he considers just a word?
"I did. Several times. That was one of the factors in their letting you go free at last, and the only one I'm proud of." Potter's nostrils flared for a moment, as if he were angry at the Wizengamot for keeping Draco in a cell so long, but then the moment passed and Draco told himself he must have been imagining things. "But—you sound as if you think you're below me in some way."
"Everyone's below the Savior," Draco said quickly.
Potter gave an irritated motion of his shoulders and head, as if he were shrugging off a compliment he'd heard so many times that it meant nothing. Draco sneered. He understood the political power and social cachet of Potter's name, even if the idiot didn't. That was one of the ways in which he refused to ignore reality. He would not forget who Potter was, who he had been, who he continued to be. And he'd had it drummed into his head during his months in Azkaban who Draco Malfoy was.
"No one is," said Potter. "But especially not you."
Draco's mouth dried out so abruptly that he could think of nothing to say. That had never happened before. He coughed and shook his head, trying to cure it.
"You never thought of yourself that way," Potter said. "You always believed you were my equal. You never managed to trap and corner me the way you'd like, but it didn't matter; you looked to the future and kept on going." He paused, then stepped so near Draco could feel the scrape of Potter's breath across his nose. "That was the boy I knew," Potter whispered, "and the man I came here looking to find."
Draco turned his eyes away. He couldn't think of a bloody thing to say, so he stood there in silence. That usually made people retreat.
The same thing happened this time, but unlike the rest of them, Potter didn't stomp away cursing and protesting that he had only wanted to help Draco. He stepped back with narrowed, thoughtful eyes, nodding his head.
"You don't believe me yet," he said. "I don't blame you. But I promise, I'll prove I want you, and that you're worthy of me."
And he turned and walked away before Draco could think of a retort sufficiently stinging to put Potter off him for life.
Draco stared after him, heart beating so hard he thought he would start huffing with it. For a moment, he felt his limbs tingling the way they used to when he thought up a new plan. There was the faintest possibility that Potter, unlike the others who had tried to pretend desire for him after the war so that they could ask probing questions about the part he'd played, actually meant his declaration. He had been in the war, after all. He had no reason to ask questions. He'd just proven that he did remember the awful things Draco had done, and wanted to know him despite that. He—
And then Draco remembered again the first Daily Prophet front page he'd seen after his release, the photograph of Potter reaching up to catch a Snitch from the air. He'd shone with light even during that simple movement, captured glory that the photographer could not have arranged, the same way Potter was naturally graceful without having to pose. Draco had understood, then, how very far he must have fallen, in a world where Potter was the standard of beauty and worth.
A lesson once learned, never forgotten.
He started to shut the door again, but a low whicker caught his attention. When he turned his head, he realized that he was staring at a unicorn watching him from the corner of the eaves. The strips of shadow from his fire shifted like the shadows of leaves against the sun over its coat.
"Go away and leave me alone," Draco whispered harshly, the same words he'd have liked to direct at Potter, and then slammed the door of his house with an echoing bang. He leaned against it, head bent, chest heaving as he counted to ten in his head, redoubling the count with the French numbers when the English didn't work.
He had to be in the right frame of mind to mark. The Headmistress had shown him a great deal of trust after the war when she had taken him on as a professor despite the protests of some students' parents. He would be fair to his students no matter what happened to him. It was nearly the only thing of worth he still possessed.
"Good morning, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco grunted a response as he sat down at the head table, because he could feel Potter's gaze burning into him from three seats away. Then he remembered, as the Headmistress looked at him expectantly, that she deserved more than that, and he'd been in the habit of giving her more than that as well. "Good morning, Headmistress," he said politely, and picked up his fork to stab into his eggs.
Potter went on staring at him. The Headmistress didn't act as if she noticed, but that didn't mean anything; she was even better than Dumbledore had been at pretending not to notice what was passing under her nose, until the right moment came to pounce.
Draco swallowed his eggs with difficulty. He'd had to think of Dumbledore, to remind himself of one of his worst mistakes, before the day had even properly begun. Of course he had to.
He wished he could lay down his fork and escape, but on the mornings he sat next to McGonagall, that wasn't an option. She would notice immediately and question him on the state of his health. Draco understood why she did that. They couldn't have a sick professor around the students, and the whole schedule would have to change if he was sick so that someone else could take over his classes.
"Are you quite well, Mr. Malfoy?"
When he allowed himself a few precious delusions, which wasn't often, Draco could imagine he heard the shadow of concern in her tone. He forced himself to smile and take a bite of bacon this time. That it felt too greasy and heavy in his throat as he thought of Dumbledore's strained face meant nothing. He had to eat, didn't he? He had to keep up his strength. His parents had both sacrificed much so he could be here—money and dignity and time whilst they fought to keep him out of Azkaban, and, for his father, his life. Lucius had died two years after the war, worn out from the toil and from a lung infection caught when he was in his own cell.
"Yes, thank you, Headmistress," he said, when his mouth was free of the bacon and he had managed to send the memory of Lucius's face in his last moments elsewhere. "I had a few bad dreams last night."
Draco's spine stiffened. How could he have been careless enough to let Potter come up behind him and not sense him in time to slip away? There were excuses even McGonagall would have accepted, though Draco had been reluctant to use too many of them at once. He didn't like lying to her, not anymore.
"I'm sure you can make a guess," he said calmly, staring straight ahead. "You must have had a bad dream or two in your time." Rumors had flown during their fifth year about Potter's mental connection to the Dark Lord. This should insult him enough that he'd back off.
"I have." Potter's voice deepened and softened, but this time Draco didn't think he was trying for seduction. He sounded as though he were trying to share something instead. Draco had no idea what it was and no intention of finding out.
He pushed his chair back from the table, causing Potter to have to skip out of the way abruptly if he wanted to avoid being hit, and nodded to Headmistress McGonagall. "Thank you for inquiring after me," he said, and began to stride out of the Great Hall.
Potter followed him, so quietly that Draco found his shoulders drawing tight. Any moment he would say something insulting, or make another irritating sexual advance. Why else would he want to see Draco alone?
When Potter put a hand on his arm just before they stepped out the doors of Hogwarts, Draco spun around with a sense of relief. Here it came, another importuning, disguised insult that he could reject in the way he couldn't bring himself to reject Potter's quiet companionship.
"I think I've pushed myself on you long enough," Potter said, his eyes green and clear. There was a wry twist to his mouth, but Draco didn't know why. Had he finally figured out Draco wasn't good enough for him? "You've made it clear that you don't want sympathy—but no, that's not true, is it? You don't want pity. And the only person you don't want sympathy from is me." He gave himself a shake like Taylor shedding water, and nodded. "Well. If you do change your mind, please contact me. I'd like a chance to be your lover."
Draco swallowed. "Isn't—Potter, isn't this a bit of effort to go through for a joke?"
"No joke to me," said Potter, with utter calm Draco wished he could doubt. "I've wanted you for some time."
"Why?" Draco raked his hair back from his forehead, though since it wasn't raining, it didn't stay raked back but sprang forwards instead. He looked up at the sun, partially to remind himself it was there and he had the right to see it and partially because anything was easier than meeting Potter's eyes right now. "I told you, the Savior—"
"Please don't call me that." Potter's voice was gentle but firm, such an odd combination that Draco blinked. "I hate that."
"You're still too good for me," Draco whispered. "You must know it. It's the truth."
Potter put out one hand, cupping it beneath his cheek. Draco looked up, but managed to keep his eyes focused on the bridge of Potter's nose.
"There are different versions of truth. I think you've forgotten that." Potter's face shifted, and Draco hastily looked away before their eyes could meet. Potter's voice stayed gentle even so, instead of frustrated. "I want you because I think you're beautiful, but I like you because you've endured. I wouldn't have blamed you for crawling back into the Manor and tugging the door shut behind you like a mole pulling its burrow over its head after—after what happened. But you didn't. You came out again, and you even dared to come back to Hogwarts, a place that must hold its share of painful memories. I admire bravery and the capacity to go on. You have both of those."
Draco swallowed, and found himself without any words to say.
Potter watched him in silence for a moment. A faint smile crossed his face, and he said, "I'll return to the school every week, if you want to talk." He started towards the gates of the school with a long, loping stride.
Draco realized only then that it was Saturday morning, and Potter, who came to give his lectures on Friday mornings, should have been home tucked securely in bed. He blinked and touched the back of his neck. The world had begun to spin around him like a slow, stately dance, things and truths altering their unaccustomed places.
No. Not truths.
Draco waited until Potter was out of sight to walk to his house. He did sneak a few glances over his shoulder, of course—purely to make sure that no one was watching him. But the lawn lay calm and beautiful under the spring sunlight after a good soaking from the rain.
The whispers began in the Care of Magical Creatures class Draco taught on Monday, which was fifth-year Ravenclaws and Slytherins, and which contained a rather larger preponderance of boys than girls. This time, Draco ignored the unicorn when it showed up, calmly continuing his lecture on the various properties of sphinx blood. The sphinx he'd acquired to show to the class during the lesson, surrounded by various heavy enchantments that prevented her from getting loose, watched with an expression of amusement on her face, but made no comments.
No, that was up to the students.
"Why d'you suppose there's always a unicorn hanging about when we have class near the Forest?"
"Maybe it's one the professor raised from a foal and which likes to be near him." That was Clara Ombrid, a Slytherin girl whom Draco rather approved as being the most intelligent in her entire year. She often refused to believe gossip, and she also had a calming influence on those of her peers who were inclined to believe any rumor as long as it was exciting.
"I never heard anything about him raising any unicorn." That was Edgar Heinz, a Ravenclaw boy who wasn't as clever as he thought he was. "And we would have heard. Hogwarts is a small school, you can't get away with anything." A slight tinge of bitterness marked his tone. Draco tried not to sneer. Filius had caught the boy trying to hex a Slytherin student who'd bested his marks in Ancient Runes. Draco couldn't bring himself to think that detention scrubbing out Slughorn's cauldrons was an unfair punishment for that.
"Maybe it just likes him," said Ombrid, in the impatient tone of someone who knows there will be a quiz on the lecture later.
"But unicorns like girls." That was Felix Lawrence, also a Slytherin and a rejected suitor of Ombrid. He seemed to believe he'd win her back by being loud and obnoxious. "Specifically, young girls. They lured them with maidens, didn't they?"
"When they used to hunt them, yes. Quiet."
"No, I don't think I will," said Lawrence. "It's interesting, isn't it, Heinz?"
"It is," Heinz agreed at once. "What do a maiden and a male professor have in common? I mean, he's ancient. The unicorns can't find him pretty in the same way they'd find a girl. And he's not young, either."
Draco could feel the sly gazes fixed on him now. He could practically hear the speculation running through their minds. He could feel the speculation fixing itself as truth—
Well, at least it would have if he hadn't chosen that moment to turn around, raise his eyebrow, and said, "Heinz, Lawrence. You seem to be having an interesting discussion. Tell me, what facet of sphinx lore fascinates you most?"
Lawrence's face froze. Heinz, always eager to show off his knowledge, stood up tall and said smartly, "The way they tell riddles, sir."
"And why?" Draco asked. The lecture on riddles was from last week. Today they'd been discussing sphinx anatomy and breeding and possible origins for them, as well as the blood. "How does that relate to the construction of the sphinx's tail?"
In a moment Heinz looked as blank as his friend. "I don't know, sir."
Draco nodded. "Do pay attention to the knowledge presented during the class you are attending, next time," he said evenly, and turned away to continue the lecture.
Heinz and Lawrence were both glaring at him, although Ombrid wore a faint, appreciative smile. And Draco could feel the unicorn's soft, warm breath sweeping across the small of his back.
He spoke calmly on, holding himself straight and strong. He was a professional. He would be the best Care of Magical Creatures professor in the history of Hogwarts, because he had sworn to himself that he would be.
That night, in the privacy of his house, he allowed himself to break down. Unlike the breakdown Potter probably would have envisioned, or tried to help cause, this one involved no Firewhiskey. It involved Draco sitting in a chair and digging his nails into his palms until the skin broke and the blood flowed.
He had hidden it so long and so well and so carefully. He might have gone on hiding it for the rest of his life if those bloody unicorns hadn't shown up.
What do a maiden and a male professor have in common?
Draco had never thought seriously about the problem of his own virginity until the unicorns began to appear. There had been a night soon after his release from Azkaban when he realized that he couldn't trust anyone for long enough to have sex with him. He had got drunk then, and had a good maudlin weeping bout into the ancient wine his father's cellars contained. But in the morning he had woken up and gone on with his life, making the decision to study the care of magical creatures because McGonagall had told him Hagrid would probably take up another job shortly, and because Hogwarts was one of the few safe havens, shut aside from the world, where no one would publish stories in the paper if he was eccentric or didn't associate closely with others.
Draco needed a place like that.
Potter thought he was brave? He wasn't brave. Draco knew he hadn't changed from the scared little boy who had tried to kill his Headmaster because the Dark Lord had threatened his parents' lives. He still had no idea what to do under adverse circumstances except rely on himself, and he was reluctant to accept help. In this case, he'd thought of going back to Hogwarts and clung to that, and even when other possibilities had presented themselves, he'd turned them down rather than give up his first option. He hadn't thought of being happy, not after Azkaban and after Father. He'd thought of being safe.
No Gryffindor would ever admire him if they knew about that. No one like Harry Potter, who ate and breathed courage, would think Draco's getting out of bed in the morning and going about his day took real strength. Real strength was what made them face Dark wizards as Aurors—Potter did that, too—or look unflinchingly down a drawn wand.
If he'd been truly strong, he wouldn't have been afraid of the gossip of students. But he was.
Draco closed his eyes. In his mind, the gossip spread like a cancer. The older students looked at him with sidelong glances and wry grins on their faces, and the younger years caught it from them and began to giggle whenever they glimpsed a unicorn in his presence. His effectiveness as a teacher would be undermined. Sex and professors should not exist in the same universe. There were more dangerous reasons for that not to happen, but either way, it was a loss of the only authority Draco had thought himself able to claim.
Somewhere under the surface of his mind, he was vaguely aware that some people would tell him he was silly to let his imaginings grow so rapidly and to be so frightened of them. But he had dedicated himself to facing the truth, and the truth was the worst.
So what are my choices? To drive the unicorns away? I still haven't found a way to do that. Draco had read carefully through every book on unicorns available to him as the Care of Magical Creatures professor. If there was a way to be rid of unicorns permanently, he should have found out. But, of course, unicorns were creatures of beauty and innocence, as book after book put it because their authors didn't have original minds. The primary purpose behind studying them was to attract them, if only to harvest Potions ingredients, not to drive them away.
Ignore them and continue teaching as before? But he couldn't, not now that the speculation had arisen. It would spread. Oh, it might take years for it to badly affect his authority. But it would happen in the end, and then—then the other professors would hear of it, and some student would report it to his or her parents, and finally a word would slip into the wrong ears and it would become society gossip. Draco could not stand publicity again, not after the nightmare of camera flashes and shouted questions that had been his trial.
That was another reason why Potter was mad and it never would have worked between them. He couldn't possibly date a celebrity.
Draco's breath caught in his throat, and his eyes flew open.
Dare he trust him?
Draco would have thought himself mad a short time ago for even entertaining the question, but the little speech Potter had given him on Saturday clanged in his mind like a bell now. It had sounded sincere. And really, Potter had shown Draco trust of his own. If Draco had gone to the papers and reported Potter's desire to date a Death Eater, there would have been laughter and more front-page news about the Savior.
Perhaps he could—rid Draco of his problem. Perhaps Draco could put up with an intimacy that would touch him in all the wrong ways for just one night. He hadn't done it before because it hadn't been a necessity, but now it was.
He wants to sleep with me, doesn't he? This is his chance. If I make the bargain, tell him he can sleep with me as long as he keeps it quiet, then he ought to agree in an instant.
Draco stood up on shaky legs. He promptly had to sit down again and shut his eyes.
Weaving through his mind came the whispered threats of the Azkaban guards. Everyone had thought a term in prison was kinder after the war, with the Dementors gone. They had no idea that humans could be even worse.
You're so—pretty, Malfoy.
Do you know what I'd like to shove into you?
Are you lonely? Do you want a wand to play with?
Draco clenched his teeth together. Enough of this. He hadn't actually been raped. It was stupid to let threats of it scare him away from sex forever. Shame and self-loathing welled up in him as he fought with the memories.
Why couldn't he be strong enough, good enough? Why was so much of his confidence gone? Draco knew that it would never come back and that was one of the realities he had to accept, but it had been so hard.
Finally he managed to stand again. Not all his Potions knowledge had abandoned him during the time he spent in the cell, though his memory would never again be what it had been before he went to prison; there were too many things he preferred to forget. He knew a potion that could make him complacent, even eager, for the experience. He'd brew it, take it along to Potter's home, and then slip it down his throat when Potter was distracted.
He could do this, even if he had to have artificial help.
Potter's house was in a small village to the north of London, a place whose Apparition coordinates Draco had known ever since a sleek tawny owl brought them to him one morning several weeks ago. Draco stood in the shadow of a house across the way and stared at it for long moments. It was made of stone and covered with ivy and climbing roses, of course. The fence around it consisted of heavy stone posts, but was painted white. A wreath of holly and yew leaves hung on the door. Even the shadows it threw were bloody perfect, slanting under the spring sun like the longer shadows of midsummer.
Of course. Of course Harry Potter would live in a house like this, belonging to a perfect, untouched world where nothing evil could intrude. For a long moment, Draco considered turning and Apparating back to Hogwarts. Facing the students' smirks and his colleagues' sly questions would be easier than facing Potter.
But then he remembered the unicorns who wouldn't leave him alone, and forced confidence into himself like a medicinal potion. He crossed the street, ignoring the twitching of curtains at a few neighbors' windows, and knocked.
Potter opened the door and faced him with such a happy smile that Draco winced. But he managed at once to exchange it for a smirk that he hoped was sufficiently flirtatious.
"Good evening," Draco said, deepening his voice in the way Potter did so well. "I decided to take you up on your invitation."
"Yes, and I'm glad you did." Potter grabbed his hand and drew him into the house. Draco caught a brief glimpse of a fireplace that took up half the room, wide tables covered with a mess of scrolls, and heavy furniture with clawed legs before he turned his attention back to Potter. He was here to fuck the man, not admire his house. Potter beamed at him as if he didn't know that. "Do you want a drink?"
"You think entirely too much about drinking, and not enough about sex," Draco said. He thought that was a line he might have said with perfect ease in his sixth year. No, his fifth. His sixth, he'd been too busy, and he'd also realized he didn't know as much about sex as he'd believed he did when he was fifteen. He leaned forwards, pinning Potter's shoulders to the wall. The potion vial in his pocket swung and clinked, but he doubted Potter could hear or feel it; his eyes were wide and fixed on Draco, his mouth slightly open. "I thought you wanted me," Draco continued, and attempted to pout.
"I do." Potter recovered enough to reach out and place his hands on Draco's waist. Draco contained a shudder by reminding himself of what Potter had said the other day. He was still a proper Gryffindor from the sound of it, and he wouldn't do anything absurdly painful. But it was hard to be calm when Potter's voice had deepened again and Draco could feel the confused stirrings of arousal that would be much more pleasant if he'd come here out of free will and not out of necessity. "But I thought you'd probably want to take it slowly."
"Why?" Draco leaned forwards and let his knee push between Potter's open legs. He shivered slightly when he felt the line of Potter's erection. Would it hurt when it went into him? Maybe he could top. But no, that probably wouldn't satisfy the requirement of having one's virginity being taken away, and he had to make sure Potter took his tonight. "When I see what I want, I can go after it as well as any Gryffindor can."
"I haven't been a Gryffindor for years." Potter leaned forwards and tasted the corner of Draco's mouth. All right, that wasn't so bad, either, Draco thought, as he leaned his head back into the air and shivered at Potter's touch. "But I do want you. It's just—well, you didn't show any sign of wanting me back until now. What changed your mind?"
"Maybe the thought of how good you'd be in bed." Draco smirked. He could still do that, or he thought he could. "Maybe just the fact that I haven't felt someone else's weight on me and someone else's cock in me in a damn long time." He tugged impatiently at Potter's belt and stepped back, starting to thread it out of his trousers. His hands were shaking, but if he gave them something to do, it was unlikely Potter would notice.
Draco nearly groaned in frustration. Potter had caught his wrists and was holding them still, staring at him with a serious expression. Merlin, does he have to come up with obstacles at the most inconvenient times?
"What?" Draco snapped.
"I don't want this to be just about sex." Potter spoke the words Draco knew even Hufflepuffs had trouble with, and nary a blush touched his cheeks. "I want more than that, from you, and from me. Do you only want sex? Is this going to be a case of your spending the night with me and then never appearing on my doorstep again?"
Draco's mouth fell open.
Potter sighed. "I thought it might be. Maybe you've had a bit too much to drink, or maybe you wanted to see what I'd do." He tightened his hold on Draco's wrists. "And the truth is, I want to be more than a one-night fuck for you. I'm sorry if you need freedom to make a relationship work, but I need a bit more than that." He smiled, but his eyes were clear and grave. "I came to terms with that when Ginny left me. She could tell I wasn't invested in her, and she wouldn't let me use her for sex and a safe hiding place from the world. I won't let you use me that way, either."
Draco shut his eyes and forbade himself to cry. Still, he did start to shake. He tried to stumble backwards, to put distance between him and Potter, but his shoulders collided with one of the heavy bookshelves, and he began to hyperventilate.
Potter had been his last chance. Where was Draco going to find someone else to fuck him before the gossip started to spread? What would happen when he taught his classes tomorrow and the unicorn showed up behind him? Who had Heinz and Lawrence been talking to tonight, especially if they were angry about Draco showing up their lack of attention during class? How—
"Draco. Draco! It's all right."
Potter's arms were around his waist, but that did Draco no good at all, not when he knew those arms wouldn't pull him close and rid him of his hated virginity. He shuddered and pulled against them, and felt the tears, shoved down and away for so long, prickle hard at the edges of his eyelids.
Then Potter twisted, and Draco found himself lying with his face in the other man's shoulder, his ear a few inches from Potter's mouth, and his shuddering body cradled against a firm, solid chest. Potter spoke softly into Draco's ear. "I don't know what's going on, but I know you need to sit down and have some tea. Come on."
After that, Draco simply didn't have the strength to resist.
Draco had been staring into his teacup for the past quarter of an hour. Potter hadn't tried to force him to speak. He'd sipped his own tea and sometimes studied the pattern of wet rings it left on the heavy wooden table between them, wiping his fingers through them as if he disliked perfect circles. Draco thought distractedly that the table was really too nice for them to mark this way, but it belonged to Potter, and if he wanted to do that with his own furniture, well, who was Draco to forbid him?
He'd cast a few more glances around Potter's house, and found himself almost overwhelmed by the comfort of it. Potter had chosen things that lasted, from the bookshelves that looked as if an earthquake wouldn't dislodge them to the granite and crystal paperweights holding open the numerous scrolls. The pictures on the walls were a, currently, empty portrait frame and a landscape that showed a dozing dragon curled around a tree covered with golden apples. Wizarding photographs of Weasleys, Longbottom, Granger, that mad Lovegood girl, and other people Draco didn't recognize stood on every surface. He felt as if he knew more about Potter from a few minutes spent in his house than he would otherwise have had a chance of learning in five years.
Slowly, his sluggish senses stirred. He had to return to Hogwarts tomorrow to teach his classes, and he couldn't stay here much longer, just expecting Potter to read his mind. He took a deep breath and raised his eyes. Potter looked at him, but from the side, as if he knew that a direct stare might overwhelm Draco.
"You're going to think me stupid and selfish for coming here," he said.
"I don't think so," Potter responded at once, his voice quiet. "Whatever can cause you to look that upset isn't a minor, or a stupid, matter. And I think the last selfish action you performed was trying to hand me over to Voldemort."
Draco clenched his hands. He had forgotten that particular piece of history that lay between them. Given that, it made even less sense that Potter would want him. He didn't know what he'd been thinking when he came here, but it made no sense, whatever it had been.
But Potter was still waiting for an explanation, and Draco did trust him not to spread rumors about Professor Malfoy coming to him with such a strange request, mad as that was.
"I've been haunted by unicorns lately," Draco whispered. "They come up and hang about my house at night, and during the day if I'm teaching any classes near the Forbidden Forest."
"I thought unicorns preferred the touch of a woman's hand," Potter said.
Draco almost smiled. He doubted Potter knew he was quoting Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, who had briefly taken over the Care of Magical Creatures classes during their fourth and fifth years at Hogwarts, and who had been one of Draco's own teachers when he decided to learn as much as he could to fit himself for the position. "They usually do," he said. "But think about what other things unicorns are attracted to, Potter."
"I don't know," Potter said, blinking at Draco. "I never bothered to learn much about them." An embarrassed smile touched his mouth for a moment. "I should have. I wanted to date you, and magical creatures are your profession."
Draco swallowed. "You try to understand the professions of everyone you date? You'd be a more knowledgeable wizard than Granger at that point."
"Not everyone I date, no." Potter leaned forwards, holding his eyes. "But I wanted to know more about you and what mattered to you. I do have some books on magical creatures. I hadn't started them yet, because I had no idea if we'd ever sit in the same room, let alone have a conversation like this."
Draco closed his eyes. If intimacy with and trust towards any person was possible, then Potter would be the one Draco would choose, at this point. He'd had no idea that such simple words could affect him so.
"Unicorns are attracted to virgins, Potter," he said. "And that's what I am."
Silence. He opened his eyes to see Potter looking utterly surprised. He braced himself for some cutting comment about how he'd managed to go through twenty-five years without getting that problem taken care of.
"Really?" Potter breathed. "I'd thought—I mean, I'd thought you must have all sorts of offers, and not all of them could be repulsive to you."
Draco stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"You're beautiful," Potter said, as if it was obvious.
Draco stared at his hands so he wouldn't do something stupid, and muttered, "Not with my past. Not with my actions."
Potter touched his fingers to the underside of Draco's chin and tilted his face gently up. His eyes were brilliant with what Draco thought was pity for a moment, and he braced himself to struggle away. He got enough of that emotion in his own company.
But Potter shook his head and murmured, "People change. Actions can be made up for. And I think the future is more important than the past." He leaned nearer, and Draco realized the brilliant emotion in his eyes was compassion. He'd stopped recognizing it when it never seemed to be directed at him.
"And you came to me," Potter said, "because you wanted to be rid of that virginity and stop drawing attention to yourself."
"Oh," Potter said. His other hand rose and brushed Draco's hair from his eyes. His smile was tender, and sorrowful. "Please listen to me, Draco.
"I could never have sex with you merely to take away your virginity."
Draco closed his eyes. It was his misfortune, he reflected, to have found a potential lover noble enough not to spread tales about him, but also too noble to accept a night of meaningless passion as the gift Draco had meant it to be.
"Then I have no more business here," he answered stiffly, and stood up. "I'll simply have to take my chances with the unicorns and with the s—secret beginning to escape." To his horror, his voice wavered. He took a sharp breath and swallowed back the sobs that might have alerted Potter to how weak he really was. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
He heard the creak of furniture and the swish of robes that meant Potter had risen to match him. His hands remained in place, one on Draco's chin, one on his hair. Draco stood passively, silently willing him to let go and permit him to leave.
"You don't understand," Potter whispered. "I could never have sex with you right now because you don't really want it. You don't really like me yet. You don't really trust me—"
"You think I don't trust you?" Draco opened his eyes to glare, wanting to remind Potter exactly what errand he'd come on.
"Not enough," Potter said. "Not enough for more than sex, and probably not even for that. I saw the way you shook when you touched me. I won't force you into bed against your will, which was the reason I was going to give up talking to you at Hogwarts unless you decided for yourself that you wanted to spend time with me." He paused, and his voice modulated, becoming so gentle that Draco couldn't stand it. "This is about more than simple lack of opportunity for sex, isn't it? Do you trust anyone enough to go to bed with them?"
And the question, or the tone it was asked in, or the person asking it, stabbed Draco's defenses exactly at their weakest point.
His shoulders hunched. He spoke furiously, unable to stop himself, despite the slight warning in the back of his mind that he really wasn't angry at Potter. "What do you think? What kind of people do you think I was around during the war, and during my time in Azkaban? Do you think I saw many intense, loving relationships there?"
Potter was silent, watching him. Waiting. Draco hurled words at him, wanting to fill that silence and make him stop. "I saw the way sex could be used as a weapon, the way trust could twist and become a trap for someone who had assumed that they could trust the other person in return. And there were whispers and glancing touches and—" He shuddered as a memory he hadn't thought of in years returned to him full-force. "Fenrir Greyback cornered me in the Manor once. The way he laid his hands on either side of my head and stared me in the face—the way his breath stank—"
And Potter listened. Draco kept talking. Something he said had to make Potter turn away from him in disgust. "The guards were the same way. They didn't do anything, but they wanted to make sure I knew what they could do. And who would have cared? Who would have tried to stop them?"
"I would have," Potter said quietly.
"You didn't know! No one knew! No one knew what it was like there!" Draco broke free of the hold of Potter's hands and began to pace. "They had me in solitary confinement, under spells that meant I couldn't protest my treatment when someone came in and asked me how I was. I was completely helpless. And I've never stopped being helpless. I couldn't force myself to have sex, which is such a minor thing to most people. I could never stand up to anyone after that. I went back to Hogwarts because it was a place I knew, instead of this new wizarding world I don't know at all. And now I'll be whispered and hissed about again, and the one thing I was good at might be taken away from me if the students start to snicker about and distrust me, and—"
Good God, he was crying, the tears running down his cheeks in thick torrents that seemed to carve paths through his skin. He turned blindly, groping for the door. He couldn't bear for anyone to see him like this.
What he found instead was Potter's body, as Potter seized him and held him in a tight embrace. Draco slumped forwards. This was it, he thought dimly, as the sounds of anger and distress and grief clawed their way out of his throat. This was the crown and height of his humiliation, the point when the one person who had seemed to like him for himself would realize that he wasn't strong after all.
"You've never mourned, from the sound of it," Potter whispered into his ear. "You've despised yourself so much for not moving past it that you neglected the actual work of moving past it." His hand swept lightly up and down Draco's back, then settled into soothing circles. "Please cry it out, Draco. It sounds like it's been poisoning you for a long time."
Draco tried to stop. But the sobs kept coming, and so did the tears. Both got worse when he thought of the memories in an attempt to make himself stop. Burdens he hadn't known were crushing him at all were suddenly heavier than mountains.
He clung to Potter and wept his despair and his anger at the unfairness of it all, that a boy who was only sixteen years old should have been part of a war, that a boy who was only seventeen should have been witness to all the tortures and the foulness of the Death Eaters, that a boy who was only eighteen should have spent months in Azkaban.
He did tell himself that Potter had done worse things at the same age and younger ones, but for once the comparison failed to shame him. That wasn't fair either, but for the first time, he thought Potter had probably cried and had his drunken nights in the company of friends. He hadn't been the emotionless machine Draco had pictured, able to keep moving no matter what happened to him. His hands on Draco's back were too experienced in comforting motions, his voice too familiar with the words Draco needed to hear.
The actions he loathed himself so much for performing, the experiences he loathed himself so much for having, passed through him at last, like a bitter, tearing desert wind, and left him bitter and worn-out and scrubbed hollow. Weak, he thought, but the word had lost its force. Everything had but the desire for sleep.
That, and that Potter had not mocked him for having emotions, for feeling these things. His relief at that was enormous, but it hovered just out of reach, not making him face it yet.
He felt himself lifted and laid on a soft surface, probably a bed. Someone planted a kiss on his forehead and stroked his palm with two fingertips. Draco sighed, a sound unblocked by thoughts of how little he deserved to make it for once, and slept.
Draco woke to the smells of bacon and eggs, which were oddly tempting considering he never had much of an appetite for breakfast at Hogwarts. He opened his eyes and sat up, blinking.
Of course, when he saw the angle of the sunlight through unfamiliar windows, he panicked. He had less than an hour to go teach his classes, and his robes were wrinkled from sleeping in them. He needed to shower, and change, and eat something so his stomach wouldn't rumble in the middle of class—that was unprofessional—and then review the information for the final lesson on sphinxes he would be imparting today—
"Draco, Draco! Calm down."
He blinked and let his brain catch up with his body, and then realized that he'd lunged off the bed on which he'd slept and towards the door, and tripped over an end table. Potter had caught him before he could spill to the ground, and he gently helped Draco back to sit down on the edge of the bed. His eyes were bright with concern.
"I've already owled McGonagall and told her you won't be there this morning."
"But—you can't do that," Draco said, catching his breath in distress. "If I do one thing wrong, she'll have the parents and the governors pressuring her to sack me, and—"
Potter's fingers began to move, rubbing his wrists and the backs of his hands in soothing motions. Draco swallowed and watched his hands for long moments, because once again the compassion was back in Potter's eyes, and once again he had the feeling that he didn't deserve it.
"One reason McGonagall will accept your taking the day off," Potter said gently, "is because you don't make a regular habit of this. In fact, she worries about you. You never take a day off, you never act grumpy or unprofessional or angry about the stupid antics that your students get up to in your classes. She thinks you're allowed some emotional expression, you know, Draco, and she's worried that you've stifled it because you're afraid you'll lose your job if you don't."
"Did I give you permission to call me by my first name?" Draco muttered, but his voice wasn't as pointed as he would have liked. The motions of Potter's fingers were simply too soothing.
Potter ignored him. "You're not in that much danger, you know? Most of your students adore you. The ones who don't like you are the ones who don't like work. You've improved the teaching of Care of Magical Creatures enormously. More of your students use that knowledge in their careers after Hogwarts now, and more of them choose jobs that demand the knowledge, which wasn't happening when Hagrid taught." Potter's smile turned rueful. "I love Hagrid, but he isn't a very good teacher. He cared about the creatures too much and the students not enough.
"But you aren't on the verge of getting sacked. McGonagall cares about you. Most of your colleagues would be your friends if you let them, but you're so worried that you'll do something wrong you drive them away."
"I—that can't be right," Draco said. "Most of them worked at Hogwarts when I was a student. They knew what I was like. And Slughorn still sneers at me every morning," he added, thinking he might need hard evidence.
"Slughorn isn't everyone." Potter had adopted a similar circling motion for both hands now, and Draco found himself calming down in spite of the loud warnings from the back of his mind that Potter must be lying. The Headmistress wouldn't make exceptions like this for her professors, especially the youngest, and she wouldn't encourage them to be lazy layabouts. "I think he's jealous of you, actually. His life hasn't worked out the way he wanted it to after the war. Hardly anyone sends him rich presents anymore. Meanwhile, you keep right on working and never showing discontent." Potter smiled. "He wishes that he had an ounce of your stoicism."
"McGonagall told you all this, I suppose," Draco said, and tried to make his voice acid with skepticism, but it didn't work. Too much of him wanted to believe every word Potter was saying.
"Yes, she did," Potter said, unabashed. "She noticed my interest in you before I could properly articulate it myself, and she told me some of the obstacles that would lie in my way. Specifically, how you'd never ceased punishing yourself for crimes that the majority of the world has forgotten about or thinks were understandable." He leaned forwards, and Draco felt like a rabbit paralyzed by the gaze of a snake.
"Draco," Potter whispered, "you were a child. Because the Wizengamot chose to punish you, because it was full of ignorant idiots—" Potter's voice was trembling with anger "—is no reason to think the rest of the wizarding world feels the same way. Yes, there are still some people who would love nothing more than to make trouble for you. But there are people who would love nothing more than to make trouble for me. I haven't hidden in my house and let that fear take over my life."
"I know," Draco said bitterly, turning his head away. "That's because you're so much better and more courageous than I am—"
"Stop it!" Potter squeezed his hands. "I was going to say, I haven't hidden in my house since the first year after the war. I did it then. I was traumatized by dying and then coming back to life again. I was convinced no one could really understand my pain. I rejected invitations to see my friends and appear at any public functions. Sometimes I screamed at the walls, because there was no one around to answer, and I can't tell you how many vases I smashed and how many nights I spent drunk.
"But I dragged myself through it gradually. I came to see that it didn't really matter why I'd survived, which was a question I longed for an answer to at first, only that I had. And then I started thinking of all the good I could do with my life."
Potter's voice softened and warmed like melted butter. "You have a head start on me. You didn't hide away, at least not from everyone, and you found a good job that would let you teach people. Now you need to do the thing I found easiest: forgive yourself, and realize not everyone in the world who speaks lies against you knows what they're talking about." He tensed for a moment as if he would like to lean forwards and kiss Draco on the cheek, but he managed to hold back from doing so.
And it's not because he doesn't desire me, Draco thought as he stared into those green eyes. But he wants this to proceed at my pace, and he's probably vain enough to want me to choose him, instead of having sex with him out of gratitude. Or to get rid of my virginity.
"What if I can't do that?" he found himself asking. "What if I need help? I fled Hogwarts at the mere suggestion anyone else knew I was a virgin. What if I find it harder to forgive myself?"
"Then I'll help you," Potter answered at once. "And I think McGonagall would, too, but I'm selfish enough to want to have you to myself the majority of the time." He grinned and slung an arm around Draco's waist, but still didn't pull him closer, as if he thought that might violate a part of Draco's self-imposed isolation. "And I'll tell anything you want to know about how I did it."
Draco stared at him. He doubted Potter was thinking about the offer the way Draco had interpreted it, but then, Potter had never been a Slytherin. And despite what he'd said, House traits were a lingering part of the soul.
Potter had just offered Draco a weapon to hold to his throat, in return for the weapon Draco's confession had given him. Draco could sell half the things Potter had told him to the Daily Prophet in exchange for enough money to live on for the rest of his days. And there was still greater interest in the Savior than a former Death Eater. No matter how paranoid he was concerning what people might say about him, Draco knew that.
Potter had shown that he trusted him.
Draco could not reconcile that with the notion that Potter was so far above Draco he would never deign to look at him.
So—his notion that Potter was so far above him might be wrong. No, must be wrong. Draco blinked a little and curled his fingers into the collar of Potter's robe. Potter simply stared at him with hope and compassion and gentleness in his eyes, and Draco felt as if he were falling for a moment, overwhelmed and dizzied by the fact that the Savior of the Wizarding World trustedhim.
"There's still the problem of my virginity," he said.
"About that," Potter said. His hand rose hesitantly from Draco's shoulder to his hair. When Draco didn't object, he stroked a few locks of hair back from his ears, looking insanely satisfied with himself. "I've finally started reading through those books on magical creatures I should have looked at before this. I've learned something that might surprise you."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "I've researched unicorns myself, Potter. I doubt you could have learned anything I didn't."
"Well, did you learn why they're drawn to virgins in the first place?"
"Because they're creatures of beauty and innocence," Draco snapped, and then laughed bitterly. "In my case, I know it must be sexual innocence, because even you can't consider me guiltless of all the crimes I committed during the war."
"I don't," Potter said. "What I consider exists is not a blameless past, but the ability to apologize and atone." His fingers spread out for a moment, framing Draco's brow and jaw. "But I think you should pay attention to the other part of that statement."
Draco snorted. "The beauty part?" It was surprisingly freeing to be sarcastic around someone again. He hadn't dared to say a word to his students often in case they complained to their parents. "Tell me that you don't find me ferret-like anymore, and I'll laugh at you."
"Well, I certainly don't want to be laughed at," Potter said gravely, and went on before Draco could question him. "I have a copy of a small book by Newt Scamander that wasn't widely published. Of course, he sent me a copy when I asked, though I like to think that has more to do with my being Luna's friend than because I'm famous—"
"Luna?" Draco interrupted. "Lovegood? What does he have to do with her?"
"Luna married Scamander's grandson," Potter said, showing no sign of irritation that Draco had interrupted, and continued. "The book is called The Role of the Unicorn in Wizarding History, and it interprets that statement about beauty and innocence in new ways. Unicorns are drawn to beauty, but, as Scamander points out, that doesn't make sense. Why in the world should a unicorn think a human is beautiful?"
"Is this going to turn into a lecture about bestiality?" Draco asked suspiciously. "Because if I have to give you the same lecture I gave my NEWT class when they started asking leading questions about goats and hippogriffs—"
Potter burst out laughing. Draco was astonished how the sound comforted him, given that before this he'd always heard it in mocking contexts, or at best from a distance, whilst he could only grind his teeth together and wish that Potter would laugh that way with him.
And now he is.
The world does change.
"The answer," Potter continued, "is that unicorns aren't drawn to human beauty. They're drawn to human perceptions of beauty. They can feel emotions and hear the soul, which is how they know which people are safe to approach. Young unmarried girls are often considered beautiful and innocent by many people, so unicorns tend to be drawn to them." He leaned forwards until his proximity made Draco's eyes cross and his breath was raking gently across Draco's jaw, turning his skin prickly and sensitive. "Think, Draco. You're still a virgin, and you've taught at Hogwarts for three years now. Why would unicorns only start being drawn to you now?"
Draco swallowed. Potter's closeness was doing odd things to his brain. Draco had never considered that the scent of hair and sweat was as potent as bicorn horn. "I—don't know," he managed to say. "But everything about my life has gone wrong in the last few years, so I thought it was simply my bad luck."
"Not everything was wrong," Potter said. "Your job at Hogwarts, for example. But unicorns only started coming near you when I looked at you one day and decided you were beautiful. They could feel my perception of your beauty. The virginity probably didn't hurt, but they would have left you alone if it was only that." He smiled sheepishly. "After I read Scamander's book, I thought back and realized that McGonagall had first commented on a unicorn being so near Hogwarts on the very Friday when I consciously took notice of you. So, in a way, it was my fault. I'm sorry."
Draco shoved back until he could see Potter . "Your fault," he said flatly.
Just like in school.
"But you're sorry for it."
That never happened in school.
And in a moment of blinding clarity that Draco knew would never be repeated, he could see the continuity of the past with the present, and how people might largely be the same in soul and life experience but still emerge changed, and how someone could commit stupid mistakes and still expect to be forgiven for them—the way that Potter was gazing at him now, obviously expecting to be forgiven for the way he'd messed Draco's life up and nearly revealed his virginity to the entire school.
Because he had changed too, Draco did not reach out and shake Potter, or punch him in the mouth as his schoolboy self would have done. Instead, he shook his head, made a disgusted sound, and said, "I might let you make it up to me if you give me unburned breakfast."
Potter nodded eagerly. A few days ago, Draco would have thought the gesture was condescending. A few years ago, he would have thought it pathetic.
Both those people bled into who he was right now, but he was neither of them.
Draco said, with a commanding tone that he would have flinched at the thought of using only yesterday, "And if you come to Hogwarts more often, so that I can actually have lunch with you when I'm not rushing from class to class."
Potter smiled at him like someone offered a second chance.
"—think unicorns are always near him because—"
"You had something to say about unicorns, Mr. Heinz?" Draco turned smartly on one heel to confront his troublesome student, who had spent half the class so far complaining about how much homework they were receiving and had finally turned to speculations on Draco's life. Draco was not inclined to stop the idiot's speculations on Slughorn. The man could defend himself well enough. Now, when Heinz's tongue turned to him, McGonagall, or anyone else who didn't deservethe slanders he wanted to spread, Draco would intervene.
"I—" The boy's cheeks flushed, and he glared defiantly at his professor. "I just think it's a bit odd that they're so often around you, sir."
Draco turned. Sure enough, a unicorn was edging slowly towards them across the field from the Forest, dazzlingly white and gold and silver against the green. Now that he no longer had to worry so much about losing control of his classes, Draco found himself enjoying the sight of their beauty.
Which is only matched by my own, he thought, and held out his hand. The unicorn, who might be the same one he had thrown a rock at once, paused thoughtfully before it trotted up to him, but it trotted up all the same. As it came closer, Draco saw that it lacked the goat-like beard that would have marked a male, and smirked.
"Tell me, Mr. Heinz," he said, as the unicorn's breath brushed his palm and a shining horn nudged up along his arm, "is this creature a male or a female?"
Heinz folded his arms and glared. "I don't know."
Draco raised an eyebrow.
"I don't know, sir."
"Female," Draco said. "That should have been easy enough to tell." He heard Ombrid laugh. "And what happens if you kill a unicorn for its blood?"
"I don't know, sir." Heinz's head was lowered, the expression on his face mutinous as he stared at his trainers.
"You are cursed for life, because killing a unicorn is a sin," said Draco. "And can you touch a unicorn, Mr. Heinz?"
"Girls can," said the boy. He looked up, the flush on his cheeks deep and red. "And virgin men."
The class went silent. Draco only smiled slowly and said, "You are wrong on at least two counts, Mr. Heinz. Although adult unicorns prefer the touch of women, foals will let anyone of any sex approach them. And if they are drawn only to virgins—why, you should be able to come forwards and put your hand on the neck of this one easily enough."
The class began to snicker, with Lawrence's snicker the loudest, though he had been whispering with Heinz only a moment before. The Ravenclaw boy tossed him a betrayed glance and edged closer, one hand reaching out.
The unicorn held still until Heinz had almost touched her mane, and then she tossed her head, snorted in disgust, and whirled away. One hind hoof tossed up a clod of dirt that hit Heinz squarely on the cheek. Draco didn't believe for a moment that the unicorn's aim was a coincidence.
"Well," Draco said, "it seems you are wrong again. Unicorns are drawn not to true virginity, but to the perception of beauty or innocence." He stared straight into Heinz's eyes for a moment, delivering a silent warning, before he said, "Ten points from Ravenclaw for talking in class, Mr. Heinz, and detention with Filch, as this is not your first offense."
The boy looked as if he were on the verge of stomping his foot, but Draco caught his eye and stared sternly, and he looked away again, with a sullen mutter of agreement. Draco turned back to his class and caught a few intimidated glances before they looked at the ground. Well, good. He had been too easy on them so far, especially considering that this group would take their OWLS in a few weeks. He had to prepare them.
A shadow passed overhead. Draco tilted his head back and recognized Harry on a broom with a picnic basket behind him. He gave Draco a pointed look and nodded towards the Quidditch pitch. Draco began to smile.
"Class is dismissed early," he announced, to a chorus of cheers. "Don't forget the two-foot essay on Jarveys due on Tuesday. Or on unicorns, in your case, Mr. Heinz," he added, making a few more people snicker before the students dispersed, excitedly chattering about what they were going to do with their extra half-hour of free time.
Only a week ago, Draco thought as he followed Harry's circling and swooping figure with his eyes, he wouldn't have dared dismiss the class ahead of time, in case someone thought of him as weak. And he certainly wouldn't have dared assign detention to Heinz or take points from Ravenclaw, because all it would take was one complaint to lose him his position here.
Or so he'd thought.
Perceptions of truth aren't always the same as truth.
The unicorn's horn brushed along his arm again. Draco absently stroked her neck, estimating Harry's landing place with his eyes, and then began heading in that direction. The unicorn followed with a soft sound like muffled bells as her hooves rose and fell in the thick grass.
Well, why not? Draco thought, glancing back at her. I'm sure Harry brought enough food for three. He always has more than enough for everyone.