Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Providence, and I want to thank everyone who's come along.
Chapter Eighteen—What Draco Malfoy Became
Harry might not be able to see the humiliation lurking in Flint's eyes, and in the eyes of several other men and women in the dining room at Merlin's Tor, but Draco could. He knew from that who had backed Flint to win, and who might be disappointed that he had not challenged Harry, suicidal though it would have been. Draco made careful note of their names. Those same people would probably oppose him on political grounds, some time soon.
Harry went on eating with the grace he'd displayed before the interruption. Draco watched him thoughtfully. He'd never heard any comments on Harry's extraordinary manners, the way he would have from someone if he'd eaten like this in public before now.
So that made Draco wonder why Harry hadn't chosen to display those manners. Perhaps he was contemptuous of people who would judge him by them? Perhaps it wasn't important enough to him to consider as part of the impression he created?
And yet, he adapted without complaint to Draco's thinking it was important, even to Draco's trying to instruct him.
Draco didn't understand it.
It was like the way Harry had argued so hard against Draco's trying to own him when he thought that owning meant control and possession, but let Draco put his hand on his wrist like a manacle in front of other people. He even smiled at Draco indulgently when he did that, as if this was a habit of long standing for both of them. Draco didn't demand an explanation only because it wouldn't do to reveal uncertainty like that in front of people like his friends.
But he watched Harry with a concentrated curiosity that Harry could surely feel, from all the secretive little smiles he darted at Draco and the way he lowered his eyes to his plate each time their gazes met.
Maybe it has something to do with love, Draco thought. That's the only thing I can think of. It's the only thing that reconciled Harry to the word owned. It's the thing that made Harry seek me out in the first place, and led him to make excuses for me to his friends. And love can make sense of other contradictions where Gryffindors are concerned.
That wasn't an answer to the question that had been implied, as his father would have said. But strangely, Draco found himself relaxing as he thought about it.
He had the rest of his life to learn about Harry's love for him and what kinds of contradictions it caused and smoothed over in Harry's life. Doubtless not all the things he learned would be pleasant. But they would be focused on himself, and on Harry.
Draco could not imagine two more pleasant subjects to spend the rest of his life thinking about.
"Mr. Potter. A word with you, if you please."
Harry turned around slowly. He'd woken up earlier that morning, on purpose, because Draco seemed committed to decadence in his morning hours as much as anything else and because Harry had realized that he hadn't exercised in days. Spending hours in bed wasn't the way to keep in shape for Auror training.
At least not in the way that Kingsley would like me to, since I doubt that athletic sex is on the approved list of Auror techniques.
He'd risen and gone out in the gardens so he wouldn't disturb either Draco or the house-elves who would be popping up and asking him if he needed anything every few seconds if he wandered about the house. He hadn't even thought of disturbing the only other person who lived in Malfoy Manor.
Narcissa Malfoy stood watching him with her hands held straight at her sides, as if she were practicing at being a tomb statue. Now and then her nostrils flared with her breathing, but that was the only sign that made her look alive. Harry nervously scanned her face for signs of disapproval—either because he was fucking her son or because he was half-dressed and dripping sweat everywhere—but he didn't see any. Then again, he didn't see signs of any other emotion there, either.
He decided he could do worse than be polite. "Of course, Mrs. Malfoy," he said, and conjured a shirt that he tugged over his head. He grimaced as the sweat pooled under his arms. He'd have to get rid of the shirt later, probably, but right now it made him feel better than facing Narcissa in only his trousers.
Narcissa said, "I want to know how you intend to make Draco happy if you remain here."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Do you think I'm making him unhappy now?" It was the only thing he could think of to say. Maybe she knew something about Draco that he didn't. That was always possible.
And it's not the end of the world if that's true, he told himself harshly, when a spark of panic tried to flare up inside him. You'll get things wrong no matter how much you love him. You know that's true.
"No," Narcissa said, her voice a whisper. "But there is a difference between being able to make him happy for a few days and doing it for years." She stared directly at him, and Harry wondered if this was the mother Draco had known, the woman willing to make an Unbreakable Vow to keep him safe. "There is a difference between a love affair and marriage."
Harry blinked, but considered her words. Then he said, "I have every intention of staying with Draco for the rest of my life and making him as happy as I can. Maybe it won't work out that way, but I have the intention."
Narcissa smiled coldly, as if to say that she knew what intentions were worth. She murmured, "I want to know what you have planned, how you'll content him, how make him joyful, how adapt to his life."
"I can't give you answers I don't have."
This time, she drew herself up as if he'd insulted her. "Then you are less right for Draco than many of the women who have besieged him," she said coldly. "They at least had visions of marriage, of the children they were going to bear."
Harry snorted. "His whole circle has an obsession with planning their lives, I know, but I refuse to believe that their children would look exactly the way they wanted them to look."
Narcissa tightened her fists in her robes. They were almost a gown, really, Harry thought. He wondered if that was what pure-blood women wore in private. He hadn't seen enough to know; most of the places he'd encountered them were in public, when they were swarming around Draco like bees around a bear. "You mock our traditions, Mr. Potter," she intoned. "You mock the idea of a plan for happiness, but that is exactly what you cannot offer Draco, and that is exactly the reason that I might think it best to take him away from you."
Harry was silent for a few minutes, thinking. His first instinct was to challenge her to try, but she was important to Draco, and she might not be completely right in the head after the war.
"I want to plan," he said. "But nothing I plan ever works out the way I think it will." He shook his head ruefully, thinking of the letters. "So it's better for me to improvise, and adapt my actions to helping Draco and making him happy as they come. I'll stop doing things that hurt him. I'll increase the things that give him pleasure." He shrugged when Narcissa went on staring. "I don't know what else I can do."
"Make promises that you will fit in with his way of life," Narcissa whispered. "Say that you will not change him."
"But I already have," said Harry. "Would he be dating me if he hadn't changed? Of course, I told him that he had to change a little before the dating would start. I reckon you could say that that's all part of a cunning plan to lull me before he strikes, but I wouldn't really believe that."
Narcissa folded her arms and hunched as if she was cold, and Harry felt abruptly sorry for her. Her face said that she had endured things no one should ever have to. "My son has worked so hard to hold onto our name," she said. "I would not want him to give that up. No matter how good someone makes him feel." She shot Harry a sideways furious glance that said exactly what kind of pleasure she was talking about.
Harry took a deep breath, and reminded himself that he loved Draco, too. "I don't want him to give up his name or his pride," he said. "If you think he's doing that just by dating me, I'm sorry, but I don't intend to stop that, either. And I won't make plans for the future when I don't know what that future will bring."
"At some point," Narcissa said, and Harry was no longer sure that she was talking to him, "there must be an end to change. We must master it, and stop it from threatening us."
"I can't help do that," Harry said. "All I can do is try to protect you from pain. You and Draco," he added, because he wasn't sure Narcissa would understand him otherwise, and he had no intention of giving up Draco simply to please her.
Narcissa stood staring at him again until Harry had to fight to keep his hands away from his face, because she made him feel like he had food stuck between his teeth. Then she shook her head and said, "I tolerate you only because Draco loves you. In some ways, I think it would have been better if you had never come here."
She walked away, slowly and tragically, across the gardens before Harry could reply.
Harry stared after her, then shrugged. Of course he wished that Draco's mother liked him better. But he'd been through thinking that the man he loved would never acknowledge him, then thinking that he would be with Astoria, and then thinking that there was no way they could stay together because Draco would never agree to lower his barriers.
Compared to that, an unhappy mother was not enough to make him change his mind or his feelings.
Draco made sure to sprawl elegantly in the chair, his eyes on the book he was holding. He had the most comfortable seat, closest to the fire. The room around him was a model of refinment and sheer beauty. Any visitor would be impressed, and when he looked up from his book with a cool, remote gaze, they would start shifting from foot to foot.
At least, that was the way it would have worked with any normal visitor.
But Weasley was already abnormal. To enumerate the ways in which that was true would have taken Draco all day, so in the end he simply looked up and sighed as he put the book down.
"What do you want, Weasley?" he asked.
"First I wanted to see if your house-elves would let me inside when they heard my name." Weasley cocked his head to the side. Draco shuddered. Either the cool white-and-gold walls of this room were simply the worst environment for Weasley's hair possible, or he had done something to make that blazing orange even more offensive. "It's interesting that they did. And it's a good sign, I think. You haven't banned Harry's friends from the Manor because of their last names."
"Make it clear what you want, Weasley," Draco said, and he knew his voice was snapping, and he didn't care. Weasley was driving him to distraction with his inanity.
"I wanted to watch you in your own home," Weasley said, and dropped, gracelessly and without an invitation, into the chair across from Draco. Draco winced, and then tried to keep his face bland. He knew that Weasley's robes, covered with dust and germs, would stain his cushions, but he had to try not to show that. "If I can learn how you behave there, then I can get a better idea of what you're like around Harry in private."
Draco stared at him, to see if he was joking. Weasley looked serenely back. This was probably the expression that he wore when he was interrogating criminals, Draco decided; surely he couldn't have more than one of them.
"You've chosen a bad day for it, then," he said, "since Harry's gone to the Ministry to resume a regular working schedule."
"And that tells me another thing I need to know," Weasley said happily.
Weasley's slow smile was even more infuriating than the serene expression. "That's for me to know and you to try and fail to guess."
Draco hissed at him. "Is this the way you repay effort, Weasley? I've been making every effort to get along with you, not to insult your wife, and to accept you as Harry's friends, part of his life that I can't change. And you show up and insult me in my home in consequence?"
"You think that was insults?" Weasley raised his eyebrows. "I didn't think it was possible for your skin to get thinner since Hogwarts. Shows how little logical reasoning ability I have."
Draco jumped to his feet. "Get out of my house, Weasley," he said, but his voice wouldn't attain the proper tone of growl. He was imagining what Harry would say if Weasley complained that Draco had thrown him out of the Manor, which he would have a legitimate right to complain about.
Weasley grinned at him. "No."
Draco paced in a circle, glaring at Weasley with each turn. There were no good ways to handle this situation, he thought. Yes, if he didn't care about Harry's opinion or was sure that Harry would be on his side, then he'd use his magic to throw Weasley out—but that would make it appear as if he were losing his temper, and Draco's policy was not to show sincere anger to anyone he didn't trust.
That's already failed, because Weasley knows you're angry.
But at least I don't have to disgrace myself about it, Draco thought, and eyed Weasley grimly. "You can wait until Harry gets home," he said. "But I don't think you'll be able to persuade him to move out of the Manor or to drop me, if that's what you came for." I don't think you'll be able to. It hadn't escaped Draco's notice that Harry's eyes shone with brightness around Weasley and Granger that rivaled the brightness of Harry's adoration for him.
Weasley gave a secret, inwards smile, which was a degree more infuriating still than the slow one, and stood. "And that's what I came for," he said.
Draco wondered for a moment whether Harry's friends were all mad. He considered letting Weasley go away without asking what he'd discovered. That at least would make it seem as if he didn't care.
But Weasley watched him with eyes that were too bright and a crooked grin growing across his face, and Draco knew he hadn't fooled him. Funny how he could fool most pure-bloods and most Aurors, but not a boy he'd always considered among the dimmest he knew growing up. Perhaps it didn't help matters that Weasley was both pure-blood and Auror. It might give him an advantage. "What did you come for?" he asked. At least he's honest enough that he might actually tell me.
"I wanted to know what you would do when I irritated you," Weasley replied calmly. "And you blustered at me and you flushed, but you never reached for your wand." He nodded. "Hermione won't like hearing it, but you do mean to keep the peace with us if you can."
Draco sneered at him. "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"
"It's not long ago that you would think it was worth anything to insult us," Weasley said. "We had to check on that. Harry promised us that you'd changed, but Harry can be—blind, sometimes. So I came to see."
"I love him," Draco said. "There's very little that I wouldn't give up or change for him." He felt obscurely insulted by Weasley's explanation, in a way he hadn't expected. He'd put on as large a display of his changed feelings as he could in the Valiant Friends' meetinghouse, and Weasley still doubted him?
"I know," Weasley said. "But we had to be sure that your hatred for us wasn't one of the things you'd fight to retain." He smiled at Draco, waved, and then turned and showed himself out of the library without so much as a by-your-leave.
Draco stood listening as the front door clicked shut, and then sat down and picked the book up again. But he studied the pages without seeing them.
No matter what, he decided at last, after a long time without deciding anything else, red hair is still ugly against these walls.
"I need to know if dating Malfoy will compromise your political inclinations at all." Kingsley spoke as if that were a perfectly normal question, his fingers steepled in front of him.
"What political inclinations?" Harry sorted through the files that Kingsley had given him, the cases that had accumulated during his time in Spain and then his holiday with Draco, and pretended that he couldn't hear the sharpness in the silence.
"The inclinations that drive you to be an Auror," Kingsley said, "dedicated to keeping the pure-bloods from gaining the foothold in the Ministry that they once had. The inclinations that make you a champion of free rights, including increased rights for house-elves and other magical beings. The inclinations that you've held all along, in other words."
"Oh, those inclinations," Harry said, and then started reading about a case that seemed to consist entirely of someone selling cursed medallions to fools in Diagon Alley. Harry sighed. Regular detection charms would alert them to something wrong with things like that, but no, we can't possibly teach those charms in Hogwarts! It's so much more important to teach them how to change the color of a jumper and leave the makework for the Aurors.
"Well?" Kingsley's voice snapped like a chicken bone now. Harry looked up and regarded him evenly.
"Would you ask anyone who started dating a pure-blood this?" he asked. "I think that Toby Trout married a pure-blood girl a few years ago. Esmeralda Greengrass, right? Did you ask him in for an interview?"
Kingsley shook his head. His eyes looked ancient, and Harry momentarily felt bad, but only until he spoke again. "It's different with you, Harry. And you know that. It's not only a man, in your case, but someone who was actually tried before the Wizengamot, which never happened to Esmeralda Greengrass. And you're the Chosen One, still the symbol of the light, and our best Auror. We need some sort of public statement."
"I'll give you one," Harry said. "I still believe in the rights of magical creatures. I still won't let anyone feed me a ton of shite about being a half-blood. I still believe in bringing Dark wizards to justice. And I'll date Draco Malfoy as long as we both want to, and fuck anyone who thinks otherwise."
"We could, perhaps, do without some of the language in the latter part," muttered Kingsley, but he looked relieved. "He hasn't tried to convert you, then?"
Harry laid down the case files fully on his lap and leaned forwards. He stared at Kingsley until Kingsley looked away. Then Harry said, "What he says to me is our own business. I've been getting along in pure-blood society for years, dealing with them for years, and none of them has ever managed to convert me."
"But in the future—"
"You'd like Narcissa Malfoy," Harry said, and enjoyed it when Kingsley stared at him in confusion. He stood up, gathering the case files. "Listen. I've given most of my life to the wizarding world now. I have no plans to stop in the future. But some things are mine, private and not for anyone's peering, prying curiosity. One of them is my relationship with Draco."
Kingsley tried to say something else, but Harry turned and strode out of the office. He didn't realize until he was halfway down the corridor that he felt curiously light.
I've wanted to say something like that for years, but I never had the balls. Or the words.
He smiled and nodded to a pair of Aurors passing by, causing them to stare at him. Thank you, Draco, for giving me both.
Draco stood a moment before the platter of exotic cheeses and breads, to control and hide his surprise. The voice came from someone he had thought would never dare approach him again. He turned around with a slight nod. "Astoria," he said.
Astoria gave him a relaxed, happy smile, nothing at all like the last time he had seen her. She wore a brilliant blue gown that complemented her hair and eyes in quite amazing ways. And she had a young man on her arm, who watched Draco nervously.
Draco raised an eyebrow at the man and glanced back at Astoria. "Congratulations," he said, not bothering to explain himself. Astoria would either know what he meant and respond appropriately, or she wouldn't and therefore would mark herself as beneath contempt. Either way, that one word saved him a lot of effort.
Astoria laughed. "Thank you," she said, and patted the man's hand when he looked back and forth apprehensively between her and Draco. "Although thanks aren't what I came for. I'm here to deliver a letter." She held out a blue envelope, almost the color of her dress, solemnly.
Draco held his hands away from his body, carefully not coming anywhere near the letter. "Is this a joke?"
"No." Astoria met his eyes, and amusement quivered in hers like sunlight on metal, but Draco didn't think it was malicious amusement. "No," she repeated quietly, when Draco just went on looking at her. "I promise. Nothing that you won't like reading. I think he just asked me to serve as his delivery service because he finds it fitting. And because an owl would disrupt the dancing," she added, nodding out to the people sweeping around the Nott Manor's floor in couples and lines.
Draco gave a swift glance over his shoulder. Yes, Harry had disappeared.
He cast several spells to detect hexes and curses before he took the letter. Astoria's smile widened with each one. "You must have an interesting private life," she said, when Draco finally stretched his hand out and she let the envelope drop into it.
Draco narrowed his eyes, warning her of the folly—the danger—of continuing, and Astoria laughed again and turned away, pulling her young man along. Draco watched them for a moment, and the man's eyes quickly left him and focused on Astoria, with an adoring glaze that told Draco clearly he saw her for who she was.
As he never had.
Deciding that Harry had indeed chosen the best messenger he could have, if he needed to send a letter at all, Draco tore open the envelope.
I know what it might cost us, both of us, to be together. Ron confessed his visit to me. And Hermione still hasn't stopped talking about how she wants you to change your mind about house-elves before she really accepts you into my life.
And your mother thinks I ought to have all sorts of plans and plots and second lines of defense on how to make you happy. Oddly enough, so does Kingsley. Maybe they'd be happy together?
Draco closed his eyes and prayed for strength. Then he opened them and read on. He could feel the weight of watching eyes on him, and whilst some of those might be people at the party, he was sure one set was Harry's.
I want to tell you that I don't plan to yield to them, any of them. Of course I'm pleased that you and Ron are getting along, but if you get angry at each other, I'm not going to automatically choose his side over yours. Unless one of you is being obviously stupid, of course.
Draco smiled, and then wondered why the words made him do that. They weren't graceful, or eloquent, or witty.
And if your mother and I don't get along, I'll do whatever I can to make her comfortable, but I won't just walk out of the house in a fit of guilt and self-loathing. I'll try to smooth matters over, and then I'll spend a little more time at the Ministry, and then I'll ignore her, and then I'll reason things out.
"None of those are likely to work," Draco murmured, but he felt a swirl of contentment curl through him anyway. One thing he had been rather worried about was Harry's tendency to sacrifice himself for the sake of others, and what he might do in the case of someone he loved as much as he loved Draco.
It's going to be hard. But I'm looking forwards to it. Aren't you? Just like I'm looking forwards to getting to top tonight. You promised, and I think it would be rather like you to go back on your word now. But ungentlemanly.
Draco shifted, and hoped no one was watching too closely. He hated getting hard in the middle of parties, though he knew already it promised to be a regular occurrence around Harry.
Now. Come and find me. I think we've been here long enough, and I'm tired of people asking me how big your cock is. Much more of this and I'll start thinking they've all seen it.
Draco folded the letter carefully, stuck it into his pocket, and looked up. Harry was standing on the balcony that overlooked the dancing floor from one of the Notts' private rooms, his head tilted to the side in a winsome manner and an appallingly sweet smile on his face.
Draco reveled in the moment, drawing a deep breath, aware that many people were watching him, and that the expression in most eyes was one of envy. This was his natural environment, and he deserved some time to savor it.
Then he sauntered casually across the dancing floor in the direction of the stairs. He would pretend he was showing no eagerness even when it was obvious to everyone that he was.
These weren't the same kind of contradictions that Harry showed, but they were his, and like Harry's, they were smoothed over and made sense of by love.
And yes, Harry, he thought, as he stepped onto the balcony and saw the bright eyes turn towards him, I am very much looking forwards to it.
All of it.