A/N: Oh, jeez. I must admit that I'm tearing up as I write this and a little overwhelmed, but I'll try to keep it short. This was the first story I ever tried to write, period. I never dreamed it would be this long or take this long to complete, but it's finally done. When I started it two and a half years ago, I was just as desperately unhappy as Draco, but my life has transformed since then. I know this story is fluffy and silly a lot of the time, but it's also about getting better. Accepting help when you need it, and then helping other people. Loving them even when you're terrified that they won't love you back. Finding that delicate balance between unconditional self-acceptance and an equally unconditional commitment to self-improvement.
Thank you for reading, from the bottom of my heart. Your reviews have meant the world to me, especially since (as you probably noticed from this embarrassingly sappy A/N) this is a much more personal story than it might appear at first glance. I hope you enjoy the ending, and don't worry about me writing more stories—I absolutely will!
Chapter 25: Coda (pt 2)
...The problem was that he didn't feel like bothering anyone else in the room, and so he sat down quietly and waited for something to happen.
However, just because Draco wasn't going to bother anyone did not mean that they wouldn't bother him. Potter took the empty seat beside him, and Draco tried to look busy by cleaning his nails.
Draco prodded delicately at one of his cuticles, as though he were working on something very important. "No," he said. "But I'm afraid I can't talk right now."
"Manicure issues?" Potter leaned over his shoulder, and Draco suppressed his instinctive urge to elbow him in the face. He didn't want to fight like a teenager anymore, but old habits died hard, and also Draco valued his personal space. "Looks fine to me."
"I didn't know you were such an expert," he said. He stood up nonchalantly and brushed off his shoulder, where his former enemy had breathed on him.
Potter remained seated and shrugged. "Just trying to be helpful," he said. "If it makes you feel better, I'm a bit on edge myself. It's a big crowd."
"I thought you liked those," Draco said. He wasn't trying to be a prick about it—just making an observation.
Potter smiled and shook his head. "Sometimes," he admitted. "About as much as you do, I guess."
Draco looked around for someone else to talk to, but everyone else was either legitimately busy or just as appealing as Potter. He settled for checking his hair in a nearby mirror.
"You should have more concerts here," Potter said. Perhaps he was training for the Small Talk World Championships.
"Maybe," he said. He pushed his hair this way and that, watching his reflection.
"It's a nice venue."
"And your mum's good at party planning."
"And the, er...the peacocks are pretty." Potter was faltering, and Draco smiled at himself in the mirror.
"That's why we got them," he said.
In his peripheral vision, he saw Potter nod awkwardly, and there was a moment of golden silence. Draco thought he had successfully ended the conversation, but he barely had time to congratulate himself before Potter caught his second wind.
"Were you excited about your song?" he asked, as though the two of them chatting about nothing were the most natural thing in the world.
If Draco kept flicking at his hair any longer, Potter would find out how vain he really was, and so he abandoned the mirror. He turned and stared at Potter's silly scar to create the illusion of eye contact. "I've never heard it before," he said. "Don't you have something to do other than talk to me? You're up first."
Potter sighed and adjusted his glasses wearily. "Why do you have to be so prickly all the time?" he asked. "You can't just be nice to Hermione and nobody else and expect her to be all right with it."
"I was being nice," he said. "I'm nice to plenty of people."
"You know what I mean," he said. "She's my best friend, Malfoy: how do you see our future playing out?"
"'Our future' as in... you and me?" He was genuinely confused now. Potter wasn't accusing him of anything, and he didn't even seem to be playing games. In fact, it was starting to feel more like Potter was asking him out.
"Yes, you and me. I just want to make sure you think this through," he said. He got up from his chair and stood directly in front of Draco. "Because if you're thinking long-term with her, you're thinking long-term with all of us. I didn't like it at first, either—trust me, I didn't—but I've come to the conclusion that if you two stay together, the two of us are going to end up... friends." He didn't seem happy about the idea. In fact, he'd made the word sound like an Unforgivable Curse. Nonetheless, he seemed pretty certain about it.
"It doesn't have to be that way," Draco said, even though his personal policy was not to negotiate with terrorists. "Would you settle for... casual acquaintances?"
Potter laughed, like he thought it was a joke or something. "That works for now. I'm just saying: think about what you're getting into." He patted Draco on the shoulder and strolled away, leaving Draco to wonder whether he was being threatened, propositioned, insulted, or all of the above.
Before he could decide, a house-elf came over and hustled Potter into the men's dressing room to get ready. Draco stared into the space where Potter had stood and considered the possibility of their... friendship.They had very little in common, aside from their enjoyment of Quidditch, annoyingly public lives, and mutual friends. That sort of sounded like a lot, actually, but really it wasn't. Also, Draco had enough friends already. It was harder than it looked, having more than two. There was so much pressure, so many things to keep track of: birthdays (when he could scarcely remember his own), plans made, and simply keeping up on the day-to-day events of another person's life. Lately he'd been wondering if it was worth it at all.
To be perfectly honest, he was glad to be up last in the show. It gave him time to mentally prepare. He milled around, strategically avoiding people, for the better part of an hour, especially after Potter had emerged in full stage attire—apparently Draco could look forward to a swipe of mascara.
He kept out of the way and watched other people rush around, thinking of how strange this all was and how he'd been swept up in one thing after another since the first second he laid eyes on Hermione in the Raven. Regardless of whether or not he was capable of "love," she sure had a way of getting him to do things. She got under his skin in a way that no other woman had before—that is to say, in a good way. Not like Pansy or Astoria or even that French witch with the odd-coloured eyes who used to call him mon beau branleur and refused to tell him what it meant.
When it was his turn, a house-elf took him to the dressing room just as she had with everyone else. She presented him with a Muggle outfit that thankfully wasn't too ridiculous, although the jeans were extremely tight, and applied the dreaded mascara. He understood the purpose, but the thing was that Draco had sensitive eyes. He eventually decided it wasn't the biggest sacrifice he'd made that day or even that week, and so he left his lengthened dark brown eyelashes how they were and followed the house-elf to the edge of the stage, behind the curtain.
Bianca was waiting there in the shadows to cast the proper charms, and she smiled at him so brilliantly that he knew it was going well so far. He heard Will announce him to the crowd as she lifted her wand. When the spell was complete, his whole body began to tingle and went numb as she pushed him past the curtain. He normally would have stumbled from a shove like that, but the spell kept him steady. His legs began to move his body forward—in a smooth rock-star swagger—up to the lone microphone at the front of the stage. It was just for show, of course: according to the concert planners, this was what Muggles used to project their voices. Will had thought it would be a fun prop.
Draco had never been on stage before, and nothing could have prepared him for the lights. He thought he'd be stunned by the crowd, which would have looked infinite from up there, but he couldn't see them at all: he could only see the lights. Slowly, the cheering faded away, and Draco stood in silence for a few harrowing seconds.
His hand reached itself outward, took hold of the microphone, and brought it close to his lips.
"Hey, Jude," he sang, against his will, "don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better."*
At first, it was just him singing with Dean on the piano. After a few more lines, he heard drums and a tambourine kick in behind him. Back-up vocals buoyed his own magically-enhanced voice, courtesy of the real rock stars. Thankfully, he wasn't doing a lot of dancing. The spell had him swaying a bit, a fair shot more gracefully than he could've managed on his own, but it wasn't a fast enough song to warrant much more.
"For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder."
But the non-dancing couldn't last forever—at the end of the song, things got a little intense. His fists threw themselves forcefully into the air, his head nodded vigorously back and forth and side to side. It was rather fun, actually. He didn't have to worry about anything except staying conscious, and he was doing a fantastic job in that regard. He must have looked sharp, too, judging by the crowd's enthusiasm.
"And don't you know that it's just you—hey, Jude, you'll do. The movement you need is on your shoulder."
The Muggle songwriter must have ran out of good lyrics at some point, because Draco had to dance around singing meaningless syllables for an awkwardly time, but it was over soon enough. As the last of the music faded with a few decisive notes on Dean's piano, his charmed legs forced him into a run toward the front of the stage, and his knees hit the wood floor hard as he slid dramatically to the edge of the crowd. They were screaming for him, screaming for more, and their hands reached up to grab him, and his heart was beating so hard it seemed liable to explode.
He held the position as the tingles returned, and then the charm wore off. He rose uncertainly to his feet and half-ran, half-stumbled inelegantly behind the curtain.
The first thing he saw when he made it offstage was Hermione, and he'd never seen anyone look so happy. Draco didn't believe in destiny, but it was almost as though he could feel the universe tugging him forward in that moment. When he'd crossed the distance between them, he put his hands on her waist and pulled her very close. She looked surprised, and it seemed like she was about to say something, but this moment was not for talking. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers, and she didn't stop him.
Her fingers slid up his neck into his hair, while his hands roamed from her hips up to her bare back. He felt her tangled hair and the sweat on the back of her neck and the solid bones of her spine. She was gasping for air against his mouth, but they didn't stop.
A few minutes or perhaps hours later—Draco couldn't tell—he noticed dimly that there was a throat being cleared rather conspicuously behind Hermione. She didn't seem to hear it, and Draco tried to ignore it, but the throat-clearer then launched an obviously fake and extremely loud coughing fit, echoed by a second cougher, and finally Hermione pulled away. As Draco had suspected, it was some grumpy-looking Gryffindors, in a state because Draco had gotten to be really happy for a minute.
When Hermione turned around to look at them, they immediately tried to look less grumpy, with limited success. Hermione edged a few centimetres away from Draco, but then she reached back and grabbed his hand, and he felt an unexpected rush of relief.
"Er," Potter began stiffly, avoiding eye contact with Draco. "Good job out there." It wasn't clear who he was talking to, but no one responded anyway. Everyone was pretty much trying to pretend this moment wasn't happening.
"Not too bad," George added. He shifted his gaze to Hermione. "There are some people waiting to see you," he said. More Weasleys, if Draco had to guess: there would always be more Weasleys.
"Oh, yes, of course." She tried her best to smooth her hair with her free hand, but she'd have to douse it with a few buckets of water to make it look even marginally less sexy at that moment, completely tangled and out of control. She smiled quickly at Draco and squeezed his hand. "I'll come find you later," she whispered, and then she let go of his hand to follow the others, who were already walking away.
Maggie, Will, and Bianca came in right after they left, while Draco was still standing there with his pulse racing. Maggie rushed forward to hug him tightly, and he managed to hug her back, because he'd sort of been expecting that one. "Oh, Draco, the show was amazing!" She pushed him back to arm's length but kept her hands on his shoulders. "You're a natural performer."
"It was mostly the charm," he said. Modesty wasn't his typical M.O., but he didn't want an invitation to do this again anytime soon. Maggie let him go, and Will grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously.
"The crowd loved you either way, mate," he said. He had to push his glasses up every few seconds with the sweat running down his face, but Draco couldn't judge him because he was in the same condition. More than just bright, those lights were hot. "Are you ready to join the party, or did you want to clean up first?"
"I think you should both clean up," Bianca said.
Draco absolutely agreed, especially because his jeans were starting to chafe. "Yeah, I'll be out there when I'm decent."
Will didn't let him go alone, though. He went with Draco to the dressing room, where he continued to keep up the casual conversation while they changed. Draco found this awkward, but at least they were facing opposite directions. When everyone was back in normal clothing, Will cast cooling and drying charms on both of them.
"Why didn't you just use one of those on stage?" Draco asked.
"I did. It wore off probably during Jane's song, but I didn't get a chance to cast a new one. She was great, wasn't she?" Will grinned and raised his eyebrows.
"I don't know," he said. "I was back here."
"You were?" Will frowned as though he'd just done something very wrong. "Why didn't you come out and watch?"
"Was I supposed to?"
"Well, for Jane, yeah. You were."
"I was?" Even as the question left his lips, Draco guessed that, yes, he probably was. He was still getting used to this sort of thing, providing emotional support to another person when his own emotions were held up with toothpicks and Spello-tape. "Oh."
Will shook his head, then clapped Draco on the back. "Ah, well. Next time!"
As Will steered him out of the dressing room, he tried to explain that there would definitely not be a next time, but it wasn't a good time for enforcing realistic expectations. Everyone was much too excited.
When they left the tent, Draco found his mother waiting and smiling and decked out to the nines. She stepped forward and kissed Draco on the cheek. "I am so proud of you," she whispered in his ear. "And I just had the most wonderful conversation with Simone!" she added, more audibly.
"That's good," he said. "Did she like the show?"
"She did," his mother said, in the same tone of voice a person might use to say 'the war is over!' "She said she's looking forward to attending more events at the manor."
"I'm glad you both liked it," Will said. He was clearly trying to excuse himself politely, but seeing Will and his mother together had given Draco a rather devious idea. "I'll catch up to you two later—"
"Hang on," Draco said. "We never got a chance to tell my mother how you helped our family." Will looked confused, but he'd understand soon enough. Draco turned to his mother. "Will's actually partly responsible for ending the feud, mum. If he hadn't snuck that Pathos Potion into my drink, George and I may have never talked at all."
"If he hadn't what?" As he watched his mother's entire demeanor freeze over like an angry glacier, he could see Will start to shake his head vigorously in his peripheral.
"You know, he just put it in there," Draco continued, "without my knowledge..."
That was all it took. She unleashed the full power of her icy gaze upon Will and took a menacing step toward him. "You administered a dangerous potion to my son against his will?"
Will was becoming more and more anxious by the second. He glanced around, looking for a lifeline, and found none. "Mrs. Malfoy," he began calmly, attempting to soothe her, "we were very—"
"Lady Malfoy," she corrected through gritted teeth. Nobody ever actually called her that, but there were times when she whipped out her technical title like a wand to the throat.
"Yes, of course. My apologies, Lady Malfoy. It's just that—"
"I care not for your excuses, William." He winced and looked to the ground. "I care about my son, and you won't meet many healthy and happy individuals who make a habit of putting him in harm's way. Do you know why that is?"
"N-no. That is, I could venture—"
"One of them was the Dark Lord, for example. Do you remember what happened to the Dark Lord?" Her eyes flashed, and Will abandoned any attempt to gain the upper hand.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "Er, Lady Malfoy."
She nodded once, seemingly satisfied with the fear she'd wrought in Will's heart. "You are an extremely fortunate young man," she continued, in a softer but no less dangerous tone. "My son is well, and our family has benefited from your deeply misguided actions. However, I am ever so certain that no such incident will occur again."
"No, of course not," he mumbled to his shoes. "Never again. Absolutely not."
"Good," she said. "Now, I'm feeling rather thirsty. Perhaps you would fetch me some champagne." She flicked her hand dismissively in the direction of the refreshments area, and Will hurried off as she'd indicated. Once he was gone, she smiled almost impishly at Draco. "Your new friends have a few things to learn," she commented.
"It's a good thing you're here," he said. He rather fancied the idea of leaving Will alone with his mother to twist in the wind, so he reckoned now was a good time to slip away. "I'm going to go find Pansy."
Her eyes lit up. "Make sure to take a look at her new broach when you do," she said. "When I saw her dress this afternoon, I was reminded of an old thing I had tucked away. It looks lovely on her."
"I will, mother." He kissed her cheek quickly and made his escape.
When he found Pansy, she was standing alone near the refreshments area with a flute of champagne, staring at the food that he knew she had no intention of actually eating. He saw his mother's broach shining near her shoulder, and it looked about the same as it always had, in Draco's opinion.
"My mother said she gave you another present," he said.
She smiled at him and touched the sapphire-studded scorpion with her free hand. "Pretty, isn't it? I'm surprised she has any jewellery left of her own." Nine times out of ten at a fancy-dress event, Narcissa was inspired to pass on another family heirloom to her pretend daughter.
"I'm not," he said. "She's got enough to fill an entire walk-in closet." Narcissa giving old designer jewellery to Pansy was about the equivalent of a regular mum offering fresh-baked biscuits to her son's friends. In fact, she'd even given a few of her husband's less-favoured tie clips and cufflinks to Blaise over the years. Lucius had so many of his own that he'd never once noticed their absence.
"These hors d'ouvres are... unusual," she commented.
"Will's choice," he said. "My mother put together a menu for him, but he said it wouldn't be a good match for the crowd. They're pretty good, though. Did you try the spinach dip?"
"No," she said immediately, wrinkling her nose. "Everyone's just been dipping their crisps right into the bowl with their hands. Who does that? You're meant to spoon a bit onto your plate. Perhaps you should put out a new bowl with instructions."
"I doubt it would help," he said. "So, have you... talked to anyone?"
"Of course, I have." He could tell from her defensive tone that she knew exactly what he meant, but she changed the subject defiantly. "It was nice to catch up with Daphne and Astoria. She's engaged, did you know?"
"Some Italian bloke, sounds like a smart match. They're going to live on his family's land in Tuscany."
"That's nice." He was relieved to hear it, actually. Astoria had always hated the climate in England; she'd probably be happier out there. He'd probably receive an obligatory invitation to the wedding, but he knew better than to actually go. His mother would attend, of course, to reaffirm that the Malfoy family bore her no ill will. "Have you talked to anyone else? Like, someone you haven't known half your life?"
She drew up her shoulders and sucked in her cheeks. "I haven't had an opportunity, no."
Clearly, Draco would have to drag her kicking and screaming into a conversation with someone new. "Well, here it is. I'd like you to meet my boss."
Maggie was having a moment with her husband, but they'd had more than thirty years worth of moments, and Draco needed to interrupt her for Pansy's sake. Maggie was the safest person around—she'd been his own first friend in the Real World and was probably the only person here with enough compassion to handle Pansy Parkinson on the defensive. He touched Pansy's elbow with two fingers and beckoned for her to follow him across the lawn, past the rose bushes and the lone white peacock hiding behind them. When Maggie saw them coming, she whispered something in her husband's ear and stepped forward to greet them alone.
"Isn't this perfect?" she asked Draco. "It's all come together so nicely. Your mother seems quite pleased as well."
"She loves having people over," he said. Especially when "people" included Simone Zabini and numerous reporters. "Everyone seems to be having a good time." The uneasy woman fidgeting silently by his side was not, but it wasn't too late. "I'd like you to meet my best friend, Pansy Parkinson. I've known her practically since birth."
"It's a pleasure, Pansy," she said, stretching out her hand. Pansy shook it in a business-like manner. "What was Draco like as a child?"
She smirked mischievously at Draco before responding. "Like he is now, only cute."
Draco could've said the same for little Pansy, except with a different nose. "I think I'm cuter now," he said instead.
Pansy shrugged haughtily. "You dressed better when your mother did it for you." Retract your claws, he begged her silently, but Maggie only laughed.
"I think we'd all dress better if Narcissa Malfoy were our personal stylist," she commented. "What did you think of the show?"
"It was good," she said. "I'd never heard Muggle music before, but I must admit I was entertained."
Before Maggie could reply, her daughter appeared at her side. "Draco, is this Pansy?" she asked.
"You've heard of me?"
"Draco talks about you all the time," she said. "You and Blaise. It's nice to finally meet you."
Pansy glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and he could have sworn he caught a hint of a smile. "I could say the same to you," she said smoothly. "And you can tell it's been good things, or you'd be out of business by now."
Draco didn't know whether to hang his head in shame or thank her for her consideration. "She's joking," he said.
"I'm not," she corrected stubbornly. "If I heard that Draco's employer was—"
"But she isn't," he interrupted. "Because this is my employer, and she treats her workers fairly." He eyed her pointedly, and Pansy took the hint.
"Draco is fortunate to have friends who care about him so much," Maggie said, with a tight smile.
"Well, I mean..." Pansy gestured vaguely with her hands, clearly at a loss for words. He knew she was confused and afraid, because people weren't treating her the way she'd expected. He knew what that felt like. "Has anyone seen Blaise?"
"Over there," Draco said, jerking his head to the right.
"Right," she said. "I haven't congratulated him yet. Please excuse me." She nodded cordially at Maggie and Bianca and hurried away. There was a brief but awkward silence after she left.
"Sorry," he muttered. "She's, er, out of her element."
"Clearly," Bianca said. She was watching Pansy walk away with an incredulous look, like she couldn't believe someone like that could actually exist, and Draco could relate. He'd said it before and he'd say it again: Pansy Parkinson was an acquired taste.
"I'm sure this is unusual for her," Maggie added, far more sympathetically. "I'll try talking to her later."
"Thanks," he said.
Bianca smiled at someone behind him, and Draco turned to see Hermione. She was dressed normally again, too, which was a shame: her stage get-up had been quite attractive. Maggie said something about leaving the two of them alone, and Draco waved in her general direction without bothering to turn around.
"I didn't see you sing," he confessed. He wanted to get it over with right away, so he could stop worrying. He watched her reaction carefully, but it turned out to be a dramatic sigh of relief. Draco was surprised at first, but then he was relieved, too.
"Oh, thank goodness," she said. "I must've looked ridiculous."
"Why? Did I?"
She pressed her lips together, and a light flush rose on her cheeks. "No," she said quietly. "You didn't."
"That's good," he said. "Let's never do anything like this again."
She grinned and stepped closer. "Too stressful?"
"Too... everything." There simply weren't enough words. His life had become too much of everything. "I don't know what to do with it all."
She must have been smart enough to know he wasn't talking about Muggle music concerts anymore. She took his hand in her small one and began to walk away from the crowd without looking back. "It'll get easier," she said.
"If you say so." He didn't believe her, but he knew better than to argue. He pulled her down the garden path to the right, so they'd wind up near the gazebo. Behind them, the crowd grew smaller and smaller, and the warm gathering darkness made it harder to find his fears. They would come back to eat at him as sure as the rising sun, but more gentle evenings would follow, walking on soft, forgiving earth with someone to hold his hand.
* "Hey Jude," by the Beatles
It is difficult to talk about love in the long term. Circumstances change, people break up, and sometimes they can't even remember why they ever thought they loved each other at all. Money works the opposite way: it's there or it isn't, and you always know how much there is and where it went. As such, it is easier to speak now in terms of money.
Almost 100,000 galleons were raised at the concert, which was more than enough to keep the Basement in business. Draco and Narcissa Malfoy sold the house in Monaco for a lump sum of 113,000 galleons. Draco spent 50,000 of that on a flat in the city with a view. He accumulated a total of nineteen cheques from the Raven, none of which ever left his drawer, but the first royalty cheque he received from the Phoenix Press publishing company was more than all of them combined.
Hermione Granger eventually chose to sell her flat for 20,000 galleons, having entered into a lucrative new partnership. In the long run, it turned out to be a financially sound decision.
Oh, and the vile half-blooded baby sends her best.