Harry had known Malfoy was going to do that. Really, he thought as he danced sideways, lashing out with one foot so that Malfoy caught the blow in his gut and went down, he went through the same Auror training I did, and he's supposedly a lot more subtle and cunning, if the way he bargained with the faerie's any indication. I don't understand how he can be so obvious.
He summoned Malfoy's wand with a casual Disarming Charm, and shook his head when Malfoy glared at him. "You'll have it back," he said. "I rather imagine that it's going to drop from my hand when I fall over." His voice emerged with light playfulness, and Harry blinked, startled at himself. He hadn't known he could do that. He had thought his heart should be beating the way it had when he walked to his death in the Forest.
Well, this time I know I'll survive.
I hope I'll survive.
I have a slight chance.
"Don't joke," Malfoy said, his voice so deep with meaning that Harry had to gasp to keep from flinching. Malfoy leaned forwards, his elbows braced in the dirt, as if he thought he had a real chance to stand up and snatch his wand back from Harry before Harry could stop him. "You have no idea what this means. You can't possibly do this and come back alive."
"That's rather the point," Harry said cheerfully, and then lifted his own wand so that it pointed at his face. He considered the best way to do this, and discarded the possibility of the Killing Curse. He'd already resisted it twice; he didn't think it would harm him now. Besides, he didn't want to be arrested for casting one of the Unforgivables when he came out of the otherworld.
That statement stinks of optimism, he decided, but he had other things to concern him, such as whether he'd be able to choose an appropriate spell. He frowned in concentration.
About that point Malfoy tackled him around the waist and knocked him to the ground. Harry rolled over with a spat curse, trapping Malfoy's wand under his body. He hoped he hadn't broken it, but changed his mind when Malfoy slapped him, an open-handed blow that snapped his face to the side and almost stunned him.
"Fool," Malfoy panted, trying to wrestle the holly wand away from Harry and not even seeming to realize what he was saying, "bastard, idiot, git, prat, attention-seeking hero—" He spoke like the last word was the worst of the lot.
Harry stared up at him. Malfoy's hair floated free around his face, which was flushed red from the force of his emotions. Spittle rained from his lips down onto Harry's upturned cheeks, and his words were incoherent already. His eyes blazed with a combination of anger, anxiety, disbelief, and fear.
Harry reached up, snagged one hand firmly behind Malfoy's head, and dragged him down to kiss him.
Malfoy made a surprised, indignant sound, and Harry lifted his legs so that they clasped Malfoy around the hips and kissed him again. Malfoy gulped—apparently he had decided to deal with the intrusion of Harry's tongue in his mouth by swallowing it—and then yelped and bit and clawed backwards. By the time he stopped moving, he was crouched seven feet away with a hand poised at the corner of his mouth as if he couldn't decide whether to wipe it or not.
"Why did you do that?" he demanded.
Harry smiled at him, winked, and said, "I wanted to know what you tasted like, one time, in case I didn't get the chance to again. Farewell, and let's hope I'll see you on the other side." He aimed his wand at his heart, thinking all the while of the taste and heat of Malfoy's mouth—no, Draco, call him Draco—and then spoke the spell he had settled on.
The Blood-Constricting Spell did nothing more than squeeze a couple of the largest veins or arteries in the body for a few moments, preventing the passage of potentially dangerous substances through the body. But Harry had aimed his wand at the one place they were told never to aim it in Auror training, and he kept it up for more than a few moments.
Even the most basic spells are deadly, he thought hazedly as his mind began to cloud and a crushing force settled on his chest. I wonder if they realized that when they started declaring spells Dark Arts centuries ago—
And then he dismissed the thought, both because he didn't know if this would work if he had negative thoughts in mind and because that wasn't what he wanted to be thinking when he died, and went back to the memory of Draco's face.
It followed him down into the darkness.
Draco stared at Potter's body, at the way it trembled and convulsed for a moment, and his left arm shook, and his whole body rolled to the side as if pushed. His wand fell from his hand.
Draco's wand rolled out from under the body with a tiny bumping noise, an anticlimax in the middle of the most final and painful moment Draco had ever known.
He snatched it up and promptly aimed it at Potter's heart. He didn't know exactly what had been cast, because the bastard had done it nonverbally, but he could guess, and he could know, and then he could make it work, and then he could bring Potter back, he could, and everyone would be grateful to him and awed at finding magic that could counteract death—
His first attempt to cast made no sense, because the tears got in the way.
He tried again, and Potter's body arched off the ground, then fell limply back. Draco stared. He could sometimes "feel" objects he was trying to manipulate through his magic, and at the moment Potter's body felt utterly empty, stiff with the blocky sensation of death and nothing else.
As though it had never contained life at all.
No. No, that's not right. I know that's not right. Draco cast again, the spell that was supposed to restart a temporarily stopped heart, all sorts of nonsense babbling in the back of his head. During Auror training, they'd received basic medical advice, both from Healers and from an Auror who knew about Muggle things. She'd said something about the amount of time it took the brain to die. Draco thought it was four minutes. If he could bring Potter around again before four minutes had passed, then he might have brain damage, but he'd live.
If you haven't lost four minutes already, what with bawling like this!
Draco ground his teeth and tried again, and then again. Each time, Potter's body flopped back and not a stutter of motion came from his chest, and Draco's "sense" of him through the magic got fainter and fainter.
Finally, he had to admit that there was nothing else he could do, and he crouched in silence beside Potter, hand on his chest. He stared at his face, at the staring eyes and the way his mouth had formed into a faint smile, as if he had died thinking about something that made him happy.
Was it me? Then Draco stiffened and forced the treacherous thought away. What had happened between him and Potter ought not to have happened at all, clearly. And he would do whatever was necessary to get rid of it, ignore it, deny that it had happened—
Even if it was the memory that occurred to him for the rest of his life, when he was sitting in Azkaban for murdering Potter, because of course that was the way Weasley and Granger and the rest of them would see it.
Then he threw back his head and began to laugh, even as the tears flowed again. As if that will happen! With Puck and his Queen taking over the world, what Weasley or Granger or Shacklebolt think won't matter much.
Harry looked around. This time, he stood only in the middle of silvery mist, and no matter how hard he concentrated, neither King's Cross nor Dumbledore would form out of the fog.
Harry found himself oddly disappointed. He'd been looking forwards to seeing Dumbledore again, and asking a few last questions.
He shook his head, and told himself not to be ridiculous. Then he started looking again, this time seeking some sign that he really had invoked the sacrificial protection for Draco by dying like that.
He saw a smear, dark as afterbirth, in the distance, on what could have been either a floor or simple air, and curled his lips back from his teeth. All that remains of the piece of Voldemort that was inside me. I hope.
But what's supposed to help me get back to my own body and my own life, if Dumbledore isn't here to tell me how?
Maybe I'm not supposed to go back.
Harry shuddered deeply when he thought that, but shook his head stubbornly. It was true that he'd done this without knowing if it would work—because how would you test something like that?—but he wasn't giving up before it was clear he had no choice. He started walking, or drifting, through the silvery fog, to find something he could use.
The fog parted and then closed in again around him, brushing against his skin with cool fingers and what sounded like taunting whispers. Harry gritted his teeth and drifted on, wishing he had something solid to strike his feet against. It was hard to march determinedly when you had to do it without a sound.
Then he saw something glowing golden up ahead, the light of it piercing the fog. Harry hurried towards it, and stooped over it when he realized that it was lying on the same floor he'd seen the stain on. Now his feet thumped on the floor satisfactorily, and he grunted appreciation under his breath as he lifted the glowing thing.
It was a cloak, as light and finely-spun as his Invisibility Cloak. It seemed the glow around it, rather than the cloak itself, was the heavy thing. Harry turned it sideways and tried to slip it around himself, wondering if it would guard his health on the way back through the fog, but it slid off his shoulders like water. Harry clucked his tongue and stood studying the cloak for a moment, wondering what to do with it.
Well, it looks like it's made to fit a man, but what if it's not meant for me?
And then Harry started smiling, because he was fairly sure he knew what the cloak was for, after all, and it didn't make sense that he would be the one wearing it, when he was the one who had some chance of surviving without protection.
Calmly now, as if he'd always known what to do, he held up the cloak and shook it hard. The golden light sprang off, quivered on the silvery floor for a moment, formed into a hoop, and then rolled forwards, sending golden beams stabbing ahead.
Harry followed, and tried to ignore the way the fog still clung to him and the floor sometimes sloped in impossible directions. He had come to a place that made no sense in order to do what he had to do, to protect someone who deserved protection, and now he was on the way home.
He wondered absently what Draco's mouth would taste like the next time he kissed it.
Draco cursed softly. Something was wrong. Each time he tried to Levitate Potter's body so that he could take it back to the point where they'd entered the otherworld, it flopped to the ground again. It was as though it was so heavy that his magic couldn't lift it.
Or, more likely, your own degree of anger and panic is making it hard for you to keep a grip on your spells.
Draco took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
He always regretted that, afterwards. It meant he missed the first signs of Potter's soul returning to his body. Potter argued later that it couldn't have been that special, since Draco saw almost everything else, but Draco disagreed; he'd treasured the first sight of anything since he was a child.
A golden glow hit his eyelids, and he snapped his eyes open in dread, thinking that one of the faeries must have seen them. Or, if the sun was rising here, that might indicate that a great deal of time had passed in their own world and they were too late to stop Puck.
Instead, he saw the golden glow surrounded Potter's body. It slipped out of his fingers and oozed out of his hair. It flopped sideways, shivered, and congealed, and Draco realized that he was looking at a cloak, or at least light in the shape of a cloak. It had a cavernous hood that he thought could have hidden two faces, and thick, elaborate folds around the bottom.
And then Potter sighed, and stirred, and groaned, and sat up, rubbing his head. Draco transferred his stare to Potter's face. His scar had an edging of golden light like the stuff that had formed the cloak, but already it was fading.
Potter opened his eyes. He caught sight of Draco and grinned shakily. "Hi," he said. "I went to find what you need to get through that gate alive. Miss me?"
Draco punched him.
It was a sudden impulse; he didn't know he was going to do it until it had already happened. Potter yelped and flopped back on the ground again, holding his broken nose. Draco stood over him, breathing hard.
"Idiot," he said, and picked up the long list of names he had called Potter right before they kissed. Potter blinked at him and went on blinking, even after he picked up his wand and cast Episkey on his nose. Then he picked up the cloak, shook it over his arms, and offered it to Draco. Draco lifted a hand in warning. He hadn't finished all the names he wanted to call Potter yet, even though he was running out of things he hadn't said.
Potter sighed, stood, and swept the cloak around Draco's shoulders. Draco gasped as a chill tingle cut right through him, starting in his marrow and radiating out to his neck and ears and eyes. He tried to shake his hands free of it, but his fingers had curled involuntarily, and he couldn't make them open.
"I thought it would fit," Potter said quietly, satisfied.
"What are you talking about?" Draco demanded, and lifted his shoulders so that he could shrug off the cloak. The chill had died, but that didn't mean he wanted to wear the thing.
Potter clamped his hands on Draco's shoulders, said, "That's what's going to keep you safe on the passage through the gate," and then whirled around so that he faced the center stone. A wild, reckless smile passed over his face. "I should have known it would be just like the first test I ever faced on getting into the wizarding world," he muttered.
And then, to Draco's horror, he ran right at the stones, towing Draco behind him like a bouncing puppet. Just as they reached the central boulder, he whirled around, dragged Draco into his arms, folded the cloak all the way around Draco's body, and kicked and dropped them into—
Harry had thought, instinctively, that he had to run at the boulder as if he were running at the wall to get onto Platform 9 ¾. That was the one thing they hadn't done, and although the tapping and kicking and rapping with wands had "proven" the stone solid, Harry had thought it was possible that a faerie glamour would hold up to such subtle probing but not to a charge.
But now they weren't in another place, the way that they would have been if they had gone through the wall at King's Cross Station. Instead, they tumbled through glittering fire, silver and scented and harmonious by turns, that coiled about their legs and began trying to eat into them.
Harry at once draped himself more fully around Draco, making sure that every part of him was shielded either by the golden cloak or by Harry's own body. He twined his legs with Draco's, wrapped his arms around Draco's waist, and forced Draco to tuck his head into the crook between Harry's shoulder and neck. Draco made a few weak struggles to get away, but then he shuddered and clung more tightly.
Perhaps it was because the music had begun by then.
The fire had been harmonious before, but now it actually sang, swinging madly back and forth in Harry's ears between pure melody that made tears streak down his face and shrieking fury and loathing. He heard voices he knew in the flames, Ron shouting and Hermione laughing and Voldemort chanting the Killing Curse. There was Snape demanding that Harry look at him, so he could have the sight of Lily's eyes one last time, and there was Dumbledore bellowing with pain as he drank the poison that guarded the fake locket Horcrux. The Dursleys abused him, Cedric gasped and stuttered in death, and his mother screamed as she sacrificed herself so Harry could live. All that was there, the sounds not piling on top of each other but drilling through each other, until Harry was hearing them all at once and could feel his sanity teetering.
And then there was the other way, the other slide. The music he had sometimes woken hearing in his dreams. The gorgeous, subtle scent of perfumed flowers that he had dreamed about when he was forced to tend Aunt Petunia's distinctly ordinary gardens. Phoenix song, Fawkes's lament for Dumbledore as he flew around and around the school. A pair of arms encircling him, warm and strong: one of Mrs. Weasley's hugs. The look on Ron's face when he had stabbed the locket with the Sword of Gryffindor. The sharp glance Harry had received from the first Auror instructor who respected his abilities for themselves, instead of because he was the Chosen One.
All there. All present. All making their way into his body, scraping him up and down, tearing him apart.
This is why the faerie said Draco wouldn't survive, Harry thought dimly, and coiled himself even tighter around Draco, trying not to let a single part of him escape unshielded, though he didn't know how much difference that would actually make if the fire could pierce everywhere. It would call him to life, and call him to death, and tear him apart trying to make him comprehend everything at once.
But no matter how hard the fire ripped at Harry, it kept falling back from a barrier within him, which Harry experienced as something like a steel plate dividing him in two. Whenever his mind wavered and almost tipped over the brink, it righted itself again, and Harry got a moment to breathe before the sensations came back.
And Draco, too, in his arms, gasped and wriggled in surprise, but he didn't scream. The golden cloak sparked continually, as though blows were hitting it from all sides and it was driving them off. When Harry could be sure he was seeing what was in front of him and not what he imagined or remembered, he saw the bright gleams of light the cloak shed like stars falling away from a sheaf of golden universe. A nebula or whatever they were called, he thought hazily. He hadn't done well at Astronomy.
He folded his arms more tightly around Draco, bowed his head, and braced himself for an impact he felt was coming, though he didn't know how or when, or how it could compare to the impacts striking them from every side and at every moment—
And then they landed, and Harry felt an enormous quake rip through him, fighting his position between life and death, trying to shove him out of his narrow standing on the boundary. The thoughts rippled through him so quickly he didn't understand them fully. He didn't think he had to try. His body contracted in rejection, and Harry snarled, thought of Draco, and Draco's smile, and Draco's kiss, and dug deep within himself to throw the faerie magic away.
And then they crouched on green smooth grass, in the light of the setting sun, with hawthorn trees all around them, and Draco lifted his head and stared, dazed, at Harry, as if he didn't know whether to laugh or die.
I can't believe that he died to save me from—that. Draco shut his eyes and panted, unable to remember most of what had happened during the trip through the gate. He thought his mind was working to keep him from remembering it.
Maybe his death had nothing to do with it at all, argued the stubborn part of himself. Or maybe he didn't really die. The way he returned would suggest it.
Either way, Draco wasn't about to argue aloud with Potter at the moment—especially when he sat up and the golden cloak slid away from his shoulders in tatters. Draco swallowed and touched a finger to it, only to watch a scrap of "cloth" curl away from his touch with a hiss. The passage through the gate had damaged the cloak, an incredibly powerful piece of magic from the way it chilled him, and it might have done the same to his body if he had gone without protection.
Somehow, Potter had produced this protection for him. And he had shielded Draco with his body in the fall through the fire, too. Draco thought he owed him for that, no matter how he'd done it.
"Thank you," he mumbled, and cast a sideways glance at Potter, wondering if he would gloat when he heard the words.
Amazingly, Potter only smiled and reached out his own hand to smooth the hair back from Draco's forehead. Draco thought he would say something, but the smiling and staring continued, to the point where he was uneasy.
Then Potter leaned forwards and gently, insistently, kissed him again.
Draco didn't know whether he would try to bite or not until he found himself opening his mouth and welcoming Potter in. Potter made a soft contented noise and increased the depth of the kiss, propping himself forwards on his hands. Draco curled his tongue slowly around Potter's. His own deep, shuddering moan surprised him.
I'm allowing this because the kiss is so different from the fire we went through, he justified it to himself whilst he lifted his hands to clasp Potter's shoulders. I need gentleness just now. Protection. Sweetness—
Potter leaned closer still, so that Draco wavered and fell to his back, and the sweetness turned and changed. Abruptly it was every bit as keen and cutting as the sensations he had felt when he traveled through the fiery gate, but Draco only wanted more of it no matter how bad it was for him. He shifted, meaning to lift a leg and slide it away so that Potter would know he was welcome to bring his weight down.
And then Potter pulled back, smiled at him with dazed eyes, and said, "I certainly hope we can resume this later, because right now we have a faerie invasion to stop."
It should have acted like a bucket of cold water on Draco's libido, but it didn't. Instead, he found himself tilting his head back, licking his lips, and saying, "I'm going to hold you to that, Potter," whilst the sweetness simmered back into a low burn.
"I'll hold myself to it." Potter's deep voice held the slightest hint of a growl as he ran one hand around the back of Draco's neck, cupping and pressing his fingers into specific places that made Draco arch. "No way I could forget it." Then he made a harsh throat-clearing noise and said, "I think you said something about your wand's wood coming from a particular hawthorn grove? A grove that we need to get to to stop Puck?"
"Yes." Draco told himself he sounded ridiculous with his tongue so thick in his mouth, and sat up, keeping his gaze away from Potter. His wand jumped and stung his hand when he gripped it, then spun like a Muggle compass needle to point the way. Draco smiled grimly and left behind thoughts of love for thoughts of war. "West," he whispered. "We need to Apparate to the west."
Potter gave him a fierce smile and pulled him to his feet. Draco found himself glorying in the easy strength of his arms, in the way that Potter's eyes—bright with human passions that no faerie would ever know—focused on him, and in the way that Potter nodded in response to his words, face alive with his own thoughts.
"Then let's go," said Potter. He stepped closer to Draco and lowered his voice. "I find myself rather impatient with both Puck and his Queen for disrupting the normal business of life."
"They'll do a lot more than that if his Queen breaks loose," Draco retorted, but he was smiling as he took Potter's arm for a Side-Along Apparition.
I'll put it aside when we find Puck. I'll manage to fight with all my attention on the battle. But it is rather appealing to be the center of attention for someone who would die for me.
And who kisses the way I always imagined a hero should kiss.
They came out of the last Apparition with a sharp crack that left Harry blinking and wondering what had gone wrong. Not that anything had; there was a grove of hawthorn trees ahead of them, in a glory of white bloom and with an unusual height that made Harry instinctively certain they had come to the right place.
It was just that coming out of Apparition normally sounded like a clapping pair of hands, and this sounded like gunshots he'd heard on the telly. It prepared him for something to go wrong.
Harry heard a slight whine above his head, like a bird with a throat problem. He ducked, and the whirling plate of bronze that had been meant to scalp him dashed past and exploded on the ground near them, the shrapnel becoming a cloud of glittering fragments that promptly flew back towards them.
Harry lifted a layered Shield Charm, casting Protego twice in a row. It turned out to be a good thing he did, because the bronze fragments tore through the first Shield Charm and hit the second hard enough to make it vibrate and crack. Then they fell to the ground—harmlessly, Harry hoped—and Harry whirled around to find the attacker, automatically dragging Draco behind him. Draco said something shapeless about how Harry had better not bloody try to protect him, when he could fight as well as anyone, and stepped up to his side. Harry tipped his head in acknowledgment and apology.
Puck faced them, in faerie form this time instead of as a donkey and taller than before, with blond hair cascading to his waist and glowing like fire amid the whiter flames of the hawthorn blossoms, his green eyes mad with laughter.
"I should have known," he said. "And you should have known. There are two minutes to sunset, and at sunset my Queen comes through the gate."
For a moment, panic seized Harry and tried to freeze his feet to the ground. But Draco shoved at him, and hissed into his ear, "I think he's lying. The magic in the air isn't strong enough. And if it's true, then we're wasting minutes when we could be taking care of her standing here."
Harry shook his head sharply—he shouldn't have needed Draco to remind him of that—and aimed his wand. If he could conjure iron manacles on Puck the way he had on the woman in the otherworld, then—
But Puck skipped sideways before he could try, of course, and then crouched on all fours and began to grow. His back and sides shimmered with dazzling blue. Harry flung his hand over his eyes, squinting. He could hear the deep breath and smell the fire-tinted air, though, and he knew what was happening.
When he dropped his hand, he wasn't surprised to find an enormous blue dragon, all his scales edged with gold, slinking slowly towards them. His neck trailed on the ground in folds of flapping skin and coiling muscle, and one of his shimmering, slightly curved white horns could have spitted both Harry and Draco and never slowed down. His mouth parted slightly; Harry could see fire glowing like an ember at the back of his throat.
"That's not illusion, is it?" he breathed to Draco.
"I would say that it's shapeshifting," Draco replied, with a voice that quivered with emotion and tension just below the surface. Harry thought at least one of the emotions was probably suppressed hysteria.
Harry faced the dragon as it darted a tongue out. Of course they couldn't stand up to the blast of its fire, but they didn't have to. They would figure out some other way to fight it. And in the meantime, he thought he might try what Draco had tried with the woman, using flattering, riddling language to catch Puck's attention.
"You don't frighten me," he said. "Do you want to know why?"
Draco's hand clenched down on Harry's arm, but Harry didn't understand why. After all, they were probably as good as dead anyway whether they taunted Puck or not. Then the dragon's head rose, and the tongue flickered out, and a sharp hiss mutated into words that Harry could understand.
"Parseltongue. You speak Parseltongue." Puck slinked closer still, until his head swayed a few feet away and breath reeking of sulfur moved over Harry's face. "How is it that I did not know of this? How is it that you did not lose the gift when the one who gifted you with it died?"
Well. I got his attention, at least. Harry shoved away the idea that he didn't think dragons spoke Parseltongue; maybe natural dragons didn't, but Puck clearly did. In the meantime, he had to worry about fascinating and enchanting Puck.
"There are many things you don't know about me," he said, and curled his lip. "We came through a gate that should have killed Draco, but I died and brought back a golden cloak from death that gave him the strength to survive it. Did you expect that? Did you know that I stand halfway between life and death, in the same way that I stand halfway between humans and snakes?"
Draco swallowed beside him. Harry thought it was probably because he didn't know exactly what Harry was saying in Parseltongue, and felt briefly sorry for him. He moved a step backwards, drawing both Draco and Puck with him. Puck's head wavered, now, and his tongue flickered constantly, and his green eyes never left Harry's face. Harry noted absently that he must have been lying about his Queen coming through the gate in two minutes; she would have been here by now if that was true.
"Halfway between humans and snakes?" Puck said slowly. "That can be true for no one save your dead Dark Lord, and he was human in all the ways that mattered." A sharp frisson of contempt scrolled along the word for human that Harry had never heard a snake give before. Of course, that was probably because most snakes feared humans as creatures that could crush them.
"Voldemort was wrong about his own resemblance," Harry said, in an arrogant voice that he was astounded to realize he possessed. "He was only like a snake physically, and that wasn't near enough." He was speaking one of the wilder stories that had run in the Prophet about him once he finished the Battle of Hogwarts, and he was wagering that Puck would likely be as fascinated by it as the people who had read it were—certainly more interested in it than in the truth. "I'm like a snake spiritually. Part of Voldemort's soul was within me for a time. That left a mark on my spirit."
Puck sat down, rearranging his haunches beneath him with a motion that shook the hill like subtle thunder. "I have never heard of such a thing," he said gravely, but his eyes never wavered and he hadn't even looked at the gate, which glowed furiously now in the light of sunset. Harry told himself that he hadn't seen a flicker of gold and green in the center of the gate, because even if he had there wasn't much he could do about it now, and brought his gaze back to Puck.
"Of course not," he said. "Why would you? This is the first time it's ever happened."
Puck's head darted out quite suddenly. Draco choked back a cry, if the way that his fingers dug into Harry's skin was any indication. Harry held still, and sure enough, the forked tongue only caressed him, touching his skin, his hair, and his eyelids, before pulling back.
"Something new." Puck's voice was reverent, and his head turned to the side. Harry had to hold his breath against the brimstone reek by now. "Do you know how long we have sought something new in the mortal world, Harry Potter, and how rarely we ever find it? We are immortal. We have seen everything." He parted his jaws in what was probably meant to be a grin, his fangs shining, as bright and nearly as long as his horns. "But not this. But not you."
Harry smiled back, and abruptly knew how he was going to stop Puck. He wished he had had more time to look at the bindings in the cage from which Puck broke free, but, well, he'd had good luck improvising before.
"Would you like to know another new thing?" he asked, lowering his voice.
Puck bobbed his head like a kitten following a piece of string, and lay down, stretching his forepaws out before him and making Harry and Draco have to retreat about fifteen yards. Harry was grateful. It might give them a few more seconds, because it would slow Puck in getting up.
"I'm in love with Draco Malfoy," Harry whispered confidentially. "And no Potter has ever been in love with a Malfoy before."
He was taking a chance, going on his incomplete remembrance of the Black tapestry and a few other representations of pure-blood genealogies he'd seen, but it seemed true; Puck's eyes flared deeper and wider. "Show it to me," he said. "There were lovers, once, in the forest, who did not love the right ones…love is most interesting when opposed. Show me, show me, Harry Potter!" His voice built to a roar that nearly sent Harry and Draco off their feet.
Harry turned towards Draco, cradled his face in his hands, and smiled at him as tenderly as he could. Draco stared into his eyes in silence, his body tense. Harry knew he had every right to resist the kiss, since he couldn't understand a word of the conversation Harry and Puck had just had.
But in another moment he relaxed, and tilted his head back in acceptance.
The trust in Draco's eyes meant more to Harry than the taste of his mouth.
Draco didn't know exactly what Harry had said, but he knew that it held Puck captivated and staring for the moment, and that was enough for him. And then when Harry began kissing him, from the way the dragon went on staring, he reckoned Harry had made an offer to display their "love" somehow.
The dragon made low, complicated rumbling sounds. Draco tried to ignore the feeling that he was on display and concentrate on Harry's stroking tongue and the hand running lightly up and down his back, coaxing his arsecheeks apart but not lingering, speeding up to stroke along his spine again.
It was easier than he had expected. This was a man he had admired before, as good a flyer as he was and—though Draco would only admit this in the deepest, darkest depth of his private thoughts—a better Auror. And this was the man who had died to save him, if only temporarily, and who had pulled him from the Fiendfyre, and who hadn't made a fuss about owing his mother a life-debt, and had even listened to Draco once he discovered Draco knew how to handle faeries.
There was no one else who could have fulfilled those roles in his life, and still fewer people that Draco would not have resented for doing it. He lifted his own hand to cradle Harry's jaw, and heard someone sigh. It irritated him that he couldn't tell whether it was his own doing, or Harry's, or Puck's.
He entered so fully into the kiss, absorbing the salty taste and the quick motions of Harry's tongue across his, that he didn't catch what else Harry was doing until his wand flicked through several quick motions, and that was the end of the spell.
Puck gave the loudest cry anyone had ever uttered, in pain and surprise.
It drove Draco to his knees, hands clutching his ears. He stared in disbelief. A sheet of solid iron covered Puck from head to tail, conjured from nowhere and clinging closely to all his limbs. He raged and shook and spread his hanging wings, but the iron simply bulged around them. He roared, and part of the iron turned as red as a phoenix, but still it stayed up instead of melting.
Draco thought of the magical power that it must have taken Harry to do that, and abruptly the erection between his legs was a throbbing necessity instead of a distraction from the kiss. He took a deep breath and forced himself to scramble to his feet, ignoring the brief stab of hurt that Harry had been able to manage such a complicated spell when he was engaged in kissing. The strength of that spell made up for it, and when Draco could finally have that attention fixed all on himself…
"That won't hold him for long," he said tensely.
"I know." Harry's voice was sharp and quick, despite his swollen lips and the way he tossed his hair out of his eye as he faced the hawthorn gate. Draco looked at it, too, and realized that his wand was as cold as the iron in his hand and that green and golden fire was stabbing in bars through the blossoming may-trees, as if they looked into some strange dawn in a green sky—like the sky of the otherworld. "What do you know about sealing a gate? I don't think the researchers said anything about it. They assumed we would bind Puck before this could happen, or lose." His words were rushing together in his agitation, and he ran a hand through his hair again and again.
"Not much," Draco admitted dryly. "Gates are usually in in-between places, boundaries of sorts. They open most often at twilight and at dawn, between the night and day." He was shouting to be heard now, since the sound of Puck fighting against his iron prison was growing louder and louder. "On a day like this, a powerful day in the Celtic calendar, the magic opening them will be so strong that I don't think we can hold it back."
Harry spun to face him and grasped both his hands. "But the researchers said something about human celebrations of Beltane replacing the faerie ones," he said, and this time Draco really had to concentrate to make out the different words. "What about that? Can we hold a celebration of our own? Can't we take advantage of Beltane magic?"
Once he understood Harry, Draco began to smile.
"We can indeed," he said softly, and raised his wand. "Incendio!"
One of the hawthorn trees took fire, and Draco, with another snap of his wrist, severed its roots, so that it fell over. The grass caught, then, and the flame that sprang up was not natural. Blue-white, lovely, swaying from side to side in deliberate dance-like motions, it outshone the green and golden dawn coming through the gate.
Draco laughed in triumph. A wind spun away from the flame and through his hair, and he smelled something like the Manor's apple gardens at high noon on a brilliant summer day. And why not? Beltane was the beginning of summer.
"The power is ours," he said, and turned to hold a hand out to Harry. "We only have to show that we accept it—"
Harry yanked Draco into his arms with a ferocity which astonished him, though after a moment, as they rested chest to chest, he found nothing to complain about. Holding Harry's gaze, and smiling all the while, he cast a spell that would surround them and their fire with a circle of iron and salt. Salt had sometimes been used as an effective weapon against faeries who wanted to steal children; a ring of salt around a cradle would force them to flee.
Harry wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him closer still. Draco struggled to make a choice between drowning in the kiss and breathing, then reminded himself that you couldn't die from holding your breath and decided that going temporarily unconscious was a fair price to pay for the warmth now vibrating between his groin and his mouth.
Harry coaxed him lower and lower, sometimes tilting him, sometimes falling with him, until Draco rested on his back in the grass. He heard the fire sing madly, like many bells clashing together. He smiled and lifted a leg so that Harry could have easier access to the trousers he was trying to remove. Draco's outer robes were already gone.
Sweat soaked him, Harry's eyes shone like a faerie's as they locked on his, the apple-smelling wind swirled around him, and the fire sang and sang and sang.
The sound of tearing cloth, and he was naked. Draco uttered a laughing protest, but Harry was already fumbling at his clothes, a fierce frown of concentration on his face, and paid no attention. Draco watched him in amusement for a moment—desperation was making it impossible for Harry to work the buttons—and then rendered him naked with a single flick of his wand.
"Bloody useful spell," Harry said, tossing his head back. His hair was dripping sweat down his neck and chest, sweat that gleamed with fire. "Shame you couldn't have used it earlier."
Draco began to sneer, but rather lost it when Harry lay down on top of him, bringing their chests together. Draco arched violently, then brought his hands up to feel at the curve of Harry's shoulders. He worked down to the curves of his arse, which he grasped and squeezed and viciously pinched. Harry huffed a warning to be careful, then lost it and groaned into Draco's ear.
I knew he'd like some level of pain, Draco thought smugly. Anyone who charges into danger as often as he does must be a masochist.
Harry panted, his breath washing along Draco's jaw. The wind smelled now of peaches as well as apples, and Draco thought he could taste peaches in his mouth, the fruit breaking apart and the juice sliding down his chin, sticky-sweet.
And the fire sang and sang and sang.
Harry sat up, sliding his legs down on either side of Draco's. Draco closed his eyes and tried to decide if he liked Harry nearly crushing Draco's erection between his arse and Draco's thighs.
Then Harry smiled, and lifted his hand in the air, and brought it down with his fingers covered with sticky gel. Draco blinked. Had that been wandless magic, or Harry merely calling on the enchantment of Beltane?
It could have been either, really. By now, the sensation of fire was everywhere; a slow burning had begun in Draco's cock and groin, as if he had already reached the brink of orgasm. The fire's song had varied and split, so that now it sounded like three or five choruses singing from different directions. Draco could see odd lights from the corners of his eyes, which he hoped was their circle of iron and salt burning to protect them rather than the gate opening wider to admit the Faerie Queen.
Harry slid his fingers slowly into Draco's arse.
And the world tumbled and changed.
Draco was lying flat on the ground, gaping into Harry's eyes. He was floating. He was tumbling slowly through space, spinning sideways, over and over again. He could feel the fingers in his arse, stretching him. He could feel the fire playing over his skin, consuming him. He could feel himself smothered in apples and peaches. He was cradled by downy soft leaves.
A hand rested on his forehead, branding him. Draco knew without asking that it was the hand of the Faerie Queen.
And then Harry slid into his arse, as slowly as he had inserted the original finger, and Draco arched his back with greed and drove his heels into Harry's legs and urged him on, faster, faster, faster, finally with something to focus on.
Harry didn't know exactly when the first blue-white fire had spread out, engulfing them in a circle of flame that burned where Draco had cast the salt and iron. He didn't know, from one moment to another, how the wind could change so that he smelled fruit, then new-mown grass, then baking bread, then sun-warmed amber. He didn't know why Puck, whose smoking iron prison had fallen to shards a few moments ago, hadn't attacked them yet.
But he did know that the tight squeezing pressure of Draco's arse was more delicious than anything he had ever felt in his life.
He looked down, and Draco spun beneath him on a golden plate that changed the next moment to silver grass, and then to a disk with no railing and no straps, skimming through space. But he himself was always the same, his hair shining and his face shining and his lips widening into a smile that danced on the edge of laughter.
Harry smiled and bent to kiss him, and then gasp-groaned at the way that that nudged his cock forwards. Draco groaned languidly, the way Harry thought he might groan on rising from bed on a morning when he had nothing to do, and then hooked his legs up and around Harry's waist. Harry seized them and raised them higher, until they rested on his shoulders. He thought vaguely that they should have been uncomfortable—when he'd heard from other men about doing this, they said they always used cushions—but since the ground Draco rested on was constantly changing anyway, he didn't think he'd worry about it.
From the furrow on Draco's brow, though, he was worrying about something. Harry frowned at him inquiringly.
"Why aren't you moving yet?" Draco demanded, in his snottiest tone.
Harry laughed, and began to do so. The golden plate, which was beneath them again, rocked for a moment, and then steadied. Draco's legs quivered, then firmed up as if he intended to strangle Harry with them. The smell of the wind all around them leaped higher in the direction of fruit, then subsided into sunlight on grass again.
And the song was everywhere.
Harry rocked, and Draco moaned. Harry pushed, and Draco gasped. Harry thrust, and Draco wailed.
And the song was everywhere.
A symphony, Harry thought, smiling down into Draco's face, shaking his head and sending drops of sweat flying that looked like drops of fire. We're creating a symphony.
Abruptly, something tore his attention away from Draco and made him look up. That was literally what it felt like, as though his attention was a rope that someone had detached from Draco and tied to themselves.
Puck crouched at the edge of the ring of fire, still in dragon form, watching. His tongue lolled across the grass, and his green gaze was bright and somehow bent inwards, as though his eyes had become long tunnels of mirrors. He stared at Harry for a moment, then pointed beyond the burning circle with his tongue. Harry's attention followed the gesture.
In a halo of white flame, of gold and green and the blue of a heavenly summer sky, stood the Faerie Queen.
Titania, Harry thought, with the same hazy recollection of A Midsummer Night's Dream that had produced the name Puck. Or Gloriana, maybe. But she's the Queen.
She didn't need a crown for him to see that—though in fact she wore one, a crown of sculpted indigo and lilac flowers wound over her pointed ears. Her gown was green, ornamented with golden lace and lilies, and displayed one white shoulder. Her hair fell as a long sheet of flame around her shoulders and to her ankles, a draping curtain of gold and red with subtle lights of orange and white and blue moving through it. Her hands were clasped in front of her; her fingers were too long, as if they had extra joints to them. Her face was smooth and pale, her eyes greener than those of his mother when she had come to him as a shade.
She was the most beautiful woman Harry had ever seen. It had nothing to do with finding women attractive or not. She simply had beauty as an inherent quality, the way that fire had heat. Harry thought he could have knelt to her and felt her destroy him in the next moment, and died happy.
He understood now why she would conquer the world and end human civilization if she was freed. She wouldn't need weapons and violence, unless she wanted to use them. Everyone would simply kneel and gaze at her, and that would be it.
But now his body was rocking gently, inside Draco's, and Draco, who couldn't see the Queen from his position, gave him another kick to hurry him up. And as Harry began to move faster, he saw the Queen's eyes soften.
The sorrow in them could have shattered worlds; it fell away. What replaced it was the joy of wolves, and the desire of dragons. And Harry saw her stretch her hands out as though he and Draco were a fire she could warm herself at.
The world began to spin again. Harry was able to look away from the Queen's eyes, and Puck, and forget they were watching. Draco was beneath him, white and gold, blue where the shadows of the flames moved across him, beautiful everywhere.
Harry sped up his motions again, purely for the pleasure of watching Draco shudder with delight as Harry hit his prostate.
And still Puck and the Queen simply watched. Harry didn't know why. Perhaps a Malfoy and a Potter making love really was such a new thing that it contented them to observe it. Perhaps the power of wielding a human Beltane ceremony against the faerie magic was working.
When his orgasm shot up from the base of his spine and through his body like one of the flames burning around them, and pleasure greater than anything he'd felt in his life went through him like arrows, and Draco's mouth widened with delight and surprise, he didn't think he cared.
Life filled Draco.
Petals were growing through his body. Grass surged in his knees. A tree with white flowers and white fruit and white bark rose shining through the middle of his body and spread out above him, its shade soft and cool-scented. Canopies of leaves spread everywhere, whilst fruit split and opened and dropped seeds and grew more trees, which fruited in turn. Entire gardens of flowers laughed at the sun.
Fertility. Beltane is about fertility.
And though neither he nor Harry could conceive a child, still life filled him when Harry shuddered above him and came into his arse. Draco arched his neck and came back, feeling it was the least return he could make for such a gift.
Pleasure wrung him out and through and around, as if he were a wet cloth someone was squeezing. Draco shuddered and gripped Harry with his legs, which had slipped off Harry's shoulders. His spin through space suddenly halted, and then he was most definitely in a grove of hawthorn trees, on a field of burning grass.
When he turned his head, the Faerie Queen was curtseying to them.
Draco froze. It seemed innately wrong for the ruler of the otherworld to bow to them; he wanted to jump up and protest. But, for now, his body was far too weak, and he only twitched a little when he tried.
He wondered for a moment if she was about to take over the mortal world. He didn't think he would have protested even if he'd been in a condition to do anything about it.
But she straightened from the bow, turned, and walked back through the gate he could still see shining golden and green, her hair moving like a train of fire behind her. The gate shrank a moment later, to little more than a glimmer.
Someone cleared his throat. Draco turned his head in the other direction, and found Puck, in faerie form, gazing down at them.
"My lady will not invade your world." His voice was amazingly gentle, full of tenderness like light. Draco felt tears sting his eyes. Yes, there was a reason it had taken wizards so long to banish the faeries, dangerous as they were. "You have given her something she has never seen. No Malfoy and no Potter have ever joined as you have, in purest love and in purest fire." And he bowed with a sweeping motion of his hand and body.
"But," Draco said, so dazed that he could only think of what was wrong with Puck's words, "we're not actually in love yet."
Puck's laughter rose all around them, like small sharp pieces of stars raining to earth. "Do you think I did not know that? Love was the only thing spoken of, and the only thing lied about. A trick worthy of a faerie." He leaned over them, and there was admiration in his eyes that Draco found more appalling than hatred. "There are still new things in your world. You have deserved the victory you have won here."
"Thank you so very much," Harry said, sounding exhausted.
Puck laughed again and walked through the hawthorn trees towards the gate. His stride was sure and steady, his golden hair flapping around him. Draco thought for certain he would go straight through, but instead he spun around, winked, and pointed a finger at Harry. "Your eyes," he said. "That's a sign of faerie ancestry. I would get that looked at, if I were you."
And he sprang into the gate, which showed him as a dwindling, blazing figure for long moments. Then the gate snapped shut.
The fires around them ceased burning at the same instant, and they lay on shining, blackened ground in the aftermath of an April sunset—or May, if you were counting the Celtic way, Draco thought.
Harry cleared his throat. Draco looked at him and smiled. Harry's face was so painfully uncertain he had to smile. It was amusing.
"I don't know what this means to you," Harry began carefully. "But it means something important to me. I—I want it to continue."
His lip was practically trembling, his eyes pleading, and he had started to run a hand along Draco's ribs and then snatched it back, as though uncertain of his welcome. Draco couldn't let him go on tormenting himself any longer. He caught his hand and squeezed it, noting along the way that his fingers barely had enough strength to do that. Harry really had worn him out.
"I want it to continue, too," he said.
Harry stared at him with open wonder. "Even though it'll never be like—that—again?" He gestured at the wreckage around them. "Even though we used to hate each other?" He touched his face suddenly. "Even though I have faerie eyes?"
"I hated you when I was a child," Draco said. "Not that easy to get over, but I think this helped." Harry grinned. "And I wouldn't expect it to be like this every night. Not every night is Beltane."
He took up both of Harry's hands this time and brought them to his lips. "And do you really think," he whispered, "that your faerie eyes, or past histories, matter to me at all when you died to save me?"
Harry stared at him. Then he smiled and said, "I hope that rigorous fucking counts for something."
Draco was astonished to find himself catching the deeper uncertainty beneath Harry's words. He didn't want someone who only saw him as a hero.
"The rigorous fucking counts for at least half of it," said Draco judiciously. "Though, as I said, not every night will be Beltane. We'll see how long you can hold my interest."
Harry laughed, or growled, and bent to kiss him. Draco lifted his head and swirled his tongue lazily against Harry's.
A wind smelling of apples blew past him, and he thought that was as open a blessing on their future as he could have asked for.
If he concentrated, he thought he could still hear the fire in the distance.
And the fire sang.