Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny
Warnings: Profanity, angst, sex (implied het sex, explicit slash sex). Acknowledges the events of most of Book 7 but not the epilogue. Arguably both Weasley-bashing and Draco-bashing.
Summary: The story of how Malfoy poisoned Harry against his friends and fiancée./ The story of how Draco rescued Potter from the clutches of those who didn't deserve him.
Author's Notes: This fic is mainly an experiment in point-of-view. Therefore, don't necessarily take what any character says at face value.
It started when Draco saw Potter looking at wedding rings.
More to the point, it started when Draco saw the look on Potter's face.
He wouldn't have gone up to him or spoken to him if not for that look. So, if anyone was to blame for this, it was Potter. Draco had responded to a small piece of reality that he saw gleaming in front of him, far brighter than any of those rings. What would anyone who saw a Galleon do but pick it up? He could not be blamed.
"Trying to determine which of those things would actually make the Weaselette's finger less ugly?" Draco asked, stepping up behind Potter. They were the only two customers currently in the small, expensive jewelry shop in Hogsmeade, Janus Jewelry. Draco had come there for the hopeless task of attempting to find something beautiful his mother would like and which didn't resemble the pieces she already had. Draco took a moment to enjoy the stiffening of Potter's shoulders and the quick half-turn of his head before he added, "Give it up. There's nothing that would accomplish the task."
Potter faced him fully then. A less careful observer would have thought he looked exactly like normal, the prince defending his lady fair from evil. But Draco's gaze was caught by the weariness in those green eyes. Potter looked as though he'd been fighting these battles for so long that he couldn't remember any more why he'd begun.
"Fuck off, Malfoy," he said in a low voice, instead of launching into the angry rant that Draco expected. Then he turned back to face the rings, and tapped the glass case above a bright gold and diamond one that rested on a cushion of red velvet. The shopkeeper hastened to bring it out, unlocking the case with an emerald key she wore at her neck.
Draco stepped up beside him and examined the ring critically. In the end, he clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Too much fire for her," he said. "Her head's already ablaze, after all."
"Fuck off, Malfoy." This time, it was even softer, and Potter's fingers didn't tense on the ring. He handled it with such awkwardness and lack of interest, in fact, that Draco felt compelled to take it away from him and show him how he should be holding it.
"You don't fling around a gem like this as if it were a piece of meat, Potter," he said. He admired the diamond for a proper length of time, then turned the ring upside-down. The band was clean and, as much as Draco could tell without actually tapping his wand against it, pure gold. Draco smiled. "Beautiful," he said to the shopkeeper.
"Yes, sir." The owner, Peridot Templar, a young witch with long dark hair and brilliant green-blue eyes, gave him a reserved smile. Most of her attention was reserved for him and Potter, and Draco realized, after seeing her eyes dart back and forth a few times, that she was waiting for them to start dueling and burn the place down. He wanted to laugh, but restrained it for her sake.
"Much too beautiful for the likes of the Weaselette," he said, turning the ring over. "I think I'll buy it myself, though I'd like the band resized for my mother's finger." Templar nodded and took the ring, turning to go into the back of the shop, where she kept his mother's measurements on file.
Potter made a harrumphing noise next to him. Draco faced him and saw that his eyes held only dull curiosity. Draco frowned.
"Honestly, Potter," he said, "weddings are stressful, everyone knows that. But you have the power to walk away from things that are stressful to you." He paused thoughtfully. "Or haven't you learned that lesson about your power yet?"
Potter jolted and stared at him with wide, panicky eyes for a minute. Then he snorted and sneered. "Why didn't you just alter the ring yourself, Malfoy?" he asked, in a transparent attempt to deflect Draco's interest. "Surely you have the power."
"Unlike you," Draco said smoothly, "I prefer to have my work done by experts." He leaned forwards. That jolt intrigued him, and Potter wasn't going to throw him off the scent with bluster. "Seriously, Potter. You could have paid a professional lapidary to choose a stone for you and Templar to choose the ring it would adorn. Why didn't you?"
"None of your business." Potter turned away, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.
"I think," Draco said, pitching his voice in the velvety way that he had seen affect other men before now, "that you're having some doubts. Some nagging thoughts at the back of your head. Their nagging is only going to grow louder every time. You must see that. And you can't delegate someone to listen to them."
Potter sniffed loudly. "I think I'll leave," he said, as if speaking to an audience of thousands. "The air in here's a bit rank." He tossed Draco an irritated glance and stormed out of the shop, his hands jammed in his robe pockets.
Draco laughed quietly and turned around as Templar stepped back out with the resized ring in her hands. At the very worst, he'd made Potter leave without the ring, and caused him to have to take the trouble to come back later.
At the best, he had planted some seeds that might grow into interesting flowers.
Ginny glanced up as Harry stepped through the door into their flat. She carefully held back a sigh when she saw his scowl. He had worn that expression every time he had gone hunting a ring so far, and now it meant that he had failed yet again.
Ginny had told him, both by hinting around the issue and outright, that she didn't need a fancy ring. She would be as happy to wear a small one with a poor stone as she would be to wear the gaudiest piece of finery that Harry's Galleons could purchase. What she really wanted was him, not the diamond to sit on her finger.
But Harry insisted that she deserved the best, and he kept hunting it down—without any notion of what the best looked like. Ginny was sympathetic, but the wedding was in a month. She wondered what would happen if the day arrived and Harry didn't have a ring for her.
She already had his, small and tasteful and set with an emerald to match his eyes. Harry had smiled when he saw it. It was the best smile Ginny had seen him give in months, with all the people clamoring for an invitation to the wedding. She had hoped that she would see it answered by another smile on his face today, as he came in with the piece of jewelry he'd spent so much time seeking.
"Still no luck?" she asked gently, and stepped forwards to kiss him on the cheek and massage his shoulders. Harry reached up and clutched one of her hands, keeping it still. Ginny leaned towards him. That usually meant something bad had happened and he wanted to tell her about it with no distractions.
"Fucking Malfoy." His voice was so guttural that Ginny had to spend a minute sorting through the sounds before she knew what he was saying.
When she knew, she wished she didn't.
Harry was—strange—about Malfoy. He had seemed pleased when the bastard didn't go to Azkaban, but he had spent a long time scowling at his photograph in the paper, too. He'd walk out of a Ministry function if it turned out Malfoy was there. But then he'd spend far too much time talking and speculating about why he was there. Ginny had learned a year ago that the best plan was to nod and smile while Harry was in full flood and then turn the conversation away from Malfoy as soon as possible.
Now, she thought it was one of the listening times. "What did he do?" she asked, not trying to massage him again but keeping her hands resting on his shoulders as support.
"Told me that I couldn't find the right ring," Harry said. "Insulted you. Took away the ring I was looking at and had Templar change it for his mother instead." He broke free of her with a growling sound—Ginny had thought it was an exaggeration that people growled until she spent more time around Harry—and slammed a hand against the wall. "What gives him the right to be there?"
"He probably was looking for something for his mother," Ginny said as calmly as she could. She walked up to Harry and took his hand firmly when he would have hit the wall again. She sneaked a look at it—Harry hated too much fussing—and was relieved to see that Harry hadn't broken a finger or even torn a nail. There was a red mark on the heel of his palm, but it would fade soon enough. "The big question is, are you going to let him ruin your day? Or are you going to get over it and show him that he can't control you like that?"
Silence, as Harry blinked at her. Then he smiled, and Ginny bathed in the dazzling warmth that always flooded her when he did. Her mother had said once that you would know you were in love with someone by the way you felt when they smiled. Ginny had known the first time Harry really looked at her when he grinned that she was in deep, for life, and there was no going back.
"You're right," Harry whispered, taking her hands and kissing them. "Why should he get to affect my mood and walk away being all high and mighty?"
Ginny laughed and linked her arm with his. "There's no reason that he should," she said, "but it can happen if you're not careful."
Harry looked remorseful for a minute. Then he shook his head and said, "I know that I've let that happen sometimes, Gin. But I promise that I'm going to be different from now on. I don't want to let him win."
Ginny concealed a sigh. Trust Harry to see it as a competition, though Harry and Malfoy hadn't even competed at Quidditch at in years. But at least it soothed him, and so she answered in the same spirit, "He's never deserved to win. He doesn't know." She leaned up and kissed Harry on the mouth this time. "Now, why don't you go and change that robe? It has mustard from your lunch on it."
"Shite." Harry looked down in surprise and touched the mustard stain, shaking his head, before he walked into the bedroom.
Ginny leaned against the wall and smiled. She had half-expected him to ask why he should change. But it seemed that he had remembered their dinner reservation at the Palazzo tonight without any reminders from her.
That's the man I love. Thoughtful and generous and, if he has his faults, that's no more than anyone else does. Ginny glanced up into the mirror hung on the opposite wall and saw her smile turn wry. God knows I'm not perfect myself.
By the time Harry came out again, in green robes that looked particularly good at him, he seemed to have forgotten all about Malfoy, and Ginny determined that Malfoy would stay forgotten for the rest of the evening.
Well, well, well.
Draco leaned back in his chair and raised his eyebrows. He was dining alone, Blaise unexpectedly having been called away by the news that his mother was about to give birth to his younger sibling. Draco had learned enough about Mrs. Zabini to know that it was remarkable she'd decided to have another child at all, so he could forgive his friend's defection.
The dining room of the Palazzo was a looming place of white marble and glass, the glass inserted in swirling patterns and small, round windows in the middle of larger swathes of stone. Beyond the glass was darkness, no matter what the real weather outside was like at the moment. The floor had its transparent stretches and its darkness, too, so that the restaurant appeared to be hovering in the middle of a void. Draco rather enjoyed the effect, but many other people didn't, and even fewer could afford the Palazzo's prices. All of these things made it rather unlikely that he would see Potter and his vulgar fiancée there.
And yet here they were, sitting down at a large table in the center of the room, right above one of the transparent windows. Draco laughed silently. He was sure that had been the She-Weasel's doing. She probably hoped that someone would try to take a picture up her ridiculous red gown from beneath the window, so that she could get righteously offended.
Potter, of course, coughed and looked uncomfortable when he realized the avid glances he was attracting from all over the dining room. It wouldn't have been his idea to come here.
Draco looked again at the Weaselette, smiling graciously up at the waiter and then nodding to the glances of the people around them with what she probably imagined was a becoming flush in her cheeks. Yes, it had been all her idea to come here, Draco was certain.
And that meant there was no reason he shouldn't stand up, once the waiter was gone, and go over to have a bit of fun with Potter. The little tart deserved it for coming into a place she could never have afforded if not for Potter's company and money.
Ginny saw Malfoy walking towards them long before Harry noticed. Harry had his nose buried in the menu the way he always did when they came to the Palazzo, his sharp frown testifying to the fact that he had no idea what to order. Ginny had intended to suggest that he try the delicate sandwiches he'd liked before, but Malfoy stole her words.
She at least had time to prepare herself for some unpleasant insult and touch Harry on the arm in warning before Malfoy drawled, "Potter. Weasley. How unexpected to meet you here." His grin was lopsided, and it was beyond Ginny why so many witches thought him handsome, enough to write in and protest when Witch Weekly didn't put his name on a list of eligible bachelors.
Harry was tense as he looked up, the menu rattling slightly against the table. Ginny touched his arm harder and nodded back to Malfoy. So far he hadn't said anything too terrible, and she hoped he would keep it that way. "Hullo."
Malfoy tilted his head quizzically. "Now, I just saw Potter a few hours ago," he said, "so I can't be surprised by the fact that he's a bit tired of my company. But a greeting as insipid as that, Weasley, when you haven't seen me for years and must have all sorts of venom stored up to shoot at me?" He grinned at her, and Ginny wouldn't have been surprised to see a pair of vampire fangs poking out from among his normal teeth. He might not suck blood, but was vicious enough to be one. "Go on. I promise to listen to your first two insults without responding. It's the only way to make this a fair contest."
Ginny looked up at him steadily, not giving in like she wanted to—and like Harry wanted to, from the way he was trembling beside her. She was busy trying to figure out why Malfoy would be so angry at her in particular. Before, he'd insulted her as part of the Weasley family, but he'd never paid any special attention to her the way he was doing now.
Then she saw the way his eyes moved sideways to Harry, his lips lifting in a tiny pleased smirk, and she knew.
He'd chosen to snarl at her because she was the one of the Weasley family who was lucky enough to date Harry. He must still be regretting the fact that Harry had never been his friend, and in fact had rejected him for Ron and the side of the light. It wouldn't surprise Ginny a bit if that bitterness against Harry covered some kind of complicated, twisted longing.
And he probably assumed that no Weasley had a right to be in a place like the Palazzo, either, even if Harry Potter did.
"Well," Ginny said, with a calm that she knew would fool Malfoy even if it didn't fool Harry, because Malfoy didn't know her well, "that's a generous offer. But I'm not interested. I don't think either of us have ever been less interested in what you're offering, Malfoy." She picked up her menu again and smiled sideways at Harry.
He'd been staring at Malfoy, but he looked at her in wonder when she said those words. She saw the realization light up his eyes a moment later. She was asking him to hold back from reacting to Malfoy, because she had also chosen to hold back. He nodded and slumped down in the chair as if he hadn't a care in the world, whistling softly.
Ginny wanted to roll her eyes. Harry overdid the acting sometimes—and he didn't have to slouch. But from the white look of Malfoy's face, being ignored really was the ultimate insult.
The little bitch was trying to imply that he wasn't good enough to share her presence.
And she was implying that he would have chosen to fuck her.
At any point in time. At any point in history.
That a Malfoy would fuck a Weasley was unthinkable. That one of the Weasleys would choose to believe it was less so, but that one of them would think to say it to his face…
Draco was speechless with rage. But he realized a moment later that he had revealed that, and that standing around silent wouldn't be productive any longer. Besides, Potter was looking ostentatiously in the other direction, and that would imply that he wasn't interested any longer to the people who watched them.
Draco could not allow himself to be ignored or dismissed. It would do nothing at all for his social prestige, and the people in the Palazzo right now were either ones that he saw quite regularly or friends and associates of people he did. They would spread the tale of how Potter and the Weaselette had shut him out if he wasn't careful.
That meant he had to give one final stroke, one cut so devastating, so harsh, that everyone would see the Weaselette bleeding as from an open wound.
And he had to take a longer-lasting, more personal revenge. But Draco thought he already knew how to do that. At the moment, what he had to come up with was the insult.
He bowed low, low enough that it got curious glances targeting them again and made the Weaselette actually look up from her menu. Then he murmured, loudly enough that Potter could hear them but softly enough so that the words wouldn't travel to other tables, "I suppose the offer you're making the final arrangements on in a month's time does rather fill your head." He gave Potter a look of pity. "I hope that the heat between her legs is enough to make up for the chains she'll put on you, Potter."
He saw Potter's eyes widen. More, he saw Weasley looking as pale and sick as he'd pictured her looking, followed at once by a rush of blood to the face that did nothing for her complexion.
Best of all, her hand dropped to her side as if searching for a wand. Then she seemed to remember they were in public, and her hand closed into a useless fist instead.
What would she have done, hit me with a Bat-Bogey Hex? Draco laughed to himself as he sauntered back across the dining room and settled with a flourish of his robes into a seat at his table. The buzz of excited talk swarmed around him. More than one person looked towards Potter and Weasley's table with interest.
Draco hid his grin behind his wineglass.
As enjoyable as all of Weasley's reactions were, the best one was that Potter was still staring at him, then looking back and forth between him and Weasley, as if he had never before considered that she might be whoring herself to him for fame and money.
He's a fool not to have considered the possibility, Draco admitted to himself as he sipped at the exquisitely sweet wine, and I'm not usually attracted to fools. On the other hand, I can appreciate his fame and money the more, having a certain—notoriety—of my own, and no lack of funds.
And it might be that there are hidden treasures buried behind those staring and blinking eyes.
"I would never suspect that of you."
Ginny nodded, letting her head rest on Harry's shoulder. She hadn't been able to enjoy her dinner, since Malfoy had accused her of—of—
It still made her face flame to think about that. As if she would have chosen anyone who had Harry's power in wizarding society, anyone who was rich!
She had her pride, just like Malfoy did. It was just that hers was based on real things, better things than a stupid belief in blood prejudice.
She was independent enough that she wasn't going to resign her control over to anyone else and consent to be his little pet wife. She'd stood up to her brothers, she'd stood up to her parents and become a Quidditch player even though they wanted something steadier for her, and she'd stood up to danger when she tried to steal the Sword of Gryffindor from Snape's office during the war. She should have been allowed to fight in the war.
Harry didn't stand up for me when Mum decided I was a child and I couldn't fight during the Battle of Hogwarts.
But she smothered that old ember of resentment quickly. Harry had had a lot of other things on his mind just then. He'd told her how much, and Ginny knew she was the only person other than Ron and Hermione who would ever hear of that, how he had died and come back to life as part of the price of defeating Voldemort. They'd cried over that together, holding each other.
She was strong. She shouldn't have allowed a few words of Malfoy's to devastate her, no matter how sharp they were.
"I know," she whispered. "But knowing that other people might—"
"I'll tell them they're wrong, no matter how many times they say it." Harry's voice was strong and steady, and his arms clasped and supported her. "And I'm going tomorrow to find a ring that we can use. No more excuses."
Ginny tightened her arms around his shoulders. This was why she loved him. Maybe he was slow to find the right ring, maybe he overacted, maybe he didn't always support her, but he was there, doing the right thing, when it was most important.
It took longer to corner Potter alone than Draco had thought it would. It seemed that Potter had wrapped himself about with other Aurors or with his friends when he went out, and Draco had no desire to make his first move in the game in front of them. Among each group of people was someone smart enough to understand, as Potter would not, that Draco was compelled by something else than desire for him.
So Draco had to wait until he saw Potter leaving the Ministry one evening. Potter had a rather odd ritual: he paused outside the door and tilted his head back to watch the stars. Draco had seen him do it before, but most of the time he spent only a minute at it, then shook his head and walked on.
This time, he stood there with his eyes fastened on the star Sirius for two minutes—more than enough time for Draco to ascertain that there was no one else around, perform a few preliminary protective charms on himself just in case anyone tried to hex him, and step out of hiding.
Potter turned towards him without taking his eyes off the star. Auror training, Draco mused. When Potter looked down and at him, he blinked. It seemed that he hadn't expected to find Draco there, despite the actions he took that said he thought the wizard watching him no threat.
"Malfoy. What do you want?" Potter asked the question in a weary, annoyed tone. His hand rested on his wand in his pocket. He didn't bother drawing it, Draco noticed with a faint sense of resentment. Of course, he wasn't here to hurt Potter (physically), but it was rather insulting to know that Potter didn't consider him a threat.
"Other people aren't allowed to enjoy a beautiful starry night?" Draco kept his voice light, with a hint of laughter, in purposeful contrast to the world-weary tone that Potter had decided to adopt. It worked, too. Potter cocked his head, perhaps wondering what he found funny, perhaps subconsciously influenced, as Draco had intended him to be, by the "fact" that Draco noticed the stars, too.
"Of course," Potter said. "But most of them don't choose to enjoy it near me."
He slammed his mouth shut in the next moment and scowled. So he hadn't meant to reveal that bit of bitterness, Draco noted. Well, no matter. That wouldn't keep him from seizing and using it.
"Good night, Malfoy," Potter said, trying to push his way past Draco.
Draco caught his arm. Potter whirled on him in much more of a rage than Draco had anticipated, snatching his arm away and raising his hand as if he would strike at him in the Muggle way. Draco hadn't thought he would need his wand during this encounter, but he cocked his head, ready to trigger the loaded spring that attached it to his arm if necessary.
Then Potter dropped his hand on his own and rubbed his temple. "Who the fuck cares?" he muttered. Draco wasn't sure who the potential addressee of that question could be, but he resolved to find out.
"Lonely, Potter?" he asked. "I know all about loneliness. Few people really like to spend much time with someone who's marked out as different, by fame or money or power. Those stories about the loneliness at the top of the pinnacle—"
"Are just stories," Potter snapped. He was glaring at Draco now with a force that made Draco lick his lips. Compared to the fine meal of this enraged Potter, the irritated one he had seen at Janus Jewelry and the Palazzo was an appetizer. "You needn't try to tempt me into feeling sorry for you that way, Malfoy. We're nothing alike."
"Of course not," Draco said. He stood there with his hands held loosely at his sides now and his tone deliberately musing. "We didn't spend six of the same years at Hogwarts. We didn't oppose each other. We didn't play Quidditch. We didn't both become famous in the wake of the war, though for rather different things—"
"Those are minor similarities," Potter said. His voice was hard with contempt now, and the fire was guttering in his eyes, which Draco didn't like. "And you're hardly the first person to approach me with stories of false sympathy and murmurs about how I should do something to take advantage of my power."
"Did I say anything about taking advantage of it?" Draco spread his hands to indicate his innocence. He was getting rather fond of playing someone more harmless than he really was. It got him the best baffled glares from Potter.
"You don't need to," Potter said flatly. "Of course you think I should. That's the kind of person you are."
Draco smiled, pleased in spite of the setback that this might make for his plans. It delighted him that Potter had noticed him enough to know what kind of person he was, no matter what the outside pressures against him exerting that notice.
"I think you're a fool not to take advantage of it, yes," Draco admitted.
Potter looked up at the stars as if inviting them to be witnesses of how well he knew Draco.
"But I've accepted that you won't," Draco said. "Indeed, I'd accepted many things about you down the years. That you were the perfect hero since the war, becoming an Auror the way you'd always dreamed. That you were going to marry Girl Weasley." He paused for effect, though not too long, because it was dangerous to let Potter think about the insult to his bitch for too long. "That you were perfectly happy and contented." He let his voice drop and leaned closer without actually moving closer. Potter was too volatile for that at the moment. "That last isn't true, is it? How many people know?"
Potter's nostrils flared delicately. The fire came back to his eyes.
But he turned his back on Draco with a loud, false laugh. "Your little spies, whoever they are, obviously haven't been doing their jobs, Malfoy, if you think that's the part of my life that's wrong," he said, and Apparated out.
Draco breathed slowly, several times, before he Apparated home. He was not sure how successful he'd been.
But that increased uncertainty simply increased his passion for the game.
Ginny opened the box slowly, her hands trembling. It had taken Harry a week to find the ring he wanted, but he'd done it at last, and his eyes were wide and dark as he watched her. Ginny could hardly bear to look at him. He was so intense, sometimes. Ginny thought that dying and coming back to life after he'd defeated Voldemort had ripped most of the laughter out of him.
Now she tilted back the lid of the box, and there was the ring waiting.
It was perfect. The band was simple gold, unadorned. Ginny wondered if it had been like that or if he had asked for it; sometimes it was hard to find a wizarding wedding ring that didn't have a blessing engraved on the band, or a protective spell. A single prancing lion flowed along the edges of the stone, its body so odd and wavy that Ginny knew she would trace it with her finger over and over again.
The stone was a ruby.
Ginny ran her finger across it, startled by its smoothness and the deep red color. The fire seemed to surge and follow the path of her finger. Maybe it really did? She didn't know much about jewelry.
She shivered and tilted her head back to stare up at Harry. "How can I ever thank you?" she breathed.
"You just did, by the way you looked at me," Harry said, and his voice was deep and as intense as his eyes. He leaned down to kiss her.
Ginny melted into the kiss, which curled around her like soft flame, melting her bones, her joints, her skin. Like this, she was absorbed into him, held and poured and molded into a new shape. But what she loved was that he gave himself over as fully to the fire as she did. He wasn't some controlling puppet master, coldly watching the effect he had on her. He was a giving, passionate lover.
That was another remembrance, like the way he always supported her during important things, to hold to her heart during the times when she was irritated with him.
Harry guided her towards the bedroom slowly, one hand behind her neck, one hand wrapped low around her waist. Ginny went with him, sometimes stumbling, sometimes leading the way, moving as gracefully as if she were in a dance. In fact, she thought she danced better with Harry in private than she ever would in public.
He laid her down on the bed and began to pull off her robes. He liked to undress her first, for some reason. Ginny lifted her arms to allow it, breath panting from her lungs, eyes half-shut against the sun-heat that was devouring her.
Afterwards, she lay with her head on his shoulder and breathed slowly, feeling the sweat leave her body in long, dreamy rivulets. Harry was flung out as usual, consuming more of the bed than he really needed, one arm tucked around her waist and the other tangled in the flow of her hair. Ginny had started keeping it long since she discovered how much Harry liked it, those red strands everywhere. She could always bind it up and put it under a covering or a hood of some kind when she was flying.
For some reason, in that moment her mind returned to the way that Malfoy had confronted them in the Palazzo, and she had to smile. She'd envied him his coolness, his distance from the situation. She shouldn't have. She could have coldness like that if she worked for it, but he would melt in this heat.
Then Harry turned his head and took her mouth in a lazy, self-assured kiss. Ginny parted her lips and prepared to be remolded again.
Draco paused and cocked his head. He would have recognized that voice anywhere.
Well, perhaps not anywhere. But in the last week or so, yes, he would have.
He leaned an arm on the back of the seat in front of him. He was at a private Quidditch exhibition that several of the British and Irish teams had agreed to give, the proceeds of which would go to charity. Draco had shown up to it because it never did his public reputation harm to be associated with charitable events—especially events where he didn't have to spend his own Galleons—and because he wanted to evaluate the Falmouth Falcons before he placed a bet on them in their upcoming match.
But Ron the Weasel wasn't a player for any of the teams, as far as Draco knew. He worked as Potter's Auror partner. He might well be a spectator, but a player?
Then his eyes found the little knot of people down at the bottom of the grassy slope that the seats sat on, and he smiled tightly. Of course Weasley was trying out a broom one of the players used, and of course he would probably think that was all due to his own consequence and not his being Harry Potter's best friend.
Potter himself stood on the edge of the knot, cheering, his hands formed into fists that pumped into the air. Draco sneered. A coarse display when afforded to no real talent, such as the Weasel showed while he wobbled about on the broom over Potter's head.
With practiced eyes Draco watched Weasel urge the broom into a dive. He snorted. Weasley might have once been a good Keeper, but those days were gone now. The fool wasn't steering the broom right, wasn't using his weight—in fact, if he kept going, he would crash right into the seats—
Draco stiffened and got ready to move. That was, in fact, what the Weasel was about to do. A few startled screams indicated that other people had seen it, too.
And then a second figure on a broom rose to intercept him.
Draco managed to reconstruct the series of events by speaking to people later who had observed it more closely. He was glad, because it deserved more acknowledgment than his own wide-mouthed, stupid stare at that moment could have given it.
Potter had grabbed a broom from one of the Falcon players and risen from the ground as though someone had kicked him, a straight-up swoop that angled out to the side before it could have been safe. And yet he still managed to avoid hitting anyone who stood in that little swarm of people he'd flown out of. He twisted over and over, as though he was traveling along a braided rope, and then hit Weasley and knocked him off-course.
More than one person said they saw the flash as Potter pulled his wand from his pocket and began casting Cushioning Charms and Slowing Charms, to soften their fall and delay their descent. He did it so fast that Draco was left gasping. He could see the flashes of the spells and interpret them, too, but not when he was caught off-guard by the collision in the first place.
Potter landed a safe distance from the seats, with Weasley safely in his arms, with all their bones safely intact.
Safe, safe, safe. Everyone safe.
He seemed to have developed a habit of that.
But the talking and the sorting out of events came later. Draco knew enough about what he had seen at the time to know it was something extraordinary. And so he joined, or led—because he thought of it first and so he moved faster—the floodtide of people down from the seats to the center of the Pitch.
Potter was holding off the well-wishers who crowded around with practiced ease. A bubble of lighted air hovered next to his shoulder, expanding around him and the Weasel when someone tried to push too close. Potter's grin was hard-edged, and he kept his arm around his Weasel's shoulders as though he'd just rescued him from some fate far worse than the fall he deserved. Weasel, meanwhile, was grinning like an idiot and punching Potter in the side as though this was all a great joke.
Jealousy and rage took Draco by the throat. Jealousy, as always, because he would have paid more attention to this gift, to the gifts that Potter strewed around him with a free hand like Dumbledore dispensing oddities, than Weasel did.
Draco slowed. The rage concerned him.
He shouldn't get that angry because Weasel wasn't taking this seriously. Why would he take it seriously? If becoming an Auror hadn't caused him to grow up, then Draco doubted anything would.
He allowed a few spectators to sweep past him, his eyes narrowed, fighting with his own emotions. Potter, turning his head from side to side as if he wanted to make sure no Dark wizards were hiding nearby, saw Draco.
His mouth lifted in a snarl at once.
His own equanimity restored by the sight of his rival's foul mood, Draco smiled. Then he changed the smile. No one else was looking at him right now; Weasel had his head turned towards the side, and everyone else only had eyes for Potter. A public gesture between two people could be private under those circumstances.
He let the admiration and wonder he felt for what Potter had done shine through. He softened his smile and let the edge to it fade, and then he swept his eyes up and down Potter's body and sharpened it again.
Potter, who had been rather pale so far, stared at him with a tide of red rising in his cheeks. Then he ripped his gaze away from Draco and turned to another person who pushed her way through the crowd to him. Draco could see the relief running down Potter's spine like warm water as he dropped the bubble to let her through. She put her arms around Potter and laid her head, flame-red of course, on his shoulder.
The girl Weasley didn't appreciate what she had either, though, because after only a single brief embrace of Potter, she turned and started talking to the Weasel. And she wasn't scolding him. She was laughing with him!
She didn't care that that had been a stupid stunt for him to perform in the first place. She didn't care that Potter had been forced to act like a hero in public again, something he obviously hated. She just cared that it was a joke, and she accepted the Weasel's version of it without a qualm.
Draco shook—not that anyone standing near him, or even Potter, looking from a distance, could have noted it. This was purely a fine tremor that raced along the surface of his being and then dived beneath it, penetrating as deeply as his muscles.
He had thought that it would be fun and amusing to take Potter away from the Weaselette. Why not? He would shame her in response for her having shamed him, and it would be amusing to have Potter dangle like a bauble on a chain for a time before Draco cut the chain and let him plunge.
Now, seeing the speed and the skill and the power that Potter still had, and which the Weasleys failed to appreciate, now Draco was disgusted the way he would have been if he had seen someone smearing a fine art treasure with fingerprints. He had rescued several treasures like that from the clutch of unworthy owners already: beautiful pieces of blown glass a hundred years old, a coiled brass dragon that came to life and sang if one whistled the right notes to it, a painting of the Persecution of wizards by Muggles that showed the agony of the dying and the glory of the flames at the same time.
The Weasleys did not deserve to have Potter.
And Draco would make sure they knew they were the reason Potter was leaving them behind.
He moved forwards, slow and soft and heavy of foot as a stalking leopard.
Ginny kept one hand on Harry's shoulder as she spoke to Ron. There had been a minute when she was scared as she watched him go up, but she should have known better. This was Harry. He could be hurt, but not often. He was a skilled Auror. Saving people was what he did. Of course he was going to save Ron, and everything was going to be fine.
"And I reckon that you thought it would be a good idea to have Mum die early of a heart attack," she told her stupid brother.
Ron did look a little remorseful then, ducking his head while he blushed. "Yeah, I didn't think of that," he said. "But I really thought I could control the broom! It hasn't been that many years since I was up on one."
Ginny rolled her eyes, feeling Harry's shoulder tense under her hand. He would probably like to say some things to Ron, she knew, but when he got too angry, Ron simply stopped listening. It was better that Ginny try to bring her brother to some sense of what an idiot he'd been, since Hermione wasn't here. "And how long has it been since you were up on a professional Quidditch player's broom?" she asked with strained patience.
"Never," Ron said, giving her a look that clearly asked, What's your point?
Ginny shook her head. "You didn't think about those brooms being faster and stronger, and meant for a rougher game? Of course it's going to resist you if you don't control it well enough."
"Yes, it is," Harry said. "I had trouble controlling my own broom when I first started riding it up."
Ginny turned around to give him a grateful smile. That was the kind of thing that would make Ron think better of what he'd done. And he was doing it, if the way he scratched his neck and looked at the ground was any indication.
"Didn't think about that," he muttered. "Sorry, mate."
"Just don't do it again," Harry said, and clapped Ron on the back before he moved his arm off his shoulders. He was already turning as though he'd like to get under shelter. Ginny knew why. The first photographs had been snapped, and it wouldn't be long before the press got here.
Ginny froze when she heard that voice. She glanced over her shoulder, and sure enough, there was Malfoy, with a sneer on his face and dark amusement in his eyes.
Harry didn't acknowledge him, just clapped Ron on the shoulder again and got moving across the Pitch in the direction of the doors to the teams' changing rooms. So Ginny decided that she should ignore Malfoy, too. She followed Harry, her back stiff. But she didn't think that Malfoy would actually draw his wand and hex them in public.
She was almost certain.
Malfoy didn't have to speak the words loudly. They made Harry jerk to a halt as though someone had planted a stone wall in front of him. Ginny held back a sigh. Harry did still have that stupid sense of daring that used to get him into such trouble during school, sometimes. Imply that he was afraid, and you could almost do whatever you liked with him.
"No," Harry said, with his teeth grinding as he turned back around. "I'm interested in getting a shower because I sweated a lot getting Ron down. I'm sure that I must stink to someone with your refined sensibilities, Malfoy."
"You're no perfume, certainly." Malfoy drawled the words, and Ginny thought she sounded bored—until she took a look at his eyes, which were heavy-lidded and dark grey and as intense as Harry's got sometimes. "But you don't need to be. You aren't a perfume, and I don't require you to have the same qualities."
"What kind of qualities do you think I should have, then?" Harry was moving back towards Malfoy, his hand resting on his wand and his face massive and heavy with irritation, tempted into a fight after all. Ginny did sigh this time, and step between them. She trembled a bit under the gaze of hatred Malfoy gave her, then told herself it was understandable. Of course Malfoy would hate her for being able to interrupt the fight and so take away his chance of embarrassing Harry in public.
"It doesn't matter," she said, putting one hand on Harry's chest and leaning backwards. He hugged her automatically. That made Malfoy's eyes widen, and he slowly blushed. Ginny had no idea why. She didn't think she wanted to know. He was glaring with more hatred than ever. The blush couldn't mean anything good in combination with that. She turned and pressed her face against Harry's chest. "Let's go."
"Yes, let's," Harry said, his voice rough. He wrapped one arm around her, and she felt him kiss her hair.
Malfoy sucked in one harsh breath. Ginny had just emerged from Harry's embrace and started to walk beside him towards the edge of the Pitch when Malfoy spoke again, and this time his voice sparked and leaped with hatred, glowed and blazed with it.
"For someone who's not afraid of me, Potter, you do an excellent impression of it."
Harry stopped again. Ginny hoped she was the only one who could see the way his muscles trembled. He was trying hard not to respond. But he did turn his head around and spit at Malfoy across his left shoulder, "You wish."
"Not really," Malfoy said at once, so quickly that Ginny was sure he must have had the words ready. "What I wish for is your courage, your daring, your speed, your power." He paused a moment, and then added, his voice falling into so thick a silence there was no way it wasn't heard, "Your beauty."
Ginny closed her eyes in relief. That was a mistake, Malfoy. Harry hated being told he was beautiful.
"No, you don't," Harry said, in a voice so revolted that Ginny had to look up at him. She didn't recognize the expression on his face. Sure, he had looked scornful before when someone tried to compliment him, but never quite like this. If the compliment had been a physical thing, Ginny thought, he would have gripped it and thrown it back into Malfoy's face. "You really don't," Harry repeated, and pushed his fringe back to show his scar. "Imagine this cutting across your forehead, cutting you off from all semblance of a normal life. You don't want to look like that."
"Did I say that I wanted to look like you?" Malfoy ventured another step nearer. Ginny swallowed. She had the strangest impulse to push Harry off the field right now, though Malfoy was less dangerous than most of the opponents that Harry had fought as an Auror. "Of course not. I want to own your qualities."
Harry gave a single laugh that ended too soon. Ginny leaned even closer to him and gripped his arm. He didn't seem to notice, which told Ginny this was bigger than Malfoy now. Harry only laughed like that when he was wallowing in one of his moods of self-pity. "Yes, I know. Detach them from me and they would be perfect." He shook his head, his hair flying.
"They mean nothing without the man who comes along with them."
Malfoy's eyes were wide and—glowing, Ginny thought. Somehow. She wondered if he was mad. It would make sense of some of the things he was saying, which were things no one sane would say.
Harry's mouth fell open, and he stared in uneasy fascination. The longer the moment stretched, the more upset Ginny became, because it seemed as if Malfoy had made an offer of some kind and Harry was giving it serious consideration.
Then Harry laughed.
The sound fell on the atmosphere around them like cleansing rain. Ginny felt herself take a deep breath. Her grip on Harry became looser. Harry put an arm around her and laughed again into Malfoy's face. Malfoy's lips looked almost blue with frustration.
"Good one, Malfoy," Harry said. "But everyone knows what you're like, and there's no evidence to contradict the conclusion that you're being a bastard now." He nodded almost pleasantly and turned his back, walking away with Ginny.
Ginny scolded herself for hardly speaking a word during the confrontation. She should have. Malfoy acted as if he wanted to flirt with Harry, and Ginny had a right to resent that as Harry's fiancée.
Instead, she'd kept silent because—
She didn't know.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," Harry murmured into her ear. "God knows why I stood there listening to him as long as I did."
"Because you can be an idiot sometimes, Harry." Ron had caught up to them and was shaking his head, his eyes bright and amused. Ginny wondered if Ron noticed the way that Harry tensed and then relaxed. Probably not. Ginny was usually the only one privileged enough to notice things like that. Ron had already turned to her. "Where do you want to go eat?"
Ginny named the Three Broomsticks—it was distant enough from the Falcons' home field that there was unlikely to be a crowd—and off they went. There was plenty of laughter during the meal, and slapping of Ron by Hermione, who wasn't happy about the little dive he'd taken, and praise of Harry.
And yet, Harry sat silent, his eyes fastened on his mug more often than on the faces of the people around him, good friends and soon-to-be brothers-in-law and all.
Ginny was silent, too, watching him and wondering.
Draco stretched his arms and sighed. After an expert massage from one of the exclusive parlors in Knockturn Alley, the tension was finally gone from his back and shoulders.
A good thing, too. It had lingered there far longer than it should have, the product of Potter's laughter.
Draco was an intelligent man, however. He told himself to think back before the laughter, to the silence that had preceded it. What had he seen in Potter's eyes during those intense waiting, listening moments?
Revulsion, yes. It seemed that Draco's compliments had been spectacularly mistimed. Draco could understand why, since Potter had at first believed him to be speaking solely out of envy. He would have had enough of that in his daily life to choke an elephant.
But when Draco had said that he wanted the man who came along with those qualities, clearly implying that he believed Potter himself was intelligent, courageous, and beautiful—
Then the revulsion had changed, or at least become a background element only in the incredible picture of feelings that was Potter's eyes.
There was wonder there. Fascination. Surprise, as though Potter didn't get recognized for his qualities most of the time.
As much as Draco would have liked to spend time thinking about the attraction, he knew it was the surprise that would give him the key.
And he had ears. No matter how much Potter's laughter had discomposed him, he had listened to what had been said—and not said—as the Weasleys walked away with the man they, for now, had possession of.
Draco smiled at himself in the mirror and turned his head to the side. A small flick of his wand conjured an illusion of Potter standing beside him, and Draco admired how well that dark hair and deep green eyes complemented his own pale beauty.
Yes, he thought his next step would jolt Potter out of the rut it seemed he had fallen into, as well as providing a spectacular means of revenge on the Weasleys.
Ginny sighed and circled slowly down to the grass in front of their house, then pulled herself off the broom and began to do her stretching routine. Willa Tyneth, who she'd replaced as Seeker on the Holyhead Harpies, had told her that stretching was of the utmost importance. More professional players were injured as they grew older by soreness in their wrists and ankles than by anything else.
Besides, Ginny thought as she watched the muscles in her arms bunch and flex, and her legs extend in front of her, tremble, and then relax, if she watched her own motions, she might not think about Harry.
He'd acted distant for the last few days—and Ginny knew that he didn't have a stressful case, because she'd asked both him and Ron. It could be that he was upset and impatient with the wedding preparations; Merlin knew that Ginny didn't understand why they needed fifteen different kinds of flowers. But she was content to leave such things up to her mother. Her mother only had one daughter, who would only get married once. She deserved the right to indulge a little. Most of the time, she only contacted them to get their approval for her choices, and Ginny and Harry had learned early to nod and smile and do nothing else.
But still, Harry was moody and lay staring at the ceiling at night. Oh, he would close his eyes and breathe loudly when Ginny got into bed, but it wasn't as though she was fooled by that.
She sighed in deep relief when she picked up her broom and turned towards the house only to see him step through the door and glance around for her. It looked as though he was ready to tell her what was bothering him. Ginny ran up to him and kissed his chin. Harry grabbed her left hand and entwined their fingers.
"Hey," Harry said quietly. "Can you come with me and look at something?"
"Of course." Ginny pushed her wind-tangled curls out of her face. Her hair always frizzed up when she flew after a rain. She would have cut it, but since she wasn't going on tour again for four months and Harry liked it long, she let it grow.
Harry took her into the kitchen, breathing and swallowing constantly, the way he did when he was really nervous. "This arrived on Monday," he said. "I looked at it, and I had to look through it again and again before I could decide what to do about it."
Ginny understood when she saw the Pensieve on the table. Harry hated Pensieves, though when she asked him why, he only shrugged and said something about having seen something that upset him in one. He would have had to work up the courage to approach the memories before he could look.
Ginny never understood why, when he was so courageous over the much harder things he'd faced in the war, but it wasn't her place to get upset about it. She didn't like snakes, either, or bleeding things, after her adventure with Tom Riddle. And she'd never keep a diary again.
"I didn't know who sent it at first," Harry said. "There's only one memory, and I don't—" He shut his eyes and was still for a moment. "I couldn't understand why someone would want me to see it," he said with great care. "Of course, I do now."
"Who did send it?" Ginny leaned her broom against the wall and approached the Pensieve a bit more carefully than before. If it wasn't a friendly gift that Harry had been afraid of for no reason, as she'd assumed at first, then there might be almost anything in there.
Ginny paused, then folded her arms. "And you would believe anything that you saw in there? Why didn't you talk this over with me right away? Harry."
"Well, I didn't know at first," Harry said, his voice snappish. He leaned over her from behind, and Ginny lifted her shoulder coldly and turned away. But Harry didn't seem to notice. He just rearranged the Pensieve instead and pulled back. "Besides, Ginny, I know the signs of memories being tampered with. You know how many people try it when we request them to offer their memories as evidence."
Ginny sighed. "Yes, I know," she muttered. No matter how she looked at the Pensieve, it didn't seem any more ominous, so in the end she pulled it towards her and plunged her head in.
The bright colors of the "fall" into the memory swirled around her. Then they were gone, and she realized she was standing in Harry and Ron's office at the Ministry. Harry was out, though the steaming teacup on his desk said he'd probably only gone to use the loo. Ron was leaning back with his feet up on the desk, munching some of those greasy Muggle fish and chips Harry always would fetch for him from the nearest London shop. He was talking to a blonde Auror Ginny didn't recognize, who wore an amused expression on her face. The angle of the memory when Ginny first landed in it showed that Malfoy must have stood behind the door into the corridor and listened.
Eavesdropper, Ginny thought with a frown, and then listened to what Ron was saying. Malfoy had probably sent this as blackmail or something.
"Well, the truth is that he hasn't done much since the war," Ron told the other Auror. He paused to take a bite, and the grease ran down his hands and onto the red stubble he was growing into a not-very-successful beard. Ginny rolled her eyes. "He only does as much work as anyone else, but of course the papers aren't going to report it that way, because he's Harry Potter, see?" Ron took another bite and went on talking with his mouth full. "To tell you the truth, I think he's a bit slow sometimes. Could be he took one too many curses in the war." He leaned confidingly close to the blonde woman, who watched him the way she would a frog that had hopped across her path. "I do a lot of the thinking around here."
The Auror tried to conceal a laugh, but only succeeded in turning it into a yawn instead. "Of course you do," she said, and started drifting towards the door.
"Yeah," Ron said, staring hungrily at her. Ginny wanted to roll her eyes again. This was the kind of flirting that would get him into trouble with Hermione, though Hermione also knew that Ron truly loved her and wouldn't ever stray from her side. Ginny didn't know why it had upset Harry so much, though. "And I'm braver than you ever expected, too. I was the one who held off that wizard calling himself the Render until Harry could kill him."
Ginny snorted. Ron had "held off" the Render by acting as his hostage until Harry could cast the right curse.
But Ron was brave and intelligent on his own, and when the worst happened, he had always been Harry's best friend. Ginny couldn't see why Harry was putting so much stock in what Malfoy had seen.
"I think I hear my partner calling me," the blonde Auror said firmly, and ducked out the door. Ron sighed gustily and picked up his own teacup, flexing his arm and looking at the muscles as if he was using them for comfort.
The memory dissolved. Ginny found herself standing back in the kitchen, blinking, while Harry hovered next to her.
"Did you hear what he said?" he demanded.
"But he says things like that all the time," Ginny said. She put her hand on Harry's chin and held his face still so that she could look up at him. She didn't understand the anguish in his eyes. "He always says things like that, and he knows that it's bollocks as much as you do. If it really bothers you, why haven't you said anything about it before now?"
"I don't know," Harry said. His hand was curled into a sharp shape that made Ginny think he was going to reach for his wand in a minute, and that frightened her. Harry was overreacting to what Ron had said by so much that she started to wonder if someone had hit him with a Confundus Charm before he left work today. "But I think I've heard it too much lately. Everyone seems to think it's fun to joke that I'm stupid."
"We don't—I don't mean it," Ginny said. She wanted to say that Ron didn't mean it, either, but she'd just said that, and Harry didn't seem to be paying attention. She stepped close to Harry and wrapped her arms around him. "Harry. It's only stupid teasing." She spoke lightly, running her hands up and down his sides. "What does it matter next to your friendship? The friendship that's lasted for eleven years? The work you do together as Auror partners? It doesn't matter. I can't figure out why you're letting it affect you so much."
Harry took a deep breath and held it. Ginny recognized it as one of his calming techniques, so she didn't squeeze him or insist on an answer. She kept up her tender stroking and kept her opinion that Harry had overreacted to herself.
Why was he even listening to Malfoy? He'd heard what the man had said to him at the demonstration match, and he must have seen the glare of hatred that Malfoy gave her. It was perfectly obvious that he was trying to split them up because he hated Ginny and her family and wanted to hurt Harry. Harry wouldn't have paid attention to most other Slytherins who had done the same thing.
Because Malfoy commands his attention, Ginny reluctantly answered herself. Maybe it was only because Harry had played Quidditch opposite Malfoy or because Malfoy had so persistently teased him in school, but Harry didn't have the maturity he should have had that would let him ignore the taunts like this Pensieve. It was as if part of him was perpetually eleven years old, listening for the whispers that his school rival would give on the other side of the room or waiting for the thrown nettle to splash into his cauldron.
"I don't know," Harry whispered at last, and then he was laughing and shaking his head the way he had after Malfoy insulted him last week and Ginny could relax. They were getting married in a fortnight. This was the man she was going to marry, not that tense, silent stranger. "I don't know," Harry repeated, and kissed the top of her head. "You're right. One moment of saying I'm stupid isn't who Ron is. He came back after the locket. He was the one who hit it with the Sword of Gryffindor and the one who saved my life when I plunged into that pond. I have to remember that."
"Yes, you do," Ginny said, releasing him with a slight push. "Go make me something to eat. I'm starving."
Harry gave her a small, sly smile. "I already Apparated to the Three Broomsticks and got food from there," he said. "I thought we'd probably want to eat in tonight." And then he bent down and kissed her, long and slow so that Ginny shivered and her lungs ached.
They didn't make love, as it happened, but they leaned together on the couch and talked about Hogwarts and the wedding and Quidditch and how many children they wanted to have, and that was almost as good.