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Part X. Dolphin
Sporting in their joy.
Harry shook his head. The Daily Prophet hadn't waited. There was a special afternoon edition, and they'd received it immediately, as if the Prophet's owners had told the owl to fly to Malfoy Manor first.
"Draco won't like this, will he?" he asked Lucius, who sat on the other side of the table, over a demolished late lunch. Harry found that hard to understand. He was sure Lucius had spent most of the meal reading the paper or watching him, not eating. And yet when he glanced at the table, the food had vanished, bit by bit: delicate eggs, tiny sandwiches, roasted meat of a kind Harry didn't recognize but which could make his mouth water with just the memory of it now, small fruits like red plums. Harry knew he had eaten some of it, but surely not that much.
He wondered uneasily if he should be getting so used to the luxury that surrounded Lucius every waking moment. It was one thing for Lucius, who had lots of money and didn't mind spending it, but Harry didn't want to become pampered, spoiled, or soft. And of course there would be people who accused Lucius of buying him for a few Galleons.
Harry wished irritably that the world outside the walls of the Manor didn't exist, and that they could simply go back to being lovers—that no one cared.
"Why does it matter to you what Draco likes?" Lucius looked up, and his eyes were direct in a way that made Harry remember their talk about possessiveness from that morning. "He is not your lover."
Harry paused. "I know," he said. "But I think I mentioned earlier that I'd like to learn to get along with him."
"He will not respect a desire for reconciliation," Lucius said, folding up the paper with neat motions of his hands. Harry watched his fingers in fascination. Once, it would have occurred to him to compare Lucius's fingers to spiders' legs. Now he didn't think he'd found the right metaphor for their slender grace. "He will respect only commands."
Harry shook his head. "From you, yes. But I think he'd resent that all the more from me. I need to make peace with him."
Lucius's face said clearly what he thought of that desire.
"Listen." Harry leaned forwards and put his elbows on the table, then took them off again. It wasn't even Lucius's glare; it was the beginnings of a glare so freezing that Harry didn't think he wanted to see the whole thing. "I know you raised him a certain way. You're his father. You'll always be a part of his life, no matter what. But he sees me right now as just a replacement for his mother. I can't become more than that if I try to take the same position that you would towards him."
Lucius's eyes stirred like silver aspens bending with the wind. Then he said, "Go on."
"That's it, really." Harry offered him a one-shouldered shrug and a quick smile. "This is another reason I never became a political leader. I'm bad at speeches. But I do think that you can't expect him to just roll over and adapt. He doesn't have that in him, or he would never have tried to kill you."
Lucius considered this, face like icy marble. Harry waited again, more confident now that he was learning how to handle Lucius. It wouldn't do to just refer him to abstract principles, because he would see no reason for obeying them. But show him practical results—in this case, that treating Draco like a child or a servant hadn't worked—and he was inclined to listen.
"Very well," Lucius said. "I expect him to be released within a week. Normally it would be much faster, but with you involved and the crime attempted murder, they will hold him for longer. When he comes home, I will arrange a meeting between him and you, if you wish it."
Harry waited, but Lucius didn't add one more rider that he thought important. "A private meeting," he finally prompted.
Lucius gave him a soft smile. "What a curious idea," he said. "What made you think you would get one?"
Harry looked around for an apple core to throw. Of course, there was nothing left; though the red fruits had looked like plums, they didn't leave stones. He wondered if Lucius had planned that on purpose.
Abruptly, Lucius jerked in his seat as though someone had snared him on a fishhook and turned. He was staring at the wall with such an intense frown that Harry turned to look at it, too, but all he could see was plain wood.
"Bell!" Lucius called, and the house-elf Harry remembered serving their wine from last night appeared, bowing.
"There is being an angry Weasley at the gate," Bell said, with a tone in his voice that said nothing like this had ever happened in his time, when Weasleys knew their place. "His red hair is being very bright and his voice is very loud."
Harry sighed and stood. "Ron saw the article," he said. "And—well, I reckon he didn't think we'd announce it like this."
Lucius nodded and rose. "Give me a moment to dress," he said, "and I will come with you."
Harry blinked, wondering what it meant that he had entirely forgotten Lucius was naked, and then shook his head. "I really should meet with him alone."
"I truly don't know where you get the impression that I would permit such things," Lucius murmured, and stepped into his closet. "I am involved in this, as much a part of our hunting pair as you are. I should have a say."
Harry opened his mouth, then shut it and bowed his head. He couldn't tell if it was the truth in Lucius's voice or the words "hunting pair," which at once dazzled and enchanted him, that made him be quiet.
Weasley stood waiting for them in the entrance hall, his arms folded and his frown the most prominent thing on his face, more noticeable even than the ruddy hair. Lucius raised his eyebrows and wondered what it meant that he had noticed the frown first and begun to think of ways in which he could mitigate the consequences that he knew this confrontation would have for Harry.
Then he began to smile. He knew the reason. To deny it would have been as ridiculous as pretending that a piece of canvas smeared with rotting fruit was the same as an accomplished painting, the way that some of the wizarding artists more influenced by Muggles were wont to do.
Harry took a step in front of him as they came down the stairs, apparently assuming he must be an aegis. Lucius rested a hand on his shoulder and enjoyed the way Harry's skin sheathed his muscles as he murmured, "He cannot harm me unless I will it. Not here."
"That's not the only thing I'm worried about," Harry murmured, tilting his head to the side and giving Lucius's fingers a swift kiss like the peck of a sparrow's beak. Then he returned to leading the way down the staircase.
Lucius followed without protest, filling his nostrils with the scent rising from the back of Harry's neck and his eyes with the way that Weasley set his jaw.
Weasley didn't deign to say anything until they were standing before him, and even then he looked them over for several moments, as if the Imperius Curse he doubtless feared left some visible trace behind, before he looked at Harry. "I thought you'd let me have some notice before going public," he breathed.
Harry tried to wince, but Lucius had already dropped his hands to Harry's sides, fingers splayed out and resting over Harry's ribs. He held him straight, and Harry sighed as if Lucius's hands were teaching him how to breathe and responded, "I planned to let you know, too. That was an impulsive move."
Weasley rocked to the side and turned to face Lucius more squarely, apparently deciding that he knew where the blame should fall.
"No," Harry said quickly. "Lucius might have made the decision, but I could have pushed him away or issued a retraction, if I wanted to. I want—other things, Ron. And although I wanted to tell you and Hermione first, I'm not sorry that this happened."
Weasley bared his teeth in an almost abstract snarl, the kind a lion might use when far away from the rest of its pride and wondering if it could take on the massed horns of its prey, Lucius thought. "Why don't you sit down and explain exactly what happened and what you were hoping to achieve, then?"
Harry glanced about helplessly. Lucius took charge—however familiar Harry might become with his house in time, it was not yet his home—and led them into one of the receiving rooms he kept for guests from the Ministry. Its chilly blue and crystal décor would persuade Weasley not to linger.
Harry settled into a chair. Lucius thought about taking up the position behind his shoulder that he had used with Burne-Jones, but that seemed to inspire challenges in viewers with Gryffindor mindsets, and it was more useful to get along with Harry's intimate friends. He sank into a couch covered with the luxury of leather—though it would look like blue cloth to a casual glance—and watched from under half-closed eyelids as Weasley accepted a chair not far from Harry's feet, and cut the distance between them even more by leaning forwards.
Lucius flexed his fingers, imagining they had claws, but Weasley's tone didn't seem to offend Harry. He nodded and said, "I didn't know that I would end up dating Lucius. I'd spoken to him several times about different matters, and we talked a lot in public, too." He glanced at Lucius, and his mouth was soft, the skin about it golden. "I don't know if I could dignify what we did by the name of 'flirting.'"
"You could not," Lucius said, "for I never meant it so lightly."
Harry drew in a breath that softened his mouth still further, and faced Weasley. "Then Draco attacked. We didn't plan that at all. But I knew it would create a link between us, and I think that I decided we might as well come out now as later. The kiss in front of the photographers was all Lucius's contribution to the master plan, though." He folded his hands behind his head and tilted a lazy foot at Lucius, handing over the responsibility.
Weasley refused to pursue the hint and turn towards Lucius, who was already tuning his throat to speak Lion. Instead, he remained fixated on Harry. "You think? You didn't make a conscious decision?"
"Not really," Harry said. "A bit hard, what with all the good hormones buzzing through my blood."
Weasley put out a hand to support himself on the back of the chair, not seeming to remember that he was already sitting down. Then he looked wildly at Lucius. Lucius was not sure what Weasley expected to see on his face, but he met Weasley's glance with a resigned one. He had got used to Harry's propensity for drama and making large events of small ones. It made sense that his friends were not much different.
"You didn't," Weasley said in an awed voice, but it wasn't immediately obvious which one of them he was talking to. Harry seemed to take it as addressed to him, and nodded.
"Yeah," he said. "You were right about one thing, mate. That vow I made never to date or sleep with anyone else again was stupid, and Ginny wouldn't have wanted me to make it."
Weasley just went on looking at Lucius. Then he said, "And, to make this clear, you didn't mean to embarrass Harry or take advantage of his fame by dating him, did you?"
"What would be the point of that?" Lucius asked, and tried not to look down his nose as this arrogant young man who did not understand the value of beauty. Looking down his nose was expected, and Lucius had discovered that he liked bathing in the waters of the unexpected. "I do not like the color his skin flushes when he is embarrassed, unless he is so because of my words or the glance of my hand alone. And I have enough fame to support my line in comfort until the end of time."
Harry flushed, and Lucius looked at him, not bothering to hide his contentment from Weasley. This was proof of his theory.
Weasley shook his head several times and then screwed a finger into his ear. Lucius made sure to be looking elsewhere when he dragged it out. Earwax was a color that could spoil his mood for several hours.
"I never thought Lucius Malfoy would be the one to bring you out of your funk, mate," Weasley said to Harry, with a tenderness in his voice that Lucius knew better than to be jealous of and therefore could appreciate for its harmonics. "I didn't even know that you liked men, or that you would be all right with being in front of the cameras as much as this'll make you be."
Harry flushed again and looked up at Weasley. "I didn't know that either. I promise." He reached out and touched Lucius's forearm, fingers sinking into the cloth of his robe as if that would make the moment more real. "I would have tried to warn you, if I knew."
Weasley smiled. Lucius sought out the position of his wand, and realized that it was still in his robe pocket. "Hermione will still want to talk with you, but I don't really believe that he could have manipulated you into accepting this somehow, given how strong you are," Weasley said. The words had a simplicity to them that pleased Lucius, and he wondered idly, as Weasley rose to his feet, if his mother had not had an affair with someone other than Arthur, to give him that iota of grace. "And you look happy," Weasley added, in a tone of faint awe. "I don't remember the last time I really saw that."
"Me, either," Harry said. "I didn't know that anyone could make me that way." He turned his head, and the words Lucius might have spoken were silenced by the sheer gleam of his eyes.
Lucius had looked at jewelry and leaned away, unimpressed, before. He had compared Harry's eyes to jewels. That now felt ignorant. Jewels did not command one's attention in the way that Harry's gaze did. He meant to say something more to Weasley, but he looked back, enchanted, and forgot the words.
"That's what I was waiting for," Weasley said. Before Lucius could ask him what he meant, he had left the room, and Bell was escorting him out with many loud warnings about not touching any of the Malfoy heirlooms.
"What did he mean, there at the last?" Lucius asked, and did his best to sound as haughty as Harry would have doubtless expected him to. But it was hard to maintain the pose in the face of Harry's intensity as he stood up, came forwards, and knelt down next to Lucius's legs.
When Lucius did not even feel superior with Harry on his knees, he knew that this enchantment had gone deeper than normal.
"That he wanted to see I could make you speechless," Harry said, and leaned forwards to kiss along the side of Lucius's thigh. Lucius half-shut his eyes. It was as though he wore no cloth and Harry's lips brushed bare skin to bare skin. A moment later, that became true, as Harry gently pried aside his robes and his trousers in the same motion. "I used to do the same thing to Ginny all the time. I think he's reassured we aren't going to hurt each other now."
"Good of him to be concerned about me," Lucius said. The words withered away into a gasp. Harry rubbed his nose delicately against Lucius's knee and pulled his clothes off with slow, deliberate movements, so that even the inevitable awkwardness as they tangled around his ankles did not distress him.
"He knows that hurting my lover would hurt me," Harry said with his own kind of devastating simplicity, and trailed his tongue over Lucius's cock. Lucius closed his eyes and let his breath out slowly. Not seeing it did not diminish the warmth of Harry's tongue, of course, or the way he cupped it around the head of Lucius's erection.
For long moments, lapping was the only sound that filled the room. Lucius could not hear his breathing or heartbeat under the hum of his own anticipation. He opened his eyes when Harry ceased contact with him, though.
Harry was looking at him with eyes that reminded Lucius of a siren's he had once seen when he was on holiday in Greece. The siren had watched him out of the water, wild and wanting but not quite daring to come closer, and Lucius would have feared the same from Harry, except that his fingers flexed open and shut again, in rhythm with his breath, on Lucius's kneecap.
"Beautiful," Harry said, and then lowered his head.
Lucius wanted to seize and guide Harry's head, but it was a vulgar instinct, one he refused to give into. Instead, he reached out with one hand and trailed his fingers along Harry's face, pausing so that he could touch himself through the skin of Harry's cheek. Harry gasped and sucked even more eagerly, pushing Lucius's cock back and forth with his tongue and palate, his breath stuttering and shivering and creating a delicious brush of coolness along Lucius's skin every now and again.
Before the end, Lucius had shut his eyes and slumped low over the couch, his legs spread, and his hips had begun to thrust as he listened to the slippery sounds Harry's mouth made.
When the end arrived, Lucius drew a long breath that he ended up exhaling again, because he couldn't fit it comfortably in his mouth. He tilted his head back and resisted the temptation to flop about like a landed fish. He could do better than that—he could—
He could come.
Lucius was sure he twitched as the last spasms played themselves out, and he opened his eyes expecting to find more than a trace of mockery on Harry's face.
Instead, Harry was looking up at him with an awed expression, as if he had never seen something that mattered so much before, and touching the corner of his mouth with fingers that explored his lips and the taste Lucius had so clearly left behind.
"I didn't know if I would like the taste," he said, as though considering. "But I do."
What was there for Lucius to do after that but to bear him to the floor, push his clothes aside, and take Harry in his mouth?
He could not match Harry's innocence and charming simplicity, and he would have been a fool if he tried. Instead, he worked his mouth open and held it around the head of Harry's cock until Harry was sobbing and bucking; then he closed his lips down and slid them slowly up, or down, or both. Harry did not seem to care much about the direction, if the way his hands gripped at air was any indication.
Harry whimpered his name and thrashed with one leg. Lucius moved out of the way and decided that he would not mention the bruise he had sustained on his jaw later. Everyone deserved a chance to have a blowjob like the one Lucius was giving and not be scolded for their inevitable reactions.
His world narrowed down to the pleasure he was giving, the pleasure Harry was almost suffering, if the way he arched his back and cried out desperately told the truth. Indeed, at one point he began to utter incoherent pleas for Lucius to back away or finish him. Lucius paid no attention, and continued the slow, stalking rhythm of a predator teaching its partner to hunt.
Harry gave plenty of warning that he was about to come. He yanked at Lucius's hair and panted and opened flaring eyes that saw nothing of the world about him. Then he murmured, "You can—I'm going to—"
Lucius kept his mouth in place. While he did not always enjoy the taste of a partner's orgasm, the intense desire to make Harry lose what he was clutching so tightly, the experience of a life of celibacy, would have inspired him to much greater feats of endurance.
Harry sang a paean to the ceiling as he came, his voice unexpectedly beautiful against the background of the squeaks and rubbing motions his thrusting body made. Lucius swallowed it all, except for a dollop that he leaned over to share with Harry in an open-mouthed kiss. Harry moaned in a broken voice and reached up to touch Lucius's hair with a limp hand that said he had no strength for anything else.
"I didn't know anything could make me feel that much," Harry said, and curled up next to Lucius without opening his eyes. Lucius shifted him and half-carried, half-propelled him towards the stairs. Sleeping in the middle of the day was a properly decadent thing to do, but one should not do it on the floor.
"You have not had the experience before?" Lucius made sure to keep his voice calm and concerned, with none of the almost vicious pleasure he felt. It did not seem that Harry could have reached the age of twenty-nine without someone sucking him off, but it was true that there were some things sexual partners simply did not like to do.
Harry fluttered his eyes open with what looked like a massive effort of will and pointed a finger vaguely at Lucius. With solicitous care, Lucius caught the finger and rearranged it so that it was pointing the right way.
"Don't be ridiculous," Harry slurred. Sleep hunted him so fast that Lucius did not think his body would reach the bed before it reached his brain. "Ginny did it, of course. But I've never had one from you. And it wasn't my favorite thing when she did it. And it's been seven years. And I'm tired of talking," he added with a magnificent lack of care that was perhaps the first casual thing Lucius had noticed about him, and collapsed.
Luckily, the bed was beneath him. Lucius would not have fancied carrying him farther. He spread out Harry's limbs, and in the meantime, Harry snored with his mouth open and his eyes tightly shut, the motion of the eyelids indicating the dart of dreams. Lucius shut Harry's mouth and removed the rest of his own clothing, crawling into bed beside him.
It occurred to him, as he pillowed Harry's head with his arm and Harry's body with his chest, that Harry might never use the rooms in his own wing if this kept up.
Bell will be glad that he does not have another place to clean, Lucius decided, and shut his eyes.
"We should venture out some time, you know," Harry said, over their morning breakfast of fresh oranges and bread covered with delicately melted butter.
Lucius nodded to him. The Daily Prophet had carried vague, buzzing rumors of a disturbance that morning, and Harry had suggested going out to see what it was about, but Lucius did not seem convinced that anything worthwhile lay beyond the walls of Malfoy Manor. He buttered another piece of bread and ate it.
"I thought this change in the wizarding world was what you wanted," Harry persisted, leaning forwards and staring hard at Lucius. No one could look that lazy and self-indulgent unless he practiced it. "Don't you at least want to see what it entails?"
Lucius reached out without looking at him—he was still studying his plate as though it was keeping at least one secret of the universe from him—and stroked down the side of Harry's knee. Harry shivered and resisted the temptation to simply tilt his head back and give in to it. It felt too good, and they'd done a lot of shagging these past few days. He took Lucius's fingers in his and squeezed hard enough to get his attention, though not hard enough to hurt.
He thought. The look Lucius gave him, like light reflecting off icebergs, made him reconsider that assessment.
I will not let him always rule me. Harry maintained his steady gaze until Lucius said, "Yes, I wish to see what is happening. But I must consider the best vantage point. There is little to be gained from simply taking to the streets and assuming that we will see Change embody itself in one pair of eyes or hands."
"Of course not," Harry said. "But I hardly think Malfoy Manor is the best seat, either."
Lucius raised their joined hands to his mouth so that he could kiss Harry's fingers, eyes so warm Harry blinked. He had seen plenty of heat in them lately, and of course coolness was long familiar, but warmth was new.
"But such a comfortable one," Lucius murmured, and he reached out to touch Harry again, his free hand moving with intent.
"Not open," Harry said, catching that one, too, and folding it into a complex pattern as he stroked his fingers and palm over the back of it. "Not able to give us views of what's happening at a distance."
Lucius cocked his head with the air of a Seer examining multiple possibilities in his head. "I have a pool that one of my ancestors once used for scrying," he began.
Harry laughed. "Git." Lucius sat up in his chair, as if he were as surprised by the teasing as Harry was by his ability to tease him, but Harry flowed smoothly past that momentary hitch and spoke on. "Why don't we go to Diagon Alley? We'll gauge the mood there. I've been able to do that fairly often."
Lucius's gaze was a glittering sweep of light from beneath lowered lashes. "Our presence was a catalyst for the change once before. It may become so again if the crowd sees you."
"I've given up thinking that I can somehow achieve a neutral position that doesn't influence anyone." Harry admired the lines of the tendons in Lucius's wrist, the taut pale skin that bore an old, ring-shaped scar. He wondered idly what punishment Lucius had inflicted on the enemy who gave him that scar. He hoped it was long-lasting. "The minute I started to rebel against the Ministry, I prepared the way for something like this to happen." He released Lucius's hands and leaned back in his chair to see how he would take that.
Lucius remained immobile for a moment, staring at him, neck turned sideways so that he looked like a serpent startled by unfamiliar music. Then he said, "I had wondered when you would admit and become comfortable with your own power."
"Admitting is a long way from comfort." Harry shook his head. "But you've taught me that this changeless forever I thought I was building, where I did nothing but advise artists, give the worthy ones money, and mourn Ginny, was a fool's dream."
"What would cause comfort with your power?" Lucius was the one who took Harry's hand this time, turning it over. He touched the center of Harry's palm with one finger, but didn't begin tracing any of the lines there, thank Merlin. Harry found it hard to concentrate enough to hold a serious conversation when he did that.
Harry shut his eyes to block out the distracting sight of those hungry expressions, and thought with as much patience as he could muster. Lucius moved his finger an inch, and then stopped again. Harry shook his head. "It would be easier if you would stop distracting me."
"I am—disturbed—to hear the way I touch you demoted to the status of a distraction," Lucius murmured, and moved his finger another inch.
"Git," Harry said again, without breath behind it.
"The Minister will ask you harder questions than that," Lucius said. "So will the press. You must be prepared to answer them while their camera flashes are exploding in your face and they are watching you eagerly for every sign of a weakness." His finger slipped again, and Harry almost could have believed that he was doing it accidentally, so calm and proud were his words. "Think of this as training."
"And it doesn't demote you to become training?" Harry's eyes fluttered. He could feel his breath hitching in his chest as though it belonged to another person.
"Not when I choose it," Lucius said. "Answer me." He leaned nearer, and his breath whispered hotly, hypnotically, over Harry's earlobe. "When would cause you to be comfortable with the power you wield?"
"Not compliments," Harry said; it was like a breath of air gasped in the middle of drowning. He sought to sharpen and focus his mind, to think about what Lucius was saying and not merely react to it, but it was nearly impossible. "You gave me those already, and they couldn't convince me that I was beautiful, so they couldn't convince me of something like this."
"You are like a creature from the stars," Lucius said at once, voice as warm and serious as honey, "shining in my drawing room."
Harry laughed and broke free, drawing back his hands to hold them in front of him. He opened his eyes to see Lucius staring at him in frank bewilderment. "I told you," Harry said, grinning at him, "no compliments. I think my childhood left me immune to them, and good riddance."
Lucius studied him for a moment. His hands had already retreated to his sides, as if he thought they would look more ridiculous the longer they remained out from his body. Then he nodded and said, "Because people paid you so many compliments in your childhood that you learned to distrust those people and their motives."
Harry kept his smile in place, but felt his conscience squirm behind the mask. That was not exactly the truth. It was the Dursleys who had made him uncertain and wary when people tried to praise him, and certain that they only waited something else.
But it wasn't lying to let Lucius believe he was correct. Not lying openly, at least. Lying by omission was different. And he didn't think that he was quite ready to try and explain the Dursleys to Lucius.
Harry didn't expect pity from him. He expected a more silent and fiercer protectiveness, and perhaps an attempt to kill the Dursleys. That could be its own problem.
"Of course," he said.
Lucius returned to the problem they were trying to solve as if this small interlude between them hadn't occurred. "What do you suggest we do, if not remain in the Manor? We have already gone to the Minister, and doing now could give him more legitimacy in the eyes of those who follow you than we want him to have. We cannot go to make a speech, since you will not become the leader of the forces you have stirred up."
There was a tone of disapproval in those last words, like too much chocolate in a biscuit, that Harry intended to ignore. "I had something else in mind," he said. "Walk into the middle of Diagon Alley and see how long it takes them to notice us."
Lucius waited, and when Harry said nothing else, his eyebrows rose slowly. "I am sorry," he said. "I thought you had something in mind, not a bit of hot air."
"I do," Harry said. "We go and see what will happen if we appear in public. I don't think we can get a good idea at all, remaining here and reading the articles in the paper and not influencing the course that things take." He paused when he saw Lucius's eyes darken with satisfaction and hastily corrected himself, "I mean, be part of events. I meant what I said about not wanting to be a leader or control them."
"You could be so much more powerful than you are now," Lucius said softly, lounging in place as he examined Harry with bright eyes. "Do you know that? You could call the dance. And if you did not want the negative publicity that often comes along with being perceived in a position of power, you would not have to have it. I could ensure that you had a position worthy of your talents that no one would know about."
Harry shuddered. He felt as though he had been picking his way through deep drifts of snow and had finally emerged into a house with a warm fire, only to realize that the flames came from a funeral pyre.
"I don't want anything like that, Lucius," he said firmly. "Never. Do you understand me?"
Lucius waited for some time, as if the seconds passing by made Harry more likely to change his mind and not less. Then he inclined his head and gave a slow nod, almost approving. "I understand," he said. "I will not try to obtain one for you."
Harry understood the spark in his eyes, the bite behind his words. I will not try, but if you should happen to come to one on your own, because the crowd wants to honor you, and I have nothing to do with it…
Harry sighed and ignored the silent addition to that promise. "I think we should venture out and see how our presence reshapes the currents. Who talks to us, who avoids us, what happens if we're seen."
"But that is a good plan," Lucius said, sitting up and looking at him with surprise. "I would have agreed to that the moment you proposed it."
Harry rolled his eyes.
Lucius prepared himself carefully for his public appearance. For one thing, beauty stunned people more often than Harry realized, changed their perceptions and manipulated them without a word being spoken. Lucius had the feeling that he would have to get used to more nonverbal manipulation now that he was with Harry, who might frown on the lies of omission and the meaningful silences that Lucius often used to deflect conversations and minds where he wanted them to go.
There were other reasons to do this, of course, Lucius thought, staring into the mirror as he used a fine grey ribbon to bind his hair back. The crowd expected him to be aloof and poised, just as they expected Harry to act heroic. Confusing them now, when they were in a volatile state, was not a good idea. Lucius and Harry were already asking them to accept that the Chosen One and a Death Eater could be lovers. That was enough strangeness. They had to sweeten the impression with one of familiarity.
So. A ribbon in his hair, sleek dragonhide boots, pale robes the color of a mourning dove's breast. Lucius studied himself critically in the mirror and finally nodded, approving the overall effect. He straightened the hang of one corner of the robe and then turned and walked to the door.
Harry met him there in casual robes, a rusty black that Lucius thought he must have worn many times before. Yes, now that he thought about it, Harry had even worn it to art exhibitions on occasion, though usually the ones where he did not seem to expect to receive either stares or challenges.
"Ready?" Harry asked, and then caught sight of Lucius. He broke into a smile of pure appreciation. "I see you are."
Lucius would not have called himself vain; he knew exactly how beautiful he was, and he could manipulate the perceptions of that beauty in others' minds, while maintaining a calmness that defeated all their compliments. But he turned his head now before he thought about it and allowed Harry to see the clean lines of his throat and shoulder; he tilted his head to the side and let his hair slide down.
Harry made a small hungry noise in the back of his throat, and Lucius hoped that he might lose control of himself after all. But though he reached up and pushed Lucius's hair back longingly, he shook his head as though responding to someone in his head and said, "We don't have time. I wish we did."
"Time for what?" Lucius inquired archly.
Harry gave him a sharp look. "I know that you try to cause that impression on purpose, and it doesn't suit you to play dumb," he said. "But if we fuck, then I'll just want to sleep, and it might be another day or two before we get to Diagon Alley and station ourselves where we can be seen. I think we've hesitated enough already."
Lucius managed to keep from twitching as though he had a spider on his shoulder, but it was a near thing. He had never had a lover as frank as Harry, and the lack of softened words to describe what happened in the bedroom was another strangeness for him to grow used to—along with the fact that Harry still did not seem to believe in his beauty, which Lucius had gone to such great lengths to show him.
"As you will," Lucius murmured submissively now. Only a fool would mistake it for true submission, and Harry eyed him warily as Lucius reached up and laid a hand on his arm. "Are you ready to lead me forth?"
"You can bloody well lead yourself forth," Harry muttered, but he hooked his hand through Lucius's arm, as Lucius had wished, and they left the Manor together.
Harry found himself taking deep breaths as they strolled down the middle of Diagon Alley, parading without making it look as though they paraded. The air was thick, choked with invisible fog, which invaded the mouth and held the breath back. Harry had never been in the Alley when it was so tense; he didn't remember even the height of the war being like this.
And yet, "tense" was the wrong word. People didn't duck furtively in and out of shops as if afraid of being seen offering their business to the "wrong kind;" they walked down the middle of the street with their heads at haughty angles and their eyes bold. Harry found more people nodding to him like an equal than he had had in a month before.
(Lucius bristled each time that happened, but all Harry had to do was rest his palm on the ends of Lucius's hair, and that stopped. Harry was not entirely sure if that was because Lucius liked the touch or suspected that Harry might pull his perfectly arranged braid out of alignment, and frankly he didn't care).
He and Lucius found a wall to lean against, and waited. Harry thought the fog had lessened after a few minutes, or perhaps he had just grown used to breathing it.
The one thing he was certain of was that their presence was causing comment.
Eyes came to them, retreated, and came to them again. Wizards young enough to be in Hogwarts stared openly, and once or twice Harry saw one of them start towards him with a determined face, as if to ask whether he knew that he had a Death Eater on his arm, but each time one of their friends hauled them away. Others looked primarily at Harry and shook their heads, or paused and seemed to consider with various degrees of openness what this strange alliance meant.
Risa Turner came out of a shop, her arms full of packages, and caught Harry's eye. Immediately she made a sharp turn and marched up to him. Harry smiled in spite of himself. Risa had never let things with small names like "propriety" worry her.
"There you are," she said. "I had thought I'd see you at my studio before now."
"I've been busy," Harry said. He took a risk then—a risk primarily because Lucius had stiffened beside him and seemed barely able to control his disdain in the presence of a Muggleborn artist. "I've learned to make art of my own."
Risa leaned forwards at once. "What field? What kind of brushes have you taken up? I would recommend Fourier's for hands as delicate as yours, but I bet you haven't used them." She looked at Harry's nails. "Or penetrated far, or you would have begun to discolor your hands."
Harry tried, and, he thought, mostly succeeded to keep from laughing at "penetrated." "Mine is the art of sculpting souls," he said, and drew Lucius forwards. "I'm sure that you remember Lucius Malfoy."
"He destroyed a painting he didn't like," Risa said with unexpected grimness. Harry couldn't remember her telling that story. "It might have been ugly, but even Marsha Tennor's paintings have a right to exist." She looked at Lucius and then away again, as if she had seen a dog urinating in the middle of the street.
Harry winced. He hadn't anticipated this collision of personalities at all, and he didn't know what would happen next. Perhaps Lucius could keep from alienating her, but to do that, he would have to care about her opinion.
Then Harry felt the way Lucius bore down on his arm, and realized there was another possibility.
Or he has to care about what I think.
"Forgive me, madam," Lucius murmured. "I destroyed the painting not because I didn't like it, but because it violated aesthetic standards."
"Whose?" Risa glared at him. "Yours?"
"The standards of the viewer are, or should be, the standards of the painter," Lucius said, and launched straight into a lecture as if he'd been anticipating this conversation. Harry knew it was not so, and that his mind merely worked that fast. Harry pressed close to his side, proud to be with him. "The artist does not leave her painting confined in a room with only the air for an audience. What she creates is only half of what the art really is. To have that other half, it must be in front of someone who can lend it his eyes. And if it offends those eyes, can you say that it should exist? I may have destroyed a painting that cost its artist pain, but by doing so I saved it from the far worse fate of indifference."
Risa paused as if taken off-guard by that speech. Harry concealed a laugh in his sleeve. Lucius was excellent at spinning nonsense. He would probably have gone into politics if his history hadn't been so against him.
For that matter, he could have made it work, no matter what he'd done in the past. I can only conclude that he never cared enough to expend the effort.
"Would you destroy one of my paintings, then?" Risa asked, moving the conversation back to personal territory, as Harry had known she would do soon. Risa had never been that comfortable with generalities or talking about other artists if there was a chance of personal attention.
"I do not know," Lucius said, and his voice was the perfect cool murmur—considering, as if he had given this much thought, but not overly invested, as if he really were the objective critic he pretended to be. "I am not familiar enough with your style to know if your paintings exist for me or not."
Risa, of course, was happy to describe her style, her technique, and her inspirations. She stood there talking with no sign that the heavy burdens of supplies she carried tired her or that her voice was weakening. Lucius nodded back and made occasional intelligent comments. Harry watched the people around them.
Most of them halted and listened to the conversation for at least a short time. Their expressions were baffled, and they hurried away again as soon as possible. Harry withheld his chuckle. Whether it was Lucius Malfoy listening with patience to a Muggleborn artist that shocked them or the entire situation, it was best if Harry didn't laugh and offend them.
When Risa had run out of words, Lucius shot her with a question that Harry would never have dreamed of asking her. "What do you feel about the Ministry?"
"It provides work for some artists," Risa said, without blinking. "But I've often thought that things would be better if my people depended on patrons like Harry and less on the Ministry. They hardly commission anything large or daring, anyway. You can't live off them unless you have family connections there."
Harry watched Lucius with his own puzzlement, carefully concealed, as Lucius nodded and smiled. What is he doing?
"Exactly what I thought," Lucius said, which proved to Harry that, short acquaintance or not, he knew just how to handle Risa. "That's why I'm thinking of expanding my art patronage, as I have not done in years. I am not familiar with most of the daring and experimental work that takes place outside the art shows, in dusty studios and small rooms where dreams burn brighter than fire. I would appreciate it if you could recommend some artists for me to support and people who might be interested in setting up a foundation that would benefit them."
Once again Risa was full of names, though she usually had an editorial to add about how one person's work wasn't as good as hers or how another showed more promise than commitment to the work. In the end, Lucius had a list of names Harry had no doubt he had memorized as soon as it was spoken, and Risa was bustling away about her next errand, looking sleek and smug.
"Thinking of imitating me?" Harry murmured in Lucius's ear as they began to stroll through Diagon Alley. Other people eddied around them in comfortable currents, watching them from the corners of eyes and discussing them in loud whispers that they obviously thought couldn't be heard. Harry was used to the treatment from years of it, or he might have resented it more than he did.
"Don't be ridiculous," Lucius said, eyes narrowed like those of a cat looking into the fire. "You didn't invent the idea of art patronage."
"I know that," Harry said, and fought to keep from flicking Lucius on the side of his head because of the way his voice flicked like a soft whip. "But you didn't seem interested in it, either."
Lucius bent his head. His voice was the soft whisper of a fledgling bird in Harry's ear, and Harry wished it didn't make him think so much of…other things. "The Ministry's grasp on the artists is faltering," he said. "We can detach more of them than ever if we act now. And I'll let word spread, discreetly, that I'm willing to fund other projects as well as a foundation for artists. People will come to us, and then we can build our own power base on which to stand firm."
Harry frowned. "I didn't want to encourage an alternative to the Ministry."
"What were you doing, then?" Lucius's fingers slid up and down his arm like someone plucking the strings of a harp. Harry made himself ignore it as much as possible while he thought of the answer.
"I was encouraging alternatives," he said. "That way, people could have their independence, but it would be a collection of small projects, which could build their own connections or remain in isolation if they wished. I didn't want to become another Minister or another leader of some kind."
"You need not," Lucius said. "I shall be quite happy to do the work."
Harry tilted his head and examined Lucius in silence for long moments. He didn't think he needed to say anything, that his doubt would be plain enough.
"Do you not trust me?" Lucius touched his chest and fluttered his eyes in a way that made blood stir in Harry's groin. Harry shook his head and swallowed the blood that seemed to have entered his throat, too. Was there anything about Lucius that would not stir him in that way?
And should he be dismayed or rejoicing that he still retained this reaction so long after the first time they had slept together?
"Even if I trusted you completely with power," Harry said, "there are plenty of other people who won't. How are you going to gain any foothold in political power because of that? I notice that you haven't done so since the war."
Lucius smiled. His eyes were brilliant with it, reminding Harry of the way that water reflected the light of a sunset. "I could have done so," he said. "I have retained enough contacts in the Ministry and enough cleverness to make the attempt feasible." He ducked his head in a motion that Harry thought was meant to show off the line of his throat, because there was no way that he could mean Harry to seriously take him as modest. "I simply have not had a cause worthy of engaging my attention and effort before now."
Harry rolled his eyes. "You didn't answer my question. What about all the people who will distrust you when they see you making a bid for power?"
Lucius looked at him with a calm, ancient gaze. "That is where you come in."
Harry scowled. He didn't think Lucius could mean that the way it sounded as if he meant it, but there weren't many other possible interpretations for those words, either. "I'm not going to engineer the Malfoy family's rise to prominence again."
"I wouldn't expect you to," Lucius said smoothly. "I will have to engineer it myself for anyone to have any kind of respect for me."
Harry turned towards him with a hiss that sounded even more exasperated than he had wanted to make it. "What do you want? I thought that you weren't—that you didn't connect political power to being with me." That was the best way he could voice the sense of confused betrayal moving through him like a whirlwind or a winter wind.
Lucius laid a hand on his arm and stared into his eyes. "I know you have your fame," he said. "I did not become your lover in ignorance any more than I became one for the sake of your power—your power alone. Would you have me close my eyes? Fuck you without thinking about your beauty? Move through the world beside you without thinking about your power?"
"I don't want to set up another movement opposing the Ministry," Harry said unhappily. "I've always been against doing that."
Lucius brushed his fingers gently down Harry's throat and neck. "Because your friends work there?" he asked. "Is this a personal reason?"
"Not only that." Harry touched his hair and started to run his hand through it, but Lucius's fingers closed around his wrist, holding it in place. Harry blinked at him. One look in Lucius's eyes convinced him that he wouldn't get Lucius to budge, though, so he returned to the more productive subject. "I don't want to coerce anyone into joining my side. And I don't think the wizarding community can survive a split like that. It's too small."
"To take your objections in reverse order," Lucius murmured, "the Ministry cannot represent all the variety of interests in the wizarding community, so it is already too big in that sense. Simply setting up a party does not coerce anyone into joining. If they do so and decide that they would rather return to Superbus's cold embrace, they may."
Harry nodded slowly. He had known that, but it was comforting to hear the objections spoken by someone who wasn't him. That lessened his sense that he was setting up something solely to benefit himself.
"And as for your friends—" Lucius lifted his shoulders in a small shrug. "I would have considered Granger in opposition to the Ministry already, as worried as she is about house-elf rights."
"But she works there," Harry muttered.
Lucius smiled. "My dear, sweet Harry, working for an employer does not mean that you do not despise them with all your soul. It seems to be the normal state of affairs, in fact."
Harry smiled back in spite of himself. "Let me think about it, all right?" he asked. "It still goes against some of the strictures I've put in place on myself for years. And then there's Ron."
Lucius tilted his head wisely. "I will leave you time. But think about this." His finger returned, sliding down Harry's throat to disappear into his shirt. Harry reminded himself that air needed to get into his lungs one way or another. "We have destabilized the wizarding world. Many are now seeking a place to go and do not have one. We would be offering them something stable with this 'side' of ours, this faction or party, group or ideal. And perhaps we owe it to them for consenting to the destabilization in the first place."
Harry scowled at him. "I know you're manipulating me."
"But like my kissing," Lucius whispered, bending low, "I do it so well that you find it hard to resent."
Harry, as he was soundly, searchingly kissed, had to admit the truth of that.