Title: The Green Year
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Profanity, some angst.
Summary: Draco's private Beltane ritual may not be so private after all.
Author's Notes: This is the second in what I'm calling the Seasonal Processions series, a set of one-shots taking place on the pagan holidays. It may make more sense to read "Equinoctial," the story set on the vernal equinox, first, although this one probably stands alone well enough.
The Green Year
Draco had a certain theory: that nobody in the noisy Weasley party that had gathered to celebrate Mr. Weasley's Ministry promotion would miss him.
He tested the theory by clearing his throat a few times and putting his mug of Firewhisky down harder on the table than usual. No one glanced at him. They were all listening to one of the Weasley patriarch's stories about his job with as much enchantment as though he were a master storyteller.
Draco grimaced. He considered the story pitiful, the joke coming at the end obvious. He made a silent prediction to himself as he heard Weasley's voice rising and leaned back, placing his hands on the arms of his chair preparatory to standing.
"—and then the Minister said, 'I don't know what we'd do without you, Arthur!'" Weasley raised his glass as though he were toasting some truly remarkable occurrence.
Draco kept from rolling his eyes, but only because he thought someone might glance at him as the barbarians burst into cackles and drummed their glasses against the table. He had indeed predicted the words Weasley would speak, down to the pause in the middle that was meant to make him sound wise. And when he turned his head to the side and carefully surveyed the Weasley men, he knew he was right in his first theory, as well. No one was looking at him; their careful ignoring of their guest throughout most of the evening, save when it was absolutely necessary to address him, had melted into true ignorance.
Draco pushed his chair back and moved away. The sound of hands slapping Mr. Weasley's back accompanied him into the corridor.
He did pause near the kitchen, where the Weasley women had gone. Harry had entered the room to talk to them. Draco wanted to go home. It was the night of the first of May, and he had better things he could have spent time doing, but he had agreed to come for Harry's sake. Harry would want to know that Draco was leaving, at least.
Or so Draco thought, until he put his head through the kitchen doorway.
The Weasley mother was so involved in cooking a tray of pasties that Draco didn't think she would have noticed someone lighting a firework next to her ear. Harry and her daughter stood behind her, talking.
Harry had an arm around the girl's shoulders. She leaned towards him, shaking a little from the effect of sobs that Draco was sure were false. Her eyelashes trembled, and she let out an artistic fake gasp when she looked up and saw him.
Harry looked up, too.
He flushed, and he withdrew his arm from the Weasley girl's shoulders far too fast. Draco wouldn't have thought he was guilty, or harboring guilty thoughts, if not for that. But he did it, and the girl reached out and took his hand with a caressing motion, all the while watching Draco with enormous eyes.
"Draco," Harry said, stepping forwards but not pulling away from the girl, "this isn't what you think it is." The Weasley matriarch turned around, brushing flour from her wand and frowning.
"Of course it isn't," Draco said. His throat was dry, but he kept his head up and told himself that he would show only pride to his enemies, the way his father would have wanted it. He and Harry had only dated for a little over a month, and he knew Harry and the She-Weasel had once been together. It made sense that they would get back together the moment they were in close proximity. She could give him all sorts of things Draco couldn't: a smooth temper, Gryffindor company, a big family who would welcome Harry without question. Children.
Draco had known it was too good to be true when Harry approached him in the Ministry, holding his hand out and saying that he wanted to be with Draco. He had known something bad would happen when Harry pressed him to dine with the Weasleys tonight. The only question was why he hadn't resisted more strongly, why he had given in and thought there was actually a chance that he could be happy. He was a fool.
But at least Draco could say one thing for himself since the war. When something went wrong, when he made a mistake, he knew it. He didn't stand around sneering and prattling and hoping that his enemies wouldn't see his hurt, the way he had in Hogwarts. He cut his losses and got out of there.
He did it now, stepping from the Burrow into the cool of the evening and Apparating. Yes, it had been a bad idea all around to come here.
He would go and hold a private ritual of his own, he thought as he landed with a bump on the stone path outside his modest house. It was what he should have done in the first place, something the Malfoys had done since time out of mind.
Remember who and what you are, he scolded himself as he unlocked his front door. The chances that you could be with Potter and have it succeed are next to impossible.
It didn't take him long to gather what he needed. This ritual had been made simple by generations of practice. One might have to move quickly if suspicious Muggles or hereditary enemies saw the lights.
Draco picked up a single long white candle, unburned, and placed it in a brass holder. Then he gathered two sticks of apple wood and checked to make sure he had his wand. Of course he did; he wouldn't have ventured among a horde of Weasleys without it. But still, one checked. His parents had both impressed that on him, even though his mother's family didn't have the exact same ritual for Beltane; they still had similar ones. You always checked.
Draco stepped out the door and locked it behind him again. For a moment he scanned the sky, waiting patiently until he located the gleam of the half-hidden moon behind a large cloud. He smiled. It wasn't as propitious a night as it would have been with a free full moon, but that didn't matter. The ritual still had to be done, and there was enough light to bring him some good luck.
He walked into the large empty field behind his house, listening to the calls of nightbirds that whooped past him with unsettling swiftness. He kept his eyes open, so that he wouldn't stumble over anything—an undignified movement and a bad beginning to the ritual—but focused his concentration inwards, on a small pulse of sensation that traveled up from the base of his being and which he ignored most of the year. It would tell him where to stop.
Step, step, step, step. The swish of the grasses. The almost inaudible lapping of water caught in some small hole and transformed into a temporary pond. The laughter of what Draco sincerely hoped was a pixie and not something worse…
Draco stopped and drew out the sticks of apple wood from his robe, placing them carefully on the ground in front of him. Then he held up the candle in its holder and waited. The clouds raced. The night danced slowly past. Draco controlled his breathing, counted his heartbeats, and did anything else that might let the time slide without distracting him from what was about to happen.
Then the moon came out from behind its cloud, and a bright beam stabbed down as if guided by someone and found his candle.
Draco sighed in relief as the white candle blazed with muffled fire that rolled up and down the length of it. He had hoped that this would still work, but he had done many things this year that he wasn't proud of, and that always lessened the chance of success in rituals like this, his father had said.
"I am still here," he murmured. The words came out of his mouth without being planned, evolving as he spoke them, clogging his throat like the touch of a foreign hand around his neck. "I am still myself. Despite all the blows to my pride during the year, I am still growing." He lifted the candle above his head, moving it more into the moonlight, and waited to see if the magic of the ritual would agree with him.
There was a long, tense, prickling moment. Draco held his breath as magic rubbed along the back of his neck and down his spine like an alien cheek. This was the fascination of these particular moments in time: it was magic that he didn't channel down a wand, that came from outside him. It was harder to understand, more dangerous, more beautiful.
Then the white fire on his candle became a flame and stood up straight, growing into the night air. It remained white, but the candle turned green, and in the flare of light that came from it, Draco saw that the brass of the holder had become gold.
He laughed and controlled the urge to perform a dance step, which might make the candle's balance waver. He hadn't had such a good response from the ritual in years. And it was good to know that the words he spoke were true, that despite his Ministry flunky job and his disappointment tonight, he was still surviving.
The green and golden light rose into the air, clumping together in clouds as if it would answer the clouds above that had temporarily blocked the moon. Then two of the clouds drifted towards Draco's apple wood sticks. He tensed in anticipation.
"This is beautiful."
Draco yelped and spun around, startled out of his ritual mindset so hard that it physically hurt. Pain shot down the front of his skull, and the candle wobbled, the green and golden light fading at the edges. It didn't go out, but it easily could have, especially if he had dropped the candle.
He wasn't at all pleased to see Harry standing behind him. Draco sneered at him. "What? Did you get tired of your girlfriend and decide to see who else you could sleep with tonight?"
There was enough light for Draco to make out the pained expression on Harry's face. Well, too bad. Draco had taken risks in accepting Harry's invitations to dinner, especially this dinner. People had ignored him, mocked him, and tricked him too often in the past few years for him to trust easily. To have Harry turn on him was not too much to bear—it only added to the scar tissue—but it meant that Draco had no impulse to throw his arms around Harry and forgive him immediately.
"I want to be with you," Harry said. "I don't know how many times I've told you that." He looked at the light as if he thought that should settle the row and now they could shift their attention to other things. "I've never seen anything like this. What is it?"
"There's no reason for me to tell you," Draco said coldly, "not when you were simply using me as a distraction until you could get back together with Weasley."
Harry hissed between his teeth, as if Draco was being unreasonable. "She's had a hard week. She's working a new job in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and finding it more difficult than she expected. She wanted a bit of comfort, and it's natural for her to come to me since we used to date. That's all."
Draco nodded, unsurprised. He had heard excuses like this before, especially from those people who had felt slightly guilty for pulling practical jokes on him and attempted to justify themselves. "A bit of comfort. I hope the grope was pleasant for you."
Harry shook his head and stepped forwards. "Why are you being so deliberately unpleasant?" he demanded. "I came here because I wanted to explain things and because I wanted to say that I only want you."
"Well, now, I'm sure you do," Draco drawled, looking down and pretending to scan Harry's trousers for a sign of a wet spot. In reality, with the darkness and the thickness of Harry's robes, that wasn't feasible, but he knew Harry would understand what he was doing. "I imagine Weasley can't provide much mental stimulation, whatever she does for the physical part."
"She didn't—I want only you." Harry clutched his hair with one hand as if he would tear it out. "I'm not sure what more I can say to convince you."
"Why should you have to say anything to convince me?" Draco hooked one shoulder up in a shrug that he knew looked lovely and dismissive. "You can have her whenever you want. That's obvious from the way she was looking at you."
"I didn't think about how it would look from your perspective," Harry said, and lowered his voice. "I'm sorry. But I swear, Draco, it was innocent. I let her lean on me because she seemed to need it. But there's nothing between Ginny and I. That stopped a long time ago. I wouldn't have gone after you if I only planned to dump you in a month's time."
Draco shook his head. "Then why did she reach out to hold your hand that way, and you let her? I saw that happen."
Harry looked at him with large green eyes so sincere that Draco thought one could drown in them and never notice. "I didn't mean to do that," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I was so focused on you that I didn't think about how it would look."
Draco looked back at his summoned light, which held steady now. It wouldn't fade, but neither could he complete the ritual unless he sent Harry away. The Malfoys had always made this private.
Or he could invite him to stay, at which point he would become part of the magic and part of Draco's luck and pride for the next year.
Draco frowned. He hadn't had a choice to make that depended so much on trust in a long time. Or maybe it was luck, since it was an even chance that Harry would simply walk away and go back to his girl Weasel in a few months' time. Draco was good at reading body language, the signals that people gave away despite themselves. He was sure Harry had been more comfortable in that kitchen than he said.
Draco's gaze went slowly back to the hovering clouds of green and golden light. He reached out to touch one and felt an elusive warmth graze his fingers.
"Do you know why the light this ritual summons comes in these colors?" he asked.
"No," Harry said, softly. Draco approved reluctantly of his tone. He had instinctively sensed the importance of the ritual, it seemed. "I know it's a Beltane ritual. And Beltane was a holiday of summer and fertility, wasn't it?"
"It was," Draco said, with a short nod. He hesitated a moment, and then took a risk, leaping blindly into the abyss. He thought it was only the brightness of the light that gave him the courage to do so. "But my family celebrates it in a different way than dancing around fires and having sex like other people."
"Yes?" Harry asked, his voice even softer. Draco approved more than he could say of the fact that Harry hadn't taken the chance to suggest they have sex, even though it would have fit with the way that he usually operated.
"This is a day for the growth of our own selves," Draco said. "To reaffirm our pride and say that we will always be ourselves, no matter what humiliations we must suffer and which trials we must endure. The light is gold for sunlight, green for new growth." He stared directly at Harry, who flushed a little, as if remembering that he was under disgrace here.
"I'd like to be part of that," Harry said. "I might have started dating you just because I got interested by chance, Draco, but it's more than that now. Will you invite me in?" He stretched out his hand, and there was a great deal of yearning in his eyes.
Power rendered Draco breathless for a moment. He could refuse Harry a chance to participate, and it would hurt Harry. No one had left themselves open to Draco like that for a long time, because most of them either hurried out of contact with him as soon as they could, or were protected by their own indifference even as they baited him or pretended to be his friends.
Draco licked his lips. It would be a strong beginning to his Green Year—the year that stretched from Beltane to Beltane—if he refused. He would be in a position of strength. Harry would slink away and it would be a good omen as far as defeating any other enemies went.
But is Harry my enemy?
Draco moved forwards until he was right in front of Harry. Harry's eyes crossed as he tried to watch Draco.
I don't want him to be.
Draco reached out a hand. Harry took it and held it in the same caressing manner he had held the Weasley's, staring at him with worshipful eyes. Draco smiled and tugged him in until he stood under the green and golden light with Draco, instead of simply beside him.
"Watch," Draco whispered. "Can you keep very quiet and simply watch instead of demanding to do something? I don't want you to speak. It's my part to explain things to you now, and your part to listen."
Harry opened his mouth as if to respond, then grinned and shut it. He nodded instead, leaning on Draco's shoulder in the way Weasley had leaned on his.
Draco could have purred. He faced the light and held out his hands, displaying his empty palms to it. Then he turned his hands over to show that he carried no weapons on the backs of them, either. Finally, he bowed his head and murmured, "Do as seems best to you."
Harry stirred beside him, and Draco could practically feel him pushing the words back down his throat.
Which was a good thing, because the light took Draco at his word and soared forwards to alight on the two sticks of apple wood he'd put on the ground.
Draco raised one hand in front of his eyes a moment before the light suddenly grew much more brilliant, turning white-edged. Harry gave a muffled yelp and then covered his mouth with one hand, squinting.
The light surrounded the sticks, brewing around them, sinking into them. And the sticks twisted as if in pain, stuck roots into the ground, and grew.
For long moments, a pair of beautiful, fragile sapling apple trees formed themselves out of the radiance, borrowing the green for their leaves, the gold for their trunks, and the white for the delicate blossoms that decorated them. Draco was breathing so fast that his chest felt tight. The magic was heavy now, shoving his and Harry's legs into the earth in imitation of the trees' roots. Draco clutched Harry's arm, felt him clutch back, and experienced a shameful shiver of delight that he was sharing this sight with someone for the first time.
The trees stood straight and proud when the light began to fade, their branches reaching appealingly towards the sky. Draco couldn't help himself—he never could—and he reached out and plucked one light-edged leaf from the nearest tree.
It turned to sparks in his fingers, leaving nothing more than a singed nail and a lovely memory. Draco shook his hand, smiling, and then stepped back as the trees began to spin in place, light slowly leaking out of them as if they were losing their bloom in the middle of a sudden, harsh winter.
Then they collapsed. The sticks of apple wood were gone, and the magic that had pressed down on Draco was no more. The candle burned with ordinary fire now. Draco took a deep breath and set it on the ground. The candle-holder remained gold, and he would be able to use that as he would ordinary gold if he wished. So far, Draco hadn't wished. He kept the store of Beltane gold for a proper use that his father had said would present itself someday.
As the trees vanished, Harry turned to face him. His mouth was gaping, and he kept shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he had seen. Draco smirked at him and reached out to put a finger beneath his jaw, shutting it.
"Worthwhile coming away from the Weasleys' to see?" Draco asked quietly.
"That was—that was beautiful," Harry said, and then he leaned forwards and kissed Draco.
It didn't feel like an attempt to make the Beltane ritual into something it wasn't, not this time. Draco shivered with pleasure as Harry's tongue darted out and lightly licked at Draco's lips. Draco didn't open his mouth because he didn't want to, but he did step back and nod at Harry.
"It was, wasn't it," he said.
Harry blinked and scratched his head. Now that the ritual was done and the feeling of specialness gone from the air, Draco knew that he probably felt a little foolish. Most people did, the first time after their encounter with someone's private Beltane celebration.
"So…" Harry cleared his throat. "Does this mean that you forgive me? Because I'm really sorry, by the way."
Draco would have nodded just an hour ago and accepted that apology, grateful that Harry—who had made his life during the past few weeks better than it had been for years—wasn't leaving him yet. But the ritual had soaked into his bones. It felt as if the fire from that plucked leaf was racing along his spine, making it stiffer.
"I forgive you," he said. "But I don't want to go to the Burrow again until the Weasleys know me better. They ignored me all evening, or actively tried to separate us." He wouldn't say it yet, but he had no doubt that the Weasley girl knew exactly what she was doing when she caressed Harry's hand.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, looking stricken. "I didn't realize. I just wanted you to know my friends."
"They don't want to know me," Draco said. He thought it was the kind of thing Harry needed to hear bluntly. "We'll wait until they do to confront them with us again." He reached out and touched Harry's shoulder, because his last words had made Harry stare at him blankly, and Draco worried that it was too much for him. "What?"
"You said us," Harry murmured in wonder.
This time, when he leaned forwards to give Draco a kiss, Draco responded whole-heartedly, winding his arms around Harry's neck. A different kind of fire sprang through him, radiating up and down his spine in tendrils, and pleasure hummed in his chest, groin, and neck.
His life had been wretched since the war. Forced to do what he could to survive when the Ministry had taken his family's money, to visit his father in prison, to watch the people around him with a wary eye in case one of them decided to "punish" him further…
He had maintained his pride under that, but not his spirit. He had grimly persevered, dreaming of better days.
For the first time, he now thought those better days could be found in the future, not the past.