Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Contracted. Hopefully the story ends gracefully, and it was worth coming all this way.
Chapter Thirty-Life's Natural Pace
"Do you really think that Draco is going to be happy?"
Pansy glanced up across the table and raised her eyebrows. Theo flushed, but maintained his stare and refused to touch the healthy, nutritious meal that he needed after spending all night either working in the Ministry potions lab or wringing new noises out of their bed with Pansy.
"I need to know," he said. "There are ways to get rid of Potter if he's not going to make Draco happy, and you and I both know that." He glared at her now, as if he suspected that she hadn't judged Draco's state of mind accurately and would have let him remain with someone who would only cause him pain.
Pansy pointedly took a long sip of her delicate fruit punch and ate a few bites of her kippers before responding. Theo ducked his head and began eating again, which was one problem solved. Of course, the problem of his doubting her judgment ran deeper and would require more adjustments.
I had thought that I had tamed the last of that out of him.
"He will be happy overall," Pansy said. "Not always in the day-to-day interactions. Who could be, yoked to a Gryffindor? But Potter has the wits to retort to me, the strength to put up with Draco's whinging, and enough stamina to keep up with Draco. Those aren't small gifts."
Theo tried to say something, but he was gumming it through his scone. Pansy studied him, and he swallowed before he continued. "What about his morality? Is that going to get in the way?"
"Draco is not such a fool," Pansy said. "I'm sure there are moments when Potter will want to spend all day rescuing kittens in trees, but Draco will simply use a spell to bring them back to the ground. He is more practical than Potter, and that includes using adaptations to his circumstances."
"If he's in love..."
Pansy sighed and stood up, walking around the table until she reached the back of Theo's chair. Theo tilted his head to look up at her. That made his neck seem more slender, which in turn made it easier for Pansy to get her hand around.
"Dear, dear Theo," she whispered. "Would you speak slightingly of love, when we share it? Would you think that I-and Astoria, who is sensible-would allow Draco to fall in love with someone who would not return exactly the same amount of weakness, if not the same amount of strength?" And weakness, and not strength, is the calculation that matters here, the way that Potter would affect Draco's behavior.
Theo had the grace to flush all the way to the base of his neck this time, almost to the level of her gripping fingers. "I...no," he said. "Neither?" His eyes darted from her face to her hand.
"Better," Pansy allowed, and slipped her hand away from his throat, giving him a half-smile. "But I think that we should investigate the reasons that the doubt arose in the first place. Don't you?"
Theo rose and snatched at her waist. He always was responsive to that particular tone of voice, one of the reasons she'd married him.
Pansy smiled as they bustled towards the bedroom. Theo would need another breakfast later, but it had been a long time since he took a holiday from the labs. No one would think it suspicious if he claimed one now.
And he need tell no one. Privacy was always important to maintain, at least until Pansy chose to break it.
Astoria had her first chance to see how Draco, Potter, and Potter's friends interacted when they all met at a gala that Draco had decided to throw at the Manor. It was apparently to celebrate Potter giving up his small house and moving in with Draco.
Astoria remembered no such celebration when she and Draco had still tried to share their lives. But then, there was more than one reason that she had chosen Blaise-although perhaps all of them came down to his undoubted superiority to Draco in every way.
They gave Aurora over to one of Draco's house-elves, the only one Astoria still trusted, and entered the formal dining hall of the Manor. Astoria did not think it was one of the places that the Dark Lord had sullied with his touch when he lived here, and if it was, it had since been thoroughly scrubbed. White wood gleamed everywhere, from rafters and columns and tables. High, hanging lamps flaring with oily flame helped maintain the impression of an old wooden feasting hall. Astoria accepted a glass of wine from one of the circulating house-elves, glad that Draco had not chosen to neglect all modern comforts-she did not care for mead-and looked around the room.
The center of all eyes was Draco and Potter, of course. Potter's hair looked halfway presentable, along with his robes. They circulated through the room, and Draco made charming conversation while Potter kept silent and looked beautiful. Astoria nodded. Perhaps Potter had grown political instincts that had not died with the death of his career.
She had turned to say so to Blaise when he gripped her arm. Astoria followed his gaze and found Granger and Weasley winding their way up to Draco and Potter, expressions on their faces as though they crossed swaying log bridges over a pit.
It was their own fault if they did so, Astoria thought. Draco was skilled in making his guests welcome, applying his charm to them like fire that would melt wax and glass and ice. But Granger and Weasley seemed to have backbones of steel, which took longer.
"Not to mention sticks of it in their arses," Blaise murmured, and Astoria let her fingers play over his arm, sharing a smile with him that they both tilted their heads closer together to hide.
As far as Astoria could see, Weasley and Granger had braced for a fall that never came. They spoke to Draco. He inclined his head and said something in return, short but courteous enough to make Granger blink and respond. Weasley stepped back, fading behind his wife as he must do often, but never lunged at Draco or made a pretense of raising his wand. He spoke more to Potter, who watched him with a bright enough smile that Astoria wondered Draco wasn't jealous.
Draco's arm snaked around Potter's waist and pulled him a step in. Astoria felt her lips part. Oh.
"What is it?" Blaise murmured into her ear as he relieved another elf of nearly half a tray of small biscuits with chocolate in the middle. Astoria shook her head. She would have scolded him for that at home, but then, it was not often nowadays that they had the chance to eat without Aurora demanding part of their meal.
"Look at the way Draco is holding him."
Blaise followed her eyes, and knew, as always, without asking, what to look for. Draco's hand loosely cupped Potter's hip, his arm not letting Potter stray far from his side even when his friends began to drift off and Potter followed them with his eyes. Potter turned and said something sharp enough to make hair puff out around Draco's ear. Draco met his eyes and smiled, the smile sharper than the words.
"My God," Blaise said weakly, luckily after he had swallowed one of the biscuits. Astoria would hate to nudge her husband in the ribs at the moment. "He's really..."
"Yes, he is," Astoria said, and prepared herself to greet Draco and Potter as they moved towards them. A tension had eased out of her shoulders and spine that she had not wanted to admit to herself she still carried. If Draco touched Potter like that, then they might do very well.
"And you will swear under Veritaserum that all the provisions of the contract that you described to us are true?"
Harry steadily met Rettern's eyes. She had been the main prosecutor assigned to the case, of course; it was inevitable, when she was the one who was destroying Sandborn's career with a rusty knife. She was staring at Harry now as if she pitied him, as if she despised him, as if she thought that he would end up hanging himself rather than letting the Wizengamot question him like this.
But Harry had promised that he would. Sworn that he would. To himself, to Sandborn, to Draco, although Draco hadn't thought it was a good idea and had tried to stop him.
Draco was standing off to one side of the courtroom, though, watching in silence, and he had promised not to interfere. Harry inclined his head. "Yes."
Rettern led him through the steps, looking at Pensieve memories and discussing the moment when he had first approached Sandborn with the contract-although she skimmed pretty lightly over the fear that Harry had seen in the eyes of the Wizengamot as a possible motivation-and dwelling lovingly on the ways that Harry had fought to get free of the contract. Harry answered every question except the ones that could have led back to and implicated Draco. His voice was quiet and calm, his first soul thrumming behind his eyes, for the last time that it would ever be needed.
Because he had promised that he would testify under Veritaserum, they didn't actually consider using it. Harry had sighed when he first realized that, and the sigh had had the word good in it, if anyone had listened. He didn't mind exposing what he had done, what Sandborn had done, and what some of their allies in their illegal activities had done, but he balked at exposing Draco and the others who had helped him.
As he stepped down from the witness's podium, he did see someone other than Draco who was looking at him approvingly. She sat in the small gallery reserved for visitors, and she inclined her head to him when she saw him watching her back. She looked like Astoria Greengrass, Harry thought, like Callia, but her blonde hair was sleeker and smoother, and she wore a red dress that was less like formal robes than anything Callia or Astoria would be seen in public wearing.
Harry let his lips shape a question. Who?
She saw it, but shook her head at him and rose a moment later, threading her way towards the back of the courtroom, and Harry forgot about her when he turned and saw Draco waiting for him.
He'd done his duty. He'd spilled all the secrets, made Sandborn's attempt to set himself up as practically ruler of the wizarding world into a matter of history that the Wizengamot could pick over and eat as long as they chose. Now he was going to make a new life for himself, a life that would only have the duties and the people he chose as part of it.
A life with Draco.
Daphne smiled and shook her head as she stepped out of the courtroom, walking down the corridor with an easy stride that meant most people didn't turn to look twice at her, except in appreciation. The Ministry assumed that most visitors not actually in chains had a reason to be there. And alert, confident people weren't the stereotype of thieves in most people's minds, who sneaked and skulked and flinched when someone looked at them.
Daphne would have thought the common stereotypes of thieves left much to be desired, but it had been useful to her more than once.
She ducked into a bathroom that opened its door halfway down the corridor. Her hands were already busy in her hair as she stood there, undoing the red ribbons that held it back in a series of smooth braids; her quick ears had told her there was no one else here. She shook her head, letting the hair fall down until it reached her shoulders, and then reached up and tapped her wand beneath her eyes.
They sparked and changed. Daphne studied herself critically for a moment, then shook her head. No, that wouldn't do. Probably from watching Potter in the courtroom, she had brightened her eyes to the shade of his, and that green was too noticeable. People would fixate on her, probably thinking she was Potter trying to sneak away from his gape-mouthed public in female dress.
Another tap reduced the green to a dimmer shade, and then Daphne moved her wand over her hair, her face, her neck, her chest, her breasts, her hips, her thighs, her arse. Each place she tapped dimmed. It was a version of a Disillusionment Charm specifically meant for passage through areas where non-human guards waited who wouldn't be fooled by the Charm.
Such as the wards around the chamber of a powerful member of the Wizengamot.
Daphne turned away with her hair flying behind her and strode, as confidently as before, towards the far side of the Ministry. Uninterested eyes slid past her. Most of those she passed would say that she was a smudge of smoke, or a drifting mist, or a small, mousy woman in a ragged robe. What everyone saw was different, Daphne's magic interacting with their preconceptions.
Daphne was smiling by the time she reached where she was going, the wing of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement that housed the Wizengamot offices. She had walked the whole way, not wanting to be caught in the confined space of a lift in case someone saw her and stopped her. No one could block the stairs, everyone slid past her, and she owned the world.
She stepped easily through the wards clustered around Madam Rettern's door. They buzzed and then fell silent, like puzzled bees. Daphne studied the lock and smiled again. Blood-lock, linked to the blood of a particular witch or wizard, much like the first ward around the information concerning the Death Eater trials in the Ministry Archives. Impenetrable, normally.
Daphne did not lead a normal life. She reached into a robe pocket and brought out a minute scarab, a glittering black bug that flexed to life when her fingers brushed over its legs. She held it in one hand, palm flat, and traced a figure eight on its back. It spat out a tiny stream of blood it had taken by crawling up Madam Rettern's robes earlier that day and biting her ear. She had swatted, the beetle had fallen, and she had gone on her way, convinced it was an ordinary insect bite.
Daphne hummed as she poured the blood on the lock and it clicked open. Then she stepped into Madam Rettern's chamber and inhaled through her nose, relishing the scent of so much wealth in one place.
It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. Rettern happened to be one of those compulsively organized people who kept her files in order and cross-referenced. The folders labeled Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fell into Daphne's hands, and she set about copying them onto parchment that she'd brought with her. Some of the simpler work she'd done lately.
She would owl copies of the relevant information to Draco and Potter when she was out of the country, in case Rettern decided they were her next targets. She could call it a wedding present.
And then she could cease the good-will gestures and get back to a profitable business. There was a heavily protected vault buried under the Pyrenees calling her name.
Rumor said it was guided by a dragon.
Daphne smiled, and patted one pocket, where a sapphire she had liberated years ago rested. It would come in very handy if rumor was true.
She made sure to shut the door conscientiously behind her when she left. No telling what untrustworthy person might wander in past the wards if she didn't.
"Thanks for inviting us."
Ginny smiled. She had the feeling that the smile probably looked as tooth-gritting as it felt, but she couldn't help it. Draco Malfoy was sitting in her drawing room-well, all right, her and Luna's drawing room-eating the biscuits that she had made and talking to her girlfriend as if he understood how special Luna was, and, in fact, understood her perfectly. Luna seemed happy enough, her eyes glowing as she described the breeding process they'd used for the winged kittens, but then, Luna could be happy when talking to a giant.
"I'm sorry, Ginny." Harry, who'd come into the kitchen to help her bring her next plate of food out, reached up and caught her wrist, massaging his fingers gently across the pulse in her wrist. "Is this too hard for you? Should we leave?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and snorted. "Only you would try to comfort someone by insulting them," she snapped, and slammed the plate of small sandwiches down in the middle of the counter. Harry took a step back. Auror instincts, Ginny thought, and made herself pause for a second so that she wouldn't get a curse up the nose. "Implying that I'm a coward?"
"I did?" Harry frowned, cocking his head. He looked healthier than he had in years; reluctantly, Ginny had to admit that. His face was more filled out, not as pale, and without the hard worry lines that she now knew came, at least partially, from all the lies he'd been telling others and himself.
"That this was too hard to face," Ginny said grimly. "I'm fine."
Too late, she realized that she had half-shouted the last words, and that there was startled silence from the drawing room. Luna resumed talking a minute later, but the mood had probably been shattered. Ginny grimaced.
"I know you don't like him," Harry said. "And I didn't mean that you were too cowardly to face him. Just-why would you want someone you don't like here on a Saturday afternoon?"
Ginny sighed. "Because it pleases you," she said, and reached up to squeeze Harry's wrist and turn his head to the side so that she could kiss his cheek. She half-hoped that Malfoy, who seemed overly interested in where Harry went and who he touched, would step into the kitchen just then-Luna wouldn't care-but he didn't. "Because that's more important to me than whether I like him, personally."
Harry shook his head, mouth forming into a hard line. "I don't want to cause anyone more misery because of what I've been through. If he annoys you, then tell me."
"He annoys me because of how much he doesn't annoy me," Ginny admitted. "There's-he's talking to Luna, and he looks at you and touches you like you're important to him, and-" She ended up waving her hand, taking in a great expanse of empty air that she could never turn into the right words.
Harry smiled at her, and the hard lines relaxed, which Ginny was glad to see. "All right. Come out and meet him, then." He picked up the sandwiches and enchanted the fresh glasses of water and lemonade to float behind them, and stepped out into the drawing room. Ginny followed him, telling herself she was not using him as a shield.
Malfoy and Luna both looked up when they came in. Luna was smiling, as she did so often, and Ginny's heart softened at the sight. The only times Luna stopped smiling were the rare occasions that the world hurt or distressed her, but Ginny knew so many different forms of the expression from her, from the uncomplicated joy on display here to the small round "o" that her lips tended to form when Ginny went down on her.
It didn't last long. Ginny could have pretended that it didn't exist at all, if she wanted to. But she thought it was there, and she admitted its existence to herself, in the privacy of her head.
Malfoy looked at Harry with some of the same joy. And Harry looked back with it so palpable that standing next to him was like standing in the middle of a hot breeze.
And, well. If Malfoy could do that, then Ginny could do better, because she was a better person than he was, after all. So she smiled at him, and gave him the first glass of lemonade, and sat down beside Luna to talk like a normal adult.
He made Harry happy. That was plain to see. For that, Ginny could try to forget the past and move into the future.
Draco pulled out of Harry with a snort and flopped down beside him. Harry was as free with his grunts and groans when Draco fucked him as the other way around, but they still weren't words. Draco traced a pattern over his chest, between his nipples, and wondered whether he could teach Harry to talk during sex, eventually.
If it goes on long enough, perhaps.
Not that Draco had much fear of that, as long as one of them didn't get bored. Harry was more inventive than he'd given him credit for, and more eager to learn how to live instead of serve as a mindless automaton. And Draco knew more ways than anyone else in the world to be interesting. He had to admit, the fears of boredom he had usually dissipated when he thought about them seriously. How could anyone get bored of him?
Harry rolled his head over to look at Draco. He was panting, tongue falling out of his mouth and across his face rather like his limp cock did over his belly. Draco smiled at him and pinched one of his nipples. Harry arched, then swatted his hand away and shook his head. He still didn't like too much pain.
That was all right. Someday, Draco might find pain that he liked, and in the meantime, he could give Harry plenty of pleasure.
Harry seemed to catch his expression just then, and shook his head in bemusement. "Are you always going to look like that?"
"Like what?" Draco sank his teeth into Harry's shoulder, not deep enough to make Harry flinch, and sucked thoughtfully at the raised skin.
Harry waited until Draco raised his head, as though Draco's having a full mouth would prevent him from talking. "Like you don't know how the earth continues to orbit the sun instead of you."
"Probably," Draco said, and rolled down beside Harry again, flinging an arm around him. "I'll teach you to do the same thing, in time."
"Yes, that's an impressive argument," Draco said, and closed his eyes. Harry was always more reluctant to disturb him when he looked like that. One of the advantages of having a partner Draco knew was more tender and generous than he was.
"What?" On the other hand, the generosity and tenderness weren't always in evidence. Draco opened one eye before a bruising finger could poke his ribs.
Harry was looking down at him, and his face was gentle and open. Even the magic mirror, if Draco still allowed it to speak when they were in front of it, would have had to work hard to put words to that expression. Harry reached out as Draco watched, transfixed, and brushed the backs of his fingers down Draco's cheek.
"Thank you for saving me," Harry said simply.
Draco settled for sucking one finger into his mouth so that he could watch Harry's eyes darken with desire.
Because what he would have said if he didn't was something along the lines of, I might have the better end of the bargain.
And Harry, well, he didn't need to hear that. Just feel it.