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This is the last chapter of His Actium. Thank you for reading.
Chapter Ten—Places Found
Harry was eating his breakfast when the Floo flared. He snorted and laid his toast down on the plate in his lap. Fovea promptly tried to steal a bite, only dancing out of the way when Harry swatted at her.
"Birds aren't supposed to have butter," Harry reminded her.
Fovea held up her foot at him in a reasonable approximation of the finger. Harry rolled his eyes and turned back, smiling, to the Floo, prepared to see almost anyone from Draco to Robards. Of course, if it was Robards, then he would have to interrupt his peaceful morning to inform some interested people of valuable gossip about the Head Auror.
The fires showed a Ministry office, but not the Head Auror's. The woman leaning back in the overstuffed chair was as sharp as a spear, and if the Floo hadn't colored her green, Harry knew he would have been looking at black hair and blue eyes. The determined chin was the same, as was the smile that could cheat a shark's. "Mr. Potter?"
Harry recognized her, and blinked before he smiled back. "Madam Gorget. I hardly thought my request would rate a personal interview."
"I am very busy, of course," Florence Gorget, Undersecretary to the Minister, conceded, with a modest little tilt of her head. "But I, in turn, hardly think this will take more than five minutes. You asked about a new job, as you appear to have departed rather abruptly from the Aurors. For no reason that will prevent you from working for us, I hope?"
"As long as you don't ask me to fuck people for money, no," Harry said.
Gorget only smiled in appreciation. "And you will only go to the parties you want to go to, as long as that's at least twice a month," she murmured. "Your acting skills can be useful, as it happens. We would like you to play the reformed and penitent wastrel, seeking some way to make a productive difference in the community."
Harry cocked his head. "And see who approaches me?" That might be Ministry allies and people who didn't matter to them as easily it was enemies he could spy on.
"You are quick," Gorget said. "They told me that you would be. Yes. For now, your job has the official title of Public Liaison to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but I find that such a mouthful. 'Bait' is so much shorter."
Harry grinned and held up his toast in salute. Gorget was a hard woman, who ran the Minister's schedule of meetings and the Ministry's spy network with equal efficiency. But she was also someone who understood the value in letting people do as they wanted and collaborate with her within the limitations of the job, because they would come up with better ideas that way and she would have to pay them less. As she had told Harry once, trying to regulate her employees' desires took up so much time that could be put to better use.
"I agree," Harry said. "With the understanding that the bait might want to be pulled in later and renegotiate some of the terms."
"I would expect nothing less." Gorget made a little bow to him and vanished from the flames. Harry waited to make sure that she wouldn't appear again, and nodded as he stood. Some underling in the Department probably already had the orders to owl him with all the pertinent details, such as how much pay he'd receive and the dates and details of Ministry parties for the month. All in all, Harry thought his job would still afford him pleasure, though a different kind than he was used to getting out of it.
That's all to the good.
As he rescued his toast from Fovea again, he wondered idly whether he should tell Draco about this, about whether it would make enough difference to him that he would feel a little more comfortable around Harry. Then he shook his head in determination. No. He would mention it if it came up in conversation, or if Draco asked him, but he was not going to be the pining suitor waiting around on the fringes of Draco's company for his notice.
Draco had reasons to distrust him. Merlin knew that Harry had given him plenty. On the other hand, ultimately he had nothing to go on but Harry's word that he had changed and wasn't going back to his old job. If the months passed and Harry kept his promises and still nothing changed in Draco's attitude, then there was no reason to think that it ever would, and Harry would find someone else to love and date.
But it'll never be a perfect relationship, the kind of marriage that Ron and Hermione have. I need to be sure to remind them of that.
"If you're going to be happy," was the only thing Hermione said when he told her, and turned her back to make sure that Rose wasn't stuffing bits of half-chewed biscuit in her hair.
"I am," Harry said, and sneaked a glance at Ron across the table. Ron still looked a little green, although he was manfully finishing up the salad that he'd had for lunch.
"It's unexpected, is all," Ron said defensively when Harry eyed him. "I didn't know you were serious about staying with him. Quitting your job is one thing, we've all been saying that you should do that for years, but you know that you could find someone else other than Malfoy. Anyone would be glad to have you."
Harry snorted. "Do you really think so? I don't. Maybe before I established my reputation as an incompetent playboy who only cares about where his next shag is coming from, but not now. I'll give him a while. He's the one who gets to decide. It's the only way, when he's been burned and I haven't." Then, as Hermione turned and raised one eyebrow, he qualified, "Well, my burning was so long ago that I'm mostly over it. He isn't, if you count what I did to him and what someone else did to him as going together."
Hermione stared at him. "And if he takes forever to make up his mind, that's still all right?" she asked. "You would put your life on hold because Malfoy can't decide whether he wants to share it?"
"For a few months," Harry told her, rolling his eyes. "That's all. If he can't trust me by then, I doubt he ever will."
"But will you find someone you can love and be with permanently?" Hermione asked softly, reaching out to catch his hand. "That's what we want for you, and it's the sort of thing that I think you've given up trying to find."
Harry smiled in spite of himself, a curve of his lips that made Hermione smile back. Ron put a hand on his shoulder from the other direction, and Harry basked in the feeling of support that his friends offered.
"I know," he said. "But I think I can fall in love with someone. I think I can fall in love with lots of people. That's the difference between me and you. You've only been in love once, both of you, and it's worked out for you. Not everyone is that lucky."
Ron and Hermione, of course, had to pause to give each other besotted looks. Harry snorted into his drink. They were sickeningly sweet, sometimes, but he was still glad to know them.
"All right, Harry," Ron said, and finally moved back from him. Hermione took a little longer, looking earnestly into Harry's eyes as if she expected to see something new. Harry just looked back patiently, not sure what in the world she wanted. He had told the truth, all the way around, including changing his mind if Draco decided that he couldn't trust him. "If that's the way you want it, mate."
"It is." Harry looked over at Rose and changed the subject. "So, does she have all her teeth in yet?"
The rest of the evening was spent in contented gossip about Rose and the rest of the Weasley family, and neither Ron nor Hermione referred to Draco again. Harry smiled. Sometimes it took them a while, but his friends could learn when they should back off, and they could share their lives with him as well as insisting that he could share his life with them.
He was always going to have this, no matter what else happened. That was wonderful.
Harry went to the first Ministry party he had agreed with Gorget that he should attend, and Draco was there.
Harry was aware of him from the moment he walked into the room. Draco wasn't taller than the other people he stood with, but he was more present than them to Harry's senses, as though an invisible fire burned within him. And, of course, it also helped that his head jerked around a moment later, probably because someone in his group had whispered a laughing comment about the Ministry's Whore, and his eyes fastened on Harry's face.
Harry made a little bow that Draco could have taken as being for himself, or that other people in the group could have taken as being directed at them—they probably did, from the raucous laughter that broke out—and turned away to pick up a drink from a tray. He was supposed to circulate and mingle, so he would.
Even if he could feel Draco constantly, first to the left, than to the right, then ahead of him, then behind. He kept his smile quiet and his head bowed, smothering the smile now and then when he had to speak to someone who most likely want to see the penitent side of him and nothing else.
"And is it true that you want a permanent family and a place to settle down?" a woman in a sheer blue gown asked him, staring at him with fascinated eyes the color of ice. Harry rifled his memories for her name and found it.
"I don't know for certain, Ms. Klaire," Harry said, and turned his head to stare moodily out the large windows of the hall into the garden, while a nonverbal incantation caused a small breeze to ruffle his hair. Emily Klaire looked on the verge of swooning. Harry knew what part he could carry well, the dark and brooding repentant hero whose pain no one could understand, and he used that to good effect. "I want to, but why would anyone have me, when they couldn't trust me to keep to one bed?"
"I'm sure that people will give you a chance when they see that your chastity is going to last this time," Klaire whispered, and her hand lingered above his arm for a moment, petting the air. "You just have to give them a chance."
Harry smiled mournfully back at her and kissed her fingers. "I know. But it's hard to wait, sometimes."
He walked away, feeling her eyes on his back, and the eyes of a lot more people who would have had an interest in watching the exchange, for some reason. He didn't think that he would attract any secret confessions tonight, but he could wait. He had time, now.
He turned around from picking up another flute of champagne and found Draco close behind him, staring at him.
Harry swept him a bow and grinned at him. "My Prince Charming. How are you enjoying the party? Has the princess shown up to carry you away yet?"
"Don't do that," Draco hissed, darting around a glance as if to make sure that they weren't noticed. Of course, lots of people were staring because Harry had done his best to make them interested during the evening, and Draco had been the one to approach him in public in the first place, so Harry wasn't sure why he should want to hide now. Draco flushed and tugged him behind a pillar. "What are you doing here?"
Harry sipped his drink, letting the bubbles tickle his nose, for a moment before he answered. He didn't want to make Draco wait, but on the other hand, he did want to give him the chance to move away if he wanted.
He didn't want. His cheeks got brighter and brighter with outrage as he stood there, staring at Harry, and Harry finally sighed and gave in.
"I'm here because of my new job," he said. "I'm to pull in people that might be interested in an emotionally vulnerable, lonely, reformed hero."
"So you haven't changed after all," Draco said, after coughing so hard that it sounded as though he was trying to clear a blockage from his lungs. "All those lines to me about how you had, and how I should accept that you had, and go away if I couldn't, were just a ploy."
Harry sighed. "No. I'm not going to sleep with anyone ever again as part of the job—with no one but you ever again, if that part of this works out." Draco's face went pale. Harry paused, but he didn't say anything, so Harry went on. "But I do still want to work for the Ministry, if only to show Robards that he can't chase me out, and there's no way that anyone would trust me unless they heard the full story, which I'm not about to confess. I won't be a whore. I'll be a spy, yes, and—"
"A Ministry flunkey."
Harry toasted him with the champagne. "Flunkies don't get to choose how many parties a month they go to, and they aren't nearly as well-paid."
"But still, that's all you are." Draco's eyes flashed with a passion that looked as if it was going to burn them out. "Someone who uses his fame and his name for the Ministry and pretends that he doesn't."
Harry sighed. He had to remember this was hard for Draco. But—
"What would you have me do, then?" he asked. "From what you've said, if I stayed at home, I think you would decide I shouldn't do that, because I was more active when I was younger. If I played Quidditch, I would be using my name unfairly to attract people to the games, or I would be overawing people who wouldn't want to compete with the great Harry Potter. If I was still at Hogwarts, it would be that I had never changed and that was wrong. Do you want me to freeze in time and still be a schoolboy?"
Draco flushed. Again, he didn't seem to know what to do, but at least his uncertainty was less hostile this time. He stared at his hands. Harry waited, swallowing now and then so that he wouldn't show his own intense anxiety.
"I don't want you not to have changed," Draco whispered. "I think—I think I need you to be the honorable one. As long as you are, then I know that I'm not, and that helps define me."
"I don't know that you've committed any crimes," Harry answered quietly. "I know that you have a successful business. I know that a lot of people think you must be doing something wrong, since you've overcome prejudice to sell Potions ingredients, but on the other hand, that very jealousy means they might be suspecting something wrong that doesn't exist. I think we're a lot alike, Draco. People will always talk about us in a way we don't deserve, because we don't fit their expectations." He reached out and rested his hand on Draco's arm. "I had hoped, though, that we could see the ways in which the other man doesn't need to meet or match those expectations just to be worth something."
Draco's eyes met Harry's, and the air between them charged, shimmered, grew volatile. Harry felt his breathing quicken. He knew something would happen in the next moment, although he didn't know which one of them would give in to the tension first—
"Please excuse me," Draco blurted, and darted away.
Harry slumped back against the pillar and shook his head, still sipping from the flute. He ignored the stares in his direction effortlessly. Gorget could hardly blame him if no one approached him tonight. It was the first night with his new reputation. Doubtless, people would be cautious.
I want to be both private and public, to be someone honest and laughing in private with Draco, but able to conceal that from other people if I want. But he wants me to be the same person in all situations, or it seems like that, and I—
And I can't. I don't want to.
Harry rubbed his eyes, and then rubbed them again. He had been quietly sitting on his couch, eating breakfast and feeding pieces of it to Fovea, who took them, graciously nibbled them, and then dropped them and showed more interest in the parts that he couldn't feed her because they were unhealthy for birds. A normal morning, in other words. He hadn't expected Draco's face to appear in his fireplace with no more than a warning cough from the flames that they were igniting.
"Draco," he said, and laid aside the tray. Fovea hopped gleefully at it, then screamed as she hit the small Repelling Charm Harry had lifted above the unhealthy parts of the tray. A moment later, she was cocking her head so that she could figure out some way to hammer through it with her beak. Harry hid his smile and turned around. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah." Draco licked his lips. "Just thinking. And I realized that you were right, and I don't want you to remain the schoolboy. If you had swooped in as the hero trying to rescue me from the consequences of my actions, I would have been upset. If you had remained exactly as you were, the kind of person who would torment me and was honest and honorable to the point of stupidity, there would be no reason to think you were interested in a reformed Death Eater."
Harry nodded slowly. That was encouraging, but it didn't mean that Draco did want something from Harry he could actually give. He wanted to know the truth for Draco's sake as much as his. Draco'd been betrayed, had his movements scrutinized, and then arguably suffered another betrayal when Harry took him to bed, although Draco had gone into that one with his eyes open. If he settled for second best, then he would probably curse himself and Harry years later and leave.
I've never had a relationship like that that lasted years. If I did, I don't think I would want it to end.
"So." Draco sighed. "I wanted you to remain exactly as you were, but somehow be interested in fucking me at the same time. That was the fundamental incapability. You had to have changed to be interested in me in the first place."
Harry sighed in response. "It's more than that," he said quietly. "There's no reason for this job to have meant more to me than any other. Why did it? Why did I read those reports and feel like punching Zabini in the face? I've read plenty of other reports, as detailed, from former confidants and lovers, and never had that response."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?"
"That you're not alone in wanting incompatible things." Harry smiled reluctantly at him. "I wanted you to be different from the others I slept with, from the very beginning, but I treated you as if you were the same. I should have gone to Robards and told him I couldn't do this, if I was being absolutely consistent in my standards, because I was getting too personally and emotionally involved with the idea of dating you. But I didn't. I pressed blindly forwards, hoping it would work out, and—then it didn't, and I was surprised. I think we were both fools the first time we fell into bed with each other."
"The first time," Draco replied softly, his eyes tracking over Harry's face as if he could see all the emotions that Harry was hiding from him. "So you'd like there to be other times?"
"Time after time," Harry said, and held out his hand.
It didn't take long for Draco's face to dissolve from the fire and then reform again as he appeared, climbing out and over Harry's hearth. He hesitated when he got to Harry, though, and tugged on his collar as though auditioning for something. Harry watched him with heart pounding, and wondered which of them would speak first and break the silence.
As it turned out, that was Fovea, who turned around to deposit a large blob of shit on the floor. Draco laughed much louder and longer than that was worth, making Fovea look at him with wonder and then approval, but Harry was smiling as he reached out and took his hands.
"So," he said. "You think you can stand to stay with me even though I'm still a liar and a spy, and even though I came to you under false pretenses, and even though I'm not the hero that you wanted me to be?"
"I think you might be more a hero than I knew you were," Draco said. "I wanted someone confident in what he wanted, and that's you. I only thought you were like that in school, didn't I? You were nowhere near as confident as you pretended."
Harry grinned and shook his head. "Except on the Quidditch pitch, no. I was scared out of my mind half the time and bulling around recklessly the rest."
"And your being a spy and a liar might not be so bad, because it would give me knowledge of you that most of the rest of the world doesn't have," Draco continued in a similar tone. Then, abruptly, his hands shifted from Harry's hands to his robe collar. "As long as you don't lie to me, or sleep with someone other than me," he added, in a tone that could have cooked rabbits. "You do, we're done."
"I'll never want to," Harry said quietly, and reached up to cup the back of Draco's neck.
Draco nodded, although not with the kind of strength that Harry would have liked to see. Well, he'd learn to trust Harry fully in time, or this wouldn't work out, and they would both find someone else. Harry no longer believed what he had when he was younger, that there was only one perfect person out there for everyone and you only had a limited amount of time to find them. He'd simply seen too much good in too many people for that to be true.
"And you can put up with someone who might be a criminal, who has a history of insulting and feuding with your best friends, and who knew you were a spy when he slept with you?" Draco asked.
"Your knowing saved me the awkward work of explaining it later," Harry said, and Draco snorted hard enough to offend Fovea. "I don't have any evidence that you're a criminal, and you haven't insulted my best friends lately. If you do it in front of me, I'll ask you not to. If you do it again, I'll warn you. And if you do it again, I'll break up with you."
Draco looked as if he was struggling not to smile. "That's something I could actually like in you," he murmured. "The lack of dependence on me. The certainty that you would find someone else like me."
"Not someone else like you," Harry said, and tugged him gently nearer. "Just someone else. We're not all in all to each other, but no one says that we have to be."
And he kissed him.
This time, he let his tongue wander the way he wanted it to, and ignored the considerations about whether he was being seductive enough, or too seductive, or offensive. Draco's mouth was warm, his tongue just as bold as Harry's. Harry found himself groaning and kneading Draco's shoulders sooner than he would have liked. Draco was the one to end the kiss, pulling back with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Well," he said.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"I liked that."
Fovea waddled across the couch, inserting herself between them, and squatted on Harry's knee with a challenging look at Draco. Harry grinned and stroked the feathers on her back, smoothing them down. "The greatest challenge might be getting along with her, really, rather than Ron and Hermione."
Draco rubbed the pulse in Harry's wrist with his thumb. "Then I reckon it's a good thing that I came here intending to accept you, bird and all."
Fovea spread her wings, cocked her head to the side, and bobbed it up and down several times. Draco blinked. "What is she doing?"
Harry scratched her again with one finger and leaned up to kiss Draco, since he knew Fovea wouldn't mind it now. "Letting the world know that we have her blessing." Draco's lips were chapped and gentle. "And a cockatoo's blessing is all we lacked."