Fox-Trot: 'Old Sir Faulk'
At last, the carriage pulled up in front of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. The residence had been the home of Sirius' mother until her death. Now the family (Remus included) used it whenever they had business in town. A skeleton staff included the elderly butler, Kreacher, who was undoubtedly one of the more eccentric members of the household.
"What brings the young master back to her home?" Kreacher asked, barring Harry's path.
The "her" Kreacher referred to was the late Countess Black, Sirius's mother. Kreacher had been unable to cope with the fact of his mistress's death, and spoke of her as if she had never died. Harry had even caught Kreacher speaking to the large portrait of the woman in the main hallway. He harbored a deep suspicion that the only reason the old butler had not been turned out was due to Remus's charitable influence.
"I'm here on business, Kreacher," Harry said, pushing his way inside with more force than he would have liked. "I'm not sure how long I'll be staying. If you would please inform Mrs. Whistledown that I should like a small supper prepared tonight, to be taken in my quarters. Regular meals will start tomorrow at the usual times."
He looked around the entry hall, eyeing the portrait of the late Mrs. Black with a wary eye as he removed his coat. "And I'll be needing Fletcher's services this evening as valet. I'll be attending a ball at the Malfoys'."
Kreacher snatched the coat from Harry's hands, his jaw wobbling with emotion. "The Malfoys? The young Master is going to be seeing her, isn't he?"
Harry paused on the landing. "Seeing whom, Kreacher?"
"The Lady Narcissa." Kreacher folded the coat over one arm and stroked it, not meeting Harry's eyes. "The Mistress who still lives."
"Lady Narcissa, your mistress?" he repeated slowly.
"Lady Narcissa is her niece. Cousin to the Master." Kreacher kept his head down, but Harry knew he scowled, as he always did when forced to mention Sirius.
"Cousins? I had no idea their families were connected." Kreacher said nothing, so Harry regarded the old man for a moment before continuing up the stairs.
His room did not appear to have been disturbed, or even cleaned, since he had last been to town eight months ago. Harry sneezed as he beat the dust away and cleared a place at the secretary to look over his father's portfolio. The task of cleaning the house would have to wait until tomorrow. Perhaps Mrs. Whistledown could arrange the hiring of a maid for the duration of his stay.
Harry undressed down to his shirt and trousers. The portfolio was thick. His father had been investing in various markets for quite a long time. Godric's Hollow essentially generated enough to cover all expenses, but the income of three thousand a year came directly from these investments. Harry had known of them, but until he had come of age this past July, Sirius had managed them.
He slouched in the chair, trying to get comfortable, but the words and figures blurred before his eyes. The hardness of the chair reminded his backside of his earlier reunion with Malfoy. Draco. He smiled at the memory, shifting his weight more comfortably. Their time apart only seemed to have heightened the passion that between them. At Malfoy Manor that passion had been considerable, almost overwhelming, but it was nothing compared to what he had felt this afternoon. Harry had been shocked at how familiar and yet foreign Draco's touch had felt, and at his own response to that touch.
"You missed this, didn't you?" Draco had murmured into Harry's ear. Harry had been unable to verbalize his response.
He had missed it, more than he would have thought possible. Draco's presence made Harry feel alive, to say nothing of how he felt when they embraced. Despite his unparalleled response to Draco, both his chance meeting with Wood at the club earlier, and his introduction to Lord Voldemort later that afternoon had left him feeling a similar pleasurable breathlessness, which puzzled him. He burned with the frustration to know if Wood and Lord Voldemort were exceptions to his normal desires, or an indication that he had changed, inexorably, in his feelings towards all members of his sex. His reaction to Wood was understandable-Harry knew he had felt drawn to the older man in his youth-but how could his immediate, almost instinctual attraction towards Lord Voldemort be explained? The older man was certainly charming, and exuded an air of power that was almost tangible. It was intimidating, yet exhilarating, to feel himself the focus of such a man, worthy of such intense scrutiny. His reaction to Lord Voldemort reminded Harry more of his first encounters with Malfoy than his relationship with Wood. Voldemort's presence seemed to engender the same thrill that he had felt when in Draco's company.
What would it be like to feel Lord Voldemort's embrace? The thought came unbidden, and bothered Harry. He needed only to lean back in the wooden chair to know that he did not want to contemplate another lover when he had only just been reunited. Draco was the only one Harry could imagine being with, of this Harry was certain. To think of Lord Voldemort was distracting and served no purpose, Harry concluded and forced himself to focus on the papers in front of him, haunted by Tom Riddle's intense green gaze.
"Mother, for the last time, I refuse to wear that waistcoat. That shade of green is positively vile," Draco said firmly, and not without a degree of petulance. His mother had been insufferable all afternoon, hovering, prodding, fussing over his clothes, his hair, his shoes, even his cravat. All he had wanted to do was languish in the memory of his afternoon with Harry, but her presence had made even that small luxury impossible.
"Darling, you know it's the latest trend. I had it commissioned especially for tonight. And why must you insist on wearing that blue coat? It's nearly two seasons old." Lady Narcissa stood next to her son, waving the horrid waistcoat like a banner.
"I like the blue coat," Draco muttered, sinking into a chair near the window.
His mother drew herself up to her full height. Draco flinched, preparing himself for what he knew was coming. Lady Narcissa had a talent for making people feel smaller than herself, even though she barely reached his shoulder. "Draco Malfoy, you are five and twenty. Yet you dare to treat your own mother with such incivility?"
Draco opened his mouth to protest, but she had not finished. "Ever since you brought that Potter as your guest you have been uncommonly headstrong, especially in regard to your future and your wife. Why the other day Mrs. Parkinson-"
"That is quite enough, Mother," Draco said, slamming his fist against the windowsill. "My future, my wife…my future consists only of my wife according to you."
Lady Narcissa interrupted his tirade, glaring down at him indignantly. "A wife is certainly an important aspect of your future, Draco. And it would behoove you to remember that."
Draco would not be silenced. "If you do not cease your tactless attempts to see me married by throwing heiresses and their mamas at me I swear to tell them what I'm telling you now-I am only resolved to act in the manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my own happiness without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me as Mrs. Parkinson and the rest of the bloody ton."
Lady Narcissa drew a choked breath, her shock and anger at his words causing her voice to shake. "Insufferable presumption! Your father is going to hear of this outrageous behavior and let me tell you, my son, that he will not be pleased." She threw the waistcoat down on his bed and glared furiously before she turned back to him.
"I would not be surprised if he disinherited you altogether! You will marry, Draco Malfoy, or you dishonor the name you bear and all those who bear it with you. You would leave me, your own mother, to suffer the discomfort of knowing that one small accident and your father's death-not to mention your own-and I would be turned out! Homeless!" She walked to the door, closing it behind her loudly.
Draco shook his hand, gingerly examining the knuckles. It had been satisfying to hit something in his anger, but he could already see the bruising that would follow. May she be damned. Her, and his father. And damn himself too. It was not his fault that he was the only heir to the Malfoy fortune, nor that if he died without an heir of his own the estate would be entailed away on some relative. All his life his parents had impressed the importance of marrying early to him. His father had married his mother when he was young, only twenty-six, and she had been just eighteen. Despite his mother's youth, Draco had been their only offspring. For as long as Draco could remember, his father had been engaged in gaining power and influence, in order to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the Malfoy estate. So far he had not been successful. While Lucius Malfoy was powerful and influential, the house of Malfoy was still bound to the rules of the estate.
He had no doubt that his mother was correct in her assertion that if he did not marry within a prescribed amount of time, his father would disinherit him. If he were disinherited, the Malfoy fortune as well as the Malfoy estates would be entailed upon the nearest male relation. He had absolutely no idea who that would be. His father had no siblings, but his mother came from a large family. Doubtless one of them would become heir to it. If they were lucky, the relative would have a title and estates of his own, and allow his mother and father to keep residing at Malfoy Manor. And Draco would . . . Draco had no idea where he would go, should he be disinherited. He would be exiled from every polite society he had ever known. The stigma attached to his name would be known throughout civilized company. He would be exiled to Europe, or God forbid, the North country. He shuddered at the thought. The only other option was to marry and beget an heir. Harry would understand. He would have to.
A knock on the door interrupted his reverie and he sighed. "Yes?"
Draco's valet-McMillan by name-peeked around the door. "Sir?"
"Ah, McMillan. Come in. I'll need a bath and shave this evening." Draco sighed, pushing his hair back from his eyes, and smiled bitterly. "I must look presentable to my future wife."
Harry stood outside Malfoy's London residence, self-conscious in his finest evening wear. As he peered inside the candlelit windows he was reminded of the last ball he had attended so many months ago, at Hogwarts. He was late because Kreacher had not bothered to make arrangements for a carriage that evening, despite the fact that Harry had informed him of his plans to go out.
The butler took Harry's hat and coat as he entered, and directed him to the main ballroom with an attitude that reminded Harry unpleasantly of Lady Narcissa herself. He made his way through the crowd of people as unobtrusively as possible. He finally caught sight of that recognizable blond hair out on the dance floor, holding the hand of a lovely young woman Harry had never seen before. She was very pretty, and smiled demurely up at Draco as he led her through the dance. Harry stopped, his breath caught. The pit of his stomach churned with an emotion he hadn't felt since Draco revealed his intentions towards Miss Weasley were nonexistent. Jealousy, and not of him. Of her.
The rational part of his mind informed him that he was letting his sensibility overrule his sense. It was a ball. Of course Draco was going to dance. And furthermore, it was not in his nature to be uncivil to even the most unattractive of partners. He struggled to make his heart understand what his head knew to be rational. He had simply not been prepared for how the forced façade between them and society would make him feel. Once he became accustomed to seeing Draco with female partners he wouldn't feel this way. Truly. Harry forced his eyes away from the dancers and made his way around the room to the refreshments. Perhaps he would be able to speak with Draco when the dance ended.
The lemonade was surprisingly refreshing. And he drank two glasses while fighting a losing battle to keep his eyes off Draco as he danced. He was wearing the same blue coat that he had worn at the Hogwarts ball, which brought a smile to Harry's lips. Draco knew how attractive he looked in blue. He certainly put the other men to shame as he moved effortlessly through the lines. Harry paused, reflecting on the virtues of the situation. He had seen Draco dance before, and danced with Draco himself, but he had never really been able to admire from a distance the grace with which Draco carried himself. The same innate grace could be found in his other pursuits, including fencing and lovemaking. He was simply beautiful to watch.
When the dance ended, Draco bowed to his partner and walked away, seeming distracted.
Harry made his way to Draco's side. "Malfoy," he murmured, feeling breathless just to be near his lover. "How are you this evening?" he asked politely.
Draco smiled and turned, so that they walked beside one another. "You are a little more than fashionably late, you know. But for all that, I'm still very glad you could join us," he said casually.
Harry felt his cheeks going red with embarrassment, envying his lover's control. "I did not mean to be rude. I-"
"Think nothing of it," Draco said dismissively. "Come, I'll introduce you."
He followed Draco to one corner of the room where a small group of men and women congregated. One of them, a foppish looking man, clapped Draco on the shoulder with familiarity.
"Malfoy, you naughty boy. When were you going to tell us?" he said, in heavily accented English.
"Do restrain yourself, Zabini, and allow me to introduce my friend." Draco changed the subject with a hasty glance towards Harry. "Harry Potter, from the North. Potter, allow me to introduce Monsignor Blaise Zabini, lately of Vienna as one might guess from his atrocious sense of style."
The crowd around them tittered at Draco's joke as Harry shook Zabini's hand.
"A pleasure," the Italian murmured, his eyes openly assessing Harry as he smiled lecherously.
"Likewise, I'm sure," Harry replied. He did not like the way Zabini was looking at him and pulled his hand back as quickly as civility allowed.
"And this is Crabbe, Goyle, Baddock and Miss Bulstrode and Miss Perks," Draco said, gesturing at each gentleman or lady in turn. Harry felt himself being scrutinized from his unfashionable spectacles down to his boots, scuffed with wear. The ladies were not the most beautiful in the room, but their status was obviously based upon their worth and not their appearance. After the group members seemingly summed Harry up as being no one of importance, they ignored him, turning their attention and the conversation to Malfoy.
"Miss Parkinson was unable to attend tonight, Malfoy?" Baddock asked. His smirk seemed an imitation of Draco's, Harry thought, and not a very good imitation either.
"To my utter despair." Draco grinned with the gentlemen of the group as the ladies giggled.
"Dear Miss Parkinson has been so selfish to keep you all to herself for such a length of time, Mr. Malfoy," the blonde girl Draco had identified as Miss Perks said demurely as she sidled up to him. "You must allow us to welcome you back to society." She smiled suggestively, causing Harry to momentarily contemplate strangling her by her blonde curls, intricately arranged in the latest fashion.
Draco smiled back. "Of course, my dear Miss Perks. However, I am engaged in the next with Miss Patil."
"Which one?" Zabini asked. "They are twins, you know."
"The elder. Miss Padma Patil, I believe, her sister is Miss Parvati Patil." Draco nodded towards the Indian group congregating in one corner of the room.
"They're quite exotic, aren't they, Millicent? Indian princesses, the ton has hailed them as," Miss Perks mock whispered. "Princesses? Their father is a merchant!" Miss Perks affected a look of disdain. Harry decided then and there that she was absolutely intolerable. He glanced at Draco, hoping to see some similar look of disgust. His lover had a look of practiced boredom on his face. Was this the world Malfoy inhabited on a regular basis? The world he had grown up in? If so, his behavior during their first meetings at Hogwarts was easier to understand. One would need to be skilled in indifference to survive among these wolves.
"And a very wealthy merchant, Miss Perks. You also seem to forget the fact that they are royalty, at least in their own country." Zabini cut in. Miss Perks glared heatedly at Zabini, who only smiled graciously and turned his attention to Draco. "Do you suppose the Patil heiresses have a brother?"
"Why would he be interested in a brother?" Miss Bulstrode spoke for the first time, her tone sharp and knowing. "Not everyone's tastes run in your direction, Mr. Zabini." The group tittered again.
Zabini, to Harry's surprise, only shrugged, and continued. "Our Malfoy will have his pick of brides this season. It is fortuitous that Incomparables like the Patil heiresses have chosen this year for their debut."
Harry's eyes moved to Malfoy again. A bride? Surely he had misheard.
"Rotten luck, that, Malfoy," Baddock said, patting him on the shoulder. "It's unfashionable to be married so young."
Draco refused to meet Harry's eye, his gaze directed towards his mother and father on the opposite side of the room. "Yes," he said with an air of affected indifference, "it is."
Harry needed to get Draco alone, as soon as possible. Only then would he obtain the truths he desperately wanted. Harry looked around, catching sight of an open terrace on the other side of the room. If he left, would Draco understand he was to follow? It was a chance he was willing to take. "Begging your pardon ladies, gentlemen, but I must take my leave," Harry announced, making a courtly bow before he turned his back on them.
"How rude," he overheard Miss Perks say as he left. "Poor breeding, do you think? Or merely poor?" Laughter followed her remark.
Harry pushed his way through the crowd, almost tripping over one young lady. "Excuse me, miss. I did not see you," he said in apology, helping the girl to her feet.
"Thank you, Mister-" she smiled, her voice taking on a dreamlike quality. "Mr. Potter. How good it is to see you again." She stood up, straightening her gown-an unusual tangerine that made her seem as exotic as the Patil princesses.
"Miss Lovegood? A pleasure to see you again." Miss Luna Lovegood was one of the oddest young ladies of Harry's acquaintance. Her mother had died when she was young, leaving her to be raised by her father, who ran a successful newspaper in town. As a result of her unorthodox lifestyle, she was thought to be rather peculiar. It seemed strange to run into her, literally, at the Malfoys' party, but he supposed she had accompanied her father. The Malfoys had enjoyed longstanding social success in part because of their attitudes towards the society papers.
Harry's connection to Miss Lovegood was more tenuous. She and Miss Weasley had been friends in their youth, and Harry had been introduced to her (and forced to dance with her) at several country balls. He was surprised to see her in London and said as much.
"Father could not bear to be parted from my company for any longer, I'm afraid," she explained. "It was unfortunate that I could not tarry longer with Miss Weasley in Bath, but it is the season, and I do love these balls." She smiled brightly, her eyes moving from Harry to the dance floor and back again.
Harry smiled, but sighed inwardly. He did not feel like dancing but to refuse the hint was unconscionable. "It would be my pleasure to dance with you later this evening, Miss Lovegood. If I may have your card?"
She held out her wrist, and Harry obediently scanned the list of dances. The waltz was listed and he looked up in surprise. "The waltz? I've yet to attend a ball where the waltz was listed."
Miss Lovegood smiled. "Indeed. Most shocking. A girl needs her mother's permission to even engage in such a performance. Of course no one will question the waltz being danced here at the Malfoys' ball. They are a family in good standing, and more importantly, they are French."
Harry had to stifle the urge to laugh, settling for an amused smile and looked back down at the card in his hand. "Do you need your father's permission to waltz, Miss Lovegood?"
"I have it." She smiled again, and took her card back once Harry had written his name down. "I was sent for some lemonade. Would you excuse me, Mr. Potter?"
Only too happy to be dismissed, he watched her leave and made his own way to an outdoor terrace. He stood next to the railing, feeling the cool stone beneath his fingertips and smelling the unperfumed fresh air of London. It had recently rained, to no one's surprise, and the ground was wet. His encounter with Miss Lovegood would have given Draco more than enough time to make his excuses to his companions and discreetly make his way to join him.
"Potter?" a male voice said behind him.
He turned to see Lord Voldemort there, looking resplendent in a dark green coat that brightened his eyes, making them seem luminescent even in the torchlight.
"Lord Voldemort." He made the effort to smile, his disappointment at his companion's identity melting away as the smile was returned. "A pleasure to see you again so soon."
"And you as well," Lord Voldemort said softly, and moved to stand beside Harry. "Forgive the observation, but you do not seem to be enjoying yourself this evening."
Surprised at such a direct comment, Harry looked up, under Lord Voldemort's assessing gaze. Had Lord Voldemort been watching him all evening? "No, I...am only unused to such crowded events. I thought some fresh air might do me good."
Lord Voldemort nodded, smiling pleasantly. "I understand, Harry. May I call you Harry?" He had moved closer, so their shoulders were nearly touching.
"If you wish to, my lord," Harry replied.
Lord Voldemort laughed, a throaty chuckle that made Harry shiver. "You must call me Tom."
They were nearly the same height, Harry noticed, his eyes widening involuntarily at the realization. They had similar builds as well, though Lord Voldemort was perhaps a bit broader in the shoulders. And his eyes...it was as if they were his own, reflected back at him, the only barrier between their gaze was Harry's spectacles. It was as though he was looking at a more attractive and mature version of himself.
"I saw that Draco introduced you to his acquaintances," Lord Voldemort said, and turned, his green eyes openly curious. "What did you think of them?"
"It would be more accurate to ask what they thought of me. And the answer is obviously, very little," Harry said, looking down at his hands.
"They are blind as well as boring."
It was uttered with such sincerity that Harry felt himself blushing. Open admiration from someone like Lord Voldemort was not something he was used to. "I fear they could see things quite clearly."
"The blush becomes you well, Harry." He lifted his hand to stroke Harry's cheek with gloved fingers. "It is quite endearing. I think I would relinquish my favorite horse to make you blush again."
Harry could feel the blood rushing to his face. Lord Voldemort laughed. "It seems I do not have to, however. Has any one told you how beautiful you are like this?"
Confusion swept over Harry at the change of topic. "Yes." Draco had. Often.
"Allow me to say I have unparalled jealousy at whomever said it first. And who might have seen you so gloriously flushed all over." Lord Voldemort's hand was still on his cheek. Harry could feel the cool cloth against his hot skin.
"Tom?" he asked, struggling to keep from being overwhelmed.
"You are exquisite," Lord Voldemort said with a smile, turning to bring his face close to Harry's.
He could feel Lord Voldemort's breath against his lips. It was like being entranced. A voice in his mind urged him to close the distance between them. He was acutely aware of his heartbeat, and the way Lord Voldemort's eyes suddenly seemed red, not green.
The spell was broken by the first strains of the waltz, and Harry stepped back quickly, taking deep breaths. "I must go. I am engaged in the next," he said hastily.
"Forgive me for detaining you, Harry." Lord Voldemort straightened, and smiled. His gloved hand now rested innocently on the stone banister.
Harry tried to smile and arrange his composure as he returned to the ballroom. He caught sight of Miss Lovegood, who appeared distressed, then pleased when he claimed her hand and led her to the dance floor.
As soon as he took her into his arms, his body was transported back to that night at Hogwarts so long ago.
"What do you want?"Draco had said.
He spun Miss Lovegood around the dance floor, catching sight of a blonde hair and blue coat only a few feet away.
Draco, waltzing with Miss Perks.
"Now, nice and slow. One, two, three..." Draco's hand rested on his hip, directing his body.
"Mr. Potter? Are you a l right?"
Harry forced himself to concentrate on his partner. "Beg your pardon, Miss Lovegood. Woolgathering."
She smiled pleasantly. "I should say you were, sir, but I have the tendency to do it myself from time to time."
A tentative smile, a rare display of insecurity from a usually confident Malfoy. "Miss Weasley is a lucky girl indeed."
Not half so lucky as Miss Perks, Harry thought ruefully in answer. As the dance came to a close, he led Miss Lovegood to the side of the ballroom, excusing himself politely.
He followed Draco and Miss Perks with his eyes as they made their way back to their corner of friends, smiling. Leaving suddenly seemed to be an excellent idea. As he turned away, making for the door, he was stopped by a hand on his arm.
"Leaving so soon, Harry?" A silky voice purred near his ear.
Harry looked up, into Lord Voldemort's eyes. "I beg you would excuse me, sir," he said softly.
The other man smiled beguilingly. Harry tried to ignore Lord Voldemort's fingers, subtly tracing the inside of his arm. "I must beseech you to stay. You haven't begun to be introduced to proper society."
Harry stuttered, trying to think of a suitable excuse. "I had not-that is to say-"
"Have you been introduced to McNair or Lestrange?" Lord Voldemort said, interrupting smoothly. "The Minister himself is even here tonight, that is, if you are interested in being introduced."
Interested in being introduced to the Minister? He had thought Draco's circle of friends were influential, but obviously, Lord Voldemort was connected to a very different group of powerful men. To snub him now would be insupportable. He had no choice but to nod his assent. Lord Voldemort's eyes gleamed, and he escorted Harry to another corner of the room, opposite Draco's.
Harry was intimidated at first to be included in conversation with many of the ton's most influential members, but with Lord Voldemort as his patron, no one questioned his presence.
Lord Voldemort's natural charm and his obvious influence among his peers impressed Harry. Their conversation was often interrupted by other guests of the Malfoys, as well as the Malfoys themselves. A subtle slight by Lord Voldemort and gentlemen scurried away, loath to earn Lord Voldemort's ill favor. Harry was amazed at how one could hold a tete a tete in the midst of a crowded ballroom. He would be a simpleton indeed to slight a man ten times his consequence.
When he made his way to the terrace for a second time, this time in genuine need for fresh air, he was surprised to see Draco there.
"Malfoy?" he asked.
Draco turned around. There was a significant delay before he responded. "Harry."
Harry drew closer. The torchlight made Malfoy's expression difficult to read from a distance. "I had hoped to speak with you tonight," he said reproachfully.
"I know," Draco replied stiffly, turning his glance back out across the terrace. "I could not get away before now," he added hastily.
Harry stopped, standing less than a foot away from Draco. His companion seemed uncharacteristically withdrawn.
"I'm sure it was difficult for you to tear yourself from Miss Perks' side," Harry said, proud of the way he kept his voice neutral.
"Is that what you think?" Draco asked, but his response was as carefully neutral as Harry's question had been, making it impossible for Harry to judge how his question had been interpreted.
"I don't know what to think," Harry answered honestly, bravely closing the distance between the two of them to stand beside the blond. "But I had hoped you would inform me."
Draco raised his eyes. In the torchlight they seemed devoid of any pigment, a flat gray. Even the blue of his jacket seemed dulled. When he spoke, it was deliberately. "My mother-this afternoon when I returned-I was given an ultimatum," a quickly drawn breath betrayed Draco's control, and the rest of his words came out in a rush. "Marry by the end of the season or face losing my inheritance."
Harry said nothing.
"Can you not see how helpless I am?" Draco asked after a moment's silence. The neutrality had disappeared, replaced by desperation. "How I have been tortured with this? I'm twenty-five years old and would have been quite content to be a bachelor until I was thirty, at least."
And suddenly, it became clear. "You always planned to marry." Harry said, pronouncing it as an accusation.
Draco looked at him in surprise. "Naturally I must marry. I'm the last of my line. If I do not, the estates, the money, everything will be entailed away onto an obscure relation."
"You must..." Harry stopped. "Yes, naturally you must. How foolish you must think me, to have thought that what lies between us would equal that of my godfather and Remus."
"Harry, a marriage is only a contract for a wife and heir. It is not a relationship of importance beyond that," Draco said, softening his tone. "There is no reason why we could not-"
"There is a reason, Malfoy." He saw Draco flinch at the use of formality.
"You would ask me to submit to a future disinherited?" Draco hissed. "Penniless? A complete outcast? No one would associate with me. Our association would only be more scandalous. Surely you can understand the impossibility of such a future."
Their eyes met at last. Harry studied the face he knew so well, the beautiful sweep of blond hair that currently obscured Draco's eyes, the elegant cheekbones, tinged at the moment with emotion, the full lips that could be sensuous, or curl at the corners in a smirk or smile were now tightly pressed together. He recognized nothing of his lover's countenance in the man that stood before him.
"The only impossibility, Draco," he began slowly, his voice carefully controlled, "is our future together."
There was silence, the noises from the ball inside seeming obscenely loud. Draco opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a subtle throat clearing.
Harry and Draco both turned towards the sound.
"I hope I am not interrupting anything," Lord Voldemort said smoothly from the doorway.
Harry recovered first. "Lord Voldemort. You were not interrupting anything. I was just taking my leave of my host."
"I see." Lord Voldemort moved closer, eyes gleaming as he smiled. "Would you excuse us, Potter? I would also like to take leave of my host in private."
Harry glanced at Draco, who wore an expression of cool indifference. "Of course. Good evening, Malfoy."
Draco did not want Harry to leave, but there was little he could do to protest the situation. "Good evening, Potter. I will be in touch with you, about that matter we were discussing earlier," he said quietly.
"I don't think there's anything left to discuss," Harry replied, and exited before Draco could respond.
"Well done, Draco," Voldemort said, sounding amused.
He turned to face Tom. "Your approval means so much to me, Tom," he said, not bothering to conceal his hostility.
Tom only smiled. "Always so polite, Draco."
"He reminds me of you, you know," Tom said, and moved closer to Draco. "He's so polite and unsure of himself, and unable to conceal the moments when passion overtakes him. I can only imagine how he would respond in different circumstances."
The thought of Tom with Harry in intimate circumstances made him ill. "Stay away from him," Draco said sharply.
Tom laughed. "So protective, Draco. When clearly your association has ended."
"It's a temporary break," Draco said haltingly.
Tom seemed to consider this, then shook his head.
"I think you underestimate him. I think he understands you perfectly. Whether he understands me is another issue entirely." He smiled again, sinisterly. "I think he'll enjoy Paris. France holds such pleasant memories for me."
Memories of France were anything but pleasant for Draco. "What makes you think he'd agree to go anywhere with you? You've only just met him," he asked.
"As luck may have it, tonight may have provided him with enough motivation to leave London, if only avoid a certain man's company," he said, pausing mid turn. "I should thank you, really. You've made my goal much easier to accomplish."
"And how is that?" Draco asked. He didn't like the look in Tom's eyes.
Tom smiled. "People in love are so easy to seduce, Draco. Especially when they feel... abandoned."
My notes for this chapter were so extensive that I decided to add them at the end, rather than the beginning.
This was a hard chapter to get out, for numerous reasons. And I have to thank Gryph and Cedar for their support in many ways, seen and unseen. Gryph has also done an absolutely magnificent fanart for me of the lake scene that I could not link to directly in the text, so I'm linking to it here: .
I need to thank my betas. The lovely Heidi was incredibly helpful, as always, but especially in giving insight regarding patterns of speech, social class, and the Lady Narcissa. I had two snap betas this time around who answered a desperate plea on LJ for assistance, so I'd like to thank both vestige00 and revolutiongeek. And finally, I have to thank the incredibly Earthquake1906 for giving me the much needed push to post this chapter.
Now . . . on to Paris.