Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Anarchy As Art. Thanks for reading.
Chapter Twenty—Finding the Foundation
"I just don't think that you'll be happy, that's all."
Harry sighed gustily and leaned back with his arm over his eyes. They were once again in the glassed-in space behind Hermione's house, but Harry was enjoying himself less this time than he usually did. If Hermione would only stop going on about Draco, then it would be better.
And why not make her stop?
Harry paused, with his arm still over his eyes. Hermione didn't pause, still talking softly about how she thought someone who ignored all law and order in the way that Draco did wouldn't make Harry happy, but his heartbeat seemed to, and the thoughts that had danced madly through his head since he came on this visit.
Draco doesn't talk constantly about his thefts and the other things he does that you don't like. You live with them, and you don't try to stop them or change him, and he doesn't shove them in your face, in return. Why not ask Hermione if she isn't willing to make the same bargain? She thinks of herself as someone who likes you better than Draco does, after all. She should be able to agree.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Harry said, sitting up and reaching for the glass of orange juice in front of him. He had thought it was too sticky-sweet when Hermione first poured it for him, but right now it was perfect. He sipped slowly and watched Hermione turn her head to stare at him with her mouth open.
"What?" she asked at last, voice small.
"I don't want to talk about Draco with you anymore," Harry said, and smiled at her. "Yes, I know that you're concerned. Well, you've voiced those concerns. I've heard them, and I'll think about them. And hell, Hermione, it's not like I don't have concerns myself when I think about him being a thief and the way that we used to hate each other. But I've chosen to live with him, and the way that you keep talking about him just makes me miserable. It doesn't help at all."
Hermione blinked as though that perspective had never occurred to her. Then she said, still in a tender, exploring voice that apparently showed she needed time to get used to this idea, "So, you—you want—"
"I want you to stop talking about him," Harry said. "I won't brag about his illegal activities and make you listen to anything you don't want to hear, and in return you won't lecture me about him. I don't want to hear that."
Hermione leaned towards him and put her hand over his on the table. Harry sat up. He knew that was what she did when she was about to launch into a new kind of lecture, and he still wasn't in the mood to listen.
"Harry," she said tenderly. "I don't think you've considered all the implications that just putting up with him might have."
Harry took his hand back, not angrily but in a way that made it impossible for Hermione not to notice, and sipped at his orange juice again. "Just consider that I have," he said. "I've thought about this for a long fucking time, Hermione. I've thought about whether I could live with it or if I should try to let him walk away again, and the one conclusion I've come to is that walking away doesn't work for us and never will. So let's skip the arguments and the whining and the attempts to convince me that I don't want to do this. I do, and it's all settled."
Hermione spent a moment more staring at him, wrongfooted. Then she said, "If I can come up with a new argument, would you listen to it?"
Harry laughed in spite of himself. Sometimes he thought Hermione had spent so long struggling against other people since the war, fighting to be noticed by people who despised her blood, fighting for house-elf rights, fighting to clear up some of the obvious corruption in the Ministry, that she didn't know how to exist when someone wasn't opposing her.
"No," he said gently. "I won't make you sit next to him at dinner or even eat with him if you don't want to, don't worry. But I don't want to listen to you talk about him."
Hermione appeared to be chewing something over. Then she opened her mouth, but Harry looked at her with his eyebrows raised and a faint smile on his face, and in the end she murmured, defeated, "No, I suppose that's an argument we've already had, too."
Harry saluted her with his glass of orange juice, and determinedly switched the conversation to Ron, and how he was doing in the Aurors without Harry by his side. That was a subject that would always interest him, no matter how far he drifted from the Aurors, simply because it was Ron.
"Mr. Potter, just a moment of your time."
Harry hid his groan, and nodded and turned around so he faced Rita Skeeter. She was scrambling towards him along the row of public Floo fireplaces in the Ministry Atrium, patting at her hair so that it would stay in place. "Of course, Ms. Skeeter," he said. "Is there something I can tell you?"
She jerked to a stop and looked at him with big, breathless eyes, as though puzzled he didn't try to run away. Then she said, "I heard that you have a plan involving Muggleborn children and schools, Mr. Potter. An ambitious one."
Harry nodded. "I think Muggleborn children should be educated at wizarding primary schools, not left out. And that means that we need to make sure they're introduced to our world earlier. It's going to take a lot of work, but it's a worthy goal."
Skeeter was scribbling with her Quick-Quotes Quill, lips moving as though she was repeating his words. Harry was sure she wasn't, and he'd see some distorted version of his little speech in the Daily Prophet tomorrow, but he watched with a tolerant eye. Things were going to be misrepresented in this fight. He might as well get used to it.
"What made you decide to take up this goal?" Skeeter leaned towards him with her eyelashes fluttering. "The same thing that made you step away from the Ministry, perhaps? They say," she went on, rushing so fast that Harry couldn't have answered her even if he wanted to, "that it's a mysterious new lover."
"I'll tell you," Harry said, lowering his voice and stepping nearer to her. "I'll even grant you an exclusive interview, if you like."
Skeeter was easily tempted, but not an idiot. She ran her tongue along her lower lip twice before she asked, "And the price?"
"You have to write an article to my specifications," Harry said, and showed her a mean little smile that he didn't think she'd been ready for, because it made her gasp in what sounded like delight and surprise. "One specifically about a few members of the Ministry who are so corrupt that they can't see you unless you've got Galleons in hand."
Skeeter's eyes sparkled. "You intrigue me extremely, Mr. Potter," she said. "Do you have time for that exclusive interview right now, or were you here on important business in the Ministry?" Her tone was solicitous.
"About to talk to the Wizengamot member in charge of Education, Mr. Pembroke-Wiltshire," Harry said, and gave her a smile that actually made Skeeter clasp her hands to her bosom as though her heart was going to jump out of it. "Would you like to come along and watch the fireworks? Perhaps cause some of them?"
Skeeter reached out and rested her hand on his elbow, turning smartly so that they were both walking towards the lifts together. "Mr. Potter," she crooned as she erased some of what she'd written down with the Quick-Quotes Quill, "I can see that we're going to be the very best of friends."
"Shall I show you the things I stole this afternoon?"
Harry started and looked up from the stack of parchment in front of him, reports on the state of wizarding education for the past eight years, that he'd borrowed from Pembroke-Wiltshire's office. His mind was mush with numbers and facts and locations and names, and it took him a long moment to realize that Draco was standing in a shaft of sunlight that fell through Harry's front window, posed, with his arms folded behind his head and his legs crossed in front of him.
Harry smiled at him, and tried to ignore the quickening pulse in his groin for the moment. "Was there anything for me?"
Draco chuckled, a low sound that reminded Harry of the way Skeeter had laughed when Pembroke-Wiltshire opened his office door and saw her and Harry together, and then reached down to a chain hanging around his neck, which Harry had assumed without thinking held keys. "Is there," he said.
"That's what I asked," Harry said, and then his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he coughed as his breath tried to do the same thing.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Draco asked softly, turning the emerald ring in his hands back and forth so that the jewel blazed in the sunlight.
"Beautiful," Harry said. He'd never cared all that much for jewelry, but even he could tell this was something special, the shining stone revealing depths of green that he'd never known a simple stone could.
Draco took a single step forwards, and offered the ring with a sweeping bow. Harry looked at the simple gold band for a minute, and wondered if it was engraved on the inside with the initials of the real owner, or some message about love and faithfulness that would make him feel bad when he tried to wear it. But he didn't see or feel any letters like that when he slid it onto his finger.
The stone sparked in the sunlight when he turned his hand, too. And Harry felt a great surge of simple happiness at its beauty, and gladness that Draco had found it for him.
"I can't wear it long," he said softly, looking at the ring and not Draco. "I'd start feeling too bad about it."
Draco stepped up to him and ran a hand down his neck, as though he wanted to offer him a massage because he'd spent so long bent over his paperwork. "I know," Draco said. "It was only a loan to you, anyway. In a little while I'll take it back and take it on to the fate that I've planned for it."
Harry turned and glanced up at him. "What's that? And where did you steal it from, anyway?"
Draco met his eyes and didn't smile, although that made him look stern and adult, instead of giving him the constipated look that it usually did when he refused to answer one of Harry's questions. "Do you want to know that?" he asked softly. "Because I'll tell you if you do. But otherwise, I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask questions."
Harry winced. "Yeah, that was a bit bloody stupid of me," he muttered, turning the ring over and over, spinning it so that the stone and the band shone. It moved easily on his finger. Made for someone with larger hands that he had, Harry thought, but that was as far as he would go in trying to guess the owner. "Sorry."
Draco kissed the back of his neck. "Enjoy it while you have it," he said, and then took the ring off Harry's second finger, where he'd placed it instinctively, and studied it. "But I think it would look better like this."
He slid it onto the fourth finger of Harry's left hand, and held it there as if he wanted all the sunlight in the world to pour through the window and linger on the jewel.
Harry stared at him, and then at the emerald. "Draco," he said, voice trailing off into silence.
Draco kissed the back of his neck, and ran his fingers further down, getting them under Harry's shirt so that he could touch his ribs properly—or what he tended to call "properly" in conversations with Harry. "Hush," he whispered. "Don't say anything. Just enjoy."
Harry decided that he could do that, even if he didn't have a lot of practice in it yet and had to talk to people instead of doing it decently on the first try, and leaned his head back so they could kiss. Draco nipped at his lips and made quite a proper go of it before he pulled Harry's shirt off over his head and sank down between his legs.
Later they fucked with the emerald ring still clinging and sparkling on Harry's finger, and then Draco took it off him and laid it on the table beside the bed. Harry was still watching it when he went to sleep.
When he woke, both the ring and Draco were gone. Harry sighed and settled in to study the files and, as he had said he would do, wait for Draco to come back.
"Mr. Potter, I still don't understand how you're going to do this." Skeeter's voice dripped treacle. She'd set up the questions in advance with him, of course, but they still sounded natural—and anyway, everyone knew that Harry Potter and Rita Skeeter hadn't liked each other ever since he was still a student at Hogwarts, so most people wouldn't be looking for a collaboration between them. "Won't it take a lot of money to build these schools?"
Harry smiled and sat back in his chair in the Ministry Atrium, where he had decided to hold this first press conference on the subject of the schools. Technically, there was an exemption in the laws that allowed anyone to do that, but most people didn't know about it. There had turned out to be something good, after all, about all the boring and musty old paperwork that Thorin had had him read.
Besides Skeeter, about ten other reporters and sixteen Aurors were in attendance, plus any number of Ministry employees and people with business there who had detoured over when they saw what was going on. Harry thought it wasn't a bad crowd, and he sat there pretending to think deeply about Skeeter's question and considered their faces. Most of them looked reluctantly fascinated.
"Well, of course, that's what pure-blood fortunes are for," Harry said at last, when he thought that they had built anticipation up to the sticking-point and Skeeter would probably fall off her chair if she leaned forwards anymore. "And I don't think my father would disapprove of the way that I plan to use his. He did marry a Muggleborn witch, after all."
Skeeter nodded as though that was a point of serious importance. "But surely your money can't do it all alone, Mr. Potter?"
Harry smiled and opened his mouth. This was his cue to mention the fundraising efforts that he'd already started, mostly among people who either sincerely believed in the cause or could make profitable alliances with him.
"Of course not. He'll also have mine."
Harry turned around and let his jaw drop before he could help himself. This wasn't part of their meticulously planned onslaught of questions, especially because he'd thought Draco was still out of the country.
But no, there he was, walking across the Atrium in his best grey dress robes, all wrapped up in the shining character of Draco Malfoy, Philanthropist. Cameras clicked, and more quills came out and began scribbling down pertinent details. Harry could just imagine all the different ways this dramatic entrance would show up in the papers tonight.
"Hullo, Harry," Draco added, and squeezed his shoulder with one hand before dropping into a seat beside him. Harry knew that seat hadn't been there a moment before, but not even Auror training could keep up with the quickness of Draco's wandwork, sometimes. "I think it's a worthy cause," Draco went on, turning to face Skeeter and offering her a smile that made more of the cameras click to capture it. Harry wondered about the possibilities of stealing one of those photographs for himself. "We've been separated for too long, and ultimately, that does more damage to our world than letting in Muggleborns and training them in how to properly appreciate pure-blood culture…"
Skeeter purred, and asked more questions. Other reporters started pushing themselves forwards to be heard, and the crowd grew bigger as people became more interested and the rumors spread.
Harry looked up along Draco's arm—from the hand still resting on his shoulder—to his face, and saw enough contentment there that he blinked.
Draco had been with him for a few private conversations when they approached people like Pembroke-Wiltshire, sure. And he had said that he would help, and Harry had counted on his ability to read other pure-bloods. That didn't mean he had ever counted on this kind of support.
But it seemed he was going to get it. Even though he hadn't asked for it. Simply because he had been patient and waited.
That's a great moral lesson, he thought, and began grinning despite himself.
"And it looks as though Mr. Potter has something to say." Skeeter's quill and parchment swung back around to face him.
"Not really," Harry said, and half-ducked his head, offering a faint shrug and smile to Skeeter. "Mr. Malfoy can go on with what he was saying."
Skeeter looked a little disappointed, but returned to that portion of the interview. Harry smiled at Draco, and didn't care who saw. Neither did Draco, if the way that he caught Harry's eye from the corner of his and smiled back was any indication.
Harry looked out over the crowd again. Some of them simply looked intrigued, some looked horrified, and there were suspicious scowls among the Aurors present, some of whom knew that Harry had suspected Draco of being a criminal.
Harry smiled sweetly at them. The introduction of anarchy into his life had worked so far, he thought it would work well to introduce a little into theirs and see what happened.
He leaned his head on Draco's shoulder, ignored the faint increase in stares and murmurs, and joined him in their words, their work, their art.