Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of The Conservation of Fame, and I've enjoyed posting the story and valued the response I've gotten. Thank you.
Chapter Eighteen—Someday Soon
Harry could feel the world holding its breath when Draco stepped through the Floo connection into the Weasleys' house. Or maybe that was only him. He released it and leaned a would-be casual arm on the hearth, scanning the room with one hand on his wand.
Everyone had known Draco was coming, but that was a different thing from seeing him. And Harry's gaze was particularly on Bill, who had risen from his seat on one side of the enormous kitchen table, holding his daughter Dominique in his arms. The vivid scars on the side of Bill's face shone like teeth in the warm firelight.
Harry shifted his weight. He heard Ron suck in a single nervous breath, and the silence went on and on, until Draco smiled courteously at Bill and moved forwards with his hand extended.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced," he said. "My name is Draco Malfoy."
Points for boldness, Harry thought, blinking, and knew that everyone in the room would be thinking the same thing. It might still not be enough.
Bill looked at Draco's hand expressionlessly for a moment, and then nodded and shifted Dominique to the side so that he could reach out and shake it. "Bill Weasley," he said. He smiled down at Fleur, who had twisted around in her seat to look at them both. "And this is my wife Fleur Delacour-Weasley, and our daughter Dominique, and…" He looked around. "Where has Victoire got to?"
Molly exclaimed and hurried out of the kitchen. There was a general chorus of groans behind her, and Percy and Arthur hurried out to join in the search. The last time Victoire had run away into the house, there had been enough things broken to nearly make Molly have a nervous breakdown.
"My parents had much the same reaction the first time I took a broom out alone," Draco murmured, nodding at Bill and stepping back to Harry's side. "The older I grow, the more sympathy I have for their point-of-view."
Bill let the last bit of tension go out of him, Harry thought, as he smiled. "It depends on the child," he said, swinging Dominique so she giggled and buried her face in his hair. "And the parent. This one's not any trouble compared to her sister. Do you have children of your own yet, Malfoy?"
Harry blinked. Perhaps no one else saw, because Draco had turned his head to the side as he responded and locked his eyes on Harry, but there was an intensity there that extended a promise. He reached out without thinking and took Draco's hand.
Draco turned their hands over and touched the middle of Harry's palm with a single finger, never breaking the gaze, either.
Harry flushed, and knew that some of the eyes watching them were amused. But, well, this was his family, these were his friends, the center of his world since the spell had ensured that most other people didn't care about who he was. If he couldn't show off Draco to them, there was no one he could show him to.
And Draco deserved to be shown off.
Harry closed the fingers of his free hand around Draco's and bowed his head to kiss Draco's knuckles. Draco moved closer, and they might have done more if Percy hadn't returned just then with Victoire squirming so hard that she nearly escaped from him. That was the signal that Molly could turn back to cooking, and the table still needed to be set and the food she'd already prepared checked on and drinks fetched for everybody and chairs arranged, and Harry let the whirlwind catch him up and sweep him along.
"Pansy, this is my—partner, Harry Potter."
Harry could hear the audible hesitation before the word Draco chose. Harry had left that choice up to Draco. Whatever he wanted to say, partner or friend or lover or boyfriend, would be fine with Harry.
Pansy Parkinson turned around and nodded to Harry with a kind of cool neutrality that Harry had never seen from a Slytherin before, that he hadn't even known they were capable of. She had grown into a taller woman than Harry had thought she would, taller than Draco, with long, flowing hair to the middle of her back and slender glasses perched on her nose. Harry smiled at her and waited, less nervous than he knew Draco had been in the middle of the Burrow. He, at least, had the protection of the spell. It wouldn't make Draco's friends like him, but it would prevent them from hating him.
"It's strange," Pansy said at last, in a voice that seemed compressed flat. Harry wondered if it was for his benefit or if she naturally talked like that.
"What is?" Harry asked, when Draco remained silent and tense at his side.
"I never thought anyone would make Draco so much as struggle for a word like that." Pansy smiled, a baring of teeth that made Harry wonder what sort of terrifying reporter for the Prophet she must make. Supposedly she was going to take over Rita Skeeter's job when Skeeter retired. Pansy finally stepped forwards around the small round table she had kept between them in her kitchen and held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you, then. Did you go to Hogwarts?"
"I did, but a year behind you," Harry said, using the lie he and Draco had agreed on, and took her hand, smiling. "You wouldn't have had a reason to notice me."
Pansy looked him full in the face and then gave him a more leisurely appraisal that caused Draco, Harry thought, to stiffen for another reason. "I don't know," she said at last. "Those eyes…oh, well." She shrugged, and glanced at Draco. "Congratulations, Draco." Her fingers began to move across Harry's palm.
"No," Draco said, and he and Pansy engaged in a silent staring contest that must have a million emotions at the bottom of it. Harry gently eased his hand free of Pansy's.
Pansy finally twitched her head down a little, and said, "Oh, well done. Yes, fine. If you want." She turned and walked away into a small room attached to the kitchen, where Harry could hear her talking to someone who sounded like a house-elf.
Draco swallowed hard and ran a hand through his hair. "Bloody Pansy," he said, voice so absent that Harry thought it was something he probably said every time he visited this house and didn't even notice anymore.
Harry didn't know why he said it, though, and he wanted to. He wanted to know why Draco had tensed and flinched not at the noise of a firework George had set off at dinner last night, but at the brilliant blue light. He wanted to know why Draco so often lightly turned the conversation away from himself when he would have been perfectly happy to discuss his own thoughts at Hogwarts. He wanted to know where he had gained the skill at wielding his wand with both hands that Harry had noticed in the last few days, as though he didn't have a dominant one. Or as though he no longer had a dominant one, anyway.
There were so many things he wanted to know that Harry really doubted one lifetime would be enough.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Draco started, and glanced at him. "Oh," he said. "Pansy really does believe that I'll never stay with anyone who doesn't know the important things about me, like being an Unspeakable, or at least can forgive the important things about me. And she didn't believe that I would tell them, either. So now she wanted to see if I was serious about you, and touched you. I let her know I wasn't sharing."
Harry laughed in spite of himself. "You'll have to teach me how you have entire conversations like that with your eyes," he said.
"It's a lot easier," Draco said, leaning nearer and lowering his voice, "when you and the other person have an actual history."
Harry stiffened, but met Draco's eyes, flicked his wand to raise a Privacy Charm, and said, "Do you blame me for wanting to hide from your friends the first time I meet them?"
"No," Draco said. "But this is the first time I've watched one of them not know you, and it's disturbing. You know what I think, Harry. What I think you should do."
Harry nodded shortly. "And it's not that I have no discomfort with the spell, Draco. But I am afraid that no matter what precautions we set up, they'd get torn down by a Ministry and paper not on my side."
Draco glanced into the side room where Pansy had gone. "She could make sure the papers were on our side."
Harry rubbed his hand over his face, and didn't answer. He knew that Pansy hadn't been in a position four years ago to do such a thing, but she might be now. Just as Skeeter might have found some new obsession now, and people who had cared about him because he seemed like their vision of a perfect hero might now reject him because he had proven that he was cowardly enough to hide.
He thought back to the sense of threat he had lived with day and night: no room he could consider private because someone would break in, no possession he could get attached to because someone would steal it, nothing he could do because the legal means of protecting himself were denied to him and he wouldn't do something illegal.
He felt a sharp, painful pressure on his left wrist, and opened his eyes. Draco was pinching the skin there, staring at him.
"You looked as if you were starting a panic attack," Draco said. "It was—it was that bad?"
Harry nodded. "Nothing I could own, nothing I could do, nowhere to hide," he said, and then managed a faint smile. "Why do you think I'm so obsessed by having those heavy wards around my house?"
Draco didn't smile back this time, his eyes narrowed. "I would protect you," he said. "You know that. If only to stop people from harming you or taking you away from me when you're clearly mine."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I know you would try," he said. "But I don't think it would be enough. And just one close encounter with a fan of the kind that wanted to kiss me and kill me and possess me and make me theirs—someone I didn't choose to be with, the way I would with you—could make me snap. I don't want someone's death on my hands."
"There are ways to handle even that," Draco said, his eyes growing heavy and satisfied-looking. "Blaise is a lawyer—"
"But imagine what a circus the trial would be," Harry said flatly. "Always someone shouting and screaming at me, and a lot more chances for someone to hide in the crowds and harm me. So, no, thanks."
"You have to stop hiding eventually," Draco said. "If you want all the credit that you deserve."
His declaration this time seemed to have some force that his others didn't. Draco stepped back from him and looked him up and down in the way that Pansy had. Then he blinked and dropped Harry's hands. Harry winced, but held his eyes. He hoped that Draco wasn't about to walk away from him, but if they owed each other one thing at this point, it was complete honesty about what they wanted. If Draco found the thought of being with someone so unambitious repulsive, then he should go.
"I didn't quite believe that before," Draco said. "I thought, well, you must want the fame but not the consequences that came with it, which is understandable and believable. If you could remove those consequences, surely you would want the attention back?"
Harry snorted. "No. The spell had to move some of my fame to other people simply to work, but I'm glad that it had to. Hermione and Ron always deserved more credit than they got, and so did Neville. Now they can have it and enjoy it diminished enough that no one tries to stalk them. Well, all right, so someone did go after Ron last year, but he could handle it. There was—it's better when there's more than one person to share it. The respect that they wanted to pay me was distorted and unnatural."
Draco did some more staring. Then he said, "One reason I don't talk a lot about becoming an Unspeakable is that it sounds too strange to other people. They want to understand us as purely wizards who gather Dark artifacts to protect others from them or wizards obsessed with understanding the Dark. Not both."
Harry nodded, and smiled. He had at least part of an answer as to why Draco had become an Unspeakable, then. If he'd sensed that double nature in himself, it would have been hard to associate with purely Light or purely Dark wizards.
"And I think I understand your reason for the spell a little better now," Draco said, laying his hand along his cheek. "You did something great, but it didn't feel that way from the inside."
"It felt laborious," Harry said. "But I couldn't just walk away and leave Voldemort to eat the whole wizarding world, could I? And people were always telling me that it was my destiny, so I went along with it. But that's different from deciding that I was going to do it simply because it was the right thing to do."
"That's mixed in with it," Draco said, head half-lowered, his eyes bearing that satisfied look again. "I know you now, Harry Potter."
"Yes, from the inside," Harry said, lowering his voice, and was astonished to see Draco blush. It was a faint, fleeting mark of color high on his cheeks, but Harry had seen it once, and now he wanted to see it again.
"Yes, mixed in," Harry continued. "But it's different from being a pure hero, or even someone who does the right thing because they're the only person in that time and place who can." Draco opened his mouth to argue, but Harry shook his head impatiently. "I had to do it. I didn't choose to save someone I never met, like a real hero. And I've never liked people staring at me. When I was a kid, it was because I felt so strange, and then I went to the wizarding world and I felt strange for a different reason. So. No more fame."
"Forever?" Draco's hand was lightly playing with Harry's, as though he was thinking about taking it up again.
"For right now," Harry said. "Someday soon, maybe."
"Well, this is fascinating."
Harry lifted his head. He had felt free to talk because the spell would keep Pansy from understanding what he was speaking about and the Privacy Charm would prevent her from overhearing most of it anyway, but he had thought he would hear her come back into the room, at least. Evidently she'd done it, and removed the Privacy Charm, without alerting him. She stood with her hands on her hips and her foot tapping the floor, gaze locked on Harry.
"Like the Boy-Who-Lived, but not him," she said. "And something about a spell, and something about the way that Draco stands next to you holding onto his wand tells me that speculation isn't welcome right now." She turned and marched smartly through an arched doorway into the next room, which was probably a dining room.
Harry snorted and glanced at Draco. There was no murderousness in that expression, to him, but then, he might be used to seeing less sophisticated varieties of it.
"She'll really drop it for right now?" Harry asked.
Draco nodded. "That's one thing friends can do for each other," he said, and shifted his arm around Harry's waist. "Or lovers."
Harry turned and rested his nose against Draco's neck. He was sure that Draco wouldn't give up trying to get him to remove the spell, but at least he understood why Harry might want to keep it, and Harry had breathing room to think and come up with arguments.
Or with reasons to yield to Draco's.
Perhaps that was what was most special about Draco, that he had come into Harry's life and made him want to change his mind, instead of simply feeling that he should or that he had every right to remain firm and stubborn.
"Good," he said. "Then let's go have something to eat."
Draco walked with him into Pansy's dining room, his fingers teasing at the cloth of Harry's shirt, but absent-mindedly, since they had far more time to have sex later. Harry leaned his head on Draco's shoulder and closed his eyes.
More time for everything.
Even for fame, maybe.