Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of The Descent of Magic, and I'm glad you've enjoyed the story.
Chapter Thirty—A Grand Finish
Hermione spoke the word with a grave face, her hands clasped in front of her, but Harry had seen her like this before—defending Ron in front of the Wizengamot when someone had tried to accuse him of killing former Death Eaters, fighting for house-elves' legal right not to be sold away from their families, arguing for teaching centaurs to read. Her body had this kind of radiant stillness that broke away from it and became energy, and anyone who stood close enough to her was liable to burn from it.
"I know that you're here because you're curious, most of you," Hermione went on, pacing back and forth now, her robes swirling around her. "You may or may not believe. You may or may not think that the problem affects you in any way." Her gaze went straight to the Muggleborn faces in the crowd, and Harry saw more than one of them flush. "But our world is small, and we are bound together by the magic that we share with each other and with the magical creatures it is our duty to protect. A problem this severe becomes the problem of everyone else, sooner or later."
She moved into the meat of the problem, outlining the theory and then beginning to speak of the specific case of the de la Mains. Harry leaned back in his chair and beamed. They wouldn't end this meeting with all the hearts and minds in the crowds won over, but there would be more of them than there had been.
He glanced at Draco and found him sitting there with his arms closed and something so like a pout on his face that Harry almost laughed.
"What's the matter?" he whispered. "Hermione is convincing them, I think. They're going to believe us."
"She's doing a better job than I could have," Draco hissed at him, his eyes fastened on Hermione as if she would pounce on him if he looked away. "I—hate to admit that, but it's true."
Highfeather was ignoring them magnificently, Harry saw, her nose in the air, and watching Hermione with the same direct stare as Draco, though without the folded arms. Perhaps she'd found a new target for her attentions. Harry just hoped it wouldn't come to a proposal, given that Hermione was very much married to Ron.
"We're allies," Harry said, and let his hand fall on the side of Draco's. "Her victory is all of ours."
Draco looked at him, eyes burning deep down. Then he turned his head so that his fingers interlocked with Harry's. Harry knew that a few people from the crowd could probably see them, but Draco had to know that better than Harry, with the better political instincts that he had, and he didn't seem to care. He watched Harry with those burning eyes instead, and the fingers tightened and tightened, as if he wanted to crush Harry's hand rather than hold it.
"Only you," he whispered, leaning close enough that his breath touched Harry's ear and shivered all through him, "could make me feel that way about it."
Harry swallowed, and before he could think better, or that Draco might not appreciate what he had to say, he responded, "I'm glad I'm the only one who can make you feel that way."
And if Draco's eyes had burned before, that was nothing compared to the fire that raged in them now. Harry had to look away before he did something that would reveal their relationship to everyone in the room and probably everyone who could look at photographs in the Daily Prophet tomorrow.
Draco knew that he should drop Potter's hand. He knew that someone else would spot it soon, and he could already feel people glancing at them, although Granger's speech was continuing, silently wondering what they thought about it and if Draco could support a Muggleborn as unconditionally as sitting up here would suggest he supported Granger.
But it still took him long moments to work his fingers free, and then he had to give Potter's hand another squeeze first.
Harry. His name is Harry.
And you should tell him so.
Draco reminded himself, sternly, that Harry was sure to know his own name, and that there was a difference between telling someone how he felt and making that person reject him as far too soppy. Even though he was fairly sure that he would have to actually turn against Harry, or his friends, to make Harry reject him.
He had to stop grinning, now, and face forwards, as Granger swept her arm out and Highfeather came to replace her, telling the story of how she had donated to establish a sanctuary in a low, thrilling voice. Draco relaxed. That tale might or might not convince the whole audience, but Highfeather was good at making it seem as though something was exciting even when it wasn't. He didn't have to worry about the audience's attention for the next few moments.
Which meant he could think about what he wanted to do, and how soon he wanted to tell everyone that he was dating—with—in love with—all the words sounded wrong—Harry Potter.
The only two things that sound right are my name and his, together.
He met his son's eyes again. Scorpius watched him unblinking, his face locked in that neutral mask that Draco had tried so many times to get him to practice, without success. It was an expression he had inherited more from his mother than his Malfoy ancestors. Draco scowled at him, wondering why Scorpius had picked now of all times to act properly reserved and unreadable.
Scorpius blinked at him. Draco half-smiled and shook his head, intending to convey that Scorpius hadn't made him truly angry.
He had a lot to do, he thought, as he sat there and the future spun in front of him like a vision of the earth seen from a distance, a picture he had come across in one of Potter's Muggle books. Create a potion that would ease Potter's—Harry's—pain completely and forever. Help him find the warlocks who had done this to him. Encourage the future protection of house-elves and other magical creatures. Announce that he and Harry were, and that Highfeather should better stay far away from them both.
Reconcile with his son. Come to an arrangement of sorts with Astoria that would allow them to be civil to each other for Scorpius's sake, but inform her that there was no reason for them to speak with each other every time she felt like doing it, unless she was going to apologize. Perhaps move permanently into Harry's home, and keep the Manor for the times that he needed a secure bolthole or a better lab—
"Mr. Malfoy? Your turn."
Highfeather spoke as though she had called him many times, but Draco knew she hadn't. He would have heard his name, that name, from any distance, and his first name if Harry had called it. He rose to his feet with the plans for the future still glowing in his head and made his way to the podium with his feet barely touching the ground.
He looked out on hostile faces, still, and hands that clutched quills, ready to write down anything he said and try to use it against him. He looked, and he smiled, and he saw a few faces contract and Scorpius sit up, staring.
Probably never seen that expression on his old father's face before, Draco thought in some glee, and then began to speak.
"Thank you for honoring us with your presence today. I think that you have already heard from Madam Granger and Madam Highfeather how a small group of people, determined enough, can change the world. Imagine how you could do it, if you wanted to." He leaned forwards. "I was more prejudiced than most of you two months ago. I couldn't imagine why I would want to have anything to do with a theory that posited pure-bloods were at fault for the way we treated magical creatures. I wanted to solve the riddle of our low fertility, but I didn't want this to be the solution."
He wasn't sure what was the more thrilling, the greater treasure, for him: the way that Scorpius continued to stare, or the way that Harry had sat up and was watching him with his hands locked in his lap and his face filled and flecked with adoration.
"Then I realized," Draco told the listening hush, "that it wasn't about who was to blame. It was about what one can do. And a pure-blood who listens to the voice of reason and reasoned pride rather than mindless pride can do a great deal. Are we not reasonable? Are we not strong? Have we not survived, even through wars and Dark Lords that promised to use up our way of life in the supposed saving of it?"
Frowns gave way to nods. One woman in the back, a woman named Ariel Gale whom Draco knew to be Highfeather's particular rival, stood up and coughed.
"Why do you say that the Dark Lords tried to destroy our way of life?" she asked, with a low, penetrating voice that Draco knew many of the others would hear. "Because they fought for our ideals? Because they hated Muggleborns?" The way she said the last word made it not much less offensive than Mudbloods.
Draco sighed, a professor's patient sigh, in the face of a student who continued on believing the troublesome and untrue things that their parents had taught them. "Not at all, madam. Because they did not care about us. Our children, our future. They wanted to do nothing but to raise their own power, and conduct their own wars. How many pure-bloods died in those wars that never would have happened if not for a Dark Lord's mad ambition? How many of us were tortured by the insane wizards Grindelwald and—Tom Riddle?" Draco still could not bring himself to shape the word Voldemort with his lips, but knowledge of his Muggle name had come out after the war, and it would be more effective for Draco's point if he used that one now. "They did not care about our survival, and if we had won the war, by some miracle, then we would have found our numbers too low to take advantage of the political dominance that they promised."
Gale sat down, slowly, eyes still fixed on him. Draco swallowed and wished that he could have a drink of water without looking weak. He turned as slowly as Gale from eye to eye, collecting them, silently challenging them.
"What we have on our hands is not a war," he said at last. "Not like the war with the Dark Lord, not like the war that many of us have convinced ourselves we are fighting against Muggleborns and Muggles. In a war, few people survive. This is, instead, a struggle. A challenge. And it is one we will win."
He went on, then, and spoke the prepared words about how pure-bloods could contribute to research funds and magical creature habitats and the founding of new sanctuaries and the welcoming of magical creatures into their homes as employees, without ever becoming involved with Muggleborns if they didn't want to. That was the point. Offer them options, offer them choices, and he knew more people would make those choices.
The point was not to trap them and make them feel like any change they made was doomed.
And all the while he spoke, Harry's eyes burned brighter, and so did Scorpius's.
Draco was magnificent.
He needed the right motivation, Harry thought, and as much as he wished it could, that couldn't all come from the touches and kisses he wanted to give Draco. Something had to come from his own trust in himself, which his conflicts with his wife and son had nearly destroyed.
But not here. Not now.
Here, he shone.
Harry could see more than one person in the audience staring. He might have writhed with the jealousy that Draco had apparently felt of Highfeather if he had been less secure. But he smiled, and wriggled in his seat, and thought, Yes, he's admirable. And he's mine.
Draco finally finished his speech, and bowed. There was a long moment when the temper of the crowd seemed to sway back and forth, between that admiration and the pure-bloods' resentment of how much he had told them and how handily he had defused their arguments, and then the admiration crashed down.
Draco straightened up from before the applause, his cheeks blazing and his eyes so dazed that Harry worried for a moment he would simply faint. Then he turned and walked back towards Harry, and took the chair beside him. His hand reached out and took Harry's.
There were darting eyes, and indrawn breaths.
Well. Some of the people watching them would guess the truth, then. The ocean couldn't have matched the depth of Harry's sublime indifference. He took Draco's hand in return and looked out over the heads of the crowd, which included a wildly bouncing Lily and Al, beside Scorpius, leaning forwards until he nearly pitched onto the ground.
Harry looked his son in the eye and shook his head a little. He had nothing to scold Al for; if he hadn't been supportive from the beginning, at least he hadn't tried to oppose them the way Scorpius had, or spread lies the way Astoria Greengrass had. And Harry had good relationships with his children, and didn't need to defend them or purge the poison from them the way Draco had had to.
But neither would he hide his relationship from them, or pretend that he cared for Draco less deeply than he did, simply because that might please them.
Al continued staring, while Harry looked back at him, green eyes to green eyes. Then he leaned back into the chair and gave Harry a shrug.
Harry grinned. Hardly the most enthusiastic approval, hardly everything he could have asked for, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that he wouldn't have to struggle against Al.
And not against Ron, either, he thought, as Draco finally let his hand slip out of Harry's, long past the point when he would have snatched it away if he was really trying to conceal what they were to each other. Ron wanted Harry to be happy, and he understood the reasons Harry and Ginny had divorced. He would accept it with the same lack of fuss that Hermione had, if with more teasing.
Lily would laugh at first, and be happy second. His nieces and nephews would be happy for him—perhaps with the exception of Hugo.
But Harry was done living his life gingerly, in the desperate hope that Hugo wouldn't disapprove of it.
Hermione coughed a little, and Harry realized that it was his turn to stand up and speak. He nodded to Draco and stood, pushing himself off the chair before he realized how small the grinding pain in his knee had really become. He blinked, then shrugged.
He didn't need the support of the chair, maybe, but it hadn't done him any harm. Rather like what Al probably thought of him right now.
He walked to the podium and spent a moment studying the audience. He didn't know most of these people, other than as names on paper or nodding acquaintances that he kept passing in the Ministry when he still worked there. And they stared at him with frozen faces, some of them, having seen what he was getting into with Draco.
Harry honestly didn't care. If they let something like his having an affair with Draco put them off from donating, then they were probably just seeking an excuse to back away, anyway. They were here to convince those they could convince, not provide free entertainment for the people who would always hate them.
"So," he said quietly. "You have seen the lengths we can go to. At our first meeting, I had to sit down all the time. I didn't have anyone who understood my theory or could give more than a potted sketch of it. Now I have more support, and even people who are willing to put their money and their reputation behind my theories." He turned his head and locked eyes with Highfeather.
He wondered for a moment if he would encounter a relentless stare from her, or a pointed one, considering that he had refused her marriage proposal and then she'd just seen the kind of love he was falling into with Draco. But she sat back up and smiled slightly at him. Perhaps she thought she should have seen what was right under her nose; perhaps she simply didn't want to make a scene in front of an audience. Harry didn't know, and frankly, he was too glad to care.
"Now I can walk," Harry said, turning around. "And the credit for the potion that eased my pain and for the spreading of my theory among people who are willing to risk themselves belongs to one person." He spread his fingers silently towards Draco.
It was Al who started the applause, his mouth twitching as he did it, probably because he remembered Scorpius insisting that his father was no good, and believing it himself. But other people picked it up, including some of those Harry suspected Hermione of planting in the audience so that they would have a good cadre of supporters. Harry smiled as the applause swelled throughout the audience, and as Draco blushed.
And he smiled harder when he spotted Scorpius clapping, too, and when Scorpius was the first one to rise to his feet.
"Of all the things I'm proudest of," Harry said, raising his voice a little to be heard above the noise, "it's this, that someone who had every reason and right to hate me reconciled himself to me enough to accept my ideas, and validate them and brew for me." He left the personal contribution Draco had made unsaid, but he gave him a little bow this time, and stood waiting.
Draco bowed again from his chair as he had done once standing, his face so pink that Harry hoped he wouldn't faint. Draco did shiver, making Harry fear for a moment that he would, and then sat upright.
Harry turned away from the podium and tapped his leg above the knee. "The potion Draco's brewed for me isn't a permanent cure," he said. "Neither is donating a few Galleons here and there, or convincing a few people here and there, a good cure for the centuries of treating magical creatures poorly that we have to pay back."
He smiled, and locked eyes with everyone nearby who looked at him long enough for him to do so. "But it's a start."
He yielded the stage to Highfeather then, and walked back to the chairs. Draco stood up, his expression so overwhelmed that he looked as if he were drowning in deep waters, out of sight of land.
Harry held his hands, and said and did nothing, simply looked. He didn't know if Draco wanted to kiss him or touch him more than that in front of everyone else, and he was going to leave the moment up to him.
He knew two things, though: He was in love, and he had no need to hide it.
It would have been a grand gesture, perhaps, the grandest, if Draco had been able to bring himself to kiss Harry on the lips. Then there would have been more photographs of them on the front page than there already were, and the reporters, like Skeeter, could have written about how love conquered all, even the stubborn blood prejudice that people like Draco's parents had felt against Muggleborns.
But Draco wasn't always a grand person. It was taking a lot of courage for him to stand here, holding Harry's hands under all that public scrutiny, and not run away.
Harry, from the shine in his eyes, the unbounded admiration and devotion there, understood.
Draco settled for a kiss on the cheek, and even that made more than one photograph flash catch them, made more than one person yell and scream out a question. Highfeather paused in her speaking, and Draco thought with one part of his mind that they would have to soothe her ruffled feelings later. That ruffling would have more than one cause, too.
But the rest of him thought about the way that Harry's hands had tightened, and the way that his son was still on his feet watching him, and the way that he could stand here and hold Harry and not want to think about Cleaning Charms.
They were part of a mighty change. In pure-bloods, in the wizarding world, in the way that wizards treated house-elves and other magical creatures.
But nothing seemed mightier to Draco than the way that Harry's eyes lit up when he was near, or the way his hands trembled.
I'm in love.
He could not say it aloud yet, but he could think it.
Nothing mightier than that.