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Chapter Fourteen—Clarity

"I wanted to apologize."

Harry thought he was doing well until Ron leaned back in his chair and gave him a sharp smile. "And you're going to do it in that ridiculously stuffy way? Oh, stop staring at me and come here." He lifted his arms.

Harry managed to stop gaping long enough to hug Ron. He supposed that maybe he had been a little formal just now, apologizing the way Draco would, instead of just acknowledging that he had been wrong, or saying, "Sorry." He pounded Ron's back once and moved away, shaking his head.

"It was a stupid argument, and we shouldn't have had it," Harry said. "You were right, some people do think about scars as badges of all the shit I've been through and survived."

Ron put a hand over his heart. "Thanks, mate, but that's as close as I want to come to hearing anything about the some people who think that. Or the circumstances under which they said it, either." He eyed Harry sideways, as if Harry would spring the revelation of him and Draco having sex on Ron without warning.

Harry grinned at him and strolled towards his desk. He waited until Ron had nodded and looked back at his paperwork, and would be in that state Harry knew well, somewhere between actually concentrating and thinking about other things, and then whispered, "Do you want to know why he saw me naked?"

Ron yelped and clapped his hands defensively over his ears, then drew his wand and created a Silencing Charm around his desk.

Harry laughed as he settled into his chair. Ron wasn't very good at Silencing Charms, and they both knew that Harry could project his voice, whispering revelations, into the little space of Ron's magic if he wanted to.

But he wouldn't do that. There were reasons they had remained friends, even after Harry broke up with Ron's little sister, even after arguments like the one yesterday where one of them got unreasonably angry. Harry's friendship with Ron and Hermione was the foundation of his life, the one thing that had allowed him to go on existing when he thought that he was too ugly and painful to be with other people. They had never cared about what he looked like.

And they never would, not even if something went wrong and Draco left. They would be there for him. It wouldn't be the end of the world.

Harry took a deep, difficult breath. He didn't want to think about Draco leaving. And he didn't fear it with the same mindless panic that he had felt when he walked into his flat and found Frank packing his things. It was something that might happen, because anything like that could happen. Nothing was forever.

But he would survive, and go on. And he would always owe Draco for teaching him that.

His shoulders fully relaxed for what felt like the first time in centuries, Harry began the next day's plowing through paperwork.

Draco stood back from the potion on his desk, and eyed it. It was a mildly experimental version of Pepper-Up Potion, and should have made the apprentice he'd asked to test it feel enough energy to run a mile in five minutes.

But instead, it had made her smile strangely at the wall and then collapse into sleep. Draco could see a market for such a potion, admittedly, if only as a prank to give to people who were expecting Pepper-Up. But he didn't know what he had done to create an effect so opposite the one of the original potion, and until he knew, further experiments were useless.

"Potions master Malfoy, another order has come in."

Draco waved his hand absently, and the apprentice put the letter on the table near the door and silently left. Draco would look at it when he had time, which meant when this currently unexplained potion had yielded its secrets.

It still hadn't an hour later, though, and Draco snorted hard enough to toss the hair off his forehead and surprise everyone who still entertained illusions about how refined he was, and strode over to pick up the letter. It might present a challenge that was more tractable, and he needed to prove that he could conquer something right now.

He thought the handwriting familiar, but didn't realize who had written it until he tore it open and scanned the signature. Ginny Weasley.

Draco found himself standing more still than he should, the letter held so firmly in his hand that it seemed likely it would rip of its own accord soon. He made himself put it down on the table again and look at it. He hadn't checked for hexes and curses, a move that made him wonder how soft he had become.

Then he sighed. He hadn't checked for hexes and curses because he hadn't had any idea who the letter was from, but also because this was the Ministry, and he ought to be able to assume that he was safe here. Any letter that reached him would have come through multiple safeguards and wards. He didn't need to fear that Weasley had reached out to him to try and harm him.

On the other hand, Draco worked as a Potions master for the Ministry while he was at the Ministry, and as a private Potions seller only at home. It was curious that Weasley would be writing to him here, unless she represented some larger organization the Ministry was dealing with.

To be honest, Draco wasn't sure what the little Weasley girl was doing nowadays. Harry certainly hadn't volunteered any information. He reached out and picked up the letter again, and this time made himself read the content.

Dear Potions master Malfoy,

I don't want to be writing this to you, but I know that you're the best at what you do currently in the employ of the Ministry, and I have little choice. The Quidditch camp where I teach students how to fly and perform moves that Hogwarts wouldn't risk is in danger of being shut down. We had a student fall due to lack of sleep and sickness last year, and although she lived and her parents eventually accepted it wasn't our fault, it's tarnished our reputation.

I am looking for a potion that would mimic Pepper-Up, but with a longer-lasting effect. We would need it to give our students clear eyesight—part of what caused our girl to fall was blurry vision—and not blind them with tears from the heat the way Pepper-Up sometimes does. I'm told that you have the best prices as well as the most skill, and we need to show that we're legally acquiring an experimental potion. We're prepared to pay well, at least half again as much as the current price of Pepper-Up on the market.


Ginny Weasley.

Draco sneered at the letter, and looked again at the ruined experiment on his desk. He entertained vicious visions of sending that potion to Weasley instead, and telling her it was free. Then he sighed and shook his head.

No, he would need to fulfill the order—assuming he and Weasley could come to terms. He thought she and the camp she worked with might not have much money, but it was ridiculous to argue that an experimental potion that didn't even exist yet should be only one-and-a-half-times more expensive than the one that it would be developed from. Draco would need to be paid for time and ingredients and possibly danger as well as the potion itself.

He wondered for a moment if she knew that he was Harry's lover, and smiled tightly. That wouldn't have sweetened her disposition, if she did, and perhaps was behind the ridiculously low offer.

But it was more likely that she didn't know how experimental potions worked, and was offering as much money as the camp had. Draco shook his head. He would help her, because he could be professional, and it was years since she had broken up with Harry. Harry had even said that she hadn't made disparaging comments about his scars the way his other lovers had.

But he did seize a piece of parchment, quill, and ink, and compose a hasty letter back to her to appraise her of the reality.

Dear Miss Weasley,

I would be willing to develop such a potion for you. However, it does not exist at the moment, and might take several weeks or months to develop. Also, to sell to an organization that is not under the regulation of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, with the request not coming through them, is unusual. You must contact the usual departments in the Ministry and see if the order is acceptable to them. Only then can you expect to pay me as little for the potion as one and a half times the market price.

Awaiting your reply,

Potions master Draco Malfoy.

He didn't often use his full name and title like that, but in this case he thought it justified.

He went to pass the letter to the latest luckless apprentice, his mouth still tight with his half-smile. He could work with Weasley, if she paid him right. He would develop the best potion he could for the sake of the art and the other people he might be able to sell to.

But he would take all the vengeance he could along the way. All the vengeance that was fair.

"I'm glad that Malfoy's been so good to you."

Harry smiled at Hermione, and sipped at his glass of water. He had thought it wise to have nothing to drink while he was over at Ron and Hermione's house. Not because he was wary of what he might spill about himself—he didn't have any important secrets from them—but because he was a little wary of Draco's secrets. He wasn't sure how open Draco would want him to be with his friends.

Harry didn't think of it as divided loyalty, not really. Just circumspection. Practicality. He didn't want to get either his friends or his lover upset at him, and this was the best way not to do either.

"Yes," Harry said simply, when he realized that Hermione was waiting for an answer instead of just making a general observation. "I don't know why. No one else would be, I think."

Hermione promptly began to scold him, the way she had when Harry told his friends he was giving up on dating wizards. "There are multiple people out there for everyone, Harry. If someone stops dating you or dies, you can always find someone else. Not right away, that would be disrespectful to their memory, but you can't just stop looking. You have to go on living, and that's one of the best ways to do it…"

Harry looked at Ron and shook his head sadly. "Don't die, mate," he said. "Hermione is already looking into replacing you."

"I am not." Hermione looked horrified. "I just meant—"

Harry stuck his tongue out at her. "I know what you meant, and I don't want any of it," he said. "It wasn't the right time, Hermione. If I had tried to date someone who was less determined than Draco to heal me, then it wouldn't have worked, and I would have just got more upset. I'm glad it was him."

"What makes him so determined, anyway?" Ron asked. "I mean, don't get me wrong, mate, but he's about the last one I would have thought would want to heal you. Gawk at you, maybe."

Harry turned his glass around pensively, and watched the sparkle of light through the water and the sides of the cup. "I think that's part of it, actually," he said. "He didn't want me to beat him at anything, and that included healing me. And he's always been a little bit drawn to me. I think he wanted to be the first, to do something no one else could do."

He thought of the Animagus potion Draco was making, and snorted. Yes, doing things other people couldn't do was a big part of Draco's motivation.

"I just wonder if someone like that will stay with you once all the challenges are gone." Hermione winced at the look Harry gave her, but she kept on speaking. "I'm sorry, Harry. I'm just trying to look out for your future happiness. If you think that you're completely healed, will he stay?"

Harry spent a moment thinking about the question as clearly as he could, instead of just shoving it away from him the way he wanted to. Hermione was his friend, and she wouldn't speak like this because she wanted to hurt him. She had asked it because she was concerned, and maybe since he had said that he recognized Draco's competitive motive in wanting to get close to him, she had decided that she could ask it without hurting him.

It was still hard to answer.

"I'm not thinking in terms of forever," Harry said at last. "Draco warned me himself it might not last. He could get tired of trying to heal me and having it take so long. I might turn into someone he doesn't like. I could get tired of him and go elsewhere."

"Right," Ron drawled, sounding so much like Draco for a minute that Harry stared at him. "Because you're always so eager to abandon the love affairs that you have."

Harry coughed. It was true that he would have stayed with Ginny forever if he could have, if she had wanted to, and the people he dated had always broken up with him instead of the other way around. He knew now that he wouldn't have been the happiest he could be with Ginny, that there were things he would have missed. But the thing was, he would have been okay. Content. Happy, even if it wasn't all the time.

That was what Ron and Hermione missed, he thought. Hermione could lecture him all she wanted about there not being only one perfect person for everyone, but they had found their perfect one, and young. Harry was still looking for his. Draco might be it, Harry wanted him to be it, but they did have flaws that annoyed each other, and might cause them to break up.

The thing was…

"I'm okay if it doesn't last forever," he repeated. "Draco keeps warning me, but he doesn't have to. Not now. I'll be thrilled if we date for years. I'll be happy if we spend our whole lives together. But it might not. What Draco is teaching me is how to survive the ending, instead of just curling up somewhere and deciding that I'll never date anyone anymore, the way I did after Veronica. Or that I had to do something to be good enough for other people, the way I did after Frank. He's teaching me that I am good enough."

"Oh, Harry." This time, Hermione's voice was incredibly soft, and she reached out to capture his hand and squeeze it as though his hand was a diamond or some other precious thing. "That's wonderful."

Ron said nothing, but nodded once to Harry, and then stood up and went to get himself more Firewhisky and Harry more water.

That was why they were his friends, Harry thought. They weren't always perfect, any more than he was, but they could admit their mistakes and change their minds as they needed to, and he would change his mind and learn better, too, if that was what they needed him to do.

They kept talking, but their conversation wandered away from him and more into Hermione's work and the stupid things that the Auror Department believed it could persuade her to do just because her husband worked for them. Harry was laughing at the latest twist in a story that it was taking Hermione months to tell, because no one would shut up about it, when the fireplace flared.

Harry immediately turned around, alert. Most of Ron's family knew that he and Ron and Hermione had this time alone every week, and most of them wouldn't intrude unless it was an emergency. That meant it was probably the Ministry, but whether for him and Ron, or Hermione, he didn't know yet.

Then Ginny stepped out of the fireplace, and shook soot off her cloak, and said to Harry. "I heard that you were dating Draco Malfoy. I'm sorry, but I really need to talk to you about him. It's urgent."

Harry hoped he hid his wince. He had seen Ginny not all that long ago at the Burrow, but seeing her after all the things that Draco had told him—including that she might be partially responsible for the scars on his mind and soul—made her beauty hit him like a blow. Her eyes were wide and urgent, and she looked as if she was a breath away from rushing up and strangling him.

Not strangling, Harry thought, and shook his head hard enough to hopefully rattle the new thoughts back into place. She had never been violent towards him.

Not in that way, said Draco's smug voice at the back of his head.

Harry sighed a little, and gave Ginny a temperate smile. "What do you need to say? I'm not going to stop dating him, if that was what it was."

Ginny looked as though such a thought had never been further from her mind, and Harry believed her. Ginny had never been a very good liar, especially given her tendency to blush when she did. "No, that's the last thing I want," she said, and pulled a parchment out of his pocket. "It's just that the Quidditch camp I'm working for tried to order a potion from him, and he sent me this letter back to me, and I need to know if it's real."

Harry took the letter and glanced over it. "That seems to be his handwriting," he said. "I haven't seen the parchment Draco uses when he's fulfilling an official Ministry order, but I think that's it."

"Not what I meant," Ginny said, the force in her voice reminding Harry of so many things that he shoved his chair back from the table. He was aware of Hermione looking at him, and Ron standing in the doorway to the kitchen with their glasses in his hands, but he couldn't look back at them. "I meant, is he right that an experimental potion like this would take a while to brew? And we'd have to pay him for the ingredients? That doesn't sound right. I wonder how much of this is just him making trouble for me because I'm a Weasley."

Probably more likely that he's making trouble for you because he blames you for insulting me, Harry thought, but that was the kind of thing he couldn't say to her, either, and he scanned the letter again. Then he shrugged and handed it back to Ginny. "I haven't the slightest idea," he said. "I don't know anything about potions."

"But you know the way his mind works." Ginny leaned forwards insistently. "Would he try to cheat me out of money?"

Harry bit down on the temptation to hiss something in Draco's defense. Draco could defend himself perfectly well, and Harry had the feeling he would, in letters to Ginny. "I don't know," he said again. "I don't know anything about potions. And as for paying for the ingredients…if he's developing an experimental potion, he would have to buy some of the things himself. It would be fair for you to pay him for the ones he uses, if he's developing a special potion for you."

"That's not what I asked you."

Harry didn't lose his temper, but it was a near thing. He pushed his chair further back and shook his head at the room in general. "It's not a good thing for me to be here right now," he said. "Ron, Hermione, thank you for dinner, it was lovely. I'll see you, Ginny." He walked towards the fireplace.

"I just asked you a question, Harry." Ginny's voice was soft, and the sound of it told him that she hadn't moved from her spot. That was more effective than sprinting in front of him to block the Floo. "I need you to answer it, as best you can. We don't have much money to spend, and this is really important to the camp."

A month ago, he would have writhed with so much guilt that he would have done whatever she wanted, Harry thought. It was hard to remember back to that time, almost. A week ago, he would have handed her some non-answer and got out of there.

A day ago, he wouldn't have felt this rage in him, this time unmatched by any pleasure.

He still didn't want to yell at her, though. This was Ron and Hermione's house, and she would always be their sister and sister-in-law no matter what happened. He loved his friends, and he didn't want to make things uncomfortable with them.

So he just shook his head at Ginny and said, in a voice that made Hermione look back and forth between him and Ginny but no one actually draw their wand, "I don't have to answer it. I think Draco is perfectly honest as far as it goes. If it shouldn't cost that much for certain ingredients, I have no idea. You'll have to go and do research, or ask him yourself."

Ginny opened her mouth to say something else, but Harry broke in, too angry not to say this. "And you're asking me to choose between betraying him and betraying you. You're making it into that kind of choice."

Ginny looked utterly stunned. Harry wondered, more cynically than he used to, whether it was because of his words or because he once never would have said them. "What? I'm not."

"You're saying that it would be a betrayal of you not to tell his secrets," Harry said harshly. "Well, that's a betrayal of him." And he seized the Floo powder and tossed it into the fire and whisked away through the flames before he could hear either what Ron was opening his mouth to say or what Ginny would have done next.

The first thing he did when he staggered in through his own fireplace was to whirl around and shut the Floo connection. He didn't care who was calling him tonight, he didn't want to talk to them.

Then he sat down on his couch and watched the inside of his head go round and round.

Ginny had no right to ask him that. No right. Who did she think she was, that she could just march up to him and demand that?

An old friend. An old lover. As far as she was concerned, they didn't part on bad terms. And she had reason not to trust a Malfoy. Draco might attempt some kind of revenge, for reasons she didn't even know about at this point, that had nothing to do with the blood feud. Of course she would come and ask the person she must think knew Draco best.

She had no right. What did she think he would say? "Oh, of course, he's trying to betray you, he always does that, I'm only with him to sniff out his iniquity?" "Here, using the knowledge of Potions that I have mysteriously acquired in the last few years, I can tell that he's trying to cheat you?"

She worked for a Quidditch camp that helped kids fly who might never get the chance otherwise. Of course she would be protective of those kids, and the money they had to spend. It was natural—

I don't care. She had no right to ask it.

Those words had the force of a Bludger, and Harry only wished he could direct them against someone. But that wouldn't solve any problems, either. He might have to accept that Ginny had her reasons for asking and didn't see anything wrong with it, which meant yelling at her would be stupid.

But he didn't just have to sit back and take things, either.

Harry took a long, deep breath, then stood up and nodded. He was already doing better than he had been. He knew that he would be able to sleep, that he wouldn't sit and brood on this for the rest of the evening. And that meant something. It meant a lot, really, to know that he could stop worrying about a situation where he had spoken his mind and handled it the best he could.

Guilt and anger weren't things of the past, but they would no longer consume him.

Harry had to smile. Not even Draco can do that, although he made a bloody good try the other day.

"Malfoy. I wanted to warn you."

That voice and that tone were so unexpected here, in his sanctuary of all places, that Draco's hand jerked. He nearly tipped all the crystals that he was carefully sliding from their vial into his cauldron, which would have been the first stage of turning the Ministry into a curiosity for archeologists to investigate in the future.

He turned his hand aside at the last second, and slammed the vial on the table, not caring if the bottom of it splintered. The crystals were heavy and in a sterile environment. They wouldn't roll too far, and could easily be gathered.

He took his time turning around, though, and by now, Granger was looking a little abashed. She ought to have known better than to push past the apprentices who were supposed to guarantee his privacy. Draco knew why they would have yielded to her instead of resisting. For one thing, she had more authority than they did, and she was a known presence in the Ministry for herself and not just for being Harry's friend. For another, Granger had a certain…resistlessness about her.

It was not enough to excuse what she had nearly done. As her eyes darted from the vial to the cauldron, her face turned red, her cheeks shiny. Draco inclined his head and waited, gaze never moving from hers. If she suffered from her conscience, she would enjoy the smallest part of the scolding she deserved.

Granger finally coughed and said, "I don't know what you said in your letter to Ginny, but she came over to question us and Harry about it last night. If you make trouble for her, it's going to land on Harry's head, sooner or later."

Draco went still. He wondered, for a second, why Harry hadn't told him about Ginny coming to question him. Surely he knew that Draco would like to know this? Or had he thought it a good idea to send word by Granger?

Give Granger credit for a certain sensitivity, too; she caught his eye and promptly shook her head. "Harry would be furious if he knew that I was here," she said, and her voice was weighted with a sadness that Draco didn't have to understand. "He thinks that everything should be handled between the two of you, or maybe between the two of you and Ginny. But I wanted to say something."

"Thank you for the warning, Granger." Draco was determined to preserve his politeness, despite everything. From the wary narrowing of Granger's eyes, she probably suspected that he didn't mean it. Draco didn't mean it as much as he could have, but knowing that Granger wasn't here as Harry's messenger had restored some of his charity with her. "I'll speak to Harry myself."

Granger nodded and twisted her hands in her robe. "That's for the best. Just—be careful. Harry's sensitive on the subject of old lovers like you wouldn't believe. I think he's starting to think all of them are as bad as Frank."

"An opinion I endorse and encourage," Draco said, smiling at her. "Most of them are."

"You don't know anything about Ginny."

"I know she's the kind of woman who thought it appropriate to go and question my lover about a matter of business that had nothing to do with him," Draco said. "She was the one who chose to write to me, because she wanted a bargain. She can deal with any awkwardness that she stirred up."

He turned back to his potion. Granger, give her credit for that too, didn't hang about waiting for a dismissal or a farewell. She turned and left, her robes swishing around her like one final warning.

Draco only busied himself with the potion until she had closed the door to his lab behind him, and then he shut his eyes, bowed his head, and put his hands on the edge of the desk.

He would talk to Harry when they next met. And he would not send a letter to Weasley again unless she contacted him first, and he would leave Harry's friends out of it. And he would go on with work in a moment. He was in the middle of a professional duty. He could not allow his emotions to take over. He would have despised any of his apprentices or co-workers who did so.

But for now, he stood there and allowed fireworks to explode inside his heart.

Weasley should have left Harry alone. She shouldn't expect him to interfere with me for her sake. She should have left well enough alone.

A second later, Draco opened his eyes and smiled at the far wall.

He thought he had the means to ensure that, at the very least, Weasley regretted her intrusion.

He turned back to his potion, because the one moment of indulgence he had granted himself was over, and he did have to support himself.

Harry ducked and rolled across the floor as yet another curse soared over his head. This bastard was persistent.

He knew Ron was somewhere on the other side of the barrier that this particular Dark wizard had raised across the door to his drawing room before Harry could stop him. It was a spell that Harry had never seen before, much like the curses that the idiot was hurling at him, bright and flexible with a glittering undertone to it that Harry could imagine cutting off his fingers if he tried to cross it. He and Ron really had to come up with better plans for staying at each other's sides.

The wizard spun towards Harry, his eyes wild. He had supposedly been only a smuggler of forbidden plants, so the Hit Wizards had started out handling the case, but then he had used his first Dark curse on the partners who had tried to arrest him, and the Aurors had been called in.

Now he stood separated from Harry only by a wide expanse of tiled floor, and he was sliding forwards one foot at a time, as if he believed that he could obliterate Harry if he struck hard enough.

"You don't have to do this," Harry said conversationally, shaking his wand into his hand. The wizard went still, his flyaway hair seeming to stand more on end still as his eyes focused on the wand in Harry's hand. Ah, Harry thought. Yes, there was that undercurrent with some Dark wizards. Some of them felt as though the wand that had been the brother of Voldemort's could hurt them more. Others thought Harry was disguising the Elder Wand with a holly glamour. "You could throw down your wand and go quietly with me. That would get you some mercy."

The wizard breathed harshly and hugged himself. Then he shook his head and wheeled forwards, croaking out some other curse that Harry didn't know.

Harry waited for that one to pass overhead, slicing his shirt but not his back, and then dived forwards and hit the wizard's legs. He hadn't protected them with a shield; Harry had learned long ago that the insane ones often didn't. They seemed to think that they didn't need defensive magic if they had the offensive stuff.

Harry had taught many others better, and he was going to do the same with this one.

For long moments the man writhed beneath him, spitting curses. Harry pushed back against him, stubborn as fire, wearing him down. Only his wand coming to rest in the hollow of the man's throat finally did it.

The wizard glared up at him. He had grey eyes, but that was the point where his resemblance to Draco ended.

"You could have given in the way I advised you to," Harry said mildly, and cast the Incarcerous even before the Stunner. He thought the man wild enough to resist falling unconscious if he had any hope of escape.

Harry stood up, then, shaking his head, and dismissed the barrier over the entrance to the house with a few minutes to concentrate. It turned out it wasn't all that different from some maze spells he'd met before, although this was only one wall of a maze instead of the whole thing.

He had turned back to his capture and was considering it, not displeased, when Ron rushed through the gap and came to a rocking stop. "Mate," he whispered. "You're hurt."

"No, he only got my shirt," Harry said, looking up and waving a hand. "Good thing that we wear such thick Auror robes—"

"No, you're bleeding," Ron said, and when he came close and tapped his wand against the middle of Harry's back, causing the ripped cloth to peel away a little more, Harry became aware that there was a deep ache there. It probably didn't help that the adrenaline was fading, and he could feel the steady shaking that had invaded his legs.

Harry winced and sat down, leaning forwards so that his head rested on his knees. Ron cast a few swift spells that would hold together the edges of the wound until they could get to St. Mungo's, Harry thought. Then he hauled Harry to his feet with a hand on his arm and sent his terrier Patronus to the Ministry with word that they were going to need help here fetching in the wizard they'd hunted, while Harry was tended to.

"Thanks," Harry muttered to Ron, limping and leaning on him, wondering why this always happened to him, and hoping that this wouldn't make another scar that he and Draco would have to learn to accept. Well, Harry more than Draco. He thought Draco would take it in with no more than another flicker of his eyes and a comment on why Harry hadn't noticed the wound at first.

"Don't say that until you're safe," Ron said grimly, and Apparated, over Harry's indignant protests that he was perfectly safe, thanks.

"It's going to be a little while before I can come to the Manor, Draco."

Draco leaned against the wall of his office and breathed softly. When he had received a call from a Healer at St. Mungo's, this was not the kind of situation he had anticipated. A new Potions order, perhaps, or a request for consultation on an experiment that one of their own Potions masters was working on.

"Draco? Are you okay?"

And that was Harry, instantly distracted from his apology and worry over his own health by worry over Draco's. Draco jerked himself up, hissed a little as his head spun from the speed, and leaned down near the fire to glare at Harry. "I am fine," he said. "You are to go on resting and doing what they tell you, all right? I'll see you at the Manor when you're ready."

Harry coughed. "They said that I could leave, but only if I'm under the care of someone who could look after me. Could you—I mean—I would ask Ron and Hermione, but I thought…" His voice trailed off.

"I'm coming," Draco said quietly, and cast a Stasis Charm on the one potion that wouldn't wait.

The smile Harry gave him was blinding, and far more than he would have had to to persuade Draco to do it. Draco smiled at him and reached for his cloak, wishing that he didn't feel so much as if an arrow had scraped by his heart and barely missed him.

Harry had to admit that Ron had been right. The curse had scraped a long line on his back, long enough that blood had flowed all down the back of his robe and was making it stick to his skin by the time they got to St. Mungo's. The Healers had clucked over him until Harry wanted to murder someone.

But he had held still and let the Healers do their jobs. If that was what his friends needed to rest easy, Harry wanted to give it to them. And while Hermione wasn't at the hospital, and he didn't think Ron had alerted her yet, she would be reassured only if she knew that the Healers had made their best efforts on Harry's behalf.

Still, that was nothing compared to how he felt when Draco strode around the corner and into his room.

Ron had known Draco was coming, so he did nothing other than nod and back out, leaving them alone. And Harry had known, too, so why did he feel as if the joy inside his chest could levitate him off the bed? He reached out his arms, then flushed, certain he looked as though he was a baby reaching for its mother.

Draco caught his hands before he could drop them and kissed their backs. Harry felt his fingers trembling in Draco's hold. Maybe it was because Draco had brushed over the Blood Quill scars, still hidden with a glamour, and treated them no differently than the rest of Harry's skin, although the glamours only had a visual component, not a tactile one, and the scarred part would feel different.

Maybe it was the look in Draco's eyes as he pulled back and gazed at Harry, his fingers still smoothing up and down and back.

"Let's get you home," Draco said.

He didn't need to say anything more than that, and neither did Harry, he thought. He stood up, conscious of the newly healed skin on his back that pulled and tested itself against his movements. Draco nestled his hand into place on Harry's nape, carefully above the wound but still enough to provide support, and nestled his chin into Harry's hair, closing his eyes.

Harry stood there, and tried to remember the last time he had done this with a lover. Not Frank, not Veronica, and he had been in Auror training when he dated most of the others. Frank had wanted to distance himself from the bloodier aspects of being an Auror. Veronica hadn't been good with blood in general.

Then Draco pulled a little, making Harry rest against him, and Harry let his balance and his care go, and went with the pull.

He had someone who loved him, someone who could guard him and keep him when he couldn't guard himself. For the last year, he had thought that was gone with everything else, if he couldn't keep a wizard lover and couldn't please anyone but a Muggle. There was nothing to do but nobly accept that he was deficient and that shouldn't allow him to deprive anyone else of pleasure.


Harry shut his eyes on the shameful tears that wanted to fall and wound his hand in the collar of Draco's cloak.

"Take me home," he whispered.

And he didn't care about the people who might see them in the corridors in hospital and stare, either because they found the sight of a Death Eater and the Chosen One together incongruous, or because Harry's limp and scars might show. What did they matter? He wasn't the perfect lover. He wasn't the perfect detached person he had thought he was and tried to be in the recent past with his one-night stands and Draco himself. He wasn't the perfect hero.

He was ordinary, and allowed to be.

Draco led him out of the room, step so light and eyes so proud that Harry felt as though he could bathe in the sunlight from them. That, too, was his to feel and experience now.

He walked beside Draco, supported, and knew he wouldn't fall.

Draco had nearly reached the front of the hospital, guiding Harry with an arm around his waist once Harry reassured him that he wouldn't touch the wound even if he did that, when he heard a voice behind them.

"Malfoy? Harry?"

Weasley. Harry had a slight, guilty expression on his face right now. Draco didn't intend to confront him about it. If necessary, he could tell him later that he knew about Weasley's attempt to put pressure on Harry.

Right now, he had pleasure pouring through him in a pale torrent as he turned around and smiled at Weasley. Weasley had a startled rabbit's look in her eyes, one hand clutching at a satchel over her shoulder. Something had smashed inside it, long ago—anise, which Draco knew some people favored as an experimental Potions ingredients.

And that told him what Weasley was doing here. He smiled, gently. "Come to find out if someone could make your potion for you faster and cheaper, Weasley?" he asked. "And disappointed, I see." Her face was red, which could have been the effect of running into two people she'd been trying to con, in various ways, but Draco doubted it.

Harry shifted against him and murmured, "Draco."

Draco sighed at him. "You never want me to have any fun."

"You'll have to excuse me, Malfoy." Weasley had recovered enough to look at him as though he was the one who had accosted her. "Yes, I was here to find out about prices. I found that you told the truth in your letter after all. Accept my apologies." And she tried to march past them with a high-handed authority that looked no more natural on her than the satchel did.

Draco might have let it go, if she had left then and that had been all. But she cast a quick look at Harry as she walked by, and what was in her eyes made Draco open a door next to them, a door that luckily led to an empty room, and say, "In."

"Draco," Harry said. His voice held a low warning tone. Not the kind of shout he would have given if he had thought that Draco was really going to hurt Weasley, but that was a kind of warning in itself. He trusted Draco. He didn't want this confrontation to show him that he couldn't do that.

Draco smiled at Harry over his shoulder. Trust me, he mouthed.

I already do, Harry's eyes said, but he shrugged a little and followed Draco into the room. Weasley came behind them, seeming drawn despite herself.

Draco shut the door, cast a few Locking Charms, and turned around to smile at Weasley. "See," he said, "I believe in some coincidences, but not that many. I think that you came here because you heard Harry was injured, as much to see another Potions master that you hoped would be able to quote you a nonexistent fairer price."

Weasley shook her head, saying nothing. But her throat had bobbed once as she swallowed, and that was all Draco really needed to see.

"Yes," he said, with a tragic sigh. "You heard the news from your brother, didn't you? And you thought you could come here and try pleading your case. But what you didn't know was that you would have to face us both together. And together, we're stronger than you can understand."

Harry shifted beside Draco, as if he would challenge what Draco had said. But he didn't. Draco was glad. After all, every word he had said was true.

"I was with Hermione when Ron firecalled to tell us," Weasley said, and she glanced back and forth from one of them to the other, as if she hoped that Harry would intervene and put Draco in his place. Harry folded his arms and stood still, so Weasley had to turn back to Draco. "I didn't mean him harm. Even you can't be so lost to all sense of what we were to each other as to suggest that."

"I don't know what you were to each other," said Draco, and let himself sneer a little. "I don't kiss and tell."

"You know that we didn't part on good terms," said Weasley, and flushed. "Harry must have told you that much."

"He said that you parted on extremely good terms, actually." Draco dragged Harry even closer against his side, so that he could feel how he was experiencing this from the state of tension in his muscles. So far, Harry was quiet, although his expression was intense when Draco sneaked a look at him. "I'm the one who thinks that he deserves better treatment than you gave him. Better treatment than all his lovers gave him."

"How dare you compare me with Frank?" Weasley was standing tall now, and the satchel that was her excuse for coming had slipped from her arm to the floor. She was staring at Draco with the silliest betrayed expression he had ever seen. He snickered, and Weasley leaned in close. "You know what that bastard did to him. I never said that Harry was ugly. I never said that he was bad at sex. I just said that we weren't suited to each other, and Harry agreed."

Draco drew breath to speak, and Harry touched his arm. Draco turned to him. He had been afraid this would happen all along, that Harry would want to make excuses for Weasley, which was part of the reason he was handling the battle himself. The other part was that Harry was wounded, and shouldn't have to think of Weasley's absurd claims right now.

But when he saw the way Harry looked at Weasley, Draco shut his mouth, and stepped out of the way.

Harry might not be as hard on Weasley as Draco would like, but there was a gleam in his eyes that said he wouldn't just let her go, either.

And at a certain point, Draco had to trust Harry, too.

He moved so that he stood behind him and could rest his hands on Harry's hips, avoiding the wound but still supporting him. And he would be able to get him out of there in seconds if the confrontation went wrong.

Then he waited.

Ginny's face was pale as she looked up at Harry, but her expression was clear and candid. Harry thought there was no other former lover that he would have dared to ask this of. Frank could twist his words around. Karl and Jacquelyn had proved that they would prefer never to speak to him again. And he had hurt Veronica and Andy too badly.

But Ginny had been honest with him so many times. She was his friend as well as his lover. Harry was counting on that honesty to spare him some of the heartache that he'd already incurred.

He knew Draco was primarily worried at the moment about Harry incurring more, which was fair. But he had the chance to ask this, and he wouldn't waste it.

"Did you really never flinch from my scars?" Harry asked quietly. "I know I had less of them then, but sometimes, from the way you looked at me, I wondered. You found it hard to see me naked. I know you said that once. Well?" he added, because Ginny's lip had begun quivering a little and her hands had moved down to the satchel as if she was going to pick it up and flee the room.

His trust in Ginny's honesty hadn't been misplaced, though. After a silent moment of trembling on the edge of flight, Ginny shook her head and faced him squarely.

"I would have liked to have a lover who was less scarred," Ginny said. "Not because you were ugly, but because of the war. Seeing you brought—Tom to mind, and all the things that happened with that. I was eleven," she added, even though Harry hadn't said anything. He supposed that he might have worn an expression of scorn in his eyes. "I can't just forget it."

Harry looked hard at her. He thought she was telling the truth, but he wasn't sure.

Ginny pushed her hair back, to leave her eyes and forehead completely exposed, and nodded at him. "You know it's true," she whispered to him. "You could never look me in the eye when I lied, or I would start blushing and stammering."

That had been true, and Harry thought it still was. He sighed slowly. "Okay." It would make sense that Ginny would associate some of the things about him, like his Parseltongue, with Tom Riddle. She had looked even sicker when he hissed than she had when she saw his scars.

Ginny gave him an uncertain smile. "Thanks for believing me." She cast a glance at Draco, hesitated, and then said, "He didn't."

"When you press my current and your former lover for details about me that he has no reason to give you," Draco said pleasantly, "then you lose any trace of courtesy from me."

Ginny's eyes flickered. "You were right about the potion," she said. "Does that please you?"

"Yes," Draco said. "Because I won't brew it for you."

Ginny opened her mouth, and Harry caught her eye. "You still had no right to ask me those other questions," he said. "I can forgive you for not wanting to be with me because I reminded you of the war. I find it a lot harder to forgive you for coming to me and pressing me on the subject of Draco."

Ginny seemed to realize there was really nothing to defend on that score, and so she turned and left the room, after Draco lifted the Locking Charms. It had always been hard for her to apologize, Harry thought. He remembered that about her.

"You could have let me savage her some more," Draco muttered.

Harry turned around, careful not to let Draco's hands scrape against his wound, and smiled at him. "I'm more interested in you and the powerful Locking Charms you can perform that can't be undone by just anyone," he said, hooking a hand around Draco's neck. "Think we might have some use for those in the future?"

From the way Draco's eyes brightened and he nearly bent Harry backwards with his kiss, Harry knew it had been the right thing to say.

And the right thing to do was leave hospital on Draco's arm, escorted and protected like a precious, costly thing.

Which, sometimes, Harry might be persuaded to believe he was.