Part 4: Valiant Knights and Damsels in Distress
"So are you ready for . . ." Draco trailed off and looked down at Harry with an unhappy frown.
It was the next morning, and while, after they'd woken up, they had both felt as elated by the fact that Draco could actually hear Harry as the day before, now that feeling was replaced by uncertainty and embarrassment.
Already, the previous evening had been hard, harder than they had expected. Neither of them had wanted to tell their friends immediately – they'd wanted this one afternoon and night to themselves – and so Draco had informed Hermione that he'd stay another night and asked her to come over with Ron in the morning. For some time, they had talked, had tried to fill in the huge blanks. Mostly, Harry had told Draco about waking up at St Mungo's. As they had quickly found out, telepathy tired Harry, just as deepening the empathic connection had in the beginning, and so he'd spent a good part of the afternoon sleeping.
The time had come when Harry needed to eat, and while Draco had demonstratively thrown all the bottles with strawberry potion into the bin on his request, supper had been an awkward affair. These last years, Draco had been calm and self-confident about feeding Harry – now he seemed uncomfortable with having to help him swallow and unsure of how to react to him gagging and pushing food out of his mouth involuntarily. It had ended with them eating in tense silence, and Harry feeling almost as disabled and ashamed in front of Draco as he had when he'd come home in the beginning.
After that, it had got even worse: if he could have died from embarrassment as he prepared Harry for bed, then Draco would have – at least that was what Harry sensed from him despite his attempt to block their connection. He hadn't wanted to talk about it; all he'd said was "I'm fine," when Harry had breached the subject, but now the same situation was here again.
Somehow, Harry had imagined that once he could talk, things would be easier immediately, but, he thought glumly as Draco peeled his pyjamas off him, he had obviously been mistaken. When he was naked except for the nappy and Draco slowly and very hesitantly reached out to open it, Harry felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and unwillingness from him.
You've been doing this every day for the past nine years! He knew he was making everything worse, but he couldn't help himself. If you want to make me feel awful and disgusting, then you're succeeding admirably.
"Yes, that was precisely my goal," Draco snapped. Then he sighed deeply and raked his hand through his hair.
I'm sorry. It's only . . . you're so different. You were never like this before.
There was no reply; Draco simply changed his nappy in silence. When he was finished and had cleaned his hands, he dressed Harry as carefully and expertly as ever, but instead of helping him into the wheelchair, he propped him up against several pillows and sat down next to him on the bed. He reached for him, probably out of habit, Harry thought, but hesitated before his hand touched Harry's hair.
It's all right to touch me. You needn't ask for permission every time, really.
Draco nodded, but still hesitated before he finally began petting him. Harry sighed involuntarily; he needed this kind of comfort right now.
I thought everything would be better once I could talk to you, he said in the end. That was pretty naïve, huh?
"If it was, then I'm as naïve as you." Draco dropped his hand. "I don't . . . I've got no idea what I'm even doing! Before, I treated you . . . well, I talked to you as if you were a child. But you're not. Everything is different all of a sudden, and I don't want to be . . . I don't know. Disrespectful. I keep imagining how humiliating it must be if I couldn't move at all but notice everything. How it might feel if somebody kept treating me as if I weren't there, mentally. And how everyone would just do whatever the heck they wanted with me. I don't want to just grab you and do something you can't . . ." He trailed off and shook his head.
I get it, Harry said. He did, it made sense. And I do appreciate it. It was disturbing. And humiliating, at first. But you never treated me like a kid.
Draco looked doubtful.
You didn't. Harry wasn't sure how to say it, how to make him understand. You treated me like somebody you loved, nothing else. You talked to me about how you felt, you held me, you comforted me when I needed it, you did everything for me that I couldn't; things a lot of people would never do, not even for their husband. I don't feel humiliated or disrespected when you feed me or clean me. Not anymore, not for a long time. I don't like that it has to be this way, but I'm over resenting it. I'm not bitter anymore. When you do these things for me, I feel . . . I feel loved. And that's all there is to it, to me.
It was true, Harry realised. He hadn't formulated these thoughts so clearly to himself before, but it was what he'd been feeling for a while, why he had finally come to consider living with Draco without being able to communicate and not despaired at the idea.
"I do love you," Draco murmured. "And I'm glad that you feel that way. But I'll have to get used to this. Things changed so much; you need to give me time. And when I thought you didn't understand, I could . . . it was easier. To forget how it used to be between us, before."
To be yourself with me?
Draco nodded silently.
I get that. And you can have all the time you need. I'll have to get used to this as well. But I want you to try and believe me when I say that I love you just as you are.
A steep crease appeared on Draco's forehead, but he sighed deeply and nodded again. "I'll try."
Is it so hard to believe you're loved? Harry felt uncomfortable prying like this, but Draco was emanating such uncertainty and hesitation that he couldn't let it go.
There was a surge of unwillingness and even annoyance and Draco looked down, away from Harry.
"Try living as the scum at the bottom of society for years, with everyone telling you how disgusting and evil you are, especially when you know that they've got a point, at least to some degree. After the war . . . even during it all, I knew it was wrong what he was doing. What wewere doing. I realised that when I was supposed to kill Dumbledore. And when the Ministry began penalising us, trying to kill us . . . it was wrong, and I was angry and hated them, but sometimes . . ."
Sometimes you asked yourself if they weren't right. Harry realised that he understood Draco perfectly. Luckily, he'd somehow managed to reject the Dursleys' views of him as a child, but he could easily have believed them, he knew that by now. There had been those moments when he'd doubted himself, when he had wondered if they didn't have to be right, after all. He should tell Draco about it soon, show him that he understood.
"Sometimes I still do."
One more time, Harry wished he could move and do more than only comfort Draco with words.
Believe me, not them. Believe our friends – we all love you. Even Ron doesn't think you're a bad person, you know that.
Draco looked up and smiled weakly at Harry. "He's a bonehead, but his heart is in the right place."
Kind of like you.
Now Draco's smile deepened, and Harry was glad to feel that some of the sadness and insecurity was ebbing away. Still it would be a struggle to come to terms with everything, their past and their future, and he couldn't help but be frightened that they might not make it.
Do you think . . . can you do it, with time? Can we both do it? Can we be happy someday?
Harry wasn't certain if tone of voice could be conveyed telepathically, but somehow, Draco seemed to sense how worried he was – probably because it was the same for him. Slowly and deliberately, he picked up the edge of the bib and dabbed the drool from Harry's mouth and chin, never taking his eyes away from Harry's. Then he leant in and kissed him, not on the lips – they both weren't ready, Harry felt it – but just over the corner of his mouth.
"Yes," he said firmly. "It's not going to be easy, but if we both want it, we can."
Two hours later, they were in the living room, waiting for Ron and Hermione. Harry was sitting in the wheelchair – he didn't want to lie in bed for this.
After their talk, breakfast had been better than supper the previous day. Draco had been hesitant, but not quite as uncomfortable, and Harry had seen his obvious determination. That, too, made him feel loved, and Draco had given him a warm smile when he'd said it. It would take time, maybe a long time, but Harry dared to hope that eventually, they could find their way around this new situation, together.
They were expecting Hermione and Ron at 10.30am, and sure enough, the fireplace roared into life and first Ron and then Hermione appeared. Hermione walked over to Draco and greeted him with a hug.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"No. I'm not going. I'm staying with Harry."
Harry didn't have to be able to see their faces to know how surprised their friends were.
"Why?" Hermione asked.
"Something happened yesterday," Draco said. He sounded excited, and Harry could see that he was smiling brightly. "Something wonderful. I can hear Harry in my mind."
That wasn't really the sanest-sounding thing to start this conversation with, Harry thought, and obviously, Hermione agreed with him.
"Draco, are you certain you're feeling well?" she asked in a soft voice. "Maybe . . . would you like to sit down? I could Firecall your counsellor."
Draco didn't answer for some moments, obviously confused, but then he shook his head. "I'm not crazy. I thought I was, yesterday when it happened. I thought I was having a breakdown and imagining things, but it is true."
"You're making no sense," Ron said. "You sound pretty bonkers to me."
"Thank you very much for that expert opinion. But I'm not. How about we sit down and you let me explain what is going on."
The two let Draco usher them to the reading corner and onto the red couch, while Draco sat down in an armchair. On Harry's request, he'd put the wheelchair on the opposite side of the coffee table so that Harry could see all of them.
"Now, I know it sounds strange," he said, "and I couldn't believe it at first. As I said, I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. But . . . Hermione, do you remember what Luna told us about Blood Bonds? About the connections some couples form in their minds?"
Her eyes went wide, and she nodded, very slowly. Harry knew that she'd grasped immediately what Draco was telling them, but that she didn't dare believe it.
"What are you talking about?" Ron asked.
"It has something to do with the Blood Bond. There are couples for whom it does more than force them into fidelity and living together. I had no idea – Luna told me about it, and Hermione too."
"I borrowed the book from her," Hermione interrupted Draco. Her voice sounded dazed, as if she were struggling to believe that what was happening around her was real. "It said some couples form an empathic connection, that they can feel each other's feelings. And some . . . it's rare, but it said some can communicate through telepathy. Is that it, Draco? Is that what you think happened?"
"Wait." Ron was at the edge of his seat, hands clenched around the armrests. "Are you telling us Harry was conscious all along? That he can hear us?"
"Yes. He can understand us, he always could. And he heard when Luna told me about those connections and about telepathy. He has been trying to reach me for years, and yesterday it finally worked. We're not sure why."
"That's nonsense!" Ron snapped. "I don't believe you."
"Ron! Don't –" Hermione began.
"No. He's gone mental! It's not as if I don't understand it. I'd snap too, after ten years of this. Now, Malfoy . . ." Ron tried his best to sound calm and reasonable now, Harry noticed. "What you need to do is let us call your counsellor or maybe St Mungo's. They can help you. And you needn't worry about Harry, we'll be here."
Draco let out a frustrated sigh. "I am not crazy," he repeated. "I thought I was imagining it because I couldn't take leaving, so I asked him to do something I couldn't be imagining. Something that didn't involve hearing a voice in my head. And he did. He can show you as well."
"I'm sorry to say it, but you probably imagined that as well."
God, shut up, Ron! Just let us show you! Harry wished he could send this to Ron instead of Draco – the shock would be well-deserved. He knew why Ron was rejecting even the possibility of it being true, but now that he finally could make himself known, all it did was frustrate and annoy him, and he was sick of being talked about as if he wasn't even here.
"Honestly, Weasley, you sound as if you want him to be a vegetable!" Draco sounded – and felt – as annoyed as Harry was.
"Don't you dare –" Ron snarled, getting up from the couch, but Hermione immediately got up as well and grabbed his arm.
"Don't," she said. "Stop this, both of you. Ron, we can't be certain. If Draco says Harry can talk to him through telepathy . . . it's not entirely impossible. And if he says Harry can actually show us, we should at least let him try."
Ron was standing stiffly, fists still clenched.
"It's what we've been wishing for all these years," Hermione said, putting her arm around him, and after a few seconds, he nodded.
"If he can actually understand us and talk to you, then I want him to tell you something about me only he knows, something neither he nor I have ever told anyone else."
Still, Ron wasn't even looking at Harry, much less talking to him directly, and it aggravated him even more, making the choice of what to say rather easy. There were a couple of things, but one thing in particular that Harry knew would embarrass Ron even now.
So, tell him this: in third year, he was so helplessly crushing on Professor Sinistra that he wrote her a love letter that was two rolls of parchment long. He kept it under his pillow and sometimes took it out to read it and fawn over her. I caught him, and I read part of it, and it was the kitschiest thing I've ever heard. Worse than any of your romance novels. He went on waxing poetic about her 'chocolate skin' and her eyes 'shining like stars' and so on. He burnt it after that and threatened to kill me if I ever told anybody.
Draco did as Harry asked him to, and Ron turned to look at Harry as if he was seeing Voldemort's ghost, his mouth agape and eyes wide as saucers. Harry noticed with satisfaction that his face had taken on the same colour as his hair.
"How do . . . I never told . . . and he wouldn't have . . ."
"Now is that proof enough?" Draco asked.
"But it can't . . ." Ron began, only to fall silent again and continue his open-mouthed staring.
Harry'd had enough. If he could speak, he'd have given Ron a verbal whack over the head long ago. After all this time, after he'd been going on about how much he hated that Harry wasn't aware of his surroundings and of his best friend, he should be overjoyed to find out that he was wrong, not in denial, no matter how hard this might be on him.
Tell him this, Harry said to Draco, who frowned as he went on, but was clearly amused; Harry could feel that.
"Seriously? You want me to tell him that? In these words?"
Go on! He deserves it.
"You know, it might be a bit harsh in this situation. More than a bit."
Don't do this, Draco. Don't decide what I can and can't say, just because I need you to say it for me.
Draco sighed. "Right. But if he hexes me, it's your responsibility." He turned to Ron. "So, he's telling you to shut your trap before the flies come in. Says he's got a good reason to make that stupid face all the time, but you look just ridiculous like this. Even dumber than Grawp."
"Draco!" Hermione sounded shocked, and if possible Ron was gawking at Harry even worse than before. He was trying to say something, mouth opening and closing mutely, which made him look like an absurd red-headed fish.
"It's really inappropriate to joke about . . ." Hermione began.
"Fuck you! That's not funny, Malfoy!" Ron snapped at the same time, at last having found his voice.
Harry laughed. It was a strange, wheezing mixture between laughing and moaning, and he'd had no idea that he could do it until now. But their faces were too hilarious, and the fact that he'd managed to make the two react so typically for them, just like he'd been able to ten years ago, was almost too amazing to be true. Now they as well as Draco were staring at him incredulously, and Harry, still shaking with laughter, decided that this was definitely one of the best days of his life.
When he could stop laughing, he felt that everything in Draco wanted to rush to Harry's side – but he stayed put. Instead, Ron and Hermione ran over to him as if they'd just awoken from a daze.
"Harry?" Hermione whispered when she was with him, her voice shaking as much as her hand as she touched his shoulder. "It's true? You could understand us all along? You're . . . talking to Draco?"
Ron said nothing; he only knelt next to the wheelchair and took Harry's left fist in both of his large warm hands, his eyes glued to Harry's face. It was painfully obvious how scared he was, scared that this was not true. Harry had to do more to convince them, give them solid proof, like he'd needed to do with Draco.
Tell them what I'm going to do, tell them I'll be saying yes, he said to Draco.
"He's telling you that he'll say yes. We always wanted him to blink twice for yes. Now watch his mouth."
Hermione and Ron looked at him expectantly, and Harry focused sharply on his mouth and did the same thing he'd done with Draco: he pushed out his tongue, slowly and deliberately. Twice.
"Twice means yes." Hermione sounded as though she were dreaming. "Twice means . . . oh, Harry!" Then Harry's face was pressed into her breasts as she hugged him tightly. Just when he thought he might run out of air, she let go and looked him in the eyes instead.
"Ten years," she whispered. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she couldn't seem to decide whether to smile or to break out sobbing. "I . . . I'm so sorry, Harry. Maybe we could have done something, found out sooner that . . ."
Don't start that. I'm just happy it happened at all.
"He's telling you that he is happy that it's over, and not to dwell on it," Draco said.
Hermione nodded, but gave in to crying quietly now, sitting down on the floor next to the wheelchair, her face buried in her hands.
Meanwhile, Ron hadn't moved at all; he was still looking up at Harry like frozen.
Draco, can you tell him something from me, word for word?
All right. Tell him . . .
"He says You needn't worry, Ron," Draco said, repeating each sentence when Harry had finished it. "I'm not angry. I might have reacted the same way. But it's over now, and I'm not going anywhere, I never did. I wouldn't leave my brother just like that." He sounded awkward saying such intimate things to Ron and speaking his first name, but his voice was soft, and Harry was grateful that he made the effort.
Ron didn't answer. Harry could see his Adam's apple work as he swallowed hard, then he nodded abruptly and got up, letting go of Harry's hand and rushing out of the room in long strides.
Harry's first reaction was anger and a silent curse, but the look of pained sympathy on Draco's face – one he'd never have imagined from him for Ron, even now – made him reconsider.
Can you go after him, please? I think you're the one who understands him best.
Without a word, Draco got up and left the room as well, leaving Harry with Hermione, who was still sitting on the floor next to him. It took a minute or two, but then she seemed to pull herself together and got up again, wiping her eyes dry with a sleeve of her robes.
"He'll need time," she said now. "He always felt guilty, all these years, but he . . . he couldn't be there. He couldn't take it."
Harry wished he could talk to her like he could to Draco, but all he could do was wait for her to ask questions.
"Are you . . . God, I've got so many questions, but I think it might be better to wait until Draco comes back. I want to know what you actually want to say." She frowned thoughtfully. "You know, we could make a chart with letters on it. We point at them and you can stick out your tongue at the letter you need. That way, you can spell, talk to others without Draco too. It will be slow, but it's better than only saying yes and no, don't you think?"
The idea was brilliant, and Harry signaled 'yes'.
"All right. I'll do that today. Now let's best wait for Draco and Ron, then we can talk about what to do next together." Hermione pushed the closes armchair next to the wheelchair and sat down in it, and after a moment of hesitation, she put her hand on Harry's – at least she wasn't afraid to touch him now, which was good.
Surely ten or fifteen minutes must have passed before Draco and Ron returned, and when they approached them, Harry saw to his surprise that Draco was walking with his arm around Ron, who didn't seem to mind it.
When they'd reached the wheelchair and Ron looked at him, Harry saw that he, too, must have been crying. Draco stepped away, and Hermione got up and put her hand on Ron's shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her for a few moments before he turned back to Harry.
"Can . . . can you forgive me? I never meant . . . I just couldn't see you like that. Not you."
Harry didn't even consider answering through Draco; Ron needed the answer to be directly from him. Focusing sharply, he signaled a 'yes'.
Ron's lips were pressed together tightly, and he was obviously fighting tears again. He didn't say anything, but nodded slowly. When Hermione made him sit in the armchair with her and gently pulled his head against her chest, he didn't resist, but held on tightly.
Throwing this party was a brilliant idea of Teddy's.
"It was. And everyone came; I don't think the place was ever this full before."
It was three weeks after Harry had managed to make telepathic contact with Draco, and the house looked like a battlefield: dirty dishes and leftover food were covering every surface in the living room, and there was a several inches thick layer of confetti on the floor.
I hadn't expected Percy would come here instead of the diplomatic ball in Moscow, though.
"Oh, he has a Time-Turner." Draco laughed softly. "He wouldn't neglect his duty like that, not if he wants to become Minister after Floyd one day."
Harry and Draco were sitting in an armchair that Hermione had transfigured for them, making it wider so that they both fit into it perfectly, and adding an attached leg rest so it would be comfortable for Harry. He was leaning against Draco, with a thick pillow behind him and Draco's arm around him, and on the telly in front of them the Battle on the Pelennor Fields was in full swing. They'd turned the volume off, though – both of them had watched the film at least half a dozen times, Draco in recent years and Harry before the kidnapping.
I think it's more than likely that he'll be the next Minister. And he deserves it. He worked so hard these last years, Luna told me all about it.
"True. Oh, did she tell you that he was in a meeting on some internal Ministry business when he heard about you? His assistant went in and brought him the letter because Luna had sent the owl with the emergency code, and when he'd read it, he immediately declared the meeting postponed, ran out of the room and Flooed straight home. That was about ten minutes before they got the girls and came here."
I didn't know, but I'd have loved to see their faces.
It hadn't been an unusual reaction; most of their friends had pretty much dropped whatever they'd been doing and come straight to Grimmauld Place when they had head what had happened. Harry hadn't minded, though – Draco had made sure that there was only ever one family at a time, making everyone promise not to spread the news, but to let Draco do it.
Most had been incredulous at first, but all of them overjoyed, and there had been a lot of tears and hugs and some versions of 'We should have known', which Harry and Draco had tried to quench as best as they could.
Mrs Weasley had barely been able to stop kissing Harry, while Ginny, quite atypically, had become so upset that she'd had to take a calming draught and lie down for a while. The ones who'd accepted it the quickest had been Luna, who had cried but smiled brilliantly all throughout it, and Frederica. When she had been told what had happened, Luna had insisted on getting the girls from Hogwarts for a few hours so they could visit with Harry. Adelaide, who'd never known him before this, had been smiling shyly and kept to the background. Frederica had kissed his cheek and whispered, "They wouldn't believe me. Even Mum said we couldn't possibly know and I shouldn't talk about it in front of Uncle Draco, that it would only hurt him." It hadn't come as much of a surprise to Harry.
Can you switch on the sound again? I like this part.
They watched the rest of the film in silence, and a few times, Harry came close to dozing off. The party had been lovely, but he'd had to do a lot of concentrating and speaking through Draco, and telepathy was still exhausting him, though not quite as badly as during the first few days.
When the closing credits were running, Draco switched off the telly. "Bed?" he asked. "It's after eleven, and you look tired."
Yes, bed. Harry yawned widely. I hope we can sleep through the night.
Draco's hold on him tightened slightly, and his free hand closed around Harry's left one. "Me too."
The nightmares hadn't changed at all, and while, on Harry's insistence, Hermione as well as Luna had continued to sleep over once a week to give Draco some respite, Harry knew how hard it was on him to see him so terrified, even after years.
"Do you remember anything from when they had us?" Draco asked softly. He hadn't touched upon the subject before.
Only bits and pieces. Laughing faces and voices. How you'd hold me and sing to me. And how they'd . . . how they'd hurt me, some of it. I don't want to know more. Don't tell me. Harry shuddered, and Draco let go of his hand and began petting his hair.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked. "Anything you think might help?"
You're helping already. How you hold me and the singing . . . it makes me feel safe.
"Good." Draco kissed his temple and went on stroking his hair in silence, and slowly, Harry relaxed again. He liked this, snuggling together, talking about anything and everything – painful subjects like this, sometimes, but also everyday conversations, like any couple would have them.
You know, I was thinking I'd like a pet, someday. I didn't want any for some years after my owl Hedwig died, but now . . . I thought something small and furry, maybe a cat or a Puffskein. Something that can sit on my lap.
"That sounds good," Draco said. "Pets are nice. I always had one of our cats sleep in my bed when Voldemort was at the Manor. But no Puffskein," he added after a few moments, "they're ridiculous. They always remind me of those things in that space series. You know, the ones that look like fur balls and procreate by eating."
Tribbles? Yes, I see the similarity. Well, if it can't be a Puffskein – have you ever thought what kind of Animagus you might be?
Oh, I just thought you might be a ferret. You would be small and furry, and you could sit on my lap. My own pet ferret named Draco.
"You're –" Draco carefully pulled his arm away from around Harry and instead turned to look at him. "You're a git," he said. "After all these years, you're still a git." He was smiling, his eyes soft, and Harry felt a rush of love come towards him. "Harry . . . Scarhead. Never change, all right? I love you."
I love you too. Now will you kiss the git?
They hadn't before, hadn't quite been ready, but now, Draco nodded. He leant in, gently wiping Harry's open mouth with the bib in an almost casual motion, and kissed his upper lip. Harry tried to reciprocate, but failed, and still, it was lovely, and there was a flutter deep in his stomach. When Draco pulled away, Harry felt flushed and dizzy. They'd waited so long, and now, finally . . . It was, as he thought somewhat hazily, almost like in one of Draco's romance novels.
"Let's go upstairs," Draco whispered. "There can be more kisses in bed."
"And I tell you, if Hodgens hadn't been sick, the Cannons would have won!" Ron insisted.
They were having tea in Ron and Hermione's small, cosy kitchen after they'd returned from watching a Quidditch match. The Chudley Cannons had lost, foreseeably, by a landslide against the Appleby Arrows.
You've been making up excuses for them since the nineties. The Arrows were better, it's as simple as that. What part of 140 to zero before they caught the Snitch don't you understand?
Ron growled unhappily when Draco told him Harry's answer. "Whittaker is a pathetic Keeper, it's what I keep telling you. It wouldn't have happened like that with Hodgens. Besides, the Arrows' Seeker had some illegal work done on his broom. Something was fishy about it, I could see that, and I bet others did as well. It doesn't get any faster than a Thunderclap – they came out only last year, but he was outflying Gillespie on that ragged Nimbus Flash."
And we're at that stage again. Seriously, Ron, Gillespie can't fly, that's all, Thunderclap or no.
"Harry is right," Draco added after relaying the answer. "Anyone could beat her, no matter their broom."
"Right." Ron sighed in frustration. "Well, will you come in two weeks? We're up against the Falmouth Falcons then. We can't lose that."
Stranger things have happened. But sure, I'll come.
"Great." With a smile, Ron squeezed Harry's shoulder. "I really missed going with you. It just wasn't the same."
I missed it too. And he had. For ten years, he hadn't seen a single match, when before, he'd gone regularly three or four times a month, sometimes with Ron, sometimes with his colleagues.
Now, for the last four months, he'd gone to several games with Ron and Draco – and once only with Ron – and the atmosphere was as exciting as ever, even if he couldn't see every move on the field, since he couldn't turn his head. It was even worth the stares and whispers. Of course everyone knew who he was, and the news that he was, in fact, perfectly conscious had sparked a whole new wave of interest in him. Draco had had to chase reporters out of the house on more than one occasion, and still, they had managed to somehow obtain information and make it a headline. The only good thing coming out of it had been that the public's perception of Draco had taken a turn for the better.
It had probably been a nurse or a Healer who'd sold the information – at St. Mungo's, they'd been fussing over him for days when he'd come in for the examination Hermione had asked him to undergo, and even two of the Muggle doctors from back when he'd woken up first had returned. 'Total locked-in syndrome' was what they called his state, but he didn't particularly care about names.
"I've got to throw you out, unfortunately," Ron said now. "It's late, and Ruskin will have my head if I'm not fully awake tomorrow morning." He grimaced. "I'm supposed to give the Japanese a guided tour of the department. Honestly, I don't know why I thought being her deputy would be a good idea. Now there's all this diplomacy stuff instead of good clean Auror work."
Draco chuckled. "That's what you get when you follow in your brother's footsteps. Just wait, in some years we will have Minister Weasley and Head Auror Weasley. The end of the Wizarding world is nigh."
They all laughed at that, and not for the first time did Harry think how glad he was that finally, the tension between Ron and Draco appeared to have dissipated. Whatever they had talked about on that day when Ron had learnt that Harry was conscious, it had cleared the air once and for all. They almost behaved like friends these days. And to Harry's great relief, he felt almost no resentment towards Ron anymore. He'd feared that he would, despite what he had told him, that it would hinder the rekindling of their friendship, and he hadn't been entirely wrong. There had been – and still were – tense moments and even a fight on two occasions, but they were working on it, and he dared to hope that in a few years, they might be as close as they used to. He wanted it, and Ron seemed to feel the same.
"He is on to something, you know," Draco said after he'd Flooed back to Grimmauld Place and Ron had Apparated Harry home as well and had left. "Something was fishy about Shaikh's broom, but I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of being right."
"I know. It's why you love me. Now let's go upstairs, I'm tired. Do you want a bath before bed?"
Draco had said it casually, and Harry liked it; it was a big improvement from the initial uneasiness. They'd come a long way during the last eight months. It hadn't been easy: like with Ron, there had been more than enough uncomfortable situations, discussions, and some fights as well, but they were both determined to build a new life for themselves, and slowly, with every day, they were growing together.
In bed, Harry sighed and closed his eyes as Draco began washing him. This had been awkward at first as well, but by now, baths replaced cleaning spells at last half of the time. The physiotherapist still came three times a week and worked on keeping Harry's body from getting even more stiff and contracted, and it helped, but this was different, nicer. He never felt more relaxed than when Draco was massaging him with the warm, wet flannel, and it was only then that his hands would unclench at all.
Now, as the flannel slowly moved downward, Harry felt himself flush. Draco's touches were so gentle, and he had long, slim fingers Harry was convinced would feel nice on his . . .
Harry had an erection, and he felt himself flush even more. It was ridiculous, really, that he should be embarrassed. It had happened before, for years, and before they could talk, he'd never been bothered by it as much as he was now. And why was that? He didn't mind Draco changing his nappies so much anymore, and he thoroughly enjoyed being washed like this, but the idea of anything to do with sex . . .
"I know what you're brooding about," Draco said. "Really, you shouldn't."
Harry didn't answer, and Draco didn't push it but only went on with what he was doing, deliberately leaving out Harry's groin, which he'd cleaned with a spell. Finally, Harry was clean and relaxed and Draco carefully rubbed him dry with a soft towel and manoeuvred him out of the bathing contraption. When he was done, though, he didn't put a nappy on Harry, but sat down next to him on the bed to look at him. Luckily, they kept the room always comfortably warm.
What is it? Why don't you dress me?
"I will, in a moment, I promise."
From the way Draco was looking at him, Harry realised what this was going to be about, and he didn't want to talk about it. He knew that they had to, but still, he didn't feel prepared.
Please, don't do this.
"You've been avoiding the subject for weeks. Months. Harry . . ." Draco's hand was warm and firm on his shoulder, and he gently kissed Harry on the mouth. "I know you're attracted to me, sexually. It's not only platonic love. You said it yourself."
I am. But you –
"I am attracted to you, you know that. It's been fifteen years since I fell for you."
You were attracted, Harry corrected. Back before I was like this. You can't tell me –
"I am telling you precisely that. I love you, I'm attracted to you. There is nothing strange about it. Disabled people can have sexuality in their lives." He was stroking up and down Harry's arm slowly, and Harry wished he'd stop – and that he'd go on, touch him more, in other places as well. "Remember, it was you who convinced me that there's nothing embarrassing about seeing you naked and touching you, for either of us."
"Why? Tell me."
Just . . . at least put a blanket over me.
"All right." Draco grabbed the covers and spread them over Harry. "Better?"
"I'm not lying, you know. I'm not trying to make you feel better."
But what do you see in . . . in that body? It's . . . grotesque! It's all right when you take care of me; I know you do that because you love me and because it has to be done. But sex . . . it's not necessary.
"I see you, Harry. The man I love, and that's reason enough. And don't be so silly. You really think I'm only touching you because it's necessary? I wonder how you could pass as many N.E.W.T.s as you did with such poor reasoning skills." Despite the words, Draco's voice was soft, and he tenderly rubbed his thumb over Harry's cheek. "I got over that embarrassment, as you said you had. And now –"
Now you want to tell me you're wanting to fuck a skinny, paralysed cripple who drools and shits himself. That's not very convincing.
"You should hear yourself! Don't be such an idiot. And I don't want to 'fuck' you. I don't think that's possible. All I want is to touch you and make you feel good."
Why couldn't he simply drop the subject?
"Harry." Draco shifted on the bed so that he was leaning against the headboard and stuffed some pillows behind his back before he pulled Harry up against him, Harry's head coming to lie against his chest as it always did when he comforted him after a nightmare. His hold was firm and comforting, and Harry let his eyes close and concentrated only on the love he sensed through the bond. There was no hesitation or even disgust, only love and the wish to be as close to him as possible. Draco was telling the truth, and Harry had known it for a while. It was he who was having the problem.
"I know that it's hard," Draco whispered in the end. "I can feel it. It's become stronger these last weeks – not as much as you say it's for you, but when I concentrate, I can feel a bit of what you feel as well."
It had surprised them both when it had happened for the first time, but then they'd been glad about it. A mutual link was one more way to connect when they couldn't do so many normal things.
"You trust me, don't you?"
Harry sighed. Yes.
"Then let me do this. Let me show you. I'll stop the second you say so, but . . . please, Harry."
What if I'll never be comfortable with it?
"I hope that won't happen. But if it does, well, I'll have to accept that. You know I wouldn't do anything against your will."
I know. Still, Harry didn't like the idea, but he did trust Draco, and he did want to try. He did want proof for what Draco said. All right.
"Thank you." Draco didn't move immediately, but kept holding Harry a while longer, and Harry could feel that he was sending him positive feelings through the bond: love, comfort. Desire.
"I'll lay you down now, and I'll undress too, all right?"
Carefully, Draco settled Harry on the sheets, his head resting on one thick pillow. Then he got up and began, very slowly, to unbutton his robes. Harry watched with growing uneasiness, but also an undeniable flutter of anticipation. He had seen Draco naked before, but he'd never explicitly undressed for him, which he was quite obviously doing now. At 43, they were still young men by Wizarding standards, and bit by bit, as he peeled off his robes and underwear, he revealed a slim, pale body Harry was itching to touch. And there was his hard-on again.
"Ah. Admiring my beauty, I see." Now fully undressed, Draco lifted the covers from Harry with a rather satisfied smirk. "Whatever you say with words," he said as he climbed on the bed next to him, "your little friend here tells me that you want me. Badly."
And Harry did. But at the same time, he wanted the covers back over himself, wanted to hide the useless, atrophied thing his body had become. He'd never felt so exposed and embarrassed with Draco before, except for when he'd come home at the very beginning.
"Shhh. It's all right," Draco whispered as he leant in to kiss him. "Close your eyes. Trust me." His fingers caressed Harry's cheekbone, wandering upwards into his hair, and Harry complied, closing his eyes. This was familiar and soothing. "Now try not to think, just feel."
Harry did. The caresses on his hair went on, and Draco kissed his lips again, then his cheek. Slowly, he covered Harry's face with kisses: his cheeks, temples, and forehead, and as he did it, Harry, bit by bit, relaxed a little. When Draco went on to his neck and his right shoulder, he tensed again, but didn't say anything, instead focusing on Draco's gentle touch and his feelings, which didn't change.
The kisses wandered down his arm, and then from the elbow on up again towards the fist pressed against his chest. It was when Draco placed a soft kiss on it that the tears set in, quietly running down his cheeks. Draco must have noticed, because Harry felt worry through the bond.
Please, don't . . . don't stop. Now, for reasons he wasn't sure of himself, he felt that he couldn't stand it if Draco were to stop. He needed this, needed the proof that Draco could love him, including his body, even like this.
There was another kiss on his right hand, and then Draco moved to do the same with his left arm. Harry sighed softly, now more and more able to let go, let himself enjoy what was happening. Don't think, just feel. Draco's fingers were as gentle as always, as they were when he washed and dressed him, but now, all they did was caress, stroking tenderly over Harry's arms, chest, and sides. For a while, Draco let both of his hands rest on Harry's stomach; they were warm, and Harry could feel their weight with every breath.
Then, without warning, Draco's lips closed around Harry's left nipple, and he gasped as Draco sucked and even teased a tiny bit with his teeth. He felt his breathing speed up, and then Draco's hand wandered down to his half-erect cock, his fingers closing around it in a firm but gentle grip. Within moments, Harry was fully hard again. Then Draco began moving his hand.
Oh God, yes.
It was incredible, and by now, Harry had stopped thinking completely. He barely noticed that he was gasping and shaking; there was only the feeling of Draco's slow, rhythmic motions, filling his entire perception. And then, just when he thought he couldn't take it any longer and wanted to tell Draco to go faster, damn it!, Draco did – and after a few firm, quick strokes Harry came with a deep groan, his entire body first jerking, then relaxing.
Draco's hand disappeared, his weight shifted on the bed, and Harry was pulled into an embrace and a kiss was placed on his temple. Neither of them spoke as they waited for Harry's breathing to settle and his body to stop trembling.
"Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Draco asked in the end. When Harry opened his eyes, he saw that Draco was smiling at him, and he wished he could return it.
It was . . . thank you, Draco. I didn't even know how much I needed this. And he couldn't really find the words to express it either, but Draco seemed to understand him all the same.
"See, you're a perfectly normal man. A horny bugger, nothing changed about that," he muttered, kissing Harry's temple again.
But what about you? I can't . . .
"Don't start worrying now." With that, Draco lay back against the pillow, so that they were lying next to each other, his arm still wrapped around Harry, Harry's head lying on his shoulder. Harry saw that he reached down, and soon, Draco was moving next to him, his hips jerking, breath coming in soft gasps. It didn't take long before he came as well, and again, they lay in silence for several minutes. Draco was warm against Harry's side, and Harry could feel him breathe, slow and rhythmical.
"Accio, wand!" Draco commanded lazily, and when the wand came flying into his hand, he performed a cleaning spell on them both before he let go of Harry and sat up, leaning over him.
What were you thinking of? Harry wanted to know. That one time when we —
"Don't be daft, Potter. Thinking really isn't your forte, so you'd better stop it. I was thinking of our first kiss. The real one, not that time when we were drunk beyond reason. And of how much I love to see your face flushed like this, how I like to lie with you in my arm. What I want to do to you next time – not just with my hands, but with my mouth." Draco grinned. "And I thought of the sound you made when you came, the most beautiful sound I've heard in a long time. It's what made me come too."
That's unbelievably corny. Like you're quoting directly from one of your dreadful romance novels. And yet . . . Tell me more, please.
Draco chuckled. "We have a convert."
A convert to the world of valiant knights and damsels in distress. So, who is the –
Harry fell silent abruptly as a wet warmth flooded down his right thigh and soaked the sheets. For a few seconds, he couldn't process what was happening, but when he realised it, all he wanted was to disappear into a hole in the ground.
He'd wet the bed. It had happened before, when Draco changed him, but there had always been the rubber sheet, and they'd never hadsex right before.
Harry barely noticed how the mess vanished, or how Draco got up and quickly but carefully put a nappy on him. When Draco slipped back into bed and pulled him into his arms, he was, once again, crying, but this time with shame.
"Harry. It's not a big deal. It's not the first time, remember."
We just . . . you'd just touched me! And what if – you said you wanted to give me a blow-job next time. Just imagine . . . This is precisely why I was against it! It's disgusting!
"Nonsense," Draco said softly. "You can't control it. It happened and now it's over, and that's the end of it. And we'll figure something out. I'm sure there's ways to make certain that it won't happen right then. And even if it does, it's not a big deal."
But what if –
"No more 'buts'. If our places were swapped, wouldn't you tell me the exact same thing?"
I . . . yes, Harry had to admit. But it's humiliating. I know I told you it wasn't, and that I'm not bitter anymore, but . . . sometimes I am. When something like this happens . . .
"Then you're asking yourself why it had to be you."
Yes. Why me, and why like this? I used to be anAuror! I used to take care of things, help people. And I promised I'd take care of you. And now look at me!
Harry was surprised at his own frustration. It had been years since he'd felt quite so desperate about his situation, apart from the day when Draco had wanted to leave.
"But you are taking care of me."
How? He couldn't even smile at Draco or properly kiss him, much less do anything to take care of him in whatever fashion.
"It's true," Draco said – he must have felt Harry's disbelief. He made both of them lean comfortably against the pillows, positioning himself so that he could look Harry in the eyes. "You've been taking care of me for years. You saved my life when you saved me from the Fiendfyre, and you saved everyone including me again when you defeated Voldemort."
Harry wanted to say something, but Draco didn't let him. "When we were married, you always did your best to help me, even though I didn't want it. And when I got kidnapped – you could have got out, then. You could have been free. But you tried to save me. And you did, in a way." He meant it, Harry realised. He meant every word, and he'd have known also without being able to read Draco's feelings – they were obvious in his eyes and voice.
"I'm not saying that it's good what happened. That I didn't wish it had been different. I do. I wish you'd woken up and been all right. But it is what it is now. And I need you, Harry. I need you to be there with me, to tell me you love me. To make stupid jokes and complain about what I read. To prevent me from doing something foolish. I still think of drinking every day, maybe I always will. You're what keeps holding me back." His voice was trembling as he cupped Harry's cheek.
"I didn't think I could have this, but now I do. You are taking care of me. More than I ever thought anybody would. More than I thought I'd ever let anybody."
Harry believed him. There would be days when he wouldn't, days when they'd have the same discussion over again, he knew it. But right now, he believed Draco, and he would remember that.
I think that settles it, then. You're the damsel in distress, and I've been your valiant knight all along.
"You git!" Draco laughed and sobbed at the same time, but all that Harry felt from him was love and happiness. "Yes, that settles it. And don't you dare forget it."
I won't, Harry said. I promise.
That night, he fell asleep in Draco's arms, and there were no dreams.
"You can't be serious!"
Ginny was shaking her head, looking back and forth between Harry and Draco incredulously. "It's too dangerous. Really, I mean, how could you even consider that?"
"When I mentioned it two weeks ago, you didn't seem to mind."
"I thought it was a joke, Draco!"
"It wasn't. We're going right after breakfast; Hagrid is expecting us at eleven."
They were having breakfast on Saturday with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny at Grimmauld Place – Neville was home minding a house full of sick children – and so far, it had been a pleasant affair. But now that Draco had mentioned where they'd be headed after Ginny would leave, the atmosphere was changing.
He should have known, Harry thought, that Ginny wouldn't be happy with this at all.
"Hermione, tell me you didn't know about this," she demanded.
"I did. Ron and I will be Apparating them, plus we haven't seen Hagrid and Buckbeak in almost a year. We'll be catching up."
"But how can you condone that?"
"It's not my place to condone anything," Hermione said. "I don't like it much, that's true. It's dangerous, although they're taking every possible precaution. But it's also Harry's decision, not mine – or yours."
"I can't believe it!" Ginny put down her cup rather forcefully and turned to Harry, who was sitting next to her. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Tell her yes, I'm very sure.
But Ginny shook her head when Draco said it. "I want it from Harry himself."
Fine. Harry concentrated and signaled a 'yes' – by now, almost two and a half years after he'd done it first, he hardly failed anymore.
"But . . . why? It's a huge risk."
"I don't see the problem," Draco said. "And you were all for the horse-riding after the first few times."
"That's different! Those are therapy horses, they're trained for this kind of thing. Buckbeak isn't! And don't tell me you don't see the difference between riding and flying! Besides, the riding is actually useful, it helps. Flying . . . it's not useful for anything. It's not worth the risk. Was this your idea, Draco? Did you convince him to do it?"
Get the letters chart, will you? And can you all leave us alone for a bit?
Draco nodded and grabbed the laminated piece of cardboard with the letters on it that Harry used when he wanted to talk to somebody without Draco's help.
"He wants to talk to you alone. We'll be in the living room."
"All right." Ginny accepted the chart and while Draco and the others left, she held it up to Harry and began pointing at the letters, slowly, one after the other. It was a laborious affair, waiting each time until she had reached the right one, and mostly, when Draco was with them, Harry didn't bother and talked through him. But it was necessary. Harry'd had enough – it wasn't the first time Ginny was like this, and it was unnerving. Ever since Harry had mastered telepathy, she'd been overly worried. Draco had talked to her, as had Neville, Harry knew, but it hadn't helped much.
I want this, he now spelled out. It was my idea. Draco was against it at first.
"But it's so dangerous, Harry." Ginny sounded close to tears, and he hated doing this to her, but she had been strangely anxious about anything and everything he did – even going to Quidditch matches and working with the therapy horses to help relax his tight muscles hadn't seemed like a good idea to her in the beginning.
Flying is always dangerous. And Draco will be there. I won't be alone. I trust him.
"I do as well. It's just . . ." she shrugged helplessly. "Why take the risk? It's a miracle you've come back from your injuries the way you did. Why risk anything at all?" She reached out and put her hand on his right one. "I don't want to lose you again, Harry. You're my best friend, and the thought of you risking your life after you got this lucky . . ." She fell silent, and Harry wished that he could somehow take her fear away. It was so unlike her – she'd always been strong and brave in his eyes.
I know you're scared, he spelled. I wish I could change that. But it's my life. I don't want to sit at home and do nothing only because something might happen. I thought I'd never fly again. Now I can, and I will. It's my decision. You need to accept that. You need to stop treating me like a child.
It took forever to spell all of it, and he already used only short sentences, saying less than he wanted to. While he did it, he saw how Ginny turned paler and paler, her freckles standing out starkly, lips tightening into a thin, colourless line. When he was done, she said nothing for a while, but only looked at him. It was the same look, he thought, that she'd given him when they had broken up: love and regret, but acceptance that they were doing the right thing, even if it hurt her.
"I know," she finally murmured. "Neville has been telling me the same thing, and I know you're both right. You're an adult and can make your own decisions, and I shouldn't treat you any different only because you're disabled. You were an Auror when we were together, and that's far more dangerous than this! I never minded that. I'm not sure what makes this so hard for me, but I'll try. I just . . . I'll need time to manage that. And probably more than one whack over the head."
I can give you both.
She smiled ruefully. "Thank you, Harry."
Just then, Draco entered the kitchen again. "Are you two all right? It's been over an hour; it's almost eleven. We've got to go."
"We're fine," Ginny said. "Harry gave me a good talking to, and I deserved it." She got up from her seat and kissed Harry's cheek. "I'll go and help poor Neville with the kids. Robert is a little devil when he's sick. You . . ." She drew a deep breath. "You go and have fun, Harry. And tell me all about it later."
Tell her I will.
When Draco had said it, she hugged him tightly. Harry heard her whisper something, and Draco nodded. She'd probably told him to take good care or else, Harry suspected.
"So," Draco said, when she had left the kitchen to Floo back home and he took the handles of the wheelchair to bring Harry to the living room, "are you ready?"
More than ready. I almost can't believe I'm going to fly!
"I thought it was ludicrous at first. To be honest, I still do. But that has never stopped you before."
Right, so why should it now?
They arrived in the living room, where Ron and Hermione were waiting for them. Only a few moments later, they Apparated right in front of the gates of the Hogwarts grounds. Most students were gone for the summer holidays – Harry had insisted that if they were going, it had to be at a time when there would be no curious eyes.
"There yeh are!" boomed a deep voice – it was Hagrid, who, as Harry could see, was hurrying towards the gates to greet them. "It's good ter see yeh – 'specially you, Harry!"
He was smiling brightly, and Harry felt as happy. It had hit Hagrid hard when he'd heard of what had happened, and during his few short visits over the years during which everyone had believed Harry to be in a vegetative state, he'd always seemed miserable.
"I've got Buckbeak all ready at the edge of the Fores'. There's still a handful of kids left, and they like visitin' me. Didn' want them ter disturb us."
"That's perfect," Draco said as they all entered through the gates and began heading where Hagrid led them. Hermione had put a spell on the wheelchair so it would easily glide over the grass instead of getting stuck. "Do you think he will recognise Harry after all these years? If not . . . well, he obviously can't bow to him."
"Oh, no need ter worry. Buckbeack's the smartes' Hippogriff I've ever seen. He knows Harry all right, ye'll see."
Harry hoped that Hagrid was right. Hippogriffs lived long lives – up to 40 years – and they were definitely intelligent, but still, it had been over ten years since he'd last seen Harry.
They walked for a while, exchanging news and catching up until they reached the Forest, where Harry could make out Buckbeak from afar already. As they came closer, the Hippogriff stayed where he was, and Harry could see that he was tied to a tree on a long leash.
"Now we'll see if he still knows yeh, Harry. But Draco should go firs'."
Over the last month, Draco had been here three times a week to get to know Buckbeak and learn flying on him as best as he could before he'd do it with Harry. In the beginning, he had been worried that Buckbeak might not accept him, considering past events, but they'd been lucky, and he'd told Harry that the two of them were a good team.
"It's amazing," he'd said, "completely different than riding a broom. And it's great to fly again." He, too, hadn't flown in years, even longer than Harry. Commanding a broom did not belong to the household magic former Death Eaters were capable of.
Now he slowly approached Buckbeak, who screeched softly and lowered his head so Draco could easier pet him.
Seems you two have become friends after all.
Draco turned around with a smile. "Well, let's see if he recognises another old friend."
Hagrid untied the leash, and he and Draco slowly led the Hippogriff over to Harry, who watched with some measure of trepidation. A few feet before him, Buckbeak halted, tilting his head and looking down at Harry curiously.
"It's Harry," Hagrid said. "You oughta remember him."
Buckbeak continued to look at him for several long moments, and when Harry already feared that he didn't remember and might not accept to have him on his back if they should try, he once again screeched softly, then took a few steps forward and, very slowly, lowered his head to put it against Harry's shoulder. As the feathers tickled his neck and cheek, Harry felt a rush of happiness – it was good to be accepted by an old friend, even if this was only an animal. And it meant that they could try flying after all.
"Told yeh," Hagrid said. "He wouldn' forget Harry. Not the one who saved his life."
"Then it's really happening," Ron said. "This is amazing, mate."
It really was.
So, are we doing this like with the horses? You get up first, and then me?
"Yes, that is the plan," Draco said. "Come on, Buckbeak, let's get started." He guided the Hippogriff away from Harry and mounted him with the help of an old tree trunk.
"Do you want to be levitated?"
No, I don't think so. At the stables, with the therapy horses, the Muggles had a contraption that lifted Harry up on the animal, and although he knew levitation would be perfectly safe, somehow he trusted solid matter more. Can you ask Hagrid if he'll carry me?
As Harry had expected, Hagrid was happy that he could do something, and he carefully lifted him from the wheelchair after Hermione had undone the belts which held him safely in place. Even as a grown man, he was tiny in comparison to Hagrid, and it felt odd to be lifted up into his arms like a child.
"Here yeh go. Ready, Draco?"
Very carefully, Hargid settled Harry on Buckbeak's back in front of Draco, following Draco's instructions of how to spread and position Harry's legs to the letter. Harry knew that he was lucky: many people in this condition would never be able to sit on a horse – or a Hippogriff – like this. Their legs were as stiff and contracted as his arms. But he'd been spared that, and the constant annoying physiotherapy had done its part in keeping it like this.
"All right, I've got him," Draco said when he had his arms safely wrapped around Harry, who was leaning against him.
A few minutes later, Harry and Draco were tied to Buckbeak – who'd let it all happen patiently, as if he knew precisely why this was necessary – with a leather harness Hermione had conjured up, and Draco was holding Harry with one arm, while holding the leash around Buckbeak's neck with the other hand.
"I think you're ready," Hermione said. "It should be safe, but just in case I've put tracking charms on Buckbeak and both of you, and if you were to fall, there are floating charms as well. You should come down slowly without being hurt." Still she sounded uncomfortable – there could always be some unforeseeable danger. "Be careful."
"We will." Harry felt Draco behind him take a deep breath as if to gather courage. "Ready, Harry?"
Yes. I feel a bit as if this time, you're my valiant knight, taking me off on your white stallion.
"All right, then, my lady." Draco chuckled, ignoring the others' confused looks. "Off we ride into the sunset."
He signaled Buckbeak, and the Hippogriff began walking – slowly first, like Draco had taught him, to get Harry used to his movements, then quicker after a couple dozen feet, until he was running, and finally, he spread his large wings and took off the ground.
It was breathtaking, like the first time Harry had ridden him – only this time, it was even better. The wind was tearing at their clothes and hair, the ground disappeared below, and as far as Harry could see, there was only the blue sky in front of them. He'd always loved flying, had always felt free when he was in the air. He'd almost forgotten it during the last eleven years; it had become more and more distant until it was only a memory.
Now he was flying again, was free again, and the element of danger only added to that. He wasn't safe at home in bed or in his wheelchair – he was racing through the sky, doing one of the things he'd always loved best. It filled him with a wild joy he couldn't keep to himself, and when he laughed out loud, Buckbeak screeched in return and Draco tightened his hold. Harry felt a flood of love and joy from him, and he sent the same feelings back through the bond.
He didn't know how long they were flying, and he didn't care. All he wanted was to focus on the moment, on every gust of wind, every turn they took, every flap of Buckbeak's wings that carried them higher. Finally, though, he noticed that they were slowly descending, the trees of the Forbidden forest appearing in front of them.
"We've got to get down now," Draco called behind him. "But we can come back now that we know it works!"
Harry wished that they could go on longer, but he knew it wasn't a good idea. It was a warm summer day, but the wind up high had chilled him, and while he hadn't paid attention to it before, now he realised that he was sore and exhausted. By evening, every muscle in his body would be hurting. But it had been worth it, and he'd definitely want to do this again.
As they approached the ground, he saw two tiny and one bigger figure, which soon turned into Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione, who were looking up at them. When Buckbeak had landed and come to a stand, all three of them came running towards them.
"How was it?" Ron wanted to know.
Ron grinned when Draco told him Harry's answer, and Hermione smiled as well.
"You're glowing," she said. "I wish Ginny could see this. She should come with next time. This was a good idea."
Harry agreed. Ginny should come, and maybe she could even fly with him someday. For now, though, while he was sad that it was over, he was also relieved when Hagrid lifted him off Buckbeak and gently settled him down into the wheelchair again. Back home, he'd ask Draco to bring him to bed – the adrenaline rush was slowly abating, and he felt as if he could sleep for the rest of the day.
Buckbeak had come to stand close to the edge of the Forest under a large tree, and Draco, who had been standing with him and petting his head, now made to walk over to Harry. He was looking happy, with his cheeks flushed and his hair ruffled from the wind, and Harry was thinking how good-looking he was. Just when he wanted to tell Draco thank you for agreeing to this, he saw the movement at the upper periphery of his vision.
It was a giant spider, letting itself fall from the tree right onto Draco. There was no time to call out, tell him to duck or run – he'd never make it in time, it was happening too quickly. At the same time, though, everything seemed to slow down before Harry's eyes. Draco raised his hand to his hair, laughing at something Hagrid was saying, while the spider was only inches away, right over his head. Then, abruptly, just when it was about to hit him, Draco jerked backwards and flew several metres through the air as if he'd been pushed by a powerful force. Time returned back to normal. He landed in the grass on his back while only moments later, a flash of light hit the spider.
The spider flew through the air as well, being thrown against the trunk of a tree, and when it had barely managed to get up again, Harry saw Ron run towards it, waving his wand. "Arania Exumai!"
Again, the spider was thrown back, and this time, it turned and fled back into the forest, Ron running after it. Harry didn't pay any more attention to it; he focused completely on Draco, who was still lying on his back and from whom he could feel confusion and shock.
Draco? Are you all right? Are you hurt? Damn, why couldn't he run over to him? Talk to me!
Slowly, Draco sat up, holding his head and looking around him in obvious confusion. Hermione came rushing to his side, saying something to him Harry couldn't understand. He replied, then shook his head when she spoke again and, to Harry's great relief, got up with her help.
Are you okay? Harry asked again, and now Draco looked over at him.
"I'm fine!" he called and began walking, Hermione letting go of his arm. When he arrived with Harry, he put his hand over Harry's right fist. "I'm fine," he repeated. "You needn't worry. Only a bit shocked. Hermione told me it was one of the spiders. If Ron hadn't pushed me out of the way . . ."
"Wasn't me," Ron interrupted, who, as Harry noticed, had come back to them. "I only noticed that horrible thing when Draco was out of the way already. I don't think it's coming back, by the way."
"Then it was Hermione. Thank you."
"No." She sounded confused. "I didn't do anything."
"Me either," Hagrid said. "Didn't even see it comin', blasted beast. They're getting' more and more bold. I need ter do somethin' about 'em."
"Well, I didn't see it either," Draco said. "And I certainly couldn't have jumped backwards like that, even if I had. Somebody pushed me. And if it wasn't any of you three, that leaves only . . ."
Harry needed a few moments to realise what Draco meant – by then, they were all staring at him incredulously.
But that's nonsense! It's impossible!
Or was it?
"I think I've got an explanation," Hermione said later that afternoon, when they were all back at Grimmauld Place. Harry had done his best to stay awake while she, Draco, and Ron had sifted through the books at the family library to maybe find something that would shed some light on the affair, but he had been too exhausted. In the end, he'd given up and slept deeply for almost five hours.
Now they were all in the kitchen again, where Hermione had put a thick leather-bound book on the table.
"Wandless magic is hard," she said, "but not impossible. A strong witch or wizard can learn it without too much of a struggle, for example Headmistress McGonagall. The same goes for wordless magic, where you only use your wand but don't speak the incantation out loud. Wandless and wordless magic, though, that's different. Only the strongest witches or wizards can master it, people like Dumbledore and Grindelwald – or Voldemort. Snape seemed to have at least basic skills as well. Now, assuming it was you, Harry: you were a capable wizard, but you were never that strong. I think you could have learnt wandless or wordless magic if you had set your mind to it and practised hard, but not both at once."
Harry agreed with her. There had been a time when people had believed that he was incredibly powerful, because he had vanquished Voldemort as an infant. But it wasn't true, and he had always been glad about it. Too much power had never been something he'd found desirable.
"So, as to how this could happen . . ." Hermione took a sip of her tea and tapped the open page of the book. "It says here that there are special circumstances in which somebody's magical powers can increase greatly. One of those is the sharing of magic. Usually, when two or more people bundle their magic to achieve something together that they couldn't do alone, it requires preparation – certain meditations and a lot of practice. There are specific rituals, too."
She looked up from the book and at Harry. "From here on, this is all speculation; the article says it's only hearsay and happened maybe two or three times during the last centuries. But apparently, a Blood Bond can enable the partners to share their magic more easily. If it was really you who pushed Draco, this might be what happened. Now, this is my own theory, and we've got no means to find out if it is what happened, but I'm thinking that it was really you, using your and Draco's magic together."
"But how?" Draco wanted to know. "I thought we weren't compatible enough to form such a deep bond – I can't send my thoughts to Harry like he can with me, and it's much harder for me to sense his feelings."
"Well, as I said, this is all speculation, but I believe the connection is stronger for Harry because he needs it. Remember what Luna told us about that? It was in her book as well."
"All right," Hermione went on. "Think about this: Harry might have subconsciously picked up on your emotions even before his injury. But it was only later, after you'd accepted your feelings for him and were showing them to him openly, that he managed to deliberately establish a connection. You'd become closer, and that strengthened the bond. When you wanted to leave and Harry finally realised that he loved you as well, it was strong enough that it only needed this realisation to enable him to reach you. At least that's what I believe – it deepened the bond again. And you said it yourself, by now you can sense something from him when you try. That could only happen because you've grown even closer. And now, when you were in danger . . ."
"It went one step further, that's what you want to say, right?"
"Yes. It seems like the most logical explanation."
Harry had listened without interrupting. The idea was far-fetched, but incredibly exciting. If he could perform magic, that would mean he'd no longer be helpless. He could do things without depending on others completely. But only if . . .
Do you think this was a single occurrence? Maybe it only happened because I was so scared for Draco that it made it possible for me to draw from his magic.
Hermione shrugged when Draco said it. "I don't know. Nobody has ever dealt with anything like it in our lifetimes. All you can do is try." She pointed at Harry's feeding cup in front of him, which had held chocolate potion earlier. "How about you try and move the cup?"
Could he? She was right, there was only one way to find out. Harry concentrated, focusing on the cup until he thought his head might explode, willing it to move just the tiniest bit.
Damn, but he wanted this! It was something he'd never even conceived of, and to think it had happened once and never would again . . . Harry focused on how he had felt when he'd seen the spider attacking. It had been so close to Draco, had almost reached him, could have done Merlin knows what to him –
The cup flew over the table and smashed against the wall.
Hermione flinched in her seat; Draco shot up from his chair and hugged Harry tightly. "You did it! You really . . . this is amazing!"
When he'd let go of him, he looked Harry in the eyes with a brilliant smile, and Harry felt joy radiating off him.
"It is," Hermione said. "And there's a good chance that you can learn how to control it, with time."
Harry himself felt dizzy and barely able to think. He could use magic again! If he could gain control over it, he'd have some measure of independence. Not as much as if he weren't disabled, but it would make a huge difference.
I'll practise, he told Draco. Every day, starting right now. I will do this.
"You will, I know you will." Draco was still beaming, and Harry felt as if he'd never loved him as much as right now, when he was so obviously happy for him.
Life was good already, but now it was going to get even better.
I can do it, you needn't watch every second.
"Are you sure?" Draco was watching him with a worried frown, and Harry wished he would leave the room or at least stop fussing.
I am sure. I've been doing it for three weeks straight now, remember?
He'd been eating alone every single meal, levitating the feeding cup or the spoon with just the right speed and angle. Over the last year, he'd managed to swallow on his own more and more often, and by now he only had to ask Draco to help him do it a handful of times every meal. Still, Draco wouldn't stop watching him like a hawk. Harry didn't get it. Shouldn't he have realised by now that it was working perfectly fine?
"Yes, I know." Hesitantly, Draco turned back to his cereal, leaving Harry to levitate the cup's spout once more into his mouth.
It had been a year since they had discovered that he could perform magic, and since then, he'd worked on controlling those skills every day. It had gone slowly, and in the beginning, like the empathy and the telepathy, it had tired him out completely. By now, though, he'd got used to it and it didn't drain him anymore.
For the first about eight months, it had been hit-and-miss a lot of the time: objects wouldn't move, or when they did, they'd fly wildly across the room and crash into walls and furniture – and people. Once, Harry had given himself a black eye, and there had been one time when a fork had ended up sticking in Draco's forearm, making him bleed and swear like a trooper. But Harry had managed to hone his skills, and now, if he wanted to, he could reach out with magic and even switch on the lights or the telly.
At some point a few days ago, he'd begun actually feeling the objects as if he were touching them with magical hands, not just simply making them move by sheer force of will. It had given him an idea, something he wanted to test soon. If this worked, it would be a wonderful surprise for Draco.
Although, truth be told, lately Harry often felt more irritated with him than anything. Draco had been so excited and happy, but over the last few weeks, for whatever inexplicable reason, that happiness seemed to have dwindled more and more. He was quieter than usual and often irritated, snapping at Harry without reason. Whenever Harry asked him, he said he was fine, but it was clear that he wasn't telling the truth. There wasn't really anything Harry could do, though, and so he had decided to wait until Draco would bring up whatever his problem was.
Taking another sip of potion, Harry gagged and ended up gasping and coughing, spitting potion over himself. Immediately, Draco's attention was with him and he was rubbing Harry's arm soothingly.
Thank you, Harry said when the worst was over.
"Are you all right?"
Draco took the cloth they kept on the table for such instances and began cleaning Harry's face, and while Harry knew he only wanted to help and that after so many years it was second nature to him, he couldn't help but resent it.
I can do that.
As he said it, Draco stopped in mid-motion and looked at him silently for a few moments. Then he dropped the cloth on Harry's lap and abruptly turned away, returning to eating his cereal.
What's wrong? Is there a problem?
"Nothing. I'm hungry, and you don't need the help, you said it yourself."
Right. This wasn't the first time Draco had reacted like this to him saying that he could do something, and Harry did nothing to hide his irritation, but instead deliberately sent it through the link. From Draco, he felt frustration and hurt, and he had no idea why.
If you want to talk about it –
"I don't. Can you finish? I'd like to paint when we're done."
Harry didn't really feel hungry anymore, but he knew that he had to eat properly. He couldn't afford to skip meals.
When Draco had finished his cereal and tea, and Harry, too, was done with the potion, Draco brought Harry upstairs – so far, Harry couldn't move the wheelchair on his own. Together with his weight, it was too heavy for him. Upstairs, Harry brushed his teeth alone while Draco did the same. It was tricky, because he needed good coordination, but he managed it better and better each day.
There were restrictions, though, to what he could do. At first, he'd imagined that at some point he might be able to clean himself with cleaning spells, spare Draco the business of changing his nappies, but so far, it hadn't worked, for more than one reason.
One obstacle was that apparently, he could only perform a specific kind of magic. He could touch, move, and levitate objects, but nothing else. No cleaning spells, no Lumos, not even the simple household magic Draco was capable of. Hermione thought that this might be the very reason: Draco's magic was so restricted that it wasn't strong enough to allow Harry to perform any more complicated spells.
The other problem was that he couldn't use magic to move any part of his body. Initially, he had dared to hope that maybe, he might be able to levitate himself one day. But by now, he was almost certain that it wouldn't happen. He'd not managed to move even a finger or toe, and he still couldn't keep his mouth closed, no matter how hard he tried.
It seemed that he would always need somebody to take care of his physical needs, but while he'd been disappointed when he had realised it, he'd found that he didn't mind all that much – not when it was Draco. After all, he had never thought he would be capable of what he could do now, and he had been convinced that he would be happy.
Can you bring me to bed in the living room? he asked when they were both done. I'd like to read.
Since he was able to turn the pages of books with magic, Harry had been reading a bit every day. He hadn't enjoyed reading as much before his injury, but the mere fact that he could do it after he hadn't for such a long time had made it more desirable.
Without saying anything else, Draco brought him downstairs again and got him settled in the nursing bed, the mattress elevated at a comfortable angle for reading, so that he was more sitting than lying. He'd built Harry a contraption that could be fastened onto the rails of the bed and that could hold a book, much like a music stand holding sheet music. Now he put it into place and put the book Harry was reading on it – not a romance novel, but a murder mystery involving a famous team of Aurors.
When he was done, their cat Athena jumped onto the bed and curled up against Harry's side. She was a gorgeous Russian Blue Draco had bought a year ago, and her favourite pastime seemed to be sleeping on or at least close to Harry.
"Fine. I'll be in the painting room. Call if you need anything."
The thought 'Not that you will' hovered just at the edge of Harry's perception as Draco stalked out of the room, and it annoyed him to no end. How could Draco resent the fact that he could do things on his own, that he didn't need his help anymore for even the tiniest thing? What was his problem?
Harry sighed as he made the book open where he'd left off the day before. If nothing changed, he would have to push Draco to talk. He'd had enough of the constant bickering. It couldn't go on like this.
Later that day, after Harry's afternoon nap, he and Draco left for Luna and Percy's place – it was August 22nd and Percy's 49th birthday, and he had invited them as well as some other friends and family members for the afternoon.
"Next year, I won't be able to refuse a big celebration at the Ministry," he said as they were having cake and tea on the patio, "not if I want to have a shot at becoming Minister after Floyd retires, and he's talking about moving to Goa and leaving all the Ministry stress behind in about five years. But for now, I'll enjoy celebrating in a small circle."
"He does like his achievements praised, but people simply celebrating that he's here and they love him still isn't his thing," Luna murmured to Harry. "He loves it, but he'd rather keep it to a trusted few."
I get that. I hated all the stupid victory celebrations they tried to drag me to after the war.
"Yes, I remember. None of us liked them," Luna said after she'd read what he had written on the notepad floating in front of him. The letters were large and crooked and looked like a child's printing, but Harry was beyond happy that two weeks ago, he had mastered writing legibly on a notepad with pencil.
Now, finally, he could have conversations without relying on Draco as long as he was close by, and without using a method that took forever, even if he only wanted to say something short. The letters chart was only used when he was alone with his friends and couldn't access Draco's magic, and this was the first time that many of them saw him writing. They were all impressed and happy, and Harry was surrounded by people for the better part of about three hours and didn't see much of Draco.
The summer holidays were not over yet, and so Frederica was home, and Harry ended up talking with her about school and about Adelaide, who was showing the same brilliance and dedication for schoolwork as Percy had at her age.
"I'd never have the patience to write a five feet essay on which impact the season in which it's gathered has on potions that are brewed with tree bark," she said. "But Adelaide loves it, she gets all excited about these things. She wishes I'd get it, but I kind of zone out after a while if she goes on for too long." She shrugged with a small smile. "She doesn't get mad, though. She knows I'm trying, and the others in her house give up much earlier, although she's in Ravenclaw."
She sounds a lot like your father, Harry wrote. I remember when I stayed with your grandparents for the holidays once, he was working very hard on a report on the thickness of cauldron bottoms.
Frederica laughed. "That sounds like him. I think it's lovely that they can get into these things and be so happy about it."
They talked a little longer, until she left because Luna called her inside to do some dishes. Only a few minutes later, Neville came to Harry to tell him about the progress his parents were making. The potion which he had mentioned to him over ten years ago had finally, after many failed attempts and improvements, caused them to acknowledge and understand the people around them intermittently. When Neville had told his father who he was, he'd been met with shock at his age, but also a tight embrace.
That's wonderful. I'm very happy for you, and for them.
"It's also a bit strange," Neville said. "I never believed it would happen anymore."
He wanted to say something else, but was interrupted by Frederica.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Neville, but I need to talk to Uncle Harry. It's important." She sounded serious, and both Neville and Harry knew better than to dismiss her. If she said something was important, then it usually was.
"I'll tell you more later," Neville said and got up to give them some privacy.
Is something wrong?
"Yes, it's Uncle Draco." She pushed Neville's chair away so that she could stand where it had been and look Harry in the eyes. "He's sitting in Dad's study, and he's very unhappy. I can't be completely sure, but I believe he's thinking of going home and drinking."
Could it be this bad without him having noticed?
"I don't know, but it has to do with you. And with him." She frowned as she tried to explain. "It's hard to put these things into words when they're not even my own feelings. All I know is that he's been unhappy for weeks and he needs you, but he doesn't want to talk to you. I think you should go to him."
Harry didn't feel like it; he was having a nice afternoon and didn't want a confrontation. But he couldn't ignore this, and if Draco was doing as badly as Frederica said, then Harry wanted to be there and help despite the unsolved tension between them. Maybe today would be the day to clear things up after all.
All right, I'll go. Can you bring me?
"Yes. But can you promise me something?" She looked and sounded so worried that Harry agreed without thinking twice.
"Even if you get angry, don't let it turn into a fight. I can't say why or how, but I know it would end very badly. It would . . . destroy something, something important. Don't let it happen. Please."
What she'd said worried Harry more than only a little. What could possibly be wrong that might turn into such a serious fight?
"Good. And . . . the surprise you have for him? Whatever it is, give it to him tonight. He needs it. There's more wrong than only this."
How did she know about that, too? Sometimes, if he hadn't known her, Harry would find her almost eerie. It was a good decision that Luna and Percy had made her take Occlumency lessons for the last five years and taught her that it was important not to let others outside the family know just how much she was picking up. Most people wouldn't like or understand it.
If this talk goes well, then I will.
Frederica nodded. "You need to wipe your chin," she said.
Harry flushed slightly. That he could do it by himself now didn't mean that he always noticed when it was necessary. When he'd done it, she stepped behind the wheelchair, turned it and wheeled him off the patio and into the house. Fortunately, the place was spacious and they had no problems getting around and through the doors.
The door to the study was closed, but Harry opened it without leaving Frederica time to knock. When she pushed him inside, he saw Draco on the couch on the right side of the room, leaning forward, his head buried in his hands. He didn't look up, although he must have heard them.
"I'll leave you two alone," Frederica whispered when she'd positioned the wheelchair so that Harry could look at Draco's face, and with that, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
Watching Draco and reaching out to him empathically, Harry was now certain that it was just as bad as she had made it sound. How could he have missed it? Draco didn't know how to shield his emotions, and although Harry had made it a point not to snoop when Draco didn't appear to want him to know, he couldn't help feeling strong emotions from him, like the worry and irritation he'd often sensed since about three months ago.
And there had been all the bickering and snappy remarks. Harry should have paid more attention. Had he been too caught up in the excitement of being able to do all these new things, now that he had firm control over his magical abilities? But then, Draco should know better than to keep brooding without telling Harry the reason. It wasn't Harry's task to keep constant track of his husband's feelings.
Draco, we need to talk. I think it should have happened weeks ago.
He didn't even move.
Don't do this to me. Don't shut me out. It's not fair. We promised each other we'd make this work, and right now, I'm worried that might change. Frederica made it sound rather serious.
That got Draco's attention: he slowly raised his head. Harry was struck by how tired he was looking. Had it be the same in the morning?
"What did she tell you?"
Not much. That you were unhappy and that you might be thinking of going home and drinking.
"That's none of her business!" Draco snapped. "She should stop snooping around in other people's minds!"
Don't. You're not truly angry with her. This is about me, about us.
"And how do you know that? Does everything have to be about you? Don't I have a life beside you?"
Don't be so . . . Harry caught himself before he said something he'd regret. He didn't want this to turn into a fight; he believed Frederica when she'd said that it would end badly.
I know it because she said it, and she is rarely wrong about these things, he answered instead. And because if it weren't about us, you'd tell me about it, ask my advice and let me help.
"You can't," Draco said flatly. "It's my problem."
You're my husband, in case you hadn't noticed. That makes it my problem as well.
"Just stop it, all right?" A wave of frustration rolled over Harry, and Draco raked all ten fingers though his hair in an impatient gesture. "It's dumb and silly, and I don't know why I'm like this in the first place. I shouldn't. I shouldn't feel like this, not when you . . ." He fell silent with a groan and shook his head.
So it is about us.
Draco said nothing, but he nodded softly.
And it's dumb and silly, you say. So much so that you can't tell me?
Draco pressed his lips together, and Harry realised that he was fighting tears.
Please, Draco. There's nothing you can't tell me. Nothing I wouldn't tell you. I thought you knew that. Whatever it is, we can figure it out together.
"Fuck this!" Abruptly, Draco got up from the couch, glaring down at Harry. "I'm going home! I can't stand your schmaltzy babble one more second!"
Fuck you! Yes, run away like a coward when I can't . . .
Without warning, a thunderstorm of emotions rained down on Harry – love, fear, doubt, regret – and there was more, something else, something he'd never experienced before. For a split second, it was as if he could actually read Draco's mind, emotions and thoughts combined – and when it was over, he knew what this was all about.
You can't be serious. Do you really believe that?
"What?" Irritated, Draco shook his head. "What are you talking about?"
You're afraid I'm using you?
All colour left Draco's face, and he sank down on the couch again, looking almost like a deer caught in headlights.
How can you believe that? After everything . . . how can you . . .
He had to stay calm, Harry told himself. It wouldn't help one bit if he started making accusations, although he wanted nothing more than to tell Draco what precisely he was thinking of his idiocy. But then, Draco thought exactly the same.
All right. Harry breathed deeply, trying to think. So, let me get this straight. You were happy for me when we found out I could perform magic. And you were excited when I actually managed to do it again and got better at it. But when I began doing things by myself, you found that you didn't like it as much as you'd thought. Right so far?
Draco didn't move or speak for some moments, but finally, he nodded unhappily.
Why? Tell me. I can try and figure it out from what I felt from you, but it's hard. I don't want to get the wrong idea.
"I . . . oh, Merlin, I'm not even sure myself. It's so stupid."
It was, but Harry wouldn't say that so Draco could hear it.
Try. I won't bite your head off. And how about you come over to me?
With a sigh, Draco got up and walked around the coffee table, pulling Percy's office chair next to the wheelchair so he could sit down in it, although he lowered his head and didn't look Harry in the eyes.
"I know it is ridiculous," he muttered. "I should be happy. I used to think about it so often, how I wished you were all right, that you could walk, that we could be like any normal couple. Before I knew you were even aware, I thought it would already make me happy if you were healthy and didn't love me. We could have been friends and it would have been enough, just seeing you healthy would have been enough. And when you talked to me and told me you loved me . . ." He shook his head. "I was happy. We were both happy, I could feel that from you. Am I not right?"
"And now that we're closer to what I used to want, I should be happier, right? You are. Of course you are. You don't need me to do everything for you anymore. I can't even imagine how it must have been, to have to rely on someone else for everything. Even somebody who loved you. It's why I was so glad when we first found out about you using magic, because you wouldn't need me for everything anymore. But somehow . . . somehow, that's precisely it."
That I don't need you to feed me or switch on the telly?
"Yes. Or no . . . it's complicated."
Can you look at me when you explain it?
Hesitantly, Draco looked up. His eyes were dark with doubt and pain, and it made Harry angry and wanting to comfort him at the same time.
"When you couldn't use magic, you needed me to do everything for you," Draco said. "Now . . . well, you can't perform magic if I'm not in the house or at least close by, we tried that. You still need me, you need my magic to do things for yourself. It won't ever change. And it got me thinking. About us."
I think I understand, Harry said slowly. If I want to be even the smallest bit independent, I need you around. And who in my situation would give that up? Even if he didn't love the other person. Is that it?
"Yes," Draco whispered. "I don't . . . It's not that I think you don't love me, though I sometimes do have doubts. I'm stupid like that. But people change, relationships . . . they can end. And if one day you realised that you didn't love me anymore . . ."
Then I might not tell you. I might keep you around to be able to talk without the letters chart and use your magic instead of telling you so you could go and live someplace else, have another life and only come home every now and then to satisfy the Blood Bond.
"See how stupid it is? You wouldn't do something like that. It's not like you at all. But I can't get it out of my head. Every time I see you do something with magic, it's there. And it drives me insane because it's so absurd! And I keep asking myself if I'd notice if you didn't love me and if I'd even mind, because if I didn't notice, then would it matter?"
Harry'd had no idea that Draco was this insecure about their relationship. But then, maybe he tended to forget that they'd both had very different experiences: Harry had had over twelve years to watch Draco and realise what kind of person he truly was and that he loved him deeply. For him, it was certain beyond a doubt, and also that Draco loved him in return. He had proof, had felt it from Draco for years. But Draco had only had two and a half years to process all of it – since Harry had first talked to him.
"And then," Draco went on, sounding even more frustrated, "I start wondering if all of this hadn't happened, if you'd recovered more, would we ever have had a chance? I think it's likely that it wouldn't have happened. I might have gone on the way I used to, even after you'd have shipped me off to the Hecate Domicile for a while. I think about how my life might have turned out then, and that I'm so much happier now, that I'd even be happier if it was all just a farce and I didn't know. And doesn't that mean I'm actually glad about what happened to you? And if that's true, then what kind of love is that? What kind of person —"
Draco blinked, looking as if he'd been zoned out and only now returning to reality.
You're thinking way too much about things that don't matter anymore at all. You're right: we might never have ended up together if we hadn't been kidnapped. Maybe not even if I had recovered from it quickly. And you know what?
It was while Harry said it that he realised that it was true, however bizarre it might sound even to himself, and he hoped that he would be able to make Draco believe him. If it means that we wouldn't be in love, that we'd not be together but still in this marriage of convenience and still fighting without the option of being friends – then I am glad about what happened.
"But you –"
Shut up and listen to me. I love you. I've never loved anyone as much as you, and it's not because you take care of me or because I can use your magic. If I could get out of bed tomorrow morning and be back to how I used to be, I'd still love you, and I'd still want to be with you. You're smart, you're funny, I happen to like quibbling with you over silly things, and also, you're damn good-looking. Now, I can't look into the future. I can't tell you what will happen. Maybe one day I won't love you anymore – or maybe you won't love me. Nobody knows. But I can promise that I'll always be honest with you. If I fell out of love with you, I'd tell you and you could leave. I promise you that.
Still, Draco was looking at him with too much doubt, too much fear. Harry hated it, and not even primarily because it hurt that he wouldn't believe him. Yes, he was angry with Draco, but Frederica had been right: if he'd let this turn into a fight, who knew how it might have ended. And more than anything, he hated that even now, Draco couldn't see himself the way Harry saw him, that he still appeared to carry around some of the same doubts about himself he'd had after the war. It had screwed all of them up for decades.
Feel it, Harry demanded now. Feel that I mean it, that I do love you and that I'm being honest! You can do that, you know how.
After some moments of hesitation, Draco got up from the chair. He leant over him and put his forehead against Harry's, closing his eyes, the fingers of his right hand sliding into Harry's hair over his temple. Harry closed his eyes as well, concentrating only on Draco, on how much he loved him and on the fact that he'd meant every word he had said. He tried to send all of it to Draco like he did the words when he spoke to him. He had no idea how long they stayed like this before Draco spoke.
"I believe you."
Good. I mean it.
"Yes, I know that now. But you'll have to tell me again. I know I should be . . . more mature. More certain of everything. Heck, I'm 45, not a kid anymore! But the thought of you not . . ." He breathed shakily. "You're my safe place. Everything went to shit after the war, and it only started getting better when I married you. Even when I was wrecking myself with booze, it was better than the years before. I had a safe home and food and somebody to take care of me, no matter whether I wanted it or not. And now . . . I need you, and I'm not sure how I'd manage without you. Even if we end up not loving each other anymore, I'll need you to be my friend. I wouldn't even want to leave. I don't know why I'm even worrying about this."
I would be your friend if that happened. But I hope it never does. I plan on getting very old and loving you for the next hundred years.
That elicited a weak chuckle, and Draco withdrew from Harry, enough so that he could look him in the eyes. "That sounds like a good plan. I'm on board with it."
Fine. And if you need me to tell you again, all of it, then say so. Promise?
Harry knew that Draco meant it, but he also knew that this wasn't over. They'd have this discussion again, and there might be fights about it in the future. But they would handle it, like they had today.
Then let's go home now. I've got a surprise for you, and I think you should have it right now.
Draco smiled tiredly. "A surprise? All right, let's go. We can ask Ron to Apparate us. I'd rather be home with you anyway right now."
When they made it out on the patio, looking for Ron, they found him and Hermione surrounded by the assembled party guests.
"There you are," Hermione called. "We were just about to make an announcement. We've got a surprise for all of you."
Seems the day is full of surprises.
Hermione was glowing, and Ron, while apparently nervous, was smiling serenely as well, his hand curled tightly around Hermione's, whose other hand was lying on her flat belly.
"I'll make it short," she now said. "We've been thinking about this for a long time, and we could never make up our minds. We were frightened, to be honest, after what happened the first time. But we're not getting any younger, so we made a decision a few months ago, and now . . . I'm pregnant."
The group exploded into cheers and congratulations, and for about the next twenty minutes, going home wasn't an option.
I'm so happy for you, Harry wrote when they'd made it to the two. You were meant to have children, I've always known that.
There was much hugging and kissing and more congratulations before it was Neville who Apparated first Draco and then Harry to Grimmauld Place.
Come to bed with me, will you? Harry said when Neville was gone again.
"Bed? I thought you said something about a surprise."
I haven't forgotten.
"All right. Now you got me even more curious."
When they'd arrived in the bedroom, Harry asked Draco to undress him – something he couldn't do with magic – and to undress as well. Soon, they were both naked and lying in bed, but when Draco made to go on to other parts of Harry's body after he'd kissed his mouth, Harry interrupted him.
"I something wrong?"
No. But this is where the surprise comes into play. I want to show you something. Hold still.
Slowly, Harry reached out with his magic, concentrating on feeling what he was going to touch. His heart was thudding heavily in his chest with anticipation – and then he made the contact. Draco gasped when he felt Harry's touch on his shoulder.
"Is that . . ."
Harry let the magic wander, from Draco's shoulder down his arm, back up again and over his neck to his cheek. It was different than touching him with his fingers – he felt that he was touching something, but not its texture, whether it was hard or soft, or the warmth of Draco's skin. But the important thing was that he could do this at all.
Isn't it great? I found out I could do this only a few days ago. Touch something and actually feel it, not just move objects.
"It's . . . amazing," Draco said slowly. He seemed still stunned, and focusing entirely on the touch of magic wandering over his body. "It feels as if you're stroking me – with magic."
I am. Now I can give you back something in bed. I've been wanting to touch you for so long. And you can bet I wouldn't do this if I didn't love you. Now lie down, will you?
Draco smiled and closed his eyes, lying back so that Harry could no longer see him, and Harry went on exploring, letting the magic glide over Draco's face and through his hair before he turned to his chest. When he felt a nipple, he intensified the touch, and Draco breathed deeply.
This was going just as Harry had hoped it would. He wanted to stay with Draco's nipples longer, but found that he was far too impatient. He was hard by now, and determined, he let the magic wander deeper, over Draco's flat stomach into the nest of blond hair and to his cock, which was still flaccid. Harry was certain that it would change in a matter of moments. Draco gasped, and encouraged by that Harry went on, touching his balls very gently. There was another gasp and Harry moved back up to his cock, trying to wrap the magic around it before he began stroking up and down in slow caresses. From next to him, he heard a whimper, and he thought it was one of pleasure when suddenly, Draco sat up and backed away from him.
Immediately, Harry stopped the flow of the magic.
What's wrong? Did I hurt you? He was worried that he'd maybe squeezed too hard – it was something he'd never done before, and he would need practice before he'd truly be good at this.
"No, it's not that. You didn't do anything." Draco sounded uncomfortable and embarrassed, and Harry wished that he could sit up and look at him.
Then what is it?
Draco sighed deeply. "I should have told you," he said. "A long time ago. But it never seemed to matter before. But now . . ."
This wasn't about Harry being clumsy with magic. It was something else entirely, he realised. A sense of shame and old pain was emanating from Draco, and Harry wondered what might have happened to cause it.
"Do you remember that I told you I had to work a lot of shitty jobs to keep Mother and me fed and buy her medicine?"
"Well . . ."
Harry heard the hesitation in Draco's voice, and it dawned on him what he would tell him next. When Draco came closer again so he could look at him, his suspicions were confirmed by the unhappy frown and the red splotches blooming high on Draco's cheeks.
"I said that I managed, and the few times I didn't, Andromeda gave us money. I did manage, but only because when I couldn't get money elsewhere, I . . . I worked as a prostitute. Mother never knew. I've never told anybody, not even my counsellor at the programme. I'm not sure why, maybe because I never wanted to think about it again."
Draco . . .
"I thought it didn't matter anymore. It's been 18 years since we married and I stopped. It was . . . this was one of the reasons why I came to you. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't let them . . ." He fell silent, and Harry wished for the first time that he could shield himself even better against his emotions, that he couldn't share the pain and humiliation.
And all the sex after that? he probed gently.
Draco chuckled, but it was a bitter sound. "I was drunk, always. I'd drink myself senseless until nothing mattered anymore and I could forget about it. It was the only way. I wasn't sober during sex even once before we . . . after you started talking to me."
All these years, all the one night stands Draco had had . . . A lot of things were making much more sense now than they ever had before – maybe even Draco's strange love for a particular kind of novel.
"It was different with you. I loved you and . . . well . . ."
And I couldn't touch you back, so it was all right. You could control everything.
"Yes. It's so silly!" Draco began wiping at his eyes angrily. "I don't even know why I'm making such a fuss. It's not as if they hurt me, it was only sex!"
Draco, stop. Harry reached out with his magic until he felt Draco's cheek, and after a few moments, Draco lowered his hands.
You didn't want it, but you felt you had no choice to keep your mother safe. Isn't that right?
Draco hesitated, but then nodded.
That's all there is to it. They had sex with you, and you didn't want it, but you couldn't say no.
Again, Draco nodded, and Harry noticed that he was shaking.
Lie down, all right? Put your head on my shoulder for a bit.
He wasn't sure if Draco would do it, but he complied without hesitation. When he had snuggled close and also put his own hand on Harry's left one, Harry moved the covers over them and once again reached out for Draco. His magic found Draco's hair, the same spot right over the temple where he would pet Harry almost every day. Now Harry began caressing Draco's hair in slow, rhythmic strokes. Bit by bit, as time went on, Draco relaxed against him and stopped trembling.
"That didn't go so well," he muttered when he'd calmed down completely.
Harry wasn't so certain. He had to think of Frederica and what she had said. Maybe it was for the best that everything had happened as it did.
Shhh. Never mind. We'll try again another day, when you feel ready. And I think you should tell your counsellor. She might be able to recommend somebody who knows about these things and can help.
And maybe she could recommend somebody for Harry as well, to work through the trauma of the torture. Like Draco, he'd only wanted to forget what he had gone through, but the persisting nightmares were proof enough that it wouldn't work. It was only now that he could admit this to himself.
Now how does that sound?
"Good. But I don't know if I can talk about it with somebody else."
You'll figure that out when it happens. And there's always me. I'll listen if you want to talk.
"Not now, though. But . . . soon. I'll try soon."
All right. Now let's just lie like this a bit longer before we get dressed for bed.
Draco nodded. "I love you," he whispered. "I'm glad I finally told you."
Through the bond, Harry still sensed shame and pain, but there was something else now: relief and gratitude. Frederica had been right; Draco had needed this. And Harry as well.
I love you.
Later that night, when they were both dressed and again snuggled under the covers, Draco fell asleep with Harry stroking his hair and singing their lullaby for him in his mind.
Things weren't perfect, Harry thought, listening to Draco's even breathing. They'd fight and have their problems like any other couple. But they had come a long way from that day when Draco had turned up on Harry's doorstep and demanded he marry him, and they would make this work, together.
"Enough! No more water!" Draco demanded.
Hugo and Rose giggled, unconcerned, and raised their water pistols again.
"Mercy! I'm soaked. I'll catch a cold!"
"But it's hot, Uncle Draco!" Rose pointed out.
What was to be said against that kind of logic, Harry thought, watching with amusement as two thick jets of water hit Draco square in the chest.
"I said enough! Besides, it's late. You had supper an hour ago. Your parents would throw me into the ocean if they knew you were still up!"
They were on the patio in front of the house Draco had bought in France, and the surf was roaring against the sand only a couple dozen metres away. They'd come here for summer vacation with Ron, Hermione, and the twins, as they had done for the last five years, since Hugo and Rose had been tiny infants. And as they had done for the last five years, like any loving parents who would get this chance, Ron and Hermione had left for an evening, going to town to have a romantic dinner and leaving Harry and Draco to babysit.
"I'm warning you!" Draco called in an ominous tone. "If you don't go upstairs and brush your teeth right now, Uncle Harry just told me that he'd chase you inside with the broom."
The twins turned to Harry simultaneously. "We don't believe you!" Hugo said.
Harry made the notepad and pencil float in the air and wrote something.
"W-a-t-c-h m-e," the twins read in unison before they giggled and turned to attack Draco again.
Just when another jet of water hit him, the door to the patio opened and a broom came flying out. Harry manoeuvred it over to the children and very gently patted their bums with it, first Rose and then Hugo. They shrieked and let go of the water pistols, turning around with wide eyes.
"I told you," Draco said. "Now upstairs! I'll be there in ten minutes, and I want to see you in your pyjamas with your teeth brushed. I'll know if you cheated."
"No fair!" Hugo yelled.
"Uncle Harry, you're mean!" Rose complained.
They were both grinning, though, and when Harry made the broom pat their bums again, they giggled and ran to the door, the broom following and vanishing after them inside.
"Little devils!" Draco groaned and let himself fall into the canvas chair next to Harry. "My hero, you saved me!"
It was my honour, Milady. Always ready to defend a damsel in distress.
Draco laughed. "If we ever have children, you'll be in charge of them," he said. "You're clearly better suited for that job. They obey you."
If we ever have kids, Harry answered, it will be you who'll have to do all the work. Kids need a hands-on approach.
"Ha ha ha, Potter. If I ever stoop to pathetic puns like that, please tell Ron that he's free to put me out of my misery." Draco rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling.
Later, when Hugo and Rose were sleeping, they were lying in bed, Draco petting Harry's hair while Harry was letting his magic wander over Draco's chest. It had been four years since Draco had decided to contact the Muggle psychologist his counsellor at the Hecateprogramme had referred him to, and by now, he enjoyed Harry's touch, most of the time. Harry had met with a psychologist as well – a Squib who wouldn't have to be introduced to magic to communicate with him. By now, he could talk with Draco about what had happened, and while the nightmares hadn't stopped, they were much less frequent.
"I was thinking," Draco said suddenly. "About what we said earlier, outside. About having children. We're 50 now, almost 51. We can still have them if we want, even in ten, fifteen years. It's not a stretch, even Muggles have children that late sometimes, I read about that. We never talked about it except for that first night after the wedding, but that doesn't count. Doyou want children?"
I'm not certain, Harry said thoughtfully. I used to want kids. I always imagined I'd have at least two or three. When we got married, I was miserable at the idea of never having any. But now . . . I don't know. Life is good. We've got our friends and their children, and we have each other. I don't really miss anything.
"It's the same for me," Draco agreed. "I used to think it would be a catastrophe if the blood-line didn't continue, if there were no more Malfoys." He shrugged. "Things changed. I don't mind so much anymore, and well, the Black part of my family won't die out. There's Teddy and Carmina; their baby can come any day. And there are more important things you leave behind in the world than biological children."
Your ancestors would turn in their graves if they could hear you.
"They can stuff it. All they got me was trouble. My life only got better without their influence and instead you in it."
Harry laughed. Who'd have thought it? Imagine if anybody had told us this was how we'd end up when we still were at school – or even right after we married.
"I would have thought they had lost their mind. Maybe I'd have hexed them."
Precisely. And now we're in bed, valiant knight and a no longer distressed damsel, very much in love and talking about possible children. 'God works in mysterious ways,' is what Muggles would say.
"All gods were probably wizards who had fun playing the Muggles of their times for fools."
Then Merlin perhaps? Harry said, sending amusement through the bond.
Draco snorted. "Right. That's absurd."
Well, then it fits us perfectly.
"You've got a point." Draco was smirking, and his hand slowly travelled down Harry's side. "Now, about those children: if we ever have them, I'll be far too busy at first to be present in your bed a lot, so we should get to it while we still can. Carpe diem."
I'm all for that. Now shut up and kiss me.
- The end -