Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Black Phoenix. There will be one more story to finish up the series, called Burning Day. Thank you for reading along.
Chapter Thirty-Three—Dark Lord Potter
"You still haven't answered my question about whether this was Lord Potter or not."
Draco raised one hand and pressed it against the left side of his head, where so much hair had been singed away. "I was injured in the explosion," he whispered. "You can hardly blame me if my head is still whirling, can you? If my brain was jostled in my skull?"
"And I can hardly blame the public of Britain for wanting to know more," Skeeter muttered, but she sat down on the grass in front of him again, staring. Most of the reporters had chosen to stay, actually, which Draco couldn't say he understood. A few of them had died. He had thought they'd want to go and be with their dead friends, or at least get their injuries treated.
But no, instead they crowded around him and stared at him so breathlessly that Draco was tempted to tell them to shut up and go elsewhere, that he would see them only if and when they managed to bring him a Healer and an apology for their nosiness. Only Rosenthal's grip on his shoulder had, several times, prevented him from saying what he really thought.
Well, that and the consideration that it might be for the best not to deny that Harry was responsible for the attack. Otherwise, some of them might start wondering about his and Harry's relationship again.
But Draco's head still hurt, and the Healers were taking their sweet time tending to him. Mostly, that was because they were occupied with the dead and wounded reporters. Draco understood. But he had seen some of the nervous glances coming towards him. That was another factor that made him wonder if it was wise to deny Skeeter's ingenious rumor. They might already believe that Draco himself was dangerous and to be feared.
But finally one Healer plucked up her courage and started over, and Draco managed to give her a nice smile and bend his head. The woman's demeanor changed as she saw his singed hair, and she swished her wand, murmuring a spell Draco recognized, to check for concussions. His mother had regularly cast it on him after the Dark Lord had used Draco as "training" for some of his Death Eaters.
"No concussion, but it does seem that you have some damage to your skull," said the Healer, and began to fuss around him. "Does the light seem abnormally bright? Is your magic buzzing? How many fingers am I holding up?"
Draco relaxed a little. At least some Healers would always do their duty and put the patient's welfare before worries about whether the patient was the target of a mad Dark Lord who would blow your windows out if you helped his enemy.
That…that might be a story they could work with.
"Do you feel up to talking now, Ministerial Candidate Malfoy?" Skeeter was hovering next to him again as the Healer completed her task and stepped back with a little cluck of satisfaction. Apparently the lump on Draco's skull was gone now, and she had a draught she would give him for the pain, and the hair would grow back with a charm she could teach him. She was saying that around and over Skeeter's waiting silence, but it was the silence that Draco felt, more strongly than her words.
Draco took the draught in the vial the Healer was handing him, and met Skeeter's eyes. He knew that he would have to make his decision about what to say in the next few seconds. She still wanted as much of the truth as she could pry from him, because it might be exciting, but she would lose patience in a moment and go off and make up what would sell papers.
"Ministerial Candidate Malfoy."
The voice sounded like a bell tolling. Draco started and turned around. He hadn't sensed Harry passing through his wards, but then, he never did. He could tell from Rosenthal's tense and breathless silence beside him that she, at least, would have been happier if there was some warning.
Harry stood there, but he was clad in a kind of floating darkness that Draco had never seen before. It drifted about him like torn, tattered strips of a cloak. Draco looked automatically to his shoulder for Persephone, and gasped when he didn't see her there.
His eyes went back to Harry's face, and he thought he knew what had happened. One way or the other, Persephone wasn't here anymore.
But Harry was continuing, speaking before Draco could decide whether it was even a good thing to acknowledge his grief or not. "Do you understand our positions? Our mutual positions? What would happen if you challenged me openly?"
Draco's shoulders dropped a little. Harry must have been here at least a while before he revealed himself, studying the situation and deciding what to do. And he had decided to go with the cover story that it was him who had caused this explosion, and decisively turn the public's expectations in the direction of them being enemies. At the same time, the Minister for magical Britain would need to meet with the Dark Lord of Hogwarts on occasion. They would need some respect between them.
It would be an easy way to give them an excuse to meet, that was sure.
Draco half-bowed, not in a way that could look too subservient to the greedy eyes of Skeeter and the others, and said, "I understand. But was it necessary to destroy my home and kill some innocents to get the message across?" He thought he put enough wounded pride into his voice to satisfy even Skeeter's voracious appetite.
It's that or weep, Draco understood instinctively, and tried not to flinch from the smile, even as Harry said, "You are being given the chance to think again. The people I killed are regrettable casualties. But they are what happens if anyone stands too close to a political relationship that will be fraught with difficulty, and more may happen if you challenge me again." He held Draco's eyes. "I trust you understand me? What the challenge was?"
We can't show our relationship in public. Not the way that Harry's chosen. Not the path that he's going to walk.
Draco kept his eyes on Harry as he slowly inclined his head. "I understand what it was," he said. "I will not make it again."
I have to seem to be the Minister who gets along with you. Maybe the only one who can get along with you. If we're closer than that, then no one will want to elect me, because someone under the protection of a dangerous, unpredictable Dark Lord could be dangerous himself. But someone who can deal with him and mysteriously keep from going too far in the way the Ministry always does…
That person was going to have an advantage, not only in the election but in any other arena where he chose to apply himself.
"Dark Lord Potter!" Skeeter, who apparently had a suicidal edge, was trotting up to Harry, waving her hand. "What was the challenge? What was the inspiration for you attacking the Manor?" She paused and seemed to study Harry more closely. "And where is that beautiful phoenix who was always with you?"
Harry held up one hand, and something whirled into existence behind him. For a second, Draco thought it was Persephone, and that his thoughts of her being gone had been premature after all, but then he saw the sharp edges of them, and the separate way they moved, and instinctively shook his head. Persephone couldn't do that even with flames wrapped around her, and there was a deeper, charred black to these fragments that didn't compare to the polished dark color Persephone was.
Had been. Probably.
Harry settled the fragments on the ground, and Skeeter and Rosenthal both took a step back when they saw what they were. Draco didn't. He wondered if he was too numb, or if the blow to his head had slowed some of his reactions. Either way, he saw Skeeter's eyes come to him, judging him even through her own shock.
"This is the man who was the doom of my phoenix," Harry said, and his voice was rawer and hoarser than ever. "Who attacked Hogwarts when I was in the middle of attempting to save her. His name when he kidnapped me was Edgar Gorenson, but as I know Ministerial Candidate Malfoy was telling you when he passed beyond the limits of my tolerance, he went by many other names." His gaze went back to Draco, and there was grief behind it, as well as a desperate plea for support. Draco nodded slowly in return. This was just the cover story they would have to live with, not the reality. He and his family had already reinvented themselves once, after the war. This was another chance to do so.
And at least it meant Gorenson was dead. Draco wanted to hear the full story later, especially how involved he really had been in Persephone's sickness, but he knew he wouldn't get it right now.
"Goodness," said Skeeter, faintly, one hand fluttering up to touch her throat. She seemed to feel that wasn't enough, but also not to know what would be. She cleared her throat and then repeated more strongly, "Goodness. What did you do to him?"
"Ask the Unspeakables who came to Hogwarts with him to attack the wards," Harry said, swirling the trailing strips of darkness around him. "I suspect that more of them will be eager to sell the story, to finance a new life and different career." He appeared indifferent to the other reporters who were hanging back but snapping photographs of the pile of charred bones. His eyes came to, and lingered on, Draco's face. "Ministerial Candidate Malfoy. You will contact me soon, so that we can discuss what you will do to make sure that you do not trespass on my temper again?"
"Yes, my Lord," said Draco, but didn't bow this time. He also couldn't appear too subservient to Britain's Dark Lord if he was going to treat with him on an equal basis.
Harry nodded distantly at him, and vanished. As usual, Draco didn't feel him pass through the wards, but it seemed as though Harry had folded himself inside those strips of darkness and gone.
That was his magic, Draco thought suddenly, with the kind of jolt that only the best insights made in his head. What was left of it at the moment. He's exhausted.
"What did he mean, about the challenge?" Skeeter was asking again, turning back to him.
Draco sighed. He could do this kind of fencing in his sleep, most of the time, but right now, he was aching and tired, and so was Harry, and truth was the best weapon.
"Can it wait, madam?" he asked quietly. "People died here today. We learned a valuable lesson in the way that we deal with a Dark Lord, who seemed so tame and…and isn't. I'll talk to you in the morning, but please, let it go for now."
Skeeter blinked for a second, looked at the grass where the dead reporters had lain, and then nodded. "All right," she said, but glanced at the blackened bones again before she added, "I'll expect a full interview in the morning, mind," before she hurried off.
Draco heard other footsteps leaving as he leaned on Rosenthal's arm back to the Manor. He would spend a few hours sleeping and making sure that nothing was wrong with his head, and make clear the truth behind the explosion to Rosenthal, before he Flooed to Hogwarts.
Where he had to go. Harry was waiting for him.
Harry didn't know how long he had spent alone in his office before the Floo opened and Draco tumbled through the fire.
It was long enough to have asked house-elves to take Persephone's perch away. Harry would have burned it away, but he was so tired that his core ached within him, as though it was a broken bone. He didn't think it was good policy to try any more magic right now. He sat with his head in his hands and took little gasping breaths instead.
His mind spun and blurred with new thoughts. Persephone was gone. Draco was coming. Draco was safe. Gorenson was gone. Dozens of people—the ones who had been with Gorenson, the ones who had been at Malfoy Manor—now thought he was an insane Dark Lord. Some people might suspect the truth, if they wondered who the wizard was who had comforted Draco immediately after the blast and who had burned up the pearl of the artifact's power in the air.
But Harry got his explanation even for that last, when the owl dumped the Daily Prophet on the desk in front of him. He had been there, explained Skeeter's breathless story, but only in an attempt to make himself look good by stopping the destruction that he had himself caused. It wouldn't work, because too many people were on to him, and he had destroyed the last impulse of good will towards him in many hearts by showing up with Gorenson's burned bones only a few hours later.
Harry snorted and let his head drop down onto his desk. Trust the British public to find some way that they could believe evil of him and still be comfortable.
And then Draco was there, and he walked around the desk and put one hand, wordlessly, on Harry's shoulder. Harry turned and rested his chin against Draco's arm.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Draco asked quietly. He dragged up a chair when Harry nodded, but he did it with his wand, so that he didn't have to move away from Harry at all.
Harry did his best to tell Draco about it, about the moments when he had been moving through the fire, and the moments when Persephone had been unmade forever—no, when he had unmade her—and the way he had strengthened his bond with Hogwarts, and killed Gorenson. All the while, the reality was out there, somewhere, untouched and unburnished by the words he chose.
How could he make Draco understand that?
But Draco was there, and understood anyway. And his face was pale and strained, but he was still there, leaning forwards to press his lips against Harry's after he confessed that Persephone had just been another part of him and he couldn't stand to have a companion without a will of their own, and again right after he told him about killing Gorenson and about what he had said to make the Unspeakables and other Ministry wizards Apparate.
"And that's the way it is," Harry whispered afterwards. "They think I'm insane, and we've chosen to play into this story." He turned and stared at Draco. "Can you stand it? For everyone to think that you're my—my torture project, not my equal, someone who can stand up to me but someone who's always subject to threats of retaliation?"
Draco stirred slowly. It seemed as if he was coming back from a long way away, even though his hand had never moved from Harry's shoulder. But life poured back into his face as he spoke.
"I wanted to be Minister, and then the campaign got boring. And then I met you, and I found a new challenge. But I never did know how to reconcile our relationship with the public's knowledge of it. I couldn't swear to you as my Lord in my own form. I had to pretend to be your lover in a glamour. And no one would trust me if they thought I was just your puppet."
Harry nodded, silently asking him to continue.
"But I don't want to give either of those things up," Draco said, and turned a slow, hard smile on Harry. "I think this is the best way. No matter how hard we might try to tell the truth, they would publish lies about us anyway. No matter how much you might assert that I'm your equal and you don't desire to rule me, no one would believe it. If they have to believe lies, let it be a story of our own making."
He leaned in and kissed Harry, long and lingering, and some of Harry's distress over Persephone had been transformed, was bubbling hot and dangerous, when he pulled back. "But I think we can modify the lie," Draco continued thoughtfully. "We can make me more your equal, not in magical power, but in my determination to defend Britain against you. And we can make it seem as if you're not as insane as you might have looked today. If years pass without you killing anyone, then that'll be easy."
"I don't know what the Ministry might do next," Harry had to mutter.
"Nothing as bad as it could," Draco said. "Because, next month, I'll be running it."
Harry had to smile at him. "So—what? We rule in the guise of a lie?"
"Like I said," Draco murmured, shrugging, "lies are all they will let us have in public anyway. Never the truth. We could swear to what we really share under Veritaserum, and they would insist that your magic is strong enough to bypass the Veritaserum and I only thought I loved you and I was really in love with a dream, not the real Dark Lord of Britain." He leaned forwards with his eyes on Harry's. "In an ideal world, yes, I would want a relationship with you that I could show to everyone. The Minister of Magic and the Dark Lord's consort, at the same time. Sounds like a winning combination to me."
Harry did have to snicker. Is it only Slytherins who can make blind power sound so appealing?
"But we don't live in an ideal world," Draco continued, his smile only growing broader. "I'm a politician. I know that. I depend on it for my job. I say, if the public is gullible enough to swallow a story, let it be ours." His hands suddenly clamped on Harry's shoulders. "And in private, let me be yours."
Harry surged forwards and claimed Draco's lips with a single kiss. Draco went down beneath him without a murmur, wrapping his arms around Harry's shoulders, his legs around Harry's hips.
They made love that night, more gently than they ever had before, in celebration of the life that continued after Persephone's death, after Gorenson's death, after all the deaths. And if the public world was not ideal, if they would continue believing much the same stupid shit about Harry that they always had, and some even stupider shit about Draco…
Their private world was as ideal as it could be.
As noted above, there will be one more story in the series, called Burning Day. It should start posting in about a week. Thanks for reading.