Disclaimer: No matter how much I wish I owned these characters, they still belong to J. K. Rowling. Damn.
Warning: This is male slash, so if you have objections to that, please disapparate.
Love, hugs and beauty to my betas – VanityFair, PickledToadFinder #1, who wouldn't let me hide in a dark cave, and Darklites, my fellow orb hater, whose only fault is she's much too nice to my fics. To Ivy Blossom and Aidan Lynch for being wonderful writers and netfriends. House points to Aidy for unofficial beta work! Grace, hope you'll like this.
Title: SIDE BY SIDE IN ORBIT
"…what if there were two,
side by side in orbit…"
CHAPTER 5 – Here and Now
"Time has told me
You're a rare rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind
And time will tell you
To stay by my side
To keep on trying
'til there's no more to hide"
Nick Drake, "Time Has Told Me"
Light tickles my face. I think that's what wakes me up. That and the sleepy arm thrown across my chest. The times in my life I've woken up screaming, or with my face stinging and itching with tears, are so numerous I've long since lost count. The times in my life I've woken up smiling can be counted on the fingers of one hand. All of these times I've been with Harry. And this is one of the mornings that found me smiling.
I stretch cautiously, careful not to disturb that lazy arm, careful not to let the smile leave my lips. The past few weeks I've spent so much time being scared, not knowing whether each passing minute would take me closer to him or further away. But today everything is light and lightness. Today I could fly without a broom.
Harry is still asleep, damp strands of black hair sticking to his forehead, his hand on my shoulder twitching as if he's trying to catch something. Waking up with someone is so intimate. Yet another thing I've only done with Harry. There have been other sexual encounters in my life, some recent, but this is where I've always drawn the line. Waking up together is for lovers alone; more intimate than having sex. There is no hiding then, no hiding anything. The cold light of day disperses the dreams and lies of the night before and reveals everything so mercilessly.
And I don't want to know everything about most people. About Harry, I do. I want to know the things he doesn't even know himself. I want to tell him about them. I want to show them to him, hold them out to him and assure him they are nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be ashamed of. That I love him for them all. I've come to understand that the scared little boy he once was is still alive somewhere deep inside him; a mistreated, insecure little boy with wondrous, radiant eyes and an abyss in his heart.
I have to love you, Harry, because you don't love yourself. I have to do it for you. Something inside me breaks and bleeds when I see the doubt in your eyes, the way you can't quite believe anyone would love you for what you are, that anyone could want to embrace the shadows and the fears as well as every sunlit smile. The way you feel you have to be so good to deserve it.
I hate the way some see him as a demi-god. I hate the idolatry, hate to see their attempts at corrupting him, even if they're unaware of what they're doing. I don't believe he's incorruptible. Human beings aren't, as a rule. There is always a part of us that can be flattered, tempted, bought. But I've never seen Harry try to use anyone, not once. I would have. I know I would. I love him for refusing to make capital out of people's need for hero-worship, and, at the other end of the scale, for refusing to be a martyr. He never tries to hide or explain away his fallibility, but he also never lets other people shoulder his responsibilities. Being who I am, I know better than most that showing weakness requires strength, that showing fear requires courage. And I love him for it, I admire him for it, more than I have ever told him.
He is what matters in my life. Not the only thing, but he is what matters most. And I lie here watching him, the man who is just that; a man. I lie watching his closed eyes, eyelids delicate like the satiny inside of seashells, lashes the finest ink lines on his skin. I still can't quite believe it. That he should love me back. That he should love me.
He is immersed in silent sleep and I feel his warm breath against my neck and the side of my face. His hand clutches my shoulder – maybe he has caught what he was trying to catch. I just lie here loving the weight of his arm across my chest, loving the way he wants to hold me. And I don't even try to stop the tears from sliding out from under my eyelids, running sideways into my hair and ears.
This Sunday morning could last forever, if we willed it to. Sunday mornings can. They are a state of mind.
* * *
Later, as Harry turns in his sleep, I get out of bed, put some clothes on and go out on to the balcony. The sunlight is golden and the air is filled with the smell of hot dust and the sounds of summer, of motorbikes and clattering heels and mewing seagulls, of shrieks from children playing and the distant splash of water from the fountain in the little square around the corner from our building.
I position one of the recliners to face the sun and lie down on it, pulling my t-shirt off again. The warmth paints my skin with soft brush tips and I'm soothed, relaxed, happy, yes, completely happy now. The silly little smile is there again on my face. I won't stay in the sun too long; my skin doesn't take it very well. But the day is so glorious I have to lie here for a while before I go in to try to arrange some breakfast. I'm no cook like Harry is; I'll have to use magic. Without my wand, I can barely make toast.
A breeze moves across my bare skin like the feathery touch of a hand, lifting every little hair. I shiver and feel the first, faint stirrings of arousal. This is such luxury. Whenever I want, I can go into the bedroom and kiss Harry awake, kiss his mind and his body awake. But I choose not to, not yet. Instead, my mind wanders back to Hogwarts, to that winter years ago, when our relationship really started.
We didn't push it. We just left it to find its own slow pace, afraid to spoil something if we hurried it. After that kiss in the snowy garden, that tear-streaked kiss that was both a beginning and an end, we went very slowly. Life could never go back to what it had been, before the war, but it gradually moved into a fragile kind of normality. At least, it tried. We tried. We resumed our interrupted studies, we played Quidditch and went to Hogsmeade, we tried not to think of the people we had lost and we never talked about the dark dreams that still tore us to pieces at night. Every morning we just patched ourselves back together, enough to go out and face the daylight world and not break.
For the first month after that kiss in the snow we barely touched. Somehow this heightened our perception, sharpened our electric awareness of each other. It didn't take much to send sparks flaring between us and through us. We exchanged looks, we smiled across rooms, we let our hands brush against each other when we met in the corridors. We had meals together, laughing into each other's eyes; we made jokes with swirling, secret undercurrents. Often we spent our evenings together, either in the Gryffindor Common Room or out walking by the lake. And as we walked along the soft, mossy paths that swallowed the sound of our steps, one of us would catch the other's hand to lace our fingers together or lightly stroke the palm, or one of us would stop the other with a hand on a shoulder, eyes meeting, both of us moving in irresistibly for soft, shuddering kisses.
A chilly, blue evening in March, we went for a walk as usual. It was a night like any other, but I knew something had changed. Harry had been seeking my eyes all day, and there was a challenge in his demeanour that I hadn't seen before. I recognised it with a stab of excitement. I had been waiting for it for so long, but now that it was finally there, it made me nervous. I was fairly sure that Harry was a virgin, and I didn't want to rush things. I wanted him, of course I did, in every way I could have him. But I wanted him to want it as much as I did. I wanted him to be ready for it. My own virginity was just one of the many things lost in the black whirl that had made up the year of war before the final battle. If you belong to the inner circle of Death Eaters, you don't stay a virgin in any respect for very long. I wasn't sure how I would function in a relationship like this one, where there was tenderness and honesty. My earlier experiences had been anything but sweet and sincere.
We stopped. I turned to look at him and saw in his eyes that he wanted more now, more than he had ever wanted, so I cupped my hands around his face and kissed him, a deep dark kiss that made us both tremble. Eyes closed, his tongue in my mouth, his fingers stroking the back of my neck, sending shivers of pleasure down my back, icy and hot together, the heat spreading to my stomach, whirling and sinking and transforming into hardness. My hands went under his robes, eased their way in under the horrid Weasley jumper and t-shirt, both of us gasping as they reached bare, tender skin that instantly goosefleshed at the touch. He leant his head back as my mouth moved down his throat, and his first, soft moan sent fire coursing through my veins. He belonged to me now and that moan was my seal of ownership. I ran my tongue along his collarbone and my hands up his back, the taut smoothness of his skin making my thoughts blur. He moaned again, one hand entangled in my hair, two fingers coming under my chin to lift up my face, and we kissed blindly, deeply, tasting each other's sweet-spiciness. When our mouths finally parted, we looked questioningly at each other. What now? How much more? How far?
It was the sharp chill in the air that made us head back to the castle. I still had the spacious room in the Gryffindor tower that I had been given during my convalescence. Harry had never been in there except briefly, on small, practical errands, to pick up a book or lend me his broom servicing kit. Now he drifted around the room, curious; touching things, lifting them up to weigh them in his hand. I wasn't sure whether he touched them as a substitute, too shy to touch me, or if he was trying to understand me through my personal belongings. At my bedside table he picked up my Mood Conveyor, a silly thing really – a small crystal ball reflecting the moods and emotions of its owner, but only revealing their true meaning to those who have the gift of reading it. And that gift involves love. I watched as Harry turned the Mood Conveyor over in his hand, watched the smoky, whirling light inside it slowly turn crimson and pulse in time with my heartbeat. I found myself growing impatient, and the Conveyor turned a dark purple. I wanted Harry to touch me that way, claim me for a personal belonging. I secured the door with a locking spell, went up to him and turned him around to face me, half-smiled at the look of nervous expectation on his face. His eyes didn't let go of me as his hand let the Mood Conveyor sink back onto my bedside table, the light inside it scarlet now. This was serious. This was for real. We both knew it.
This kiss was deeper, sweeter, more intense than the last. We were taking our time now. Whatever was going to happen had to be perfect. I didn't want to frighten him. Our robes came off and fell to the floor as I gently pushed him down on my bed, kissed him again, moved my hand up under the Weasley jumper, pulled it up, pulled the t-shirt up, let my palm glide over the taut muscles of his stomach. His eyes were shut tight and his breathing ragged, one hand in my hair and the other hovering uncertainly near my shoulder, as if waiting for a cue. I bent down and kissed the narrow strip of exposed skin between his navel and the waistband of his jeans, his skin a shock against my mouth, so silkily hot, fine hairs whispering against my lips. His shaky, breathy moan made my mind melt, melt with the knowledge that I could do this to him, could make him sound like this, could make him want this as much as I wanted it.
I must have given him the sign he was waiting for. He was opening my shirt now, pushing it off my shoulders, my naked skin shivering at his touch. We shed our remaining clothes, hands brushing, touching, teasing, enquiring, demanding. Thoughts dissolving now, breaking up into flashes, images, close details. The arched outline of his neck. A springy black curl at his temple. The little hollow at the crook of his arm where veins were threaded under thin skin and where I could feel his pulse beat, beat, beat against my lips. The tip of my tongue dipped into his navel, making him tense for a second; his moan caressing my ears as his fingers slid through my hair. My tongue followed the fine trail of hair downwards… a silvery stretch of skin over a curved hipbone… and my cheek brushed against hot velvet hardness, making both of us gasp. The smell of his skin. From fresh pine at the base of his throat, down his chest and stomach, down… green scent changing into the grey, blue, dusky, salty smell of sea. His helpless, ragged breathing above me. My mind a dark whirl streaked with heat, need, lust, greed; spiralling downwards, deeper, downwards, deeper down.
I don't know what's happening. I can't believe what's happening. That the sweet deep pulsing need is his as well as mine. That he wants this, needs this, craves this like I do. He pulls me up now, his mouth wants mine and his body wants mine, all of it, close, skin on shock-hot skin, hands gliding, acknowledging their purpose at last, finally reaching their goal. And then everything is dark urgency as we fight our own pleasure and each other's lust, never wanting this to stop, fighting desperation but losing, losing oh god yes giving in and opening into hot wet spurting shuddering release.
And then there was only the semi-darkness of the room, the sound of our breathing, the sea-smell that lingered in the air.
We didn't say anything for a very long time. Harry gently touched my hand, lacing his fingers with mine. Words would only be an unnecessary ornament on something already perfected.
I knew that things, names, places could be tainted with memories. I had seen it happen. I would never be able to look at my own bed the same way again, but instead of being tainted, it would be sacred. The memory of what had just happened would wrap itself around me every night, like a dreamcoat.
I began to feel cold but I didn't want our nakedness covered with clothes, afraid this frail closeness would be lost if we dressed. I sat up and reached for my wand, cast a warming spell, whispered "Lumos". In the faint, slightly bluish light Harry's eyes were wide and radiant. He ran his fingers lightly down my arm, looking at me as if he didn't quite dare but couldn't turn his eyes away.
"Draco," he breathed. "Had you… I mean, were you…was this…"
He blushed and I knew what he was trying to ask, but I turned my face away. I wouldn't help him. I couldn't. I didn't want to hear myself admit it. He tried again, fingertips writing the question on the inside of my wrist, but he couldn't bring himself to say the words.
A virgin? Oh, Harry. Why do you ask when you don't want to know the answer.I didn't want to know it either. No, I wasn't a virgin. But wait. There was something very wrong with that answer. I started over. Yes, I was. In a very real sense, I was. What happened back then – with them – doesn't count. This was my first time. With you, everything is reinvented. With you, everything is new.
It was the truth. No one had ever touched me like Harry did. No one had ever treated me as if I was something delicate and fragile that might break. And no one who had touched me had ever blushed at the boldness of their own hand, or anxiously watched my response as if it was the most important thing in the world that I wasn't hurt, that I should approve the touch. And I had found myself succumbing to the tentative hand, opening to it, responding almost before the question was asked. I had known before, but no one had cared to prove to me, that intimate touch could and should be sweet pleasure without pain; the pleasure in itself so intense it bordered on pain. And this lovely novelty alone had been enough for me to shut my eyes hard and very nearly come just at his first feathery touch. This had indeed been the first time for me. The very nature of this pleasure was virginal.
And that feeling of newness, of amazed and breathless gratitude, has never quite left me since. It's still there every time we touch.
The sun is almost too hot now. If I stay out here I'll burn. I have just decided to go inside again when I suddenly feel Harry's presence. I know he's there. I know it the way I have always known. And I don't move; I lie still and relish the feeling of being devoured by his eyes, leaving him leisurely to watch for a while before I open my eyes to smile at him.
My arms empty. Bed empty. Sheets cold as my hand wanders over them. I'm wide awake in a second and I shoot up in bed, head spinning with confusion and thick sleep. But I'm right. The bed is empty next to me; a dent in the pillow the only sign of Draco having been here. Everything is quiet and still. Too still. No small, reassuring noises from somewhere else in the flat. My insides contract, fear blazing through my limbs. No. He can't have left. He just can't have.
My fingers touch the pillow. I can still smell him, us, on the sheets, as I swing my legs over the side of the bed, pull on some clothes. He can't have left, my brain keeps repeating numbly. He can't have given me a birthday present like that just to take it back again. When I come out into the living room the balcony door is open, curtains billowing softly in the breeze. I go over to the door and stop there, frozen in mid-movement, as relief floods through me and the fear that made the world cold and monochrome dissolves into light and colour.
Why do the happiest moments make you want to cry? I stand in the shady room, the doorway framing the picture of Draco, brilliant sunlight flowing and pouring over him and making the smooth, bare skin shimmer with its own light. Arms stretched lazily along the armrests, hands hanging gracefully relaxed, stomach and chest rising and falling lightly with his even breathing. His eyes are closed and his face touched with sadness. My eyes wander over him and I notice with a jolt that he's half aroused. I stand staring at him for a very long moment before he opens his eyes, squinting at the sun, and turns his face towards me. What has he been dreaming about? What is he thinking? There is a smile awakening now, beautiful as I have ever seen it.
He holds out a hand. "Come here."
"Mmmm. For a bit. Was going to go in soon."
His voice is a sleepy mumble and I feel it in every nerve as I sink down on my knees beside the recliner and kiss him. His mouth opens under mine and his hand comes up into my hair. His skin smells of sun. I rest my hand lightly on his chest, a fingertip barely touching a nipple. I lean back and look into faintly amused grey eyes, but he pulls my head down to him again and my cheek is on his shoulder. The relief and gratitude is so strong it turns into anger, and my hand on his chest curls into a fist.
"Don't ever leave again! Don't you fucking dare!"
His lips against my forehead, a butterfly touch to tell me he understands.
"I won't leave, silly." I hear his smile but I also hear it go away. "The only thing that could make me leave you is… if something happened to me."
I lift my head and stare into wide grey eyes. "What? What would happen? Don't be dramatic." Not following my own advice, I grip his shoulder so hard my hand aches. His skin goes white and red under my fingers but he doesn't make a sound or move his eyes away from my face. I smile through the thunder in my head. "Draco, I swear to you, if you die, I'll kill you."
He laughs then and the melodramatic moment is over. He reaches out to push his fingers through my hair, and the thunder fades as I look at the lovely face. It's difficult to kiss when you're laughing but I decide to try anyway.
"Merlin, Harry," he says against my mouth, "you look a mess."
I pull away and make a face at him. "Well, we can't all be perfect. I need a shower. Care to come?"
The broadening grin on his face tells me that he'd very much like to come.
* * *
We finally get around to having breakfast. The bed is a sea of creased sheets, breadcrumbs and sprawled limbs. Draco never really gets a tan, but his skin is faintly golden, and he tastes even better than the equally golden delicacies of hot buttered toast and thyme honey.
When our hunger has been stilled, for food, for each other, Draco leans back against the headboard and I snuggle down with my head in his lap. He looks down at my face with a tenderness that frightens me. A too-beautiful, too-valuable gift. I close my eyes and feel his fingertip trace my eyebrows, my lashes, the length of my nose, the outline of my lips, follow the line of jaw and chin.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm drawing your face."
"Oh. Will I look nice?"
"You will be gorgeous."
I laugh. His hand rests on my chest, and he takes a deep breath before he says:
"Harry. There's something I'd like to do today. And I'd like you to go with me."
Although the request is softly spoken, I can sense its urgency. I open my eyes and meet his, cool and grey, still as water.
"What is it?"
"I want to go to Malfoy Manor." The water ripples.
With Draco, strong emotion is usually written in nearly-invisible ink, but I've learnt to read the faint script. And I read both excitement and fear in him now. He hasn't been back to Malfoy Manor after the war. He has avoided it, leaving it in the hands of the Ministry people who cleaned it out. He has even avoided talking about it, except once; one long, memorable night when he told me about the pain and the love and the fierce, shining hate that he feels towards it.
"So will you come with me?"
I'd go anywhere with you.I just nod. And the water is still again.
* * *
The portkey is a feather. Not a magnificent eagle feather, as you might have expected, but a smallish, non-descript, downy grey one. There is the usual feeling of a hook behind your navel, jerking you forward; the usual dizziness of magical transportation. The howl of the wind dies around us and we hit the ground with a groan. The feather sinks slowly onto the grass beside us. We are standing in a sunlit clearing, surrounded by creeper-clad tree trunks. The wind whispers in summer leaves. Draco is a little paler than usual, and I don't know if it's nausea or emotion. He brushes wisps of dry grass from his trousers and looks up at me with a strange expression in his eyes.
"Welcome, Harry Potter," he says. "Welcome to this beautiful nightmare."
I know these woods so well. If we take a right, we'll come down to the lake and the boathouse. If we take a left, we'll reach the park and the Manor itself. I feel a strange mixture of reluctance and impatience, revulsion and excitement at being here again. Harry's presence changes nothing and everything.
His elbow touches mine as he curiously looks around the clearing, and I only see the sun in his hair and the light in his eyes. There is something I want to do, here and now. Malfoy Manor has waited for years. It can wait an hour longer.
I reach out and pull him to me. I see surprised laughter in his eyes as I kiss him, and the kiss is hungry as if we hadn't made love twice today already. I want him so. God, I want him. I have always wanted him.
The soft grass is starred with small yellow flowers, powdering Harry's hair with pollen as we sink down among them.
Yes. Take off my shirt. Take off all my clothes and leave me naked as an infant, vulnerable and exposed, completely at your mercy.
I need you, Harry. It hurts but I need you. It's painful to hand over so much power to someone, yet I know it's a core element of love. Having to trust the other with your life. Because you could so easily kill me, and I know you are aware of it. You know it but you choose not to exert your power, and that is a choice you make over and over again, every day, every hour.
I've never really needed anyone before. As a child I needed my parents like any child needs someone for food and shelter. But for love and emotion – no. As long as your need is simply practical you're safe. Let it under your skin and you're done for.
Harry's hands on my body, his tongue buried in the little crease where arm meets chest, my palm pressed against the small of his back. His eyes are shut, mouth slightly open, entire being concentrated on this sensation. Breathing ragged, muscles tense, lips parted for the uncensored, uncontrolled words that slip out in the moment of peaking pleasure. And when my own climax hits, a part of me is still sane and clear, thinking without articulating that it's never been this good, it can't be this good, will it ever be this good again?
And then the clearing is still and quiet again, filled with dappled light. With Harry, the smallest things have meaning. Every time we make love, I lose myself in him only to be found again. His hand touching my face tells me he has found me and will keep me, hold me, save me. We get up out of the grass to get dressed, and as we look down, a snowy white flower grows from the spot where we have been lying, opening an intricate globe of petals to the sun.
Harry and I have had a lot of first times. This is the first time we visit Malfoy Manor together. When the main building comes into full view, Harry stops, his hand still in mine. I look at him questioningly as he starts laughing.
"I always imagined Malfoy Manor to be straight out of a Muggle horror movie," he says. "Dark and brooding and menacing. But look at it. I didn't expect it to be… beautiful."
And I look. It's an old, familiar picture but my eyes are new. Yes, Harry is right, it is a beautiful building, lying there innocently in the sun, lines clean and proportions graceful, rows of windows like blind eyes, ivy softening its grey sternness. It doesn't look derelict even after years of disregard from its owner. The lawn is mown in the park and the trees have been pruned. I left it to a Ministry clerk to find someone to look after it, and it seems he's done his job well.
Harry's mouth is on my cheek, my ear. "I should have known," he mumbles. "Should have known the place where you grew up had to be beautiful." His endearing sentimentality. Malfoy Manor needs it.
"There aren't any protective spells any more," I say softly. "There used to be. The entire place was webbed with them. When my father was alive, we wouldn't have been able to come even this far without passwords and counter-spells and riddle-guessing."
It makes the Manor somehow exposed and forlorn, and, ridiculously, I feel sorry for it as it lies here immobile and quietly waiting in the green expanse of the park, listening to the brook laughing in the woods as it skips and bounds towards the lake. Waiting for life to find it again. Waiting for me.
Inside the house, the floors are swept clean and the echo of our steps bounces off the walls. There are only a few carpets left, their rich colours glowing. The signs and symbols of the past have been efficiently cleaned out, but the smell of it still lingers, a faint sour smell of fear and treason, power and subservience, of spilt and long since removed blood. From the gallery, stern haughty faces look down at us, and I follow the line of portraits with my eyes. When I see my father's strong, pale face and relentless eyes at the end of the line, a wave of cold nausea washes over me, and for a minute I think I will have to throw up. Surely there is a separate hell for those who have killed their father. Illustrious company indeed. Oedipus. Tom Marvolo Riddle. Draco Malfoy. Harry senses this and pulls me to him, and as he holds me the nausea subsides, leaving me shaking and clinging to him pathetically, desperate for his strength.
He is the only one who has ever held me. I can't remember my mother ever embracing me, hugging me to her for comfort or love or protection. She exhausted her embracing power when she held me inside her womb. Once I was outside her body, a separate entity, she didn't venture more than the briefest of physical contact. She touched me constantly, but it was always small butterfly touches – fingertips brushing my arm, lips pressed against my hair for a second, the back of her fingers against my cheek. She groomed me, pushing a strand of hair out of my eyes or brushing invisible lint from my clothes. But she never held me. As if she was afraid. As if it was important to keep a distance. It hasn't occurred to me before to wonder what she was afraid of, and now that I finally raise the question, she is no longer here to be asked.
I have to let go. One of the most difficult things in life is learning to let go, and I'm only a desperate beginner.
It's too late for so many things. But there are also things waiting around the corner that I cannot yet imagine. We make our choices based on our experience and on any wish we have for the future, but we don't know more than what this moment holds.
My here and now is Harry. The only truth I know is his arms around me here at Malfoy Manor; his light and warmth shining among memories of pain, of lies and darkness.