Title: Light of the Life That Is
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco (mostly preslash at first), Ron/Hermione, Blaise/Pansy
Warnings: Angst, AU, brief violence, age difference (Harry is 18 and Draco is 24)
Summary: Harry Potter's shade marched through the Forbidden Forest for six years after the Battle of Hogwarts—until Draco stopped it, and brought Harry back to life. The great question both of them face is: What now? Sequel to 'Shadows of a Future Passed.'
Author's Notes: This is a fic for animegirl0087, who generously donated to help victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, and asked for a sequel to 'Shadows of a Future Passed,' a one-shot I posted two years ago. This story picks up immediately after that, and won't make much sense without having read that fic. "Light of the Life That Is" should be six to eight chapters, posted irregularly.
Light of the Life That Is
Chapter One—Many Meetings
Potter closed his eyes as he took another bite of the blackberry tart, his tongue capturing the hot berries as they fell out of the crust. Draco concealed a smile behind the glass of champagne that he had asked for from the house-elves, along with the food, the minute they arrived back in his rooms. He didn't drink much champagne, but he liked it, and this was one of the times when he thought he should have what he liked.
Things would be different soon enough.
Potter opened his eyes and leaned back, his hands folded over his stomach. His face was softly astonished, his eyes as bright as bedewed spiderwebs. Draco nodded to him. That made sense, when Potter was tasting his first food in six years.
Almost seven, Draco repeated to himself, and sipped again.
"What happens now?" Potter asked, turning his gaze on Draco. "You said we would think about it when we were fed, and we've eaten." He paused and raked those bright green eyes, which were sometimes as disconcerting as Draco remembered, up and down their plates. "Although I don't think you ate much."
"I've already eaten by sunset, on most nights." Draco cradled the glass of champagne in his hands and considered Potter. "And what we do next depends on two different things."
Potter waited a second, then snorted. "You can go ahead and explain them, Malfoy. I can count to two."
Draco bit down on his lip before an irritated exclamation could escape him. He took worse than this from cocky fifth-year Potions students every day. He really shouldn't be letting his emotions run away with him.
But it was Potter, and the rules had always been different for Potter. Even the rules of Draco's own interior being, and that hadn't changed now that Draco was older than Potter.
He still spent a moment just watching the hero returned from the dead, and Potter allowed it, although his cheeks flushed and he turned to pick some more crumbs of blackberry tart off his plate.
Potter shed a luster and a haze that couldn't be accounted for by the fire behind him, or even by the fact that Draco had just used the Deathly Hallows to resurrect him. He simply shone. Draco considered that idea, and nodded. He would have rejected it when he was younger, in irritation and pride at the fact that Potter always just had to be special.
But now, he had seen other people shine like that. The Head Auror, when she accepted an Order of Merlin. Some of the Potions masters he had studied with, when they were carried away in their own awe at their creations. People who had been acknowledged for talents they had thought no one noticed, or been acknowledged by lovers or spouses who hadn't paid much attention to them before. It was an ordinary shine, a light that so many could have if they strove for it.
Potter was only special in having it most of the time, rather than on occasion.
"First," Draco said, "Ministry wizards, probably Aurors, showed up when I ordered the Elder Wand to conjure your body back into the tomb. I'll have to deal with accusations of grave robbing, and probably necromancy."
Potter stared at him with his mouth open. Then it shut, and all that gentle luster, like the heart of a pulsing star, underwent an extraordinary transformation into a radiant fire. Draco stared, in the seconds before Potter's eyes met his, and Draco found it easier to look back into his champagne again.
"That's ridiculous," Potter hissed, and his fingers clenched as though he was stroking his own invisible Nagini. "I'll tell them that you brought me back to life, and they should stop questioning you."
Draco closed his eyes. It wasn't champagne that fizzed and bubbled between his lips now; it was the high of knowing that Potter was angry for him.
Right, Potter wouldn't share Draco's feelings. Draco shook his head and returned to earth. "That will help," he said. "I just wanted you to know that it was one of the challenges we'll face." He wondered if it was his imagination that Potter seemed to turn his neck a little into that we. "The other thing is that, of course, your friends and the staff and students here and the reporters and the Ministry are all going to want to meet you. You have to decide how you'll handle that."
"Why not you, too?" Potter's nostrils pinched shut with annoyance. "Are you going to abandon me now?"
"I wanted to emphasize that the decision is yours." Draco sat, a model of patience, until Potter actually looked at him, and then inclined his head. "You made a sacrifice for six years, almost seven, for the wizarding world." Even if it was a silly sacrifice and one that no one knew about because they all thought you'd died. "You can do whatever you want. Choose who you want to meet. Do things at certain times and not others. See certain people and not others."
Potter looked as young as a first-year then. Draco considerately looked away and into the fire, giving him some time to recover himself.
Either Potter didn't need as much time as Draco had assumed or he wanted things to move along, because almost seven years of being dead was enough. He leaned in until Draco had to look at him or watch Potter sprawl in the ashes of his fire. "I want to see Ron and Hermione."
"Of course." Draco stood up, inclining his head. He had the suspicion that Weasley and Granger's Floo would be open to his call, since they had sent him the Invisibility Cloak and had a good idea of what he was doing. "I suggest you stay here in my rooms for now, because no one else knows you're back yet—"
"You have a hearth right here." Potter gestured to it, his eyes suspicious. "Aren't I going to call from here?"
"Well, yes," Draco said, studying him until Potter flushed. "But I thought I would give you some time alone with your friends."
"You said the choice was mine to make." Potter was apparently intent on reducing the arms of Draco's chair to firewood, from the grip he had on them. "And I want you here."
Draco couldn't help his smile, although he hoped that it still looked as grave and placid as he intended it to. "Then I will be."
"Harry. Oh, my God. Harry."
Hermione's voice was hushed, and she clutched Harry as if he was going to disappear. Harry supposed he might. He still felt as though he was fragile and hollow, made of quills and light instead of flesh and bone. He'd extended his arms, and Hermione had been in them in seconds, her head ducked and her arms wrapped so completely around him that Harry's first, startled thought was that she'd grown.
And then she pulled back and smiled at him, and he saw that she was taller, her robes more formal than he'd ever seen them except at the Yule Ball, her hair long and curled neatly on top of her head. He swallowed. His throat was thick with something, and it wasn't blackberry tart.
He reached out to Ron, who had come tumbling through the Floo along with Hermione—he was taller, too, and it seemed as though Harry had forgotten how red his hair was when he was in that white place along with Voldemort—and saw Malfoy leaning against the wall next to the door. He gave Harry a single, level glance. Harry swallowed, and that made him able to hold onto Ron, who hugged him as though he knew exactly how fragile Harry's ribs were feeling and he wanted to crack them all. He pounded Harry on the back as he released him, shaking his head in wonder.
"Look at you," he said, standing back and holding Harry's shoulders as he looked them over. "You haven't changed a day." He darted a suspicious glance at Malfoy. Harry winced.
Malfoy noticed the wince—Harry honestly wasn't sure if Ron and Hermione did—and cleared his throat. "I used the Elder Wand to conjure his body as it would have looked on the day he died. That's why."
"Then—" Hermione's eyes softened. "I thought you looked small. But you're just the age you were, that's all."
"Not in spirit," Harry said, and hated the way his voice trembled, especially because it made both of his friends stare at him in vague alarm. He threw Malfoy another glance. Malfoy's return look might have been an anvil that Harry could brace his arm on. Harry turned back to his friends. "I spent six years guarding that piece of Voldemort's soul that was in the Horcrux."
This time, Hermione was the one who looked at Malfoy. Harry shook his head, and stopped himself forcibly after a second, because he knew he would just go on shaking it if he didn't. "He knows all about the Horcruxes. I already told him."
"And all about the time he spent guarding that piece of the Dark Lord," said Malfoy. Harry experienced a little flash of annoyance that Malfoy just wouldn't say the name Voldemort. He was the one who had been so insistent on telling Harry that the bastard was dead, and that no piece of his soul survived, not even the piece Harry had spent so long guarding. "Useless sacrifice though it was."
"It wasn't." Ron had his arms around Harry again, and Harry felt smothered. But it also helped him feel real and in the world again, so he didn't object. "Nothing Harry did could ever be useless."
"He stayed there when he didn't have to, and let his shade march through the Forest for six years in pain and torment, and convinced everyone he was dead," said Malfoy, unmoved, unmoving. "Yes, it was useless."
Ron pinched his lips shut instead of exploding right away. That surprised Harry, and he blinked in uncertainty. The Ron he knew had been more hot-tempered as well as being taller.
A lot has changed in the six years I've been gone, he thought, and felt the swell of intolerable sadness.
Ron turned back to him, and seemed to see the change in Harry's face, and caught him close again with a muffled exclamation. "We could never be sorry to see that you survived," he whispered into Harry's ear. "Never. Put that out of your head."
Harry shook his head, his throat and his eyes both filling up. That wasn't what he was afraid of. He could be gone ninety years, he thought, a hundred, and his friends would still care about him. The problem was that he hadn't aged with them, and Malfoy hadn't called back an older body for him—perhaps hadn't been able to. There had to be limits even to the Elder Wand's power.
He had been gone six years. He felt as if the realization was only falling on him now, as if he was pinned beneath a wall and it was impossible to get a breath.
Ron stepped back from him and gave him a worried smile, only to be replaced by Hermione, who clasped his hands. "Give him a little breathing room," she told Ron, who rolled his eyes and backed off enough that Harry could indeed breathe. That made Harry smile, to hear her sound like the Hermione he remembered.
Then Hermione turned towards her with her brow furrowed and said, "I'm sorry, Harry, but Ginny—"
"She's already married, I know, Malfoy told me," Harry interrupted, hearing his words hurtle along like the bouncing of small pebbles, and knowing that was wrong, too, or at least against Hermione's memories of him, from the way her lips parted and her eyes focused on him. Harry squirmed and lowered his gaze. "But I know," he finished. "So I'll be happy to see her, but I don't—I didn't expect her to be here to welcome me."
"She would have come if she was invited," Ron said, and gave a sharp look at Malfoy. Malfoy continued watching them all, still as mist at twilight, as calm.
And comforting, Harry thought, which wasn't something he would have thought before. He caught his breath, and swallowed, as another realization struck. He hadn't come back as the Harry his friends remembered, perfectly unchanged, while they had aged. More than half a decade on guard duty had altered him, too. He didn't feel adult in the same way Ron and Hermione were, with lines of experience on their faces. After all, he had done the same thing day in and day out.
But it was something, wasn't it, to have marched back and forth on guard duty for part of Voldemort, while another part of him had marched through the Forbidden Forest here the way that Malfoy said he had?
Harry shook his head. "Don't blame Malfoy for that," he said. "I said that I wanted to see you right away. I didn't ask for Ginny."
"Oh. Well. Because you knew about her, right?" Hermione's thumbs rubbed back and forth on Harry's wrists. "Because you knew she was married, and you knew it would be strange to see her when you were in love with her and she thought you were dead, so she moved on?"
Harry had to smile a little. As if Ginny needed an excuse to get married when she thought Harry was dead! "No," he said. "Because I already knew that, but because the only ones I really wanted were the two of you."
He thought that would please them, and it did get him another hug from Hermione. But she and Ron exchanged a look a minute later, and Hermione narrowed her eyes while Ron nodded. Harry felt a hollow ache in the center of him. They even had their own language, their own unspoken sentences. They had flowed on without him.
Harry took a deep breath. Then he couldn't simply depend on them and hope that things could be exactly the same again. Things could never be exactly the same again. He had to acknowledge the time that had passed and forge a new friendship, not long for the old one.
He had never had that kind of determination, that kind of strength, during the years he had spent guarding the shard of Voldemort's soul. He hadn't allowed himself to think about his own strength, any more than he had about where the food and water he ate and drank came from. He had his duty, and he couldn't look beyond it.
Malfoy had forced him to do that. Harry took another look at the solid, quiet man in the corner again.
Malfoy's return gaze remained calm, steady.
Harry nodded, and was relieved to see a little smile break out on Malfoy's lips. Although he couldn't possibly know what Harry was thinking, Malfoy at least seemed to consent to Harry's begging for a silent language of their own.
Thus fortified, Harry turned back to what he knew would be an uncomfortable conversation.
Draco folded his hands beneath his chin, feeling the same way he did when he sat over a pile of student essays. This was potentially good entertainment, potentially a disaster waiting to happen. With the student papers, it was often a mixture, but more on the disaster side than otherwise. Until Draco came along, the quality of Potions teaching at Hogwarts had been dipping steadily since Snape's day.
But this promised a breath of fresh air that Draco could feel his lungs aching to draw. The way that he had revived into what seemed a younger, or more vital, version of himself when he was arguing with Potter in his soulscape.
Potter's friends were still going to be his friends, that was certain. Draco didn't think his friendship with Blaise or Pansy had ever been as deep as theirs, and still he knew the way he would run panting for a chance of conversing with them, if he had ever thought that either of them was dead.
But Potter's friends had also assumed that they were getting that eighteen-year-old—or seventeen-year-old? Honestly, Draco wasn't sure how to calculate Potter's age now—back. Unchanged. With his head still full of the same dreams he had had when he walked into the Forest.
Draco had always wanted to see what would happen if Potter changed his dreams a little, and then told them to Granger and Weasley. He'd never thought he would get to, but that hadn't stopped him wanting the thing. He had simply put the desire away, like his desire to change the past, when he grew up and became more accepting of his life and the war.
Now, he got to see that very thing happen, and he couldn't have been more pleased if someone had handed him a sapphire of the first water for one of his Potions. He grinned to himself, and waited, and watched.
"Ginny would want to see you." Granger led the charge, staring meltingly at Potter. Did she think her affection for him hadn't changed, either? Possibly, Draco decided. It hadn't lessened in strength, but there was a hovering in the way she stood that showed she was conscious of the years and the height she had gained. "You know that."
"I'm not in love with her anymore," Potter said. "I thought about her during the years I spent on guard, along with all the rest of you, but not as much as I thought about you and Ron." He glanced at Weasley, his eyes big with his appeal, but not desperate. Draco could have nodded his approval; he chose not to. "And I realize now that I don't want anyone to think that I'm still in love with her. I don't want to marry her."
Weasley blinked and blinked again. "But we were going to be brothers," he said. "Brothers-in-law. Aurors. Best mates."
"I don't want to be an Auror, either," Potter said.
Draco could have shaken a glass of champagne out of his hand with laughter at the befuddled looks Potter got in return. Surely his career and his marriage weren't the most important topics that anyone could discuss with the newly-returned, recently-presumed-dead, hero of the wizarding world?
Perhaps not, Draco realized a moment later. But that wasn't exactly what was going on here. Potter's friends were trying to reach for some sense of him, to figure out who he was now that he had come back and spent so long away from them. And that meant they had to think of him as an honorary Weasley and their friend and someone who loved Weasley's sister and an Auror trainee, because those were the strongest and simplest of the old identifications.
Only one of those was true now, Draco considered: the one that always would be, that he was their friend. But they were finding it difficult to deal with.
"Why not?" Weasley was the one who asked, and the pause had been so long that Draco had to think back to the question. Yes, that was right. Potter had said that he didn't want to be an Auror. "That was all you wanted to do before…" He pinched his lips shut again and shook his head, a gesture that Draco was already coming to think characteristic of this grown-up version of Weasley.
"That was before I made that sacrifice," Potter said, and his cheeks flushed and his voice lowered, speaking with growing passion. Draco felt his eyebrows rise. This was a Potter he had never seen before, and if Potter's friends were alarmed and flinched before it, Draco himself could appreciate it. "Before I spent all my time on guard, protecting and fighting against evil. I hate the thought of it now."
"What are you going to do?" It was Granger who asked that simple question, still gazing into Potter's face. She was the voice of reason and always would be, Draco thought, no matter how un-volatile Weasley had become with the passing years.
"For now?" Potter gave Granger's hands a quick squeeze and then stepped back. "Get the world accustomed to my presence. Tell the Ministry that Malfoy didn't do anything evil when they saw him robbing my tomb."
"You did what?" Granger turned around and stared at Draco as if she had never seen him before.
At least she was giving him a chance to explain. Draco inclined his head, aware that an hour ago, if asked to explain this, he would have given some soft explanation with an eye to avoiding prosecution for necromancy. But Potter had woken up the bolder side of him, and Draco was prepared to ride it until the end. "I went to Potter's tomb and used the Elder Wand to return his body to the state it was in when he died. The body that he's wearing now," he added helpfully, because Granger just stared.
"That's necromancy," Weasley said softly, but he sounded disbelieving. "I learned enough in Auror training to know…you can't bring the dead back to life."
"With the Deathly Hallows, you could bring the Master of Death back to life," Draco said simply. "I wouldn't want to try it with anyone else."
Granger and Weasley both hesitated, wavering, on the brink of a revelation that Draco suspected was simply too large for them. Then they turned back to Potter.
"Will you come with us?" Weasley was the one to ask this time. "We have a comfortable house. Well-warded, since people sometimes still try to get to us. We could talk about what to do next when we get there."
Draco turned to Potter. He knew what he wanted to say, but it would be unfair to put that kind of pressure on Potter. He simply waited, his eyes on Potter's face, and Potter took a deep breath and shook his head.
"No," he said. "I know that—I want to see you and talk to you, too, both of you, but I want to stay here."
"In Hogwarts?" Weasley frowned and shook his head. "I don't think that would keep you safe from students staring at you."
"It would keep me safe from reporters," said Potter, and wrapped his arms around his chest. Draco spelled the fire to leap up, and a second later Potter dropped his arms away from his chest and turned to face Draco. "No, I meant I want to stay here, in Malfoy's rooms."
Draco's breath caught, and then he dipped his head, not able to keep himself from smiling, and not wanting to try. The last six years had been a process of learning, as much as anything else, not to cast gifts away.
Potter smiled back at him, but Granger said, looking back and forth between them, "Why? We're very grateful to you, Malfoy, of course we are, but—I just don't understand."
Potter was the one who caught her hands, this time, and smiled sweetly enough that Draco could see the purity of their friendship between them, sparkling and breaking like a golden rainbow. "I know. And I want to make you understand, Hermione. I want to talk to you about everything that happened and learn to know you again and have you know me." He paused, his eyes glittering in the light of the fire.
Granger let her lips part as she stared into Potter's face. Her hand rose and her fingers curled back as if she would stroke along his cheek. It halted there, but she nodded and whispered, "We don't really know you anymore, do we?"
Potter held out one hand to her and one to Weasley, who came anxiously up to him, staring into his face as if he could devour the differences that had sprung up between them, Draco thought. "Not now. You will." And Draco knew that promises would happen when Harry Potter made them in that voice. "But for now, I just want to stay here and rest and think. See the rest of your family, and you, but one by one, not in a huge group."
"You could do that at our house," Weasley said. Draco thought he had grasped the implications of Potter's words as well as Granger had, but he wasn't letting himself comprehend them. "We'd let in Weasleys one at a time. You know we would."
Potter grinned at him, and memories moved behind his eyes in a cavalcade that Draco couldn't join. "And you think you could keep them out once they hear that I'm back?"
Weasley had the grace to blush. "Well. Maybe not, now that you mention it."
"I know," Potter said, and his voice had gone soft again, like the crackling of the fire, like the leaves that Draco had brought him out of. "And I want to see them. But—not just now. I want to control the pace." He was looking back and forth between his friends as though he could mimic their heartbeats with the speed of his eyes. "Do you understand?"
If they had said they didn't, Draco thought, Potter would have given in and gone with them. But either Weasley and Granger did, or they were wise enough to know that it would be good for Potter to stay here right now.
Weasley nodded slowly. "You'll see Ginny eventually, right?"
Draco kept his face smooth, but he wanted to laugh the way he had when Blaise had said some of his soppy things about Pansy. Potter had already made his feelings about Weasley's sister's marriage clear. What did Weasley think would happen? That Potter would stride into one of his sister's Quidditch practices and demand a duel with her husband?
Draco paused. It was softly easy to think of the old Potter, the one before the war and from Hogwarts, as doing that, actually.
But this Potter was different, and Draco had no fears of duels, even if Weasley did. He watched as Potter nodded and smiled, and held out his hand. Weasley squeezed it, then caught him close in yet another hug.
Granger lingered longer, after Weasley seemed content to go back through the fire, asking Potter about the process by which he had come back to life. But Potter could actually tell her less than Draco could, only that the Deathly Hallows had restored him. Draco had been barred by the sight of the Invisibility Cloak from seeing what happened; Potter had been dead at the time.
Granger finally sighed and stepped backwards, nodding. She looked at Draco for a moment. "Can I speak with you privately, Malfoy?" she asked suddenly.
"Not if, by that, you mean private from Potter," Draco said, cocking his head slowly enough that Potter had time to turn around and watch. "I won't have any secrets from him over this."
"I just meant—" Granger flushed. "I wondered—I don't understand how you commanded the Elder Wand to do what you did. I just wanted to ask you some more questions about that, and I thought it would be distressing for Harry to listen to."
Difference in the years or not, the look she cast Potter then reassured Draco. She held him in fondness; maybe she would have to learn how to change that fondness, but she was a true friend. That Draco hadn't had the same kind of friendship in his life didn't mean he refused to recognize it. A pulse of warmth went through him now, for Potter's sake.
"I see," Draco said, with a faint smile. "But I already told you. The Elder Wand brought its Master back. And how it did that, only the Wand could tell you."
"And now it can't tell you anything," Potter added, "because I snapped it."
Weasley and Granger both turned to stare at him. Draco cocked his head again, this time thoughtfully. He didn't know that he really understood much better than Weasley and Granger how Potter could give up that much power, because he hadn't seen it happen, either. But he was closer than them to understanding that it had happened, and it had to be accepted.
"I thought nothing could destroy the Elder Wand," Granger whispered. "It's survived all those centuries."
"I wrapped it in the Invisibility Cloak and snapped it." Potter grimaced. "It wasn't easy, but it had used a lot of power, and I think that probably helped." He glanced sideways at Malfoy. "Malfoy could tell you."
Draco nodded when Weasley and Granger shuffled around to face him again, hiding his amusement at seeing them act like chess pieces trying to face attack from two directions. "I used the wand to bring Potter's body back, and then to take me into the soulscape where I'd already spoken with him once before," he said. "And then I think to bring us back from that place. It felt hollow and light in my hand when I was finished with those tasks. It had enough power to bind Potter's soul to his body again, but not enough to resist when the Master of Death decided to break it. Would be my guess," he added, because Granger's mouth was falling open, and he knew that she would ask how he knew it.
"Why do you still call him Potter if you went through all that with him?" Weasley demanded.
Draco blinked, slowly. That seemed an odd question to ask him, both for Weasley and for the changed Weasley. But he answered. "Because that's the way I feel about him, and the way he probably feels about me. He hasn't given me permission to call him by his first name yet."
That got him more stares, although the one from Potter said he understood, in the same way that Draco understood how he could give up the Elder Wand. Draco did have to wonder why his honesty got more interrogation than his lies had done, six years ago.
"You'd better not be lying," Weasley muttered. All the confusion, all the anger about Potter's situation that he couldn't express to Potter for fear of sounding as though he was upset about having him back, was to be turned in Draco's direction, Draco saw.
Draco sighed and shook his head. "What gain could I make from lying? Absolutely none. I promise you, I changed in the last six years, too. I learned how to live my life, and I came back here to reconcile myself to the aftermath of the war. I rescued Potter because I wanted to, because I didn't think his shade should march through the Forbidden Forest forever. All of that is the truth."
"He doesn't have a reason to lie," Potter said quietly, drawing his friends' eyes back to him. "And I do want to stay here."
"In his rooms." Weasley's voice was flat, but a little hopeful, waiting for Potter to contradict him. He just stared again when Potter nodded.
"Yes," Potter said. "I think it would be for the best." He turned and gazed thoughtfully at Draco, as if waiting for him to say something wise that would add to this. But Draco had nothing wise to add. He spread his hands and bowed, a little.
"You are welcome." He said it like that, formally, so there could be no mistake. Weasley and Granger were still staring as though they expected him to sprout a second head or wings and turn into his real, demonic form at any time, but Potter had given him a faint smile, an expression that Draco couldn't remember seeing on his face either in the past or when they had spoken in the soulscape. That was enough.
"How are you going to tell people that you're back?" Granger asked. Draco couldn't tell whether she had moved on to a different question and accepted defeat on this one, or whether she intended to come back to it. Well, Potter was the one who had to make the decision, and if he chose to leave later, Draco would respect that. If he chose to stay, Draco would lend any support to the decision that Potter needed.
The realization of what had happened in the Forest, why Potter's shade had marched there and what his soul had gone through in guarding the remaining bit of the Dark Lord, still rose in Draco like a tide, covering more ground all the time. Potter owed no one anything after that. He has the most perfect right of anybody Draco had known to demand anything he wanted.
He thought Potter's friends would probably feel the same way, once they settled down to the notion. But they were thinking and reacting at the moment as though he desired the same things he had before the war. It was hard to blame them, Draco thought tolerantly. They thought they were dealing with the Harry Potter who had died then.
Perhaps Potter hadn't acquired much life experience, or not in the same ways, but he had changed. Eventually, his friends would look past that identical face and to the different soul.
"I'll start sending owls out tomorrow." Potter yawned and glanced sleepily at Draco. "Including one to the Ministry so that they know they shouldn't arrest you for tomb-robbing."
"Thank you," Draco said gravely, and watched Potter's lips twitch as he did.
Weasley sighed forlornly. "But we can come back tomorrow?" Draco was glad to see that he directed the question towards Potter. Potter was the one who had to make the decision about who to speak to, as he had to make the decision about where he stayed.
"Yes," Potter said. "But now…I just ate my first food in years, and I think I want to have the first night's sleep, now."
It didn't take long, after that, for Potter to herd his friends out the fire. They hugged him again, and Granger cried a little, and made many promises to come back tomorrow and hold the secret to themselves for now. Potter flopped back into the chair where he had sat to eat dinner, and shut his eyes.
"You're all right?" Draco asked quietly, reaching out to pick up the bottle of elf-made wine that he'd had standing ready all evening. He thought he deserved it.
"That's a strange question," said Potter, and kept his eyes shut.
Draco just watched him, the way he sprawled and his dangling hands and the faint press of his knuckles against his skin. He waited, and waited, thinking that he would feel some kind of revelation breaking over him like a tidal wave, or he would feel a retraction, a recoil from this body that looked so much the way Potter had during the war.
But no retraction and no recoil happened. This was Potter, no one else—the stubborn soul Draco had argued with in the soulscape, the Gryffindor who had dedicated his life to a noble and stupid cause for years, the Master of Death who had come back from death and half-death and wandering shade-life.
Draco stood up and crossed the distance between them. Potter was breathing evenly, softly, and Draco thought about waking him up and pointing him to bed so that he wouldn't be stiff in the morning. But this was his first sleep, and Draco didn't want to beak it or reject his unspoken choice of the chair.
Draco did lean over, because he wanted to and he didn't think Potter would mind, to touch his forehead, to reassure himself with the reality of flesh beneath his fingers.
Potter opened his eyes and pinned him with that green gaze Draco had—he might as well say it—had missed so long and so intensely. Then he said, "Were you touching my scar?"
Draco blinked and stared down. Yes, the lightning bolt scar was under his fingers. Honestly, he hadn't noticed before. He shook his head and answered, "I wanted to make sure that you were solid."
Potter gave a smile so long and slow that it reminded Draco of a flower falling to the Forest floor. It grabbed something in Draco's chest and twisted, the way that no fall of a flower had done since the war, standing in the back of the Manor and watching through the windows there as the untended roses in the gardens tumbled to ruins.
"Thank you," Potter whispered. "I like it when you do that."
Draco nodded, and with the tightness and brilliancy of what had happened between them in his chest like spring, it seemed a long moment before he could take his hand from Potter's forehead and himself to bed.
As he lay silently in his room, he wondered for a moment what the falling flower would mean, what the spring-like feeling would indicate.
Then he smiled and closed his eyes. Whatever it meant, it was his choice and Potter's. And he did not think it would be less honest than the autumn they had walked through on the way back up to the castle.